On Being God.

Roberto Assagioli, progenitor of Psychosynthesis, tells the story of a patient in the psychiatric wing where he worked in Ancona, who’d been admitted to hospital for the determined conviction that he was God. Apart from this he was entirely  well behaved, so much so that he had been entrusted with the keys to the medicine cabinet.

‘His only lapse in behaviour was the occasional appropriation of sugar to give pleasure to some of the older inmates.” R. Assagioli.

Assagioli makes the observation that the man’s problem was not pathological as such but constituted a confusion of levels, confusion between..

”the metaphysical and the empirical levels of reality, in religious terms, between God and the soul.” ibid

Thankfully the resulting inflation can be quite mundane…

I was playing my cigarbox guitar in the barn. It wouldn’t do what I wanted it to. It should be playing more easily. I was struggling with the music, feeling dissatisfied and frustrated with my instrument..

and I got a sore finger…

Then I realised I had become ‘better’ than my situation.. I was playing God and my morning was not coming up to scratch.

I got annoyed at my whining…..

and wondered just how many folk there were priviledged to be playing in their barn, if they had one, first thing on a Friday morning. People who’d never thought to play or who didn’t have the means. People without a barn, some private space, to get away from it all. Suddenly it was a glorious morning simply by being re-connecting to my situation, to the richness of the day, to the gratitude of being able to take time out, creating the time to create…

and my morning improved.

because I could tell myself off… and not be God.

The proper relationship between ego and Self has plagued Western Civilisation since its inception with a vast array of unfortunate and often mortal consequences..

”If an individual identifies with the [Self], a positive or negative inflation results. Positive inflation comes very near to a more or less conscious megalomania; negative inflation is felt as an annihilation of the ego. The two conditions may alternate.” C. G. Jung.

You tend to notice positive inflation more easily because its narcissistic, in your face and at the head of some cause..or army.  Negative inflation is less easy to spot but just as problematic in that ego and Self are still not in right relation.

for instance..

A man posts a facebook meme of himself playing the dulcimer. All well and good but he starts out with a rambling apology about technical hitches which of course the veiwer at their laptop has not in fact had to endure, though we are indeed now being put upon by this lengthy piece of unwarrented groveling.

So, then he plays the piece and it is truly amazing but when he’s done he shrugs and says, ‘that’s all I’ve got….’ enviously spoiling his performance.

and of course you want to rush up to him and take him in your arms and weep on his shoulder saying, ‘don’t be so silly dahling, you were wonderful, wonderful..’

”Paradoxically, overwhelming desire to please turns us into a walking power principle, by pleasing others we are better able to manipulate them, albeit unconsciously.” M. Woodman.

The heaping of reassurance on top of praise would be doubly insufficient because it is precisely human warmth and affection that erodes the defences of the Eternally Unworthy. So appreciation and gratitude cannot be allowed in.

though it is what he wants most….

… because that would be to acknowledge that he had some worth which immediately challenges the dominant paradigm…

So he’s as wooden headed and unavailable as his boasting brother. And way more numerous. Armies of Ever so ‘Umble.

Collectively, the ego-Self paradox expresses itself in our culture as Christology, the debate about Jesus relationship with ‘the Father’, which seems a bit technical until you consider that there’s something sufficiently significant in the issue for people to kill one another over it in Uncountable Heaps through the Ages.

When the Council of Nicaea met in 325 AD, to agree on the books that you could read without being killed for it, they actually spent most of their time arguing about the relationship of the Self and the ego. Gnostic Arius said that if the son was begotten of the father he came from nothing and only after a while, so… he can’t be Eternal. Orthodox Nicholas of Myra said they were One and the Same and punched Arius in the head to prove it.

At the Synod of Tyre, ten years later, Arius was exonerated and no longer going to be killed if we find you out on a dark night, but only because Constantius II was about to take the Roman throne and liked him. After Constantius died, suddenly, Arius was again anathematised, cursed with looks of death and the waving of pointy sticks at the Council of Constantinople in 381 AD, despite the fact that he’d meantime expired in a pool of his own diarrhoea…

under suspicious and bloody circumstances.

poisoned with something that caused him to pass his own spleen…

behind the shambles in the collonade..

Socrates Scholasticus, a bitter rival of Arius who just happened to be strolling by at the time with stylus and clay tablet poised to record his terrible demise, claimed it was an act of God, which of course didn’t mean that he hadn’t been a part of said Divine Plan.

In Single System systems, some confusion arises in the ego’s relationship with the Self, giving rise to murderous Paranoid Anxiety.

Some, because they think they are the right hand of God..

Others, who just want to Help and Are Sorry for any Inconvenience…

Unfortunately, Arius’ veiw that the ego is derivative and subordinate to the Self did not prevail. It was a missed opportunity for ego differentiation. Total identification between the Father and the Son was decreed the order of the day, codified in the Nicene Creed and emperor Constantine, whose forbears were only too used to identifying with the Gods, made saying otherwise hazardous to your health.

And so emerged a regressed Homo Contritiens, a species of humanity characterised by being eternally repentant whilst regretfully hoovering up everyone else’s stuff and then, apologetically and sheepishly, bombing detractors in the name of God to dislodge the eroneous belief that we do anything but come in peace.

”All the wars in this world are not fought over money or material things. They are all fought over belief, more specifically, the primacy of one man’s belief over another man’s.” Golding in Lucky Man.

If you lose you are a martyr to the cause. If you win you are doing God’s will. What could possibly go wrong?

I was trying to locate an old Commando aquaintance of mine and found a gravestone inscribed, ”killed in an ambush.” Its not the same as ‘killed in action’ is it? It implies he was somehow killed unfairly…

because the lowly and coniving enemy pounced on him from behind a rock…

or because he had his fingers crossed at the time..

