Wednesday, August 31, 2016

From Pseudo-Spiritualism to Scientific Secularism in 20 Minutes

Just too good (for those who appreciate such) to pass up. 

The Enlightenment: 

The Rise of Modern Paganism

Vol. 1 - Enlightenment, an Interpretation, Peter Gay, New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1995

[with explanitory links added to the original]

Book One: The Appeal to Antiquity 

Chapter One: The Useful and Beloved Past

1. Hebrews and Hellenes: As the philosophes of the Enlightenment saw it, the world was divided into two irreconcilable patterns of life: superstition versus the affirmation of life; mythmakers versus realists; priests versus philosophers. The historical writings of the Enlightenment were all part of their comprehensive effort to secure rational control over the world and freedom from the pervasive domination of myth. The most glaring and notorious defect of the Enlightenment was its unsympathetic, often brutal, estimate of Christianity.

2. A Congenial Sense and Spirit: Rome belonged to every educated man. Classic antiquity was inescapable, therefore, some of the philosophes' seemingly pagan ideas were simply the property of thinking men in their time. The philosophes identified with their favorite ancient philosophers, especially Cicero, who had contempt for the fear of death, contempt for superstition, and admiration for sturdy pagan self-reliance. Modern historians no longer think of Christianity as a complete swamp, but the reliance of the Enlightenment on ancient classicism has withstood two centuries of criticism.

3. The Search for Paganism: From Identification to Identity: The philosophes had been born into a Christian world. They knew their Bible, their catechism, their articles of faith, their apologetics, retained many of their Christian friends, and even had clergy in their families. Gibbon was not without anxiety when he wrote his notorious chapters on the origin of Christianity in Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. The German philosophes were reluctant to completely abandon the religion of the past. Diderot, the most ebullient of the French philosophes was driven and harassed by doubts. In a letter to his mistress, he cursed the atheism he accepted as true that "reduced their love to a blind encounter of atoms." Even David Hume, whose good cheer was celebrated, had to brood and struggle his way into paganism.

Chapter Two: The First Enlightenment

1. Greece: From Myth to Reason: The philosophes' historical thought was closely tied and deeply, if unconsciously, indebted to the Renaissance. Pious historians during the Renaissance and in the 17th century aided secularization by refining techniques of research, throwing doubt on extravagant tales of Hebrew prophets or Christian saints. The Old Testament, which had served countless generations as authoritative was in decline. The philosophes used it as neither authoritative nor historical, but as an incriminating document. Petrarch removed the label "Dark Ages" from classical pre-Christian times and fastened it instead on the Christian era.

2. The Roman Enlightenment: The Greeks were the teachers of the Romans, but the Romans were the Greeks made plain. The philosophes' two most reliable sources of literature were the Romans Lucretius and Cicero. No propagandist ever conducted a battle of science against religion more exuberantly than Lucretius. Religion was [in his view] just superstition maintained by terror. Science was reason, offering a complete and coherent account of the universe. Cicero gave them even more - a philosophy of the public servant was that of humanism. Not far behind was the historian Tacitus, who was Gibbon's source of much of what is in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. These and other Roman Stoics and Epicurians gave the philosophes much fuel for their political and religious criticisms.

Chapter Three: The Climate of Criticism

1. Criticism as Philosophy: Hume proclaimed philosophy the supreme, indeed, the only, cure for superstition. Diderot [asserted t]he philosopher should not be the inventor of systems but the apostle of truth. Adam Smith [said c]ultivation of philosophy is "the great antidote to the poison of enthusiasm and superstition." For the Enlightenment, the Age of Philosophy was also... the Age of Criticism... and there were plenty of liberal Christians ready to allow the new philosophy elbow room, provided it stopped barely short of the holiest of matters.

2. The Hospitable Pantheon: Each philosophe took what suited him from the Romans (or from anywhere) and added their characteristic touches, leading to eclecticism - the school that denied being a school. The eclectic "makes a philosophy for himself, individual and personal, one that is his own." The favorite theft of the philosophes was from the stoicism of Cicero, but since they addressed their propaganda to a largely Christian audience, they also quoted the founders of Christianity, including Jesus. Such adroit posturing barely concealed the philosophes' convictions that Christianity was the worst of fanaticisms.

3. The Primacy of Moral Realism: The philosophes' practicalities were worldly, designed to translate into reality Bacon's and Descartes's grandiose vision of man controlling nature for his profit and desire. In a culture in which men believed in God and yearned for salvation, the study of His nature were matters of intense blessed concern, but during the Enlightenment, they seemed more like verbal games. Nor could the philosophes separate the study of nature from the study of morality. They were confident that the public needed to be educated and it was their calling to educate them.

4. Candide: The Epicurean as Stoic: Voltaire wrote a reality tale - a dialogue on behalf of Newton's empiricism in a world that had discarded myth; and one that caricaturized and satirized Leibniz. Candide is essentially a declaration of war on Christianity.

Book Two: The Tension with Christianity 

Chapter Four: The Retreat From Reason: Educated Romans had at least made a serious attempt to construct a civilization based on reason, not myth. Then came Christianity, which claimed to bring light, hope, and truth. But its central myth [according to Gay] was incredible, its dogma a mixture of older superstitions, and its sacred book an incoherent collection of primitive tales. Once the church had discarded its apocalyptic expectations, it settled down to the business of organizing a Christian community and eventually a rigid hierarchy.

