Oct 12, 2009


Some very fierce battles are being waged at the moment at the great blogs,  Bilgrimage, Enlightened Catholicism, Queering the Church, Wild Reed, over the major justice issues of the day in the Church, in particular, abortion and the rights of homosexuals in the church and in civil society. I really feel these bloggers are fighting our battles for us, and doing so quite brilliantly with a relentless pursuit of justice, focusing a laser like beam on all aspects of the frightening pathologies that are afflicting the church and society at the moment. However, this requires these writers to immerse themselves on a daily basis in all of the sordid details of corruption and deceit that characterize so much of the pathological sickness at the heart of the Christian community today. As one who feels enormously grateful for this courageous work that is being done, I also feel some concern about the debilitating effect on the human spirit when one is constantly immersed in these stories of injustice and corruption every day.  It reminded me of the wise words of the psychologist, Roberto Assaglioli, spoken some years ago to a group of social activists. He cautioned them about exposing themselves on a daily basis to stories of human injustice, corruption and greed, because such stories acted as 'psychic poisons' which entered the spirit of the activist and sapped her or his will to resist. What was needed was some measure of distance, so as to protect the inner reserves of hope and resilience, qualities so necessary for an activist in order to avoid psychic burnout and depression. I was very struck by these words at the time, and so I offer some further advice from this great psychologist here, while keeping in mind that it is easy for a person such as myself, who is not in the thick of the battle and not suffering quite the same onslaught, to offer 'easy' advice.  But it is given with gratitude and concern.

(Since I couldn't find the original talk, here are some comments from Assaglioli's famous lecture, The Act of Will. )

A general recognition of the powerful psychological influence of our environment, to which we are all subject, is still lacking, even though the major problems of today, such as war, the increasingly harmful competitive attitude, and the widely prevalent conditions of fear and depression, either belong to or have their causes in, the psychological domain.

Yet at least a beginning in this direction is being made, and a small but rapidly growing minority of people are developing what might be called a psycho-ecological conscience.

It seems very timely, therefore, to indicate some of the more common harmful factors which pollute our psychological environment, and to suggest skillful-will methods by which we can most effectively deal with them. The principal negative factors are aggressiveness and violence, fear; depression and despondency; greed and all forms of selfish desire. They are true psychological poisons which permeate the psychic atmosphere, and careful examination will find them at the root of a very large number of difficulties, both within the individual and within society.

We need therefore to eliminate them also within ourselves, or reduce them to a minimum. This is a specific task of individual psychosynthesis, and it call for different techniques from those suitable for gaining protection from external poison.

On the other hand, external poisons tend to feed and intensify the corresponding ones on us. Thus a vicious circle comes into being: the poisons within us open the door to the influence of external ones, while the latter intensify the former. A most effective way to break the vicious circle is to withdraw attention deliberately from these psychic poisons. This will liberate the energy of the attention and allow it to be focused elsewhere, in a direction where it will do the most good. The act of this withdrawal of attention is a definite act of the skillful will and in turn contributes to strengthening the will itself.

Aggression and Violence
The first remedial step is to stop intensifying them by unnecessarily focusing attention and interest on them.

It is only as we free ourselves from the overwhelming sweep of collective panic about all of these vital issues that we are truly able to do something about then. So, paradoxically, a person who is sincerely and deeply concerned with bettering economic conditions, ending war, or the like, will be most effective if he does not open himself completely, even in the name of compassion, to all these influences, but rather is able to maintain a centered and calm focus on specific issues so he can clearly see what needs to be done.

Depression and Despondency
These are reactions to much that is negative, "dark," unjust, and unsatisfying within collective human life. While these conditions have always existed, the present period is witnessing their significant increase, to which the mass-communications media are giving an exaggerated and one-sided emphasis.

Greed is an expression of selfish desire which, according to Buddha's teaching, is at the root of all suffering and unhappiness. Such suffering occurs not only because many desires are unrealistic, and thus can never be gratified, but even more because of the very nature of greed, which is such that no satisfaction lasts for long; it always demands something more.

There are many kinds of desire. ... self-assertion, ... excessive sensuality,
What methods are to be used but the skillful will to achieve psychological hygiene? The fundamental one consists in withholding attention and interest. .. An even more powerful approach method of substitution: the cultivation of other, better interests, the systematic focusing of the attention on constructive things. This tends to give immunity to the negative, harmful, or poisonous influences. A most effective method, explained by Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras, is neutralization, which entails the active cultivation of qualities that are the antithesis of the harmful ones" harmlessness and nonviolence in the face of violence; courage in place of fear; joy in healthy pleasures instead of depression and despondency; moderation as a substitute for greed. As for overemphasis on sexuality, the most effective antidote is true love. It is not thus a question of not loving, or loving less, but of loving better.

