Control and Resistance

March 30, 2014

Sometimes I think a good metaphor for my life is that of a nursery surrounded by a mystery. It seems that each time I leave the nursery to explore the mystery I am jettisoned back to the nursery again.

This time it began with a visit to the dentist. About a year and half ago I had a root canal and the filling had been gradually wearing away. I had ignored it for as long as possible but it was becoming sensitive and my hygienist appointment was due so I decided to try and combine the two visits.

When I made the appointment I was not convinced that the receptionist had really understood my request, “I want to see the hygienist followed by a half hour appointment with the dentist.” However to seemed no big deal and following my recent journey with impatience I decided that I could let go of my need for control and make a second appointment if necessary. I was prepared for a loss of control or so I thought.

When I arrived the receptionist was tidying magazines, placing them in neat rows on the table. “Nothing obsessive compulsive about you”, I quipped. She laughed and replied that it was her job. Then a stranger wearing a lab coat who had been standing at the entrance to the surgery said without any introduction, “I’m ready for you now.” I froze, “Who are you? I am here to see Erin; you’re not Erin. I don’t want to go with you.”

I presumed they had substituted my regular hygienist for this stranger, (forgetting not to make assumptions). She explained that she was the dentist’s nurse and he wanted to replace my filling before I saw the hygienist.

I relaxed and followed her like an obedient sheep behind a shepherd smiling to myself as I knew a complex had engaged. “How was your day before I spoiled it?” I enquired. “Well I think that is the first time anyone has refused to accompany me”, she smiled. “The first person who was not six years old” I responded.

One of the positives of my commitment to unravel my own psychology is that I no longer judge myself too much for these autonomous reactions that CG Jung referred to as “splinter personalities”. Whenever I behave in a manner that does not make sense, I can see a child’s reaction under the surface. In that moment I became six years old again.  I think it helps me to immediately own what has happened and bring it into the light. My humour helps to defuse any embarrassment or shame that arises while at the same time I commit to an exploration of the complex.

So what happened? Why did this incident cause a complex to engage so spontaneously ?

Clearly it is connected to my misunderstanding of the situation; this caused me to feel anxiety about an unexpected and unapproved change. Obviously this is once again about my old friend control. My plan has been changed. I am no longer in control. I am again a powerless child in the face of the powerful other. At the heart of my reaction is a six year olds reaction to overwhelment.

This time rather than the impatience and frustration I felt at Puerto Vallarta airport, my response is resistance. I don’t want to go with her. Immediately the image of a six year old being taken to school by his mother for the first time pops into my mind. He refuses to enter the grounds until a teacher takes his hand. Then he runs away every day much to the consternation of his older brother who hated being made late. My sense of control was obviously threatened by school.

It fascinates me that even as a six year old I developed the coping mechanism of control to try and deal with my environment. Having a younger sibling I became independent at an early age. I have spent sixty-five years refining my control mechanisms now I am beginning to deconstruct them. First impatience now resistance, I can hardly wait to find out what’s next.

As Dorianne Laux says in her beautiful poem Break, “We put the puzzle together piece by piece loving how each curved notch fits so sweetly into another.”

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Control and Impatience

March 28, 2014

I am feeling content; I had just enjoyed a delicious ten days in Mexico, the weather was perfect; I had caught an early bus to the airport so had lots of time; I had no baggage to check and had checked in on line. All I needed was to print my boarding pass and the airport hassles would be over. When I arrived at the airport it seemed comfortably peaceful, that was until I arrived at the United Airlines check-in. It was chaotic, disorganized and the line stretched down for what seemed a mile down the airport concourse.

Smugly I strolled by the line searching for the automated boarding pass printer. There wasn’t one! So I looked for the line for those with no baggage to check. There wasn’t one of those either. Reluctantly I walked back to the end of a line that was now even longer. My good mood began to dissipate. The problem with having expectations is that they can be easily dashed. I began to follow a relentless spiral that gradually sapped my good humour, leaving me anxious, angry and extremely impatient with United Airlines. Every other airline seemed to offer an automated boarding pass printing and no-one else had a lineup.

