Tag Archives: Fear

“Tale Told by an Idiot” Still Being Told

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

This famous Shakespearean wisdom from Macbeth has stuck with me from the first time I heard it in high school when, stuck in a literal mindset at the time, I found Shakespeare and literature…other than the Bible…horrifying.  This wisdom is frightening as it takes the reader right into one of humankind’s worst fears, “Is anything real, and if so, am I participating in it?”

But now after three decades cavorting about in the delightful realm of Shakespeare’s imagination, I’m not as frightened or even daunted when I come across one of his glimpses into the scary parts of our psyche.  Here he was certainly telling us that we are all mad but the body of his work conveyed the conviction that there is “method to this madness” that we call life, that, “There is a Divinity that doeth shape our ends, rough hew them how we may.”  Shakespeare recognized what we now call “consensually validated reality” as a stage play in which we play various roles throughout all of our life, all of them amounting in some sense only to “performance art.”  And he knew that this social facade was necessary but he liked to point out to us in his plays and sonnets just how given it is to duplicity, hypocrisy, dishonesty and the rest of the ugliness of the human heart that reigns in us all, though we are hard-wired to keep it covered up beneath the surface of this “dog-and-pony show” that we call reality.  But occasionally the gods will send along a vivid illustration to let us see just how much non-sense we are mired in and then it is our task to have the courage to learn from this object-lesson that is being provided us and amend our ways.  But we must always remember the wisdom of W. H. Auden on this note, “And Truth met him, and held out her hand, and he clung in panic to his tall belief and shrank away like an ill-treated child.”


Two other blogs of mine are listed here which I invited you to check out:





The American Civil War Still is With Us

Yesterday I addressed the issue of systemic trauma that often occurs from economic disparity.  This issue is personal to me as I grew up in the American South, the state of Arkansas, and my family was impoverished for the first 10 years of my life or so.  As I aged I began to become aware of the social atmosphere of where I lived and as I entered college years and became engrossed with the social sciences I began to scrutinize the socio-cultural context which had shaped my life and realized that this context was, in turn, shaped by historical processes that long preceded my arrival on the stage of life.

Study of history taught me of the social disruption of the Civil War in the American South and the profound sense of loss and alienation that swept the former Confederate states as they began to grapple with this “tragedy” that had befallen them.  One conceptualization of this despair is known to historians as “the myth of the lost cause” and my studies quickly showed me how this despair had created the sectarian Baptist denomination that was the bedrock of my spiritual life.  The multi-generational despair gave rise to a religion of hopelessness disguised as “belief in Jesus.”  (I will attach a recording of an old hymn that vividly illustrates this issue.)

Another relevant term to this cultural atmosphere is dispossession.  Civil War Era Southerners felt they had been dispossessed of what was rightfully theirs, that “big government” had intruded and taken away their god-given way of life part of which was slavery.  Their sense of entitlement had been gravely imperiled. And this fear of “government intrusion” is still very much present as evidenced in our recent election.  Related to the experience of dispossession is the existential terror of alienation, of not belonging, and the hope that a “strong man” would appear on the scene at some point to right these wrongs and, “Make American Great Again.”  And, if that did not happen, comfort was found in the firm knowledge that God would make things right in the after life, punishing those who had brought this injustice on a “god-given” way of looking at the world.

Still another important dimension of this atmosphere is a deep-rooted suspicion and fear which often found expression in paranoid fantasies.  I subscribed, and promulgated my fair share of these fantasies and recall well how reassuring they were to me, allowing me to focus on an external enemy rather than address the deep-seated insecurity and fear that I now know terrorized my heart.  Fear is part of life and even a necessary part for survival.  But when fear is a guiding force in a culture, it shapes the lives of the children so that they have no reality other than one that is fear-based and their coping mechanisms are usually not healthy.  Mine were not.  Obama was right eight years ago when he was overheard describing some people as “clinging to their guns and religion.”  He had no problem with “guns” or “religion.”  He knew that “clinging” was the issue, that it reflected an existential loss that is only temporarily and superficially assuaged with weaponry or a moribund, sterile, “letter of the law” version of Jesus.

Here is a recording of the hymn that I mentioned above.  And, as I listened to it just now, the tangential demons of hopelessness, fear, and despair were resurrected in my 65 year old heart.  Listen to it and you’ll see what I mean.





Confessions of a “Scaredy-Cat”


As a child we would taunt each other with, “You’re a scaredy-cat, you’re a scaredy-cat” in an effort to goad a friend…or someone we didn’t like…into doing something risky.  And of course, that would produce the expected exchange, “No I’m not, you are!” on and on for a few minutes until laughter broke out or someone had submitted and done something stupid.

Well, I was a scaredy-cat, being a little too timid…and I still am in the depths of my heart.  That fear base which terrorized me in my youth is still there, murmuring to me quite often, though now maturity has given me some balance so that these taunts from my reptilian-brain fear base do not have the power they used to.  For example, this morning I read a news story about an antibiotic-proof strain of virus that is now in our country and first thought, “Oh no, here comes the hysteria!  Here comes the fear-mongerers crawling out from underneath their rocks to announce national and even global catastrophe!”  And, true enough, this is a serious event and, true enough, things could get out of hand.  And the “scaredy-cat” did stir for a moment in my heart and I felt that fear-base taunting me on multiple issues.  But on this occasion I employed a newly found maturity to be able to “name the demon”…so to speak…to put words to the subjective experience that was having and not allow fears to predominate.  The fear was there but I was able to employ “the pauser reason” and not imbibe of the hysteria that media is always trying to create.

Life is inherently tenuous.  At the moment when we are born, and certainly at the moment when we come “on line” as a conscious being, our little ego is fragile and desperately needs that “fig leaf” that God so graciously gives us to hide us from our nakedness.  T. S. Eliot described that moment of vulnerability as “That tender point from which life arose, that sweet force born of inner throes.” The “fig leaf” of ego structure is a necessary part of life and allows us to “join the human race” by acquiring a persona and taking our place in the tribe.  But ideally when we reach middle age…and certainly old age…we will achieve maturity enough to open up a bit, broaden our view and experience of the world, which always means encountering that subterranean fear-base to some degree.  Most of us get this piece-meal and only have to deal with some degree of internal duress—maybe anxiety or depression.  Some are not so fortunate and are overwhelmed and crash and burn, the filter provided by their ego structure proving to be incapable of handling the turmoil of unconscious energy.  Many simply go through a mid-life crisis, then “gird up their loins” and get back into the trenches and resume their life.  Others have to endure the “Dark Night of the Soul” that St. John of the Cross wrote about.  And then many others have an ego that resists fear feverishly, and they cling desperately to their persona.  And these “darkened” and “unlightened” souls have a very important place in the unfolding of our world also and rarely do any of them merit the description of “darkened” or “unenlightened.” (But oh how delightful it is to be able to make that judgment!!!  The ego just loves the power of drawing distinctions and casting someone into “outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”)

Actually, what I’m now trying to say is, wording it facetiously, “I fear that I have found courage.” And I have found that courage does not mean the absence of fear but having the wherewithal to persevere even in the midst of fear, of doubt and insecurity.  I credit this to something which happened about two and a half years ago as a result of having read Stephen Levine’s book, “Healing into Life and Death.”  Levine taught that “healing” occurred when one embraced his fears, “stepped into” them, rather than running away from them.  In his book he was talking about helping people who were facing terminal illness and reported that the “healing” often meant coming to acceptance of death and being able to die peacefully. But he also reported that with many others when they embraced their terminal illness and accepted the finality of death, they were healed of their illness.  Two and a half years ago I stopped running from fears and insecurities, began to embrace them, and am discovering the wisdom in the mantra, “This too shall pass.” But when we run from “stuff” it we only perpetuate it and allow it to continue thwarting the unfolding of our life. The culture of my youth taught me to run from “stuff” rather than deal with it.  Even my Christian faith imbibed of this avoidance principal, using the teachings of Jesus to avoid reality rather than to embrace it.












