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Standing in the Self

Think of a tree or any plant or animal. The soft spot is where the growth happens. In nature, growth always happens at the soft spot. A clearer example might be a crab, who is in a hard shell to protect itself. Inside that hard shell there is no growth. When they need to grow, which they do, they have to lose their shell and in doing so, they make themselves vulnerable. They can be eaten during that period, so they have to hide. The same thing is true of human psychological growth. We defend ourselves against vulnerability and the experience of vulnerability, and in doing so we get stuck at the point where the defences came into play.

If you are in a shell, you can only grow as far as the walls of the shell will permit you. And this is how we get trapped and become prisoners of our past. In our society, defences against vulnerability are so common that we take them to be human nature; we take them to be what is to be a human being. "It's just natural," we're told. There's nothing natural about it.

Here is an exerpt from "Memoirs of an Addicted Brain" by Marc Lewis. A neuropsychologist, Dr. Lewis describes a point when he's on a journey to Malaysia for a research project. He's walking with some colleagues in the highlands of a peninsula he meets some indigenous people called the Orang Asli.

"Just before reaching the highlands, almost desperate now for a shower and a normal meal, I met a pair of Orang Asli who looked like they had just stepped out of a time machine. I was ahead of the others so I was the first to see them, a man and a boy of ten or twelve, father and son I was sure. They stood so still that I almost bumped into them, and my first reaction was fear. The man held a blowgun by his side. It was as long as he was tall, and I knew it was equipped with a poison tipped dart. He held it casually upright beside him; he wore only a loin cloth. The boy was completely naked. We gaped at each other, maybe just for a minute, but it seemed much longer. The man looked strong and confident and proud, not the kind of proud that comes from collected accomplishments, but the kind that comes from being completely at home in the world. His smile was magnificent. He seemed to revel in this unfathomable moment. There was nothing he needed to say or do. But the boy's expression and stance were even more remarkable. He regarded me with a face so open, so unclouded that it seemed to lie outside of the repertoire of the human. His eyes were a window between his body and the world outside him, uninterrupted by the opacity of self."

What do we consider the self? A wall between us and the world....

"Not an atom of self-consciousness, not a hint of anxiety, no shyness, no attempt to please. For days I tried to understand what I'd seen in this boy and bit by bit it came to me. He knew himself instinctively, without a self-image to maintain and adjust, without norms and standards by which to value himself. He felt exactly what it was like to be at home in himself, and for this I admire him enormously."

Can you imagine, maybe just for one minute to experience yourself without the opacity of self between you and the world?

"Because no matter how hard I tried, and despite of my additional years - I couldn't find myself, couldn't know myself, not like that. All I could find was a collection of evaluations. The boy stood completely still, with his hand on his father's shoulder. There was no flinching away in anxiety, no concern that he would do the wrong thing, and shatter the father-son detante. No contracting in shame, because the father knew him, and accepted him, completely. No concern about being too strong, because there is no way he would be taken as a challenge. No fear of being too weak, because his father, his family, his tribe, were there to protect him. These were my conclusions, and maybe they were etched part way between rational conjuncture and wishful thinking. But beyond envy, the experience gave me a sense of optimism. Watching that almost-man standing on the path near his home, and reflecting later on what I'd seen in his posture and his face, I was left feeling amazed and hopeful. It was possible to be wide open and unafraid in this world. It was at least possible."

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