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We Must Choose


We MUST Choose

This above all: to thine own self be true.” – Shakespeare, “Hamlet

Yes, but what part of thine own self to be true to?  What’s best in oneself?  Or what’s less—sometimes even much much less—than best in one’s self?

For human beings, there is a possibility of making a choice of influences; in other words, of passing from one influence to another.  It is impossible to become free from one influence without becoming subject to another.  All work on oneself consists in choosing the influence to which you wish to subject yourself, and then actually falling under the influence of or submitting wholly to this influence.” G. I. Gurdjieff, quoted in P. D. Ouspensky’s “In Search of the Miraculous,” pg. 25.

There’s no neutrality in life. 

There are only two possible states of being, two ways of orientating ourselves. 

One is complete submission to God or to God’s will or influence, the influence of the Tao, the Dharma, Truth, goodness, virtue, Love.

And the other is incomplete submission—or the refusal to truly submit ourselves—to anything, to any influence, beyond our own will—beyond our own narcissism and our own scattered disorganized impulses, desires, and feelings—a refusal which automatically opens the door to the forces of evil. 

Because at every moment we ultimately belong to either God or the devil, to good or evil, to one influence or the other.  Paraphrasing C. S. Lewis, “There is no neutral ground in the universe: every square inch around us and every split second of our lives is up for grabs, to be claimed by God or the devil, and to be claimed by us for either God or for the devil.” 

And to attempt to avoid this dilemma by trying to stand exactly halfway between the two—halfway between God and the devil, uncommitted to either—to either goodness or utter selfishness—is to risk being torn apart and split forever into two beings, to become a house divided, permanently at war with ourselves, vacillating forever between two influences, forever fighting ourselves, fighting within ourselves, and having that infighting spill out of us into the lives of those around us.  Because, ultimately, even trying to choose not to choose and to not align ourselves with one influence or the other is still to choose, it is still to choose not to submit to anything beyond the self, beyond one’s own will and wants.  

Christ expressed this paradox when he said: “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it” (Matthew 16:25).  

Yes, we are always free to choose, but ultimately we are free only in this sense: in the sense of choosing which influence, which form of enslavement, we ultimately will submit to: God’s or the self’s, God’s will and influence or ultimately nothing more than our own; what’s best and highest and noblest in us or a free-for-all where we give into and submit to any impulse or desire that occurs to us.  

We must choose: —One form of enslavement or the other. (the previous eight paragraphs were abridged and adapted and elaborated on from M. Scott Peck’s “Glimpses of The Devil,” pg. xvi)

And most people do not so much choose their form of enslavement as they just go along with what happens to them and what feels natural without questioning much, without really thinking much or examining themselves and searching out their own heart and mind and conscience and paying much consistent attention to themselves and what path they’re really on and why.

This is our fundamental choice in life and to make each day and at every moment—who and what to live for and why?  To live on the autopilot of emotions and impulses and desires and wants and pet ego-projects and whatever gets us through the day and anesthetizes us, numbs us, titillates us, distracts us, momentarily makes us drunk*; or to live more mindfully, more deliberately, with more grace and composure and perspective and order?  To live for ourselves and nothing greater or more than the self and our ego and aggrandizement and survival (narcissism); or to live for something more, something that transcends the self—some ideal, principle, path or way (Tao), some force or Spirit—God, Love, Truth? 

Again, there’s no neutrality in life. Every day, in every moment, and with every choice we make—of what to do with ourselves in that moment, with how to spend that moment—we are declaring our allegiance and we are doing something to ourselves . . .

 

“[E]very time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before.

“And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing either into a heavenly creature or into a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow creatures, and with itself.

“To be the one kind of creature is heaven: That is, it is joy, and peace, and knowledge, and power.

“To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness.

“Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state or the other.” – C. S. Lewis, “Mere Christianity,” pg. 87

 ——————————————————————-
 

*There are thousands of wines
that can take over our minds.
Don’t think all highs are the same!
Drink from the jars of saints,
not from other jars.
Be a connoisseur,
taste with caution,
discriminate like a prince.
Any wine will get you high;
choose the purest,
one unadulterated with fear.
Drink a wine that moves your spirit.
– Rumi

Real Intimacy versus Other-Dependent (or Other-Validated) Intimacy


Real Intimacy versus Other-Dependent (or Other-Validated) Intimacy

The only reason we don’t open our hearts and minds to other people is that they trigger confusion in us that we don’t feel brave enough or sane enough to deal with. – Pema Chödrön

(The following is adapted and modified and riffed on from David Schnarch’s book, “Passionate Marriage,” chapter 4, “Intimacy Is Not for the Faint of Heart“—or Psyche)

For most people to be intimate and open psychologically and even sexually expressive and free with their partner, they have to know in advance that that they will be accepted and made to feel safe and comfortable—even comforted and soothed if needed. “I have to know in advance that you won’t reject me for what I’m saying.” This is not real intimacy but dependency; it lacks the courage and honesty of real intimacy; and because of that it leads to manipulation, bargaining, distortions, deception, lying, and extortion.

