Tuesday, December 21, 2010


After the death of my son, Jason, in 2008, someone sent me some words from the teacher, Byron Katie. Katie wrote this about her experience of loss when a brother died. Following is my response. I will warn the reader, I did not find Katie's response very helpful and describe why. You decide. Seek, and you shall find:

Reality is always kind

"If my daughter (or brother in my case) dies, I realize that there is no self to be affected. It's not about me. This is about her life, my child's life, and mind --the unceasing bodiless mind that is finally awake to itself, the mind that never existed as a her, and the her that can never die. In this, we are never separated. And that's just a beginning: it gets even kinder. I get to see what my child's children grow in to because she was not there to teach them differently. Whenever I lose something, I've been spared. Every loss has to be a gain, unless the loss is being judged by a confused mind. I come to see what fills that space in my kindness in my world cannot decrease, because something else enters the space that I held her in. Just when you think that life can't get any better, it has to. That's the law."

~~ by Byron Katie



from Michael Bogar

I can certainly find some wisdom in this quote containing Byron Katie's current soul-story about death, loss, judgment and confusion. It evoked this long response. I certainly don’t expect you to read it to the end. But it is my interaction with her quote, my current soul-story about Jason's death and my judgment and confusion around it. And I do know that blogs are often like watching other people’s vacation slides.

My concern with this quote is the assumption that 'judgment,' 'confusion' and the suffering they cause are unnecessary experiences, and are best gotten rid of. Just because something is undesirable doesn't mean it is unnecessary. Often teachers who compassionately seek to end suffering imply that there is no cosmic necessity in the suffering created by a judgmental and confused mind/brain. Perhaps there is another way of seeing this. Perhaps the Universe is a wondrous place for the eternal experience of 'Confusion'. Perhaps the mind/brain are made to judge and to be confused. Perhaps there is great purpose in such emotions, as painful as they are.


Isometrics is the increase in strength as a result of the necessary and normal fusion (co-fusion) of joint and muscle with the hard objects of resistance. Without gravity and solid matter, humans would be limp noodles. Babies emerge from the womb kicking against uterine walls, swinging their arms, inhaling and expelling oxygen for the first time, grabbing fingers, fighting gravity, pushing against hard surfaces and screaming against the resistance of a very 'oppressive' (to press against) world. Without these resistances, or oppressing co-fusions, they would never develop. The body would grow flabby and atrophy without continued resistance against immovable or reluctantly movable objects.

I call this Spiritual Isometrics. I call this soul-making. The soul is in some ways analogous to the human body. It is not made of matter, but like the body it must encounter continual resistance in order to develop. The propensity for mental and emotional conflict is built into the mind/brain, or psychic world, to provide a force of resistance that increases soul. This is important--the propensity for conflict, resistance and co-fusions are built into the process.

Mind/brain, as a vehicle of soul, functions like joints and muscles to expand through resistance. We know this to be true of neurons, that they increase and multiply through fusion with (co-fusion or con-fusion) crossword puzzles, college exams or arguing and trying to figure out ways to prove we are right to our partners, even when we are not. All great inventions and adventures are the result of meeting and fusing with resistance in order to expand beyond the current state of mind and soul maturity.

Resistance and confusion are native to Reality. At the cosmic level, the Big Bang is an act of creative resistance as once unified mass explodes into bits and then co-fuses back into new phenomena. This has a fancy name, the Nebular Hypothesis, where stellar debris falls together and co-fuses into planets and stars, etc. The recent Membrane Theory which attempts to explain the Big Bang says, “Spontaneous creation of matter seems to be possible, because the resistance of the existing matter inside the membrane is producing a great amount of energy.” One physicist oversimplified it by saying, “The universe appears to be made up of quantum membranes, like vast cells, and when two or more collide, they con-fuse and there is the birth of a universe.” Humans call this con-ception, a co-fusing of a sperm cell and egg to make a new creature. From inception, cells split, multiply and fuse into tissue, organs and organ systems, con-fusing to make a single body.

So from the structure of the cosmos, to the energy of the atom, through every phase of evolution, to muscle development, to pounding my fingers against this plastic alphabet on the computer key pad, through grappling with Jason's death – “Reality” always expands by meeting immovable or reluctantly movable forces, colliding, fracturing and refusing or co-fusing. These experiences are uncomfortable and cause “negative emotions”.

