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How do high levels of attainment affect your relationships?

I'm simultaneously fascinated and horrified at the following that I heard in one of the Buddhist Geeks podcasts. The interviewee was talking about the effects of meditation on people at the "higher end" of the attainment spectrum. One aspect he discussed was emotion:

Jeffrey Martin:
People basically represent that they do not experience emotion ever. Now that sounds like terrible like it would be some automaton type existence ...

So that's mildly eyebrow raising, or "terrible" as he puts it. But he goes on:

JM:
...but in fact no one wants to go back. Whatever that’s like not to experience emotion, it’s better than what came before it. And lots of times there was a progression into it and what came before it was pretty darn amazing compared to what came before that. So whatever that is to not have emotion, to be on sort of the far end there, you still have a tremendous sense of well being...

Hm. No emotion but it's cool. Curious. He continues:

JM:
... It’s just not an emotional sense of well being. So people don’t represent for instance having love. If you say do you have love. They’d say “no I don’t have any love.”

OK, eyebrows are raising again. But it must be in the figurative sense? Or maybe it's to do with some kind of clingy dysfunctional craving *component* of what we consider to be love? Or something. I mean, it doesn't really mean the person no longer loves, does it? A husband will still love his wife, right? A father isn't going to stop loving his kids, right? I mean, that would be silly, no?He continues:

JM:
And that’s true for even things like their kids. They don’t have fatherly or motherly love for their children even anymore. So those sorts of extreme forms of love that people maybe can’t imagine not being a part of their life literally there’s no experience of them.

Aw, well *that's* not good. Crap -- so, you take this stuff far enough and you stop loving your kids!? So, what do you do, kick em' out?

OK, let's calm down. What *could* it mean?

Like -- if I say "I don't love that cheesecake", then one thing it means is if you ask me for it, I'd probably let you have it. So would an accomplished meditator just give away their kids for adoption? I find that hard to believe. Let's keep reading:

JM:
Now when we measure their body, we do measure sort of the same type of physiological responses that you would measure in people that had emotion. So it’s interesting because there does appear to be sort of what you would think of measurable emotional response in the body but there’s no experience of it.

Well hang on. So is it that they stop loving, or that they stop having an "experience" of loving? If the latter, what does that mean?

OK, I've read enough. I'd like to hear from the horse's mouth if possible.

Any parents out there of sufficiently high attainment to have reached what the podcast is referring to? What is it? Do you no longer love your kids? Or your wife? Or your mum?

P.S. I'm sure there are lots of people willing to offer theoretical explanations about this, and please go ahead if you want. But I'm particularly interested in the comments of anyone who has actually been there, done that.

RE: How do high levels of attainment affect your relationships?
Answer
6/10/15 2:54 PM as a reply to Robert McLune.
Here is a relevant thread. Seraphina Wise is a mother who claims to be actually free, which entails, among other things, no more feelings of love. Relevant bit is here:

Seraphina Wise:
I have a five year old daughter. When my daughter is sick, or upset, I hold her, hug her, rub her back, give her kisses, and cuddle her. And I enjoy giving her comfort and taking care of her. I am not motivated out of a sense of distress or worry when she is ill or upset, but only want to help her feel better in whatever way I can. Nor am I motivated by any sense of what I 'should' do as a parent or out of sympathetic co-suffering; she is a human being in pain, and I will do all I can to help her be pain-free. She happens to be my child, so it is my especial (and legal) obligation to take care of her the best way I can.

A concrete example:

My daughter currently has an ear infection and for a few days before it was diagnosed, she was grumpy and in pain. It was very easy, before she was on antibiotics, to figure out what she needed from me. When she wanted a hug, I gave her a hug. When she wanted to be held, I held her. When she was pensive and withdrawn, I asked her, "Are you okay?"

Being actually free means that I didn't freak out because she was ill. It means that even though I know she is in physical pain, I am not anxious as a result. It doesn't mean that if she wants contact, reassurance, and comfort that I stonily withhold it; that would be silly.

