Saturday, October 21, 2006

Blogger Has Been Down

As is getting more common again, Blogger has been down most of the evening.

Ah, technology is a fickle master.

The Ritual Structure of Change

The Structure of Change

Building on the original cross-cultural research of Clare Graves, Spiral Dynamics proposes a model of change that has five distinct phases. While their work is concerned with what might be termed “meta-change,” (referring to transitions from one developmental stage to another), the basic model can also be applied to change on a smaller scale, such as that occurs in individuals when one developmental stream is engaged in transformation to a more complex level.

The five-stage model proposed by Beck and Cowan begins and ends with what might best be characterized as a “static” state (Victor Turner’s stable, coherent, socially-sanctioned states framing the ritual process), keeping in mind that there is no true static state in the natural world. That leaves three actual stages in which change is occurring, and those stages bear a striking similarity to the initiation model described in my previous post. These are the stages as Beck and Cowan have designated them:

1) Alpha: This is the stage when everything seems to fit -- the subject (individual, corporation, or culture) is functioning successfully within the current life conditions. Alpha is often an illusion -- nothing is ever really stable.

2) Beta: The Beta stage is a time of uncertainty, questioning, and frustration. Doubts and a sense that something is wrong define the Beta stage. When an individual first enters Beta, the individual tries “more of the same” that made Alpha successful and stable (words like “rededicate,” “refocus,” and “work harder and smarter” are used). Resources are invested in the previous Alpha systems in an attempt to “shore up the damn.” Next, the individual may try to reform, fine-tune, or adjust the Alpha system while keeping its main features. Continual improvement becomes the goal, but change is not embraced or considered. An individual may look for ways to make immediate adjustments (usually exterior, such as new clothes or a gym membership), try to improve its technology (take a class or read a self-help book), or hire “better” people (for the individual this may mean seeking out new friends, or a new romantic partner).

In the Beta stage there is often a longing for the “good old days” when everything was “better.” The one defining characteristic, however, is that things are not “how they used to be,” and they will never be that way again. Familiar forms of defining identity have been taken away from the individual, and this is why doubts and a sense that something is wrong are so prominent in this stage -- familiar forms have fallen away, and the individual wasn’t aware that it was happening until it has already occurred. In Wilber’s transition model, the individual has begun to differentiate from the previous sense of self, but has not yet identified with the next stage.

3) The Gamma Trap: If things get bad enough (full differentiation occurs), the individual moves from Beta to Gamma. This is a stage of anger, hopelessness, and attempted revolution. At this stage, any barriers to resolving the situation feel overwhelming. There is now a clear sense of how bad things really are, which can produce awareness of what went wrong and why.

[Before the Gamma Trap sets in, there is an option for reform. If most of the six conditions for change are being met and the rest are nearly met, it is possible for an individual to take charge of the situation and bypass the trap. The reform option usually requires someone who sees the situation clearly and is proactive before Beta becomes Gamma. There must also be a willingness to be proactive to affect change. This is more likely to occur in an organization or in a culture. Most individuals, in the absence of outside help, are unlikely to avoid the Gamma Trap once the transformation process is underway.]

Deep Gamma is difficult because of the sense that there is no way to change the situation. There may be desperate attempts to try something “new” to break out of the morass. The old ways are no longer viable and the new ways are not yet visible. The feeling in this stage is of despair, suffocation, and chaos. When the individual feels his/her “back against the wall,” Gamma produces an assault on the barriers, in whatever form they may come. Some of these barriers are real and some are imagined -- it doesn’t matter at this point – better to fight than do nothing.

If the barriers are profound enough, the individual will suffer full-scale retrenchment into a more basic and restricted world-view (with all the shifts in outlook, function, and purpose such a change in worldview might entail).[i]

The experience of the Gamma Trap can sometimes fit the definition of “spiritual emergency,” as defined by Stan and Christina Grof.[ii] Among the possible manifestations of spiritual emergency, the Grofs list the following: episodes of unitive consciousness (peak experiences in which the individual is briefly immersed in the highest developmental stages of consciousness); Kundalini awakening; near-death experiences, including severe illnesses such as cancer or a heart attack; emergence of “past-life memories”; psychological experience of the “center,” what Wilber might term an experience of the proximate self or of the Witness (observer Self); shamanic crisis, a condition of illness signaling the call to shamanic training; awakening of extrasensory capabilities (psychic opening); and so on.[iii] Spiritual emergency may also be triggered through other, more mundane, life experiences, which are discussed below as triggers that can launch an individual into the Beta stage.

The Gamma Trap can also manifest as an on-going low-grade depression, an ennui that seems without source or explanation. In fact, this may be the most common manifestation in our culture, due largely to the fact that most people avoid conscious change and relegate the process to the depths of the unconscious mind. Once repressed, the impetus for change festers and attempts to provoke attention through projections, “Freudian slips,” dreams, addictions, neuroses, and a variety of other ways in which the pscyhe seeks to refocus attention on its needs. It is entirely possible that the majority of the functionally maladjusted in contemporary culture (and this includes most of us) are consciously or unconsciously repressing the innate drive for psychological evolution.

4) The Delta Surge: When the Gamma trap is finally overcome and its energy released, the Delta Surge is initiated. This is a time of excitement and rapid change -- old barriers are overcome and previous restrictions dissolved. The past no longer controls the present. However, there is a risk that the Delta stage is an illusion, which can result in a free-fall back into Gamma. This occurs when the solution leading to Delta is not an authentic solution, or the new mode of being is not healthy and quickly degrades (in Ken Wilber’s model this might occur when integration of the new stage fails for some reason).

