You Must Not Fool Yourself!


“The purpose of our lives is to give birth to the best which is within us.” – Marianne Williamson

And what’s best in us, I believe, is our humanity, compassion, capacity to get outside of ourselves and truly try to understand another.  What’s best in us is our conscience–a healthy conscience.  What’s best in us is our honesty–the courage it takes to be that raw and honest with ourselves.

“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself–and you are the easiest person to fool.” – Richard Feynman

This is the first principle of personal growth and self-awareness and the examined life–ceasing to deceive/hoodwink ourselves. Until we have learned to be honest like this with ourselves, we will never be capable of being truly honest with another, and we will never reach the ground of our authentic or core self.  The first principle in real growth is this degree of fierce honesty with oneself–not just what we’re feeling or what we want, but why we want what we want and why we’re likely feeling what we’re feeling.

Until we have some durable sense of this, we’re asleep.  We’re fooling ourselves, and we’re fooling others with our self–with our false self.  We’re fooling ourselves most of all with our false self.

It’s quite an unpleasant dilemma to be in–to be so adept at fooling oneself that one can’t be sure when one isn’t fooling oneself.

The truth we most need to hear is the truth we least want to hear and face.  Yet that’s the truth that will most help us to grow.  In fact, being able to sit still long enough to actually hear that truth at all would marks a significant bit of growth.

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“Setting Fire to the World”—The Unexamined & Undisciplined Life in Action


“The undisciplined person doesn’t wrong himself alone—
he sets fire to the whole world.”
– Rumi

If we’re not living an examined life—a life where we look deeply at our own actions and reactions and try to gain some real clarity about why we’re doing what we’re doing and how it impacts others—then we are the undisciplined person that Rumi is speaking of.

Self-examination—looking at oneself clearly, objectively, without bias and softeners—is what separates genuine adults from psychological children in adult bodies.

It is such a rare thing to come across in this world—a human being who is really willing to look fearlessly and fiercely at oneself, to confront oneself, to want to see oneself accurately and without flattery and distortion.

Many people in the world have very high standards for other people but do not hold themselves to those same standards. They let themselves off the hook. They live life as if they’re living behind a one-way mirror, conducting experiments, trying to discern what other people are really like, who’s trustworthy and who’s hypocritical, all the while betraying others, exploiting others, manipulating others, and acting even more hypocritically and duplicitously.

This is how wounded and hurt people go through life—so concerned with other’s trustworthiness that they take no care for establishing and working on their own trustworthiness. And so they end up adding more untrustworthiness to the nexus of human relationships by their own inconsistencies and untrustworthiness.

The world needs more people who are willing to live transparent lives where they are as they appear and appear as they are. And this level of integrity requires much self-discipline, self-honesty, clarity, and rigorous self-examination.

But every little bit helps. Why not be that person? Why not be the type of person that world needs so badly. Not another fun-loving flighty reactive mindless consumer and plaything of circumstance flitting over the surface of life, terrified of its depths, and setting fire to the world in the name of self-avoidance and not having to face and feel one’s fears and sorrows. Rather, why not live more deeply and authentically? Why not lead a much more contemplative and examined life? Why not lead a life of greater integrity and simplicity?

Life is short. No one gets out of here alive. So why get so caught up in gratifying one’s id and one’s lesser and discursive and escapist desires and fantasies?

Dedication to Truth versus A Dedication to Anything Less


Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.” – Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection, pg. 49.

We know we’re getting healthier as a person when we can start admitting the truth about ourselves—and about our own falseness—aloud, and not only to ourselves but to others.

The quickest and surest—as well as toughest and most demanding—route to mental health is to dedicate ourselves fearlessly and fiercely to truth and to reality—to the way things really are, and to the way we actually are.

The goal at first isn’t to change ourselves, because such attempts at changing ourselves will be inherently flawed until we have made it a real priority to dedicate ourselves to truth– and to practice choosing and living this priority so often, so fearlessly, so ruthlessly, that it becomes second nature to us.

If a person truly wants to “wake up” in life and not die asleep and die an unlived inner life, then complete dedication to reality and to truth is the answer—it is both the path and the destination.  That is the essence of waking up—seeing the truth about ourselves and having the courage to finally admit it; no more bullshit, instead a fierce and unceasing dedication to truth and reality. Waking up means that we are seeing ourselves and reality and our lot here for what it is, and that we’re not escaping behind a façade of religious dogma, new age pablum, and other escapist avenues (i.e. drugs, even so-called “enlightenment” type drugs, which ultimately too are an escape and an avoidance of the rigors of real growth).

