Taking Stock

Last week we crossed the threshold. That post discussed the out of body experience as one that is associated with early childhood trauma. In these cases the emotional reactions within the physiology of the victim are so extreme that the evolutionary survival imperative takes over. The result is that the conscious point of view is taken to a safer place, an altered state, where some form of ego continuity can occur. Once the “spirit” leaves the “body” there is nothing more. That’s it. That is as far as we can go, there is nothing further in this direction that human beings can know with certainty.

This does not stop authoritarian true believers from insisting that their particular brand of fanaticism has pierced the veil, mastered the threshold and now offer their followers immortality. There is no end to the cults willing to anchor phobias in people’s bodies to enslave the hearts and minds of the gullible. Though it is hard to even comprehend for many people, the truth of the matter seems to be that these institutional “spirits” just do not care about the individual. What they need is another number to grow their ranks, another replaceable cog to provide them a little more profit be it through tithing, taxes or consumer purchases. Indeed, as so many of our social critics have pointed out, in the age of mass man the most endangered species is the honest, compassionate individual. There is just no edge in that. There is no way to twist that into something that will always put you out on top.

Compassion understands it is not all about me; that I do not always need to be first and come out on top. It has eyes large enough to notice that what is seen out there, beyond my skin, is also real. Further, in looking beyond one’s own needs and desires, we encounter a whole world full of hurt.

There are any number of ways a person might organize their thinking about the hurt that they encounter. I have been suggesting, for a little over two and half years now, that ecology will prove to be the umbrella under which all the lesser abuses can be gathered. And now we have crossed the threshold. The next post is going to talk about things that many readers may not be psychologically prepared for. It is going to talk about nuclear war and what it means when one dares to bring feeling and subjectivity to the subject.

Before going there though, I thought it best to take a moment to take stock of where we are, where we have come from, and a bit about where we are going with this whole mindful ecology project. Since its inception I have had a broad outline of what it was I hoped to share. For a number of my readers who have been with me since the early days it probably did not escape notice that this project was being structured along the lines of a three act play, or an initiation if you prefer. Initiation; now there is a word with all kinds of associations and no clear definition. I use it to refer to any structured teaching modality designed to cause lifestyle changes in those who undertake it. Which is, of course, exactly what mindful ecology is all about. First let’s get right in our hearts, then what we should do as individuals in our own lives about the insanity of our un-sustainability will take care of itself.

The first act, or first degree if you will, was the preparatory material covered in the first year of posts. They covered the basics of the ecological view which is summarized in the concepts of Homo Colossus and die off. The basics of a Buddhist point of view, reasoning, compassion and a contemplative practice were shared as a means for integrating what the mind knows about our ecological predicament into our hearts. In this way we become aware of how our bodies and emotions are also involved. Just as in any good story the main characters were introduced in the first act and the conflict introduced. We had a graduation on the one year anniversary.

Without conflict there can be no good story. The second year took us into an exploration of the forces in play in our society, and in our individual psychologies, which have allowed the manufacture of Homo Colossus to proceed. This was a year of posts dealing with some of the darker aspects of our lives in the over-developed nations. If the first year could be characterized as intellectually information rich, the second was about the emotional richness of our biological being. Understanding the evolutionary role of emotions became the foundation for wide ranging discussions of violence. It started with physical violence as it is studied in killology. It used the news, particularly of school shootings and attacks, to try and remain real to the effect these things are having on people’s lives; particularly on the lives of our children. The discussion of violence then expanded to include not just physical abuse but also mental, emotional, psychological and “spiritual” abuse as well. This of necessity included a whistle stop tour of some of the myths and motifs of western religion, again, with an emphasis on the role the child plays in all this.

Part of that year’s discussion included an introduction to Jungian analysis of symbolism. His conception of the archetypes give us a way to talk about items found in the basement of the mind. It proves useful for individuals but also for a type of psycho-historical analysis. What haunts the modern mind? The apocalyptic end of the world we seem powerless to prevent. Melting ice caps and mushroom clouds haunt our dreams. I suggested we in the over-developed world were writing ourselves into the apocalyptic script as the villain of the story. The idea of Babylonian Capitalism was meant to capture that idea. I wrote:

“Ecologically oriented as I am I cannot help but point out a few details I think are telling. It is my opinion that in general we human beings are not nearly as unconscious as we let on. We understand a lot more about our existential situation than we dare to admit within the very limited confines of our everyday waking consciousness. One of the ways I see this manifesting is in the care with which we have crafted the neoliberal globalization message to fit so well with the apocalyptic symbolism. Here in the basement of the mind… We have turned to the dark side to receive our revelation.”

The image of Babylon trading with all the nations captures the economics of hyper-globalization in our time rather well, don’t you think? Babylon falls in the story. If we learn from our myths we can avoid meeting on the fields of Armageddon, the western cremation ground:

“Here is my two cents about what the story in the Book of Revelation means; it’s like an inside view of the resurrected life, life beyond robots. It is a rather simple message really, involving the mystery of ever-present time: The war is over – the good guys won. The Apocalypse has been cancelled.”

That was not quite the whole truth as I perceive it. There is an element of postponing that day of reckoning by whole heartedly devoting oneself to the cause of life in the fight against all that would enslave it and destroy it. We will be getting to that soon now.

That second year ended with an examination of that which we moderns fear more than anything else in the world; the vulnerability involved in human kindness. Instead of a graduation, its end was marked by the only Wednesday post to go missing. I played hooky but asked my readers to consider the David Bowie song Five Years.

The third year introduced the idea that as a society we have known we were on an un-sustainable trajectory since, at least, the release of MIT’s Limit’s to Growth study in the 1970s. Proceeding then on this assumption, the posts of the last six months or so have been exploring the ramifications. Each essay was written both to process the times through my own body-mind, and to hopefully share some insight into what is happening to us politically and socially so that others might act with a bit more understanding when their own times get tough.

In Vajriana Buddhism there are said to be mother tantras and father tantras. In Western psychotherapy early childhood relationships with one’s parents are said to be the source of our neurosis and psychosis. The role of parents, and specifically parental unkindness, provided our entry way into this third year’s discussions. Child abuse was teased out of the cob-web filled shadowy corner it normally hides in within our cultural conversations. A number of posts have discussed how such abuse affects human beings, and how those human beings in turn carry that abuse forward. By my way of thinking, the most important development in the psychological sciences is the new appreciation of the role trauma plays in our lives. Freud could not believe it when most all the patients coming to him were talking about their sex abuse as children. In his Victorian mindset that just was unthinkable and so his brave explorations of the unconscious were soon couched in terms of Oedipus complexes and a whole host of alternative explanations for what was going on in his patients. Jung, Alder, Fromm, Maslow, and many others, while providing important insights into the psyche, all failed to place the act of traumatizing abuse front and center in their theorizing. It is only in the last decade or two that those who seek to heal the mind have called a spade a spade.

