Masks and the Game of Hide & Seek We Play with Ourselves


Masks. There are women who have no inner life wherever one looks for it, being nothing but masks. That man is to be pitied who lets himself in with such ghostly, necessarily unsatisfying creatures; but just these women are able to stimulate man’s desire most intensely: he searches for their souls–and searches on and on.
– Nietzsche

And this is how I read/interpret this:

Masks. There are women (and perhaps this may hold true for men as well. What do you think?) who have no real identity or core self wherever one looks for it and so ultimately are nothing but masks. And it’s thought that perhaps a man ought to be pitied who lets himself caught up with and beguiled by such a ghostly and inconsistent creature, such a chameleon. Yet perhaps he ought not be pitied; because it is just this type of woman who is able to stimulate a poetic and philosophic man’s desire most intensely: he searches for their soul–and he does so on and on and on. Such a woman is perhaps the ultimate form of stimulation for some men who are by nature philosophic, poetic, in other words, psychologists.

The excerpt from Nietzsche also reminded me of something I had read many years ago in “People of the Lie” by M. Scott Peck—

The essential component of evil is not the absence of a sense of sin or imperfection but the unwillingness to tolerate that sense. The evil are aware of their evil and desperately trying to avoid the awareness, continually sweeping the evidence of their badness under the rug of their own consciousness. The problem is not a defect of conscience but the effort to deny the conscience its due.

We become evil by attempting to hide from ourselves.

Evil originates not in the absence of guilt and shame but in the effort to escape from these. Evil may be recognized by its very disguise. The lie can be perceived ahead of the misdeed that it is designed to hide—the cover-up that is being created before the fact. We see the false smile that covers over the hatred and anger, the smooth and oily manner and the false laughter that masks the hidden fury or resentment, the velvet glove that covers the fist. The disguise is often impenetrable. But what we can catch are glimpses of that “uncanny game of hide-and-seek in the obscurity of the soul, in which it, the single human soul, evades itself, avoids itself, hides from itself.” (Martin Buber, Good and Evil).

The words “image,” “appearance,” and “outwardly” are crucial to understanding the morality of evil. While those who are evil or morally bad seem to lack any motivation to be good, they intensely desire to appear good. But their “goodness” is all on a level of pretense. It is, in effect, a lie. Which is why they are the “people of the lie.”

What are some of the characteristics of those who are evil, or who are on the way to becoming evil?

– Consistent destructive, scapegoating behavior (blaming others) and abdication of personal responsibility, which may often be quite subtle.

– Excessive, albeit usually quite covert, intolerance to criticism and other forms of narcissistic injury.

– Pronounced concern with a public image and self-image of respectability.

– Intellectual deviousness, with an increased likelihood of a mild schizophrenic-like or dissociative disturbance of thinking at times of stress.

People are more willing to change their circumstances rather than change themselves, because they are so attached to their self. Yet this is the ultimate attachment that we must overcome in order to truly grow and heal—the attachment to the self, to our persona, self-image, our masks, our false or pseudo-selves.

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Lying, Self-Deception, Resistance to Truth & Reality, and the Pain of Real Growth


We are all have our resistances to truth and reality. In other words, to some extent, we all lie.

And the more we lie, the more likely we are to lie (especially to ourselves) about why we’re lying.

If we lie rarely, then we’re likely to be fairly clear about why we’re lying (or not telling the whole truth). We’ve likely thought a fair amount about why we’re withholding parts of the truth and, if we’ve done our thinking and internal debating and self-examining honestly, then we’ve likely already cross-examined ourselves and played God’s or devil’s advocate with our own reasoning and motivations (and tried to see them in the least flattering light possible).

But if we’re still at the relatively low level of consciousness and low level of being (low level of differentiation) where we lie frequently and easily—where lying is our “go to” way of problem solving (actually, further problem making)—then we also likely are lying to ourselves about why we’re lying. In other words, we have little to no idea why we’re lying. The reasons we’re telling ourselves—the justifications—for our lies are also lies, fabrications, psychological sleight-of-hands pulled on ourselves (by what’s weakest and worst in us).

This is the position that many of us are in in life. We are deeply resistant to truth and to living with any real concerted attempt at integrity (integration). We routinely prefer half-baked answers and quick-fix escapist schemes to real thinking and honest self-examination. We prefer obfuscation and confusion and secrecy and hiding to openness and clarity and honesty. The former seems easier—and indeed it may be in the very short term, but it is also cowardly; the latter route—clarity, honesty, openness, transparency, trust-building—is more painful and difficult up front and requires greater courage and self-soothing and grit, but reward us with an increase in each of these.

When we are a person of the lie and prone to lying routinely, we resist honest inquiries and perceive them to be “attacks” or “criticism” or “judgment.” Many of those who campaign for “peace” and nonjudgmentalness and acceptance are those who are hiding out from life and most of all from the rigors of a life of dedication to truth and real self-examination. They seek nonjudgmentalness, kindness, acceptance, and to avoid conflict and disagreement at every turn because it’s less threatening and less potentially disruptive to their very limited self-honesty (i.e., their self-deception and denial).

Many of us show little difficulty in taking great ideas and profound life principles and reconfiguring them so that they support and justify and perpetuate our particular weaknesses and or pathologies. We have little difficulty in taking profound, life-altering ideals and concepts that could help us gain clarity and true inner peace and equanimity and watering them down and diluting them and deluding ourselves with our warped version of their “real” meaning. Instead of raising ourselves and our thinking to their level, we warp them and handle them dishonestly and dummy them down to our level. Instead of being guided by life principles like objectivity, self-examination, Love, differentiation, conscience, virtue, the dharma, and trying to practice and live and embody these concepts on their terms, we twist them to suit us as we are and to justify us as we are now. We twist these great ideas and principles so that they support our staying as we are and our not changing or growing or doing anything too uncomfortable and challenging and honest.

Many, if not most, of us resist truth and honest self-examination on a daily, if not moment to moment basis. We are constantly fleeing from ourselves, trying to numb ourselves from ourselves, from god, from our conscience, from looking at ourselves from the point of view of objective narrator or witness. We are constantly lying most of all to ourselves about why we’re deceiving others, not loving others, running away from life, constantly playing it safe.

Most of us the vast majority of the time are just not that interested in truth and honesty. We’ll tell ourselves (and others) that we are, but such self-talk is cheap and tends to be highly self-deceptive. If we simply observe ourselves impartially (objectively, honestly) as we go about the day, we can notice how little time and thought we actually devote to truth and honesty and cultivating honest candid self-awareness. Most of our time goes into cultivating and practicing the opposite—mindlessness, distraction, multitasking, living undeliberately, dishonestly, numb. Most of the time throughout the day is not spent living a life of virtue or real personal growth or improving our mindfulness and honesty. Instead, most of the time we prefer to be numbed out or distracted—trying to make ourselves momentarily feel good or numb—anything but having to sit alone quietly and honestly with ourselves and our inner discomfort and unrest and incessant discursive chatter and dissatisfaction and greediness (greed for security, novelty, quick easy happinesses/gratifications). We’d rather watch TV or surf the web or go out and buy something than spend time slowing down, focusing ourselves upwards on something that transcends the ego and our constant cravings, and either quieting the mind or reading deliberately something of real worth and substance—something full of solid insights and truth. So much of our TV watching, excessive gregariousness, wine drinking, bar hopping, web browsing, shopping, magazine reading, is our resistance to truth and reality in action. Truth and reality frighten us, so we’d rather numb ourselves or read or watch or listen to or even participate in what is half-true, if not much less than half true.

If we—if any part of us—sincerely wants to experience truth, then we will likely need to begin seeing how deeply resistant we are to truth—how we have set up our lives in a way that is diametrically opposed to truth and to quiet honest contemplation and to cultivating solid honest thoughts.

The following is abridged (and slightly modified) from M. Scott Peck’s “The Road Less Traveled“—

Truth is reality. That which is false in unreal. The more clearly we see the reality of the world, the better equipped we are to deal with the world. The less clearly we see the reality of the world—the more our minds are befuddled by falsehood, misperceptions and illusions—the less able we will be to determine correct courses of action and make wise decisions.

What happens when one has striven long and hard to develop a working view of the world, a seemingly useful, workable map, and then is confronted with new information suggesting that that view is wrong and the map needs to be largely redrawn? The painful effort required seems frightening, almost overwhelming. What we do more often than not, and usually unconsciously, is to ignore the new information. Often this act of ignoring is much more than passive. We may denounce the new information as false, dangerous, heretical, the work of the devil. We may actually crusade against it, and even attempt to manipulate the world so as to make it conform to our view of reality. Rather than try to change the map, an individual may try to destroy the new reality. Sadly, such a person may expend much more energy ultimately in defending an outmoded view of the world than would have been required to revise and correct it in the first place.

This process of active clinging to an outmoded view of reality is the basis for much mental illness. Psychiatrists refer to it as “transference.” Transference is the set of ways of perceiving and responding to the world which is developed in childhood and which is usually entirely appropriate to the childhood environment (indeed, often life-saving) but which is inappropriately transferred into the adult environment.

Truth or reality is avoided when it is painful. We can revise our maps only when we have the discipline to overcome that pain. To have such discipline, we must be totally dedicated to truth. That is to say that we must always hold truth, as best we can determine it, to be more important, more vital to our self-interest, than our comfort. Conversely, we must always consider our personal discomfort relatively unimportant and, indeed, even welcome it in the service of the search for truth. Mental health is an ongoing process of dedication to reality at all costs.

What does a life of total dedication to the truth mean? It means a life of continuous and never-ending stringent self-examination. We know the world only through our relationship to it. Therefore, to know the world, we must not only examine it but we must simultaneously examine the examiner.

Examination of the world without is never as personally painful as examination of the world within. And it is certainly because of the pain involved in a life of genuine self-examination that the majority steer away from it. Yet, when one is dedicated to the truth, this pain seems relatively unimportant—and less and less important (and therefore less and less painful) the farther one proceeds on the path of self-examination.