For a moment I worked at controlling my emotions. “Breathe,” I told myself, ‘You’ve had twenty years of spiritual practice to help you cope in moments like this.” But I just wanted to feel impatient and I gave my feelings permission to emote. I noticed myself enjoying creating civil unrest among my fellow passengers sucking them into my vortex of frustration. We were sharing the pain. The line inched forward. They added a third person. I knew there was no real issue with time as they would not leave us behind but I would forfeit my opportunity for a pre-flight Starbucks. Who did United Airlines think they were spoiling my euphoria? Of course the plane was late but by then I was over it. Like a kid who had exhausted himself I was now docile.

It was not until the next day that I began a post mortem of my reaction. Why can’t I learn patience? Logically I know being impatient serves no-one; it does not make a jot of difference to the outcome so why do I still do it. I remember a scene twenty years earlier standing in an organized line for check-in in Kathmandhu with all the other westerners for two hours, only to observe the line collapse in a frenzy when they opened the wicket which was swarmed by the late arriving Nepalese. I recall thinking at the time that the universe wanted me to learn patience so how come twenty years later despite all the work I had undertaken feeling no further ahead.

It was disappointing even downright humiliating. I decided this was worthy of enquiry. My commitment on this earth walk is to do my best to unravel my psychology. Why was I not able to learn patience? An insight emerged by just asking the question. I had been expecting spiritual practice to be the solution however I had never explored the psychology behind my impatience. So a journey began. It led me to an insightful blog titled Personality and Spirituality by a psychologist who goes by the name of barry. (http://personalityspirituality.net/articles/the-michael-teachings/chief-features/impatience/)

It described the misconceptions that lead to impatience: “it’s unfair, the rest of the world is ahead”, “life is short, I am wasting time”, “there is no time for delays”, and “slowing me down is unacceptable.” I related particularly to the first two perspectives. The blog went on to suggest that the fear beyond the fear was the child’s fear of missing out. This made sense and I felt a sense of progress. Was this what I had needed to understand?

It was a few days later at the gym that like the ball on a roulette wheel another insight slotted into place. It is my custom to listen to eminent Jungian analyst James Hollis while on the treadmill and recently I have been playing a series of lectures from his book, What Matters Most. He was emphasising a theme of his, which is that if you keep probing the fear behind the fear, the question behind the question and the anxiety behind the anxiety, you must eventually come back to one of two core issues: abandonment or overwhelment.

I asked my self which of these may be behind my impatience and it was easy to see it must be overwhelment. Then the pattern emerged. One of my coping systems to deal with this issue is to take control. I try to eliminate ambiguity and uncertainty by exerting any power I have to manage the environment.

In the case of travel I never check luggage and I always check in on line. United Airlines autonomously removed the benefit of these tactics and I lost control. At some level I encountered the primal fear of overwhelment and the result was the child’s responses – anger, impatience and even whining. So much of my reaction is unconscious which makes it so difficult to address. I hope that by knowing this I will be able to see the autonomous responses and engage them as an adult. Perhaps now the spiritual practice of focusing on the breath can once play its ordained role.


To Put Away Childish Things part 2

March 19, 2014

As I reflected on the loss I experienced when the runes that had served me so well seemed to lose their power, (http://wp.me/phAyS-tf) I began to consider the relationship of loss, change and surrender to shifts in God concept.

The idea of having a God concept as opposed to a belief in God is one that does not sit easily with everyone. Sometimes it is difficult to entertain that something we felt so convinced about could possibly shift; there is security in the known as opposed to the unknown and the idea of change is frightening yet I have realized over my life, change has been essential for my growth. Substituting “Mystery” for God accepts the possibility of change. As the great Indian poet Tukaram expressed, “Nothing in your life will not change especially all your ideas about God.”

My first God concept was an inherited (one could suggest ‘brainwashed’) Christianity and I was a “born again” Baptist. The God I had been exposed to was a stern, unequivocal patriarch whose righteous anger had been mitigated by sending his son to die to redeem our sins. All I had to do was accept Jesus into my heart and I was saved.

Unfortunately for some unknown reason this also meant no dancing, no movies, no rock and roll, church three times on Sundays and that everyone else outside our small sect was going to hell.