But now, with last week’s post, that avenue of mindful ecological contemplations came to its final point. As mentioned, what more is there to rationally say once someone has been so terrified and hurt that their own “spirit” leaves their “body”? Now we are going to turn our attention to the needs outside of our own. We are going to begin a whole new level of engagement with our times. Not all people should go with us there right now. If you are very new to this site and this work you might want to consider going through the whole process first. All along I have spoke about how we should be training to become skilled at triage. This image is meant to viscerally convey the steely-will coupled with courage lead by the heart which I think we need to deal with the darkness of our times. The image is one of a bloody battlefield in which emergency medical procedures, of both body and mind, are being offered to the wounded. It is triage because not all the wounded are going to be people, or animals, we can save. Hard as that is.

If you are new to this site and this work, now that you see its structure, consider giving yourself a few months, if not years, to just live with your ecological knowledge. Remaining mindful of ecology is the path; it is meant to be the gentle touch of compassion for our frightened hearts. Once that pathway of deep self-acceptance and self-comfort has been established, a person becomes more capable of handling larger fears and terrors; living with ambiguity and the unknown become much more life supporting than life threatening. This gives us the courage to admit to ourselves what we do know clearly, what is not unknown to us. All along we are to be strengthening ourselves by the application of wise compassion. When it comes to this kind of work, going too slow is just right. On the other hand, going is necessary. Going is key. Going On is what we each need to do. We should not be satisfied with anything less than taking our seat, becoming unshakably grounded in our own truth, our own understanding of what is real.

That means we do not permanently run from any irrational fear which our psychological or biological inheritances have left us prone to suffer from. Life should be lived with gusto, with a joy at the preciousness of the opportunity. It does not last forever you know. Never forget that the business of living is living. If self-destructive elements are getting the upper hand in your life STOP. Stop the additional work or self-therapy, stop the ecological studies, stop meditating and contemplating, stop until your feet are on the ground and you are again as clear as you can be that your first and foremost obligation is to your own long term well-being. Care for your most intimate connection with the earth – your own being. So much of this work is doing by not doing. That is, in fact, the hardest lesson of all. It is where the ego meets the Self.

Maturity recognizes that there is nothing I can do today that will solve all my problems or the world’s. What we are dealing with individually are issues which nothing short of a whole lifetime will ever fully address. We need to give ourselves a break about being just exactly where we are today, with our limited ability to do just a little better than yesterday. The path to happiness might seem long but placing ourselves firmly on it requires no more than that today, we are just a touch less ignorant and cruel than we were yesterday. With each choice we learn to build our characters with actions taken in which we can respect ourselves.

We need to learn to welcome tomorrow. It brings us another opportunity to both work and celebrate. Tomorrow, of course, is just what all people alive on earth right now are not sure of. The bomb has been in the basement of our mind for a long time now. The ecological crisis spelling the end of our un-sustainable ways has been there too, not as long perhaps, but all the more devastating when we consider one detail. When Robert Lifton interviewed survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki a common thread was how much it hurt knowing that the suffering that had been inflicted on them was man made. They were not suffering an ‘act of god’ as we say, but the deliberate, planned cruelty of other human beings. Today our ecological science has collected sufficient evidence that victims of horrifying circumstances are no longer able to make this ancient distinction. For us, already the ‘act of nature’ and the acts of Exxon are not so clearly distinguishable. What happens to our species when the violent acts of nature might also be violent acts of man against man?

For those who are ready to proceed with the rest of this third year of mindful ecology I have another contemplative exercise to suggest in preparation. Not that it bears directly on the subject of nuclear war, but it bears directly on some of the context I think we need if we are to understand our times and our peers without losing our sense of compassion.

I would like to suggest you watch, or re-watch, a movie from the 1970s; that decade which has proven to be so pivotal in retrospect. I am not saying I approve of everything in this movie. Indeed some part of it should offend the sensibilities of just about anyone watching. Yet adults are meant to visit Disneyland, not to try to live there. We live in an R rated world. Some of the people who want power over us seek to keep us infantilized, insisting we only consume G rated fare. Others seek to become powerful at our expense, and make a buck, by sewing addictions to the X rated, as if that made someone a real adult. I suggest here, as in so many other areas, the wisest course is to seek the middle way. Adult life is R rated.

The movie Network was the winner of four Academy Awards in 1976. It’s a movie about a prophet and a prophetic movie. It has a couple of speeches I think all people should listen to, particularly Americans just now.

The Threshold

“Something happened on the day he died
Spirit rose a meter and stepped aside.
Somebody else took his place, and bravely cried
(I’m a blackstar, I’m a blackstar)

How many times does an angel fall?
How many people lie instead of talking tall?
He trod on sacred ground, he cried loud into the crowd
(I’m a blackstar, I’m a blackstar, I’m not a gangstar)

David Bowie, Blackstar

 

This week, in a rather longer post, I would like to touch on a piece of information that might be relevant for some readers at some point and, I hope, interesting to all. It deals with one of the ways the human mind has evolved to deal with trauma. The reason it is a necessary subject to deal with in this set of posts about subjectivity is that it gets to the heart of what it means to be an embodied awareness. It does so by showing us how that awareness behaves under extreme duress.

One of the more interesting things about our understanding of ourselves as human beings is how the so-called occult, or discarded knowledge of our culture often forms a mirror-like impression of what the mainstream knowledge contains. If the mainstream is convex, the occult underground is concave. Among the many tales of ghosts and angels, spirits and demons, magical and psychic powers found in the occult literature, there are traces of actual events people have experienced. Many of the events are encountered in what we call altered states of consciousness, states that range from the slightly unusual to full twilight consciousness in which we seem to be transported bodily to other realms or places.

Some altered states seem to teach us more about our body and mind in the place we actually are. These are what we seek in our contemplations of ecology. Other altered states seem to go the other direction, providing us an escape from the material world, leaving the limitations of the body and earth far behind. Anyone who engages in any spiritual discipline needs to know about these very different currents. If I may indulge in a too simple metaphor for a moment I would suggest this is why Buddhists meditate with their eyes open and seek the middle way. Others teach meditating with the eyes closed and seek cosmic consciousness. There are two currents. This makes things sound black and white which in practice are anything but, yet there is an important distinction here that this simple metaphor captures.

