Growing up, I never understood the appeal of Halloween. Dressing up as someone/something else felt incongruent and disingenuous. In fact, the only times Trick-or-Treat felt ok were the two years I dressed up as Ricky Schroder and Billy Idol. (For the younguns out there, Ricky Schroder was a cool actor kid in his heydey on Silver Spoons and Billy Idol was a rock n’ roller in the 80’s who was probably never really cool).
I felt like I looked like them. It was more congruent. Less disingenuous. Yet, when I began receiving other human beings as a clinician; it became apparent that I missed the point of Halloween. Which is to be someone/something you’re not. To free Self from the constraints of identity, consistency, and congruence. As a clinician, this phenomenon surprised me…
Speaking of surprise, let’s transition to Nature. Specifically, try to envision the beautiful waves that can be experienced at various beaches around the world. While receiving the presence of the waves, the cresting of the waves is a “sight to behold.” Seriously, cresting can be a mesmerizing experience. Moving forward, the crashing of the waves may seem deliciously dangerous at times, meaning we can assess the risk of the crash based on the height of the crest. The cresting and crashing of the waves stimulate our senses regardless of whether we experience the waves intimately and directly. The beauty, awe, and fear of the cresting and crashing are tangible; they can create a breathtaking and relaxing experience. More poignantly, cresting and crashing can be enjoyed and experienced from afar and within.
In the spirit of ‘transitioning into,’ the pull of the wave is a different experience. The force of the pulling wave is a ladder, not a bridge. Succinctly, the strength and unpredictability of the pulling force surprise us; it takes over and saturates our entire Being. Yet, the primary reason for the surprise of the pulling force is the reality that we cannot feel or experience the force from afar. We cannot prepare for its strength and unpredictable Nature. The force is an undercurrent, which limits our ability to see the Beauty and Pain its carrying. To understand the force of the pull, we must experience it directly (with an open heart, mind, and soul). As we experience the pulling force, our equilibrium shifts (even weeks after a visit to the ocean, the sway from the pulling force remains in the mind and body).
As human beings, we’re being pulled in opposite directions all of the time. More boldly, the majority of people seem to make decisions based on a reward/punishment system that’s defined externally. For example, the social psychological phenomenon of ‘Obedience to Authority,’ studied by Stanley Milgram, was influenced by the monstrous actions and complete inhumanity of the Holocaust. Unfortunately, Milgram’s research suggested that there’s a monster residing inside most, if not all, human beings. In essence, the study displayed the reality that the majority of research participants would ‘push the button’ that inflicts intense, harmful shocks to another human being when an authority told them to do so.
In simple terms, the monster inside is following orders and is being externally directed by a system based on the established rules and standards of hierarchy and authority. In essence, one human being will hurt and harm another human being if an authority figure is telling them to do it. The shitkicker part of this is that we’re conditioned, from an early age, to act in this way. During most of our lives, conforming to authority is perceived and recognized as the antithesis of monstrous (standing in line as we marched to lunch in elementary school).
The social psychologist Solomon Asch studied conformity, noting similar results as Milgram. Conforming to social pressure and obedience to authority are valued and implicitly expected. Blending in with rules and hierarchy are validated by institutions and authorities. Obedience is desired. Order is required. The authority to obey is tangible and known. Control, not surprise, becomes the valued human experience. As such, an objective reality unfolds, which may consume our subjective experience in the world. Conformity and obedience become the predominant systems that define rewards and punishments.
As a result, human beings are conditioned to make decisions with the goal of receiving external praise and validation Or not to receive blame, criticism, and rejection from sources originating external to them. Do you feel the pulling forces at play? Yes, human beings possess a strong drive to belong, manifesting as either blending-in or fitting-in. Experiencing a sense of belonging matters, which is an intense undercurrent in and of itself. To belong fuels the experience of reward or punishment, depending on how successful one is. As such, this particular pulling force can feel monstrous.
Let’s dive deeper and add a little perspective… the pulling force related to being independent and autonomous, especially when our intuition tells us that it feels right, is also intense. The pull toward Self-liberation is as real as the drive to belong. In other words, the force of understanding our subjective reality is strong. This is at the heart of the challenge. Finding an equilibrium with the reward/punishment paradigm is daunting, confusing, disorienting, and painful. Human beings have limits to the amount of ambiguity and uncertainty they can tolerate or experience. There’s truth in this, and there’s no reason to trick (or treat) ourselves into believing differently about our limits.
Speaking of Trick-or-Treat, I’ve learned to embrace the experience of Surprise. When I received clients’ subjective experiences of Halloween, I was surprised. Which piqued my psychological curiosities. While engaging my curiosities, I learned the depths of the pulling forces associated with the construct of permission, especially how the permission to be someone or something different becomes a treasured Holiday in our culture. Stated simply, we are granted the permission to be different, independent, and autonomous. Yet, the permission is based on a system or some random authority allowing and/or telling us to be different, independent, or autonomous. Does this mean our drive to be liberated is more real than our drive to belong? Or vice versa? Or is it and AND both?
(For the Matrix Trilogy fans, Neo’s process of liberation is guided by Morpheus’ confident, patient, passionate, engaging, and steady presence. The “What is real?” scene symbolizes the Pain and Beauty of the Self-liberation process.)
Oh no... the and/both scenario may indicate different and competing drives residing within human beings. The undercurrent so to speak. And the pulling force of internal conflicts and competition living and breathing inside of us. The emotional and physiological experience of Surprise offers answers to these conflicts and competing drives. I believe this. I couldn’t do my job if I didn’t believe in Surprise. I would have judged my Halloween-enthusiast clients as incongruent and disingenuous. I would have evaluated them through my eyes only. That seems anti-therapeutic and the antithesis of the process necessary for healing and mending to occur.
Yup, the human story is not and never will be complete. There is no arrival point. We covered a ton just now. You may feel somewhat woozy and dizzy. It’s ok. The process of synthesization is disorienting. The process of integration shakes our equilibrium (like the pulling force of waves). More is coming. There’s always more…