So called ‘negative emotions’ exist for that purpose, namely, expansion of soul. Fear, grief, confusion, anxiety, panic, depression and so forth are forms of normal, necessary and creative thoughts and emotions that expand and empower soul to grow bigger than it was yesterday. These amazing perceptions, feelings and mental formations are as much a part of a loving Reality as joy, peace, clarity and ecstasy. That’s why the Hindu mythology, and all mythologies, depict a Mother Goddess (Kali) as simultaneously the giver of new babies and the decapitating demon. The Celtic equivalent is Morrigan. That is why Nature slaughters her population every Fall, and regenerates them each Spring.

Katie says, "Every loss has to be a gain, unless the loss is being judged by a confused mind. I come to see what fills that space in my kindness in my world cannot decrease, because something else enters the space that I held her in. Just when you think that life can't get any better, it has to. That's the law."

I would change three words in her statement, "Every loss has to be a gain, because the loss is being judged by a confused mind. I come to see what fills that space in my kindness in my world must decrease, because something else enters the space that I held her in. Just when you think that life can't get any bigger or different, it has to. That's the law."

Our “confused judgments” are the means to, or cause of all new gains, rather than useless obstacles. This is a huge difference. The “confused judgment” is a fusing of obstacle with solution, of pain with the next stage of development. “Confusions” are the building material or cause of soul-making, just as the weight in the gym is the building material or cause of muscle increase. The obstacle, then, is the cause of the expansion, not unless “the loss is being judged by a confused mind.” BK runs the serious risk of trying to manipulate reality to serve her system. Does she know better? Are her 4 questions superior to the way the human mind naturally works? Does she know that confusion is not doing an amazing work of making soul? Her “unless” implies that what the mind does naturally, namely gets con-fused with the material it encounters, could be improved upon by her system of The Work. We humans do that--we are always making “Nature” better because what Nature does is sometimes annoying and uncomfortable. And trust me, I prefer a warm house with centralized heating over a frosty cave. But, we would not have invented the centralized heating without our co-fusing human discomfort with natural freezing. This reminds me of what Bilbo Baggins said to Gandalf when the wizard invited Bilbo to go on an adventure. Bilbo replied, “Adventure? No thanks, nasty uncomfortable things—they make you late for dinner.” Well, as the story unfolds, Bilbo goes, is late for several dinners and comes home with a hoard of treasure and much more.

I see the mind/brain as being wonderfully constructed to include the capacity and necessity of confused judgment - and thereby create the needed space and the new material for the myriad gains that will come with each of our many experiences of judgments and confusions in a lifetime. Just as the foot is constructed to press against the pavement in order to generate movement, or the finger to pinch and squeeze a piece of food in order to hold and eat it, so my mind must grasp or press against each loss 'in order' to acquire the gain. The foot and finger are 'confused' or fused together with the objects of resistance (pavement and food) in order to increase strength to take the walk or get the food. Likewise, my mind must encounter resistance and ‘suffer’ internal and external oppositions to acquire the invisible stuff that will create my unique soul. It is what mind/brain is made to do as much as the foot and finger, and the co-fusing are always purposeful.

We encounter these mental ‘fusings’ all day long with thousands of subjects and objects. The mind/brain are in a chronic state of judgment, fusing or combining with more objects and situations than we could ever count. And in each blending or co-fusing with these things, we are thinking thoughts such as, “I like this or I don’t like this.” We don’t consciously do this, it just happens. Mind/brain automatically fuses with life events, just as the lungs automatically fuse with oxygen, inhaling and exhaling without conscious thought. Attraction and repulsion are the two autonomic states of mind/brain for making unique souls.

When we begin to grow up and become conscious, there is a gradual awareness of this judging process and soul is made more consciously and often with less struggle and pain. Our innate judgments and con-fusings are seen as normal and necessary, and we learn ways to care for and work with them as allies rather than enemies.

That is where I find Katie’s method helpful in not getting stuck in a single, myopic state of con-fusion. Her questions can help me shift the fusions – I can refuse them, literally re-fuse them, or in-fuse them, sometimes de-fuse them, or ex-fuse, or inter-fuse them, etc. But the Psyche is always fusing with the objects and subjects of existence, always creating more anxieties and con-fusions to stretch our souls. Most of these fusions are subtle, some are catastrophic. To fuse with life’s tragedies and blessings is as instinctual as the baby seeking to fuse with a nipple, or to squeeze a finger. Humans are fusing, blending, mixing and mingling creatures. These fusings cause us to expand physically, emotionally, mentally, economically, socially, creatively and soulfully. This universe is rife with the normal and necessary objects and subjects of co-fusings for soul-making.

