Nailing Miracles, part two

The altar is where human beings present things to god. The altar is related to the mystery of food, where life feeds off of life, where life must kill to live. The Eucharistic meal is a civilizing force, a feast not of meat but of bread. It is a chance to “lift our hearts to the Lord,” and walk above the fear of death and our daily participation in it. It is the meal of the lamb, that of peace found when our hearts truly understand the gentleness of our creation far exceeds its terror.

Knives, and metal implements generally, are needed and used with hardly a thought to carve the tender flesh of the animals we eat. Yet, at some level of our own awareness, I propose, this terrifies us. The history of torture devices make clear the way metal applied to flesh can cause pain. Metal on naked flesh is the fear the crucifixion captures in the nails forcibly introduced into the body of the Christ. It is also the fear that is captured in the moment of panic in the Christ story when the initiate, wearing only a flimsy white robe, is suddenly surrounded by soldiers in full armor and armed with weapons. As Mk. 14.51,2 states, this initiatory panic causes the disciple to flee in terror. (As said earlier, once the spirit is driven by fear out of the body, that’s it, it is not possible to push a tortured being further.) It is the divine grace that allows the Christ alone to stay with the terror of those nails, to allow them to keep him held in place, fixed in pain, and not panic. Hence, by his blood, it is said, we are saved once we have aligned ourselves with the Christ. After the rooster crow of the bloody dawn, after our three betrayals in seeking the all-powerful Christ of the religious temptations, we too are called to take up our cross, the sliver of the divinity-task that is ours to bear within the mystery of human love, suffering, and redemption. The next time we see the white robe it is in the empty tomb, Mk. 16.5. Seeking god as an answer to death one finds “he is not here.” This which we are dealing with is the god of life. Through the panic, through the encounter with the teacher’s healing exorcism, the initiate has learned we shall not die the death in life that is a life burdened by superstitious fear and meaninglessness, but live even as the Christ did. Though we may bear the marks of our wounds, the flesh as grave was unable to hold us, we have found liberation from the evil that was done to us and that we have done.

Mark’s Gospel is particularly telling in how this resurrection promise is worked out using its shorter ending. The resurrection promise is that by which human hope in goodness is kept alive (some may recall our conversations about Santa and Easter Bunnies). There are no resurrection scenes in Mark, only the word to the ladies. “On entering the tomb they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a white robe, and they were utterly amazed. He said to them, ‘Do not be amazed!’” I emphasize where I think the rich symbolic vein is to be found, one related, in part, to the difference between being child-like and childish. The first words spoken in the empty tomb, ‘Do not be amazed!,’ these are serious. This part of the mystery story is related to the John Barelycorn sacrifices and is not the central point. It’s miraculous reality should not amaze us, that is, it should not enchant us and bewitch us. We should not let the unknowns around death become a wedge by which liars manipulate us through our fears. The seed must die for the crop to arise, but it is not the farmer that makes it grow. The Christ story is not one about the mystery of creation, but of the mystery of redemption within that creation. Those who make a big deal of the ancient phallic-cross and womb-tomb associations are missing it.

The short ending goes on, “But go and tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you.’ Then they went out and fled from the tomb, seized with trembling and bewilderment. They said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” They were just told not to be amazed and here they are, bewildered. What to do, where can we find Jesus on the road to Galilee and learn to properly be a disciple? Back at the start of the Gospel, just after the prologue. “It happened in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John. . .” The terrifying and bloody death of the Crucifixion, when the Shepard was slain and the sheep scattered, this story asks us if this is really the end, are we ultimately left alone to suffer in painful, deluded confusion? Only you as a reader can answer that for yourself. What does your heart tell you? Does it quicken when you hear His words? It is not the end of the story if you take up re-reading it again, and in doing so again and again throughout a long life, encounter there the living one. He is not found among the dead. He has established a feast to which the poor and vulnerable are invited. For those called to this supper, their lives, however long or short they may be, will have seemed in the end to have been good and meaningful lives. What is offered are lives so full of wonder that it is as if they had lasted a thousand years, bringing us the fullness of time. The healed enjoy lives filled with peace and crowned with rest. This is “as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end.”

