Thursday, 25 March 2010

Step 4: the Case of the Mistaken Identity

First of all, a chassidic tale:

"Reb Yitzchak of Vorki had a friend who was a rabbi of repute, but a great antagonist of Reb Yitzchak's rebbe [spiritual leader], Reb Simchah Bunem of Pshischah. The friend always had hard words to say about Reb Simchah, even in the presence of Reb Yitzchak, who never answered a word.
This attitude astonished Reb Yitzchak's followers, who asked him how he found it possible to hear such harsh language about his rebbe, and yet to hold his peace.
"I will tell you about an incident that happened to me," replied Reb Yitzchak, "and then you will understand. I was once travelling in a certain city when a stranger approached me, looked at me for a moment, and exclaimed: 'That's him!' A second man did the same thing soon after, and then a third, and I had not the slightest notion what it was all about. Then I was approached by a deserted woman in need of a bill of divorce, an agunah, who was accompanied by a noisy little group of men, including the three who had approached me earlier. All in a chorus they showered me with curses and abuses, the gist of which was: 'You are the man who all these years has left this poor woman as an agunah!' They were so convinced that they knew who I was, that no amount of explanation on my part could convince them that I was not the irresponsible gentleman they were seeking. In the end I had to go along with them to the local rabbinical court, which accepted my evidence of identity.
"Now while they were busy abusing me I was not in the slightest angry at them, because I knew that it was not at me that they were directing their complaints and their curses. They thought I was her husband, and had they known me better they would not have abused me. In a word, whatever they did, they did to someone else.
"So, too, with this rabbi. When he says unpleasant things about my rebbe, Reb Simchah Bunem, I don't get excited, because I know that he talks this way only because he doesn't know my rebbe. If he knew him, he wouldn't say a thing. In a word, he talks about someone else, not about my rebbe."

When I first approached Step Four, I was frightened of all of the terrible things I would have to write about myself. I was sure Step Four was about finding out "who I really was". Some Step Four methods even anticipate and try to counteract this by suggesting that we write out assets as well as liabilities.

An inventory is different: we are the shop, we are interested in the 'stock-in-trade' (p. 64:1, 'Alcoholics Anonymous'). Is a shop its stock-in-trade? Is the shop so identified with the old stock it cannot sell that it refuses to part with it? No! It may acknowledge its poor judgement in the past for investing in the wrong stock, but it will get rid of it promptly and without regret (p. 64:1). And what if the shop is inherited? It will have even less remorse about the stock that won't shift—after all, this stock was acquired, not chosen.

What I find in Step Four is not me. It is what I've been play-acting, and the thinking and behaviour that has flowed from that play-acting. And all of that was inherited, taught. Get rid of everything I'm not, and who I really am will show up.

Page 68:2 tells me that I am "in the world to play the role He assigns." Let's say I'm assigned the role of sponsor. Let's consider, also, that what has "caused our failure" are the manifestations of self (p. 64:2).

There is nothing wrong with being a sponsor. In fact, it's a great job, a privilege, and a joy. So far, so good. Where things start to go awry is that my ego attaches to the role and decides that 'sponsor' is no longer just a role assigned, like being assigned a role in a play by the director, but my very identity. The ego, of course, is not satisfied with being just any sponsor. I have to be the ne plus ultra of sponsors, the tippest of the top, the apex, the summit, the zenith, the acme. And this is the 'being' I take into the world.

"What usually happens? The show doesn't come off very well." (p. 61:1)

First of all, the sponsee may decide that I'm a terrible sponsor and say, "screw you" (first bullet in the stomach to the stage character—third column: "pride"). I internalise that and conclude I cannot live up to my own job description (second bullet in the stomach—"self-esteem"). He then 'sacks' me (which is not how you treat the ne plus ultra of sponsors—"personal relations"). And what will everyone else think about me if they knew I was sacked by my sponsee, who obviously has very good judgement ("pride")? And who am I if I'm not a sponsor? ("Security"—needing to be 'someone' to be OK). And so it goes on.

And what do I end up? An actor dressed up as Hamlet trotting round London months after the production has closed, still in costume, still in make-up, perhaps a little dishevelled, but desperately clinging on to something he longer is. If I cannot let go of the role when it is attacked or taken from me altogether, I will die with the role.

And this is repeated throughout the whole of my Step Four.

My life up to Step Four was a huge case of mistaken identity!

So, if all of these things I've been doing and being (student, teacher, son, brother, sponsor, sponsee, friend, boyfriend, husband, lover, neighbour) are just roles that I get to play, sometimes well, sometimes badly, and I am not these roles, where does that leave me?

"If what we have learned and felt and seen means anything at all, it means that all of us, whatever our race, creed, or colour, are the children of a living Creator with whom we may form a relationship upon simple and understandable terms." (P. 28:2)

That is who I am: child of God. I do not have to do anything to deserve God's love; I cannot do anything to shed myself of it. I am of infinite value, simply by dint of being. And if this is true for me, this is true for you.

There is no need in Step Four to write about assets: we write about the illusions, and the pure asset that we are will become revealed as these illusions are shed. And this pure asset should not be boxed inside little words ("kind", "nice", "thoughtful"). This is just another set of illusions. We're infinitely more than a list of pleasant qualities, just as God is infinitely more than any words we could use to label Him.

If anyone has a problem with me, they don't really. They have a problem with their image of me, floating like an avatar above my head. That's who they are shooting: they're shooting the role, the picture, the stage costume and make-up—the cloak falls to the ground, and there's nothing there.

Similarly, if I have a problem with someone else, I don't really. I have a problem with my image of them, floating like an avatar above their heads. I am not seeing who they really are; I'm seeing only my image of them. The role I think they should be playing, because, after all, I see myself as the Director, not the actor, and we're back to me playing God, once more.

Someone once said to me, "if the knowledge that we are all children of God could go from your head to your heart, you'd never have a problem with another human being again." Step Four starts that journey.

No comments: