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Editor's note: This week we have a guest blog post from a friend of mine.
In my adolescence, I was an insomniac. I had (and have) so many serious interests that I was perennially excited – both physically and intellectually. My parents did not know what to do about this. For a little background, I grew up in a desolate place in the plains of Nepal. Neither of my parents knew much about the world or its new inventions such as vaccines, medicines (apart from traditional herbal ones) and so on. So, my mother would basically give me a glass of warm milk and repeatedly say, "YOU MUST TRY". As a child, I thought that people had some sort of special skill set that they could employ and could go to sleep, even when they felt wide awake. I was too embarrassed to ask.
When my younger sister was about five years old, she suffered from constipation for a few weeks. I remember my mom encouraging (maybe berating) my sister to time her bowel movements to go to the bathroom at a certain time of the day. She tried all sorts of home remedies and of course she said to TRY HARDER. I suspect my sister too thought that she lacked the skills to control her bowel movements.
Have you tried hard to go to sleep? The more you try, less likely you are to fall asleep. Pooping on demand is even harder.
I am sure that almost all of us have gone through similar experiences in our childhood. Parents or caretakers trying to convince us to do one (or another) involuntary action on demand. Those are a few seemingly benign examples of COMMANDING THE SPONTANEOUS that has beleaguered mankind. These seemingly benign examples are perhaps the first experiences that most human beings have, where a line is drawn between "WHAT THEY DO" and "WHAT THEY SHOULD DO". In other words, 'WHAT IS' and 'WHAT OUGHT TO BE'.
When the situation is not so benign like the above examples, this seemingly harmless problem of trying to command the spontaneous leads to very serious problems in the human organism and ultimately in the society. "YOU MUST BE GOOD/SELFLESS/GENEROUS …", "YOU MUST SURVIVE" etc.
There is no way to command the spontaneous or to somehow artificially will it into existence. However, one is led to believe that they can command the spontaneous if they try harder. After trying harder umpteenth time, and failing, the "human spirit" retreats and gives way to an insoluble predicament. An individual feels that their life is a perennial pain, where they expend the effort to find a solution; however, solution is impossible. The solution is impossible because the problem is ill-posed; in fact, that problem does not even exist.
Almost every human culture divides human beings similarly. Be it 'body vs soul' or 'will vs instinct' or 'reason vs passions' and so on. [Some of us might be inclined to believe that "sciences" have loosened this bifurcation; quite the contrary but that is a topic for next time]. What happened is that we have managed to split an individual into two parts: one is the body, more specifically the involuntary processes of the body and the other is the thought that gives rise to a muscular tension behind the center of the eyeball (most of us know it as 'I'). This bifurcation always comes with a set of instructions that amounts to "an individual must control their urges, their body etc.", as if the soul is a rider on the bodily horse. As if 'reason' is somehow the "master" of the body. There is no such bifurcation; 'reason' and 'body' are two integral components (out of many others) of human organism.
Nevertheless, such instructions, to "control" a part of self, are rampant. These instructions initiate a mechanism of social and institutional feedback.
"Your thoughts on these matters are alright but your thoughts on those matters are horrible". "You do these things okay, but you are not doing those other things alright".
After years of such feedback and attempts to act on them, what an individual is left of is not 'their own image of themself as they are' but their image of themself as perceived by others'. Earlier, we did not have a problem but tried to fabricate one. Well, now we do have a problem. Most of the human organisms walking on the face of this planet do not know themselves – living all their life as if they are alien inside themselves. When the problem is so nonsensical, what happens is, all the efforts to solve it becomes circular – like a rat running on a wheel.
We all are busy trying to make ourselves "better" as a human being, since eternity. The rat race began quite a few millennia ago. The rat race to be GOOD, MORAL, KIND... The rate race to do GOOD, SELFLESS ACTS… [At least the rat race to become rich and look sexy only started on a global scale, a few decades ago. Others have been going on since modern humans have existed].
If one is not already GOOD/MORAL/KIND/SELFLESS…, there is no way to "will" your way into being GOOD/MORAL/KIND/SELFLESS. You cannot TRY HARDER and be SELFLESS or KIND – either you are, or you are not. This is not a moral judgement. That is the way one is. Clinical psychologists will tell you that the first step to solving a problem is to accept that it is a problem.
One must first accept that he/she cannot be kinder or better or more moral than one already is. This ACCEPTANCE is the first and last step to solving the problem – this will erase the bifurcation in the human organism and hence the need to command the spontaneous. Carl G. Jung said that one must accept the shadowy/demonic parts of oneself before one can become God.
"Bifurcated splitting" of the human organism is so rampant and thorough in our society and institutions that the acceptance seldom comes. In lieu of that, the rate race goes on. But there is no way to be any more SELFLESS/MORAL/KIND than one already is. This is such a double bind that the human being starts feeling helpless and hopeless in the face of life. Life itself becomes contradictory; not because it is. All because society presented the individual with an insoluble problem – and the set of instructions, paradigms associated with it.
