The Church of Child Abuse, part two

“Listen to the whores he tells him.”
David Bowie, The Next Day

“If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever.”
George Orwell, 1984

“‘Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the Kingdom of God as a child, will not enter it.’ Then he embraced them and blessed them, putting his hands upon them.”
Jesus, Mark 10.15-16

 

This post continues a discussion of religious child abuse. It may not be appropriate for all readers.

The inner essence of the act of Religious Abuse is always the same. It consists of introducing the face of a unique child of god, innocent and trusting, to the terror of the authoritarian boot that hates that face. Totalitarian thinking is threatened by those who question authority, something every child does naturally and playfully as they see through the Emperor’s New Clothes to the foolish naked human underneath putting on airs. This is intolerable for the uptight, those whose sense that life is good, and fun, and beautiful was long ago torn out of their breasts by the abuses they suffered.

Religious Abuse consists of taking the spirit of the child of the deep time stars and crushing it, breaking their will. You know the boot. It is the one that likes to take the soft vulnerability of our flesh and assault it with rape, racks, burning stakes, and cattle prongs for the entertainment of the “troops” and the “faithful.” The one that likes to take a small child, weak and confused, and beat them within an inch of their lives to “teach them a lesson” or tear their flesh with sexual perversions. It’s destructive spirit leaks out of our homes and into our streets. You know the boot when it goose-steps through our headlines, the one that claims the golden toilet-seat crowd deserves everything they take from the poor. Afraid of the boot, we all rather easily dispose of the pain of thirst in millions of non-white fellow citizens on the island of Puerto Rico, or when madness wipes the sidewalks with blood on the eve of the International Day of Non-Violence, or when congress plans to take healthcare away from the helpless among us and, since that that didn’t work out, assure us that the most important legislation in all the world they could be working on right now is lowering the corporate tax rate. If you ever get tiered of chewing on Pharaoh’s old boot leather watch out! Those in charge threaten to unleash a nuclear holocaust and teach us all a lesson in how much respect they deserve, by searing the flesh of our children and other loved ones.

This is the boot that marches throughout human history, across fields of blood, to lay the stranger’s bones in mass graves. It almost always marches under the flag of religious justifications, a diseased self-righteousness cloaked in lies of divine authority. This boot is trying to destroy humanity. It seems the interdependent intertwining of life and death is inherent in self-aware adult consciousness. Just as apoptosis, programmed cell death, is needed biologically for us to function, it seems that psychologically death is also a necessary ingredient in what makes our awareness possible at all. Perverted by our fear, our awareness of mortality threatens us with self destruction.

We have been struggling with this a very long time. The Emperor-Kings and their sycophant Holy Men who would abusively lord it over us, both at home and in the streets, are taking advantage of our species inherent Achilles heel. Christianity exposes them as the age old Christ killers: that which targets faith, hope and love in a good god that cares about us individually. The Christ killers are not a race, it is not an ethnic inheritance, it is not a skin-color, it is not a ideological membership, nor is it a particular religious affiliation that murders the innocent teacher of non-violence. It is the darkness in our own hearts. The line runs not between us and them, but within.

What is the Christ story really addressing? Our minds fear our bodies. It is that simple. It is our bodies that teach us we too will experience sickness, old age, and death. It is our bodies that turn our minds upside down in puberty. It is our bodies that panic. Out of our fear come wild dreams and nightmares of immortality gained through magical means, the sacrifice of other’s blood. Out of that fear is born something that seeks to thwart our use of reason. It happens to individuals and happens to societies.

What is it reasonable people seek? To build a more peaceful kingdom on earth, to minimize war, and do so by living harmoniously with the bounty the earth provides. This is what the hearts of every person of goodwill hopes for in their innermost longings. We have been holding this hope for a very long time and we are not a stupid species. We have used our hope to create a trap for the evil shadow-projectors and they never fail to spring it. This is the good news, the Gospel, the message that the creation of our bodies is blessed, that god became flesh, that the way of mortals is as it should be. The universe we get to be part of is not a mistake, flawed, or cruel but from a creator we can call abba. The good news is not that someday in the far future some super big Armageddon war turns bad people into good people or sends all the bad people to hell. The good news is that, right here and now and always for the human soul, nothing that matters most to us depends at all on what happens through the “powers” of the abusive Emperor-Kings and their sycophant Holy Men. They claim to own us but they did not create us. Liberation, therefore, is not something they can stop.

