A Pound of Flesh

“Throughout his life, Trump has been obsessed with nukes. In 1984, he claimed that he could single-handedly force Russia to accept a nuclear truce, telling a reporter: “It would take an hour and a half to learn everything there is to learn about missiles … I think I know most of it anyway.” In 1990, he told Playboy: “I’ve always thought about the issue of nuclear war; it’s a very important element in my thought process,” adding that the assumptions behind the US’s long tradition of non-use were ‘bullshit’.”
Paul Mason, For Trump and the US right, breaking the nuclear taboo has always been thinkable

“…the deepest human fear is to face the anarchies of personal madness or civil breakdown. That is why the urge for lawful order stands at the bifurcation leading either to imposed tyrannous rules, or to harmonies of inquiry, self-knowledge, and compassionate identification.
In tyranny, a fundamental despair over the possibility of lawful order in the universe leads to an attempt to master it, to become the law, to dispense fate, to externalize pain rather than be subject to it. But when lawful order matures, the laws of the living organism of the universe are understood and counted on to extend through every boundary, to reach everywhere; or to originate everywhere. The same unfolding rules regulate my heart and the stars. There is only one place. There is no person-like being who sees everything with a giant eye; but each event billows upward out of nonbeing with a sovereignty that marks out the paths of electrons as well as the orbits of galaxies. The simple comfort of a law-giving father can be relinquished, when lawful order brings awareness and comprehensibility to an otherwise improbable and pell-mell world. Dispassionate, accurate observation of reality reveals an infinitely layered and exponentially complex order everywhere. The sense of lawful order is the sense that there is something behind it all, that there is something to it all. “An invisible and subtle essence is the Spirit of the whole universe. That is reality. That is the truth. THOU ART THAT.”
Paul R. Fleischman, The Healing Zone: Religious Issues in Psychotherapy

“He is not the God of the dead but of the living. You are greatly mislead.”
Mark 12.27 NAB, italics added

 

This post continues our discussion of religious child abuse. It also touches on the horrors of nuclear war. It may not be suitable for all readers.

Dr. Fleischman’s point about tyranny as a lack of faith in law and order is crucial, as is the point about there being a bifurcation exactly here, a choice to be made. This ability to believe in a universe of law and order is what is destroyed in victims of religious child abuse. Those who have been religiously terrorized as children form an evidence based belief that the cosmos does not contain a core of dependable law and order. They have experienced deceit in those society holds reverently as its main truth tellers, they have experienced the death of morality at the hands of those society holds as the pinnacle of ethics. Justice in the courts and fairness in social relations never come to these kids. The powerful remain powerful, almost untouchable as the 2015 Best Picture Spotlight made clear. As a result the hurt now live in a world where human facades fail to fool their broken hearts. The preacher going on and on about how god is love might just as well be from another universe entirely. The preacher going on about the god of love on Sunday and raping them on Monday is a monster that calls into question the existence of meaning in existence itself. Just imagine, if you will, seeing the universe from their eyes. The Western idea of an all knowing, all loving god who is all powerful but chose not to intervene does not answer their needs. So many of these victims die on our streets unacknowledged: overdosed with needles in their arms, hunted down by the diseases of prostitution, driven to suicide, murder or madness by the “saints.” It is in their name I offer these speculations.

These discussions are going to turn their focus towards Western religious traditions. The Biblical influence on the development of arts and letters in the cultures of the West is pervasive and remains so. It is not possible to understand the ecological crisis we are in without also understanding the psychology of people that allowed it to develop this far and are allowing it to proceed at its ever accelerating pace. Each culture will need to examine its roots as the maturation of the psyche under the tutelage of crisis continues. I absorbed Christianity with my mother’s milk, I am sure others are making similar investigations into their religious traditions in the same way. The silent abused child is silent no more the world over.

These comments around religious abuse and the misuse of Christian symbolism are offered in the spirit of compassionate speculation. Many of my acquaintances are people who, like myself, were hurt very badly in their childhood by the misuse of Christianity or more broadly, the mytho-poetic symbolism of Western religiosity. For those who were tortured and terrified by the followers of a perverted form of Jesus Christ, clarification from the psychologists’ position are going to be offered to aid healing by, hopefully, increasing understanding. This is valuable in itself. There is, however, a larger relevance to these speculations for the culture at large as well.

