Thursday, October 31, 2013

As If to Demonstrate an Eclipse


As If to Demonstrate an Eclipse
 
I pick an orange from a wicker basket
and place it on the table
to represent the sun.
Then down at the other end
a blue and white marble
becomes the earth
and nearby I lay the little moon of an aspirin.
 
I get a glass from a cabinet,
open a bottle of wine,
then I sit in a ladder-back chair,
a benevolent god presiding
over a miniature creation myth,
 
and I begin to sing
a homemade canticle of thanks
for this perfect little arrangement,
for not making the earth too hot or cold
not making it spin too fast or slow
 
so that the grove of orange trees
and the owl become possible,
not to mention the rolling wave,
the play of clouds, geese in flight,
and the Z of lightning on a dark lake.
 
Then I fill my glass again
and give thanks for the trout,
the oak, and the yellow feather,
 
singing the room full of shadows,
as sun and earth and moon
circle one another in their impeccable orbits
and I get more and more cockeyed with gratitude.
 
~ Billy Collins ~
 
(Nine Horses)
 

Ideological Totalism

Tonight my therapist mentioned the words "psychological totalism", which was a phrase I had not heard before. In further researching, I discovered the below excerpt and was struck by the range of the many varied manifestations within humans individually and collectively that psychological totalism can take. I reflected upon my grandfather, an exceptionally bright man who we buried at West Point on his 99th birthday, but who was also completely swept up in his later years by a much younger woman who became his caretaker. Everyone in our family could so easily see the web she wove around my grandfather, subtly and blatantly isolating him and setting this vulnerable elderly man against his own family. We knew her motives were rooted in gaining from my grandfather's estate when he died. And for several years my grandfather, as bright as he was, blindly mistook greed for love, falling into a tragic trap that cost all of us precious time together. There are so many other manifestations - religious fundamentalism, people wielding political power, and countless other examples - which many of us can find in our culture, in our personal and/or collective lives, and perhaps sadly right in the midst of our own family. To the degree that we are cut off from our hearts, much harm can unknowingly be perpetrated upon ourselves and others. May we all increasingly find the courage and commitment to recognize when we are colluding in harm rather than healing, in judgment rather than compassion, in some form of violence rather than caring and kindness. May we awaken. Peace & blessings ~ Molly
**********

Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism

The University of North Carolina Press/Chapel Hill and London
By Robert Jay Lifton, M.D.

Below is an edited excerpt from Chapter 22 of Robert Jay Lifton's book,"Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism: A Study of 'Brainwashing' in China." Lifton, a psychiatrist and distinguished professor at the City University of New York, has studied the psychology of extremism for decades. He testified at the 1976 bank robbery trial of Patty Hearst about the theory of "coercive persuasion." First published in 1961, his book was reprinted in 1989 by the University of North Carolina Press.

Chapter 22: Ideological Totalism


Topics
A discussion of what is most central in the thought reform environment can lead us to a more general consideration of the psychology of human zealotry. For in identifying, on the basis of this study of thought reform, features common to all expressions of ideological totalism, I wish to suggest a set of criteria against which any environment may be judged - a basis for answering the ever-recurring question: "Isn't this just like 'brainwashing'?"
These criteria consist of eight psychological themes which are predominant within the social field of the thought reform milieu. Each has a totalistic quality; each depend upon an equally absolute philosophical assumption; and each mobilizes certain individual emotional tendencies, mostly of a polarizing nature. In combination they create an atmosphere which may temporarily energize or exhilarate, but which at the same time poses the gravest of human threats. 

Milieu Control

The most basic feature of the thought reform environment, the psychological current upon which all else depends, is the control of human communication. Through this milieu control the totalist environment seeks to establish domain over not only the individual's communication with the outside (all that he sees and hears, reads or writes, experiences, and expresses), but also - in its penetration of his inner life - over what we may speak of as his communication with himself. It creates an atmosphere uncomfortably reminiscent of George Orwell's 1984.
Such milieu control never succeeds in becoming absolute, and its own human apparatus can - when permeated by outside information - become subject to discordant "noise" beyond that of any mechanical apparatus. To totalist administrators, however, such occurrences are no more than evidences of "incorrect" use of the apparatus. For they look upon milieu control as a just and necessary policy, one which need not be kept secret: thought reform participants may be in doubt as to who is telling what to whom, but the fact that extensive information about everyone is being conveyed to the authorities is always known. At the center of this self-justification is their assumption of omniscience, their conviction that reality is their exclusive possession. Having experienced the impact of what they consider to be an ultimate truth (and having the need to dispel any possible inner doubts of their own), they consider it their duty to create an environment containing no more and no less than this "truth." In order to be the engineers of the human soul, they must first bring it under full observational control.

