He Who Was Without Sin

We are all blind until we see
That in the human plan,
Nothing is worth the making,
If it does not make the man.

Why build these cities glorious,
If man unbuilded goes?
In vain we build the world, unless,
The builder also grows.
-Edwin Markham
Quoted in Bruce Watson’s
The Man who Changed How Boys and Toys were Made

The collective actions of the global consumer culture have grown suicidal. This is a simple scientific observation. We need to be clear about this. If existing trends continue, specifically if we continue burning fossil fuels, a massive die-off of human beings and animals is the most probable outcome. We know this as certainly as we know any scientific fact in this class of probabilistic knowledge – and we do not care enough to stop. This is because we are hurt, we are not right in our hearts. If we loved life sufficiently we would insist the madness stop, evidently we do not. The only other logic possibility is that human beings are up against something so much more powerful than themselves, that they are helpless to improve these ecological and sociological errors.What humans create they can choose not to create, and since fossil fuel use is certainly something humans created that second possible explanation seems weak.

That leaves us with we don’t care, or at least, care enough. I think this is our modern Gnosticism, a pervasive life-sucks philosophy disguised as something else. The commercial culture looks to be one of happy faces. On the outside the American dream is an endless party in a cornucopia of the best goods the earth has to offer. Inside the culture, things are not so happy. The life advertising celebrates, with all the tricks of light and makeup, is a sham. It is not the life filled with babies and grandparents, graveyards and weddings, bills, pimples, and hugs which is our actual fate. This is our Gnostic denial of what actually is, in favor of a fantasy. To the degree that this commercial culture celebrates youth above all other stages of life, to exactly that degree it denies human life is meaningful and has value. Hence, to escape the pain of a meaningless existence, we are on this downward trajectory towards simplified lifestyles without the hope that such a future is anything but too dismal to talk about. If we can’t shop at Walmart every Black Friday this century, well, then screw the whole planet, right?

If we are to understand the meaning of the Western Christian story for us today, in our time of ecological and social collapse, we need to grant our ancestors the benefit of the doubt and by using reason and our own experience of what is real and true about being human and being a part of a larger society, try to understand what it is they are communicating poetically to us. I am arguing the Western spiritual tradition has been perverted, yet remains a source of strength for people of goodwill if we are able to be clear that this is the situation. There is a whole lot going down in the name of Jesus that is actually anti-Jesus. It is meant to be this way. That is the exact trap built into the myth. Did you really think the whole of the ancient world was persuaded by a mystery religion that had no mystery, that the initiations grew quite because Christianity itself did not have an initiation able to replace them? The preachers of the non-compassionate, hardhearted, kill-joy Christ are nothing new, nor is their Gnostic heresy.

Those who would make you feel bad about being a human being, typically using religious mumbo-jumbo in the process, are not speaking with the spirit of the creator’s wisdom but the lying spirit we have been discussing. True god and true man, that is what this means. The true god with which we have to deal is the one that created us, and created us the way we are. Whatever mysteries we may be involved in concerning gods, angels, and demons, the primary reality always and everywhere, for us, remains the human one. Those “supernatural” things should serve human needs, humanity should not be torn apart trying to serve their needs. From tip to toe we as created imperfect creatures are blessed, loved, unique, created in the image of god, children of god, the apple of his eye; how many more ways could the Church Fathers find to say it? From the lust in our crotch to the reasoning in our minds, there is nothing to fear here. It is as it should be. A vast cosmos is interdependently generating the human species, sustaining us moment by moment, creating the complex weave of each brain’s enchanted loom as the most intricate structure of molecules in the whole of known existence. We when are awake to this, which is reality, we are aware of our nobility. This is what we are currently putting at risk with our short-sighted cowardice before the fossil fuel conundrum. If we are older we are the kings and queens, or if younger the princes and princesses, of the whole. By properly using our reason and emotions we are able to build (small ‘k’) kingdoms of peace where love flourishes. We are the artists of our own lives, free to will as we will. The Gospel is a teaching about the wisdom of an authentic human life well lived, one that is lived with passion and respect for oneself, others, and the earth. The Gospel is also a teaching about the dangers to human beings of hubris and pride, particularly the pride involved in thinking you are religiously righteous. The fevered dreams of those who would be gods create demonic evil in their ignorant striving to be too good, too blissful, too rich, and too powerful.

By having Jesus be the one human being who was also god, we are given an image that clarifies our own creature-hood by asserting a contrast. True god manifest while remaining true man is also the most powerful expression possible of the non-Gnostic point of view. It guides our speculations towards examining the exact relationship between the rational human psyche, the visionary spirit, and the flesh. The speculations have remained fruitful for millennia now and show no signs of stopping.

