Life at the End of Ego

I had a dream last week. What A Way To Go was shown at Duke University to a packed crowd of appreciative students. The bookkeeper wrote a check for the honorarium. The movie had brought in $500. Our check totaled only $50. I was pissed and said so.

I found the top dog, the guy with his hands on the purse strings. I told him what it had taken to make this movie. I told him we were still in debt. He was slimy.

Too bad but this was their policy. I left. angry. Walking through a crowd of students, I heard an announcement come over the intercom. It was the top dog. He made snide comments that ended with: “The filmmaker has PMS.”

Another morning I awoke with more fears. What if the movie does not land with people as it has with Carolyn Baker and Jan Lundberg and Daniel Quinn? What if our story is ignored? Or worse, what if all of this attention we’re getting goes bad and people actively reject us?

I get pretty dark sometimes. I’ve learned to sit and write my way into it in my journal. I write until I find the core of the feeling. What is it?

Abandonment in the end. Utter aloneness in death.

As I chewed on the feeling, I realized that while this is a personal fear, it is a collective one as well.

We have become a species cut off, isolated. The collective human identity has gotten so arrogant, so big for its britches, that we’ve exiled ourselves from home. And now it feels like Mother is refusing to speak to us. We’re in spiritual “time out.”

Trapped alone upstairs in our room, we cannot come out until we say we are sorry until we are willing to clean up the mess we’ve made. We’re excommunicated from the rest of the family of life.

That’s how it feels. And, sadly, that’s how it is. That’s what we’ve collectively created. As Chellis Glendinning reported in What A Way To Go, more than half of the human population now lives in urban areas.

That means most human psyches are locked in boxes their whole lives long. They wake in boxes, eat meals in boxes, drive here and there in boxes, work in boxes, shop in boxes, come home to stare at plasma-enhanced electronic boxes, and then retreat to sleep inboxes.

“Go to your box, I mean, your room. And don’t come out until you are ready to say you are sorry.” We’re afraid now of Mother. Afraid She’s just had it up to here with us.

I’ve felt crazy since childhood. Everyone else in my family acted like everything was fine. Nobody wondered why my dad had migraine headaches EVERY weekend. Nobody questioned if something was wrong when my mother sat with her head in her hands sobbing while I, a seven-year-old child, struggled to comfort her. No one questioned the sanity of that mother and that family when she used a metal spatula to “spank” us for such egregious crimes as “talking back,” tracking dirt in the house, or forgetting to take out the trash. I still remember the very creepy feeling I had watching my mother hit my brother with the metal spatula and witnessing him laugh instead of cry.

Fears still reside in my body. I still have to pry myself out of dark places when the fear arises that I’m crazy and will end up alone, like our species, exiled from relationship.

Truth is, I’m not alone. Others are so hungry to connect, to end the isolation and craziness. That’s why Tim and I write our blogs. That’s why people are reading them and commenting. We are all hungry to connect, to relate, to identify with one another as real people.

Abandonment in the end.

An image comes. I see the sky darkening as a tattered woman’s figure huddled in a dank, dark corner, in pain, confused and utterly bereft: no family, no friend’s hand to hold, no compassionate face to gaze upon, no God to call out to and be answered by.

As I feel my way around this tightness in my body there’s another aspect of the experience that grabs me. And that is a grievous fear that, in the end, all of my striving and longing and desire and effort to do good will be for naught. That this human life is a joke. That we are a joke of a species. Not noble. Not wise. Just a stupid joke.

And we’re about to go extinct. “Ha ha. You’re dead.”

I don’t want to be a stupid joke. I don’t want to be part of this unbelievably sick and violent culture that creates movie after movie after movie filled with images of people being shot in the face.

“Ha ha. You’re dead.”

I’m mad.

I’m mad because I know human beings can be better. We CAN be noble. We can, at least some of us, stop this insanity. We can decide never again to put sick and graphic images into our heads and into the heads of our young. We can decide to stop this indoctrination into violence. We can stop the large, loud, graphic assault on our psyches that is sold as entertainment in the multiplexes. And, tragically, violent movies are only one of the most gross and obvious examples of what we do, routinely, to our young, and to ourselves.

Besides the sick entertainment industry, there’s school. Go ahead. Put active, lively, curious young humans into age-segregated concrete buildings. Sit them for hours in metal chairs and desks. Make them line up and walk to the lunchroom every day.