So there’s no equality, even in death.

which might seem preferable to the isolation and comfortlessness of being God.

For those who feel they have arrived there is only death, as all the blooming of Nature shows us.

The Enemy of Now.

In very ancient times the leader and the medicine wo/man were distinctly different roles within the group and they shared power in such a way as to bring, if not stability, then at least dynamic tension into the tribe.

When Kings started to take on the role of High Priest as well, from the Pharaos up until the time of Constantine’s conversion and his unprecedented incumbancy as a Holy Emperor, this maintainance of dynamic tension was ended, leading to all kinds of repercussions in our Collective Consciousness.. particularly on what it meant to lead a spiritual life.

The problem for the new bishop-kings, is that social control has to be levened with honouring the gods… a very tricky balancing act.

People need to make their observances because within those gestures lie the seeds of civic order but you can’t have people getting inspired or liberated from the burdens with which its taken so long to weigh them down.

Which is why the persecution of Christians escalated after Constantine’s conversion. You now have to be the right kind of Christian to avoid being thrown to the lions.

To this end the bible was endlessly re-written to accomodate the pressing and immediate concerns of those in temporal power, keeping their heads. The ideal scenario, if at all possible, is for people to be utterly controlled whilst believing themselves to be entirely free.

The best way to do this, to pull the teeth from a crowd that is only three square meals away from being a mob, is to get it to form an orderly queue in anticipation of some goody, something that might seem to be tangible but is just out of reach…

…and have everyone’s reward for staying in line be… later, in the Fullness of Time.

Very different from virtue being its own reward, the immanence of gratitude, the feeling grace of being blessed as you are, right here, right now, warts and all… that typified the earlier Wisdom tradition.

You can’t control people who feel that lucky, who already have a feeling of being fed. Luck is created by counting oneself amongst the blessed, so, we can’t have that.. but we don’t want to deny the possibility entirely….. otherwise folk will despair and the despairing rebel, so we’ll tuck it just out of sight…. but not so far that it becomes something we can no longer imagine.

”Tomorrow! Tomorrow. I love you tomorrow, its only a moment away….” from the film ‘Annie’.

Much biblical re-writing had to do with emphasising the faith in that..

One Day..

God will keep his word and everything will be made alright.

Manyana.

This is most telling in the canonical formulation of the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount, which many veiw as the core of  the most famous speech in the New Testament.

Here is how they appear in their modern rendering..

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven. (Matthew 5:3)Blessed are those who mourn: for they will be comforted. (5:4)Blessed are the meek: for they will inherit the earth. (5:5)Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness: for they will be filled. (5:6)Blessed are the merciful: for they will be shown mercy. (5:7)Blessed are the pure in heart: for they will see God. (5:8)Blessed are the peacemakers: for they will be called children of God. (5:9)Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (5:10)

Whilst the content is all very well and beautifully poetic, the way it has been written down for posterity lodges redemption in the future, at some hoped for point in time-that-is-not-now, where your worth will be subject to final book keeping. It minimizes what may be realised or embodied in the present moment between one another, the kind of lived experience that creates communal solidarity and individual confidence.

Such a rendering, whilst it speaks of love and charity, does so in such a way that the emphasis is more about having faith that god will deliver as a result, rather than in the unacknowledged reality of the immediate, redemptive effect of loving kindness, that is not concerned in the least with storing up merit.

It turns out that Matthew was edited beyond belief by powerful men with an earthly axe to grind, who even by 100 AD. had set to work rewriting the gospel..

”to provide Christian converts with moral instruction and took it upon themselves to reformulate Jesus’ version.” J. Olar

In the process The Principle of Relatedness and being-in-the-moment were written out of Jesus’ Beatitudes entirely, which is not consistent with what you might expect from a man who also says, ‘look at the lilies in the field, how they grow…’

These earliest re-writings, by a man called Epiphanius, Bishop of Salamis, at the time of the Council of Nicea which first agreed an ordered bible, were bound to include the unconscious prejudices of a man scrambling for a power base in a persecutory world.. In deed, Matthew was rewritten precisely to serve the advantages of those in power. Epiphanus’ other work, ‘Panarion’, was reprinted a millenium later as the tome,’ Against Heresies’, the handbook of the Inquisition.

In fact the original Hebrew gospel of Matthew, the only document contemporary with Christ in the language used at the time, was not strictly rewritten. It did not survive at all, except as fragments. The original… sadly, lacked a virgin birth story and insisted that people could experience spiritual fulfillment without recourse to church or state.

The Historian Jerome is said to have translated the original but then.. ahem, ‘withdrew’ it. The Ebionite movement that housed it for several centuries was actually wiped out by Epiphanius , so the ‘rewriting’ was a euphemism of sorts. Matthew and the Beatitudes as we know them are a fourth century cut and shut.

Just look at the difference in meaning between these two lines from the apocryphal Ecclesiastes, the precursor to the Beatitudes, interpreted by the NRSV and the NAB respectively.

“Better is the wickedness of a man than a woman who does good; it is woman who brings shame and disgrace.” (Sirach 42:14 NRSV)

“Better a man’s harshness than a woman’s indulgence, and a frightened daughter than any disgrace.” NAB

The first rendering is an unforgiveable piece of misogyny whilst the second is the regret that sometimes you have to be hard on your kids to keep them safe.

Fortunately for us, the Beatitudes have antecedants in ancient scriptures that haven’t been messed with.  By Jesus time there was already a long tradition of the Beatitudes which abounded in the Wisdom literature and Old Testament.

If we take one such book, the ‘Wisdom of Ben Sirach’, which was buried along with other gnostic gospels for 2000 years at nag Hammadi and therefore comes to us undoctored, uncensored by the personal whim of prelates and kings.. we find the Beatitudes represented in a very different light.