In the best case, the individual takes charge of his/her fate and makes changes in how s/he functions to reflect the new reality conditions. If this is successful, the final stage will emerge.

5) The New Alpha: This stage reflects the consolidation of all that has happened and the new stability resulting from having found ways to overcome the barriers and renew a sense of meaning, success, and balance. This stage is also temporary. The only constant is change. A truly successful individual lives with the premise that nothing is stable, change is constant, and adaptation is a daily activity.


The Ritual Structure of Change

In order for these five stages to occur, there are six conditions that must be met by the individual. We will assume that they have been met. Assuming that the initial Alpha stage and the New Alpha stage, as described above, are not an actual part of the change process, but are the pre and post states, there are then three stages in Beck and Cowan’s model that correspond to the three stages of the ritual process as introduced by van Gennep and elaborated by Turner.

Robert Hopcke proposes the same essential three-stage process for change. While he is more interested in the synchronicities that can occur during change, he provides a succinct statement of the process:

Every movement forward in our lives, every degree of growth, involves three parts. First, we become aware that our current situation no longer fits us or works. … Then we enter a state of confusion and transition. We begin to imagine how things might be different and we might even leave our current situation without fully knowing what is to come or how to proceed. … We can’t go back, but we don’t really know yet what to do, and this transitional state may last a day, a month, or years, until finally, something happens – we get some help, our feelings become clearer, an opportunity presents itself, we take a certain action – and we move into a different and more satisfying way of being.[iv]

Hopcke clearly states the process, but he doesn’t suggest that the situation may resolve itself more quickly if the person who is in the midst of transition were to be actively involved in the resolution. A therapist, like Hopcke, can help expedite the transition, as can an understanding of the process and what to expect at certain points. It also helps to see the process in the framework of traditional ritual, to understand the archetypal[v] aspect of the experience. What follows is a more in-depth look at the change process reframed within the ritual structure.

The Beta Stage: Separation

The Beta stage can be seen as the separation point in the change process, when the “old ways” are no longer useful and begin to fall away. The separation stage is unsettling because all that was held to be true is no longer valid in the new life conditions. The individual can no longer cling to the safety of the previous Alpha fit but has not yet fully differentiated from it, which would allow identification with the next stage.

Joseph Campbell integrated a Jungian psychoanalytic approach into the traditional study of mythology to elaborate the Hero myth in The Hero with a Thousand Faces. He viewed the three stages of ritual as a template for the Hero myth, what he called the monomyth. In the separation stage, the hero’s mission “consists in a radical transfer of emphasis from the external to the internal world, macro- to microcosm, a retreat from the desperation of the waste land to the peace of the everlasting realm that is within”.[vi] If only it were that easy. There is certainly the shift from outer to inner reality, but the inner world is experienced as a “waste land” for the individual undergoing profound change. There remains a “still, small voice” within, but any communication with the higher self or witness is muddled at best, non-existent for most. Campbell corrects his position further down the page:

…the first work of the hero is to retreat from the world scene of secondary effects to those causal zones of the psyche where the difficulties really reside, and there to clarify the differences, eradicate them in his own case …[vii]

All human beings are the heroes in their own life stories. When the Self, in service of its own evolution, requires change, the individual must heed that call and enter the underworld of the embedded unconscious to work through the barriers preventing the arrival from the emergent unconscious of a new, more complex sense of Self.[viii] Understanding the structure of the monomyth, as Campbell often suggested, can help a person understand just a little better his/her own life process, and the sometimes strange turns it takes.

Yet, millions and millions of people will never experience a Beta stage in their adult lives -- they will reach the formal operations stage as a young adult and never move any higher up the ladder. Like most members of Western Civilization, these people will have found their psycho-spiritual set-point and will never be forced to move beyond it, no matter what happens in their lives. For millions of other people, however, everyday events that most people must deal with can set off a transformational crisis. When one of these “trigger” events occurs, the individual is thrust from the illusory safety of the Alpha fit they were experiencing and into the Beta/separation stage of the change process. There are three broad categories of triggers that can launch an individual into the separation stage of the process.

The first category of triggers is outside forces. Essentially, this is any event happening outside of the individual, and can include relationship issues, cultural upheaval, job issues, death of a loved one (or of an iconic personality or world leader), and accident or injury. All of these external events have the power to trigger uncertainty, doubt, or discomfort in the existing life conditions and its corresponding world-view. For example, after President Kennedy was assassinated, many people felt as though the world had forever changed. Some of the psychological unrest that event spawned was responsible for the cultural changes that occurred later in the decade. In recent years, the death by suicide of musician Kurt Cobain had a profound effect on young people who looked to him as a poet who shared their pain and angst. The loss of a job, of a partner either through divorce or death, or the loss of one’s health through injury can have life-altering impact, and how that change is dealt with will determine whether one grows from the experience, or regresses and implodes.

The second category of triggers for change is interior events --inner dynamics upset the perceived equilibrium of the Alpha fit and initiate change. The individual may have a powerful dream, suffer the emergence of a complex, experience anxiety attacks or a panic disorder, fall into depression, have a “nervous breakdown,” and so on. Most of the types of spiritual emergencies identified by the Grofs fit into this category.

Most profound change is a result of inner events. These experiences can often be the most traumatic, as well, since there is no outside source to blame, though the individual might work hard to find one (Jungian projection). The transpersonal viewpoint suggests that when the Self is ready to evolve it will create the impetus for that change to occur. Many “new age” believers have taken this to mean that a person will draw illness or accidents to him/herself in order to initiate change, or that each soul agrees (prior to its birth) to experience certain traumas in the service of growth. However one chooses to view the process, these interior events are powerful catalysts for change.