The Technique of Evocative Words
 That certain words, such as serenity, courage, joy, compassion, have their effects on our moods and ideas does not require demonstration.

Taken from The Act of Will by Roberto Assaglioli


Anonymous said...

Jayden, you're absolutely right about the dangers of constantly immersing oneself in the negatives. It was exactly this recognition that was one of the factors, and the immediate trigger, that led me to suspend posting for a couple of months early this year.

Since resuming, it has been my intention to try to highlight the good news and more positive elements in history and in Scripture, reserving outrage only for the most important issues. I know I don't achieve the good intentions,so its good to have the dangers pointed again.

Your post has reminded of something I saw at NCR Online some weeks ago and wanted to write about: the problems in dyadic thinking - "us & them". At the time I was still travelling, and posting was difficult. But know, I will try to pull it together later today.


William D. Lindsey said...

Jayden, thank you for making this resource available. There's great spiritual wisdom here, and I hope many will avail themselves of it.

I know I will read and re-read this resource. I'm struck, in particular, by the insistence on the need to remain centered and focused, as one moves along a spiritual path that may include engagement in real-life struggles.

I've found the Ignatian insight that one should never take big steps and make major decisions at a moment of turbulence extraordinarily helpful for years.

But it also points to a further question with which I continue to tussle: when we do have periods of turbulence, what are they trying to say to our souls?

When I learned Ignatian spirituality in college years ago, the implication was that the turbulence is usually "just" negative--in old language, the devil kicking up a fuss.

More and more, I think that these dark periods can also be periods of light, when something in our souls is trying to grab our attention precisely through the "negative" stuff. I think (and here I'm influenced, probably, by Thomas Moore's "Care of the Soul") that we don't often enough remain with and let the darkness infuse and deepen our souls, as we journey along.

Or I shouldn't say "we." I should say "I," since this may be more my struggle than anyone else's.

colkoch said...

Jayden, I appreciate the concern and want to alleviate your concerns as far as Moi goes.

Wallowing in this negative energy is not nearly the same as actively engaging examples of the lousy thinking and lousy energy I write about. I spent thirty some years wallowing in one form of that energy or another in a concerted attempt to derive financial stability from those efforts.

Blogging for me is free of that kind of energy. This is more of a hobby with a purpose, and not a way to make a living. That makes a big difference in how much the negative energy will effect one.

One thing I really appreciate is for some reason I am not getting hit with hate filled comments and never have. The trads that do read my blog are civil and willing to agree to disagree. That is a very hopeful and grace filled gift for me and I have great gratitude for this state of affairs.

Where I tend to lost my equilibrium is reading the comments on the NCR, not working on my own blog. I don't know how the staff at the NCR puts up with the garbage they have to.

With age comes a certain amount of detachment and wisdom. So the grandmothers have taught me. They also suggested I stop reading the NCR and Huffington Post. :)

Jayden Cameron said...

Thanks so much for these very insightful responses, which give me much food for thought. Unfortunately, I have no time to respond in depth, being drained at the moment by 15 naughty teenagers whom I'm attempting to shape into a play production. However, one comment to Colleen - that's one reason why I stopped reading the NCR (for years). Just couldn't handle the shocking negativity and irrationality of the comments- so I preferred to keep my distance. And I really resonate with Bill's comment about our dark periods being periods of light (in disguise). I think we are really being taught the lesson of trust, that in our darkest moments the 'Lord' and the Spirit are really in control, all evidence to the contrary. And Terence has reminded us all of the dangers of the 'us and them 'mentality, which brings us back to the core Christian virtue of forgiveness, not to mention non-violence- in thought as well as in deed. But as we know from the creative witness of the gospels, Jeshu was not one to flinch from an argument and from confrontation with his opponents when necessary. However much embellishment there may be in the New Testament witness, one image of the Master is very clear, his call to prophetic witness to injustice. This is what precisely distinguishes him from the Buddha, among others. Christians are called to the prophetic way as a distinguishing characteristic or particular emphasis of their religious witness. Enlightenment comes first for the Buddha, prophetic witness follows, and while that trajectory may be true for Christians as well, the stress for us is placed on the consequences and responsibilities of enlightenment-prophetic witness to all that impedes the light, even at the cost of our own lives.