Since the man does not go down the stairs and into the world, he pretends to himself that he avoids the experience of envy, that intense stab of pain that occurs when he sees a couple in love and, with secret wrath, wishes for both of them to be unhappy and heartbroken. In the terrible silence of his room he realizes that a part of him wants to inflict his loneliness upon others in a vindictive manner. How does he learn to accept this part? He also realizes that an attack of envy can occur wherever he is. If he stays in his room, he envies the ease with which other people are able to mingle, how they seem (but only ever seem) to be without fear. He envies the lovers their experience of liberating love, the scholars their experience of deepening understanding, and the churchgoers their experience of genuine praise. And yet he knows if he were to be in love, it would not be total, and his focus would go wholly into what prevents the love from being whole. And he knows if he were to be an official scholar, he would yearn again for his free days when he was an unofficial scholar of nothing in particular. And he knows if he were in church, he would wish to praise the lord of song in the dark privacy of his room. And so, instead of taking some direction, and then heading that way, he finds himself increasingly paralyzed. There are too many directions. His heart points him in one way, his mind in another, and his soul in a third, and these are only three of hundreds. Rather than freeing himself by making a choice, by following what is strongest in him, he imprisons himself in the agony of indecision, and as the chains tighten around his weakness he cries out in muted longing for someone to free him.
Envy transitions seamlessly into pride. Those who are at ease, and appear undivided, do not know what it means to suffer. In some sense, they are not even here, not even in life at all, for to be here is to suffer, to live is to suffer at the distance between what one is and what one could be. The more I suffer, then, the more alive I become. Here I am, the man of envy says to himself, suffering proudly the plight of the solitary, no doubt the best sufferer this suffering world has ever seen, while those in the streets simply float by in life, neither growing nor feeling pain at their lack of growth. At least I feel pain when I fail to grow. Pride says, ‘Here I am, with greater depth, passion and intensity than the rest, a better lover, if only I had someone to love.’ Pride takes love, the act of giving love, and distorts it, makes love itself about the self alone, wants someone to ‘love’ only to show how the self is a superior lover. Pride will even try to make the self look superior when ostensibly confessing one’s sins, and thus will lead one to sin in the very confession of sin.
The prideful would-be lover who has no one to love goes eventually to lust. Hidden, isolated, a lone and mostly useless human being among billions of other mostly useless human beings, he curses himself for his failures in relationship, also envying the way most people seem to somehow effortlessly meet. Instead of engaging in the difficult work of going against his own inhibitions, the work of opening up to the love that is already there, he longs from a distance, and the love that is there sinks down deeper. In order to find the love he has lost, he must go deep into himself. He hopes others will notice how deep he is going. But no one notices, so he gives up on love and reverts again to the lust of the teenager. “He who desires, but acts not, breeds pestilence.” The over-desirous one, now diseased, begins to despise the recent object of his unfulfilled desire. She should fulfill him; she should fill the chasm of his emptiness. In abandoning the possibility of finding love first within himself, he commits the original sin of self-abandonment, all along fearing that he will suffer at the hands of another what he has already done to himself.
The solitary sinner retracts into the den of pestilence and decay, into the cave of impossible desire. He holds onto the one thing he still falsely calls his own: time. He holds everyone else, and all obligations, at a distance. He holes himself up in a claustrophobic space and surrounds himself with books. He keeps the door shut and his heart closed. He begins to consider how other people owe him. All his life he has wasted so much time doing things he didn’t want to do, and now he deserves to be left alone, to do whatever he wants to do whenever he wants to do it. And what he wants all the time is to defend his territory in the cave of impossible desire, where he remains.
It is not difficult to see how this holding on, holding in, and holding others at arms’ length, this avarice, gives way to gluttony. There is never enough of what never satisfies, and nothing satisfies when the heart stays closed. The sinner surrounds himself with more books. As his suffering increases, he writes more, as if in writing about his pain, in understanding what is causing it, the pain itself might miraculously disappear. Ha! Holding onto the idea that he can relieve his own suffering, he devours books on spiritual transformation. He wants more and more of whatever makes him feel less and less alive, so that as he dies he can learn how to transform his deadness into vitality. He fasts with a gluttonous appetite, hungering for spiritual experience, wanting to feel at one with the world so he can claim that oneness for himself. He alone is the one who feels at one and united. And so divided and separate he remains.
His hunger for something to take away his emptiness only increases the emptiness, so now he shifts his perspective. He will exaggerate his separateness and ignore the emptiness. No one wastes time considering the interior when the exterior looks perfect. Therefore it is necessary, if he does not want to waste time, to make the exterior perfect. A perfectly trimmed beard, a perfectly crafted sentence, a perfectly toned body. Time otherwise wasted in the cave of impossible desire is now spent striving for the impossible peak of seeming perfection. Because it is an impossible goal, it will leave him constantly striving, so never bored. The fastest shortcut to greatness is to appear great. What is internal strength? Something nebulous, difficult to define, easily overlooked. External strength, on the other hand, is clear, easily defined, impossible to overlook.
