A riff is a short rhythmic phrase repeated constantly. Any of us lucky enough to listen to a row of jazz musicians riffing with the spontaneity characteristic of jazz have felt the joy of being mesmerized by beauty in the present moment. The contrapuntal conversation can be fascinating and uplifting if we can recognize and feel the creative process innate in all of us. This essay contains some of the best mystics jamming with the sweet melody lines of Simple Reality.
Listen with your heart because you will be hearing some of the masters extraordinaire rendering profound insights – some of the most transformative principles related to the human struggle for freedom. Listen to your own still, small voice and beware also of the whispering homunculus (the diminutive man) which is a good term for the little devil or the voice of the false self or even the voice of the Freudian id that tempts us all to react, react, react.
If you don’t know yourself you know nothing.
If you know yourself you know everything.
It is essential that we look as deeply as we can, understanding intellectually and feeling with our hearts, our deeply self-destructive and unsatisfying behavior that flows from the conditioned behavior in P-B. In doing so, we can find the energy, the will and the commitment to transform our behavior by gradual modification or short-term paradigm shifts. Either way we will at least have hope for creating a sustainable future for ourselves as individuals and for the people of the global village whose suffering prompts an agonizing scream for a viable solution to coping with the horrific nightmare that entraps them.
It is natural to seek happiness and yet few of us are able to transcend our dissatisfaction with life. Why is lasting happiness and a meaningful and fulfilling experience of life so illusive? That is what we will examine in this essay.
We would have to work very hard to find as succinct a description contrasting the true self and the false self from so unlikely a source as the usually cynical Machiavelli (1469-1527). “The princely examples with which Machiavelli documents his manual of worldly success are lovers of riches, fame and power—that triad of seducers which alienates the affections of men for truth, beauty, and goodness.” Machiavelli might not have spent much quality time in the present moment but when he did he nailed it.
As a young man C.G. Jung observed that: “People were interested in money [security], honour [sensation], and power—nothing of any consequence—and all the great issues which for epochs had occupied the civilized world…” Jung blows another melody line. “People will do anything, no matter how absurd, in order to avoid facing their own souls.”
To be sure, Freud and Adler were playing very different instruments in our jazz ensemble than was Jung but they got in some good licks. “…Freud’s rigid insistence on the pleasure principle [the sensation center] and Adler’s emphasis on the will to power [the power and control center]…” did not endear them to Jungian adherents but they added to the richness of the blend.
Our players will now focus on the three main themes of this performance, each in turn. The melody lines within the themes have a flavor all their own and are easily recognizable even if we don’t completely appreciate the hold they have on our identity.
SECURITY CENTER (Materialism)
American city embodying this energy center: New York City (Wall Street)
The earth has enough for mankind’s needs, but not for its greeds!
“Marketing analyst Victor Lebow wrote in 1950, ‘Our enormously productive economy demands that we make consumption a way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfaction, in consumption…’” It is no exaggeration to say that greed in America has become a disease. Quoting from David Wann’s book Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic, Maureen Dowd defines affluenza in a recent column as “a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more.”
The shop ‘til you drop flu has permeated all aspects of the national culture. For example, “The average credit card debt of a graduating U.S. college student [$20,402] combining education loan and credit-card balance. University administrators say they lose more students to credit-card debt than to academic failure.”
Psychoanalyst Rollo May emphasizes one of the saddest consequences of our search for security. “One of the chief things which keeps us from learning to love in our society, as Erich Fromm and others have pointed out, is our ‘marketplace orientation.’ We use love for buying and selling….but sooner or later it turns out that a love demanded as a payment is no love at all.”
We are born into a story that demands we create a tri-partite survival strategy. Tragically, we as small children cannot resist developing dysfunctional habits. “Greed is something that grows in us between the ages of 2 and 4. This happens before we’re old enough to understand the value of money,” said Dr. Elisabeth Engelberg, who studies the psychology of money in attitudes, behavior and gender. “Threatened by what we interpret as the absence of love, attention and affection [the sensation center], we can learn to compensate for this perceived lack by surrounding ourselves with material goods.” Dr. Engelberg has given us the transition to our second theme.
