One of the more disquieting aspects of the idea of God is that there’s a being who observes everything you do.
There’s the old joke about the little girl whose grandmother tells her God sees everything. And the girl responds, “I think that’s indecent!”
Deep truth in that. But leaving aside the seamier examples, the idea is that some being constantly keeps watch over your actions — everybody else’s actions too, of course, but that’s as may be. Somebody’s watching me every time I gnaw my fingernails without consciously realizing it. Somebody’s watching every time I sit and guzzle mug after mug of coffee as a way of avoiding whatever’s pressing on me. And somebody’s watching when I wonder where the heart-pounding anxiety is coming from after slurping a half-dozen cups of coffee in two hours!
Whether anybody else is in the room or not, somebody notices and records it somewhere.
Leaving aside any grand metaphysical questions about divinity, it’s a terribly useful metaphor.
Because there is somebody watching everything you do. Somebody who monitors your thoughts. Somebody who notices when you do what you shouldn’t or don’t do what you should. Somebody who records all the things you do, whether you’re consciously aware of them or not.
And that’s somebody who lives inside your own skull.
Call it the unconscious if you want. Call it God if you like. There’s some reason to think it roughly corresponds to the right hemisphere of the brain.
Whatever it is, there’s something watching you and taking note of everything you do. Even the things you do that you’re not fully aware of. Or really, especially those things — because if you were fully aware of them you probably wouldn’t feel compelled to do them.
You can get into a state where you’re absolutely terrified to engage with reality. At the most extreme end that kind of thing probably develops into schizophrenia, and at more moderate levels maybe agoraphobia or any of a wide variety of neuroses.
I wrote that little poem a few days ago about repetition compulsions. I’ve got a ton of em. Nail-biting, procrastination, social media, smoking, fast food, porn, etc. Most of which aren’t horrible things in themselves, but the way I’ve found myself resorting to them automatically and unconsciously just isn’t very good. Because the really nasty thing about neuroses is that they eat up so much time and psychic energy — energy that’s mostly directed at making myself and the world around me worse.
But this isn’t a complaint, really. It’s my own fault, even if there were reasons these habits developed.
Really, it’s good news. Because the things we pay attention to are the things we invest ourselves into. And when I consider the really massive amount of psychic and libidinal energy I’ve been investing into destroying and undermining myself — once that can be harnessed and put to proper and productive purposes I’ll have much more time and energy than (at the moment) I know what to do with.
Prima materia, like I said yesterday. Transmuting these death-driven parts of myself and redirecting them back to life. What drives these destructive habits — and a lot of the destructive behaviors in the world — is a feeling that one is living a life that isn’t worth living. And when life isn’t worth living — when life is meaningless — there’s a feeling that one is owed these little vices and escapes as a kind of compensation for suffering that seems pointless.
So to return to the idea that God is watching you. Again, leaving aside any questions about whether or not God actually exists, the basic psychological point is to bring you to the awareness that everything you do matters. In the world of 2020, pleasure isn’t what’s lacking (although enjoyment of pleasure may be harder to come by). What’s lacking is meaning.
Meaning matters. People don’t become bad and weak because they suffer, but they do become bad and weak when they suffer meaninglessly.
Life is hard. On the balance, even the best life is probably more pain and sorrow than it is pleasure and enjoyment. But meaning and purpose give us the strength to overcome suffering, take the side of life, and do things that might seem superhuman.
Now, how to live a meaningful life… I’m not sure. I only recently started thinking about the problem in those terms. All I can really say is that it’s pretty obvious I haven’t been doing it, or else I wouldn’t have so many self-destructive habits.
That may be one reason why I’ve been thinking, writing, and reading so much about religion lately. Looking for ways to provide or create meaning in life. Overcoming or transmuting that part of myself that keeps trying to escape from life or hold it at a distance.
And I’m sure there’s something out there. Being aware of a problem and searching for a better way to be is a start, at least.
Anyway. Enough of my navel gazing. Cynthia will be back tomorrow!