All Posts (1272)

Sort by

What It Takes To Change


Change takes time, months, and years or can happen instantly. It depends on where we are in life. Everyone says they want to heal and change, but the real thing, the stuff of true wholeness, requires a deep breath and a plunge. So, it’s frightening—easy to say, mind-shattering to engage.

A patient reported the following dream. “I was standing on the edge of a cliff. It was a drop down to the ocean. I wasn’t afraid. But I was. The roar of the ocean, winds sweeping across my body, and I teetered. I had to let go, drop. There was no way out. I woke up and decided I needed to get into therapy, do dreamwork, and see what was going on with me.”

Inevitably, today there will be a crisis. It could come in the form of a dream, or relationship conflict, or a sudden turn of events that smack you right where it count. The original Greek meaning of the word crisis is turning point, a crossroads where we have to make a decision about which way to go. We will have choices today that will determine the course of the morning, afternoon, and evening. These are micro-crises, little decisions, turning points.

For the patient I mentioned, they never dropped into the ocean. In the dream, they stood frightened and paralyzed but did choose to enter depth psychotherapy. Then, they dreamt again, and they dropped down and down and down. It’s where they needed to go—into the vast ocean of soul. Over time dream images spoke to them about hidden things, mysteries that couldn’t be fathomed without dropping down and under. Inevitably, they led to a vast overall of perspective, relationships, and life itself.

Crisis is the time for change. Crisis signals a turning point. Crisis times/changing times can be moment to moment, in a single day, or at intervals in the life span. Babies are in crisis at birth, the mother in crisis, crisis hitting in adolescence, adulthood constant shattering old ways. Ahhh….soul evolution is a crisis!

We try to shield ourselves from soul crisis/change. Overly used life stuff — toomuchitis — numbs the pain that could clear the mind and propel the change. Instead, we eat too much, drink too much, exercise too much, do too much and discover a state of no more feelings. Then, emotions return and turn sideways and can go dark and destructive with a vengeance. It’s the psychological day after syndrome, the emotional hangover, from dipping into toxic unfeeling, not feeling, no feeling.

Toxic mind is irritable, negative, depressed and cranky, has no joy in anyone or anything. Thank goodness, we can steady ourselves and listen to that state of mind. It too is a crisis. It too speaks of change. It too has in it the capacity to turn our life around. A change of attitude, a reckoning with a conflicted relationship, a setting about a task we’ve tried to wiggle out of, is a beginning.

What it takes to change is a willingness to open up and begin. Stopping where we are right now, taking stock of the crisis we’re in, and deciding to do something about our life gets the wheels of change going. Listen to the pain, it speaks to you. Trust the pain, it has a message. Take the good but challenging step that pops into mind and forever transform your life.

That’s what it takes to change.

Read more…

A Nation At War With Itself


The verdict is in: The President of the United States of America has abused his power, bullied another nation to provide him with personal political benefit, and covered this up in unprecedented ways. The Mueller investigation also identified many crimes he was party to as a candidate as well as numerous instances of obstruction of justice. He avoided being charged only because of a Department of Justice policy. Yet it seems as if many Americans don’t care. The Republicans in the Senate did not, either. Has all pretense of being a moral nation been sacrificed to an inflated image of strongman, bully power?

Americans tend to be dreamers, informed by the Seeker archetype to strive for a better life. Many of us still believe in “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” as a God-given right for all. Our success as a nation depends on the current political environment being a blip, not who we are. I write this because I know that so many fellow Americans are facing painful demoralization and disillusionment about our country. I feel it, too.

My thesis: Right now, the President and the Republican Party are possessed by a primal, shadowy form of the Warrior archetype that threatens to engulf us all, as those of us who understand their threat get pulled into seeing them as our enemy. As the American people’s attitudes were becoming more liberal, Newt Gingrich in the 1990s convinced the Republicans to declare war on the Democrats. Mitch McConnell has gone so far as to interpret this to mean that the Senate was not be allowed to even vote on President Obama’s nominee for a Supreme Court seat in the final year of his presidency. More recently, McConnell has not allowed bills to come up for debate in the Senate that come over from the majority Democratic House. And now the Senate refuses to address the facts of a President’s criminal behavior—behavior that undermines our Constitution. Instead, they blame the messenger—the Democrats.

The Warrior archetype in its shadowy forms is all about gaining power for one’s own group, blaming an enemy for one’s problems. The issue today is that the Republicans apparently see Democrats as the enemy even more than Vladimir Putin and Russia. This culture war, if we all fully join it, leaves our country undefended from external threats. The job of the Warrior is to protect us, but the Warrior’s strategies—war, propaganda (fake news, lies), and coercion—cannot protect us from climate change, the growing income/wealth gap, and nuclear proliferation, and the danger right now of a nuclear war started by power struggles between autocrats or by terrorists. We need the positive Warrior, of course, to have the courage to address the real issues before us and to have the will to do what needs to be done.

We have seen our Earth from space. We know how fragile human life is. Our Seeker selves have to realize that there is no place to run to in the foreseeable future. There can now be no Other as enemy; the problem is in us. The more we focus on human enemies, the more our demise is assured. We are in a time when actual wars, where each side tries to kill the other, have become dysfunctional. War now exists in cyberspace, in economics, but mostly in ideas. We need the Sage to face the facts staring us in the face to counter fake news. There are people among us who simply love to be entertained by a master showman who illustrates the manipulative shadowy ability of the Magician, who can influence opinion through illusions. We saw this with the State of the Union address. What we need in our leaders and in ourselves is the evolved Magician that knows how to change consciousness to change outcomes, expanding our capacities to embrace a consciousness adequate to solving the major problems that threaten our democracy and our ability to head off the crises ahead. Most of us already know that the Senate vote undermines our Constitution, but some do not care. The Preamble to the U.S. Constitution can remind us of what needs to be restored and why we need to care. 

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

We will have Justice only if no one is above the law. We cannot have domestic Tranquility if a people is at war with one another, even a war of words. Certainly, we need to stop scapegoating and focus on caring for all of us. To provide for the common defense, we need to figure out what we need to defend against, rather than escaping into denial and the blame game. We cannot promote the general welfare if our policies disproportionately benefit those who are already rich and powerful and if we focus our energies on undercutting government in the service of corporate power. We cannot secure the blessings of liberty to posterity if we do not address the most pressing problems before us and instead deplete our energies blaming refugees. 

In the Civil War, people shed their blood to extend democracy to all our citizens, revealing the best of the Warrior archetype in their time. Today we need to evolve the Warrior archetype to meet the challenges of our time, so that, as Abraham Lincoln put it, “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”  

Read more…

Part One

Every good deed brings its own punishment. – James Agate

Sometimes the spirit comes through me. I’m not saying this out of pride. I’m simply observing that one when is committed to his art – in my case, writing about historical, political and cultural issues through a mythological lens, when one asks to be a conduit for other voices – when one tries to pay attention – then one had better be prepared for synchronicities. One had better be prepared to drop what one is doing, to sacrifice some trivial pleasure or responsibility, and just listen.

Or watch. The other night, having already planned to see Terrance Malick’s new film A Hidden Life, I discovered the 2016 film Alone in Berlin on Netflix and watched this dramatized true story. A middle-aged German husband and wife, grieving for their son who’d been killed in the war, can no longer passively accept the authority of the Nazi death cult. They leave some 200 handwritten, anti-war postcards all over the city until the Gestapo arrests them.otto-y-elise.jpg?w=359&h=202&profile=RESIZE_710x Having offered up their son to the State (in reality it was her brother, but that doesn’t matter), they ultimately sacrifice themselves. Indeed, the film’s ending is a bit ambiguous. Perhaps they want to get caught; perhaps their protest, dangerous as it is, is not enough.

Otto and Elise Hampel were sent to the guillotine in Berlin on April 4th, 1943.

The next day, somewhat shaken by that film, thinking of people who really had sacrificed for their principles, I went for a hike in Oakland’s Mountain View d530fb3c3068e7aab468fb42f406d994.jpg?w=216&h=143&profile=RESIZE_710xCemetery, where a series of random (?) turns took me past the grave of Fred Korematsu, who had refused to cooperate with the government’s internment of his fellow Japanese-American citizens and had fought for decades to clear his name and secure compensation for them. Synchronicity.

Then, knowing what I was in for (it’s nearly impossible to see a movie these days without already knowing about its plot), I went to my local theater and watched A Hidden Life, another true story of passive resistance to the Nazis.

Franz Jägerstätter is no urban sophisticate but a devout Catholic farmer living an idyllic life in Austria’s Tyrolian mountains. 320px-seis_st-valentin.jpg?w=393&h=220&profile=RESIZE_710xHis village lies below towering peaks shrouded in mist, with green hills rolling to distant horizons. Deep, intense green fills every frame. He and his wife Fani, even after having produced three daughters, are deeply, sensuously in love. In voiceovers he muses, “I thought we could build our nest high up in the trees…Fly away like birds.” Even though the war, its horrors and its moral choices will soon reach them, Fani says, “It seemed no trouble could reach our valley.”

I won’t lie; from the first images I was weeping. I’ve been to the Tyrol, and the area certainly is gorgeous. But the film immediately, repeatedly and quite deliberately presents images of such overwhelming natural beauty (later to be contrasted with the meanness of people and institutions) that I fell into a trance, as poet Mark Nepo says, “of wonder and grief”.  It seemed clear (to me at least) that the filmmaker was intent on forcing viewers – me – to confront not simply the imminent loss of this fairy-tail family love nest. I was well aware that it was the first week of 2020, that this year may well be our last chance to reverse global warming, that there may well not be a future. We are all on the very edge of losing this beautiful world.

Franz’s faith is absolute. In this age of pedophile priests, racist evangelicals who look forward to the End Times and televangelists who declare you-know-who to be “the Chosen One,” we are a bit shocked to realize that Franz is a real Christian. (By the way, here’s a link to a contemporary American real Christian).

Or perhaps – with all this lush scenery, these intensely verdant meadows and gently flowing waters, all this planting and harvesting, all this much-more-than-Christian sensuality, all this dancing, playing, ahiddenlife004.jpg?w=348&h=183&profile=RESIZE_710xtouching, kissing, caressing of animals, rolling on the grass, filling the hands with the fertile earth, with the mothers of all mountains in the background – perhaps, just below the surface, these people are true pagans (paganus: hill people). It’s not too much of a stretch to suggest that they are devout Catholics in nearly the same way that syncretistic Haitian vodouisants or Brazilian Candomblers are.

But Franz gradually concludes that he cannot remain a moral person and also serve in Hitler’s death machine or even sign an oath of allegiance to the Fuhrer, as all Austrian men are required to do. By saying, “No,” Franz, like the Hampels, knows that he could lose everything. This is why Malick spends so much of this very long film dwelling on the family’s profound love of nature and each other. There really is so much at stake, for them and us.

Their Eden eventually becomes a social hell. Franz’s refusal to just go along calls down scorn and condemnation upon his family, because he has forced everyone else in the village to confront the roots of their own identities. Some may be afraid to publicly agree with him, while others quote Hitler, screaming about the evils of immigrants and foreigners in a place where there seems to be none of either. They brand him a traitor, spit on Fani and throw mud at their daughters. Once Franz is transported to prison in far-away Berlin, the other farmers refuse to help Fani with the back-breaking labor of tending the land and livestock. When her cow dies, she and her sister must pull a plow through her field by themselves. What a metaphor.

She ultimately makes her own choice to support his decision, but only after after months of emotional conflict in which everyone in the film, from his mother and his closest friends (who become ex-friends), to his fellow prisoners, his guards, his lawyers and even his judge, plead with him to take the oath. Everyone agrees that his resistance won’t change anything and will come at too high a price for him and his family. And there is a way out: he can be a conscientious objector and serve as a medic in a hospital, if he will only sign. Everyone has their own argument:

The Bishop: “You have a duty to the fatherland. The church tells you so.”

The villagers: “Pride! That’s what it is, Pride!” Your mother will die un-consoled.”

A fellow prisoner: “You can’t change the world; the world is stronger.”

A sadistic guard: “I can do anything I want to you! No one will notice!”

His judge: “Nature has not noticed the sorrow that has come over people.”

His priest: “God doesn’t care what you say, only what is in your heart.”

Fani: “I need you.”

By the end, after Fani’s heart-wrenching final meeting with him in the prison has failed to persuade him, the only man in the film to support him, her father, admits, “Better to suffer injustice than to do it.” Franz, like the Hampels, goes willingly, if with deep sadness, to the guillotine.

A few historical notes: The municipality of Sankt Radegund franziska_jaegerstaetter_body.5131631.jpg?w=263&h=175&profile=RESIZE_710xat first refused to put his name on a local war memorial and the state did not approve a pension for Fani until 1950. Eventually, several books and films made their names known, and the Vatican beatified Franz in 2007. Fani died in 2013, age 100.

You can read dozens of reviews of A Hidden Life here.  Most are of interest only to other film reviewers and serious film buffs, but a couple of writers observe its religious dimensions. Peter Ranier writes:

Most of the famous religious-themed Hollywood movies…are biblical epics functioning as star-studded illustrated guidebooks to sacred texts… “A Hidden Life” is the antithesis of those epics. It’s an attempt to make the movie itself function as a religious experience. It has a powerful sense of the immanence of life. Franz’s stance is a deeply moral one, but his morality is based on his religious precepts. This is what differentiates “A Hidden Life” from so many Hollywood movies where people, without any religious underpinning, fight for what is right.

Barbara Vandenburgh:

“A Hidden Life” is less a story than an experience, a spiritual journey made accessible through light and sound. Malick doesn’t transcend cinema. He sanctifies it.

But it’s the film’s moral dilemma that throws us into such torment. Why, ask so many characters (and viewers), should Franz do the right thing if it changes nothing? What is the value of an unwitnessed sacrifice? 

Part Two

Near the snow, near the sun, in the highest fields
See how these names are fêted by the waving grass,
And by the streamers of white cloud,
And whispers of wind in the listening sky;
The names of those who in their lives fought for life,
Who wore at their hearts the fire’s center.
Born of the sun, they traveled a short while towards the sun,
And left the vivid air signed with their honor. — Stephen Spender

As readers, film and TV viewers, students, churchgoers or any other patriotic consumers of our national mythologies, we have long been conditioned to support, praise and even to emulate that vast pantheon of heroes who put themselves in harm’s way to defend the innocent. In the extreme, we venerate those few who are willing to simply die for an ideal. This is one of the major themes of my book, Madness at the Gates of the City: The Myth of American Innocence.

c10d11ef045e6abfb491b9c78134b707.jpg?w=150&h=207&profile=RESIZE_710xLike almost every man my age, I grew up on John Wayne and Fess Parker’s Davy Crockett, who is last seen dying for freedom at the Alamo, and it’s not easy to remove those images and stories from one’s subconscious. It was easy, however, to forget that Davy’s family was back in Tennessee, and that John Wayne rarely even had a family.

For me, as a grandfather to three girls, the big question as I watched A Hidden Life was: Is one’s spiritual purity worth the suffering of others? I can’t speak for anyone else in the audience, but I was pleading with Franz: Sign the goddamn pledge! Think of your family!

Ultimately, however, along with my grief for them – and for our planet – I was angry at Franz. Yes, you could suggest that my reaction has something to do with my own psychology. But where would that get us? James Hillman said that we have psychology only because we no longer have mythology. To understand what conditioned his decision to refuse the pledge despite knowing the harmful consequences to himself and to his loved ones, we have to look at the history of European religion from a mythological perspective, as I do in Chapters Six and Ten.

For democracy, any man would give his only begotten son. – Dalton Trumbo, Johnny Got His Gun

Roman generals declared, Dulce et Decorum Est Pro Partria Mori, that it was “a sweet and noble thing to die for your country.” This statement may be self-evident to true believers, but for those of us who no longer subscribe to such a belief system, who sit outside the bubble of other people’s myths, we ask: Why would anyone sacrifice his life for his country, or for any other abstract concept such as a religion?

Joseph Campbell taught that Europeans and their American descendants have lived in a “demythologized world” since Christianity began to lose potency in the 12th century. Now, we rarely take notice of the price we pay for living in such a world. Can we even imagine those times when culture and nature together really did hold and protect our ancestors? We live dispirited lives, since we long ago rejected the “spirits” who connected us to this immense and incomprehensible universe. We stand exposed to old, patriarchal conditions – raw opposition between irreconcilable polarities. We still have myths, even if we are rarely aware of them, but they no longer nourish us.

With great respect to Campbell, it seems to me, however, that myth has been breaking down for much, much longer. What remain, exposed like archeological layers, are immensely old stories: the myths of father/son and brother/brother conflict, and the literalization of initiation rites into the brutal socialization of children. 175842_f520.jpg?w=361&h=285&profile=RESIZE_710xI argue in my book that the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son so as to glorify his god is the foundational myth underlying all of western civilization, that the story actually describes the breakdown of symbolic initiation into literal child sacrifice, and that a thousand years later, the death of Christ on the cross solidified this narrative for a new era.

We do not deny some of the great advances in human thinking such as the Alphabet that the Hebrew tradition bequeathed us. But these gifts came with consequences. Well before the Christian era, the Hebrews began to offer something new – history – as a literalization of myth. It was a culture-wide, top-down movement to no longer interpret the old stories as multi-layered social dreams intended to invite everyone to grow their souls, but as literal, chronological truth. Whereas the pagan world had long understood the words of Sallustius (This never happened, but it always is), people throughout the region now heard, This actually happened, and it happened once. It was the first movement from education (to draw something out of young people that already exists in them) to instruction (to stuff pre-determined information into their empty heads).

And we must admit that they also were the first to glorify people who preferred to die rather than change their thinking. Shira Lander writes: “Most scholars consider the Hasmonean traditions preserved in 2 and 4 Maccabees as representing the earliest Jewish strata of martyrology, although there are many earlier examples.”

Maccabees tells of the first martyrs to Roman persecution – not just those who fought, but those who refused to break Jewish law. Sure of going to Heaven, they went uncomplaining to their execution, unknowingly setting an example for future centuries of Christian martyrs:

And when he was at the last gasp, he said, Thou like a fury takest us out of this present life, but the King of the world shall raise us up, who have died for his laws, unto everlasting life.

A century later, the siege of Masada by Roman troops ended in the mass suicide of 960 rebels – or at least this is what Josephus, the sole chronicler of the event, recorded. Since archeologists have disputed his account, we must ask if this literally happened, or whether the evolving narrative of Jewish martyrdom required such a story. It doesn’t really matter, since the area is now one of Israel’s most popular tourist destinations and, more importantly, it shores up the myth of Israeli innocence. 

In any event, such narratives began to have enormous emotional resonance, and both Jews and Christians (and later, Moslems) compiled catalogues or lists of martyrs and other saints. Some scholars consider these martyrologies to have been vehicles through which Jews and Christians competed for adherents and negotiated their conflicting claims to ultimate truth. To this day, the faithful venerate their memories, celebrate their feast days, name places of worship, schools and hospitals after them.

Many secular states, we should note, do the same with their war victims regardless of their religious convictions. This is a major way in which nationalism perpetuates itself, saying in effect, they died so that you could live in freedom. You must be willing to do the same. Gervase Phillips writes:

The word martyr itself derives from the Greek for “witness”, originally applied to the apostles who had witnessed Christ’s life and resurrection. Later it was used to describe those who, arrested and on trial, admitted to being Christians. By the middle of the second century, it was granted to those who suffered execution for their faith. Christians were not alone in their admiration of those willing to die for their principles. The philosopher Socrates was unjustly condemned to death in 399 BC for “refusing to recognize the gods”…There was, however, a striking difference between Socrates and those martyred in the arenas. The philosopher hoped for, but was not sure of, an afterlife. The martyr, however, was very certain of an afterlife (and) of salvation and reward in heaven.

In the early centuries of the Christian period, as the age of mythological thinking reached its end, it became more difficult to think in terms of the symbolic processes of initiation and rebirth. And the holy text that emerged out of this period omitted the few metaphors of the sacred Earth that had been allowed into Hebrew scripture. As a result, wrote Paul Shepard, the New Testament is “one of the world’s most antiorganic and antisensuous masterpieces of abstract ideology…”

The zealots who wrested control of the church believed that Christ had literally returned from the dead, and that metaphoric interpretation of his life was unacceptable. Theirs was a religion, write Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy, of “…outer mysteries without the inner mysteries…”

In the late second century, they prohibited women from participating in worship. Soon, schisms developed over fine points of dogma, and rival sects attacked each other in furious jihads, even as the Roman state was still persecuting them. Soon enough, when Christianity became the official state religion, they attacked pagans with the same ferocity.

Here, we can apply some social-psychological insight. Christianity grew up within a heritage and in an atmosphere of violence. Like other traumatized children, it became a perpetrator of abuse, and early on it became obsessed with death.

Absolutely nothing attributed to Jesus in the Gospels suggested anything about his death as a sacrifice. Saint Paul, however, changed Christianity’s central focus from the old mythic image of the birth of the Divine Child to his death; in his vision the Aqedah – the story of the binding of Isaac – was completed only with Jesus’ sacrifice and resurrection. A religion of love devolved into an obsession with suffering. It taught that Christ’s sacrifice had occurred once, not as part of an unending cycle. The western world now understood myth literally, as actual history.

And since the idea of one unrepeatable sacrifice excluded any metaphorical or psychological interpretation of Christ’s death as sacrifice of the ego, it resulted in the suppression of initiation rites. Christians came to believe that Jesus, unlike Dionysus and other earlier gods, had died not as the cycle of creation but as penance for humanity’s bad behavior. This subtle yet significant difference shifted the emphasis from the tragedy of the human condition to the innate sinfulness of human nature. Eventually the initiation of adolescents was transformed into the ritual purification of infants who by their very nature were such threats that it was necessary to protect the community from them.

Having died for the sins of the world, Christ became the ultimate, if willing, scapegoat. Men left society (and women) to defeat their own sinfulness. To this day, the monks of Mount Athos in Greece still refuse to allow the presence of female animals onto their sacred grounds.

Eventually, some of these men even pursued martyrdom. In the late second-century, Arrius Antoninus, proconsul of current-day Turkey, was provoked by “the whole Christians of the province in one united band.” He obliged some of them and then sent the rest away, saying that if they wanted to kill themselves there was plenty of rope available or cliffs they could jump off. Later, Ignatius longed to suffer, “but I do not know whether I am worthy”, and Cyprian imagined the “…flowing blood which quenches the flames and the fires of hell by its glorious gore”.

Martyrdom would eventually evolve into one of the most emotive terms in the English language. It became the highest ethical virtue that every believer must be prepared to emulate, a shared tradition of the Abrahamic religions – in Hebrew, Kiddush Ha-Shem (sanctification of the divine name); in Arabic, shahada (witness). But let’s be very clear about how radical this belief was. Leonard Shlain, in The Alphabet and the Goddess, put this astonishing demand into its proper context:

Until the Christian martyrs, there does not occur anywhere in the recorded history of Mesopotamia, Egypt, Persia, Greece, India or China a single instance in which a substantial segment of the population accepted torture and death rather than forswear their belief in an ethereal concept.

This is the legacy of monotheism. No Buddhist, Hindu, Taoist, Confucian, Pagan or member of any of the thousands of indigenous religious systems before or since could possibly understand this willingness to die – or to slaughter one’s own child – rather than to change one’s mind about an idea, or to even to pretend to do so. Bruce Chilton, in Abraham’s Curse, adds:

Uniquely among the religions of the world, the three that center on Abraham have made the willingness to offer the lives of children – an action they all symbolize with versions of the Aqedah – a central virtue for the faithful as a whole.

And as we all know, the meaning of the word “martyr” gradually changed. Abraham’s knife became a soldier’s sword in Christian iconography. Dying as Christ (around 100 AD) became dying for Christ (500), which became killing for Christ (1000), or for Allah. And a thousand years later, give or take a decade or two, the Western world’s relationship with its deity and its understanding of myth and, yes, its contempt for its own children has produced the ultimate descent into literalism: dying for Allah and simultaneously killing as many innocent non-believers as possible.

The tyrant dies and his rule is over; the martyr dies and his rule begins. – Soren Kierkegaard

This is the logical outcome of the disappearance of mythic consciousness and initiation ritual. For thousands of years, men had symbolically killed the child-nature in their boys to invite their full participation in the adult world. But with the crushing of paganism, a literalized myth (the sacrifice of a child for the glory of his father) came to predominate. It was a very old myth, but now Europe was about to feast on the bodies of its young.

With the inexplicable advance of Islam, however, Christianity confronted a new and immensely powerful Other that questioned its assumptions of universal superiority. The Church responded by distracting its nobles from killing each other and enlisting their energies in crusades of conquest and extermination against the infidels. A new figure emerged: the warrior-monk, pledged to both chastity and eternal warfare. It became glorious to die even in defeat because it would be a martyr’s death.

The Crusades mark the first merger of what I have called the paranoid and predatory (link) imaginations. Pope Urban offered the soldiers both remissions of sin (now, violence was a ticket to paradise) as well as an incentive to martyrdom. The result was a scale of atrocities that still puzzles historians, who, writes Chilton,

…have not factored in the sacrificial dimension of Urban’s appeal. Self-sacrifice, more than self-interest, is the hidden hand guiding this strange and relentless history…Crusading was a license, not only to kill, but also to…indulge other appetites, absolved in advance.

Part Three

Several centuries later, as the Christian myth lost its power and a new myth – nationalism –replaced it, Europe enacted the old stories of the sacrifice of the children on a scale that no one could have previously imagined. Between 1914 and 1918, depending on how we count, some ten thousand young men were machine-gunned, gassed or blasted apart by artillery every single day. maxresdefault.jpg?w=407&h=228&profile=RESIZE_710xAnd most of them marched willingly into the sacrificial cauldron. The only difference was that now they did it for the Fatherland, rather than for the Father in the sky, although theologians of all stripes encouraged them.

Curiously, it was at precisely this moment that the new field of psychology began to speak of the “martyr complex” in terms of what we now commonly understand to be a desire to emphasize, exaggerate and create a negative experience in order to place blame or guilt on another person. But perhaps they were not looking at what was right in front of them, the religious roots of this malady. My etymology dictionary states that this “exaggerated desire for self-sacrifice” first appeared in print 1916. On July first of that year, after a week-long bombardment, several hundred thousand British troops rose out of their trenches at dawn on the Somme River to attack the German trenches. Within two hours, 60,000 of them were casualties, 20,000 of them dead.

This of course is the dark side of Hero mythology. On the other hand, we have countless examples of people who stood against real evil and were willing to sacrifice their lives for the greater good – not necessarily for an abstract concept, even one such as “freedom” – but for actual, living people. Each of us has our own list. Mine would include other Germans who resisted Nazism and the Muslims in that same war who risked everything to protect their Jewish neighbors. My essay Kind of a Circle tells one of those stories.

We all admire American anti-war and Civil rights activists, and we ought to praise our whistleblowers, from Daniel Ellsberg to Ed Snowden, Jeffrey Sterling, John Kiriakou, Reality Winner and Chelsea Manning, and journalists such as Julian Assange for the same reason. Here is Mario Savio’s ‘bodies upon the gears’ speech from 1964.  82558199_10162995979870720_5017452774544113664_n.jpg?w=223&h=167&profile=RESIZE_710x And even this week, two Oakland mothers who took over an empty house asked for support and hundreds turned out to put their bodies on the line. We all have our lists of those we admire for sticking their necks (or other body parts)  out. How about those people who donate kidneys to save a life? The list goes own.

It does get a bit sticky, however, when we consider those throughout the past century who went hungerstrikers.jpg?w=297&h=251&profile=RESIZE_710xon hunger strikes – and many of them died – to force the wider world to pay attention to their causes. Again, some might ask, what did they accomplish? Did anyone notice?  Even this week, two asylum seekers in ICE custody have been on hunger strike for over seventy-five days. Have you noticed?

It gets even stickier when we consider individuals such as the Buddhist monks who immolated themselves to protest South Vietnamese government in the early 1960s, or the Hindu practice of Sati. A Wikipedia article describes this widespread phenomena here.

During the Great Schism of the Russian Church, entire villages of Old Believers burned themselves to death in an act known as “fire baptism”. The example set by self-immolators in the mid 20th century did spark numerous similar acts between 1963 and 1971…Researchers counted almost 100 self-immolations…In 1968 the practice spread to the Soviet bloc…Since 2009, there have been, as of June 2017, 148 confirmed self-immolations by Tibetans, with most of these protests (some 80%) ending in death….A wave of self-immolation suicides occurred in conjunction with the Arab Spring protests in the Middle East and North Africa, with at least 14 recorded incidents.

Sometimes we need to reconsider some of these images. th-e1579379237804.jpg?w=251&h=204&profile=RESIZE_710xFather Greg Boyle, the “real Christian” I referred to above, who created Homeboy Industries to put former gang members to work, has reframed the contemporary urban phrase of deep friendship I’d take a bullet for him into Nothing stops a bullet like a job! 

But why do we celebrate and venerate – in thousands of stories and films – one very particular kind of heroism? For context, we have to take another digression, this time into American mythology. And we have to acknowledge that for well over a century, American popular culture, disseminated by Hollywood, has overwhelmed indigenous and local storytelling nearly everywhere to become, for better or for worse, world mythology. While we remember Joseph Campbell’s foundational text, The Hero With A Thousand Faces, we need to understand how the American story completely inverted it. Chapters Seven and Nine of my book address this theme in much greater detail, but here is its essence.

The classic hero enacts the three-part initiation theme found in nearly all cultures. Born in community, he hears a call, ventures forth on his journey and returns, sadder but wiser, with the gifts of insight and knowledge. The community welcomes him home, with the old wisdom that each generation must endure these trials in order to remake culture and keep it fresh.

By contrast, the American hero comes from elsewhere, entering the community only temporarily and only to defend it from malevolent attacks. Its leaders, who are weak, incompetent or corrupt, often betray him. Though he cares about them, he is not one of them.

Often his identity is a secret; he may wear a mask or bizarre costume. He is without flaw but also without depth. He is not re-integrated into society, and in recent versions, the community itself is not fully re-integrated. The Other – Terror – is now a permanent threat. “If the function of the enemy is to represent uncontrollable human desire,” writes James Gibson, “then he must constantly be reincarnated in some form or other.”

