On the One Hand
We seek justification, redemption, affirmation, validation, because we think there isn’t much to us. We are afraid we don’t count, that we don’t add up to anything, and have no real business being here. We think we are just taking up space, breathing someone else’s air. We live frantic to convince ourselves that our lives are worth the effort.
And on the Other
Who has it down? Who is doing it right? The Dali Lama? I hear he wants to retire. He’s had enough of being the Dali Lama. Wants to tag out. Stop doing it. Quit. Quit being the Dali Lama. Walk away from the job. Since when did it become a job? Let a seven year old kid take his place. So he can just hang out for a while before he dies. How’s that for being grown up? Nobody has it down! Nobody is doing it right! Yet, we are all over our backs for not having it down, for not doing it right. Give me the name of someone who does! No! Wait! Give me the name of the person who thought this up. We need to talk.
We want to be justified and we want to quit. And, the longer we are at it, the more we want to quit. We all know about wanting to quit, wanting to hang out, free of responsibility, and obligation, and duty—to live freely, joyfully, at peace with ourselves and our lives without life getting in the way. Life is hard. We hate it. Want to check out. Quit. But quitting has its hard side. Everything does. Hard is how it is.
Of course, we have this happy fantasy of being able to do whatever we want, whenever we want, for as long as we want, with no repercussions or side effects, and everyone loving us always and forever. It’s called having Mother take care of us. We run up the tab, Mother pays the bill—not our biological mother, who was never the mother we needed her to be, but the Idealized Mother of Fantasy Land who will take care of us the way we want to be taken care of forever and ever, Amen! When it gets hard, we long for Mother.
Life without Mother is the hardest thing. The hardest thing is growing up, bearing the truth of life, making our peace with how things are (and also are), being our own mother, being responsible for doing what is to be done, every day for the rest of our lives, and doing it with gentleness, kindness, compassion and grace. Who do you know who lives like that? See? I told you it was the hardest thing. But we don’t cut ourselves slack or treat our-selves gently for wanting to quit, for wanting to avoid life without Mother.
We were raised on John Wayne and James Bond. They had no weaknesses and did everything single-handedly. Yet, John Wayne smoked himself to death, and James Bond has no friends. Even the actors who play James Bond can stand him only so long. He hates himself. And has to run, or drive, or fly, or swim from one action packed moment to the next. Make him sit still for an hour. Give him our life for a week. He couldn't handle it. His life is one big collection of distractions. But we think he is the master of all things. We think we should be John Wayne and James Bond. We were raised to believe we should stand there and take it. No one can stand there and take it, not even John Wayne or James Bond, but we can’t allow ourselves to get out of the way. We can’t take it and we can’t take not taking it. Who thought this up?
Col. Nathan P. Jessup (the Jack Nicholson character in A Few Good Men) put us all in our place with his "You can't handle the truth" declaration. No one can. Not all the time. We have to put some distance between ourselves and the truth to have a chance. But then, and this is the part I really don't like, what we do for distance becomes part of the truth we're trying to get away from, and we have to get away from it. Distraction becomes addiction. And we have to distract ourselves from our distraction. We have to deny our denial. Escape our escape. Reality keeps shifting on us, becoming something else, tracking us down, breaking in. Who thought this up?
Ignorance is bliss. Denial is ignorance. We will do anything to feel better about our lives. Or to feel nothing. Consciousness is pain. To know is to suffer the fear and anguish brought on by the pain of existence. How much can you see before covering your eyes, looking away? How conscious can you be before you run to Mama? Uncon-sciousness has its place, else it wouldn’t be so popular.
We can only handle so much truth. So much mindfulness. At some point we have to give ourselves over to mindlessness and watch a football game, or play with the puppy, or swing a grandchild, or have some ice cream. We have to set life aside and live from time to time. Really. I’m serious here. We have to get out of our heads and into our lives. If your thinking disconnects you from living, keeps you from living, stop thinking. If you can’t think and enjoy pizza and a beer, stop thinking. Better to be mindlessly alive than mindfully dead. A lot better.
