In our society the survival mechanism has reached great heights of complexity. From an instinctual body urge it has evolved into a opinionated pursuit of “being right”. Everyone is political. It has always puzzled me how people convince and then entrench themselves that their way of looking at life is the only way. It is rare to find a person who is willing to switch perspectives altogether, and recognize that what the supposed opponent offers is equally valid.
I remember attending a Buddhist demonstration of debating skill. Every monk was trained in rhetoric combined with energy management to arbitrarily and convincingly uphold opposite viewpoints. This was not just a law school exercise; it was mastery of force, its aim, to discover that truth is one. Unlike our Buddhist brothers, what we see today is righteous self-deceit. It is more important to be right than truthful or fair.
We tend to believe that things must be as we want them to be – as they “should” be. We are convinced of being in control when in fact it is sheer tenacious insistence and force of will. Mental prowess at its finest. In matters of religion, the most defiant individuals cling to rules and dogmas in the name of the Invisible. Here follow some examples and, regardless of how exaggerated they may seem, they are faithful impressions with groups of opinionated folk from different cultures.
As a society we fiercely keep to the pretence that we actually meet and love through the masks we wear. With intellectuals, the inner self is generally held to be a chaotic psychological cesspool of incoherent emotions, dialogues and voices, best not dealt with. Let sleeping dogs lie! At best this inner self is some amorphous emptiness on the other side of boring, painful search and privation. Guarded as top secret, it is an uncomfortable source of irritation and social disgrace.
The transparency of ordinary human motivation is fascinating and depressing at the same time. Words, ideas, concepts, likes, dislikes only go skin deep. Some people especially enjoy argumentation and extend it to their personal worlds with great skill. With the best of intentions, we strive to divert, omit, or sublimate the feeling-sensing part of our mind, oblivious to the fact that feelings and emotions are different things. By then we have thrown out the baby with the bathwater. The result is poorly disguised lack of interest for anything that does not fit one’s preferred definitions.
We are taught to catalogue others according to appearance and defend the right to maintain a running secret commentary of all things, people and events. Or we simply shut down and distract ourselves. The first is the sign of the intellectual; the second the trademark of sophistication.
Have you noticed what happens when you bring up anything remotely intimate… in a formal, social context? Reactions fall into two types: (1) a long, often amusingly animated, sympathetic speech elucidating their own version, or (2) an unbearably uncomfortable silence when faced with no parameters of depth to match your own. Matters of vulnerability, things that really matter, are not popular or attractive. They are certainly no material for elite social interaction.
Masculine inclination revolves around a paranoid, though albeit intelligent, view of life. Criticism, and by this I do not necessarily mean constructive, and judgment, are held to be signs of “deep thought”. Women’s version is often less clear, but catty and bordering the vicious. If not revolving around frivolity, it is more often emotionally critical. Fantasy is a great favourite among women, especially the spiritual variety of escapism and easy high. On this subject, men tend to prefer the ascetic mental disciplines that give them a sense of triumph.
In refined circles, mealtime conversations easily turn to current affairs, where of course all the evil of the world is deposited. We are depicted as repeatedly exploited and continually attacked in some way. There is no safety. Everything is a shame. The fascination with the ugliness of life is monumental.
When I suggest that there are other possible ways of looking at things, after the initial polite gaps, the subjects eventually revert to that which is most comfortable. Too often it is terrorism of one sort or another, previews of disasters to come, and authors, movies, plays and art that illustrate more of the same. That is what is “interesting”.
Once I deliberately switched the conversation to my experience in the Tunisian desert a few years ago, an ecstatic encounter with the sun, the crystalline structure of the ground and vast surroundings, the colours and the feeling of immensity… That time, the gap was considerably longer, followed by a suddenly urgent discomfort with the seat. A few moments later we were talking about gory movies and the hopeless condition of politics.
In groups of women the social menu varies only slightly. Occasionally someone acknowledges having a “problem”, invariably about the unstable condition of their allure, their attractiveness, and the man in her life. Once I start explaining the real nature of my work, the predictable long gap, clearing of the throat and shifting of the seat ensues. In their mind, there is no need to face uncomfortable feelings – in other words, the truth.
In getting my message across to the higher echelon of society – the message in The Inner Woman book and blog – interpersonally or through the written word, I am faced with the superficiality prevailing in our society that carries a heaviness, a burden of guilt and resentment, a self-righteous opinion of oneself and one’s views, veiled by the flimsy belief that “lightness”, doing “interesting” things, dressing up, and anaesthetising oneself with something-or-other is what life is about.
On the other side of life I face the disenchanted as well as the true believers. These are the ones who believe in a constant state of war between opposites, light and dark, warding evil everywhere, in the food, in the atmosphere, in the music… While their more worldly counterparts vie for sexual performance, some women conceal a fearful view of sex as something “dark or negative”. They are ethereal and light, and tragically silly, unable to generate any real voltage, or interest in anything deeper. Peace lovers often hold that anything intense is violent, and that the union of fluffy femininity and effete masculinity actually lead to a Mystic Marriage. For too many in this movement, things dull, hairy, and trimmed with coarse cotton fabric represent the natural.
And then there are those of the spaces in-between. This is where I meet you, those with a sense of healthy, natural fun, those with an open mind and heart, and spontaneity. In these there is a lust for life that matches a marvel and a passion for the transcendental. Maybe we are not so interesting or trendy, or wealthy. We may not offer fashionable conversation, or equate black humour with wit, maybe we are not a walking encyclopaedic source of facts and information. We are as happy alone as in a group, and we treasure spice and the authentic, the spaces where the heart beats in unison with that background drone at the centre of Life.
Somewhere, somehow in all this pose, noise and glitter, in all this apparent devastation, confrontation, and all the hopeful talk of unity and good prevailing in some distant future… in all this unfairness and ugliness, through thick or thin, through fog and into daylight, eventually it will dawn on people that we don’t need a model. We do not need to imitate anyone or follow any rules. We don’t have to “be right”. We just have to be ourselves and know that every other self, form and particle of life is right.
Until such a time as everyone discovers that the spaciousness of Being is far from being an amorphous boring nothingness, the quirks, the passions and even the fears that define our expressions in the world will continue to colour the tragicomedy of life. And the learning goes on.
Even when we are right, we are wrong in believing that we are. This is where we start.