Friday, January 16, 2015

The Golden Rule

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.


Anonymous said...

Ideals are delusion. The problem is we are all taught ideals are absolute. It's the premise of monotheism.
So when other's ideals conflict with your own, they must be evil. Yet the absolute is basis. Equilibrium. From that you get fluctuations of positive and negative charges, expanding and contracting. Those waves which run through everything from quantum physics to politics. So the two sides balance each other. You know you are at the crest when its mostly foam and bubbles and we seem to be there in a big way, relative to human history. Traveling through the coming trough will be quite interesting.
So a spiritual absolute isn't some ideal of knowledge and judgement from which we fell, but that essence of being from which we rise. Consciousness is the energy pushing out and thought is the form pushing in. So a spirituality lacking substance isn't superior because it isn't constrained by physical limits, it is simply ethereal.
It is our trials and conflicts which test us. If we are too hard, it might show us we are brittle, while too soft and we fold easily. We are testing grounds for the spirit and it doesn't let us go until its done with us. Good luck and best wishes. Families are a pain sometimes. Just follow the path of which is best.
Interesting conversations and various head knocking at scientia salon, if you are looking for diversion.
John M

Debra said...

Toby, Toby, Toby...
I have looked at myself in the mirror and screamed my hate for myself too..
Aren't you being a tad bit too hard on yourself, my friend ??...
Are you sure that you are not striving for a kind of inhuman perfection, so high you have put the mark for yourself ?
In a world where... forgiveness is possible, we can shout at each other one moment, and, at the best, collapse in each others' arms, laughing, in the next.
Philistine civilizations have always been with us, I believe, and the drive to say that we are right is one that no human being seems to escape from.
It is an important part of being human.
Learning how to forgive means learning how to forgive... ourselves for not meeting our own expectations. And it is harder for us to forgive ourselves than anybody else.
Good luck.

Timbo614 said...

Know thyself.

It has taken me 60 years to understand the importance of those two words.

I agree with Debra, you are setting the bar too high.

Between you and the choir the world we live in can't be changed, the best we can hope for is to nudge it gently.

Toby said...

Thanks guys, but I wasn't fishing for good luck wishes here, though I do appreciate the friendship.

And thanks for the invitation John. I had a look at the site's latest post, which I found quite interesting, but chose not to wade into a discussion that looks to be highly involved as it is.

Know thyself. One of my faves too, Tim. But here I'm doing share thyself. I believe share thyself honestly is part of what the internet is about, because sharing is part of what community is about, and that's what we need more of.

However, this post is not about horrific imperfection and setting the bar too high (much of that aspect of what I wrote was self-parody), it is about our relationships with our Enemy Others as unexamined or unnoticed relationships with our shadow selves. If we are unaware of how the one IS (or at least bleeds into) the other, we are not learning deeply enough, nor are we teaching, we are probably birds of a feather flocking together and dehumanizing some group sufficiently different to us. In that case, we know neither ourselves nor others.

As Pema Chodron puts it, "Nothing ever goes away until it teaches us what we need to know." This is what John rightly points out, "it doesn't let us go until it's done with us". But the lessons never end because All That Is is constantly changing through us, but my belief is that the lessons take us towards love, which is unconditional. I.e., there's nothing to forgive, not in self, nor in other. This is a very hard lesson to learn.

Debra said...

In my memory, the Golden Rule is "Do not do unto others what you would not have them do unto you."
That is the Golden Rule, isn't it ?
Your fomulation is not the same at all.
As a very... negative person,Toby, I am intrigued to see how little we understand the place of the negative in our world. But that does not surprise me at all...

Toby said...

Hi Debbie,

I grew up with "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Yours is the negative of that, which adds up to the same thing more or less. "As you do unto others, so you do unto yourself" (as I have lately come to understand the GR) is apparently the original. But I ain't no scholar, and no doubt there's disagreement among the experts. IMO, the version I run with in the post captures what I think the GR is about at root: reminding us that separation is an illusion. All three versions mean that deep down anyway, my preferred variant states it most clearly.

Florian Popp said...

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.).

Thanks, Toby, for reminding me of something I once used to know, but seem to have gradually forgotten in the course of the years since ... Of course, living in Berlin (or the Philippines, for that matter) probably doesn't help either.

Anyway, you just managed to ring an old, dusty bell somewhere in my upper story, and I'm grateful for that: it's been a long time.

Looking forward to meeting you again come spring --