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Archive for the ‘Psychology’ Category

Respectfully yours

Friday, January 27th, 2006


“Those who merely study and treat the effects of disease are like those who imagine that they can drive away the winter by brushing the snow from the door. It is not the snow that causes winter, but the winter that causes the snow.”
Paracelsus (Philipus Aurelius Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim) 1493-1541

Came across a vox-pop ‘Have Your Say’ debate on the BBC News website last weekend discussing the proposals for legislation to ban smacking of children in Britain. The number of responses opposing any such move outweighed those in favour by a considerable margin.

There were two main threads running through the objections. The first was that this shouldn’t be a matter for government legislation, and that to criminalise an action of itself without considering motive and circumstances is the wrong thing to do, and is potentially open to considerable abuse. The second was that there was nothing wrong with corporal punishment administered lovingly for the child’s benefit to teach them discipline and respect, to which the respondent often added “it never did me any harm”. Many opinions laid the blame for the country’s present problems with unruly youth on liberal parenting, single-parent families, etc. Many felt smacking was entirely justified and the only means available to prevent children from injuring themselves at ages before reason is an option.

Those against put equally cogent arguments against the barbaric nature of corporal punishment, especially meted out to children, and felt strongly that something needed to be done about it. Several ex-pats wrote in to say that the nation’s treatment of children was one of the reasons they no longer live in Britain.

This debate has been going on a long time within the context of Europe-wide legislation and seems nowhere nearer a solution. It inspires strong feelings and a lot of comment – a sure sign of something deep demanding attention. Who’s right and who’s wrong? Perhaps everyone has a valid point and that by putting them all together we can get an idea of what really needs to be addressed here.

While there’s a sense that there are times when a smack can be appropiate (and we make far too big a deal about physical assault without taking into account its mental equivalent), the occasions when there genuinely is no other choice available are likely much rarer than we imagine. Often we smack because it’s so ingrained in our society as an appropriate response we don’t think beyond it. No matter how loving the parent thinks they’re being, the child’s understanding and feelings about a situation is often entirely different.

Take for example the case of a child smacked for persisting in trying to play with an electrical socket. Children will often investigate dangerous things because adults have drawn attention to them and infused them with a thrilling quality. Any attempt to dissuade the child simply has the effect of reinforcing the special status of the object so the child is ultimately punished for paying attention to what was being drawn to their attention in the first place. Very young children don’t understand abstract concepts and indirect references, so a young child smacked for playing with an electrical socket doesn’t learn that the socket is dangerous, since the socket didn’t harm him. He learns that his parent or caregiver is dangerous.

Crying boy

Yet smacking seems in some ways the least of our worries. It’s just a symptom, and one of many. It’s the culture that gives rise to it and perpetuates it that’s the seat of the problem, and legislation to ban smacking won’t change that one whit. No more than perpetually treating symptoms addresses the cause of a physical illness.

Although by no means unique to Britain, violence and intimidation have been hallmarks of British culture for centuries. It’s how the British Empire was built. It’s a culture that tends to think it’s always in the right and has the god-given right to impose its way of life on other nations that it regards as inferior, which is frequently a high-minded gloss put on basic exploitation. These attitudes also find their expression in our everyday lives amongst ordinary, decent people and loving parents, although perhaps less obviously. Inadvertently we endorse its persistence because accepting that it’s “good” for us (with a stiff upper lip) is one of the few ways to come to terms with our own childhood experiences.

The fact that Britain is one of the most child-unfriendly nations on the planet speaks volumes about how we value our children. Children instilled with a deep sense of worthlessness grow into adults who can only try to redress that feeling in whatever way they can, often by repeating the same patterns with workmates, subordinates, or with their own partners and children. And most often, without being in the least aware of what it is they’re doing.

