Lately, I have had neither time, nor the emotional strength to write much. I suppose when one is overwhelmed with stress (which I suppose is a short word for distress), the psyche tries to conserves all intellectual energies in service of survival. All creative endeavors, that would lead to optimal health, become secondary to survival instinct.
That’s where I have been in the past several years. Trying to survive the legal jungle and living thru the nightmares that the justice system imposes on hapless (and helpless) mothers who opt for divorce simply in an effort to escape exploitation and violence. The process has been an unending nightmare spanning 11 long years. Prior to that, my marriage of 18 years had been an unending nightmare. The trauma is relentless, ongoing, unending. I write this to let my former clients know that I haven’t forgotten them, nor abandoned them, but simply have been embroiled in my own struggles, that may be qualitatively, even perhaps quantitatively, similar to their own. We need, as Bob Dylan says in Tangled Up in Blues, to “keep on keeping on”
But that was not the issue I wanted to discuss. It simply flowed out, as my heart was brimmed with pain and trauma. What prompted this discourse was a simple, almost automatic gesture that enabled self reflection this morning.
I lean heavily towards Buddhist teachings. Implicit and explicit in those teachings is self awareness, the awareness of the other, and compassion. Over years, I have fallen into a practice of gingerly picking up the bugs, roaches, even spiders that find their way inside my house, and leaving them outside in my backyard where they flourish with their really really large clan, other creatures. My garden looks exotic, and I don’t care how many insects, bugs, reptiles make their home there, as long as they do not interfere in my way of life. The garden continues looking exotic, regardless, or perhaps even because of.
Yesterday, as I filled up the tub for a bath, I saw a spider struggling against the onslought of hot water, and I led him to safety on the windowsill. It’s the same long legged spider that has been in the tub day after day, week after week. Every time he struggles, and every time I rescue him to safety. Afterthe bathwater is drained away, I assume he returns to the comfort of the tub. One would think he would have learnt my schedule by now, and would have migrated somewhere safer. But he does not. He stays, and depends on me for its safety and survival. Just like my children do.
And I was forced to think, despite my belligerent moods (I yelled at him once!), what is it in me that prevents me from letting it drown in those hot waters ? My thoughts immediately went to the scriptures. They espouse that the visitors to our home are representations of god himself, and it is mandated that we take care of all those that seek our protection and depend on us for their survival. My left brain, the brain of logic, reasoning and separation, immediately pooh poohed such silly instinctual reasoning. Not wishing to engage the left and right brain in a conflicts and argument, I let it go….
This morning, there was a little bug that presumably had creeped in from outdoors while my backdoor was open. It had crawled in, and seemed struggling on the tiled floor, and seemed kinda lost, or at least I thought so. I passed him several times, as unobstrusively as possible so as not to scare him, taking care not to step on him, hoping he would crawl under the rug and save himself. But he just stood there, unmoving, conspicuous against the white of the marble floor, wanting to be seen. Eventually, I directed him onto a piece of paper and dropped him outside. I was a bit upset at him for intruding into my house, and then refusing to remain out of sight, so I dropped him from a height of 2 ft or so. He fell on his back, wiggled a bit, turned himself over and darted towards the door again. I quickly, (and guility!) shut the door in his face.
Once inside I was forced to think about it again. What is it that guides me into these behaviors ? As usual my psyche insisted that it was my religious upbringing. The scriptures, the myths, the folklores and folktales in which god presented himself in the form of helpless animals. And my left brain made me shake my head vehemently – that is all bullshit, it said. But I knew both sides of my brain spoke the truth. They had different standpoints, different responsibilities, and different roles to play in creating and conserving my life, and the universe It is reasonable to expect that they had different perspectives on this situation
I wondered if I should let go of it again. But I know such heated debates in the mind, where two powerful conflicting forces collide in support of their respective ideologies, do not go away. They linger into perpetuity, dragging down the libidinal resources of body and mind. Jung says “Whenever we give up, leave behind, and forget too much, there is always the danger that the things we have neglected will return with added force.” This is something I have grappled with for long. I know I will never be rid of this internal argument until I address it fully. In my past experience, writing has always settled such contradictions within the psyche. For me, and for the way my mind is configured, it provides a more permanent way of letting go. The problems that I struggle with, no longer bother me once I put them down on paper. After writing them down analytically, I always feel as if I have handed over my problems to the universe. It feels as though my psychic conflicts have become part of the universe, and I am not the only one who has to grapple with them, or resolve them, that the creative energies of the universe will take care of the conflicts and contradictions. So I decided to push myself to write about it, despite the fact that writing, and music, seems to have disappeared from my life as a consequence of the trauma I am undergoing. (But see, I am, I was able to write, and passionately, so perhaps its all for the best).
