This is “the pink book.” I published it myself (1990) and I still have confidence in its basic analysis. But it has serious gaps. I wrote it ten years before I knew anything about trauma and trauma treatment, and almost 20 years before I learned about the neuro-science of the hemispheres of the brain. But I still think it is a good start, for Catholics.
A Study. A Practical Guide. A Personal Reflection
The Windhover Press
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 90-70726
BY THE SAME AUTHOR:
Sunday Morning: Aspects of Urban Ritual.
(New York, The Free Press, 1977.)
To Christ our Lord
I caught this morning morning’s minion, king-
dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon in
Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he hung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off forth on a swing,
As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl
Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird, — the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!
Brute beauty and valor and act, oh, air, pride, plume here
Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!
No wonder of it: sheer plod makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermillion.
Introduction. . . . . . . . . . . . . i
1. Credentials . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1
2. Mysticism . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10
3. Pain. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23
4. Trance. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 39
5. Time. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 52
6. The Infallibility Syndrome. . . . . . 59
7. Person-Grace. . . . . . . . . . . . . 67
8. The Illusion of the Eucharist . . . . 77
9. Getting Lost. . . . . . . . . . . . . 89
10. Getting Whole. . . . . . . . . . . . 101
Appendix: The Interviews . . . . .117
There’s a girl in New York City
Who calls herself a human trampoline.
And sometimes when I’m falling, flying
Or tumbling in turmoil I say,
“Woah, so this is what she means.”
She means we’re bouncing into Graceland.
If the process of the spiritual journey can be compared to back-packing, then books about spirituality can be thought of as dealing with various aspects of the sport, such as equipment, technique, or mapping. This book is not at all about equipment, a little about technique, but mostly it is an exercise in mapping.
It is, for persons with a Catholic background, a discussion of where our spiritual journey has come from and where it might be going. Such exercises are still rare in Western spirituality because the christian traditions have always had this presumption that wherever the spiritual journey was going, we were already there. It was called “having the truth.”
So even now there are how-to books on journaling and meditation that walk you through specific exercises without telling you where they are going. They move you along on the spiritual journey without the aid of a map. That is all well and good when it works. The map is not the territory and the point of back-packing is to climb the mountain, not study pieces of paper.
But maps are useful too. I don’t know many smart people who go into the deep wilderness without one. When you are hiking in unfamiliar territory, it’s nice to have an aid to getting your bearings.
The best description of the stages of spiritual growth I know of is in the works of Ken Wilber. I had pretty well completed the writing of this book before I discovered his work. I found that my map-making agreed with most of his, but that his was much more detailed and complete than mine. So, I scrambled back to my text and fine-tuned it to reflect his better work. FN1
Wilber compares Western developmental psychology with Eastern treatises on spirituality. This produces a “full-spectrum psychology”: the stages of growth humans go through from infancy through the “highest” states of spiritual awareness.
He found a strong current of agreement running through the psychological systems of Hinduism and Buddhism, Sufism, Kabalah, neo-Confucianism, mystical Christianity and other esoteric traditions. These systems are perfectly aware of the three levels of structural organization studied by the developmental psychologists of the West: physical, emotional and rational. But they claim that those levels of human experience do not exhaust the spectrum of consciousness. There are higher levels of structural organization and integration beyond them. FN2
These stages of “transpersonal” consciousness are the various forms of contemplation and mysticism described by all the full-spectrum systems. These states of consciousness do not necessarily or even usually include paranormal events. They are perceptual, emotional and cognitive experiences accessible to us all.
It is, as Meister Eckhart said, that “The seed of God is in us. Now, the seed of a pear tree grows into a pear tree; and a hazel seed grows into a hazel tree; a seed of God grows into God.” FN3
The “Compound Individual”
In full-spectrum psychology, we are all “compound individuals.” That is, we are composed of systems of exchange with our environment arranged as it were in layers. Our physical body exists in exchange with the food chain and other physical and chemical forces. The emotional body engages in exchange by breath, sex, eye contact and other interactions with other emotional bodies. The mind engages in linguistic exchanges with other minds. Souls engage in psychic and spiritual exchanges. The spirit engages in communion with god-head.
Each level of our being is thus a process of relational exchange, or food needs. Bread is food for the body, touching is food for the emotions, information is food for the mind, love is food for the soul, contemplation is food for the spirit. On each level, we are connected to the set of objects that satisfy those needs. The physical body needs bread, the emotional body needs strokes, the mind needs information, the soul needs companionship, and the spirit needs god-communion.
But all of these levels are not manifest in the human organism at birth. We are a developmental being. For example, we like to say that when some one is seven years old, they have reached “the age of reason”. The research psychologists would say that this is the point in time when the mind becomes fully differentiated from the body. Likewise researchers can now describe rather precisely the points in time when all the various levels of human experience become differentiated.
We also know that development can be blocked. One individual can oppress another and thus distort and disrupt the emergence of subsequent levels of the compound individual. Every individual can also repress, that is, bury dissatisfying exchanges with the environment in unconscious memory. Karl Marx described oppression in systems of material (economic) exchange. Sigmund Freud started the description of disturbances in emotional exchange. Philosophers from Socrates through Habermas have described disturbances in mental exchange processes. And teachers such as Jesus and the Buddha have described the disturbances in spiritual exchange.
Historically humans have moved through stages of social development where their dominant religious systems operated on one of these various levels of consciousness. Nomadic religions invented around twelve thousand years ago were magical and shamanic. They merged human and animal consciousness. Nowadays we associate them with totem poles and “voodoo.” The most powerful rituals of these religions were collective actions, e.g., the great hunt.
When nomads settled into permanent dwellings and started to farm about three thousand years ago, they tended to invent mythical-conformist religions. These clearly distinguished human consciousness from animal consciousness. They created personal gods and their stories. They produced a form of community based on a common mental structure: language, concepts, beliefs. Their main rituals are productions of language and imagery, including rituals of “the presence of god.”
In the West a person such as Socrates marks the emergence the next stage of development: “rational, perspectivistic” consciousness. In this stage, people exchange mental and spiritual goods precisely because they are not identical. They positively value different perspectives (hence, “perspectivism”), and so they are nurtured by their differences rather than by their sameness. Philosophy and science are two powerful products of this kind of consciousness, and its main ritual is dialog, conversation, the exchange of ideas.
A fourth level of consciousness and community is that of contemplation. Individuals such as Lao Tzu, The Buddha and Jesus have expressed that level of community. Their followers have often gathered in “monastic” communities. Wilber calls its organizing principle “yogic” consciousness. Another name for it that has floated in and out of historical commentaries is “mysticism.”
The shamanic religions still exist as social organizations in certain enclaves. But the major religions of the world today are all hybrids of the other three levels of consciousness. They have vast popular systems based on mythic conformist ritual, purely rational systems of thought for small elites, and the cultivation of contemplative experience for still fewer. In their rituals the faithful gather together to rehearse and celebrate their collective identity. “We are all the same here.” That is, we speak the same words, think the same thoughts, live in the same mental reality.
In modern industrial society there is a working truce between the mythic-conformist religions and the rational-perspectivist systems of modern science and politics. (These are the systems the old religions call “secular.”) Many individuals live a kind of split life with one part of their self-system in an old religion and another part of their self-system organized by rational science and political ideas. But the two systems are not fully harmonious, and they create individual and social tensions.
The central ritual of a mythic conformist community is a dramatic performance that puts the communicants in the presence of “their God”. The central ritual of the rational perspectivist community is some form of conversation. Ideas and experiences are exchanged. Networks of contemplative consciousness have no ritual. They exist merely by the ability of their members to be aware of one another’s existence.
Wilber describes the relationship between the first two levels as follows:
The paradigm of mythic membership unity seems to be “Everybody has to think the same thing, share the same symbols, and have the same father-god-king in common.” The paradigm of rational-individual unity seems to be “Let’s do different things together, share different symbols, exchange different perspectives.” FN4
But he also notes that the rational individual stage is a sort of mid-point in human spiritual growth:
…I do not want to glorify the rational-individual level of adaptation. It is merely phase-specific. I believe it too will pass, eventually to be subsumed in a truly yogic world-view. ……its major purpose in the overall scheme of evolution [is] to strip Spirit of its infantile and childish associations, parental fixations, wish fulfillments, dependency yearnings, and symbiotic gratifications. When Spirit is thus de-mythologized, it can be approached as Spirit, in its Absolute Suchness (tathata), and not as Cosmic Parent. FN5
Therefore, there are four stages of spiritual development in play in the world today:
1. Shamanic magic
2. Mythic-conformist religion
3. Rational-perspectivist systems
4. Contemplative consciousness
Shamanic magic still exists in the human psyche ready to come forth when the other systems break down. It shows up routinely in those common superstitions we all practice (“knock on wood”, Friday the 13th, the paths of black cats, etc. etc.). It shows up in organized form where the other systems fail, as in areas of extreme poverty and educational deprivation.
But the other three systems are intermingled everywhere in the major systems of culture, politics, business and religion around the globe. Large numbers of people are moving between the levels of consciousness they represent, and there is much tension and confusion associated with these migrations.
This book tries to map the territory between these stages as it is experienced by persons schooled in the mythic conformity of Catholicism. A similar exercise could be performed for any other specific religious tradition. Thus, books could be written similar to this one that might be called “Outgrowing Lutheranism”, “Outgrowing Islam”, “Outgrowing Judaism”, “Outgrowing Buddhism”, “Outgrowing Hinduism”, etc.
The most important discussion in this book is about “the illusion of the Eucharist.” For it is that ritual that anchors the emotional life of the Catholic experience. The “real presence of god” experience grounds the self-system of all mythic religions. As I will discuss more fully in Chapter One, I take the position that Jesus of Nazareth is the incarnation of the second person of the blessed trinity, but that the Mass is merely a stage-specific piece of spiritual technology.
My analysis of the Eucharist aroused considerable concern among editors and agents who reviewed earlier drafts of this book. One friendly agent familiar with religious publishing told me, “I suspect that even the independent religious houses will be hesitant about espousing your case against the Mass as being an obstacle to the growth of the community of faith. The criticism of infallibility almost anyone can accept.”
I realize that the Eucharist has a powerful emotional appeal for those who still need the consciousness structures of the mythic-conformist stage. But I don’t make the rules. I just try to discover what they are. So, I have to speak.
I am convinced that there are many people out there who no longer need those old structures, but who do not yet have the language to complete their transition to rational and contemplative forms of community and consciousness. This book is for them.
There is indeed a death-resurrection experience associated with moving from one stage to another. There is always a slight twinge of terror and a short period of agony. But these are mere growing pains. In our biological life we accept them as normal. We call them “growing pains”, because we know where they are leading.
Once we understand that spiritual growth has stages just as much as bodily growth does, we won’t miss the Mass any more than we miss the great temple in Jerusalem that Jesus’ contemporaries clung to so tenaciously. The Mass and the temple are both stage-specific structures that are much too small to finally contain the authentic ground of human existence.
Thus, the Mass and all its “cousins” — which include all regular worship services of the world’s main religions — are rituals of mythic conformity. If we ask ourselves what is the powerful attraction of sharing the same mental structure with so many other people, one of the answers that emerges is that it is a defense against repressed pain. We grew up the same way; we have the same scars. Therefore it is useful to have the same defense mechanisms.
So, the point that Karl Marx applied with much too broad a brush has a kernel of truth in it. These rituals are an opiate. But we should respect a good opiate. Where there is pain, a good opiate is very useful. Ask any nurse.
There is much pain in our psyches. It lies buried there, a powerful force for exploration and achievement on the one hand, for greed and destruction on the other. The Mass and its equivalents are brilliant exercises of self-hypnosis that alleviate that pain. Sunday morning worship services are a national Valium, an international Valium in fact. Along with their counterparts in the other great religions, they are a planetary Valium whose existence reveals precisely where we are in the growing-up of the human race.
So, to call the Mass and its equivalents tranquilizers is not a disservice to the cause of spiritual development. It is merely a diagnostic breakthrough. When we can clearly distinguish between authentic god-communion and taking a psychic tranquilizer, we are much farther along in personal growth. We are alerted to pay attention to pain rather than run away from it. We know how much growing we have the pleasure of looking forward to.
But it is true that along with this growth there are also growing pains. They have the same structure in spiritual life as they do in the body. Remember adolescence.
Step one is shock: Oh no! the world is not as I had thought it to be. The king is as naked as a jay bird. (Jesus is not really in the box; the truth of Jesus now is that “whereness” is not an applicable category.) Hmph. Well. That is always a bit discomfiting. But you shake that off. You learn if not exactly to enjoy, at least to cheerfully put up with, the twinge of pain that comes in the moment of escape from another illusion.
Step two is work. When you get off the drug of old illusions, you have some self-recovery to do. The central personal issue that arises is how to handle the repressed pain that rises to the surface of the psyche when you give up the old practice. The correct response is to cultivate some form of solid introspective practice. “Therapy” can be part of such a practice, but it is not the whole story by any means. There are many other forms of introspective exercise: journaling, meditation, spiritual conversation, Zen sitting, workshops, etc. etc. etc.
One view is that therapy and all those other introspective practices are a sign of failure. I suggest that such thinking does not recognize recent advances in science and medicine. Therapy is simply coming to terms with what is simply there. It is just postponed spiritual work. Such work is not always easy, but it is always useful. It is in fact one of the healthiest and most useful activities a person can engage in this period of history. You don’t necessarily have to go to a high-priced specialist to do it. It is getting so that you can share your work with friends. It is also getting to the point where you know people who actually succeed. They get their work done. They arrive at a new place, and they like it there.
And that is of course step three: a new place, a new reality. No more god-in-the-box. Now god-everywhere. We might compare it to the air we breathe.
One, two, three … infinity.
But I do acknowledge the inconvenience. The transition between stages can be uncomfortable. But please don’t panic. It gets better. Do you remember that conformity and guilt you always felt a little bit cramped by? Well, you were right. It was overcrowded and narrow and primitive. It really didn’t have much to do with “God” at all. It had a lot to do with pain.
So, if you let yourself cry for the things you really lost when you were little and make some new decisions, there is a lot of living to do out there, and very little to regret.
But I realize that a lot of people are still hooked on the big stained-glass Valium down the street. I encountered this when I sent my manuscript to Catholic publishers. (A hungry artist will try anything.) One editor put it this way: “…people [don’t] need help in discarding outgrown belief so much as they need help in recognizing signs of hope and meaning in which they can believe.”
When this editor talks about “people” she is of course talking about herself (we all do this). The “signs of hope and meaning” she is looking for are things that preserve her system. I am familiar with the problem. I had to get knocked off my motor scooter and nearly lose my left hand before I paid attention to the tension of growth inside me. The space between stages can appear as a vertiginous trackless waste. There are no reference points. So, the literal truth of the matter is that discarding outgrown beliefs is something we need help with most of all.
It’s just that help doesn’t always come in the form that we expect it. It could be a smile, a yell, a failure, maybe a map. Ah yes, sometimes a map might help. This book is based on an assumption about that.
MICHAEL H. DUCEY: Born in Chicago, Illinois on January l7, 1933. Attended grade school at St. Jerome, Chicago, St. Patrick, Grand Haven, Michigan, St. Ignatius, Chicago. Graduated from Loyola Academy, Chicago, in 1951. Attended The University of Notre Dame one year. Entered the Society of Jesus on August 8, 1952 at Milford, Ohio. Went to India as a missionary in October 1959.Ordained priest in Patna, India, March l9, 1965. Exclaustrated at Chicago, Illinois, February 5, 1967. Laicized at Chicago, September 15, 1971. Awarded a Ph.D. in ethnographic sociology from the University of Chicago, May 1975.
It has been over twenty years since I left. My belief-system fell apart quite suddenly. The collapse was accompanied by a first-rate internal fireworks display. There had been subtle warnings all along the way, but I never heeded them. I certainly was not prepared for the psychic explosion that finally occurred in the spring of 1966. It was about three months from first conscious thought of quitting that station in life to the final decision to do so.
The force of internal necessity was irresistible. It was either leave or die, leave or go mad. One Jesuit with a reputation for wisdom counseled me to choose madness rather than leave, but that only hastened my departure. Another Jesuit, truly wise, counseled me to listen attentively to my inner voices and make the choice for health. This was following what Ignatius Loyola called “The Rules for the Discernment of Spirits”.
And that is what I did.
With hindsight it is clear that I left that situation under pressure from much unconscious material. That material has only gradually, over the years, come to the surface, where I can “understand” it. This process is not finished even now. But it has come very far along.
I guess it is time to talk about it.
APOLOGIA PRO VITA SUA
At the time of those changes I realized that I was doing something very important, not only for me personally, but also “scientifically”. I found it passing strange that I could have been “normal” for so many years, so completely dedicated to a system of belief and behavior, and then suddenly find it in meaningless pieces around me.
When my identity crisis occurred, I had had thirty-three years of history in a system and fourteen and a half years in an organization that had presumably known me intimately. If that system broke down for me, then what did that say about me? What did it say about that system? I’ve since concluded that while I am far from perfect, I am o.k. And I have been getting healthier and wholer steadily since the day I gave up my allegiance to the authority of Roman Catholicism. So I had to conclude that there is something unhealthy about that system.
I now realize that what is unhealthy about the Church is simply that it has an incomplete picture of spiritual growth. On the one hand it does not understand the spiritual importance of emotions. The Judaeo-Christian tradition has not yet grasped something that the major Eastern traditions have known for over a thousand years, that spiritual work and working with the emotions are one and the same thing.
On the other hand, although in theory the Church allows for “mysticism”, in practice it is not comfortable with it at all. It sees its central mission as protecting the unfinished ego-structures of the faithful, not allowing them to open up to the infinite. It therefore seeks to build a community of conformist belonging. It devotes its main attention to preserving a rather narrow range of behavioral obligations.
The transition I went through in leaving the Church was what Ken Wilber calls a “transformation”: a movement from one level of personal and social integration to another level. FN6 In my case, the transformation was from the dominance of mythic-conformism to an openness to the contemplative level.
From the point of view of this stage-theory, the Catholic Church in its present form appears as an agonizing hybrid. It stretches across all three levels of personal and social integration that are in play in history today. Some of its members experience mystical union with God, and they are usually rewarded with suspicion, often with outright condemnation. Some of its members engage in sophisticated rational-intellectual activity, that is, formal “theology.” But that activity is culturally and administratively subordinated to the mythic-conformist world-view of the bureaucracy. There is plenty of thought in the Catholic Church, but not much freedom of thought. Censorship and control are its standard responses to the rational and contemplative activities of its members.
The Church is thus afflicted with a serious case of organizational lag. Its hierarchs are still operating in the fourteenth century. The spirituality of the tribal groups who had recently taken over Europe at that time was a magical confusion of spiritual and physical forces. When the bubonic plague swept across the continent, no one knew about rats, fleas or bacilli, and so the best explanation they could give of the problem was that they were sinful and God was punishing them. (This explanation, by the way, still had enough popular support in the twentieth century to provide a good market for Albert Camus’ meditation on the human condition that he called The Plague.)
So, an alert medieval leadership invented spiritual technologies to improve the mental capacities of the time. The main task was to get beyond magic to a fully differentiated human ego. So, the Church produced technologies to build, control and support an ego-structure that is fully differentiated from nature. The three main technologies it invented were the belief in an infallible teaching authority, the rituals of the sacraments, and the Mass.
