Living in the realm of the “Box-world” and afraid to live outside its illusion of safety

 

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Not too long ago I was dreaming of walking around in a box, wandering the inside edges looking for an exit, longing for something different, and unable to find my way out. The box is symbolic of the context of my life, the milieu within which I live my life.

Context, the beliefs we have about life and about ourselves including our judgments of self and our worries, embarrassments, and self-criticisms all affect how we see others. Look at another person and we pretty much only see ourselves. As a matter of fact if you want to know about yourself, note what it is you see in the people you meet.

Challenging our context expands it and it becomes more inclusive and broadens the amount of material and experience we have to draw on to interact efficiently with the only thing that we truly own, the here and now. The human psyche is always trying to expand its context whether the conscious self wants to or not though many folks pride themselves in being able to resist that expansion– they call it loyalty, or unyielding faith, or being true to ones values and beliefs. Basically its just laziness in that it’s easier to not critique ones beliefs or allow for pesky change.

It’s as though this little-self built a box around itself in a misguided (or cynical?) attempt to keep it (you) safe.

Most of us treat our lives in a very narrow manner and get all upset when it’s suggested that we let go of our comforts and seek change i.e. when we are asked to broaden our context.

“Dear me, no. We, Hobbits, are plain quiet folk. Adventures make one late for dinner.”

–Bilbo Baggins (JRR Tolkien, The Hobbit)

I’m sorry fellow humans but we were built for wholeness and change is what leads to wholeness. Rigid, or doctrinal thinking creates an illusion of safety, it is of the small-minded ego and is, I suspect, contrary to the wishes of God or the goal of the universe. Ultimately life is not safe, you don’t have to be reckless with it, but life can be pretty durable and can allow for one to explore all kinds of options. Why would a powerful being such as God want anything less from its creation? Why would it create something so much smaller than itself? God is not of the small-minded and simpering ego, nor is this ego a reflection of God i.e. it’s not the ego self that is made in the image of God. There’s a much bigger you that gives you life, that animates your being and manifests the wishes of that which created it. Do it justice, give it honor by functioning bigger than the “little self”.

Don’t let the “little self” be the leader of your life, point to where you were meant to go and it will follow.

Where were you meant to go? An answer to that question may lie in listening to something other than your ego-self because this little ego-self will always choose the lower easy or self-enhancing road, always. And when I say listen to ‘something other than’, I’m not talking about reading some book or following some guru, priest or priestess, because nothing outside yourself has the same authority and wisdom as your bigger self– your soul. The books and priests are of the box and can only preach to you of what’s in that box.

When in the box of the little-self there are all kinds of things designed to divert ones attention away from the real power in one’s life. There are holy books and all kinds of preachers and gurus who have painstakingly written about or have been trained in the tradition of boxes to make sure that you don’t get outside the box.

What box, you say? One of the best ways of discovering the parameters of the box is to listen carefully to the “box-people”, the box keepers so to speak. They will gladly show you what the box looks like. Once you see it, then you can work out a way to get outside of it and begin the real journey toward authenticity.

For too long we humans have mistrusted our own divinity in favor for the con of the outside world. That’s because we’ve been hoodwinked into believing that the small-minded ego-self had the answers or at least knew where to find them. The ego-self is noisy, boisterous, incessantly verbose, and self-absorbed and effectively hides the quieter voice of the divine within us. This is because the small self doesn’t think that it will survive if the bigger self were to become dominant. But it’s quite the opposite because the bigger self knows that it cannot attain its wholeness without the little-self remaining intact.

 “Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.”

 –Luke 9:23-24

 Give your bigger-self a chance to make good on the promise of that which created you– listen to it, it actually makes more sense.

 

 

Epic tales, epic symbolism

 

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The Battle between Good and evil –by Robert Adelman found on Deviant Art

 

 

As a boy I was fascinated by the tales of Middle Earth as told by J.R.R. Tolkien. I also knew that if one fought bravely enough that good could eventually triumph over evil.

As I grew older I became aware of the Northern Norse mythology that Tolkien used as the foundational source material for his work. But unlike his stories I learned that the most striking feature of this mythology was that all was hopeless, that the apocalyptic battle at Rognarök was humanity’s doom, and that no matter how bravely the hero fought the monsters and giants would defeat humanity and the gods of Asgard.

