Friday, December 19, 2008
Thursday, December 18, 2008
Soul-making and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
Post = prefix meaning "after"
Traumatic = to rub away, grind away, crush
Stress = force, pressure, oppression
Disorder = to destroy the order or regular arrangement of
PTSD is the name of a condition in which the regular order of life is destroyed as the result of being ground away under relentless pressure.
PTSD is another name for soul-making. While the modern medical model would put it under the study of ‘Abnormal Psychology’, there is nothing abnormal about it.
This is not meant to minimize the condition or symptoms, nor dismiss the medical guidelines for treatment. My aim is to help us see that there is more to the condition than just the medical metaphor.
There is often a lot of grief, depression, anxiety and anger in the person who has been ground down under some sort of very intense pressure, resulting in what has been labled PTSD. But the difference between seeing it as ‘abnormal’ psychology and an advanced course in soul-making is the difference between seeing it as purposeful and unique, compared to seeing it as some sort of mental illness or aberrant human condition that has no place in life. It is possible to feel like everything in your world is wrong compared to what you want it to feel like, and yet not have anything cosmically or ultimately Wrong. If you are suffering what has been called PTSD, there is nothing weird, odd or strange about you.
It is critical to seek treatment in order to move through it, but don’t add to the situation by thinking your condition means you are sick and abnormal. The word trauma comes from an Indo-European root that means to grind or whittle down. PTSD is a clinical name for a crash course in the destruction or grinding away of the old self you were before the traumatic events came upon you. It is a technical name for what we are on this earth do - namely, grow a self, shed it and grow another as we evolve toward our full Humanity.
The Apostle Peter went through an ordeal of seeing Christ arrested, whipped and killed, and living under the stress of being arrested and crucified himself. He was a fugitive and lived in perpetual terror. Jesus had earlier said, “Peter, the Shatan has asked permission to sift you like wheat (perfect illustration of trauma) in order that you might strengthen the brothers.” Jesus was referring to an experience that we might today call PTSD. The fact is that life on this planet is filled with the PTSD experiences. However, there is a difference between seeing the events as experiences to grind away a former layer of the self in order that a new self may emerge, and seeing the events as ruining your life and chances for happiness. The worm that finds itself pressed tightly into a cocoon is a PTSD candidate. Yet the aim is not to get therapy in order to return to the old worm self, but to move into the new butterfly self.
The Psyche sees what we call PTSD as a way to grow a soul – a very distressing and troubling course. The goal is to release the old self that you remember before the trauma, then experience the trauma within a caring community, consistently praying for God’s will to result from the morphing into a new person. Most PTSD ‘victims’ tend to blame the people who did it to them rather than see the doing as part of their soul-making journey.
As babies, we all enter this world through PTSD – a little fetus floating in a nice sack of water, being fed through the umbilical cord, soothed by the beating heart and swaying walk of the mother – and then after 9 months, contractions press the child down a narrow canal, through a tiny opening and into the cold, bright, noisy world called human life. This is trauma – the grinding down of the old womb-self in order to become the post-womb self. The aim is to move through the trauma and become the next self, the post-fetal self. This birthing process occurs many times throughout one’s life, and very likely after this life.
In the movie, The War at Home, Emilio Estevez plays a
I remember the night I heard that my 25 year old son had been killed in
In the movie, The War at Home, the traumatized young
Experiencing joy in life, and recovery (perhaps discovery is a better word) from PTSD are directly proportional to ones ability to move through the creative emotional upheaval, stand in the chaos, excavate the darkness roiling below the psyche in the unconscious realms, and observe the new dwelling that is being built from the crushed rubble. Within each of us is ever-blossoming soul material, emerging from the dirt and fertilizer of the old self. This is the archetypal myth of
PTSD may use the medical metaphor, but I think we must be careful. We are not sick, rather we are deconstructed. There is nothing wrong at the cosmic level, though from our social perspectives everything is severely wrong. Pharmaceuticals will not solve the problem in the long run, though they may provide some temporary relief. Alcohol, sex, drugs and a host of other consciousness altering substances or events won’t last long term. Seeing a therpist or counselor and blaming our parents, the government, et al will do little to promote the emergence of the new soul.
Why do these traumatic events happen? Who knows? I don’t. But that they do occur, and occur frequently on this planet requires us to take them as part of the normal phenomena of existence. From there, we will either see them as abnormal psychology, or normal events that come to move us into deeper and deeper experiences of soul.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
"God comes into our lives when we do things that make us truly human. When we help the poor, when we speak out for justice, when we get over our exaggerated sense of our own importance..."