“Abuse no one and no living thing, For abuse turns the wise ones to fools and robs the spirit of its vision.”
Tecumseh (Shawnee)

We learn by example. Children especially so, since they haven’t yet learned to swallow the “do as I say not as I do” dictate. The use of violence and intimidation to enforce “discipline” and “respect” only teach that the use of violence and intimidation is an acceptable means of enforcing your opinion on someone else. How does a child learn the meaning of respect if they have little idea what it feels like to have their own thoughts and feelings respected? All that’s learned in such a situation is that respect means always having to defer to someone else’s opinions or feelings or that of some mythical societal consensus. And those parents that recognise and try to address this within their own homes are then up against an education system and a wider society where more traditional attitudes frequently prevail. Teachers who feel aggrieved at the lack of respect they receive from pupils should perhaps consider that they may be looking in the mirror. If they have no respect for themselves or for the children they teach, then how can they expect the children to reflect anything else back to them?

Genuine respect is something that’s earned by being genuinely respectful to others. It’s not something that’s ours by right simply because of our age or position in society. (Children seem to understand this much better than adults.) As a culture, we are in thrall to our authority figures, either swallowing what they say hook, line and sinker no matter how ridiculous it might be, or busy setting ourselves up as authorities ourselves. We’ve been long and well drilled in marginalising our own instincts and opinions about situations in deference to the authoritative “expert” viewpoint. Yet we’re also ready to tear those same authorities apart at the least crack in the façade as inner resentment over such patent inequality erupts through the thin veneer of civilisation. No wonder that our teenagers are so ready to use violence and intimidation as they struggle with the transition to earning some respect for themselves. They’re not the ones to be singled out for being in the wrong – shooting the messengers never solved a problem yet.

To those that say “this didn’t happen in the old days!”, well indeed. And the reason it didn’t happen so much was that the degree of intimidation was generally much greater. In Victorian times, for instance, children were expected to be seen and not heard; their natural exhuberance and inquisitiveness silenced and their spirit squashed. And while subsequent generations have been less totalitarian, many of those attitudes still prevail. Which is why so many adults today accept authority without question and are so susceptible to the fear-mongering tactics of governments promoting an altogether different agenda to the one on their public face.

Personally, I don’t blame today’s teenagers for their lack of respect for the adult world. It’s so lacking in respect, what is there to respect? Liberalism hasn’t caused this. It’s simply allowed it to come to the surface and be seen for what it is. How can we set any kind of moral example to our kids when the US President and the British Prime Minister – the supposed pillars of our society – invade other countries on the basis of a monstrous lie? And we let them. How can children be expected not to bully their peers when they’re being so comprehensively bullied by adults? They’re not stupid, today’s kids. They see through that one and others like it far more readily than the older generations who have the party line embedded way too far down our throats. Their behaviour is a clear mirror to our society of all the ills we’ve kept firmly nailed under the carpet for generation upon generation. Complaining about the quality of the nails and demanding that they’re strengthened and lengthened isn’t the solution. This stuff shouldn’t be nailed under the carpet to begin with.

We need to learn to respect each other and value each other as fellow human beings, regardless of age or position or education or origin, and whether we agree with each others’ feelings and opinions or not. It’s the basic right of every individual to form and express their feelings and opinions, and diversity of opinion and perspective is healthy and leads to greater understanding. If that right is acknowledged from a fundamental state of agreeableness, then there is no need to fight for some superficial facsimile of agreement. Or to seek to impose opinions on others to redress the balance for what’s been denied. Or to try to silence feelings and opinions that speak of what lies in shadow. If nothing is repressed or denied, then nothing is condemned to compulsion and acting out. We are free to choose.

The American Constitution once enshrined a sense of a just and respectful society (before it became so systematically subverted and shredded as to become a mockery of itself). It was patterned on the form of government of Native American confederacies who knew how to live those principles and what it meant to live them. Which is why so many were so comprehensively massacred by the white man who’s thinly disguised barbaric nature, suppressed and denied behind the drapes of “civilisation”, only equipped him to act out in denial rather than take those principles to heart.

These values are not something that can be imposed, because the very act of imposition is in contravention of them. They can only come from a heart-felt respect for the rights of all, taught by example from the cradle or realised through learning the lessons of experience.

