Usually as soon as we articulate our principles of wisdom through psychic mapping, the mind takes hold, engendering a fear about what might happen if we ‘fail’ to hold to these principles. For instance, if one of our principles articulated was that our ultimate desire is to make ‘free, loving choices for ourselves,’ the mind might start to ask, ‘What if I fail to make such choices? What if I instead make choices that imprison me, or incarcerate others? What strategies can I devise in order to ensure that I hold to my own principles?’
In this articulation, we’ve opened ourselves up to paradox by undermining that which we ourselves sought to achieve: in seeking to guarantee that we make ‘free, loving choices,’ we’ve prevented ourselves from making any choice: we’ve restricted ourselves in just the manner that, presumably, the original articulation of freedom had been in objection to.
This sort of response can be seen at large in our culture in the form of dieting, exercise regimens, and all other manner of self-regulatory practices through which we attempt to ‘control’ our own output and behavior. Afraid that if left to our own devices, we won’t ‘live up to’ the ideal selves we’ve imagined, we attempt to legislate our own behavior, to demand that we fill our own shoes, and in this motion we abnegate our own freedom and agree to live under a regime of fear. Even if we succeed in following our own rules under this paradigm, we will have sold ourselves out to a cruel arbiter; more often that not, what happens is that we fail to live up to this arbiter, and break our own edicts, with the net result that we hate ourselves.
While this is a good place to reinstitute high horse awareness, another strategy I’ve found that’s helpful here is simply to articulate where we’ve been, where we stand now, and where we are going, as this move in itself indicates a faith in the fundamental thrust and longevity of the wisdom we have internalized, as opposed to the fear that would otherwise intervene and stanch our path. I call this articulation of the three phases an ‘executive summary,’ both because it is a summary of the entirety of the work we’ve done on reading a work of literature, and because it is a playful commentary on how our ‘subjective’ work on literature becomes an objective truth, becomes something that we can see tracing itself out in its effects on our own lives.
For instance, after writing out my principles of wisdom on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and while sitting down to write out my executive summary, I read back through the principles of wisdom and observed that the primary themes seemed to have to do with romantic love, gossip, and egocentrism, and how ego and pride serve to frustrate romantic love. Asking myself where I’d been with respect to these topics prior to reading the novel, I wrote the following:
Before I began this learning process with Pride and Prejudice, I experienced relationships as a ‘harmful’ thing that ‘happened’ to me whenever I was stupid enough. Whenever I forgot myself, I would seek someone out of need, and this would lead to us both getting hurt. For this reason, I thought the best position was not to ‘need’ relationships, and that relationships were a sign of weakness. Deep down, I thought of myself as too weak to survive relationships.
In this paragraph, I expressed my realization that, prior to reading Pride and Prejudice, I had viewed myself as a person too weak to ‘survive’ relationships, which meant the only reason I would enter them was when I experienced myself as ‘weak’ or ‘needy,’ in other words when I was no longer able to suppress needs I should have been able to take care of on my own. In this frame of mind, I entered relationships confused and conflicted, and created an atmosphere of violence and hostility in the relationship. All this accounts for why I was so easily able to identify with the characters in Pride and Prejudice—who behave in like manner—and it also suggests that, through this experience of identifying with them, I myself had opened up to a set of different possibilities. This is the likelihood to which I turn my attention in the second paragraph of my executive summary, in which I asked myself where I stood in the present moment having finished my engaged reading of—and psychic mapping exercise on—Pride and Prejudice:
Now that I’ve examined some of my fears, insecurities, and desires around relationships from the inside, I realize that there is no such thing as ‘too strong,’ or ‘not strong enough,’ because relationships are not about strength or about self-preservation: they’re about self-expansion. In a relationship, I am learning about myself through the vehicle of another person, and I am doing this because I love myself. Ultimately, this way of learning means that I’ve forgotten something about myself, but that’s okay; I love myself and accept my forgetfulness about myself. In fact, this quality enables a lot of sharing and fun!
In this second paragraph, I articulate the fundamental change that I’ve gone through in my engaged reading process on Pride and Prejudice: I’ve shifted from viewing relationships as something that indicates a deficit, to viewing them as a healthy thing anyone would want who wanted to better understand him/her/themselves. Furthermore, I’ve articulated that the understanding of the self that comes through relationships is a form of love. In this shift, I’ve opened myself up to the possibility of actually enjoying my relationships, something which would have been impossible in the atmosphere of fear and even anger in which my relationships had formerly existed.
The final question of an executive summary is what, now that I’ve made these shifts in myself, is now likely to happen in my life, and this is the question to which I turn in the third—and final—paragraph of the executive summary:
With a more positive, truer understanding of relationships and of what love means to me, I plan to approach relationships in a lighter, freer way. Relationships are not something that I ‘need’ or ‘don’t need;’ they are just another way of learning about myself, one that’s both light and fun. In this way, I can look for fun and pleasure as signs that a relationship will be good for me, and not worry about what things mean or what the future holds; the only consistent denominator, anyway, will be me.
Furthering my thoughts on the lightness and freedom that become possible in relationships beyond a state of fear, I go on in this paragraph to suggest that I can use enjoyment and pleasure as themselves signs that something is working in a relationship: in other words, unlike Darcy, Elizabeth, and the rest of their kin in Pride and Prejudice, I can move past the paradigm that views relationship as a frightening burden, and onto one where I experience it as something that can be a source of expansion and enjoyment for me as a human being. In this view of things, my relationships will no doubt become healthier, precisely because I am alleviating them of the burden which I had formerly imposed on them.
In this same vein, the real success of an executive summary is that it allows us to move from the stranglehold we so often place on life, into a position where we allow life to happen to us, in a manner akin to the final language of wisdom I wrote about in my previous post. This is because in writing the executive summary, we realize that the important ‘work’ in developing as human beings, has already taken place in identifying with, then reflecting on our experience of identifying with characters in literature; throughout this process, we have changed as beings, shifting the choices that are possible for us to make whether or not we militate conscious effort. In other words, we can begin to live in faith and without fear.
If you are interested in sharing an executive summary that you’ve written on a work of literature, I dedicate the space below for you to do so, as always. As I can guarantee from my own life, this process will actually bear fruit in yours; shifting my expectations about many domains in my life through engaged reading processes on literature, then letting go of those expectations, has engendered a life for me which is bountiful, loving, and free.