Some years ago, I was apprenticing under an elder practitioner, and we stepped into the treatment room to meet a tan, muscular guy with a crushing handshake, a loud voice, and a surplus of confidence. “I just need a tune up,” he yelled immediately, lest we consider for even a moment that there could be anything wrong with him. He went on describe a life of conquest and wealth, from climbing Mount Everest to buying, selling, and merging companies. He was also kind enough to share his personal credo: that everyone should maintain a “cash cushion” of at least a million dollars – just in case. The only health issue he could think of was an old ankle injury.
But my mentor was a healer of spirits, not ankles. And I could sense, as he felt the patient’s pulses and asked polite questions, that he was smelling, seeing, hearing, and feeling information on another dimension. We stepped out of the room and he said, “The bigger the front, the bigger the back.”
I’m sure you get the gist of this expression even if you’re not familiar with it. You’ve heard about the preacher who foams at the mouth about moral depravity and then gets caught with a prostitute. In this patient’s case, we didn’t uncover anything scandalous, just a cowering core of insecurity and isolation that made all his accomplishments feel worthless. He had so much invested in the “front” in order to avoid revealing or confronting the “back.” To use the Japanese terminology from last week, we could see these fronts and backs as jitsu (“jit-soo”) and kyo (“kee-oh”).
If a kyo is an inner weakness, instability, or deficiency, a jitsu is the resulting drive to protect, acquire, and resist. Greed is always a jitsu emanating from some misunderstood or unrecognized kyo, and the same is usually the case with other strong drives that benefit only the individual’s ego or pocketbook.
Psychologists and philosophers have been digging for the secret kyos behind pathological behaviors for centuries. Many kyos would fall under what Carl Jung referred to as the “shadow aspect” – that usually hidden part of the personality where we keep everything we regard as wrong or bad. Jung said, “Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.”
It’s interesting to consider this front/back dynamic in an age when obesity is epidemic, military spending is outrageous, and people stab each other for Black Friday deals. What’s the hole we’re trying to fill or protect with so much acquisition and armor?
Whatever our individual kyos, I’m inclined to believe there is a deeper, central kyo embedded in the collective unconscious. It’s the kyo of the kyo, a core weakness that’s the same for everyone even if it’s expressed uniquely by each of us. While it’s gratifying when our jitsu activities lead to the recognition and treatment of our personal kyo, it’s monumental when we uncover and heal the one primal kyo.
As I see it, the fundamental kyo is the belief that we are separate from our world. Separate from God, Nature, Spirit (or whatever other term you like), separate from other humans, and separate even from ourselves, i.e., ultimately alone. This apparent separation is what allows us to perceive a world of attack and defense; a world in which our gains come at the expense of another’s loss; a feeling of guilt (for separating from our source) and blame; and an endless drive to find something that will correct this unsettled feeling.
All these expressions of the kyo are confused except possibly the last – a drive to find something that will correct this unsettled feeling. Of course it’s possible, if this drive is outwardly directed, for it to lead to overeating, gambling, hyper-acqusition, drug addiction, and more instability. But it’s also possible that it might direct us to uncover the truth: that we’re not actually separate or alone, and that we need nothing but to wake up.
Oneness with everything – sometimes called Self realization or unity consciousness – is a theme common to so many spiritual traditions and described by so many thoroughly rational, nonzealous people, that it would be difficult for an intelligent and open-minded person to dismiss it, even if the mind has no point of reference for it. In fact, I’ve noticed that once the seed of this concept is willingly invited into one’s mind, it tends not to leave. It’s compelling, because it would mean an end to so much conflict, an opening to such deep peace, and a resolution of our core kyo.
Over the week, I encourage you to feel into the underlying instability that compels you to seek for things outside yourself. Feel into the vulnerability that makes you want to attack others and defend yourself. Are these kyos different? Or do they emanate from one central idea? Can you determine what that idea is? If so, is it true? Tell me what you discover.
Regardless of your ability to unearth these feelings or beliefs, just arousing the spirit of curiosity is valuable. At the least, it’s better than being at the mercy of below-the-radar impulses.
Dr. Peter Borten
P.S. If you didn’t read last week’s article on jitsu, kyo, and amoebas, you can check it out HERE.