She also taught me that it is important to store up energy during major life transitions. People rarely store up energy; almost everyone today has their energy mortgaged way into the future. I nurtured myself, trying not to make any major decisions and allowing my unconscious to wander wherever and however it would.
Evidently we must choose between anxiety and repression. If we cannot face the truth of our condition, which is mortality (or groundlessness, according to my Buddhist interpretation), we must forget that truth, which is to repress it. The difference between neurosis and normality — that undramatic, unnoticed psychopathology of the average, according to Maslow — is how successful that repression is. The neurotic has a better memory than most of us, so anxiety keeps breaking through into consciousness and must be dealt with more harshly in order to preserve some purchase on one’s fate, some circumscribed sphere of action.
For Becker, this is literally true: normality is our collective, protective madness, in which we repress the truth of the human condition, and those who have difficulty playing this game are the ones we call mentally ill…a paranoid is someone who knows a little of what’s going on. Psychoanalysis reveals the high price of denying this truth about man’s condition, what might be called “the costs of pretending not to be mad.”
Every reader, as he reads, is actually the reader of himself. The writer’s work is only a kind of optical instrument he provides the reader so he can discern what he might never have seen in himself without this book. The reader’s recognition in himself of what the book says is the proof of the book’s truth.
Non-action is already something. There are people who don’t seem to do very much, but their presence is crucial for the well-being of the world. You may know people like this, who are steady, not always busy doing things, not making a lot of money, or being engaged in a lot of projects, but who are very important to you; the quality of their presence makes them truly available. They are contributing non-action, the high quality of their presence. To be in the here and the now—solid and fully alive—is a very positive contribution to our collective situation.
In any case, the first thing is to make peace within oneself – inner disarmament; then peace in the family; then in the village; and finally in the nation and beyond.
J.F. – Do you mean that the only way to attain lasting peace in the world is the reform of individuals? M. – To think otherwise is surely utopian. The reform of individuals would, of course, have to include our leaders as a first step!
The Dalai Lama says that outer disarmament can only take place through inner disarmament. If the individual doesn’t become more peaceful, a society that’s the sum total of such individuals will never become more peaceful either.
A retreatant withdraws temporarily from the world to gain the spiritual strength required to help others effectively. The spiritual path begins with an inner transformation, and it’s only when that’s been achieved that an individual can usefully contribute to the transformation of society.
Do you not find consciousness alone to be the most exhilarating thing? Here we are, in this incomprehensibly large universe, on this one tiny moon around this one incidental planet, and in all the time this entire scenario has existed, every component has been recycled over and over and over again into infinitely incredible configurations, and sometimes, those configurations are special enough to be able to see the world around them. You and I—we’re just atoms that arranged themselves the right way, and we can understand that about ourselves. Is that not amazing?