Our Cultural Trances
“It is no measure of health to be
to a profoundly sick society”.
-- J. Krishnamurti
I am a strident (some might even say zealous) critic of our current cultural assumptions, prejudices, habits and “rules” (both written and un-written) -- which I refer to collectively as our “cultural trance.”
I observe that those of us who are sleep-walking in this trance (which is most of us, most of the time) are diminished by it –- if not downright harmed.
Hence, if I’m about the business of helping my fellow human beings become freer and more conscious versions of themselves, part of my duty is to do what I can to help them wake up from the (often nightmarish) sleep of our current cultural trance.
In a way, you could say that my practice is aimed at helping people WAKE UP, as much as it is aimed at anything. I aim for our encounters to increase your attention to what is actually going on within you and around you, trusting that as you become more aware of what is actually going on – and realize that there are inherently superior alternatives to the ways you have come to habitually respond to things -- you will naturally take the best (most life-enhancing) alternative, just as a person who wakes up from sleepwalking will naturally choose to stop bumping into things.
Some major elements of our collective insanity (that I am as yet aware of!):
~ The future (e.g., “progress toward where I’m going”) is inherently more important than the present (i.e., just enjoying being here, now).
~ People (most especially ourselves) are not naturally “good” – in fact, human beings absolutely need to be controlled exactly because their “natural” inclinations toward expressing themselves are [choose as many as apply]:
dangerous or just plain evil*
(*This sentiment, by the way, is merely a vernacular expression of the Christian doctrine of “original sin” [i.e., that we are born inherently “bad” and must work against our natural inclinations to become -- or at least act -- “good”] which is still buried deep in our cultural code [and thus our “individual psyches”] -- whether or not we consciously consider ourselves “religious” in any way, shape or form).
~ Other people are (thus) dangerous (after all, we know of the horrors they’re capable of, both from our own experience, and from being hammered relentlessly with reminders of it by the popular media) – and thus we need to protect ourselves from others out of fear far more than we need to connect with others out of our inherent ability to contribute to each other’s well-being.
~ A “happy person” is suspect (imagine seeing an adult skipping down the street, or making eye contact as they pass you: Isn’t your first thought some version of “Is s/he drunk/stoned/otherwise chemically altered? Is s/he childish/naïve/oblivious/psychotic? Is s/he possibly dangerous?)
~ We have to be against something together in order to feel truly connected with each other. (I offer the media-driven polemics of American politics for your consideration in this regard.)
~ My current suffering is going to be alleviated (in the future, of course) by getting MORE of something (e.g., money, power, sex, muscles, our favorite drug, the right brand of beer, acclaim [or, perhaps better yet, envy] from others, the latest gadget, retirement accounts, snuggies/sham-wows [that ought to date this writing!], houses, spouses, one more bite of pizza, you name it).
~ “Love” is a commodity that we all need more of, that is in short supply, and that should only be “given” or “received” under certain very specific conditions.
~ There are certain ways we “should” feel about things -- and if we don’t feel that way, something is wrong with us, and we must learn to pretend (perhaps even to ourselves) that we feel what we’re “supposed to” feel.
~ We are separate from each other, and from the Earth from which we arose.
~ “Nature” is something separate from us, something to be conquered -- humans are more important than any other form of life, and Earth (including all other forms of life that comprise Earth) is a thing to be used for our pleasure, profit and convenience.
~ My value as a person is commensurate with how much I own and/or how closely my body matches the current cultural “ideal” of how a male or female body “should” look.
~ My body is not to be trusted, and the energies and impulses that arise there must be suppressed and controlled.
~ The thoughts that arise in my awareness are who I am -- and they are “true.”
~ Emotional sensitivity and vulnerability are drawbacks, and signs of weakness.
~ Fear is what keeps me safe.
The above are just a few of the insane
(and profoundly aliveness-draining)
beliefs that make up our current cultural trance -- beliefs that most of us unconsciously accept as true, and seldom, if ever, question.
Consider that there is no way we can question (much less reject, much less transcend) an insane and self-defeating belief without first becoming aware that we’ve been believing it.
My observation is that, when a human being is simply awake (i.e., not entranced), we are naturally inclined to take action that is beneficent for ourselves and – and this is a heresy relative to the doctrine of our current cultural trance -- for the well-being of everyone and every other form of life around us. Said another way, it’s only when we’re asleep (i.e., entranced, i.e., unconscious in one way or another) that we can do the things we all so commonly do to create suffering for ourselves and others (including those “other” forms of life that don’t happen to be human).
So, back to my “point”: if the purpose of psychotherapy is to significantly reduce unnecessary suffering, then it only makes sense that we aim to uncover the roots of that suffering wherever they may be. By recognizing and naming some of the more toxic beliefs of our cultural trance -- and seeing how these beliefs have been distorting our perceptions and creating unnecessary suffering for ourselves -- we “wake up” to realizing that we have a choice about continuing to believe and/or act out of these conditioned beliefs, or of opening ourselves to the possibility of deeper understandings (through simply PAYING ATTENTION) that are not only more in keeping with reality, but also more truly beneficent in terms of our own well-being, and the well-being of the others we come in contact with.
I saw a bumper sticker the other day that (kind of) says it all:
MISERY IS NORMAL;
LET'S TRY WEIRD...