I don't think people "from the outside" would see much difference in how I parent my daughter now and how I did before. The difference between "then" and "now" is that prior to becoming actually free, I would spend hours googling every ailment she had to figure out what was wrong, talk endlessly to friends about it, swap horror stories with other parents, spend copious amounts of time sanitizing her hands to keep her from germs, and generally being stressed about her health and well-being. Many of my friends still do this and are pretty stressed out, all things considered, about their children.

I'm not stressed about my child. I take very good care of her, give her what she needs, and remain perfectly content the whole time.

RE: How do high levels of attainment affect your relationships?
Answer
11/15/12 3:05 PM as a reply to Robert McLune.
FWIW I doubt that all spiritual paths lead to the complete and utter elimination of emotion. From my admittedly very sketchy knowledge, Zen and Tibetan masters in particular seem like they experience the full range of emotion - though they're unlikely to fall into extremes.

Also, from what I've seen, Kenneth Folk is a very vocal opponent of anything that leads to the elimination of emotion. So he'd be someone with solid attainments and yet still very much possessed of emotions.

I guess it ultimately comes down to what you want to achieve with your path.

RE: How do high levels of attainment affect your relationships?
Answer
11/15/12 4:05 PM as a reply to Beoman Claudiu Dragon Emu Fire Golem.
Thanks Claudiu. That helps. And I like the train of thought of that "ed c". I totally get his (from him to you):

ed c:
If what you are saying is true, I have no issue pressing forward.

He seems to be testing the water as he goes, deciding whether or not to "press forward". Smart guy emoticon I wonder if he's still around.

I can't help wonder though if at the heart of my question, and ed's before me, is simply another example of a difficulty in language rather than in underlying concept. So, Stefanie says:

SW:
I have a five year old daughter. When my daughter is sick, or upset, I hold her, hug her, rub her back, give her kisses, and cuddle her. And I enjoy giving her comfort and taking care of her. I am not motivated out of a sense of distress or worry when she is ill or upset, but only want to help her feel better in whatever way I can. Nor am I motivated by any sense of what I 'should' do as a parent or out of sympathetic co-suffering; she is a human being in pain, and I will do all I can to help her be pain-free.

Well sure, when she puts it like *that*. And to that I shrug and think, "sounds like love to me". The words, "looks like", "walks like", and "quacks like", come to mind. And in fact it sounds like a *superior* way of being than the frantic and distressed swapping of horror stories, spending of copious amounts of time sanitizing hands, etc that some parents experience that they attribute to love. For me I reckon that often, unfortunately, *goes along with* love. But it's not love. In the extreme it could even become Münchausen by proxy.

Actually, this all strikes me as remarkably reminiscent of parts of C.S. Lewis's novelette, "The Great Divorce". Through encounters between some recently dead ghosts and some visitors from heaven, Lewis explores the true nature of love, and shows how we often mistake other things for it. In his "The Four Loves" he goes into even more detail.

In fact, to be perfectly honest, it sounds not only like Stefanie did not lose "love", she may well have perfected what Christians refer to as agape. I mean, compare what she wrote with:

1 Corinthans 13:4-7:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.


And if that's the case, it's simply tragic that so many Christians are so averse to meditation!

RE: How do high levels of attainment affect your relationships?
Answer
11/15/12 4:40 PM as a reply to Brother Pussycat.
Thanks BP.
Brother Pussycat:
Zen and Tibetan masters in particular seem like they experience the full range of emotion - though they're unlikely to fall into extremes.

But presumably that still leaves room for a deep difference between what those masters on the one hand, and regular Joes on the other "experience" (quoted on purpose), yes?

For example, it sounds perfectly plausible to me that my (regular Joe) experience of fear could be fundamentally different from theirs. I see a snake in the path and I experience fear. The fear grows, and panic arises. Pain, suffering, etc. Normal, everyday fear. Yuck.

