“Communion”


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This is my response (slightly edited here; this is my site, so I’m a bit more blunt and direct here 🙂 ) to a comment that I received on another site in reference to a comment I left there (and that I posted here as my previous blog post “Connection”)

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why oh why does this existentialist view point make me (and all disciples of it) feel so much like jumping off a bridge, or just sitting and contemplating the knotted roots of a tree?

I think that’s how it feels in the beginning—and for a while (a year? 10 yrs? who knows; it varies from person to person) after that. I know it felt like that for me in my teens and even into my twenties. Of course, I didn’t dive headlong into it. I sort of fell into it bit by bit, as it were. Everyone else around me was doing their thing, living life in a very non-existential (blind) way. So I was on my own. I stepped—fell—into existentialism and despair little by little—and I never did it full-time. It was more seasonal and part-time. As a teen, I would have these intense excruciating experiences of my smallness—my cosmic insignificance, how infinitesimal I was, how little my life was in the scheme of things, how vast the eternity before me was and after me will be. And I would be left wondering: What’s the effin’ point? How did I get put into this predicament?

And then I would run—dive headlong into school, friendships, play, whatever would distract me and keep me from thinking these terrifying horrible thoughts. I was living in denial.

And the process would repeat. A moment—or several moments, repeated over the course of days or weeks—of excruciating intense existential clarity—and then my attempt to escape from it, to unseen what I had seen, to unthink what I had thought, to numb and distract myself from what I had realized, to get myself to forget what I had glimpsed and to go back to “normal” life.


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I would try to play games with my fears—peak at them, try to master them, try to trigger them and then calm and soothe myself, rescue myself from the terror suddenly unleashed and raging within me, the sudden turbulent whirligig of giant white-hot thrashing waves that had capsized me and was pulling me under.

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I would read or think something frightening, unleash the terror, and then throw myself into the water after myself and try to rescue myself life a Coast Guard diver. I would try to soothe myself and restore my equilibrium, get my heart-rate down.

 

And I was just a kid—just a frightened 13 or 14 year old kid at first, and then a 20-year old, then a 23-year old.

But at some point in my very early twenties, I made the choice to stop running (or at least to stop running using the ways that I had been using). No more bar-hopping, no more anesthetizing myself with sex or by trying to pick up women.

I was no longer going to live the way those were around me were living. I didn’t want any more of the insubstantial bar banter and chitchat. I wanted to have friends who didn’t look at me as if I was bat-shit crazy or as if I had “finger-banged their cat” when I wanted to talk about some existential thought I had had.

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No, John, you’re not supposed to do that; you’re not supposed to talk about morose depressing things. You’re not following the rules and playing nice; everyone else here wants to talk about the Cleveland Browns or how hot that girl over there is and how best to approach her; no one wants to talk about how life is fleeting, empty, and fragile. You’re such a buzz-kill, dude.

Needless to say, my “friends” and I soon parted way—their choice more than mine. And I was left to look for new friends. Oddly enough, I didn’t really find any live ones. But I did find some dead one, some antecedents—Peck, Nietzsche, Buddha. Apparently I wasn’t the only one. Apparently I wasn’t the only one who had opted out of the conventional approach to life. Apparently I wasn’t so strange after all. There were others; at least, there had been a few others here and there sprinkled through history.

But were there others who were alive now?

That would seem to be a needle in a haystack type proposition.

At the very least though I had found some decent books to read; I had found at least a few minds whose thoughts resonated with me and actually seemed firmly connected to the way life actually is.

And so I read and read and read—and I wrote and wrote and wrote, as well. And eventually I started writing more than I read. And then some time soon after that my thinking took on a life of its own, or rather, my thinking came to life—it brought me to life. I had found my own voice. It was there all along, but it had been stuffed down most of the time under a lot of denial and fear and avoidance.

No more.

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why oh why does this existentialist view point make me (and all disciples of it) feel so much like jumping off a bridge, or just sitting and contemplating the knotted roots of a tree?

I think that’s just (just?—when you’re feeling it, it feels far far from “just” anything!) how it feels in the beginning—and for a while (a year? 10 yrs? Who knows; varies from person to person) after that. The first noble truth of Buddhism is “Life is suffering” (or “life is unsatisfactory”). Peck and Rilke both wrote about how life is difficult. Sartre wrote: “‘Life begins on the other side of despair.” Most people are afraid to face this—or at least to consider/ponder this. Most people are afraid to face the facts, they’d rather believe what they want to believe, what makes them feel good, what helps get them through the day; most people live behind a curtain of fantasy; and so (arguably) they never really live. Because as long as a person lives on the near-side of despair, without having faced or considered/pondered what scares them the most, they will be living a hemmed-in anxious life of avoidance, denial, and very limited awareness; they will always be preemptively excluding things from their consciousness that might frighten or trigger them, and they will turn to relationships, shopping, reading, writing, bars, football, dancing, et cetera, all as means of trying to anesthetize themselves and keep their mind occupied and from straying onto what scares the shit out of them.

And they will do all of this in a Sisyphussian attempt to make themselves feel better about their life, that it’s not as scary and frightening (that life isn’t as fleeting, that we’re not as fragile, et cetera) as they fear. Every morning they will get up and roll the rock of their particular neurosis / amalgamation of avoidance and denial and distraction up the hill. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday. Repeat. Always the same underlying fear driving them on. Until one day, they get brave, they get tired of rolling the rock up the hill; the weariness of their neurosis becomes greater than the threat of their fear, and so instead they start to actually face their fears. And really it’s not so much out of bravery as it is out of weariness, out of the desire to experience something different than the rock they’ve chained themselves to. The comfort zone of their rolling their rock up continually back up the hill life has become a dead zone.

But how much better would it have been to have begun from the realization that we are alone, that we are lost, that we are forlorn? How much life could have been not wasted? It was just a matter of the weariness getting big enough. It was just a matter of the weariness becoming big enough that it was more cumbersome than what it was originally intended to save and insulate the person from.

So that’s the position we’re all in. Continually rolling our particular neurotic tangled rock up the hill again, and again. And again. And our culture offers us an abundance of potential distractions and anesthetics—means of distracting and anesthetizing/numbing ourselves—Internet, 4G cell phones, books, movies, television, shopping malls and centers, pornography, drugs, alcohol, bars, restaurants, even religion. All of these can be used as means of occupying our thoughts and taking our mind off of what we most fear and what seems to hold no solution.

