Tag Archives: belonging

Emerald Forest-1We’ve all seen movies with youths from Borneo, Africa, South America or other places we might regard as uncivilized go through horrendous feats of physical endurance just to be accepted as adults in their tribes. Our first comment or impression is almost always, “How barbaric?” especially, since we wouldn’t think of doing such a thing in our own “subdued” culture.  But when we actually think about it, is it really that barbaric? Is it really a travesty to put youths through such a tortuous ordeal just to belong? At first glance we might think so, but the ritual serves as a very important landmark in the youth’s psyche. So then, what is the significance of Adolescents & Rites of passage?

BreakthroughAsk yourself about the difficult physical challenges you’ve been through, anything from birth to a near death experience and ask yourself, did it make an impression on you? Did it bring that period in your life to the forefront of your perception? Was it life changing? Did it mark a new beginning or ending? Odds are, you’ve answered yes. During that time, we all tend to make decisions about ourselves and how we view our lives leading up to making important changes in our life perspective. When we pair a physically challenging situation with an intangible belief or concept, it tends to have a dramatic effect on our life and how we consequently perceive it.

Relative to the uncivilized cultures I’ve cited, and I’m sure that there are many others, those who are part of those cultures have no doubt as to their position and responsibilities within that culture and to their families, neighbors and themselves. Now ask yourself, what experiences do our “advanced civilization” western adolescents have to compare to that could possibly make an equally indelible impression on how they view themselves or to know what their position is in being part of our culture? I presently perceive none of any consequence barring a few exceptions that are, perhaps, vestigial rites which have long lost their teeth due to our over-civilizing influences and gentile preferences for how we now view ourselves as a culture.

First killIn losing our connection to nature we have lost something vital that links us to the natural flow of life tantamount to our residing in these bodies. Even animals in the wild have a first kill as their ascension into becoming an adult and fending for themselves. How can we compare?We are born into these bodies yet, excluding the simple pursuit of personal pleasures, they no longer have significance in how we conduct our lives except in terms of our supporting them to be able to carry us around to every new intangible cultural expectation that we have organized for ourselves to convince ourselves that we are superior to our animal natures; the kingdom to which we still most tangibly belong. And even in that we do a tremendously poor job poisoning ourselves with synthetic foods and pesticides, let alone, never giving ourselves time and space to renew our connections to our true nature. What do our youths have to emulate in us that shows them how to become adults? What, now, does adulthood even mean to them? With our having no holistic view of ourselves, what is it that we expect them to become? We are a lost civilization teaching our young to remain lost with us. How did this happen?

animal masteryThe first factor to contribute to this path was to come to believe that we are superior to the animal kingdom. This exhibits a primarily egotistical need to elevate ourselves above all else. Why? Because we’ve been trained to behave that way.By whom? Predominantly, by western religion.Even the bible tells us that we are to “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” So for us, according to the bible, the mark of having value in life is our ability to dominate our environment and those within it. This has also encouraged us to accept and believe that humility, especially in nature and the stewardship of it, are marks of what it is to be inferior.This translates into denying our animal nature as a psychological compensation for our obvious inadequacy within it with a wholehearted encouragement from religion to accept it as being so. Yet, in Sermon on the Mount and other biblical passages, it tells us that humility is a mark of being pure of heart and acceptable to the deity responsible for “writing” the bible. Already, we see a stark contradiction in expected behavior and beliefs.

TREASURE ChestThe second factor is our physical survival coming more to the fore enabling our continued evolution toward becoming more materialistic. This is a function of and comes on the heels of an ever widening gap between the “haves and the have nots” in our culture; the top .1% if you will. You would think that with the advent of our western world and its cultures becoming more physically oriented that the environment would provide more fertile ground to renew the practice of Rite of Passage. But being still so firmly entrenched in our separation from nature as a compensating factor contributing to our perceived personal value and the our total distraction with physical pleasure, our attempted release and distraction from pain and stress and our culture’s promise that following its requirements will free us, its potential, let alone its re-implementation, has eluded us. Even if it were reinstated, it would still be viewed as barbaric. Yet, the media produces super heroes who go through that very process as we vicariously live through them wishing it could part of our lives too in movies such as Hunger games, Star Wars, Dune and the Emerald Forest. Classic and modern mythology is full of example showing personal trials and tribulations contributing to the life changing evolution of value and beliefs. As a result of assigning our own personal authority, trust and accountability to others we have lost, or more appropriately been encouraged to give up, controlling our own fates and destinies. Rites of Passage would have put that power squarely back into our own hands. However, our culture has taught us, through the promise and bribery of support and the comfort and security of group inclusion gained through our acquiescence, to give that up.