What has the initiate learned with his encounter with their guardian angel, where the corrupting metal nails have pierced their own flesh? The Book of Revelation gives the inside view, the spiritual view, of the battle on the cross and the resurrected life. Rev. 19.14 “The armies of heaven followed him, mounted on white horses and wearing white linen.” From chapter 20: “Then I saw an angel come down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the abyss and a heavy chain. He seized the dragon, the ancient serpent, which is the Devil or Satan, and tied it up for a thousand years and threw it into the abyss, which he locked over it and sealed, so that it could no longer lead the nations astray until the thousand years are completed. After this, it is to be released for a short time.” How short? “Holy Mary, Mother of God, Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.” Christian initiates live their lives abundantly, refusing to bow down in fear and serve the one who rules us no more. We do not fear an hour of judgment from abba, for we have learned to pray to god “lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” Christians have seen through the lies of the accuser, the destroyer that would set itself up as god.

We human beings are all trauma survivors. Wounded people wounding others is a part of our fate. Through long efforts at therapeutic work, our soulful contemplation and prayer, we can cast out the burdens injected into our bodies and psyches by the evil done to us and the terror it evokes. These burdens are often imagined as metallic invaders planted in, or living in, our flesh during, for example, Parts Work with PTSD persons. Other times the burdens are voices or images more personalized, as if alien intelligence were involved. This is particularly the case when the traumatized are bordering on psychosis or schizophrenia. Satanic nails and devilish demons, these things populate the human-world soul and seek to destroy personalities, whole nations at a time if they can. It is not superstition to admit these factors exist. They are inherent to our “psychological” experience when that experience tends towards the extreme. For example, intravenous drug users refer to their syringe as a nail, murders nail people, and when we succeed against a tough challenge we say we nailed it, as if we had banished something once and for all by, as we say, nailing the bastard to the wall. The war zones we create outside ourselves are, mercifully, small reflections of the ones within us, the ones which are created when we abuse one another. Peace on earth, in fact, starts within us as individuals. It can start nowhere else.

It is a real shame to let religious ideas steal the possibility of an abundant life from a human being. They do so by feeding the fear of death inherent in our mammalian physiology and inferential reasoning. The Christ story is designed to be a corrective to that misunderstanding of what religion and religious imagery is for. The poets had to write, the message of redemption is too important not to pass on. They had to pass it on even as they had received it from those who had passed it on to them. In their wisdom they knew the dangers involved in misunderstanding what they were teaching, and they prepared for that. In their compassion they were inspired to teach us of the new heaven and the new earth that awaits those who are healed by the Christ. This is the story of what the true creator of the universe would look like if he / she / it / X were to look as a man. The point is not the miracles, all wiz-bang and powerful. The point is the care and concern for the people Jesus meets and how he meets them as an individual. What has moved countless millions of faithful believers for centuries is the love this sacred heart displays.

But so much of the dogma seems to contradict rational thought. Faith’s cords of dogma are the poets means of speaking. It is a language at once of reason and emotion when both are touched by the visionary spirit. Dogma is meant to protect the inner coherence of the symbol system it attends. It is a faith that in the inspiration of our poets and prophets, there is a true element of the divine. The assumed authorial authority spoke of earlier, will at times seem to take on an authority beyond what the poet would claim for themselves. It is the most profound mystery of the creative inspiration, the power of the muse, the guardian angel. Over the years it has lead to the building of our so-called Holy Books. The fire of god speaks, darkly but insistently, as tongues of flame touching the heads of those in the upper room.

The Gospel story teaches that the creator is a loving father-architect. It asserts a faith that things are what they seem: that the universe in all its vast mystery, was formed to allow life and consciousness to arise. Not as a pantheistic ocean of awareness, but always and everywhere only through individuals. This is the Christ light. It is the loving creator concept taken beyond concept, to where it matters to you personally. Here is the mystery of the true god = true man. It is your death, your life, your conscience that is being talked about. This Christ light is not owned by any church, though the Catholic rites, both East and West, have protected the coherence of the symbolism through the poetics of dogma. The teaching of abba is a gift to show the Way to the lost, the Light to the blind, and the Truth to the confused.

Who Tortures Man?

