Parental Unkindness (3)

Every mind must face being wrong; very wrong, wholly and completely and 100% wrong, about something it was sure about, certain about, giddy with faith about, if that mind is going to mature into the adult mind capable of separating fact from fiction. Our civilization works because most people avoid the delusional extremes of various fanaticisms and become functioning, skillful adults. On the fringes we have saints and mystics, artists and mind-doctors but most folks are able to live without becoming bomb-throwing, child-molesting, suicide-preaching cult fanatics.

The development process of this universal initiation from childhood into adulthood is designed to move a person’s center of psychological integrity within. Unlike a child who is dependent on others for everything they need, an adult is able to provide for their own needs. This includes those emotional and psychological needs that mark us out as being the unique individuals that we are.

To continue to seek salvation outside your own heart, be it in a book, group, or other person, is bound to fail. Created with free will we are not allowed to escape our responsibilities. Even under vows of obedience we are not allowed to carry out crimes. Only you can discover the unique expressions of how to live your own life that will satisfy your true emotional, intellectual and spiritual needs. Though social pressure will always be pushing you to adopt their prefixed solutions for living the good life, none of them will work for you. They will all leave you hollow, like a shell of the person you were potentially capable of becoming. To keep the faith is to hold to the truth as you best understand it, to trust that in the end truth is stronger than any deception and ignorance because it is real. A good part of the truth only you can know will be the truth about the pain you suffered as a child and how your body uses the tracks laid down so long ago as your means of orienting yourself to reality via your actual experiences.

Good parents do all they can to nurture this reality function within their children. Good parents are ‘right in their hearts’ and so are capable of passing on this basic health of mind to their offspring. When development goes right the irrational childhood belief that one’s parents are an all powerful god and goddess gets transferred to the mythological realm. Here poetry and story can capture the ideals and dangers of the hero’s quest each of us must pursue as we work to expand our consciousness by bringing what was previously in darkness to light.

Toxic parents, on the other hand, are not right in their hearts. For whatever reason, though they are of the age of adults, they are still using the mind of a child. For such adults, if they see themselves as holier-than-thou religious, their faith is full of magical thinking: the miraculous is everywhere and life is full of huge satanic forces capable of sweeping good souls to hell in a moment of moral weakness. They are likely to pursue Sainthood, Enlightenment, Salvation (all with capitals!) at any cost to others. If they do not see themselves as holier-than-thou religious they are likely to be found among the more-entitled-than-thou secularly selfish perusing either Wealth or Debauchery, again at any cost to others, depending on how their rebellion against the childhood disillusioning revelation takes place. Secular or religious toxic parents are swept away by the numinous, suckers for salesman trying to bring about the immanentization of the Eschaton.

How else could truth be found but at the death of an illusion?

This is the root of unshakable kindness, compassion and empathy: a recognition that one’s own mind is the same as anyone else’s. It recognizes the difficult task involved in maturing the psyche and refuses to place additional burdens on the child just to satisfy the status desires of the adult ego. The sick are not able to do that. For the toxic parents the children are little more than possessions to be used in the on-going status war with the Joneses or the on-going war with their own sexuality and perversions. When such parents confront the failures of their children to live up to their unrealistic expectations they lash out, psychologically or physically, to destroy that which threatens to unravel their whole image of themselves. Toxic parents lack a centering in their own unique individuality that would have allowed them to admit that it is not possible for a human being to be certain about that which we cannot be certain about: things like why am I here, why the universe exists at all and what happens during and after death. Because they lack the integrity of mind that can live comfortably with uncertainty, they spend their lives seeking answers and approval from other people. The innocence of childhood only reminds them of their own repressed pain.

The fool – it is supposed to teach us to have a good laugh at ourselves, the most direct way to a healthy balanced humanity between the dark earth below and the vast sky above. It is true there is an element of pain in human laughter, just as their is an element of cruelty in our most loving intimacy. Consciousness, as far as the evidence seems to indicate, is a product of opposites held in tension. The trick evolution is using is that awareness increases by staying aware of both sides of the oppositions that make so much of our day to day experience feel so ambiguous. We need to be happily energized, if we are to enjoy our own and others company, but not too much; we need to be sad if the depths of melancholy are to provide us with three dimensional souls instead of the two dimensional cutouts of our social personas, but not too much; we need to be sure of our capacity to deal with things, but not so much we cannot admit when what we do is wrong; we need to be confident in our ability to understand what is important to understand about life, the universe and everything, but not so much that we cannot admit when what we have thought was true, is not.

If even your loving parents are willing to fool you, and do so right where the inherited religion makes its most dramatic theological claims about the salvation or damnation of their very souls, surely the child will become a bit more ready to accept that the world might be full of people willing to take advantage of them if given the chance. If a human being cannot even trust their parents to give them the straight dope, the lesson is supposed to go, surely no stranger will either.

