The Church of Child Abuse, part three

“the other face of the same vice is the Pelagianism of the pious. They do not want forgiveness and in general they do not want any real gift from God either. They just want to be in order. They don’t want hope they just want security. Their aim is to gain the right to salvation through a strict practice of religious exercises, through prayers and action. What they lack is humility which is essential in order to love; the humility to receive gifts not just because we deserve it or because of how we act…”
Pope Benedict XVI, Looking at Christ: Examples of faith, hope and charity

 

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

So where do fundamentalists think they are getting all this magical power that they assume they have? Where do they get their assurance that they are right to wield it as they do? It might be little more than an error in the very complex development task related to learning how to speak and think in a language.

“for the letter kills, but the spirit gives life”

Have you had the experience of reading a great book, one that resonated with you and provided you with many insights that “felt” true and real? Do you recall how that effect lasted for days, maybe months or even years as it continued to influence how you think and feel about things? Books are powerful that way. I mentioned how when I first learned about fractals my way of seeing the natural world was wholly transformed for awhile. The funny thing is that for lifelong readers, as the years go by, other books will come along and have the same effect – even when they do not agree with one another or have anything to do with one another. By such means our minds are transformed. If we are lucky, we will find our own voice as we attempt to sort out for ourselves what we believe to be the true, the good, and the beautiful.

Children who are learning their numbers and the alphabet, then first learning to read and write, are in a world of wonder in which one awe seems to follow another as easily and naturally as day follows night. The power of naming things, both sensations within and objects without, provides the growing awareness with the tools it needs to filter the doors of perception and their ongoing, highly energetic flow of sensory information. Fundamentalism, it seems to me, is a flaw in this process. Words are left with a magical aura and the adult life is characterized by a belief in magical books and superstitious spells combined with a weakness for charismatic teachers that claims to have all the answers.

Fundamentalism is magic. It uses religious symbolism magically. Fundamentalists are neo-Pelagian to the extent that they are sure they can please god if they can just get the law right, the rubric right, the ritual right. Among their idols are shamans, grimoires, and incantations disguised as preachers, scriptures and prayers (did you say the born again prayer just right? It doesn’t count otherwise you know…).

Writing was said to be the gift of Thoth, the Egyptian god of magic. There is still a recognition of this in our language where the magician’s grimoire derives from grammar. Hypnotists, advertisers, and snake-oil salesmen of every stripe know all about these odd quirks of our brains and the power that words can take in our mental lives. The thing we are up against is both very simple and very profound. When we read or hear the written word, there is always an assumed authority of the authorial voice in play. It sounds, to our inner ear busily listening and interpreting the words, all-knowing.

To interpret the words we hear necessarily involves parsing them correctly and accessing their definitions correctly. One of the most tragic results of fundamentalist indoctrination of the young is that it removes the normally shared definitions of words, replacing the meaning behind them with the unique cultic interpretations. This isolates the person’s mind, literally making it impossible to accurately communicate with the person unless one adopts the cultic definitions. A mind severed from other minds, unable to communicate meaningfully because lacking in shared definitions and references, is well on its way towards madness. It is an evil thing, this unhinging of reason in the name of god.

I write all the time and struggle with the assumed authorial authority aspect of it. Yes, I think I know a few things and want to talk about them. I hope by doing so readers might recognize a bit of themselves in what I write and by sharing our innermost, find some comfort. That is as far as it goes. I am so far from all-knowing that its laughable. Yet, I cannot write a paragraph without sounding like I know what I am talking about, not just in that paragraph, but all the time. Readers who have not learned to claim equality with writers, or listeners who have not learned to claim their equal worth with the speakers of written words, are left with the impression that the author’s or speaker’s life experience must be so much better than their own. Hey, if my thoughts ran as clearly as my writing, it would be a different world inside me than what you find inside you. It does not work that way. Writing is crafted, thinking is raw.

James Joyce worked to expose the assumed authorial authority implied in using inherited words in an attempt to reveal the authority in the inspiration. The inspiration is of the living, a moment of communion, but held in clay hands.

Writing is a gift our cultural evolution uses to bind time within the human experience. I read the worries and hopes of a fifth century African bishop by spending quality time with St. Augustine’s Confessions, or speculate about truth with an ancient Greek I know as Socrates, and my innermost person communicates with the dead. I share not only thoughts but some sense of the personality who was one with those thoughts. Even though their bodily elements were long ago reabsorbed into the earth, their “spiritual” elements remain unaffected. That does really happen. It is not the ancient Pharaoh dream of magical afterlife immortality (complete with sex and servants) but, it is not nothing. This time binding, to use the perfectly descriptive term Alfred Korzybski introduced in Science and Sanity, is the only reality of the communion of saints (and sinners) the living will ever know (outside, perhaps, of visionary experience). To claim more than that is to lie.

