Sunday, May 18, 2008

Amazing Grace

This morning I was watching the movie, Amazing Grace. About a third of the way through, the protagonist sings Amazing Grace. I have heard this song many times, but until this morning, it never had personal meaning for me.

During the past almost 3 years now, I have been struggling with the issue of identity - who I am and who I say I am. This struggle has not been easy as I've been bitter and I've been, although knowing that I love people, not existentially present to love for them. I knew I was bound in some way that I held my values/beliefs and in so doing, I was granted no grace. The things that I have tried before petered out. I was set on the rough seas of the soul, pissed that they were rough - refusing to accept the anger, the hatred and the upset.

At some point I got that I was bitter. I had gotten hints of that but had refused to accept it. Bitterness has always meant not just a little failure, but a huge failure in the striving for something really important. Could it be that my whole life was in the toilet? The thought was not entertainable!

I gratuitously read a review of a story that used the phrase, "when his life didn't work out as he had hoped, he was plunged into bitterness." Ah-hah! That phrase in black and white made the bitterness real. Within a couple hours, I came to accept myself as I was - bitter.

Although the waves on the sea were still big, they were no longer angry. I looked at them more closely and pondered how they worked. I began to postulate cause and effect. "When I accepted this, these results followed." This was the form of my working hypothesis. In my conversations, I would speak these statements: "Because of x, y." I would get agreement from people or not. Either way, I questioned more. I tried out many hypotheses and usually made people or belief systems or courses, accompanied by lots of anger, the cause of my plight. I did it around people who held various aspects of these causes valuable so they would react and give me something to work with.

The linchpin of this whole enterprise, the two premises I was unwilling to give up, was that there is no split between mind and body and that my mind is capable of grasping and making sense of reality. If you do something that is not consistent with your nature as a human being, then you will pay a price in both your consciousness and your body for attempting to manifest values which negate each other. Thus I began to look carefully at the values I pursued and whether they were consistent with each other and whether they corresponded to reality. I began to think that as long as I was so angry, I was placing the primary cause out there when it might be an inappropriate, some-way-inconsistent value that I was pursuing.

One value that I had pursued for many years in the form of courses at Landmark Education was coming to know myself, and consequently people in general. How do I and they really operate? Because this was an important value, I began to realize that there was some part of myself that I was giving up on because I wanted people in my life. I had come to the place where I was taking courses for no reason other than having people in my life to play and grow with. It advanced to the point where I neglected my career to play with these people. What happened and how did this work? That was a mystery worth solving.

Needless to say, the anger and battling with myself and others was the way to learn how this contradiction worked. So, I accepted that I was that way. So what if my friends left me. And, they did. They couldn't handle what my personality and behavior had become. Ironically, the more I accepted myself in this manner, the more fun I began to have. A new energy was coming into my life.

About a month ago I listened to a recorded lecture delivered by Ayn Rand in the mid-60s at the Ford Hall Forum in Boston. She told the story of a brilliant and talented person devoid of motivation to do anything. He was "dead in the water," so to speak. Then I got an email story about a little boy who lost his mom when he was in the first grade. He was so distraught that he no longer cared about school, where he had previously excelled. Finally several years later when a teacher discovered what had happened and granted him some space, he told her of his loss. With that came acceptance and he again excelled.

In both cases, we are talking about soul problems. I have friends who think soul is a bad word to use because it implies the idea that whatever it is extends beyond this life and this body. What baloney. Like every other profound emotion and mental state, be it sacred, worship or whatever, it has been taken over by religion to the point that people do not realize that these are all deeply held human values and emotional responses which exist in response to the real world and prior to a particular story on which to hang them such as a religious worldview.

So, let me state here what I mean. The soul is one's life force, it is the energy that you have to live your life. It is comprised of your ideals and values and whether you triumphed or failed, specifically who you were in the matter of your life and whether you went for it or sold out. If you have stood for your self and acted consistent with your values and reality, then that will register in your soul as energy and an opening to the future. If, on the other hand, you sold out and gave up on an important value, that will register as a loss of energy and a shutting down of your future. The soul is the record book within your consciousness of what you have done to yourself - consciously or unconsciously, knowingly or unknowingly. We all are men of self-made soul because one's soul is unique and only available to the individual. In matters of the soul we are not anti-social, but un-social. The soul is a completely private domain.

