The Good That I Do Not Do & the Wrong that I Do Do


The good that I should do, I do not do; and the wrong that I should not do, I do do.” (St. Paul, in Romans 7:19)

Why?

Why is this so?

Isn’t this the very definition of being asleep? Or of being “wretched” (Pascal’s word)?

Is it better to live ignorant of our doubleness than to have the brief moment of consciousness (self-awareness) and conscientiousness that shows this about ourselves?

Because what then comes next? Knowledge such as this certainly creates obligation.  Or at least a lot of tension!

So next comes either the awakening, —or the frantic desperate attempt to, at every turn, suppress and eradicate this information and keep it from one’s own awareness.

Why? Because of the tremendous amount of emotional pain (regret, remorse, sorrow, guilt, shame, embarrassment, horror) inherent in doing so.

And because of the tremendous workload then associated with really changing one’s life. (“No matter how much a person changes, they still gotta pay for the things they’ve done. So I’ve got a long road.” – from the motion picture “The Town”)

What allows us to see or glimpse ourselves as we are is our conscience. But our conscience is the last part of us on the scene developmentally. First we are born a bundle of chaotic blind impulses and emotional reactivity all clamoring for immediate gratification. Next arrives the age of thinking and reasoning. The level of conscience and self-awareness that sees us as we are comes to us much later in life; after we’ve already set up deeply embedded and well-practiced habits of not thinking clearly, not looking at ourselves honestly and or objectively, avoiding difficulty, abandoning people, lying to ourselves and others. As Gurdjieff put it: “There stands behind most of us many years of wrong living—years spent catering to and indulging in all kinds of inner-weaknesses and therefore reinforcing these, years of self-deception and lying to ourselves, years spent shutting our eyes to our own errors, striving to avoid all sorts of unpleasant truths, blaming others, and so on, and so on.”

Our conscience and that type of self-awareness that goes with it are like a teeny tiny little squirt gun trying to deal with the conflagration that is our innate inner life—full of contradiction, dissonance, hatred, anger, self-preservation, looking out for number one, lying, avoidance, emotionality, reactivity.

For most of us by the time anything difficult or stressful reaches us we’re already in over our heads and spinning out in our maladaptive ways of trying to deal with stress and difficulty illegitimately and immaturely and counterproductively. And our conscience—those nerve-endings and synapses—stand no real chance of firing or impacting us. We have been hijacked—for days, weeks, months—by our amygdala and our limbic system.

For the vast majority of us our nervous system is not our friend but our enemy—and it’s Public Enemy Number One.

And so knowing this intuitively, we have two choices: the easy way or the hard way. One way will wake us up, the other will make us more comfortable and lessen our stress—at least temporarily, until something sets us off and sends us in a tailspin again—which will happen—because we’ve never learned real self-control; we’ve only learn roundabout self-control—trying to control ourselves by controlling our environment, which is really just self-avoidance.

We have to understand that extreme situations expose us; they show us who we really are, they show us our true self which gets to stay in hiding when things are fairly comfortable and or familiar. Which is one reason why most people prefer to do what they’ve always done—doing the wrong they ought not do, and not the good they ought to do. Good is foreign to us. Courage is foreign to us. Honesty is foreign to us. Integration is foreign to us. And in most cases, these things have to enter a person and take a person over like a Trojan horse, or by complete force, or by a near-death experience, or by grace, or by hitting rock bottom. The vast majority of people just cannot heal or grow themselves, no matter how much willful or deliberate intent they muster—they will always regress and backslide once their surroundings allow it (ease up on them) or compel it (some new stress hijacks their amygdale and sends them spinning out into the far reaches of the universe for weeks or months or years).

If extreme situations expose us, and comfort and familiarity and low stress allow us to hide from ourselves and believe in our pretty little veneer and our whitewashed hothouse version of ourselves, then it’s no wonder that so many of us will fight tooth and nail (or like a caged animal) for our comfort zones and not for real change and real growth.