Real intimacy involves both self-disclosure and self-confronting. It hinges on our capacity for self-awareness, self-development, self-reflection, our ability to use complex language, to make self v. other distinctions, and to know who and what we really are and stand for. It requires the ability to think clearly, honestly, and courageously—which means it requires the ability to be objective about ourselves (as much as this is possible), to confront ourselves, to be deeply and radically honest with ourselves, and to be very aware of ourselves. —Which means it requires that we have a well-developed conscience.

All of these are processes and capacities that are part of the neocortex.

Thus, until the neocortex is developed sufficiently—or until we develop our neocortex sufficiently—we’re not eligible for or capable of real intimacy.

Real intimacy is not just a capacity or process of the limbic system; it’s not just driven by our need to connect emotionally with others. Rather, it’s driven by our need to connect meaningfully, substantially, deeply with another or others.

Emotional immaturity (low differentiation, an underdeveloped neocortex) encourages a particular view of intimacy and a way of life and interacting with others that actually blocks an awareness of others and then reinforces this blindness/lack of awareness. People whose neocortex is underdeveloped misunderstand “intimacy” and view it as involving acceptance, validation, reciprocity, and trusting one’s partner more than oneself, because these are all things that poorly differentiated people want if they are going to disclose important personal information.

This dependent “other-validated” intimacy sounds something like this: “I’ll tell you about myself, but only if and when you tell me about yourself first. If you don’t, I won’t either. But I really want to feel good and feel close to somebody, so if I open up a little about myself, then you have to too. I’ll go first, that way you’re obligated to disclose also—after all, fair’s fair. But if I’m to go first, you have to make me feel secure and create a safe space for me to tell you who I am and hold that space—you can’t reject me or later throw what I tell you back in my face; I have to be able to trust you. And if you do do all of this for me, there’s no guarantee that I’ll actually do it for you because I may not like what you have to tell me about yourself when you open up to me—I may like the fantasy I have about you (and all of the good things I’m projecting onto you) much more than the reality of you; so I still fully reserve the right to reject you.”

Real intimacy, on the other hand, is much much more courageous and daring. It hinges on our ability to courageously self-disclose, as well as our ability to courageously face and confront ourselves honestly and deeply and call ourselves on our own shite or weaknesses or issues, as well as our capacity to soothe our own hurts and negative emotions. Real intimacy sounds like this: “I love you. And that means that I don’t expect you to agree with me or to validate and reinforce and support me—you weren’t put on this earth to orbit around me and to pander to my insecurities and fears and anxieties and neuroticisms and my every little want. I want you to really love me; but you can’t really do that if you don’t deeply know me—or if you’re not capable of deeply knowing me (or any human being)—or if I shade the truth about who I am and what I’m really thinking and feeling and wanting. I don’t want to be rejected by you, in fact in many ways it may be easier for me to reject you first before you potentially reject me, but that’s a dishonest and cowardly way to live and to avoid dealing with my deeper fears and insecurities and issues. So instead I’d rather face the possibility of showing you who I really am and having you reject me for it than I would live a lie and be loved for someone I’m not by showing you only the familiar and easy to accept parts of myself. if I’m ever to be truly loved and accepted by you and feel secure in this relationship, it’s high time I bare myself to you and confront my own mortality and separateness. I want to know and be known by you. One day when we’re no longer on this earth, I want to know that you actually knew me and got me.”

Real intimacy hinges on our capacity to stand on our own emotionally and to support and soothe ourselves and validate ourselves (self-validate) rather than “trusting” our partner to make us feel safe and accepted (to create and hold a “safe space” open for us).

This latter common notion of intimacy panders to what I call “the tyranny of the weak.”

The “other-validated” or other-dependent intimacy prescribed by most marital therapies and therapists just gives poorly differentiated people a prescribed way to hold onto their low level of differentiation (emotional immaturity, low level of neocortical development) by prying validation and disclosures and acceptance and security and soothing out of their partners in the name of intimacy and having their “limitations” and immaturities honored and respected by having them catered to. A dependence on other-validated intimacy only reinforces dependencies and weaknesses in general and thus interferes with the development of the self-capacities necessary to support real intimacy and living and loving on life’s terms—self-capacities such as self-soothing, standing on your own emotionally, self-confronting, honest self-awareness, self-validating—all neocortical capacities which we must develop if we are to live and love on life’s terms and ever fully know and be known by another human being, and not end up simply having visited this world.

