Harry and Jane

October 3, 2011 § 25 Comments

We are hard at work, pulling together a new issue on the many paths people take to find truth, and the articles in this particularly lively issue range from sacred music to the spiritual home that is Harry Potter.

Lately, I find myself pondering the similarity between Harry Potter and Jane Eyre. Jane, as some of us may remember (and as I am rediscovering) was an orphan who is grudgingly taken in by a resentful and nasty aunt. Little Jane is as viciously bullied by a fat spoiled cousin John as Harry was by Dudley, and is as wretchedly excluded and unloved by the whole family—she listens to Christmas parties while shut up in a little cupboard with only a doll to love. By her own admission (told many years past childhood), Jane isn’t as sweet or as loveable a child as little Harry. She is completely opposed to her adoptive family, “incapable of serving their interest, or adding to their pleasure; a noxious thing, cherishing the germs of indignation at their treatment….”

She doesn’t receive an invitation by owl that affirms what she knows in her heart to be true, that she is indeed very different than those around her. She is not whisked away to Hogwarts but to a wretched school called Lowood. And yet she finds in the depth of her misery, a spirit and a self awareness and self-acceptance that work a kind of magic. Banished to boarding school, abused beyond all endurance, she at last confronts her aunt as children never did in the Victorian age, calling her bad and hard-hearted.

“Ere I had finished this reply, my soul began to expand, to exult with the strangest sense of freedom, of triumph, I ever felt. It seemed as if an invisible bond had burst, and that I had struggled out into unhoped-for liberty.” Even though Jane later feels that this act of vengeance was like a sweet but poisonous wine, it is as necessary to her future development as Harry’s rollicking escape from his tormentors with its dash of sweet revenge.
As Jane’s nurse Bessie tells her, at least some of the scolding that comes to her is “because you’re such a queer, frightened, shy little thing. You should be bolder.” If you cringe and dread people, if you hide yourself “they’ll dislike you.” Jane and Harry both have to learn to affirm and express themselves.

“You have to be someone before you can be no one,” this statement is repeated in Buddhist circles, and it is equally applicable in Christian, yoga, Gurdjieffian or any other kind of circle dedicated to inner development. It seems like the biggest paradox. If the goal of spiritual life is to be liberated from a sense of separation from life, why value separating, becoming individuals? Why not stay in the cupboard and skip straight to transcendence?
What is the value of affirming a self, identifying the life force as our own—of getting out there in the world and proclaiming ourselves and struggling and trying? We need to really be ourselves, to really live without holding back, or nothing can really be known.   Transformation is not a thought. It is a drama that must be lived.  Also–and I’m really interested in what you think of this–I’ve heard it said that holding back, being timid, not daring to step up and show ourselves and be responsible, is really a kind of negative conceit.  What do you think?

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§ 25 Responses to Harry and Jane

  • swingdancerken says:

    As a 71 year old, extremely satisfied with where my life is now, I have a nagging feeling of having missed spreading my wings. In my 20s I raised my family in an authoritarian cultish church, The Worldwide Church of God. When I got the courage and self awareness to leave both the Church and my family, I soon replace that dedication with a infatuation with Libertarianism particularly politics.

    The sanity I have today I must credit with 2 1/2 years of psychotherapy topped off with a marriage to wonderful woman who has demonstrated the fine points of maintaining relationships. But, ….

    I have that nagging feeling that I bypassed the ‘owning the lifeforce’ phase fearing that I would loose all that I have accomplished in relationship wisdom. I’ve often thought of my life as being a draught horse teamed with a pegasus. The draught horse won, but not much regret. An interesting thought that I have a negative conceit. Promise to think about it.

    • tracycochran says:

      A draft horse teamed with a pegasus–what a powerful image, Ken. I know what you mean. And I’ve heard it said that this is the human position, between the animal and the angel (and a pegasus is a kind of angel horse). Perhaps being really alive is feeling this pull in both direction–to be completely in either one is to be lost to our full humanity. Perhaps.

