Attack on the Child.

In order to understand the pathological need for wealth, fame and consumption that typifies Western Culture, we need to look further than mere greed. Having the moral high ground is not enough. You might still miss what’s so interesting about wanting more than you need….

The Rule of Intention says that the way things pan out has to do with the intentions of those who are involved.  If children in their millions are starving then someone is witholding the spoon. If thousands have no education then that’s by design. If families are living on the streets someone put them there.

So then what does it mean that we collectively aspire to more than we need? Why is it that we regard excessive consumption differently from obesity? You’d be shocked if a person’s goal was to gain a hundred pounds…

and yet

”We are screwing the planet to make solar powered bathroom thermometers and desktop crazy golfers.” G Monbiot.

Are we then simply diplaying our wealth? Is there some arcane connection between wanton destruction and attractiveness? I think not, but whatever the answer it  lies deeper than our greed or stupidity.

Symptoms of dis-ease are never arbitrary or simply unfortunate. They are the unconscious expression of something yet to be named. There is hidden meaning in desperately pursuing stuff you don’t actually need, stuff whose production enslaves and destroys into the bargain. Calling it addiction doesn’t quite work either, despite the added caveat to greed that there is more at work than mere self indulgence.

Believing we can convert the rhythms of work into cash so that real life might then begin may feel worth the price to be paid by aliveness, but what many of us do in our leisure time is just more of the very same consuming of life from which we most need to a break. In our millions we become even further absorbed…..

”in the electronic reproduction of life, the passive consumption of the twittering screen.” A Watts.

So we save up for our hols, to get away from it all, when proper enjoyment can get under way, only to find that it too is also somehow pasteurised, with boxes to tick and schedules to fill. Been there, done that…  We wait to be amused, wonder what’s  next and if we’ve had our money’s worth.

All of which..

”gives rise to a culture devoted not to survival but to the actual destruction of life.” ibid

So is our devouring of life a form of collective suicide, a Chomskian rushing to the precipice?

No, its scarier than that.

It is an attack, not just upon ourselves, but on our children. The planet that their parents are pillaging is, after all, their inheritance. The spiritual malaise and attendant acting out of the developed world is far greater, far more malicious, than mere apathy, denial or disinterest.

”Once you have excluded the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” Sherlock Holmes.

If we want to understand consumerism and its attended ravaging of the planet we need to ask what it is that people are really hoping for with the must-have item on their bucket list. Irrespective of its concretisation, the new car, the fancy vacation, the latest gadgetry, what people seem to be striving for is a sense of worth, of being safe and held and fed.

Collectively we are seeking the in-arms experience of infancy which, as a culture, we have simply not yet had.

‘When the expected does not take place, corrective or compensatory tendencies make an effort to restore stability.’ J. Liedloff.

Consumerism is a parody of contented infant satiation. We want life dribbling down our chin. We want to be in the ‘lap of luxury’. We want the safety of maternal embrace whose alternative is the poor substitute of being gripped by her dark and compulsive sister, (mater)ialism.

‘The infant (like the guru) lives in the eternal now, in a state of bliss; the infant out of arms is in a state of longing, the bleakness of an empty Universe. Want is all there is..’ ibid

Amassing the unnecessary to the detriment of  life on Earth looks entirely crazy until we consider it in a symbolic light, the unfulfilled need of a culture seeped in denial about what is truly indispensible. Mother.

This denial reaches its acme in psychoanalytic theory with Freud’s Drive Conflict theory which entirely marginalises Mother as relevant to baby’s health or illness.

According to this theory dis-ease is not down to how we are treated, whether we are held and loved, but on dysfunctional ‘object relations’. You did it to yourself, a doctrine of victim blaming that also constitutes the final eradication of Mother’s relevance to life. In thirty years I have never found Freud to use the word ‘mother’ even once.

This denigration of life’s most important role impoverishes our entire culture but it does far more and has consequences you might not have considered.

Not only does the dominant form of spirituality in Western Culture fail to nourish, but our anxious preoccupation with and eternal focus on the future with its promise of salvation…at some point…does have the appeal  that the indiscretions of today may be swept under the carpet, but in the process of ducking conscience we are also bound to be gripped with envious spoiling for those who are able to be in the moment where real life happens, where all bliss, joy, gratitude and celebration are to be found.

