The choices that we make reveal our relative level of awareness, determine the nature and intensity of our suffering, and indeed create that suffering. Our communities (P-B) provide the context which encourages and supports our mostly irrational and self-destructive decisions, our bad choices. Even very intelligent people fall into the trap of bad choices—even very religious people.
Choices and Self Control
Lord make me chaste—but not yet. St. Augustine
St. Augustine reveals the most common pitfall of making good choices, that is to say, life-affirming, healthy choices. We can intuit what the better choice may be—the freedom of the open sea, but it involves letting go of what we think we need to have—the treacherous and rocky coast. We become unconsciously attached to and even addicted to the plenty, pleasure and power-seeking of the false-self survival strategy and are afraid that any significant changes in direction may put us at risk.
Sadly, many of us find our long-conditioned habits irresistible. In St. Augustine’s case, he found in the early part of his life that the seductive siren’s song was more attractive than the call to a more wholesome religious life. All of us, each and every day hear the sweet singing sea nymphs which will, if we so choose (and most of us do), lure us onto the rocks and thwart our hero’s voyage; and so we remain sailors asleep at the helm.
In his youth in Paris, Claude Monet, the 19th century impressionist, asked his Aunt Lecadre for money in order that he could “live it up with his friends.” We find in the book, The Last Bohemians, by Firmin Maillard (a friend of Monet’s) in Chapter 4 entitled “And Those Women!” that some of those “friends” with whom Monet wanted to live it up had the siren names of Heloise, Marguerite, Adrienne, and Hermance.
Often, as both Monet and St. Augustine found out, it is only after we find ourselves on the rocks that we realize the poor choice we have made. Monet expressed this regret later in life, gaining wisdom in retrospect: “I used to go to the notorious Brasserie in the Rue des Martyrs, where I wasted a lot of time; it did me the greatest harm.”
When Adam and Eve ate the apple they “fell” into unconsciousness and into a paradigm where controlling the false self would become a nightmare. Since pain and suffering is for the most part self-inflicted, self-control is of paramount importance for the creation of a sustainable human community.
At the heart of self-control in P-A is, of course, The Point of Power Practice where the practitioner becomes self-reliant with a high degree of control over self-destructive habits. The pay-off for developing self-discipline can be substantial as studies show—but common sense will tell us the same thing.
In the 1960’s, Walter Mischel “tormented preschoolers with the agonizing choice of one marshmallow now or two marshmallows 15 minutes from now. When he followed up decades later, he found that the 4-year-olds who waited for two marshmallows turned into adults who were better adjusted, were less likely to abuse drugs, had higher self-esteem, had better relationships, were better at handling stress, obtained higher degrees and earned more money.” Mischel’s study definitely suggests that self-control may be critically important on our voyage to awakening.
Choices and the Point of Power Practice
Unless I choose to change what I do, think or both—
I will not change what I feel. William Glasser
William Glasser is on the right track by emphasizing the importance of “change” in making healthy choices. The choice of responding, however, cannot include “thinking” or “doing” both of which are reactions. When he speaks of “feeling” he probably means “emotion” which is also a reaction. From this we can see why we have to be wary of mainstream psychology.
Glasser in his book Control Theory, subtitled A New Explanation of How We Control Our Lives, is in fact, emphasizing the importance of being able to choose response over reaction. “Because we always have control over the doing component of our behavior, if we markedly change that component we cannot avoid changing the thinking, feeling and physiological components as well.” In his research, Glasser discovered that we have more control over our behaviors than normally thought and his discoveries reinforce the more profound principles of Simple Reality. Glassser supports an optimistic outlook in the context of P-A and those of us who trust in Self-reliance and our ability to create our own “reality.”
Freud was not on the right track, however! He was blind to the significance of being in the present moment as Rollo May realized. “When we know everything about Freudian drives, instincts, and mechanisms, we have everything except being. Being is what remains.” In other words, subtract the false-self survival strategy, our reactive conditioning, our identification with our body, mind and emotions and the true self remains serene and at peace in the present moment. The darkness that we experience when unconscious has no “substance,” it is instead, the mere absence of light. Shine the light of awareness on human suffering and it dissipates.
When our life becomes a meditation we become the observer and are able to distance ourselves from the illusion of P-B. Rollo May, with his atypical insights as a psychologist, describes what we call P-A, as “the sphere where [we have] the potential capacity to pause before reacting.” He knew the importance of choosing response over reaction.
The self-reliant person attains power in the realization of the choices available to him. He becomes “the particular being who had to be aware of himself, be responsible for himself, if he is to become himself.”
