The Destroyer

And so it has come to this. The basement of the mind, the basement of our times. The journey within the psyche we have been examining includes a final feature that is the subject of today’s post. There, in the depths of what ego is able to encounter and endure, hides a very dangerous feature, one which we do not know all that much about, only that it is really there.

This feature of the mind is why, at least in part, there is a common wisdom in the west about not going too far with introspective practices. We have sayings like this one from the Native Americans, “a man loses himself in the blacks of his eyes,” or the half-comic characterization of meditation as “navel gazing” which implies it is nothing more than an adult attempting to get back into the womb ala Freud’s pessimistic assessment of mysticism. St Anthony, the first Christian contemplative, goes out into the desert and is immediately set upon by Satan. The Tibetan meditative tradition has a very rich array of fierce Buddhas reflecting what they found when they went inside. We have been using shamanism as a model for these things.

A destroyer hides in our subjectivity.

One model of therapy I find cognizant names the parts of the psyche, recognizing that there is an Internal Family System within (IFS). The part of the psyche we are concerned with here is at the end of a spectrum of inner critics. The spectrum begins with the perfectionist within, that part that has very high standards for performance, behavior and production. When we do not measure up to its dictates it attacks us by insisting our work or behavior is not good enough. Under its influence what we do fails to nourish our sense of self worth because it seems as if it never quite measures up, is never quite good enough. Each of us has this critic part of ourselves which we need to learn to deal with. Some people have had incidents in their lives, particularly childhood incidents, which makes this perfectionist within a major burden, but none escape completely unscathed. People in highly competitive cultures, such as our own, find the energy of our ‘Can Do’ drive is often and easily diverted towards this less than helpful delusion that we could one day be perfect. You know the drill: the right partner, church, job, house, car, clothes, friends, and all the rest the squawk box goes on and on about endlessly, will make out lives happy and everyone will like us, if only we would listen to the helpful advertisers treating us to their arcane knowledge about how best to spend what money we do have.

The perfectionist can become a bit more adamant. They then take on the characteristics of what IFS has called the molder. The molder works to get you to fit into a particular social mold, typically one based on your particular cultural and family mores. It makes you feel good when you fit in but attacks you when you dare to deviate. Notice how the worth of the individual is shifting towards the worth of a more institutionalized interpretation of what an individual should be. The molder wants to remake the world in their image and can brook no deviance. Fundamentalists of every stripe are captivated by the needs and values involved with the molder part of the human psyche. The molder is sure the only safety in this dark and dangerous world is to be found in the special habits of one’s own tribe. All others are heretics, heretics threatening the very law and order of the cosmos.

Take this desire to remake individuals in the image of a perfect being one more step and the molder turns into the destroyer. The heretic and apostate must be killed. The destroyer is defined as an inner critic that makes attacks on your fundamental self-worth. It uses the weapon of shame. It seeks to persuade you that you should not exist. The perfectionist wants to make you do better in the world, it is simply not all that skillful so all it can do is harp on you about not being good enough until it wises up a bit. The molder wants to help you fit in within the many social aspects of your life. It fears the social isolation complete individual eccentricity creates, it just lacks the skill to communicate helpfully about the dangers it perceives. The destroyer, on the other hand, wants one thing only – to watch you die.

The torture chamber hells are what our imaginations conjure to clothe what we feel in the extremities of suffering. Here we turn on ourselves. The mind lashes out at the body, angry at its vulnerability and mortality. In its imaginative images it chops and burns, cuts and tears away at it until there is nothing left but a bloody, quivering chunk of flesh. Somewhere a frozen witness observes this – and is not fooled by who is who and what is what all along the long chain of value laden causes and effects that has lead up to it. The problem is, that if we do not find the courage to take on the battle within, we are destined to project the destroyer so that it walks among us as cruel injustices: abuse, poverty and war.

It is a sad fact that there are others who would gain a sort of satisfaction with your destruction. No matter who you are, your very existence is an affront to some group or another. When a person’s identity is with a particular group instead of their own self, anyone who lives outside that group is threatening. To see these outsiders destroyed confirms the true believers in their faith. Nations and religions thrive on this projection of the shadow and the creation of scapegoats it entails. Since all of us are individuals, we are bound to cross others and be for them the target of their ‘evil eye.’ That old phrase captures a psychological process whereby the burden of self-destruction is injected into a person as a result of their socialization. Inside our psyches we encounter not only protectors, which look and act fiercely but do so out of compassion and have our best interests at heart. We also encounter destroyers, that 10% of the shadow that is not gold, that is evil pure and simple. The teaching I like around this point is that the universe is only fully interesting and engaging with a devil in it, but we are meant to honor life by keeping a firm foot on its neck. The only correct response when confronted by a destroyer is to thwart their plans, to short circuit their energy, to destroy them in turn by honesty, light, truth and reason. Remember, if you commit suicide, or murder-suicide, the bad guys win.

The tools of the wrathful angels such as St. Michael are surgical, they destroy destroyers. They also accomplish the dismemberment of the shaman. Why else would we have a Holy Guardian Angel and how could it be otherwise in a universe that is wholly interdependent? Those who would venture in the lands of the inner worlds should know not all is sweetness and light there. Our evolutionary roots, while graced with wisdom, are also home to many relatives of the alligator variety.

Earth is a place in which we are all playing the parts of both predator and prey. Both parts in themselves are as pure as mountain streams. In man, however, there exists the ability to get lost in a dream, a world of his own imagining. This is what those bits of common wisdom about the dangers of introspection are warning us about but they, in my opinion, fail to place sufficient weight on the dangers of not working with one’s own mind.

