I wish people would listen to their bodies when they are being masochistic, because then they might not be like that: Not as often, not for as long.
I thought of this on Saturday night among people who listen well for inner signals: I sat with new agers and free thinkers—as spiritual as they were religious—gathered at Unity Church for a movie and popcorn. The documentary, by the way, was about Joseph Campbell and something common to every culture on the planet: The Hero’s Journey. I respected how my neighbors in the pews, wearing unthreatening drab everyday dress, were without interest in fearful conforming, while being quite interested in new ways of being. They would understand me listening to my body for signals from my better angel, or my subconscious, or some source unexplained.
The greater mundane society, to be sure, has some awareness too: No one ignores strong signals of fear; many will feel but then ignore medium strength signals of being uptight, or twisted; fewer will listen to inner whispers of opportunity, or a hushed, “Hey, I’m going against my better judgment, here.”
For my part, sometimes I notice such signals but push on and do it anyway, my way, only to look back long afterwards and say, “I was wrong.” In this I am only human, like my spiritual friends.
We had a discussion after the film. If my fellows are keen to achieve their potential it is partly because they once lived so far below their potential—hence they were understanding near the ending of our discussion when an alienated man spoke up saying, “I’m not part of the choir,” and expressed at length his frustration, dragging out our discussion ending. Instead of being annoyed, they smiled and thanked him for directing our attention to a “better than the film” TV series about Joseph Campbell by Bill Moyer. I don’t suppose the man could listen to his inner signals; in his frustration needs he pushed aside his better judgment.
And then, at the very end, a lady pointed out briefly that yes, we here are functional middle-class people who can benefit; we can turn our lives around from learning of the Hero’s Journey, but what about the homeless? As it happens, this lady was somewhat entitled to her opinion, since in her life she had undertaken some action, not just words, to help the homeless. But still, I had a sudden image of a man, a “White liberal” as passive as a sheep in a field, bleating with eyes sad, eyes frustrated and eyes masochistic, “What about the homeless?” Yes, and what about those “White middleclass” guilt-without-action people? The ones who would masochistically flog themselves and others, without anything being accomplished? I wish they could feel their twistedness inside, and then think before they speak.
Sometimes masochism, while feeling stiff or twisted inside, has a realistic purpose. Like the small town girl on the edge of adulthood, standing on the stoop who says, “This town is no good,” or the university student who disparages himself to other students by talking with an inward twist about his not being “in the real world.” The good result, for these two, is they may summon enough energy to finally leave their sheltered campus or small town, and perhaps their listeners can summon the energy too.
Usually, though, masochism serves no purpose, except, perhaps, to evade the issue.
Lately, I’ve been hearing people in everyday life saying, “This is only a first world problem!”—Meaning that others have it worse. Sometimes they say it feeling smooth inside, achieving perspective and happy humor. More often, though, I hear it said with a rough masochistic judgment of themselves and others, combined, sometimes, with a desire to avoid dealing with some little issue.
In my youth some people tried to avoid helping Blacks get equal rights by saying, “How can Blacks complain; what about the hill people in the Appalachians? They have it worse.” They would say this while doing nothing to help hill people, or Blacks either, perhaps easing their conscience with a strange penance, a twisted guilt feeling inside.
I dimly recall Senator Robert (Bobby) Kennedy, while trying to help folks in a Black ghetto, shortly before his assassination, answering, “The fact that other people have it worse does not console me, and should not console anyone.”
While being unable to quote from memory, I am reminded of a reverend (priest) standing at a reception, in an air conditioned hotel, in the newly relocated U.S. federal capital of Denver, eating treats and calmly saying that although the plagues have been managed, the dying will continue, there will be further deaths from crops going unharvested, and so forth. In Book One of The War Against the Chtorr, by David Gerrold, the hero gets irate at this calmness. The reverend replies by asking will it help if I am not calm, or not eating treats? And please lower your voice, I am standing right here. The hero has no answer. The reverend is centered, the hero uptight… because he is all jumbled inside. The reverend helps him to straighten out his thinking. During the series, by the way, the hero matures, and in Book Three that same reverend leads him through some human potential training.
I can’t recommend the Chtorr series to any of my spiritual friends, (Too violent) but I did once sit on the grass reading aloud to a friend, Linda, a leader in Community Building. This was because I knew Linda had just had an experience similar to a chapter in Book Three where the reverend, leading a meeting, is dealing with those who would prefer to duck and dodge, to quibble and comment after hearing a clear question rather than honestly answer, or respond to a request for action. I find there are so many ways of evading, and only one way of facing life. Linda really liked the chapter. She said she wanted to know what becomes of the characters, adding, while looking at the cover illustration of fighter jets strafing, and a foreground guy in uniform, “I would never read that book on my own.”
Linda was an example to me in being responsible. When she led a meeting, with whatever group turbulent emotions might come up, she took care to constantly get centered before she spoke by taking time to say her name, and then using “I (not “you”) statements.” We both came to have more responsible lives as we learned to listen more to our inner body signals. And, with all our ideals in this imperfect world, we had enough self-honesty with our feelings that we never wimped out by having silly masochism with others or ourselves. I suppose “getting centered” is partly for becoming clear enough to examine what you feel.
If I were a slogan making man, I could say, “Get centered before you feel” and then “Feel before you think,” and then “Think before you speak.” May peace be with you.
(Hurray, I’ve been caught in my first snap thundershower: (from heated air rising) summer is established!)
~I write, “White middleclass” for my U.S. readers: I very seldom hear the term used in Canada.
~I use the past tense because Linda is now deceased; she was the peaceful, proud mother of Corporal Nathan Hornburg, who was killed in action in Afghanistan. Linda would think globally but act locally, her community building was for peace.
~If a Muslim asked me how, locally, she could contribute to peace by realizing her human potential, then after saying, “I don’t know,” I would advise starting with understanding “victimhood,” “science” and “boundaries.”
I would ask her to understand it takes time: You can become aware of what victimhood is, and realize it is unproductive while at the same time being still in the victim state yourself. Even today, sometimes, I find myself being unscientific and feeling twisted inside—as I said, it takes time.
“Boundaries” are not only in space but in time, not only interpersonal but inter-geographic. And inter-group. If someone from Edmonton “insults” my hockey team (The Calgary Flames) I have a responsibility to choose whether it is an “insult” or whether I have a boundary. If “my” team loses I don’t have to be a loser.
A growing student “on the upward curve” might spend an entire semester, or season, going around having meaning-of-life conversations to deepen understanding of these three terms. I say this with understanding because I too have slowly grown over the seasons.