“The Drive for Life”
“Human nature is disposed to do good, as water flows downwards.”
There are so many procedures and techniques, systems and modalities, all proclaiming themselves as therapy.
They are entitled to do so only if, whatever the means whereby, they raise the Life Energy, the Healing Power within the sufferer: if they raise the sufferer’s will to be well, if they enhance his Life Energy.
All spiritual endeavors have as their supreme aspiration the attainment of Perfection. It was Dogen, the great Zen master, who significantly modified this: the purpose of our aspiration is not to become Perfect, to acquire the Buddha nature, but to realize that we already are Perfect, that each of us is a Buddha. Each of us is already a Buddha—we just have to realize this, realize it deep in our hearts.
It is my belief that each of us can find this Perfection in ourselves only when we first find it in another, in the most significant Other, in our mothers: to go deep within her and find the All-lovingness, the Belovedness, which is her deepest self, her soul. Once we find it in her, then and only then can we take it into ourselves, introject it. This is a very difficult task, which few accomplish. Perhaps it can be made a little easier.
Let us start by abandoning words such as Perfection, Buddha nature, God within, and so forth. They are all so emotionally charged, and very frequently activate a negative response in us because they seem so unattainable. I ask you to go deeply into your mother to find her Perfection, her Soul, her Belovingness, and you scoff, resist, and turn away defeated. But what if I use another expression which is more acceptable, apparently more mundane? What if I ask you just to go into your mother and see the workings of her Maternal Instinct? With this you will be far more comfortable.
But you will still protest that many, many of her actions toward you were hardly manifestations of the Maternal Instinct—in fact were perversions, even reversals of it. This is true for all mothers. This I refer to as the ego-misprocessing of the instinct. But nevertheless, you can readily see through the misprocessing to the pure Maternal Instinct which has driven her throughout your life. So it becomes easier by this means to find the Perfection in your mother, because that is what the Maternal Instinct is.
But now how to find it in yourself? All of us have a Maternal Instinct—for it is but one manifestation, one aspect, of the Life Instinct, which of course we all possess. This Life Instinct is what Freud called Eros.
Bruno Bettelheim writes this about Eros: “It was our love for others, and our concern for the future of those we love, that Freud had in mind when he spoke of ‘eternal Eros.’ The love for others—the working of eternal Eros—finds its expression in the relations we form with those who are important to us and in what we do to make a better life, a better world for them.”*
This is the Maternal Instinct, this is the Love Instinct, this is the Life Instinct which we all possess. When we know this deep in our heart’s core, then and only then will we enter what the Buddhists call the Free Land—only then will we find Heaven on Earth, for only then will we know the Perfection which is each of us and everyone—and especially our mothers.
But the use of the word “instinct” in this context leads us into ethological considerations which were not Freud’s intention, for, as Bettelheim points out, Freud was very careful not to use the word “instinct,” in German instinkt, but instead used trieb, which means “drive.” So he wrote not of the life instinct but the life drive (nor of a death instinct, but of a death drive). Bettelheim goes on to point out that the word “instinct” was chosen by the English translators in an attempt to make Freud sound more scientific, in the same way they translated the German word for soul as “mind”—more scientific but, tragically, less humanistic.
Here are some of the synonyms for drive—force, pressure, urge, impetus, impulse, thrust, motivation. This is what Freud had in mind: this force, this energy arising deep within us, driving us into life, into love. It is this that I mean by the phrase Life Energy.
And this Life Energy, this life drive, this Eros, is within us as our deepest motivating power. How can we not then see that we all are Love, that we all are Perfection? Every moment that we fail to realize this is itself a manifestation of what Freud called Thanatos, the death drive. But here I disagree with Freud in the sense that I do not believe that the death drive is as deep or as important as the drive for life. Thanatos only exists because of our misprocessing, our misperception of Eros.
Now to come back to Dogen. The purpose of all spiritual endeavors is just to reduce our ego-misprocessing that we may find Eros within us, and thus live accordingly.
How can you not believe that your mother has a maternal drive, a drive for Life? And how can you not believe that you have, too? All we need to do is to hold on to this belief and to make it ever stronger and take it ever deeper.
* Bruno Bettelheim, Freud and Man’s Soul. New York: Knopf, 1983, p. 109.
Excerpted from Facets of a Diamond: Reflections of a Healer.