The issues brought to a head in this type of child abuse are the same issues that are driving formerly Christian countries crazy. These countries are becoming less and less able to bring wisdom to bear on the real problems and challenges they confront. They turn towards fantasy, seduced by magical thinking. Everywhere we see these formerly Christian cultures giving up on the ideals of Christian charity when it comes to public discussion and policy making. Even hypocritical lip service to these ideals is becoming rare among their leaders as they flirt with the older ideals of the strong man where might makes right and woman and children and members of other races are no more than slaves, trophies and property. Religion, in these countries, has become a nice-to-have but hardly necessary component of societies that seek to increase their economic might above all else. The old fashion Christian ideals of helping the poorest of the poor, orphans, and widows has been placed on life support.

Against this tide of secularism defined as neo-liberal values and consumer capitalism, a backlash of Christian fundamentalism has risen and taken positions of power. Christianity is being redefined as unquestioning obedience to male authority by those who “know” it is the “only true religion.” Satan, by this narrative, is everywhere and everywhere winning. The only thing to do is bring back the days of Puritan Law and Order, Christian Reconstructionism along Old Testament lines. This is highly unlikely under current circumstances so racial and class differences are being used to divide and conquer the population, shattering the social contracts. This social and psychological fragmentation serves the interests of fascism – government run by corporations instead of citizens. Populations confused about the wisdom in their own inherited religious traditions are cut off from their cultural roots. They are easily persuaded they have found a new purpose when they are united by their leaders against a common enemy. They can drown painful anomie in patriotism. When the hot wars start, all the painful social inequalities are set aside in the rally around the flag.

Let’s make these speculations a bit more concrete. A few days ago the official spokesman for the United States military used a very carefully crafted phrase to state that the US “is not looking to the total annihilation” of North Korea, but “we have many options to do so.” This is fear mongering. As hypnotists know, the unconscious mind does not deal in negative propositions. (‘Don’t think of an elephant’ doesn’t work in dream land.) When that phrase was planted in our minds the little word “not” was stripped off. At some semi-conscious level images of a whole population consumed in flames took place in every educated mind that heard that phrase. It might even be that the night after hearing these words most Americans dreamed a shaman dream, one full of BBQ’d flesh and beastly Eucharistic meals. Dreams most people would not be likely to remember on waking. Why would we do this? Because warriors become great again by eating the flesh of their enemies, one of the oldest ideas in the history of ideas, one still very much alive in the unconscious mind. Because we are a democracy we share in the responsibility for the actions of our leaders. As citizens we understand this on a very fundamental level and can be expected to process it in our dreams. Because this is how the human mind works, trying out various scenarios in our imagination to aid our ability to make good choices in our waking life. This nuclear scenario as a possible future was rather forcefully implanted in our minds by the use of that phrase “total annihilation.” This proposed act has such large potential ramifications on the probability of the United States future survival, that it became impossible to ignore by the mind’s scenario spinner that lives within each of its citizens.

However that may be, it is important to recognize how disproportionate the threatened response was to the provocation. This is a classic sign of psychopathology. Granted we said we don’t want to do it, just like any bully convinced of their own self-righteousness might say “don’t make me hit you.” This is all very dangerous. We need to be damn sure we are not goaded into flippantly using nuclear weapons in response to hurt pride and little else. The rest of the world could then make a strong argument that we are too dangerous to not be placed in some sort of quarantine. We would stand accused as the only country to have used these terrible weapons.

Parts of the unconscious mind are rather primitive in their ideas of justice. Purely illustrative, lets indulge for a moment in the bizarre world of fully distributive justice. But first a word or two for why, to set the context. I think there is an element of real evil in the escalation of threats around using nuclear weapons that is taking place on the world’s stage just now. I think that cause and effect, karma if you like, might somehow really matter in the ongoing effort to avoid World War III, which all people of goodwill have been involved in, at least in their hearts, since 1945. It is something I hope every reader will spend some time seriously contemplating. What if, just for example, nuclear weapons are going to be used again on earth six months from now. If you knew this was going to happen, would it change anything about how you live today? Might it change your contemplations and prayers? Would it change what you have the courage to talk about with your friends? Might it make the easy, flippant answers we normally give about the satanic majesty of our arsenals ring a bit hollow?

