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Series II - Chapter 17 - 'What Is Making You Dull?'
HE HAD A small job, with a very poor salary; he came with his wife, who wanted to talk over their problem. They were both quite young, and though they had been married for some years, they had no children; but that was not the problem. His pay was barely enough to eke out an existence in these difficult times, but as they had no children it was sufficient to survive. What the future held no man knew, though it could hardly be worse than the present. He was disinclined to talk, but his wife pointed out that he must. She had brought him along, almost forcibly it appeared, for he had come very reluctantly; but there he was, and she was glad. He could not talk easily, he said, for he had never talked about himself to anyone but his wife. He had few friends, and even to these he never opened his heart, for they wouldn't have understood him. As he talked he was slowly thawing, and his wife was listening with anxiety. He explained that his work was not the problem; it was fairly interesting, and anyhow it gave them food. They were simple, unassuming people, and both had been educated at one of the universities.
At last she began to explain their problem. She said that for a couple of years now her husband seemed to have lost all interest in life. He did his office work, and that was about all; he went to work in the morning and came back in the evening, and his employers did not complain about him. "My work is a matter of routine and does not demand too much attention. I am interested in what I do, but it is all somehow a strain. My difficulty is not at the office or with the people with whom I work, but it is within myself. As my wife said, I have lost interest in life, and I don't quite know what is the matter with me."
"He was always enthusiastic, sensitive and very affectionate, but for the past year or more he has become dull and indifferent to everything. He always used to be loving with me, but now life has become very sad for both of us. He doesn't seem to care whether I am there or not, and it has become a misery to live in the same house. He is not unkind or anything of that sort, but has simply become apathetic and utterly indifferent."
Is it because you have no children? "It isn't that," he said. "Our physical relationship is all right, more or less. No marriage is perfect, and we have our ups and downs, but I don't think this dullness is the result of any sexual maladjustment. Although my wife and I haven't lived together sexually for some time now because of this dullness of mine, I don't think it is the lack of children that has brought it about."
Why do you say that? "Before this dullness came upon me, my wife and I realized that we couldn't have children. It has never bothered me, though she often cries about it. She wants children, but apparently one of us is incapable of reproduction. I have suggested several things which might make it possible for her to have a child, but she won't try any of them. She will have a child by me or not at all, and she is very deeply upset about it. After all, without the fruit, a tree is merely decorative. We have lain awake talking about all this, but there it is. I realize that one can't have everything in life, and it is not the lack of children that has brought on this dullness; at least, I am pretty sure it is not."
Is it due to your wife's sadness, to her sense of frustration? "You see, sir, my husband and I have gone into this matter pretty fully. I am more than sad not to have had children, and I pray to God that I may have one some day. My husband wants me to be happy, of course, but his dullness isn't due to my sadness. If we had a child now, I would be supremely happy, but for him it would merely be a distraction, and I suppose it is so with most men. This dullness has been creeping upon him for the past two years like some internal disease. He used to talk to me about everything, about the birds, about his office work, about his ambitions, about his regard and love for me; he would open his heart to me. But now his heart is closed and his mind is somewhere far away. I have talked to him, but it is no good."
Have you separated from each other for a time to see how that worked? "Yes. I went away to my family for about six months, and we wrote to each other; but this separation made no difference. If anything, it made things worse. He cooked his own food, went out very little, kept away from his friends, and was more and more withdrawn into himself. He has never been too social in any case. Even after this separation he showed no quickening spark."
Do you think this dullness is a cover, a pose, an escape from some unfulfilled inner longing?
"I am afraid I don't quite understand what you mean."
You may have an intense longing for something which needs fulfilment, and as that longing has no release, perhaps you are escaping from the pain of it through becoming dull. "I have never thought about such a thing, it has never occurred to me before. How am I to find out?"
Why hasn't it occurred to you before? Have you ever asked yourself why you have become dull? Don't you want to know?
"It is strange, but I have never asked myself what is the cause of this stupid dullness. I have never put that question to myself."
Now that you are asking yourself that question what is your response? "I don't think I have any. But I am really shocked to find how very dull I have become. I was never like this. I am appalled at my own state."
After all, it is good to know in what state one actually is. At least that is a beginning. You have never before asked yourself why you are dull, lethargic; you have just accepted it and carried on, have you not? Do you want to discover what has made you like this, or have you resigned yourself to your present state?
