By Sara Joy David, Ph.D.
Published in COLD MOUNTAIN JOURNAL, Vancouver, British Columbia
“To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best night and day, to make you everybody else, means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight and never stop fighting.” e.e. cummings
In childhood, parents, teachers, and other more distant, more indirect but no less impactful authorities begin to impinge upon us, interfering with instead of facilitating our growth, restricting rather than expanding our horizons. We are shaped and molded rather than allowed or even encouraged to emerge. We are taught WHAT to think, feel, believe, desire and become, instead of HOW to make sense of what we actually do think and feel.
Women are taught to be compassionate, understanding, warm, nurturant, physically attractive, subordinate and subservient in marriage and the workplace. They are discouraged from, and often punished for developing self-reliance, assertiveness, initiative, curiosity, and creativity in public spheres. In other words, women learn behaviors that serve others, perform them until exhausted and drained, and refrain from acquiring behaviors conducive to self-expression, success, and mastery in activities of their own. They are taught to see such other-directedness as virtuous rather than oppressive and to feel guilty if they do not comply. They are thus prepared to make themselves available for victimization.
Men are taught to do just the reverse. Masculine role behaviour leads to greater economic, political, physical, and intellectual success and power. However, these are often hollow and illusory, and the emotional control that comes with them is spiritually deadening. Image becomes more important than competence; domination and control more important than intimate contact . Safety, security, and invulnerability are purchased at the price of loneliness even within relationships. The pressure to achieve and to succeed, kills the potential joy of both work and leisure activities. The mind rules at the expense of the heart.
What is worse is that the way we are supposed to feel about these and our many other roles is as rigidly prescribed and restricted as the roles themselves. If we are not contented and fulfilled, we are seen, and often perceive ourselves, as “inadequate” or even “sick”.
Having been taught to abdicate the power to define reality to academic specialists and spiritual leaders – the “experts in knowing” – we begin to move from one set to another set, in search of more perceptive and reliable authorities to substitute for the ones currently failing us. One set of “oughts” and “shoulds” is replaced by another until we are increasingly confused, lost, and submerged.
I am the sum of my feelings, sensations, thoughts, dreams, fantasies, acts, aspirations. New parts of me are emerging daily. My task is to be more fully aware, more fully responsible, more true to myself.
The journey into self is a never-ending, active process. Knowledge of ourselves comes from within. No one can give it to us although some can assist by providing us with a variety of tools that can help us discover what is there. The journey must be made free of preconceptions. It involves letting go of what we think we will find, in order to allow what is really there to surface. To discover means to reveal or come to know something which existed before but remained unknown. Thus, to discover oneself is to remove the cover hiding aspects of oneself that were there before but which were unwilling to face.
The first step, often, is increasing our awareness of ourselves physically and emotionally, both to release pent up energy and to learn what we really feel. Emotions provide important information about what we like and what we do not, what satisfies us and what frustrates us. When we cut off from them – by holding our breath and by contracting muscles, we lose vital signals of needed change. We also bind some of our energy thereby leaving less available for coping with the stresses of Iiving and/or creativity and fun.
Another step is to work on our intellectual or cognitive awareness. It has been said that the head is a wonderful servant but a terrible master. In fact, our heads often get us into all kinds of trouble. We all have endless mental tapes that replace the tyrannical controls that were initially external. We torture ourselves with these tapes which tell us what we should have done in various situations already past. These tapes torment us further by creating fears about future events that may never occur. This endless rehearsing and rehashing leaves us less present for what IS happening NOW, at any current moment. Becoming aware of and learning to cease this nonproductive thinking frees the mind for creative instead of destructive uses.
At the mind level, there are both conscious and unconscious processes to become aware of, to allow to surface, and to develop through new learning. Thus parts of ourselves emerge in dreams and fantasy as well as through the feedback we get in the course of interacting with others.
Still other parts of us emerge through creative processes – art, poetry, music, dance. There are actually many catalysts for spiritual awakening. For some it is through a deep and committed relationship, for some through time spent in nature, for others by sitting quietly after reading inspirational teachings. Patience is important. We each experience and understand at our own pace. We cannot FORCE an opening or shift of consciousness. What we can do is allow what is present to emerge.
In our society we learn to compartmentalize and split ourselves. Those excited by ideas and the analytic, are often accused of being cut off and too “intellectual”. Those who freely express their emotions frighten some people who urge them to contain and control feelings. Those who want to discuss spiritual matters have to deal with resistance from others who respond: “religion is the opiate of the masses”. Similar divisiveness occurs between those who view each other as “too personal” or “too political”.
My journey, and the one I want to share, involves integration and synthesis. After emerging, there is merging. Merging of feminine and masculine, of the personal and the political, of the physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual.
Development in any one realm opens us up to development in others. When we release blocked feelings, we gain energy to think more clearly and relate more openly. We become better able to change inner barriers, those mistaken beliefs, behavior patterns and thoughts that elicit emotional turmoil.
When we cease being tormented by unproductive thoughts, we can more effectively articulate and communicate to others, which of their behaviors are inappropriate and in need of change. We also become more effective in identifying and implementing changes in the workplace, in educational institutions, in government agencies, in the justice system, etc. removing, or at least reducing, the external barriers in the way of our well being and growth. Every improvement in external circumstances paves the way for further self development and self- expression. Every further increase in personal inner power empowers us in changing the external world. In this manner, we become more effective agents of personal and social change.
When there is an end to emotional turmoil, and when the mind is quiet, there is a greater accessibility to spiritual understanding. As we grow in inner awareness, instead of being governed by our body/mind and emotions, our ability to make the best use of these expands even further. At any one time, we may focus on developing one particular aspect, always with the idea of integration and balance as the ultimate goal.