“Nathaniel Branden: Overcoming Barriers to Romantic Love”

“Tony Robbins Meaning of Communications / Utilizing Your Emotions”

“Spiritual (Existential) Suffering”

A very good video by Professor Anton:

On the topic of agency, yes, that’s the word I ought to stick with too instead of saying “free will.” Thought about that in relation to videos I’ve created, wishing I hadn’t put it like I did, because none of us are truly and fully free. Our minds are impacted by so much around us, by our families and wider communities and greater society and other societies, by art and popular media and music, by laws and expectations foisted upon us, by the environment and our own inborn limitations, etc. So the word “agency” holds much more water here and gets the idea across more accurately that we do possess however much power and can choose to whatever extent to act on it.

The rest of the video hit on so many good points. On the topic of the afterlife, I’ve personally never had a whole lot of use for the notion, though I do play with the idea at times. My Grandma very strongly believes in heaven and has a tough time imagining hardly anyone winding up in hell after dying, her Christian views being a bit more compassionate and merciful than what we typically see in the mainstream. But the way she tells it is you have to work on improving conditions in this life where you’re able so as to be admitted to heaven, or to at least have “God” be proud of you and satisfied with what you’ve tried to do. That’s an important aspect of the religion that unfortunately seems to be falling to the wayside now that people are jumping on the Evangelical bandwagon that directs more attention toward recruiting more followers and impacting legislation. In the case of the Evangelicals many seem to believe they are simply destined to a heaven in the afterlife due to asking their “Lord” for forgiveness, and I used to watch the hypocrisy in this assumption play out in my hometown down South where people would behave awful toward one another all week, spreading lies and gossip, fighting and fucking each other’s partners, then go into church on Sundays and ask forgiveness, only to walk out feeling like they have a clean slate they can go back to scribbling hell on. That’s a damaging way of looking at it and it lets people off the hook, so to speak. And it’s attitudes like that that poison what remains of major religions.

But me personally, I won’t claim to know anything one way or the other about the afterlife, assuming there is such a thing. For all I know our souls will wind up reincarnated into other lifeforms, or perhaps will dim with our dying bodies and serve the earth as worm food. I’m okay with either possibility. But we won’t know until we’re there, and by then it’s too late to come back to share the news with others. So, I do tend to turn my attention to right here on earth and the question of what it would mean to create hell or heaven on earth. In my thinking, hell appears like a much more concrete reality than heaven — as in the formation of hell being well within our grasps. Whereas I see heaven as more of an ideal we aspire toward and perhaps can never fully arrive at, and that’s okay, because it’s through that striving and the diligence required that our lives become infused with meaning and purpose, both individually and collectively. In other words, the notion of creating a sort of heaven on earth calls for vigilance and a mind toward both justice and mercy, and that means challenging ourselves deeply and honestly as well as one another. Heaven in this sense becomes about a process, not a place or a destination. It’s a working toward that if we don’t remain mindful of, we default back to heading in the other direction which culminates in the creation of hell on earth.

Think about it like this: hell can be brought about by not giving a damn, by not lifting a finger, by walking right past injustices without caring to take notice, by allowing apathy to block our hearts and minds. We can create hell by simply being selfish to the point of ceasing caring about the welfare of others, or by trying to force our will onto all others. This is what is meant by the idea that the paths leading to hell are wide and varied, as opposed to the path leading to heaven being narrow. This proverbial path to aspire toward the creation of heaven on earth requires effort, introspection, and care taken, whereas we can travel on the roads to hell as passive passengers. Do you see how that works? The formation of something like heaven on earth can’t be achieved by sitting back and doing nothing or by hiding our heads in the sand, though such approaches can easily help push us toward creating hell. Different paths calling for totally different strategies and levels of cognizance. At least that’s how I’ve come to see it.

