My editor and I went around and around on the wording of this blog's title. First, there was the question of why I am focusing on the word and idea of entertainment Once that was somewhat settled, next came the question of my choice of the word "enchanted."
Now, I recognize that this blog will likely not be read at the United Nations, or even the council of "Building Better Mousetraps: Inc." Nor am I in any way posing as a political commentator on current events. I am simply a psychotherapist who listens to people confused by, disturbed by, and scared by the political happenings in our world at the time of this writing—a time when our living rooms seem to be invaded by the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
And so, when I sit down to write my blog, I reflect the themes and concerns of people who come to me for counsel. Most often, I find that the frequent disturbing feature of peoples' problems come about because of their unawareness—for example, their unawareness of just how drenched they are in the ever-flowing cascade of entertainment from the commercials we watch on TV, to the raucous political bombardment of our fragmented society, to the programmatic offerings of our megachurches, to the family squabbles that threaten to torpedo our fast-approaching holiday season.
But, as my editor will no doubt point out, I have slipped here on what might appear to be editorializing commentary on current events, and thereby I have drifted away from the theme of what I hope to discuss in this blog. But have I really drifted away? Or, am I perchance smack dab in the middle of our public world in which we cannot be sure if we are bewitched by entertainment or if we are enchanted by the source of the entertainment.
In other words, as I stressed to my editor, our world has become a platform for entertainment in which we emulate the actors and actresses who are paid to entertain us, or the preachers who perform for us, or the politicians who occupy the frontier of current events, oscillating between exposing and being exposed, which is as one of my acquaintances said, "the most entertaining show in town" of which there are many, many offerings.
This is today's "world of entertainment." How did this never-ending feature show come to be? Oh, so many sources, and so many means, and so many projectors operating 24/7.
But let's begin at the beginning. And that would be our very precious infants lying in their very comfortable cribs, on their backs staring up and fascinated by the moving mobiles above their heads. Why do we do that? As most child physicians and psychologists tell us, these mobiles enable young children in several ways: (1) They bring awareness of the world to the baby, (2) They strengthen eye muscle development, (3) They encourage eye, hand coordination, (4) They evoke curiosity, (5) They assist the infant in judging distance,
(6) They redirect the children's focus from only physical sensations of the body while encouraging a fascination with the outer world, (7) They may provide soothing melodies that calm the infant while also stimulating the auditory cortex that identifies and analyzes music in the cerebellum impacting pitch, melody, rhythm, and tonality in addition to cognitive skills.
In other words, mobiles provide an early life work-out that will impact blood pressure, anxiety, one's shifting mood, as well as memory, in addition to the processing of dreams that involve the entire brain. No wonder, then, that we sing to our infants while we rock them, and the movements lead the babies to stare at the parent with wonder and fascination.
Is this entertainment? Or is it a comforting behavior that provides a calming sensation. I maintain that it is both. And here, at this point in my writing, we come to the theme of this blog. I am not referring only to the enchantment of our infants but to each of us. Entertainment has enchanted the American mind and thereby disempowered our capacity to engage in rational discourse.
Think about that. Why has our society become so irrationally fragmented? Why has one television network poisoned the mind's natural tendency to think critically, to engage in a rational understanding of the difference between democracy and authoritarianism? Why have we as a society been so slow to recognize the precarious precipice upon which our planet's climate hangs? Why have we been unable to stop the gun violence which accounts for one or more mass shootings each week, to the point where we are afraid to send our children to school, afraid they will not be safe?
I could go on, but here is the unspoken truth: There is a perverse entertainment in the dark side of human nature and the shadow side of our society. Why do we slow down to look at wrecked cars on our highways? Why do we gravitate to the horror movies even when it is not Halloween? Why do we feel drawn to the horrifying scenes of natural catastrophes such as hurricanes, earthquakes, and volcanoes? Because they are entertaining and this entertainment has a quality of enchantment.
Entertainment is an archetypically driven experience that has been a part of human nature from the beginning. Consider this definition of entertainment from Wikipedia:
a form of activity that holds the attention and interest of an audience
or gives pleasure and delight. It can be an idea or a task, but is more
likely to be one of the activities or events that have developed over
thousands of years specifically for the purpose of keeping an
However, not only is entertainment an innate activity of human nature, it has now been polished to enhance its appearance with all the enticements made possible by technology that shapes appearance and image.
Historically, behind the forces shaping images that entertain us were the masters of enchantment. Think back to the earliest records of our human history and you will uncover the clever manipulations of ancient chantors (sometimes spelled "chanters") and you will wind up in the dark realm of the shape shifters, sorcerers, witches, wizards, charmers, conjurers, magicians, etc.
If you think much about this, you will come to the point of recognizing that the enchanters manipulate the reality we experience, or manipulate the way we experience the reality, or manipulate the observer. In any case, this is one of the earliest experiences of entertainment.
Such enchantment may be used in religious rites to cure illnesses. It may be used to manipulate powers of the psyche and external world. Or, it may be used for commercial profit. And, of course, throughout many of these experiences and even as an end in itself, such enchantment may be used for entertainment.
It is no wonder, then, that people who come to my office may feel quite confused about what is real. It is no wonder that one of the disabling currents of thought in our society is the threat that anything spoken or believed may be misinformation. And the result of this disabling system of communicating is that it undermines civil discourse. How compelling are the "snake-handlers"! How entertaining the enchantments in our fragmented political world. And how deceitfully dangerous!