If anything should trigger the machine and push a person/machine outside its comfort zone, the machine will try its hardest—and by seemingly any means necessary—to restore in itself a sense of safety and comfort and equilibrium.

This is how the vast majority of people are.

But in order to truly grow and awaken and observe oneself as one is, one must become reconciled to this tension and stress and discomfort and agonizing helplessness, and die to one’s smaller self or smaller I.

Because only by actually experiencing and tolerating this level of discomfort can a person really observe himself and begin to actually change and grow.

Thus for anyone who wants to awaken, there is the question: what do you want—a quiet life or to actually work oneself? If a machine wants a quiet and comfortable and safe life, he must fight to protect his comfort zones and keep himself from extremes, for even though he may feel bad about himself in his usual repertoire, he nonetheless will feel comfortable and safe because as bad (even unhealthy and pathological) as it might be, it is still familiar and known.

But if a person sincerely wants to work on himself and awaken and cease being a machine, he must first of all do one thing: destroy his hankering for peace, safety, comfort, an easy life. Until he actually does this, all of his attempts at change will be futile and doomed to fail.

To have comfort and growth, safety and growth, familiarity and growth, comfort and courage, comfort and honesty together is in no way possible.

A person must make a choice.

A person must take a stand—against himself and his own hankering after peace and comfort and security and safety—if a person truly want to awaken.

But what usually happens when choosing is that a person chooses talk, a person chooses deceit; which is to say, a person in words chooses “growth” but in reality he does not want to give up (or surrender) his comfort and safety and peace.

The person will not be willing to do what is necessary to awaken.

And the result is the most wretched and unfortunate position of all: A person does no real work on oneself at all, and at the same time he or she gets no real comfort whatsoever.

To really work on oneself and to sustain the work that one is doing oneself is incredibly difficult, in part because however difficult a person’s life may be, it still runs smoothly enough. Even if a person considers himself and his life and his ways bad, he is still accustomed to it and to that level of a workload. And so it is better for things to be bad and yet known, than for them to be new and more difficult and unfamiliar and awkward and unknown and even more stressful and full of doubt and to not even know if the desired result can be had from it or not.

Which is why the vast majority of people regress and backslide and continue not to do the good and right and growth-oriented things that they ought to do, but instead continue to do the self-defeating and familiar and played-out and maladaptive and self-deceptive things that they always do.

[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 go of his futile hankering after harmony, surcease from pain, and want of 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 and his petty resistances.

 

The first necessity is that we should have the courage to face life when it is most difficult to do so 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 each of us with isolation, the more the depths of our own being will be revealed to us and the more the possibilities of new life and inner transformation will be opened to us.

 

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

Real Growth & “Making a Change”


The purpose of a book of meditations is to teach you how to think and not to do your thinking for you. Consequently if you pick up such a book and simply read it through, you are wasting your time. As soon as any thought stimulates your mind or your heart you can put the book down because your meditation has begun.” – Thomas Merton, “New Seeds of Contemplation,” pg. 215

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Why aren’t more people truly “growth-oriented”?

Psychologists and psychiatrists estimate that about 4% of the population can be diagnosed as having Antisocial Personality Disorder (meaning a sociopath without a conscience, with no sense that other people exist and are “real”), and that another 3% are not just narcissistic but are so extreme in their narcissism that they have Narcissistic Personality Disorder, and that at least 2% of the population can be diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. That’s about 8 – 9% of the population or about one in 12 people that you meet.

On the other hand, Maslow estimated that less than 2% (less than 1 in 50 people) are truly growth-oriented, meaning capable of not just making a change, but of making a healthy and sustained change. And that even fewer people are capable of carrying out that change and growth to the point where they “transcend” the confines of the self (“self-transcendence) and are actually able to be good to and for not just themselves but, but to and for the entire human race—think of Albert Schweitzer, Mother Teresa, and lesser known everyday heroes and saint.