A life of total dedication to the truth also means a life of willingness to be personally challenged. The only way that we can be certain that our map of reality is valid is to expose it to the criticism and challenge of other map-makers. Otherwise we live in a closed system—within a bell jar, to use Sylvia Plath’s analogy, rebreathing only our own fetid air, more and more subject to delusion.

Such honesty does not come painlessly. The reason people lie is to avoid the pain of challenge and its consequences. We lie, of course, not only to others but also to ourselves. The challenges to our adjustment—our maps—from our own consciences and our own realistic perceptions may be every bit as legitimate and painful as any challenge from the public which is why most people opt for a life of very limited honesty and openness and relative closeness, hiding themselves and their maps from the world.

It is easier that way.

The ways in which transference manifests itself, while always pervasive and destructive, are often subtle.

Yet the clearest examples must be unsubtle.

One such example was a patient whose treatment failed by virtue of his transference. He was a brilliant but unsuccessful computer technician in his early thirties who came to see me because his wife had left him, taking their two children.

He was not particularly unhappy to lose her, but he was devastated by the loss of his children, to whom he was deeply attached. It was in the hope of regaining them that he initiated psychotherapy, since his wife firmly stated she would never return to him unless he had psychiatric treatment. Her principal complaints about him were that he was continually and irrationally jealous of her and, yet, at the same time aloof from her—cold, distant, uncommunicative and unaffectionate.

She also complained of his frequent changes of employment.

His life since adolescence had been markedly unstable.

During adolescence he was involved in frequent minor altercations with the police and had been jailed three times for intoxication, belligerence, loitering, and interfering with the duties of an officer.

He dropped out of college, where he was studying electrical engineering, because, as he said, “My teachers were a bunch of hypocrites, hardly different from the police.”

Because of his brilliance and creativeness in the field of computer technology, his services were in high demand by industry. But he had never been able to advance or keep a job for more than a year and a half, occasionally being fired, more often quitting after disputes with his supervisors, whom he described as “liars and cheats, interested only in protecting their own ass.”

His most frequent expression was “You can’t trust a goddam soul.”

He described his childhood as “normal” and his parents as “average.” In the brief period of time he spent with me, however, he casually and unemotionally recounted numerous instances during childhood in which his parents were inconsistent and had let him down. They promised him a bike for his birthday, but they forgot about it and gave him something else. Once they forgot his birthday entirely, but he saw nothing drastically wrong with this since “they were very busy.” They would promise to do things with him on weekends, but then were usually “too busy.” Numerous times they forgot to pick him up from meetings or parties because “they had a lot on their minds.”

What happened to this man was that when he was a young child he suffered painful disappointment after painful disappointment through his parents’ inconsistency and lack of caring. Gradually or suddenly—I don’t know which—he came to the agonizing realization in mid-childhood that he could not trust his parents. Once he concluded this, however, he began to feel better, and his life became more comfortable. He no longer expected things from his parents or got his hopes up when they made promises. When he stopped trusting his parents the frequency and severity of his disappointments diminished dramatically.

Such an adjustment, however, was to be the basis for many more future problems.

To a child, his or her parents are everything—they represent the world. The child does not have the perspective to see that other parents are different and frequently better. He assumes that the way his parents do things is the way that things are done and that their way represents the way of the world. Consequently, the realization—the “reality”—that this child came to was not “I can’t trust my parents” but the gross overgeneralization that “I can’t trust people.” Distrusting people in general, therefore, became the map with which he entered adolescence and adulthood. With this map firmly in place and operating, and with an abundant store of resentment resulting from his many disappointments fueling him, it was inevitable that he came again and again and again into conflict with authority figures—police, teacher, employers. And invariably these conflicts only served to reinforce his feeling that people who had anything to give him in the world couldn’t be trusted. (He never considered once that he might be the larger part of the problem and the chief instigator of these conflicts!)

He had many opportunities to revise his map, but they were all passed up.

For one thing, the only way he could learn that there were some people in the adult world he could trust would be to risk trusting them, and that would require a deviation from his map to begin with.

For another, such relearning would require him to revise his view of his parents—to realize that they did not love him, that he did not have a normal childhood, and that his parents were not average in their callousness to his needs. Such a realization would have been extremely painful!

Finally, his distrust of people was a realistic adjustment to the reality of his childhood because it worked in terms of diminishing his pain and suffering. And because this adjustment had worked so well once, because it had immense proven survival value, it was extremely difficult for him to give it up. Thus he continued his course of distrust, unconsciously creating situations that served to reinforce it, alienating himself from everyone, making it impossible for himself to enjoy love, warmth, intimacy and affection. He could not even allow himself closeness with his wife, because she, too, could not be trusted.

The only people he could relate with intimately were his two children. They were the only ones over whom he had complete control, the only ones who had no authority over him, and thus the only ones in the whole world he could trust.

When problems of transference are involved—as they almost always are—psychotherapy is, among other things, a process of map-revising. Patients come to therapy because their maps are clearly not working.

But how they may cling to them and fight the process every step of the way!

Frequently their need to cling to their maps and fight against losing them is so great that therapy and growth and healing become impossible.

Guilt, Anger, Apologies: A True Warrior’s Perspective


This is a poem I found on another blog

No Apologieswritten by Miro

Sorry is a word that we
Should try our best to lose
It’s a concept warriors
Should rarely ever use

We say it with no thought of how
The word’s truly defined
So let me take a moment to
Look it up and remind:

Regrettable, deplorable
Sorrowful, grieved or sad
Wretched, poor and pitiful
Without use to be had

Warriors are never sorry
For a single thing
They understand the consequences
Of the words they fling

They put thought into what they say
And also what they do
And when some feelings get hurt they
Still hold fast and stay true

To what they do believe in
Even if feathers are ruffled
They don’t make up excuses and
Let their voices be muffled

The goal is to be confident
In all you do and say
All “I’m sorry” serves to do
Is shows that you will stray

“I’m sorry” is a “too late” phrase
It doesn’t change the past
Resolve to make the next time that
You say it be your last

Resolve to not do anything
That you will soon regret
Do nothing deplorable
That will leave you in debt

Save yourself from the sorrow
From being sad and grieved
If you said or did something
It’s because you believed

Be not wretched, pitiful
You’re much better than that
Differing opinions don’t
Have to end in combat

Agree to disagree and let
Each side have their own views
Never let another’s ego
Make you sing the blues

By saying that you’re sorry and
Indulging “sensitives”
Tip-toeing on eggshells is
Not how a warrior lives

Replace “sorry” with “deal with it”
Or a similar phrase
Like “get over yourself” and watch
All of the eyebrows raise

Because it’s in that moment where
The ego shows its face
Showing no regret is how
We put it in its place

It’s a nice poem, and certainly there are some positive ideas expressed in this poem. But there are also several negative or troubling ones as well.

And so I wrote a response to this poem delineating what I saw to be the weak points in what he (Miro) had put out there—

You do have a point, and there are many admirable things you say in your poem, but . . . In my opinion sorry certainly still has a place in social interactions. . . . Regret, remorse, redress . . . these can all be very important things. They are part and parcel of having a working conscience. If our conscience is barely working, then we say sorry, but we don’t change our ways. But steps 4 through 10 or so of “The Twelve Steps” address this—don’t just say you’re sorry, but make your actual amends for the bad things you’ve done. Fact of the matter is, there are plenty of people in the world who OUGHT to be sorry and who NEED to be sorry. Of course, they’re probably not warrior poets . . . BUT . . . they may stray across this blog and use your words (or similar words and ideas) to justify continuing their lack of conscience.

As a fellow warrior poet, I know that I still make mistakes, misread situations and other people. Sometimes I misfire, say the wrong thing, overshoot, et cetera. And apologizing in those situations is not superiority bowing down to mediocrity or the like. It’s a simple admission of the facts: I don’t know everything; I’m fallible, human; I am not inside the other person’s head; I’m not God; I’m not omniscient; I don’t know the whole of what it’s like to be the other person and to have experienced what he or she has experienced. And so all of that seems to dictate some level of humility, it seems to automatically require that I temper whatever wisdom and insight I may think I have with a little bit of “but I could be wrong.”

My question is why are you or anyone else so afraid of saying sorry when (or if?) you muck something up? You’re not perfect. No one is. You make mistakes. We all do. So deal with it. Deal with the fact that you make mistakes. And deal with it by having the guts or the conscience to offer a sincere apology.

My sense is that there’s this new age warrior movement afoot (probably started by Castenada) where people are equating being enlightened or awake or mature with never having to say they’re sorry. And that’s cow poop. My thought is not feeling guilty, not saying you’re sorry when you eff up doesn’t make you enlightened or a warrior poet, it makes you a sociopath.

Society doesn’t need more people who can’t or won’t say they’re sorry, what it needs is more people who are in touch with their own fallibility, and who say they’re sorry and then mean it—i.e. try their darndest to not make the same mistake again, learn from the past, and become a better person for having made their honest amends. There’s something very dignified and noble and truly warrior-like about actually taking a searching and fearless moral inventory, and then making one’s amends, and continuing to refine and develop one’s conscience in a healthy and ennobling way.

These are two posts I’ve written recently that touch on this—

https://theplacesthatscareyou.wordpress.com/2012/01/31/when-pop-psych-advice-goes-amuck/

http://fullcatastropheliving.wordpress.com/2012/01/31/the-two-preliminaries-necessary-to-train-in-in-order-to-awaken-and-truly-change-grow/

Personally I’d much prefer to live in a society where when people make a mistake or do wrong, or when they snap at each other because they get stressed out, they apologize sincerely for it, and try to take actual steps to lessen the likelihood of overheating and snapping or doing wrong again, than one where people hide out behind “deal with it” and never really doubt their own fallibility.

Kindest regards, and I look forward to reading more of your poems!

John

But Miro elected not to approve and post my comment. Perhaps he didn’t want to let it mar the love- & validation-fest he has going on at his blog, because apparently only praise and happy comments are acceptable.  But criticism is not accepted.  And something that challenges the warrior-poet’s prevailing “wisdom” is not permitted.  Miro only seems to want yes-men and yes-women commenting on his poems.  Miro-Miro on the wall, who’s the fairest Miro of them all . . .