Still, it is good to recall that all "snake oil salesmen" cannot stay long; they pass on. Having charmed and entertained audiences with the promise of their one and only elixir for making life better, the enchanters have to move on, either because they are found out, or because their charm fades when losing its entertaining enchantment.
May it be so today.
In an ancient story of how a place (country, land, province, town, etc.) shapes our personal life, and how we shape a place where we live, a young knight comes upon a barren land that has become infertile. The crops are dying; in fact, all vegetation droops as if under some kind of spell. Looking more closely at a still body of water, the prince notices an old man hunched over in his small boat, fishing and catching nothing.
Haunted by the somber tone of the land around him, the knight rides on, following a path that leads finally to an old castle, itself bearing the scars of time, old battles waged, and roof coverings that need repair. "What is going here," he wondered. Drawing closer, he follows the drawbridge across the muddy moat, finds a place to stable his horse, discovers a vacant room where he might spend the night, and prepares for sleep when he hears noise from a distant room in the castle which he supposed at one time must have been a bright and happy banquet hall. Curious, he decides cautiously to explore the increasingly mysterious old castle that is located in an even more mysterious and depressing countryside.
Following the sounds from the old banquet hall, the knight picks up the low level chatter of human voices and arrives at an entrance way to the dull light of shadowed walls with men and women gathered for what must be some event. They pay no mind to the knight, but seem to have prepared a place where he can sit and observe, almost as if the company of "lords and ladies" may have mysteriously expected him.
The knight sits at a small round table with others who pay him no attention, focusing instead on the dias elevated by a small dimly lit stage at the center of the room. The earlier chatter grew dimmer and dimmer until finally nothing could be heard in the disturbing silence. Then, suddenly but quietly and reverently, two stretcher bearers entered the banquet hall. Propped on the stretcher that appeared to serve as a pillowed cot was the old man who had earlier been seen fishing. Apparently he could not walk by himself, and the young knight could not be sure the old man could even speak as he said nothing, but obviously was a person of importance, a Fisher King.
Silently but meticulously, the Fisher King was served and proceeded to eat as did the men and women of his kingdom, as did the knight. There was no dancing, no music, no merriment. Finally, the knight could stand the tension no longer, stood awkwardly and was about to ask the bed-ridden Fisher King, "What ails you?" But he did not ask the question, and feeling embarrassed that he had drawn attention to himself, he quickly moved his chair aside and hurriedly made his way to the door—but not before noticing how the lords and ladies looked at him when he stood. The look was not one of anger or even surprise, but almost a look of anticipation and hope, or so the knight thought, while realizing he could be wrong about what he saw. In fact, he wondered if any of this was real. Was he dreaming? Had he lost his mind? Was his mind playing tricks on him?
The young knight's name was Perceval, a name that appears first in the story by Chrétien de Troyes (1130-1190 CE), "Perceval, The Story of the Grail." Another elaboration of the story comes to us from the pen of Wolfram von Eschenbach (1170-1220 CE) who names the knight, Parzival, which serves also as the title for Wolfram's work. The story thrusts itself in the Arthurian legends with attention on "the quest of the Holy Grail," in which with the influence of the Church, the quest became a search for mystical union with God.
My brief summary of this grand and noble story is a loose rendering, with the aim of noting a secondary theme. This theme is the identification we humans tend to make with a place, and how this identification becomes fateful. For example, consider the moving conclusion of the Jewish Yom Kippur service when the liturgy proclaims, "Next year in Jerusalem"! This represents a peoples' escape from slavery in Egypt and the experience of freedom —physically, spiritually, communally—in the new Land of Israel, a place and the symbol of deliverance and hope.
Consider also how Muslims undertake the Hajj Pilgrimage, one of the five pillars of Islam, which all able-bodied Muslims are required to perform once in their lifetime. The Pilgrimage, undertaken in some cases with canes or crutches, follows the route taken by the Prophet Mohammed, as Abraham and Ishmael are also thought to have traveled. The modern-day pilgrims make their journey to the Saudi Arabian city of Mecca and the sacred site of a cube-shaped Kaaba which is understood to have been built by Abraham and Ishmael thousands of years ago as a house of monotheistic worship. Viewed reverently as a metaphorical house of God, who is One, Muslims around the world turn their face toward the Kaaba during each of the five daily prayers.
We observe how for Jews and Muslims, these places shape their thoughts, prayers, and ritualistic life. But more, and this psychologically is very important, a "place" can also become a state of mind. And with that thought, I return to the story of the Fisher King. Why had the land become infertile, void of life and meaning? The land had become a state of mind for the Fisher King, or the Fisher King's state of mind became the fate of the land, bringing barrenness, meaninglessness, and joylessness.
What hope then was there? As the story unfolds, Perceval visits the castle not once but twice. On the first visit as I described it, Perceval burns with a question for the King, but never asks it. On his second visit, the same drama presents itself but with one exception.
The exception for Perceval's second visit to the Fisher King's castle is this: Perceval asks the question. It is a very human question, an authentic question that escapes the entrapment of role-playing human encounters. Of course, roles may serve the purpose of providing services that help people and saves lives even in some cases. But role-playing can also become wooden, formulaic, inauthentic, and deadly.