~ Rabbi Harold Kushner
IN THE BEGINNING, DARKNESS
We use many terms without much examination. The term 'enlightenment' is one such word. It is assumed we know what it means: to have the 'light' come 'in', hence, en-lightenment. The implication is that we are in the dark of useless ignorance and need to have the light of awareness. That sounds plausible, and is clearly true, at certain times. However, I maintain that we also need 'endarkenment' to become aware. Why? Because so much of it exists. On the physical level, it has been estimated that over 90% of the Universe is dark, and most matter 'out there' is dark matter. On the psycho-spiritual level, every mythology begins with darkness:
- Genesis – The earth was without form, and it was void of light. Eventually, God's Spirit hovered over the roiling dark chaos and out came light.
- Taoism – The Tao Te Ching, Chapter 1 says all that is came from darkness, using the image of the dark womb.
- Greeks – 1 Erebos, or darkness, was the child of Chaos, and from them came light and form. In some myths, Erebos marries Nyx (Night) and they populate the world, in other myths, Erebos is a part of Hades, the Underworld where the dead reside.
Based on the raw data of our day to day existence, darkness is as necessary and normal to the Universe as is light. If the Cosmos comes with so much darkness, and all mythologies make darkness the foundation of light and life, then we need to rethink our use of the word, enlightenment. For my approach is 'phenomenological' – that is, we must begin our examination of reality with the basic phenomena (events, experiences, observable incidents) that exist rather than begin with our ideas or theories about how it ought to be. Of course it is good to imagine how our human world could be someday, and the need to work for change. However, we must begin with 'what is'. This approach is especially important if we do not believe in Original Sin, that is, if we see the Nature as being perfect as it stands, not having been modified or ruined by a a human, alien or evil spirit.
Many humans prefer to develop theories of life based on personal experiences rather than the existence of ALL of the raw phenomena of daily life. Hence, a man's terrifying experiences of night, chaos, darkness and all that goes with these phenomena cause him to assume these aspects of existence to be bad. Based on that assumption, he develops a metaphysics or religion of light and order. On one level it makes total sense. Humans want stability, pleasure and happiness, so feeling secure and content are the beginning points and aim of existence. But do those elements alone make a beneficial spiritual system?
Try to imagine a child developing a philosophy of life based on what giveS him pleasure in school. Depending on the student, the enjoyable experiences would form the basis, structure and goal of his metaphysical or philosophical system. He would call algebra and grammar evil, while physical education and recess might be called the good. Most of us recognize that such an approach to a life would be utterly ridiculous. My algebra teacher used to remind me daily that sometimes the uncomfortable and difficult experiences (phenomena) of school were normal and necessary for long term gains. I didn't believe him then. I do now.
But sometimes as adults, our religious and spiritual ideas and systems work just that way. We view pain, disease, suffering, fragmentation and dark emotional experiences like worry, fear and sadness as bad. We view security, wholeness, health and order as good. We call the emotions of peace, joy and happiness good. With those unquestioned assumptions of what the good ought to be, we proceed to find a scapegoat for the unpleasant stuff – usually finding some form of Satan and/or the selfish human Ego to be the problem and obstacle blocking us from the good. That is, we blame a Malevolent Spirit and/or humans for the painful stuff, while the God or Gods are the source of all good stuff. From that assumption, we see the aim of existence as a continuous struggle to extricate ourselves from all dark, chaotic, bad situations and 'negative' feelings. Many resort to deciding that there must have been a good world in the beginning that went sour, and that there is a good world coming in the end which will put an end to all suffering. In the meantime, sandwiched between the beginning and end, we try to do all that we can to escape, avoid and villainize the darkness.
The only problem is that this view never works!
Occasionally we have periods where all goes well as we have periods where all goes smoothly and we are 'in the light of God'. But inevitably we run into a period where life fall apart and we are assailed by anger, fear, resentment, worry and grief. This is true of all human beings, even those who teach that you do not have to suffer. I suppose they could be right, but I have never yet that avoided suffering altogether. Every mystic I have known reacts to pain to some degree - when they stub their toe, or feel outrage at an act of injustice, or become violent against those they accuse of using violence. Why? Because we are made to have those feelings. Lions tackle, strangle, eviscerate and devour Gazelles. Cats eat mice and meteors slam into planets. The sun will one day burn out and all life on this planet will disappear forever. Einstein's biggest disappointment was that the Universe wasn't absolutely stable and predictible. The Cosmos is filled with disintegration as well as integration, darkness as well as light. So if we begin with the phenomena of existence, life includes not just enlightenment, but also experiences of darkness and disintegration
It seems to me that we are here to become aware through light and darkness, both. I think we are here to conceive of and develop mature souls. I call it 'En-Humanment'. That is a new word as far as I know. By en-Humanment, I mean that we arrive on this planet with a body, soul and spirit. Those elements are not mingled or formed when we arrive. The aim of life is to experience all that goes on in this earthly classroom in order to combine body, soul and spirit into something we might call a Human. I capitalize the word intentionally, implying that we begin as humans, and become Human as body, soul and spirit move through daily life and congeal into some essence which we cannot see with the ordinary physical human eye. The earth is truly Mother Earth in that She is a womb for embryonic souls being coceived via all events in this life, the good, the bad and the ugly. Through a kind of Spiritual Isometrics, we meet resistance in many forms and increase strength. That is the way the physical body develops, and I think it is the way the soul body evolves.
