This morning, as I was looking out of the kitchen window, feeling the hot fires of jealousy flaming up in my breast, I was thinking, how nice it would be to return to Advaita Vedanta – my old friend – and deconstruct all of this feeling and emotivity and return to the pure “I-am-ness” that I’ve experienced sometimes when still going down that non-dualistic path. But seeing what that path has done to it’s realizers from a sociological or we-fullness perspective (it’s pure feudalism or top-down thinking and practice) I guess, I can’t really return there. And also, what I said to my heart-sister Helen in a heroic mood still holds true, “I’m not going to transcend… a truly new way needs to come out of all this.” Something, I would add, at right angles to the usual spiritual approach to the challenge I’m facing.
And surely honesty is at the root of that, being radically true about what goes on in my heart and mind in the more immediate sense. By that I mean, not drifting off with the wings of my fantasy or drowning with the lead of my imaginings wrapped around my throat. A psychological way to say it would be, “Stop compensating.”
It’s all about taking a deep look at reality as it unfolds on the feeling level, not with the morbid sense of how horrible it all is or how heavy – even though one could say that and stay within the realm of truth – but because it is clear that “this is the weather inside.”
One of the things becoming clear about jealousy today – sorry if this topic bores you a bit by now – is that it really thrives in the absence of knowing what the other is up to. The clearer that becomes, and can be trusted, the less space there is for all kinds of fears and conjectures. Participating in what the other thinks and feels, a shot of reality, can help. In my case, anyway, one of the things that adds to the pain is the “fog of unknowing”.
And this fits with my sense of where I might be going a bit more this second week of the experiment, into listening closer what is going on in the feeling-field and what about the people around me.
One of the things that happen in deep sharings of feelings, when we speak about and with what it is we feel now and about its naked resonances with our life and past (not in an epic way but more of a brief reporter’s stance), is what today was pointed out to be something that “influences past, presence and future” all at once in the flow between us.
For me it was at times like the burning inside became a kind of liquid burning, a slow flow of deep, deep presence… “not of the mystic kind” as the person said I was with. And at the same time it also was mystic as later we laughingly concluded, as it was having many of the qualities described in the traditional texts of people who describe their mystical experiences.
Who would have thought that to be possible?
And for some time it raised it’s head, one of the most dreadful feelings of all: Shame. It is a social feeling, like guilt, only worse, because when you’re guilty you can confess and chances are that you will be forgiven – but shame is a dark secret, something that you feel so bad about that you will under almost any circumstance deny it and do everything in your power to let nobody in on. Yes, there are things in my life that I have done that I’m ashamed of, and that I will not tell to anybody. I deal with it in the deep shadows of my soul.
The sense of shame is like a dark fire, and, feeling into it I think, “No wonder that in some cultures the only way to clear your family of the shame you brought upon them (shame is a collective thing) is suicide.” Feeling into shame some images come up, and “O my god, how can I do that?” Feeling shame is dreadful, a cold and dark fire, slowly gnawing at your insides – no wonder Christians believed and some still believe that Hell is full of shameful people.
Shame is a cold hell because it goes with the knowledge that what you’re ashamed about should never ever come to light. Even writing about it like this makes me feel a sense of dread; as if it was dangerous to admit to having felt this. Ashamed of feeling shame, because, you might think, where there is smoke there is fire, so that I must be guilty because I admit to feeling shame.
I still remember vividly how it was being caught lying, even as a grown-up. That was dreadful, and if I could I would have buried myself to disappear. It is hard, when I now think of it and reconnect deeply with that feeling, to sit straight, and to hold this for more then a couple of minutes.
Yes, shame is very social; it absolutely humiliates you – or better, under the influence of shame you humiliate yourself so that the others might allow you back in to the fold after a while. Yes, feeling shame comes when you do something that even you yourself feel you shouldn’t do, and in a sense it is unforgivable, which makes it worse than guilt because it lies outside the range of hope.
I can only maintain feeling shame if I hardly breathe at all; as soon as I take some deeper breaths it gives way to a deep, tearless sadness. There is a sense of remorse and a strong need for salvation – no wonder that the Catholic Church has been abusing this feeling for such a long time to recruit people for it’s own purposes. I can feel shame for not too long a time.
And then I think of sexual shame; this might be the worst because somehow the very activity that ignites the reward centers of the brain and the body, that simply “feels good” is thought of badly, very badly indeed. So you’re prone to do things that bring shame on you. No wonder that in our society we have been ‘deadening’ ourselves so much. Shame is such an ugly feeling that I’d rather feel jealousy than shame any day. Shame is the only feeling that makes me immediately feel disconnected, and feel that I deserve it.
Once it’s there it’s slow to go unlike most of the other feelings that simply and easily peter out if you don’t focus on them anymore. It seems the only thing that makes it bearable is a shot of self-pity. Shame also doesn’t have many ways out; you cannot easily create a story in your imagination that turns it into blame, for instance or into other feelings like anger – which is, by the way, a good way out of sadness. Shame calls for repentance, a repentance that is as secret as what led to one’s sense of shame.
I might revisit shame when I feel a little less weak than I do these days, for now I’m happy that it slowly fades because there is nothing I need to be ashamed of anymore for real, I think. “But,” a voice in the back of my head – or was it my heart? – says, “is this really true?” This I’ll know when I lay down my head for ever…