Self-Dialogues

“Developing self dialogues does not mean analyzing yourself, criticizing yourself or problem solving; nor is it attempting to resolve conflicts. Process is the interaction of all of our living selves. The goal is experiencing ourselves in all of our biological richness.

Aspects of the self do not exist in isolation, but in interaction. One does not experience a single aspect of the self apart from others, but it’s possible to experience their pattern of cooperation or non-cooperation.”

Living Your Dying
Stanley Keleman.

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Why I talk about Star Trek

This is a blog about scientology, and the larger phenomenon of cults and spiritual abuse and exploitation. So, why do I have posts about Star Trek episodes, and little movie and book reviews as well? Is this a serious blog, for serious Watchers, or is it just a place to have fun and get a little light entertainment? What is the deal here?

I try to have a bit of fun with this blog, even though I started it for a serious reason, and I am serious about the ideas that I am offering to you, my readers. I don't take this endeavor lightly, at all. However, that might not be readily apparent from the way that I organize and present things here. My style is conversational and casual. I am not that interested in impressing you with my ability to generate important-sounding academic arguments, or invoke various authorities with citations and quotes. I have no desire to assert any authority to my ideas beyond their immediate value and interest to you. I am not trying to persuade or dictate a way of thinking, although I share my opinions freely and without qualification. I am interested in making you think, and sharing my ideas in a way that might help us both to gain new insight and understanding. Among the posts on this blog are what might look like reviews of episodes from tv series such as Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. I hope upon reading, it is clear that those posts are not really about a TV show, or anything that superficial. I like to use pop culture references as a basis for exploring ideas that go far deeper than that. I have a very good reason for doing this, and it has to do with the idea of a modern mythological lexicon. I think that, rather than use references to “classical” mythical figures and scenarios in order to illuminate subtle concepts, it is far more powerful to use the myths and metaphors that people interact with on a daily basis, sometimes quite avidly, and always with an innate understanding of what these myths and metaphors speak of. We do not need to study these “texts” (I include audio/visual media under that term) in order for them to be alive to us, the way that we must be trained in the “classical” canon of images and stories that form the basis of our official literary lexicon.

It is not a new idea, this concept of a modern mythos rooted in pop culture. It has been done a lot, but I feel that it is helpful for me to clarify what my intentions are in using these pop culture images and stories. This is not a blog about television shows, or movies, or books, or other blogs; although I have posted about all of those things. Everything that I offer here is something that I have found to illuminate the matter of cults and spiritual violation in some way. It is not always a straight line from what I post to the matter of ending the abuses of the cult known as the “church” of scientology. But that is deliberate, I would rather just shine a light on the entire matter and let the people figure it out themselves. So much of our true learning occurs in the process of making out the shape of things for ourselves. It is for you to decide how the various topics that I address in my posts might be relevant to a scientology watcher, an ex-scientologist, or someone still in who is seriously examining the conduct of their religion and their own thinking as a member of that religion. Sometimes, it may be that my intention is simply to offer you a laugh or a moment of insight as a respite from the more serious stuff. Still, that may be where you find the things most meaningful to you personally, regardless of my intention.

I wish you the joy of learning, discovery, and insight, as you explore what I offer here.

Peace.

 

Still Watching…

“Clairvoyance”. Digital sketch, by the author, 2014

Venusia Blog is back!

We have been dormant here for more than a year. Cult-watching is not my only vocation, or even my primary one. I am an artist and I have been happily occupied learning a new medium — digital painting. I am also a mom, and a wife, and daughter, and a friend — these things have happily occupied my time as well. So much so that I simply could not justify dedicating the time necessary for writing blog posts that would be worth reading. I have maintained the blog, tracking comments, etc. So far, the posts I have written have aged well — I still think they are worth your time, and I encourage any new visitors to read them all. I was content to let those posts stand, while life kept me busy in other ways.

