This book is a Get Out of Jail Free card and a passport back into the playground.

The aim of this book is to set you free. But free from what? Free from neurosis. Free from the feeling that you have to obey authority. Free from emotional intimidation. Free from addiction. Free from inhibition.

The key to happiness, mental health and being the most that we can be is absolute and unconditional self-acceptance. The paradox is that many of our problems are caused by trying to improve ourselves, censor our thinking, make up for past misdeeds and struggling with our negative feelings whether of depression or aggression.

But if we consider ourselves in our entirety in this very moment, we know these things :

1. Anything we have done is in the past and cannot be changed, thus it is pointless to do anything else but accept it. No regrets or guilt.

2. While our actions can harm others, our thoughts and emotions, in and of themselves, never can. So we should accept them and allow them to be and go where they will. While emotions sometimes drive actions, those who completely accept their emotions and allow themselves to feel them fully, have more choice over how they act in the light of them.

Self-criticism never made anyone a better person. Anyone who does a “good deed” under pressure from their conscience or to gain the approval of others takes out the frustration involved in some other way. The basis for loving behaviour towards others is the ability to love ourselves. And loving ourselves unconditionally, means loving ourselves exactly as we are at this moment.

This might seem to be complacency, but in fact the natural activity of the individual is healthy growth, and what holds us back from it is fighting with those things we can’t change and the free thought and emotional experience which is the very substance of that growth.

How to Be Free is available as a free ebook from Smashwords, iBooks in some countries, Kobo and Barnes & Noble

It is also available in paperback from Lulu or Amazon for $10 US, plus postage.

The ebook version currently has received 593 ***** out of ***** ratings on U.S. iBooks.

Saturday, 28 July 2012

The How to Be Free Forum

Are you looking for a place to talk to others interested in the ideas expressed in How to Be Free and on this blog?

Check out the newly created forum.

I hope that the book and the blog posts prove useful to readers, but I think that the real benefits and rewards can come from the relationships which can grow out of the honesty which they make possible. The book and blog should be seen only as ice-breakers to get a conversation going about what is really happening in our lives. 

Ideas are only ever seeds, community is the garden in which they bear fruit.

Friday, 27 July 2012

Untying the Sexual Knot

How did something as natural and enjoyable as sex become something about which we may feel shame and even something we may use to express hostility to others?

To examine this question it seems best to consider my own experience.

My mother once told me that I used to masturbate when I was a baby. Of course I don't remember that, but this comment did perhaps make some sense of a fleeting thought I had when I first rediscovered masturbation at about the age of thirteen. "This feels like being a baby again," I thought, but I didn't know why.

But in the years before I rediscovered masturbation I had a strong interest and attraction to the opposite sex. I remember at the age of about ten enjoying seeing a scantily clad woman on television, and while taking a swimming lesson I felt an ecstatic feeling of excitement when I bumped into my busty young teacher and felt her soft breasts pressed against me.

I liked to play games with my sister and brother or my sister's school friends which involved taking our clothes off. And I enjoyed acting out fantasies about accidentally on-purpose revealing my body.

At some point I bought a cartoon magazine with risque jokes and pictures of sexy women. My mother told me it was O.K. for me to look at something like this as long as I didn't hide the fact that I was. For me this would later be a dilemma as, when I got old enough to buy Playboy, I wanted to but didn't because I was too embarrassed to look at it openly.

When I rediscovered masturbation I enjoyed it immensely, but then for a while I began to feel a deep sense of shame about it. For about six months I didn't do it. Eventually I spoke to my parents and was reassured by them that masturbation was normal and healthy. Once I went back to masturbating I did it a lot. I would watch television at night masturbating the whole time, always hoping to see girls in bikinis or preferably naked.

My first two years of high school were spent at a Catholic school. My fellow pupils would often bring soft porn magazines to school and would delight in holding up the centrefolds for me to see. I think they hoped to embarrass me. I was embarrassed and so I didn't respond, but I loved it. I wished I had the courage to flaunt authority and look at porn magazines at school. But the teachers came down hard on this kind of thing. I remember one of them warning that we should be aware of how easy it is for someone to spread their addiction to this kind of material to others.

By year 11 I was in a different school, a secular one this time. Some of my friends would read sex novels and one day one of them was caught in English class writing an erotic story about a family who engage in incestuous orgies. He was told by his teacher that he should not only not write something like that, but that he shouldn't even think it.

I never developed any relationships with girls. I felt a strong attraction to them, but was too timid to act upon it.

As I moved into adulthood my sexuality was exclusively directed towards masturbating to sexy images and fantasies. And I continued to feel shame about how much time I spent on this activity which seemed to be a social taboo.

So where did the sense of shame come from? Not, presumably, from the home environment, as my parents were fairly relaxed and accepting about these things. But what I noticed in the school environment was that people had strong sexual desires like my own, but they were ashamed of them. The boys would joke about masturbation, but nobody would acknowledge that they did it. And the teachers often seemed frightened by the sexual, which could only be the case if their own desires were frighteningly strong.

It is helpful to put aside all our prejudices and look simply at what happens as our sexuality develops.

We are born unconditionally loving and uninhibitedly sensual beings. We are affectionate and like touching and being touched, and we bond closely with our family.

At puberty genital functioning is added to the mix. We start to have sexual feelings. Our strongest initial sexual attraction is liable to be to members of our own family. We have no taboos. Taboos have to be learned. And we live intimately with our family.

Our parents, however, do have a taboo against incest. As our bodies develop, they may feel sexual attraction to us, but they recognise that this needs to be curtailed, and also that our expression of our innocent sexuality needs to be curtailed lest it lead to problems in a society characterised by sexual repression and armouring. The degree of sensitivity with which this curtailing of our original innocent sexuality is managed may determine the level of our own repression, our own armouring, during adulthood. It is important to remember that the young person's incestuous desires are an expression of love. Love is open spontaneous honest communication. If we feel sexual attraction towards someone then affectionately expressing those feelings is a part of love in practice. It is important that a curtailing of innocent sexuality is not interpreted by a young person as a rejection of their love.

When we are a child we take a lot of mistreatment from adults and we are very resilient to this, but what eventually wounds us so deeply is the rejection of our love by adults. All of us are God when we are born, we come into this world like Jesus did, wanting to love away the problems of the world, but at some point it will become too much for us. We will be spiritually crucified by a world of adult's who refuse to believe that they deserve our love. Our sexuality develops within this context.

In my case, at about the age of 16, I developed an obsession with the idea that I might gouge out my own eyes. In looking back and wondering why, it occurs to me that when someone is ashamed of something, they won't look us in the eyes. If a sense was growing in me that my fellow students and my teachers were ashamed of themselves, and particularly ashamed of their sexual feelings, perhaps I started to think, on some level : "If you are so ashamed for me to see you, perhaps it would be easier for you if I were to tear out my own eyes."

