“Prayers move at the speed of their intention and sincerity.”
I long believed that, sooner or later, my position as Superman-among-the-clouds would be formally acknowledged and applauded.
As it turns out there is a deep and abiding (so far) peace, a profound filling up and out, in assuming the mantle of my imperfect, fated, vulnerable humanity.
I feared that unless I offered everything to everyone, I would be worth nothing to anyone. I never believed for a second that it might be enough to be not a boy superhero, but simply a man.
A man. Rare, imperfect, fallible.
And then to collapse the angels and demons of the world into the rare, imperfect, fallible beings we are, and accept us all as splinters of the human condition.
I love you guys. It’s all that’s left, and the only thing that makes any sense whatsoever.
Good. I am beginning to readorn my life with artefacts of awesome as I recover from this immolation.
Every moment of every day we’re making choices. Christ. I can’t believe I just opened with that. Sorry. But it’s important to say it so I can take it further: we are making choices not only on which burger to have for lunch, but how our reality takes shape. Moment to moment. Do I buy into “the world is a terrifying, lonely place” and so that guy sitting on the street corner is a threat; or “love is all you need”, such that he is just another beautiful soul (complete with endearing quirks and imperfections), open to a chat and a few shared fries? What we believe shapes our reality. This precedes and provides the space and framework for physics and science and the manifest realm. The more of us that believe a thing, the more that thing enters our shared reality.
I have had a concept floating around in my mind for almost 10 years. It’s called “Positive Intent” (+i) and its like gofundme but once a cause is posted, instead of money, people offer positive intention to the outcome of the cause through prayer, meditation, good vibes, whatever. It tracks the contributions in units of, perhaps, time, and also reports the status of the cause over time. My argument (and belief) is if we got, say, a million people sending one positive minute of “John’s cancer is healed”, then Johnnyboy would be healed. Perhaps not instantaneously (though there are numerous reports of spontaneous healing), but in a way where John’s environment and circumstances would shift to allow the healing to take place. Don’t get me started but ultimately I believe John’s cancer is an expression of an internal conflict anyway – and so is his responsibility to heal himself (check out Dr David R. Hawkins’s work on this) – but with that much positive intention heading his way, he may just make the mental leap required to do it. It’s kind of like crowd-funding enlightenment. I’ll get back to building it one of these days and use it as a platform to prove or disprove these theories.
The Dark Side
Outcomes are assured by the nature and scope of the choice-intention. If you clear your decks and make positive choices from a place of love, the outcome will be an increase in love and positivity. If you are in crisis and make a choice based on fear (it all comes back to fear, the spectrum not going from love to hate, but rather love to fear), then the outcome will reinforce and culminate that fear. Ok, less abstract, more examples:
- My sister took a job a long way from home in a poor area out of desperation because she was in a negative, beaten-down mindset. The place she was working was negative and beaten down, at least for her (who can say how it was for everyone else? There are as many realities as there are conscious witnesses).
- I hit exhaustion-unbalanced-suffocation crisis with my ex wife and, in desperation, called her family to come and help. In hindsight it was the death knell for our relationship. Not only had I proved that I “couldn’t support her in sickness and in health” (validated her dysfunctional narrative), but I brought in the most deeply dysfunctional pit crew you could imagine. I am only just starting to get glimpses of how deep and creepy their shit is.
The Good News
Citing Hawkins again, the power of a loving thought is many orders of magnitude greater than that of a negative thought. He reckons one truly loving thought per day undoes the rest of the day’s negative thoughts. My personal experience with this is that it is best to simply ride the convulsions of negative overwhelm in a crisis. These convulsions are shit. My current circumstances are horrible (it’s all relative, I appreciate my situation is absolutely nothing next to the horror stories you hear as soon as you mention to anyone who has been through it “I am getting a divorce”), yet I have found that by riding the convulsions and practicing letting go (accept the emotion, let it express without trying to influence, stop or change it in any way, shift your focus to something else once it has expressed), and NOT ACTING on the emotions present in the overwhelm, they fairly rapidly pass. Until the next wave.
