“To find out if she really loved me, I hooked her up to a lie detector.
And just as I suspected, my machine was broken.”
~ Dark Jar Tin Zoo
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Denial seems hardwired into humanity, especially relative to whatever we desperately don’t wish to see and know.
A question that challenges the status quo and can expand our holistic awareness is, “If I wasn’t already doing this, would I choose to?” We can apply this to any area of our lives. “If I wasn’t working in this job today, would I choose to? If I wasn’t married to my partner, would I propose to him or her today? If I didn’t live in this house, town, country, would I choose to?”
It can be decidedly disruptive to ask this question, answer it honesty, then consider the implications with a second question: “What am I going to do about this?”
If we discover compromise and realize we’re living a lie, what then? Taking action is challenging, even when there’s an urgent need. In fact, as the saying goes, we tend to prefer the devil we know to devil we don’t know. In other words, whatever is going on may be bad but if I change things it could get even worse.
This belief stands in contrast to research that demonstrates how action of any kind seems to have a built-in value. In one famous study, lighting was increased in the production area of a manufacturing plant. Employees reported appreciation for this improvement. In another location, lighting was softened, with the same results – employees registered their approval. The lighting wasn’t the point; it was the evidence that management cared about workers.
We could translate this personally, in order to relax our anxiety about taking action. Obviously, we’ll do our best to determine how to proceed when we become aware of needed change, but it may not be as important to hit the bullseye as to just do something, to break inertia, and to demonstrate that we care … about ourselves!
Procrastination is common in the personal development field where scores of individuals live with self-judgment, wishing they were doing more/less/different than they are but remaining paralyzed to actually make any sort of change. “I know I should meditate but I just can’t find the time,” is a common sentiment. Words are interesting. In this phrase, it sounds like time is elusive and capable of hiding from us. “I can’t find the time” suggests that time got lost somewhere and, regardless of my best efforts, it remains inaccessible.’
A more honest admission would be, “I have the idea of meditating but at the moment there are other things more important to me… so I do them instead of meditating.” What’s instructive and liberating about this kind of honesty is that once we face facts we achieve clarity and are immediately in a better position to either affirm our choice – to own it fully – or to make a new choice.
Any one of us who undertakes this kind of self-examination soon discovers that we are neurotic. A neurotic is defined as being “in a negative or anxious emotional state.” That pretty much covers every one of us, at times. Why? Because we are all connected and are affecting each other’s state of being, via the field of human consciousness that we share. Of course, there’s more influencing us in that field than we can ever become consciously aware of.
Swiss psychologist Carl Jung coined the term, “collective unconscious” which he wrote, “comprises in itself the psychic life of our ancestors, right back to the earliest beginnings.” 1 In other words, our “free will” is compromised by influences stretching throughout time. We may think our choices are entirely our own but all of us are driven, to some degree, by forces that must forever remain unknown to us.
Acknowledging anxiety, a state that humans in general share and have shared throughout time, we might also consider contentment and note that whatever feeling we are having personally is being broadcast and shared. Returning to the idea of meditation, then, this means that any of us who do prioritize this ancient practice have the opportunity to influence consciousness. The meditative state improves our ability to think clearly, so there’s a personal benefit. But it also extends an influence to others.
All the more reason to do it, which we will, the moment it becomes our natural choice. In the meantime, what if we were to accept ourselves just as we are, right where we are, and learn to take ourselves and our spiritual questing less seriously? As the saying goes, angels know how to fly because they take themselves so lightly!
And, as Gordon Allport wrote in The Individual and His Religion, “The neurotic who learns to laugh at himself may be on the way to self-management, perhaps to cure.” 2
2. Gordon W. Allport, from The Individual and His Religion