  • “I’ve heard it said that holding back, being timid, not daring to step up and show ourselves and be responsible, is really a kind of negative conceit. What do you think?” Yes, absolutely. Someone once told me that self denigration is just reverse pride, and I couldn’t agree more. Women, in particular, put themselves down as as show of humility, i.e., “You did great! Oh, I really didn’t have much to do with it.” It’s just the flip side of bragging, and it’s all about guarding our hearts.

    One of the reasons I lean toward believing in reincarnation is it makes sense to me that you can’t escape the earthly bond of ego (both positive and negative) and merge with the Divine until you let go of this conceit. Excellent post. Thank you

  • tracycochran says:

    Thanks, Diane. What you say is true! Women in particular can take a perverse pride in putting themselves down. It is about guarding the heart, and it’s a seething, unhappy place to be. I’ve also heard–often–that shyness is really a fear of judgement, including our own relentless self-judgements and other judgements. How rare it is to be in a state of non judgemental awareness, a state of acceptance of what is arising.

    • I have been paying attention to this for a while now The denigrating self-talk morphs into self-doubt. It can be so subtle Another thing I’ve noticed is how other women will reinforce this. A friend told me, “The tallest poppy always gets choked by the other flowers.”

      I think you’re right about shyness, too. I was a therapist for years and years — a good one. However, it kept me in a very safe place as regards relationships.

      • tracycochran says:

        Yes, I think it’s very important to pay attention to this subtle negative self-talk–and the inner and outer postures we take. We can be divided–speak confidently yet stand as if we wish we could disappear.

  • Jeyna Grace says:

    Holding back, not stepping up and being responsible is kind of a negative conceit, but it is not easy to do in some of the toughest situations in life.

  • tracycochran says:

    Hi Jeyna, Holding back, not giving in to reactions, can be a conscious act. One can be quiet and alert, creating a space in a sitation. This is not easy, and not at all the same thing as “hiding your light under a bushel.” Thanks for this important reminder!

  • Lewis says:

    Hi Tracy,
    Would negative conceit have anything to do with the false power of “feeling sorry for oneself”? As an epileptic, I vaguely remember taking an almost perverse pleasure in the suffering I experienced, as almost a form of “pseudo-masochistic” pride.
    Also, could Jane’s confrontation be acting as a form of auto-initiation? Dr. Samuel Gill somewhat speaks to this in his article “Disenchantment”, Vol. 1, Issue 3 of Parabola, Summer 1976, pg. 6: “Childhood and it’s associations die for the initiate, and he is reborn into his adulthood having to accept both the privileges and responsibilities of this new life”. If we couple this with what Nick said about the inner quest last Wednesday: “What could be more heroic than opening to reality and acquiring the wisdom to function within it as a human being rather than a slave to mechanical necessity?”, then, is the decision to take the inner quest a somewhat subconscious decision to become the initiate that ultimately ends childhood to become fully human? As Mark Boal said in the current issue of Parabola, pg. 63 “…even though fiction is by definition not real, it can paradoxically create an environment of truth – telling on a metaphysical scale”.
    Peace,
    Lewis

  • tracycochran says:

    Hi Lewis,

    I agree with all the points you raise. I think Jane was beginning to initiate herself with that moment–although there would be a long journey ahead. And here is yet another perspective to consider. A false sense of self is a hindrance. Opening to reality and aquiring the wisdom to function within it requires letting go of who we think we are. Consider this thought from a Buddhist teacher:

    This sense of “bad me” comes from not understanding the view of selflessness that is so central to the Buddhist path. Understanding that there is no solid, singular, or permanent “me” makes it possible to accommodate whatever arises in life without feeling so intimidated by our experience, without rolling over like a defeated dog in a dogfight. We can see that things arise due to our karma playing itself out and that it does not necessarily have to be so personal. In this way we can identify with something greater—which is our nature itself. From this perspective, since there is no solid, singular, permanent self, there’s not going to be a “bad” self to feel guilty about. Mind is innocent but influenced by ignorance and wrong conceptual beliefs that project a self. But there is no self.

    –Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche

  • Nick_A says:

    Hi Ken. You wrote:

    I have that nagging feeling that I bypassed the ‘owning the lifeforce’ phase fearing that I would loose all that I have accomplished in relationship wisdom. I’ve often thought of my life as being a draught horse teamed with a pegasus. The draught horse won, but not much regret. An interesting thought that I have a negative conceit. Promise to think about it.