This is similar to what can happen to adolescent girls and boys who become troubled by the fact that some adults are suddenly too ashamed to look at their bodies, and so they, too, become ashamed of their bodies and punish them with starvation or cutting.

If we are to manage sexuality in a way which does not leave such scars, we need to distinguish between innocent sexuality and armoured sexuality, that is the form of sexuality which grows out of the sense of shame with which our elders may contaminate us.

It is innocent to enjoy sensual pleasures. It is innocent to enjoy genital pleasures. It is innocent to want to be naked. It is innocent to want to see other people naked. It is innocent to be curious about other's sexual behaviour. It is innocent to feel sexually attracted to our own relatives. It is innocent to be sexually attracted to adolescents.

Armoured sexuality grows out of the fear of any of these feelings either in ourselves or in others. The passive extreme of armoured sexuality is frigidity or impotence, where sexual feelings are entirely deadened. The active extreme is aggressive sexuality driven by the need to attack innocence. This is what we term "lust" and is considered a sin because it is a form of selfishness not a form of love.

We cannot truly love others as long as our sexuality is armoured. Such armouring is antagonistic to openness, spontaneity and honesty. When we open up to love erotic feelings become stronger and repressed taboo desires rise to the surface. But there is no need to fear such feelings as they do not require being acted upon unless to do so seems appropriate to us.

You can also find this post on the How to Be Free forum here. You may find further discussion of it there.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Fifty Shades of Sexual Liberation

Making large claims based on a small knowledge base is my personal style. So why not analyse the significance of the fastest-selling fiction book in history without having read any of it? I've read plot and character descriptions, mostly from critical reviews, and it seems to me that to explore the mysterious grip a particular fictional work has on the public imagination requires only a basic knowledge of what kind of story it is. The details and the quality of the writing are irrelevant. These might be relevant to someone, such as a publisher, trying to make a decision about whether or not a book will be popular. But if a book already is popular, literary quality is irrelevant to understanding why. One would imagine that most of George Orwell's books were about equally well-written, but it was Animal Farm and 1984 which captured the public imagination because of their themes. This is equally true in the realm of pulp fiction. Nobody claims that Twilight or Fifty Shades of Grey are many hundreds of times better written than books which sell hundreds of times fewer copies. They are simply books which have thematically captured the public imagination. And it is quite likely that the very things for which critics attack them are a major factor in their popularity. What the sophisticate views as a crude and annoying caricature or clich√© may come across to the fan as a bold archetype free from irrelevant nuance. And it stands to reason that our response to archetypal characters will depend on our relationship to that archetype in ourselves or in those around us. What attracts one will repel another. Our ability to identify with an archetypal character depends on our own psychological struggle. A man who is insecure in his masculinity may strongly identify with Rambo, while others might find his alpha male arrogance and aggression repellant. What is relevant to analysing the cultural importance of a work of the imagination is that fans respond positively to the character archetypes it presents. And it is that positive response which we have to understand. The imagination is inescapably prophetic. This has nothing to do with talent in writing, characterisation or plotting and it is something which is as true in the world of the pulp novel and the comic book as it is in the world of high class literature, in fact often more so as, in the literary world, a book's value is not judged by how many of us it speaks to. But once we understand the psychological evolution which is taking place in our society we can see it symbolised all around us in our popular culture. The prophets are no longer self-aware individuals crying in the wilderness, they are now pulp novelists and Hollywood scriptwriters probably totally unaware of the role they are playing in showing us the way ahead.

As I understand it Fifty Shades of Grey and its sequels are about a dominant/submissive relationship between a man who is handsome, rich and powerful, but filled with self-loathing, and a timid virginal woman. To me this seems a very powerful metaphor for our neurosis as a species. This neurosis takes an active or passive form. In the active form we feel the compulsion to try to control others who represent to us that which we fear in ourselves. And we strive to accumulate material wealth as a way to compensate for the poverty within, the lack of self-acceptance, the self-loathing. Fearing ourselves we come to fear and need to control others. Feeling worthless we become obsessed with physical evidence of our worth. In the passive form our neurosis is expressed in submission and conformity. Not accepting ourselves we crave acceptance from others, even at the cost of our own degradation.

Because our neurosis originated in a division of labour along gender lines when men took up the task of protecting the tribe against predators while women remained in the nurturing role which had previously been shared by both men and women, men, historically, have tended to express their neurosis in an active form and women in a passive form. This is only a tendency. There have always been many actively neurotic women and passively neurotic men, but the patriarchal society, particularly, has encouraged men to take the active role and women the passive. The current collapse of patriarchy has to some degree decreased discrimination against actively neurotic women and passively neurotic men.

But the fan base for Fifty Shades of Grey is clearly among passively neurotic heterosexual women, therefore the issue with which it deals is the need for a reconciliation with the actively neurotic man. And the method for healing is sex. It is through a sexual relationship that the man is liberated from his self-loathing and the woman from her repression.

To understand the dominant/submissive relationship we have to recognise that our society, having repressed its natural sexuality for over a million years, is deeply frightened by the erotic. The erotic is anarchic. It is subversive. And therefore those of us who seek control over ourselves or over others have much to fear from erotic desire. Our first step in taming ourselves as individuals and as a society was to repress our sexuality. Those who do not do this have historically been referred to as libertines – i.e. they have been viewed as dangerously free individuals. And one of the biggest threats to patriarchy is female sexuality. Male sexuality could be harnessed as a tool of oppression, but female sexuality can only liberate. And for the neurotic society that is something to be feared. Hence, in some cultures, little girls have their clitorises cut off. Patriarchal society is obsessed with the madonna/whore dichotomy – the idea that the pure", virginal woman (i.e. a woman who has been especially successful in repressing her natural sexuality) is the source of all things good in society while the sexually uninhibited woman is seen as a source of social sickness. Of course the truth is mixed. Breaking the oppressive rules of patriarchy could unleash violent jealousies and promiscuity could spread disease, but prostitutes brought much needed sexual healing to the very society which condemned them.

The archetype of the libertine setting women free from their sexual repression has been around for a long time. In the British underground erotic classic The Way of a Man with a Maid, which was published in about 1908, the rake hero kidnaps a woman, forcibly strips her naked, chains her up in his basement and then tickles her with a feather until she submits to him sexually. She is horrified by this rape, but through it she discovers that sex is loads of fun and so she teams up with the hero and they kidnap another woman. And so it goes as our hero adds to his band of horny bisexual women. But this was a novel of its time. The hero is not portrayed as self-loathing, and the women spend no time agonising over the process of their liberation. There is no angst, just a fantasy about undermining the sexually buttoned-down Victorian society. And the book could not reach a wide audience, but was restricted to only the most decadent among the ruling class.