But, I have not forgotten about the cult known as scientology, and the evil they continue to do in the world. Everyday I check in with the Underground Bunker, Tony Ortega’s blog on scientology current events, practices and policies, and wild and wooly history. I have read several books, and written several articles that are ready for posting in the near future, and I have a lot to share with all of you on the subject of scientology, and other subjects seemingly related and unrelated. There is plenty to write about on the subject of the COS. What a year the cult has had! So many court cases are pending against Narconon. And scientology brought back the legendary retinue of lawyers when Monique Rathbun filed suit against several “church” entities, seeking relief from the relentless harassment she has suffered simply because the cult leader David Miscavige is mad at her husband, Marty.

There are a lot of things for us to talk about and look at in the ongoing saga of this abusive cult. I am looking forward to spending the summer sharing the ride with all of you good folks out there.

Peace.

 

 

The Arrogance of the Mind, and the Nature of Reality

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I have been doing a lot of scientology- and cult-related reading over the past two months. Lawrence Wright‘s book, Jenna Miscavige-Hill‘s book. I have also read R.J. Lifton’s book on the Aum cult, and Robert Kaufman’s book — the FIRST Inside Scientology. I am re-reading A Piece Of Blue Sky, and also Kate Bornstein’s memoir. Also in the mix, a book called “Rats“, and Ken Wilber’s Grace and Grit.

Also, of course, Tony Ortega‘s blog and the endlessly informative, entertaining, inspiring, and frustrating comments there. OTVIIIisGrrr8! continues to give me insight into the special brand of crazy in the RTC. Marty Rathbun‘s blog is in a liminal space that I find fascinating and informative. Then there is Jesse Prince (who I simply LOVE and want very much to meet and hug and conversate with) sharing music and humor with his friends on fb as he makes a remarkable journey back from the threshold of hell. My comments on the blogs are easy to find, and if you are my friend on facebook — well, you either know me personally, by my real name, or you are one of my favorite artist/activists.

So, that’s what I’ve been up to. And I will have some posts coming soon about the things I’ve been reading. But for now, I want to share just a little something I learned a very long time ago, from one of my most cherished teachers — a Rabbi who taught a class entitled “Contemplative Judaism” when I was a student at Naropa. Rabbi Mordecai Twersky, long-time head of the Talmudic Reasearch Institute in Denver, Co.

How an orthodox Jewish Rabbi wound up teaching a class at Naropa is an interesting story in itself. Reb Twersky explained it to us in the first or second session of class. Basically, it was a part of his process of growing into a true wisdom teacher and leader, as prescribed by his mentor and teacher. His challenge was to learn how to effectively convey his own understanding of truth as a Rabbi, to those who do not share the same basic assumptions and language that are common to all orthodox Jews.

In other words; it is easy to make your ideas clear to others who are already inclined to see things the same way as you. But true wisdom and intelligence transcend cultural programming. If you cannot express your wisdom in a way that is comprehensible to those who are truly outside your group and do not share your language and assumptions, then it is NOT a universal truth. Getting to the essential, universal core of a philosophy means understanding how it can be relevant to anyone, well enough that you can translate it into the language of those you are speaking to. In teaching us, The good Rabbi was coming to a new depth of understanding himself. I admired that.

The most important lesson that I learned from Reb Twersky was about “the arrogance of the mind”, and the importance of religious practice as a way of surrendering to a higher authority of understanding. As a freak of nature with a high IQ and great skill as a grade-grubber, and also a seeker hungry for durable truths, this was strong medicine for me. The idea that the mind has limits, profound limits, but also an arrogance that will refuse to acknowledge those limits, was galvanizing to me. Still, in my view, this did not logically correlate to the necessity of religion and submission to a higher authority. So, I had
a question for the Rabbi.

Obviously, there was a time in human history when there was no lineage of Rabbis or gurus or any other teachers, and no body of critiques, commentaries and concordances to any scriptures. What came before religion? What are the roots from which these traditions spring? What is the original, archetypal authority from which all religions must draw reference, if this philosophy holds true? What is the ultimate, basic authority, to which the mind MUST surrender its arrogance in order to remain healthy?

The Rabbi seemed a little taken aback by my question. He sputtered, and chuckled, and then he got very quiet and still and I knew I would get a real, considered response to my question. He said, “Um, well … Nature.” That was all he said, and all the answer I needed. Maintaining eye contact, I gave a soft, gasping “Ahhhhh! Yesssss… thank you!” I got it, and he knew I got it. The paper I wrote for that class, and the Rabbi’s response, affirmed that.