Classic heroes often wed beautiful maidens, enact the sacred marriage (hieros gamos) and produce many children. But the American hero (with few exceptions such as James Bond and comic antiheroes) doesn’t get or even want the girl. Even Bond remains a bachelor. Often the hero must choose between an attractive sexual partner and duty to his mission. Some (Batman, the Lone Ranger, etc.) renounce marriage altogether, preferring a male “sidekick.” John Wayne (in almost all of his roles), Hawkeye, the Virginian, Superman, Green Lantern, Spiderman, Rambo, Sam Spade, Indiana Jones, Robert Langdon, John Shaft, Captains Kirk, America and Marvel and dozens of others: all are single. They may be divorced or widowed, but they are all unattached to the feminine principal. In this essentially Christian story, their sexual purity ensures moral infallibility, but it also denies both complexity and the possibility of healing.

Indeed, sexual impurity corrupts Eden. The hero often enacts his savior role in disaster films (Earthquake, Towering Inferno, Tidal Wave, Jaws). In these films, the sexual license of certain (usually female) characters seems to trigger the destruction, and they die first. Nature responds with a moral cleansing. The pattern was set in the Old Testament: only the pure and faithful escape. jaws_1975_01.jpg?w=293&h=165&profile=RESIZE_710xThe first victim in Jaws (one of cable TV’s most popular re-runs) is a sexually provocative woman. The final scene, in which the hero (who is married but who has refused to make love to his wife) destroys the giant shark, perfectly recreates the 4,000-year-old story of Marduk’s killing of Tiamat. Once again, the hero vanquishes the feminine serpent.

The classic hero endures the initiatory torments in order to suffer into knowledge and renew the world. This old, pagan and tragic vision recognizes that something must always die for new life to grow, and that this is a symbolic process, not necessarily a literal one. But the American hero cares only to redeem (“buy back”) others. Born in monotheism, he saves Eden by combining elements of the sacrificial Christ who dies for the world and his zealous, jealous, omnipotent father. The community begins and ends in innocence. And though this hero may be willing to sacrifice himself in order to restore innocence to the community, he usually doesn’t actually die. But he does leave when his work is done. Even if his heroism does result in his death, he returns like Christ to “a better place,” his father’s house.

The hero’s superhuman abilities reflect a hope for divine redemption that science has never eradicated. Only in our salvation-obsessed culture and the places our movies go does he appear. Then, he changes the lives of others without transforming them.

I can’t emphasize these insights too strongly. The redemption hero, whom Americans admire above all others, has inherited an immensely long process of abstraction, alienation and splitting of the western psyche. He gives us the model, wrote James Hillman, “for that peculiar process upon which our civilization rests: dissociation.” He is utterly disconnected from relationship with the Other, whom he has demonized into his mirror opposite, the irredeemably evil. Since he never laments the violence employed in destroying such an evil presence, he reinforces our own denial of death. His appeal lies deep below rational thinking.

This hero requires no nurturance, doesn’t grow in wisdom, creates nothing, and teaches only violent resolution of disputes. His renunciation justifies his furious vengeance upon those who cannot control their appetites for power or sex, and this clearly has a modeling effect on millions of adolescent males in each new generation. Defending democracy through fascist means, he also renounces citizenship. He offers, write Jewett and Lawrence, “vigilantism without lawlessness, sexual repression without resultant perversion, and moral infallibility without… intellect.”

His work is too important for the trivial distractions of relationship with real people such as his wife and children because his true allegiance is to the father gods of the sky. Again, the pattern was set two thousand years ago when Jesus returned to his father, leaving the tomb empty. Yes, we admire Franz Jägerstätter as a perfect exemplar of that mythic narrative, as one who died for, perhaps as Christ. But many of us are parents and grandparents. And we all had, even for the briefest of times, a father. Franz went to a better place, but he left his children here.

So – The final scenes of A Hidden Life unfold, the credits role, and we sit in the still-darkened theater weeping. This much is certain. But why are we weeping? I won’t lie: I heard the voice of John Lennon:

Mama don’t go!
Daddy come home!
Mama don’t go!
Daddy come home!

Is this old, irrelevant stuff? Shira Lander describes an adult study session she conducted at a synagogue on the subject of martyrdom. She asked the participants how the subject made people feel.

Most were unsettled by the images, and even were repulsed by the idea of martyrdom—all except the rabbi, who declared with confidence, “I think I would have to choose martyrdom if faced with apostasy. How could I fulfill my role as a model of faith for my community if I didn’t? That’s part of being a rabbi.”

Part Four

Believe those who are seeking the truth. Doubt those who find it. – Andre Gide

Slowly I would get to pen and paper, make my poems for others unseen and unborn. – Muriel Rukeyser

I don’t like to say this, but I have to admit that pretty much everything is more complicated than it seems. There are so many ways to look at anything. They are all valid, and  perhaps we need them all. As historians we have to be literal, and so we ask, what actually happened? As psychologists we are concerned with relationships (internal or external), so we ask, why did it happen? Could it have happened differently? James Hillman insisted on a polytheistic psychology that can reflect the polytheistic nature of our souls and the fact that we are all multiple personalities. So as mythologists we ask where am I – right now – in this story that constantly repeats itself? What part of it – what specific image – is roiling my emotions right now?

Do we admire Franz Jägerstätter’s self-sacrifice? Depending on our perspective – that is to say, depending perhaps on the emotional issues that drive us – we may well observe that he was sacrificing more – much more – than his own life, and we will react accordingly. Regardless, if we pay attention to how our own souls move, we realize that A Hidden Life, like any great work of art, has thrown us into an emotional turmoil that can only be resolved not with answers but with more questions.

Questions like: Who am I? By what circles of relationship do I define myself? What would I do for a cause, for an abstract ideal? For what reason – or which people – would I lay down my own life? For what cause or which people would I step into the fire of sacrifice, aware that my act might well be an utter waste? Do I have any faith that such an act might well have impact on others unknown and even unborn?

Or: What part of my own consciousness, what belief systems, what identity have I yet to sacrifice in order to die into a greater self, the self that my ancestors have been waiting for me to manifest? Why exactly have I entered this world? What unperformed sacrifices would I regret if I were to die today?

We are right where we need to be – in the realm of profound mysteries, where as physicist Niels Bohr wrote,

The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. But the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth.

As I mentioned above, no member of any of the thousands of indigenous religious systems that existed prior to the advent of monotheism could ever support this willingness to sacrifice one’s body for an idea – to literally, physically die. Of course, I can’t prove such a statement, but everything I’ve ever read or learned from living representatives of such cultures reinforces it. And here is another level of mystery: much of these oldest wisdom in the world coincides with the 20th-century insights of Archetypal Psychology. I remember a scene at a men’s conference about 25 years ago. Malidoma Somé spoke at length about the traditions of his Dagara people, especially in terms of the symbolic death of the childlike or heroic ego that is necessary during initiation. When he finished, Hillman rose to say, “This is exactly what I have been trying to say for years!”

In these times when this beautiful world is in such terrible danger, we all need to grow – to remember what we all once knew – the capacity to think mythologically. Then, as I write in Chapter One of my book,

…We perceive meaning on several levels simultaneously, aware that the literal, psychological and symbolic dimensions of reality complement and interpenetrate each other to make a greater whole…There is no reason to assume that indigenous people cannot do this. Actually, it is we who have, by and large, lost this capacity. The curses of modernity – alienation, environmental collapse, totalitarianism, consumerism, addiction and world war – are the results…

For tribal people, to explain is not a matter of presenting literal facts, but to tell a story, which is judged, writes David Abram, by “whether it makes sense… to enliven the senses” to multiple levels of meaning…and myth is truth precisely because it refuses to reduce the world to one single perspective.

So in a sense we are back where we started. Of course, self-sacrifice amounts to nothing more than suicide – on one level.

And again, we must take note of the synchronicities. I mentioned above that the Gestapo executed Otto and Elise Hampel on April 4th, 1943 (another source says they died on the 8th). That same week, Franz was nearby, in another Berlin prison. On the 2nd of the month, Bulgaria informed the Germans that its 25,000 Jews would not be turned over to German control. On the 5th, the Gestapo arrested war resister and Lutheran Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer (he was executed shortly before the end of the war). On the 9th, the S.S. murdered 2,300 Jews in the Ukrainian Ghetto of Zbrow.


                                                             Sophie Scholl of the White Rose

Fred Korematsu’s court appeal was pending. In Budapest, Oskar Schindler was in contact with the Jewish resistance. On the 17th, Hungary refused (temporarily, it turned out) to deliver its 800,000 Jews to the Germans. On the 19th, the Gestapo executed fourteen Germans associated with the White Rose anti-Nazi resistance (in February they had showered the atrium of Munich University with anti-Nazi leaflets). On the same day, the Belgian resistance liberated 233 Jews from an Auschwitz-bound train. On the 19th, the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto began their famous uprising.

Were the sacrificial acts of the Hampels and Franz Jägerstätter emblematic of a great turning point in the war? Is it possible that their deaths did not occur in a moral vacuum? Speaking of turning points, biochemist Albert Hofmann accidentally ingested LSD for the first time on April 16th, 1943.

This quote from George Elliot appears in the last frame of A Hidden Life:

…for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.


           Angels with symbols of martyrdom on the portal of Sant Andrea della Valle Church in Rome.



Read more…


In January, 2020, you are invited to renew your connection to the symbolic life by Coming Home to Pacifica 

Human beings are made of stories—the stories we have lived; stories that serve to guide us, and the stories that we aspire to create. One ancient and archetypal story that each of us carries within is that of coming home. In mythology, the story of Odysseus offers a beautiful perspective on homecoming. Odysseus, who initially left his home to go to war, ends up being away for 10 long years, and the adventures that unfold as he continually seeks to come home—including the way he ultimately succeeds—end up changing his life forever. For Odysseus, and for each of us, the journey that leads toward coming home can result in regeneration of Self and constant new knowing.

“When I found Pacifica, it felt like coming home.” I have heard this sentiment from countless students and alumni who relate to the experience of finding and arriving at Pacifica, in whatever way we did, as a kind of homecoming—perhaps to the type of home we always longed for, a place where we felt we belonged; a soul-space inhabited by likeminded others who also talked of soul and dreams; myth and nature; and culture and longing.

This deep sense of connection stands to reason if you consider what Jungian analyst, John Hill, writes in his compelling book, At Home in the World (2010). According to Hill, the notion of “home” carries a critical effect on our psyche since home is tied to caretaking, nurturing, and sustenance. Indeed, one can be authentically fed by having a deep connection to a place that feels like home.

I learned much about the concept of home from Pacifica’s own, Dr Ed Casey, whose book Getting Back into Place: Toward a Renewed Understanding of the Place-World ( (2009) played a significant role in my own dissertation, in which I also wrote about coming home to both ourselves and to the sacred. Dr. Casey uses the term emplacement to describe how we locate ourselves in a landscape that provides context and narrative, engendering meaning. This coincides with Hill’s (2010) assertion that home has an affiliation with landscape, community, and surroundings, and is connected to history, memory, clan, and shared meaningful experiences.

Perhaps you can relate to this sense of emplacement through your own experience at Pacifica: Here is the classroom is where my cohort held council; there out on the lawn is where we did dreamwork together; over there is the Kwan Yin statue where I sometimes ate lunch, or just allowed myself to sit in solitude and wonder. Here is the yurt; there are the incredible labyrinth with so much ancient symbolism and meaning. There is bench where I could site in awe of the ocean in the far-off distance.

John Hill (2010) further defines home as a “narrative reality,” the manner in which we attach to a place a person or an object, a nation, a group, a culture or an ideal. These attachments are experiential, conferring a sense of belonging. In fact, we each carry an urgent and infinite longing to be ecologically and psychologically embedded in something bigger than ourselves—something that offers us safety by virtue of its boundaries; something which contains us through  a sense of connection and caring; that which feeds us by the very nature of being. This longing for belonging to something bigger is innate in every human being, a seed planted within our soul; a seed of memory of the way in which we are related to the Infinite.

In fact, Jung addressed this theme, writing: “The decisive question for man is: Is he related to something infinite or not? That is the telling question of his life. Only if we know that the thing which truly matters is the infinite can we avoid fixing our interest upon futilities, and upon all kinds of goals which are not of real importance.” (Jung, 1989)

At the core of my own work in depth psychology, I have written extensively about Colony Collapse Disorder, the mass vanishing of honeybees around the world which was first noticed and named at the end of 2006. In the case of CCD, bees are not merely dying in and around the hive as they naturally do, even when they are faced with disease. Rather, they are essentially lost, failing to return home to the hive with the critical provisions of pollen and nectar that sustain the hive.

When I began to look at the phenomenon of CCD from a depth psychological lens, I recognized that the failure of the bees to return home to the hive is a powerful metaphor for our own spiritual journey as humans. We have all heard the adage: We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. Instead, we are spiritual beings having a human experience.

We were born into this world of form as eternal, soul-centered beings, but from the moment of our birth—perhaps even our conception—we began to be conditioned by our caretakers, families, teachers, authority figures, and peers, as well as our society, who each told us what to think and how to perceive the world around us. We developed coping mechanisms to help us deal with trauma, rejection, wounding, and setbacks that would otherwise have been overwhelming to our innocent child selves.

As we grew up, layer on layer of lenses, perceptions, and defensive or promotional processes built on themselves, creating a sort of patina around our essential, authentic selves. Over time, we became largely disconnected from the notion of soul—both from our own individual soul selves here in human bodies to learn and to grow, and also as a culture, which has all but forgotten our indigenous roots that relied upon our connection to nature, to ritual and ceremony, to images and dreams—to the sacred. Like the honeybees who have failed to return home, we, as humans, have also become lost—entranced by western consumer-oriented culture; entangled in our busy lives and disconnected from a sense of soul.

That, I believe, is why so many of us felt such a magical sense of homecoming when we found Pacifica. To land in a place where what matters most is soul! To not only be given permission to reconnect with the sacred in everyday life, but to understand that it is a mandate! What we learn at Pacifica is how to come home to ourselves by developing sacred practices that honor the divine spark in each of us, and how, in doing so, we also contribute to and sustain the greater hive—whether it be our precious communities, the world at large, or even the divine itself—through our presence, our love, and our deep commitment to the sacred.

And in learning to come home to ourselves, our stories change. They become enriched. When we come home to the hive, we locate ourselves in relation to the Infinite.

Each year, each of us receives a precious invitation to come home to Pacifica through the annual Coming Home event (this year, January 17-19, 2020). If you are lucky enough to be able to attend in person at the Ladera campus in Santa Barbara, you will have the opportunity to sit in precious soul-space in physical form; to make heartfelt connections with likeminded friends—old and new; to roam the landscape and visit old haunts, reliving memories that contribute to your connection to your soul-self and your sense of calling in the world; and to share your own sacred story of Life and Learning.

If you are unable to attend live, you can still take advantage of the magic of technology and join via Zoom video conferencing to hear soulful talks and engage in shared meaningful conversations on themes of Stories, Mythology, History, Legacy, Community, and Calling. When you give yourself the gift of coming home—in any form—you are feeding your soul and coming home to your Self.

In my own everyday work as a soul-centered coach, I guide my clients to use a soulful perspective to remember who they truly are; to find and nurture their own relationship to the Infinite. As Jungian analyst Clarissa Pinkola Estés writes, “When you focus with soul eyes, you will see home in many, many places.” Indeed, the great gift of my own education in depth psychology is the (ever-expanding) capacity to focus with soul eyes, and my great hope is that each of us will make it a sacred practice to come home to ourselves, every moment of every day.

To learn more or register for the annual Coming Home event January 17-19, 2020, visit


Casey, E. S. (2009). Getting back into place: Toward a renewed understanding of the place-world (2nd ed.). Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.

Estés, C. P. (1992). Women who run with the wolves: Myths and stories of the wild woman archetype (1st ed.). New York, NY: Ballantine Books.

Hill, J. (2010). At home in the world: Sounds and symmetries of belonging. New Orleans, LA: Spring Journal Books.

Jung, C. G. (1989). Memories, dreams, reflections (A. Jaffé  Ed., R. Winston & C. Winston, Trans.) New York, NY: Random House. (Original work published 1961)

Originally Posted on the PGIAA Coming Home Web Site at

Read more…

9142469452?profile=originalAs spiritual beings having a human experience, each of us longs for meaning. “Humans are living stories, each imbued with an inherent message and a meaning trying to find its way into the world,” writes mythologist Michael Meade. However, without a sense of calling or capacity to live into the unique gifts we each possess, we can feel ourselves lost, alone, depressed, or despairing, not knowing how we belong in the world. 

On the other hand, a depth psychological perspective provides a powerful vehicle to see and understand how we are profoundly interconnected with nature, the world around us, and with each other, making our “living stories” joyful and hopeful as we live into our calling and gifts here in the world. As we each turn our attention to myth, dreams, fairytales, and stories in every form—including books and movies—we begin to discern the stories we are already living, and to tune into the possibilities of enlarging upon or transforming them for our greater good.

My own “living story” took a dramatic turn toward meaning and fulfillment when I made the decision to pursue my Ph.D. in depth psychology at Pacifica. On that fateful day, I first walked into an information meeting about Pacifica in the Barrett Center, where a short film was already in progress. The narrator was just introducing Pacifica’s motto—animae mundi colendae gratie – which translates closely to “for the sake of tending soul in and of the world.”  In that moment of soulful encounter, I experienced an overwhelming sense of emotion and the instant recognition that I had finally come home. It was a feeling of calling—a longing to learn how to use a depth psychological perspective to see beyond the surface of things; to gain insights I could use to live my life more fully in service to people and planet, and to help others do the same.

One of the founders of depth psychology, C. G. Jung, advocated a process of coming to consciousness and greater wholeness through self-realization—a process he termed “individuation.” “How are you fulfilling your life’s task (“mission”) . . . the meaning and purpose of your existence?” he queried. “This is the question of individuation.”

According to Jung, we each are a product of our Self, a vastly intelligent, unified, self-organizing entity whose overarching intelligence regulates and eternally inspires us to always go in the direction of growth toward integration, to achieve our ultimate potential—a coming home to ourselves. Jung believed that individuation is the unfolding of the Self’s plan for wholeness.

In fact, Jung summed the individuation process up quite simply, saying,  “To the constantly reiterated question ‘What can I do?’ I know no other answer except ‘Become what you have always been, namely, the wholeness which we have lost in the midst of our civilized, conscious existence.’ ” He went on to add that this wholeness is something that “we always were without knowing it.” 

On the journey of individuation, one way of making meaning is through the exploration of the personal, collective, and archetypal meaning of the numinous symbols that impact us in daily life—a process Jung (1964) called “symbolic thought.”

Jung posited that archetypes—autonomous instincts, patterns, or behaviors, which are common across all eras, peoples, and places—organize the contents of the unconscious and connect it to nature. The language of archetypes (and therefore of the unconscious) is manifest through symbols, which entice us with their numinous power to engage with them in a meaningful way to understand ourselves better and to achieve transformation and healing. 

A symbol opens a portal to understanding ourselves and serves as a vehicle to navigate the deeper parts of the unconscious.  Edward Edinger, a colleague of Jung’s, noted that to see the symbolic image behind a given symptom immediately transforms the experience.”

 By taking symbolic experiences seriously, we “live the symbolic life,” suggests Jung.  This perspective enables us to remember that we are both human and divine—that we are infinite beings in human bodies on a journey to awaken to our own wholeness and pure potentiality.

Shamanic cultures also seem to embrace the symbolic life. Because they view the world as ensouled, nature is inherently imbued with power. The synchronistic call of an owl or the flight of a crow may be considered portentous. In the mornings, tribes might gather to assess their nighttime dreams for guidance and direction. Myths and stories are passed down to help younger generations understand context and purpose. Future shamans undergo initiation through a process of shamanic illness, visions, or dismemberment, in order to be re-membered into their role as a shaman, and thus awakening to a new reality.

For those of us in modern western culture, when we are swept into distress, despair, frustration, anger, or a sense of separation, loss, or abandonment, it is because we have forgotten our divine nature and our place in relationship to the world soul. We have abandoned the symbolic life and take the things that happen to us far too personally or literally. In my role as a soul-centered coach, I guide my clients through challenges by looking at their lives from a symbolic, metaphoric, mythic, shamanic, and depth psychological perspective instead of a literal one. This kind of a depth psychological perspective helps us find our way to our own inherent gifts and calling. 

This depth of experience, accessed and lived through symbol and story, can then be conveyed through writing, art, speaking, storytelling, theater, healing, coaching, consulting, therapy, parenting, caregiving, as well as love, empathy, and compassion in every form. These offerings become the foundation of our calling, each of us, when we engage a depth psychological lens to help heal ourselves, our planet, and people that we love.

In January, 2020, you are invited to renew your connection to the symbolic life by Coming Home to Pacifica in a unique 3-day event filled with symbolic, metaphoric, mythic, shamanic, and depth psychological perspectives. Attend in person at the Ladera campus in Santa Barbara, CA, for the opportunity to gather with likeminded others and engage in soulful conversations about character, creativity, and calling—or join via Zoom if you can’t attend live. Either way, you’ll have the opportunity to re-connect with the power of ritual, the meaning of myth and symbol, the joy of conscious community, and the beauty of the world soul.

“Our job is not to comprehend or control everything, but to learn which story we are in and which of the many things calling out in the world is calling to us,” notes Michael Meade.  “Our job is to be fully alive in the life we have, to pick up the invisible thread of our own story and follow where it leads. Our job is to find the thread of our own dream and live it all the way to the end.”

That mandate begins with understanding from a depth psychological perspective what it means to live the symbolic life, and evolves, in turn, to knowing the truth of our calling in this world. Whenever we engage in a soulful way, our stories come to life, creating beautiful ripples that touch the lives of those around us, potentially sparking and igniting something new for them as well. Come home to yourself by engaging with soul!

To learn more or register for the annual Coming Home event January 17-19, 2020, visit

Original Post on the PGIAA Coming Home web site

Read more…

Part One

The Adams’

The Adams’ are an old New England Yankee family. After attaining a Law degree from Yale (as both his father and grandfather had done before him), Frank Adams signed up to fight fascism in World War Two. He joined the Office of Strategic Services, America’s first national intelligence service. Most of its members came from conservative backgrounds, but quite a few, like Frank, were liberals and true believers in the Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal.

As a government agency, the OSS was unique in American history. Many of its top leaders were Ivy League graduates, while among its most effective operatives on the ground – and behind enemy lines – were communists and veterans of the Abraham Brigade which had recently fought fascism in Spain. Richard Harris Smith’s book OSS – The Secret History of America’s First Central Intelligence Agency  is a fascinating narrative of how the 11,000 members of its intelligence and sabotage units engaged in many of the unheralded but critical episodes of the war while negotiating bizarre coalitions of right-wing monarchists and left-wing revolutionaries in every country in Europe and the Far East.


Ho Chi Minh (center) and Vo Nguyen Giap (far left) with American OSS agents planning action against the Japanese, 1945

The 2006 film The Good Shepherd  describes the OSS’s idealistic origins and its dark transformation into the criminal CIA.

But all that came later. Frank served honorably, and at war’s end he felt that America was indeed fulfilling its destiny to defend freedom and bring opportunity to the world. There was only one problem – he believed (I will be using this word a lot) in the idea of American exceptionalism, that America always did right, and always for the right reasons, and that even when it didn’t this was because of human mistakes. And he naturally believed in one of its main corollaries, that the Evil Other was determined to subvert America’s ideals, for no reason other than its own depravity.

And in Frank’s time, once Germany and Japan had surrendered, the Other appeared to be the cancer of international communism that threatened democracy everywhere. So, when the O.S.S. transformed into the Central Intelligence Agency, Frank continued his career in covert operations as a willing soldier in America’s anti-communist crusade. For a while, his belief in the CIA’s mission kept him from realizing that it was purging all the liberals and was functioning to destroy popular movements for self-determination everywhere, from Italy, Greece and Iran to Southeast Asia, Africa and Latin America.

The Zeligs

In the first decade of the twentieth century, the Zelig family, like millions of others, escaped anti-Semitic pogroms in Eastern Europe and immigrated to America, which they considered the beacon of democracy and freedom. But they never forgot their socialist ideals (honed before the Russian revolution), and they were politically active in their new home, New York City. By social class, ethnicity, politics and their sheer newness, they were the exact opposite of the Adams – but they were also true believers. 300px-american_communists.jpg?w=640&profile=RESIZE_710xAs a 15-year-old in 1937, Al Zelig stood on street corners raising money for that same Spanish Republic that so many New York Jewish progressives were fighting for, some of whom would later join Frank Adams’ OSS.

Both progressives and conservatives held the notion of progress, along with freedom, as their highest ideal. As I write in Chapter Nine of my book, Madness at The Gates of the City: The Myth of American Innocence:

Socialists also believed in progress. Freedom, writes (Robert) Nesbit,

…became inseparable from “membership in some collective or community…and from the creation…of a new type of human being.” The religious expectation that had driven men for centuries shifted to socialism’s secular dream without losing intensity. Marx put the golden age at the end of history rather than at the beginning. Communism would be “the solution of the riddle of history.” Its universally compelling appeal had overtones of the Book of Revelation. People everywhere sang the words of The Internationale: “Tis the final conflict.”

In Spain, members of the International Brigades sang it in twenty languages. Spain, like no other time or place in the twentieth century, was a place of possibility, where people crossed borders, sacrificing their futures not for religion or to glorify their fathers, but simply to make a better world. For many, Spain still symbolizes what might have been. And, like any war between brothers, including America’s, the Spanish Civil War evokes the conflict between unreconciled parts of the psyche, for which we may substitute Frank and Al. Neither of them went to Spain, but the shadow of that tragedy hangs over this story.

Years later, Al and his wife joined the American Communist Party, as fully committed to their vision of the future as Frank Adams was to his. Frank’s son Ron, born shortly after the war, spoke Spanish, ironically, as his first language, because he lived his first four years in Peru, where the C.I.A. had stationed his father. Al’s son Danny was born the same year and, like Ron, was a post-war child steeped in his parent’s idealism.

Parallel Childhoods

1953 was a critical year for the two families. Both McCarthyism and the Hollywood Blacklist were at their heights. Under the banner of resisting Communism, the American empire was crushing dissent at home and extending itself across the world.

Tehran, Iran, August 19th: Ron Adams, age six, sat in the front seat of a car holding a metal box as his father drove through the city. Ron learned later that it contained thousands of dollars in cash that Frank and his CIA cohorts were distributing to corrupt politicians and thugs. This map shows their

Directed by another OSS alumnus, Kermit Roosevelt, they were in the process of overthrowing Iran’s elected government and installing a brutal monarchy that itself would not be overthrown until the Islamic revolution of 1979.

In the following year, the CIA would overthrow another democratically elected government in Guatemala, leading to decades of civil war and genocide against the Mayan people.

As I write in Chapter Eleven:

Imagine America entering the liminal period of 1953-1955. Imagine it as a time during which the empire reached its apogee (the current madness being merely a last gasp), when the seeds of its collapse first sprouted. The U.S. had a position of security that was unparalleled in human history, with absolute control over the Western Hemisphere and both oceans. Its economy and culture dominated the world. And yet anticommunist hysteria was running wild.

In April 1953, President Eisenhower barred gays from all federal jobs. In June, the government executed Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. The Korean War ended in stalemate in July, just as the Cuban revolution began. In August, the C.I.A. overthrew Iran’s government. Kinsey’s second volume, on female sexuality, appeared in the fall. War of the Worlds left viewers staring fearfully at the stars for signs of the next incursion by The Other, while Shane presented the lone Redemption Hero in his most classic form, literally riding off into the sunset. In December, the first issue of Playboy with nude pictures of Marilyn Monroe arrived.

In May 1954 the French surrendered at Dien Bien Phu (Viet Nam). Ten days later, the Supreme Court made its decision in Brown vs Board of Education, jump-starting the Civil Rights Movement. In June, Congress added the words “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance, and the C.I.A. overthrew another democracy in Guatemala. Three days later, Viet Nam was divided, marking the official beginning of America’s involvement. In August, as the C.I.A. defeated the insurrection in the Philippines, Congress made membership in the Communist Party a felony.

Consider that last fact: it was now a crime to join a political party in America.

Part Two

In that same period, the Zeligs were moving their residences every three or four months. As committed, underground communist cadres, Al and his wife had been assigned the task of providing safe houses for fugitive radicals who were evading the F.B.I. Each time they moved to a new town, they changed their jobs, their churches and their surnames. And they instructed their impressionable six-year-old son that he had to – several times – falsify his first name. One month, Danny would be Tommy; another month he would be Robert. At first it was a game; later it was simply crazy making.

Ideologically opposed as they were, both Frank Adams and Al Zelig had built their entire identities upon what turned out to be thin veneers of belief. Generations before, both of their families had spurned organized religion. But, as James Hillman taught, all Americans are “psychologically Christian… we are each…like it or not, children of the Biblical God. It is a fact, the essential American fact.”


What does Hillman’s curious statement mean? I interpret it as a lament that in this demythologized world, we are all essentially uninitiated persons who have long forgotten the indigenous capacity to think metaphorically. As such, we tend to use literalized, polarized, “either-or” terminology. We are all monotheists at heart, and our default mode, even as educated liberals, is to fill the holes in our creative imaginations with belief systems of one form or another and to demonize opposing points of view. And it is a simple temptation when we lose faith in one system to quickly replace it with another.

We have been conditioned over the centuries to reduce the multi-layered mystery of world and self to the simplistic dualisms of monotheism: whatever isn’t aligned with our god must necessarily follow his opposite. Here is a clue: if your people consider their story to be literally true and other people’s stories are “myths,” then you and your people are thinking literally. Other mono-words share the brittleness of one correct way: monopoly, monogamy, monolithic, monarchy, monotonous.

As monotheism triumphed, it transformed difference into “otherness,” as a threat to be eliminated. But in our bones, we still have the vestigial memory of an original, creative, animist, pagan imagination that appreciates diversity and welcomes all gods and all emotions, including humor. Hillman insisted, “The Gods don’t require my belief for their existence, nor do I require belief for my experience of their existence.”

So it seems to me that If solutions to our great social and environmental crises emerge, they will originate outside of the monoculture’s arrogantly monocular view, from people on the edges, people who, in Caroline Casey’s words, “…believe nothing; entertain possibilities.”

As soon as the generals and the politicos

can predict the motions of your mind, lose it.

Leave it as a sign to mark the false trail, the way you didn’t go.

– Wendell Berry

The danger – and the opportunity – that belief offers us is to lose it, to lose faith, to become disillusioned. For some of us, as Hillman wrote, this tragic blessing happens through betrayal.