It is true that at some point in every therapeutic treatment there comes a time to let the past be past and move on. In every shaman journey taken to the end the heart is properly placed in the Halls of Judgment. “First,” one of my earliest teachers once told me, “we have to get you right in your heart.” The human heart is to be weighed by the gods with the angels looking on. In other words, it needs to be liberated from the judgments of other people who cannot know you as only you and your maker can. Only you know why you did what you did, that you felt what you felt. The heart cannot be given its final judgment by any human being – not by mother or father, not by teacher, priest or prophet. It was said by St. Augustine, “Love god, and do what thou wilt.” This describes the same view – doing what you will takes up your conscious focus and you let others worry about the right and wrong of it. A creature is to deal first with their creator, and it is a profound confusion to think the moms and dads of the world are the final arbiters of that power. It is right to be liberated to do what thou wilt because you lead with your heart, following the truth of love and compassion. To put it yet another way: being in a place of healing involves a real acceptance that you are never going to get all your vices in order before you give your all to life. We have to learn to love the outcasts, the downtrodden and the sorrowful we find within and without. So many of us are caught up in provisional living, snared by some complex or another from really committing 100% to this life just as it is. We act as if this is the dress rehearsal and the real thing is going to start anytime now, just as soon as we get a few things in order. . .

We do the same thing socially and it is starting to have some serious real world implications: we will stop driving the animals to extinction just as soon as we get good, solid economic growth going again; will leave some clean water for our children to drink just as soon as we get this little problem of a diminishing power supply figured out; will cease overfishing and clear-cutting just as soon as we have paid off our loans. It is the modern modus operandi for all things related to the real ecological burdens our way of life creates.

We as a society have become entranced by scenes of torture and mayhem. We see it everywhere from the short scene in BBC’s Sherlock on Masterpiece Theater, to longer scenes in James Bond films, and on into the depravity of torture porn proper such as we see in the Saw series. The news carries the same things. The real world Texas Chainsaw Massacre like abuse of human beings (women and children, minorities and the poor more often than not it is worth pointing out) haunts us. It is as if we understand that before someone does these kinds of things on the outside, they long ago did the same thing and worse to parts of themselves on the inside. This scares us all. It can literally scare us to death. It should scare the hell out of us.

Reason sheds its loving light on the search for the destroyer within. The ego’s waking mind can teach this wild imagination of ours the difference between a metaphor and a reality. The truth is that very few people, thankfully, will ever experience first hand the psychological state of extreme duress brought on by being tortured. However, as our “entertainments” are quick to capitalize on, we all share places within where our deepest fears around our fleshy vulnerabilities are imaged through torture in hot and cold hells.

The child wakes up screaming from a nightmare, their head filled with monsters, wild animals, weapons or torture devices attacking them, or any of the other shamanistic idioms. The parent soothes their fright with words of reason; there is no monster in the closet or under the bed. Eventually the child’s mind coalesces around real world fears, such as burglars coming through the windows, covert night visits by sexual predators in the family and other dangers of the real world the child is working so feverishly to understand. Reason is the boon of compassion. It does not go away but greets us again fresh each morning, regardless of what terrors may have visited us in the night. Our reasoning ability needs to teach the rest of the mind its knack for separating what is real from what is poetic, metaphor, exaggeration, or simply thoughts way too extreme to be applicable to the real daytime world as we experience it.

Against the destroyers we bring our protectors. These are every voice we have ever heard and glance we have recorded from the people who have seen who we really are as individuals, not remaining content to encounter just the personas built for the roles we fulfill as needed by some institution or another. Our protectors have seen who we are beneath the character armor and liked it. They hold a revelation it is almost impossible for the hurt parts within to really accept: loving kindness. The protectors act like a cloud of witnesses made up of everyone who has ever encouraged us with a kind word to do our best and be happy with that, as it expresses our own unique brand of Being Human via DNA ™. The protectors assert the rational truth that you have as much right to exist as any other creature that has ever won the DNA lottery. Protectors call destroyers what they are – liars. The devil, the Bible states, has been a liar and a murderer since the beginning. Protectors, on the other hand, defend life and stand firmly on the truth of things. They are warriors which keep the warrior’s honor.

This is in stark contrast to the destroyers. A warrior will not cause his or her opponent’s face to become washed in blood. They will not shame their enemy. That is dishonorable, a despicable act; to fight fair the shame shot is not taken. The willingness to do so is what makes the bully-torturer pathetic in the eyes of a warrior.

And so it has come to this. It is not exactly that we have elected a Bully in Chief, but indisputably President Trump brings a public meanness to the office not seen before. Does President Trump shame those he attacks, or does he stay above the belt and fight fair? Only the victims of his attacks can answer that. We all, however, have a stake in the answer to that question. For a great many things it will come to matter a great deal whether this nation is being led by a warrior in disguise, or a destroyer.

Remaining mindful of ecology we are not given to despair over the shifting fortunes of empires. We have been training in bringing aid to the suffering, under triage conditions, among the two-legged and four-legged for quite some time now. Don’t be fooled by shifting circumstances, big oil doubling down and taking over the apparatus of government, for example. Give it another ten years before drawing any conclusions.

Change would be coming about now, we were told a long time ago. Change was certainly needed; it has become patently obvious that business as usual has no long term future. Well, change is what we’ve got. Let us all pray. Pray with compassion filled hearts for each of the suffering sentient beings on our most precious, rare and beautiful earth. Pray the inevitable death throes of big oil will not be too destructive to that which remains.


I have added a a new page under poetics. It is hoped it might comfort with it’s simple reminder to Go forth and love life.

Cruelty and Compassion

Ego rightly fears the highs and lows of emotions by which the psyche can be carried away. Crimes of hot passion and cold revenge haunt our history books. Overwhelmed by grief the ego has been dragged to hell, overwhelmed by bliss it has been transported to heaven. Until it has plumbed the heights and depths itself and extended its compassion to all the parts found within, that fear of being overwhelmed by what has been repressed remains. The Self seems to guide the ego along the lines of overcoming these fears, given the chance. Along the way our conception of who and what we are remains, of necessity, mundane and restricted. Our conception of the universe we find ourselves in also remains similarly mundane and restricted. When we look into our minds and allow only a small glimpse of their potential to effect us, we intentionally narrow our view. A larger glimpse of their potential can lead to a larger view.

