Monday, September 19, 2011

The Biology of "Heaven"

It's been about six years now since I first watched "What the 'Bleep' Do We Know?" My housemate at the time brought a copy home with her and shared it with me. There were some ideas in the movie that were already familiar to me, but what was new, and most interesting of all, was the information about how our hypothalamus makes biochemicals that are essentially biological analogs of every type of emotion we experience. In other words there are distinct biochemicals for anxiety, or joy, or anger, or happiness, etc., etc., and whenever we are "feeling" those emotions, it is in part because those emotional-biochemicals are racing through our bodies, having all kinds of various effects on all of our cells. In addition, just as it is possible to get addicted to chemicals we take in from outside the body, it is also possible to get addicted to chemicals that have been internally generated.

Over the course of the next several months, I became much, much more sensitive to my "patterns of desire." What I had learned from the film was that such desires, or compulsions, to use a stronger word, were probably being driven by early-life experiences, early-life biochemical conditioning. There were certain emotions, and therefore, certain patterns of biochemicals that my body had experienced in the past and that it wanted to keep on experiencing now, and in the future. More than that it was longing to have those experiences. Recognizing a pattern in the present, made me wonder what the original pattern had been in the past - the pattern that left an "imprint" biochemically to which my body was now "addicted."

The first pattern I looked at more closely was my "longing to 'fall in love'", but I will save further discussion of that for another blog. Instead, as the title of this blog suggests, I'd like to look at our "longing for heaven".

As for me, I was raised in the Christian tradition. Although my mother said I was the one who told her about "reincarnation" from about the age of four or so, saying something like "You know, Mommy, we've all been born lots of times"; like other Christian believers, I had some idea that heaven would be a lot like earth only better, "perfect", in fact. There would be no pain or suffering, no bodily imperfections, etc., etc. As an adult, I have realized that one of the key elements of this fantasy of heaven is that there is no "work" in heaven, at least, not in the sense that we experience it from day to day here. And yet, even without "work", everything just gets taken care of, I guess, by "God" and/or his "Angels". In summary, this idea of heaven is a place where everything gets taken care of, all of our physiological (or spiritual) needs are met with no effort of our own.

As I considered this from a biochemical patterning point of view, I got to thinking: Where have we ever experienced that before? Where in our early human existence was there a situation where "all of our needs were being met with no effort of our own", and so there was a biochemical patterning associated with that, something we (i.e. our bodies) would want to experience again?

It didn't take too long for me to figure it out: It's while we are still in our mother's womb.

Think about it: There you are surrounded by warm fluid that stays at more or less constant temperature (i.e. around 98.6 degrees). All of your physiological needs are being met as nutrients from you mother's body are being pumped into your bloodstream through your umbilical cord. It is all happening pretty automatically. And "you" or, at least, the physiological part of "you", gets to experience that kind of "bliss" for about nine months or so.

Then, all of a sudden, things go "terribly wrong" and you are forthwith "Cast Out of the Garden of Eden" and it is your Mother's (i.e. the Woman's) "fault". From that point on, it is all about Work, Work, Work to get your needs met. You have to cry and squirm, and eventually you learn language to help communicate your needs. Maybe your parents respond appropriately, maybe they don't. Then you have to go to school and there's all kinds of "homework", and then there's college, which is even more work. Maybe you'll work while you are going to college, and then there's more work to follow that. It's just work, work, work, work, work.

And, maybe, if you are like many people in the world today, you will continue to carry that latent memory of "heaven" in the back of your mind, in the depths of your body. Through all the work and struggle, there will be a part of you that is still clinging to that memory of "heaven" which has now become a "dream of heaven" - some future place and time where you can finally "relax" again, where somehow, all of your needs will be met with no effort of your own , or, at least, a LOT LESS effort, say when you "retire". Or maybe, you'll create a whole socio-political ideology that has as its underlying theme "everyone should be taken care of by the State"!

