What Has Happened to Us?

Somewhere along the way, our society has gone to hell in a handbasket. We drink and drug ourselves into oblivion on a regular basis, a horrifying number of us have been sexually assaulted either as children or adults – sometimes both. Corporations are people, kids are bringing guns to school on an almost daily basis, airports get nudie pictures of us as we go through security and we haven’t increased safety, racism is rampant, politicians of all stripes are corrupt, and we aren’t quite sure where Richard Simmons has gone.

second_industrial_revolution_gettyimages-51632462I truly believe that the industrial revolution changed our lives so fundamentally that we have been unable to adjust. From a schedule that was based on the rising and setting of the sun we moved to an alarm clock timetable. From the time we came off the farm, workers have been exploited and abused by corporations – which have now been declared “people,” perhaps the surest sign of judicial corruption we have seen. As we struggled, and failed, to adapt to these changes our stress increased and in many cases came out sideways in the form of abuse, assault, and self-medication that created disinhibition and made it easier to act out.

As a realist, I don’t believe we can put the genie back in the bottle. Nor do I believe that we can continue for much longer with the status quo. I believe we can learn to adjust to some of the changes that have caused us to struggle, but others we will have to walk back. We will need to ask ourselves, and others, tough questions. How much is enough? Can we see that working sixty hours a week destroys our relationships, and no amount of money can adequately compensate us for those losses? Do we realize that our rampant rates of sexual abuse and assault are crippling our relationships? Might we see that sexless marriages are doomed, and that marriages are sexless largely because of the impact of abuse and assault? How can we not see that our love of guns over the safety of our children is not lost on them – nor is our impotence and inability to do anything about it lost on them?spirituality

We have to come to a new spirituality, by which I mean a new way of understanding and making sense of our world. We must realize that self-care and the care of our relationships is a huge part of that spirituality. Selling our souls for a paycheck is creating a world that is polluted, and that in turn is having an impact on our environment and our climate. Those who would hide behind the facade of the flat earth society may be the largest victims of our worship of corporate big daddy, and we need to educate and heal them, too. We need to shift our primary question from “how can I screw you over?” and “how can I force you to comply with my perspective,” to “how can I help you?” We can do this only if we understand how interconnected we really are, and through that awakening come to see that what I do to you, I do to myself. We need to start right now.

Trust Yourself

People may say all kinds of terrible things about you – even family. People may run you down, treat you to a seeming endless list of what they perceive to be your flaws and short comings, even to the point where you start to believe them. If this happens to you, ask yourself one question. Ask yourself if what they say is true, why do they keep coming around?

Should you find yourself in this situation, trust yourself – and kick your critics to the curb. Nobody, and I do mean nobody, has the right to continually heap criticism and abuse on you.

Perspective

I have been discouraged for some time now that we have become unwilling to forgive the minor indiscretions of youth that, at the time, weren’t seen as terribly problematic (such as the wearing of blackface in a college skirt or at a party). At the same time, we are unwilling to address serious transgressions that have never been acceptable, like rape.

That unwillingness is a lot of things, none of them especially attractive, includng cowardice, attention seeking, a distorted relationship with reality, narcissues, obfuscation, and self-deception. What it isn’t is a serviceable morality.

Too much?

Is it too much to ask that for just a moment we might be honest about fundamentalism? fundamentalitNo matter the tradition, fundamentalism is heresy and an aberration that has nothing to do with the tradition from which it deviated and devolved.

In short, fundamentalist Islam is not Islam. Fundamentalist Buddhism is not Buddhist, fundamentalist Judaism is not Jewish, fundamentalist Hinduism is not Hindu, and fundamentalist Christianity is not Christian. They are all distortions and perversions of the original religion that have moved so far away from anything even remotely resembling healthy religion that they are no longer entitled to claim to be part of those traditions.

Why?

Sometimes we get so wrapped up in the horror of things that we never get around to asking why they happen. I don’t say that as a criticism at all, I think it’s just part of how our mind works. We hear of something so out of the ordinary, or at least out of what we are ordinarily exposed to, that our minds seem to get stuck at the initial hearing and not dig deeper.

Some tragedies don’t really have an answer to the “why” question, or don’t have one we are capable of discerning or understanding at this point in human development. We know why hurricanes happen, but we really can’t explain why they turn at the last moment and destroy town B instead of town A. These kinds of things are relatively isolated incidents. I am wondering why we can’t discern the answer to the “why” question for trends, for things that seem to happen repeatedly.

