Mind Training

There is much more to say about the world-soul introduced last week. In particular the role of animals was not even mentioned yet is a substantial part of earth’s sentience. I hope to circle around to this subject again but today we are going to shift gears a bit. We are on the hunt for some clarification around the relationships between truth, belief, character, fundamentalism, and mental agility. There is a tradition of mind training in Tibetan Mahayana Buddhism. Today I’d like to introduce a bit of a western spin on the same idea.

Any statement made can be classified as belonging to a logical category. Some might belong to more than one category depending on how they are interpreted. I just mention this in passing but it can become a crucial key for proper understanding at times. These logical categories include:

True or False – It is 90 degrees outside right now.
More or Less Likely – It’s very likely the Larson C ice sheet will break off this year.
Meaningless – Colorless green ideas sleep furiously.
Indeterminate – The god who made this universe loves war.

The first step in this western mind training is to simply recognize that these different categories exist. It is like having a number of different tools on your cognitive tool belt so that there is a good chance the right one will be at hand when it is needed. Many people are confused, and many messages are deliberately designed to be confusing, about the type of truth claims that are possible. Keeping in mind this full spectrum of possibilities can aid us in our quest to minimize our ignorance.

Without awareness of this whole collection it is not possible to identify that which is the real mystery in our midst, that which many label god. In the typically complimentary way of the psyche, the only way to get a handle on just what the human mind can know is to become real clear about what it cannot. To see the mystery we need to remove the mystification. To that end its worth pointing out the important characteristic of the meaningless statement which is that it was designed by Noam Chomsky to be syntactically correct but semantically meaningless. A whole lot of messages over our airwaves amount to little more than this when analyzed. As a reminder those who need to strengthen their understanding of likelihood are encouraged to peek at the probability material on this site.

It is, however, the last category of indeterminate statements that is the interesting one which we are going to explore in this post. Be prepared for some rather dense psychological material and groping speculation.

People are free to assert any number of things for which the only proper response is “could be.” The rub is that very often the person making said statement believes in it as if it were as real as rocks. Other people doubting its veracity then become construed as threatening to their position. Why? I think the answer deals with a fundamental difference in the position people make towards knowledge. Some people are certain they know the truth. Religious, scientific, psychological, whatever the field, these persons adhere to certainty. Their position is related to extroversion and the Western theological tradition of making positive statements about what god is. God is Love we are taught, God is X is the pattern. Certainly the term God however, if it means anything at all, points to that existential mystery at the heart of existing that far exceeds full human understanding. Granting that, whenever we assert God is X we should immediately add ‘and not X.’ If we say God is fair and just we stay real by adding but not as humans are fair and just. This is related to the apophatic Eastern theological traditions and introversion. This represents a different core psychological position persons can take towards truth. These people are not certain they know the truth but are quite certain about what they believe to be the truth, even while recognizing it is possible that they are mistaken.

Statements that can be true or false conclusively are the domain of deductive logic or direct observation. Inductive logic allows drawing generalized conclusions by reasoning along the lines of the most or least probable. The meaningless statements exist outside the bounds of logic and serve other masters than verbal truth such as deception or aesthetics or simply a poetic frolic with language engaged in for the fun of it. Which leaves us with the final category. There is something about the indeterminate category which causes a rather profound difference between how people approach the world and each other.

My suggestion is that their positions revolve around an individual’s understanding which is where the bits and bytes of knowledge are linked to what we human beings find meaningful. Though the knowledge is collective, the interpretation of it is resolutely individual. What something means to us is what we can only fully encounter by taking account of our dreams about it, how our perspective about it has changed over the long decades of a lifetime, and how this understanding of ours has ultimately affected our behavior. It takes all of this to account for what we find meaningful or not because it takes all of this to provide the details of our own stories which differ from anyone else’s.

Understanding gains this cognitive feature because it is built, at least in part (and often the most important part) by using symbols. Symbols turn their face to us but their backsides proceed into the unplumbed depths. Mind’s interface with will, the source of the bodymind’s movements and desires, includes encounters with non-conceptual energies from the biological processes involved. We know what the flag means, for example, as a stand-in for a country, its people and their history. It is also well known how a country’s flag can move men and nations by emotions both noble and base. This nature of symbolism as the simultaneous cognitive and physiological expression of our individual understanding lends itself to the profound commitments we often see people making to them. In a person’s individual experience as it unfolded in a particular culture numerous events made impressions on their character, laying tracks in the bodymind. This is how our understanding grows using the currency of symbolism.

For understanding to grow it must change. Often, due to the nature of what we as individual’s find meaningful being anchored in our hearts, in our physiology, such maturing changes are painful and difficult. There is an unrest in the body that accompanies this dis-quite in the mind when a person’s understanding is shifting. Though we can learn through this experience to be more tolerant of ambiguity and the unknown, nothing wholly removes its sting.

We experience all of this internally. The face we show the world, the persona asserting our place, may or may not be affected by the process. Whether or not it will seems to be determined by a number of things, including the size of the shift in understanding taking place. A chemistry student learning about programmed cell death is likely altering the arrangement of her knowledge less than someone suddenly learning her trusted business partner is a crook and murderer. Still, it is not just a matter of how large the changes are. Some people handle torture and others cannot handle no air conditioning, to be a bit flippant. An unknowable element of character, fate, destiny, or karma is also at play.

If the persona is affected the rest of the world will know. Public conversions of Republicans to Democrats or Independents are simple examples. Now our reputations are on the line once the persona is involved. We don’t need our lives shared in TV coverage to feel that pressure as friends and family play the same role regardless. If we change our minds too radically we expose ourselves, revealing our most vulnerable spots. We state we were previously foolish but now, so we are claiming, we have become wise. Only the shameless can easily endure public exposure of their own personal foolishness when the subjects involved are essential to what things mean among us socially. So the persona is tempted to clamp down and this is the process that creates what has been called character armor. This armor is a physiological tenseness that never gets to relax; it is how we always have our guard up. If we allow this process of shifting understanding to go through to completion without clamping down, even though it hurts, we eventually arrive at a place of congruity between our inner understanding as our bodymind experiences it and the expression of such in the world. Such conditions promote flexibility and suppleness as both physiologically and cognitively we are able to tense or relax as needed. Recall the point made earlier about our own culture’s lack of contentment in the post about Emotional Systems.