But I also learned that for the gods and heroes and heroines of the North loss in battle gave meaning and mettle to the warrior who courageously stood their ground and fought on regardless of the fact that all was hopeless.

What’s this? I was dismayed that these epic battles would ultimately end with evil triumphing over good. How could this be? The purity of courage be damned I thought, it needed to be rewarded and besides winning and defeating was the goal of all good and evil confrontations or so I thought. Oh yes and by winning of course was meant that “good” would always prevail.

It wasn’t until years later that I achieved some insight into these wonderful tales from the North.

From the writings of Carl Jung I was introduced to the concept of the Conflict of Opposites and the effect of either ignoring or battling the shadow i.e. evil aspects of our personal or collective nature. In this context. either ignoring or actively suppressing the shadow one gives it power, diminishes their own power, and leads to their being overwhelmed by it.

I surmised that if Jung were right, then the hopelessness and defeat so often celebrated in the Northern myths becomes an allegorical warning to mankind regarding its relationship with the shadow aspects of its personality. Is it possible that when one resists or denies the shadow either in themselves or the society in which they live that its power over us becomes paramount in that our violent response only adds to the violence of the shadow and increases its power and makes impossible to overcome? Oh I won’t deny that some battles can be won but ultimately the shadow keeps returning ever more powerfully. Will we never defeat it and have a permanent peace?

We are both good and evil. So what does this say about a God in whose image we are created? If then God is also both, to resist this would seem futile and self-defeating.

I remember that in a long ago Judo class the teacher talked about not meeting force with force to overcome ones opponent but by using the opponent’s own energy to defeat them. To me now this simple strategy seems a  useful metaphor for dealing with the shadow forces of our nature. If we allow ourselves to become the shadow by denying it we will be defeated no matter how glorious or courageous our actions but if we learn to accept this darker aspect as part of ourselves and turn its energy toward good it can add to our own best intentions and we can prevail.

 

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10 Cognitive Thinking Errors and what to do about them.

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10 Cognitive Thinking Errors and what to do about them. (based on an article from Reddit.com)

We are living in a time of easy access to an overwhelming amount of information and of much over-the-top rhetoric with questionable fact delivery and weakened logic that seems to be driving a fear-based narrative. Part of what reinforces this negative stream are what are called errors of cognition or just thinking errors. These show up more often than not when we are in fight or flight mode and weary of all the negative input that inundates us at every turn.

Note that these are “errors” and not necessarily “disorders” unless of course one uses them all the time and in a way that affects their ability to function effectively and appropriately.

In September of 2016 I wrote about the effects that fear has on our thinking in Fear breeds bigotry and bullying .

The following is a deepening of this idea:

Based on the work of Aaron Beck and others, in Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy, David Burns outlines 10 common mistakes in thinking, which he calls cognitive distortions.