Here, presented more in the spirit of poetry, dark and dismal, than in the spirit of prose, is a back of the envelope version of distributive justice. The scenario is that the president of the United States presses the red button in a few months and brings “total annihilation” to North Korea. We avoid all the real world complications in an effort to get to exactly what was implied in the fear mongering phrase used. Because citizens of the United States live in a democracy it must be said that our fingers would also be on that button, at least in some ethical sense. But how much guilt should each of us rightly be assigned? This is the kind of question the human mind goes to work on, and it can become obsessive. Just ask any concentration camp survivor. Distributive justice is a first attempt at finding some rational answer that will satisfy the mind. That it is wholly inadequate to satisfy the heart will become obvious.

The existing population of North Korea is 25.37 million people. The average body weight in Asia is 127.2 lbs. Multiply these together and you find the pounds of Asian flesh being targeted. There are 323.1 million citizens of the United States. Divide the total US population into the total pounds of Asian flesh to find the distributed justice allocation for each of us. It works out to be just about 10 lbs of BBQ’d human flesh for each.

I present these ideas about the death of charity and this admittedly bizarre calculation as evidence that the meaning of the Western Christian tradition has been sorely misused and misunderstood. I believe, like all legitimate traditions of all peoples, that there is an element of inescapable truth about the human condition within Christianity  – and a trap for those who would misuse it. It is what we are going to be exploring by contrasting that life affirming aspect of Christian religious thought with this other tradition, this one of Rambo Jesus born from those who would flip the crucified one upside down and turn the cross of Christ into the sword of Damocles, the sword of nuclear wrath.

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.

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.

Respecting Minds

It is so easy to overlook the astonishing capabilities of the human mind. Like fish who do not notice the water they swim in, our immediate experience of mind is so familiar we simply take it for granted. To successfully navigate the practical concerns of day to day life is a major accomplishment, one for which we as a species have yet to learn to give ourselves enough credit for. What the mind is able to accomplish is downright humbling when examined fully and should lead us to respect its abilities and, perhaps even more importantly, its vulnerabilities.

Consciousness seems to consist of a collection of factors which must be kept in dynamic balance. Mind seems to do this by a series of cybernetic-like adjustments which allows it to stay on track. Psychological development is never a straight line from point A to point B but more like the way a sailboat proceeds, tacking first to the right and then to the left. A moment of excess marks the trespass into extremes and the need to change course if sanity is to maintain its even keel.

Take a moment to consider the contents of your mind. We balance an awareness of our mundane and earthly position with a simultaneous awareness of our cosmic position in our galactic neighborhood and the unspeakable immensities of space. Alongside a thought about the ancient vastness of the night’s starry sky and pondering the meaning of human existence in the grand scheme of things, will come another thought trying to decide if the sandwich you are currently making would benefit more from Djon or yellow mustard. We maintain an awareness of grand themes playing themselves out in the theaters of international relations and the history of ideas spanning centuries and millennia, side by side with an intimate knowledge that our own allotted span on the stage of human affairs will run but a small handful of decades, if we are fortunate. Whatever might be the purpose of the stars and the grand scheme of things, each morning when we awake we are able to dedicate our energies (some people and some days with more enthusiasm than others) towards the indispensable needs of the individual life we are living – consuming our sandwich we are off to work or school or to find a mate, change a diaper, hoe a garden, pay our taxes or blow our noses.

There are also the balancing acts of the heart no less necessary if conscious awareness, just good old everyday conscious awareness, is going to function properly. Heart’s emotions intermingle with rational cognitions just exactly as language based thinking intermingles with images born from memory or imagination. We recognize our own bodies have needs of nourishment which must be balanced each day with the equally legitimate claims of others. We are aware of the suffering and needs of those sentient beings all around us and our hearts go out to them in their distress. One part of us remains aware, always, that right now an innocent is suffering reprehensible cruelties, be it from war, miscarriages of justice, or abuse. One part of us remains aware, always, that at this time there are lover’s vows being exchanged, babies being born and made, artists completing great works of beauty, and moments of sacred grace descending into the mystic’s breast. In the heart we balance our fierce love for our mates, if we are coupled, with a determined hatred to oppose anyone or anything that refuses to grant them the respect they deserve. This is another difficult balancing act our minds are accomplishing ceaselessly on behalf of maintaining our sense and sanity. These opposites are representative. The tension they create constitute the basis by which consciousness is conscious.

