Kierkegaard and the Bullies

Perfect love means to love the one through whom one became unhappy – Soren Kierkegaard

Following on from a recent blog post about forgiveness, putting into practice the habit of it is, as is everything, much easier said than done. So I’m going to share some personal things in this blog post, which I don’t often do, but which I think is necessary to give it some context, and to perhaps allow for people in their own situation to relate to it in some way.

Kierkegaard’s reflection on forgiveness inspired me today to do something which I have never been able to do.  Forgive the bullies.  Thinking about forgiveness a lot lately, I have decided that the best place to start was at the beginning, when the first people who treated me badly first made an impression on my mind and my life.

I had a really happy childhood, growing up in beautiful countryside in a very loving family.  I exceled in school – primary school was a breeze.  I was top of the class in both academia and athletics – I loved them both. I was confident and happy – it was a great time for me.  However, things changed when I went to secondary school.

The first half of the first year went well – though it was a shock moving from a Grade Six class that had five people in it to class sizes of twenty to thirty children.  The school was enormous compared to my primary school, but I adapted pretty well (and much thanks to a map my sister drew especially for me to find my classes in the many halls, which was my saviour that first month!).  I was confident and smart and making new friends under quite difficult circumstances to a very sensitive child.  And then came the bullies.

They were two years older than me, and came from the same region, so we shared the long bus journey together (an hour each way, a total of two hours a day). That was where it all started.  Name calling on the bus – for whatever reason, began the whole affair.  I assume that it was because I was tall, pretty, blond and happy – though I can never truly know the full reason behind it.  Sometimes people simply think that blowing out another person’s flame will make theirs shine all the brighter, but that just isn’t the case – everyone knows two flames are brighter than one alone.  For whatever reason, the bullying started.

Being confident, I decided to fight back.  I was smart, and could have a comeback for anything. Everyone, from television and film and books, said that if you fight back, the bullies will leave you alone.

That is not the case.

I fought back, with words, not allowing them to see that they were hurting me – throwing it back at them, and also hoping that others around me would rally to the cause and that we would all overthrow this minority of bullies who seemed to control “the bus”.

That was not the case either.

People didn’t stand up for me. But I still persevered, fighting back as best I could. Eventually it did get me down, and I started to doubt myself. But I stayed as strong as I could. They put glue in my hair. They threw food and garbage at me. They called me names. They threatened me.  They taunted me every time we passed in the hallway until I avoided all the main halls and used the back stairs, entrances and exits as much as I could. I still held fast to the belief that it was because they were jealous – I stayed strong in my convictions, but it really, really started to get me down. I dreaded going to school every day, and dreaded the bus ride there and back.  I joined after school clubs just so I wouldn’t have to take the same bus as they did home – I could take a later bus. I longed for the two days of respite that the weekend brought – Fridays after the bus dropped me off was like a whole new world of freedom to be me again.

It became so bad one day though, that I had had just about enough of it all and, with no holding back, turned around to where they had moved up in the now almost empty bus to sit directly behind me and taunt me ceaselessly.  I let it rip, verbally, with all the hate, spite , viciousness and intelligence that I possessed. Their faces were shocked, and then anger took over. One girl grabbed me by the hair and started banging my head against the bus window, over and over again.  An older boy came down from the back of the bus and pulled her off of me – I had started physically fighting back – and we were separated.  I got off the bus seconds later at my stop, adrenaline bursting along with tears as soon as the bus was out of sight – I wasn’t going to let them see me cry.  I hated myself and my life.

The next day we were, of course, called into the Principal’s Office.  After a few minutes, where I (with seething calm) stated my case and then the other girl was allowed to state hers, she simply began to cry.  I was too angry to care about why she was crying – she had made my life a living hell.  I sincerely hoped the Principal was not “duped” by her show – though on reflection I do believe that she was a truly unhappy girl in an unhappy situation, the details of which I still am not aware of to this day – only rumours.

