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…


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…


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.

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Psychotherapist/writer/artist/ author of, 'Going Mad to Stay Sane', a psychology of self-destructiveness, about to come into its third edition. Soon to be printed for the first time, 'Abundant Delicious.. the Secret and the Mystery', described by activist Satish Kumar as, ' A Tao of the Soul'. This book documents the archetypal country through which the process of individuation occurs and looks at the trials and tribulations we might expect on the way. In the meantime..... Narcissisim is the issue of our age. This blog looks at how it operates, how it can damage and how we may still fruit despite it.

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