This must be the way European Jews felt as the roots of the Nazi holocaust began cracking through the pavement we call civil society; this emanate premonition of some unknown but certain horror rising. I remember reading the memoirs of one such European describing the slow, steady creep and how most dismissed it or shook their head pretending.
I was thirteen on November 22, 1963, and had no idea what really happened the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Something dark struck the heart of our nation that day and it never recovered. Tuesday, September 11, 2001 marks another moment when the world changed. The same, I’m sure, will be said of November 8th, 2016.
Carly and I spent the afternoon together. We grabbed yesterday’s spaghetti from the fridge and sat at the table. My pensive countenance surely filled the air. She and I were deeply together but quiet. Carly would look up, her big blue eyes, clear and bright, echoed distant memories of the little boy I once was – looking up too. The earliest photo of that lad must have been around age three standing with my brother and sister and behind them my mother’s mother and father smiling. The resonance between that boy’s shining face and Carly’s was not imagined. And this brought back the memory of shaving one morning. Looking in the mirror I could see my father. That too was not imagined. My father was there resonating in the contours of my face. Like a stream, these images and distant memories of four generations flowed; grandparents, my parents, Carly and me. Who can really say when and where one begins and the other ends?
It has been difficult to stay centered and present being pulled between one extreme and another. Before me was the future of humanity blossoming, intensely engaged with the present, learning and expanding with each touch, each sound, each brief passing sensation. I remain rapt by this miracle I am gifted to share. On the flip side was a raging insight that what we call ideology, culture and our personal ego is one field. What we experience as differences in this field is simply a point of view, a way of looking. Fundamentally ideology, culture and the images I hold about myself are the same. All are egos and all egos are more or less defensive, aggressive, jealous, selfish and myopic. Carly is unfolding beautifully. My hope is that she will have a radiant, playful, beautiful, compassionate personality and very little or no ego that blinds.
Years ago when writing Magical Parent – Magical Child, with Joseph Chilton Pearce playing along, there was a passage called “to me or not to me.” Abundant research in optimum states of learning and performance reveals that this phantom ego is only there when we look. How often we look is shaped by how safe we feel. Not feeling safe creates the need to look. My intent, my passion being with Carly Elizabeth is for her to feel completely safe, first in our relationship and as the rings of this relationship spread that this safety spreads far and wide. I do this by being present, by being attentive, inwardly still and listening to the song she is singing, her body and emotions are constantly humming like the strings of a violin. The other way I ensure that Carly feels completely safe and connected is by not making her the object of my anger, frustration or sudden displeasure.
This evening she was playing in the bath, for example. I was shaving and heard water dripping. I turned and she was filing a bowl with the hand shower. The bowl was full and water was pouring over the tub onto the floor. “No,” I said sharply. “The water stays in the tub!” A choice was made that instant; was the ‘no’ directed at Carly or the water? Of course, she felt my intensity. She saw the spreading mess on the floor. I grabbed a towel or two as she directed the hand shower back in the tub. Still she was looking, waiting for a sign. Was the “no” and my intensity directed at her or the water? I smiled and affirmed that the water belongs in the tub. She got her answer and smiled too. I heard her say after, “the water belongs in the tub.”
Had I focused my intensity and disdain on Carly she would feel the threat and would have to defend. If this threatening feeling is repeated the defensive look will morph into anxiety and become more or less a permanent reflex. Like irritating sand in an oyster the neocortex, social-emotional and sensory regions of the brain each creates an image from this threatening feeling and with that collective image the social ego is formed. Ideologies and whole cultures are rooted in the same image-making structures. With this in mind it is easy to see why nations act like egos, why organizations and groups behave often act irrationally, like a very young child throwing a tantrum. Ideologies, nations, organizations all function and behave like individual egos because they are created and emerge from the same structures in the human brain.