In the written word, when it is guided by integrity and not guile, one person’s innermost touches another person’s innermost. In fact, only through the written word is it possible to achieve the most intimate cognitive sharing possible between two human beings. Spoken conversation simply cannot carry the detail and nuances that make a written work weighty. This power of words to both reveal souls to one another, and to seemingly overcome the silencing of a person upon death, can become the source of superstitious over-belief – particularly among the illiterate or those exposed to very little of the rich human heritage our libraries offer. The People of the Book have a very peculiar lesson to teach. I suggest it might most fundamentally be a lesson about books in general, rather than their contents in particular. The lesson books teach is also a lesson about authority. I suggest that those who learned to read poetry and myth aright in the past, worked hard to warn us about how the book’s inherent assumed authorial authority remains a temptation for the human mind, one that can enslave us to superstitious idolatry unless it is actively resisted. The irony is that the fright-filled mind enslaved by religious superstitions was hurt by the very means it might have used to find the freedom to, as the older way of saying it would have it, worship the living god in truth and grace.

“why seek Him among the dead? He is not here”

Let your life be the book, filled with acts of kindness and compassion, in which your neighbors may read the lost Word. In this way Your Name is written into the Book of Life.  On the other hand, if you use poetry and myth to throw the book at others, judging them and condemning them in your hubris of self-satisfied certainty, you will fall. If you choose to use your Holy Books as Evil Books, you will fall.

The universal experience of serious authors is that at special times there really is something of the divine, at least of the daemon, in the authorial inspiration. Sometimes a breath of inspiration comes and lifts the work above the normal channeling of an idea. It feels all the world like something bigger than our individuality were breathing the world-soul through us. In these times it feels as if a voice is almost dictating and as a writer you are but serving as a scribe for the muse. It may not be wrong to call such special work ‘inspired’ or even a work of ‘revelation.’ It would be wrong to blame it for why we choose to continue to spoil the land, air and waters of the earth, or blame it for the tragic day, if it comes, on which we poison the genetic code of earth’s deep time with our unleashed nuclear weapons.

Be that as it may, there is one thing that is true right now, today: it is wrong to cloak the Religious Abuse of Children in the threadbare deceptions and double binds that inevitably accompany literal readings of myth and poetry. There is a force for good that is real and powerful in the molecular world, the Word within our words as it were, which it would be wise to exalt in our own hearts above the cleverness of human wit and deception. It made the mountains, it can teach us to think like a mountain. As soon as we can do so, we find that the Church of Child Abuse was built on sand, and there is a hurricane coming.

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.

Must?

“He practiced rational emotive imagery at least once a day by imagining that people were really acting stupidly, letting himself feel very angry about this, and then working on feeling only disappointment and frustrated, but not angry, about their stupid behavior.”
Albert Ellis, How to Stubbornly Refuse to Make Yourself Miserable About Anything, Yes Anything

 

I care deeply about the destruction of the ocean. Since my earliest childhood, playing in the waves has been one of the ways I most treasure participating in the powerful natural forces of our earth. I have taught my wife to bodysurf. I have taught my children. I deeply want my children to be able to teach their children the same joy of splashing in and swimming with, instead of against, the great currents of our planet. I tell you this so that you can understand when I say it is important to me that the oceans do not die on my watch. When I consider that what my society is doing today is likely creating the ocean die-off time-bomb that will haunt my children’s children’s children, and on, and on, for longer than my heart can bare to think about, anger lives inside me. Then I remember that even an ocean die-off is unlikely to remove the act of bodysurfing from the planet. That sweet kiss of flesh and salt water in which an organic return encapsulates billions of years of hard earned evolution by choosing to come back and play, to laugh in the tides, that will remain. The anger is gone. I am deeply disappointed in the people around me. I am frustrated they do not see and value as I see and value. But somehow in correcting my view of the ocean die-off it also alters my view of my fellow human creatures. No one is deliberately setting out to do evil; that’s one for the comic books. Tough, but there it is.

I have transformed the anger into frustration. Anger is susceptible to rage and rage to violence. Shutting the door on anger I now deal instead with issues around how well I am able to tolerate this frustration and disappointment. Working on my frustration tolerance is no walk in the park, but I can do so with a peace denied my angry mind. The key to shutting the door on anger instead of repressing it was using my reason to reframe my understanding.

Flights of fancy, day dreams, artistic inspirations and many other states of mind use the non-rational and irrational productively. The bounds of reason are far too limited to capture all that the heart needs to communicate. Symbolism and metaphor fill our art and poetry, drama and literature to compliment our understanding. Comedy and humor, so often the balm of life, very often depends on cognitive errors like exaggeration for their effect. We are called, at times, to be our own poets, artists and comedians, so it is important in mind training that we do not try and control our ever changing thoughts too much. If we grasp at all this too tightly we just kill the goose that lays the golden eggs.