Perhaps they’re more like contractions than convulsions and during these highly emotional events like divorce, we’re birthing something. A new psyche, perhaps. More mature, more loving, if we catalyse the pain to fuel our growth. Or maybe they actually are convulsions and we’re spewing back up the accumulated darkness we have suppressed and stored to get to the long dark night of the soul we are suffering through. In any event, riding out the waves without allowing them to overtake us or hiding from them and then, as soon as we’re able, to begin offering loving thoughts again (the universe provides constant opportunities to fall back in love with life), allows a “stepping up”. I don’t know how else to describe it, but the pain lessens, joy returns, energy is reclaimed, peace is approximated or gained, and you’re able to face the next convulsion with greater ease, grace and skill. Note that this is vastly different to suppression or “faking it til you make it”.
Less abstract, more examples:
- About 8 years ago, I was at the point of financial collapse. I had a bucketload of money walking out the door each month, and at this particular point in time I had about a week left before I had to pay next month’s bills, no money in my bank account, no work in my pipeline and nothing invoiced and awaiting payment. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to work, I had simply hit the doldrums. Without being conscious of the process I described above, I sat with it all for a minute, accepted that I was in this position (as in I saw that I was truly screwed, and had no idea how to get out of it); let the feeling be there; then said “you know what? Fuck it. It has always worked out, it will be fine”. The next day I got a call from my old boss whom I hadn’t talked to in years, with a wicked project that paid good money. I have not had any money problems or real fear about money since.
- Damien Rice, the singer, said something similar at a gig once. He struggled constantly with writing songs until he finally surrendered it, then he never worried about it again and never struggled again.
The Bad News: Unconscious Octopus Brain
Ok so why doesn’t this good intention choice stuff work for all of us all the time? We’re setting intentions all over the place and sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t. I believe this is for two reasons:
- We have a number of parallel mental substates each with their own agenda and intention, all are learned and retained in an effort to “keep us safe” and get our needs met. Many are self sabotaging, simply because of the tricksy nature of human social interaction and confirmation bias. These are the octopus tentacles (if an octopus had a lot of tentacles).
- Depending on how much shadow work/development/expression/consciousness work we have done, we are unconscious of most of these tentacles, most of the time.
The whole octopus represents our psyche/ego. So imagine one, or even several, tentacles have a great idea to manifest a new job through positive intention or even just good old fashioned hard work. Why is it such a long, arduous process? I argue it’s because we think we have the whole octopus convinced to jump in a particular direction, we gee it up, we rally support from all the tentacles, and then we say “jump on three!”. 1, 2, 3: we gather all our strength and roar into action! And don’t move. Or, often the case, perhaps we move the slightest bit toward our goal. What the fuck, octopus? If we’re very aware, we might see: most of the tentacles didn’t listen. They jumped in their own direction. Because they’re tricksy and have their own agenda and are not subject to conscious control. And we might see with disappointment that there were way more tentacles than we realised and we hadn’t rallied them to our cause (shadow/unconscious aspects).
Subsequently, we are all subject to our unconscious intent, which is divided. As I say to people all the time: what we don’t own (read: take responsibility for, bring into the light, make friends with, integrate, etc.), owns us. Whether you’re faintingly beautiful or Quasimodo, unless you own your appearance, make peace with it, it will own you. Beauty, if bought into, results in vanity, which simply exposes low self worth, an exploitable weakness. Ugliness, if bought into, also exposes diminished self worth. Either way if we believe we need to be something (other than the unfolding perfection that is our true and immutable nature) to receive the love we want and get our needs met, then we are compromised and susceptible to being used and abused. We all do this, all of the time, to a greater or lesser extent.
Bringing It On Home
When we’re in crisis it’s because events have unfolded that have tapped into our unconscious drives. We feel we are at the whim of fate and out of control. The hidden tentacles are thrashing about, vying for primacy. It is at these times our rational thinking is compromised but, due to our various cognitive biases, we cannot see it. We are in a fear state, fight or flight. Our focus narrows to what we believe will best assure survival. Back in the day this was a very effective way of dodging the real tiger in the bushes. Today life is far more complex and nuanced, we have social and legal contracts that have far-reaching consequences. We live longer and have to deal long-term with the psychology we establish through our thoughts, beliefs and actions.
