Continuing the theme of the dichotomy between personal desires vs public obligation (see earlier post)… it’s got me by the metaphoricals and not letting my mind rest in pursuit of an answer, so it must be a question my subconscious wants my conscious mind to ponder on its behalf.
Jung said, “When an inner situation is not made conscious, it appears outside of you as fate.” So, I am being haunted by this question that has been presented to me from an outside source (another person). If it leads me to a pleasant psychic place, it’s a gift from the universe… mind you, even the bad stuff is a gift if we use it to learn stuff about ourselves that leads us to a pleasant place.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “My stand for humanity is one of kindness, but also of truth.” (I think that’s paraphrased, though.) What I take from that is: if being kind to others requires you to live a lie, what use is kindness? Where is the kindness to oneself in that? And what use are relationships that require us to live a lie?
FULFILLING PUBLIC OBLIGATION
While I write this, a song by The Smiths is playing in the cafe, and it’s very apt for the condition of civilized Man: “I was looking for a job and then I found a job and heaven knows I’m miserable now… In my life, why do I give valuable time to people who don’t care whether I live or die? In my life, why do I smile at people who I’d much rather kick in the eye?”
Our directive, in order to be civilized, seems relatively simple: be polite and kind and help each other out. That doesn’t sound too difficult, but… the bit that sticks in our craw is the bit about sacrificing our own desires in favour of the public ‘good’ (whatever that is). We’re supposed to be altruistic. Altruism is supposed to be ‘love’ (whatever that is). We’re supposed to derive satisfaction from being altruistic and loving. We’re supposed to be proud of ourselves when we override undesirable, anti-social feelings like anger and disgust, and behave ‘nicely’.
And yet… we’re not very good at being self-sacrificing… which is hardly surprising since we’re hard-wired for survival of the self. So, there’s a lot of suffering about. And we’re confused about the whys and wherefores of our suffering. We might have achieved everything Civilization conditions us to believe will guarantee happiness: educational qualifications, well-paid job, social status, nice house, nice car, foreign holidays, good-natured partner, well-behaved children… but still not be satisfied with life.
I think it’s because we’re deluded about a few things (well… a ton of things, but here’s just a few):
1) Social status and material goods will bring us happiness and satisfaction.
2) We, and our fellow humans, act out of altruism and have each other’s well-being at heart.
3) Love is something that exists outside ourselves; we need to get it from, and give it to, others; a partner will ‘rescue’ us from loneliness; we must earn love by our good behaviour.
I’m not writing about the material aspect here so I’ll ignore point 1.
Re point 2, I think that society in general, and practically all the people we encounter (including our intimates), are concerned only with our behaviour and not with our inner experience. We are required to fulfil a role (good child, good partner, good boss, etc) that corresponds with their expectations of us, and we understand that the punishment for disappointing them is grave. And we have acquired the same attitude towards them. Therefore, I don’t believe that our shenanigans are motivated by concern for others. I believe we are motivated by fear, because of our dependence on each other’s good will, which is dependent on us controlling our behaviour to match what is expected of us. This may result in ‘proper’ behaviour, for which we might be rewarded with ego-propping compliments, but it’s not good for the soul (by which I mean: ‘inner self’).
We act from fear of consequences. We act from fear of other people’s reactions. We fear other others’ anger. We say we don’t want to hurt others’ feelings, but to what extent is that to do with genuine concern for their well-being vs punishment for doing ‘wrong’?
“We [have] become timorous, desponding whimperers. We are afraid of truth, afraid of fortune, afraid of death, and afraid of each other.” Ralph Waldo Emerson.
No, I think we act more out of fear for ourself than we do concern for others, but not many are willing to admit to this. In terms of reciprocal giving and taking, I’d say this fear results in resentful giving and manipulative taking.
That’s not love.
Point 3 is a biggie and really requires a whole other post… but, as a quickie:
As long as we regard love as something that we get from other people, and give to other people, relationships will be about power: the power to bestow and the power to withhold. We will perceive ourselves as starving and we will feel dependent on others to feed our hunger, and we will feel responsible for feeding other people’s insatiable appetite in kind. We will court their good favour. They will court ours. This requires control of ourself (ie, our behaviour, as something that must please others and for which we will be rewarded with ‘love’) and manipulation of others (ie, their behaviour, as something we are dependent on). It keeps us suspended in fear of consequences of our actions, and sends us into paroxyms of fury and panic when others don’t ‘perform’ as we want them to.