1. The Adulteration of Antiquity: In the callous hands of Christians, Greek and Roman literature survived, but barely, and at great cost. The church fathers could not deal generously with secular literature; they were at war for a higher cause. However, there was a minority that maintained an interest, and Christian policy ran somewhere between these two extremes. The great compromise, in the fourth and fifth centuries, was to adapt from paganism whatever could be adapted to religious purposes and to throw the rest away. They invented pious meanings for secular passages, converting and allegorizing meanings... but at least it kept the classics from extinction, though at the price of covering them with pious legends. Cicero was persistently misread into the thirteenth century.

2. The Betrayal of Criticism: Medieval philosophers believed the advent of Jesus had subordinated the need for higher degrees of insight. Abelard devoted much of his ethical and theological speculation to the disappointing thought that his favorite pagan philosophers had been born too early for Christ, thus missing out on salvation. The philosophes saw this as despising and abusing the resources of the mind.

3. The Rehabilitation of Myth: In the Christian millennium, myth was preserved, transcended, and raised to a higher level. The philosophes liked to deride medieval categories as infantile or vicious, but the myths merely followed inevitably from the medieval mind bent on finding religious significance everywhere. Science was done, but like philosophy, it was guided by man's search for holiness and salvation. The enormous distance separating the philosophes from the medieval world view is proof that the Enlightenment was the terminal point of a long process of alienation that had begun centuries before, in the Renaissance.

Chapter Five: The Era of Pagan Christianity - For all their enormous but gradual contributions to secular thought, Europeans were still overwhelmingly religious - religious fervor attenuating slowly and uncertainly.

1. The Purification of the Sources: Humanists of the Renaissance began to correct the corrupt interpretations of the Greek and Roman philosophers. Many [original] manuscripts, stored in monastery libraries and guarded by monks, were uncovered, although covered with dust, torn, and mutilated. Unknown copies of Cicero, a single copy of Lucretius's De Rerum Natura, a single copy of Catullus, and whatever we have of Tacitus were uncovered by persistent humanist effort bordering at times on thievery. Gradually, classic after classic was reborn, and humanist scholars purified them of the corrupt accretions of centuries. The veil of pious interpretation was pierced.

2. Ancients and Moderns - The Ancients: The protestant heresy persisted and thus stripped Christian Europe of one of its most tenacious myths, the myth of a Catholic commonwealth centered at Rome. Exploration discovered strange cultures which raised disturbing questions about the souls of heathens and the value of Christian civilization. The Copernican revolution in cosmology began to reverberate among educated men. The printing press and translations, the book trade, the growth of science, and the explosion of interest in accurate interpretations of ancient Greeks and Romans all questioned the authority of the papacy. As Voltaire put it, "a corner of the veil was lifted. The nations, aroused, wanted to judge what they had worshipped."

3. Ancients and Moderns - The Moderns: By the force of its logic, science began to cut its ties with philosophy and to assume a posture at first equal, and then hostile, to theology; less by literary than by scientific means. Even so, the Church first took the findings of Gallileo, Boyle, and Newton as evidence of faith rather than as a threat. Locke called for liberation from the shackles of antique and medieval rules of thought and his impact was huge, the last in a long line of pagan Christians. The philosophes, arrogant as they were, still displayed great reverence for this Age of Genius.

Chapter Six: In Dubious Battle

1. The Christian Component: Locke and his disciple, Toland, both wrote books in 1695 and 1696. Locke tried to prove that Christianity was acceptable to reasonable men; Toland, that what was mysterious and miraculous about Christianity must be discarded - and within those two years the essence of revealed, dogmatic religion evaporated. The philosophes took advantage, striving to maintain a separation between reason and religion while well-meaning Christians continued to try to unite them. This was the beginning of deism, which maintained a healthy respect for Jesus as a teacher, but held that his teachings were distinct from what resulted as the Christian religion.

2. The Treason of the Clerks: Clerical establishments didn't collapse, but every part of life became more secular - there was a subtle shift where religious institutions and religious explanations for events were slowly being displaced from the center of life to its periphery. The evidence for a growing critical rationalism among educated Christians is overwhelming, with a decline in religious fervor. They were thus open to the antireligious propaganda of the philosophes, as Sunday sermons simultaneously grew less severe and more accommodating to an easier life. As the Catholics, Lutherans, and Calvinists fought amongst themselves, the philosophes triumphed over them all.

Chapter Seven: Beyond the Holy Circle - the philosophes appropriated Christian labors for their own purposes.

1. The Abuse of Learning: This was a time of the beginnings of Biblical critical scholarship. Diderot, Voltaire, and Gibbon each took particular advantage of a different scholarly friend, and applied that scholarship where it could be devastating to Christianity. The philosophes were missionaries: for the sake of their calling they were ready to exploit the best their enemy had to offer, without mercy or gratitude.

2. The Mission of Lucretius: Lucretius was to Epicureus what the philosophes were to the Enlightenment, purveyors of savage, brutal, and relentless diatribes against superstition and religion. Religion retreated to the extent that philosophy and science advanced.

3. David Hume: The Complete Modern Pagan - Whatever misgivings the philosophes had about their passion, Hume had the least. He thought all houses of faith were houses of infection and that a rational man must escape, after exposing, the squabbles of theologians. His philosophy embodies the dialectic of the Enlightenment at its most ruthless. Without melodrama, Hume lived cheerfully and without complaining, with no supernatural justifications, demanding no complete explanations, no promise of permanent stability, with guides of merely probable validity. He was a cheerful Stoic.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

On Meditation

"The route to mindfulness is present-centered attention. Mindfulness is being 'willfully passive.' We deliberately decide to observe present experience without interfering with it... [B]y bringing theses experiences into consciousness, we will be able... to transcend them, to know them, to complete them and to move on." 