So how much better is it or would it be to cut to the chase and begin from the realization that life is suffering, that we are alone, to begin with despair, and to really face that, instead of always running from it and trying to avoid it? Why not try to get the pain out of the way first? Yes, of course, facing life honestly and directly may be like taking a “headlong dive into a bottomless bucket of shit.” It may indeed be like going down a rabbit hole of despair that has no end. It may be the equivalent of getting sucked into a psychological black hole. But apparently some people *have* taken the journey, some people have gone before us. And what they have to tell us is that there is a bottom to the bucket, the rabbit hole doesn’t go on forever, there is something worthwhile and even better and more beautiful and joyous on the other side of our fears and despair.

So that’s the choice we’re all faced with: red pill or blue pill. Deny reality and live in our own little fantasy worlds, believing whatever it is we want to believe—and then searching for others who share our particular peculiar version of neuroticness and have a penchant for the same anesthetants and distractions that make up our neurosis. Or start facing reality—whether out of boldness or out of weariness from the alternatives—and see who else, if anyone, we meet along the way . . . .

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You can choose to connect to people…despite the aching, droning truth that in the end, you are alone. It just feels better to share a laugh, doesn’t it? Laughing alone is the stuff of lunatics (more often than not). . . . So…we all have these new toys to communicate with. Nothing has changed, really. We are still alone AND we still have the choice not to be.”

That’s the question—do we really have a choice in not being solitary? Can we ever escape the prison of ourselves and find some real deep and lasting connection or communion with another human being? Certainly we can meet up with others who are opting to distract and anesthetize themselves in a way similar to the way we are numbing and distracting ourselves—and we can doll this up and call it “connecting.” But I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t call it that: I would call that level of relationship or connection an “acquaintanceship,” because two such people haven’t met and connected with each other from their core: they’ve met and connected with each other from their periphery, from their particular neurosis.

And I suppose we always have a choice in that—in connecting with people from that place—from the place or level of our neurosis, because the stuff of most people’s neurosis—the stuff that most people use in their distraction and avoidance and denial—is fairly common stuff—bars, TV, dancing, sports, fitness, yoga, meditation (most people use meditation as a way of avoiding /escaping from life and themselves, not as a means of really facing themselves and their demons and their fears/terrors), shopping, book clubs, surfing the web, hiking, “nature loving,” et cetera, et cetera—the vast majority of people seem to participate in these things from the near-side of despair, not the far- or other-side of it. And so at the very least, most people will at least have that in common—that they’re both living in denial; it’s just that the particular mechanisms or means that they’re each employing in their war against reality and suffering may differ.

So can we really choose not to be alone? Can we really choose to connect with people?

I don’t think so. I think we *can* choose to relate to people, to try and understand them and what they are going through. But our success in that will be limited by how well (i.e. honestly, truthfully) we understand ourselves and our own motivations and struggles and underlying fears, and how widely we have lived and thought (and read—what we have read—how many wise and deeply truthful minds we have rubbed up against and wrestled with). These factors will definitely influence how well we can sympathize with others, understand what they’re (likely) going through. So the more we read and think and reflect, and the wider and more broadly we live and the deeper we become, the better able we will be to interact with understanding and compassion with others.

But as far as finding a real live soul mate or someone with whom we can connect and converse deeply and experience a deep and profound meeting of the minds, that seems to require quite a stroke of luck, because it requires that two do deep and well-self-developed souls / persons actually happen upon each other.

But the first step is developing oneself, and that ultimately means ceasing to deny reality and instead learning how to face it and ourselves directly and heroically.

“Our relationship with our deeper selves is the foundation upon which we achieve any notable communion with others.” – Bill Plotkin

The extent that we get real with ourselves and with life in general, to that extent will we be able to connection deeply and genuinely with others—but we will also find ourselves that much more alone / isolated / unrelate-able—strangers in a strange land—a very strange land, what T. S. Eliot refers to as a wasteland, wandering and wading through all of the varieties of ways that we humans have created in order to distract ourselves and buffer ourselves from raw existence.

“When two people relate to each other authentically and humanly, God is the electricity that surges between them.”

– Martin Buber

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Short Term Life Review


So how has life been for you the past 2 or 3 months?

How have the last 2 or 3 months of your one precious little life been for you?

How about for the past several years?

How is your life behind what may be the bars of the latest cage you’ve made for yourself?

Are you offended by the suggestion that you might be living in a prison of your own making?

The Panther” – Rainer Maria Rilke (my rendering)

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

His seeing, wearied and vacant from being locked away
behind bars for so long, 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.

That’s what Rilke is suggesting here . . . that each of us is more less living like this panther—that we are each living a “muted” life, a life that’s unnecessarily losing its color, because the way in which we live actually stunts our courage and atrophies our will and make us more afraid (hence imprisons us; we unwittingly imprison ourselves).

We go for comfort, we go for safety, we go for security, we go for easy, we go for the easiest side of the easy, and we do so at every turn, and we do so at every turn, and we never grasp what, on a long enough timeline, this does to us, which is to say, what we unwittingly do to ourselves.

We live far away and remote from anything that daily requires us to act courageously or in a fiercely determined way. We live far away from God, from real Love, from death, from anything that requires and nurtures and forces our courage and wisdom. We live and love remote from these things. And so we do these things badly, very badly. We live the mysteries and bigger questions of life badly, very badly, immuring ourselves from them, hardly giving them even the faintest hint of a thought.

And so we live asleep, blind, partially born, dead, mechanically, reactively, sleepwalking. Pick your figure of speech, because they all equally apply.

And at best we may make occasional laughable attempts (truly, how can we call them laughable in light of all of the senseless destruction we leave behind in our wake?) to break out and flee our self-made prison, but our attempts at escape are invariably misguided, misdirected. Comedies. Exercises in self-humiliation and personal disintegration.