  • ALL-OR-NOTHING THINKING – Also called Black and White Thinking – Thinking of things in absolute terms, like “always”, “every” or “never”. For example, if your performance falls short of perfect, you see yourself as a total failure. Few aspects of human behavior are so absolute. Nothing is 100%. No one is all bad, or all good, we all have grades (I call this ‘absolutism’ and I find that I use it most often when I’m having an argument with my spouse. Nope, it doesn’t work).
  • To beat this cognitive distortion:
    • Ask yourself, “Has there ever been a time when it was NOT that way?” (all or nothing thinking does not allow exceptions so if even one exception can be found, it’s no longer “all” or “nothing”)
    • Ask yourself, “Never?” or “Always?” (depending upon what you are thinking)
  • OVERGENERALIZATION – Taking isolated cases and using them to make wide generalizations. For example, you see a single negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat: “She yelled at me. She’s always yelling at me. She must not like me.”
 I’ve also seen this when people support or discount a reality because they “Knew someone who…” or “Read about someone…” or “I have it from a ‘good’ source and then apply that info globally. This falls into the category of “There are huge drug cartels in Mexico, therefore all or most Mexicans are drug dealers”. 
  • To beat this cognitive distortion:
  • When you catch yourself overgeneralizing say to yourself, “Just because one event happened, does not necessarily
 mean I am (or you are or he/she is…[some way of being])”
  • MENTAL FILTER – Focusing exclusively on certain, usually negative or upsetting, aspects of something while ignoring the rest. For example, you selectively hear the one tiny negative thing surrounded by all the HUGE POSITIVE STUFF. Often this includes being associated in negative (“I am so stupid!”), and dissociated in positive (“You have to be pretty smart to do my job”). Boy do I over use this one! Both on myself and on certain politicians and political parties.
  • To beat this cognitive distortion:
    • Learn to look for the silver lining in every cloud
    • Count up your negatives vs your positives – for every negative event,
stack up a positive against it. Make a list of both negative and positive
character attributes and behaviors.
  • DISQUALIFYING THE POSITIVE – Continually “shooting down” positive experiences for arbitrary, ad hoc reasons. In this way you can maintain a negative belief that is contradicted by your everyday experiences. The good stuff doesn’t count because the rest of your life is a miserable pile of doo-doo. “That doesn’t count because my life sucks!” To beat this cognitive distortion:
    • Ask yourself, “So what does count then?” “In what way?”
    • Accept compliments with a simple, “Thank you.”
    • Make lists of personal strengths and accomplishments (I’ve found this to be particularly helpful though you may need to keep it nearby to remind yourself.)
  • JUMPING TO CONCLUSIONS – Assuming something negative where there is actually no evidence to support it. Two specific subtypes are also identified:
    • Mind reading – assuming the intentions of others. You arbitrarily conclude that someone is reacting negatively to you, and you don’t bother to check it out. To beat this one, you need to let go of your need for approval – you can’t please everyone all the time. Ask yourself, “How do you know that…?” Check out “supporting” facts with an open mind.
    • Fortune telling – anticipating that things will turn out badly, you feel convinced that your prediction is an already established fact. To beat this, ask, “How do you know it will turn out in that way?” Again, check out the facts.
  • To beat this cognitive distortion:
    • When the conclusion is based on a prior cause (for example, the last time your spouse behaved in this manner s/he said it was because s/he felt angry so s/he must be angry this time, too), ask yourself, “What evidence do you have to support your notion that s/he feels…” “How did you arrive at that understanding” “What other conclusion might this evidence support?”
    • When the conclusion is based on a future consequence (“I’ll die for sure if she keeps harping on this…”) Ask yourself, “How does this conclusion serve you?” and “If you continue to think that way… [what will happen to you]?” and “Imagine 5 years from now…” (Future Pace)
  • MAGNIFICATION AND MINIMIZATION–
    • Exaggerating negatives and understating positives (I do this when I’m going down the rabbit hole of ‘absolutism’). Often the positive characteristics of other people are exaggerated and negatives understated. There is one subtype of magnification/catastrophizing – focusing on the worst possible outcome, however unlikely, or thinking that a situation is unbearable or impossible when it is really just uncomfortable: “I can’t stand this.”
    • To beat this cognitive distortion:
    • Ask yourself, “What would happen if you did [stand this]?”
    • Ask yourself, “How specifically is [this/that/he/she] so good/too much/too many/etc. or so bad/not good enough/too little/etc.?”
    • After asking the second question, ask yourself, “Compared to what/whom?”
  • EMOTIONAL REASONING –
  • Making decisions and arguments based on how you feel rather than objective reality. People who allow themselves to get caught up in emotional reasoning can become completely blinded to the difference between feelings and facts.
  • To beat this cognitive distortion:
  • NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) patterning interrupts and creates new ‘anchors’ that are the most powerful state changers – interrupt anything negative: “X makes me mad” “How does what I do cause you to choose to feel mad?” Interrupt: “How could you believe that?”
  • SHOULDING ( or Oughting)–  “Must”, or “Can’t” thinking.
  • Shoulding is focusing on what
 you can’t control. For example, you try to enlighten another’s unconscious – they should get it (for me this comes from my self-centered ego self, after all I got it why can’t you? This assumes that I actually got it). Concentrating on what you think “should” or ought to be rather than the actual situation you are faced with will simply stress you out. What you choose to do, and then do, will (to some degree, at least) change the world. What you “should” do will just make you miserable.
 Often these come from the expectations (values?) we were fed as we grew up.
  • To beat this cognitive distortion:
    • Ask, “What would it feel like, look like, sound like if you could/did or could not/did not?” or, “What would happen if you did/didn’t?” or, “What prevents you from just doing it then?” or, “What rule or law says you/I SHOULD?” or, “Why should I?” or, “Could you just prefer instead?” or, “Why SHOULD I/YOU?”
  • LABELLING and MISLABELLING – Related to overgeneralization, explaining by naming. Rather than describing the specific behavior, you assign a label to someone or yourself that puts them in absolute and unalterable negative terms. This is a logic level error in that we make a logic leap from behavior/action (“he called me a name…”) to identity (“therefore, he’s a jerk”).
  • To beat this cognitive distortion:
    • Ask yourself, “What could be a better way of looking at this that would truly empower you/me?” or, “Is there another possible more positive meaning for this?”
    • When you recognize you are labeling or are being labeled, ask, “How specifically?” Example: “How specifically am I a jerk?” – which will evoke behaviors rather than identity (what helps is for me to see where the other fellow’s “jerk” shows up in me because it almost always does to some degree).
    • Remember who you/others are in spite of behaviors: “Even though I failed the test, I’m still a worthy person.”
  • PERSONALIZATION & BLAME – Burns calls this distortion “the mother of guilt.” Personalization occurs when you hold yourself personally responsible for an event that isn’t entirely under your control. For example, “My son is doing poorly in school. I must be a bad mother…” and “What’s that say about you as a person?” – instead of trying to pinpoint the cause of the problem so that she could be helpful to her child. When another woman’s husband beat her, she told herself, “lf only I were better in bed, he wouldn’t beat me.” Personalization leads to guilt, shame, and feelings of inadequacy. On the flip side of personalization is blame. Some people blame other people or their circumstances for their problems, and they overlook ways that they might be contributing to the problem: “The reason my marriage is so lousy is because my spouse is totally unreasonable.” – instead of investigating their own behavior and beliefs that can be changed. I will use this one just about every Father’s day to explain any problem facing my kids.
  • To beat this cognitive distortion:
    • Ask, “How do you know [I am to blame]?” “SAYS WHO?”
    • Ask, “Who/what else is involved in this problem?”
    • Ask yourself, “Realistically, how much of this problem is actually my
responsibility?”
    • Ask, “If there was no blame involved here, what would be left for me/us
to look at?”

