Black and white

insightful and well-written!





Jack slaps Jen.

Jen ends relationship.

“I can’t live this way,” she tells me.


Jack apologizes.

Jen forgives him.

“I really do love him,” she tells me.


Jack slaps Jen.

Jen ends relationship….


Black and white thinking is that habit of classifying things as either all one thing or all the other.

Kids learn it in dysfunctional families, where dangerous unpredictability prevails.

They learn to protect themselves by formulating rules to keep them out of trouble.  Since they’re kids, the rules tend towards oversimplification.  Never talk to dad when he’s drinking.  Always leave the room when mom and dad fight.   Never fail Math, because failure always earns you a beating.  Like that.

Thus on Monday and Wednesday Jen’s relationship seems all bad to her, and on Tuesday it seems all good.

For kids this sort of classification (it’s not really thinking) may actually be functional, since…

View original post 57 more words


Self Deception



“We will find out what we need to do when we quit lying to ourselves and see the situation for what it is.

Many people use self-deception and denial as a way of avoiding having to deal with issues about themselves, their circumstances or people around them. What they often do not realise is that this locks them in to a cycle of self-sabotage and poor self esteem that blocks their ability to move forward in their lives and prevents them living their dreams.

You know if you have been lying to yourself. You know what you believe and whether or not you are honoring it. You know what your values are and whether or not you are upholding them.

Only you can decide to get brave, stop lying, and start being the person you know you want to be – in thoughts, words, and actions.

Being honest does not…

View original post 86 more words

Kindness towards oneself

A very good description of self-love/self-compassion


File:Flickr - The U.S. Army - Soldier returns to Haiti, helps family.jpg

Instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings – after all, who ever said you were supposed to be perfect? You may try to change in ways that allow you to be more healthy and happy, but this is done because you care about yourself, not because you are worthless or unacceptable as you are. Perhaps most importantly, having compassion for yourself means that you honor and accept your humanness.  Things will not always go the way you want them to.  You will encounter frustrations, losses will occur, you will make mistakes, bump up against your limitations, fall short of your ideals.  This is the human condition, a reality shared by all of us. The more you open your heart to this reality instead of constantly fighting against it, the more you will be…

View original post 18 more words

Really Getting to Know Ourselves & Others: Separating the Pseudo-Self from the Solid Self, the False Self from Our True Self

People are rarely up front about who they really are, what they’re really about, and what they really want from others.

This applies to more than just dating relationships: it applies to all relationships and it applies to everyone.

And it applies even more so—and more importantly—to ourselves.

How well do we know ourselves?  How well do we really know what, in a moment of crisis, we’re made of and what we’re actually capable of—the good, the bad, even possibly the ugly?  And how well do we or can we really know another person?

And how can we come to better know ourselves and others—especially those closest to us?

In the beginning of most relationships—especially dating relationships—most people enter into those relationships pretending to be someone they’re really not—or really not yet.  They try to give off the impression that they are a better and more intact and more interesting and less flawed (and when it comes to dating, a more sexually open and interesting) version of themselves. They enter into a relationship displaying an inflated version of themselves, over-promising on who they are and what they’re bringing to the table.  (See especially minute 2:10 – 2:45 of the following clip)

“Relationships, easy to get into, hard to maintain. Why are they so hard to maintain? Because it’s hard to keep up the lie! ‘Cause you can’t get nobody being you. You got to lie to get somebody. You can’t get nobody looking like you look, acting like you act, sounding like you sound. When you meet somebody for the first time, you’re not meeting them. You’re meeting their representative.”


In the beginning of a dating relationship, the deception (including what is omitted and left out) is almost always deliberate. We tidy ourselves up. The unsightly stuff about ourselves is swept away, broomed under the carpet, stuffed into the closet, etc. That’s just the way the dating game is played. We hide the negatives, accentuate the positives, give ourselves as much sheen and curb appeal as possible, airbrushing and PhotoShopping all parts of ourselves and our life—our place in life, our social status, our hopes and dreams, our interests, our past, our past relationships (—it’s always the other person’s fault that the last relationship we were in didn’t work out, same with the relationship before that and the relationship before that, et cetera. but the reality is that it’s rarely ever just mostly one person’s fault that a relationship doesn’t work out).  All parts of ourselves are open for revising, retouching, and cosmetic enhancement.

In the beginning of a relationship, women typically try to oversell (or misrepresent) themselves by being more sexual and more willing to sexually try new things than they actually are and will be down the road.

Women may also initially appear to be more interested in watching football and NASCAR as well.

Men, on the other hand—the majority of them—tend to falsify themselves by initially showing up to a relationship being more interested in a woman as a human being and a person and in what she has to say than they actually are.

Men also tend to downplay their interest in sports (especially football and basketball), as well as action movies. In fact, many a man has subjected himself to a chick-flick or a romantic-comedy in order to get in bed with a woman.