It’s all about performance, even in our most intimate relationships.
In acting out our fear we are – essentially – begging. We’re saying, “If I act exactly as you wish, will you love me?” Whether mother, father, girlfriend or boyfriend, so terrified are we of the object of our worship that we trot along with them like trained dogs, following orders and not daring to look left or right. (Of course, as children the threat of physical violence was an actuality.)
Our parents are the first people we hide our soul from. They’re the first people we can’t trust to love, honour and cherish our true, natural selves. They’re the first people who require us to modify our natural self in order to be worthy of their love. They’re the first people who prefer our fake self to our natural self. We put on an act for them and we put on an act for everyone else too. All those people treat us as if our fake self is our real self, and we get so lost in our act that we get to believe it ourselves!
We have to work very hard at maintaining this false self, making sure it’s acceptable to the world…. that it meets muster. We go into robotic “I-must-prove-myself-worthy-of-love” mode and there the vast majority stay. A minority of humanity wake up from that hypnotic state.
Basically, we’re all so afraid of not being liked/loved that we allow ourselves to be controlled… we dance like cats on hot tins roofs to win approval and admiration… and we stifle our bitterness about it (unless it’s so intense and overwhelming that we simply can’t keep a lid on it!).
If our inner self – our ‘soul’ – is in a state of fear and distress then we will act begrudgingly and everything we do will be accompanied by feelings of resentment, no matter how much we’re suppressing those feelings in favour of ego-based desires for favourable public recognition and obliging our sense of duty. (Passive-aggression, anyone?)
And, in kind, we are dictators in our insistence on unwavering devotion – and conformity – from our loved ones.
We build the framework of our existence upon what our culture has led us to believe: that the satisfaction of our needs and desires depends on others, while simultaneously believing we ought to be sacrificing our needs in subordination of others’ needs. Sounds like a recipe for personal disaster, doesn’t it? Meanwhile, we’re so busy pretending to be the person we need to be in order to ‘deserve’ our idol’s/saviour’s love and affection that we daren’t be honest about our needs and we therefore we have no hope of having them fulfilled by s/he who we’ve pinned our hopes on anyway!
Pretty pathological, huh?
Civilization is an artificial environment for a wild creature to inhabit. It requires us to suppress and distort our natures in order to fit in. Being civilized is about pretending: pretending to be happy when we’re not, pretending to want things we don’t want, and don’t want things we do. It’s almost impossible to live in Civilization honestly – if we want to keep out of trouble, that is. No one really cares what anyone else thinks or feels – all people want is for others to conform to their idea of who they want them to be, and it begins with parents… yes, those folks who are supposed to love us unconditionally (another cultural myth). People don’t like being surprised or inconvenienced. That’s why we tend to take the coward’s route in living our lives – it’s easier. It’s easier to conform to expectation that to go to war over our ‘selfishness’.
It’s no wonder distress, depression, crazy behaviour, violence, illness, addictions… et al… are rampant.
Much of what I’m describing here the majority of people will not recognise in themselves, though they will see it in others easily enough! The conscious mind is in denial about what it doesn’t like (ie, the dangerous anti-social stuff) and relegates these unpleasantries to the sub-conscious.
THE SOUL’S SORROW
“You are locked in a prison of your own device… playing warden to your soul.” Unhappy Girl, The Doors
When we focus our energies on our public performance instead of our inner desires, we live the life of the ego rather than the soul. Our ego is The Great Pretender. It’s so good at pretending that it can even fool itself! Most of us believe our ego – our personality – is ourself.
Our ego’s mission is to conform to society. This is a survival strategy. In a culture where the well-being of the inner life of the individual is considered of no value to the collective, the ego becomes a pathological construct that also considers its soul to be of no value. (It’s pathological because it is not serving its self/host organism, which is its purpose, but is acting against it, and therefore acts dysfunctionally.)