A Little Background: Some More Considerations

I will be very up front and admit that I have very little tolerance for that variety of soft-minded new age pabulum where misguided wannabe-sages and errant advice-givers like Wayne Dyer and Paulo Coehlo are trying to convince people to give up guilt and anger.

This is an ongoing problem with the new-thought / new-age movement in general (and in my opinion it is due in part to a really bad misapplication of Buddhism). In new age and new thought and meditation and yoga and stress-reduction circles anger, guilt, and thinking all tend to be seen as the enemy—they are all under attack, so much so that the image or ideal that is being put forth is that an enlightened or evolved person doesn’t get angry, doesn’t feel guilt, and doesn’t think.

Which is all bullshit.

An enlightened person thinks, but thinks in a way that is markedly differently from how most people think. An enlightened person thinks in a more objective and less egocentric way. An enlightened (or evolved) person thinks in a more sincere and focused and deliberate way, not a discursive and distracted or monkey-minded way. An evolved person has learned how to think well—how to think very clearly, very insightfully, and how to cancel out his or her own biases or “ego”—in other words, how to examine oneself and one’s own deeper motivations.

An enlightened or evolved person hasn’t thrown the baby out with the bath water when it comes to thinking. An enlightened person has just changed the bath water—i.e. learned how to think more truthfully and less fallaciously and less egocentrically.

The same goes for anger and guilt.

Anger & Guilt

Anger is what we feel when someone may have violated our boundaries or done something wrong or unacceptable to us. Just because we feel anger doesn’t actually mean that someone has done something wrong to us or that our boundaries actually have been violated. But it does indicate that something HAS HAPPENED and that we need to look into it and get to the bottom of it.

The problem is that most people refuse to do the work of anger and to actually investigate why they are angry. Anger is a powerful emotion. And we are right to be afraid of it. Because most people when they are angry simply act out on that emotion. And sometimes people acting out on anger do horrible hideous things to others—road rage, go postal, say nasty hurtful things, et cetera.

And so Wayne Dyer and Paulo Coehlo and other new age wannabe gurus see this and they (admirably) want to help people stop themselves from hurting others when they’re in a fit of rage or anger. So clearly anger has to go. As if that’s the problem. When really the problem is something more involved—a lack of self-control, a lack of thinking, or a lot of sloppy thinking, etc. But instead of tackling these more difficult and complex issues, they give the people what they want—an all or nothing throw the baby out with the bath water solution. Anger is bad, stop being angry, and chastise those who get angry around you; become part of the new and higher consciousness that is on the verge of being born and get rid of such an antiquated and low-brow way of living; become pure and radiant and anger-free like me . . .

No one wants to be told to think more and that getting rid of anger is only to make a mistake in the opposite direction. That type of advice doesn’t sell many books to the lowest common denominator or to what’s worst in us.

And, as for guilt, guilt is what we (ought to) feel when we have done something wrong or unacceptable to another—when we have done something to another that we wouldn’t want done to us—that we would get angry about if it was done to us. Guilt is what we’re supposed to feel when we have treated another in a way that would make us angry if someone else treated us or our child that way.

But this isn’t what new age false prophets feed their lemmings. Instead they advise them to get rid of guilt altogether. Guilt is bad. Forgive yourself and move on. They don’t tell their fold, hey, if you’re feeling guilty, start examining that feeling; have you done to another something that you wouldn’t want done to yourself or that you would tolerate another person doing to your child? Or are you feeling guilty because you were mis-raised by an overbearing berating parent who didn’t love you or show you any warmth or tenderness, but who always seemed to criticize you for everything you did, and so you walk around as an adult with this dark “I’m not good enough” cloud hanging over your head that you interpret as “guilt”? These soft-minded false-gurus don’t offer much real insight or much real wisdom, they just dispense their all-or-nothing nonsense; get rid of guilt, stop feeling guilty and you’ll feel better. So what if you did wrong? So what if you cheated on your spouse because you were ungrateful, so what if you broke up the family and moved 2,000 miles away because you were unhappy and bored and wanted to start over and be true to you? So what? Stop feeling guilty about it; you’re doing the best you know how.

No, you’re not. You’re not doing your best. You have no real standards for yourself, you’ve lost your sense of right and wrong; but you’ve also lost your enthusiasm and passion (and so you’ve just been going through the motions), and so you are rightfully desperate to feel alive. But you don’t seem to care if you have to do wrong (or something you ought to feel guilty about) in order to feel more alive. But the problem is: the means matter! The journey matters just as much as the destination, if not more so. Because it’s in the means that we either really earn our worth (by really earning what we want in a legitimate way) or do grave injury to ourselves (by not living up to our values and what’s best in us).

So anger, guilt, thinking: these are all hot button topics for me. I see the current, I see what’s being dispensed, what’s being offered out there psychologically and spiritually on the open market—in books and blogs, et cetera—and it’s frightening! It’s Cheetos for the brain, Twinkies for the soul; it’s really bad and sloppy advice that’s being proffered.

And when you get down to the bottom of it—when you think about it—it’s also the same sort of stuff you find in a good portion of Miro’s “No Apologies” poem.

I will explain my thought processes and reactions in detail as I go—

No Apologies

Sorry is a word that we
Should try our best to lose
It’s a concept warriors
Should rarely ever use

I agree with this verse. A warrior should be leading a very conscious and deliberate life.

BUT, even a warrior is fallible, SO even a warrior may miss the mark occasionally and may need to apologize for doing so

We say it with no thought of how
The word’s truly defined
So let me take a moment to
Look it up and remind:

Regrettable, deplorable
Sorrowful, grieved or sad
Wretched, poor and pitiful
Without use to be had

“We” is a very tough word to use. Who is this “we” you are speaking of? I guarantee it doesn’t apply to me, because I am very thoughtful about how words are defined and used. The proof?—just read on, my friend . . .

Warriors are never sorry
For a single thing
They understand the consequences
Of the words they fling

This stanza is partly true, but also contains much that is false. For example, the use of the categorical “never’ is fallacious. I am a warrior, and I will say “sorry” when I muck something up.

And in this situation I lack a complete understanding of the words I fling (or post). And that was my point to Miro in my original comment on my thread that he refused (three times!) to post.

No one here is God; no one is omniscient or all-knowing; we’re all more or less in the dark; some more than others, some a bit less than others. But we’re all in the dark, living in the shadowlands. And that consideration alone ought to temper our arrogance and instead be a source of humility and openness and inquisitiveness for us.

But for some people it isn’t. Perhaps it frightens them and makes them even more desperate to pretend that they’re God and all-knowing. Perhaps their own shadow-side gets the better of them and makes them want to overcompensate for how lost and in the dark they feel. Perhaps they are so lacking in self-esteem that they simply can’t take the hit to the ego that admitting they’re wrong and offering a sincere apology entails.

I don’t know Miro. I only recently came across his blog. So I have no idea how the words I fling will affect him. I don’t know him well enough to know what his particular ego is like and how his particular defenses are arrayed.

I do, however, know the facts: that I read his “No Apologies” post, I saw how it could easily be misread, and I wrote a comment detailing that. He did not approve my comment. So I re-submitted it two days later. Again, he did not permit it to be posted. And so I tried once more. Again, he refused to post it.

So what does that tell me about Miro?—he signs his comments “peace & grace.” Based on the avoidant tendencies he’s displayed in regards to my (likely) very perceptive and valid and constructive criticisms, I’d say for Miro “peace” means the absence of conflict, not the ability to deal with conflict squarely and maturely.

This is the tagline to his blog:

Peace+strength+grace+intensity+resolve+patience+fortitude+selflessness+focus+balance+courage+love=wisdom

I’m not sure I see the courage or the strength or the wisdom or the selflessness is his approach here. I think he sacrificed his own vision and values by not posting my comments. How hard would it have been for him to have posted my comment and have written something along the lines of, “Interesting perspective, John; I didn’t notice the cracks in my own formulations; what I had in mind was . . . ”

But instead he chose to be avoidant; he chose the uncourageous path. He let what was weakest in him chart his course.

Whitman wrote:

There are those who teach only
the sweet lessons of peace and safety;
But I teach lessons of war and death to those I love,
That they readily meet invasions, when they come.

Those are the lessons I teach as well. And to myself most of all. Don’t just stand for something, John, stand for what is good AND right. Stand not just for what is true, but stand for real compassion and understanding as well; stand not just for kindness, but for clarity and wisdom as well.

It’s a difficult balance to attain.

Rumi wrote: “Unkindness from the wise is better than kindness from the ignorant.”

Criticism from someone wise is to be preferred over praise from someone lost and unwise.

If you truly want to grow and learn in life, then these ARE important considerations.

But if you just want to live a comfortable life and never really deal with your own ego, then simply avoid people who challenge you, avoid people who have a different point of view than you, and hide out immediately behind “live and let live” and “let’s agree to disagree” and some vague and self-serving (ego-serving) (mis-)definition of “respect.”

They put thought into what they say
And also what they do

I agree wholeheartedly. And I am exhibiting all of that thinkiness in this post.

And when some feelings get hurt they
Still hold fast and stay true

I don’t agree. It’s just not that simple. Sometimes the correct response is to hold fast and stay true; other times it is to apologize and say you’re sorry and learn from your mistakes. We’re all fallible; even warriors.

To what they do believe in
Even if feathers are ruffled
They don’t make up excuses and
Let their voices be muffled

And considering that you didn’t post my comments, I can only assume that your feelings were hurt. So what are you, Miro, holding fast and staying true to? You are running from a contrary opinion, you are running from a challenge, you are hiding from criticism.

So what ought I do? Not apologize? Stay true and hold fast? You’re feelings have clearly been hurt, Miro, what would you have me do? You voice seems to have been muffled (other than the one passive-aggressive bard you left in your comment to one of your worshippers); and you seem more than willing to try and muffle my voice, Miro, especially since I “deserve” it since I ruffled the feathers of the little man hiding behind his curtain . . .

