Why Am I in This #$*)&(% Lifeboat?

This morning in the car Anthropapa and I were having a discussion about affirmative action and the fact that there have only been 3 African American US senators since Reconstruction, and how maybe President Obama will be a positive role model to increase that number. Yes, at 7:45 am, we were discussing that. I guess the coffee had already kicked in.

Anyway, we were stopped at a busy intersection, and I made another comment in our discussion. Then I noticed that Anthropapa hadn’t responded. I said, “I’m sorry, are you trying to pay attention to the traffic?” He said yes in what sounded like a slightly annoyed tone.

I felt myself get angry all of a sudden. Like, hey–I was just continuing the conversation, why are you annoyed at me? I felt really irritated at how I thought he was judging me.

Then I stopped myself and looked at that angry reaction. What was that all about? Why anger in that moment?


Recently my pastor lent me Donald Miller’s Searching for God Knows What. Miller writes in a sometimes profane, sometimes silly, sometimes profound way about how Christianity cannot really be broken down into bullet points and structured dogma without losing the fundamental purpose behind it: a relationship with God. He says that we all have a “lifeboat mentality”: constantly comparing ourselves to others in formulaic ways and placing value on transitory and truly meaningless things to see who comes out ahead and who gets thrown overboard. We do this because we have lost that sense of relationship and have forgotten the love God has for us. If he were Buddhist, Miller might have said the same thing in terms of attachment, and a skewed vision of self that leads to separation from the truth of oneness. There’s a fundamental human truth there, whatever the religion.

Whether you see it as literal or figurative, the Fall in the Garden of Eden presents a picture of that loss of relationship: one minute we had perfect, all-encompassing love, and then we didn’t. And since then all we’re doing is trying to get that love back. We somehow equate that loss of love with a lack of self, a judgment against us, an isolation and fear and trembling. We try to assuage that lack by buying things, judging others to prop up our self-image, even making checklists of things to do to be a better person. We feel so many things in life as tiny reminders of that huge loss, and so we act and react out of fear.


As I thought about my angry reaction this morning, it occurred to me that it felt almost like what I imagine being a baby feels like. Have you ever seen the look of perfect outrage on a baby’s face when the baby feels pain? It’s an instantaneous, loud, and passionate response. It’s like a very primitive sense of un-rightness that neither I nor the baby could explain rationally, but surely feel strongly.

Then I thought about how the Christian answer to that moment of pain would be to remember that God’s love is sufficient. I’m not sure I can fully get there in my mind and heart, but I can at least realize this: whether Anthropapa was really judging me isn’t really the issue, but rather that I don’t need to feel fear or lack or low self-esteem in the face of any perception I might have. And there’s an important point: it’s my perception. My little ego gets in the way of my higher self and clouds my consciousness with such primitive reactions, regardless of what’s really going on. Anger like that is a semi-conscious reaction at best. There’s no higher self involved there.

The Bible gives Jesus as the model of the higher self, and here’s what he and his disciples say is the answer to pretty much everything: love. Love one another. Love thy neighbor as thyself. Of the highest virtues, love is the highest. Over and over again, because even the ones you would think would have totally understood, like St. Peter, needed a lot of repetition to really get it.

So, what it occurred to me to do is observe my anger, and see where I am lacking in love. Why am I feeling in that moment like I’m going over the side of the lifeboat? When did I put myself in the lifeboat in the first place, and why? Why do I perceive the lifeboat as limited–why isn’t there room for everyone in there? Why am I so busy staking out my spot in the boat that I can’t see the fear on someone else’s face, and another that is feeling so seasick, and another who’s worried about catching enough fish to eat, and so on? Why am I letting my little self get in the way, when I’ve got this marvelous higher self just dying to get out there and love my shipmates?

Enhanced by Zemanta


Filed under Deep Thoughts, life, papa, Religion

8 responses to “Why Am I in This #$*)&(% Lifeboat?

  1. This is good….lots of food for thought. I love to read Donald Miller’s books.

  2. I stop short at higher self and Jesus, to be honest – I personally believe that our own everyday selves are the ones we’ve got and we should do better by them. Or with them. And i’ve just remembered that as a post-structuralist, I don’t believe in a self anyway…

    Be that as it may!

