Tag Archives: guilt

… re-framing the seven deadly sins …

                 Pogo. Walt Kelly 1971

The timeless insight of mystics was frequently censured by prevailing orthodoxies and only available to a few scholars. But even though mystical writings have been made available over the last two centuries, readers form a minority. Meister Eckhart’s quote – “The Eye with which I see God is the same Eye with which God sees me,” – implies that we envision inherent archetypal ideals to then realise and embody them within.

In the projected mirror we may see love, kindness, compassion and forgiveness reflected, or, depending on our state of mind, or, we may equally see indifference, rejection and severe judgement. What if our goodness is not rewarded? What if love betrays and we turn anger inwards? What if we battle with resentment, find fault with everything and despise sanctimonious people? The same process applies; we absorb what is mirrored via our inherent imaginative power.

To direct the moral education of citizen, spiritual offences were formulated in Greek monastic circles and coined as The Seven Deadly Sins: gluttony, lust, avarice, sadness, anger, acedia (not to care), vainglory, and pride. Over time theologians made various changes – the sin of sadness became sloth, and then Pope Gregory reduced the list in descending order to: pride, envy, gluttony, lust, anger, greed and sloth. To counteract sins, virtues were advised as humility, kindness, abstinence, chastity, patience, liberality and diligence, qualities not easy to live up to from day to day, while The deadly sins instilled fear and guilt … and left deep cultural marks, self-blame being the most destructive.

Self-blame makes for turbulent minds. Only scapegoats will ease the burden. Among all regulars a perfect scapegoat served Christianity well – Eve. The collective psyche contains not only unknown riches, but also stuff we disregard (much like the plastic that accumulates in oceans,) thoughts and deeds behind our facades we won’t acknowledge or take responsibility for, and instead conveniently place on the shoulders of suitable others.

 “Projections change the world into the replica of one’s own unknown face.”  Carl Jung

Balancing Freud’s focus on pathology, Abraham Maslow studied self-actualising people and outlined a hierarchy of basic human needs. His map suggests when an early need is not adequately fulfilled; narcissistic or psychosomatic symptoms may result, blocking growth. Little is up to us. Families rarely support this process, as they can be burdened by complexes and dysfunctional behaviour patterns from one generation to the next.

‘The proper time to influence the character of a child is about a hundred years before he’s born.’  – William. R. Inge

No wonder many of us resort to blaming circumstances, parents, state, strangers, or appease all by adopting self-blame. Then again, some people rise from grim circumstances and become inspiring people. What’s their secret? It’s my guess that a strong desire for gratification, bestowed by a no personal archetypal calling, can empower us to transcend seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

The idea of deadly sins put the fear of hell in people. Sinner you were not deemed worthy to enter paradise. But if we consider that human behaviours communicates intrinsic needs that seek fulfillment in the expanding spiral of evolution towards wholeness, the very idea of using sin as a threat is naïve, and more, counterproductive. Here a short look at the deadly sins …

PRIDE – an excessive belief in one’s abilities and ignorance of the grace of God. 

This relates to an evolutionary trend of our time, individuation – becoming who we can be – best attempted with the mediation of a healthy ego. This process happens mainly in the West and is frowned upon by fundamentalists whose ideals are fixed on heaven. Where tradition equates with identity, displeasing the expectations of family and state carries a risk of alienation. The challenge of freeing oneself emotionally, intellectually and spiritually then becomes heroic. It means sticking to one’s inner truth against all objections and raised eyebrows. It means regard for the potential that is emerging in oneself and others. I grok these words by my Sufi friend, from a lecture during the 1980’s …

‘The experience you have within yourself of your own separate identity, to allow right and wrong to be re-defined by you, your singular contribution, is where evolution really happens. You, by becoming yourself, can open a new wavelength. What you reflect immediately influences your environment, people close and far away.’ (Fazal I. Khan)

Those who break free from parental commands when their inner truth is compromised do not seek union in the womb, but aim to experience conscious union through embodying their ideals. Life brings along companions who recognise the authenticity and backbone it takes to walk this path, even if it seems foolish and brings no answers. Yes, pride may sneak in, but equally gratitude, humility, and acknowledgement of the interdependence of all life.

