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Posts from — August 2018

Owning and Disowning

Owning and Disowning

Philosophical counseling often focuses on “ownership” by helping the client to identify and acknowledge responsibility for the part he is playing in whatever troubling situation led him to schedule a session. Once the client is willing to do this, a great deal can change, often quickly and dramatically. This shouldn’t be surprising. Certainly much wasted effort, frustration, and suffering follow from trying to control what lies beyond our will, a simple, far-reaching truth that the ancient Stoics made the cornerstone of their philosophy—but we do as much damage by refusing to acknowledge and accept responsibility that is rightly ours, and this is something that philosophical counseling seems uniquely suited to point out and put right, sometimes in the blink of an eye.

Happiness, peace of mind—what the Greeks called the “well-ordered soul” and considered the foundation of happiness and “the good life”—as it turns out, requires a certain balance, so that we own what is ours but not what is not ours. Achieving this balance may mean “disowning” any responsibility we’ve misappropriated, a pervasive problem certainly no less serious than the problem of ownership denied. With this disowning of responsibilities that are not ours, many of the ills that plague us undergo a spontaneous remission—victimhood, enabling, persecuting, rescuing, and other elements of codependency, to name a few.

There are numerous other things that it’s a good idea to disown besides excessive responsibility. False beliefs, contradictions, a sense of entitlement, hubris, detrimental life script promptings and prohibitions, magical thinking and other exaggerations of the will, and the pernicious assumption that happiness and the good life can be found in outer conditions are at the top of the list. Many philosophical counseling sessions end up identifying one or more of these culprits hiding in the shadows of the client’s psyche, covertly wreaking havoc and relentlessly screening out the truth and the better choices that swing into view the moment the truth is faced and acknowledged.

Victimhood is always a good thing to disown. So is blame in all its forms, both obvious and subtle. Exporting our authority by blaming others or outer conditions for our fate or how we feel also is something to lose, and the sooner the better. The beliefs that lead us to embrace philosophical errors constitute what Socrates called “false knowledge,” which arises out of conceit. A belief of this sort is like a burning coal we hold tightly in our hands, suffering while we condemn the coal. It isn’t the coal’s fault that we willfully refuse to let go and end our suffering. A hot coal is a hot coal; it can’t be anything else, and only a fool would try to change its nature. This is basic Aristotle, whose laws of thought tell us that a thing is what it is, and never what it isn’t. It seems too obvious to need saying. Yet this is precisely the sort of obvious truth that we muck up when we become attached, willful, immersed in error, and so on—when we misappropriate conclusions, then assume them, then expect others to fall in step with them and complain why they don’t, until we’re left wondering why everything seems to work against us.

Max Freedom Long, who brought Huna to the West, wrote a bit of verse that beautifully expresses the wisdom of disowning what isn’t ours:

And if someone has hurt me deep,
And no amends are made,
I ask the Light to balance all.
I count the debt as paid.

This is talking about forgiveness—in this context, the forgiveness of an emotional debt. Many have struggled with the implicit instruction of the verse, and found Freedom Long’s words enigmatic. What “Light” is he talking about here? On what does he base the assumption that this Light, whatever it is, can and will “balance all?” Can we really simply choose to divest ourselves of a deep hurt inflicted when “no amends are made?” It is a shame that Huna has been pressed into the service of “law of attraction” peddlers who do a great disservice by fostering the bizarre idea that the reality around us, including others, is nothing more than a construct of our consciousness, an idea made all the more seductive by the undeniable fact that there certainly is some degree of correspondence between reality as we observe it and the consciousness of the observer. But they go too far. It is the same problem stirred up by New Thought practitioners who claim that the roots of illness in others lie hidden in the healer’s beliefs about them, and that in order to “treat” the sick person effectively and “demonstrate” a healing, one need only treat whatever belief one is harboring that allegedly is showing up as the illness. “The Secret” and other popular consciousness-as-cause models capitalize on this confusion, which begins and ends in solipsism, magical thinking, the aggrandizing of the will, the denial of the otherness of others, and similar aberrations. Huna, too, recognizes the profound and liberating truth that it is not so much situations that we suffer when we suffer, but rather our reactions to them, the meanings we assign to them, the stories we keep telling ourselves about them. This truth does not count against otherness, certainly. It does not deny the responsibility that someone may carry for having inflicted a deep hurt and never making amends. All of that remains intact alongside the key realization that, while we can’t control the will or choices of others any more than we can control or perhaps even influence the moving hand of our fate, we have a great deal to say about how we engage these things. So, while our reality is forged by what the classical Greeks understood as character, it is not only that. It exists apart from us in its own right but interacts with us, and does so at the level of our beliefs and assumptions, our conclusions and paradigms, our stories and values, which reach out, as it were, to color and shape the quality of that reality.

Freedom Long’s words put us on notice that the debt is not ours to carry, or at least that we have a choice about it. Carrying a grudge is like drinking poison to punish another or holding onto the burning coal to make a point. Whether there is any “Light” that can or will balance the debt is beside the point. We have been hurt. What sense does it make to keep hurting ourselves over it? Forgiveness doesn’t let the offender “off the hook.” It mitigates the pain of the one who was wronged, letting him or her off the hook through the liberating power of enlightened disowning. “I count the debt as paid” isn’t meant to be a strategy for moving the mysterious levers of manifestation, as the law-of-attraction proponents would have us believe, not a way of effecting a change in the other or the world, but an unfailing way of effecting a change in ourselves. It means, “This debt is paid as far as I’m concerned. I wash my my hands of it.” As we are not constituted to own grudges and resentments, and as usurping ownership of them invariably throws us into the traps and snares of hubris, it makes sense to disown them, and to do so without delay. The “Light” that can “balance all” by counting the debt as “paid,” it turns out, shines in each of us, waiting to be released in the refusal to own what we are far better off disowning. When the client’s focus shifts from projection, exporting authority, blame, and misappropriated ownership to how he or she is engaging and might engage more consciously and truthfully, many things come right.

It may help to remember that good can stand in the way of better. Inevitably, we have to leave behind who we’ve been to become who we can be.

August 20, 2018   Comments Off on Owning and Disowning