This stressful weight of knowledge is ever present to our minds, pressuring them in every moment to avoid what we fear and obtain what we desire. And what opposes all that? We find ways to balance this survival imperative with a more carefree attitude. If our lives are not to be wall to wall nightmares, we need to have times and places in which we allow ourselves to bask in the warm, peace-filled glow of contentment. The emotions and intuitions around gratitude, safety and well-being cannot be strangers to our everyday awareness as well. Yet the will ever beckons, there is the next valley to be crossed and the next mountain to climb on our endless hunt for our rainbows by which we might reconcile our individual existence with the whole of existence. In the interplay of opposites, which is the play of consciousness, even the proper gratitude can be taken too far and leave us kneeling and groveling (or simply drunk) when we should remain standing upright, shoulders back, capable and self-reliant.

Moment by moment our mind must balance the energetic alertness our nervous systems maintain as they are primed to be on the lookout for unexpected dangers, at all times ready to zero in on threats, with the relaxed, kaleidoscopic perception of the general reality of our environment which we understand does not contain these active threats most of the time. Every moment we combine a dismal fear of the future, quite rational for mortals subject to pain, with hope that this same future will bring us satisfaction. We all know some dreams come true and some tragedies strike wholly unexpectedly. We balance knowing these things are simultaneously true as we carry on performing the tasks of the present moment.

In what is perhaps the most profound balance of all, consciousness arises ceaselessly from the exact point at which the past disappears into emptiness and the future springs forth from the same. We balance the fact that the past is gone – that it was once real and now can be found nowhere while implied everywhere – with the fact that the future, as such, does not exist. There is a continuity in this kiss between the contained and the container that forms the essence of our time-riding consciousness. It is so mundane and yet so profound. One way we experience this psychologically is as our hope and fears for the future balanced against our pride and regrets from the past. It is from this crucible that wisdom is said to be born.

We altogether too easily take for granted this complex balancing of mind that allows us to navigate consciously in the cosmos. Taking all this and more for granted, we are often discontent, searching for more; we need a fix, an answer, a final understanding. I think we would be better served if we understood consciousness to be a very hard thing to create well in this universe as it really is, and that the mind as we experience it and the universe as we experience it participate equally in an ongoing act of creation’s manifestation in each unique, fleeting moment. We needn’t fear that each moment includes an irreducible element of novelty and the unknowable; it is ok that every detail doesn’t exist pre-planned in some cosmic mind. It seems instead that mind works in time, hard, calling on all the powers and forces of animate and inanimate existence to aid in its ongoing emergence. It seems that the uncertainty principal we find down among the sub-atomic particles extends right through the exercise of the free will we experience most intimately. Free or determined, particle or wave, mass or momentum, timelessness or time: these are the grand opposites mind plays with as if the paradox of their extremes were of no concern.

Our minds are born curious. To guide them through the difficult process of learning they have developed the ability to contrast that which is experienced as real with that which is experienced as a dream. From this most basic contrast among phenomenon the ego is able to establish what psychology has termed the reality principal. Hemmingway colorfully referred to this as the mind’s “bull shit detector.” It is a direct manifestation of the archetypal Self in so far as incorporates not just the ego but the personal and collective unconscious aspects of consciousness as well. The ego alone is not allowed to decide what is real and what is not, though it often wishes it could. The ego must learn to bow before that which makes the real seem real to it. It must embrace the Kantian categories of time, space and causality trustingly. Which leads us back to the subject of magic and miracles we looked at in last week’s post.

Is there evidence for a miracle-causing supernatural realm wholly outside the perception of humanity, as the priests claim? Is there evidence that magic works and that holy men have powers far beyond that of us normal mortals? Can the ego find in these tales of magic and miracles some real foundation for its hope to become immortal and forever blessed? This is how the BS detector takes on the subject of religion. Eastern or Western makes no difference since both abound in tales of magic and miracles.