Maybe during childhood (like in the case of my sister and I), this did not seem like a double bind. Maybe it is even useful to have that bifurcation in childhood, so that children behave – or even can be inculcated with basic sets of education, societal instructions etc. At best, such a bifurcation should be nothing more than "The Santa Claus". No sane adult actually believes that Santa Claus is real; the story served its purpose and at one point or another, parents reveal the secret to their children. Similarly, we must let our generations know that the bifurcation we introduced at one point or another was mostly for society’s benefit – so that one can fit in society properly.
However, almost all the adults never get past this bifurcation to get acquainted with themselves, with the way they are – first because the cultures never tells them that it is a hoax and secondly because ‘self-acceptance’ is even rarer. Then an individual tries their best to attain social, hormonal, moral, physical, spiritual, and institutional goodies in the hopes that once they attain them, the void of not knowing oneself would be filled.
This striving is vigorous when the person is young – naturally, their hormones, body, bones, muscles are all on the surge. A lot of us do end up getting goodies of all kind – social, spiritual, institutional, cultural, physical, and hormonal. But they cannot fill the void at all. However, one believes (or is led to believe) that void was not filled because they did not get enough goodies – the void will surely be gone once I have enough money OR when I have enough influence OR when I find and marry my dream partner OR when I become successful in some other regard. And the perennial cycle of getting the goodies and striving for more exotic goodies go on.
The VOID gets deeper and deeper as one gets older, and even gets company from years of resentment [Place an image/memory of your favorite grumpy old person here] [No disrespect intended]. And sooner or later, your hormones, muscles, bones are not the same as before. Your joints are aching, muscles are atrophying, your hormones are on the ebb. You cannot climb up the stairs, cannot take care of yourself – your body is telling you that your time is about to be up. You resist it as much as you can – with the help of technology, medicine, surgery etc. Why? So that you can keep running in this rat race – in the hope that one day you can find the goodie that will ultimately fill your void. So that you can ultimately meet your ‘Whole Self’. So that you can be happy. Believe it or not, such miserable existence of an individual is the nicer of two outcomes, if this "bifurcation of an individual" is not taken care of. There is a scarier societal and cultural consequence.
There is no way of being anymore selfless/moral/nice/good… than one already is. However, due to eons of brainwashing, an individual feels impotent in the face of not being able to "improve" oneself. Then one starts being dishonest to even him/herself.
If one cannot become anymore selfless, the next best thing is to appear selfless. If one cannot become any more moral, the next best thing is to start appearing more moral. If one cannot be selfless, the next best thing is to appear selfless.
This gives rise to DO-GOODERS in our society - individuals who are trying to be moral/good/pacific… Individuals who do not know or love themselves, but are hell bent on "knowing" and "loving" everyone else. Their intention might appear serene and genuine; but such DO-GOODING is the most dishonest and destructive acts an individual can commit. Myriads of do-gooding-industry have flourished, all because an individual cannot feel content in themselves. "Human Rights" industry, all sorts of "charity", "peace-promoting", invading and killing in the name of "democracy", "right religion/morality" etc.
When even do-gooding does not fill the void, individuals start the game of one-upmanship. While physical one-upmanship might sound raw and primitive, there are more sophisticated self-defeating moral one-upmanship, spiritual one-upmanship and so on. Abrahamic religions (Christianity, Islam...) are pioneers and champions of spiritual one-upmanship whereas "political correctness crowd", "social justice policing" are perhaps the most perfected form of moral ones. I really think talking about mechanics of how such things work would really be helpful in seeing why these are all examples of personal individual VOID going rogue.
Assume that I am a member of the "correctness crowd" and you just made a 15-word long statement on something that seemingly does not fit my idea of how the world SHOULD BE. To start, I will go ahead and make a huge assumption about you, your background, your education, your moral status and so on, based on that statement. Not only that, I will go a step further and tell you what you meant, when you made that statement. Then of course, I will nuke you with what I think you SHOULD THINK, without regards to the fact that you might have "free-will". If that is not enough, I will brand your whole existence, its subtleties and richness into one label – You are cruel/racist/misogynist/___phobic...
Why? Maybe knowing and validating that I am morally superior to you will fill my VOID. [Folks who end up opposing "correctness crowds", most of the time are playing their own version of one-upmanship game too.]
If only do-gooders would stop for a second, perhaps we could do something about the actual problem. Perhaps if they could stop their maniacal thinking/doing for a while, the dust on humanity could settle down.
Know yourself; accept all parts of yourself – that is all it takes. That is all it takes to fill the VOID, meet your whole and be happy. Nothing else will suffice. External world and its achievements are not going to give you an inch of happiness, never has to anyone.
I apologize for such a long piece. If you stuck with it till here, I feel like you deserve at least one less-useless piece of information. So here is a quote.
"The more things change, the more they stay the same." – Pierre Teilhard de Chardin