Hearing these stories of souls off the track, I realized that the soul is individual, unique and private. It is shown to the world through our being, but no one controls it except us. Man's rational faculty, his reason, is his means of survival. It is through his reason that he gains knowledge, makes choices and experiences happiness. When we take hold of the controls of our souls ourselves - the levers, dials and steering wheel - and apply the universal laws which apply to us because we are a particular kind of entity, namely human, then we build our soul and reap the rewards. If we do not, we get what we get and put up with the results, which can never be happy and will result in a rough and angry sea, if not resignation and death.

In my wanting to have human beings in my life as an end in itself rather than have particular human beings who are an expression of my values and a response to my values, I never discovered that my soul was individual and mine. I left the piloting of my soul to wherever that value took me...I became its slave and lost my power.

Epihany! The seas calmed but ironically there was a new fierce means of power. How is this possible? The resurgence of the life force energy propelled my ship and it no longer depended on the wind.

Now, this is real grace - Amazing Grace!!!

"Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me....
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now, I see."

1 comment:

principlex said...

Via my personal email, I got a reply to this column from a person who had just taken a course which he said dealt with this very issue. I have since corresponded with the leader of the course and am planning a meeting with her. There is a website for the course, but the leader asked me not to publish the link since she is in the throes of rewriting it and re-describing the course. At this point in time, I am fairly certain that I cannot recommend the course. It sounds like New Age/feel good talk to me and which I find ineffective in achieving the happiness that we all seek. I am publishing some of the conversations and issues which arose out of looking at the current website and course description. I am using that material to distinguishing my view from commonly held beliefs about the mind, ego, self, and so forth.

What I write here today is not the same thing I wrote to him in my email. I've used his message as my take off point from which to distinguish what it is I mean from common parlance.

Dear X,

I looked at the website and am here to say that this course may have you feel good for a few days and then whatever you learned or experienced will be gone. How do I know that?

First of all, there is only one Self. There is no Higher Self and Lower Self nor any other degrees of Self. (In psychology, there is a diagnosis for when a person fractures into multiple selves and apparently this course is advocating it or at least basing its theory on it. Don't you find that odd?)

We live in an era that draws highly on religious paradigms and failed psychological theories. There is a big tradition, intellectual and popular, in the West based on the division of the Self. Plato postulated this; religion took it up; Kant revitalized after the Enlightenment got going good and today, all of modern philosophy sources these same ideas. I'm talking about existentialism and postmodernism.

What I am saying is completely different. I am saying that there is no divisions within the Self and that the cause of one's perception of the division is the belief that there is such a thing. Because we believe that, we don't do the work to integrate ourselves. Consequently we end up falling for the kind of thing the course reputedly offers. (I could be wrong about this, but I don't think so since it is too typical and ordinary in its New Age language and approach.)

Man possesses a conceptual consciousness because he is able to go beyond perception and abstract a particular aspect of his perceptions for his focus. This gives rise to ideals and values. The human is not like an animal. An animal automatically goes for what he wants to satisfy his needs. The human being does not have this automatic capacity. Given his type of consciousness, he operates on the basis of concepts which are abstractions. Just as the word chair can stand for any chair, the human being's job is to concretize his governing abstractions in a way that fulfill and express his values and ideals. This is the integrated consciousness and one that is not a mind/body split. We hold the ideal of a perfect relationship with another human being or the perfect political system or the perfect environment or the perfect career or job. Whatever these mean is whatever you assign as the concretes to flesh out these abstractions.

Where people go wrong is that they sell out. They are encouraged in millions of messages and behaviors to sell out. What this generally means in practice is that you forget yourself and choose the company of other people. "It's more fun, isn't it? And, of course, fun is what we want to have since living the way we have been living hasn't been fun." Our daily lives do not manifest our ideals. But, they can.

The work to do is the integration of the ideals with the daily life. And, it is not just holding the daily tasks in a new way so that you can see that they are related.

It follows from several avenues of inquiry: Who are you really - at the bottom of it all? Where do you live really - at the bottom of it all? Can you know anything? How? What is life and what are the parameters that govern it? What is your purpose being alive? Do you have a choice in how this goes or not? After this kind of inquiry, you can then ask the question: What should I do and how do I know that?

Another subsidiary question is: What role do other human beings play in my life - at the bottom of it all?

This work is grounded simultaneously in the general laws that follow from the identity of human being as a species and your particular application of those laws. After you get clear about what is going on, you are ready to design your individual life. What I am saying here is that man must be grounded in philosophy and his philosophy has to be true to reality, otherwise he is going to be unhappy because he will not be able to practice his philosophy and reap the reward of happiness.