The Buddha said, “If it were not possible to free the heart and mind from entanglement in greed, hate, and fear, I would not teach you to do so.”

Which begs the question. For how many people is this possible? What percentage? What percentage are capable of what in Christianity is termed a true “metanoia”—a deep and radical change of heart and mind and life direction, from one of dishonesty and avoidance and rationalizations (rational lies), to one of honesty, integrity, goodness, growth, faith, and love?

If only 1% of the population is capable of self-transcendence, then is that also approximately the same percentage that is capable of a metanoia or of “waking up” (not dying asleep and full of self-deception)?

Maslow’s numbers are not very encouraging, but they sound about right to me. If 98% of people are “deficit and repair oriented” (meaning comfort- and safety-first, addicted to living life superficially and in the shallows, addicted to the path of least resistance, and thus fairly asleep and self-centered and immature, if not pathological) and only about 2% of the population is “growth-oriented,” then that would seem to mean that only about 2% of the population is capable of true mental health and the other 98% are either asleep, blind, fairly unhealthy or immature or even outright pathological psychologically and emotionally.

I don’t think there’s just one reason or just one cause for why these numbers/estimates are the way they are. There are multiple causes and reasons. As a person who is philosophical by nature and who is an armchair psychologist at heart, all of this is something that I think about fairly often—Why can’t or don’t more people push themselves to grow? Why are so many people willing to settle for so little out of themselves in terms of honesty, knowing themselves, seeing themselves as they are and for what they are? Is it a question of ability, capacity, will, want? How can more people truly and deeply and profoundly become more aware of their own lenses and blind spot and self-defeating and counterproductive (maladaptive, even pathological) patterns and tendencies?

I know I have fairly high standards for myself; I know that I am leading a very reflective and examined life—I sense myself to be more alive and awake and self-aware than the average bear.

And since I have these high standards out of myself and seem to think that for the most part I have met them, I also tend to have them for others and expect them of others—i.e., if I’m capable of this, then others should be as well, especially if they would do some of the same things that I did or had to do, expose and subject themselves to some of the same rigors and burdens—think more, work on their moral compass, face and acknowledge their own fears instead of habitually being dishonest about them by denying them or running from them or burying them, spend time reading decent books, and then writing or journaling about their own thoughts on these books (thus the rationale behind including the excerpt from Merton that I did at the head of this post) and thus learning to better observe and become more informed and objective about their own inner processes, spending more time trying to examine their own motivations and paradigm and programming and patterns. If I can do it, why can’t or won’t more others?

This is your one brief precious life. This is all we can actually know that we get—the rest is speculative at best and delusional and dishonest at worst. Do you want to go through this life asleep, blind, unaware of yourself and your own patterns and motivations? Or deep down do you really want to wake up and see yourself and your patterns for what they are, and thus not merely “make a change” but actually grow up and truly become a psychological and emotional and spiritual adult?

Every day, people get up and tell themselves they’re gonna change their lives, and they never do. Well I’m gonna change mine.” – from the motion picture “The Town

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Doug MacRay: I’m thinking about, uhm, taking a trip . . . going out of town.
Stephen MacRay: Takin’ heat?
Doug MacRay: Just makin’ a change.
Stephen MacRay: Yeah, don’t tell me ‘making a change’. Either you got heat or you don’t.
– from the motion picture “The Town

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To awaken is difficult to do; homo sapiens are already submitted to a cosmic hypnotic influence (called survival and daily life); and if this were not enough, each individual, when he does not like the reality of life or is not satisfied with himself, dreams of himself and the world in a manner ideal for himself.” – John Baines

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Faced with the choice between changing one’s mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof.” – John Kenneth Galbraith

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And faced with the choice between changing one’s way of thinking and living and proving there’s no need to, almost everyone get busy on the proof by trying to discredit the messenger if not psychologically killing him or walling him out. It’s easier to spin out and wall up and make excuses for it (tell ourselves and others rational sounding lies [rationalizations]) than it is to look very honestly and fairly and objectively at our own actions and patterns and how we have acted in ways that have bred distrust and suspicion and insecurity—both in ourselves and others. It’s easier to spin out and deal with that level of pain than it is to shed our many buffers and look honestly at ourselves and feel that pain and guilt and shame.