All of the grand, over-arching, ideological mono-liths of our Judeo-Christian tradition, from the Crusades to the Inquisition, to American Puritanism to Nazism to radical Islam have utilized betrayal and the fear of betrayal for their own ends. But perhaps the utopia symbolized by international communism is the saddest story of our past century, where the lives of Frank and Al, and millions of believers like them, intersected. Unfortunately, like all the ideologies that came before, communism accepted the primacy of means over ends, that any crimes whatsoever were acceptable if they furthered the “cause.” Adam Kirsch writes:

By the late nineteen-thirties, Western intellectuals who sympathized with Communism had already proved themselves capable of accepting a great deal of killing in the name of the cause…(They) usually justified Stalinism’s crimes as the necessary price of building a socialist future, and of defending it against a hostile capitalist world. Walter Duranty, the Times’ correspondent in Moscow, excused the three million famine deaths that were caused by the push to collectivize Soviet agriculture, writing that, “to put it brutally—you can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs.”

The twin shadows of belief are betrayal and martyrdom. Indeed, Christianity became the first religion to make martyrdom a demand of faith. Leonard Shlain put this process into historical context:

Until the Christian martyrs, there does not occur anywhere in the recorded history of Mesopotamia, Egypt, Persia, Greece, India or China a single instance in which a substantial segment of the population accepted torture and death rather than forswear their belief in an ethereal concept.

Even as deeply idealistic men like Frank and Al – communists, anti-communists. socialists, liberals, labor activists, anarchists, fascists, anti-fascists, monarchists, Catholics and poets – were sacrificing themselves on the arid fields of Spain between 1936 and 1939, Stalin’s show trials were destroying thousands, perhaps millions of lives. Their alleged crimes: betrayal of the cause. One of these believers in intellectual orthodoxy was Arthur Koestler, who in his disillusionment would go on to write Darkness At Noon, Dialogue With Death and The God that Failed. Kirsch continues:

Koestler…did not become a Communist “by a process of elimination.” Rather, he compared the experience to a religious conversion. “The whole universe falls into pattern like the stray pieces of a jigsaw puzzle,” he wrote. “There is now an answer to every question.”

Soviet Communism in its heyday served many people around the world as a secular religion. Today, although Marxist ideas and the label “socialist” have been resurgent on the left, the enormous influence once exerted by Communism now seems a distant phenomenon. To its adherents, Communism was not just a party identification but a complete theory of life and history, which dictated both personal and political morality. And it was the conflict between that morality and ordinary moral instincts—which condemned things like lying and killing, which the Party often demanded—that provided the dramatic focus of “Darkness at Noon”…every political creed must eventually face the question of whether noble ends can justify evil means. As Koestler saw, this problem reached its pure form in Communism because its avowed aim was the noblest of all: the permanent abolition of social injustice throughout the world. If this could be achieved, what price would be too high? Maybe a million or ten million people would die today, but if billions would be happy tomorrow wasn’t that worth it? A Communist revolutionary, Koestler writes, “is forever damned to do what he loathes the most: become a butcher in order to stamp out butchery, sacrifice lambs so lambs will no longer be sacrificed.”

Frank’s belief system was no different. He saw close up how anti-communism was as much a system of mass murder as Stalin’s was, but he justified his crimes because of his noble ideals. His politics, like Al’s, had been an all-encompassing faith; psychologically they were no different from other fundamentalists. And each inevitably became disillusioned. Perhaps eventually each of them might have agreed with Koestler: “A harmful truth is better than a useful lie.” But each in his way experienced the dark reality behind his passionate commitment when he felt betrayed by those he had served. I would imagine that they each felt, even in their agnosticism, that God himself had betrayed them.

Read more…

New Book Release

Do we feel loved by the images held in a tradition? The essence of soul, hidden in any tradition, can become a source of imaginal strength. James Hillman claims imaginal love is: “this feeling of being loved by the images …”

In her new memoir, Reimagining Christmas:  Discoveries of a Christmas Self, Laura Keller-Wolff extends this quality—harnessed first in working with dreams—into the quality of imaginal love present within the traditions of Christmas.  Hillman states that: “…when we love we want to explore, to discriminate more and more widely, to extend the intricacy that intensifies intimacy.”

In discovering the intricacies of what Keller-Wolff claims as her “Christmas Self,” the widely and wildly held intimacies in the magic of Christmas are exposed as a kind of imaginal love.

Sometimes, resting in a tradition releases it’s wild and tender soul. In the pages of her new book, Keller-Wolff invites the reader to intensify their own intimacy with heart-felt traditions—especially with the soul of Christmas.

Read more…

Part One

          O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? – 1 Corinthians 

Part One: The Far East

How do we want to be remembered? Death poems (jisei) developed in the literary traditions of Japan as early as the seventh century. Later, taking much energy from Zen Buddhism’s emphasis on the transiency and impermanence of the material world, the genre spread to China and Korea. Brief as they usually are, these poems consider the big questions, both in general and in terms of the author’s own life and imminent death.image-7.png?w=173&h=251&profile=RESIZE_710x

They were traditionally composed by samurai warriors, nobleman and monks, often as final parting gifts to their disciples. The essential idea of the jisei was that in one’s final moments his reflection on death could be especially lucid and therefore an important observation about life.

Some are written as haiku, although most appear in the 31 syllable (5-7-5-7-7) tanka format. Both forms seek to transcend rational thought and evoke a realization that counters our dualistic divisions between beauty and ugliness, life and death, future and present. Some jisei are dark while others are hopeful. They each reflect what is on the mind during the last days or moments of the writer. Acceptance – including the inevitability of death – is one of the key elements:

Breathing in, breathing out,
Moving forward, moving back,
Living, dying, coming, going —
Like two arrows meeting in flight,
In the midst of nothingness
Is the road that goes directly
to my true home. – Gesshu Soko

Like dew drops
on a lotus leaf
I vanish. – Shinsuideathpoem.jpg?w=205&h=294&profile=RESIZE_710x

Since time began
the dead alone know peace.
Life is but melting snow. – Nandai

I pondered Buddha’s teaching a full four and eighty years.
The gates are all now locked about me. No one was ever here –
Who then is he about to die, and why lament for nothing? Farewell! The night is clear, the moon shines calmly,
the wind in the pines is like a lyre’s song.
With no ‘I’ and no other who hears the sound? – Zoso Royo

What shall I become when this body is dead and gone?
A tall, thick pine tree on the highest peak of Bongraesan,
Evergreen alone when white snow covers the whole world. – Seong Sam-mun

As the sound of the drum calls for my life,
I turn my head where the sun is about to set.
There is no inn on the way to the underworld.
At whose house shall I sleep tonight? – Jo Gwang-jo

Empty handed I entered the world.
Barefoot I leave it.
My coming, my going-
Two simple happenings that got entangled. – Kozan

Oh young folk —
if you fear death, die now!
Having died once
you won’t die again. – Hakuin Ekaku

Riding this wooden upside-down horse, I’m about to gallop through the void. Would you seek to trace me? Ha! Try catching the tempest in a net. – Kukoku

Inhale, exhale,
Forward, back, Living, dying:
Arrows, let flown each to each
Meet midway and slice the void in aimless flight. Thus I return to the source. -Gesshu Sokozp_samurai-writing-a-poem-on-a-flowering-cherry-tree-trunk_print-by-ogata-gekko-1859-1920-courtesy-of-ogatagekkodotnet.jpg?w=184&h=274&profile=RESIZE_710x

Frost on a summer day:
all I leave behind is water
that has washed my brush. – Shutei

Holding back the night
with its increasing brilliance
the summer moon. – Yoshitoshi

Not even for a moment do things stand still.  Witness color in the trees. – Seiju

From ancient times the saying comes: “There is no death, there is no life.” Indeed, the skies are cloudless and the river waters clear. – Toshimoto

Before long I shall be a ghost. But just now how they bite my flesh! The winds of autumn. – Fuse Yajiro

My whole life long I’ve sharpened my sword
And now, face to face with death
I unsheathe it, and lo –
The blade is broken – Alas! – Dairin Soto

Life is an ever-rolling wheel. And every day is the right one. He who recites poems at his death adds frost to snow.  – Mumon Gensen

Death poems
are mere delusion —
death is death. – Toko

I raise the mirror of my life up to my face: sixty years. With a swing I smash the reflection. The world as usual all in its place. – Taigen Sofu

The fourth day of the new year; What better day to leave this world! – Aki No-Bo

Although the autumn moon has set, its light lingers on my chest. – Kanshu

My old body: a drop of dew grown heavy at the leaf tip. – Kiba

I cast the brush aside – From here on I’ll speak to the moon face to face. – Koha

I cleansed the mirror of my heart – now it reflects the moon. – Renseki

Time to go. They say the journey is a long one: Change of robes. – Roshu

Boarding the boat, I slip off my shoes: Moon in the water. – Seira

Autumn winds: Having sworn to save all souls, I am at peace. – So’Oku

The moon leaks out from sleeves of cloud and scatters shadows. – Tanko

In the twentieth century, death poems commented on the “real” world of politics. When Yukio Mishima’s military coup failed, he left a final poem before committing ritual suicide:

A small night storm blows
Saying ‘falling is the essence of a flower’
Preceding those who hesitate

Composing a death poem was a task that demanded time and consideration, even input and criticism from others. But they were not necessarily without humor:

Bury me when I die
beneath a wine barrel in a tavern.
With luck the cask will leak.  – Moriya Sen’an

People, when you see the smoke, do not think it’s fields they’re burning. – Baika

Many things befell me as I followed Buddha three and seventy years. What is death Freely, from my own true self: Ho, Ho! – Ensetsu

Moon in a barrel: You never know just when the bottom will fall out. – Mabutsu407px-akashi_gidayu_writing_his_death_poem_before_comitting_seppuku.jpg?w=232&h=342&profile=RESIZE_710x

Life is like a cloud of mist emerging from a mountain cave. And death a floating moon in its celestial course. If you think too much about the meaning they may have, you’ll be bound forever like an ass to a snake. – Mumon Gensen

Dimly for thirty years, faintly for thirty years – dimly and faintly for sixty years: at my death I pass my feces and offer them to Brahma. – Ikkyu

Had I not known that I was dead already, I would have mourned my loss of life. – Ota Dokan

My life was lunacy until this moonlit night. – Tokugen

The owner of the cherry blossoms turns to compost for the trees. – Utsu

Till now I thought that death befell the untalented alone. If those with talent, too, must die, surely they make a better manure! – Kyoriku

Ninth-month moon: Of late, when I have said my prayer, I’ve meant it. – Kisei

Narushima Chuhachiro started drafting death poems at the age of fifty lest he die unprepared. He sent one of his last poems to his teacher:

For eighty years and more, by the grace of my sovereign and my parents, I have lived  with a tranquil heart between the flowers and the moon.

The teacher’s response: “When you reach age ninety, correct the first line.”

Even satire could find its way into a death poem. Bashō’s jisei is well-known:

Falling ill on a journey
my dreams go wandering
over withered fields.

Another, unknown poet clearly familiar with Bashō wrote:

Locked in my room, my dream goes wandering over brothels. 

Part Two: The West

Yoel Hoffman, editor of Japanese Death Poems, observes that jisei poetry arose out of a culture of extreme conformism:

Death poems reveal that before death, the Japanese tend rather to break the restraints of politeness that hold them back during their lifetime. After a lifetime of fitting in, there’s an opportunity to go against the grain in one’s last moments, after which one can hardly be punished for unorthodoxy.

Angela Chen compares jisei and Western death poems. These differing traditions offer a glimpse into the clash of individualism versus collectivism and spontaneity versus control:

When the group takes precedence, as is the case in many East Asian cultures, its members spend much of their lives bending to the collective will and holding back their individual quirks and needs. Against this backdrop, death poems provide a break from conformity, a cherished opportunity to say what one really thinks.

Modern Western poets, on the other hand, favor

…spontaneous last words that serve as a final confirmation of your personal brand…In the West, the pull away from religion, coupled with the emphasis placed on individualism, provided both the freedom to perform our “authentic” selves and the responsibility to make sure those authentic selves were…never phony. Last words are a final chance to reinforce the unique personality the speaker has worked so hard to cultivate throughout his life.

And yet I think I see more similarities than differences. Here are some last words, epitaphs and final poems and comments on death by Western writers:


Good friend, for Jesus’ sake forbeare, To dig the dust enclosed heare. Bleste be the man that spares these stones And curst be he that moves my bones. (Epitaph)

Antonio Machado:

And on that last day when finally I embark
on that ship that will never turn back,
you’ll find me shirtless, traveling light
almost naked like the children of the sea. – from Self Portrait

Seamus Heaney:

Walk on air against your better judgment. (Epitaph)

Noli timere (“Don’t be afraid” – texted to his wife shortly before his death)

William Butler Yeats:cam14745-copy-806x530-1.jpg?w=317&h=209&profile=RESIZE_710x

No longer in Lethean foliage caught

begin the preparation for your death

And from the fortieth winter by that thought

Test every work of intellect or faith,

And everything that your own hands have wrought

And call those works extravagance of breath

That are not suited for such men as come

proud, open-eyed and laughing to the tomb.

– From Vacillation

How can I, that girl standing there, my attention fix

On Roman or on Russian or on Spanish politics,

Yet here’s a travelled man that knows what he talks about,

And there’s a politician that has both read and thought,

And maybe what they say is true of war and war’s alarms,

But o that I were young again and held her in my arms.

– from his final poem, Politics

And his epitaph, from Under Ben Bulben:

Cast a cold eye

On life, on death.

Horseman, pass by!

Nikos Kazantzakis:kazantzakis.jpg?w=210&h=297&profile=RESIZE_710x

I hope for nothing.

I fear nothing.

I am free. (Epitaph)

Pablo Neruda:

And now I’m going behind

This page, but not disappearing.

I’ll dive into clear air

Like a swimmer in the sky,

And then get back to growing

Till one day I’m so small

That the wind will take me away

And I won’t know my own name

And I won’t be there when I wake.

Then I will sing in the silence.

 from Autumn Testamentmv5bn2m5y2u5ymytmwvhny00zdewltk4ztktzjy5mtm5zwninjvil2ltywdll2ltywdlxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymtc4mzi2nq4040._v1_uy1200_cr23906301200_al_.jpg?w=146&h=279&profile=RESIZE_710x

A train waits for me, a ship
loaded with apples,
an airplane, a plough,
some thorns.
Goodbye, harvested
fruits of the water, farewell,
imperially dressed shrimps,
I will return, we will return
to the unity now interrupted.
I belong to the sand:
I will return to the round sea
and to its flora
and to its fury:
but for now – I’ll wander whistling
through the streets.

 from Farewell to the Offerings of the Sea

Ranier Maria Rilke:

No yearning for an afterlife, no looking beyond,
no belittling of death,
but only longing for what belongs to us
and serving earth, lest we remain unused.

Mary Oliver:poet-mary-oliver-e1575933501882.jpg?w=358&profile=RESIZE_710x

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder

if I have made of my life something particular, and real.

I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened, or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

 from When Death Comes

Czeslaw Milosz:

In advanced age, my health worsening,

I woke up in the middle of the night,

and experienced a feeling of happiness

so intense and perfect that in all my life

I had only felt its premonition.

And there was no reason for it.

It didn’t obliterate consciousness;

the past which I carried was there,

together with my grief.

And it was suddenly included,

was a necessary part of the whole.

As if a voice were repeating:

“You can stop worrying now;

everything happened just as it had to.

You did what was assigned to you,

and you are not required anymore

to think of what happened long ago.”

The peace I felt was a dosing of accounts

and was connected with the thought of death.

The happiness on this side was

like an announcement of the other side.

I realized that this was an undeserved gift

and I could not grasp by what grace

it was bestowed on me.

– Awakened 

William Stafford:

If the sky lets go some day and I’m
requested for such volunteering
toward so clean a message, I’ll come.
The world goes on and while friends touch down
beside me, I too will come.

 from November


Now—these few more words, and then I’m gone:

Tell everyone just to remember their names,

and remind others, later, when we find each other.

Tell the little ones to cry and then go to sleep, curled up

where they can. And if any of us get lost,

if any of us cannot come all the way—

remember: there will come a time when

all we have said and all we have hoped will be all right.

 from A Message From the Wanderer

Raymond Carver:

And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so? I did.

And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.

 from Late Fragment

Thomas McGrath:

Down the small and crooked road

I walk straight toward my death.

How marvelous the moon sits on my shoulder!

The wind is laughing as I laugh.

It has been a long journey. And now, at the end of it,

Like a boat that broke free and drifted far down the river,

I come to rest on an unknown shore:

Half in, half out of the water.

Stephen Dobyns:

Somewhere that shovel stands propped against a wall,

the patch of grass is freshly cut where that final hole will be dug.

Let’s march toward our grave scratching and farting,

our own raucous music of shouted good-byes.

Let’s make sure they bury us standing up.

 from Uprising

Abe Osheroff (lifelong political activist):

My ship is slowly sinking, but my cannons keep firing.

Or, here’s another way to say it:

I have one foot in the grave

and the other keeps dancing.

Anonymous, from the Kuba People of Zaire:

When I die, don’t bury me under forest trees; I fear their thorns.

When I die, don’t bury me under forest trees;
I fear their dripping water.

Bury me under the great shade trees of the market.

I want to hear the drums beating.
I want to feel the dancers’ feet.

Woodie Guthrie:

My sweat can grease the engines
That makes the whole thing run
And the ruling class can kiss my ass
‘Cause I had a heap of fun

Jackie Gleason (epitaph):

And Away We Go!

(Reputed) Last Words:

Johann Sebastian Bach:

Don’t cry for me, for I go where music is born.

Frederic Chopin:

Play Mozart in memory of me, and I will hear you.

Gustav Mahler:

Mozart! Mozart!

Joe DiMaggio:marilyn-monroe-joe-dimaggio.jpg?w=151&h=163&profile=RESIZE_710x

I’ll finally get to see Marilyn.

Roger Ebert:

I’ll see you at the movies.

Salvador Allende:

Long live Chile! Long live the people! Long live the workers! These are my last words, and I am certain that my sacrifice will not be in vain, I am certain that, at the very least, it will be a moral lesson that will punish felony, cowardice, and treason.


I don’t want the doctor’s death. I want to have my own freedom.

Henry David Thoreau:

I did not know that we had ever quarreled. (Upon being urged to make his peace with God)

Gertrude Stein:

What is the answer?…In that case, what is the question?

Leonardo Da Vinci:

 I have offended God and mankind because my work did not reach the quality it should have.

Groucho Marx:groucho-marx.jpg?w=147&h=167&profile=RESIZE_710x

Die, my dear? Why, that’s the last thing I’ll do!

Steve Jobs:

Oh wow. Oh wow. Oh wow.

Carl Jung:

Let’s have a really good red wine tonight.

And finally, my obituary for Greg Kimura:

Greg called me “brother” – not because we socialized together, but because the time we spent together was in ritual space. There, everyone who could stand the heat, stay in the room and laugh or weep together was either a brother or a sister. We shared these spaces for five years in our weekly men’s group, ten years at men’s retreats in Mendocino, poetry salons and grief rituals.

greg-2006-e1575933789810.jpg?w=320&profile=RESIZE_710xGreg was “a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.” And for that reason, he was full of joy. Does that sound strange? I’m reminded of a friend who visited a West African village and asked a particular woman why, despite her poverty, she seemed so happy. She responded, “Because I cry a lot.”

Greg was rock solid. At these rituals he could always be counted on to be one of the drummers. And that’s no simple or easy thing. It means to maintain the beat for up to two hours, to hold the container while others release their pent-up feelings in the sacred work of grief. It’s one of the countless ways in which Greg served the beauty and the terror of this world.

Because of this, Greg’s humor was inseparable from both his pain and his compassion. His Caring Bridge website said, “Hi. I’m Greg and I’m dying. And so are you!” And his poetry. I’d like to think that this crazy insight came from his knowledge of Rumi, who wrote:

Listen, I would make this very plain

If someone were ready to hear what I have to tell:

Everybody in this world is dying.

Everybody is already in their death agony.

So listen to what anyone says as though it were

The last words of a dying father to his son.

Listen with that much compassion, and you’ll

Never feel jealousy or simple anger again.

People say everything that’s coming will come.

Understand this: It’s all here right now.

And me? I’ve been so woven into the mesh of my trivial errands

That only now do I begin to hear the mystery of dying everywhere.

Greg had done much difficult interior work, and so (depending on your point of view) he was a real Christian, a real Buddhist and/or a real Pagan. Perhaps I’m idealizing here – the family knows far better than I – but it seemed that he achieved a profound sense of peace with his own death, an ability to be in the moment. True to his Japanese heritage, he wrote what I think is his own jisei:

Resist the World’s Numbness

And your passion revive,

so when death comes to find you,

Iet him find you alive.

He was lucky in those last nine months to be surrounded by so much love, appreciation and music. When we visited for the last time and I asked him “How are you doing?” he responded, without a trace of irony, Couldn’t be better!”18574738_1488400898.6827-e1575933851963.jpg?w=190&h=230&profile=RESIZE_710x

So finally he was a teacher, who left me with a spontaneous Zen koan that I’ll be working with for a long time. We recited some favorite poems together, including this one of his:

Sacred Wine

Sit with the pain in your heart, he said.

Hold it like a sacred wine in a golden cup.

The wine may break you and if it does, let it.

To be human is to be broken,

and only from brokenness can one be healed.

The ancestors say: the world is full of pain,

and each is allotted a portion.

If you do not carry your share, then others are forced to carry it for you,

And the suffering you bring to the world is your sin,

But the suffering you bring to yourself will be your hell.

Sit with the pain in your heart, he said.

Hold it there like a sacred wine in a golden cup.

When we got to the third from the last line, he interrupted me:

…the suffering you bring to yourself will be your salvation.


Read more…

Part One

                Military madness was killing my country. Solitary sadness comes over me. – Graham Nash

Imagination is not a solitary thing. Unlike fantasy, which is self-centered, imagination implies dialogue – between what is and what could be. Consider that some languages lack the verb “to be.” Speakers grow up expecting to communicate indirectly, use metaphors freely and tolerate ambiguity. Metaphors serve as organizing frameworks that shape our thoughts about social reality. They are the language of poetry; they can leap the chasm between thoughts and transmit multiple levels of meaning.

As Joseph Campbell taught, the life of mythology springs from the metaphoric vigor of its symbols, which bring together and reconcile two contraries. When we think mythologically, we perceive meaning on several levels simultaneously, aware that the literal, psychological and symbolic dimensions of reality complement each other to make something greater than the sum of the parts.

But unimaginative language, said James Hillman, “displaces the metaphorical drive from its appropriate display in poetry and rhetoric…into direct action. The body becomes the place for the soul’s metaphors.” In other words, if we can’t make images in art, music or beautiful speech we get sick. Certainly, this is one reason for the huge increase in poetry readings and oral tradition performances such as Rumi’s Caravan. People are hungry for more meaningful – and beautiful – language. For more on this thought, see my essay, Creative Etymology for a World Gone Mad.

But let’s be clear about our situation. There is no reason to assume that indigenous people cannot do this. Actually, it is we who have, by and large, lost this capacity. The curses of modernity – alienation, environmental collapse, totalitarianism, consumerism, addiction and world war – are the results.

We have been living in what Campbell called a “de-mythologized world” for an extremely long time. Literalistic thinking began in patriarchy and blossomed in the victory of monotheism over polytheism. This doesn’t mean that we no longer have myths. Rather, it means that the myths we do have – and we are usually quite unaware of them – no longer feed us. It means that many of us have lost the capacity to think symbolically or mythologically and only have their “toxic mimic,” literal thinking. The most obvious example is fundamentalism, which often replaces metaphor (“This is something else – now go and live with the mystery.”) with parable (“This means that, and only that, so stop thinking.”)

This is unfortunate enough. But the monotheistic world also led inevitably to a world of constant warfare. “Because a monotheistic psychology must be dedicated to unity,” wrote Hillman, “its psychopathology is intolerance of difference.” I offer my thoughts on the religious thinking that resulted in colonialism and empire in Chapter Ten of my book, Madness at the Gates of the City: The Myth of American Innocence, and here are some of the basic ideas:

The western world was beginning to understand myth literally, as actual history. The zealots who wrested control of the early church believed that Christ had physically returned from the dead, and they condemned metaphoric interpretation of his life. Very soon, schisms developed, and rival sects attacked each other in furious jihads. As early as the second century, Clement of Alexandria declared that the gods of all other religions were demons.

The holy text that emerged out of this period omitted the few metaphors of the sacred Earth that had been allowed into Hebrew scripture. As a result, wrote Paul Shepard, the New Testament is “one of the world’s most antiorganic and antisensuous masterpieces of abstract ideology…”

So it should be no surprise that this foundational text of our civilization constantly uses military metaphors. Paul describes Christians as “fellow soldiers.” Timothy uses the soldier as a metaphor for courage, loyalty and dedication. Corinthians is concerned about “an adversary that wants to destroy us…the battle we are fighting is on the spiritual level. The very weapons we use are not human but powerful in God’s warfare for the destruction of the enemy’s strongholds.” au_postcard.png?w=354&h=215&profile=RESIZE_710xIn Thessalonians, Paul employs a military metaphor of a sentry on duty, writing of “the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation.” Ephesians refers to the “armor of God…even when you have fought to a standstill you may still stand your ground.” Similar crusading imagery appears of course in hymns such as Soldiers of Christ, Arise; Onward, Christian Soldiers; the Battle Hymn of the Republic and untold thousands of sermons.

Propagandists, aware that the Roman empire needed a mass ideology to link the individual to the state, took note of this language. It recognized that Christianity, which was re-writing history to de-emphasize its esoteric origins, could fill this role. In the fourth century, it became the official religion of the Empire, the Catholic (universal) faith. soldier.jpg?w=397&h=358&profile=RESIZE_710xThe notion of One True God found its political equivalent in the totalitarian, expansive and ruthlessly violent Roman state. By the fourth century the Church was essentially a branch of government, and it would serve to justify imperial conquests, civil wars, crusades, colonialism and genocidal violence for the next thousand years.

Others were only too willing to turn that violence upon themselves. Christianity became the first religion to make martyrdom a demand of faith. Leonard Shlain put this process into historical context:

Until the Christian martyrs, there does not occur anywhere in the recorded history of Mesopotamia, Egypt, Persia, Greece, India or China a single instance in which a substantial segment of the population accepted torture and death rather than forswear their belief in an ethereal concept.

Missionaries spoke of “taking prisoner every thought for Christ.” In Christian iconography, the knife that Abraham would have slaughtered his son with became a soldier’s sword. The ideal of dying as Christ became dying for Christ which, by the time of the First Crusade, became killing for Christ.

Five hundred years later, the English language, steeped in Biblical imagery, was full of martial metaphors, and Americans would add countless others to their lexicon.

Religious fundamentalists took their Bibles, their racism, their hatred of the body, their violent metaphors and their genocidal conduct to the New World, setting the tone for the development of the myths of American Innocence and American Exceptionalism. Four hundred years on, few of us realize how our language, and hence our thinking, is so unconsciously and deeply flavored by military metaphors.

I don’t need to quote statistics about gun violence and mass murders in America. You’ve all seen them. But the fact that 24% of us, far more than in any European country, believe that “…it is acceptable to use violence to get what we want” also underlies our racist politics, the behavior of our police, and – perhaps you haven’t seen this one – the fact that the American Empire has bombed nearly forty sovereign nations since the end of World War Two.

So: We all need to get more familiar with the metaphorical, symbolic, poetic or mythological language that we will need as the old myths die and we are called to imagine the new ones. And we also need to become more conscious of how, in this de-mythologized world, we use metaphors inappropriately. They can lead to insight, but they can also distort. In creating ways of seeing they can also create ways of not seeing.

Military metaphors are common, for example, in the world of medicine. Though they can promote support for research, they also fuel our American obsession with perfect health, where doctors use the “arsenal of science” as “weapons” to “battle” disease in the “war against the invasion of cancer.” A sick child becomes a “little soldier,” “rallying” to secure victory against the dreaded opponent.war-cancer.jpg?w=254&h=171&profile=RESIZE_710x

C.S. Lewis described what can go wrong when a “master” uses a metaphor to explain a concept to a “pupil.” The “master” understands the relationship between the literal and figurative meanings, while the “pupil” hears “the unique expression of a meaning” which immediately places a constraint on his thinking. Thus, when physicians use metaphors to explain concepts to patients, the latter are “at the mercy of the metaphor” as it “dominates completely the thought of the recipient whose truth cannot rise above the truth of the original metaphor.”

In Illness as a Metaphor, Susan Sontag wrote that cancer is so embedded in the western psyche that the word itself is weighted with connotations:“…in the popular culture, cancer equals death.” We treat it “as an evil, invincible predator, not just a disease…talk of siege and war to describe disease now has, with cancer, a striking literalness and authority…” war-on-cancer-585x400.png?w=257&h=176&profile=RESIZE_710xThe enemy is not bacteria but “the fanatic…cells” of the patient whose body has become the battlefield. The cancer takes over the body, perhaps physically, but also metaphorically.”

And, I think, most significantly, cancer is “regarded…as a diminution of self.” Readers familiar with my writings may notice the implications for American myth, where the tradition of blaming victims for their own bad fortune is the shadow that lurks behind our Calvinist heritage of predestination, Social Darwinism, positive thinking and the Prosperity Gospel. In other words, the use of military metaphors tends to stigmatize those who are ill and make them feel responsible for the “wrong thinking” that caused their illness – and, by the way, distract them from considering the politics of environmental pollution and lack of health insurance.

This discussion is particularly relevant to the U.S., where we are almost always invading someone else. Indeed, the nation has been at war 93% of the time, 222 out of 239 years, between 1776 and 2015.

So we find military metaphors in nearly any context, as we’ll see below. Cultural anthropologist Robert Myers says that “gun speak,” or “war speak” has permeated American culture so deeply that it’s used by everybody – men and women, Republicans and Democrats, gun owners and people who have never even seen a real gun:

…it doesn’t break down by education or social class…I can’t say that we use this violent language and imagery and that makes us more violent. But I can ask… ‘Well, if we spoke with all kinds of racist words, were we more likely to be more racist or more comfortable being racist?

Myers writes, tongue-in-cheek (I hope) that the warspeak permeating everyday language “puts us all in the trenches, and most of us don’t even know it.” Everything has been “weaponized” – a word which, according to Google’s Ngram Viewer, has increased in print by a factor of 10 between 1980 and 2008. He suggests that warspeak matters for three reasons:

First, it degrades our ability to engage with one another. Framing an issue as a “war” can communicate an urgency that requires instantaneous – and often thoughtless – action.