But then I try never to forget that the road to hell can also be paved with good intentions. What this means, I think, is that we can be misguided and biased and thereby blind to the potential consequences of what we’re aiding and abetting. Plenty of ideas seem good on the surface, but when we scratch deeper we realize how dangerous they might be if manipulated in the hands of people lacking integrity and fortitude and who are more interested in serving their own selves at the expense of others.

A modern example of this was president George W. Bush expanding the powers of the executive branch of government disproportionately, under the guise of protecting our nation after the 9/11 attacks. For plenty of people, many in my own family, this seemed to them the right thing to do at the time, and they turned away from the warnings that future presidents will be able to utilize that expanded power as well, and that once power is attained it does not concede itself. Meaning future presidents might be tempted to use such power in even more horrific ways, and that sets up an even tougher battle for citizens going forward to get a leash back on our governmental system. Now, I could go deep and wide into this topic and level all sorts of criticisms against G.W. Bush and Obama and other presidents who came before them who also helped paved the way for this, but I’ll save that for another time. The important point here is that knee-jerking into going along with self-serving schemes in the short-run can lead to travesties on down the line, and this is why we must remain vigilant and strive to become as well-rounded as we’re able in order to seek balance in our minds so that we can question our motives and intentions and protect the principles that matter most. And we Americans have roamed a long ways from home in that respect.

Hell, for me, involves slavery of various forms because humans wind up reduced down to utilitarian value — objects serving others’ ends. This necessarily causes me to be critical of any and all economic schemes and political setups, as well as the direction of civilizations in general. And it is because of considerations like this that I dream of what I’ve referred to as “10,000 communities and clans going their own ways,” because it opens up so many possibilities and allows for innovative approaches to governance and trading and resource allocation and utilization. A one-size-fits-all, top-down approach cannot do this — it is authoritarian by its very nature and morphs to become totalitarian as more and more power is centralized. It is forceful and coercive and demands conformity, even (or perhaps especially) when it is corrupt and leading its citizens toward demise.  I try to dream outside of that box in wondering what power we might have and how we might could use it going forward. How we might create saner lives through the formation of saner communities that are held together by saner objectives.

But when societal change doesn’t look likely to occur in a real and positive way during my lifetime, I turn my attention to what I’m doing and who I’m affecting — what is within my sphere of influence. And here I’ve made many mistakes and hurt myself and others, and it is a very heavy burden to carry. But I believe if we hold on to one another with love, that’s something. If we can help one another get through this life and do what we need to do and stand up for what we need to stand up for, that’s something, and it isn’t trivial. Gotta start somewhere. Even when we fail, gotta get back up and gotta keep walking on. Nobody promised us a rose garden… If we don’t grow it, who will? If we don’t try, who might? If we can’t love, we’ll never fully appreciate the “thou” in ourselves and others. And without that, the sacred is diminished and we keep sliding toward hell on earth.

The bitterness and pain is nearly impossible to block out some days, but it’s not a punishment put on us so much as it’s just a fact of life that calls for a courageous response, hard as that is. So much is easier said than done, especially when we do not know where to apply our efforts and we’re injured so thoroughly spiritually and psychologically that all we want is comfort and escapism. That’s the present dilemma as I see it. It’s a tough call, and courage doesn’t come easy. We suffer, yet we have to be mindful of how pain pays forward. We have to be mindful of what we’re doing if ever we are to break the chain so as to create something else in its place. And we do need support from one another as we reckon with this reality and what it’s asking of us. That boils it back down to being about love and recognizing the needs of the soul (as Prof. Anton mentioned, the difference between “sickness of the soul” and “health of the soul”).

Unfortunately some folks out there are too embittered to do anything but laugh at a message such as this, believing it to be naive rambling of little consequence. But they likely are blind and biased — there is no reasoning with them. If they are to be won over, if that’s even a possibility, it will have to come through our works commanding respect. Basically showing them another way so that they might be touched by it and not just words on the subject. This is why love matters — it’s about devoting time and energy to one another, trying to learn more about one another, honoring the inherent worth of one another, and thereby creating a draw for cooperation going forward. If we continue trying to use one another to serve our own ends, we harm each other and break people’s spirits and cause them to distrust us, because they know underneath it all we do not really care about them. They are just fodder intended to serve our own interests and nothing more, and that is a form of slavery. If others recognize themselves as disposable in our eyes, we have harmed their spirit and undermined their value and contributions, and that is not fair. More than that, it’s poisonous and generates apathy in people aiming to escape that sort of reality. And on and on it will go until we pay heed and work toward breaking the chain as we are able.

