Wednesday, October 21, 2009

.... To Be Continued. But Only Forever....

One of the reasons I'm spending so much time on The Symmetry of God is that it's a rather short and compact book with a lot of implications that need to be unpacked. Often Bomford spends a paragraph on subjects that could be the chapter of a book, and a chapter on subjects worthy of an entire book. But that's far preferable to the converse, that is, overly saturating the subject and leaving no space for the imagination to roam and make its own connections.

A case in point is Chapter 4, The Modalities of Language. Here Bomford puts forth some novel ideas about how language may be used to express things that are beyond its reach, and to say what cannot be said about the modalities of the unconscious mind, including eternity, placelessness, non-contradiction, and the fusion (or non-separation) of reality and imagination.

What made this chapter especially interesting for me, is that I realized that I had employed many of these techniques in my own book (in particular, in the Cosmogenesis and Cosmobliteration sections) without being consciously aware of it. Rather, I was simply focussed on the reality I was attempting to contact and disclose, and the language came to me. You know, adequation, just like in any other science.

You might say that what I was trying to express had to invent the means -- and even the person! -- to express itself. But it turns out that the invention already existed, at least in its deep structure. (Speaking of blogging, which no one was, it also reminds me of how I first had to create an audience for my writing, or will all of you folks into being, which makes it difficult to sell books, since you can only create one Raccoon at a time.)

The one objection I have to Bomford's conception is that he regards the unconscious in a unitary manner, whereas I conceptualize it on a vertical scale, with an unconscious below and a supraconscious above. Both are "un" conscious, but in different ways. And again, it's not as if they lack consciousness -- obviously -- only that they lay (and often lie) outside conscious, egoic awareness.

The point is, Bomford sometimes falls into what Wilber calls the "pre-trans fallacy," that is, conflating the pre-personal and the transpersonal (Jung often did this as well). Nevertheless, he is correct that the same modalities generally apply to both, i.e, timelessness, placelessness, etc.

Let's begin with eternity, or timelessness. With symmetrical logic, if event B comes after event A, then event A also comes after event B. Again, we routinely see this logic play out in dreams, in which events from different times can be co-present. Ultimately, if this logic is taken to its extreme (up toward point 10, 10 in the upper right), it means that in the unconscious, all time is simultaneously present -- which is one of the defining characteristics of eternity.

I immediately think of Jesus' paradoxical statement that before Abraham was, I AM. This makes no sense from the standpoint of asymmetrical logic, but perfect nonsense from the standpoint of symmetrical logic. Likewise, that Jesus is "alpha and omega," or first and last.

As Bomford writes, "The most primitive and perhaps deepest expression of the eternity of the Unconscious that could be imagined is an unchanging cry of joy or scream of pain, something everlastingly the same. Such would express the dominance of a single extreme emotion pouring out in its most raw form from its unconscious root. The well-known painting by Edvard Munch entitled The Scream may serve as an icon of a state of this kind."

Alternatively, we might imagine my infinite despair when the Phillies scored two runs in the bottom of the ninth to defeat the Dodgers last Monday. It's like a never ending D'ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!, echoing into the cold and desolate Philadelphia night.

Now that I'm thinking of it, I have treated many cases of trauma, and this seems to be how post-traumatic stress operates. When a person endures a trauma -- say, a bank robbery, with a gun pointed directly at their head -- they are temporarily lifted out of time, partly as a sort of primitive defense mechanism. Often there is a sense of time standing still accompanied by depersonalization and derealization. In short, the body is there but the person is someplace else, either "dissolved" or dispersed. Their nervous system is still registering the event, but not "to" or "for" someone. The theatre is empty. Lights on, nobody home.

But as their person gradually reconstitutes and the lights come back on, they can expect to experience a number of characteristic symptoms such as nightmares and repeated flashbacks of the trauma. These are unbidden memories over which the person has no conscious control. I have always understood this as a way for the mind to try to "metabolize" an event that was too overwhelming at the time.

In other words, you might think of the flashbacks as a way to convert the eternal terror into mere garden variety fear, bit by bit, one piece at a time. I always tell patients that their symptoms are actually their mind's way of assimilating and coming to terms with what happened to them. When they start treatment, the trauma is remembering them, but with the passage of time, they will eventually be able to remember it. It will simply be a bad memory, instead of something that is grabbing them by the throat, so to speak. They will contain it, rather than vice versa.

This would also explain why the most catastrophic traumas are those that occur during childhood. Since a young child -- say, before the age of 5 -- is largely in eternity and not time, when a trauma occurs, it can be internalized in such a way that it lives on "forever."

