Robinson Crusoe (1719)
by Daniel Defoe (1660-1731)
Perhaps the reason many of us find the stories of the adventures of the castaway so intriguing is that consciously or unconsciously it seems to be the adventure that we ourselves are having. Among the most well-known of these adventures is Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. Crusoe’s first reaction after being washed ashore on an island is one of despair because he is all alone with little or no chance for rescue. In P-B, we often find ourselves essentially alone with no rescuer. We are all dependent on our own resources, but are often reluctant to admit this, and, in fact, will do almost anything to distract ourselves from this reality.
Before we get back to Robinson Crusoe, let’s continue to connect that 300-year-old story with the modern human condition. It is one of the functions of the sensation center of the false self to provide us with distractions, so we don’t have to take responsibility for creating a new story and a new identity for ourselves even though most of us know the narrative we are living in is unsustainable. One of the latest distractions or “escapes” from reality is the modern electronic gadgets and the new behaviors connected with them. Cell phone, email, I-pod, Facebook, Twitter, and texting are a few examples of the many, many devices and general behavior related to what we commonly call multi-tasking.
Studies by sociologists and psychologists have long known the toxic nature of becoming heavily dependent on the sensation center for coping with our existential anxiety. Multi-tasking, for example, can be addictive for some who report being bored when not engaged with their “devices” or should we say “vices.” Ironically, however, being so heavily “connected” is leading to feelings of loneliness and isolation which brings us back to Robinson Crusoe.
How did our despairing and lonely castaway deal with his formidable challenge? You might be surprised, but he coped using much the same resources that we are going to have to use today if we are to survive. First, he started with the ever-present Einstein question, “Is the Universe friendly?” “His [Crusoe’s] answer to the question is that all creation comes from God and that the state of all creation, including his own, is an expression of the will of God. Upon this act of faith, he rebuilds not only his own life but also his own miniature society that reflects in its simplicity, moderation [what] his father had taught him.”[i]
The key principles in Crusoe’s blueprint for success were creating “his own miniature society” (a new paradigm) based on “simplicity” (no elaborate survival strategy necessary), “moderation” (less craving for sensation and power), and self-reliance (there were no institutions of civilization or human community for him to rely on). “I acquiesced in the disposition of Providence, which I began now to own [emphasis added] and to believe ordered everything for the best.”[ii]
Our castaway had to surrender to the reality of his situation and respond to that reality since reacting to his afflictive emotions would have been futile. The outcome for Crusoe is an experience of a new context and a new identity leading to a happiness we would not expect in his situation. “It is now that I began sensibly to feel how much more happy this life I now led was, with all its miserable circumstances, than the wicked, cursed, abominable [P-B] life I led all the past part of my days, and now I changed both my sorrows and my joys, my very desires altered, my affections changed their gusts, and my delights were perfectly new from what they were at my first coming.”[iii]
We can take inspiration from this timeless story about what is possible for any individual regardless of time, place and circumstances if he/she turns to the inner resources available from our connection to our True self, our connection to Simple Reality.
[i] Magill, Frank N. [ed.]. Masterpieces of World Literature. New York: Harper, 1989, page 787.
Find a much more in-depth discussion in books by Roy Charles Henry.