In my last post, I gave an argument for evil as if from the perspective of a sincere seeker turned psychopathic guru. There were some excellent responses in the comments (check them out if you haven’t already), attempting to answer my question of where this twisted logic went wrong. In this post, I’ll give my thoughts.
Somewhere along the path of growth or awakening (and sometimes more than once), there is a challenge to face the terrifying prospect that reality isn’t what you thought it was. All of one’s cherished beliefs come under question and there is nothing to hold on to. Metaphorically, one must cross the abyss or face the void. One must face this event with courage and the willingness for everything one knows to be symbolically destroyed. The experience can be terrifying and often feels like one is dying or going crazy, since you are literally losing touch with what you thought was reality—ideally to end up more sane and more alive once you pass through this trial.
Some undergo this test and fully surrender all notions and attachments, at least for a moment. Dying before death, they find that they somehow still survive intact. Liberated from some (or perhaps all) of their excessive clinging, they hold their beliefs, their gurus, and themselves more lightly. Recognizing that while none of these things are absolutely real, things like beliefs, values, thoughts, and emotions do indeed still have meaning and function as relatively real.
Only What I Want and Believe is Real: The Ontology of Narcissism
Others cling to their sense of self, their beliefs and values, their desires. Everything else in their conception of reality is demolished by the void (i.e. insight into the constructed and thus changeable nature of such things), but they themselves are not changed by it. Failing to be transformed, to surrender fully and be reborn (I’m speaking symbolically here, in case you didn’t get that), the world appears utterly meaningless except for that which they clung to. I think this is why we see gurus that question the reality of everything except their own desires and their own existence. In fact, the sociopathic guru’s desires are now the only thing that is real to them—everything else looks like a mirage, a projection of one’s own desires or an object to use to obtain one’s desires—and therefore everything revolves around getting what the guru wants. This explains why the climax of a LGAT like Tony Robbins “Unleash the Power Within” is the hard-core upselling, for instance.
The self, having become reified, asserts it’s identity with a violent desperation. The goals of the seeker become obsessively focused on proving one’s existence and importance to others. A big, expensive house, an extreme display of positive affect, an envious lifestyle—a thousand examples of such narcissism proliferate amongst personal development gurus. If one already had such tendencies before—and we all do to some extent—they become massively amplified once one has encountered the abyss since one now has to defend against a known yet utterly mysterious existential threat. (This threat however, to those in-the-know, is actually nothing to fear and in fact is the source of profound inner peace depending on how long and intensely one has been afraid—like turning the light on and finding there aren’t any monsters under the bed.)
All Beliefs are Limiting by Definition
For instance, the phrase “limiting beliefs” should refer to all beliefs, for any view of reality highlights certain things and obscures others. (I don’t think the goal should be to be “free from beliefs” though anymore than one should try to be “free from the body.” We need beliefs and bodies to function.) But in the context of personal development, “limiting beliefs” refers only to the beliefs that oppose the beliefs and desires one already identifies with and clings to.
Granted, some beliefs are more limiting than others—a belief that I am an abject failure is not likely to be very empowering, even if there is a lot of evidence to prove it. But an equally overgeneralized belief that I am a total and complete success is also unnecessarily limiting. Underlying such a narrow view is a sense of meaninglessness—for what kind of reality could it be otherwise where only one’s selfish desires are meaningful and real? (Note also that limits are often good—creativity for instance occurs within limits, such as what medium to use, or how long you have to work on something. Setting limits with children is often difficult but necessarily for their maturation.)
The solution is to inquire into one’s cherished identity, beliefs, emotions, and desires with as much vigor as one would deconstruct one’s disliked and thus “limiting” beliefs, identity, emotions, and desires. I used to believe that such a process must be violent, but have since found much more gentle methods of inquiry focused on compassion and understanding (I strongly recommend the latter).
Still, there is a need to face the void with courage, to be willing to be swallowed up whole—to die before death (but not literally like that psychopath James Arthur Ray who is a living example of someone stuck clinging to his cherished beliefs and identity IMHO). The reason this is a symbolic death is because there is a faith that one’s beliefs are not ultimately real, that one’s emotions, thoughts, behaviors, and identity are constructions. All these things are in fact relatively real though, and should be treated as such. In fact, the actuality of emotions and relationships, thoughts and identity in the relative, constructed sense is what generates meaningfulness. My life is meaningful precisely because it will end. The things that matter are meaningful because they matter to some being that can value them, some sentient entity like myself. We should care for all sentient beings precisely because they are sentient beings with cares, beliefs, thoughts, and feelings of their own. But we can also hold things lightly because we know and have come to peace with the fact that everything changes and everyone must die some day.
It is never too late to be freed by the void, to let go of the neurotically tight grasp you have on that small slice of reality which you identify with, but it takes courage and faith to let it all go and let only a question mark remain—if only for a moment. I don’t know if we can ever fully let go of all excessive clinging, I also don’t think we necessarily have to always live on the edge of mystery…but there are times when nothing less will do.