I came across D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover not too long ago. I had no idea how much I’d learn from it (besides the fact the unexpurgated version was the subject of a lawsuit for obscenity in 1960). It sparked some wonderful conversations with a dear internet friend, and has heavily influenced my thinking and what I want to cultivate more of in my life. And I’m not talking about the forbidden sex outside marriage taboo. I’m really talking about the dangers of living too much in one’s head, oppressive social norms and constraints which inhibit natural expressions of self, and missing out on a life fully lived and causing so much mental distress, anxiety and physical illness.
I truly believe in Nathanial Branden’s Honoring the Self has some key points as to why we miss out on a life fully lived. There are
“…various forces of our culture – familial, educational, religious, ethical, social-that subvert the evolution of self and self-esteem and foster self-disowning, self-alienation, and destructiveness of life. I propose to demonstrate that not selfishness but absence of self that is the root of most of our evils, that selflessness is our greatest personal, interpersonal, and social danger and has been so throughout most of our history.”
The reason I believe can be gleaned from D.H. Lawrence’s works:
“His collected works represent an extended reflection upon the dehumanising effects of modernity and industrialisation. In them, Lawrence confronts issues relating to emotional health and vitality, spontaneity, and instinct.”
An excerpt from Lady Chatterley’s Lover which beautifully illustrates my point:
“I wasn’t talking about knowledge…I was talking about the mental life,’ laughed Dukes. ‘Real knowledge comes out of the whole corpus of the consciousness; out of your belly and your penis as much as out of your brain and mind. The mind can only analyse and rationalize. Set the mind and the reason to cock it over the rest, and all they can do is to criticize, and make a deadness. I say all they can do. It is vastly important. My God, the world needs criticizing today…criticizing to death. Therefore let’s live the mental life, and glory in our spite, and strip the rotten old show. But, mind you, it’s like this: while you live your life, you are in some way an Organic whole with all life. But once you start the mental life you pluck the apple. You’ve severed the connexion between the apple and the tree: the organic connexion. And if you’ve got nothing in your life but the mental life, then you yourself are a plucked apple…you’ve fallen off the tree. And then it is a logical necessity to be spiteful, just as it’s a natural necessity for a plucked apple to go bad.”
I am an extremely intellectually curious gal, having worked in the STEM field for 12 years, and as a stay at home mom of gifted young girls, I have been advancing my own education through the philosophers and psychologists and neuroscience researchers whose works I read. The bulk of people today don’t really have interest in cultivating deep friendships, just spouting off on their own views and engaging in debate to show off their superiority, without actually sharing any personal struggles.
It’s strange, for as much as we pretend to be have progressed, and particularly so in the area of human sexuality (how many taboos have been supposedly lifted as evidenced in the tv and movie portrayals of sexuality), we are still very much repressed as a culture. It’s strange how many still favor disowning the body in favor of the brain. How empty and dead we are inside, and how many rush to fill in the emptiness by over-eating, over-spending, and over self-medicating with drugs and alcohol. Would we need to if we felt and experienced life through our senses more deeply?
I received Roger Housden’s Soul and Sensuality: Returning the Erotic to Everyday Life. I had to import it, because it’s not available here.
It’s a pretty amazing book. The American culture for the past few hundred years has caused a great self-alienation, divorcing the pleasure and pains of the physical life from the life of the soul.
I’ve realized (with the help of a dear friend of mine and our literary journey) MOST of our problems arise because we are too busy being properly civilized and repressed. I don’t mean just sexual repression, but repression of self. All those literary and philosophical giants we now look upon so fondly were oftentimes struggling to be accepted by their contemporaries. Go figure. Sounds AWFULLY familiar to me.
Housden’s words complements English novelist D.H. Lawrence’s reflections quite nicely.
“We do not exist separately from our bodies. Neither do we exist in our brain cells alone, as if the rest of our physical being were a mere appendage to carry us about and gratify our desires. Our body is a dimension of who we are, an integral part of our humanity. To contract our sense of identity into one end of it, the head, is to follow the compartmentalized view of reality that is the legacy of the eighteenth century Enlightenment. That legacy has given us the billiard ball model of existence, in which people and objects are separate packages which bounce off each other without any relational existence. In this view, the body is simply another object. “We” are the light of reason and we live in the splendid isolation of the cortex. The more we retreat like this into a corner of ourselves, the more we live and experience life like a clenched fist.”
“Pysche and soma are so subtly implicated in each other that a psychic sense of emptiness or unfulfilment naturally constellates into the thought that an empty stomach is needing to be filled. A preoccupation with the accumulation of material goods is an extension of the same need. The roots of greed are deep indeed.”
“Overeating anaesthesizes us to the life that wants to move through our body. It is anti-erotic; it subdues what we really want, the feeling of life in our veins.”
To live a full life is to be open to the joy and the suffering that is a part of our lives.
Herman Hess wrote in Demian:
“Ich wollte ja nichts als das zu leben versuchen, was von selber aus mir heraus wollte. Warum war das so sehr schwer?
translation: All I really wanted was to try and live the life that was welling up inside of me. Why was that so hard?”
Yeah, I wonder why.
And I understand a little better why it’s so very hard…from reading D.H. Lawrence (who died in 1930, by the way) and from readings of others who came after, like Roger Housden:
“Without relationship, there is no connectedness, no feeling, and no valuing of the other person. There is no soul. There is only sensation, for its own sake. Sensation is only skin-deep; its effects are immediate and short term, and like a ride on the big dipper, it’s risks are mostly hypothetical, rather than real. Sensation, unlike the erotic, lets us off lightly. There is nothing to give, except the cost of the ride. To skim the surface of life, however, leaves us on our own, and ultimately lonely. Far from being an erotic culture, we are probably one of the most disembodied and anti-sensual cultures of all times.”
If you are trying to live the life that is welling up inside you, yet find few others that want to, you feel this discrepancy. You feel this great lack of deep connection. You aren’t content to skim the surface of life. But you may only be surrounded by those who are.
I’m here to live a full life, rich in meaning and I write publicly to share my views as to what constitutes a full life. For me, it comprises intellectual thought AND soulful, sensual experience. I’m hoping that by writing my thoughts out, I might share with others (and my husband too) what I believe constitutes a healthier approach to life.