When they see the snake, however, there are some really pretty profound differences. First of all, since they have managed to achieve anatta, then while they will still be able to acknowledge that, in so many words, "Yes, there's fear in the room", they're not experiencing "I am afraid", because they're not experiencing "I". And so, second, if the pain and suffering that I (Robert) experienced when I saw the snake are a result of the fact that I see the pain as somehow being "mine" or attached to "me", then they simply won't experience that pain and suffering.

I'm just speculating here, and it may sound like I'm asserting but I'm really asking. Does that sound credible to you?

RE: How do high levels of attainment affect your relationships?
Answer
11/15/12 5:37 PM as a reply to Robert McLune.
Robert McLune:
Thanks BP.
Brother Pussycat:
Zen and Tibetan masters in particular seem like they experience the full range of emotion - though they're unlikely to fall into extremes.

But presumably that still leaves room for a deep difference between what those masters on the one hand, and regular Joes on the other "experience" (quoted on purpose), yes?

For example, it sounds perfectly plausible to me that my (regular Joe) experience of fear could be fundamentally different from theirs. I see a snake in the path and I experience fear. The fear grows, and panic arises. Pain, suffering, etc. Normal, everyday fear. Yuck.

When they see the snake, however, there are some really pretty profound differences. First of all, since they have managed to achieve anatta, then while they will still be able to acknowledge that, in so many words, "Yes, there's fear in the room", they're not experiencing "I am afraid", because they're not experiencing "I". And so, second, if the pain and suffering that I (Robert) experienced when I saw the snake are a result of the fact that I see the pain as somehow being "mine" or attached to "me", then they simply won't experience that pain and suffering.

I'm just speculating here, and it may sound like I'm asserting but I'm really asking. Does that sound credible to you?


Hm. I remember a Zen practitioner recounting his master's tale of his near-death experience (heart attack), and while there was pain in bucketloads, the master felt no fear. However, I later met the master in person, and during his lecture and the ensuing discussion I saw what I take to have been him experiencing a range of emotions, including a very warm joyfulness, a kind of harmless boyish mischief belying the man's age, and even a tinge of exasperation and maybe even sadness or melancholy at some point. I had a similar impression from a discussion with a Tibetan Lama.

Actually I did think they were both 'Average Joeish' enough, as in down-to-earth and not 'spaced out' in any way. Although the Zen master especially was very, very clearly something else in his joy, like sixteen instead of sixty, and very touching at the same time.

I guess would say they weren't deprived of emotion, but that the experience of anatta took the edge (the 'I') off the emotion, as far as that makes sense.

And then there's the overheard stories about masters of all kinds getting angry with their students, the Dalai Lama feeling very down occasionally, Roshi Suzuki feeling fear when in danger of drowning etc. etc.

As for me, my sloppy and inconsistent practice has so far led me to several instances of clear attenuation of emotion, and while this seems very useful, I don't think I'd want it to become permanent. Finding and sometimes/often flipping the emotion switch is a good thing I'm sure; blocking it in the 'off' position probably not so much.

EDIT: I just remembered that Adyashanti once mentioned a woman who found no-self entirely by accident and actually asked him for help in getting rid of it. I could be mixing things up here ('self' and the capacity to feel emotion), but that would belie the quotation in your first post, the one about no one ever wanting to go back.

RE: How do high levels of attainment affect your relationships?
Answer
11/15/12 6:26 PM as a reply to Robert McLune.
Robert McLune:
In fact, to be perfectly honest, it sounds not only like Stefanie did not lose "love", she may well have perfected what Christians refer to as agape. I mean, compare what she wrote with:

1 Corinthans 13:4-7:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.


And if that's the case, it's simply tragic that so many Christians are so averse to meditation!

It's good you bring that up. It's not just an issue of language, no. "Love Agape" is not what Stefanie was experiencing. "Love Agape" is a highly affective state of being, which is the opposite of what an actual freedom is. You might say that Stefanie's actions were ones that one who perfectly manifested the ideal of "Love Agape" might take, which might be true. The difference is that if one were to try and be that "Love Agape", one would fall short. Actual freedom is what "Love Agape" aspires to be.