These 10 cognitive errors are all habits of thinking that are deeply ingrained. The good news is, like any habit, these patterns of thinking can be broken and discarded through awareness and practice.

 

Sources:

Captive Hearts: Captive Minds, by Madeleine Tobias and Janja Lalich, Hunter House, 1994; pgs 101-103

Take Back Your Life Recovering from Cults and Abusive Relationships, by Janja Lalich and Madeleine Tobias

Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy, David Burns, M.D.

Unlimited Power: The New Science of Personal Achievement, by Anthony Robbins, Joseph McClendon

Encyclopedia of Systemic Neuro-Linguistic Programming and NLP New Coding, by Robert Dilts & Judith DeLozier

 

More Barriers to love and the spirit within: The seeds of our own destruction

 

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Not too long ago my wife and I presented a Cornerstone class on conflict resolution at our granddaughter’s elementary school. Project Cornerstone first came to the school district as an anti-bullying program. But over time the use, or over use, of the word “bully” to identify a certain type of behavior has hardened into a type of person rather than a type of behavior i.e. they “are” a bully instead of them “behaving” like one.

When “bully” becomes a label instead of a description of a behavior it leaves little room for the person displaying the behavior to change or even to defend themselves because the use of the word sets them in concrete. The label then becomes a way of excluding someone. Most of us do that with the word “evil”. Once we’ve hung that around someone’s neck they’re no longer a human and they are open to all kinds of abuse.

This isn’t unusual behavior on our part in that we humans often tend to paint each other with a broad paintbrush. It’s easier to do this and doesn’t require much higher-order thinking. This becomes especially noticeable when we are caught up in our fear of something that we don’t understand and begins to escalate radically as the more helpless and fearful we become.

Tribally we humans tend to reject outsiders and behaviors that we don’t understand and when those so-called outsiders seem to be of a particular tribe we tend to paint them all with one color. Even the best of us sometimes fall into this trap as when we condemn a race of people for the actions of some of that race or when we condemn an entire religious group for the horrific behaviors of a certain subgroup.