My hypothesis is that the armoring approach leaves the persona rather high and dry. Full bodied expressions of will are not characteristic of such people. They often seem disconnectedly intellectual, religious, or whatnot: head in the clouds but no feet on the ground. Here is where the distinction between the core psychological positions seem to have their nexus. The weakened persona tries to compensate for its handicap by asserting certainty not in the beliefs it holds but in the object of those beliefs. By this trick the person(a) seems to remove themselves and be involved in no more than objective statements of fact.

The education with the most profound affects on our understanding, mind training if you will, involve dissolving the character armor. It is a liberation from an untenable position we were tensely holding onto in our ignorance. Seeing mistaken certainty is simultaneously seeing the nature of beliefs. Letting go of the certainty is reclaiming your individuality by recognizing the role of your story in the shaping of your understanding. I think this might be related to wisdom. Harry Wilber in Understandable Jung: The Personal Side of Jungian Psychology has a great sentence capturing what this is all about. The context is his coming to the end of the Jungian analysis all Jungian analysts must go through themselves before they are considered ready to help others. This is from the section entitled ‘Sooner or Later, You Will Have To Become Your Own Analyst.’

“The Wise Old Man I had been talking to
had become myself – wise man, old fool.”

Compassion opens the inner eye of conscience that lives in the depths, far beyond the conscience society’s mores and the persona use for guiding behavior. This is our innermost understanding we are talking about here. Through practice we learn to become certain about what we believe yet remain open to revising these beliefs. We recognize and honor that these beliefs are rooted in the deepest understanding we have about what it means to be a self aware mortal human being – due to the way we have experienced it. They embody our story, a story wonderfully and mysteriously unique from beginning to end. We recognize what is real and true about what is real and true for us. In our unknowing we allow all sentient beings the same freedom because we comprehend the inner world characteristics of the bodymind through our own experience of subjectivity and objectivity.

Respecting the World-Soul

When the gates of the death camps were opened in Germany at the end of WWII, the world reeled in silent shock. As the images slowly penetrated the fog of disbelief, spreading across the various cultures of the globe’s many nations, people everywhere, young and old, rich and poor, were confronted with the horror of industrialized mass murder. I know of no other way to begin to address what happened than to say a change had come over the world-soul. The relationship between the consciousness of human beings and the material, molecular earth was changed, not just the relationship between human beings.

The nature of the assault was assisted at every turn by tools: physical, chemical and clerical. The interplay of Homo Habilis and the earth consists of the consciousness of the tool maker and the molecular structures of our materials. Traditionally the soul or psyche of a person was understood as that realm between the body and the spirit. In the same way, the human built environment is the space in-between spirit and matter, between the inspiring thought guiding the tool’s formation and use on the one hand, and the stone, feathers, minerals and whatnot our ingenuity places in our hands on the other. Through this relationship with the rest of the planet we define ourselves as a species, creating our own ecological niche, exploring our extended phenotype. Because this built environment is larger than any individual it is related to what has been called the world-soul. The Eastern concern with the karma of nations is a related conception.

There is a question always present in this world-soul. The actions, the actual deeds of living things, are its answer. This question and answer in the depths of the moment, as the inner secret of time’s expression of will, cannot be captured in words though words can point to it. Life is beautiful but it is also true that its gift is only held in mortal hands. All things are impermanent so there is a degree of in-escapable suffering in the path of every sentient being. How then will you, in the mysterious depths of your own subjectivity, respond to the depths of subjectivity you witness in others?

A thought experiment might best illustrate how the concept of the world-soul is a necessary one. Here is a what-if scenario. What if the depletion rates of fracking are bringing a quick demise to U.S. oil abundance sooner rather than later? Add that Saudi Arabia has fudged its reserve numbers a bit and the peak of Ghawar, the largest oil field on the planet, has come and gone. Russia would have its own vast reserves of oil, the US would not. In this thought experiment the decision is made that it would be necessary to procure the supply in the Middle East. How exactly the necessary military moves are executed are not relevant to the thought experiment. Suffice it to say we are imagining the U.S. takes the oil it absolutely needs to keeps its infrastructure functional and its consumer economy growing. That its commitment to economic growth, suburbia and consumerism remains strong right up to the bitter end of overwhelming ecological blowback and societal collapse. This is one way things might work out. The proposed budget cuts to education and health care recently in the news can provide further clarity to the mental image we are trying to outline. It is telling that they are coupled with increases in the military budget.  If, in this what-if, the “we should have kept the oil” becomes the means of making America great again we would want to ask, whose America is this and whose definition of greatness? Might I suggest it is the one where those who believe ‘America’s business is business’ and ‘the American lifestyle (aka corporate consumerism) is non-negotiable’ have made any values other than those enshrined by neo-liberal hyper-capitalism verboten, wholly forbidden.

Is this what shows up as the culminating act of this 240 year old experiment in democracy when push comes to shove over earth’s shrinking resource pie? In this what-if, how many nuclear bombs were used, how many millions of people “removed” as collateral damage? How much more chaos added to that which has already been created in Iraq and Libya? Does the rest of the world succeed in stopping the takeover attempt? Does anyone think China and Russia would just sit back and watch? As WWIII rolls its darkness over humankind’s nobility we can also expect general ruthlessness at all levels of society to increase, exacerbated by population over-crowding and climate change churning out Katrina and Sandy like events all over the planet even as the bombs drop. That is the what-if scenario.

Now the question I want to ask is what would this event do to the world-soul? What might it come to think about itself? In other words I’m not asking what individual opinion might be here and there but what impact it might have on the general attitude of human beings towards what they are and the world they live in. Today our children are exposed to the images of the Holocaust around fifth grade. We can be sure it has a profound effect on how they come to view the previous generations and the world of adults. To what end such knowledge? Will it nudge us towards becoming more kind or more unkind?

