Tag Archives: S. Freud

… 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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… give the poor ego a break …

Image by Daphne Jo Grant, created for my poetry collection in 1993 -Gapsy Truth.

Image by Daphne Jo Grant, created for my poetry collection in 1993 -Gapsy Truth.

I’m all for shielding the Ego from moral experts who succumb to counter-transference. Proverbs, turned inner voices, instruct: Put yourself last, be considerate, don’t let people down, adapt, respect trade-off laws, keep promises – the inner voices more or less prescribe what’s in your best interest to feel, think and do.

Noisy commotions, muddling any sense of ‘I.’

The poor ego not only holds awareness of our multifaceted reality, but is driven to distraction by conflicting demands, assumptions, chimeras of grandeur, bouts of doubt, all drowning the whisper deep down – ‘Who or what am I really ?’

‘Part of me suspects that I’m a loser, and the other part of me thinks I’m God Almighty.’  – John Lennon

John summed up the typical seesaw compensation attempt. Adding insult to injury, self interest is blamed for our social ills. Even astute spiritual wisdom falls flat when it fails to appreciate the ego’s task – to daily create new order out of chaos, attempting a compromise with reality. No wonder people become nervous wrecks when their temporary identifications are threatened, no wonder fierce defences are constellated. The battered ego-agent screams silently – I’m only loyal to my familiars.

Some familiar rituals guarantee a  child experiencing rejection, physically, emotionally or intellectually, will self-reject for failing the expectations of its superiors. Welcoming or neglecting, early responses by adults we depend upon set foundation for our personality. Break that mirror and you’re on your own.

Maps serve us as orientation, they don’t convey territory. S. Freud’s map of the psyche is powerful. Think of the Id as a Launchpad to stars. What Freud omitted is a higher unconsciousness, our inner guidance and intuition, later introduced by C. G. Jung and A. Assagioly

Freud’s ideas deserve studying. His terms slipped into common speech like brands and became tangled.

Leviathan

Leviathan

Take the ego construct. Sandwiched between the powerful gratification-force of the Id, in need of gentle and firm boundaries, and a cultural Super-ego, with its rules and regulations, the Ego has the unrewarding task of mediator. The Id, at worst, is a heap of misery dragged along, withholding its energy, while the Super-ego, at worst, hijacks personalities like a psycho terrorist, know–it-all, manipulator, fanatic …  having abandoned the powerless inner child with its distressing and embarrassing need for acceptance and love.

And let’s not fool ourselves, distorted ideals attach themselves to well-disguised tyrants in the collective psyche, slumbering, until the day when circumstances conspire.

Children who grow up anxious to placate, or are bent against authority, invent ingenious strategies for survival. Fragile or strong, balanced or torn by extremes, developing a personality is an art form, assembled from layers upon layers of impressions and accumulated memories. Only increased awareness lessens over-identification and softens defences.

‘The paradox of the arts is that they are all made up and yet they allow us to get at truths about who, and what we are or might be’. –   Seamus Heaney

creative recycling

creative recycling

creative recycling

creative recycling

Young children need space to playact, and adolescents need safe outlets for their natural aggression, opportunities for intense experiences, and encouragement to explore their self-image. The houses of identity we create, however basic or twisted, position us in space and time. They have windows allowing a view, and doors through which to venture into a wider world and align our personal myth to a greater myth.

The problem is clearly not the personal ego, but its cultural super-edition, coloured, at least in the west, by mechanistic templates that regard nature as enemy to be conquered and controlled.

Reprimands like selfish stem from a period when inducing guilt was a convenient social formula. Today this approach is counterproductive. Educational practices must catch up with the nuclear age and the fresh metaphors for space and time. New dimensions arise in our consciousness, compelling us to re-think:

Escher's Relativity

Escher’s Relativity

Relativity theories freed perspectives and brought a climate of moral liberty. In a psychological sense, moral advice became repugnant, which explains why western minds begun to question aspects of religious dogma. A way was opened towards looking inside, and individuation, in a Jungian sense.

Quantum physics has widened our vision further, and brought deep spiritual turmoil through new speculations that suggest a symbolic reality of consciousness that over a hundred years ago would only have been imagined by a minority – mainly mystics.

The Digital revolution has upset linear time and is gradually transforming our relationship with time and space, leading us to ask, ‘What is real?’

A mould, no matter how inadequate, is necessary for any new-born. Judging behaviour without acknowledging the initial and well-meaning intentions underlying the formation of personality will only strengthens neuroses, instead of allowing the acceptance of one’s imperfect self-creation, with a nudge towards a gradual softening of defences.

‘Form is a relic of eternal potential.’ – Fazal Inayat-Khan

This post contains excerpts pulled from past articles that were never published.

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