Friday, November 10, 2023

What Can We Do?

    Imagine shortly after your birth, you were cold, hungry, thirsty, wet, uncomfortable & unhappy. So you cried as loudly as you could for help. You had no way of knowing or comprehending why you were no longer being held in safety & unconditional love like you (more or less) were for your timeless 'eternity' in the womb.
    What went through your completely innocent mind? Overwhelmed by the primal fear of abandonment & death - attachment trauma.      
    “Children can be traumatized, not just by terrible things happening to them, but just by not having their needs met – by not being seen, not being heard, not being held. Those are wounding for a child.” Gabor Maté MD

    Now imagine as an adult, waking up alone, in great pain, lying helplessly in the recovery room, immediately following major surgery. So you ring the button to call for help - even start yelling, and wait, and wait ... You have no way of comprehending why nobody comes to help.
goes through your mind? Fear, anger, frustration - abandonment, dying alone.
Trauma is not so much what happened to us, but rather what we hold inside in the absence of an empathetic mutually connected witness." Peter Levine PhD

    Imagine watching the evening news: escalating war in the Gaza / Israel; endless war in the Ukraine; enthusiastic "proxy" participation by most of the world's dictatorships & "friendlies" - with repeated threats of nuclear weapons; thousands killed by yet another earthquake in Nepal. Meanwhile, in the world's most privileged countries, escalating numbers of homeless "living rough" in severe winter conditions; rapidly increasing deaths by drug-overdose, direct suicide even of children & insane levels of "gun violence". Then, 'in other news': much faster-than-anticipated global warming, rise in sea levels, rise in CO2 levels, extinction of species, toxic air pollution, etc etc. Reptilian world leaders continue playing colonialist 'rape, murder & plunder' games, as they confidently destroy our one-and-only earth.
goes through your mind? Fear, anger, frustration, disgust, cynicism - am I alone in a hostile, meaningless universe?

    Indeed, what can we do?
    Many refuse to watch or listen to the news - "It's too depressing!" Well yes, but immature & unhelpful.
    Then some aspire to at least be "well adjusted." However,
It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society" Krishnamurti

    Which brings to mind a scene from the Viet Nam war movie, Apocalypse Now, showing Lt. Col. Kilgore, shirtless, cigar in mouth, practicing golf drives into the South China sea, surrounded by his young soldiers in uniform. Behind him, American fighter jets rain down bombs, evaporating countless Vietnamese in the jungle below. With great gusto Kilgore says, “I love the smell of napalm in the morning.”
This timely topic: The Myth of Normal. Trauma, Illness & Healing in a Toxic Culture.” is carefully examined by Gabor Maté MD & Daniel Maté, in their excellent 2022 book.

    How, one might wonder, does a sweet, innocent, loving & lovable little baby turn into a Kilgore? None of us are born to ideal parents who are able to make us feel consistently safe & unconditionally loved. Therefore, very early in life, most of us experience some degree of attachment trauma, and learn to escape the present moment by dissociating whenever we find situations unbearable. Many other forms of trauma occur later in life.
Pathological dissociation generally results from being psychically overwhelmed by trauma. Trauma is everywhere & highly prevalent." Elizabeth F. Howell. “The Dissociative Mind.” Routledge, 2008.

    Dissociation is almost universal. However, while dissociating we can't be intimately engaged with whomever we're with, or whatever we're doing, because we divert attention elsewhere - from urgent self-preservation to mere distraction. For many, dissociation becomes habitual, occuring even in the absence of triggers.
    "… studies on attentiveness show that people are only briefly & unpredictably attentive. Attention habitually diverts to unrelated thoughts & feelings, leaving any task at hand to be managed 'on autopilot.' These studies suggest that mindlessness ('mind wandering,' 'zoning out,' 'task-unrelated thought') is 'one of the most ubiquitous & pervasive of all cognitive phenomena' and that it often occurs unintentionally, without awareness, occupies a substantial proportion of our day, and leads to failures in task performance."
    Lovas JG, Lovas DA, Lovas PM. “Mindfulness and Professionalism in Dentistry.” J Dent Educ 2008; 72(9): 998-1009.

    Dissociation due to fear is a fundamental problem - the precise opposite of intimacy arising from love. All wisdom traditions, through their saints & mystics, as well as artists (intermediaries between spirituality & materialism) have been trying to tell us this for thousands of years. 