-- Ron Kurtz in Body-Centered Psychotherapy: The Hakomi Method, Mendocino, CA: LifeRhythm, 1990. 

"Chogyam Trungpa... stressed that... to return again and again to the immediacy of our experience... uncovers a complete openness to things just as they are without conceptual padding. It allows us to lighten up and to appreciate our world and ourselves unconditionally... to become one with it rather than split ourselves in two, one part of us rejecting or judging another part... His instruction on how to relate with the thoughts was [to]... leave them free to dissolve back into space without making meditation into a self-improvement project." 

-- Pema Chodron in Taking the Leap: Freeing Ourselves from Old Habits and Fears, Boston: Shambala, 2010.

"The practice of self-observation begins with a desire and resolution on your part: 'I want to know what really is, regardless of how I prefer things to be. ... In its most general form, the practice of self-observation is simply a matter of paying attention to everything, noticing whatever happens, being open-mindedly curious about all that is going on. This everything will almost always be a mixture of perceptions of external events and your internal reactions to them. ... Whatever is, is an appropriate focus for observation."

"To practice insight meditation, one should restrict one's attention to the bare notice of sensations and thoughts. One's attitude should be completely receptive to whatever contents arise in the mind. ... [D]istracting thoughts or feelings may be noted, registered, and left behind. As this process goes on, the meditator has a succession of realizations about the nature of mind and self."

-- Arthur Deikman in The Observing Self: Mysticism and Psychotherapy, Beacon Press, 1982. 

"We have not come together to satisfy our intellects. This we can do through books and second-hand information. We have come to satisfy the inner need to know ourselves, to share our oneness, to hear directly what life is. To receive life we must be open to it. Life can only be understood by life. The means that being open is itself life. ... Nothing that can be known has existence in itself. It depends on a knower. The knower is consciousness. Only consciousness never changes. We must find out what never changes in us."

"The mind cannot go beyond itself through its own will. At a certain point it can no longer stay in the realm of thinking and there comes a moment when we find ourselves at the threshold of being. It is only a spontaneous giving up. You will find yourself in a state of waiting without waiting. Then you will be open to the openness. But this is not a process of will. What you are looking for can never be asserted, can never be objective, can never be affirmed. ... It is better to say, "I don't know." In this not knowing there is real knowing."

-- Jean Klein in Beyond Knowledge, Third Millennium, 1994.

"So when you listen to a thought, you are aware not only of the thought but also of yourself as the witness of the thought. A new dimension of consciousness has come in. ... The though then loses its power over you and quickly subsides, because you are no longer energizing the mind through identification with it. This is the beginning of the end of compulsive thinking."

"While the mind may try to escape from conditioning itself through meditation, Krishnamurti says, it simply creates in the very attempt another prison of methods to follow and goals to achieve. He opposes techniques of every kind and urges the putting aside of all authority and tradition: From them, one can only collect more knowledge, while understanding is needed instead. According to Krishnamurti, no technique can free the mind, for any effort by the mind only weaves another net. He ... emphatically opposes concentration methods:

"'By repeating Amen or Om or Coca-Cola indefinitely you obvously have a certain experience because by repetition the mind becomes quiet ... It is one of the favorite gambits of some teachers of meditation to insist upon their pupils learning concentration, that is, fixing the mind on one thought and driving out all other thoughts. This is a most stupid, ugly thing, which any schoolboy can do because he is forced to.'

"The 'meditation' Krishnamurti advocates has no system, least of all 'repetition and imitation.' He proposes as both means and end a 'choiceless awareness,' the 'experiencing of what is without naming.' This state is beyond all thought; all thought, he says, belongs to the past, and meditation is always in the present. To be in the present, the mind must relinquish the habits acquired out of the urge to be secure... One must let go of at thought and imagining. ...

"'You have to watch, as you watch a lizard going by, walking across the wall, seeing all of its four feet, how it sticks to the wall, you have to watch it, and as you watch it, you see all the movements, the delicacy of its movements. So in the same way, watch your thinking, do not correct it, do not suppress it -- do not say it is too hard -- just watch it... When the mind realizes the totality of its own conditioning ... then all its movements come to an end: It is completely still, without any desire, without any compulsion, without any motive.'"

"We must be willing to be completely ordinary people, which means accepting ourselves as we are without trying to become greater, purer, more spiritual, more insightful. If we can accept our imperfections as they are, quite ordinarily, then we can use them as part of the path. But if we try to get rid of our imperfections, then they will be enemies, obstacles on the road to our 'self-improvement.' ... The attitude you bring to spirituality should be natural, ordinary, without ambition. ... And the same is true for the breath. If we can see it as it is, without trying to use it to improve ourselves, then it becomes a part of the path because we are no longer using it as a tool of our personal ambition."

"We seem to have numerous 'I's. There is the I of 'I want,' the I of 'I wrote a letter,' the I of 'I am a psychiatrist' or 'I am thinking.' But there is another I that is basic, that underlies desires, activities, and physical characteristics. This is the subjective sense of our existence. It is different from self-image, the body, passions, fears, social category -- these are aspects of our person that we usually refer to when we speak of the self, but they do not refer to the core of our conscious being, they are not the origin of our sense of personal existence."