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Long is the way, and hard, that out of hell leads up to light.” – Milton, “Paradise Lost,” book II, Line 432.

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If it were easy kid, everybody would do it.” – from the motion picture “The Town

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Our life transformation will be in exact proportion to the amount of truth we can take without running away.” – Vernon Howard, “The Mystic Path to Cosmic Power,” pg. 13

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The process of self-development can be described as the stripping away of layer after layer after layer of all that is false.” – Vernon Howard, “The Mystic Path to Cosmic Power,” pg. 249

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What does every person want? . . . He wants to be free. But from what? He only senses vaguely what he really wants. So he spends his days anxiously seeking the wrong needles in the wrong haystacks, not realizing that he is seeking the wrong needle or searching in the wrong haystack. Human beings are frightened wanderers. And they wear a variety of mask to hide this fact from themselves and each other and convince themselves that their masks are real. They wear smiling masks, wise appearing ones, excited ones, masks of worldly success, all to convince themselves and others that the act is real. So what does every person most deeply want? To be free from himself—from his own fakery and falsity, from his ego-centered ways, from his heartache and suffering, from his compulsive desires and neurotic fears, from his secret shames and guilt carried over from past follies, to no longer be at the mercy of his moods and circumstances and other people’s opinions and approval. What every person wants most without realizing it is self-liberty—liberty from all that is ill and weak and wounded and biased and distorted and anxious and frightened within himself.” – Vernon Howard, adapted from “The Mystic Path to Cosmic Power,” pp. 9-10

Learning How to Deal Better with the Full Intensity of Life by Becoming More Awake and Enlightened AND Conscientious


(This is an updated version of something I posted on Jan 7th of this year on my http://www.realtruelove.wordpress.com blog regarding how to become more awake and enlightened and conscientious. . . .

http://realtruelove.wordpress.com/2011/01/07/becoming-more-awake-enlightened-and-conscientious/)

We do not become enlightened by avoiding what is unpleasant and difficult to look at and to acknowledge about ourselves; rather we become enlightened by becoming more honest and aware of our own weaknesses and darkness. We become enlightened by letting light and truth into those dark dank places within ourselves that we are ashamed of, that frighten us, that we feel are too sensitive or too raw or too overwhelming to look at, those places that make us feel bad about ourselves or inadequate or guilty.

As Jung put it (paraphrasing): “One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious. The latter alternative, however, is extremely disagreeable and difficult and therefore very unpopular.

Genuine personal development and growth requires courage—real courage—real moral courage. It takes incredible grit and inner resolve to let the light come in, to not run and hide from it or close our eyes to it. It takes incredible courage and inner resolve and stamina to genuinely transform oneself, to fess up to and face our own fears and anxieties and weaknesses (to have that honest conversation with ourselves), and to cease the nonsense of habitually and unconsciously always reflexively acting out from this place and loosing these parts of us on others and the world. (“The undisciplined person doesn’t wrong himself alone—he sets fire to the whole world.” – Rumi)

Personal growth is a moral issue. How much we actually grow as persons is inexorably tied to how much of ourselves we are willing to see—to see honestly as well as clearly. So not only is personal growth tied to our level of thinking and the amount of clarity we have (“The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.” – Einstein), it is also tied inexorably to our level of moral development—our level of conscientiousness and how much we are able to refine this and further develop it.

It is our conscience—the level and intensity of our moral reasoning—that when we are exposed to stress and strain, temptation and difficulty will either hold and allow us to rise above the mammalian and reptilian parts of our nature and brain—and thus actually be better than what’s worst and weakest in us—or it is what will not hold and what will compel us even though we see a path to the better to follow a path to what’s worst and succumb and give in to what’s worst in us. (“The ultimate measure of a person is not where they stand in moments of comfort and convenience, but where they stand in times of challenge and controversy.” – Martin Luther King Jr.)