And both men and women initially tend to do a very good job of concealing their temper and neediness and the various ways in which they tend to be uncivil (meaning that while on a date most people try to be very polite to cashiers, wait staff, et cetera—the little men and women. The logic being, “Look how nice and polite I am to strangers while I’m trying to impress you and get you to sleep with me”).

Of course, it’s not all a put on. Women sometimes are more sexual in the beginning because the sex is new, plus it’s heightened and more intense because of all of the attraction and novelty.

And most men actually are better listeners in the beginning because the material (the stories, the info) that they’re hearing is in fact new (reruns haven’t yet begun; patterns aren’t yet obvious, questions of character and victimizing oneself aren’t prominent). Plus their ability to listen is indeed better because of how sexually motivated they are. Their desire to have sex with a new and attractive partner is a very motivating. A guy will listen like a therapist when the possibility of sex is hanging in the balance.

That’s the typical dating game—two people trying to get as much sex and affection and fun and emotional titillation/fueling as possible while trying to get a sense of who the other person really is beneath all the spin, curb appeal, glossing over, missing information, character flaws, bad things they might have done, et cetera, and of what life might be like  6 months, 2 years, 10 years, et cetera, down the road with this person—i.e., how much of what the other person is doing that seems novel and or cute now will be irritating and irksome in the future?  Each person is trying to work out for themselves how trustworthy the other person really is, and how much the other person—and all his or her oddities and peccadilloes—is ultimately going to get on their nerves.

And it’s not just in the dating game where people conceal and retouch themselves in order to mislead others or at least try to control others’ impressions of them.  People (we) also do it on job applications and job interviews, social settings—anywhere where making a good first impression counts.

Sending out our representative—or wearing a mask and putting on a false self—is part of life and it’s something that we as human being learn to do—and do well—fairly early on in life. We learn to conceal this and feign this. And not because of any deep understanding, but because it’s just how the social game of life is played—we don’t to let too much of our real self out for fear of it being held against us or used against us.  If people knew who we really were and what we stood for, they would reject us, not trust us, be suspicious of us.  So we hedge our bets and play it safe and hide the controversial and or abrasive and or bad (even ugly) parts of ourselves—and our past.

The problem with this is that after doing this long enough and becoming adept enough at doing all of this—donning masks, pretending to be someone we’re not, accommodating others, compromising our principles in order to avoid conflict or cause waves, rewriting and revising our own personal histories, concealing the unsavory parts of our character—we begin to lose ourselves, we begin to get lost in the acting and the roles and the performances we’re always giving and the all the insincere talk that’s part of those performances.

“No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which one is true.” – Nathaniel Hawthorne


“We all wear masks, and the time comes when we cannot remove them without removing some of our own skin.” – Andre Berthiaume

But facing ourselves and getting rid of our masks is something we have to do (or ought to do) if we want to lead a deeper and more meaningful and more examined life. We will need to separate our false self (selves) from our real self. And we will likely have layers and layers of false selves to unmask and discard.

In “Passionate Marriage” Schnarch talks about “borrowed functioning.” Borrowed functioning is also known as emotional and psychological support—it’s the fueling and stability and boost we get from others, including our support system. We all borrow functioning from others. Unless we’re living alone in the middle of nowhere and cutting our own lumber and firewood, hunting our own food, sewing our own stitches, and taking out our own appendix Rambo-style, then we’re borrowing functioning. So there’s nothing inherently wrong about borrowing functioning. What’s wrong with it is the way most of us tend to do it—unconsciously, without trying to be mutual or interdependent and fair about it. Borrowed functioning in the sense that Schnarch is using it takes the form of emotional and psychological support (and perhaps even financial support and even enhanced social standing/status) that we get from others. It’s all of the validation, affirmations, psychological mirroring, reflected sense of self that we get from those around us and that makes us function better, live with less anxiety and more stability, more comfort, et cetera. And this borrowed functioning is what our performances, our masks, our false self/selves thrive on—it fuels them and is intended to gain us more emotional fueling.

And this fuel (or functioning) is “borrowed” or owed to others because it is externally derived; it doesn’t come from within us because it is dependent on others, hence it’s “borrowed,” as is the increase in functioning that it gives us. Which means that those parts of our “self” that exist in response to this and even in order to attract this fueling are not really our own. They’re not really us either, because if you take away that fueling or the need for it, then those parts of ourselves will decrease or slough off.  In one sense, we are the actors we are in order to conceal all of the unsightly things about us and our past that would lead others to reject us.  And on the other hand, we are the actors that we are, in order to try and get what we want and to have an easier and less isolated and less independent life.

