“Fake it till you make it”, doesn’t help

HarrySallyFake

In these days of liberated sexuality it’s quite acceptable to openly discuss previously taboo subjects. Feminism has liberated women especially in the area of sexuality and has brought fascinating information to light. In one survey it has been shown that up to ten percent of men and women admit to having faked an orgasm at some time during their relationship. Psychology Today reports that this may not be as sinister as it seems, and may serve the purpose of making a partner feel secure by assuming they have been able to completely satisfy them.

But at what point does this “fake it till you make it” behaviour become nothing more than lying.
Don’t misunderstand me, I completely agree with Dr Gregory House, the rude and brusque lead character played by Hugh Laurie in the series “House”. Dr House’s favourite saying is, “Everybody lies” and he is correct.

At some point we all lie. Particularly to our doctors. How much alcohol do we drink? How many cigarettes do we smoke? Everybody lies.
We lie on Facebook by creating what psychologists now call our “Facebook Self”. A falsely happy, successful, person in a fulfilled relationship who never has anything go wrong in their lives. And what is worse, our Facebook “friends” affirm the carefully curated self we are presenting. If you don’t believe me try posting, “Having a really epic and awesome day!” then count the likes and comments that post gets. Now wait a few days and post, “Having a really pissy day and am feeling suicidally depressed.” Even if you were faking happy at that point, the lack of likes and comments will certainly depress you!

Of course, we want to make each other happy with posts of grandchildren, puppies and cupcakes, but what if House’s aphorism has invaded all aspects of our lives? What if “Everybody lies” is pandemic?

What if even our religious and spiritual journeys have become infected with the “fake it till you make it” virus, accompanied by carefully curated appearances in our spiritual practises where no one ever really knows what is happening inside ourselves?
We speak to each other in religious language about all the blessings and bounties of life,we hear direct messages from God, usually about how great we are in God’s sight and how much better we are than other losers who don’t share our creed.

Now please don’t misunderstand. I know that life is good and blessed.
But what if our over emphasis and curation of what I call our “picket fence spiritual life” creates a false impression of perfection and divine preference that makes people who are really battling to make it through the day feel even worse?
How can all that positivity which denies the fact of our own shadow and humanity, even be helpful to anyone? Worst of all, why lie to ourselves?

Of all the words Jesus spoke, some of the most powerful were, “My God, why have you forsaken me?” and when he wept publicly.

‘Talk is cheap’, they say, ‘but money buys the whisky’.

There are various forms of this adage. The earliest one written down is from P.T. Barnum the circus tycoon whose antics were recently told in the movie The Greatest Showman. He said, ‘Talk is cheap, until you hire a lawyer.’

Speaking of whisky and illusionists, if you have ever worked with an addict you will know just how cheap talk can be. Especially if the talk can buy whisky or any other addictive substance they need to survive. The cheapest talk from addicts are their words of apology that roll out so easily when they’ve been exposed in some dishonesty. Addicts regularly paint themselves into some corner by lies and deception in support of their habit. Usually the apology follows a standard form, “I am so sorry for the hurt I have caused”. Said with doleful face and cast down looks the words mean nothing and will be repeated just as easily next time the addict is cornered.

The most effective method ever devised for dealing with addiction, any addiction, are the Twelve Steps. This recovery map first used in Alcoholics Anonymous is now applied in almost any self help programme where people are trying to curb their destructive behaviour. When you examine the twelve steps surprisingly there is not a single mention of apologising. The word is never used. Not that addicts have nothing to apologise for either. If you have lived with an addict you know how much damage they can cause.

So why does AA not speak of apologising for the harm? Because recovery from addiction doesn’t happen by talking.
No significant change in behaviour or circumstances comes from cheap talk. A fact politicians and preachers know only too well. Talk changes nothing. What changes anything is action. So if you want to change, alter your behaviour and attitude.

Oh and by the way, don’t tell me, show me.

