I am seldom on Facebook, but, as I was up bright and early this morning, I indulged my urge and took a peek. This is what I found:
My knee-jerk reaction was, “What the fu…” Was I more shocked by the original “prayer” or with my Facebook friend’s additional commentary? And, why did these words strike a nerve in me?
I must turn back the clock to 2014, when I wrote my most highly viewed blog post “Affective Deprivation Disorder and Alexithymia in Marriage”. In that post, I described the emotional experiences of my former marriage:
“If I could remove all emotional desire from myself, then I would be able to do this (stay married). I actually asked God to make me like Spock. That has to be one of the weirder prayers to ascend. Like some warped psalm:
“Oh God, make me like Spock. Purge me of emotion. Oh my soul, shut the hell up so that only my brain will speak and my heart will sleep a thousand years.”
Oddly these two entreaties, if you will, have a similar tone. I longed to be purged while Byron Katie desires to be absolved as elucidated by the use of the word “spare” which means “to be released, acquitted, exculpated, or pardoned”. The end result would be the same–a kind of subjective idealism that could take a person all the way to solipsism. What does that mean? Allow me to explain.
Firstly, it should be stated that nothing that Byron Katie teaches is new or ground-breaking. She is combining the Narrative Approach in psychology with certain Buddhist principles to craft a teaching that has been used in Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), EMDR, and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for years. Her Four Questions are well-stated. She has made solid therapeutic guidance highly accessible to many people. With Oprah’s stamp of approval, people who have perhaps disregarded therapy as ineffective or stigmatizing will now have a chance to experience what solid therapy is all about. That being said, her Four Questions are straight out of CBT and Narrative Psychology.
So, what of this philosophy of subjective idealism? Simply stating it, subjective idealism states that your reality and how you perceive it is contingent upon how you experience it; Reality is contingent upon The Knower–to be is to be perceived. The extreme form of subjective idealism is solipsism which states that “I alone exist”. British Idealist F.H. Bradley explained solipsism as such:
Bradley’s explanation almost defines 21st century human interaction. You stay in your experiential bubble. I’ll stay in mine. Nothing beyond my experience exists. Nothing beyond your experience–if that is valid–exists or is germane to mine. We are but ships passing in the ether in anonymous, quick interactions either on social media, in consumeristic interactions online or at retail outlets be they malls, indy stores, or cafés big and small. Disconnection.
This brings me to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs:
Directly above our two most basic needs in terms of our humanity–Physiological and Safety–lies Love and Belonging. Putting it as simply as possible, one of the reasons why people require therapeutic interventions and outside help for prolonged periods of their lives is because they have to figure out how to acquire and develop Esteem and Self-Actualization without Love and Belonging. Or worse, if a person experienced hardships and traumas in which their Physiological and Safety needs were threatened or unmet, then certainly their needs for Love and Belonging would go unmet as well. In that case then, how would one go about developing Esteem and Self-Actualization in a coherent way? How do we build bridges over deficiencies in order to continue maturing until we can increase our capacities for those needs to be met? Is it possible for everyone?
What Katie and my friend are suggesting is that we simply obliterate the need and desire. We resort to emotional subjective idealism–particularly my friend. If God is meeting my desire for love, approval, and appreciation, then I no longer need it from humans. Well, that contradicts the teaching of Jesus and the rest of the New Testament, and I only say this because my friend is a Christian. So much of the New Testament and the Gospel are concerned with relationships and community and how people are to treat one another. Why then post something that essentially advocates extricating oneself from reciprocal relational experiences and responsibilities, thusly, retreating into a self-created pseudo-solipsistic model?
This I know all about. To counteract pain and grief.
Human beings are social creatures. We are mammals after all. There is a scene in the film “The Horse Whisperer” in which Robert Redford’s character, Tom, stands in a field for hours near a traumatized stallion, Pilgrim. Pilgrim, appearing fatigued from standing in the same spot for such a long stretch, finally approaches Tom reluctantly. Tom gently leads him back to the stables. When asked why the skittish horse allowed Tom to touch him, he answered that horses were social creatures and would eventually have a need to join their herd; or, a herd of some kind.
Humans are no different, but we have very clever ways to convince ourselves otherwise. We build bridges inside ourselves over the empty and dark crevasses of unmet needs that have morphed into unnamed pain and call it Stoicism, Enlightenment, or Individualism. We will say that we are absolving ourselves of our needs or desires for love, approval, and appreciation, and it sure does sound like something…worthy. In my mind, however, it is a form of bargaining in order to avoid grieving that which has been lost or never experienced, and I say this because I used to believe these things, too.
The problem herein is that absolving yourself of your desires to be loved, approved of, and appreciated also pardons you from giving these things, and this is, in a more profound sense, what is causing people to pray for this sort of absolution to begin with. The world we have today is in no way more evil, chaotic, corrupt, or violent than it was 100 years ago–or 1,000 years ago. History seems to always repeat itself, and humans still struggle to learn from the past. What the world continues to lack is goodness in the forms of love, approval, appreciation, generosity, courtesy, and neighborly concern.
What might our cultures look like if more people were appreciated, loved, and approved of? How would you feel day-to-day if you felt truly appreciated by your friends, children, co-workers, and partner? If you felt approved of–truly liked–by the people in your life? Well-developed and self-actualized people do not require other people’s permission to make their life choices or hard decisions, but it is much easier to achieve self-actualization if you have a foundation of Love and Belonging beneath you rather than a foundation of grief for never having had it.
The healthy and ultimately most healing “prayer” that I think one could offer up instead of the aforementioned is:
God, help me grieve the times and experiences in my life wherein I did not receive the love, approval, and appreciation that were meant to develop me for Esteem and Self-Actualization. Introduce me to healthy people who know how to love, approve of, and appreciate me and others properly so that I may become a fully-developed, healthy person who can not only fully internalize and experience the spectrum of loving experiences but also go on to love, approve of, and appreciate others in order to become an agent of Goodness in the world. Amen.