The concept of “borrowed functioning” is essentially an idea of Murray Bowen that Schnarch has re-framed and elaborated on. Bowen concluded that each of our selves is made up of two parts—a core or solid self, on the one hand, and a pseudo- chameleon-like actor/impostor self, on the other hand. Our pseudo-self is composed of all of the ideas and values we’ve adopted uncritically and that we adopt or use just to fit in and or to get us what we want and need. Thus the pseudo-self is the chameleon within us that adapts, accommodates, blends in, plays down, even manipulates.  In relationships, it’s the part or parts of ourselves that we’re willing to trade with others in order to get us what we want—sex, friendship, companionship, support, validation, comfort. It’s the social climber part of ourselves—the gold-digging part or the part that wants the trophy wife.

And in some (many?) people this pseudo-self or false self or superficial self comprises the vast majority of their self—of who they are. They (that is to say, we, or at least many of us) spend most of their (our) time and energy and life direction is the service of maintaining this self—this persona (or these personas), this façade, this posturing, this imposter. It can be rightly thought of in a way as our “ego”—our false or inflated sense of self.

The other part of our self is our solid self. It’s not inflated, instead it’s grounded in reality. It can be thought of as our core self or even our authentic self. In a way this self can be thought of as the self we would be or become across conditions and regardless of what culture or society we grew up in if we were to take up the task of becoming who we truly are. It’s our fundamental self. It’s our baseline level of functioning. (Which for most of us means, that in order to function well, we need to borrow functioning—we need a support system, a community—in order to function adequately at all and not be overwhelmed and deteriorate into one form of mental illness or another.)

But this self is also very deeply embedded and derived from the culture live and grow up in because in large part it’s comprised of all of the values, ideals, principles that we have deeply deliberated over and internalized—that have become blood in us, to use Rilke’s phrase—and that we organize our lives around. Our solid self is the part of ourselves that we won’t trade on, negotiate over, or violate. And the hallmark of ideals and values and principles that actually belong to (or comprise) our solid self is that we can freely and fearlessly discuss and debate about them. They’re not based on ignorance, ego, fitting in; they’re not half-thought through; we didn’t adopt these ideals or principles in order to fit into some movement and gain a sense of identity (reflected sense of self) through that movement or get to wear some label (feminist, republican, democrat, conservative, et cetera). The ideals and principles do not exist as rhetoric or as dogma (what John Stuart Mill termed “dead dogma”), but instead they exist as living breathing truths that we have deeply mulled over and reflected on.

Our solid self is also comprised of all of the parts of us that have survived trial by fire or baptism by fire. Our core or solid self is not flimsy, it’s granite; it’s been forged, it’s been tried and tested and survived both.

Our solid self may and does change over time—but only after careful deliberation or some sort of deep and profound revelation, and only by our own choice—not simply by environmental pressure or persuasion.

Our solid self is also the part of us that helps us maintain our cool and stay calm when we get anxious or nervous. The more solid self we have and have developed, then the more solid or consistent and unwavering we will be as persons; the less solid self that we have and have developed, then the more easily swayable and changeable we are as persons (the more chameleon-like we are)—one moment we believe in this cause and we’re all amped up about this, then the next moment or week or month we’re all onboard with this cause while the other cause has completely faded, et cetera. The solid self is also what allows us to keep our wits when tensions get high and not get emotionally hijacked or derailed by stress.

Most people (most of us) are comprised much more of pseudo-self than solid self. Solid self is difficult to develop and gain in—it takes a lot of testing, grit, endurance. Pseudo-self is easier to develop—it’s what we get from taking the path of least resistance again and again. Solid self usually requires that we take the road less traveled.

Our solid self can also be thought of as our level of depth. If we don’t have much solid self, we don’t have much depth, instead we likely flit along the surface of things and life and relationships.

“A decent man will behave decently even if he thinks that he has been treated unjustly or wrongly. But many people in such circumstances show a side of their nature which otherwise they would never show. And at times it is a necessary means for exposing a man’s nature. So long as you are good to a man he is good to you. But what will he be like if you scratch him a little?” – G. I. Gurdjieff

The point of all of this is that it’s very difficult—nah, impossible—for us to truly know ourselves unless we expose ourselves (or allow ourselves to be exposed) to adversity as well as to novel and unknown situations. Most of the time we live in a comfort zone, meaning most of the time we are comfortable because we are doing what we know, engaging with what we know, and dealing with what is more or less familiar and is occurring more or less on our terms. When we step outside our comfort zone (or when we’re forced outside of it), then (and by definition) life is no longer taking place on our terms, instead we’re having to live on life’s terms and deal with life as it is. Life outside the comfort zone is inherently (and again by definition) uncomfortable; it’s uncomfortable because it’s unfamiliar, strange, unknown, stressful, fearful. If we’re doing something new and difficult and it’s not making us uncomfortable, then we’re really not being stretched outside our comfort zone (—either that, or we’ve reach enlightenment!). Generally speaking, whenever we’re really staring down and facing one of our fears, we’re outside our comfort zone. Whenever we’re learning something new and important, we’re outside our comfort zone. Whenever we’re stretching ourselves or our mind or even our emotions, we’re outside our comfort zone. And it’s only to the extent that we go past the boundaries and limits of our own comfort—or allow ourselves to be pushed past some of our own perceived and assumed limits—do/can we as human beings grow and differentiate.