One staple of the occult literature is the out of body experience, or OOBE. This is said to be a separation of the soul or mindstream from the body it is currently occupying. The soul is then free to wander the so-called astral planes. Much of the literature describes visits to other planets or realms populated with a menagerie of alien beings. Magicians and mystics of every stripe have added their stories to this semi-underground cultural inheritance. It is quite a mixed bag. Some of these people are little more than paid shrills. Others, however, are simply confused. And a few, we can assume, know the score.

One of the things that quickly becomes obvious as one stays with ecological studies (remaining mindful of ecology) is that there are any number of loud, self proclaimed experts who are absolutely clueless. This is a very, very important lesson to take to heart. These are all those people who are misrepresenting the facts, as we best understand them, concerning global warming, ocean dead zones and acidification, the sixth extinction, the poisoning of land and water in fracking operations and so on, right through the rest of the list of horrors we who do study ecology know so well. Some of these people are little more than paid shrills. Others, however, are simply confused. None, evidently, really know the score.

The same lesson should be applied to sources that speak to the human condition as well. Our inheritance includes any number of works by people equally clueless about what they are really discussing, just as clueless as the ecologically ignorant of our day are. The OOBE books are, I suggest, propaganda for the Descartes Error we have been exploring: that the mind is more real than the body, which is presented as little more than an optional appendage. Some of this occult tradition, including OOBE material, is the production of liars and con men flat out, nothing more. It is hard for some people to imaging using spirituality this way, just to make a buck and get laid, but history shows there is no shortage of such people. I’ve always thought this might be a really bad way to go about messing around with people if there ever turns out to be a real god or a real day of reckoning in any form. Anyway, this group is not the most dominate. Among the authors of reported OOBEs the majority are true believers. They have experienced something unusual and have done the best they can, given the contextual intellectual tools they have, to integrate that unusual experience with the rest of what they know.

There is no question that it is possible for the human mind to experience itself disembodied. There are reports by the bushel full of people seemingly leaving their body and looking back on it still lying on the bed, or the operating room table, or the floor of their torture cell. Something like this can happen. The data is there. The question is, what does it mean? Are these actual experiences of crossing the threshold of death? Epistemologically, are these experiences of the mind dying or of dying itself?

There is another set of literature in our cultural inheritance that also deals with OOBEs. This is not the occult traditions but the psychiatric ones. Here is a typical case report:
“During the raped I found myself looking down on the act from on high, from a point in the corner of the ceiling. I was looking down on my body but it wasn’t me, it was like a doll, a puppet …”

The point to see here is what has happened to the victim’s subjectivity. The body of the victim has been used as an object. When the victim reports seeing their body from a third person perspective, they too have taken the view of the perpetrator. They too are now seeing themselves as nothing more than an object to be used. There is a body over there, just a body, not my body. I – all my inner feelings and memories, cognitions and images – am up here floating; as insubstantial and invulnerably untouchable as a ghost.

The abuser has forced themselves into the mindstreams of their victims and displaced them. How? In a mistaken attempt to feel some power over what is happening to them, a part of the victim takes on the role of the perpetrator. If your only choices are between being the abuser or the victim, the urge to survive insists we take on the power the abuser seems to have. This is perhaps most familiar in the Stockholm Syndrome in which victims of kidnapping come to identify with their kidnappers, explaining to all who will listen that they really are not such bad people after all. Patty Hearst was the poster child for my generation of this frightening feature of the abused mind’s potential.

What power is that which the perpetrator wields that causes such pervasive disruptions to a person’s identity? The power to blind oneself to the value of another sentient being’s subjectivity. That is it. That is the great magical power – but it only enchants those who use it. It does not change the reality of the victim’s subjectivity. It is kind of like the two year old making the world disappear by covering their own eyes. The perpetrator pretends not to see the relationship with their victim as one consisting of I and Thou, but this is to deny what is obvious to the senses. The perpetrator knows that what they see in their victim’s eyes is equivalent to their own subjectivity. In a confused attempt to make the “I” real, to assert their own abused subjective value, they try to make the “Thou” unreal by pretending it is an object and not a fully sentient being. Then the rules governing a relationship between I and It take over, instead of the rules that are to govern relationships between I and Thou. In the narcissistic delusion the mind believes that by doing so it will become master of the world, no longer vulnerable to the shame and humiliation only another Thou can deliver.

This, then, becomes the ideal adult. It is the one we in the over-developed world have come to worship: the asshole, the action hero quick to kill a few hundred in every picture show, the gangster warlord who is a tough son of a bitch and seems to have the whole world just eating out of his or her hand. We are trying to decide right now which is the coolest – the soldier who drops cluster bombs and wipes out a few bad guys along with truck loads of children and brags about patriotism, or the CEO who lays off ten thousand hardworking household providers, then eats a feast that would have cost his workers a month’s salary and sleeps well that night. You know the types; they are on every channel, every day with the same old tiered script: “Look how awesome I can be because I do not care what you feel at all, I can torture you and eat a sandwich, doesn’t phase me a bit!” In our pain we come to believe hard-heartedness is humanity’s peak achievement.

Torture was supposed to be condemned, not worshipped.

The perpetrator has tortured their victim using sex, violence and emotional-cognitive manipulations. As the victim tries to process what has happened to them, particularly as children with no means of escaping the environments in which such tortures take place, a type of amnesia is created. Imagine, if you will, what it is like to wake up each morning in a home where you never know if you will be beaten again today, or worse. Additionally, if this is a child’s mind we are trying to empathize with, we need to add the fact that they have yet to know if they will ever be able to live a life outside the influence of their abusers. Children have yet to prove to themselves they can make it on their own. They know, in fact, that they cannot yet. They are not stupid.

The psychological solution that aids their survival is disassociation. One part of the self comes to know things about the truth of one’s own story that other parts of the self do not normally have access to. Sadly, a house divided against itself cannot long stand. The shunned part, like a thief in the night, will break into the daylight consciousness whenever the strength of repression grows weak. When that happens the human being will respond in less than skillful ways. The part that identified with the abuser will come clothed in anger at the vulnerability of the victim part that was sensitive enough to suffer so. Therapy consists of making some kind of peace between these warring parts. Healing comes when the person recognizes that the introjected abuser that is within them is not the same as the external person who caused the actual abuse. That, in fact, it is sharing the same body with all the rest of the parts of the mind’s psychological makeup.