It is our level of moral reasoning and the intensity with which we have internalized this part of ourselves and identify with it (egosyntonic) that will allow the center to hold and allow us to be better than our weakness and negative emotional reactivity.

But if we are underdeveloped or too “conventional” morally, when difficulty and temptation come, the center will be less likely to hold, and we will spin out or give in to temptation (set fire to ourselves and the world). Moreover, we will lack the internal impetus that will compel us to become the best or near-best version of ourselves that we can be.

So much so-called “personal growth” and so many so-called “gurus” and “life-coaches” and self-help authors ignore this fact and try to affect deep and lasting change without addressing their client’s or student’s or readership’s level of moral development, moral reasoning, moral courage, personal integrity and trying to deeply increase these.

Which is why so much so-called personal growth is short-lived, superficial, and never really sticks.

Because unless we change deeply and fundamentally in terms of our level of moral reasoning and development and courage—in terms of our level of conscience—we will not grow deeply and fundamentally as a person in terms of our level of being or differentiation. Nothing significant will have changed in us. Everything will be water down the drain—seed thrown on rocky arid soil.

Absolutely Clear” – Hafiz

Don’t surrender your loneliness
so quickly
Let it cut more deeply into you.
Let it ferment and season you as few
human or divine ingredients can. . . .
Something’s missing in my heart tonight
and that something has made
my eyes so soft,
my voice more tender,
and my need of God
absolutely clear.

Suffering some sort of personal loss or setback is just the beginning. It is only the first impetus for us to either wake up and live with more courage and clarity and force, or to dig in and try to entrench ourselves even more deeply and fervently in a life of even greater avoidance and escapism and comfort.

We need some sort of pain or hardship or heartache to get us off our butts and off our buts. It is essential. We need some sort of personal setback or tragedy to rouse and jar us from our respective dogmatic slumbers. We need some sort of personal loss or some great defeat to get us off the sidelines and get us into the game and start living more passionately, honestly, sincerely, and authentically.

As Rumi put it: “Organs and capacities respond to necessity, so therefore increase your necessity.” Without the impetus of great psychological pain we would just stay content in wasting away in our respective little comfort zones, craving more and more comforts and pleasures and escapes and distractions.

So some sort of pain or great loss is an essential and inescapable first step. Some sort of deep pain or great loss is necessary to jar us, to stop us in our tracks, to crack the crust or the walls of our egoism (the self-protective “frozen sea within us”).

Grief is so often the source of the spirit’s growth.” – Rilke

Something (bad, distressing, catastrophic, traumatic) has to happen to us to shake our tree, get our attention, and hopefully wake us up.

Wanting people to listen, you can’t just go up to them and tap them on the shoulder anymore. You’ve got to hit them with a sledgehammer, and then you’ll notice you have their strictest attention.” – from the motion picture “Se7en

At some point in our lives, when we meet a real tragedy—which could happen to any one of us—we can react in two ways. Obviously we can lose hope, let ourselves slip into discouragement, alcohol, drugs, unending sadness, and go more to sleep. Or else we can wake ourselves up, discover in ourselves an energy that was hidden there and act with more clarity, more force.” – The Dalai Lama

The second and equally inescapable and essential next step is to develop our conscience.

Without the development of our conscience—without taking our level of moral reasoning and courage to the next level (Kohlberg’s stages 5 and 6 of moral development), we will never grow as persons, because we will not properly operate on whatever tragedy life has beset us with. We will never be able to stay and stick and actually face what happened to us; instead we will always run, hide, avoid, wall up, go numb, lie to ourselves, deceive ourselves, in order to preserve ourselves emotionally and not have to feel the full brunt of the pain of what we experienced and its aftermath and possibly flood limbically. We sense ourselves to be too weak to be able to deal with the full intensity of whatever life is dealing us, and so we shut down, go numb, wall up, or run and evade.