But this process of truly growing and differentiating is very difficult—and rare. Most human growth is not real growth in terms of goodness, depth, nobility, and courage; most of is faux growth, most of it is not an increase in solid self but in pseudo-self. Which is the point of what Montaigne was saying when he wrote—

“The tranquility and contentment of a well-born spirit and the resolution and assurance of a well-ordered soul should never be attributed to a person until he has been seen to play the last, and beyond a doubt the hardest, act of this comedy. In everything else there may be sham: fine reasonings of philosophy may be mere posturing in us; our trials by not testing us all the way to the quick and pressing us to our last limits, may give us a chance to keep our face composed—and falsely so. But in our last scene, between death and ourselves, there is no more pretending, no more posturing. We must talk plainly, show what is good and clean at the bottom of the pot, if anything:

.        ‘At last true words surge up from deep within our breast,
.         The mask is snatched away, reality is left.’ — Lucretius


That is why all the other actions of our life must be tried and tested by this act. It is the penultimate and master day, the day that is the judge of all others. ‘It is the day,’ says Seneca, ‘that must judge all my past years.’ And as Cicero says, ‘to philosophize is nothing else but to prepare for death.’ I leave it to death to test the fruit of all of my studies and learning. We shall see then, at that moment, whether my reasonings come from my mouth or from my heart.” (Montaigne, “The Complete Essays of Montaigne,” pg. 55.)

And here’s the Joker’s take on what Montaigne wrote—

In their last moments, people show you who they really are. So in a way I knew your friends better than you ever did. Would you like to know which of them were cowards?


Facing our fears, taking on new and difficult challenges, making friends with adversity, and even striking up a relationship with our own mortality—the granddaddy of all fears—is what helps us to pull back the curtains on our own existence and actually get to know ourselves a bit better for who and what we are and see ourselves (and others) more clearly. But only if we’re willing to take the hit to our pride and narcissism. If we’re not willing to be humble, then we’ll just talk tough, posture, be lending weapons to a thief, fooling ourselves even more. None of us is as well-differentiated as we think we are. All of us are borrowing more functioning than we’d care to admit; all of us (likely) have much more pseudo-self than real self. But we likely won’t know the extent of this—how false we are—until we come face to face with our own mortality in some way that we can’t easily wiggle or con our way out of.  Until then, we’ll go through life with a lot of false ideas about ourselves, assuming ourselves to be nicer, kinder, more noble and stable and virtuous than we really are.  We may even think we’re bad in a few ways, but at least we’re not that bad.  And we can assume all of this about ourselves all because we haven’t been tested—or allowed ourselves to be tested.  All because we’ve concluded that who we are in our comfort zone is who we truly are, and who we are outside of our comfort zone is an aberration; it’s not us.

But what if we’re wrong about this?

What if the truest measure of us as person is who we are outside the comfort zone?  What if who we are in difficult times *IS* who we are—it’s who we are stripped of any pretense, posturing, faulty errant ideas we may have about ourselves.

“Sigmund Freud once asserted, “Let one attempt to expose a number of the most diverse people uniformly to hunger. With the increase of the imperative urge of hunger all individual differences will blur, and in their stead will appear the uniform expression of the one unstilled urge.” Thank heaven, Sigmund Freud was spared knowing the concentration camps from the inside. His subjects lay on a couch designed in the plush style of Victorian culture, not in the filth of Auschwitz. There, the “individual differences” did not “blur” but, on the contrary, people became more different; people unmasked themselves, both the swine and the saints.” (Viktor Frankl, from the last pages of “Man’s Search For Meaning”)

And see min 6:33 to 6:53 of the following clip—

“I didn’t make you do anything that wasn’t in you already. . . . People are such hypocrites. They go through their lives thinking they’re innocent till the day they die, but they’re not innocent. I showed you that.” – from the motion picture “Bad Influence”


Most people never have to face the fact that at the right time and the right place—or the wrong time and wrong place—they’re capable of just about anything—


“Most people never have to face the fact that at the right time and the right place, they’re capable of anything.” – from the motion picture “Chinatown”


The being of man is situated behind a curtain. . . . What he can know of himself is only what is lent him by circumstance. My ‘I’ is hidden from me (and from others).” – Simone Weil, “Gravity and Grace,” pg. 85


“Our shortcomings are concealed from us as long as luck helps us.” – Hadrat Ali, “Living and Dying with Grace,” pg. 8.


I have no doubt whatever that most people live, whether physically, intellectually, or morally, in a very restricted circle of their potential being. They make use of a very small portion of their possible consciousness, much like a man who, out of his whole bodily organism, should get into a habit of using and moving only his little finger. We all have reservoirs of life to draw upon, of which we do not dream.”—William James


You must realize that each human being has a set repertoire of roles which he plays in ordinary circumstances. He has a role for every kind of circumstance in which he ordinarily finds himself in life.