Ben Sirach was primarily thrown out of the Vulgate and the Septuagint because he would insist on adoring the Goddess..`

`Wisdom praises herself, and tells of her glory in the midst of her People. In the Assembly of the Most High she opens her mouth, and in the presence of His hosts she tells of her glory. `I came forth from the mouth of the Most High, and covered the earth like a mist. I dwell in the highest heavens, and my throne was in a pillar of cloud.”ben Sirach 24;1

and the Protestants had it in for him because he would insist on giving away his stuff to the poor….

”Those pious souls who do good to gain the Kingdom of Heaven will never succeed..” M. Luther

but what annoyed them most of all, was that ben Sirach and his merry gnostic mates would insist on being in the moment and feeling blessed, Now. The Beatitudes we find in Ben Sirach, anticipating Christ by 250 years, are quite different, not just in content but in their temporal framing.. its all about you and me, Now.

The gnostic tradition so unacceptable in Matthew’s original rendering of Christ’s words holds that every human being is born with a small piece of God’s soul lodged within his/her spirit. God is thus intimately connected to and part of his creation. Salvation then lies in embracing the God-like qualities within yourself and others..

Blessed is a man who can rejoice in his children; 25;7

Blessed is the man who lives with a sensible wife, 8

and the one who does not plow with ox and ass together. 9

Blessed is the one who does not sin with his tongue, 10

and the one who has not served an inferior” 10

Blessed is the one who finds a friend,10

and the one who speaks to attentive listeners.10

How great is the one who finds Wisdom!! 10

He even expressly critisises those who look to the future for their redemption,

”Say not, ‘what profit is there of my service and what good shall I have hereafter.’ ben Sirach 11; 23-24

Redemption is now/between…

”Do good unto thy friend before thou die and according to thy ability stretch out thy hand to him.” ben Sirach 14;13

More, in-the-moment, from the Dead sea scrolls at Quumran… which scholars now recognize as the prototype for Christ’s Beatitudes, the remaining original fragments of Matthew’s actual hand…

4Q525  [Blessed is]…with a pure heart, and does not slander with his tongue.
Blessed are those who adhere to her laws, and do not adhere to perverted paths.
Bles[sed] are those who rejoice in her, and do not burst out in paths of folly.
Blessed are those who search for her with pure hands, and do not pursue her with a treacherous [heart.]
Blessed is the man who attains Wisdom, and walks in the law of the Most High, and directs his heart to her ways, and is constrained by her discipline.

And finally one from Thomas 54..

”Jesus said, “Congratulations to the poor, for to you belongs Heaven’s kingdom.”

All these latter renderings of the Beatitudes, whatever their source, have something in common. They are Now.

So, why would the Church Fathers introduce this subtle but profound temporal change of emphasis in Jesus’ rendering of the Beatitudes?

The Hebrew Gospel of Matthew, …. ”was cast to one side, for the reason that it was a standing argument against the Alexandrian ideas of the Logos.” G. Reber.

The Codex Alexandrinus, an early Coptic/Greek version of the original Hebrew, has the pages about the Sermon on the Mount and the Beatitudes ripped out. It wasn’t sufficiently concerned with the problems of centralised power and deference to authority as the one that replaced it.

Wearing both temporal and divine mantles does require that tad bit more control over the people than had hithertoo been…  necessary.

”The truths contained in this Gospel stood in the way of a gigantic scheme, conceived by corrupt and arrogant men, who saw in a church established by the authority of God, the road to the highest point of human power and grandeur…” S Rives.

And so the people must be.. discouraged from depending upon one another..

We can’t have..

A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter;
he who finds one finds a treasure.
A faithful friend is beyond price,
no sum can balance his worth. – (Sir. 6:7-14)

And people must be dissuaded from refering to their own grateful experience…

”Acknowledging the good that you already have in your life is the foundation for all abundance.”.  Eckhart Tolle.

but that means the State has less… appeal, less.. protection to offer, so let’s destabilise their security by focusing… on that which is  nebulous and anxiety provoking.

”You can always cope with the present moment, but you cannot cope with something that is only a mind projection – you cannot cope with the future.” ibid
Since we cannot cope with the future, given its overwhelming unknowableness, contemplating it gives rise to anxiety.
.
 Nietzsche decried the Beatitudes as represented in the canonical Matthew as ”the slave revolt of morals”. Harsh at first glance, but if we are only to be redeemed in  a hypothetical future and by an unknown yardstick, and if the fate of our immortal souls depends on the outcome, this is going to produce a tremendous sense of lack, incompletness, and feeling anxiously torn from the groundedness of Now, wherein we are much more likely to know what is what and can refer to our own lived experience.
.
People will need therapy.
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Clinical experience shows us that attempts to live for tomorrow, trying to second guess our fate, gives rise to disocciative anxiety. ”When I get thin, people will love me.”” When I leave home, I will be free.” When I’m a best seller, I will be happy” but what all these things do is to confirm that I could not be those things right now and have to project the value of life and my own personal worth into a moment where it is not available to be lived…
.
but can only be contemplated as a potentiality that must remain unrealised. Tomorrow never comes.
.
This is all good for the State which needs its citizens anxious, incomplete and yearning for approval. It keeps their noses to the grindstone. It stops them thinking about what’s on their doorstep, being more effective, engaged with life and most of all, it stops people gaining strength from one another.
.
But what then are the implications for a psychology of the Self?

 

 

 

Goddess Eroded .

Anathema to believers, irrelevant to infidels, reading the banned books of the Apocrypha takes someone who believes and wishes they didn’t in order to go searching for clues into our collective spiritual malaise and for healing stories to tend the soul afflicted by Single System systems.

