A few years ago, there was a video circulating around the internet of a blogger who was trying to start a blog, but kept getting distracted with Facebook and Reddit, so he posted an ad on Craigslist for someone to sit beside him and slap him across the face every time he got distracted. Apparently the experiment was relatively successful. Maybe not everyone has wished for a personal slapper, but everyone has certainly experienced the dissapointment of having started at point A with every intent on reaching point B by a certain time, and then, hours later, found themselves deep in something else.
This book should be read by everyone who has some kind of traumatic issue that's holding them down in life, something that just frustrates the hell out of them, like a relationship or lack of one, a crippling fear, an inability to attain something that should be relatively easy to attain, or a mysterious illness. I wrote a bit about this book the other day, but I wanted to write a fuller book review.
The science behind the therapeutic technique outlined in this book- epigenetics- is really new, and offers intruiguing implications. There are many different forms of therapy out there, each one approaching the human psyche from a unique angle, and they can all help a little bit or a lot, but sometimes nothing helps. This new field could provide some missing answers; when looking for the source of your pain, you may only need to look as far as your family tree. The author explains the science behind his approach.
Emerging trends in psychotherapy are now beginning to point beyond the traumas of the individual to include traumatic events in the family and social history as part of the whole picture. Tragedies varying in type and intensity- such as abandonment, suicide and war, or the early death of a child, parent, or sibling- can send shock waves of distress cascading from one generation to the next. Recent developments in the fields of cellular biology, neurobiology, epigenetics, and developmental psychology underscore the importance of exploring at least three generations of family history in order to understand the mechanism behind patterns of trauma and suffering that repeat.
What I think is so smart is Wolynn's idea of using your own language as a kind of breadcrumb trail back to the original traumatic incident, the story of which is buried in the family's dusty unconscious cellar, a place they very understandably don't want to go. By examining our fears and frustrations and how we describe them, we can trace our way back to the cause of our suffering.
Consider this story from the book.
When I first met Jesse, he hadn't had a full night's sleep in more than a year. His insomnia was evident in the dark shadows around his eyes, but the blankness of his stare suggested a deeper story. Though only twenty, Jesse looked at least ten years older. He sank onto my sofa as if his legs could no longer bear his weight.
Jesse explained that he had been a star athlete and a straight-A student, but that his persistent insomnia had initiated a downward spiral of depression and despair. As a result, he dropped out of college and had to forfeit the baseball scholarship he'd worked so hard to win. He desperately sought help to get his life back on track. Over the past year, he'd been to three doctors, two psychologists, a sleep clinic, and a naturopathic physician. Not one of them, he related in a monotone, was able to offer any real insight or help. Jesse, gazing mostly at the floor as he shared his story, told me he was at the end of his rope.
When I asked whether he had any ideas about what might have triggered his insomnia, he shook his head. Sleep had always come easily for Jesse. Then, one night just after his nineteenth birthday, he woke suddenly at 3:30 am. He was freezing, shivering, unable to get warm no matter what he tried. Not only was he cold and tired, he was seized by a strange fear he had never experienced before, a fear that something awful could happen if he let himself fall back to sleep. If I go to sleep, I'll never wake up. Every time he felt himself drifting off, the fear would jolt him back into wakefulness. The pattern repeated itself the next night, and the night after that. Soon insomnia became a nightly ordeal. Jesse knew his fear was irrational, yet he felt helpless to put an end to it.
I listened closely as Jesse spoke. What stood out for me was one unusual detail- he'd been extremely cold, "freezing," he said, just prior to the first episode. I began to explore this with Jesse, and asked him if anyone on either side of the family suffered a trauma that involved being cold, or being asleep, or being nineteen.
Jesse revealed that his mother had only recently told him about the tragic death of his father's older brother- an uncle he never knew he had. Uncle Colin was only nineteen when he froze to death checking power lines in a storm just north of Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories of Canada. Tracks in the snow revealed that he had been struggling to hang on. Eventually, he was found facedown in a blizzard, having lost consciousness from hypothermia. His death was such a tragic loss that the family never spoke his name again.