This is how the normal, seemingly rather bland Western traditions of Christianity are actually incorporating the great work of passing wisdom and love on to the next generation. Two thousand years of experience in dealing with the human mind and its mythological symbolizing functions have taught society a thing or two.

Let’s look at the various aspects of this bit of cultural wisdom by which the previous generation attempts to help children separate what is real from what is not.

* fooled by other people lying to us
* fooled by misdirection as when we are taken in by a magician’s trick
* fooled by the illusion of authority written language has
* fooled by metaphors taken concretely
* put it all together – fooled by liars in books claiming miracles are real

This last one might be surprising, after all do not our Christian preachers insist the miracles in our mythological tales really happened? Well, yes they do but there is also a surprising bit of hedging and double-talk involved when the theology turns to address the status of miracles today. The Protestant traditions have the idea that the age of miracles ended with the apostles. The Catholic church has always been a bit more willing to admit miracles in the modern world but they are never of the spectacular walking-on-water type. They have the miracle of the mass, the miracle of healing, and a statue weeping or a stigmata here and there are allowed for, but there is a whole complicated court process by which claims of miracles touching on the spectacular are investigated. In other words, even here in the most symbolic of all Western forms of Christianity, the proof of God through an unmistakable supernatural sign is considered, if not impossible, very, very, very improbable. In this oldest of the Christian traditions private revelation never needs to be held in faith, it is only that some are investigated and declared not to be against faith.

Today the freaky miraculous is all relegated to the devil and the demonic. If you are seeing people walk on water and rise from the dead you are not advancing spiritually, you are going mad. If you expect to find spinning heads and pea soup vomit projectiles ala The Exorcist, even here you will be disappointed. There are truly uncanny things that happen in the outer reaches of human psychology but, as far as I know and from all that I have experienced, there are no easy miracles dripping off the fingers of anyone with our shared human nature. Not the walk-on-water, fly-in-the-air kind claimed by so many on the fringes of the spirituality marketplace anyway; they are not possible by worshiping a good god or an evil devil. There are crazy coincidences, elemental signs if you will, strange things that happen in strange states of consciousness, juxtapositions of awareness of intelligence within and without and a whole host of wonders far beyond what we modern folks are at all prepared to accept. One of the imbalances of the Christian inheritance that fed our ecological ignorance is a lack of understanding what the shaman, the saint and the mystic knows. Still, if it is the miracle believed in with a childhood naivety that you are looking for all you are going to run into In Search of the Miraculous is a collection of con men, magicians, and fools.

“When the true King’s murderers are allowed to roam free
A thousand magicians arise in the land.”
Jim Morrison, An American Prayer

This is what the whole package of our cultural mythologies are trying to teach us. That the real miracle, the greatest miracle, is real life.

Parental Unkindness (2)

If it seems to good to be true, it probably is. This is what every parent wants their child to comprehend. This is what every fast and loose salesman does not want their customers to understand.

We have trusted our parents or primary care givers to teach us the truth, to guide us on this path evolutionary development assigns us of discovering what is real and what is not. Part of that teaching task includes a whole host of painful but necessary lessons about the limitations inherent in being a human being. One of these lessons includes teaching the youth of our species not to be too gullible. To do so the parents are willing to be the bad guys, to fool us badly. They become willing liars, easily fooling their young charges by assuring them that a dream they really want to believe in is really real. And then, as if this was not enough, they actually go out of their way to provide what looks like evidence that this impossible dream is real by using every deceptive form of misdirection they can muster. I am of course describing the most universally honored rituals that remain in our culture, those that compliment the birth of Christ – the rituals around Santa Clause.

This is one of those things that displays the wisdom of our experience being handed down the generations. (One of the many continuities between the generations taken for granted  today that could be cut as the ecological blowback continues to tear at the very fabric of our societies). Right here where the story of the culture’s religion is born, the birth of the Christ, there is also placed the story of the culture’s secular god: the jolly fat man of consumerism’s material abundance. This elaborate setup is our cultural wisdom basically saying to the child, ‘only one of these is ultimately real, choose wisely.’ The Easter Bunny plays a similar role for the other major event in the Christian calendar which celebrates the resurrection. A wisdom not too hard to pierce is obvious when we consider the rabbit to be the symbol par-excellence of reproduction. Again, only one of these is ultimately real, choose wisely.

Here is where it really gets interesting. We moderns are used to thinking of our religious myths as stupid, naive and superstitious; all of which is a fairly sophisticated way of protecting their psychological usefulness. I worry a bit about shining too bright a light on that which functions best while left in partial shadow but have decided to trust the intuition that tells me now is the time to talk turkey. It is rather later than it might seem on the curve of Western civilization’s descent and for that reason I think it is a good time to take a look at what it was that had held things together and kept things working.

