I recently received an email from a client asking, “Why do I hold myself back?” Her precise words were, “I continue to feel myself holding back a small part of me … not wanting to fully engage myself. I recognize that I do this in several areas of my life. I protect myself in this way. But from what????”
I would like to share with you my answer to this question, “Why do I hold myself back?” which I believe we all ask. We may hold back from our partners, from our children, from our friends, or from deepening ourselves in other ways. Regardless of the context, I believe the following excerpt from David Brooks’ book, The Social Animal, addresses the reason why we hold back.
Brooks’ tells two stories in his book. One story explains how our minds work. The other story demonstrates what this looks like in the lives of two people, Harold and Erica, who by the end of the book have shared a lifetime, and a marriage, full of memories.
“Erica came back out onto the porch and dropped the tray she was carrying and screamed and rushed over to Harold and grabbed his hand. His body had sagged and was inert. His head was on his chin and drool was coming out of his mouth. She looked into his eyes, the eyes could see no reaction there, though he was breathing. She made a move to run to the phone, but Harold’s hand tightened around hers. She sat back down looking him in the face and weeping.
“Harold had lost consciousness but not life. Images flowed into his head the way they do in the seconds before one falls asleep. They came in a chaotic succession. In his un-selfconsciousness, he didn’t regard them the way he would have at an earlier time. He regarded them in a way that was beyond words. We would say he regarded them holistically, somehow feeling everything at once. We would say he participated in them impressionistically, rather than analytically. He felt presences.
“As I put them down on this page I have to put them in one sentence after another, but this is not how Harold experienced them. There were images of the paths he used to ride his bike on as a boy and the mountains he looked out upon that day. There he was doing homework with his mother, and also tackling a running back in high school. There were speeches he had made, compliments he had received, sex he had had, books he had read and moments when some new idea had broken over him like a wave.
“For a few moments, consciousness seemed about to flicker back. He could sense Erica weeping out there and compassion enveloped him. Inside, the swirls in his mind were still interlooping with hers. They were shared swirls that leaped across from her conscious world to his unconscious one. Categories fell away. Tenderness was out of control. His ability to focus attention ended and at the same time his ability to interpenetrate the souls of others increased. His relation to her at this moment was direct. There were no analytics, no reservations, no ambitions, no future desires or past difficulties. It was just I and Thou. A unity of being. A high state of knowledge. A merger of souls. At this point his questions about the meaning of life were no longer asked, but were answered.
“Harold entered the hidden kingdom entirely and then lost consciousness forever. In his last moments there were neither boundaries nor features. He was unable to wield the power of self-consciousness but also freed from its shackles. He had been blessed with consciousness so that he might help direct his own life and nurture his inner life, but the cost of that consciousness was an awareness that he would die. Now he lost that awareness. He was past noticing anything now, and had entered the realm of the unutterable.
“It would be interesting to know if this meant he had also entered a kingdom of heaven, God’s kingdom. But that was not communicated back to Erica. His heart continued to beat for a few minutes, and his lungs filled and emptied with air and electrochemical impulses still surged through his brain. He made some gestures and twitches, which the doctors would call involuntary but which in this case were more deeply felt than any other gesture could be. And one of them was a long squeeze of the hand, which Erica took to mean good-by.”*
* Excerpt from David Brooks’ The Social Animal
When I read this passage, I touch and sadden myself to realize how armored and defended most of us are. What are we protecting? Our identity…our ego…our sense of self? To be conscious means that we have an identity, an ego, a sense of self—but if we develop our consciousness beyond a certain point, we can then give up our unnecessary defenses so that we more deeply connect with those people we love. This is the purpose of Live Conscious.
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