Category Archives: consciousness

“Good” and “Bad” Shame

Theodore Roethke with his poem, “Dolour” capture so poignantly the prison that shame can create for us.  He captures the daily grind of routine, devoid of spontaneity and spirit, which Emerson had reference to when he bemoaned that, “Most men live lives of quiet desperation.”  For desperation is what ensues in spiritual deprivation, which always leads to addictions such as drugs, alcohol, ideology, (including religious ideology), and consumerism:

I have known the inexorable sadness of pencils,
Neat in their boxes, dolor of pad and paper weight,
All the misery of manilla folders and mucilage,
Desolation in immaculate public places,
Lonely reception room, lavatory, switchboard,
The unalterable pathos of basin and pitcher,
Ritual of multigraph, paper-clip, comma,
Endless duplication of lives and objects.
And I have seen dust from the walls of institutions,
Finer than flour, alive, more dangerous than silica,
Sift, almost invisible, through long afternoons of tedium,
Dropping a fine film on nails and delicate eyebrows,
Glazing the pale hair, the duplicate grey standard faces. 

Healthy shame is necessary as it can nudge us into the tribe we are born into, teaching us to “make nice” in the interest of group coherence.  We then respect rules of decorum, civility, respect for each other, and even agreed upon ruses that have an important function in making the tribe cohere.  But toxic shame often steps in and these necessary “rules” are forced upon children, sometimes with subtle and often not so subtle brutality so that the whole tribe is force-marched toward some unknown end, driven only by the force of habit etched deeply in the old brain.

Toxic shame breeds a tribe/nation of automatons who are readily manipulated by the power structure which controls the reins of the economy and government. And in the modern world, particularly in present day America, we find ourselves enthralled by a demagogue who in less than two weeks could further squash dissent and allow him to continue his assault on traditional American values, including those that we like to describe as “Judeo-Christian.”  People who are shamed into submission lack the capacity for critical thought; critical thinking would evoke in their heart the experience that Rick Perry suffered in 2011 during a debate, an excruciating spasm of self-awareness, when he realized he had made an ass of himself and had to utter the famous word, “Oops.”  It is very hard to admit “oops” when you are shame-bound as you just cannot admit having made a mistake.  (Now how Rick Perry did it, I don’t have an explanation.  But it did speak well of him!)  We make asses of ourselves, much more often than we are willing to admit, and when it happens it is redemptive if we can say…perhaps, merely…”oops.”  Oh, if Trump could just learn this simple word!

Here is a list of my blogs.  I invite you to check out the other two sometime.

https://anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com/

https://literarylew.wordpress.com/

https://theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com/

 

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The Perilous Safety of “Hunkerin’ Down”

There is a pale.  And there are those who spend their life beyond the pale, some so far beyond the pale that they merit the term “deviant.”  And then there are those who live very close to the pale, hovering just short of this boundary or just beyond it and do the work that offers art in its full gamut to the human race.  This pale is what defines reality and “reality” must have some definition if there is to be any civilization at all.  But there are times when the “energy” that has constellated at and just beyond the pale appears threatening to those who hover near the center of “reality” and then there is a tendency to “hunker down” and fiercely resist the precious offering of those “pale dwellers”—opportunities for change.  But the “hunker downers”, if they find a chieftain around whom they can rally, often will become adamant about maintaining the status quo and the social body will suffer, especially those who do not have the comfort of the “in crowd.”  Often those in the “out crowd” are easily manipulated and intimidated and can be convinced by their chieftain that it is in their own best interest to oppose the changes that would be good for the entirety of the social body, including themselves.

Change is scary.  As Shakespeare put it, “We cling to these ills we have rather than fly to others we know not of.”  The Bard knew that often we will prefer to maintain our misery rather than dare to take the risk that would be entailed in taking actions that might alleviate our suffering.  A psychiatrist I worked with in a psych hospital one time quipped in a staffing about a patient that we both worked with, “She clings to her mental illness with the same tenacity that most of us cling to our mental health.”  “Hunkering down” gives one, or the whole of a group, the illusion of safety.  As W. H. Auden noted, “We have made for ourselves a life safer than we can bear.”