Still, the art of cognitive training consists of catching the mind as it engages in irrational thoughts being passed off as rational – and firmly disputing those irrationalities. In our mind training, as in science, we are after more truth. We do not expect perfect or absolute truth. We do expect we can whittle away a bit at our own ignorance with work and practice. The key is to look for those thoughts that will not stand up to a rational analysis yet claim to be rational. These are the ones that are worth keeping an eye on. Their deceptive cloaks can make us feel as though we are being rational in the moments we are entertaining them. It is only when we step back and take a look at things more objectively that we recognize that what they are asserting is highly improbable, if not down-right hokey. Happiness, even sanity, depends on firmly disputing these cognitive errors.

The model of REBT teaches that when we are deeply disturbed we are telling ourselves something in a semi-divine imperative voice. We are lording over ourselves with a MUST. Which is giving you your greatest difficulty?

I must do well.
You must treat me well.
The world must treat me well.

We greatly prefer to do well and be treated well but we only hurt ourselves if we think we must be. That is nothing more than childishly magical thinking born of taking ego as divinity. Adults should recognize that human beings are fallible creatures and the world is an imperfect place. The sort of absolutism this kind of must-thinking represents is not at home in these conditions. It is not well adapted to reality so it can cause all sorts of trouble both for individuals and nations.

One of these variations of what Ellis calls MUSTerbation will likely be at the root of whatever it is that is disturbing you. These beliefs destroy peace of mind by judging your self-worth against unrealistic criteria. If you believe these types of things you have been set up to fail because these are really double binds. If these are your criteria for self-worth you just cannot win because even when you do well today, or someone treats you well today, or the world bestows its finest gifts upon you today, you know that tomorrow will most likely be a different matter. Win and you fail; fail and you fail; the Catch 22 of the double bind.

So of course, once we clearly see this, we simply must not use must. Right? And around and around we go. Here is where skill comes in. It teaches us to bring to the work a gentle touch, knowing we are most effective when guided by patience. The psyche is complex. As we have previously discussed there are many times that the shadow is working important work in maintaining our actual adaptation to the actual environments we find ourselves in. All that seems weak, sinful, sniveling, all those parts of ourselves that we are ashamed of and make outcasts, they need to have a place at the table of the Self too. No self improvement program started by the ego should dare to try and shed that shadow too quickly or too completely. Perfection is not for us. We can not even perfectly accept our imperfections – but we can imperfectly accept our imperfections and that is good enough.

REBT is a good tool to have on the cognitive tool belt. We all are prone to some crazy-making and we have it in our power to diminish or even, sometimes, remove it entirely. I have found myself using REBT periodically for decades. There are times it’s powerfully helpful to lay out the semi-conscious irrational beliefs that I have gathered from the on-going confrontations between my character and the world. Things shift around with the passing of the years and this technique has let me periodically tighten up the Ship of State, as it were. Writing out the irrational beliefs and writing out their disputations as taught is a bit silly but it has had surprisingly powerfully positive effects for me and thousands of others. Your mileage may vary but I am convinced that some form of disputing the mind’s irrational beliefs is required for mental health.

It is also required for social health. A society that cannot hold its own irrational beliefs up for examination loses one of its most effective means of navigating events and finding appropriately proportionate responses. The idea dominate in the over-developed world that the earth simply must give us the resources we need to continue feeding Homo Colossus is one of those irrational beliefs. Seen through the lens of mindful ecology our accelerating use of dirty oil, dirty coal, and dirty nuclear energy in the face of climate change facts is just a way of saying to the earth, like a somewhat ungrateful bully, “you owe me.” “Look at all I have done in my building and dreaming, creating technologies that mimic the magic of the gods, it cannot all have been for naught!” This is just more MUSTerbation and now it is doing a deadly dance with All-or-Nothing thinking. It implies, no, it insists that the only way forward is more of the same or “by god we will blow the whole thing up.” Isn’t that how the rest of the semi-conscious threat-thought runs in the haunted basement of the public square?

Working on our minds is the most direct route to working on the issues of ecology.

The REBT exercises train the mind to be on the lookout for temptations towards exaggerated conceit on the one hand, or self-damning on the other. These are the mistakes that accompany irrational beliefs. If we allow ourselves to have too high and mighty evaluation of our place then the slightest ego threat is perceived as an attack on our fundamental worth and can lead quickly to violent rage. In the other direction self damning leads to depression by confusing the guilt that might rightly belong to an action taken in the past which we have come to regret, with guilt about our very existence. We are confused by thinking not that I did a terrible thing but that I am a terrible person. This cripples the solution to past terrible actions, namely, future non-terrible actions.

