Friday, April 21, 2006

In the Name of Petey, the Merciful, the Compassionate!

Interesting that yesterday's comments should have veered into the topic of compassion, because that's exactly what I was about to discuss. Like everything else, it has an outward or colloquial meaning and an inner, esoteric one. More often than not, the former type of compassion is actually ego-driven and harms the recipient, whereas genuine compassion may not be recognized as such, and may even be misinterpreted as harshness or insensitivity. Any parent understands this, as does most any effective psychotherapist.

I remember studying the psychoanalyst Otto Kernberg in graduate school, who is an extraordinarily lucid and deep thinker. A woman in class commented that he seemed rather cold, harsh and judgmental in discussing psychopathology. The brilliant Dr. Panajian was somewhat taken aback. How can truth be anything but compassionate? Truth precedes the good. Compassion is "doing the truth."

No, this does not mean that you clobber the patient over the head with it, with “sadistic interpretations.” Nevertheless, one of the enduring lessons I learned from Dr. Panajian is that in therapy you must always ally yourself with the epistemophilic part of the patient that deeply wishes to know the truth. For we have a healthy and uncorrupted part of our soul that yearns for truth, but other nocturnal parts that wish to deny it because they live by night.

A "good" (not in the moral sense) patient is someone who is so hungry for truth that they are able to tolerate its catastrophic impact without taking it out on the messenger. For others, it may take years of spadework to allow the truth to seep in. For them, unvarnished truth is not compassionate. But neither is allowing the Lie to stand, so it's a delicate balance. Obviously, many spiritual teachers run into this difficulty, because they necessarily have a "one size fits all" message. One person may respond, "how dare you say I'm a sinner?!," while another person drops to his knees and cries "you're right! How can I thank you?!"

In the case of Christianity, there are two supreme commandments: 1) to love the lord with all your strength, soul, and intellect (body, mind and spirit), and 2), to love your neighbor as yourself. The first of these--both ontologically and practically--is the supreme vertical commandment, while the second, which is subordinate and derives from the first, is the supreme horizontal commandment.

I believe you will recognize the fact that the leftist makes no apologies about elevating the horizontal commandment to the most high. In all seriousness, these are compassionate people, are they not? I do not judge their motives, nor do I believe that most leftists are bad people. But their policies follow from their ontology, and their ontology is deeply flawed because it denies the primacy of the vertical.

First of all, if you deny the vertical, your compassion will necessarily deny it as well. According to Webster’s, compassion is “sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.” Thus, to a leftist, a “homeless” person is simply a person without a home. He has no spiritual problem, much less a psychological one. We must simply give him a home. We have no consciousness of his spiritual state, so there is nothing there to alleviate. You have undoubtedly noticed how emotionally overwrought the leftist becomes over “faith based initiatives.” The whole idea is an insult--and a threat--to those who do not see the vertical or recognize any of its demands upon us.

What happens, say, if you give a vertically challenged person a home? Part of being vertically challenged may involve, for example, an absence of gratitude and an overabundant sense of entitlement. Indeed, it may be precisely these vertical factors that resulted in his lack of a horizontal home. Whatever. Stop being so mean-spirited and judgmental. You sound like Otto Kernberg!

As always, I am not making an either/or case. In almost every instance of such an antinomy, the wise course is to steer the middle ground. For I am not a mirror image of the leftist--I am not arguing for the pure reality of the vertical and the absolute unreality of the horizontal, as if it is nothing but maya. Again, real compassion is vertical truth in horizontal action. Everything depends on Truth, for there is no higher doctrine in all of spiritual life.

True compassion is actually calm-passion, because it should follow from simple recognition of what is called for. It involves disinterestedly giving someone what they need (sometimes good and hard, I’m tempted to say), regardless of whether they recognize that they need it.

Just as the horizontal is subordinate to the vertical, the passions must be subordinate to the intellect (once again reminding the reader that I am using the word intellect in its original spiritual sense). This is another way of saying that actions must be guided by the supreme virtue, prudence, for what is the sorry history of leftism but imprudent compassion run amuck?