The self is normally grounded through a set of nerve pathways connected to the major energy processing centers and senses of our physiology. When the therapist asks their client where they feel their pain they will typically point to one of the chakras. We can think of these nerve pathways as cords tying the mind to the gauges and instruments it uses to maintain homeostasis and orient itself within its environment. In the OOBE those cords are cut. To protect the ego from shattering in madness, the self is taken to a safe place concocted by the imagination. Another part of the person comes to take the place of the absent self and takes on the burden of the trauma. This part is then so disowned, repressed and denied that they come to feel like they are in another body entirely.

This becomes the source of the disassociative pain that accompanies most people who were abused as children throughout their lives. The part forced to play the role of the self remains a source of confusion as it continues its semi-conscious existence. It seems to get stuck in time and remains always on the lookout for the next attack. Abusive events in the external world of the adult can continue to trigger this part, which then takes over and deals with things as best it can. It has its say, speaks its truth to power, as it were, in binge drinking, violence, cutting or whatever and can then settle down again for awhile. When these things happen we say we were ‘not ourselves’ or ‘I don’t know what got into me.”

All people deal with this phenomenon to one degree or another. Consciousness itself seems to depend on opposites which creates a continuum of disassociation. Psychological maturity consists of re-associating these disparate parts so that we come to recognize, for example, that our early caregivers had elements of both good and evil in their hearts. Psychological maturity in general consists of the ability to tolerate complexity instead of insisting on the black and white thinking of childhood which would separate everyone into the overly simplistic categories of sinners and saints, angels and devils: Us and Them.

The painful dissociative confusion will remain a driving factor in the victim’s life to whatever degree the traumatized part remains un-integrated with the rest of a person’s life story. The direction is not further out into space on the wings of the ghost, out there with Major Tom that Bowie warned us about. We are not seeking the great Gnostic revelation of what the universe is all about. We are seeking to know that part of the universe given to us to know intimately. The direction is down and in. The work is to get to the place where the monster dwells and to unmask it by seeing the truth of our own past. Then we are succored by our own individual pain and our own individual joy. It puts an end to provisional living. We recognize we are living in a sacred world.

This is where this whole thing about working with dissociative persons gets rather fascinating. It is reported by councilors who work with the severely abused that often when they are dealing with a part like this, that part does not believe they are in the same body as the client. These clients suffer under the false idea that each part has its own body. The acting out associated with emotional pain often bears this mark. Those who cut themselves or who have eating disorders, to site two common examples, can be modeled as consisting of dynamic psychological parts that are using the body to make themselves heard or to satisfy their unmet needs – as if that body belonged to someone else. They use the body as if it were an object, instead of who and what they are. They treat themselves the way their abusers taught them to treat themselves.

This is where Descartes Error leads. Or, perhaps, this is where Descartes Error comes from.

The body, mind and imagination are all working together in this OOBE move to protect the survival of the victim. There is something within this body, mind and imagination complex that understands just what has happened in the psyche. It remains unconfused about what is real. The same physical continuity remains throughout all altered states of consciousness. The body does not lie, it knows the score.

There is a whole collection of psychological techniques designed to bring this truth to the alienated part, to orient the part again to the person. It is a milestone in treatment when someone is able to realize all the parts share the same body. Typically this insight requires a confrontational approach. One technique, for example, uses two chairs side by side. The councilor asks, say, the angry part to stay in the current chair while the client moves to the one next to it. Once the client is in that second chair the councilor , making eye contact, asks puzzled, ‘Hi angry part, why did you not stay in that chair?”

This might sound just too strange and of no use to us trying to get by in a time of ecological ignorance. What does it mean for a traumatized individual to recognize that all their psychological parts share the same body? Of course they do.

Yet, here we are – building weapons of mass destruction and mass deception as if we could poison one part of the earth’s skin with radiation and not poison ourselves in the process, or poison the public marketplace of ideas and not become fools ourselves. It is not a good thing that the war hawks are talking again about winning nuclear wars. It is not a good thing when we insist we can treat other human beings without concern for their individual differences, lumping the ones we do not like into object categories based on religion, race or politics and then treating them all like dirt: the ultimate It. We even treat dirt like dirt when we saturate our soils with chemicals and force it to produce the yield we desire. This too is not a good thing. All this is not much different than those occult treatises describing all manner of colorfully imaginative alternate realities the soul visits once it is freed from the shackles of the gross body. Somehow, long after the oil is gone and food harvests have become unreliable, we won’t mind because we will still be able to go shopping: our reward for keeping the faith and prioritizing economic growth above all else. We are acting as if we really believed this.

In our cultural confusion we honestly act as though a new, purified earth awaits us on the other side of our social and ecological collapse. To those who would abuse us so, to those who would hurt the earth this way, we should raise our voice and say the word that undoes the bewitchments: No. Not on my watch, not as long as I draw breath. The only tool I have in my arsenal is rational discussion. It might seem pale next to slo-mo close-ups of monsters and gore, but it has a power all its own. We cannot stop the abuse handed down the long generations. We are not personally responsible for the weapons of the mind or the weapons of the nucleus. We are asked to live our story, to contribute our thread to the tapestry of life this precious earth uses to cloak her nakedness from the cold of space. We should live them well, mindfully.

We do not need to remain in the liar’s double bind: “I am both responsible and helpless.” We can learn to train in both / and after we have graduated from the school of either / or. We do not need to remain Or Men, those who would cut everything Right In Two. It is not the case that our only choice is a bad one between becoming victims or perpetrators ourselves. We can choose to be compassionate adults, wise in the ways of the world. We can face our monsters and recognize when our gods are scarecrows of our own invention. We can learn to nurture the child within and protect the child without, the hope of our species. We can wake up. That is, we can learn to recognize when we are dreaming, dealing with psychological projections and emotion laden-images even when our eyes are open, and when we are not dreaming, when we are dealing with real things in our real molecular world.

“In the villa of Ormen, in the villa of Ormen,
Stands a solitary candle, ah-ah, ah-ah
In the center of it all, in the center of it all,
Your Eyes…”
David Bowie, Blackstar

Free From Lies

“Trauma stories can reveal not only the criminal actions committed, but also the justifications given for those actions. Trying to understand the motivations of the perpetrators can be risky, because such efforts can seem like a rationalization or even an acceptance of the aggressor’s brutality. But the attempt at understanding is essential to the healing process because the bodies and minds of the traumatized people are imprinted by the belief system of their victimizers. Long after the perpetrators have vanished, their ideologies continue to prey on the minds of the survivors.”
Richard F. Mollica, Healing Invisible Wounds: Paths of Hope and Recovery in a Violent World
(italics added)

 

It can be painfully confusing to see major changes occurring in one’s society without having an explanatory framework. When the tides of history churn up the waters of everyday life, even the least informed are caught up in the momentum of the moment. There just seems to be something in the air, as we say. We avoid painful confusion whenever possible so it is not surprising to see a plethora of explanations accompany any serious disruptions to business as usual.

