What the Self Fears Most

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    A prominent national writer, who said in 2010, “America is almost a rogue state,” also derided the only alternative. “Trying to love all of humanity…keeps the focus on the self, on the self’s own moral or spiritual well-being.” That’s just plain wrong.

    It seems the number of people thinking in terms of the whole of humanity is shrinking by the month. The mistake of giving primacy to the particular over the whole is increasing just when we need such a perspective the most, since cultures and societies are breaking down all over the world.

    The same writer said he could no longer “drift forward through my life as a global citizen.” The sad echoes of a failed inward life reverberate from such a strange comment. Both quotes speak of an obdurate need to adhere to the illusion of a separate self.

    Why does wholeness have such an appeal to the mind, but is such an anathema to the emotions? Why do the images of self, the motivations of self-concern, the obsessions of the ego so motivate us, rather than the draw and drive for insight, understanding, and completeness?

    In former times, even in highly industrialized countries like America, identity was defined in terms of belonging to a community, service to the nation, or sacrifice for one’s extended family. But during the nuclear standoff the nucleus became all-important. Everything else got stripped away, so that the only thing (and it is a thing) that mattered became ‘me, myself, and I.’

    You can still hear romanticized and militarized echoes of these former identities of belonging and service in the hollow praise of “those who serve in our military, who sacrifice themselves to insure that we remain free.” It’s the worst kind of balderdash of course.

    The United States has a mercenary army drawn mostly from the poor and desperate sectors of society. And though there are more and more young men and women who fall into that category, they enter an alternate reality in terms of discipline, battle, and national policy that’s completely disconnected from society as a whole. We repeatedly tell gullible young soldiers, especially through advertising, that they’re fighting for us, but distance ourselves as much as possible from the conflicts we send them off to kill and be killed for.

    The underlying reality is that the US internally collapsed as surely as the USSR did in the early ‘90’s, and the nation and its people are completely adrift. A compromise-oriented rather than transformation-oriented president “leads from the back.” But he’s probably better than we deserve. National identity has been completely subsumed (minus the lip service of course) to personal identity, and personal identity is all about consumption that minimizes pain and maximizes pleasure.

    When the outer has lost all coherence, cohesiveness, and meaning, having an inner life becomes a matter of emotional and spiritual survival. (I’m not talking about self-seeking and self-enhancement.) Yet outer-directedness is still the prescribed course by what passes for thinkers in this country, those who should know better; or do, and simply don’t care, like the vast majority of the populace.

    Showing how far things have gone in America, the supposedly progressive commentariat, whose job it is to think about things most people don’t have the time or inclination to think about, deride Europeans, in this most anti-intellectual of countries, for “thinking too much.”

    Neither the ‘find your Higher Self in yoga’ crowd, nor the ‘lose your lower self in service’ conservatives even begin to address what really ails the land, and increasingly, all lands. The former utters the nonsensical dictum ‘speak your own truth,’ as if each one of us has a separate franchise on the truth. The latter advocates belonging to numbingly empty teams, and following the rules of completely corrupted institutions.

    Ironically, dissolving the self is the goal of both the find-yourselfers and the lose-yourselfers. The self is a fragment, and the fragment can never become whole. The fragment has to end for wholeness to be.

    Identity is not a given; it not only changes, inevitably; but it ends, inevitably. It usually ends in death at the end of life, but it can end, and the self dissolve, by making a friend of death during life.

    The movement of the past forms the self. The past is the movement of memory, association, experience, image, and the word. That entire movement can be still–not made still, but fall spontaneously still through attention to it.

    Consciously die to the self (not “lose yourself”) for one moment every day, even if it takes you a half hour of passive observation of the movement of thought/emotion to do so.

    Then there is something beyond the two sides of the worn-out coin of the self. With the self’s ending, however temporary, comes the renewal of innocence, fellow feeling, and love of humanity.

    Martin LeFevre

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