Most of the books are banned because they make some reference to Wisdom/Sophia, Yahweh’s old wife…

DON’T MENTION HER NAME…

who was dumped for the new bride, Israel…

He’s a bit touchy on the subject and the Apocrypha reads like the dream journal of a troubled deity with interrupted REM sleep…

What you are forbidden or discouraged from reading says a great deal. It is about way more than social control or extracting taxes. Its also about identity and the state of your relationship with the gods.

Ontological insecurity can be more threatening than death anxiety itself (how much do you exist in the first place?) which makes it all the easier to kill one another over who reads what. The unearthed sacred texts at nag Hammadi were buried there by someone who was afraid for his or her life and did not survive long enough to reclaim them….

Some of these books to-die-for are not so obvious as to their wickedness. Some were made canonical on pain of death but then, after several centuries of sober reflection, banned on pain of death….

At the apex of the period we euphemistically call the Renaissance, owning such a book, even asking about it or wanting a peek, could get you torched quicker than you can say ‘psychotic delusional paranoia’.

The majority of Christendom’s searing scream-fests, for they were intended as spectacle, held during these noble and enlightened times, were not of witches, but of ‘heretics’, anyone who had no mates and whose toe had strayed from the path: who had perhaps asked an imprudent question, wondered out loud about the doctrine of transubstantiation, or why angels might rebel…

So, what’s in these stories is dynamite of some kind..

But what?

Take the seemingly innocuous Book of Tobit, cast down by a mighty ecumenical quilling at the Council of Trent in 1546,  from being the equal of Isiah to being the cause of your nasty end if you say otherwise…

Apparently..

..Tobit was a wealthy exile living in Ninevah circa 800 BC. One hot night after burying a body, Tobit slept outside. Sparrow droppings fell into his eyes and blinded him. He prayed to God to let him die. On that same day in Media, Sarah, one of Tobit’s kinsman, also prayed for death because she was constantly ridiculed for having been married seven times. Each time, after the ceremony, the demon Asmodeus had killed her husband before the marriage could be consummated.

God hears both prayers.

allegedly.

With Tobit expecting to die soon, he sends his only son, Tobiah, to Media on an errand. Tobiah is accompanied by the angel Raphael. En route, Tobiah is attacked by a large fish which Raphael shows him how to kill. He also instructs him to remove its gall bladder, liver, and heart, because they “can be used as medicines.” Upon arriving in Media, Tobiah marries Sarah at Raphael’s insistence. He uses the fish heart and liver to magically dispose of the demon and protect the marriage bed. When Tobiah returns home, he applies the gall and restores his father’s sight.

No big deal, right? Everyone is riteous and the good are rewarded. And anyway the book was made canonical by the Council of Carthage in 397AD…

So someone, somewhere, must have looked at it one day and saw something…

something threatening…

and here’s what it is..

They weren’t rewarded by the mighty arm of Yahweh at all. Yahweh doesn’t come into it. They rewarded themselves. Tobit’s peity was rooted in the Principle of Relatedness, in the Old Ways, in virtue being its own reward and not in the abstract faith required by Holy Emperors, which, by 1546 had become an establishment celebrating a millenium of its own divine status.

”There’s this sentence in the gospel about rendering unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s. Jesus said that in the context of a pagan Caesar. Once Caesar is Christian, the things line up differently. There’s a kind of theologizing of secular power and a secularization of episcopal power.”     W. Godwin.

Tobit was an exile from the northern kingdom of Israel which still adhered, in some degree of secrecy, to the Goddess,  Wisdom/Sophia..

DON’T MENTION HER NA..

oh, do shut up.

The focus is on redemption through relatedness. His burial of the body in the beginning of the story is against the rules of Establishment which he breaks in order to honour the spirit of the dead.

”The moral teaching of Tobit shows endless parallels with the Wisdom tradition in it’s solicitude of social justice and service [to one another].” F. Bruce.

being blinded with birdshit seems like poor recompense or even punishment for his devotions which he does not recant but just wishes to die. ‘If you’re going to be like that, just kill me…’

not a lot of faith..

which the Council of Trent now required of prophets. Faith in redemption, in judgement, in god’s promises, in heaven, in forgiveness..

all of which will be dolled out tomorrow…

and not the ghastly grime of  moment present, in which redeeming acts of random kindness might occur, eruptions of spontaneous charity,

wherein humanity is redeemed via the recognition of divine immanence in one another rather than by fearful deference to a remote and transcendent  god.

Moreover, Tobias is pally with Raphael who is never named in the Old Testament on account of him being part of the angelic mob described by Enoch, equally persona non gratis, as having quit Heaven to consort with mortals, particularly the ladies, and treacherously taught them all kinds of cool stuff conducive to self reliance….

like how to defend yourself from man-eating fish and what parts of it can be used for apotropaic purposes…

to defeat demons..

BUT..

You can’t just have random people swanning about the countryside being given inside information on how to prevail against the Lord of Darkness and rescuing damsels without official documentation.

It won’t do. It makes those in power look redundant and foolish. Moreover it frustrates the wonderful loophole that allows for us to perceive ourselves as pious without having to actually look out for one another, the joy of being able to do what we like so long as we are sorry later.

It’s not acceptable that Asmodeaus is defeated, not by God, but by a naive young fool from a tribe with dodgy inclinations and love in his heart who values betweeness-in-the-moment over faith-in-tomorrow.

and then he has the gall…

oops,

to go and cure his father, who was clearly in the process of  being punished by God for his indescretions and wasn’t even sorry for his sinful adherance to tradition.

bin it.

and pull the toenails out of anyone who protests.

 

What Feelings Are For.

What are feelings for? Psychotherapy is all too quick to point out the problems that occur when feelings are repressed, but doesn’t say much about the function of feeling itself. Ever since Descartes’, ‘I think therefore I am’, feeling has come a poor second to thinking as a basis for experience. To be emotional is to be misguided.