“Living an ethical life is not a case of adhering to a set of regulations imposed on us from outside, such as the laws of a country. Rather it involves voluntarily embracing a discipline on the basis of a clear recognition of its value. In essence, living a true ethical life is living a life of self-discipline. When the Buddha said that ‘we are our own master, we are our own enemy’, he was telling us that our destiny lies in our own hands.”
Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama

Solve et coagula

Tuesday, January 10th, 2006

William Blake's The Ancient of Days, 1794

“Through the years, a man peoples a space with images of provinces, kingdoms, mountains, bays, ships, islands, fishes, rooms, tools, stars, horses and people. Shortly before his death, he discovers that the patient labyrinth of lines traces the image of his own face.”
Jorge Luis Borges

Came across an interesting blog entry from Suzanne Taylor in The Conversation on alchemy, animism and the inner vs. outer manifestation of the spiritual dimension of existence. She quotes a piece which suggests that in psychodynamic terms “the gods, deities and spirits have become our modern day dis-eases, … the formal cause of our afflictions”. Have added this comment to her thread, culled in part from comments I’ve made elsewhere in this site.

A complex subject to unravel. A few points seem worth making here before going any further.

The first is that any description of reality that’s ever been produced is just that. A description, a map, or a model of it. It’s reality as we perceive it, and has consensual validity only insofar as others agree that it successfully models their experience of it too, or can be persuaded to accept it as such. It’s not reality itself, even though we tend to live our lives for most of the time as if that’s the case. That distinction needs to be kept in mind. All too often the map gets mistaken for the territory, or far worse, is given precedence over it. (Most of the unspeakable brutality of which we’re all capable arises from a desire to enforce a particular view of reality on those who don’t share it.)

The second is that an impartial view of the evidence would seem to suggest that reality itself doesn’t appear to favour any one view over any other. It cheerfully supports diametrically opposing viewpoints on all sorts of things to do with it, and obligingly offers up proof after proof to their proponents that enables them all to lay claim to validity. Every person alive has a valid view of reality. It may not be a view that’s shared by many others, but that doesn’t render it invalid or “wrong”. “Right” and “wrong” aren’t absolutes carved into the fabric of existence. They’re simply shorthand for “things that me and people who think like me agree with” and “things that me and people who think like me don’t agree with”.

The third is that it’s the old story of the popup launcher icon blind men and the elephant. So if we want to discover the whole elephant, any half-way decent attempt to construct a robust model of the nature of existence needs to accommodate as much as possible of that existence. This means encompassing the fullrange of human experience and knowledge in every field through all times, rather than flitting from one limited subset of it to another, disdainfully dismissing the remainder as somehow irrelevant or inadmissible, or the product of presumed “inferior” minds in past times or technologically unsophisticated cultures. All that’s doing is perpetually moving around to different parts of the elephant with an elephantine measure of arrogance in tow.

So what we’re talking about here in the charting of the decline of animistic and alchemical beliefs is only shifting perceptions, changing models, that have the appearance of being reflected in outer reality. For other societies, such as what remains of First Nation cultural viewpoints on all continents, the perception of the immanence of life still remains. It’s not the world that’s de-spiritualised and de-animated, it’s our perception of it that’s become so. Conceptual exclusion of any aspect of existence will dis-ease us when we encounter evidence of what’s excluded. It doesn’t fit our idea of how things should be. In other words, the mythical gods are not the formal cause of our modern dis-ease. It’s our inability to recognise and integrate the spiritual dimension of existence and include it in our conceptual model of “reality” that is the cause of our dis-ease. In some ways it doesn’t much matter how we model it, because it will only ever be an approximation, an analogy; what matters is that we do.

Then comes the question of how we relate to it – ie. whether it resides “out there” or “in here”. This comes down to what we define as “self” and what we define as “other”. If what we define as “other” is, in fact, an aspect of “self”, then it becomes part of our (Jungian) shadow to be continually reflected back to us from “out there”, possibly bringing a measure of dis-ease in the process. If, as quantum physics (not to mention various mystical traditions) seem to suggest, the entirety of existence is fundamentally correlated and the “individuality” of any part of it is only relative and contingent, then the distinction between “self” and “other” is conditional, not absolute. The realisation of that can release us from dis-ease. “I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together” and even “I am He as you are He as you are me and we are all together”.