Mystical Manipulation

The inevitable next step after milieu control is extensive personal manipulation. This manipulation assumes a no-holds-barred character, and uses every possible device at the milieu's command, no matter how bizarre or painful. Initiated from above, it seeks to provoke specific patterns of behavior and emotion in such a way that these will appear to have arisen spontaneously, directed as it is by an ostensibly omniscient group, must assume, for the manipulated, a near-mystical quality.
Ideological totalists do not pursue this approach solely for the purpose of maintaining a sense of power over others. Rather they are impelled by a special kind of mystique which not only justifies such manipulations, but makes them mandatory. Included in this mystique is a sense of "higher purpose," of having "directly perceived some imminent law of social development," and of being themselves the vanguard of this development. By thus becoming the instruments of their own mystique, they create a mystical aura around the manipulating institutions - the Party, the Government, the Organization. They are the agents "chosen" (by history, by God, or by some other supernatural force) to carry out the "mystical imperative," the pursuit of which must supersede all considerations of decency or of immediate human welfare. Similarly, any thought or action which questions the higher purpose is considered to be stimulated by a lower purpose, to be backward, selfish, and petty in the face of the great, overriding mission. This same mystical imperative produces the apparent extremes of idealism and cynicism which occur in connection with the manipulations of any totalist environment: even those actions which seem cynical in the extreme can be seen as having ultimate relationship to the "higher purpose."
At the level of the individual person, the psychological responses to this manipulative approach revolve about the basic polarity of trust and mistrust. One is asked to accept these manipulations on a basis of ultimate trust (or faith): "like a child in the arms of its mother." He who trusts in this degree can experience the manipulations within the idiom of the mystique behind them: that is, he may welcome their mysteriousness, find pleasure in their pain, and feel them to be necessary for the fulfillment of the "higher purpose" which he endorses as his own. But such elemental trust is difficult to maintain; and even the strongest can be dissipated by constant manipulation. 
When trust gives way to mistrust (or when trust has never existed) the higher purpose cannot serve as adequate emotional sustenance. The individual then responds to the manipulations through developing what I shall call the psychology of the pawn. Feeling himself unable to escape from forces more powerful than himself, he subordinates everything to adapting himself to them. He becomes sensitive to all kinds of cues, expert at anticipating environmental pressures, and skillful in riding them in such a way that his psychological energies merge with the tide rather than turn painfully against himself. This requires that he participate actively in the manipulation of others, as well as in the endless round of betrayals and self-betrayals which are required.
But whatever his response - whether he is cheerful in the face of being manipulated, deeply resentful, or feels a combination of both - he has been deprived of the opportunity to exercise his capacities for self-expression and independent action.

The Demand for Purity

In the thought reform milieu, as in all situations of ideological totalism, the experiential world is sharply divided into the pure and the impure, into the absolutely good and the absolutely evil. The good and the pure are of course those ideas, feelings, and actions which are consistent with the totalist ideology and policy; anything else is apt to be relegated to the bad and the impure. Nothing human is immune from the flood of stern moral judgments. All "taints" and "poisons" which contribute to the existing state of impurity must be searched out and eliminated. 
The philosophical assumption underlying this demand is that absolute purity is attainable, and that anything done to anyone in the name of this purity is ultimately moral. In actual practice, however, no one is really expected to achieve such perfection. Nor can this paradox be dismissed as merely a means of establishing a high standard to which all can aspire. Thought reform bears witness to its more malignant consequences: for by defining and manipulating the criteria of purity, and then by conducting an all-out war upon impurity, the ideological totalists create a narrow world of guilt and shame. This is perpetuated by an ethos of continuous reform, a demand that one strive permanently and painfully for something which not only does not exist but is in fact alien to the human condition.
At the level of the relationship between individual and environment, the demand for purity creates what we may term a guilty milieu and a shaming milieu. Since each man's impurities are deemed sinful and potentially harmful to himself and to others, he is, so to speak, expected to expect punishment - which results in a relationship of guilt and his environment. Similarly, when he fails to meet the prevailing standards in casting out such impurities, he is expected to expect humiliation and ostracism - thus establishing a relationship of shame with his milieu. Moreover, the sense of guilt and the sense of shame become highly-valued: they are preferred forms of communication, objects of public competition, and the basis for eventual bonds between the individual and his totalist accusers. One may attempt to simulate them for a while, but the subterfuge is likely to be detected, and it is safer to experience them genuinely.
People vary greatly in their susceptibilities to guilt and shame, depending upon patterns developed early in life. But since guilt and shame are basic to human existence, this variation can be no more than a matter of degree. Each person is made vulnerable through his profound inner sensitivities to his own limitations and to his unfulfilled potential; in other words, each is made vulnerable through his existential guilt. Since ideological totalists become the ultimate judges of good and evil within their world, they are able to use these universal tendencies toward guilt and shame as emotional levers for their controlling and manipulative influences. They become the arbiters of existential guilt, authorities without limit in dealing with others' limitations. And their power is nowhere more evident than in their capacity to "forgive." 
The individual thus comes to apply the same totalist polarization of good and evil to his judgments of his own character: he tends to imbue certain aspects of himself with excessive virtue, and condemn even more excessively other personal qualities - all according to their ideological standing. He must also look upon his impurities as originating from outside influences - that is, from the ever-threatening world beyond the closed, totalist ken. Therefore, one of his best way to relieve himself of some of his burden of guilt is to denounce, continuously and hostilely, these same outside influences. The more guilty he feels, the greater his hatred, and the more threatening they seem. In this manner, the universal psychological tendency toward "projection" is nourished and institutionalized, leading to mass hatreds, purges of heretics, and to political and religious holy wars. Moreover, once an individual person has experienced the totalist polarization of good and evil, he has great difficulty in regaining a more balanced inner sensitivity to the complexities of human morality. For these is no emotional bondage greater than that of the man whose entire guilt potential - neurotic and existential - has become the property of ideological totalists.
            