The religions of the east boast of their consciousness quotient, but how alive are they is the question? What is their life quotient? They dismiss the truth they cannot bear to acknowledge as illusion. Dismissal is another form of denial. They live in the midst of horrendous suffering and see it only as Maya brought on by desire, without see-ing their desire to ignore suffering and their responsibility for relieving it. Nobody can be conscious without a break, but to be unconscious of our unconsciousness is bad religion.
Bad religion exists to enable us to feel better about our lives. Good religion exists to enable us to see, hear and understand—to know how things are and how things also are—to feel what must be felt, and do what must be done, and to call time out and step away when that must be done. The pain of the truth of life will be borne, experienced, expressed, either consciously or unconsciously, either by ourselves or by our spouse, or our children, or society, or the world. The pain of the truth of life will be suffered by someone. What we do not bear consciously ourselves will be borne by others, perhaps over long generations. Pain that is not felt, experienced, and appropriately expressed, will be passed along, and the world will suffer from our refusal to suffer our portion of what must be suffered. We always increase the corporate pain level in the lives of those around us when we refuse to bear our personal pain consciously.
But, we cannot bear it all the time, and we cannot bear it alone. We have to have relief at regular intervals. No one can stare down reality. We step in and step out to restore our souls and have what it takes to step back in and do what must be done. Stepping out is one of the things that must be done, but there is a fundamental difference between stepping away from reality to nourish, nurture, and restore our souls, and running to the safety of Mama’s lap.
There is more to us than we can imagine. We are always giving up on ourselves. We don’t know who we are or what we are capable of, but we think there is nothing to us. We think, “Oh, I couldn’t possibly do that, or that, or that. I couldn’t possibly survive on those terms, under those conditions. I must have my bon-bons and my telly.” The Hero, the Heroine, within doesn’t get a chance to show us what we are made of because we are always collapsing in the dust, writhing, whining, moaning, calling for Mother, saying, “Help me! Save me! Won’t somebody help me! Mama! I want my Mama!”
We all have a resilient core that is more than capable of making its way in any world. Look at where we have been—both individually and as a species. Look at what we have dealt with. Hairy Mastodons. Genghis Kahn. Life cannot give us anything that is worse than the things life has already given us. We have what it takes. It only takes trusting that we do. We are the only thing we cannot handle, and stand blocking our way by not having what it takes to trust that we have what it takes, crying for Mama.
What is the pain, the fear, the anxiety? Abandonment? Overwhelm-ment? Isolation? Exclusion? Aloneness? What is it that we think we cannot bear? Too-much-ness? Is the all-ness of life, the truth of life, too much for us? What exactly do we think growing up entails? Growing up means looking our life in the eye and saying, “Show me what you got.” Until we can do that, we are children seeking Mother’s lap. And, the hope is that we will find those who can accept us, lovingly, as we are, even as they repeat the saving mantra, “I’m not your Mother!” and exhibit its truth in their way with us over time, while we grow up and become who we are capable of being.
We cannot bear the weight of our lives without a corroborating witness, or witnesses, standing with us, knowing what we know. We cannot know what we know alone. We have to share the burden of the knowledge of the weight of our lives. Souls sustain souls. That is the work of community. It is the work of sustaining one another in the knowledge of who we are (and also are) and how things are (and also are).
It takes two or more standing together to know what we know. We cannot bear the weight of consciousness alone. We cannot see (or hear, or understand) by ourselves. And, we cannot allow one another to run, hide, deny, pretend, excuse, justify, soften, or otherwise ease the atrocity of truth. The truth goes on the table. The whole truth and nothing but the truth. And we live in light of the truth of the table. As we live, we uncover more of the truth, and put that also on the table. We are constantly adding to the truth of the table, and our lives change as truth transforms truth, and perspective shifts, and understanding deepens, and worlds expand.
The ideal community is one in which we draw one another out. Bring one another forth. Birth each other. Enlarge each other, deepen each other, expand each other’s perspective, extend each other’s conscious awareness, wake each other up, enable each other’s coming to be in the world, and help each other bear the pain of the truth of life and become increasingly whole and alive. The work of consciousness is communal to the core.