The final category of triggers for change is personal choice -- embracing change. This is the rarest form of catalyst for change, but the one most likely to have a positive and lasting outcome. In this scenario, the individual may choose to enter therapy, go on a spiritual retreat, take up a meditation practice, take workshops focusing on self-exploration and personal growth, and so on.

Among the many options for initiating change consciously are journal writing, art therapy, body-centered somatic therapies, movement and performance arts, physical training, and mindfulness practice. Probably the most powerful method, however, is meditation practice, especially if combined with transpersonal therapy. Michael Murphy and George Leonard have proposed Integral Transformative Practice [ix] (Wilber has advocated this approach as well in his Integral Life Practice), which attempts to produce rapid changes in consciousness by undertaking several different practices at the same time, one for each of the four major streams (body, heart, mind, soul). However one approaches conscious change, the outcome is more likely to be positive and enduring when the process is entered into willingly and with the proper intent.

The Gamma Stage: Liminal Space

The second stage of the change process conforms to the Gamma Trap of Beck and Cowan’s change model. This is the time when a person is in liminal space, no longer who s/he was, and not yet who s/he will become. A person in this stage questions nearly everything, seeking answers in places that had to this point never been examined. Anything goes, and if one is not paralyzed by the enormity of the situation, which results in depression, then it is possible to recreate oneself, or in the language of Spiral Dynamics, to move up the spiral. After all, the purpose of change is growth and personal evolution, and simply taking the view that change offers this opportunity creates a greater likelihood of a positive outcome.

However, there is the trap aspect of liminal space inherent in the name Gamma Trap. People who have had their foundations shaken (and entered into the limbo of unknowing the individual experiences in a marginal period) can remain in that state indefinitely if they are unable to navigate a successful exit. The predominant symptoms of someone trapped in liminal space are persistent ennui and moderate to deep depression. However, Elizabeth McCormick[x]] has identified a wide variety of symptoms[xi] associated with “living on the edge,” her phrase for the experience of liminal space, that can be experienced by anyone in the depths of liminal experience.

Physical Symptoms

· Tension in the neck, shoulders, back, chest, and arms.

· Breathing difficulties, including shortness of breath, hyperventilation, sensations of suffocation, and breathlessness.

· Persistent headaches and nausea.

· Fatigue, exhaustion, insomnia, sleep disturbances, loss of appetite.

· Minor problems such irritable bowel, indigestion, constipation, PMS, muscle sprains and strains, or back pain.

· Accidents are more frequent, including everything from bumping into corners and walls to scrapes involving the car.

Emotional Symptoms

·Feeling trapped, with one’s back against the wall, or feeling cornered in some way.

·Feeling alone, alienated, without friends or support, or that no one understands what one is feeling.

·A sense of desperation, willing to do anything to regain stability internally and externally.

· Feeling hopeless, resigned to suffering, suicidal, as if death were the only way to end the suffering.

· In waiting mode, life on hold, in a limbo state with no end in sight, often felt as a “terrible waiting.”

·Feeling constantly angry, bitter, resentful – always on the edge of rage or keeping so tightly bottled that the seams are starting to rip.

Cognitive Symptoms

· Confused thoughts, inability to hold a train of thought, muddled thinking or accelerated thinking.

· Obsession, fixated thoughts or ideas.

· Diversionary behaviors to eradicate thoughts and quiet the mind, including the objects of most addictions (drugs, alcohol, sex, food, television, gambling, and so on).

As one might guess, these symptoms are becoming more and more common in our culture. The liminal experience demands growth, but most are not able or do not know how to make that happen, and it becomes easier to self-medicate the situation with drugs and alcohol, or food, or shopping, or sex, and so on, while never really addressing the root problem.

Another option when seeking to escape liminal space is to regress, to retreat to earlier, safer developmental levels where the terrain is familiar. In the last fifteen years, a large number of baby boomers (the first generation, en mass, to be on the edge of and entering into a new, more egalitarian and spiritual world-view) have abandoned that process and reverted to the safety of organized religion. Unable to successfully negotiate the transition into the new world-view, and no longer able to suffer the ambiguity of liminal space, these people, termed “baby boomerangs” by some, have been “born again” into the comfort of organized religion, especially conservative Protestant sects. Kerby Anderson, writing for Probe Ministries, suggests that with mid-life, the boomers are asking the big questions again:

Who am I? Where am I going? Is this all there is to life? These questions have an underlying spiritual dimension and are not easily answered in a secular world nor in a mystical world filled with bland spirituality.[xii]

Traditional religion offers answers to these questions, but the answers are typically not more complex and evolved but, rather, more conservative, less complex, and often regressive. Which is not to say that Christianity has nothing to offer; there is within each of the world’s major religions a central core of spiritual practice that can help an individual move forward in growth, to climb the Spiral. Unfortunately, the Evangelical mega-churches that have flourished in this country are not teaching spiritual practice, and are instead teaching dogmatic interpretations of the Bible.[xiii]

The situation seems bleak, but the Gamma stage does not have to be enormously difficult. In fact, it can be a positive experience. In those societies that practice initiation rites, the ordeals may seem daunting at best and like torture at worst, but for those who undertake the process, they have chosen to do so and have prepared for the experience. In essence, they embrace the change they are about to undergo and welcome it into their lives. Even more, they believe so strongly in the process that they will live by the results no matter the outcome. As an example, Turner cites an Omaha vision quest dream that some boys receive; if in the dream they are given the woman’s “burden-strap,” the boys will live as women for the rest of their lives, even if they marry and go to war[xiv].

