When I started guiding many years ago there were no real formal guiding qualifications yet. I had a masters degree in zoology, however, and as a result many saw me as eminently qualified. I didn’t really feel all that qualified, but I liked the idea of being seen as qualified!
And so I went through the ranks of the Wilderness Leadership School much quicker than others to become a guide.
In reality I knew very little. I had academic knowledge, yes, but I had had very little experience in the bush. I could not track, and I had not learned from experience how to interact with potentially dangerous animals. I was dedicated to getting that knowledge and experience, but I didn’t have it. Being seen as competent, therefore, directly contradicted my deep feeling of inadequacy.
How do you deal with a perception of competence negated by a deep sense of utter inadequacy?
You become arrogant. Although I did not realize it at the time, that’s what happened to me.
I specifically recall a reconnaissance for a ‘team building’ exercise that I was going to do in a game reserve. As I walked through the bush to explore, the ranger warned me to be careful of lions. I became angry. Who was this ranger to tell me what I should do in the bush?! Many years later, as CEO of FGASA (Field Guides Association of Southern Africa) I would get to know this ranger quite well. He was Juan Pinto, one of the most experienced and competent guides in southern Africa!
The problem was one of pretense. I felt I needed to keep up an image. Surely I could not show others how little I really knew?!
I could have. Many years later I was to read in A Course in Miracles: “In my defenselessness my safety lies.” It took me quite some time to integrate this loaded statement into my being. Why was I afraid of admitting what I really felt? Because at a deep level I believed that who I really was was not good enough.
Many of us have grown up in the Christian tradition. There we learn(ed) that we have to be good to please God. We have to forgive, be nice to other people, even love our enemies. In short, we are taught to be nice.
When as children we don’t feel so nice, we often get reprimanded. “Ruk jouself reg!” is an expression frequently used in Afrikaans. It means “Get yourself right!” Don’t cry!” “Now don’t you have an attitude on me!!” And so on.
As little children, of course, we tend not to see the contradiction. How can we be both subject and object? Who is the ‘me’ that needs to take action and who is the ‘other me’ that has to be “gotten right”?
And so we have no option but to pretend to be who we perceive others wanting us to be. Eventually we believe that we are who we have learned to pretend to be.
This double bind lies at the heart of the dilemma of all religion and western ‘civilization’ as a whole. We have all grown up to be images of who we, and those around us, believed we should be.
And so we need control. ‘I’ have to control ‘myself’. Just in case I fail, others have to control me. And still others have to control those who control me. So who ultimately controls the controllers? Fact is: nobody. That’s one reason why the super rich never feel that they have enough. What better means of control is there than the money that most people think they do not have enough of?
The result of our very need for control is that the world is completely out of control. We keep it that way by projecting our own deep inability to “control ourselves” on others.
Judgement is an inevitable component of this mix. From the day we are born we learn what is ‘right’ and what is ‘wrong’, what is ‘good’ and what is ‘evil’. ‘Good’ is praised and ‘evil’ is punished. That’s how we control. Yes, Jesus said “Do not judge,” and that may have been fine for Him, but surely we have a real world to deal with?
Yet why can’t we just be ‘ourselves’? Is it not the very nature of children to be themselves that gives us such joy? Why then try to change it from the day they are born?
Because of guilt and fear. This is symbolized by the Christian belief that we are “born in sin”, and therefore inherently evil. Of course as little children we don’t understand how some woman eating an apple aeons ago could possibly make us evil, but we simply accept it, and spend the rest of our lives trying to undo our inherent evil. The inevitable result is that we keep running in a wheel like a hamster, inherently unable to make it to where we are supposed to get.
Sages through the ages, including Jesus, and more recently inspired writings such as A Course in Miracles, A Course of Love and Conversations with God have pointed out consistently that trying to be other than we are is not the way. It is, in fact, impossible! How sane is a world in which we consistently try to be who we cannot possibly be?! Hence Jiddu Krishnamurti’s words of wisdom: “It is no sign of health to be well-adjusted to an insane society.”
Trying to be other than we are cannot other than leave us with a deep sense of inadequacy. That’s what happened to me. My arrogance was the natural result of the need to be other than I was.
