I read an article not too long ago that likened self-fulfillment with attainment. But it’s not really about what you have, or what you do is it? It’s not about how much or how little you have or the status of what you do.
So many have struggled up the ladder only to find that at either the top or somewhere along the way that all the having and doing is hollow, with no meaning, and at a deep level where your true sense of self-worth lay, profoundly empty.
On the surface this can be viewed as heresy, and dangerous talk, for all national and global economics depends on striving ambition and continuous competition. He who stops to think, falters i.e. he who muses, loses.
Now, don’t misunderstand me I’m not advocating the end to market driven capitalism, or striving, or competition, or shooting for the moon (goal setting). I’m just suggesting that there’s a better way to play the game, a better way to act out the story.
We can have our cake and eat it too. How? Just remember that there is striving, there is ambition, there are goals to be made and actualized, but that we are not our goals e.g. what we are is not defined by the outcome of the game.
The soul loves to play and is nourished by the game, but when a person begins to identify with the piece on the board, or the digital avatar on the screen, the soul gets lost and people get hurt.
When we forget that we are souls or spirits moving the game piece that is our human form we lose regardless of how many things we accumulate or squares on the board we jump to.
So by all means play the game, there’s much to be learned in it and much joy to be had, but play it knowing that the outcome of the game is less important than the play.
“Man’s Capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary.”
– Rheinhold Niebuhr, The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness (1944)
In order to live with one another in any kind of peace requires that each man be willing to give up some portion of his self-interest to the society. Though the soul of man yearns to be free– to be what it is, this yearning is what drives him to create societies that will extricate him from tyranny.
No man can ever hope to be complete and whole without the relationship of all other humans. But it’s that societal relationship that also threatens his autonomy– the very freedom he yearns for. But by his very nature and the nature of all things, both selfish and unselfish impulses struggle with one another for dominance.
What we see in most societies is a back and forth war between self-interest and social interest that often weakens the social agreement and that self-centered justification is then transformed into some collective moral justification that allows him to brutalize his fellow man. With moral justification he can then hide the true character of his collective self.
This back and forth struggle keeps humankind in a constant state of flux careening rapidly between justice and injustice, self-interest and collective interest, and selfishness and selflessness. And here for me is the crux of the problem, societies i.e. nations are basically selfish whereas the individual has within it a kernel of selflessness. It is this selflessness in balance with our selfishness that we each need to nurture. In short, we cannot expect nations to change until we do and we cannot change until we’re ready to give up our need to dominate everything– religiously, geologically, politically, and psychologically.
Right now we the collective people of this Earth in the name of self-righteousness, politically and religiously, are imposing our will above the will of every one else, attempting to change, to bend, reality toward our selfish needs and in the process ignoring what really needs to be changed– our fear-based penchant to dominate in thought and by physicality. When we make our own egos paramount we create the oligarchs, despots, and dictators of this world, we erode our ability to be free, and it is our souls that suffer.
Be the change you seek. Don’t expect it from your religionists or politicians they’ll only change when you do. And don’t use your religion to self-righteously control the hearts of others, use it to find the beauty in your own heart.
“God, give us grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed, courage
to change the things which should be changed,
and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.”
I’ve started to notice again how when I’m feeling really down, when I’m worried about whether I’ve made a difference or been foolish, whether I’m doing something right, some kind of encouragement comes my way usually in the form of an acknowledgement, “You really made me think” but sometimes it comes as simply as a vanity license plate, “U R OK”. I’ve always marveled at the timing and spot-on qualities of these synchronistic boosts, but have also not fully acknowledged their magical quality.
What do I mean by synchronicity? It’s what Carl Jung called “meaningful coincidences” or an “acausal connecting principle”. When causal connections seems to be impossible one might infer an acausal connection.