Who killed Christ? When you see the image of the man nailed painfully to the cross, the worldwide image of Christianity, it provokes that question in the viewer. In this icon human violence and cruelty are not hidden but placed where they cannot be ignored. Christian teaching is a teaching about evil. It is about the power of evil and how that power is broken.

Love and rationality are vulnerable. Those we love can be tortured and the truth of what is real can be hid behind lies. Though often we are able to exercise our will to love and to truth in their defense, there are limits to what we can achieve. These are  hard sayings. We want to be able to say god is love and god is superman, that love conquers all. We want to be able to say that in the end the truth always wins out, that truth will always have its day in court. We want these things but this is not the way it is in the experience of life as it is actually found.

Teachings are our ancestors gifts to us, giving us what they could about what they learned about the life a human being is fated to experience. Christianity is one of those teachings. It was an opening of the mysteries to the masses at a time when the global crossroads of the ancient Roman Empire had brought the formerly isolated pagan communities together. Priests and scribes from literally hundreds and hundreds of traditions were finding themselves talking past one another. Eventually thoughtful people began recognizing similarities in the midst of their better teachings. The marketplace of ideas was offering a welter of confusion for the very real needs of the Jewish people going through the collapse of their way of life with the fall of the temple. Eventually the whole Roman Empire would collapse and sweep away the gentiles as well. It is in this context of social collapse and upheaval that the Gospels at the heart of Christianity were written. That “writing” process took place over a century or more.

The Gospel of Mark is the earliest of the Gospels with an authorship date of maybe 70 CE. Mark provides much of the source material for Matthew and Luke. The Gospel of Mark is actually a very carefully crafted literary document. It uses numerous stylistic techniques to channel readers attention towards what is most important, even as clues to how the reader should be interpreting what they are reading. It uses numerous terms and images that would have been immediately understood by its initial audiences but leave us with little more than a fairy tale for children if we do not understand them today. For example, in Mark when Jesus casts demons into swine, the word used for the demonic horde is ‘legion,’ an extremely odd use of a Roman word. That word has no precedent in the Judaic texts nor is it an idea in use among temple or synagogue. Still, the readers of Mark would not have been at a loss to understand what he was talking about. No literate person would have missed the allusion to the soldiers of the Empire, the Roman Legions. Another very pertinent example is the use of the white robe at key places within the narrative. Readers in the ancient world would have recognized the allusion to the initiate of the mystery religions who was said to wear a white robe in their initiation. Both of these images, the robe and the Empire and its martial powers would be taken up in the book of Revelations. That apocalyptic book gives a view into the drama of Mark’s story as if it were seen from the inside, as it were. We will be looking at Mark and Revelation a bit later as this investigation into the mythology of the West proceeds.

This might be a good time to remind my readers what we are doing and why. It is my position that there is a rampant abuse of Christianity in the modern world. It runs a spectrum from sexual abuse in churches to magical thinking in the halls of governmental power. The time is late and the guilt of our generation is weighing heavily on us, more so than we consciously seem capable of admitting. Look at our actions – we are not resisting that which is seeking to kill us. There is a disconnect, something has gone wrong in the evolutionary imperative to survive and protect our children. There are undoubtedly many reasons for this but one stands out. In our pride we invented the corporation as a way to privatize profits and dilute financial risk by spreading it among the public. Thinking we were so clever inventing these personal wealth maximizing machinations, we find today that these corporate entities are powers no individuals are able to control. They do things that no human being can stop. Or so it seems. So far. We are in a fight against the “principalities and powers,” not a few evil men here and there. This is the lesson of the scapegoat, the mystery the Christ revealed openly to the world.

Christianity’s teachings include how to effectively go about fighting exactly these kinds of Empire powers. It finds they are fed through the desire human beings have for god-like magical skills. Christianity is said to have separated religion from magic. It is about how seeking a magic god, one all-powerful to grant you your wishes, leads to an anti-god. That superman god cannot be found because that god does not exist. Love and truth are vulnerable, at least for a time, at least for the “three hours of darkness” in which the crucifixion is said to take place, or the “hour of our death” for which Catholics ask Mary to pray “for us.” Us, all of us together. What we, the human species, the whole human family, have to work with is what we see in our day consciousness. The rise and fall of civilizations and our species ongoing cultural evolution has all taken place in this part of our psychology. We do not control dreams. We are not responsible to try and evolve or improve the unconscious, the night consciousness that is also a part of the psyche. In the great mythic theme of night and day we are meant to be creatures of the day. In Christian terms we live in the resurrected life after “coming to Jesus.”