In recent years we have witnessed the horrific behaviors of a religious subgroup and have rightly labeled their actions as evil, but some people out of their own fear and ignorance have branded all of that religious group as being evil. This is of course a big mistake and totally unhelpful to the cause of peace and our ability to detect what it is that needs to be done to contain the evil behavior and how to lessen the number of those who fall prey to the lure of this subgroup.

While we hold people accountable for their behaviors and while we do what is necessary to end and/or contain the evil we must look at what conditions are enflaming and enabling it and do what is necessary to end those as well.

Yes, we need to fight this, but we need to fight it intelligently and not do it in a way that throws gasoline on the fire thus spreading its damage over a greater area. We need to respond to the presence and actions of evil and not just react.

Reacting is a “lizard brain” action where no thought is required just instinctive animal reactivity. God gave us so much more to work with that lies above the reactionary archaic brain stem and we need to resist the tendency to label everything we’re afraid of or don’t understand as being evil and thus subject to our wrath. We need to stop acting like a frightened snake striking whatever moves and more like the intelligent thinking sons and daughters of a loving God we are.

Simply put, we cannot push back the darkness of evil by simply pouring on more and more darkness– we need to add some light to it. WE (you and I) need to come up with some ways to 1) rein in our own lizard brains and 2) find ways to end the spread of evil and once accomplished deal appropriately with the root causes of it. To do anything else will only perpetuate the evil i.e. you can bloody the land with more killing and that may subdue the evil but only temporarily.

History is rife with lessons on how we humans take the wrong paths toward peace. That’s because we react out of fear instead of responding to it and using it as a motivator to change, a change necessary because we have failed to do what is needed to treat others with the respect we would want for ourselves.

Now, that is not to say that we can end all evil. There will always be those who have been sickened by their own minds and will seek solace from that pain by attempting to dominate and control those outside themselves as though it’s the outsider who causes their sickness. There will always be egos that want to feel bigger and more important and will attempt to subjugate the world around them.

Compassionate Containment may be what is wanted and needed in these cases at least until science can find a successful means of healing them. But each of us who are healthy has the means for controlling our own negative and reactive behaviors. We need to get serious about learning what those means are and start actualizing them.

We need to embrace the real meaning of enlightened civilization and grow beyond our reactive tribal mentality. Currently we seem hell-bent on sewing the seeds of our own destruction.

Love can’t exist in an environment of fearful self-protection.

 

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I’ve been working with a man who for most of my dealings with him seemed calm and well centered even during the long illness and death of his wife. On a recent occasion he asked me to work with a dream he had experienced about a year after his wife had died and I gladly took on the task fully expecting to add helpful material to what I imagined was his quest for healing. Though in retrospect I was being rather naïve.

I spent many hours on his dream that had turned out to have a great many images about his wife and other characters in his life.

His response to my analysis was violent calling it bullshit and then attacking my credentials as though they too proved the efficacy of his negative pronouncement. Gone was the mask of the calm nice guy replaced by a barely controlled anger that seemed as though it had been long suppressed. Instead of taking responsibility for his own anger he proceeded to dump it onto me. Trying to turn his perspective somewhat I suggested that what he called bullshit was only how I would have viewed his dream had it been my own to which he pronounced, “More bullshit!” Clearly there was no room for another point-of-view.

He then picked up his things and whistled as he walked down the street.

I of course was taken aback though having seen people’s masks slip many times before I wasn’t too worried. I also didn’t immediately fall into the personal trap that after some self-reflection I would go into self-attack. This time after some reflection I could see that I had loosened his mask that then fell and revealed another aspect of this man as someone who spent a lot of energy repressing his negative feelings. In retrospect his calm and well-controlled emotional character made a different sense to me.

Unwittingly, and blinded by some arrogance in thinking I had something positive to offer, I had pushed one of his hidden buttons that unleashed a cascade of emotions that he was not prepared to deal with and by his terminating our relationship I no longer had any permission to explore with him what that was all about. His actions had in effect sealed the breach of his cover-up and he went blissfully on.