So do we choose to follow Jesus, or Santa Clause and the Easter Bunny? We will come back to that question.

The comfort a child draws from images is the same comfort an adult draws from reason. It is small comfort. The associational thinking that flows as one image leads to another does not include the stability we take for granted within our adult minds. There is no final ground yet in the child’s mind to which all flights of fancy will return. The task of waking up from those dreaming states of childhood is experienced as one of developing one’s own reasoning capacity. It involves the growth of enough self confidence to dare to trust one’s own thoughts and perceptions. It involves taking the first tentative steps towards trusting what you think, in spite of what others tell you, and trusting your own perceptions, in spite of whatever abstractions the mind might be hosting.

These are the first steps towards individuation. Using the conscious understanding to teach other parts of the mind the truth of things is arguably the most fundamental cognitive skill. We face our childhood fears by telling our minds that things in reality are not as bad as what our feverish imaginations are conjuring up. This is also how we will eventually learn to allow ourselves to be vulnerable and open to one another, even though we know how much it hurts to learn we have been fooled and used instead of respected.

By their holiday actions with presents and eggs each parent teaches orthodoxy: that I am not Jesus.

They are not following the way that leads to a bloody crucifixion at the hands of the empire but actually the way of the bunny and the gift giver; reproducing and trying to bring warmth, songs, generosity and good-will to the home and hearth. No, they lack the certainty of a Christ, a faith that could literally move mountains (which would be of questionable sanity in anyone of purely human nature). They have the faith of uncertainty and have learned how to survive in the face of the unknown and unknowable. By their lives the adults around the child are illustrating wisdom.

In the great opposition of the psyche, ironically, this is the real faith; this willingness to accept things as they are for mortal social primates. This faith trusts, that in spite of all the suffering and sorrow, life is worth it. Our religious and sociological rituals are designed to hand on a basic faith in the reality of the cosmos as being a reality we can trust. Through our stories we reconcile ourselves to our human nature; that in the end we are but a wonderful fruit of the loins watched over by that which provides all things and created the wild places. Whatever the intelligence is that animates the cosmos, it has chosen evolution through deep time as the means by which our persons manifest their true nature. Feet firmly on the ground it is precious to be a human being with heart and mind lifted towards the sky. . .

So do we choose to follow Jesus, or Santa Clause and the Easter Bunny?

This is the basic Christian story: Jesus was unique in showing the violence behind the scapegoat tendency of every community. He was Son of God and Son of Man. Our role within this mythology is to accept we are sons and daughters of men by learning the difficult truth that this is how we are children of God. We try to become jolly, generous fathers and mothers, holding the faith through the solstice’s darkest night. We try to make peace with God by finding our immortality in the way of rabbits, aka trusting our love-lead reproductive “instincts.” In these the intelligence of the cosmos is most intimately revealed to each of us.

A child looks up to his or her mother and father as superheroes. Dad is the magician whose intelligent use of his body, speech and mind allows him to walk the earth with head held high as he pursues his work and will. The child does not yet comprehend the struggles and difficulties involved because it is so taken with the basics of effective functionality. Dad shows an integration of emotion and thought working together in a practical mastery of earthly things the child can only dream about one day doing themselves. Mother is the priestess who skillfully and eerily knows all about the mysteries of food and bowel movements, flesh and its affection and afflictions in tears and laughter, fears and comforts. She shows an integration of self-nurturing skills so accomplished she doesn’t need her own mother to take care of her. Surely she is in touch with the gods. This self contained individuality the parents display, each in their own way, is something the young child can only dream about one day becoming.

This perception of adult competency is not mistaken. The adults do manage to obtain their daily needs and deal with the larger world outside the home. For the child these seem to be miraculous powers.

Children are fools. Parents, by setting up their disillusionment, are trying to act with kindness to soften the blow. The child’s mind first absorbs language and images and in its evolutionary purposes works furiously to build an understanding of itself and its place in the world that will allow it to survive. Its primary care givers are a model that this seemingly impossible quest can in fact be accomplished, but how? It has been said the brain of a two year old might work harder absorbing information and laying down patterns than at any other time in the life of a human being. That is how.

The funny thing about the mind’s development in childhood is that while it has acquired language and it is exposed to the cultural environment of its adult society, it lacks the core function those adults are using. As post-Freudians we tend to think what is lacking in the child is a sexual integration of the emotions but equally vital is the cognitive integration which reasoning brings. The child’s mind is filled with images and stories which it thinks it is reading correctly but, in fact, they are not interpreting them as the adults around them do. It is obvious how this can become a real problem, particularly when the stories involved deal with what is or is not real, true and beautiful as our religiously mythological stories do. With puberty’s changes comes the complete reorganization of the body, emotions and mind. In the body there is a new center of sensation, in the emotions a new depth of both orgasmic pleasure and sexual-jealousy pain (the highs and lows of the adult psyche) and in the mind there is a new integrity of reason that shows up as a pre-verbal grasp of what is real and what is not.

