Why are we here? Here’s my take on it.
In Neale Donald Walsch’s Conversations with God Book 1, ‘God’ explains the mystery of creation:
Although God knew ‘Himself’ (God has no gender) to be omnipresent, omnipotent and all-knowing, the only way to experience that would be in relationship to what ‘He’ was not. God could only experience God in relation to ‘not-God’. We could compare this to our own human experience: We know that we can only experience ourselves as who we are in relationship to others and the world around us. We can only know cold by knowing hot. We can only know up in relation to down. We can only know ‘good’ in relation to ‘evil’. We can only know pleasure in relation to pain. We call this dualism.
This posed a dilemma. If God is all there is, how could ‘not-God’ come to be?
It couldn’t. And so the only way for God to experience himself would be to create an illusion of ‘not-God’. A bit like our dreams, or like the voices schizophrenics hear in their heads. When we dream, we experience that dream as absolute reality. When some people hear voices, they experience themselves in relation to those voices, even though those voices actually don’t exist.
And so the world we know can ultimately only be an illusion, as eastern ‘philosophies/religions’ have been saying for millennia, and as modern writings such as A Course in Miracles, A Course of Love, Conversations with God, Letters from Christ and others are saying today.
The implications of this are enormous: we haven’t been created as playthings for God that went bad, as religion would have us believe. No, we are actually physical manifestations of God ‘Himself’ (or itself or herself if you want). Even though we experience our bodies and the world around us as absolutely real, as we do our dreams at night, and as schizophrenic people do the voices they hear, they are ultimately but illusion. Even science corroborates this to some extent. In the words of the ‘father’ of quantum physics, Max Planck: “There is no matter as such! All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force which brings the particles of an atom to vibration and holds this most minute solar system of the atom together …”
A Course of Love effectively gives the same message: We are God having a human experience. It also makes it clear that all is One (Union), and that we have therefore always been in relationship. The problem came when, in some mysterious way, we lost awareness of our relationship and experienced ourselves as separate and alone. This is what A Course in Miracles calls the separation. The ‘fall’ of the first two chapters of Genesis in the Bible is an attempt to represent this mysterious occurrence symbolically.
The result of the separation was the ego: who we think we are, or should be. When you separate a baby from its mother, or two lovers from each other, for example, the result is pain. Similarly, when we ‘decided’ to be separate from God, the result was pain in the form of guilt. Guilt is fear of punishment, and so the natural result is fear.
The ego, as a kind of entity on its own with its belief in separation, is therefore based on guilt and fear. Yet it denies this and tries to convince us that it is the solution to our guilt and fear: salvation. Guilt and fear as the solution to guilt and fear?! Yes, that’s why A Course in Miracles calls it insane.
To keep us identifying with the ego, it doesn’t want us to experience our guilt and fear too intensely. If we were to do so, we might want to question the ego, and if we really were to see it as the illusion it is, it would disappear! This is exactly what A Course of Love is all about: by learning to get in touch with our feelings and fully accepting them, we gradually undo the ego.
There is one basic condition that all human beings crave for: happiness. Who does not want to be happy? In reality our craving for happiness is a kind of remembrance of the joy that was the natural condition of being one with God – a joy that is still within us. To discover that joy within us, however, would mean the end of the ego. To avoid that, the ego convinces us that happiness is to be found in things and people outside of us.
It works – until it doesn’t anymore. Most of us have probably experienced the intense joy of falling in love. The whole world around us seemed to change! And how many children’s faces have not lighted up upon opening a present that contained something they really wanted? Many of us still feel that way when we buy a new car, or are promoted, or buy a new house, or do bungi jumping, or whatever.
However, as life progresses we learn that no pleasure comes without pain. How would we know pleasure without pain? The intensity of our infatuation fades, and often changes into aggression or even hatred. After a week or a month the present that made a child so excited may stay under the bed, never to be looked at again. After a month or a year the new car or house is not new anymore. We look at photographs and try to re-live our many adventures that way, but it’s not quite the same.