Almond Trees in Full Bloom” – Rilke (written Dec 1912 – January 1913)

(Almond trees in full bloom—: The most we can achieve here is to know ourselves fully in our earthly appearance.)

I gaze at you in wonder, you blessed ones,
at your composure, —you who know
how to bear and delight in our transience;
your perfect demeanor in the face
of our vanishing beauty.

If only we knew how to blossom
we would race out beyond all lesser dangers
to be safe in that single great one
.

C.S. Lewis on the Power & Consequences of Our Choices


[E]very time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing either into a heavenly creature or into a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow creatures, and with itself.

To be the one kind of creature is heaven: That is, it is joy, and peace, and knowledge, and power.

To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness.

Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state or the other.

—C. S. Lewis, “Mere Christianity,” pg. 87

The Fight for Our Heart: Feeding the Right Wolf


A Native American grandfather was speaking to his grandson about violence and cruelty in the world and how it comes about. He said it was as if two wolves were fighting in his heart. One wolf was vengeful, resentful, and angry, and the other wolf was understanding and kind. The young man asked his father which wolf would win the fight in his heart. And his grandfather answered, “The one that will win will be the one I choose to feed.”

A person does something that brings up unwanted feelings, and what happens? Do we open or close? Usually we involuntarily shut down.

Yet without a storyline to escalate our discomfort we still have easy access to the natural state of our heart.

Right at this point we can recognize that we are closing off, and instead allow a gap, a crack, and leave room for change to happen and for our self-protective reflexes to relax and gentle..

In Jill Bolte Taylor’s book “My Stroke of Insight,” she points to scientific evidence showing that the life span of any particular emotion is only one and a half minutes.

Just 90 seconds!

After that we have to revive the emotion and get it going again.

And we do this automatically by the story or stories we tell ourselves about what has happened. We revive the emotion and amplify it by the habitual patterned ways we have of talking to ourselves—which unless we have trained the mind through mindfulness meditation, or therapy—will likely be counterproductive and just antagonize our emotions, instead of deescalating and re-centering ourselves and seeing and experiencing more directly what happened to us.

Our usual way of dealing with a negative emotion is that we automatically do revive it and feed into it by uncritically feeding it with our internal conversation and the stories we tell ourselves of why the other person did this to us, or why this shouldn’t be happening to us, or why this isn’t fair. . . .

This is a very ancient and basic habit. And it allows people like you and me who have the capacity for tremendous empathy and warmth and understanding to get so clouded that we can actually do harm to each other.

Understanding this, I’ve become highly motivated to make a practice of doing the opposite. I don’t always succeed, but year by year I become more familiar and at home with dropping the storyline and trusting that I have the capacity to stay present and receptive to other beings.

Suppose you and I spent the rest of our lives doing this? Suppose you and I spent the rest of our lives not avoiding what we fear but befriending it, staying, becoming less reactive, and not feeding that reactive self-protective uncharitable wolf? Suppose instead we began a practice of feeding the other wolf, the wolf of forgiveness, charity, kindness, understanding, courage, and love? What might happen to the quality of our own lives and the lives around us? What impact might this have on our community and even the world as a whole? . . .

Look what the opposite does.

When we avoid those who activate our fears and insecurities, those who bring up unwanted feelings, we dehumanize them. This just cultivates a more aggressive and anxious and isolating and self-protective society.

Yet it can also become a daily practice to humanize people. We can make that choice. We can feed that wolf.

And when I do feed this wolf of friendliness and understanding unknown people become very real to me. They come better into focus as living beings who have sorrows and joys like I do, people who have parents and neighbors and friends, just like me. I also have a heightened awareness of my own reaction and fears, judgments and prejudices that pop out of nowhere about these ordinary people I’ve never even met.

When we see difficult circumstances as a chance to grow in bravery and wisdom as well as in patience and kindness, when we become more conscious of the ways we get hooked and we don’t take the bait and escalate, then our personal distress can become a means of better connecting with the pain, discomfort and unhappiness of others.

The primary intention in writing this book is that we might prepare ourselves to look beyond our own welfare and consider the great suffering of others and the fragile state of our world. As we change our own dysfunctional habits, we are simultaneously changing society, for society is nothing more than sum of all of our relationships, interactions, exchanges or lack of exchanges. Our own awakening is intertwined with the awakening of an enlightened society. If we can lose our personal appetite for aggression and addiction, the energy on the whole planet will become a bit more loving, tender, compassionate.

For the sake of all sentient beings, I hope you will join the growing society of aspiring and full-fledged spiritual warriors who are emerging from every continent on the globe. May we never give up our genuine concern for the world. And may our lives become a training ground for awakening our natural intelligence, openness, and warmth.

– Pema Chodron, adapted from “Taking the Leap,” pp. 3, 78-81, 98-99.

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