Or maybe, when you die, you will be longing for "heaven" so much, that you will choose another physical incarnation just so you can experience it least for nine months. Nine months of "heaven" in exchange for 80 years of "hell"...? Hmmm? Not so sure that's a fair trade???

So, what's the alternative?

Pretty simple really, not unlike my previous communication in the last couple of blogs: Understand where your "longing" is really coming from and Let It Go! Honestly, if you want to at least increase your chances of Not Doing This Trip Again (the "80 years of 'hell'" part), then stop longing to crawl back in the womb. Let go of your fantasies of "heaven" and accept the reality of life as an independent human being. Be prepared to work, because it does take a lot of work to get through one lifetime, and especially in modern society. Even if you manage to find more efficient ways to live, there is still going to be work involved. But, it will be so much easier when you Stop Resisting - At All! You will be amazed at how much more Life Energy becomes available to you when you let go of your Longing for "Heaven", when you let go of even the inkling of desire for someone else to "take care of you."

Evolution has not happened because the fish decided to crawl back into the water! (At least in most cases. : )) No, evolution has always moved in the direction of more and more opportunity for personal ACTION, creative ACTION, dynamic ACTION and dynamic INTER-ACTION with one's environment. You see, that is the problem with "being in the womb" - You have no opportunity for dynamic Action and Interaction with your environment. In truth, you have no Freedom. And if you look around you, the orientation of Life Itself is towards more and more complex and dynamic forms of action and interaction, with each individual Playing Their Part.

I will leave you with a story about alf-alfa sprouts. (! : )) When I was growing them, I started out just putting them in a jar, hiding them in a dark cupboard somewhere. Eventually, I'd have this big tangled mass of leaves and roots all going in different directions. However, when I started putting weight in the form of damp paper towels or clothes on top of the seeds, surprise, surprise, they started Growing Up Straight. Furthermore, as I considered this phenomenon more broadly, I realized Most Seeds need some "dirt on top" in order to grow properly. It is as if they need to have something to "push up against" in order to know where to sink their roots in and where to spread their leaves.

And really, that is all that "work" is in a human life. It is like a weight we have to lift in order to grow stronger. If there is no "work" necessary, if there is no "weight" to lift, if "all of one's needs are met with no effort of one's own", then there will be no growth of the individual, no development, no realization of anything meaningful. It will certainly not be "heaven", individually or collectively.

It is not the work itself you need to worry about. It is your own Resistance to Work that will forever hold you back. Better to Get On With It, in your current life-time, whatever form it takes for you, Embrace It! Appreciate that work simply represents an opportunity for growth, and you might be really amazed at what you will grow into, and what a difference you can make in the Real World when you simply let go of your fantasy of "heaven".

Speaking from personal experience, it may never be "heaven" here, but with a little work, (okay, sometimes a Lot of work), it can be a whole lot less like "hell". And if Everyone Gives up their "longing for heaven" - if Everyone stops expecting others to "take care of them", or "make things easier for them" (including the "poor" people AND the "rich" people), imagine how much more Life Energy will be Freed Up to "work" on making this world a better place for Everyone to live, and work, and grow, and realize their Full Potential as Dynamic Human Beings! Just Imagine... : )) ... and then Get to Work!!! : ))

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Cornerstone - Part II

In the spring of 1988, roughly three years after my mother went into the mental hospital, the carnival came to town and set-up in one of the large parking lots on the college campus. I became friends with the young man running the "Himalaya" ride, and not long after that, I decided to "join the carnival" myself, thinking it would be fun for a summer job (the fact that this guy looked a bit like Tom Cruise had nothing to do with my decision, of course! : )). Normally, the carnival did not allow women to travel alone, but since I would be working for this young man's mother, and his father was the manager of the show, they were willing to bend that rule in my case.

In general though, deciding to join the carnival was one of the first real choices in my life that I feel I made for myself, simply because it was What I Wanted to Do.  In other words, it was not about living up to any of my mother's expectations, or a boyfriend's, or a teacher's, etc.  It was just me doing something for me, trusting my own "gut", if you will.