But to say that the passions must be guided by the intellect is not to suggest that the passions are inherently bad or somehow to be eliminated--as if we are all to become like Mr. Spock. Come to think of it, there were a number of Star Trek episodes that dealt with this false dichotomy of pure vertical intellect (Mr. Spock) and pure horizontal passion (Dr. McCoy). Often, Captain Kirk was the passionate but wise hero who reconciled both, but not without a struggle.

In their proper spiritual context, emotions are not to be understood in their animal sense as mere outlets of affective energy. Rather, although subordinate to the intellect, they are powerful conveyors of information. Think of the analogy of music. Music is pure information, and yet, it cannot be comprehended with the mind alone. Take the emotional impact we feel when a song shifts from a major to a minor key. It’s quite mysterious. How does that happen?

I remember the first time I became consciously aware of it. It was in 1966. It was the song “Bus Stop” by the Hollies, which shifts from major to minor key in such a way that it creates a distinctly foreboding mood--even vaguely scary for a 10 year-old. The intellect alone can know nothing of this mood. It can only know the literal meaning of the happy pop lyric about a new relationship.

But there is a world of difference between using one’s emotions as subtle organs of perception vs. mere emotionalism or sentimentality. Here again, you will notice how the left always uses emotion in this manner. They want you to judge them by the purity of their emotions, never by the actual effect of this or that policy.

There are more examples than I can possibly provide here: mandating a “living wage” creates massive inflation and unemployment; rent control leads directly to housing shortages; the Kyoto protocols would so damage the global economy that it would kill far more humans right now than “global warming” ever will in the future; high taxes lead to tax shelters, black markets, reduction of investment, and less wealth for everyone; banishing “judgmentalism” and wrenching sexuality from its sacred context creates more personal and cultural pathologies than you can even imagine.

Mere emotionalism of the leftist variety distorts reality, whereas genuine compassion does not. Genuine compassion for others follows directly from the vertical compassion we receive from God. Taken out of that context, mere horizontal compassion will be reduced to a purely egoic, “feel good” activity, as it cares not a bit for the deepest (vertical) needs of the recipient, while at the same time exalts the ego of the giver. Over the long haul, what is really accomplished by this metaphysical shell game?

By ridding our own soul of illusions, unhealthy passions and mind parasites, we create a space for God to operate, first vertically and then horizontally. If we don’t do that, then our compassion will inevitably be like that of the leftist, harboring the same secret poison that undoes the best intentions of the Great and Good Compassionate Liberal. It is very easy to hide our vertical blindness behind a superficially appealing veil of good works, as does socialist Europe. It takes an extraordinary amount of misplaced compassion to create such narcissistic self-absorption.

Which brings up an interesting point. I like to think of these little spiritual manifestos I send out every morning as a form of disinterested vertical compassion. And yet, no matter how hard I try, I get more out of it than I put into it. For example, some of the feedback I receive is so personally moving, that all I can do is thank you for being compassionate enough to help this humble seeker continue pretending to help others.


For horizontal man, vertical doors are experienced as persecutory walls.


Anonymous said...

Operating from the supreme vertical and putting it into horizonal action using emotions as subtle organs of perception - and doing the years of spadework to allow the truth to seep in - OMG - you rock, Bob.
I am so glad you are out there.

Anonymous said...

"For horizontal man, vertical doors are experienced as persecutory walls."

You have to give the little guy credit. Rather than banging his head on that vertical door, he has spied the doorknob.

Gagdad Bob said...

Yes--to be perfectly accurate, he's pure vertical man, so the horizontal door is quite enticing.

Anonymous said...

Bob 'n Heads -

Re genuine/false compassion: Yeah, I've got reason to believe that "compassion" that is entirely uninformed by the spiritual invariably leads to the killing fields, to the gas jets. It just follows. It could happen here.

Also, this underscores why the Hollywood crowd is reflexively leftist, (with a few notable exceptions) - they live in their emotions, their emotions are their basic tools, their livelihood; and of course, they are for the most part innocent of spiritual awareness.

Anonymous said...

Aww, now Will. How can you say that what with Madonna practicing Kabalah, Jane Fonda a confessed believer (except she wouldn't tell Ted Turner 'cuz he'd debate her out of it.) Tom Cruise battling Thetans (while snacking on placenta-bits) on behalf of the greater good....

(Here, Tom, try it with the chutney)


Lisa said...