But put him into even only slightly different circumstances and he is unable to find a suitable role—if only for a short time—and for that short time he becomes completely himself.

The study of the roles of a person plays represents a very necessary part of self-knowledge.

Each person’s repertoire is very limited. And each person is not one “I” or role; each person has at least five or six I’s or roles—one or two for his family, one or two at the office (one for his subordinates, one for his superiors), one for his friends when he’s out on the town with them, and perhaps one who is interested in high-minded ideas and likes intellectual conversations.

And at different times the person is fully identified with one of these I’s and is unable to separate himself from it.

To see the roles, to know one’s repertoire—particularly to know its limitedness—is to know a great deal.

But the more important point is that, outside his repertoire, a person feels very uncomfortable should something push him, if only temporarily, out of his usual routine or accustomed ways, and he tries his hardest to return to any one of his usual roles.

Eventually, and sooner rather than later, he falls back into the rut, everything at once goes smoothly again, and the feeling of awkwardness and tension disappears.

This is how it is in life.

But in order to grow, one must become reconciled to this awkwardness and tension and to the feeling of discomfort and helplessness. Only by allowing oneself to experience this discomfort can a person begin to really observe himself.

And it is clear why this is so. When a person is not playing any of his usual roles, when he cannot find a suitable role in his repertoire, he feels that he is naked, undressed. He is cold and ashamed, vulnerable and exposed, and he wants to run away from everybody. But the question arises: what does he want? A quiet life? Or to work on himself?

If he wants a quiet, comfortable life, it’s clear what he must do: he must certainly first of all never move out of his repertoire. Because in his usual roles he feels comfortable and at peace.

But if he wants to work on himself, he must forsake his own comfort and destroy his own peace. Because to have them both together—a quiet life and to work comfortably on oneself—is in no way possible.

A person must make a choice.

(G. I. Gurdjieff, quoted in P. D. Ouspensky “In Search of the Miraculous,” pp. 239-40.)

We Are What We Read As Well As How We Read

We are what we read.

We also are how we read.

The only honest way to read an insightful and stimulating book is to read it very very slowly and honestly. If you want to read a great book for maximum gain, then you have to read slowly, giving yourself time to really think about what’s being shared, and—this is where the honesty part comes in—trying each bit of information on yourself for size first, and doing so fairly (honestly).

And this takes time.

The dishonest part of us (the ego, our defenses, our self-protectiveness and walls), plays fast and loose with the truth and relies on speed and discursiveness, rushed answers, quick-and-easy half-baked solutions, and inculcating even more in us the equivalent of an outbreak of “attention-deficit disorder” in us. The dishonest part of us—what’s worst in us—relies on skimming, reading quickly and hastily and superficially and not allowing us time to really try things on ourselves first and honestly for size.

What’s best in us, however, wants and needs to read things more slowly. Our defenses are always in a hurry, in a panic, pushing us forward in spite of ourselves, like a hand in our back at a pie-eating contest. What’s best in us, however, requires time, time to breathe, time to calm, to center, time to remember what’s really important, time to begin with the end in mind, time between stimulus and response, time to think, to look at things from a variety of angles, time to go through the discomfort and embarrassment and awkwardness (even sometimes the humiliation and shame and self-doubt) of trying things on ourselves first for size. And all of this takes time. So much time. And such great courage. Heroic courage, really. And tremendous honesty.

And it also requires such an intense inner desire to truly grow and learn.

When we truly desire to learn and grow, it shows. It shows in our open and thoughtful approach to life. And it shows especially when we are challenged or criticized or met with opposition.

When we truly desire to learn and grow, we don’t run from criticism or distance ourselves from it. Because to do so would be an anxious and a poorly differentiated response. Instead, we slow ourselves down, we cool and calm ourselves and self-soothe; and then we think, and we begin operating on the incoming information fairly and reasonably, all the while also noticing whether our thinking is frantic or calm, honest or discursive, hasty and all over the place.

To listen and think like this is a differentiated response. And to even add a modicum of this to our way of dealing with criticism and opposition is to begin differentiating and redefining ourselves, and setting our life on a different trajectory.

To truly grow and learn—even from something harsh or critical—requires that we slow down, reflect, humble ourselves, become more open and docile and thoughtful, that we become less defensive, less hurried, and above all, less certain.

And to truly learn and grow requires that we also read (books of substance) like this. Think like this. Speak with others like this—with honesty and openness and an invitation to have to our own thoughts and maps challenged or questioned. And that we listen like this as well—honestly, slowly, calmly, non-reactively, non-avoidantly, non-discursively.

What’s worst and weakest in us is always frightened and in a hurry, always in perpetual flight—from itself, from truth, from honesty, from reality, from what’s best in us, from what’s best in others. What’s worst in us likes to obscure things, kick up a lot of dust, use a lot smoke and mirrors and misdirection, go for quick-fixes, go for the quick easy cheese and for low fruit understandings.