Guillermo del Toro’s film Pan’s Labyrinth is a good meditation on this fundamental human reality between the magical world of the child and that of the adult. In it we are confronted with a child that is not destined to live long enough to enter adulthood. This young girl is living in a world of fairy tales while all about her the evils of adult war and torture are unfolding. For me the film asks what value would be the disillusionment of this child who is not destined to live as an adult?  More profoundly the film also asks what disillusionment is lacking in the adults around her that allows them to carry on as they do? These adults are chasing mind abstractions not that different than the child’s. In a world of accelerating ecological disasters where most of our children’s children will most likely die (that is the truth you know), what should be the role of the stories we tell ourselves and most poignantly, the ones we tell them? Hiding from the monsters is not an option, so what are we to do?

The difficulty of psychological maturity is accepting the disillusionment that comes when we realize a dream we really wanted to believe in is not really real. The harsh truth that love dies breaks the hearts of everyone sooner or later. Sooner or later we all confront some event that teaches us very clearly that we are no more special in the eyes of nature than any of her other children; that we too will have our cup full of suffering, doubt and pain. The wise say life begins to make more sense as we get older and reflect on all that we have seen and heard, felt and feared, hoped for and achieved and hoped for and failed to achieve. They say it is only by allowing the ego dream to die that a glimpse of a deeper, truer dream comes about. The magical dreams of the conceptual mind need to give way to the love dreams of the heart, dreams traced in your body with its unique patterns of nervous system structure: the many joys and pains that have left their tracks. This deeper dream is the one that just might be spoken between our heart and our “creator” at the one special moment set aside for us when we too return to the earth to rest in peace.

The harsh truth about a universe seemingly unconcerned with our dreams turns many adults into cynics. Many with a cheery surface persona are hiding a depth of doubt truly abysmal in its darkness. They see that birth and death are all around and recognize they too are but fruits of the same processes but they cannot bring themselves to trust in the intelligence that is on display everywhere. That intelligence seems to take no notice of oneself as an individual, yet manifests itself only through individuals; no two blades of grass are the same, no two leafs on a tree, no two trees. . . no two people. Ego cannot fix this. We are not, ultimately, in control. If the heart harbors doubt about trusting reality, no conscious program of over-work, over-belief, over-study or any other fanaticism will change the depths. Something bigger than yourself must get involved. While this war is going on within there is very little real gentleness in one’s life.

Wisdom is said to come with age if a life is lived well. Our culture has no place for the wisdom of the elderly but this  matters not one whit to the truth of things. The need to allow life to unfold in its own time and in its own fashion teaches us that all the quick fix approaches so popular in our consumer culture are not going to help address this abyss in the heart. There is no special scripture to read, no pill to pop, no superhero to elect. There might need to be times we just live through, not having all the answers and not knowing if what we are doing is the “right” thing. In those times it pays to cultivate patience. In those times it pays to rest in a basic trust of that which is bigger than us all. Mindful of ecology we recognize we are living in one of those times.

Parental Unkindness (1)

“Intellectual black holes can also lead people to waste their lives. In some cases, true believers may be lead to abandon friends and family and throw away real opportunities, all for the sake of furthering their belief system’s hypnotically attractive, if bogus, cause.”
Believing Bullshit: How Not to Get Sucked into an Intellectual Black Hole, Stephen Law

rider-waite-foolWe need protection against the fundamentalist temptations for making our metaphors concrete and confusing the end of industrial civilization with the end of the world full stop. Social wisdom has embodied such protections in the types of mythic penetration of the culture we see in the traditions of, for example, Santa Clause and Easter Bunnies.

The slow growth of reason in the human being’s mind is fraught with dangers and detours. None of us escape unharmed. We all start out as fools, about to walk right over a cliff and not even noticing that this cliff is real. It is a cliché to say that young people do not really think they are going to die. I suggest they have bought a childhood version of our culture’s background mythology, in our case Christianity. They really believe if they were to die – in a flaming car crash, or an overdose, or a romantic suicide, or any of the number of other classic expressions of adolescent angst – it would just be going to heaven. They have no mental capacity, as yet, to comprehend the more adult understanding of the mythic message.

The adult understanding has God and nature not so separated. The adult understanding accepts that people really die and that dead means dead; it accepts the evidence of the senses. Whatever eternal life might exist, exists transcendentally, beyond time and space as we know them. Spiritualists and mediums are cesspools of superstition, dead is dead. For a mature adult the working of guilt and shame, regret and sorrow are no longer seen as little problems that can be healed with a quick kiss or a band-aid or a heap of Cosmic Foo Foo fairy dust. The real pain in our lives is just there, a natural element of the circumstances of our day to day lives as they have unfolded through the years.