When my life seems a little too random in nature or when I start to feel as though it’s all meaningless chance these little encouragements seem to pop up. When I look back across my life I see that they’ve always been there though not recognized as such when experienced at the time. I don’t know where they come from though some have posited that they are expressions of the collective unconscious, a deeper psychic order or proof of a connection with everything, some have also thought them as sent by God.
Those who believe in only the rational and the concrete label these occurrences as delusional and merely as intellectual intuition with no meaningful connections and have applied several negative labels to explain away the phenomenon of synchronicity e.g. apophenia, patternicity, angenticity (many intellectuals love to use esoteric words to express what they don’t understand. It then makes it look like they have a handle on it). Some researchers such as Klaus Conrad suggested that the pattern emphasis of synchronicity was actually part of the early stages of schizophrenia (though this observation may have some merit not every synchronistic pattern emphasis leads to psychopathy. Psychopathy is often a matter of degree, intensity, and frequency so don’t worry.)
Crazy or not, for me they feel like the intervention of grace that nearly always comes when I most need them. I treat them as messages from the universe (God?) that are telling me something important about reality that I may be missing or am not currently in touch with. Over time I’ve learned to not discount them as merely meaningless and incidental coincidence and to treat them as a gift to my life.
The universe seems to talk to us in many ways if we could just slow down and listen. It’s subtle and so hard to hear through all the noise of our plans, arrogance, anxiety, judgments, fears, outrage, pain, self-criticisms, and worries. But learning to quiet ourselves so as to have a conversation with this phenomenal mystery might be the best thing we can do for ourselves and for each other.
After a dream is caught and you wander through its mysteries, be gentle with it for it is most fragile.
Be careful as you tread the hidden forests of your dreams. They are the unprotected essence of who and what we are. They are the messengers of our souls and our deeper selves. They harbor all our worries and fears, dislikes and rejected aspects, our hopes and our desires laid bare. They are born of the irrational, the imaginal, and the intuitive– a world of being as real and as informative as the rational world of science.
Both the outer mask that we present to the world and the mask turned inward so that we don’t look too deeply at the mysterious inner self are stripped away during our sleep allowing us to see our most beautiful face and darkest shadows. Through our dreams we get a glimpse of what God sees in each and every one of us without judgment or condemnation. Dreams are a grace unearned and a gift to those who will learn to accept them.
Treat them with care, respect, and compassion for they reveal the best of us and the worst of us. They represent our guide through life and the equilibrium and balance that all living creatures need to survive what is often a chaotic world. Our dreams are our inner savior.
They reveal a truth about our emotional state of mind, physical, and psychological health and our sense of the spiritual. They are our deepest connection with every thing, each other and with God or the universal spirit.
They create a nightly map to the experience of being human and if read properly can guide us to worlds not dreamed of through the conscious mind.
And they do all this uniquely for the dreamer who has them. Interpreters can hold our hands briefly and point to the way of the psyche but the individual needs to walk this path alone, it is about their story and life narrative and only they can know their true meaning.
Me, me, me, what I want, what I feel, what I think, how things effect me, my judgments, my expectations, what I see, my point-of-view, my body, my money, my, my, my.
This is all of the ego, that part of us that’s convinced that that’s all that we are, that if there is anything else it’s just fantasy or imagination i.e. not real, or the ghost in the machine.
I usually think that what I am is this person called Bob, with a body that looks a certain way, can do certain things, and has memories and feelings, urges, desires, values, judgments, and rigid points-of-view (one of them being that I have no rigid points-of-view). I wear a mask of the “Good guy” out in public but have an inner voice that reminds me of why that isn’t always true.
Everything that I see or think is tainted with what this “ego-me” believes is true i.e. what “I” think is true. Oh, I know that it’s just a projection of my unexplored and poorly understood psyche and that I have no idea if the world I see is true, in part if at all. But typically I ignore that piece of knowledge because ego-me wants to be right. Actually ego-me “needs” to be right because being right means that it gets to survive just the way it is and as everyone knows deep in their tiny ego-me hearts being wrong is a horrible, bad, unsavory thing to be avoided at all costs– that is if admitting to being wrong doesn’t actually make you right about being wrong, then you’ll admit to be wrong!