Everyone is trying to figure out just what the hell is going on these days. That is certainly what mindful ecology is trying to do. The disruption is affecting all of us, not just journalists and diplomats, CEOs and politicians of every stripe. For example, here is an edgy take by science fiction author Charles Stross that takes the ecological crisis seriously. The sci-fi elements in his post are colorful but the central points he makes remain all too conceivable, to my way of thinking.

Some explanations at times such as this are more helpful than others because they hone closer to the real causes and effects involved. When hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans the airwaves were filled with talk about climate change, for example, but there was also no lack of preachers assuring their listeners that this hurricane was a sign from god that this city of Jazz decadence was being punished for its sinful ways. Now that hurricanes Sandy, Andrew, and Matthew have all joined in the destruction of cities, that later explanation has proved itself less than helpful. Specifically, while demonizing populations, which encourages scapegoat violence, the theological explanation has proven itself incapable of inspiring the necessary changes in lifestyles and policies that are needed to avoid even worse disasters in the future.

Chaos scares us. The mind confronted with changes that threaten to spin out of control busies itself constructing an explanatory framework. The framework becomes a psychological bulwark against fears that might otherwise incapacitate us. We see the same process in abused children who work hard to find some means of placing their abuse within the context of the rest of their lives. All of us adults do the same thing, though hopefully without the desperation of identity protection involved in child abuse. As we deal with the fears and cruelty of our day to day encounter with each other and with terrifying news events, we are organizing these events with the help of whatever background beliefs we subscribe to. The mind is a meaning maker, this is how it does what it does.

Those core beliefs direct our attention to some things, for they have become meaningful and important to us. The core beliefs also direct us to ignore, or dismiss as unimportant, those things that do not seem relevant to us.

This semi-conscious network of beliefs informs our experience by supplying us with what is true, for us, about how the world works and our place in it. This is not just an intellectual exercise, something many a teacher, preacher and rhetorician have failed to fully appreciate. These deep seated beliefs are imprinted in the body as much as in the mind. They are formed from the sum of our experiences, including those experiences we have participated in vicariously through empathy. The subjectivity of consciousness, as we encounter it moment by moment, rides the crest of the whole of our lives’ experiences. Those experiences – as we have know them – have been captured within the imprints our nervous system has carved into our body-mind. This is what the nervous system is doing as it ceaselessly processes information. It is this whole, this sum of everything the body has ever known and its reflection in the mind, that has shaped and formed the being we are today.

Children raised in fundamentalist households who break free of their early mind conditioning have managed to alter or replace beliefs at this deeper level. Children raised in physically and sexually abusive households who break free of their early body conditioning have managed to alter or replace beliefs at this deeper level as well. Though healing in the first case may involve more intellectual work and the second case more physical work, we have learned that both are best healed with a combination of cognitive therapy and body work. This is yet more evidence that the Cartesian split is a faulty hypothesis.

The implications are not ones our society is ready to accept. It means that the man who punches you in the face is also messing with your belief structure. And, the man who force-feeds you cognitive double binds is also messing with your physiology. It is something you might want to consider the next time you turn on the TV.

This is very similar to the point Alice Miller has been making for years about how dictators and mass murders are formed by physical abuse in their childhoods. As she writes in Free From Lies: Discovering Your True Needs, “Blows inflicted on adults count as grievous bodily harm or torture; those inflicted on children go by the name of upbringing.” She asserts that adults who have not processed the scars left by their childhood abuse become enamored with violence. They are driven to pursue a revenge fantasy against their parents or other abusers. By her reading of history Hitler, Mao, and Stalin murdered tens of millions of individuals due to this dark need first implanted during their own nightmare childhoods. From the prevalence of violent “entertainment” in our modern times it is evident that the abuse of the young remains widespread.

What a foolish idea that abuses can be heaped on our young without end and no consequences would ever befall the perpetrators. In the twisted logic of intergenerational abuse, that is simply not the case. Wars, torture, genocide and finally nuclear weapons are the result for all to see of the secret deeds we thought were hidden from the world. Interdependence rules the universe we encounter objectively, is it so crazy to suggest it also rules our subjectivity? How can I be happy in my Porsche when I know most of my genetic brothers and sisters are deprived because I have taken more than my share? What else do you think it means that the United States has about five percent of the global population and uses about twenty-five percent of the fossil fuel resources available planet wide?

Some live like this
and some live like this
Why?

It hurts to wake up every day and face this injustice. It hurts us all. It would hurt less if we were realistically working on policies and cultural changes aimed at rebalancing the income disparities haunting our world. Many, many people do this work every day, but instead of following that path it looks like we are going to follow glitz and glamour right over the cliff into the worst possible future outcomes imaginable. Shouldn’t need come before luxury?

Forgive me, this is too simple. I am sad and angry. My heart is broken; I see us drifting into inquisitions and holy wars. I am frightened uranium and hydrogen weapons will be used to assault living populations and damage ecosystems to the point they are made inhospitable to life for tens of thousands of years. What will it take to move from childish dependency on authority figures to full adult citizenship? First they came for the Hispanics, but I did not speak out, because I was not Hispanic…

Is there a realistic chance at an alternative future than the one we are cooking up? I suggest there might be if we are able to begin introducing into the public discussion the full weight of what the science of ecology is teaching us about how we must live together on a planet of limited resources.

When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. When all you have is a political framework, everything looks to be an issue of power, status and wealth. When all you have is a religious framework, everything looks to be an issue of sin and salvation. When all you have is a sociological framework, everything looks to be a question of institutions. When all you have is a psychological framework, everything looks to be an issue of mental health and sanity. When all you have is a scientific framework, everything looks to be a question of ignorance and knowledge. None of these inheritances, it should be pointed out, have proven themselves capable of providing a properly proportionate response to the ecological crisis.

A proper education will provide students with a bit of knowledge about each of these subjects, all in the context of history and literature so they appreciate the relative nature of current knowledge by understanding a little bit about what changes and what stays the same in the human saga. Education feeds subjectivity. This education is also necessary if we are to avoid bringing a knife to a gun fight, as it were. What we are facing today is complicated. Students, and we are all students, need to be given access to a full set of cognitive tools to use in their ongoing work of making sense of the world and their place in it. Reason and imagination working well together mirror the mind and body working harmoniously. Metaphor and symbol then serve the human being. The only other option is to lose ourselves, lose our souls, in maelstroms of madness; bewitched and enchanted by our own symbolic productions.

