Happiness is Knowing How to Cope
Prepared for a talk to the Lawrence, KS exploration group of ISSSEEM.
March 11, 2003
For reference, my remarks tonight about crises are based on my self-help book, Surviving Your Crises, Reviving Your Dreams. The book is out of print, but you can read it on my website: www.enformy.com/surviving.htm.
We shouldn't try to think about coping without taking our culture into account, because our culture largely determines how we cope with our crises.
We also need to realize that cultures, too, must cope with their own crisesfor instance, when confronted with new religious myths or scientific theories.
That's why I'll address two levels of coping tonightindividual and culturaland show how they interact.
I know I'm preaching to the converted, but that isn't as easy as it sounds. Not everyone has been converted to the same religion. We have religions based on Reiki, chakras, meridians, angels, music, the kabbala, and so on. And each of these works well, but only for a small group of the faithful.
Wouldn't it be nice if everyone believed in the same religion? Not necessarily. In fact, nearly everyone does believe in the same religionthe mother religion, materialism.
The work of the healing community is hampered by materialism. For us to provide services to the largest number of people, our culture needs an overarching spiritual religion-a tent large enough to hold all of us. To find this, we need a paradigm shift, and this paradigm shift requires a scientific revolution.
Well, you might ask, "Aren't we all under the subtle energy tent?" We're not, because subtle energy's not a tent. It's just a tent pole. Poles go up, but not out. They can't cover us.
Religious and scientific revolutions need general theories and mythologies, not a hodge-podge of special purpose theories and myths. It isn't enough to simply say "subtle energy" isn't useful. That term must be replaced by another term that supports a real theorya pole that's useful because it can support a tent.
The tent, of course, is a metaphor for a theory or myth that's so broad that everyone can use it in their everyday lives. This is not a new theme.
In ancient Egypt, people worshiped many gods, and each god had its own peculiar beliefs and rituals. When Akhenaten became Pharoah, he established a new religion based on the notion of a single godAten, the sun god. However, the idea of the sun-god wasn't very useful, because the sun didn't do anything but shineand it didn't even do that at night. Akhenaten tried to overcome this problem by declaring himself and his queen, Nefertiti, to be divine extensions of the one true god.
Not surprisingly, the single god theory was poorly received by the priests of the many gods because it eliminated their jobs, prestige, and influence. So they formed a reactionary underground.
Akhenaten's theory wasn't sufficiently general to capture the imagination of ordinary Egyptians, either, because the sun didn't explain the origin of life on Earth or the destination of the dead. Like "subtle energy," it was a pole, not a tent.
The upshot was, after Akhenaten left the throne, the reactionaries quickly dispatched his new religion.
At about the same time in Egypt, Moses devised another theory based on a single god, andas we all knowthis religion was eventually adopted.
What made the difference? Many things, of course, but it wouldn't have happened if Moses had not provided the whole packagea general theory of creation, cosmology, life, death, laws, rituals, and language. This theory was a very big tent. Every farmer, healer, craftsman, mother, artisan, priest, and minor prophet could apply it in his or her work.
Because of their single god theories, some scholars believe that Akhenaten and Moses were the same person. It's safe to say they were not. They didn't think the same way.
Akhenaten was an experimentalist, and Moses was a theorist. Akhenaten's thinking was typical of the tunnel vision necessary to experimental work, so he couldn't see that his experiment would fail. In contrast, Moses's view of the big picture allowed him to think outside the box. His theory succeeded because he could see much further.
So what does this have to do with us? Everything! Today, theorists' thinking is broad, but experimentalists' thinking is narrow. The radical differences between theories and experiments is a major obstacle to bringing new scientific or religious paradigms to the culture.
Turns out, scientific revolutions are resisted for the same reasons religious revolutions are. A change in faith is a profound crisis, because scientists would have to unlearn much of their hard-earned knowledge, and the priests of science would have to give up their livelihoods, prestige, and influence. And the majority of them won't do this because they don't want do the hard work of coping with the crisis.
We'll return to the big picture of the paradigm shift laterafter we've looked at the small picture of crisis management.
Crises are turning points in our lives that leave us changed for better or worse. That's why the Chinese term for crisis, Ngi Nga, is constructed from the terms for "danger" and "opportunity."
