Who are you, really? Gabor Mate, stress, and childhood attachment problems

That’s an interesting question. Sticking a “really” on the end of his question like that suggests that the speaker wants a different answer from the one you are giving. I had tried to explain who I am with descriptions of myself as a spiritual counselor and what I do. That didn’t satisfy my friend. He knows all of that. He wanted to know simply and succinctly who is White Eagle? I said that White Eagle is a spirit guide, one whom several people in the Santo Daime tradition share. He didn’t care about that either, even though he is a member of the tradition. We both respect and admire Padrinho Alex Polari and his wife Madrinha Sonia. I took my star with them four years ago. My friend knows all of that. I wondered “how do I do this? No one has ever persisted like this before. I don’t know how to answer him. I want to be sincere.” And then the response formed in my mind, almost like it was coming from the White Eagle himself. I said, “I smooth out wrinkles in the soul.”
My friend’s wife was sitting at the table listening to our exchange and when she heard my answer, she broke into a broad smile. Her husband, whose first language is not English, was looking at her for help. “It’s like an iron and an ironing board,” she said, “you know, you use an iron to smooth out wrinkles in clothing.” By now she was actually laughing, because the look on her husband’s face was hilarious. And then I thought about the image she was using. First there’s the bird, the eagle, which is white, standing at an ironing board with a psychic device which looks like a hot iron, running it over some person lying on a board. I started to laugh too. We were having fun. I didn’t have to get into the story of how I was given the name by the eagles in the northwest, White Eagle Lodgethe discovery of White Eagle as a channeled entity, or of the caboclos of Brazil. Baixinha and the Umbanda, Padrinho Sebastiao and the Mesa Branca didn’t have to come up, even though that is part of the story. Or the Peyote Ceremony when I discovered my nephew’s Santo Daime guide was aguila branca. He was about as astounded as I was.
I have been sitting with all this wondering about all of the synchronous magic which has happened throughout my life. I recently wrote to a young friend that Gabor Mate (2003)dr-gabor-mate said, referring to my friend’s medical condition, “There is encouraging research evidence that even minimal psychological intervention can be of benefit. (When the Body Says NO: The Cost of Hidden Stress (p. 155)” I asked him if he had, after suffering for 12 years in the care of his doctors, ever tried seeing a counselor. He answered in his characteristic truthfully humorous way with

“You mean just waiting for the end of the world is not a good strategy? Or some transformative rapture? Darn I was hoping for a long time. No I’ve never really seen a counselor. It probably could be helpful. Thanks for your care.”

White Eagle had figured out that the source of my friend’s illness was in his childhood, when his mom and dad were being emotionally abusive to one another and ending their marriage. The symptoms manifested physiologically several years later, but they were saying what the child must have been trying to express without words.  The images are of neglect, loneliness, and fear, like his inner world was was threatened with dissolution (like the world was coming to an end). When he was two years old, before narrative memories can be articulated, the feeling tones are what is remembered. The man in his thirties described his feelings as  vague, overwhelming, scary, darkness (as though he were about two years old). He gave me this description a couple of months ago.  Gabor Mate had the appropriate words and my friend heard them.


While reading Scattered: How Attention Deficit Disorder Originates and What You Can Do About It (1999), I noticed Mate was talking about the importance of attachment and attunement of the child to the mother/caregiver. It is crucial for the brain’s normal development that the mother give her child unconditional love. When that doesn’t happen, when the caregivers’ love is conditional, the child develops in a dysfunctional process of brain growth which can manifest as Attention Deficit Disorder. Carl Rogers taught therapists to give their clients unconditional positive regard. In this way the attachment/attunement disorders can be healed and the brain reconfigure itself.

Mate says,
The role of the therapist is, in part, that of a talking mirror in which the individual can see himself more clearly reflected, helping him to reflect on himself. Until he acquires the necessary skills, without a mirror he can no more see his psyche than his own eyes. The therapist must be able to extend to the client the attitude Carl Rogers called unconditional positive regard. “When a person is encouraged to get in touch with and express his deepest feelings,” writes British psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Anthony Storr, “in the secure knowledge that he will not be rejected, criticized, nor expected to be different, some kind of rearrangement or sorting-out process often occurs within the mind which brings with it a sense of peace; a sense that the depths of the well of truth have really been reached.” (p. 279)

I recognized the quote and looked at my copy of Solitude: A Return to the Self (1989). There on page 22, in the chapter entitled “The Capacity to be Alone”, were my highlighting of the same passage. Well attached children don’t have a difficult time being alone. They are assured of their parent’s love (unconditional positive regard). Storr is talking about how creative people have sought solitude and is discussing solitude’s effect upon and its connection to their artistic creations. Of course he has to update the reader, as does Mate, on all the research regarding secure child attachment, but Storr is arguing that relationship to others is not the definitive characteristic of emotional and mental health. Creative genius is the focus of Storr’s book.
What struck me as synchronous is that Mate and I are reading all the same people. When we met in the lobby of the MAPS Conference in 2013, I discovered we shared the influence of Alice MillerAlice Miller and that we had a very similar cultural clientele. Like most of the intellectual philosophers whom Storr describes in his book, I was slow to pick up my colleague’s work. I had just finished Solitude when Scattered arrived in my mail box. Reading Mate’s book on the hidden effects of stress reminded me of The General Theory of Love and how my warts suddenly disappeared when I was surrounded with my loving spirit family. We were discussing the last remaining wart at the dinner table when my friend wanted to know, “who are you, really?”

