Self As Self-Defense
One’s relationship with another is based on memory. Would you accept that? On the various images, pictures, conclusions I have drawn about you and you have drawn about me. The various images that I have about you - wife, husband, girl or boy or friend and so on, there is always image making. This is simple, this is normal, this actually goes on. When one is married, or lives with a girl or a boy, every incident, every word, every action creates an image. No? Are we clear on this point? Don’t agree with me please, I am not trying to persuade you to anything. But actually you can see it for yourself. A word is registered, if it is pleasant you purr. It is nice. If it is unpleasant, you will immediately shrink from it and that creates an image. The pleasure creates an image; the shrinking, the withdrawal creates an image. So, our actual relationship with each other is based on various subtle forms of pictures, images and conclusions.
So when there is an image like that, she has and you have, then in that there is division and then the whole conflict begins, right? Where there is division between two images, there must be conflict, right? The Jew, the Arab, the Hindu, the Muslim, the Christian, the Communist, it is the same phenomenon. It is a basic law, that where there is division between people there must be conflict. The man may say to the woman or the woman may say to the man “I love you”, but basically, they are not related at all. Then the factor arises, can all this image making, tradition and all that end, without a single conflict. You understand my question? Are you interested in this? What will you pay for it? That is all you can do. By paying something you think you will get it. Now, how can this mechanism of image making, not just Image making, that is the desire for certainty, the tradition, the whole structure of that, can that end?
Brockwood Park 2nd Public Dialogue, 31st August 1978
Imagine being a fetus floating in the amniotic fluid, sharing mother’s blood and hormones. You are sentient; conscious, sensitive and aware, but not as an idea. You sense and hear mother’s heartbeat. You feel what she feels as her pleasures, pains and fears flow through you like waves in the ocean. You know you are there. You can feel your leg stretching, your head turning. I call this early self-perception the proprioception-self, proprioception being the instant-by-instant awareness of the body sensing and moving in three-dimensional space. You are an immediate feeling-self and the feelings you have are recorded in the emotional-relational limbic brain Keith Buzzell described. The proprioception self is always present. Slowly patterns emerge and these trigger older genetic patterns encoded in your DNA, a form of past lives stretching back through all of time, pre-you sensitivities to various inherited experiences. Physical allegories are a good example, but there are emotional sensitivities as well, emotional allergies being triggered.
The rollercoaster excitement, the pleasure and pain of birth comes and goes. If you are lucky the nurturing womb experience, the connection to mother’s body is reintroduced and continued as new sensory experiences open; sight, smell, the sensation of the breast, taste and many others. The sense of you is what is taking place in the moment, pleasure and discomfort, perhaps even pain with its fear, retraction and isolation. Nurturing is sensory, safe again with its pleasure. All this is being recorded in the limbic regions of your brain and with this recording comes association and patterning. Experiences like this are painful and scary. Experiences like that are safe and safe feels good. Very early these emotional patterns become reflexes, similar to Pavlov’s dogs, ring the bell and the dog salivates. You don’t chose to react, they just happen and you are that reaction. You are the interplay of these two primary brain systems; sensory motor and emotional–relational.
Moments turn into days, days into weeks, then into months. At the rate of seven-hundred neurons per second, your brain continues to develop, each new neuron connecting to thousands of others. Sensations and feelings expand, deepen and distill, centered mostly in the physical, the sensory motor brain as you explore what it is like to move, turn, to see, eat, sit up, roll over and finally to stand, with each new milestone hopefully wrapped in a womb of safety, pleasure and encouragement, mother and father being that safe place.
At twelve or more months, your brain is much larger. Standing is a great achievement. Liberated from the floor allows you to reach and explore vast new territories. Each new discovery builds on the last. Nature compels you to discover and experience more and more, and you do with every ounce of your energy and attention; reaching, touching everything you can. Suddenly, mother and father, your safe place, change and change dramatically. Instead of nurturing and encouraging, cheering you on, they stop you in your tracks. “No!” they say. “Don’t do that!” Don’t touch that! But, you do because that is what you are supposed to do; touch, explore, taste, build a structure of knowledge of everything and everything keeps expanding.
Soon a new pattern develops. Nine times out of ten, each time you reach for something new, instead of nurturing-encouraging mom, and dad turn into Star Wars monsters, threatening No! No! No!, physically stopping you from what you must do. The more you resist the louder and more threating the monsters grow. Being the most complex nervous system in the known universe, you get it. Every new intention to reach, experience and discover demands a shield. The monsters are out there and must defend yourself. Suddenly there is a split in your attention. Nature’s drive to discover, to explore and embrace your world pushes you forward. The need to defend holds you back. Each, the reaching-discovering and the defense, required energy and attention. One foot is on the gas and the other on the brake. Instead of coherent, entrained attention, you are a house divided, and it never changes. Everything you do can trigger the monster popping out of its box. Even the intention to do something triggers a foot on the break before you even move a muscle. You censor yourself as a defense against a world you cannot trust. Whereas, before the split, you invested every particle of energy you had in the discovery of the moment.