And this is because what’s worst in us is also what’s most poorly differentiated in us.

It’s the anxious frightened part of us, the part of us that hijacks our thinking, loses perspective, gets caught up or swept up in living and thinking discursively. It’s the rebellious, closed-minded, highly reactive, won’t look at itself part of us that obstinately doesn’t listen (because it’s too afraid to listen), and that won’t allow us to really try things on ourselves first for size (because of how bad it fears it will make us feel).

What’s worst in us is our tendency to make mountains out of molehills, to overreact, to make our fears and anxieties much more real than they are. This is the ultimate purpose of the ego—to get us to overreact and over-self-protect before we know it and are even aware of what’s happening! (mission accomplished!) . . . to scare the shit out of us by convincing us (and others) that whatever we’re afraid of is really real and really worth being scared shitless about and thus avoiding no matter what!

“Only the best in us talks about the worst in us, because the worst in us lies about its own existence.” – David Schnarch

I would elaborate on that statement and expand on it only ever so slightly. Only the best in us can talk about what’s worst in us, because what’s worst and weakest in us lies about itself and its own existence.

The way what’s worst in us reads is like plundering marauding troops (as Nietzsche put it). It seizes only on what it can use and misuse. It reads dishonestly, hastily, without really thinking about what’s being read or giving it any real chance to be internalized, to become blood, to become glance and gesture and no longer distinguishable from us (part of the lens we us to perceive the world, part of our interpretive structure; and then part of how we reliably act and show up in the world; and thus ultimately part of our core or solid self). Successful reading at the level of the ego is if we make it through a potentially life-altering passage or chapter or book with minimal heat, discomfort, stress, honest self-reflection, anxiety, and we get to the end of it and we get the relief. . . . Wheeew! That was a close call! I almost slowed down enough to actually think about what I was reading and to really try to see how much that stuff might apply to me. Thank God my stubbornness and auto-pilot way of life saved the day and kept me safe and my walls in tact!

This is successful reading—and living—for the ego: in one ear and out the other. Never internalizing or becoming what we read. Never slowing down and trying things on ourself first for size. Never allowing our own understanding or life-maps to be challenged.

So what is the alternative to this?—to reading and living defensively, dishonestly, fearfully?

In terms of reading, it is as I mentioned above: by beginning to learn (to force yourself??) to read slowly. And then to read very honestly—to read as if your worst enemy or critic was reading this same passage and trying to fit everything in it on you for size.

A philologist is a teacher of slow reading. And in the end one also writes slowly. Nowadays it is not only my habit, it is also my taste no longer to write anything which does not reduce to despair every sort of man who is in a hurry. For philology is that venerable art which demands of its votaries one thing above all: to go aside, to take time, to become still, to become slow—it is a goldsmith’s art and connoisseurship of the word which has nothing but delicate, cautious work to do and achieves nothing if it does not achieve it ‘lento.’ And for precisely this reason it is more necessary than ever today—in the midst of an age of ‘work,’ of hurry, of indecent and perspiring haste, which wants to get everything done at once, including every book, old or new. Philology does not so easily get anything done; it teaches to read well, to read slowly, deeply, looking cautiously before and aft, with reservations, with doors left open, with delicate eyes and fingers.

My patient friends. This book desires for itself only perfect readers and connoisseurs of the word: learn to read me well! (Nietzsche)

And need he repeat: Learn to read me very slowly and deeply and thoughtfully?

It is better for the sake of one’s soul and the sake of one’s own psychological and spiritual growth to read slowly and deliberately and thoughtfully four or five pages of something of substance during the course of an entire day, than it is to race through many pages of deliberately written and potentially life-changing material and try to swallow them whole.

To read slowly and thoughtfully and carefully is a supreme act of differentiation.

To read quickly and to not try things on yourself for size and to not allow yourself to explore your own thoughts and then to not challenge these thoughts, is to read in a very poorly differentiated and very emotionally fused way.

The purpose of a book of meditations (such as this one) is to inspire you to think. Its purpose is to help teach you how to think and not to do your thinking for you. Consequently if you pick up such a book and simply read it straight through, you are wasting your time. As soon as any thought stimulates your mind or your heart you can put the book down because your work—your meditation—has begun. To think that you are somehow obliged to follow the author of the book to his own particular conclusion would be a great mistake. It may happen that his conclusion does not apply to you. God may want you to end up somewhere else. He may have planned to give you quite a different grace or insight than the one the author suggests you might be needing. (Thomas Merton, very slightly modified from “New Seeds of Contemplation,” pg. 215)

Thus we can now answer Rilke’s query: Must you write? Yes. If you truly want to grow. Writing is an essential part of internalizing something that we read, wrestling with it honestly, and making it our own, instead of just keeping it on the level of ego and mis-using it as dogma.