SENSATION CENTER (affection, esteem and related addictions)
American city embodying this energy center: Las Vegas
Buddhists may understand that pleasure is actually pain, but this is a paradox about which Americans are clueless. It is like they are hearing Thelonius Monk for the first time. But one super-cool cat, Huston Smith, who spent his life studying and practicing the world’s religions, had no trouble understanding why we must be wary of the world’s pleasures. “By this understanding, even pleasure is but gilded pain. ‘Earth’s sweetest joy is but disguised pain,’ as Drummond wrote, while Shelley speaks of ‘that unrest which men miscall delight.’”
The discordant melodies of the false self energy centers overlap and all three can be present in a single reaction. The sensation center is revealed at both the conscious levels and the unconscious levels by what Americans purchase. Some of the desires of Americans are also “secret” in that they take place in the hidden shadows of society followed by guilt, shame and regret that can plague us for the rest of our lives. One of those secret transactions involve America’s largest cash crop, marijuana. We spend $20 billion a year trying to blot out our conscious dissatisfaction with life or trying to repress our anger, fear and unfulfilled yearning into a deeply denied unconscious.
With globalization, the worst of the survival strategy behaviors, at a fever pitch in the U.S. and the Western world, are being exported to cultures that are defenseless because they are as unconscious of the seductive powers of the false self as we are. According to Zhang Zedong who runs a state-owned [China] satellite-dish shop, “what people want is entertainment. They’re not so interested in BBC, but rather MTV…” Yes, even most of our entertainment is escapist and increases our suffering because it takes us out of the Now.
The historian Will Durant with his perspective on the sweep of human history reminds us, lest we begin to experience the emotional affliction of self-importance, that we need to remember the principle of impermanence; that is, all form is fleeting and has no substantial existence. “It is the memory and imagination of the beholder that swollen with history, make these monuments [the pyramids at Gizeh] great; in themselves they are a little ridiculous—vainglorious tombs in which the dead sought eternal life. Perhaps pictures have too much ennobled them: photography can catch everything but dirt, and enhances man-made objects with noble vistas of land and sky. The sunset at Gizeh is greater than the pyramids.”
POWER CENTER (power and control)
American city embodying the power energy center: Washington D.C.
We suspect, and rightly so, many of our representatives in Washington reveal by their behavior that they are there for reasons other than altruistically serving their constituents. That behavior includes controlling people or situations, promoting one’s status, self-image, and influence. We can see that trumpeting one’s accomplishments, approval seeking as well as promoting others dependence on us is a sad elegy to an empty, powerless life.
The false self has always been a part of the human experience but seems to have become more of an “up-tempo” experience beginning in the Industrial Revolution and ironically since the Enlightenment. The competitive instinct is no friend of Self-transformation. Rollo May gives us our historical perspective: “Our society is, as we have seen, the heir of four centuries of competitive individualism, with the power over others as a dominant motivation….”
We act as if we are slaves to our past conditioning and it is time we finally become what we have long boasted, that we are namely “the animal that reasons.” “We fear what our ancestral history has prepared us to fear. Human emotions were road-tested in the “Stone Age.” Yesterday’s risks prepare us to fear snakes, lizards and spiders, although all three combined now kill virtually no one in developed countries. Flying may be far safer than bicycling, but our biological past predisposes us to fear confinement and heights, and therefore flying.”
Despite all of our eons of conditioning, we can transcend our habituated reactions any time we choose. Seth who has the perspective of another dimension experiences a Reality that we sometimes find difficult to believe in. “You are not at the mercy of unconscious drives unless you consciously acquiesce to them.”
Ironically, the strongest sense of identity is to have no identity at all but must begin with refusing to identify with body, mind and emotions. We would do well to always keep in mind Nisargadatta’s admonition to do nothing, have nothing and know nothing. “To be idle,’” Robert Louis Stevenson accurately wrote, “requires a strong sense of personal identity.” All of these profound insights should sound like music to our hearts.
References and notes are available for this article.
For a much more in-depth discussion on Simple Reality, read Simple Reality: The
Key to Serenity and Survival, by Roy Charles Henry, published in 2011.