Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offense.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down. -Robert Frost, “Mending Wall”
Most of us throw up tremendous walls, stoney masks, and live that way as if it were better for us. We hit points, though, at which the mask no longer serves, or the wall is shaken by something we simply can’t weather. Our soul stands naked, and the world stands naked, and there is no kind of barrier between.
Work and love, said Freud, are what people will identify themselves as. This is what makes us suffer. No matter how much we work, or how good we are at it, there will always be someone better than we, and there will always be something we can’t do, and choosing one path necessarily closes off all the others. And love, well, its easy to see how identifying our core worth with weather we make it in love or not leaves us in the lurch.
At the same time, it is work and love that will redeem us. Once we get rightsided about them. Honest. Without walls. Once we learn and relearn and keep practicing a thing like the third step, where we identify not with the outcome but with the effort. To work, like that, is noble and holy. The work becomes a process and a gift, rather than a goal. And it becomes immeasurable by any kind of standard. And love, that way, is endless.
Those wall-eyed masks that we wear are janus headed, two faced. One the one hand, we are perfectionist and accomplishment driven; egoists, arrogant, elitist. On the other, we are self-deprecating and servile, believing ourselves less than we actually are. They say this is an alcoholic trait, and I can see that as true. Alcoholics tend to do this quite loudly, in bold stokes of black and white. But this is also a human truth. Everybody does it, all the time.
It is hard to accept that neither are true. That we’ll fail if we hang on to them. That they don’t matter to anyone else in the world like they matter to us and we’re living in some constructed fantasy.
To let those walls come down is to be faced, suddenly, with our own strangely unique world and the questioning of what to do with it, sorting and feeling our way for the next right thing. It is strangely, uncannily unique. It has to do with moment by moment conversations, the day’s presentation of hours and needs, whether you are hungry or the person next to you is. In order to find my next right thing, I have to be intimately involved with the things of my life, and approach them not with agendas but with curiousity and hospitality.
Not easy when it’s a collections agent or a nagging boss. A child taken to tantrums, a lover who’s lost all trust. People who could care less that we’re alcoholic and involved in a spirtual quest, they just want us to get our asses out of their way in the grocery aisle.
But I think this is also the place where we taste the sweetness of communion or authenticity in life, if we’re ever going to taste it at all.
If I’ve done what I’ve done in the day as best I could, if I approached, I tend to fall asleep with a quiet heart and an easy brain. It doesn’t seem to matter if I did well or not, if I succeeded. Only that I tried. I’m no longer identified with the judgment or the protocol. I’m only concerned with my own heart, and the gravel road, the cornfield, the odd handful of folk I come across in a day. It’s very big, in its way. And also, nothing at all.