Sunday 26 July 2020

How much freedom do we have not to wriggle?

I think I developed OCD sometime around 9 years old, although it may have been a little later but not older than 12. So I've lived with this condition as it has waxed and waned for at least 40 years. Over those years it has shifted shape and modulated in magnitude; subsided so as to virtually disappear, returned some times in familiar forms sometimes in changed form, highlighted aspects of its root and moved with the rest of this body-mind as part of the flux that is life. A complex and pernicious condition that one is always recovering from it has flare ups and remissions. And a bit like many other dis-eases the reasons for the ebb and flow, the waxing and waning are obscure. However, the root of this condition is basically an attempt at a bargain with life to be granted certainty. Why attempt this bargain when the very attempt itself sows its own frustration? Because like Alice down the rabbit hole it wasn't clear at the time of following the rabbit that one would end up falling down the hole. And rabbits pop up! And having seen a rabbit it can be very difficult not to follow it, for if we pay no attention to anything then where is the meaning in our experience? We wouldn't ever find the wherewithal to make even so much as a daisy chain. So seeing 'a rabbit off' ie something that seems not quite right, not quite stable it's in our nature to be drawn to investigate. And there is compassion in it, for I would say that at the start of the OCD feeling a glimpse of impermanence was perceived; vulnerability, potential loss and suffering, and with that came the desire to control, to make safe. So we reach for something. But like the jar of orange marmalade which Alice took from the shelf we find it empty. And so begins the search for a suitable place to put the jar... and we are still falling...

OCD is a potent mix of thoughts and emotions. And like any mental health condition the tricky thing about it is that the very tools you need to restore some balance to the situation are the ones affected greatly by the condition. OCD is an addiction. The clue's in the name - Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. The obsession is the fear, the compulsion the trying to fix it, the result is ironically the dis-order where order was sought. Such mind states affect the subtle feelings involved in how situations are perceived. The overall flavour of it is sticky, tight with itchiness.

And so, one learns that from time to time one will find oneself falling down the rabbit hole. And the tricky thing is just what to do with that empty jar... All one can do is to be open to putting it in the cupboard as it passes by. One way or another we're all moving the empty jars from the shelves to the cupboards. Sometimes like Alice we reach out in curiosity at other times we reach out for security.

 I read recently in a blog I follow, that Victor Frankl said:

"The last of the human freedoms: to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way. And there were always choices to make. Every day, every hour, offered the opportunity to make a decision, a decision which determined whether you would or would not submit to those powers which threatened to rob you of your very self, your inner freedom; which determined whether or not you become the plaything to circumstance, renouncing freedom and dignity...”

Well, I'm not so sure about that because it seems to me that what is being assumed here is a stable self, a centred, grounded self able to absorb the situation whilst remaining capacious enough not to be overwhelmed by it. And I'm not sure that such capacity is granted to us except by what might be called grace. Now I'm not saying that it can't be cultivated. I am not saying that one can't acknowledge but not become. Clearly it is possible not to add unhelpful energy to one's experience to just let it be and respond to what is needed without adding or resisting whilst still engaging with the flux of life. It's just that in 40 years of OCD waxing and waning by unfathomable reasons I have seen how the feelings forming choice and which impart one's attitude are not anywhere near as stable as might be sufficient ground to stake a claim for freedom. And the surrender to the falling not so available at times as would be required for freedom. And if such stability of mind and surrender were at all times available to all beings I wonder - what shape meaning? What shape compassion? It seems to me that such freedom as Frankl points to resides in the divinity of our humanity. And, as we span the space between heaven and earth such capacity for absorbing life's vicissitudes from a centred vantage modulates. I'm doubtful I would have survived in a concentration camp. It's possible, but I'm not sure what was available to Frankl's mind would have been available to mine. The modulation of capacity - to what extent is this ours to control?

It takes a great deal of energy to negotiate the rabbit hole of an OCD flare up. Depending upon the intensity and other aspects of one's life the ability to remain centred is affected by the depletion of energy. Beyond this there's a more straight forward seeing emptiness- that there's no separate self to be centred. I am always at the centre of my life yet there's no separate person to grasp and although I say 'my life' in reality it's a much more diffuse experience than 'my' indicates. And so it comes to this- what if anything needs to be done to let the stickiness pass? The difficulty is sitting in the not knowing. And as with quicksand the key is not to wriggle. It's not that I disagree with Frankl, it's that I question what causes the modulation of capacity.