It is a very sad day over here, so I expect to do a lot of writing in days to come. This is my therapy, my reaching out, my attempt to connect my dreams and understandings with others. Something tells me this is the only way to heal what ails us, and a broken heart goes a long way in demonstrating how painful existence can be. Life’s hard enough and always will be, so I try in my own way to strike at the root of those entities and systems that are proving toxic and further damaging to our social relations. It’s all I know to do at this point in my life, small as my ambitions may appear. But I am one person, and this is my life, and these are my loved ones, and dammit, we do matter. We work with what we have.

On the topic of neurotics — an excerpt from Ernest Becker’s book “The Denial of Death”

This excerpt comes from chapter 9 titled “The Present Outcome of Psychoanalysis” in Ernest Becker’s book The Denial of Death, picking up on page 177:

Neurosis has three interdependent aspects. In the first place it refers to people who are having trouble living with the truth of existence; it is universal in this sense because everybody has some trouble living with the truth of life and pays some vital ransom to that truth. In the second place, neurosis is private because each person fashions his own peculiar stylistic reaction to life. Finally, beyond both of these is perhaps the unique gift of Rank’s work: that neurosis is also historical to a large extent, because all the traditional ideologies are just too thin to contain in. So we have modern man: increasingly slumping into analysts’ couches, making pilgrimages to psychological guru-centers and joining therapy groups, and filling larger and larger numbers of mental hospital beds. Let us look at each of these three aspects in more detail.

The Neurotic Type

First, as a problem of personal character. When we say neurosis represents the truth of life we again mean that life is an overwhelming problem for an animal free of instinct. The individual has to protect himself against the world, and he can do this only as any other animal would: by narrowing down the world, shutting off experience, developing an obliviousness both to the terrors of the world and to his own anxieties. Otherwise he would be crippled for action. We cannot repeat too often the great lesson of Freudian psychology: that repression is normal self-protection and creative self-restriction—in a real sense, man’s natural substitute for instinct. Rank has a perfect, key term for this natural human talent: he calls it “partialization” and very rightly sees that life is impossible without it. What we call the well-adjusted man has just this capacity to partialize the world for comfortable action. I have used the term “fetishization,” which is exactly the same idea: the “normal” man bites off what he can chew and digest of life, and no more. In other words, men aren’t built to be gods, to take in the whole world; they are built like other creatures, to take in the piece of ground in front of their noses. Gods can take in the whole of creation because they alone can make sense of it, know what it is all about and for. But as soon as a man lifts his nose from the ground and starts sniffing at eternal problems like life and death, the meaning of a rose or a star cluster—then he is in trouble. Most men spare themselves this trouble by keeping their minds on the small problems of their lives just as their society maps these problems out for them. These are what Kierkegaard called the “immediate” men and the “Philistines.” They “tranquilize themselves with the trivial”—and so they can lead normal lives.

Right away we can see the immensely fertile horizon that opens up in all of our thinking on mental health and “normal” behavior. In order to function normally, man has to achieve from the beginning a serious constriction of the world and of himself. We can say that the essence of normality is the refusal of reality. What we call neurosis enters precisely at this point: Some people have more trouble with their lies than others. The world is too much with them, and the techniques that they have developed for holding it at bay and cutting it down to size finally begin to choke the person himself. This is neurosis in a nutshell: the miscarriage of clumsy lies about reality.