So in June of that year, I boarded a Greyhound bus for the long trip from Tennessee, across the Ohio River into Indiana where I met-up with and became an employee of Cumberland Valley Shows. I went to work for my friend's mother helping her run her "Shoot Out the Star" joint. I adapted very quickly to all the routines of setting-up and tearing down, collecting spent lead shot for recycling, and loading the good shot into the straw-like metal tubes, that were later used to load the air-powered b-b guns. I became familiar with other members of the carnival, as well as some of the people who worked in between the various carnivals around the region, delivering stuffed animal prizes and other supplies.

One of these "inter-carnival" workers was an artist whose name might have been, John, but I remember him more as the "Zen Painter".  His talent was in creating these really bright colorful back-drops for the various games and rides and even the occasional truck trailer door for the "houses on wheels" that were quarters for many of the game owners and show managers.

This "Zen Painter" took an interest in me.  He listened to my life story and eventually loaned me a book to read.  It was The Drama of the Gifted Child by Alice Miller.  It was a short book, under 200 pages, and I read it very quickly as I did not know when I would see my friend again and I wanted to be sure and be able to give it back to him when he returned from his travels to other carnivals in the region.

I remember being in my room, one of 10 or so built into an 18-wheel truck trailer, so it was pretty small.  I was sitting on my bunk bed, and I was reading through the sections where Alice Miller explains how one's parents are the only two people in the world who are really obligated to Love them Unconditionally; and how, if children do not receive that from their parents, if they do not get to experience a "happy childhood", there is no way, as an adult, to go back and "redo" that. Instead, in such a case, it was appropriate to Mourn the Loss of one's "happy childhood" and then Let It Go.

It did not take much for me to understand how this applied in my own case.  Right there and then, I started to cry, in the closet of my living quarters, a carny with Cumberland Valley Shows, a young woman, alone...I mourned the loss of my "happy childhood". And right there and then, I also Let Go.  I stopped expecting any other person to make up for what I did not receive from my parents as a child. I stopped seeking "unconditional love" from anyone else.  And at the same time, I realized that the only person left to "Love Me Unconditionally", to love my still present "inner child" unconditionally, was Me.  And, in many ways, the only person left to parent (or "re-parent") me was Me.

Now you may think that this was a very sad and maybe even terrible moment in my life.  But, actually, it was one of The Most Liberating.  Not only was it Truly Liberating for Me, but it was to be Liberating for all of the other people I came into contact with in my life from that point on, because I did not come to them with Any Expectations for them to "Love me Unconditionally" or to try to Make Up for the Loss of My "Happy Childhood".

Furthermore, I did not continue into my life feeling that "I have already suffered so much, I just can't bear to suffer any more and all I want is for someone to love me and take care of me" the way I was not loved and taken care of (in any functional way) as a child. In other words, I did not walk around with a sense of entitlement based on my previous suffering, nor was I bound to the inevitable disappointment over and over and over again, where those expectations were not fulfilled, because they Could Not Ever Be Fulfilled. I understood that my Childhood was over, it was dead, in the past, and could never be revived.  Yes, I recognized that loss, and I mourned that loss, but then, as a quickly awakening adult, I moved on with my life.

Now, more than anything else, I feel that understanding became the Cornerstone of my new life apart from my mother. I will not deny for a moment that Every Child Deserves the Unconditional Love and Functional Support of their biological or adoptive Parents. However, the sad fact is, most of us living today have not had that, and, unfortunately, most of the children living today are not getting that, although there are more today then there have been, thanks in part to wise and compassionate people like Alice Miller. My life, though not particularly extraordinary, is still a demonstration for others, that it is possible for all of us who have not grown up with truly "happy childhoods", to mourn that loss, and then Let Go, so that we can, in the here and now, accept responsibility for loving ourselves unconditionally, and for continuing on in our lives as the Adults that we are now, rather than as the children we might otherwise long to be again.