In a way we could say the adult no longer gains any nourishment from the types of magical thinking on religious subjects that the child indulged in. Though in adult pain there will be songs to comfort, and whispers in the heart of all those we have loved and lost (the real angelic messages of the Christian tradition) there is no more looking for that instant karma or that one final conversion experience that will save their soul once and for all. All the quick fix escapes are dead ends; you can run but you cannot hide. The mind forms its measures of happiness and sorrow from the moment to moment realities it has experienced. If most of those experiences are dark and painful, the mind at the end of that life will also be dark and pain filled. This is the danger all parents fear for their children and a large part of what all the moral rules are designed to “save” us from.

When relatively healthy adults convert to a religion, they know not to allow their new found faith to completely upend their internal reasoning ability. This is why even the most enthusiastic first world convert to Christianity does not typically go out and immediately give away all they have, even though Jesus clearly teaches that is what the rich man should do if one really wanted to follow him above all else. The center of reasoning in the adult has been developed and cannot be so easily dismissed entirely. The adult understands that whatever is real within all this God talk, it must be integrated with the reality of daily life. What looks like hypocrisy might be simply this integration of reality and the ideal that comes so naturally to an adult mind.

The adult has enshrined whatever bit of rationality they have within their cognitive structures. The evolution of the mind assures that the adaptations to the environment required for survival take precedent over enthusiasms that threaten the integrity of the body. Children, of course, lack this development and that makes them easy targets for religious manipulation. Bomb vests anyone?

The tales by which these psychological realities are communicated speak in the language of metaphor, the only language capable of capturing the nuances of the heart. When those same stories are given to children they are planted into a consciousness that is still developing its reasoning ability. The child has the most important task of all living things; it is learning what is real and how to adjust to that, learn from that, and work with that to satisfy it’s inner craving to continue to exist. In the broadest outline this is what reasoning is and what it is for. Reason develops, in part, by learning to trust the evidence of one’s own experience. This process is very difficult because it entails nothing less than a complete revolution in the center of consciousness. The child lives in a cognitive world of newly acquired vocabulary, words received for the most part through hearing conversations and the many stories we share with our children. In some cases the evidence from our senses corresponds to that of the words and tales, and at other times the words and tales seem to be describing events that run counter to our every experience.

Anthropologists have long pointed out that the telling of religious tales occurs in every known culture. These tales have so much in common the depth psychologists have made a strong case that there is an archetypal effect in our consciousness we all share. These likely arise from how awareness experiences the structure and organization of the human brain as it responds to the biological and social environments it regulates and participates in. Pascal Boyer in Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought has found that humankind’s religious tales do not just consist of any old peculiarities but very specific ontological contradictions. It is as if the various inferential modules within our brains get into paradoxical cross talk. For example, when encountering a corpse one part of the mind that recognizes animated, goal seeking behavior as a characteristic of living things understands this is no longer applicable to this body. But this understanding is in contradiction to another part of the mind that had habitually inferred characteristic behavior from the person now deceased and still expects that to continue. We experience our loved one as dead, and yet not dead. Many psychic phenomenon concerning ghosts and visitations from the recently deceased may have their roots in such cognitive architectures. The tales that capture our imagination are not, as Boyer point out, about a table made of chocolate but of a table that felt sad when we left the room. . .

Religious tales break the rules of reality, this is what causes them stand out in our minds and gives them their staying power as they are passed down generation after generation. It is as if by tripping up the mind’s evidence processing clusters these tales engage the mind’s imaginative clusters. They nourish an opening up to the speculative what-if from which flows the poetic vision that so captures the romantic and mystic. It is also the speculative what-if capability of our imaginations that give us much of our humor. It is said that only mankind laughs, no other animal is known to enjoy the release of pent up nervous energies and cognitive cleaning that comes along with a full on, no holds barred belly laugh. I think in general we have yet to fully appreciate the power and necessity of learning to laugh for healthy adult functioning. In particular we underestimate the need to learn to laugh at ourselves so that we can laugh with the gods, these archetypal inhabitants of our souls. The devil, it is said, flees the humble.

Fallible human beings make mistakes all the time. Big ones, small ones, annoying ones, silly ones; our lives are almost defined by the dance of constant correction that we engage in. As mentioned last week, there is an interplay of the author and the editor in everything we do. Compassion for oneself begins when in our hearts we are able to laugh, or at least gently smile, at the tragic and the comic dramas of our own life stories.