Concern about ecology has taught me to be wary of all the belief systems that exalt an unknowable state they claim awaits us after death, at the expense of allowing reason to rule their believer’s day to day lives. Too many true believers in bomb vests and tanks have clouded our vision with their noisy insistence that their cause is god’s. I am moved by my fellow humans who are so effected by the pain and suffering they encounter that they insist we must not live this way. I agree with them this far, I share their concern and their compassion. Where I cannot go is the next step, where they paint the whole universe black and seek a Gnostic deliverance from it. With the red gleam of angry fanaticism in their eyes, they claim to be certain about things no man can be certain about; be it the future of mankind on earth or its future in “heaven and hell.” They can kill or torture without qualm to bring about the final kingdom of peace; be it religious or secular.

These true believers torture and abuse other people in a psychological reaction formation because they must repress the awareness of their own body’s vulnerability at any cost. The helplessness and humiliation of the hurt child within is just too much for their ego to bear, it would shatter at the revelation. Living in the mental dogma castles they have inherited, or built, leaves them without a sensory feedback mechanism by which they might write some reality checks. This might seem to be ideal for a society that worships unemotional objectivity as much as ours, but in fact they have cut themselves off from the mind-body processes by which love and compassion, understanding and true friendships are recognized as real. These are the powers that can see an ego through its major transformations of death and rebirth. When they are lacking, as they are for children who did not have an empathetic witness during their years of suffering, the terrors and fears involved can seem infinite.

We laughingly acknowledge psychopaths among us rise to become CEOs and politicians. This may prove to be distinctly unfunny.

Somewhere on the spectrum between individual relationships with bullies and assholes on one side, and societal relationships with mass murdering dictators and corporation’s economic hit men on the other, lies the future we are creating for ourselves. It does not have to be this way. We could, like parents once abused as children who work to heal that abuse, find that the ability to express what is real about our pain in adult conversation heals us of our symptoms. We could, as a society, become mindful of ecology. It lacks the flash of magical thinking, yet offers the comfort of the real. We could begin to discuss the full implications of what it entails instead of being satisfied with a few headlines and sound bites. That adult conversation would include the full weight of the emotional, spiritual and political aspects of our human predicament.

Make no mistake. What we intuitively fear might be happening, is happening. There is a real world out beyond our ubiquitous 2D screens. The nightmares of history have once again turned their attention to the fortunes of the over-developed world. Though there are echoes of “Never Again” reverberating among us, they ring without resonance so far. After all, in a cold and uncaring universe, what do a few genocides and species extinctions matter, right?

I think it is time we recognize the consequences of the ideologies that paint the universe black. Democracy has an element of the utopian. It inspires reform movements and the hope that education will improve the lives of human beings and the societies in which they live. Seeing just how far we are from a just society can drive people into the arms of utopian dreams that are much less in keeping with the nature of man and his social relations. Then the temptation to try to remake the world in the image of an ideological utopia can become irresistible. A revolution led to the founding of the United States. A revolution also led to the terrors of Pol Pot, Mao, and Stalin…

We  have been unclear about who the real enemies of our species are. We have been scapegoating people, projecting the demonic Other onto the other tribe. This has blinded us to the mind-body traps to which we are prone. The things that can drive us to madness under a civilized veneer are the double binds created by traumatic abuse. The good news is that these are knots that can be undone; undone with the sword of intellect guided by the heart. Individuals learn the skill all the time. Whether it takes the human species ten years, or ten hundred thousand to finally recognize this clearly and use it to our advantage, the truth remains.

May you have good contemplations.

The Assault Upon Identity

“From the beginning Dr. Vincent was told he was not really a doctor, that all of what he considered himself to be was merely a cloak under which he hid what he really was. And Father Luca was told the same thing… Backing up this assertion were all of the physical and emotional assaults of early imprisonment: the confusing but incriminating interrogations, the humiliating ‘struggles,’ the painful and constricting chains, and the more direct physical brutality. Dr. Vincent and Father Luca each began to lose his bearings on who and what he was, and where he stood in relationship to his fellows. Each felt his sense of self becoming amorphous and impotent and fall more and more under the control of its would-be remolders. Each was at one point willing to say (and to be) whatever his captors demanded.
Each was reduced to something not fully human and yet not quite animal, no longer an adult and yet not quite the child; instead, an adult human was placed in the position of an infant and stronger ‘adults’ or ‘trainers.’ Placed in this regressive stance, each felt himself deprived of the power, mastery, and selfhood of adult existence.
In both an intense struggle began between the adult man and the child-animal which had been created, a struggle against regression and dehumanization. But each attempt on the part of the prisoner to reassert his adult human identity and to express his own will (‘I am not a spy. I am a doctor’…) was considered a show of resistance and of ‘insincerity’ and called forth new assaults.
Not every prisoner was treated as severely as were Dr. Vincent and Father Luca, but each experienced similar external assaults leading to some form of inner surrender – a surrender of personal autonomy. This assault upon autonomy and identity even extended to the level of consciousness, so that men began to exist on a level which was neither sleep not wakefulness, but rather an in-between hypnogogic state. In this state they were not only more readily influenced, but they were also susceptible to destructive and aggressive impulses arising from within themselves.
This undermining of identity is the stroke through which the prisoner ‘dies to the world,’ the prerequisite for all that follows.”
Robert Jay Lifton, Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism, A Study of “Brainwashing” in China.

 

There is much in this quote of interest for many of mindful ecology’s concerns. Abused children are prisoners of their circumstances every bit as much as the unfortunates who find themselves behind bars during a political revolution, for example. The mass media, and the consumer culture generally, make it all too easy to remain little more than an adult-child hybrid monstrosity our whole lives. Waking up in the age of limits, mindful ecology’s little tag line, suggests we are suffering from a hypnogogic, trance-like condition; one whose spell is broken when we being to consciously wrestle with the reality of our ecological situation. It is, however, the point about how autonomy and identity are related that will concern us as our discussion of subjectivity continues.

“Our existence is not a crime,” read a headline in my Sunday paper. It was for a story about immigrants and captured a foreigner’s simple insistence on the equal value of their subjectivity. (Somewhere in the back of my mind I heard the whales and worms, Redwoods and Mayflies, echoing, for the record, “Our existence is not a crime.”) Deportation and racism are evoking a response, at least in some, in which the very existence of the human beings being targeted feels as if it is threatened.