Here’s a question I believe we need to address with urgency: Why all of the sexual abuse and sexual violence? It’s pervasive. It happens in the home, in our schools, in the office, in our places of worship and spiritual practice. It happens to children and adults, men and women, boys and girls, and the perpetrators come from all areas of life. We never seem to get around to asking “why,” or when we do the answers are so simplistic they are really no help at all. We tend to prefer single cause answers, but most problems are much more complicated than that. If we are going to change our culture around this, we are going to have to get serious about asking “why?”.

Change

If you want your circumstances to change, you are going to have to take the first step and change how you relate and react to what is happening. If you are not willing to do that, the only one you have to blame is yourself. Nothing can change if everything stays the same.

Honesty is Such a Lonely Word

Billy Joel was right, not only about love but also about spiritual and religious circles – though he may not have had that in mind when he wrote his song.

There is a practice that I have seen both in Newage* circles and in Evangelical circles of 220px-Honesty_singleblatant dishonesty about the ideas and even the integrity of other teachers and preachers. If you run in the motivational speaker/Chicken Soup book circles, the odds are you do nothing but heap praise on others in those circles. According to these folks, everyone is wonderful at everything they do. Indeed, some of them are. Others mostly push content that is rather vacuous, largely rehashed and diluted ideas from long ago. The problem is that when everyone says everything is wonderful, people tend to believe them and go out an spend their hard earned money on books and conferences that are largely newage.

In Evangelical circles, particularly the Jim Bakker/Jimmy Swaggert circles, the same sort of things happen on a regular basis. I have seen it for myself. Almost every one of these high profile organizations gets hit with a scandal sooner or later, and they run to each other’s defense – especially if the person currently in the fire stood behind others when they were in the fire. I have witnessed these discussions. The problem here is even worse than it is in newage circles, because quite often what is being covered up and dismissed is serious misconduct that is abusive toward those the offender is supposed to be serving. If you think that only the large denominations traffic in cover ups, you are fooling yourself.

What we need in all corners of our world is a lot more honesty, no matter what the consequences may be. This may cause some sort term discomfort, but it will protect people from getting hurt by the unqualified and disqualified charlatans posing as authentic teachers and leaders. Imagine what might happen if we went so far as to require honesty from politicians!

 

*I borrow the term “Newage,” which rhymes with “sewage,” from Lama Surya Das to distinguish between solid and dubious New Age teaching.

Trauma and A Bridge Too Far

A Bridge Too Far is a World War II movie about an Allied offensive that tried, as the title

a bridge too far poster

implies, to go a bit too far. Released in 1977, I loved this movie – but I probably wasn’t aware of all of the reasons I loved it. Elliott Gould was definitely not one of the reasons I loved it. For those too young to know, Elliott Gould was an earlier incarnation of Jeff Goldbloom – the kind of guy some women seem to love, but who most men would prefer to bitch slap until he cries, force him to wear a tutu, and then make him get us a beer. I digress, however.

Those of us who are trauma survivors are only too aware of the mentality that launched this offensive in WWII. In fact, if we could go back in time and examine the histories of those who pushed these kinds of overly ambitious plans into action, I would wager we would find more than a few trauma survivors among them. In a much more pedestrian way, those of us in civilian life who have endured trauma frequently push ourselves toward a bridge too far, failing to respect our limits because we have been taught to ignore them. If taking the dog for a two mile walk is good, then taking her for a four mile walk is twice as good, and an eight mile walk even better. Never mind that after eight miles our feet (and quite possibly the dog’s) will be blistered and bloodied. Never mind that we will be so stiff the next morning that we will walk as if we’ve spent the night riding a horse.

a-bridge-too-far-lg
Elliott Gould.

Trauma survivors tend to be disconnected from our bodies in varying degrees because we have been taught that bodies and feelings don’t matter. Only appeasing our abusers mattered. I sailed through basic training because no matter how many screaming lunatics in military uniforms and smokey the bear hats you lined up, they had nothing on my family of origin. In fact, they reminded me of Elliott Gould. As I see it, the biggest problems for trauma survivors as they move through life is that (1) we don’t respect ourselves, and (2) because of that we are easily manipulated.

elliot gould
Elliott Gould

When you are in your twenties you may be able to literally run through walls, but by your forties you start bouncing off them. We may not respect our limits, but at a certain point in our life cycle the universe starts enforcing them. Wherever we are on life’s journey, now is the time to start listening to our bodies and our feelings. If we don’t know how, a good therapist can help us. Living life while disconnected is not living a full life. In fact, it will make us reach for A Bridge Too Far.