Much depends upon our state of mind, because our state of mind is the place in which we live. Our state mind is our inner kingdom, so to speak. And now we understand Perceval's second visit to the Fisher King's castle. The Fisher King had not changed; he and the land were still in a desultory state of mind but Perceval was not. And he asked the very human, authentic question of the king: "What is the reason of your illness?"
"Yes, there is an illness; yes, your state of mind is ill, and your illness has infected the land." And with that consciousness, the Fisher King and the land were healed.
Were it so easy, you might be thinking. We live in a time of rancorous divisions. Our "land" holds many "kingdoms," many states of mind. This includes the bellicose voices that seek power, control, domination, and authoritarianism, a way of life that deadens the human spirit as the land of the Fisher King was oppressed. And we come now as did Perceval to ask the authentic question carrying the weight of history: "What ails us?"
What is "MIND?" Each of us has a mind. What is it?
Definitions include the following: a person's attention, a memory, the intellect, awareness of thoughts, emotions, sensations, memories; but also fantasies, dreams, and creations. In other words, our mind is a storehouse but also a function of our being that solves problems and projects a future, a glimpse not only of who we have been but also of who we yet may be.
But we have lost our mind. Why do I say that? Because we are at odds with ourselves. We are not of the mind to consider that future in which a healthy society finds meaning creating. This is what it means to EXIST, not just to live. Many creatures "live," but as far as we know, they do not experience the meaning of human existence in its fulness of human CONSCIOUSNESS.
When we are conscious we dwell within the far reaches of human potential; but when we lose our mind, we experience unconsciousness. To be unconscious is to dwell within the stupor of depression, anxiety, anger, aggression, envy. We might say then that the aim of human existence is consciousness. Looking at this from the perspective of human evolution, the time-line in which consciousness arose would include these developments:
Of course, this "time-line" is quite simple when compared to the more detailed descriptions of humanity's emergence. My intention, however, is to describe most simply the backdrop to our present-day crisis: the loss of our mind. In other words, I want to make it clear that I am not talking about our present political craziness, of which there is plenty in our 24/7 parade of political stupidity.
But I am not talking about our present insanity and its mindlessness. I am concerned that we as a society seem not to be conscious. We have lost our mind. Consciousness is the TRUTH of our existence. To hold a truth is the most blessed of human experiences because truth separates the REAL from the UNREAL. How incredibly wonderful this is, to realize TRUTH exists, that it has its home within consciousness, and is guarded and enjoyed by our mind.
Now, however, we are in danger because we lost our mind. Consciousness has dimmed, and truth is mistaken for lies, misinformation, irrationality, all of which fuel the obsession of power that is available for the highest bidder. The intoxicating allure of power threatens our personal lives when our society has lost its mind.
Where will we find our lost mind? In MEMORY. Memory is a bridge over forever, and memory is the great Mother. She has given birth to our greatest triumphs as well as our most tragic defeats. She has inspired humanity's greatest artistic achievements and informed the warriors who fought our world wars; she has witnessed our footprints on the moon, and mourned the burial of our dead in the catastrophes of our epidemics.
Within memory's legacy, we may find our lost mind, as we recall George Santayana's warning: "A country without a memory is a country of madmen."
In the front of our house is a rose garden. Well—not really a garden, and to be honest, only a few roses. But, still, I call it a rose garden because the roses command one's attention in the thriving bed of ivy that has all kinds of little critters while it also determinedly climbs the pine and hackberry trees which would be smothered did we not give the ivy a haircut from time to time.
But back to the roses. They adorn the ivy bed with an air of royalty, a majesty of sorts that reminds me of something from long ago, maybe even timeless. Did you now that the rose is 35 million years old, has some 150 species, and probably began cultivation in China 5,000 years ago? Also, talking about longevity, the oldest living rose dates its birthday 1,000 years ago and claims permanent residence adorning the wall of the Cathedral of Hildesheim in Germany.
In fact, roses pop up everywhere—not only in gardens but in the bouquets we give our sweethearts, altars of churches, ornaments that may be hung in places we revere, in panels and mandalas, and the stained glass windows of our homes, shops, and places of worship. It is no wonder then that the great twentieth century poet, T.S.Eliot, featured the rose to accentuate his invitation to enter Burnt Norton, a manor in Gloucestershire that for Eliot evoked the experience of timelessness:
Footfalls echoing the memory
Down the passage we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden. My words echo
Thus in your mind.
But to what purpose
Disturbing the dust on a bowl of rose-leaves
I do not know.
And all is stillness. Or so it seems to me as I follow Eliot's lead into the sphere of timelessness that you and I might understand as the "center" of our psyches, the soul itself. This is what I understand the "center" means. It is, of course, an archetypal experience. By this I am referring to an understanding of the psyche as Carl Jung described it decades ago.
Present-day psychologists approach this idea as the well-regulated capacity of our body and mind when we have experienced some disturbance or trauma. First we feel "scattered" in our body and mind. We may call it bewildered; or we may even say the situation is "crazy," "insane." We may be lost in our thinking, taken over by our emotions. All these experiences are not necessarily bad. In the good times, we may get lost in the fun and excitement, as young children show us so well.
