Every one of us is free to change at least one part of the world: ourselves.Paul Anton de Lagarde
In a recent post, I suggested that reality acts as a mirror that reflects back at us what we are learning about ourselves. In many ways, this is a corollary of What you do unto others, so you do unto yourself: the Golden Rule. Such sayings and metaphors are designed to remind us that the separation we experience between Subject Self and Object Other is illusory.
It wouldn’t surprise me if visitors to a blog whose banner promises philosophical analysis of economics fail to see the relevance to the site’s stated intent of such (and recent) musings, but I have come to realise that nothing is more relevant. Our relationship with Other or World Out There is in fact our relationship with our self, and this unexamined relationship informs most profoundly all that we do, economics included. This relationship becomes more relevant still when we are confronted with what we hate and fear. Holding us in this stifling space is probably the primary aim of the politics that now holds global sway.
How quickly are we able to feel that our own hated and feared Enemy Other is none other than our shadow self, and with what courage and humility do we traverse this space? Addressing this fully and honestly opens the door to true maturity. If you want to know what kind of a person you are, it helps to look at how you handle what you fear and hate.
Terrorism, Population Growth, Immigration, Money, Sex, Decadence, Hierarchy, Anarchy, Order, Chaos, Religion, Science, Ignorance, Liberalism, Conservativism, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Fanatic, New Age Hippie … How do we handle these symbols and people in our lives, these putative wrongs and rights? How do we handle our passions when discussing them, or when confronted with ‘irrational’ opposition to what we know is right?
This sort of rhetoric stems from a very old wisdom, as old as language no doubt; we all know one variant or other of the Golden Rule. But how does it play out in our day-to-day lives, how do we act on it? By way of a recent personal experience, and with my tongue somewhat in my cheek, that is the subject of this post.
Yesterday I found myself shouting at my image in the bathroom mirror that I disgust myself. My eyes burned with unguarded hatred. I was stunned by the savagery of my loathing, looked down and mumbled a reflexive apology to the floor. But the damage had been done; I could not ignore the ugliness I had voiced. Where had it come from?
I am ona six-week holiday in the Philippines, but this is not a run-of-the-mill holiday. A string of persistent ailments has crippled me to the extent that I cannot be active apart from reading in bed and typing at my laptop, both of which I could equally well do at home. But this holiday was long in the planning and is something of a reunion for my wife’s family. It would have been unthinkable not to come.
The ailments make me feel impotent, trapped, and have done for months. A good night’s sleep is a distant memory. All I can do in reaction to the ailments that have me in their grip is wait. I cannot make them go away with yoga, push-ups, squat thrusts, star jumps, anger, will power, prayer, medicine, anything. All I can do is wait. Experts have not helped, diet makes no difference, pain killers diminish in effectiveness and I do not want to become addicted to them. So I wait. And in waiting I feel impotent. This is a tedious and painful process I cannot change, cannot expedite, cannot resolve with intelligence, wit or will. I am at its mercy.
I am very radical in my thinking, passionate about my beliefs, and impatient to spread the news, to shepherd others into The Light. But I hate (and love) to proselytise, and have put a lot of effort in recent years into restraining my tendency to brow beat conversation partners. Nevertheless, my recurring perception is that Joe and Jane Public have no clue how little they know, do not want to notice anything particularly historic is afoot, that there is such a thing as a money system, that politics is a sham, and that state/corporate propaganda has their thinking gently but firmly in its grip. I want to believe this is a situation I can change for the better with my intelligence, determination, will, compassion, wisdom, etc. But it seems here too I am impotent. All I really do is preach to the choir.
On holiday in the Philippines, I am in the company of a section of Phillipine society that has a worldview fully opposed to mine: conservative, materialistic, bombastic, paranoid, knee-jerk, unquestioning, blindly loyal, viscerally religious. My worst nightmare. My Enemy Other. From where I sit, it spawns All That Is Wrong With The World. With patient and compassionate reasoning surely I can make them Get It.
But from past experience I know that, to them, I am All That Is Wrong With The World. If it weren’t for people like me, the world would be a better place. I’m a woolly-headed, liberal treehugger who has no clue how the real world works, a naïve-but-dangerous meddler and by golly we have no need for any more of them.