Sexual dominance and submission, which may be restricted to role play or may include the use of bondage and/or the infliction of pain, is sometimes the intermediary stage of liberation from sexual repression. It is still a form of repression of the erotic, but it creates a context in which the insecure individual may feel protected while expressing or exploring erotic feelings. Those who practise this lifestyle very often explain how it makes them feel safe. In BDSM the erotic is not allowed unrestricted expression. If the erotic is a wild animal, then in BDSM we pat it while it is safely in a cage. The active neurotic still plays a dominant role and the passive neurotic still plays a submissive role. In same cases the role may the reverse of the one the individual enacts socially, but even here adherence to an agreed upon structure is what makes it feel safe.

So Fifty Shades of Grey represents an intermediary stage in our liberation from our neurosis. It is sexual liberation with the training wheels on. But what would complete liberation from sexual repression look like? I think an unleashing of female sexuality will heal the divide between the sexes. We will return to something approximating our origins as a species when men and women where nurturers and much that we associate with masculinity was unnecessary. The character armour of masculinity will be abandoned once we move beyond fear of the erotic. All that is needed is for us to feel safe. Where strength is necessary it will be the real strength which men and women have always been capable of when not divided against themselves by neurosis. The macho mentality is a hollow shield, it has never been true strength. And bisexuality is likely to gradually become the norm. Fear of same-sex eroticism is an element of the neurosis which divides us. Playfulness and sensuality not just centred in the genitals are liable to characterise the sexuality of the free state.

In recent times there has been an increasing fascination with transgender individuals. Who would have thought that we would see full-frontal transexual nudity in a major Hollywood movie? But we did in last years The Hangover II. I think that the reason for this fascination is because in the hermaphrodite we see a symbolic image of our future as a species. We see a single figure in which the masculine and the feminine are united. And we are comforted. This is part of the nature of the healing vision which is emerging. The disowned become the treasured. In the New Testament – Matthew 21:24 – it says : Jesus said to them, Have you never read in the Scriptures : ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvellous in our eyes'? Now I'm not suggesting that Jesus was talking exclusively about chicks with dicks. But it is a part of the nature of our neurosis that we have most deeply repressed and despised what we most needed for our liberation. And thus it should be no surprise if those who were considered freaks or losers or outsiders become the front riders towards a new society.

The popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey has struck us like lightning. Where did that come from, we ask ourselves. Why is this the fastest selling fiction book in history? Why are so many women suddenly coming out of the closet about their sexuality? Jesus said : For as the lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Matthew 24:27. The breakdown of the repressive neurotic patriarchal society is also a breakthrough to Paradise and it comes, as was predicted, in a rush.

You can also find this post on the How to Be Free forum here. You may find further discussion of it there.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Taboos and Fixations

We are sensual beings capable of many forms of bodily pleasure. The giving and receiving of such pleasure is one of the ways in which we can express love. There is no need for our desire or capacity for giving and receiving of such pleasure and affection to be specifically limited to interactions with the opposite sex. If our earliest proto-human ancestors lived in a similar way to our closest living relatives, the bonobos, which seems fairly likely, then their erotic exchanges were not limited according to gender, age or, in most cases, kinship. These erotic exchanges, or genital-genital rubbings, amongst bonobos are not related to mating. Similarly in our own individual history, we began life, according to Freud, with an unbounded capacity for sensual enjoyment in all parts of our body and a tendency to desire sensual contact with others regardless of gender. He referred to this as polymorphous perversity. This is actually not a very good term, as perversity is defined as a deliberate deviation from that which is good. It was actually from this state that we deviated, but Freud began with adult behaviour which was viewed as deviant and tried to explain it as a regression to one aspect of our original state. When we reach puberty we develop a bias towards the genitals in our search for pleasure. Before this happens we are liable to also start developing a bias towards sensual, and later sexual, contact with one gender or the other.

Since erotic contact is an expression of love we come to principally seek it from those with whom we feel the greatest need to bond. Since our historic neurosis has left us with a split psyche in which one part of our nature is lived out and the other repressed, we are most likely to feel an erotic attraction to members of the opposite sex, since it is usually, but not always, the masculine which is repressed in the female and the feminine which is repressed in the male. Judging by the behaviour of the bonobos, this was not the case prior to our neurosis. At that point we were most likely unrestrainedly bisexual. It should also be explained that, in the neurotic state, the sexual behaviour of males can tend to become an expression of aggressive feelings toward the feminine. Sex between men and women is not always a case of affectionately sharing a capacity for bodily pleasure. A desire for conquest or domination can also sometimes be expressed in the sexual behaviour of men or women, but as long as this is consensual it can be part of the therapeutic nature of the erotic. It can be viewed as a cathartic form of psychodrama.

This explains why most of us have a principally heterosexual orientation and it explains why bisexual behaviour would be reasonably common, especially among those who are least repressed. But what of exclusive homosexuality? Here we don't have a case of opposites attracting in the hopes of forming a whole.

This is where it is important to examine the nature of taboos. A neurotic society brings with it the establishment of taboos, some for practical reasons and some having their basis in neurotic insecurity. An incest taboo serves the useful function of impeding inbreeding. But many sexual taboos originate in the neurotic's fear of the anarchic potential of unchannelled erotic desires. Such is the case with the taboos which grew up around same-sex erotic exchanges. These most likely began when the neurosis of males reached such a level that we were compelled to institute the oppression of women and the establishment of a patriarchal society. There have been some patriarchal societies, such as ancient Greece, where there was no taboo against homosexuality, but in many it has been particularly strong. Since our basic nature is to be bisexual, the neurotic heterosexual adult male is prone to fear of his repressed homosexual side and to feeling hostility towards those who express this potential. This can also be the case for the neurotic female, though the problem is generally less severe. Men are less likely to be troubled by homosexual behaviour amongst women, but may feel that it is a threat to their control over them. Women whose neurosis has led them to look to patriarchal males for a sense of security may feel the urge to mock homosexual men.

Taboos tend to contribute to the formation of fixations. A fixation is a response to an inability to accept something about ourselves. More often than not this is a learned response. We perceive that someone else doesn't accept something about us, and so our attention focusses on that thing in the same way that our tongue keeps going back to a sore tooth. A simple way of understanding this is to look at the situation of a young boy who is caught by his parents experimenting by dressing himself in his sister's dress. If they are shocked and punish him, then he may feel that they don't accept that part of him which led him to try out female attire. If this becomes a fixation he may, in adult life, be a transvestite, someone who gets a special satisfaction in dressing up in female clothes and spending time with those who accept this behaviour. This isn't the only thing which can lead to transvestism. Some boys are dressed up by one of their parents in girl's clothes against their wishes and end up becoming transvestites. The only thing which is needed for a fixation to form is for there to be a sense of not being accepted for what we are. The behaviour arising from the fixation can take the form of defiance of the lack of acceptance or an obsessive need to seek acceptance through submission. The boy caught in a dress is following the first path and the one forced to wear a dress is following the second.