What does this mean? I am going to suggest that it means accepting that the world is already “saved” or, to say the same thing from another point of view, that you personally are not responsible for all the evil in the world – and dealing with it. What is it this Christ is said to accomplish with his dying on the cross? He tears the veil of the sanctuary, revealing to all, and in public everyday in the ritual of the Eucharist, the contents of the Holy of Holies, the innermost altar in the innermost room of the temple. Not the temples made by human hands in our various religions but the temple of the human body. What is accomplished on the cross, what is this revelation? It was said to be the defeat of the devil and the harrowing of hell. The Christ kills the devil and frees those under his power to become children of god. To believe in this is to be able to pray the Our Father. This is the central teaching of the Christ, this prayer (along with the Beatitudes). One of the most telling characteristics of this prayer gives the whole show away. Have we heard it too many times to really hear what it is saying? It is addressed to god, not the devil, and asks god “not to lead us into temptation.” Wait, isn’t that the role of the devil? What is going on here?

There is an understanding BC, before Christ, that is not the same as the understanding AD, after death. The Western world enshrined this comprehension of its own mythology in the calendar with its use of BC and AD dividing all of human time into the before and after of this encounter. It was a collective symbol of what individuals also have a chance to encounter in the Christ. Jesus was a Jewish teacher, the Christ is an anointing, not a last name. The Christ is a light of truth larger than what could be captured exclusively by any story, including the Jesus story. It’s the star that guides the wise men from the East, the grace of truth in all the poetic myth and prosaic prose of all people of goodwill throughout all times. It still guides us today. It is the living logos: the ability of our words to carry truth and meaning. It is exactly this power of the Word that is now suffering at the hands of PR, spin, sales, fake news, and magical preaching. It is also the cause of the suffering of most dysfunctional families who use language to tell lies about that-which-shall-not-be-spoken. Just as healing comes to the abused once they are able to speak, so healing comes to the broken soul when it is able to accept that it really is vulnerable and depends on the kindness and goodwill of others. Coming to the cross involves struggling with how love and truth have died in your own life.

As the Roman Empire gave up its hundreds of cults, and the whole menagerie of con-men that accompanied them, for Christianity it seemed, for a time, that the age of living under the destructive power of superstitious thinking had ended and mankind had entered a new era, a new eon, in which day consciousness would have its proper place. We were to live no longer driven and haunted by nightmares of our own imaginations and all the visions of gods, devils, angels, demons, heavens and hells that formerly lead us to dismiss the value of earth life just as it is. It was a blow to the whole Gnostic idea that this earth is hell and spirituality is all about escape. The revelation of god as love, not as a satanic destroyer, was to put an end to all that. That what the teaching of the calendar was meant to convey.

One objection to the whole Christian mythology is, of course, that the world does not at all look like one in which the powers of nightmare are defeated. If Jesus was actually the Christ, how could that be? That, however, might very much depend on one’s own point of view, be it BC or AD. There are two truths here, just as we find in Buddhism. The Christ was said to have removed the fear of death, the devil and hell for those who found in him the truth. Buddha was said to have removed the burden of the caste system and reincarnation for those who found in him the truth. The Buddha was said to have taught us how to be a genuine human being. The Christ is said to have taught us how to be genuine creatures, children of god. Both had a message that the other paths being offered, the ones that claim to lead to men becoming gods, are lies. The divine pharaoh and his attendant priests does not like that message. They did not like it then and they do not like it now.

Jesus is a personality. That is what the Gospels are sharing, the story of a person in enough detail that an image of an individual comes through. That individual is one that countless people over centuries have come to love and in that love established a “personal relationship with Jesus.” American religion is so overwhelmingly evangelical that phrase tends to invoke the idea of a true believer talking with Jesus in their heads all the time. Quite a special person to be getting constant advice from the creator of existence for their every doubt and decision… That is not the type of relationship I think the Gospel stories offer. The stories were here before you were born and will be here long after you have gone. You as an individual confronting these collective stories have a choice about what they are going to mean to you. That is the relationship. If you were born in a country that has a Christian past, of necessity you will establish some sort of a relationship with the myth of your people. This becomes your “personal relationship with Jesus.”