I just read in your book how humans had to climb down from the horizontal trees and start to climb up the vertical tree of life. Very nice image! I like to think of this blog as the safety strap for climbing and the Bobbleheads/Bob as the people needed to avoid hiking alone.

Anonymous said...

Lisa, true -

But there are times when you gotta hike that lonesome valley, and you gots to hike it by yourseff.

Lisa said...

True enough, Will. One of the cardinal rules of hiking is not to do it alone. I think we all got to this blog on our own and will probably veer off on our own different paths but hopefully and most likely end up in the same place. The many to the one. Feel free to expand on this as I am not the most eloquent of the group!

Anonymous said...

Consigliorette -

>>Feel free to expand on this as I am not the most eloquent of the group!<<

Hey. ENOUGH with the self-deprecations, please. (deja vu, here)

Your eloquence is FINE.

Anyway, all I meant was that there are times on the path when nearly all support systems disappear, for whatever reason, and there you are in free-fall and then there is only one thing that can catch you and that's you-know-what.

Anonymous said...

I've said this before, but it deserves a repost in light of what's been said here: "Intolerant" compassion, as occasional reader Digdug terms it, is perfectly understandable. One may love humanity so much that one hates to see them acting so ri-goddamn-diculous every day of the year. One may love humanity, but hate watching it self-destruct.

Bob's work (and ours, by extension) is sort of the spiritual version of an Intervention: "I love you, but I hate what I see you doing to yourself."

Anonymous said...

And with regard to the way music works:

Frank Zappa, being a composer, understood what different chords and rhythms and turns of melodic phrase could do to one's emotional state. And he would always marvel, according to his own account, that certain tunes could always make him cry - he knew exactly how it was done, but that didn't keep it from affecting him.

Anonymous said...

Congratch, Bob, you deserve all the kudos coming to you.

posted by neo-neocon @ 2:35 PM 11 comments
We few, we proud, we psychobloggers

I've noticed that the small but extraordinarily prolific and insightful group known as the psychobloggers (me, Dr. Sanity, Shrinkwrapped, Sigmund Carl & Alfred, and Dr. Helen) has gained some new additions: two, in fact.

One of them is not actually such a recent arrival to the blogosphere. But I guess I'm slow on the uptake; I just noticed him via this link from the Anchoress. He's Gagdad Bob (yes, of LGF comment fame) and his site is known as One Cosmos. Gagdad Bob (otherwise known as Dr. Robert Godwin, in his day job) turns out to be another mental health professional and former-leftist-turned-somewhat-to-the-right who, along with his alter ego "Petey" (physician, heal thyself!) started his blog back in October of 2005.

Bob writes here about his own change process (please read the whole thing):

[Back when I was a leftist] I was also completely ahistorical. Or worse, there was a sense in the 1960s and 1970s that history had labored for lo those many dark centuries to finally give birth to our enlightened generation. We were superior to all of the past benighted generations, including our clueless parents. There was no sense whatsoever that the extraordinary economic and personal freedom that began opening up at that particular time had had any cost whatsoever. If only all of the stupid and violent ideas of past generations were obliterated--ideas like war, sacrifice, capitalist greed, Western religion, etc.--the natural goodness of humans would bloom like a flower.

Of course, like all leftists I was economically illiterate--or innumerate. That's the problem with the Left, since Marxism in all its permuations is just bad literature, not economics. Like socialist Europe, I knew nothing about the creation of wealth. I just assumed it. The only problem was its distribution....

I also lacked gratitude. Again, somehow there was no understanding of the extraordinary sacrifices people had made in the past to make my unbelievably easy and pleasant life possible.

Lisa said...

Ha Ha Will! It's not really a self-deprication, it's more like admitting and accepting the reality and truth. I do have to admit that it does get easier with each post. I have always been more of a numbers person than a word person. Just trying to expand my horizons or should I say vertizons! or even verbizons!

LiquidLifeHacker said...

Off track here a bit, but what do you guys think about Anne Rice since she says she has gotten spiritual again and turned back to the Catholic church? Has anyone read the last book she wrote?

Oh...and as for compassion, it's hard not to have it...seems though when I do...I go right into empathy mode...and then I start to feel things....from happiness to pain.

