Wednesday, July 2, 2008

From the Medieval Rack to Medical Prozac


Our monotheistic, monogamous, monopolistic, mono-psychological West does not typically like the heresy of anything poly (many). We will not tolerate polytheism, polygamy or polyamory. We focus on integration and wholeness. We emphasize law, order, consistency and integrity. We want complete equality between races, genders and religions. There is an unquestioned assumption that union is the supreme virtue. Even our professed love of multi-culturalism would have us wrongly believe that all humans and human organizations are basically the same. Unity, united, union and unification are the aims of this culture. Abraham Lincoln sacrificed the lives of over half a million men to keep these states united. G.W. Bush Jr. fancies himself a sort of modern Lincoln, using force to unite the world under American democracy.

We will not tolerate any loose ends or losers. Being number one is admired in sports and business, all the rest are second or worse. Any hint of non-cooperative dysfunction or fragmentation is immediately a disorder. You are a team player or a trouble maker. We consider insanity (not being whole) the worst fate to befall a human being. Marx’s Commun-ism was a secular and modernized version of Catholic Comm-union-ism – uniting all into one body. Anything bi-, poly-, schizoid or multiple is the modern scientific equivalent of old medieval heresy. We don't put our fragmented heretics on the rack to bring them around to religious unity, we put them on Prozac to make them socially and statistically 'normal'. Medical and Medieval are closely related etymologicaly and ideologically. Both are 'medi' words - the middle, transitioning from darkness and fragmentation to healing and wholeness. Both provide robed clergymen with the elements to fix all brokenness.
These are noble aspirations, but only part of the human condition.

The Chinese Tao Te Ching says, “If you want to become whole, let yourself be partial. If you want to be united, let yourself be fragmented.” (Poem 22)

Human fragmentations, ‘abnormalities’ and break downs are as necessary as human wholeness and integration. And we must avoid the subtle trap set by the psychology of the human potential movement which graciously ‘allows’ fragmentation as a secondary, inferior and mediatorial process, always trumped by and inferior to one’s ‘full potential,’ whatever the hell that is. Honestly, none of us reaches his or her ‘full’ potential, until he or she is emptied out completely. This is attested to by all spiritual teachers; we must give up ourselves in order to find them. To be a servant through selfless surrender is the way to serenity and contentment. This often comes by fragmentation and disorder. Show me a man or woman who is frantically seeking to be integrated, and I will show you a man or woman on the verge of a major catastrophe. Striving after such spiritual wholeness is admirable, but this one sided pursuit will always result in complementary action. This is a soul-making Universe, which is also a Poly-verse. We need the One and the Many. You might as well try to start a car without the negative pole on the battery, or light a home without the negative outlet. Empowerment and enlightenment, of necessity, include the negative and positive, both integration and fragmentation.


This culture is very familiar with the phrase, ‘hitting the bottom,’ which refers to the addict who has sunken into the depths of his or her destructive habit, and is now ready to rise up to wholeness. But we need to recognize that there is also something called ‘hitting the top,’ the addict who has achieved so much success, abundance and notoriety that they are now ready to fall apart and crack up. Both are necessary for soul-making, or spiritual growth. We see it happen with celebrities all of the time, and many of us get some sort of vicarious satisfaction, just as we enjoy seeing the loser climb to the top. The Tao Te Ching says it like this:

Success is as dangerous as failure.
Hope is as hollow as fear.
What does it mean that success is a dangerous as failure?
Whether you go up the ladder or down it,
you position is shaky. (Poem 13)

If we pay attention to our normal lives, we will find a curious pattern emerging. We enter into a crisis of some sort – something is threatened or taken away - a job, a precious relationship, health, or finances. We fall apart to some extent, worry, fear, obsess, cry, pray and focus our attention on the crisis. There is always a conscious or unconscious assumption in the midst of such times, “when this is resolved, I will finally be happy!” We really believe it. When this failure is resolved and ends successfully or just runs out of gas, we sense that life will finally be alright. Well, the crisis is resolved, in a hour or a decade, and there is a sigh of relief, serenity revives and relaxation reigns. What then happens? We always, either immediately or within a relatively short time, find another crisis, or a crisis finds us. It may be an old secondary crisis that we had shelved, or a new one that comes up. But another always arrives. Yes, there may be periods of absolute or relative calm - when life, love and circumstances are heavenly. All is well, God is good, and it is as it ought to be. Then....the next crisis. Until we see that these two poles are normal, necessary and endemic to the soul-making regimen, we will labor under the delusion that SOMEDAY, I will be crisis free! Wholeness will always be followed by fragmentation, and fragmentation by wholeness.


So does this mean we can have no lasting peace of mind? That depends on how we define peace. If by peace we mean no more crises, no, there will be no peace. But if by peace we mean that we can gradually learn that positive and negative events work in tandem to make souls, it is possible to experience joy and peace in any situation. But it is not easy. It will likely take years, if not lifetimes. Jesus encouraged his followers, people just like you and me, "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." Notice, you will have trouble in this world, but take heart. Jesus does not sugar coat it or hint that it can be learned at a seminar or by watching Oprah. He had given up all of his possessions, prayed for his enemies, loved his friends who betrayed and denied him, and forgave those who tortured and crucified his body. If you think it is easy to achieve such peace, please, by all means do it easily! But pay attention to how you react when the next crisis, or success, arises and what follows. Be encouraged, it is possible - but be realistic, it may take a while.

The Tao Te Ching verse I just quoted ends like this:

When you stand with your two feet on the ground,
you will always keep your balance. (Poem 13)

In other words, one foot on the positive pole, the other on the negative pole; one foot resting in success, the other in failure. One foot recognizing that we are on this planet to experience wholeness, the other foot recognizing that we are here to experience fragmentation. Typically, we will find people, and be people, who stand with one foot on the ground. We will tend to view life as completely positive, or negative; we call these people optimists or pessimists - both are immersed in delusional thinking. The balanced person learns through trial and error, successes and failures, insanities and integrations, that life is an eternal interplay of dualities on the stage of the human body. The aim is to make souls, and teach us to live in the flesh as it is assailed and decays. Another section of the Tao Te Ching says it like this:

As it acts in the world, the Tao
is like the bending of a bow.
The top is bent downward;
the bottom is bent up.
It adjusts excess and deficiency
so that there is perfect balance.
It takes from what is too much
and gives to what isn't enough. (Poem 77)

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