Bar_MitzvahThe few remnants of Rite of Passage that exist come in the form of impotent vestigial processes such as Bar mitzvahs, Bas mitzvahs, military service (which is no longer conscripted), Christian Confirmation and probably many more which go unrecognized as having once been effective. The few of us who still seek out the process instinctively recognize the need to find or create an experience which will mark our passage into adulthood doing things that are physically challenging and death defying like survival games and sky diving, desperately searching for a trigger that will confirm our passage into what we perceive as the adult world.

The third factor is the “advent” of adolescence. Adolescence is quoted as being a transitional period between childhood and adulthood or, more precisely, from puberty to acculturation. It is a social position that, in my opinion, has evolved in the wake of our attempts at civilizing cultures or groups of people. Etymonline.com defines civilize as “to bring out of barbarism.”

LEAD Technologies Inc. V1.01Barbarism is defined as “rudeness, foreign, strange or ignorant.” The use of the word civilizing became “mainstream”around 1868 enabling the submersion of barbarism through the implementation of using social rules for an enforcement of courtesy. The concept of ignorance obviously pertained to those members of the culture, mostly adolescents, who had not yet acquired the tact and finesse necessary to maneuver within and respect the social expectations designed to prevent the exposure of those who were civilized from the rawness of their own innate animal nature. At the onset of puberty in the civilized world it was assumed that these skills had yet to be developed. In other words, civilization was, essentially, awaiting the youth’s being trained into not socially acknowledging the animalistic urges that arose with the onset of puberty except within the strictest guidelines guaranteeing their denial and enabling the society’s compensated superiority to reign over the animal kingdom. I believe a compounding of that practice came on its heels as a desire of those in power to harness the power of youth in a way that would be socially controlled and dominated thereby insuring an extended security for their position of social dominance.

Native americans-2In what we call uncivilized or more primitive cultures, youths who enter puberty are given the opportunity to learn social responsibility and to become part of the tribe’s power structure through Rites of Passage. A primary example of this can be seen in the Native American tribes of the US. Although the youths were not old enough to have the experience necessary to advise and guide the rest of the tribe they were not only taken into apprenticeship learning expected social participation from seasoned members, but they were permitted to act and perceive themselves as adult members of the tribe. This permission and perception was marked by their passing through Rites of Passage. Currently, their relegation to the position of a modern adolescent by civilized society has not only taken away a youth’s potential for perceiving themselves as having become an adult but has also disarmed their capacity for self-determination and for developing Self-Trust by extending their position in perceived uselessness until they “came of age.” Essentially, they are now perceived by our culture as a liability to the rest of the civilized tribe.

Gang-1I find it curious that our contemporary anthropologists and sociologists find it so puzzling as to why the adolescents of our culture appear to be so angry and rebellious. They attribute it almost exclusively to the chaos created by hormones while never fully realizing or analyzing the social implications of the non-person status that the civilized world now holds them to. We only have to imagine ourselves in a position of feeling ineffective and lacking permission for self-determination to comprehend the underlying causes for teenage our perception confusion. This is something that the women’s movement has been battling with for decades. In this light, and as one of the worst examples in our culture, many women are glibly and chauvinistically referred to as  “trophy wives” by egotistically insecure males. Women’s social position in the Middle-Eastern-WomenMiddle East is, essentially, seen as the same as that of adolescents here…ineffectual and essentially regarded as a possession but sadly in those cultures, even a male adolescent has more power and independence than any adult woman.

So where do we go from here? I think that I can safely say that the issue is not so much about restoring Rites of Passage as it is our actual perception of becoming or acknowledging ourselves, and adolescents, as effective and accountable adults. How can we put self-determination and the ability to develop Self-Trust back under the domain of not only adolescents, but back into the hands of adults who have been taught and now believe that their lives are inconsequential except as a vehicle for the benefit of the wealthy and the powerful (whom they have now unwittingly come to view as their parental surrogates)? I have no solution other than to say that we must become more aware of how our actions, based on our own insecurities and our own resulting compulsion to manipulate and control in order to compensate, interfere with the well-being and potential for others, adults included, to grow into a place where it is even feasible for them to develop Self-Trust through being allowed to perceive their lives from the perspective of their own heart’s direction, let alone to receive the opportunities to pursue the emerging of that perception through their own personal bored studentsexperiencing. We can only learn so much from a book and, as it is becoming much more obvious in schools, most poignantly as children grow into adolescents, that words still don’t teach. The old adage actions speak louder than words is even more alive and verifiable than ever. If we treat our adolescents from the place of our own insecurity, preventing them from assuming the positions in life that we fear losing due to our own perceived and trained sense of inadequacy and ineffectiveness, they will most certainly grow up to repeat our pattern through emulating what they’ve seen in us. Children learn by example. In fact, everyone does. We must first, ourselves, come to a place of Self-Trust before we can even hope to understand how to raise self-directing adults who feel effective, useful, needed and accepted as part of our culture. Then their mayhem will cease and our confusion about their social position will diminish. But until that time they will remain as an enigma to us and viewed as a liability by most of society.