This world needs Adults - truly mature, empathetic, and rational human beings. It needs people who understand what it means to be Responsible for Oneself and ones actions, rather than people constantly clinging to the fantasy of some day being "taken care of" by an employer, by a lover, by "God", or by "The State."  I will not deny that there may very well be Larger Forces at Play here, but there is also a level at which we have to Take Part ourselves, consciously and responsibly, as Adults, and not as "children" still seeking the unconditional love and support of "someone...anyone" where their actual parents have failed to provide that.

So I will say again, Do Not Hesitate to Mourn the Loss of your "Happy Childhood" if this is appropriate in your case, but then, Let It Go and be ready to Move On.

I am very glad I "joined the carnival" - that I courageously "followed my gut" because there was a very, very, important message waiting for me, that I might never have received if I had not made that "crazy" choice in the first place. And as I have suggested here, the understanding I gained from reading The Drama of the Gifted Child became the "Cornerstone" for my life of learning apart from my mother. There have been many, many more ideas that have filled in that "structure" of my life, and in some cases, liberated me from ideas that were too limiting. It is those ideas that I am sharing through this blog, so that others might be strengthened and liberated as well.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Cornerstone - Part I

My mother was paranoid schizophrenic. She believed we were both "prophets sent here to save the world from drugs, prostitution, and witchcraft that had been infiltrated here by the Communists" and that "the 'Mafia' was out to kill us." As a consequence, I spent much of the first 17 years of my life behind closed doors. I did not have many opportunities to socialize normally with my peers, nor was I ever given much in the way of practical worldly instruction, say for how to handle money and credit, or how to shop for clothes that fit me properly, or how to wear makeup.

My mother did allow me to go to school. I think she was smart enough to know that not doing so would bring the authorities into our lives and then our "cover would be blown". Furthermore, she had me convinced that if I talked to anyone who was part of the Mafia, they would come find us; and if I talked to anyone who was not a part of the Mafia, then they would be endangered by knowing about us. In this way she was able to keep me emotionally and psychologically cut-off from everyone else but her, even in those rare times when I may not have been cut-off from others physically.

Going to school eventually included college, and that is where I finally began to experience something like "freedom". My mother had qualified for Social Security Disability by then, and she lived in a small duplex close to campus.  She still relied on me for bringing her groceries, but otherwise managed her life and the occasional pet, more or less on her own.  I initially lived in the dorms, but later lived with other students (one of whom was also my cousin) in several different houses in the area.

It was while we were living in one of those houses, late one summer evening, when the police showed up at our door. They were there to inform me that my mother was in the emergency room. The first thought that came to mind was that maybe she had experienced a heart attack, as she had always complained of heart and/or blood related illnesses, though none were ever confirmed by doctors.  However, when I entered the emergency room and saw her lying on the gurney, the first thing she asked was "Who shot me?" It did not appear to me that there were any wounds to warrant her question, although there was a very large bruise on the back of her neck.  She went on to explain that she had heard my voice and the voices of my sisters (twins to each other and eight years older than me), and she thought we were all dead and she just wanted to be dead, too. I assured my mother that I was not dead, and then she continued at length to explain "what had happened to her" with all types of language and symbolism that only someone like me, who had grown up with all of that, could actually make any sense of. 

Later that morning, the minister of the church we had been involved with came to see us, and my mother repeated the story for him, only this time, I listened from his perspective, a "third person's" perspective, not "pre-conditioned" as mine had been. As I listened in this way, all of a sudden it hit me, "This must sound sooo bizzare!"  Furthermore, as the evidence sunk in that my mother actually tried to kill herself, I reasoned "Prophets don't try to kill themselves, and so, therefore, we are probably not prophets", which meant, for all intents and purposes, the rest of my "life story" had also been "One Big Lie". And then, with a crescendo of realization, the voice growing louder in my own head: "That means I have been afraid for all of these years For No Good Reason!!!! What a WASTE!!!!"