These technologies were indeed useful at the time, and they were successful. People did grow up. As they did this, they often rebelled against the structures they no longer needed. But the hierarchs, not understanding spiritual growth, put down such rebellions. Finally, in Protestantism, ego-maturity achieved a critical social and political mass, and the rebellions succeeded in setting up alternatives to the old institution. But the leadership stayed behind. This is organizational lag.
For me there is also the question of Jesus. I still believe that he is unique in human history. Through all my personal and organizational changes, it never occurred to me to reduce Jesus to the status of just another great teacher. That has always seemed to me to fly in the face of the evidence. It would also deprive the Jesus-event of the existential daring that enables it to burst all paradigms and makes it so refreshing, that makes it the ultimate “good news.”
But of course, the fact that I think Jesus is the fullest revelation of the structure of reality does not make me think he is the only such revelation. And the fact that I think Jesus is unique among religious figures no longer deludes me into thinking that Christians are somehow spiritually more advanced than the members of other religious groups.
During my theology studies in India, I spent four years in intense and thorough study of the Bible. I had two marvelous teachers, a first-rate library, and infinite amounts of time. During that period there were assignments in “dogmatic” theology also, but those rationalist exercises were not nearly as interesting to me, nor were they particularly challenging to my already well-honed left brain. I gave them rather cursory attention and spent most of my time on the Bible. I came away from that exercise assenting to the proposition that Jesus is the incarnation of the second person of the blessed trinity.
When I abandoned the authority of an institution that made a serious claim to continuity with the message of Jesus, I was very concerned about courting serious contradiction. But I decided not to worry about it. My sense of my own personal health and integrity was quite strong. I decided it was one of those problems that time and patience and experience would eventually solve. And that’s how it has turned out.
At this point in my life, I again have a viable belief-system. Some parts of it are clear and some parts are fuzzy. Here are some of the clear things.
I believe there is (a) God, who is real but essentially beyond the descriptive power of words, (b) Jesus, who is a unique event in history but not the property of any organization, and that (c) there are churches. These are human institutions that try to maintain the experience of God and Jesus, but they do so subject to all the weaknesses that flesh is heir to. So I try to obey God, love Jesus, and treat religious organizations like used cars. I use them as long as they work.
To get from my belief in Jesus to here, all I need is Sitz im Leben, “divine condescension” and a couple thousand years of human ego.
SITZ IM LEBEN
Sitz im Leben is the name some German scholars gave to a technique for interpreting the Bible. It says that to understand anything in the Bible, you must know the exact context, the “situation in life”. For example, when Jesus says to the rich young man, “Go, sell your possessions, give them to the poor and follow me”, he is not in fact addressing all pious young men for all centuries to the end of time. He is talking to one person on the basis of knowing him in that particular meeting, that particular conversation, at that particular time.
I am willing to stipulate that in the case of Jesus, God enters time. But when that happens, God enters fully. And so, when Jesus tells his disciples, “Go and baptize…” he is talking just to them, on the basis of his understanding of their culture at their time. And when Jesus tells Peter, “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound also in heaven.” he is certainly appointing him executive of that little band of followers, but what that means for the structure two thousand years later is subject to the laws of history. The laws of history, in general, call for change.
“Divine condescension” is a term coined by the early Christian theologian Origen. In his time people were asking themselves questions like why could Abraham have more than one wife and they could only have one? Why was something moral for Abraham and immoral for them? Well, Origen said in effect that there is such a thing as social evolution. There is a long-term learning process by which we improve the quality of our institutions. And so when God reveals things to people, “he” stoops down to their level. He con-descends. To me that makes sense. Divine revelation is always filtered through history and culture.
2,000 YEARS OF EGO
People who believe in Jesus need to recall at what point in time he entered history, at what point in time we are now, and what has happened in between.
In general, the structure of human consciousness has changed. The sense of self of “the average person” in the information societies of advanced industrial civilization is quite different than the average sense of self in Rome two thousand years ago. We call this cultural evolution.
Historical scholarship is now getting very interested in this phenomenon. There is a group of historians who call their work “somatic” history. They study changes in the structures of human consciousness over time, and they find that these structures are formed in us by our experience of our bodies. FN7
When we understand cultural evolution, the following scenario makes sense: Jesus comes from God and talks to these folks in the middle east in their own language and their culture. They don’t quite get it all, but they do get its essence, and they hand it on to succeeding generations through the vehicle of a human community. This community proceeds to take itself too seriously, confuses ego with Spirit, and forms an organization that thinks it essentially owns Jesus.
Well, if you’re going to get involved in history, even if you’re God, you have to get involved according to its rules, which involve a learning process. That’s because of freedom and because of flesh.
So, as far as Christianity goes, I find some good news and some bad news. The good news is the end of death, the resurrection of the body, the goodness of matter. That is the center of the Jesus event. But not only Christians teach this. I love the story Ram Das tells about his teacher. The master was dying and his disciples were standing around the bed looking very glum. The master looked ’round this sad circle, and he said, “I’m not going anywhere.”
How did that Hindu know that?
If you haven’t gotten this good news, then you haven’t gotten Jesus. All you have is a church. It’s like G. K. Chesterton said: Christianity hasn’t failed; it has not been tried.
The bad news is an institution fixated at a mythic-conformist level of spiritual development, still deeply invested in controlling all human experience. It is an operation that desperately needs to grow. It needs to dis-organize itself. Organizations are clearly good for making and selling pizza. For experiencing the end of death, they are a problem. It has something to do with property and power.
But to understand how we get from the good news of Jesus to the bad news of an organization of arrested spiritual development, we need to take a look at the structure of human consciousness. That structure is formed by an elementary process: We seek mysticism, but we experience pain. So, we try to escape. It has taken human beings a long time to learn how to do something better than escape. It is called getting your introspective work done.
So, these are the counters on the board in the game of uncovering the meaning of our lives: mysticism, pain, escape and time, and getting your introspective work done.
Evelyn Underhill’s observation about the source of religion is no longer controversial.
Each great religious tradition, when we follow it back, is seen to originate in the special experiences of some soul who has acted as the revealer of spiritual reality; for the great mystics never keep their discoveries to themselves. They have a social meaning, and always try to tell others what they have known. FN8
Although I’ve made it clear that I think Jesus is more than just a mystic, I also think that to understand him fully, we have to discover our own mystical potential. I see no problem with that. I think it is time to demystify terms such as “mysticism”, “enlightenment”, and “self-realization”. Ken Wilber helps us do that when he points out that if you compare Western and Eastern descriptions of personal/spiritual development, you find a post-rational, contemplative form of personality structure that has been recognized the world over for centuries.
Therefore these terms are not names for an experience available only to some specially chosen few. They are just names for a certain stage in the natural development of the self-structure. In contemplation you are aware of the ground of your own being and your authentic place in the world. It is nothing particularly exotic. It is only the teachings of religious systems that do not understand the human psyche that seem to make mysticism inaccessible.
Religious systems should be judged in the same way as any other product of the human mind, such as science, medicine and technology. Do they work? Do they conform with the rest of what we know about the world? We should honor all past spiritual achievements for their contribution to prior stages of human growth, but not cling to them as if they were some sort of final truth. As individuals and in our group arrangements, we human beings grow as we move through time. The form of consciousness called mysticism is all around us, happens all the time, is our birthright and natural condition.
The great mystics of history were persons of exceptional talent, particularly in their ability to communicate their experiences. But they were not radically different than the rest of us. What they did by sheer talent, we can do by method. It is a matter of getting your introspective work done.
The three mystics I more or less grew up with in my fourteen and a half years as a Jesuit were the two great Spanish Carmelites of the sixteenth century, Teresa of Avila and John of The Cross, and of course the founder of the Society of Jesus, Ignatius Loyola.
Genuine religious mystics such as these are geniuses of introspection. They go through hell in order to get to heaven. Retiring from the world either by some mysterious natural inclination or driven out by traumatic events, they allow themselves to pay attention to what is at the back of human awareness rather than what is out in front of it in the field of social action.
They go off to a place away from the world, and allow to come up whatever comes up. In doing this they are ripped this way and that by a sea of powerful emotions. Teresa of Avila, in one stage of her spiritual seeking, went out into the woods and gathered stinging nettles and brought them home to flog herself with. She was doing a little experiment with pain. She wanted to see if it changed anything significant. She found that it did not, and later reported on her practices with the amused tolerance of an adult who has survived some youthful folly.
Ignatius Loyola, crippled by a cannon ball and suddenly impressed by the profound superficiality and meaninglessness of his life as an ambitious junior officer in the private army of a Spanish duke, went off and lived in a cave outside Barcelona for nearly a year, refused to bathe or cut his hair or fingernails, stayed awake all night and took notes on what happened to his mind. There came a time when the structure of reality became clear to him, and so he took a bath and shaved, got himself some clothes and enrolled in school.
So the great mystics of the past got intensely preoccupied by the question of who they really are, and then went crashing through the introspective barriers that most people find impenetrable. They also had a remarkable talent for emotional health that permitted them to court madness and not get, finally, caught up in it. So they “went inside” and discovered truths that are buried in the unconscious.
The main truth they experienced was the ground of human existence in a reality that is beyond words. The great mystics and the major texts of the great religious traditions all agree on one thing: that what words like “God” try to point to is, essentially, “ineffable.”
“Ineffable” simply means: not speakable, cannot be adequately expressed in words.
I am well aware that there is a variety of authentic mystical experience. Robert C. Zaehner’s classic work of scholarship, Mysticism Sacred and Profane (NY, Oxford, 1957.), describes three different kinds that are found through history. Ken Wilber also talks about them. There are also experiences that people call mysticism but are actually some form of trance or psychopathology. Being familiar with all these varieties of post-rational experience is a useful tool at some point in the process of spiritual growth. But all we need to note for now is that all of these “high-end” experiences are real, accessible and not verbally describable.
So, Thomas Merton published a book of essays about God and called it Raids on the Unspeakable, and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin put the experience of God at the end of an introspective journey:
… I took the lamp, and leaving the zone of everyday occupations and relationships where everything seems clear, I went down into my inmost self, to the deep abyss whence I feel dimly that my power of action emanates. But as I moved further and further away from the conventional certainties by which social life is superficially illuminated, I became aware that I was losing contact with myself. At each step of the descent a new person was disclosed within me of whose name I was no longer sure, and who no longer obeyed me. And when I had to stop my exploration because the path faded from beneath my steps, I found a bottomless abyss at my feet, and out of it came — arising from I know not where — the current which I dare to call my life. FN9
Note that communion with this ultimate reality is not an experience which, if we just knew a little more about it, we could discover its name. It is rather an experience which, when we know everything about it that there is to know, we realize that it just does not have a name.
But, since human beings are creatures of articulated knowledge systems, the great teachers fashion words that point in the right direction. They even “name” the ultimate reality. They call it brahman, allah, larger mind, the tao, emptiness, god, the great spirit, etc. But any one really familiar with these terms knows that they are crude approximations not to be taken over-seriously.
Some teaching methods play with language. The buddhist koan, for example, uses paradoxical utterance (“What is the sound of one hand clapping?”) to wean the learner from an overdependence on words as revealers of the real.
Thus the ground of the greatest teachers’ insights into the structure of reality is this very strange, but very real, human experience that we perhaps should simply call the experience which has no name.
However, when the mystics return to the normal social world, they find themselves in an awkward position. They have to guide their fellow human beings on a deep introspective journey where it is easy to get lost. The fundamental difficulty is that deep in the human psyche there is not only the basis for the experience which has no name, there is also pain. And so the truth of the mystic is easily distorted by the encounter with repressed pain that commonly shows up in any serious effort at introspection. Teaching authentic spirituality becomes the prisoner of average level of consciousness in society at the time.
If we follow closely the sinuous twists and turns of the history of religions, we find many substitute experiences that lay claim to the ultimacy that only true mysticism provides. Three of the main ones we encounter are: (1) ordinary religious trance, (2) esoteric religious trance, and (3) religions of hostility.
Ordinary religious trance anchors the practice of most popular religion. The form of practice it offers is “piety”: ethics, charity, following rules and the performance of rituals. It structures left-brain process by doctrine and right brain process by ritual. Its main form of “introspection” is the religious trance induced by ritual. (Cf. Chapters Four and Eight.)
This trance is the substitute ultimate that most concerns us here, because it is the usual experience of religion for most people, and Roman Catholicism is one of its most successful forms. Most of this book is devoted to showing how it works and how to get beyond it.
The second substitute ultimate is the series of powerful projective trances that religious historians refer to as “the vertical path.” These experiences are the core of the gnostic tradition. They often show up with parapsychological effects (visions, tele-perception, out-of-body experiences, etc.). Their practitioners propose a multi-level (five, seven, nine) definition of “reality” that is very similar to Wilber’s stages of spiritual growth.
But in this system, spiritual practice is “a way of ascent”, whereby the practitioner seeks to attain ever “higher” levels of experience, while leaving behind the lower levels. They thus fail at integration and produce unhealthy forms of consciousness. A seven-level system in use by a community currently practicing in the mid-west speaks of (1) the physical body, (2) the etheric body, (3) the astral body, (4) the mental body, (5) the angelic, (6) the archangelic, and (7) the celestial. The vertical path is usually practiced by esoteric groups that frequently regard themselves as secret societies.
The third common substitute ultimate is the projection of repressed hostility into religious teaching. It satisfies by violence.
Early childhood commonly includes systematic pain, and so introspection can produce fearful and angry emotions. These feelings come from memories, but ones that are repressed. Therefore, they come out separated from the self. Projected out onto the world, they are perceived as some form of objective truth or “revelation.”
The mainstream religions of the world have all been vehicles for these hostile projections. They have often made war on each other, as in the Crusades. The recent history of consciousness by the “somatic” historian Morris Berman describes how Christian advocates of the horizontal path tried to annihilate the way of ascent in the Albigensian Crusade. As an example of the carnage, twenty thousand people were slaughtered in the town of Bezier in southern France in the year 1206. He also describes how on some occasions, the way of ascent has been part of equally violent practices, as in the Nazi movement. FN10
The religions of the socially disprivileged often show projected hostility. Modern “Fundamentalism” sometimes takes this form. To detect these hostile projections, you have to notice the emotions displayed in a religious message: tone of voice, body posture, movement, the use of space, the behavior of the audience. Notice the theatrical whole. Observe body language. How do people stand when they talk about God? If some one is sitting in a private conversation, what stiffness, if any, what relaxation? How do the eyes behave? Is there contact? Is there a fixed stare? What is the tone of voice, intonation, loudness? Do they speak all the time, or do they also listen?
If you watch some Sunday morning television preachers with this framework in mind, it is not too difficult to tell where their images of God are coming from. The fear, anxiety, self-depreciation and social hostility are transparent.
Religions of hostility can assume political power in any of the major religious traditions. Recent events in Iran have reminded us of that. In some research I did a long time ago, I ran across a study of the preaching of John Calvin. FN11
This French historian observed that Calvin did indeed go through the whole Bible looking for God, but he never stopped and took note of its teaching on love of all one’s fellow men. For example, Calvin never used the irenic doctrine of love found in the first epistle of St. John. Calvin praises God, but he also seems to have assumed that God’s enemies are precisely and only the adversaries of Calvin’s interpretation of the Bible.
Favre-Dorsaz singles out an image that Calvin used in one of his sermons, of God “spitting on the services of the Papists”, and makes the following comment:
What good are protestations of respect when the most shocking sublimations take the place of prophetic inspiration? One day, projecting his shadow across heaven, the reformer sees God himself “spitting on the services” that have earned the preacher’s wrath. It is not very effective to combat the anthropomorphisms of one tradition with still more compromising images and symbols of God’s transcendence. It is useless for iconoclasts to destroy stained glass windows, statues and pictures, if they just replace them in believers’ imaginations by representations of a vengeful and jealous God modeled on themselves. FN12
The historian also cites the fact that between 1542 and 1546, there were 76 banishments and 58 condemnations to death in Geneva, “a small city where the will of the prophet had the force of law.” FN13 He examines in detail some of the cases that made up this statistic. He concludes that John Calvin’s religion came from somewhere else than authentic mystical experience.
This is just one example of how repressed pain and rage become parts of belief-systems that talk about “God.”
The Swiss psychiatrist Alice Miller makes an observation that is relevant here:
Splitting of the human being into two parts, one that is good, meek, conforming and obedient and the other that is diametrically opposite is perhaps as old as the human race, and one could simply say that it is part of “human nature”.
Yet it has been my experience that when people have had the opportunity to seek and live out their true self in analysis, this split disappears of itself. They perceive both sides, the conforming as well as the so-called obscene, as two extremes of the false self, which they now no longer need. FN14
What is true of a split self is also true of a split world. When people have had an opportunity “to seek out and live their true self” by means of whatever technique works for them, they no longer need images that portray a world divided into false extremes of good and evil.
There is also the question of how to tell the difference between mysticism and post-rational psychopathologies. Making that distinction is the work of “spiritual direction”, and would be the subject of another book. The purpose of this book is just to map the territory between mythic conformist religiosity and contemplative consciousness in general.
In this stage of the spiritual journey we move beyond cosmic storytelling and mere formal reasoning to a post-rational form of awareness that is not novel in human experience. It is a natural stage of human development. We get access to it when our egos are “strong enough” to handle it. And that happens when we get our introspective work done.
Therefore, the atheists have a point. There is a lot of intellectual and emotional nonsense parading around the world under the name of “God”.
I distinguish between the thoughtful atheists and the militant atheists. The thoughtful atheists, including a lot of devout Buddhists, look at all the verbal and pictographic nonsense that parades around the world under the name of “God”, and they say, “Well, it seems to me that the ultimate ground of all reality is not any one of these. They are all figments of the human imagination. I follow none of them.”
Then there are militant atheists. They have made an ego-contest out of the situation. They have decided to fight it. But they always end up making their own, “non-God”, substitute ultimates. They become attached to their own flags, parades and rituals, and make systems that are worse than the religions they try to replace
Therefore, all of the “atheism” I have ever encountered has merely been a quarrel about how to escape from pain. For, on the one hand there is the actual ineffable ground of human existence. No one ever argues about that. On the other hand, there are the trance-induction techniques we use to escape from repressed pain and function as substitute ultimates. They lock us into creeds and codes and buzzwords that we have to defend or else be thrown up against the agony of the repressed. That is what people argue about.
In other words, “God” is a word that people use to describe their own introspective experience.
Therefore, I have never had, or heard, or seen, an actual argument about the existence of God. But I have heard and seen many passionate clashes of egos deeply invested in the words they use for the ground of their identities and their escapes from pain.
When my atheist friends ask me, archly, “Do you mean to say that there really are no atheists?”, my answer is that it’s a free country and they can call themselves whatever they want to. I just think it’s useful to ask what being an atheist really means. Which god don’t they believe in? (It is usually the god of their parents or some established religion.)
Those who connect “God” with the experience which has no name simply do not take any word for that reality over-seriously.
Secondly, we have to admit that Karl Marx had an interesting point. He just didn’t follow it up correctly. His claim that “religion is the opiate of the masses” has a kernel of truth in it.
Now, I am not only not an atheist, but a flaming theist who holds that Jesus of Nazareth is the incarnation of the second person of the blessed trinity. But I absolutely agree with Marx that most of what we encounter on the stage of history as religion has an opiative function.
But I go on to say that Marx’s observation is inaccurate by being incomplete, and that he took it in the wrong policy direction.