The only thing in life that will bring us freedom is freeing ourselves from what’s worst in us—the prison of our own fears and aversions (“in the end, it is our unshieldedness on which we depend” – Rilke). As long as we insist upon always trying to absolve ourselves and shift the blame to our surroundings, and then trying to break free from our external surroundings (geographic cure), yet insist on packing and taking our same sad self identical to the one we fled with us, nothing will have changed; we’ll just end up making another cage for ourselves in our new home temporarily elsewhere (until we get restless and need to flee again).

Sometimes life isn’t just a series of bars, of bar upon bar, penting in our gaze, limiting our sight—and outside the bars, nothing any more; and inside the bars, a wilting self-caged partially alive, partially born creature that runs the same or slightly varying courses away from itself, day after day, because its will and courage have been stunted so much by the accumulated effects of living so avoidantly and uncourageous day after day, year after year, for so long, and so now this once possibly magnificent creature has been reduced to leading a muted life, a life where its existence has been reduced to a series of daily escapes from the truth about itself and its own existence.

Sometimes there’s more to it than just the bars. Sometimes the world is reduced to a series of bars because the world around us is also a series of triggers—thing after thing that triggers us and reminds us how we have failed here or been devastated or hurt here or hurt ourselves and others at this place and then at this place, et cetera. Sometimes it’s not just about playing it safe; it’s about not being overrun and overwhelmed by our own emotions and inner upheaval, so we try desperately to control the world around us, keep out anything that might set us off or unnerve us. Sometimes living in the real world is just too painful. It’s just one useless sadness after another, one more reminder after another of how much life we have wasted out of fear, lack of courage, how much life we have wasted and are continuing to waste by running away from ourselves and from the truth about ourselves. So much wasted life lays around us, so much life wasted because of fear, because we can’t stand facing ourselves. And because we can’t stand facing ourselves and telling ourselves the truth, we double and deepen our misery and our lostness, as well as our honing even more our skills at being avoidant, discursive, afraid, timid, and so life becomes for us a series of bars and escape attempts, followed by a new prison and then another escape, et cetera.

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Even the most courageous among us only rarely has the courage for that which he really knows.” – Nietzsche

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Far more crucial than what we know or do not know is what we do not want to know”. – Eric Hoffer

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Growing up and having real faith and real trust in life means we prefer truth when it hurts us to falsehood when it comforts or profits us.” – Hadrat Ali

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

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Breathe.

What’s going to save you or me from ourselves (from what’s worst in ourselves) isn’t someone or something outside of us. It’s only us; only our self; only what’s best in each of us. It’s that small still part of us deep inside that still recognizes truth and that hasn’t been wounded or corrupted or made neurotic and avoidant and afraid by this world. Our conscience—our true conscience. That’s what will save us each—recognizing it, listening to it, living it. That, and only that. And to fail to recognize this and respect it and listen to it—to spend our lives trying to drown it out or numb and deafen ourselves to it by surrounding ourselves with music and discursive thinking and idle chitchat and other forms of incessant noise—is to waste our lives.

We can’t corrupt our kill our conscience; it’s always in there, alive, whispering, even after we’ve tried again to cover it over, bury it, stuff it down, drug it, drug ourselves, numb ourselves to it, and escape and avoid it. It’s still there, it’s telltale heart still beating beneath the floorboards of our life, telling us in whispers and in dreams that we’re better than this, that we’re braver than what we’re showing, that we’re more Loving, that we already know what the truth is about ourselves if but we would only stop running from it and just once act with courage and beauty.

We each can save ourselves—but it depends on our capacity to recognize the truth about ourselves, to discern true from false, and to listen to this still small voice. —And more importantly it depends on how willing and fiercely determined we are to do all of this. Yes, the irony is very obvious—asking creatures in whom a will now stands stunned to act with fierce determination and courage. And impossibility, is it not? The formula is inalterable and not negiotable: No determination, no change; know determination, know change. If we’re not horrified by our own existence and by how dishonestly and avoidantly and uncourageously we are living and have lived—if we’re not horrified by this and ourselves to the point of retching, to the point of full bodily heaving and nausea—then no change will take place. Whatever emotion we feel short of this—short of being utterly horrified by ourselves—won’t carry with it the escape velocity necessary to free us from the immense gravitational field of habit and the familiarity—however unhealthy—of our current self and all of its, which is to say, our, avoidant and self-deceptive tendencies.

But how can we expect frightened timid creatures—creatures who are afraid of their own negative emotions most of all—to look at themselves so honestly that they well up in guilt and shame and horror over how they’ve lived and what they’ve become and unwittingly done to themselves and made themselves into? Yes, the irony is very obvious.

The vast majority of people are only as good as they are compelled or forced to be. (“Men will always prove bad unless necessity compels them to be good” – Machiavelli, “The Prince,” chapter 23). Otherwise the vast majority of us will always prove bad and we will break down, sell out, betray each other and what’s best in ourselves, overheat emotionally, lie, deceive, self-deceive, avoid, act meanly and icily coldly and hard-heartedly and do whatever we need to with methodical calm (like an assassin) in order to preserve our self, stay in charge, maintain our fragile equilibrium, and stave off being overwhelmed completely by reality, anxiety, and our own emotions.

Life around us doesn’t force our hand or compel us to be very good. We don’t live in a totalitarian regime of philosopher-kings and spiritual warrior princes and princesses where we are forced to overcome our weakness and avoidant tendencies. Rather, we live in a quotidian wasteland of the lowest common denominator, a terrain bereft of any real honor, integrity, Love, maturity, courage. And so time and time again we have no problem proving to be bad.

The reality is that only great necessity—only the constant threat of agonizing pain or impending death—can liberate our spirit and loose the egoism completely ingrained in each of us. . . .

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The sole means now for the saving of the beings of the planet Earth would be to implant into their presences a new organ of such properties that every one of these unfortunates during the process of existence should constantly sense and be cognizant of the inevitability of his own death as well as the death of everyone upon whom his eyes or attention rests. Only such a sensation and such a cognizance can destroy the egoism that is now completely crystallized in them.” – G. I. Gurdjieff

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Let death—and let banishment, rejection, misfortune, and every other thing that appears appalling and terrifying and that you’d rather ignore—be before your eyes daily, but most of all death, and you will never again think anything petty or cowardly or mean, nor will you ever desire anything discursive or extravagant again.” – Epictetus

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

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Do we want to actually change our lives or just talk about it and stay at the level of desiring change but not actually wanting to do the work, feeling the fear, sweating the inner bullets, and going through all of the emotions and real-world rigors that real change requires?