Belief in the authenticity of the process and the truth of the outcome is what matters in embracing change. If one goes into the process with intention, with an acceptance that change is never easy and an awareness that the process may be long, the chances are good that it will go more smoothly than if one resists the change and that the results, whatever they may be, will be more easily integrated.

Delta Stage: The Return

Finally, the Delta stage as described by Beck and Cowan corresponds to the return stage of the initiation sequence. At this point the change process has been successfully navigated and the new identity is being solidified. This can be an exciting time for someone who has gone through the process, and there is often a desire to share the new realizations with others.

As the change process gains a hold in the individual’s life, other forms of change may also occur. There may be a desire to dress differently to reflect the new sense of self, or to make new friends who share the same views, or to move to a city that supports the new life conditions more fully. There may also be a tendency to drop old relationships that supported the original Alpha state of the individual, and this can include ending significant love relationships, quitting a job, reducing contact with parents and siblings, or leaving the Church of one’s previous faith.

All of these decisions make sense within the context of the change process, but those outside the process will not understand and will push the individual to reconsider. Other outside forces (social norms, employers expectations, and so on) may also push back against the individual’s new sense of self, and if the change wasn’t an authentic solution to the original barriers, the individual will collapse back into the Gamma stage and may be stuck there for some time. An unhealthy solution adopted during the Gamma period that produces a false Delta can be a soul-crushing experience resulting in deep depression and the seeking of escape behaviors. For this reason, it may be advisable for an individual who has no knowledge of the change process or how to navigate through the struggles to seek the guidance of one who does know these things, whether that is a friend, a religious leader, or a therapist.

The next installment in this series will look at how to navigate the change process while it is happening.

[i] It seems to me that this is what happened to America following the 9/11 attacks. Confronted with an opportunity for change, the barriers seemed too overwhelming and as a country we slipped at least one whole level on the Spiral.

[ii] Please see The Stormy Search for the Self (1990) for a comprehensive examination of the nature of spiritual emergency and transformational crisis.

[iii] Stormy Search, page 73.

[v] I use the word archetypal not in the Jungian sense of “archaic images” in the collective unconscious, although the change process might fit that definition, but rather in the sense of first patterns or original forms. All human beings will experience some aspect of the change process, in either lesser or greater degree, making it a profoundly human experience. The experience of change is not confined to pre-personal, personal, or trans-personal level of development; it can be felt by an Australian Aboriginal person adapting to western culture as well as by a San Francisco Zen student becoming acquainted with the psychic level of development for the first time. The Jungian archetypes, as Wilber often points out, are mostly confined to pre-formal level of development and lower, which does take away from their power, but only seeks to recognize that the transpersonal consciouasness often ascribed to archetypes is misplaced.

[vi] Hero, page 17.

[vii] Hero, page 17.

[viii] For an explanation of the five major types of unconscious, see Wilber’s Integral Psychology.

[xi] This list is an adaptation of hers, found on page 20 of her book.

[xii]Baby Boomerangs,” accessed 03.08.2004. Probe Ministries is a non-profit organization working to further the Christian message – as such, take their position however you’d like.

[xiii] For a discussion of how organized religion has misplaced its central spiritual message, and how it can rescue itself from this condition, please Ken Wilber’s The Marriage of Sense and Soul. Wilber argues for a renewal of the spiritual core of all the major religions by subjecting their teachings (proscriptions) to the scientific method. As it turns out, meditation, Christian prayer, Kabbalah, and several other traditions can hold up under the rigor of the scientific method, but the “mythic” teachings of most religions will eventually have to be set aside or given their proper place.

[xiv] Betwixt & Between. Mahdi, Foster, and Little. Eds.

The Continuing Adventures of My Inner Critic

Surely some of you have grown weary of me bitching about this stuff, but it's where my exploration is centered these days. If I can bring these demons into the light of day, they cease to have control over my psyche.

One of the subpersonalities I've been working with for the last year or two is my Inner Critic. I've written several posts on my work with this sub in the past (in order: here, here, here, and here). I'm sure I've looked at it in other posts, as well, but those are the main ones.

Here is how Hal and Sidra Stone, innovators in working with subpersonalities (or selves) describe the Inner Critic:
This Inner Critic is a voice within each of us that criticizes us mercilessly. With an IQ of about 500 that enables it to spot all of our shortcomings, an uncanny ability to read our most secret feelings, X-ray vision to reveal deficiencies that would be invisible to the naked eye, infrared tracking systems that can look within our dreams at night, and standards of comparison that would make Einstein look stupid and Mother Theresa look selfish, this Inner Critic takes upon itself the task of evaluating us. Needless to say, it always finds us falling short of expectations. When we speak of this Inner Critic we mean the voice within that criticizes us, we have called the self within us that criticizes other people "the Judge".

Silje Alberthe Kamille Friis

The Inner Critic is of special interest to psychotherapists, whatever their orientation because of it role in emotional distress. The anguish caused by the Inner Critic is always a basic factor in low self-esteem and is often a major impediment to any growth or change. Many of the difficulties in therapy experienced by your clients can directly be traced to this self which will question their ability to learn or to grow or, at the very least, will attack them for needing help in the first place. The Inner Critic is often directly involved in anxiety, depression, sleep disorders, addictions, and a variety of self-destructive behaviors. It is usually a key factor in dysfunctional or abusive relationships.

