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.