Later that day, my mother was transported to one of the State's mental hospitals, to be committed by the authorities as they had the right to do given that she had tried to harm herself. I went there a few days later to take her some of her clothes and other belongings to have with her in the hospital. Although, I still loved my mother, I was also relieved that I no longer had to be burdened with the responsibility of taking care of her, the burden I had actually been carrying for much of my life. Instead, it was now time for others, people trained to care for people like my mother, to take over. From a metaphysical perspective, I felt I must have had some past-life karma to resolve with my mother, but that I had "done my time" and was now released from the "prison" of our relationship... and that it was okay for me to get on with my own life.

Under the circumstances, that meant pretty much "starting over from scratch."  I was 20 at the time, and though of "legal age" I was still about as naive about the world, and how to relate to others, as a 12-year-old, and deep down inside I KNEW IT (as did some of the men who crossed my path).  But I was also determined to do everything I possibly could to figure things out.  There were mentor teachers and counselors around to help me, especially with books like The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck.  After reading that I was absolutely determined to See Reality for What It Was.  Even though my concepts of "God" and "Jesus" had pretty much gone out the window with any of the concepts of my own life as a "prophet," I still prayed to the Universe: "I want to know the Truth, about the world, about others, and about myself.  Just Bring IT ON...because I don't want to end up like my mother!"

Looking back, I actually bless my mother for many reasons:  First of all, by her life example (consciously chosen or not) she demonstrated for me what happens to someone when they are not dealing with reality as it is, and how the effects of that can impact everyone around them. Second, that day in the emergency room, again, more a consequence of her mental illness rather than a conscious choice, still granted me a completely Legitimate Reason to question everything I had ever learned in my life from her up to that point.  I think there are many adults in the world today who still have such emotionally charged illusions of their god-like parents, that they hesitate to ever question what they have learned from them.  That "illusion" was completely shattered for me, that day, and I am actually very grateful for that.

All in all, as I approached this second major stage of my life, I had a lot more freedom than most, to do what I wanted to do and to learn from my experiences. I was also free to think whatever I wanted to think and to explore ideas from all kinds of different sources. I was way beyond being afraid, because I knew how much of my life had already been wasted doing that. So again, I recognized that it was more of a blessing than a curse, this legacy I received from my mother. Nevertheless, I also knew, I had a LOT of "catching-up" to do.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Why All the "Drama"?

In my previous blog I suggested that there was a reason why the self-judgment we develop as a child is the "harshest judgment of all". Here is my theory of why that is the case.

This theory came to me as a drawing together of information from two main sources: The Drama of the Gifted Child by Alice Miller and Stages of Faith by James Fowler.

From the first book I gained a deeper appreciation for the vulnerability of life as a child and the intensity of emotions that children experience (much of which gets repressed). Deep inside, infants and small children understand instinctively that Their Very Lives depend on the caring and attention of their parents, let alone their "happiness". The fact is children will do whatever they possibly can to secure their parents' attention in order to survive, even if it means drawing negative attention and/or punishment. They would rather have that then suffer total neglect or abandonment which are a much greater threat to their survival.

The second book draws together the developmental theories of Erik Erikson, Jean Piaget, and Lawrence Kohlberg. With regards to the early childhood stage of 4-6 years old, Fowler, writing in the "voice" of Erik Erikson offers the following:

...In this stage a fateful split occurs in the emotional life of the child. Under the impact of emerging infantile sexuality with its fantasies and the answering terrors of incest taboos and other prohibitions, a child internalizes the constraining voices of parental judgment, setting them over and against the instinct fragments that have heretofore fueled bodily and psychic growth and exuberance in relatively unconflicted ways. If shame is a visual phenomenon, guilt is auditory. With an inner ear the child hears the admonitory or judging voices of the now internalized set of parental injunctions and prohibitions, curbing or circumscribing the child's thrustings and seductions. The problem is the infantile conscience or superego can be more primitive, cruel and uncompromising than the parents or other adults ever intended.... (1981 edition, pp. 61-62).