At the age of thirteen I had my coming of age and I rejected what I considered an illogical, small minded, simplistic dogma and thus became my father’s worst nightmare (with all the unforeseen ramifications that are not part of this story). I recall even at that time a sense of loss; I loved prayer, it removed some of the ambiguity from life, and now I had no one to pray to. In hindsight it feels very similar to how I felt when the runes lost their power. It forced me to grow up.

I became what I described at the time as an atheist. In reflection I had actually abandoned belief in the God of my father but with no curiosity to explore outside of that tradition, I assumed I was an atheist. In fact for a time I became a rabid anti Christian attempting to persuade others from the validity of their faith. Proselytizing was obviously part of the family tradition that I had trouble abandoning.

It was not until more than twenty years later that my mind began to open to other possibilities. I began to explore the nature of my relationship with the energy of the universe. The catalyst was my second wife who had a strong sense there was more to life than my limited perspective; I began to open my eyes to new possibilities. Something that had never been discussed in my previous circle became amazingly common place, even my sister espoused beliefs that I had never imagined. In response to my question, “why had she never told me?” she responded, “You wouldn’t have been interested.” Something I had to admit sadly was true.

My experimentation with the idea of setting intention and trusting the universe to support that intention became the key to what appeared to be amazing manifestation. The universe became my giant candy store. I could have anything I wanted. This perspective has been the subject of many successful marketing programs. “The Secret” was probably the most renowned.

Yet this too had to pass. and eventually it lost its energy for me. I realized that the universe desired more from me; there was some form of reciprocal expectation. Through an astonishing series of events (see http://wp.me/phAyS-bO) I awoke to a new belief. I was not a human being having a spiritual experience rather I was a spiritual being having a human one.

Once again I had to give something up. This time it was the irresponsible manifestation of what I wanted. It was replaced by a search for meaning and purpose.

A pattern began to develop. Each shift in God concept was accompanied by a loss of something and a search for the new. Renowned Jungian analyst and author James Hollis refers to it like this, “When for whatever reason this energy no longer enlivens that image for us then that structure or concept or experience dies for us as a source of the divine, what remains is a dead myth or ritual that no longer touches or moves us. The energy has departed leaving a dry husk.” The dry husk that Hollis refers to was always replaced by a bud of possibility.

The next God concept that emerged was truly surprising to me. It took a broken ankle to drag me kicking and screaming back to Christianity in the form of the Unity Church. The key came from a passage in the book the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying: by Sogyal Rinpoche. He suggested that too many new age Christians were spiritual flirts, “pick a path any path.” His encouragement was to go deeper; I overcame my resistance and returned to my roots.

This new thought Christianity attracted and engaged me and for three years I studied, reflected and went to the Unity School of Religious Studies. I was convinced I had found my spiritual home yet this too ran its course. The Unity God became too much like the God of my childhood. A nicer, modernized, more feminine version but still too simplistic and black and white. Basically God did not judge but your own consciousness did. Positive relationship, finances and health accrued to a formula of having the appropriate consciousness in place. Once more the energy was lost and the symbol became a husk and it was time to move on.

Once again there was a real sense of loss. I had loved this much healthier concept of God; in fact I appreciated the idea that my consciousness was the arbiter of my heath, prosperity and relationships but once the energy had gone, I had to move on.

I moved on to a broader concept of Christianity attending theological college and intellectualizing the different concepts of God within Christianity but it led to a dead end. The loss was immediate and traumatic. The realization there was no quick fix. Prayer and spiritual practice went so far and no further. It was time to forsake the Pollyanna perspective of so many religious and spiritual traditions and grow up.

I entered an expanded world. I enrolled in a program called The Art of Spiritual Guidance. It expanded my awareness to Sufism, Jewish mysticism and Buddhism. The heart became a priority. I learned Arabic practices plus most importantly I learned about Carl Jung. The world of depth psychology opened to me and everything took an amazing shift. I realized that for me spirituality without psychology was nonsense.

My new God concept became much more connected to the divine within. I began to focus on the nature of inner wisdom. Exploring my intuition through dreams, signs, synchronicities and oracles such as runes became a focus. I also studied the nature of my personality. For a time I lost any sense of the Divine as transcendent. I realize in retrospect that I developed a dependence. I was trying to remove ambiguity and uncertainty from my life and the runes became a tool to achieve this. Unwittingly I had assumed a contract with God, “I draw a rune and it will tell me the right course of action.”

