Capitalism, Carl Jung, Colonialism, Community Psychology, Depth Psychology, dialogue, Groups, Healing, Ignacio Martin-Baro, James Hillman, Krishnamurti, Liberation Psychology, Oppression, Participation, Paulo Freire, racism, Sexism, Vimala Thakar
“In so far as no man is born totally new, but continually repeats the stage of development last reached by the species, he contains unconsciously, as an a priori datum, the entire psychic structure developed … by his ancestors in the course of the ages.” Carl Jung
We live in a complex web of story. We live in a complex web of story that has reached down through previous generations to condition this very moment in reality. What we come to realize in our movement over the asphalt roads of life is that most of these stories – if not all – are not of our own making. Instead of saying we live in a complex web of story, although this is true, maybe it would be more definitive to say that we are trapped in a complex web of story and we are not yet fully living. We are so deeply ensnared by these stories that although it appears that we are living, we are but moving about within a maze intricately designed by the many generations before us. The complexity of this storied maze has us believing that we are living at the maximum even though its limits torment our collective psyche day in and day out.
“What one sees in the world is … but the expression of a living psychic condition that still exists …” Carl Jung
For instance, the (hi)story of colonialism has a perpetual, revolving, occurrence in our everyday lives. The story, although dreamed and seeded many centuries ago, is self-functioning in a way where we barely recognize it as it weaves through our psycho-soclal interrelationships. Those men and women who rightfully sought freedom from their oppressive motherland came to these shores of Turtle Island to create a new world for themselves. The brutal conquest of this inhabited paradise, marked by the blood of indigenous groups, gave way to institutionalized capitalism, the dream of democracy, and a host of other stories that we are enslaved to.
The story of colonialism – rooted in a European worldview of the rest of the world and its inhabitants – wedded itself to the idea of enslavement, coupled it with the brutal takeover of indigenous sacred spaces, to lay brick by brick, the deep foundation of inherited race-based perceptual relationship (I think it’s important to historical accuracy and rooting out of ignorance to locate race-based perception in its proper place). This way of perceiving other skin shades and physiological characteristics has been so thorough conditioned into our unconscious minds that when we learn through scientifically verified fact that the idea of race is a socio-political construction and not a biological reality, we continue to use it as a perceptual measurement. The traumatic separation of indigenous folks from their sacred lands to designated and foreign reservations, japanese internment, the Chinese Exclusion Act, Jim Crow Segregation, the idea of white (male) supremacy, racial profiling, “the model minority”, border walls, cheap immigrant slave labor, corrupt judicial laws with racial profiling that has “black and brown” men and women making up the majority of the prison population, etc. etc. The story of race and its continued practice, beginning in the ill conceived political/religious beliefs and needs of the pioneers of colonialism, enslaves the minds of the majority of us.
“The oppressed suffer from the duality which has established itself in their innermost being …. They are at one and the same time themselves and the oppressor whose consciousness they have internalized.” Paulo Freire
Another story that has a hold on our awkward run away toward liberation is the all-consuming story of patriarchy. Male supremacy, also rooted in and sprouting out of this European worldview that preceded the colonial endeavor, can be summarized as the story of male dominance of and over the sacred feminine. The ways in which the female body has been desecrated, objectified and marginalized into ill-kept promises of equality (while being held out of many of the most powerful positions in our society) with men making decisions about women’s reproductive health, is so deeply ingrained in our unconscious awareness that women playing tackle football in underwear (when men are fully padded/protected) hardly gets a shocking rebuke. This story of male physical and psychological domination of the sacred feminine has psychologically shackled men themselves as they imprison their own femininity (internalized homophobia), while also projecting these unfortunate cultural memes on other men who do not fit the masculinized stereotype. This tends to reveal its ugly head in views of homosexuality (shared by men and women) as well as ill judgements of sexual preference and gender expression.