While the deluded among us would try to convince the entire world that only deception, competition and survival of the strongest and cruelest is built into the foundations of the natural world – they lie. Yes, life eats life but it also contains cooperation, beauty, compassion, even Schopenhauer’s metaphysical giving of one’s own life for the sake of another. It is a false picture of the natural world that does not include these things too. Not all cultures choose competition as the basic social relationship and winner take all as the basic embodiment of fairness. Many have traditions that strive to build up and encourage one another and share whatever good fortune comes their way. They recognize there is no need to add to the suffering in human life but there is a great need to become more skillful as we confront one another. What this alternative approach towards social relations finds, surprisingly enough, is that learning to feast well is the art through which the noblest features of our potentials are encouraged. By celebrating the bounty of the earth together, instead of in isolated ownership, they find happiness along the way. Not the happiness of the thrill such as consumerism offers during the hit of a purchase but the happiness that grows around a central element of contentment and the satisfactions found in freely sharing or the satisfactions of ownership of that which is well crafted.

A society programmed to be ceaselessly dis-content, who is facing the end of the supply of the single energy resource it requires to function, armed with a super-power arsenal… Well, it’s not hard to see how that restlessness could lead to all sorts of misadventures.

If anything like this what-if comes to pass, what will that do to the world-soul?

When things are their darkest, light is born; when things are their brightest, darkness is born. Perhaps we are about to learn a lesson about the true value of compassion in the school of hard knocks? Perhaps on the other side of the existing un-sustainability we will find a more realistic appraisal of ourselves and our position in the grand scheme of things. Or perhaps not.

Contemplating ecology’s deep time and deep space lets us position humankind’s 5,000 years or so of written history squarely within our 200,000 year old physiological frames, placing recorded history in its larger context. If we have another 5,000 years or more of cultural evolution it seems to me the odds are good we will come to relationships with each other and with the earth that are a bit wiser than where we are today. Why? A belief in progress smuggled into some kind of evolutionary inevitability? No, it is because try as we might we cannot escape the truth about compassion’s role in human life. It is inside us. While it is true that we can become monsters and run away from any sense of dignity or worth being inherent in nature (fallen, fallen fallen!), it does not change the facts. Wherever we go, there we are.

The ultimate teaching the image of the world-soul is trying to convey is that each of us contributes to this process by which molecular planet and sentient consciousness together shape history. It is what the Alchemists called our Great Work – the contribution that you and you alone can make to the world-soul. This is what we are in our snowflake-like individuality: buds on the vine of Christ or carriers of the DNA as you will, for in this science and religion agree. None alive is more valuable than another before the inner altar of the human psyche. This is what the uninitiated alpha males deny, this equality. In this they are mistaken and so the seeds of tragedy are sewn.

Through the meandering branches of the biosphere’s ways and byways the tinkering that is forever ratcheting emergent phenomenon applies to cultural evolution as much as it does to the more familiar microbiological kind. The amino acids of cultural evolution are the ideas and images which accompany us along the way. Shifts in insight and understanding are happening all the time. Some of these shifts are small, everyday alterations of a society’s mores. The large ones, however, call into question what had previously been unquestionable. To speak plainly, when the mistake made in history is large enough, such as the firestorms, death camps, and nuclear weapons of WWII, the collective psyche recognizes the excess and seeks a middle way less infected by such extremes. (The model supposes that the species stays sane by the same cybernetic means the individual does.) These war events represent part of the cognitive side of the rupture in humanity’s relationship with the earth which we recognize as the root cause of the ecological crisis. Mindful ecology recognizes interdependence makes it highly unlikely that while we remain at war with one another we will not also remain at war with the other living things on the earth.

Today the choice facing the world is whether or not WWII will prove to have been a foreshadowing. Will we learn from it or fall again into the same traps but this time for real, this time with population culls and naked resource grabs under banners of Holy Wars so nightmarishly horrendous as to bring about centuries of illiteracy and rule by the strong, a reset into a new Dark Age where might makes right and intelligence is suspect. Compassion, you see, is not the effervescent nice-to-have we have been taught it is by those in the corporate boardrooms whose dog-eat-dog philosophy is currently calling all the shots.

I’ve called this sketch of a possible future scenario a thought experiment, a what-if. It is not at all clear to me this is what is going to happen or if it did that the citizens of the United States would accept it once it became clear their democracy had fallen at the hands of oligarchy, following the path well-trod by the ancient democracies of Greece and Rome that was such a concern of the nation’s founding fathers. There are generations of values other than consumerism running in the blood of many families living here and undoubtedly a sincere concern about the future fate of the Republic fires much of the populous uproar of late. Perhaps such sentiments have only been temporarily high-jacked by the billionaire’s agenda. My family and friends, we want to remind our leaders on this week we celebrate the homeland that our soldier’s lives are precious. Full stop. Spend them with care.

Each of us contributes directly to the mind’s relationships with, and experiences of, the world-soul.  You cannot escape being aware of the larger issues in the world, nor would you want to if you could, not really. This is what we are; buds on the vine, participants in the stream, carriers of the seed of life from one generation to another. Recognizing this we recognize both the equality and the nobility inherent within everyone. The nobility of sentient beings is inherent in the facts of the molecular world – which is as much psyche as quantum.

This nobility, the value and worth of the individual, is not something a state or a religion can grant to those it chooses and deny to the rest. Your subjectivity matters. It matters a great deal. It is only from within that the images and ideas come which guide us through our history’s wisdom and folly. May you have good dreams, dreams that are of benefit to all sentient beings. May your waking consciousness guide you to a meaningful life. Remembering gratitude, may you find contentment and bring an end to the war of all against all.

Respecting Minds

It is so easy to overlook the astonishing capabilities of the human mind. Like fish who do not notice the water they swim in, our immediate experience of mind is so familiar we simply take it for granted. To successfully navigate the practical concerns of day to day life is a major accomplishment, one for which we as a species have yet to learn to give ourselves enough credit for. What the mind is able to accomplish is downright humbling when examined fully and should lead us to respect its abilities and, perhaps even more importantly, its vulnerabilities.

Consciousness seems to consist of a collection of factors which must be kept in dynamic balance. Mind seems to do this by a series of cybernetic-like adjustments which allows it to stay on track. Psychological development is never a straight line from point A to point B but more like the way a sailboat proceeds, tacking first to the right and then to the left. A moment of excess marks the trespass into extremes and the need to change course if sanity is to maintain its even keel.