Given that our state during childhood was one in which sensual enjoyment and attraction was unbounded, any kind of sexual or sensual desire is liable to pop into our mind. If we accept it, then our mind will just flow on to something else unless it seems to be a desire which is practical to act upon. But if we don't accept such a desire, either because we have been taught that it is taboo, or because we tried it once and were punished, then we may become fixated on it.

Fixations can take two forms. We may develop an obsessive fear that we will act on the desire. This is a common form of obsessive compulsive disorder and may lead us to avoid situations in which this would be possible. On the other hand we may feel compelled to act on the desire as an expression of defiance of those who have told us that it is a part of us that is unacceptable. So a fixation can be either passive or active. And if it is active, it can take a dominant or submissive form. The transvestite who wears a dress in defiance of his parent's lack of acceptance is being dominant, which the transvestite who wears a dress in an attempt to retrospectively earn the acceptance of a parent is being submissive.

The behaviour of an infant is clearly not sexual behaviour, but this is an age when we often are taught that aspects of our behaviour are unacceptable. We might eat our own shit, we might piss on somebody, we might fiddle with the genitals of the family pet... If the lesson leaves us feeling strongly rejected rather than simply corrected, then we may develop a fixation. When we reach adulthood and become fully sexual beings the fixation can become an erotic one. Thus some adults have a sexual desire to eat their lover's faeces, to urinate on each other or to have sex with animals. There are also various things which give us comfort when we are infants. If we feel generally unaccepted we may fixate on something which we associate with a time when we were accepted. The second transvestite is an example of this. Other such elements of infancy which can be fixated upon and eroticised during adulthood include : shoes (since our mother's shoes accompanied us when we crawled around on the floor), breast-feeding, diapering, spanking, and being tightly held (which in adulthood can take the form of a fondness for bondage).

To get back to exclusive homosexuality. In a society which has a taboo against same sex erotic activities, a fixation on such activities is bound to occur very commonly. This is not to belittle exclusive homosexual relationships. Sex is therapy and the sharing of sexual pleasure and the healing that comes from it is love in practice. The only disadvantage of having a sexual fixation is if it leads us to engage in destructive or self-destructive behaviour or if the practicalities of satisfying it undermine the potential for a healing relationship with one's sexual partner. While, as Woody Allen pointed out, bisexuality doubles one's chances of a date on a Saturday night, homosexuality, of all the potential fixations other than exclusive heterosexuality, holds the greatest potential for a healthy loving relationship.

If this thesis is correct then the irony is that homophobia gave birth to homosexuality rather than the other way around.

But this theory about the relationship between taboos and fixations holds serious implications for one of our most serious social problems, that of child sexual abuse.

Sexual attraction of an adult to an infant (nepiophilia), a pre-pubescent child (pedophilia) or a pubescent child (hebephilia) and the acts which sometimes arise from such attractions is perhaps the most severe taboo of our society. A fixation on such feelings can have disastrous results. And anything which causes harm to children naturally is a source of strong condemnation. But if a lack of acceptance of a thought or a desire is the cause for it becoming a fixation, then here we have a very dangerous potential for a negative feedback loop in which the horror with which society views this phenomena makes it more likely that we will develop a fixation on any thought or desire of this kind which our mind throws up. And this seems to be happening. Everyday we hear of another child porn ring being cracked and large numbers of respected individuals being exposed as child molesters. We also have seen a change in how these issues are viewed. When Stanley Kubrick made his film of Lolita in 1962 it was considered controversial but it was generally accepted and a popular success. When Adrian Lyne's Lolita came out in 1997 it had trouble finding a distributor and was held up from release in Australia for 2 years due to claims that it was pro-pedophile propaganda. Similarly, while nude photos of children or adolescent girls were common on the covers of record albums, etc. in the 1970s, in Australia in 2008 an installation of decidedly non-sexual nude photos of adolescent girls by Bill Henson led to a hysterical response from many community figures including then Prime Minster Kevin Rudd who referred to them as absolutely revolting". We have gone from a time when the issue of pedophilia could be artistically examined to a time when the unclothed beauty of young bodies can no longer be celebrated for fear that this might turn us into child molesters. This social phenomenon is often referred to as moral panic".

If a fixation of this kind is acted upon it can, once again, be in one of two possible forms. In the submissive form, the adult seduces the child. This is a plea for the child to accept those desires of which he himself is ashamed. The dominant form is rape, in which the man angrily attacks the object of the desire which has robbed him of the ability to accept himself.

So what is the answer? It seems to me that the negative feedback loop could be broken if we were to treat child sexual abuse the same way that we do murder. We have a no tolerance policy on murder. Murderers are jailed. But most of us are happy to admit that at some time we have felt like committing murder. We read books full of descriptions of murders and we watch movies in which murders are simulated in gruesome detail. Because we accept thoughts about murder and even the admission of sometimes having the desire to commit it, the incidence of individuals so fixated on the act that they have an addiction to committing it (i.e. serial killers) is thankfully relatively rare. The problem with our taboos about pedophilia isn't that we condemn the action, but that we also condemn the desire to commit the action. We don't allow ourselves the possibility of simply having the desire and realising that it would not be a good idea to act upon it. Like with so many evils, the fight against it is the driving force behind its very growth. Two things could reverse the trend. One is to understand the psychology of fixation, and the other is to stop teaching children to obey authority. A child who has been trained to do what their parents and teachers tell them, rather than to make decisions for themselves based on the information and suggestions provided by adults, is liable to also obey the authority of a child molester, especially if that individual is a teacher or their parent.

You can also find this post on the How to Be Free forum here. You may find further discussion of it there.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

You Complete Me

Tom Cruise tells Renee Zellweger about the nature of holism in Jerry Maguire

A conversation with a fellow erotica author about the pros and cons of making one's fictional characters practise safe sex led me to some thoughts about the nature of the contradictory and the complimentary. The conclusion I came to was that, while neither of us was going to change the way we do things, we each need people who operate according the other's principles and society generally needs both approaches. Fiction can be a forum through which to consciously construct healthy trends. But fiction is also a process of untrammelled self-discovery through which we learn important personal lessons. As a person whose life has been restricted by his overly-cautious temperament I need to forget entirely about questions of safety when creating a fantasy. My fiction is telling me : Sometimes wonderful things happen when you lose your inhibitions and take risks." But the world also needs voices of caution who say : You can minimise the risks and still have fun."

This is where the great potential for social change and healing comes from, the realisation that we need that which contradicts us to complete us. The central feature of our neurosis as individuals and as a society is a split. We have a choice about whether we will widen that split or be a part of healing it.