Such is the nature of a dualistic world, and of the human experience, and so it is meant to be.
Some of us can go on our whole lives looking for ever new experiences that will make us happy. Some have one intimate relationship after the other, always hoping that the next person will be the ‘right’ one; the ‘true soul mate’. Some travel the world and gather as many experiences as they can: getting drunk, getting laid, doing bungi jumping, climbing the highest peaks, etc.
Having experienced so much in my own life, I know that many of these experiences are indeed truly enjoyable. But they all end, and then the disappointment comes: guilt, fear, depression, anxiety, loneliness. And so we look for new experiences once more to make us happy.
Let me make one thing clear here: the dualistic world and the ego are not evil. Not at all. That’s where religion has it all wrong. However, there comes a time where the emotional pain becomes so intense that more and more of us ask: “Isn’t there another way?”
There is, and that way is the way to everlasting peace: “The peace of God that passeth all understanding.” This is what enlightened people such as Lao-Tzu, the Buddha, Jesus, Yogananda Ramaharshi and many others came to explain.
To the ego, this way looks utterly boring. Why have peace, when you can have the thrill of jumping off a bridge, of making sexual conquests, of getting ‘high’ or whatever?
Now here’s the thing. Everything is exactly as it is meant to be. When we are ready for peace, we will start questioning, listening to ‘gurus’, reading spiritual books, meditating and the like. In fact, if you have read this far, you are probably ready or close to it. When we are not ready yet, nothing can make us do so, and it doesn’t matter. The father of the prodigal son did not judge his son for what he had done or demand some kind of sacrifice to pay for his ‘sins’: No, he was simply delighted to have him back!
Religion has always understood at some level that there is another way. The problem is that, without the genuine desire to seek another way, the ego merely converted this realization into the need for power. And so it said, “You must deny the world, because it is evil!”
And so religion and morality became the quest to be ‘good’. We have all kinds of rules and regulations, such as the ten commandments, that tell us how to behave in order to be ‘good’. Children have to be baptized or circumcised, and adults have to be ‘good’, make sacrifices or repent in order to please God – or others. Isn’t it amazing how we are so focused on pleasing others? What we call ‘education’ is in many cases simply our attempt to make our children behave in ‘good’ ways and withhold them from ‘evil’.
Yet in the relative world of dualism, ‘good’ cannot exist without ‘evil’. Although we learn from an early age to deny all our feelings and urges that are deemed ‘evil’, what happens in practice is that those feelings and urges go ‘underground’. They become what is known as ‘unconscious’, although this is not quite true. We lose our awareness of them, but they remain in our consciousness. And they remain as powerful as ever. As the eminent psychoanalyst Carl Jung put it, “If you do not make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”
The result is what Jung called the ‘shadow’. Unless we allow ourselves to become aware of and accept the ‘shadow’, it can become extremely destructive. It can cause us to ultimately ‘lose control’ and become aggressive, to the extent of becoming violent, murdering or raping others, sexually molest children, sabotage ourselves, defraud others or whatever else is deemed ‘evil’. We don’t want to do this; it just ‘happens’. In the words of St Paul: “So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members” (Romans 7:21-23).
Much of the shadow seems to be associated with sexuality. For some reason (I suspect men’s feelings of powerlessness at women’s power of seduction) the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) have been particularly vehement about the ‘evil’ of sexuality. I experienced this intensely in the Christian home I was brought up in: the message that sexual interest in girls and women is unbelievably evil was deeply imprinted in my vulnerable child mind. In The Power of Childhood I wrote about my own pain in this regard. Of course, my parents did not have any malicious intentions: they merely perpetuated their own inculcated religious beliefs. As Osho points out in his book Sex Matters, mental asylums are filled with the results of sexual suppression and denial.
And then, suddenly, when we got married we were supposed to share the same bed and enjoy sex! If you didn’t, there was something wrong with you. Whoever invented these rules clearly did not understand much of human psychology!
