Tuesday, 02 October 2012
The theme “the death to self” seems to come up in just about every religious tradition; it is called conversion, which implies a turning away towards something else. To change course, pursue values that are in accord with a life that lived that seeks God, or a spiritual path, for not all religions are theistic. Buddhism and Jainism come to mind. Though I think the term “atheistic” might be a little too strong to describe them in justice.
This turning away not only describes a change of life and outer orientation but hopefully points to a new relationship with the self. For instance, to "treat others as you want to be treated" is more than a pious statement, for to accomplish this precept, a certain level of self knowledge in knowing what one wants has to be present. It goes way beyond just being nice to others, not causing waves or embarrassing anyone. In fact, this precept could lead to treating someone harshly, or it could seem that way to the one receiving. I suppose the words "tough love" could cover that. For instance, I now being normal (more or less, depends on who you talk to), could after a bit of contemplation come to the conclusion that in certain circumstance, for instances if I were to become psychotic, I would want to be taken somewhere for help. Though if this should actually happen, I would not think it good at all, not being in touch with reality. So the golden rule could call some to do some very painful things to someone that I love. And by doing so living out the golden rule; so, no, it is not about just being nice.
Also the injunction “to love your neighbor as yourself” could also lead to some pretty interesting challenges for anyone who actually takes this seriously. Is it possible to actually love another, if in fact only self contempt is present for oneself? Perhaps, yes it is possible, but due to the fact that we tend to project outward what is unconscious, this could make relationships problematic and in fact many and perhaps most relationships are indeed very difficult. In the end, when things get rough, we treat others the way we treat ourselves. Perhaps when Jesus is talking about this “death to self” it is intimately aligned with love of self.
Death to what exactly -- what needs to die? Perhaps it is good to look at what is the greatest obstacle people face in trying to live out their ideals; no matter what their faith is. Is it despair? Why is this strong temptation problematic to so many? I am here of course speaking only of myself and my own struggles, I cannot presume to understand how others process their experiences, not only with life but their inner relationship with self. However being human, more or less, I share communality with others, so perhaps what I deal with; others do also; though of course not all. I have met people who seem free of this inner tango that I go through, but I have also met many who are right there on the dance floor with me. Being neurotic allows one to have many like minded friends.
The inner voices (that’s what I call them) can become very strong and strident, compulsive and irrational; tending to surface when I am at a very low energy level and feeling weakest. They can be useful if listened too, observed but not believed. This can be very difficult, but once it is understood that thoughts are not ‘me’. But tapes, or if you want to use a Jungian term, complexes, that sort of have a life of their own. Stuck in an endless cycle of self inflicted suffering and recrimination. Voices from the past made ones own. Perhaps a death to self, would point to the necessity of in some sense befriending these ‘inferior and immature personalities’ that live within. At least they live in me, a whole village it seems at times; a mob demanding my attention, not all of them looking out for my good.
Fantasies can be addictive, even the painful ones. So to break free, to observe, listen, and yes to even have love and compassion for them, is at least for me the only way to unravel them. It is a paradox, listening quiets them, puts them to rest, though of course not totally, for it is a life long process this relationship with the village within. It can at times be difficult to step back and simply observe, yet that is what is needed. These inner voices once known are no longer projected outward towards others, so relationships can become easier. Since again, we treat others the way we treat ourselves when things get rough. “Love of self” can be difficult, but a necessity, for only then can love of neighbor be truly accomplished.
It is easier of course to not deal with these inner complexes, but the fruit of this kind of life is not very tasty and for many is a downward spiral. To cling to this ‘life’ is in reality a prison refusing to open up to loves invitation of a loving relationship with self, others and of course God. Sometimes it takes the courage to simply ask for help and then with support to allow this ‘death to self’ to take place. Perhaps shedding would be a good term, to out grow a life that is too small for the developing soul to live in.What does it mean to die to oneself? In what ways have you died to yourself? In what ways do you still cling on to this life?