Let's take politics for instance. Political belief systems have to be positioned according to two axes. Often we think only of the left and the right, with the left emphasising a social responsibility to take care of the needs of all members of society in an egalitarian way and the right supporting the freedom of the individual to pursue personal success even if it be at the expense of others. But both a left wing and a right wing approach to managing society can be followed in either an authoritarian or non-authoritarian way. Advocates of state socialism call for higher taxes and the institution of more laws to protect the rights of workers and the unemployed, while anti-authoritarian anarchists call for less governmental control and trust that abandoning support for power hierarchies and the concentration of wealth they enable will make society more egalitarian naturally and unleash our capacity for mutual aid as an alternative to dependence on government controlled welfare. The authoritarian right wing support law and order" policies and using tax money to fund a large military which can use violence or the threat of violence to stifle opposition at home or abroad. The libertarian right wing have an every man for himself" policy epitomised by the survivalist with his home-grown food and his gun.

Sanity in politics, as in every other aspect of life, lies in the middle. As long as our society remains a neurotic one, we need some authoritarianism but not too much and we need to be egalitarian but not oppressively so. To abandoned state authority would mean an end to the police and the legal process. We could commit any crime we wanted but we would also have to rely on ourselves entirely for self-protection. But we don't want the government interfering in our personal freedom in areas where our actions don't do serious harm to others. We need to be left-wing enough to provide a welfare system so that people don't have to die on the street like stray dogs. Workers need to be paid a decent wage for the amount of work they do and compensated for the risks they take if their occupation is a dangerous one. But we don't want a society which takes away the incentives which ambition and greed provide for innovation and efficiency. When our neurosis is healed this will not be necessary as innovation and efficiency will be driven by our love of creativity and efficiency for their own sake. But we are not there yet.

When we fight against something two things happen. That thing becomes stronger or more determined and we become more like it. This is the nature of polarisation. In politics the extreme left wing is a mirror image of the extreme right wing and vice versa. And each makes the other unavoidable. If we really want to challenge the power of the extreme right wing or the extreme left wing in politics the way to do it is to take up a solid rational position in the centre and to try to lure those who are more moderately left or right wing to join us. This, in time, will undermine support for the extremes and lead to healing and sanity, a place where we can admit that we each have a bias and, because of that, need those with an opposing, or rather complimentary, bias to complete us.

One of the most powerful liberating and healing aspects of learning the art of self-acceptance is learning to accept the fact that we are inconsistent. We may want integrity. We may want to be whole. But we can't achieve this by trying to force ourselves to be self-consistent. Integrity and wholeness grow organically out of an acceptance of the contradictory aspects of our psyche. We can't force the jigsaw puzzle pieces to fit before we know what the picture is. I hate the idea of people being discriminated against on the basis of their skin colour or there sexuality. But I often love racist and homophobic jokes. I love women. But I also loving watching sleazy exploitation films in which women are caged, raped or killed in gruesome ways. I love animals. But I also eat animals. Whatever we think of as our nature the opposite also exists within us. We can be at peace with it or we can fight it through the process of repression and projection. But our capacity for love and creativity will suffer through that battle. It is the battle with the darkness which enchains the light. What we have a choice about is how we will express what we have inside us. Watching movies and sharing jokes in private does no harm. The Marquis De Sade wrote The 120 Days of Sodom, a book which wallows in depictions of forms of cruelty and depravity which are likely never to be surpassed in their vileness, but he was not a particularly cruel man in real life. Similarly Japanese films and comic books have long been filled with graphic depictions of the torture and rape of women, and yet, apparently, Japan has a lower than average incidence of rape. Racism and misogyny predate the beginnings of civilisation. Clearly their roots go deep into our psyche. They are liable to come out in one way or another, and cultural expression is the safe arena for the collective expulsion of our poisons. This is where political correctness, the attempt to force equality by controlling language and social expression, is so unhelpful. It tries to hide the illness under the pretence of curing it. It is the equivalent of putting a clean bandage over a gangrenous wound.

Geoffrey Rush as The Marquis de Sade in the movie Quills

But what about animals? Do they benefit from the fact that people like me eat them? In many instances I would say : Yes." The lives of animals on a factory farm may be pretty appalling, but this is not the only way to raise livestock, and many cows and sheep and chickens seem to have a fairly contented life up until the time they are slaughtered in a manner which, though it might be improved upon, very often entails less suffering than accompanies the death of an animal in the wild. We might say : Why should an animal die just to please our taste buds?" But it is the fact that we eat them that allows farm animals a chance to live in the first place.

Now I'm not saying this as an argument for meat-eating. There are many good arguments based on health, sustainability and compassion, for eating little or no meat. But the issue of meat-eating is a good example of where a perfectionist either-or mentality can be counter-productive. Some of us may go the whole hog, if you'll pardon the expression, and become vegans. This is fine as long as it is not a guilt-driven form of OCD which makes us miserable. If someone feels genuinely at peace with a way of life then it is probably what is right for them.

But for those of us who love to eat meat there can be a tendency to think that we have a choice between going on eating large quantities of meat as we are or giving it up altogether and becoming a vegetarian. We feel that maybe, one day, guilt will drive us to join what we may see as the growing cult of the vegetarians. We feel guilty about our cholesterol. We feel guilty because someone has just written a book comparing factory farms to Nazi death camps. We feel guilty about the Amazon rainforests being cleared in the name of hamburger production. But as long as we can we refuse to allow our very soul to be crushed. Because every time we allow our behaviour to be determined by feelings of guilt we die inside. If we do something out of love, we come alive, and for some the decision to embrace vegetarianism may have had nothing to do with guilt, but have arisen out of a love for their own body and for animals. They may have never liked meat to begin with. But it is not so for those of us who like to eat meat.

So where is this leading? Just as the biggest positive change in politics would come from a shift to the middle, so the biggest reduction in meat consumption would come from the cultivation of an attitude, among those of us who eat meat, that meat is a tasty treat to be enjoyed in moderation rather than as a staple of our diet. If you are a vegetarian you might cook a delicious vegetarian meal for a meat eater to show him that a meal does not have to be meat-based to taste good. He will probably be appreciative of this. But tell him about the appalling conditions on factory farms and he will probably rush out and eat two more hamburgers to wash the taste of your self-righteousness out of his mouth.

If we think of ourselves as good guys fighting bad guys then this is just character armour, a construct to keep at bay the realisation that the darkness we see reflected in the behaviour of others exists also within the depths of our own psyche. We see in the divided world a reflection of our own divided selves. If we see only in terms of black and white and not in shades of grey (or even better colours) and we decide to hop on one end of the seesaw or the other rather than say to our opposite number – You complete me." - then how can we hope to find wholeness within ourselves?

You can also find this post on the How to Be Free forum here. You may find further discussion of it there.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Inner Space : The Final Frontier

Inner Space of... by Immy-is-Thinking

We respect the voyager, the explorer, the climber, the space man. It makes far more sense to me as a valid project—indeed, as a desperately urgently required project for our time—to explore the inner space and time of consciousness. Perhaps this is one of the few things that still make sense in our historical context. We are so out of touch with this realm that many people can now argue seriously that it does not exist. It is very small wonder that it is perilous indeed to explore such a lost realm.