Most people are not even aware that there is a voice or a self speaking inside of them because the Inner Critic's constant judgments have been with them since early childhood and its running critical commentary feels quite natural. It develops early in their lives, absorbing (or internalizing) the judgments of the people around them and the expectations of the society in which they live.
One of the key points they make here is the connection between the Inner Critic and anxeity -- something those of us with social anxiety disorder know a bit about. But the Stones also make the point that the Critic develops as a part of relationships -- as a way to help us avoid failure or humiliation.

But the Critic can wreak havoc on our adult intimate relationships.
It responds to the judgments of everyone around us by agreeing with them. Ironically, although the Inner Critic's aim is to spare us judgment, it is quite likely to elicit "The Judge" those around us. This can happen energetically (almost like a magnetic attraction) or directly because once the Inner Critic criticizes something in us, we are open and vulnerable to the same criticism from the outside.

Last, but certainly not least, the Inner Critic prevents intimacy directly by shaming and abusing our Inner Child so that it cannot relate properly to others. It is this child that carries our deepest sensitivities and feelings and is a major factor in truly intimate connections. When it is frightened, abused and feels like a victim, it cannot relate normally and naturally and the deep, soul-satisfying intimacy that it brings with it is missing from all our relationships.

As the Stones point out, one of the things that happens in relationship when one partner has a strong Inner Critic is that the Judge in the other partner is triggered. This necessarily creates a parent/child bonding pattern that can be one of the most destructive patterns in any relationship -- which is not to say that all parent/child bonding patterns are destructive, but this particular one is very destructive.

When the Judge in one partner is activated by the presence of the Inner Critic in the other partner, there is immediately a parent-child dynamic at work -- and all of this is unconscious. The Judge criticizes -- even though it's owner may feel s/he is helping -- and the Inner Critic of the other person immediately picks up on the criticism and turns it inward, agreeing with it completely since it confirms everything it has been saying for years.

Here's where it gets ugly: when the Inner Critic gets activated that way, the individual is likely to respond in a variety of ways to remove the anxiety and self-loathing that has been triggered. The person may withdraw emotionally, strike out in anger, respond in kind, or simply just withdraw completely.

When this happens, the other person will respond with some other maladpative behavior -- and this all can happen several times back and forth -- switching roles between parent and child -- in the space of a few minutes. If no one is able to unplug from it, it can go on and on and become a recurrent pattern in the relationship.

If the Inner Critic is not dealt with, this destructive dynamic will be an undercurrent in all intimate relationships. Looking back over my life at my significant relationships, this has certainly been the case for me. It hasn't been the only thing going on, but it has been present.

During the last year, I have done a lot of work to uproot the Critic, or at least bring it into consciousness so that I have more awareness and it has less ability to control my behavior. Sometimes I was successful, sometimes I wasn't. One major thing did begin to change, however, and that is that I stopped turning inward all the external criticism from other people's Judges.

When this happened, or began to happen, I no longer went on the attack on myself -- I turned it outward. During August and September, I began to feel and express a lot more anger, which was how I was then reacting to my critic being activated. Some part of me had finally had enough of me treating myself that way.

That has lessened now, though I still feel a bit angry -- which is normal even in the best of breakups. But my Inner Critic went wild following the ending of my relationship with Kira -- what more proof could it provide that I was deeply flawed and should just lock myself in a cave for the rest of my life? Now, again, it has quieted a bit.

What I am left with a feeling of exhaustion. It is a hellish amount of work living with a powerful Inner Critic. It is impossible to live up to the Superman image the Critic demands. No one can ever be that perfect, and even if someone could be that perfect, the emotional cost would be devastating.

I have always been drawn to a song by Five For Fighting simply called "Superman." The part of me who rejects the image of the Superman that the Inner Critic demands sympathizes with this song.

As the song says, I just want to find the better parts of me -- and give them a chance to flourish.

The less the Critic is allowed to voice its stuff -- or the less I listen to it -- the more likely I am to be vulnerable enough to find those better parts -- which the Stones point out is a result of having access to the Inner Child that we all need in order to create meaningful intimate relationships.

Natalie Merchant - Carnival

Natalie is very cool.

Dharma Quote: Geshe Sonam Rinchen

Dharma Quote of the Week from Snow Lion Publications:
Apart from the perfection of wisdom,
All virtuous practices such as
The perfection of giving are described
As skillful means by the Victorious Ones.

The first five perfections--giving, ethical discipline, patience, enthusiastic effort and concentration--as well as meditation on impermanence, on the connection between actions and their effects and the cultivation of compassion, love and the altruistic intention are all skillful means. In fact all positive practices which do not constitute the cultivation of wisdom fall into the category of skillful means.

Whoever, under the influence of familiarity
With skillful means, cultivates wisdom
Will quickly attain enlightenment--
Not just by meditating on selflessness.

When stability in practices which develop skillful means has been gained, the Bodhisattva meditates on the selflessness of persons and other phenomena and thereby overcomes clinging to their true existence. This leads swiftly to enlightenment. If we confine our efforts only to understanding reality, our understanding lacks the power to destroy all the obstructions that prevent omniscience and we may remain locked in a state of solitary peace. Cultivation of skillful means prevents this and adds such power to our understanding of reality that, like a blazing fire, it consumes all obstructions.

~ From Atisha's Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment, commentary by Geshe Sonam Rinchen, translated and edited by Ruth Sonam, published by Snow Lion Publications.

Sogyal Rinpoche on Doubt

This was the Rigpa Glimpse of the Day from a day or two ago:

If we were to put our minds to one powerful wisdom method and work with it directly, there is a real possibility we would become enlightened.

