Musings

July 2019 Musings

I want to learn more and more to see as beautiful what is necessary in things; then I shall be one of those who makes things beautiful. Amor fati: let that be my love henceforth! I do not want to wage war against what is ugly. I do not want to accuse; I do not even want to accuse those who accuse. Looking away shall be my only negation. And all in all and on the whole: someday I wish to be only a Yes-sayer.
-- Fredrich Nietzsche
 
Have you noticed how often and how subtly “no” is your orientation?
 
This inquiry into negation as an orientation started a couple of years ago on a trip to India. My mother is a gifted and imaginative cook and spends much of her time coming up with delicious and elaborate meals for her family to enjoy. And while we all appreciate the food, our refrain at the table would be: “Mom, you shouldn’t have!” “You need not have cooked so many dishes!” “You get so tired standing over the stove all morning; can’t you take a break from cooking?” “Mom, you do know that I would rather you spend time with me than cook for me?” My mother would patiently reiterate that she loved to do this for us. It was no trouble. It made her happy to make us happy. It was her way of showing her love. And if we persisted in our commentary, a tinge of irritation would seep through in “Who else is going to cook?” Finally, one day, she said to me, “I just wish you would say thank you and acknowledge what I do.”
 
Needless to say, the request shattered “me,” the me that was so identified with being concerned for her well-being that I was unaware I was negating her. Often, we may not recognize this form of self-hate projected outward, perhaps because the negation is hidden under the guise of wanting the best for another person. If I’m coming from a place of caring, I don’t have to notice when I slip into implying that you are inadequate to your life or that I have a better idea of how you should do something. I don’t have to be sensitive to what you might need from me, listen to what you are saying, witness your experience, accept what you are offering, or be appreciative of who you are.
 
As I looked into this further, I saw negation in so many exchanges. For example:
 
---I tell you all the things I did, and you point out the thing I could have done differently.
---She tells him what’s going on for her, and he tells her how that happened to him.
---He tells her about a decision he made, and she gives him some information that challenges that decision.
---I offer my perspective, and you contradict me.
---She tells you her problem, and you try to solve it for her.
---You are excited about a possibility, and he expresses his resistance to the idea.
---I make a suggestion, and you tell me how it’s usually done.
 
Many of these interactions may sound overtly innocuous or even helpful. But what’s fascinating, if we continue this exploration beyond the overt, is the discovery of the subtle mechanism of egocentricity operating in all of them. The ego reveals itself in the shape of non-acceptance, a rejection of “you” in order to assert “me.” For me to exist, you have to be denied.
 
In her children’s fantasy, A Wind at the Door, Madeleine L'Engle portrays a world in which a dark force attempts to extinguish Life as it is by negating human expressions of it. Through constantly telling someone what they’re NOT, this force of negation X’s the person out of existence. To defend itself, Life recruits Namers, individuals with the unique gift of assisting people to get a sense of their Authenticity. As one of the protagonists in the story, a cherubim says: “When I was memorizing the names of the stars, part of the purpose was to help them each to be more particularly the particular star each one was supposed to be. That’s basically a Namer’s job.”  Knowing one’s Name, being called by the Universe to what one is in the scheme of things, makes them invulnerable to being X’ed.  Those that experience being unconditionally loved for what they are, accepted as they are, are saved.
 
The parallels between A Wind at the Door and what we’re doing in Awareness Practice are not hard to see! We recognize that force of negation as self-hate. We’re aware of that voice ceaselessly telling us what we are not: not good enough, not prepared enough, not smart enough, not deserving enough, not authentic enough, not hardworking enough, not articulate enough, not fit enough, not tall enough, not successful enough, not pretty enough…fill in the blank. What a coup for the forces of darkness, what an absolute negation of the Intelligence That Animates, if the form it expresses itself through can be convinced to identify with something that it isn’t, not its true nature, but the ego. Those of us riddled with self-hate have tremendous resistance to identifying with Goodness as the essence of our being, not because we aren’t Goodness, but because we believe the self-hate that claims anything good can’t contain that level of self-loathing.
 
If self-hate can convince us to see the world through the lens of negation, it has won another victory. Identified with “what’s not,” we cease to be able to see what is. We are robbed of the ability to be present to Presence. In fact, if we were writing a mathematical equation to describe self-hate, it would be a negative function of what is. A negative sign in front of whatever is life. Small wonder that want (a lack of something), loneliness (an absence of the other), and dissatisfaction (wanting it to be different than it is) are the experiences of an ego.  And the final coup for the ego: Identified as me, how am I not a means, an instrument, to make you experience yourself as what you are not?
 
It seems the work we do in “naming” ourselves, of being able to reclaim what we are by embracing ourselves in Unconditional Love and Acceptance, is our greatest gift to the world. For then we are radically receptive, so completely whole that we can be like Chang Tzu’s famous mirror, reflecting all that is, as is.
 
Since that moment with my mother at the dining room table, my practice has been to attempt to be a “Yes-sayer.” This does not mean that I have to agree with what you say, that I don’t do things my way, that I can’t have my own opinion. I don’t have to ignore our differences or stop being me so you can be you. I simply have to move from a zero-sum orientation where everything is mutually exclusive to an orientation that is all inclusive. That’s the beauty of Life as it is; there is space for All that is, all expressions of it. In not negating you in any way, I cease to negate Life, Life as you or Life as me. For the brief eternity of a moment, Presence is….
 
Suddenly there was a great burst of light through the Darkness. The light spread out, and where it touched the Darkness the Darkness disappeared. The light spread until the patch of Dark Thing had vanished, and there was only a gentle shining, and through the shining came the starsclear and pure.
-- Madeline L’Engle.
 
Gasshō
ashwini