R.D. Laing, The Politics of Experience, 1967

To read these words you are making use of the most superficial part of your psyche – your rational mind. Our capacity for reason – for logical thought and enquiry – is like a thin crust which has formed over the sometimes volcanic contents of our subconscious.

The most basic aspect of human consciousness is sense perception. This we share with other animals. Each of the five senses appeared somewhere far back in the evolutionary process.

Our capacity for reason is the most recent part of our consciousness to have developed and, except in a very rudimentary form, it appears to be unique to our species.

Emotions are another element of our consciousness. Emotions are a part of the make-up of the higher animals but they take a more complex form in our species because of our neurosis. We can only make guesses about the emotions felt by animals based on their behaviour. But the historical internal conflict which has made our species vulnerable to doubts about self-worth has made us prone to repress our emotions in a way of which we see no evidence in animals.

Then there is intuition, our ability sometimes to grasp something in a flash of insight without the need to resort to the gathering of evidence and the application of logic.

Reason is a discipline. It is something we were not born with but which we had to learn to apply to ourselves and the world around us. Our capacity for reason, as a species, is now highly developed but this is something which grew over a long period of time and seemingly against the odds. Science, as we know it, is a very recent development historically.

One of the most important tools for the operation of reason was spoken language. While spoken language was crucial for passing on knowledge and for cooperating in the development of understanding by engaging in dialogue, on a more basic level it was necessary for abstraction. Without words there are only things, not ideas about things, and reason is not the realm of raw reality, but of ideas about reality.

Before we had a spoken language, the language of our mind was one of symbols. When we had no word for heat, or for fire, and we were lost in the snow we would have simply expressed our need for heat to ourselves by imagining a fire.

This applies also to our development as individuals. As an infant our internal language consisted of symbols – our mother's breast, the sunshine, the water in our bath... Memories of our sense perception of these sorts of things were the substance of our thinking.

The evolution of our consciousness, both as a species and as individuals, was not a case of one form of consciousness replacing another but of a new layer being laid on top of the old.

So we are able to look at a woman's breasts and :

  1. Simply see them (sense perception).
  2. Associate them with a sense of comfort (symbolic pre-verbal thinking).
  3. See them as a symbol of love (symbolic conceptual thinking).
  4. Recognise them as the mammary glands of the human female (rational conceptual thinking).

Our ability to thinking rationally and logically can be disturbed by our emotions. We talk of being coldly rational for good reason. The state of insecurity which characterises our neurosis as a species, however, makes us potentially emotionally volatile and particularly prone to feelings of anger. This is why there is often a correlation between intellectual ability and emotional repression. The pursuit of rational knowledge can come at the price of alienation from our own emotions.

Similarly, strong emotions distract us from sense perception. We may not perceive the world around us with such sensitivity when we are angry or frightened or depressed for instance. And if we deal with our troubling emotions by repressing them, then we create a wall which also blocks out much of our sense perception.

The experience of catharsis, in which repressed emotions are allowed to safely come to the surface and the wall of repression is to some extent compromised, can be followed not just by a sense of great inner peace, but also by increased sense perception and greater capacity to think clearly and insightfully.

Sensitivity of sense perception can also be increased by short-circuiting the alienating tendencies of rational thought.

As I grew up, everything started getting grey and dull. I could still remember the amazing intensity of the world I'd lived in as a child, but I thought the dulling of perception was an inevitable consequence of age – just as the lens of the eye is bound gradually to dim. I didn't understand that clarity is in the mind.

I've since found tricks that can make the world blaze up again in about fifteen seconds, and the effects last for hours. For example, if I have a group of students who are feeling fairly safe and comfortable with each other, I get them to pace about the room shouting out the wrong name for everything that their eyes light on. Maybe there's time to shout out ten wrong names before I stop them. Then I ask whether other people look larger or smaller – almost everyone sees people as different sizes, mostly as smaller. 'Do the outlines look sharper or more blurred?' I ask, and everyone agrees that the outlines are many times sharper. 'What about the colours?' Everyone agrees there's far more colour, and that the colours are more intense. Often the size and shape of the room will seem to have changed, too. The students are amazed that such a strong transformation can be effected by such primitive means – and especially that the effects last so long. I tell them that they only have to think about the exercise for the effects to appear again.

Keith Johnstone, Impro : Improvisation and the Theatre, 1981

Using the wrong names for things can be enough to fracture the wall of rational thought which separates us from the full intensity of sensory awareness. The famous zen koan about the sound of one hand clapping works the same way.

But rational enquiry and logical thought are central to achieving understanding of our world and of ourselves. It alienates us from our deeper self and our full capacity for sensory experience only because of the emotional turmoil and repression which our historic neurosis brought with it. Learning to counter doubts about our self-worth with unconditional self-acceptance and finding cathartic release for our stockpile of buried emotions can not just bring us back the full vibrancy of life we experienced as children but also fully liberate our intellect.

So where does intuition come in? Intuition – the ability to find understanding of something in a flash of insight – only seems mysterious to us because of our neurotic state. Intuition is the mind's capacity to perceive wholes and integrate information into such wholes. It seems likely that our proto-human ancestors lived in the awareness that everything exists as a part of a larger whole. Similarly, in our individual lives, one of the first things a child has to learn is the difference between "me" and "not me". Our ape-like ancestors had no rational understanding of how nature worked but there was no reason for them to see themselves as separate from it. The fracture that grew in human society when the male task of protecting the group from predators and the female task of nurturing the young took the sexes down contradictory psychological paths, led to a neurotic condition characterised by dichotomies – divisions of the whole into opposing concepts. What had once been simply the whole, became split into male and female, good and evil, love and hate, reason and mysticism, and later, the right wing and the left wing in politics.

The more neurotic or internally split we became the harder it was for us to comprehend the operation of wholes. We had to be on one side or the other in the conflicts which raged in our society. To try to encompass the whole would have been to risk our sanity by taking the conflicts of the world within us. But still we have been capable of intuition, of flashes of insight which, like lightning, illuminated the darkened landscape buried beneath the storm clouds of our neurosis.

Unable to clearly perceive the nature of wholes, which seemed to condemn our insecure and divided selves, we set about examining our world mechanistically. Mechanism is an approach to enquiry which involves taking things apart, in reality or conceptually, to try to better understand their nature. It is a very useful approach, but it also has a major shortcoming. Reducing something to its constituent parts can tell us a lot about it but it cannot explain how it operates as a system, that is, as a whole. We tried to come to some understanding of how things worked as a whole, but in our divided state there was always a bias one way or the other which compromised our explanation. A physicist whose emotional make-up predisposed him to the idea of chaos might see entropy as the key factor in the universe while one who was more comfortable with the idea of order might emphasise the patterns to be found in apparently chaotic phenomena. Or a right wing biologist like Thomas Huxley might see nature as characterised by competition and aggression while his left wing counterpart Peter Kropotkin saw mutual aid between animals as being the more important phenomena. Any holistic theory would have to acknowledge and account for the apparent contradictions within the system, to show how the yin and the yang work together in a functioning whole. Science has progressed because it has been practised by a wide range of individuals who, like the rest of us, are all fucked up in different ways and can thus compensate to some extent for each other's blind spots.