Our minds, however, are riddled with confusion and doubt. I sometimes think that doubt is an even greater block to human evolution than is desire or attachment. Our society promotes cleverness instead of wisdom, and celebrates the most superficial, harsh, and least useful aspects of our intelligence. We have become so falsely “sophisticated” and neurotic that we take doubt itself for truth, and the doubt that is nothing more than ego’s desperate attempt to defend itself from wisdom is deified as the goal and fruit of true knowledge.

This form of mean-spirited doubt is the shabby emperor of samsara, served by a flock of “experts” who teach us not the open-souled and generous doubt that Buddha assured us was necessary for testing and proving the worth of the teachings, but a destructive form of doubt that leaves us nothing to believe in, nothing to hope for, and nothing to live by.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Two Heavyweights Go Toe-to-Toe on Linguistics, Metaphorical Thought, and Politics

When no less an authority than Steven Pinker reviews your book and says this:
There is much to admire in Lakoff's work in linguistics, but Whose Freedom?, and more generally his thinking about politics, is a train wreck. Though it contains messianic claims about everything from epistemology to political tactics, the book has no footnotes or references (just a generic reading list), and cites no studies from political science or economics, and barely mentions linguistics. Its use of cognitive neuroscience goes way beyond any consensus within that field, and its analysis of political ideologies is skewed by the author's own politics and limited by his disregard of centuries of prior thinking on the subject. And Lakoff's cartoonish depiction of progressives as saintly sophisticates and conservatives as evil morons fails on both intellectual and tactical grounds.
Well, you've pretty much had your ass handed to you on a plate. By the way, that last sentence was a metaphor, and metaphors and metaphorical thinking are the topic of George Lakoff's theories, and by extenstion, his newest book, Whose Freedom?: The Battle over America's Most Important Idea.

Let's backtrack a little. Here is Pinker's brief summary of Lakoff's work in linguistics, which many think is the cutting edge in the field:
Lakoff's theory begins with his analysis of metaphor in everyday language, first presented in 1980 in a brilliant little book written with Mark Johnson called Metaphors We Live By. When we say "I shot down his argument," or "He couldn't defend his position," or "She attacked my theory," we are alluding to an unstated metaphor that argument is war. Similarly, to say "Our marriage is at a crossroads," or "We've come a long way together," or "He decided to bail out of the relationship" is to assume metaphorically that love is a journey. These metaphors are never stated in so many words, but they saturate our language and spin off variations that people easily understand (such as "We need to step on the brakes"). In each case, people must grasp a deep equivalence between the abstract idea and the concrete experience. Lakoff insists, not unreasonably, that this is an important clue to our cognitive makeup.
But this isn't the half of it. Conceptual metaphor, according to Lakoff, shows that all thought is based on unconscious physical metaphors, with beliefs determined by the metaphors in which ideas are framed. Cognitive science has also shown that thinking depends on emotion, and that a person's rationality is bounded by limitations of attention and memory. Together these discoveries undermine, in Lakoff's view, the Western ideal of conscious, universal, and dispassionate reason based on logic, facts, and a fit to reality. Philosophy, then, is not an extended debate about knowledge and ethics, it is a succession of metaphors: Descartes's philosophy is based on the metaphor "knowing is seeing," Locke's on "the mind is a container," Kant's on "morality is a strict father." And political ideologies, too, cannot be understood in terms of assumptions or values, but only as rival versions of the metaphor "society is a family." The political right likens society to a family ruled by authoritarian parenting, whereas the political left prefers a family cared for with nurturant parenting.
In recent years, Lakoff has been courted by leaders in the Democratic party, including Tom Daschle and Robert Reich, to help them with how they present their agenda. The new book, on freedom, is part of his agenda in promoting a progressive politics.

Pinker takes him to task for simplistic thinking in the political realm, while never really dismissing any of his more serious linguistic theory (which seems to be in short supply in the new book). Really, I'd like to hear these guys talk about linguistics all day and leave the political crap to the politicians. But Lakoff thinks that politics is the new frontier of linguistics, and that we have to try to change the politics we are living with by understanding the way people make meaning.

As luck would have it, Lakoff responded to Pinker's review in the New Republic. He begins his rebuttal with this:
For a quarter of a century, Steven Pinker and I have been on opposite sides of major intellectual and scientific divide concerning the nature of language and the mind. Until this review, the divide was confined to the academic world. But, recently, the issue of the nature of mind and language has come into politics in a big way. We can no longer conduct twenty-first-century politics with a seventeenth-century understanding of the mind. The political issues in this country and the world are just too important.
Pinker, a respected professor at Harvard, has been the most articulate spokesman for the old theory. In language, it is Noam Chomsky's claim that language consists in (as Pinker puts it) "an autonomous module of syntactic rules." What this means is that language is just a matter of abstract symbols, having nothing to do with what the symbols mean, how they are used to communicate, how the brain processes thought and language, or any aspect of human experience — cultural or personal. I have been on the other side, providing evidence over many years that all of those considerations enter into language, and recent evidence from the cognitive and neural sciences indicates that language involves bringing all these capacities together. The old view is losing ground as we learn more.
Yeah, baby!
Okay, I'm a sad little geek who enjoys this stuff. Be that as it may, it's so very cool to see two serious thinkers go toe-to-toe (another metaphor) on a subject that our children will be studying when they go to college (assuming there are still institutes of higher learning in 20 years).