The goal is to be confident
In all you do and say

I disagree: the goal is to be truthful, not confident. The ego wants to play its little game of confidence; the soul wants truth. And the truth is we are all fallible; none of us is omniscient. And that should lead to some real humility, some real openness, not arrogance and faux-confidence. The goal is NOT to be confident in all that you do in say; the goal is to be MINDFUL, to be as AWARE as possible, and to be OPEN to admitting when you’re wrong when you are indeed wrong.

The goal is to be confident
In all you do and say

If you’re truly confident in what you say and do, Miro, then surely a confident person like yourself, Miro, should have the confidence to post an opposing point of view.  When you refuse to post a well-thought out and perhaps very valid opposing point of view, it suggests, Miro, that you are not very confident.

All “I’m sorry” serves to do
Is shows that you will stray

“All”? More all-or-nothing categorical thinking. All just doesn’t apply here. It’s sloppy thinking and a sloppy word choice; and it makes what Miro is trying to say fallacious or false.

“I’m sorry” is a “too late” phrase
It doesn’t change the past
Resolve to make the next time that
You say it be your last

Cute; it rhymes. But is it true? Is what he’s saying in this stanza psychologically healthy and spiritually “evolved”? Is it what a real warrior would do or say?

Resolve to not do anything
That you will soon regret
Do nothing deplorable
That will leave you in debt

Great advice! This is what we all ought to aspire to! Think of what a lovely social world we would live in if more people thought like this BEFORE they acted. It would be a wonderful thing.

Save yourself from the sorrow
From being sad and grieved
If you said or did something
It’s because you believed

Be not wretched, pitiful
You’re much better than that
Differing opinions don’t
Have to end in combat

No, not at all, just silence and avoidance, right? That’s your example, Miro: the high road of avoidance, which is really the lowest road there be. You refused to post an opposing point of view and you tried to illegitimately sweep it under the carpet. How many other voices have you tried to muffle, you warrior poet, you? Run and hide is not a very effective or warrior-like strategy, Miro.

Agree to disagree and let
Each side have their own views

Just not on your site, right Miro?

Never let another’s ego
Make you sing the blues

And what about the truth? Would it be okay to let the truth make us sing the blues?

And agree to disagree? In my experience, that’s what the ego loves to put out there, because for the ego there really is no such thing as Truth, only lots and lots of “what’s true for me.” But for people who are really trying to “get over themselves” and truly be psychological and spiritual warriors, they have a different maxim that they live by: It’s not who is right but what’s right. It’s not all about this ego versus ego cage match. There’s truth, and there are points of view that are either more or less true, more or less in tune with the truth. Each side can have its views, but sometimes one or both sides’ views are wrong or false or fallacious.

By saying that you’re sorry and
Indulging “sensitivities”
Tip-toeing on eggshells is
Not how a warrior lives

Replace “sorry” with “deal with it”
Or a similar phrase
Like “get over yourself” and watch
All of the eyebrows raise.

Okay, so this rhymes. So what? The more important matter is: is it true? Is this psychologically healthy? Just because it rhymes doesn’t make it true. These are Miro’s words; these are the phrases he chose: “deal with it,” “get over yourself.” —Who honestly wants to live in a society where well-meaning people say that to each other and where this is the type of all-or-nothing advice that people live by? You don’t like what I have to say? Deal with it! You don’t like my poem? Get over yourself! How very Dalai Lama-like!

Replace “sorry” with “deal with it”
Or a similar phrase
Like “get over yourself” and watch
All of the eyebrows raise.

This stanza just seems kinda childish, kind of like someone’s ego wrote it. Maybe Miro needs to get over himself first and lead by example? Just a thought. . . . Put up my response, Miro, and deal with it!

Because it’s in that moment where
The ego shows its face
Showing no regret is how
We put it in its place

We put another’s ego in its place by not showing any regret? I don’t know, Miro. I’m not sure how much Miro knows about the ego. What I’ve learned is that what the ego most seems to hate is scrutiny, challenge, truth, light, exposure, criticism of ANY SORT.

What the ego wants is comfort and control and the comfort of surrounding itself with a bunch of mirrors who only reflect back to it what it wants to see of itself.

The ego doesn’t want to see itself as it is; what the ego wants is to see itself as it wants to be seen and as it dreams of being.

And so it banishes (or doesn’t post the comments of) anyone who doesn’t flatter it, who doesn’t fawn over its rhymes or sing its praises.

A real warrior is focused on truth and wisdom, not praise and positive feedback. The ego is not interested in truth and wisdom for their own sake, but only in relation to getting the ego more of what it craves—praise, flattery, positive mirroring, being told how awesome it is.

The ego doesn’t want reality, it wants distortion; the ego doesn’t want to be seen as it is and for what it is, it wants to be seen in a distorted and flattering way.

A false warrior is not open to challenge and is not open to criticism and contrary opinions and differing points of view.

But a true warrior is: he is open to challenge; he is open to criticism. A real warrior puts himself out there and offers the world a standing invitation to disprove his point of view, because a real warrior is dedicated to the truth and to reality at all costs, and not just the costs that his ego is willing to pony up.

And a real warrior does all of this because a real warrior knows it’s not about who’s right but what’s right.

A false warrior is an inwardly insecure and weak person who is pretending to be strong, a false self trying to prop itself up on positive feedback and by receiving positive blog comments. Sometimes it takes much more strength to say “I’m sorry, I was acting like an avoidant coward; I wasn’t living from what’s best in me” than it does to say “Deal with it.”

Thomas Merton on our True v our False Self


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“Mental health is an ongoing process of dedication to reality at all costs.”

M. Scott Peck, from “The Road Less Traveled,” pp. 51

 

Every one of us is shadowed by an illusory person: a false self.

This is the person that I want myself to be but who cannot exist, because God—because Truth, Light—knows nothing about him. And to be unknown to God is altogether too much privacy.

My false and private self is the one who wants to exist outside the reach of God’s will and God’s love— outside of reality and outside of life. And such a self cannot help but be an illusion.

We are not very good at recognizing illusions, least of all the ones we cherish most about ourselves—the ones we are born and raised with and which feed the roots of sin. For most of the people in the world, there is no greater subjective reality than this false self of theirs, which cannot exist. A life devoted to maintaining and expanding this false self, this shadow, is what is called a life of sin.

All sin starts from the assumption that my false self, the self that exists only in my own egocentric desires, is the fundamental reality of life around which everything else in the universe is ordered. Thus I use up my life in the desire for pleasures and the thirst for experiences, for power, honor, knowledge, feeling loved, in order to clothe this false self and construct its nothingness into something objectively real. And I wind experiences around myself and cover myself with pleasures and glory like bandages in order to make myself perceptible to myself and to the world, as if I were an invisible body that could only become visible when something visible covered its surface.

To be a saint means to be my true self. Therefore the problem of sanctity and salvation is in fact the problem of finding out who I truly am and of discovering my true self, my essence or core.

Trees and animals have no problem. God makes them what they are without consulting them, and they are perfectly satisfied.

With us it is different. God leaves us free to be whatever we like.

We can be ourselves or not, as we please. We are at liberty to be real, or to be unreal. We may be true or false, the choice is ours. We may wear now one mask and now another, and never, if we so desire, appear with our own true face.

But we cannot make these choices with impunity.

Causes have effects, and if we lie to ourselves and to others, then we cannot expect to find truth and reality whenever we happen to want them.

If we have chosen the way of falsity we must not be surprised that truth eludes us when we finally come to need it and that confusion reigns.

– Thomas Merton, abridged and adapted from “New Seeds of Contemplation

Dedication to Truth & Lying to Oneself


Truth or reality is avoided when it is painful.  We can revise our maps only when we have the discipline not to avoid the pain.  To have such discipline, we must be totally dedicated to the truth, not partially.  That is to say, we must always hold truth, as best as we can determine it, to be more crucial, more vital to our self-interest, than our comfort.  Conversely, we must always consider our personal discomfort relatively unimportant, and, indeed, even welcome it in the service of the search for truth.  Mental health is an ongoing process of dedication to reality at all costs.  What does this life of total dedication to the truth means?  It means, above all, a life of continuous and never-ending stringent self-examination and honesty with oneself. — M. Scott Peck, from “The Road Less Traveled,” pp. 50-51

Try just for a moment to accept the idea that . . . you lie to yourself. That you always lie to yourself every moment, all day, all your life. And that this lying rules you to such an extent that you cannot control it any more. You are the prey of lying. You lie, everywhere. Your relations with others—lies. The upbringing you had, the conventions—lies. Your teaching—lies. Your theories and art—lies. Your social life, your family life—lies. And what you think of yourself—lies also.  But you never stop yourself in what you are doing or in what you are saying because you believe in yourself, you believe that what you’re doing is always right: in other words, you believe your lies.  And you never doubt or suspect yourself.  You never doubt or suspect that you or what you are doing might in fact be wrong, very wrong.  “I’m doing the best I can,” you’ll tell yourself, but it’s a lie; you’re not doing your best.  “I’m doing the best I can considering where I started;” another lie. “I’m doing this to get better, healthier,” et cetera; another lie. “Everything will work out in the end,” more lies and self-deception.

No one wants to slow down and stop and consider this–that perhaps they’re wrong; that perhaps what they’re saying to themselves, the course that they’re taking in life is completely wrong, that it’s not for the best, that in reality it’s a product of yet more lies.  Yet this is just what mental health demands: that we question ourselves, question our own course, question what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.  But you won’t do this, and neither will most people; so you’re not alone, and that brings you comfort.  But just look around you: the evidence is there, all over the place; the evidence is there and indisputable that you are not right, that you have rarely ever been right.  But still you deny it, still you believe yourself again this time.  And so you fall for your own lies again.  And again.