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Dark night of the soul-2There comes a time in all of our lives when the realization that what we’ve been programmed with about how the world works and what is expected of us comes face to face with our inner need to be authentic and true to ourselves. This can occur at almost any time in our lives when we begin to become accountable for our own lives and circumstances but its confrontation is, essentially, unavoidable once we reach midlife between the ages of thirty-eight through forty-four. Probably why so many adults make light of it can only be testimony to our need for relief when it arrives so voraciously on our doorstep. This confrontation challenges our beliefs and values about our reality and can often be a very frightening and incapacitating feeling. It often leaves many of us either panicked or frustrated knowing that something must be done but that our action, if truly aligned with our inner felt needs, might completely obliterate the security we have thus far built in this world as a result of our childhood and continued training. Yet, to step into a brighter light and consciousness it is necessary and unavoidable.

Parents are godsIn our younger years there is usually no one else other than our parents who are our keepers and educators. Perceiving this, their presence and omniscience within our tiny world easily encourages us to view them as gods with having all our needs and answers quickly at hand. But as adults we must, at some point, come to realize that those in child bearing years have not yet reached this midlife marker either in their temporal journey here and that in that they too have not yet experienced the crisis that, hopefully, eventually leads to their spiritual freedom in discovering and following their own path often in contradiction to what is expected of them by their unsuspecting families. This separation in timing has the effect of insuring that their journey, and ours, is wholly an independent and personal one. The most important understanding that must be realized here is that each person’s journey is individual and unique and cannot be shown or instructed by anyone else. It must be listened to and felt. For those of us who have allowed ourselves to be led, this is panic inducing. For those of us who have acted independently but pushed the river toward what we thought was the goal based on our early training, it is sublimely frustrating. Both paths ultimately lead initially to depression and a stark withdrawal into the psychological and emotional interior of our being. For those of us who have felt ahead the arrival of this time, the journey may only take a year. For those of us well ingrained in our instructed set of parental values, it may take many more. And then there are others who never ascend above the threshold of consciousness and remain trapped beneath the surface through our own fear, pride, resistance and stubbornness. The journey and its goal are not guaranteed; only our opportunity to do so.

Odd man outWe humans, by nature, are innately social. Following our early training guarantees our inclusion and acceptance by our clan and culture and is encouraged through conformity toward historical traditions and the sublimation of our own needs for the good of the group. Our adherence to the needs of the group is subliminally maintained through emotional blackmail with the inference that if we don’t acquiesce toward a preferred behavior the support and acceptance by the group and our inclusion in the benefits enjoyed by them will be withheld. Fear of banishment powers a collusion that encourages us to refrain from exposing each other’s perceived inadequacies thereby remaining in each other’s graces and forestalling a need to grow beyond our immediate emotional limitations. This can be seen the most clearly when we examine the psychology of individual family structures.

There are three effects that occur when we begin to detach from childhood patterns and assert our individuality through deference to our inner urges and intuition. First, when we embark on the path of attempting to be authentic to our own natures, our efforts almost always conflict with the emotional security needs of our family and our clan. We are no longer comfortable maintaining the status quo with family tradition and our parents which has initially protected us during our vulnerable years but in later years has come to have the effect of stagnating our sheep-roadblockindividual growth and consciousness. The removal of these blockages to our growth is perceived by our family as exposing hidden perceived inadequacies implanted in them through their early childhood training. When those in our family and clan feel our withdrawal from our blanket validation of their preferred behaviors from us in favor of our own growth, their reaction is often swift and dynamic. They then re-emphasize that fact that their support and acceptance of us is only maintained through our acquiescing to the covering of their insecurities and emotionally ingrained compensations. If stepping up the pressure is of no avail, the next step is a self-defensive excommunication of us and our relegation to the status of “black sheep” of the family.