    Are you fmiliar with Plato’s Chariot Allegory

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chariot_Allegory

    A more elaborate “chariot allegory” is found in the much older Indian work Katha Upanishad, and another in the story of Vajira.
    Plato, in his dialogue Phaedrus (sections 246a – 254e), uses the Chariot Allegory to explain his view of the human soul. He does this in the dialogue through the character of Socrates, who uses it in a discussion of the merit of Love as “divine madness”.

    Plato paints the picture of a Charioteer driving a chariot pulled by two winged horses:

    “First the charioteer of the human soul drives a pair, and secondly one of the horses is noble and of noble breed, but the other quite the opposite in breed and character. Therefore in our case the driving is necessarily difficult and troublesome.” [1]

    The Charioteer represents intellect, reason, or the part of the soul that must guide the soul to truth; one horse represents rational or moral impulse or the positive part of passionate nature (e.g., righteous indignation); while the other represents the soul’s irrational passions, appetites, or concupiscent nature. The Charioteer directs the entire chariot/soul, trying to stop the horses from going different ways, and to proceed towards enlightenment.
    **************************************

    Perhaps we are in-between two horses and getting pulled down by one horses ass. :)

    • tracycochran says:

      And sometimes, we are pulled off track by the other horse. We need to be between–horses, and worlds. A fine pickle to be in.

    • swingdancerken says:

      Nick,
      Thank you for exposing me to the Chariot Allegory. Evidently, I hadn’t thought deeply enough in my metaphor or I would have seen that there is a charioteer. I was trying to yoke soul and spirit but perhaps should have yoked spirit and body with soul as charioteer. And thanks for the reference to one of my horses being a ‘horses ass’. ;-D

      I had an addition thought after my last post. Jesus lived a life exemplifying having a calling specific to his being. But in his teachings living a calling or being authentic to your ‘acorn’ was not present at least not primary. So, was his teaching to the masses who were powerless to live out a destiny to ‘love one another’ his highest aspiration. Did the idea of personal destiny come along later or perhaps was it the esoteric teaching to his followers. Am I making any sense?

      • tracycochran says:

        To find your true self, to live out your true destiny, you must empty yourself–as Jesus did. I don’t think we can ever find ourselves by clinging and cherishing ourselves but by giving ourselves away.

  • Nick_A says:

    Hi Tracy, you wrote

    “You have to be someone before you can be no one,” this statement is repeated in Buddhist circles, and it is equally applicable in Christian, yoga, Gurdjieffian or any other kind of circle dedicated to inner development. It seems like the biggest paradox. If the goal of spiritual life is to be liberated from a sense of separation from life, why value separating, becoming individuals? Why not stay in the cupboard and skip straight to transcendence?
    What is the value of affirming a self, identifying the life force as our own—of getting out there in the world and proclaiming ourselves and struggling and trying? We need to really be ourselves, to really live without holding back, or nothing can really be known. Transformation is not a thought. It is a drama that must be lived. Also–and I’m really interested in what you think of this–I’ve heard it said that holding back, being timid, not daring to step up and show ourselves and be responsible, is really a kind of negative conceit. What do you think?

    How can we become ourselves through the sacrifice of imagination if we unknowingly believe in imagination? All that is sacrificed is one illusion for another What good is concerning ourselves with separation if we live in imagination? Becoming ourselves is a conscious separation from our identification with our habitual nature.

    “The seed of God is in us. Given an intelligent and hard-working farmer, it will thrive and grow up to God, whose seed it is; and accordingly its fruits will be God-nature. Pear seeds grow into pear trees, nut seeds into nut trees, and God-seed into God.” Meister Eckhart

    Is self affirming the result of the hard working farmer nurturing the seed or justifying imagination and our slavery to the Great Beast? It can be either.

    I don’t think that Buddhism recognizes the seed at least publicly. But if the seed is the issue, then separation is necessary to nurture this part of our plurality called the seed.

    Negative conceit seems to be justifying fear and the inability to be master of oneself by defending it as compassion.