There are no Gurus

The fascination that has grown in the west over the past several decades with eastern spirituality has become problematic, especially regarding gurus. As spiritual teachers and so-called gurus have moved from east to west, one thing that has become apparent is that they have a propensity toward sexual misconduct with their students. This in turn creates not only the problems that come with every form of sexual abuse and misconduct, but also a problem with the whole notion of gurus.

A guru is supposed to be a fully enlightened being. By definition, a fully enlightened being would never act out in any way – including and perhaps most especially sexually. The simplistic approach would be to say that anyone who acts out sexually is not a true barkley guruguru. I would agree as far as that goes, but what this approach leaves unanswered is whether we should just head on down to the next guru or whether the whole idea of guru is somehow part of the problem.

It seems you can’t scratch the surface of many so-called gurus without finding problematic behaviors. Whether they have quietly amassed fortunes, built large networks of volunteers who work for them without pay, have a secret stash of luxury automobiles, abuse their students physically or sexually, throw lavish parties that celebrate hedonism more than spirituality, or some other unacceptable behavior, many if not most highly regarded teachers who have migrated to the west have fallen from grace. What is the problem?

The problem is that most gurus achieve recognition as gurus in a highly protected environment. Living as celibate monks in a monastery, they are able to make spiritual progress is what is a very sheltered environment. In these environments money, sexuality, fame, and western style social interactions simply aren’t an issue. What these systems generate aren’t fully enlightened beings but rather semi-enlightened man-children. In a sheltered, cloistered environment they are just fine but they fall to pieces when they step out of the monastery and into the world. Stated another way, when they have to cope with the same things everyday people like you and I cope with, it becomes apparent they aren’t so enlightened after all. Go figure. You can’t “educate” someone in a sheltered environment and believe that will equip them to function well outside that environment. It’s not just ill-advised, it’s stupid.

We have this notion that spiritual leaders should live in an environment where they guru fraudnever have to navigate the complex web of human relationships (most especially romantic and sexual relationships) or be responsible for their own financial well-being. Then we let them into the world and they set about raping and pillaging. Would you give the keys to your brand new car to someone who had never seen a car, much less had any driver’s education or driving experience? Then why in the world do we send these adult children into the world and give them the keys to our spiritual well-being?

Spiritual teachers are precisely that – teachers. Since no human being is perfect, whatever enlightenment may be it cannot be equivalent to perfection. We still need to exercise our best judgment and to understand that when it comes to our safety, our opinion is the only one that counts. Never do something that feels wrong because someone you trust tells you it is right. The external guru, if such a thing exists, is there to show you the internal guru – and your internal guru would never betray you!.

Discarding What’s Not True

Most of us, I would even venture to say all of us, have been told things about ourselves that are not true. Sometimes we were told these things due to an honest mistake. Other times people wanted to manipulate us or to get their way. Some of us have encountered evil personified, a person wanting to do damage to us for reasons that are not clear. Even if those reasons were clear, they would not be sufficient to justify what happened to us.

crazy-woman-angry-look-her-face-31397102The way out of this lies in the old adage that the truth will set you free. By asking ourselves some questions about what was said, we can begin to move through our pain toward healing. We might ask ourselves, “Is what was said true?” Even if we believed it was true at the time, from today’s perspective we may well see that what was said was not true. If it was true, we then should ask ourselves, “So what?” In other words, is this truth really something bad? In my case, I was repeatedly and drunkenly told that my problem was that I was a “goddamn adolescent.” In point of fact, I was an adolescent. The statement was true, but the rage and accusatory tone with which it was delivered was not justified by the truth that I was an adolescent. Neither were the seemingly endless hours it was repeated at full volume, with great regularity, for hours in a drunken rage at our family dinner table.

Often times we need the help of a trained counselor to help us with this work. We need to see that there was no substance to our “crimes,” and to stop believing the people accusing us were in any way right. I would even say we need to come to the place where we see no merit whatsoever in that person’s opinion so we can begin the hard work of deciding who we really are. It’s a long road, but it begins with the truth – which will set us free!