    As infants & children, numbing / being closed down can be more important than feeling / opening up.
now, as adults, "it's time to pull up our big boy pants" and have
“the spaciousness to allow any quality of mind, any thought or feeling, to arise without closing around it, without eliminating the pure witness of being. It is an active receptivity to life.” Stephen Levine

    We get into & easily remain stuck in adversarial relationships - involving even siblings, parents vs children, intimate partners, co-workers, ideologies, races, religions, countries. Our conflicts can & do lead to horrific, prolonged, unnecessary blood-baths 


    A short excerpt of Gabor Maté MD from a wise, compassionate recent interview:  

    So what’s the way out? Self-examination is the first step.
    Krishnamurti said that action has meaning only in relationship. And without understanding relationship, action on any level will only breathe conflict. The understanding of relationship is infinitely more important than the search for any plan of action.
    It's so true, if we want to understand something, let's at least begin with the willingness to look at our role and our own contribution to that relationship in which we're suffering.

    Again, that doesn't justify any particular action but at least it provides a context and it's not about taking the wrong path.

    Robert Sapolsky talks about the absurdity of hating any person for anything they have done, given that in his view, everything we do is determined by the past. And he also says there's no such thing as free will, and blame & punishment are without ethical justification.
    No, I don't I don't agree with him. I think it is possible to get to a position of free will, but I don't think most of us have free will most of the time.
    To get to free will, it takes extraordinary effort to become conscious. To be conscious means you're aware of what's inside you.
    So there might be rage inside you, perfectly understandable. There might be hatred inside you, perfectly understandable. There might be a desire for revenge inside you, perfectly understandable. Understandable? Absolutely. But they're not guides for action.
    The only guide for action is when we're in a non-defensive state. An emotionally non-defensive state is where the prefrontal cortex, the mid-frontal cortex, whose job is to have insight, empathy, self-regulation, compassion, is online THEN we might talk about free will.
    But when we're regulated by our emotional reactions
, collective or personal, there's no free will.

    The Buddha never told his followers ‘not to feel’ hate, or not to feel angry, or not to feel grief, not to feel sadness, or fear. He said you will notice when there's fear in you; you will notice when there's hatred in you; you will notice when there's grief; you'll be aware of it, so that it doesn't rule you.
    Those are just human emotions. They're going to happen. The question is, what's going to govern our actions?

    Dan Siegel a psychiatrist, and Stephen Porges a psychologist, both point out that at times of pressure & fear, our perspective narrows. And the part of our brain that takes over, is more the fear-based & defensive-based, fight-or-flight, so we lose the governance of our pre-frontal cortex, which is capable of taking a broader view.
    An Israeli friend with a daughter, who lives in the North of Israel, where as a result of recent events, they had to evacuate some communities, owing to the threat of further violence not just in the South, but also in the North of Israel
    And she wrote to me very honestly, she says, ‘Dear Gabor, I really appreciate the things you wrote. The days here are unbearable. We moved in with friends because we live in an unprotected ground floor, surrounded by gardens so beautiful usually, but home no longer feels like a safe place for millions right now.’ And she’s talking about Israelis. She’s well aware, by the way, of the Palestinian situation. But she’s describing her own situation
    ‘The rest of the time I work at a mental health center, and we collapse under the referrals, and the meetings, and the frantic courses we take to treat ongoing trauma. I’m exhausted. The 
(words of support) you wrote are beautiful, but perspective expands when people are not under physical threat. And so, those close to me, and my point of view is very narrow.
    That’s a very honest statement. She’s making no apology. She’s not taking a political stance. She’s saying, right now my perspective is very narrow. She doesn’t want to identify with that narrow perspective, but she understands that under the pressure, that’s what happens. Now most people are not that self-aware. Peoples’ perspective narrows of course, and it becomes subsumed in group identification, and thoughts of revenge, and thoughts of hurting the other.
    Under threat, or what we perceive as being under threat, we go into this narrow place. That’s a place of slavery – when we’re enslaved to our unconscious. Where we’re governed by our emotions and where the heart closes down

    And if there was ever a time for people to actually open their hearts, to not get stuck in a narrow place, to not repeat the past, to not perceive themselves only as victims, but in relationship with the other, and have the willingness to examine my role in that relationship, which is all we ask for in any marriage or in any relationship. ..."
A Call for Healing: Gabor Maté on Palestine / Israel : 

“The words of the Buddha offer this truth:
Hatred never ceases by hatred
but by love alone is healed.
This is an ancient and eternal law.’ ”

Jack Kornfield

A Walk to the Paradise Garden by W. Eugene Smith

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