Have you ever noticed how you can have had past pain...I mean real pain of your own, and then when you witness it in others, and this can be years since your own pain, but when you see it in someone else it brings that sensation of your own pain right back to you.... it's so real! Kinda like smelling some food that triggers a memory. You know what I mean?

Lisa said...

LLH- That is so funny you would bring up Ann Rice. I was also at the part in the book yesterday where Bob talks about mind parasites such as witches, vampires and others. I was actually a bit disappointed. My mind immediately pictured Ann Rice's characters because I always secretly wished they were real! She has such a rich and lusciously detailed writing style. In her world, it really does seem to be more fun to sin with the sinners! Snap! Back to reality. Didn't read her last book, sorry.

Sometimes when people are describing their pain to me I can feel it in my own body and it creeps me out. Even if I have never had the problem. Music is another thing that can trigger certain memories, as Rorschach pointed out above. Frank Zappa was a trip! He gave good advice like Don't eat the yellow snow! (no matter what Petey says!)

Anonymous said...

Hiya Bob & bobblehead's!
Outstanding post Sir Bob!
True compassion-
I had a lengthy comment in the last post, which somehow didn't appear, aaarrrhhh!
It could be considered true compassion that it didn't appear, however, because Capt. Seadog was clearly the architect.
It was funny though. :^)
I would like to mention (so I am) one example of true compassion and that is: the ultimate gift us humans can give to each other.
Our live's.
No greater love than this, that one would lay down his life for another.
This is what so many Soldiers, Sailors, Marine's, Airmen, Policemen, Firemen, and civilian Patriots have done, for over 225 years in this great country.
A country that espouses freedom; a freedom that come's with a price.
A freedom that should have us all asking, what can I do? Not what can I get?
Only in freedom and liberty, can true compassion flourish,
and we all have a duty to preserve that freedom.
We face a continual battle to do just that, for there are forces who would, and are trying to take that away, internally and externally,
Horizontally and Vertically, physically and spiritually.
When we are weary, we must draw strength from our Creator, and continue to fight,
with our very live's if need be, for freedom and liberty, in every aspect of our live's and society.
Then True compassion will grow, and it's fruit will be Love.

Anonymous said...


That is so true. To stand in the face of evil in protection of others is the ultimate love and to lose ones life in that defense, the ultimate sacrifice.
It seems the majority of the times I get choked up and moved to tears of sympathy is hearing of a soldier doing just that or of a innocent young child being abused.
Oftentimes the rest of the population is deserving of what comes through the poor and selfish decisions we make.

Anonymous said...

"real compassion is vertical truth in horizontal action." Oh, you have no idea how much I love this statement. I first came to understand the vertical-to-horizontal relational concept in a teaching on I John, in the New Testament: You can't say you love God, and hate your brother.

Beyond that, I volunteer for an organization that embodies this "vertical truth in horizontal action" with such commitment that it truly lives up to its name.

Thank you for this wonderful post. It's my first visit to your blog, but not my last.

David J Quackenbush said...

Just tagging along a few years late . . . found the following in a little Pieper book just before reading this 4/21/06 blog post:

"There is an amazing and scarcely fathomable depth in this sentence of Thomas Aquinas: false prudence and excessive cleverness are derived from and essentially tied to covetousness. This statement puts the virtue of prudence itself and the basic human attitude operative in it into a sharp new light; it includes the fact that prudence is opposed to covetousness in a most particular way. With one stroke a nexus among several strands of thought is suddenly exposed, thoughts that previously did not seem to be connected . . . .

'Covetousness' here means more than the disordered love for money and property. Covetousness is to be understood here as the immoderate striving after all 'possessions,' through which the person thinks he can assure his own greatness and worth. Covetousness thus signifies the anxious senility of a frantic self-preservation bent on onl
y its own assurance and security. Is further explanation needed on how greatly all this is contrary to the innermost direction of prudence, how impossible it is for one to have that silence that knows and recognizes the truth of objective realities; and how impossible it is to have any conformity to reality in knowing and deciding, without the youthfulness of a courageously trusting and, as it were, prodigal renunciation of the conditions of anxious self-preservation and of all selfish 'interest' in mere self-confirmation; how simply impossible, then, is the virtue of prudence without the constant readiness for disregarding oneself and without the detachment and tranquility of authentic humility and objectivity?"

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