When Lakoff begins to talk about why this stuff matters in the political world, he starts sounding like someone who would be at home with integral politics:
These questions matter in progressive politics, because many progressives were brought up with the old seventeenth-century view of reason that implies that, if you just tell people the facts, they will reason to the right conclusion — since reason is universal. We know from recent elections that this is just false. "Old-fashioned ... universal disembodied reason" also claims that everyone reasons the same way and that differences in worldview don't matter. But anybody tuning in to contemporary talk shows will notice that not everybody reasons the same way and that worldview does matter.
Indeed. Don Beck -- and Clare Graves before him -- has been saying this for years.

However, Pinker's greatest assault, to which Lakoff doesn't directly respond, involves the distinctions drawn between liberals and conservatives:
Probably not since The Greening of America has there been a manifesto with as much faith that the country's problems can be solved by the purity of the moral vision of the 1960s. Whose Freedom? shows no trace of the empirical lessons of the past three decades, such as the economic and humanitarian disaster of massively planned economies, or the impending failure of social insurance programs that ignore demographic arithmetic. Lakoff is contemptuous of the idea that social policy requires thinking in terms of trade-offs. His policy on terrorism is that "we do not defend our freedoms by giving up our freedoms." His response to pollution is to endorse the statement that "you are not morally free to pollute." One doesn't have to be a Republican to see this as jejune nonsense. Most of us are happy to give up our freedom to carry box cutters on airplanes, and as the progressive economist Robert Frank has put it (alluding to the costs of cleanups), "there is an optimal amount of pollution in the environment, just as there is an optimal amount of dirt in your house."
What about the conservative conception of freedom? Here Snidely Whiplash pauses long enough from beating his children to explain it to us. As transmitted by Lakoff, the conservative conception includes "the freedom to hunt -- regardless of whether I am hunting an endangered species." It acknowledges the need for "a free press, because business depends on many kinds of accurate information." Religious freedom implies "the freedom ... to put the Ten Commandments in every courthouse." Conservatives get their morality from strict obedience to their Protestant ministers, and this morality includes the belief that "pursuing self-interest is being moral," that abortion should be illegal because a woman pregnant out of wedlock has acted immorally and should be punished by having to bear the child, and that everyone "who is poor just hasn't had the discipline to use the free market to become prosperous," including "people impoverished by disaster, who, if they had been disciplined enough, would be okay and who have only themselves to blame if they're not."
The problem is that the misrepresentations are harmful both intellectually and tactically, and will backfire with all of this book's potential audiences. Any of Lakoff's allies on the left who think that their opponents are the imbeciles whom he describes will have their clocks cleaned in their first debate with a Young Republican. Lakoff's book will be red meat for his foes on the right, who can hold up his distortions as proof of liberals' insularity and incomprehension. And the people in the center, the ones he really wants to reach, will be turned off by his relentless self-congratulation, his unconcealed condescension, and his shameless caricaturing of beliefs with which they might have a modicum of sympathy.
Pinker may or may not be a conservative -- although he slams the Bush administration -- but his criticisms here are apt. This is bad politics if it is truly what Lakoff is advocating. No wonder the Dems always seem to screw things up.
On the other hand, Lakoff stays mostly in the realm of linguistics and theory, and defends his book in some detail.
Having read both the review and the rebuttal (and I encourage you to do so, too), I find Pinker sometimes abrassive and Lakoff ocassionally simplistic -- but they're both way smarter than me. Truthfully, I think each position is true but partial. How is that for political speak?
I like Lakoff's idea of frames -- it makes sense in an integral model kind of way. But Pinker is a recognized genius in linguistics, and I have learned a lot from his books over the years. I look forward to these two guys going at it over the next 20 or 30 years. It's discussions like these that move our understanding forward -- I just wish they'd refrain from the name-calling.

Poem: Louise Gluck

The Wild Iris

At the end of my suffering
there was a door.

Hear me out: that which you call death
I remember.

Overhead, noises, branches of the pine shifting.
Then nothing. The weak sun
flickered over the dry surface.

It is terrible to survive
as consciousness
buried in the dark earth.

Then it was over: that which you fear, being
a soul and unable
to speak, ending abruptly, the stiff earth
bending a little. And what I took to be
birds darting in low shrubs.

You who do not remember
passage from the other world
I tell you I could speak again: whatever
returns from oblivion returns
to find a voice:

from the center of my life came
a great fountain, deep blue
shadows on azure seawater.

Andrew Cohen Defends Himself in New Blog

Thanks to a tip from ~C4Chaos, I have been reading the first blog entry by the guru Andrew Cohen: A Declaration of Integrity: An open letter from Andrew Cohen to his friends and foes.

It should be made clear at the outset --I don't like Andrew Cohen, as my post The Abusive Guru: Andrew Cohen no doubt made clear.

This is from his sort-of introduction:

There’s something uniquely disconcerting about the dawning realization that countless people you have never met are holding an image of you that doesn’t even remotely resemble reality. It’s a strange predicament that I’ve lived with almost from the day I became a teacher of enlightenment. Indeed, from the very beginning, people have responded to me in extreme ways. I’ve always been the kind of teacher who evokes reverence and respect from some, and suspicion and hatred from others. In recent years, however, this polarization has become more extreme, due in large part to the dedicated efforts of a small group of former students who seem to have made it their life mission to create and spread a negative picture of who I am, in a couple of books and in online forums.