Do YOU get it? It is all you need to know about the true value of direct experience versus perceptions and concepts of that experience. Language versus sensation. Ideals versus intention and impact. For a Rabbi, the obvious answer would be “G-d”. But in order to convey his meaning to someone with whom he cannot assume a shared belief in the divine, he had to dig deeper and speak in terms of what can be directly experienced, in common, by us both.

For further clarification, let’s hear from Nick Herbert, quantum physicist and tantrist. In this post, Nick points out that quantum theory is the most reliably accurate in terms of predicting phenomena, yet it requires that we give up “reality”. Meaning, that comforting sense that science “proves what is real”. Read the post, and follow his link to a report on a most remarkable meeting of our leading scientific minds and their inability to agree on the nature of reality, based on their theories.

“All of the participants were leading thinkers in this field so it would be easy to imagine that they would generally agree on how to interpret quantum mechanics and the foundations of physics.

Not a bit of it. Zeilinger and co put 16 multiple choice questions to 33 participants at the Quantum Physics and the Nature of Reality conference in Austria in 2011 and found that opinions diverged wildly.

For example, in answer to the question “Do you believe that physical objects have their properties well defined prior to and independent of measurement?”, 48 per cent replied “no”, while 52 per cent replied “yes, in some cases”. A further 3 per cent said “yes in all cases” and 9 per cent were undecided (respondents were able to select more than one answer).”

–Source here

Just to clarify: only 3% of these globally recognized leading physicists were willing to say that “real” things are what they are, whether or not we see them as such, or see them at all — all the time. The rest are suggesting that at least some of the time, things are what they are because, and only when, we observe them as such. In philosophy, this is often referred to as “solipsism”, and generally rejected these days as a logical fallacy. But the science of particle physics, which has also brought us Dark Matter and Dark Energy, and the Higgs Boson, regards this as the “cautious” position.

Hmmmm…

So, my point is that this is the arrogance of the human mind: that we habitually dismiss possibilities and make dogmatic statements based on our certainty that we know what is real. The hard truth is, our thinking must always submit to our direct experience, and experience shows us that we have NO right to claim to know what is “real” and what is “impossible”. What we do have, are enormous opportunities to learn and expand our awareness and intelligence, by meeting our experience with an open and humble mind.

Keep watching, keep seeking, and keep learning.

Peace.

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[ Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments. First-time commenters, you are not being censored, I have to moderate your first post — I’ll get to them as quickly as I can.] 🙂

Engineering Consent — why do people stay in scientology’s “Hole”?

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aerial view of Scientology’s “Hole”

One of the most troublesome aspects of the scientology cult, and cults in general, is that participation is apparently voluntary. People sign up of their own free will, and they remain a part of these groups by their own choice. In discussions about scientology’s ersatz executive prison on their Int Base, widely known as “the Hole”, the point is often made that a raid or rescue effort would be pointless. Most, if not all, of the church execs being confined there would tell any investigating authority that it is their choice to be there. There are accounts of some people being physically removed to the Hole by force, but there are also accounts of people who decided to leave and successfully pushed through the cult’s resistance to get out. It is hard to explain how that qualifies as forced confinement.

This being so, then what is the problem? This is a question often raised by those with little information on the subject, and by cult apologists as well. If people have consented to the way they are being treated, can we really call it abuse or a violation of their dignity? Is there anything to criticize in scientology, when we are talking about consenting adults who have chosen to be a part of that organization, or to exercise their parental rights to bring their children into it? In fact, what the hell are all you cult critics getting so wound up about? What could be so bad? Maybe you just don’t like scientology, or new religions, or maybe you are one of those suckers who got taken and now you are holding a grudge and that’s why you make these ridiculous claims about “dangerous cults”.