It is an interesting headline in light of the totalitarian ideology Robert Lifton studied. The Communist ‘re-education’ prisons and schools of the early 1950s implemented thought reform on behalf of the Maoist revolution with an enthusiasm, pervasiveness and strictly controlled set of techniques unlike anything any dictator had tried before. The rationale given was that the bourgeois were enemies of the people, tainted by thought crimes which made them unworthy to exist. Communism had come to save the laboring class from the exploitations of the imperialists. Those who could not be re-educated, or not given the chance, were killed. It is estimated two million were killed in the terror against counterrevolutionaries. Those who survived to build what is now modern China were the true believers, the products of ‘re-education.’

It was not enough for Mao that the people go about their lives conforming to the party’s dictates. As George Orwell explained in 1984, the power driving totalitarians is not satisfied with outer conformity. Whether they are religious or political, these authoritarians insist on something more. Wilson, the protagonist in Orwell’s novel, is tortured in the final scene. All the power of the state has been brought to bear, he must be taught to really believe that if the party says 2 + 2 equals 5, it does. He must ‘willingly’ give his autonomy over to those who have broken him. This is what is at stake in subjectivity. I have argued that the ecological crisis stole the optimism we once had in progress through technology and science. This left us exposed. The heartlessness of technology turned against mankind’s innermost sanctum is what Orwell’s genius captured so disturbingly: “If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on the human face – forever.”

Robert Lifton’s study of “brainwashing,” today known as the study of undue influence, confronts us with an uncomfortable fact about our subjectivity – it can be molded to serve the interests of others. So far, that is little more than a truism, but here’s the rub: it can be done, to one degree or another, against our will. Think about this a moment, it is frightening. The brain of the Homo Sapien Sapien can be infected, programmed with double binds that act as viruses which will attack the very sense of identity by which that brain functions. Viruses seek to reproduce themselves, whatever the cost to the host, just as ideologies among populations do. To one degree or another, and no one is quite sure where the final lines lie, each and every human being is susceptible to these ‘re-education’ techniques and their aftermath.

If we are to grasp subjectivity it helps to understand how it can be perverted. The first step, Dr. Lifton explains, is an assault on a person’s identity. The quote opening this essay is from this section of his book. It is identity that is at stake in subjectivity. “Our existence is not a crime,” cries out the victim. “Oh contraire,” insists the destroyer, “your being is flawed.”

There are great dangers here. The will Schopenhauer discussed becomes complicated. What are we to make of this evidence that there exists a difference between what we might want to call the true will of an individual’s identity, and this programmed, robotic thing?

What if subjectivity is the most important thing in the universe? It is not inconceivable. The size of our galaxy is astonishing but its complexity is rather lower than that which is found in the brain, from one point of view anyway.

It is a fools game to insist one part of our universe is ultimately more valuable than any other. Interdependence, and an eye that appreciates the beauty of individuality, subverts any simplistic approach to ordering values in a hierarchy. Yet, due to having the nature I have, willing what it is I will, a universe without subjectivity would, it seems to me, be profoundly incomplete. It would be as if a necessary half were missing; not the right side, or left side – but the inside.

We see nature producing individuals by the trillions, seemingly unconcerned about the fate of any particular one. More specifically, in light of evolutionary theory, the fate of any one particular mating pair and their offspring does not receive more care and attention than any other. Chance rules (but the tinkerer remembers!). Still, as one of those many trillion of individuals, it has come to pass within me that what I care about most are a few other individuals whom I have come to know well. It is their individuality which I treasure. Which is just exactly what the outstanding fecundity of nature seems to show us has little worth.

What if what we experience on the inside, in our love and compassion for other individuals, is more real than what we experience on the outside, where chance seems to rule our fate? More accurately, what if the combination of will from the inside, meeting resistance on the outside, is exactly the friction needed to sustain consciousness at all? World-Soul making. What if subjectivity is the most important thing in the universe, or at least, what if it is as important as what we encounter objectively? What then of these crimes against the integrity of the self which we have been examining in the various techniques of mind manipulation, thought reform, and undue influence?

We have recognized crimes against humanity. Perhaps we have yet to recognize them all.

I want to be a caring human being; one whose daily activities nurture and support the earth on which I rely and the fellow human beings in which I come in contact. My needs are few and simple and yet the physical reality of my environment, mostly man made, does not make that possible. To survive in that environment I have been taught to be a competitive hard-nosed realist instead. After years of introspection, I am still not that clear about how voluntarily I chose this molding of my identity. My will includes the fierce power of the thunderstorm, as well as the fierce beauty of the tiger and the lily. Like a guardian angel it looks out for my survival. I am clear that when I took my seat on compassion, however, I swore to defeat that which lied to me, about me; whether I found it within or without.

Dead Things?

“My way has been to scour the whole world through.
Where was delight, I seized it by the hair;
If it fell short, I simply left it there,
If it escaped me, I just let it go.
I stormed through life, through joys in endless train,
Desire, fulfillment, then desire again;
Lordly at first I faired, in power and in speed,
But now I walk with wisdom’s deeper heed.
Full well I know the earthly round of men,
And what’s beyond is barred from human ken;
Fool, fool is he who blinks at clouds on high,
Inventing his own image in the sky.
Let him look round, feet planted firm on earth:
This world will not be mute to him of worth.”

Goethe, Faust. Part Two: Midnight

 

What is the role of consciousness in the universe? I think this is a very meaningful question in light of the failed relationship between consciousness and its container which the ecological crisis displays. It is worth spending some time mulling over, contemplating, even, as we will do today, speculating about.

First we should take a moment to appreciate how far our self understanding as a species has come. We understand the role of evolution through deep time so well, that today we read it at the molecular level like a vast clock. How much further might we grow into understanding what we are in another thousand years? Another ten-thousand?

How, we wonder, can the nervous system and hormone systems of the body work with the massive neural networks in the brain (and gut) to produce what we subjectively experience as awareness? As Francis Crick rightly pointed out in a book capturing the essence of our position, to believe mind arises from matter, given the Cartesian split between them modern science assumes, is an Astonishing Hypothesis. For all the world, it does in fact seem to be case that properly structured matter produces mind. But what is the cosmos herself but structured matter through and through? And is it not shot through with information in the patterns it displays? And, finally, is not information the currency of intelligence? Intelligence is the central feature of evolutionary adaptation, the means by which living things participate intimately with their environments. Notice how this requires that we grant awareness of that environment to that which evolves – we are back to the question of subjectivity.

