Thursday, January 29, 2015

Pride & Humility, Lost & Found

"No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. To those who knock, it is opened." -C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce

What soul doesn't desire- seriously, and constantly- joy

We all want life beyond mediocrity- even if, to many of us, that looks like simplicity. We all want love- with ourselves, and with other people- that's not just okay, or just good enough, but that overflows and empowers us, that feels like both home (familiar, healthily safe but not complacent)- and adventure.

In the deepest crevices of who we are, we want to feel alive and awake, fully present. We struggle with the paradox of knowing how good and rich development and growth are- but how easy and comfortable it is to avoid them. We want our wounds healed and put behind us, conquered and surpassed forever- but at the very same time, we don't even want to look at them. We know very well what they are, whatever it is that plagues and bothers us, but to personally confront our so-called demons is scary, difficult, confusing, and often easy to avoid.

It's like somehow we know there is more, don't we- but the actual bravery, strength, will power, reason to go get it every single day eludes us. The reality for most people is that when it comes right down to it, they give their days much more often to mediocrity, the very thing they hate- than to bigger dreams and purpose, the very thing they crave.
As I walk through life and make decisions about how I want to live (what I want to do, what I want to be, what feeds me, what drains me; what serves and what is better left alone...) I observe such paradox evident in myself, and in everyone else I talk to. Without exception, everyone else. It is there, in the heart of every person, no matter what their life appears to look like and no matter what they appear to know. 

That paradox is maybe best expressed as something like this: everyone wants what they can sense, however vaguely or however powerfully, is the big, bold, joyful, love-filled, meaningful life within them. And, subliminally trained and influenced by the way of the world- even if we think we're acting counter to it- and by our own attempts to make sense of what has happened to us, we slide effortlessly and unnoticeably into the appealing trap of perceived self-sufficiency, dependence solely on our own knowledge.

Only as I get older do I see how cleverly detrimental this mode of operation (exclusively) is: it convinces us only for a time that we have the answer we seek, that we are wise- but then just as quickly, we are left reeling from something, hurting from something; shaken, shattered, lost again. Often we don't even see it, how prideful it is to assume we know so much about the world, and ourselves. We come upon a solution that works at the time, for our current state, and we call it the certain truth or ultimate way or answer.

But a lot of times what it is doesn't really help heal us, or serve our souls- our own answers, thinking, logic, or wisdom are almost too much a matter of the mind, and void of what our souls, the purest part of ourselves, needs to be really alive.

"Each of us has a soul, but we forget to value it. We don't remember that we are creatures made in the image of God. We don't understand the great secrets hidden inside of us." -St. Teresa of Avila
The only thing, I get more and more convinced as I grow, in faith and otherwise, that separates us from God is ego, driven by pride: pride to know, pride to make sense of our own situations with our knowledge and our knowledge alone, pride to say, 'I have worked it all out and life with God isn't necessarily more authentic or rich than life without Him,' or at least, God excluded, 'I have worked it out myself.'

But the deepest humility possible will reflect God back to us in everything. It is the Socratic model of knowing: the only true wisdom is knowing you know nothing. That, I know for myself, has been the only true and lasting thing to get me to the point in life where I am actually able to live presently, without worry, or fear; aware of past wounds, aware of the damage they have caused and the necessary grace and inner knowingness needed to act completely beyond them. That is where I get the strength to write (and the words to say); that is the flow where art comes from, where life, and the desire to live fully, comes from: from understanding my limitedness. This concept is counter-intuitive, a paradox, until it's understood.

It is as though, even given the chance (which of course everybody is) to declare that self-knowledge, or reflection, or meditation, or self-dependence, or learning, or yoga, or higher 'spiritual' evolution, or making art, or following your dreams, could be the ultimate ways to know, live, and love life, I still must declare that knowing and serving God is the ultimate way of understanding, inner peace, inner stillness, morality, and love, in their deepest, richest, purest forms.
We can only think this way with humility. I don't think I've ever been a particularly prideful person; but when I say pride I don't necessarily mean that its biggest indicator is arrogance or seeming a 'know-it-all.' Pride is sometimes quieter and less assuming: I was prideful, for example, without my even seeing it, when I held on to prior pain- hurts of the past- and re-ran my own story and script (spun out of a thousand different inputs: things my family had told me, things I- as a young, inexperienced person; in times of pain or hurting- told myself) about my life and (more importantly) my value, my worth, that were actually hugely inaccurate and irrelevant.