It’s true, when we say “I” we are referring to this image of self that we created both inside and out and if any part becomes threatened we will defend its integrity at any cost i.e. by rejecting the offender by banishing it, demeaning it, bedeviling it, ignoring it, or if particularly immature, we’ll even kill it.
But what is this that we are defending, is it real or just something we made up and what do I mean by “we”? When I use the word “we” I’m not necessarily referring to a collective but to what it is inside of us that made this ego up in the first place.
Now this might come as a surprise to most people who believe that there may be more than one “me” inside us, that there is a me that created the ego-me, that there’s a me listening to all the talking and thinking and feeling and believing of the ego-me. I mean, who’s listening to all that continuous chatter going on inside our minds?
Who was it that was there before and just after we were born– before we started adding meaning and memories and feelings and judgments to everything? It’s still there because who else are we talking to inside our head?
Am I suggesting that we are not our ego-selves, that we are something else entirely?
Yes and no. I say this because the ego-self is actually part of the whole called the “self”, there’s also a much, much bigger motivating and animating self that energizes the whole and both are needed to maintain the continuance of our being. Mostly they act somewhat in unison though I admit that the ego-self frequently goes off on ventures that are often self-defeating. But the core-self i.e. for the lack of any other word, the “soul” can often bring it back before too much damage is done.
But existence is a constant dance of polarization that often causes our being to struggle to remain upright and sometimes even causing us to stumble. When in harmony life often looks like two steps forward and one step backward as the dance progresses but when one side of the dance tries to control too much of the flow, then disharmony ensues and the dancers become awkward and stumble. This is what happens in relationships between individuals, between philosophies, religions, and nations. This is what is happening in the world today i.e. the ego-self has (once again) become too dominant and is causing us all to trip.
We are not just our egos (as I’ve defined them), we are much more than that and we need to understand that our small and limited, selves can’t always lead the dance, sometimes we need to listen to our partner and allow them to help us back on course.
And by “partner” I’m not just referring to the “two in one” of our self because the truth is that we are each other’s partner, every one of us, and if we want to keep this dance going, then perhaps we better start treating each other that way.
Unexamined events in our childhood lives have left indelible marks on our unconscious landscape. These marks, or shall I say wounds, have effected how we relate to the world and to ourselves throughout our lives.
I always wondered why I related to people the way that I have and in some ways still do. Why do the actions of some people upset me and others don’t? As I’ve grown older I’ve also become interested in what motivated and motivates my actions and have become convinced that much, if not most, of my behaviors were automatic responses to patterns laid down and built into my unconscious mind during those formative years.
Sometimes those patterns, a template for perception, will reactivate during some modern day events. It’s as though the event reaches deep into my unconscious mind and “hooks” a pattern, a feeling, and/or an early similar event and I find myself feeling and acting in a way alien to my current emotional state. In fact, psychologists label these motivating elements “hooks”.
For example, a person might have experienced a mother who was for some reason, (from the perspective of the child the reason is irrelevant) cold and indifferent to them as a child and out of that learned to do whatever was necessary to gain acceptance and acknowledgment, trying also to be loved and cared for. Of course this would never produce the desired result though over time may become the primary motivator, or hook, behind their material success– a material success with little feeling of love or personal attainment i.e. there’s a lot of very successful people out there who don’t think they’ve really “made it” or feel unfulfilled despite their achievements.
When the fear of disapproval, or failure or the potential for shame comes up many people are hooked into certain response patterns such as denial, withdrawal, and/or rage making it difficult for them to respond effectively.
There are also materially successful people who are self-critical and mildly depressed and full of fear. There are many marginally successful and those that might be considered unsuccessful by the current patriarchal society whose early critical upbringing has added a poisonous aspect to their world view e.g. hooks such as insecurities and powerlessness and who have great difficulty overcoming the negative affects of a less than optimal childhood.