Most often we narrow our view by turning our attention to ourselves. We ruminate about our life stories; replaying past events and imagining future ones. This is how we learn and set the goals by which we energize the present moment. There is nothing inherently wrong about these types of cognitive activities; they are what the mind naturally does when placed more or less in neutral, unless the mind is unaffected by fear. Without fear the mind more naturally turns its attention out away from one’s own life story. In neutral it then unleashes its inborn curiosity and ponders this existence we find ourselves a part of. Contemplation along these lines can lead to gratitude and awe born from a profound respect for the intelligent pattern everywhere displayed.

The logical third possibility is that the contents of narrow attention will consist of some combination of ego considerations and an awareness of the vast environment it finds itself a part of. Here, at the interface, is where so many of our deepest dissatisfactions with our existence arise. It seems as though we rarely can get what we most deeply long for from the universe. Peace and contentment escape us for we cannot long rest content with our achievements, nor can we avoid the heart rending suffering of love lost for long. Many of our most basic needs and desires are related to our relationships with other people, but other people do not appreciate us enough and the world certainly is not giving us our proper due. . . All these kinds of thoughts come naturally to the ego and provide it with the fuel it uses to get up off the couch and work hard to make things a bit better.

This, however, is not optimal. To be inspired by the energy of what is basically a childish temper tantrum is to be enslaved by one’s own existence. Gratitude and awe before the vast reaches of inner and outer space is a much more liberating psychology from which the ego can live. Moving the ego’s center of gravity from the tantrum to the gratitude requires that it comes to know it is valued, just as it is. It needs to come to know it is loved by God as a child of God, as it is said in western religious terms. It needs to come to know it is valued as a Bodhisattva in training, as it is said in eastern terms. It needs to fight off the inner bullies that would wound its very being with shame and deny it has any right to exist, as it is said in psychological terms.

The modern view of that which is real is so vast in time and in space that it intimidates us. It threatens us with such minuteness that we fear our lives to be little more than meaningless grains of sand, specs of dust in the wind. It is worth noting that this cosmic vastness has been part of the view of the universe in Hinduism and Buddhism since their inception. Both of these eastern traditions are rich in teachings that point to the inner world of the psyche as being equally vast and finding thereby some measure of belonging within the infinities which surround us on all sides. This is in no small part where the differences between the psychology of the east and the psychology of the west have their roots. Modern cosmology has brought the eastern view to the west. It can shake the girders of our souls, waken us from our narcotic slumbers, if we let it.

Ego works hard to find love and food, shelter and some sense of meaningful participation with the rest of the world. Where it fits in the vast cosmic panorama is harder to say, whereas what it needs to do today is usually rather clear. It is not easy to be self-conscious. Touched by sorrow the ego has tasted hell, touched by love it has tasted heaven. As mentioned, overwhelmed by grief it has been dragged to hell, overwhelmed by bliss it has been transported to heaven. All this has taken place without ever once setting foot anywhere but on the solid ground of this very earth on which we live. Where the human being fits in this vast cosmic panorama is hard to say, but it is the nature of our minds that each of us must take these journeys of the soul into the outer reaches. No one wholly escapes the responsibilities of the shaman.

Lovecraft, reflecting a modern sensibility, warned that mankind was not meant to venture far into the reality of our vast cosmos. In what is probably his most well known quote he predicts that if we were to awake to our true position in the vast scheme of things we would run quickly back into the comforts of a new dark age. For Lovecraft that would be a return to barbarism and religious superstition in which we try once again to appease primitive gods, granting at least some small degree of control over what happens to us in our own deluded minds. It is not a pretty picture of our psychological potential. For Lovecraft, the modern western author of cosmic horror par excellence, madness threatens those who seek too deeply into the nature of nature.

Against this view what defense does modern man have? I will argue interdependence, the view embraced by ecology and systems science. Size alone, in space or in time, should not intimidate us. The human brain is the most complex organization of connections in all the known universe. The evolutionary role of emergent consciousness, which is what mankind is involved in, is closer to quantum weirdness than it is to the now discredited mechanical universe Lovecraft was reacting to.

When another person dismisses your existence as meaningless and worthless, as elitists of every stripe do with such ease, it is as if they are embodying this view of a vast heartless universe, our modern horror. In what psychology knows as a reaction formation people who have become assholes have reacted to this repressed threat to their ego by overcompensating for the impotency it makes them feel. This is much like the closely related phenomenon in which the bully uses cruelty and violence to maintain a repression over their inner insecurities. ‘If the universe is just going to use and abuse us, well I’m nobody’s fool, I’ll use and abuse people even more,’ the twisted thinking of the asshole-elitist runs. Next thing you know we are dealing with the unique cruelty only human beings are capable of inflicting upon one another: we will never see rabbits crucifying one another or wolves hooking pain inflicting electrodes to each other, or even, Orwell’s prescient Animal Farm not withstanding, will we see pigs creating totalitarian governance systems.

Compassion is anti-assholism, anti-elitism. For some reason there are other people that react to this same environment differently. This view of vast time and space opens these people to extend loving kindness to others as much as they can. They do not perceive the universe, just as it is, as a threat to their ego stability, but as the supporting context from which it arises and draws its being. At some deep level, beyond what ego can directly control, they have become convinced that whatever is most precious to them cannot be destroyed however outrageous one’s folly might be.

We do not know the determining factors that decide which way an ego will come to view its place in the grand scheme of things. Something beyond what ego can control is guiding this process as far as we can tell. This is why depth psychology needed the concept of the Self as a larger whole within the psyche of an individual than the ego alone. What we do know is that these things seem to be related to how a person has been handling the highs and lows they experience in their innermost heart, their center of emotional life. Here is where the mystery of consciousness is most acute, here in the inner sanctum of the real temple.

