Vaccines Culture Wars – Creative or Suffering – How We Think Really Matters

Am just back from my motorbike journey to Wales and Scotland. I had a good time.

I walked up and down Snowdon. (My legs! Arghh.) The landscape of Snowdonia has a brilliantly happy vibe, full of joy. 

Scotland too was beautiful and the stay at the Findhorn Foundation inspirational.  The over-lighting spirit of the place is as strong and loving as ever, but the community members are understandably still orienting themselves following the effects of lockdown and the fires. I was intrigued by how they decide their next steps and make their policy decisions. This is always a challenge in utopian communities. Talking with Findhorn members set me thinking. . .

So here is one of my longer pieces – with a few diagrams to help illustrate my thoughts. It is all about thinking. Some thinking creates suffering.  And some thinking creates enjoyable flow. 

The Survival Dynamic

Here is an obvious idea. Our thoughts often have an emotional investment. This means that we want them to be respected, welcomed and appreciated.  And we feel threatened and aroused if our thoughts are disrespected or challenged.  

This is a good illustration of the Buddhist teaching that ‘desire is the source of suffering.’

We desire that our thoughts be respected. If our desire is not met, we experience suffering.

Thoughts + Feelings  = Emotional Investment  =  Arousal if disrespected or challenged.

The current arguments around covid vaccinations are uncomfortable examples of how unpleasant emotionally invested thinking can be. The power of the emotional charge can be intense. 

In a different world there could be a relaxed conversation between vaccine sceptics and vaccine advocates. This could be similar to how cooks might debate the best recipe for chocolate cake. The discussion could be passionate and noisy, but filled with creativity, flow and friendship.  

The crucial triggering difference between emotional thinking and friendly creative thinking is the instinctive biological dynamic of threat and survival.

In emotional thinking there is always an unconscious dynamic at work.  When our opinions are challenged, the vagal nerve is aroused. The gut becomes uncomfortable and acidic. Heart rate loses its integrity and breath loses its natural rhythm. The  brain goes into the electrochemistry of fight/flight. The endocrine system ditches its cocktail of wellbeing hormones and releases a flood of anxiety neuropeptides. 

As a result clear thinking is impossible. Feelings overwhelm the ability to be rational. Conversation becomes conflict.

Unconscious Triggers

 When people with an emotional investment in their thinking are challenged or disrespected, there is an instinctive arousal as they unconsciously perceive a threat to their survival. But why do people feel such a primal emotion when there is no actual attempt to kill them? 

My doctoral research was in identity politics and how we become glued to our sense of self.  This sense of identity can be so powerful that we may be prepared to die for it.  We can see this throughout history where people volunteer for death to maintain their ideology, religion and nationality.

The power of this sense of identity comes from the social and psychological safety it provides.  Think of any cultural clan — lads, ladettes, greens, tories, bikers, Trump-ists, Obama-ists, bankers, goths, billionaires, vegans  — and notice the psychological glue that binds them to that identity. It is not superficial. Through the processes of identification, internalisation and socialisation, it develops into a deep biological and neural groove.  Our identity provides a primal sense of security,  a compensatory  safety in a world where most infants, children, teenagers and adults experience endless micro-aggressions and mini-traumas, as well as full blown abuse.

Enmeshed in this sense of self are our ideas and our opinions.  Any challenge to our thinking can therefore be experienced as a threat to our identity and to our survival. Disrespect my clan and you disrespect me. 

In my home town of Glastonbury I know people who were once friends, but now avoid each other because of their disagreements over vaccines. On both sides they are so emotionally invested in their thinking that the biological imperatives of survival are triggered the moment they start discussing the topic. We can clearly see this too in politics, community processes, religion, identity and culture wars. These types of argument are deeply confrontational and uncomfortable.

Education, Mindfulness and Emotional Intelligence

One solution of course is good education. Education not knowledge. 

At its best education teaches us how to enjoy thinking, how to explore and develop knowledge. Opinions based in beginner’s knowledge mature into thoughtful explorations, knowing that there is always new knowledge. New thoughts and perspectives are harvested through conversation, research, contemplation and being open to new insights. The further we go in education the more we appreciate the elasticity and infinite scope of knowledge and ideas.  

Mindfulness and meditation are useful too. They provide strategies that help us work with the feelings that may be triggered by challenging thoughts. Sitting in the calm of meditation we can bring into our awareness those thoughts that usually provoke and trigger us. Vaccines. Governments. Global warming. Difficult family members. Identity politics. Trump. The meditation strategy is straightforward:

We bring the provocative thought into our awareness.