INVISIBLE SOULS AND BECOMING HUMAN
This invisible state of the forming soul is illustrated beautifully by Charles Dickens in his 1843 classic, A Christmas Carol. Miserly old Ebeneezer Scrooge is visited by the ghost of his deceased business partner, Bob Marley, who had died seven years earlier. Marely, like Scrooge, had been an avaricious and self centered human being. Scrooge notices that the pale specter of Marley is wrapped in locks and chains. The following conversation ensues:
``You are fettered,'' said Scrooge, trembling. ``Tell me why?''
``I wear the chain I forged in life,'' replied the Ghost. ``I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it. Is its pattern strange to you?''
Scrooge trembled more and more.
``Or would you know,'' pursued the Ghost, ``the weight and length of the strong coil you bear yourself? It was full as heavy and as long as this, seven Christmas Eves ago. You have labored on it, since. It is a ponderous chain!''
Scrooge glanced about him on the floor, in the expectation of finding himself surrounded by some fifty or sixty fathoms of iron cable: but he could see nothing.
Though not visible to the human eye, the state of soul which accompanies us beyond this physical incarnation is being formed moment by moment through our attitudes and choices. We are either becoming more, or less, en-Humaned. A similar kind of idea is explored by C.S. Lewis in his wonderful work of fantasy, The Great Divorce, about a group of tourists from Hell taking a bus trip to Heaven.
THE THREE PARTS OF EN-HUMANIZING
Every religion recognizes humans as being curiously constructed of various ingredients not quite stirred together and cooked yet. These include the physical body which I see as a kind of playing field where the game of making a Human takes place.The human spirit is the rational part, or mind that strives for unity, wholism, health and continual joy. Finally, soul is the illogical, insane, fragmented, dark part of us that leads us into thoughts of fear, anxiety and pathology.
SPIRITUAL GYMNASIUMS OVER HOSPITALS
Spirit is compelled to light, joy, peace, compassion and dreams of world peace. Soul is compelled to darkness, turmoil, terror and nightmares. Spirit pulls us straight into the heavens, soul plunges us into the meandering dark depths. We all know both realms of experience. But modern psychology minimizes the necessary work of soul by telling us that we are disordered as bi-polar, manic-depressive, schizophrenic, having multiple personalities and a host of other disparaging terms that often cause more harm than help. We don't need so much to 'cure' these dualities as see their psychic function in making us into Humans. We need to shift our primary focus away from curing unnecessary conflicts, to caring for necessary spiritual isometrics that make us into Humans. Our spiritual churches and psychiatric centers need to resemble gymnasiums rather than hospitals where we treat sick people. Clearly there is room for both metaphors, for sometimes we break spiritual bones and need cures, but the emphasis ought to be on training rather than illness.
We all have bodies that wake up some mornings feeling great! and other mornings feeling like crap. Each of us has an insane person living in us, our own personal Mr Hyde to accompany our socially acceptable Dr Jekyl. Robert Louis Stevenson understood human nature; the book became a classic because we are all, to some extent, both characters. You will find some form of this interactive dichotomy in all classic stories, ancient and modern (Bilbo's shire-self and ring-self in the Hobbit; Darth Vader and others struggling with the two sides of the Force, etc.).
Some will deny this saying, "Oh no, not me, I am a nice person, love my family, work hard each day, pray and love my neighbor; no, not me." I once knew a woman like this, and she was a nice woman. But after she died, her family cleaned out the back of her closet and found several dozen novels about serial rapists and killers. She had read them all, and hid them in her closet. Not even her husband knew she had them. Does this imply that she secretly liked rape and murder? Heavens no! But it does imply that her soul, like all souls, had a dark side that had to be fed and recognized. But like many, she closeted her dark soul, kept it hidden down in the sub-consciousness of her being. I think she resisted the en-Humanizing process.
Not until we recognize and face these soulful phenomena can we become truly Human. One of the reasons the 12 Step movement is so powerful is that addicts who are on the verge of death are literally forced to engage their dark shadows if they want to go on living. Those who seriously practice the 12 steps evolve into a Humanity they would have never imagined. However, people who are more 'normal' are more likely to hide their dark selves in some version of a closet. That is why Jesus hung out with the drunks and whores, and chastised the religious moralists. The sinner's darkness was exposed and out in the open. They had a chance to become Human if they could engage in the process of transmuting darkness into Humanness. This is illustrated beautifully in a story from the Gospel of John where a prominent Jewish clergyman named Nicodemus seeks Jesus out in secret, in the dark of night so he won’t be caught by his morally pure Rabbinic associates. In a very famous passage, usually misquoted as referring to immoral sinners, Jesus says to the socially virtuous Nicodemus, "Men love darkness rather than light because their works are evil." Jesus shocked this socially good man, telling him that his closeting of dark and evil fantasies, feelings and imaginings was not virtuous, but tantamount to a love affair with darkness. That is why confession is so powerful. When our 'dirty little secrets' spill out, we join the human race and become more Human, and humane.