The compassionate protectors will discipline themselves and others as a tree is pruned, to facilitate future growth. The will never harm the health of the seed and sap, bruise the reed or snuff out the wick, as it were. The destroyers, on the other hand, use discipline as a means of dispensing with existence, denying that life has any right to exist just as it is. It is as if the destroyers miss the seed and the sap, the state of grace, that everywhere is manifest in sacred world.

We find both protectors and destroyers within and without. It is good to know how to identify who is who. Those who would treat you cruelly, and exalt in that cruelty for cruelty’s sake, do not confuse the minds of their victims. They are easy to identify. The torturer and the bully in their pure form are self defeating. It is when the torturer claims to be working for the Holy Inquisition, and the bully claims to be working for the patriotic military (aka Holy Hosts) that the confusions abound.

Those who would treat you cruelly and claim it is compassion, that it is For Your Own Good, are liars. They are claiming, thereby, to have found themselves heartless in a heartless universe. They are claiming the earth is dead, a place where feeling and consciousness are epiphenomenon, where all that is really going on is a meaningless clash of robots. They have made all things over into the image of the machine. Or, if they are of a religious instead of secular bent, they claim to have found the only heart in a heartless universe. If we need to kill the village to save it, this thinking runs, so be it.

This is a simple truth: there is a universe of difference between treating oneself and others with cruelty and treating oneself and others with compassion.

Boulders of Simplicity

“A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”
Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac

 

Last week completed the investigation of gentleness started in August when we took note that kindness is dangerous. The arc likely did not cover the ground expected but there is a reason for that. I would ask again, along with the authors of On Kindness, “What is it about our times that makes kindness seem so dangerous?” To be gentle includes use of the surgical knife instead of a rusty sword when surgery is the only hope for saving the patient. A person who can be gentle is not spineless, that comes from a popular misconception around what compassion is all about. No one escapes the family dynamics that make us who we are unscathed. How we relate to those things powerfully determines the degree of gentleness we can bring to bear when it really counts.

Another characteristic of a contemplative life, in addition to gentleness, is simplicity.

Cognitive simplicity is where we need to start. Leopold’s Land Ethic is a crowning achievement of where we want to end up. In 25 words he captures something every heart recognizes is profoundly true; something that applies always and everywhere, at least on some level, anytime we choose to judge the justice of human activities. It is not meant as an absolute law that would ban all human use of the land, yet it gives an ethical guidance to its use that we can rely on. It has roots justifying its position that run deeply into the inherent nature of our molecular world. It is not just an ethic someone has chosen, though it is that too, for it is also an ethic that has made itself known to us as we have increased our understanding of ecology.

The cognitive simplicity that complements a contemplative life is not found in the economy of words; though beautifully expressed that is not the essence of what is important about these types of things. It is the simplicity of the insight which captures us with its almost child-like obviousness. This obviousness, this simplicity, is just that which we find it all to easy to lose track of in our very complex and sophisticated conversations around production, pollution, war and jobs.

Cognitive simplicity is where we need to start. An individual is able to resist the allures of group-think to the degree they are firm in their foundation. This means they hold to simple truths felt deeply, instead of overly sophisticated conceptual constructions which can more easily lend themselves to sophistry. There is a strength of conviction we can find that arises from our emotional nature with its intimate connections to our physiology which grounds us without making us fanatics.

Here is an example of a cognitive simplicity that has stuck in my craw since first learning about it as a child. The numbers differ but the ratio remains and is what really matters. In this world it would take, it has been estimated, on the order of 175 billion dollars to alleviate abject poverty. In this world there are, it has been estimated, on the order of 250 trillion dollars held in private wealth. Yet decades roll by and the helter-skelter of hyper-capitalism can find no way to provide “for the least of these,” as the New Testament had it. Russell Brand points out that is equivalent to having 500 pounds in your pocket and a starving, hungry child in front of you asking for 40 pence and you saying “Oh no! Not on your life, its my money!” I think, very simply, that any world system that condones this type of behavior is profoundly flawed, mistaken and dangerous.

Such a judgment is so simple our academics laugh at the naivety involved. I don’t know. I’ve read hundreds of books about the political economy, thought about these things long and carefully, including all the things I have seen first hand and heard about among friends. In all that, far as I can tell, it actually does come back to being just that simple for me. Maybe it was my being raised in a culture based in Christianity but for whatever sociological, psychological and metaphysical reasons, in my heart of hearts I believe we should love one another enough to set the needs of the poor above the greeds of the rich.

Of all the Jesus stories and teachings that molded the western ethical view none has effected me more than the eschatological ethic. From Mathew 25.35-40 NIV:

“…take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ ”

The centuries of western culture have been influenced by this Christian ideal. It has produced that stream of hospitals and orphanages and other good works dedicated to assisting the needs of the “least of these” in which humankind is able to find, as Mother Teresa often said, “Jesus in disguise.” Slavery and racism eventually fell before the weight of this simple ethic which turned the powers of hierarchy and patriarchy on their head. Though today it is popular to restrict our compassion to our own, our cultural roots belie such clever means of getting our collective conscience off the hook.

So for me this is a cognitive bolder of simplicity. It is a loadstone I have found extremely meaningful in understanding who and what I am. Looking carefully, I can say both that I have chose it freely and that it has chosen me. I have chosen to make such an ethical outlook my own, accept it as a value that is true for me. It has not always rested peacefully with me; I have struggled with it, fought it, and tried to deny it or replace it – all to better get along in the world as it actually is. In the end I chose to live with the pain of a world that so often fails to live up to its compassionate potential and, as far as it is in my power, to abide by my chosen belief all the same. In coming to make this choice, as wrestling with it illustrates, there is a sense in which something larger than my ego was involved. In this sense this value has enlisted me in its ranks. In this whole process of wrestling with what I consider right and wrong in the realm of societal relations, my role has been as much a passive ‘victim’ of overwhelming emotions of compassion as it has been an active disciple of the same. I recognize that there is something about the way my ‘heart’ is constructed that insists on simple truths like this. They make up the boulders of my consciousness itself, as it were. In the simplicity I am embodied as the wisdom of age confirms the understanding of the child.