It is incomplete in that religion is not the opiate of the masses. It would be more correct to say that religion is an opiate of the masses, for there are clearly other opiates as well, and not only for “the masses.” There are also opiates for the middle class, and for wealthy and powerful elites. When we look at it this way, religion is only one instrument of culture to escape from pain. The middle class hides in television and consumption and other trips. The elites hide in money and power. And then of course, for everybody, there are drugs. So it goes. Escape is pandemic.
As far as policy direction goes, Marx attacked religion. We now know that what we need to attack is pain. And since from medicine we know that sedatives are good for shock and can help save lives, we can also recognize that this opiate we call religion has performed considerable nurture also. It has kept the human race alive.
The only question is, do we still need it?
When the world and its beings are evil, transform the negative conditions into aids on the path of enlightenment.
Ancient Buddhist Text.
The human emotions have an anatomy as precise and detailed as the human body. Now, pain is a human emotion, and we want to work with it as skillfully as we can. So, we want to know its anatomy as completely as possible.
Therefore, we do not turn away from pain. Rather, we go into it with the eye of a surgeon. We put it on a specimen board, under very bright lights, hold a magnifying glass over it, poke it, freeze it, dissect it, take notes, draw diagrams and write reports. We want to get to the bottom of it.
Suppose that the deepest pain felt in the center of the human heart is rooted in a misunderstanding. Something happened to us when we were very little, we got it wrong, and have carried that misunderstanding around with us ever since.
I think that is in fact the conclusion of a careful study of spiritual pain. If we hold it under a microscope, we see a structure that is invisible to the naked eye. What we are most terrified by is the result of an interpretive mistake we made when we were very small, a mistake our conscious mind has since completely forgotten about.
Suppose we can remove this fundamental pain by recalling the loss we really suffered long ago, mourning for it, and no longer taking it on ourselves. Then that would be an exercise worth pursuing, would it not? It would be an excellent exercise of science.
Alice Miller has called it to our attention that society routinely gives pathology the status of cultural norm. Her clinical work led her to study child-rearing practices. She discovered that they can be systematically damaging to children. For example she comments that:
In the mid-nineteenth century a man named Schreber, the father of a paranoid patient described by Freud, wrote a series of books on child rearing. They were so popular in Germany that some of them went through forty printings and were translated into several languages. In these works it is stressed again and again that children should start being trained as soon as possible, even as early as their fifth month of life, if the soil is to be “kept free of harmful weeds”. FN15
Miller calls this “poisonous pedagogy”. A central feature of it is “the conviction that parents are always right and that every act of cruelty, whether conscious or unconscious, is an expression of their love.” FN16
Miller says that this claim of parental figures to unchallenged authority comes from unresolved experiences of their own childhood.
The pedagogical conviction that one must bring a child into line from the outset has its origin in the need to split off the disquieting parts of the inner self and project them onto an available object. The child’s great plasticity, flexibility, defenselessness, and availability make it the ideal object for projection. FN17
The first thing to note about this situation is that unhealthy child-rearing practices damage the human organism. That is, if the organism does not get what it needs, that loss produces something like a lesion on the human psyche. This makes all of us damaged goods.
The appropriate healing response to such a lesion would be mourning, which is simply the process of paying attention to a wound and allowing the body to flood it with the energy it takes to repair the lesion.
THE BASIC FAULT
But mourning is not all that we do. We also internalize. This means we make a crucial mistake about the cause of our pain. Instead of recognizing that the source of the pain is outside ourselves, we attribute its cause to self.
This is because the human infant is not fully skilled in distinguishing between inner and outer stimuli. The first origin of causality we are aware of in life is our own ego. Also, when we are very little, we needed to believe in the benevolence of those (very big) persons around us on whom we absolutely depend. So, we confuse the event of pain, which was caused by an external agent, and our interpretation of it, which attributes the cause to self.
In the early years of life we simply do not have the competence to resolve this confusion, and so we bury it in the unconscious. This is the formation of “the introject”, that little voice inside us all that says, whenever anything goes wrong, “It was my fault. I’m bad. I am not o.k. Poor Me!”
The most crippling illusion produced by this confusion is the impression that I am responsible for what “the world” did to me. I call this the illusion of existential worthlessness. What is most poignant about this illusion is that it takes the form of, not the opinion of some one else, but of my own opinion. It is not that some one else rejects me, it is that I reject myself. And the evidence buried in our psyches that supports this proposition is the mistake of a child. What a fascinating piece of work we are!
“The illusion of existential worthlessness” has shown up in many places throughout the course of history and across cultures. The British psychiatrist Michael Balint called it the basic fault. FN18 Balint was trying to explain certain difficult cases he encountered in psychoanalysis. He came to the conclusion that “analytical work proceeds on at least two different levels, one familiar and less problematic, called the Oedipal level…”, and the other “…I propose to call the level of the basic fault.”FN19
The term “basic fault” has a completely different origin than the religious term “original sin.” It does not refer to a moral condition and implies no guilt. It is a metaphor drawn from the physical sciences.
…in geology and in crystallography the word fault is used to describe a sudden irregularity in the overall structure, an irregularity which in normal circumstances might lie hidden but, if strains and stresses occur, may lead to a break, profoundly disrupting the overall structure. FN20
The “theology” of the basic fault is therefore a theory of original blessing rather than original sin. It places the source of human discomfort not in some voluntary violation of a code of conduct, as the Genesis account would have it, but rather in a condition pre-existing the ability of free will to determine its own course of action.
But this “geological” fault does show up as an extremely painful “gap” in the deepest recess of the human psyche. It is a chasm, a crevice, an abyss, possibly of fearful darkness, into which the conscious ego is in danger of irretrievably falling. It projects out into the world as a vast array of binary oppositions, e.g., between self and other, we and they, sacred and profane, safe and dangerous, etc.
Balint says of the patient’s emotions when aware of the basic fault:
The only thing that can be observed is a feeling of emptiness, being lost, deadness, futility and so on, coupled with an apparently lifeless acceptance of everything that has been offered. Everything is accepted…but nothing makes any sense. FN21
Although highly dynamic, the force originating from the basic fault has the form neither of an instinct nor of a conflict. It is a fault, something wrong in the mind, a kind of deficiency which must be put right. It is not something damned up for which a better outlet must be found, but something missing either now, or perhaps for almost the whole of the patient’s life. FN22
He sees the origin of the basic fault in the same place that Alice Miller finds it.
…the origin of the basic fault may be traced back to a considerable discrepancy in the early formative stages of the individual between his bio-psychological needs and the material and psychological care, attention, and affection available during the relevant times. FN23
This is unhealthy pedagogy.
A short time before Balint’s work, there appeared a more popular description of the basic fault that has produced a slightly different language. It is The Aristos, a philosophical essay by the novelist John Fowles, first published in 1964. The Aristos is one of those literary works of the genre I call “courageous nihilism.” This is the school of thought for whom life means nothing, but we must somehow respond to that fact with responsibility and dignity.
The root of Fowles’s nihilism is the existence of the nemo.
…I believe each human psyche has a fourth element, which, using a word indicated by the Freudian terminology, I call the nemo. By this I mean not only `nobody’, but also the state of being nobody — `nobodiness’. In short, just as physicists now postulate an anti-matter, so must we consider the possibility that there exists in the human psyche an anti-ego. This is the nemo. FN24
Fowles expands for many pages on the manifestations of the nemo in personal, social and political life. Some examples:
7 The nemo is a man’s sense of his own futility and ephemerality; of his relativity, his comparativeness; of his virtual nothingness.
8 All of us are failures; we all die.
9 Nobody wants to be a nobody. All our acts are partly devised to fill or to mask the emptiness we feel at the core.
16 I can counter my nemo by conflicting; by adopting my own special style of life. I build up an elaborate unique persona, I defy the mass. I am the bohemian, the dandy, the outsider, the hippy.
37 I vote because not to vote represents a denial of the principle of right of franchise; but not because voting in any way relieves my sense that I am a pawn, and a smaller and smaller pawn, as the electorate grows. FN25
Simplistic, perhaps, but nonetheless powerful, and catching a central wave of the human experience.
The “somatic” historian Morris Berman tries to follow the ebb and flow of the impact of the basic fault on pre-history and western civilization in Coming To Our Senses. Berman’s narrative makes it clear that the basic fault is a powerful force in history and that we have much to learn from trying to trace its influences.
Some people think that the basic fault is hard-wired into human existence. I think that is a mistake. I say it is the product of experience and can be cured by experience. It is sometimes wired deeply into the fabric of culture, but culture is changeable.
The basic fault shows up in many accounts of spiritual life, but not all of them. It is “the dark night of the soul” in St. John of the Cross, “the shadow” in C. G. Jung, “the gap between subject and object” in D. W. Winnicott, “the Nemo” in John Fowles, “the leap of faith” in Soren Kierkegaard, “the heart of darkness” in Joseph Conrad, “dread” in Jean Paul Sartre, and so on and so forth.
In each case it is an experience of darkness, meaninglessness, isolation and self-worthlessness at the “center” of human experience.
But it does not show up in all spiritual literature. I do not find the basic fault in the works of Lao Tzu, classical Buddhism, the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, the biblical prophets or the New Testament. It is however pervasive in popular culture, modern literature, and the history of organized religion.
From the historical data Berman has collected, the impact of the basic fault clearly rises and falls over time, even within the boundaries of Western European culture. It is unevenly distributed in the human population. Its failure to show up in some of the most important religious texts of all time casts further doubt on its hard-wired-ness. Those who do experience it do experience it as “ultimate.” But then, the conscious mind always experiences the repressed as “ultimate.”
But even if it is the product of experience and can be cured by experience, the degree to which it is actually curable varies. In “deeply disturbed” individuals it may have a physiological foundation. In certain cultures or groups or periods of history where there is no technology to heal it, it can remain completely inaccessible.
And wherever it does show up, it is powerful. It is a psychic sore spot at the very center of human experience: the source of anxieties, devils, terrors, from which consciousness learns to flee at all cost. It produces an extremely common internal emotional experience that I call the fires of sadness.
The basic fault is at the core of repressed pain. The standard practice is to try to escape from it. Whenever we “go inside” unguardedly and allow to come up whatever is really there, we usually get a warning as if from some deep internal fire. We encounter introspective warm spots that we know are the signal fires for much more dangerous things. These are the parts of our memory we dare not go into. And so we run away from interiority.
These fires are a tenacious component of the human personality. There are two main obstacles to getting rid of them. First, the adult cannot consciously recall what created them because the incidents are often pre-verbal. Secondly, the adult does not dare recall them because they are so scary and painful.
But the human brain stores all these early experiences. We never forget. We just cannot consciously recall. And so the feelings derived from them must come out indirectly. These are the defense mechanisms. There are three classic ones that the psychologists talk about.
One is splitting off and projecting: other objects are found on which to visit those dark emotions. Miller observes that “…every ideology provides a scapegoat outside the confines of its own splendid group…” FN26
Another is idealization of parent-figures: political leaders, religious leaders. Rage and pain get turned into worship and infant-like dependence: anything to avoid re-experiencing the original helplessness.
A third form is to treat one’s own children the same way: “the compulsive repetition of the exercise of power.” FN27
When we examine the child-rearing literature of the past two hundred years, we discover the methods that have systematically been used to make it impossible for children to realize and later to remember the way they were actually treated by their parents. FN28
Therefore, by the time we reach adulthood, we have built up deeply ingrained habits of projection, idealization and substitution that we have relied on for many years to “protect our sanity.” These habits are the foundation of neurosis and psychosis, and in fact exist even in “normal” people who function quite well in social life.
The Buddhists have known about these habits for a long time. They note that they all have a kind of no-win emotional quality that they call “negative negativity”. This “negative negativity” is a major obstacle to spiritual learning.
Popular culture also knows about these habits, and has many different names for them: “feeling sorry for yourself”, “self-pity”, “rationalization”, your “trip”, your “act”, your “game”, and so forth.
So, the basic fault shows up in external human behavior in the phenomenon of self-pity, which the Buddhists call “negative negativity”. Self-pity is therefore a very powerful and pervasive human practice, and not completely voluntary. It is everywhere, taken for granted, with myriad forms. It is also circular, labyrinthine, and feeds on itself. If we look at the world with open eyes, we see that self-pity is the bad energy that lies at the root of most of the violence in the world.
Another thing to note about self-pity is that, behaviorally, it looks a lot like mourning. But it has the opposite value. Both mourning and self-pity express themselves as sadness, tears, weeping. The tears of self-pity go on and on. They never have an end. But the tears of mourning are violent and clean. They heal the wound and stop.
Mourning is necessary for human health, but self-pity is a powerful obstacle to it.
The cure for the basic fault is accurate remembering. This means touching the past event with the energy of attention from the present moment. This remembering can be a visual, auditory, verbal recall, or it can be a purely emotional and kinesthetic contact that does not use the medium of mental images. In either case it contacts what has been repressed, and recovers the dissociated and split-off elements of the self.
Since the memories that produce the basic fault are all retained, they are accessible. We just have to find a way through the introspective barriers that protect them, and experience them now not as we did in infancy, but with our ego-resources of the present moment. We do not go into trance and re-live the past. We stay in the present moment, awake, and remember. This allows us to separate what other people did (and so, what they are responsible for) from what I did (and so, what I am responsible for). This is the distinction between event and interpretation.
The memory that usually comes up in accurate recall of one’s past is that even if my parents didn’t give me what I needed, (a) it was not their fault, and more importantly (b) even if they did not “love” me, I did love them.
When we see this, we can mourn for the loss we actually experienced, and change our interpretation of it. This usually takes the form of a release of sadness that has been pent up for years: tears, sobbing, rest. Release leads to self-acceptance. What has been buried in the unconscious is brought out, de-fused, and recovered from. This dissolves the illusion of existential worthlessness.
So, I have lesions on my psyche, but I am o.k. (This is, if the truth were to be told, one form of the experience which has no name.)
Alice Miller says:
Only if the history of abuse in earliest childhood can be uncovered will the suppressed anger, rage and hatred cease to be perpetuated. Instead they will be transformed into sorrow and pain at the fact that things had to be that way.
This state of mind includes the realization that “every persecutor was once a victim.”
THE THREE KEY DISTINCTIONS
But there is a very serious problem with accurate remembering. It is that attention has to get through the tangled thicket of negative negativity that surrounds the fires of sadness. In order to do that, we have to be skilled at making the three key distinctions of introspective activity.
They are (a) between mourning and self-pity and (b) between event and interpretation and (c) between trance and being awake. The third one is the most elusive of the three.
But in ordinary social life there is not much support for learning these distinctions because, after all, there is an alternative: running away. And running away is easier.
“THE SLEEP OF EVERYDAY LIFE”
Historically, running away from the internal pain that comes from the basic fault is the vastly preferred course of action. It is an institution. Everybody does it together.
We should not be surprised at this. History is an incremental process.
Running away is driven by very practical survival needs. For, to be engulfed by the fires of sadness is not only painful, it also prevents you from keeping your mind on your work. The tribe could easily die from that.
Therefore, throughout history, human beings have made running away from the fires of sadness an institution deeply imbedded in everyday life. Culture itself is escapist. Escape is one of the things we human beings do best together. It fuels the economy. Alcohol and other drugs are a common example of culturally accepted means of escape. But more basic still than drugs are simpler practices: occupation, illusion and trance. Think of elevator music. Think of prime-time television. Think of “keeping busy.” The research psychologist Charles Tart refers to culture as “consensus trance” and “the sleep of everyday life”. FN30 The escape function of culture is so important that we can state it as a principle: the conspiracy of culture is to escape the fires of sadness.
Organized religion is part of culture. Hence the grain of truth in Karl Marx’s observation that “religion is the opiate of the masses.” But we should not criticize the opiate. Rather we should heal the pain.
But culture is the basic set of rules and practices that define “normalcy”. If culture rules out introspection, then this activity — that could open up the soul to full selfhood — is not merely disapproved of, it becomes “invisible.” No one even knows that it exists, there is no language for it. The practice of escape gains the status of conventional wisdom. You have to be weird to do anything else.
The whole system of culture is supported by child-rearing practices. Alice Miller again:
For centuries, pedagogues have advocated suppressing the child’s feelings so that he or she will be able to function better. The destructive effects of this advice on a child’s personality go unnoticed as long as most people have been treated in more or less the same fashion. Many readers reacted with horror to the excerpts from child-rearing manuals from past centuries I included in For Your Own Good, even though these works have never been kept secret but probably even formed the nucleus of our parents’ or grandparents’ libraries. FN31
The sway of culture is so powerful, in fact, that religious leaders are not the only ones who distort introspective experience. Even those who have pioneered in introspection get thrown off the track. Miller criticizes both C. G. Jung and Sigmund Freud for making the same kind of mistake:
…these two such different intellectual systems are essentially concealing the same situation: the real traumatization of the first years and the necessity of denying and repressing them by means of childhood amnesia. Freud, the Jewish son, atones for his forbidden insight with his drive theory, and Jung, the Protestant son, is united with his theological forefathers by locating all evil in an abstract and harmless unconscious that is oblivious to the concrete, individual realities of a specific childhood. The commandment “Thou shalt not be aware” gained a hearing in the later life of both thinkers. FN32
The way Miller puts it, the authentic results of the work of Jung and Freud and many other analysts of the human psyche “fell victim to the Fourth Commandment”, which of course reads: Honor Thy Father and Thy Mother. Adults of the early twentieth century couldn’t face the fact that they were part of the compulsive repetition of unhealthy pedagogy, and so Freud and Jung adjusted their theories. To spare the parent, thousands of children have been wrongfully called liars.
And so for most people the residues of unhealthy pedagogy remain. They create the common introspective experience that whenever we allow to come up inside of us whatever is really there, we are warned off, distracted, have our attention re-directed elsewhere. And we have constant social support in this. We don’t even notice that we do it. It is just “normal.”
DEGREES OF “POISON”
As far as pedagogy is concerned, the term “poisonous” certainly has degrees. There is a pedagogy that produces compulsively violent criminals, and a pedagogy that produces “normal” irascibility. Then there is everything in between.
Religion, it must be admitted, sometimes does get involved with the extreme forms of poison. There are murders, for example, whose objects and motivations are explicitly religious. There are Jonestowns. And although every one recognizes that the extreme pathologies are exceptional, once you start noticing unhealthy pedagogy, you find that the ordinary and average forms of religion routinely practice it. Dr. Miller’s research leads to the conclusion that we should not be surprised at this.
It is an evolutionary argument. An earlier age’s health is a later age’s sickness. The “sick society” argument of the counter-culture of the late sixties was a very youthful intuition about this. Miller’s work is an emotionally and intellectually more mature version of that insight.
If only we recognize that sickness too is a relative thing, we can make use of this perception. It just means that we, the present generation, are not the final stage of human and social evolution. Our standards of health, while better than the past, will yield to future improvements. We should recognize from the amounts of weapons and interpersonal violence around us that we have not yet grown to full health as a species.
Institutions as well as individuals can become fixated in immature forms of personality development. This is what happens to churches. Human bureaucracies are naturally lethargic. It is their nature to try to perpetuate the moment when they were originally designed. They started out on the cutting edge. The original Roman Catholicism was more advanced than its alternatives. But time marches on. Slowly humans get healthier. People spontaneously abandon obsolete structures of experience. The phenomenon of ex-Catholics means just that.
And when those geniuses of introspection we call mystics go crashing through the inner barriers to introspection, and then return to the normal world, they just have to do the best they can in teaching others. They invent techniques to teach the distinctions between mourning and self-pity, event and interpretation, trance and being awake. But, they also make concessions to culture. They are after all, people of their own time. History is an incremental process.