Yet our values and opinions are largely rooted in a feeling response to the world. Thinking is rarely primary and does not afford action with value. It is feeling that guides action. Without the full range of your own feeling response to life, behaviour has to be regulated by external authority

”Feeling always binds one to the reality and meaning of symbolic contents, and these in turn impose binding standards of ethical behaviour from which (the intellect) is only too ready to emancipate itself.” C. G Jung.

One of the defining aspects of the psychopath, who doesn’t know how to behave, is that he suffers from ‘flattened affect’. I.e. he does not feel. His riding roughshod over others and behaving as he wishes is synonymous with not feeling. Not knowing what he feels deprives him of the means to know what others might feel and so the only guide to behaviour is external constraint.

Madness is often a question of the absence of something ordinary as much as it is about the presence of something exotic.

Of course it could be said that some forms of dis-ease are full of feeling. There are even some studies that have been made which seem to link the onset of schizophrenia with excessive expression of feeling in the family. Closer inspection reveals that what the researchers are describing is not feeling but hysteria. The hysteric is not expressing feeling. He is manufacturing emotion in a dramatic attempt to compensate for the want of genuine feeling. He makes histrionic mountains out of mole hills in order to try and induce some sense of aliveness into an otherwise desolate life. Such counterfeit feeling is an exercise in unreality. Schizophrenic responses to these misrepresentations are only to be expected.

In the town where I grew up one of the boys was very disturbed. He was bright but couldn’t concentrate in class and continuously failed his grades. Eventually he took to drugs, anything he could lay his hands on, and dropped out of school. The last conversation I had with him consisted in his concern that the electrical appliances in his home had turned against him. Apparently the fridge had been particularly belligerent and thrown spears at him.

Both of this poor boy’s parents were hysterics. His mother was the more florid of the two and had once attacked him with a kitchen knife for failing to do his homework. Was she the emotional refrigerator who threatened him with sharp ‘spears’? Of course in public she contained herself a little better but there was always something exaggerated in her gestures. It wasn’t possible to ask her the time without her feigning shock, clutching her breast and sweeping her eyes to the heavens.

The boy’s father was the local vicar. He was peaceable and friendly but peaceable and friendly from fifty paces. When you met him in the street he would throw his arms open wide and run towards you as if you were a long lost brother whilst staring avidly at a point just past your left ear. One day I was sent around to their house on some errand. The vicar was in his study poring over a box of old sepia photographs. Would I like a look? He had been a big game hunter in his time and this was the record of his trophies. One photo impressed me deeply. It seemed to be his favourite and he spent some time telling me the story attached to it. A large bull elephant with great tusks dominated the picture. Hanging from one of these tusks were the entrails of his companion that the elephant had just gored to death.

His friend had died horribly. But he isn’t connected to this event in the least. There is no shred of horror, shock or loss. There is no sense of any feeling about what had happened at all. It has all been replaced by the drama of the intrepid journalist getting the ultimate action shot. How pleased he is with his photography. The focus is crystal clear. The composition is just perfect. It’s a shame the way the colour is faded though.

His sermons had a similar feel to them. They always left the congregation slightly bemused. His gusto made everyone a little depressed. It wasn’t that he was always reminding folk of their sin or painting lavish pictures of hell and damnation. On the contrary, his was a vision of love and light. It was that his message was forced. He was a priest pretending to be a priest, which left his flock playing at being a flock. This was confusing for them because they were already a flock. Perhaps his son was similarly befuddled.

Many forms of dis-ease seem to hinge upon the problem of inappropriate feeling, the lack of it or the faking of it, which can then leave a person unclear about both their identity and their values. Who they are and what they hold good are cradled in feeling which connects them to themselves, to one another, and to the world.

‘’Feeling is vital to the sense of reality and relatedness. When feeling is inhibited or repressed, people and things hold little meaning or value.’’ J. W. Perry.

You hear a lot of talk in counselling and therapy circles about ‘negative feelings’. I get a lot of people who want help with them as though it were possible or desirable to cut them out like some cancer. They forget how lucky they are to have these troublesome feelings where they belong rather than having them somatically expressed in the body where suppression would have them develop into truly problematic symptoms.

There’s really no such thing as a ‘negative’ feeling, just feelings that reflect an uncomfortable reality, that don’t fit with our preferred self-image or seem to lack meaning because they have lost their context. As such, these feelings are like an internal compass pointing to a reality we may prefer not to name or indicating a direction we prefer not to take but without which we cannot be whole.

In his account of Nazi concentration camps Bruno Bettleheim, a Freudian analyst who was in Dachau and Buchenwald, was repeatedly surprised that certain men failed to cope when all his psychoanalytic experience suggested that they would do better than others. He believed that those with strong superegos would survive and could not understand why they did not.

In the famous story by Antoine Exupery (2001), the fox says to the Little Prince,

‘’It is with the heart that one sees rightly’’.

He might have added, ’’and acts rightly too’’. Bettleheim (1991) observed that prisoners would commit suicide at the point that they no longer felt able to respond emotionally to their situation.

‘’One had to comply with debasing and amoral commands if one wished to survive,’ but it was necessary to stay aware of whether this were ‘’good, neutral or bad.’’ ‘’The freedom to feel… was what permitted the prisoner to remain a human being. B.Bettleheim.

What killed the prisoner,

’’was the giving up of all feeling, all inner reservations about one’s actions, the letting go of a point at which one would hold fast no matter what.’’(ibid)

Values, humanity and the will to live itself could only be maintained by retaining the freedom to respond emotionally to circumstance even if one was powerless to effect change.