“He was like us in all things but sin.” Whenever I had heard that my immediate thought was, well, than he was not very much like us at all. I have since come to understand this differently. Throughout the essays dealing with abuse I have been sharing the Jungian teaching that the shadow archetype is considered, in practice, to be 90% gold. What therapists have found is that the seemingly bad habits, character traits and emotional problems people have are often protecting important inner aspects of their personalities. There is an assertion of identity by the life force itself, sweeping the ego along. If this shadowy protection had not been there, the client would have lost their personal integrity along the way. The example I used was how an adolescent starting to smoke might be defending their identity separated from their parents and others who are forcing their will on the young person due to their own psychological problems.

These shadowy aspects of our characters are born, in part, from reactions we have had to the evil others have done to us. Attacks upon the integrity of the person bring forth these shadow powered protectors. Becoming reacquainted with our own souls involves dealing with these aspects of our life experience, which up until now we have had to repress full awareness of due to their painful implications. In my experience, what is hard for the psyche is to admit certain truths about other people if those truth are attended by extremely painful implications for the relationship in the here and now. Too many abusive families never talk about the abuse each member of the family is aware of, because to do so would be to upset the whole emotional dynamic on which existing relationships are based. Relationships involve issues of love, hate, power and powerlessness. These parts of our “insides” are among the most powerful human experiences there are. It takes something larger than ego to break out of the cages abuses create. This is where the shadow comes in. Living the lie can only go on so long, something has to give. (This is a lesson each of us alive today are learning concerning ecological problems right now). If the light of reason is denied the ability to express what it knows, the unconscious elements from the dreaming life will, at times, overwhelm the waking life. Desires without the will to resist them will arise.

Not just any old desires but exactly those that the shadowy reasoning has worked out might bring the personalities the nourishment of truth, love, or light they need but are not getting. A simple example is ubiquitous high-powered business man who drinks themselves to sleep each night. The drunk, to put it simply, may be a better person overall because they take their indulgence as a way to relax. Perhaps without the drink they would be beating their wife and children but because they have their little buzz, they make their peace with life. Over the years their drinking will bother them and become more and more of a problem until they are lead into the therapists’ office, or circumstances within their own lives perform the same waking up service. That is a sketch of a the way these things very often go. It is why those who deal directly with the fallout of evil on human personalities, our psychologists, talk about the shadow being 90% gold. The older was of talking among those who deal directly with the fallout of evil on human personalities was to say that these things are the power of sin. They are reverberations. They can be healed.

Our ancestors, in their wisdom, talked about the differences between personal sin and the more serious mortal or deadly sins.

There is a distinction being made here between the sinful reverberations of being tortured by abuse, and the evil of the abuse itself. The violence and cruelty that attends the act of evil itself is the shadow’s remaining 10%. Most people on earth now, and throughout the many generations extending back into our misty past, have not participated in the kind of actions that make up the 10%. Most people do not commit acts of incest, murder, rape, or torture. These are not the sins of the shadowy 90% but the ones that put your soul at “risk of eternal damnation,” that is, the mortal sins. Those are words designed to provoke panic. There is a reason for this. Can you see it now that it is placed in the context of the 10% of events where evil has its hour? This is the scream from the silence in Abraham’s ear – do not kill your son! Do so, and nothing you do in the rest of your life will blot out from your own understanding what it is you have done. Since we are mortal creatures with only one life to live, this is the equivalent of entering hell for the rest of your days. But this, too, is not the whole story.

The Christ came to save the lost. The 10% can find deliverance, it is what their victims pray for: that they and the evil they sew be stopped in their tracks.

“He was like us in all things but sin.” Maybe a modern way to understand this is that Jesus had the 90% shadow in common with all of us, what he did not do was one of the acts driven by the 10% of the dark side that has passed from ignorance and mistakes into that which is truly evil. With the power of creation in his hand, the Christ said “No” to some of it, the old lesson from Eden. He committed no mortal sin, that is he did not partake of some parts of the human experience – those which are dominated by the demonic. He did not ignore these events, just the opposite. As god he chose to know these experiences as the victim, not the perpetrator. What Jesus Christ teaches is that as the victim he sees the truth of the human heart, exposing the liar that would darken it. On the cross he exposes it once and for all time. There is nothing to fear in natural death, that is not the gateway to hell, evil is. There is nothing to fear in the natural way of the dance and the drunk, the marriage and the tears. Our creator created us mortals, creatures meant to be passionate and moved by love. There is something to fear in the use of our rational powers of consciousness when we choose to use them to increase violence and cruelty. Then humankind brings something forth that does not exist in nature: it creates pain for its own sake, not in service of a higher good. In this bloody mess there is something for us to fear. Humans can feel it in the air when torture is occurring and long ago labeled it demonic. To fear trespassing against a personality the way those who abuse others do, this fear is said to be the fear of the Lord, the fear said to be the beginning of wisdom.