/begin quote dump from various bits of the not-too-well-organized AFT site. Note that the Enlightenment Richard talks about here is a different one than the one DhO aspirants seek to experience.

From the AFT topic page on Altered State of Consciousness (Most of these quotes I have trimmed down and added my own emphases to):
Richard:
For eleven years I lived in an Altered State Of Consciousness, so I had plenty of time to examine all its nooks and crannies ... and I found much that was murky and dirty lurking around in the outer darkness. [...] I spent the first three years swanning along in a state of ‘Oneness with everything’. I was Love Agapé and Divine Compassion all rolled up into one ... and my reward for being the latest ‘Saviour Of Humankind’ was to be able to live in ‘Rapturous Bliss’, ‘Ineffable Ecstasy’ and ‘Exalted Euphoria’. However, my native intelligence would not let me get away with anything false and I soon found enough to make me start suspecting something very serious was wrong with Spiritual Enlightenment. To start off with was the inescapable fact that I had a ‘Sense Of Mission’ to bring ‘Peace and Love’ to a suffering humanity – I was driven to spread ‘The Word’ and to disseminate ‘The Truth’ – and this imposition did not sit well with me. In my fourth year I started to question the efficacy of Divine Compassion as a means of resolving sorrow once and for all. As a palliative for suffering it was beyond compare – it superseded pity, sympathy and empathy by a mile – but it remained forever a panacea only. Consolation for sorrow, no matter how divine that solace may be, is not a cure that lasts.
The Altered State of Consciousness – in particular, spiritual enlightenment – needs to be talked about and exposed for what it is so that nobody need venture up that blind alley ever again. There is another way and another goal. The main trouble with the enlightenment is that whilst the ego dissolves, the identity as a soul remains intact. No longer identifying as a personal ego-bound identity, one then identifies as an impersonal soul-bound identity – ‘I am That’, ‘I am God’, ‘I am The Supreme’, ‘I am The Absolute’ and so on. This is the delusion , the mirage, the deception ... and it is extremely difficult to see it for oneself, for one is in an august state. This second identity – the second ‘I’ of Ramana Maharshi fame – is a difficult one to shake, maybe more difficult than the first; for who is brave enough to voluntarily give up fame and fortune, reverence and worship, status and security?
One has to be scrupulously honest with oneself to go all the way and no longer be a someone, a somebody of importance. One faces extinction; ‘I ’ will cease to be, there will be no ‘being’ whatsoever, no ‘presence’ at all. It is impossible to imagine, not only the complete and utter cessation of ‘me’ in ‘my’ entirety, but the end of any ‘Ultimate Being’ or ‘Absolute Presence’ in any way, shape or form. It means that no one or no thing is in charge of the universe ... that there is no ‘Ultimate Authority’. It means that all values are but human values, with no absolute values at all to fall back upon. It is impossible for ‘me’ to conceive that without a wayward ‘me’ there is no need for any values whatsoever ... or an ‘Ultimate Authority’.
Thus I find myself here, in the world as-it-is. A vast stillness lies all around, a perfection that is abounding with purity. Beneficence, an active kindness, overflows in all directions, imbuing everything with unimaginable fairytale-like quality. For me to be able to be here at all is a blessing that only ‘I’ could grant, because nobody else could do it for me. I am full of admiration for the ‘me’ that dared to do such a thing. I owe all that I experience now to ‘me’. I salute ‘my’ audacity. And what an adventure it was ... and still is.