Many South Africans and others love to ridicule and hate our president Jacob Zuma and other ANC leaders for their words and actions. Yet are they not doing what all of us are doing – pretend to be who they are not? Where are their ‘failures’ truly to be found – in their inherent being or in their failure to live up to the image the world expects of them?
And what happens if our failures are pointed out to us? Do we try our best to ‘improve’, or do we try to justify who we pretend to be and become even more arrogant in the process? That’s what happened to me.
That is why Jesus said, “Do not judge.” That is why he said “Forgive seven times seven times”. Jesus understood the inherent paradox of humanity. He understood our need to be other than we are as the very origin of our desperate unhappiness. He understood that only by giving up judgement can we return to who we truly are. He also understood that who we truly are is one with God, and therefore inherently perfect.
Jesus did, but religion did not. Religion twisted the words of Jesus around to make him fit into the very false image of God Jesus came to proclaim does not exist. That image of a judgemental and unreliable God was merely a projection of an equally judgemental and unreliable patriarchy. Of course, there was no maliciousness in this. Only fear.
So what prevents us from following the advice of Jesus and other sages to simply be ourselves?
Fear and guilt.
What happens when we get in touch with what we really feel, and express that? Almost without exception we experience rejection, which triggers our guilt. Those around us tend to react exactly as they did when we were little children: they judge us and try to change us. In reality they merely reflect our own feelings of guilt and fear. Although Jesus pointed out that the ‘kingdom of heaven’ belongs to children, the last thing we want to do is to expose our childlike innocence and defenselessness!
Why do we so generally get this response? Because the expression of our own innocence triggers those around us’ own innocence. It awakens something they (we) would much prefer not to have awakened! Hence, instead of welcoming their (our) own awakening, they (we) try our best to get those who do express their innocence “back in line” – and thereby keep the insanity of the world the way it is.
According to the Bible St John said, “Where there is love, there is no fear.”
True love is not some sentimental feeling towards specific people. True love is to be who we truly are. Who we truly are is the same as who God truly is, and God is Love. That’s what Jesus came to teach. When we act from the love that we truly are, which can only happen when we are true to ourselves, we cannot other than act lovingly.
We constantly hear how we should improve our self-image. Improving our self-image, however, does exactly what it says: it strengthens the image of who we think, or would like to think, we are. The inevitable effect of that is to decrease our sense of self-worth. Self-image and self-worth are opposites.
We can only regain our sense of self-worth by being ourselves. Unfortunately for most of us this is not an easy process. When we have come to believe ourselves to be the image we created from the day we were born, we tend to believe that living up to our self-image is being ourselves! And so it tends to be a long, and for most of us a painful process of getting in touch with who we are not. Only when we realize who we are not can we start being who we are.
I went through that process with the help of A Course in Miracles, which brought me in touch with who I am not by challenging every single belief and idea I had about who I was. Then I discovered A Course of Love, which brought me in touch, through feeling and the heart this time, with who I truly am. This was my journey. Ultimately we all have our own journey. All it requires is the willingness to have our self-image undone in order to regain our self-worth.
When we truly experience our own worth, and love replaces fear, we lose all need to be arrogant. The joy and abundance of that state of being, which Jesus called the ‘kingdom of heaven’ and others ‘enlightenment’, is literally unimaginable while we have a self-image. Fortunately, most of us on this journey experience glimpses of this state of being on our way. Once you have experienced a glimpse of it, the call becomes so strong that it is impossible to return to what was. In the words of A Course in Miracles: “Who would attempt to fly with the tiny wings of a sparrow when the mighty power of an eagle has been given him? And who would place his faith in the shabby offerings of the ego when the gifts of God are laid before him?”
‘Anxiety disorders’ and depression are dramatically on the increase. The profit of pharmaceutical corporations is rising accordingly. ‘Anxiety disorders’ are merely different expressions of fear and guilt, and depression is the natural result of the denial of who we truly are. Our attempts to call these feelings ‘disorders’ is merely an attempt by an insane society to maintain its insanity.
These attempts to maintain our insanity are inevitably matched by ever more pain. This increasing pain is nothing less than the call to awaken.
Filed under In the Light of Darkness