I must admit that I do find Katie’s language to be quite instructive when she says, “I come to see…” The ‘coming’ process is just as normal and necessary as the goal of ‘seeing’. Sometimes we minimize the ‘coming to’ process. “Coming to’ entails going through all of the painful and confusing thoughts and emotions. “Coming to” alludes to a mystical awakening, or enlightenment experience. But never forget that there cannot be a human mystical awakening or psychic integration without first experiencing emotional and mental disintegrations—usually many. I know of no mystic who has not fallen completely apart before coming back together as a “guru”. We know of no galaxy, solar system, star or planet that did not develop without the fragments of a flaming debris field. Psyche's nature is a 'coming to'...and then the 'seeing.' The goal requires the process. The process requires many fusions, co-fusions, con-fusions.

“I come to see…” teaches me that the serene mystic mind is ontologically no greater than the confused judging mind, anymore than the fully blossomed rose is ontologically greater than the little root system in the dark soil from which it sprang. Souls, like flowers, are made progressively and processively. Just as the root system must co-fuse with the dirt and darkness to result in the budded (Buddha) lotus, so the human soul must co-fuse with many experiences of death, darkness, disagreement and a thousand ego related conflicts to reach full enHumanment. ‘Coming to,’ is a necessary process for ‘coming to see’.

Wholeness is not attained when one 'sees'. That may be the biggest error of much New Age teaching—that “wholeness” means health and peace. Real wholeness, “Complete Wholeness” includes the dirty, confusing process of coming to as well as the result of the final “seeing” or awakening. This assumption that Wholeness is the just the awakened mind is a mistake made in many New Age circles to the peril of all humans who think there is something amiss until they 'see' the Light. The flower is Whole from the seed pod buried in the dirt, to the roots going down into the dark earth, through the stalk poking its head out of the soil, to the full blossoming, all the way to dead and wilted heap.

This process of spiritual isometrics grows soul, or some would say 'increases character.' This is what the poet William Blake was conveying in his opus, 'Marriage of Heaven and Hell', summarized by his proverb, "Without Contraries is no progression." The Greek philosopher Heraclitus said it like this, "Strife (confusion) is the Father of all." And the Geek philosopher Homer Simpson who said, "Weaseling out of things is important to learn. It's what separates us from the animals! Except the weasel."

There is a danger, an immense danger. Confusions can sometimes strain and break us beyond earthly repair. Not all isometric exercise strengthens joints and muscles. Sometimes we break a bone or damage a joint and need healing. Sometimes we break the mind – what we call 'emotional or mental breakdowns.' I see Katie's process and other mental healing tools as beneficial when the mind is being 'over-exercised' or at the breaking point. The Work can move you into and through the resistance to develop soul, unless you use it to escape. Exercises are only as good as their proper execution. Carl Jung, in his biography, said he used Hindu meditation to take a rest from exploring the messy and troubling unconscious world. He noted that most Hindus used meditation to escape, or transcend samsara, to get off the wheel of painful life, but that he used it to take a break from working his way through the soulmaking material of a painful life. Jung’s use is very different, and more correct in my opinion.

Let me reiterate, to imply that judgmental confusion is unnatural, unnecessary, abnormal and needs to be gotten rid of is a very dangerous assertion. It is tantamount to saying that just because physical exercise is difficult and uncomfortable, it must be stopped. Or that algebra causes me to suffer, therefore algebra is bad for me and must be ended. If my musculature did not daily fuse with the many objects of resistance in my path, I would atrophy and die. The mind/brain are not doing something 'wrong,’ 'alien,’ 'abnormal' or 'unnecessary' when it judges and gets confused. The mind/brain is doing what it is supposed to do, fuse with objects of resistance, and judge them in order to grow a soul.

I already mentioned the human fertilization process. Let me expand on that example. It is natural and necessary for a hundred thousand sperm cells to assail and crash into the citadel of the solid and resistant membrane of the ovum. These microscopic crusaders batter the impenetrable shell until one finds the open gate and enters. Then the 'fusing together' begins. The sperm cell and egg cell fuse together (con-fuse) and a new life begins. This is the microcosmic snapshot of the making of an individual soul, and I think also the collective Soul of the Universe. These collisions, confusions, divisions, multiplications, additions, subtractions and all that is done in the depths of a dark womb make a new life. The creative chaos in the womb is the way mind/brain works too.