The most pivotal and life altering decision we as human beings can make in life is this most basic one—to voluntarily give up our illusions, buffers, deceptions, bullshit, softeners, and start taking a fierce and hard-nosed look at ourselves, our fears, and life itself—including death—and no hiding out from death behind the hope for reincarnation or an afterlife—because to do so is not to live the question, but to uncourageously avoid asking it.

As we begin admitting the truth about ourselves and our fears and about life to both ourselves and to others our life and our relationships will begin undergoing a powerful and radical transformation, for instead of our daily life and our daily interactions being based on comfort, escapism, avoidance, psychological numbing, hedonism, they will now begin to be based on truth and grounded in reality.

I read (scan) a fair amount of blogs, especially some where I know the person writing it has a form of mental illness. And in very few—make that almost none—do I find the level of fierce dedication to truth that I am describing here—posts where the author takes real responsibility using “I” statement to describe in lurid detail the bad things that they have done. There are plenty of posts on the bad things that have been done unto them—and some of these things are indeed hideous—but few to no posts describing their own errors and the wrongs they have perpetrated on others. Too often instead there are posts full of rationalizations and excuse-making with lots of supportive “I understand”s and such—which all makes sense because we live in a culture where “nonjudgmentalness” and “acceptance” and “tolerance” are king, and where our wrongs can be explained away and excused because of this or that past trauma, and where we all need some emotional support and validation—no matter how questionable to source—if we are to feel OK enough to make it through the day without collapsing or having a nervous breakdown.

There are very few real truth tellers and very few people fearlessly and fiercely dedicated to truth and reality. Most people are dedicated to something much less—and much less honorable and noble—comfort, convenience, location location location, ease, “happiness,” pleasure, hedonism, the path of least resistance, avoiding truth, and avoiding difficulty. And so if we sense that we “need” support and validation in order to make it through the day and not collapse psychologically then we have yet another reason to dummy ourselves and our capacity for truth and reality down in order to “fit in” and gain approval, acceptance, validation, support.

What use is it if a person gains the world—or gains a lot of emotional support and validation—yet loses his or her soul?

And all of the psychological explaining away that we as a species do is stultifying our character and retarding the development of our consciences. It is not the route to real mental health and true personal growth; instead it’s just a perpetuation and deepening of mental unhealth.

The twelve steps are a way of life based on truth and dedication to reality.  The twelve steps basically reduce to this:

1. Admit the truth. Admit the truth that you’re an addict; admit what you’re addicted to—alcohol, drugs, sex, lying & manipulating; admit that you’re helpless to overcome this on your own; admit that you’re your own worst enemy; admit that your own “best” thinking and efforts haven’t made a dent in this and in fact usually make it worse; admit that you need help.

To be able to cleanly admit all of this is an example of dedication to truth and dedication reality in action.

And such a moment is not enough. It has to be done again and again and again. It has to become a way of life. It has to be practiced constantly and unceasingly until it becomes habit, second nature, one’s new nature.

2. And then this truth has to be admitted or confessed to others in the form of our taking a searching and fearless moral inventory, admitting our wrongs—not just to ourselves, but to others—to those we actually wronged, lied to, stole from, used, et cetera—and then humbling ourselves and making real amends—doing some real repair work and making our contrition, showing real remorse and sorrow, and asking forgiveness.

All of which is incredibly difficult. Which explains why there is so little of it (truth, remorse, honesty) in general in the real world.

It’s easier to lie and bullshit ourselves and live in denial of our own mortality and transience when we’re surrounded by others basically doing the same—escaping life, escaping stress, escaping anxiety, reading shitty escapist books and magazines, having gossipy trivial conversations, et cetera.

The vast majority of human beings would prefer to be validated for their bullshit rather than be ostracized for being too truthful and too truth-loving.

And so the decline of Western civilization and the perpetuation and spread of mental illness and unhealth. . . .

Escape sells, reality doesn’t.

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.

What Does it Mean to Be “Asleep” in Life?


What does it mean to be “asleep” in life?

Simply put, being “asleep” means being blind to ourselves, being blind to who we are, why we are the way we are, and what it’s like to be on the opposite end of an interaction with us.  It means being ignorant of or unconcerned with all of this and why we do what we do. 