Peter Kropotkin, author of Mutual Aid : A Factor of Evolution (1902)

The need for a holistic approach to scientific enquiry is often acknowledged. We are looking for a grand theory of everything. However a genuinely holistic approach is dependent on emotional integrity, something which is in short supply. Fortunately liberation from our neurosis is at our fingertips and with it we have the necessary foundations for a holistic revolution in science.

Our tool for exploring the inner space of our consciousness is imagination. Imagination works with symbols, the language of our pre-rational self. Symbols can reach parts of our deeper self which the reason cannot yet touch.

I'm somewhat uncomfortable about using terms like spirituality or the soul, because they can have bad associations. We might think of the soul as something which survives death or of the spiritual as something concerned with some astral realm or the supernatural. But the terms are also used in other contexts. We say that someone has spirit or we talk about the spirit of our times. We have soul music, that is a style of music designed to stir up deep feelings. What I mean by spirituality or soul is our capacity to feel a sense of wonder or the warmth of love, and also the imagination which has produced all of our great works of art. Nothing supernatural is to be implied in my use of these terms.

The imagination has a reality of its own. The same atheist who will express scorn for a religious person's "imaginary friend" will spend much of his time reading novels in the process of which he is emotionally engaging with the figments of someone else's imagination. What makes the imagination real is that it is expressing truths in the language of symbols.

This is what could be called poetic language. One of my favourite songs is John Hiatt's It Will Come Through Your Hands which was based on a dream that his wife had. It contains a reference to "an angel bending down to wrap you in her warmest coat". Now Hiatt could have written "the female aspect of your deeper self offers you emotional comfort" but if he had expressed himself that way the song would not give me chills and make me weep. There is no such thing as angels in external reality, but this kind of image speaks directly to our deeper pre-rational self, to our inner child. Similarly, I cry when I read Oscar Wilde's fairy story The Selfish Giant. I don't believe in the conventional Christian concept of a heaven we go to after we die, and yet the image of a small boy with wounds in his hands coming to take the giant to Paradise is one of the most moving I have encountered. The concept of being allowed into heaven is perhaps the deepest symbol we have in our culture for redemption, for the possibility of release from the guilt or ostracism or isolation which may result from our mistakes. Belief in the supernatural is not necessary in order to be effected by this symbol.

And here we have the danger of the imagination, and that is the possibility that we may mistake the symbol for an external literal reality. I've suffered for this mistake while in the grip of psychosis. The delusions of the psychotic episode are symbolic truths, but the psychotic individual is incapable of seeing them as anything other than factual reality. That is what we mean by the word delusion.

Everything which we find in our own mind is a part of us. But there are reasons why we might not want to believe this. Our neurosis is a divided state, and we may wish to deny those parts of ourselves which we have most deeply repressed. We may project these aspects of our own nature onto others. Our deepest self can be a source of comfort, though. There are angels as well as devils within us. Our reason for not wanting to own the buried comforting part of us – for believing that God and Jesus are "up in Heaven" or that our guardian angel has come from the astral plain – is that we doubt ourselves so much and are so frightened that we need to believe that something more mighty or magical than us can save us. The might and magic are us, but we don't want to know that. I remember once when my doctor told me that the dosage of anti-depressants I was on was not enough to be effective and that it was me and not the medication which was doing the work of pulling me out of the condition. "Please, say that isn't true," I pleaded. I needed to believe a pill could save me because I was certain I wasn't capable of saving myself.

If God is the creative principle of the universe of which we, like the rest of nature, are an expression, then for our early ancestors this nameless reality would have been the experiential given of their pre-language existence. They had no word for what they were, but what they were was God. But when neurosis set in we were no longer able to understand that we were still an expression of the creative principle even though our behaviour was becoming gradually more destructive. We were metaphorically speaking "cast out of Paradise". This was when we had to give a name to the creative principle and see it as something outside ourselves. At first we might have identified it with nature and worshipped it as a goddess. Later there would be many gods and goddesses representing different aspects of nature and of our own neurotic psychology. The more neurotic we became the more important it was for us to safely relegate our symbols for the divine to an ethereal plain far from the everyday realities of our existence. And the more fearful we became of this now terrible whole which seemed to condemn us for our divided state. Patriarchy brought with it the concept of a male God who sits in harsh judgement of our sins. Today atheism is on the rise. While this is partly a response to the irrational nature of religious dogma and the use of religion as a tool of oppression, it is also partly because we have become so incredibly insecure about our divided state that any acknowledgement that there is a unifying reality just gives us the shits.

There is no doubt, it seems to me, that there have been profound changes in the experience of man in the last thousand years. In some ways this is more evident than changes in the patterns of his behaviour. There is everything to suggest that man experienced God. Faith was never a matter of believing He existed, but of trusting in the Presence that was experienced and known to exist as a self-validating datum. It seems likely that far more people in our time neither experience the Presence of God, nor the Presence of His absence, but the absence of His Presence... The fountain has not played itself out, the Flame still shines, the River still flows, the Spring still bubbles forth, the Light has not faded. But between us and It, there is a veil which is more like fifty feet of solid concrete. Deus absconditus. Or we have absconded.

The reason why religious belief persists is because the religious symbols speak to our deeper selves. The mistake of many an atheist is to throw the baby out with the bathwater by denying the relevance of those symbols and his or her own need to come to terms with what lies beneath the superficial skin of rational thought. The error of the religious individual is to mistake the symbol for an external reality – to fail to understand that God and the Devil and the Holy Spirit and the living Jesus and all of the angels and demons are symbols for aspects of our own inner life. We can only have a strong emotional connection to anything, even something literally real such as a place or a person or an animal, because it corresponds to something which exists within us.

The demystification of religion is the next great step in human progress and evolution.