Take a moment to consider the contents of your mind. We balance an awareness of our mundane and earthly position with a simultaneous awareness of our cosmic position in our galactic neighborhood and the unspeakable immensities of space. Alongside a thought about the ancient vastness of the night’s starry sky and pondering the meaning of human existence in the grand scheme of things, will come another thought trying to decide if the sandwich you are currently making would benefit more from Djon or yellow mustard. We maintain an awareness of grand themes playing themselves out in the theaters of international relations and the history of ideas spanning centuries and millennia, side by side with an intimate knowledge that our own allotted span on the stage of human affairs will run but a small handful of decades, if we are fortunate. Whatever might be the purpose of the stars and the grand scheme of things, each morning when we awake we are able to dedicate our energies (some people and some days with more enthusiasm than others) towards the indispensable needs of the individual life we are living – consuming our sandwich we are off to work or school or to find a mate, change a diaper, hoe a garden, pay our taxes or blow our noses.

There are also the balancing acts of the heart no less necessary if conscious awareness, just good old everyday conscious awareness, is going to function properly. Heart’s emotions intermingle with rational cognitions just exactly as language based thinking intermingles with images born from memory or imagination. We recognize our own bodies have needs of nourishment which must be balanced each day with the equally legitimate claims of others. We are aware of the suffering and needs of those sentient beings all around us and our hearts go out to them in their distress. One part of us remains aware, always, that right now an innocent is suffering reprehensible cruelties, be it from war, miscarriages of justice, or abuse. One part of us remains aware, always, that at this time there are lover’s vows being exchanged, babies being born and made, artists completing great works of beauty, and moments of sacred grace descending into the mystic’s breast. In the heart we balance our fierce love for our mates, if we are coupled, with a determined hatred to oppose anyone or anything that refuses to grant them the respect they deserve. This is another difficult balancing act our minds are accomplishing ceaselessly on behalf of maintaining our sense and sanity. These opposites are representative. The tension they create constitute the basis by which consciousness is conscious.

This stressful weight of knowledge is ever present to our minds, pressuring them in every moment to avoid what we fear and obtain what we desire. And what opposes all that? We find ways to balance this survival imperative with a more carefree attitude. If our lives are not to be wall to wall nightmares, we need to have times and places in which we allow ourselves to bask in the warm, peace-filled glow of contentment. The emotions and intuitions around gratitude, safety and well-being cannot be strangers to our everyday awareness as well. Yet the will ever beckons, there is the next valley to be crossed and the next mountain to climb on our endless hunt for our rainbows by which we might reconcile our individual existence with the whole of existence. In the interplay of opposites, which is the play of consciousness, even the proper gratitude can be taken too far and leave us kneeling and groveling (or simply drunk) when we should remain standing upright, shoulders back, capable and self-reliant.

Moment by moment our mind must balance the energetic alertness our nervous systems maintain as they are primed to be on the lookout for unexpected dangers, at all times ready to zero in on threats, with the relaxed, kaleidoscopic perception of the general reality of our environment which we understand does not contain these active threats most of the time. Every moment we combine a dismal fear of the future, quite rational for mortals subject to pain, with hope that this same future will bring us satisfaction. We all know some dreams come true and some tragedies strike wholly unexpectedly. We balance knowing these things are simultaneously true as we carry on performing the tasks of the present moment.

In what is perhaps the most profound balance of all, consciousness arises ceaselessly from the exact point at which the past disappears into emptiness and the future springs forth from the same. We balance the fact that the past is gone – that it was once real and now can be found nowhere while implied everywhere – with the fact that the future, as such, does not exist. There is a continuity in this kiss between the contained and the container that forms the essence of our time-riding consciousness. It is so mundane and yet so profound. One way we experience this psychologically is as our hope and fears for the future balanced against our pride and regrets from the past. It is from this crucible that wisdom is said to be born.

We altogether too easily take for granted this complex balancing of mind that allows us to navigate consciously in the cosmos. Taking all this and more for granted, we are often discontent, searching for more; we need a fix, an answer, a final understanding. I think we would be better served if we understood consciousness to be a very hard thing to create well in this universe as it really is, and that the mind as we experience it and the universe as we experience it participate equally in an ongoing act of creation’s manifestation in each unique, fleeting moment. We needn’t fear that each moment includes an irreducible element of novelty and the unknowable; it is ok that every detail doesn’t exist pre-planned in some cosmic mind. It seems instead that mind works in time, hard, calling on all the powers and forces of animate and inanimate existence to aid in its ongoing emergence. It seems that the uncertainty principal we find down among the sub-atomic particles extends right through the exercise of the free will we experience most intimately. Free or determined, particle or wave, mass or momentum, timelessness or time: these are the grand opposites mind plays with as if the paradox of their extremes were of no concern.

Our minds are born curious. To guide them through the difficult process of learning they have developed the ability to contrast that which is experienced as real with that which is experienced as a dream. From this most basic contrast among phenomenon the ego is able to establish what psychology has termed the reality principal. Hemmingway colorfully referred to this as the mind’s “bull shit detector.” It is a direct manifestation of the archetypal Self in so far as incorporates not just the ego but the personal and collective unconscious aspects of consciousness as well. The ego alone is not allowed to decide what is real and what is not, though it often wishes it could. The ego must learn to bow before that which makes the real seem real to it. It must embrace the Kantian categories of time, space and causality trustingly. Which leads us back to the subject of magic and miracles we looked at in last week’s post.

Is there evidence for a miracle-causing supernatural realm wholly outside the perception of humanity, as the priests claim? Is there evidence that magic works and that holy men have powers far beyond that of us normal mortals? Can the ego find in these tales of magic and miracles some real foundation for its hope to become immortal and forever blessed? This is how the BS detector takes on the subject of religion. Eastern or Western makes no difference since both abound in tales of magic and miracles.

I am going to suggest that this search for evidence for magical power has two results. In the realm of physical manifestations the evidence supports the null hypothesis. No miracles in the walking-on-water and severed-heads-being-restored variety are ever found to exist. It is always trickery, altered states of consciousness, or hearsay one is left with at the end of careful investigations of claims that these types of magical things have come to pass. On the other hand, there are the types of magical power involved with human psychology. There are love potions and death spells, holy incantations and powerful rites and ceremonies galore. The evidence for this kind of magic having a real world affect is rather abundant. Psychology is just beginning to grapple with some of what is involved when one human mind exerts “undue influence” over another. The proliferation of destructive cults in our midst has made this subject of “brainwashing” a very practical one for psychologists to deal with. Though today we call the visible, physical results of curses psychosomatic illnesses, that new label doesn’t cure people suffering from them nor is it able to keep people from occasionally being terrified to death by these same means. The evil eye and pointy sticks of the black magicians of today present themselves in more modern garb but they play on the same mind-body linkages around fear and panic, desire and pain, that they always have.