ENVY – desire for the status and abilities we see in others and want for ourselves. The need is to emulate, to find aspirations that resonate within. From early on we are looking for role models to reflect our potential. If such recognition is withheld or distorted, the need can take possession of us, with all the consequences of being rejected, belittled, abused, and feeling ill done by, until we realise our own resources. Ralph Waldo Emerson evokes in his essay on self-reliance a more helpful notion of envy:

There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better or worse as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till. The power which resides in him is new in nature, and none but he knows what that is, which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

GLUTTONY – a craving to consume more than is required. In simple terms it is a hunger that knows not what is seeks. And yes, it is bound to become an indulgence – a chasing after stimulation, information, speculation. Until the hunger knows what it seeks it will not be satisfied. The search is intense. In spiritual terms this hunger can develop into devotion.

LUST – a craving for touch, warmth, pleasure of the body and sex. The need underlying lust is a longing for intimacy and ecstasy. It often fails to satisfy, but behind the shadow of excess is the ideal, to be consumed, like the moth by the flame.

ANGER – results from frustration and is all too human. Sadly, when our existence is denied, or we experience and witness injustice, yet lack opportunities to express anger creatively, this powerful energy will make us ill or explode in rage. That said, even conscious resistance is a creative act. We are endowed with natural aggression to even make it here. Each one of us results from the fastest sperm, the one that made it. Oppression and cold rationality feed anger. If repressed, anger takes us over.

GREED is also based on the desire for recognition. If the experience of being seen, heard and appreciated is missing, we must find opportunities to succeed in something.

SLOTH used to be called sadness – brought on by a sense of meaninglessness. Change wants to happen but one is helpless to act. These days depression is a collective phenomenon. On a personal level not acting could be seen as fear of failure, though often it is the necessary dark phase for a kind of alchemy in the psyche that leads to new wings.

What if we have satisfied our basic needs? The horizon is never reached. Beyond every horizon is another. This includes the horizons of our mind, beyond which we hope to find purpose. We go on journeys, outer, inner, to find out why we are here. But the search never ends. We take drugs to kill this yearning, this question of ‘why’, because we can’t face that maybe the only purpose is the search.

‘The ideal is the means; its breaking is the goal.’ Hazrat Inayat Khan

And yet, the search liberates. The attachments we have to right and wrong, to good and evil, to our own importance, blocks our search for new meaning, prevents us from living with intensity. Our most precious and vital scripture is nature, life itself.

These thoughts were drafted eleven years ago. I would have liked to come up with a fuller gestalt to make my point, but presently I enjoy a holiday in psychic wilderness.

And today’s Haiku …

Devils besiege us

As do angelic spirits

Both hold their best truth

While we are mediators

In the psychic wilderness

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Autsch

Autsch

Finding this photo reminded me of how I kept bloodying my knees on the sharp stones of circumstances, and still do. My hope for a warmer communication with my father was dashed. He revived, and with it a fierce need for control. Lines by Dylan Thomas come to mind:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light …

Humans are mortal, but maybe humanity as a whole is immortal, and particularly its desire to find a meaningful answer to the circus of life.

‘Mein Freund, die Zeiten der Vergangenheit // Sind nur ein Buch mit sieben Siegeln. // Was ihr den Geist der Zeiten heißt, // Das ist im Grund der Herren eigner Geist, // In dem die Zeiten sich bespiegeln.’  –                                                                 Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust (I)

Just like the human brain receives and conducts thoughts and ideas (like a radio,) so genes may receive and conduct what a psychic seedpod brings along at conception, that is – familiar patterns drawn to new constellations as through a mathematical time-grid (astrology may not be far off) – so that our realities are really mirrored from other spheres.

Via this psychic seedpod our story seem to arrive with template personality types, whose potentials and constraints determine our genes, not the other way around, at least not until the body’s biochemical traffic assumes a habitual force. With the psychic seedpod comes a pack of shadows – talents, passions, traumas, hurts or humiliation engendered by generations before us. With this pack also come tasks: to tie up loose ends, and to redeem faults not of our making.

From the start out endowment attracts projections, like a magnet, coercing us to oblige the projectors. Forget about being right, about justice. The secret of transforming energy and doing better than those before us lies in responding to situations, even when our habituated cell-traffic unconsciously demands a knee-jerk reaction. Awareness slips easily. Faith by itself does not help the evolution of human qualities. Insight, humility and patience are also needed, but often lost when buried emotions pop up.