(This reminds me of what happened to our cat after the 1994 earthquake. She just "vanished," and we didn't see a trace of her for several days. She was presumably hiding somewhere, but we checked every possible hideout. It was as if she were hibernating in an alternate dimension. She eventually reappeared out of nowhere, as if nothing had happened.)

(Come to think of it, Grotstein has hypothesized that primitive psychological defense mechanisms may be analogues to what animals do when in extreme danger, for example, "playing dead." Many children from abusive homes deal with the trauma by psychologically "playing dead," but if it goes on for too long, the defense gradually displaces the core of the personality, so the person becomes emotionally dead.)

I was about to say that I wouldn't be surprised if the painter of the Icon of Eternal Terror hadn't been traumatized himself as a child. A quick wikipedia search reveals that Munch was not a Dodger fan, he did lose his mother to tuberculosis when he was just four years old, "and his older and favorite sister Sophie to the same disease in 1877.... After their mother's death, the Munch siblings were raised by their father, who instilled in his children a deep-rooted fear by repeatedly telling them that if they sinned in any way, they would be doomed to hell without chance of pardon. One of Munch's younger sisters was diagnosed with mental illness at an early age. Munch himself was also often ill.... He would later say, 'Sickness, insanity and death were the angels that surrounded my cradle and they have followed me throughout my life.'"

That is about as good a description as you will find of "eternal trauma" living on in the unconscious mind. "Angels of insanity" is a good way of saying "mind parasites."

Getting back to language, Freud discovered that certain speech patterns revealed the characteristics of eternity, including repetition. As Bomford explains, "Repetition expresses eternity by everlastingly returning to the same point." He notes that people in a state of severe depression will often repeat the same words again and again, "words expressive of everlasting defeat or failure."

Conversely, people who have achieved some great goal, such as athletes, might be reduced to repeating phrases such as "We did it... I can't believe we did it..." In fact, you will notice that at the end of the World Series, or Superbowl, or Stanley Cup, the players are often speechless, just as in a trauma. One or more of the players is sure to say something like, "I can't absorb this right now. It's too much. It'll take a few weeks to sink in."

I remember my first encounter with severe depression as a child, although I had no idea what it was at the time. My maternal grandmother came to live with us for a while, and she was obviously profoundly depressed. She would shuffle around the house all day, holding her face and muttering "Oh God.... Dear God.... Oh God...." Very spooky. In fact, as Bomford writes, the simplest way to convey eternity is to simply repeat the same words over and over. Or sometimes just one word:

Rosebud.

If you've seen Citizen Kane, you know that that word is like a holographic container representing all of Kane's childhood issues of abandonment and loss, which he spent his life trying to fill with power and possessions. But it is a bottomless pit because it is an eternal nothing. Might as well try to fill a hole on the beach with water.

Interestingly, it was Orson Welles who dubbed Jackie Gleason "the great one." The most exalted Raccoon of them all would often express eternal shock or befuddlement through the repetition of our sacred mantra, homina homina homina!

Other times, a person may "make the same point repeatedly, but in different words. He or she seems to be groping for something unchanging that no one set of words will adequately express: it could be described as revolving round and round a central point." Bomford calls this "repetition with variation."

Here again, I found that this is instinctively what I did in the Coonifesto, especially in the Cosmobliteration section, where language begins to fail and we ascend up the orthobola past 10, 10 and crank language up to 11:

Words fail. But one clings. Still. You don't say. Emptiness! drowning the soul in its everlasting peace, an eternal zero, a spaceless and placeless infinite, supremely real and solely real, our common source without center or circumference, no place, no body, no thing, or not two things, anyway....

To be continued. But only forever.

22 Comments:

Blogger James said...

Bob,

How does one overcome a childhood trauma? Is it something that only God can do through Grace, or is there some therapy, pill, or other means to overcome it. I'm starting to understand how difficult it is for people change in meaningful ways. We are certainly not as malleable as the Marxists think we are.

10/21/2009 09:57:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Speaking of blogging, which no one was, it also reminds me of how I first had to create an audience for my writing, or will all of you folks into being

No, no, no - you've got it completely backward. I (and a few others) had some unspoken questions and confusions waiting to be remembered. Preferably with explication by various other sources, in easily digestible but densely meaty chunks. Much easier to will an explainer into being than try to pull a few thousand posts worth of info out of our own noggins.

10/21/2009 10:19:00 AM  
Anonymous slackosopher said...

I agree with James. It *is* hard to change at fundamental levels. We live in a time when there are, by far, more options for "healing trauma" than ever before. Who knows, some of them are probably even effective!