Even after the compulsively selfish-defensive ego is well etched there are moments when the phantom is dormant, not active and all the energy and attention that maintains this narrow filter is free and available. Athletes call this state of complete and often heightened attention ‘the zone.’ Researchers have called this optimum state of learning, performance and relationship ‘flow.’ Children call it play and play is what Carly does all day long. The deeper the scars that etch the ego the more challenging and infrequent this optimum state arises. The question ‘to me or not to me’ then takes on heightened significance for it is quite impossible for the me to extinguish or negate the me. When active, everything is and feeds the phantom image, not unlike a filter covering a lens. The ego is a filter. When in place it affects everything we see and feel. Transcendence, reaching beyond the limitations and constraints imposed by the ego-image begins when the passion of the moment is so compelling that it demands complete attention. This is where Carly lives and why her feeling completely safe psychologically is so important.
This is so easy to see. Complete attention isn’t fragmented. There is entrained wholeness. Activate the ego-image and complete attention splits. There is the challenge of the moment and there is the ego-image and each demands energy and attention. The greater the need for security the greater the energy that is invested in meeting the needs of the defensive ego-image and the less energy and attention is available to meet the challenge. The less one feels the need to defend the more expansive, sane and appropriate growth and learning becomes. Obviously, learning, performance and appropriate behavior increases when the demands of the ego-image are dormant. But this, however, demands intrinsic physical, emotional and psychological security right now, on the spot. And this safety is impossible when identified with ideologies and cultural constraints. The more fundamental the ideology the stronger the ego-image for the two are not and cannot be separated.
With this in mind I have always felt that Golden Rule is the only rule a parent needs to hold. All other rules are provisional, subject to change because the child and the world in which we are dancing is always changing. The most appropriate response to a challenge this moment may not be optimum the next. Fixed rules betray this necessary adaptability. What is fixed with the Golden Rule is the certainty the child has that my response will be appropriate this moment and the next.
Carly climbed to her tall white chair. Soup was simmering and I prepared a new treat, garlic toast. I trimmed the crust and handed her several pieces. She loved it. Up she jumped and reached for more, pushing aside the fresh peas, steamed carrots and minestrone soup. Mind you, Carly is 2.3 years young. Chomp, chomp, up she jumped again reaching. ‘Carly Elizabeth,’ I said. Of course, she ignored me. ‘Carly Elizabeth,’ I said again, and then again. My fingers walked over to the peas and pointed. And then they walked to the carrots and pointed. Remember, in Carly’s world social is sensory. “The peas and fresh carrots and soup are yummy too,” I said. “Please taste these and then have more toast if you like.” And she did just that. Clearly, this could have been a fight, my will against hers, but it wasn’t, and the reason, I believe, is the Golden Rule. Carly trusts and respects me because I trust and respect her. She trusts the reciprocal bond we have. She takes seriously my requests because I take seriously her implicit needs. I treat her the way I hope to be treated. The Golden Rule doesn’t really work when the ego, the strict rules that maintain ideology and culture, are calling the shots. The Golden Rule reaches much more deeply and evokes what we might call optimum and appropriate. This deeper, fully human response and relationship with all things dissolve the implicit conflicts inherent in the image with its narrow fixed prohibitions. What is the most appropriate response to life this moment is the emanating source of our response, not ideology, beliefs, the organization, system and culture with its strict identity and implicit conflicts.
What took place on November 8th did not just happen. The breakdown of intimate human relationships, substituting cultural counterfeits – technological birth, the loss of intimate touch and movement implicit in breastfeeding and all that this implies, the forced conditioning we call schooling earlier and earlier, the loss of direct experience with nature, how we marinate our consciousness in media and technology falsely believing we are actually seeing and touching, all of these give rise to a psyche that is increasingly narcissistic, self-absorbed and therefore implicitly violent. Such a psyche can’t free itself from itself. As long as the environment is increasingly molded by ideology and culture with their egotistical natures, the violence that these virtual realities represent will continue. It is as simple as that.
In a few short years the safe and free psyches of children like Carly Elizabeth will replace the selfish geezers who can’t ever get enough. The world will change from the inside out if we have that much time. To me or not to me and the Golden Rule? Maybe we will get lucky.
Featured Illustration Benjavisa Ruangvaree/Shutterstock