exploring self-realization, sacred personhood, and full humanity
How To Sit Quietly
In A Room Alone
Trying to Outrun the Sadness
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Recently I watched a documentary of the life of an adventurous man. His name, known to millions, is synonymous with daring exploit, high-risk endeavor, and fortitudinous exploration. While I admire him and his courage, I will not mention his name here as it will be helpful to our study to dissect and perform autopsy on the larger-than-life gallantry.
Allow me to preface the following by saying, in preemptory defense, that he’s not alone. Virtually every Epic Man or Woman of history, with a little detective work, would reveal a kindred mindset and hidden motivation. I’d begun to compile such a list of “heroes,” noting a similar psychological profile, but then realized that there’s no point in presenting a series of cookie-cutter intents of the heart. For the unenlightened, it's all the same, for all of them. And so, our friend under review will be asked to represent the main.
There’s nothing wrong with exploits and adventurism, nothing wrong with exploring the frontiers of knowledge and breaking through established comfort-zones. We need far more of this. But when we venture into the uncharted, we must do so with clear eyes, lest we fall into egoic dysfunction.
One case in point: the great Spirit Guides lament that, on the other side, too many people live Walter-Mitty lives, are timid and afraid, do not want to “rock the boat” and lose the good things in their lives; not that they could, but unrealistic fears, a cultish frame of mind, stultify too many over there. See my article on “the 500 testimonies from spirit world.” Many in the next worlds could use a good dose of daring adventurism. But when we “hoist anchor, set sails,” and forge ahead where “no man has gone before,” we must do so with our spirits firmly centered upon the “true self.” To do otherwise will be to destroy ourselves. Just ask “the insane 500.”
Our lion-hearted friend in the documentary was famous for his “super-hero” deeds: going here and going there, around the world, daily risking life and limb, with a seemingly dispassionate, fin-de-siecle approach to death. One of Yeats' "smiling public men" in good standing, with academy-award-winning dash, he portrayed himself in this self-assured and domineering way for the judging cameras; "holding his mask up," as Elizabeth said, "with two hands."
Editor’s note: I recall Art Mokarow, over 40 years ago, telling us that if someone is smiling all the time, is “positive” and ebullient all the time, "there’s something wrong with you." I didn’t know what he meant back then, but now I understand. It means you’re wearing a mask, because life isn’t that way; it means, “look at me, natural spontaneous me, smiling all the time, such a good person, and so close to God, am I.” There is a reason why Jesus was called a "man of sorrows."
But our hero's private writings, and the testimonies of family members, reveal something very different, the true fears and motivations of the heart. All of those heroic round-the-world adventures were just a “propaganda campaign,” mainly, to himself. This "smiling, public man" wasn’t truly in search of new knowledge and better understanding of life and the universe; not really; instead, he was “trying to outrun the sadness” in his spirit -- as his family would later use the phrase to describe him -- caused by the inevitable chaos and loss inflicted upon us in this world.
He wasn’t able to simply sit at home, in the quiet of his study, meditating upon life’s meaning and purpose. His “inner demons” demanded that he be out there -- gallivanting, blustering, cajoling, grandstanding, posturing, canvassing for support -- in order to silence the hidden, but raging, disquietude of his deeper person.
You can’t “outrun the sadness.” It’s like the ancient Eastern parable “Death In Tehran” with the fellow who learns that he’s to die that evening, and so he jumps on his fastest horse to get away, to hide, in the big city; but, to discover, that Death was planning all the while to meet him that night in Tehran. Or, it’s like the old Twilight Zone episode where the guy is driving at night, and he keeps passing the same hitchhiker. And so he speeds up to put distance between them, only to discover that the hitchhiker, Death, is now smiling in the backseat. This still freaks me out.
And you can’t outrun sadness, either -- which is just an aspect of the fear of loss, the ultimate expression of which is death, total loss. -- You need to calmly and coolly have a face-to-face discussion with that which bedevils you. You have to invite Death, the fear of Death, in for a cup of tea, look him in the eyes, and then expose him for the fraud that he is. Because there is no Death, and we come to know this, not just believe this, when we meet the locus of life within ourselves, the “true self.” But you can’t effect this mystical wonder, not very well, out there, immersed in distracting “busy-ness,” on the world stage as a “smiling, public man.” This kind of existential negotiation might be conducted only in the quiet of a small room, alone.
"I am here, I am life."
Dr. Victor Frankl, in his concentration camp memoirs, offers an account of a fellow inmate who was about to die. The following excerpts are from “Man’s Search For Meaning."
It is a simple story, and it may sound as if I had invented it. But to me it seems like a poem. This young woman knew that she would die in the next few days, but when I talked to her she was cheerful in spite of this knowledge.
"I am grateful that fate has hit me so hard,” she told me. "In my former life I was spoiled and did not take spiritual accomplishments seriously."
Pointing through the window of the hut she said, "This tree here is the only friend I have in my loneliness."
Through that window, she could see just one branch of a chestnut tree, and on the branch were two blossoms.
“I often talk to this tree,” she said to me.
I was startled and didn’t know how to take her words. Was she delirious? Did she have occasional hallucinations? Anxiously, I asked her if the tree replied.
What did it say to her?
She answered, "It said to me, I am here, I am here, I am life - eternal life."