Is there any redeeming value—or legitimate justification—for acting out those all-too-frequently misguided, trouble-spawning desires and ambitions that can catapult us into the perilous quicksands of sensuality and worldliness—and away from the still, silent poise that seems so much more soothingly congenial to our spirits?
These desires, ambitions, and hopes differ from one person to the next—both in terms of type and degree of vehemence, or intensity—but all share the power of luring us away from simple, contented serenity within our own inner source, or center. For some, it is the desire for wealth and material goods, while for others, the power drive and personal ambition are paramount. The desire to be loved or admired by large numbers of strangers—the love of fame—is strongest in some. The quest for intellectual, artistic, social, and even spiritual superiority over others—whether or not this is accompanied by the love and admiration of one’s ‘inferiors’—can serve as a great distraction from the quest for spiritual centeredness. As I’ve said before, the yearning for romantic fulfillment of the most intense sort appears to have been my Achilles’ heel. It was the desire over which I have had least control. It has repeatedly lured me back into a dark labyrinth, a place of tormenting passions and exquisitely beguiling delights, a house of distorting mirrors that produced potent illusions about myself and my lover—a realm of helpless despair and suffocating imprisonment.
Now that I have managed, for some time, to avoid entanglement in the sort of romantic misadventure that I was so susceptible to in the past, what new light, if any, can I shed on that ‘weakness’? Perhaps the most important question I could begin with is, “Did I need to put myself and all those women through so much hell—both those who eagerly participated, as well as those who were eventually abandoned because they were unable or unwilling to reach ‘kindling temperature’ with me—and be burnt with real, and not ‘falsehearted’ fire?” Could most or all of that wasteful ‘storm and stress’ have been avoided, or was it a kind of fated course I had no choice but to follow? What would the difference be—in my own biography and in my consciousness—if somehow I had managed to resist traveling down that painful-ecstatic, indulgent-extravagant, consumptive-destructive path?
I am strongly inclined to believe that I needed to act out, dramatically and bio-graphically, that foredoomed dream of romantic fulfillment, if only to uproot and purge my system of a deeply implanted error. In retrospect, I see how little free choice I had in those passionate misadventures that gobbled up so much of my time, my emotional and mental energy, my misdirected faith, and my precious bodily fluids! Certainly, those friends and acquaintances of mind who were not afflicted with this same failing saw my pattern as a kind of psychological or moral disorder—as a kind of madness or sickness—like drug addiction and alcoholism are sicknesses.
Naturally, I did my level best to disguise this unflattering truth from myself by a variety of ridiculous rationalizations—just like many unfortunate alcoholics do. I realize now that my romantic love addiction probably constituted the greatest single barrier to my inner peace and to my spiritual liberation. While, in my polemical essays, I harangued against reckless consumerism, loutish anti-intellectualism, crass hedonism, the moral and political laziness of my ‘benighted’ countrymen, I was suffering the whole time from a kind of enervating blindness—a lamentable squandering of potential—that matched any of the ‘evils’ I was railing against.
Many of us are stumped—we simply slam into a wall—the moment we begin to inquire into the why of our addictions, our obsessive preoccupations, our compulsive diversions and distractions. It seems as if they are booby-trapped or surrounded by photoelectric sensors that initiate a violent explosion or deafening alarm as soon as we attempt to enter this forbidden zone. It may very well be the case that the truth—or rather, our acceptance and full digestion of the truth—will eventually set us free. But when it comes to these truths—the truth about why we are romance addicts, drug addicts, entertainment junkies, alcoholics, shop-a-holics, work-a-holics, rage-a-holics, insufferable chatterboxes, or what have you—nothing is more dreaded or desperately shunned than such truth. To call such truth ‘inconvenient’ or ‘unpleasant’ is a gross understatement.
Is it typically a deficiency of intelligence that hampers our ability to dig up and confront the truth about why these weaknesses, addictions, and distracting habits have hijacked large—decisively large—swaths of our lives? I don’t think so. Is it because these addictions and distractions bring us so much more positive pleasure and happiness than pain, disruption, and trouble to our lives? I doubt it seriously. From my experience with myself and with many other persons, I have concluded that in most cases, with just a little bit of honesty, persons can become perfectly aware of the fact that their addictions, their distracting habits and their overriding preoccupations are blocking out more life, love, truth, and happiness than they are letting in. These ritualistic forms of thinking and behaving can be seen for what they are by persons of ordinary intelligence with a modicum of honesty: filters that shield us from insights about ourselves that we lack the moral courage to accept and to struggle with.