These cognitive errors represent the human mind claiming god-like powers. This is rather obvious in the commands behinds the MUST but its not hard to see in the All-or-Nothing’s black and white perfectionism either, and so on for the rest of the cognitive errors we are prone to. This western mind training becomes a way of keeping in touch with the genuinely human. This is where, as the pages of our life history and our community’s history unfold, we will do many things well but not all things, others will often treat us well but not always, and the world will take the most exquisite care of us, furnishing us with everything we need to survive, even thrive, but not always.

Reason’s Rudder

“To challenge your misery, try science. Give it a real chance. Work at thinking rationally, sticking to reality, checking your hypothesis about yourself, about other people, and about the world. Check them against the best observations and facts that you can find. Stop being a Pollyanna. Give up pie-in-the-sky. Uproot your easy-to-come-by wishful thinking. Ruthlessly rip up your childish prayers.
Yes, rip them up! Again – and again – and again.
Will the millennium then arrive? No. Will you never again feel disturbed? I doubt it. Will you reduce your anxiety, depression, and rage to near-zero? Probably not.
But, I can, almost, promise you this: The more scientific, rational, and realistic you become, the less emotionally uptight you will be. Not zero uptight – for that is inhuman or superhuman. But a hell of a lot less. And, as your years go by, and your scientific outlook becomes more solid, less and less neurotic.
Is that a guarantee? No, but a prediction that will probably be fulfilled.”
Albert Ellis, How To Stubbornly Refuse to Make Yourself Miserable About Anything Yes, Anything

“These new methods present a unique opportunity to assess the origins of a fundamentally human condition: the costly yet advantageous shift from a primitive “live fast and die young” strategy to the “live slow and grow old” strategy that has helped to make us one of the most successful organisms on the planet.”
A Long Childhood is of Advantage, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology

“The god I believe in isn’t short of cash, mister.”
U2, Bullet the Blue Sky

 

The god I believe in is not afraid of science – to crib off U2 – nor reason, psychology, or engineering. Nor does the ground of all being fear the negative way of atheists, for they too see there is a real absence, and that that too is part of the mystery. There is nothing verboten to study, though not all things are equally of benefit to the cause of liberating the student from the shackles of thinking-too-small. All the details of the elemental molecular world are just so many signatures of the all-pervading intelligence that forms the ground of our being. Does that make sense? The truth cannot be one thing in the Sangha, Mosque, Temple or Cathedral, another thing in the laboratory or counseling office, and yet another thing in the streets.

God is a term with so many different possible connotations that without careful definition it is best if we comprehend it as our pointer word; it points to truth or being directly and as such is not a noun, verb, adverb or adjective in any ordinary sense. Eastern traditions are careful to include the emptiness features of any positive assertions when talking carefully about these ultimate things. We see this in Buddhism and in the Eastern Orthodox Church’s Apophatic traditions. I mention this because for some people the thought of allowing a rational, dare I say scientific, view to guide their daily lives seems to be a threat to their faith. In my experience that is not the case. Surrendering ourselves to what is real is the Way.

We are an incredibly complex psychobiological phenomenon actively interpreting and adapting to our environments. With physical bodies always needing to be protected we also use minds to position ourselves within the greater scheme of things that we encounter within our understanding of how the world works. The complex psychobiological phenomenon has evolved in an on-going quest to open to that which nourishes and avoid that which poisons, in fulfillment of life’s primary objective: its own continuous survival obtained by maintaining mental and physical homeostasis. Steer your complex psychobiological phenomenon incorrectly and you end up mad on the one hand or feverish and without immunity on the other. The point of homeostasis in the psychological realm of daytime consciousness is rational discourse.

When we talk with others we project an expression of our character. When we talk to ourselves we do the same thing. This inner dialog that spins around in our minds every day of our lives is a very important ingredient in determining the type of life experience we will ultimately have.

What type of life do you want to look back on when the day comes to lay it down? It can be helpful to ask ourselves what sort of influence we have had so far on the world around us and assess if we could use a course correction, large or small, while we still have the chance. The time will come when the choices for how we think, feel and act will no longer be our own to make. There will come a time when all our choices will have been made, at least for this life, at least for this personality.

When the day comes to lay our bones down in the dark earth, consume them in fire, or feed them to the mountain birds, we will become the summation of our whole life. For as long as breath lasts we have the power of choice. This leaves the future open, radically open. The whole story of an individual’s life cannot be known before the whole story has been played out – but once it has, it enters the domain of humanity’s inheritance. While we live, our lives are a whole piece with the generations around it and the society in which it unfolds. After we have passed, our lives leave ripples in the webs of cause and effect. Others will enjoy, or suffer, from the inheritance we leave in the same way we have when our generation was in the ever changing spotlight of psychobiological awareness. This is the truth. It is self-evident. It is spoken to us from the witness of our senses.