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Healing Male Impotence

man in grey shirtMale potency, an erect phallos upon demand, is the effect Viagra is intended to produce. Although I have never tried that product, I hear that it works and that, under certain conditions, it could kill you. A similar problem was discussed in ancient Roman literature. The Satyricon, written by Petronius, centers around a well endowed and handsome young Roman called Encolpius. He is an ancient version of the modern Don Juan, who courts, seduces, and abandons tender sweet young things. Encolpius, whose name means “the crotch”, does not restrict his lovers to young women like Don Juan. Encolpius was attracted to his slave boy Giton as well as the young ladies. What his lovers share in common is important. They are young (16 or 17 years old), attractive, and effeminate. They represent his youth, which psychologically he is trying to penetrate, to recapture, restore. When we idolize youthful beauty in such a way, impotence is right around the corner.

James Wyly described the problem in this way. A client discovered his actual height was 2 inches shorter than he had believed himself to be all his life. His father and grandfather had also inflated their heights. Wyly says, “all three of these men grew up with their culture’s assumption that the taller, bigger, heavier and stronger a man is, the more masculinity he somehow possesses. If this assumption can lead to ignorance of something as fundamental and personal as one’s own height, we may well wonder what else in our collective culture has been distorted due to this apparent need to inflate the nature and dimensions of the masculine. The disturbing preoccupation of modern men with more and more power, limitless competition, machismo and violence suggest itself as one significant result of this inflationary process.” (The Phallic Quest: Priapus and Masculine Inflation, 1989, p. 11) And when we inflate the masculine, pruning is the compensation. Nature likes balance, so when we think too highly of ourselves (inflation), a deflation occurs (impotence). In the ancient story of Encolpius the god with the pruning knife is called Priapus.

Sartyricon 69Priapus represents the split off part of the masculine psyche. His parents were divine. According to Pausanius his mother was Aphrodite, goddess of love, beauty, and lust.

His father was the adolescent version of Dionysus, or perhaps Adonis of late antiquity. The earlier Greek versions of Dionysus had a full beard and was of mature stature, a whole image of the mature masculine, but by the time of Pausanius (about 200 CE) the split in the masculine had already occurred. Rome was the model of conquest which our modern civilization regards as enlightened, and we see the adoration of youth all around us in the 21st century. Priapus was abandoned by his mother and raised by shepherds, who no doubt were impressed with his enormous genitals. He is the product of instinctual physical ecstasy (Dionysus) and sexuality (Aphrodite), which doesn’t stick around to nurture. He represents the effect of lack of the maternal which saddles that role upon the foster fathers.

Wyly puts it this way “the swollen, “inflated” phallus is the physiological instrument of male creativity. As such, it has provided a metaphor for masculinity for as long as humankind has been capable of metaphor (p. 11).” There is a proper (creative) way to express phallic inflation and there is an improper (a destructive) way. Encolpius represents the destructive path. He brags about his abilities as a lover, user, and abuser of others.

Giton and Encolpius

Giton and Encolpius

Wyly says that “he has a grandiose view of himself as lover, rake, and con man. His lifestyle is an offense to Priapus, who makes him impotent, thus endangering Encolpius’s view of himself and his relationship to his lover Giton.” (p.32)

Encolpius then begins a quest to find his lost potency, his erect phallos, his creativity.

Unfortunately Encolpius, like modern man, is always looking outside of himself for a cure. He goes in search of a healer and treatment which will restore his manhood. He endures more and more humiliation at the hands of divine prostitutes, pornography, and “doctors” who prescribe potions like Viagra. He mistakenly thinks that Priapus will return his lost creativity and tries to propitiate the god. PriapusIn the end his search takes a curious turn, which is very instructive. Hermes takes pity on Encolpius and restores his sexual prowess. If we look at the god Hermes we can see the possible route for modern men in curing their sense of impotence.

Hermes is a god of the inner world more than any other. Communication is his forte, especially between the human and the divine realms. He is the messenger of the gods and his main domain is dreams. That’s the arena where the problem is sketched, where our inflation is acted out for us, and the possible cure suggested. If we can actively interact with the dream images, the problem of impotence can be addressed and a way discovered to create a new reality. Writer’s block could be seen as a form of impotence. The artist is blocked by unconscious forces (Priapus in ancient Rome), which makes him feel depressed, a failure in bed and on the page. Entering into dialogue with the force that dis-empowers is what Jung called Active Imagination.


Shadow Lover

If one dreams of one’s shadow characteristics artfully woven into the face of an old lover, like Giton, then we must find a way to interact, communicate, and listen to the voice of the unconscious by taking an active role. This is what the new age consciousness calls co-creation. The spiritual force which has been split off from the conscious self and pushed into the shadow of our personal closet must be engaged. We call this aggregate of unconscious stuff the Shadow. It shows up in dreams as the same sex as the dreamer, but as “other”, perhaps the old lover, a friend or antagonist. Engaging this Shadow part of the unconscious self can move the dreamer from “stuck” to “unstuck”. One must try to communicate, to embody Hermes, if his gift of grace is to be experienced.



One can paint, dance, draw, play music, to initiate communication and then one must allow the unconscious to speak. We must honor it with communication and artistic expression. As we acknowledge the existence of a force greater than ourselves and find a way in which to interact with it, magic happens. That’s the gift of Hermes. He is the master of synchronicity and you can only discover this for yourself by engaging in the process.  That’s where you might encounter the messenger of the Divine Father Zeus.  And like father like son, Hermes can bless you, or perhaps you’ll encounter Zeus, who also gifts us with potency.

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Inside, outside, up side, down

monarch butterflyLike it or not, there is no way to distinguish inner from outer reality. Chuang-tzu pointed that out over 2300 years ago, when he asked himself the question, “Am I a man dreaming that I am a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming I am a man?” There is no point of reference outside of the present moment by which to judge the reality of the sense experience. David HumeDavid Hume came to the same conclusion in the 18th century. His philosophy was described as a radical empiricism. The brain is trapped inside its skull and can only function based upon the sense data arriving from God knows where. Literally only God could know where it was coming from because consciousness is flooded with sense data whether we are awake or asleep. We call waking consciousness “real” and sleeping consciousness “dreaming”. If you ever wondered why Carl Jung considered his research to be empirical, consider this, Hume set up the problem, Immanuel Kant showed us what we can and cannot know about it, and Jung’s main philosophical reading was the work of Immanuel Kant. So what? You may be asking yourself.