Conversely, the SS were trained to forgo basic human values by expunging their own emotional responses to the extreme situation of the camps. One of the methods employed in SS recruitment was to have the soldiers rear Alsatian puppies during their indoctrination. Of course the men would become emotionally attached to their charges. At the end of the process they were commanded to throttle the dogs with their bare hands, demonstrating both literally and symbolically their capacity to choke off all feeling that then made their inhuman purposes possible.

People commit inhumane acts against one another because their own humanity has been choked off. When I was a boy at public boarding school, a colonial throwback that made Tom Brown’s schooldays look like a summer picnic, the new-boys always swore that when they became seniors they would never treat the juniors with the violent contempt that they themselves were having to endure. The culture of the school was steeped in institutionalised bullying. Twice daily roll calls were necessary to stem the flow of runaways, a roll called so frequently I can still rattle it off after 35 years.

Sexual abuse was an organised part of a new boy’s inauguration, as were regular beatings and various forms of psychological torture. In fact those same new boys were just as sadistic when they became seniors. It was necessary for them to become so in order for them to repress the memory of their own humiliation. Any real protest, except in the vaguest terms, would bring renewed punishment from above and accusations of being wet from one’s own dormitory. No-one wanted to see their own terror laid bare in another’s suffering.

Lights out provided enough cover of darkness for the privacy of muffled crying. There would be no concern but no condemnation either, for comment either way would validate the fact that someone was in pain. Occasionally the entire dorm would be whimpering, blankets and pillows stuffed into mouths to deaden the sounds. No-one said anything to anyone else and there would be no mention of it in the morning. The bell would ring and it was business as usual.

We could only refer to our experiences indirectly by saying that we would never treat the next generation of new boys in the way that we had. But the actual feelings involved were always dismissed and so the values that might have prevented a boy from repeating what he had himself suffered could not be informed by experience. My first day as a senior is dominated by the memory, not of one event or another, but of being drunk with power.

I sent a new-boy to the tuck shop to get me a coke. When he returned I could see from the level in the bottle that he had taken a sip. My response was to hold a knife to his throat and threaten to kill him.

Years later, aware that there was something un-nameably wrong with my life, I took myself off to the Sierra Madre (mother mountain) for space and reflection. One day I was walking along a narrow path in a shallow valley when I became aware of a great pressure wave, a  force of Nature, like a racing storm front, approaching me from behind at speed. I began to run, then dived off the path and into the brush as it overtook me, throwing me down, dissolving me in a grief that only began to take coherant form as it found its expression. It started out as the regret and self recrimination for all kinds of terrible things that I myself had caused others to suffer. Then it became for want of my parents who I hardly knew, and finally I found myself crying for my childhood nurse, Suzzanah, terrible gut wrenching loss.

Finally, as it all subsided, I crawled over to a Yucca cactus and propped myself up. I got out my billy and brewed some tea. There was a little shade, a soft breeze and some friendly whisps of grass. I got to my feet thinking that this was a good spot and if I could triangulate my position I could find my way back here. What I saw was an endless valley dotted with a thousand Yuccas, all with their measure of shade, their bit of breeze, their whisps of friendly grass.

I didn’t need to find my way back to anything. What I needed was always right in front of me.

Later still, as a psychotherapist in private practice, I am often asked, ‘how do you get in touch with grief and pain?” The answer is always the same. It will find you. Once you have interrupted the strategies and lifestyles put in place to occlude it. And you don’t need to go to Mexico to know this to be true, though it does take the realisation that propping up relationships that don’t work, getting sick, and staying in dead end patterns may well preserve you from life’s difficulties and pain, though it does so at the cost of aliveness itself…

The metaphor of the endless Yuccas means that opportunity is always exactly where you are so long as you do not fight what life has to offer.

”Our suffering is as much from resisting the circumstances at hand as the circumstances themselves.” M. Israel.

Years later still, I lost the care of my son in a custody case. I had raised him from a baby and was utterly disraught. In the wee hours I cried and wailed, begging providence to return him. A small voice in me said, ‘your pain is because of your love, would you like for your love to be removed so you hurt less….?”

This article is based on an extract from my new book, ‘Abundant Delicious… on attaining your heart’s desire.’    .http://andywhiteblog.com/2016/06/11/abundant-delicious-hot-off-the-press/

 

 

The Fate of Unmet Grief.

When I was six us white folks left my Nanny, Suzannah, behind and went off on a big holiday adventure aboard the S.S. Uganda from Dar es Salaam to Portsmouth. It was only in the straits of the Suez that the narrow water whispered up  we wouldn’t be turning back. She was gone. I would never see her again.

From the broiling desert sky enswarmed a sickening cloud of feathery black moths that choked and crushed and smothered.

I didn’t cry much. But then, neither do I remember much. A dog bit my arm. There was a magician at a party who found chicks behind everyone’s ears. In England, I whistled the happy jingle for Esso Blue all through the winter.

At school I met Anita who had broken her neck and wore a brace bolted to her chest with a leather chin strap that got wet with spit. Desperate to void my void I joined the taunting kids who’d circle and taunt, throwing her dufflecoat about saying it was infested with fleas, the pressing urgency to offload and purge psychic toxins had broken the Principle of Relatedness which always has a merciful foot in the other person’s world.

In time I came to realise that I was not alone in my aloneness. Most kids had never even had a Suzzanah, and in every eye there seemed to be an icy shard of one size and shape or another, splinters of unacknowledged loss, hidden yet endemic, running through life as the unmet need to be held or fed.

As a culture we collectively deny our unmet grief  and displace our inner hungering. It has become an orgy of consumption and instant gratification so extreme that having more than you need has had to be turned into a virtuous right in order for us not to wonder about it too much.

But the problem doesn’t stop there.