The arts of persuading the human mind have become common place in the emotional manipulations we see displayed in advertising. Ads are messages designed to change the behavior of those watching, namely to get them to purchase the product being hawked. To do this effectively across a wide percentage of the population the advertisers found that using emotional appeals instead of intellectual arguments delivered the goods. The familiar voiceover extolling the facts about some car, drug or whatnot is often included as no more than a veneer atop the visual short story the ad conveys. Not everyone will respond to these efforts on the part of advertisers to directly influence behavior. The cheerful mind, confident in its position, is less susceptible to the allure of their appeals. This is because those appeals almost always begin from an injection of a negative self-image into the mind of the viewer who is then given relief through the purchase of the product. The target of these mini soap operas are unhappy, lonely, confused, stressed, unpopular, stinky, failures but luckily for them, the old snake-oil pitch runs, we have just the thing to turn your life around!

We say that the successful tunes and jingles the mass media saturates our minds with are “catchy.” Our minds catch them, like a cold or a virus. For example, in 1982 the song Jack & Diane by John Mellencamp was receiving repeated radio play. I still, 35 years later, occasionally get the catchy chorus popping up in my head, “Oh ya, life goes on, long after the thrill of living is gone.” Those of my readers close to my age may have just heard the same notes accompanying the jingle I do when this virus takes hold. There is big money to be made in programming the human mind with pessimistic mantras like this.

I think we need to discuss this like a viral epidemic. These act as mind parasites as they so easily loop endlessly in our minds in some vague, semi-conscious fashion. These internal tunes provide a bounce to our step throughout the day but they also are programming the mind with a point of view. The music, the Dionysian element Nietzsche recovered for European philosophy in The Birth of Tragedy, helps us move our bodies with more rhythm, more like dancers. This is why devices allowing us to have earphones on throughout the day have become so popular; they answered a deeply felt need in this time of ours which has so consistently insisted our bodies are little more than DNA built machines. Machines don’t dance. It is the music of these jingles that gets to the heart. The words on the other hand, the words are carrying what are more or less intelligible messages from the daylight realm of Apollo. The mind feeds on thought, finding some nourish and some do not. Those which do not nourish are like the empty calories of a fast food meal; they crowd out the place nourishing thoughts might have been. The jingle mentioned earlier is a good example of a type that I find all too pervasive. It’s Apollonian message is basically adolescent romantic angst, playing on the fear that after 30 years old life is nothing but one unremitting downhill slide. This is a useful message if you want to sell things to younger people. It paints a picture that their youth is the only time of their lives that really counts – so rack up that credit card!

“Oh ya, life goes on, long after the thrill of living is gone.” Think a moment what it is you are telling your mind about life and what types of experiences one can expect as one gets older every time that little ditty loops around inside one’s skull. So many lives of quite desperation haunt the cities and towns of our modern world. One is left to wonder how much of it is the result of mind programming tricks like this. What is the jingle but a claim of corporate property rights in your inner landscape? This is what the thinkers of the past used to call the battle over the human soul. There is a reality to the psyche, as Jung was at such pains to point out, call it what you will.

It is only when we think that what our minds are capable of is trivial, so easy as to become unworthy of our continuous respect, that we can fail to properly protect them. It is then that we can become haunted by wanting more out of self-conscious mammalian life than it is prepared to deliver. In doing so we become susceptible to the wiles of the uncouth manipulators of mind. When we want more like this, we open ourselves up to the tragedy pattern which always starts when a person or a group pursues a fantasy that is not aligned with reality. Such projects do not end well, how could they? Better to work hard ourselves to acquaint consciousness with the art of paying attention to that which actually concerns us as self-conscious, caring individuals alive on a threatened earth.

Respecting Stories

Last week we looked at a dense information source, the book What’s Really Happening to Our Planet? by Tony Juniper. This week I want to dive into some very controversial territory by examining another dense information source and the phenomenon it represents; Christian fundamentalism American style.

Torchbearer is the latest film directed, produced and written by White House strategist Steve Bannon featuring Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson. It is another type of information source claiming to share a number of facts. It is presenting a picture of the world in which the only thing a person really needs to know is the Bible. In the film aspersions on man without god multiply until the message is basically to be human is to be a hell creature – fallen, fallen, fallen! This narrow interpretation of Christianity embraced by fundamentalism is, in my mind, a perversion of Christianity through and through. Man does not come off looking like something so loveable god would give his only son to reveal to them his unending love for that which he had created. Man comes off looking like the devil, no, better, comes off looking like nothing so much as an unruly adolescent in need of a good beating by those in authority.

The problem with this Bible-only approach to truth is that it dismisses many of the most important insights other compassionate human beings have discovered outside the confines of religious thought over the last two thousand years. Misunderstanding the ecological crisis is the most obvious problem with this type of intellectual mono-vision from my point of view but the psychological understanding of trauma and the effects of abuse run a close second. People who wish to nourish a love of their fellow man cannot, in good conscience, ignore these modern insights. To do so is to dismiss the very spirit of revelation as it is talking to our age, to use the mythic terms from our monotheistic background. The person in front of you is alive and real, to kill them because a book tells you to is to make that book an idol. Instead of worshipping the living god, one has been seduced into necrotic worship of the dead. God is not found among the dead.

This is what I fear: the patriarchs of the bomb are invoking the patriarch in the sky, cloaking their oil procuring war plans in the most giant beat stick of them all. They are calling on a wrathful god to bring his holy beating to earth “for our own good,” as Alice Miller explained.