 

Monday, October 28, 2013

E. E. Cummings: Love Is the Voice Under All Silences


Love is the voice under all silences,
the hope which has no opposite in fear;
the strength so strong mere force is feebleness:
the truth more first than sun,
more last than star...

- E. E. Cummings

The Most Precious Gift


The most precious gift we can offer anyone is our attention.
When mindfulness embraces those we love,
they will bloom like flowers.  
- Thich Nhat Hahn  

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Off To See My Mother

 Mom & me this past summer

Ron and I are off to Michigan tomorrow to see my mother for a few days. We are so excited to see each other! It has now been 2-1/2 months since my mom was taken from her assisted living home near her family here in the Pacific Northwest back to Michigan. Gratefully, the struggle I have been in with the adult child from one of my mother's former marriages will soon be over. Next Tuesday will be a Status Hearing, and that will be followed - finally! - by the trial that has been rescheduled for November 18th - 19th. I am so excited to see my mom now and again next month, to soon have my mother's permanent guardian legally established, and to have Mom/Grandma Nan/Nancy home with her family for the holidays. FINALLY! There is so much more to say, and most of all about the amazing miracle of love. For now, it comes to me to simply share what is among my favorite quotes, this one by Stephen Levine: "The more we love, the more real we become." And so it is.* 

Peace & blessings,

Molly


* All continued prayers, positive thoughts & blessings are most welcomed. 
Thank you so much.
 
~♥~

Moonrise over Mt. Hood

Endless Possibilities


Life is a web of endless possibilities.
~♥~
 
 
 

The Place Where the Light Enters You


The wound is the place where
 the Light enters you.

 Rumi

Martin Luther King Jr.: Transforming Suffering


As my sufferings mounted I soon realized that there were two ways in which I could respond to my situation -- either to react with bitterness or seek to transform the suffering into a creative force. I decided to follow the latter course.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Joseph Campbell: Follow Your Bliss


If you do follow your bliss you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Follow your bliss and don't be afraid, and doors will open where you didn't know they were going to be.



The Dalai Lama: The Practice of Compassion

Photo taken of lily in our backyard pond
Once we have a firm practice of compassion our state of mind becomes stronger which leads to inner peace, giving rise to self-confidence, which reduces fear. This makes for constructive members of the community. Self-centredness on the other hand leads to distance, suspicion, mistrust and loneliness, with unhappiness as the result.

- The Dalai Lama


from Dalai Lama

Rumi: The Earth Turns to Gold

Photo ~ Maverick

 The earth turns to gold, in the hands of the wise. 

~ Rumi

 

Monday, October 21, 2013

Mary Oliver: The Leaf and the Cloud


When loneliness comes stalking, go into the fields, consider
the orderliness of the world. Notice
something you have never noticed before,
 
like the tambourine sound of the snow-cricket
whose pale green body is no longer than your thumb.
 
Stare hard at the hummingbird, in the summer rain,
shaking the water-sparks from its wings.
 
Let grief be your sister, she will wither or not.
Rise up from the stump of sorrow, and be green also,
    like the diligent leaves.
 
A lifetime isn't long enough for the beauty of this world
and the responsibilities of your life.
 
Scatter your flowers over the graves, and walk away.
Be good-natured and untidy in your exuberance.
 
In the glare of your mind, be modest.
And beholden to what is tactile, and thrilling.
 
Live with the beetle, and the wind.
 
~ Mary Oliver ~
 
(excerpt from The Leaf and the Cloud: A Poem)
 
 
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A Path of No Harm

Photo - Pixdaus
 
 
Animal rights, at its heart,
is the most unextreme philosophy I can imagine. 
It is about nonviolence. 
It is about compassion.
It is about not harming 
and not causing suffering 
and not killing 
when we don’t have to. 
That’s it. 
It is really, truly that simple.

~ Stephanie Ernst ~


from Precious World

Remembering and Honoring Our Intimate Connection With All Life


Killing animals for sport, for pleasure, for adventures 
and for hides and furs is a phenomenon 
which is at once disgusting and distressing. 
There is no justification in indulging 
in such acts of brutality.

~ Dalai Lama ~