Many males experience a stunted masculinity due to their inability to employ their emotional selves, as do females who have opted to put theirs on the back burner while trying to make it in a patriarchal environment.
What may have caused this damage to our individual and societal potential for happiness and fulfillment has been a depreciated feminine aspect of compassion, intuitiveness and self-forgiveness. Our patriarchal drive toward rationality, high productivity and material success has quite literally cut us off from the feminine side of ourselves and that of our society.
Far too many women have subverted their feminine side in order to compete in a patriarchal system and far too many men have rejected their less dominant feminine side to their personalities due to an unconscious fear of a women’s disapproval engendered from the early mothering of their childhood.
It is said by some psychologists, most notably Carl Jung, that within each of us an archetype, a human race image, of the ideal mother, The Great Mother. Unconsciously everything in our waking world is compared to this image buried within our subconscious. Clearly this affects what we perceive regarding our conscious world mothers both positively and negatively.
Now I’m not mother-bashing here, most mothers do a herculean job of raising their children, but they are human and do make mistakes and on occasion do things that are more in their best interest than the child’s, but what the child does with those instances of not being the best mother are what leads to the negative affects I’ve detailed above. In a society where the father is supportive of the feminine these minor effects would be mitigated but many of these fathers have had their own inner feminine stunted and demeaned if not outright buried. In a society that pays no premium toward looking at its emotional self the feminine aspect cannot bring balance to an overly masculinized environment.
The consequences of restricting the feminine aspect in all of us has profound and long lasting effects on each of us to achieve our potential and ultimately to live in an environment of fulfilled happiness. Sure, we are the most militarily, economically, and productively powerful nation on Earth, but at what cost? We certainly aren’t the happiest, contented, the best cared for, or loved and loving people on Earth and the fear of possible failure haunts nearly every activity. Both males and females in this society seem to feel inadequate and diminished or are running from the possibility of these feelings.
We need to bring greater parity to the sexes not only in the economic realm but in the psychological and emotional realms as well.
If you have the answer, then don’t bother to read on, because it’s not about finding an answer. It’s about the paradox and about unsticking the mind by grasping the unknowing, because it is only in the unknowing that something new can enter. This is a type of Zen Koan and is designed to put the mind into a double-bind and thus paralyze the ego-self, that which thinks it needs all the answers.
There’s another Zen story about the professor who comes to a Zen master for the purpose of learning something about Zen. The master offers him a cup and asks if he would like some tea. “Yes, of course!” Replied the professor and the master began to pour and pour until the cup ran over and filled the saucer then ran across the table. “But the cup is full!” Cried the professor. “And so are your ideas about Zen!” Suggested the master. Again, it is with your mind full, when you think you already know something, that there is no room for anything new.
Here’s a third story where Chuang Tzu, a Taoist teacher, told of a time when a man traveling in a boat sees another boat heading right toward him. In reaction he yells in anger and shakes his fist at the other boat to come about and change course, but nothing happens and they close the gap getting closer and closer. But now he notes that there’s no one in the other boat and his anger subsides and he himself steers clear. His preconceived notion nearly got him killed.
These stories lead to three more lessons in wielding magic, 1) Embrace the double-bind–the paradoxes of life, but embrace them as mysteries; 2) Give up what you know–actually, give up what you think you know. Until you do, you cannot learn anything; and 3) Learn to respond, not react–don’t operate out of your preconceptions, or your expectations e.g. be appropriate to the moment and action will flow easily.
Actually all three require letting go of the ego-self, the “I” and this leads me to a fourth lesson.
The “I” divides us from the magic that is all around us. It separates us from one another and makes us less than whole. In a men’s group this morning we got to talking about how so often we humans get caught up in dichotomies separating left thinkers from right, conservative from liberal, etc. We talk about diversity being a good thing but rankle when it bumps up against us. Every time a group doesn’t think or act the way we think they should we take our game somewhere else, church denominations split, political parties cut each other off, friends and lovers walk out on each other–separation, separation, separation.