I am going to suggest that this search for evidence for magical power has two results. In the realm of physical manifestations the evidence supports the null hypothesis. No miracles in the walking-on-water and severed-heads-being-restored variety are ever found to exist. It is always trickery, altered states of consciousness, or hearsay one is left with at the end of careful investigations of claims that these types of magical things have come to pass. On the other hand, there are the types of magical power involved with human psychology. There are love potions and death spells, holy incantations and powerful rites and ceremonies galore. The evidence for this kind of magic having a real world affect is rather abundant. Psychology is just beginning to grapple with some of what is involved when one human mind exerts “undue influence” over another. The proliferation of destructive cults in our midst has made this subject of “brainwashing” a very practical one for psychologists to deal with. Though today we call the visible, physical results of curses psychosomatic illnesses, that new label doesn’t cure people suffering from them nor is it able to keep people from occasionally being terrified to death by these same means. The evil eye and pointy sticks of the black magicians of today present themselves in more modern garb but they play on the same mind-body linkages around fear and panic, desire and pain, that they always have.

The arts of persuading the human mind have become common place in the emotional manipulations we see displayed in advertising. Ads are messages designed to change the behavior of those watching, namely to get them to purchase the product being hawked. To do this effectively across a wide percentage of the population the advertisers found that using emotional appeals instead of intellectual arguments delivered the goods. The familiar voiceover extolling the facts about some car, drug or whatnot is often included as no more than a veneer atop the visual short story the ad conveys. Not everyone will respond to these efforts on the part of advertisers to directly influence behavior. The cheerful mind, confident in its position, is less susceptible to the allure of their appeals. This is because those appeals almost always begin from an injection of a negative self-image into the mind of the viewer who is then given relief through the purchase of the product. The target of these mini soap operas are unhappy, lonely, confused, stressed, unpopular, stinky, failures but luckily for them, the old snake-oil pitch runs, we have just the thing to turn your life around!

We say that the successful tunes and jingles the mass media saturates our minds with are “catchy.” Our minds catch them, like a cold or a virus. For example, in 1982 the song Jack & Diane by John Mellencamp was receiving repeated radio play. I still, 35 years later, occasionally get the catchy chorus popping up in my head, “Oh ya, life goes on, long after the thrill of living is gone.” Those of my readers close to my age may have just heard the same notes accompanying the jingle I do when this virus takes hold. There is big money to be made in programming the human mind with pessimistic mantras like this.

I think we need to discuss this like a viral epidemic. These act as mind parasites as they so easily loop endlessly in our minds in some vague, semi-conscious fashion. These internal tunes provide a bounce to our step throughout the day but they also are programming the mind with a point of view. The music, the Dionysian element Nietzsche recovered for European philosophy in The Birth of Tragedy, helps us move our bodies with more rhythm, more like dancers. This is why devices allowing us to have earphones on throughout the day have become so popular; they answered a deeply felt need in this time of ours which has so consistently insisted our bodies are little more than DNA built machines. Machines don’t dance. It is the music of these jingles that gets to the heart. The words on the other hand, the words are carrying what are more or less intelligible messages from the daylight realm of Apollo. The mind feeds on thought, finding some nourish and some do not. Those which do not nourish are like the empty calories of a fast food meal; they crowd out the place nourishing thoughts might have been. The jingle mentioned earlier is a good example of a type that I find all too pervasive. It’s Apollonian message is basically adolescent romantic angst, playing on the fear that after 30 years old life is nothing but one unremitting downhill slide. This is a useful message if you want to sell things to younger people. It paints a picture that their youth is the only time of their lives that really counts – so rack up that credit card!

“Oh ya, life goes on, long after the thrill of living is gone.” Think a moment what it is you are telling your mind about life and what types of experiences one can expect as one gets older every time that little ditty loops around inside one’s skull. So many lives of quite desperation haunt the cities and towns of our modern world. One is left to wonder how much of it is the result of mind programming tricks like this. What is the jingle but a claim of corporate property rights in your inner landscape? This is what the thinkers of the past used to call the battle over the human soul. There is a reality to the psyche, as Jung was at such pains to point out, call it what you will.

It is only when we think that what our minds are capable of is trivial, so easy as to become unworthy of our continuous respect, that we can fail to properly protect them. It is then that we can become haunted by wanting more out of self-conscious mammalian life than it is prepared to deliver. In doing so we become susceptible to the wiles of the uncouth manipulators of mind. When we want more like this, we open ourselves up to the tragedy pattern which always starts when a person or a group pursues a fantasy that is not aligned with reality. Such projects do not end well, how could they? Better to work hard ourselves to acquaint consciousness with the art of paying attention to that which actually concerns us as self-conscious, caring individuals alive on a threatened earth.