Why do we—or some of us, or the vast majority of people—do this?—sleepwalk through life?  Why do we—so many of us—live like this?  Why are so many of us content to live like this?

What’s the payoff? 

A supposedly easier life?  A supposedly less painful and stressful and anxious life?

Aside from the obvious answer that “everyone else” is doing it and living the same way (asleep), maybe it’s because we’re too full of pride to be willing to look at ourselves honestly (especially if our life is not something shiny and lustrous to behold).  Or maybe it’s because we’re too ignorant and unintelligent and so we lack the cognitive capacities to look at ourselves (which is not likely for most people, especially “educated” people).  Or maybe it’s because we’re uncourageous because we suspect that we might be too weak to stomach emotionally looking at ourselves and our mess squarely, and so because we intuitively sense/imagine how stressful and painful doing so will (likely) be, we protect ourselves (self-protect) and refuse to face ourselves in an objective and fair and honest way.   We remain cloudy and asleep rather than clear and awake and piercingly honest.

When we’re asleep in life we’re not self-aware, we’re not self-conscious.  Thus we’re certainly not metacognizing—thinking about our own thinking or examining our own programming and paradigm and looking at our own behaviors.  And it’s highly likely that our conscience isn’t very active either—honesty likely isn’t a big concern, nor is doing our best or being our best or growing toward (in the direction of) becoming our best or constantly learning and improving and maturing as a person throughout life. 

In short, being asleep means leading an unexamined life.  A life where we’re ignorant of our own biases and double standards and hypocrisies and conditioning and underlying psychodramas. 

If the unexamined life truly is not worth living, then every moment spent dishonestly or deceptively with ourselves, or ignorant and unaware of our own real motivations and deeper needs and potentials, is life wasted.  And conversely every moment where we are contemplatively aware of ourselves or where we are correcting our biases, hypocrisies, self-deception and self-deceit is a moment of life worth living.

When we’re asleep, we’re on auto-pilot and living in ego-mode, we’re lost in our projections and transferences and daydreams and biases and double standards, we’re lost and asleep living a me first “looking out for number one” life where others aren’t “real” and where we’re running around constantly empty and unhappy and lost and trying reactively to get our wants and needs (love, validation, safety, security) met and inner-emptiness filled, trying to feel good, living impulsively, and taking the path of least resistant as often as possible, which means as much immediate gratification (damn the future consequences) as possible.

When we’re asleep we’re certainly not engaged in a 24/7 process of constant and never-ending self-surveillancing of ourselves and our own thoughts and behaviors and the underlying reasons for doing what we do and saying what we say.

Blissful  ignorance is the goal when we’re asleep.  Not knowing is the goal.  Not being disturbed or perturbed or awakened is the goal.  Undisturbed and uninterrupted sleep and self-numbing is the goal.  Living for the moment, living for fun, living for the next satisfaction or good feeling or psychological high or thrill is the goal.

But not constant self-surveillance.  Not truth.  Not looking at ourselves, examining ourselves, examining our own thinking, really scrutinizing it, really asking why, really being as honest and courageous and straightforward as possible.  These are not the goal.

Why? 

Probably because they’re painful and disquieting and uncomfortable and not “fun.”  They’re not gratifying.  They don’t relieve or lessen tension—at least not in the short-term!  In fact, if anything, they cause/create more tension, more unease, more anxiety, more depression, more distress, more stress, more confusion.  Truth doesn’t make us feel good.  Seeing ourselves as we are, with no softeners or buffers, doesn’t make us feel good, especially if we’re a bit of a hot mess or if we’ve made a hot mess of our lives.  So why do it?  Why look at honestly at ourselves?  Why force ourselves to take such bitter nasty-tasting medicine?

Most of us are still very simple creatures—seek pleasure, avoid pain; seek comfort and security, avoid danger and duress.  We run on very simple programming: what tastes or feels good must be good for us, what tastes or feels bad must be bad for us.  Many people, many of us, live in many areas of our life on the autopilot of these sorts of basic, unconscious (unaware) assumptions and patterns.

But waking up means waking up from the sleep that such a way of life engenders.  It means waking up from the sleep of avoiding pain and seeking only pleasure, automatically avoiding challenge and difficulty and adversity and seeking comfort and security and familiarity.  It means waking up from the sleep of living and reacting automatically. 