These are legitimate questions, I suppose. But they are rooted in certain incorrect assumptions about human psychology and behavior. More troubling, to me, they reflect a lack of compassion and concern for other people when they are suffering by their own hand, as it were. Laying aside the question of children and young adults who are abandoned to or coerced into the cult; we must respect the fact that consenting adults can be misled, preyed upon, and defrauded. As a society, we have laws against fraud and so on, that make it clear we do not wish to live in a “dog-eat-dog” environment where predators and con-men bear no responsibility so long as they get the consent of their victims. We have declared a collective intent to protect each other and ourselves from such wrongs; through the legal system, as well as on a human level through the sharing of information, observations, and warnings.

Dismissing cults as voluntary and their victims as weak-minded or gullible is part of a comforting mindset, which allows us to believe that we could never fall victim to such a thing, because we would never consent to be exploited or preyed upon. But this attitude fails to account for the reality of human nature. In reality, our thinking and decisions are not as self-directed as we wish to believe. There are many aspects of our own minds which are necessarily unconscious, and perhaps unexplored. There are many ways and opportunities to manipulate a person’s thinking, and to leave them believing beyond a doubt that their ideas and choices are their own. This information is widely available, from authors and others who often have developed methods to take advantage of this aspect of human nature. Anyone who wishes to thrive in advertising, or in prison, or as a con-artist, or as a guru, must master these methods of manipulation, and they do.

If we are ignorant of the reality of human vulnerabilty to mental manipulation, it only makes it easier for these folks to do what they do. When we say, “that could never happen to me, my mind is my own”, the manipulators are the first ones to agree. “Yeeeesss… that’s right. No reason to examine the matter further.” Ignorance and arrogance are a very dangerous combination, and a boon to manipulative predators. With these thoughts in mind, I want to share part of a paper I came across some time ago on the Ross Institute website. It addresses psychotherapy cults, and co-counseling in particular. The part I wish to share is a section titled “The Engineering of Consent”. It is an excellent exploration of the subject, and I hope you find it informative.

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The following is an excerpt from:
“Group influence and the psychology of cultism within Re-evaluation Counselling: a critique”

By Dr. Dennis Tourish and Pauline Irving

The entire paper, including references, can be found here.

The engineering of consent

Consent or agreement with a certain theoretical orientation, freely given, implies that people retain the right to ask questions, examine alternative sources of information and review their initial commitment to the organisation concerned. What can be termed the engineering of consent threatens all these basic knowledge and action levels, undermining the right to withdraw consent and leave. Agreement is extracted through pressure, the right to question leaders is withheld, alternative sources of information are absent or ridiculed and people are systematically pressurised into escalating their level of involvement.

What has been termed ‘mind control’ operates by taking such aspects of social influence and exaggerating them to the extent that people’s thoughts, feelings and behaviour are manipulated to the greater gain of the manipulator, at the expense of the person being influenced (Zimbardo and Anderson, 1993). Clearly, most human interaction consists of attempts to influence the cognitions and behaviour of others, while interaction within a positive reference group is inherently inclined to encourage the development of shared norms and behaviours (Turner, 1991). However, cults are characterised by attempts to close down choice, restrict information flow, discourage the expression of dissent, focus group norms along narrowly prescribed lines, exaggerate participants’ sense of commitment by extracting public statements of loyalty (often after participation in faintly humiliating rituals) and dominate the normal thinking process of affected individuals (Hassan, 1988). Conway and Siegelman (1992) describe the communication techniques of American cult leaders as follows:

“Most rely on the use-and abuse- of information: on deceptive and distorted language, artfully designed suggestion and intense emotional experience, crippling tactics aggravated by physical exhaustion and isolation.” (p.86).

Similarly, lies or even “being economical with the truth” appear designed to recruit people through a process of extracting commitment and then forcing a decision. For example, RC initially offers low cost, peer group counselling. The full extent of the group’s organisation and programme is not immediately made clear. Nevertheless, a commitment to some form of counselling activity is obtained, and sounds on first hearing much more acceptable than joining a crusade to save the world. A person is likely to imagine that they have delayed a decision to make such a total commitment, perhaps indefinitely. However, they soon find their initial levels of activity rising: “come to one more class,” “attend one more workshop,” “read an extra pamphlet this week.” Whether they have consciously decided anything becomes irrelevant: a real commitment has been made to the organisation. They may then find that their attitudes are changing to come in line with escalating levels of commitment, and will eventually reach such an intense pitch that a formal decision (if it needs to be made at all) is only a small final step – a classic demonstration of cognitive dissonance theory (Turner, 1991). The manipulation of this process is, of course, a hallmark of salesmanship in general, whether the products are second hand cars, encyclopedias or global salvation.

