To Progress Spiritually, How Do I Get Past Likes and Dislikes?

Question

How do you know if resistance to something is linked to your ego? For example, in general dancing, going out too much or participating in social gatherings isn’t an attraction and there would be resistance for me to do that. Just the fact that I have resistance to it means it’s an attachment? Or would it mean that desire for this isn’t there? I want to try and understand if this is a factor for spiritual progress to get past things like these as it’s considered as a like or dislike.

—Anonymous, United States

Answer

Dear Friend,

There is certainly a difference between not having an interest in a given activity and being unwilling to do it when the opportunity or obligation to do so arises. Since you used the example of dancing and partying, it’s not uncommon among meditators to no longer have an interest in doing that for its own sake.

Yet, if my cousin is getting married and I am invited and there is dancing at the reception, I might not have an interest in dancing — but if my cousin approaches me and asks me to dance with her, to decline or refuse would probably be impolite. My disinclination might be rooted in my judgment of dancing (being unspiritual), my dislike (perhaps I feel awkward dancing), or my being self-conscious.

To continue with your example, often it’s a mixture. Let’s assume that your “friends” do go out partying but, having begun a spiritual practice like meditation, you find that you are no longer interested. Yet, and not coincidentally, it may also be true that you’ve never been that comfortable partying, and definitely not dancing. Those are fairly common among young men of any persuasion. It might be tempting to think that my newfound spirituality is the reason I don’t want to go out and party; after all, “it’s not spiritual.” But, just as true might also be the case that you find it embarrassing. Why can’t both be true?

The question, then, is whether or not the invitation to go out partying is the right thing to do for you at this point in your life, pleasant or unpleasant to your mind. I will, based on my own knowledge of meditators, imagine that whatever interest you may have had in the past in partying is no longer an activity that resonates with you, with your self-identity, or with your conscious aspirations. It might yet be the case that you actually dislike partying for reasons that aren’t really all that spiritual — call it attachment if you like.

It is very common among meditators to discover that the old group of friends and their long-standing activities (i.e. partying) are no longer of interest or appropriate. The new meditator obviously needs to find new friends! (I recently responded to a similar question on this website but then later published it on my blog because of it being such a common occurrence.)

I’m reading a lot into your question, and I hope I’m on the right track. See if you can distinguish between whether it is “right” for you to do and whether you don’t actually want to do it. If your resistance is to taking heroin, you could say you are attached to not taking heroin but that’s actually a good thing! Presumably, from a spiritual point of view, you will never have to take heroin as being good for you spiritually. Probably the same might be said of dancing, though if you are dating or married and your partner wants to dance (and otherwise it’s harmless enough) you might decide you’re just being stubborn for no reason. (Yes, it might be a lot better not to have to go places where dancing, drinking, etc., take place, but maybe at this point in your life to refuse causes more tension in your life than to simply go, remain centered, calm and joyful in your Self.)

Now I’m about to take this even further, so I really hope I’m not “way out there.” As a person changes his vibration owing to an active spiritually oriented life of prayer, meditation, selflessness, and study of sacred teachings, in time either conflict arises or, no longer feeling in tune with their consciousness and activities, people with whom he’s been friends will fade away. This is a bigger story, of course, and how one handles letting go is a difficult, yet important, subject that goes beyond your question for now.

And finally there’s the simple value of self-acceptance. “Dancing isn’t my thing, thank you!” You have to weigh your personal inclinations with the “dharma” (the duty) presented to you. Maturity, Swami Kriyananda wrote, is taking into account the realities of others together with your own. Sometimes for the sake of harmony, friendship, or love, you do things that are unpleasant for you but otherwise harmless. I hope I haven’t strayed too far from your question but have offered a sufficiently broad scope for contemplation.

Your dislike of dancing is certainly rooted in ego, but lacking ego dogs and cats don’t aspire to know, love, and serve God, gentle though they may be. The question is, practically speaking, “What is the right action” for me at this time? Whatever you do, if it seems right for you to do it, pleasant or not, do it with (the joy of) God.

Joy and blessings!
Nayaswami Hriman