“Like two golden birds in the self-same tree, intimate friends, the ego and the Self dwell in the same body. While the former eats the sweet and bitter fruits of the tree of life, the latter looks on in detachment.”
– Mundaka Upanishads
I’ve left it too long to write and now I find I have two posts to write, but then I realise they are connected maybe even the same. I think they are about the ego and the Self, about doubt and trust or a step beyond, faith. So one story is about abundance easily received, the other about uncertainty and hesitation.
This morning was a near-perfect autumn day, I discovered an amazing tree laden with red-fleshed apples ripe for picking near the church and though I felt greedy picking some, when I left the tree looked no different than when I arrived. Now the cloud cover has descended. So the heart leaps and settles, jumps to respond, but underneath these movements, is the detached colourless Self.
I had a near-perfect whole day earlier this week. As it was unfolding, I reflected on its content and how I felt. It combined so many elements – yoga, good conversation, an unexpected discovery and connection…and then the special powers of a home concert that everyone had made happen together, working its magic once again. Such a powerful sense of community, connection, enjoyment, warmth.
I feel a surge of something, a renewed trust in what life offers, and wanting to thank everyone who contributes. Maybe the pitch is too high? So many good things…remembering to observe and receive the sweet and bitter fruits of life with detachment.
Coming back to the world, I rediscovered this post which I wrote in March, somehow it got lost and I found I had more to add to it. The post may have matured with time, but I’m not sure I have!
Late last winter I was driving in the early morning and while I was waiting at a roundabout I heard a slight thud against my car. A car whizzed past me and was hesitating to push further in the queue, I thought ‘he’s hit me!’ and I started doing all the things you’re supposed to do – signalling, then when the driver didn’t respond, I flashed him. He carried on aggressively pushing ahead and out of sight but not before I wrote down his licence number. I sat there in my bubble feeling mildly outraged but not exactly surprised. It was still too dark outside in the early morning to see if there was any damage, but I felt myself resigned to the experience. I was already thinking that if there was any damage and I raised it through my insurance company, the driver would almost certainly contest it.
When I got to my session and discovered to my great relief that there was no visible damage, I suddenly grasped the connection between this minor ‘accident’ and the session I was about to lead, which was all about trust.
‘Most people can be trusted’,
people agreeing with this statement in the UK over the last few decades:
1959 – 56%
1981 – 43%
1990 – 44%
1999 – 29%
I wonder what the figure would be now…
‘…there has been a decline in the level of fellowship which holds society together. This has eroded the bonds of trust between us, and children suffer as a result. There are, however, countries in which trust has not declined. In Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands around two-thirds of people believe that most people can be trusted – twice as many as in Britain and the USA.’ Layard, R and Dunn, J (2009) – A good childhood
On my drive, after my near miss, these thoughts were bubbling in my mind and came together along with some reflections on a video clip I had seen recently called ‘We are all Cyborgs now’. The clip is about the power of the internet to give us real connections but also some of the challenges of genuinely being ourselves ‘virtually’. Amber Case talks about our virtual adolescence as we become used to having an online identity. When we first venture online we may falter, like a child learning to walk, and yet she makes the point that unlike real adolescence which we outgrow and which lives on only in memory, our virtual adolescence remains there online with our faltering steps, our blunders, intact for all to see.
This point really hit home and made me reflect on my adolescence online over the last couple years. It all started with me feeling motivated to comment on someone’s blog – someone I didn’t know at the time. I was really uneasy about writing anything, I remember how scary but also exciting it was, and it was such a relief to me when the person responded to my comment. I ‘progressed’ on from there, learning to walk, and finally creating my own blog.
How do I feel about the litter and legacy of my online development process being there forever? Partly I don’t care because I can’t see that anyone else does. However, when I stumble across an old comment, I sometimes feel uneasy and even exposed. That was a moment in time. Do I want it to live on? I often have no choice, but if I did I would usually let it go.
All of our personal incoherent online histories are there to be retrieved, should anyone wish to piece them together. That feels quite vulnerable for reasons I don’t fully understand. It’s clearly something to do with trust. Do I trust the world to hold my pieces together benevolently, or at the very least neutrally? On a day like I had this week, I certainly do.
Do I trust those who might come across me online to behave with respect and care? Do I have real relationships with the people I know online only and with some of whom I discuss issues of the deepest importance to me? I think I do, but these are relationships that can be discarded at the flick of a switch without any real consequences or repercussions in daily life. People you think you are connected with can disappear or just suddenly not respond, and you are left hanging/wondering. You could say this is a lesson in learning how not to be attached – but at the other extreme it might become an experience of carelessness towards others and even perhaps oneself. The ambiguous and uncertain status of these connections must have some effect on the psyche and on how we relate to others and ourselves. I don’t quite know what that effect is.
The anonymity of ‘Most people’ in the statement ‘Most people can be trusted’ is exponentially increased when thinking of the internet. The statement on its own makes me think of a crowded tube station with lots of people milling around. I feel warmer towards those strangers than when I imagine a vast number of faceless people at computers. All of us in our bubbles surfing online.
Moving beyond trust, for me it is an act of faith when I write something online, on my blog or someone else’s. It feels like a hand held out to make an authentic connection of the spirit – it requires huge trust and faith in the world and in the person to whom I write, as well as to the many others who might read me and feel something. Sometimes I find it quite hopeful. Other times I find it bleak. Other times I just feel I am writing because there is a voice to be spoken and perhaps heard. But maybe I feel this way, and with the ups and downs, because I am still, perhaps always, a virtual adolescent! Still learning the ropes. (Are there any ropes?!) So much of the time I am caught up in ego, out of touch with Self.
I started this post writing about insurance. We ‘take out’ insurance to protect ourselves from external mishaps, but surely the real insurance needs to be taken from within. This kind of inner insurance protects from that feeling of vulnerability and gives reinforcement and reassurance to the value that is already there. It is ultimately a protection of faith. Sometimes this feeling of protection arrives as a gift and other times it can be restored through practice with determination. For me writing on this blog can sometimes be that insurance.
Suddenly on my drive a few seasons ago, I felt myself fly forward in time and I thought how fascinating it would be to track someone’s journey of development from virtual adolescence to virtual maturity or even virtual wisdom, and how this would be the material of future books. In a future time when people no longer hesitate to express themselves virtually, maybe have overcome those doubts and restored trust, there will be a treasure trove of material to unpack and explore.
Many years ago I pored over Virginia Woolf’s revisions of The Waves and TS Eliot’s amendments of Four Quartets, a process that involved really getting into the mind, heart, spirit and being of these writers. Others in times to come will follow Google links to discover all the online appearances of a favoured writer. Their foibles will be explored, the possibilities of similar themes tracked through their comments on different blogs or discussion groups. What websites did they visit, whose blogs did they read, where did they leave their mark? Collected Letters will be replaced by collected weblogs, online musings – a virtual snail’s trail of reflections. This glimpse into the future is a fascinating prospect, almost making me want to be reborn in a future time.
This moment of vision gives me a renewed passing sense of faith in my virtual development process and in the power of the connections that are out there to be made.