Temerlin and Temerlin (1982) list a number of characteristics which they argue are common to psychotherapy cults, and which in terms of the above discussion can be construed as mechanisms for engineering consent. Summarised briefly, the following are the suggested main criteria for the identification of psychotherapy cults:

1. Charismatic leader figure, with authoritarian and narcissistic tendencies;

2. Idealising of leader by followers. Frequently the leader is hailed as a ‘genius’, and is at least considered the supreme exponent of the group ideology;

3. Followers regard their belief system as superior to all others, and a more rational investigation of alternatives or the empirical verification of key concepts is discouraged.

4. Followers frequently join group at time of exaggerated stress in their own lives, when confidence in their own independent judgment is likely to be low.

5. The therapist becomes the central focus of follower’s life. The group concerned absorbs increasing time, energy and commitment.

6. The group becomes cohesive. Illusions emerge of superiority to other groups. In particular, much of its energy is focused on idolatry of leader.

7. The group becomes suspicious of other groups. Links with others are discouraged, ensuring that ideas which do not originate within the group are ‘translated’ for the group’s benefit by leader figure.

It is clear that these processes are particularly applicable to organisations which depend largely on group based activities. There is considerable evidence to suggest that group attitudes are inherently likely to be more extreme than individual attitudes (Moscovici and Personnaz, 1969). Janis and Mann (1977) have established that groups also have a tendency to develop illusions of invulnerability, an exaggerated sense of optimism, and stereotypical images of other groups, while silencing dissent in their own ranks, compelling members to suppress their own feelings of doubt in order to conform, and develop illusions of unanimity (since outward expressions of dissent are curtailed).

Many organisations and groups are aware of these processes, see them as problems which impair objective decision making and take steps to counteract their influence (Moscovici and Doise, 1994). Cult organisations, on the other hand, sustain and exaggerate them, since by definition their existence requires uniformly slavish behaviour on the part of members. The problem is compounded because it seems that even as individuals we have a tendency to exaggerate the correctness of our own decisions, mislabel the behavior of others and imagine that our judgements are more soundly based than they actually are (Sutherland, 1992). This tendency can be manipulated in the context of group membership, to give people an exaggerated sense of the group’s uniqueness and level of insight into the problems which society faces. In contrast, it has been shown (Hirokawa and Pace, 1983) that better quality decisions are reached by thorough examination of options and the setting of rigorous criteria for decisions, alongside systematic examination of the validity of assumptions, opinions, inferences, facts and alternative choices. It is precisely this iconoclastic approach which cultist organisations discourage. Thus, if we follow a group which reproduces the habits outlined by Temerlin and Temerlin (1982), our capacity for independent judgement is seriously impaired, our attitudes will develop along lines prescribed by the leader of the group rather than what logic, observation or personal experience might dictate, we find ourselves deprived of sufficient information to choose between a variety of options and it is possible for the leaders of the group to engage in behaviours which to an outsider can only be described as abusive.

If you want more, the Ross website is a good place to start, with lots to read and plenty of links. Information is power, and there is always more to be learned.

Watchers, keep watching!

The Value of the Past; or, Lost In Liminal Space With Commander Sisko

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Photo — The amazing Avery Brooks as Captain Sisko

As food for thought, and as a meditation for the New Year, I offer my thoughts on the significance of the past, with some reflections on LRH and Star Trek: DS9 in the mix. Enjoy, and I wish you joy and blessings in the New Year!