Those whose lives are drawn to enact the evil of the 10% are in turn reacting to powers not normally a part of general human experience. Serial killers, Hitlers, et. al., the whole bunch are dealing with much more than just personal shadows. They have a contract of sorts to work out with the Christ light. They have acted against another being’s personality, the spark of divinity they did not create, cannot extinguish, and have no right to abuse. Since they too are a personality, there is a complicated situation here. It is one that we cannot fully understand, the mystery of iniquity. “Judge not that ye be not judged” for though some will carry the cross and some will carry the sin, both are invited to the marriage taking place on that old wooden cross. Jesus is the trap for the demons, liberator of the children, and the one who binds the devil, the strong man. He unites true god and true man, catching out the conscience of us all – the one family of humankind.

We have been at this for tens of thousands of years. There is, in the end, only human beings and what they do to one another. This is both the kingdom come, and the condemnation. Evolution designed us to learn by making mistakes. Only when we are free to make mistakes do we stand any chance of ever arriving at wisdom. There needs to be a limit on where the mistakes are allowed to lead, if we are not going to find ourselves involved in more than we can handle. The 10% evil in the shadow is that which should remain out of bounds. When those bounds are trespassed, the mistakes enter taboo territory and they ring hell’s bells.

The contract worked out with Jesus is one built on “I am sorry.” It is signed in blood, that is, the next day the person must act differently. The power of the Christ is the power to choose to do good, from this day forward. What is past is gone, it is done and cannot be changed. Whatever causes and effects that are rippling along from those things a person has done but now regrets are not going to be altered by gnashing teeth and wailing. They might be, might be, by the actions a person takes for the rest of their remaining lives, however long or short that might be. This is repentance, the first coming of the Lord in terror. Here is the big secret – Jesus is the most powerful monster of them all. The key point of baptism is saying out loud “I renounce the devil,” unafraid of the 10% and willing to evoke their wrath. When people get into religious arguments, basically my invisible friend can beat up your invisible friend, this is the teaching they are misunderstanding.

Once the blood contract is signed in the flesh of a person they become people of the day. Those changed by their searing encounter with their conscience now reach for the new dawn, looking forward to the tomorrows of their lives. It happens once someone knows in their bones that the so-called second coming of Jesus, when we pass through the door of death and return to the ground of our being, is the Word coming in love to claim his creature, child of the cosmos, precious and unique throughout all time. The simple innocence of life which we once knew in our childhood was born of ignorance. That carefree innocence can be ours again as we age and increase in our understanding, if we learn to embrace, even rejoice in, our very creature-hood. Yes, scars remain in the resurrected life, that is in the story too. We are not going to pretend that evil does not exist, but we do insist it is limited. Faith is the conviction lived that life can be fun, we can be happy, and our lives given away to those we love in the labor of building our little ‘k’ kingdoms can be made both beautiful and meaningful. This is the good news.

Street Theology

Spectrum of Possibility for the nature of existence:
evil creation by an evil god — neutral creation — good creation by a good god

We have seen how the traumatized have a brainbody that has been taught to believe in a universe ruled by monsters. Reasoning is evidence-based and the evidence for those who have been abused has been clear as hell, literally. A move towards atheism, for these haunted people, is actually a move towards healing. It can provide a light-heartedness to their days, a space for some breath and freedom in which they can try to make their own lives into something they can enjoy despite the terrors of the past. This is denied them while they live condemned to carry the burden their torturers injected in them. As long as this destructive burden remains they sense, quite physically, that who they are as individual personalities are flawed mistakes, unworthy of existence, the universe’s trash properly punished by a cruel and vicious god. Atheism is a serious improvement to such a point of view. They are better off writing a Dear God letter. The godless meaninglessness is more acceptable to the human heart than the trauma god of spite and cruelty.