The shift began last August. I recall reading Brian Swimme’s description of the divine. “The powers that built the universe are ultimately mysterious, issuing forth from and operating out of the mystery. These are the most awesome and numinous in the universe. Humans are these dynamics brought into self awareness.” Brian is a mathematical cosmologist who teaches evolutionary cosmology at the California Institute of Integral Studies in California. His interpretation resonated with me.

At the same time I was introduced to the ancient story of Job through both James Hollis and author and poet Steven Mitchell. It helped me see the futility of assuming a contract with God. This was supported in Terence Malick’s amazing movie Tree of Life. He begins the movie with a beautiful passage from Job, “where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth… while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?” For a moment when watching his astonishing visual cinematic art of evolution I experienced something numinous, ineffable yet totally real and it changed me.

A new God concept emerged. It had three pillars: to unravel my own psychology, to explore my relationship with the Mystery and to serve where I am called. At the time I did not realize there was something I had to give up. Now I realize I had to surrender this implied contract with God. In hindsight I realize I had a great deal of resistance and the energy had departed from the runes long before I appreciated the change.

I realize the universe is a complex and mystical place. It seems for every step forward there is a loss yet I also see how elements of old God concepts are maintained in the new. At each shift I grow up and perhaps let go of childish things. I sense it will lead me to deeper levels of responsible discernment. The adventure carries on.


To Put Away Childish Things – part 1

March 8, 2014

I am staring out of my window at a gloriously sunny February day; in the background are the mountains glistening with new snow. I feel more than miffed. Last night I was already to go, bag packed, a place to stay, skis, boots and poles at the ready. Yet here I am looking at it. It is the consummate ski day and I am not there.

My plan was to arise early and be on the road by six. To make it worse I receive an email from a friend who also assessed the potential and is already there. What happened to my power of discernment? I feel betrayed by my own inner guidance that at the last moment caused me to change my mind.

It takes me all morning to shake my disgruntled feelings and adjust my attitude. This at least led to a productive day however it was not until the evening that I was prepared to explore the inner journey that had transpired.

For a number of years I have tried to live my life from the inside out. What I mean by that is that I do my best to assess the guidance that is emanating from my Higher Self/Soul/Psyche. I do this by following signs, synchronicity, serendipity, dreams and sometimes oracles. It has given me an immense sense of satisfaction dropping into the flow of a soul directed life.

I have become accustomed to pulling a rune to verify my decisions. (Runes are an oracle based on Norse symbols recently popularized by Ralph Blum.) They have been remarkably effective at ensuring I book flights at the right time, avoid undesirable situations, and have over the years saved me hundreds of dollars. The evening before my planned ski trip I checked in with the runes and drew a very negative result. It gave me pause; I wondered if the highway may prove dangerous or the weather problematic. When I woke the next morning the rain was pounding on the skylight, recalling the rune I turned over and went back to sleep.

As a result I missed the best day of the year! What did this mean? On the one hand I could accept that for some unknown reason I was not supposed to go; it would be about trust. On the other I could be facing a need to re-evaluate my relationship with how I use runes. Eminent Jungian Analyst and author James Hollis suggests that once the energy has left the image it becomes nothing but a dry husk. Was I being asked to change? I decided I it was time to begin an enquiry.

My first step was to consult the oracle in question and ask whether this was about trust or change. The rune I pulled was very clear, “Movement” – rune of transit and transitions, new movement, new attitudes or a new life, a relationship may need to change.

I knew immediately it was time to let go of runes as a simple decision-making tool. I noticed a sense of resistance and anxiety to this idea. It was a sure sign of a shift being required. I could sense how dependant I had become on their use. I would defer responsibility for my decisions and blindly follow the response. Upright meant yes, reverse meant no.

They had served me well but it was time to move on. It still felt appropriate to use the runes as a spiritual practice supporting me as a tool of spiritual exploration but not to make decisions on buying tickets or going skiing. It was time to practice and explore a deeper discernment.

I sensed that this transition had begun some time ago but it took the loss of a perfect ski day to get my attention.  On the Soul Journey there are many steps, stages and stations and what was useful and served us at one time may eventually lose its power. The words of St. Paul came to me, “When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things.” It was time to grow a little.