One of the most difficult tasks of childhood development is that which consists of the recognition that the rational, evidence based clusters of the mind’s cognitive apparatus must be made central to the cognitions that will guide the rest of their lives. We must learn to surrender to that which makes the real seem real. It turns out this is just not so easy for a number of different reasons. Try to imagine the internal territory of the young mind. We have learned to think in words which we acquired from our environment and are becoming comfortable with claiming them as our own internal voice. We are working hard to understand what works and what doesn’t, what is real and what is not. We are trying to speak the truth using these words, truth being where what is real meets with what we speak about. To do this requires that we understand the nature of words themselves so that they can be used correctly as a tool for expressing and hearing true things. But as a young child, before reasoning has fully developed, we do not yet grasp the nature of these tools.

Many of the words a child has learned lack a real world referent; they are the magical words of the imagination. These are the words like ‘gods’ and ‘ghosts’, ‘vampires’ and ‘angels’ and all the other rumored beings that you cannot shake hands with, or as it is often said, that cannot be put in a wheelbarrow. Then there are a whole host of words that have a referent in the direct experience of the physical body but are describing things that can be seen only indirectly by the senses. These include all the psychologically powerful and important words describing emotional and feeling states, which remember are arguably the most important signals a social primate receives from its early environment. We have already touched on the importance of knowing the mood of the primary caregivers as a vital part of a child’s survival strategy.

What this all adds up to is that the child is gullible, or as we like to say, is innocent. Growing up includes the rather harsh lessons involved in wising up.

We soon learn it is easy to be fooled at every level of our being; we can be fool by our senses, as we are with every optical illusion; we can be fooled by our own mind, as when we discover what we had been thinking was right turns out to not be the case; and then there is the whole basket full of deceptions that happen during interactions with other people. That basket, as was mentioned, is critically important to a social primate. It is what makes life so difficult and interesting at the same time, namely, we can be fooled by our habitual social expectations. Finally we can be fooled by the very nature of words themselves. They carry an implied authority because we have accepted their use and ultimately arbitrary meanings (c-a-t has no direct relationship with a cat) on the authority of those that taught them to us. We are claiming that authority for ourselves as we begin to shape our own sentences and thoughts, though we are not yet the masters of these tools we think we are. Given all this it’s safe to say the development of the ability to reason is highly motivated.

To be continued…


To live centered in compassion begins by being compassionate to oneself. Each of us have guilt and regrets for actions we have taken in the past or words we have spoken. Healthy assessment of our past from the view of who we know ourselves to be in our body knowledge is an inescapable step on the road to wholeness. To “take our seat” we need to become strong enough in our own sense of self-worth that forces external or internal cannot shake it. This might seem to imply rigidity but is actually an openness to doubt and a trusting acceptance of the unknown and unknowable. It is the complete opposite of clinging to a belief even when all the evidence externally and internally are witnessing that there is no truth in it. To take our seat we need to abide by the witness of what has actually happened in our own lives, reviewing it with an eye of compassion that recognizes the heroic aspect of our own journeys.

In my experience this is a process of killing shame so that you are able to find the innocent child within and slowly rebuild how you interpret the events of your life. Toxic shame is the illusion that must be dispelled. Shame is a type of depression that is accompanied by a hurt that is sensed both physically and emotionally. Shame is a type of guilt we take into ourselves when we accept the judgment of people and institutions even though they cannot see clearly into our own hearts. It is much more tied into our social personas, character armor and fear of embarrassment than with the real weighing of the heart by a person’s own conscience. It hurts us. It does not strengthen our healthy self-esteem because it is the set of judgments about right and wrong that do not take into account our own personal circumstances at the time of whatever event it is that is bothering us. It doesn’t allow for grace because it doesn’t allow for the sinner.

This shame killing is supported in Buddhism by the ideas that all things have a Buddha nature and if we do not recognize it that is due to ignorance on our part. The shame killing is supported in Christianity by the ideas that man is born with original sin that started with Adam, not “you” and was removed by Christ, again not “you.” A bit like all things having Buddha nature it also teaches all things exist due to an all good God. Understanding this is called grace.

Every boy is sure his father is superman. Every girl grows up sure her mother is superwoman. It is the nature of the mind to do so. These are, after all, our primary care givers on which our very survival depends but there is much more going on here. These living beings are in fact the external sources of the very body and mind we are experiencing as our own. This is the psychology and physiology of the DNA in action. We are not speaking metaphorically or poetically when we say that. The chromosomes that make you are the inheritance you receive from your parents. A profound reflection of being exists here, a reflection absent from the lives of orphans and scarred in the lives of abused children.

This is the human situation. As a man grows he learns that it is his fathers eyes looking back at him in the mirror. As a woman grows she learns that it is her mother’s eyes looking back at her in the mirror. Sometimes this can be very hard to take. Particularly for those who have experienced one of the more extreme forms of toxic parenting.