We notice the uncomfortable arousal.

We compassionately welcome the feeling.  We breathe into it.  We calm and integrate it.

In this way we train our body and neural grooves to stay calm when experiencing challenge.

Noticing these feelings and managing them wisely is the heart of emotional intelligence.

*

The first year groundhog day problem

Psychotherapy of course can be very helpful too in disengaging our thoughts from the unconscious, instinctive arousals of threat and survival. 

Imagine if politicians — for example the Labour Party extreme left or the Conservatives extreme right — enjoyed the benefits of psychotherapy. They would learn to have some distance from their feelings, opinions and glued-in identities. Emotional devotion to ideologies would be a thing of the past.

This approach would also be relevant to religious gatherings, conclaves and synods, so that fundamentalists would temper their passions.

But there can also be a negative side to psychotherapy when it comes to conflict and disagreements. 

I have experienced this in psychotherapy training centres, in intentional communities and in many couples. When discussing hot topics, we can get caught up in endlessly recycling our emotions. We can justify this by asserting that the release of our emotions is not only therapeutically beneficial, but also a vital and ‘authentic’ part of group process. 

This is what I call the ‘first year groundhog day problem.’

In psychotherapy and counselling trainings, the first year is usually about helping students recognise that emotions and feelings are driven by unconscious dynamics. In the first year we learn to identify and express these feelings, rather than deny and repress them.  Feel it – Express it – Release it.

In the second, third and fourth years, we then become skilled in recognising, managing and maturing these unconscious dynamics.  

But some folk stay stuck in the first year, endlessly recycling their emotions, justifying their behaviour as necessary and healthy, when in fact it is immature.  In this scenario groups, organisations and couples get stuck in emotional process. There is little clear thinking and painfully slow progress. 

This does not mean that there is no space for creative passion, especially in the face of abuse and injustice. But this passion needs to be conscious and guided by clear, reflective thinking. 

There is a place for emotional process. 

And there is a place for intelligent discussion. 

It can be difficult and exhausting to do them together.

The Spiritual Perspective 

In spiritual development, clean thinking without emotional attachment is a crucial stage on the journey towards more love, more compassion and more connection with the great mystery and beauty of life. It is about the expansion of consciousness and wisdom. 

In inadequate language, we might describe this as moving from lower to higher mind, from small to big mind. This means an expanding awareness of what our minds and hearts can access, perceive and cognise.

As a first step in consciousness expansion, it is absolutely necessary that we are able to step back, and observe ourselves with love and compassion. We watch our feelings and thoughts.  We witness.  We empty.  We expand. We reflect. The rational, higher mind, Plato suggested, is proof of the human soul.

Talking with my colleagues and students over the years, and from personal experience, I know that this is tough spiritual practice — being awake, being observant and compassionate, being embodied and aware, being comfortable with unknowing, being mindful and fully in the heart. 

This aspect of spirituality requires passionate motivation, discipline and a willingness to flow gracefully with the tides of the natural, psychological and spiritual worlds.

*

So where does this leave us in the real world? 

It leaves us with the normal disciplines of being a better person. 

It reminds us to contain our emotional processes and guide them into suitable contexts. 

It reminds us that so many of humanity’s problems and abuses originate in bad thinking – thinking that is fuelled by unconscious and primal drives.

 We need those teachers who clap their hands a few inches from our faces and exclaim:  Wake up!

Moment by moment we are invited to be conscious and aware. This is not stern and earnest behaviour. It is beautiful and enlightening. Each breath brings new patterns.

*

I hope that is helpful.

Thinking in progress . . .

Evolutionary psychology may explain the anti-vaccine conflict – benevolence versus terror

Evolutionary psychology provides an interesting perspective on the extreme attitudes around covid and vaccination. In my hometown of Glastonbury, the refuge of many hippies and escapees from mainstream culture, there has been uncomfortable tension in the High Street.

When old friends meet there is a pause as they tentatively wait to hear where the other stands. Almost without exception if one friend supports vaccination and the reality of covid, and the other does not, there will be unpleasant conflict. Tight-lipped passive aggressive or openly hostile. Personally I have been nervous sometimes to share that I have been vaccinated. I lose friends.

This conflict between two opposing worldviews is personal and political. It is a clash between trust and suspicion.