If we are to understand anything about spiritual abuse we need to try and understand what it means when a priest, a self-proclaimed representative of god, performs acts designed to crush the heart in their victims. They are changing the conception of the universe the human being was born with. One way it is done is when they traumatically frighten the mind out of the body, causing what their victim will remember as an out of body experience. It seems to be a built in soul comfort for those whose abused bodies are too filled with pain to remain aware of, the mind pretends it is wholly independent as if it IS dead. I say pretend because though the mind can experience dying, being dead by definition it cannot. Nothing as dramatic as this is needed though. There need not be acts of sexual or ritual violation to do the dirty deed. All you have to do, to crush the personality and leave only the cult compliant shell of a person, is to discourage every expression of uniqueness that person ever dares to reveal. This is the mark of a cult and the cultish family. Humiliate them or beat them anytime they express their own individual will, anytime they show a hope for a better tomorrow. Reject every offer of love they might make in their own quirky individual way and only accept the rote expressions of “love” approved in the cult. The dirty deed of Religious Abuse is completed when a young person setting out to try and find their way in the world truly believes they must either stay living in the cult or must live without faith, hope, and love. No one, by the way, can live without a modicum of actual faith, hope, and love. The victim is damned if they do, damned if they don’t: Catch-22. The institutional powers that have so hooked a soul into their collection-plate mechanisms – this is what we are up against.

As the ecological crisis proceeds to add weight to our delusional thrashing about, there is an increasing opportunity for individuals to wake up to the reality of what is happening. Reality is stubborn that way, always waiting for us to return to our senses. Doing so is not at all easy. What our reality sense shows is scary. What sense shows is also how little theses tin-hat dictators really control, as we see when FEMA struggles. Their powers of carnage and destruction are wholly inadequate measures of how well they can build things up. We can wake up to the truth of our situations but it requires courage. The exact same courage displayed by these victims of child abuse we are considering. Those that manage to survive do so by overthrowing the weight of lies injected into them. They bind the strong man / woman that terrified their body and are then freed to voluntarily submit to its wisdom. Why is this so hard, particularly for the traumatized and abused? Because the child loves those on whom they depend. This is the universe we are born within as mammals. The one unthinkable thought is that the victim’s parents, preachers, and teachers could all be wrong, each participant and compliant in evil. Yet, this is the one thought the victim must have if they are to find the long, difficult path to liberation from their bondage to the Religious Abuse burden that has been injected into them by the processes of psychological projection. It takes a village to raise a child. It also takes a village to abuse one, a village filled with those who look the other way.

Sooner or later, if the young person victimized by Religious Abuse lives into adulthood and finds healing, they will confront the fact that the world of thought, the history of human ideas, is much larger than the cult they were raised in. Not only are the subjects of religion, philosophy, psychology, biology, cosmology, and all the rest, much larger than fundamentalism, but good people doing good in the world seem to come from all kinds of different traditions and from all over the globe and throughout all historic eras. All of this works against the mind programming they received as children. These people have had their brains washed in toxic apocalyptic ideas which were enforced through toxic human relationships. It make acute the need to choose what to believe just when it is hard to believe in anything. It make acute the need to find out what is real.

Most people who have been victim to these sophisticated mind forming techniques suffer incredible doubt and fear that anything good or true could exist in the world, once they dare to think the thought that should not be thought. People can choose to undo the stinking-thinking around the double binds they have learned, even while they know it will take years and be punctuated, at times, by all the terrors an overactive imagination can conjure around Satan and Hell. That is a hard row to hoe. Those that make it, in my experience, almost always have a significant other willing to join them on the journey. The other option, when confronted with the fact that the fundamentalist indoctrination of one’s youth is untrue and your mind is now haunted with double binds, is to double down on the cultic worldview. The newly minted fanatic is blind to the sunk cost fallacy. It is an easier route, this sacrifice of intellectual integrity involved in becoming a true believer, and one that assures the continuance of the cult. Such a person shuts up their doubts by shoving them in a box of repression, one maintained by a persona that brooks no doubts, admits no fears, and allows no tears. In this way they carry out the projection of evil, tragically creating the scapegoat in the next generation as they are powerless not to find another black sheep among their own children. That is the linage of the Church of Child Abuse.