Second, it evokes violent attitudes. Young adults exposed to political rhetoric charged with warspeak are more likely to endorse violence.01-shutterstock_132569027_adjusted-1076x588-e1573856368736.jpg?w=200&h=168&profile=RESIZE_710x

Third, when everything is laden with violent imagery, our perceptions and emotions become needlessly distorted: “Political carnage and carnage in the classroom, weaponized songs and weapons of war, snipers on the hockey rink and mass shooters – all blur together across our cognitive maps.”

Part Two

                 You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club. – Jack London

Here is a list of martial metaphors (followed by some sports names) that I’ve compiled. Its sheer size, more than any analysis, may help you realize how often you use some of them and why we all need to be conscious of our speech. After that, we can think about alternatives.

Above and beyond the call of duty


All-out assault

All hands on deck

Armed with knowledge

Ammunition for arguing



Attacking my subject



Battle of the Bands

Battle Royale

Battleground states

Bazooka Gum



Big guns

Bite the bullet

Blast from the Past




Bombshell of a report

Blonde bombshell


Blow them out of the water

Blown away

(The) Bomb

Bomb (theatrically)

Bombarding with facts

(A) Booming voice

Boot camp for computers; rehab; diabetics; weight loss; etc

Boot camp for Light Workers43096006_2136484316408546_6103361987490611200_o-e1573930859501.jpg?w=246&h=149&profile=RESIZE_710x

Boots on the ground

Break a leg

Bring out the heavy artillery


Bullet point; Bullet train; Bulletproof plan; Dodging a bullet

Burning one’s bridges

Call to arms


Canon for an arm

Canon ball dive


Changing of the guard

Clarion call

Collateral damage

Conquest of nature

Coup de grace

Courageous battle against cancer

Cowboys and Indians

Cowboy up




(A) crush on her

Crushing it

Culture wars

Cutting contest (Jazz)


Dead End; Dead Man’s Curve, Hand, Island, etc



Destroying the opposition


Doctor’s orders

Doing some damage

Dressed to kill


Earning your stripes

Economic Hit Man


Fight fire with fire

Fighting the good fightgood_-fight_1.jpg?w=248&h=171&profile=RESIZE_710x


Firing blanks

Firing line



Front and Center

Front lines of the debate

Fruits of war


Get us over the top

Go for broke



Happy warrior



Have your back

Hired gun

Hit record; baseball hit; website hit

Hit the mark

Home run blast

Hostile takeover

I love him to death

In the heat of battle

In the trenches

Incoming fire

Invasion of cancer cells

IPO launch

Itchy trigger finger

It’s a losing battle

Join the ranks

Judicial arms race

Kick-ass performance

Killer app

Killing it, making a killing

Knock ’em dead

Knock yourself out

Launched (offspring)

Line in the sand

Lock, stock and barrel

Locked and loaded

Loose cannon

Love bomb; Love drive-bylove-bomb-graphic-love-bombing-relationships-romance-e1573930785543.jpg?w=191&h=134&profile=RESIZE_710x

Main thrust of the argument

Man up

Marching as one; together; in unison; in step

March of progress

Marshalling the troops


Missing in action


Nailed it

No holds barred

No man’s land

No quarter

Nuclear option

(That’s) Over the top

Pass muster

Penetrating insight

Photo bomb

(She’s a) pistol

Police your room

Pounding a beer

Powder keg


Punchline; beat to the punch

Punch it (through a yellow traffic light)

Push comes to shove

Rally the troops

(Corporate) Raiders

Rank and file

Rising up the charts like a bullet

Roger and out

Salvation Army


Seeds of destruction

Shot: photograph, basketball, line-drive

(A) shot at success

(Give me your best) shot; (Good) shot!

Shot over the bow; Shot in the dark; Shot down

Shot at fame / love / success, etc

Shots of vodka, tequila, etc

Shoot from the hip

Shoot a text / email

Shoot the moon

Shooting down the opposition, shooting back

Shooting star

Shooters (drinks); Shooters Restaurant

Silver bullet

Slam dunk

Slash emissions



Smoking gun


Soldiers of the Lord

Soldier on

Sound off


Stand tall

Stick to your guns


Sweating bullets

Tackling the problem

Take liberties

Take no prisoners

Taking the internet by storm


Task force

This is my rifle, this is my gun; one is for killing, one is for fun.

This means war!

Three-point bomb

Throw everything we’ve got at this problem

Throwing firebombs

Time bomb

To the hilt

Top gun

Triggering; pulling the trigger; trigger warnings

Troops, trooper


Tweet bomb

Under fire

Under the gun

Up against the wall

Up in arms

Vaccine shot

Waging peace

War on drugs; cancer; poverty; Christmashqdefault.jpg?w=259&h=194&profile=RESIZE_710x

War room

War zone

Warriors (spiritual)


Weekend Warriorsweekend-warriors-55971f4c0555d.jpg?w=192&h=192&profile=RESIZE_710x

Within striking distance


And a few college sports nicknames:

(ASA College) Avengers

(Ohio Wesleyan) Battlin’ Bishops

(Thomas Moore College) Blue Rebels

(Lutheran Bible School) Conquerors

(Eastern Kentucky) Colonels and Lady Colonels

(Fla. Nat. Univ.) Conquistadorsath-header.png?w=294&h=154&profile=RESIZE_710x

(Holy Cross) Crusaders

(Dordt College) Defenders

(St. Ambrose) Fighting Bees

(N. Dakota) Fighting Hawks

(Kalamazoo) Fighting Hornets

(Illinois) Fighting Illini

(W. Illinois) Fighting Leathernecks

(Muskingum) Fighting Muskies

(N.C. Arts) Fighting Pickles

(Wilmington Col.) Fighting Quakers (!)

(Carrol College) Fighting Saints

(Ohio Valley) Fighting Scots

(Mary Baldwin College) Fighting Squirrels414389_xxotwph7igiy8_ptm5hlxdgjf.jpg?w=277&h=188&profile=RESIZE_710x

(Wash. & Lee) Generals

(McDaniel College) Green Terror

(CA Maritime) Keelhaulers

(Arcadia) Knights; (Army) Black Knights

(Massachusetts) Minutemen

(New England) Patriots

(U. Hawaii) Rainbow Warriors

(Oakland) Raiders

(Texas) Rangers

(Texas Tech) Red Raiders

(Mississippi) Rebels

(UNLV) Runnin’ Rebels

(San Jose St.) Spartans

(USC) Trojans

(Minnesota) Vikings

(Auburn) Warhawks

(Golden State) Warriors

Part Three

                Problems cannot be solved at the same level of awareness that created them. – Albert Einstein

These days there is much talk about de-colonizing our minds – interrogating ourselves about the unconscious biases, racist opinions, classist ideas, colonialist language (and, I would add, outmoded mythologies) that we take for granted and that no longer serve us, if they ever did. To this list we need to add de-militarizing our minds. And this requires learning to reframe our metaphors, especially around health and illness.

The Queen of reframing, astrologer Caroline Casey teaches that our military metaphors subtly determine and undermine the metaphysics of our relationships and our work in the world. We’d see both our childhood traumas and our medical crises in very different lights if we viewed them as “our beautiful, dangerous assignments.” Indeed, in discussing her own cancer diagnosis, she speaks of having “inappropriately exuberant cells” that have “no respect for boundaries” and “can’t stop growing.”

Reframing is not necessarily about positive thinking, only adding a poetic mind that may prevent us from feeding the problem. Barbara Ehrenreich writes that separating her cancer, “an evil predator,” and the body in which it resides seems to stand at odds with the nature of the disease. She calls the cancer cells in her body “the fanatics of Barbaraness, the rebel cells that…carry the genetic essence of me.” The cancer then becomes not an enemy, but a part of her, that which is the most fanatical; not a predator but an overzealous fan.

Again, metaphors are the language of poetry, but they don’t have to be so damned serious. Earlier, I quoted Jack London: “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.” Another master of reframing, Rob Brezsny, comments:

That sounds too violent to me, though I agree in principle that aggressiveness is the best policy in one’s relationship with inspiration. Try this: Don’t wait for inspiration. Go after it with a butterfly net, lasso, sweet treats, fishing rod, court orders, beguiling smells, and sincere flattery.

They key word as we move on is “relationship.” Casey teaches that whatever we fight against grows stronger because we give it more energy than it originally had. She suggests reframing that phrase to “what we dance with.”

 Some of the Asian “martial” arts understand this. Aikido practitioners learn to use their opponent’s own aggressive energy to defeat them, or, ideally, to guide them into a higher state of awareness in which physical violence is not an option. They perceive failure as a point when one succumbs to the temptation of literal violence. Similarly, in other contexts such as couple’s counseling, one attempts to help another person reframe and formulate the question he really wants to ask, to help him get past his own anger or unconscious motives, to not, in poet William Stafford’s words, “follow the wrong god home.”

Sumo wrestling referees wait to signal the start of a match until it is clear that both competitors are conspiring (breathing in unison.) This reminds us to go back to etymology for reframing help. Diabolic (“to throw across”) comes from the same root as ballet. The root of “compete” is “petitioning the gods together.” We see this when top athletes sincerely, even lovingly, hug each other after fiercely “engaging” with each other (double meaning intended).

As I’ve shown, so many of the military metaphors in American English are rooted in the New Testament. Some scholars claim that The Book of Revelation is the most popular Bible section among Evangelicals. But etymology is very helpful here too. Apocalypse doesn’t mean “destruction” or “end times,” but rather “to lift the veil.” It was written at the end of the Pagan age, and now the age of monotheism is falling into such literalistic thinking that we can see its own conclusion approaching. At the end of this age we have the opportunity to see truths that have been veiled behind outdated myths.

We need to use sacred language, in the subjunctive mode: pretend, perhaps, suppose, maybe, make believe, may it be so, what if – and play. This “willing suspension of disbelief” is what Coleridge called “poetic faith.” Then, says Lorca, the artist stops dreaming and begins to desire. Love moves from imagination to inspiration, which invents the “poetic fact,” where new life comes not from us but through us.

Jung said that myth offers us two gifts: a story to live by, and the opportunity to disengage or “dis-identify” from outmoded patterns and thus re-engage in a different way with the archetypal energies from which our stories arise. In the tribal world, art (as ritual) serves to balance the worlds of the living and the unseen. Healing comes through memory, both in purging grief and guilt and in creatively re-framing one’s story – what Hillman called “healing fictions.”

It was Memory herself, Mnemosyne, who mated with Zeus and birthed the Muses. Reconnection to memory through art reverses the work of Kronos and counters Time’s linear progress with her cyclic imagination. Ultimately, we heal by re-membering what we came here to do.


                                                       The Muses dancing with Apollo

It is said that the Muses collected the scattered limbs of dismembered bodies; it was they – art – who reassemble what our military metaphors rip apart.

If we absolutely have to use military metaphors, let’s remember poet Dianne Di Prima: “The only war that matters is the war against the imagination.” How do we reframe “conflict?” There is plenty of evidence that tribal people once believed that conflict existed not only to eliminate alternative voices, but to bring people together. We see vestiges of this in the Gaelic language. One cannot say, “I am angry at you,” but only, “There is anger between us.” I’ve mentioned competition and engagement. Animosity, with its connections to animal, animate, animation and anima, derives from the Latin for “breath of life.” If we follow animosity to its archetypal source, we may find the one breath we all share.

Greek myth provides a surprising image in the war god, Ares, the “killer of men.” Zeus calls him “…most hateful to me.” But beyond the Iliad, he appears in few fully elaborated myths. Instead, wrote Hillman, “He presents himself in action rather than in telling…The god does not stand above or behind the scene directing what happens. He is what happens.”

Like all inhabitants of the polytheistic imagination, Ares is more complicated than he seems. He is an image of the divine, and thus of the psyche. This tells us first that Greek culture understood that martial values are fundamentally human. Second, some say that Ares was taught to dance before he was taught the arts of war.

Third, no monk, he was Aphrodite’s lover. This most masculine god and this most feminine goddess birthed a daughter, Harmonia. Love and war beget harmony, as Psyche and Eros beget Voluptos, or voluptuousness.

Soldiers entering battle invoked Ares, asking for strength and courage. But they also called upon him to prevent conflict from degenerating into uncontrollable violence, as in this ancient hymn:

pompeii-ares-and-aphrodite_a-g-13132879-8880742.jpg?w=331&h=330&profile=RESIZE_710xHear me, helper of mankind, dispenser of youth’s sweet courage, beam down…your gentle light on our lives…diminish that deceptive rush of my spirit, and restrain that shrill voice in my heart that provokes me to enter the chilling din of battle…let me linger in the safe laws of peace…

This poetry invites us to imagine a consciousness that loves conflict as a form of relationship, seeking restoration of harmony rather than domination. “Who would have imagined,” wrote Hillman, “that restraint is what Ares offers?” And Aphrodite’s sensual fury is hardly different from that of Aries. Their union is one of sames rather than of opposites, and thus passionate aesthetic engagement can restrain violence. Long-term discipline of an art tames hasty emotional expression but not its passion. Violence is beyond reason; what counters it must be equally unreasonable: “Imagine a civilization whose first line of defense is each citizen’s aesthetic investment in some cultural form.”

If the archetypal warrior is forced into combat, he goes sadly. If he survives and returns, he grieves for all the dead, because he knows that his enemy was a part of himself. In serving the Divine King of the psyche, he is charged with protecting boundaries, with determining which outside elements to welcome and which are dangerous. Invoking him, we reframe “armoring” into “respect for proper boundaries.” In Irish myth the Fianna warriors guarded the borders of the realm and questioned all strangers, “Would you like a poem or a sword?” Let’s imagine shifting the role of the police from controlling and punishing Black people to – artfully – protecting the borders of the realm. The purpose of the entire military could be nothing more than that of the Coast Guard.

An example from biology is the immune system. The skin and lining of the small intestine are semi-permeable membranes that know what to allow in (air and nutrients) and what to keep out (microbes and toxins). In an infection, certain white blood cells sound the alarm, others neutralize the invaders and still others curtail the immune response when the danger is over. Then the body creates antibodies to remember – memorialize – the event and protect against future ones.

Our military metaphors may point to a certain wisdom about our demythologized world. Why, in the most competitive society in history, do “proper,” middle-class people tend to avoid actual confrontation, restricting it to spectator sports? Perhaps we intuitively know that normal social interactions cannot contain conflict and prevent it from turning into literal violence; it simply isn’t safe. Our myth of redemption through violence polarizes us into one of the two most easily assumed stances: the path of denial and/or retreat, or the path of extermination. We inevitably resort to either fight or flight.

Ritual provides a third alternative: staying in relationship without being violent. It requires, however, that participants acknowledge the reality of the Other. In West Africa, traditional Dagara married couples engage in conflict rituals every five days. Agreeing that there will be no violence, each person simultaneously vents all accumulated emotions. The entire village may witness them. Long experience has shown them that conflict causes damage to the entire community only if it is removed from ritual and brought out into the profane openness of daily life.

African American culture abounds in the ritualized conversion of aggression into creativity. Examples include break dancing, poetry slams and “the dozens,” verbal jousting in which antagonists poetically insult each other’s mothers. Mythologist Lewis Hyde writes that the loser is “the player who breaks the form and starts a physical fight…who chooses a single side of the contradiction” between attachment and non-attachment to mother. The winner artfully holds the tension of the opposites.

Characteristically, Rob Brezsny suggests that even this ritual can be reframed:

I invite you to rebel against any impulse in you that resonates with the spirit of “Playing the Dozens.” Instead, try a new game, “Paying the Tributes.” Choose worthy targets and ransack your imagination to come up with smart, true, and amusing praise about them…here are some prototypes: “You’re so far-seeing, you can probably catch a glimpse of the back of your own head.” “You’re so ingenious, you could use your nightmares to get rich and famous.” “Your mastery of pronoia is so artful, you could convince me to love my worst enemy.”

Part Four

Turn this wall on its side and it becomes a bridge! – Graffiti on the Mexican side of the U.S. border wall

Mythopoetic men’s conferences have evolved effective conflict rituals that encourage men to engage with each other on subjects as frightening as race, power and sex without either leaving or becoming violent. In this context, safety means feeling secure enough within the ritual container to take risks. If men remain in this heat of confrontation long enough, they may get past anger to the underlying grief, to weep together and to cleanse their souls.

Joshua Chamberlain was a Union Army general who recorded the awesome spectacle of Robert E. Lee’s surrender on April 9th, 1865:

Before us in proud humiliation stood…men whom neither toils and sufferings, nor the fact of death, nor disaster, nor hopelessness could bend from their resolve…thin, worn, and famished, but erect, and with eyes looking level into ours, waking memories that bound us together as no other bond…On our part not a sound of trumpet more, nor roll of drum; not a cheer…but an awed stillness rather, and breath-holding, as if it were the passing of the dead! …How could we help falling on our knees, all of us together, and praying God to pity and forgive us all!

He knew as few could know that the two armies, ground down by four years of carnage, had suffered together. Despite the hatred – or perhaps because of it – they had erased a little bit of that sense of otherness that drives men to violence. The surrender, of course, didn’t heal the nation’s wounds, but Chamberlain’s vision invites us into the imagination of reconciliation. Reframing can lead to clarification of intention.

I’ve already alluded to the idea that competition means “petitioning the gods together.” greengreecego_wrestvase.jpg?w=305&h=269&profile=RESIZE_710xThe ancient Greeks knew this. Agon (the root of agony) was their term for a contest in athletics, horse racing, music or literature. It also referred to a challenge that was held in connection with religious festivals, especially Tragic Drama, in which the two main characters were the protagonist and the antagonist.

This doesn’t mean that the Greeks were able to transform their greed and their passions into non-violence. Indeed, they were constantly at war with each other. However, almost every four years between 776 BC and 393 AD they called sacred truces. Many scholars see the origin of Olympic competition in earlier funeral games that were held to honor deceased heroes, as described in the Iliad.

So contest can mean “testing together,” or “to bear witness together,” from the Latin testis (plural: testes).  Michael Meade claims that “testimony” implied holding one’s hand over one’s testes to prove that he was telling the truth.

So now we can reframe the military metaphor Give me your best shot into “Show me what you’ve got; inspire me to show what I can do,” and then into “Let’s make this boxing match (ball game, breakdance, poetry competition, etc) into the most beautiful thing imaginable!”

Our task is to do more than simply deconstruct outmoded belief systems. They hold us not merely because of generations of indoctrination, but because of their mythic content. They grab us, as all myths do, because they refer to profound truths at the core of things, even if those truths have been corrupted to serve a culture of death. We cannot simply drop them by realizing that they are myths; we must go further into them, by telling the same stories, but reframing them until we discover their essence.

Americans have some advantages here. Our fascination with the new masks our anxiety about the present, our grief at how diminished our lives have become and our fear of being erased in a demythologized future. But it also awakens the archetypal drive to slough off old skin and be reborn into a deeper identity.

As Casey says, “co-operators are standing by.” The other world is offering help, but indigenous protocol insists upon our full participation. We will develop that capacity as we build our willingness to imagine. This is why the renewal of the oral tradition is so important; it enables us to go beyond the literal and think metaphorically. Here are a few ideas from Chapter Twelve of my book:

We can start by reframing capitalism’s basic – and bizarre – superstition that if each person pursues his own narrow interests, then the common good advances. Instead, let’s imagine a society in which individuals enhance both their own wellbeing and the greater good only when they give fully of themselves. This implies an indigenous concept of abundance in which the role of money is to facilitate the transition of value from its source in the Other World to its recipients in this world, and back. Wealth is a warehouse in transit, temporary storage. As in a potlatch, one accumulates it in order to give it away.

Appreciation of interconnectedness reminds us that we both held by and accountable to the larger communities of nature and spirit. Dominion can become stewardship or husbandry, which can free us from our mad obsession with growth. Then we can replace the GDP with a “Gross National Happiness” index.

We can replace development with liberation (from Liber, Dionysus) in both its Buddhist and political senses. Then our obsession with growth will be unmasked as a spell that monotheistic thinking has cast over the indigenous soul. Liberation: breaking the spell, lifting the veil. In America, the shadow of growth (both economic and spiritual) is depression. But in previous depressions we learned to stop buying things we didn’t need. We can do it again, as a simple solution to consumerism and pollution.  The opposite of consumption is neither thrift nor poverty but generosity.

Below the pressure to compete lie older assumptions. The vindictive God of the Old Testament never seems to have enough blessing for everyone. Is this why we strive so hard to accumulate things? Let’s reframe scarcity and original sin into infinite fecundity and original blessing.

Scarcity assumptions (if there is not enough to go around, then only the “elect” will have it) lead to Puritanism. Let’s reframe the compulsion to work unceasingly into the drive to remember and deliver our unique gifts. Finding a sense of belonging from what we give rather than from what we get will free us from blaming capitalism’s victims for their own suffering. With less energy invested in success, we’d find less shame in failure. Idleness would transform into the opportunity to do more important things than make money. Self-improvement could become a non-dogmatic, communal spiritual quest. Perhaps addictions stemming from our misguided search for meaning and a true home in the world would simply melt away. Then self-interest and individualism would shift eventually to the needs of the soul and prosperity would not be measured in numbers.

a-bullet-i-dodged-william-haefeli.jpg?w=299&h=298&profile=RESIZE_710xWe would reframe Puritanical contempt for the body into an inclusive, humorous eroticism.  Heterosexuals would appreciate gay people as gatekeepers. We could shamelessly entertain images of lust and loss of control without needing to project them upon others. The paranoid imagination would lose its suffocating grip on our emotions, as we reframe anxiety itself into the natural curiosity and hospitality of people who know who they are.

Perceiving abundance in spiritual terms, we’d also reframe the predatory imagination. Entertaining the possibility that we are held by non-human powers, we would find no joy in exploiting others. Feeling welcome in the world, we would laugh at primitive ideas like dog eat dog or every man for himself.

The earth needs real heroes like never before, but we will prefer peace heroes to war heroes. As we support ritual containers for the initiation of youth, we will no longer be fascinated by men who risk their lives crushing the Other to restore the peace of denial. We will applaud those who commit to the hard work of relationship with the feminine, men who don’t ride off into the sunset.

Reframing heroism will help us take back what we have projected onto entertainers. We will still admire those who excel in athletics, public service and the arts as models for excellence. But as the images of the pagan divinities return, as we understand them as aspects of our own souls, the cult of celebrity will wither away.

We could drop the patronizing moral superiority that justifies interventions and invasions (both international and interpersonal), transforming them into the desire to encourage (give heart to) the best in people, to see others find their own voices. As patriotism shrivels back into love of the earth – matriotism – racism and witch-hunting would transform into appreciation of diversity. And we could shift from  “We are not them” into the positive Mayan greeting, “You are the other me.”

Instead of meaning personal fulfillment unimpeded by government, freedom would imply public commitment made possible by government. We would replace the white bread melting pot with a new metaphor reflecting the diversity of soul and world: a polychromatic mosaic of shining ethnic facets, each reflecting all the others.

The world would still be a “vale of soul-making,” as Keats wrote, but it would no longer be a fallen world. Imagine millions of Americans no longer interpreting Biblical poetry as literal fact. Belief would return to its German roots where it is connected to love and cherish. Dropping the model of a god who sacrifices himself to redeem others, we would happily redeem ourselves. Imagine shifting our paranoid confrontation with the Other to the environmental crisis, a stance in which everyone would be “we,” united in the defense of the Earth, when national borders would dissolve.

Sacrifice would revert to its original meaning: voluntary approach to the underworld for the renewal of self and community. It would imply the intimate connection between death and rebirth that constitutes initiation. What is “made sacred” would once again be the person who endures the terrifying ego death that precedes the birth of a new identity. Jung writes, “What I sacrifice is my own selfish claim, and by doing this I give up myself.”

th.jpg?w=244&h=187&profile=RESIZE_710xThe sacrifice of Isaac – our most fundamental mythic narrative – would once again symbolize the offering up of Abraham’s own innocence.

Happy to sacrifice what we don’t need, we would reassess consumerism. We would shift from consuming culture (passively ingesting electronic media) to making culture. We would no longer settle for sitting passively while the burdens of our unfulfilled lives get resolved electronically.

Making culture means dropping the need for divertissement (being diverted), performance (to provide completely) and amusement (related to the Muses). We’d create real entertainment (holding together). We would periodically renew ourselves through shared suffering – and shared ecstasy. In return, the art we would make would hold us all together.

Shared ecstasy: a few tastes of the potential of real community would make us realize how little we have been willing to settle for. We would reframe the pursuit of happiness – a deeply constrained vision typical of our narrow emotional range, which is itself the expression of the refusal to grieve – into the pursuit of joy, and of our true natures.

Those who can grieve together can laugh together. Re-acquainting ourselves with the old rituals of grief and closure, we would reframe our characteristic denial of death and come to value the final initiatory transition endured by people who have lived real lives. Death – as a necessary, periodic restructuring of identity – would become our friend, sitting (as Carlos Castaneda wrote) on our right shoulder, reminding us to pay attention to the fleeting beauty of the world. And we could reframe the old question of the generals, What are you willing to die for? into the initiatory challenge, What are you willing to fully live for?

Reframing our reflexive use of military metaphors can help us muse poetically about what is approaching if we could only recognize its song. Time/Kronos vs. Memory/Mnemosyne. From this perspective, we could read our history as a baffling, painful, contraction- and contradiction-filled birth passage in which the literal has always hinted at the symbolic.

If America remembered its song as This Land Is Your Land rather than as Bombs bursting in air, we might understand freedom as willing submission to the soul’s purpose, and liberty as the social conditions that allow that inner, spiritual listening to happen. Diversity and multiculturalism would reflect the vast spaces of the polytheistic soul, and conflict would be about holding the tension of two opposites to create a third thing, something entirely new. We would remember that self-improvement is really intended for service to the communal good, and that individualism points us toward our unique individuality.

Remembering its song, America would remember its body – Mother Earth.  Connecting in this sacred manner to the land would naturally lead to rituals of atonement for the way we have treated her, and to a revival of the festivals that celebrate the decline of the old and birth of the new. New Year’s Day could become a national day of atonement – a Yom Kippur – to acknowledge our transgressions and our willingness to start anew. On Independence Day (now Interdependence Day), we would reaffirm that such a start requires the support of the larger community of spirits and ancestors.

Remembering America’s song would allow us to overcome our shameful contempt for our own children and to see them for who they are, rather than as projection screens for adult fantasies of innocence. We could reframe our national narratives with their deadly subtexts of child sacrifice into stories of initiation, renewal and reunion with the Other.

If we saw ourselves in this light – not the direct sunshine of innocence, but the dim glow of an old campfire – we would understand our addiction to violence and those military metaphors as a projection of that initiatory death (that we secretly desire) onto the world, and onto our children. We would withdraw those projections, putting them back where they belong.

We would realize that an appropriate metaphor has already arisen out of this land: the spirit of Jazz improvisation. When Charles Mingus heard a band member play a crowd-pleasing solo, he’d shout, “Don’t do that again!” By this he meant that the sideman needed to keep experimenting, to push himself (and the band) to even deeper soulfulness. And this means not just playing but communicating. Wynton Marsalis explains:

… to play Jazz, you’ve got to listen (to each other). The music forces you at all times to address what other people are thinking, and for you to interact with them with empathy…it gives us a glimpse into what America is going to be when it becomes itself.

We might realize that we have already dropped our fascination with evil. As in the Aramaic, we would view destructive behavior as unripe, as a cry for help, and we would know compassion.

Finally, we could cook innocence itself down to its roots. Our own light would no longer blind us. Innocence, once again, would signify the most basic of all mythic ideas: the new start. Then America could offer the song that the world has always seen in us: not that of a consumer paradise, a destructive adolescent or a wrathful father, but of the ancient story about what makes us human, the rare and lucky opportunity to accomplish what we came here to do.

Richard West, Director of the National Museum of the American Indian, proclaimed at its dedication ceremony, “Welcome to Native America!…The Great Mystery…walks beside your work and touches all the good you attempt.”

Read more…

What shall I send you, dear one,

There in the underworld?

If I send you an apple, it will rot,

If a quince, it will shrivel;

If I send grapes, they will fall away,

If a rose, it will droop.

So let me send my tears,

Bound in my handkerchief.

– Greek folk song

In previous essays I’ve written at length about the importance of rituals of grief in the tribal imagination, where the souls of the dead go neither to heaven nor to a nameless void, but to the Other World, or the Underworld.

…we may think of those souls as journeying first through a liminal period …between the worlds of the living and the dead. Liminal comes from the Greek word for threshold, which also gives us the word Limbo. We imagine those souls in a mysterious transition prior to rebirth into some new state of being. But the completion of the transformation, as in all initiations, requires the intercession of a greater community of beings who can facilitate the burial – both literal and symbolic – of the old before the appearance of the new.

Many myths reflect the belief that death is a process, rather than a single event in time. The dead require the focused acts of the living in order to complete their transition to the other world. But – of equal importance – the living need this process to succeed as well, because souls who wander in the liminal space between the worlds as ghosts will inevitably cause suffering for the living. The unburied dead in particular are condemned to haunt their relatives – those who should have performed the appropriate rites. Such souls are stuck, unable to conclude the last of life’s initiatory processes, the welcoming “home” by their ancestors in the other world. Like some mentally ill people in our world, they are “betwixt and between.”

In rural villages, archaic pagan customs still underlie a thin veneer of Christian belief. After a death, the community participates in ceremonies intended to serve the needs of the dead, to feed them, especially those who cannot enter Paradise without having had their sins forgiven. greek-orthodox-funeral-pouring-olive-oil-into-grave-ax1m23-e1572997703865.jpg?w=446&profile=RESIZE_710xTwo coins are still laid on the eyes of the deceased to pay Charon, who has ferried the dead, pagan or Christian, across the river Styx since the very beginning.

Throughout these areas, we can still see aged crones crete-old-lady.jpg?w=153&h=223&profile=RESIZE_710xdressed completely and permanently in black, their heads always covered.  After raising their children, their primary duty is to mourn the dead. Long after the funeral, the women sing daily laments at the grave. Anthropologist Loring Danforth notes the similarity of these chants to wedding songs, a reminder of the mythic “marriage with death.”

Unlike the Latin and Catholic world, where people welcome the temporary return of their dead on November 1st and 2nd, in the Greek (and Greek Orthodox) world there are up to seven “Saturdays of the Soul.”

Three to five years after a funeral, as professional mourners sing improvised dirges, close relatives of the deceased disinter the body. p0396h9x.jpg?w=286&h=161&profile=RESIZE_710x They are searching for a sign. If the body has not completely decomposed down to white bones, this may mean that the soul is not yet at peace and may have become a wandering vampire or werewolf, a vrykolakas. The local priest may then determine that an exorcism is needed, after which the body will be carried three times around the church and then re-buried.

