As a qualifier, this is not so much a critique on de Becker or his book per se, but rather an expounding on a topic akin to a variation on a theme.
There are a couple of lines in a chapter of Gavin de Becker’s famous New York Times bestseller The Gift of Fear that really struck me as quite “spiritual” (in the esoteric way) that I wouldn’t have suspected in such a pragmatic “how-to” manual. Though that is not to say things of a spiritual nature are completely lofty.
After spending a few pages outlining the many “warning signs” of our intuition that we fail to recognize as humans, privileging logic over emotion, Gavin writes this:
“The truth is that every thought is preceded by a perception, every impulse is preceded by a thought, [and] every action is preceded by an impulse....”
I would find this statement particularly lucid even in the holiest of spiritual texts.
For one, it is very much a practical listing of the sequencing of our actions from the idea to the outcome.
At first, he states the “truth”, a well-reasoned deduction of what is versus mere speculation. Mere speculation of course is complete wishy-washy, waffling statements that wind up getting people nowhere fast.
“Every thought is preceded by a perception…”
One can wonder whether this is a chicken or egg scenario of what occurs first, the thought or the perception that comes before a thought. However much I like this statement, I am inclined to think that thoughts generally arrive in normal day-to-day life without much understanding of where they come from; quite literally out of nowhere. Of course, if you are in the midst of a particular action your thoughts will generally derive from whatever you’re doing; this is essentially the idea of “focus”.
However as most of us know who meditate; especially in the midst of meditation, the sometimes very wild and bizarre thoughts that come into our mind that are completely random. They have very little attachment if at all to what is happening now.
It is similar with our dreams. The physical body itself is cannot perceive at all, even mimicking a death-like state, though our minds are certainly active thinking wild and strange things.
“...every impulse is preceded by thought…”
Now here is the real meat and potatoes. This is what all the thought-manifesters talk about. All of our actions originate as a thought in the mind. Of course on the surface, and in a very general and elementary way looking at it, is correct. The lightbulbs that we freely screw into sockets was once an idea in Edison’s mind. The automobiles that fly off the assembly line are quite literally due to Ford’s forward thinking.
We must not however confuse directed drive with impulse. A true impulse is very much a move towards something with no conscious thought process to do it. If you lay your bare hand on a hot stove, the body has evolved such a subtle precision to bypass the brain altogether and quite literally jerk your hand away; all unbeknownst to the thought centers of the mind. The body itself knows that the “brain” can’t be trusted to act in all cases when it is necessary to do so.
Which brings us to the end of his statement,
“...every action is preceded by an impulse….”
Well certainly not “directed drive”. The great originators and innovators; the brilliant engineering and technical minds both in the realm of mechanics and in the realm of thought had a special quality that sets them apart from the huddled masses.
The painful self-flagellation of difficulty, mistake, failure, and beration is the fertile soil from which the world’s horn of plenty is filled overflowing the brim. Achievement is not for the faint of heart; blood, sweat, and tears have made the technology and the systems we use and live under day in and day out. There is no room for “impulsion”. Impulsion takes you away from the task at hand; the task of which the end in sight might be unseen, but nevertheless still feel driven to work. Impulsion is for the children that flit from one thing to the other in their innocent curiosity.
There is no time to be skipping through things aimlessly when you put away childish things and strive for goals, hold values dear, and create yourself into a being of integrity.
In the garden was the tree whose fruit should not be eaten. It was forbidden. The Lord said in Genesis: “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”
Death to those who know.
And the serpent, the symbol not of curiosity but of hubris, will tempt you to take from it, to know right from wrong just as God knows.
Adam and Eve eat and do not physically die. In fact they become human. Cast out of the garden of earthly delights, they are thrust into time and a world of suffering, shame, and sin we all know so well.
The knowledge of good and evil. Death to those who know.
Are you beginning to get the picture?
To know right from wrong is to be dead. To be dead is to be human. It is the very knowledge that kills us. Not physically, of course, but the second we decide we know something about morality, psychologically we are dead. Remember the garden -- ignorance is bliss. When you are young, there is nothing to know. Simply take and eat. Enjoy. Everything is simple. It is knowledge that complicates things. Knowledge that causes us to suffer. You probably have heard the story of Adam and Eve, but did you listen? Did you hear the true message conveyed?
Relax and enjoy life and you will be happy. That is all there is to it. You are told you must help charity, you must say please and thank you, you must become a good catholic, you must contribute to society. All these things you must do lest you become a bad person. Who can tell you this? This is nonsense! Let them have their knowledge. Let them judge and persecute to their dying day. Those are the people -- those who know the most -- that feel the least. To know comes in the way of to see. To know is to decide there is nothing more to see. To know is to reject God’s creation (or as we say, reality) and substitute your own.
When you are told you do no good works, and should feel guilty, say: “and you, why do you work? Is it to help others or to please yourself? Why do you become a slave to good and evil? Why do you abdicate your capacity to understand and substitute it with the lazy, stagnant state of knowing? You have stopped learning, you have stopped loving, you have stopped understanding the second you have known, for to love is to understand that there is nothing to know but happiness, nothing to be done but enjoy.”
The men who know the most feel the least. But they fear the most. Why else do they collect knowledge as if it were gold? Is it not equally selfish as one who works hour after hour simply to acquire great riches and horde them all?
