Magical Thinking and Nailing Carpenters
If — Rudyard Kipling
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream — and not make dreams your master;
If you can think — and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with wornout tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings — nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run -
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And — which is more — you’ll be a Man my son!.
My buddy Ray Thaw sent me a copy of “If,” by Rudyard Kipling. His question: “How’s that for balance?”
I hadn’t read this poem in decades, and I was glad to re-acquaint myself with it. It certainly fits with our present theme. I want to go back to my original analogy of the enlightened life being like the flow of a river between the banks of two extremes. They are chaos and rigidity. We could call them anything. In the poem, we see the Middle Way expressed, in how the person lives in the face of challenge.
Example: “If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;”
Our tendency is to think, as we work our way along, that wisdom leads to no problems.
This in fact is the key “selling point” for New Age ideas like “The Secret,” and other books and movies that preach “what you think you create.” The idea is that the cosmos is a system that is like a gum ball machine. Put in the right coinage (positive, directed thoughts) and out pops what you paid for.
Except the real world isn’t like that.
The plot of the poem more clearly captures reality. This is obviously the description of someone fairly far down the path, and what we see are examples (disaster, loss, disrespect, etc.) of “the shit hitting the fan.”
Also, there are examples of “adoration.”
And the wise soul navigates between these two banks by simply being with whatever happens. There is no expectation that “stuff” will not happen. There is increased skill in dealing with it when it does.
I once worked with a client who came in with the self-identified need “to get her affirmations fixed.” No, really. Those were her words. Her life was not going “right,” and she knew that if only she worded her requests to the cosmos correctly, everything would be perfect.
Her husband was having a studio built for her, and she had the hots for the carpenter. She and he had progressed to touching, and to professions of admiration, and had even decided that they were “soul mates.” (Hint: no such thing, so stop looking!)
He and she talked daily (while he “hammered”…) about the spiritual necessity of them “joining their energies together for the benefit of all.” No, really.
I laughed, and said, “So, bonk him. What’s the problem? And kill the flowery language.”
She: “You don’t understand. This is a deeply spiritual matter. He is married and so am I. I am trying to word my affirmation so that our spouses will realize, without out telling them, that our joining together will benefit everyone. I want everyone to approve, and be happy for us! Is that too much to ask?”
Me: “Um… hmm… Well, the odds of your partners getting on the bandwagon isn’t high, unless you’ve talked about this and come to an agreement about having sex with others. The odds are they won’t like it, or might even decide to leave. That would be a consequence.”
She: “If I get my affirmations right, there will be no consequences!!”
This went on for a few sessions, until she realized that I wasn’t going to be able to “fix her husband by remote control affirmation.” She left to look for someone more competent.
Now, I have no problem with her wanting to bonk the carpenter.
She may even decide to actually do it, as opposed to fantasize about it. The problem is in her assumption that “enlightened people” (and she assured me that she was one...) don’t have such difficulties. They are so wise and wonderful that all there is are roses and adoration.
The poem above puts pause to that notion.
Wisdom is this: life continues to happen, no matter what we do, what we learn, or who we are. At the very least, we are marching along to the final destination for us all — death. Every single one of us is going to get older, to get sick, infirm, and die. All the wisdom in the world can’t stop this.
And then, life has a habit of being real, and part of reality is that things will happen that we’d rather didn’t. This is inevitable. The wise person has no illusions about this. What they do have are the ways and means to deal with the drama. And that way is to deal with what is, as opposed to whining about what isn’t.
To quote : If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all count with you, but none too much;
This, again, is the key to balance.
We endlessly say that what happens inside of you is “all you, all the time.” Others don’t hurt you or make you happy. (The only way another can hurt you is if they do it physically.)
Words do not hurt - your interpretation of the words is what causes you pain.
What is really being said here is that we need to be aware of others, and sensitive to others (the Buddha would use the word “compassionate.”) This does not, emphatically, mean doing what others want you to. It doesn’t mean endlessly putting others first. it means being aware of others, and not being a jerk. It means being honest and open, and revealing of who you are and what’s up for you.
Others count, just not too much. The Middle Way.
In the end, it’s impossible to be much use if you are constantly looking to others for praise, for admiration, or for direction. That’s your job. It’s your job to be persistent in your talking, learning, and sharing, while remembering that others are “right there.” The more we work at this, the more others might choose to offend themselves. Our job is to know, expect, and except this—to be compassionate, and to keep walking.
Our work with this blog is to offer you an alternative view, and to help you to drop magical thinking, while encouraging you to keep going. Part of the walk is simple acceptance of “what is.”
Next week, we’ll look at this from a Taoist perspective.