These aforementioned stories of racism, sexism, heteronormative expectation and the oppression that comes with them are so deeply wedded to capitalism and financial power (or the lack thereof) that it is genuinely unmistakable. However, since people in powerful positions will not readily admit, nor accepts the facts of, their colonized privilege gained at the expense of others being marginalized, sometimes we have to state the obvious. The story of capitalism has been sufficiently promoted by another story that tells how men from another shore came to these spaces, sacrificed their lives, made something out of nothing and how with a little hard work and personal ingenuity that you could be just as independently wealthy. With this meme steering the boat over the voluminous waves of social criticism, many of the privileged wealthy will proudly pronounce that the aforementioned realities of social marginalization do not matter anymore and if you could simply pull yourself up by your bootstraps that you could just as successful as the “Joneses”. We have married ourselves to the financial excesses of capitalism to such a degree that some years back Bill Cosby had a “black trash” moment referring to young black youth as “dirty laundry”. Yes, this story of personal sacrifice and hard work towards success is so ingrained in our unconscious thinking patterns that the once oppressed have now become oppressors … such was the beginning of American colonialism.
We have so many interweaving stories in need of exhaustion, but this discussion on the complex web of story cannot truly be effective without some recognition of how the story of the bible (and Koran), old and new testaments, has held a significant influence on the the aforementioned stories as well as American (and global) culture. These ideas, taken literally and metaphorically, through the breadth of their reach have come to impact the lives of believers and non-believers alike. Many politicians use these stories from history as a platform for their political motivations and it goes without saying how much of an influence biblical folklore and belief had on the institution of colonialism, at times validating brutal enslavement of Africans, killing of indigenous groups, the subjugation/oppression of women, as well as heteronormative expectation. To not state the obvious is to underestimate the strength these stories hold on the unconscious motivations and practices within our struggling culture.
“… every organic pathology is a cooperation between a pathogenic agent and the human person as host. An infection must find the host receptive, unresistant, perhaps even welcoming.” James Hillman
At this juncture, I think that it is really important to reiterate rather plainly that we have not authored any of these stories. We were unable to throw our voice of understanding into the loud chorus of perceptual limitations and suggest a more sustainable, compassionate, way of creating the American Dream. These stories of oppression that have in many ways been altered (some of them) and challenged by courageous citizens have been passed down through the generations and imposed on our innocent consciousness. We have inherited these stories. Not only have we inherited these stories but we have also inherited the stories of our ancestors, the lives that they lived, the lives that they didn’t live, the beautiful marks of humanness that have carried us this far into the story of humanity as well as the those marks of humanness that lend themselves to shame, woundedness, oppression and then ultimately … the quest for liberation.
A very important culminating point to all of these interweaving webs of complex story is that beyond the realization that we are ensnared in the fabric of these inherited complexes is the slightly sobering reality that we embody them. If we give a quick reference to the understand of how the subjective realm of thought, imagination, perception and intention (guided by knowledge/information) condition the objective realm of lived reality, we can easily see how we come to be carriers of the narrative of colonialism and its many antecedents. These stories propel, act as fuel to, the conscious and unconscious practices of oppression in our culture. However, if you notice above I said “slightly sobering” because the exhilarating beauty of our embodiment is that as water runs through us and the fruits of trees as well as the vegetables of the earth sustain our movement, it can easily be stated that we, too, embody the story of the earth. Further, as the earth is but a rock suspended in space, receptively in cooperation with the sun and our solar system, we are further a cosmic echo – a love-filled embodiment of the story of the universe (this cosmological story is one that other theorists may be able to tell you about. I’ll keep it on earth, for now).
“Functionally, oppression is domesticating. To no longer be prey to its force, one must emerge from it and turn upon it. This can be done only by means of praxis: reflection and action upon the world in order to transform it.” Paulo Freire.