Conspiracy Theories Running Amok!!!

Gawd  l love conspiracy theories!  In the link provided here, you will find some of the juiciest ones that have circulated in my country lately as well as a few of our favorites from the past.  And, I confess that I grew up in conspiracy infested South, imbibing to the bitter-sweet nectar of the knowledge that the Communists were lurking around every corner, ready t to take over the country.  I remember vividly in the election of 1959 when Catholic John Kennedy was the Democratic nominee for President running against Republican Richard Nixon, hearing my Dad express solemn concern that the Pope would be waiting in a submarine off the east coast ready to take over our country should Kennedy win the election.  My fear-base was only then beginning  to constellate in my seven year old heart but it was strong enough to give me the numb realization that dark forces were “out there” ready to imperil “truth, justice, and the American way.”  But this muted terror was mitigated…speciously, albeit…by the reassurance that my family were born-again Christians and part of our lot in life was to be part of a beleagured minority who would always have to stand up against the forces of evil that were always “out there.”

Maturity sheds light on my youthful vulnerabiity and education gives me the perspective of history and psychology on social and political phenomena.  I see now so clearly now how fear is such a driving force in human experience and conspiracy theories are ready-made fodder for people whose fears are the driving force in their lives.  Psychologically it helps immensely to “know” that some entity “out there”, an individual or a group, are seeking to do one harm as one’s energy can then be directed there.  But we forget the wisdom of Pogo, the cartoon character, who told us, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

The sad thing currently is to watch politicians who know better, or should know better, deliberately stoke the fears of the “low-information voters” who constitute their base just to galvanize their energy.  The most graphic example of this occurred last summer when Texas conservatives were fearful that President Obama was using the ruse of a military training exercise (Operation Jade Helm) to take over the state; and even the Governor, Gregg Abbott, played along with their fears.


The Commies are Coming, the Commies are Coming!!!

I had a scary dream last night in which the communists were in an adjoining room…to my left (symbolizing the unconsciousness).  I was horrified that they had “infiltrated” and aroused “penetration phobia” that was so frightening that I cried out in my sleep and my wife had to rouse me.  This is clearly a dream that draws on fears from my early youth when the Communist menace was the “fear de jour” in my American culture.  I listened to horrifying sermons lamenting the “Communist menace” and warnings that even a next door neighbor might be part of a “sleeper cell.”  And, yes, this fear was augmented by warnings that those “damn liberals” (‘dang liberals’, back then) were seeking to destroy our faith and facilitate the onslaught of “Godless communism.”

This culture of fear shaped my life and this dream reflects that the fear core in my heart has not yet by been eased by the promise of Jesus that “perfect love casteth out fear.”  Fear is an elemental dimension of life, an expression of our realization on some primitive level of just our vulnerable we are.  But instead recognizing and confronting the fear-base that drives us it is so much easier to see the embodiment of our fear “out there” in some person or group of persons.  This blindness to our unconsciousness succeeds in helping us avoid our fears but the price tag is that our judgment is horribly impaired.  Oh, sure, Communism was antithetical to our American way of life but now in hindsight historians tell us that the “threat” was gravely exaggerated, costing billions of dollars and untold loss of life.

So, what am I afraid of?  I don’t know for sure what it is but it will be some expression of vulnerability…perhaps even the grim reaper himself!  But if I keep listening to my dreams, having curiosity about life, and paying attention I will eventually have some inkling of what it is.  And whatever “it” is, once resolved there will be another fear to take its place which will tyrannize me less as I continue to discover that these fears are alleviated when I have the courage to face them boldly.

