“I have heard the key/ Turn in the door once and turn once only/ We think of the key, each in his prison/ Thinking of the key, each confirms a prison.” — T.S. Eliot
“The noise does not disturb you; you disturb the noise.” — Japanese saying
“Resist not evil.” — Jesus of Nazareth
When it comes to the question of how people change with the motivation of becoming a “better person” (aside from nature taking its course through developmental stages of growth), consider the oxymoron of the familiar injunction: “try to relax.” The effort is obviously counter-productive. In fact, it can add a layer of suffering to the original pain, the meta-pain involving self-judgment of the original condition, in this case nervous tension.
It can split the psyche right down the middle. There is the “I” who knows better than to worry about a pending job interview vs. the “me” who lacks confidence in the vocational call. This leads to another well-intended piece of advice: “just be yourself” once the preparations are in place and the time comes. Yet that “self” is already pitted against itself with no way out, because “thinking of the key” confirms the mental trap of self-division.
Let’s say that our job candidate is trying to get to sleep the night before the interview. The more she struggles against the worrier within, the more fleeting sleeplessness escalates into a bout with insomnia. We can only hope that, exhausted by the battle, she gets a few hours rest.
In the interests of “lie down in peace and sleep comes at once” (Psalm 4), fulfilling one’s vocation, overcoming anxiety and depression, or going and sinning no more, it helps to know we belong to God, who loves us unconditionally including the good, the bad, and the ugly, while we go about our lives learning which is which. Then we can drop the notion that there is so much at stake in our self-improvement project. Then we can afford to recognize evil and choose otherwise without reinforcing it with fear, anger, blame, shame, that is, all the forms of resistance. And then we don’t have to engage in a wrestling match between our impulses and inhibitions, between the true and false self, between the old person and the new, between our higher and lower natures — the classic Christian inner civil war.
As the mischievous Irishman asked his parish priest, “When I die, my body will be in the grave, and my soul in heaven; but where will ‘I’ be?” If he had asked St. Paul, it would have been another occasion so say, “(That’s why) I live, no, not I; Christ lives in me.” We don’t need to hold onto our being so tightly, if at all, especially in the name of uprooting our shortcomings, perceived defects, and moral or psychological weaknesses. It never works because the whole project needs a villain of the piece, a “me” who is nevertheless attached to my attachments, colluding with my illusions, and cleaving to my conditioning. Those will ripen, fester and fall away when we drop the self-monitoring of both virtue and vice, and just closely attend to “let God be God in you” (Meister Eckhart) doing God’s job.
Insight, discernment, prayer and intention all point toward acting better and good actors pay more attention to what the director wants in each scene than on winning an Academy Award (we hope).
Speyer is a Benedictine Oblate as well as clinical supervisor of e-counselling for a major employee & family assistance program, and creative director, InnerView Guidance International (IGI). He also directs a documentary series titled GuideLives for the Journey: Ordinary Persons, Extraordinary Pathfinders. http://www.guidelives.ca/ Connect with Cedric on https://www.facebook.com/cms94 or via firstname.lastname@example.org