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.

Self Evident

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights…”
United States Declaration of Independence

 

What does it mean for a truth to be self evident? Perhaps the better question is actually what does it mean that a truth can be self evident?  It is simple really; “we have no choice but to believe what we understand” Matthew Stewart explains in Nature’s God. Put this way it hardly seems such an obnoxious idea, almost a truism. But this is not the case. This is another concept from the radical philosophy held by our Deist founding fathers. It has to do with the nature of the mind.

Rene Descartes proposed an absolute skepticism as the foundation of modern western philosophy. He asked what if a demon had created this entire universe to deceive us. In that case we could trust nothing reported by the senses. How would we ever know what was real and what was a delusion? He (in)famously concluded the only certainty available to a human being is the conceptual mind; “I think, therefore I am.”

Notice the assumption here about the nature of the self or what we would call today a theory of the mind. The philosophical question he is struggling to answer is what is real about our experience. He brings to the investigation the Christian assumptions of an individual soul which is somehow situated above the manifest universe; it can judge whether the whole of our embodied experience it is true or otherwise. Though it may not be obvious, in his thought experiment he sits in judgment over the whole of existence by assuming that human consciousness is the only really alive personhood in an otherwise dead material universe. Remember Descartes also bequeathed our belief that animals are no more than clever machines.

Daniel Dennett was among the first to provide a thoroughly modern critique of a theory of mind he aptly described as a Cartesian Theater. Though the title does not well represent the actual contents, Dennett’s Consciousness Explained is a very important read for those interested in consciousness as it is being thought about in academic settings under the influence of the neurosciences of our times. The Cartesian Theater is a descriptive term for this theory of mind commonly attributed to Descartes. In Descartes’ view the mind is somewhat like a multi-screen movies theater where an inner eye scans pictures, mental images. In this view ideas are no more than immaterial things (!) and we are free to choose among them as we will. This simple, sort of default understanding of our minds, turns out to involve the whole western way of viewing belief, truth and free will.

This Image of the mind as a Cartesian Theater is very important for buttressing up the whole concept of a revealed religion, which requires that people can choose to believe in it or not. By this view of the mind there is no inherent attributes of the ideas themselves that could assure us we are not being fooled by the demon of Descartes famous doubt; the demon he postulated was capable of producing a world of illusion by fooling all our senses. What Descartes saw was that there is no way to leave our private movie theater and check on things; we can never, ever know if what we know is true. There is an absolute skepticism here which, as Stewart points out, seems to demand an unqualified leap of faith.

Daniel Dennett demolishes the picture-theory of mind nine ways to Sunday. It turns out we may not know how consciousness works in cutting edge neuroscience but we are quite sure it does not work like this. One of his more colorful critiques is also as easy to understand as it is profound. He asks about this eye in the middle of the theater which he names a homunculus to capture the image of the little controller in our head this picture-theory of the mind needs.

MIBWhat is telling the homunculus what to believe? It must have an even smaller homunculus, complete with its own movie theater, in its own head. Of course this second, smaller homunculus will need an even smaller third one in its head and so on, right down the hall of mirrors in an infinite regress. Dennett points out there can be no such self sitting in the center of the head calling the shots. Neuroscience supports this conclusion; although an executive center of the brain has been tentatively identified, its characteristics are not quite what we might suppose. As far as we can tell there is no central location in the brain. What we see instead is that every thought involves numerous areas of the brain simultaneously; recall our discussion of the grandmother neuron. What this leads us to do is reconsider the ontological status of those things we are aware of due to the brain’s processing.

“We have no choice but to believe what we understand.” Stewart provides us with a vivid metaphor for the difference in views here. We tend to think of our minds, he says, as a jar full of marbles which are all the ideas we have. Consciousness is the jar, the container holding this endless parade. The radical philosophy simply asserts there is no jar. The ideas themselves, the interplay of patterns in the neuron soup, that is all there is. But this interplay is not random.

Brains evolved to adapt to their environment.

This is another truism hard to really grasp the full implications of because we are sure we already get it. Consider this – the environment of every human being who has ever lived has never contained a god or demon walking around as real as you or I. Nor will you ever shake hands with an ideology. We find these in the conceptual mind, nowhere else. This doesn’t deny the possibility of visionary experiences, other classes of beings and all that. It simply puts such things squarely where the evidence from the daily life of people for eons insists it belongs.