Perhaps the rise of science over the last half millennium is a collective compensation of sorts. It is through the scientific lens that we are able to comprehend the molecular nature of our earth and our own biology. It is through this lens that we encounter deep time and deep space. It is through this lens that all people of goodwill are being asked if their “spirituality” extends far enough to disrupt the road to ecological collapse and nuclear war we are currently on. All this high talk of god and gods, virtues and faith, churches and mosques, temples and relics, is not going to matter one bit to our progeny if it proves itself incapable of protecting our children from the greedy and short sighted among us. Is there a future for the human species far beyond 2100? I am afraid that if you are able to answer that too easily, if you are sure things are going to work out ok, you are either ignorant of the science or caught up in magical thinking.

To shift in the direction of a neutral creation it helps if the intellect can begin to imagine a good creation by a good god. This takes training in faith. The evidence of the earth’s splendors and wonders is the teasing thread by which such hopes are kept alive. The way they are most intimately manifest to our consciousness is through the chemistry of our bodies. If a person is struggling under the evil god view, their body might very well seek out chemical enhancements so that they too might have a few moments of feeling good, feeling like most people who were not tortured as children feel much of the time. For example, the use of psychedelics, as dangerous as they are for the personality and potentially for a person’s sanity, do show the bodymind undeniable evidence that there is more going on in this life than initially meets the eye. The unabused typically understand this immediately in their bodyminds due to the love they have known. Love for them has provided nutritious meaning to their human experience, but this avenue was cut off for the tortured. Opioid drugs are offering hurting people a more direct escape from pain; instead of visions it offers luminous sleep free of nightmares. These few moments of escape from the gnawing guilt that is destroying their lives is purchased at a high price, the price of slavery to a desire for the drug. It takes the place of the desire for a sleep free of nightmares we call the paradise waiting us on the other side of death.

The bliss these chemical means offers might be the lesser light but it is bliss. It can keep the bodymind alive because it provides alternative evidence to that of the abusive events. They show undeniably, and at the level of physiology at which the abusive scars exist, that some aspects of the universe can also bring delight and pleasure. The lesser pleasures non-abused are able to find in eating, conversation, and sex are not capable of penetrating the inner defenses they had to erect to protect the preciousness inside. They can pierce the character armor temporarily by using these chemical props. “And the shame was on the other side, Oh we can beat them, forever and ever. Then we can be heroes, just for one day” David Bowie sang in Heroes. Those involved with hard drugs are contemplating suicide. Death, after all, is where the use of hard drugs are leading a person. “We could be lying, so you better not stay” Bowie went on to observe in the same song. This applies to the world too. Here we all are, at the peak of our fossil fueled industrialized heroics as we roar through our landscapes sitting in our magic chairs (thanks Kunstler for the image) and fly through the air in our steel birds. As life devoted to GDP grows ever more thin and meaningless we too are toying with suicide collectively. Our drugs of choice are no longer keeping the shame away.

What is it that religion might offer such broken people that can stand equally real in this fight for their souls? The chemistry reveals wonders but not happiness. The “I told you so” will not help the broken and the Pollyanna approach will not impress. A cheap “all things work out for the best,” offered by someone never tortured in their childhood, is just heaping more coals on the heads of the abused. That evil can be turned to good is another thing entirely. The abused want to know, if there is a god like you say their is, where was my Holy Guardian Angel when the torturers had their way with me? The fundamentalist has disguised the god of love and vulnerability as an all powerful wizard. Such a god can give no answer to the abused child’s question.

Let me illustrate exactly what I mean. There is a teaching among some of the fundamentalists about chastity that I recently heard. Women teach girls that their virginity is like a stick of gum. Once it has been chewed, well, who else would want to eat it? If we look at this type of teaching from the innocent point of view it seems to just be making a dramatic point about how important chastity can be to maintain one’s self respect (setting aside for now the overtones of patriarchy owning women and selling their virginity for social status). How do you think the girl in that Sunday school class whose father has already taken her sexual innocence through incest hears such a teaching? This is what the Lord God, creator of all things and all powerful wizard, thinks of her inner worth?

I think this all too typical goody-goody preaching is little more than Gnosticism. It is another sex-is-evil message that seems to permeate all the Christian influenced traditions in our time. We really do not seem to think that the marriage bed is holy, that the deep time engine of evolution we experience in our crotch is god’s doing. We think it is the devil. We are now experiencing the biosphere, ruled as it is by the ways of sexual and natural selection, as a place unworthy of us. We seem to no longer sense our place in the real world, out beyond our man-made artifacts, as beautiful and worth protecting at all costs. In a nutshell: the ecological crisis is a manifestation of a bad theology. Though science taught natural selection as a neutral universe view, our anti-sex baggage did not let us hear it that way. We have come to believe the devil rules the world, that the devil was the creator of our bodies, our flesh and blood. The unashamed display of flowers and farm animals is banished from our minds in our false sense of human virtue and nobility. It returns from its repression in our culture’s pervasive gonzo pornography. It is not wrong to appreciate the sexual beauty all around us, it is in fact honoring how we are made. Whatever happened to “Mathew, Mark, Luke and John, Bless the bed I lie upon” ?