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Here is a list of my blogs.  I invite you to check out the other two sometime.

https://anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com/

https://literarylew.wordpress.com/

https://theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com/

Erich Neumann Opines On Our Collective Unconsciousness

Erich Neumann was a psychologist, philosopher, and student of Carl Jung who in 1954 wrote, “The Origins and History of Consciousness.”  Neumann’s work also had an anthropological dimension, seeing the evolution of human consciousness was beyond the grasp of our conscious mind and would be understood only by utilizing mythology.

Neumann knew that the real “workings” of human civilization were beneath the surface and presented themselves occasionally as eruptions of chthonic energy known as, “archetypes.”  These patterns of instinctual energy, to the astute observer, are an essential dimension of human history and can offer something to one’s tribe, be it a, “prophetic word” or…more often than not…an example of gross mental instability.  These intrusions from beyond the pale of the cultural canon threaten what Neumann called, “the old order” even though the resulting “new order” could facilitate a revitalization of the canon. But the “old order” never goes quietly and bearers of this chthonic energy are “kept in their place” by the tribes’ repertoire of exclusionary devices; for example, shame, humiliation or even crucifixion.  If, however, this chthonic energy somehow penetrates the barriers and finds even a tentative footing, the “old order” will resort to “hunkering down” and reaffirm passionately the traditional values of the canon, often with reference to the prevailing religion.  This is when the leadership, i.e. “the tribal elders” need to use their authority in a mature fashion and facilitate the integration of the new and the old, allowing a healthy venture toward further maturity.  But often maturity is so often lacking in the tribal leadership and the machinery of government will be used to squash what it perceives as an existential threat.

Here are a trio of excerpts from Neumann’s book as he addresses concerns he had for the world in the mid-twentieth century, concerns which are very much related to this historical moment.

Excerpt 1:  Not only power, money, lust, but religion, art, and politics as exclusive determinants in the form of parties, nations, sects, movements, and “isms” of every description take possession of the masses and destroy the individual.  (NOTE:  For an individual to be a meaningful entity, it must have enough independence to not be merely a slave to the dictates of the group.)

Excerpt 2: The picture we have drawn of our age is not intended as an indictment, much less as a glorification of the “good old days”; for the upheaval which, taken by and large, is necessary.  The collapse of the old civilization, and its reconstruction on a lower level to begin with, will justify themselves because the new basis will have been immensely broadened.  The civilization that is about to be born will be a human civilization in a higher sense than has any been before higher civilization, as it will overcome important social, national, and racial limitations. These are not fantastic pipe dreams, but hard facts, and their birth pangs will bring infinite suffering upon infinite numbers of men.  Spiritually, politically, and economically our world is an indivisible whole.  By this standard, the Napoleonic wars were minor coups d’etat, and the world view of that age, in which anything outside Europe had hardly begun to appear, is almost inconceivable to us in its narrowness.

Excerpt 3: The collapse of our archetypal canon in our culture which has produced such an extraordinary activation of the collective unconscious—or is perhaps its symptom, manifesting itself in mass movements that have a profound effect upon our personal destinies—is, however, only a passing phenomenon.  Already, at a time when the internecine wars of the old canon are still being waged, we can discern, in simple individuals, where the synthetic possibilities of the future lie, and almost how it will look.  The turning of the mind from the conscious to the unconscious, the responsible rapprochement of human consciousness with the powers of the collective psyche, that is the task of the future.  No outward tinkerings with the world and no social ameliorations can give the quietus to the daemon, to the gods and devils of the human soul, or prevent them from tearing down again and again what consciousness has built.  Unless they are assigned their place in consciousness and culture they will never leave mankind in peace.

We are now witnessing the collapse of our culture’s archetypal canon as its “givens” are being challenged.  These “givens” are the medley of preconceptions and premises that we take for granted that are so subtle they are not apparent to the naked eye.  The absence of “apparent-cy” is necessary for this unconscious dimension to continue unthreatened by an “observing ego” which could be a reality check that would allow these subterranean influences to be moderated.  But keeping these influences unquestioned, and therefore unassailable, is the primary objective of the status quo which deems questioning as threatening to its very being.  However, without a reality check on the “very being” of a tribe, its heart will be nothing but a darkened prison, “where we bask, agreed upon what we will not ask, bland, sunny, and adjusted by the light of the agreed upon lie.”  What we will take for light will actually be darkness, “having eyes to see but seeing not.”  And though it might be very comfy for those within the safe confines of Auden’s “agreed upon lie,” those who live beyond its pale will suffer.