And not only inaccurate and irrelevant, but perhaps most profoundly, that would absolutely never have supported my life and desire to be the person I am right now. Self-inspective methods are necessary, knowledge is necessary, reason is necessary, but there is a deeper narrative still beneath these things that reveals the 'bigger picture' of life into which we fit, not which we have the ability to fully understand or control.

The ego wants control, the soul does not; the soul knows how to be. The soul isn't affected by what happens. When you get your sense of worth and value from identification with the ego- from what you can control, from what you know- pride is inevitable: between not only you and God, but even more so between you and everybody else around you. It is good to know things, and it is okay to take stock of things in life- but it it not fully accurate to your self-understanding to posit that what we are is the culmination of what we know, what we have, or what we think. This too seems counter-intuitive, like a very clever trick on behalf of some darkness within man which seems to be trying to pull him away from his Maker. In the words of St. Augustine: "It was pride that changed angels into devils; it is humility that makes men as angels." 
Pride is so often subtle to detect, but completely blinding: and when we first begin to see how deeply it is embedded within us as a learned method for modern emotional survival, it nearly abhors us to discover that we could be such a person. Though nothing, after the discovery of pride within us, quite propels us to become so dedicated to humility. To be humble, you first have to be able to see that you are proud. The deeper the humility of a person, the more painstakingly introspective they have been to see that pride is not their condition alone, but the human condition in total- and so to set themselves right, they seek beyond what is merely human.

"Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. It is comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of competition is gone, pride is gone. A proud man is always looking down on things and people; and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you." -C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity 

I know I am an artist. I know I am knowledgeable about painting, about yoga, about spirituality, about what I studied in school, about what I do at my job, about this that and the other thing. But to be proud of these things isn't nearly as useful or authentic as to internally allow these things to positively change me so that I may serve. There is a big difference. I don't get my sense of self, or worth, or value from any of these things, these 'accomplishments' or 'strengths.' This too seems very counter-intuitive: aren't the things we do (get a college education, possess knowledge, hold a job we love), or even the things we are (an artist, a yogi, a Christian) good, safe, accurate, beautiful things on which to base an identity?

I think it's scary to admit this, and certainly not trendy or modern to think it at all, but I don't think so. If you're identity comes from humility, it comes directly from God, because it comes from your ease and acceptance that what you call me is no ultimate, all-knowing thing. Nor does your identity come from mere labels, from words; or not from accomplishments, or failures (which so often people allow to define them; this is also, though it appears as under-confidence or self-loathing, pride). Good or bad, if anything lacks the consistent, eternal, unchanging, character of God, it is a faulty foundation on which to build a life, and a self. 

"Learn to hold loosely all that is not eternal." -A.M. Royden

I can only explain it in this way, but life flips upside down when we find our identity in God alone. There is a palpable joy in knowing that your ultimate identity rests in eternal, unchanging Love, and not in things which are subject to time, or validation or approval. 

Also counter-intuitively, knowing this makes you more inclined to take risks, to be brave, to be able to choose adventure over playing it safe, to be able to come alive, to live like you have nothing to lose or attach to; to be able to develop, to put fear and hurts behind you. To live with a sense of home- and the adventure which you crave and are called to. To look at life and honestly be able to say, 'it is a gift.'

The shift comes in this way: life is suddenly free and liberating in practice, not just theory. You are free.
And so much more comes off of that: if my worth is found in God, then other peoples' worth comes from God, and not from their wrong (or right)-doings to me. Your world and the comprehension of everything and everyone in it starts turning almost the exact opposite way of how we are told or how we try through effort to live. If we seek God, we must be constantly removing our sense that what we identify as I (our pain, our achievements, our knowledge, our comforts, our deeds or earnings) is center of the universe. This is not something we will be willing to do if we want to protect the ego. But if we want truth, we want ultimate love, it means judgement goes away. 

Judgement is convenient for the ego. As long as we judge others, we are able to accomplish a great number of self-enforcing things: we can be better than, we can justify blame, we don't have to take responsibility for our own actions, we can always be right, because we have cast ourselves as the judge. We can take our accomplishments- or even our pains and sufferings- and use them to bolster 'what we know,' to serve our own personal truth or worldview.

