Last week I talked about the consequence of embracing growth; that once you change who you are, you cannot go back to what you once were. It’s like the movie The Matrix; once you take the red pill you learn of an entire reality once denied you. Unlike the movie, you cannot be put back into the illusion. It’s a one-way journey.
Most people seek out change because of pain and suffering in their current lives. When you are in the dumps, it’s easy to see how anything has to be better. And while personal growth and healing certainly helps us to overcome some of our initial problems, it won’t eliminate future ones. There is no perfect life, and pain is all our lot.
Much of what I learned in my formative years was suited to a certain time and culture. It was hugely limiting in so many ways, and for my type of personality particularly so. This is no one’s fault; I believe I would have fared much better being born to a sensitive, art-loving middle class family rather than a rough and tumble blue collar one, descendants of sod breakers and family-abandoning misfits, but we don’t get to make such choices and where I landed was still a whole lot better than most other possibilities.
Most of this life I spent trying to square who I was inside and those harsh values and beliefs I was taught. Predictably, the result was pretty much a failure. The problem was not completely within that paradigm, and at last I’m finally accepting the fault was neither in myself (long the default assumption), but rather an attempt to mix oil and water.
The consequence of trying to adapt this person to that paradigm led first to a devaluing of the essential self, and the development of an alternative identity better adapted for the impose milieu. The first is innate; the second learned. While learned adaptations can often carry you far, in my case they were too far removed from my internal reality, and always prospered at the expense of who I was.
We live in a culture that declaims, “be yourself”: a homily oft repeated in a parade of Disney films directed towards children. But it’s a lie. The truth is, the “be yourself” is followed by the coda “as long as the result is someone who looks, acts and believes pretty much like everyone else”. We are afraid of difference, and often persecute it wherever it is found.
Most of us have little awareness of the contingency of our beliefs and values, thinking them to be universal and often god-given truths, rather than local and historical anomalies. Those who do not adhere to paradigm of the majority are obviously screwed up, morally deficient, or even criminal, and therefore our persecution of them is justified in the name of community order and safety.
Those who emerge into cultures profoundly different from their internal experience will always know hardship and oppression. I have a young friend from the Middle East who is extremely sensitive and intelligent, and he finds the political and religious environment of his country (including that of even his family) to be extremely painful and oppressive. To survive, he has to adapt a persona and way of being that is anathema to whom he is as a person, and that rift brings with it enormous consequences.
I look back at the many ways in which my own life did not unfold in the ways that I wanted it to, at the lack of meaningful successes. From this vantage point I realise that I could not have been any other way, because throughout all those attempts, the common thread was trying to placate that inner longing using tools I had learned within my context, ones adapted to a completely alien and inappropriate (for me) way of life.
None of us will ever find success living a divided life, with different parts struggling in opposing directions. Most of my life has been spent giving conscious energy to the one vector, while my unconscious actively going in the opposite direction; the consequence has been little movement.
Because we are taught to value our beliefs, because our beliefs become part of our identity, because we are conscious of these beliefs, they become how we deliberately choose our efforts. But when those beliefs are in contradiction to deeper levels of feeling and awareness – especially when those deeper levels are repressed or hidden from what appears to be a hostile world – we are almost doomed to take the wrong path, and be miserable for doing so.
We were never meant to be sundered in such a way. A truth rarely taught is that is the world is big enough for all of us, and for all varieties of being. And if we do not learn this truth, we will learn to suppress our uniqueness. Unfortunately, it is the nature of limited belief systems to not allow for difference or change.
My long experience of working class culture was one where all kinds of bigotry, such as homophobia, racism, and sexism seemed not only acceptable, but expected. The most vile and hateful filth I’ve ever witnessed has been uttered in a working environment.
This is not an essential aspect of these people as individuals, but that by being so hermetic, their culture gives little chance for new ideas and beliefs to take root. Much of what I have heard reflect notions that have changed little from the 18th century.
I’ve met men in which it appears clear to me that they ended up where they are because of teaching, rather than a reflection of their own capacities and limitations. Some of these men are very intelligent and sensitive, and you can see the heavy, heavy weight their life choice has been on their soul.
In the end, we must choose between one and the other when we find ourselves in this kind of conflict. My experience says you will never find a compromise that makes you happy. The first impulse is always to do the easiest or more acceptable choice, but if that’s not the internal one, you will be setting yourself up for failure. The self cannot nor will be browbeaten, and for every step you take away from it, it will drag you back. The gay man might marry a woman and fool his family and friends, but he will never be straight, nor will he ever be fulfilled and happy. This applies to all deep aspects of self.
How can this be when most of us adhere to the assumption that we know ourselves and in control of our lives? I once watched a great TED video, in which the speaker talked about consciousness, and how if the conscious part of our mind could be defined in a space of a cubic foot, the parts we are unconscious of is the size of the Milky Way galaxy. That one foot pulling at a galaxy can never succeed.
Too often this kind of conflict arises out of simple judgement and blame. The self does not square with the belief system, so the self must be to blame. We try to force the self into an inauthentic role because we believe we are flawed, rather than question the metric we are using to judge ourselves.
In cases of such conflict, something has to be surrendered. You cannot surrender the self and survive, and so the only option left is to surrender the incompatible value system, and all those things you hope to maintain or acquire by holding it. Perhaps it’s status or money or respect from others – things we all wish for – but if the cost for these things is your self, you have no choice. You can choose to do like I did and spend most of your life fighting it, only to arrive back to the same choice, or you can accept your difference from the mainstream paradigm and make the best of it.
From what I’ve seen, success happens to people mostly through movement (which can be very different from effort). You do stuff, achieve stuff, and rewards come your way. But if you oppose yourself, you simply cannot get anywhere, and the same disappointments will happen over and again because you aren’t actually moving. In my case I built up a business I hate, doing it as along as I could until I reached spiritual collapse, and here I am again, back at zero. I’ve done this a great many times. What a waste of effort.
I have to surrender those archaic beliefs and values I learned about men, the role of men, masculine values, work and money, because they oppose me and prevent me from being the best me I can be in his life. I simply cannot succeed at the metrics used by so many of my cohorts. I have to utilise and nurture and develop those innate talents and skills that make me unique, and cannot be denied.
The key is acceptance and surrender to the largely immutable and unchanging nature of the self. I have another friend experimenting with this same issue, and you can see the conflict still operating within him, sabotaging him. He too was taught according to traditional working class values, and is attempting to create a life that reflects a deeper truth. But he hasn’t surrendered that old system yet; he’s trying to negotiate with it, make deals. He’s still trying to square who he is with an incompatible belief system, and the results are predictable: marginal success and constant stress. He hasn’t yet reached the point where he gives up and just let the current of his life take him.
There are legions of us out there. Unfortunately, many of us continue fighting until we have nothing left, and are forced to surrender. The perceived cost of capitulation is so high because the values we are given are so absolute. And yet the price all of society pays is enormous; I believe most of the examples of conflict and environmental destruction we see in the world are wrought by those living such conflicts; it’s humanity’s internal battle with itself, expressed in the world.