Much of the West’s ferocious subjugation of the ‘childlike’ third world has to do with this same improbable truth, that we envy them. Despite their poverty they seem to have something we do not, a living for today where the real riches of life are to be found. And so they are happy. For all our wealth and power in the West we are miserable. Our worrying about tomorrow means we cannot  enjoy our mountain of stuff  today because all enjoyment is Now.

I once asked an African man on a dusty savannah roadside in tropical heat when the bus he was waiting for would arrive. ‘Today”, he answered contentedly.  By contrast and half a world away, commuters on Stuttgart railway station platform follow the digital clock ticking over, . At the exact same moment they all look in disappointed unison at their watches and turn to stare down the track as if they were practicing impatience for a show.

Our collective obsession with time and tommorow means that the aliveness gets sucked out of today.  We become chorus lines to celebrity others whose lives have somehow become more real than our own. The togetherness, the gratitude for simply being alive can’t be entered into and like the uninvited guest, ‘Now’ turns cold, vengeful and wooden.

”Unlived life will not sit idly on the shelf, it will turn round and bite you.” M.L. von Franz.

If a sense of Self that transcends self-interest can’t be embodied it will be projected. The recipients will invariably be the next generation who are as yet untutored in guilt, whose feeling of belonging has yet to be eroded, who have yet to know alienation.

and who are handy…

The child..

‘will arouse certain longings in the adult. . . longings which relate
to the unfulfilled desires and needs of those parts of the personality
which have been blotted out. . .’ C. G. Jung.

Whilst we idealise, cosset and run around endlessly with compensatory gestures of slavish devotion,  so too do we silently envy and spoil. The secret bit about narcissistic brats is that they were made that way by parents who first loaded them down with not only their own unfulfilled expectations but with all the potentialities in today that we can’t shoulder for the sake of insuring ourselves against tommorow.

The horror of growing old and dying without first having properly lived is all too much and become split in our affections.

I will pat you on the head whilst I poison your earth.

My father personally favoured random electrocution as a means to express his envious grievance at my blossoming youth. Bare mains wires ran down the walls both inside and outside my room. They would set window frames and brickwork alive, especially when it rained. You might say that most parents are not so pathological and yet the quest for more than you need means you have to go out and take it off someone else, perpetual warmongering for which youth in their millions are most necessary.

I once spent three days as part of a tiny force of  green berets sitting under a tree waiting for the go ahead to take on 300 defected enemy soldiers who’d changed their mind and taken their new commander hostage as a prelude to melting back into the bush with shiny new G3 semi automatics. We all knew it was a suicide mission should the order finally came through, but the predominant feeling amongst us was one of quiet acceptance, the calm of sacrificial beasts under a stone knife, as though fulfilling some preordained narrative.

Saturn is eating his children.

Behind closed doors it’s usually less flamboyant than electrified bedrooms or going to live in a war zone but after three decades of being a psychotherapist I have to say that everyone who ever came to see me had the same issue. Their true self had been attacked and their destinies subverted by someone they were entitled to trust.

Which is why having more than you need is a form of poison. Its not just greedy. It’s a blow aimed at those who would be better stewards of this earth than ourselves, our children.

this article contains excerpts from my new book ‘Abundant Delicious.. on attaining your heart’s desire’.…ot-off-the-press/







Healing the Anxious Heart.