When I read the above I had the question come to mind: Why? Why does the child's "internal voice of judgment" become even harsher than what the parents or other adults might have intended? And then, the message from Alice Miller's book came to mind...

Think of it this way: In a more primitive circumstance, what a child learns from its parents or the other adults in its environment pertains almost exclusively to the child's actual survival: what foods are edible and what foods are poisonous, what tracks lead to animal foods and what tracks lead to animals that look at humans as food, etc., etc. Consequently, it is actually a matter of life and death for such a child to internalize this information as deeply and surely as it possibly can.

However, in our current society, there is So Much More information that a child "absorbs" that really has Very Little To Do with Life and Death!!! And yet, that is how the infant will take in that information instinctively. It is not until much later in their cognitive development that a child can start making those kinds of distinctions consciously. In fact, for most of their early lives, their brains are in a state of "hypnotic autopilot" with very little filtering of any kind. (And you can find out more about this in Bruce Lipton's book The Biology of Belief.) For the parent, what they are teaching their child may just be a matter of functional or social etiquette, but for the child it becomes a Matter of Life and Death (and more or less so depending on how much reinforcement the parents provide for a certain behavior).

Furthermore, generation after generation, more and more things get inadvertently added to the list of "life and death" matters: Do you put the silverware in the drain handle up or handle down? Do you fold the towels in quarters or in thirds? Do you put the toilette paper roll on paper top side or paper bottom side? Do you wear name brands or will generics be okay? Do you have to be twenty pounds under weight to be thought attractive? Do you have to smoke and drink to be accepted by your peers? Do you have to make a lot of money or drive a fancy car to "survive"? Do you have to be a vegan or is eating a little meat every once in a while okay? Not to you have to find "the perfect mate" who will "always be there for you" (i.e. never "abandon" you) in order to survive and be happy?

The list goes on and on and the interpersonal dramas that play out around all of these things (and more) are dramatic because (I suspect) we have all become terribly, terribly, confused about which of these has any real bearing on our actual, physical, "survival/happiness" and which really Do NOT Matter one way or the other. To be honest, I have known of marriages that have floundered at least in part because of conflicts around these very issues. I can also see how just this kind of confusion can be the downfall of any worthwhile group effort such as building a sustainable community.

There is another consideration as well: At what point does the idea of "soul salvation" get confused with "individual survival"? Because, needless to say, there have been and still are great and dramatic conflicts that arise over the "life and death" - or shall I say - "heaven" vs. "hell" orientation of religious practices. And far from contributing to the functional survival of human beings as a whole, they have all too often contributed to the murder of whole populations of "unbelievers". Even worse, when the believer's own salvation is tied to their actively seeking the salvation, or conversion, or death of the "non-believers", dare I say (sometimes) "All hell breaks loose!"

And is ANY of this Really Necessary???? Are we really talking about basic survival issues, or is this all just a sad consequence of our instinctive capacity to internalize the "lessons of childhood" as if All of them were "Matters of Life and Death"!?

I would answer "No" to the first question and "Yes" to the second, at least based on my own insights and observations. Granted, I don't have a lot of research to back-up my theory, but I'm not so sure we have a lot of time left to test it, before we will all be forced to figure out which issues really are a "matter of life and death" and which issues are not. And it is those matters of most importance that have to be addressed individual by individual and community by community.

At this point, I would encourage everyone who wants to be involved in building more sustainable human culture to pay close attention to where the "drama energy" comes into play and be willing to ask the question: Is this really a matter of "life and death" or is it something else, something that does not warrant that level of intense emotional response? When everyone can come to a better understanding of such intense reactivity in themselves and see where it is rooted, then they can (hopefully) start to relax and learn to deal more effectively with the matters that actually are of the greatest importance. In this way we can all learn to work productively with others and avoid conflicts over issues that don't really matter in order to focus all of our energy on the issues that actually do - like making sure all human beings are able to meet their basic needs for clean air and water, healthy food, functional housing, affordable health care, and meaningful work.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Difference Between Judgment and Discernment

I think most people are familiar with the phrase from the Bible "Judge not lest ye be judged." Does that mean if I am going to conduct myself as a "Good Christian" (or just a "good person") I should never make any "judgments" about my experiences or the people with whom I interact? Think about it. This could be taken as a outright condemnation of rational criticism!