Do we want to actually change our lives tangibly for the better or just talk about doing so and stay trapped in the infinite loop of always planning and talking but never actually doing?

How sincere are we? Do we really want to wake up from the dream? Or do we just want to be like all of those inwardly dead and asleep people and just talk about it and think about it and theorize about it and just stay asleep and dream and fantasize and intellectually masturbate and self-medicate to thoughts of waking up? . . . “Oh how wonderful life will be when I wake up! oh how much more uninterrupted joy, how many more hearts and flowers and unicorns there will be! Everyday will be full of rainbow-colored horsies and chocolate frosting!”

That’s the question: how sincere are we? Are we truly motivated—truly horrified by ourselves? Or are we just a little bit unhappy and waking up sounds like something interesting to explore and ponder?

Only death can wake us up. Only death can jar us and rouse us to action. Only death is big enough and horrifying enough to put the horror that we will see when we look honestly at ourselves and how we’ve lived—escapistly, avoidantly, timidly, meanly, dishonestly—into perspective and keep it at a manageable and workable and motivating level. If looking at ourselves honestly is the biggest source of horror and anxiety in our life or that we’ve experienced, then we’ll never do it; we’ll never scale that tower. But if we’ve recognized or gone through something even worse—if something even more immense, like honestly and deeply contemplating our own mortality, has already popped our cherry—then looking at ourselves honestly and courageously shouldn’t be nearly as frightening and overwhelming.

Most people don’t have the level of being (differentiation) necessary to support sustained contact with reality or with what’s best in them. But contemplating and recognizing the brute fact of our own death is what frees us and gives us perspective. Facing our fear of death, becoming more and more cognizant emotionally as well as intellectually that we will die, that life is short, that nothing is certain, and then taking up permanent residence and dwelling in these and similar thoughts, is what gives us the strength to face ourselves and live as true spiritual warrior. It is what gives us strength indefatigable.

It’s ineluctable: the further we live away from death and from thoughts of our own and others’ mortality and fragility and life’s fleetingness, the more we live badly and timidly and necessarily self-deceptively. To be an honest human being means without exception to face the fact, in fear and trembling, of our own and others’ mortality, and not in some sterile abstract way, and to do so each and every day and let ourselves be overwhelmed by it, perturbed by it, horrified by it, assaulted by it. And then to live and make choices each day in light of this greater reality.

Almond Trees in Full Bloom” – Rilke

(Almond tress in blossom—the most we can achieve here is to know ourselves fully and fearlessly in our earthly appearance.)

I always gaze at you in wonder, you blessed ones,
at your composure, -you who know
how to bear and delight in our transience,
your perfect demeanor in the face
of our vanishing beauty.

If only we knew how to truly blossom
we would race out beyond all lesser dangers
to be safe in that single great one.

To the extent that we live blindly, asleep, ignorant of and walled off to our mortality, we will also have to live in many other ways and in many other areas of our life ignorantly, blindly, impulsively, avoidantly.

The two things are inexorably interconnected. Know death, know honesty. No death, no honesty. And if we don’t know death, if we deny it, then we not only avoid death and anything related to death and dying, we also avoid ourselves, life, Love, growing up, and instead we basically live and love like a coward, dying a thousand little deaths in order to spare ourselves the big one, and having to continually concoct and tell more and more lies to keep the old ones viable. Exhausting, isn’t it? And a completely waste of life. Living in the shadows, behind bars in a self-made self-imposed cage is an utter waste of life.

And this basic dichotomy, this fundamental dilemma or position in life that we each must stake out—either consciously or by default and avoidantly—can be thin-sliced in a myriad of ways. . . . For example: we can look our own and other’s relationship to difficulty and learn a great deal about ourselves and others. We can learn how deeply internalized a person’s life principles are versus how susceptible to stress and anxiety a person is and how easily he or she will break and sell out and loose her inner demon of self-protectiveness and emotional self-preservation on others in order to avoid feeling the fear, anxiety, guilt, shame, tension, et cetera.

The barrier between who we are and who we want to be and can be at our best isn’t simply knowledge, if it were, then the world would be full of fully awake and virtuous people. Rather the great barrier, the great divider that separates the psychospiritual pretenders from the real contenders, and that separates each of us from our best self, is suffering, plain and simple, and in all its raw and distressing and unpleasant and overwhelming forms. The barrier or membrane between us and waking up is one of intense pain, despair, anxiety, panic—fully feeling these as they arise (“fully feeling the fear”) and doing what ought and needs to be done anyways.

And a map of all of this won’t take us anywhere on its own. And a map of all of this, no matter how accurate and detailed, certainly won’t take us there effortlessly or painlessly. The map will only lead us to those pains that are essential and that must be faced. The map will only help us avoid getting even more and more lost.

Midway in the journey of my life, I awoke to find myself lost in a darkened forest where the true path had been wholly lost. How wild and dense the woods, how overgrown and frightening, how difficult and dark. The right path was no longer anywhere to be seen or found. I was truly lost. How afraid I was. Dying could have hardly have been thought worse or more terrifying. I was in the middle of the road of my life, and I could not say when or where I had entered the wood or at what point or place I had abandoned the true way, the one straight and direct path. I was so full of sleep. I had fallen asleep somewhere. I was in the dark in a wild and frightening place where the sun was silent.” – Dante, from the beginning of “The Inferno” (my rendering)

Again, a good map will only show us the way out. We will still have to stand on our own and we will still have to cover the distance and suffer our fair share of fear and trembling. . . .

No matter how much you change, you still have to pay the price for the things you’ve done. So I got a long road.” – from the motion picture “The Town

The cost of admission to experiencing a much happier and more integrated and truly loving way of life is pain. There’s no way around it. It’s what separates the pretenders and daydreamers in life from the real contenders—those who truly can come more to life, live more mindfully and awake, and live and love not as slaves to themselves and their fears, but as gloriously self-conquering heroes and poets. There will be guilt, there will be shame, there will be despair, there will be black moods and black days, there will be suffering.

If there isn’t, then we’re not really waking up and giving birth to our real self; instead we’re going more to sleep.

