“The drama (of human life) is this. We came as infants “trailing clouds of glory,” arriving from the farthest reaches of the universe, bringing with us appetites well preserved from our mammal inheritance, spontaneity wonderfully preserved from our 150,000 years of tree life, angers well preserved from our 5,000 years of tribal life–in short, with our 360-degree radiance–and we offered this gift to our parents. They didn’t want it. They wanted a nice girl or a nice boy.” – Robert Bly
Bly sets the stage for why many of us are already at war with ourselves by the time we are teenagers. And as the responsibilities of our lives increase, and the demands of the marketplace intensify, the war expands and the weapons become more sophisticated.
Self-contempt drills down deep into the psyche; we cover the wound with a patch: money, romance, power, notoriety, but the patch never holds and we cannot stanch the hemorrhage.
Yet, scabs are unsightly, and we hide the wounds under silk shirts and satin sheets. It is only when we stand and watch in horror as a “bleeder” walks out of his high school lunch room with a nine millimeter automatic and a trail of bodies behind him do we roll back our own bandages …..
Why does this happen? Each of us has a dominant inner voice – it’s part of being human and having an ego.
That voice “speaks” to us thousands of times a day; for some, the tone is generous, supportive and playful; for most, however, the conversation invariably turns ugly: “You’re not living up to your potential, you could be doing more,” and “you should feel ashamed or embarrassed about ______,” or “why can’t you be more like ______?” When you hear someone use the expression, “If you only knew the real me…,” they are almost always referring to their Raging Voice.
And so, for 20, 30, or 90 years we play a game with ourselves. We pretend to ignore the voice. We fill every waking, conscious moment of our lives with noise and motion. We drive our cars with the radio on; we eat our lunch or make the bed with the TV on. Anything to avoid coming to a stop in silence.
For it is there, in the silence of non-movement, that we are left alone with our voice. And the thought of being alone with that Raging Voice terrifies us.
I smile now as I write these words, but forty years ago – as a Soto Zen Buddhist monk – I would quickly make my way to the Zendo each morning at 5 AM to join the rest of the community for what turned out to be my first introduction to the Raging Voice. Through the practice of zazen – a form of meditation where the monk sits mindfully in front of a wall – you set aside all distractions and opinions. It’s just you and “your stuff,” your Raging Voice.
The years at the monastery were invaluable – I could now easily identify the Raging Voice – but that’s as far as I got.
It took another 25 years for me to realize that, despite using every weapon imaginable, defeating the Raging Voice was impossible.
It was at that point I gave up. To be more precise I surrendered. To be exact, I asked the Raging Voice to join me at a Peace Summit. To my utter astonishment, He agreed.
That first Peace Summit was the most gratifying moment of my life.
And that which I had feared the most — actual “voice” itself? — a collage of childhood personas that simply wanted attention and recognition, like any child. Once I recognized that these schoolyard bullies were as confused and vulnerable (and afraid!) as I was, it was like meeting old friends after a 45-year sabbatical.
Finally, there’s the issue of the two biblical passages I left dangling in the wind.
Are you able now to see them in a different light?
“It’s rather elementary,” dear Watson . . . We are both the person who slaps and the person being slapped.
See this fundamental truth with your own eyes, and the gates of heaven are revealed.