THEOSOPHY, Vol. 52, No. 5, March, 1964
(Pages 143-144; Size: 6K)
[Article number (17) in this Q&A Department]
At times (rather few, these days) we complete some task well, then feel an exuberant sense of satisfaction. Yet there often seems to be something ambiguous about such feelings of accomplishment. Are they positive or negative feelings -- the joyous taste of fulfillment, the sense of duty done and lessons learned, or just self-indulgent gloating?
No doubt reactions to success are both "higher" and "lower." The emotional mêlée of our present cycle would hardly permit us to experience purely good, or purely evil, feelings. Yet what we can do, even when being tossed up by a bubbling exhilaration or pushed down by a great despair, is to try always to see just what that emotional wave, now lifting us now beating at us, is really made of. Only by constant trying will we eventually be able to see; and only by seeing, eventually overcome.
In the attempt to see this particular kind of feeling, we must of course recognize the positive side of it, as the questioner has done; see what part of our joy is that deep natural pleasure of the soul at having progressed at least a little way on its journey towards emancipation. For achievement is the natural element of the soul; it is as a breath of fresh air -- to the soul, -- and to all other centers of consciousness. So, in a sense, by his every small accomplishment, a man gives a forward impulse to the spiritual evolution of this whole living universe. Naturally, physical evidence for such a postulate is not forthcoming, yet each of us secretly feels it is true.
But, although we must see the positive side, it is clearly not the positive side that bothers us, and so perhaps we should for the moment examine primarily the negative aspects, in the hope of dividing this devious lower nature of ours into categories. First of all, then, the feeling is to a great extent a separative one, often one that comes from comparing our own accomplishments with those of others, one usually born from that childish sense of competition which our civilization has not so far outgrown. Yet, apart from the long-range damage which this self-glorification does to the sensitive tissue of our morality, it has an immediate effect as well, a crippling effect on any further action; for however mightily this giddy feeling lifts us up, it is essentially akin to the force of inertia. Get a man to walk a tightrope, and when he gets halfway across tell him how marvellous he is, how amazingly talented to have gotten so far -- then see how long he keeps his balance!
For life is a tightrope, and we compromise our destiny if we think it is anything less harrowing. We are given a starting shove at birth, and then it is up to us. We have to keep a close watch all the time to be sure we are honestly centered in reality, trying at all events not to make the most obvious mistakes, yet realizing at the same time that it is sometimes easier to keep a steady balance by going boldly forward than by trying to stand still. To keep a close watch, that's the main thing, and to feel our way along, sometimes steadied by the faith of others in us, sometimes giving strength to those others by our words or by a hand reached out to them when they are faltering.
What our self-indulgent feelings really represent, it seems, are attempts by our lower nature to deceive the higher (and itself); to convince it that each minor accomplishment is a major one, and the perfect occasion for taking a rest. It is in this sense particularly that our self-congratulatory feelings are related to the force of inertia; for with every little advance we make, the mercenary armies of personality are immediately ready to drop their weapons and change themselves into a welcoming committee, warmly assuring us we have won the whole fight and recaptured all the "cities of the interior." But if we allow ourselves to be so deceived, we will surely fall; for we have forgotten where we are and where we should be going -- forgotten to keep a close watch.
For, however difficult it is to keep our mind and emotions in hand, we may question whether there is ever any real excuse for falling. Falling is not the same as wobbling somewhat while we are trying to get our feet set right; falling is inertia, it is not trying again. And if we followed our lower self's lead, we would see how soon that self-satisfaction can turn into self-despisal.
[Article number (18) in this Q&A Department]
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