One of the most brilliant stories ever written is THE ONES WHO WALK AWAY FROM OMELAS, by Ursula Le Guin. This three-page tale describes a golden city filled with brilliant, beautiful people, and asks why you don’t quite believe it. More description follows, even more glory and splendor. And then again, a query: why don’t you believe? And then finally the story takes you to a dungeon beneath the palace, and in the deepest depths, crouching in his own feces, is a deformed child. Utterly in misery. And if anyone in the city of Omelas ever comforts him, the city will die.
A long time ago, I loved a woman who, I felt, betrayed our relationship. I took something she did very personally, when the truth is that what she did was a step along her own path, with no direct connection to me at all. But…I saw myself as a rescuer, and tried to “fix” it, and could not. But couldn’t stop, either, and over the days and weeks that followed, tore a hole in my own heart. A few other painful things followed, until I was completely knocked off balance.
For the first time in my adult life, I felt lost. I didn’t know who I was, or what I wanted. My “life story” seemed to have been totally destroyed, leaving me floating in a void.
It was horrible, hideous. I was filled with feelings of fear, loss, betrayal, defeat. This was connected to the events that led to the creation of the Soulmate Process, where you find the closest approximation of your perfect partner, and ask what they are looking for in a partner. Well, I sat a very lovely lady down and asked her just that question. And to my astonishment, what she described was very close to who I was. But there were telling differences
- She was a professional dancer, and wanted a man with less body fat than I was carrying. I realized the wisdom of this: a healthy fit body is the result of countless small actions made over months or years. Actions are the result of decisions and discipline. Those are the result of beliefs and values operating without emotional interference. She had the right…no, the RESPONSIBILITY to partner with a man who was on her own energetic level, or else he would sabotage her, be jealous and grasping. Life is like climbing a mountain in some ways. You need to climb with someone interested in the same path on the same mountain who can climb at the same rate, or you’ll tear each other apart.
I realized that in my depression I’d stopped running. As soon as I started again, I was back on the path.
- But the second thing was more important. She wanted someone more spiritual, on a clearer spiritual path. And I realized I’d stopped meditating. Depression had done that to me…or to put it another way, I’d done it to myself. Why? Because whenever I tried, whenever I turned my attention inward, it felt as if I’d dropped into a cess pool. An endless morass of mental and emotional sewage. Horrible.
I remembered what my spiritual guru Sri Chinmoy had said, that the experience of meditation is connection to the divine. ANYTHING BUT A SENSE OF LIGHT AND LOVE IS ILLUSION. But until you have experienced this, it will seem nonsensical. The ego cannot survive direct contact with this (oh, don’t worry. It heals up and re-constructs itself as soon as you re-engage with the world. Resilient bastard, scuttling away from the light. Like a roach.) and will do everything in its power to stop you.
I had allowed my external circumstances to control my internal state. TO PUSH ME AWAY FROM THE VERY THINGS THAT WOULD SAVE ME.
Wow. The STORY I told myself was that I was a rescuer, could save her, SHOULD save her. That what she had done represented a betrayal, rather than just choices that related to HER values and needs. Mistakes? Quite possibly. But another person’s life is never about you.
I ran. I meditated. I began to re-connect with my spiritual community (that’s another story, and a good one!) and it felt as if I was cleaning out the basement of a house built over a septic tank, with the basement floor oozing poo. Every day. Day after day. Visualized vacuuming, scooping, shoveling, dumptrucks of much.
Finally, it was clear. Took months. The floor was still cracked, and crap still bubbled up, but now only about a bucket a day. Easy peasy.
The running gave me the energy I needed. My desire to find a relationship helped with the external motivation to act. I knew my OUTCOME–to reach clarity. I knew my MOTIVATIONS: to find love, sex, fun, a lifetime partnership. To do this I had to crawl through the muck. And my faith was that there was something precious at the end of the journey, like Andy Dufresne in SHAWSHANK crawling through the sewer pipe to freedom.
And then one day…the basement was clean enough to see that crouched in a corner was a crying child. Shuddering. Fearful.
It was me.
Swiftdeer once told me that rescuing other people is self-pity. You are indulging your ego by draining away the energy you need to propel yourself forward. This is especially effective when you are rescuing someone who doesn’t want to be rescued, and the entire thing is really none of your business in the first place. When I looked back over the last months, I realized I had spent, wasted, thrown away VAST amounts of energy, derailed my own progress massively.
My ego had won, big time. And the biggest pay-off was ignoring the one person I can actually save. The only one who needed me, and no one but me. Myself, symbolized by my own inner child.
Once I made that connection, my daily meditations were about cleaning this mental “basement”, which was that child’s bedroom. And then cuddling and sitting with him, and listening to his whispered advice. This was the beginning of healing, and led to the clarity that resulted in finding my Soulmate, Tananarive.
The beginning of healing was clearing away all of the muck, realizing that too much of my life was a lie. Oh, I could easily have healed the externals: created money, and gotten in shape again. But if I’d ignored my heart, all of that external wealth and success would have been at the expense of my heart. The ultimate “poison pill”, the kind of success that resembles one of those houses at Universal City that look great from the front…but from the side is revealed as an empty shell.
I could have written “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” if I had seen as deeply as Ursula. That is a WISE story, a true story about what we do to ourselves and each other. As societies, we push our weakest and most needy citizens out of sight, and pretend the injustices don’t exist. As individuals, we ignore the damage we do to others to achieve our dreams…or, even worse, we ignore our own wounded hearts, distracting ourselves by doing busy work or rescuing people who are not our responsibility. Rescue yourself first, and you have far MORE resources to help others…including, most powerfully, the way to help them help themselves.
Of course if they do that, you don’t get to be the conquering hero, do you? If you give up your need to rescue others, you can save yourself, and provide REAL help to all the world.
(the Ancient Child meditation came out of this process. You can get a free copy if you’ll give us a chance to demonstrate a new way of artistic living. www.lifewritingpremium.com)