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Liminal. I have a friend who is very fond of that word. “I am in a liminal space, in terms of where my life is headed right now.” I heard him say this many times a few years back, when his life was in flux. What does it mean? “Liminal” means “on a boundary or border”. Another way to say it might be in between, or “border-ish”, to borrow a term from Stephen King. Psychologically, to be in a liminal space, like my friend, generally means to be in transition. Crossing over from one place, stage, or state of being, to another. The liminal space is that place which is both, and neither. The place where the old is dying, and the new is being born, and neither process has reached fruition yet.

Birth. The solstices, New Years Eve. The end of the 13th b’ak’tun in the Mayan calendar. Death. These are collective experiences of the liminal. Birthdays, weddings, graduations, changing jobs, leaving a church, divorce, illness, death. These are personal experiences of the liminal. When we find ourselves in a liminal space, we are called — in ways both big and small, subtle and profound — to lay the old to rest, as we begin to perceive what is newly emerging in our lives and make space for that to grow.

What does it mean, to lay the old to rest? “The past is past”; “water under the bridge”; “baggage”. Clichés which make it clear that in our culture we presume that the past is useless, a burden to be left behind. Carrying “baggage” means we are holding on to past experiences in a way that creates a burden in the present, and a barrier to the future. Putting the past behind you is presumed to equate with opening the way for new — and better — things to come. There is truth in this idea, but a problem arises when we carry it too far. It is important that we do not end up seeking an escape from our past and the impact of our experiences, in the belief that this will somehow make us whole.

My training as a healer includes extensive education in a field known as Somatic Psychology. Body-centered psychotherapy, and Dance/Movement therapy are the modalities I practiced when I was a therapist. This included a great deal of training in trauma issues, and pre- and peri-natal experiences. One of the foundational precepts of my training was that the way we have dealt with the pain, injuries, and overwhelming experiences of the past has a direct bearing on our ability to function and thrive in the present. Conversely, our way of being in the moment — movement, posture, breath, our blind spots, strengths and limitations, and habits of thinking — offers a great deal of information about our past experiences and how we have coped with them. Especially when we are not conscious of the memory, or of it’s true impact on us.

Scientology watchers will see that there are certainly parallels with scientology in my training. Naropa, where I was trained, and it’s associated programs such as Windhorse and Friendship House, have been a good place for some very troubled ex-scis to land, because of this parallel. The past is incredibly important in traveling the “bridge to total freedom”. Auditing is essentially a process of calling up (or mocking up) memories, fleshing them out in detail, and then applying a type of emotional extinction technique to eliminate the ostensible impact of the past in the present. However, Hubbard did not invent any of these concepts. Pre- and peri-natal memory, memory retrieval and extinction, and trauma disorder theory did not come from the “Source”.

In my experience, for ex-scientologists, researching the origin of these concepts and how they evolved can be a valuable part of shedding the cult programming. (It is not the topic here, but I will offer some links at the end for those who are interested.) Hubbard co-opted these ideas and twisted them to his own ends, and part of that was to convince people that past is pathology. Instead of regarding our personal history as a source of information and fodder for growth, he portrayed it as something to manipulate or shed — using his “tech”, for a small fee. This was, of course, an important element in keeping his “church” profitable. Everyone has a past, no one is conscious of the whole thing.

The past can serve as a kind of catch-all, where we can put the blame for everything that is wrong now. LRH sold the seductive idea that we can somehow return to some native state of infinite potential and calm, if only we can “unmark” ourselves by erasing the past — or certain select parts of it. The presumption being that the lingering impact of our past experiences and choices, in this life, can only be what keeps us stuck in our confused and limited state. In scientology, auditing serves to free us from this inherently limiting impact of our past. When we reach the limits of our past in this lifetime, we delve into past lives and their impact. Eventually, we confront that impact as an external, invading parasitic force, known as body thetans. The past is literally a pathogen, and must be sloughed off in the name of “survival”. Of course, this is easy to interpret as a projection of Hubbard’s own unwillingness to take responsibility for his actions and choices, and their lingering impact.