But we can also see at once that there is no line between normal and neurotic, as we all lie and are all bound in some ways by the lies. Neurosis is, then, something we all share; it is universal. Or, putting it another way, normality is neurosis, and vice versa. We call a man “neurotic” when his lie begins to show damaging effects on him or on people around him and he seeks clinical help for it—or others seek it for him. Otherwise, we call the refusal of reality “normal” because it doesn’t occasion any visible problems. It is really as simple as that. After all, if someone who lives alone wants to get out of bed a half-dozen times to see if the door is really locked, or another washes and dries his hands exactly three times every time or uses a half-roll of toilet tissue each time he relieves himself—there is really no human problem involved. These people are earning their safety in the face of the reality of creatureliness in relatively innocuous and untroublesome ways.

But the whole thing becomes more complex when we see how the lies about reality begin to miscarry. Then we have to begin to apply the label “neurotic.” And there are any number of occasions for this, from many ranges of human experience. Generally speaking, we call neurotic any life style that begins to constrict too much, that prevents free forward momentum, new choices, and growth that a person may want and need. For example, a person who is trying to find his salvation only in a love relationship but who is being defeated by this too narrow focus is neurotic. He can become overly passive and dependent, fearful of venturing out on his own, of making his life without his partner, no matter how that partner treats him. The object has become his “All,” his whole world; and he is reduced to the status of a simple reflex of another human being. This type frequently looks for clinical help. He feels stuck in his narrow horizon, needs his particular “beyond” but fears moving past it. In terms we used earlier we could say that his “safe” heroics is not working out; it is choking him, poisoning him with the dumb realization that it is so safe that it is not heroic at all. To lie to oneself about one’s own potential development is another cause of guilt. It is one of the most insidious daily inner gnawings a person can experience. Guilt, remember, is the bind that man experiences when he is humbled and stopped in ways that he does not understand, when he is overshadowed in his energies by the world. But the misfortune of man is that he can experience this guilt in two ways: as bafflement from without and from within—by being stopped in relation to his own potential development. Guilt results from unused life, from “the unlived in us.”

More sensational are those other familiar miscarriages of lies about reality, what we call obsessions and compulsions, phobias of all kinds. Here we see the result of too much fetishization or partialization, too much narrowing-down of the world for action. The result is that the person gets stuck in the narrowness. It is one thing to ritually wash one’s hands three times; it is another to wash them until the hands bleed and one is in the bathroom most of the day. Here we see in pure culture, as it were, what is at stake in all human repression: the fear of life and death. Safety in the face of the real terror of creature existence is becoming a real problem for the person. He feels vulnerable—which is the truth! But he reacts too totally, too inflexibly. He fears going out in the street, or up in elevators, or into transportation of any kind. At this extreme it is as though the person says to himself “If I do anything at all . . . I will die.”

We can see that the symptom is an attempt to live, an attempt to unblock action and keep the world safe. The fear of life and death is encapsulated in the symptom. If you feel vulnerable it is because you feel bad and inferior, not big or strong enough to face up to the terrors of the universe. You work out your need for perfection (bigness, invulnerability) in the symptom—say, hand-washing or the avoidance of sex in marriage. We might say that the symptom itself represents the locus of the performance of heroism. No wonder that one cannot give it up: that would release all by itself the whole flood of terror that one is trying to deny and overcome. When you put all your eggs in one basket you must clutch that basket for dear life. It is as though one were to take the whole world and fuse it into a single object or a single fear. We immediately recognize this as the same creative dynamic that the person uses in transference, when he fuses all the terror and majesty of creation in the transference-object. This is what Rank meant when he said that neurosis represents creative power gone astray and confused. The person doesn’t really know what the problem is, but he hits on an ingenious way to keep moving past it. Let us note, too, that Freud himself used the expression “transference-neurosis” as a collective term for hysterical fears and compulsion neuroses. We can say that Rank and modern psychiatry merely simplify and carry through this basic insight, but now putting the burden of explanation on life-and-death fears, not merely on Oedipal dynamics. One young psychiatrist has recently summed up the whole matter beautifully, in the following words:

