Will Joel Friedman, Ph.D. is a seasoned clinician with experience working with adults, couples, families, adolescents and older children since 1976. His aim ...Read More
Awakening to Reality Won’t Tolerate Anything Less Than Truth, Vision & Action
“Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.”
—Henry David Thoreau, Walden
“You could stand me up at the gates of hell, but I won’t back down.”
—Tom Petty, song “I Won’t Back Down”
How come we hate ourselves so much? This is the question the Dalai Lama asks of Americans and finds no answer. We treat complete strangers far better than we treat our spouses and immediate family members. I guess that’s an indicator, along with irritation, anger and outright hate, that we do feel something strongly toward our closest loved ones, which could be seen as cause for some sort of acknowledgment if not celebration. While love has no opposite given it is in the Absolute realm and only can be said to have an absence when not evident, perhaps the closest we come is complacency, apathy and resignation, like we simply don’t care and have given up feeling anything. This isn’t equanimity, but outright defeat, self-hatred and giving up on humanity, the universe, God and ourselves. Or is it the harbinger and possibility of the iciest cold just preceding a new transformative dawn?
An opening disclaimer: As much as I’ve repeatedly seen complacency, apathy and resignation throughout my almost six decades of life and over three decades doing clinical psychology in private practice, the experience of complacency, apathy and resignation is completely foreign to me. Perhaps it’s my personality, values or key principles that disallow these cognitive-emotional states. A close friend tells me of my “ebullient personality” being “forcefully affirmative” and “spark for life.” Could these be telltale clues? Somewhere around 11th grade, approximately age 16 to 17, it came to my awareness that a defining value in my life was being attentive to the cutting edge of growth and development, discovery and evolution, as a living being in this empirical world. With an understandable naïveté given my age, I assumed everyone brought this same rock-solid commitment in action to grow. Then I started to check this assumption out with everyone I was in contact with, including my family members, friends, teachers and fellow students. When I found not a one on this wavelength, to say I was shocked and stunned would be an understatement. To be best of my recollection I was mortified, stupefied and horrified. In fact, I started to seriously wonder whether I was an alien visiting this planet.
At about the same age I was reading Henry David Thoreau’s Walden until I hit the page with the line, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation.” It was like I was hit with a bolt of lightning. I still remember the eerie, otherworldly feeling that compelled me to read the same line over and over. I put the book down and could not continue, and I never have picked it up again, although I had enjoyed what I had read. What so struck me was the absolute riveting, obvious and undeniable truth of it all. I felt doomed and depressed, and then I became increasingly disturbed, irritated and quite angry. In fact I did a bang-up job in literally angering myself.
There and then somewhere inside of me it became crystal clear that the very last thing I’d ever be under any circumstances would be quiet about feeling desperate. I’d scream, “Holy murder!!” at the top of my lungs before I would succumb quietly to desperation and the grave. Singer songwriter Tom Petty said it best regarding this prospect in penning the line, “You could stand me up at the gates of hell, but I won’t back down.” Until I researched the Thoreau quote again for this writing I had not remembered the second half of the line. The complete line is “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” Somehow I had never seen or read it to ever have it get into immediate or short-term memory, so it stood no change to get into long-term storage. It’s rather sweet to discover how my life since this moment has been an expression and embodiment of the song within me.
I distinctly remember to this day vowing in that moment that not only would I not be quiet in facing desperation, but that I would refuse to go down with the human ship of state, not become simply more human compost for recycling, and I would create “a life worth living.” I have no idea where any of this came from, then or now. All I know is that this is one of the four or five pivotal turning points of my life and has made all the difference to the quality of this life. If this singular line Thoreau wrote isn’t the most frightening line in all American literature, then I have no idea what it would be. It gets my vote.
From the vantage point and distance of a few years since then, it has become self-evident that I had missed a critical component in understanding my fellow human beings-complacency, apathy and resignation. How could I have missed what was so obvious? The equally obvious answer was that these qualities were lacking or missing or blocked inside of me, so how could I “stand under” and comprehend such cognitive-emotional states if they were alien to me? A quote that has only become deeper and more profound over time is by a Second century A.D. Greek slave Terence that was brought to Rome, freed and became a playwright of the Roman Republic: “I am a man; nothing human is alien to me.” To this wise point, I have come to empathize or “feel with” my fellow human brothers and sisters in their complacency, apathy and resignation, and make sense of what heretofore has been in my blind spot.
On this journey I’ve come to appreciate how what is termed “learned helplessness”, or giving up and acting in a passive helpless way given the perception of having no control of the outcomes or contingencies, along with survival decisions in the face of perceived trauma that are non-adaptive today, play such critical roles in the development of complacency, apathy and resignation. It’s all seems about the meanings our mind attribute to the perception of dashed hopes, dreams and visions. Some people have experienced such pain, hurt, anger, disappointment, discouragement and despair, that they simply want no more. They are cooked, done and off the stove, and there is no telling if the pot will ever return to the stovetop or whether the fire in the belly of the stove still exists or is available and accessible. It is all so very human, understandable and about par for the course or average for almost all us human beings in adjusting to the hard, cold realities of the world as we find it, not as we hoped or wanted it to be. Of course, what does the world know about any of this? Nothing.