The second effect occurs in a broader frame of reference. There is a very subtle and unspoken belief in this country that our actions should be geared toward providing support and assistance to those “lees fortunate” than we prior toward taking care of our own needs lest we be labeled as being selfish or lacking compassion. This attitude is even reflected in our country Statue of Libertymascot, the Statue of Liberty, asserting that the acceptance of those “less fortunate” in the world and immigrating here would be taken care of. This perspective came as a result of the original settlers of this country actually needing the combined efforts of everyone simply to survive. This “good of the many” perspective very quickly became integrated with their basic religious beliefs and is now often referred to as part of the Christian ethic. In spite of its religious association, this perspective has become a very quiet and subliminal programming which also lies at or just below the threshold of our secular cultural waking consciousness. This perspective has morphed into the basic assumption that if we direct our efforts toward the welfare of others, ahead of our own of course, that the hope pertaining to our own needs would be answered by someone else doing the same thing for us. This unconscious assumption has proven to be disastrous to our ability to muster motivation toward taking care of our own issues and forming personal goals let alone being accountable for our own choices. In an extreme, this has been viewed by the rest of the world as our having an attitude of entitlement. This undercurrent asserting the belief and expectation that we should be or will be taken care by others of severely undermines the accountability we need to move easily through our mid-life crises and augments the emotional effects of our perceived helplessness generated by the arrival of our Dark Night of the Soul.

StrandedThe third of these effects comes as we begin to address our own needs ahead of those of others, we not only lose the inclusion and support of our family and clan but that of our nation and peer group as well. With these three effects in play we feel completely alone and unsupported by our historical traditions and roots. But that only serves to intensify the urgency and the necessity for us to become accountable that we may be willing and able to listen to our inner urges and leanings free of the coercive and addictive effects of having or gaining a feeling of belonging. Our Dark Night of the Soul must be passed through alone that we may come to rely and trust our own judgment and intuition in lieu of depending on an outside source such as tradition or religion to dictate our objectives thereby also assuming responsibility for our choices.

carrying-weight-worldProbably one of the most difficult and daunting parts of aligning ourselves with our own inner and intuitive urges is the overwhelming feeling of loneliness we encounter when we lose the support and acceptance of those who were involved in our indoctrination into the traditional and religious currents of altruism. Friends and associates who can no longer depend on our blanket support for their emotionally generated security needs shy away from us claiming that we’re no longer the same old comrade who supported them “right or wrong.” Marriages slowly drift apart and often disintegrate as one partner grows and the other doesn’t. Our growth also alienates us from our families claiming that we’re ruining or breaking up the family or that we have no tolerance or respect for tradition and the way things have always been done. Becoming spiritually mature can be a very lonely and frightening avenue of travel.

However, on the other side of the tunnel we slowly garner new friends and associates who understand the trials we’re progressing through. This feels to us as a relief to our isolation but we must be aware that there are also dangers in the practice of commiseration over the loses of our familial and peer group support. We must guard against seeing those who rejected us as disloyal and subjects for our disdain. This perspective will also serve to sabotage the much needed attitude toward our reliance on Self-Trust by virtue of our own accountability. We must not fall into blaming our loneliness and lack of support on those who feel threatened by our journey toward spiritual self-hood. Passing through the Dark Night of the Soul is our own journey and no one else must be held accountable but ourselves.

Phoenix-1The feelings that dawn within us with our passage through this dark corridor eventually gives us so much independence and freedom from emotional enmeshment that our paths obtain a speed, a purity and new light unlike that which we have ever experienced before. With it comes an understanding and compassion for those of us who are still in process of passing through and those who have yet to do so. It also brings an unavoidable sadness in us over those of whom we have lost. Yet, we harbor a hope that they too will be able to traverse the course shedding the codependences and collusions that keep them from peeling away the layers of their trained and subsequently perceived inadequacies covering the pillars of their spiritual ignorance. Perhaps this is what Jesus actually meant when he spoke of “putting away childish things.”

Prescription-1...if you’re healthy enough to have sex. Really? Have we slipped so far into not listening to our own body that we have to ask an outside authority for permission to indulge in pleasure? What does it mean that we now feel so compelled to rely on others for personal validation?