So, culture itself is a conspiracy of escape, and three of its principle tools are occupation, illusion and trance. Of these three, trance is perhaps the trickiest and the most interesting.
One thing that always puzzled me about my conversations with ex-Catholics over the years was the residue of “Catholic nostalgia” that remained in people’s minds long after they had rejected all practice and affiliation with the Church. The last segment of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited is a classic expression of it. The section is called “A Twitch Upon the Thread.”
There Waugh paints the image of the aged Catholic aristocrat on his deathbed, after a lifetime of casual morality, anti-clericalism, and free-thinking. As death comes near, his daughter calls for the simple country priest, who comes to the ornate bedside of the great lord with the holy oils of Extreme Unction, and at the last moment of his life, “Lord Marchmain made the sign of the cross.”
This is first-rate theater, and I remember many years ago being drawn into its feelings. It was only in studying the interviews for this book that I finally woke fully up from that trip, and realized what “Catholic nostalgia” is all about. It has nothing to do with God or faith or hope or charity. It is merely a longing for the brilliant, elaborate trance that the Church provided to escape from the unhealed wounds of childhood.
In the interviews I did in 1985 and which provided the initial impetus for this book (See the Appendix.), I encountered some muted echoes of “Catholic nostalgia” but it was in a form that my informants had set aside. They understood where it came from, and had outgrown it.
Karen at age 39 just recalls, “I loved Gregorian chant.” Even in her last year of high school, when she no longer considered herself a Catholic, she still loved singing in the choir.
Franz just recalls that he “did enjoy some of the ritual that surrounds it, and the whole sort of mystical aspect.” He mentions incense and pictures as particularly important.
Lief at age 24 recalls it as something he outgrew. His parents split up before he started high school. His mother got involved in the liberal experiments of the counterculture, while his father became religiously conservative. So, he lived in the suburbs with his mother, watched his family fight about religion, and went to church sometimes. It was not a full Catholic upbringing imposed with consistent institutional authority.
But Lief does remember the experience of going to church:
I remember staring at the statue of Joseph, Mary, the crucifix. There was the choir, the robes, formal, imposing thing. When I started growing up I really lost concern with formal things, with anything that had too much structure, and I guess part of what went with it was the Catholic Church. But I remember very distinctly a feeling when I was younger, maybe seven, eight, or under, of the power of it all, that something was happening, something was moving a congregation of people to say all this stuff. There were all these large gestures by the priest, ikons, statues… I look at it more like a strange thing that happened to me when I was younger, this very odd social situation. We were a lot different than real Catholic families. And the little votive candles. Those were the best part, rows and rows and rows of candles.
Joanna’s report on her religious trance was the most extensive of all the people I talked to. She spent her adolescence in the Aspirancy of a very conservative order of nuns, then got professional clinical training as a registered nurse, and spent about fifteen years of her adulthood in self-destructive adventures that ended with several months’ stay in a mental hospital.
In her early forties, with her life back together, she recalls the past:
Church had felt good. I guess I felt alone, alone in the sense of, I don’t know, I felt like I was being listened to. I also feel that to a degree it was a hysterical reaction. In praying I could work myself up into a very quiet trance-like hysteria. I do believe that. It was all a pretty intense type of attempt at communication, nothing to the point of thinking that God was answering me, hearing voices, but feeling obviously that I was heard and that he knew I was there, and that I was making some form of communication, and this felt good. I didn’t have good communication at home. This was something that I had in essence learned to do in the Aspirancy. Everything from certain amounts of meditation to the times when you had to be twenty-four hours in the church, having to sit there.
There is a trance that religious ritual routinely induces, and that trance is both the key to its success and the key to its failure. The erroneous mythology about this trance is that it is a “closeness to God.” But all it really is a respite from the repressed pain of uncomfortable infancy.
“Closeness to God”, I propose, is not had under the conditions of trance at all, but under the condition of being fully awake, in touch with all your senses, in touch with all your past experience, including the pain. It is what Pierre Teilhard de Chardin called “participatory wholeness.”
I also propose that making the distinction between trance and being awake is the most important of the three introspective skills required for spiritual growth. Indeed, I go so far as to say that if we could reliably distinguish between when we are in trance and when we are fully awake, none of us would have any problem at all knowing what it is that the mystics call “the experience of God.”
I further submit that the distinction is fairly easy to make, once you start paying attention to what you are paying attention to. But this culture does not cultivate that skill.
There is a common condition of human consciousness that we call “trance.” Even though we all experience it all the time, we seem to know very little about it. I suggest that this is because culture itself induces a trance, and so no one really notices. It is fairly easy to identify occupation and illusion once you start looking for them, but trance is a subtle and tricky condition, not easily detected. However, with a little persistence, we can spot even it.
To understand trance, we have to understand being fully awake. Being fully awake is a field of attention that is open to all the external and internal sensory stimuli that are naturally available. Some of them are in foreground focus, the rest are on background status in “soft focus.” These include the five external senses of seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling and touching, and a standard brain scan that we call “working memory.”
The last external sense, touching, is actually the “kinesthetic sense” that includes the awareness of all our physical systems, including the balance system housed in the inner ear, the body as clock that tells us what general time of day it is, the inputs that tell us whether we are warm, cold or in some sort of pain, etc.
So, being fully awake is a soft-focus openness to all this information. It is designed to make us fully responsive to our environment. As we move through life, we constantly shift our field of attention. We highlight one or the other sense or configuration of senses as the demands of the environment require.
When we get up in the morning we may concentrate on remembering what day it is. Crossing the street, we look and listen carefully for cars. In listening to a lecture, our ears and eyes are taking in information that our internal brain scan is busily comparing with existing data banks.
When we are fully awake, all the senses and the full range of memory are on call, in “soft focus”, even if on background status. If something important occurs in a sensory field that is on background status, the operating system of our mind immediately brings that sense to the foreground of consciousness. We suddenly look at our watch in the middle of a conversation, we smell a hamburger stand as we drive by and remember we are hungry, etc., etc., etc.
Now trance, by contrast, is a narrowed field of attention cut off from the sensory fields that are normally on background status. In trance, we only have access to the field that is in the foreground. All other perceptual channels are “asleep.”
So the common element in all trances is that they are states of selective attention. Trance is partial awareness. But this means that there are many, many different kinds of trance, depending on what each one includes and what it purposefully leaves out.
There are at least a hundred trillion bits of information stored in the human brain, and memory can sort them in countless different ways. So, our power of attention can be exclusively absorbed in a virtually unlimited number of different inner or outer fields of attention.
Hypnosis is one of the few forms of trance that has been systematically studied. In a hypnotic trance, the subject’s attention seems to focus on the face and voice of the hypnotist, and can pay attention only to the fields pointed out by his or her instructions. There is loss of “working memory.”
Daydreaming is a trance with its own specific field of attention. Absorption in listening to music is a trance with a very different field of attention. Pre-occupation with family problems is another limited field of attention. “Concentrating”, terror, mob-membership, etc. are other possible narrowed fields of attention, hence forms of trance.
There are many stimuli that bring on various kinds of trance. Music is very powerful, and has many different entrancing forms. The a-rhythmic trance of Gregorian chant is different from the trance of pelvic rock. Visual configurations entrance. Theatrical productions of light and sound and movement entrance. There is the simple trance of pre-occupation that drives you to work while your “mind” is completely elsewhere.
There are compulsive trances that split off and project unconscious rage (e.g., mob membership), and so produce destructive scapegoating behavior.
So, the first important point of this brief survey is to notice that in point of fact, trance is a common and frequent daily experience, and it is moreover usually “unmarked.” We do not notice it. We normally do not pay attention to what we pay attention to. But if we do pay attention to our paying attention, then we notice that countless times each day we “space out” for a few seconds, “lose our train of thought”, day-dream, get distracted.
Common everyday trances are little talked-about. Perhaps this is because they are a key defense mechanism in protecting ourselves from the fires of sadness that are fueled by childhood trauma. In the conspiracy of culture which is to escape the fires of sadness, trance is a key technology. Whenever the memory of buried pain gets close to breaking through, one of the things culture gives us permission to do is to go into an evasive little trance. This is happening all the time.
Another useful way of classifying trances is on a continuum that goes from completely compulsive trance at one end to completely ego-controlled trance at the other end. Catatonic trance, for example, happens overpoweringly in response to unconscious material brought into play by circumstances in the environment. The subject cannot resist. Mob trance in adulation of a political demagogue has similar dynamics. People cannot resist. But hypnotic trance with help of a practitioner or done by one’s self is much more fragile. The ego rather easily interrupts it.
Furthermore, there are deep trances and light trances. Still another way to classify trance is by behavioral association. What kind of behavior does the trance produce? Mob membership produces violence. Smoking opium produces lethargy.
Also, we must distinguish between the unmarked escapist trances of everyday life with the purposeful adaptive trances of psychotherapy and other forms of spiritual healing, such as for example guided visualization. Trance is simply selective awareness, so it can select a field of attention away from repressed pain, or it can select a field of awareness that goes into repressed pain. Competent hypnotherapists and other spiritual guides clearly distinguish between trance and being awake. They use hypnotic trance for its power to enter areas of memory that are blocked in normal waking.
So, trance is not bad in itself. The only thing that is “bad” is not to be able to tell the difference between trance and being fully awake. When trance is used as a tool of waking consciousness, it can perform important tasks that normal waking could never do.
So, the second important point in this discussion is to note that trances can make extremely refined selections of what they include, and what they exclude. Memory can select any of thousands of events from one’s past for an episode of focussed reverie. The brain scan that is on background status in the normal waking state and has access to “everything” can form a habit of systematic exclusion of certain memories. It can, for example, block out early pain.
Thus “meditation” can be self-hypnosis, and religious ritual can be a carefully constructed induction technique for a benign, regressive trance that takes us back to our state of consciousness of the last few weeks in the womb.
MYSTICISM VS. TRANCE
There is also a field of attention open to the human psyche that is just the opposite of trance. Instead of including less than normal waking, it includes more. That is, instead of having all data reception ports open on some sort of “soft focus”, it has more than the normal range of data ports open at a much sharper degree of focus than usually experienced in everyday life.
This is “mysticism”, communion with the experience which has no name. It is a state of exceptional waking. It is simultaneously open, if not to literally “all” data channels, still to much more than normal wakefulness. For example, it can remember to pass the salt while vividly aware of the contingency of the being of being human, the awareness that “I am, yes, but I do not cause myself to be.”
But we do have a serious problem of discrimination here.What many people mean by “mysticism” is any form of consciousness that is different than the normal. Mysticism is often confused with trance in the first place because, to “normality”, everything outside its boundaries tends to look the same. Habitual daydreaming, which is clearly a form of trance, could be called a form of “mysticism” by many people. This is what Ken Wilber called “the pre/trans fallacy”: confusing pre-rational ego-states with trans-rational ego-states.
Secondly, there are social phenomena of mass-trance that fool large numbers of people. Religious rituals sometimes overtly and sometimes subtly induce mass trance and hallucination. The participants commonly consider them “mystical experiences.” The trances and parapsychological events of the gnostic way of ascent are also called “mysticism.” But they go into “higher” states of consciousness and leave the “lower” ones behind. They leave the body and the parts of the brain that store repressed pain. They are partial, not whole.
Thirdly, even people who end up being called mystics by the consensus of history experience trance at some point in their lives. For one thing, they have to go through a learning process. When they first break out of the range of attention called normality, they experience various kinds of trance. To expand consciousness, the learner experiments with fields of attention different from the normal.
The spiritual seeker is similar in this respect to a person in therapy. Each is getting familiar with newly discovered unconscious material. They both have trance-transition problems. Sometimes they will be “spaced out.” Ego is not automatically in charge all the time. But ego is engaged. It is working to expand its range. It’s just that sometimes it gets in over its head.
The trances of mystics are therefore part of a learning process and can include a wide range of parapsychological events. There is completely involuntary levitation, and completely voluntary contemplation. But true mysticism is the awareness that includes all trance-fields, the data of your five senses and working memory. This awareness puts you in touch with your whole self, and supports compassionate action in the world.
There is no easy way around this problem of distinguishing between pre-rational trance and post-rational mysticism. The whole art of spiritual direction in fact is devoted to helping people make that distinction accurately.
So, I simply say at this point in the conversation that there is this state of human consciousness which is the opposite of trance in that it is more awake than normal, not less awake, whole, not partial. I find examples of it in certain great teachers of the great religious traditions, and they all speak with one voice on certain key moral, social and spiritual questions. They testify to the ineffability of the experience which has no name, they are not personally insecure, defensive, or violent, and they appreciate the authenticity of belief-systems that are different from their own. That is what I call mysticism.
TRANCE AND “THE HORIZONTAL PATH”
Normal consciousness usually experiences the unconscious as a dangerous sea of unknown forces. But human beings would rapidly self-destruct if there was a taboo on all going inside. So, religion of the horizontal path was invented to fill the gap. It gives society a programmed technique for getting into the unconscious safely, without getting lost and without getting engulfed by pain. Ritual conducts the subject into selected areas of the unconscious, that is, it induces trance. And we should add, the more repressed pain people have, the deeper will be the trance they experience in ritual.
These mass trances are useful because pain is real, and people probably could not physically survive if they did not have some relief from it. So, religious trance “has a dual character.” It is an opiate, indeed, but one that keeps society alive at a certain stage of history, until more mature growth is possible.
The organized religions of the past have used ritual trance to condition people in useful ethical principles and give them ego-strengthening experiences. In the trance, the faithful are
programmed in standards of right and wrong, and given the important suggestion that “God loves you”, which is a very powerful and positive conditioning.
But there is a downside. Religious trance does not extinguish the source of pain and so it creates an addiction to itself. The practitioners become dependent on the ritual and on the organization that produces it. This leads to feelings of spiritual aristocracy, intolerance of heresy and hostility towards other systems.
The genius of religious ritual is that it does provide an escape from the basic fault. It reduces pain enough to get people through the week. But it becomes an end in itself for some people, and they stop growing. Other people do grow, and outgrow the ritual.
But the great religious rituals have had immense social success. They “worked” for masses of people for long periods of time. With their pain eased, most people got along. Extreme emotional pain that could not be assuaged by the ritual was treated as illness, and was often handled by isolation. The normal way of handling inner pain was some form of escape: occupation, illusion, trance, drugs. Religion was part of the holding pattern.
Parents sustain the non-growth system by acting like their parents. Churches get trapped into it because they are part of the prevailing culture. Church leaders may or may not have the experience which has no name. But they certainly experienced infancy.
The results of this are widely observed by the helping professions. The American Psychiatrist Scott Peck comments:
I have described Kathy’s case at such length precisely because it is so typical of the relationship between religious upbringing and psychopathology. There are millions and millions of Kathys. I used to tell people only somewhat facetiously that the Catholic Church provided me with my living as a psychiatrist. I could equally well have said the Baptist Church, Lutheran Church, Presbyterian Church, or any other. The church was not, of course, the sole cause of Kathy’s neurosis. In a sense the church was only a tool used by Kathy’s mother to cement and augment her excessive parental authority. One could justifiably say that the mother’s domineering nature, abetted by an absentee father, was the more basic cause of the neurosis, and in this respect too Kathy’s case was typical. Nonetheless the church must share the blame. ……. There was never any evidence of concern on the part of the church that its doctrine might be overtaught, unrealistically rigid or subject to misuse and misapplication. ……Kathy’s church — and this is also typical — made not the slightest effort to assist her in working out a more appropriate and personal religion. It would appear that churches in general, if anything, favor the hand-me-down variety. FN33
In other words, religion of the horizontal path is part of the conspiracy of culture, which is to escape the fires of sadness.
And indeed, gods must die that men may live and grow. Image-breaking is no less a part and parcel of human life and history than image-making; it is also no less part and parcel of man’s religion, and no less essential to it. For the fixed image evokes the fixed stare, the fixed loyalty which may blind man’s vision to the claims of further and wider loyalties, and so paralyze the human spirit and crush its inherent will to advance and to venture.
The painful recognition of the clay feet of old idols is indispensable to human growth; it is also indispensable to the emergence of more appropriate figures for human awe, devotion and service. This is the inexorable law of growth both in the individual and the group.
God and the Unconscious, by Victor White, O.P. (Chicago, Regnery, 1953.), 1-2.
The course of history appears to be a learning process. Different forms of religion succeed one another, by violence, by persuasion, by the different inventiveness of the different tribes and groups that move across the stage of time, by heresy and conflict within a particular tradition.
Ronald D. Laing observes that “heresies testify to our intolerance of different fundamental structures of experience.” Until very recently in the West, religion was the only institution that provided these “fundamental structures of experience.” But now, in Western society, we also have psychology. I place the date of the entry of psychology onto the stage of history in 1892, the year Freud published The Interpretation of Dreams.
This entry of psychology into the business of forming human consciousness is the logical outcome of the course of religious development that has been going on since human consciousness began. The sociologist Robert N. Bellah proposes five stages for the process.
BELLAH’S FIVE STAGES
The oldest religion in the world still being practiced today is that of the Australian aboriginals, and their culture is about 40,000 years old. If we compare their religion to the other religions we find around the world, we see fundamental changes in structure over time. Bellah puts it this way:
At each stage of religious evolution the freedom of personality and society has increased relative to the environing conditions. Freedom has increased because at each successive stage the relation of man to the conditions of his existence has been conceived as more complex, more open and more subject to change and development. The distinction between conditions that are really ultimate and those that are alterable becomes increasingly clear though never complete. FN34
Bellah’s first stage is Primitive religion, found only among the aboriginals of Australia. In it the human ego is scarcely separated from the world of “the Dreaming”. There is only one religion for all humans, ritual is by participation in the Dreaming, and the Dreaming is always present.
The second stage, Archaic religion, started about 10,000 years ago. It includes the many tribal religions of Africa, Asia, the Pacific islands and the Americas. These religions have gods, and special religious organizations have become more clearly separated out. They are Wilber’s religions of the magical, shamanic stage of development.
But in the third stage, Historic religion, which started around 2,000 B.C. and appears to coincide with the invention of writing, the human ego is identified as a very clear actor in the universe. Gods, theologies, specialist religious organizations, and religious hierarchies are fully developed. The great religious traditions of the modern world — Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, Daoism, Confucianism — are all Historic religions. The popular forms of these religions operate on Wilber’s mythic-conformist level of development.
Stage four is called Early Modern religion. It is essentially Protestantism. It puts more trust in the human ego than the earlier religious form. It opposes the hierarchy in principle, although it ends up often forming a new, smaller hierarchy. Rational perspectivism starts to become seriously competitive in society with the appearance of this form of religion.
In the fifth stage, Modern religion, the ego has an even more mature and autonomous control of the process of religious symbolization.
However much the development of Western Christianity may have led up to and in a sense created the modern religious situation, it just as obviously is no longer in control of it. Not only has any obligation of doctrinal orthodoxy been abandoned by the leading edge of modern culture, but every fixed position has become open to question in the process of making sense out of the human situation. This involves a profounder commitment to the process I have been calling religious symbolization than ever before. FN35
He then goes on to summarize his concept of evolution as follows:
The historic religions discovered the self; the early modern religion found a doctrinal basis on which to accept the self in all its empirical ambiguity; modern religion is beginning to understand the laws of the self’s own existence and so to help man take responsibility for his own fate. FN36
We might paraphrase and expand this comment as follows:
The historic religions discovered the executive functions of the ego. They radically established the importance of individual consciousness. They distinguished the ego out from the stream of experience, both sensory experience from without, and the pulsations of the unconscious from within.