Nothing came of it for me – but I think she may have received a three-day suspension or something similar, though the memory of that is a little fuzzy.  What I do remember is that evening she called my house, and my mother answered the phone.  The girl threatened my mother and family, and also said that she didn’t care if she got expelled from school – she could always transfer to SAA.   My mother said, “Go ahead, please do.  BECAUSE THAT’S WHERE I WORK.” We never got a phone call from her again.

The bullying eased off from then on – just some taunts and words passing in the hallway. By this point, I saw the light at the end of the tunnel – the bullies were graduating that year, and once they were gone the school “was mine” again, in the sense that I could live, learn and do as I pleased and enjoy every second of it.  They graduated, or failed – I don’t really know, but they left. Those last two years of my high school life were some of the best years of my life.

I still suffered from confidence issues – walking past a group of people laughing, I would assume they were laughing at me.  Sometimes I still do – though now I catch myself and, with a wry grin, shrug it off.  But one thing I’ve never been able to do is to forgive them for the years and years of torment that they put me through.  Well, today I decided that enough is enough.

I have carried these bullies with me for 27 years now, and I’m more than ready to put them down.  As in my previous blog post, the story of the monks and the sack of potatoes, I really don’t want to carry anger and hate to these people anymore – I’m going to empty the sack, and maybe one day lose the sack altogether so that it can never be filled with anger again.  For anger is the cause of pain and suffering in the world – it is the root behind most, if not all, sufferering and “evil”.  So, no more, thank you very much.  I forgive you, CB, KJ, WG, D and A – I don’t want to carry you around any more.  I hope that your lives are much happier now, and filled with love.  Tears are welling up in my eyes even as I write this – the release is overwhelming.  I have compassion for myself and for you.  May you live well.

And so, I aim for what Kierkegaard wrote – for love is compassion and forgiveness.  I am emptying my sack, one by one, and looking for perfect love with every person who has made me unhappy.  In this way, I believe, the world can and will be a better place.  Namaste.

The Self, and No Self

Who am I?

Philosophers, religions, spiritualities and people all over the world have asked themselves this question. Lately, I too have been asking myself this – and looking into the meaning of the self, to see if there truly is a Self there to begin with.

The Materialists would say that there is no self at all – that there is no consciousness, that we are simply matter and energy and the result of material interactions.  Descartes stated “I think therefore I am”, to which the Materialists refuted Descartes dualism of a separate mind and body, ridiculing it as “ghost in the machine”.  Zen and Buddhism talks about a True Self that can only be realised by dropping all ideas of the self and achieving a pure state of being in the moment, a state of total selflessness in every sense of the word.

Nietzche stated that “We have never sought ourselves, how could it happen that we should ever find ourselves?”  Like the Materialists, he believed that we are a result of our experiences and actions, but that there still was a Self, a consciousness.  In order to be complete, Nietzche said that we must learn acceptance – to accept everything we have ever done.  I find this fascinating, because how many times have we done things our lives, stating that we were out of our minds, or did something “that was not me at all” – stepping outside of the core idea of what we are.  This acceptance, instead of avoidance, is key to the deeper understanding of the self, in my opinion.  Acceptance doesn’t mean liking everything that we may have done in the past, nor does it define us in the present moment, but what it does allow is a total non-judgemental overview of the self, and in doing so, a deep awareness that we might not achieve by avoidance of the subject.

Before Nietzche, Kierkegaard put forward the notion of choosing to be self-aware.  We are homo sapiens, after all – in fact, I believe the proper term for our species is homo sapiens sapiens – the beings that are aware that they are aware.  Kierkegaard stated that when we choose to be self-aware, we are both aware of our self and, at the same time, aware that we are aware of our self.  Observing the observer who is observing.  Yet, we choose not to observe, because we often don’t like what we see, or experience, either in the past, present or future.