My granddaughter taught me how she learned to center when she was four-years old and was taught to sing what she called her "centering song." It goes like this:
Find your center,
Find your center,
Before you enter,
Find your center.
She learned to sing her centering song at the little "Schoolhouse" of a playgroup she shared with a cute, rambunctious, energetic, curious, and eager-to-learn group of children whose parents wanted their kids to be exposed to learning and growing in a place, time, and guidance of teachers who valued the wholistic experience of enabling children to discover their best selves. These teachers understood the psychology of pre-school children, their limits and potential mentally, socially, emotionally, spiritually, and physically. What the teachers taught the children was indeed self-regulation, and they called it centering. The kids would spend time inside painting, drawing, building, reading or being read-to, talking about things that excited or troubled them, what they dreamed last night, what they enjoyed eating and drinking, and what they looked forward to doing when their moms or dads picked them up.
Then they would have play-time outside before coming back inside. But, and this was important our granddaughter emphasized, before they would enter the "classroom," they stood silently in a circle, placed their hands on their tummies, and sang, "Before you enter, find your center." "What do you like about that?," I asked her. "It works," she said.
It works. The granddaughter did not know or even think to know how this "works." She did know, though, that it is possible to go from high level of excitement to a level of calm. Where is this? It's in your "center."
As I said earlier, of course this is an archetypal experience, the consciousness of which is hard-won over centuries of barbarism, cruelty, war, catastrophe, disease, accidents, and death. Carl Jung would describe this archetypal experience as an outcome when we become conscious of what he called "the tension of the opposites."
How do we modulate this "tension of the opposites?" How indeed. We know that it's realization is a process of ebb and flow. The process depends upon families who provide safety, where young minds are educated with truth and not ideology or self-serving misinformation. This conscious process for centering by "holding the tensions of the opposites" arises not only out of caring families but also societies of democratic freedom in which respect for each individual makes possible a better life for everyone.
This process does indeed ebb and flow. When we consider the delusional uncenteredness of our present time, we may feel discouraged that the beauty and power of our democracy is ebbing. But we can be assured we will find our center again. After all, the rose has been at this for 35 million years, reminding us of what can be if we tend the garden.
"Only the dead have seen the end of war." —Plato
(Quoted in Santayana and the farewell address of General Douglas MacArthur.)
Whether or not Plato actually said those words, they describe a truth woven into humanity's history as far back as our ancient historians reached. Why is this true, that human fascination with and participation in war remains constant in our endeavors? We fight over disputed territories, resources, and persons. We employ our best minds to develop more devastating tools for war; we fashion our statecraft toward the end of preparing armies to fight immediately if our country is threatened in any way.
And why should we not? How otherwise might we counter the threats and actions of tyrants and dictators who pose like the playground bully strutting with words and actions, innuendo and manipulation, gossip and cunning?
Because it is the case that bullies exist. Apparently, some individuals bully others to demonstrate superiority, perhaps because of a deeply felt inadequacy. Others bully simply for the thrill of domination. And there are individuals who bully in order to acquire something they want but do not possess for whatever reason. And still others dominate because of a mental/neurological maladjustment. And let us not forget that some people possess characterological disorders; they feel driven out of a toxic narcissism and absence of a moral center. In other words, they do not care if they hurt, shame, deprive, or even destroy other persons—and animals.
Yes, such people do exist. And we fear that our children may encounter them on the playgrounds, in the classrooms, on the street, in places of worship, in the offices of government and authority, in military commands of foreign countries who do not operate within the norms of humanitarian values. As we shall see, these norms of humanitarian values arise from human character molded by "duty," "honor," and "country."
The words—DUTY, HONOR, COUNTRY—reverberate within the halls of our military academy, West Point. In fact they are the academy's motto. A graduate of West Point himself, Douglas MacArthur went on to become a fiver-star General of the Army, a Field Marshall in the Philippine army, Supreme Commander of allied forces in the WWII Pacific campaign, and leader of the United Nations Command in the Korean War until he was relieved of duties by President Truman.
Returning to the US after years of service in the Pacific, having presided over countless battles and world-changing events, MacArthur settled into a quiet retirement in Manhattan, out of the public eye. However, in the last year of his retirement, returning to West Point that had done so much to shape his character, he addressed the cadet corps for a final time. In his moving remarks, he stressed the motto of the school, the motto which had become his credo.
"Duty," "honor," "country"—those three hallowed words reverently dictate
what you want to be, what you can be, what you will be. They are your
rallying point to build courage when courage seems to fail, to regain
faith when there seems to be little cause for faith, to create hope when
hope becomes forlorn." ...........................................................
They make you strong enough to know when you are weak, and brave
enough to face yourself when you are afraid.
These are the words, the qualities, the constructs of character that the framers of our Constitution projected into our nation's democracy when they penned the Second Amendment:
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State,
the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
Does the reference to "arms" pertain only to the standing militia? Or are they the "arms" of citizens in general? These questions fuel the present furor in our halls of government and the social media regarding gun ownership.
William Berger, a retired Supreme Court Justice, as well as a hunter and gun owner, in a PBS Newshour broadcast, 12/16/1991, said he found no support in the Second Amendment for individuals having a right to own and bear arms. In 2008, Justices Scalia and Stevens clashed over the issue of gun ownership. Justice Scalia supported private ownership of guns, whereas Justice Stevens argued that gun ownership was supported only in the service of a "well regulated militia."