Faith, in my view, is not a cognitive trick. It is not a unnatural belief in something that contradicts reason and emotion and needs to be upheld by a blind act of will (more accurately fear) or obedience (allowing ourselves the luxury of the excuse ‘just following orders’). Faith, as we are going to use the term, is the whole orientation of the bodymind to the universe as it is actually experienced. Ego cannot fool the dreaming mind for what we do we carry in our bones. What makes the faith journey such a challenge is that the intellect needs to accompany the heart every step of the way. This is not to say that we can think our way out of our ordeals but that we cannot get out of them without thinking. This is where the modern world’s lack of faith is most evident, right here in the war between our hearts and our heads. Our emotions as compassionate mammals are at war with our thoughts as ruthless capitalists because we have allowed “its just business” to rule all of our practical affairs.

So how might we use intellect to image our way towards faith in a good god? In Dr. Carl Jung’s Memories, Dreams, Reflections he writes that when his father, a Lutheran preacher, tried to explain the meaning of the Christian conception of god as a trinity of persons, that he gave up and said he could not make heads or tales of it. That is sad really. I do not see the trinity teaching as gobbledygook. Out on the street where the lost are in need of healing and the nuclear bombs are being built, it is symbolic dynamite. Nor do I think what it has to teach is exclusively “Christian.” I think it is “Catholic” in the sense of the non-exclusive, universal catholicism each of us participates in through our shared experience of human flesh and blood.

“God” is the word we use to indicate the ground of being, what some Buddhists call emptiness. It is the source from which all that is real flows forth and is sustained. Each of us has immediate communion with this ground of being, it is the source of what we are as well. Human beings approach the ground of being as persons. It becomes very important to us, as individuals, whether or not this ground of being is personal or impersonal. Let’s put this another way. When we are really still and open to the rest of existence outside our own skins, we cannot help but notice that much of it is impersonal. Most of what exists consists of so-called inanimate matter. The vast emptiness of space and the massive stars and galaxies showing up here and there within it is something every mind will need to struggle with, if only in our dreams. What can it all mean? Here on earth we see rivers, clouds, and mountains, all inanimate and larger than the bodies living on and among them. They all outlast the little creatures. Is it, as science suggests, a purely random accident that life arose? Is the personal point of view, by which life always and everywhere and only manifests itself, an epiphenomenon? Is my existence no more than a happy accident occurring as a side effect of self-reproducing molecules full of sound and fury yet indicating nothing? More to the point, we want to know ‘does my life matter?’ Or really most to the point, ‘do the lives of those I love matter?’ Is love real? When we are in times of psycho-spiritual crisis we are watching love die within and around us. Ego is unable to pull itself up by its own bootstraps. It’s own self-deception and the deceptions of others does not fool it anymore. In crisis, the lie and liars stand exposed.

A life lived constantly haunted by a bodily fear of death and spiritual fear of damnation is not a well lived life. Such a bodymind has been poisoned in what we today generally refer to as PTSD. Healing comes, if it comes, by a shift in something deeper than the ego can reach. No such suffering human can simply will themselves to health. Ego has been given evidence that it should not trust – not life, not other human beings, not god. It must be given evidence to the contrary, what we call an encounter with the divine.