"Awareness is something apart from, and different from, all that of which we are aware: thoughts, emotions, images, sensations, desires, and memory. Awareness is the ground in which the mind's contents manifest themselves; they appear in it and disappear once again. ...careful introspection reveals that the objects of awareness -- sensations, thoughts, memories, images and emotions -- are constantly changing and superseding each other. In contrast, awareness continues independently of any specific mental contents."

-- Arthur Deikman in Meditations on a Blue Vase, Fearless Books, 2014.

"While meditation may be cultivated as a formal practice once or twice a day..., the aim is to bring a fresh awareness into everything we do. Whether walking or standing still, sitting or laying down, alone or in company, resting or working, I try to maintain that same careful attention. ... Awareness is a process of deepening self-acceptance. It is neither a cold, surgical examination of life nor a means of becoming perfect. Whatever it observes, it embraces. There is nothing unworthy of acceptance. ... But to embrace hatred does not mean to indulge it. To embrace hatred is to accept it for what it is: a disruptive but transient state of mind. Awareness observes it jolt into being, coloring consciousness and gripping the body. The heart accelerates, the breath becomes shallow and jagged, and an almost physical urge to react dominates the mind. At the same time, the frenzy is set against a dark, quiet gulf of hurt, humiliation, and shame. Awareness notices all this without condoning or condemning, repressing or expressing. It recognizes that just as hatred arises, so will it pass away."

"...if we watch the mind as though it were a film projected on a screen, as concentration deepens, it may go into a kind of slow motion and allow us to see more of what is happening. This then deepens our awareness and further allows us to observe the film almost frame by frame, to discover how one thought leads imperceptively to the next. We see how thoughts we took to be 'me' or 'mine' are just an ongoing process. This perspective help break our deep identification with the seeming solid reality of the movie of the mind. As we become less engrossed in the melodrama, we see it's just flow, and can watch it all as it passes. We are not drawn into the action by the passing of judgmental comment... or impatience. When we simply see -- moment to moment -- what's occurring, observing without judgment or preference, we don't get lost thinking... [and] we begin developing... choiceless awareness. We see intention, out of which action comes. We observe the natural process of mind and discover how much of what we so treasured to be ourselves is essentially impersonal phenomena passing by."

-- Stephen Levine in A Gradual Awakening, Anchor-Doubleday, 1979.

"Awareness and equanimity -- this is Vipassana meditation. When practiced together. they lead to liberation from suffering. ... We must become aware of the totality of mind and matter in their subtlest nature. For this purpose it is not enough merely to be mindful of superficial aspects of body and mind, such a physical movements or thoughts. We must develop awareness of sensations throughout the body and maintain equanimity toward them. If we are aware but lack equanimity, then the more conscious we become of the sensations within and the more sensitive we become to them, the more likely we are to react, thereby increasing suffering. On the other hand, if we have equanimity, but know nothing of the sensations within, then this equanimity is only superficial, concealing reactions that are constantly going on unknown in the depths of the mind. ... We seek to be conscious of everything that happens within and at the same time not to react to it, understanding that it will change."

-- William Hart channeling S. N. Goenka in The Art ofLiving: Vipassana Meditation as Taught by S. N. Goenka, HarperOne, 1987.

"The reason [point of concentration] meditation... is so popular is because people really want something mechanical that will change their state of consciousness. There are many things that can do it, but it's really very different from living awareness. Most of what goes on in the name of [point of concentration] meditation is just another tranquilizer. It's a way of cooling oneself out, removing oneself from what is, removing oneself from seeing totally the living moment... so that one gets lost in the projections of one's own mind. ... Concentration, which always involves effort, is not meditation. Concentration is a narrowing of the spectrum of awareness, a strengthening of thought. ... Real meditation is a widening of the spectrum of awareness that excludes nothing; there is never effort or force."

"...the brain changes physically in response to experience, and new mental skills can be acquired with intentional effort, with focused awareness and concentration. Experience activates neural firing, which in turn leads to the production of proteins that enable new connections to be made among neurons, in the process called neuroplasticity. ... The implication is that neuroplasticity is activated by attention itself, ... [and] by sensory input.

"At the heart of this process... is a form of internal 'tuning in' to oneself that enables people to become their best friend. ... You can have those thoughts and feelings and also be able to just notice them with the wisdom that they are not your identity. They are simply part of your mind's experience. ... The aim-and-sustain skill developed during observation enables you to hold your attention steady, to stabilize the mind. The next step is to distinguish the quality of awareness from the object of attention.

"Without preconceived ideas or judgments, this mindful awareness, this receptive attention, brings us into a tranquil place where we can be aware of and know all elements of our experience."

"The expansion of consciousness does not lie in the quantitative accumulation of experiences, but in a qualitative change in the person experiencing... Each time you climb to a higher vantage point the range of your vision is enlarged and your understanding of your entire situation is altered. You see things from a more encompassing perspective which allows you to be less concerned and anxious and enables you to relate to your environment in terms of how it really is rather than how you imagined it to be from a more limited point of view."

-- Swami Rama and Swami Ajaya in Creative Use of Emotion, Himalayan Institute Press, 1987. 

"Real meditation is the highest form of intelligence. It is not a matter of sitting cross-legged in a corner with your eyes shut or standing on your head or whatever it is you do. To meditate is to be completely aware as you are walking, as you are riding in the bus, as you are working in your office or in your kitchen; completely aware of the words you use, the gestures you make, the manner of your talk, the way you eat, and how you push people around. To be choicelessly aware of everything about you and within yourself, is meditation."

-- Jiddu Krishnamurti in The Collected Works, Vol. XIII, Krishnamurti Foundations, 2014.