All this reminds me of a joke: Question: “Are you ignorant, apathetic or ambivalent?” Answer: “I don’t know, I don’t care, one way or another.” The ever-present opening and opportunity life affords is to admit you don’t know so true knowing can blossom, to feel heartfelt caring when so many appear to not give a hoot out of their self-estrangement, low self-esteem and despair, and to clear a space of clarity to make the apparent choices that define the quality of your living experience in every moment.
If there was one lesson I undoubtedly learned from the entire travesty of 9/11 it was this: if you are not making internal movement and taking actions in the world today to move your dreams forward into realization and manifestation, then what in the blazes are you doing? There may not be a tomorrow, which in reality is only a concept and does not exist. There also may not be a next moment. In other words, if you are not making your dreams and visions real every single day in some fashion, then the hard-edged truth-tellers would say you are a damned fool! Hard strong words, but nothing rings truer. The opportunity is for complacency, apathy and resignation to be banished and transformed.
If there is absolutely nothing else that I’ve learned on my journey through life on this beautiful blue-green marble of a planet, it is this: It’s not what you learn and gain that makes for a rewarding, fulfilling and contributing life, but what you “buy out of”, grow through and relinquish. It is not a crime to have visited the dark realms of complacency, apathy and resignation, only to remain here. In fact, each experience in this realm serves as a clear warning that one’s real life is elsewhere, that this is the ditch and cliff, and not the path. To gain an ever richer and more complete awareness of what has led you to this juncture and its on-going reenactment is priceless. To begin to identify and uproot the core false beliefs, survival decisions, roles, identities and stories attached to existing inside of complacency, apathy and resignation is the ground for its undoing, transformation and transcendence into living a new day, original sanity and the True Self.
The question I’ve asked lifelong is simply this: Does this path lead anywhere? Sad but true, most roads don’t lead anywhere. It’s like a statement I heard a long time ago-if you find a road with no obstacles, it probably doesn’t lead anywhere. It has been my decided impression that we human beings give up far, far too easily, letting the transient vagaries of life circumstances unduly shake and scare us into abandoning our dreams, visions and lives as unworkable, not in the cards, and certainly not for us. We tend to believe and take too deeply to heart the prescriptive judgments of our parents, teachers and friends when they criticize, pooh-pooh and discount our dreams and visions for our lives, thereby letting other’s “stinkin’ thinkin'” strongly influence us to jettison our life’s calling, dreams and visions. This singular phenomenon may be the saddest epitaph of the human species’ journey on Earth. It need not be like this. Some spirited people with clear eyes strongly declare, “Don’t let anyone steal your dreams!”
The lovely good news is that there are paths, actually pathless Being and Awareness itself, that open up our true lives. Those apparent byways that do lead somewhere uplifting, that are of service and evoke soul-fulfilling exaltation, also exist. Miraculously, each one of these cognitive-emotional states of complacency, apathy and resignation with accompanying behavior patterns can serve as a life-transforming springboard to a functional and satisfying experience of really being scintillatingly alive.
So while you can give compassion and loving kindness to the legions that briefly visit or dwell most of their lives in complacency, apathy and resignation, I say let all these states be banished and transformed, that is, seen and witnessed, released and surrendered, with as little energy as possible. Doing this naturally opens up presence and a sanity of the True Self or Original Nature to be unveiled.
Those who move civilization forward have seen beyond the artificial walls our imaginary ego-minds have constructed for our seeming protection and have shifted their perception to witness what is real in this moment. They tell the imaginary self, or who we think we are, to please care and protect us less, far less, thank you very much! It’s not needed or necessary, and only creates muddled confusion, unworkable behavior patterns, undue grief and untold suffering. Rather, they invite and usher the fictive ego-mind into the playground and pasture to freely roam and no more damage. Free the ego, and you are free! In truth, each empowered soul that is fueled by being his or her own authority brings a dream or vision that is real for them in this present moment. A present vision acts as an unstoppable inspiration moment-by-moment in guiding you to uncover and discover ingenious ways to make the vision real and manifest, first within yourself, and then in every soul you are privileged to reach and touch and know.
Victor Hugo once observed, “No army is as powerful as an idea whose time has come.” Similarly, there is nothing as powerful as anyone with a contributing vision of being in true service to our fellow human beings coupled with “coming from” speaking, acting and living inside this dream in this moment. This is precisely the atonement (at-one-ment) and communion with our Source that defines the quality of our life and is our gift back to Divinity given its gift of life itself. From living inside this shift in perception, complacency, apathy and resignation have no opportunity, space or oxygen to arise. Awakening to reality won’t tolerate anything less than truth, vision and action. Those who are capable, willing, show up and truly engage in life do everything they can to manifest their deepest inner beckoning, dream and vision till their dying breath. You might well say, they simply don’t know how not to. To listen, follow and honor their Muse, inner voice, and Truth has become not only second nature, rather it is now an authentic expression of their first Original Nature, who they truly are. What better serves the forward progress of humankind in realizing and embodying the evolutionary impulse of life itself? What better manifests this divine expression of life?