After some years, if another disinterment reveals pure, white bones, the community agrees that the soul has been forgiven, has completed the transition through the liminal realms to Paradise and is at peace. Then, the family ritually deposits the bones (or perhaps only the skull) in the bone house or ossuary. In large villages, each family has its own ossuary, whereas in smaller villages there will be one ossuary for everyone.

The empty grave becomes available for another – temporary – resident. The period of liminality for both the souls and their relatives ends, and everyone can move on, free of the weight of both grief and responsibility. Except for the older women.

That’s the cultural background to a slightly fictionalized story I want to tell. But first, some historical background.

When Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, Hitler decided that he needed to secure his southern flank. That simple strategy set in motion a ferocious invasion of Greece and the eventual death, mostly by starvation, of between 300,000 and 600,000 Greeks. Some historians have concluded that a tenth of the population perished.

The graveyards were so overfilled that many families had to bury their loved ones outside of the cemeteries in mass graves. This caused much additional distress, since many believed that those buried in unconsecrated ground became vrykolakas who would return to haunt the living.

Armed resistance in Greece, especially on the island of Crete, was the fiercest in all of occupied Europe, and it was met by the cruelest of reprisals in which the Germans massacred entire villages.

1920px-amiras_memorial_r02.jpg?w=297&h=198&profile=RESIZE_710x Years ago, driving along the south coast of Crete, my wife and I stumbled upon a memorial in the Amiras area, where the Germans had destroyed over twenty villages and murdered some 350 people. My wife and I, two Jewish Americans, heard the only other people present speaking in German as they stared at the scene. Perhaps one of their parents had been there before.


Here is the story, written by Manolis Xexakis:

The Smile From the Abyss  

Down in a glen I know there is a round ossuary where women come down and wash the heads of the deceased with wine on Saturday of the Souls. My mother has my grandfather there, and she visits him.

They bring the skulls down from the display cases, they carry them to the yard, and they lay them down on the side wall. The scene can give chills to an innocent passerby.

This whole business happens in the morning, the time when the day is lighting up and a murmur sprinkles through the olive trees, as do drops of sun.

It can pull your heartstrings to see the harmonious figures of living bodies plant themselves by the bare bones in that deserted place.

They go and pour wine in copper buckets and then, carefully, softly, without dipping their fingers in the black holes, baptize the skulls for a long time and “caress” them. They say, “My ill-fated one, my unfairly killed one, once upon a time you were a human being too…”, and as the sun rises for good, the priest arrives and reads the prayers over a plate of memorial wheat, and as soon as he is finished the women talk among themselves about those who have left but are still present. By noon, they all leave the cenotaph and the area withers completely.

From stories, I hear that my grandfather was shot in his eighties.

The Germans surrounded the village and rounded the people up. They brought them down to a ravine with their hoes on their shoulders, and the interpreters kept telling them that they would be transported to the airport at Tymbaki for work. The captives spent hours in anticipation. The wind was blowing with sudden swirls, then it would disappear.

The procession of the morning frost was passing before their eyes. They had been arrested in retaliation for someone in the village who had disinterred two dead Germans so he could take their boots and clothes.

The Germans separated the women out. They arranged the men in a line. They made them dig the graves. A few shots were heard from a machine gun, and then the dull finishing shot.

Later the women went as far as the ravine to the open graves, where they cleaned the bodies of the dead and covered the ditches, without a cross or writing or any special sign.

After three years they each identified the heads of those shot by the final gunshot hole in the skull.

But even now there is one skull that three women claim and they do not know exactly to which of the dead it belongs. So on Saturday of the Souls all three wash and clean the skull together, and each believes that it is her loved one.

Well, in this treacherous world there are dead who belong to all of us, and we must all claim them. Otherwise, souls are stuck in the thorns and human deeds blown away by the wind.

But the mystery – and necessity – of grief and remembrance in Greece does not end here. Having sustained very heavy losses in the invasion and occupation, the Germans established several cemeteries there for their own dead. The people of Crete still oversee and tend these places, where a custodian says:

At dusk you can often see a poignant sight; black-dressed old Cretan women lighting candles on the graves of past adversaries. fig-10_large.png?w=200&h=199&profile=RESIZE_710xWhen you ask them why, they reply, “They, too, have a mother, and she is far away or dead. We also lost our sons…We know how a mother feels. Now, we are their mothers.

Now that’s the way to run a culture.


For further Reading:

Danforth, L.M. The Death Rituals of Rural Greece.

Fermor, Patrick Leigh and Roderick Bailey. Abducting a General: The Kreipe Operation in Crete

Garland, Robert. The Greek Way of Death.

Huntington, Richard and Metcalf, Peter. Celebrations of Death – The Anthropology of Mortuary Ritual. 

Markale, Jean. The Pagan Mysteries of Halloween.

Prechtel, Martin. Long Life, Honey in The Heart

Pschoundakis , George. The Cretan Runner: His Story of the German Occupation

Shay, Jonathan. Achilles In Vietnam.

Some´, Malidoma. Ritual: Power, Healing and Community.

Some´, Malidoma. The Healing Wisdom of Africa.

Read more…


Narcissism has been making the news lately. People are concerned that some politicians and CEOs may be narcissists. To understand what is going on in the world today and to recognize how you and I can be happy, successful, and positive influences, it is helpful to view narcissism on a continuum, and to live out its positive sides and avoid the negative, within oneself or in others whose behaviors affect your life.

This psychological narcissist continuum got its name from the cautionary Greek myth of Narcissus. When the extraordinarily handsome hunter Narcissus was 16 years old, the nymph Echo fell in love with him. But her love was not returned, and she disappeared from woods and mountains, fading slowly away until she was just a voice repeating what was said (turning into a reflection of others in sound). Later in the story, Narcissus, having come to a pool to quench his thirst, saw his reflection in its smooth surface and fell in love with it. And since he could not obtain the object of his love, he died of sorrow (or, some say, starvation, as he did not leave this image even to be nurtured and fed) by the same pool.

Now, you also need to know that the Greeks continually warned against hubris or arrogance, in Narcissus’s case coming from vanity. They also consistently urged against the longing for perfection, advocating instead “the middle way.” So, in this case, the middle between what and what?

Narcissism in Adolescence: It is no accident that Narcissus is about 16 years old, an age when it is normal for adolescents to be self-involved and sometimes also selfish. It is also the time when the Seeker archetype emerges with the desire to find one’s own identity and connect with others. The sought-after girl- or boyfriend or friendship groups often are either what serves your status or that share the same interests and can understand you like no one else.

Healthy Adult Narcissism: Healthy narcissism involves developing self-esteem, which, in part, requires taking the time to find yourself—how you like to do things, what you are good at, the narratives that call you to action, and the interests that release your energy for action. This often requires having mentors or guides, examples, and sometimes self-help books and workshops as well as increasing life experience. While this process tends to be “all about me,” it can lead to success in school and entry level work.


Psychological health, however, also requires an integration of the Seeker with the Lover archetype, which motivates a growing desire to respect, appreciate, care for, and love others. Most of the moral codes of our world stress the ability to love—your partner, children, family, neighbors, etc.—as what makes us caring and responsible. Together, the healthy Seeker/Lover motivates people to want to contribute to others (family, workplace, community, etc.) and be productive members of society.


Overall, developing and balancing the Seeker and Lover archetypes can help you to get good at something and to be good, as in moral. Because it motivates you to trust yourself and identify your strengths, interests, and values, it can lead to your being happy, fulfilled, and successful, living a life and doing work that fits for you.


Wounded Narcissism


Such a developmental journey can be sabotaged by any number of forces that undercut a person’s fundamental sense of personal worth.


The Origin: This can come from family influences if your mistakes are portrayed as signs of unworthiness. It can result from mean girls or boys claiming there is something wrong with you, rendering you an outsider. It can come from teachers who treat you as lacking intelligence or talents, or coaches who shame you for being weak or unskilled. The same pattern can continue in the work world, with bosses or coworkers who demean you. Messages in the larger culture also can make you conclude that you are a loser, ugly, bad, or useless (and so on and on). To counter these, remember that such undermining messages are about them, not you. It is easier to see this in people’s racism, sexism, homophobia, or fat shaming, but is equally true when what is going on with the person who puts you down is still a mystery. Why did that grade school teacher shame you for coloring the oceans different shades of blue? Whatever it was, she was out of line!


The Wound: Healthy narcissism can be wounded if your sense of your place in the world has diminished. To heal this wound you can, first, work to realize that those negative messages were not about you; they were about those who sent them. Second, you can take your Seeker and Lover journeys while working to accept yourself as you are.


Destructive Temptation: It is helpful to seek to learn from others, but you can be trapped if you find a savior who requires you to abandon your own journey to be what he or she tells you that you must be to have any worth. Sometimes those who present themselves as just the guides you need to follow are themselves unhealthy narcissists. Avoid the temptation to give away your power to them, lest, like the nymph, you begin simply echoing back someone else’s desires and values, until you slowly fade away as yourself.


Entrapping Entrancement: In developing the self-awareness necessary for self-realization, it also is wise to avoid the temptation to, Narcissus-like, become entranced with the watery shimmer of your inner life for so long that you starve your relationships with others and the world, or actually just fall into the water of the unconscious and lose contact with the shore of ordinary life.


Developing healthy narcissism can cure its wounded forms and also vaccinate you against its negative forms, or at least help you recognize their symptoms and pull yourself back from the abyss. So, let’s turn to the more negative forms of narcissism and how they might be avoided.


Egotist Narcissists


Those referred to as narcissists tend to have an investment in maintaining a positive self-image and persona/brand image, while avidly seeking the kind of success that looks good to others. How to avoid this:


Find Yourself: The focus on one’s image instead of identity can lead to a drive for status, power, celebrity, and riches, or other achievements that win praise, and sometimes to achieving these goals in ways that take you away from what will truly bring you fulfillment. The antidote can be found in returning to your Seeker quest to discover your purpose, calling, and strengths. Then fame and fortune, if they occur, will be the icing on the cake.


Experience Love: It can also turn “love” into its instrumental mimic (I love those who do what I want or simply are a benefit to me and make me look good). This can result in your ending up alone, as others often take off when the egotist stops benefitting them. However, suddenly falling in love with a partner or your newborn child—or being brought to your knees through loss or failure and experiencing healing love and care from others—may well cure this.


Commit to Learning: When encountering remorse or becoming aware of wrongdoing, a dangerous tendency is to seek others to blame rather than learning from the experience, and likely then to start feeling victimized even if you actually disadvantaged someone else. The antidote: choose to learn from misdeeds, failures, losses, and mistakes or your part in them.


Acquired Narcissism


Some have developed an unearned sense of superiority over others acquired through the life they were born into or that they later experience.


Unearned Confidence: Norm groups in any society (in my own culture, being White, male, heterosexual, affluent, etc.) often have greater confidence than others and simply see certain privileges as their due, generally being unconscious of the related cost to those who are different. Such confidence also can lead to greater personal success, but often also to what is known as the Peter Principle: they eventually overreach and achieve positions where they are over their heads and incompetent. The temptation for them is to blame others, but the antidote is to gain a more realistic self-image and either work very hard to learn needed competencies or step back into roles that are a better fit.


The Slippery Slope: People who have become very successful and have been shielded from feedback may become unbalanced and begin to see themselves as able to do whatever they want, including harassing and abusing people over whom they have power, sexually or in other ways. Feeling that normal rules do not apply to them, they may break the law or shock others with improprieties. Many can even enjoy conning and manipulating others. For most of us, growing narcissism can be subtler, resulting in our feeling more advanced and wiser than others and therefore no longer fully listening to them. Antidotes? To protect against this, be sure you have people close to you who will give you honest feedback, including warnings that you seem puffed up and obliviousness to your impact on others. Also, stay alert to the first signs that you feel above others, are gleeful when you successfully get them to do what you want, or find yourself avoiding responsibility by blaming others for your own mistakes or misdeeds.


The Victim Excuse: As a result of trauma or just hard luck, a similar sense of entitlement can, paradoxically, result from feelings of acute victimization that may become an excuse for negative actions, including bullying and physical abuse of others or, in an everyday way, simply chronic negativity and complaining. The antidote for this is to get help addressing these difficult experiences, coming to terms with them, and working again on developing one’s healthy narcissism by exploring what calls for you now.


The Supremacy Trap: A trap for those with low self-esteem can be a dangled “cure” in the form of convincing them of their innate superiority because they are, say, White (or any privileged group); male; from a wealthy (aristocratic) family; or any other claim to being inherently better than others. Often this leads to a willingness to discriminate or abuse others they regard as inferior. Discovering one’s genuine strengths and gifts and utilizing them to contribute to the good of others can foster healthy self-esteem that is not dependent on feeling that you are better than other people, even when you achieve mastery in some area and have every reason to feel good about what you are now able to do.


Narcissism as a Character Disorder


The one percent of people who have a narcissistic personality disorder have a distorted sense of self. Psychologists are not sure about the cause of this or of its cure, but those with it avoid self-awareness at all cost.


Inner Emptiness: Whether by nature or by a lack of attention to developing a self that is connected to others, the pathological narcissist escapes from the emptiness within, avoids self-examination, and strives to be the center of attention in order to feed an intense need to be mirrored as powerful and important. Such individuals often seek out roles that allow them to control others and gain nonstop flattery from them, a set of behaviors that frequently are seen in the world’s most abusive dictators or would-be tyrants in the home, in the office, or on the street.


Abusiveness and Distortion: A sense of superiority often is used by narcissists to justify abusing others. When they are crossed or their inflated self-image is undermined, they may even become enraged and seek vengeance. Narcissism can even distance people from truths they do not want to face—in the world or about themselves—while the constant intensity required to keep reinforcing a sense of exaggerated self-worth leads to short-term thinking.


Since cures for this character disorder are uncertain, the most we can do is recognize people with this rather sad plight and protect ourselves by not getting pulled into their area of control or escaping from it once we see what is going on. Moreover, the only way they will even seek help is to experience serious enough consequences for their actions that their usual defenses abandon them.


Note: For more on the Seeker and Lover as archetypes, see What Story Are You Living?, published by the Center for Applications of Psychological Type.

Read more…


It’s fall and I don’t know if this is happening to you, but all areas of my life are pinging and needing attention all at once—work, finances, health (I’m determined to lose my 10 extra pounds), love (I’m surprised at this one…), my creative muse (wish I had more time to devote…), and family (I need to fly to Iowa to help clean out and sell the family house. When am I gonna have time to do that…?)

I’m feeling some overwhelm.

When we’re in fear, overwhelm, confusion, or exasperated that our goals aren’t being achieved, what we humans tend to do is put artificial structure on ourselves. We set demanding schedules, read self-help books, and beat ourselves up when we don’t make progress on the things we most want to do.

In this upcoming experiential teleclass, we’re going to be working with a particular form of Source energy that will give you organic, internal structure, clarity and definition. This visceral Source energy will allow you to navigate relationships, unruly emotions, and overwhelm with grace, ease and strength… because it’s coming from your essence.

It’s going to be a powerful class, I hope you’ll join me.






Most creative people don’t need more ideas. Nor do they need more creative flow, or more fire. They need proper containment of their creative energy. They need structure—discipline, boundaries and focus—to execute their brilliant visions. They need to own their authority and not get distracted by drama, obligations that don’t fill them up, or their own unruly emotions. They need clarity about what their next step is and when they have that clarity, the fortitude to act on it.

Do you:

  • say yes when you mean no?
  • find days floating by without accomplishing much?
  • have sloppy habits around food, money, and time on the internet?
  • feel emotional, fuzzy, confused or unclear?
  • get distracted, depressed or overwhelmed easily?
  • have ongoing issues w/ a colleague, friend or family member?
  • long to start a project but can’t seem to get going?

Whether we want to lose ten pounds, grow a business, have a more loving relationship with our partner, or gracefully navigate a challenging situation, we need sturdy inner structure and the ability to hold clear boundaries.

Our minds think, “this is ridiculous, it’s so easy. All I need is to follow a food plan and I’ll lose that weight.” Or, “I just need to schedule time every morning to work on my book.” But if you’re like many creative people, after two days (or two hours), our old patterns and distractions take over. We’re back in fuzzy energy again.

In this class we’ll work with a particular form of Source Energy that provides natural strength, discipline, healthy boundaries, focus and clarity.

You will up-level your daily habits, move past the fuzziness that’s been clouding your brain, clean up those messy areas in your life, and operate from a natural strength of purpose.

This is about sturdy inner form… we’ll be aligning our deep desires with who we’re being in the world.

Don’t miss this unique opportunity.

Note: This is a tele-class, so you can live anywhere in the world and participate.

Early Bird Price: $89 until October 10th, $99 after that
includes audios, handouts & a personal reading with Kim

GROUP CALLS: three Fridays October 18th, 25th & Nov 1st
10 am – 12 pm PST

* If you can’t attend live, these calls will be recorded.


Kim Hermanson, PhD. is an award-winning author, healer, coach, and faculty at Pacifica Graduate Institute. She is known for her skill in quickly shifting people out of spiritual and psychological difficulties into a place of profound beauty, healing and creative flow.

Read more…

"Having gratitude for the body’s role in deepening one’s spiritual practice is important. The lived experience of one’s practice through the body is a different process than reading about those practices. It is like the difference between reading about wine versus drinking wine. The latter can lead to mystical intoxication.".....

Read more…

Part Seven

It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society. – Jiddu Krishnamurti

 …divide us those in darkness from the ones who walk in light… – Kurt Weill

The price of hating other human beings is loving oneself less. – Eldridge Cleaver

Denial and fear; fear and denial, all electronically mediated. Do you remember the anthrax scare of 2001 – how it targeted only Democratic Senators who opposed the Patriot Act,t1larg-terror-alerts-gi.jpg?w=225&h=127&profile=RESIZE_710xand how it disappeared as a news item once Congress passed the legislation? Do you remember how the government took this lunacy to its logical extreme with its color-coded alert system, how we all awakened daily to a degree of anxiety that shifted according to government “findings?” Who determined the nature of these “findings?” How – and why?terror_alert.png?w=238&h=141&profile=RESIZE_710x

Recall how this anxiety also diminished once the invasion of Iraq commenced, and how, as in any addiction, the reduction in stress was only temporary, until the next “threat” arose? Do you remember when all three TV networks introduced series about alien invasions? Do you remember the “immanent” Muslim terror attacks that never happened, that six in ten people expected a terrorist attack in 2007, how fifty percent of us were not opposed to torturing suspected terrorists? Be very afraid.

And yet – and this is where Americans really are exceptional – studies showed that most people had the existential experience of nothing being particularly wrong in their personal lives, at least until the economic crash of 2008. It’s falling apart all around us, but we’re OK. It’s all good.

This is critical to understanding our American state of mind, so let’s explore the implications further. Seth Stephens-Davidowitz summarized Google search rates for anxiety since 2008, noting that they have more than doubled since they were first tracked in 2004, and were the highest in 2016, the last year he surveyed. Surprisingly, “terrorism” and “Trump” are not major indicators of anxiety. And the places (Google can do that) where anxiety is highest are overwhelmingly concentrated in less educated, poorer and more religious parts of the country, particularly Appalachia and the South.

He sees two relevant factors. The first is the economy. Areas that were more deeply affected by the recession saw bigger increases in anxiety. The second:

I put “panic attack” in Google Correlate, and one of the highest correlated search queries was “opiate withdrawal.” Panic attacks are a known symptom of opiate withdrawal…The places with high opiate prescription rates — and high search rates for opiate withdrawal — are among the places with the highest search rates for panic attacks…(these) searches…have continued to rise over the past few years, even as opiate prescription rates have finally fallen.

These areas include, once again, the South, precisely the area where Trump’s support is the strongest, where white male identity is most under threat and where Republicans have been mining fear for fifty years (the places, incidentally, that view the most gay porn).

Fear and denial. Psychologists speak of intermittent reinforcement, a conditioning schedule in which a reward doesn’t always follow the desired response. Typically, the behavior lasts longer than with normal, predictable, continuous reinforcement. An example is gambling, when one doesn’t win every time. The intermittent reinforcement of winning causes a euphoric response that can lead to gambling addiction. Another example is how people remain in abusive relationships with narcissistic lovers whose unpredictable behavior encourages them to hope for an unattainable ideal.

The double bind is a dilemma in which someone in authority gives conflicting messages. When a successful response to one message results in a failed response to the other, we are wrong either way. The double bind occurs when we cannot confront or resolve the dilemma. Gregory Bateson proposed that growing up amidst perpetual double binds produces anxiety and confused thinking. In extreme situations (Bateson called them “schizogenetic”), the child experiences it continually and habitually within the family context from infancy on. By the time he is old enough to have identified the situation, it has already been internalized, and she may only be able to confront it by withdrawing into delusion and schizophrenia.

Or consider Marx’s idea of mystification: By representing forms of exploitation as forms of benevolence, the exploiters bemuse the exploited into feeling at one with their exploiters or into feeling evil or mad even to consider rebellion. R. D.Laing extrapolated this idea from politics to the schizogenetic family.

The mystified person is confused but may or may not feel confused. What child hasn’t heard this: “It’s just your imagination,” or “you must have dreamt it.” A deeper form of mystification happens when the authority figure disconfirms the content of the other’s experience and narcissistically replaces it with their own projection. A child is playing noisily in the evening; his exhausted mother needs some rest. A clear and honest statement might be: “I am tired, and I want you to go to bed.” Or, “Go to bed, because it’s your bedtime.” Or even, “Go to bed, because I say so.” But a mystifying statement would be: “I’m sure you feel tired, sweetie, and you want to go to bed now, don’t you?” Perhaps you heard this message from your own parents: “But you can’t be unhappy! Haven’t we given you everything you want? How can you complain after all our sacrifices?”

Are these just silly Jewish mother jokes? I don’t think so. What if you heard them regularly, every single day, throughout your childhood? They are wounds – ungrieved wounds – of the soul, the stuff D.H. Lawrence wrote of. I’m suggesting that most of us did experience those messages, that our loved ones conditioned us, if unconsciously, to become adults who would not perceive the nature of our own willing participation in the simultaneous denial and distrust that I’ve been describing. And those messages landed so deeply in our psyches precisely because of the loving – and mystifying – tones in which they were delivered.

And again, we are talking about the relatively privileged among us. Those born or fallen into poverty, racism, war, misogyny, sickness and/or abuse experience these conditions at much greater extremes.

But all of us spend hours – several hours, every day, even when we are out of the house – gazing at screens, writes Johnstone, that are “full of voices that are always lying to us, and experts wonder why we’re so crazy and miserable all the time.”

The screens tell us, “This is a perfectly normal and sane way of doing things. It is perfectly normal and sane to strip the earth bare and poison the air and the water in an economic system which requires infinite growth on a finite planet…Trust that it is good and proper for the citizens of Nation X to be killed with bombs and bullets,” and then they wonder why people keep snapping and committing mass shootings…The screens tell us, “Of course this is the way things are; it’s the only way things could ever be. Anyone who would try to change any part of this is either mentally ill or a Russian propagandist,” and they wonder why people shut down and numb themselves with opiates…The screens tell us, “Everything is great. Everyone is doing fine. Everyone is happy. Look how happy everyone is on this sitcom. If you aren’t happy like that, it’s not because of the machine, it’s because of you.

The pathology of this condition is that the modern soul is subject to persistent messages that its emotional intelligence – its intuitive knowing of the sheer craziness of modern life – has been completely discounted. This happens every day to almost every one of us, for our entire lives. And it carries an underlying, irresistible lesson: My ways of evaluating reality are failures.

But this is America, and we all carry the legacy of Puritanism, which tells us, if my ways of evaluation are failures, then so am I. And – since failure in America is always moralfailure, then I am also bad – I am a sinner. This, I suspect, is the major source of our massive epidemics of depression and substance abuse and our retreat from political involvement – or the need to bypass politics entirely, through violent actions against the Other.

The scapegoat: what is the deeper meaning of police violence against unarmed people of color? When societies begin to collapse, they turn to human sacrifice. I covered this issue in depth in a previous blog series:

To deny something is to declare it taboo. And “taboo” (“kapu” in Hawaiian) means “too sacred to mention.” The sacred is a secret, and this is the secret: Americans regularly unite in our fear of the evil Other, and enough of us will regularly declare allegiance to a culture whose primary religious ritual is the sacrifice of this Other. He is sacred because for a while he takes our sins away.

But this mode of sacrifice – the “shock” of localized violence – cannot fully re-invigorate the “awe” of denial, because this scapegoat suffers only within the polis. Horrifying to contemplate, the function of racist violence may well be to divert our attention from the deeper madness, the regular sacrifice of the best of our young men to our god of nationalism. As Carolyn Marvin and David Ingle write: 

The doctrine that provides the central experience of Christian faith is the sacrifice of an irreplaceable son by an all-powerful father whose will it was that the son should die violently…Sacrifice restores totem authority and reconsolidates the group. This is why we die for the flag and commit our children to do so. img002-2.jpg?w=230&h=297&profile=RESIZE_710xTo resolve totem crisis, the totem must re-create its exclusive killing authority out of the very flesh of its members. Blood is the group bond. Blood sacrifice at the border, or war, is the holiest ritual of the nation-state…Our deepest secret, the collective group taboo, is the knowledge that society depends on the death of this sacrificial group at the hands of the group itself…But what keeps the group together and makes us feel unified is not the sacrifice of the enemy but the sacrifice of our own.

As more flaws appear in the fabric of our mythic narratives and as the crazy-making conditions of our lives make it more obvious that the old story is dying but no new story has yet arisen to replace it, watch for the next sacrificial ritual.

Watch how your fear of Trump motivates you to vote for the despicable Joe Biden — even in California and the other 40 states that are safely Democratic. Watch, thirty years after the fall of communism, how we fall back on the tired, old red-baiting, even without any reds! Watch how the Democrats can’t stop flogging the latest threat – Russians hacking our elections! Read the Time cover: Faith in the U.S. Election! This is religious language, and the gatekeepers would not be united in their sermons if they weren’t aware of how many of us need to be reminded.

It’s all about the anxiety. And the situation really does demand of us that we stay woke and step back from our need to reflexively parrot the liberal – yes, the liberal – media. Watch your willingness to see them as saviors. Watch their willingness to blame “the Russians” when Trump is re-elected. Watch your need to remain innocent, to be reassured that it’s all good. Watch how much money you’ll be willing to spend to be ceaselessly told that it is. Christmas is coming.

Our American craziness has persisted for centuries. And any answers we might contribute have also been around for a long time. James Hillman offered this one after a well-known shooting:

The shadow is in full view, and we cannot get rid of evil by blaming the Radical Right or the Black Muslims or…communists, or…call evil “psychopathic.” With such sadness and reality, destructive evil strikes. Assassinations, murder – and war, too – begin this way. This revolution is not just outside us in the streets and jails and detention homes and clinics, or in Texas, but is the Shadow in each of us that is trying to come out.

The date? November 1963, after the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

Part Eight

We have no tradition of shamanism…of journeying into these mental worlds. We are terrified of madness. We fear it because the Western mind is a house of cards, and the people who built that house of cards know that, and they are terrified of madness. – Terrence McKenna

Madness need not be all breakdown. It may also be break-through. – Ronald Laing

What is madness but nobility of soul at odds with circumstance? – Theodore Roethke

Men are so necessarily mad, that not to be mad would amount to another form of madness. – Blaise Pascal

They say in the village that an unruly youth is asking in his own way for someone to guide him. – Malidoma Somé

I’m hoping to reframe this business of fear and denial, but I need to mention two themes first:

1 – Soon we will begin the transition to the Dark time of the year, and this will propel us directly into the absolute core of the issue: Boo! Don’t be scared! The roots of Halloween are in the profound depths of Old Europe – Samhain and All Soul’s Day. But for most Americans, it is a festival of innocent consumption, with annual spending of $5 billion.happy-halloween-widescreen-.jpg?w=229&h=144&profile=RESIZE_710x

Or perhaps we should speak of consuming innocence.Every year, millions of children confront the schizogenic double bind that utterly discounts their emotional intelligence. Boo! Scared you! Well, don’t cry, it’s only make believe! Death is everywhere but no one needs to grieve! Perhaps adults enjoy the emotional release of horror films, and yes, I’m a curmudgeon, but this is child abuse on a massive scale. Boo!

2 – As I wrote previously, in the midst of massive denial about a collapsing environment and the real sources of terrorism, Americans are allowed and “encouraged” to fret about issues that the media choose to present.

You want real fear? As my mother used to say, I’ll give you something to cry about! Throughout the second half of the twentieth century, the doctrine of “Mutually Assured Destruction” (MAD) implied that neither the U.S. nor the Soviet Union could instigate nuclear strikes without being destroyed itself. What mad genius invented that acronym! As I wrote in Chapter Eight,

…consider this 1960 statement by General Thomas Power, commander of the Strategic Air Command: “At the end of the war, if there are two Americans and one Russian left alive, we win.” Was it the joke of a psychopath or cynical hyperbole deliberately intended to maximize anxiety? Or would only the former do the latter?

Apparently, the U.S. “National Security Community” is no longer afraid of nuclear war, because now they seem to believe – not just Republicans, but Democrats as well – that they can win one. Are we mad to not label these people as mad?

Renewed NATO Military Deployments on Russia’s Doorstep

How US nuclear force Modernization is Undermining Strategic Stability

U.S. Keeps First-Strike Strategy

US confirms first strike policy with nukes

Or is it simply easier to manage our anxiety with Islamophobia than to ponder our own male suicidal fantasies that could destroy us all?

We are all stressed out, to be sure. Vast numbers of us are – or should be – dealing with PTSD. And thousands of the mentally ill really have been saddled with abnormal brain chemistry even before they were born. That leaves many others: the rebels, the inattentive, the under-achievers, the gang members, the white nationalists, the forty-somethings still living with their parents.

“Mad,” after all, has other meanings: angry, rabid. What if we were to think of mental illness as an unconscious attempt by a socially powerless person to unite body and feeling (or if we were to substitute “uninitiated” for “psychotic”)? Then we might see madness as an unconscious, natural (if painful and usually unsuccessful) attempt to heal oneself, to restore balance. And this, according to Malidoma Somé, is precisely the intention of ritual.

As Jung taught, the society that emphasizes extreme Apollonian, rational values and represses the Dionysian sets up a dynamic in which the god can only return in the symptoms. The return of Dionysus can appear as emotional dismemberment. For centuries of modernity, however, such experiences have typically occurred outside of any ritual containers. Schizophrenics enter liminal space alone, without guides, and receive only drugs or incarceration.