This is not to say there is no individual separate from the parents. In fact, it is only in the recognition of this parental contribution within oneself on which real individuality can be built. You embody a wholly unique combination of chromosomes, one never to be repeated in all the history of all the universes, we could say. In one sense, then, all of us are already as unique as it is possible to be. However, what generation after generation of watching the unfolding stages of a human life have taught us is that it is in fact very, very difficult to fully mature into an individual. How is that? Well ask yourself, can you stand for your own truth, whatever a lifetime of experiences in your body and mind have taught you, without any other person on earth telling you that what you are saying is true? Can you take your seat? Or do you still think someone somewhere can give you your truth, are you still looking for your super parents somewhere outside yourself?

As we grow we seek the seemingly magical parents we lost as our minds matured out of childhood. We seek them in groups, for we are first and foremost a social creature. We also seek them among our peers and recognize aspects of them in strangers. The funny thing is, it is often when we feel we are most uniquely ourselves that we are in fact acting out little more than the collective stages of human growth. This, in my mind, is the great value of adding an understanding of depth psychology to our cognitive tool belts.

It was one of Carl Jung’s most helpful insights that each of us contains the gender opposite of our bodies in a less developed form. It is a useful therapeutic simplification at times. The man has a woman inside related to his feeling life and the woman has a man inside related to her thinking life. This is a gross oversimplification of rather involved concepts but for my purposes today it is sufficient just to remind ourselves that these psychological constructs, the so called anima and animus, are part of what we each have to deal with when we work on fighting, making peace, and fighting again with our inner parents. And this is exactly what freeing the inner child from toxic shame is all about.

I hate to add any ammunition for those pushing over-tight definitions of gender roles which so many have suffered under for so long. Please understand that we are going to talk about principals assigned to the mother and father because I want to illustrate how, for me, my own parents play out in my body and mind as they work together. Ultimately men and women are much more the same than we are different: the human being with its physical, emotional, rational and imaginative factors is the same regardless of the packaging. Individuation implies a real grasp of this fact from a gut level.

These warnings are meant to remind us that we are treading on ideas that could be more harm than help if they are made too concrete. All that is being said is here is how the two energies we inherited from the two human beings whose love making produced us might be worked with.

Female: creativity, inspiration, caring enough to get vicious. Proper integration of this power inspires us to create our works of heart and head; our arts, sciences, and all the imaginative stories we so love to share with one another. I write, obviously, so this is a powerful example for me. I have to be able to let my mother’s voice of encouragement give me strength enough to believe that what I have to say is worthwhile.

Male: destruction, protection, caring enough to get enraged. Proper integration of this power allows us to refine our work by seeing how we could do better. I write, again obviously, so editing is a powerful example for me. I have to be able to let my father’s voice of critical appraisal give me insight, and not depression and despair that all the writing is just no good.

What about the so called war of the sexes and how that plays out in the psychological realm? Male frustration with the physical world guides our skill, e.g. when trying to drive a nail but you keep messing up; the experience brings up the energy of anger. Men, after all, are known to swear like sailors as the old expression goes. That  energy is then available, if it can be harnessed rationally, to get that darn nail driven in just right. This is no small part of what is going on in our ecological crisis: a serious and real frustration that after working as hard as we possibly could to understand the earth and universe using our sciences, and applying what we learned from those sciences, costing us measureless sweat and tears in our many engineering and manufacturing processes, we find ourselves up a blind alley witnessing the dead end of growth economics.

Female frustration with human beings brings up the energy of not being heard, e.g. “you never listen to your mother” is probably a very ancient complaint. Particularly serious right now has been the lack of listening to those voices warning our society that there are limits to growth and dangers in our pursuit of extreme masculine values. That need-to-be-heard energy fuels many of the movements afoot just now which are working hard to bring back some sort of balance to a world careening off into one dead end after the other. I am a man so my ability to talk about this is limited at the best of times, I beg your indulgence for the sake of the point I am trying to make about how these dual energies work together.

How do these principals work within us? When describing what it was like to write I said it was as if my mind worked with the voice of my mother and father. More psychologically accurately it is the feelings and emotions that provide the moment by moment feedback between the body and the mind, not voices in my head (most the time anyway!). I write a sentence or juggle the words in my mind and when it ‘feels right’ I tend to keep it. Even as it is being written I might suddenly ‘feel’ it could be improved but though I may change the words a little it can’t be allowed to interfere with the flow of creativity. Later I will try and read my words as if they were written by someone else with the intent of finding where they are weak or less than clear and can be improved. During the edit sometimes a more creative way of saying something comes to mind with a certain ‘feeling’ of enthusiasm and so it goes, a constant interplay of these two forces working together.

