Are You Well Adjusted? 


  Are you 'well adjusted?' I hope not, for your sake. For to be 'well-adjusted' too often can mean that you have succeeded in resigning yourself to common place aspirations, resulting in a sparkless, dull and dim-eyed existence. 

 Such a life of low expectations is described in T.S. Eliot's The Cocktail Party where people "maintain themselves by the common routine, learn to avoid excessive expectation, become tolerant of themselves and others, giving and taking in the usual actions, what there is to give and take… two people who know they do not understand each other, breeding children whom they do not understand and who will never understand them." 

 The play's central character, Celia, tells the psychiatrist, Reilly, that that world of cocktail parties and the like, is an empty, lustreless world that leaves her cold.  She's looking for so much more and tells Reilly: "You see, I think I really had a vision of something though I don't know what it is. I don't want to forget it, I want to live with it. I could do without everything, Put up with anything, if I might cherish it."  

 I think of Celia as like the prisoner in Plato's Allegory of the Cave who one day casts off his chains, turns around and heads for the cave's entrance where the light is streaming in. The prisoner had had quite enough of wasted days as a well-adjusted troglodyte, spending all of his time looking at the shadows on the cave's well. 

 Celia, in like manner, had had quite enough of the shadow-filled world of the cocktail party circuit and its small conversations. 

 Some mysterious longing for something more had stirred inside of Plato's cave dweller until finally reaching a boiling point!  On that fateful day, he struggled to his feet and did a radical about face! He then entered the light leaving the darkness behind.  

 Many choose, however, just like the other prisoners in Plato's Cave story, to remain fixated on shadows. Why? Because that's the way of life we know.  We've become become 'well-adjusted' to the darkness as we more and more settle into a life of low expectations. 

 That life can appear to be merely about 'keeping busy,' 'getting on,' 'getting by,' 'going on trips,' 'entertaining oneself,' 'going to parties,' and 'accumulating things.' 

 Thus to be well-adjusted in such an enclosed and empty, world of shadows, is, from a higher understanding, a vacuous, even a depraved state.  

 Which doesn't mean that such a life, the life of say, 'high society,' does not impress. It may well impress many! But from the higher perspective of our greatest sages and seers, it is at best some kind condition of lostness - a  mere appearance of 'having it together.'  

 I, for one, do not trust for a moment that 'well-adjusted' being standing before me who glitters and glows with power, success and prosperity. My question always is:  'Is there more to you than that?' 'Or does all of this 'sort of sum you up?'  I surely hope not! 

 I think upon seeing the 'well adjusted' being at the top of his game, who appears to be 'on top of the world,' and in apparently fine form: "Former Indra's every one," as I recollect a reference made by Joseph Campbell to the ancient tale of Indra. Indra was a king who had determined that he would create a kingdom like no other and who, upon achieving it and looking out on what he'd accomplished, thought to himself triumphantly: 'What a big boy am I!'

 A sage enabled Indra to see a vision of a massive army of ants marching along. Indra asks: 'Why are you showing me all these ants?' The sage:  "Former Indra's every one." 

 He then explains: 'Each of these in turn had built up his kingdom. Had achieved fame and fortune. And then imagined, just like you, that he had 'arrived' and thought: 'What a big boy am I! He then tumbled down like all the Indras before him, taking his place as a member of the ant farm.

 It's easy to forget that there is something that matters more than great success, the stage and flashing lights. It has to do with what is happening or not, underground, that is, in your soul.

 Thus in this regard I was delighted, indeed ecstatic, to read the other day about the experience of a writer named Paula Huston who writes about what she calls in her life journey a "buildup of a mysterious tension, an urgent restlessness and a longing bordering on sorrow." (Paul Huston, Wake-up Call, a midlife spiritual challenge, Jan. 26, 2010 The Christian Century

 My sense is that Paula's words are indictative of what happens when someone is going through a spiritual awakening. A great grace had come into Paula's life for her to feel, let me repeat, a "buildup of a mysterious tensionan urgent restlessness and a longing bordering on sorrow."  