Why?  Because you’re a coward.  You lie because the truth about yourself is painful and you’re weak and don’t want to deal with reality.  You lie because you never think honestly about your own mortality.  But you don’t want to hear any of this (which is just further proof that you’re weak).  But it’s what you are, and it’s what you do.  You lie because you’re weak and afraid.  You lie because fear is your leader.  You lie because you have no love in you, nothing good left in you.  You lie because the truth will sting you too much, hurt what little pride you have left, be too bright and blinding, too disorienting, too stressful.  And so you settle for lies, because lies can always be paid for with other lies, and lies have never really cost you a thing yet because your last line of defense is that you have always been able to lie to yourself about the cost of your lying to yourself! “It was for the best.”  But look around you: Your life is a lie and a cheat.  The evidence is there, all around you.  But for you, it’s deniable.

What would it take to get you to face the truth about yourself?  What would be required to get you slow down and stop and be honest with yourself about what you’re doing and who you are and what you’ve done?  What would it take to get you to stop blaming others or your past, and instead take responsibility for what you’re doing and be honest about all of the lies you’ve told yourself and others and what they really say about you–how weak, cowardly, unhealthy, wrong you are?  How much force would be necessary for you to admit the truth?  What would you have to lose or have taken away from you?  (And the more that would be required, the more truly lost and unsalvageable you are.)  Can you even be honest about this?  Can you even be honest with yourself in answering these questions?  Or are you so lost that lie to yourself automatically and effortlessly in response to these questions, and your mind is so cluttered that you’re already onto the next thing, the next lie, the next great deception? 

Is there nothing of yourself remaining?  Nothing that recognizes the truth, that wants to know the truth, that craves the truth?

No one wants to consider that perhaps nothing remains of oneself but an organism adrift, a body deprived of intelligence and seduced by any- and everything, and wholly at the mercy of “I like” and “I don’t like.” No one wants to consider that what they really are is an automaton living under the law of accident and nature.  But this maybe the truth.  One may have lied so well and so often to oneself that there’s simply nothing left of oneself that can tell the truth anymore.

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(The following excerpt is taken from: “Gurdjieff: Essays and Reflections on the Man and His Teachings,” by Jeanne de Salzmann, pp. 2-6.  It is my abridgement and adaptation)

Your life is the mirror of what you are. It is in your image. You are passive, blind, demanding. You take all, you accept all, without feeling any obligation. Your attitude toward the world and toward life is the attitude of one who has the right to make demands and to take, who has no need to pay or to earn. You believe that all things are due you, simply because it is you! All your blindness is there! Yet none of this strikes your attention.

None of this strikes your attention because you have no measure with which to measure yourself. You live exclusively according to “I like” or “I don’t like,” or “I feel like” or “I don’t feel like.” You have no appreciation except for yourself. You recognize nothing above you—theoretically, logically, perhaps, but in actuality no; you submit to nothing except your own desires and subjectivity. That is why you are demanding and continue to believe that everything is cheap and that you have enough in your pocket to buy everything you like. You recognize nothing above you, either outside yourself or inside. That is why you have no measure and live passively according your impulses and likes and dislikes.

Yes, this lack of appreciation for anything and anyone except for yourself blinds you. It is by far the biggest obstacle to a new life. You first must get over this threshold, this obstacle, before progressing even one step further. This crux alone is what divides human beings into two kinds: the “wheat” and the “chaff.” No matter how intelligent, how talented, how gifted, how brilliant a human being may be, if he does not change his appreciation of himself, there will be no hope for real inner development, for a work toward honest self-knowledge, for an awakening. He will remain such as he is now for his entire life.

The first requirement, the first condition, the first test for one who genuinely wishes to work on oneself is to change his appreciation of himself. And he must not do this theoretically—he must not imagine, not simply believe or think; rather he must do this in actuality: he must see things in himself which he has never seen before—which he has never had the nerve or courage to see before. And he must see them fully. A person’s appreciation of himself will never change as long as he or she sees nothing new and untoward in himself.

Today we have nothing but the illusion of what we are. We do not respect ourselves. In order to respect myself, I have to recognize a part in myself which is above the other parts. And my attitude toward this part should bear witness to the respect that I have for it. But so long as I treat all parts of myself equally, I think too highly of myself and I do not respect myself, and my relations with others will be governed by the same caprice and lack of respect.

In order to see oneself, one must first learn to see. This is the first initiation into genuine self-knowledge. In order to see ourselves realistically, we must see all the ways in which we habitually over-estimate and over-appreciate ourselves. But you will see that to do this is not easy. It is not cheap. You must pay dearly for this. For bad payers, lazy people, parasites, there is no hope. You must pay, pay a lot, pay immediately, and pay in advance. You must pay with yourself; you must pay with sincere, honest, conscientious, disinterested efforts. And the more you are willing and prepared to pay without economizing, without cutting corners, without cheating, without falsifications, the more you will receive. Because from that moment on you will become acquainted with your nature. You will begin seeing all of the tricks, all the dishonesties that your nature resorts to in order to avoid paying with real cash, real effort, real expenditure, real sacrifice, real cost to oneself. Because up till now, you like to cheat, you like to cut corners; you like to try and pay with your readymade theories, your convenient beliefs, your prejudices and conventions, your “I like” and “I don’t like”; you like to bargain, pretend, offer counterfeit money.

Objective thought is a look from Above. A look that is free, that can see. Without this look upon me, seeing me, my life is the life of a blind person who goes her own way, driven by impulse, not knowing either why or how. Without this look upon me, I cannot know that I exist.

I have within me the power to rise above myself and to see myself freely—and to be seen. My thinking has the power to be free.

But for this to take place, my thinking must rid itself of all of the garbage that holds it captive, passive, unfree. My thinking must free itself from the constant pull of emotions. My thinking must feel its own power to resist this pull—its objective capacity to separate itself and watch over this pull while gradually rising above it. For it is in this moment that thought first becomes active. It becomes active while purifying itself.

If we cannot do this—if we refuse to do this—our thoughts are just illusions, something that further enslaves us, that we use to numb and avoid ourselves, a snare in which real thought loses its power of objectivity and intentional action. Confused by words, images, half-truths, fantasies, falsehoods, it loses the capacity to see. It loses the sense of “I”. Then nothing remains but an organism adrift, a body deprived of intelligence and seduced by any- and everything, and wholly at the mercy of “I like” and “I don’t like.” Without this inner look, without this inner seeing, I can only fall back into automatism, and live under the law of accident and nature.

And so my struggle is a struggle against the passivity of ordinary thinking, being seduced and led astray and obliterated by it. Without struggling against ordinary thought, a greater consciousness will not be born. At the heart of this struggle—to create order out of chaos—a hierarchy is revealed—two levels, two worlds. As long as there is only one level, one world, there can be no vision. Recognition of another and higher level is the awakening of thought.

Without this effort, without this struggle, thought falls back into a sleep filled with seductive and consoling words, images, preconceived notions, approximate knowledge, dreams, fantasies, and perpetual drifting. This is the thought of a person without any real intelligence. It is a terrible thing to realize that one has been living for years without any intelligence, without a level of thinking that sees what is real, with thinking that is without any relation to the real world. It is a terrible waste to think this way.

But without realizing this—without realizing that perhaps one has been thinking for years without intelligence—there is no hope for awakening.

Try just for a moment to accept the idea that you are not what you believe yourself to be, that you overestimate yourself, in fact that you lie to yourself. That you always lie to yourself every moment, all day, all your life. And that this lying rules you to such an extent that you cannot control it any more. You are the prey of lying. You lie, everywhere. Your relations with others—lies. The upbringing you give, the conventions—lies. Your teaching—lies. Your theories and art—lies. Your social life, your family life—lies. And what you think of yourself—lies also.

But you never stop yourself in what you are doing or in what you are saying because you believe in yourself. You never doubt or suspect yourself. You must stop inwardly and observe. Observe without preconceptions, accepting for a time this idea of lying. And if you observe in this way, paying with yourself, without self-pity, giving up all your supposed riches for a moment of reality, perhaps you will suddenly see something you have never before seen in yourself until this day. You will see that you are different from what you think you are. You will see that you are two. One who is not, but takes the place and plays the role of the other. And one who is, yet so weak, so insubstantial, that he no sooner appears than he immediately disappears. He cannot endure lies. The least lie makes him faint away. He does not struggle, he does not resist, he is defeated in advance. Learn to look until you have seen the difference between your two natures, until you have seen the lies, the deception in yourself. When you have seen your two natures, that day, in yourself, the truth will be born. You will finally be born.

– Jeanne de Salzmann, abridged and adapted and at points modified from “Gurdjieff: Essays and Reflections on the Man and His Teachings,” pp. 2-6.

http://fullcatastropheliving.wordpress.com/2011/12/13/the-truth-will-it-set-you-free-or-will-it-completely-fry-your-ass-and-undo-you/

Dedication to Truth versus a Dedication to Comfort and Lies


Truth is reality. That which is false in unreal. The more clearly we see reality—ourselves and the world, the better equipped we will be to deal with both. The less clearly we see reality, the more our minds will be befuddled by falsehood, misperceptions and illusions, and the less able we will be to determine correct courses of action and make wise decisions.” – M. Scott Peck, from “The Road Less Traveled

Another way of looking at this is that the more clearly we see reality and ourselves, the more sane and mentally healthy we are—and will become.

The less clearly we see reality and ourselves, the less mentally healthy we are, and are becoming.

The truth is not only what will set us free, it’s also what defines us as being sane and healthy. When we’re mentally healthy or getting healthy, we know the truth and we wrestle with it, and we try to do so with more and more integrity and honesty.

But when we’re mentally unhealthy, when we’re neurotic or have a full-blown personality disorder (narcissism, antisocial, borderline—all three closely related and overlapping), we don’t really know the truth any more, we don’t know who we are or how we really feel or what we really ought to do; our lives are caprice, chance, testimonies to fear and impulse and chaos, instead of goodness, Godliness, order, Love, courage and truth.

When we’re mentally unhealthy, we are not interested in truth or in facing it or ourselves, but in avoiding truth at all costs; we’d rather lie and steal and make excuses and believe what we want to believe because we want to believe it and because we’re convinced that it will make us feel better than we are in learning what is actually the case.