This lingering debate over the intention of our Second Amendment intensifies within the political division in our country today. One source that supports individual gun ownership is the article by Ronald Reagan in a 1975 issue of Guns and Ammo magazine which affirmed the right of the individual to own and bear arms. Then, in the 1990's, and in later legislation, Reagan supported the Brady Bill and the Assault Weapons Ban, both of which reflect a more measured Reagan. Nonetheless, within the ideology of gun-rights advocates today, Reagan remains a hero in their cause.
Which brings me back to General Douglas MacArthur, the veteran of world wars on a massive and international scale. I will let him have the last words. In his words of farewell to Congress in April 1951, he spoke of the legacy of war. However egocentric he may or may not have been, his words ring true.
If we will not devise some greater and more equitable system, Armageddon
will be at our door. The problem basically is theological and involves a
spiritual recrudescence and improvement of human character that will
synchronize with our almost matchless advance in science, art, literature,
and all material and cultural development of the past 2000 years. It must
be of the spirit if we are to save the flesh.
A Personal Retrospective:
In my senior year of high school I wrote a term paper on MacArthur. While my family would in no way have been considered generally interested in the military, nonetheless my uncle was a prisoner of war in Germany, and my father served under MacArthur's command in the Pacific. I became interested in West Point for college while in high school and asked my advisor about applying to West Point only to be told that my family would need political connections for such an appointment, which they did not have. Turning aside the possibility that I might ever attend West Point, I committed myself to the ROTC program at Clemson University from which I was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant, eventually serving as an artillery officer in Korea before returning home and requesting a transfer to the Chaplain's Corps, in which I completed my military duty.
Along the way, I gave thought to MacArthur from time to time. And although he had returned home to the US as a military hero, hailed by Congress and others world-wide to be one of the great strategists in military history, at the hands of a growing number of individuals who studied the man and his record of military service, MacArthur came to be considered by some as a narcissist. Strange, I thought, that he should be so diagnosed from afar after his death. In any case, from my small corner of the world and my relatively minuscule experience, I continue to respect the man and his faithful following of a credo that would serve us all today: Duty, Honor, Country.
When Franklin Roosevelt took the oath of office to become President of the United States in 1933, a year of domestic upheaval, he faced a world of problems. Think about it:
At that frightening moment world-wide, Roosevelt stood to take his oath of office and placed his right hand on a leather-bound Dutch language Bible made in 1686, opened to
I Corinthians 13.
You may recognize that chapter in the New Testament as containing these lines attributed to St. Paul:
When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child;
but when I became a man, I put away childish things. (verse 11)
For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but
then I shall know just as I also am known. (verse 12)
And now abide faith, hope, and love, these three, but the greatest of these is
love. (verse 13) (New King James Version)
This scripture wove its way into our public life for many occasions. I referenced its place in Roosevelt's ceremonial inauguration. And, of course, it most often appears in weddings, anniversaries, funerals occasionally, and other events where the attention is focused on love.
But love does not stand alone in this passage of scripture. "Love" has been woven into the triadic formula, accompanied and preceded by faith and hope. Granted, St. Paul leaves no room for debate as to the supremacy of love, but it follows faith and hope.
Is this simply a prosaic formula intended for oratorical impact in which "love" gains prominence, elevated to gain our attention? Or, might it be that "love" follows "faith" and "hope," both of which prepare us to understand "love" more deeply? Reasoning with his keen rabbinical, philosophical mind, St. Paul may have understood that love attains its "greatness" because it stands on the foundation of trust and confidence.
"Trust" and "confidence" are words—ideas, emotions, cognition—that interpret "faith" and "hope." So important is the word "trust" that it bridges the language of religion, politics, economics, politics, and psychology. In The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, you will find seven categories of meanings for "trust" with various sub-entries for each specific definition.
For example, definitions describe trust as the loyalty, strength, veracity, etc., of a person or thing. Then, the long list of additional definitions concludes with "a body of trustees, an organization or company managed by trustees." "Faith" as "trust" impacts our lives so profoundly that it makes possible not only healthy persons but also a healthy society. It is no wonder that Erik Erikson, the prominent teacher of psychoanalysis and human development, considered trust to be the first and foremost stage of a child's life.
No wonder, then, that Franklin Roosevelt began his first stage of restoring confidence in the government of the US by opening his Bible to chapter 13 in I Corinthians where St. Paul invokes the power and promise of faith, hope, and love. It was a foundation for Roosevelt's words of assurance, "We have nothing to fear but fear itself."
These words rang through the radios of a frightened nation and opened the minds of its people to trust, even though the terrorism of foreign dictators and domestic opposition threatened the very foundation of our democracy.
Decades later in 1981, Ronald Reagan would anchor his approach to foreign policy by returning to trust. But in this instance, Reagan added a twist to implementing trust in the personal and governmental dealing with President Mikhail Gorbachev and the Soviet Union. Paradoxically, Reagan borrowed from a rhyming Russian proverb to describe his policy of nuclear disarmament between the US and the Soviet Union. Simply put, Reagan's policy was this: "Trust but verify." According to records of the Reagan presidency, Suzanne Massie introduced Reagan to the Russian proverb. Massie, an American academic, considered by some as "the woman who ended the cold war," met several times with President Reagan and coached him regarding Russia, its people, and culture. (See Massie's Trust But Verify: Reagan, Russia, and Me.)
