I quote W. H. Auden’s observation “We wage the war we are” so often that I think it should be the name of my blog. And, it is so readily available for my “usage” because it is so relevant to me personally, revealing to you and the millions who read this blather each day that my heart is a war zone. (Oh, well…hell…let me be truthful, the number is far less than “millions”.!)
My heart has always been a war zone, a battle field where conflicting impulses sought for primacy and dominance in my life. But I could not handle that duress, the “duress” of being an “alive” human being, and solved it very early in my life when I adopted the stance that I now refer to as “literal lew.” “Literal lew” allowed me to live above the fray, ensconced in my analytical cocoon, obsessively “standing in the rear of my affection, out of the shot and danger of desire.” (Hamlet) But even then, looking back on my life, the underlying tension and duress was trying to seep through, just as it did with Macbeth who lamented, “my dull brain is (was) racked by things forgotten.”
But in my mid-thirties, “literal lew” began his “Damascus road” conversion, a process which is still underway and will always be underway; for spirituality is not an accomplished fact but a process, the “process” of being human. So now I am very conscious of this duress that I earlier could not handle and it comes to me in the form of…for want of a better term…anxiety. Rollo May called this “existential anxiety” and said it is the experience that we “feel” when the battle between a basic drive in the heart comes to the surface—“to be” or “not to be.” This is the conflict between the Spirit of God leading us to authenticity, i.e. “be-ing” and the antithetical drive to remain inauthentic, desperately clutching our fig leaf and trying to cover our nakedness.
I just recently realized that what is happening is that my ego, that part of our heart which I so often castigate, is gaining maturity. With this maturity, my ego is not so “full of itself” and can be a bit more humble, allowing the experience of reality to seep in. (I like to think of this as “the Spirit of God” seeping in.) My ego can now handle this duress which used to scare the hell out of me though as I make this assertion, I’ve given pause and want to add, “Knock on wood!” Another dimension of this ego maturity is that my mind can now more or less comfortably live with contradictions, realizing that in my heart diametrically opposite things are present; such as, I am “good” and “bad” at the same time, ultimately meaning that I simply “am.”
The most important dimension of this ego maturity which I purport to be finding is that I can now handle the tension and at the same time realize that what is most important is not my internal tension, not the “war” inside, but what I do in the outside “real” world which always leads me to the wisdom of the Buddhist notion of “chopping wood, carrying water.” Though the internal machinations of the heart are powerful and important, I find that I can remember to focus most of the time on the mundane responsibilities of day to day life, tending hearth and home– loving my wife, doggies, friends, and family–and hoping that my feeble efforts each day will make the world a bit more hospitable for others.