"'How come nothing happened for me? What a dud I am!' ... But often it is those who said they didn't 'get it' so easily who later display considerable insight into that which blocks the qualities they were attempting to cultivate. They may well have seen the nature of that which limits forgiveness or mercy or letting go or healing more clearly than one who 'in a lucky moment' was able to get some depth of experience of the qualities they were examining. It is often when it 'doesn't work' that the work to be done is most clearly seen." 

-- Stephen Levine in Healing into Life and Death, Anchor Doubleday, 1987. 

"Meditation is inquiry into the very being of the meditator. As human beings we are all capable of inquiry, of discovery, and this whole process is meditation. Meditation is inquiry into the very being of the meditator. You cannot meditate without self-knowledge, without being aware of the ways of your own mind, from the superficial responses to the most complex subtleties of thought. I am sure it is not really difficult to know, to be aware of oneself, but it is difficult for most of us because we are so afraid to inquire, to grope, to search out. Our fear is not of the unknown, but of letting go of the known. It is only when the mind allows the known to fade away that there is complete freedom from the known, and only then is it possible for the new impulse to come into being.

-- Jiddu Krishnamurti in The Collected Works, Vol. X, Krishnamurti Foundations, 2014.

"Because awareness is a view of reality free from ideas and judgments, it is clearly impossible to define and write down what it reveals. Anything which can be described is an idea. ... I shall therefore have to be content with talking about the false impression which awareness removes, rather than the truth which it reveals. The latter can only be symbolized with words which mean little or nothing to those without a direct understanding of the truth in question. What is true and positive is too real and too living to be described, and to try to describe it is like putting red paint on a red rose.

"Understanding comes through awareness. Can we, then, approach our experience -- our sensations, feelings, and thoughts -- quite simply, as if we had never known them before, and, without prejudice, look at what is going on. ... There is no experience but present experience. What you know, what you are actually aware of, is just what is happening at this moment, and no more."

"There is no other way to succeed than to draw the mind back every time it turns outwards and fix it in the Self. There is no need for meditation or mantra or japa or anything of the sort, because these are our real nature. All that is needed is to give up thinking of objects rather than the Self. Meditation is not so much thinking of the Self as giving up thinking of the not-Self. When you give up thinking of outward objects and prevent your mind from going outwards by turning it inwards and fixing it in the Self, the Self alone remains."

"Whenever a thought arises, do not be carried away by it. You become aware of the body when you forget the Self. But can you forget the Self? Being the Self how can you forget it? There must be two selves for one to forget the other. It is absurd. So the Self is not depressed, nor is it imperfect. It is ever happy."

" long as I do not understand myself, I have no basis for thought, and all my search will be in vain. I can escape into illusions, I can run away from contention, strife, struggle; I can worship another; I can look for my salvation through somebody else. But so long as I am ignorant of myself, so long as I am unaware of the total process of myself, I have no [accurate] basis for thought, for affection, for action. ... Without knowing yourself, without knowing your own ways of thinking and why you think certain things, without knowing the background of your conditioning and why you have certain beliefs about art and religion, about your country and your neighbor and about yourself, how can you truly think about anything.

"The more you know about yourself, the more clarity there is. Self-knowledge has no end -- you don't come to an achievement, you don't come to a conclusion. It is an endless  river. ... Only when the mind is tranquil -- through self-knowledge... -- only then, in that tranquility, in that silence, can reality come into being."

Jiddu Krishnamurti in The Krishnamurti Reader, Penguin-Arcana, 1954.

I'm ready
Ready for the laughing gas
I'm ready
Ready for what's next
Ready to duck
Ready to dive
Ready to say
I'm glad to be alive
I'm ready
Ready for the push, uh huh

In the cool of the night
In the warmth of the breeze
I'll be crawling 'round
On my hands and knees


Ready for the gridlock
I'm ready
To take it to the street, uh huh
I'm ready for the shuffle
Ready for the deal
Ready to let go of the steering wheel
I'm ready
Ready for the crush, uh huh

Zoo Station
Zoo Station
Alright, alright, alright, not alright
It's alright, it's alright, it's alright, it's alright

Time is a train
Makes the future the past
Leaves you standing in the station
Your face pressed up against the glass

-- Adam Clayton, Dave Evans, Larry Mullen, Paul Hewson • Copyright © 1991, Universal Music Publishing Group

The 10 StEPs of Emotion Processing via Self-Observation Meditation

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Understanding Codependence as "Soft-Core" Cult Dynamics...

...and Cult Dynamics as "Hard-Core" Codependence

My two theses here are that 1) cults of personality are little other than large networks of what can range up to an extreme form of codependency, and 2) that understanding the operational dynamics of cults can be highly useful to sponsors and sponsees in Co-Dependents Anonymous, as well as to treatment professionals. One paradigm informs the other in both cases. 

(For those unfamiliar with the concept, patterns and characteristics of co-dependence, one can click on the preceding links to come up to speed very quickly. For material on co-dependence in depth, please see Anonymous, Beattie, Cermak, Evans, Mellody, Rapson & English, Schaef, Weinhold & Weinhold, and Whitfield in the Resources & References at the end of this paper. For a quick primer on the characteristics of cults, give Dan Goleman's list a look.)

For any students of sociology who stumble upon this, suffice it to say that the organizational platform here is built on Spencer's, Durkheim's and Parson's "structural functionalism," and that those who grasp that concept in depth are very easily able to see the operational similarities between codependence and cult dynamics.)