Our beleaguered ego regards the cries of our agonised inner self as a nuisance, a disease. Some people even aspire to ‘rid’ the human race of the nuisance of having emotions, as if they are a left-over primitive function we no longer need! (That nonsensical idea will have to wait for a separate post.)
When we sacrifice our own desires in favour of the so-called ‘common good’ we abandon our soul and though we may be pleased with ourselves for doing the ‘right’ thing (ie, complying with the dictates of protocol) we cannot escape being haunted by the part of ourself we have neglected.
I say it is the westernized, civilized ego that is the disease, rather than the tortured soul that haunts us.
For some of us, the soul will not rest, and the ego cannot drown out its noise. The longer we put off allowing our soul freedom of self-expression in favour of living the life of The Great Pretender, the longer we will suffer the pain of an inner split.
The way forward, I believe, is what spiritual teachers have been telling us for millennia: to manifest love instead of fear. But first, we have to overcome our fear. And we have to start to love ourselves. We need a large dose of self-respect.
Moving from a state of self-hate to one of self-love is not easy. To make this transition – to be kind and compassionate to oneself, rather than self-deprecating and masochistic – one must already have an attitude of self-love. So, it’s a bit of a paradox. Self-hate is a vicious cycle of habit that’s difficult to break out of.
If we can be in a state of grace (that is, a mood of peace and love toward the entire universe, which includes ourself as an equally valuable part of it as any other part is) we are more likely to act in a loving way than a fearful way. This means we would be able to fulfill our public duty to behave ‘nicely’ while simultaneously fulfilling our inner desire, which I think is pretty simple: to shine with energy like the sun (rather than suppressing it in the belief that our real self, in all its natural ferocity, is unwanted by the world, which is what we’ve been led to believe by people who want us to conform).
It will mean, however, doing things others don’t like. That’s because you’ll be doing your thing instead of their thing. It will mean we will no longer comply with their manipulative machinations (nor will we manipulate others any longer). They’ll be angry if they lose the ability to control us. But, if we no longer fear their anger, if we have sufficient self-respect not to allow ourselves to be bullied into compliance… well, it won’t matter if we displease anyone, will it?
We would be living the life of the brave and the free – gosh, can you imagine that? – rather than that of the coward the world has made us into.
“To be one’s self, and unafraid whether right or wrong, is more admirable than the easy cowardice of surrender to conformity.” Irving Wallace
Cowardice is a survival strategy, though, so we needn’t be too hard on ourselves about it – or anyone else. We needn’t be too hard on our poor beleaguered ego in general – it’s doing the best job it can under very trying circumstances. Its job is to protect the organism that is ‘me’, ‘I’… to adapt and survive… to maximise opportunities and minimise threats. That’s why it chases rewards and runs away from punishments. It’s just that the environment it has to adapt to, and survive in, is a hostile one… one in which the desires of the soul are perceived to be a threat to the survival of the organism because they are deemed to be anti-social.
Basically, all any of us are doing, at all times, is surviving as best we know how. Dysfunctional we may often be, but we’re only regurgitating what we’ve learned.
I’m thinking that healing isn’t possible until we fess up to the crime we’ve committed against ourself: the abandonment of our soul. But, I don’t think we need to worry about atonement for this crime… we’ve already paid, for heaven’s sake! (Pun intended!)
(I think this earlier post of mine is relevant.)
I’m beginning to suspect that this is where free will comes in. When we have detached ourself from the enslavement of conditioned fears, freed ourself from the enslavement of our dependence on other people’s opinion, freed ourselves from being shunted about by the Machievellian machinations of other people’s distress (and our own!), then we will be more free to act from our own FREE (wey hey!) will as governed by our soul’s purpose.
Another relevant song that has come on as I write in the cafe is by Simply Red: “Holding back the years, thinking of the fear I’ve had for so long… strangled by the wishes of pater, longing for the arms of mater… a chance to escape from all I’ve known… holding back the tears, ‘cos nothing here has grown, nothing had a chance to be good… I’ve wasted all my tears, wasted all those years.”
How many countless people do those words resonate for? And how many countless others are too blind to see themselves? Or too cowardly to do anything about it?