"Trust but verify" served admirably as the premise for a foreign policy that ended the cold war. And now we come once more to another war, this time within our country. Now we face the breakdown of trust within the citadel of democracy, a breakdown between political, civic, and religious groups, even between family members. So rancorous has this divide become that we fear for our lives and the lives of our small children attending school. Now we fear the violence of domestic terrorism and the impasse of politicians posing in the marketplace of social media as fighters—a frequently used word by would-be political leaders to bolster their image by proclaiming they will "fight" for us. What a strange figure of speech to describe the working of a democratic government that came into being for the express purpose of a social contract "by the people and for the people," committed to a way of life free from tyranny, violence, and the bullying tactics of a pseudo-masculinity.
This is a way of life made possible by a bond of trust or, as St. Paul may have described it, the way of faith, hope, and love. Granted, for the apostle, this bond of trust is anchored within a spiritual reality in the heart of all people, whether they are conscious of it or not.
Roosevelt and Reagan believed it to be so. And so might we.
You might think the title is a little strange and wonder how it came to be. The thought of the title rose unexpectedly and surprisingly while I walked through our backyard of azaleas, daffodils, and roses—along with the incessant scramble of squirrels, rabbits, a family or two of cardinals, an occasional fox, possums, curious crows, and our observant but very cautious tuxedo cat, "Skeeter." Skeeter is a rescue who suffers from PTSD and slowly is learning to trust us and our backyard zoo.
Well, she is learning not only to trust but also how we give signals that some situations may not be safe and trustworthy. We do occasionally have copperhead snakes, an invasion of yellow jackets who love to burrow in our black soil, hawks flying overhead assessing Skeeter's size and whether or not they might be able to scoop her up and ferry her to their nest in the woods adjoining our house.
So, yes, I could say that the backyard is a wonderful world. But there is the other reality of danger, cruelty, ugliness, and possible death. A lot of work and time made possible the azaleas, roses, daffodils, and a playground for all the little critters that call our home their home. This is the story of creation, I believe, not just of our yard but perhaps of this planet earth we call home.
In short, the aim of this writing is to reflect on the importance of this transformation when the terror and ugliness of life become a wonderful world that enables human existence to continue. An example is the movie "Good Morning: Vietnam." This stirring drama featuring Robin Williams and released in 1987, draws upon the real-life story of Adrian Cronauer who hosted a radio show, "Dawn Buster," in Saigon 1965, as the Vietnam War escalated. The movie minimizes the most awful battle scenes that flooded our television in the 60's, but we do see the ugly political chicanery of a propaganda that made even more hideous the fear, heartache, and despair of a people and the destruction of their culture and institutions. Then, poignantly and powerfully over the images of death, insanity, and despair, we hear Satchmo Armstrong's recording "It's a Wonderful World."
The effect is surreal. What can possibly be wonderful about this world of hellish apocalypticism? What did the director, Barry Levinson, intend by inserting Satchmo's hit of 1967 into a political, violent nightmare? Did he want to emphasize the insanity of this political absurdity posing as a war to protect democracy? I don't think so.
I cannot know what Levinson intended by inserting "It's a Wonderful World" in the soundtrack of a movie about the most divisive war in American history. However, whatever Levinson's intention may have been, I experienced the song as a message for the troops fighting the war, and for all of us observing the horror show, as a benediction for the terror and grotesqueness of the cruelest of wars. Soldiers going toward their death heard the blessings of peace filling the airways of that disturbed country turned into a war zone.
Whatever one's religious background, in the face of death the benediction of Satchmo's song may have brought the comfort of knowing that war does not have the last word. For some soldiers this song of hope and beauty accompanied the words of their chaplains going into battle with a centuries-old farewell:
May the Lord bless you and comfort you;
the Lord make his face to shine upon you
and be gracious unto you;
the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.
I include this benediction from the Prayer Book not as a religious token but as a way to say there is an archetypal reality in which death is transcended by the very power of Being. And this goes back centuries in which the world's major religions have affirmed our wonderful world in the face of human betrayal and yearning for power.
Consider for example the stories of creation in the first two chapters of Genesis. Most serious students of this centuries-old text tell us there are two vantage points in which to observe creation. The first vantage point, Genesis 1:1-2:4, tells the story of creation in terms of the "days" when the "world" came into being. The first day, light appeared. In the following "days," there appeared the water and firmament (2nd day), the dry land and negation (3rd day), luminaries (4th day), fish and birds (5th day), and land animals as well as people and the vegetation for food (6th day). Then, on the 7th day, the Creator rested, surveyed the works of creation, and said, "It was very good."
However, Genesis also describes another point of view, a story about the creation that presents a drama not so pretty as described above. In this second account of creation (Genesis 2:4-3:24), there appears in the text the old familiar story in which the serpent made a mess of everything, set up the rebellious foolishness of the first woman (Eve) and the first man (Adam), the antagonism of their Creator, and their expulsion from the garden where they had a pretty good thing going.
