The Path of Redemption Leads to Trust
Let’s take a break from Madoff, academics, and business processes. Let’s go way inward and talk about redemption.
In 1997, Robert Duvall’s The Apostle won many nominations and awards. It features a jagged but dead-on role by Farrah Fawcett, and the best work I’ve ever seen Billy Bob Thornton do. But mostly, it’s Duvall.
Some reviewers can’t find the redemption in it. I think it’s about nothing but.
Duvall’s character is a sinner of every sort—a cheating, lying, womanizing and self-congratulatory preacher. In a fit of rage, he unintentionally kills his soon-to-be-ex-wife’s boyfriend, and sets out on the lam in the deep rural south, calling himself “The Apostle E.F.”
What follow is a series of epiphanies for him. At every turn of his life, he rediscovers the beauty in life and other people, and in serving them—at the same time realizing with horror how deeply he had sinned. And at each turn, the consequences of his sin catch up with him.
He is forced to move on to another place, where again he gains a new insight, again realizes the depths of his sin, and again accepts the consequences of his sin by being forced out of yet another home.
It ends with him working on the chain gang, yet praising the Lord. Because for every realization of his sin, he knows he grows to a greater appreciation, and becomes more willing to do the right thing. Every step down represents more learning, humility and dedication to service.
Something like that happens in the last of the Carlos Castaneda Don Juan series, Journey to Ixtlan. Don Juan and Don Jenaro explain that because they are magical warriors who can see things others can’t, they also cannot be understood by mere mortals. In a palpable sense, they can not go home to Ixtlan anymore. Yet offered the same choice again—to learn and be alone, or to be common but together, they would choose the lonely life of the magician.
William James, in Varieties of Religious Experience, wrote about the “once-born” and the “twice-born.”
The once-born has always led a life of quiet faith. The twice-born, by contrast, knows what hell looks like, having been there, and so appreciates the difference.
I think Duvall, Castaneda and James all spoke the language of redemption. The religious sense of “redemption” is delivery from evil or sin. It has a strong sense of “now I know what I never knew before, and I know it to be true in a way I never knew before.”
* Redemption is a complete change of perspective. Redemption means “I have seen the light,” or, more colloquially, “holy crap, I never realized.”
* Redemption is what the Angel Clarence teaches Jimmy Stewart in Bedford Falls, and Ebenezer Scrooge in London.
* Redemption is why alcoholics will ignore priests and spouses, but listen to a fellow alcoholic—they’ve been there and seen the light.
* Redemption is the ultimate act of empathy. It is about radically revising ourselves to see another reality.
Redemption alone isn’t sufficient to trust someone. Ex-smokers, for example, can be giant pains-in-the-butt because they’ve exchanged one cause for another.
But it’s a powerful start. The ability to see (at least) two sides of a coin is the foundation of getting along with others. And thence to trust.
From a spiritual, metaphysical perspective, what I read is the distinction between “ignorance” (not, stupidity, but disassociation from one’s True and Real Self), and “direct knowing” (higher-level awareness, higher consciousness, and complete presence in the moment, unfettered by ego). Redemption is the path from one to the other – a path one might take once, or a path one might take over and over again (called “life”).
The characters you point to experienced and walked this path, experiencing epiphanies, “getting it” in everyday life. Many folks have myriad experiences, but never “get” the meaning of those experiences. As “ignorance” dissolves, insight into our self – self-awareness, illumination, clarity, and self-realization – arises.
So, more deeply.
The primary root of the ego is “learned ignorance” – knowledge about ourselves and the world which is largely “learned”, e.g., our beliefs, self-images, assumptions, ideologies, philosophies, etc. We fail to see this as “ignorance” because it’s what we know and who we take ourselves to be. For example, many folks believe hatred, power, control and aggression will bring peace and freedom; they believe it’s true. Judgments we make about others is another example. All of this is based on what we call “knowledge” – our accumulated knowledge about reality, that we take to be true.
Often, on the road to “redemption – i.e., “direct knowing” – we recognize at some point(s) that this is learned knowledge, an accumulated ‘ignorance” – that what we take to be true is false, is not the whole truth or holds a meaning different from what we think it is.
As we become more enlightened about our beliefs, ideas, positions and patterns, we realize how so much of this “knowledge” is directly connected to our mind and our ego.