As time goes on there is a steady stream of predictable prohibitions; “Do this, not that.” What and how you eat, how you hold your fork, what you ware, where you sit or not sit, “Don’t jump in the house! Don’t get dirty! Don’t make a mess. Clean up that mess. No!, Not now. What did you say? Don’t ever say that to me again! Hurry up! I said HURRY UP!...” You are met with judgements, censorship and comparison at every turn, day-in and day-out. Every time this happens your energy and attention, the very resources needed for learning, performance and continued development split. Your emotional brain remembers how it feels to be threatened. This now habitual pattern is registered by the new symbolic, metaphoric, imaginative, futuring brain and it does what nature intended; it creates an image. It creates a story. So predictable is the need to defend that the image seems to always be there. Every time you look, it is there. Looking evokes the image. Quite naturally, you assume it is there. As this assumption grows we reify the abstract image and begin treating the image as an independent entity. The image takes on a life of it is own and social ego is born.
In Sapiens, A Brief History of Humankind, author Yuval Noah Harari described how this capacity to create ‘story’ was and is the driving force for civilization. Story is a meme, an idea or image that is shared. The transforming insight is that one’s personal story, our social-image or ego emerges from the same brain center as the global story, the cultural-image. A mirroring takes place. The meta or cultural image expresses as and reinforces our personal identity and our individual ego is a mirror image of culture. Remember the axiom; form is content. As Juliet expressed so well, we are neither the name, which is a symbol-image or culture.
Tis but thy name that is my enemy; Thou art thyself though, not a Montague.
What is Montague? It is nor hand, nor foot, nor arm, nor face, nor any other part belonging to a man.
Peeling back the curtain on thy name, one’s social ego as a mirror image of culture, reveals the true function of that identity; to insure that we conform to and therefore support culture, often at the expense of one’s true potential and its development. And here we touch the very heart of Joseph Chilton Pearce’s collected writings. The Crack in the Cosmic Egg, Joe’s first book, is a crack in our self-world view, a crack in our identity-reality that opens the doors of perception locked shut by the limitations and constraints imposed by culture. How is this done, by identifying with the story we are shown.
Beliefs are instilled in us in infancy, before we’re able to judge anything. We cannot look in the mirror and say: "well, I’m a nice little girl. I’ve got all my fingers and toes and I’m a sweet little thing. I’m intelligent and charming and I got a little pink party dress and I’m just fine." We can’t do that. We get our feeling of worth about ourselves and everything else from our authority figures. This is what children do. They take the authority of these people and believe it. Whatever it is. This becomes the basic feeling we have about self and also about the relationship between self and other. We don’t need to empower children to trust their nature. The tendency to trust is there. We simply need to allow them to do so.
We should never do anything to a child that will make him feel badly about himself. But we do this all the time. We do it with words and we do it with looks. We only know two ways to treat our children. One is the punishing/blaming: "you are very bad, go stand in the corner or I’ll spank you." The other is permissive: "that’s perfectly all right darling, if you want to walk on mothers face, she doesn’t mind." We don’t know any other way.
There is another way. It is called information. If you thoroughly understand that children are innately social, then you understand that what they want is information. You don’t have to be angry to tell them what’s needed. You just let them know. The idea is not to blame, and not to praise, because both are insulting. Expect children to do the right thing. You then are being a clear model and there’s no conflict. It’s the way nature designed us to behave.
Author, The Continuum Concept
Personal Interview w/ Michael Mendizza
Dr. Gabor Maté describes in When the Body Says No and In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts how the social-image or ego develops as a coping pattern to navigate the relentless rules that culture demands; from behaving as good little girls and boys for our parents, to raising our hand at the appropriate moment in school, genuflecting properly in church, saluting in the military, all the way up and down the social pecking order.
Allan Schore, Ph.D., author of Affect Regulation and the Origin of Self: The Neurobiology of Emotional Development: our self-image begins to form between twelve and eighteen months of age, Schore states: “The mother utilizes facially expressed stress-inducing shame transactions which engender a psychobiological missatunement with the mother.” The mother accuses the child just by her look. Her accusative look warns the child that the action he or she is taking or is about to undertake will break the bond. This becomes a permanent imprint and we carry that accusing face with us, lifelong.
The unspoken law is: color outside of the lines and you are out, rejected, no longer belong to the group. All this is implicit in our identification and conformity to the cultural image. It is our identification with the image that keep us in the box, unaware of the miraculous capacities just outside, until there is a crack.
Then, one day, if we are lucky, we discover that the image is active only when we look. Looking evokes the image with its fear of rejection and implicit conformity. Up next, what happens when we don’t look?