“No man is an island entire of it self” (John Donne)
I have never felt self-sufficient. Very far from it. I am acutely aware of my own fallibility and consequent need for trusting companionship with others who can help me out of a fix while I do the same for them. I am equally aware of my unique individual qualities, experience and skills and how these can contribute co-creatively with others’ to the common good. I feel pleasure and joy in making my contribution and benefiting from others’. I recognise that collectively combining complementary individual qualities is the essence of social evolution beyond the capability of any one individual alone. In fact it is the essence of organic life itself as a dynamic embodiment of diverse biochemical structures and processes in mutually inclusive, co-creative relationship. I see this truth reflected in the organisation and dynamics of cells, individuals, populations, societies and communities of plants, animals, protists, fungi, eubacteria and archaebacteria.
Moreover, I recognise that self-insufficiency is intrinsic to all living organisms, by virtue of our very nature as internally motivated, dynamically bounded beings. We need to relate dynamically with one another and our surroundings in order to take in and sustain the circulatory flow of energy around our receptive self-centres that keeps us alive. I know that if this flow ceases, we perish. And that at its heart is the receptivity of natural space as an intangible presence that calls calls energy into responsive circulation in all material bodies from subatomic to galactic in scale. Ultimately every material body has a hollow core, and as human beings we experience this as a feeling of emptiness in our guts, heads and hearts, which calls for nourishment with food, water, knowledge, understanding and love. Without this nourishment we feel, quite literally, discontent — starving, thirsty, naive and/or in pain. There is nothing strange, contemptible or egocentric about this. It is how we naturally are as needful, caring creatures in the world as it naturally is.
But to speak this plain and simple truth is in my experience to encounter how it gets obscured or even denied by a way of thinking that isolates self- and/or group-identity from its natural neighbourhood in a bid for independence that ignores all evidence that undermines its presumptions. The latter are founded on the exclusion or conflation of material substance from or with immaterial space, which has been incorporated into all conventional science, mathematics, philosophy and religious and political ideology. It has been passed down the generations through our academic institutions, and continues to be so to this day.
The idea that any individual or group of human beings should be entirely self-sufficient is perhaps the single most psychologically, socially and environmentally harmful product of the perfectionist ideology that is embedded in modern evolutionary theory based on ‘natural’ selection as what Darwin himself described as ‘the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life’. It is so obviously inconsistent with our everyday experience of human variety, vulnerability and needs that it is a wonder that it should have persisted for so long at the root of unrealistic expectations of ourselves and one another. But there — and here — it is, messing up our lives in countless and multifarious yet ultimately needless ways.
The great problem with this idea comes when we feel unable, for reasons of pride or fear, to acknowledge our self-insufficiency in one way or another because to do so is regarded as an admission of ‘weakness’ in the quest for competitive supremacy. It is not perceived as a quality of ‘strong leadership’ in anyone seeking to offer guidance or to contribute to human knowledge and understanding. By the same token, it is not easy for anyone to be heard who does give voice to its reality when this does not align with popular belief or prior authority. This double bind is a major stumbling block in the way of innovative and reformative thought.
Feeling ideologically or fearfully unable to admit to our actual human needfulness and capacity for error compels us to be dishonest. Hence it results ultimately in the breakdown of trust in ourselves and one another that is all too evident in modern human culture. When dishonesty rules, where can we find ‘trusting companionship’ with others? Who can we trust to share our doubts and concerns with and help us out without passing judgement on our character? Do we trust our fallible selves or those who claim infallibility? Here is the recipe for a culture at odds with itself, a far cry from what is truly needed to care for each other’s uniqueness in compassionate, co-creative correspondence.
This is not a culture in which I, for one, feel at ease or at home. It is a culture in which I feel I can’t readily trust myself or anybody else. A culture in which I oscillate between feelings of anxiety and depression, underlain nonetheless by a soulful and spirited awareness of what I think and feel is my and our true nature, but is not acceptable to or understandable by the vast majority. How about you? Do you feel the same way? If so, what would you seek to do or not to do about it? If not, what is it that you truly have good reason to object to? When, if we hide our anguish or decline to call out what we feel is wrong, will the ‘meek’ finally get the chance to ‘inherit the Earth’ — and what will have become of our home by then?
So, is this the source of my malaise?
This fearful feeling that all I have strived for
By way of caring, sharing
And contributing to human knowledge, understanding
Has been in vain
Either because there’s something fundamentally, humiliatingly,
With it or me
Or because it or I haven’t been noticed or understood
While paving this path of good intention
To hellish desolation
In which (almost) all the signs are
That this nightmare I inhabit is real
Just get over it, forget it,
Let it go, leave it all behind
I hear you say
It’s just your grasping ego
That makes you feel this way
Live in the now
Neither future nor past
And, in the stillness of the moment
I feel the peace that comes with such oblivion
Yet, I have to ask you
What way is this to live and love?
In such suspended animation
This sublime indifference
To what makes us human
Where there is no consolation, celebration or forgivingness
For being right or wrong
In our comings and goings
Between cradle and grave
Who, in all honesty
While knowing our self-insufficiency
Can find the strength to carry on?
Without reassurance or encouragement
From good companions we can trust
Without passing judgement
To tell us when and where and how
We’ve lost or found our way
And how can we do the same for them
Without being misjudged as foes?
And yet, that’s what we have to do
To keep on keeping on
When faced with no alternative
In a world that doesn’t care
To know its weakness
But passes judgement every day
On those it thinks have gone astray
By crossing hard-ruled lines of definition
Laid down by prior authority
To cut the future from the past
In present moment
Dividing first from last
In no man’s land
Where bullets whistle
Through the silence that precedes and follows
The bugle call of last refrain
The anguished voice of human pain
That calls attention
Whether we like it or not
To what’s gone really, truly, badly, deeply wrong
In this ruthless domain
Where sacrificial subject’s life
To serve the object
The tyranny of overruling strife
Freed from compassion
While framed in a theatre of war
Between darkness and light
Whose place in reality
Is within each other’s receptive and responsive arms
Bringing love to life and life to love
In tender human body