This series of posts is based on a list of initiatory Vices and Virtues of the Left Hand Path found in Uncle Setnakt’s Essential Guide to the Left Hand Path by Don Webb. It is done with the permission of the publisher, Lodestar. If these posts pique your interest in the Left Hand Path, please look for the book at Lodestar’s site, http://www.seekthemystery.com , or at Amazon. I highly recommend it, along with many others.
Vice #7: Emotional Servitude
I didn’t feel like writing this tonight. I didn’t feel like writing half of these posts when I did so, but they got done.
Would they have turned out better if I’d waited until I was in the mood? Possibly—inspired writing is special. That being said, if I’d waited until I was in the mood, they might not have been written at all.
Emotional Servitude describes the state of living to serve the emotions, and it comes in a staggering number of flavors. All addictions are forms of emotional servitude in which one aligns one’s actions with the pursuit of a certain feeling, or avoidance of certain, less-pleasant feelings. Emotions—capricious and ephemeral as they are—do not always make good guiding principles (though sometimes they do). They all have reasons, but do not necessarily follow Reason itself. As soon as their demands are satisfied, more demands will arise in short order, and if we have been putting those demands first, we will be bound to our emotional states in order to motivate us to do anything.
There are things we need to do regularly—tasks or practices that form the foundation of greater things to come—and in order to serve as a truly solid foundation, those things need to be done reliably no matter how we feel. Laundry, washing dishes and other household chores often fall by the wayside because we just don’t feel like doing them. The same holds true (and maybe even more true) for inner work involving practices such as meditation and daily ritual, especially when they are new.
It’s important to learn to bite the bullet and do these things even if we don’t feel like it. We may be exhausted and only capable of imagining the weariness we have to work through to achieve something. We may be comfortable on the couch in front of the TV, unwilling to break out of that comfort bubble to advance a goal. In any case, there is great power in summoning the will to do whatever it is we are putting off in preference of the feelings we enjoy, or in avoidance of the ones we don’t.
On one level, overcoming this vice is purely mechanical. You have things you want to get done, but will never get to the “good parts” without putting in hours of pure drudgery first. You can’t count on your emotions to always lead you toward the things that are best for you in the long run, so you learn to do things when you aren’t in the mood—it is the only way forward. Otherwise, the majority of your deeds are reactions, rather than self-determined actions in line with LHP thinking.
There’s an irony here: Often, doing things at times when you don’t really feel like doing them yields incredible results.
My best banishing rituals happened on mornings when I had to practically drag myself kicking and screaming to my practice space, rolling my eyes as I took hold of my phurba and aped the motions, or stood holding it and shaking with anxiety about something I’d be facing later in the day. Why? Because the sheer fact that I didn’t feel like doing a banishing ritual was a good sign that I really needed to do one. These are the moments beyond mere practice; when we observe a practice, it is moments like these that we are practicing for. This is the rubber meeting the road. This is the main event—everything we’re working towards is encapsulated in that moment when we overcome inertia and set processes in motion despite inner (and later, outer) resistance. Going against the grain and witnessing the triumph on one’s will is at the heart of LHP practice and philosophy; if we can’t pull it off at home in our living rooms, we will never pull it off out there in the world. Do it just once at home, however, and you have begun a practice that will last a lifetime and bear fruits you can scarcely imagine.
Yup, the best practice to head off this vice is to engage in daily practices no matter what, but in a more general sense, to develop the habit of doing things we don’t really feel like doing for the sheer discipline it will help us cultivate. Not normally a social animal, and you get invited out to happy hour? Try going anyway, and try to be social if you are normally more introverted. Do a favor that someone asks you to do because you’d rather decline and take a nap. Eat a meal you don’t particularly like, because you have to eat to live and that’s what you’ve got at the time.
Obviously, self-care must be balanced with self-discipline. A lot of the time, we tell ourselves to take it easy because “we deserve it,” and this is just a cop-out. Sometimes, we really do deserve or even need to take it easy on ourselves to avoid running ourselves ragged. Can you tell the difference between the two circumstances?
If you’re not accustomed to challenging yourself to do things you don’t feel like doing, you may not be able to. To know this difference, however, is an initiatory tool and milestone all its own. This is one of the practical ways in which Knowledge of Self is empowering and affirming. Knowing your capabilities means knowing your true limits, as opposed to the false set of limits we accept in order to remain comfortable from day to day. Respecting your limits—your true limits—is an important part of self-preservation. We will never learn this about ourselves without testing those limits.