Embedded Thinking #3

Blog—embedded thinking#3


Abu Abdallah is in an Iraqi prison, awaiting execution for recruiting suicide bombers.  In the following Guardian interview he remains adamantly committed to his cause, firmly resolved that his actions were Allah’s will, and that even collateral damage in the attacks he orchestrated were Allah’s will.  Abdu perfectly illustrates the “embedded thinking” that I have been writing about the past week, “thinking” which has such an emotional (and unconscious) investment that the body of thought appears to be completely autonomous.  He is not thinking, he is being “thought.”  This is the “dis-embodied word” that, carried to an extreme, leads to pronounced evil.  Abu Abdullah is enslaved by ideology and this “enslavement” is so complete that human experiences like regret and remorse are not possible.  Those “bothersome” human qualities are laid aside for the accomplishment of Allah’s will.   (See full article in following link:  http://www.businessinsider.com/isis-mastermind-describes-suicide-bombers-2015-8

Certainty is usually not toxic like Abdullah’s.  Most human beings live daily with the comfort of certainty that their way of viewing the world does not merit any introspection and the doubt it would create.  Give everyone the “pauser reason” that some of us have and the world would collapse immediately.  But for some individuals, and groups of individuals, the need for certainty becomes pathological and the consequences are often severe.  This need stems from deep-seated fears, an unconscious uncertainty that can be assuaged only by investing inordinately in a vein of thought that provides the illusion of certainty.  This “illusion” might appear delusional to outside observers but to those who are deeply embedded in an “illusion” it is the right way of viewing the world; and, so often this assuredness is attributed to a Supreme Being.

Life is fragile.  We are merely dust of the earth, “quintessence of dust” to use Shakespeare’s term, that has miraculously managed to gain “consciousness” and find the power to create human culture.  But beneath this thin veneer of consciousness, that reptilian brain still percolates and sometimes it “breathes out threatenings and slaughterings” and overrules the “pauser” that our forebrain was designed for.  One poet had this in mind when he wrote, “Only a tissue thin curtain in the brain shuts out the coiled recumbent land lord.”  (Eugene L. Mayo)

Pathological certainty is like a cancer in that it cannot be contained and always needs to “convince” others even at the point of the sword.  For those embedded in their own ideological certainty need to swell their ranks for the end purpose of making the world “the way it should be.”  And inevitably this “way the world should be” will be “God’s will” or “Allah’s will” and the end will always justify the means.  And as long as there is anybody in the world who does not subscribe to these “noble” and “true” ideas, the fear-based ideologue will be threatened.  The fear-based ideologue seeks to obliterate difference or “otherness”.

Mental illness is a reference problem.  This clinical bromide grasps the pathology of this “embedded thinking” which at a certain point of “embeddedness” becomes incapable of realizing that there are other ways of viewing the world.  One who feels certain that his tin foil hat will keep intrusive thoughts from outer space away is not insane in a community of like-minded souls.  And one who believes that President Obama is a Kenyan-born Muslim socialist is not “nuts” in a group that firmly believes this to be true.

Thandie Newton’s “Being and Nothingness” Experience

I share a video clip below from a young actress, Thandie Newton, who speaks at a TED conference about an identity crisis she experienced when just a girl and continuing as she became a fledgling young actress. She had the courage to find wisdom in her early twenties that I am only now trying to discover at thrice the age.

She speaks of self and separateness and uses the term “self” as I would use “ego.” She describes this self as a “vehicle to navigate a social world comprised of the projections of other people,” and noted that it is designed only to cope with the fear of death. She presents it as a false reality which left her feeling empty and alone.

She spoke of her discovery that “awareness of the reality of oneness can heal us” and described this realization as the loss of the false self, the ego self. Newton experienced what I would call “grace” as she embraced the world as she realized that it embraced her. She stopped drawing the distinction between “me and thee” that Western culture is so intoxicated with.

I want to conclude with an observation by Pema Chodron about our “shared humanity” and how that we can experience this “oneness” when we are willing to come out of the darkness that Newton was born into just as we all are:

Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity. (Pema Chödrön, The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times)

(You might have to copy and paste the following clip.)