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Here is a list of my blogs.  I invite you to check out the other two sometime.

https://anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com/

https://literarylew.wordpress.com/

https://theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com/

Authenticity, God, and Identity Crisis

People of spiritual commitment often, if not most of the time, come to the point in their life when their faith needs to be cast aside.  This is the time when emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually the maturity has been reached to realize that even spirituality can be used to cover up the essence of life, even the “God” that we purport to worship.  This does not mean that this “God” will necessarily be forsaken but that one’s projections about “God” will be seen for what they are and cast aside, leaving one with the possibility of discovering “God” in a meaningful fashion.

This identity crisis, usually in mid life, is when the fantasy world that we have created and wrapped around ourselves is crumbling, providing for us an opportunity to enter into a more authentic dimension of life.  Even the “God” we have been worshipping might be seen as a self-serving fantasy and will have to be given up for a more honest, humbling relationship with a God who is the very Ground of our Being, our Source, and not a mere prop to adorn the hollow life that we have been living.

Anthropologist Clifford Geerst once said, “Man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun.”  It is challenging to contemplate that the whole of our life, including our faith, is suspended in these “webs” and that to achieve any authenticity we will have to wrestle with them and discover as did poet Adrienne Rich that, “We can’t begin to discover who we are until we recognize the assumptions in which we are drenched.”  It is only when some, or most of these “assumptions” begin to crumble that we can begin to understand the wisdom of the crooner Leonard Cohen, “There’s a crack in everything; that is how the light gets in.”

 

Immediate vs. Deferred Gratification

An image comes to my mind of a frustrated toddler, sitting at the table, wanting more cheerios from his momma.  She does not respond immediately, and he angrily pounds the table with his spoon, screaming, “Now, now, now!” This came to mind this morning in a Politico.com story about Trump’s problems with frustrations in the White House.  On an issue of releasing aid to a foreign country, he insisted that the aid be released immediately though his aides tried to convince him of the need of protocol even in a matter like that.  A White House official noted, “The president doesn’t like to be constrained by past practices and protocols.”

Well, who does?  The limitations of being human and participating in the daily grind of life takes its toll on us all.  Our neurological hard-wiring includes a demand for immediate gratification, a wiring that is usually superseded by a later developmental acceptance of deferred gratification.  This impulse control is very rewarding as the delight of seeing and experiencing the “world as my oyster” is intoxicating but destructive in the long run for the individual and the collective.  It makes me think of another example Trump’s ceding to untoward impulses when he took the liberty to enter the dressing room of teen girls after a beauty pageant, using his power to “sample their wares.”

https://www.politico.com/story/2018/08/13/trump-world-knowledge-diplomatic-774801

Feminism, Consciousness, and Memory

I recently discovered a feminist philosophy professor from LeMoyne College, Karmen MacKendrick, who has written about one of my favorite subjects—difference and sameness.  The following is a selection in a review by Richard A. Lee, Jr. of one of her books:

The issue in Fragmentation and Memory is the question of the relation between unity or wholeness and difference or fragmentation. The argument could be put quite generally and abstractly: wherever there is a drive for unity or wholeness, there fragmentation will always and necessarily be found. More specifically, MacKendrick argues that it is fragmentation that is, in fact, primary and that the obsession one finds with unity and wholeness is, in fact, derivative of this primary fragmentation. The key to this is memory. In a sense, memory as always fragmented remembers this primary fragmentation.