Sitting on my bolder I am unshakable not only because I have made a choice among equally real potential options. The existentialists can miss this point, that just choosing alone may not be sufficient to supply our absurd life with meaning. Sitting on my bolder I experience those parts of my being that are unshakable. This experience has its origin as much in the world as it has revealed itself to me as in my choosing to ‘believe’ it. The world and I have come to this point, together. It holds it in its mountains, sings of it in its rivers, whispers of it in its soil. There is another power among us humans. We all know how the powers of greed, violently corrupt lusts, and stupidity have turned the pages of history. Still, there is another power among us humans. In every generation the joyful, awe inspiring, passionate dedication of true love among couples has always been a part of what we are. I live in America; I can almost hear the long centuries of Native American lovers in the woods, dancers in the valleys, families in the plains, honoring their elders long past who are now resting in their burial grounds just as I honor mine. This is just as real as the corporate boardrooms on our lands today.

What this love teaches us is real too. We hurt ourselves when we lack the courage to admit these parts of ourselves into consciousness, into our public conversations, into our institutions. We could talk about compassion explicitly, it is not beyond our capacity. Instead we are choosing to amp the hate and vitriol of our public discourse, with rising acts of hate crimes and attacks on women and children the predictable outcome.

For centuries, millennia, our forefathers and foremothers who knew the sweet taste of love held it close, however darkness may have tried to assault it. Everyone who has ever loved has nurtured the same flame of hope, delicate and yet invincible, that someday all people would be able to enjoy its blessings, to enjoy what it is like to be in love. If we could, we dare to whisper in our deepest heart wish, there would be no miserable poor suffering unspeakably just beyond our feast table. The feast cannot be complete until all have been invited.

‘Oh my god,’ I can hear some readers crying and gnashing their teeth, ‘this is communism!’ Well far as I can tell that is just a smear campaign designed to water down what is so clearly in the Bible. But I admit things are not so simple as I might make them out to be when filled with moral indignation. Consciousness is inherently individual, like a dot amidst space-time. Each individual consciousness records such unique paths through time and space there is no way we should expect concord. Whether or not that allows us to retain respect for one another depends solely on our attitudes towards the views we hold. We can hold them deep enough to die for, inspired to fight to protect what we honor and yet never need to cross that line that separates intellectual and emotional honesty and integrity from sham and lies. We can learn to hold who and what we are without insisting we are certain in what we know and that all others must be wrong.

Ethics is one bolder, one simplicity on which it is possible for each of us to arrive at our own convictions. Like a mandala, there are other boulders set equidistant from this one. I do not expect, nor insist, that the universe conform to my ethical choice. In fact, from what I have experienced first hand that certainly does not seem to be the case. Not in any straightforward fashion anyway. I have known of far too many cases in which bad things happen to good people. The ethical values are what I work to promote, want to see more of, seek to nurture when I find them and generally molds how I understand what it means to be a human being.

Another foundational simplicity is associated with my study of physics, chemistry, and biology in which the roles of atoms and molecules is front and center. This is how it all works; the explanatory power of the relatively simple atomic hypothesis is amazing.

Energy follows a one way path, creating the arrow of time. Materials cycle, the waste of one process being input into another always and everywhere. These are the ecological cognitions from which all the rest of my ecological outlook flows. They are simple, incontrovertible. To this I have added my study and experience and arrived at my view.

Contemplative simplicity is not the same as fanatical clinging to conceptual content. It is much more visceral than that. I have arrived at my view. That is not the same as saying it is the only one or that all other views are necessarily incorrect. I cannot know that with any certainty, all I can know is that I have arrived at my view. I know how I got here, how slow and careful contemplation has been open to where the deep molding of my evolution has worked its way with me and left me who and what I am.

The simplicity of our cognitive boulders serve us well when we find ourselves on the battlefield performing open soul surgery in triage tents. It does no good to panic in a crisis. Grounded in simplicity there just might be a chance to do some real good.

The Black

“Pushing through the market square, so many mothers sighing
News had just come over, we had five years left to cry in
News guy wept and told us, earth was really dying
Cried so much his face was wet, then I knew he was not lying

I heard telephones, opera house, favorite melodies
I saw boys, toys, electric irons and TV’s
My brain hurt like a warehouse, it had no room to spare
I had to cram so many things to store everything in there
And all the fat-skinny people, and all the tall-short people
And all the nobody people, and all the somebody people
I never thought I’d need so many people.

A girl my age went off her head, hit some tiny children
If the black hadn’t pulled her off, I think she would have killed them
A soldier with a broken arm, fixed his stare to the wheels of a Cadillac
A cop knelt and kissed the feet of a priest, and a queer threw up at the sight of that.

I think I saw you in an ice-cream parlour, drinking milk shakes cold and long
Smiling and waving and looking so fine, don’t think you knew you were in this son.
And it was cold and it rained so I felt like an actor
And I thought of Ma and I wanted to get back there
Your face, your race, the way that you talk
I kiss you, you’re beautiful, I want you to walk.

