Science has shown that meditation offers the chance to form new neural pathways that rise beyond the addictive twin trap of acceptance V rejection, condemnation V redemption, or self V other. In this, the suffering of rejection is immensely relieved, not by numbing the pain, but by rising above the duality.
The pain of rejection can be so overwhelming that we build a thousand walls and moats around ourselves to avoid feeling it. Rejection is an emergency, launching the whole system into survival mode. Often, short-term survival mode boils down to the basic raw instinct: kill or be killed. Reject first, to avoid rejection. It’s them or us; me or you.
Long-term, unconscious strategies against the threat of rejection involves anticipation, projection or obsession with the reactions of others; masking who we “really” are; imitation of projected successful people; and a lot of imagination and plotting. Such is the threatof the pain of rejection, that it’s directly linked to an organization of experience in terms of superiority and inferiority. Within this quest for the survival of the personal psyche, even equality can become an equality complex.
It’s all far removed from the clarity and beauty of relaxing into the living presence of all we are. The fear can be so great that it’s not anchored either in the present time or space. That is, we can spend hours in the comfort of our own beds in mental trepidation about the anticipated pain of rejection that might come tomorrow at the party, or alternatively, that happened previously – perhaps even a very long time ago.
Rejection is linked to trauma. Yet unlike a trauma, in which we break connection with an unwanted aspect of experience due to the pure pain of it, in rejection between people, WE ARE THE TRAUMA.
The threat of rejection is a threat of expulsion – from the tribe on which we depend for survival. All the four collective fears of traditional psychology are linked to rejection.
The fear of death: in nature, when a herd excludes one animal, it will probably die alone.
The fear of illness: illness is in nature is an underlying motive to reject one member of the herd – to isolate him or her, for the sake of the whole.
The fear of insanity: collectively, we reject those considered ‘insane’, confining them out of sight, as if mental disorder were contagious.
The fear of sexuality: rejection games between genders and over the whole gender issue, coupled with vast fields of rejection and projection around sexuality, makes sexuality a forerunner in the horrific rejection game.
In this sense, the fear of rejection would appear to be a meta-fear – more powerful and over-riding even than the threat of death. The pain of rejection goes with physical sensations – we literally seize up and contract around the wounding, as an emergency containment measure. It has mental sensation – releasing stress hormones that over-activate the control centers and vastly inhibit the firing of mirror neurons – so-called ’empathy neurons’. Emotionally, if we let it, the pain of rejection can feel like a hemorrhage of despair – we are literally bleeding out from the center of the chest.
The fear of rejection leads us to reject ourselves in ways that increase suffering. We reject our authentic feelings, we repress our voice, we adjust attitudes to conform and rearrange our faces to fit the occasion. We dress to please the imagined ‘other’ and we constantly keep a private eye on how the show is going down. We lose our naturalness,authenticity, harmony, and most tragically of all, our sense of belonging in freedom. Intimacy becomes forbidden as we progressively wither through a hall of conflicting mirrors. Life becomes one great game of survival and isolation – but no-one ever fired a bullet.
Acceptance can antidote rejection, but also feeds the belief. Meditation helps transcend the notion that any external authority has the power to reject what is anyway already here.
According to a studyconducted by the University of Michigan Medical School, that metaphorical stab in the heart registers in the brain in same way as an actual physical stabbing.
Subjects with a high resilience to the pain of rejection were found to be producing natural pain killers – chemical opioids – into the gaps between neurons in the amygdala, which dampens pain signals in the brain region associated with emotion, survival and instinct. Such opioids determine the amount of pain experienced, whether its cause is physical or emotional. Cognitive-based approaches found to reduce pain, such as hypnosis, acupuncture, distraction and even the placebo response, have been shown to work through this system.
However, In March 2016, Science Daily reported that Mindfulness Meditation, unlike its holistic counterparts, reduces pain without the activation of pain-killing opioids. The researchers suggested that meditation, rather than recruiting opioids in the brain, reduces the pain experience through using different pathways of neurons.
