Monday, February 2, 2015

whose voice is it anyway?

To punish me for my contempt for authority, 
fate made me an authority myself.
~Albert Einstein

As a psychotherapist, I meet many people oppressed by a voice in their heads, an internalized parental voice or the voice of social norms particular to their culture.  Freud called this Superego, the highest stratum of the psyche sandwiching the ego between impulse and self-restraint. 
Some think the Superego is the home of our conscience, our inner voice or moral compass, but the Superego is merely attuned to doing things "right" according to what others think, an external authority we have unconsciously assimilated, not for others’ sake but for the sake of our own survival.  

Obedience to authority is how we learn to stay alive in our family and culture. 
The word "obey" originally meant to hear.  But we can hear others without necessarily doing their bidding, and we can listen to ourselves without harming others.
Take, for example, a boy with ADD.  Such a boy has a hard time doing what parents or teachers ask, not because he is lacking conscience but because he has difficulty filtering incoming information.  He may be disobedient, but not as a result of not caring about others.  He is just firmly anchored in impulse.
Conversely, a girl with Anorexia tends to be highly obedient, not because of conscience, but because of a strong internal voice insisting on self-restraint.  She allows herself to be bullied by this voice to the point of ignoring biological impulse, often feeling divided between the Devil telling her to Eat, and Reason telling her to Restrict (in secular society Reason is God).  I often re-label Anorexia as the Devil to encourage Anorexics to reconnect with eating’s life-giving impulse. 
The root of the word authority is the same as that of author, auctor, meaning agent or creator, and comes from the Latin augere which means to increase or grow.  Interestingly, the word authority has come to mean a person of influence, like God the Creator has become Judge and jury, and therefore has become synonymous with an external authority.  Inner authority, on the contrary, is a voice which grows the self rather than restricts it in obedience to an external source of guidance.
One of my favorite philosophers, Spinoza, an atheist who refused to listen to the dictates of either of the religious cultures of his time, talks about conatus as the essence of man.  When we live in harmony with this, we feel empowered and joyful, the authors of our actions. 

As I see it, most of our work consists in freeing ourselves from the oppressive internalized forces bearing down on the innate capacity for fullness, wholeness, or health.  It is like trying to breathe freely.  We do not have to "do" anything in order to breathe; in fact, the more we do, the less we allow the breath to arise by itself. 

Many spiritual traditions talk about this "not doing anything" because there is nothing to do once you connect with your innate wisdom.  You cannot find your inner auctor, because it is never not there.  But you can identify imposters.