But the structure of the human ego at that time was still weak, personally and socially. The state of human knowledge about the inner world and the outer world was for the most part rather primitive. People were in particular easily overwhelmed by the energy of repressed pain, and so they developed practices to control the unconscious, and a class of specialists to control the practices. The practices were trance inducing rituals and the officials were the clergy. The purpose of the institution they invented was to control human experience and thus nurture the growth of the ego. After centuries of this regime, enough people had strong egos to enter a new phase.
Protestantism expressed an ego-structure strong enough to control its own experience. It accepted religious democracy at least in principle, but often fell back into religious hierarchy. But by ending the control of the Pope over information sources in Europe (universities, publishing, preaching), the Reformation irreversibly created a social space for individual freedom. This changed the very fabric of the meaning-giving institutions of western society. It opened the way for the free marketplace of meaning.
Now personal religious freedom is an accepted institution in western society. Any individual who chooses to do so can make religious symbols without any organizational affiliation whatsoever. In many cases these personal systems are based on genuine communion with the experience which has no name. They express personal autonomy and collective responsibility, and permit their makers to take full responsibility for their own actions.
And so we return to the aboriginals’ communion with “the Dreaming”, now no longer merged with a loss of individual identity, but in dialogue, responsible, and open.
CATHOLICISM HOLDS BACK
But Catholicism has clung to the old system of experiential control. Its rituals and doctrinal pronouncements represent the leading edge of human awareness about 600 years ago. When the bubonic plague swept across Europe in the fourteenth century, preachers in pulpits expressed a broad cultural consensus when they announced that the reason for the plague was that “God is punishing us.” Such was the state of human knowledge at the time. But now we know about rats, fleas, bacilli and viruses, and so however deep our concern about plagues, religion is not the institution we look to explain them.
Back in the time between the “dark ages” and the “middle ages” the Catholic hierarchy felt called upon to regulate all of society. These unruly, uncivilized tribes needed culture. Augustine was the greatest intellectual of this viewpoint. Pope Innocent III in the eleventh century was its greatest administrator. And it did succeed, even though the costs were great. By suppressing all other forms of consciousness than its own, the Roman Catholic hierarchy organized European culture.
This meant the systematic effort to suppress all the rural, pastoral, nature-oriented, female-accepting forms of culture and religion in Europe (the “pagans”). Perhaps in the passage of the human species through time, this epoch was somehow necessary. But it could not last forever. Like all fixed structures of experience, it eventually started to break up.
There was always some dissent from the church’s central authority, and it was often met by various kinds of force: excommunications, inquisitions, burnings at the stake. But under pressure from various forms of individualism and creativity such as nationalism and science, the regime of Christendom gave way to the partial autonomies that grew up in the wake of the Protestant Reformation.
In the Reformation, dissident elites finally succeeded in establishing competing organizations. But although the Reformers opened up their own shops for making meaning, they did not depart from the basic trance-inducing strategies the church had perfected in the middle ages for alleviating the fires of repressed pain.
THE MARKETPLACE OF CONSCIOUSNESS
So, now we have many systems of spirituality available in the marketplace of meaning. Each one makes its own choice about how to handle the relationship between ego and unconscious,
between ego and repressed pain, between ego and the basic fault, between ego and the ground of human being in the experience which has no name.
The main axis of choice about pain is between escape and engagement. The choice of Catholicism is mostly escapist. It forms the thought processes of its members by dependence on an external teaching authority rather than the internal authority of the healthy individual ego. It channels “grace” by ceremonies called sacraments. It fosters a weak and limited interiority by the trance of the Mass, and assigns no religious value whatsoever to waking introspective work.
If we now turn to each of these three devices — teaching authority, sacraments and the Mass — we can understand better how they affect us and what the alternatives are.
THE INFALLIBILITY SYNDROME
Infallibility works for some weak ego-structures, but it does not work for adults. The appropriate technology for that phase of growth is what Carl Rogers came to call “the helping relationship.”
A WIDESPREAD PRACTICE
The Catholic church did not invent infallibility. Parents all over the world of all religions exercise it on their two-to-six-year-old children. No adult is of course actually infallible, but when you are very small, in a world filled with very large persons and many dangers, it is healthy to expect your parents to know so much more than you do that it looks like infallibility to that untrained eye.
Absolute authority and blind obedience are fundamentals of military organizations. Armies cannot survive under the conditions of violent conflict unless they require automatic obedience of their members. Executives sometimes claim blind obedience; in some companies it works and in some it doesn’t. Authoritarian political regimes claim infallibility, but the world recognizes them as primitive social institutions.
Military or corporate infallibility may demand conformity of external behavior, but religious infallibility demands conformity of thought and feeling. Many religions besides Catholicism make de facto claims to infallibility. In my earlier research (cf. Sunday Morning) I found candid Protestant claims that in the Reformation, believers exchanged “a Pope in Rome for a Pope at home.” But in Protestantism those claims are variable. Catholicism is a highly centralized organization for which the claim is an official, standard, universal doctrine.
Among Catholic theologians, of course, there is some discussion about what infallibility really means. Some of them say infallibility exists, but it has been exercised so rarely that it should not affect ordinary church practice. This is because it is limited to the Pope when he is formally exercising his universal teaching authority ex cathedra on matters of faith.
But that is a minority position among Catholic intellectuals that is generally ignored in the day-to-day practice of the institution. In the actual practice of Catholicism, infallibility reaches down from that rare pinnacle, certainly to Papal Encyclicals, commonly to the pronouncements and decisions of Roman agencies, with great regularity to diocesan authorities throughout the world, and frequently to pastors of parishes and the clergy in general. Catholics generally obey.
The pervasiveness of the actual practice of infallibility in Catholicism is the reason why there is such a thing as ex-Catholics. The Roman Church still clings to the legacy of Augustine and Innocent III. That bureaucracy still thinks it has to control human experience. And so Catholicism is famous for its external behavioral prescriptions for membership. They used to include obviously arbitrary and ethnocentric practices like not eating meat on Friday. Those practices have recently been abandoned, but the central structures of the organization are still not subject to change from below. Roman Catholicism is still centralized religious authority par excellence. That is why you won’t find many ex-Presbyterians, ex-Methodists, even ex-Lutherans.
To believe in your own infallibility, you have to be out of touch with yourself. You have to be out of touch with the reactions of others to you. This being “out of touch” has a precise function in Alice Miller’s framework. It is to control the memory of unhealthy pedagogy, and thus avoid pain. Infallibility is a wall. Within the system it defines, you are safe. But the boundary is rigid. Anything outside it (a “mistake”) reminds you of the old pain that you are shutting out.
We have to be quite candid about the fact that, both on a personal and a social level, to choose control rather than exploration is sometimes necessary for survival. So, in an institution, the safety zone defined by infallibility has a dual character. It may permit survival, but it obstructs growth.
People invested in the infallibility syndrome distort reality. They selectively perceive. They idealize, pick only the safe stuff. When they do this very skillfully, they closely approximate wholeness. But close inspection of their views shows
that crucial parts of reality are missing.
Consider for example the following note from the official edition of the documents of the Second Vatican Council.
Since the Church is a mystery, it cannot be exhaustively defined, but its nature is best communicated by studying the various biblical metaphors. The following four paragraphs of this article call attention to four groups of images: the church is the Flock of Christ, the Vineyard of God, the Temple of the Holy Spirit and the Spouse of the Immaculate Lamb. These images, taken from different spheres of human life (pastoral life, agriculture, building and matrimony) magnificently supplement one another and indicate in different ways Christ’s tender love for, and intimate union with, the Church. FN37
This is only an editorial note, but it correctly captures the spirit of the text. To say that the rehearsal of these archaic images is the best way to communicate the nature of a living social institution is a rather serious form of ivory tower intellectualism. Compared to the image of the church obtained from the actual experience of it in any real community, this whole document is a severe distortion of reality.
I am reminded of some lines from Marge Piercy. Her poetry contains a powerful commentary on this kind of thinking. She thinks it is peculiar to men, but that is another story. (The exclusive maleness of the Catholic clergy is well-known. They claim it does not impair their wholeness, but then, how do they know that?) Piercy writes:
Right thinking is virtue he believes,
and the clarity of the fine violin of his mind
leads him a tense intricate fugue of pleasure.
His children do not think clearly.
They snivel and whine and glower and pant
after false gods who must be blasted with sarcasm
because their barbaric heads
keep growing back in posters on bedroom walls.
When he curses his dependents
Plato sits on his right hand and Aristotle on his left.
Argument is lean red meat to him.
Moses and Freud and St. Augustine are in his corner.
He is a good man and deserves to judge us all
who go making uncouth noises and bangs in the street.
He is a good man: if you don’t believe me,
ask any god.
He says they all think like him. FN38
There is an abstract and idealized church that exists only in the minds of certain bureaucrats and intellectuals. They perform male thinking separated from the reality of their own bodies, the reality of their own life-experience.
On the other hand there is the real church, the social institution most people actually experience. In the teaching and nurture of human beings, Catholic parents make mistakes, priests make mistakes, nuns make mistakes, bishops make mistakes, communities make mistakes, the Pope makes mistakes, the whole bureaucracy makes mistakes. This happens not incidentally, not on a merely personal basis, and not on inessential matters, but systematically, officially and in “judgments about things necessarily connected with revelation.”
The clergy are always part of the lived reality of community, and this includes its prevailing pedagogy. And so the church, in actuality, is always fallible. It is, quite simply, a human institution.
A BIBLICAL ALTERNATIVE
There is another institutional attribute very similar to infallibility that a church could lay claim to, if it wanted to promote healthy human relationships and assert its biblical stature. It is the prophetic promise of “restoration”.
The biblical prophets often told the people of Israel, and particularly their rulers, that they had been unfaithful to their spiritual heritage. They had many occasions to comment on disasters. Their commentary always followed the same line: “You were stiff-necked and cruel; that is why you got into trouble.” But every prophetic critique also always ended with the same refrain: “Not to worry; this disaster is not final; you are still o.k. Your fortunes will be restored.” This is infallibility in the sense of freedom from final failure. For a religious organization this is a promise that sometimes you will do something right, not the promise that you will never do anything wrong.
An “infallibility” based on the biblical “restoration” model is quite adequate for an institution that wishes to continue the work of Jesus. The promise that an institution will not disappear from history is no small matter. This form of the promise also frees the institution from baggage that could destroy it. There is a lot of moral and theological phlogiston floating around in official Catholic pronouncements.
This promise permits a bureaucracy to make mistakes and still govern; it permits a Pope to make mistakes and still be a respected teacher. It is the only way any real bureaucracy or teacher functions. Everybody makes mistakes. And everybody knows that. This promise permits dissent. It permits doubt. It permits questioning. It fosters the ferment of truth from below in the organization. It permits realism. It allows people to grow, to change, to become whole.
THE “HELPING RELATIONSHIP”
The deep logic of infallibility is to protect weak ego structures. But spiritual teachers have a much more powerful tool to handle that issue. It is called “the helping relationship.”
When a seeker after truth (i.e., wholeness) voluntarily gives his or her full trust to a gracious, secure and competent teacher, that trust can be an instrument of growth. This is because the teacher fully realizes that this is a temporary arrangement in a developmental process. The teacher skillfully works with the ego functions of the individual to uncover and correct the accumulated weaknesses brought about by pain. Together, teacher and disciple recover the disciple’s wholeness. This is the “authority” of what Carl Rogers called “the helping relationship”. Such a relationship helps control the stream of experience into a weak ego structure, but not by closing off experience. It rather opens up the ego. It supports the personal resources of a person striving to expand his or her range of experiences to include the suppressed ones.
Rogers’ formulation of this relationship paved the way for the present era of personal growth technologies. He first proposed the basic principle of this relationship in the nineteen-forties.
I have come to trust the capacity of persons to explore and understand themselves and their troubles, and to resolve those problems in any close, continuing relationship where I can provide a climate of real warmth and understanding. FN39
The characteristics of the helping relationship can be summarized as follows:
1. Congruence: to be what you are, genuine and without “front”, openly being the feelings and attitudes you actually experience.
2. Empathy: accurate understanding of the other’s private, inner world and the ability to communicate significant fragments of that understanding.
3. Positive Regard: a full acceptance of what the other actually is.
4. Communication skill: the ability to detect the interpretation the other puts on my efforts to express congruence, empathy and positive regard. FN40
When these qualities are present, Rogers says, “change is predicted.” That is, personal (spiritual) growth will occur. “Guaranteed” change is, if you will, a kind of infallibility. It is probably the only kind that is real in actual human relationships.
If an institution like the Catholic Church wants to promote true spiritual growth, all it has to do is organize itself around a leadership that possesses these qualities. But infallibility in the Catholic Church is viewed as a permanent feature of the relationship between members and organizational authorities. It fixates what in a healthy growth process is only temporary.
The result is that people who seek mature spirituality often have to leave the church.
“I guess I ended up deciding that priests and nuns are not priests and nuns, but just people in outfits.” Gail.
My interviews for this book were a living commentary on the transition from the mythic-conformist stage of personal development to the rational-individual and contemplative stages. Gail’s comment sums it up. “Priests and nuns” are mental constructs of the mythic-conformist stage. Uniformed and in prescribed roles, they are the fixed structures of a stage of spiritual development that needs external forms to shore up egos not yet strong enough to ward off an untamed unconscious.
So, ceremony and clothing are grace for the mythic-conformist stage. People and acceptance are grace for subsequent stages.
My interviews showed that there is a simple everyday process by which people conclude that the ceremonies of Catholicism do not give grace. They compare the ceremonies with their personal relationships. Weighing the value of the two experiences, they conclude that interaction with healthy persons gives grace, and that the religious ceremony does not.
The characteristics of a good personal relationship are Carl Rogers’ four aspects of the helping relationship: congruence, empathy, positive regard, and communication skill. More common terms for them might be: honesty, warmth, respect and the ability to listen.
Finding grace in healthy human beings and not in ceremonies is the informal theologizing that Bellah called “the process of religious symbolization”. It is the characteristic process of the stage he called “Modern religion.” In the present case, it creates a theology of the sacrament of the healthy human person. It could even be called a theology of the sacrament of the helping relationship.
The shift from ceremony as sacrament to person as sacrament became clear for me in Patrick’s narrative. His account is compelling because it shows connections that he does not make consciously. I infer the connections from the structure of his language: choice of words, sequence of the narrative. It is language that approaches “free association”, the key data for accurate analysis of unconscious material.
It is how he talks about the nuns. He starts out by saying, “The nuns were probably pretty nurturing, I suppose.” This is the tip-off. If some one experiences genuine nurture, there is no “I suppose” about it. You say with fondness and decision, “The nuns were pretty nurturing.” No one remembers genuine nurture with ambivalence. I surmise that what Patrick got from the nuns was a classic double message: they were mothers, yes, but they were starched mothers.
The nuns were probably pretty nurturing I suppose. … I didn’t like school at all, basically. The concept was not attractive to me. I didn’t like the experience in general. But I adapted well and did well in school.
Then he remembers ex-nuns his mother knew.
And my mother used to hang out with them. A couple who taught me later left the convent and they went out and drank with my mother … when I was in high school, a nun who had taught me in eighth grade was a buddy of my mother’s, and they went drinking and got drunk and stuff. That was kind of an education. I mean, before that, nuns didn’t really have any personality. They were starched, and they lived on the third floor up there.
The upshot of the experience is:
And that’s one thing I became quite aware of, that there were great people who may have been Catholic, and then there was the church, which was fairly ridiculous. The distinction was quite clear.
This is the pivotal distinction.
A sacrament is “an outward sign that gives grace.” In the experiences of these ex-Catholics, people are the channels of love, acceptance, nurture. In comparison to human relationships, the sacramental rites designed and performed by the church are, in these accounts, pallid ceremonies of uncertain value.
This contrast between the authentic spiritual power of human persons and the mysterious lack of such power in the institutional church is a central theme that runs broad and deep through all my interviews. When I first encountered it, I could not make sense out of it. It was going by too fast. But, once I became aware of Wilber’s work, then the meaning of comments like Patrick’s became startlingly clear.
Once you recognize the difference between the belonging needs of mythic-conformist community and the mutual acceptance needs of rational-individual community, then the contrast between person and institution becomes altogether expected. The sacraments on the one hand, and the clergy when they are acting like clergy on the other, give a stage-specific “grace” proper to the mythic-conformist level of development. This is the reinforcement of weak ego-structures. It is control.
As long as you feel you are in a spiritual world filled with danger (as one does when there are many and powerful split-off elements of the self from an unhealthy pedagogy), then the structure of the ritual and the instructions of the clergy feel like nurture.
But a mature ego — one that no longer needs protection from nameless spiritual enemies — still needs “grace”, and finds it in direct, authentic, warm human relationships. To such a one, the church’s structured attempts at “grace” are experienced as distance, coldness, rejection, perhaps even hostility.
“Grace” is stage-specific nurture.
FOUR LEARNING SITUATIONS
I found four different situations from which people learned that the Catholic Church is a stage-specific organization.
One is a non-accepting person who fronts for the organization. This is a person whom the institution has somehow “produced.” This is the import of Emma’s passing comment that “Paul VI was not the same warm type” as John XXIII. Her “little gnome” nun’s insensitivity in calling a classmate stupid in trigonometry class (“I was just devastated. How could this nun say that?”) is an example of a more personally experienced case.
A special case of this situation is unhealthy sexual behavior of priests. The women in these stories are very fair and accurate in their perceptions. They recognize that some sexual imbalance is the product of the institution, but that its more extreme pathologies are not. When sexual abuse is encountered, it is traumatic indeed, because of the natural human dynamics of age, authority and power. But as far as the institution is concerned, it is only held responsible for what it actually engenders, and what it engenders is merely sexual incompetence.
Greta’s comment was the observation of a perceptive woman in her early thirties:
We had a priest up there who saw the devil and communism everywhere. He would tell girls that they are supposed to cave in their chests so that boys wouldn’t be tempted by their bosoms. That was just a spark. It started me thinking and wondering. There were priests who were nice and good, but not happy in the priesthood. The suppression of the sexual drive, not healthy. How can they expect anything else than a preoccupation? There are only a very few really highly-evolved people for whom that is just a natural expression of their energy.
Karen’s experience of being often pawed by a priest when she was a teen-ager gets into the realm of legally-defined assault. And Karen did use it as experience on which to judge the institution he represented.
Well, I got my revenge with him. I was going ice skating one day and it was really cold and my nose was running and he came up to me. He said something, “Oh, you beautiful Polish child,” and he went like that to my nose. And I laid this big hunk right on his sanctified fingers and felt, you know, that I had been avenged This was wonderful. That was the last time he ever came near me too. Thinking about the celibacy thing, this was about the time I thought, “Well, I’m fed up with this.”
So, Karen’s experience is mid-way between the tranquil observations of Greta on the underlying psycho-dynamics of Catholicism and the trauma experienced by Gail.
Gail was molested younger than Karen, around age eight. She still feels rage at the man.
He was spouting all this shit about Jesus and God and Catholic religion, especially purity. He was always going on about purity and impurity, and what it was. And plus, he’s you kind of, that women or girls who get in this kind of situation are the ones who deserve it because they are really asking for it. You know, that kind of junk. To have that when so young…
But when she looks at her life as a whole and the church’s place in it, she offers a wonderfully precise as well as courageous distinction:
More than likely I was going to leave the religion at some point anyway, when I reached the age of actual consciousness. That stuff was separate from Jesus, separate from the Pope and religion, but it did reinforce, I don’t know. I guess I ended up deciding that priests and nuns are not priests and nuns, but just people in outfits.