By the way, please understand writing about some of the subjects brought up on this blog are not at all as easy for me as it might seem. My inner images of my parents like to put on their demon masks just as much as the next guy. Remember though that I am more than fifty years old, I have had some practice in not letting even that knock me off my seat. It is all about an Aikido approach in which we use the enemy’s energies against them instead of trying to overcome them with brute force from our ego. Other times they put on their celestial masks. Same thing, keep your seat. The rational mind understands its parents were just human, with all the mixed blessings that go along with that.

It is not hard to see why wise ones teach us to seek out the middle way. Imagine what would result if only the creativity and encouragement of the mother were allowed to control our lives; soon we would all be running around thinking we are all going to become gods or something. Rather like the fool card in the Tarot with his head full of dreams and blissfully unaware of the cliff he is about to go over because he is so delighted with himself. Or imagine what would result if only the criticism and anger of the father were allowed to rule our lives; soon we would all be running around thinking we are all going to become devils or something. That unbalanced masculine energy characterizes a goodly proportion of the society we find ourselves in, one ready to end it all in a nuclear conflagration and one that every day, day in and day out, adds to the destruction of the earth’s life support systems.

Look at that. The Christian West, with its story of Jesus as the Son of God, set in an environment of more or less universal rejection of the Virgin Mary as His mother, has a problem integrating the male energy… The missing fathers epidemic that characterizes our time is how this same imbalance works itself out in families. Even in families in which both parents raise their young together, it is typical that the father is working far too many hours with far too little security or ability to provide to show for it to make for healthy homes. It takes energy to work on these neuropsychological issues of growing into healthy parenting and sadly, during this late stage of Babylonian Capitalism, that is exactly what adults are not allowed to have. There is very little opportunity for anyone to catch their breath.

The recent history of employment lays out the trap of extremes quite clearly. The same overworked exhaustion was first extended to most women in most families, so that today both parents working almost equals the same ability to provide which a single parent did a few short decades ago. And now we have allowed the imbalance to take our children too. Never in the history of the human race has the early education of our young been such a maniacally future-employment phenomenon. This is new, what we are doing to our children, co-opting them for the purposes of capitalistic profits even as they learn to speak. We should ask ourselves why we are allowing it.

Almost universally in the industrialized world any adult who takes on a serious inner search will turn up regrets about working too much. Regrets usually centered around the time they missed with their own families or partners or perhaps most troublesome: the time not given but needed to begin to understand ourselves and our own life stories.

What keeps us hooked on the treadmill? The promise and fears of wealth, power and fame. Why? I am going to suggest it is due in no small part to having lost the ability to teach ourselves the value of the individual. The individual is someone who is not just reacting to the inner forces of the mother, father and child within our bodies and minds and not just reacting to the outer persuasions of propaganda or the whims of crowds. It is someone who has struggled to stay in this in-between place that is doing the work of individuation, here is where it takes place. Archetypal psychology is a way to understand the inner forces that can capture us with their numinosity. To understand the external forces one of the best sources I have run across is Under the Influence: The Destructive Effects of Group Dynamics by Goldhammer.

As our population grew at exponential rates it is as if we were preparing ourselves psychologically for the die-off we sense is coming. It is becoming altogether too easy to think all the power today to affect the future lies with groups and institutions instead of with individuals. Once we are convinced this is the reality, something all groups want to convince us of to one degree or another, the individuals outside our group become little more than vague blobs of protoplasm or threatening sub-humans. History teaches us this scapegoating leads no where good. As Stalin quipped with all the cold rationality of a tyrant familiar with ordering the death and destruction of tens of millions of human beings, “the murder of an individual is a tragedy, the murder of a million is a statistic.” That is a lie. The murder of a million by a tyrant is, actually, a million tragedies for those that knew and loved the victims.

We need to fight this numbness we use to wall off our tears and fears. It is in our character armor which we had to develop since early childhood to protect ourselves from the irrational parenting and institutional manipulation all people are subjected to in one degree or another. We repress anger at abusive parents, deep disappointments with the way our lives have gone, and a whole host of highly critical thoughts about those our society holds up as heroes. Unexplored minds and hearts sometimes hold a real witches brew of tough medicine. This is the nature of the beast. The culture that places no value on maturity, while allowing little or no time for inner work, has left itself open to the return of the repressed in all the unhealthy ways we see on the news each evening.

Learning to stay with whatever pain or darkness presents itself is a large part of a contemplative practice that leads to healing instead of further self alienation. It is also what I have been calling our training for triage actions. Learning to stay with whatever pain or darkness presents itself in the years ahead so we can deal with it as rationally as we are able is the only good option available to us. Crowds are again on the march, full of sound and fury with dim echoes of the start of the previous century when two world wars and the Great Depression struck. It is high time we make peace with the parents that bequeathed us this rather broken system and get on with the work at hand.