This is not to say you must become a believer in any sense a preacher might use. It is pointing out that there is no real choice in the matter. Once you see the crucifix and hear the story, you are confronted with the question: who killed this man? Why has he hung there over the centuries, as Bowie sang in Next Day, “not quite dying”?

One answer to this question of who killed the Christ is that the devil did it. This is the scapegoat role for the torture victim. Frazier’s Golden Bough is a study in the slaying of kings or priests, or very often their substitutes, for the good of the crops and the community. Rene Girard’s anthropological study Violence and the Sacred adds important insights into what these actions meant to the communities that took part in them. He explains how the external enemy unites a fractioned society. Leaders have long known how an external threat quiets domestic squabbles (something I expect we will be seeing here again soon in this fractured America). The concept of the devil is the ultimate outsider and the ultimate threat.

Beside the scapegoat answer there is another possibility. The scapegoat is innocent but bears the weight of the community’s trespasses. The cross was used for killing criminals of the worst sort. Perhaps that man is hanging there because he deserves it. This is closer, I think, to the truth of it. Here is the one that “takes on the sins of the world.” To believe that, doesn’t that mean to see there fallen human flesh and blood? The evil that has caused people so much suffering is finally getting its due. That corpus on the cross is representing the serial rapist killer, the sadistic death camp officer, and all the other human beings whose lives have inflicted the most viciously cruel violence on other people. God’s justice is being served. We would all gladly pay our thirty pieces of silver to get our revenge. This interpretive door opens the way into the war that lives in the human heart. For the believer, faith brings peace to that war. Something happens when the divine love comes and sweeps a human heart away into the embrace of the mystical marriage. The archetypal rearrangement, if you will, lasts for the rest of the believer’s life. It involves an act of the will accomplished through intention and accomplished once and for all. These believers know they will have the ordeal of their “hour of death” still to deal with, but an hour is a light burden to shoulder compared to a lifetime of living ruled by shadows and fears.

The day and night mythology has guided humans since before the time of Stonehenge. The solstice return of the increasing sun at the very nadir of the dark season has been celebrated universally since time out of mind. Merry Christmas indeed. What the mono-myth of Christianity, as the culmination of the mysteries, is offering is this same ancient teaching distilled into the most inspired form our ancestors were able to create. The path to psychological maturity and the accumulated wisdom of the elderly are here. The maturity, however, is complex and is only found by embracing our painful vulnerability on the one hand, and forgiving those who blew out our flickering light of faith on the other. Those who brought us to the dark night, those in our own hearts who hurt us when we loved them the most, how are we to truly forgive them and end the war inside? To forgive is not the same as to forget. It is not to believe that there is some magical ‘I’m sorry’ spell that makes everything all better. Forgiveness is not simple, it never has been.

The Next Day

“What about the criticism that perpetrators of religious child maltreatment should be discounted because they are not ‘real’ believers, that they are misguided as to what faith is truly about? In response, I question whether anyone is qualified to ascertain just what constitutes a righteous individual. I know that I am not in a position to know what makes someone a ‘good’ Christian, a ‘real’ Jew, or a perfectly devout Muslim. I do know, however, that in case after case of religious child maltreatment I have studied, the perpetrators believed without a doubt that they were the real deal.”
Janet Heimlich, Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment

 

Next week marks the third year anniversary of this blog project. With some trepidation, it is time for the graduate studies. I want to talk next about spiritual child abuse. This type of child abuse is not as well known by the public as the horrors of physical and sexual abuse, nor, in my experience, is it very well understood by many of those working directly with its victims. I think this subject is a necessary ingredient in Mindful Ecology. My trepidation comes from recognizing that it is a subject very likely to be misunderstood by readers who have not gained some insight into the Mindful Ecology view from the previous years of essays. If this is your first encounter with this material, it might be best to start with earlier subjects.