In other words, when we are mentally unhealthy or ill, we prefer lies and confusion to truth and clarity.

Mental unhealth is a process of ongoing dedication to deception, falsehood, confusion, and illusion at all costs.

Mental health, on the other hand, is a process of ongoing dedication to truth at all costs.

We don’t spare any expenses, in fact we take on all costs, we give up our comfort, we foresake it and our comfort zone, we accept loneliness, becoming different, strange, isolated, unpopular.  For often these things are the prices we have to pay for following our conscience.

Being firmly dedicated to truth is key to creating a virtuous upward cycle in our lives; being unfirmly dedicated to truth leaves us open to falsehood and confusion, and falsity and confusion are key to a vicious or downward cycle.

“You are of your father the devil, and you and your will want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” – John 8:44

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And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.” – John 8:32

We have only two choices in life. There’s no escaping this and there’s no neutrality in this. We either dedicate and devote ourselves to truth (or to love, real Love and learning what this truly is); or, by default, we end up leaving ourselves open to more and more untruth, especially the more difficult our lives are and have been.

If we have fallen into the habit of lying a lot, when we are lying or deceiving another or ourselves, we may think that we can control our lying, that deep down we know the truth and we can keep track of it, and that all this lying and deceiving isn’t doing anything harmful to us; in fact, just the opposite, it’s protecting us.

But this too is a lie.

We can’t control our lying. If we have not consciously dedicated ourselves to truth, then we lie reflexively, automatically, in spite of ourselves; it’s become not just a second language to us, but our primary or native language. We lie to others, we lie to ourselves, we lie to ourselves and other about ourselves and our lying. We hide parts of ourselves, we make excuses about why we hide parts of ourselves. We wear masks, sometimes several at a time, but usually on top of another. We want to be true to ourselves, we want to believe that there’s still a self to be true to, but we’re lost and we no longer know what part or parts of ourselves to be true to—to what’s best in us or what’s worst in us—and so we’re true to both and act out on both, on whatever we feel, we’re like an instrument way out of tune, life strums us and chaos is what sounds back out of us. We’re confused, lost, and we’re in deep, over our heads, drowning not waving in a sea of lies and deception and falsehood. We’ve sold our soul, and if not, we’re well on the way to selling it. And for what? More momentary relief? More momentary excitement and distraction and anesthesia? Getting our way?

When we dedicate ourselves to truth, we are modeling ourselves after God, and the likes of Jesus, Buddha, Confucius, and cetera. We when don’t and we become okay with lying and we have developed all sorts of defenses and ways of buffering ourselves from facing what we’re actually doing—meaning we have all sorts of ways explaining away (i.e. rationalizing—rational lies)—our lying, then we are modeling our lying deceitful behavior after the father of lies—the devil or Satan—and speaking his language, the language of lies, instead of the language of Love and Truth.

Reflections on Courage and Truth: Are you mentally healthy or one sick little puppy?


Reflections on Courage and Truth: Are you mentally healthy or one sick little puppy?

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all . . . ”

(Compare the following excerpt with Pascal’s thoughts on “Flattery, Truth, and the Ego.” This is how most of us develop and maintain our sense of self and borrow our emotional pseudo-stability. And it’s really quite sad. Because if we stopped to look at what we’re doing to ourselves and if we really thought about it, is this really what we would want for ourselves? Or for our children?—is this what we would want to raise them to do and how to be?)

“Most people must look at themselves only from a distance—and only through the false and distorted reflection of others—in order to find themselves at all tolerable or attractive to behold. Self-knowledge is strictly off limits for them. Thus people such as these (which is to say the vast majority of us) are very well defended against their own spying and sieges, against their own attempts at self-knowledge. Their self-attempts at self-knowledge are futile—they are rarely able to make out any more of themselves than their outer fortifications. The actual stronghold is inaccessible to them, even invisible—unless—unless friends and enemies turn traitor and lead them there.”

– Nietzsche, from “Human All Too Human” # 49, and “The Gay Science,” # 15

– – – – – – – – – – –

Metal health will drive you crazy, metal health will cure you sane” (or something like that)

(From “The Road Less Traveled,” by M. Scott Peck, pp. 50-63.)

Mental health is an ongoing process of dedication to reality at all costs.

What does a life of total dedication to truth (reality) mean?

First of all, it means a life of continuous and never-ending stringent self-examination.

We know the world only through our relationship to it. Therefore, to know the world, we most not only examine it, but we must simultaneously examine the examiner.

Examination of the world without is never as personally painful and unsettling as examination of the world within, and it is because of the pain involved in a life of genuine self-examination that the vast majority of people steer away from it, distracting and anesthetizing themselves to it through various means (drinking, shopping, television, movies, bar-hopping, superficial relationships and interactions, “having a good time,” dissipating ourselves in thousands of ways).

Yet when one is dedicated to the truth the pain inherent in it seems relatively unimportant—and less and less important (and therefore less and less painful)—the farther one proceeds down the path of self-examination.

Truth or reality is avoided when it is painful. To overcome this pain we must be totally dedicated to truth. That is to say, we must always hold truth, as best as we can determine it, to be more important, more vital to our self-interest, than our own comfort. Conversely, we must always consider our personal discomfort relatively unimportant and, indeed, even welcome it in the service of the search for truth.

Thus a life of total dedication to the truth also means a life of total honesty. It means a continuous and never-ending process of self-monitoring to assure that our words and deeds match and that our communications invariably reflect as accurately as possible the truth or reality as we know it.

Such honesty does not come easily or painlessly. The reason people lie or shade the truth is to avoid the pain of challenge and it consequences.

Insofar as the nature of a challenge is legitimate—and it usually is much more often than not—lying is an attempt to circumvent legitimate suffering and hence is productive of mental illness.

Most people are resistant to challenge. They talk volubly enough about this or that, but they leave out crucial details. They are wasting time in their effort to avoid challenge, and usually they are indulging in a subtle form of lying.

Thus a life of total dedication to the truth also means a life of willingness to be personally challenged.

The only way to revise our understanding of reality is to expose our map to the criticism and challenge of other map-makers. Otherwise we live in a closed-system—within a bell jar, to use Sylvia Plath’s analogy—rebreathing our own fetid air, and more and more subject to delusions.

Yet because of the pain inherent in the process of revising our map of reality, we almost always seek reflexively to avoid or ward off any challenges to its validity.

Leading a life of total dedication to truth and of openness to challenge may seem like a never-ending burden, an extraordinary task, a “real drag.” And indeed it is difficult; it is a never-ending burden of self-discipline and calling ourselves out on our self-deceptive and avoidant tendencies. Which is why most people opt for a life of very limited openness and honesty and relative closedness and self-deceit, hiding themselves and their maps from the world and others.*

It’s easier that way.

Yet the rewards of the difficult life of honesty and dedication to the truth are more than commensurate with the demands. By virtue of the fact that their maps are continually being challenged, open people are continually growing people and strengthening as human beings. Through their courage and openness, they can establish and maintain intimate relationships far more effectively and more deeply than closed people can. And because they are dedicated to being impeccable with their word and not speaking falsely, they know that they have done nothing to contribute to the confusion and darkness in the world. They don’t have to slink around in the shadows, construct new lies to hide and maintain old ones, and waste time and effort covering their tracks and maintaining their disguises (their false selves).

Ultimately open and growing people find that the energy required for the self-discipline of honesty and dedication to truth is far less than the energy required for secretiveness, deception and avoidance. The more honest and transparent one is, the easier it is to continue being honest and transparent, just as the more lies one has told, the more necessary it is to lie again and more frequently.

By their openness, people dedicated to truth live in the open, and through the exercise of their courage to live in the open, they become more and more free from fear.

The healing of the spirit has not been completed until openness to challenge and a fierce dedication to truth become a way of life.

(*Peck is talking about the “emotional cutoff” here. He is talking about the tendency that the vast majority of us have to act out on what’s worst and weakest in ourselves and to emotionally cut off or banish those who do not flatter us and who do not reflect back to us ourselves in a way we wish to be seen. Those around us who see us too accurately, or whose gaze is too perceptive and unsettling, so much so that it makes us uncomfortable, we avoid them, emotionally cut them off and cut them out of our life, banish and excise them. We’d rather live in a hall of mirrors life in a funhouse, being surrounded by those who are so weak and unloving and who care so little about us that they reflect back to us our distorted and malignant sense of self while we provide the same disservice to them. [a mutual admiration and distortion society].).

– – – – – – – – – – – –

Rilke on “Acting Just Once with Beauty & Courage” (from “Letters to a Young Poet”; letter no. eight)

We must accept our reality as vastly as we possibly can; everything, even the unprecedented, must be possible within it.

This is in the end the only kind of courage that is required of us: the courage to face the strangest, most unusual, most inexplicable experiences that can meet us.

If we imagine the being of our person as a larger or smaller room, it is obvious that most people come to know only one corner of their room, one spot near the window, one narrow strip on which they keep walking back and forth. And in this way they have a certain security. Yet how much more human is the dangerous insecurity that drives those prisoners in Poe’s stories to feel out the shapes of their horrible dungeons and not be strangers to the unspeakable terror of their cells? We, however, are not prisoners.

If our world has terrors, they are likely our terrors; if it has abysses, these abysses belong to us; if there are dangers, we must try to love them. If only we would arrange our life in accordance with the principle which tells us that we must always trust in the difficult, then that which now appears to us as most alien will become our most intimate and trusted experience.

How could we forget those ancient myths that stand at the beginning of all races, the myths about dragons that at the last moment are transformed into princesses? Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage.

Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.