Animals are their True Nature, but don’t know it. Babies when they come in are almost their pure True Nature, but they don’t know it either.
The deal is that we cannot know our True Nature until or unless we walk the path of “learned ignorance”. That’s how we develop spiritually, that’s how we truly self-actualize and grow spiritually and emotionally.
Because we don’t know who we are, really are, from the beginning, we have to develop an idea or image of who we are (with the help of our primary caregivers, relatives, friends, teachers, event the media and TV!!). Few are born knowing their True and Real Self – who have no need to walk the path of “leaned ignorance.” So, we go through life creating our self-images, our identities and we believe this is who we are.
Redemption or “direct knowing” happens when we challenge our “ignorance.” To make this happen one needs guidance (in the form of a “teacher” – a spiritual coach, counselor and the like), or a true and deep curiosity to learn or an experience that “jolts” one to a higher level of consciousness (Ekhart Tolle’s experience or that of the mystics, or that of the Duval character). It’s here that one develops the capacity to discriminate the meaning from the experience—moving from “I’m not sure what I’m experiencing” to “Ah, I recognize what is (really, really) happening here.” Learned ignorance veils and disconnects us from who we are; “redemption” is the process of penetrating and seeing through our “ignorance” and seeing our True Nature for what it is, for who we really are, “Ah, this is me.” – and slowly our projections, our judgments, our “learned ignorance” begins to dissipate and we see ourselves and others from a different place – a place of self-knowledge, self-illumination, and enlightenment – “direct knowing.” Not a “conceptual” knowing, but a knowing that comes from a deeper felt-sense of “this is true.” It’s an immediate knowing, not a “thinking about”.
Duval’s “epiphanies” are such “knowings”; he didn’t’ have to prepare, think about, find the logic in, or analyze. It was his immediate experience in the present moment in which he discerned something greater. Thus his path of redemption. “Every step down represents more learning, humility and dedication to service.” If…..we get the deeper and true meaning underneath the experience.
What William James refers to is also known as “the dark night of the soul” and “death-rebirth, in both cases of which, one dies to their ego and is reborn (not the fundamentalist notion) “knowing” their True and Real Self as not caught up with their ego.
As you say, Charlie, “Redemption is a complete change of perspective.” Exactly, It’s a new form of “who I am”, “how I am” and who I take myself to be from this place of higher, ego-less, awareness.
Redemption, yes, is the ultimate act of empathy – one that more often takes a huge amount of courage, strength, self-compassion, love, steadfastness and will – often in the throes of pain and suffering – mental, physical, emotional, psychological, financial, social and/or spiritual.
You also say, “redemption alone isn’t sufficient to trust someone.” True, but redemption heightens our capacity to be trusting, to give another the benefit of the doubt, to extend a hand, all from a place of openness, equipoise, dignity, respect, authenticity, and realness. Why? There is no ego. What better foundation to build sincere, open, honest and trusting relationships.
Thanks so much for taking this turn inward today.
Peter, thanks very much for writing this. I find it very profound and insightful, and I really appreciate it.
At first, I found Peter’s comments in this column to be something of an acquired taste. But I came to realize that it’s not his style which is an acquired taste; it’s the content itself which requires certain styles in order to be expressed.
If you’re going to talk about things like learned ignorance or True Self, you have to speak in the kind of semi-abstract, semi-metaphorical terms that Peter uses. My own attempt is to use allusions to movies, or to juxtapose images and hope they have something of the same impact on others as they do on me. Any way you cut it, it’s not easy stuff to write about.
I appreciate what you’ve done here. I want to say, "Yes, that’s exactly what I meant!" Thanks again for articulating it.
I love it when you wrote this:
"He is forced to move on to another place, where again he gains a new insight, again realizes the depths of his sin, and again accepts the consequences of his sin by being forced out of yet another home."
It is this realization that stops a lot of the destructive cycle, and sees other people doing foolish acts out of ignorance. Therefore, he doesn’t hate them, but forgives them because "they know not what they are doing".
And now for some good news. There is no need for a person to go through the depths of hell to actually realize they are carrying so much "baggage".
Meditation works great, because when we block other people out, there is no need for defenses, and we can see for ourselves how neurotic we are, and how that can lead to some pretty foolosh choices.