This is all fascinating. And also requires some very deep thinking.  I’m currently exploring the theory of No Self from Zen Buddhism, which is a paradigm of course, as is much in Zen.  The No Self is also the True Self.  It states that our real self is in existence, always, and always has been.  It is pure, and shining free – we only distract ourselves from it to such an extent that we never see it.  Zen states that we are already complete, already whole, already perfect.

This is pretty simple to understand, and it makes sense.  The difficulties, the suffering in our lives detract us away from spending time in the pure moment, in which the True Self resides.  We suffer because we want things to be different, because we desire things, people, etc – and are not happy with the present moment as it is. If we are happy and accepting of the present moment as it is, without judgement of good or bad, or any attachment to it at all (see previous blog post on understanding, not judgement) then we can rediscover this True Self.  By letting go of all notions of the Self, we return to the core, essentially.

In Zen Buddhism, the term mu can mean a multitude of things – it essentially, and paradoxically, means “nothing”.  It can be termed as “no self”, “no ego”, “no holiness” and “impermanence”.  It is the transcending of all things, the enlightenment experience, the complete and utter letting go of affirmations and negations.  It is an answer to some Zen koans (questions asked to break apart the mind and let in a new way of understanding).  Zen master Keido Fukishima, like Kierkegaard, promotes the self-inquiry into our own being and mind, to be aware that we are being aware.  In Zen, this has the goalless goal of letting go – once we have found our mind, we lose it (not in an insane way, I might add) and in the losing, in the understanding of the impermanence of all things, including the mind and the self, we rediscover the True Self.  Keido Fukushima says, “Zen teaches us how to live by inquiring into and clarifying ourselves. This self-questioning is well suited to our contemporary ways of thinking. Rather than seeking salvation through an “other” or through grace, we achieve it on our own.”

Fukushima delves further into this idea, stating “The experience of mu may at first glance seem purely negative or passive,” he says, “but it is not so at all. Being mu, or empty of self, allows one to actively take in whatever comes. Our world today and all in it are separated into dualistic distinctions of good and evil, birth and death, gain and loss, self and other, and so on. By being mu, not only does one’s self-centeredness disappear, the conflicts that arise with others dissolve as well. Here is a simple example: When we look at a mountain, we tend to observe it as an object. But if we are mu, we no longer see the mountain as an object; we identify with it; we are the mountain itself. This transcendence of duality may sound like some psychic ability or spiritual power someone possesses. But that is not true. Rather, it is simply and naturally a case of being free, creative, and fresh. We become human beings full of boundless love and compassion.”

This rejects the dualists’, such as Descartes, theories and instead breaks down all barriers, which is both liberating and frightening at the same time.  There is no Us and Them, no Self and the Other – if we truly let go of all attachment we become one with everything.  Are we willing to do that, or do are we too attached to our sense of self to experience that? Can we truly dissolve into everything?

It comes in small flashes, in glimpses, for me so far.  The world, wrapped up in an apple, in a drop of rain, in the flight of a hawk.  Barriers have dropped, ego and self has fallen away, and we see the multitude of the universe (another paradox!).

This is passing through the Gateless Gate – I’ve also heard it called the groundless ground.  In realising the impermanence of everything, including the Self, we have a platform from which to jump off and into real living, where every moment counts and is never the same.  The Self changes from moment to moment.

This is hard, for we have spent our whole lives creating this sense of self, this timeless sense of self that we think defines us.  After seeing Taylor Swift’s new video, Trouble, in which she states “…I don’t know if you know who you are, until you lose who you are” really hit home.  I don’t think she meant this in a Zen sense, as she seems pretty attached to her past experiences (and boyfriends) but the statement really hit home.  She talks about losing her balance.  I really identified with this statement, having recently lost my balance in these last few months.  But what did I lose my balance from? Is the concept of balance just another distraction? I’m still working on it.

Starting with acceptance, and then moving on, letting go, without attachment, is crucial.  Maybe then the True Self will shine again, for longer and longer moments, ever shifting, ever changing, always truthful.

However, as Freud said, “It’s just a theory.”