Title a notebook page MY WILL. On this page we will try to simply and somewhat generally define some of the areas of your life in which your will – your ego – plays an active and dynamic role. Write five examples for each of the following eight categories. I have used the example of money (as you will see below) only to illustrate each of the various categories in the form of a simple statement or declaration. Don’t make the mistake of picking five things and attempting to squeeze them into each of the eight aspects. If you do you, you’ll find that some of them – the very universal ones – will work, but others won’t, and we won’t get the full benefits of the exercise. Your five things for “a self-pity” may be quite different to the five things for “a fear,” for instance. The money example works in all eight categories, probably for everyone, and for roughly the same reason. It’s an important subject. I have used it here only as an example.
If you concentrate and think about each category separately, without reference to the others, you will find that different things come out. Avoid at all costs just squashing easy and obvious things in and not really thinking about them. The list of your “demands” compared to that of your “wishes,” for instance, may be strikingly different. You may not feel “self-pity” about all the things you “regret,” and you may not “fear” all the things you “resent.” Allow yourself time to consider each proposition, be honest, and permit the contrasts and incongruities to speak for themselves. Here are the eight categories and an example of each:
• An opinion (eg. I deserve more money)
• A need (eg. I need more money)
• A demand (eg. give me more money)
• A resentment (eg. he earns more money than me)
• A wish (eg. I wish I had more money)
• A fear (eg. I don’t earn enough money)
• A regret (eg. I should have earned more money)
• A self-pity (eg. I’m so sad I don’t have more money)
Let us now briefly peruse your lists.
OPINIONS: In my experience, you will find that there is an awful lot of thinking expended on the concept of “what I deserve.” Not only in the “opinions” section, but woven tightly throughout many of the answers you have given; in your “demands,” your “opinions,” your “resentments,” and so forth. This is interesting in the first instance because I didn’t ask you to answer that question – of what you think you “deserve.” Now you have to consider exactly why, and on what basis, you think you deserve to be provided such largesse. The answer is simplicity itself, of course; because it’s your world, and you expect things to be a certain way. This opinion is the premise on which we identify, differentiate, and (negatively) assess the difference between our idealised conception of the world and our actual experience of it. It is the basic measure of our conflict with the world, and the extent to which we do not live “life on life’s terms.” Thinking of our opinions only in terms of “deserve” limits our understanding of the way our ego experiences a dissatisfactory world, constricting it to a transaction that begins with, “I’m fabulous, therefore…” This also necessitates some mental contortions at those times or in those instances when you can secretly admit that you’re not so fabulous, but you demand it anyway.
NEEDS: What are your needs, and how do you define and justify them? Is it something you have and want more of, or exclusively something you don’t have? How insistent are you on explaining to yourself why you need it? Do these needs meet the basic requirements for living – such as food, shelter, and health – or does your ego concentrate on those even more vitally important things that improve your sense of contentment and self-worth, such as a flat-screen TV? The relative value which you might place on certain things, which in this instance we can take to mean “the amount of time I expend thinking about it,” is penetratingly indicative. It acknowledges the difference between the desiring of the thing itself and the subsequent having of the thing. You may spend an awful amount of time thinking and worrying about a thing you don’t have, but been apt to take it for granted once it is in your possession. The demonstration of power and facility in the act of the acquiring is of great importance to our ego, but what we do possess is often assumed and taken for granted unless it is threatened with removal.
DEMAND: Here is a list of things that unconsciously reference what we believe we deserve, but is that necessarily true of every demand? If I say to you, “Stop it now!” it is unequivocally and unquestionably a command. It is not a “deserve.” I can justify it in terms of what I need when I say, for instance, “I need peace and quiet to work, so stop it now!” but I only use that as a tool to convince you, and increase the force of my not-request. Other people cannot negotiate with a “demand.” It is much more invasive and selfish and does not allow for any discussion or the taking into account of your point of view. Therefore it is not, by its uncompromising nature, something we can even think of as a “want.” It just has to happen.
RESENTMENT: Consider this; have you listed true resentments, or have you written down examples of things you are angry about? Have you thought about the difference, and whether it’s possible to be angry about something or at someone but not resentful? Anger is a strong negative emotion (that we know well) but maybe without the sense of unfairness – the conviction that something is unjust or “just wrong” – that is a vital part of what we think of as a burning resentment. Are your choices compromised and inappropriate because you have identified the cause of your anger but not the true source of your resentment? A resentment has implications. I can much more easily calm down and apologise if I have been in the wrong, or forgive if I have been wronged, when I am simply angry. But a resentment will burn within me. I am not so easily able to process the unpardonable offence to the moral and ethical structure of my world that is a true resentment implies.
WISH: Let us take responsibility for that which we wish for. How many of them are dependent on you and your self-centred perception of the world? How many are examples of something you could change immediately if you just made the effort to do so? Are you preferring to stand back and demand it is provided for you? To a certain extent, I think, a true wish is something we wish for precisely because we can’t do anything about it. It is an unresolvable and unmanageable situation, but we wish it wasn’t so, which evidence brings us yet again into conflict with the way the world is and the way we so desperately want it to be.