And as for the ‘pleasure’ argument, a little additional honesty will quickly dispose of that piece of nonsense. What we learn is that whatever positive pleasure we may have initially enjoyed during the early stages of our ‘habit formation’ is gradually replaced by something rather less deserving of the name ‘pleasure.’ What used to be experienced as pleasure is now more suitably called ‘predictable familiarity,’ ‘grounding routine,’ or simply ‘numbness.’ It has often been claimed that human beings naturally gravitate towards comfort, stability, pleasure, and a sense of security while just as naturally shunning their opposites—discomfort, instability, pain, and uncertainty. To be sure, many of us will put up with these negative states when we have no other choice. Likewise, many will endure a measure of suffering when such dis-pleasure is genuinely believed to lead to a greater good (or simply greater pleasure, power, fame, etc.).
Now, if I have just briefly sketched something like a human norm, then it follows that ‘weaknesses,’ distracting pursuits, mind-numbing rituals, and even addictions (so long as they haven’t become egregiously destructive) have been widely tolerated, if they have not been implicitly encouraged by humans throughout much of our history. In other words, we—as a species—have carved out a large and privileged space for activities, for ways of behaving and thinking and worshipping, the principal aim of which is to soften or to muffle the unsettling, unflattering glare of truth about ourselves, about others, and about the world at large. If, as I am suggesting, normal human behavior and ordinary human values provide considerable assistance in our avoidance or dilution of these uncomfortable truths about ourselves, then are we entitled to draw the curious inference that down deep we collectively believe these truths to be somehow injurious to our well-being? For if the opposite were true—if, that is, it were a widely held belief of humanity that such truths (about our actual predicaments and about the actual state of affairs in the world) are indubitably beneficial and intrinsically valuable—then presumably we would make as much of an effort to dig up and to embrace such truths as we now make to cover them up and keep them at a safe distance.
I can personally attest to the reality of this nearly universal preference for soothing or passionately absorbing illusions and half-truths over the sobering and unpleasant-tasting genuine insights that actually help to liberate us from the lies and deceptions we are quite literally steeped in. No alcohol de-tox program or heroin withdrawal ordeal is more painful to endure than the shattering of our childlike innocence about ourselves, about our friends and enemies, about our leaders and heroes, and about the limits of our personal power and significance. And yet, I am talking here about a shattering that must necessarily take place before there can be a snowball’s chance in hell of recovery—of genuine spiritual self-reliance. So—given the virtually unanimous opposition and resistance to such shattering and corrosive truths, what conclusions are we to draw?
First of all, the candidate for initiation must possess the monstrous courage that will be required not merely to withstand the thermonuclear obliteration of his childlike innocence about mankind and our (thoroughly falsified and infantilized) world—but to be able to endure this alone, for he is guaranteed to be misunderstood where he is not quietly shunned by those of his fellows who sense what a danger he poses to their cherished, puffed-up fantasies about themselves and about reality. The lonely, wounded survivor of the shattering TRUTH-RAY poses this danger to others simply by carrying the ‘radioactivity’ he has been exposed to in the meltdown of his own reactor walls. He doesn’t actually have to say a word to scare off everyone within earshot—everyone, that is, who hasn’t also been exposed to the same gamma rays—and survived—with his/her sanity and compassion intact! But where are they—these other survivors? He looks around for such survivors in vain—the ‘locals’ scattering, like rats, into corners and blind alleys as he approaches, limping.