At the mythic-conformist level, the ceremony is the vehicle of grace. At the rational-individual level, the emotional maturity of religious persons is the vehicle. At the mythic conformist level, sexual impropriety is damaging. But at the rational-individual level, it is conclusively so. The institution cannot survive it.
The second situation is the encounter with personal charisma from another system.
When Karen looks for a church to get married in, she first tries the local Catholic parish.
He asked, “Do you have to get married?” and required going to stupid pre-Cana conferences. Now that they are changing, I think they are really necessary. The way marriage is going, they might be o.k. now. But in those days they were stupid. So we found this eighty-year-old Baptist minister. He was just so warm, so different from the priests. So we got married in the little Baptist church.
Jean compares the pastor of her parish with a Protestant minister she met.
The first break was that they had an old priest I could not relate to. He was not even a good person. He had money, and he flaunted it, and it was not a particularly rich parish. That always offended me terribly. He was nasty to me [about the divorce].
Shortly after that some friends got us involved in a little United Church of Christ, and the minister there was strangely out of synch with most of the congregation. He was a wonderful, wonderful person. …He was very much of a free thinker, liberal on a lot of dimensions…
Now Jean can talk more clearly about the specific meaning of being a “wonderful, wonderful person”:
What I’m looking for is to repeat what I had in that one church, and that is some sort of community, and acceptance. And that is one thing Unitarians are very good at. They’re very good at saying, wherever you’re at, you have a right to be there. Catholics aren’t very good at that, and Bible Baptists aren’t very good at that. And I can’t deal with those people.
This is “unconditional acceptance”. Somebody who is “warm” can give that.
When Fred talks about the Methodist congregation he attends with his wife, this aspect is important.
I almost had a nervous breakdown. I burned out on the job I had, went into therapy, counselling, and realized that I had built up walls around myself. Nobody could come in. The Methodist church that I happened to attend helped considerably, because those people were there. I committed a crime. I have a police record right now. I’m off probation now, but part of my burning out, I committed a burglary. The people in that church, you know, they’re still there. They’re helping me, very nice community, very Christian community.
Surely Catholics are capable of this acceptance too, but the consensus in this group is that the institution’s priorities are elsewhere. Its main concern is the integrity of its mental structures. It is still building play-pens for people who are driving cars.
The third situation is the rejection by the system of persons outside the system.
It was very important to my parents that I have only Roman Catholic friends and relationships, and that really bothered me also. There was a very definite tradition in our neighborhood that if you were a Catholic, you didn’t talk to other people. I also had a problem with going to heaven. People who were not baptized were in big trouble.
In Debbie’s experience it was just a sudden confrontation between her religion and the actuality of a living person in pain. As a teenager she was sent to visit a nursing home at Thanksgiving and hand out religious greeting cards. She became aware of the inadequacy of the gesture to express true compassion.
…and I scanned the verse, and there was no way it could come out of my mouth. It was so awful, and so stupid. I looked at this man and I thought, “What is this pathos?” Here it is Thanksgiving and his family isn’t there, he’s crying to some kid who certainly doesn’t want him crying to her, and look at what I wrote. I was so stupid that I wrote down this horrible awful thing, and I lied. I told him it said something it didn’t say because I didn’t have the face or the guts to say that I believe what’s on here.
The nice neat mental structure given to her by the church had no spiritual power compared to the human emotions she encountered.
The first three situations produce a fourth: the conclusion that the Church cannot take credit for the excellence of its representatives. When a representative of the Catholic Church turns out to be humane and gracious, it is perceived as an exception to the rule.
Joanna tells the story of her time at St. Anselm’s:
I was twenty-eight, taking drugs, sleeping around, had a little boy who often came to school with me. …I had told them to change my religion on the form. …So I took philosophy classes. I enjoyed it. I could take any position I wanted to, and I really enjoyed that. I don’t know if I came to any strong conclusions, but with all the things I felt, I was either slowly pulling myself, or I was being pulled, further and further away from the conventional church in spite of the fact that I had never been in a secular institution of higher education in my life. I still to this day keep in touch with that guy who was the professor, a very intelligent guy. …This Benedictine brother moved me out of where I was living with this guy. I moved back.
Later on, when her life was in deep crisis, she again got help from clergy, but she did not identify them with the church.
When I first went to jail, I asked for the priest. The older priest came. I made a confession. After that on a weekly basis, the younger priest came. Brought me cigarettes. We talked, not especially religiously. The church has had an influence, not necessarily doctrinally. It’s individualized, who they are, what they believe.
Franz’s construal of his experience was the same. First in high school:
When I got to high school I was even on the liturgy committee. I sort of enjoyed doing that primarily because of a teacher named Bob Smith, who was a very Christian and very humanistic man… but at that time I was starting to have some doubts and some personal problems as well, so that by my sophomore year… I was actually quite depressed too. So that at that time I was beginning to say that the question of God is not important. If he exists, fine, and if he doesn’t, so what?
My sophomore year I started to say this is bullshit. They’re not doing anything for me; they can’t help me in any way. All they can sort of do is spout platitudes about loving. Bob Smith was the exception. He was a really decent guy who showed you by his example and gave you a real direction.
In the mental hospital:
It was Father Bob talking to me, and I was reading a book about Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, and that made it intellectually acceptable to me. But I left again in January after I got out of there. I needed something to get me out of it, and religion was there. I don’t see it as the church. I see it as people who happen to be affiliated with the Catholic Church.
The church does not get credit for the kindness of its priests or the ideas of its intellectuals because their humane qualities appear as exceptions to a general pattern. There are other qualities that emanate “from the institution” and are more typical of it. It is behavior that the church claims as its own, that reveals its inner essence. This behavior is: “platitudes”, “distant”, “starched”, “amusing” and the like.
It is not the pathologies. Those are recognized to be not the products of the institution. Typical behaviors are more simple things: “trained incapacities” for intimacy, empathy, openness.
Angela can recount an example of the problem with almost clinical precision.
The saddest thing… One of my favorite priests at Holy Cross, now at the Cathedral in Chicago. We all figure he’s going to make bishop soon, but it’s all politics. I saw him after four years. When he was just a regular priest he was full of vitality and sparkle and he made you believe, and it was something coming out of him. And now that he’s moving up in the politics of it, it’s gone. It’s all gone. It’s really sad. It’s a show. He puts on a damn good show, but sitting there watching him, I could tell it was a show.
Personal charisma in a priest can indeed still draw her towards the Catholic church. But notice how things have gotten turned around. Personal charisma is the primary reality. The sacramental ceremony is secondary. The human person has become the outward sign that gives grace.
From this point of view Roman Catholicism appears as a institution fixated at the mythic-conformist level of social development. Its leaders have not done their introspective work. They are still stuck in the rigid ego-structures needed to protect them from their own personal unfinished business, structures designed to achieve a developmental task central to the society of a thousand years ago.
THE ILLUSION OF THE EUCHARIST
The Mass is a powerful emotional experience. Since this is so, the intelligently curious observer should be permitted to ask just what emotions are involved. What feelings does the Mass arouse? How does it arouse them? What is their function in the spiritual life of the participants?
We can get some answers to these questions by carefully observing the performance. Systematic and meticulous observation is the core method of ethnography. Without going through the whole tedious procedure, let us just mention some highlights.
In the first place, kneeling with the hands folded in front of the chest may be the closest we can get to the fetal position while still upright and without being obvious about it. Now, while in that posture, tilt your head back, close your eyes, open your mouth and put out your tongue. What organ of nurture might you expect to receive in this position?
Next, review the sights and sounds of organ music and Gregorian chant, the shape of the space enclosed by gothic arches, the quality of light through stained-glass windows, the smells of beeswax and incense, the effect of periods of silence while kneeling with eyes closed, and what do you have as an overall experience?
Note also that exposure to this experience begins in early childhood, and by the time a catholic reaches the age of seven or so, the cues for entering the womb-and-infancy state of consciousness of the Mass are so well learned that people begin to go under long before they actually enter the building and experience the performance of the ceremony. All they have to do is think about what they are about to do, and they begin to go under. The process merely deepens as they go through the activity known as “going to church.”
This holds true not only for the Mass, but for all the trance-inducing religious rituals of the mythic-conformist level. These include other Christian worship services, going to synagogue, temple, mosque, or stupa. All of these ceremonies construct a temporary “ego”: a state of consciousness manufactured by stimuli of sight and sound and movement that portray the “reality” of self-in-the-world.
The entrancement was more powerful and direct in the old Latin Mass performed in the cathedrals of the middle ages. The modern expression “hocus-pocus” in fact comes from the Mass. It is what the words of the consecration of the host –“Hoc est corpus meum.” — must have sounded like from about mid-way back in the nave during the solemn-high ceremony.
Group singing is an important element of the trance of this kind of ritual. The sound of one’s own voice joined with the sounds of other human voices pronouncing words that express common meaning and emitting tones that express common body rhythms provides a powerful experience of belongingness. Set in the context of a Eucharistic Congress or some other large urban gathering it can convey participation in great social power. Indeed, one could feel that one is in “the presence of God.”
So, the purpose of the Mass is to produce a certain state of consciousness, that is, a certain state of emotions. During the centuries of its use, it has provided ego-structures for many people, and they have grown. The only problem is that as long as the structure is in the ritual and not in the self of the participants, when people leave Mass and go back out into the world, they have to leave the source of their substitute ego in the building and face the world on their own resources. If they do not feel at home in the marketplace, in their family, in work, in nature, in their own personal memories of life, then their strength fades and they have to go back for more.
For a healthy ego, the whole world is experienced as “charged with the grandeur of God.” In this condition of enlightenment, “God” is everywhere, being alive is prayer, and there is no distinction between the place where “God” is and the places where “he” is not.
So the achievement of ritual is to provide an emotionally satisfying experience of self and “the world”. But, as long as the egos of the participants are still buffeted by split-off elements of the self and by ignorance about the forces of nature, the experience of well-being will always have to be replenished by the ritual experience.
On the other hand, when the egos of the participants are no longer buffeted by unfinished business or ignorance of nature, then they will no longer need the Mass to provide that sense of emotional well-being. They will have it any time, anywhere.
TRANCE IN THE INTERVIEWS
Eight of people I interviewed recalled the experience of trance in their childhood’s religious practice. It was not something I asked about. Those who mentioned it did so spontaneously. We need to ask: of what modality is it? How healthy? How fixated? How much subject to the executive functions of the ego?
Emma describes the experience as unambiguously satisfying.
My favorite time was Christmas midnight Mass. The howling Wisconsin winter was outside, but inside we were an extended family feeling the magic and warmth and miracle of Christmas. In the church choir there was one extremely ugly man who I hated (giggles). He looked like Ernest Borgnine. But at the midnight Christmas Mass he’d sing a solo, “O Holy Night” in his bass voice. Every Christmas while he sang, he was transformed for me. Everybody and everything was. The Christmas miracle overwhelmed me.
Fred recalls his sense of loss at interruptions of this experience:
I always enjoyed the traditional Mass, with the Latin and everything. … Mass was always a kind of mysticism type of thing to me. I understood it and all, but the mysticism of it, the magic of it, if you want to call it that, was very important to me. That feeling that you get with that was very important to me. I was an altar boy. And one day the priest, before Mass, he had some of the Eucharist before it was consecrated and gave us some to eat. That came crashing down on me. You know, somehow that wasn’t right. At my particular age, that wasn’t right. I think about it now, I mean obviously the priest felt, just a lot of bread, that’s all it was. …
I think also that the changing from the Latin Mass to the English Mass actually was a negative as far as I was concerned. It lost some of the, uh, religion is a very personal experience to me, and right now, um, when you have the Mass where people are reciting a prayer, whatever the prayer may be, it’s written out in front of them and they read the words. They’re not praying. That’s part of the problem when I talked with my father, when I walked out of Mass that time. Those people aren’t praying. They are repeating words. In the Latin Mass, I’m not saying the people were always saying the same prayers the priest was, but I felt like they were at least praying. A certain kind of atmosphere. For me it was a very intense, personal type of relationship And it lost that when all of a sudden you would have this chorus of voices all over the place including you, reading, out loud. That bothered me. Still does. “The Lord be with you. And with your Spirit.” Automatic response. Pavlov’s dog. Programmed behavior.
Gail’s description of Catholic ritual is filled with ambivalence. On the one hand it was satisfying in itself, on the other hand it was led by the man who had molested her.
The ritual is so beautiful, and it makes people feel so good, like the people who really do believe. It’s so important to them. And it is gorgeous, and some of the most beautiful music in the world is benediction. And I used to feel so terrible. Always benediction would come right after Mass. There was always a certain time of the year. I never knew quite what time of the year it was, or when it was coming. I just knew when it was there. After Mass, you’d get up, and you’d start to realize, “Nobody’s getting up.” That meant like another twenty minutes. Then he came out and there’s all this gold, and the monstrance is so big, and the music, and I always loved the incense. A particular smell.
In the interview with the clinically-trained Joanna we start getting some direct reference to the childhood-compensating aspects of the eucharistic trance. Joanna spent long hours in chapel as a teen-aged Aspirant in a religious order of nuns:
Church had felt good. I guess I felt alone, alone in the sense of…I don’t know… I felt like I was being listened to. I also feel that to a degree it was a hysterical reaction, in praying I could work myself up into a very quiet trance-like hysteria. I do believe that. It was all a pretty intense type of attempt at communication, nothing to the point of thinking that God was answering me, hearing voices, but feeling obviously that I was heard and that he knew I was there, and that I was making some form of communication, and this felt good. I didn’t have good communication at home. This was something that I had in essence learned to do in the Aspirancy. Everything from certain amounts of meditation, to the times when you had to be twenty-four hours in church, having to sit there…
In chapel she was “listened to.” At home she had not been. When she reflects on the long period of self-destructive behavior she engaged in after she rejected Catholicism, she comes to a simple conclusion:
I had never given myself permission to be angry. At Mendota [the state mental hospital] I first said it. I used to be a much quieter person. The whole world is going to come down on me. I’m forty now. Less idealistic.
Letting her anger out was central to her healing.
So, there was great pressure driving her into the special state of refuge in the chapel, where she felt listened to: “The whole world is going to come down on me.” A trance that helps escape from such powerful fear defines a narrow, but safe, reality. It can be very, very attractive.
THE ILLUSION OF THE EUCHARIST
All of these trances are somehow related to the central ritual performances of Catholicism: the Mass and the Eucharist. Are they neurotic distortions due to individual pathologies? Or are they logical outcomes of the structure of the rituals themselves? I think they are all logical outcomes of what I call the illusion of the Eucharist.
It is a benign illusion, an illusion of true genius, an illusion that has permitted survival, and some growth, for about a thousand years. But it is an illusion nonetheless. It is a pedagogical device of immense benefit in building up the ego structures that carry the personality and the social group beyond shamanistic tribal magic into a wider mental and social world. But its usefulness is limited to that stage of development.
Beyond that stage, it gets in the way of spiritual progress. This astounding piece of cultural engineering is to contemporary Catholics what the temple in Jerusalem was to the contemporaries of Jesus. He respected that temple, but he also saw its imminent demise. Yahweh could not be cooped up in one building any longer.
I think that the biblical texts are essentially accurate accounts of historical events. So, I am convinced that Jesus died a normal physical death, and then resumed his human body. Therefore he still exists. But I am also clear that I do not know how the physics or chemistry of his situation really works.
So for me the illusion of the Eucharist is not that Jesus is not really there. No, it is a much more interesting illusion. It is that Jesus is not any more really there than he is anywhere else.
I can even go along with the underlying intention of the doctrine of “the real presence.” It is a phase-specific adaptation of the food metaphor that Jesus used at the Last Supper. It works for the mythical conformist stage of spiritual development.
Jesus is real. We have a real relational exchange with him, that is, he is “food” indeed. But in what manner?
Since each level in the human being is a process of relational exchange with a corresponding environment, the human being has drives that express the need for those various environments: physical needs (food, water, air, shelter), emotional needs (feeling, touch-contact, sex), mental-egoic needs (interpersonal communication, reflexive self-esteem, meaning), spiritual needs (God-communion, depth), and so on. It is as if there were levels of “food” or “mana”– physical food, emotional food, mental food, spiritual food. Growth and development are simply the process of adapting to, and learning to digest, subtler and subtler levels of food, with each stage of growth marked by a phase-specific adaptation to a particular type of food. FN41
By brilliant social engineering the Mass constructs a real emotional presence for those who are susceptible to its induction techniques. Susceptible participants genuinely experience a certain regressive bliss. Review the ethnographic data, the postures, etc. So Jesus is really there at least in the sociological sense: “What is real in the minds of believers is real in its social effects.”
As for the theory of transubstantiation, it too is a marvelous piece of work, but also stage-specific. It is an ingenious piece of Aristotelian logic-chopping that functioned as food for the mind. It was a most effective piece of language. But under close scrutiny, it turns out to be a thin semantic game.
It says that the “substance” of Jesus is present “under the accidents” of bread and wine. But the problem is that “being present” is an “accident” in the Aristotelian logic on which the theory of transubstantiation is based. So, the “substance” of Jesus without its own accidents still lacks its own whereness. It can’t be said to be “there.”
But logic was never the main point. It was always rhetoric, that is to say, emotions. The point was to make the participants feel loved, as they are indeed in the existential way in which the God of the Bible sustains our being, and the way in which the incarnation of Jesus more fully expresses that love. But the production also needed some language as a sop for the mind. Transubstantiation provided that.
The christian community never mistook the food metaphor of the Last Supper as a reference to the physical level of relational exchange. They never thought of the Eucharist as magical cannibalism. But they did use the food metaphor at the emotional and mental levels. Fulfilling the needs of those two levels is what transubstantiation and “the real presence” do, brilliantly.
So, I admire these doctrines, but I don’t cling to them. Being persuaded of the truths of history and anthropology, I ask myself, “What is going on here? What was going on there, in about the fourteenth century, when all this Eucharist business came to full development?”
What was going on was that the urban Roman culture of Christianity was finishing up its system of cultural control over the migrant animist tribal cultures of the new population of Europe. Originally the Eucharist was part of the community feast that recalled and re-enacted the Last Supper. The bread was kept for the sick and other shut-ins. But in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, the old animistic practices of the tribes, who carried the images of their gods before them on their marches, needed a final, definitive christianizing. Their tribal egos had to be re-structured into one culturally-unified ego for all of Europe. The monstrance was adapted from tribal practices, and the circular bread, the “host”, was placed in it because the masses of people needed something to fix their eyes on. The eucharist became a Christian mandala. A Jungian would note that the circle is a symbol of the ego, the boundary of consciousness vis-a-vis the sea of the unconscious.
Politically, the eucharistic ritual replaced many different symbols of divine power with one symbol of divine power. It created one socially acceptable structure for the “experience of the divine”, and it ruled out all other collective, public experiences that might claim some participation in that. And instead of connecting God to trees or clouds or lightning, it connected God to Christ. Truly it was a marvelous piece of cultural engineering.
That’s what was going on then.
What is going on right now is a ritual performance in which certain behaviors occur. One of them is the fixed stare and other forms of trance-repose. These are stimulated by the familiar processes described in the previous pages. The behavioral meaning of the ritual is a benign regressive trance that carries the participant back in time to an experience that pre-dates the pain of childhood. This kind of trance can pre-empt the definition of reality. It becomes a connection with something “more real” than ordinary awareness, because ordinary awareness is open to painful irritant of unfinished business.
