Category Archives: consciousness

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.”

 

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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/

“Making Nice,” Trump, and the Social Contract

Donald J. Trump is a little boy who needs to be loved.  Never having learned the rudimentary dimensions of making himself loveable, he discovered that he had wealth and privilege to manipulate and intimidate people into a pseudo love.  One of the earliest lessons about love takes place when we enter school and find ourselves on the playground where negotiation with others involves a subtly that a child has often not had to deal with before.  The rules of “being liked” are not explicit but depend on an emotional maturity to pick up on the nuances of social life.  I like to think of it as learning to “make nice,” to not say or do the first thing that comes to your mind when you feel slighted.  It involves a tacit agreement to put up with another’s irksome attitudes and behaviors…to some degree…in return for the tacit response of others putting up with yours. This is the nuts-and-bolts of what we call the social contract.

If someone comes along to the playground who will not abide by the terms of this social contract, he will soon be known as a bully.  If you are “ugly and your mom dresses you funny” he is the one who will point it out while others will not say a thing, unconsciously knowing that you will not point out their own flaws and short comings. This reminds me of Trump on the “playground” of the debate stage in 2016 when he was rude and obnoxious, breaking all rules of civility and decorum.  On any debate stage, the candidates usually have a great dislike of others on the stage but there is an unwritten rule to not attack each other personally. Trump stomped all over that rule and as Senator Lindsey Graham put it, “The rest of ran and hid in the corner.”  When faced with a bully, one has a natural response to try to escape.

There is a certain insincerity to, “making nice.”  It is not, “telling it like it is” which Trump avowed and which many of his supporters cited as a reason they liked him.  “He’ll tell the truth, unlike those lying, hypocritical politicians we are used to,” they said.  Yes, but Trump’s “truth telling” is closely akin to that of someone with Tourette’s Syndrome who, severely lacking impulse control, will “tell it like it is,” and announce to a woman he has just met, “My you have a nice set of tits.”  This Tourette’s Syndrome man is certainly saying what nearly all other men are thinking but most of us have a social filter and would not say something like that.  (And I apologize for the “locker-room talk.”  Seriously.)

“Be Best,” Don’t Bully!”

In clinical practice, I often had to deal with bullying, though mainly the more “mature” variety as seen with teen-agers.  Younger children, however, would occasionally present to a counselor in her office, plaintively asking, “Why don’t they like me?”  The counselor would first offer some reassurance and then begin to offer coaching on basic social deportment, how to behave in a less obnoxious manner, not rudely and intrusively.  The young bully who actually sought help of this sort, who could ask the question, “Why don’t they like me?” was demonstrating that he had the maturity to be aware of the problem and therefore was probably amenable to being helped.  The real problem lay with those children who could not imagine the possibility that there was anything wrong with their behavior and then lash out at those who appeared to not like him.

Self-awareness is an essential dimension to the bullying issue.  Most children who get to the playground age in public schools already have social antennae so that they are amenable to feedback from the social context in which they find themselves.  They even will feel a sense of shame if they breach the unwritten rules of the social contract and then amend their ways in an effort to fit in.  Some, however, will not have internalized a sense of healthy shame and will brazenly stomp on social convention and find themselves frequently in trouble with the principal and eventually in a residential treatment facility.  Some will not be amenable to the rules even then and will grow into adulthood and begin to “rock n roll” with their anti-social attitude and behavior until they find some conflict-habituated place in the social structure.  Some, perhaps, will even become successful businessmen and/or politicians and maybe even find themselves as the leader of their country.

This “self-awareness” is the gift of the neuro-cortex which gives us the Shakespearean, “pauser reason,” a filter with which we check our impulses.  For example, if one encounters a belligerent bully as an adult he will usually know that he cannot respond with bullying behavior without risking severe conflict.  This makes me think of an old Jim Croce tune from the 1970’s, “You don’t tug on superman’s cape/ You don’t spit into the wind/You don’t pull the mask of the old lone ranger,/And you don’t mess around with Jim.”  If you remember the famous tune, you recall that a man wandered into town who did not regard the admonishment, “You don’t mess around with Jim.”

Yes, I’m curious what is gonna happen this Tuesday in Singapore.

The “Terrible Two’s” Cry for Help–Somebody Stop Me!!!

The “terrible two’s” are the bane of many parents.  Toddlers at that age are beginning to learn the power of “no” and can frustrate mommy and daddy to no end!  But, parents intuitively know that with patient setting of limits and reinforcement for “good” behavior this internal conflict will be resolved, and the child will go on to learn the value of handling his internal conflicts and rages, dealing with them appropriately while learning to function in a social setting where other people’s wishes and needs receive consideration.

In my clinical practice, I did face circumstances where parents did not know how to set these limits and/or had a child whose neurological wiring was not amenable to learning these boundaries.  But there were occasions where parents made no effort to set limits to their two-year old, and in fact began to reward him for his outrageous behavior in the hope that he could be “bought off.”  By the time one kid in-particular reached mid-teens and was referred to me for counseling, he had learned that outrageous behavior and defiance of rules was the best way to get attention and had become the cornerstone of his identity.  In the case of one young man, he had to be placed in a residential treatment facility and not long thereafter found himself mired in the juvenile justice system.  Twenty years later, it would be amazing if I should learn that he has not been in prison for at least a stint.

This young lad had been taught that the best way to get validation (i.e. “love”) was to act out, to push limits to the point that he could not be ignored.  “Bad attention” was better than “no attention” at all and much better than accepting the mere crumbs of attention that fell from the table as a result of merely taking an ordinary role in the social structure of family and school.  A kid of this stripe makes me think of the Jim Carrey character in the movie, “The Mask” who announced with daring and bravado after still another display of craziness, leering at the camera with menacing face and grin, “Somebody stop meee!”

Donald J. Trump has been crying out from early childhood, “Somebody stop me.”  But sheer will power, augmented by tremendous wealth, taught him that he could roll over anybody that stood in his way, that, yes, even in the Presidential campaign he could announce, “I could stand in the streets of Manhattan and shoot somebody and my poll numbers would not go down.”  He is now a year and half into his term of office and his supporters are galvanized behind him, the Republican led Congress is giving him total allegiance, and evangelical Christians are standing firm behind him, avowing that God has chosen him for this occasion.  The checks-and-balances system that has been the backbone of our government has met its match, and those who could exercise these “checks-and-balances” are demonstrating abject cowardice before this mad man.

Trump is a delusional man and he has found millions of Americans and the Republican Party who are “drinking the kool-aid” and becoming intoxicated with the delusion.  Delusion is much easier than reality as the latter requires dealing with those “naughty people” who dare to look at things differently than we do.  It is much easier to pledge allegiance to a political Jim Jones and, metaphorically speaking, trek down to Jonestown, Guyana where barrels of that sweet nectar, “Certainty” will be waiting.

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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