Blasphemy? Consider this. Jung perceived that archetypes relegated to shadow are ones that are unconsciously acted out. The Judaeo-Christian foundations of our society have so comprehensively severed any aspect of divinity from “self” that it becomes hopelessly inevitable that we will unconsciously act out in a god-like way. This brings our arrogance, our superiority, our conviction that our view is “right”, and tendency to imagine we have some god-given right to impose those views on every other culture on the planet into sharp relief. Cultures who recognise the spark of divinity inherent in every lifeform don’t need to act out in this way, which pretty much consigns them to being stamped out by the likes of us. As a culture we in the industrialised nations of the west have been, and continue to be, guilty of crimes against other lifeforms that make Hitler look like a pussy cat and our illusions of moral superiority quite dreadful distortions. Yet contrary to expectations, transcending the somewhat illusory nature of the distinction between “self” and “other” and accepting our divine attributes brings about a deep humility. It no longer becomes necessary to act out.

How “real” is any of this? Perhaps it’s like Borges said.

“We read the world wrong and say that it deceives us.”
Rabindranath Tagore

Massimo Mangialavori – Remedies for Panic & Crisis

Tuesday, November 1st, 2005

The Scream - Edvard Munch

“Cowardice, as distinguished from panic, is almost always simply a lack of ability to suspend the functioning of the imagination.”
Ernest Hemingway

Last weekend (October 29-30) I was at a 2-day seminar on remedies for panic and crisis given by Massimo Mangialavori in Edinburgh, the first time he’s presented this seminar in English. He’s now cutting back on teaching to devote more time to writing, so will not be giving as many seminars in the future.

In keeping with all the cases that Massimo uses in teaching to illustrate the remedies he discusses, the ones he presented here were ones where the patient has responded well to the same remedy prescribed for both acute and chronic complaints over a period of several years. Each of the 3 cases presented during this seminar were so-called ‘small’ remedies, but Massimo emphasises that in his view there are no ‘small’ remedies, just remedies that are well known and remedies that are not so well known. He also places a lot of emphasis on understanding remedy pictures in both their compensated and decompensated states, bringing out both the characteristic coping strategies of the remedies as well as the various triggers which have a tendency to break through those strategies to the fundamental state itself.

Massimo Mangialavori

Massimo Mangialavori

Panic is a common word that’s used fairly indescriminately to describe a wide range of fearful states. Its principal defining characteristics are that it’s sudden, unexpected, unpredictable, overwhelming, uncontrollable, irrational and a very physical experience. In Massimo’s hands, its definition has far greater precision, allowing it to be distinguished from a phobia, or a state where the fear arises as a consequence of a specific underlying condition. For him, the key characteristic is that it is irrational and apparently unfounded. It’s as if the entire system suddenly has to react against a threat that outwardly doesn’t exist, and the person experiencing it will generally have little or no insight into why it happens. This is different from the state of fear arising from a specific trigger, a fear of something, even though panic will engender fear of the fear itself.

The word originates in mythology, in the nature of the god Pan who symbolises the forces of nature as they express themselves in man; the bestial, the uncontrollable, the untamable, the unconscionable. The son of Hermes/Mercury, who personified the trickster achetype (among others), Pan was mischievous. He delighted in making humans lose control and become disorientated. He was strong, but not destructive. He always struck in daytime and always when people were outside of their familiar environment. As a representative of the immensity of the forces of nature, his name as a prefix also means ‘all’, signifying something immense or all-encompassing – pandemic, panorama, panacea, pandemonium, etc.

This etymology provides the main key to the understanding of the panic states Massimo discussed and presented. At root it is a fear of losing all means of control, of being overcome by the immensity of the forces of nature; specifically as they manifest in and through the body. These forces cannot be grasped by the mind. They are alien to the conception of existence. This is more than a split between self and other – ‘other’ can be conceptualised, visualised, anthropomorphised, which is what we do to ‘aliens’ in the movies – truly ‘alien’ is outside of experience or imagining, hence unpredictable, uncontrollable, disturbing, disorientating, fundamentally and absolutely unknown and unknowable.