The only reason we don’t open our hearts and minds to life and to other people is that they trigger a confusion in us that we don’t feel brave enough or sane enough to deal with.” – Pema Chödrön (paraphrased a bit)

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. For it is not inertia or indolence alone that causes human relationships to be repeated from case to case with such unspeakable monotony and boredom; it is timidity before anything new and inconceivable, any 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 the depths of his own being and draw forth his actions from there.” – Rilke, from “Letters to a Young Poet” (letter no. 8)

And so in shutting down and shying away from the pain and fear and the full intenisty of life, we never force ourselves develop perpendicularly as a person; we never deepen, we never increase in virtue, in patience, in integrity (integration), courage, transparency, trust, inner strength, willpower, self-discipline, endurance, perseverance. Instead we increase our own flightiness and evasiveness, our own weaknesses, and the likelihood that our character defects and flaws (what’s worst in us) will run the show, will run our life, especially when the going gets tough. . . .

With will, fire becomes sweet water; without will, even water becomes fire.” – Rumi

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The Panther” – Rainer Maria Rilke & me

(in the Jardin des Plantes, Paris; & the Corona Ave apartments, in Dayton, Ohio)

His seeing, wearied and vacant from being locked away
for so long behind bars, adheres to nothing anymore.
To him the world is just bars—the flashing glint
of bar upon bar—penting in his gaze, numbing his sight.
A hundred thousand bars. And beyond the bars, nothing.

The supple restless swinging stride
of the smoothen black silky flank
has been reduced to a tiny ring—a dance
of potential lithe energy around a center
in which a great will now stands stunned.

Only from time to time do the curtains of the eyelids
open on this muted life and an image rushes in, winds its
way through the taut silence of the frame, only to vanish,
forever, in the heart. And we left here watching
wondering how different or similar we are with our own gaze.

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Call it will, call it courage, call it conscience, call it perspective (realizing that you have nothing to lose because death will claim everything soon enough), call it character, call it whatever you want; the point is not to back down, not to run, not to give in to our mammalian and reptilian brain, our monkey mind, our fear, what’s worst in us, and sentence ourselves to life of not living and not being able to give and receive love in a healthy and ennobling way. The point is to heroically stick and stay, to learn how to deal with ourselves, to learn how to feel the fear and do whatever needs to be done anyways, and to stop living as if life goes on forever and as if life is something just to be survived.

Because in most of us, by the age of thirty, we have lost most of our plasticity, and our character has set like plaster, and will never soften again, unless—unless—some great tragedy or suffering or catastrophe strikes us and levels us, devastates us, softens us completely in body, mind, heart, and soul, and forces us to start again from scratch and make some real changes in our life. . . .

You know, people get up every day and tell themselves they’re going to change their lives. They never do. I’m going to change mine.” – from the motion picture “The Town

Thus, if we often falter in life and flinch or fail in giving our best effort when life or difficulty puts us to the test, and instead we consistently opt for the immediate gratification and quick tension-relief of the easy way out (the path of least resistance), before we know it our integrity and our will (the effort-making capacity in us) will be gone in us, and our wandering attention will wander and mislead us all the time, and our fears and insecurities and weaknesses (what’s worst in us) will get the best of us constantly and lead us into all sorts of dilemmas, crises, and calamities that are largely of our own making, that are self-chosen, that we have brought upon ourselves and brought upon those around us who we claim to “love” and “care” about.

And in order for us to find ourselves at all bearable to live with in such a state, we will have to become very proficient at lying to ourselves, deceiving ourselves, avoiding by any means necessary the truth about ourselves, any realistic sense of ourselves. We will never have the stones to have an honest conversation such as the following with ourselves or with another person about ourselves. . . .

“Listen . . . listen to me for a second. I will never lie to you again, ok?”

