Sometimes we are confronted with the “bottom line” of our own being…the unequivocal, indisputable, and too often both enervating and uplifting evidence and accompanying insight that we may have been too frightened to acknowledge.
If we have lived much of our “career” and family life in a manner of “genuflecting” to authority, of accommodating the will and interests and attitudes and beliefs of others, regardless of our avowed motive, and come to a point where that modus operandi is no longer ‘working’ for us, we often seek to discern why.
And that process of discernment, while at first appearing to us as analogous to the mechanic looking under the hood of our car to find a burnt-out spark plug, or a dirty carburetor, and then replace the spark plug and/or clean the carburetor, often does not comply with such a simple ‘fix’. In fact, how and why we may have been conducting ourselves, in our purest belief that we are, were and always have been ‘doing our best’ as we were counselled and conditioned to do as youths, those how’s and why’s may have escaped our conscious awareness of the more complex motivations, understandings, beliefs and attitudes that have been marinating, like wine ageing, for decades.
We may have had physical symptoms of diseased organs, broken bones, separated joints, broken teeth, or even defective vision and we may also have spent many nights tossing and turning in an anxious and confused twisting that spoke of a deeper twisting within our minds and hearts. Our thoughts and our feelings, right from birth, have been more significant and more complex that our parents, and even our doctors and certainly our clergy have been telling us. Simple diagnoses, bromides for ‘good behaviour’ and diatribes of hell and damnation if one sinned, were not, and never will be, adequate for healthy and effective parenting, nor for healthy medical practice, and certainly not for adequate or even appropriate religious and spiritual tutelage.
“Impostering” unconsciously as “loving parents” as an effective, ethical and inspiring archetype for nurses, doctors, teachers, and clergy, for starters, is a cultural model fraught with serious dangers. Each ‘client’ in the exercise of that cultural model is necessarily a child, while the ‘professional’ is, by definition and by default, the parent. A healthy culture, however, requires and even demands that those constricting ‘roles’ be excised like the skin of a rocket as it enters space, leaving the incipient adult free to fly like the unburdened space ship, unencumbered by those protective shields. And yet the comfort of knowing “what” one is, as opposed to “who” one is reaps tons of social, political, medical, and corporate/economic endorsement, wages, affirmations, ladders to climb, offices to occupy, targets to design and then strive to reach, awards and rewards a plenty verbal, anecdotal, promotions, family accolades, and even, for some, albs, chasubles, and stoles, for others, epaulettes, stars, stripes and rank.
It comes as no surprise to anyone that the shift from “a what” a “human doing” to a “who” a “human being” is treacherous for the individual and potentially even more threatening to those who “love” him or her. It is not only the shedding of the politically correct, and career-driven behaviours that “go” but also the very foundations of how we see ourselves and the rest of the world is potentially shifted, as are tectonic plates in an earthquake. As Jung reminds us, for the first forty-five years, we concentrate on our extrinsic being, our career path, our capacity and success in climbing whatever ladder we have selected as the one we consider our best opportunity….sometimes even based on something vague like a deep interest or even a passion. In the second half, Jung reminds us we pursue intrinsic, personal, spiritual, perhaps intellectual or religious interests and passions and pathways. It is as if a kind of metaphoric birth/death conflation erupts inside of us, seemingly pushing us to dig deeper into our past, our memories, our childhood, and whatever pain that might be inhibiting our daily psychic sunrise, our evolution/transformation from chrysalis to butterfly in the natural world. And inevitably, such a process of shedding, is an invitation to experience a hint of loss, a kind of death, as if we need to prepare for our ultimate human demise. This experience of shifting from a full-bodied commitment to career, salary, children, travel, furniture, highly rated dining experiences, the best films, plays and books, for some. For others it might be a shift from a senior executive office to a volunteer philanthropic non-profit working in the developing world. For others, it might mean turning from an accounting position to becoming a film-maker, writer, director or even actor. These shifts could also emerge out of failed relationships, failed connections, of which both parties are an integral part.
Of course, the original birth process is and was painful, implicitly and explicitly embracing life-threatening dangers to the mother, and a similar set of risks to the new baby. New ideas, new structures, designs, programs, equations, new medical treatments….all of the plethora of images and examples of change, bring with them a similar set of both literal and metaphorical risks, dangers, threats and complications. And, as creatures of both what we know and what we do not know, clinging naturally to those things we know best, (then transforming themselves autonomously into “fixed facts” and potentially even beliefs), we have a built-in psychological and cognitive ‘instrument’ or mechanism or habit or inculcated scepticism to question, to doubt, to probe and to speculate about whether or even if the ‘new thing’ (or approach, or process, or even the potential viability) makes any sense.
This scepticism is at the heart of science; it walks into the patients’ room with every doctor, whether perceptible or not, especially if the presenting symptoms seem foreign. Doubt is also at the root of not only our perception of the value of a new idea; it also comes to the fore when we meet new people, especially in an age when so much public discourse is focused on distrust, lies, dissembling and narcissistic self-interest. Link a new person with a new idea, to a larger community in which both new people and new ideas are especially troublesome, and the potential negative impact might be inevitable, even if such potential is not part of the polite and superficial discourse that tends to dominate in a culture of anxiety and fear and uncertainty and doubt.
