Home » To Be or to Perform? That is the Question
From the moment of birth, we’re taught to perform. Conditioning is laid upon conditioning and it’s all intended to create an individual who can intellectually and socially perform according to all the accepted performance criteria of human culture. In the process, a person develops an identity based on these performance norms and is essentially separated from anything approximating true identity.
Looking back on my own educational process, I now realize that all through school I was taught to perform in ways that satisfied my teachers, my parents, my classmates and society at large. I felt a very stressful and even exhausting pressure to achieve high grades and emerged from four years of university and three years of seminary as an excellent student with a promising future but not really knowing who I was or what life was all about.
I remember as a child being asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” The real question being asked was, “What role do you want to perform when you grow up?” And the role generally had something to do with earning a living and making a name for myself in a performance-driven world. Obviously, the only thing that could emerge from this programming process was a sham self in a make-believe world.
It took some rather shattering experiences in my mid- to late twenties to jolt me out of this performance addiction and back to a sense of reality. After graduating from seminary I found a church in Tacoma, Washington, that wanted me to be its pastor. I returned to Colorado to be ordained by the committee of ministers that had sponsored my ministerial candidacy. Imagine my shock when the chairman of the committee told me that my ordination was being denied because it was felt I was “psychologically unfit for the ministry.”
As I recovered from this shock, it began to dawn on me that the institutional church was probably psychologically unfit for what I had to offer! I got involved with the revolutionary left and became a charter member of the Colorado College chapter of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and helped lead protests against the Vietnam War. Somewhat later, I began exploring the hippie subculture, including the use of LSD and other psychedelic drugs, and became the notorious Reverend Malcolm Mindblower, a rebellious and mildly hysterical hippie minister.
I suppose it could be said that this was also a performance, but it was so outlandish and so totally contrary to the culturally accepted standards of performance that it had the effect of shaking me back to the very foundations of my being and the stirrings of reality. Moreover, since this was followed by a few months of disciplined Zen meditation I finally saw clearly that I am not on Earth to socially, culturally and religiously perform; rather, I am present in my world to reveal my unique gifts as a creator being.
David Karchere, spiritual director of Emissaries of Divine Light, describes it this way: “The higher levels of our being are designed to shape, guide and empower the forms of our physical and mental experience. But performance without regard to being has us employing our mental faculties to decide what the form of who we are in the world should be—all without reference to the higher dimensions of our being. That kind of performance is false and shallow, and ultimately disastrous, personally and collectively. Isn’t that what we are witness to in the current culture?”
Unfortunately, most human beings never snap out of their addiction to performance-oriented human culture. And so life becomes a perpetual Halloween party, a ghoulish masquerade of zombie-like characters performing a play that is disconnected from the authentic script of creation. Fortunately, the Universe is bringing down the curtain on this shameful and destructive performance.
Yet the world is still full of actors performing this tragic play, and it defines the existential crisis of our time. It is not, as many supposedly astute observers would have us believe, an economic crisis, a political crisis, a humanitarian crisis, a social crisis, an educational crisis, a military crisis, a religious crisis or an environmental crisis (complete with global warming). It is above all else and at its very foundation a spiritual crisis, a crisis of identity.
But human beings spend virtually all their energy and resources utilizing performance tactics to battle the secondary crises that are mere symptoms of the underlying spiritual crisis. Surely it is time to disengage from performance that is “false and shallow, and ultimately disastrous” in favor of vigorous engagement with “the higher dimensions of our being,” also described as the signature vibration of Love that resides at the very core of individual identity.
I recall a colloquial expression that goes like this: “Get real, man!” Absolutely! This is what we’re all called upon to do: “Get real.” Let reality come forth in the midst of a performance-conditioned unreal world. Let reality gradually phase out unreality and transform the world. The world is just a reflection of what is present in human consciousness. As I bring the reality into my consciousness and others do the same, the whole world begins to get real. Performance dies and creative living begins.
Our life on Earth was not intended to be a performance; rather, we are here to reveal true character, the character of the Divine that informs the very essence of who we are. It is surely time for this authentic self that has been buried under a mountain of conditioning to rise up and break through in a glorious recovery of reality.
Yes, it may take some time to retrain body, mind and heart to consistently display this authentic self; I’ve been working on it for more than fifty years! But it is the only way to address and resolve the spiritual crisis in oneself and in the larger body of humanity. And what a relief to begin removing the mask to discover who I actually am and the gifts I have to bring into the world!
And can you imagine the awesome world that would result if, from the moment of birth, authenticity was valued over performance? Exit the grotesque unreal world of performance. Enter the real world that springs from inner Being, a magnificent dance of creation. Why, it would be the talk of the Universe! And beings from all over the cosmos would pine for incarnation on this pulsating planet.
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