However, I think that the very divisions can point to the whole and we can become more aware of what the whole looks like through the diversity. Each point of view is valid none are superior, or inferior, to the other except through the lens of our egos. And I contend that it’s only when we embrace our opposites that we can feed our souls.
Speaking of opposites, there’s an old Chinese fable that tells the story of the difference between heaven and hell. In both places there is a large banquet table. Each of the people sitting around the table is given 5-foot long chopsticks to eat with. In hell the people try in vain to feed themselves with their 5-foot long chopsticks while in heaven each person just feeds the person across from them. In heaven they surrender their individuality and rid themselves of their self-imposed division.
In church on Sunday we passed the peace of Christ amongst us when I came upon two folks who were deaf. In their signing the peace of Christ I noted that the sign for peace was the clasping of the left and right hands back and forth–how appropriate, peace comes from the inclusion and union of opposites.
A while back my granddaughter and I snuggled up and watched the film Alice in Wonderland with Johnny Depp. In it Alice tries to pinch herself out of what she assumes to be her dream, but is it a dream? She wanders confused and unable to assert that she is even who she claims to be.
“’Who are you?’ said the Caterpillar.
This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied, rather shyly, ‘I – I hardly know, sir, just at present – at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.’”
–Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
Like Alice are we in a dream? And like her is it our own unmet fears that keep us there? Is it our unwillingness to assert our true self that keeps us trapped in our own little madness?
Often the whole world seems a confusing place and trying to figure it out is like trying to answer the Mad Hatters oft repeated riddle, “Why is a Raven like a writing desk?” The point is that sometimes there just isn’t an answer, or meaning–sometimes life is just absurd. As one looks closer at the world we’ve made, it all gets “curioser and curioser”.
Falling down the rabbit hole into the dark underworld of our dreams will lead us to a curious and confusing realm. But if you were to imagine falling up the hole and into the daylight might it be the crazy conscious world we’ve all adapted to that is mad and the dark world of the unconscious holding the actual enlightenment we seek? Ah what then?
Trapped in a hole of our own making, preferring to limit ourselves to a very small landscape rather than to open our selves up to the endless view of our real self i.e. to be willing to live in hell for fear of heaven–what madness is that?
“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.
“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”
“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.
“You must be,” said the Cat, or you wouldn’t have come here.”
–Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
Ah, but we all think that it was happenstance that we’re here, that we didn’t choose to be here. Are you sure of that? Maybe that thought is your ego’s way of not having to be responsible for how it all turns out?
But what is madness? Deviating too far from a norm or from what is the standard for common sense? Was it madness to believe that sound and image could be broadcast through the air across great distances? Or that women could ever be the equal of any man and deserved the same rights and privileges? And that there would ever be a willing confederation of traditional enemies as is being witnessed in the European Union? Was it crazy to believe that humans could be made to fly or step foot upon the moon? Or that two young college dropouts could change the way the world communicates? At one time the answer to all of these and more was an unquestioned, “yes, it is madness”!
“The Mad Hatter: Have I gone Mad?
Alice: I’m afraid so. You’re entirely bonkers. But I’ll tell you a secret. All the best people are.”
Real madness seems to be a society that fights desperately for its freedom and then votes for someone to restrict and oppress them. Then there’s a society who believes that the answer to personal safety and security against guns is to buy more guns, bigger guns, with more bullets, and more power. Or how about those who believe that if you punish hard enough the transgressor will learn not to do bad things (look how well that works in our penal system) or that if you hit a child for hitting that it will teach him not to hit? And why the human love affair with retribution and revenge, how’s that working?
I’m sure that the readers of this blog could come up with many more bits of curious madness than I’ve detailed here. The point is that perhaps in our madness we’ve reversed what it means to be sane. Maybe we all ought to be a little more mad? In the best sort of way, of course, I mean, all the best people are.