The Christian trinity is the teaching that the ground of being has a personal realm within it. It is saying that the universe of the inside that we experience as consciousness is just as real and inherent in existence as the particles and waves we experience on the outside. It is not saying god is a person but that the mystery of being includes personality and personhood in some fashion. The ground of being chooses to perceive itself through the medium of individuals, be they dust mites or kings. This is observable evidence. The question remains whether or not the whole thing is just an illusion. Is there any element of something really real in the manifestation of the uniqueness that is at the heart of each animate arrangement of molecules? Christian Trinitarian teaching says yes. It asserts that the ground is real, or at the least that that which makes the real seem real to us comes from the very ground of being itself. It teaches the emptiness is truth eternal, far beyond words and the grasp of thought. The ground of being includes in its “nature” the will to love, that is, to know not just one’s own being but the being of another as well. For there to be real love the other “person” cannot be just a puppet, they cannot be just an emanation or reflection, they cannot be simply a molecular machine with unusual quirks pretending to individuality. They need to be a real other person, hence the second person of the trinity. This too is what we find in the evidence of life as it is lived. We, as a person, confront everywhere other living things acting all the world as persons themselves. Though the bully’s blind eye cannot see that others are as real as they themselves are, that is the case none-the-less. The Holy Spirit, third person of the trinity, is this love. It is the assertion that the relationship between the unique mystery of personhood and the mystery at the ground of being is a real relationship. It is not a trick with mirrors at the level of the quantum or galaxies. Nor is it a trick of solipsism consciousness condemned to eternal isolation and only pretending others exist through the illusion of the created universe. (This is a complex thought in eastern teachings. My take is that each individual recapitulates the Atman, the full human experience of being alive, in their own way. The Atman is not simply the sum of all individuals dissolved by death into a mass. This undifferentiated mass is the Atman the Buddha denied with the teachings of no-self.) Belief in the Trinitarian “god” is a recognition that in all the known universe there is nothing as special to us as the people we encounter. It draws a proper inference from the fact that the human brain is the most complex structure of matter that exists. It has been crafted and shaped with quite some care however such crafting and shaping came to pass. It is the recognition that in the spark of light in the eyes of the living, there is a bit of divinity. “Spiritual” people are taught by life itself to always respect that light, that it contains real magic. It is the same recognition beautifully expressed when we greet one another with Anjali.

Explained in this way the Christian trinity is inseparable from the idea of god’s incarnation in human flesh and blood and the “sending of the spirit” among humankind. It affirms that the vastness of interstellar space is there as a necessary ingredient of our being here. It affirms the vastness of deep time as being necessary for there to be now and our ability to experience anything. Interdependence insists on it. It affirms that not just the cosmos but also that the vast multiplicity of creatures on earth are interdependently required if we are to be who and what we are. It does not affirm a cheap and easy creation for those populating the biosphere but one that requires real work, effort, and struggle. This deep time creation we are a part of cannot happen without pain; the pain of childbirth, the pain of mind birth, the pain of individuality given mortal birth. It affirms that the creation of that which is most special among all the mysteries of being, is the creation of the living individuals within it. Humanity is not special because there are 7+ billion of us, we are special because each and every one of us is fascinatingly unique. When a person’s heart really understands this, they are personally at home in the cosmos. The ground of being is addressed intimately, lovingly, as father. Respect is shown to ourselves and our family, both human and animal, when we recognize the whole of existence that proceeds from emptiness as our mother. This is the womb like container in which our lives are manifest. One we worship, the other we honor. This was never meant to be a one-upmanship for men over woman but a basic metaphor of our sexual nature where one bears the seed and the other the egg. We begin to see why Trinitarian teaching without a role for Mary, and the feminine generally with its associations with the earth, flesh and blood, is as lopsided as Carl Jung warned us about.

Death and hell are said to have lost their sting in Christianity. The faithful have trained in trusting that which created persons as persons and mountains as mountains. When such a person returns to the ground of being in death they are reassured that, even though they are saying goodbye to all they have loved on earth, the process that brought them forth still has their best interests at heart. Now, when the ‘father’ reveals his impersonal side, as it were, in the grave dirt that welcomes our bodies back to their elemental home, there is nothing to ultimately fear. There awaits us the eternity of the beatific vision, not an eternity of torture in hell. Nor are emptiness and nothingness the same thing. We faithful contemplatives have already trained in the stillness – the peace that surpasses understanding – and found it was not an interstellar abyss teeming with monsters foreign to the human heart. We found, instead, our nobility as children of god, children of universe. We find, eventually, our equivalence with any and all other created things.

Christianity teaches that god is love, a love overflowing as a free gift for all. Gnosticism, its rival heresy, in one form teaches that the god we deal with is a fool and that his creation of the universe was a mistake. The creator is an ignorant demiurge by this way of thinking and suicide is our best response to his traps of fleshy torture. In its more popular form Gnosticism teaches that the true creator can be a loving god, but that this love must be earned or forced, otherwise we are back to dealing with a hateful god out to trip us up, kill us, and then damn us for all time. This Gnosticism holds out the deceptive hope of the child hurt by parents incapable of unconditional love. They believe that this conditional love can be earned if they can blackmail god with their virtue, good works, fasting, magical incantations, evangelism, holy wars, child sacrifices, and the whole religious bag o’ tricks. The Gnostic of either form stumbles on one simple truth. God does not love the priest and preacher one wit more than the prostitute. God does not love the abused child one wit less than the unabused child. The Gnostic wants to be able to use religion for some earthly end: to use god as a beat-stick or a checkbook, a Pez Dispenser full of blessings, or a guarantee that all will turn out right in the end, like a sic-com. (I think it is this last one that is most at fault for keeping us from responding rationally to the ecological facts.) The most dangerous thing these Gnostics disguising themselves as Christians do is turn the god image upside down, justifying their inhumanity to man by either killing for Christ or insisting “the devil made me do it.”