Every religion has a light side and a dark side. The point I will be making is little more than this. I believe that it is in an honest recognition and healing of this shadow cast by religion’s light that we might find a way forward. Harnessing faith could be just what is needed to wake up to, and embrace, our human responsibilities under Homo Colossus. In other words, if we can be honest about what spiritual abuse is, how it works and what we must do to protect ourselves against it, we will find the door opens to deal rightly with our abusive relationships with the earth. In my experience this is how it works in individuals, this process of waking up. It might be the means that can also change the existing suicidal society.

Fundamentally the ecological crisis is a spiritual crisis: we are terrified of existence; our god is dead and in a tantrum we are destroying all our toys. It has got to stop.

Are you enjoying the lungs full of forest fire smoke as you count the days of this year’s record breaking drought? Or, where you’re living, are you one of those caught in the torrential rain and howling winds flooding your neighborhood? Maybe where you are weather records are not being broken and your summer season is wrapping up more or less as you remember it did in years past. As I read the charts there are not too many folks in that later category, blessed as it would be. For all the rest of us – welcome to swimming in karma. Swinging to the left, a little too far. Swinging to the right, a little too far. Touch too much sun, touch too much rain; will we ever find our way back to the middle path?

This is Earth abuse. I think this is what we are doing every day in which we do not work to minimize the destructive ecological footprint of Homo Colossus. Giant-sized fossil fuel industrialization might have been built in innocence, but those days are long past. To continue accelerating our rates of pollution and resource over-use is a crime against humanity, plain and simple. It is a crime against the human heart and a crime against the human future.

Earth abuse only happens because some people have some other people so scared, they cannot speak. Psychologists say that the perpetrators of abuse ‘project their own shadows’ into their victims. This means that they inject guilt into them, guilt which they do not deserve. The young girl victimized by incest tends to come to the belief that somehow they were at fault in the crime, the young boy beaten ‘for his own good’ comes to believe they deserve to be treated this way. All abuse shares this secret, this technique for gaining authoritarian power over another person’s will. Every sick family, and the species is a family, projects the shadow in the same psychological torture routine:

Two Rules of Madness
A – There is no problem (from divorce to incest) (from ocean acidification to topsoil loss) and you are elected the Black Sheep / Scapegoat to carry it for us (outcasts and heretics)
B – Rule A does not exist but must never be broken (and will not be discussed)

There is very little understanding of the full ramifications of childhood sexual and physical abuse within our societies. We are not self-aware enough to normally see how the acts perpetrated in secret get shouted from the rooftops, how these seeds of hate sewn in our private lives reap wildflowers of fire in our public events. There is even less understanding of the spiritual abuse of children and what these things cause. Earth abuse, I am suggesting, is a further step along the spiritual abuse continuum. We act the way we do, treating the earth as a whore and a sewer, due to our values as a people. A people’s values are intimately connected to their intellectual convictions around what has worth and what is worthless; who has worth, and who is worthless. But values are not wholly rational, they also involve a people’s emotional reactions to various social rituals which invoke the strong, visceral reactions of purity and disgust associated in our nervous systems with the holy.

Spiritual abuse can be defined as sexual or physical abuse that takes place in a religious context or when the perpetrators are in positions of power within religions. The essence of the crime, however, is much more subtle and involves what can quite accurately be called a psychological rape. That is, it forces ideas and images into a person’s psychological interior life that they did not choose. These ideas and images cause extreme emotional and intellectual reactions within the victim against their will. It is a crime against another person’s soul for cults and cultists to inject religious idea-images that trigger suicidal reactions when the victim dares to consider leaving the cult, changing the faith, or otherwise exercising their free will. We are not talking about normal persuasion or education here. There is a definite line that is crossed that makes what I am referring to clearly abuse.

The couple phrases italicized above could also be used to describe the global psychological circumstances that are involved in our ongoing ecological and social breakdown. People of good will do not want to be destroying the world their grandchildren’s grandchildren will be playing in for the sake of an iPhone. Yet here we are. How are we to understand this? The faith in neo-liberal economics does not suffer fools gladly, silencing every dissenting voice. Though the true believers cannot see how they are being driven to make the world inhospitable for human beings, it has become evident that this will be the result of their efforts if they remain unopposed. What I think we need is not another set of street protests that lead to replacing the old boss with the new boss, exchanging one set of chains for another. We need stronger medicine.