With denial comes projection or introjection. Consciousness cannot be destroyed: what we lose awareness of simply seems to manifest somewhere else. In the case of denial we see in others exactly that which we have denied in ourselves. With our denied interest in sexuality, for example, we see others as paedophiles, prostitutes, rapists and the like. In the case of introjection, we hate ourselves, and this self-loathing often manifests as self-sabotage and/or some form of physical disease or other.
Freud was the first person to investigate this phenomenon from a scientific point of view. In one of his first lectures in 1896 titled The Etiology of Hysteria, he pointed out that all cases of ‘hysteria’ in 18 of his clients he studied (six men and 12 women) could be traced back to sexual abuse in early childhood. By doing so he broke the taboo that existed on the exposure of what everybody knew, but nobody spoke about: sexual molestation was a common practice. As a result Freud was marginalized, ridiculed and ostracized by the medical fraternity and the public alike, and he lost most of his clients. He had become a very convenient scapegoat for projection.
Freud and others such as Alice Miller have since shown that sexually abused children often seem to enjoy the experience. Was that perhaps the problem? Was the ‘hysteria’ not perhaps the result of children enjoying exploring their sexuality in a context where sexuality was clearly denounced as ‘evil’, only to feel extremely guilty about it afterwards? As a counsellor I noticed that women that had been raped often blamed themselves for having been raped and felt extremely guilty as a result. Why would they do so if not for the tremendous judgement that accompanies rape, and especially rape of children (even if they are sexually mature) in our society?
Even while millions of boys and girls are sexually mutilated (‘circumcised’), the extent of organized prostitution, sex slavery and pornography is greater than ever before. There is only one reason for this: denial of and discomfort with sexuality. The apparent openness about sexuality today does not mean the denial has gone. To the contrary: indulgence is merely the other side of the coin.
The denial of sexuality is nothing less than the denial of Life itself.
So we could ask the question: Who is really insane? Freud’s ‘hysterical’ patients or the context of the society in which their ‘disorder’ came to be? Jiddu Krishnamurti once made the statement, “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”
Denial solves nothing; it only displaces what we do not like somewhere else and thereby ultimately causes pain. Despite all the talk of peace, how much peace has religion really brought about? Dogmatic (‘fundamentalist’) religious people generally, like all of us, are not malicious; merely mistaken. In the words of Oscar Wilde: “It is always with the best intentions that the worst work is done.”
Herein lies the paradox: To ‘fast track’ spiritual awareness is impossible. Only by being fully human, experiencing both the pleasures and the pain, the highs and the lows, the ‘good’ and the ‘evil’, and accepting our humanity as it is, can we get to a point where we are ready for the peace of God. This is the theme of the parable of the prodigal son.
When the word ‘evil’ is turned around it becomes ‘live’. Indeed, ‘evil’ is the direct result of the denial of life itself.
Life expresses itself through feelings and impulses. To the extent that we deny our feelings and impulses, especially in early childhood, they will go ‘underground’ and manifest as our own and others’ emotional pain at a later stage. This pain is the livelihood of therapists.
The ego’s way of dealing with this pain is to either suppress it or to look for something to distract us. Any form of drug, whether legal (alcohol, pain killers, tranquillizers, anti-depressants, etc.) or illegal (euphoria-inducing chemicals such as marijuana, heroin and cocaine) is aimed at suppressing pain by removing or dulling the symptoms, and has no effect whatsoever on the causes. The same applies to non-chemical drugs such as addiction to watching television, work, sex or anything else.
Ultimately the only way to deal with emotional – and even physical – pain is to experience it fully in one way or another, in other words to withdraw the denial. We don’t like this; it feels awful! And yet it only feels awful because we have denied it for so long and keep resisting it. This causes suffering. Once we learn to flow with the pain, the suffering decreases.
Which brings me to the new generation. Can we let them experience life to the full without trying to make them like us? Of course, this requires trust. Trust in them, but that is impossible without trusting ourselves. We can’t trust the ego, in other words who we think we are or should be, so the only way to trust is to find ourselves by first finding out who we are not. One of the most powerful ways to do so is to learn to feel again …