John Weir Perry saw schizophrenia as a natural renewal process. Many of his patients described visions consistent with the ancient symbolism of kingship and initiation. Joseph Campbell wrote that such fantasy “perfectly matches that of the mythological hero journey.” From this perspective, madness becomes an inward and backward process, under the dubious guidance of the mad god himself.unnamed-1.jpg?w=282&h=233&profile=RESIZE_710x

But we absolutely need to think mythologically, not literally. James Hillman mentioned that in historical accounts of persons who went mad but also had religious experiences, most took their revelations literally. They experienced death, apocalypse, crucifixion, sexual inversion, fertility and rebirth. A mythologist would identify all these visions as images of initiation. Those who did recover saw past the literal to the metaphoric.

But so many get stuck in what Robert Moore called “chronic liminality,” as illustrated by the myth of Ariadne. Many heroes entered the underground labyrinth, only to be killed by the Minotaur. Theseus defeated it because he had kept in contact with the world above by means of Ariadne’s thread, which enabled him to return to the light (normal consciousness). Those who have no thread of connection to community remain below in that “labyrinth of transformative space,” but only partially transformed. Later, Ariadne herself was rescued by Dionysus and became his wife.

Moore insisted that many pathological states are nothing other than failed initiations in which people could not think metaphorically. One of his clients was lucid enough to admit, “I need to die, before I kill myself.” This man knew intuitively that the most tragic of failed initiations is suicide, the heroic ego’s literal response to the symbolic challenge of transformation, and the inability to move madness into art.

“A shaman,” wrote Terrance McKenna, is someone who swims in the same ocean as the schizophrenic, but the shaman has thousands…of years of sanctioned technique and tradition to draw upon.”

Traditional Africans still perceive mental distress as a call for help. Indeed, madness is a sign that the community (who know nothing of “family systems therapy”) is sick. They perceive crazy people as undergoing crises resulting from the activity of spirit and protect them, hoping that their healing will benefit the community. To them, the spirits of a sick world speak through the most sensitive of us, those with the most fluid boundaries.

Malidoma Somé, an initiated elder of the Dagara people, writes that his people perceive mental disorders as spiritual crises that can potentially signal “the birth of a healer.” So this is “good news from the other world.” Beings from the other side of the veil are drawn to people whose senses have not been anesthetized, whereas modernity

…has consistently ignored the birth of the healer…Consequently, there will be a tendency from the other world to keep trying as many people as possible in an attempt to get somebody’s attention. They have to try harder…The sensitivity is pretty much read as an invitation to come in…(In the West)…it is the overload of the culture they’re in that is just wrecking them.

Through ritual, Dagara communities attempt to help such persons reconcile the energies of both worlds – “the world of the spirit that he or she is merged with, and the village…” Ideally, such persons eventually become able to serve as bridges between the worlds and assist the living as healers.

Somé utilizes spiritual terminology that we might feel a bit uncomfortable with. But in fact, many western psychologists have understood this wisdom for decades, beginning with Jung and later with Hillman’s Archetypal Psychology and Laing and the Anti-Psychiatry movement.

More recently groups such as Mad in America, the Critical Mental Health Nurses’ Network, Mad Pride, Mind Freedom International, and the Network Against Psychiatric Assault emphasize social justice, patient’s rights and political action. This includes questioning the idea of “normalcy” with an alternative: “neurodiversity.

Yes, it is possible (and necessary) for an enlightened community to enfold troubled individuals, keep them from hurting themselves, identify the sources of their distress as their innate purposes struggling to emerge, and ritually guide and welcome them as initiated members, as in the deepest sense of the word, citizens.

But this evokes deeper questions: Are there any such communities anymore? Can broken people heal others in a broken world? Can uninitiated adults initiate their youth? In a culture of madness and death, can anyone be truly healed unless everyone is? When myths change as gradually as they do, how much time do we have left? What do we do about it? How do we rise above it?

Stop. Go back. 

Notice what you took from that last question. Consider that “rising above it” is often a euphemism for denying that problems even exist, or that they really affect me, and that our characteristic American practicality often propels us far too quickly from realization of the truth – and the difficult process of grieving fully – into thoughtless “action,” as I write here.

I am not suggesting that joining with likeminded people to engage in political action is wrong or ineffective. And we certainly need to invite the Other – all Others – back within the pale, both literally and metaphorically, for their good and ours. But it’s worth asking whether the Other would even want to be part of what Greg Palast has called an “armed madhouse.”

What I am suggesting is that we need to consider John Zerzan’s observation: “To assert that we can be whole/ enlightened/healed within the present madness amounts to endorsing the madness.” Or as Hillman put it:

…waking up to the insanity of the way we have structured ourselves rather than doing something in the world to make a change. That’s the old-style American way: Let’s fix it! I’m not talking about fixing it. I’m talking about making a change in the mind that realizes, My God, I’m crazy!

Rather, he says, we have to develop (or re-develop what our ancestors had) an aesthetic response to the world:

Once we waken our aesthetic sense and are not an-aestheticized, as we are, by all the distractions…we would be able to see and appreciate the beauty in the world. Now the moment there’s beauty, you fall in love with beauty…and if you fall in love with something, love the world, not through Christian moralism, about “You must love the world,” or an economic one that says, “Sustainability for our own benefit, therefore we’ll live longer.” That is not it. It’s got to be something much more profound that touches the heart…if you realize that our job on the Earth is to love it, to fall in love with it…and you only fall in love with it if you’re aesthetically alive to it.

Martin Luther King said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” May it be so. Bertolt Brecht, however, began a poem with, “He who laughs has not yet heard the terrible tidings.” He insisted that we break through the walls of denial, to comprehend how dreadful our plight actually is, to feel how much we have lost. Yet pessimism can create its own reality. Expecting the worst, we are very likely to find it; then hope can turn into despair. Or we can fall into a polarizing anger that replicates conventional demonization of the Other. Brecht knew this, too. In the same poem, he wrote: Even the hatred of squalor makes the brow grow stern. Even Anger against injustice makes the voice grow harsh.

Part Nine

Do I really want to be integrated into a burning house?” – James Baldwin

You cannot dismantle the master’s house with the master’s tools. – Audre Lorde

If our religion is based on salvation, our chief emotions will be fear and trembling. If our religion is based on wonder, our chief emotion will be gratitude. – C.G. Jung

Die before you die. – Rumi

En-lakesh (You are the other me) – Mayan Indian chant

There are no others. – Ramana Maharshi

We are now in a space where we can reframe a critical aspect of the American myth (Anything is possible), where anything – such as a sustainable world – really is possible. And this is one of those rare moments in world history when our values are in a wild state of transition that actually mirrors the initiatory liminality experienced – or longed for – by adolescents everywhere.

And what about our day-to-day emotional rollercoaster? Unfortunately for many, to wake up from our dream of innocence and separation is to fall back upon the other side of the simple polarity of “reality/unreality,” to fall into despair and hopelessness (“despair” is literally the opposite of the French word for “hope,” espoir).

The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. But the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth. ― Niels Bohr

Optimistic denial or pessimistic realism? Such opposites live in a world of twos. Myths live in a world of threes, where clashing truths may propel us into a new awareness. Only the creative imagination allows us to both acknowledge the truth and also to picture what we want to regain. Perhaps, as Theodore Roethke wrote, it is only “in a dark time” that the eye begins to see with a new kind of innocence. Or Marc Nepo:

Everything is beautiful and I am so sad.
This is how the heart makes a duet of wonder and grief.

The light spraying through the lace of the fern

is as delicate as the fibers of memory forming their web
around the knot in my throat.

The breeze makes the birds move from branch to branch
as this ache makes me look for those I’ve lost in the next room,

in the next song, in the laugh of the next stranger.

In the very center, under it all,

what we have that no one can take away

and all that we’ve lost face each other.
It is there that I’m adrift,

feeling punctured by a holiness that exists inside everything.
I am so sad and everything is beautiful.

– Adrift

This post-modern world constantly throws us into double binds. But we can also imaginepositive double binds, such as the koan in Zen Buddhism1104265_orig.jpg?w=223&h=151&profile=RESIZE_710xKoans are deliberately crazy-making questions (What is the sound of one hand clapping?) designed to pull us out of our rational minds. They throw us into paradox, into liminal, transitional space – which is exactly where we need to be, aware that the old stories are dead, yet with no consensus about new ones.

Myths grab us for a reason. It’s not simply that they are untrue, that we have bought a lie. They describe us, in both our shadowy reality and in our potential. They are, for better andfor worse, deep in our bones.

Joseph Campbell spoke of participating joyfully in the joys and sorrows of the world. To look more deeply into joys and sorrows, we need to see them as narratives that are being played out in the world, to realize that there are only a few basic narrative themes, and they are all quite old. And to do that, we need to step back and learn to think mythologically (See Chapter One of my book). This is how indigenous people used to consider stories, and how mythopoetic men’s groups, learning from them, have been doing for the past forty years. But now, in addition to working with fairy tales and Greek myths, we need to consider world events in the same way.

Looking at Trump, or any celebrity or public figure, we need to interrogate ourselves, to ask, for example, how does this person doing these things enact or embody a story about me that I still identify with? tumblr_or1agh9xrb1tr7vtjo1_1280.gif?w=184&h=184&profile=RESIZE_710xHow does my emotional reaction or judgement, positive or negative, reveal my own place in this myth, this story we tell about him? How does my participation in this story affect my ability to act as a citizen? And in our American story, the ultimate questions are about our own innocence.

As far as definitions, we can now dump the DSM manual entirely and take a common sense, moral view of madness.Doing so, we can ask simple diagnostic questions such as these: Is what this person is saying or doing hurting themselves only, or are they impacting the community? Does their need for power and control affect us all? Do they act with the greater good in mind or make corporate profits their first priority? Would they advocate for non-violence except in self-defense?

What is madness? What is normalcy? In a sense, we’re back to square one, with Freud (“Love and work are the cornerstones of our humanness”). Sydney J. Harris adds, “Freud’s prescription for personal happiness as consisting of work and love must be taken with the proviso that the work has to be loved, and the love has to be worked at.” We’re back to Malidoma Some´, who would ask, Is this person in touch with their purpose in life? Is he/she part of a loving community that can remind them of why they came here?

The way out is not to simply dis-believe (even if we could), to replace one superficial level of identity with another. The way out is to go deeper in, to dwell at length in the possibilities of a new imagination that recasts our national and personal stories, to re-tell them in terms of both the real and the possible. Sophocles admitted that he portrayed people as they ought to be, while Euripides showed them as they actually were. We need them both, the imaginative and the tragic, with equal weight.

Affairs are now soul-size; the enterprise is exploration into God. – Christopher Frey, Sleep of Prisoners

Where some send their “thoughts and prayers,” I suppose we could hope and pray for a world of peace and oneness. But wouldn’t such a world be simply the opposite of what we have now, equally one-dimensional and unreflective of our complex archetypal realities? Wouldn’t that be simply another way of casting our darkness down into the otherworld, where it would fester and demand that we find yet another Other/scapegoat to hold it for us?

Campbell wrote, “The life of mythology springs from the metaphoric vigor of its symbols, which bring together and reconcile two contraries into a greater whole.”  The challenge is to live with those contraries, to hold the tension of the opposites, to invite the mystery to reveal itself, to remember the beauty of the world not in spite of its daily horrors, but equally together, because together they describe its – and our – fullness.

Good and bad are in my heart,

But I cannot tell to you

— For they never are apart —

Which is better of the two.

I am this! I am the other!

And the devil is my brother!

But my father He is God!

And my mother is the Sod!

I am safe enough, you see,

Owing to my pedigree.

So I shelter love and hate

Like twin brothers in a nest;

Lest I find, when it’s too late,

That the other was the best.

– James Stevens, The Twins

What if psychology were focused on finding a way to welcome and incorporate the Shadow and invite a third thing in? To acknowledge rather than deny our violent potentials – and then re-imagine cultural forms that could hold and eventually transform them, especially in our young men as they come of age? Of course, I’m talking about initiation, and I recommend that you read Chapter Five of my book, especially on the East African notion of litima:

Litima is the violent emotion peculiar to the masculine…source of quarrels, ruthless competition, possessiveness…and brutality, and that is also the source of independence, courage…and meaningful ideals…the willful emotional force that fuels the process of becoming an individual…source of the…aggression necessary to undergo radical change. But Litima is ambiguous…both the capacity to erupt in violence and the capacity to defend others, both the aggression that breaks things and the force that builds and protects.

Indigenous cultures with intact ritual traditions still understand the critical importance of welcoming the dark realities of the psyche and then channeling them into values and behaviors that can serve the greater good, rather than tear down society itself.

Again: Can broken people heal others in this broken world? Can uninitiated adults initiate their own youth? In a culture of madness and death, can anyone be truly healed unless everyone is? All I can tell you is that there are plenty of people and groups working to do just that, in countless ways, and this is the sole source of any optimism I can muster.

For me, the work is to welcome back the indigenous imagination with more of two things: poetry and ritual. The old knowledge has never completely left us, but, as Caroline Casey says, the spirits need to know that we are interested.  Ritual clarifies our intentions. It conjures (“with the law”), invoking aid from the other world, and invites us into unpredictable, chaotic, creative space, into communitas. Here is where new images, insights and metaphors are born, just as adults are born in initiation. Liminality, wrote Victor Turner, is “pure potency, where anything can happen.”

Perhaps only what the Greeks called “ritual madness” can keep us from being so freaking crazy. Do you recall the two groups of women in The Bacchae? The first group followed Dionysus wherever he went, choosing to enact his wild, cathartic rituals. Others who opposed him were struck with – possessed – by the return of the repressed. The first group engaged in ritual madness to avoid literal madness, losing their minds to become sane. Nor Hall writes of the second group: “Had they joined the Dionysian company willingly, they would have enacted this state of wild abandon within a protective circle.”

Poet Dianne Di Prima writes, “The only war that matters is the war against the imagination.” Another poet, Frances Ponge, says that genuine hope lies in “…a poetry through which the world so invades the spirit of man that he becomes almost speechless and later reinvents a language.” We are required to collapse so deeply into the mournful realization of how much we have lost that we become speechless. Only from that position can new forms of speech arise to break the spell of our crazy amnesia.

Then, says Martin Prechtel, grief becomes a form of praise. This year (2019) our annual Day of the Dead grief ritual will be on Saturday, November 2nd.

My joy is like spring, so warm it makes flowers bloom in all walks of life.

My pain is like a river of tears, so full it fills the four oceans.

Please call me by my true names, so I can hear all my cries and laughs at once,

So I can see that my joy and pain are one.

Please call me by my true names, so I can wake up,

And so the door of my heart can be left open, the door of compassion.

– Tich Nhat Hanh, Call Me by My True Names

Read more…

Part Four

Every person you meet should be regarded as one of the walking wounded. We have never seen a man or woman not slightly deranged by either anxiety or grief. We have never seen a totally sane human being.  Robert Anton Wilson

Lesley Stahl on U.S. sanctions against Iraq (1996): We have heard that a half million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it? Secretary of State Madeleine Albright: I think this is a very hard choice, but the price, we think the price is worth it.

White children, in the main, and whether they are rich or poor, grow up with a grasp of reality so feeble that they can very accurately be described as deluded.  James Baldwin

I didn’t just screw Ho Chi Minh. I cut his pecker off.  Lyndon Johnson

 The U.S. military coined the phrase “Shock and Awe” in the late 1990s and applied it to the invasion of Iraq a few years later. It accurately describes the American psyche. The “shock” side is composed of fear-mongering and electronic stimulation. This alone is more than enough to maintain our constant state of anxiety. But our optimistic character simultaneously pulls us in the opposite direction, and together they make us crazy in our uniquely American way.

The “awe” side, our third factor, is represented by our old tradition of advertisers, real estate salesmen, stock brokers, hucksters, con-men and “public relations” specialists, as well as clergymen and politicians, who collude to reinforce our denial. Characteristic themes include: the market is always rising, “doom-and-gloomers” overrate our problems; global warming is a lie; unemployment is down; racism is history; history itself is a feel-good story of constant progress; the Iraqis and Afghans (and soon, the Iranians, Syrians and Venezuelans) welcome us – all translatable into “the system is working.” An essential part of this message is visual images: idealized pictures of the America that Trump promises to make great (and white) again. 718b1038be9c6031750af1ec9a1dfca3.jpg?w=166&h=219&profile=RESIZE_710xYou know what I’m talking about: pristine coastlines, carefree drivers on uncrowded country roads, slim athletes and dancers, the family dinner, Sunday church picnics, reunions at Grandma’s house and small-town July Fourth celebrations.

The speed and frivolity of the media charms us all and conveys our values primarily through two film and TV styles. In one – action and disaster films – the redemption hero intercedes to save the community from evil, traditionally in the last reel or just before the final commercial break. Since 1990, when Islam replaced communism as the external Other, a new generation has grown up watching literally dozens of movies and TV shows depicting this threat, but with a series of (usually white) American heroes eliminating the threat. Zero Dark Thirty and American Sniper are merely the more well-produced and honored of this genre.

Disaster films work both sides of the fear/denial dichotomy by heightening anxiety (and perhaps anticipation) of apocalyptic punishment and then cleanly resolving the threat through the intercession of selfless heroes. It’s a world of crimson red, dark brown and black, with very little grey area (or grey matter). Guy stuff.

The other mode is the ubiquitous, cloying, Disney-style alice-alice-in-wonderland-cute-disney-ilustration-tea-favim-com-72133.jpg?w=240&h=180&profile=RESIZE_710xcartoons and children’s programming, in which, writes Todd Gitlin, “…characters are incarnations of an innocence that can never be dispelled,” where everyone talks out their problems, resolves them, hugs and remains friends. It’s a pastel world of pinks and lavender that still portrays most positive characters as white and heterosexual. Gal stuff.

TV news (FOX News aside) offers a parallel experience. Reassuringly calm, unemotional, authoritative newscasters place even bad news in the wider context of progress: It’s all good. Michael Ventura, however, measures how deeply “…people know that ‘it’ is not all right…by how much money they are willing to pay to be ceaselessly told it is.” Think positive or don’t watch at all.

th.jpg?w=127&h=184&profile=RESIZE_710xActually, even the calm Walter Cronkite father figures are mostly long gone. What we have had instead for many years are actors such as Matt Lauer  who portray journalists or debate moderators, mixing in cornball humor and soft-core porn megyn-kelly.jpg?w=153&h=97&profile=RESIZE_710x so things don’t get too boring. With Fox news “commentators” such as these, avyrz6u.jpg?w=200&h=158&profile=RESIZE_710x no wonder the Trumpistas get their opinions there. Again, Fox is only the most extreme, as this list of the “25 Most Gorgeous News Anchors” attests. MSNBC balances it on the “left,” the two of them defining the narrowly acceptable range of political discourse for the diminishing numbers of Americans who consume news outside of social media.

Indeed, it has been clear since well before 9-11 that both politics (best seen in our embarrassingly silly Presidential debates) and news journalism have been so “dumbed-down” that we now perceive them as merely alternative forms of entertainment. This is laughable, as it was surely meant to be. But it also means that for many of us “reality” simply isn’t real any more, that it’s indistinguishable from anything else that appears on the screen – or that it’s all good.

Thus, in the midst of massive denial about a collapsing environment and the real economic and spiritual sources of terrorism, Americans fret about issues that the media choose to present. The most common source of our anxiety becomes either dark-skinned others or, in the case of mass killings, the disturbed individual, the bad seed, rather than systemic inequities and corruption. In this fantasy, immigrants and home-grown thugs, rather than discriminatory housing patterns and long-term unemployment, cause domestic violence. And Islamic fundamentalism, rather than American military intervention, causes most international violence.

Periodically, episodes of real terror evoke the old frontier paranoia (at the risk of being slimed as a conspiracy theorist, I insist that we have mountains of evidence that many of these events have been contrived).Then, as Ben Franklin lamented long ago, we quickly exchange our freedoms for a dubious sense of security.

The gated community has become yet another potent symbol. gated-community.jpg?w=226&h=129&profile=RESIZE_710xFour centuries after defining themselves in contrast to the demonic forces of the wilderness, whites are once more circling the wagons. Forty percent of new California homes are in gated communities. Nationally, 8 million people live in them. Madness at the gates: as we enclose ourselves in racially homogeneous, suburban ghettoes or high-security high-rises, we simultaneously imprison more people than any nation in history and warehouse millions of others in nursing homes. Out of sight; out of mind.

Here we are, at the core of who we are: the condition of simultaneous denial and anxietyleads to paradoxical connections. For years polls have commonly reflected our belief that things were better in the old days, that things are going downhill – even if our personal outlook is rosy. But it’s more serious than that. Joy DeGruy’s 2005 book Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome: America’s Legacy of Enduring Injury and Healing described the multi-generational trauma experienced by African Americans. We can easily understand how the victims of over three centuries of violence and discrimination can pass their suffering on to their children. In the simplest of terms, racism causes PTSD, and it lives on its victims. 

Traumatic events can happen to anyone, not just minorities. The government estimates that 10% of women and 4% of men will have PTSD at some point in their lives, about 8 million adults during a given year. That number is ridiculously low, given 36 million African-Americans, seven million Native Americans, 60 million Latino-Americans, several million LBGT people, the massive opioid epidemic and a thousand suicides per week, including 140 veterans and six active-duty service members. Given also, that one in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18 years old.

Given also, that over half of the population doesn’t have enough money to cover a $1,000 emergency.  Given also, that, officially, 20% of children live in poverty, some 16 million. That number, again, is ridiculously low, since that the federal poverty threshold for a family of three (one adult + two kids under age 17) is about $22,000. So a family reporting one dollar more than that is not considered impoverished by the government. Rod Tweedy writes:

Capitalism is as much an inequality-generating system as it is a mental illness producing system. As a Royal College of Psychiatrists report noted: ‘Inequality is a major determinant of mental illness: the greater the level of inequality, the worse the health outcomes. Children from the poorest households have a three-fold greater risk of mental ill health than children from the richest households. Mental illness is consistently associated with deprivation, low income, unemployment, poor education, poorer physical health and increased health-risk behavior.

Those with steady employment hardly escape. Jeffrey Pfeffer, in Dying for a Paycheck, reports that 61 % of employees say that workplace stress had made them ill, with 7% requiring hospitalization. The stress of overwork, he writes, may cause 120,000 deaths annually in the United States.

Even those who see through the fear mongering and perceive neither immigrants nor “the Russians” as threats are subject to quite legitimate fear about the future. Sixty-two percent of us are “somewhat worried” about climate change and 23% are “very worried.” Counselors report seeing patients with anxiety, depression or a sense of helplessness. Although it is not an official clinical diagnosis (yet), terms for the phenomenon are already in use: “climate distress,” “climate grief,” “climate anxiety” or “eco-anxiety,” and Hollywood has responded with films and series such as The Dead Don’t Die, First Reformed, and Euphoria. 

So we should acknowledge that trauma – caused by war, generational racism, underemployment, overwork, homophobia, poverty and realistic thinking, and expressed in suicide, mass violence, addiction and physical and mental illness – certainly affects many tens of millions of Americans. Dionysus might ask, who can separate legitimate stress from illegitimate stress? How long does a person or group suffer from stress before it becomes anxiety, before anxiety (real or not) becomes mental illness, or before they pass it on to their children?

But I am suggesting that the perpetrators of violence, as well as those (the majority) who have been indirectly privileged by that system have also been so dehumanized over those same centuries that most Americans have experienced some version of this epigenetic condition – transgenerational trauma –  their entire lives. Psychologist Bryant Welch comments on the implications:

80% of the American public has experienced some form of significant traumatic experience, which we can reasonably anticipate will disrupt our effective psychological functioning…All the things that once supported the mind’s ability to construct its reality have been under assault, and the price we’re paying is terrible. People are becoming…so shaky in their trust in their own reality that when we see someone with a different reality, it’s too threatening to us and so we hate them…We all think of paranoia as irrational suspicion…but it’s a lot more. Paranoia takes place right at the boundary between what’s inside our mind and what is outside our mind, and that’s a pretty thin membrane and we can easily get confused on it.

Crazy or content, perpetrators, victims or detached observers, and despite our myths of equal opportunity, we all share the capitalist nightmare: one of the most unequal societies in history. And studies clearly show that, compared to more equal ones like Japan, we all suffer for it, writes Robert R. Raymond:

…in more unequal American states or European countries…only 15 or 20 percent of the population feel they can trust others. But in the more equal ones, it rises to 60 or 65 percent…The relationship between inequality and depression has been well documented… people in less equal states experienced higher rates of depression…

If we add the legacy of racism to the mix:

…we see higher rates of physical illness and chronic diseases like hypertension in Black Americans…Black adults are up to two times more likely to develop high blood pressure by age 55 than white adults.

Perhaps much of this is speculation; but tell me, reader, can you honestly say that modern life – and well before Trump – has not traumatized you? mad-as-hell.jpg?w=245&h=153&profile=RESIZE_710xOr if I could pose the question as Dionysus himself, or news anchor Howard Beale in the 1975 film Network: Why aren’t we all running through the streets screaming, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!”?

Mythologically speaking, the gods are returning from exile. In historical terms, many Americans experience the traumas of racism, poverty, childhood abuse, misogyny or delayed stress. But we all suffer from the long-term, collective emotional effects of massive and rapid historical shifts: from paganism to monotheism, from rural to urban lives, from religious conformism and predictability to secular consumerism and nationalism.

We all suffer from dissociation, from the belief that we are separate beings, that maturity entails escaping the demands of the community, that we can and should detach our consciousness and our feelings from the terrible crimes of our government and the homeless misery that surround us. What does it mean to be reminded that babies are being torn from their parents or that all the large fish in the Pacific are contaminated from Fukushima – and then simply change the channel? How do our bodies interpret such bizarre behavior?

We all came into the world with another expectation, to exist within a container that provides us with divine figures – the gods and goddesses of mythology – who will convey images of our human potential. This is why, over thousands of years, most human societies evolved the mythology (granted, under patriarchy) of Kingship, and why, even now, in a democratic myth, we remain fascinated with its toxic mimic, the British Royal Family. We need images of nobility (related etymologically to knowledge) as well as human elders.

So what does it do to our indigenous souls to live our entire lives listening to celebrities and elected leaders – many of whom really are psychopaths – who lie to us continually, and, despite our rationalizations, to know very well at some level that they are lying? Or for the 35% of us who know but don’t care? What kind of insult to our archetypal expectations of being presented with the best of who we might be is this? Or to be told that our own perceptions are wrong (see below)?

Again, Trump is only the latest and grossest of examples. Noam Chomsky has long pointed out, without hyperbole, that “…if the Nuremberg laws were applied, then every post-war American president would have been hanged.” Can anyone deny that our political process has been so degraded, for so many decades, that no one could possibly be vetted to the level of serious presidential consideration who is not already crazed by the drive for power? One study proposes that “Nearly half of American presidents from 1789 to 1974 — and this includes two of the four U.S. leaders featured on the iconic Mount Rushmore — met the criteria for a psychiatric disorder.”

We recall that apocalypse means “to lift the veil.” Facing the truth is a grand opportunity to be dis-illusioned. To begin to extricate ourselves from this sticky, mythic mess, we have to acknowledge that this culture of death really does raise the very worst of us, those who embody the most extreme expressions of toxic masculinity, to the highest levels of praise and influence. When we hear of Trump’s latest outrage – or if we were to objectively consider the policies of his recent predecessors  – any of them – we need to get past both the dark humor and the denials and accept that they are us. And for ourselves as Americans, the veil to be lifted – the clearer view of reality – is always, always about our perpetual attempts to remain innocent.

Part Five

A trait no other nation seems to possess in quite the same degree that we do—namely, a feeling of almost childish injury and resentment unless the world as a whole recognizes how innocent we are of anything but the most generous and harmless intentions. – Eleanor Roosevelt

…that omnipresent American narcotic, optimism, the unending flow of which poured through the American mind continuously, whitewashing the graffiti of despair, rage, hatred, and nihilism scrawled there nightly by the black hoodlums of the unconscious. – Viet Than Nguyen, “The Sympathizer”

The first act of violence that patriarchy demands of males is not violence toward women. Instead patriarchy demands of all males that they engage in acts of psychic self-mutilation, that they kill off the emotional parts of themselves. If an individual is not successful in emotionally crippling himself, he can count on patriarchal men to enact rituals of power that will assault his self-esteem. – bell hooks

So, Dionysus insists on asking, who defines sanity? And who profits from these definitions? For decades, Benjamin Rush’s definition prevailed: “…an aptitude to judge of things like other men, and regular habits, etc.” Freud added the abilities to love and work.

Thomas Szasz, however, insisted that most mental illness is composed only of behaviors that psychiatrists (overwhelmingly white, middle-class men) disapprove of. In his libertarian view, the “therapeutic state” uses psychiatric justifications to strip individuals of their rights. It creates two classes: those who are stigmatized as mentally ill and subject to coercive intervention, and the majority, whose conventional behavior indicates their innocence. “Only in psychiatry are there ‘patients’ who don’t want to be patients,” he says. No one else, neither priest nor judge, has the psychiatrist’s power to have someone committed, even if he came of his own free will. “If you’re in a building that you can’t get out of, that’s not a hospital; it’s a prison.”

Behaviors such as masturbation and homosexuality no longer fit, but others are continually added. But when psychotherapy (not to mention advertising) merely attempts to recover or maintain a sense of “productive normalcy,” that condition which is itself one of the causes of our unhappiness, it becomes yet another effort to recover lost innocence, as well as a condemnation of an archetypal experience ruled by Dionysus. Banishing him, we welcome ourselves to the madhouse, even if we don’t notice where we are.

So we are forced to confront yet another paradox: on the one hand, ours is an utterly mad culture, and vast numbers of Americans suffer from a deep sickness of the soul. On the other hand, a profoundly corrupt and extremely profitable, mostly private pharmaceutical-mental health-prison-industrial complex serves our elite classes by diagnosing millions as biologically and chemically imperfect, drugging them, institutionalizing them and identifying them as scapegoats for us all to pity and then forget about — until the next mass shooting. Indeed, as Ethan Watters writes, this medical model is spreading to most other nations.

We are the net products of a process that has taken some two hundred generations to unfold, reaching its peak with our current political and corporate leaders, most of whom are sociopaths or outright psychopaths, men who are driven to enact the shadow aspects of our national mythology for the rest of us.