“Really?”

“Yes, I promise you. Ask me anything you want. I’ll tell you the truth.”

“Why? I won’t believe you.”

“Yes you will.”

“Why?”

“Because you’ll fucking hate the answers. . . Think about it, all right? . . . I will never lie to you; I will never hurt you; and if I lose you, I will regret that for the rest of my life.”

( – from the motion picture “The Town“)

Unless we have the courage to have such a conversation with ourselves or to enter into such a conversation with another, we will never change. Never.

And unless we start nurturing and keeping the faculty of deliberate effort and heroic self-overcoming alive in ourselves by “a little gratuitous exercise every day,” we will never change either. Meaning, unless we take up a practice of systematically living a bit more ascetically and acting heroically every day or two in little unnecessary ways, and begin forcing ourselves to do a few things here and there for no other reason than we would rather not do them, our lives will never change. Never. Because every time the hour of dire need finds us, we will spin out and run because it will find us unnerved and untrained and incapable of standing straight and emotionally stomaching the test. But for a person who has “daily inured him- or herself to habits of concentrated attention, energetic volition, heroic self-overcoming, and self-denial in unnecessary things,” he or she will “stand like a tower while everything rocks and crumbles around the person, and when his or her softer fellow-mortals are winnowed like chaff in the blast. . . . The hell to be endured hereafter, of which theology informs us, is no worse than the hell we make for ourselves in this world by habitually fashioning our characters in the wrong way” (William James, adapted from “The Principles of Psychology,” chapter 4, “Habits”).

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Lessons” – Walt Whitman

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.

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This is about not living life as a fool or a coward, not living a life without real love, not living a life where we are forced to stay asleep out of fear and anxiety and past hurts and wounds and conditioning. This is about not wasting our one little life because we’re living as if we think life goes on forever and because we’re always contenting ourselves with just talking about making a change and growing up and taking a leap and planning our jumps, but never actually doing.

Without facing and addressing our level of moral development and courage and improving these, we will never make a real change; we will never grow genuinely as persons—we will never increase in virtue, we will never increase in integrity, we will never increase in honesty and real self-knowledge and self-awareness, we will never increase in courage, we will never increase in patience and endurance and perseverance, we will never develop willpower and emotional stamina; we will never develop a genuine inner work ethic.

As James Hollis put it—paraphrasing:

The capacity for personal growth depends on one’s ability to internalize and to take personal responsibility. If we forever scapegoat, blame others, see our life as a problem caused by others, no change will occur. If we are deficient in courage, no real growth can occur. As Jung wrote:

‘[Personal growth] consists of three parts: insight, endurance, and action. Psychology is needed only in the first part, but in the second and third parts moral strength plays the predominant role. . . . The Shadow side of ourselves represents a moral problem that challenges the whole of the ego-personality, for no one can become conscious of the Shadow without considerable moral effort. To become conscious of it involves recognizing the dark and anxious aspects of the personality as present and real.’

“What is not made conscious in us will continue to haunt our lives—and the world. The tendency for each of us to privilege our own position, be biased in favor of ourselves, fail to see consequences, and be unaware of hidden motives, is fundamental in us each. It takes a strong sense of self and a lot of courage to be able to examine and take responsibility for the darker parts of ourselves when they turn up. It is much, much easier to deny, scapegoat, blame others, project elsewhere, absolve ourselves, and or just bury it and keep on rolling.

“It is these moments of human frailty and inner stress and strain when we are most dangerous to ourselves, our families, our society.

“Examining this material when it comes up (or soon after it does) is an act of great moral importance, for it brings the possibility of lifting our stuff off of others, which is surely the most ethical and useful thing we can do for those around us.

“What do we each the owe the world? Simple: respect, ethical behavior, and the gift of one’s own best self.

“Our capacity to deliver on this—as well as our quality of life—will ultimately be a direct function of the level of awareness and moral courage and clarity we bring to our daily choices.