The twelve steps calls it making amends. It’s step nine of the twelve and right after, ‘We made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.’ Having completed the list in step eight the person in recovery is reminded by the old timers who have gone before and who are now their sponsors how ‘We made direct amends to such people (we had harmed) wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.’

No cheap talk apology here. If you are serious about recovering from your destructive behaviour don’t apologise, make it right. Make amends. Fix what you broke.
Who can count the parents, spouses, children, employers, friends, and family repeatedly suffer the destructive effects of some deeply addicted person they care about? They pray, they care, they rescue, they enable and through it all the addict simply mouths some cheap apology whilst stealing their money to buy the whisky.

Recovery lies in making amends and not in apologising.

Tolerating Intolerance

TOLERANCE“You get what you tolerate”, was tattooed on the inside of her forearm. I suggested “You get what you negotiate”, she was adamant and anyway it was her arm! I didn’t argue but I did ruminate.

We really are becoming less and less tolerant. Especially in matters of faith. Fundamentalism,a relatively new phenomenon and a reaction to the Modernism and Humanism of the late 19th and early 20th centuries is deeply suspicious of change. It attacks any new viewpoint in ethics, social behaviour and human rights and yet is the fastest growing sector of all religions not just Christianity.

In Judaism it’s Zionism and Askenazism and in Hinduism the Indian BJP movement. In Buddhism the 969 movement in Burma is extremely intolerant of Muslim Rohingas, and Islam is disproportionately caricatured as only producing Jihadists.

It would be naive to assume that fundamentalism is about religion. These zealots may practice their faith aggressively but in almost every case fundamentalism pursues some nationalist agenda. Religions falter when they lose their essential focus on spreading goodwill and making the world a better place, and are instead seduced by power and privilege for only their members. At that exact point a nationalist agenda will embrace religion to spread the lie that only certain lives matter.

But how do these nationalist-fundamentalist intolerants find a foothold in civilised democratic countries as they do? The ironic answer takes us back to my friend’s tattoo. “You get what you tolerate.”

Some of the world’s most sophisticated nations have fallen prey to militant fundamentalism simply because they regard religious tolerance as the politically correct thing to do. Religious tolerance in Europe only appeared after the French Revolution when one of the proto-republic’s founding philosophers Voltaire was banished from France and lived in England for two years. There he penned twenty four “Letters concerning the English nation” to explain the islanders to a friend back home.

A surprised Voltaire writes, “This is the country of sects. An Englishman, as a freeman, goes to Heaven by whatever road he pleases.” The statement had profound implications for any citizen of France, a nation that had almost destroyed itself in order to establish Catholicism as the only practised religion. Now Voltaire saw that English society was as bigoted as his homeland and how only Anglicans made it in politics and power, but he noticed when it came to business, “the Jew, the Mahometan (sic), and the Christian deal with one another as if they were of the same religion, and reserve the name of infidel only for those who go bankrupt.”

So in England religious diversity was easier to tolerate than financial failure and where politics always bedeviled religion, money made anything tolerable.
It was this free market and business openness that created the religious tolerance which empowered progress in the West.

Sadly with the rise of fundamentalism and the reactive intolerance of America and Brexit so evident, one can only expect the reversal of that progress in years ahead.

Thoughts of extinction enhance life

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Life is very old and tenaciously fragile.

On a table that holds my precious things I have a small black ceramic disk I bought in India. Made from a black clay it has the imprint of a spiralled shell. These disks are common at tourist sites and are made by pressing wet clay into fossil beds thus creating a positive image of the creature that became fossilised millions of years ago. The disk has been fired to make it durable and is iconic.

It records a life that ended eons ago. A bit like the rubbings one can do on famous gravestones in English churchyards, it is a proof of existence similar to the forms pensioners complete each year to verify they are alive to receive their monthly payouts.
The original shell creature fossilised in the sediment of India, had no consciousness of its own existence. It simply went about its life absorbing food, transforming it into energy, moving forward and procreating itself until its life ended.

By the time it became a fossil it had probably been dead for millennia. Perhaps its species had already died out completely? Was this creature wiped out in one of the five cataclysmic extinction events that are part of the earth’s evolutionary history?