Our senses provide us with the gates through which our complex psychobiological phenomenon participates in reality. Our perceptual apparatus maintains an on-going physiological communion between our characters and their unique expression of the will to live and the worlds they find themselves participating in. They teach us there is no isolated self. They also teach that there cannot be a unitary self, for how could one compare the input of sound to that of sight or touch to that of smell? These are fundamentally different data streams, wholly unlike one another so that cannot be simply summed. Things are more subtle and complex than a simple summation. It is in the orchestration of many different parts that the on-going maintenance of our being takes place.

In Tibetan Buddhism the mind is considered a sense just like vision or taste. It too has the function of adapting ourselves to the environments in which we find our lives unfolding. It too has a data stream, one not of scent or color but one of thought. The words and images of the mind are the intimate arena where our choice making is most clearly expressed, for to some degree we choose what it is we will spend time thinking about. This is hardly the whole story however, as anyone who has spent any time minding the mind will know; things pop into our heads for often the most obscure of reasons. It is part of being a complex psychobiological phenomenon. Sometimes those winds of thought larger than our ego are pleasant and inspiring and other times they are terrifying and bring fear. However these bully thoughts appear, the power to make choices in the mental realm remains. This is an important point. When the bully thoughts arise our freedom to choose is not expressing itself in choosing what to think about but in how we will think about what has, quite literally, captured our attention.

Those things that capture us most deeply typically involve the interpersonal hopes and fears, loves and losses, and the most profound regrets and traumas we have experienced. We ruminate on these things in the process of adapting ourselves to our environment. For us social primates there is no environmental feature more dominate than our interactions with other human beings. Our complex psychobiological inheritance has seen to it that this is so, beginning with our long childhood and extending into our most intimate thoughts which are of necessity couched in a language we inherited and did not make ourselves. The result is that we have the images of the society’s roles and expectations within us. It is as if the mind sets up semi-automated puppets as stand-ins for the people we have met and the various roles they have played in the development of our psyche. We must deal with this internalized community just as surely as we must deal with the people we meet with each day. Most of them are quick to judge us and tell us what we must do at all times if we are not to be no-good bums tossed out of the tribe. Many of them cause exaggerated emotionally driven reactions in us before we even recognize our buttons are being pushed.

The start of wisdom in matters of mind seems to be when we fully recognize that our own thoughts might be wrong. It becomes possible to sit as a judge over one’s own thinking only when we lose the narcissism that fails to question our own cognitions with the same skepticism with which we greet other’s ideas. Some of what passes through the ever-changing thought streams is hardly worthy of entertaining at all and other bits are useful but packaged all wrong. In order not to get lost in the tides it is imperative that there be a place of reliable reference back to the real world associations the thoughts are involved with. This ability to stay grounded happens when the person’s innermost is able to trust reason as the rudder of the psyche. Reason is not the devil’s tool to trick us out of our faith in a good creation; reason is the expression of that faith by trusting in that which is.

The poetic turn of phrase, the emotionally colored perception of beauty, these and so many more of our cognitive experiences are obviously entwined with our emotional natures. In moments of emotional distress this harmony of heart and head is disrupted. The mind, as we say, gets carried away. Exaggeration and irrational conclusions can lead each other into loops that can spiral out of control until what the internal dialog is telling a person leaves them incapacitated for dealing skillfully with whatever is troubling them. Things in the mind will bully you around if you let them  by causing you to tell yourself all kinds of things about your sense of worth that just do not stand up to a rational examination.

“Oh I never do anything right!” or “People always take advantage of me!” are typical of the kind of thoughts that might accompany an emotional outburst or period of emotional pain. Peace of mind can be reclaimed to the degree we learn to recognize when our thinking is going off the rails like this. Looked at with a calm, cool and collected mind it is obvious that all of us have done some things right and other things wrong. The statistical odds against “I never doing anything right” are beyond astronomical. Additionally the definition of what is right for you implied by that first sentence is likely not at all what would actually express your true will but is nothing more than the mores of your family and culture. These are valuable but not the last word for you as you seek to work your way through the adventure of your own life. The second sentence is no less insane than the first. It is a willful blindness to all those other times when people extended compassion and aid to you in your struggles or celebrated with you your life’s sweet victories.

Perhaps a simple example will drive the point home. I hit my thumb with a hammer as I try to drive a nail. On some days I respond with a quick ‘Ouch!’ and carry on a bit more carefully. Other days, however, that same event might lead me to tears. On those days it is as if the pain found in this moment of working with the world has been lumped together with every disappointment and pain the world has ever inflicted on me. The world for me seems a mean and dangerous place which doesn’t really give a hoot about me at all. My mind echoes the sentiment that no one cares if I live or die or what it is like to experience things the way I do. This cognitive and emotional attack aims directly at our self-worth.

