We cannot strive our way out of alienation.
I have always felt the need to look into that which we all would prefer to leave unexamined, unseen, and unsaid. This drive seems to stem from having spent the first fifty-odd years of my life caught in double-binds. From childhood on it always appeared that what gave these binds their power was an atmosphere of denial.
On the other hand I’ve always been reluctant to engage in confrontation. My experience and role models left me with only two choices: silence or scorched-earth. I could not summon any other options. Or, so it seemed. Underlying this reluctance has lurked an inkling that confrontation, like every form of striving, is futile.
Let’s look at what this means. We tend to react to a declaration of futility as an accusation of failure, “You didn’t try hard enough!” Or, to see it as a call to surrender. And, by surrender we expect this to mean that we succumb and accept dominance by a foreign Will over our own.
Futility and surrender both have much simpler definitions: Futility is the recognition that what one desires is incoherent; outside the realm of what can be. If we abandon our habitual insistence on sports metaphors, taking everything as a competition, this recognition of futility can be seen as a a perception leading us away from delusion and towards possible coherence. We begin to find a relationship with truth that opens the possibility for a creative response. Surrender stops feeling like “not winning” and can begin to be recognized as the first step in becoming aware of the currents and forces in which we are immersed. It is only when we have surrendered in this way – a subtle and quiet business, not some petulant or cynical reaction to something keeping us from achieving our heart’s desire – that we can feel, with nuance and Quality, the force and direction of events, and discover how we might relate to and interact with our surroundings and situation.
The recognition of futility and our surrender of caprice – so long as we cannot differentiate between desire and intent this is all our Will can be – are not an end. This point signals a beginning.
Returning to the question of confrontation, once we recognize its futility we are no longer stuck in a binary: confront or comply. Once we surrender caprice and engage with the forces in which we are immersed, although until that point their effects were hidden from us because they were beyond our awareness…, I am reminded of body surfing as a youngster. Until I became aware of the current running to the East along the beach I would always be surprised to look up and find myself a hundred yards along from where I had started. With an awareness of the current came the possibility of countering its effects. I would, as each wave lifted me upwards, push off to my left so that when I dropped again I would be back where I started.
The lesson in all this is that no amount of striving, trying, Willing things to be otherwise, accomplishes anything in the absence of an awareness of what-is. With awareness comes the possibility for action in response as opposed to mere reaction to alarm.
In this context looking at what we would prefer to ignore begins to make sense. Our inquiry arises within an attitude of suspending reaction with a recognition of the futility of insisting that we can only address questions when we feel assured we already have an answer, no matter how improbable. No matter what our reaction’s unintended consequences might bring about. The clarity this brings changes us and brings us the possibility of discovering new modes of response.
What appears painful, even terrifying, about looking at what we would prefer to ignore stems from a condition of imbalance, of stress and anxiety, produced and maintained by the strain of maintaining our incoherent position. Innate buoyancy is deeply ingrained in our being. When we ignore its call our sense of self-preservation is alarmed. Continuing to ignore what stresses us compounds these effects. Alienation from our own being grows in a vicious cycle, taking ever greater excursions from our being and its drive to maintain integration and to live in relation. This is suffering.
When our willfulness refuses to face the misery present in our situation suffering arises as a tax we must pay to remain in denial, to remain alienated.
Alienation is an excursion from our, let us simply say, our natural state. When we dissolve the imbalances that perpetuate alienation our natural buoyancy reasserts itself. We can experience this as a change in our relationship with Grace. Alienated we may sporadically encounter Joy. It tends to disappear as soon as we become aware of its presence. Our alienation cannot stand it or support it. Integrated, we approach the possibility of living in Grace. We have stepped out of our own way and our latent capacities and creativity rush in. – This may appear to overstate the case, a form of cheerleading…. We are more capable than we think from within our alienated condition. This does not automatically answer the question of sufficiency. Whether our capacities and creative responses are ever “enough” to give us what we “want” is another question.
We defend our alienation by insisting on bargaining with what-is. We insist that someone guarantee our peace-of-mind before we will allow what feels uncomfortable entry. We call this being positive. Maintaining hope. Or, just being nice. We have established an etiquette around this. It is considered bad manners to break this agreement.
Every negotiation, the entire construction of society/societies based on bargaining is corrupt because it is founded on this lie. Every law, the whole notion of legislation, is corrupt. Not in their excesses but at their foundation, resting on this bargain.
What bargain underlies every pact?
Here’s a lively example, “We hold these truths to be self-evident….” This statement can now be deciphered, “We conspire to agree and defend these assumptions in the face of any opposition. From within a perspective we refuse to question there are only two possible positions: You are either with us or against us. We, the undersigned, pit our Wills against any and all who dare to disagree with us. We have projected our sense of justification onto an omniscient and omnipotent deity forged in our image and standing-in for our own self-regard.”
Our predicament runs very deep and our sense of etiquette and decorum, punctuated by moments of violent reactionary rage and violence, is a deeply ingrained defense mechanism maintaining our state of alienation.
An incoherent view leaves us only two options: we maintain our assumptions or we react in panic and violence to oppose anyone we perceive as a threat. A coherent view sees these as two sides of the same state. What is deflected onto identity and projection from within an incoherent perspective can be seen as the two faces of reactive alienation. Our incoherent view is mired in futility and caught in currents invisible from this deficient perspective. Coherence begins with a recognition of futility wherever it may be found and enters into relationship with forces that can only be discerned from a position of quiet where intention is distinguishable from desire.
This could be taken as a description of an ideal state. This assumption is also a product of alienation. Abstract ideals maintain our alienation. They demand that, “We are here and we should be over there!” Such a command assumes too much. Firstly, that from within our state of alienation we know where we are. Secondly, that our “should be’s” are more than simply latching onto a caprice. And, thirdly, that any statement of an other, or a someplace-else, can be distinguished from a manifestation of our identification with a role and/or a projection.
We cannot strive our way out of alienation. All we can do is drop its assumptions as futile and see what then rises to the surface of our attention.