It’s strange to realise that until the 19th century we didn’t even believe in extinction. So in America, you had President Thomas Jefferson sending Lewis and Clark to explore the Northwest regions in the hope they would find mastodons roaming around. Mastodon bones were fashionable at the time. There was a very famous one unearthed in New York and displayed in Philadelphia so people assumed they must still exist somewhere.

It was the French naturalist Georges Cuvier who around Jefferson’s time came to the realisation that if no one was seeing the animals from which the bones came, they must be extinct. At the same time European colonists were sending all these bones of exotic creatures, that couldn’t be found alive, back to their motherlands . So Cuvier came up with a theory of extinction which preceded Darwin’s theory of evolution by half a century. We knew that some species were extinct before we knew how they originated and there is a significant consolation in that sequence of discovery.

To become aware of the extinction of life before knowing how that life came to be, is to put things in the right order.
It’s why in every spiritual tradition the contemplation of death precedes the experience of what life means.

Ask any person diagnosed with cancer of the truth of this. They will confirm that knowing you have a disease that wants to kill you makes you appreciate every moment you are alive. Being made aware of our mortality enhances our daily living.

So my little black disk is a helpful reminder for me. This imprint of an extinct creature from millions of years ago remembers an extinct life. Gone forever as I will be.

But for me, not today!

The power of the feminine to save. Even from Hell

We all enjoy a love story.

This one from medieval Italy is similar to a million others but is special because it happened to a great poet who recorded it in the most beautiful language. Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) is famous for writing the “Divine Comedy” which shaped Christianity’s ideas of heaven and hell forever.

He describes how he began to write the epic poem while he was walking along in the afternoon of his life and fell into a deep hole. There is no better description of the midlife crisis than going along with your life when suddenly you fall into a hole. These crises are usually about our unfinished business or unlived life. For Dante it was his incomplete relationship with Beatrice whom he had met when he was only nine. Years later as an adult Dante was standing near the Ponte Vecchio, a bridge that crosses the Arno River in Florence when he saw Beatrice as an adult and fell deeply in love. Dante did not speak to her that day. In fact he saw her very little, and then Beatrice suddenly died, carried off by plague.

Dante was stricken with the loss of his vision. She was the intermediary between his soul and Heaven itself. Dante went on to marry, and he and Signora Alighieri raised three children. Then, suddenly, at the midpoint of his life, he fell into a deep depression. Here his work began.

In the Divine Comedy, Dante is led down through the nine levels of hell by the poet Virgil, symbol of reason and intellect. Dante discovers surprisingly that the lowest level of hell isn’t fire, it is frozen. That arctic wasteland the intellect will bring us to. So he leaves Virgil behind and is led out of hell by none other than his beloved Beatrice. The message is clear. The soul, not the intellect leads out of hell to heaven. The moist, soft feminine soul, not sterile male logic is the way to salvation. Love not reason saves Dante, and us all.

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Six hundred and fifty years later, during World War II, the Americans were chasing the German army up the Italian “boot.” The Germans were blowing up everything to thwart the progression of the American army, including the bridges across the Arno River. But no one wanted to blow up the Ponte Vecchio because Beatrice had stood on it and Dante had written about her.
So the German army made radio contact with the Americans and, in plain language, said they would leave the Ponte Vecchio intact if the Americans would promise not to use it.

The promise was held. The bridge was not blown up, and not one American solider or piece of equipment went across it. Crazy, isn’t it? Completely illogical. But life isn’t a rational story, it is a love story. Hardened warrior men were turned by creative feminine emotion. In a modern, ruthless war, the bridge was spared, because beautiful Beatrice had stood upon it.

(Many thanks to Robert A Johnson for the bulk of this from his Inner Gold)

IMAGINE IMAGINATION IMAGINING

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There’s more to imagination that you imagine. In “A Midsummer-Night’s Dream”, Shakespeare wrote, “And as imagination bodies forth the forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing, a local habitation and a name.” The passage illustrates how the idea of imagining something into reality already intrigued artists in late sixteenth century Europe. But despite the fascination with imagination no-one in the Elizabethan Age came up with a definition or explanation.