Your happiness will not be registered in the great abstractions in the sky nor by the keeper of contributions to humanity. It will be registered with you - in your account book - which I call the human soul. Although we all hate judgment, each of us is the ultimate judge of our Self and there is no escape from this. This is necessary in human nature because a human being is a LIVING being and life is not guaranteed. It is conditional based on the actions we take or don't take and the results we achieve or don't achieve. Thus we are evaluating everything out there and we are evaluating everything that we do to see if we succeeded in achieving our values and living our ideals or not.

I read on the website this: "The Higher Self is always available within you, but there is a jealous guard at the gate - the EGO. It keeps you from embracing your Divine Heritage." That statement is sufficient for me to know that the course will not give you what you want and expect. Why? The EGO is another name for the SELF. The guardian is another name for your important values. Whatever that energy is is precisely the one that has to drive your desire to achieve your values. So come to know it and have it work for you. It must be embraced and learned about if you really want the life you say you want. So long as you do not embrace it and get talked out of it, you will fail and drift into resignation. "What's the use?" asks your motive energy source, your ego.

In my message to Mr. X I then go into the great pull of giving up yourself in order to commune with the other. In today's world depending on today's philosophies, it is virtually impossible to have a strong philosophy which will help you sort this all out. I am not going into it here, but I am here to say that anything dedicated to service of others or contributing to others is a big, big lure that will cause you to lose yourself and lead you to disaster. How this operates is soooo important in today's world. We are perishing in a world of self-sacrifice and don't know how to get it all stopped. As we give up ourselves, we get angry and more angry. Ultimately the world breaks out in war - those erruptions on the social/political body not unlike boils on the human body. And I think that is where we are headed.

My answer: Bolster the self and relieve the pressure to give it up. Essentially the amazing grace of which I speak is that place to stand which provides the power to distinguish between when I am strengthening my Self and destroying my Self.

Here is a message I got from X after I had sent something similar to the above. Since we both had taken Landmark Education, I referred to that in my initial message to him. I left that out of the above message and generalized it to the role of people in our life.
Dear Steve,

Thank you for taking the itme to look at the website, and the depth of your response? The course is focussed on exactly the intent/commitment you are speaking of - our integration with source/god/spirituality, the embracing of Ego (and it's a newly distinguished Ego, not the common understanding) as a natural and necessary component, the power of Self - the integrated, whole, complete expression of self as part of the universal spirit. By the way, it is not a Landmark Course. It's another view; an access to seeing where we allow our thoughts to cut us off from source, to split and separate ourselves and how we can align ourselves to express what we are here to express.
Dear X,


I've now gotten into a conversation about the Higher Self as a phenomenon with another person. This is an idea I've heard of for many years.

He and I are thinking that the idea of multiple selves rather than an integrated consciousness may come from disowning the self that one cannot accept and creating a self that one can accept. (In New Age parlance: The Shadow Self.) If this be so, the whole idea of being accepted or not is a problem which has to be understood from the role that acceptance should or should not play in one's life. This actually falls under a conversation regarding the value of independent thinking and action.

If the course you took brings that all together into one self which I would call you or your ego, then I could hear it.

I think a lot of things are branded with the term ego and then thrown aside. But, all of those things are the Self. The so-called Higher Self is also the ego.

What is the common understanding of Ego?

I'm noticing there is still a lot of new-age-ese in your description.

I would question the idea of our thoughts cutting us off from self. I happen to think that our thoughts are the crumbs on the way to grandma's house where the payoff is located. If you have a unified consciousness, then all of these thoughts, etc. become your friend. They don't cut you off from anything. They are the access to what it is that one is trying to integrate.

Once all of this is accepted, the alignment is half-way done and not so

But, it also takes valid concepts around which to organize how one cognitively holds the self. We can't make up any old thing. You mention Universal Spirit, God, Source as if they have some valuable meaning. My inclination is to throw all of those concepts overboard from the start. I think they are floating abstractions that are not tied to one's life and hence one cannot make them real in one's life. What is you guide or your measuring device that lets you know your Self is healthy and working well? This is one of the critical links to reality and the reality of your Self.

Another thing I notice in your communication is that reason is not mentioned. Are you aware that reason is man's basic means of survival? It is the faculty which separates him from the lower animals and which gives rise to this whole issue. To not mention reason which is central to everything in man is a huge missing. Feelings are derivative and let us know our instantaneous evaluation of something that we have perceived and then interpreted.

I'm persuaded at this point that if a person wants self-esteem, he has to be grounded in the use of his reason and know that through thinking he can learn about reality, choose his actions and produce results which achieve his values. Without grasping that and living that, no amount of courses will help him obtain the life he loves.

I think what is needed is philosophy. Check this out - if you care to.