“Jack Pines are not lumber trees and they won’t win many beauty contests either. But to me this valiant old tree, solitary on its own rocky point, is as beautiful as a living thing can be. In the calligraphy of its shape against the sky is written strength of character and perseverance, survival of wind, drought, cold, heat, disease… In its silence it speaks of wholeness, an integrity that comes from being what you are.” – Douglas Wood.
A psychologist by the name of Sene Hicks recently wrote: “In order to be at peace, emotionally stable and healthy in any circumstance we need to live our life according to our values, the principles we believe to be morally or ethically right.” She explained that she’s not talking about ‘rules’ or social expectations set down for us to follow, but rather, “the inner knowing that this choice, this behaviour, is right for us.”
The article was quite timely – a bit of a ‘what the fuck’ moment since it was this very topic I was just discussing with a friend.
I was speaking about “two levels of wanting”: The first, an ego-driven need to distract myself from any run-of-the-mill discontent and put a Band-Aid over it (which never lasts); the second, a deeper level of wanting, or what Sene refers to as the “inner knowing”. It goes beyond any mindlessly adhered to ethical codes, religious rules or social norms, and assumes we are not hollow beneath the external self that we have created.
In his book A Hidden Wholeness, Parker J Palmer writes: “I value ethical standards, of course. But in a culture like ours – which devalues or dismisses the reality and power of the inner life – ethics too often becomes an external code of conduct, an objective set of rules we are told to follow, a moral exoskeleton we put on hoping to prop ourselves up. The problem with exoskeletons is simple: we can slip them off as easily as we can don them.”
Thomas Merton, another prolific writer, beautifully describes the inner knowing, or second level of wanting, as an “invisible fecundity”.
“There is in all visible things an invisible fecundity, a dimmed light, a meek namelessness, a hidden wholeness… It rises up in greatness and flows out to me from the unseen roots of all created being.”
Merton explains that in the process of ignoring our true identities we become “separated from our own souls”.
“We end up living divided lives, so far removed from the truth we hold within and we cannot know the ‘integrity that comes from being what you are.’”
Writer and philosopher Alan Watts goes so far as to call our “normal sensation of self” a hoax.
“[It’s] a temporary role that we are playing, or have been conned into playing — with our own tacit consent, just as every hypnotized person is basically willing to be hypnotized. The most strongly enforced of all known taboos is the taboo against knowing who or what you really are behind the mask of your apparently separate, independent, and isolated ego.”
All of that is interesting, and it’s often repackaged and regurgitated by spiritual gurus everywhere (for a nice sum of money, too), but the information on its own doesn’t mean much. We can all talk about the ego self and true self as much as we like, but if we can’t tell the difference, nothing changes.
The question is, how do we move beyond the ego self to live with true integrity? Can I get a clickable listable with the 10 tips to enlightenment, please?
In 2015, the worst year of my entire life, I read Eckhart’s The Power of Now and it made me incredibly discouraged and disappointed. I hated the crap out of that book. Eckhart explained that the answer was simply to be present. To embrace the moment as though you had chosen it. To feel it. To be here.
He stated that the ego loves to focus on the past and the future, and avoids the present moment. This was what bothered me most. I thought, “What hope do I have without the future? I fucking hate the present moment.”
I tried his philosophy anyway because I had nothing to lose, and started letting go. “Letting go” sounds like yet another hippy woo-woo concept, yet it’s all the same thing, really. To me letting go means just dropping the “exoskeleton” (or trying to) and seeing what’s beneath it.
I started meditating (or sitting there, whatever) and paid attention to my true feelings – my second level of wanting. I started making choices on that basis, rather than trying to grab onto something, some Band-Aid or person or ideal outcome.
I have been happier. A fucktonne happier. But it’s still hard some days. Some days, (like this morning), my ego protests the idea of being in the now. It says, “How do I cope with an ordinary day?” Today I have to do some clothes washing and get some odd jobs done. That’s my NOW. Am I somehow expected to enjoy that? How?
I have to remind myself that if I can’t enjoy an ordinary day, then what else is there?
One of my favourite quotes by Alan Watts is this: “This is the real secret of life: to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now, and instead of calling it ‘work,’ realize that this is play.”