“My dull brain is racked by things forgotten,” said Macbeth.  Shakespeare knew that our memory was a house of cards, teetering on the bedrock of the unconsciousness.  He knew that individuals like Macbeth…and I’m sure himself…were “weak links” who felt the seepage from that forbidden territory.  And groups of individuals, even countries, can also experience this seepage also, as is the case currently with my country, the United States.  We are demonstrating what can happen when a mouth piece for a country’s hidden ugliness appears on the scene, giving voice and action to its reptilian brain.  For always, there is, “Only a tissue thin curtain in the brain (that) shuts out the coiled recumbent landlord.”  (E. L. Mayo)

In the very early stages of our development, what will become a mature psyche begins to take shape in the depths of chaos, termed above as “primary fragmentation.”  Mackendrick asserts that this memory, which our ego wants us to take as so sacrosanct, is actually “derivative” of this chaotic, fragmented stage of development.  But Shakespeare realized, with the Macbeth character, that the “derivative roots” of memory are still there and influence tortured souls, as well as gifted souls who can sublimate the anguish of their “racked brain” into works of art, literature, and religion; this is naming but a few disciplines that can facilitate this redemptive sublimation.

The unconscious is always present.  It is present in a subterranean “structure” that is always already underway when we born, providing a fabric of assumptions, premises, and even biases which provide a safe cocoon in which we can find our footing in the tribal culture into which we are born.  The challenge comes in maturing enough to accept at some point the presence of these “subterranean” influences, a realization that strikes terror in most hearts who prefer living on the surface of life.  To accept these influences is to encounter the feeling of being out of control as we embrace our mortality and fragility, devoid of the safety the cocoon provided in our youth.  This is the existential predicament that comes with being a human being and emerging from the cocoon which would otherwise stifle our interior life.  This is what Jesus had in mind when he posed the question, “What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul?”

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Here is a list of my blogs.  I invite you to check out the other two sometime.

https://anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com/

https://literarylew.wordpress.com/

https://theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com/

“Defining Yellow”…and Our Political Mess

Japanese author, Haruki Murakami, has offered wisdom to this moment in United States history.  He notes that regardless of how high we build the walls, that which lies beyond artificial structures will still be present and a “danger” to the illusory safety found within. W. H. Auden offered a hint at the dark side of life within walls that are too tight, declaring, “We have made for ourselves a life safer than we can bear.”  (Yes, all walls and boundaries are “artificial.”)

Boundary issues arise from the simple phenomenon of definition.  The definition of anything includes the exclusion of “everything else” so that a particular “thing” can be given attention, can have an identity.  For example, a blogging friend of mine has entitled her blog, “Defining Yellow.”  This young woman appears to understand that even a simple phenomenon as a color requires the ability to distinguish it from the rest of the color spectrum.  From the “ancient” memory of my own youth, I want to cry out, “Why hell, yellow cannot be defined! It simply is and attempting to define it is crazy!”  But yellow would not exist without the “supporting cast,” of the rest of the color spectrum which our conscious mind is able to shut out. To illustrate, imagine that everything in the world was yellow.  If that were the case, then yellow would not “exist”; for, the very word, “exist” means to “stand out” from a context.  (The word “exist” comes from the Latin terms “ex” and “stere,” “ex” meaning to stand out of and “stere” that which means, “pure.”)  If everything in our world was yellow, we would not be able to recognize yellow as it would be taken for granted.

Murakami explained the subtle peril of definition in this historical political moment we live in:

…no matter how high a wall we build to keep intruders out, no matter how strictly we exclude outsiders, no matter how much we rewrite history to suit us, we just end up damaging and hurting ourselves… just as all people have shadows, every society and nation, too, has shadows, (and) if there are bright, shining aspects, there will definitely be a counterbalancing dark side. If there’s a positive, there will surely be a negative on the reverse side…at times we tend to avert our eyes from the shadow, those negative parts. Or else try to forcibly eliminate those aspects. Because people want to avoid, as much as possible, looking at their own dark sides, their negative qualities. But in order for a statue to appear solid and three-dimensional, you need to have shadows. Do away with shadows and all you end up with is a flat illusion. Light that doesn’t generate shadows is not true light. You have to patiently learn to live together with your shadow and carefully observe the darkness that resides within you. Sometimes in a dark tunnel you have to confront your own dark side.

NOTE:  See “Defining Yellow” blog at—https://definingyellow.com/

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Here is a list of my blogs.  I invite you to check out the other two sometime.

https://anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com/

https://literarylew.wordpress.com/

https://theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com/