One of the most powerful insights in the mystical, alchemical, and psycho-therapeutic lineages is that the inner world is just as real as the outer one. It is just a bias of human nature to consider the outer world the “real world” and the inner world “imaginary”. The brain cannot choose the images which it is experiencing. Even with your eyes closed there could be a stream of images happening. And the soul or psyche learns from the experiences which it has. The traumatized Sultan, who killed his wives before they could betray him, was cured by his last wife. Her name was Scheherazade. Ferdinand_Keller_-_Scheherazade_und_Sultan_Schariar_(1880)She kept herself alive by telling stories which flowed into another after another, refusing to tell the conclusion until the following day. According to tradition this went on for three years (1001 nights) before the Sultan had acquired enough imaginal experiences to heal himself. We could say that he managed to “grow up” by listening to the stories.

Robert A. Johnson tells a similar story of a man who lived “for all practical purposes like a monk. He has remained a bachelor and leads a life that is reclusive, spending his days in prayer, contemplation, [and] meditation.” (p. 209, Inner Work, 1986) This man’s main function was to advise a large extended family. He was their counselor evidently. But he had a very unusual experience and told Johnson about it. Since Johnson was a Jungian analyst this wasn’t too surprising. Johnson was used to listening to his patients’ dreams and helping to analyze them. The man came to Johnson with a continuing set of dreams. Every night he returned to his voluptuous wife and children in an ancient Italian village where he was husband and father. “He loved his wife, fought with her, took care of the children, worked hard to support them. He went to work and brought home huge bags of food on his back to feed his hungry brood. He went through all the joys and griefs that a father goes through in living with a woman and rearing children with her (p. 209).” He lived twenty years with his inner wife and family during the one year in “this reality”. He spoke Italian at night and English by day, integrating his night life into his day consciousness. The dreams ended when he discovered that he had found the Self, the Divine Within, which he experienced as an ancient rose bush with one exquisite rose.rose

Johnson explains the symbol as the wholeness of the man’s being. “The rose is a great symbol of the archetypal self, associated in the Latin church with both the Holy Virgin and Christ. The self is the ancient rose that blooms in the center of one’s life. It was this primordial inner unity that this man brought into bloom, within his individual soul, by living in the ancient village, living out the ancient role of the family man, bringing all of the disparate parts of himself together. (p.210)” Just like the Sultan, this man became whole through living in his imagination and integrating what he learned there into his life. We all can do that.

The brain cannot tell whether the sense data are real or not, so we can learn from whatever images come to us. We just have to suspend our belief long enough to learn from our dreams and our imaginary experiences. That’s how we find the center of ourselves, what Carl Jung called the Self.

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James Hollis on recovering a mature spiritual life

James HollisJames Hollis was concerned with recovering a mature spiritual life in our very materialistic culture. In his book Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life: How to Finally, Really Grow Up (2005) he said,

“In order to recover, or perhaps to reconstruct, a mature spirituality amid an age of shoddy spiritual goods, we need first to reflect not only on what spirituality means, but also on how it is formed, how it may serve, and what we need to learn from its past.

In the nineteenth century the French thinker August Comte noted how the complex mystery of our world was originally experienced through a psycho-religious perception called animism. Animism, from the Latin word anima, which means “soul,” derives from a naïve confusion of outer and inner, objective and subjective realities. Early cultures experienced the world as “en-souled,” that is, all things being the embodiment or the carriers of soul energy. The tree had soul (from which we still derive the expression to “knock on wood,” as a summoning of the anima within the tree to stand by us for good fortune). The earth had soul, whose goodwill and bounteous fruit people needed to arouse through acts of sympathetic magic such as sacrifice of animal or human, ritual intercourse in the fields and temples, and so on. Each person carried and embodied soul, and people often recognized it in each other, as in the Hindu greeting with palms together in acknowledgment of the soul in the other, or even projected it onto each other, as in the case of possession.

As we know, the course of human history since that distant era has been to develop a keener differentiation of objective and subjective, lest we be bewitched by projections, or even hallucinations. Yet, as a result, the presence of soul is experienced less and less in the world, and the world is more and more denuded of spiritual depth. Today we consider the animists naïve, though we might envy the omnipresent spiritual vitality of the daily world that they had in abundance, in both its terrifying and comforting expressions. We think ourselves superior to them although we all still employ superstitions, as we call them, rituals to ward off evil, and magical thinking in our private, unguarded moments that betray the resurgence of the old subjective-and-objective confusion after all. (Just watch how folks twist their bodies back and forth after having already released a bowling ball.)

With the increasing development of ego consciousness, Comte noted that the stage of animism was replaced by the theological stage, whether the gods of the antique world or the formal religious bodies that arose out of the Levant and the Far East. We see the transition from the animistic to the theological occurring when, for example, the immense power of the sea is embodied in a specific deity, Poseidon, whose name appropriately means “earth-shaker.” Before setting forth on the wine-dark sea, Homer’s mariners respectfully entreated the beneficence of this god, who could so easily annihilate them.

As the great religions become less and less a matter of personal experience and more and more a question of surrender of personal authority to corporate security, they take on a life of their own in institutional and cultural forms. While each person is profoundly affected by these cultural forms, internalized as complexes of affect, value, and response, most are led further and further from the validation of personal revelation into the affirmations of belief in the received forms rather than the immediacy of primal experience. By the mid-nineteenth century many noted thinkers, from Kierkegaard to Nietzche to Dostoevski, had concluded that “the gods had died.” They were making psychological statements even before psychology as we know it, not metaphysical statements. That is, they were witnessing the psychological reality that for most, the cultural forms of the gods, and their attendant value systems, no longer evoked the immediacy of personal experience. The loss of this connection to the soul was felt as alienation, a disorientation, and evoked a nostalgia on the one hand and the nervous rise of secular surrogates such as scientism and materialism on the other.