What happens? The enormity of the emptiness he is trying to distract himself from cannot be completely ignored. The massive effort it takes to keep the emptiness down brings him eventually to a near-comatose state of skeletal exhaustion. He has one desire left: to do nothing. Shut the blinds and get under the covers. It is all too much, too overwhelming. He must sleep. At times he peeks out of the blinds and wonders how he ever did it. Got dressed, brushed his teeth, worked a job from dawn to dusk, ate three meals a day. He wonders why he was born into such a world, and yet he has lost the desire to find out if there is any other way of living. Luckily there are hundreds of television shows he can watch without interruption. He can lose himself in other worlds. After all, didn’t he hear somewhere that he needed to lose the world in order to find himself? Yes, nothing was more important than to lose the world. Surely this was the path to self-discovery.
This kind of certainty does not last for long. Doubt creeps in. Is there nothing else? No, there is nothing else. But no, there is everything else. There must be at least something else. As the days get shorter, why is it that the doubter keeps demanding that strangers feed him raw onions? Has he forgotten how to weep, and so sought an uncomfortable substitute? He consumes a dozen bananas before noon, claiming that the bananas remind him of Belize, a place he has never been remotely near. And he questions everyone. “I am going to the store,” his wife tells him. “Do you want anything?” He is skeptical. “Are you really going to the store? Which store? Why? What else do we need from the store?” He cannot believe she is really going to the store. The fact that she can quite easily go to the store, without him, not even asking him if he would like to accompany her, brings up thousands of fears. What if she meets someone else at the store? What if she is actually going to the store to meet someone there? What if she is not going to the store at all, but going to cheat on him, and bringing up the fact that she is ‘going to the store’ in order that he not begin to suspect her? Yes, he says to himself, that without doubt is her intention, and so she has failed, because I suspect her. She is the prime suspect, and I am the primary detective in this case. Perhaps I should follow her, just to prove that she is not really going to the store. Why should I trust her? What reason has she given me to trust her, other than being completely faithful to me for thirty-eight years, eleven months, three days, two hours, one minute, and twenty-six seconds?
And what reason do I give for this entirely unnecessary piece on the deadly sins, or the nine passions? No reason. Only that it being the season of joy, it is also in a not so obvious way the season of despair, and what better way to ward off the relentless hounds of despair than to write about the deadly sins? Indeed. See the sense in that, if you will. See the sense in it now. Without delay! It is the season of giving, so why not give away freely the contents of one’s no longer secret dread? Why not confess one’s sins, if you will, the many ways one continually misses the mark, and in this confession, realize that they are not one’s own sins, but the collective sins of humanity, and in this understanding regain a touch of primordial compassion? Understanding how we murder other people in our minds and hearts, we can understand and have compassion for the one who puts those thoughts and feelings into action. We can see that the person who is violent in deed is no different from the person who is violent in thought.
So, be merry this Christmas season, and don’t let envy devour you whole! Don’t be tortured by lust! Don’t let wrath hold you captive! And don’t ask me how to do any of that.
There are probably better ways to celebrate the birth of the sinless one than to confess one’s sins to the blog-reading world, but I haven’t found them. Whose sins? Who sins when silence is lost and no longer sought? Who wins when the world combusts? Who begins now to listen? Who to shout from the rooftops? Who to listlessly pout, who to whimsically doubt, and who to throw out a line for rainbow trout? O, colorful fish, so at ease in the sea! And of course about to be eaten by sharks. Why can I not be like you, about to be caught by fishermen and served to some beautiful Icelandic princess perhaps? Yes, you are so very colorful and in your oceanic element, even if you are about to be devoured by all kinds of carnivorous sea-creatures. Where is my element? Where are the carnivorous sea-creatures that will devour me? Within me.
There is nothing deadlier than the hour that has come and gone. Why did those words come out of me? No hour is gone, each returns in due time. Or does it? The hour of heartbreak returns again and again, and after it the knee-bleeding prayer for healing and wholeness, an hour which never arrives. And why do I think suddenly of the army that declares war simply to anticipate the joyous celebration that will come after the brutal shedding of innocent blood? But let us avoid those more difficult topics. Weep false tears, you onion eater! Then be grateful when the weeping ceases. The hour that is gone will return in due time. Or will it?
Woe to the reader who has kept on this far! Actually, praise only. You have my praise, and any woe you keep hidden is yours alone. Let it out. Please confess some of your woe to this writer, so he does not call his own unique. Plus he has confessed so much to you, in a guise or two. But do not call him, for if you do he will pretend to have lost his phone. And do not pretend to be lost, for he knows all about lostness, and about pretending, and he will know immediately that you are pretending and not truly lost.
And now unfortunately the coffee is all gone, and with its’ end comes the end of this piece. Goodbye, Happy Holidays, or see you when the desperate bluebird makes love with the hawk who has soared past desire. Take what you may. May each of us, while we are here and before we die, know beyond doubt that we lack nothing. Is it true that we lack nothing? My prayer this season is for all of us, yes, every single one, to experience at least one precious moment of relief from the bondage of self. I ask for no other gift.