So what was it that I struggled with ? In this seeming contradiction, my psyche, which I believe expresses itself thru the right hemisphere thinking, had expressed that my sense of morality is an heirloom handed over to me by my culture, and religion, and that I must do everything to preserve that heirloom of morality by weaving it into the fabric of my daily existence. This ancestral gift guides me in my everyday engagement with the world. Under the psychic advisement, all creativity, represented by aspects of, and units of creation, need to be protected – to be attacked and destroyed only, and ONLY in self protection and preservation. I am constantly reminded by my instinct, of myths, and folktales, that god – which for me is a universal creative force rather than a personification – presents itself thru these encounters, and that these encounters always carry personal gifts, that they are always beneficial in some way or another. My right brain insists on this, repeatedly, thru repeated encounters of the kind, in an effort of bringing it to myconscious attention.
My ego, which I believe represents the left side of the brain, has evolved in response to my environment. It carries the enormous burden of defending my uniqueness, my existence, my life. It knows me as being separate from the universe, and it helps me, and only me – as an individual – to survive in this world. It strives to optimize my existence. It does whatever is needed, so that I, as an individual, survive and flourish. My ego is indifferent to the universe, and collective existence within the universe. It is this ego that says to me : the ancient folklore – that these creatures are god representations – is all bullshit. The ego stresses my survival, it strives to make me street smart by enabling the warrior instinct, which is a prime requirement for survival. The warrior instinct is what I have lacked in my relationships with the universe. I am not a street smart person, I am unselfish at the very core. These experiences of being exploited in the service of the other are etched as a warning in the psyche. The ego is wary of compassion, of selflessness. I have often disregarded it, in the service of the collective. The job of my ego then, is to ensure and optimize my survival, given my history, it is more than adequately concerned with my own survival. The ego is indifferent to the other, including the bugs, especially the insignificant bugs and spiders.
Together, the psyche, and the ego provide a balancing factor. The psyche cares for the other, (including the environment ) the ego cares for the individual. Working in sync, a synthesis of the psyche and ego hopefully enables my survival without unnecessarily taxing the resources of the universe. Which is what I instinctively have been doing – weaving the two hemispheres together. I did not listen to the right brain in its totality, and so I did not let the bug find a home inside my house. But I also did not kill it, as the left brain would have advised me to, had I let it. But, having said that, I believe – and this is my personal belief – that the psyche/right brain has a greater purpose, universal good at heart, and therefore the psyche commands a greater respect in my life. I suffer as a consequence of being more receptive to the dictates of my psyche, and allowing my instincts to dictate my life, but in that suffering, is also the knowledge that I am not antithetic to nature, the natural, and the universe. I am part of the creative life force, and subservient to it. I have no right to annhilate the other. That self awareness is compensation enough; it enables me to endure my sufferings gladly, to sublimate my individuality towards the collective benefit. I would not have it otherwise.
But the right brain had pointed out to me that creatures are god representations. I wondered in what way this little bug been a god representation in my life ? What gifts had he brought to my life in return for sparing him his life? How did I benefit from the encounter ?
My pondering forced me to become conscious about the process itself. It was a gift of consciousness. The fact that I am aware of this, am thinking about this, and am interpreting this in the way I am, is a gift. So in return for his life, he gave me the gift of light, of consciousness. I haven’t written for over 7 months. I am writing this. The ability to write with such passion, and insight, is a gift. I wondered if the little fellow had a purposeful place in my life, was placed there by providence, or universe, or synchronicity, to create specific meaning, as an agency of consciousness ? I also wondered if all objects, animate and inanimate, represent agents to enable consciousness, if only we let them ?