My father’s constitutional short fuse with the world at large had over time found creative outlets, but his recent outburst hooked me into early experiences of feeling manipulated and made small by anger that belonged elsewhere. I became his nearest Blitzableiter (lightning conductor.) A personal scar opened. Autsch.

Recovering in Munich last week, the fragment of a poem prodded to be recalled. Back home, I reached for my Richard Wilhelm edition of the I Ging – Das Buch der Wandlungen. Opening a page at random, the fragment I was trying to recall showed up as a footnote. Romantic poets may have lacked irony, but they often touched on a pulse of wisdom … these lines from the last stanza of ‘Die Ideale’ by Friedrich Schiller:

… Beschäftigung, die nie ermattet,
Die langsam schafft, doch nie zerstört,
Die zu dem Bau der Ewigkeiten
Zwar Sandkorn nur für Sandkorn reicht,
Doch von der großen Schuld der Zeiten
Minuten, Tage, Jahre streicht.

The quirky translation is mine …

… Activity that never tires                                                                                                                                       Slowly creates but never wrecks                                                                                                                                      That to the houses of eternity                                                                                                                                  Only sand grain by sand grain gives                                                                                                                             Yet wipes from the great guilt of times                                                                                                                   Minutes, days, years –

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I wish I had the patience and good humour of my little Garden Buddha …

*    *    *

Even ‘Brexit’ and the realisation that the good old UK is really a Divided Kingdom leaves my Buddha smiling.

The deeper problem – a runaway capitalism all over the world, makes people angry. The solution is pretty clear to me – give every citizen a basic wage, so they won’t have to go begging from the state every time they experience hardship or are out of a job.

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… the ones who walk away …

Ursula Le Guin’s short metafiction, ‘The Ones who Walk Away from Omelas,’ first published in 1973, had its 40th anniversary last year. My first reading, when Google and book review sites were non-existent, left a deep impression. This week’s re-reading, once, twice, three times – the story deserves it – made me curious as to what other readers might have made of it. Obsessing in a web-crawl I came upon predominantly moral interpretations, which I distinctly remember resisting, though these associations are understandable. The way our systems deal with the unadjusted tends to appease the troubled conscience for the rest of us normal citizens.

For me, there were deeper complexities in this brilliant piece of writing. I decided to share my thoughts and tempt those of you who don’t know the story to read it and derive their own insights. I’ll use spoilers, so if you want to read the story first, here is a link: http://genius.com/Ursula-k-le-guin-the-ones-who-walk-away-from-omelas-annotated

… With a clamor of bells that set the swallows soaring, the Festival of Summer came to the city of Omelas, bright-towered by the sea …  

Childhood, Thomas Cole, 1842

Childhood, Thomas Cole, 1842

We are shown a charming city where order and harmony reign, a city well-protected in a bay, resembling a womb. Reality is suspended. There’s a sense of timelessness. It is a civilised place, decorous, joyful, without hierarchy. No king, no swords, no slaves … no power games. Utopia comes to mind, the idea of eternal life – the eternal innocent child.

No science has yet dispelled the vision of a haven without strive, where everyone is happy. In the wake of traumatising wars and unspeakable atrocities, there are always attempt to re-create places like Omelas, attempts to soften the reality of birth and death, the extremes of joy and pain, nature, the cosmos our life depends on and which we try to fathom. But since our spiritual lore cautions that life is an illusion – an ornament that covers ultimate truth we can’t perceive with our senses, we get anxious when life becomes too comfortable.

The narrating voice, anticipating our scepticism, invites us to fill in the sketches of this perfect democracy. We are told, ‘They were not simple folks, you see, though they were happy.’ After all, Omelas may strike some as goody-goody. Smiles, bells, parades, horses, bleh. ‘If so please add an orgy.’ More delightful pleasures are suggested – celebrating life, with one significant addition, ‘One thing I know there is none of in Omelas is guilt.’

In contrast, the voice notes the bad habit of a different place, where pedants and sophisticates consider happiness as something rather stupid. ‘Only pain is intellectual, only evil interesting … the treason of the artist: a refusal to admit the banality of evil and the terrible boredom of pain.’ The voice insists that the citizens of Omelas were mature, intelligent, passionate people whose lives were not wretched.

The Festival of Summer has begun. ‘Do you believe?’ the narrator asks. ‘Do you accept the festival, the city, the joy? NO? Then let me describe one more thing.’