More than a century later it was Samuel Coleridge (1 October 1772 – 25 July 1834) who suggested there are three types of imagination. Well versed in philosophy, Coleridge had studied first Plotinus (3rd Century), then Locke’s (1632-1704) theory of sensory knowledge and finally Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) , even travelling to Germany to read Kant in the original. He wrote that Kant’s philosophy had grabbed him like a giant hand.

Coleridge came to understand the real meaning of our mental abilities namely
reason, understanding, and imagination using Kant’s philosophy. Reason is rational thinking and the way we think about things. Understanding is how we come to grips with the data received and exercise our judgement and decision making on that which reason has produced. That seems simple enough. But it is imagination that we really want to understand because imagination is the fairy dust of creativity. Imagination sparks all creativity.

One of the best modern books outlining the creative process must be “Art & Fear:observations on the perils (and rewards) of Artmaking” by David Bayles and Ted Orland. In a section on the topic they say, “Imagination is in control when you begin making (or writing) an object. The artwork’s potential is never higher than in that magic moment when the first brush-stroke is applied, the first chord struck. But as the piece grows, technique and craft take over and imagination becomes a less useful tool.”

Coleridge called that first creative impulse, “Primary Imagination” and believed it is bound up with the Exodus story where Yahweh (Jehovah) declares his name to Moses as “I am that I am”. What we see in the divine name is a dynamic image and imagination of God’s being. God has a circular name, a spiral, a dance, “I am what I am”.
These very words titled the final song in the 1983 Broadway hit “La Cage aux follies” about a gay couple. In the same year Gloria Gaynor made the song a pop hit and it is now something of an anthem for the Gay Pride movement.

How sad then that the religions of the Book who reverence this God named “I am who I am” do not honour the myriad forms of creativity, sexuality, and expression in which God takes form in human lives? We are all made in the image of “I am who I am”, yet we constantly live in fear of being judged for being who we really are. Imagine that powerful creative moment when God imagined you

Traffic Calming Cookies?

If parenting has taught me anything it is never to make a rule that you cannot police. When a parent prohibits their child from taking cookies from the jar, that parent has created a lot of extra responsibility for themselves.PoliceCookies Firstly, the parent will  have to set up surveillance on the cookie jar to see if any are taken without being offered. This will mean video cameras and reviewing the recordings, or at least a regular stock check of the cookies.
Secondly, the rule regarding cookies has now criminalised the act of cookie taking because it has been prohibited. So the law now creates criminal activity where there was none. The Americans discovered this when they enacted the Prohibition Laws of 1920 making the production and sale of alcohol illegal. Prohibition did not reduce alcoholism but served to create a dark smuggling underworld of bootleggers and gangsters which created more problems than the legislation attempted to solve.
This negative impact of legislation is the argument being put forward in debates surrounding the legalisation of marijuana. Dagga users, who include an amazing number of professionals in this city, argue that decriminalising the production, distribution and use of dagga will remove criminals from the supply chain and ensure a safer and more regulated product. An added spin off would be the release of hundreds of law enforcement officials to address more serious crimes.
They argue that having tobacco and alcohol as legitimate drugs on the open market whilst prosecuting people for using “weed” is downright hypocritical. I am sure if alcohol was invented today it would be a scheduled and controlled pharmacological product!
The question I have though is what drugs should be decriminalised? Should Tik, Crack Cocaine and Heroin be freely and legally available as they are in some progressive European countries? I am not convinced.
All this discussion about laws and the need to police them is given further focus by considering a seemingly unrelated popular topic, the reckless driving of minibus taxis on our roads. Once again the reality of having rules that are not policed is the point. The growing impunity and arrogance of our taxi operators is driven by the reality that no one will stop and penalise them for their anarchistic disregard for the road code.
Assuming all taxi drivers are licensed, it means they have successfully completed the rigorous K53 drivers examination and despite all that training, flagrantly drive the way they do. Why? Because they can.
With the shortage of national policing resources and the hiccoughing implementation of the metro police, perhaps the decriminalising of marijuana is more pressing than ever?
If our traffic police cannot bring law and order to our roads, maybe a puff on a legal joint could bring calm to stressed drivers, taxi drivers and their hollering “guardjies” alike. Even the stressed out members of the police services might enjoy a bong?
Jokes aside, something needs to be done about the lawless anarchy, chaos and carnage on our roads.