Every American — at least every white American — suffers from suppressed grief, which returns as anxiety, addiction, narcissism and depression. The mad culture, led by madmen, regularly requires scapegoats whom we sacrifice to restore our innocence. Three million Viet Nam War veterans carry the burden of delayed stress for us all. Movies that portray them as ticking time bombs allow Middle America to consider memory’s immense power without confronting its universal application. But, says Dionysus, we are all ticking…They and all depressed people carry the shadow of our manic celebration of progress, extraversion, cheerfulness and grandiosity.

The more politicians and celebrities emphasize these American characteristics, the more depression will spread. We who can channel the madness into consumerism feel welcomed into the community of the elect, while those who cannot do so prove our righteous standing – and our innocence.

We’ve never been innocent, or “normal.” Three thousand years ago, the Greeks conjured up the figure of Dionysus to express their understanding that a large region of the psyche and of the world is so irrational, so driven by dark emotions that, by nature, it threatens to destroy the walls of the ego, all the more so because it is generally so repressed by the spirits of consciousness. They knew very well the costs of not honoring this god. They knew, as the classicist Walter Otto wrote, “A mad god exists only if there is a mad world which reveals itself through him.”

From this perspective, a major function of the myth of innocence is to suppress our grief and allow us to continue on as normal neurotics and normal consumers. Many men are well aware of this condition. Over my thirty years of participating in and leading mythopoetic men’s retreats, one of the most common statements I’ve heard is: I haven’t cried in thirty years, and I won’t allow myself to start. If I did, I know that it would never stop.

This is the indigenous soul leaking out, speaking in a language that normal ego consciousness cannot perceive, acknowledging that the sacred work of going down into grief requires a strong container of ritual and community and cannot be done alone. It acknowledges that part of the grief just below the surface of heroic, American male identity is the awareness that those containers have not existed for a very long time. The inability to grieve – or the perceived lack of permission to grieve – makes us crazy.

This is the baseline of stress and anxiety that most Americans endured right after the massive pains of World War Two and before that, the Depression. Since then, new factors have appeared. gettyimages-530193749.jpg?w=221&h=151&profile=RESIZE_710xThe awkward combination of fear, denial and electronic stimulation has ruled our consciousness during the 70 years of television, which was born amid both McCarthyism and the new consumerism. Lucille Ball diverted us while Richard Nixon admitted, “People react to fear, not love.” I have argued, however, that the roots of this madness go back to the original confrontation of Puritans and Indians. Ever since, we have held the contradictory notions of chosen people and eternal vigilance.

In America, curiously, the plural phrase “chosen people” also evokes the radical individualist, the lone hero who chooses his own destiny and then goes out and achieves it. And he embodies one of our most fundamental values: social mobility, or the opportunity to get ahead. The likelihood of advancing in social class has decreased significantly since the 1980s. But 56% of those blue-collar men who correctly perceived G.W. Bush’s 2003 tax cuts as favoring the rich still supported them, apparently assuming (against all evidence) that they would someday be admitted to that exalted realm. Decades before, John Steinbeck wrote: “I guess the trouble was that we didn’t have any self-admitted proletarians. Everyone was a temporarily embarrassed capitalist.”

One story we tell ourselves about ourselves is that purpose can be divorced from community. The desire to be seen as special contributes to the quest for expensive symbols – a quest that is ultimately futile, wrote Phillip Slater, “…since it is individualism itself that produces uniformity.” Paradoxically, our American obsession with individualism produces persons who “cannot recognize the nature of their distress.” the-comfort-in-conformity-3-1600x900.jpg?w=252&h=142&profile=RESIZE_710xThis results in a desire to relinquish responsibility for control and decision-making to the images provided by the media. Here lies a great paradox of American life: our emphasis on the needs of the individual has contributed toward cultural and political conformism.

But conformism and rebellious individualism are not our only choices. For tribal people, true community exists in order to identify and nurture the individuality of every one of its members, who are, in turn, necessary for the community to thrive and reimagine its values. Malidoma Somé writes that in West Africa, “Individuality is synonymous with uniqueness. This means that a person and his or her unique gifts are irreplaceable… A healthy community not only supports diversity, it requires diversity.”

The myth of individualism, of the self-made man is as deeply engrained as our wild, naïve optimism; in 2000, 19% believed they would “soon” be in the top one percent income bracket, and another 19% thought they already were. Two-thirds of us expect to have to pay the estate tax one day (only two percent will). Here is where the older myth intersects with New Age thinking, which preaches that right thinking will produce desired results. However, as I wrote above, most of us still accept the religiously-based corollary of those statements, that poverty is our own fault.

We expect, unlike any people in history, to successfully pursue happiness. Despite the secular terminology, it’s an essentially Protestant perspective, rooted in apocalyptic, end-times thinking. Yet our expectations of worldly happiness continually break up against that same Puritan heritage. Yes, we learned from Jerry Falwell, we should equate poverty with low moral status, and wealth does indicate our status among the elect. It does, doesn’t it? Please tell me it’s true. As I write in Chapter Seven,

Americans, like no people before them, strive for self-improvement. But within the word “improve” lies the anxiety of those who can never know if they’ve attained the otherworldly goal. Thus we must continually “prove” our status in this one.

Our characteristic American expectation of positive emotions and life-experiences makes feelings of sadness and despair more pathological in this culture than elsewhere. Christina Kotchemidova writes, “Since ‘cheerfulness’ and ‘depression’ are bound by opposition, the more one is normalized, the more negative the other will appear.”

When, in the great majority of cases, one realizes that his sacred assumptions of social mobility are unrealistic, the hero may encounter his shadow opposite – the victim – within himself, and we become what we really are (except for the thirteen years of Nazi Germany), the most violent people in history.

American crime is a natural by-product of our values, an alternative means of social mobility in a society where “anything goes” in the pursuit of success. “America,” says mythologist Glen Slater, “has little imagination for loss and failure. It only knows how to move forward.” When we can only imagine relentless progress and that movement is blocked — and communal grief is not an option — we may see no alternative but to go ballistic. Then guns become the purest expression of controlling one’s fate. As such, they are “the dark epitome of the self-made way of life.” 

We as a people may well dream bigger dreams than other peoples. With great possibilities, however, come great risks. Gaps between aspiration and reality – the lost dream – are also far higher here than anywhere else. Cultural historian Greil Marcus writes,

To be an American is to feel the promise as a birthright, and to feel alone and haunted when the promise fails. No failure in America, whether of love or money, is ever simple; it is always a kind of betrayal.

When we don’t meet our expectations of success, when that gap gets too wide, violence often becomes the only option, the expression of a fantasy of ultimate individualism and control. In this sense, the Mafia is more American then Sicilian, and the lone, mass killer (almost all of whom have been white, middle class men with no criminal background) is an expression, writes Slater, of social mobility gone bad.

Myths are composed of unquestioned narratives, stories that we so consistently assume to be true that it never occurs to us to question them. But when we take an outsider’s perspective, we may quickly realize that one of these assumptions, the myth of the free market, is a prescription for craziness. Tweedy reminds us,

The corporation’s legally defined mandate is to pursue, relentlessly and without exception, its own self-interest, regardless of the…consequences it might cause to others. By its own legal definition, therefore, the corporation is ‘a pathological institution’…Capitalism is, it seems, rooted in a fundamentally flawed, naïve…model of who we are – it tries to make us think that we’re isolated, autonomous, disengaged, competitive, decontextualized – an ultimately rather ruthless and dissociated entity. The harm that this view of the self has done to us, and our children, is incalculable.

This notion of “ruthless and dissociated” is so much an unquestioned aspect of the story we tell ourselves about ourselves that it slides very easily into the common view of Trump and his supporters: gratuitous cruelty, or cruelty perpetrated simply because one has been encouraged to do so without any consequences. To me, this explains both the government’s astonishingly brutal immigration policies and the increase in mass shootings since his election. And, I must add, the degree to which we are still shocked by these policies is a measure of our own innocence, because Trump is us.

It may also explain why the opioid epidemic has hit Trump country most strongly. It turns out that taking antidepressants impairs empathy, while the experience of actual depression itself does not.

For two hundred years this American cycle of expectation and disillusionment has been playing out within the capitalistic narrative. Pankaj Mishra writes:

The ideals of modern democracy – the equality of social conditions and individual empowerment – have never been more popular. But they have become more and more difficult, if not impossible, to actually realize in the grotesquely unequal societies created by our brand of globalized capitalism.

As the myth of innocence collapses, more and more of us can perceive gashes in its fabric. Now there is a nearly universal consensus (obvious to all but the politicians and media hacks) that the capitalist perspective has corrupted every institution in society. We see this most especially in the pharmaceutical industry, with its gigantic lobbying budget. This has resulted (Cui bono?) in the medicalization of psychiatry and the over-diagnosing of mental disorders. I don’t want to veer too far off topic here, so I’ll just list some interesting links:

Are Psychiatrists Inventing Mental Illnesses to Feed Americans More Pills?

Majority of Youth Prescribed Antipsychotics Have No Psychiatric Diagnosis

Drug Companies & Doctors: A Story of Corruption 

Manufacturing Depression: The Secret History of a Modern Disease 

30 years after Prozac arrived, we still buy the lie that chemical imbalances cause depression

There Is No Definition of a Mental Disorder

How Big Pharma got Americans hooked on anti-psychotic drugs 

The “Institutional Corruption” of Psychiatry: A Conversation With Authors of “Psychiatry Under the Influence”

Are America’s High Rates of Mental Illness Actually Based on Sham Science? 

Renowned Harvard Psychologist Says ADHD is Largely a Fraud 

How Drug Companies Helped Shape A Shifting, Biological View Of Mental Illness 

Why Psychiatry Holds Enormous Power in Society Despite Losing Scientific Credibility 

The History and Tyranny of the DSM

Are Prozac and Other Psychiatric Drugs Causing the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America? 

Psychiatry Now Admits It’s Been Wrong in Big Ways – But Can It Change? 

And in pathologizing much natural human behavior, it has given a “scientific” reinforcement to our characteristic American refusal to grieve. I argue throughout my book, especially in Chapter Twelve, that our inability to confront our national shadows of genocide and slavery and our willing toleration of a brutal foreign policy are fundamentals aspect of American innocence. Few people can recover from trauma in an atmosphere that labels an appropriately lengthy mourning process as “major depressive disorder,” as Peter Kinderman writes:

Standard psychiatric diagnoses are notoriously invalid – they do not correspond to meaningful clusters of symptoms in the real world…Diagnoses fail to predict the effectiveness of particular treatments and they do not map neatly onto biological processes…it also sets the scene for the misuse and overuse of medical interventions such as anti-psychotic and anti-depressant drugs…diagnosis and the language of biological illness obscure the causal role of factors such as abuse, poverty and social deprivation. The result is often further stigma, discrimination and social exclusion.

So, the statistics that appear throughout this essay may well be inflated. Or maybe not.

Part Six

As long as we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord. – Increase Mather

Don’t blame Wall Street; don’t blame the big banks. If you don’t have a job, and you’re not rich, blame yourself. – Herman Caine

In a mad world, only the mad are sane. – Akira Kurosawa

God against man. Man against God. Man against nature. Nature against man. Nature against God. God against nature. Very funny religion! – D.T. Suzuki

So, the statistics that appear throughout this essay may well be inflated. Or maybe not. Robert Whitaker argues that the adverse effects of psychiatric medications are the primary cause of the epidemic. He reports that these drugs can cause moderate emotional and behavioral problems to become severe, chronic and disabling ones:

Once psychiatrists started putting ‘hyperactive’ children on Ritalin, they started to see prepubertal children with manic symptoms. Same thing happened when psychiatrists started prescribing antidepressants to children and teenagers. A significant percentage had manic or hypomanic reactions to the antidepressants.

These children and teenagers are then put on heavier duty drugs, including drug cocktails, and often do not respond favorably to treatment and deteriorate. babypills1.jpg?w=237&h=158&profile=RESIZE_710xAnd that, for Whitaker, is a major reason for the 35-fold increase between 1987 and 2007 of children classified as being disabled by mental disorders. He acknowledges that the psychiatric community is coming around to sharing his opinions, especially on the pseudo-science behind the “chemical imbalance” theories of mental illness. However,

Psychiatry, all along, knew that the evidence wasn’t really there to support the chemical imbalance notion…and yet psychiatry failed to inform the public of that crucial fact…Researchers haven’t identified a characteristic pathology for the major mental disorders; no specific genes for the disorders have been found; and there isn’t evidence that neatly separates one disorder from the next. The “disease model,” as a basis for making psychiatric diagnoses, has failed…the entire edifice that modern psychiatry is built upon is flawed, and unsupported by science…Even as the intellectual foundation for our drug-based paradigm of care is collapsing, starting with the diagnostics, our society’s use of these medications is increasing; the percentage of children and youth being medicated is increasing; and states are expanding their authority to forcibly treat people in outpatient settings with antipsychotics drugs…I think we have to appreciate this fact: any medical specialty has guild interests, meaning that it needs to protect the market value of its treatments…Diagnosis and the prescribing of drugs constitute the main function of psychiatrists today in our society.

Cui Bono? So clearly, the industry survives and replicates itself in each generation by over-diagnosing countless people, especially children, many of whom exhibit only slightly more extreme behavior than normal people, and then pushing drugs on them. It follows, then, that the statistics at the top of this essay are probably inflated, and that there aren’t as many mentally ill among us as they would indicate. Wrong.

Because very large numbers of those suffering from legitimate mental conditions never appear in the surveys. How can you diagnose a homeless person who won’t enter a shelter; or a “functioning, productive alcoholic”; or a sexual predator priest; or a Big Pharma executive who jacks up the prices of critical drugs; or an openly racist member of Congress? Between 30% and 80% of the homeless receive little or no “treatment”, including 50% of those with severe psychiatric disorders,  meaning medication rather than psychotherapy.

Who is crazy? Trump responds to every mass shooting with the standard argument that the problem is not guns but the “mentally ill” people who perpetrate these massacres, which have added immeasurably (actually, very measurably) to the level of fear in society. Many on the left have taken his bait and risen to the defense of the mentally ill with statistics that refute his accusations.

They are right, but this is unfortunate, since their argument normalizes violence and implies that mass shooters are not crazy. This can only be true in a world where the DSM-5, for all its hundreds of categories, has not (yet) officially declared it so. Perhaps it hasn’t because if the actual shooters were nuts, then the dozens of others who publicly threaten to perpetrate shootings and the thousands of white nationalists who support them online must be nuts. And if those people are crazy, then the millions of right-wing and evangelical activists and climate-deniers from whom they arise must be as well. It would never stop – until we all agree that the culture, its politics, its economy, its educational institutions and its mythology are mad, and that a corrupt pharma/psychiatric industry is merely a symptom of that madness.

Beyond and below the manipulated numbers stands this base craziness. Phil Rockstrohsuggests the impact of growing up in such a world on adolescents:

Inundate a teenager with the soul-defying criteria of the corporate/consumer state, with its overbearing, pre-careerist pressures, its paucity of communal eros, its demands, overt and implicit, to conform to a shallow, manic, nebulously defined yet oppressive societal order, and insist that those who cannot adapt, much less excel, are “losers” who are fated to become “basement dwellers” in their parents’ homes or, for those who lack the privilege, be cast into homelessness, then the minds of the young or old alike are apt to be inundated with feelings of angst and dread…Worse, if teenagers are culturally conditioned to believe said feelings and responses are exclusively experienced by weaklings, parasites, and losers then their suffering might fester to the point of emotional paralysis and suicidal inclinations.

Over twenty years ago, Martin Seligman, then president of the American Psychological Association, acknowledged a depression epidemic:

We discovered two astonishing things about the rate of depression across the century. The first was there is now between ten and twenty times as much of it as there was fifty years ago. And the second is that it has become a young person’s problem. When I first started working in depression thirty years ago…the average age of which the first onset of depression occurred was 29.5…Now the average age is between 14 and 15.

Antidepressants are the most frequently used class of medications by Americans ages 18-44 years. Even if we assume that many of these diagnoses are bogus (see above), that still leaves an awful lot of unhappy young people.

In Chapter Five of my book, I quote former teacher John Taylor Gatto as I distinguish between authentic tribal initiation (“education”: to lead out) and American schooling (“instruction”: to stuff in), the primary purpose of which is to create compliant consumers. Not wanting to veer too far off topic, I encourage you to read that chapter, or look at his website. But for our purposes, this is another crazy-making American institution. So we shouldn’t be surprised to learn, as Bruce Levine writes, that only 40% of high school students report being “engaged with school.” And, seen from this perspective, much teenage behavior that the psychiatric profession has pathologized and medicated really is rebellion against a dehumanizing society.

…those labeled with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) do worst in environments that are boring, repetitive, and externally controlled…(and) are indistinguishable from “normals” when they have chosen their learning activities and are interested in them. Thus, the standard classroom could not be more imperfectly designed to meet the learning needs of young people who are labeled with ADHD…there is a fundamental bias in mental health professionals for interpreting inattention and noncompliance as a mental disorder. Those with extended schooling have lived for many years in a world where all pay attention to much that is unstimulating. In this world, one routinely complies with the demands of authorities…When we have hope, energy and friends, we can choose to rebel against societal oppression with, for example, a wildcat strike or a back-to-the-land commune. But when we lack hope, energy and friends, we routinely rebel without consciousness of rebellion and in a manner in which we today commonly call mental illness.

But mostly, in talking about adolescents, we are expressing and enacting what I consider to be the most fundamental myth of Western culture (which I discuss in Chapter Six): the sacrifice of the children. It’s a world in which too many parents are too willing to allow too many profit-driven experts to diagnose, pathologize, medicate and institutionalize their children.

Centuries ago, American Puritans pointed to the “bad seeds” who, simply by their presence within the community, showed who was fated and who was not fated to join the heavenly choir – and who were the sources of pollution. Today, we use the terminology of “abnormality,” “development disorder,” “neurologically defective” or “brain chemistry disfunction.”

We can’t deny that large numbers of children do suffer from genetic and in-utero problems – one in forty (up from one in 68 just two years ago) are now on the Autism spectrum – and perhaps the effects of untested vaccines created and hawked by that same Big Pharma, or that electronic devices are harming them.

Clearly, however, madness predates capitalism, and the economics of corrupt institutions doesn’t explain all of it. Nor does Protestantism, which first demonized the mentally ill as “immoral” and institutionalized them in the 17th century. 

Enter Dionysus, who tells us that madness is a fundamental, archetypal aspect of the psyche. Plato spoke of the “divine madness” that comes as gifts from the gods: poetic madness was inspired by the Muses; Apollo and the Muses were the patron deities of prophetic madness; Aphrodite and Eros inspired erotic madness; and Dionysus was the patron of ritual madness. We recall Walter Otto: “A god who is mad! … There can be a god who is mad only if there is a mad world which reveals itself through him.” James Hillman, who saw pathology as existentially human, summarized the old thinking: “…insanity is following the wrong god.” And most religious traditions, especially Sufism and Buddhism, have long honored the carriers of “crazy wisdom.”

But we have to keep coming back to American innocence.

When our personal or national self-image has no shadow, we imagine that our motivations have the purity of white sugar on white bread, washed down with milk. We have dreamed up a world – the American Dream – in which we are so good, so generous, so caring, so pure, so willing to bring enlightenment to others, that no one – except for the incarnation of pure evil, Satan himself – or his dark, ethnic surrogates – could ever doubt us. And the fear? Doesn’t much of it spring not also from the media but also from our own subliminal guilt and our unwillingness to confront our grief? Is this not the stance of an inexperienced, uninitiated, naïve youth unconsciously daring the world to smack him with a wakeup call?

So when we really are attacked, the release of disillusioned energy results in our astonishingly violent extremes. Our lost innocence (We have done so much good! Why do they hate us so?) and denial of death justify the revenge fantasies that support or ignore reactionary and genocidal behavior or treat it as if it were a football game. U.S.A.! U.S.A.!

Certainly since 9/11/2001, and arguably since the beginning of World War Two – three to four generations – Americans have endured (or more often ignored) the fact that their government and their young men have been waging wars and covert interventions – and dying in them – almost continually. I really don’t think that we can imagine healing our internal epidemic of mass shootings (including police murders), or the rage that motivates the shooters, or the helplessness and lost dreams below that, without addressing these external realities. Few politicians are willing to do so. The only presidential candidate to try has been Tulsi Gabbard, and the media have slammed her for the effort.

What has our awareness of what we do, regardless of why we do it, done to our souls? Caitlin Johnstone comments:

The most significant and consequential aspect of establishment propaganda is the simple, everyday practice of manufacturing normality. Every time something horrible happens without news reporters treating it like something horrible…Every time something unimportant happens that is treated as newsworthy, normality is being manufactured…In an even marginally sane world, the fact that a nation’s armed forces are engaged in daily military violence would be cause for shock and alarm…A hypothetical space alien observing our civilization for the first time would conclude that we are insane…It is absolutely bat shit crazy that we feel normal about the most powerful military force in the history of civilization running around the world invading and occupying and bombing and killing…

Dionysus asks us, what is madness in the only nation to have used atomic weapons, and following that war has bombed nearly fifty nations, whose people, every single time (with one exception, Serbia) were people of color? A nation that dropped seven million tons of bombs on Viet Nam, Laos and Cambodia? A nation that utilized free-fire zones and defoliation and made the body count its primary metric to judge military progress? Phillip Slater asked at the time,

This transfer of killing from a means to an end in itself constitutes a practical definition of genocide…Do Americans hate life? Has there ever been a people who have destroyed so many living things?

Well, that was then. And now? Dionysus might wonder what we should make of a nation in which a third of the population favors a nuclear strike on North Korea even if it killed a million people.  Twenty-four hundred years ago, Euripides (in The Bacchae) instructed the Athenians that their failure to listen to the mad god, and their own normalization of warfare, would drive their own children mad. William Hawes, (“Growing Up Insane”)writes,

…we must at least question whether collectively, we the citizenry, are as susceptible to mass delusions as our psychopathic leaders are. Our society can be effectively generalized as forming what Paulo Freire calls a culture of silence, many of whom see no problems with exploiting and despoiling other countries, looting wealth, and killing millions; and many more that are simply afraid to speak out against the indignity of the U.S. empire, in fear of socio-cultural reprisals. This culture of silence, which we are taught at a young age, indoctrinates and effectively eliminates the ability of people to form critiques of our rotten political and economic systems. This is who Richard Nixon was really referring to, when he spoke of the “Silent Majority”: citizens too naïve, dumb, childlike, and afraid to confront the injustices inherent to our system…

The mention of Nixon (“When the President does it, that means that it is not illegal”) reminds us that in this demythologized world, every single one of our major institutions has been corrupted by capitalism, democrats-are-zeroing-in-on-top-trump-aide-stephen-miller-in-the-house-russia-probe.jpg?w=230&h=115&profile=RESIZE_710xand that we have to address all political, social and cultural issues by asking Cui Bono? Who profits?

We’ve established that the mental health industrial complex drugs millions unnecessarily and ineffectively. Looking, however, through the lens of American myth, we also discover that, in true Protestant fashion, it frames mental health problems as purely individual issues and conditions everyone to overlook structural issues such as racism and systemic violence. Eric Greene argues

…this reduction serves a specific political function…it keeps those who are oppressed inward looking and forecloses knowledge of the dominant class as they exert enough force to contribute to extensive suffering and mental illness in the oppressed…This specific kind of colonization of consciousness (i.e., ideology or false consciousness), by the mental health industrial complex contributes to…the current ‘culture of incapacity’ and elicits mantras of self-blame while exploiting humans as patients for the bottom-line dollar. In short, the definition and diagnosing of mental illness is political…The clinic and the therapies provided therein act as a tool of systemic oppression. Unless clinicians actively work against dominant racial inequalities and institutional forms of oppression, our tools work to perpetuate and exacerbate them.

Bad dreams constantly interrupt our 400-year sleep of denial. Waking exhausted, we reach for our devices. Denial and fear; fear and denial, all electronically mediated. In 1968 Muriel Rukheyser saw this:

I lived in the first century of world wars.

Most mornings I would be more or less insane,

The newspapers would arrive with their careless stories,

The news would pour out of various devices

Interrupted by attempts to sell products to the unseen.

I would call my friends on other devices;

They would be more or less mad for similar reasons…

– “Poem”

Read more…

Part One

Cut loose from the earth’s soul, they insisted on purchase of its soil, and like all orphans they were insatiable. It was their destiny to chew up the world and spit out a horribleness that would destroy all primary peoples. – Toni Morrison

I have lived on the lip of insanity, wanting to know reasons,
knocking on a door. It opens. I’ve been knocking from the inside. – Rumi

Warning: I’ll be roaming shamelessly between psychology, history, sociology, religion, ritual and poetry to try and grasp this enormous and critical issue, which I address in much greater depth in my book, Madness at the Gates of the City: The Myth of American Innocence. To me, the only framework that can encompass it all is mythology, and our guide must be the mad god himself, Dionysus, whose presence outside the walls serves to mirror the madness inside. And I’ll make some broad, generalized statements. If they provoke you, then I’m doing my job.

We exist within a broad framework of stories that we tell ourselves about ourselves. It encompasses the entirety of modern culture, indeed, all of Western history. Despite much evidence to the contrary, we still choose to think of ourselves as proactive citizens, making rational choices to further our ability to achieve happiness. Seen, however, from the perspectives of the Earth’s remaining tribal cultures, almost all modern people are so alienated from the natural world, from our ancestral roots, from our bodies and emotions, from our “indigenous souls,” from what makes us essentially human, as to be helpless against, indeed complicit in the imminent destruction of that same natural world. The situation is crazy-making, and all of us who are part of it are mad as hatters.


From those perspectives, such as the African Dagara people (in the writings of Malidoma Some´), or the Guatemalan Tzutzil Maya people, (in the writings of Martín Prechtel), we all come into the world with great expectations. We expect to be welcomed by a loving community that lives within a mythically alive universe, that will recognize our uniqueness and the gifts we bring it and will later encourage the expression of those gifts in initiation rituals. We expect to learn to know who we are and why we are here. In the absence of such full welcoming and the lack of a mythic container, we – all modern people – stagger through life with the constant anxiety of not being comfortable in our bodies or in the thin identities we have constructed. We simply don’t know who we are.

I am not a mechanism, an assembly of various sections. And it is not because the mechanism is working wrongly, that I am ill.
I am ill because of wounds to the soul, to the deep emotional self
and the wounds to the soul take a long, long time, only time can help
and patience, and a certain difficult repentance
long, difficult repentance, realization of life’s mistake, and the freeing oneself
from the endless repetition of the mistake
which mankind at large has chosen to sanctify.

– D.H. Lawrence, “Healing”

So we fill the holes in our souls with grand meta-narratives, stories of who we think we are, stories that society, rather than recognizing something in us, determines for us. These “isms” are what Caroline Casey calls the “toxic mimics” of authentic identity: fundamentalism, nationalism, alcoholism, racism, consumerism, narcissism, workaholism, conspiracism, celebrity worship and the envy that merges into the hatred of others who appear to be comfortable in their own bodies.

As the environmentalist Paul Shepard wrote,

The grief and sense of loss that we often attribute to a failure in our personality is actually an emptiness where a beautiful and strange otherness should have been encountered.

It was clear to him in 1992 – long before Trump – that the American national psyche has been uniquely unstable, uniquely anxious about identity and uniquely willing to use violence to re-affirm that identity. The life-long, unconscious, daily struggle to convince ourselves that we are essentially good, well-intentioned, heroic, original, active, deserving, achieving, forward-thinking, inclusive, helpful and compassionate – while simultaneously enduring work  and schools that we hate amid the rat race of competitive lifestyles, demonizing people of color, poisoning our bodies, passively supporting an empire of death, and, yes, sacrificing our own children – all this, so as to hold to a state of innocence, has been making us crazy for a very long time.

Shepard also wrote that we all experience an “epidemic of the psychopathic mutilation of ontogeny.” In simple terms, we don’t grow up the way nature intended anymore. Lacking initiation into true adulthood, we are, by indigenous standards, children.

Within those same daily and hourly time spans, we have been regularly consuming, and teaching, expectations of progress, of infinite growth in both self-awareness and financial success, despite Edward Abbey’s 1991 insight, “Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.”

Our three-hundred-year mythology of the “self-made man” has always contained a dark shadow. Doing research for my book prior to 2010, I learned that six out of seven of us, regardless of our financial status, believe that people fail because of their own shortcomings, not because of social conditions. This is more than a commentary on capitalism; it’s as concise a statement of the myth of American innocence as any other I could find or invent, and a necessary way of understanding madness.

In this story, we are subjected to three relentless and simultaneous messages:

1 – As Americans, we are free, capable, willing – and expected – to act as individuals to achieve our highest dreams, and in the process, to at least look cheerful.

2 – Because so few of us can even identify those dreams, let alone achieve them, we learn that failure is no one’s fault but our own, that unhappiness is an indication of our own deeply flawed natures, not of social conditions.

3 – Paradoxically, other people with little money, privilege or opportunity cause our problems. And, always, “the threat has never been greater than right now.”

Our indigenous souls enter the world expecting to be held in a container of myth, ritual and community. Instead, we encounter the alienating nature of capitalism. It is our unquestioned assumptions about this quite unnatural way of living that give it its own mythic quality. George Monbiot describes neo-liberalism (another way of saying “capitalism”):

Imagine if the people of the Soviet Union had never heard of communism. The ideology that dominates our lives has, for most of us, no name…Its anonymity is both a symptom and cause of its power. It has played a major role in a remarkable variety of crises…But we respond to these crises as if they emerge in isolation, apparently unaware that they have all been either catalyzed or exacerbated by the same coherent philosophy; a philosophy that has – or had – a name. What greater power can there be than to operate namelessly? So pervasive has neoliberalism become that we seldom even recognize it as an ideology. We appear to accept the proposition that this utopian, millenarian faith describes a neutral force; a kind of biological law…

This ideology (I call it a mythic narrative), writes Rod Tweedy, is

…rooted in a fundamentally flawed, naive, and old-fashioned seventeenth-century model of who we are – it tries to make us think that we’re isolated, autonomous, disengaged, competitive, decontextualized – an ultimately rather ruthless and dissociated entity. The harm that this view of the self has done to us, and our children, is incalculable.

It really is more than enough to drive you crazy, and very, very angry. For background context, here are some other essays of mine that deal with these issues:

– Dionysus Looks at Mental Illness 

– Normalizing Trump

– Sacrilicious

– Shock and Awe

– The Con Man: An American Archetype

– The Innocent American is The Violent American

– The Mythic Sources of White Rage

– A Vacation in Chaos

– What if We Allowed that to Happen? 