Unmet grief can be the death-knell of creativity and play. It often takes the shape of the fear that some terrible disaster will happen if we go our own way. Memory has been safely projected into the future as catastrophic expectation which we believe in so strongly because its human nature for children to blame themselves for events so as to continue to be a party to them, to be as big as them. Unacknowledged grief is managed by making ourselves somehow magically responsible, a psychological slight of hand whose price is not apparent until the child tries something autonomous wherein he is liable to be..

‘swamped by unconscious lethargy and paralysis’.  M. Woodman.

Breaking the mould requires grief and loss to have been somewhat consciously expressed in life so that we have at least some faith that it can be survived. Unmet trauma in early life makes the prospect of change and endings unbearable because there’s no containment for the fragments of Self that grief breaks us into.

But the problem doesn’t stop there, either.

Have you ever wondered what goes through the mind of your average foot soldier laying seige to the castle wall? You know, during the quiet bits where fear has diminished sufficiently for thought to occur at all…

I know because I’ve sat countless watches on active duty.

you’d be forgiven for thinking that it were all about booty and the prospect other people’s stuff,  or the girl back home, but for the most part the man-at-arms is quietly having a religious experience, through his immersion in the horde, through belonging in the band of brothers, through identification with his noble purpose, through vengeance in the name of…

whatever might be at hand, some popular god is always good..

It doesn’t matter what’s caused the arguement between the higher ups. That is the preserve of his captain, whose silken banner now enfurls him, whose great might would just as readily..

crush him.

But what’s a little crushing?

..when serving gives sacred purpose whilst indulging every other vice in the name of a vituous other….

who, in turn, considers himself appointed by God….

Our hero gets to participate in the reflected glory of his king. He becomes his right hand, and dispenses law rather than being subjected to it.

”We’re the king’s men! We can do what we want!”  Game of Thrones.

And so what actually fills his heart on darkest watch is the quiet delirium of power that goes with being above the law..

Levy Bruhl calls this ‘participation mystique’. It’s where separate identity is sunk into  collective structures.  Anthropologists use this term with reference to ‘primitive’ culture but we only have to put the news on to see it operating most violently in our own society.

It has a more benign form in sports playoffs where the fan is permitted the  carnival renewal that comes with team colours and the collective unity in either cheer or groan.

Rites and ritual around the world often include this aspect of immersion in the Collective. The Hindu Holi festival involves everyone getting spayed with the same paint. Tribal markings and dress codes re-absorb the individual momentarily into the replenishing experience of collective identity.  In the West there is the literal immersion in water as our baptismal rite, which for all cultures has to do with belonging..

being marked on the ledger..

having tribe.

The problem for Single System systems is that these rites barely feed us anymore. Centuries of having definite answers has eroded vibrant experience, rooted as it is in need, dependence and the unknowing of human vulnerability.

Ironically, this separation from Nature and the lonliness of our exclusive identification with the topmost levels of the psyche can readily, if temporarily, be ameliorated by one of its worst symptom, War.

Our gallant footsoldier, standing watch at the castle walls, ready at a moment to butcher, rape and plunder ordinary folk just like himself for a cause he struggles to put into words without using slogans… all this inhuman brutality is contained without rancour in the simple elevation of doing God’s work and being above the law.

The horror of giving up his individuality and personal responsibility is soothed and subsumed under the mantle of divine protection which both legitimises every action and ensures belonging….. the censuring wounds of alienation bathed and bound by the very beast set loose when greed is sanctioned by faith.

So, yes, there’s booty to be had…

meh.

and heart stirring rhetoric about freedom and ‘our way of life..’

double meh.

but mostly its about the buoyancy of Belonging, which, with the Principle of Relateness so eroded and mis-shapen these last millenia, has taken some curious forms of expression.

You could say that experience-of-tribe is..

”nothing but a relic of the original non-differentiation of subject and object, and hence of the primordial unconscious state, characteristic of the mental state of early infancy, and, finally, of the unconscious of the civilized adult” – Carl Gustav JUNG, CW6 §741

but Jung would be the first to agree that archytpes are bi-polar, and that this is a definition at the clumsy, regressed end of the scale.

”The puerilization of the conscious attitude should not be understood (simply) as a regression; it is often necessary in order to produce an unprejudiced, naïve, receptive consciousness.” ibid

The belonging of shared identity with an other person, animal, thing…

is also experienced as At-one-ment, redemptive immersion in the waters of life, non-separation.

”neither subject nor object but simply whole.,, A Watts.

Having a cause greater than one’s own small struggles is one of the basic conditions for experiencing meaning in life.

but what shape is it going to take?  In Single System systems people’s natural spirituality is so dammed up by bureacracy of creed and dogma that the renewal of self through ritual is frustrated..

and so it comes out as an idea to die for instead,

And if that seems a tad exaggerated, bear in mind the five hundred years of iternecine wars and burnings at the stake in Europe, all over the question of whether the bread and wine of communion were the actual blood and body of Christ or not, way before we turned our envious projections upon the wily Moor…

People were prepared to die in their droves back then as well…

herded one way or another into the grinder, fuelled with riteous convictions of immortality, burning Envy given tools of…

punishment.

When Mama has been gone so long you can’t remember her face, the space where it should be gets taken up with black flapping moths that eat away at the strands connecting you to everything. So you have to go to a lot of effort to sew yourself back in.

Belonging becomes more important than living….

In a fine speech promoting the draft, the pundit below asserts that we should arm our sons and daughters and send them off to die because we need..

‘something so that we can all feel invested in the same game, because that’s the part that we’ve lost.’ Jon Stewart

er, yes ok… except that the part we’ve lost is the part that doesn’t need to go to war in order to feel alive.

Etiquette’s Magical Hat.