I grew up in Hollywood. It's no surprise to me that several large cults of human potential have flourished in soil pre-treated to ardent belief in (excessive) self esteem, black and white / all-or-nothing thinking, obsession with achievement and fame, and submission to dominating authority. Observed through the lens of those four concepts (aka: perfectionism, either/or dichotomism, narcissism and authoritarianism), the attachment and devotion to what some might call a self-destructive degree of co-dependence near the Soboba Indian Reservation close to San Jacinto, California (described in recent articles in the Los Angeles Times and The New Yorker magazine) may make a lot more sense. 

We may never really know what all it was that the founder of Hollywood's largest cult had been exposed to that empowered his seemingly messianic (and megalomanic?) quest. Read those who deconstructed the individual, family-of-origin and group dynamics of the National Socialist, Red Chinese and North Korean "thought reform" techniques that made Hitler's, Mao's and Kim's (as well as Sun Myung Moon's) cults of personality possible. (Erich Fromm, Eric Hoffer, Robert J. Lifton, Edgar Schein, Margaret Thaler, Michael Langone, et al, are listed below). 

In so doing, it may be evident that the founder of Hollywood's Cult numero uno (who finally expired in a trailer in a tiny village in north San Luis Obispo County) had access to -- as well as a considerable grasp of -- them. And that, at least in the last half century, he was only one of several who may have gotten his or her guru chops from the folks who produced the grisly spectacles of 1933 to 1953. 

"Over time, I learned that I could escape the awful feelings of being an incompetent, shameful, guilty, submissive little fool by finding someone else in the cult to dominate, embarrass, belittle, humiliate and demoralize so that I could feel competent, capable and prideful. I learned to do whatever it took to please my dominators, including channeling their domination of me onto other little fools."  

For me, anyway, the major shortcoming of many of the fine books out there on cults is that they often pay attention to all the drama but fail to connect all the dots. Nor did they look into whether the top dogs of the era following the founders' deaths are less, equally or even more schooled in the methods of mind control described by those listed above nearly as deeply as Joel Kramer, Diana Alstad, Flo Conway, Jim Siegelman, Steven Hassan, Kathleen Taylor, Mark Galanter, Arthur Deikman and the redoubtable Charles Tart (on his concept of the "consensus trance").

BUT... I'll take a shot at some dot-connecting here. Because over the more than four decades since I first either fell down the well or at least drank some of the Cool Aid in several of these organizations, I was able to see from outside the paradigm, "box," "cage," "cave," "frame," "trap" or consensus trance what was going on inside with ever greater clarity. (In fact, it was a renown psychologist in Beverly Hills for whom I worked in the late 1970s -- who himself had a relatively benign, and far less dangerous, human potential cult going there -- who kicked me in the shins just hard enough to start my own, real growth process.) (But giving credit where it's really due, it was Jiddu Krishnamurti who first put the dots close enough together for me to get some real traction with them.)

Let's look at the four characteristics I have seen again and again among cult members, leaders and escapees, as well as ardent codependents:

1) Excessive "perfectionism" usually acquired earlier in life.

2) Black and white / all-or-nothing thinking; aka "dichotomism."

3) Blindly ambitious obsession with either achievement and fame or to compensate for earlier invalidation, devaluation, being ignored and/or functionally abandoned; aka "compensatory narcissism."

4) An unusual willingness submit to dominant authority to get the rewards of attention, validation and esteem from others; aka "authoritarianism."

I could have listed credulity, but elected not to do so because it is evident that while many co-dependents and cult members are highly credulous, many others are startlingly given to ardent skepticism; an almost knee-jerk questioning of and/or argument with those who promote propositions that they find dubious. Nevertheless, credulity and skepticism are worth understanding for those who want to comprehend the mentality of many co-dependents and cult members because it points to a particular form of dichotomism.

Neither do I see psychologic paranoia in the behaviors of all co-dependents or cult members. But I have observed it often enough to consider it a high-order correlate. Nor do I see Seligman's "learned helplessness" or Tangney & Dearing's (and Forward's) "toxic shame" in all co-dependents or cult members... but I do see them a lot.

I also see a lot of excessive internalizing (or taking too much responsibility) in both groups, but find some codependents and many cult members to be either externalizing (e.g.: blaming others) or alternatively (and excessively) internalizing and externalizing in a sort of flip-flop / ping-pong fashion. And I see a lot of Van der Kolk's "compulsion to repeat the trauma," but do not (or cannot) see it in enough people of either category to assert that it is universal in either co-dependents or cult members.

Taking those four one at a time in the frame of their relevance to both cult membership and co-dependence:

Excessive Perfectionism

Too much of a good thing may not be.

Many (most?) of the co-dependents and virtually all of the cult members or former members I have known are (often covertly and/or unconsciously) perfectionistic to the point of at least occasional (if not chronic) obsession with saying and doing what they believe to be "correct," "right," "functional" and/or "appropriate." Some came from backgrounds that predisposed them to achievement to meet parental expectations; perhaps because their parents were either high -- and proud -- (or low and shame-infected) achievers themselves. Others seem to have dots connecting their current perfectionism with early life experiences with parents who set them up to "try harder" by ignoring, invalidating, abandoning or otherwise devaluing them.