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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 and even life as something alive and will himself sound the depths of his own being and draw his actions from there.
( – Rilke, “Letters to a Young Poet,” letter no. eight)

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

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

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

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

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

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It should be clear at this point that just as crucial and essential as our capacity to recognize the truth is and will be in helping us to heal and grow and hence “save” ourselves, our capacity to cope emotionally with truth and reality will be essential and requiring addressing. Because it’s not just about how willing we are to see the truth about ourselves and others and life. Rather, it’s about how willing we are to cope with it emotionally—how willing we are to take the hit, bear the full brunt of the narcissistic injury, the laceration to our pride and comfort and tenuous sense of security and fragile sense of self. Peck defined mental health as an ongoing dedication to reality regardless of the cost emotionally to ourselves. Meaning, our own emotional comfort and tolerances for stress cannot be the determining factor (limiting belief) in how much of life and truth we bite off—we can bite off or we ought to bite off. When it comes to truth, our eyes have to be bigger than our stomach—bigger than what we can take in and digest emotionally. We have to be gluttonous toward the truth, let ourselves be overwhelmed by it, flooded by it, fall to absolute pieces because of it, if that’s what’s in the cards for us. Because every bit of truth about ourselves that we spare ourselves or put of for some future imaginary tomorrow when we think will be strong enough for it, leaves more and more room now for more lies and for further dishonesty to take root in us. More weeds, more rocky soil. If we’re not getting busy saving ourselves, then we’re getting busy further damning ourselves—we’re just making more and more room in our life where fear and self-deception can take root and enter and reenter and cover over our still small voice of conscience and love—that small part of us that recognizes truth and thrills to it and aspires heroically to it—irrespective of the consequences to ourselves.

What Peck is telling us by defining mental health as an ongoing dedication to truth and reality irrespective of the emotional cost to ourselves, is that we are stronger than we think we are. How strong or not strong we think we are is what gets in the way of revealing the truth about how strong we actually are or could be if we just once had the courage to act bravely and beautifully just once and get outside of our own heads and let what wants to happen to us happen to us—if we did this, it would in all likelihood show us that we are each stronger than we think. That what limits us each more than anything else is our own minds, our own preemptive apprehensions, our fear of fear, our own fear of being overwhelmed, our own fear that we’re not strong enough. If we just had the courage to get out of our way and get out of our head and let life press us to the test, we’d see—and we’d see differently afterwards because of it—for having acted just once with courage and beauty—that alone nudges our level of being up a bit, and increases our level of differentiation. . . .

Gurdjieff said that people won’t change or grow or wake up until they are horrified about the truth of who they are and how they’re living. It’s only the truth and being fiercely dedicated to it and fiercely determined to listen to it and hear it and withstand the perhaps oftentimes fierce leveling blows it strikes to our comfort and pride and self-deceptive self-image that will set us free—you will know the truth and the truth will set you free. For most people, truth, reality, is too tough and too rigorous of a subject matter to cope with emotionally—the truth about themselves, their life, their possible place existentially in the universe in the grand scheme of things—these ideas are too overwhelming, too disorienting, too stressful to consider fully and honestly. And so in order to protect themselves, most people have to do two things: they have to dramatically cut back and limit how much of life, themselves, their actions, their motives they’re willing to see and take in and consider and reflect upon (which means in general that they must live a more superficial and distracted life where they never really have any “free time” to think about these things—these things that they actually have no interest in thinking about because they are so

And secondly they have to start lying to themselves, deceiving themselves, bullshitting themselves, spinning their own behaviors, telling themselves all sorts of rationalizations (rational sounding lies); basically they have to corrupt themselves, avoid truth, light, reality, and cripple themselves, make themselves even more unfit for life, cage themselves up in a myriad of ways, a live like Rilke’s “Panther.”

For the vast majority of us, our weaknesses will always be the best predictor of how much we can grow and wake up in life. In love, the person who loves the least controls the relationship. In regards to ourselves and our own relationship with ourselves, it will be what’s worst in us that will run and hijack the show, not our strengths.

Unless. . . . unless we get so fed up with ourselves, so fiercely determined, we cut off all ties with all of the lies in our past and live only and only in the truth, like Jim Carrey’s character in Liar, Liar, or Jeff Bridge’s character in “Fearless” (I don’t want to tell any lies”).

Death can do this for us. It can end all of our bullshit.

Two people have been living in you all of your life. One is the ego—garrulous, demanding, hysterical, calculating—; the other is the hidden voice of wisdom you have only rarely heard or attended to.” (Sogyol Rinpoche, in “The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying”) And death will lay bare these two voices, these two aspects of our being, and finally fully expose ourselves to ourselves for what we truly are. This is judgment day—when we finally get to see ourselves fully revealed for who and what we are, and either suffer the final and eternal damnation of being horrified by ourselves and what we’ve done in life and how timidly and avoidantly and deceptively and meanly we have lived, or when we will see ourselves as we are, with love and pride, like a proud parent looking upon their child who has succeeded in some hard-fought and long pursued endeavor. That, the latter, is heaven.

– – – – – – – – – –

So what do you think the last 2 and 1/2 months—the past 14 years—have been like for me if thoughts like these no longer phase me. How much of my own and the world’s horror have I likely had to take in to no longer be phased or overwhelmed by such thoughts—by thought that most people would consider too heavy or depressing or grim or glum? To me, these thoughts are the easy part. The hard part is how to help bring myself and others to the point where we’ll actually live them and translate them into action.

As I wrote elsewhere, several days ago, for most of us, by the age of thirty, we have lost most of our psychological plasticity and our character has set like plaster, and will never soften again.

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 we consistently bail out and opt for the easy way out (the path of least resistance, whatever partially-baked solution most seems to promise some gain of immediate gratification and or tension-relief) of whatever sticky situation we’ve put ourselves in, 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 with even more skill and tenacity, and our fears and insecurities and weaknesses (what’s worst in us) will direct us with even greater skill into all sorts of even more debilitating dilemmas, crises, and calamities that are of our own making, that are self-chosen, that we have brought upon ourselves and those around us who we purport to “love” and “care” about because of our own highly honed and highly-toned avoidant and self-protective tendencies.