So what to do? Unless there is a clear and present danger (abuse, for example), it seems best to sit with it. Downregulate. Do the necessary work to bring all those unconscious tentacles into consciousness – when in crisis they are the most visible they will ever be. Or do these things as best we can while making the moves necessary for survival. When considering a decision, bring as many perspectives of which we are capable to bear and aim for the highest good, while always (in and out of crisis) aiming to increase the perspectives we are able to apply. Honour relative truth: that everything for everyone is true, but partial. Most of the time in our society these crises do not necessitate bold, brash action. Be as certain as we can before jumping. And when we jump, do so with and from love, not fear.
Then, after we jump, know that this is when the crisis REALLY hits, because it is now that we are forced to process (expose and integrate) or suppress (obscure) the thrashing tentacles of the unconscious octopus brain. Hint: don’t suppress.
Unconscious shit in our heads owns us and sabotages our peace and happiness if we let it. During crisis is when it owns us most, but also when it is most exposed and able to be reintegrated. Take responsibility, do the work, and bring it into the light so that we can live more from love, and amplify the love in the world.
For the first time in my adult life I find myself grateful to not be in a relationship. It has become apparent through her behaviour that my ex – who, the poor thing, suffered greatly through anxiety and general being-fucking-crazy – is trying desperately to reverse our roles. She got a job, shirking her responsibility as “primary caregiver” to our son (a title she has been beating me over the head with for years, despite him being in care for four days of the week) and for no good reason, as I left the money tap on full tilt. And while we’re talking about money, she is trying to take all of ours for herself. In fact, all my contributions to the family she is trying to claim or steal now. While she attempts to take my roles and contributions on, one by one, she is handing hers over to me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no idiot – I’m taking them on consciously as it serves the highest good. My boy will get better care with me and be happier once he adjusts. I believe she is doing this because she is very lost, very jealous, very hurt and actually holds me in remarkably high regard. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, after all. She also wants me to suffer, I believe. To walk in her shoes so that I can truly understand her pain.
The funny thing is that all these roles I’ve assumed that were apparently “so difficult” that I “don’t understand” are either so easy that I can do them in amongst my normal (normal! Ha!) life with zero disruption (even though I’m presently of no fixed address), or are joyous, or both: like playing zany instruments with my boy until he tells me sincerely “remember to love your heart daddy!” Or dancing hard with him to Head That I Hold by Electric Guest until everything fades but our ecstasy of movement and music and he beams at me and flings himself into my arms saying “you make me happy, daddy!” I’ve never witnessed it as clearly as I have in the last couple of months what a little mirror/sponge he is. He perfectly reflects back what he sees. And he sees very clearly.
Now the dichotomy. Despite “the dreaded ex” and this whole situation being so horrible that I feel like I never want a relationship again, there’s this deep heart ache and this trench-weary exhaustion. I’m so tired of being attacked, being under threat, I just want to rest and melt in some gentle, loving arms. To hold and be held. To give and receive the nonverbal message “everything is ok” that only a loving opposite can provide. But I can’t. And that is fucking hard.
Something is changing in me. Unexpectedly my heart keeps cracking open to feel the limitless beauty of existence. When this happens, tears come, welcome and unstoppable.
This is often contrasted with intensely difficult emotions sneaking up on me while I sleep, or otherwise when my back is turned.
I want to consume the whole universe. I will start with a hot dog – mustard, tomato sauce, cheese and all the trimmings. I’ll then polish it off with Moscow, wiping the corners of my mouth gingerly with the blanket of the Atlantic. Pretty soon the Americas will be in my belly and I’ll burp before drinking the Pacific dry. Crunching through the earth’s delicious pie crust I’ll savour the hot core like a chilli tako yaki from a Tokyo street vendor. I’ll move through the solar system inhaling comets, planets and space junk ’til there’s nothing left to hand but me and the sun. This I’ll absorb by osmosis. I won’t bother moving about to chow down on the rest of the Milky Way; I’ll simply focus my will and pull it to me like a sequined blanket caught in a vacuum cleaner.