The worst cases, however, tended to have backgrounds with parents who gave paradoxical injunctions; parents who (overtly) said one thing and then (usually covertly) said or did the opposite so that the child was damned if he did and damned if didn't follow the conflicting -- often overt here and covert there -- instructions. The typical combination of paradoxical injunctions was something like, "Do your best to get rewards from us," and "Do you really expect us to pay any attention?" The child of such parents is often set up (in the fashion of the classic "double-bind") to strive for enough achievement to finally get the attention and approval that still remains out of reach. And the adult child of such parents will often work him- or herself half to death to meet the expectations and requirements of the parental dynamics that remain normalized in the so-called "superego" between his or her ears. (Wickliff's excellent rundown of family dysfunction as a precursor to cult affiliation is more than germane here.)

The manipulation of one's own, perfectionistic moral principles very easily induces (emotional) shame, guilt, remorse, regret and (cognitive) worry and morbid reflection in the minds of those already conditioned, socialized, habituated, accustomed, normalized and institutionalized to these affective and cognitive states.

Conditioned, socialized, habituated and normalized by their early life experiences to seek approval by being "perfect," such people make terrific (and "highly co-dependent") employees for bosses and employers who care little or nothing about those who backs they climb over to make their own way to the top, regardless of what they say or the minimal (and occasional) rewards they provide to those in the state of anxious attachment. In moderate burnout (before they collapse from stress), they also make fine and dandy salesmen, supporters and slaves for covertly ruthless gurus. 


If there is any one technique of manipulation that stands out for its ubiquity among those who succeed at politics via the building of massive cults of personality, it is all-or-nothing, this-way-or-that, all-good-or-all-bad, black and white thinking. Our culture conditions, socializes, habituates, normalizes and even institutionalizes polarized perception to such an extent throughout childhood that most of us cannot see that we think in terms of "either / or." Researchers estimate that only about five percent of us can be counted upon to regularly see outside the box, frame or paradigm of this possibility or that. Which makes it very easy for politicians, manipulative bosses and gurus to stipulate a choice between two ("obviously") "good" or "bad" opposites. Such stipulation forces the unconscious employee, party or cult member to limit his or her choice to those offered without noticing any others. 

Most children are taught by virtually every authority they encounter to "follow the rules" and not to question those rules. The child's natural capacity to simply use his eyes, ears and other senses to tell what is from what is not with respect to anything fairly complex is dulled nearly to the point of extinction by the time he or she is six years old (see Cvencek, Greenwald & Meltzoff, and who knows how many others). From the point of view of the guru, this couldn't be any better. Because -- like any effective politician -- he will present his own explanations of and solutions for life's challenges in either / or terms that exclude all other possibilities.

Compensatory Narcissism

The very word "narcissism" has -- as the result of vernacular usage -- come to mean "too narcissistic for one's own good." The fact that a limited degree of narcissism is actually useful is obvious to those who watch infants set up a fuss to get picked up, fed and otherwise attended to when they are uncomfortable. And those frustrated, learned helpless children who were too often ignored or dismissed when they needed attention usually grow up to be fine candidates for those who understand how easily they can be manipulated by appealing to their healthy, but unmet, narcissistic needs.

I am not speaking of the "classic," entitled narcissist who was "spoiled" by overly indulgent parents (though such people do make good cult fodder, as well). I am talking about the adult child of self-absorbed parents who did not get enough attention, and who grows up having collected all manner of ways to compensate for believing him- or herself to be "unwanted," "unnecessary" and "unimportant." Listen to any card-carrying co-dependent for ten minutes, and then tell me that those three words do not describe their unconscious self-concepts. One need only listen to a cult member for a fraction of that time to grasp how obsessed they are with being wanted, necessary, important and significant.  


Raised as "victims" on Stephen Karpman's Drama Triangle (by alternate "rescuers" and "punishers"), the typical co-dependent -- and cult member -- has formed an unconsciously foreclosed identity as a victim. And he or she will spend the rest of his or her life trying to get out of the victim corner by rescuing... and if rescuing fails, by persecuting and punishing. This (non-sexual) dominance and submission schematic is glaringly obvious in the world of the cult, regardless of whether it is "religious" or not. 

(Virtually all cults -- whether they are "religious," psuedo-spiritual or "human potential" -- are set up in a tiered, top-to-bottom hierarchy of relatively more powerful dominators and less powerful submittors; each dominator being submissive to the dominators on the level above. The guru stands at the top of a functional pyramid of increasing dominance from bottom to top and increasing submission from top to bottom.) 

Because it seems germane at this point, let's take a quick left turn into Trinkner, et al's, work on Baumrind's parenting styles:

"Authoritative parents are both demanding and controlling, but they are also warm and receptive to their children's needs. They are receptive to bi-directional communication in that they explain to their children why they have established rules and also listen to their children's opinions about those rules. Children of authoritative parents tend to be self-reliant, self-controlled, and content.

"On the other hand, authoritarian parents are demanding and highly controlling, but detached and unreceptive to their children's needs. These parents support unilateral communication where they establish rules without explanation and expect them to be obeyed without complaint or question. Authoritarian parenting produces children who are discontent, withdrawn, and distrustful. 

"Finally, in contrast to authoritarian parenting, permissive parents are non-demanding and non-controlling. They tend to be warm and receptive to their children's needs, but place few boundaries on their children. If they do establish rules, they rarely enforce them to any great extent. These parents tend to produce children who are the least self-reliant, explorative and self-controlled out of all the parenting styles."

Morality is as waaaaay twisted in the frame-work, paradigm, cave, cage, box or consensus trance of the cult as it was for most co-dependents and cult members in the interpersonal family system of the family in which they grew up. Twisted morality was so effectively -- and covertly -- socialized, habituated and institutionalized in such families of origin that it seems perfectly normal in the cult or severely co-dependent marriage or workplace.