And in order for us to find ourselves at all bearable to live with in such a condition, we will have to become very, very proficient at lying to ourselves, very, very skilled at deceiving ourselves, at avoiding by any means necessary the truth about ourselves.

We will have to divorce ourselves completely and perhaps irrevocably from any realistic sense or assessment of ourselves. We will have to take up full-time residence in a full-fledged fantasyland.

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“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”)

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Unless—unless—we have the courage to enter into a very honest and remarkably truthful conversation with ourselves—or to enter into such a conversation with another, a friend, a therapist, a guru. If we have the courage and willingness and desperation to write tender, agonizing, explicitly honest and probing letters to ourselves about ourselves out of sheer frustration, exhaustion, horror, and then read these letters back to ourselves and see—face—withstand see ourselves for what we are and bear the full force of our own words staring back at us, there is hope for us. But if we cannot do this—converse in someway honestly and deeply with ourselves—or with another about ourselves—then we will never change. Never. —Or at least not until it’s too late—not until we’re on our deathbed or trapped inescapably in a plane plummeting to the ground—in which case it will be too late, because we will have wasted our lives, wasted our time here on earth, avoiding ourselves, protecting ourselves emotionally, deceiving ourselves and others; we will have been nothing more than just another confirmed troubled guest that darkened the earth during his or her brief time here.

The hell to be endured after this life that theology tells us about is no worse than the hell we make for ourselves and others in this world by habitually fashioning our character in the wrong way and unleashing it—which is to say—ourselves—on the entire world.

The City” (That We Each Are) – C. P. Cavafy

You said, “I will go to another land,
I will go to another sea.
Another city will be found,
One better than this.
My heart, like a corpse, is buried.
How long must I remain
In this (self-made) wasteland?
Wherever I turn here, wherever I look
I see the scorched and blackened ruins of my life
Where I have spent so much time
Wandering and wasting away
.”

You will find no new lands,
You will find no other seas.
The city you are
and constantly trying to flee from
Will follow you everywhere.
You will roam the same streets elsewhere
Age in the same neighborhoods
Grow gray in the same houses.
Always you will arrive again and again
At this same doorstep
In this same city.
Do not hope for any other.
For there is no ship for you,
There is no road.
As you have destroyed your life here
in this little corner,
you have ruined it in the entire world.

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“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. . .”

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Who sits down and writes and journals and has conversations like this with themselves? Who can emotionally cope with having such a conversation with oneself—a conversation where we will fucking hate the answers—a conversation of that honesty and depth and truth? Who is brave enough or daring enough or exasperated and desperate enough (has hit rock bottom and doesn’t have still some shred of pride that prevents us from admitting so) or horrified enough to risk this honest and transparent of a conversation and not let oneself lie to oneself? Who can emotionally cope with having this raw of a conversation with another?

It’s easier to have conversations where we just bullshit ourselves with ourselves, where we just feed ourselves (delude ourselves with) the facile easy answers that we want to hear, and ask slushy softball type questions that we can go to town on and have a heyday with. Who doesn’t, when they come to talk to themselves or journal and stand in front of their emotional and psychological mirror, in some form ask of themselves, “Mirror, mirror, on the wall, show me all of my good points, make me feel good.” Who doesn’t do this? Who wants to see themselves warts and all, take in their full potential and actual loveliness as well as horror, the good and the bad and the wretched?

What must life get to for you for you to be this honest with yourself? What must it have been like for me to have gotten me to this point?

What will it take you for you to get even more serious about living more honestly and courageously? Will it take finding a lump? Will it take a near-car accident? Will it take the undeniable hardened crushing steel of an actual accident to wake you up, to remove the cake of scales from your heart and eyes? Will it take a diagnosis? Will you have to be in a doctor’s office and hear him or her tell you that there’s nothing they can do, that you have only months to live? Will you have to be struck down by news like that and turn white and ashen and ghostlike before you will actually wake up and get serious about actually inhabiting your life and being fiercely honest with yourself? Is life for you destined to be wasted and misspent and just one big bullshit-fest until something catastrophic and inescapable seizes you and leaves you no wiggle room? Or will you always find wiggle room no matter what and opt to turn white or faint or go numb or go into shock or deny the truth, deny reality, right up until and through your last breath?

Becoming Who We Truly Are By Living the Biggest Question of Them All


Living the Biggest Question of Them All

It is only in the face of death that man’s real self is born.” – Augustine

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At every moment you choose (and thus create or reinforce) yourself. But do you really choose your self? Body and soul contain a thousand possibilities out of which you can build many I’s. But in only one—which you will never find until you have excluded all those superficial and fleeting possibilities of being and doing with which you toy out of curiosity or wonder or greed or comfort or need for security, and which hinder you from casting anchor in the experience of the mystery of life—is your true ‘I’.” ( – Dag Hammarskjöld, “Markings,” pg. 10)

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In the last analysis, it is our conception of death which decides our answers to all of the questions life puts to us.” ( – Dag Hammarskjöld, “Markings,” pg. 138.)

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Even the most courageous among us only rarely has the courage for that which he really knows.” – Nietzsche

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Far more crucial than what we know or do not know is what we do not want to know.” – Eric Hoffer

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People who are afraid of living are also especially frightened of death.” – Médard Boss

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We are the choices we make.

We become the choices we make. It’s not primarily our thoughts that make us who we are, because for many of what we think and what we do are not congruent or related; it’s our choices, our behaviors that most define us and makes us who we are.

Our truest self is formed in relation to the big questions in life—not just how honestly we choose to formulate and pose these questions, but how honestly and deeply we choose to attempt to answer these questions with our life and in our daily actions, how courageously we choose to live these big questions while we are trying to grow and live our way into an answer and being capable of receiving and sustaining some semblance of a real answer.

If we manage to do all of this with integrity (integration), honesty, and courage—meaning there’s no great gulf or dissonance between our thinking and doing, our thinking and actual life practice—then we will arrive at a very valid and authentic version of our deepest and truest self.

But if we fail to ask the questions and we live our lives asleep or as if we’re dreaming—if we live discursively and in the shallows of life, playing hide and seek with death and with thoughts and an awareness of our own mortality, avoiding cemeteries, eschewing thoughts of the origin and fate of the universe, and the fate of those we love and their fragility and mortality—as well as our own—then we will pass our life like in a dream and sleepwalk through our lives and never get a sense of who we really are or could be or should have been.