Comte greeted this change with enthusiasm because he thought it was “progress” toward the age of positivism. By positivism he meant that nothing could be considered authoritative if it was not objectively validated. The chief validation was that of the senses, to which the modern sciences lend themselves so readily. Clearly, the modern sciences have brought greater comfort and control to humanity through an increased manipulation of the material conditions of life. However, Comte’s nineteenth-century view, the one in which we all were raised, the idea of material and scientific progress as a form of spiritual evolution, has, in the face of recent history, also proved naïve and one-sided. Not only did that scientific skill enable the last century to be the bloodiest in the long, lamentable catalog of human butchery, but the failed gods of modernism left the modern adrift in our materialist sea, awash with corporate empires whose books are cooked, governments founded on mendacity, and intellectuals intent on constructing monuments to their neuroses.

We may condescend toward the old animist, but at least his world was spiritually charged in a way in which ours is not. He or she understood that survival, and meaning, depended on the capacity to read the signature of the invisible at work in the visible world. Not only did the animist need to read the signs of nature in order to survive physically, but he or she also had to align his or her choices with subservience to the perceived spirit powers. By limiting our contemporary sense of truth to what can be physically validated, we have limited our deeper access to the world and de-souled it in many ways.

One may especially see this tendency in the limitation of most modern psychotherapy to behavioral modification, cognitive reprogramming, and pharmacology—all useful approaches, but by themselves superficial and unintentionally devaluing of our deepest being. One may see in popular theologies the same heresy as in psychology, namely the confusion of the image with the energy that animates it. Thus people worship forms of belief without struggling with the issues the forms tentatively embody, or emulate behaviors without questioning whether they really serve fuller life. Accordingly, either the image of divinity is to be defended for its presumed historic claim, or it is to be summarily rejected as unworthy of a modern sensibility. In either case the world is de-souled, when what it needs in reanimation; either way, the individual is prey to belief systems that narrow into rigid positions rather than expand to opening dialogue; the mystery is banished and therefore rendered irrelevant to all. Similarly, one may attend a college in order to avoid the radical opening to real education, go to church to avoid religious experience, and even undertake therapy to avoid the reality of the psyche. All of these practices are in fact common, albeit mostly unconscious, and result only in deeper and deeper alienation from the mystery. And all reduce the measure of life through the disregard of personal experience and deflection of personal authority.

This is the sad state of modernism, no matter where one stands on the religious spectrum. Polls indicate that Americans profess a higher percentage of belief in a deity, attend religious services more, and all the while have a greater reliance upon material comforts than the citizens of any advanced nation. Their religiosity may not be so religious when it is in service to complexes, group-think, an persistent avoidance of personal spiritual maturation and humbling service to the mystery.

Truly, one should be wary of religious experience, for it may ask something of us that we would prefer to avoid. Most people intuit this threat, this likely summons to largeness, and for this reason, many cultural manifestations of religiosity are surreptitious efforts to avoid actual religious experience. No wonder, then, we seem so disaffected, so adrift, so easily suckered by pop ideologies and fleeting fashions of attire, behavior, and thought. No wonder, then that a culture that has lost its soul drifts into unconscious pacts with whoever offers to lead it, whoever proclaims clarity of values, or, more often, whoever promises to distract the citizenry. Daily obeisance to the television set threatens to become the chief soporific of our time, supplanting religious inquiry, intellectual growth, discernment, discrimination of values, as well as enabling avoidance of whatever personal demons we may have.

All of this distracted flight may fairly be called a Seelekrankheit, a sickness of the soul. Still, others have sought to live stoically and with integrity in the presence of absence. As poet Stephen Dunn recounts:

Tell them that in the end I had no need
For God, who’d become just a story
I once loved, one of many
With concealments and late night rescues,
High sentence and pomp. The truth is
I’d learned to live without hope
As well as I could, almost happily,
In a despoiled and radiant now.

The despoiled now may not be as richly endowed as the spirit-appareled world of our animistic ancestors, but it remains radiant.

Such radiance in the present moment still moves all humanity, and from that experience metaphoric images rise to bridge them to the mystery. After these spontaneously appearing images lose their luster, we seek to re-create the experience through the cultural forms of dogma, ritual, and cultlike practices. Dogma serves as a reassuring program of answers to questions that arise: to explain, to communicate, and in time to defend the past for the person who did not experience it directly. The dogma itself does not carry the mystery, though it may sincerely seek to sustain its impact. Rituals have the intent to re-create the encounter with the mystery, to summon up the spirits, and hopefully reanimate the original encounter. Through reiteration, however, rituals tend to lose their connection to the primal energy and increasingly become hollow forms. In time, they tend to become rigid, inflexible entrapments of soul rather than summoners to largeness. Similarly, the cultural forms of dress, behavior, ethics that distinguish one group from another can grow arbitrary, disconnected, and cultlike and become the source of alienation from other groups with other forms of the same experience.

Lastly, institutions grow up around these cultural forms, at first in homage to the primal events, and then as guardians of their history, and ultimately as encapsulated entities that are most invested in preserving themselves, long after the spark of primal experience has left them. The chief project of modernism, that movement of literature, art, music, psychology, philosophy, and troubled sensibility over the last two hundred years, was to witness the eroded authority of such institutions and to dismantle their claims to govern the modern soul. Fundamentalism spends its anxious time trying to defend the secondary minutiae of historic claims, seeking arks on Mt. Sinai or defending parthenogenesis as a biological event rather than a spiritual metaphor, all the while employing bad science and bad theology in futile arguments. Institutions that claim power over our nature will have to pay nature’s denied due, and will end by abusing their flock. Some people leave all cultural religious forms in disgust, despair, or desolation, and walk into the sterile kingdoms of atheism and materialism, in which no transcendent expression will be found.
The question remains, then, how we are to reconstruct a viable spirituality in the time of sterile materialism, failed institutions, and hawkers of shoddy spiritual merchandise in New Age bookstores. Any project to revivify by going back is doomed to failure. New wine does not come from old wine bottles. Nonetheless, there are some paths through the past that are well worth our exploration. Each of us is the inheritor of a profoundly rich symbolic tapestry. In each of our traditions there are images that can still speak to us if we can differentiate from the perspective of another time and place the universal issue that each of them embodies.