My experience is that the earlier and more sustained the trauma (even if not necessarily a "dramatic"/violent trauma) the more difficult it is to change it.

Any thoughts?

10/21/2009 10:46:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Going back to James' question (and bearing in mind that I can only talk from my own, completely non-professional and non-impartial observations), I think the best means of change must include some combination of Grace and effective therapy, combined with medication where indicated. But really it depends on the trauma, doesn't it?

Also, to some degree I can't help wondering how much an individual's nature comes into play. Some people are willing to do whatever it takes to get past the trauma. Others may see a problem but don't really want to do the necessary work, perhaps because the status quo has a perverse sort of comfort for being familiar, while breaking past it requires some dissassembly and a great deal of unknown changes. Still others may see the problem, but feel so helpless in its grasp that they're paralyzed, or maybe (for at least one person I know, this is a possibility) they simply don't have the cognitive ability/ alacrity/ dexterity to metabolize the trauma. And maybe that factor is made worse by the very young age at which it happened.

In other words, it's different for everyone, depending on circumstances and personality. That said, even given the differences most people fall into identifiable categories and some kind of help is available.

Another question to consider is what one expects to get out of the process. If the expectations are unrealistic (i.e. "my life would be perfect, if only..."), disappointment is bound to follow and maybe all the work will have been in vain.

There are a lot of variables to consider, so there really isn't an easy answer for the question. imho, and for what that's worth.

10/21/2009 11:38:00 AM  
Blogger Ricky Raccoon said...

The “repeating words” reminds me of my middle brother’s pacing. This was when he was maybe 13 or so... as a result of a trauma at school. This is the brother with the photographic memory. This ability used to be better when he was younger. Wonder if those two things are related.

10/21/2009 12:55:00 PM  
Blogger Ricky Raccoon said...

The pacing and the photographic memory, that is.

10/21/2009 12:56:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Pacing would definitely be an autistic or obsessional defense mechanism.

James:

Therapy, medication, and reparative relationships are the only ways I know of.

10/21/2009 01:08:00 PM  
Anonymous Gazriel said...

What I find interesting in my own experience of the Weird (I mean come on, does it get any weirder than this monkey-suit?)concerning depression and trauma comes back to two words: sweet surrender.

How is it possible that I could have a state of transcendent, mystical unity one day (brought on through prayer, meditation, and Grace) only to be followed the next by crippling self hatred and agony? It made absolutely no sense. Then I learned the secret word- DEATH.

Yes, DEATH.

Used to be that when the machine kicked into extreme suffering mode I would flail about like a fish on my bed, shaming myself as a putz, a demon, a droogie (glass o' the milk, Alex?). I mean, if one day I am in Love and the next I am crowned in a tragedy that leaves me whining like a little girl with a skinned knee, there must be something wrong with me, right?

But then I got inventive. I decided to see what would happen if I let the torpor take over, if I let the sadness and inconscience sweep over me, without resisting. I would say "Alright, I surrender to you, Lord. You are Almighty, and I take full responsibility for this pain. I make no excuses for how it came unto me, and I am sick of fighting with it. As long as I need to lay here here in this state of DEATH, I accept."

You see, I saw the death as a good thing. It was a surrender. I sweetly gave myself back Her Greatness, and She turned the demon on its head. The Energy filled my body and I became Light and Goodness. The pain of suffering turned into heavenly Bliss, and I layed there for three hours- the same I normally would have in a state of despair- in Love, Excellence, and Purity. There was no where to go, nothing to do, nothing to achieve.

Just this. And this is lovely.

Now the pain still tries come on from time to time, but I just reframe it. "I am going to die now, " I'll say, and go and lay down in perfect acceptance of the illusion. Then the illusion falls away and the Holy Spirit ignites my eyes, renders my soul worthy, dreams me a Beauty.

Yes! Yes! Can you feel it? She is here!

10/21/2009 01:08:00 PM  
Blogger James said...

Bob,

Funny you should say that. I'm doing all three. My Lady and I are getting serious. I surprised myself with just how hard it is to be close to someone. No that's not right. Being close to someone highlights just how messed up you really are. Funny that. God Bless All!

10/21/2009 01:19:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Very true. Your primary relationship is a kind of crucible that tests your true limits and your real capacity for intimacy. This is why it provides the opportunity to face and break through your limits. Most relationships don't die for lack of intimacy, but unconscious fear of it. People unconsciously think relationships just die, when it's usually murder.