The fear of nonbeing, the shame of being a sinner. These things drive us to accumulate knowledge and do good works. Not for others, oh no, do not believe this for one minute, but for ourselves.
You believe so strongly in giving charity. You think those who are unhappy deserve happiness. Why do you give none to yourself? Imagine a world full of people, all saintly in their charity, all miserable. It is absurd. Fix yourself, then you may choose to help others. Gain wisdom and you will know what is to be done.
To have knowledge is to be ignorant. What an important message in our particular time. Our politicians know, those who start wars know, those who protest know. And do not forget that you who gives to charity, you too know. You are not so different, you simply come down on the other side of the fence. Both of you know, and so you know not of yourself or of what you do.
To know is to die. Die for an idea. To become a robot, automated and programmed. He says you are poor, you are upset. He says you have a nice smile, you are happy. Who are you? Who is choosing for you? Not you. The one who puts you in this nice box and you are happy or the one who places you in that bad box and you are sad. That is who chooses how you feel. You are a robot. A slave. Because you know. You know right from wrong, and so you have died.
Give it up! Spit out the apple! It is the apple that makes you miserable!
There is never a good so good as when the person doing it was not even aware that what he was doing was good. Give up your knowledge and find happiness. Your choice. If you do not like to hear this, too bad. Your loss. As long as you know, you are dead.
And dead people are of no use to anybody.
When I was little, I was constantly told the usual affirmations of “do the right thing” and “do not act selfish”, or “be good and don’t do mean things”.
When you become an adult, those “mean things“ evolve into “evil deeds” and the spectre of “evil” will be flying about constantly in your day to day life.
Wars, (rumors of wars), death, disease, famine, serial killing, rape; these are the repugnant evil deeds that are so rightly chastised and abhorred.
However, when you get an inkling for something “outside” of your conservative lifestyle and get a “spiritual” bent, a particular phrase will chafe at all your logical processing centers…
all is well
That don’t compute.
How can everything be well when you have_____(insert repugnant thing in the world here)______?.
Well, you know, there is no need for all that murder and rape; we all know that of course. But from this standpoint you can now branch off into two questions:
Why do these bad things happen?
What are these bad things?
Now, if I were to say to you that one of these questions is the real one you should be asking, and the other is a straw man, which one would you choose?
One of these questions is a little clunky, you probably picked up on it; and you would be correct if you thought that it was the second, however don’t let that throw you; the second question is the right one.
The question isn’t “what is murder?” of course, but it is a call to do a deeper analysis that is severely warranted. What is the substance behind murder?
Conscious beings, of course don’t commit murder (or do they?) who knows really. What one should be concerned about is separating the actor from the action.
Would you mistake Johnny Depp for Jack Sparrow, or Harrison Ford for Han Solo? Of course not; one is the actor and the other is a fictional character, a persona.
In this case, these actions are truly terrible...but let us not forget, that is exactly what they are, “actions”.
If you understand that the ego, or the “I”, is a falsehood and yet so real, it will not be difficult to see the “evil deeds” situation in the same light.
What is real?, your existence. What is false? The actions, only when you can see that there is no substance behind these actions, quite literally.
Now does this mean to just let these bad things happen without penalty. Absolutely not. Seeing the action as separate from the actor can still result in the proper authorities being contacted and proper steps to be taken accordingly. These are actions themselves; facing an action with another action is the proper course of action.
The original question was how can all be well when it isn’t. Well it is; your existence is well, your neighbors existence is well, my existence is well. Don’t mistake anything else for your existence; your reality.
Your existence is everything; it is all things.
The French postmodernist philosopher Gilles Deleuze stated in his essay Postscript on the Societies of Control that in the future totalitarian landscape:
“There will be no need to fear or hope, only to look for new weapons.”
When we are faced with the situations that we fear in life, the flight-or-fight responses kick in.
Flight: You can’t run away from the problem fast enough, seeking a safe place; when it rears its ugly head again, you run again.
Fight: Pure and unadulterated anger completely take you over and it won’t stop until something gives; either you or it.
These scenarios are objectively quite unfortunate, but there is no need to state this since having fear is such an obvious horrific thing to have; this is a given.
But people do, in the face of danger, hang their hats upon “hope”, a brighter and better future...for tomorrow.
The problem with hope is that the future never arrives. Tomorrow never comes. When the clock strikes 12:00 am it is right “now”.The constant waiting for a bountiful harvest is going to be provided for you when exactly?
No one knows the day or the hour…
This places us in an unfortunate double bind. Our hopes are born out of our fears. To hope for something means that your current situation is quite terrible or terrible-impending, and this fear causes you to strive for something better.
But nothing born out of fear will get you anywhere you want to be. Do not fly away from your fears or let them consume you. Take a step back during your heightened emotional state. Feel as if you are mentally observing yourself outside of your person and analyze this state. Ask yourself “why” am I feeling this way? What is the problem “exactly”? What will I do from here on”.
This questioning process is your ‘new weapon’, if it will not solve your problems born out of fear, it will at least distance yourself from your emotions.
You will see that your emotions rise and fall, come and go seemingly randomly, and you can just quietly observe them when they are present and wave goodbye when they leave; all the while not affecting who you are as a person.