If a book (of substance) is to be read well, it must be read slowly and critically, i.e. thoughtfully, mindfully, honestly. It must be read with highlighters and pen/cil and notebook in hand, and with writing and self-exploration frequently ensuing.

It must become an honest discussion and exchange of ideas between the author and his or her words on the page and what’s best in you.

And hurried discursive reading (that is, anxious, frightened reading) simply will not support this.

You must give yourself time for your soul or depths to come in contact with the author’s soul or depths. Because a well-written book is something that is written by what’s best in another. And it deserves or ought to be heard and read by what’s best in us, and not hastily under-read and skimmed by what’s most frightened and anxious and closed-off in us.

And so a thoughtful, well-written book is intended to help that budding inchoate sense of self and what’s best and potential strongest and most courageous and honest in us develop and deepen even more. It is intended to speak directly and honestly to what’s best and most authentic and deepest in us—our capacity for reason, objectivity, goodness, discernment, critical thinking, real growth, courage, honesty, Love, wisdom.

A book of substance is intended to be read by a reader—or that part of a reader—that is intent on more deeply developing one’s own “I” or sense of solid self—an “I” that perhaps is already stirring and developing unbeknownst to them and awakening within them.

But these same books of substance can also easily be misread and butchered and mangled and bastardized if they are read fearfully or if they are sped through and read hastily and unreflectively—or if one reads just for the sake of the rush of some new ideas to thrill to or to titillate one’s thinking. Or to cover over one’s emptiness and to make a person feel less restless and bored.

This is what often happens when people of a low level of emotional maturity read religious or spiritual books. Or psychology and self-help books. Et cetera.

So not only are we what we read; we are how we read. What as much as how we read makes us what we are, and either increases our level of differentiation or reinforces and perpetuates our level of fusion and undifferentiation, and thus sows the seed of even more anxiety and dysfunction and symptoms for ourselves and those we love (our family, partner, spouse, children).

Pascal on Truth, Flattery, and the Ego

From the “Pensées,” pp. 348-350, Penguin edition.—

It is no doubt an evil to be full of faults, but it is a still greater evil to be full of them and unwilling to recognize them, since this entails the further evil of deliberate self-delusion.

We do not want others to deceive us; we do not think it right for them to want us to esteem them more than they deserve; we do not think it is right either that we should deceive them and want them to esteem us more than we deserve.

Thus when [others] merely reveal vices and imperfections which we actually possess, it is obvious that they do us no wrong, since they are not responsible for them, but are really doing us good, by helping us to escape from an evil, namely our ignorance of these imperfections. We ought not to be annoyed that they know them and despise us, because it is right that they should know us for what we are and despise us if we are despicable.

These are the feelings which would spring from a heart full of equity and justice.

What then should we say of ours, seeing it quite differently disposed? For is it not true that we hate the truth and those who tell it to us, and we like them to be deceived to our advantage, and want to be esteemed by them as other than we actually are? . . .

This aversion for truth exists in differing degrees, but it may be said that it exists in everyone to some degree, because it is inseparable from (unhealthy or immature) self-love (narcissism). It is this false delicacy which makes those who have to correct others choose so many devious ways and qualifications to avoid giving offense. They must minimize our faults, pretend to excuse them, and combine this with praise and marks of affection and esteem. Even then such medicine still tastes bitter to self-love, which takes as little of it as possible, always with disgust and often with secret resentment against those administering it.

The result is that anyone who has an interest in winning our affection tends to avoid rendering us a service which he knows to be unwelcome; we are treated as we want to be treated—we hate the truth and so it is kept from us, we desire to be flattered and so we are flattered, we like being deceived and so we are deceived.

This is why each rung of fortune’s ladder which leads us up in the world takes us further from the truth, because people are more wary of offending those whose friendship is most useful and whose enmity is most dangerous. . . . [T]elling the truth is useful to the hearer but harmful to those who tell it. . . .

[The ego] conceives a deadly hatred for the truth which rebukes it and which convinces it of its faults. It would like to do away with this truth, and not being able to destroy it as such, it destroys it, as best it can, in the consciousness of itself and others; that is, it takes every care to hide its faults both from itself and others, and cannot bear to have them pointed out or noticed.

[Thus] human life is nothing but a perpetual illusion; there is nothing but mutual deception and flattery. No one talks about us in our presence as he would in our absence. Human relations are only based on this mutual deception. Few friendships would survive if everyone knew what his friend said about him behind his back, even though he spoke sincerely and dispassionately.

Man is therefore nothing but disguise, falsehood and hypocrisy, both in himself and with regard to others. He does not want to be told the truth. He avoids telling it to others, and all these tendencies, so remote from justice and reason, are naturally rooted in his heart.

Spiritual Bypassing

Spiritual Bypassing

(This is something that I have abridged and elaborated on that was written by John Welwood and appears in his book “Toward a Psychology of Awakening,” pp. 11-13)

THERE is a widespread tendency to seek out and use spiritual practices to bypass or avoid dealing with certain personal or emotional unfinished business—all of those messy matters and psychological wounds that weigh us down or hold us back. I call this tendency to attempt to use spiritual practices to avoid or illegitimately transcend and rise above both our basic human needs and fears, as well as our personal and emotional issues and developmental tasks, “spiritual bypassing.”

