ATTRACTION, REPULSION, OR NEUTRAL
A meditation technique suggests that when thoughts or fantasies arise, rather than push them away or get lost in them, simply notice if they are “attractive, repulsive or neutral.” Initially this creates some space from them. As I become aware of my judgments I am back in the moment rather than under the spell the mind created. Back in here-and-now, I can re-focus on the breath I follow in meditation.
While this instruction helps in meditation, it can also be of service during every day life. We judge far more often than we are aware. Just as meditation is a practice of being present in life, becoming conscious of our judgments during daily activity and relating with others can help us differentiate between what actually is, and what might be tinted by our fears or desires.
Almost four decades ago (gulp!), in my late twenties, I co-led a Gay men’s support group at The Pacific Center in Berkeley with a man I will call Rob. Rob had training in religion rather than psychotherapy. After the group ended, he became good friends with a group member named Odell, who also became a friend of mine. I lost contact with Rob, while Odell kept up contact with each of us.
A few years later, Odell related to me that Rob was badly shaken up after having been mugged by a Black man a few months earlier. After that, the few times Odell saw Rob, Rob acted distant and uncomfortable with him. For you see, Odell is also Black. Perhaps if Rob had been better able to step back and observe his own reactions, he would have remembered Odell for who he was, not any superficial resemblance to his mugger. Instead he withdrew from a good friendship, a sad loss for everyone.
I am not suggesting we shouldn’t judge. Judging and knowing our own preferences and needs is valuable. Yet it is also important not to allow our judgments, especially pre-judgments, to interfere with our ability to actually perceive what or who is in front of us now. Rob’s fears controlled his behaviors. Ours will also unless we become aware of them and choose not to let them.
This is really about being more conscious, especially when our emotions are stirred. Checking if we are feeling “attraction, repulsion or neutral,” can help us be more aware in our everyday encounters. With awareness we can choose to react in terms of our values rather than just our impulses, fears or desires. After all, what does living a spiritual life mean if not making efforts to live according to your values?
Just because I don’t like something about a person I have just met, does not mean I have to push them away. Indeed sometimes becoming curious about my reaction can help me know more about myself. Maybe I am picking up something about the other that is dangerous. Or maybe, like Rob, I am reacting to a past danger rather than the real person in front of me.
Ultimately, I would rather seek to see the divine or at least the good in each person I meet. While acknowledging that some folks will make this quite a challenge, I think of the intention and effort as part of living a more spiritual life. Or if you don’t like the term spiritual, it is part of how we can live a happier, fuller, more joyous lives.