I also pondered on religion. Why did the image of scriptures arise in consciousness when I questioned myself ? Why was I taken to folklore, folktales, mythology, religion and culture ? Perhaps because all these serve as the Superego. The are embedded in the psyche as structural defenses that guide us towards (or away) from certain acts and beliefs that are antithetic to life, and universe. In that sense, the Structural defenses are akin to symbolic fathers. Our biological fathers are entrusted with the responsibility to point us towards right and away from wrong. Father are creators and builders of our moral consciousness, they lay down the memory traces that lead to foundations of the Superego, our internal moral compass. When Fathers are no longer there to help us, guide us, or when we grow out of our our Fathers, we look towards larger symbols of fatherhood – towards religion, ethical codes, codes of conduct, law, ideologies etc to help us navigate the murky waters of lived life. These become our symbolic fathers. Religion, then contributes to and lays the groundwork of moral consciousness. My instinctual behavior that protects the bugs, has to have a cause, a motive, an inspiration. It doesn’t arise from vacuum, out of nothingness. The psyche reads off from a script. That script is like a psychic DNA passed onto us intergenerationally – what Jung calls collective consciousness and Hindus call samskaras – thru our religion, culture, folktales, mythology. What we call instinct, is basically the psyche autonomously reading off of that script which is etched into us thru years of cultural and religious evolution, without our conscious knowledge. So when I don’t know what I am doing, or why I am doing it, or if I do something instinctively, it simply means that there are deeper scripts that advise my psyche and determine the course of my action. A violent past, or a violent religion, or mythology, will prompt its people to promote violence. A corrupt past, a corrupt religion or mythology will promote corruption. Peaceful and compassionate past, religion, mythology, will lead its people towards peaceful and compassionate action.
So in these encounters with the spider in my tub, and the bug in my living room, and other encounters like these, I am forced to encounter creative energies of the universe, and our interdependence. That encounter is like an encounter with god. It is enlightening, it is consciousnessness oriented, it leaves one fulfilled, and wiser. What else would god representation be like, what else would it achieve ? Since the universe is simply a large pot of potentialities, and our existence and growth within it, is simply a probability and possibility at each stage of the decision tree, these creative energies had something to impart to me, if, and if only I chose to actualize the potential embedded within them. How I choose to actualize that potential, is entirely determined by my samskaras, my background, my psychic dna, and of course my choice, guided by my consciousness. In that sense, it was god who knocked on my door (or my bathtub and on my floor). I chose to offer protection, and in return for sparing the life of those creations of the creator, I was given the gift of consciousness and self awareness, and the ability to express myself yet again. I could make meaning and organize that meaning for betterment. Had I chosen to kill the creation of the creator, had I continued on the path of separation, had I allowed the ego – left brain – to dominate and dictate my behavior and actions – nothing good would have come out of it, and I would have continued on the path of ignorance and self unawareness; and I would have nothing specific to write about. In exchange for a conscious choice to protect the creation of the creator, I was showered with these gifts.
The self doubt that I encountered in all this, is the following: If there was no benefit, if there were no myths, and the promised gifts that those myths could lure me with – would I still be compassionate ? The hard part for me is to accept that I don’t know. The ego has the responsibility of ensuring survival. The job is so very difficult that the ego almost always seeks predictive validity. It looks to the past for reassurance in service of survival. If the action has been beneficial in the past, then the ego will allow repetition. Uncertain outcomes are like chess moves – the ego has to estimate the reasonableness of the action, it has to work ahead to see if the action will enable, even optimize survival. All this computation and what if scenarios represent hard work. Outcome of killing the bugs is easy to figure out. It definitely ensures survival because the danger to the self will be wiped out, and this outcome is achieved thru minimum computation and working ahead, so it becomes the chosen strategy of the ego. Myths have a way of influencing the ego, by offering bribes of predictive validity to the ego/left brain. In the myths, it is the good one who always wins in the end. Thus they establish predictability. Although rationally I happen to know that the universe is amoral, the only way I can be made to follow a moral path is by being lured to a path which promises a win with minimum effort. And myths, and religion, by always rewarding the righteous in their myths and stories, have a way of ensuring survival by promising a win for moral attitude and actions – predictive validity – with minimum effort.
Thus the notion of exchange, of gifts to the self in return for an action, is something that the ego demands in the service of survival, to establish predictive validity. To quieten the ego would be sure death, as we would not be able to protect ourselves, or separate ourselves from the universal collective. Such merger could only result in self harm. And religion, and myths, seem to circumvent that problem. They offer a promise of safety and wellbeing to the ego, in exchange for its co-operation for a greater cause. The ego is freed from the dilemma posed by uncertainty, and consequential terror of annhilation, and continues with its function of protecting and preserving human life. The psychic dictates of preservation of universe, a right brain function, can then safely be met and performed by promoting compassion.
In creating these myths, and religions, and religious scriptures, and in their storytelling, our ancestors were much more wiser than we give them credit for. They weaved the left and right hemispheres together much more effectively than we do.
I continue being amazed at the wisdom that is embodied in the scriptures and religious and other myths, and am humbled by the generations that have gone before us, ancestors that have refined, and re-refined the wisdom that continues to be passed on to me in the form of religious teachings and myths and stories associated with those teachings.