This account of creation (Genesis 2:4-3:24) does not describe the wonderful world we read earlier in Genesis 1:1-2:4. In other words, and this is important, the treacherous acts of betrayal and disobedience present another view of creation, its shadow side in which humanity's acquired power threatens to destroy the world. The Garden of Eden may become only a combat zone where as Matthew Arnold said, "Armies clash by night and the center will not hold."
In other words, this wonderful world is indeed good but not completely. We continue to hope. I believe in spite of our suffering, even in the midst of war and destruction, the universe continues to unfold in a purposive way that enables human existence to fulfill its potential. In a tenement flat in Brooklyn, a little four-year-old claims one corner of his mom and dad's one-room bleak home. In that corner, he hides a rock he found on the playground. With that rock, his imagination soars within a fantasy of a world coming into being. It is a wonderful world.
Most days I come to my work with an eager expectation of joy. How could I not, I ask myself. To engage with interesting people and their dreams is a privilege. That is the upside, but of course I know too well the downside that is the deep suffering life brings to all of us.
The suffering comes with many faces in relationships, work, politics, family dynamics, and our fascination with sports and teams. But a deeper level of suffering dwells within each of us. As the Buddha acknowledged, to be human is to face the inevitable pain of aging, disease, and death. In his long quest to discover a way to escape the cycle of suffering, he believed we must face three marks of existence:
With these "marks of existence" in his mind, the Buddha dreamed as a Bodhisatta (one who desires to follow the path toward becoming a Buddha). It is important to consider that this is Gautama Siddartha, the prince who abandoned his royal life in the region of what is now known as Nepal, located in the foothills of the Himalayas, and had lived as an ascetic for six years in search of an escape from the suffering of human existence.
My excerpts of Bhikkhu Nanamoli's account of the dreams are as follows:
This concludes the remarkable series of the Buddha's five dreams. The tradition that comes to us includes not only the dreams but their interpretations. They serve a hagiographical purpose within the tradition of Buddhism. And here I move to reflect briefly on the nature of dreams and dreaming.
My ongoing work with persons focuses on the alleviation of suffering and depends greatly on considering their dreams. Most often it is the case that a dream comes in the service of making conscious some aspect of the dreamer's life through which the unconscious is made known and a revised attitude of the dreamer becomes conscious, thereby bringing a new attitude, a "higher" consciousness. This usually happens as the dream compensates the dreamer's previous state of mind.
Now I come back to the Buddha's dreams. It is not my place to offer an interpretation of these dreams, nor would I attempt such a pretentious offering. Are they real? Did the Buddha actually dream these five dreams on the evening before his enlightenment? What did Buddha think of the dreams, their striking images? We can never know the answer to these questions, but we can hold in awareness some of the unique features of these five dreams.
First, they float on the simplest of imagery. There are no grandiose features, no kings and queens, no powerful animals, no great commanders of armies or heroic battles, no angels, no gods and goddesses, no miraculous events. There are no suggestions of supernatural beings or events; there are no calls to the ascetic life. The dreams reside primarily within the natural symbolism of Buddha's immediate world: mountains, oceans, creepers, the navel, grubs, birds, dirt. There are no Brahmins or wondering holy men, no castes, no distinction of people as to social status, gender, religion, or politics. The dreams draw upon nature for their simplicity.
The second feature of the dreams that strike me is in the form of a question. How do they throw any light on the question that drove Siddartha on his quest, "What is the way out of the cycle of suffering?" How might they have influenced his "awakening" by which he entered history as the compassionate Buddha with 506 million followers, 6.6% of the world's population today?
Once again, we can never know how the dreams shaped Buddha's mind, but I offer this brief reflection. A "creeper" is a plant that grows around another plant, sometimes up a wall, extending itself up toward the sky. A "grub" undergoes a metamorphosis, a transformation from larva into an adult. Birds molt, a process in which each year they rid themselves of old or damaged feathers. The dead feathers are replaced by a new plumage. In all of these images of natural processes, transformation occurs. This is a purposive and meaningful transformation that suggests the psychological maturation possible in the growth of human personality when there is no impediment. This makes all the more interesting Buddha's last dream. He walks on the surface of dirt without getting "bogged down" in the 10,000 distractions that cloud our minds.
This seems to have become the Buddha's message. We need not get "bogged down" in the ever-changing flux of life that leads to our states of dissatisfaction and anxiety. With the clearing of our minds we may experience the abiding calm and the distant tones from the stellar sound waves of eternity.
Bhikkhu Nanamoli (Trans.). The Life of the Buddha According to the Pali Canon.
Onalaska, WA: BPS Pariyatti Editions, 2001.
How shall we hold this moment of war and terror in Ukraine? We deeply agonize with the Ukrainians. Also, we know the slightest mishap of this aggressive war against Ukraine can spread through the many geographical and political corridors of power until it spreads to each of us in an unimaginable horror of world war.
Here is a warning dream that describes what I mean. It was dreamed by Dr. Harry Wilmer, a Jungian psychiatrist well-known for his group psychotherapy with returning Viet Nam vets:
"I am trying to warn people that another war is coming and people are
laughing at me. I am in Dallas and we are going in a chopper to secure
a position. I am trying to warn people: 'Hey! There's a war fixing to happen!
