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Series II - Chapter 20 - ‘To Be Vulnerable Is To Live, To Withdraw Is To Die’
THE HURRICANE HAD destroyed the crops, and the seawater was over the land. The train was crawling along, and on both sides of the line the trees were down, the houses roofless, and the fields utterly deserted. The storm had done a great deal of damage for miles around; living things were destroyed, and the barren earth was open to the sky.
We are never alone; we are surrounded by people and by our own thoughts. Even when the people are distant, we see things through the screen of our thoughts. There is no moment, or it is very rare, when thought is not. We do not know what it is to be alone, to be free of all association, of all continuity, of all word and image. We are lonely, but we do not know what it is to be alone. The ache of loneliness fills our hearts, and the mind covers it with fear. Loneliness, that deep isolation, is the dark shadow of our life. We do everything we can to run away from it, we plunge down every avenue of escape we know, but it pursues us and we are never without it. Isolation is the way of our life; we rarely fuse with another, for in ourselves we are broken, torn and unhealed. In ourselves we are not whole complete, and the fusion with another is possible only when there is integration within. We are afraid of solitude, for it opens the door to our insufficiency, the poverty of our own being; but it is solitude that heals the deepening wound of loneliness. To walk alone, unimpeded by thought, by the trail of our desires, is to go beyond the reaches of the mind. It is the mind that isolates, separates and cuts off communion. The mind cannot be made whole; it cannot make itself complete, for that very effort is a process of isolation, it is part of the loneliness that nothing can cover. The mind is the product of the many, and what is put together can never be alone. Aloneness is not the result of thought. Only when thought is utterly still is there the flight of the alone to the alone.
The house was well back from the road, and the garden had an abundance of flowers. It was a cool morning, and the sky was very blue; the morning sun was pleasant, and in the shaded, sunken garden the noise of the traffic, the call of the vendors, and the trotting of horses on the road, all seemed very distant. A goat had wandered into the garden; with its short tail wiggling, it nibbled at the flowers till the gardener came and chased it away.
She was saying that she felt very disturbed, but did not want to be disturbed; she wanted to avoid the painful state of uncertainty. Why was she so apprehensive of being disturbed?
What do you mean by being disturbed? And why be apprehensive about it? “I want to be quiet, to be left alone. I feel disturbed even with you. Though I have seen you only two or three times, the fear of being disturbed by you is coming heavily upon me. I want to find out why I have this fear of being inwardly uncertain. I want to be quiet and at peace with myself, but I am always being disturbed by something or other. Till recently I had managed to be more or less at peace with myself; but a friend brought me along to one of your talks, and now I am strangely upset. I thought you would strengthen me in my peace, but instead you have almost shattered it. I didn’t want to come here, as I knew I would make a fool of myself; but still, here I am.”
Why are you so insistent that you should be at peace? Why are you making it into a problem? The very demand to be at peace is conflict, is it not? If I may ask, what is it you want? If you want to be left alone, undisturbed and at peace, then why allow yourself to be shaken? It is quite feasible to shut all the doors and windows of one’s being, to isolate oneself and live in seclusion. That is what most people want. Some deliberately cultivate isolation, and others, by their desires and activities, both hidden and open, bring about this exclusion. The sincere ones become self-righteous with their ideals and virtues, which are only a defence; and those who are thoughtless drift into isolation through economic pressure and social influences. Most of us are seeking to build walls around ourselves so as to be invulnerable, but unfortunately there is always an opening through which life creeps in.
“I have generally managed to ward off most of the disturbances, but during the past week or two, because of you, I have been more disturbed than ever. Please tell me why I am disturbed. What is the cause of it?”
Why do you want to know the cause of it? Obviously, by knowing the cause you hope to eradicate the effect. You really do not want to know why you are disturbed, do you? You only want to avoid disturbance. “I just want to be left alone, undisturbed and at peace; and why am I constantly disturbed?”
