Why is following certain standards so hard? Why can we not “whip ourselves into shape”? Why do some behaviors feel impossibly hard to stop, with self-deception always making think we’ve succeeded, only to prove later than we still fail?
I think having standards can be an excellent thing, especially if chosen by wiser people who traveled more of the roads of life than we have. This is purportedly the reason for the Messengers of God sending us moral guidelines to live by: Every pupil needs a teacher.
I think self-conflict comes from not wanting to follow those standards – which is only natural until we understand them — but instead of asking ourselves what we do want, we ignore what we want. We carry on as if we wanted something else that we don’t. This doesn’t eliminate the desire, it only hides it. And once that hiding takes place, we become a being at cross-purposes with itself. Hence, self-deception – a way for other wishes to pursue their ends, despite what we professedly desire.
For the pupil to respect the teacher, he must want to learn what’s being taught. Imagine you had two brothers, and one of them wanted to play while the other wanted to study. Would there ever be effective cooperation between them? Not unless they desire the same thing can they really soar. For this to happen, they must respect each other, talk openly, and come to understand what the other wants most. There must be love, openness, and frank consultation.
Between ourselves and our bodies, our past, our ideals, we can become divided like those two brothers, where one wants what “should be” and the other wants something else. Will it ever work if the one simply tries to dominate the other? Can pure love arise from a being whose behavior is forged by such little hatreds?
The inward battle is the first that must be healed, using the same methods needed for larger battles: openness, listening, understanding, mutual respect, love, acceptance. If we treat ourselves unreservedly with these qualities, we’ll find it natural to treat others that way as well.
Many of our desires are not good for us at all. Society has fed us false messages for so long — and they caught our attention. We want to know if some of these promises are true, even if we’ve “know” they aren’t. We want to know the truth, not just hear about it. This is exactly how children are (which is really what we are), where suppression of such knowledge often leads to just wanting it all the more.
In an atmosphere of real learning, there is no need for deception. After all, what does deception hope to gain? After all, doesn’t every part of us simply want what is recognizes as its personal “best”? And if every part held a certain best in common, wouldn’t all of us, in harmony, seek it? The tongue may want harmful foods, but were a delicious and health food found, wouldn’t all of us rejoice in the experience of it? Why force things that taste terrible upon ourselves, in the name of a health our tastes reject? Why does this happen?
My own take is that, fundamentally, there is self-hatred. We don’t want complete harmony — which means respecting our lower nature — but we take pleasure in feeling dominant over all our wayward parts. It’s not an “I want to kill you” hatred, but an “I wish you were someone else” hatred. The kind of hatred that ruins any friendship. Can we pursue Teachings of love in such an atmosphere? If we want to love, this hatred must be the first to go. Let’s throw a homecoming party for ourselves, and welcome back every part we had rejected, so that all can sit down and discover a commonly wished-for goal. We have to make every part happy for sadness to stop creeping up behind our backs. Within God’s infinite creation, I have faith that such solutions exist. There must other reasons why we do not seek them, or find them.
A house divided pursues each a separate goal, and sabotages constantly the efforts of the rest. Constantly at war, we are always exhausted. Even after a single day, rather than being uplifted by radiant joy — and thus wishing some activity to engage us — we are utterly spent. Television, mindlessness and sleep are our comforts. To a being united in its purpose, however, even if that purpose are not yet “perfect” (we are always learning), such a being will always have energy, time, and the willingness to listen to every part of himself, in order to find the common solution. Isn’t this what is needed for the peace of mankind? So perhaps, too, for the peace of each man.
Hating our slowness, our pettiness, our lack of fulfilling the moral ideals, we start a campaign of self-destruction. We think of it as self-perfection — in terms of the self we hope to become — but truly it is self-destruction, the ruination of the self that we are. We deny our wayward desires, our stray thoughts, our stupidity and naivete. We chastise ourselves for our mistakes; we wreak emotional torment if things go wrong. In this climate of utter unacceptance, we do not really change who we are, we just force a part of ourselves into hiding.
By hiding away our “bad” parts, we create the illusion of success in terms of our moral goals. It is quite satisfying to believe we’re making progress toward perfection. So satisfying, in fact, that to imagine it’s all illusion is too much to contemplate. Since actual change can be so terribly slow — years, decades — it is far more effective, emotionally speaking, to just sweep a few things under the carpet and hope no one is the wiser. Not even ourselves!
But the self, though liable to fracture, is not so easily destroyed. What is hidden is less visible, but no less powerful. In fact, it associates itself with all the other childish energies we’ve reigned in and deny, leading to a kind of shadow. Because this darker side receives so little positive attention, it is less developed than other parts of our nature. When denied what it wants, it reacts in ways that are not very effective, and often childish. Like rebelling, or simply refusing to cooperate until its needs are met — without being told how to accomplish it.
In this situation of a house divided, the self longs to be whole, simple, complete. The soul’s natural wish is for an elegant purity that derives from a single conception. When our better half seeks this, it can do so by two means: Integrate; or attempt to cast off the broken parts. When we reject parts of our selves, we destroy inner simplicity, by creating divisions along the lines of our ideas. Knowing this discord exists, we try to resolve it by further empowering our “better” side against the part we wish to reject. Hence all the self-help literature, arming us for this inward battle, always promises bigger and better techniques to force ourselves into line.
I think this is a battle which cannot be won, since to win it finally is to destroy the very one who pursues it. It is like fighting in a marriage, or a family, where victory is no more than a Pyrrhic loss. Consider that we are married to our own lower nature for life; how, then, to resolve the agitation and the cross-purposes? How would we do it in marriage?
Love in the only answer I’ve found, a love that wants the happiness of all sides, that seeks the joy of the parties involved. This is partly why I advocate seeking joy over seeking progress: Because the goal of progress condemns us, whereas the goal of joy offers salvation to our longing parts. We might even find, at the end of it all, that we have no “parts” anymore, that the fissures can be healed. Isn’t that the road to peace? Isn’t a radiant joy from all parties the true sign of victory? If this is a marriage, can anything be called a success unless both are happy?