We live in what W.H. Auden calls, ‘the Age of Anxiety.’
“We would rather be ruined than changed
We would rather die in our dread
Than climb the cross of the moment
And let our illusions die.”  W.H. Auden.
Like no other, our era is suffused with a nameless trepidation that trawls our inner landscapes…
”like droves of cattle, like soldiers marching, or big flakes of foam on a flooded river pushing on through the brain.” P. Kennedy.
It is also true that never has so much time and effort been spared to counteract anxiety. We spend billions on therapy and medication to little avail. In fact our efforts seem so fruitless that one cannot help but ponder at the possibility that our remedies are part of the problem.
The fact is that…
”nothing goes away until it teaches us what we need to know.” Pema Chodron.
Do we have something to learn from anxiety?
Could it be there for a reason?
Our age is also one, as never before, that is rooted in material values and aspirations. We pursue comfort and security as if it were the Holy Grail. Our collective goals are not betterment or growth or being part of something, but relaxation, having the kind of life that has as the index of its success being able to lie by the pool.
We work, not to contribute or to rise to a challenge, but so that we can be protected from tomorrow. Our hopes and dreams are circumscribed by palm trees, white sand and secure investments.
We veiw pain and suffering as a malevolent force to be defended against at all costs, almost as if it were a sacred duty.
This polarisation of life restricts us…
”Consciousness must involve both pleasure and pain. The more we struggle for pleasure (only) the more we are actually killing what we love.” A. Watts.
Because we can’t or won’t find meaning in anxiety, opting rather for the search and destroy scenario, so to are we compelled to eradicate the pleasures of life and fail to be replenished by them.
Wanting only half the pie we get none of it.
The Western cult of consciousness leads us to believe that we really can have one without the other. We then suppress and project our anxiety onto unfortunate others, raising razor wire between our successful selves and those who seem to have lost their protective amulets. Like any projection, this exerts a fascination over us and so we sit compulsively glued to the endless newscasts depicting their misery.
But anxiety is part of life. Material ruin, environmental disaster and the machinations of evil regimes are but a few of Anxiety’s playing fields.
One of Nobel Prize winner A. Solzhenitsyn’s great insights is that blows of fate are not to be avoided or eschewed as meaningless. He refers to his own imprisonment as ‘concentrated living.’
”It is extremely important to recognise that the uncontrollable caprice of fate await everyone. Illness, catastrophe, accidents and death are only another form of arrest, trial, prison and punishment camp.” A. Weatherall.
The more we try to avoid it the worse it gets.
”The desire for security and the feeling of insecurity are the same thing.” A.Watts.
Despite our antipathies Anxiety’s roots are given considerable room to spread from the very start of life in Western culture. The suppression of the Divine Feminine does more than undermine the inner life of women. It undermines us all.
”In emotional development, the precursor of the mirror is the Mother’s face. What a child sees (there) is…. themselves. What she looks like is what baby takes itself for.” Whitmont
Regardless of mother’s devotion to her baby, the deprivation of access to the sacred mysteries of her sex, the lived experience of the Great Mother, is bound to leave her inner life anxiously uprooted. These cracks in life’s mirror..
”interrupt (baby’s) going-on-being and give rise to threats of annihilation.” D Winnicott.
So we have more than our fair share of anxiety from the start. Yet even this is an Ariadne’s thread to return us to the truth of Christendom’s inner impoverishment and longing that is the legacy of the lost Goddess.
Moreover, life really is short, nasty and brutish. Our fragility, impermanence and mortality is something to be anxious about. Those who are not anxious in the face of such ontological givens are either sages or psychopaths. The former are liberated only by the paradox of accepting anxiety for what it is and the latter are hardly role models.
Our issue is not simply that we are suffused with anxiety and continuously at war with it but that..
”we have forgotten how to be anxious about the right thing.” S Kierkegaard.
After all,  there is a sense in which the unconscious holds us in the palm of its hand.
”Something unknown is doing I don’t know what.” E. Ramirez.
The cult of consciousness dismisses these archetypal stratae of the psyche at its anxious peril. Rather we ought…
”to experience these forces anew and not wait for our moods, nervous states and delusions to make it clear in the most painful way that we are not masters of our own houses.” C.G. Jung
Our situation is not unlike the protagonist in ‘the life of Pi’, who finds himself on a small boat with a tiger, except that in our case we never quite get around to really acknowledging the fact and only ever concede to catching the swish of its tail out of the corner of our eye, giving rise to nameless apprehension rather than awe and cautious wonder.
”Heart, alone in the night, beat.
Beat for all you are worth.
Be the night’s pulse,
Be the blackbird about to sing.
Somewhere under the earth the waters break.” J. Moat