Now, three decades later, Jesse was unconsciously reliving aspects of Colin's death- specifically the terror of letting go into unconsciousness. For Colin, letting go meant death. For Jesse, falling asleep must have felt the same.
Making the connection was a turning point for Jesse. Once he grasped that his insomnia had its origin in an event that had occurred thirty years earlier, he finally had an explanation for his fear of falling asleep. The process of healing could now begin. With tools Jesse learned in our work together [...], he was able to disentangle himself from the trauma endured by an uncle he'd never met, but whose terror he had unconsciously taken on as his own. Not only did Jesse feel freed from the heavy fog of insomnia, he gained a deeper sense of connection to his family, present and past.
Fascinating, and only one of the many anecdotes. And isn't that so smart that we should look at our family's trauma history to see if we've inherited anything when we get a mysterious, weird sicknesses, or drag ourselves through frustrating life problems that are inconsistent with how we've been raised? Why have we just clued into this now? The big aha! that Darwin's insights contributed to the relatively new field of psychology was that we behave in certain ways because of how our parents treated us as children. And now we're JUST finding out that we can inherit stories that have been shoved into the family's unconsious. Brilliant. I'm sure in a hundred years, we'll all be doing a big collective facepalm that it took us this long to figure that out. So thank-you Mark Wolynn et al. for putting the pieces together for us (although I'm sure indigenous spirituality has had its own way of explaining this for quite a while).
I did mention the other day that I had a medium-sized criticism of the book. It sails along all fine until he starts giving suggestions to people how to heal beyond just identifying the original trauma through the sentence-construction exercises. He suggests telling the memory of an emotionally distant parent who passed away, for example, lovey dovey sentences like "Please hold me in my sleep when my body is more open and I'm easier to reach." No. That's too much too soon. I mean, maybe at a certain point when the healing is farther along, and there's some kind of supportive context for this attempt at integration, but you shouldn't have a client open themselves up to that point of vulnerability when they're just beginning the healing process- when they're just learning about it through a book.
When a parent was distant, the first step is not to ask that parent's memory to "please help me feel more peaceful in my body"- it's for the client to get in contact with their body through mindfulness. Understandably, we need to feel safe in our bodies first before we ask an outside "energy" to be doing things to our bodies. If I have a client who had a distant mother and their body is clenched up as they talk about her, and they're not even aware that their body is constricted, it's not the time to be working with these sentences. Otherwise we're asking the client to do the integration work in her ego-realm and ignoring the fundamental principle of the Law of Three- that we should, through a meditation practice, become aware of how the pain affects us physically first before the healing can happen. Am I right? This is the foundation upon which all the most intelligent types of therapy are built.
So some of this stuff is beyond what should be in an introductory book. He does slide a paragraph in there, well past the middle of the book about the importance of working with a body worker, but it's buried under all these suggestions for "healing sentences" to say to person who caused you pain.
The second crticism was just an annoyance, but related to the first. We're sailing along through the book, and he's offering all these reasons why our suffering is not our fault, and we can finally find healing, etc, and the tone is all compassionate toward the reader, and we're breathing this big, long 150-something-page-long sigh of relief, and then at one point-- I wish I'd put a bookmark in the spot-- he takes a jarring abrupt turn, gets on a soapbox and starts using all this exigent language saying, "It's your responsibility to change, not your abuser. You must be the one to change. Don't be sitting around waiting for them to change." And he doesn't explain why. I get where he's coming from; we've all heard this jingo-istic ditty that "when we want change, we should look at ourselves first", but we also all know that when someone does something mean to us, we're the ones who got hurt. Taking the time to outline the logic for why the reader should take responsibility for driving the healing would have been welcome.
That's it. Get the book, do some research to make sure your family tree is complete as far back as three generations ago, and do a little digging for those stories from family members while they're still with us.
Every religion or spirituality has their own unique way of describing inner phenomena. They're coming at it from a different narrative, but they're really describing the same thing. When I was a Christian, I read My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers, and I remember one devotional very clearly- it said something like "When you fail a test that God gives you, He cycles you
I managed to come up with a clearer question around what I'm trying to ask about the Law of Three. Why do we need to name points one and two? Gurdjieff calls them Holy Affirming and Holy Denying. They're the two forces
One of my favorite bloggers, Joanne Wilson, often posts about feminism in tech and entrepreneurship, and while I'm glad for such a smart cheerleader and champion, I see the feminist moving is in great need of an esoteric boost to maintain itself as a serious voice with the next generation of torchbearers.
I'm a feminist in the sense that I'm a woman who's bowled over with gratitude every time I'm reminded of what the suffragettes went through to bring us the vote. One of the first things I plan on doing after I've crossed over to the other side is to run over and get a spot at their feet to hear their stories (and then right after that, I'll be making my way over to the story-telling area by the men and women who fought for the 40-hour work week, some other heroes of mine.)
The problem is that feminism has gotten a bit long in the tooth in its current day incarnation, and it's definitely not because our hearts aren't in the right place, it's just that more is being revealed to the Western consciousness that we can work with, and it's becoming clear that without that material, we're stuck in dualistic thinking. Watching feminists blast out the same subejct matter today without using the "third force" is getting lame and boring, and it absolutely shouldn't be, but what new thing is there to be said on the topic that hasn't already been said? Why isn't it having the same cutting edge as it used to?
I only have 7 minutes to complete this blog post, so just really quickly, dualistic thinking is- let's say- the plane, or the medium, in which the human ego operates. It sees reality in binary opposites. When we meditate, however, reaching more and more integrative states neurologically, we bring the third force into play, revealing a third, but previously hidden dimension to reality that we couldn't see before. This is called the Law of Three among Gurdjieffians, people who study the Enneagram and/or who read the works of 19th century esoteric George Gurdjieff. (I've written about it before, and this is a video explaining it.)
Now to veer off course for two seconds. I don't actually believe in gender. I think we're at a time now when plural genders have officially been recognized by western thought, that we can squint into the murkiness and see that personality actually runs deeper than gender, and those quirky personality differences within gender sterotypes are actually real categories of personalities that have been lurking under the broadly painted brush strokes of blue and pink.
Another widely held theory we must divest ourselves of to get to bring this baby home- Newton's first law of motion- that what goes into motion stays in motion. We all know that when we put our minds to losing 20 pounds, if we do the same exercises over and over again for eternity, we're not going to lose 20 pounds. We usually reach a point where we have to do something new or extra to keep the momentum going. Like eventually we're going to realize we have to eat fewer fats, or start keeping track of our meals in a food diary. With forward motion comes clearer consciousness, which, at certain points in the cycle, needs the Law of Three injected in it to keep the forward motion going. That injection might look optional at a certain point, but given enough time, we're going to see how mandatory and essential it is to our homeostasis. Gurdjieffians call this the Law of Seven, and it correlates to the musical octave of do to do, with two ternary injections in each cycle of seven to keep its forward trajectory going.
Therefore if feminism is an organism, and if we're to maintain its forward momentum, we need a third force injected right about now- that of mindful awareness of our egos so that we can see 1) in its fight for equality of the sexes- a very justified fight, it is inadvertently revealing a deeper current, a new and deeper level that is actually the essential battle ground for humans- that of our ego, id, and superego; or as the ancient Egyptians would have called it, our Set, Horus, and Osirus; and 2) once women have this awareness practice under their belts, they'll be infinitely more equipped to not only say new and innovative things about gender that haven't been revealed to human consciousness before, but they'll be able to develop in themselves what feminists have been saying it takes to do the practical things they need to take their place in this world like stand up for themselves, break glass ceilings, and demand and take advantage of flexible work schedules and quality child care.
Consider this a scribble on a napkin before work. There is much more that can be said, and someday I will write a book about this, but I wanted to address some thoughts that have been coming together in my head. We can't stay binary any more- we are going to run into the ground if we don't incorporate deep self-awareness practices like mindfulness as men and women. Mindfulness is mandatory now.
I wrote this manifesto last night. It started off that I was just going to write "I fucking love immigrants" somewhere on my site- I couldn't figure out where, so I was like, "I'm just going to write a manifesto, and I'll include that in there. (I don't know why but I just love immigrants sooo much. They've added so much to Regina over the last 30 years.) So but the rest is good too- that's my call-to-action for the Western world.
1. We call for equal status for science, math, logic, and capitalism on the one hand; and mysticism, the void, spirituality and myth on the other. In Jungianism, these two elements are the animus and the anima; the male and female principles; in the Asian tradition, the yin and yang. They both originate in similar times and cultural contexts, and they should be rejoined together after millenia of separation. Neither is superior to the other, nor can they operate fully without the other. Both are needed for balance in all areas of life.
2. We champion A) self-knowledge (inner) education for the corporate and scientific (yang) communities; and B) business and tech (outer) training for communities of a yin inclination. Both sides need the other to be fully in touch with reality, because in both camps, our egos viciously lead us away in search of false realities, cementing our antimony. The future of the planet depends on learning about the interior world as much as the exterior world, and vice versa.
3. We believe that when more people practice mindfulness, and learn to apply the Enneagram, and other self-observation and self-knowledge tools, the world will be a better, healthier, and safer place. Self-knowledge engenders leadership; emotional intelligence brings about more "presence", as opposed to reactivity and craving, which the Buddha warned against.
4. We call for political leaders with a mindfulness and self-awareness practice instead of those who are identified with a particular party. When self-awareness practices become mainstream, bi-partisanship can be achieved, opening us up to more creative solutions to the world's problems.
5. We fucking love democracy. In the end, though, the capacity for self-awareness is going to be more radical and effective than democracy is currently.
I lost my mind on social media today. It's been a long time since I've been this angry. I got involved in the social media conversation about a 2:30 video that incensed me like few things do. I've never once in my life been called a troll (not that the word troll has been around that long), but today a Disqus commenter named MaryMagdalene told me to
"Blow it out your ear.... If you don't like it, don't read it. At least I am good at reading comprehension, Einstein." (if you click on my disqus profile below, you'll see more of her comments).
So to set the scene, the reason I finally rolled up my sleeves to figure out how to tweet this morning was because of this insanely self-pitying video that got posted on youtube by an organization named CatholicVote a week ago. The premise is that real life Catholics are "coming out" on screen-- in the style of a coming out video-- that they are against gay marriage.
There are a few reasons why this got me trolling- one of them being that they tactlessly used their own victim's meme to make themselves appear like the victim of their former victims. In other words, a mere two weeks ago, a minority group directly and indirectly oppressed by the Catholic church has gained a freedom that in the space of a week, has led the Catholic church to feel victimized enough to take their former victim's place in front of the camera and tell the story of themselves, the oppressors who now feel victimized.
The galling act of hypocrisy and insensitivity made many viewers shake their head and wonder if they were watching a SNL parody; it will probably go down in history as one of the internet's worst PR disasters. (I'm not actually versed in relative magnitudes of internet PR disasters, but within the first seven days online, the video has received 547,514 views, with 1,600 upvotes and almost 15,000 downvotes. You can also see the smoke from the comments section from here.)
You can actually still lose your job in the US for being LGBT in 29 US states; last week's Supreme Court decision hasn't affected that fact at this point, and as one commentor wrote, these Catholics are afraid of people moving away from them at a cocktail party, not of being beat up while walking to their car in broad daylight. Furthermore, the LGBT community can still legally be denied work and housing because of their sexual orientation.
Moreover, the fact that the tag line was "we have something to say and we're no longer afraid to say it" blew my mind, because if we all think about it really hard here, the Catholic church has been saying gays should not be allowed to marry for... a really ....really... REALLY long time. Like an eternal time. They were ... actually... NEVER... afraid to say it. The tagline should have been, "We have something to say... and we're still saying it."
The thing is, a lot of us were probably bigots in the 80's and 90's, just because we didn't know much about homosexuality, I know I didn't. I was still going to church and my youth pastor would tell us all the "disgusting" things gays did to each other, and we would watch his hand movements with big, wide eyes, because I mean, probably most of us didn't even have any sexual experience at that time, so we would've bought anything at that point. But things have just changed, and when new information comes to light (being gay is biologically determined, actually quite normal and gay people have sex because they love each other), you shed old beliefs like old clothing that's worn out or doesn't fit anymore. It's ok to do that. It's ok to get on the party wagon. It's ok to update your beliefs based on new realities.
