One of ego’s greatest tricks is to present to us a greasy pole to climb. One that promises much, in particular happiness and a sense of having finally made it!
It lies, for our pole of choice is an illusion, one that doesn’t really exist within the Divine scheme of things known as the Queendom/Kingdom of God in Judaeo/Christian parlance. Please let me explain.
Today I heard some news regarding two of my ex-teaching colleagues from Northern Ireland, both devout Christians who have just passed through major health scares.
Tony, a PhD historian used to be in the same dysfunctional Christian sect as me during his early spiritual sojourn. A highly intelligent man, he used to play the drums as we hypnotised ourselves into a sense of awe and detachment during our Charismatic sing songs. Having repressed deep Calvinistic tendencies, Tony finally had enough of the free and easy stuff, moving on to refocus on his teaching career in a local High School. Quickly rising through the ranks he finally achieved his dream job a few years back by becoming the Headmaster of the school, a seemingly fitting place for such a scholarly figure.
I haven’t spoken to Tony for over 10 years, yet today I heard from an old Irish acquaintance that Tony has retired following triple by-pass heart surgery. A sufferer of high blood pressure throughout his teaching career, Tony was a certainty waiting to happen. The greasy pole usually ignores medical advice.
James, oddly enough was also a PhD, this time in Modern Languages. A lovely man, I have to say, one who avoided confrontation and was nice to everyone, his niceness interpreted as a manifestation of his steady Baptist faith. I remember James fondly, for he carefully navigated my nervous son Zac through the terrors of his dreaded French oral. Anyway, James was perceived by his fellow staff as the cleverest guy on staff, being asked each year by a succession of intellectually inferior headmasters to give the speaker the traditional vote of thanks on speech days! James, I reckon, used big words that not even the distinguished speaker could understand, as they smiled and acknowledged the joke intended by the profundity of the scholars vocabulary.
Again I haven’t spoken to James in over a decade. After my sudden departure from all things educational back in 2004, James conscientiously played the staff development game, rising to the ‘rank’ of Vice-Principal, the position where one does all the work whilst the headmaster basks in the subsequent limelight. Today I heard that James has also retired following a massive stroke a while back, one that he was lucky to survive. I wish him well in his convalescence and future pursuits.
So what is one to make of it all. Well I reckon that both guys were not really teachers but rather gifted men destined for a life in the higher levels of academia – both professor material perhaps in their chosen fields. In other words they had somehow ended up climbing the greasy poles, that would ultimately result in near fatal slides into retirement. Both men were God-fearers, as we say in Northern Ireland, yet may the fear of God have led to overwork and taking on pressures that are ultimately unbearable. May I suggest that our educational systems thrive on the self-sacrifice of such devoted men.
Yet, let us take a step back and consider why we climb our greasy poles of choice in the first place.
Well, at first we reckon that we can get to the top, given the required effort and dedication. The top of the pole beckons with promises of utopian fulfilment. Yet, even for the chosen few who manage to claw or bluff their way to the top, the summit is not as satisfying as it suggested. In other words, they have been taken for a ride! But by whom you may ask!
Let me suggest that there are two forces at work on our tortuous climb to the top.
1) Our own ego
2) The collective ego of the tribe in which the greasy totem pole is pitched.
Ego, as I define it, is our wounded psyche-soul, the ‘I am’ interface with our space-time surroundings. Due to the withdrawal of unconditional love and acceptance post conception and early infancy, our ego’s sense of inadequacy and rejection fervently seeks the holy grail of being loved. The greasy poles presented to us promise to grant us this sense of ‘OKness’, this sense of being whole. If we can reach the pinnacle of our pole of choice, surely it signals that we are worthy of love, by peers and more importantly the original parental withdrawers of total acceptance. Many climb the greasy pole to appease or prove their parents wrong, and ego is the sponsor of choice. ‘I’ll show them.’ resonates in the darkest caverns of our being, the echo-chambers where the voices of parental rejection bounce of our walls of pain. Our our journey upwards ego will be right behind us, like some frenzied personal trainer, who won’t take no for an answer. Indeed the fear of rejection by this driven inner voice just makes things more frantic as we clamber over others to reach our desired goal. The greasy pole is no respecter of persons.
Any group of people who regularly meet for a common purpose, be it a commercial, cultural or psycho-spiritual take on the characteristics of a tribe. As we know all tribes require a chief, who to be loved, only to be eventually hated, as well as a stock of willing victims for sacrificial purposes. Often the chief fulfills the role of collective victim as they fall from their often dizzy heights, only to be replaced by the next in line, who are willing to make the final push for supremacy and Self worth. The failings of the group climb are projected onto the departed CEO who has finally got their comeuppance. Such tribes appear to take on a collective mind of their own. They too operate out of a sense of rejection, driven along by fear of being irrelevant and ultimately unloved. Many of us who individually struggle with Self-acceptance, often join a tribe whose collective ego strength appears to be a safer pair of hands, ones that will surely carry us to the heights of fulfillment and acceptance. May I respectfully suggest that many faith groups also operate at this subliminal level of recruitment. To find Jesus, Yahweh, Allah or Enlightenment is the designated pole summit. ‘Climb with us and you’ll get there’ is the pervasive, hypnotic invitation addressed to our personal sense of inadequacy. Let’s face it, much religious activity is pole climbing, particularly the subtly deceptive ministry games that are played with hallowed frenzy. Our tribal life often comes to an end when we reach a place on the pole and fall off. Appearing as a somewhat tragic waste this momentous detachment is often the first step in authentic Self discovery and the healing embrace of Divine Love.
Yes, pole climbing can be dangerous for our health. Best jump off now and discover that Divine Love operates on the earthed lowlands of the human psyche, that place of freedom where we remain untouched by the manipulation of ego, both individual and collective. The Nazarene’s nailing to a Roman pole was a message to us all – the pole is the place of death; the grave, our lowest point, the womb of a new beginning.
May Tony and James both enjoy the healing balm of Divine Love in their forced retirements, the poleless landscape where human spirits run free.
PS. Since writing this post I’ve heard that James has passed away. He died on the operating table when undergoing a major heart operation. Such a waste of a kind and talented man.