The night I heard Jason died, I was fused with unimaginable loss. It would have offended me as immoral and inhuman if someone had said, “that there is no self to be affected.” I know there was a self to be affected because it was. That self was, and still is, being dismantled by these affections. There may be a stage in the process of development where the soul ceases to be so affected in the enHumanment journey, but the necessary beneficial experiences of traumatic self -‘affection’ must not be discounted or avoided. Such experiences are not “unless,” but “until” the need for such experiences have passed. I meet too many people in my work who have a kind of subliminal assumption that ‘someday,’ when they are truly spiritual and enlightened, suffering will cease. One might as well wait for the trees to stop shedding their leaves or the universe to stop expanding toward extinction. To negate or minimize the experiences (Gods) that we don’t like because they are troubling is what the Greeks called hubris. Humans are in a process of infinite expansion, and humans will never trump the work of the Gods in soul-making. The Gods, including confusions and anxiety, will return until they are heard and/or honored.

There will be days of pleasure and days of pain, days of loss and days of gain – and perhaps, as we enter the process fully and encounter our sufferings as normal and necessary, we may achieve some measure of consistent serenity in the midst of the myriad co-fusings on planet earth. M. Scott Peck said, “Life is difficult. But when you see that life is difficult, it becomes less difficult.”

Tolle said it well when he wrote that without the suffering caused by ego we “would not evolve as human beings…Suffering drives you deeper. The paradox is that suffering is caused by identification with form AND (my emphasis) erodes identification with form…eventually suffering destroys the ego – but not until you suffer consciously.” (A New Earth, p.102)

This observation from Tolle should have been developed and turned into a whole chapter to help people see the necessary role of the egos and its more negative aspects as tools of creative soul-making. The poor old ego has come on hard times. It is the seed pod of soul, containing the blossoming of our completed Humanity (divinity).

Since Jason died, I have been fused together with loss, sadness, fear, remorse, resentments and a thousand other forces of affective or emotional resistance. I have been falling apart. I have curled up in bed and slept, dreamed, wept, prayed, cursed and experienced affections I didn't know existed – but unlike experiences of past personal disasters, I could more clearly see my falling apart and confusion as normal and necessary, not as a mental illness, not some alien intrusion, not due to original sin or the fault of my selfish ego which was trying to ‘Edge God Out.’ I see the work of Ego now as ‘Edging God Outward,’ or Onward.

There have been times the emotional isometric resistance I have encountered with Jason's death has debilitated and broken me - but even those contained the elements of expanding my soul. There have been times I have allowed people to carry me when I was so broken I could not walk, and the bones now are mending to become even stronger. Like Jacob wrestling with the Angel of the Lord, I will always have a dislocated hip, but the soul blessing is mine as a result of the crippling struggle, not in spite of it. Soul-making gives us wounds and scars. What better way to be reminded that the amazing character we are developing is not self-generated, or from my mystical mastery, or the result of some self righteous morality or spirituality? It is sacred work. It is the grace Christianity speaks of. The result of these past months has been a gradual increase in heart and mental strength; a greater love for my children, my parents, my fellow human beings - and this new love continues to grow. I have never in my life wept so much as I have over Jason’s death, and my heart has never been more broken and enlarged. I have never been so co-fused with loss and darkness, and my heart is now opening to levels of abundance, love and light I could not have imagined. One night, Jason came to me in a trance (dream) and gave me his large red heart. It encompassed my puny black and blue heart, entered my chest and Jason said, “Dad, this is one reason I died, to give you a bigger heart. You will need it for your work.” This is grace. It had nothing to do with my spirituality or my self.

Finally, I do not think that reality is always 'kind'. That implies that there is little or no reason or room for 'unkindness' apart from human failures or sins. Experiences of unkindness, like war, are archetypal, universal and provide us with the opportunity to grow souls of kindness. The experiences of heartless cruelty from mean people provide the resistance a soul needs to individuate, to grow and clarify values, to draw personal boundaries and form deep compassion for other wounded human beings. That is why Jesus told us to bless our enemies - they provide the isometric resistance against which our souls press in order to increase spiritual muscle and stature. Bitter resentment teaches the soul to release hatred. Grief expands a tiny ego-pod into a greater capacity for joy. Cynicism, criticism, hatred, anger and sarcasm give us the experience of hellish isolation and self absorption, moving us like Scrooge into an experience of bleak misery that presses us down (depressive resistance), forcing us to brood over the past, present and future. It is during such broodings that Psyche, like the Spirit of God hovering over the Cosmic egg in Genesis one, may hatch from the ego-egg the light of consideration, acceptance and compassion for others.