FEAR: Make sure you have written down only those things that you truly fear now, in the present moment, and not things that you might be afraid of in the future. Make the distinction. Most of our fears follow an assumed chronological chain of unavoidable events. They are a timid and uncertain assessment of our present circumstances projected forward into our future towards a dreaded and unavoidable outcome. As such, they explain and rationalise how we feel now, but fail to justify it or take responsibility for it. Most of our fears are irrational and unwarranted, and yet even though we can admit this to be true, it is the very mayhem of their hysterical nonsense that has the greatest power over us. We surrender to them because they prey on our deepest insecurities about ourselves, and because of this they don’t have to be true; they just have to be scary. They are tied inextricably to both our regrets about our past which has brought us to this terrible circumstance, and to our demands and our wish for a safe and prosperous future. We fear losing something we have or not getting something we want, and we can’t ensure either of these requirements to the extent which might console us. Most of all, we fear not being in control.
REGRET: All regrets are about things that have happened or choices that were made in the past. They presume that there was a possible alternative outcome or decision that is realistic enough for us to be sorry that it was not realised; either through decision, chance, or circumstance. We think of it as a regret presumable because we have not yet resolved or come to terms with the consequences of that event. This tells us much about our dissatisfaction here in the present, and the explanations and excuses we use to explain it by identifying faults and causes in the past. Regret is a crippling malady, precisely because we believe that our fates are sealed, our misfortune inevitable, and our agency impotent. It is sometimes irrelevant to our current situation, but glorying in our powerless is often an excuse to do nothing, or to not take responsibility for our situation. Truly genuine regrets about our actions in the past are sorrowful and painful things because we cannot change them. They can consume us with guilt and frustration, and make of us timid and uncourageous creatures haunted with the fear of doing anything wrong or making any mistakes ever again in the future. This, it should be pointed out, would be impossible.
SELF-PITY: Each of your sentences will describe a deliberate, causal, and dynamic relationship between you and how you feel, and “the thing” that you pity yourself for. There has to be an object for our pain – a thing – because we don’t really want to feel the way we do. We have to seek some cause and justification for it, especially because we don’t want to take responsibility for being so pathetic. We are in the act of self-denial. Instead of doing something about it – by actively engaging in constructively addressing the problem – we are busy with only having a precious, self-centred, and cripplingly static opinion about it. We celebrate turning that self-pity into a resentment when we can turn our ire onto someone or something else, whether or not they deserve it. If our self-pity is about something that has happened that we can’t change but do take responsibility for (like regret, but without the poignancy of thinking that we could have done something differently) then the only thing we are doing is engaging in a self-destructive and essentially pointless act of wailing at the cruelty and wilful unfairness of the world. Life’s tough; get over it.
Title the next page MY LIFE. Write five things for each of these points that are practical examples of things you have to work to surrender.
• The past (eg. I wish I had done — and not —)
• The future (eg. I want to —-)
You will notice, initially, that there is no “present.” That’s because you either accept exactly where you are right now (sitting down reading this book) or not. A bit silly, perhaps, because if you don’t like what you’re doing right now you should probably stop and go do something more enjoyable. But in the interest of comprehensiveness, let’s see what present-moment dissatisfactions you are currently experiencing:
• write five things about exactly where you are right now, physically, in your life, that you are struggling with.( eg. This book is irritating)
Hopefully you will have concentrated on real, actual, physical actions directly pertaining to you, and interacting in a demonstrable way with your environment in the past or hoped-for future. Most of what we do on a daily basis is mundane and ordinary. We shop, we work, we commute, we socialise, and we sleep. Occasionally we make love or watch football. But the complex and complicated activities of the Will are preoccupied with an almost mythical reimagining of the world, ranging the full gamut from our darkest disasters to our brightest fantasies.
The shape and definition of these internal conflagrations are often forged by the combination or the juxtaposition of one of the eight aspects of will that we have just looked at. Even though we may clearly see this, we will still often prefer to hang onto the opinion we have of it, rather than do something about it. That’s the point about the example of This Irritating Book, but don’t judge the book; judge yourself. Stop bitching and moaning and do something else. This may mean taking actual, decisive, physical action, or it may require a considered review before a change of attitude or opinion. What is disheartening to realise is that much of what we have just written down in both the Will and the Life sections is a litany of worthless, pointless, irrelevant opinions, and nothing more. Have you, for instance, written down calm, dispassionate examples of physical events only, or have you invested them with an emotional weight? This extends to even the words we choose to use when formulating our principles and phrasing our decisions. We can admit something readily enough, but are we willing to do the work to accept it? We can be “determined to,” or “hope that.” We can want, or need. How often do we take the action, and do?
Cast your eye over both pages. Every answer you have written down assumes that the relationship between the issue and your assessment of it is a static and unmoving emotional fact in the world. We label things, and presume that our label is correct. When something has been designated and categorised as bad, it retains those qualities as if there is nothing we could humanly do to change it, as if that was its intrinsic nature. We were just doing everybody the favour of naming it for them. This is not true – especially of physical facts. The occurrences and events, the situations and developments in the manifestly real world have, quite simply, no inherent emotional content. These facts – like everything else in the world – are in a constantly fluid, evolving state of change. The context in which we experience them, it follows, is also an unstable and dynamic one.
This is a frightening and uncertain place to live in, so we label these elements to fix them in place. It is one of the blatantly obvious stratagems we use to help us control and manage all the disparate and complicated forces at work in our life. We hope they’ll stay where we put them. By categorising and defining them we thereby also demystify them, and hopefully diminish their potential to surprise and overwhelm us when we’re not looking. They are, fundamentally, the building blocks with which we construct the architecture of our world and our life. Like all building blocks, it’s better if they don’t move. Furthermore, labelling and thus defining our relationship to something absolves us of the necessity of taking responsibility for it and actually doing something about it. We’ve done something, we declare; we’ve formed an opinion about it. Excellent.