You better take cover and get off the street!' But they were laughing and
scoffing and they wouldn't listen to me. I was trying to reason with the
people when the helicopters flew off and left me there. I woke up angry
because I couldn't get the people to understand what was really happening."
(See Anthony Stevens, The Roots of War, p. 195)
Wilmer had this dream before his death in 2005, so we might think, "Well, that has nothing to do with us today," but that is just the point. The dream is archetypal in nature. It defies time and belongs to the ages because war itself is timeless, shaping the contours of civilization through the centuries and painfully extending to this present moment when you and I witness in our living rooms, thousands of miles away, the atrocities of brutal aggression under the command of Russian militarists, as if playing infantile war games under the hand of a dictator who appears to be acting out a fantasy of revenge kindled by old grievances that festered a complex of inferiority.
We may look away in bewilderment as if this is not real, and at any moment there will be a humorous pause for a commercial break. But it is real. The civilians of Ukraine are themselves taking up arms to defend their homeland. They scatter to the streets as homes are being destroyed. The sick, the elderly, the children, the household pets—all are caught in a shocking trauma of bombs, rockets, airplanes, tanks, and squadrons of fully equipped troops trained to fight, search, and destroy for a cause that serves no rational purpose except to further the creeping tide of authoritarianism.
So why do I write this blog? We see the war as it unfolds, and like you in all likelihood, I am deeply distressed. But I cannot take up arms and go fight. I can make donations. But, in addition, I can reflect with you on the meaning of war, and this war in particular. After all, this is the purpose of my monthly blogs: to reflect upon current events through the perspective and lens of depth psychology, mythology, symbols, and theology.
And so we may ask, what is this propensity we have for war? Why does war fascinate us? Why do we shape our culture to play war games? Why is it that in recent years politicians have begun to pitch their campaigns by saying they will fight for us? Everybody is "fighting" for us or against us as the political dynamics ebb and flow. The politicians do not say, "I will work for you. I will support you." No, they will proclaim in their most solemn voice, "I will fight for you." Why do fighting and war fascinate us so?
Consider how social groups evolve. There is the "in group" and the "out group." There is the dominant group or person and the submissive person or group. There is the champion and the defeated, the winner and the loser, the conqueror and the fallen. Consider the biology of these dynamics. In sex play, it is S&M, or sadism and masochism, which suggests that fascination lies in the deepest erotic encounter of dominance and submission, where we see the titillation of war-like encounters between lovers. These binary arrangements set up our culture's obsession with the many games we enjoy.
I refer to these examples simply to describe the presence in social groupings where the hint of war exists. In my counseling and consultations with individuals, couples, and groups, I am often confronted with the challenge of sorting out the unconscious dynamics which lead to conflicts. The question I ask myself is whether or not there is a moral center. Without that moral center, the conflicts or "war games" escalate out of control.
And this question of a moral center, or its absence, is what appears to disturb people around the globe who witness the aggressive attacks by Russia on an undeserving country. Although attempts have been made to portray Ukraine and its government as evil, no shred of truth has been presented to substantiate that claim. In other words, the invasion itself is without a moral center, and there appears to be no rational source to which Ukraine and the world may appeal to stop the war.
And while we may speculate about the motives of the Russian invasion, we also bring to consciousness the deepest of other dynamics that fuel the motives for war. This is the archetype. Carl Jung identifies archetypes as the psycho-neurological functions in the brain, of evolutionary origins, manifesting in human beings as universal patterns of perception, cognition, and behavior. The archetypes give shape to mating, parenting, family units and tribes, the creative expressions of civilizations, skills for coping with environmental challenges, and the propensity to go to war.
As General George S. Patton said, "Compared to war, all other forms of human endeavor shrink to insignificance. And God help me, I do love it so." Gen. Patton speak as a person possessed by an archetype.
Jung refers to archetypal possession in his remarkable essay "Wotan," written in 1936, when he tried to understand what had possessed the German nation leading it headstrong into war. Regarding the power of an archetype, he says this:
An archetype is like an old water course along which the water of life
has flowed for centuries digging a deep channel for itself. The longer
it has flowed in this channel the more likely it will return to its old bed.
The life of the individual as a member of society and particularly as part
of the State may be regulated like a canal, but the life of nations is a
great rushing river which is utterly beyond human control. ... Thus
the life of nations rolls on unchecked, without guidance, unconscious
of where it is going, like a rock crashing down the side of a hill, until
it is stopped by an obstacle stronger than itself. Political events move
from one impasse to the next like a torrent caught in gullies, creeks,
and marshes. (CW Vol. I, para. 395)
In what way, then, are we witnessing today yet another instance when the war in Ukraine may be understood as the archetypal possession of an aggressor nation, Russia, or at least its leadership? And, if so, what might we expect for an outcome that promises hope for the future of humankind?
In his two magnificent novels of WW II, The Winds of War and War and Remembrance, Herman Wouk concluded his epic story with a hopeful note. He said this:
... that war is an old habit of thought, an old political technique,
that must now pass as human sacrifice, and human slavery have passed.
I have faith that the human spirit will prove equal to the long heavy task
of ending war.
Perhaps. But not yet, as Russian's uncalled-for invasion of Ukraine demonstrates. We say "perhaps," but the heavy task of ending war to which Wouk refers must now go deep into the human tendency to be possessed by the archetype of war itself.