Trauma & Transformation

Psychologists like to talk about trauma. If you have experienced X, then it must have been a traumatic experience. But, this is a function of the lens with which they view the world.

Our experience of the world tends to form a lens of interpretation. An emergency room physician — who, by definition, sees emergencies in their community — will think emergencies are normal. It will shape they way they view the world.

The same is true of every line of work. If you are a police officer, you will have developed a heightened sense of whether a situation matches a pattern where people are likely to be breaking the law. If you are an insurance claims adjuster, you will have seen a lot more outlier events and might view certain activities as more risky than others, when they might not be.

The same phenomena applies to psychologists and psychiatrists. They have seen people in their worst psychological condition, and they know to what depths we can all sink. But, the selection bias is such that the people that don’t need their help might be viewed as damaged people that just don’t know that they need their help. But, how often, in most circumstances in life, do we need help and not know it? This situation is unusual, not commonplace.

The problem is that trauma is just one story. We have the ability to overlay onto our experience a whole host of manufactured fictions. And while trauma may have a time and a place, I’d argue that trauma as a primary narrative should be reserved for experiences and situations which truly require assistance from a professional. Most situations don’t.

One person’s apocalypse is another’s day-to-day. If you need help, by all means, get it. There’s nothing wrong with getting it from psychologists or most any other place, if it benefits you. However, I’d argue that we are all much more resilient than we know, that trauma below most thresholds is the means through which we trigger the adaptation response and become stronger – mentally, physically, etc. – in response to our environment. This is not a negative nor should the focus be on the trauma, but in the adaptive response to it.

Of course, there’s taking it to the level of Neitzsche: “What does not kill me makes me stronger.” If you have had a limb cut off, it is unlikely you will become “stronger” in any meaningful sense of the term. But, on the other side, painful experiences do help to build psychic muscles. Doesn’t it make more sense to view most negative experiences as positive forces driving our development over the narrative of trauma?

The Plural of Apocalypse

“Our resolution should be not simply to survive our present apocalypse and resume “life as normal.” Let us wake up to ways the world ends every day, responding with compassion when we encounter others going through one slow-motion apocalypse or another. But let us also not turn a blind eye to the grace-filled apocalypses of first steps, surprising kindnesses, and new possibilities. Just because a baby, for example, is a small and ordinary being doesn’t mean she is not also an apocalyptic prophet, tearing with tiny hands at the veil that keeps us looking only at what is and not at what ought to be.”

—Alexi Sargeant, “Small Apocalypses.” BreakingGround.com. November 27, 2020.

h/t Alan Jacobs.

Reading Harry Potter as a Sacred Text

“What if we take this seriously? What gifts is it going to give us if we love something, and we love it with rigor, and we love it with commitment?”

Reading Harry Potter as a Sacred Text

Strikes me as an important question for many things in our lives that we trivialize because they aren’t “important” enough. What happens when we choose to love something, whether it deserves it or not, and how does it change it/them/us in the process?

The only caveat is to try to love wisely. It’s impossible to know where love will lead us, but if the chances are good a love will lead us down a bad path, perhaps it would be better to choose a different one.

Book Review: Prometheus Rising by Robert Anton Wilson

tl;dr: The eight-circuit model of consciousness: survival, emotions, reason, society/reproduction, body connection, imprint selection, connecting to life, and connecting to everything. If this all sounds like some New Age bullshit to you, then you might want to try some of the exercizes at the back of each chapter, e.g., “Try living a whole week with the program: ‘Everybody likes me and tries to help me achieve all my goals.'” Watch how your expectation shapes reality.

The framework of Prometheus Rising is Timothy Leary’s eight-circuit model of consciousness. In Robert Anton Wilson’s (RAW) telling, most people are robots that are dominated by one of the first four circuits of consciousness. They are ruled either by survival and comfort, their emotions, reason or the drive to reproduce and shape society.

Within circuits of consciousness, there are largely random imprints that shape their expression. For example, people that were enculturated as children and now belong to one of the top four religions – whether Catholic, Muslim, Hindu, or Buddhist – are often going to have a default emotional and rational style shaped by their religion. Or, people that grow up in circumstances of poverty or during a time like the Great Depression are going to have a greater focus on survival than people that didn’t. Other examples could include how our first sexual experience or relationship tends to define what turns us on or mate selection later in life. Similarly, our home life as a child tends to shape whether we want to recreate it or its opposite as adults.

He suggests that humanity is on the cusp of breaking free of the constraints of the space-time continuum. Scientific breakthroughs making immortality possible and enable the exploration and colonizing of interstellar space are going to radically change our mental models. And, this change in constraints is going to require reprogramming our minds to higher levels of consciousness, beyond the first four.

The fifth level of consciousness is a freedom from the compulsions of the first four circuits, where they are recognized as largely random imprints. In this state, we reconnect with our bodies. Freed from the demands of our imprints, we generally experience a sense of well-being.

The six level of consciousness, according to RAW, enables us to reprogram our random imprints. We are free to recognize the influence of our early poverty and decide that wealth and power, which both aid survival, isn’t as important to us. Or, we can decide to break with the model of relationships we have seen throughout our lives, and we can choose new imprints, e.g., to be polyamorous or bisexual. For rationalists, there is the opportunity to come to terms with how limited the tool of rationality is and how frequently it is used in the service of our drives for survival, for our emotions and for our social needs.

The seventh level of consciousness is to tap into our being at the DNA-level, where we come to terms with how we as individuals fit into the grand sweep of human history and how we fit into larger schemes of life on this planet and in the universe. Carl Jung’s collective unconscious, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Over-Soul, the Hindu atman, the Rastafarian I-and-I, the Baul Moner Manush (the person of the heart), the Quaker Light Within, and so forth seem like shades of this idea of how we connect with other humans, other sentient beings and the divine spirit of Life to transcend ourselves.

The eighth level of consciousness is to tap into the quantum entanglement of everything with everything else. It transcends the limitations of mere life and connects all to all.

Throughout the book, RAW’s primary project is not to lay out this framework clearly as I have done here, much of which is filtered through my own mind and not using examples from his book. His project seems to be primarily opening people up to the possibility of taking these ideas seriously. At the end of each chapter, he has a series of “exercizes”, which seem to be chosen primarily to give people practice in seeing the limitations in their worldview and in changing it.

This points to a key insight. It is impossible to tell people anything. You can talk about reality-tunnels and discuss theoretical frameworks like the eight-circuit model of consciousness, but it is difficult to make these ideas real. Ultimately, people have trouble accepting different worldviews than their own or that their outlook on life might be largely random and/or limited.

Most of us are getting on with the business of survival. We are subject to the vagaries of our emotions. We pretend that our rationality isn’t largely just rationalizations. And, we are subject to the demands of instinct, such as when biological clocks drive us to reproduce. Acknowledging these facts is difficult for most of us.

But, this fact is precisely why a book like Prometheus Rising can be so useful. There are other worlds, other ways of being. But, if we are only interested in the world we are in and the way we are, we are unable to see them. The expectations of the world shape us, and we, in turn, shape the world with our expectations. The central idea of this book is: Isn’t it worth the effort to change our expectations and get into a mental space where we are in control and can transcend our circumstances and our personal history?

Blue Moon Human

If you don’t have time to do it right the first time, where are you going to find time to do it again?

Or, you could be complacent. Mediocre effort. Mediocre results. Mediocre life.

We all start out wanting to excel, to be good and do it right. When does the change creep in on us, the metamorphosis that turns us into the mangy werewolf only made human by a blue moon?