Spiritual bypassing is particularly tempting for people who are having difficulty navigating life’s developmental challenges. In a time and culture like ours, what once were considered ordinary marks of adulthood—earning a livelihood through dignified work, raising a family, keeping a marriage together, belonging to a meaningful community—have become increasingly elusive for more and more people. While still struggling to find themselves, more and more people are being introduced to spiritual teachings and practices of a dubious nature that attempt to convince their practitioners that the real world is significantly other than it is, and that certain developmental tasks are completely unnecessary.

As a result, they wind up misusing legitimate spiritual teachings—or using illegitimate and pseudo-spiritual escapist nonsense—to create a new “spiritual” identity—a false- or pseudo-self—which is actually just their old dysfunctional identity that was based on avoidance (of unresolved psychological issues), denial and escape (of or from these unresolved psychological issues and of life’s inherent difficulties and losses and developmental tasks), and impulsivity (a willful and habitual lack of self-control and discernment and solid thinking), repackaged in a new shiny guise that they can buy into and that they can try to convince others into buying into.

Used in this way, spiritual teachings and practices (or pseudo-spiritual practices and teachings) become a way to rationalize old defenses and reinforce old and avoidant habits and ways of reacting and responding. Many of the “perils of the path”—such as spiritual materialism, narcissism, delusions of grandiosity or excessive specialness, or groupthink (uncritical acceptance of a group’s ideology or of any spiritual teaching or practice*)—result from people trying to use spirituality to shore up or illegitimately mask (bypass) developmental deficiencies.

It’s not a stretch to say that just as the adult entertainment industry thrives on being able to exploit women who were abused sexually as children, so too the new age movement depends on exploiting women (and perhaps men equally) who were neglected or abused physically and emotionally and thus are so overburdened by unacknowledged past pain that they can nary handle any more stress and or any more reality and so they crave and seek out a philosophy of life that ultimately will turn out to be largely vacuous, soft-minded, feel good, escapist, and highly unrealistic. They end up courting the spiritual equivalent of romance novels. As Hazat Inayat Khan put it: “People are not only ready to profit by your wisdom, power, and greatness, but they are also eager to take advantage of your ignorance, weakness, and inability.” Not to mention our woundedness. And in this day and age in particular, people are lined up around the block ready to take advantage of our ignorance, woundedness, weakness, and flaws.

Legitimate spiritual and transformative traditions speak of three basic tendencies that keep us tied to the wheel of suffering: the tendency to reject what is difficult, very realistic, and or painful; the tendency to grasp onto things (teachings and practices included; this is what is meant by “spiritual materialism”) for comfort and security and support; and the tendency to desensitize ourselves so that we don’t have to face or feel the whole extent or depth or burden of our basic existential predicament—suffering, aging, disease, the body, loss, sorrow, pain, rejection, separation, isolation, lostness, anxiety, fear, and namely the fear of being overwhelmed or flooded by our own emotions and reactions.

Spiritual bypassing is symptomatic of the tendency to reject or avoid what is unpleasant and difficult—such as the sudden unexpected shifts and roller-coaster-like changes of the weak and underdeveloped ego. When a person isn’t strong enough or doesn’t feel him- or herself to be strong enough to deal with the inherent difficulties of this world—difficulties made all the more difficult by childhood wounds and abuses—then the person will try to find ways of illegitimately avoiding having to deal altogether with their personal issues and deficiencies as well as conditioning, habits, and reactions/reactivity.

This is a major pitfall of the spiritual path—attempt to avoid facing the unresolved issues of the conditioned personality. And attempting to avoid unfinished or even unstarted developmental tasks and the unresolved pains and wounds in our past is only what keeps us caught even more firmly in their grasp. Whatever we run away from runs us. Whatever we deny or suppress comes back to us as fate, as destiny. There is a part of us that would rather take it easy, sink into some comfortable and automatic groove, not have to think too much or too deeply or critically, and basically get through this life with as little effort and challenge and stress as possible. This leads to our common addictions—to mindless television and escapist books and blogs, consumerism, alcohol and drugs, even religion and pseudo-spiritual practices—these are all ways of numbing ourselves and avoiding facing reality and the rawness, the messiness, the difficulties, and the anxieties of being more fully alive and awake and present.


* As the Buddha put it:

Rely on the teaching, not on the person;
Rely on the meaning, not on the words;
Rely on the definitive meaning, not on the provisional;
Rely on your wisdom mind, not on your ordinary mind.
Do not accept any of my words solely on faith, Believing them just because I said them.
Instead be like an analyst buying gold, who cuts, burns,
And critically examines his product for authenticity.
Only accept what passes the (reality) test.