Wednesday, October 28, 2009



Psychopathology and the Creative Arts

Sorry. That's how it is. The intensity of the drive to go to the heart and sing its truth comes most easily from pain. At least for starters. Going inside and penetrating the mire of lies and illusions we call our identities is the most difficult thing a human being can do. Only saints manage it really well. It is hard and it is painful, calling for great courage. Only the most courageous warriors succeed. Alan Watts, the Zen philosopher, wrote a book entitled, The Book : On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are. He says that our minds, families, societies, nations, and the whole human world conspire to create an illusion which we buy into. We collude with our world to avoid knowing who we really are. Why? Because who we are is so wonderful the world as it is couldn't exist if the secret was out. Instead of being the exalted beings we are, we play mental games and watch talk shows until it is time to die. When we're not doing that, we obliterate ourselves with drugs and alcohol. Most people call that life.

Only those who have the extreme need to heal, the extreme drive to get clear of what's encrusted that inner essence, are likely to have the drive to do the inner work that will set them free. That need/drive will also make them good writers. Nothing like being beat up, raped, tortured or abused to motivate you to get well. (Well, major diseases do the same thing.) Motivate you to transcend. Grow. Enough pain, and a human being will do anything. Even go inside and clean up the mess. Suffering provides the impetus to enter the inner world in its splendor and confusion, its turbulence and obscurity. However hard it is to heal, its easier than living with the psychological detritus of mental or physical rape.

Very developed people don't need to suffer to write. People who have clean inner acts according to Freud, Jung, their choice of analyst, guru or just themselves, can be motivated by the joy they get in putting out their thoughts. The joy they get in singing in praise or gratitude. The joy of being joyful. Read the saints. Yogis. Rumi. Now there was an ecstatic being! [Ecstasy: Your Birthright, Shield and Reward gives great examples of ecstatic writing.] These ecstatic beings suffer plenty. I've heard from a genuine Hindu monk who has studied lots of saints of all denominations that most great beings lead/led rotten personal lives. Think torture. Martyrdom. Poverty. Disease. Burning at the stake. Flaying. They paid for their bliss. But bliss isn't dependent upon the outer world. And bliss wins in the end.

Until we reach sainthood, the rest of us have to grunt. But don't worry. If you're meant to be a writer, your life will present you with exactly the amount and kind of pain needed for your individual growth and writing style. Isn't that neat? You may not need really big pain, preferring to extract meaning from smaller events. For instance, you can get plenty of pain just by consciously attending PTA meetings. Or going to City Council meetings. Life will give you all the suffering you need. You just have to be awake when it comes. Then you can turn it into great writing. Writers get paid for skilled observation and articulation of pain, among other things.

A great Buddhist saying that I don't really agree with: 'Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.' Pain comes is an unavoidable part of life. Suffering depends upon what you do with it. Do you hang on to pain? Grovel in it? Relish it? Make it a country western song? [A great way to make money out of agony! Feeds and entire industry.] The Buddhist notion is that pain comes on its own. We create suffering.

I have some problems with this. The Buddhist idea is, if you're totally in the moment, like a Zen master, pain is clean like a razor cut. It hurts when it hurts and that's the end of it. If you're worrying about tomorrow, and remembering yesterday's traumas, then the razor feels like a sedge hammer. You get knocked around, batted around by your feelings. Memories. Cuts from the 'razor' become from cuts 'the knife' and then from the 'butter knife'. And then 'chain saw' and so on. Hurting more as we struggle. We prolong pain by fighting with it. All well and good and very hip.

But my experience with pain-- including razor cuts-- is that pain lasts. Healing takes time. There's pain during healing. Is this pure pain, or is it self-created and prolonged suffering? When does pain become suffering? What if I'm not the Zen master and get lost in my mind and banged around, even though I'm doing my best? Am I wrong? Deficient? Is it wrong to suffer in the Country Western sense if that's the best I can do? Tricky topics. Next time you're suffering, think about them.

Even so, its not what happens to you, it's how you hold and use it that counts. Everything that comes to you bears a lesson. Some of it-- death, failure, illness, loss-- is real growth producing!!"

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