Love me, Love me not: the Rejection Catch 22
The irony is that for as long as we invest in the external circumstance or authorities to give us the seal of acceptance, we create a shadow of potential authority. That same authority that accepts you today, can reject you tomorrow. Our state of mind and heart is perpetually held hostage to the Mengele-like thumb of survival – thumbs up or thumbs down. While opioids might give a feeling of success, success makes failure a real possibility. We are caught in a spiral driven by a bottom-less pit of lack or non-safety at the core of ourselves.
For a while, we can compensate the pain of rejection with the production of opioids. Scientists are even pondering manufacturing a medication to stimulate them for sufferers of depression and anxiety disorder. Yet this risks keeping us dependent on circumstance – addicted even, to the rush of feeling appreciated. We need ever increasing quantities of the reward chemical from the one whose appreciation and acceptance of us boosts those opioids – literally to numb the pain. This can be a person we admire, or a source of reward in which we seem to receive public applause and appreciation. Yet the opioid source itself does not take away the pain, it simply kills its registration in the brain – temporarily. Physically seen, the knife is still in the chest!
Can the right hand reject the left?
The beauty of mindfulness meditation is that it brings perspective to the tyranny of pain, it makes the pain relative to the rest of life, without taking the pain away through repression, suppression or denial. It introduces elements of space and time to any experience. It forms a neural pathway that literally transcends the stark duality of acceptance/rejection. Where thought, feeling and flesh is contracting, it brings space and timelessness to the dimension of experience, which can relax the contraction. When working with the in-breath and out-breath, it brings the rhythm of the miracle of being physically alive in the here and now. Pain loses its autocratic control over the system.
“Science has shown that meditation offers the chance to form new neural pathways that rise beyond the addictive twin trap of acceptance V rejection, condemnation V redemption, or self V other. In this, the suffering of rejection is immensely relieved, not by numbing the pain, but by rising above the duality.”
As with physical pain, so it is with the pain of rejection. The moment we allow ourselves to feel the feeling, to recognize the wounding, even without need for objectivity, we create space. That which can allow the feeling is always already free from the feeling itself, no matter how intense. A spaciousness emerges through allowance of our own sensitivity, which means we also become sensitive to beauty, to pleasure, to the blessings of the moment which are also here, together with the pain. In this, the tunnel vision of a traumatic state is potentially avoided, or at least reduced in its capacity to get a firm grip. The threat of being forever, existentially condemned which is embedded in the pain of rejection, is annulled.
Anything within us that could be rejected is not who we truly are, it’s simply an aspect of form. In this, the pain of rejection can even serve our process of liberation in signalling where we’re not yet free of identification and where we still cleave to imagined authorities.
Rejection is one of the deeper illusions connected to the belief in a separate self: the belief that we are ultimately severed from our physical origins; from others; and from the universe. We’re talking about a trance state that is tremendously hypnotic, collectively nurtured, and which is deeply ingrained in our intimate belief structures. Nevertheless, freedom is possible, of mind, heart and body.
“It is always the false that makes you suffer, the false desires and fears, the false values and ideas, the false relationships between people. Abandon the false and you are free of pain; truth makes happy, truth liberates.” ― Nisargadatta Maharaj
Everything that exists, exists as part of the whole. We can deny existence, but every phenomena still has its place in time and space intricately connected and interdependent with everything else in an ongoing play of action and reaction.
The pain of rejection hurts, but it will not kill us. Through allowing the pain of rejection we can cultivate new neural networks of resilience beyond the polarity of either-or, or “me” verses the “other”. By degrees, masks fall away and we become more firmly established in our own fluid authenticity and the truth of our own authority. In this, there is less fear and far more clarity in allowing the flow of life through us. This is the inner empowerment on which the future of all of us depends.
The passion to serve the 'other' in the relief of suffering through processes of awakening is born out of the simple truth that it makes me feel better. Your welfare is my welfare. We never were divided. The love we share is the love we experience. So it is with peace.