 When I read Paula I thought: 'Oh my God. Now here's an alive being, who has no interest whatsoever in maintaining the status quo of being well-adjusted to spiritual mediocrity.' 

 Paula's is the language of that searching soul whose search for meaning is deep, intense and urgent. Hers is a language that the 'well-adjusted' people of the world probably may not be not too keen to hear about!

 When a Paula, I imagine, appears at the party dissatified and questioning, it can be expected that not a few will want to change the subject to lighter fare. Some of the cocktail sippers may exclaim that such a level of intense inquiry is just not appropriate at the dinner table. Whereas my feeling is that if this level of inquiry is absent at the party, then why be there? 

 To search for understanding in this soul- searing way is a requirement for true growth, according to Robert Earl Cushman, in his study of Plato: "No man is educated or has he even begun his education, who has not undertaken critically to examine the reigning dogmas and assumptions of his age and place."   

 Says Cushman: "We have all been powerfully conditioned by the climate of opinion, the prevailing mind-set, which we've been participating in since childhood.'  (Robert Earl Cushman Therapeia, Plato's Conceptions of Philosophy, p.141)  

 We therefore have got to question our way out of the adjustments we've made to conform to our day's prevailing mind-set. 

 Cushman warns about, through Plato, just how easy it is to lose your vision in this life. To lose your way. To lose your soul. In fact, that's how it usually goes! Initially among the young, there may be "spirited support given to a higher life. Gradually, however, loftier vision becomes obscured and languishes as expediency prompts the mature man to resign himself to common place aspirations and to adopt the ordinary fashion and goals of life." 

 "Thus, never having been established in truth, even the more gifted may easily be profoundly corrupted by the existing environment and may thus adopt the mentality of the Cave as their 'primary habitation. In many instances, indeed in most, the light in the soul is all but quenched in old age."  (p. 145)

 Paula, like Celia, and like Plato's cave prisoner, determined to break through  to another level, realm, or quality of existence. 

 In her search for meaning, she identified with Alan Griffiths, the Oxford educated student of C.S. Lewis who struggled to find another way of being in the world. 

 Alan's search for spiritual meaning was intense and difficult. He feared at one point that he had failed to get anywhere. As Paula puts it: "Something was clearly wrong;  the more he fasted, the more he hungered for fasting.  The more he prayed, the more he longed for prayer.  He began to fear that in his zeal his mind was becoming unhinged." (Paula Huston Falling Into Prayer, Bede Griffith's pilgrimmage and mine, Dec. 17, 2012  Christian Century)

 However difficult the journey, Alan was in fact close to a breakthrough. At his point of greatest desperation, Alan determined that he would not rise from his knees until an answer was found.  

 This must have involved some kind of very deep surrender of his whole being to God for he was soon "carried away by a great wave of prayer."   Upon returning to ordinary consciousness some eight hours later, Alan Griffiths had "a whole new understanding of the spiritual life."

 What he had broken through to was the sense that "there is an inner sanctuary into which we scarely ever enter. It is the ground of substance of the soul, where all the faculties have their roots, and which is the very centre of our being. Is is here that the soul is at all times in direct contact with God."  

 Alan had succeeded in entering into a deeper dimension of being than perhaps the so-called 'well-adjusted' know much or anything about.  

 Now, the challenge upon entering that inner sanctuary is to remain there in direct contact with God. There is a "flame of love there,"  says Gurumayi, that is "continually blazing." She encourages a certain determination to live in "the aborption in the Truth that keeps the flame of love continually blazing.

 "We should," she says, "never allow anything to affect this flame of love.  Your breathing in and out is because of love. A flower blossoms out of love.  Your being here is out of love. It is out of love that everything unfolds." 

"This is what we must remember all the time. We must not let anything else take over our life. It was out of love that we were born, it is in love that we are maintained. To have this experience, we turn within." (Gurumayi Chidvilasanda, Darshan #93, Joy and Enthusiasm, 1994)

 Let it perhaps be one's prayer not so much to be well-adjusted to low expectations but to be someone who searches to align oneself with the eternal dimension, with that "flame of love" that exists at the heart of everything.  

* Audio: My Song Is Love Unknown