The hammers that really hurt are swung by tongues. We need to understand how hurt and frightened people strive very hard to control other people. To do so they develop a range of psychological manipulation techniques. These include the injection of guilt and threats of violence if the injection process is pointed out. It happens in families and it happens in nations. This temptation towards manufactured consent remains the dark underbelly of human interactions: ‘I am here to be satisfied’, this impulse runs, ‘you are here to be used.’. Ask yourself how often your speech involves getting others to change what they do and how they do what they do or otherwise dismisses their own style or character? Do you place the whole world into your personal boot camp and sergeant-over all you meet? Anyone who continues to look to others for a confirmation of their self-worth exposes themselves to these dark manipulations. It is in our resistance to their crazy-making that we come to find the path to our own personal best.

Once someone really understands that this is the lay of the land psychologically, they become capable of taking a-hold of the rudder for themselves. In every step we make towards that trusting in our own ability to live our own lives well, we become a more genuine human being. Instead of being little more than a spokesman for an institution, or a holy book, or a dead relative, we become a voice speaking up for our real selves and their real needs. These are needs for love and respect as much as they are needs for food and shelter. We can tear each other’s dignity to shreds by calling one another heretics and apostates, the lost and damned, populating our world with the anti-Christs and devils of our angry damnations but this will not change our need to be understood one whit. Each of us wants to be loved by those we love, though many a tragedy is rooted in the fact that we cannot force someone to love us. Love is a gift that can only be accepted, we can only yield if we are to know another’s loving-kindness, but to yield is to open oneself up to their rejection. These are the issues we confront in the judgment of the heart and the on-going dialog with our conscience it provokes. Our loved ones, as they say, live in our hearts forever. They are trying to teach us the lesson of compassion. At times it is a very hard lesson.

If we had to tackle the whole psychological meaning and biological substratum of these things at once we would be overwhelmed. Instead the psyche unrolls these things in its own good time. What we experience is the tip of the ice berg where thoughts haunted by exaggerations and irrationality come into our conscious awareness. When they arise in these forms we can be sure that under the surface some of these heart-issues are stirring. What is downright liberating is when we understand that our conscious minds are meant to be the guiding light for all these semi-conscious aspects of our dreaming and transcendent self. The daylight mind with its ability to reason can teach the irrational and exaggerated thoughts just where they have lost their way. It is a cop out to expect your dreams to reveal to you what you should do. Harry Wilmer in Understandable Jung captures what we are discussing quite succinctly: “By accepting our fate, that is, our present reality, we take the first step to change our destiny. Our destination is another matter. Dreams do not tell us what to do or where to go. If one attributes such knowledge to the dream, one abdicates responsibility.”

Peace of mind comes, in part, from recognizing how comforting it is to encounter the same molecular world each and every morning when we awake. Though the evening’s psychic experiences may be all over the map, the powers of conscious awareness return to greet a grand continuity when we wake up. Because the environment we find ourselves in is always there much as it was the day before, the daylight world offers us a chance to improve our skills in living the one life we have as it unfolds here and now. If the daylight world followed the same a-causal associations we find in the nighttime world this would not be the case. Here is the human middle way, difficult to find, but once found it cannot be perturbed by either gods or devils. The day consciousness learns to ride on the deep of the night consciousness as a talented jockey rides their great and powerful horse. The day consciousness can become wise and loving only with the cooperation of the denizens of the deep, if the wisdom and love are to be more than a thin veneer over a raging beast inside just waiting for a chance to attack others for the painful self-abnegation it has been subjected to. Force your ego into the straitjacket of a saint and you only invoke the beast. If instead you work with the spirit that moves across these deep waters in a patient alchemy ruled by gentleness, then, it is taught, another type of wholeness – holiness becomes possible. Not one that would castrate humans and turn them into angels who are forever gazing at visions of gods but instead a holiness born within our most genuine humanity.

We are here to carry on the mission of art, the art of living. This is the clay we are each working with for as long as we draw breath. In the slow leavening of the daily contemplative discipline we pursue a more spiritual life, yet hope to obtain, in the end, one that is more genuinely human. We are training not to fear what this entails as we come to recognize we are beings with cosmic roots dwelling in a sacred land.

Safe Containers

While we are watching the acceleration of the great clash of monotheisms in the Middle East it is a good time to be strengthening our triage skills. These can be worked with during times of lesser crisis to prepare us for what’s ahead. This is similar to the mind training that the eastern traditions teach. It is a way of practicing with our minds today so that when the day comes that things get difficult (classically in the east this is the day of one’s death) we do not find ourselves without any reserves to call on. Mindful Ecology involves mind trainings that are designed to strengthen a person when lesser deaths occur. These might involve the collapse of the economy, an ecological system, good will among citizens, integrity in government, authenticity among religious leaders, or any number of endings that cause an increase in suffering, anomie, confusion and loss.