This encounter reminded me of what I’ve been witnessing on a societal level. Some groups of people seem particularly wedded to a singularly rigid point-of-view. Of course there’s nothing new there but to the mix has been added a very deep and large scale paranoia that will not yield to rationality regardless of how many irrefutable facts are brought to bear.

Many of this group see evil everywhere except from within themselves. They have created an almost idolatrous ideology in their blind and unyielding beliefs and because of this there is no room for a difference of opinion. To them their rigid “faith” in what they believe to be true has the aspect of soul being attached, though soul has as one of its defined aspects the qualities of change and includes failure and occasional regressions, this is not so for these people. They use an idea of faith that they are righteously right as armor against the world that they fear even though most of that world only exists within their own hearts.

There also doesn’t seem to be any self-trust so they adhere to an ideology that seems to promise security from their fears. Unfortunately when self-trust goes out the window so does love. The heart becomes armored as well and love can’t get in anymore. But once love is gone security is gone for love cannot exist in an environment of paranoia and self-protection.

So what’s the answer? There’s a clear answer to dealing with fear and it’s a mirror image of the title of this post,

 “fear can’t exist in an environment of love.”

 

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Become the goal and lose the soul

 

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I read an article not too long ago that likened self-fulfillment with attainment. But it’s not really about what you have, or what you do is it? It’s not about how much or how little you have or the status of what you do.

So many have struggled up the ladder only to find that at either the top or somewhere along the way that all the having and doing is hollow, with no meaning, and at a deep level where your true sense of self-worth lay, profoundly empty.

On the surface this can be viewed as heresy, and dangerous talk, for all national and global economics depends on striving ambition and continuous competition. He who stops to think, falters i.e. he who muses, loses.

Now, don’t misunderstand me I’m not advocating the end to market driven capitalism, or striving, or competition, or shooting for the moon (goal setting). I’m just suggesting that there’s a better way to play the game, a better way to act out the story.

We can have our cake and eat it too. How? Just remember that there is striving, there is ambition, there are goals to be made and actualized, but that we are not our goals e.g. what we are is not defined by the outcome of the game.

The soul loves to play and is nourished by the game, but when a person begins to identify with the piece on the board, or the digital avatar on the screen, the soul gets lost and people get hurt.

When we forget that we are souls or spirits moving the game piece that is our human form we lose regardless of how many things we accumulate or squares on the board we jump to.

So by all means play the game, there’s much to be learned in it and much joy to be had, but play it knowing that the outcome of the game is less important than the play.

It’s our souls that suffer.

 

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 In order to survive the planet has learned to nurture symbiotic relationships.                                           Pic By– http://www.terrypond.com

 

“Man’s Capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary.”

Rheinhold Niebuhr, The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness (1944)

 

In order to live with one another in any kind of peace requires that each man be willing to give up some portion of his self-interest to the society. Though the soul of man yearns to be free– to be what it is, this yearning is what drives him to create societies that will extricate him from tyranny.

No man can ever hope to be complete and whole without the relationship of all other humans. But it’s that societal relationship that also threatens his autonomy– the very freedom he yearns for. But by his very nature and the nature of all things, both selfish and unselfish impulses struggle with one another for dominance.

What we see in most societies is a back and forth war between self-interest and social interest that often weakens the social agreement and that self-centered justification is then transformed into some collective moral justification that allows him to brutalize his fellow man. With moral justification he can then hide the true character of his collective self.

This back and forth struggle keeps humankind in a constant state of flux careening rapidly between justice and injustice, self-interest and collective interest, and selfishness and selflessness. And here for me is the crux of the problem, societies i.e. nations are basically selfish whereas the individual has within it a kernel of selflessness. It is this selflessness in balance with our selfishness that we each need to nurture. In short, we cannot expect nations to change until we do and we cannot change until we’re ready to give up our need to dominate everything– religiously, geologically, politically, and psychologically.

Right now we the collective people of this Earth in the name of self-righteousness, politically and religiously, are imposing our will above the will of every one else, attempting to change, to bend, reality toward our selfish needs and in the process ignoring what really needs to be changed– our fear-based penchant to dominate in thought and by physicality. When we make our own egos paramount we create the oligarchs, despots, and dictators of this world, we erode our ability to be free, and it is our souls that suffer.