– Breathing Together

Before we venture into deeper analysis, let’s begin with some statistics, almost all of which come from studies done before Trump, some of them even before the economic crash of 2008:

– Guns kill 40,000 Americans per year, over 100 per day.

– There are 20,000 homicides and 50,000 suicides (28,000 by guns) annually.

– Suicide is more prevalent than homicide, and current suicide rates are the highest since World War II.

– Police kill 1,100 Americans per year, mostly people of color.

– For the past several years there have been mass shootings (defined as four or more people shot in one incident) nine out of every 10 days.

– American adults own 260 million legal and 25 million illegal firearms.

– A quarter of Americans believe that “it is acceptable to use violence to get what we want,” while a third would support nuclear war on North Korea, even if we killed a million people.

– By age eighteen, an American will have seen 18,000 virtual murders on electronic devices.

– One in five adults experiences some form of mental illness each year; 7% have at least one major depressive episode; 18% experience anxiety disorders; and 20 million experience substance use disorders.

– At some point in their lives, 46% of Americans meet the criteria established by the American Psychiatric Association for at least one mental illness.

– A third of college students seek treatment for mental health problems.

– 1 in 5 children have been diagnosed with a mental health problem.

– One in six American men and one in four women take antidepressants or other psychiatric drugs. The highest use of anti-depressants is in the most religious states.

– In 2010, one in six U.S. armed service members were taking at least one psychiatric drug.

– Over 8 million American children up to age 17 take psychiatric drugs, including over a million under six years old and 275,000 toddlers under one year. Eleven percent of them have been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and are drugged accordingly, as opposed to 0.5% in France.

– Sales of psychiatric drugs in the U.S. exceeded $70 billion in 2010.

– American doctors are five times more likely than British doctors to prescribe antidepressants to minors.

– 88,000 Americans suffer alcohol-related deaths each year.

– 60 to 70,000 die yearly of opioid overdoses, 130 per day, over 400,000 since 1999, over half of them from prescription medications. This represents 70% of all drug overdose deaths.

– In 2018, reflecting this epidemic, U.S. Life expectancy dropped for the third year in a row. 

– A year after Trump took office, 40% of Americans claimed to feel more anxious than they had a year before.

– 69% of the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) task force members admit having ties to the pharmaceutical industry.

Part Two

In our factory, we make lipstick. In our advertising, we sell hope. – Peter Zarlenga

It is our job to make women unhappy with what they have. – B. E. Puckett, Allied Stores Corp.

…the debasement of the human mind caused by a constant flow of fraudulent advertising is no trivial thing. There is more than one way to conquer a country. – Raymond Chandler

Granted, the mental health figures I listed in Part One are inevitably somewhat subjective, and much of them are driven (see below) by a profoundly corrupt pharmaceutical industry, or “Mental Health Industrial Complex.”  And, despite right-wing attempts to distract us from the necessary gun control conversation, most of the mentally ill are not violent. But it’s pretty clear: we’re unhappy, we’re angry, and, as these figures indicate, we’re lonely: 

– Americans work nine weeks longer per year than Europeans.

– Thirty million Americans live alone. 

– In 2004, 25% of Americans said that they had zero confidants in their lives, and over 20% of millennials claim to have no friends at all.

Those are some of the numbers. But we mythologists have a responsibility to look beyond them, to the great mythic narratives that produce them. Perhaps the most important of them underlies both our craziness and our anger: fear, or more precisely, anxiety.

On its surface, the myth of American Innocence sings of a people who are the children of Manifest Destiny – divinely inspired to spread freedom and opportunity across the world. As such, we have always celebrated ourselves for our optimism, our practical, positive, “can-do” approach, our willingness to take risks and our sunny dispositions as we pursue happiness and model our success for all others. The Blues Brothers spoke for all of us:We’re on a mission from God. That’s our story, and despite mounting evidence to the contrary over the past forty years, we’re sticking to it. We do this because we are increasingly desperate to ignore its shadow side: how we have always defined ourselves in terms of the Other; more specifically, fear of the Other.

Fear of what I have called the black “Inner Other” has driven our racism for three hundred years. jq6dczi7ueyahjsrclagig.jpg?w=203&h=243&profile=RESIZE_710xThe Native American was the originally red “Outer Other” who transformed into the red communist and whose most recent incarnation is the Islamic terrorist of our imaginations. Our hatred of immigrants expresses the fear that the Outer Other will cross the boundaries of the self, become the Inner Other, and obliterate that identity which we have struggled so hard to maintain. In a mythology and a politics that places so much emphasis on such an unstable sense of identity, the notion that we ourselves, at the core, are other (what Dionysus tells us), or that there is nothing at that core (as Buddhism tells us) is a threat and a recipe for breakdown. Is it any wonder that we are so obsessed with “walls”?

This most certainly did not begin after Trump or even after 9-11. As I describe the national emotions in those days in Chapter 8 of my book:

Hadn’t Americans feared Indian attacks for three centuries? Hadn’t they been terrorized for seventy years by red hordes from the east? Hadn’t every President since Truman managed a war economy that perpetuated itself on fear of the Other? Hadn’t politicians played the “race card” for two centuries? Hadn’t gun sales continued to rise even as crime rates had plummeted? Weren’t Americans already armed to the teeth?…Had they forgotten the missile gap, the domino theory, the window of vulnerability and the Evil Empire? Hadn’t AIDS ended the sexual revolution? Hadn’t they been stuffing themselves with anti-depressants, hormone replacements and potency drugs?  Hadn’t fear of losing property, status, security, virility, youth, freedom – and innocence – always been at the core of the American experience? Hadn’t we bounced between denial and terror for our entire history?

Writing in August of 2019, I recall events of a hundred years ago. It’s been an entire century of fear since the U.S. and other Allied powers intervened – invaded – in the Russian Civil War; since the “Red Scare,” when the government arrested 3,000 suspected communists and deported hundreds; since “Red Summer,” when white mobs attacked blacks in over thirty separate race riots; since the Spanish Flu pandemic killed 50-100 million people, including over half a million Americans.

This is who we are and have been: swaying for generations between the two extremes of childish, privileged optimism and abject terror. Have a nice day! And keep moving…

But even in the best of times our baseline condition is of being sold by media to their advertisers, who in turn target us. Unless we are in the woods with no cell phone reception and no ear buds, this experience pours into our psyches all day long, and it also offers two conflicting messages. The first is the creation of demand. Freud argued that culture obtains much of its mental energy “by subtracting it from sexuality” and making potential consumers feel deprived. Artificial scarcity of gratification assures surplus energy to drive the fevers of production and conquest. To generate this scarcity, it attaches sexual interest to inaccessible, nonexistent, or irrelevant objects, wrote Phillip Slater in The Pursuit of Loneliness. And by “…making his most plentiful resource scarce, (man) managed…to make most of his scarce ones plentiful.”

Kali Holloway explains the second type of message:

There’s an art to convincing an increasingly ad-weary and debt-saddled American public that it should spend money on products it neither needs nor can afford, and as it turns out, that art is mostly built on fear…Studies confirm that the “interest [in] and persuasiveness of” ads is increased by fear, which explains why “fear appeals are one of the most frequently used motivators” for getting people to respond to marketing of every sort. From snake oil salesmen to digital marketers, advertisers have long preyed on our insecurities to sell us products that don’t so much solve our problems as they do allay our darkest fears…Humiliation, science now tells us, is a soul-crushing feeling we’d do anything to avoid. With so many subconscious fears plaguing us, it’s unsurprising that studies find people “better remember and more frequently recall ads that portray fear than they do warm or upbeat ads or ads with no emotional content.” We are the products of a culture that teaches us to fear an endless list of things that advertisers can, and absolutely do, use against us. The oft-repeated phrase that sex sells turns out to be wrong…Sex just gets your attention. Fear actually moves units.

Indeed, as early as the 1920s, the advertising industry created its own poetic terminology – Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt (FUD) – to influence perception by disseminating negative, dubious or false information that will constellate our fears.

Is this just about selling products? Hardly, when we consider that most liberal politicians are law school graduates, while large numbers of Republicans attended business schools,where all the latest brain science and motivation research is taught. Democrats, stuck apparently with Enlightenment ideals of rationality and self-interest, continue to attempt to appeal to our heads with talk of our “best interests,” while Republicans, well-versed in American mythology, aim for the gut.

Sociologist Barry Glassner, author of The Culture of Fear,  observes, “Most Americans are living in the safest place at the safest time in human history.” Crime is down, the air is cleaner and the odds of being injured in a terrorist attack are absurdly low. So why, asks Neil Strauss, are so many of us so worried all the time? he summarizes the brain research and social science that explains the state of constant anxiety that so many privileged, white, middle-class Americans experience:

What we’re talking about is anxiety, not fear…Where fear is a response to a present threat, anxiety is a more complex and highly manipulable response to something one anticipates might be a threat in the future…It is a worry about something that hasn’t happened and may never happen.

But there’s a reason why anxiety gets converted into actual fear. Blame the media of course, especially Fox News and its ilk, which constantly reinforce this pattern that trumps our rational thought processes.

…political conservatism, right-wing authoritarianism and conservative shift were generally associated with the following: chronically elevated levels of post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, desire for revenge and militarism, cynicism and decreased use of humor…(and) the number-one way in which Americans respond to their anxieties: voting.

And it’s never been this bad! Glenn Greenwald quotes some of these breathless, apocalyptic warnings:

We have never seen more threats against our nation and its citizens than we do today. – Lindsey Graham, 2015

 I have never seen a time of greater potential danger than right now. – Dianne Feinstein, 2015

 Something will detonate…I’ve never seen a greater threat in my lifetime. – Fox News, 2014

The threat of attacks has never been greater — not at the time of 9/11, not after the war in Iraq — never. – CNN, 2014

You get the picture. If you need more examples, Greenwald’s article has dozens of them. It’s horrifying! In another excellent article, M.M. Owen descries the attraction of horror films:

Our present era is one in which the heart of culture is blowing hard upon a coal of fear, and the fascination is everywhere. By popular consent, horror has been experiencing…a ‘golden age’. In terms of ticket sales, 2017 was the biggest year in the history of horror cinema…The imagination’s conversion of fear into art offers a dark and piercing mirror… fear-3.jpg?w=230&h=153&profile=RESIZE_710xWe have always told horror stories, and we always will. Because horror is an artistic expression of an ontological truth: we are creatures formed in no small part by the things to which we are averse…It is no coincidence that the Gothic – horror’s regal antecedent – emerged precisely at the moment when lots of people began to believe that God really might be dead. Modern horror is in part the story of what happens when our threatened minds shed a theology. Once holy texts can no longer entirely encode the terrors of being, horror enters fully the arena of art.

When mythologies collapse, gender and racial identity are called into question, especially when those identities are founded upon such an unstable base. These fears are the source of the anger that drives right-wing populism. And let’s be clear about this: if, as many pundits still insist, Trump’s popularity is driven only by economic insecurity, then ten million African-Americans would have voted for him. Yes, white Americans are worried about their jobs; but they’re far more concerned about the blacks, Latinos, Muslims and gays moving into the neighborhood.

The rage that always threatens to break through into mass violence, and the fear behind it, are nothing new. We can trace the self-loathing and hatred of the Other exhibited by uninitiated men living in a demythologized world all the way back to Biblical times, as I do in my book. But below the rage is the anxiety. And that’s what mainstream media news and the internet exploit. Deborah Serani writes:

Fear-based news programming has two aims. The first is to grab the viewer’s attention…this is called the teaser. The second aim is to persuade the viewer that the solution for reducing the identified fear will be in the news story…consultants who offer fear-based topics that are pre-scripted, outlined with point-of-view shots, and have experts at-the-ready. This practice is known as stunting or just-add-water reporting. Often, these practices present misleading information and promote anxiety in the viewer… boston-thing.jpg?w=210&h=157&profile=RESIZE_710xAn additional practice that heightens anxiety and depression is the news station’s use of the crawl, the scrolling headline ticker that appears at the bottom of the television, communicating “breaking news.” Individuals who watch news-based programming are likely to see one, two, or even three crawls scroll across the screen…crawls are not relegated to just news channels…(They) are now more prominent during entertainment programs and often serve as commercials for nightly newscasts or the upcoming weekly news magazine show. The crawls frequently contain fear-driven material, broad-siding an unsuspecting viewer.

Sophia McClennen adds:

Most of us have heard the phrase “if it bleeds, it leads,” but it’s worth asking when we simply started to take it for granted. In fact, the phrase was originally a reference to local TV news – a tacit criticism of the way local news programs used hype and sensationalism to attract viewers since they lacked the serious reporting of network news. In the early 1980s, just as media critics began noting that local news was turning toward even greater fear-based reporting, CNN was founded. The advent of the 24/7 news channel radically altered the kind of information offered to television news audiences…Put simply, there wasn’t enough “real” news to sustain a 24-hour cycle. So cable news relied on two things to fill the hours: time spent hyping future stories and pundit reviews of news items. Both of these changes depended more on fear than facts to keep viewers tuned in. Anchors babbled on about worrying news stories, then pundits hyped them up with hysteria.

Part Three

We are the United States of Amnesia, which is encouraged by a media that has no desire to tell us the truth about anything, serving their corporate masters who have other plans to dominate us. – Gore Vidal

We’ll know our disinformation program is complete when everything the U.S. public believes is false – William J. Casey

 If you’re submitting budget proposals for a law enforcement agency, for an intelligence agency, you’re not going to submit…‘We won the war on terror and everything’s great,’ because…your budget’s gonna be cut in half. You know, it’s my opposite of Jesse Jackson’s ‘Keep Hope Alive’—it’s ‘Keep Fear Alive.’ Keep it alive. – Former FBI assistant director Thomas Fuentes 

 We’re not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term. – Lindsey Graham

All this hysteria began long before the advent of the internet or Fox News, on the major networks, and it highlighted an old pattern in American myth and politics. To a very great extent, this has always characterized democracy in America: voting against welfare-coddlers, bootstep liberals, east-coast intellectuals, “feminazis,” miscegenation, polluters of racial purity and (let’s get real) “nigger-lovers.” And for hyper-masculine, authoritarian, reactionary, Indian-hating, pseudo-Christian, immigrant-bashing, reality-denying demagogues. Trump is only the latest in a long line stretching back centuries. Indeed, as Democrats continually marvel, large numbers of us regularly vote against our own (narrowly-defined economic) best interests, and in favor of the emotional satisfactions provided by those who promise to marginalize, demonize and/or sacrifice The Other.

The man who claims to be loved because he says “exactly what he means” – says exactly what the entire Republican Party has been saying for 40 years, but sugar-coated with euphemisms – and before that, much of the Democratic Party. Be afraid, be very afraid. They are coming for your hard-earned taxes, your safe neighborhoods – and your daughters.

Getting together with people who think as we do to talk about our worries may not help:

(This) is what social psychologists call the “law of group polarization,” which states that if like-minded people are concerned about an issue, their views will become more extreme after discussing it together.

I recommend Strauss’s article as an excellent explanation of what drives many of Trump supporters to ignore his obvious deficiencies in favor of his “strong man” (read: fascist) approach to dealing with the nation’s current Others: Muslims, Mexicans, feminists and Black activists.

But ultimately Strauss lacks the broader perspective that we really need to understand the whole picture. Given, the fast pace of internet-based media and its impact on our emotional lives is something relatively new. But fear of the Other has always driven Americans to circle the wagons. unnamed.jpg?w=217&h=217&profile=RESIZE_710xAnd not just Americans: the origins of World War Two in Germany remind us that propaganda has always rested on creating anxiety about appropriate scapegoats. As Joseph Goebbels said, “If you tell a lie long enough, it becomes the truth.”

So far, we are in the realm of universal explanations. But what Strauss misses, and what I’m more interested in, is what makes Americans so exceptional in this regard. In other words, what makes us so freaking crazy? He has only part of the picture. And for the rest, I refer to an earlier blog  series of mine, Shock and Awe: Re-invigorating the Myth of American Innocence.

Re-invigorating our myth occurs in three major ways, and Strauss gets two of them. The first is obvious: the constant fear-mongering of the media and the political class – bothmajor parties – that we can trace all the way back through American history. In fact, it is so much a part of our history as we learn it that it is nearly indistinguishable from our mythology. It is the primary story we tell ourselves about ourselves: our fear of the Other that is solved only with the intercession by some hero figure – with Biblical violence – so that we can get on with the business of pursuing happiness, making money and congratulating ourselves on our self-made, good fortune.

As such, this primary story is quite literally how we define our American identity. We periodically renew that identity by experiencing the fear that the Other will somehow erase it – and then encouraging our warrior classes to sacrifice themselves so as to prevent disaster. And it shouldn’t require a degree in psychology to understand the addictive nature of this experience, which, like any drug, only satisfies us briefly, until we need it again. This is the “shock” side of our “shock and awe” American experience.

Strauss gets the second factor as well, the pace of modern life and the instant nature of electronic news that reinforces our sense that bad things are happening constantly, regardless of our political leanings. I would add (in Chapter Eight):

…the mania produced by our technologically enhanced environment. In most large, indoor public spaces (stores, shopping malls and sports arenas) we have gotten used to enduring the unrelenting onslaught of loud music, blinking lights and high-definition visual images. This is most certainly not accidental. Take restaurant design for example: open kitchens, hard floors and high walls that reflect and increase sound, forcing patrons to shout just to be heard (thereby increasing the noise)…In many places, especially those catering to adolescents, seneca-niagara-casino-39-canti-e1528996815284.jpg?w=304&h=186&profile=RESIZE_710xthe atmosphere approaches that of gambling casinos, which are deliberately designed to create “altered states” of consciousness. The object is to heighten anxiety and encourage the sense that it can be reduced through consumerism. However, because the anxiety never fully dissipates, we continually acclimate to greater levels of it. Could we find a better clinical definition of addiction?

But what really makes us exceptional – exceptionally crazy – is a third factor that combines with the first two as it has done with no other people in world history. And I must stress again and again that I’m not describing Trump supporters only. Indeed, each time liberals identify them or him as loony – or “the Russians” as the sole source of his election and their discomfort – they reinforce their own sense of innocence. I’m talking about Americans, at least white Americans.

Read more…

Having the Courage to Speak Up

9142466674?profile=originalI’ve always had trouble voicing things… speaking up for myself, calling out deception, and owning my own value and worth. When I was growing up, my mother would always tell me, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” I wasn’t sure that whatever I was thinking was nice, so I stuffed my thoughts and feelings.

Years ago, I heard a story about a Cesar Chavez farm worker meeting in the 1950s. The room was packed with men who were arguing loudly. And then an old woman who’d been sitting silently in the back of the room for the past hour, rose to speak. Apparently, you could hear a pin drop. I don’t remember now what she said, but I do remember how important her voice was. 

Her courage to stand up and speak changed the energy and direction of the entire conversation.

In a machismo culture, in a roomful of men, her voice had an impact.

Perhaps the reason that story has stayed with me is because I’ve had moments where I haven’t had the courage to speak.

I grew up in an ordinary middle class home in Iowa, my father was a farmer, and I attended public schools. Through a stroke of fate, I ended up being critically injured in a head-on collision in my 20s, received insurance money and wound up in the PhD program at the University of Chicago. Unlike myself, most of my fellow classmates came from wealthy families.

One day I was sitting in a huge conference auditorium where an educational policy was being discussed. It’s too much for me to go into the details of what made me so angry, but it had to do with the arrogance of privilege. A fellow graduate student waxing on about public schools, while he himself had never set foot inside a public school, nor would he ever send his children to public school.

I couldn’t believe the arrogance. I sat there steaming, yearning to stand up in front of all these people and call out the hypocrisy.

But I didn’t. I didn’t have the courage.

The upcoming teleclass that I'm offering on Depth Psychology Alliance is a redress.

I don’t know what you need to say to someone (…and perhaps you don’t either.) And what you need to say might not be so dramatic as standing up in a room packed with people. Perhaps it’s for your husband or mother, the community group you belong to, or voicing the value of your work in the world

We’re not always in a position to make a difference, but sometimes we are. And when that moment comes for you, I want you to be standing in your full value, worth, strength and integrity.

It’s about speaking with authority when we need to do that, but of course, it’s also about so many other things… 

  • Valuing ourselves and our work
  • Appropriate boundaries
  • Deep clarity and conviction
  • Self-confidence, self-esteem, and… 
  • Trusting yourself. 

Please join us. (The early bird rate ends August 22nd!).


Here's the event posting on the Alliance website:




If you’ve been muffling your deep truths and hiding your gifts… If you’ve suffered through moments of having a deep yearning to speak up, but timidity and low self-worth got the better of you… If you have something important to share, but find yourself mired in self-doubt and fear… If you find it hard to value yourself, your wisdom and your contributions… please join us.

This teleclass is about your voice, because you have a choice how you use it in this life.

Those who genuinely have something to share are often too afraid to speak up, but the worst betrayal is the betrayal of ourselves.

There are truths lying buried beneath the surface that can transform this world. There are creative solutions, powerful gifts and answers to our most pressing problems.

You have a sacred responsibility to give voice to what you know.

  • voice what’s been hidden
  • firmly own your worth and value
  • speak your truth with self-confidence, grace and ease
  • allow your voice be heard above the din

In this teleclass we will take an experiential journey into Source energy. As you enter this vibrantly alive energetic field, you’ll receive clarity, guidance, next steps and deep connection with your own inner knowing.

It’s time for you to fully own your gifts and stand in your innate courage, wisdom, bravery and power.

What you know matters. When you speak what you know, it matters even more.


Note: This is a tele-class, so you can live anywhere in the world and participate.

Early bird price:  $65 includes audios and a personal reading with Kim. ($75 after August 20th)

Group calls: Thursdays September 5th & September 12th.   10 am – 12 pm PST 


NOTE: If you can’t attend live, this event will be recorded. And all participants, whether you attend live or not, can receive a personal reading from Kim as part of the class.


Read more…


Leadership today is too often viewed as a function or role conferred only by some authority. Yet, whether you are a parent, a teacher, a supervisor, a CEO, president of a country, or someone who acts because something needs to be done and no one else is doing it, you can lead successfully only if other people actually want to follow you, collaborate with you, or support you. Even so, being in charge can feel as if it is just a job, often even a tiring and thankless one, especially if your responsibilities do not fill you with meaning and help you to feel that you matter. The mundane can crowd out the important.


I’ve been a leadership scholar and a leader, and believe me, formal responsibility for leadership is harder, though not as difficult (for me) as parenting. In recent years, I was the Director of the Burns Academy of Leadership at the University of Maryland and then the Provost and President of Pacifica Graduate Institute. Since my scholarship is based on Jungian and archetypal psychology, I’ve applied these ideas to leadership and my life generally, especially with the foundational belief that we all matter and have a responsibility to show up to do our parts—an emerging notion in contemporary leadership theory and practice. 


I’ve discovered that leadership can be restored to a calling—when I treat it as one, even when my responsibilities include things I would rather not be doing. Leadership becomes a calling when we care about making a difference to individuals, groups, and the greater good and when we connect the desire to matter with the archetypal stories, alive in us, that fuel our interests, motivations, and behaviors and that provide plotlines to guide our action. Staying rooted in this awareness can help any of us persevere even when the petty, mundane tasks and infighting get us down.


Background Ideas and How They Can Help You Find Your Deeper Leadership Calling


The psychiatrist C.G. Jung found that some narratives recur in all times and places, and he called them archetypes, which are revealed in myth, symbol, literature, and other human creations. When we live them, we are connected with universal psychological patterns and all those who live them now or have done so at any time in history. Jung highlighted archetypes such as Mother, Father, Child, and Trickster and revealed how archetypes can connect people with eternal human patterns—patterns that are always in the process of evolving. His work focused on healing patients by helping them connect with archetypal images and energies that were important to their individuation process (the process of being true to themselves), but had been lacking in how they were living their lives. 


In my work with leaders, I help them recognize the archetypes that motivate and energize their actions at any particular time, with one or more offering clarity about their core purpose or calling. I work with archetypes that are important to the hero’s journey and that contribute to leadership success, such as the Warrior, Sage, Caregiver, Magician, and Ruler. Those that are most alive in us connect us with our deeper selves and also inform our attitudes and behaviors. The term “archetype” can seem mystifying until you realize that you can recognize each kind of character in novels, movies, or TV shows, as well as in people you know. You also can recognize the plotlines that go along with these characters if you think about them in relationship to different fictional genres. For example, and to oversimplify a bit: the Warrior stars in war stories and superhero comics; the Lover in romances; the Magician in fantasy; the Sage in mysteries, and so on. All of these genres have recognizable plotlines as well as central characters.


As leaders, the characters we most like and the plotlines we tend to live out show us what kinds of leaders we best can be, and allow us to seek out situations where we will be the most helpful.


Neuroscience reveals to us more details on the role of stories in our lives. Our brains and psyches naturally make meaning of events through organizing them into narratives. Social neuroscientists have demonstrated that living and telling one another stories inspires not only personal growth, but also supports the evolution of human consciousness and social systems that we all can influence. That means that the stories you tell and those you model in how you live matter greatly. As you take your life journey, different archetypes emerge in you as they are needed, expanding your potential.


Not all of these stories help us find our deeper calling or what is special about what we have to offer the world. Nonetheless, they can expand our abilities and promote a positive attitude toward facing the unknown. Thus, my work with archetypes in leadership stresses not only those that connect us with our soul calling, but also others that are needed to live in our time and context. These help us relate to the diverse people with whom we come in contact and respond to external situations, increasing our social and emotional intelligence as well as our situational flexibility.


As children and throughout life, we soak up attitudes and behaviors from people who influence us and those we hang out with, as well as from what we view and read. These experiences activate archetypes within us that may not fulfill us, but may, nevertheless, assist us in responding to challenges and relating to others, and thus enhance our chances of success. Doing this consciously also can help us join the ongoing human conversation and influence the evolution of the archetypes in our time. It also can amplify our ability to grow and change by emulating mentors, identifying with fictional characters, and using our imagination to pretend to be what we are not yet as we use fantasy to prepare for prime time.


Archetypes that Promote Important Leadership Capacities


The following chart identifies 12 archetypal stories that are important to leadership success today and offers brief examples of how living them and embodying their roles is helpful to leaders as they act to accomplish important leadership tasks. Of course, all have much more to them than is possible to describe even in a longish blog.

  • As you read this, you might want to select from the chart the tasks, characters, and plotlines with which you most identify.
  • Then notice any of the other plotlines that are needed in your life for you to be more successful, especially in your leadership roles, and those that have helped you in the past.
  • Finally, notice any you tend to devalue or ignore as irrelevant.  


Leadership Task: Providing

Main Character

Plotline: When problems arise


The Idealist

Embodies and reinforces shared values, sometimes through communication


The Realist

Identifies threats; appraises opportunities before acting to prevent or remediate them


The Warrior

Fights for your people, resources, and mission fulfillment; builds competitive teams

Care and safety

The Caregiver

Establishes caring systems; models being kind to people; supports human needs


The Seeker

Pioneers and seeks out available options to accomplish goals in individuals’ own ways


The Lover

Fosters personal relationships, collaboration, shared commitments, and attractive spaces


The Creator

Encourages and implements imaginative solutions and creative products/services

Clear priorities

The Revolutionary

Resources and prioritizes projects and weeds out outmoded ones; avoids overload

Establishes order and safety

The Ruler

Manages and, in a changing environment, upgrades systems, policies, and procedures

Fosters optimism and cheer

The Jester

Offers social time, humor, and wildcard brainstorming; attitude of work as fun

Wise decision-making

The Sage

Analyzes situations, weighs options, and develops plans using rational processes

Promotes meaning/mattering

The Magician

Orchestrates rituals of celebration and transition; builds consensus; provides answers


Then analyze your choices:

  • Your top three archetypes likely are those most fulfilling for you, so you can choose tasks and situations that require and reward what you are authentically motivated to do. This not only makes you more authentic, it also makes leading easier and more fulfilling.
  • Recognizing your nonpreferred or less preferred but active archetypes can help you notice how you have grown as a person and a leader as they have assisted you from within.
  • From this, you can trust that as you take on increasingly complex challenges, archetypes that you need will activate, especially if you welcome them.
  • Those archetypes you typically ignore or devalue, when recognized, can help you notice and prevent problems before they occur.


These four understandings, taken together, can help you live into your soul calling as you grow and develop through the great adventure of living and leading.

Read more…

Part One

July 4th 2019: A Salvadoran father and his young daughter drowned in the Rio Grande River. Families separated. Concentration camps. Children subjected to inhuman conditions amounting to torture while their parents are deported. Mothers told to drink from toilets. Border Patrol agents posting racist and misogynist cartoons on Facebook. Every day now we hear heartbreaking news from the borderlands. How, we wonder, can our government treat people with such gratuitous cruelty, has it ever been this bad?


While Trump and his stormtroopers churn up the National Mall and the streets of Washington with military hardware, I take a break from writing and go for a walk in Oakland’s Mountain View Cemetery. A series of chance turns takes me to the grave of Fred Korematsu, the Japanese-American who was convicted for evading internment during World War Two. Concentration camps.

This is an appropriate moment for us all to pause and consider how the nation has determined exactly who is privileged to live within the pale of “us” – the good, the true, the exceptional, the innocent – and who is not.

As I write in “The Myth of Immigration”:

 …the immigrant plays a curiously ambiguous role in the narrative of American innocence. Immigrants are outsiders who in aspiring (or threatening) to be in transition to becoming insiders, force insiders to question something we quite ambiguously refer to as the American Dream. To the Paranoid Imagination, however, they threaten to pollute that dream.

A further ambiguity is that their condition is qualified by their skin color. The story of American immigration announces a welcome to all that is enshrined on the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor,
 your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…” There may be no poetic line better known in the entire world. But this story – the Melting Pot, or the Ellis Island myth – is rife with such contradictions that its adherents have required an entire mythology to resolve them, a massive, ongoing, national, cognitive dissonance. When facts meet myth, it is the truth that must change to fit the myth.

One could also argue for the simple statement that American immigration has always been about those whites who were welcomed and those others, including the conditionally white, who were tolerated.

So here is a detailed timeline of how America has negotiated that fine line – the border – between “us” and “them.” It’s a long and exhausting list, but I suggest that it falls into the “Don’t look away!” category. Yes, it has been this bad before, and no, we cannot become who we were meant to be without fully acknowledging who we are.

1600-1800: Over half of all immigrants to the British colonies arrive as indentured servants or slaves.

1610: The English massacre between 16 and 65 Paspahegh Indians near Jamestown.

1623: English settlers poison the wine at a “peace conf