Like so many people in this country, I was raised in the Christian tradition and I grew up really trying to practice this idea of "judge not lest ye be judged" and "love as self-sacrifice". Consequently, I never "judged" my mother (in spite of the fact that she kept me locked behind closed doors for most of my childhood and adolescence), and I was "sacrificing self" long before I even had any sense of what my "self" was. This behavior was perpetuated into my college years, where I loved Everyone "unconditionally", even the men who took advantage of my childish naiveté (which, of course, resulted from my being under nearly constant "house arrest" in my early years with very little normal socializing contact with my peers). To put it another way, I was always offering the "oxygen mask" to others in the plane without ever realizing I wasn't wearing an "oxygen mask" myself.

It wasn't until my late 20s, after a very dysfunctional relationship with an employer (one that left me depressed and suicidal) that I had the opportunity to read Women Who Run with the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes. And more than that, I was able to share that experience with a larger group of 15 or 20 other women. The reading took us about a year-and-a-half. Among many other things, that experience taught me the difference between "judgment" and "discernment", and that it was okay, in fact, absolutely necessary for me to develop my capacity for discernment, so that I could learn to deal more effectively with "predators" like my employer, but even more importantly, so that I could learn to deal more effectively with the "judgmental" and potentially self-destructive aspects of my own nature.

So, what is the difference between "judgment" and "discernment"?

First of all, when we "judge" we attach positive or negative value to that which we are "judging". When we judge something positively our hearts "open" and when we judge something negatively our hearts "close." In contrast, one can "discern"; i.e. see reality for what it is, without attaching positive or negative value to it. In this case the heart can stay "open" and fearless, and you can make rational choices about how to respond to what you have observed.

The best example I can offer of this is the following: You see a tiger in the jungle. You understand that it is its nature to eat human-sized animals. You don't have to "hate" the tiger for being the way it is, while, at the same time, you would not try to walk up to the tiger calling out, "Here, Kitty, Kitty!" Instead, your wisest choice is to simply, quietly, remove yourself from the tiger's territory. If the tiger is bent on encroaching aggressively on your territory, then you have the alternative option of capturing it and locking it up. Or, if the tiger actually attacks you, you have every right to defend yourself, even if it means killing the tiger. At no point do you have to "hate" the tiger in order to take these actions to protect yourself. You don't have to "close your heart", you don't have to "judge" the tiger as "evil."

This attitude can be applied to all potential and very real "predators" in our society. This can also be applied to our "internal predators", those voices of self-judgment that may be "attacking" or criticizing us at every turn. As necessary, these internal predators also need to be "put behind bars" so they will no longer be of any threat to our self-esteem.

This is especially important to understand if you are a chronologically mature adult who is starting down a path of personal re-development. The self-judgment we start to pattern as children can be the harshest of all. (See my blog Why all the 'Drama'? for more explanation on this.) Therefore, it is even more important to recognize that just as you must "discern" reality in the external world (and not "close your heart"), you must also learn to "discern" the realities of your "self" and your "internal world" and not "close your heart" to yourself, either.

In conclusion, if there is any "truth" to "Judge not lest ye be judged" it is that when we "close our hearts" for ANY reason, we "hurt" ourselves. When we "judge" others and "close our hearts" to them, they are very likely to respond in kind and "close their hearts" to us. When we "judge" ourselves, when we "close our hearts" to ourselves, we are hurting ourselves. Nevertheless, it is in everyone's best interest to "see reality for what it is with little or no denial" because that is the only way we can use our rational minds to make effective decisions relative to what we observe. Furthermore, it is my belief that this is in part one of the highest callings of mature human beings; i.e. to use the rational minds we have to use in the most effective way possible, in other words to be "discerning", to realize Truth, and to Love open-heartedly.