Perhaps this is why—as if by instinct—some of us have learned to steer clear, when talking with others, of topics other than the weather, sports and HBO/AMC TV series, and other ‘harmless’ chitchat. Is this frivolous chitchat ‘instinct’ a compassionate instinct or is this an attitude of beleaguered resignation to facts ‘on the ground’ that we stubbornly refused to acknowledge for decades? Mind you, I’m not talking about conversations with strangers or persons I’m only casually acquainted with. I’m talking about friends and family and colleagues. Of course, I welcome the opportunity to venture into the chilly (or boiling, as the case may be) depths, if the invitation arises on their end, but I very seldom instigate dives into these depths as I was wont to do in the past. Why? To put it bluntly: the pay-offs (for both of us) are scarcely worth the effort, in most cases. I have sounded them to their depths and found that they instinctively begin to recoil as soon as things start to become truly painful or challenging. And I would rather spend such time diving—as I do here—into my own depths, my own questions, my own darkness.
To return to the question I raised earlier— Did I need to act out my romantic dreams and fantasies?: I am inclined to answer ‘yes’ because this seems to have been the only way to cure the untenable fantasy elements by injecting lethal doses of reality into them—by allowing the nightmarish aspects to merge with and eventually to cancel out the merely dreamy elements. It was the romantic fantasy—or myth—that inwardly shoved me into the glutinous and ambiguous arms of real-time human messiness. Only out there—on the dramatic stage of concrete human action—where all scripted materials and all imaginary roles are eventually enacted and put to the test—only there was I able to exhaust this enormous underground layer of un-natural gas—to burn it off so that it no longer posed a serious threat to my spiritual liberation.
Other drives, dreams, and possibilities I have been able—more or less successfully—to work out, or work through, within my head. In other words, it never became necessary for me to enact them concretely. My musical ambitions, my thespian possibilities (as a young man), and perhaps even my ‘published’ writer ambitions I have managed to moderate and restrain to a great extent. This restraint—this withholding—has thereby enabled me to work in the sort of relaxed, unmolested solitude that seems to be optimal for the peculiar sort of digging and exploring that I am built for. In having kept theater, music, and writing on either a modest scale (or non-professional, amateur status), I have been able to develop these innate talents and practice these arts without feeling ‘obliged’ or limited by them. With the romantic love ‘talent’ it was a different story. The unconscious compulsion to suffer certain instructive disappointments was stronger than my personal will—stronger than my natural desire for order, equilibrium, and even happiness. And it was in the arena of romantic love that I was to suffer these profound disillusionments and to learn truths about myself and about human nature, generally, that I had tremendous resistances to learning. Perhaps the arena (of romantic love) was ‘ideal’ for my stern instruction precisely because I suffered from so many blind spots in that realm. And what else are hopeful fantasies of earthly/fleshly bliss if they are not blind spots?
And what, more precisely, were the principal blind spots that I suffered from? Certainly the biggest one was my erroneous conflation of erotic passion and love. These two, as I have made clear elsewhere, have about as much to do with one another as Aphrodite has to do with the Virgin Mary. In fact, I am tempted to say that they are antithetical—but because of my acquired mistrust of all dualisms (and my preference for that gapless continuum where all so-called ‘opposites’ actually bleed and merge into one another), I will simply say that these two are all too frequently ‘in (creative) tension’ with each other.
The sticky attachment—the craving for the exquisite pleasure that we feel in the lover’s embrace—the utterly spellbinding delight we feel in the thought that we possess something…er, I mean someone…who is so precious and desirable: all of this has a whole lot to do with selfishness and egotism and very little to do with self-sacrificing love. And where our lover’s desires and feelings mirror our own we may with some justice speak of a kind of unacknowledged mutual exploitation—of two hungry, ardent beasts almost cannibalistically devouring one another, beginning the first course with those most delectable ‘organs of shame.’ This is biology dressed up in holy garb and Madison Avenue, dream-factory packaging. Don’t get me wrong. Love—the real deal—can be mixed in with all this lower chakra eros and animal abandon, but in my own case, when the love was put to the test, it often fell quite short of the ‘lower’ drives, which continued to demand regular ‘feedings.’ Eventually, these lower elements—which quickly grow impatient with any ‘higher’ impulses that get in the way of their full gratification—conscript the whorish intellect to make a compelling case for their carnal campaigns. And, as we know, nothing is easier to uproot and destroy with a fine-sounding, publicly sanctioned, self-serving rationalization than the delicate tendril of genuine compassion.