Contemplative Activism

Contemplating Denial

Rabbit holes, rabbit holes everywhere.
Which one to go down?

“Alice started to her feet, for it flashed across her mind that she had never before seen a rabbit with either a waist-coat-pocket or a watch to take out of it, and, burning with curiosity, she ran across the field after it, and was just in time to see it pop down a large rabbit-hole under the hedge.In another moment down went Alice after it, never once considering how in the world she was to get out again.”

Some questions that I have:
What is Denial?
How to explore the relational aspects of it (Denial seems to only exist in relation to something, Truth? Our image of ourselves, or others)?
What is denial at different levels of scale?
-What am I in denial of?
-What is collective denial?

Living with a philosopher is a stretch at times. But to explore something as sprawling and intricate denial, it can be useful. But it might be a rabbit hole. A long diversion that leads nowhere, or just takes you back to where you started.

I am going down some rabbit holes – please follow!

“ Well !” thought Alice to herself, “ after such a fall as this, I shall think nothing of tumbling down stairs!

What is Denial?
Denial might be a spectrum of responses ranging from outright mendacity (which arguably might not be denial as its volitional) to a deeply unconscious inability to see what is true, what other people are seeing, to engage with denial. At one end we choose to lie, and at the other we adopt a stance or attitude as a result of a nexus of thoughts and feelings outside of our conscious awareness. One we can control one end of that spectrum but the other end not. Mendacity requires will and the freedom to lie, the other end is an inability, or maybe unwillingness to be conscious. And we become victims to our unexamined selves; Oedipalian tragic figures.

All of this requires that we accept that we have some kind of control over ourselves and our lives, either personally or collectively. Free will exists in other words. Which may or may not be true.

There are many problems with all of these concepts. Like that we individually are free, we have free will, we can choose to be in denial or not, and that we have a self, and that self can choose. Is there such a thing as a self? Or are we a relational web of thoughts, feelings, and sensations in a relational web to other points of consciousness? The self, at least in the absolute, non duality sense, does not exist. And I see myself as a blend of duality and non duality. With a range and spectrum of thoughts and feelings some of which originate in my experience of oneness, and the other in duality or the relative as opposed to the absolute. My experience of ‘I’ is almost certainly an intersection of and continuous flow of experiences of duality and non duality.

However I am mostly in denial that there is no self that I am. I mostly assume that I am not of the Oneness which always is in any case. I ma curious how other feel about this part of themselves?

“The Caterpillar and Alice looked at each other for some time in silence : at last the
Caterpillar took the hookah out of its mouth, and addressed her in a languid, sleepy voice.
“Who are you ?” said the Caterpillar. This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied, rather shyly, “I—I hardly know, sir, just at present—at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.”

Why would I be ‘in denial’?
Why would anyone be ‘in denial’? Either we have not examined a part of ourselves which remains outside of our conscious awareness, or because we have a need to belong. Or maybe we have an idealised view of ourselves which we want to maintain, and being racist or sexist, for instance, doesn’t fit with that image. Maybe belonging to our tribe demands that we are racist, or that we deny that climate change is real. Maybe our lives are comfortable. It is usually those in power, or a most benefiting, who are in denial of the problems our system is causing. Denial caused by privilege, one might call it. Denial allows us to develop identity, or to create and maintain our belonging to our tribe. Otherwise what would be the point?

What am I in denial of?
Personally, me Naresh, am in denial of my racism, sexism for sure. I treat women and black people differently to white people or men, have different sets of relationships to them.
I am also in denial of my death, I don’t want to see any vulnerability in myself. I am in denial of my age. I think I have control over many things I do not such as my choices in life, what I do, how I eat and my relationships. I think I am an individual, when I am not. And I think of myself as real, a thing, when I am not. I think I am in control or that control is possible.

There are probably many ways I am in denial, many things about denial that I do not understand, can’t articulate, or are unaware of. There are many things that I cannot see without someone else’s help. That is one reason why a sangha is important. I do not sit well and mindfully with my pain and suffering. In other words I distract myself from it much of the time. I am unaware of thoughts and feelings that go on in me, just beyond the edge of consciousness. I know this because I sometimes catch them either in the moment of later, in the quiet moments of contemplative reflection. The only way I can live the life I do is to remain in various states of denial. If I want to change how I live, my denial pattern has to change.

“ Come back !” the Caterpillar called after her. “I’ve something important to say !” This sounded promising, certainly : Alice turned and came back again. “Keep your temper,” said the Caterpillar. “ Is that all ?” said Alice, swallowing down her anger as well as she could. “No,” said the Caterpillar. Alice thought she might as well wait, as she had nothing else to do, and perhaps after all it might tell her something worth hearing. For some minutes it puffed away without speaking, but at last it unfolded its arms, took the hookah out of its mouth again, and said, “So you think you’re changed, do you ?”

Ah well. Change, denial, self, non duality, consciousness… all of these concepts are swimming around in my awareness. And to what end, to what purpose? Rabbit holes that get me no where, or useful signposts on my journey- and maybe your’s? Denial appears to be one of the blocks to knowing ourselves; a state of consciousness that holds us but doesn’t permit movement. It is a point of stasis, like a coma that can facilitate healing, or maybe a long slow death.

By Naresh Giangrande

Co Founder of Transition Town Totnes, & Transition Training. Celebrating a new cultural story while gracefully letting go of the old.