10/21/2009 01:23:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

I remember reading a book some 15 years ago called Mapping the Terrain of the Heart: Passion, Tenderness, and the Capacity to Love. At the time, I thought it was a pretty sophisticated book, although I can't vouch for it now, since it's been too long...

10/21/2009 01:28:00 PM  
Blogger Ricky Raccoon said...

“You might say that what I was trying to express had to invent the means -- and even the person! -- to express itself.”

This reminds me. Bob, when you do psychoanalysis with a patient with mind parasites…let me narrow that down… I can't, never mind. Does the part of the unconscious underneath the parasites (the true self?) try to sneak out little clues to you as the Doctor? I mean, as the Doctor you are picking up clues. My question is, are (any of them) left for you intentionally?

10/21/2009 01:44:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Oy yes. They leak out all over the place, leaving little hints and clues. And like anyone else, they want to be understood, even while being afraid of it. A major exception would be sociopaths, who don't want to be understood at all.

10/21/2009 01:48:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

By the way, mind parasites communicate directly unconscious to unconscious, which is why the therapist must closely monitor what sorts of things are being spontaneously provoked in him as he listens -- images, fantasies, etc. I think I've mentioned the story of a female patient who provoked in me the impulse to punch her. Then, in taking her history, it turned out that she had been in half a dozen abusive relationships!

10/21/2009 01:50:00 PM  
Blogger Ricky Raccoon said...

So it’s an intentional desire to be helped, then? Despite outward appearances?

10/21/2009 01:56:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Yes. There is always ambivalence -- resistance and alliance, collaboration and sabotage.

10/21/2009 02:30:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

"By the way, mind parasites communicate directly unconscious to unconscious, which is why the therapist must closely monitor what sorts of things are being spontaneously provoked in him as he listens -- images, fantasies, etc."


There's the saying that the mugger looks for the person who is a victim, who is unaware of their surroundings, cowering, furtive, as the ideal target to victimize... what is that, but a long distance communication? It makes sense as well, that if imagery conveys ideas and general understanding, which further consideration can convey into words and clearer understanding... then the roughly opposite, an interior understanding or fixated mental image (fear, etc), would find it's way into your words, actions, posture and movements which together convey an overall image....

I deleted the rest of what I was writing, chasing my textual tail through several paragraphs and getting nowhere, and everywhere, fast... but that's one of those ideas that spawns....

10/21/2009 03:16:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Hey Bob - do the books in the store come up randomly, or do you change them the way you used to change the music?

Just curious, because the one showing on my screen just now is "Affect Regulation and the repair of the Self."

10/21/2009 05:55:00 PM  
Blogger Retriever said...

I like your warning about the danger of "overly saturating the subject and leaving no space for the imagination to roam and make its own connections." Need to remember it...

One reason I love poetry (reading it, I can't write it worth anything)is because of all it can say and point to in so few words. Echoes of rhyme and meter, myriad associations stirred up, motion stopped as by a strobe, mind pinging here, there, never in a straight line...

On language expressing the inexpressible: When one loves writing and talking, when language is a playground, there's a danger of staying forever on the wrong side of the depths. As one wriggles and hops like a waterbug on the surface, a whole universe lies below. Hints of "eternity, placelessnes, non-contradiction, etc" only sometimes found in moments of meditation or prayer when the horseflies stop stinging at last and one is only the crash of the wave (instead of ceaselessly following the other bathers). In theory.

In practice I wriggled rebelliously when my boss the nun began all staff meetings with meditation (and I would try and fail) . Unable to escape my own words and thoughts and checking out the cute Jesuit novice across the way.

Hence devouring poetry. Other people's words can wipe away the chalk scrawl obscuring the board. I thought of Burnt Norton by T.S. Eliot when I read your post:

"Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden. My words echo
Thus, in your mind.
But to what purpose
Disturbing the dust on a bowl of rose-leaves
I do not know.
Other echoes
Inhabit the garden. Shall we follow?..."

Good description of people surviving and reliving trauma. The whole floating above one's body to the ceiling "Is that me down there writhing in pain?" and wandering lonely as a cloud the rest of one's life, detached and not feeling it. What saves? If the conventional secular or medical solutions cannot? Rom 8:26, "Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered."

When you talk about repetition of words expressed the deepest agony or joy, I thought of how people use the Rosary.

10/21/2009 06:16:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Retriever,
One reason I love poetry (reading it, I can't write it worth anything)

I beg to differ...

10/21/2009 06:37:00 PM  
Anonymous spanky said...

How bout' them Phils?

10/21/2009 09:00:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Too much Ryan Howard.

Julie:

The books come up randomly within a given category.

10/22/2009 06:48:00 AM  

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