African Myth saves lives scientifically.

It is unfortunate that myths are no longer are understood as “true stories”, but have instead been assigned the value of fantasy and unreality. Ancient cultures told stories to explain the mystery of the world they experienced. These myths explained natural phenomena and were also practical prohibitions to protect people from harm.

For Africa’s own Khoisan peoples, the sun and the moon were gods. Faces of a supreme deity. The cycle of religious observance was, therefore, carefully adjusted according to the cycles of the moon. Seventeenth- and eighteenth-century observers in the Cape Colony noted the importance of ritual dances and prayers during the full moon each month. Khoisan legends and myths also refer to a “trickster” god, who could transform himself into animal or human forms, and who could die and be reborn many times over. The praying mantis, a predatory insect with large eyes and other features characteristic of animal predators, figures in San myths and folktales in a role similar to the clever fox in European folktales. Khoisan herdboys still use mantises to “divine” the location of lost animals, and in Afrikaans, the mantis is referred to as “the Hottentot’s god.”tokoloshe bed

Another trickster in Bantu folklore is Tokoloshe or Tikoloshe as his name appears in various forms in Sub-Saharan Africa. Originally a fertility figure (he carries his large manhood slung over his shoulder) this mischievous dwarf has been blamed for all kinds of malevolence.
He is most famous for stealing the souls of sleeping people and to this day many African people will not sleep on the floor. As further insurance they elevate their beds on bricks so that the short Tokoloshe will not see them sleeping above his eye level.

In an interesting nexus of science and mythology, this bed raising ritual coincides with the migration of people from rural huts and homesteads to cities like Johannesburg for industrial work. These newcomers encountered coal for the first time, replacing the wood as fuel for cooking and heating. No one knew at the time that coal fires can produce 20% more deadly carbon monoxide than burning wood. Carbon monoxide is heavier than oxygen and an open coal fire indoors creates a deadly layer of floor level gas that will kill anyone sleeping there. And so enters Tokoloshe, the soul stealer who superstitiously was blamed for these floor deaths. Ironically the word superstition derives from Latin which means to “stand over”, which Tokoloshe did as he stole the souls asleep on the floor.
When city dwelling traditional Africans elevated their beds however, they took themselves out of harms way by sleeping above the carbon monoxide zone on the floor. A scientific solution implemented through mythology.

Imitating the television series Mythbusters it seems that the myth of elevating one’s bed to avoid the soul reaping Tokoloshe is a true story.
The same is true for many of our religious narratives. They are absolutely true. They may just not have happened in the way we narrate them.