We got five years, stuck on my eyes
Five years, what a surprise
We got five years, my brain hurts a lot
Five years, that’s all we got

We’ve got five years, what a surprise
Five years, stuck on my eyes
We’ve got five years, my brain hurts a lot
Five years, that’s all we got”
David Bowie, Five Years

 

We have been talking about being gentle with ourselves because, I submit, as a culture we have been suffering from the trauma of what the Limits to Growth study taught us about the future of industrialized civilization. Part of our reaction culturally, I submit, involves increasing child abuses. Abuse can be physical, sexual, psychological or spiritual. We have decided, as a culture, it is ok to have more than 20% of our children living in poverty, at a time CEOs make 300% more than their employees. Physical abuse, check. Previous posts have already covered how pervasive sexual abuse is. Sexual abuse, check. What about psychological abuse with its elements of spiritual or emotional abuse? That is what we are going to talk about today.

It is not a small thing that this was the first presidential debate, watched by children all over the nation as homework, that was not family friendly. Nor is it a coincidence that this event coincides with the first woman to run for the highest office in the land. Somehow, that seems to make it ok.

I wrote awhile ago that, “we seem to get a kick out of terrifying our children, as if we could take our revenge for everything that has disappointed us about life under Babylonian Capitalism by taking it out of their hides.” Last week I was told about another example of exactly what I had in mind. As Halloween approaches another deeply archetypal eruption tears into the social landscape with crazy clowns putting in an appearance. Here is another way to attack the child’s mind and fill it with fear and terror. Blood in school hallways has become fair game for. . . for what?

Why are so many adults being driven to attack children, or look the other way?

In this post I want to share an archetypal reading of the David Bowie song Five Years. I offer these ideas as a model, knowing they are in-part personal associations yet trusting there might also be some helpful insights into what is happening to us socially. Like any model of how archetypal themes might be playing out in a society this one is sketchy at best. Still, by my lights it is worthwhile. I think much of Bowie’s gift was in taking the position of the abused and outcast, seeing their worth and giving emotional expression to the truth of their lives.

I want to read the song Five Years as an oracle. Oracles do not predict the future, that is a modern conception. Oracles read the way the wind is blowing at the time they are consulted, wrap that intuitive perception in enigmas and poetry, and do so to bestow wisdom so people might recognize things more clearly and act more skillfully. It is an important question to contemplate, who will you trust as an oracle?

It was in 1968 the Club of Rome asked for a study of the world problematique using system science and computation. The resulting study was completed about the time this David Bowie song was written in 1971. These things were in the air. The opening verse states clearly “earth is really dying.” In interviews with both the Rolling Stones and William Burroughs Bowie explained this was because the earth “will end because of a lack of natural resources.”

From the interview with Rolling Stone just mentioned (italics added):
“It has been announced that the world will end because of lack of natural resources.  Ziggy is in a position where all the kids have access to things that they thought they wanted. The older people have lost all touch with reality and the kids are left on their own to plunder anything. Ziggy was in a rock n roll band and the kids no longer want rock n roll. There’s no electricity to play it. Ziggy’s advisors tells him to collect news and sing it, cause there is no news. So Ziggy does this and there is terrible news.”

What the artist was able to see, I propose, is how this type of news was changing people. He identified the archetypes that would accompany us on our journey bearing this “terrible news.” In the interview he mentions how ” all the kids have access to things that they thought they wanted. The older people have lost all touch with reality and the kids are left on their own to plunder anything.” I look around at the dissolution of the barriers between adult and child material in our society and think these couple of sentences from the early 1970s capture the state of things rather well.

For what it is worth I believe this vision into the resource restrained future stayed with Bowie the rest of his days. Blackstar takes up the theme, in my opinion. In his penultimate work, appearing after a 10 year hiatus from public music making, it animates Where Are We Now? (“just Walking the Dead”). The video he released with it artistically captures faces frozen with anxious eyes watching as time passes by. The video is full of shots of Berlin in the 1970s. Why does the woman just join him in the video only to watch along side him as he sings? Why the woman with the tail in Blackstar? What Bowie saw was how the male and female are each playing different roles under the pressures of living with what we know.

Pushing through the market square, so many mothers sighing
News had just come over, we had five years left to cry in
News guy wept and told us, earth was really dying
Cried so much his face was wet, then I knew he was not lying

The market square is of course how we wove the spell that grew us from the sustainable human scale to the unsustainable Homo Colossus. It is pushy in here as the pie shrinks. I get an image of young mothers pushing strollers with their children in them. How can they be happy for their children again? With a heartbreaking sigh they look on the reality, such a small amount of time left to cry in. What his hauntingly beautiful lyrics proceed to express for us is the emotional impact the news of limits to our growth has on people. It hurts. It is true. There is no escape, what are we to do?

I heard telephones, opera house, favorite melodies
I saw boys, toys, electric irons and TV’s
My brain hurt like a warehouse, it had no room to spare
I had to cram so many things to store everything in there
And all the fat-skinny people, and all the tall-short people
And all the nobody people, and all the somebody people
I never thought I’d need so many people.

When this vision gets ‘stuck in your eyes’ everything you see in the normal world of struggling humans is touched. Everything we have worked so hard to achieve suddenly looks to be so very impermanent. We scan the built environment and the culture so intimately bound up with our identities, like the identity of Bowie once a boy fascinated with a toy from father, mother’s electric iron and the wonder of TV. The consumer cornucopia is our embedded mind, our brain made over like a warehouse. These common, everyday things carry powerful emotional connotations in the unconscious. As he thinks about the loss of all these things taken for granted since his childhood he suddenly realizes what this “terrible news” will also mean for all the people in the world. Billions and billions of us.

His attention turns to people: a world full of laughing, crying, struggling human beings with warm bodies in an endless variety. Some, like himself, destined to give form to the dreams of the many and others destined to be the many. The contemplative who has worked with compassion understands the truth, “I never thought I’d need so many people.” We are the same. Equal.

A girl my age went off her head, hit some tiny children
If the black hadn’t pulled her off, I think she would have killed them
A soldier with a broken arm, fixed his stare to the wheels of a Cadillac
A cop knelt and kissed the feet of a priest, and a queer threw up at the sight of that.