The tranquility and contentment of a well-born spirit and the resolution and assurance of a well-ordered soul should never be attributed to a person until he has been seen to play the last, and beyond a doubt the hardest, act of this play. In everything else there may be sham: fine reasonings of philosophy may be mere posturing in us; our trials by not testing us all the way to the quick and pressing us all the way to our last limits, may give us a chance to keep our face and stay falsely composed and proud. But in our last scene, between death and ourselves, there is no more pretending, no more posturing. We must talk plainly, show what is good and clean at the bottom of the pot, if anything—

‘At last true words surge up from deep within our breast,
The mask is snatched away, reality is left.’—Lucretius

“That is why all the other actions of our life must be tried and tested by this act. It is the penultimate and master day, the day that is the judge of all others. ‘It is the day,’ says Seneca, ‘that must judge all my past years.’ And as Cicero says, ‘to philosophize is nothing else but to prepare for death.’ I leave it to death to test the fruit of all of my studies and learning. We shall see then, at that moment, whether my reasonings have come from my mouth or from my heart.”

(Montaigne, “The Complete Essays of Montaigne,” pg. 55.)

Or if we do try to ask and ponder the big questions, but we do so in a very timid or frightened or dishonest or self-deceptive way, clutching for whatever answer or convention seems to hold the promise of alleviating our anxiety, quelling or soothing or staving off our growing uneasiness and panic, we will also arrive at a very illegitimate version of our self—a false authentic self—not the truly authentic self arrived at by “living the questions” openly and honestly and courageously, in fear and trembling, but the falsely or inauthentic authentic self arrived at by our avoidance, by our need for answers that settle us and relieve our stress and make us feel good and in control.

The sole means now for the saving of the beings of the planet Earth would be to implant into their presences a new organ of such properties that every one of these unfortunates during the process of existence should constantly sense and be cognizant of the inevitability of his own death as well as the death of everyone upon whom his eyes or attention rests. Only such a sensation and such a cognizance can destroy the egoism now completely crystallized in them.” – G. I. Gurdjieff

The end will come no matter what. No matter what. It cannot be avoided. We each owe a death. There’s no getting out of playing that scene, unless we’re completely obliterated in the middle of the night by some enormous piece of space junk while we sleep. Loss is the long and the short lesson in life. Everything burns, everyone dies, everything is on its way to somewhere else. The cells that make us up and make up those we love and cling to are just temporary assemblages of borrowed molecules—combinations of atoms and empty space. Death alone is certain. It is unavoidable, inescapable. Everyone dies. Ourselves included. Beginning with the end—with that end—deeply in mind is the only way of living that makes sense and that can actually help awaken us and raise our level of self-awareness and self-honesty (help us cut through our own crap and our smaller self’s avoidant-escapist life/reality-denying tendencies) as well as raise our level of differentiation or “being.”

The point of all of this is simple: we don’t need to acquire any more knowledge. We just need to become more honest and courageous in regards to what we already know and start putting it into practice and living it. Because unless we translate into action and live/exhibit/practice what we “know,” we’re just deluding ourselves—and others—we’re being a fraud, a genuine fake, a false self. We really don’t know what we think we know and what we talk about. The only real knowledge is knowledge which acts, which shows up in our behavior: that’s where we show what we truly are and what we really know. We can say that we’re spiritual and talk about living courageously and living and loving as if we’re dying or as if we’re running a two-minute drill with our lives, but the proof is in our behaviors. When the moment to act and live a bit more dangerously, with more force and clarity, with more intensity and courage and resilience comes, do we just talk about it, or do we heroically and lovingly stretch ourselves taut—or let ourselves be stretched taut—across some great new experience or unknown or intense situation that promises us something real and possibly expansive and transformational? (—if we can manage to hold onto ourselves and stay in the heat of the moment and stay the course and not implode and run) Are we just talkers and self-deluders forever scheming and pretending and talking about becoming braver and running away less from what frightens us but still sitting around on our “buts”; or are we actually doers and putting the wheels in motion to actually do and live what we claim to know and take the appropriate leap and lessen the gulf or dissonance between what we think and what we do.

Get busy loving or get busy dying. That’s the choice we each have every day. Waste another day of life by living without love and courage and openness and honesty and not facing what frightens us—especially in ourselves. Or open our heart, our mind, look honestly at ourselves, really see ourselves as we are, without blinders, favoritism, softeners, and sit down and write and have that long honest heartfelt tender conversation with ourselves on paper so that we can see our own thoughts and words staring back at us.

So many people say that they know life is short, that they know that everyone including themselves dies, et cetera et cetera, yadda yadda yadda, but then they proceed to refute that so-called knowledge at every turn by how they live and especially by how they show up to the intense moments and interactions in their life. They live and love as if life goes on forever, as if tomorrow has been promised and assured them—as if many tomorrows, in fact, have been promised them. And so what do they really know? Nothing really of worth; what they know is how to bullshit themselves and pretend to be other than what they are, because what little they are is uninspiring and banal, inwardly empty and barren and flat-souled. And so they live as if they have never been born, because in truth, they haven’t yet be born and become who they authentically are or are supposed to be.

And living life like a two-minute drill is not about living irresponsibly, damn the consequences. It’s about living with greater clarity, focus, intensity, enthusiasm, passion, and taking a few more (wise and loving) risks, opening the heart more and self-protecting and avoiding the full flow of life less. It’s about living as you will have wished you would have lived and loved more often when you get the heart attack or hear the diagnosis cancer. It’s about having—and maintaining—perspective—holding onto our center, our big mind or overview, keeping the end in mind, keeping our eye on the prize, not getting hijacked by our amygdala or reptilian brain and our fears and insecurities and anxieties. It’s about being able to take the leap when the opportunity presents itself, and not just talk about it and then backing away from the edge of the plane when it’s our turn to psychologically and emotionally skydive into the unknown, to feel the fear and do it anyway.