It is useful to consider the following four questions when we examine any mythic image or cultural form that solicits our attention. They are:
1. What is the universal, timeless question that this form, image, narrative seeks to address?
2. What is the response this person, or this tradition, offers to that question?
3. How does my contemporary culture address that same issue?
4. How much of that is confirmed by my own experience?

Beneath the unfamiliar cultural form of each image resonates timeless issues: “How are we to understand death?” “By what values, or discernment processes, do we make difficult choices?” “How does one sort one’s way through the contemporary brambles to find one’s path?” And so on. Our culture has very inadequate answers to these kinds of questions, if any at all. Since these questions never go away, they go underground, into the unconscious. Or they are projected into cultural masques through our movies and songs. Or denied altogether, they leave us very much alone in the universe, where rather than suffer those questions honestly and openly, we are left prey to triviality and banality.

So as we sort through the rubble of historically charged images, by what standard do we gather them to our heart? It cannot be their institutional authority alone. It cannot be because our family or ethnic tradition embraced them. It can only be if they move us, that is set off a resonance within us. If such resonance occurs, the activation of like to like in some hidden harmony, then we know that that image has some meaning for us. We feel it. No amount of willpower or faith can, as such, arouse such resonance for us. When the spirit has departed, we cannot will it back. Though we may not understand why, when the spirit is present, we will be moved.

Upon reflection, three essential points became clear. First, that the eternal questions will arise in quite different guises in all times, and persist in determining the value of our lives whether we are conscious of them or not. Second, that those who went before us experienced profundities in forms that may, or may not, still stir us as well. We owe it to them, and to ourselves, to inquire seriously. And third, that our culture is failing miserably to bring us to these questions, which deepen our humanity and bring worth a weight to our journeys. This last fact constitutes a betrayal of the largeness of the soul, and therefore a deception of the individual person by the collective.

This test of resonance is critical to our capacity to gather a spirituality that brings deepened connection and meaning into our lives. (Hollis, pp. 192-200)”

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The Secret Teachings of Jesus

The Life and Times of Jesus,  that was the title of a philosophy course I was expected to teach in the late 1970s at Golden West College. The Dean wanted to counter the fundamentalist Christian influence of Chuck Smith’s wildly successful Agape revisioning of the Baptist Church. Of course the Dean wanted one of his cronies to teach the course, but I had the background in the philosophy of religion and I insisted a philosophy course should be taught by a philosopher, not an ordained minister. That was the beginning of my search for the historical Jesus and my use of the recently published Gospel of Thomas.

Christ the King 1Looking back two thousand years and trying to imagine the lives of the people living in Palestine during the Roman era is a daunting task. The texts which exist are all written with certain biases. The received text of the Christian New Testament is a perfect example of the difficulties. Little or nothing remains of what the original disciples of Yeshua had to say about his teachings. There are threads of course. His brother James wrote and his friend John did also. The original language which they all spoke was Aramaic, a modern version of ancient Hebrew. The important Hebrew texts had been translated into Greek one hundred fifty years before the time of Jesus, so educated Jews who spoke Greek could discuss Jewish ideas with Koine Greek speaking people. Of course the problem was cultural. Jews had very different ideas from the dominant Greek and Roman cultures.

The daunting part of the story was created by a very intelligent Jew by the name of Saul, who came from Asia Minor. He was well educated in Tarsus and never met Yeshua in the flesh. He was persecuting the followers of Yeshua, when he was struck blind. That’s when he heard a voice, which he identified as the Christ. From that point on he changed his name to Paul and began spreading his interpretation of the message of Yeshua. He wrote in Greek to people, and after the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple (as predicted by Yeshua), the Aramaic language was all but forgotten. Everything was translated into Greek. Three hundred years later the Roman Emperor Constantine constantinebust3called a council of the heads of the Christian churches together so that they could decide what the basic structure of the new Roman religion was to be. They came up with the Creed at the Council of Nicea (325 ad) and decided which books would be regarded as sacred and which would be discarded.  Little changed for 1600 years.

At the end of the Second World War two important discoveries were made. Around the Dead Sea in Palestine some fragments of ancient Hebrew texts were found. These verified the correctness of the received texts. Dead Sea ScrollsThere was little difference between the Palestinian and the Babylonian Hebrew texts. The other important discovery was made in Egypt near Qumran where long lost scrolls had been hidden for 1300 years and preserved by the desert’s dryness. The Gospel according to Thomas was one of those. It is a collection of sayings of Yeshua with no context. More than any other book, it has perplexed scholars. nag hammadiMany thought it to be a Gnostic text, because it could be interpreted that way. But what always intrigued me was the question whether there was an Aramaic text behind the Coptic Greek document. I gave that intellectual pursuit a break when I left my college job and began teaching my children.