Stress will kill you

South Africa is stressful. The Centre for Health Journalism reports the country has a high suicide rate, psychiatric illnesses are on the rise and stress has become normal.
Every day, an estimated 21 South Africans commit suicide and, according to experts, stress could be a significant contributing factor. Studies done by University of KwaZulu-Natal researcher Lourens Schlebusch, show an estimated 7 582 South Africans die by their own hand every year and 20 times that number attempt but fail to take their own lives. Marthé Viljoen from the South African Federation for Mental Health says new data suggests this is because South Africans have unusually high stress levels.
A recent study, conducted by international research company Bloomberg, ranked South Africa as the second “most stressed out” nation in the world, following Nigeria. El Salvador was ranked third.
Another study, conducted in 2014 by Ipsos Global and Reuters, showed that up to 53% of South Africa’s workforce do not take their allotted annual leave. “High stress levels have been linked to mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety, and can also lead to substance abuse. In severe cases, these problems can lead to a person becoming suicidal,” says Viljoen.
Reflecting on the challenges of stress I have come up with six simple steps that can significantly reduce it. The steps can be remembered by using the word STRESS as a mnemonic.
STOP. There is no need for the frenetic pace at which we live. Marathon running taught me that it’s never the distance but always the pace that breaks you. If you are experiencing high stress levels it is important to structure stops in your day, your week, your year. Times when you cease and desist from business and do nothing for a while.
TIME. I remember as a child having a book called “Pastimes for Boys”. It showed simple crafts like carving soap figures and how to make cotton reel tractors. Ironically, now there is no time to pass! To destress requires an appreciation of time. Take time. Sit and watch the second hand of a clock sweep its face for five minutes. It will give you a sense of just how spacious time can be.
REFLECT. Once you have stopped and taken time, practice reflecting on your life. I find journaling is invaluable. Others sketch or doodle. Step back from the canvas of life and look at the whole journey. I call it the helicopter view.
EXERCISE. Walk, run, gym, stretch it doesn’t matter, but time off the chair is great to reduce stress. Remember sitting is the new smoking.
SLEEP. Shakespeare summed it up in Macbeth, “ Sleep that knits up the raveled sleeve of care, the death of each day’s life, sore labour’s bath, balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course, chief nourisher in life’s feast”. Every hour of sleep before midnight is worth two after.
SENSE. Allow yourself to touch, taste, smell, see, and hear what brings joy and peace.
Stress isn’t worth dying for.

The Evil underpinning Easter

Approaching the pivotal Christian feast of Easter with its themes of death and redemption, I am aware of how much violence is a feature of our daily news. Whether it be in domestic and child abuse, street violence, or brutal murder, violence stalks us like a hungry wolf.
With these high levels of destructive behaviour one begins to wonder at the mental mechanics of those who carry out these dastardly acts. Are they unfortunate, disturbed, maladjusted or dare we dig out our “old fashioned” vocabulary and call such people “evil”?
The idea that human evil exists is difficult for many people to believe. Most consider evil too superstitious a concept to apply in our scientific society. We want to reduce it to a medical diagnosis, or some personality disorder, or something that can be managed with a pill.
But there’s no pill that can cure evil, and that is the opinion of psychiatrist M. Scott Peck who penned one of the most disturbing books I have ever read, “People of the Lie: the hope for healing human evil.”
Peck wrote the book to describe a category of human behaviour currently not catalogued by psychology in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (currently DSM 5).
Scott Peck accepts the described psychiatric disorders, including those that can cause people to behave in an evil way, but still sees evil as a distinct problem that straddles the line between a personality disorder, and a spiritual disorder, perhaps leaning towards the latter.
He sketches evil people as being aware of their conscience, but actively choosing to ignore it, as opposed to a sociopathic person who appears to be devoid of conscience altogether. In other words, an evil person knows that they are doing evil, while a sociopath does not, even though their actions may be very similar.
Peck explains evil as “militant ignorance”. Evil people are obsessed with maintaining their self-image of perfection through self-deception. In addition, evil people will be very selective about who they inflict their evil upon, while going to great lengths to maintain an image of respectability and normality with everyone else. As a result, evil people are often well liked by the majority, and their victims come across as being overly sensitive, having a persecution complex, or even being crazy.
This selectivity in choosing victims explains why children are often targeted and how afterwards the supervising adults cannot believe that such a nice “Uncle” was actually a paedophile or pornographer.
All of this points to the sinister truth that religious communities are obvious places for People of the Lie to lurk. Hiding in plain sight, they manipulate the honest and trusting believers in these communities, all the while feeding their self-absorbed narcissism and maintaining the glittering masks which conceal their evil behaviour.
For Christians, Good Friday is a reminder that it was the holy religious leaders of Jerusalem who, in an evil plot, tried to kill God’s love manifested in Jesus of Nazareth.