And there it is, the secret lurking out of sight, a child, kept in the darkness of a tiny cellar room, with only a faint ray of hope based on a dull memory. The child is not driven out of the city, like the traditional scapegoat, but contained below ground; there to absorb everyone’s fear of reality and its cruel justice, embodying, maybe, submerged histories, rather like the depths of the iceberg below water keeps its peak afloat in the light.

… They all know it is there, all the people of Omelas. Some of them have come to see it; others are content merely to know it is there. They all know that it has to be there. Some of them understand why, and some do not, but they all understand that their happiness, the beauty of their city, the tenderness of their friendships, the health of their children, the wisdom of their scholars, the skill of their makers, even the abundance of their harvest and the kindly weathers of their skies, depend wholly on the child’s abominable misery …

Terms are clear, should this child be freed, the beauty would wither and be destroyed. The pragmatic solution seems such: One punished and suffering child is meant to redeem the rest from coming to terms with their inherited sins and traumas.

To leave this comfortable enclave of Omelas means leaving security and loved ones behind. It requires crossing mountains, stepping into the unknown, with no charm against collective guilt.

Omelas’ citizens are free to look at the unacceptable child. While reactions, those of young ones mainly, vary from disgust to outrage, most accept the necessity of this child’s sacrifice, though some fall quiet and leave Omelas in the middle of night, alone.

For me the child is there to serve cohesion, symbolizing a lid on the unconscious, primitive, wild aspects of the psyche. Isn’t dis-ease a loss of order and rhythm? If you judge this pragmatism harshly, consider the purpose of trip-switches in an electricity-wired house. Or, consider how people under social or dictatorial pressure may choose to safeguard the lives of their loved ones at the cost of betraying their knowing heart.

Le Guin does not condone staying or leaving Omelas, she provides no answers. I am one of those who walked away, many times, always at a cost, because I preferred guilt to shame. C G Jung developed the concept of individuation, hoping for it to expand collective consciousness from the inside out, through the individual, sometimes involving a precarious personal journey, going through a process of separating psychologically from parents, state, authority, to become whole. Like in the Zen story where the seeker eventually returns, better able to serve the community. While a single brain does not survive its limited life-span, the collective memory of matter, and each human experience lives on and is transmitted to every new-born life.

Each one of us carries the traumas of our histories, though not everyone has the opportunity to redeem such wounds, contribute new ideas, or explore different states of being. What drives one to walk away from the familiar – is it inner conflict, allegiance to one’s heart, fear to upset the order, the need for a wider perspective, or simply a calling? We bond to the systems we grow up in, in cases we adjust our behaviour in order to emotionally survive, along with the implicit bargain to keep quiet about the shit, our shit, others’ shit, and how we deal with all the shit.

There are those who leave a comfortable place and those who stay. Maybe a balance between conservative forces that protect structures and revolutionary forces that seek change is necessary. Not everyone, for example, can face existential pain and futility without succumbing to psychosis. There is a case for Festivals of Summer, sport, drugs, ecstasy, trance …

Was the power of the imagination born from fear of mortality? Is this why we envisage dystopias or utopias, and, ultimately, scenarios that make us feel in control of our destiny?

What we hide from ourselves and from each other often relates to our most prominent outcast, the neglected inner child, so embarrassing to the adult world. This child in Omelas seems to embody the ongoing ritual of shame for walking from Eden into the dawn of creation, a reality burdened with consciousness, and free will that frequently misses the mark, but, heck, is the very process of becoming human.

My naïve hope is that we can learn to embrace our all too human failures, show patience with our children, stop seeking blame and end scapegoating, yet also acknowledge our individual and collective need for comfortable realities … protecting us … from what?

Here a quote from a former friend and teacher, Fazal Inayat-Khan … taken from a lecture on Reality:

‘For the whole collective of the human mind – outside that self-created reality there is a storm. That storm – that wind – that pressure – that influence and space is for our existence and permanency completely annihilating and destructive … our assignment outward is because of a deep decay … Reality is a veil that is spun with the finest and thinnest and strongest silk. It weighs nothing – it covers a little darker area behind – and yet the moment when you reach out with your hand to draw the veil away it will skin your hand till blood is drawn.’ 

To fill this emptiness we assign our meaning outward. Call it the human project. Sorry to trouble you, my friends, but the function of reality is worth contemplating, and, in my view, Ursula Le Guin’s story does just that.

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