Thirty five years later the question came back to roost. My benefactors invited Dr. Lewis Keizer to present his research on early Kabalistic thought and practice during the days of Yeshua. He had studied the Coptic language at Harvard.  He obtained his Ph.D. from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, CA.  Everything fell together for me when he presented his translation of the Aramaic Lord’s Prayer. The versions from the New Testament are Greek. There must have been translations from the Aramaic, but what changes had to be made for a Greek mind set to understand the Jewish original? And is it possible that Yeshua had a private and public teaching? Did his private teaching assume familiarity with the Kabalistic teachings of his time? If so, then we need to pay attention to Dr. Keizer’s interpretation of the ABBAUN, the Mother-Father Godhead of the Kabala. He points out that the supposed Aramaic or Syriac translation came directly from the Greek, not the other way around. But it is possible to use linguistic analysis to figure out what the Aramaic expressions probably were. After that it is a question of how you interpret the concepts. Is there a secret Kabalistic meaning behind the prayer? Keizer thinks so.

If you want to explore this novel approach to the teachings of Yeshua, (200 years ago when they invented the J, they changed the Greek “iesus” to the present spelling Jesus) I recommend you check out the works of Lewis Keizer.

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Seeking a Counselor is the last choice

When do we finally call the counselor? James Hollis noticed a pattern in his clients which is worth passing on to any person who feels like his or her life isn’t really working out that well. Of his clients Hollis says in his book (2005) Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life: How to Finally, Really Grow Up.

“None of them had come to therapy as a first choice. Their initial line of defense against the eruptions of the unconscious into their lives was denial. (This is our most understandable, most primitive defense, which, if continued indefinitely, proves to be the only truly pathological state of being.) Typically, their second strategy was to revivify their efforts in service to the old plan. Their third choice was to strike off toward some new projection—a new job, a better (different) relationship, a seductive ideology, or sometimes to drift into some unconscious “self-treatment plan” such as an addiction or an affair. Their fourth choice, after having tried all of the above, was to admit futility and reluctantly come to therapy, feeling frustrated, sometimes angry and defeated, and always, always humbled. This shaky beginning marked the onset of the deepest inquiry they had ever undertaken, the risky adventure of getting to know who they really were, often quite apart from whomever they had become.” p. 24

And so it is. I personally fit into that pattern before seeking help with my counselor in 1997. The path began in the dark woods of the redwood forest, where I started teaching dream work at a retreat center. Redwood forestOne of my colleagues was a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, who soon became my therapist. Choosing to work with her was the best thing which could have happened to me and the synchronicity was astonishing. It led to self exploration, a new job working with Native American students, and ultimately to graduate study in Counseling Psychology. That journey has also led to several different medicine plant ceremonies and their traditional communities. One of my nephews, a Doctor of Oriental Medicine, who is on his way to Peru for personal development said, “you know Michael, you were the gatekeeper for me. You introduced me to this path. I will always be grateful to you for opening the way for me.” Back in 1997, in the thirtieth year of my marriage, I couldn’t conceive of the possibility of ever being described as a gatekeeper to the Medicine Path.

Isn’t it interesting how accurate James Hollis was in his assessment of the patterns leading to therapy? Is it time for you to begin your journey?mandala of light

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The Trauma Vortex

When the US Army veteran gave me a crystal filled pyramid inscribed with a spiral, I put it in my car. Months later I was using it as a paper weight. It held my appointment book open, so the wind wouldn’t change weeks on me. A young man, whom I met several months ago, has been sharing his life story with me. He’s been suffering from severe childhood trauma, which started as far back as he could remember. Waking the TigerRecently he shared some angry images from his inner landscape. These were violent masculine figures. The top of one man was raging mad, while the bottom half, from the abdomen down, was a red hot volcano, an excellent symbol for his repressed rage. The son of a prominent clergyman, he carries himself with calm assurance and is the epitome of rationality. Contrast that image of reasonableness with the blue fox monster with white eyes, letting out a mighty roar and a violent burst of energy. I asked him about this image. It puzzled me, since it wasn’t connected to any Native American legend. (The boy has Cherokee ancestors.) Then he explained that the blue fox was a Japanese anime character, a demon had been sealed inside of a child and this made the child grow into an incredibly adept and powerful warrior.

Since the color blue was one of the young man’s favorites, and it represents the throat chakra in the East Indian system, it seemed clear that the need to express his rage and the underlying hurt was what this symbol indicated. I could feel the repressed rage welling up from the first time I sat with this guy. I decided to call him tiger/bear, since these were his animal totems. But what was this blue fox creature doing in the picture? The unconscious was adding more information. It knew the tiger/bear better than I and it was making him look at explosive Japanese animated figures for more data. Then he offered a missing piece of information. The blue fox monster has a spiral on his abdomen, it is a “key” which opens and lets the demon out. “It looks like that spiral on the pyramid over there,” he said. I picked up the object and gave it to him. “Yes,” he mused, “it even rotates the same way as on the character’s abdomen.”

My young friend is incredibly intuitive, almost scary when it comes to psychic abilities. One finds this a lot in abused children. They find very subtle ways of “reading the environment” for warnings of beatings and verbal abuse. The tiger/bear is overly vigilant, always smelling the air for danger and eyes all around him. While in that state, his glance fell on a book in the bookshelf. It was Peter A. Levine’s Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma (1997). After our session I gave him the pyramid filled with white quartz, amethysts, gold, and a copper spiral on one side. “This is to remember your insights and the blue fox,” I said. “Now shake my hand and the pyramid is yours.” He did.

The next day I took the book he was eying off the shelf. It opened by itself, rather curiously, to page 200 which symbolizes duality and completion.Page 200, Levine There were two spirals. The one on the left was the “trauma” vortex and the one on the right was the “healing” vortex. If you get stuck in the trauma vortex, you unconsciously reenact the traumatic event. This is the body’s way of revealing the problem and crying for help. Freud called it repetition compulsion. It will continue to re-create the trauma until the energy is dissipated. I certainly have experienced that pattern throughout my life. I write about it all the time. But Levine talks here about “renegotiation” as a third alternative between the two vortices. I reread the book, as it had been several years since I first studied it. As with many books of a gnostic character (ones you have to have the experience in order to understand them), I stopped reading Levine at the beginning of my training and study of trauma. I just didn’t have enough experience to apply what he describes. I turned to other modalities in my search for understanding of post-traumatic stress and its effects.