The inability to conceptualise – to represent in any form – the nature of the fear, and a strong need to avoid confronting it to be able to maintain a coping strategy, is largely why a psychotherapeutic approach (or one using the mental state to lead a homeopathic prescription) is often unsuccessful. The differentiation between the physical realm as viewed through the biomedical model, which is largely transpersonal (ie. dealing with the common features of human physiology) and the physical realm as viewed through the homeopathic model, which is largely personal (ie. addressing the individual physiology) is key. Massimo referred to the latter as the ‘corporeal’, as opposed to ‘physical’. Conventional approaches to the problem, which don’t recognise the existence of the corporeal dimension, tend to focus on the mental and physical realms. These strategies can palliate, but in most instances are unable to cure because panic states are centred in the corporeal realm, and it’s at this level that therapeutic intervention is potentially successful.

Panic, as opposed to anxious and phobic states, is more common in immature and dependent personalities (irrespective of age), reflected in remedies such as the sea animals, some tree remedies, Nitricum salts, Carbon salts, Kali salts, Arsenicum and its salts and the Lacs. Support – the requirement for, nature of, and attitude to – is a critical factor and an important means of differentiating between various remedy states.

The cases Massimo presented were of successful cures using the remedies Limulus cyclops (horseshoe crab), Castanea vesca (sweet chestnut) and Fraxinus excelsior/americana (European and American ash). These were very clear and presented in his usual style, read by himself and a member of the audience in the form of a dialogue. This is an efficient way of presenting cases in translation, but it would be a helpful addition to have a video of the patients to show all the aspects of the case that a paper presentation alone can’t convey.

Finally Massimo looked at the remedies in the rubric MIND, FEAR, panic attacks, overpowering. In particular he talked about the additions he has made to the rubric, differentiating along the way those remedies where the state of panic is allied to pictures which contrast with the typical panic picture he presented. In the Argentum salts for instance (which, being products of a noble metal, don’t have the undeveloped ego of the typical panic subject), the state relates more to a fear of failure. In Melilotus, it is closely tied to a process of depersonalisation, and in the drug remedies to one of de-realisation.

An excellent and inspiring seminar, but as ever one I left wishing that the clarity and fine discrimination so evident in a distillation of cases and themes produced for a seminar were as easy to find in the ambiguities of daily practice!
Homeopathic seminars often seem to feature amusing little synchronicities, and this one was no exception. Within a short time of beginning, the projector linked to Massimo’s computer started overheating and flashing up the warning “check air flow”. Simultaneously my laptop crashed for the same reason. Appropriate, given the fact that panic can feature flushes of heat,shortness of breath and a sensation of being smothered! After a while and a bit of propping up (= support) to increased the air circulation, the projector and the laptop both settled down. The following day,unpredictably and suddenly, the same thing happened again, with both projector and laptop overheating despite being propped up, and this time with another laptop two rows in front of me crashing for the same reason as well. It’s not something that’s happened at any of the many seminars I’ve been to at this venue before, even on warmer days …

“We experience moments absolutely free from worry. These brief respites are called panic.”
Cullen Hightower

I danced on a Friday when the sky turned black …

Friday, March 25th, 2005

“.. I danced on a Friday when the sky turned black.
It’s hard to dance with the devil on your back …”
from Lord of the Dance

Is it any coincidence that these topics are coming up for air in the week before Easter?! Absolutely not! There’s no such thing as coincidence. It’s always sympathetic resonance. Today is Good Friday. And again no accident that I was responding to one of the many emails I’ve had on this subject and got into the darker aspects of what’s going on. After all, the sky turned black on Good Friday.

It all followed on from stumbling across a load of sites questioning the official account of what happened on September 11th 2001 (while following a photo trail for the images for March 23rd’s blog entry). There’s so much on the subject! The passenger lists of the fated aircraft and CCTV records of boarding passengers that throw doubt on the existence of any “Arab terrorists”. The evidence of chemical and civil engineers that attests to the impossibility of such a conflagration resulting from burning aviation fuel alone, or that the destruction of the towers could possibly have happened in the way it did without controlled demolition being involved. The seismic records that register massive shocks the moment before the towers came down. And much more besides.

The Shady Bunch

There’s a strange fascination with this stuff. There’s the impetus to go deeper in search of the truth. To explore just what depths of depravity it’s possible for human beings to sink to. Equally well there’s a resistance, because to follow this trail to its inevitable conclusion takes you into a very very dark, unpleasant, uncomfortable place. One that most people naturally baulk at. To take this on board is to take on board that not just your fellow human beings, but fellow human beings who are supposed to be on your “side”, who are supposed to be looking after your best interests, damn it, are capable of perpetrating acts for which no despicable superlative seems anywhere near adequate.