Respecting Stories

Last week we looked at a dense information source, the book What’s Really Happening to Our Planet? by Tony Juniper. This week I want to dive into some very controversial territory by examining another dense information source and the phenomenon it represents; Christian fundamentalism American style.

Torchbearer is the latest film directed, produced and written by White House strategist Steve Bannon featuring Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson. It is another type of information source claiming to share a number of facts. It is presenting a picture of the world in which the only thing a person really needs to know is the Bible. In the film aspersions on man without god multiply until the message is basically to be human is to be a hell creature – fallen, fallen, fallen! This narrow interpretation of Christianity embraced by fundamentalism is, in my mind, a perversion of Christianity through and through. Man does not come off looking like something so loveable god would give his only son to reveal to them his unending love for that which he had created. Man comes off looking like the devil, no, better, comes off looking like nothing so much as an unruly adolescent in need of a good beating by those in authority.

The problem with this Bible-only approach to truth is that it dismisses many of the most important insights other compassionate human beings have discovered outside the confines of religious thought over the last two thousand years. Misunderstanding the ecological crisis is the most obvious problem with this type of intellectual mono-vision from my point of view but the psychological understanding of trauma and the effects of abuse run a close second. People who wish to nourish a love of their fellow man cannot, in good conscience, ignore these modern insights. To do so is to dismiss the very spirit of revelation as it is talking to our age, to use the mythic terms from our monotheistic background. The person in front of you is alive and real, to kill them because a book tells you to is to make that book an idol. Instead of worshipping the living god, one has been seduced into necrotic worship of the dead. God is not found among the dead.

This is what I fear: the patriarchs of the bomb are invoking the patriarch in the sky, cloaking their oil procuring war plans in the most giant beat stick of them all. They are calling on a wrathful god to bring his holy beating to earth “for our own good,” as Alice Miller explained.

I appreciate the sincerity with which a fundamentalist approaches the problems of the world. Much of what seems to inspire the fundamentalist is a virtuous desire to protect their children from the fallout of a consumer culture gone over the edge, refusing to recognize any limitations on its hunger and greed. I feel in many ways more akin to them then to the shallow people of the endless party our mass media teaches us to be. I applaud their willingness to look the darkness of history in the eye and not flinch. Torchbearer includes a number of gut wrenching film clips of our historic atrocities and unspeakable cruelties. More people should remember these things more often. Still, it is traumatizing to gaze into the abyss and fundamentalists, I believe, are traumatized. These people’s sincere soul-needs are being shepherded through the topsy-turvy world of symbolisms of the highest order, those which directly concern the archetype of the Self. There is a healing potentially working its way through their love of the Christ as portrayed in the Gospels which these true believers try to nurture and discover. It is like they are so close, and yet…. Instead of that which liberates, they are under the pall of that which enslaves.

The Self archetype is not to be toyed with. Miss your shot at god and you arrive at the anti-god of the feared meaninglessness and nihilism which has inspired the misbegotten faith of the mind parasites we looked at last week. As James Hillman pointed out, if we are off just a few degrees when the projection of our path between where we really are and the foot of the cross takes place, we end up kneeling before a thief. Now there are good thieves and their are bad thieves, but they remain thieves. What they steal is life itself; these parasites are Vampires feeding on days spent serving false gods and nights spent dreaming in theologies fantastic, instead of theophanies properly imaginal. So many hours sitting in meetings, fearfully praying to invisible powers, listening to preachers, doing what you are “supposed” to do and following orders, writing checks, judging everyone not in your cult damned, talking always about your religion and little else – in so many ways the days of a life of a fundamentalist are stolen by the false infinities haunting their minds, born of the traumatic wound.

There is another way to say we should have respect for facts as facts. We say the same thing when we say we should have respect for stories as stories. That stories move us so deeply is one of the greater parts of the mystery of our being. That they do play such a central role in our ‘soul’ or ‘psyche’ is simply a fact, a feature of our humanity. We have had to live with this mind a long time and have learned a thing or two about it. Replace facts with stories and the result is tragedy. Enliven facts with stories and the result is a living grace.

