All that wars within us
Believing in opposition is kind of a problem
|Annie Mueller||Jan 11, 2020|
Podcast version of this post for subscribers: here.
“If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it's not your path. Your own path you make with every step you take. That's why it's your path.”
We all want the same basic stuff. To be free enough to exercise autonomy over our lives. To be safe enough to not live in a constant state of freaking out. To live a life with meaning. To be happy.
But the way we express what we want—these clumsy attempts to communicate—often make us feel like we are going in opposite directions. We see each other as opposing forces. We see each other moving toward extremes, in different directions, and to maintain balance we pull harder toward the extreme we prefer.
There is such difficulty in hearing, really hearing what another person is trying to say.
There is so much room for misunderstanding in the language we use, the images we share, the way we define terms, the meanings we assign to words and feelings, the beliefs we carry unconsciously, the ways we name or explain desire or fear.
There is so little real communication.
The things that represent freedom to us, or being trapped: these are symbols, but we focus on them as literal. Then we get lost in arguing about the value of one literal object or experience over another. That’s not the point. The point is this: What do the symbols mean? What do they represent? What internal desire or force or need is represented by that symbol?
If we could get to that type of communication, I think we would find more in common than not.
We all struggle with the same basic human things. We assign and assume based on stereotypes, and then we strengthen our belief in stereotypes by not bothering to dig beneath the surface: either for ourselves, or for the sake of someone else.
We believe in opposition. There is no opposition. Everyone wants to be happy. We only have conflict over the details: what happy looks like, and what’s the best way to get there. Or, to put it another way, we’re all playing the same infinite game, and we’re all on the same team. It’s only the finite games that put us in opposition, and that only matters when we take them seriously. We only take them seriously when we forget about the larger game, the real game, the infinite game.
Infinite play resounds with laughter; finite play echoes with fear.
When we take the small, finite games seriously, we live in fear. We’re steeped in it, surrounded by it, fish in water unaware of water, moving through something so close to us we can’t even see it.
We believe a lot of little lies, like the conclusions we jump to, automatically. The interpretations we don’t question because we don’t realize they’re only interpretations. To us, they seem like reality.
Losing a finite game seems like losing at life when you can’t see any reality beyond that game.
There is real terror here: the absolute terror of feeling something foundational crumble, the judgment of standards we didn’t create but must somehow meet, the shame we feel about our own desires, the panic we feel at the idea of being seen, being real, being responsible and free. The even more visceral, deeper terror we feel at the idea that we will never be seen. The sense of desperation and urgency that time is running out, which leads to that allure, that siren call of going to extremes just to get through it, get it over, because walking slowly in pain and uncertainty is like dancing in a forest of thorns.
We have a desperation, a deep primal need to find a place of safety, and it wars with our equally deep and primal and desperate need to live in freedom, to expand, to make a mark on this world, to live it fully, to live so that every word, every choice, every action screams out, “I AM HERE!” and gives some meaning to these reverberations of Self which we send out into what may be beautiful connected cosmic loving consciousness or may be cold, dark, lifeless empty space.
But no one is a caricature. In small games, we are one-sided characters. In reality, in the infinite game of life, we are complex selves. We contain multitudes: untold, unexpressed essence, deep and twining desires, layers and layers of emotion and belief and memory and learned behavior and meaning, all of it covering up our vulnerable gooey center.
One version of self wants and needs the grounding and safety of being known, accepted, and cherished; of structures that keep us from drowning in details; of a familial and historical context so we can relieve the weight of defining ourselves, so we can relax in a sense of our own continuity.
One version of self wants and needs freedom in equal or perhaps greater measure; we need freedom to expand, to explore, to conquer, to play, to live and move and have our being at the edge of the known, to take those risks, to leap and fall or fly, to learn, to become more than what we already know ourselves to be, to have those challenges and outlets and adventures which call us out, scare us to our core, and give us a way to express the unseen greatness we feel inside.
What we want, I think is a life—and experience—that does not force us to sacrifice one need, or self, for the other. We look at our options and see Option A and Option B. Pick one. Give up one to have the other. They go in opposite directions. We have to choose. We stand there in uncertainty, frozen, weighing it out, asking: “Which one should I choose? Which one should I choose?”
Maybe a better question would be: “Are these really all of my choices?”
When Jesus was exorcising a spirit from a haunted and desperate person, he asked of the spirit, “Who are you?” and received this answer: “We are many.” There was no single identifier. “We are legion,” the spirit said to Jesus.
There are so many things that war within us. Feelings, needs, desires, beliefs; to identify one as the problem (and thus, its opposite as “the solution”) is to ignore most of who and what we are. You don’t fill up a deep yawning gnawing well of need and yearning with a shovelful of dirt, even if it’s really great dirt. What satisfies or heals or releases us can never be one change, one solution, one ‘success’ or win, or any expansion that occurs only in a single direction.
What we want, I think, is deeper and better, some sort of trust in ourselves that is equal to the infinite and ever-changing nature of our beings. I’m not sure what to call it except maybe freedom or maybe self-acceptance. It’s like happiness, but a happiness that is okay with being unhappy. It’s peace, but not peace based on a belief that everything will be okay. It is peace that stays with you even though, certainly, some things are not and will not ever be okay.
I don’t believe that we are here to change the world. Fixing broken things is too lowly a calling. We are meant to create new worlds, and we do it by considering all of who we are, accepting the mess and contradiction, plunging into the unknown with a vision, an idea, with no guarantees, with no path to follow. We make the path. We are the path; and the world breaks, disintegrates, and reforms itself around us when we are on the edge, vulnerable, powerful, creating our own path, step after step moving into new territory.