Paddy and Mike were sitting in McGuire’s having a pint and watching the comings and goings in the brothel across the street. As they sat there, Rev. Barnes, the local Baptist minister, wandered into the disreputable establishment. Paddy remarked, “Sure it’s a shame to see a man of the cloth goin’ bad.”
A while later, Rabbi Goldberg came down the street and entered the brothel. Mike observed (to Paddy’s nodding agreement), that it was sad to see a good man like the Rabbi succumb to the illicit desires of the flesh.
A while later, the boys were startled to see Father Kilpatrick amble down the street and follow the trail of the other clergymen through the forbidden doors. After a moment of stunned silence, Paddy’s face flashed, and he exclaimed, “What a terrible pity . . . one of the girls must be terribly ill.”
Like Paddy and Mike, we do not see the truth, rather, we “see” what our preconceptions, fears and training condition us to see. The world may be the same in an absolute sense, but the moment the world enters each person’s mind, things change. Reality becomes edited, managed, manipulated and shaped by our fears, anxieties and prejudices. We tilt the field of play before the game ever begins.
Look no further than the people you know. You probably live in similar circumstances and may share many values, have similar experiences and yet there can be significant “differences of opinion.” The daily news is largely built around disagreements and differing perspectives. Today we are lurching toward a Presidential election in which politicians will gain political leverage by appealing to peoples’ biases. How does that happen? How is it that honest people of good intention can end up viewing the same world from such different perspectives? And, where does that leave the truth?
David Borenstein said, “Dangerous is the man who has rationalized his emotions.” (Rationalization – the art of inventing plausible explanations for acts, opinions, etc. that would otherwise be intolerable.) Thousands of years before Borenstein, Demosthenes said, “Nothing is easier than self-deceit. For what each man wishes, that he also believes to be true.” We may be talking about the same subject, but we do not see the same things. Conrad Adenauer said, “We all live under the same sky, but we don’t all have the same horizon.”
This is not an insignificant matter. People suffer and die for having contrary views. We go from the persecution of the early Christians to The Inquisition, the American Revolutionary and Civil Wars, women’s suffrage, prohibition, the Nazi Holocaust, the Red baiting of the 1950′s, the Viet Nam War protests, the fight over abortion, the Bosnian conflict and the butchery in Darfur, all because groups of people saw things differently and were willing to kill and perhaps die to preserve their views. Ostracism and rejection are powerful social forces in themselves. Ask a Black person, a Hispanic, a gay. Talk to a writer, a painter or a poet and you will find pain from holding unconventional ideas.
Christ was crucified because he spoke truth to a society that was not ready to embrace it. History and the Bible focus on the evil of the Pharisees, but the people of Jerusalem did not swarm to Christ’s aid either. Pilate could have simply banished Christ, but the Pharisees demanded that he be silenced. Why? What is it about the truth? . . . It is a most important question. What is it about the truth that can cause us to react so violently to it? Ask Abraham Lincoln, Mohandas Gandhi, John Kennedy, John Lennon, Martin Luther King Jr., Robert Kennedy, Al-Hallaj, Anwar Sadat, Wang Zhiming, Janani Luwum, Oscar Romero and the men who killed them.
To understand this phenomenon you do not have to look further than your own mirror. I do not mean to imply that you could be an assassin, but rather that you do not see yourself as the wonderful, special being that you are. Your life experiences have brought you to believe otherwise. When you were young – when you felt vulnerable, you were hurt and rejected, leading you to feel unworthy about yourself. So, today when presented with an opportunity to love openly and freely (be vulnerable) your reaction is going to be cautious at best. The greater the challenge to openness, the stronger your reaction will be. Gandhi, Lincoln, King and the others represented truths so profound that many people were squeezed between their beliefs and the truth. Some chose to fight, a few chose a darker road.
What does the truth ask of you? It asks that you love unconditionally. That means exposing yourself to rejection and abandonment (again), and that scares the heck out of your damaged, wounded, feeling powerless part. The truth might set you free, but only when you are ready to accept it. Until then, it presents an unconscionable torture, driving you farther back into your shadow. And when you cannot accept reality, you must create barriers to it; otherwise reality would overwhelm you. In response, you create emotions. Emotions insulate you from the truth. They allow you to function without being overwhelmed by the conflict between a larger reality and your beliefs.
If you were to see the truth about yourself in this moment, it would create significant inner dissonance. How many times have you been told that you were wonderful or special, and what did you do with those loving expressions? The conflict between what you believe and the truth would overwhelm the limiting beliefs you hold and the life structure you have created around them. Then what would you do? Until you can fully embrace the truth, what would guide your life? If you were unable to compensate, you would go insane. So you withdraw into your shadow – you rationalize, deny, become depressed, feel ashamed, become needy, project out, etc., etc. This is not a failure on your part; it is simply where you are in your process.