And this fear of the inexplicable has not only impoverished the reality of the individual; it has also narrowed the relationship between one human being and another, which has, as it were, been lifted out of the riverbed of infinite possibilities and set down in a fallow place on the bank where nothing new can occur. For it is not inertia and indolence alone that causes human relationships to be repeated from case to case with such unspeakable monotony and boredom; it is timidity before any new and inconceivable experience with which we feel ourselves ill-equipped to cope. But only someone who is ready for everything, who doesn’t exclude any experience, even the most incomprehensible, will live the relationship with another human being as something alive and will himself sound and draw on the depths of his own being.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

“Get busy living or get busy dying,” or “If you’re not growing, you’re dying . . . “

(From “The Way of Transformation,” by Karlfried Graf Durchheim, pp. 107-108.)

[T]he aim of a genuine spiritual practice is not to develop an attitude which allows a person to acquire a state of harmony and peace wherein nothing can ever trouble him. On the contrary, a person’s spiritual practice should teach him to let himself be assaulted, perturbed, moved, insulted, broken and battered—that is to say, it should enable him to dare to let his futile hankering after harmony, surcease from pain, and a comfortable life go in order that he may discover, in doing battle with the forces that oppose him, that which awaits him beyond the world of opposites.

The first necessity is that we should have the courage to face life in all its intensity, and to encounter all that is most perilous in the world.

When this is possible, meditation itself becomes the means by which we accept and welcome the fears and anxieties and demons which arise from the unconscious—a process very different from the practice of concentration on some object as a protection against such forces.

Only if we venture repeatedly through zones of discomfort and annihilation can our contact with what is Divine, and with what is beyond annihilation, become firm and stable. The more we learn wholeheartedly to confront the world and a patterned way of living and reacting that threatens us each with isolation, the more the depths of our own being will be revealed and the more the possibilities of new life and inner transformation will be opened to us.

Criticism & How to Deal with It


Honest criticism is hard to take, particularly from a relative, a friend, an acquaintance, or a stranger.” – Franklin P. Jones

Criticism stings.

A lot of what is true in life stings as well.

Death stings. Loss stings. Failure stings. Rejection stings. All of these stab at and wound our pride, our vanity, our ego.

If we can’t handle being told off or not getting what we want, how will we be able to handle death when that comes?” – Pema Chödrön

And if we can’t handle criticism, constructive or otherwise, and metabolize it maturely, then how will we be able to deal with the rest of what contributes to the full intensity of life? We’ll always be shrinking from life, retreating, afraid of life and afraid most of all of ourselves and our own reactions and the heat iand ntensity of our own emotions.

All men should strive to learn before they die, what they are running from, and to, and why.” – James Thurber

This is in the end the only kind of courage that is required of us: the courage to face the strangest, most unusual, most inexplicable experiences that can meet us.” – Rilke

The first necessity is that we should have the courage to face life, and to encounter all that is most perilous in the world.” – Karlfried Graf Durchheim, “The Way of Transformation,” pg. 108

We must accept our reality as vastly as we possibly can;” Rilke counsels us, “everything, even the unprecedented“—which means even that which we find immense and overwhelming and unpleasant and unsettling and discomforting—”must be possible within it.” We must learn to take on life and become big and strong and mature and sane enough to live and love on life’s terms, not our terms, and overcome our natural tendency to be “timid before any new and inconceivable experience with which we feel ourselves ill-equipped to cope.” We must overcome our natural timidity and our innate tendency toward flight—to retreat, avoid, shrink, ball up, wall up, play it safe, take the path of least resistance, take the path of least stress and least emotional intensity. “That something is difficult“—and unsettling, for that matter—”is all the more reason for us to do it. Most people have turned their solutions and their approach to life toward what is easy, and toward the easiest side of the easy; but . . . if only we would arrange our life in accordance with the principle which tells us that we must always trust in the difficult, then that which now appears to us as most alien will become our most intimate and trusted experience. How could we forget those ancient myths that stand at the beginning of all races, the myths about dragons that at the last moment are transformed into princesses? Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.” (From “Letters to a Young Poet,” letters no. seven & eight)

The primary reason we shy away from criticism is that it’s difficult. It’s difficult to deal with. It’s difficult to metabolise. It’s difficult to stay calm and centered and rational when we’re hearing something we don’t want to hear or something that challenges us or dis-validates us.

Criticism triggers us, shows us our weak spots, makes us feel bad or inferior or inadequate, makes us feel like we’re under attack, brings up all sorts of unpleasant and difficult and white-hot negative emotions (our fight or flight responses)—intense, flooding emotions with which we feel ill-equipped to cope. In other words, criticism makes us feel inferior; it makes us feel bad about ourselves; it makes us feel invalidated, rejected, not good enough, wrong; and no one likes to feel inferior or not good enough, no one likes to feel attacked or rejected. These are all unpleasant emotions that are difficult to deal with and metabolise.

And so one of the primary things to learn that will help us better and more peaceably deal with criticism and not flood emotionally when someone is criticizing us, is lessening our dependency on “reflected sense of self”— on other people’s approval and acceptance and validation. The less we rely on others’ acceptance and approval and validation for our sense of self and for our emotional stability, the less likely we will flood emotionally when criticized, and the less likely we will view criticism as such a intense personal attack—or form dis-validation or rejection—and the less likely we will be to spin out and flood emotionally. The less we need other people’s acceptance of us, then the less we will mind their rejection of us as well, and thus the more skilled we will become at maintaining our equilibrium emotionally, thus freeing us to deal with criticism rationally—in a calm, cool, collected, thoughtful, inquisitive, grounded, rational, discerning, lucid, sane way.

Like it or not, each of us is at the helm of something that was built much more for pleasure and for playing it safe than for tolerating pain and the unknown; something that is much more emotional and egocentric than spiritual and egoless.

We are emotional and reactive beings first, before we are sane and rational and less reactive beings. The latter is something we must learn to grow into; and it is something very difficult and painful to grow into.

Yet, like it or not, through concerted effort, we can become much less emotional and reactive and avoidant and egoful; we can come to learn or teach ourselves to do the unnatural—to endure pain and discomfort for the sake of growth and self-improvement and self-transcendence, to not automatically run or shrink or wall up or flood or spin out.

Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence.” – Robert Frost

Perhaps the most valuable result of all education is the ability to make yourself do the thing you have to do when it ought to be done, whether you like it or not; it is the first lesson that ought to be learned; and however early a man’s training begins, it is probably the last lesson that he learns thoroughly.” – Thomas Huxley

“Faced with the choice between changing one’s mind and proving there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof.” – John Kenneth Galbraith, Economics, Peace and Laughter (1971), p. 50.

From “The Road Less Traveled,” by M. Scott Peck, pp. 52-53—

A life of total dedication to the truth also means a life of willingness to be personally challenged.

The only way we can be certain that our map of reality is valid is to expose it to the criticism and challenge of other map-makers.

Otherwise we live in a closed system—within a bell jar, to use Sylvia Plath’s analogy—rebreathing only our own fetid air, and more and more subject to delusion.

Yet because of the pain inherent in the process of revising our map of reality (read: dealing with criticism; which is essentially what most criticism is: a challenge to our map of reality), we mostly seek to avoid or ward off any challenges to its validity. . . .

The tendency to avoid challenges is so omnipresent in human beings that it can properly be considered a characteristic of human nature.

But calling it natural or a characteristic of human nature does not mean it is essential or beneficial or unchangeable behavior.

It is also natural for us to defecate in our pants and never brush our teeth.

Yet we teach ourselves to do the unnatural until it becomes natural, until it becomes second nature. Indeed, all self-discipline might be defined as teaching ourselves to do the unnatural.

Because another characteristic of human nature—perhaps the one that makes us most human—is our capacity to do the unnatural, to transcend and hence transform our own nature and conditioning.

From the motion picture “African Queen”—

Charlie Allnut: “A man takes a drop too much once in a while, it’s only human nature.”
Rose Sayer: “Human nature, Mr. Allnut, is what we are put in this world to rise above.”

Every person (okay, almost every person) on the planet has this capacity—the capacity to learn how to do the unnatural, the capacity to learn how to tolerate discomfort for the sake of growth, the capacity to rise above the baser parts of their (which is to say “our”) nature.

And yet very few will take up the task or the challenge.

Why?

Again, it all boils down to the difficulty and unpleasantness factor. Meaning, mastering ourselves emotionally and becoming less reactive is difficult work—it’s difficult and it’s work; meaning it’s often not pleasurable; it’s often painful, difficult, daunting, overwhelming, unsettling, stress-inducing, anxiety-provoking.

And most people want things easy, light, simple, fun; most people don’t want to work, least of all on themselves; most people would rather be (most people long to be) accepted for who they are and as they are, than work on themselves and work on overcoming or rising above the baser or less noble or more reactive parts of their nature.

Learn to work harder on yourself than you do on your job.” – Jim Rohn

Again, it comes down to difficulty versus the path of least resistance. It’s easier to avoid criticism and just react to it emotionally rather than responding to it rationally and by thinking critically and honestly and staying calm, for the latter requires mastering ourselves emotionally, it requires the difficulty of overcoming our nature—our tendency to react emotionally, to flood, to self-protect, to go into fight or flight mode instead of think, observe, remain open and inquisitive. For most of us, emotionality or emotional-reactivity is our first responder, not calm cool and collected and orderly critical thinking and detached unbiased objective fair-minded inquiry.

And for most of us the desire to feel good or comfortable or adequate or accepted is more important than the desire to see ourselves and life as it is. We are more dedicated to the little picture (the ego) than the big picture (reality, true psychological and spiritual growth).

“Truth is reality. That which is false is unreal. The more clearly we see the reality of the world, the better equipped we are to deal with the world and with the demands of adult life.

“The less clearly we see the reality of the world—the more our minds are polluted and befuddled by falsehoods, misperceptions, illusions, distortions, dishonesty—the less able we will be to determine correct courses of action and make wise choices.

“True mental health is an ongoing process of dedication to reality at all costs.

“What does a life of total dedication to the truth mean?

“It means, first of all, a life of continuous and never-ending stringent self-examination and self-awareness. We know the world only through our relationship to it. Therefore, to know the world (and thus to know what is true and real), we must not only examine the world, but simultaneously examine the examiner and our own assumptions, motivations, and paradigms/schemas—the lenses we use to look out upon and make sense of the world.