A whole lot of people were going off their heads as the 60s dreams of the Age of Aquarius were shattered in the dark 70s. I read in these next two lines an accurate description of what archetypal psychology knows as the dark mother. Those mothers pushing their baby strollers through the market square sighing sometimes snap. How could it be that this most wonderful and beautiful baby of mine is the source of so much darkness and pain in our over-populated world? Going off her head the unconscious rage at the unfairness of it all was given free reign. What happens next is just as Jungian thought would expect; sometimes the only way to beat a monster is to invoke a bigger monster. A compensating darkness rose to protect the survival of the battered child. This was touched on when we discussed how the shadow can be a person’s protector. The theme is being given sliver screen treatment this holiday season in the movie A Monster Calls. Missing dads, dark moms and monsters make up the heady concoction in Babylon Capitalism’s bitter cup.

Next evocatively, have we not all broken our arms saluting the military-industrial complex one too many times, while staring with mono-vision at the automobile as the summit of industrial wealth? When Law and Order are put in service of the True Believers it makes society’s outcasts sick with fear and disgust. The sad news invokes not only the dark mother. The dark father puts in an appearance as well as patriarchy’s physical violence is put at the service of its spiritual violence, causing physical sickness among the broken and abused they leave in their wake. The lawman puts in an appearance in another song, Is There Life on Mars? “Take a look at the lawman, beating up the wrong guy.” That is in the news of late as well.

I think I saw you in an ice-cream parlour, drinking milk shakes cold and long
Smiling and waving and looking so fine, don’t think you knew you were in this son.
And it was cold and it rained so I felt like an actor
And I thought of Ma and I wanted to get back there
Your face, your race, the way that you talk
I kiss you, you’re beautiful, I want you to walk.

I am using a reading that ends with “in this son” instead of “in this song.” That way the reference to Ma follows naturally. It also leaves us facing the emotions of a son abandoned by his father, as so many boys are in our age of fatherless homes. The generation we inherited this mess from seem to just be going along just fine, happy as fat cats; “ the older people have lost all touch with reality.” In the cold rain he thinks back on the time of childhood and nostalgically wants to go back there. What is back there that causes this outpouring of compassion in the next lines?

Our love for our children is stronger than our fear. Even now. Our children bear our face, our race, the way that we talk. They speak directly to our hearts. Overshoot is not left as an unfelt abstraction. The child is recognized as precious, even by all the darkened mothers and fathers. Evolutionary blood, sweat and tears have made my child just who and what he or she is. The deepest parental wish is that one’s child will be able to balance their physical, emotional and mental lives so that they can live a good life and that the world will provide the stability and support a good life requires. All this, and more, is in that quintessential parental gesture; offering a steadying hand for our child’s grasping finger as they take their first trembling steps. “I want you to walk.”

Let us pray this spirit of help and nurturing will become more evident in our culture.

We got five years, stuck on my eyes
Five years, what a surprise
We got five years, my brain hurts a lot
Five years, that’s all we got

We’ve got five years, what a surprise
Five years, stuck on my eyes
We’ve got five years, my brain hurts a lot
Five years, that’s all we got

The people of the industrial world were surprised by the terrible news. It pains the brain but once you know, you cannot forget. It gets stuck in your eyes.

Pulled by Values

Last week ended with a consideration of how much poorer the world would be if the United States were no longer a going concern. I’d like to offer one way in which that might be so as a way of introducing this week’s discussion of values. I suggest that what the United States has represented in the world above all else is a set of values. Arguably the foundation of the Untied States was the greatest lasting legacy of the Masonic and fraternal brotherhoods. Masonry was a child of the Age of Reason and its founders were determined to do what they could to stomp out the religious wars which had been raging on the European continent for centuries. In at least some forms of their teaching they elevate the reality of brotherhood above the religious and philosophical abstractions which divide us. This led them to seek something new in the world: the separation of church and state. America’s first amendment is the embodiment of that ideal, that commitment to take armies and politics out of the hands of the church. Current headlines show this is still a very lively debate.

The time has come to talk of how beliefs are expressions of values and try to convey the importance of values both for understanding ourselves as a species and for leading a meaningful life. The religious traditions we have been surveying have each provided countless millions of our fellow human beings with community and moral direction. I even know atheists and agnostics who have sent their children to church for their education in morality and values, recognizing that one of their key roles is in supporting young families and shaping young minds.

It is here, where real lives interface with the mythic symbols, that the truth of a belief system is to be found. At any rate there is a psychological truth here that undoubtedly has real effects in the real world, regardless of the veracity of any dogmatic content we might consider. Put simply, these great symbol systems do not need to be true in a scientific sense, in fact they cannot all be since they contradict one another, to ring true in a psychological sense for some people, some of the time.

“The heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing of.” Pascal

It seems that if we are to understand anything about ourselves this widespread phenomenon of religious belief, self identified among believers as the most important part of their lives, must be included. It was a mistake of the Age of Reason to expect that rational argument and scientific demonstration alone would dislodge what they called the superstitions of man. They failed to appreciate that aspect of symbols that are able to reach into depths of direct emotional and perceptual experience, all that is not so much irrational as supra-rational. They capture apperceptions, which are accompanied by a sense of penetrating deeply into reality with a profoundly meaningful insight and that do not use formal logic at all.

When our cognitive apparatus confronts the numinous aspect of the symbol it has a tendency to take flight on the wings of abstraction. It flies into the aethers of unquestionable certainty buoyed up by experiences of consciousness confronting emotions and perceptions in a particularly raw and direct fashion. Faith feels right.

That feeling is involved is just the clue we need. That feeling is involved in all faith is not a dirty little secret to be hushed into a corner by apologetics. Feelings are how we encounter, express, and embody our personal and cultural values. The myths and stories, symbols and rituals of religion are the vehicles by which these values take on form among us. They confront us with a choice about how we will live.