Here is another quote mentioning how actual freedom entails the extinction of Love Agape:
Richard:
My experiences on an uninhabited island in the tropics off the north-eastern Australian seaboard came after being in India [...] It was there I finally discovered that it was Spiritual Enlightenment that was at fault and that I could ‘purify’ myself via these ‘Tried and True’ means until the moon turned blue ... to no avail.
The first of these experiences occurred at maybe three in the morning (I had no watch) and was accompanied by a sense of dread the likes of which I had never experienced even in a war-zone – made all the more acute because I had not experienced fear for four years (I was living in a state of Divine Compassion and Love Agapé which protected me from malice and the underlying fear). [...] It seemed so extreme that the physical body must surely die for the attainment of it.
To put it into a physical analogy, it was as if I were to gather up my meagre belongings, eradicate all marks of my stay on the island, and paddle away over the horizon, all the while not knowing whence I go ... and vanish without a trace, never to be seen again. [...] The autological self by whatever name would cease to ‘be’, there would be no ‘spirit’, no ‘presence’, no ‘being’ at all. This was more than death of the ego, which is a major event by any definition; this was total annihilation. No ego, no soul – no self, no Self – no more Heavenly Rapture, Love Agapé, Divine Bliss and so on. Only oblivion. It was not at all attractive, not at all alluring, not at all desirable ... yet I knew I was going to do it, sooner or later, because it was the ultimate condition and herein lay the secret to the ‘Mystery of Life’.
It was to take seven more years to eventuate ... but that is another story.


Further down the page:
RESPONDENT: Is there something more you could say; could you provide more detail about this ‘stepping out’? I would for one to like to know the details about what was in your mind; what went through your mind (or outside or your mind) while you were in total isolation on the island, and how that relates to what/where you are now, that is if you feel so inclined to share.
RICHARD: Basically it was because of my intense urge to evince and demonstrate whatever was possible for this universe to manifest that I was looking into both Universal Compassion and Love Agapé to see what they are made up off. I was busy with these matters because I seemed to be driven by some force to spread ‘The Word’ and that had never been my intention all those years ago when I first had what is known as a pure consciousness experience (PCE). This peak experience initiated my incursion into all matters metaphysical, culminating in the ‘death’ of my ego and catapulting me into the sacred. My intent back then had been to cleanse myself of all that is detrimental to personal happiness and interpersonal harmony ... in other words: peace on earth in our life-time. Instead of that rather simple ambition, I found that I was impelled on an odyssey to be the latest ‘Saviour of Humankind’ in a long list of enlightened ‘Beings’ ... and this imposition did not sit well with me, as they have all failed in their ‘Divine Work’. After something like five thousand years of recorded history, ‘humanity’ was nowhere nearer to peace and harmony than before. Indeed, because of the much-touted Love and Compassion, much Hatred and Bloodshed had followed in their wake. This abysmal fate was something I wish to avoid repeating, whatever the personal cost in terms of losing the much-prized ‘State Of ‘Being’.
My diagnosis was simple: If I am driven by some force – no matter how Good that force be – then I am not actually free.


And a few more bits from this page:
Richard:
An actual freedom from the human condition is different from Enlightenment in that it is most definitely substantial: there is no transcendence, for I have neither sorrow nor malice anywhere at all to rise above via sublimation. They have vanished entirely, leaving me both blithesome and benign – carefree and harmless – which leads to a most remarkable state of affairs. The chief characteristics of Enlightenment – Union with the Divine (by any name), Universal Compassion, Love Agapé, Ineffable Bliss and Rapture, The Truth, Timelessness, Spacelessness, Formlessness, Immortality, Aloneness, Oneness, Pacifism, Surrender, Trust, Beauty, Goodness and so on – being redundant in this totally new condition, are no longer extant. Herein lies the unmistakable distinction between this condition, which I call actual freedom, and the Enlightened State: I am no longer driven by a Divine Sense Of Mission to bring The Truth, Universal Love and Divine Compassion to the world. I am free to speak with whomsoever is genuinely interested in solving the ‘Mystery of Life’ and becoming totally free of the Human Condition. For succinctness and clarity I can summarise it as follows:
[...]
The primary cause of all the wars and murders and rapes and tortures and domestic violence and child abuse and suicides and so on is the instinctual passions which give rise to malice and sorrow and the antidotally generated pacifiers of love and compassion which, if sublimated and transcended, give rise to Love Agapé and Divine Compassion. This ‘Tried and True’ solution to all the ills of humankind lies within the ‘Human Condition’ and, as it has had 3,000 to 5,000 years to demonstrate its efficacy, can be discarded as being the ‘Tried and Failed’.
[...]
Love Agape and Divine Compassion are not ‘practical’ at all ... to practice pacifism and surrender is to allow the bully-boys to rule the world.
[...]
Only a psychological and/or psychic entity needs the connection of relationship in order to create a synthetic intimacy – usually via the bridge of love and compassion – and manifest the delusion that separation has ended.
[...]
Not only is ‘a Love Agape and a Divine Compassion’ non-pacifistic and warlike ... any brand of non-human (sacred, divine, unconditional, and so on) love and compassion has left much bloodshed and hatred in its wake. This is because the diabolical underpins the divine.