You have been defending yourself all your life have you not? What you are really interested in is to find out how to stop up all the openings, and not how to live without fear, without dependence. From what you have said and left unsaid, it is obvious that you have tried to make your life secure against any kind of inward disturbance; you have withdrawn from any relationship that might cause pain. You have managed fairly well to safeguard yourself against all shock, to live behind closed doors and windows. Some are successful in doing this, and if pushed far enough its ultimate end is the asylum; others fail and become cynical, bitter; and still others make themselves rich in things or in knowledge, which is their safeguard. Most people, including the so-called religious, desire abiding peace, a state in which all conflict has come to an end. Then there are those who praise conflict as the only real expression of life, and conflict is their shield against life.
Can you ever have peace by seeking security behind the walls of your fears and hopes? All your life you have withdrawn, because you want to be safe within the walls of a limited relationship which you can dominate. Is this not your problem? Since you depend, you want to possess that upon which you depend.
You are afraid of and therefore avoid any relationship which you cannot dominate. Isn’t that it? “That is rather a brutal way of putting it, but perhaps that is it.”
If you could dominate the cause of your present disturbance, you would be at peace; but since you cannot, you are very concerned. We all want to dominate when we do not understand; we want to possess or be possessed when there is fear of ourselves. Uncertainty of ourselves makes for a feeling of superiority, exclusion and isolation.
If I may ask, of what are you afraid? Are you afraid of being alone, of being left out, of being made uncertain? “You see, all my life I have lived for others, or so I thought. I have upheld an ideal and been praised for my efficiency in doing the kind of work which is considered good; I have lived a life of self-denial, without security without children, without a home. My sisters are well-married and socially prominent, and my older brothers are high government officials. When I visit them, I feel I have wasted my life. I have become bitter, and I deeply regret all the things that I haven’t had. I now dislike the work I was doing, it no longer brings me any happiness, and I have abandoned it to others. I have turned my back upon it all. As you point out, I have become hard in my self-defence. I have anchored myself in a younger brother who is not well off and who considers himself a seeker of God. I have tried to make myself inwardly secure, but it has been a long and painful struggle. It is this younger brother who brought me to one of your talks, and the house which I had been so carefully building began to tumble down. I wish to God I had never come to hear you, but I cannot rebuild it, I cannot go through all that suffering and anxiety again. You have no idea what it has been like for me to see my brothers and sisters with position, prestige, and money. But I won’t go into all that. I have cut myself off from them, and I rarely see them. As you say, I have gradually shut the door upon all relationships except one or two; but as misfortune would have it, you came to this town, and now everything is wide open again, all the old wounds have come to life, and I am deeply miserable. What am I to do?”
The more we defend, the more we are attacked; the more we seek security, the less of it there is; the more we want peace, the greater is our conflict; the more we ask, the less we have. You have tried to make yourself invulnerable, shockproof; you have made yourself inwardly unapproachable except to one or two, and have closed all the doors to life. It is slow suicide. Now, why have you done all this? Have you ever asked yourself that question? Don’t you want to know? You have come either to find away to close all the doors, or to discover how to be open, vulnerable to life. Which is it you want – not as a choice, but as a natural, spontaneous thing?
“Of course I see now that it is really impossible to shut all the doors, for there is always an opening. I realize what I have been doing; I see that my own fear of uncertainty has made for dependence and domination. Obviously I could not dominate every situation, however much I might like to, and that is why I limited my contacts to one or two which I could dominate and hold. I see all that. But how am I to be open again, free and without this fear of inward uncertainty?”
Do you see the necessity of being open and vulnerable? If you do not see the truth of that then you will again surreptitiously build walls around yourself. To see the truth in the false is the beginning of wisdom; to see the false as the false is the highest comprehension. To see that what you have been doing all these years can only lead to further strife and sorrow – actually to experience the truth of it, which is not mere verbal acceptance – will put an end to that activity. You cannot voluntarily make yourself open; the action of will cannot make you vulnerable. The very desire to be vulnerable creates resistance. Only by understanding the false as the false is there freedom from it. Be passively watchful of your habitual responses; simply be aware of them without resistance; passively watch them as you would watch a child, without the pleasure or distaste of identification. passive watchfulness itself is freedom from defence, from closing the door. To be vulnerable is to live, and to withdraw is to die.