From a political and democratic perspective anti-vaxxers must be heard. It is always appropriate to be reminded of dangerous government and commercial manipulation. There has been so much of this in the past. (When I wrote the piece I did not know that ‘anti-vaxxer’ was considered a term of abuse. I meant  and mean it completely neutrally and with respect.)

From the perspective of friendship they also must be heard. Anti-vaxxers have strong and authentic emotions. Whether what they assert is factual or opinion, their words clearly articulate strong feelings.

It is respectful to acknowledge what they say and, even if we think their rationales are inaccurate, seek to understand.

Perhaps the perspective of anti-vaxxers is based in a legitimate instinct, a presentiment about the world and its state.

Remember the wise elephants and other animals who can feel the coming of an earthquake or tsunami and move to higher ground. We are all creatures and capable of instincts and intuitions that ensure survival.

Evolutionary and archetypal psychology suggest that the way we think, feel and behave is often guided by the history of our species. This is clear in how we act in relation to food, territory, status and connection with others.

More than that, there are evolutionary templates that guide our social behaviours and how we interpret life around us. These are archetypal patterns of action, thought and emotion. They can be recognised in their repetition and how often they are played out. They are activated for example when people fall in love. They exist archetypically between mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, fans and charismatic leaders, and when people move in clans and crowds, in music festivals and marching to war.

There are also archetypal patterns related to the existential realities of survival.

From the earliest days of humanity we were never far away from the harsh realities of competition and conflict for food, shelter and partners. We were also never far away from herd mentality and cruel, bullying sociopathic behaviour. Charismatic leaders and clans often wielded brutal power. The totalitarian cruelties, pogroms and genocides of the last one hundred years bear testimony to the ongoing reality of these group pathologies.

No wonder then that many of us react archetypically to the covid pandemic and the vaccine programme. It is archetypically logical to perceive covid and its medical solutions as a horrific totalitarian plot to manipulate and enslave us. This is an understandable response. We can see awful parallels in genocides and Nazi experiments.

But not all of us have this suspicious response. Many of us have a more philosophical, patient and trusting reaction.

I want to understand why folk separate into these two camps — those who fear totalitarian oppression and those who trust all will be well.

My intuition is that anti-vaxxers are influenced by an evolutionary and psychological inheritance of trauma and suffering. They understandably and reasonably perceive government and vaccine programmes as symbols of terror and oppression. I do not know why they carry this history. Perhaps it is genetically embedded. Perhaps it is inherited trauma. Or from a more Eastern perspective, past life trauma.

And then there are those of us who accept the reality of covid, welcome vaccination and trust the systems at work here. Perhaps we are naïve. Certainly we would have seemed that way if we had had the same attitude to the holocaust or pogroms. But we assess this situation and feel and think differently to the anti-vaxxers.

My intuition here is that vaxxers are influenced by a more benevolent evolutionary history and carry less inherited trauma. Their feelings and thoughts are influenced by how families, clans and tribes care for each other, and how government and healthcare can work for the good of all.

This is a simple binary model. On one side, understandable fear about the abuse of power. On the other side, trust in humanity’s ability to organise for the public benefit. And of course there are many positions in between.

Maybe this model is way too simple. Nevertheless I hope that it provides a framework for exploratory conversations, so that people involved in this conflict of worldviews may be able to step back and look more dispassionately and compassionately at their differences.

NOW CLOSED FOR COMMENTS.

 

We Now Live in Three Ecosystems

The Covid crisis has dramatically accelerated the use of digital communications. It is as if a new human ecosystem is emerging.  There is a hot debate about whether this is a good thing. But this debate often ignores a bigger picture, which includes two other worlds, nature and the town.

Like it or not, we are being impelled into a digital ecology of virtual relationships. At worst It  separates us from real connection. We see people addicted to their devices. Inhuman and out-of-balance!

There is of course another view. At its best, digital communication is for many a very comfortable medium, provides genuine connection and has the bonus of being environmentally friendly with less travel and paper.

But many people are concerned about the long-term effects. We may become robots.

But the digital world is not our only environment. We simultaneously exist in two other realms. Nature and Town.

Nature is our world of earth, water, air and fire; mountains, oceans, forests, animals, plants.

Town is our world of modern human society with houses, piped water, electricity, mortgages, education, television, industry and cities.

Historians, sociologists and commentators have long discussed this movement of humanity from nature to town. Looking back, this is the great sweep of human history:

Hunter-gatherer –> town dweller.  

And we can see another great sweep happening right now:

Town dweller –> Digital persona

From this perspective we could suggest that the digital environment is a new human ecosystem.