Rationalization is only one of many emotional methods you employ to separate yourself from truth you are not able to accept. Denial makes a problem go away, shame keeps you from feeling worthy and taking risks, rage masks your vulnerability, projection dumps your feelings onto others, depression freezes your anger, envy masks your feelings of failure and hatred allows you not to look at your fear. Every emotion has a role in isolating you from the truth. And yes, if the truth sufficiently threatens your beliefs, you can react violently.
Just to illustrate how far emotions take us from reality, think about the rationalization behind buying a Powerball ticket. The next time you see a 747 flying overhead, think about a stack of Powerball tickets reaching from you to the plane. If the Powerball odds are seventeen million to one, you get to pick one ticket out of that thirty four thousand foot high stack. “But you might pull the winning ticket!” your rationalizing mind tells you. That is the power of rationalization. People look back and say, “How could I have married that person?” Love isn’t blind. Emotions are. We allow them to blind us to what we do not want to see.
Feelings and emotions are different. A feeling comes, you hold it for a little while and then it naturally passes on. You remember having the feeling, but the feeling itself is short-lived. Emotions are different in an important way. In an emotion, your feeling takes you back to an unresolved wound from your past. It brings the unresolved pain forward and overlays it on the present circumstance. This is not accidental. The present situation has been created for the express purpose of bringing up your old unresolved hurt so that it can be healed. This is possible because at the core of every wound is a significant misunderstanding, begging to be resolved. Otherwise the old occurrence would be just an event, a memory, without a charge on it.
Bringing your old wounds forward is how The Universe helps you to resolve them. Instead of being continually burdened by your old pain, it brings it into the present so that you can resolve what I call The Misunderstanding. The Misunderstanding is the source of your pain. It also explains why someone can have a strong reaction to an incident that other people may view as minor. The person’s reaction is driven by old unresolved pain, which is only tangentially related to the present event. (This is a more complicated subject than I have space for here, but it is addressed at length in Journey to Enlightenment.)
The perfection of the process is that although emotions get you through the moment, you still experience pain from the underlying disharmony. And if you persist, your feelings will build. Your emotion-based avoidance behavior will eventually back you into a corner and prod you to look at what you have been avoiding. This is called a crisis. But, because you have free will, you can still continue to refuse what is being asked of you. However, if you do refuse, the stakes get even higher (more stress), leading to the physical failure we know as disease. A disease is nothing more than an “impossible to ignore” challenge from The Universe to look at your beliefs and behavior. The message is, “Change or die.”
Making changes to your beliefs by yourself is possible, but it is generally difficult. It takes motivation to leave the sanctuary of your protective shell and explore other ways of being. Most people resist doing this until they are forced to “by circumstances.” And to make that leap, we need to find faith in something greater than ourselves. We used to look to our leaders, heroes and social institutions for the faith to take the risk to embrace what we wanted to believe. We need heroes and things to have faith in (no steroids, please). We need the crutch they provide until we learn to walk on our own. This is why our leaders and heroes need to be bigger than life. [Unfortunately, that has been taken from us.]
Don’t tell us that Babe Ruth was a drunk or that Lincoln was an ambitious politician. We need to hold their struggle against impossible odds, regardless of, perhaps in spite of, their personal failings, as proof that we can face our own obstacles, deal with our own fears and succeed. We may never write plays like George Bernard Shaw or Haiku poetry like Basho, sing like Pavarotti or have the insight of Lao Tsu, but their achievements offer us hope that we too, can overcome obstacles and rise above them.
Show me someone who has been damaged by a belief in Santa Claus. Show me someone who has been harmed by a true belief in God. Sadly, our rationally based, scientifically dominated, tabloid driven society has deprived us of things to believe in other than heartless, soulless rationality, packaged as truth. There is little magic any more and “God is dead.” And, we are paying a terrible price for it.
So what can you do? The answer is not complicated – but it can be difficult to do. Start by looking for things to believe in. Perhaps start with concepts like gratitude or compassion – things that won’t shake the foundations of your beliefs. You can look for eternal truths in places like Christ’s “Sermon on the Mount” or maybe the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tsu. In truth, it’s all around you. As the Buddha taught, you can find it by truly looking at a flower. When you have identified a concept, then bring it into your daily life. Watch for inner conflict as you try to put it into practice. Where are you not generous? Where is your heart closed, and why? What do you fear?
When confronted with a situation that pulls you into an emotional state, recognize that The Universe is asking you to look at the beliefs you hold that are in conflict with Universal Truth. These will often be beliefs about yourself. You may not be able to do anything in the moment, but afterwards, step out of the situation, ignore what you are feeling toward the other person(s), and search for your part in the disharmony. What pushed you into conflict? Were you not loving? Use this exercise to identify the beliefs The Universe is asking you to transform. This helps you focus your healing efforts. Identifying the beliefs you hold is an essential first step. You have built significant parts of your life around those beliefs, and even though they are all untrue, it can be very difficult to let them go.