Of course, to truly and honestly establish a world (a relational world of two people, or a whole human family of all of them) of peace, love, compassion, and presence, no one can be 'right.' There must be a heart-felt design of some kind in the innermost being of every man that he may access, that can show him the way to live. This is what we come upon when we revere God, and His word. Reverence is a form of listening. Listening is an active form of presence, of love.

Take this further: it means that everybody- my friends, my enemies (those who have hurt me, in any way, big or small); the hungry, the poor; the wealthy, the educated- while they all may not get the same level of interaction in my life, my heart feels equally towards all of them. Again, not in theory, but really

As a Christian, in terms of how I think about people in the deepest parts of my being that no one can see but that direct and determine my real character and convictions, there is no self-reinforcing ego that says, 'I am the ultimate judge of their worth.' Acting from a level of soul, love replaces opinions. No one, no one, is better than the other in any situation under any circumstance - and certainly not the one I call 'me.'

"If you wish to see the truth, then hold no opinions for or against anything. To set up what you like against what you dislike is a disease of the mind. When the deep meaning of things is not understood, the mind's essential peace is disturbed to no avail." -Seng Ts'an
To eliminate opinions and instead allow yourself to become humble is extremely important and winds up being beneficial to the soul too: because it means that in the times where I am not fully able to love myself relentlessly and joyously, when my opinion of myself (or even of those around me) is low; when I am going through hardships, or hard days; when my confidence is a little off, when I feel lost and confused- I fully understand that my joy does not come from my own emotions or feelings at those times, but from the unchanging love of God. Under such conditions, I may love myself and others anyway- because I understand love is a matter of character, not feeling. It not only saves others (in marriages, in friendships, in work relationships), it saves you.

I can think back and recall some feeling prior to knowing God, which I would describe as lost. Feeling lost, feeling like I don't know what I want to do with my life, like I don't ultimately know what I want from life, from relationships; like I don't know where I want to be, or to go; like I don't really know who I am. These are familiar, universal feelings to everyone.

And we think they point to human dilemma, with a human answer, but ultimately, they are spiritual in nature, a feeling of distance from something we so inwardly perceive to be our First Love, our ultimate sense of belonging.

As I first began to feel an inner ability to answer these pains, or to at least listen to them, and silence the anxiety they caused, I didn't know if I should write about- or could sustain writing about- them, as I didn't fully see what was happening within me. Spirituality isn't something you choose. It is something that chooses you, when you make the space ready. 

I never knew before that deep, unrelenting, radiant confidence comes from knowing that I am loved, and not just from knowing that I love myself. We are close when we say, 'I must love myself more.' We are home when we say, 'I believe I am loved.'

Of course, it is important to love yourself. This is how we start to feel God in the first place: to stumble into the awareness (and maybe it takes some people longer than others; it took me quite some time, actually) that we are worth loving. But just as you are not the ultimate judge of who else is worth loving- friend or foe- you are, though perhaps it would make life easier and more comfortable, also not the ultimate judge that you are worth loving. You are worth loving. This is, weirdly, maybe one of the hardest things accept.
The true Christian would say that to anyone on the planet- you are loved, you are worthy of love- and that is Love by the Christian standard, that is living the gospel: there is no human judgement, no score-keeping; there is forgiveness of what modern man calls 'the unforgivable' because we see what has, by God, already been forgiven in us.

To live life fearlessly forgiven, and knowing that you are being pursued by a God who wants you to know Him and love Him so deeply, so that you may fully live, provides that infallible joy. I know a lot of people who think that the concept of God creates a 'false or irrational sense of security,' but I hope I have been articulate enough in explaining how God (not our ideas of Him, but Him) is actually the most realistic encounter we will ever ultimately have, transcendent even of our own thinking, however high it may be.

"Your longing for Me is my message to you. All your attempts to reach Me are in reality My attempts to reach you." -Rumi

Some will say this is no big endeavor or huge deal, to learn to love your enemies, but it is among the biggest: because to love thine enemy is to love thyself, the paradox that you know you are; so that you may get through to the other side of it, to the best version of the human being you know you were made to become. To really do this is to remove any walls of fear, however subliminal within you, between yourself and whatever you encounter in the world, no matter how difficult, painful, or unfair.

Those who seek, find. To those who knock, the door is opened. If you would like both a sense of home within yourself, and adventure throughout life, trusting and believing in your story as it is being written beyond you and for you is a wonderful, beautiful, creative approach.

There is this approach: to love, seek, understand, and know God; or there is its opposite: maintain the control you need to be right.

No comments: