The hope of Love

In response to the recent trouble in Charlottesville USA from white nationalists, Obama, in a celebrated tweet, quoted this passage from Mandela’s autobiography The Long Walk to Freedom.

“No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin or his background or his religion…

People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

This is the message at the heart of the broadly humanistic understanding of our psychology. People are not born with negative or destructive tendencies in any shape or form. Love is indeed our more “natural” state, we are born “good”. So, where does all this negativity come from? How does it become so prevalent in human beings?

It is clear to me that what creates hate and all the negative aspects of ourselves is trauma. Even an ideal upbringing cannot be perfect, our developmental journey as humans is so long and complex that it is impossible for all its stages and transitions it be negotiated without ruptures at some point, and over so much time, accidents are bound to happen. Of course, most upbringings are far from perfect and far too many are horrendous. Hate begets hate.

Trauma is the process whereby deep wounds have to be repressed and internalised because they are too much to process at the time. Whenever this happens the self is left with some insecurity, there is a place inside us that is too difficult to face and therefore has to be avoided and defended at all costs. The power of this comes from the original self-protective reaction that could not face the trauma in the first place, there is bound to be much hurt, pain, anger, fear or distress there.

Trauma is behind every judgement (of self or other), every should or ought, every avoidance or angry reaction, every anxious or depressive reaction, every closing down or turning away or refusal to face the facts of life. It is behind all our insecurity and lack of trust.

But the “good news” is that underneath people are good, and as the quote above says, it is possible to be “taught to love”. This is the work of therapy and spirituality, to facilitate the undoing of trauma and our consequential insecurity, so that we can increasingly open to and live in our “natural” state of love. This has obviously always been the aim of therapy generally, but to me it is more explicitly and more clearly articulated by the emerging “psycho-spiritual” approach to human development. (See, Ken Wilber, John Welwood, Almaas, Richard Harvey, Jill Hall, Mary O’Malley, Relational Change, many within Gestalt and other therapy traditions, and many others.)

To achieve this goal of living closer to love, we need a combination of both psychological and spiritual work. We need to face our traumas and slowly heal ourselves as well as opening ourselves to the love and support that only the transpersonal can provide.

As a therapist, I do largely see generations slowly healing. Adults are not as badly traumatised as their parents; their children are not as traumatised as they are. The goodness at the heart of human nature gives me hope and optimism, as does the experience of connecting to the transpersonal level of life in the depth of our “here and now”.

Anarchistic Democracy

I recently watched a BBC4 Storyville documentary by Carne Ross called “The Accidental Anarchist: Life without Government” (23/07/17). I’m very grateful, the film “blew my mind” as the saying goes. It blew open the doors to seeing that maybe globally we are on the verge of a transition from old fashioned ‘hierarchical democracy’ with its roots in the middle ages and beyond, into non-hierarchical or ‘anarchistic democracy’. I find this profoundly exciting.

It corresponds to my understanding of human nature around how people are fundamentally good and self-repairing. We all need a bit of help from time to time, but the impetus within us is so strongly towards health, towards growth and autonomy and freedom. What holds us back are often all the legacies of authoritarianism, of power and control which created, and still creates, so much of the trauma in society. From this come all sorts of internalised de-powering shoulds and oughts and insecurities and self-restrictions.

Our old-fashioned hierarchical democracy in many ways still embodies the pre-democratic structures of power and wealth. Everything is top down and designed for control. This is still the legacy of kings, of the aristocracy and religion, it is still the legacy of the privileged selfishly hanging onto wealth and power by controlling people through violence. Still the legacy from “people are born evil and have to be made good”. That people cannot be trusted and will turn all to chaos and violence and degeneration if left to their own devices. This is a profoundly patronising and entropic view of human nature, which I am sure is not true. Life and human consciousness are not entropic, it is trauma and its consequences that causes the appearance of this at times. But trauma can be, and is being healed, and the freer society is, the more it can support this. It is clear to me how hierarchical perspectives are quite simply becoming more and more untenable to post-modern consciousness, to people re-claiming their freedom. It is amazing to suddenly see so clearly how the old perspectives are crumbling before our eyes.

This film argues for, and shows, that it is possible for us to trust human beings to organise ourselves in healthy and creative ways. Real democracy is so near, we just need to stop believing in top-down power and then suddenly “the emperor has absolutely no clothes”. Local community action can take power away from the centre so quickly and easily in the right conditions and circumstances.

Institutions can transform and the ones that are ripest for this, it seems to me, are state run institutions, especially schools. Schools are surely some of the craziest and most anachronistically dictatorial structures in our society. How do we expect our children to blossom in such madness? Teachers and pupils could just turn around and say we are going to change this school into a democracy and just do it. What an exciting and creative education might then be possible, showing children how real democracy can work. Much of the stupid hierarchical pressures of control through testing and leagues tables could be let go of. Who would care where such a school was in the league tables if it was buzzing with fun and creativity and learning how to learn, rather than the emotional and intellectual straightjackets of the present arrangements. Teachers enjoying their work, pupils really engaged … “heavens forbid!”.

Schools are perfect because property ownership is not such an issue and they are to some extent self-contained units. Universities are also good candidates but more difficult because less localised, hospitals would be trickier but surely not impossible. Police service, prisons and armed services are also ripe for change. But the heart of change though is surely within local communities. This needs a re-visioning of local government structures, as for example what has been happening with Frome town council. Local government can be transformed by local engagement and activism fed by the creativity that comes with taking back power from centralised control. Local communities taking back control of looking after those in need within it, sorting out local problems, local power generation(?), finding ways to support creativity and connection. Online networks are already forging the way, with the net ready and able to scale things up and share best practice.

Power is energy! By re-claiming or taking power, we gain energy. The inner and outer are intimately connected, each effects the other, and we obviously need to attend to both.

Our need for Philosophy

There was a lovely article today (9th Jan 17) in the Guardian arguing for philosophy to be taught in schools. It is from the point of view of enabling and teaching the young to think in preparation for a working life that will increasingly need flexibility, due to many factors including the computerisation of so many jobs.

I’m enthusiastic about philosophy generally because I see it as being about taking responsibility for ourselves on the intellectual level. By this I mean it points towards the possibility of understanding ourselves, our lives and the world as a creative process, one that integrates with our physical and emotional perspectives into a meaning whole. Philosophy separated from these connections becomes sterile and meaningless, it loses its way disappearing up its own backside in over-intellectualisation.

It is through understanding the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of our functioning, through seeing what it is that drives to do what we do and be the way we are, we start to understand our nature and its developmental potential. So, I don’t see philosophy as separate from self-reflection, we can only understand human nature and how societies work by understanding our own nature.

When we get down it, our ability to live with understanding and purpose and intelligence and consciousness, is about finding our way to living ever closer to this present moment. The alternative is to live un-aware and asleep caught up in lots of mechanical compensatory compulsive processes which come from our conditioned past with its fear of the future.

If we are to live free from self-justification, self-recrimination, making the other or self ‘good’ or ‘bad’, living as a victim always wanting more, or something else, or always wanting to escape from our lives, living in fantasy or regret, unsatisfied and defeated, then we need to find a way of changing. And change only comes through the paradoxical process of support and challenge, or self-awareness and taking self-responsibility, of desperately wanting to change but finding ourselves almost powerless to ‘do’ change. The forces which keep us away from living in the here and now are powerful and it only through deepening our awareness of them, of facing them, that we slowly work our way to the freedom of living here and now.

Through this process, we see that all our experience is meaningful, that there is cause and effect, that every difficulty can be used to make another step towards greater consciousness, that we do have the potential to develop towards freedom and that life is amazingly meaningful as we more and more glimpse the possibility of ‘Being’.

An essential part of this process is the need to live in question, to live questioning our experience and challenging our assumptions and pre-conceptions and our attachment to them. This is where a training in philosophy can be so beneficial. Being challenged to think for ourselves is such an exciting and liberating process. Instead of schools being about learning boring ‘known’ facts it has the potential to be a wonderfully creative force in adolescent’s development.

We relate to the world through our head (intellect), heart (feelings and emotions) and through our bodies. School could provide a training in using all three and especially in how to connect them up. Each needs the other two in order for the experience to be full and meaningful. What is the value in physical training without understand and feeling, emotional development without understanding and embodiment, intellectual training without feeling and practicality? Philosophy is interesting when it relates to our experience of living, to real questions that affect how we live and relate and how the world is structured.

When ideas are studied in this way they have the power to change us. We are inherently hugely powerful meaning making machines and given the resources of a holistic joined up self (i.e. not too much trauma which splits the connections between our parts in its need to maintain unawareness), development in one area will affect the whole of the self.

So, I am all for joined up, thought provoking, philosophy in schools. How can we have a well-functioning democracy without people being able to think for themselves? We are currently seeing the danger of moving towards a “post-truth” world of prejudice and reaction. We need more leaders who openly engage in this task of philosophy, in attempting to articulate what the meaning of human existence is and how it relates to our social priorities and to our amazing potential for development. The West needs to develop a culture that is more passionate about philosophy than it is about consumption.

As Maslow made clear, this is only possible after our basic needs for security, food and shelter have been satisfied, and for too many the basics are not safe enough. But there is also a chicken and egg problem here, as there is with any process of change, where because of our trauma we mistake life difficulties for emergencies, which then causes us to get stuck. I just hope that our inherent Goodness will find a way through.

Therapy for Weight Loss

Yesterday (13th October) the BBC’s “You & Yours” Radio 4 program had a section on  the success of therapy for those wanting to lose weight.  It was a clear endorsement of therapy’s effectiveness in the long term, which is the “gold standard” for Weight Loss methods. All other methods have incredibly high long term failure rates.

Having a space where people can be supported and their strengths valued is in itself very helpful. A space where a person can be allowed to be themselves, where their negative aspects can be accepted and they can be helped to see that these are a consequence of their ‘wounds’ rather their inadequacy or ‘badness’.

There are nearly always unconscious or semi-conscious emotional reasons behind over eating. This can be feelings of deprivation and deficit that remain from an impoverished background  along with an associated lack of self-worth. It can be comfort eating to fill a huge hole left by abuse or neglect or some accidental happening which leaves such heavy legacies of negative self-value.

What is clear is that all our self-destructiveness comes from our wounds and if this can be made clear and seen for what it is the level of self-hatred diminishes and relapses can be accepted much more quickly and kept smaller. This self-acceptance builds new confidence in a virtuous circle, empowering the person to try taking small steps day at a time and building from there.

Self-knowledge is the way that change really happens organically and permanently. Therapy helps people to look at themselves differently and in a new way, a more objective way. The task is always to make an (non-engulfing) object out of what we are subject too so that we look at our reactions, our behaviour, our bodies, our thoughts and feelings in a more objective way that opens the door to self-acceptance and self-compassion.

To find this we need to be prepared to take responsibility for ourselves, and we need to be supported feel that we are worth making the effort for. Development is always a combination of support and challenge and growing through the middle of our insecurity is the challenge for all of us in some form or another.