Our western culture has become obsessed with experts, specialists, licensed professionals and “board approved” authorities. We pay others dearly for bodily assessments, psychotherapy, emotional coaching, career planning, financial and legal advice, dietary recommendations, performance enhancements, chemically extended sexual prowess, tuition for private instruction in career advancement and a whole host of other capacities that we and previous generations used to perform ourselves. Is it just the time that we feel is needed to “educate” ourselves sufficiently enough to be “qualified” to perform tasks for ourselves? Or is there something else that lies beneath the threshold of our Board Certified-1awareness creating fear and apprehension about anything we might choose to do for ourselves that’s not part of a skill or career offered by others and not sanctioned or legalized by some authority or board approval?

One of the factors underlying this obsession is our fear of “making mistakes.” That is, we doubt ourselves so fully that we are not as much vexed by not being able to perform a particular task or function but that we will feel embarrassed when we have to “call someone in” to assess our actions and make “corrections” so we can feel like we’re “back to normal.” But our fear of “making mistakes” goes much deeper than our perceived helplessness and the shame involved in its observation by others. The perceived self-doubt and the feeling of having to consult 404-errorothers comes from an absence of childhood training in assessing ourselves, our situations and our “qualifications” and coming up short in self-assertion and self validation.

Trusting ourselves and our own judgment is a very elusive quality to be able to pinpoint as to the origins of its enabling. For very few of us this confidence may have been innate but for the majority of us it came from building and accumulating experiences in which we performed tasks and received validation from our parents and caretakers for being proficient if not, at the least, competent. The validation comes from our parents and guardians in the form of their allowing and encouraging our personal choices even if they are not in line with what our confidence-2guardians believe are “the right” choices by conforming to their life experiences. Generally, if a parent has confidence in their own value and proficiency, it will be relatively easy for them to acknowledge and encourage their children’s choices without having to impose and have accepted their own values in order to validate their own self worth.

As second factor, and probably the one which has created the most personal damage to our self-image in our process of gaining and maintaining a feeling of competence and personal validation is the media. There is no doubt that there exists a bank of psychologists and sociologists studying the methods in which the retail and service markets could have the most influential effect on us, the general public, to encourage the purchase of their products and services. It is difficult enough navigating our lives in a confident manner after almost or never having received the encouragement that would have enabled our Self-Trust but the media has Mirror mirror on the wall-44taken this handicap one step further. To intensify the effect of this childhood deficiency they have projected an emphasis on us through their assertion that we are not good enough as we are. We need whiter teeth. We need a better education. We need a flashier car, a bigger house, more money, more free time and, most of all, their products and services that will gain the envy and approval of our friends and enemies alike.After receiving little, if not contrary support and discouragement toward building our own self-sufficiency and a self-sustaining life style and compounded by our parents’ inability to allow us to make our own decisions without appeasing their need for our actions to validate and accommodate their approach to life, we’re now hit with advertisements that only bring our learned perceived shame and incompetence directly to the surface of our awareness and potentially for all to see. Now, we’re petrified of exposure. We do all we can to hide our “imperfections.” In the face of the media and its diminished projected standards for us, we begin to believe that we are less than and that others, our parents, caretakers and the media, know better than we about our own lives and personal experiences. After all, if the outside world says it’s true, and they’re only an extension of our parental authority, then it must be true. So why do we believe that we must have others perform the tasks that we used to perform for ourselves? Because we’ve been taught to believe that we are incompetent and need the assistance of others to bring us to a state of being acceptable.

In deference to some of us who are not fully “in the bag” by believing that we are “imperfect” or even incompetent, and there are a few of us who have retrained ourselves and reprogrammed enough of a competent and self-sufficient self-image through long and hard work on ourselves, a third factor encourages us to seek outside assistance. In our very busy and filled up world there are tasks that we neither have the time to fix nor the opportunity to learn how to better manage. Even then we feel we have to “call in the experts.”

Obey-TV-BRAINWASHING-1So, is it any wonder that most of us have been brainwashed so badly that we have to ask our family doctor if we’re even allowed to seek pleasure for ourselves let alone if we are able or “competent” to do so?Our ability to listen to our own body and our faith in our own judgment has been so thoroughly stamped out under the threat of disapproval, excommunication and the withholding of any support or affection that we now believe that our fate and prosperity rests solely on the approval of those to whom we’ve assigned authority over us and our personal accountability to on the chance that we might make a mistake and expose our imperfections. What’s so ironic is that we all make what we perceive as mistakes. We’re human. It’s inevitable. Then, how is it that we have accepted training that says it is possible not to make mistakes? And what is a mistake anyway but the unmet expectation of those to whom we have assigned authority over us?