If science is to achieve a grand theory of everything then that must include the whole of ourselves. We have made great breakthroughs in our understanding of the functioning of the brain, but the science of the mind has been virtually abandoned. Freud, Adler, Jung, Reich, Laing and the rest of the pioneers of psychoanalysis tried to bring the scientific method to the study of the mind. This is a tremendously difficult enterprise because scientific objectivity is virtually impossible when the tool we are using is also the subject of the enquiry. So results were often rough and heavily biased by the obsessions and blind spots of the enquirers. But this is why science progresses as a collective enterprise with new investigators compensating for the limitations of those who came before. This has not been the case with the science of the mind. In the days of Freud there was a brave charge into the dangerous wilderness of our inner world. Now we are in retreat. Many in the field of psychology and psychiatry have consigned the insights of Freud and his followers to the garbage bin of history. Today, for instance, mental illness is generally considered to be a hardware problem (a chemical imbalance in the brain or a defect in the genes) rather than a software problem (an unhelpful pattern of thinking about ourselves arising from the pathological nature of our social context). Outside the psychological and psychiatric mainstream, Freud, Jung, Reich, Laing, etc., continue to be widely read because, for all their flaws, their writings are rich in meaning for those of us who seek self-understanding. One can only conclude that their rejection by the mainstream is due less to a lack of intellectual rigidity in their work, something which can be corrected by winnowing the wheat from the chaff, than to what Laing termed "psychophobia", a fear of the depths of our own minds. As long as a species-wide neurosis persists, each generation tends to be less secure than the last, and the emotional repression so often required for concentrated reasoning means that intellectuals tend to be among the most insecure. In Freud's day we were still secure enough to peek below the surface, though his work was viciously attack by the more insecure members of society, but by the 1960s, when Laing was at his peak, the psychiatrists themselves were in retreat. Laing was appreciated by his patients and by the counter-culture, but most of his colleagues perceived him as a dangerous madman.

R. D. Laing

The first thing we need to do to demystify religion is to untangle its two contradictory threads – the moralistic and the mystical. The symbols of religion speak to our deeper self, but our deeper self has different levels. At the core of our being, buried far beyond our conscious awareness though it may be, is our perceptual experience of oneness with nature and the universe. The mystical thread speaks to this layer. But that layer is buried beneath everything that we have repressed. The myth of Satan has persisted as a symbol which encompasses our relationship with repressed aggressive and selfish impulses and the sense that we could get what we want through dishonest means, Satan thus being referred to as "the father of lies". But religion is not just about symbols, but also often about rules, for instance large sections of the Old Testament are devoted to prescriptions on behaviour – what not to eat, what not to do on the Sabbath, how to treat one's slaves, which sexual practices to avoid, etc. Such rules are a response to our neurosis. They are a codification of the social conformity required by the most insecure members of the society who are the ones who most feel the need to control the behaviour of others. So demystifying religion has to begin by differentiating between the superficial and the profound. A passage in a religious text which says that we can eat sheep but not pigs is superficial and culture specific, whereas the statement that God is love goes to the very heart of our deepest nature as a species.

Mysticism is the expression of truths in the form of riddles or parables. The reason for this is two-fold. On the one hand the nature of the universe is such that patterns are repeated. So a symbolic expression of a pattern can be applied to more than one factual phenomenon or situation. But the other reason to express truths in a veiled form is as a safety mechanism to avoid causing offence or disturbance to the insecure. We can only solve a riddle or interpret a parable if we are emotionally ready to accept what it communicates to us. And here lies the principle danger inherent in demystification. Religion is all about having a relationship at a distance with something which terrifies us. If facing the truth about ourselves were easy we would not have become alienated. But understanding why we have become what we have become and that it does not reflect badly upon us can, in time, make the disentangling of our deeper selves – using the tool of reason that exists on the surface of our consciousness to understand what lies beneath – something which can be safely achieved.

Some of this may itself seem like mysticism, but it can be understood more concretely by considering the stages of our own individual development. Once we were a physical part of our mother. This corresponds to the time in the history of our species when we saw no separation between our selves and the natural system which nurtured us. Then the umbilical chord was cut. We still had not learned what it meant to be a separate entity but our connection was more tenuous, based on being held and feeding from the breast. This corresponds to the time when the males in our species began to feel a separation from oneness with nature brought on by the need to fight against and understand predators. We would have still felt a sense of connectedness because our society was centred around the nurturing females. Our capacity for intelligence and imagination had been liberated by having a longer nurturing period than all other animals. We were liberated from the predator/prey dichotomy which must make it harder for other animals to experience the oneness of nature. As social vegetarians living in an environment rich in food and where predators were, presumably, not a constant problem, we would have carried the sense of oneness that we all have at birth, when it is literal, into adulthood. The next stage for us as individuals was to come to see our mother and father as individuals separate from ourselves. This corresponds to the early days of our neurosis as a species when tension occurred between the hunting males and the nurturing females and we began to become more individualistic to deal with the fact that the tribe, that subset of nature of which we were more directly a part, was no longer itself a completely integrated whole. The first response when we are separated from something of which we were once a part, is to try to form a bond with it, to hang on to it. And so we loved and bonded with the parents of whom we were no longer a part. But we experienced frustrations and we had the need to experiment with self-regulated behaviour. Sometimes this led to conflict with our parents and they disciplined us. Here we have a replay of what happened to us as a species when our neurosis really came into play, men gradually took on the aggressiveness of the predators they were hunting, bringing that aggressiveness home to the tribe where the women were nurturing the children. This led to the women criticising the men, thus unavoidably exacerbating the conflict. When, as children, we became very rebellious or naughty, we had to learn to defer to adults. And this is what happened to our early ancestors as well, only there was no equivalent of the parent for them to defer to so they had to invent one, combining their sense of the oneness of nature with a memory of the nurturing parent of their own infancy. This was the mother goddess. Later, men would become so neurotic that they had to take control of society and the goddess was replaced by a god. Now God was The Father. To demystify religious dogma it is necessary to recognise where any particular belief or teaching is located in this evolutionary process. We have to allow for the level of neurosis and the cultural context. The more neurotic we become the more we need to put a distance between ourselves and the holy (literally, that which is whole). Thus the belief that gods and devils and ghosts have a literal existence in the external world. If we are insecure we have to believe that anything divine or demonic is not a part of us. And like me with my medication, we may need to believe in magic, to believe that Jesus was of virgin birth, walked on the water and rose from the grave. Only when we feel very secure in ourselves can we admit, as William Blake put it, that "everything that lives is holy."

William Blake
The demystification of religion is not just a death but also a resurrection, a fulfilment of all of its promises. What was once just a fairy story becomes a living breathing reality. Jesus said : "Though I have been speaking figuratively, a time is coming when I will no longer use this kind of language but will tell you plainly about my Father." John 16:25, NIV, 1984. The prophets of old experienced themselves as mouthpieces for the collective soul of the human race. The term "I" should thus not be seen as referring specifically to the individual doing the speaking. Jesus was telling his followers about the symbolic (i.e. figurative) nature of religion. The time was not yet right to speak plainly. Even speaking as profoundly and honestly as he did about the nature of the human neurosis in figurative terms was enough to get him crucified. What makes honesty now possible, in fact unavoidable, is the breakdown of society. In Jesus' day the authorities would kill and torture those who threatened to reveal that the society over which they ruled was founded upon a disease. Today the symptoms of social and personal collapse are so evident that denial is no longer a viable option. But, as Laing pointed out, a breakdown can also be a breakthrough, and this is where we stand, on the doorstep of the greatest breakthrough in human history.

You can also find this post on the How to Be Free forum here. You may find further discussion of it there.