Breaking All the Rules

If you were offered the opportunity to live out every one of your fantasies free of any consequences, would you dare accept the challenge to explore your dark side?

When I first arrived on this planet, there was little doubt that my parents, the two people who claimed direct responsibility for me, were the absolute authority figures in my life. A few years later, when I started school, that role shifted to my teachers. These educators, wielding red pencils and the extraordinary authority of the dreaded report card, held my life in their well-practiced hands. I was still quite wet behind the ears when I grasped the rules of their game: those who were most willing to abandon their personal way of seeing things and adopt and regurgitate the views they propounded were rewarded with the highest grades. I unfortunately fell quickly under their sway, and my ensuing conformity greatly pleased my parents. I was a goner.

The same willingness to sway with the prevailing breeze was operative during my religious training – for the most part in a language I never understood. That didn’t seem to matter, so long as I pronounced the words correctly and looked solemn at public ceremonies. I was inducted into my faith through a rite of passage passed down from father to son over thousands of years. Although I regarded my bar mitzvah as a significant event, it had far greater meaning for my parents and their friends and relatives, who showered me with fountain pens, savings bonds, cuff links, and other traditional tribal symbols of a boy’s entry into manhood.

My next significant authority figure was a staff sergeant who trained new recruits at Fort Dix in New Jersey. Ever the one to turn a clever phrase, he left an indelible impression on my mind with his promise to separate me from any vestige of personal identity still clinging to my shell-shocked ego. “Your ass is grass,” he announced the first day of boot camp, “and I am a lawn mower.” The secret to surviving basic training was to remain as anonymous as possible. Don’t be first, don’t be last, and, above all, don’t think anything’s funny.

When I completed my military service requirement – six months of active duty followed by interminable years in the reserves – the military and I parted company citing irreconcilable differences. I was one of the few men in the history of our unit not invited to re-enlist. It seems all the good work of my parents, my teachers (both secular and religious), and some very dedicated drill sergeants had failed to take firm root. I was declared a misfit, a reject, no longer privileged to wear the uniform of the uninformed.

This was underscored several years later when I was excommunicated from my faith for angering a chief rabbi. My wife, Arianne, and I were offered the job of heading a new project in Jerusalem called the World Peace Organization. It seemed a noble cause, bringing together the three major world religions (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam) that lay claim to the holy city. We were assured autonomy, but when I suggested that if the organization was to have credibility, the board of directors should have equal representation from each religion, I was rebuffed. “This we could never do,” I was told. “In your heart, do you not believe that the Talmud (the authoritative body of Jewish law and tradition) is the only way to peace?”

It seemed a straightforward question so, following the rabbi’s suggestion, I looked into my heart. There was nothing there regarding the supremacy of the Talmud, so I simply answered, “No.” This, apparently, was not the expected response, and the rabbi was visibly disturbed that I had messed up on his pop quiz. He rose from his chair and, waving his finger at me as if scolding a naughty child, invoked my sentence: “You, you, you,” he stammered, “you are out of the religion.”

I gaped at him in near disbelief as a wave of liberation flowed over me. I quietly stood up and looked him square in the eye. “Thank you,” I said, never dreaming it could be so easy to be rid of such a heavy yoke.

I also tried hard to conform to the corporate world. That didn’t work either, and I soon became a vagabond entrepreneur, wandering from business to business as if it were all a fun game with no real purpose other than to amass money. Most of my ventures were duds, but several ideas panned out well, affording me a lifestyle that allowed me to go wherever and whenever I wanted in the world. At one point I was traveling so much that I had to visit two overseas US consulates to have additional pages added to my passport.

Still, despite all appearances to the contrary, I was never really free. Though the army, my employers, and my religion considered me a nonconformist, they were not entirely correct. I had managed to shed the repression flowing from their rules of engagement, yet I was unable to shake off my own. Somewhere along the line, I had pilfered the keys to my cell and assumed the role of being my own jailer.

In this I am not alone. Almost every adult human suffers the same fate of still trying to please their parents and teachers or – more insidiously – their own version of acceptable moral conduct. Apparently, it’s gotten so overwhelmingly oppressive for most of humankind that the only escape is into some less-frightening tangential reality where we no longer have to be responsible for our actions.