But, embodiment isn’t the beginning nor the end of this understanding. Once we are able to see this embodied enslavement, liberation from those shackles, or getting out of the entangled web of oppressive influence – psychologically – becomes imperative. Some people have referred to this process, in our context, as decolonization. Yet, understanding the transformative nature of liberation decolonization may just be the first rung of the ladder. However we choose to look at this potential liberation we come face to face with the daunting realization that being able to accomplish such a major feat is not an easy task no matter how far we stretch the philosophical imagination. This is a very strict challenge to the communally laissez-faire self that is uninterested in nor believes in or values this necessary transformative participation. Yet, our ability to participate with self in relationship with others in this psycho-sociallly conditioned matrix of interweaving stories has healing potential that we couldn’t begin to form words to give expression to (words can only reflect what is known).
This stepping out of the old stories to see life through fresh eyes is what Vimala Thakar called “Mutation of Mind” and Jiddu Krishnamurti coined “Freedom From The Known.” From this lens what we are actually participating in is an ongoing cleansing that releases us from the stronghold of yesteryear to realize a new way of living. This is the basis of my life work, personally and professionally. But, when we get to this point of the awareness of this storied conditionedness the “how” becomes the trickiest part because not only do we live in a complex web of (hi)story, we also live in and are enslaved by a complex web of theory (knowledge and information). However, in the aforementioned book by Vimala Thakar she taught:
“Perhaps if we are friendly with the mind, if we watch the mind, if we understand the mind, if we let it wander, let it roam about wherever it wants, let it exhaust its momentum by wandering, without scolding, without praising, without condemning it might exhaust its momentum …”
Can we come together interpersonally in the context of relationship, structured and unstructured, to gently observe the movement of mind within self and others – being friendly (compassionate) enough to allow space for this wandering exhaustion? In our American culture, we are used to standing on the sidelines and making all types of personal critiques, judgements and analyses of the behaviors of others. We are used to talking about and around the aforementioned oppressive stories, but unwilling to walk within their space, compassionately, to listen intimately enough to allow understanding to arise. Our debating culture perpetuates and leaves us, oftentimes, in opposition to others who may be experiencing and carrying these stories in different ways than us. In addressing these deep needs, my Psychologies of Liberation teacher Mary Watkins gathered her vision with that of Helene Shulman to write a book with a similar title. In providing a synopsis of the practice of liberation they provided this brilliant antidote (others who have followed this blog have read this quote but as it is somewhat of a rallying cry of mine I will reiterate the fundamentals of this dialogical transformative praxis):
“We want to talk about a type of liberation that people can do with one another, but that no one can do for another; a kind of jailbreak in which we find the fullness of ourselves and our communities. One begins this participatory project with a sense of all that is still unknown in self and other. In this scenario, what is imprisoned in silence, yearning, and marginalized, will have a chance to escape into image, language, symbol, performance, and action. ‘Expertise’ will be in the negative: learning how to empty oneself of already learned identifications and specializations to create space for listening and imagining, where one can dream new scripts and alternative ways of being in the world. This space is dialogical, welcoming conversation where monologue has reigned, within oneself and between oneself and others. One does this together with others, recovering sources of creativity and power, entering community rather than standing aside as bystanders or detached reporters. This space is co-creative. The rules one has lived by, the identities one has imagined as one’s own, and the identities of others one imagined as different, begin to shift and transform in this understanding of liberation. Liberation psychologies begin at the edge of what has already been known and named. They begin with a wandering in the desert where one questions and deconstructs in dialogue the fixed compass that has been orienting one’s identifications.”
This “wandering in the desert” of the unknown has the potential to allow new, untainted, stories to emerge. These new stories can deconstruct the old patterns of being hopefully facilitate our communal growth with others and the natural world. One can … dream. This is the work that I have committed myself to in all of my relationships. This is the work that I wish to be the crux of my professional life. This, furthermore and lastly, is the fieldwork that I will be doing this summer. So, if you or someone you know is in the Los Angeles Metropolitan area and would like to enter into transformative dialogue with myself and a group of people, please do not hesitate to be in contact. Share and distribute widely, please. Let’s come together to step out of the old stories and see what emerges.
“… it is necessary to involve ourselves in a new praxis, an activity of transforming reality that will let us know not only about what is but also about what is not, and by which we may try to orient ourselves toward what ought to be.” Ignacio Martin-Baro