I’ll keep going until there’s only me with all the universe inside me. Then, with the teary remorse that accompanies the consumption of all existence, I’ll draw in on myself until I am a singularity of anguish. An infinitesimally small point of potent rage and sorrow.
Finally, with nothing left to feel but abject compassion, I’ll explode.
And so it will all begin all over again.
Certificate of Merit
Alain de Botton, who is a legend, has much to say on the subject of meritocracies. Largely that they’re a nice idea but he doesn’t believe we live in one (no matter how much we would like to believe we do, or how frequently we’re told we are). There are just too many (seemingly random) variables to objectively rank merit. Fair call, I say.
Ken Wilber (in A Theory of Everything) talks about pluralistic relativism whereby we (globally, but in an unbalanced manner) are evolving away from dogmatic, mythic forms of life; away from scientific one-upmanship to toward a plateau of evolution where individual differences are celebrated and we are each left to our own devices to find our own spirituality, our own politics, our own way of working and living which makes the most sense to us. I.e. we are no longer labouring under the oppressive yoke of values imposed on us by major (or minor) religions and are left to discover our own value systems.
I’d like to suggest that Wilber’s discussion has something to say about the universal meritocracy conundrum: that we live within subjective meritocracies – every person you come across will award you merit based on their individual value systems. This is why sometimes you will “win” and sometimes you will “lose” when you’re doing exactly the same thing but with different people. Any universal meritocracy is merely a facade which represents a rough approximation of the average values of its citizens. Of course, given cultural differences we’re looking at a mesh of meritocracies where two people will (potentially) collectively award merit differently than they would individually. A third person changes the mix further. Scale up to a community or a nation and you start to see how the mesh plays out. And, like the rest of the universe, everything is in a constant state of flux so an act or omission that receives merit this minute may be condemned the next.
Applying Subjective Meritocracies
So what does this mean in practice? Well, I think it means that we should just live the life we want to live.
A friend of mine – my best friend in my late teens (when the term “best friend” had sincere and powerful meaning); an awkward but close buddy through my early twenties (and the introduction of serious girlfriends for each of us); a closed and distant acquaintance the last 6 or 7 years as we moved in different directions – is getting married in a couple of months. A couple of months ago he indirectly hinted that he might be considering me to fill the privileged position of best man. These days I am getting better at really considering options and opportunities, so I stepped back and looked intently at our relationship. I realised that we hadn’t been close for a long time, that we were really just going through the motions. More, there was quite a bit of suppressed anger on my part as I felt he really ‘used’ me: for rides, as he has no car; to facilitate social functions, as he appears fairly socially inept; to help him move house, which he didn’t ask directly (allowing me the option of considering and turning him down) but rather trapped me with the old “if I tell you a secret will you do me a favour?” – I incorrectly presumed he was going to propose to his girlfriend and wanted my help so agreed. Then he told me he’d bought a house and needed help moving… Long story short I felt I needed to keep to my word and ended up slaving away until 1 or 2am on a weeknight.
With the question about being his best man looming (there was no open discussion, just the vagaries of his email attempting to preempt my response so he could be assured of a positive reply before he asked), I went deep into it all. I spoke to my therapist at length about him. After I related my long laundry list of complaints (from wanting rides through the house move to his hosting a BBQ for 6 people but only buying 4 sausages, 2 chicken kebabs and half a loaf of bread, then calling me asking if that would be enough, and my answer being “I have a kilogram of sausages in the fridge and a loaf of bread, I’ll bring it”), my therapist nodded knowingly, empathised emphatically, then said something that snapped my head back. “You enable his behaviour.” I enable his behaviour? “He calls you saying he’s bought four sausages and you feel sorry for him and bring a kg of sausages.” The rest fell into place. I wasn’t angry at him – he was simply another character who hooked into my old behaviours whereby I take pity and go out of my way to support him, thus perpetuating the situation. The whole mess unraveled and the anger ebbed out of me…
Back to the Point
So, last week, when he finally got around to asking me to be his best man (by email), I had to decline.
Not right or wrong, simply different. He is operating under a set of values that didn’t value friends or social interaction as heavily as I do.