Few species in nature turn on their own kind. It’s deeply ingrained within us that this behaviour just isn’t natural. Oh sure, we’ve got the odd serial killers amongst us, the odd Adolf Hitler or Pol Pot, but they’re the exception, aren’t they? They’re twisted and warped and pretty inhuman, aren’t they?

Or are they?

Maybe they’re only too human, and our collective inability to countenance that each and every one of us has the latent potential to behave in the same manner is what allows those who know only too well what they’re capable of carte blanche to carry on doing what they’re doing safe in the knowledge that nobody will believe it even when it’s right under their noses.

Shadow issues really don’t get much deeper than this. And yet it remains perfect. Perfect for each of us, collectively and individually, to acknowledge the reflection of our interior landscape. One of the signature features of the nature of cancerous energy is life energy that’s lost its intended focus. The enormous amount of our personal power and responsibility that we’ve handed over to our various leaderships in the naïve trust that they will indeed look after our best interests is beginning to look decidedly misplaced. As indeed it should. Around half of our populations don’t even exercise their right to channel the responsibility they hand over to whoever’s going to take care of things on the collective level. We get the leaders we deserve unfortunately, and these ones would appear to be the culmination of more than a few decades of handing over responsibility in an unfocused and unthinking manner.

So what to do? Run to the light, cut ourselves off from any relation to these people and cling to the positive side of things? Not a bit of it. It doesn’t square with the concept of the oneness of existence and it doesn’t square with the drive towards our own personal psychological integration and integrity. In any case, humanity’s been doing that since forever and all it gets us is more of the same. As far as I can see, only when we can each stand up and say “The power and ability to callously and brutally murder other human beings resides in me as much as in any killer” can we master this side of our natures. Then we are free to choose not to behave that way, and to act in the most appropriate manner in relation to those who choose otherwise. For as long as we are in denial of the possibility, then that potential remains in shadow, and our belief in the depths of depravity to which human beings are capable of descending remains in suspension, which means that we are incapable of effectively dealing with it when it occurs.


Tuesday, February 22nd, 2005

“Paradoxes are the places where our rational mind bumps into its own limitations. According to eastern philosophy in general, opposites, such as good-bad, beautiful-ugly, birth-death, and so on, are ‘false distinctions’. One cannot exist without the other. They are mental structures which we have created. These self-made and self-maintained illusions are the sole cause of paradoxes. To escape the bonds of conceptual limitation is to hear the sound of one hand clapping.”
Gary Zukav ‘The Dancing Wu Li Masters’

Good reason to ponder the meaning of the word “patient” yesterday after a visit to the local A&E department. (Son’s foot needed an x-ray after his Superman impersonations didn’t go quite according to plan.)

When we arrived we were told it would be a good 2 hours before we were seen. I asked if we’d be better going to another hospital 40 miles away. The receptionist gave me one of those looks that would have been delivered over the top of her glasses, had she been wearing any, and said “… if you want to wait twice as long …” So we stuck it out and played word games with all the posters plastered around the waiting area exhorting impatient patients not to assault the staff.

“Patient” is derived from the Latin patientia, from pati, to suffer or endure. Perhaps being a “patient” inevitably implies that suffering and endurance colours all aspects of our lives while we define ourselves within that state, and to expect anything different is quite nonsensical. And wherever the currency of suffering/endurance is present, then you’re going to find both sides of the coin. One can’t exist without the other. It’s the nature of duality. So no surprise then that impatience erupts (or festers away under the fetters of tighter self-control) in hospital waiting areas …

Thanks to the current insanity revolving around homeopathy in this country, in both media and blogosphere, it's become necessary to insult your intelligence by explicitly drawing your attention to the obvious fact that any views or advice in this weblog/website are, unless stated otherwise, the opinions of the author alone and should not be taken as a substitute for medical advice or treatment. If you choose to take anything from here that might be construed as advice, you do so entirely under your own recognisance and responsibility.

smeddum.net - Blog: Confessions of a Serial Prover. Weblog on homeopathy, health and related subjects by homeopathic practitioner Wendy Howard