It must be clear that the despair and anguish of which the patient complains is not the result of such symptoms but rather are are the reasons for their existence. It is in fact these very symptoms that shield him from the torment of the profound contradictions that lie at the heart of human existence. The particular phobia or obsession is the very means by which man . . . eases the burden of his life’s tasks . . . is able to . . . assuage his sense of insignificance. . . . Thus, neurotic symptoms serve to reduce and narrow—to magically transform the world so that he may be distracted from his concerns of death, guilt, and meaninglessness. The neurotic preoccupied with his symptom is led to believe that his central task is one of confrontation with his particular obsession or phobia. In a sense his neurosis allows him to take control of his destiny—to transform the whole of life’s meaning into the simplified meaning emanating from his self-created world.

The ironic thing about the narrowing-down of neurosis is that the person seeks to avoid death, but he does it by killing off so much of himself and so large a spectrum of his action-world that he is actually isolating and diminishing himself and becomes as though dead. There is just no way for the living creature to avoid life and death, and it is probably poetic justice that if he tries too hard to do so he destroys himself.

But we still haven’t exhausted the range of behaviors that we can call neurotic.

[all emphasis his.]

Stopping for now on page 181, to be resumed another day.

Thoughts on rage as part of the growth process

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Been continuing to think on some of the rage and frustration I’ve encountered online over the last year, particularly in recent months, among some men and women who term themselves as MRAs and/or MGTOWs or feminists. And I realize I need to step back to my own past in remembering how much rage I once contained, toward both men and women, but most especially toward men since they were who I was in most direct contact with and kept experiencing mistreatment by. No one could have told me not to be angry then, and doing so would’ve just ramped up my aggravation and wound up causing a fight. Because my pain felt (and still I feel was) justified as a reaction to what had come before. I was working through those emotions and it took several years to do so.

During that time I came online and likely spat some vitriol toward mankind in general. There was no aim inside me at that point to be fair and balanced because all I could see was how I’d been done wrong, and then this was amplified when I discovered other women (and in some cases men) who experienced similar forms of mistreatment. My own issues centered around my family (particularly my mother, stepdad and step-side of the family) and then beginning at a rather young age (early teen years) dealing with attempts at sexual misuse of me by much older men (one of the first experiences that messed with my mind and still sticks with me involved a 70+ year old man I’d grown to trust when I was 14). At first I became scared because I didn’t know what to do and my family wouldn’t or couldn’t offer the kind of protection that was needed back then. And then I got angry. And then angrier. And then outright hostile toward the end of my teen years and heading into my 20s. During that time I came to identify myself as a feminist, as I’ve discussed, largely because I needed support and guidance and help like any young person does. But then I didn’t wind up finding much of that there either.

The point here though is that I was in incredible pain, some of which still stays with me. I felt bewildered and was aiming to protect myself from what this world showed itself as having to offer. And everywhere I turned it seemed people were screaming in my face “Well, life’s not fair! Get over it!” Rage doesn’t seem an adequate word to describe where I went inside.

But as time moves on, you aim to manage some of what you’re feeling, and for me this meant trying to accept a more “pessimistic” outlook in terms of recognizing how dangerous men could be in the right circumstances and doing what I could to navigate in this world. My lifestyle during those years probably had a lot to do with me trying to take back power over the situation by me determining how relations would go (so far as I was able) and ensuring I stood to benefit on some level. During that period I spent a lot of time in neighborhood bars in my off-hours and through the use of alcohol and sexuality aimed to, on one hand, numb myself and, on the other, to seek comfort where I could find it. Escapism flavored by distrust and a sense of feeling I belonged nowhere and that ‘wicked’ people were everywhere waiting for opportunities to strike, and it came down to me protecting me because no one else would. I already had virtually no faith in the police or the courts, moved hours away from people I’d known, and had a weak support network at that time.