Fatherlessness is epidemic in the lands where ancestors once prayed the Our Father. Hate and cruelty are replacing compassion as the social ideal, much as Nietzsche thought might happen in the West with the death of god. A culture of suspicion has spread its influence into every nook and cranny of our social intercourse. Cultures steeped in Christianity, its Western form in particular, are breaking down under class and racial divisions that have become so extreme as to be un-sustainable. What we need is a street theology. One powerful enough to overcome the destroyer, one that can “bind the strong man” within ourselves and our institutions.

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.

Our Overdose

“In 2016, Summit County had 312 drug deaths, according to Gary Guenther, the county medical examiner’s chief investigator — a 46 percent increase from 2015 and more than triple the 99 cases that went through the medical examiner’s office just two years before. There were so many last year, Mr. Guenther said, that on three separate occasions the county had to request refrigerated trailers to store the bodies because they’d run out of space in the morgue.”
Drug Deaths in America Are Rising Faster Than Ever, NYT

 

These are sad times. The rates of overdoses are making national news in the United States. In fact it looks as though last year, for the first time, a drug overdose had become the number one killer of people under 50. We need to spend a moment with this fact, contemplate it, allow it to affect us. People in our country are seriously hurting. Personally, I manage to get by with a little coffee and pot which is hardly harmless but rather lightweight. I consider myself lucky since these stand in stark contrast to the dangers the opioid drugs (or hard drinking) present. “Heroin is the devil’s drug. It is,” Cliff Parker states in the NYT article and there certainly is a path of destruction around the use of these opioids derived from the heroin family. The morphine like effects of the opioids are what medics in war zones use to treat the wounded in triage conditions of a bloody battlefield filled with severed limbs. These molecules have the ability to remove, temporarily, the hurt and suffering the mind-body experiences when it is traumatized physically, emotionally or psychologically. They also can be used to keep those who traumatize others going, drowning their painful conscience, as the many morphine addicts among the Nazi SS attests.

It is not hard to understand where the pain behind today’s headline is coming from. We human beings were created to create; to mold our lives in the real world closer to the images of our individuality. It is this expression of will in the circumstances of our daily lives that determines the degree of happiness we experience. It is already hard to make this happen. To mold the real world into one that is just a little safer for ourselves and our loved ones, with needed resources more or less secured, is one of the main reasons we older adults get up in the morning. But it is hard. The struggle against the stubborn elements from wood to concrete, the ceaseless push to get ahead within social norms ruled by competition, and the fight against the demons within born of the abuses and traumas we have suffered, all this and more adds up to what is very often an extremely difficult day.

The ability of adults to effectively improve their circumstances is exactly what was assaulted with the shrinking of the middle class and wealth dictating legislation. Today we live under a historic degree of separation between the haves and the have nots where income inequality removes the ability of millions of adults to have a positive effect on their own immediate environments. Under these days of hyper-capitalism unbound the sweep of giant corporate interests has buried the mom and pop stores, and with them they are now burying mom and pop.

Humans want to make the world a little better than the way they found it. Not just in art, dreams, movies or books but out in the everyday places too. The homes we live in, the parks we walk through, the tasks we work at, the conversations we have; all can benefit from a touch of our enthusiasm, an extension of our kindness, and the courage to dare to hope that our efforts might make a difference. A home can be quite poor and yet clean in a way the most expensive penthouse suite will never be. There is a quality of the aesthetic sense nourished by the integrity of true beauty involved when real individuality is lead by the heart to express itself through its psychological and physical environments. This nourishing element cannot be bought at any price, though it does not exist wholly separate from the goods that are purchased, bartered for or otherwise acquired. The beauty cannot dwell in objects stolen from others, particularly objects stolen from the poor.