The gist of this blog came from both John 8:32, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” And a Flannery O’Connor’s quote, “You shall know the truth, and the truth will make you odd.”
We live in an age where truth is whatever you want it to be– that is whatever makes you right (or at least makes you think you are). We also live in an age with unprecedented access to facts. One click of the “return” key on a computer keyboard can give you billions of facts. Never before has the ability to dispel ignorance been so available to so many. And yet…
For the sake of personal need, or greed, or zealous beliefs the truth as it is reflected in facts is ignored at a profound level. It’s as though the world is embracing ignorance at an ever-increasing rate. If you don’t believe this just listen to those who run for political office (or are currently in it), or those who dominate the radio waves with political ranting–twisting and turning truths into macabre representations of reality. Religions no longer represent the truth of the Spirit from whence they were born, but for many have become a form of sanctioned self-delusion.
We wrap these delusions in something we call “conviction” and once settled these strong beliefs need no evidence, or proof to exist. But it is these convictions that are the enemies of truth. Worse than lies, they keep us bound up and unable to fly free. In short, our beliefs are a prison for they don’t allow for truth.
“Truth will have no gods before it. The belief in truth begins with the doubt of all truths in which one has previously believed.”
But many are lazy, too lazy to think for their selves, so they leave the truth up to others. When those truths align with what is already thought then they are embraced as truth. The folly of this approach is that we then only perceive what we believe. How much we miss with this approach especially because God does not exist within the small confines of our beliefs. Heck, even you and I aren’t really reflected in the narrow confines of what we believe ourselves to be.
“Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing happened.”
~ Winston Churchill
Deep inside us is an unconscious part of ourselves it is full of shadows, bright glowing spirit, joys and fears. It is the home of our instincts, our intuitions, and stimuli for creativity. It can also be the home of truth for us. Truth is not something that is preached from the outside because it only comes from within.
How to tell if it’s truth vs. just another idea? If it nurtures, if it encourages growth, if it enlivens and frees the spirit, if it engenders love and acceptance, and fosters forbearance and gentleness it is said that it is then the truth. Anything else is an ego-self prejudice.
In the I Ching it is said that when the heart is free of prejudices, it is open to the truth. The intractable mind cannot hear the truth. Any form of self-righteousness prevents the discovery of truth.
I suggest that Truth is the essence of immortality. It is in the prisons of belief and conviction that we are mortal, that we are doomed to the dust of the earth. Truth is also something that can be chased after, something like happiness, but never caught as a function of the chase. The pursuit only prepares you for when truth enters the door.
Is there “the” truth, or is it as the Lebanese philosopher Kahlil Gibran suggested, “I have found ‘a’ truth?” And is it forever a truth, or just in the moment? Is it as the physicist Niels Bohr said “The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. But the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth?“
I suggest that truth is a state of enlightenment, a place where the ego that you think you are becomes silent, when thought itself becomes still. It is here that you can hear the truth. It is here that you awaken and begin to seek. You may look as though you are alone, but in truth there is God all around you and you begin to glow.
A follower of truth, listens to the inner voice, not the one in your head that is talking right now, or the one in the radio, or TV, or even the pulpit (yes, I know, and even this blog). The true follower surrenders their ideas, their thoughts and beliefs. The student of truth accepts their shadow selves as well as the “self” that they imagine them selves to be, or wish that they were. Truth does not tie itself to any illusion, any time or place. Truth is not a judgment, belief or thought, or anything else that one may have attached themselves to. It cannot be held, or given to another. It cannot be pursued, or sought after and only comes to you when released. It cannot be found in efforting and can only be found in the moment. Truth may only come in the letting go of it, or of anything for that matter.
“The ultimate Truth is beyond words. Doctrines are words. They’re not the Way. The Way is wordless. Words are Illusions.”
Truth is not something apart from you, it’s not something you discover and take in. It’s always been there. It is not in your words, but is sometimes hidden between them. And it can only be found at the moment of death. The death of what you think you are.