Coping is managing our crises so their outcomes are mainly positive. If we cope with crises, our lives get better. If we don't cope, they are likely to get worse.
Crises are usually beyond our control. But we have control over what to do about them. Some people make bad choices because they don't know how to cope. They're unhappy. Other people, though, know how to cope. Even if they make a bad choice, they can cope with that, too. They're happy.
Because coping is a dynamic process, I don't say, "Happy people are well-adjusted." I say, "Happy people are adjustable."
When we think of crises, we typically think of grieving for the death of a loved one.
But gains are also crisesa new spouse, new job, new child. In many cases, losses follow gainsas when we lose friends by taking a new job. And sometimes gains follow lossesas in gaining peace of mind by losing a bad marriage, for instance.
In the bigger picture, coping with crises is like healing from illnesses. In both cases, something critical happens to us, and whether or not we emerge from the crisis healthier or sicker depends on our ability to cope or heal. To emphasize this, I use the terms coping, healing, and grieving interchangeably.
In sum, crises are simply changes, and it's a good idea to cope with them, regardless of whether they are losses or gains.
We encounter changes from the time we're born. When very young, we face hunger, wet diapers, illnesses, and weaning. At this time of life, we only need to yell. Our parents cope for us.
Then we come to an age when we realize we must begin to fend for ourselves. For instance, we must cope with the arrival of a new brother or sister, and our parents are paying more attention to the interloper than to us.
Having to fend for ourselves makes us angry, and we make sure everyone knows about it. That's why they call us the "terrible twos." And from then on, life gets better or worse, depending on the myths we learn from our culturethrough our parentsabout coping.
At the root of these myths is fear of the unknown. "What's going to happen next?" "What happens when I die?" We humans are afraid of uncertainty. At a very deep level, we equate uncertainty with disorganization, and we know that disorganization means death. To combat this primitive fear, we try to find comfort by inventing myths that answer all our questions.
Prophets have provided our myths in religion, and this is also true in scienceexcept, in science, myths are called "theories," and prophets are called "theorists."
The word prophet means two things. First, a prophet is one who speaks for godor in science, one who speaks for Nature. Second, a prophet is one who foretells the future. This definition misses the point. Whether in religion or science, prophets don't just foresee the future, they create it.
Prophets create the future by creating the myths that underpin cultures, and they've always done this in times of cultural crisis. These myths mainly try to solve specific types of crises by answering specific questions. Only the fatalistic theories are general enough to address the question of coping with all crisesand these aren't very popular. It's not surprising, then, that we've inherited a hodge-podge of myths about coping. Some of them are very ancient, some old, and some new.
Most myths serve important purposes and are harmless. But this isn't true for the most popular myths about coping. They don't promote healing. They block it.
A case in point is the myth that time heals all wounds. That's like saying that time makes breakfast. In fact, breakfast and healing both take workand it's the work that takes time.
The notion of closure is a modern myth. This word, which means "ending," was apparently used first by reporters. Wherever it came from, it's useless. Waiting for closure, like waiting for time to pass, blocks healing.
Another popular myth, largely promoted by the law, is healing through revenge. The problem with this is, as long as we focus on revenge, we're anchored to the past. We aren't reorganizing our lives in healthy ways.
A modern harmful myth is that we march through grieving in stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Let's look at this theory carefully, starting with a story from my book.
Six months ago, Ron's employer laid him off. Last month, his mortgage company foreclosed on his home. And yesterday, his wife took the kids and left him.
Ron's best friend, Paul, finds him in a diner, unshaven and rumpled, staring into a cold cup of coffee.
"Hi, Ron. How you doing with your grieving?"
Ron shakes himself from his revery, and focuses squinted eyes on his friend.
"You know, I was just thinking about that.
"I figure I'm in Stage 5 for my job, Stage 2 for my home, and Stage 1 for my family. That averages out to Stage 2.67 . . . So I guess I'm doing okay."
Paul looks at his friend, and shakes his head.
"That's good, 'cause you look awful."
Did it help Ron that his counselor told him he would grieve in stages? Of course not. It's obvious that our thoughts, preoccupations, and feelings occur in any order, not neatly packaged in "stages."