Rollo May had the insights of a mystic in analyzing the modern human dilemma of making poor choices. He saw that being pre-occupied with “having, doing and knowing” was tantamount to repressing conscious awareness and that resistance was a form of self-hypnosis. “A more serious source of resistance is one that runs through the whole of modern Western society—namely, the psychological need to avoid and in some ways, repress the whole concern with “being” [as experienced in the present moment] … our tendency to subordinate existence to function: a man knows himself not as a man or self but as a token seller in the subway … this loss of the sense of being is related to the mass collectivist trends and widespread conformist tendencies in our culture.” Accepting the identity assigned to us by the P-B narrative and behaving accordingly has led humanity to a lemming-like mass suicide.
Choices: Silicone or No Silicone
We basically have two types of choices, those made unconsciously and those made with awareness—and by awareness we mean those made in the context of Simple Reality. The first category of choices is usually disastrous to one degree or another and they are not really “choices” in the literal sense because how can it be a choice if we don’t know that we have an alternative choice? This means that in the P-B story we lose the freedom of choice and are stuck behaving like a choice-less automaton, sleep-walking from one unsatisfactory option to the next. With no conscious goal in mind we never arrive anywhere, we never actually have an authentic experience of life. We continually chase an ever-receding mirage.
Many of our unconscious pseudo-choices conform to our false-self identity and are dictated by our culture. Failure to understand the importance of a transformed identity leads to egregious suffering and hard-to-believe behaviors. Only those who can say “I am not my body” will escape stories like the following.
Ester, a Brazilian mother of two who had worked for a plastic surgeon as a cook returned to her former employer with a request. “Doctor, I want to put in silicone.” Even though the cost ($900) would be a strain, Ester’s identity (her false self) demanded it. “I didn’t put in an implant to exhibit myself, but to feel better. It wasn’t a simple vanity but a necessary vanity. Surgery improves a woman’s auto estima [self-esteem].”
In P-B, divorced from Simple Reality, what sounds reasonable can be laughable and/or sad when seen from the perspective of those of us anchored in the present moment. Therapy might seem to be a healing modality for those suffering from illusions and beliefs existing in the mind. “We might ask: if you’re psychologically suffering, why not get psychological treatment? One doctor had this response: “What is the difference between a plastic surgeon and a psychoanalyst? The psychoanalyst knows everything but changes nothing. The plastic surgeon knows nothing but changes everything.”
The truth is, any changes whether psychological or physical are just shifting the suffering from one “venue” to another. All craving and aversion, all reactions involving the body, mind and emotions like chameleons take the shape and color necessary to deceive the sufferer and fit into the story of the moment, the narrative of the current nightmare.
Which would you choose if you were Ester and suffering from low auto estima, therapy or silicone? Being uneducated and existing in a simpler version of P-B and being objectified by males helps explain Ester’s choice. Something simple, immediate and concrete is needed. “The poor prefer surgery.”
Choices: To Reason or Not to Reason
Rollo May guides our vessel between Scylla and Charybdis, the treacherous currents and eddies of our mind, pulling it first to our intellects and then our intuition. “We now come to a very important problem, and in order to understand it we need to make one more preliminary distinction. That is between reason as the term was used in the seventeenth century and the Enlightenment and technical reason today. Freud held a concept of reason which came directly from the Enlightenment—namely, “ecstatic reason.” And he equated this with science. This use of reason involves, as seen in Spinoza and the other thinkers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, a confidence that reason [the intellect] can by itself comprehend all problems.
“But those thinkers were using reason as including the capacity to transcend the immediate situation, to grasp the whole [Oneness], and such functions as intuition, insight, poetic perception were not rigidly excluded … Much, in other words, that is “irrational” in our day was included in their idea of reason … But by the end of the nineteenth century, as Tillich demonstrates most cogently, this ecstatic character had been lost. Reason had become “technical reason” [the intellect]: reason married to techniques, reason as functioning best when devoted to isolated problems, reason as an adjunct and subordinate to industrial progress, reason as separated from emotion and will, reason indeed as opposed to existence—the reason finally which Kierkegaard and Nietzsche so strongly attacked.”
“His [Freud’s] great contribution was his effort to overcome the fragmentation of man by bringing man’s irrational tendencies into the light, bringing unconsciousness, split-off, and repressed aspects of personality into consciousness and acceptance. But the other side of his emphasis—namely, the identification of psychoanalysis with technical reason—is an expression of the precise fragmentation which he sought to cure. It is not unfair to say that the prevailing trend in the development of psychoanalysis in late decades, particularly after the death of Freud, has been to reject his efforts to save reason in its ecstatic form [including intuition] and to accept exclusively the latter—namely, reason in its technical form [the intellect].”