    Mindfulness. Yes. Good thing. Supermum simply refuses to converse in the morning so these things seldom come up at that time of day.

    (And it’s nice to see another post from you – hope you’re all settling in!)

    • Sure, making a dichotomy between “higher” and “lower” selves can be a problem. You could say that your unified self manifests in different ways to which we ascribe different levels of value. You could say that your higher self is your conscious self and your lower self is unconscious. Or you could say that we build up defensive structures that get in the way of our higher selves by reacting unconsciously.

      You could talk about all this in terms of religion, or Buddhism, or psychology. I think in the end it all ends up pretty much the same, or in the same place. Mindfulness. Doing right. Caring for others. Etc.

  3. Eve

    This month I’ve been reading Jung’s “Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious,” which has extensive discussion of the spontaneous creation of mandalas by people of all ages in all cultures in all times throughout history–complete with illustrations. I had never immersed myself in these depictions of wholeness, and seeing a mandala made by a child next to a mandala on a medieval cathedral the child had never seen, both with essentially the same symbols and arrangement, was quite striking.

    Your article reminds me of the idea of the Self, what a mandala represents, and how so many times the mandala circle shows the higher and lower parts of the Self, which you discuss here. I think that I am often guilty of wanting to quash my lower self as if it’s not worthwhile, when in fact it is showing me something. In depth psychology they’re teaching us about how the whole Self contains opposites and that individuation is a person’s unique way of holding opposites in balance.

    It occurred to me yesterday that in Christianity, death is swallowed up by victory. We’re reminded over and over again how Christ holds it all–in all, over all, through all, and so on. Even the opposites, even the little selves, even darkness, even death. So while we are bemoaning our fates as mortal carriers of little selves, I wonder if we’re supposed to become better at integrating what we call the little self, too? And if so, did you try that or what did you do about it? If your anger was about ‘not enough’ (and apparently it was), what was Anthropapa’s irritation about, if there was any? And so on… I think you showed how you work through these things; they prompt me to reflect on what I’ve been reading and how to hold the tension between little parts of the Self and the Self, which, like Christ, contains and holds all.

    I hope I’m making sense. My mind is a bit boggled lately.

    • Hmm. I don’t think I considered it an integration, but more of a bringing to consciousness of my unconscious actions and feelings. Part of that could be integration, maybe, in that I need to strive not to reject or judge that part of me, but rather to bring it to light and help transform it.
      Christ didn’t reject the earthly, or what was considered lower. He saw the beauty in the dead dog’s white teeth. He fed the hungry; he slept in the tax collector’s house. He went through the spectrum of human experience — birth, life, suffering, death. Without rejecting any of it, but including it. He walked the middle path — not a dogmatic Pharisee or a desert hermit. Balance. Integration. I’m not sure I can find a shadow side in Jesus, but maybe that’s because he completely integrated and transformed it.

  4. Nana

    My belief teaches me one basic doctrine: do no harm. Other than that, we are very complex beings because God made us that way through evolution, and we are not yet fully evolved. We become fully evolved after death and then, if we have not yet learned all of our assigned lessons from the life we led, we are reincarnated to give it another try.

    I think God intentionally made us imperfect because to be perfect would be intolerable for human beings.

    Only God is perfect.

    The lesson from that is not to overcome our emotions, such as anger, envy, etc. But to not let those emotions overcome us.

  5. I felt that you made an important and valid point here, and I really have nothing to add. It will definitely give me food for thought as I work in the garden today.

    How are you settling in to your new place? Do you have your vegetable garden all ready to plant yet? (That was a joke. . .)

  6. Good post. I think you hit on a real important point in personal development: the ability to stand beside oneself in honest self-reflection, without trying to rationalize ones’ own behavior or avoid self-criticism. I suspect most people don’t do that, not because they want to promote themselves as perfect, but people don’t like guilt and do what they can to avoid a guilt sensation. Once one overcomes the guilt trap, it doesn’t hurt to notice things in oneself that can be analyzed and changed.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s