The need to BE
As humans, we have different sets of needs. One of them is that we need to HAVE things. We need material possession, food, clothes, shelter, not to mention oxygen. We need all of these things for our safety and survival. So pursuing them has been very important throughout our evolution. When we operate from the “having mode“, we scan our environment for things that we can possess in order to satisfy our needs. There is nothing wrong with the having mode, but it is not the only need we have.
We also have a need to BE, BELONG and BECOME. Just as we inhabit the having mode when pursuing possessions, we inhabit the “being mode” when seeking to relate and grow.
The suffering of confusion
When we operate from the “having mode” while trying to fulfil our “being needs”, we are caught in what John Vervaeke calls a “modal confusion”. In this confusion, we falsely believe that the possession of objects will satisfy our need to BE (loved, respected, or whatever it is). We may think that by HAVING the new Tesla car/money/status, we will BECOME more fulfilled or confident.
This confusion does not only occur in relation to objects but in relation to other people (and ourselves) as well. For example, we may pursue HAVING sex in order to fulfil our need to BE in love. Or we may try to HAVE time and attention from someone in order to BE seen and BELONG.
In short, we are trying to fulfil our developmental needs (our BEING needs) by HAVING possession over things and people. This confusion sets us up for disappointment, unsatisfactoriness, jealousy, feelings of abandonment… in short; suffering.
What does this have to do with Mindfulness? Well, it turns out that contemplating love can be an antidote to this modal confusion.
Contemplating the 4 immeasurable as an antidote
In the Buddhist teachings, we are invited to contemplate what is known as the brahmavihārās, or the Four immeasurables:
- loving-kindness (mettā)
- compassion (karuṇā)
- empathetic joy (muditā)
- equanimity (upekkhā)
We have already gone into some detail about meditation practice as a process by which we sharpen our awareness and ability to pay attention and stay focused. It enables us to step back and observe parts of our experience that we normally overlook. For example, meditation teaches us to look at our thoughts and feelings, rather than unconsciously acting through them.
Contemplation serves as a complement to meditation. Contemplation is a way to cultivate our natural state of loving awareness in relation to ourselves and other beings. This is an essential part of our practice. Awareness training is like a bird with two wings – we need both in order to fly:
- The wing of wisdom – we use meditation practices to cultivate wisdom by cutting through illusions
- The wing of love – we use contemplation practices to cultivate love by inhabiting our naturally loving awareness and our “being mode” in relation to ourselves and others.
The process of becoming love
Mettā refers to a loving attitude toward ourselves and the world at large. Karuṇā refers to the compassion that arises naturally when we experience suffering. These practices helps us cultivate feelings of love and compassion, and to direct them toward ourselves and others. In my experience, these virtues are not “produced” as a result of conscious will. Rather, they appear when we remember the being mode of existence.
“The research… it’s almost getting boring, because self compassion is positively associated with virtually every desirable outcome in terms of psychological well being”– Ronald Siegel (professor, Harvard medical school)
The practice of mettā
We will now explore a mettā practice that help us cultivate a loving way of life where we relate rather than possess. The positive emotions are not the end goal but arise naturally when we remember the being mode. This process open us up to transformation and becoming.
- Start by grounding in your body and settling into your meditation practice. Steady your body and mind.
- Then start the contemplation by setting an intention of loving kindness toward yourself. Try to feel and embody the intention rather than merely intellectualising – feel into your body and heart. What is it like to genuinely wish yourself happiness? What is it like to see yourself as a process of becoming? Can you see that there is more to you than the identify you ordinarily assume?
- We then go on to recite phrases to express this intention. You can choose phrases that feel natural and genuine to you. Common ones include ‘May I be happy’, ‘May I be healthy and at ease’, ‘May I be safe’, ‘May I be free from self-hatred’. According to the existential interpretation mentioned above, you can use phrases to remind yourself of your “being mode” and your need to relate, grow and love. For example, you can recite ‘may I realise my being mode’, ‘may I see that I am complete as I am’, or something else that resonates with you. Take your time and feel into the intention as you recite the phrases.
- Then move on by directing your intentions to someone you love – someone that naturally elicits wishes of wellbeing. Feel into your body, set the intentions and direct mettā to him or her by reciting the phrases (E.g. ‘may you be happy’ or ‘may I see you as the complete being that you are’). Observe if there is a tendency to assign certain roles or identities and try to not to get locked into the having mode.
- Next, repeat the process for a neutral person that you don’t know very well or don’t have particularly strong feelings for. Perhaps someone you see in the supermarket or in your neighbourhood. Try to see beyond the roles you assign to this person. Can you relate to him or her with compassion? Can you see them in their full form, as a fellow human BEING?
- Then move on to a person with whom you have a difficult relationship, where well-wishing typically does not come easy. Invite the intention to see beyond the labels you have assigned to him/her. See if you can realise that there is more to this person than the opinions and behaviors you have come to associate them with. See them as a complex human being with needs, hopes, fears and dreams – just like yourself.
- Finally, extend the intention to a wider group. You may picture a big crowd of people, to your entire city, country and even all humans and the planet at large. There is really no limit in terms of what intentions you set – just make sure you stay grounded and that you can genuinely feel the intentions (E.g. ‘may all beings be free from hatred and aversion’, ‘may all beings find peace and harmony’, ‘may I relate to all beings from a place of love’).
If you become distracted at any point during the process, come back to your meditation anchor and find you centre. Try to avoid any judgements about the distraction and renew your interest before resuming the contemplation practice where you left off. If it becomes too intense, you can come back to your breath.
Just like you may experience frustration when your mind wanders during meditation, you may experience a “mechanical” feeling or scepticism during contemplation practice. Remember that this is the practice. Just as meditation sharpens your awareness and insight if you stick with it, contemplation will strengthen your capacity to inhabit the being mode and to feel love. In other words, mettā can be a strong antidote to the modal confusion.
Frames to get you started
The combination of wisdom and love leads us to a sense of inter-relatedness and a shift away from the mistaken identifies we assign and assume. Ultimately, our entire relationship to the world shifts from having to being.
Below, you will find a collection of contemplations practices and techniques that will help you get started.
Loving Kindness (Metta) Meditation – 18 minutes
Compassion Meditation – 12 minutes
Forgiveness in 3 directions – 12 minute meditation
Self forgiveness meditation – 10 minute meditation
RAIN Meditation – 12 minutes
Continue with these Frames:
The having and being modes of existences were coined by psychologist Erich Fromm in the 1970s. This Frame is largely inspired by his work, and John Vervaeke’s interpretation in relation to Mindfulness. Dig deeper through the links below!