Here in the world beyond the conceptual labels we manufacture, everything which makes an impression upon our body carries with it an inherent, shall we say, reflexivity; it states its own form of being. It is its own evidence.

That which makes what is real, seem real to us – that is what we should learn to bow down to. If we did we would immediately awaken to a world full of ignorant abuse at every turn, for the ecological reality of our situation has grown dark. We lost sight of the fact that what we need is not much more than simply food, clothing, and shelter if we have joyful companionship and a way to contribute to the well being of our self and others. We have become so enamored with our conceptual gymnastics that as a species we are at risk of losing the ability to provide this simple food, simple clothing and simple shelter for ourselves.

This is a molecular world, everywhere the truth of it is self evident. The industrialized culture has not been dealing with it very skillfully. The conceptual abstractions through which we conduct our economics and politics have placed us at risk of not recognizing what is self evident; namely that what cannot be sustained, will not be sustained.

Instead of the absolute Descartes skepticism we could adopt a great certainty in the self evident truths we discover in the moment by moment reality of this life.

We are the Path

“Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun.
Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-eight million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue-green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.
This planet has – or rather had – a problem, which was this: most of the people on it were unhappy for pretty much of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movements of small green pieces of paper, which is odd because on the whole it wasn’t the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy.
And so the problem remained; lots of the people were mean, and most of them were miserable, even the ones with digital watches.
Many were increasingly of the opinion that they’d all made a big mistake in coming down from the trees in the first place. And some said that even the trees had been a bad move, and that no one should ever have left the oceans.
And then, one Thursday, nearly two thousand years after one man had been nailed to a tree for saying how great it would be to be nice to people for a change, a girl sitting on her own in a small café in Rickmansworth suddenly realized what it was that has been going wrong all this time, and she finally knew how the world could be made a good and happy place. This time it was right, it would work, and no one would have to get nailed to anything.
Sadly, however, before she could get to a phone to tell anyone about it, a terrible, stupid catastrophe occurred, and the idea was lost forever.
This is not her story.”

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams

 

Douglas Adams has shared a diagnosis I tend to agree with. It seems to me that the ecological crisis is a reflection of the fact that most people are basically miserable. Deep down inside they seem to think that this whole life-thing is a rip off. We behave as though our disappointments outweigh our gratitude. To not put too fine a point on it, as a species we are acting as if we were suicidally depressed. There is very little contentment, we are suffering a plague of poverty mentality that spends most every thought worrying we don’t have enough and scheming how we are going to get more. Being afraid to embrace our nakedness we coat ourselves with character armors and go to battle with one another, with the earth, with life itself.

Too dramatic? Ask yourself when was the last time you truly felt safe, secure, loved and appreciated, happy just to be, happy with things just the way they are, able to let tomorrow take care of itself? When was the last time you spent a day playing by a riverside, in a forest or on a mountain? Do you spend time exquisitely aware of the multitude of means by which the whole of this biosphere – all these countless sentient beings – are working to provide for you, sustain you, teach you and inspire you?

This widespread ailment of poverty mentality is sad., sad but not tragic since what is made by human beings can be unmade by human beings. It is not a cosmic law that insists that we run breathless every day in manic desperation to try and earn a glimmer of security from which we might gain a small taste of joy. Biological imperatives and social conformities need not ultimately define who we are. Awash in an environmental assault on contentment in an attempt to sell you stuff; it is still possible to remain unhooked. It just takes some skill in working with the equipment evolution has designed for us.

For the last few months we have been exploring this biological equipment, inquiring into how it is being used to process awareness within our species. This equipment is the real material we are given to work with as each and every one of us navigates the choices which make up our lives. Each and every one of us are participating equally in the manifestation of our species and its extended phenotypes – including the cars and power plants that just delivered the hottest month on record and the funny money systems currently groaning under the weight of central bank shenanigans.

One of the many things a contemplative learns is how there is a bodily component to every thought and feeling. The biological systems we have been examining these last few weeks offer a scientific ground for why. The kink in the neck or the throbbing in the temple, tenseness of the jaw or flexibility of of the spine are all going to be accompanied by mental impressions as well. Typically there is too much distraction from the external world to notice these physiological correlates but in the quite of a contemplative session the connections become more obvious.