But now, after several years of counseling trauma victims, the unconscious directed my attention to Levine’s work. I finally had sufficient experience to recognize a vortex when it presented itself. I didn’t have long to wait. The tiger/bear returned and was sharing his bodily sensations, a hot burning ball of energy in the center of his thoracic area, the space between the heart and the solar plexus areas. To me that area means that both his ability to feel love and his will power were affected by this ball of energy. It was pulsing and he was describing it, as he lay on my bed. Then he began to have flashes of imagery. They were all images with which he associated reassuring, nourishing, nurturing, holding and calm. This was the “healing vortex” of images which Levine described. The “trauma vortex” was the hot fear. His body was dissipating the energy bound up in the hot ball of energy by balancing it with positive, nurturing images which kept the fear from building up. We kept talking about each healing image as it appeared in his inner visual field. He would explain his associations with each healing/nurturing image. After a few minutes the hot energy ball was gone. He had stopped shaking and lay calmly on the bed. I had experienced the dynamics of the diagram on page 200. It made total sense to me.

When the tiger/bear returns, I will be able to see if more of his symptoms have dissipated. I suspect that his anxiousness about participating in his childhood friend’s wedding meant that several issues from his childhood had been constellated. His parents were married very young. His mom was fifteen when he was born. She wanted to be a professional singer, not a mother. But she fell in love with a very handsome guitarist and became pregnant. I suspect there might have been some hidden molestation in the family she came from. Why else would she run away from her millionaire father into the arms of a seductive man? Well anyway, she didn’t want a child. She took out her anger on the boy for most of his life. She divorced his father when he was six. She was the hurt and angry vixen who couldn’t hit her husband, so she took her abusive feelings out on the boy. She traumatized her son for being a man. The message was very clear “it would have been better if you had been a girl.” Fortunately his father got custody of him at age eleven, but not before the damage had been done. Now he’s beginning to unravel the layers of anger and is finding the layers of hurt. The trauma is healing and that is showing me that Levine knew what he was talking about back in 1997, the year when my marriage unraveled and I set out on my journey to find my self.

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Socrates’ Mantra

Socrates We know nothing about what Socrates thought, except through the written work of Plato and Xenophon. Socrates was a talker, not a writer. In the Apology of Plato, Socrates claims he has an inner guide, a daimon, a belief shared by most Greeks of his time. This inner guide would advise him against certain courses of action. Socrates felt a divine presence in listening to his daimon. He was tuned into a deep and wise psychic source. Socrates was interested in meditation and truth, so he consulted the wisdom center of his time, the Oracle at Dephi, about finding a teacher.

The priestess at Delphi came up with an odd conundrum for Socrates. Delphic tripodShe told him that he was the wisest man in Greece. But he knew that he didn’t know anything, so how could that mean he was the wisest? Surely there were many others who knew about the nature of reality. There were many teachers out there who claimed to know stuff, so he set out to discover what they knew. What he discovered was that they would try to answer his questions, but eventually contradicted themselves. Their systems of thought were inconsistent and anyone who has studied Euclid’s geometry would know that a contradiction means there is an assumption which doesn’t fit in with the other “givens” in a proof.

So Socrates went from philosopher to philosopher discovering that they had lots of beliefs, but no knowledge. That was Socrates’ defense in his trial, he claimed that he was a very pious man. He consulted the god Apollo’s Oracle at Delphi and knowing that he didn’t know, tried to prove the oracle was wrong. Ironically he proved the Oracle was correct. He was the wisest man in Greece because he had self knowledge. That was the expression over the door to the temple of Apollo at Delphi, “Know Thyself”. knowthyselfSocrates knew that he didn’t know. That’s a kind of paradoxical statement, a religious utterance, which is a mantra of sorts. It has become my mantra of late. I keep wondering about things and hear myself say “I don’t know”. It is rather refreshing to know that I don’t know. It tends to put me squarely in the now, “in the present moment” as they say. I might have a lot of beliefs and many have great justifications, but do I know? Probably not.

Some things I have come to know through experience, things the ancient Greeks would term gnosis. These are truths which cannot be taught to others. You can discover them only through personal experience. Others have discovered them too. My favorite teacher, if you could call him that, of these gnostic truths is Carl Jung. You can’t know much about the archetypes unless you have personally experienced them. You can talk about them to others who have similar experiences, but you can’t apply modern scientific experimentation to determine their characteristics. So those of us who follow in the lineage of Carl Jung often find ourselves having to say “I don’t know”. What does this particular person’s dream mean? I don’t know, but let’s explore our associations with the images and see what shows up. There is often an “aha” experience which the dreamer has when an association “rings true”. Only the dreamer can say “Yes, that resonates”, because it is her dream and the dream is communicating with the dreamer. Often the dream facilitator learns things in the process of exploring the dreamer’s dream, but does he “know” what the dream means? Not really. The dream knows and the dreamer can come to understand what the dream is trying to show the dreamer. And the facilitator might be shown things as well by the dream. All this is possible, but would I say “I know”? Not really.

As that wise doctor Lucy was prone to say, “It’s a mystery, Charlie Brown.”

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The Internal Feminine of Philip K. Dick

When he died in 1982, Philip K. Dick left about 2000 pages of manuscript, much of it hand written, laying around his house. Those pages were collected and edited into The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick which was finally published in 2011. Although Philip was familiar with the work of Carl Jung, he doesn’t seem to subscribe to Jung’s conclusions. This becomes evident in Philip’s attempts to re-conceptualize and re-think possible explanations of a visionary period of his life in February and March of 1974. He recorded his dreams and attempted to understand them. I discussed the beginning his attempts in my essay 2-3-74 The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick. Exegesis of PKDNow I want to focus on the way the Jungian concept of the inner feminine, the anima, rises to consciousness during this period of Philip’s life.

