After millennia of being driven by the intellect, western culture appears ready for a leap of the heart. Some have been waiting lifetimes, it seems.
Nowhere can we see this more clearly than in society’s increasing use of the word “healing.” We want to heal from the past, individually and collectively. We want inspiring models for a healthy citizen and a healthy culture. More and more, people want to deal with the hard truths, and get past them. Because the costs of looking the other way have stacked too high. They’re everywhere, and they’re not going away on their own. We’re hurting and we want it to stop. And while the consequences of Avoidance are obvious looking at national statistics, we sometimes lose that perspective at the individual level.
Years ago I was audience to two strangers one-upping each other at a bar for half an hour. They put forth every inch of their life as a competitive statistic. Where they went to school, how successful their business was, their partners, what kind of car they drove, where they vacationed. Expensive hobbies, public achievements, and how they paired their drink with the meal they were eating. Everything you could think of. That touristy bar became an uncomfortable theater for Shakespearean tragedy. I half-expected one of them to finish Act Two by stabbing the other with a broken bottle, before discovering they were long-lost siblings. Their near-desperate attempts to win their game evoked a lot of compassion. I haven’t forgotten the feeling in that room to this day.
Everything these two people bragged about for thirty minutes begged an obvious question: why wasn’t it enough? Why, with a life so grand, are you compelled to compete with a stranger?
And why do we all know the answer?
It’d be great if that scenario required mind-bending science fiction. Like maybe they both had the same brain parasite. Or it’s possible they weren’t one-upping each other at all. As unwitting participants in a covert mind control experiment, perhaps they stood in an electromagnetic field compelling them to regurgitate all their achievements and acquisitions. Heck, we haven’t even explored the possibility of extraterrestrial involvement.
No, this entirely believable story requires no brain worms from outer space. Because we all get it immediately: Nothing these individuals did was enough. So all of it won’t be. They still have wounds the resumé hasn’t healed.
Who’s Ahead & Who’s Falling Behind
Even if we never participated in that particular tournament of self-torture, I’m guessing we’ve all had our FOMO/comparative/competitive moments. At some level we understand that pressurized feeling. Whether it’s something we posted online, something we said out loud, or just a feeling we couldn’t shake, this pressure is sometimes followed by confusion. “Why did I have to say that? Why did I think that way?” By contrast, we can imagine someone at peace with themself. Someone who’s healing their wounds, truly loves themself. You probably wouldn’t expect to find them jumping into social media like a gladiator in a digital coliseum.
If we avoid the inner work that leads to deep healing, then tension, measuring up, and competition get normalized. Our unconscious validation-seeking looks for more nods, more thumbs-up. We pursue clicks and likes and followers. More mentions, more status, more dollars. The achievements and possessions we require to project an acceptable image get more involved, more expensive.
To those of us holding secret shame, inner peace can look too much like complacency. It feels shameful to be complacent when what you are is never enough. Tell everyone you’re seeking inner peace and you look wise. Tell everyone you’ve found it and you look like a fool. That’s the jaded game we’re all invited to stop playing. We can choose a “best life” prioritizing inner peace.
When you actually love yourself, this entire blog post becomes silly. Or maybe it feels behind the times. That’s my wish, actually. That I’m obsolete, and you’re already there. I hope you can smile and say, “I’m free of all this.” If you cannot, I hope you give yourself the chance to heal.