Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The Function of Dysfunction


The universe into which we are born is intentionally unfinished and 'dysfunctional'. That means that dysfunction has a function. Self centered survival instincts like defensiveness, rationalization, fear, greed, war and jealousy are part and parcel of the normal human condition. It is from this base which we get to develop souls and grow character, just as a kindergartener begins her learning with math and reading problems. She has to learn the times tables and alphabet. Misspelling words and getting math sums wrong are normal and necessary for the learner. The infant must stumble before he can walk and stutter before he can talk. As one learns, awareness, choices and responsibilities increase with regard to geometry and literacy. One is enabled to take the newly acquired knowledge and choose to do harm or good.

Soul too must grow. We are always developing, whether we are conscious of it or not. We are learning the soul’s alphabet and math equations, how to spell and how to do sums. It is the purpose of existence. Humans are born with innate soul potential; internal categories or archetypal seed pods which are capable of being cultivated by the water of time, through failure, under the sunshine of Spirit and the fertilizer of life struggles. Life is a kind of kindergarten. Teachers come along every second of the day in the form of internal thoughts and feelings, and external people and situations. Often these teachers are seriously ‘dysfunctional,’ or our responses are less than ideal. Being conscious that this is the nature of life makes it much less painful and easier to care for the soul.

We often speak of being raised, or ruined, by a dysfunctional family. All parents did what their spiritual development allowed them to do at the time. Each of us, no matter what our chronological age, is a kindergartener of sorts. I believe that the Universe is a school of soul-making which includes dysfunction and what we have labeled abnormal behaviors. This means that the insanities of my parents, their parents, the parents of their parents and as far back as theologians or geneticists can conjecture or trace DNA, are part of the 'way it is'. Why can we accept the insane chaos and collisions throughout the physical universe as being cosmically beautiful and normal, and then turn around and call our own psychic relational collisions and life chaos abnormal and wrong? Is it because we want someone to blame in this school of soul-making? Is this the psychological equivalent of 'the dog ate my homework'?


My parents functioned at the level to which their souls had advanced when I was born and growing up with them. Since I have become an adult, I have watched them continue to grow up – to observe their souls becoming richer and deeper. A few years ago, I watched my mother die a slow, soulful death as she withered away from colon cancer. One day, with tumors filling her abdomen, she said to me, "Mike, I look back at the way we raised you kids and I am so sorry. We were obsessed with success, work and being successful. If I could go back I would…".

I don't remember all that she said at that point. I do recall seeing the kind of reflective regret that only adversity and imminent death can bring. I saw and felt her remorse and sadness coming from tearful eyes and trembling lips. I now know that I was not looking at a dysfunctional parent, but at a beautiful soul blossoming through the life she had lived, and was about to finish.


It is possible to live in the tension or paradox of seeing the world perfectly imperfect, and to hold conscious human beings accountable for their actions, words and attitudes. The Chinese Tao Te Ching says that 'before one can become perfect, he must be imperfect.' Jesus said the same thing, "The first shall be last and the last shall be first."

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