No one’s life is spared the rough spots. It is not the case that the wealthy and powerful, or the poor and simple, live a life without serious challenges to keeping sane let alone keeping an open heart. It is not just because of our ecological knowledge that the skills we are talking about have relevance. These are skills that can aid us in any number of life’s arenas. The thoughts in the mind are the earliest seeds of what will become emotions and eventually actions. The actions we perform or refuse to perform are where we find our character reflected back to us from the world soul. Countless decisions over years are expressing something that can be expressed no other way, something about how we are in our innermost.

Along the path of expression from thought to action there is an element of choice. The will uses this element of freedom to express itself. Though circumstances typically constrain our ability to make this expression one that is fully in accord with our desire, there is never so little choice left to a human being that some sense of character cannot be made to dwell within the manner by which their actions are undertaken. I believe the prisoner on their way to their execution still retains some degree of freedom in how they will meet the event. How much more so than do each of us, who are not under such immediate threats, have an opportunity to make real in the world that which is part of our innermost. This expression of true will is always a question of degrees and that is where our training comes in. It is inescapable that each person actually will express their uniqueness, there is no way not to. It is, to put on the science hat, an expression of your parental DNA inheritance and as such a unique biological event. Add the uniqueness of each environment you have inhabited from childhood on and the one of a kind nature of your personality becomes even more obvious. It is important we learn to thoroughly grasp this, see the truth of it, and really hear what is being said. To the best of our human understanding it is a fact that throughout all of deep time and across all of deep space it is astronomically unlikely that the many contingent relationships between your DNA expression and the environment by which it was shaped will ever happen in just the way you have it happening right here and right now. This is it. You have a part to play in dreaming the dream forward, as Carl Jung used to say.

In our time of mass man, mass media, mass armies, and mass movements it has never been more important to understand the role of the other social polarity, namely that of the individual. It is not true for my heart that you could just replace my most beloved friends and family with anyone else. Though another person could play the role of my mother or father, son, daughter, or spouse, there is not the slightest chance I would find my body and mind responding to the newcomer in the same way that it has learned to understand the people that are in my life today. This is true for all of us. Keeping this truth in mind paves the way towards an ability to see the uniqueness of the world around us; to see a tree in the forest and not just so many board feet of lumber.

This is the skill that is lacking in our societies, this ability to appreciate the miracle of the life forms in front of us. We have been trained to fawn before the rich and powerful, presenting them with praises and constant reassurances about how great and awesome they are. Fearing social ostracism otherwise, often with real financial repercussions, it is certainly an understandable habit given the reality of our corporate dominated societies. Still, those are rather false expressions of an appreciation for another person because they are motivated by fear of what they can do to you if you earn their disfavor and the hope that by your flattery and attention they will come to gift you with some of their money and influence. This is very different than looking deeply into another sentient being just for the sake of witnessing their unique expression of the mystery of will. Too often, it seems to me, we cannot even do this among human beings. The way we treat those in our ghettos speaks volumes. It should come as no surprise that we are blind to the faces of the eagles, octopus, wolves, whales, and blue footed boobies. We have an interest in the ocean because it can provide us with food and those who fish it with money and power. If tomorrow a chemist invented fish in a factory, do you think we would do much to save the oceans for their own sake? What real value do we place on the lives of those who dwell in the depths? Just how much lower do we rank them then those many tortured lives in the world’s ghettos?

These are statements in the realm of values, not of facts. The facts are that the uniqueness of DNA expression is undeniable. Facts pass over into values when we recognize that the human mind is born with the potential to know compassion as the highest value but it takes education, real training, to realize that potential. This is another fact we have learned over long millennia in the school of hard knocks. Through our mythology and traditions we do our best to teach the value of compassion to each new generation as it comes along. Though the value of compassion runs counter to the hubris of our egos, it is the sweetest liberty the heart can know: to love others as one loves one’s self, and to love one’s self as one loves others. It makes life meaningful.

Pounding the living daylights out of someone does not make life meaningful; not in an alley and not on a battlefield. Stealing every last dime from the sick and the old does not make life meaningful; not in a hospital and not from a TV preacher’s stage. Deceiving the innocent and gullible does not make life meaningful; not in the most surreal CGI enhanced advertisement and not in the slickest air-brushed glossy publication. Do you know that most confidence men commit suicide or end up paranoid? Do unto others…

What intelligent, caring human being are confronted with in the neo-liberal value system is nothing less than a legitimacy of greed promoted through self-inflicted blindness to the needs of any and every living thing that might get in the way of profits. It stands to reason then that intelligent and caring human beings should work hard to find the types of things that will work effectively against this tendency to dehumanization inherent in a mass society ruled by neo-liberal values. This is what the mind training in ecological triage skills is all about.