Be the change you seek. Don’t expect it from your religionists or politicians they’ll only change when you do. And don’t use your religion to self-righteously control the hearts of others, use it to find the beauty in your own heart.

 

“God, give us grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed, courage
to change the things which should be changed,
and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.”

–Reinhold Niebuhr (1942)

Some more thoughts on the inner animal.

 

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Found on theprovince.com

Stepping out on the porch and into the night I saw silhouetted at the edge of the lawn an animal all in black, its back arched high, tail erect, and ears plastered along its head. A low guttural howl rumbled from deep inside it and grew louder with each passing moment.

I scanned the yard for the object of the black beast’s ferocity and there, cowering against a low lying bush, a white cat critter lay hunkered low to the ground with its hair raised high along its spine. Both animals stalked and circled each other and issued a racket loud enough to raise the dead.

The air was heavy, and thick with fear. I was about to witness a mindless clash of titans.

“Oh for goodness sakes you two, knock it off!” I exclaimed while stepping rapidly forward. “Shoo, shoo!” said I while dismissing the combatants with a wave of my hands. They then scattered to opposite ends of their territory and slinked off into the night, living yet for another day.

I can remember as a school principal saying the same thing, minus the “shoo-shoo”, to a couple of boys squaring off on a high school campus. Cats, lizards and teenage boys sometimes have a lot in common, especially when they set whatever higher thinking skills they have to the side and begin to function from their reptilian brains. It’s the same brain that convinced me when I was thirteen to put on some old roller skates and hitch a rope tied around my waist to the back of an ice truck just before the driver headed out onto the main blvd. What was I thinking? And that’s the point, I wasn’t, nor were the two cats or the two teenage combatants. We were functioning exclusively in our reactive instinctual mode (self-preservation isn’t high on a teenage boys list, after all they’re immortal).

We seem to observe this mode more and more often these days, in our politics (a lot of lizard-brain posturing there), in our neighborhoods, and in the work place. Fear is the primary stimulus for reactive positioning and it is fear that is being exploited in governance, politicking (“he’s destroying our country!”), on the radio & T.V. (facts, who needs facts?), and commercial advertising (e.g. “kills 99.9% of all disease causing bacteria”). And when we get entangled in our fears we go out and buy guns, and begin to make any number of bone-headed decisions that ultimately make us even more fearful.

Overall, our animal natures are just barely subdued and held in check and when bombarded with messages of fear the veneer of self-control begins to wear dangerously thin. And when finally pushed into a defense mode we shut down the also thin thinking layer of our brains and begin to operate from the vast repository of the unconscious and the animal within arches its back and growls a warning.

These warnings show up in our waking lives all the time with low volume growls of “Bitch, bastard, A_ _hole!” and any number of even more vile expletives meant to demean another being as a means of defending ones own. They also show up in our dreams as dogs that bite, snakes that hiss, spiders threatening to ensnare us, and large animals that chase us down and attack.

Once caught up in the unconscious animalistic and irrational fight, or flight mode, it’s hard to get back to the rational thinking mode. However, no matter how threatening, these animals also have immense capacity for good. When observed prowling in our hearts or in our dreams we can use them as a signal to take note of what is happening around and within us. If we can stop in mid expletive and observe what’s happening we have a much better chance of functioning out of conscious rational choice rather than be reactively controlled by our unconscious animal. When we can be more conscious of our socio-political environment and our reactions to it through the monitoring of our dreams we can also be more at choice in our responses.  

eagle-dancer-bud-barnes.jpg
 

Eagle Dancer by Bud Barnes . Animals in dreams are depictions of

 

ourselves stripped of our social controls

 

and often present us with our unedited

 

feelings. They depict our drives and

 

urges for procreation, love caring and

 

nurturing. Their skins were

 

once thought by early native tribes to

 

impart the power, personality and

 

wisdom of the animal they once belonged to.

 

Animals continue to give their power

 

in our dreams. –RJ Cole (Book of Dreams)

 

 

I think we need to be able to “shoo” away our inner and outer animal and stand between our warring aspects in order to scatter them and give space for more measured and thoughtful responses. God gave us a part of the brain not given to the lizard and the cat to aid us in this endeavor and I think we better start using it a little more often if we want to survive our darker natures.