Yours in Peace...

Friday, September 9, 2011

No Problem Being Human - Lots of Problems "Growing Up"

I listened to a discussion between Stefan Molyneux and Stephanie Murphy recently on the use of corporal punishment when raising children. (Here's the link: Stephanie Murphy Corporal Punishment). I think the one thing that really stuck with me had to do with the ideas held by (many?) who follow Biblical instructions (mostly Old Testament), that (to paraphrase): Children are born "evil" and, therefore, have to have the "evil" beaten out of them. Furthermore, Stefan made the point that it is very difficult for the parents with this mindset to "withhold the rod" because they are convinced that the child's very soul and their "eternal salvation" hang in the balance.  So, it is really quite sad: the parents are trying to be helpful to their children and yet the scientific research is now showing just how detrimental punishment, especially physical punishment, really is for the brain development and the overall emotional psychological development of children.

For years now I have held the belief that what some see as issues of human "morality" are actually issues of human "development."  For instance, with a truly loving, peaceful, and supportive environment, children naturally develop a capacity for empathy by the time they are five or six years old. However, if the child is significantly traumatized prior to that age, then there is a very high risk of "arrested development"; in other words, the child gets "stuck" in their emotional and psychological development while their cognitive and physical development may continue more or less normally.

From my observations, I think a LOT of people get "stuck" around three-and-a-half to four-and-a-half years of age if not earlier.  So they never make it to "five". They never make it to "empathy". They never make it to the point where they can really see from another person's "point of view." Unfortunately, being able to see from another person's point of view is probably one of The Most Important abilities to have in order to be able to negotiate effectively and, therefore, to be able to resolve conflicts through non-violent means.

If "most" of the world's children are being physically or even psychologically abused, or traumatized in any number of other ways, and therefore, "most" of them never fully mature as human beings, then it is no wonder we keep looking to a parental force like a "State" and its various levels of government to "take care of us" - to resolve the conflicts we ourselves cannot resolve on our own. Unfortunately, many (if not most) of the human beings who eventually become "public servants" are no better off than the rest of us; they are being drawn from that same pool of abused children, and so there is no real benefit having "them" doing the negotiating for "us".  They are Us.

So, what is going to happen when the current governments and social political structures of the world collapse? I am sure there are still many adults who, like children, will continue to fantasize that "everything is going to be okay", but for those of us who might be just a little more capable of "seeing reality for what it is with little or no denial", then such "collapses" are cleary inevitable.  It is not a matter of "if" but "when".  For those who have never had to rely on their own interpersonal skills to resolve conflicts effectively, the future may look Very, Very, Scary.

But it doesn't have to be for two reasons: 1) There are more and more advances being made in neurobiology and psychotherapy that can help people get past their developmental blocks and start to grow again. 2) There are at least a few more people in the world today who are acting as Fully Mature Human Beings, capable of empathy and understanding, people who have learned how to resolve conflicts effectively in their interpersonal relationships and who can teach others to do the same.

However, if for any reason we continue to cling to the false beliefs that 1) There is something fundamentally "wrong" or "evil" in human nature, 2) That that "problem" or "evil" is present from the moment we are born, and therefore, 3) Something violent has to be done to us as children in order to "beat the evil out of us"... then we will never see any kind of long-lasting peace in our interpersonal relationships and by extension in the world.

It really is that simple.

If you are a person who believes as I do, that our "moral" issues may have roots in "arrested development" rather than in some fundamental "flaw" in human nature; if you believe that most conflicts (both private and public) can be resolved non-violently, then I encourage you to continue to read this blog.  I feel I am a human being who has actually Grown Up, and I have learned so many things along the way to help me become a more truly empathetic, compassionate, understanding, rational, and peaceful person. I want to share what I have learned with you, so that you might grow as well and become more confident in your own abilities to resolve conflicts with like-minded and like-hearted, fully mature, adult human beings.

Yours in Peace...