In a previous blog  I wrote about the ‘Global Brain’, which suggests that the electronic networks across the planet are creating a new cultural, psychological and psychic environment for humanity.

So it is that we now live in all three of these ecosystems: Nature, Town and Digital.

A problem arises if we are not comfortable in all three.

Some romantics may protest that we could be very comfortable if we returned completely to nature. Hm. Okay that may be possible for a few. But I would miss Shakespeare, Venice, the Taj Mahal and Machu Pichu just to begin my list. . .

So let’s be realistic about the facts. There are eight billion people on the planet and we have to self-organise. Towns, ‘civilisation’ and technology are inescapable. One of the most powerful social dynamics is to make this environment good for all of us. And that often means balancing town with nature. Without nature we lose wellbeing and balance.

Another reality. The digital environment is here to stay. It is unavoidable.

So here is my suggestion:  We need to be competent and comfortable in all three spheres — nature, towns and digital. Being too focused or uncomfortable in one or two or all of them is unhealthy, unsustainable.

Keep the three in balance and we can create a harmonious future. That is what I want for us and for our children.

Britannia Angel of Britain

Britannia Angel of Britain

I met Britannia – Angel of Britain

20 December 2019

Two days after the Brexit Referendum on 23 June 2016 I met Britannia, Angel of Britain. She came to me in a dream and then a meditation.

I have never shared this experience publicly, but following the recent UK election it might be useful.

During the lead-up to the Referendum I supported the Remain campaign.  I felt that the European Union was a guarantee against another world war triggered by European conflicts and I appreciated being able to travel freely. Also my instincts are globalist. I identify as living in a global village. I am first generation British. My parents’ families were from Czechoslovakia, Germany and Russia via New York, Cape Town and Singapore.

When the Remain campaign was lost I was shocked and saddened.

Then I had a dream, which was echoed in a meditation.

The feeling of the dream was expansive, comfortable and liberating.

I had the impression of meeting a substantial being of light. She identified herself as Britannia, the angel or the folk soul of Britain. She was content.

Why, I enquired, are you content?

I am content, she seemed to respond, because the pendulum had swung too far into globalism. The European project was ignoring the precious and unique identities of the nations’ folk souls. I was forgotten but still here.  Brexit remembers me. Trust that this separation is healthy and lays the foundation for a better form of cooperation.

After the dream I was disoriented. The communication dismantled my strongly held Remain position.

I then did my morning meditation for an hour and allowed the dream to come back to me. I sat with it, open, connected, witnessing and enquiring. The encounter and the message stayed with me. And rang true.

As some of you know, my doctoral research was in identity politics. So after the encounter with Britannia I recalled how Hegel, the 19th -century German philosopher, had described nations and their folk souls, emerging from a marriage of geographical/cultural ecology and the incarnating world spirit.  Local landscapes blend with incarnating spiritual energy to create a nation, a national culture and a folk soul.

During the same period another German philosopher, Johann Gottfried Herder, wrote that folk souls were beautiful and like individual flowers in a lovely garden. Rudolph Steiner also wrote about them. (Later tragically this philosophy of the volksgeist was corrupted by fascism.)

This understanding of folk souls and the meeting with Britannia altered my thinking and feeling about Brexit. I have yielded to its realities and even its wisdom. At the same time I appreciate the concerns particularly of my European friends living in Britain.

*

And now two years on from that Brexit  Referendum we have Boris and his electoral victory.

From a metaphysical perspective, this was surely inevitable because Jeremy Corbyn never made a single statement asserting the dignity or pride of Britannia. If I had ever been able to challenge him personally I would have asked: To whom are you loyal – to the idea of an international working class or to the British people?

Whatever we may think of Boris we can imagine him wearing a Union Jack waistcoat.

And yes of course I acknowledge too those beings who are the Unicorn of Scotland, the Dragon of Wales and the Lion of England.

 

As individuals we all have multiple identities. Politics is complex.

There is a spectrum of activities that will achieve peace on earth, happiness and justice for all beings.

Some meditate alone and radiate into the ecology of humanity.

Others are frontline activists.

Bless you all.

*

As I wrote in my last email my affirmation right now is:

Stay steady.
Stay hopeful.
Maintain right livelihood.
Model good care for people and planet.

 

statue of britannia

Mainstream Statements that Include Spirituality

People who are engaged or interested in spirituality often think that mainstream thinking is hostile to spirituality. But do some research and you will be surprised by the number of authoritative bodies that publicly assert the value of spirituality. They may not be clear on how to put spirituality into action, but they have public statements about spirituality and good practice.