I appreciate the sincerity with which a fundamentalist approaches the problems of the world. Much of what seems to inspire the fundamentalist is a virtuous desire to protect their children from the fallout of a consumer culture gone over the edge, refusing to recognize any limitations on its hunger and greed. I feel in many ways more akin to them then to the shallow people of the endless party our mass media teaches us to be. I applaud their willingness to look the darkness of history in the eye and not flinch. Torchbearer includes a number of gut wrenching film clips of our historic atrocities and unspeakable cruelties. More people should remember these things more often. Still, it is traumatizing to gaze into the abyss and fundamentalists, I believe, are traumatized. These people’s sincere soul-needs are being shepherded through the topsy-turvy world of symbolisms of the highest order, those which directly concern the archetype of the Self. There is a healing potentially working its way through their love of the Christ as portrayed in the Gospels which these true believers try to nurture and discover. It is like they are so close, and yet…. Instead of that which liberates, they are under the pall of that which enslaves.

The Self archetype is not to be toyed with. Miss your shot at god and you arrive at the anti-god of the feared meaninglessness and nihilism which has inspired the misbegotten faith of the mind parasites we looked at last week. As James Hillman pointed out, if we are off just a few degrees when the projection of our path between where we really are and the foot of the cross takes place, we end up kneeling before a thief. Now there are good thieves and their are bad thieves, but they remain thieves. What they steal is life itself; these parasites are Vampires feeding on days spent serving false gods and nights spent dreaming in theologies fantastic, instead of theophanies properly imaginal. So many hours sitting in meetings, fearfully praying to invisible powers, listening to preachers, doing what you are “supposed” to do and following orders, writing checks, judging everyone not in your cult damned, talking always about your religion and little else – in so many ways the days of a life of a fundamentalist are stolen by the false infinities haunting their minds, born of the traumatic wound.

There is another way to say we should have respect for facts as facts. We say the same thing when we say we should have respect for stories as stories. That stories move us so deeply is one of the greater parts of the mystery of our being. That they do play such a central role in our ‘soul’ or ‘psyche’ is simply a fact, a feature of our humanity. We have had to live with this mind a long time and have learned a thing or two about it. Replace facts with stories and the result is tragedy. Enliven facts with stories and the result is a living grace.

Fundamentalism denies the reality of the psyche. It denies the realm of symbol, insisting on literal interpretations driven by a fear that if it something was not historically real, it has no reality at all. In this they are mistaken. Carl Jung once commented that all of his work was to try and convince modern man of the reality of the psyche. There is very much a reality involved in these mythologies that guide civilizations but it is not the reality of the Calculus and molecules. It involves the psychological and philosophical underpinnings of how we derive meaning from perception and love from flesh. The problem the fundamentalist has is that they cannot trust the symbol to point beyond itself. For them everything is literal; wheat cannot be transmuted into flesh, the grape and the wine it gives us to make our hearts glad cannot be transmuted into the emotions of our fiery blood, they do not hear the Word in our words of kindness and comfort we give freely to one another. Yet this is just what happens on the earth. The fundamentalist has a problem of faith, they lack its “fundamentals” and so are unable to see the sacramental nature of our sacred world. They cannot bring themselves to believe in the miracle, existence as it is, nor that at its fundamental root this creation is good. They are instead driven to seek magic and miracles, not as symbols but as real events, to prove existence is not as it is. They are the great doubters among us, making themselves over as true believers in reaction formations. Their wounds keep them away from the healthy faith in an intelligent creator and good creation that enlivens compassionate and wise actions undertaken with a cheerful heart out in the real world just as it is. They cannot forgive god for including death in the way of life.

The symbol of the crucifixion captures the sorrows of the world like no other. Here goodness is tortured by Empire: that which is compassion is scorned as weak by those blind to the fact that this is god among us. As they kill they triumph for a day, but in doing their deed of devilry they have also released the spirit of the Christ. There is nothing they can do about that. Everywhere eyes are opened and the poor are given the good news as the dark deeds of devilry expose the emperor’s nakedness. The alpha males are brought to answer to the voice of thunder, their ego fortress shattered in a confrontation with the real power that runs the cosmos. On that same cross the poor and suffering are comforted by the voice of god who they find not in the thunder but in the still small voice, the voice of conscience. At that moment of Christ’s death the veils of the temples were torn and the mysteries openly proclaimed to all the world. This is just what Clement of Alexandria proclaimed so long ago in his Exhortation to the Greeks, that Christianity was the public revelation (exposure?) of the heart of the pagan mystery religions. Fundamentalists are a return to the pre-Christian mystagogue and a Gnostic reading of creation as the work of a demented god. Christian fundamentalism is a misunderstanding and misuse of our own Western tradition, pagan and Orthodox.

The truly faithful are to live in “joyful participation in the sorrows of the world”, as Joseph Campbell once put it. This is what the grace in our myth is there to assist us with, for this is hard. It is truly an ongoing challenge to lean towards the good in a world where life feeds on life and Empires so often seem to crush all that is good in the world. (Ring any bells?) This learning to live in “joyful participation in the sorrows of the world” is a challenge worthy of human beings with our many skills and abilities. When the symbolism of the human imagination is working properly so that facts are facts and stories are stories, this is the result. A deep joy wells up from the depths of our consciousness, unassailable by the tides of time. The Vajra diamond, or Kant’s transcendental, or the image of god in man, whatever the metaphor – that which they point to cannot be stained by human folly for we do not create ourselves and this bliss pours forth pure out of that mysterious emptiness from which the next moment comes. This deep joy is a reflection of that which we are building up in our characters over a whole life time of choices and there is no short cut to getting there, no magic words that suddenly make everything over into what it is not. This is the great insight seen in the moment of repentance; that what you do matters, what you say less so. This Self is the over arching archetypal reality of who and what we are as unique individuals, which is created and expressed through what we do with ourselves and with others during that whole lifetime. We never see this Self in its totality, yet we are never separated from it either as long as we live. This Self will weave its thread into the interdependent fabric of earth life whether the ego cooperates with the process or not, learns to embrace its mortality and human limitations, or not. Though rooted in ignorance vs. wisdom instead of good vs. evil, the end result is no different in the East or the West: be careful of those crying Lord, Lord.

