Warning: The below story contains a few lines that may not paint a pretty picture. but hey, is life always pretty?
On Christmas eve, I was food poisoned. Not the mild version either; instead, one with liquids spewing out every orifice throughout the night and for days on end. I know it might not be the vision you had hoped for in reading my blog, but come on, shit happens.
The debilitating nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach gurgling, burping, lethargy and general fear of death trickled on and on. It meant that I did nothing for a whole week. No asana practice, no trips to the swimming pool, no long hikes or strength competitions with my 16 year old nephew….no cooking of large feasts for friends or family…I didn’t even once take out the rubbish. I was as reliant on those around me as a newborn baby as I reserved all my strength to sip on my bottomless glass of ginger ale.
During this unexpected respite, I had the opportunity to watch one of my all-time favorite films, The Breakfast Club. The movie goes like this: Five teenagers with seemingly nothing in common convene for a Saturday of detention. Upon arrival they are at first confronted only by their differences. The hostility against one another mounts, and the supervising teacher (ripe with his own identity issues) tasks them with writing an essay about who they think they are. As the movie unfolds it becomes clear that all five kids share two things in common – the fear of being who they are, without their superficial sense of identity, and the extreme pressure they each feel to uphold this false sense of self. Once these themes are exposed it gives them a common ground which ultimately allows them to accept themselves, and one another.
As I watched the film I kept hearing the voice of Alan Watts playing through my mind (maybe it was the hallucinatory dehydration kicking in). In one of his recordings he talks about the futile cycle of thinking we need to be ‘better’ than how we are…(the below is heavily edited)
So here’s the situation. The whole idea of self-improvement is a hoax. That’s not what (life is) about. What happens if you know beyond any shadow of doubt that there is nothing you can do to be better? Well, its kind of a relief, isn’t it? You say, ‘Now what will I do?’ …we are so used to making things better. ‘Leave the world a better place than how you found it’, ‘I want to be of service to other people’, and all these kind of dreadfully hazy ideas…
But supposing there isn’t really anything we can do to improve ourselves or improve the world. If we believe that, it gives us a breather…we may simply watch what is going on. Watch what happens. Nobody ever does this, you know. It sounds terribly simple. It sounds so simple that it almost looks as if it isn’t worth doing. Have you ever just watched whats happening? And watched what you are doing by way of reaction to it? Just watch it happen. And don’t be in a hurry to think you know what is, actually happening.
What if we each could entertain the idea that there was no ‘ultimate truth’ or ultimate ‘better self’? The only truth there is seems to be that each of us is actually doing the best we can at any given moment…all of us. Last week, when I was unwell, I was doing the very best I could in that moment. I had to rely on the strength of my tribe, and indeed, I was taken care of. I trusted my system and nature enough to know that inevitably I would get better (and I did) and that there will be a time when I rise up and care for someone else, when the ‘best version’ of myself might mean that I have the resource to do that. In any event, underneath all the covering, the superficial sense of who we are, there is the constant, unchanging form of our ‘best Self’ that is actually the same in every sentient being.
But this idea that we are constantly striving for some future, better state of our self? It is a vicious cycle that contributes to our own misunderstanding of who we are. If we are a better athlete, academic, or more popular, does that mean we are a ‘better’ version of our self? Maybe, but only to our ego. The ego leads us to have to win a war of words, a war of power, or even a war of self-destruction, all driven by the expectation and false belief that at present, we are not enough. We are not enough only because we believe ourselves to be this false self, and
that will never be as ‘enough’ to our unquenchable ego. The infinite, higher Self, otherwise known s the Atman, underlie all these other layers of ‘self’ that we see and identify with. It is effect and complete exactly as it is.
So how to we come to terms with these two, seemingly different ‘selves’? The only way we can know what happens next in each of our stories is by understanding where we are at this moment, right now, and by absorbing and not losing touch with our totality. Understanding our past informs our present and Leo our future. When we start to understand and accept this, we start to understand growth hierarchies, a term that Ken Wilbur uses to describe the prioritization and integration of the natural world order. In a nut shell, by understanding where we come from (our ancestry, the pattern of growth in our lifetime) we can better come to terms with where we are in the present, which paves the way for the future. There is a natural order that unfolds in all of life when we are willing to listen, when we we connect with others who are different than ourselves with complementary skills and resources, when we learn to accept our self as well as understand our Self (the Atman), then we are more ready to practice loving kindness as we accept others. Once we get over the anger, resentment, fear and expectation that is driven by our own ego, we can simply Be….at least, this was so according to The Breakfast Club.
Dear Mr. Vernon, we accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it is we did wrong, but we think you’re crazy for making us write an essay telling you who we think we are. You see us as you want to see us, in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. But what we found out, is that each one of us is a brain, and an athlete, and a basketcase, a princess, and a criminal. Does that answer your question? Sincerely yours, The Breakfast Club.