A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Wednesday, 11 September 2013


Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes. WALT WHITMAN

It's clear to me that we spend much of our lives in a state of division, in a state of negotiation or even conflict between mind and body, thinking and feeling, intellect and intuition, puritanism and hedonism, art and life, form and content, sin and sainthood, the physical and the metaphysical, sanity and madness.

We have been ever thus, in this very human state — or at least since Adam and Eve's expulsion from the harmony, unity and innocence of the Garden of Eden in the Biblical myth. From then on the dialectic of dualism has pervaded most religions, philosophies and sciences. And in his book The Divided Self the psychiatrist RD Laing argues that psychosis results from the struggle between the two personas within us: our authentic, private identity and the 'false' self we present to the world.

I know I've simplified and conflated lots of ideas here, and to unpick them all would take many words of explanation and clarification or many hours of argument and discussion. And how divisive that would be!

What I'm really getting at is this: can we perhaps see these polarities, rifts and conflicts within us, within our thought structures and within the world, as part and parcel of and definition of the whole; accept them as inevitable and right; reconcile them and recognise them as necessary to the multiform yet unified self; consider them indivisible? After all, day is as essential to night as night is as essential to day; and without the light there would be no dark, and without the dark there would be no light, and everything would be a uniform shade of grey, and rather tedious. Heaven — with its eternal do-gooding and happy-clappy saints — must be such a boring place.

This would entail a paradigm shift in our thinking. It would require us to examine and understand the darker sides to our nature. It would require us to appreciate and tolerate different religions, philosophies and cultures, different ways of doing things. It would require us to indulge as well as to fast, to follow our animal passions as well as the dictates of our intellect, to act with our body and soul as one, and not feel guilty or conflicted. The love and the hate, the harmony and the division, the beauty and the terror will always be there, coexisting. Can we accept this?

Let everything happen to you. Beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final. RAINER MARIA RILKE

(Divided is is the final part of the 'D' trilogy. The first two parts are Deluded and Distracted.)  


Ruth said...

Brilliant and timely, my friend. I could not agree more. And everything in my purview at the moment is pointing toward just what you say. Whitman, Rilke, Rumi, Miller, Lawrence — they all get this. It's not easy to find a safe place to be open with our darkness as well as light, but it is essential for things to change.

My nephew just started a blog where he invited members of our family to interact in this way, called Shedding Masks. If you don't mind, I'd like to quote you there in a comment. There's been way too much do-gooding and happy-clappy sainting in my family! It's time for some careful doses of honesty, the kind that heals. Again, this is not easy!

The Solitary Walker said...

Be my guest, Ruth!

dritanje said...

Can we accept this? you ask. The 'difficult' feelings of course, as the pleasant ones are easy enough to accept. If we don't we struggle with the resistance. Each time we manage not to resist, or realise we are resisting and then stop, that's acceptance. It is possible, yes. Takes a bit of practice maybe. 'No feeling is final' says Rilke. The feelings move through us, don't stay forever.

Great post!

Hildred said...

I had to live a long time and have many experiences before I could be comfortable with my darker side, and as Ruth's nephew says, shed the masks....and I'm not even confident it won't all turn around and bite me!

George said...

I agree entirely, Robert, and I think this was at the heart of Jung's work, the need to not only accept, but embrace, the shadow self, the need integrate the seemingly contradictory parts of our selves into a self that is both whole and indivisible.

I think that, individually, we all want to live openly and honestly, without being held to some arbitrary standard of consistency. I wonder, however, if we would really be willing to extend the same freedom to others — our spouses, our friends, our children, etc. I would hope that we could, for, like Ruth, I believe that honesty heals, and, conversely, dishonesty in the service of consistency leads to physical, mental, and spiritual sickness.

Culture and conditioning strap us into straight jackets at an early age. How many of us will be able to finally break all of the straps and become completely free before death — be able to exclaim like Martin Luther King: "Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty we are free at last."?

The Solitary Walker said...

Yes, I agree, Dritanje. I would just add that pleasant feelings can sometimes also be a problem, and resistable, if one is unlucky enough to suffer from irrational guilt. I went through a period like this when young, mainly due to a strict and repressive Methodist upbringing, and felt guilty about pleasure for a time! (Thankfully, I grew out of it, and now I'm a total hedonist!)

Welcome, Hildred, and thanks for your comment!

Yes, George, very much at the heart of Jung's writings and beliefs, I think. I very much hope we can extend the same to others, but that's the real test: can we allow others the same honest but maddening complexities and inconsistencies we may accept in ourselves?