“Go ahead and cheat your neighbor, go ahead and cheat a friend,
do it in the name of heaven, you can justify it in the end.
There won’t be any trumpets blowing, come the judgment day
and on the bloody morning after, one tin soldier rides away.”
One Tin Soldier, The Original Caste

 

Respecting Facts

We humans have a funny way of dismissing that which we do not like. We decide that it is not real, or does not apply to us, or perhaps, whatever it is that is troubling us is transformed through the magic of language into a battle of wits and words, leaving the real world issue far, far behind. Some facts from the real world, just to remind us:

World population has tripled since 1950
40% depletion in ozone above the Arctic in 2011
Waste is created at the rate of 13.3 million tons a day
1/3 of all land is at risk of turning into desert

These are taken from a colorful DK publication now available in the states, What’s Really Happening to our Planet: The Facts Simply Explained by Tony Juniper. The book hosts page after page of infographic descriptions of the numerous pressures coming to bear on us as we reach the end of the fossil fueled industrialized age. It is a very handy source for those who might be looking for a single book to provide a summary of ecological data and trends. There are a number of criticisms I could make, such as leaving out the concept of tipping points and including a bit too much of the green gee-whiz factor, but they are mostly minor. There is plenty of material here to provide the seed facts for ecological contemplations, particularly if supplemented with additional study.

This book is a good example of the type of information that lead me to think about what a mindful ecology might mean. After reading a book like this – then what? Am I supposed to just go back to business as usual? That was not an option for me, so I asked, what is an individual to do? For people like me, changing a few light bulbs and hoping ‘they’ will think of something, when the last few decades show ‘they’ most certainly will not, is just not enough of a response. Mindful Ecology tries to be proportionate to the crisis. It is a serious and big change to alter one’s life around a contemplative practice. Undertaken with the intention of healing the fractured relationship between our lives and our planet, we learn to embrace the limitations of our own lives – as they really are – and do what we can.

The art of contemplating a fact consists of turning it over and turning it around, giving it a slow and respectful examination in one’s mind. We look at the fact from many points of view, trying to sus out its relationships with other things we already understand in a search for the fact’s implications. This introduces us to the larger interdependent features which are often easily missed unless we are very careful in how we think about things. Facts never exist in isolation, nor do we ever bring an empty mind to our contemplations. System science insists that when we query our facts we ask ‘and then what?’ Have we accounted for all the inputs and outputs? For the side effects? Have we clearly separated the one way path of whatever energy is involved from the recycling of materials? Have we accounted for thermodynamics along the way, what we often encounter as the phenomenon of diminishing returns? These are means by which seemingly isolated ecological factoids, such as one finds scattered throughout works like this one from DK, are knitted into the larger understanding of the real world one’s mind has constructed.

It is important to recognize this model of the real world each of us has constructed within our psyches, it is part of recognizing that the psyche is real. The meaning of the world that we experience is a product of the unique understanding each of us has developed over a lifetime of experience. In the Bayesian model of inference this is captured in the prior. Parts of that understanding will have been constructed with right thinking about real things and other parts will not. We can all be quite sure that much of what we are quite sure about, is not so. There will be cases of right thinking being applied to unreal things or wrong thinking applied to real things, or even wrong thinking applied to unreal things. One role of the ego, among many, is to guide this gathering of information by which our understanding increases. Through an interplay of the gift of curiosity and the curse of needing to find an answer to relieve oneself of confusion and pain, we are each lead to learn more about that which our soul’s need, what our psyche’s need to fully integrate their experiences. Contemplation increases understanding but not if one spends all one’s careful thinking time thinking about BS. The horns of a rabbit visualized in exquisite detail, or documented in libraries full of scholarly volumes, or even delivered by the special effects department to every television in the land, do not gain one whit of real existence thereby.

Shadows remain shadows of that which is casting them, fantasy remains fantasy and confusion sews more confusion unless these things are transmuted in the alchemical vessel of imagination. In our fantasy enthralled culture the role of imagination is very poorly understood. The image making ability of the human mind is in service to the real human life one is able to lead out here in the environment of the earth’s molecular world, out under the blue sky and stars. The imagination concerns the heart’s deepest dreams – and wounds. It takes a strong imagination to perceive the possibility of happiness in the future, not as an abstract goal but as something you can actually strive for in your own life. We prefer fantasies about how our lives might be because our real ones are defined by limitations. Your actual life, the one that is really even now unfolding its precious few moments, is defined by the limitations your character will encounter along its path of fate and fortune. This real life you have can only be seen as valuable when it is clearly understood that you are living the life of a finite mortal who will one day die having had only a very, very small taste of all that human life has to offer. To take our seat as adults and claim our equality with other sentient beings requires seeing this clearly, recognizing it is the same for everyone else, and saying to these very limitations ‘yes’ and ‘thank you.’

Limits chafe the fevered dreams of ego’s ignorant beginnings. When we first set out on the long road of psychological development we are on our hero quest. We learn to build our ego to be strong enough to serve as a vessel for the raging winds of the life force animating our bodies. This is how the mind first grounds consciousness and gives us our sense of being our own point of view, our own self. The heroic ego dreams of becoming a god; it is foolish enough to believe it wants to be a god instead of love a god. This is what the hero learns in the Grail Castle, when the quest is completed and the happily ever after takes over. Not everyone has made it to the castle yet. Many still dream of being god-like instead of human. Many of those who dream of becoming gods cloak their hubris in a type of twisted faith; they claim simply to be serving gods of limitless power. They are but the humble true believers. The give away is in how, inevitably, a human voice somewhere along the line of authority assumes the mantle of that limitless power that rightly only belongs to god alone. Doing so, for a human being, is a suicidal act of self denial.

Limitless righteousness brings nightmares of cleansing fires and sacrificial lambs slaughtered by the hundreds of millions. ‘Great alpha male in the sky, god of thunder and war, have we not become equal? Was there ever a priest more holy than I, more important than I who push the red button?’ Some such bewitchment awaits anyone who ventures so far from home. It is one thing to be on a hero’s quest, quite another to be way-laid by Dracula.

