FROM THE BOUNDARY
Sun, 07/03/2016 - 12:00am
Did you forfeit your life today?
What is it that makes us happy – really happy, I mean? Is it attention, acceptance, approval, applause? Is it power or popularity? Is it getting to the top, winning? I suppose we’d say these are very worldly things, but worldly things of a different order, say, from saving up to buy Oscar de La Renta shoes, or a fourth smartphone, or the latest Merc – the sorts of things we’d say identify a ‘consumer society’ – or even chasing women, all of which the Church would almost certainly condemn. Those things, though they’re equally about thrills and excitement, are not things which we’ve been taught and which, as a consequence, have become ‘us’.
However, these days we are programmed, for example, and not least by the Church, to believe that the only way to happiness is the pursuit of ‘excellence’, to forgo the moon when we can have the stars. We’re taught that doing our best is simply not enough, that life is about self-glorification and self-promotion, and that ultimately, if we want to be loved, we really do have to fall in with the programming. The result is that we’re force fed to wear a false face, a mask – and a mask is a dead thing. It cannot grow.
What’s the consequence if we don’t achieve what we want or, rather, told we should want? Isn’t it all sorts of negative things like fear, shame, guilt, anxiety, insecurity, frustration, anger and bitterness? Failure means we see ourselves as failures. We haven’t reached the standard. Indeed, our fear is that we may never reach it. Yet, that’s an inner fear which we rarely express, even to ourselves. We compensate for it by touching up our masks daily so as to make us appear what we’re not – to make us appear authoritative, powerful, superior. We’re not – why on earth should we be? But we don’t want you to know we’re not. And the result, as Jesus says in Matthew 16, is that in attempting to gain the whole world we’ve forfeited our life. In focusing upon what we don’t have, we’ve lost sight of what’s ours already.
It’s not just about being taught to seek ‘excellence’. It’s about imprisoning us in ‘tradition’ and the world of ‘old values’, whatever they are, and irrespective of whether they worked for good. Consider this from a recent Advocate editorial: “Barbadians of yesteryear held great respect for persons in authority. The teachings from home, school and the church ensured that most youth understood and feared the consequences of their actions” (21 June). So there you are. ‘I must respect you not for what you are, but for who you are. And I must live in fear of your power over me and do as you say no matter how wrong it is, how unjust, how stupid, and though it causes me to deny my very self by making me more controllable and productive.’
If that’s what’s at the heart of how we live our lives, can we possibly be happy? What it promotes is not simply an idea we can jettison but a life we must live to be ‘authentic’ in your eyes and ultimately to our own programmed selves. It’s the condition precedent for – yeah! – ‘happiness’. And the knock on effect is that, programmed as we are, we’ll probably want other people to live their lives like that too – and so it goes on. We go on busily forfeiting our lives to please other people.
It’s a sad reflection too of a religion which programmes us to believe that pleasing God, cow-towing to God, the God out there, is the nub of it so that ‘faith’ is all about greed and fear. Do you think that’s really what God would want for us?
Mind, I think there are glimours of hope. One is the statement of Acting Police Commissioner Tyrone Griffith recently that the force would not tolerate abuses and brutality. A uniform brings a privileged responsibility. It’s not a call to power. Another was the remarkable address given by Dr. Michael Charles as President of the UWI Medical Alumni Association to Medicine graduands, reported in another section of the press. There, Dr. Charles reminded us that the vocation to medicine, the will to take care of other people, goes to the heart of whom we really are, and there is no place in it for inflated arrogance. As the report says: ”A broken spirit cannot contribute to the healing of a broken body”. Dr. Charles’ teaching, in broad terms, applies to all the professions everywhere. It’s not just a Barbadian thing. Without humility and compassion, the ‘laying on of hands’ becomes the laying on of claws in all walks of life. It’s like a religion which has deteriorated into mere morality and so become dead.
Right – begin by becoming aware of the masks. Do we wear a mask in the bathroom or only in the office? Then, to kick off on this question of our happiness, why not become aware of our feelings. When we see the new moon, or the sun rise, or set, when it drops from sight over a watery horizon as if swallowed by the sea, how do we feel? When we take ourselves off to the beach after work, why do we go? When we saw our child being born did our hearts leap for joy? When we hear our daughter say ‘I love you Daddy’ how do we feel then? How did the first blush of being in love make us feel or when we saw our kid receive a school prize? How do these sorts of feelings compare with those we experience as ‘Mr. Big Man’?
In other words, there are other worlds far from the world of power over, parading around, approval and applause. They’re worlds which derive ultimately from the deep heart’s core. There are no masks there. They’re just about you being you. We can’t manufacture happiness of course. It simply radiates, soulfully from within and with every movement as we dance the dance of life. Fine – so why don’t we dance it?
I should have told you last week that I did some market research on ‘working hard’ but there wasn’t space. I questioned over 30 people on my daily walk from the holy of holies to the coffee shop. Their ages ranged from seven to 35. Most were school kids. All said hard work is essential in life. One said it wasn’t about working hard but working well. Another said that if you badgered him to work hard on something he didn’t want to do, it would be counter productive. In my research, I met a little lad called Edward, aged eight, and his Mum. Edward asked me to be his friend and it felt like the Child Jesus saying ‘Come unto Me’. I’ll tell you more of my friend Edward in the fullness.
Go safely then – until the next time.
Riddling from the boundary: Is God up there, out there or in us ... or are we in Him?