In the movie “Snowpiercer” the remnants of humanity are confined within an endlessly traveling train composed of many cars. At the front of the train the occupants enjoy the best of everything; at the rear of the train the occupants barely subsist. For the first month on the train no food made its way to the back of the train and eventually cannibalism ensued. One of the occupants of the rear car eventually says in the course of the film: “I hate that I know what people taste like. I hate that I know that babies taste the best.” Life is filled with disconcerting revelations, like coming to know that someone was not as I thought, coming to know that I have been lied to, coming to know that I didn’t know enough when I made that decision, coming to know that my very best was not good enough.
Being thrust into an awareness that we do not want can trigger all sorts of emotions: The desire to flee, the impulse to anger and rage, the desire to reject that knowledge. How we choose to deal with an unwanted awareness can have profound consequences far beyond just today. In the film “Lost For Life”, a film about people serving life-without-parole for horrendous crimes committed while still a minor, one inmate who decided to kill a fellow schoolmate spoke about the week leading up to the crime, the week during which he realized that he wanted to kill her: “I think it’s crazy how the last week of me being on the street, being free, really has affected the rest of my life.” By the end of that week the girl was dead, the guy had determined the remaining path of his young life, and today he seems bewildered by it all.
The natural impulse is to pull away from or reject what we don’t want to know, but it is possible for us to train ourselves to react differently. For people with severe phobias there is a behavioral modification therapy which gradually teaches the individual to stay in the presence of that which they fear; they still fear what they fear, but eventually they no longer run from what they fear. This shows, I think, that there are more options in the face of fear than simple rejection.
In my own 65-year spiritual journey I have come to know things about myself that I do not like; luckily for me my monastic training has taught me to not run from that knowledge. By not rejecting awareness of those disappointing aspects of myself I have been able to use that awareness to choose who and how I do not want to be, which directly affects who and how I choose to be! So… yes… sometimes insights that we get about ourselves can be disappointing and even disturbing, but who and how we are right now does not have to be who we will become… if we are willing to at least acknowledge that what we do not like about ourselves is true!