So this two-edged sword known by various names like doubt, ambiguity, scepticism and uncertainty, prods the scientist, the detective, the defence counsel, the doctor, the scholar, the researcher and the anthropologist, and possibly a few theologians and even fewer clergy, all reporters and artists and philosophers, can have the impact of a plague sociologically and culturally and politically. Social change, cultural transformation, even with a company or a specific business, is demonstrably fraught with complexities that only recently have researchers open that ‘pandora’s box’ unpacking the multiple dimensions of the equation, the multiple symptoms, the interaction of many persons and actors on any given ‘stage’…It is not to say that all of our human interactions are merely theatrical, and thereby only play-acting and covered in mascara. Nor is it to say that many of our human observations and speculations and judgements are based on the intersection of a few “images” with the deepest perceptions, attitudes and beliefs. And all of those perceptions, attitudes, and beliefs, themselves, have been gathered and stored and marinated in our consciousness and our unconsciousness during the whole of our physical life.
Some of our conscious awareness of those ‘hidden’ forces, influencers, nudges and perceptions comprise much of our public image, while many also lie under the leaves of our forgotten memories, our buried traumas, our having been ‘stood-up’ on a promising blind date, our having been scorned by an ‘alpha’ mentor/coach/parent who put his/her needs far ahead of our needs at that moment, or our subjection/submission to the will of a tyrant/parent/teacher/clergy/doctor whose own perception of his or her role and responsibility were so deformed as to manipulate him or herself as well as his/her clients/patients.
Something in the language of therapy, known as ‘transference’ as well as another process also from therapy known as ‘projection’ are two of the cultural torrential rivers that flow in and through the many conversations that are conducted in all scenes of our lives. And yet, neither of them is either comprehended, nor openly acknowledged in most of those exchanges. Nor are they meant to be. We are not therapists for each other; we are not doctors or nurses, or teachers, or professors, or especially parents for each other.
And yet….how diligently many of us deploy into roles to spread the “gospel” of whatever institution, school, ideology, guru, or even a unique and selective compilation of teaching and thinking and process “answers” to life’s many problems we have experienced! And as we mature, naturally we find correlations between some of the themes, ideas, processes and learn somethings about how and when to apply them.
Roles do not automatically, like snake skin, slide off, leaving a new and fresh and perhaps even more protective and also highly attractive new skin. There are nights of driving around throughout the dark, trying to decide whether or not to put that envelope in the mail that finalizes a resignation, a retirement, a divorce, a partnership, a business ownership, perhaps even the title to a residence that one has called home for decades. That same night, after the mail has been deposited, the road seems to close in, and the morning seems as if it will never come.
Self-doubt, even vibes of terror waken nerves previously sleeping. What have I done? And whatever that is can never be undone! And what will person x,y,z…think about this decision? And how will this decision impact those people who were counting on me?
And the ride into and through that night can be as frightful as waking at 90 kilometers/hour on the wrong side of a two-lane highway, with a U-Haul trailer dragging behind a sub-compact, filled with furniture, books, typewriter, clothes and a few household items like brooms, lamps, and the usual personal items. Only after a second instance of waking on the left side of a two-lane road, comes the realization that one might be advised to stop, slap his face, take a deep drink of water and even a slow walk around the car, in order to proceed safely until a safe place to sleep comes into view.
And then, after the personal shock, there are seemingly numberless shedding of those previously treasured roles, expectations, personal meetings, agendas, plans and investments of both finances and personal energy that were calculated to enhance both current reality and long-term retirement. If one seemed ambiguous or insensitive to ambiguity previously, there is no mistaking its rearing its ugly head in the darkness.
Where am I going? Why am I doing this? What is it that I am really trying to do? Whom will I encounter who tries to send me back to a former life? What will I say if and when that happens? Am I really searching for ‘who’ I am, or attempting to find a new person, previously unknown and unavailable to me, or so I thought? What if all of those anxieties and failures, insults and defamations of character that I felt like arrows in my back were true? What if those worst enemies of mine could see through me and I merely put up a fortress wall to appear invincible?
It is not so much a search for absolute “correct” answers to these questions that one needs. It is more like opening a new box of attributes, like a personal Pandora’s Box of hidden feelings, memories, experiences and their meaning that now come face to face with the feeling of nothingness, worthlessness and meaninglessness, the kind of feelings the existentialists once dubbed the ‘existential moment’ when one becomes conscious of one’s own meaningless.
Only, different from adolescence or early adulthood, this time, the force of the clap of thunder and the shock of lightning that erupts over the highway send one further into uncertainty, and potentially even despair.
Soldiering on, alone, in the dark, perceiving that all ties to the past have been ruptured, may seem to many quixotic, to some even suicidal. However, there is a part of this narrative that accompanies the millions of crossings of thresholds, of careers, of relationships, of geographies, of ideologies, faiths, and even into that cave of faithlessness. Soldiering on is neither heroic or necessarily fatal. It is a challenge for which no one can know if they are ready, prepared or even suited. There are no maps, except those of the galaxies, the histories, the biographies especially of those whose descendants we are, and the DNA’s genome, the existence of which we can only see faintly in the mist.
It is a walk along a river shrouded in mist, this walk/drive into the night. There may be a few stars, only a few are perceived. There may be the occasional own in a tree by the road; yet only a faint echo of his call is heard. There may even be a few raindrops in this London fog of the mind, the body and the spirit.
And, yet decades later, on reflection, the trip is one that can never be forgotten, in its most intimate detail. It is also one that, somehow infuses and injects a large dose of psychic adrenalin, so potent as to linger for decades, at least in memory, if not in body and mind.
That compliant, politically correct, perfectionist who once heard words like ‘fag’ and ‘jesus’ shouted from afar in contemptuous derision, and whose mind was filled with chants of worthlessness, inadequacy and shame, will eventually emerge from the darkness into a different kind of light. And in that new light, there will be a new kind of perception and consciousness that enables a different kind of strength, less exercised to impress others, less desperate for applause, and far more amenable to being comfortable with being ordinary, which we all are from beginning to end.