Friday, 19 October 2012

The Devil Didn't Make Me Do It

The other day my son begged me to have the banisters in our house made taller because he’s afraid he's going to hurl himself into the void one day.  I chuckled at his request, and at the memory of some of my own “dark side” thoughts, for I too have entertained elaborate and violent fantasies over the years, including the urge to turn into oncoming traffic, ski off a cliff and, yes, jump from a great height.

Weird?  Moi?  Actually, no.  A quick survey of friends (and Google) confirmed that this is completely normal.  (Which is what I assured my son.)  But what surprised me it is that it is also still “normal” to blame the biggest baddie of them all – Satan – for anything dark and shady that creeps into one's mind.  Yes, the belief that “the Devil made me do it” is still very much alive and well.   And it isn’t just the religious or superstitious that condemn the shadowy thoughts we humans are prone to; there are many well meaning “positive thinkers” out there who would also like to get rid of all negativity, thoughts included.

Why, when nature so clearly models a perfect balance of light/dark, growth/decline, activity/rest, are we humans still trying to step outside the natural order of things?  Getting rid of or suppressing half of our natural thoughts and emotions is as silly as trying to keep clouds out of the sky…and just as impossible.  A wise person recognizes that perfection, therefore, is the inclusion of EVERYTHING, not the omission of the parts we deem “negative.”

Let me use another example from nature.  Additive Color Theory tells us that black is the absence of color - for where there is no light, everything in black.  White, on the other hand, is pure light – a combination of all colors of the spectrum.  You can’t see the colors in pure sunlight until that light is refracted either through water droplets or a prism, making a rainbow.  Now imagine your soul as pure light being refracted through the prism of being human, and it starts to make sense.  Our many moods, emotions and thoughts, good and bad, are part of the intense and beautiful human rainbow.

Back to the fear of throwing oneself off of high places.  It turns out this urge, or High Place Phenomenon (or HPP) to be exact, is neither the devil nor, as Freud believed, an unconscious death wish.  The current thinking is that, “Individuals who report experiencing the phenomenon are not necessarily suicidal (or weird or crazy); rather, the experience of HPP may reflect their sensitivity to internal cues and actually affirm their will to live.” (Journal of Affective Disorders, Nov 2011, Jennifer L. Hames, Jessica D. Ribeiro, April R. Smith, Thomas E. Joiner)

What an intriguing bit of reverse psychology.  And if it’s true in this instance, I wonder what other “negative” impulses are misunderstood?   Rather than fearing or condemning your dark side, try observing it, dispassionately, knowing that it can't be controlled anymore than the clouds can.  “Give evil nothing to oppose,” says the Tao Te Ching, “and it will disappear by itself.”  In my experience, the same is true of dark thoughts.   

Rainbows?  Or black and white?   I know what I prefer.

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