Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Year That Almost Wasn't: Looking Into the Face of Death

Everything was surreal...hazy in fact. My vision was coming into focus. Panic. Something’s not right. FEAR. Why am I feeling all these emotions? I hear my name. I turn my head. I realize I’m upside down. How does this guy know my name? Where am I? Loud noises. Another man enters from the opposite side of what appears to be a car that has my body suspended by a seat belt. I’m dazed. Disoriented. This guy is wearing a fireman’s uniform and is putting a neck brace on me. Why do I need a neck brace? What happened!? WHAT THE…WHERE IS THIS SUDDEN INTENSE PAIN COMING FROM!? I CAN’T HANDLE THIS…MY PANIC IS INCREASING!! AM I GOING TO BE OK!? SOMEONE TELL ME! I’VE BEEN IN AN ACCIDENT HAVEN’T I!? “Yes Tim, you’ve been in an accident” the first man says. “You’re going to be fine…we’ll have you out shortly”. But his tone of voice betrayed his awareness of my dire situation. Strangely though, at that moment, the peaceful feeling returned.

Such was my initial awakening to a new phase in life at around 8:45 am on Tuesday, July 21st, 2009. I had been reborn, but I didn’t know it then. It was as if the blackout that caused the accident re-programmed my mind. The events of the previous ten years, and especially the most recent year were to take on a whole new meaning.

Adversity purifies like a fire. I don’t know how to explain it unless you’ve had a similar experience. The previous 365 days to that Tuesday had involved a painful divorce, a morbid personal financial collapse, and a disintegration of opportunities in the radio career that had occupied my life since the age of 15. Those events were enough to bring me into a deep depression. The bottom (and awakening) was being at death’s door. At that point, I had nothing else to lose. My unconscious gave my mind permission to set the depressing elements aside and to examine my interior. I’m convinced it was the beginning of a period of enlightenment that will continue for life.

My life to that point had been a constant conflict of opposites. I know now that this is part of our innate human psyche. The reconciliation or coming together of those opposites, I’m convinced, is the key to enlightenment. It allows you to embrace all of your humanity and to face your entire being. For many, this is a fearful process, and so we make this kind of self-reflection a taboo in our society. This becomes dangerous, because we suppress our dark side and only acknowledge and pursue what we perceive to be the make-up of our lives: Our belief systems, careers, family, pleasure, and daily activities. However, this dark side WILL make itself known unless you face it ahead of time. The results of this appearance of your un-acknowledged unconscious dark side will not be pleasant.

The self-discovery I’m speaking of is not easy. To search out your soul is a lonely journey, and one must be aware of that going into it. It is work, and requires a conscious effort. This is not something that just “happens” to a person. What you discover, and how it shapes your worldview, idea of God, actions, behaviors and mindset will have a direct affect on those around you. If done properly, it COULD end up costing you relationships and “friends” (and in fact has done so in my own experience). It can literally re-structure EVERYTHING in your life…if you remain true to yourself. But the rewards of filling the void…a void that religion, career or my failed marriage NEVER filled for me…are incredible and are the true meaning of happiness.

In the past, I have been on the other side of observing this process in those around me. As I look back, I realize that I created distance between us because their self-knowledge pointed out areas I wasn’t ready to face in myself. However, anyone pursuing their own discovery will have gained the independence and security of mind necessary for their journey. Instead of (for lack of a better term) a co-dependent relationship to life, they can truly love others through the great love and respect they have for the person they’ve discovered inside of themselves. This is how we establish community and peaceful co-existence.

It is especially tough for anyone that has become attached to financial obligations, career, family, religion or political views to embark on this venture. We live in fear. We crave security. So we cling tightly to what has always been there. We become dogmatic and oppressive. This is not out of the knowledge of being right, but a fear of being wrong. We surround ourselves with those who think like us. It provides a confirmation of our own beliefs, because we hear it from the mouths of others. It is terrifying to think about giving up everything we thought to be true. A complete life upheaval is too scary to contemplate. So, our minds suppress the questioning. It is an unconscious trap and a circular process that feeds on itself to create anxiety, stress and a feeling of: “Is this all there is?”

The minds of many individuals make up the collective mind of society, so the fear of questioning becomes imbedded in culture. Let’s take religion for example. Having been raised in a strict religious environment, I was always taught to NEVER question, but to accept the “truth” of The Bible. Of course, this “truth” was whatever interpretation happened to be taught by the authority figures around me, whether it was family, my pastor, or the teachers and professors at the schools and colleges I went to in my younger years.