  • tracycochran says:

    Hi Nick,

    I’m not all that identified with Buddhism, but I find that the Buddhist concept of no-self actually supports what you describe. We have to consciously separate from all our ideas and imagination about who we are–and from our habitual nature. We have to be willing to see ourselves and to be seen…but not as a cherished self that must be defended but as a particular instance of the play of forces–as seeds lawfully unfolding. Can I do this? Hell no. But I am willing, and that willingness (at least at moments) is a movement away from imagination. It doesn’t come from the head.

  • Lewis says:

    Hi everyone,
    Just a short question – must the entire “cherished self” be eventually abandoned? If that is the way it is – that we all eventually return to some warm, liquid non-individualized whole, then I would hope that I will eventually see and accept this. But I have to admit, at this point it seems rather…what is the word that I am struggling for…melancholic?, that ALL of what combines to form the matrix of the self must be abandoned – that the very best, creative and progressive parts of the individual experience be left behind.
    It seems like a tiny bit of a waste.
    Peace,
    Lewis

  • Nick_A says:

    Hi Lewis

    As I understand it, the goal is separating the wheat from the tares: the real from the unreal. We could say that the unreal is more attractive than the real or we can say that living so long in the darkness of Plato’s cave, we cannot experience the real so as to feel its value.

    A five year old child naturally abandons cerished beliefs as he matures. At the time it appears absurd to do so but it is nature. As we mature in consciousness could we begin to abandon chrished conditioned beliefs?

    I laughed when I read an observation from Simone Weil. I realized I do not really understand the relationship between good and evil since evil appears more attractive. At that point I decided there was nothing better to do then enjoy a tall scotch and soda and admit there is life going on I am totally oblifvious of. Anyhow, she wrote:

    “Nothing is so beautiful and wonderful, nothing is so continually fresh and surprising, so full of sweet and perpetual ecstasy, as the good. No desert is so dreary, monotonous, and boring as evil. This is the truth about authentic good and evil. With fictional good and evil it is the other way round. Fictional good is boring and flat, while fictional evil is varied and intriguing, attractive, profound, and full of charm.” Simone Weil From “Morality and Literature,”an essay published in Cahiers du Sud, January 1944

  • Constance says:

    Hmm, to go to the idea of negative conceit is rather dualistic, and leaves out the utterly intense pain and suffering that the author –it appears –is attempting to reveal, –the suffering that Jane understood.

    This dualistic question does not address very deep trauma, and how little one would expose themselves to others when they have seen and felt the pain of physical and emotional assault and somehow survived. To even walk another day, to breath another breath is more exquisite than any words whispered to others. Survivors are often quiet Buddhas.

  • Lewis says:

    Hi Constance,
    Perhaps trauma, like other human experiences, is much more complex than any dualism can express. I can imagine multi-layered responses where intense pain and suffering exist side by side with all manner of semi-subconscious coping strategies – including negative conceit, feeling sorry for oneself, ect. Perhaps our focus here should not be on just one facet, but to see all as part of the human condition at this time.
    Peace,
    Lewis

    • tracycochran says:

      Thank you, Lewis. Yes, human experience is very complex, and capacious enough for all manner of semi-conscious or conscious themes and stories. Well said.

  • Constance says:

    Lewis,
    Perhaps my communication is not very clear, there was, and is no intent to see only one side of anything; my response was-is multivariate. One can see a victim, or no victim-hood, or a combination, and neither, and also no-thing at all, and also what words can not reach or touch. The idea expressed is to invite going beyond any ideas at all, and yes, encompassing the entire human field of existence and suffering with openness.
    best, Constance

    • tracycochran says:

      Hi Constance, It’s a very big thing to encompass “the entire human field of existence and suffering with openness.” Stories and exchange, including stories about falling into the habit of negative conceit, can be very useful–the Buddha taught by means of stories.

  • Great discussion- thanks everyone- I think the whole point of asking these questions of oneself is to discover the one who later lets go of self. Becoming visible to one’s self and others belongs to the very first part of the Hero-Heroine’s journey – letting go is still in the future. Those early mechanisms (timidity, bullying, clowning, conning, etc.) for coping with fear, confusion or distress deserve our understanding, compassion and gratitude.

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