The image of the human being as a stick figure was discussed back in April. This childhood artifact is almost all head with very little body. It was said that this “stick figure impoverishment” is how many of us spend most of our self-aware time, all wrapped up in our own heads. Yet we have seen that the flotsam of thoughts and feelings that we are conscious of rides on a deep set of roots reaching into the whole of the nervous system. In reality our thinking is not the isolated, ethereal, disconnected thing it seems to be but is actually a fundamental reflection of causes and conditions. Thinking provides another angle on the same single reality that is the relationship of container and contained, awareness and its environment.

With training people are able to occupy the present moment ever more completely. When the mind is not distracted by plans and worries on the one hand or day dreams and fantasies on the other, it can experience a relaxed focus on the present moment. There are countless details of the present moment that can serve as gates into a fuller experience. There is a texture to the atmosphere and the shapes of things edged sharp or smooth carry an emotional tone, there is a type of color beyond color that tints the flesh of other human beings and an echo within the sounds of the world, to mention a few as I would try to wrap words around them.

Don’t settle for just the skull’s contents. Claim the brain stem, spinal column and wing-like weavings of its nerve cords as part of your inheritance as well. This is what is moving through space and time. This is the vehicle you are and the path you will traverse.

The discussions of the last few months have been providing contextual background for the topic of compassion which we will be taking up in the next cycle of posts. The contextual material began by examining our desire to know the future, a desire more than a few investors are experiencing rather acutely this week as the Dow Jones and the S&P are on track for their worse monthly loses in six years. We then took up the question of what tomorrow in our land might actually look like if we allow ourselves to be guided by the idea that techno-utopia or apocalyptic scenarios. A question that has grown weightier throughout the course of the summer as drought and wildfires broke records, racial violence flared and Caesar posturing among the presidential candidates reached new lows.

The importance and purity of intention and the difficulty of thinking about the big issues of our time were then addressed before launching into a series of posts about evolution. Our examination of evolution, both collectively in adaptations and individually in the studies of evo-devo, has been to supply us with a minimum common understanding. There were detours into a few of the contingent biological and physiological details of how evolutionary factors have played out and the resulting systems that were fashioned.

We looked at the role of cooperation in addition to competition in the game of survival of the fittest and found there is more than a little evidence to indicate our capitalist, winner take all, devil take the hindmost, interpretation of Darwin is nothing more than a caricature of the complexities involved in the real biospheric relationships among species and their environments. After examining the evolution of thought and feeling we turned our attention to the manipulation of these by the sophisticated advertising and PR industries living vampire-like off the collective mind.

This opened the way for a discussion of the mind and the brain. Learning about how there are functional parts and pieces in our mental lives illustrated how contemplative work might proceed. It also brought up the question about how all these parts and pieces might work together which was answered by illustrating the power of connections to implement logic around embodied information. As a sort of summary of the whole cycle, last week took up the important role of the spinal column in our human form and our yogic traditions.

Some familiarity with the details of evolution, cognitive science and neuroscience seem helpful for anyone engaged in contemplative practices or concerned about the ecological unraveling. Without this shared context discussions that recommend the development of compassion can sound like no more than a new twist on the old time gospel hour; preachy, stuffy and full of ethical morality. It is my hope that this whole misunderstanding can be avoided by positioning our upcoming discussion squarely in a realm more akin to the aeons of deep time and the vastness of deep space or at the very least within the matrix of mystery we humans actually are; the matrix of DNA, biology, planetary formation and consciousness that define us.

Yes, we are concerned with the development of character and yes, thoughts and feelings do not just arise out of nowhere. Now we will begin contemplating what it means that the thoughts and feelings of other sentient beings are just as real to them as yours are to you.

This post started with a quote from Douglas Adams and I would like to close it with a comment from another Adams, Patch Adams. In a conversation concerning his work with children badly burned by bombs in war zones Patch said, “You know, there is no high as high as truly helping someone.” In his eye was reflected both the pain and the twinkle he is well known for.

We are setting our sights on destroying an illusion, the illusion that we are an ego in isolation. We will be working on trading in our poverty mentality for the inconceivable wealth of the inner riches of clear light awareness.