For the students on the Diploma in Practical Spirituality & Wellness  we have a reassuring handout. It is evidence that we do not have to persuade the mainstream that spirituality is beneficial and important. Below is the text of the handout. I hope you find the statements interesting and inspiring. And if you know others, please add them in Comments at the end of this page

 

Royal College of Psychiatrists ‘Spirituality and Mental Health’ 2014

‘Spirituality emphasises the healing of the person, not just the disease. It views life as a journey, where good and bad experiences can help you to learn, develop and mature.’

 

World Health Organisation  May 1984

The Thirty-Seventh World Health Assembly adopted resolution WHA37.13, which named the “spiritual dimension” as an integral part of WHO Member States’ strategies for health.

 

United Nations – The Earth Summit Conference 2002

‘Health ultimately depends on the ability to manage successfully the interaction between the physical, spiritual, biological and economic/social environment.’ Agenda 21, 6.2

 

The Nursing and Midwifery Council

‘The Nursing and Midwifery Council expects newly qualified graduate nurses to be able to: In partnership with the person, their carers and their families, makes a holistic, person centred and systematic assessment of physical, emotional, psychological, social, cultural and spiritual needs, including risk, and together, develops a comprehensive personalised plan of nursing care.’ (2011)

 

Scottish Executive Health Department ‘Spiritual Care and Chaplaincy’ 2009

‘Chief Executives are asked to ensure that this guidance is brought to the attention of all appropriate staff and, in particular, to ensure that: They have appointed a senior lead manager for spiritual care.’ ‘Spiritual care is usually given in a one-to-one relationship, is completely person-centred and makes no assumptions about personal conviction or life orientation …. Spiritual care is not necessarily religious. Religious care, at its best, should always be spiritual.’

 

General Medical Council ‘Personal Beliefs and Medical Practice’ 2013, p.1

‘A doctor must adequately assess the patient’s conditions, taking account of their history (including the symptoms and psychological, spiritual, social and cultural factors), their views and values.’

 

Education Reform Act of 1988

The opening sentence ‘The curriculum for a maintained school (must be) a balanced and broadly based curriculum which — promotes the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of pupils at the school and of society.’

 

Education (Schools) Act 1992

‘The Chief Inspector for England shall have the general duty of keeping the Secretary of State informed about … the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of pupils at those schools.’

 

Ofsted School Inspection Handbook, Jan 2015

The word ‘spiritual’ appears 20 times – Para 128: ‘Before making the final judgement on the overall effectiveness, inspectors must also evaluate: the effectiveness and impact of the provision for pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development . . .’

 

British Association of Social Workers ‘Code of Ethics for Social Workers’ 2012

Upholding and promoting human dignity and well-being ‘Social workers should respect, uphold and defend each person’s physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual integrity and well-being.’

 

If you know other authoritative and useful statements, please post them in the Comments below. Thanks.

Share a Moment of Pride

SHARE A MOMENT OF PRIDE

30 January 2019

I want to share a moment of pride.

Listening to BBC Radio 4 this morning, while exercising on my cross-trainer, I felt a swelling of pride.

At 9:30 there was a fifteen-minute programme ‘Hacking Happiness – What if Happiness isn’t about the self at all?’.

This was followed by a fifteen-minute reading from Erling Kagge’s book ‘Silence’.

And then a wonderful segment on Woman’s Hour in which mothers talked openly and poignantly about their experiences of breastfeeding.

And I thought: What if there had been no flower power? No feminism? No new approaches to psychology, spirituality and the arts? These reflective, open-hearted, emotionally intelligent and inclusive programmes might never have been recorded and broadcast.

I often quote the African liberationist, Franz Fanon, who said that the greatest tragedy for any generation is to not fulfil its mission.

Listening to those radio programmes I felt proud because things have changed.

I know that right now national and global politics seem vulgar and dangerous. It is easy to feel pessimistic. But turn your minds back to when men in grey flannel, tweeds, black robes and uniforms seemed to be the sole authorities, with only a few bohemians sparkling colour into the patriarchy.

Things have changed.

Each of us who followed, and still follows, that new way which respects all ages, all genders, all sexualities, all abilities, all spiritualities, all ethnicities – and, as best we can, demonstrate compassion, love in action and a deep instinct for social justice and equality for all beings – we have helped bring about that change.

And the mission continues.

Quietly or loudly be optimistic. Keep on trucking. All will be well.