We live in an odd universe, because within the human psyche, infinity has been mixed with finitude (con-fused), and it is through the daily interactive resistance of mind, body and spirit that we grow invisible souls.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Myth of Mental Health: We Need Psycho-spiritual Isometrics

A friend who is a college instructor recently asked me if I thought college professors were responsible to promote "good mental health" in their classrooms by not exposing their students to uncomfortable truths about politically incorrect topics. He pointed out that "fear is a bitch," and disturbs our peace of mind. Here is my reply:


As I see it, "good mental health" is not only a potentially dangerous metaphor, but an impossible and unwanted goal. This is another of our culture's unquestioned assumptions--that mental health is ideal, or that it even exists or should exist. In my opinion, physical health cannot and should not be directly and literally translated to the mind or soul. The late 19th century materialist medical model has wrongly and dangerously been applied literally to the human psyche. We should be asking ourselves, "What is health, and when are we healthy?"

The mind and soul (two different but interrelated phenomena) are not exactly like the body. Granted, as far back as the biblical Hebrews and ancient Greeks, the ideas of health and healing have been applied to the mind, but not as literally and all inclusively as in the modern world. The Greeks had their healing Asclepius, but they also had myriad monsters and villains to shake things up. Health does not necessarily mean absence of malfunction or disorder. For example, a football team can be very healthy and complete, but that does not mean that fumbles and off sides are abnormal or unnecessary. Should we consider the Cosmos unhealthy because it began with a cataclysmic explosion and continues to form and reform through chaotic collisions? A bigger view of "wholeness" allows for the chaos as well as the order. There is no creativity and development without both.

Anxiety, fear, "paranoia" and most of what have been labeled mental illnesses in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders are normal and necessary human psychological functions and responses. The human mind autonomously produces abnormality and disorder purposefully--to grow, expand and develop into a full human being. Just as an undeveloped baby encounters a world of troubling gravity and hard, sharp objects for the purpose of developing muscle and skeletal structure--so the mind provides all of these "unhealthy" emotions and responses for developing soul. Fear is a bitch, and a bitch is a mother who gives birth. Fear gives birth to an evolving psyche, and bin Laden is the "mother of all psychological development". Neurologist Andrew Newberg explains this simply and yet profoundly in his bestseller, Why God Won't Go Away. He explains the neurology of anxiety as the mechanism that drives evolution, and moves the mind/brain to seek a unitary experience of being (God).

I call these normal and necessary experiences of anxiety/fear, and all so called "negative emotions," psycho-spiritual isometrics--increase through resistance. On the physical level, if you remove the material and gravitational resistance from a baby's life, you end up with a flaccid, atrophied, dead baby. On the psychological level, if you remove the troubling "material and gravitational" psychic resistance from a human soul, you end up with an atrophied and dead soul. Remove ritualized or creative forms of violence from a child's life, you end up with Columbine and the proliferation of gangs. It is a sort of psycho-spiritual homeopathy--the cure is in the disease. If you want to see a FASCINATING study on this, read Allan Guggenbuhl's The Incredible Fascination of Violence, or James Hillman's A Terrible Love of War, or his Suicide and the Soul.

This notion was wonderfully stated in last weeks issue of The Week, by the younger generation feminist, Katie Roiphe in The Financial Times:

"One sometimes sees these exhausted, devoted, slightly drab parents, piling out of the car, and thinks, is all of this high-level watching and steering and analyzing really making anyone happier? Can we, for a moment, flash back to the benign neglect of the 1970s and 80s? I can remember my parents having parties, wild children running around until dark, catching fireflies. If these children helped themselves to three slices of cake, or ingested the second hand smoke from cigarettes, or carried cocktails to adults who were ever so slightly slurring their words, they were not noticed; they were loved, just not monitored. Those warm summer nights of not being focused on were liberating. In the long sticky hours of boredom, in the lonely, unsupervised, unstructured time, something blooms; it was in those margins that we became ourselves."