Strangely enough, through those years and despite experiencing and witnessing additional damaging events (though decreasingly so; luck factored in there as well), the ice began being chiseled away from my heart and I came to see numerous examples of men in need, not on the take, hurt in their own ways, suffering with serious problems on a level most others can’t even fathom (for example, one man relayed to me his story of winding up paralyzed AND being hit with divorce papers while recovering from related injuries in the hospital — a very, very sad ordeal).

Funny thing is the taverns I frequented actually proved a bit rehabilitative in a sense because there I met the old war veterans and people from all walks of life with nowhere better to go. They sought out companionship, someone to talk to, someone to listen, and I came to appreciate sitting with them one-on-one, hearing stories of what it was like working as a Teamster or hearing about a man’s wife who had died of cancer or hearing about how another man’s kids won’t have much of anything to do with him, etc. Individual men with individual stories to share. In other aspects of my lifestyle back then I met men with debilitating health problems as well as those who’d been overlooked as potential dating partners by most of society. Still met my fair share of jerks, but I also gained a lot of respect and empathy for plenty of others I came into contact with.

This led me on to my next phase, after a bit of a setback where I returned to feeling angry once more due to circumstances I don’t wish to get into right now. But this next phase was about opening myself up to others and to realizing that while my own life experiences and views aren’t trivial and do continue to matter, they don’t represent the bigger picture of what all is going on out here in the world. They are one perspective, the closest one I’m privy to, but still not by any means a definitive say on the matter. As I began opening up more and more, I began realizing who my real friends were and who I’d been treating unfairly due to my own hostility and fear of trusting others. Once I stepped beyond feminism and began exploring more about our military and then our economy, my whole outlook shifted to include a great many more considerations than merely focusing in on the harm men and women can do to one another. But it’s not a straight path, it winds and circles back around.

This path also led/leads me to looking more closely at events where I had contributed to the problem or where I had outright harmed others. Hindsight isn’t 20/20, but reflection and introspection of this nature is invaluable. Also it has helped to remember people from way back and stories they shared and my past observations on how they came up and what they looked to be up against, etc.

I still have a long way to go (as if there’s ever a finish line). While it is very trying for me to sit by and let others verbally attack me and paint me as some princess who knows nothing about this life—that always boils up my indignation—I’m realizing how these folks are on their own journeys, which hopefully they actively continue on, seeing as how remaining mired in the muck of bad memories and powerlessness is no way for anyone to have to live (as I try to remind myself, impossible as it is to forget the past). Maybe I’ve been a bit harsh and dismissive categorically because I don’t know how else to respond. In person it is easier because we can size one another up and get a better sense of whether we’re being honest and forthright. Because not all are — some are charlatans who will prey on others’ sympathy so as to position themselves to take advantage of the situation, this I have learned. And some are so angry that they turn cruel to such an extent that they become outright toxic. We do still have to protect ourselves despite wanting to be open to the concerns and stories of others. We have to be realistic, taking in all that we’ve learned thus far, while also trying to shelve that enough to where we aren’t too closed off to people. This is a struggle, and it won’t be easy for anybody out here.

The next question becomes where to go from here. I don’t know. But I’m trying to keep walking on while pondering and letting a lot of information in to swirl around and meld with the rest. I’m aiming to be more careful with my judgments, though there is a time and a place indeed to judge, particularly when it comes to scrutinizing ideas.

Perhaps part of the problem becomes trying to fuse personal healing with political activism, because we’re prone to behave as reactionaries with very narrow focuses when we feel like a ball of pain. It nearly can’t be helped at those times in our lives, but in doing so, we can unfairly heap even more wrongs onto the pile and make enemies out of potential friends and allies. The tragedy in that isn’t just about alienating potential friends and allies but also what we wind up doing to our own selves, we who need help, we who wish to be heard, we who crave validation and understanding. We wind up isolated, or worse, in an echo chamber with other extremely angry individuals who see no way out.

Life and living are very tricky in this way. There are no easy answers to this dilemma, so I am simply acknowledging this appears to be where we stand today.