On the dark side, this is the world of addiction, where the hard edges of reality are blurred under the spell of drugs, drinks, food, sex, work, fundamentalism, important causes, or whatever else serves to shield us from ourselves. The lighter side includes the virtual world of the Internet. Websites such as {url} My Space{/url} and {url} You Tube{/url} now have tens of millions of participants. Many claim that these sites offer the most important social interactions in their lives. For some poor souls, it may be the only way to connect to other humans. Last week I came upon the most in-your-face expression of this escapist trend I’ve ever seen, a website called {url} Second Life{/url} where visitors create an entire virtual identity through which they can be and do all the things they would never dare in their “real life.” It currently has several million subscribers and even boasts several adult-only content sites where players can “live out” their sexual fantasies.

To those who embrace Mahayana Buddhism or other nondual philosophies, our existence on planet Earth is an illusion in which we already live in a virtual reality. Why create additional layers of illusion, removing ourselves even further from our true nature? Here’s what happens in a nutshell: First, we create a sub-game within the larger illusion, then completely block out the fact that we decided to take part in it. All we are left with is the haunting residue that it’s important to be as good a player as possible so our existence has meaning.

I never realized how deeply repressive this ongoing process can be until I devised the thought game you are now invited to play. Since the purpose of this game is to explore the territory beyond all rules, you are free to make up your own (or not) as you go along. My only comment is that this game will reward you to the extent that you are willing to dig deep and be brutally honest, putting aside your usual self-discipline and systems of checks and balances.

The game is called “One Day Out.” Here’s how it’s played: One day (let’s say the last Friday) of each month is deemed totally off the matrix. Whatever you say, do, or think during that twenty-four-hour period has no repercussions on your existence in the “real world.” Think of it as a parallel universe identical in every respect to the one you now live in, except that there are no rules. You can wage war, dive off the Golden Gate Bridge, rob a bank, kick a meter maid, fully express your road rage, tell off your boss (or mother-in-law, or people taking too long at the ATM, or anyone else who rubs you the wrong way), or let your kids, spouse, or best friends know what you really think of them when they step out of line.

You can eat anything you want without gaining weight or getting violently ill. You can roll in the hay with the tennis pro, jump your secretary (or whoever else catches your eye and strokes your libido), and indulge in any tempting obsession until you’ve had your fill and are ready to cry uncle. To paraphrase a popular commercial, “What happens on your One Day Out, stays in your One Day Out.” Unless you smirk and tell, no one will ever be the wiser.

Unfortunately, until some beneficent fairy with a wry sense of humor waves her magic wand and creates this nouvelle réalité, it is simply a mind game to be played in your own head or – if you dare – as a saucy conversation with a trusted friend. The payoff game comes when you drop your internal goody-two-shoes mechanisms and evoke your deepest truths. You will feel a welling of energy in the pit of your stomach as you bring each of your fantasies to mind. When you actually reveal them to your confidant (even if it’s yourself), you’ll experience a significant release, as if a knot of long-suppressed energy is finally unwound.

What is ultimately revealed in playing One Day Out is how much we’ve let ourselves be brainwashed by society and how little we embrace our dark side. There’s a place inside us where we keep our little secrets, naughty thoughts, spontaneous acts never committed, and stifled expressions of exuberance. We’ve repressed them all because another part of our psyche stepped in and took control, in the belief that such expressions could hurt others and ruin our own lives. Regrettably, none of these unexpressed moments goes quietly into the night. They fester and stew just below the surface of our polished veneers, awaiting a momentary weakness or inattention to rise to the surface. Keeping them under wraps is an expensive affair, in that it takes a significant portion of our consciousness to keep them at bay. Eventually, so much of our potential attention is focused on this unconscious activity that there is less of us in present time. So we become increasingly vague, forgetful, and absent.

Our societies depend on rules. Our free spirits thrive by flaunting them. Until both mandates find adequate levels of expression, we’ll continue to have a world full of other people’s rules that dampen our spirits and lead us far, far away from the joy of discovery that is every human’s original birthright. To those who would ask to be delivered from all evil, I would caution great care, for they might get what they ask for, and that would be very dull indeed.

Jean-Claude Gerard Koven is a writer and speaker based in Vilcabamba, Ecuador. He was a featured weekly columnist for the UPI (United Press International) Religion and Spirituality Forum and is the author of Going Deeper: How to Make Sense of Your Life When Your Life Makes No Sense, recipient of both the Allbooks Reviews Editor’s Choice Award and the Award for the Best Metaphysical Book of the Year.

©2004 – 2021. Jean-Claude Gerard Koven / All Rights Reserved.


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