Our political system is in many ways not open to questioning as well. We can question within certain boundaries (which are often set by the media), but most of the really BIG issues that would cause massive disruption of our daily lives (say a re-writing of The U.S. Constitution), are not open to debate. We would have to lose everything as a nation for this to even be a consideration.

I use the above examples as illustrations of the kind of interior questioning to which I’m referring. To effectively embark on this journey, I discovered that I had to discard ALL my previous beliefs and attachments. This incorporated everything from my “god-image” to politics, career, life goals, materialism, any fears of alienating or offending people, etc. Everything is open to questioning. I wiped the slate clean and started over. I had to begin with: “what if I was alone with no outside influences, people or education?” Assuming that I could still communicate with myself, I would realize that my own survival required concern for my personal well-being. In other words, it’s love and respect of self. So, love becomes my starting point. Then love becomes justice when we start to deal with others. This is the basis of my worldview. The recognition of love, just like the recognition of “good” requires an assumption of its opposite. Otherwise, love and good would simply BE, with no real significance. So, we must reconcile that we have within us the opposite concepts of hate and evil. Knowing that we all have this potential greatly reduces the pressure we put on ourselves. It also allows us to examine this dark side, to bring it into our consciousness as much as possible. Once we are able to do that, we know the interior better and we can learn to accept that this is simply a part of our make-up. This is where I believe religion gets it wrong by telling us that we are INNATELY sinful. No. What this misguided teaching does is suppress the dark element within us to the point that we step into the muck of what we were trying to avoid. What a proper balance of opposites does is produce awareness and knowledge of evil so that we can better counter it with love.

One personal conviction I would like to share is that I believe this process can NOT be done with ANY degree of substance abuse. This includes even a buzz from alcohol. I don’t know how a mind can go through intense self-observation when it is not fully aware at all times. For me personally, any craving for a form of a mind-numbing intoxicant (alcohol, tv, etc) has reduced in proportion to my degree of self-discovery. In fact, I haven’t consumed alcohol or any non-medical drugs at all throughout this past year.

It has also been important for me to write down my dreams. One of my many reading influences recently has been Carl Jung, and I strongly support his idea that the dreams reflect the messages coming from the unconscious. His idea of the primordial archetypes in the dreams has been central to my questioning of the “god-image”. I do believe in the influence of a god-image, but I hesitate to call it “God”, because that invokes familiar ideas that I do not associate with my conception of “God”. If I could name it something different, I would. In the days after my accident, I referred to “God” as “The Almighty”. However, this is also a bit too close to our religious terminology. For me, this higher power is internal. It is a part of us. It is love and understanding. It is acceptance. It is self-knowledge. It is justice. It is what binds us together and makes us one. It is inclusive, not exclusive. It is not something “out there” it is “in here”.

More changes have occurred with me internally than externally over this past year. Never before had I really learned how to embrace change. Change is a constant. That’s a phrase we often hear, but don’t truly comprehend…at least I didn’t. Society changes. Religion changes. Countries and governments evolve. Population increases. Our technology advances. This naturally involves questioning. Otherwise, how are we to understand the changes? These changes aren’t “better” or “worse”, they just ARE. They include their own version of opposites. Clinging to the past will not provide the answers. It causes bitterness, oppression and the stifling of growth, which leads to the death of the soul. Learning from our common past is important to me. Acknowledging my OWN past has been VERY important. But I don’t cling to either one. I continue to move forward. Free-thinking is crucial. I had to learn on my own how to do that. Rote learning was not and is not conducive to a fulfilling life. My wish for you is that you can have the courage to really discover who you are. It is the most rewarding journey you will ever take, and I hope you can do it without any painful adversity as a catalyst. The more comfortable we become with the art of respectful questioning, the more comfortable and secure we become around others. That’s because we realize that they just might have more to offer to us than we have to give to them.

I’m grateful for all that I’ve experienced in life. It’s been tough, but as it’s placed me where I am, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Thank you for reading, and may you have much peace, joy and love in your world today and always.

Tim Hartman


Susan said...

Excellent and thought provoking post. You nailed it when you said, "Adversity purifies like a fire." I often think one of the greatest disservices we do to our children, those we love - ourselves - is protect from life's adversities.

timradioboy said...

Susan, thank you very much for your comments. I'm 35 and have no children, but I may one day. If I do, my message to them will be to not EVER be afraid of the thoughts, questions, emotions and feelings that you have. Talk about them. Let's learn together.