Last week introduced one classification scheme for statements of fact. The categories lend flexibility to the mind by teaching it to become more comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty. These uncomfortable cognitive states are more easily allowed a place within our characters when their scope is properly restricted to those categories of thought in which they are inherent. Knowing certain types of statements can never obtain to 100% certainty is a good way to check our own thinking and to protect our sanity from those who use underhanded techniques to try and persuade us that this is not the case.

What this means in practice is captured pointedly in the schools of cognitive therapy. This is not the therapy of the unconscious mind that is explored by the depth psychologists. Pursuing meaning among the symbols of myth and dream is life-long task for students of the deep psyche. These cognitive therapies, in contrast, are designed to help people as quickly as possible. They seek a rapid recovery from depression, lack of self confidence, pain management, or whatever their client’s debilitating emotional issues involve. In my experience these cognitive mental health techniques have a complimentary role to play alongside personal researches into the deep. These cognitive insights are rooted in the philosophy of the stoics who stressed that while we are not free to control the world, we are free to some degree in choosing how we will meet that world. These ancient insights have been refined through therapeutic need into practical advice. These insights can act as a key that unlocks many of the mental manacles we are shackled with as good little consumers.

There are a number of names these types of therapies are known by but all share the same fundamental insight about the way our thoughts lead to our emotional experiences and how together they lead to the actions we take. Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), invented by Dr. Albert Ellis, is the particular one I will use as I like his rather rascally guru approach. Dr. Aaron T. Beck’s material might be more appealing to others. Mr. Ellis is not for the faint of heart, quick to use the F word and call bullshit bullshit; he is a New Yorker through and through. For me that personality was a perfect delivery mechanism for the message, one that could be summed up as ‘get a spine!’ and ‘stop stinking thinking in its tracks.’ Interested readers should take a look at his over the top How to Stubbornly Refuse to Make Yourself Miserable About Anything, Yes, Anything. It delivers the goods.

What these cognitive therapists have found is that when we suffer emotional problems they have a corresponding mental vehicle. The emotions are considered problems because they are proving too extreme for the client to continue living a productive life. Without life events expressing one’s will a person rightly becomes depressed since depression is a signal that what you are doing is not working. You can throw a pity party and bemoan fate till the cows come home but happiness is never found that way, however far down that path you might want to travel. Happiness comes from our sense of competency. We do not need to be genius but we do need to be able to accomplish whatever it is that we consider necessary for our own self respect. What that is remains an on going journey of discovery. It is a lifelong journey of discovery that should, for the most part, keep us enthused to be alive and grateful for each day we get. All too often that enthusiasm is lost in the worries and cares which are rightly born from the tragedies in our lives. What cognitive health entails, then, is not a disregard for bouts of depression when those are needed but a leaning into the wind, setting our rudder by the joy of being alive that is our birthright. We need to learn how to discern between a true need for tears and an unhealthy indulgence in sadness. Cognitive therapy skills can teach us to be childlike, not childish.

What these cognitive sciences have discovered is that we have a set of irrational beliefs as the source of our emotional disturbances. It is not at all hard for those of us who have studied ecology to recognize our societies are currently chock full of irrational beliefs and that they cause us to make decisions as a society that are just down right crazy. Well, that same mechanism plays out in our individual lives as well. When we are disturbed there is some internal dialog that reflects or sustains the extremes under which we are suffering. We gain power over these things to the degree that we recognize how the issues unduly disturbing us are accompanied by thoughts characterized by exaggerations, statements couched in absolutes, or other cognitive errors. We learn to take our skepticism inside and ask our own thoughts, ‘oh really?’

Things are bad. They really are. Things are going to get worse. They really are. It is not the end of the world. It really is not. Our descendants will live in that world. They really will. What we do today matters. It really does.

We will talk about these cognitive skills in coming posts. In this introduction I want to stress how important this particular set of skills can be for those who are willing to contemplate ecological reality. I sit and consider the end of our existing harvesting of ocean stocks in the next few decades, a simple extrapolation from today’s trends in global overfishing. I allow myself to feel the implications and feel that it is a bad thing we are currently engaged in making come to pass. It is critical that I do not exaggerate if I am to remain bound to the truth of what I am contemplating. It is not likely to be the end of the future stocks centuries hence, or the end of all the different species, nor even the first and worst die off earth’s precious ocean has ever experienced or will yet again. Now I have provided a safe container for my contemplations. Now I have a good chance of grounding myself in my own knowledge, refusing to pretend I do not understand what I do about the world and our activities in it, yet at the same time refusing to give in to unmitigated despair.