(…) This is the broken stadium of our lives; a grand piece of architecture built to our specifications but as crippled and flawed as we are. It is meant to inspire and intimidate but its structural integrity is compromised by the pressure of our expectations and demands, and buckling under the weight of our punishing fears and insecurities. We have populated the stadium with the teeming mass of humanity. They are there at our behest to follow our instructions as supporters and supplicants, even as token adversaries when our needs dictate. We direct these stadium activities with purpose and dedication, neither receiving nor asking for assistance because we are determined to appear competent, and to succeed in our duties. Sadly, we don’t actually know what we’re doing. The true extent of the structural damage, the inherent weakness of the construction, and the forces at work within it are not clear to us. The building is unsafe not only for us but for others, but renovation seems impossible while the stadium is occupied, and yet there is no engineer whom we would entrust with the task. We can think of no good solution except to undertake frantic and desperate cosmetic repairs. The terrifying burden of this responsibility and accountability is exhausting, but we cannot allow anyone to see the horrible truth. Every possible avenue – every plan or strategy – seems fraught with danger portending disaster, so we avert our eyes from the crumbling edifice in denial and delusion and lose ourselves again in the distractions of the game.
These patterns of faulty perception, systemic denial, and desperate behaviour are familiar to all of us, I think. It is the most natural thing in the world to be scared of that which challenges and threatens us, and which confronts and undermines us. For the most part our needs could be described as modest; we seek only to feel safe and secure, to be loved and respected and acknowledged, and that our material needs and emotional wants are provided for. These are not unreasonable requests, surely? But our ego fights to provide us with those things rather than invite them into our lives. It charges forth into an uncooperative and uncontrollable world to do battle for our rights, our demands, our wishes, and our requirements. We are imperfect beings, and our ego betrays our flaws and our weaknesses. We are thwarted and denied time and again but never draw from the experience the lessons that are to be learned.
If our enemy was a cognitive one with a will and a mind of its own it would surely defeat us even more comprehensively, but we see no such direct opponent. We convince ourselves that the prize is there for the taking, that life is there for the living, and that only the brave, the strong, the determined, and the persistent man will win the day. He will, sometimes, but the victory is pyrrhic and fleeting. The spoils are but cheap baubles and superficial things, and there is yet another exhausting battle to be fought tomorrow lest his grubby gains be wrested from him.
Yes, there are men of irrepressibly strong will and fabulous good fortune, of cunning and guile and bloody determination. Such a man must close his eyes to the human cost both to himself and those he vanquishes. He may indeed emerge victorious, but what price the victory if he stands bloody and monstrous on the podium? More feared than admired, more resented than respected, with neither love nor companionship to share for it is not to be trusted. Is this the price he is willing to pay to declare that he is a success in life? Many men would do so, blinded as they are by the appearance of things and not their meaning or true worth, but they are not reading this book. If they are, it is as defeated gladiators, for we all, surely, meet our conqueror in the end.
The name of this indefatigable foe is “Life.” Understand it and appreciate its true nature and strengths. We can only hope to come to an accommodation with its power, and find some measure of harmony and acceptance in its domain. Find pleasure in life’s character and meet its challenges in good humour. Receive the gifts that it brings to a comrade with a grateful hand, and not a combatant. We can surely not defeat it, by brute force or guile. We will be broken in the attempt.
Lift your eyes for a moment from the field of dreams and cast your eye over the baying, blood-thirsty crowd around you. Are not each and every one of you dressed for combat with the world, clad in armour and iron, wielding shields and brandishing swords? A terrible haunted army of the damned, united for the moment but alone with your demons nevertheless. You will return soon enough to the solitary struggle and desperation of the office and the home and that place called the Mind, where the real battles are fought. You are indeed brothers, but only for now, and you will fight and be defeated alone. Turn and acknowledge your neighbour now, in recognition and compassion. He suffers no less than you. He does his best and wants to think the best of himself. It is not his nature to be deliberately malicious or cruel, but he fights desperately, as you do, for those things that he thinks he needs to survive in life.
Like you, he is in elemental conflict with the world. He tries and struggles to realise his hopes, his dreams, and his aspirations against the seemingly wilful obstruction of those he believes oppose him. Each failure, each setback, reminds him of his weaknesses and his faults. He wants nothing more than respect and consideration, and security and safety and happiness. He wants his life to be relatively simple and straightforward but it is not, despite his best efforts. Every conflict, every frustration and battle, each disappointment and difficulty, confronts him with his powerlessness in an unmanageable world. It is all the more disheartening because he does not see the true nature of his struggle clearly, or in those terms. His weakness frightens him, though he may not even recognise the emotion as such. Any entreaty or suggestion to accept his fate is dismissed as an admission of failure and offensive to him. He redoubles his efforts, as you do, struggling all the more to hold a disintegrating picture of the world in his image together, with the assumption that if he does not do so he will lose himself along with it.
When he leaves this crumbling arena – which is his stadium also – he will return to his life of quiet desperation and conflict. It is the most ordinary arena of all; the supermarket, the living room, the workplace, the street. He will see his opponent manifest in every person and organisation that affects and interferes with his life, and find solace only in numb distraction, despair, or outraged resentment. Do you recognise him? You should, for he is you. He is all of us, to a certain extent, in one way or another.
© andrew wheeler