Hubbard seems to have created an entire system designed to negate the reality of his own unpleasant past — by erasing what he could with lies and processing, and diminishing the importance of the rest by inventing a context of billions of years. A context in which the span of one lifetime, and certainly one act within that lifetime, is utterly insignificant. The core identity becomes an abstraction, a “thetan” that has experienced everything and is limited by nothing — an empty assertion describing something that has no meaningful way of manifesting within our human experience, with it’s inevitable messiness, limitations and confusion. There is nothing you (as a thetan) don’t already know, and nothing ever to correct or apologize for, because the “whole track” renders it all unimportant. There is nothing you cannot do or be, no human limitation or obligation you are subject to. This is an incredibly corrosive ideology, which demands that you renounce your humanity — the part of you that can be deeply affected by your experience, and carry that impact forward into the next experience, as well as feel compassion and empathy for the limitations of others. It is a recipe for dissociation, even psychosis, and sociopathic behavior.

It is also a reflection of a cherished conceit in our western culture. Whatever the agenda — planetary clearing, self-actualization, total enlightenment, etc. In America, we are very fond of the idea of “reinventing” ourselves in the name of moving forward. We firmly believe in the promise of “starting over”, of beginning a “new chapter” in our lives. We “wipe the slate clean”, “cut all ties with the past”, or “find closure”, so we can “keep it moving”. We are even willing to embrace disaster or catastrophic loss, by focusing on how it provides us a “new beginning”. We will kill a relationship or partnership that is still viable, but in need of nurturing — “let it burn” — so we can find a new happiness sprouting from the ashes. Or so we say.

Is this really true? Is the secret of happiness and well-being contained in our ability to sever ourselves from what is past, or to manipulate and control its impact? No, experience has taught me that this is a kind of escapism. It is the product of a deeply dysfunctional value system that revolves around denial and abdicating responsibility for the impact of our actions and choices. It is a way of compensating when our functioning creates a result we dont wish to deal with. It is Mark McGuire, sitting in front of a congress investigating performance-enhancing drugs and talking about how he does not want to dwell on the past, as a way to avoid simply saying what he did and when. It is the government, refusing to investigate clear evidence of heinous war profiteering by American defense contractors in Iraq, because it is too painful and divisive to look at and we need to move on. It is L Ron Hubbard, ditching his wife and taking to the high seas on a grandiose mission to save mankind, in order to evade responsibility and avoid scrutiny for his dishonest actions and false promises.

The true value of the past is revealed when we confront it head on, and own it as a part of who we are today. This is how we keep moving forward on whatever path is formed by our life circumstances. Think of it this way: our experiences are the ground on which we walk, and our habitual response or applied training and wisdom are the way we walk that path. The impact of the past exists as a charge or momentum in our movement. Attempting to deny that impact collapses that charge and has the paradoxical effect of keeping us stuck in those past experiences. If we have done something wrong, our feelings of remorse and responsibility are what drive us to make amends. When we have been hurt or suffered a loss, our pain and anger can propel us to seek justice or find some way to make our loss meaningful. When we acknowledge our past and the emotional impact it has had on us, emotion becomes a momentum, propelling us forward.

Which brings me to an episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine that explores these ideas in an elegant fashion. The title is “Emissary”, and it is available on DVD, Netflix streaming, iTunes, etc. (season 1, episode 1). In this, the premiere episode of this series, we are introduced to some great characters in a difficult situation, where they must live in the aftermath of a very ugly past. In particular, there is Commander Sisko, the “captain” in this series. He is a Starfleet officer, a war veteran, and a father, who lost his wife years earlier under terrible circumstances, in the midst of battle. He has never dealt with this traumatic loss, and is a very bitter and tortured man because of it. Now, he finds himself stationed on a distant post, in a turbulent area, with a young child; he is unhappy, and he is contemplating a “clean break” with the past.

Before he can do that, however, he has a mission to carry out. In the process, he finds himself dealing with spiritual matters, and strange artifacts that give him a vision of his painful past. Ultimately, Sisko is led to an encounter with entities known as “the Prophets”; aliens who live in a “wormhole”, outside our space-time continuum. In the process of making “first contact” with these aliens, Sisko finds he must explain such basic concepts as time, death, and love. His communication with these aliens is entirely telepathic, and they use people and images from his own memory as a medium and context for the conversation. Thus, Sisko finds himself talking to his late wife, his child, and others from his past as he attempts to explain. Revisiting key moments in his past, the Prophets probe him for understanding of the nature of his existence. Linear time is a very strange concept to them, and Sisko attempts to explain how we leave the past behind and move towards the future. He even attempts to use baseball as a metaphor, as seen in this clip.