There is no one at fault for programming us in this way. Generally, our parents and caretakers did the best they could with what they understood about their own validity as adults. They have also become a victim of poisoned media thinking that perfection is possible, so, now, they naturally expect it of us; their children. And if we’re not perfect like Ozzie and Harriet, Father Ozzie & HarrietKnows Best and the TV portrayals of all the other nightly family situational serials from the 50s and 60s (we now call them sitcoms but they we’re deemed funny then) then there must be something inadequate with our parents’ child-rearing abilities; aka, they must feel left to assume that they are incompetent parents. Now, let me ask you. If you feel discouraged about your own competence and validity as a parent, are you going to be able to encourage your children to be independent and competent, especially, if you no longer know how that feels? Of course not. You’re going to instill the same fear of imperfection and making “mistakes” in them. And so it goes on and on. And now we hear an echo from the bible, and probably many other scriptures, saying, “The sins of the father (and mother) become the sins of their sons (and daughters).”

There are many ways to regain our personal power and Self-Trust. There’s not enough space to go into them all in a small article let alone the time. But in our first steps toward redeeming them it’s extremely important to recognize and understand why and how we have given away our power and Self-Trust in order that we may remain in a feeling that we belong, to feel that we are acceptable, even with all our abhorrent imperfections and that if we follow all the rules and Courage-Cat-Liondo what we’re told, we won’t be called out, exposed, withheld from, excommunicated or deserted. What a terrible price to pay for the illusion of being loved and the elusive security of belonging. The courage we can show in trusting ourselves and risking the exposure and possible disapproval of our personal expression and individuality while allowing others to have the choice to reject them are some of our most important components of loving ourselves and the world…as it is.

you_shall_not_pass…is a hidden root of almost every war and personal conflict humans have ever encountered. But how could such a seemingly simple concept have so much power and bearing on the direction we take in our lives? To have an understanding of the conflict we must have a clear understanding of first, what it means to be self-determined, second, what personal power is and third, the meaning and scope of a taboo and how it could create such conflict. Let’s start with personal power and see how it relates to self-determinism. These two, especially in contemporary thinking, seem to be inextricably interwoven.

Living in today’s environment where we are feeling the “pinch” in our finances, recognizing our fading emotional “effectiveness” and where our obsession with “getting ahead” has become our primary goal, there is a perception that something is missing; something that we just can’t get enough of; something that seems to be just out of our reach. That something is what I call personal power. It is one of the primary motivational foci that we have extracted from our comprehension of contemporary psychology, the driving force that makes us painfully aware that without it we are not who, what or where we want to be. Generally, anything that we feel a lack of becomes a primary factor in everything that we endeavor to do. So what, then, is personal power? Where does it come from? Why are we so driven to “acquire” it? Let’s look more deeply.

If you asked anyone what they want out of life I’m sure that what you would hear would be all the common expressions such as “more time, more money, own my own home, have a loving relationship, take a vacation,” all desires that are details in an overall comfortable living of life free from conflict. But that’s just it. They are details, factors, pieces in an overall perspective of how we perceive our life to be progressing. But if we were to distill these expressions down to a simple perspective or understanding, what could someone actually say that would reflect all of My-Waythese factors? They’d say, “I want to do what I want, be what I want, be where I want and do it when I want.” These statements reflect a painful perception that our conditions and actions are somehow influenced, mitigated or, in extreme cases, blocked by circumstances and the influence of others. Feeling this we, essentially, feel that our life is out of our control. Someone else is pulling the strings. Someone other than us is “on the top” dictating how our life is to be lived. Someone else is determining our fate, our path, our circumstances. So what is personal power? It’s feeling like we are able to determine what we’re going to do, where we’re going to do it and how much or long we’re going to be doing it for. Being able to do this labels us as being self-determined. So at this point we can say that for most of us, in today’s days and times, personal power is, basically, equivalent to being self-determined, that is, deciding for ourselves how our life circumstances are going to proceed. The interrelation of personal power and self-determinism is plain to see. This part is easy. Taboos, on the other hand, can be very convoluted and can have a very subtle influence, if not unnoticeable, on how we believe that we can be or are “allowed” to be self-determined and exert our personal power. Let’s, next, look at what a taboo is.

Taboo-1The original word taboo first appeared in 1777. The word itself has many permutations but the use of the word, oddly enough, originated in the Polynesian islands in the south Pacific. The concept is not original as many cultures have this concept involved in their social perspectives but the word is. The concept presents that some subjects and actions are considered to be consecrated, inviolable, forbidden, unclean or cursed. The word consecrated can be taken to mean special, holy or somehow reserved and elevated beyond common use. But generally, the others are self-explanatory in that they are considered to be “bad” and constitute what should be avoided. Either way, it represents something that is, socially, not permitted.