Limitless money, limitless shopping, limitless sex, limitless knowledge, limitless war and conquest, limitless fame, limitless power, limitless holiness, limitless depravity, limitless ecstasy, limitless fresh water, limitless fresh air, limitless crop land, limitless time to address our problems, limitless oil, limitless ego – drinking saltwater, the hungry ghosts trying to slake their insatiable thirsts never find the satisfactions they so desperately seek. Ungrounded, they are torn apart by the star gods, becoming little more than limitlessness twinkling darkly in shells of human beings devoid of compassion, little more than mouths shouting ‘more.’ Why are the hungry ghosts taught to be ghosts? Because they have not become real by recognizing they have been given, in fact, what they need. And that that is enough. Are you breathing? That is the evidence. These false infinites are the dangers that haunt the mind untrained in the disciplines of yes and thank you which arise from the heart. These are what tempt and tease our minds, attempting to strong arm their way into how we perceive the world, draining it of all human sense. Soon the simple pleasures of sex, romance, love and children, shared food and drink, the songs we sing together while dancing in our colorful costumes, somehow all this and more is just not enough. The Buddha’s graveyard vision of the young maidens as disgusting as corpses and the world but one of sorrow, this is what haunts the minds of those traumatized by the modern world. These minds have yet to ride the rafts and visit the isle of non-duality, the nirvana of our nature. They are stuck in the Buddha’s ascetic extreme. They have yet to soften in acceptance of a grain of rice from the hand of a maiden, in acceptance of loving kindness from others.

The husks of understanding these mind parasites leave their victims to feed on make it seem that the best way out of our current ecological predicament is through an all out nuclear holy war. Out in these extremes, where exponential curves never encounter limits, are the howling winds of hell on earth. They can trap us in a prison of madness if we let them.

Your life, what is it in fact? Whatever you are actually able to experience, achieve, accomplish, perceive, absorb, understand, partake of, participate in, share with others, receive from others, and generally the way you carry your body, speech and mind throughout your life span. That is your life. Something larger than our day to day selves makes its appearance across the span of a life considered as a whole. This is what Carl Jung was referring to when he talked about the archetype of the, capital S, Self. The Self is a way of approaching discussion about a psychological fact, namely, that the unconscious mind or larger psyche contains an imago dei, an image of god. This archetype is a psychological feature of the inner world the ego must learn to relate to. As an image of how an individual encounters god, Jung found it played a central role in the healing or disintegration of the psyche which he observed in his patients. He taught that the Self is related to wholeness and integration, individuation and meaning or, when inverted, shows its flip side as dark authoritarianism, a possessing spirit, a numinous complex capable of over powering and bewitching the ego. This inversion is the psychological reality of the demonic as it is projected into totalitarian social movements and the mass sacrifices of life, dignity, and compassion involved in the brutalities of indiscriminant war. But if it was the image of god in man’s psyche that Jung wanted to draw our attention to, why did he name this archetype the Self?

Things that might seem the right things to do or think or feel today, may not seem to have been so wise from the perspective of tomorrow. We learn this as we age. In learning it we are to gain a more critical appreciation of the understanding we have at any given moment. We learn that our conscience, that still small voice, that it too grows wiser. In every moment of our lives we have been operating from the best understanding of ourselves and our world of which we have been capable of. Yet not one of us knows where the inevitable confusions still lurk. If we knew that, we would not still be confused. This teaches us to appreciate the real nature of the prior understanding of the world and our place in it which we bring to any new study we might undertake. Honest humility is the result. Ours is a limited understanding, one shot through with mistakes but not without worth because of that. The mistakes are, more often than not, motivated and not simply random errors. Psychological factors are at play when we deliberately or ignorantly misunderstand that which is real and allow fantasy to usurp imagination. Those threads of confusion lead our understanding further. This is hopeful but errors remain errors none-the-less, sins in western parlance. Knowing even our best understanding is bound to have errors, we would be wise to bring our very best to bear on our problems of critical importance. It does not help matters to deliberately introduce falsehoods, obscurations, distractions and stubborn denial of facts, all backed up by violence, when the real state of our prior understanding of ourselves and the world we live in does not jive with what we want it to be. Isn’t that, more or less, what we are doing today in our public discourse about ecological matters?

This is not academic. This is what is keeping our society from starting a sane discussion about our un-sustainability and what we might choose to do differently. Our understanding has changed, our prior in the Bayesian equation, yet we are not able to bring it to bear when we are called on to interpret the ongoing data stream of evidence from the ecological sciences.

Our understanding of the earth’s climate has evolved over the last century into one of the most impressive scientific studies ever undertaken by mankind. Today we know so much more about its defining characteristics then we did when we first started burning fossil fuels that it is a cognitive lie to pretend our understanding, because it necessarily includes mistakes, is insufficiently developed to support the alarming and terrifying conclusions of the ecologists studying these matters. The same could be said for so many other areas of our crisis from over fishing to drawing down aquifers and all the rest.

I think every important public discussion should start within the full acknowledgement that the facts are facts. That the ecological facts are, at least roughly, as laid out in summary form in works like What’s Really Happening to the Planet? As it states on the back of the book, “Now is the time to understand this heart-stopping subject.” Our way of life needs adjusting, it is un-sustainable and this is what that means. It seems the only question is whether or not the public is going to have any chance to weigh in on this at all, or not. So far the real discussion we need to be having has not even begun. Families throughout the earth’s many nations and our interests, when they conflict with those of corporations about what we should be doing right here and right now, are nowhere to be seen or heard.

We have got to grow the economy. Really? We need to shrink the economy, nothing less will begin to reduce the oversized ecological footprint that is our un-sustainability. We need to drive our cars less, worse, we need fewer cars on the road. The average car is contributing 5 tons to global warming gases annually. 5 Tons! We should start talking about how to pay people to stay home and how to stop making any more of these things. We need to decentralize our power generation, reduce the peak requirements it needs to meet and thoroughly re-create the daily life of those living in the overdeveloped world to use less electricity and transportation fuels in the process of acquiring what they need to sustain their daily life. These are just a few of the obvious conclusions ecological study suggests. That they are impossible to talk about seriously in the public square is a measure of our collective psychopathology.

Drawing logical inferences from limited data sets, reasoning, is not a free for all. To reason is to update what we believe in light of new evidence. The book we have been discussing summarizes, in about 200 pages, a boat load of serious evidence demanding our collective attention. Today we live in denial of the true implications of that evidence. We fear drawing the correct inferences. If we continue to refuse to use our reason in planning for the future, what will we use in its place when the shocks of ecological and societal collapse continue to grow in strength and frequency and things become, shall we say, more desperate? Blood and soil?