What people around the world consider good manners varies a lot. If you go and visit a Masai chief  east of the Ngorongoro Crater, his good manners will be to slaughter a goat in your honour. Your good manners will be to eat its eyeballs. Failure to do so will spoil the party.

In Togo, remember to break the bones of the beast and eat the marrow. In Brasil, never cut the lettuce in a salad.. and burp after your meal. If you do the same in England, look embarrassed and beg everybody’s pardon.

Whatever the custom, its about how to be together, how to belong. But etiquette, like consciousness, has a shadow. It can take some curious turns and serve some dubious masters.

Louis XIV, the Sun King, matched the material extravagance of Versailles with the gestural minutiae of Court Etiquette, a system that seems quite absurd until you get to the bottom of the magical purpose it served….

bearing in mind that the problem with building castles is that they tend to attract armies..

and people who want to put your head on a spike.

Actually, the battles might have been welcome relief from the cloak and dagger of court intrigue. At least you knew who and where the enemy were. With the intense centralisation of power at Versailles there was no such certainty and so extra measures had to be taken.

Etiquette got political.

Louis, as a living embodiment of absolute monarchy had to contend with the intense contradiction of being entirely isolated in his Majesty whilst being surrounded by suffocating, wayward courtiers who wanted a piece and perhaps pieces of him.

Etiquette, as a conjurer’s parody of how to belong, became necessary to tyrannise effectively.

‘These extremely strict rules governed priority, determining not only who was allowed to approach the important people in the Court, but also where and when… thereby strengthening the royal authority.’  M Visser.

No-one in Versailles was allowed to use the doors. There were ushers for that. If no usher was available you had to wait even if you were the duc d’Orleons. Ten thousand people, all with their movements between rooms entirely restricted.

Restriction of movement was backed up by restriction of gesture…

”each time anyone was polite, he or she was simultaneously acknowledging rank and demonstrating who stood where. M. Visser

a shared pretense, a delusion in fact, of polite correctness that was in fact rooted in paranoia, fear and inequality.

”Their vanity was flattered by the customs which converted the right to give a glass of water, to put on a dress, and to remove a basin, into honorable prerogatives. Madame de Campan.

rather than the control necessitated by living in constant mortal apprehension.

The policing of emotions became internal, and finally invisible even to themselves: they were able to think that they acted, not in obedience to power and self-interest but for purely moral reasons.” M. Visser.

And to this end Louis could control people down to the most astonishing degree and do it in the name of polite manners.

Here is ‘How to walk’, from a court guide,

You begin to walk by stamping the left foot and leaning forward so that the right foot rises. In a smooth movement the right leg will extend and move in front of the left. Be sure that the distance between both feet is not bigger than the length of one’s foot However the hells of the right foot should be placed in front of the toes of the left. Once your right foot has touched the floor the other one will push back your upper body. You now proceed as mentionned above. Always be sure to spread your legs outwards and bend your knees which keeps you from buckling your legs and crossing your steps which would be an immense mistake. “Maitre à danser” written by Pierre Rameau.

How to wear your hat…

”When putting it on place the hat on the forehead above the eyebrows. Now push it backwards a bit with your hand touching the tip, but not too far. The hat should be slightly turned to the left which displays one’s face much better. The button of the hat should also be stuck to the left side.” ibid

The genius of Louis, whose earliest childhood memory was of half crazed mobs breaking into the royal appartments where he slept, was that he invented a system of exacting social control that people actually wanted to sign up to. It wasn’t experienced as domination. Learning when it was your turn to unfold a napkin, how far to unfold it and where to put it when you are done was experienced as crucial information people would give their right arm for, really believing that there sole desire lay in not wishing to offend.

Louis was under no such illusion. He knew perfectly well what he had orchestrated. When his brother, Phillipe, called for a chair with arms on it, which he wasn’t allowed even though he was a prince, Louis forbad him, explaining..

”It is in your interest, brother, that the majesty of the throne should not be weakened or altered; and if, from Duc d’Orleans, you one day become King of France, I know you well enough to believe that you would never be lax in this matter. Before God, you and I are exactly the same as other creatures that live and breathe; before men we are seemingly extraordinary beings, greater, more refined, more perfect. The day that people, abandoning this respect and veneration which is the support and mainstay of monarchies,–the day that they regard us as their equals,–all the prestige of our position will be destroyed.”

And so from the royal rising ceremony with its inaugural peck on the cheek from his childhood nurse, to the retiring ceremony at night, Louis followed a strict schedule governed by rules that read like a check list for OCD, as did all the members of the Court, all regulated like clockwork orange to assure the continued robust health of his Majesty.

The official version of Louis’ cause of  death was senile gangrene. His leg rotted off. Apparently, not a sufficient cause for suspicion of foul play…

which rather suggests someone got tired of decades worth of complicated compulsory dancing..

and realised Louis’ worst fears.

Either way what Louis left us was the reminder that intelligent, educated people can be herded like sheep if only they can get to be part of a special club. Not unlike the fetishist’s prostrations that serve both to approach and maintain distance, whose compulsions are rooted in the shared unconscious terror of life threatening intrusion brought to reality for Louis’ line  in 1789 when those whose legs had not rotted off, lost their heads instead.

Our own anxiety is that even though we know how badly this story ended we still aspire to be like them. Every lotto sign, Oscar red carpet, every scratchcard, every X factor, could be you, could bring the dream, the dream of unimaginable wealth and power. Lie awake at night fantasising of what to do with it all forgetting that its like wishing for a narcissistic personality disorder garnished with assassination paranoia.

” The devil comes to you not with red cape and horns but as everything you ever wanted.” T. Max.

Oligarchs are bound to have power over those who nurse a secret desire to be like them.

Still, never mind. You can always just feign shock when it all comes out in the wash and say you kept silent so as not to offend.