Thank You, My Fate” – Anna Swir

Great humility fills me,
great purity fills me,
I make love with my dear
as if I made love dying
as if I made love praying,
tears pour
over my arms and his arms.
I don’t know whether this is joy
or sadness, I don’t understand
what I feel, I’m crying,
I’m crying, it’s humility
as if I were dead,
gratitude, I thank you, my fate,
I’m unworthy, how beautiful
my life.

This is living and loving as if one’s dying. This is what we’re all capable of, and what so many of us when we get the terminal diagnosis will wish we had done more often in our prime while we still had time.

(And in truth, we’ve all already received the terminal diagnosis if but we would drop our denial and realize it. We’ve already each received the terminal diagnosis. And so much of personal growth is about looking at the myriad of ways in which we do not allow this knowledge to reach critical mass in us now while there’s still time.)

If a person claims to know a lot about life and death, living and loving, and shows up to a situation with another person who also claims also to be at a similar place in life psychologically, spiritually, but then one of the two lapses into pettiness, superficiality, vanity, avoidance of living the questions, backslides out of fear into a “life goes on forever” mentality and way of thinking, then doesn’t that shows that that person really doesn’t know that life is short and insecure? Doesn’t that mean that this person is essentially an imposter, a pretender, a genuine fake, a fraud, a poser? (Tough words, yes, to be certain; but why use softeners and delude ourselves about it? Life is too short.)

We don’t “own” something—we don’t own a particular trait or self-capacity—until we can exhibit it or perform it under fire, under pressure, in times of great stress and duress; unless we can take the leap from talking about it to actually doing it and living it. Then we actually know it. Difficulty—being stress-tested—shows us what we are—it shows us who we are, in the raw, free of all of our finery and pretensions and errant thoughts and fine but delusive stories about our self. And this self-knowledge is real self-knowledge. It’s the real stuff. And it’s the type or degree of self-knowledge that most of us want no part of because of how difficult (unsettling? eviscerating?) it is to stomach, how much it wounds our pride, vanity, ego; how bad it makes us feel, how inadequate, how out of control, insecure, undone it leaves us. It’s not comfortable stuff. It’s highly unsettling and emotionally charged and emotionally taxing and anxiety-provoking stuff, which is why so many people shy away from it. But they do at the cost of wasting their lives in the meantime, in living as though asleep or at best half alive. The end will come no matter what. The question is whether we will get a diagnosis and thus get the opportunity to actually run a two-minute or six-month drill with our life and thus get to live and apply all of the new wisdom and insights and fearlessness that we have learned now that the scales of self-deception and Maya have fallen away (or been forcibly removed) from our eyes; or whether the end will come so suddenly and without any wiggle room or hope of reprieve that we get no time to make any changes to our life—the blood vessel pops, the heart stops, the car or plane crashes, and we’re gone. Our one little life is over. No second chance, no reprieve, no great awakening that we can live and share and pass onto to others, no time to get down anymore to the heart of the matter and actually live that way, only perhaps an instance in which to try and die that way.

Unbridled narcissism is the principal precursor of psychospiritual illness.

The healthy spiritual life consists of progressively growing out of narcissism. The failure to grow out of narcissism, although extremely common, is also extremely destructive.

The prospect of our death and the process of our dying physically can be one of the greatest stimuli to such healthy growth. They may even be the greatest such stimulus. When psychiatrists talk about injuries to pride, we call them narcissistic injuries. And on any scale of narcissistic injuries, death is the ultimate. We suffer little narcissistic injuries all the time; as a result of those narcissistic injuries, we either become embittered and avoidant or we become more courageous and open and grow. But death is the big one. Nothing threatens our narcissistic attachment to ourselves and our self-conceit more than our impending obliteration.

It is utterly natural that we should fear death and everything that begins to become a reminder of death.

There are two ways to deal with that fear: the common way and the smart way.

The common way is to put it out of our mind, limit our awareness of it, try not to think about it.

The smart way is to face death as early as possible. In doing so, we can realize something really simple; that is, insofar as we can overcome our narcissism we can diminish our fear of death.

It is not an easy journey, but what a worthwhile journey it is. Because the further we proceed in diminishing our narcissism and self-centeredness and sense of self-importance, the more we discover ourselves becoming not only less fearful of death but also less fearful of life. And this is the basis for learning to become more loving. No longer burdened by the need to constantly protect and defend ourselves, we are able to lift our eyes off ourselves and truly recognize others. We begin to experience a sustained, underlying sense of happiness that we have never experienced before.

Again and again all of the great religions tell us that the path away from narcissism and our smaller self is the path toward meaning in life. And this is their central message: Learn how to die. Buddhists and Hindus speak of this in terms of the necessity for self-detachment; indeed, for them even the notion of the self is an illusion. Jesus spoke of it in similar terms: “Whosoever will save his life”—that is, whosoever will hold onto his narcissism and smaller self—”shall lose it, and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.”

(M. Scott Peck, in “The Road Less Traveled and Beyond“)

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You are frightened of death because you have postponed it. We have separated living from dying; and in the interval between living and dying is fear. Living is our daily torture, daily insult, sorrow and confusion, escape and distraction, with the occasional brief opening of a window over enchanted seas. This is what we call living. And we are afraid to die, which is to end this misery. We would rather cling to the known than face the unknown—the known being our house, our furniture, our family, our masks, our false self, our smaller self, our work, our knowledge and little certainties, our fame, our loneliness, our gods—that little empty parasitic thing that moves around incessantly within its own limited pattern of embittered existence.

We think that living is always in the present and that dying is something that awaits us at a distant time. But we have never even questioned whether this battle of everyday life is living at all. We want proof of the survival of the soul, but we never ask how to live—how to live with delight, with enchantment, with beauty, with courage, with grace every day. We have accepted life as it is with all its agony and despair and have gotten used to it, and think of death as something to be carefully avoided. But death is extraordinarily like life when we know how to live. You cannot live without dying. You cannot live if you do not die psychologically to your self—to your smaller frightened conditioned self—every minute. This is not an intellectual paradox. To live completely, wholly, every day as if it were a new loveliness, there must be dying to everything small and timid within us, otherwise you live mechanically, escapistly, and an escapist mechanical mind can never know what love is or what freedom is.

Freedom from the known is death; learn how to die to yourself and then you are living.

(J. Krishnamurti, abridged from “Meeting Life“)