To understand why something should be avoided or taboo we must first understand that the use or participation in what is not permitted somehow “pollutes” or “perverts” the socially desirable behaviors within a particular culture. In other words, for a culture to have a particular type of lifestyle or attitude, certain behaviors must be eliminated so they won’t spoil the effect or feeling people wish to have within their social structure. So laws are implemented, some are written, some are only implied and with them everyone proceeds in their daily lives free of the 10-Commandments-11“polluting” and “perverting” influences. The ten commandments of the bible are the most obvious and the most “discussable” of these in our western social traditions. Other cultures have similar “scripture.” But, like us, they all also have unspoken laws or attitudes that are in play, sometimes within our conscious perception and sometimes below that threshold. They are unspoken because to verbalize or draw attention to them would expose our perceived and repressed feelings of shame related to being able or willing to express them. They emanate from deep within our individual psyches; qualities of our innate animal nature believed to “pollute” or “pervert” the clean or pure image intended for our religious or social behavior. To expose them would verify that we actually do possess those qualities of an animal nature triggering intense shame and leading to denial and projection (defense mechanisms). In western culture, these are the Seven Deadly Sins: wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony. All seven are related to one common concept which has become the catchall for what we consider to be a taboo behavior; selfishness. Our social milieu, especially through our religion, has taken the perspective of selfishness and made it the primary taboo in our western culture. The problem this creates is not so much in actually being “bad” behavior in itself but in our use of accusing others of it. In this, it has become a vehicle for suppressing others for our own personal security and comfort while also enabling us remain free of having to acknowledge how it verifies its existence in our own animal nature. This, effectively, amounts to social blackmail. So, what is the unspoken taboo? You cannot be or take whatever you want unless you consider the needs and wants of others first. This undercurrent has been firmly in place in this country and many other parts of the western religion dominated world for at the least five hundred years or more. Let show where this has evolved from and how this applies to us now.

colonistsWhen the settlers immigrated to this part of the world the majority of them had meager resources and were escaping oppression from the European nations. I know that our history cites religious persecution as being the main cause for their migration but we must also consider that in any society imbued with religious principles that those principles and beliefs are completely enmeshed and compatible with the with their prevailing social customs. It’s not only the religious principles that cause conflict but also the social customs that might contradict the way in which those who feel persecuted might want to live. Many of us leave environments that we consider hostile to find ones with more freedom and compatibility for how we want to live. Hence, for the settlers, they chose to leave to do so. Their arrival here with only those meager resources made it necessary for them to depend on each other simply for survival. This coupled with their religious beliefs based on an altruistic tradition of “the needs of the group superseding the needs of the individual” set the foundation for our culture which has permeated and become a dominant force in our American social customs for living based on those original survival needs and religious tradition. Though our physical survival needs are no longer as tenuous, the pattern has survived as a mental and emotional current for those five hundred years strongly influencing our patterns for raising our children. This pattern is very much analogous to how the children of the Great Depression continued the patterns and precautions for survival that they learned in raising their children. These traditions have continued within our current culture but are now a very powerful unconscious undercurrent dictating how we conduct our lives even though we are, generally, no longer at risk for our physical survival. Let’s move on to see what this has morphed into.

Family-Dinner-1As small example but a very enlightening one and reflective of situations on a larger social scale, is of a family sitting around a dinner table. There are two parents and two children. The food has been placed on the table in serving bowls. The younger child immediately grabs the dish of his favorite food and spoons the better part of the dish’s contents on to his own plate. It’s obvious that others at the table will become shortchanged. One of the parents chastises the child and the child is relegated to the status of “bad.” His “punishment” is temporary emotional boycotting by his parents and an obvious perceived “negative” regard by the other child and parents. The chastised child is effectively “in the dog house” because he pursued his own interests before considering the needs or wants of others. In short, he was selfish. Essentially, he has been taught that it is taboo to be or take what you want without the approval of others. He has learned that this behavior is unacceptable and will put him in disregard by others; primarily and ostensibly isolated from the approval, inclusion and support of the “family.” This is, essentially, an unspoken and subtle form of emotional blackmail. This behavior has understandably become a very powerful lesson in exhibiting manners. But let’s look deeper. What did the other child learn? Yes, he learned about his parent’s preferences and the effect on the chastised child learning a “lesson.” But he also learned something else. He learned that if he accuses his brother of behavior that is considered shameful and selfish, he could manipulate his own situation to advantage and not have to expose his own selfish urges to the resulting punishment of parental boycotting. He eliminated the competition through shaming. Essentially, he is suppressing the brother’s actions and creating an opportunity for his own gain with no undesirable consequences for himself. He has learned that he can blackmail others into inaction through shaming them through accusations of their being selfish, thereby, gaining an advantage by being left with what he wants when they refrain from taking action. But what is actually occurring?