This is an important point Viktor Frankl makes in Man’s Search for Meaning. Values pull man, they do not drive him as an instinct does. They pull because there is always a choice involved; to accept or reject what is being offered. “Man is never driven to moral behavior; in each instance he decides to behave morally. Man does not do so in order to satisfy a moral drive and to have a good conscience; he does so for the sake of a cause to which he commits himself, or for a person whom he loves, or for the sake of his God.”

He does so for the sake of a cause. This is how the ego is removed from the driver’s seat. Something bigger than just your own appetites becomes a part of your experience. But we have to be careful here since the ego can easily hide its agendas behind the most righteous garbs. It is a sad fact that arrogance and clericalism can describe all too much of what passes for Christianity, for example, these days. Christians, of course, do not have a corner on the market of arrogance, many a true believer fails the test of humility. When individuals encounter the psychic force built up around these collective symbol systems they are initially swept away. It takes time to develop the critical faculties required to take a step back and consider that one’s own symbolic inheritances are in many ways fundamentally equivalent to others. People of good will the world over, in any century or country you care to name, have been inspired by the same good heart you and your kin have known. Though our values express our individuality more than any other aspect of our character, we share most of their fundamental characteristics with all the members of Homo Sapiens, in fact most likely with all mammals. We mature by examining our inherited and epigenetically formed values in light of our own individual experience and choosing which ones we will strengthen and lend support to at the expense of others.

With all the killing in the name of religion from inquisitions to crusades it is easy to overlook the rather quieter role of religious stories in our lives. They are there to transmit values from one generation to the next. A mother tells her children the story of Moses to communicate the types of values she believes constitutes good character. As an example, consider the story of Abraham willing to sacrifice Isaac which we looked at earlier in the context of child sacrifice. Here the value being transmitted is clearly that we must be willing to sacrifice what is most dear to us if the ultimate truth requires it. It is getting at what we said above about how a cause larger than ourselves can give us the strength to transcend our selfishness. The hard part is in choosing the right cause and being made a tool of the perverse ever ready to take advantage of the naive.

The value of the Christian story is non-violence as Gandhi, Martin Luther King and countless, nameless others have understood for centuries. Non-violence is not pacifist at all costs as its critics contend. Its simple message has been slandered and obfuscated since the beginning since it is awfully inconvenient for those who profit from war. Still it is hard to miss in the Christian story. The whole point about this person being the Son of God and not just any person like you and me is that they had the miraculous ability to call down the whole host of heaven, literally the armies of heaven, yet chose not to – even under torture. Do unto others is, in fact, found throughout the world. In Asia the Buddha taught a similar insight into our moral reality:

“Hatred never ends through hatred.
By non-hate alone does it end.
This is an ancient truth.”

It is more than just a little ironic that the United States which prided itself on being a Christian nation became the country with the largest military in the history of the earth. Oh, and the largest arms dealer on earth as well, with a large percentage of the sales going to the poorest countries where their populations still suffer from starvation and a lack of medicine and education but somehow find the funds to buy these wares.

This bond between religious stories, symbols and rites and our systems of values is inseparable. Our cultural and personal identity is shaped and formed through the epigenetic process of development throughout our long childhoods, as previously discussed, and that process includes exposure to cultural religious traditions. Consumerism taught by the mass media in just another religion in this sense, bearing its own set of values. This developmental role of values may help explain how values are the source of the strongest differences among us; as we say, one man’s heaven is another man’s hell. When push comes to shove at this level of our deepest values, we find it trivial to justify the demonization and destruction of the other – the blasphemer and heretics who dare to value things in ways unlike ourselves.

We are not unwise when we recognize it is a world in which it is best to allow different strokes for different folks, different scenes for different genes. We are less wise when we forget values can only pull us forward. Then we are sorely tempted to force our values on others through conversion and confrontation at the end of a gun and by means of bomb vests.

Here’s the thing. The values chosen will in no small part determine the emotional reaction you will have to the various events of your life and times. This emotional reaction will in turn determine the overall level of satisfaction you will have with your life, and conversely how much you will suffer. No wonder our most heated arguments are around conflicting values; we instinctively recognize how much is at stake.

Our values are not reached through wholly rational analysis but by a combination of reason and emotion harvesting the fruits of perceptual experience. One person has every benefit a life in a first world country can offer yet only ever complains, while another with crushing physical handicaps and haunted by uncertainty around their next meal greets every event with a cheerful heart. What makes such profoundly fundamental differences among us but the values by which we view our lives and experiences? What is more, the values we hold will color the motives we attribute to others to explain their actions. Was that rudeness just typical of that person’s perverse and cursed nature or a simple slip under pressure of a person most likely to be friendly and helpful to most people, most of the time?

Need it be pointed out that our attitude about the earth and its bounty, or stinginess, will also arise from the same types of dynamics within our psyches?

As a culture we are learning to appreciate that the opportunity costs that accompany choosing a value are enormous. Choose to value consumer goods, for example, and a whole collection of alternative values goes by the wayside. Equally, choose to value a thriving and healthy biosphere and a different set of alternative values are going to be left unexplored. See how values pull us, tug on us, tempting us to offer them our loyalty?

It is difficult to remember in the arena of values that our rational, logical arguments will only carry us so far. A sort of pseudo-rationalism is put to work justifying positions with warring rhetoric and symbolism. The environmental movement has been trying to present the facts of the ecological crisis in the mistaken conviction that a clear presentation of those alone would lead people to change their choice of values. Revolutionaries from across the political spectrum have made the same short-sighted mistake; they believed a rational presentation of a better way would lead the people to adopt it forthwith. As we have learned dearly, the totalitarian persuasions are never far behind the true believers that fail the humility test. So what of environmentalism? Is there a green jack-boot in its future? Perhaps. As the wheels continue to fall off the bus of fossil fueled industrial civilization much will depend on the values we choose.