And then tell me you don’t wound their spirits. It works for Empire of course. Because after twelve years in public school it’s easy to sell those wounded spirits into corporate slavery and corporate executive slavery because they will accept as adults the same insanity they were subjected to as children in school.

They will believe it’s normal. They will even say they like it. They will work ungodly hours for the privilege of paying the exorbitant mortgage payment on their McBox McMansion.

Will we ever recover from this?

It’s possible to step out of the insanity. But it isn’t easy. It takes monumental effort because everything about Empire is set up to make it hard. Everything is set up to promote the continuance of insanity. While it isn’t easy, there is a way that it is simple.

We only need to stop and sit together and regain our sanity.

But what an anomaly it is for people to sit together with the simple intention to speak as openly as I write in my journal or on my blog. Thoughtful, compassionate, sober, honest sharing needs to be part of people’s lives on a regular basis.

I’m literally mad, insane, because that simple practice isn’t a regular part of my life. I can’t be sane without it. None of us can. Not truly, deeply sane.

I know this. I know that time to speak fully and truthfully about one’s experience is as important to people as healthy food and clean water. Acts of violence and episodes of depression in our culture are now epidemic.

People of Empire are frantically trying to fight their way out of this deadening culture that keeps us alone and isolated. A year ago U.S.A. Today reported that one of every four Americans have NO ONE to confide in. One in four! Shit.

Graphic violence and sexuality on the big screen testify to this reality. Americans are violently upset and dreadfully lonely. And we’ve no way to express ourselves or get our needs met except vicariously on the screen.

Or violently in the streets and on college campuses. We want to shoot the face off of this culture and get to the blood, the heart, the body, the life that is somewhere there, under the masks, the clothes, the images.

Human beings need to sit in a circle regularly with others where getting beyond the masks is possible. The hours of my life that I have sat in a safe, intimate, circle with other people have been way too few.

The hours I have sat alone in a metal box speeding over asphalt on rubber donuts, or in public school classrooms indoctrinated into a hierarchy, or in darkened rooms, my face stuffed with Frosted Flakes or buttered popcorn, violent or even just stupid images flickering on a screen in front of me, have been appallingly too many.

I didn’t even know it was possible for people to share honestly in a group, or anywhere for that matter until I was a young adult.

I mean, who did that? Who sat in a circle with people, talked sincerely, cried openly, and faced into conflict together? Nobody in my childhood did.

I have consciously sought out and created those opportunities over the course of my adult years, and still, that experience represents only a precious drop in a lifetime spent keeping my head and heart just slightly above the murky waters of the ocean of Empire.

The last time I experienced the deep magic of a circle was a couple of months ago. Nine of us committed ourselves to a long weekend. By the end of the weekend, I felt so whole, grounded, connected and fully myself that I joyfully proclaimed “I don’t get any better than this!”

Why have I not responded to the young woman’s email that called for us to declare our clear intentions to reconvene the circle? Her email has sat unanswered for over three weeks. Why have I not, until now, responded?

I didn’t respond because it is such hard work. In the context of Empire-dominated lives it takes a major commitment to make it happen. It requires time and a group of people willing to walk through a difficulty together.

The magic won’t work if people get disgusted and walk away, get into their cars and drive to their box because it gets hard and they are tired.

It is challenging for our egos, encrusted with defense, fear, and denial as a result of living in this culture, to surrender control and allow the magic to happen.

It requires true commitment and a deep desire to agree to sit in the fire together. And we are accustomed to being defensive, confused, numb, withdrawn, shut down, or in pretense.

It is what we’ve come to know and trust. It’s scary to sit in the fire of a circle, to let the fire open us up, warm our hearts, burn away the dross. And for those of us mystified so long by Empire’s illusions of wealth, the gold that comes from sitting in the fire together often seems too much to want or to reach for.

Listen. I had to make a profession out of connecting with people to survive as well as I have. I had to become a therapist so I didn’t lose heart. I should be paying my clients.

Counseling work is life-giving for me. How refreshing to hear honest stories, to hold people’s pain and fear carefully in my hands, to regard people with gentleness and respect. I’ve learned to do those things because I need so much to be with people, to be with their truth, their tears and even their rage.

Written by Timothy Bennett
An artist and filmmaker who has lived in North Carolina for eighteen years. Born and raised in rural Michigan, he began his inquiry into environmental and cultural issues in the late 80s. His talent for "big-picture thinking," along with his ability to see through the taboos, denials, and orthodoxies of our culture.