We have become comfortable with the idea that dead things exist. Not the trivial difference we recognize between here is a live cow, there is a dead cow. We have become comfortable with a conception of death that is absolute. This allows us to see things, such as oil and the other minerals used to build Homo Colossus, as mindless items we are free to do with as we please. This attitude towards the geological strata extends then to molecules in general. These too can have no purpose or meaning since they have been placed into this strange category of wholly dead things. Then we learned about molecular pathways in biochemistry. Watching the molecular exchanges within living tissue we gaze at life’s metabolism, the magic by which it’s homeostasis is sustained. Life arising from absolutely dead molecules. The philosophical blowback has been extreme: the logic of the Cartesian premise condemned our own self-consciousness to be classified as evidently dead as well, resulting as it does purely from molecular interactions.

Which leaves us a choice. We can either admit we were in error about this whole ‘we are the only fully aware living being on this dead earth’ thing. We can either admit we were in error, which will entail a new relationship between humanity and the living earth, one characterized by much more concern and care. Or we can carry on the war of all against all. In this view only the small spark of human self-consciousness is really real and, we fear, even that is likely nothing more than a delusion from start to finish; a curse from a meaningless, mindless universe. This small spark of awareness, alone in a dead universe full of rocks and fury but no mind, suffers, knowing what the rocks do not. In this view there is only one way to end suffering: to become unaware like the dead rocks (which we assume is absolute).

Opposed to this is the ecological view. It is supported by the evidence of our sciences and the great spiritual traditions of our ancestors. This view sees that which we walk upon is not a dead rock but a living earth. It is a place in which every fully interdependent thread is inseparable from a feeling and a thought somewhere, somehow. This view comes to those willing to grant subjectivity to all living things and information, if not intelligent mind, to the very rocks themselves. This view is true, you know, within the great all-inclusiveness of interdependence. The view of absolutely dead things actually existing, as they say in Tibetan debate, is not the case.

Let the soil and the compost heap be our guides to understanding our earthly sojourn. In the soil we learn how even the rocks serve the needs of life, lending it support and critical functional elemental capabilities at the molecular level. From the compost heap we learn that even death is turned to the service of life. We learn that life and death are actually two sides of the same coin, complementary like a wave and a particle.

We have prided ourselves on our heroic stance. We human animals, alone of all the species, were made aware of what we are, our position in the great scheme of things. It was a lousy position, meaningless. But we put on our stiff upper lip and got on with the business at hand, namely making a lot of money. We compliment each other on the unique courage by which we can finally face who and what we really are: evolved apes that are little more than robots sent out to battle against the stars.

Oswald Spengler was sure the Faustian myth captured the essence of our western civilization. Faust, you will recall, was a great scholar but all his learning and studies left him unsatisfied. He longed for absolute knowledge, unlimited knowledge, with a healthy dose of worldly pleasures tossed in for good measure. The myth has captured our scientific devotion in its sketch. Science has given us unprecedented understanding of the molecular world, but has not satisfied the cravings for meaning lodged in the human heart.

To obtain these desires Faust makes a deal with the devil. Have our cultures not been willing to sacrifice moral integrity for the success we have achieved? Ah, but the devil was a liar from the beginning. The Cartesian split is a lie. It said we needed to make a choice between our hearts and heads.

We understood that knowledge was power and if there was anything this poor pathetic orphan of a species, all alone on this isolated dead rock circling a non-descript star needed, it was power. Due to the Cartesian error we expected we would have to pay the price of sacrificing our emotions to gain that knowledge. It was not so much that there would be no emotions along our way. Though we prided ourselves on our objectivity, in fact, as the Faust myth illustrates so poignantly, what we did was allow the search for knowledge to blind us to the truth of our emotional nature. In our hunt for achievement we bound ourselves to competition, blinding ourselves to the value of simplicity and contentment. Ethics and compassion took a back seat in our dealings with “the real world,” the one only we moderns ever had the courage to perceive truly.

These seem to be some of the unspoken assumptions of the world we live in. I don’t think they stand up to conscious, rational examination. The heroic stance we have taken in the west was for the sake of learning to think rationally about what is real. We made heroic sacrifices in our pursuit of that knowledge, for which we should be rightly proud. We should not let our disillusionment in its dark side delude us the way it is doing now.

What our Faustian program uncovered was exactly what it set out to find, a universe of dead rocks ruled by the second law of thermodynamics, thoroughly meaningless and without emotion. Just as a patient with a neurological disorder that prevents emotion from participating properly in their reasoning soon finds that their reasoning is ultimately meaningless, so to culturally; our search for knowledge at the price of emotion found the universe to be meaningless as well. Today, of course, we have learned that it is in the nature of things to find what we are looking for. Build an apparatus to find a wave and you will not capture data about particles, though that does not necessarily mean there is no particle data to be had if other tools were applied to the observations.

We moderns wonder, how could there be a feeling in the attraction of the electron to the proton? To entertain such thoughts, we are quite sure, is to indulge in the crudest anthropomorphism. Yet, we fear, if it is not there among the particles, how could it really be in any of the myriad things they produce, including ourselves? Are we no more than chemical robots, meat puppets fooling ourselves that our awareness of our awareness means something more, something else?

We trip up on the role of awareness. To admit the electron is ‘attracted’ to its mate with an element of love involved, seems to ascribe to elementary particles the same conscious awareness we are familiar with, which is patently absurd. Is it only metaphorical to say the electron is attracted to the proton like lovers? It must be. Yet… We are left wondering just what the role of metaphor actually is in the embodied minds we think with. In a world of will and representation, many of the modern conceptions of consciousness are just too small to carry the full burden of the evidence.

And because consciousness is directly accessible to everyone, we all know a lot more about all this than we tend to give ourselves credit for. It would be good if we could befriend this western wound. Compassion is called for. Goethe’s treatment of Faust is in two parts, the first of which ends in tragedy. Parallels with our own circumstances are obvious. Part two of Goethe’s Faust, written years after part one when Goethe was an older man, begins with the spirits of the earth forgiving Faust, and mankind. How this, too, has parallels with our own circumstances is less obvious. It is the work of mindful ecology to encourage them. The final scene of Goethe’s masterpiece has Faust’s soul carried to heaven by the intercession of “Virgin, Queen of Motherhood… Eternal Womanhood.” The artful clue turns our attention to Gaia, Mother Earth, the living earth. Mephistopheles had fearfully threatened Faust that when he died he would encounter the absolute death spoken of earlier in this essay, the “Eternal Empty,” making his life meaningless. No, Goethe insists, the goddess beats the devil every time. There is only the compost heap, and the ongoing saga of our kind.