Vulnerability can be scary, given that dropping our guard might seem dangerous. But without vulnerability, we maroon ourselves from our emotional riches and depths–and when that happens we block ourselves from authentic connection with others.
Robert Augustus Masters
There’s an sharp pain that runs so deep through my chest that it comes out the back side; a heartache that manifests as a back ache. It makes sense I guess. The body carries the pain the mind refuses to acknowledge. It’s a pulsing numbness that tingles just enough to be felt, a reservoir of unprocessed emotion held back by my resistance to feeling…feelings. It’s swirling yet stagnant, potent yet rotten. It simultaneously yearns to be experienced and released, and buried forever. I want to touch it, to know it. And I want to destroy it. This pain, this pervasive throbbing reminder of perpetual entropy, arrives in waves. “Feel me,” it whispers. “Turn around, jump in, remember.” And then it pulls back like a low tide, recombining with the greater “me”, leaving only the crackle of sea foam as a reminder that there is much work to do.
In school, the place we spend a majority of our formative years, we are taught to add and divide and speak and write and follow the rules. The internal world, the only “reality” we’ll ever know, is contemptuously ignored by a system that would have us deny ourselves for the streamlined processing of our transformation into an acceptable cultural unit.
Honestly, I get it.
Why should a system focus on teaching emotional resilience or psychological integration and self-knowledge when walking Knee-Jerk-Defense-Mechanisms make such good consumers. We’re insatiable, hungry ghosts looking for the next blast of distraction or sugar or dopamine to blow in like a warm summer breeze and allow us to forget that we’ll never remember.
Hungry Ghosts–It’s a Buddhist idea, the realm of desire, the realm of fascination with the vulgar offerings of a dead culture that we graciously eat from the now digital palms of an invisible few hiding behind the curtain. What do we call a global “meritocracy” that rewards the most effective innovators of exploitation, human or otherwise? We have sacrificed our heart for economic efficiency and call it “morality.”
And this intangible knife wound in the center of my being remains because I don’t feel safe, I don’t feel honored or seen in my pain. I feel like a failure because Culture says there’s no time for life, no time to turn around and explore the haunted house and make meaning of innocence lynched in the night.
Push. Move, move forward, move on. Faster. You’ll lose the race, work harder, HARDER, peace isn’t important, it’s SUCCESS we need from you. See that smile on that man on that red carpet? Don’t you want that smile? You need that smile. There is no smile but that smile. Your experience isn’t important, your pain is trite.
These assumptions litter our language, our language litters our identity. I can look upon this insanity–the unspoken shove off the gangplank of autonomy into the shark infested waters of cold-culture–and see the trap. But how deep it runs. How many assumptions to dredge up with the patchwork net of my fragmented attention. How large the learning curve of moving toward my pain rather than farther away. Where to find the courage to rip the psychic band-aid off my engorged heart?
It’s a process. Many have gone this way before. But I wonder where I will find the time amidst the forty-hour work week? Where will I find empathy and support in a culture that has normalized walking past homeless people, fellow human beings, with a shrug and demeaning comment only occasionally kept private? We care more about a runaway dog than we do about the sentient, feeling, wounded human sleeping on a cold park bench.
The slivers of this destruction must be extracted one-by-one with whatever resources we can muster. And that’s the work, that’s the evolution of our species. Neutralizing the toxic assumptions of our ancestors, healing the trauma of centuries as they manifest in our own minds. We might not make it. But there’s nothing else to do. Nowhere else to turn. Just doing the work, the real work, one day at a time.
Many people give up on learning after they leave school because thirteen or twenty years of extrinsically motivated education is still a source of unpleasant memories. Their attention has been manipulated long enough from the outside by textbooks and teachers, and they have counted graduation as the first day of freedom.
But a person who forgoes the use of his symbolic skills is never really free. his thinking will be directed by the opinions of his neighbors, by the editorials in the papers, and by the appeals of television. He will be at the mercy of “experts”. Ideally, the end of extrinsically applied education should be the start of an education that is motivated intrinsically. At that point the goal of studying is no longer to make the grade, earn a diploma, and find a good job. Rather, it is to understand what is happening around one, to develop a personally meaningful sense of what one’s experience is all about. From that will come the profound joy of the thinker…
–Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in Flow