Here's a link to a nice conversation about actual intimacy vs. love (not Love Agape in particular): "Actual Intimacy Is Vastly Superior To Love".
/end quote dump

RE: How do high levels of attainment affect your relationships?
Answer
11/15/12 7:50 PM as a reply to Beoman Claudiu Dragon Emu Fire Golem.
Beoman Claudiu Dragon Emu Fire Golem:

It's good you bring that up. It's not just an issue of language, no. "Love Agape" is not what Stefanie was experiencing. "Love Agape" is a highly affective state of being, ...

But that's just demonstrating precisely the problem of language I'm talking about. It's not clear that what I mean by "Agape", (being the thing I proposed Stefanie may have been perfecting), and what you mean by "Love Agape" are in any way the same. And in fact I suspect they're not. There's a clue already in our different usage. In the normal Christian usage (which was the one I intended), we don't talk about "Love Agape", it's just "Agape". Also, in the normal Christian use, Agape is absolutely not affective. In fact, that's probably one of its defining characteristics. (Assuming, of course, that you and I mean the same thing by "affective").

RE: How do high levels of attainment affect your relationships?
Answer
11/16/12 11:37 AM as a reply to Robert McLune.
Robert McLune:
JM:
Now when we measure their body, we do measure sort of the same type of physiological responses that you would measure in people that had emotion. So it’s interesting because there does appear to be sort of what you would think of measurable emotional response in the body but there’s no experience of it.

Well hang on. So is it that they stop loving, or that they stop having an "experience" of loving? If the latter, what does that mean?

OK, I've read enough. I'd like to hear from the horse's mouth if possible.

Any parents out there of sufficiently high attainment to have reached what the podcast is referring to? What is it? Do you no longer love your kids? Or your wife? Or your mum?

P.S. I'm sure there are lots of people willing to offer theoretical explanations about this, and please go ahead if you want. But I'm particularly interested in the comments of anyone who has actually been there, done that.


I don't quite fit your requirements, but I'll write something anyway, because it's an interesting subject, and because I seem to be experiencing the opposite of what's reported there, on the surface at least. I'll let you line that up with the various signposts and maps yourself, if you wish to form an opinion about it.

So in my case, I experienced a shift which increased or unleashed the emotional component of my life - a kind of "heart opening" or "heart release". Where before I kept my emotions tightly controlled and locked away, this has ceased to be the case.

Interestingly, rather than becoming a victim of my emotions because of this, it has had the effect of freeing me from a weird sick sense of "liability" for my emotions - in a very real sense, the emotions are not mine any more. They are just emotions. (Very much like my thoughts are not my property any more, they are just thoughts.) And I'm not my emotions (just as I'm not my thoughts about myself).

So while I feel misery and joy and calm and excitement and anger and love and aversion and so on, these are not wild beasts on a leash held by some "me" who is somehow responsible for making them look good on stage.

I have preferences, too: I like calm better than rage, and love better than aversion or hate or anger. I like good food better than bad food, and I like interesting thoughts better than dull repetitive mind-loops.

