2012-03-28

Breaking Old Ground

Psychologist Richard Schwartz says:
“As clients embody more Self, their inner dialogues change spontaneously. They stop berating themselves and instead, get to know, rather than try to eliminate, the extreme inner voices or emotions that have plagued them. At those times they tell me, they feel ‘lighter,’ their minds feel somehow more ‘open’ and ‘free.’ Even clients who've shown little insight into their problems are suddenly able to trace the trajectory of their own feelings and emotional histories with startling clarity and understanding.”
The basic point here is an ancient one that, today, is popping up in a number of places. I like Richard Schwartz’s work not because he breaks new ground, but because he brings a clarity and vividness to very old ground. The basic teaching is one that Lake Chalice readers have been hearing from me -- and very likely other sources -- for years. My own personal work has been to understand this basic and ancient teaching better and better and to take it more and more deeply to heart.

Religious traditions have taught this point for millennia. Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, all teach – or have strands within them that teach – that we are sparks of the eternal flame, manifestations of the absolute ground of being. Christians call it the soul or "Christ Consciousness." Buddhists call it "Buddha Nature," Hindus "Atman," Taoists "Tao," Sufis "the Beloved," Quakers "the Inner Light." Once we step back from the part of us in conflict with another part of us, we have access to compassion for all our parts. We have access to who we really are. Rumi, in the 13th century, was making this point when he said that being human is guest house, so whoever comes – joy, sadness, dark thoughts – meet them at the door and invite them in. (click here)

I’ve often quoted Philip Simmons from a UUWorld article of about 10 years ago:
"There’s nothing our demons enjoy more than a good fight – nothing that confuses them more than our embrace." 
It’s not the demon that is the evil. Evil – or neurosis, or dysfunction, or depression, or unhappiness -- is what manifests when we try to push down or ignore or banish a part of us. We cannot become centered in the deep ground of our being by trying to flatten, suppress, deny, or destroy the feelings we don't like in ourselves or others. With humility, and awe, and gratitude, we can become centered in our selves by welcoming our parts.

Certain parts of ourselves aren’t easy to be welcoming toward: hatred, rage, despair, fear, addictive needs (for drugs, food, sex), racism and other prejudice, greed. Nor are we proud of such parts of ourselves as ennui, guilt, depression, anxiety, self-righteousness, and self-loathing. We must learn to listen to and ultimately embrace all these parts if we are to move ourselves toward healing and wholeness. If we can do that instead than trying to exile them, then they transform. This is where psychology and faith meet, because we don't know how they'll transform, and we don't know when -- our parts make their own schedules. Faith  is our ability love and trust. Love your parts, trusting that your love will allow them to transform.

Every time we try to fight against a part of ourselves, we do so by generating or calling upon another part of ourselves. Diane called upon the Pusher to fight against the Pessimist. Or we call upon the Hate Hater to fight against the Hater. Now we have two personae that are giving us problems.

Treating our parts as if they had a life of their own -- as if they were, in effect, real personalities in themselves with a point of view and a reason for acting as they do -- helps us be present to them with compassion. When we approach them in a spirit of humility and a friendly desire to understand them, we begin to understand why they cause the trouble that they do. And we’re able to reassure them that the purpose they serve will be met.

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Part 3 of "Evil"
Next: Part 4: "Baptists, Bootleggers, and Self-Defense"
Previous: Part 2: "Know Thyself. Know Thyselves"
Beginning: Part 1: "Tragedy. Spring. Fractals."