In a time of mass markets there is very little space in which individual creativity can be expressed. Households no longer produce any of the things they need, many don’t even prepare meals. Though it is so much easier to just shop for whatever it is the home needs, this has removed the avenue by which the previous generations contributed directly to the improvement of our environment (not to mention providing inter-generational family roots). Instead of occupying our time working at things that are needed to sustain our daily lives, we spend time on the job laboring for this or that corporation (assuming there is a job to be had). There is no security on this path, no retirement or medical benefits assured for the majority of people in this country of minimal social safety nets (all of which are under attack and unlikely to be funded as the times get harder all around). A lifetime of work for corporations leaves many people little more than paupers, barely able to take care of themselves, let alone leave anything substantial for future generations.

And then there is the truth of just what that corporate job entails. Each day we drive to and from work we add to the air pollution that is creating a nightmare for our children. The work we do is, more likely than not, harming the earth. The more successful the company we work for, the more harm its side effects inflict on ecosystems and people harried and harassed by constant sales appeals. Then we get home and find our communication with the rest of our community in our mailbox; a handful of bills and every other piece of a tree being used to push a bit of crafty salesmanship carrying psychological manipulations designed to bypass our reason and appeal directly to our emotions for sake of making more profits for strangers. Billboards, and banner ads, commercials and PR news and documentaries complete our creation of an environment ruled by cheating, deceptions, half-truths and lies packaged to manipulate each other’s love and fear. Some days we attend a funeral, some days we attend a wedding. Either way its hard to shake the feeling that these individual lives are just so many credit card numbers to those in control of the commanding heights. Consumers have no faces. We as a society have overdosed on markets.

Suffering people turn to religion or psychology for succor. Today the church or cult they encounter is more likely than not to be colored by the apocalyptic fear the death camps and nuclear bombs of recent history have left us all to struggle with. When it comes to religion there is a choice to be made. It can be used to teach and encourage individuality within a spirit of humility or used to enslave others through the manipulations of their loves and fears. Hard to say which is more common but there is sure an ominous development underway among those holding the world view of fanatic fundamentalists. Enslavement through the magical thinking of infantilization is all the rage among those peddling true believer certainty. Those too secular for religion turn to psychology, though it is far too costly for many people, particularly those who need it most. Those that do avail themselves of our Soul Doctor’s services may or may not find a practioner capable of assisting healing someone else instead of simply adding to their own self aggrandizement. There are real healing waters to be found in religions and psychologies, even today, but the crust of selfishness and the poison of corruption have left these institutions and traditions quite a bit worse for the wear. Churches full of pedophiles and abuses do not hold the light we need in this time of darkening ecological realities. Doctors beholden to profits above people are unable to heal the loss of soul so many are suffering from in this time of darkening ecological realities.

Let us salute those who fall on the battlefield of our times. They are casualties of the war between meaningful and meaningless lives, these soldiers with the broken arms as Bowie once dubbed them. With our salute let us renew our commitment to sanity. Look at these things and learn the power of respect for the pain of our fellow countrymen and woman, then let us move among the wounded in skillful acts of triage. We need to keep alive who we can, comforting family and loved ones as we might.

Of course there are some people who are quite sure those dying from these overdoses are simply scum, or sinners, or weak willed, or, well just about anything but the abused child now grown up but still unhealed they most likely are. ‘Chin up, buck up, and get on with things’ their well meaning advice runs, and it is good advice too, but it is too easily given. It fails to appreciate the difference between the un-traumatized nervous system they enjoy and the world it reports, and those whose have been less fortunate. Or they have yet to encounter their own traumatized parts and so project them onto others, perfecting their blindness. Then they are able to pretend they see no issues with mankind’s unsustainable rabid exploitation of earth and her inhabitants, only a holy war between the saved (themselves) and the damned (anything that stands in their way). They have yet to even achieve the first spiritual step of being pained by the truth.

Respect who and what you are as a human being by seeking what is real and refusing to fear phantoms. If somehow you avoided the needle and avoided slavery to holy books and avoided the allure of glitzy fame or big money status, and still have a heart filled with compassion – you are needed in the ranks of the protectors. If we can begin to articulate, even just to ourselves, the full dimensions of what we are involved in by being alive in our times, we will be able to over come the frozen-by-fear reaction that only finds comfort in the easement of pain through opioid addiction and its tragic return, as opposed to celebrated return, to the peace of death’s painlessness.