"I am afraid he has just accepted it without ever fighting against it."
You do want to get over this state, don't you? Do you want to talk without your wife? "Oh, no. There is nothing I cannot say in front of her. I know it is not a lack or an excess of sexual relationship that has brought on this state, nor is there another woman. I couldn't go to another woman. And it is not the lack of children."
Do you paint or write? "I have always wanted to write, but I have never painted. On my walks I used to get some ideas, but now even that has gone."
Why don't you try to put something on paper? It doesn't matter how stupid it is; you don't have to show it to anyone. Why don't you try writing something? But to go back. Do you want to find out what has brought on this dullness, or do you want to remain as you are? "I would like to go away somewhere by myself, renounce everything and find some happiness."
Is that what you want to do? Then why don't you do it? Are you hesitating on account of your wife? "I am no good to my wife as I am; I am just a wash-out."
Do you think you will find happiness by withdrawing from life, by isolating yourself? Haven't you sufficiently isolated yourself now? To renounce in order to find is no renunciation at all; it is only a cunning bargain, an exchange, a calculated move to gain something. You give up this in order to get that. Renunciation with an end in view is only a surrender to further gain. But can you have happiness through isolation, through dissociation? Is not life association, contact, communion? You may withdraw from one association to find happiness in another, but you cannot completely withdraw from all contact. Even in complete isolation you are in contact with your thoughts, with yourself. Suicide is the complete form of isolation.
"Of course I don't want to commit suicide. I want to live, but I don't want to continue as I am."
Are you sure you don't want to go on as you are? You see, it is fairly clear that there is something which is making you dull, and you want to run away from it into further isolation. To run away from what is, is to isolate oneself. You want to isolate yourself, perhaps temporarily, hoping for happiness. But you have already isolated yourself, and pretty thoroughly; further isolation, which you call renunciation, is only a further withdrawal from life. And can you have happiness through deeper and deeper self-isolation? The nature of the self is to isolate itself its very quality is exclusiveness. To be exclusive is to renounce in order to gain. The more you withdraw from association, the greater the conflict, resistance. Nothing can exist in isolation. However painful relationship may be, it has to be patiently and thoroughly understood. Conflict makes for dullness. Effort to become something only brings problems, conscious or unconscious. You cannot be dull without some cause, for, as you say, you were once alert and keen. You haven't always been dull. What has brought about this change?
"You seem to know, and won't you please tell him?"
I could, but what good would that be? He would either accept or reject it according to his mood and pleasure; but is it not important that he himself should find out? Is it not essential for him to uncover the whole process and see the truth of it? Truth is something that cannot be told to another. He must be able to receive it, and none can prepare him for it. This is not indifference on my part; but he must come to it openly, freely and unexpectedly.
What is making you dull? Shouldn't you know it for yourself? Conflict, resistance, makes for dullness. We think that through struggle we shall understand through competition we shall be made bright. Struggle certainly makes for sharpness, but what is sharp is soon made blunt; what is in constant use soon wears out. We accept conflict as inevitable, and build our structure of thought and action upon this inevitability. But is conflict inevitable? Is there not a different way of living? There is if we can understand the process and significance of conflict.
Again, why have you made yourself dull? "Have I made myself dull?"
Can anything make you dull unless you are willing to be made dull? This willingness may be conscious or hidden. Why have you allowed yourself to be made dull? Is there a deep-seated conflict in you? "If there is, I am totally unaware of it."
But don't you want to know? Don't you want to understand it?
"I am beginning to see what you are driving at," she put in, "but I may not be able to tell my husband the cause of his dullness because I am not quite sure of it myself."
You may or may not see the way this dullness has come upon him; but would you be really helping him if verbally you were to point it out? Is it not essential that he discovers it for himself? Please see the importance of this, and then you will not be impatient or anxious. One can help another, but he alone must undertake the journey of discovery. Life is not easy; it is very complex, but we must approach it simply. We are the problem; the problem is not what we call life. We can understand the problem, which is ourselves, only if we know how to approach it. The approach is all important, and not the problem.
"But what are we to do?"
You must have listened to all that has been said; if you have, then you will see that truth alone brings freedom. Please don't worry, but let the seed take root.
After some weeks they both came back. There was hope in their eyes and a smile upon their lips.