First, we have to realize that this lesson may occur either consciously or unconsciously. The effect will remain the same but in the unconscious version; the younger brother may be totally unaware that he is putting the older brother into this situation. It may just become “instinctual” for him to do so. Or, he may grow to become aware of the ploy and actually plan the scenario in order to gain the advantage. In the case of the planned scenario, “enforced” manners actually become a liability to the older brother who is being manipulated through the shaming.

This small example exemplified by only four people in a nuclear family resonates with our social structure on a much larger scale. It shows a social dynamic that has metastasized and is rampant throughout our cultural existence. The implementation of a taboo has become a primary ploy used to prevent others from competing with us. It is an instinct utilized by our ego and deeply rooted in our persistent animal nature as it, nevertheless, still permeates and “seeps” through into our social structure. We have, euphemistically, come to call these people who plan this kind of behavior and who look out for only themselves, “opportunists.” Even in the face of our “altruistic” planned and intended “pure codes of behavior” our animal nature still shines through.

fork in the road-1The introduction of a taboo in a culture necessitates that we decide between receiving the belonging, family inclusion and acceptance of our parents and others while conceding to their desired behavior of us verses our own desire to be or take what we want without the “permission” of those others. But looking back what did we determine earlier? Taking or doing what we want is equivalent to our perception of personal power and self-determinism. Guilt, shame or the feeling of being a “bad dog” attached to a perceived or accused selfishness can severely inhibit our ability and willingness to wield that personal power and be self-determined while risking being “punished” or ostracized for doing so. Underlying all this is the tacit and often unspoken social assertion and early childhood training that everyone else’s preferences must be considered first before we address our own, otherwise, we are considered to be selfish. What this boils down to is that if we wield our personal power and are self-determined, it is highly likely that we will lose the support of others through making them self-conscious of Bad Dogtheir own perceived short comings and cowardice in not acting themselves and they, in turn, will accuse us of being selfish. When we acquiesce and conform to the wishes of others, we often sabotage our own individuality and miss opportunities for creativity by “dumbing ourselves down” so others won’t feel bad about themselves. The irony is that the others who do not wish to become aware of their own cowardice and reluctance in acting would also take what they want had they perceived no potential for “punishment” or social ostracizing. It becomes easiest for them to let us be the “fall guy” or “scapegoat” through manipulated shaming. This tactic produces a very powerful pillar for security in the structure of many dysfunctional families.

What is truly unfortunate is that with the increasing absence of corporal punishment, shame and withholding in the form of emotional blackmail have become the subtle and most dominant control mechanism for creating and maintaining desirable social behavior in our offspring. It becomes a safe guard against us actually looking at our own animal nature while enabling our “control” over others’ behavior who might expose our possession of it. In this light of the fact that it is our animal nature that drives our passion, is it any wonder why so many of us feel so much anger and rage while we really have no clue as to why or where it comes from? We’ve allowed our creativity to become “capped” and what’s even more tragic is that we don’t even realize it.

The subtle and unspoken messages of repression, employed by our culture, amount to collusion. They cloak our awareness of our assumed inadequacies and pose a major stumbling block to a much needed honesty that would free us all to be eminently creative and expressive. It takes courage to call it as we see it and, in the face of “excommunication,” be self-determined and follow our own path. In choosing to express our personal power and to be self-determined, the “excommunication” we risk is the security of belonging to and being protected by the “herd.” Choose-2The choice to risk “excommunication” was most likely a hard one to make but overcome by the great individuals of our civilization such as Beethoven, Einstein, Copernicus, Newton, Rosa Parks, Jane Eyre, Gandhi and many, many more. No one becomes powerful or self-determined by following the rules. We have to ask ourselves, how far will we go to exercise our personal power in being creative and self-determined? Will we risk “excommunication” and being labeled selfish in order to actualize ourselves? Are we still a lion in sheep’s clothing believing we’re sheep? It’s this quality of courage and maturity that we, eventually, must all choose to embrace…