The first hint is in his letters to a woman, his friend Claudia Bush. He tells her of his dreams of a sibyl, a mythological female oracle of ancient Roman times. He claims “all my thoughts and experiences, focusing mainly in dreams, seem to constellate around the Hellenistic Period, with accretions one would expect from previous cultures. The best way to describe it is to say at night my mind is full of the thoughts, ideas, words and concepts that you’d expect to find in a highly educated Greek-speaking scholar of the 3rd century A.D., at the latest, living somewhere in the Mediterranean Area of the Roman Empire. (p. 27)” At first he refers to this night-time scholar as masculine, evidently because the dreamer is a man, but eventually he begins to refer to her in the feminine.  He first considered the psychic teacher to be his dead friend Jim Pike, the Episcopal Bishop, whose interests were very similar, but Dick discards this hypothesis in favor of another.

The night-time teacher’s material is organized. Philip says that “it’s organized as if by a living, idiosyncratic personality, which I often sense behind it. This personality glimpsed by me as being a woman, holds up the book to me or mails it to me, etc. She likes me. She wants to guide, educate and help me. Evidently she’s exposing me to all this enlightening and ennobling written material deliberately, to make me into a higher life form, or anyhow, a better person. Up until now my higher education has been sadly neglected; she is making up for that, using very effective show-and-tell audio-video teaching techniques. (p.28)” And being a good student, Philip begins his research regarding the night-time teachings in the morning when he awakes.

This feminine teacher also seems to be a doctor, perhaps in the tradition of Asklepios. He says, “I am struck most by the amount of medical information and advice given me in these dreams. Health, mine, both physical and psychological, seems to be a high priority in this ceaseless nightly didactic print-out.” One such communication was written in his ex-wife’s handwriting saying “The bichlorides are a very poisonous poison for you.” It went on to say that he should “flush down every metallic toxin in the house: Sleep-Eze and spray can sprays with traces of metal in them. (p.28)” He did as he was told. He went further on the basis of this information, he says “I wouldn’t let my wife smoke. Now we learn that the carcinomic factor in cigarette smoke is radioactive lead–a metal poison. So this information, however bizarre, from whatever source, has a definite therapeutic quality and accuracy.” (p. 29) Philip’s inner feminine is positive and helpful. She is trying to extend his life as well as make him a better person.

In analyzing his inner teacher’s style, Philip says “I have so to speak a real pro for an unconscious. It’s a fine style but it isn’t mine. I’d never write “a very poisonous poison,” or, as it expressed a vital thought in my sleep once by saying, “She will see the sea.” It makes an exact point with no regard for literary style, a higher method of expression with the intent to convey its meaning above all. Therefore it resorts to such strikingly enigmatic words as “syntonic,” if that is what it means; no other will do and it doesn’t seem to care whether I know the meaning of the word or not; if I don’t then I can just look it up. (p. 29)” Philip K. Dick left us another wonderful example of how the positive anima archetype can be helpful and supportive of the creative process. He sees her work as preparing him for his destiny. She is giving him a healthy mind and body. She is “following basic Greek thought it is improving my mind and body together, as a unity. Health is equated–correctly so–with vigor and the capacity to act.” (p.31) Philip tends to be more rational, so he sees his anima’s teachings as basically Apollonian. “All its concepts, its viewpoints, are Greek. Symmetry, balanced, harmony. I sense Apollo in this, which is consistent, since the Cumaean sibyl was his oracle.” (p. 31)Cumaean Sibyl

I myself doubt Philip’s assessment of the oracle’s approach. The oracle at Delphi was also Apollo’s, yet one could hardly say it was easy to understand. The priestess often spoke in riddles, symbolic in form, true, but difficult to interpret.Delphic Oracle This is more in keeping with the messenger of the gods, Hermes, who traded his lyre for his brother Apollo’s magic staff. The Trickster god of the Hellenes would be capable of appearing in feminine form to a devotee of his Brother Apollo. It seems to me that the unconscious is educating Philip in the form of his contra-sexual opposite as it does with most men. The unconscious is creating more acceptance and respect for the feminine by using this approach. Philip is impressed enough to follow Its advice and recognize It as an inner, yet independent consciousness. But he isn’t able to hold that Jungian interpretation. By page 34 he decides his tutor is Asklepios, son of Apollo,  the first dream doctor of ancient Greece. Asklepios Essentially the feminine is now discarded. His anima morphs into a man. This suggests the author was probably dealing with a much deeper problem, one where the feminine is too powerful and must be degraded.

Maybe the symptom of this attitude is to be seen in the fact that Philip had five marriages. None of the women in his life were able to carry his unconscious feminine, nor could he. This is the tragedy to which Philip hints. He says that his tutor pointed out “the compulsion or fate lying ahead of me–is a darkening, a gathering gloom, which is a good description of my underlying melancholia (p. 31)”. When we cannot embrace the inner world of the archetypes and find a way of integrating them, of becoming androgynous in a sense, we have a tragic fate. We are out of balance and that leads to death,  if it is not corrected. We see this in the myth of Asklepios, whose doctoring skills were so good that Death (Hades) felt cheated of his justly acquired shades (the spirits of the dead) and demanded the life of Asklepios in return for the damage he had done to the Unnamed One (Hades). Zeus is a just god and took the life of Asklepios, who, from that time on, only appeared in dreams.

Balancing the opposites is absolutely necessary. It is the treasure hard to attain, but worthy of attaining nonetheless. Philip K. Dick was given that opportunity at age 46. He died eight years later of a stroke.

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Gurdjieff’s 82 ”rules of life”

These are good general guidelines which I can recommend. Each needs to be adapted to the individual, but most are accurate spiritual suggestions. And each one could be a daily meditation. If you like Meetings with Remarkable Men, here’s Gurdjieff’ advice to his daughter.

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