As commentors said over and over again today, pay attention, do your research and educate yourselves, because you don't want to end up on the wrong side of history.
P.S. The parody version has already been made and it's funny.
Amy Schumer wrote a skit for Bill Nye, and it's funny but not funny. Here it is.
I love Amy's sharp mind- that girl has been on fire lately with her skits, and I have all the respect in the world for Bill Nye, although I don't know him that well. I just know he's a comedian-scientist who explains things to the public, and I'm all over that.
When I saw this skit, though, I was a bit dismayed. On the one hand, I agree that the affirmations movement started by Louise Hay in the late 1970's to "claim" support from the universe can be miscontrued to mean we can take in bits and pieces of reality and reject other, more glaring ones, in response to which Bill Nye says sarcastically, "We now know the universe is essentially a force sending cosmic guidance to white women in their 20s."
Ha. Amy and her girlfriend just show us how spiritually retarded the West is, but that doesn't mean we need to quash the impulse behind trying to make sense of life's tangled strands.
What this skit does is completely flatten the mystery of the starry night sky and our millenia-old connection to and fascination with it. Nye and Schumer wave their hand in the face of the complex understanding that the first peoples had of the planets and stars that kept time and anchored stories for thousands of years. The heavenly bodies and their stories essentially provided the means of survival for the human race, allowing it to progress from nomads and shepherds to civilizations who farmed and experimented with animal husbandry, giving way to civilizations who brought us philosophy, mathematics, logic, morality, and art, which eventually gave way to the development of the three major mystic traditions, Christian mysticism in the tradition of the Desert Fathers, Kaballah from Judaism, and Sufism from the Muslim heritage. The universe was found to have spiritual laws before rationality was even beheld by Socrates. Rationality is underutilized today by certain personality types, and overutilized by others. We all need a balance of the two to exist with integrity in this world.
Carl Jung talks about the ying and yang of the divine masculine (knowledge) and divine feminine (context). The former Catholic monk, Thomas Moore, says reason and ego can only take us so far. They CAN take us far, and we need that element, but the wisdom, -- and the emptiness of the other side of the wisdom-- is also needed.
No one wants to appear foolish, so we use our rationality to defend ourselves from the unknown, but we all know people who have been forced into the unknown with an uncurable illness or a divorce, and any transformation that has taken place in the lives of those survivors has come because they embraced the unknown, the mystery, that which is not defined, the vaccuum.
This blog is a call for a conscious "staying" with the discomfort around the paradox of reason and science on the one hand; and mystery and ancient wisdom on the other. As long as we have one without the other, we're incomplete beings.
I don't blame Amy for making fun of people using random t-shirts as signs to validate their immoral behavior. But I disagree with how she used Bill Nye to invalidate any use of mystery at all. Poking fun of those who don't know how to read the signs of the universe is kind of funny, but let's not do it at the expense of the "yin". Any ignorance around it needs to be met with sane formal and information education on how to use it, so we can not only become more intelligent about the universe, but also operate more intelligently within the universe.
At a Sandra Maitri and Joyce Stenstrom workshop two years ago, Sandra said that for Christianity, love was the highest level of attainment; and for Buddhism, emptiness was the highest level of attainment. By contrast, the end goal of Enneagram work is "to be with what is", to be flowing like a river- always aware and accepting of what arises. On our journey through life, love and emptiness will inevitably appear, and the invitation is to embrace them like the Buddha invited Mara in for tea.
On Wednesday, I wrote about an early adopting community in the tech sector that I kind of follow. They like to be ahead of the curve - way ahead for these guys- so they can know the trends before they happen. They want to know what to invest in while the valuations are still low.
The Greeks were the latest adopters ever. It took them thousands of years to adopt the number zero, even though their neighbors were using it for astronomy, because to them it represented the void and nothingness, which, because their minds couldn't fathom it, they just decided to avoid it. They much preferred the perfection of perfect ratios anyway. Instead of implementing the zero, their measurements just became smaller and smaller fractions in tinier and tinier increments.
Procrastination is a little bit like being terrified of the zero. Sometimes you have to step into the void and start a new equation.