Fundamentalism denies the reality of the psyche. It denies the realm of symbol, insisting on literal interpretations driven by a fear that if it something was not historically real, it has no reality at all. In this they are mistaken. Carl Jung once commented that all of his work was to try and convince modern man of the reality of the psyche. There is very much a reality involved in these mythologies that guide civilizations but it is not the reality of the Calculus and molecules. It involves the psychological and philosophical underpinnings of how we derive meaning from perception and love from flesh. The problem the fundamentalist has is that they cannot trust the symbol to point beyond itself. For them everything is literal; wheat cannot be transmuted into flesh, the grape and the wine it gives us to make our hearts glad cannot be transmuted into the emotions of our fiery blood, they do not hear the Word in our words of kindness and comfort we give freely to one another. Yet this is just what happens on the earth. The fundamentalist has a problem of faith, they lack its “fundamentals” and so are unable to see the sacramental nature of our sacred world. They cannot bring themselves to believe in the miracle, existence as it is, nor that at its fundamental root this creation is good. They are instead driven to seek magic and miracles, not as symbols but as real events, to prove existence is not as it is. They are the great doubters among us, making themselves over as true believers in reaction formations. Their wounds keep them away from the healthy faith in an intelligent creator and good creation that enlivens compassionate and wise actions undertaken with a cheerful heart out in the real world just as it is. They cannot forgive god for including death in the way of life.

The symbol of the crucifixion captures the sorrows of the world like no other. Here goodness is tortured by Empire: that which is compassion is scorned as weak by those blind to the fact that this is god among us. As they kill they triumph for a day, but in doing their deed of devilry they have also released the spirit of the Christ. There is nothing they can do about that. Everywhere eyes are opened and the poor are given the good news as the dark deeds of devilry expose the emperor’s nakedness. The alpha males are brought to answer to the voice of thunder, their ego fortress shattered in a confrontation with the real power that runs the cosmos. On that same cross the poor and suffering are comforted by the voice of god who they find not in the thunder but in the still small voice, the voice of conscience. At that moment of Christ’s death the veils of the temples were torn and the mysteries openly proclaimed to all the world. This is just what Clement of Alexandria proclaimed so long ago in his Exhortation to the Greeks, that Christianity was the public revelation (exposure?) of the heart of the pagan mystery religions. Fundamentalists are a return to the pre-Christian mystagogue and a Gnostic reading of creation as the work of a demented god. Christian fundamentalism is a misunderstanding and misuse of our own Western tradition, pagan and Orthodox.

The truly faithful are to live in “joyful participation in the sorrows of the world”, as Joseph Campbell once put it. This is what the grace in our myth is there to assist us with, for this is hard. It is truly an ongoing challenge to lean towards the good in a world where life feeds on life and Empires so often seem to crush all that is good in the world. (Ring any bells?) This learning to live in “joyful participation in the sorrows of the world” is a challenge worthy of human beings with our many skills and abilities. When the symbolism of the human imagination is working properly so that facts are facts and stories are stories, this is the result. A deep joy wells up from the depths of our consciousness, unassailable by the tides of time. The Vajra diamond, or Kant’s transcendental, or the image of god in man, whatever the metaphor – that which they point to cannot be stained by human folly for we do not create ourselves and this bliss pours forth pure out of that mysterious emptiness from which the next moment comes. This deep joy is a reflection of that which we are building up in our characters over a whole life time of choices and there is no short cut to getting there, no magic words that suddenly make everything over into what it is not. This is the great insight seen in the moment of repentance; that what you do matters, what you say less so. This Self is the over arching archetypal reality of who and what we are as unique individuals, which is created and expressed through what we do with ourselves and with others during that whole lifetime. We never see this Self in its totality, yet we are never separated from it either as long as we live. This Self will weave its thread into the interdependent fabric of earth life whether the ego cooperates with the process or not, learns to embrace its mortality and human limitations, or not. Though rooted in ignorance vs. wisdom instead of good vs. evil, the end result is no different in the East or the West: be careful of those crying Lord, Lord.

“Go ahead and cheat your neighbor, go ahead and cheat a friend,
do it in the name of heaven, you can justify it in the end.
There won’t be any trumpets blowing, come the judgment day
and on the bloody morning after, one tin soldier rides away.”
One Tin Soldier, The Original Caste