What to do? How can I reach these people? How can I help them Get It? Well, I can’t. I’m not patient enough, not calm enough, not knowledgeable enough, not charismatic enough, not handsome enough, not skilled enough. My few forays into introducing even the faintest outline of what I believe quickly founder: I talk a language they seem to be incapable of hearing. Or perhaps they can smell my carefully concealed missionary zeal…
So when certain trigger topics come up in conversation at dinner parties – such as the recent terrorist attack in Paris – I burn to reveal my superior wisdom but bite my tongue instead. I hear views and witness reactions to events that fly in the face of everything I believe. But I bite my tongue. I am a guest here, a weird vegan who is very difficult to feed (animal rights!?), the recipient of endlessly warm generosity and grace in this stunning country, so I bite my tongue. But inside I boil. My impotence, self-inflicted or not, is a deep insult to my pride, my chosen mission, my soul.
This combination of physical and moral impotence had been gathering in intensity, and led inexorably, I suggest, to my outburst in the bathroom. “You disgust me!”
It was a bark, a belch of repressed and poisonous anger, my face a rictus of loathing. My body sagged in front of my eyes, disgusting, unworthy of love, a failure. My worst nightmare.
And it struck me suddenly, as I tried to ignore the sting of my hot glare, that that look is exactly the one I hurl at my loved ones when they disaapoint me, when their way of being contradicts the Beautiful World I know we all ought to be fighting for. When they don’t love a film I love, play too long on the computer, don’t Get It, don’t turn off the bathroom light, are not as deeply moved as I am by something or other, are too excited about something that has no possible value, etc., etc., etc. When they don the garb of Enemy Other. When they are suddenly that which I hate. When they do not merrily subscribe to or fit my oh-so-carefully constructed and elegant programme.
Do I? Am I good enough for me? Do I deserve a place in the coming More Beautiful World?
Charles Eisenstein talks very eloquently about the futility of confrontation, of hot, oppositional argument, of seeing Enemy in Other then attacking it, exposing it to itself as Wrong, of using logic, reason, rationality, compassion, patience, every weapon you have to demonstrate the obvious and divine superiority of Self. I have listened to his talks over and over again and agree. I agree, Charles, I really do and am a good servant of the light, but out there in the Real World people are just soooo damned Wrong, so obviously Wrong! What good has all my studying and writing and patient arguing been if I cannot demonstrate how very Right I am to anyone at all?
You know the answer to all this as well as I do, I’m sure. What surprises me is how often I have to repeat the dance of battling my Enemy Other without realising I am at war with myself, or rather am ignited by my unexamined relationship with what I secretly think of as ugly qualities inside me. Indeed, this is so secret I hardly even know the ugliness is there, so focused am I on Beauty. After all, I’m no zealot! I’m reasonable! I really listen to the other guy. I do! And then I say, calmly, “Yes, but don’t you think that …” and fail to kill him sofly with my well-crafted song.
So when I looked down at my feet in shame, embarrassed by my own savagery, something else hit home, hard and clear. I’m my enemy. Which means I’m not. Which means the ‘problem’ is the battling itself, the fear-based need to control all outcomes. Under the shock I felt the stirings of relief.
Somewhere deep in that realisation is a truly sympathetic way of relating to Other, of embracing all that I am, of celebrating diversity. Somewhere.
I am Universe because I cannot be extracted from it and it cannot be extracted from me. Universe is Toby Russelling through me for some unfolding reason Toby Russell cannot fully discern. My life is not my own. I am a living verb intimately interconnected with all other verbs of Universe, and this unfathomably beautiful and fierce verb-song’s self-exploratory unfolding is Universe (or Multiverse, or God, or All That is, etc.).
What’s not to like. What’s not to love. If I can feel that as self love and return to that feeling, stay in touch with it somehow and on the whole, maybe I will have begun to do what we can all do: change ourselves and thus everything else by changing nothing at all, but by loving self as other, other as self. By remembering how deep love is. This is not admonition, this is not force or power leveraged to some desired end, it is simply allowing love to flow.
Surely this is the beginning of genuine action.