We often learn
Newton's first law of motion in the context of billiard balls
on pool tables. But the same law is readily observed in "man
as machine". I tend to react to men in the same, limited
manner in which I tended to react to my own father. I will continue
to do so until something awakens me to what I am doing, enables
me to see alternatives, and assists me in establishing those alternatives
as part of a new, less restrictive pattern.
But human beings are rather more complex than billiard balls;
much is required to overcome
the force of habit or the trend of history. Consider dieting as
one example of attempting to overcome an addiction (or any other
deep pattern) via self-improvement. The mind idealistically embraces
the idea of losing weight, usually rallying itself around some
new technique for doing that; but the body remains a distinct
voice and force all the while. The mind may rule for a period;
but, come that moment in front of the chocolate shop, when the
delicious smell comes wafting out —
the body instantly initiates a coup d'etat,
seizing the throne and commencing a food binge that may last days,
weeks, or months. When the mind "comes to", it generally
is perplexed about the failure of its program. It vastly underestimated
(and never was actually in a position to overcome) the force and
depth of the pattern it was attempting to address.
A more apt metaphor for "man as machine" than the passive
billiard ball is "man as homeostatic
system": a pattern of activity which, even
when acted on by an outside force, will exert a counter-force,
in order to perpetuate the present pattern. It's as though the
billiard ball had developed little "legs" that dug into
the pool table surface when it sees another pool ball coming,
in order to resist the oncoming "hit"; or as though
the ball could dodge the oncoming ball. Not so easy to knock that
ball in a desired direction any longer, even with an outside force!
are examples of systems consciously designed to be homeostatic.
They are built to keep the house at a certain temperature homeostatically;
a fall below that temperature turns the heater on, while a restoration
to the status quo temperature turns the heater off. Just
so, upon persisting at a certain weight for a sufficient length
of time, the human body establishes that weight as a "set
point" which it vigorously works to restore should body weight
go lower (or higher).
On the basis of similar observations, thinkers as diverse as Montaigne,
Pavlov, Gurdjieff, and Hubert Benoit, concluded that what is possible
through self-improvement, or even improvement with the help of
other human beings more or less like ourselves, is severely limited.
the help we need for radical change or spiritual maturity, on
the one hand must overwhelm our homeostatic system in the manner
of a great "Outside Force"; and yet, on the other hand,
it must also pull the rug out from beneath deep patterns in the
manner of Something at an even greater depth (in accord with the
principles of depth psychology). The "Grace of God"
is a good name for help which both overwhelms from without