I care about, and love, my wife and daughter, in a way that has many echoes in both Stefanie's description and the Pauline epistle you quoted. The quality of that love has undergone the same kind of unleashing the other emotions have undergone. Certainly my motivation for love and care have become different, "purified" in a sense, because many of the frankly narcissistic little loop-backs have been dropped from it: for example "being a good father/husband" is no longer a motivation, which sounds weird, but if understood to mean that the constant posing of the question "am I seen as a good father/husband?" is no longer an issue, and the energy previously invested in looking for answers to this question is now free for actually being the answer, this takes away some of the weirdness, I hope.

Here's a snappy sound-bite: I don't care how my caring for my loved ones makes me look to other people or even to myself.

So basically, love as I experience and understand it now is a whole lot more about perceiving the beloved and a great deal less about being perceived as the lover. I can't say the latter component is entirely gone, but it's not even a shadow of its former dark un-glory any more.

My view is that that which we carry with us, and which gets stripped or dropped off, and by which we define progress along our notions of a spiritual path, is something which distorts, taints, or defiles our perception of anything at all: thoughts, emotions, and more basic things like smells or sounds as well. So with respect to emotions: if it's the emotional distortions which pass as emotions proper, then, when those distortions decrease or maybe one day vanish, it may well seem like there are no emotions any more. But that's just my two cents worth of theorizing and word-mincing emoticon

Cheers,
Florian

RE: How do high levels of attainment affect your relationships?
Answer
11/16/12 4:17 PM as a reply to Florian.
Thanks Florian. Very useful. Picking up on one specific point:
Florian Weps:
I have preferences, too: I like calm better than rage, and love better than aversion or hate or anger. I like good food better than bad food, and I like interesting thoughts better than dull repetitive mind-loops.

Do you see the fact that you have those preferences as part of you not being finished yet? Or, maybe better put, do you envisage those preferences disappearing as you develop in skill?

The reason I ask is that it has for a long time puzzled me as to why there appears to be an asymmetry in the universe when it comes to pleasure versus pain (in all their forms -- calm/rage, love/aversion, and so on). Why does pain feel "bad" and pleasure feel "good"? What *is* that kind of bad and good? Or, in this context, what are the grounds for there even being a "preference"?

It -- the pain/pleasure asymmetry -- has something of the same flavor as the time direction asymmetry in physics. There's currently no convincing explanation as to why time seems to move in the direction it does -- most if not all of the physics works equally well backwards as well as forwards.

When I then encountered Buddhism and talk of no-self and loss of craving and attachment, I began to wonder if there may be a clue in there (to the pain/pleasure asymmetry, not the physics forward-time/backward-time one). I wondered if at very high levels of attainment one would become genuinely indifferent to which (if either) one experienced.

RE: How do high levels of attainment affect your relationships?
Answer
11/16/12 4:59 PM as a reply to Robert McLune.
Robert McLune:
Thanks Florian. Very useful. Picking up on one specific point:
Florian Weps:
I have preferences, too: I like calm better than rage, and love better than aversion or hate or anger. I like good food better than bad food, and I like interesting thoughts better than dull repetitive mind-loops.

Do you see the fact that you have those preferences as part of you not being finished yet? Or, maybe better put, do you envisage those preferences disappearing as you develop in skill?


No. Preferences are a nice example, because "preferring not to have preferences" is just one step away in all its grand absurdity.

There is always room for improvement in the "not fooling myself regarding my preferences", though.

And I really meant it about drawing your own conclusions about any attainments such as "being done" you want to draw. I love comparing lab results more than comparing grades, so to speak.

Robert McLune:
The reason I ask is that it has for a long time puzzled me as to why there appears to be an asymmetry in the universe when it comes to pleasure versus pain (in all their forms -- calm/rage, love/aversion, and so on). Why does pain feel "bad" and pleasure feel "good"? What *is* that kind of bad and good? Or, in this context, what are the grounds for there even being a "preference"?


Preferences are nothing special; taking them personally is what's extra weird, weird like hurting oneself because it feels so good when the pain stops. Plants grow towards light, we go where the pleasure is, corporations go where the money is... basic needs, no big mystery.