Such an experience will only be attractive, of course, to someone who has experienced a painful infancy and not done the introspective work needed to recover from it. But if unhealthy pedagogy is widely distributed in the world, and therapy is an undiscovered art, then there will be quite enough unhandled pain in the social mass to support an extremely popular ritual.
However, the experience of the Mass is behaviorally the same as any other god-in-a-particular-place cultic performance. I have seen group trance behaviorally undistinguishable from Mass and Benediction in temples in Benares in India. I am sure it occurs in Mecca also. It happens wherever you find a group of people not only educated but socialized since childhood to find the presence of the deity in a particular ikon or place.
“Theologically,” there are differences between the various presence-of-god rituals, and theological differences are very important. But “theology” is an interpretation of the experience, not the experience itself. The theological difference between a Thor-trance or a Krishna-trance and a Eucharistic trance is in the intellectual validity of the stories of Thor, Krishna and Jesus. But the emotional effect of the rituals does not depend on their intellectual validity. It only depends on the effectiveness of the training. If the participants have been successfully programmed to perceive that God is there, the ritual “works.”
For the course of history, of course, “theological” differences are crucial. I think Jesus is real, and Thor is a figment of somebody’s imagination impressed by the power of lightning. This is important for the long-term success of a culture. But behaviorally and on the individual level, Krishna-in-the-rock and Jesus-in-the-box are identical. They both bring about the cathartic sensory repose of a regressive trance.
Insofar as this sensory repose gives escape from anxiety, it binds people to the structure and organization that produce it.
In Sunday Morning I explained in great detail just how ritual produces this dependency on an organization. Specially trained people control the performance that gives the satisfying experience. Arrangements of space distinguish between those who produce the ritual and those who receive it. Thus the power to relieve anxiety offered by the ritual is not within the self of the participant. It is from outside, from the organization, from and through the ordained priest.
The experience created by the ritual is a trance of focussed attention on the objects and actions of the worship ceremony. It is a form of “ecstacy”. The worshipper is “out of one’s self”. That means out of one’s normal self, the ego-structure that is buffeted by painful split-off elements of the total self.
The mythic-conformist stage has some serious social limitations. Believers at that level look to an external authority to find “the will of God.” They experience “God” in the trance of ritual, and get hooked on it. It is an addiction. This puts “God” in one particular place (their church or temple or mosque or shrine, etc.) and not everywhere, in all human persons, in themselves. It supports in-group vs. out-group distinctions and a defensiveness that in its milder forms is a sense of religious aristocracy and in its harsher forms a basis for “holy war.”
Therefore, when a person has grown strong enough to get along without these ritual supports, they leave them behind like the toys of childhood. They stop “going to church” and start exploring the real world.
But for those who were exposed to it, Catholicism was often very powerful. Its doctrines formed the left brain, its ritual structured the right brain, and they escaped from pain. So, when you leave the Church, you can fall into the dark chasm of your own unfinished business.
And this is painful, but they are growing pains.
AN INNER EXCURSION
When you give up a powerful structure of consciousness like Catholicism, you embark on an excursion into what R. D. Laing calls “the inner world.” You go in, you wander around, you get lost. You experience agonizing struggles between ego and deeply buried pain. You experience some form of death, perhaps timelessness, perhaps god, but certainly a spiritual dimension that is as real as any externally stimulated bodily sensation. You come back, and the world is not the same as it was before. It can never be the same.
This happens with various degrees of intensity. Psychology is not at all clear on the causes of this variety. The deep inner resources of the human person are still rather mysterious to us. But we do now know a lot more about symptoms than in the past. A very intense form of inner journey is the full “ego-loss” of diagnosable psychosis. The capacity for discrimination breaks down completely. This produces a change in behavior that cannot go undetected by the world around you.
But there are also degrees of inner pain that are more manageable. You stay in enough contact with the practical world to make a living. You do not get called noisily to the attention of the law or mental health professionals. But you might be depressed a lot, not inclined to engage in small talk, and take a lot of long, solitary walks: “Torn — body, mind, spirit — by inner contradictions, pulled in different directions.” FN42
Whatever the degree of intensity, the experience has the same structure.
It would appear that once precipitated into [the inner world] [a person] has a course to run. He is, as it were, embarked upon a voyage of discovery which is only completed by his return to the normal world, to which he comes back with insights different from those of the inhabitants who never embarked on such a voyage. Once begun, [such an] episode would appear to have as definite a course as an initiation ceremony — a death and rebirth — into which the novice may have been precipitated by his family life or by adventitious circumstances, but which in its course is largely steered by endogenous process.
In terms of this picture, spontaneous remission is no problem. This is only the final and natural outcome of the total process. FN43
This death and rebirth is the encounter with one’s unfinished business. The extent to which the experience must run its own course depends a lot on the availability of external help. A hundred years ago people who outgrew Catholicism got even less help than they get today. There was no way that this book, for instance, could have been written even twenty years ago. The language for it did not exist. And I am sure that there will be even more help in years to come. Outgrowing Catholicism will soon be completely normal.
But unfinished business can be powerful. It is somehow of the body, of the whole organism, of one’s total life-experience. It takes skill and energy to take care of it.
I describe this introspective journey of recovering your self as having four stages: You break out, get lost, hang in there, and get complete.
The first stage is breaking out. The intention is to escape the enclosure. You move without knowing quite where you are going. Stage one usually takes a very short time.
The second stage is getting lost. This is from encountering the thicket of negative negativity that your religion has been protecting you from. This is not chewing-gum-on-your-cafeteria-chair stuck. It is more like up-to-your-neck-in-a-vat-of-tar stuck.
The third stage is cautious cruising. After you have sorted out some of the forces at work in the sea of feelings around your introject, you learn how to “live with yourself.” You are moving under your own steam, under your own direction, as you were in stage one. But you are more aware of danger, and you take fewer risks.
The fourth stage is contemplation. You get your connection with the experience which has no name. At this stage, life has a joy to it that is not taken away by any material difficulties.
Getting to stage four requires mastering some introspective skills, in particular the three key distinctions (trance vs. being awake, mourning vs. self-pity, event vs. interpretation). Some people do this by natural instinct, but many people stay a long time in stage three. Life is tolerable there, but it does not have the flat-out joyousness that we were designed for.
Stage one often begins with a rush of exhilaration. You are “free.” But, along with the joy of liberation, there is a darkening cloud. Then it often gets very, very dark indeed.
Not everybody talks about the experience of freedom. I did not probe for it. But Greta remembers: “I felt very free. Like coming out of a dungeon, the narrow place in my mind.” And Artemis recalls, “I felt like I had been tied up in a bundle. It was a real releasing time, letting go, opening up. Drugs definitely had something to do with that.” And Patrick recalls that part of his liberation was sexual experience, “not a libertine, but I did feel freer.”
As for the darkness, Emma’s experience is the most dramatic. She describes her freshman year in college in 1969:
…and I took this absurdism, existential thing. Which laid me flat for a year. Camus’ image of you’re standing at the precipice and here’s the void. That whole year was just complete depression, gray, nothing meant anything. There was no structure, and I thought, “I can’t live like this.
This stage often invests heavily in getting close to people who have very different histories than your own. You want a close look at other operating systems. Angela has a friend who is “a fascinating person”, but “sometimes full of shit”, who at the time of interview was “on a new paganism kick.” It’s also an information-gathering stage: reading, talking, college courses, and the like. But mainly, it is staying in motion.
This stage also usually has a no-going-back boundary. You don’t know exactly where you are headed, but you do know where you have been. And so you mark out that old territory. One way of keeping track of where you do not want to be is to notice other people who are still there. Nineteen-year old Debbie describes what she wished she had said to her former roommate, a fundamentalist who assured her that she was praying for her:
Augh! Don’t pray for me. I know I’m fucked up, held together with nothing more than crazy glue, but I’m happy, which is more than I can say for you.
Her overall assessment of the roommate’s world-view is not flattering.
She was a fundamentalist. She had an answer for just about everything. She would say, “You don’t know how happy it makes you to give all your problems to some one else.” She wasn’t a very bright girl at all in fact.
Jean tells about a woman she knows who had an experience similar to hers, of being confined in the care of small children. But this friend of hers resolved it differently than Jean did.
She gave testimony in her church about her fight with the devil. She had three kids, had been in the house all summer, nearly had an affair. She told how glad she was to be back in the fold. She had fought off this attack of the devil, which we would simply call cabin fever. She couldn’t question that the problem wasn’t her dirty soul, but the situation itself, and maybe instead of wearing the scarlet letter, she should organize a group that baby sat for each other.
And many people talk about their parents and other relatives, still living in the old confining world from which they have newly escaped.
Sometimes this stage is short and easy:
And for a while it was kind of troubling. I was concerned about it because it seemed like a lot of people did understand. A lot of people were going to church. I’d look around me and everybody stood up at the same time, sat down at the same time. They knew what the service, Mass, was about. I guess I never really did.
Fred was eighteen when he walked out of Sunday Mass.
Probably that was the time I decided it was time to at least explore different things. I wasn’t ready I don’t think at that time to say I wasn’t Catholic. But at least I wasn’t, I didn’t know if I was.
It was while I was in college that I actually decided that I was not Catholic. There’s no particular incident that occurred. I guess the overriding factor was, “You will follow a certain doctrine…”
My beliefs have not changed since I was twenty-four or twenty-five. What occurred was that for a while I lost them, and this particular incident [getting arrested] brought them back.
When he reflects on those six years, he notes that he had “good timing”:
The adjustment happened just as I was leaving home. And we had moved around a lot, no strong community ties. I attended fourteen schools my first twelve years. I think the sixties had a lot to do with it. It was a time when change was accepted, not only accepted, encouraged. And I think it was a very anti-establishment period.
So, some larger institutional forces supported Fred in his search for new structures of experience. But there was also another factor. I asked Fred to talk a little more about his father’s feelings about religion.
Karen’s description of her break with Catholicism is very brief. Of her earlier childhood she says, “I guess just because I was me I started changing.” And of her decision at sixteen that she was not a Catholic any more, “It was not a troublesome decision.” These comments seem well supported by subsequent events. What she called her “hippie days”, from age eighteen to age twenty-four in the mid-sixties, were filled with features of personal growth that have no particular Catholic referent. And all her subsequent encounters with the Church have been on a very autonomous footing. She has treated it like any other human institution in the world. It holds no special authority for her.
Seven of the people I interviewed were going through what I call the “classic” or “standard” journey into the inner world that marks the personal growth of an ex-Catholic. It can last for
years. I think the length of time for “this largely endogenous process” depends very much on the resources society offers. R. D. Laing said of our present society:
As a whole, we are a generation so estranged from the inner world that many are arguing that it does not exist; and that even if it does, it does not matter. Even if it has some significance, it is not the hard stuff of science, and if it is not, then let’s make it hard. Let it be measured and counted.
What we call “normal” is a product of repression, denial, splitting, projection, introjection and other forms of destructive action on experience. …… The “normally” alienated person, by reason of the fact that he acts more or less like everyone else, is taken to be sane. Other forms of alienation that are out of step with the prevailing state of alienation are those that are labeled by the “normal” majority as bad or mad. FN44
Artemis graduated from high school in 1971. She describes the three years from 1969 through 1972 as the “hardest time”. These were the last two years of high school and her first year in Madison. As she looks back on it, she sees a clear purpose in the process.
Emma came out of her fourth-year high-school religion class “Uncatholic. Relativism got me.” It felt all right for a while. Then she discovered the darkness. The Free University course in existentialism laid her flat. From that point it was a pretty long haul.
I was lost pretty much till I was about thirty. Trying things out. Dropped out of school. Went to Chicago by myself, came back here, in and out of school, a whole lot of relationships, in a lot of picket lines, but I never got into the violence. I was more looking at what was going on, analyzing. Us and them, I didn’t like that whole thing, but it was so ferocious here, so strong. There was a lot of pain going on, a lot of searching.
I always had a strong friend, like that 4-H leader. No matter how suicidal I felt, there was always this little bleep in me that there’s a purpose in the world.
Joanna started to encounter darkness when working in obstetric intensive care in her late teens. She worked with premature babies in danger of death.
I refused to go to church because I was mad. Too many of those kids were dying. That impressed me very much. I just thought that God was totally unfair.
And yet at the same time, she immediately went to confession after she had sex with her fianc . It was this confession that pushed her over the edge.
I wanted him to say that this is mortal sin and I was forgiven, because otherwise I would go to hell. However, I was in a real inconsistency because I wasn’t even going to church every Sunday, and that was a mortal sin. I was twenty. It was my first time. I had lived a sheltered life. And I think that’s sad. And I started to wonder after that, “Are rules relative?” It just didn’t feel right. I didn’t make any conscious decision about having to figure this out for myself. I was searching.
She embarked on a journey of spiritual chaos. Four years after the events just described she was “doing a lot of crazy things”, and having extraordinary inner experiences: “different planes of existence, under the influence of drugs…I wondered if I had got off the bus at the wrong stop.” The string of darkness strung out to tragedy, to a trial, to a mental hospital, and to a breakthrough to health.
Patrick at the age of 33 still had not found his bearings.
Like you say, you do have to deal with it, and I guess I haven’t. This discussion will be interesting because I’ll probably end up doing something about it. Because I do have a lot of affection for the church, for the people in the church. I’m sure it’s something I’ll come back to again and again.
I don’t really have a system, no. I’ve become spiritually re-interested lately, and I definitely have a need to believe in a larger spirituality. But now it’s sort of a vague realization that the soul and the physical body are very separate entities. But for the last ten years I’d say I’ve just been a fairly straight agnostic. I believe that when the physical body dies, that’s the end of life. But as I say, lately I’ve been tending towards a larger spirituality of some sort. I don’t know exactly what form that takes. I’ve seen too many instances of the power of humankind.
Have you heard of this Message from Michael nonsense? Michael is an entity. It’s a very elaborate system. There are a thousand fragments to an entity, and the entities come down to the earth. It’s really silly as hell. But it’s interesting. It’s somewhat cheering to at least entertain the possibility of your intellect, you know, the joy of existence, the beauty of feeling you’re not terminating when you’re dead, so it’s certainly attractive.
But I think a result of coming from Catholicism is a desire not to embrace any sort of cosmology, to confirm a skepticism towards the universe, because I found it so distasteful, so hypocritical, so silly to construct a system, well, silly.
This is “being stuck.” The personal growth process is like a ship hung up on sand, waiting for a tide that does not come in. The unconscious is vast. It contains the abyss of the Basic Fault. To be confronted for the first time with all of this reality can be quite overwhelming.
What the psychologists call “denial” enters in. It is as if the boundary between consciousness and the unconscious is in some places like a complex, subtle, many-layered wall. It has been constructed carefully over a whole lifetime, and its purpose is to protect the conscious ego from early pain and any other things that have been learned to be forbidden. Denial is composed of infancy’s confusion, childhood’s simple errors, self-recrimination and all those other things that, when conceptualized, come out in the form of an endlessly tangled skein of knots. Emotionally, denial feels something like an endless, featureless expanse of wall, and one of its typical concomitants is depression. Depression is a kind of emotional immobility. You can’t go forward. That wall is there. You can’t go back. Those stakes are in the ground to remind you of what that was like. So it looks like you have no options. (The experience is portrayed in the Pink Floyd-Bob Geldoff movie called exactly this: The Wall.)
The simple passage of time permits the executive ego to recover much of its ability to accept the past, and one starts to live with a fuller awareness of reality.
Joanna describes the process very well:
At this point in my life, I know what I feel. …… I have a way of operating that is mine. It’s basically eclectic. Some Catholics can do that. It has to do with your sense of self. Not concerned about holding all the beliefs.
Her present belief-system is confirmed by her work with dying patients on an oncology ward:
From my experiences with drugs and suicidal ideation I came to some conclusion about how I felt about death, and about life. And I’ve made some decisions which for me are healthy. I have no idea whether they fit every one. But in fact they seem for the majority of people that I’ve worked with to be helpful. Because I’m not uncomfortable. And I’m not necessarily, `Oh poor you isn’t this terrible.’ It’s more business as usual and this is where you’re at, and let’s find what humor there is in it, or let’s deal with the fact that it’s unfair and go on from there.
Some one at this stage usually has a sense of continual practice. Karen:
I don’t think a day has gone by in my life when I haven’t evaluated. (Hans) Kung said that you must seek God or else. So I guess you’re always seeking God. I guess I wouldn’t be comfortable with it if I weren’t constantly re-affirming my position.
But beyond this cautious cruising, there is a stage of spiritual completion that is distinctly glad to be outside the confines of the old belief-system, fully aware of one’s own legacy of pain, and living free and responsible in communion with the experience which has no name.
I call it wholeness.
Isaiah 66, 10-11. The Introit for Laetare Sunday.
A VARIETY OF METHODS
There is a huge smorgasbord of offerings out there claiming to be grace. We are living in an age when the old systems of behavioral control invented by the historic religions are cracking apart like eggs giving birth. The mystical traditions of both East and West, the discoveries of modern psychology, and ordinary human inventiveness are flowing together to form a vast stream of experimentation.
It is not possible to prevent this proliferation of methods. The bogus and the real, the half-baked and the mature products need to grow up side-by-side, for there is no single agency that can tell the difference. Gradually people will sort them out, as they learn how to stay awake.
For my own spiritual searching, I distinguish between two large classes of technologies for spiritual growth out there in the marketplace of meaning. One of them I call the “indirect” methods, the other, “direct.” The indirect methods make systematic use of various kinds of trance to approach the fires of sadness very slowly. The direct methods stay completely awake and go directly after the source of the fires of sadness.
The indirect methods work best for people who have experienced the higher end of pain: war, concentration camps, sexual and physical child abuse. This gives them what I call “battered egos.” They are in a state of spiritual shock.
The direct method works best after the effects of shock have been taken care of, and for people lucky enough to have intact, unbattered egos. These are people who have suffered only garden-variety defects of pedagogy. This is normal parental neglect and incompetence. (We must not take it personally. It’s not that they didn’t love us. It was a question of incompetent culture. Every persecutor was once a victim.)
There is a group of technologies I think of as the traditional trances. These are mainly the “presence of god” ceremonies of the organized religions. These regress you into infantile and womb-like tranquillity, but they do not extinguish the source of pain. So you can get hooked on them and not get your work done.
Another powerful and popular style of trance is monastic meditation. Both Christian and Eastern monasticisms use it. To recover wholeness they recommend withdrawing attention from the source of pain. They practice physical, emotional and mental asceticism. In these systems you usually need years, isolation, a monastery to get your work done.
The monks and sages who rely on this technology have great courage, but they do not take advantage of the latest advances of western scientific psychotherapy. That tradition has shown the power of engaging the content of the unconscious rather than trying to “transcend” it. But the monks do understand the necessity of escaping from the conspiracy of culture, and they have invented some powerful introspective techniques. They go off into forests or up onto mountain tops and abstain from food and sex and talking for a matter of years. This is cooling off the fires of sadness by depriving them of physical fuel. It is the method called “prayer and fasting.” It takes a long time. They find that after years of this starvation, the fires of sadness abate, and the experience which has no name starts to shine through.
The monks also make extensive use of carefully constructed trances. Chanting is a crucially important induction technique. My opinion is that the power of the indirect method monastic meditation is immeasurably enhanced by competent use of direct methods.