I know many people have wondered why I have not responded sooner to all of this. To be honest, I simply didn’t know how to even start. Everything I was being accused of was so absurdly misrepresented and taken so far out of context, so obviously designed only to malign me and my work and cause doubt about my integrity, that I was reduced to a two-dimensional caricature of a cultural stereotype: the “charismatic and corrupt guru.” The motives of my detractors appeared so transparent that I thought they would be obvious to others, and I naively concluded that there was no point in responding. Besides, it just felt beneath my dignity to do so. I was wrong. I have now, obviously belatedly, come to understand that my lack of response is being considered by some as an admission of guilt or wrongdoing, or even worse, as a lack of integrity in itself. Respected friends had advised me: “Let your work speak for itself.” I had hoped that anybody with the eyes to see would easily recognize that the ever-evolving creativity, rationality, and open-mindedness of my teaching and my magazine, together with the confidence, joie de vivre, and open-heartedness expressed by my students consistently over a long period of time, just didn’t jibe with the bizarre picture my detractors were trying to paint. But it seems that the time has come for me to speak out more directly and set the record straight.

From there he goes on -- at length, seems no one told him much about blogging -- to defend himself and his motives. It's worth the read. I suspect that he truly believes in his integrity and mission, but he comes off -- as he often does in the Guru & The Pandit series -- as egotistical and narcissistic.

I feel the need to mention that his teachings and books are often on-target -- it's only when he begins speaking from his own enormously inflated ego that he comes off sounding like an idiot.

Andrew Cohen, for all his attempts to argue otherwise, is simply not credible in his own defense. But that is just my opinion -- read the article and make your own conclusion. Then, check out What Enlightenment?

Speedlinking 10/20/06

Morning picture is a stellar nursery featured in National Geographic:

Let the linkfest commence . . . .

~ Dan John at T-Nation writes on The Best Exercises -- this is a coaches view on exercise selection, nor for the timid.
~ Conjugate Method of periodization -- not basic stuff.
~ Getting Young People To Lose Weight By Stressing "Appearance" Are Missing The Point, Says Researcher, UK.
~ Cause Of Nerve Fiber Damage In Multiple Sclerosis Identified -- this is huge. Based on this, earlier detection might be possible and a cure for this auto-immune disorder might not be out of the question.
~ This isn't the human body, but it is from the IT quadrant: Photo in the News: Colliding Galaxies Ignite Stellar Nurseries.

~ Scientists identify a genetic variation that more than doubles the risk of developing autism. This could be a body issue, but the mind is more complex than a simple genetic trigger.
~ From Paul Salamone: Forgiveness has been a long time coming, but it seems more possible every day.
~ Rob McNamara on Intention & Your Soul's Architechture.
~ Edward Berge, ebuddha, and Andy Smith are having a good discussion over at Open Integal -- States & Stages & Whatnot.
~ Mystery of Existence has been doing some interesting exploration of integral lately -- check it out.
~ The Buddhist Channel reprints an article from a Phoenix (AZ) area paper: Music, art play role in monks' spirituality.
~ Joe Perez at Until linked to an article by Tom Huston, at A Brief History of Evolutionary Spirituality.

~ Can You Tell a Sunni From a Shiite?
~ Bush Approval by State: From a high of 57% in Idaho to a low of 23% in Rhode Island.
~ Always worth reading: Jim Wallis: Evangelicals for Darfur.

~ New Pew review: business strategies for climate change.
~ An interesting post from the Mixing Memory blog: How Does Income Affect Voting? It Depends On Where You Are.
~ E.U. launches action plan for reducing energy use .
~ Scientists worry about declining numbers of honeybees and other pollinators.
~ Energy Bill Is a Boon to Oil Companies: Legislation OK'd by the House would encourage extraction of oil shale in the Rockies by slashing royalties paid to the federal government.

Go forth and link.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

New Material at Elegant Thorn Review

Elegant Thorn Review is making itself at home as a new gallery under the POLYSEMY banner. I'm pleased to announce two new postings:

~ Two Poems: Francine Marie Tolf

~ Two Photos: Diana Calvario -- many of you know Diana from her Integral Diana blog.

As always, Elegant Thorn review seeks quality poetry, fantastic flash fiction, and profound photography. You can find submission guidelines here.

Is Keith Olbermann Emblematic of All That's Wrong with Netroots Democrats?

Keith had a little something to say last night on the loss of Habeus Corpus. He has become the voice of the liberal Democratic base, but is that a good thing? Watch the video, then I'll post another point of view.

John McIntyre at the Real Clear Politics blog took issue with Keith's statement, and he has declared that "the growing power of the Olbermann wing of the party does not bode well for long term Democrat success."

Is that true? Do the Dems face a tough future if they stand in favor of human rights and the Consitution? McIntyre offers this small quote as an example of KO's (one would assume the implication is faulty) thinking:
For, on this first full day that the Military Commissions Act is in force, we now face what our ancestors faced, at other times of exaggerated crisis and melodramatic fear-mongering:

A government more dangerous to our liberty, than is the enemy it claims to protect us from.
Conservatives laugh at this kind of an assertion. This is the standard conservative criticism of all liberals who question Bush's efforts to create a more powerful unitary executive. KO and other liberals think that Bush's efforts to systematically dismantle the Consitution are a greater threat to democracy than a handful of angry Islamic fundamentalists.

Sure, they can bomb us -- take a few hundred or a few thousand lives. And that is horrible. But terrorists can never destroy the moral and philosophical foundation of this nation the way Bush's policies can. Without the Bill of Rights, we cease to be Americans. Without ALL of our Constitutional protections, we cease to be a great, free nation.

In that way -- and many others -- Bush IS a greater threat than terrorists.

The Dems need voices with the power and precision of Keith Olbermann. They need someone who can articulate in clear language that for which our democratic republic stands. Too bad none of those voices are politicians.

The future of America is now.