It -- the pain/pleasure asymmetry -- has something of the same flavor as the time direction asymmetry in physics. There's currently no convincing explanation as to why time seems to move in the direction it does -- most if not all of the physics works equally well backwards as well as forwards.


(doesn't thermodynamics contain a big arrow pointing at the future?) So yes, I can see where you're coming from, but how I see it, pleasure and pain is more like attracive and repulsive forces, if I were to choose an analogy from physics.

When I then encountered Buddhism and talk of no-self and loss of craving and attachment, I began to wonder if there may be a clue in there (to the pain/pleasure asymmetry, not the physics forward-time/backward-time one). I wondered if at very high levels of attainment one would become genuinely indifferent to which (if either) one experienced.


Again, preferring indifference over attraction and aversion is not a very indifferent attitude at all.

Cheers,
Florian

RE: How do high levels of attainment affect your relationships?
Answer
11/17/12 9:16 AM as a reply to Florian.
Florian Weps:

Preferences are nothing special; taking them personally is what's extra weird, weird like hurting oneself because it feels so good when the pain stops. Plants grow towards light, we go where the pleasure is, corporations go where the money is... basic needs, no big mystery.

I think this is probably the essential core of the topic. When I talk about the "preference" we all seem to have for pleasure over pain, I'm meaning exactly that "taking them personally". So I interpret what you are saying as one of the following:

a. We were using "preference" to mean two different things. If I factor that in, I think I get a "yes" from you on one facet of attainment. If you get to a certain level of ability then indeed it's true, one is able to stop taking personally an experience of pain or one of pleasure. That is, in my usage of the word, you do indeed stop having a "preference"
OR
b. Even taking our different usage into account, you are saying that there can still be a preference, *without* the taking of it personally. If this is the case then I suspect that is simply not describable and is only experience-able. I mean, we're really right at the edge of language here, so it's not surprising that I wouldn't get it yet (cos I haven't seen it, and it may be impossible for you to "say" it).

For me to figure out which it is: more sitting is called for methinks! emoticon

RE: How do high levels of attainment affect your relationships?
Answer
11/18/12 2:19 PM as a reply to Robert McLune.
Robert:
I think this is probably the essential core of the topic. When I talk about the "preference" we all seem to have for pleasure over pain, I'm meaning exactly that "taking them personally".


So it's not the preferences itself which interest you but your relationship to them: attraction, repulsion, indifference. In Buddhism these three are called the "three roots of unskillful action" or "defilements", usually enumerated as greed, aversion, delusion.

So I interpret what you are saying as one of the following:

a. We were using "preference" to mean two different things. If I factor that in, I think I get a "yes" from you on one facet of attainment. If you get to a certain level of ability then indeed it's true, one is able to stop taking personally an experience of pain or one of pleasure. That is, in my usage of the word, you do indeed stop having a "preference"


Not quite - the passage I highlighted contains a few assumptions which are great fodder for honest self-reflection. Here are three angles:

That "I" and "taking things personally" are somehow separable or not identical ("having the cake and eating it, too").

That enlightenment is a skill or attribute which can be added to "me" in order to remove other aspects of "me" ("I have a problem with my preferences. I'll get enlightened to fix it! Great, now I have two problems.")

That pain could be something other than pain or pleasure something other than pleasure ("denial")

b. Even taking our different usage into account, you are saying that there can still be a preference, *without* the taking of it personally. If this is the case then I suspect that is simply not describable and is only experience-able. I mean, we're really right at the edge of language here, so it's not surprising that I wouldn't get it yet (cos I haven't seen it, and it may be impossible for you to "say" it).


"Not taking it personally" is a pretty straightforward way of saying it. The problem here is not how to clearly express it (though in other circumstances, the "ga ga goo effect" is a great nuisance emoticon ), but that it's just a description, not a prescription. It describes a result, not the way to arrive at the result. There are traditional similes about this such as: It's watering a sprout which makes it continue to grow, not pulling it out so see how large it's become.

Therefore, your plan of continuing your meditation practice is a good one.

Cheers,
Florian