“They know god exists for the devil told them so…” Bowie, The Next Day [after Heroes]

What religious myth can offer is the path of healing found through stillness and contemplation. In the process of the bodymind learning to be still we encounter the scars and character amour of our own personal wounds. When the bodymind does grow still the fears of death are brought to consciousness. On this path intelligence and reason can comfort the heart, for we have not been left orphans in a universe of nonsense. Such a person can celebrate the mystic wedding of their personality, their spirit, and their flesh. They can honestly say “yes” and “thank you” for the life they have actually known. They no longer look to dreams of inhuman exaltation. With a heart broken and humble, yet lifted up, our eyes gaze on the eternity unfolding in time and find we are living, right here and right now, in a sacred, or as it is most often said in the West, a sacramental world.

Our Humble Science

It is a blessing to be happy in our humanity.

Have you ever awoke thinking of yourself as a scientist? Not like a mad scientist out of a B-movie (at least not on a good morning!). No, not awakening with that kind of scientific spirit but one of burning curiosity and gratitude that one can learn. This scientific spirit is more Goethe than Newton. To mix references a bit, this view always senses there is a large ocean of the real far beyond that which we capture with our knowledge, confined as it is to the human shore. And that ocean beckons us to come play.

In the morning we are greeted with a fresh opportunity to gather experience and ponder it. Core questions of worth and meaning stand steady in this inner sanctum of our waking awareness once we have firmly set our intention, our will. What has life taught us so far about being wise and compassionate? What can we share with others that will make us happy and be of benefit to them as well? How can I be of service to the earth? To find the answers we can don the helmet of a humble scientist, one who touches nature gently and with respect.

We of the collapsing age get to learn aspects of the ecologically traumatized soul with a precise knowledge unprecedented in previous generations. Our minds encounter globalized suffering ecosystems tracked by satellite. Scientists of the psyche, contemplating ecology humbles us before both the immensity of cultural evolution and the guiding wisdom that has, so far, kept our species alive yet now seems threatened on every side. Those of us called to contemplative practice have an opportunity to aid the extroverted Western culture with our introversions but more than that, I believe, with our deep dive directly into the wound in the psyche that creates such blindness. I believe it just might be that in our practice we change the probabilities of what kind of future our species is going to experience.

For the scientist the future is open ended. There is no pre-determined conclusions to the countless life-stories in play throughout all sentient beings, all beings with psyche. Nor is the final fate of the non-sentient intelligences in our rocks and rivers, planets and galaxies understood well enough to be anything more than a start of a sketch of a possibility. But oh how we want to know the future! Do you know that some of the oldest writing we have discovered are the questions and answers of fortune telling recorded by ancient Chinese ancestors on turtle shell? ‘Will the king’s son live?’, ‘Will we win the war with our neighbors?’

One day the human being wakes up in the midst of all of this fully interconnected emergent phenomenon, this universe. We didn’t ask for it, it is just there. We soon learn the one thing we can know for certain about this being human in this universe is that one day we will die and go to sleep within it again. Between those two days of intimacy with silence and emptiness every sentient being’s life unfolds. Personality arises around an awareness of self and world that just IS, that is just a given. Every night personality submerges again into what is, for itself, the welcoming rest of silence and emptiness. Every morning personality awakes again to its awareness of self and world, always self and world, never just self, never just world. That awareness that manifests itself to us each moment is sustained atop chemical complexities we can scarcely imagine, heirs as we are to the evolutionary mysteries in the kingdom of the flesh. That awareness grows over the course of a lifetime as naturally as the limbs of the body do. The awareness grows by learning more and more about the self and the world. With experience a light of understanding arises, we see it shaping sentient being’s actions and reactions to the events of their autobiographies. Awareness drives us to make hypothesis and test them against the real world. We need to do this, we are compelled to do this because our hearts drive us to know what is real and discard the delusional. If love is real, how else could we find it? If others are real, how else could we find them? Our lives consist of our unique character in dynamic relationships with others and the elements around us, questing for wisdom. Our lives are the laboratory in which psyche and flesh consummate their union.

