As strange as it may sound, sometimes (at least for some of us) it’s actually time to eat chocolate and stream shows. Or, you know, eat, or do, something else — but something equally pointless and distracting and “non-present”.
I think I can say with comfortable assurance that no one always chooses the mature, most fulfilling, wise, long-term sustainable thing, every moment of every day. And that’s okay. This goes for everyone who has embarked on the road to inner development, whether we have travelled a long distance or just spotted the exit. And this specific piece of writing is for those of us who are prone to sometimes believing that we are supposed to always choose the challenging option, the character-building option, the productive option, the adult option. Who believe that this would score us extra points, or that something must be out of balance and “less than it could be” if we don’t choose growth at every turn. But the point is that there are many ways to choose, just as there are many ways to justify (or not) our choices.
Inner value judgements and our need to justify, explain, or defend
The justification thing is a bit interesting. The fact that we even feel the need to justify our actions to ourselves sometimes reveals that there are judgemental, assessing thoughts about what we choose. We might describe them as inner criticism, our parents’ opinions, the neighbour’s opinions, God’s decrees, or the value-judgements of society at large — but still it’s us, ourselves, who think the thoughts and apparently, on some level, believe in them. And we react by either justifying, excusing or defending ourselves in some way.
The moment value judgements of this kind come into play, a polarity is established, and as a result, and a tug of war ensues within. Right and wrong. Good and bad, or at least not so good. Evolved and egoic. It generally boils down to (in slightly different terms depending on the paths we explore) that it’s good to be present and compassionate and bad not to be those things. As the ego sees it, this division is provides pointers on how to be: if we can just get clear on what is good and desirable (i e, in this context of inner growth, what leads to increased presence), we know what to avoid, and we’re halfway there. (Yes, as I said, from the point of view of the ego.)
If behaviour is condemned, it also gets hidden
Let’s make a small detour here. Imagine a child. Or for that matter — imagine two teenage girls. Both have parents who want to prevent unwanted pregnancies, but the two sets of parents handle the situation differently. One girl is not allowed to socialise with boys except accompanied by an adult, and the parents make it clear that meeting boys alone would be strongly frowned-upon, or even punished. The other girl’s parents explain what it is they want to avoid and say that they are happy to help their daughter navigate these matters, so that she does not suddenly become pregnant against her own wishes. Which daughter do you think is more likely to tell her parents about her activities and feelings?
The point is that when we polarise — making one behaviour ‘bad’ while the opposite is ‘good’ — we stifle openness. And when it comes to our inner development, we are our own “children”. We have been given an overall goal that we call “increased presence and awareness”. And we have a pretty specific idea of what that should look like.
The work of the ego: How one self becomes many different parts
So the ego divides us into different parts: those who do the right things and those who do the wrong things. That’s part of what the ego does for us in our life: it separates. Black from white, you from me and spiritual from profane. And the separation itself is not really a problem; life on Earth without this capacity to separate would be hard indeed. The problem comes when our beliefs about how we should be (and the inner critic’s judgements about how well we are doing) cut off the channels of communication between those different parts. The “fallen” part — the one that doesn’t head as wholeheartedly productive and mature a life as we think we should — has to defend itself, make excuses and hide things from the inner police who are trying to maintain order. And no matter what happens next, we’ve already messed up our life by having an idealised goal that we call “increased presence and awareness”, as well as a pretty specific idea of what that should look like.
Okay, we might think. But it can’t be that bad, surely? Isn’t it enough that I notice that there are judgemental thoughts within me, and that I don’t listen to them but rather acknowledge that it’s fine to deviate from the ideal sometimes? That I actually deserve it, even?
Well, yes, in a way. But then — can you hear the justification that just snuck in there? The defensiveness? It’s actually not that easy for me. I may well have to watch some television from time to time! Or maybe what’s creeping in is an outright defiance, where the tone is more along the lines of I don’t give a damn, I’ll eat as much chocolate as I like!
Here it starts feeling like we’re in a bit of a bind. Ok, so what are you saying — I shouldn’t treat myself, then? But also, I shouldn’t defy that inner goody-two-shoes, either? How then will it ever be OK to have that piece of chocolate, or watch several episodes of my favourite show? I give up!
Take a step back
These questions are a kind of internal conundrum, and in fact it’s really the critic (or the goody-two-shoes, or the part of you that thinks watching TV is doomed) that asks them. We need to take a step back and look at the notion that it’s undeveloped to do something that isn’t productive or creative or developed. We need to find the part that doesn’t constantly either rate our level of presence. When my whole self can accept and participate in what I do, no matter how “spiritual” or “unconscious” the superego thinks the behaviour is — then I am being present.
Something inside us wants so badly to keep believing that we have to do something too, change or get somewhere. But you know what? We can’t get anywhere. We can’t freeze proceedings when we arrive at what we believe is “good”. It’s a physical impossibility. Life is always flowing. And letting it flow — with presence AND without trying to force it to be different than it is — is the most fulfilling thing we can do.
To the ego, it sounds super ridiculous. But we’re supposed to get better, right? Wasn’t that the whole point? Well. The best thing is if we can be here, if we can participate in what we do anyway, during the time we live here on earth.
And you know, about that “oneness”?
It has to start inside of you 😉
There is a lot of talk about oneness, about us all being one at the deepest level of existence. (For many people, that experience might be at the top of this particular list of great spiritual insights.) But how can we experience our connectedness to others, or to anything else for that matter, when we can’t even accept all parts of ourselves? That’s where our “oneness” must begin — inside. Only then can the whole me meet the whole you.
This does not mean that we must always show the “whole self” to those we meet. It doesn’t mean we have to become transparent to the outside world. And it doesn’t even mean that we have to find it an appealing idea to become one with everything else. But becoming one within ourselves instead of being divided into a lot of little parts that hide from or banish each other — for me, at least, that seems to contribute to more joy and grounding in life overall ❤️