Have you read or seen John Le Carré’s A perfect spy? Magnus Pym, the glittering image who is so many things to so many people, doesn’t know who he is any more as a result of his father’s manipulation. When his father dies, Magnus begins to see what he has allowed to happen to himself, and he kills himself. Judas: a similar story? I think of poor Cardinal O’Brien whose mask has been nudged off, and feel nothing but sympathy for the poor soul underneath. Another case of allowing oneself to be duped by a dream and manipulated, in his case by an organization. Those who shout loudest are usually trying to drown the pleading within.
We are all spies, we all change faces, we all use charm or bluster to betray our true selves. I’ve done that with all my bosses, pretended that things are other than they are, put on a good face. Everyone does it. Men in particular do it, for they are not encouraged to expose their innermost selves face to face. They might do so shoulder to shoulder, that is, while both are engaged on some project—soldiers, team mates, colleagues—but not face to face.
So much of our energy is wasted putting on faces that we had in our adolescence as we try to recapture the feelings of those times: the awakenings of emotional and physical pleasure, of delight and self-gratification. We so easily become slaves to fashions and attitudes of those years. I’m pretty sure that’s why fetishism of any sort (not just sexual) develops, and indeed for some people religious observance is a form of fetishism. Idolatry. The attempts to recapture first loves evoke emotions that are incredibly strong, strong enough to thrust aside realities, and strong enough to neutralize any fear of adverse consequences. And there are always some adverse consequences.
I’ve got to the stage after 62 years where I don’t know what or who I am. I know about some of the influences that have created the masks, but I think there is a hole right in the middle of me. Polo mint. Donut (it’s shocking how Homer Simpson gets everywhere). What is the essence of me-ness? Is there one, in fact? Everything is persona. Recognition of the central ‘lack’ is something that I find liberating. All passion spent. I am nothing. But there’s a real and ever-present danger that it means there’s nothing to withstand my being buffeted by emotions, by my wanting to regain the ‘buzz’ of adolescent excitement. Self is illusion. Letting go of self is what the crucifixion is about. To love our life is to loose it—the self-centred ego, the me, me, me attitude. To step into reality is resurrection. This is the eternal truth told by The Buddha and demonstrated by Jesus.
Some people on seeing the central ‘absence’ kill themselves, or drown themselves in booze or drugs or religion, itself so often just another drug that people use to help reduce the pain of their existence. Magnus Pym topped himself. Judas topped himself. So why don’t I? Biologically speaking I’m entirely redundant (tubes cut 30 years ago). I occasionally glimpse the hole that is at the core of my being. I start to crawl round in it, exploring nooks and crannies to see what creatures lurk there. A bit like a potholer in an underground cavern with a light strapped to my head. A bit like a doctor with a suction probe cleaning out an abscess cavity. I have to confront that black hole and realize that the emptiness is real and that all else is illusion. What keeps me going? A sense of ridiculousness I think. We come from nothing and we go to nothing. Expand and contract, like the universe. Twinkle in the eye rather than the sky. A cosmic joke.
The three demons that lead to all the others (Evagrios, 4th century) are (1) that of avarice, (2) that of greed, (3) that which incites us to seek the approval of others. And the third is why we betray ourselves. Judas, for the approval of the Sanhedrin, short term gain, money. Of all the disciples, Judas is the one I like best. He seems to have glimpsed himself. The trouble is, he couldn’t bear the sight.