Seeing through these eyes we know we can never have all the answers but are perfectly happy trusting that which is giving what answers we have. Not that we really have a choice, there is no magic path to human omniscience. However, if we choose to believe that love is real then the fact that such delight can exist sets the heart at ease. There is a peace that comes when you figure out it is rational to trust that which exceeds your understanding, that ocean of the real beyond our human shore. Call it faith, a belief in the unseen, but it is not blind faith since it comes from your consideration of your own experience and what it directly teaches you to believe to be most probable. It is not a castle in the sky faith but something solid, there to greet you each morning. It brings a peace that is not threatened by the huge unknown and unknowable which beset us on all sides every moment of our lives. “I trust this is not all a meaningless nightmare but I sure do not know what it is all about.”

Fundamentalists are used to feeling like they have all the answers. Often illiterate or dogmatically one-sided in their studies, they confront the world’s history of ideas as foolishness compared to their own special brand of spiritual wisdom. This is not to disparage the very real wisdom that comes to anyone open to learning from life, regardless of whether or not they ever read a book. We, however, live in a literate culture. To bypass the study time required to become acquainted with our inheritance and then claim superiority because of it is due to what is basically an act of spiritual magic. They claim to know everything they need to know because they have special knowledge, a gnosis denied the unwashed masses: I said just the right words in converting to my personal lord and savior and now I’m always right in arguments about social values; I publically state, just right, ‘I know this church is true’ and now can do no wrong so lie for god whenever asked, I’ve said aloud ‘there is no god but Allah’ and now can destroy the infidels who refuse to repeat the same magic words etc. after sorry etc. All this is just intellectual dishonesty. To point this out is not to be an intellectual snob. I refuse to admit to any part of that double bind framework the fundamentalists try to force such conversations into. (Claim to be a fool and I’ll agree, claim to be wise and I’ll call you a fool in the ways of god. It really helps to learn to recognize these noxious things whenever they rear their ugly heads.)

It is better to wake up each morning clearly recognizing you do not know all the answers but knowing you do have a few. It is also good recognizing that it is in the nature of our partnership with the unknown that today you will discover more answers as your understanding grows. The point of any mind training is to increase the skill by which our ego allows the growth to occur without undue interference so that it benefits from the process. To increase any skill the craftsman learns to cherish their tools. In the search for truth our tool is the mind. Scientists recognize the mind plays tricks on us, easily persuading us to believe what we want to believe and to refuse to believe things we fear. We must remain watchful, ever on the lookout for confirmation biases and all sorts of other categories of cognitive dishonesties. These are the costs associated with thinking’s benefits, costs built into our fundamental cognitive techniques. The mind uses heuristics as short cuts by chunking information about what has been learned in the past that might apply to the present. Fine. Heuristics is one thing, running around the cage of cognitive dissonance and double binds is something else entirely. So science: it is a method of collecting evidence and pondering over what it means using the thinking apparatus we have as it actually is with all its strengths and weaknesses. In this way the scientist seeks to assign various bits of data their proper weight in the grand scheme of things. Contemplatives are scientists of the psyche in this sense. Nothing more but also nothing less. This humble science is the fruit of Faust Part 2, born having learned the hubris science of Mephistopheles in Part 1 did not deliver the goods.

Being a scientist is how we are a student of the universe. Adults have completed their education and don their lab coats. The laboratory consists of this earth life, just as it is. In this life each of us will be challenged to find work so that our flesh may eat. The work will chafe our souls even as it refines them. It is foolish to deny the path of work for spirituality, as if they were not interdependently complimentary. In this life each of us will be challenged to find relationships with other human beings that are both trusting and intimate so that our souls may quench their thirst. In this quest too our souls will be refined, guided, tormented, and ultimately healed by the love we find in the ground of being. Healed? How? The wisdom of our ancestors is teaching us that there is a surprise hiding in the core of our DNA. We touch it when we open our hearts by respecting the best hopes and dreams of our ancestors, seeing how our own falling in love, maturing in love, being heart-broke by love, how all of it is the same and that for all it is equally beautiful. This timeless AHA! that has so inspired the psyche of humankind that it’s religious instinct became its deepest, what is it? I think it is simply a reconciliation. It is how peace is brought to the war of the elements: the war of the sexes, the war of flesh and fang, the war of the cold-hearted reptile and the warm-hearted mammal, and in the psyche this reconciliation manifests itself as faith, an end of the war of the mortal against the immortals. We need not be jealous of the gods like the Titans nor bewail our fate as do the Hungry Ghosts blinded by greed to the feast that is set out before them. It is a blessing to be happy in our humanity.

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.