So it seems to me that the goal of life is to become a Human, a complete and mature Being, through endarkenment as well as enlightenment. All the phenomena of life, from egoistic hubris to philanthropic giving are soul-making incidents. Our moments of failure and fragmentation are as normal and necessary as our moments of success and integration. Our pathologies of darkness are as necessary as our path into the light. We are here to become en-Humaned, to become fully Human. Life and death, war and peace, good and evil and all opposites work toward this end. Just as there are two poles on a car battery, negative and positive charges in an atom and two prongs on an electrical cord, so we cannot achieve en-Humanment without these opposites, spirit and soul working through the body.
"Don't you know the soul must travel through eighty-four thousand births in order to become a man?" Professor Shankar (Naga Baba), A River Sutra, Gita Mehta, p.281
 In Greek mythology, Erebus (pronounced /ɛrəbəs/) or Erebos (Ancient Greek: Ἔρεβος, English translation: "deep blackness/darkness or shadow") was the son of a primordial god, Chaos, and represented the personification of darkness and shadow, which filled in all the corners and crannies of the world. He was the offspring of Chaos alone. He was Nyx's (Night) Lover and fathered her children, Aether and Hemera, according to Hesiod (c. 700 BC). According to Hyginus (c. AD 1), he was the father of Geras.
According to some later legends, Erebus was part of Hades, the underworld. It was where the dead had to pass immediately after dying. After Charon ferried them across the river Acheron, they entered Tartarus, the underworld proper. Erebus was often used as a synonym for Hades, the Greek god of the underworld.
The word is probably from Proto-Indo-European language, *h1regwos, cognate to Old Norse røkkr, Gothic riqisSanskrit rajaniTamil Eravu "night", Tocharian orkäm "darkness". A loan from Semitic, c.f. Hebrewerebh and Akkadian erebuMartin Bernal, has not found acceptance. "night", "sunset, evening" (hence, "darkness"), as suggested by "darkness".
Monday, December 15, 2008
Recently, I have discovered that I am an unhealthy 'Waiter.' I am often unconsciously waiting for the sun - waiting for things to line up, or postponing enjoyment until the good outweighs or eradicates the bad. I am reminded of Woody Allen's role as Alvy Singer, the neurotic romantic in the movie Annie Hall. There is an interaction between Alvy (Woody Allen) and his ex-girlfriend Annie Hall (Diane Keaton) at an outdoor restaurant. Annie suggests they go somewhere and have some fun. Alvy morosely declines:
I think I have spent too much time suffering from A.S.S., the Alvy Singer Syndrome. Like Woody Allen's character, I have too often seen the world through the lens of ubiquitous suffering, omnipresent annoyances and the moments of darkness, "If one guy is starving someplace, that puts a crimp in my evening." The problem is that there is always some guy starving someplace!
And lest someone gloats over their superior optimism, consider our chronic obsession with waiting to solve Global Warming, to elect the right President, achieve the right body size or health, find the perfect church or job, purchase the latest fashions and construct the 'ideal' relationship. Our days can be ruined by stressing over recycling, bicycling, nuclear weapons, terrorism, and not having that Spring fresh feeling all day long. I am all for taking care of our bodies, solving international problems and caring for the planet, however, sometimes we are unconsciously spending all of our time waiting for the sun and focusing on that one guy starving someplace.
About four months after Jason's death, I was walking along the
I realized that I would never be 'whole' enough. Postponing experiences of Beauty could not wait on the salvation of my soul, the economy, or the earth. I often miss the Beauty right in front of me, or feel guilty for enjoying it. How often are we waiting for the sun?
STOP WAITING - PRACTICE SEEING THE BEAUTY: Viva Viagra!
When December arrived, I was compelled to designate the month as a time to stop waiting and to practice finding the Beauty, or to locate some Benefit in every thing, especially those things that are hard for me to find beautiful. For example, I really dislike television commercials. I do not like people interrupting my program, increasing the volume, screaming at me while jangly music plays over their inane babble, telling me what I lack and what I need while implying that I am stupid, unsuccessful and uncool without their product. I really get irritated! I understand why Elvis Presley once shot his television set.
As we move back toward the sun this December, remember, "When the Beauty is there, enjoy it fully. When it leaves, deal with the darkness. Both are always present, always."