“Truth or reality (or even our own self) is avoided when it is painful (or too humbling or shameful to examine or become truly aware of). Yet we can only grow when we have the discipline to overcome that pain (and overwhelming sense of shame or powerlessness).

“To have such discipline we must be totally dedicated to truth.

“That is to say that we must always hold the truth, as best as we can determine it, to be more important, more vital to our own self-interest, than our comfort.

“Conversely, we must always consider our personal discomfort relatively unimportant and, indeed, even welcome it in the service of the search for truth and growth.” (Abridged and adapted from M. Scott Peck, “The Road Less Traveled,” pp. 44, 50-51; parentheticals mine)

Reality is not for everyone. The real world is not for everyone. Truth is not for everyone. The vast majority of human beings still prefer some variety of soft food intellectually, psychologically and spiritually. When it comes to truth and living in reality, many people are still hooked on the soft sugary make-me-feel-good stuff—you know, the emotional Gerbery stuff. Many people, which is to say, many of us, haven’t gotten to the point where we can take the real stuff. We haven’t evolved that much or differentiated that much. We can drink red wine—most of which is honestly quite nasty—arguably much nastier than criticism—or we can drink scotch or whisky straight up—but we still can’t similarly take the emotional hit of criticism.

We can’t take our criticism straight up. We can’t “man up” and take the emotional “hit” of criticism like an adult.

What does that say about us as human beings and our level of emotional fitness?

And what does that say about our values and priorities and what we hold to be near and dear to us?

Sure, we tolerate red wine, even whisky or bourbon or scotch on the rocks, because we know the payoff that’s coming—some variant of pleasure—a bit of relaxation, self-escape, inebriation, lessened inhibitions, lessened sensitivity to stress and worry, a precious bit of self-forgetfulness . . . ahhhh.

But criticism offers no such payoff. Once we take the hit emotionally, there’s no intoxication coming our way. Quite the opposite: we end up actually having to sober up—that’s likely one of the reasons we don’t like and value criticism—because we don’t really like and or value sobriety, i.e., reality, knowing who and what we really are and what we’re really like.

Not to mention the idea that knowledge creates obligation; unless our interior life is in complete shambles, we tend to automatically act in alignment with what we know or most strongly believe to be true. So that means we must do some actual work and make a real tangible change.

So who in their right mind would want to have to deal with this—with having their nose shoved in their own dodo? Who wants to have to remember even more clearly what they’re trying to forget? And then who wants to have to actually put in the work and clean up their own mess? If we’re basically frightened, a bit overly sensitive, a bit lazy, a bit comfort-first and path-of-least-resistance oriented, then criticism is not going to appeal to us.

Nor is it going to appeal to us either if our self-image or sense of self is shaky. We won’t be able to tolerate the hit.

If most people are basically dissipating their lives trying to forget or eschew the painful aspects of reality, then criticism will hold no appeal to them.

Most people like to live in their heads and in their own little dream worlds of what they think they’re like. They—which is to say, the vast majority of us—don’t want to know what we’re really actually objectively like. We don’t want to hear the sound of our own voice on an answering machine; we don’t want to watch a hidden camera account of a day in our life. A thousand times a day in a myriad of little and not so little ways we avoid reality, we evade the (painful) truth of ourselves and our condition; we choose what’s in our heads and our ideas of who and what we think we’re like instead of the truth, instead of reality, instead of something more objective.

Why?

Because what’s in our heads is like a drug that we like to dope ourselves up on.

And thus criticism threatens to be a total bummer of buzz kill and sober us up from our self-delusion and self-deception. It’s like your parents coming home when you were a teen and having a party. The ultimate killjoy. That’s criticism.

I wonder how difficult criticism would be to take if we had just had some sort of massive near-death experience, or if we had just gone skydiving or faced down one of our biggest fears?

Would criticism still sting and bother us to the same extent if something else in life had just sobered us up?

If we’re leading a truly examined life, then criticism has to be an integral part of that. We only have the inside scoop on ourselves; we don’t have the outside or external scoop on ourselves. We don’t see ourselves as God or as an objective narrator would see us.

But criticism helps bridge that gap.

For me, so much of our aversion to criticism—and the tough to look at and think about stuff in life in general—is about our load capacity for stress. So it’s all very contextual, very relative, meaning, for many people, dealing with criticism is one of the biggest negatives that they will have to go through in the course of a day.

But what if our lives were filled with great heroic overcomings of our fears and anxieties—what if we were climbing mountains, kayaking, skydiving, speaking publicly, doing yoga, practicing meditation, taking up a martial art, going to the top of tall buildings, and or if we were reading the likes Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, M. Scott Peck, C. S. Lewis, Murray Bowen, Thoreau, Simone Weil, Martin Luther King Jr.—people who were movers and shakers when it came to dispensing truth straight up and without any softeners—what if we were daily trying to build our courage and mental toughness in these or similar ways? . . . Maybe then we might toughen up a bit and not be quite as emotionally thin-skinned or underdeveloped. . . . Maybe then we wouldn’t need so much emotional sugar and so many softeners to make the medicine (criticism) go down—or at least get us to listen to it fairly and honestly. . . .

The Man Watching” – Rainer Maria Rilke

I can tell by the way the trees beat, after
so many dull days, on my worried windowpanes
that a storm is coming,
and I hear the far-off fields say things
I can’t bear without a friend,
I can’t love without a sister

The storm, the shifter of shapes, drives on
across the woods and across time,
and the world looks as if it had no age:
the landscape like a line in the psalm book,
is seriousness and weight and eternity.

What we choose to fight is so tiny!
What fights us is so great!
If only we would let ourselves be dominated
as things do by some immense storm,
we would become strong too, and not need names.

When we win it’s with small things,
and the triumph itself makes us small.
What is extraordinary and eternal
does not want to be bent by us.
I mean the Angel who appeared
to the wrestlers of the Old Testament:
when the wrestler’s sinews
grew long like metal strings,
he felt them under his fingers
like chords of deep music.

Whoever was beaten by this Angel
(who often simply declined the fight)
went away proud and strengthened
and great from that harsh hand,
that kneaded him as if to change his shape.
Winning does not tempt that man.
This is how he grows: by being defeated, decisively,
by constantly greater beings.

A lot of it comes down to being aware, to mindfulness, to really examining ourselves and our underlying motivations, and the future consequences and costs to ourselves and others. I see the difficulty in dealing with and metabolizing criticism as symptomatic of something larger going on. Why do we read what we read? Is it for the sake of really learning and growing and for the sake of what’s true and actual? Or is it for escape, to feel good, to improve our mood, to steady and stabilize ourselves, or to distract ourselves? “Enjoyments pass, consequences remain,” wrote Hadrat Ali. How much of our day is spent deliberating practicing and developing our courage? What was the last truly courageous thing you did where you deliberately overcame one of your fears or anxieties—where you really overcame something within you that was really holding you back and that kept you sabotaging yourself (and others perhaps as well)?

Courage is a muscle. It needs to be practiced and worked out. Either we use it or lose it. And most of us by the time we reach adulthood fall into a rut of going for comfort and security and convenience first. And so we inadvertently end up letting our courage dwindle and atrophy. There’s a price to be paid for leading a life of too little stress or of always fighting with little things and not wrestling honestly with the bigger questions and bigger issues and anxieties.

If we really knew ourselves, if we were really leading a highly mindful and self-aware and honest and examined life—if we were really interested in leading a life of total dedication to the truth and to reality (see M. Scott Peck’s, “The Road Less Traveled”), then there’s not much that another could say to us that would surprise us. We would have likely already thought it or encountered it (especially in our reading and self-reflection). Not only that, honest criticism and honest feedback would be something we’d welcome! It would only help us—especially since we all have our blind spots!

Thus for me, one of the biggies in learning to deal with criticism is learning for ourselves how to think honestly and critically. To the extent that we are critical thinkers, criticism becomes easier to deal with and more manageable emotionally, because instead of only having our emotions and our psychological defenses at our disposal for us to use in defusing criticism, we have another tool—and a very powerful tool at that—the capacity for rigorous and discerning critical thought.

Murray Bowen, M.D, one of the founders of the field of Family Therapy, theorized that people differed from one another in terms of their level of “differentiation.” On the one end of the scale are those whose level of differentiation is fairly low—they are fused to their environment, they tend to be very reactive, prone to impulsivity and impulsive decision-making and being stressed out, their moods fluctuate with so much that is external to them—the weather, the social weather, a kind or harsh word. They have a high degree of fusion between the intellectual and emotional systems. They tend not to have a lot of well-defined and deeply internalized principles that they live by; instead they tend to make decisions based on feelings and moods and impulse and what “feels” right. They tend to need a lot of support (“borrowed functioning”). (Roberta Gilbert has written several books on Bowen Theory that provide a good overview of Bowen’s ideas; i.e. “Extraordinary Relationships” and “The Eight Concepts of Bowen Theory”)

Well differentiated people, on the other hand, are more proactive, lead a more principled-center and conscientious lifestyle, can better delay gratification, have more perspective, borrow less functioning—and when and where they do, they tend to borrow it more mindfully and graciously. They exhibit less fusion in their relationships and with the outside world and between their intellectual and emotional systems.

In other words, learning to more meaningfully endure the emotional hit or pain of criticism and metabolizing it critically and legitimately and honestly is a wonderfully difficult but differentiation enhancing thing to do! It not only requires all the emotional courage and stability and perspective we can muster, it helps to create these! Ditto for out critical thinking skills—it helps to both create and to reinforce these capacities and neural pathways.

So why avoid criticism? Because we’re weak; because we have limited self-capacities; because we don’t think very well for ourselves; because our own sense of self is shaky; because we overheat emotionally and stress out very easily and we want to spare subjecting ourselves to those painful and difficult to deal with emotions; because we’re still depdendent on other people’s validation and approval for our sense of self and emotional stability; because we prefer to live a life dedicated to comfort and feeling good, not to truth and growth; because we want to not have to sober up but instead we want to stay doped up on and anesthetized by our own delusive discursive thinking.