Another feature of the marketplace of meaning is that there are half-baked products and charlatans out there too. I think that wearing a pyramid on your head is a half-baked product. There are also a lot of self-starters and gifted amateurs. When you are looking for what you need, you have to be aware of the ferment in the marketplaces and be a wise shopper.
The most dangerous form of charlatanism out there is people who offer a cheap escapist trance. They pander to the fear of the repressed, foster compulsive dependency and produce what we know as “cults”.
But the indirect methods are an extremely important form of spiritual technology, and so we should not confuse the purveyors of escapist trance with the practitioners of adaptive trance, such as the monks and the hypnotherapists. Trance is simply selective awareness. So, it can select a field of attention away from repressed pain, or it can select a field of awareness that goes into repressed pain. Competent hypnotherapists clearly distinguish between trance and being awake. They use hypnotic trance for its power to enter areas of memory that are blocked in normal waking.
So, trance is not a bad thing at all. When it is used as a tool of waking consciousness, it can perform important tasks that normal waking cannot do. The only thing that is “bad” is not to be able to tell the difference between trance and being fully awake.
THE DIRECT METHOD
The indirect methods are the best of traditional spiritual growth technologies. They were invented in an age of weaker ego-structures. But now there are sharper tools for stronger egos. If we engage pain directly and with the aid of the three key distinctions, we can achieve wholeness in a time-span much less than years. The best methods of spiritual learning in the marketplace today use them at least implicitly. They wake you up, let you mourn, and get you to accurately remember. When that happens, the experience which has no name simply presents itself, for it is of the nature of your being.
There used to be a saying about difficult tasks that went: “Why, that’s as impossible as getting to the moon.” Well, now we know that that too is just a question of method.
The direct method to obtain human wholeness is a conversation of accurate remembering while awake. You have to (a) wake up (not go into trance), (b) accurately remember (distinguish between past events and past interpretations), and (c) mourn what you really lost.
Accomplishing all this is clearly within our power, but when we approach pain through memory, we go backwards in time and encounter the most recent memories first. This is what I call “the front door to pain.” These are often very noisy, and so conventional consciousness is extremely ambivalent about really being awake, because the first moment of wakefulness can intensify pain. The unaided process of recovering wholeness can take many twists and turns and end up lasting for years. This is because we live in a culture based on escape, not on unconcealing the roots of human being.
But there are methods around that go into memory very skillfully and open up “the back door to pain”. That is the point from which it all started. I suggest that for most people, this point is not noisy at all, but simple and unassuming, even if apparently remote.
The first requirement of this method is to know when you are awake. This may take some practice because “normality” in this culture allows so much sleep-walking. The trick is to get inside your head without getting hurt and without nodding off.
STEP ONE: BEING AWAKE
So, I include here a simple warm-up exercise. It is a brief introduction to the state of being fully awake. You might think of it as calisthenics of attention. It is like exercising a muscle you never knew you had. You are paying attention to what you are paying attention to.
Part One: the external senses.
First, breathe. Slow your breath down to a pace that generously supports your body functions and is enjoyable. Accept that enjoyment.
Then, survey the activity of your five senses. Start with seeing. Pay attention to what you are seeing. Notice what is coming in through your eyes. Move your eyes around. See what is near. Shift your focus to what is far away. Select particular items near or on the horizon for close-in examination. Just play with your vision for a little while.
You are perfroming consciousness calisthenics. This is “warming up.”
Secondly, take hearing. Don’t close your eyes, but instead keep them open, but pay attention to what you are hearing. Listen intently. Sort out the sounds that impinge upon your ear drums. Identify them. Detect which ones are familiar and which ones are hard to identify.
Thirdly, check your taste equipment. Is lunch still lingering in your mouth? Are you wet or dry? Do you need a drink of water?
Fourthly, smell. What is the distinctive odor of this room? Is the plastic of furniture? An air-freshener? Is there food cooking somewhere? Check it all out. Do a complete odor inventory.
Fifthly, touch. How does your body feel? What does your body feel. Are your muscles storing up some tension? Which muscles do this? What is the rhythm of your breathing? Get in touch with touch.
Then do a running full-five inventory. See. Hear. Taste. Smell. Touch. Are all your senses in good working order? Run through them again.
Good. Now you have reminded yourself what a precise, finely-tuned and powerful instrument you have in your faculty of attention.
Part Two: the inner sense, the normal brain-scan.
This exercise “goes inside.” It pays attention to the field called memory.
Start with something simple: this morning.
When you got up today, what was your mood? What first thoughts went coursing through your mind? What were your very first physical activities? Take you time. Recall the first few waking moments accurately.
Secondly, by memory review the items in your medicine cabinet. What are the ones you use most often? Where exactly are they in the cabinet?
Thirdly, childhood. What is your most important early memory. What is the item that comes up if some one asks you, “What is the first thing that you can remember?”
You have now established that you have a powerful and precise instrument of attention and that you have choices about what you will pay attention to and what you will not pay attention to.
There are at least a 100 trillion information bits stored in your brain. Your memory/data banks are like a very large library, with stacks that go down several levels into the sub-basement, and off into several different wings of the building. You can go anywhere you want to in that library. You can get lost in there.
As you live your life, there are some places in the vast library of your self that you visit occasionally, some favorite haunts, and some places you avoid.
Just note that that is indeed the case. With the proper support, you can pay attention to anything in there that you want to.
STEP TWO: “LOOKING FOR TROUBLE”
This second exercise is a more advanced warm-up, a preparation for real introspective work. Hard work is best done with the support of skilful companionship. A therapist or counselor sometimes provides this. But I think that the most powerful support for genuine work is a well-designed group technique. There are many of these on the market today and they range in quality from the primitive and clumsy to the smooth and sophisticated. I believe that improving the design of group support techniques is the cutting-edge of spiritual technology development today.
The present exercise is simply to “look for trouble” in your memory banks, without actually getting into trouble.
The instruction is to slowly shift your internal scanning to that part of your memory where you store your unfinished business. Do not try to go into that memory bank. Just stand over here at a far and safe distance away from it. Look as if through binoculars and verify: yes, it is still there. Study it for a while as if it were an enemy fort that you have decided to capture. Look for safe ways into it. Think of tricks that might disarm it. Recall the pain it has inflicted on you in the past.
We do not want to take lightly the area of unfinished business in our memory, but neither do we want to cower from it in abject fear. We want to approach it firmly and carefully.
“Cowering in abject fear” is more or less the common stance of culture about this part of self, and so merely noting that the zone of pain exists should probably make us a little nervous. The conspiracy of culture is to passionately divert attention away from it. It is scarcely possible to exaggerate the fierceness that most human beings bring to the defense of their escape mechanisms. It’s amazing how often we would kill, or die, rather than face the tangle of feelings left over from infancy.
One form in which they appear in consciousness is secrets. They are the parts of our past that are “too terrible to tell.”
So, as we stand in the presence of our unfinished business we take note of the fact that the collective decision to fear it was made generations ago, before people knew as much about the formation of the repressed as we do now.
STEP THREE: THE BACK DOOR TO PAIN
The third little “meditation” in our series of warm-ups is to call attention to the existence of a back door to pain.
Whatever has happened to us in the past, the truth of spiritual reality is that we hold our destiny in our own hands. What keeps us stuck is not anything any one else ever did, but how we have handled it. We cannot change past events, but we can change how we feel about ourselves.
What is true about the past is that there was indeed pain. What is false about the past is what we decided that it meant. The central conclusion that we mistakenly came to at some point in life was that there is “something wrong” with me.
Now, if others disapprove of me, that can be inconvenient. It can even be excruciating. But it is not disabling. Ah, but when I disapprove of myself, that is the opinion that is inescapable, crippling, the foundation of despair.
Once that conclusion was decided on, all the rest could follow. What often did follow were very noisy subsequent events. When we first try to go into our past, we tend to remember first the noisy things that happened later on in the formation of the introject. This is the “front door” to the zone of pain in our mind.
In a previous part of the exercise, we looked at our zone of pain as it were from afar off, through binoculars. Now, as we get close to our unfinished business, we discover that the front door is guarded by a variety of colorful and bizarre phenomena. This is “the wall.” It can show up as a whole host of defense mechanisms that we have thrown up around the introject over the years. These can include everything from killer samurai swordsmen to a merely seamless and interminable wall.
These projections get their energy from the compulsion to escape, and they always try to call us into trance. When we run into them, we must not give them any energy. We must simply stay awake. We will make a contract with ourselves to note that these habits exist and just get off of them. They have the kind of inner force the buddhists call negative negativity. It has a generic form that we all experience to some degree: a permanent voice in the shadows of our waking lives that is always ready to utter with some validity its loud and plaintive cry, “POOR ME!”
We can again take note of the fact that in society there is immense support for self-pity. In “the sleep of everyday life” self-pity is taken for granted. There are jokes about it. When it is properly expressed, there is always some one around to offer “comfort”. Culture makes us all co-conspirators, because who knows whose turn is next to be overwhelmed?
In fact, the escape function of culture is so powerful that introspection is often “weird”, self-pity is normal, and trance is commonplace.
So the dance of culture and self-pity is a very powerful force, and we need to return to the awareness that for healing, we can’t play those games. To get fully grounded in the experience which has no name, we have to get off the project of escape. Just get off it.
In going for the back door to pain, we walk right by these noisy distractions that stand in front of the zone of pain, and we walk right by all the noisy clamoring events that occurred in the later stages of our being injured, and we look for the point in time when it all began. This is typically a simple moment of a small child’s reasoning, where a loss was interpreted as a fault.
That simple loss is what we need to touch with our attention, and when we do, mourning occurs automatically. The psychologists call it “releasing”.
Once we have mourned the source, all the later noisy events begin to dissolve of their own accord. This is because the noise in the introject is not about sex or money or power or physical pain. It is about what the events mean. And the meaning at issue always is: what does it say about me? Am I a loving or a hating person? Did I cause the pain or did something else? Am I whole or am I fragmented?
Once we discover the original mistake we made in taking responsibility for something that came from outside ourselves, then the proper responsibility for all subsequent events also becomes clear, and self returns to integrity again.
THE ACTUAL CONVERSATION
An actual conversation of accurate remembering begins with an invitation to “do some work”. The following dialogue might take place:
“Have you completed your introspective work?”
“Would you like some assistance in doing that?”
“Are you ready to do it now?”
“What is your story?” As the person proceeds to tell his or her story, the one helping with the conversation of accurate remembering, knowing that the underlying structure of remembering is the same for all human beings, intervenes from time to time to help direct memory back to the events that lie closest to the beginning of the person’s loss of self.
At certain junctures, the helper might ask, “What happened?” This is to keep the conversation in the realm of events, not let it get sidetracked into interpretations, self-pity, projections.
When memory has recalled the event as fully as it can, the question to bring up old interpretations is, “What does that mean?”
This conversation has the power to recall the exact moment when you first gave yourself away to your parents. You actually remember the birth of the introject, the source of despair. When you recall that moment and separate your own true voice from all other voices, a powerful transformation occurs. You see that you were small then and you are big now, and there is no point in continuing the mistake. You recover the ground of your being. This alters your perception of yourself, the world, and all your experience in it.
When this conversation is completed it leaves a loss to be mourned for, and an interpretation that can be revised.
Once that mourning is completed, one’s perceptions of reality achieves an uncommon degree of clarity. You can distinguish between events that happen out there in the world and events going on inside your own head. You can identify the experience which has no name as something distinct from memories and other data in the head, and from the experience of your bodily senses.
This is the condition of “believing in God” without having any compulsion to talk about it much, and without the need for repeated experience of religious trance.
The rules of method in spiritual learning are therefore very simple:
Rule #1: Stay awake.
Rule #2: Get off self-pity.
Rule #3: Mourn the source.
(Note: This treatment of the art of healing discusses it as if were only verbal work. But this is not actually the case. The other half of the healing art is of course body-work. Since pain enters the soul through the body and the soul continues to live in the body throughout all our years, any conversation of accurate remembering while awake would still be incomplete without body-work. Skilful body-workers can sometimes get through the back door to pain without any words at all, and a skilful blending of talking and touching is the most powerful technique of all.)
This is the core of my teaching and learning method. The lineage I trace for it goes like this: Ignatius Loyola, Martin Luther, Sigmund Freud, Carl Rogers, some Tibetan Buddhists, and The Center for Creative Learning of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Improbable as that may sound, I think it works.
Ignatius Loyola founded The Jesuits, and I was one of them for fourteen and a half years. His spiritual methods were my first school. Luther broke up the hegemony of papal thought-control. In the space created by Protestantism, science grew up apace, and eventually led to Freud. Freud made the study of the unconscious methodical, and after he broke through, all manner of energy poured into the project. Among the key advances was Rogers’ revelation that our faculty of attention is more powerful than the fires of sadness, negative negativity, and the conspiracy of culture. We really have the power to cure ourselves, but we need a helping relationship. The Buddhists got kicked out of Tibet by the Communists, and came to the West to teach us some crucially important language. The Center for Creative Learning of Milwaukee, Wisconsin has mixed some Gestalt, Rogers and Re-birthing with a little native genius to produce what I consider to be the very best of the new-age personal growth technologies.
The essence of the healing technique that flows from this lineage is to hold a conversation of accurate remembering controlled by the three key distinctions.
When you do that, you can in one smooth process (a) expose the conspiracy of culture, (b) release the fires of sadness, (c) get through the thicket of negative negativity, (d) remember the moment of first self-doubt, (e) mourn accurately, and, lastly, recover access to the ground of your being.
I have seen this done. I have done it. When the right tools are in competent hands, it’s as easy as riding a bicycle, and takes closer to ten minutes than ten years.
There is a conversation going on in the world today among people who have succeeded in their experiments, made contact with the experience which has no name and are living in the open with it. They may even belong to some group, some church, some religious organization. But they also know that the verbal formulas of their social assembly are mere approximations to the ineffable, and that in the living conversation between human beings, paying attention is much more important than saying the right words.
I’ve had many conversations in which the words were a confused mish-mash but the meaning was absolutely clear. In New Delhi in 1966, for example, I had a conversation with my Hindi teacher in which we came to the conclusion that what he referred to by the word “Ram” was exactly what I referred to by the word “God.”
But the experience which has no name, while ultimately satisfying, does not have any calories. Therefore, it is no substitute for lunch. It does not remove sexual tension, or take away physical pain. “All” it does is give perspective. It prevents any pain from becoming all-absorbing. It snuffs out self-pity.
Its essential effect is simply to make us more whole. We entertain more questions, we have room for more feelings. Our compassion includes more varieties of life.
Holiness is wholeness. Or better, wholeness is holiness. That is to say, wholeness is all there is.
There are two small passages of writing that I give to any one who asks me about method in spirituality. They are introductory texts that mark the start and the finish of the project.
The first one is by Chogyam Trungpa, a contemporary Tibetan buddhist who spent the last years of his all-too-short life teaching from Boulder, Colorado. It is a marvelous description of the attitude to adopt on entering the project of exposing the conspiracy of culture and encountering the fires of sadness.
First pacify: try to feel the ground softly. You feel the situation further and further, not just pacifying superficially, but expressing the whole, feeling it altogether.
Then enrich: you expand your luscious and dignified and rich quality throughout.
Then magnetize: bring the elements of the situation together.
This last is necessary only when the negative negativity uses a strong pseudo-logic or a pseudo-philosophical attitude or conceptualization. It is necessary when there is a notion of some kind which brings with it a whole succession of other notions, like the layers of an onion, or when one is using logic and ways of justifying oneself so that situations become very heavy and very solid. We know this heaviness is taking place, but simultaneously we play tricks on ourselves, feeling that we enjoy the heaviness of this logic, feeling that we need to have some occupation. When we begin to play this kind of game, there is no room. Out! It is said in the tantric tradition that if you do not destroy when necessary, you are breaking the vow of compassion which actually commits you to destroying frivolousness. FN45
The second is advice you can give to yourself every day when you are running free in a groundedness in the experience which has no name. It is from the sixteenth century Carmelite, Teresa of Avila.
Let nothing disturb you,
Nothing frighten you.
All things are passing.
God does not change.
Patience accomplishes all things.
Whoever has God
Will not fail.
Only God is completely satisfying.
1. Ken Wilber now has a large output: eleven books and hundreds of articles. My readers are invited to investigate his bibliography for themselves. The two works I have drawn most heavily from are: A Sociable God: A Brief Introduction to a Transcendental Sociology (NY, McGraw-Hill, 1983) and Transformations of Consciousness: Conventional and Contemplative Perspectives on Development, edited by Ken Wilber, Jack Engler and Daniel P. Brown (Boston, Shambhala, 1986).
2. A Sociable God, 25.
3. Meditations With Meister Eckhart: a centering book by Matthew Fox (Bear & Company, Santa Fe NM, 1983), 28
4. A Sociable God, 77.
5. Ibid., 79.
7. Cf. Morris Berman, Coming to Our Senses (NY, Simon & Schuster, 1988).
8. Evelyn Underhill, The Mystics of the Church (NY, Schocken Books, 1964.)
9. The Divine Milieu (NY, Fontana Books, 1963), 77.
10. Cf. Berman, op. cit.
11. Andre Favre -Dorsaz, Calvin et Loyola, deux reformes, Paris, Editions universitaires, 1951.]
12. Ibid., 167.
13. Ibid., 330.
14. Alice Miller, Thou Shalt Not Be Aware: Society’s Betrayal of the Child (NY, Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1984).
15. Miller’s works are: The Drama of the Gifted Child (Harper Colophon Books, 1981); For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty in Childhood and the Roots of Violence (Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1984); Thou Shalt Not Be Aware: Society’s Betrayal of the Child (Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1984).
16. For Your Own Good, 5.
17. Ibid., 91.
18. Michael Balint, The Basic Fault: Therapeutic Aspects of Regression. (London, Tavistock, 1968).
19. Ibid., 16.
21. Ibid., 19.
22. Ibid., 21-22.
23. Ibid., 22.
24. John Fowles, The Aristos (Boston, Little, Brown, 1964), 47.
25. Ibid., 30-37.
26. Miller, For Your Own Good, 86.
27. Ibid., 247.
29. Ibid., 248-249.
30. Charles T. Tart, Waking Up: Overcoming the Obstacles to Human Potential (Boston, Shambhala, 1987), 85.
31. Miller, Thou Shalt Not Be Aware, 18.
32. Ibid., 202-203.
33. M. Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled. (NY, Simon & Schuster, 1978), 209-210.
34. “Religious Evolution,” by Robert N. Bellah, American Sociological Review 1964, p. 374.
35. Ibid., 372.
36. Ibid., 374.
37. The Documents of Vatican II, edited by Walter M. Abbott, S.J. (NY, Guild Press, 1966), 18.
38. From “Right Thinking Man”, by Marge Piercy. In To Be of Use (Doubleday, Garden City, 1969).
39. Carl Rogers, A Way of Being (Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1980), 38.
40. Carl Rogers and Barry Stevens, Person to Person (Moab Utah, Real People Press, 1967), 90-97.
41. Ken Wilber, A Sociable God, 37.
42. R. D. Laing, The Politics of Experience (NY Pantheon, 1967), 33.
43. G. Bateson (ed.) Perceval’s Narrative: A Patient’s Account of His Psychosis, (Stanford U. Press, 1961 xiii-xiv.) Quoted in Laing, op. cit., 81.
44. Laing, op. cit., 33, 11-12.
45. Chogyam Trungpa, The Myth of Freedom and the Way of Meditation (Berkeley & London, Shambhala, 1976), 76-77.