Yet, they keep returning to the traumatic moment in time when Sisko lost his wife, and the prophets ask, “if all you say is true, then why do you exist HERE?” Confronted with her body, Sisko asks “why do you keep bringing me here?” The prophets reply, “we do not bring you here, YOU bring US here. You exist here.”. At first, Sisko does not understand. When he finally stops, and really looks at where he is, he breaks down and finally grieves his loss. The Prophets help him realize that the nature of his existence is NOT linear. The past is always with us, and how we relate to it is a part of our existence in any moment. (see the clip here, the first 1:30 of this video)

I highly recommend this episode, and the entire series. Sisko’s journey is a remarkable one, from the perspective of trauma and healing, and the role of spirituality and destiny in our lives. There are other equally compelling characters, and each one has a past they must confront and learn from. Major Kira Nerys, a former guerilla fighter on an occupied planet, who must learn how to cope with peace and freedom. Jadzia Dax, who has a unique physiology as a “joined” being, a young woman with a very ancient parasite inside her, sharing her consciousness and seven lifetimes of memories. Odo, the “shapeshifter”, who has no idea what he is or where he comes from. Deep Space Nine is all about reconciling the past and coping with an unforseen future. It is dark, and contemplative, and ironic. It is my favorite Star Trek series. I hope you check it out, and allow it to inspire some reflection on the meaning and value of the past, as we move into a New Year.

Peace.

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Some informative links; explore them!

An article on memory extinction, including a basic definition:
“Memory extinction is a process in which a conditioned response gradually diminishes over time as an animal learns to uncouple a response from a stimulus”

-Memory extinction research at Scientific American

-Pre- and peri-natal psychology article on Wikipedia

-Pre-natal memory research at Scientific American

-Another therapeutic approach using Pre-natal and early memory

Somatic Psychology article on wikipedia

-An overview of the origins of somatic psych

Here comes the apocalypse?

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(photo from ABCnews.com)

‎10 days to go until December 21; does it really matter? I am too busy preparing for family celebrations, and winter break for an eleven year-old boy, to spend much time thinking about it. But this article, from the Daily Telegraph, shows that many people are thinking about it, and they are scared.

How bizarre. I mean, you all know that a calendar is an artificial human construct, right? A mental projection of our linear process of perception and our desire for continued survival? We use them to get a handle on the passage of time, and to keep track of the many natural cycles which affect our mundane lives. Why would the Mayans be any different? Why would anyone, ever, expect the elements of creation to conform to an artificial structure; one that says plenty about our current understanding of the nature of things, but absolutely nothing about the objective reality of existence?

[That would be a kind of unquestioned faith in numbers and calculations that could lead to upsetting things, like crazy beliefs in invisible agents and substances — call them, oh, “dim matter” and “dim energy”. Imperceptible things that we must accept on faith in order to cling to our theories, because our calculations demand it. Wouldn’t that be crazy? Oh, wait… ]

But I digress.
I guess this is not as obvious as I would like to think. Or maybe we humans are just easily spooked. Remember 1999? How many of you stockpiled supplies for Y2K? Be honest! Did civilization collapse? Do you still have some 13 year old bottled water and canned food stored somewhere? There are more than a few people out there who do, I’m sure.

Here’s my advice:
LOVE, AND FEAR NOT. That’s all.
Put your worry away, and do something to make the future a better place for everyone.

Here’s a little perspective from that article in the Daily Telegraph:

“Mayans themselves reject any notion that the world will end. Pedro Celestino Yac Noj, a Mayan sage, burned seeds and fruits to mark the end of the old calender at a ceremony in Cuba. He said: ‘The 21st is for giving thanks and gratitude and the 22nd welcomes the new cycle, a new dawn.'”

Get it now?

Peace.
And, much joy to you all in the season of Light!

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