The recovering co-dependent is at somewhat of an advantage here. He or she hears that long grind of "patterns and characteristics of codependence" at every CoDA meeting they attend. (For them, it's a way of working Steps Six and Seven again and again.) Those who arrived at this weblog from at least somewhat informed perspectives on cult dynamics, however, may find themselves more than a little surprised. 

"I judge what I think, say, or do harshly, as never good enough."
"I value others’ approval of my thinking, feelings, and behavior over my own."
"I constantly seek recognition that I think I deserve."
"I have difficulty admitting that I made a mistake."
"I need to appear to be right in the eyes of others and will even lie to look good."
"I look to others to provide my sense of safety."
"I am extremely loyal, remaining in harmful situations too long."
"I compromise my own values and integrity to avoid rejection or anger."
"I put aside my own interests in order to do what others want."
"I am afraid to express my beliefs, opinions, and feelings when they differ from those of others."
"I give up my truth to gain the approval of others or to avoid change."
"I believe most people are incapable of taking care of themselves."
"I attempt to convince others what to think, do, or feel."
"I freely offer advice and direction to others without being asked."
"I become resentful when others decline my help or reject my advice."
"I have to be needed in order to have a relationship with others."
"I use charm and charisma to convince others of my capacity to be caring and compassionate."
"I use blame and shame to emotionally exploit others."
"I adopt an attitude of indifference, helplessness, authority, or rage to manipulate outcomes."
"I use terms of recovery in an attempt to control the behavior of others."
"I pretend to agree with others to get what I want."

Tell me you've never seen any of this in a cult.

Codependence, Cult Participation & Complex PTSD

Like co-dependents (only generally even moreso), the devoted cult member displays high allostatic loading (especially see Bruce McEwen's, Sonya Lupien's and Robert Sapolsky's work on this very hot topic in abnormal psychology) and other behavioral presentations of complex post-traumatic stress disorder that usually began in childhood. Generally speaking, this allostatic loading was greatly densified in co-dependent, romantic and workplace relationships, as well as religious and other large group activities that were interpersonally stress-inducing, even if they seemed "normal" to the participant.

My observation is that this allostatic loading is the direct result of what Susan Forward called "emotional blackmail" (in a truly fine book of the same title) by means of the "F.O.G." manipulations of fear, obligation and guilt. 

I have observed repeatedly -- via scans of the brain with magnetic resonance imaging and three-dimensional computer-aided tomography -- that those who have been tortured psychologically have brains that function very similarly to those who have been tortured physically, as well as those exposed to violent, military combat. I have seen scans of the brains of those who have been exposed to chronic -- as well as severe acute -- stress and abuse. The histories may be as different as one can imagine... but the limbic systems look pretty much the same: amygdalae and hippocampi that are either grossly over- or under-size owing to over-growth to deal with relentless threat, or excitotoxicity from being on the receiving end. 

Over time, the severely co-dependent or cult member may find he or she needs to drink or drug, gamble, exercise, work, volunteer or otherwise distract him- or herself to excess to try to displace the conflict, anxiety, mania and/or depression typical in the traumatic stress that both causes and results from continued, chronic allostatic loading.

Are cult membership or codependence potentially "deadly?" I wish you could see those scans. As well as the statistics on both fast and slow suicide among people with anxiety-, depression- and mania-soaked, complex PTSD induced by having become "learned helpless" victims at the bottom of Karpman's Drama Triangle


Once programmed and caught in the vicious cycle of trying to escape from what is causing the problem by indulging in yet more of it, is there a way out? I think so, but only for those (more or less as for anyone who has been obsessed or addicted to a substance or behavior like gambling, workaholism, excessive exercise or sex, or severely codependent relationships) who have moved through denial / pre-contemplation and contemplation / consideration into self-identification / acceptance so that they can move on to commitment / action and maintenance / relapse prevention (see Prochaska & DiClemente on the five stages of addiction recovery).

In combination with understanding the fear, obligation & guilt ("FOG") dynamics of cult mind control (e.g.: see above, see Goleman's list of cult danger signs, see Zimbardo's ten lessons from the Milgram studies)  have seen the following work for both codependents and cult exiters: Pia Mellody's approach to the 12 Steps of Co-Dependents Anonymous, Albert Ellis's Rational-Emotive Behavioral Therapy, Aaron Beck's Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Marsha Linehan's Dialectical Behavior Therapy, Stephen Hayes's Acceptance & Commitment Therapy, Stanley Block's Mind-Body Bridging Therapy, and Patricia Ogden's Sensorimotor Psychotherapy for Trauma

Or one can take a look at the 10 StEPs of Emotion Processing, yet another of the new wave of reality therapies that re-ground the mind in observing what is, as opposed to what the mind has been trained to believe. See also The 10 StEPs for Recovery from the Consensus Trance and The 10 StEPs to Freedom from Emotional Blackmail.) 

But one may have to employ the consciousness-raising, "howzitoworkingforyou?" techniques of motivational enhancement much as they are used in the treatments of substance abuse and behavioral addictions (including severe, unconscious, ardently denied or unseen co-dependence) to break through the first stage of denial / pre-contemplation to get the co-dependent or cult member on the road through contemplation / consideration to self-identification / acceptance of his or her causes and conditions.

Finally, those who may be looking for edification on the causes, conditions, treatment of, and recovery from both co-dependence and cultic thought reform will find an exhaustive list of published resources below. Also see the outline on CARM's website.

Related article: Coercive Persuasion & Attitude Change in Cults

Resources & References

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