Waking up means asking why.  Waking up means examining ourselves constantly morning noon and night, and starting to spot our discrepencies and inconsistencies and underlying patterns and notice these.  It means learning to ask, in relation to what we do, what we say, what we like, what we prefer, what we avoid, the question “why,” and to do so almost constantly—why am I doing this?—what do I really want from this?—why do I really want this?—what will the long-term effect of doing this or getting this or eating this be for myself? et cetera. . . .

Waking up also means ceasing to be hypocritical—ceasing to ask others to do for us what we’re not willing to do for them, making them do the dirty jobs or go first instead of us.  Waking up means putting an end to our me-first I’m-the-center-of-the-world looking-out-for-number-one narcissistic ways.  It means, instead, putting ourselves on the same level as everyone else—“Love means learning to look at yourself the way one looks at distant things, for you are only one thing among many.  And whoever sees that way heals his heart, without knowing it, from various ills” (Czeslaw Milosz)—i.e. various ills such as narcissism, antisocial tendencies, borderline tendencies, depression, a myriad of anxieties, et cetera.

When we’re asleep we can’t see the wisdom in these words of Emerson—“ Character teaches above our wills. Men imagine that they communicate their virtue or vice only by overt actions, and do not see that virtue or vice emit a breath every moment” (“Self-Reliance”).  When we’re asleep, we (mistakenly) think that what we’re trying to teach—what we intend to teach—is what we actually teach.  But as we awaken, we begin realize—the horror, the horror!—that this is not the case—that instead what we are teaches far more than what we say or what we intend or will or pretend to be but not yet are.  And so as we awaken we get to work on our character—our level of being, our level of differentiation, our conscience, our capacity for virtue, our work ethic, our level of true psychological and spiritual health and courage, our capacity to love and be loved, and the forces of entropy and laziness and fear that keep us stuck and small—because this is the part of us that we carry around with us everywhere and that we cannot escape or avoid or outrun or disown—“For only as we ourselves, as adults, actually move and have our being in the state of love, can we be appropriate models and guides for our children. What we are teaches the child far more than what we say, so we must be what we want our children to become” (Joseph Chilton Pearce).

The clock is ticking.  At every moment, we’re either awake or asleep, and either waking more up or going more to sleep, and so we’re either unconsciously communicating (teaching) wakefulness or sleep to those around us as well as ourselves. 

At every moment we’re either communicating wakefulness or sleep, virtue or pathology. —The opposite of virtue isn’t vice, it’s pathology, sickness.  Vice is a symptom or expression of pathology.  And evil is the most pathological form of pathology.  Truly healthy people are virtuous people.  The vast majority of people (us) because they (we) are asleep, unaware, unconscious are neither healthy or unhealthy but are a mixed bag—a somewhat disorderly random amalgamation of virtue and vice, areas of relative integration and coherence and areas of mental unwellness, compartmentalization, distortions, projection, unreality, bias, hypocrisy, denial, avoidance, cowardice, pathology.  And the less healthy a person is, the less virtuous and the more full of bad habits, vice, dis-intigration, self-deception, avoidance, emotional reactiveness, the person will be.  

So why try and wake up from our slumber?  Why burden ourselves with seeing ourselves (and what neurosis and psychopathology and dysfunction there is in us) as we are?  Why look clearly and honestly at ourselves?  Why force ourselves to take such bitter and nasty-tasting medicine?

Because, in all likelihood, it’s the only way out, it’s the only way to truly grow up and mature as a person and become what was intended.  If we’re not willing to have the difficult conversations with ourselves, if we’re not willing to look honestly and starkly at ourselves and start putting ourselves under 24/7 around the clock surveillance and really start scrutinizing ourselves and putting ourselves and our actions under the microscope, if we’re not willing to start seeing ourselves for what we are and start calling ourselves out on our own bullshite, then we’re just marking time, wasting our lives, and we really don’t want to wake up.  Because, bottom line, waking up means intimacy—being raw and open and heroically real and honest with ourselves—and doing so constantly—and then doing so with others and owning our psychopathology and neuroticism and weak parts and getting to work on overcoming and outgrowing them.  This is the stuff—the day in and day out frontline grunt work—of the “examined life.”  And without doing this, our lives are just a blind decent into the grass, a useless march into oblivion.

(This is a slightly edited and updated version of an essay I posted on another of my blogshttp://fullcatastropheliving.wordpress.com/2011/10/09/what-does-it-mean-to-be-%e2%80%9casleep%e2%80%9d-in-life/)