“This trend is generally unnoticed since it fits in so well with dominant trends in our whole culture. But we have already noted that seeing man and his functions in their technical form is one of the central factors in the compartmentalization of contemporary man. Thus a critical and serious dilemma faces us. On the theoretical side, psychoanalysis (and other forms of psychology to the extent that they are wedded to technical reason) themselves add to the chaos in our theory of man, both scientific and philosophical … [They could] become new representations of the fragmentation of man, they [could] exemplify the loss of the individual’s vitality and significance, rather than the reverse, that the new techniques will assist in standardizing and giving cultural sanction to man’s alienation from himself rather than solving it, that they will become expressions of the new mechanization of man … that psychoanalysis and psychotherapy in general will become part of the neurosis of our day rather than part of the cure. This would indeed be a supreme irony of history.”
And that is precisely the choice that humanity has made and makes every day; we choose to be neurotic. Our “good” choice, as it turns out is not between two types of reasoning but to return to our inner wisdom beyond reasoning itself. Restoring the connection to the Implicate Order will replace the intellect in the chart room and at the helm with a ship’s captain (intuition) that can read the charts and steer our ship on the safe and friendly seas of life.
Choices: Reaction or Response
Fear is any of a variety of degrees of anxiety associated with exposure to social disgrace or bodily harm. This phenomenon is most commonly experienced in dental offices, IRS waiting rooms, unpiloted airplanes and the belief that we live in an unfriendly universe. We distract ourselves from our fears or we repress them by shopping, eating or abusing our little brother. If these strategies work we will still find our worst fears revealed in our dreams and we still wake up with a vague but unexplained anxiety.
The worst dreams might include the fear of falling from high places, the fear of not waking up, the fear of walking down the aisle in school in your underwear. Fears that become strongly irrational (all fears are irrational), will be characterized by neurotic behavior (most of our behavior is neurotic) and are known as phobias.
There are many types of phobias including hydrophobia—the fear of water; acrophobia—the fear of high places; acrobataphobia—the fear of falling acrobats; and tackyphobia—the fear of being seen in a leisure suit or if your younger—Ugg boots.
If you ever find yourself in a fearful situation remember this procedure:
- close your eyes,
- breathe and count to ten or until your breathing becomes normal,
- place your palms together firmly with fingertips pointing upward,
- PRAY FOR YOUR LIFE!
Just kidding! When calmed down choose not to react. No gestures (identification with your body), no reactive stories (identifying with your mind) and no surrendering to afflictive emotions (identifying with conditioned emotional reactions). Do this and you will find that in the arsenal of your authentic self is the weapon called Excaliber with which you can slay all the many dragons in the Forests of Phobia.
Choices: Compassion or Fear
All Trades and Places knew some Cheat
No Calling was without Deceit. Bernard Mandeville
During the nomination process for the presidential election of 2012 Mitt Romney made the comment that “corporations are people.” Among the behavioral characteristics of the corporate “person” are: indifference to others, being incapable of experiencing guilt, and being exclusively devoted to their own interests. This is the definition, at least in part, of a psychopath.
We shouldn’t be surprised then that the false self of those involved at the center of our capitalist system would exhibit a highly active security center and perhaps a higher incidence of mental illness. “A recent study found that 10 percent of people who work on Wall Street are ‘clinical psychopaths,’ exhibiting a lack of interest in and empathy for others and an ‘unparalleled capacity for lying, fabrication and manipulation.’” The proportion of clinical psychopaths in the U.S. population as a whole is 1 percent.
In a nation where many people think of themselves as Christians, many seem to set their religious precepts aside when they go to work for Enron, BP, Phillip Morris, GE, etc. “Accounting fraud, tax evasion, toxic dumping, product safety violations, bid rigging, over-billing, perjury. The Walmart bribery scandal, the News Corp hacking scandal—just open up the business section on an average day. Shafting your workers, hurting your customers, destroying the land. Leaving the public to pick up the tab. These aren’t anomalies; this is how the system works: you get away with what you can and try to weasel out when you get caught.”
It would seem then that capitalist values and Christian values are mutually exclusive. One thing that we know for sure is that in P-B, false-self values and Christian values are not expressed in the same moment, it is always one or the other, response or reaction, compassion or fear. Perhaps we are not a Christian nation after all.
Simple Reality is a profound plan for transformation and transcendence. We must however, make the choice to begin the process of Self-transformation and commit the energy needed to enact those choices. Do we really want to change or are we basically satisfied with how our life is going? We must be serious about our answer because the key knowledge and insights that will support our process will follow that decision—not vice versa. Trusting both our True self and our inherent wisdom will deliver us into the ineffable experience of the present moment.
Psychotherapist Rollo May emphasized that “the significance of commitment is not that it is simply a vaguely good thing or ethically to be advised. It is a necessary prerequisite for seeing truth.” One choice is not as good as another!
References and notes are available for this essay.
Find a much more in-depth discussion in books by Roy Charles Henry:
Who Am I? The Second Great Question Concerning the Nature of Reality
Where Am I? The First Great Question Concerning the Nature of Reality
Simple Reality: The Key to Serenity and Survival