THEOSOPHY, Vol. 53, No. 1, November, 1964
(Pages 21-24; Size: 11K)


[Article number (25) in this Q&A Department]

[Part 2 of a 3-part article -- the opening
question in italics is the same as in Part 1.]

Far beneath the anxious or the smiling surface of our normal lives, so far indeed sometimes that we ourselves do not suspect it, there exists in many of us (not all, no doubt, for some of us must be sane) a kind of disaffection, a dark and subtle self-contempt. But if men are really immortal, and potential gods, as Theosophy has declared, why should such feelings exist at all -- or at any rate, why so deeply?

We view the world from far off, you and I,
as though it were a river moving endlessly away from us,
forever flowing, forever far away ...
A sense of separativeness, of estrangement from the world and from ourselves, was spoken of last month as one of the most basic mobilizers of man's self-contempt. And yet to say this may not be necessarily to answer the question, but simply to change its wording. Rilke beautifully does much of this rephrasing for us in his Eighth Elegy, where he asks:
Who has twisted us like this, so that--
no matter what we do--we have the bearing
of a man going away? As on the last hill
that shows him all his valley, for the last time,
he turns, stands still, and lingers, so we live,
forever saying farewell.
The question, Who or what has twisted us? is one which perhaps may be answered on more than one level, and in more than one way. Psychologists have said a great deal, and often with great cogency, concerning the causes of some of the pathological extremities of this sense of estrangement, causes which, although repressed, turn up in various ways -- perhaps as the wish to kill, or most elusively of all, as the wish to die. It may be said that these wishes, and acts resulting from them, reflect a deeply implicit hatred of self -- and this applies even to acts of aggression, which are very often merely the vehement denials of such hatred.

And yet just some untutored common sense and a bit of Theosophy should be sufficient to indicate that estrangements and resulting aversions may sometimes have other causes than the infantile frustrations and traumas catalogued by psychologists, essential though such studies of course can be. For surely there must also be considered the words of Gabriel Marcel quoted last month concerning the need for spiritual fulfilment, or what Viktor Frankl calls fulfilment of the "will to meaning." Fulfilment -- is that not after all what we love and envy in our children most, their sense of freedom and completeness within the boundaries of childhood? And yet as one grows up, it seems that the sense of self-fulfilment becomes something quite difficult to attain, and more and more sporadic, as though our awareness of potentialities increased geometrically as our years increased by mere arithmetic, and as though our secret expectations of omnipotence became acutest just as we had to bring ourselves to recognize the impossibility, within one life, of any such achievement.

But what can we achieve in one life? Surely this is the question we must ask ourselves if we hope to experience any happiness or sense of fulfilment at all in this world, or hope at least to stave off the bitterness of despair.

This question seems at first terribly difficult, but seen from one (perhaps over-simple) point of view, it may be quite an easy one to answer, for if we ask, Why are we living? the temptation is great just to say we are living in order to live, and that it is our foremost duty to be as alive as possible, as sensitive, caring, perceptive as we can.

And sometimes I can sense the ungrasped sentiments of objects:
a road that bears with love its human freight,
a domineering table, a friendly pair of shoes ...
Thus we should try to be awake to each delicious or distasteful subtlety, although of course this does not imply gushing with emotion at the turn of a leaf in a breeze, nor on every side committing what is called the "pathetic fallacy" of attributing to objects the thoughts and feelings of human beings (as the poet quoted may, to an extent, have done). But it does mean bringing as much consciousness and courage as possible to life -- courage to see things as they are, and not just as they at first appear, whether they appear as meaningless or as fraught with urgent symbolism; and courage above all else to see ourselves as we are, and see the forces at work within us as they try to determine our actions -- forces, for instance, such as those defined by Freud as the life- and death-instincts, or the constructive and destructive leanings of our personality, which, according to Karl Menninger, in his remarkable Man Against Himself, "are in constant conflict and interaction just as are similar forces in physics, chemistry, and biology." He continues: "To create and to destroy, to build up and to tear down, these are the anabolism and katabolism of the personality, no less than of the cells and the corpuscles -- the two directions in which the same energies exert themselves.

"These forces," says Menninger, "originally directed inward and related to the intimate problems of the self, the ego, come ultimately to be directed outwardly toward other objects. This corresponds with physical growth and personality development. Failure to develop, from this standpoint, means an incomplete turning outward of the self-directed destructiveness and constructiveness with which we are -- by hypothesis -- born. Instead of fighting their enemies, such persons fight (destroy) themselves; instead of loving friends or music or the building of a house, such persons love only themselves. (Hate and love are the emotional representatives of the destructive and constructive tendencies.) But no one evolves so completely as to be entirely free from self-destructive tendencies; indeed, the phenomena of life, the behavior peculiar to different individuals, may be said to express the resultant of these conflicting factors."

We have quoted from Menninger's book at some length in order to show the importance of a rigorous self-examination -- even in the "mere" psychological sense -- to the eventual eradication of feelings of self-contempt from which all of us from time to time suffer. But an even more important reason for citing this passage is to point out a vital distinction between "turning outward" towards the world in all its infinite variety and challenge, and following the destructive trend towards separativeness, the trend which has been shown to be a basic mobilizer of man's hatred of self and of others. Externally it may appear that these two attitudes are the same, but then almost all exact opposites resemble each other externally. The difference lies within our invisible yet crucial intentions, for they alone determine whether we become engaged in externalities in order to forget the secret hankering in our hearts for godhood, or else in order to search life out -- as through a glass, darkly -- for images of our own tarnished divinity, and that of the world's evolving soul.

Then, too, there was that time I heard a song from childhood--heard it.
No clever variation could have made me cry.
And once, out on a rocky point that gnawed at the edge of the sea,
I saw another human being--saw.
No trick of minds or mirrors could have made me love.

Turn around,
and the river is running towards you.

(To be concluded)

COMPILER'S NOTE: The following is a separate item which followed the above article but was on the same page. I felt it was useful to include it here:


A beautiful task is that of making easier the tasks of others. An exquisite act is that which makes easier the lives of others.

A noble and gracious movement of hand or foot is that which removes the obstacle placed by Nature or by men in the midst of the pathway: whether it be the peel of fruit on which one may slip, or the branch of a thorn that may tear one's flesh; whether it be the sharp pebble or the hanging vines that obstruct the pathways and seem like serpents crossing them.

How happy, how agile he goes who is clearing the roads and the walks of all that which is a hindrance and an obstacle to the progress of the rest.

The traveler goes singing on his way. Without realizing it he traverses the ways and at dusk he notices, with jubilant surprise, that on putting aside and removing the obstacles that hindered the progress of others along the road, he has cleared away marvelously the difficulties of his own road. 


Next article:
(December 1964)
[Part 3 of a 3-part article]
[Article number (26) in this Q&A Department]

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