So where did the myth of stages start?
In 1969, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross set them out in her book, On Death and Dying. Elizabeth's studies of dying persons gave us many important insights, and her straightforward approach to the dying led to the hospice movement. But her myth is dead wrong. Regardless, her five stages of grief are taught in medical schools and nursing schools throughout the countryas if there's a "right way" to grieve.
I learned the "stages myth" when I was a psychiatric resident in the early 70s, when Elizabeth's book was new. I was eager to apply the five stages to grieving in general. Problem was, I found it difficult to force my patients to conform to it. They wanted to grieve in their own ways. Indeed, one of my patients was a young man who was dying from acute leukemia. He became my patient in psychiatry because he presented with manic symptoms. Turned out, though his wife grieved in anticipation of losing him, he never did grieve. He was too "happy" with his newly discovered mortality.
My patient's situation prompted my mentor, Mansell Pattison, to ask me to contribute a chapter to a book he was writing, The Experience of Dying. He used this case and many others to illustrate that people have many trajectories of dying, and that only a few of them fit Elizabeth's model.
The stages myth also completely ignores the fact that crises are like dominoes. As in Ron's case, one crisis creates another crisis, and so on. Even the dying aren't confronted with only one crisis. They're losing everything.
Besides, what does the experience of dying have to do with the crises of people who aren't dying? If we stop our grieving with "acceptance," we've only come half-way. We need to continue to heal to rebuild our lives and revive our dreams.
An earlier myth was contributed by Freud in his 1917 book, Mourning and Melancholia. He noted correctly that grieving is a normal adaptation to loss, and that it requires hard work and a substantial amount of time. He also pointed out that it's necessary to persistently confront grieving persons with their lossto rub their noses in it, so to speak. Turns out, this is very good advice, as I discovered on my own several years before I went into psychiatry.
In the 60s, I was in Seattle, taking a post-doc in biophysics at the University of Washington. My friend, Al, and his wife Marge had two wonderful boys, about 3 and 5. I loved to watch those kids playing and laughing.
One night, the phone jangled me from a deep sleep at about 2 am. Al said, "Don, come over right now. Something happened." Then he hung upbefore I could get my bearings, much less ask what happened.
I jumped into my clothes and ran to the car. On the way to Al's house, I tried to make sense of his call. Maybe one of his kids is sick, I thought. Maybe one of them died. Maybe both of them. Accident? Fire?
By the time I stopped in front of his house, I was in a frenzy. I ran to the door and knocked. Al opened the door, and said solemnly, "Marge left me."
"Oh!" I shouted, "that's all!"
He invited me into the house, anyway, and we talked for a couple of hours.
A few months later, after Al got his life organized again, he told me, "When you said 'That's all,' it was the most helpful thing anyone ever said to me."
There's an important lesson in this sort of rubbing noses, and we'll return to it later. Let's look at Freud's theory of grieving first, because his myth is the most orthodox.
Freud asserted that we are connected to our loved ones by emotional attachments and that grieving consists of severing these attachments. He didn't explain the nature of these mythical attachments, though. More importantly, he overlooked the fact that we don't detach from our loved ones when they die. For instance, I'm still emotionally attached to my son, Scott, and he died 16 years ago. And this doesn't mean I didn't grieve successfully.
Elmer Green also observed this in his book, The Ozawkie Book of the Dead. He described how he and Alyce remained spiritually attached during her struggle with Alzheimer's, then after she died. We'll return later to Elmer's experiences with Alyce to see that, even though he believed a spiritual theory, it wasn't helpful, either.
Freud and many others also fail to mention how to cope with crises that aren't losses of loved ones. That's because they don't have a general theory of coping.
Shortly, I'll give you my theorya new myththat explains what happens when we cope with all kinds of crises. But I'd be letting you down if I didn't outline a few practical points on how to help your friends, clientsand even yourselves.
Nature provides us with the ability to heal after crises, but our prophets and theorists have taught us to ignore Nature's ways. So the first thing we can do is to identify the artificial obstacles to healing that we must overcome.
There are two main impediments to healing: anger and guilt. Our prophets teach us that we shouldn't be angry, but it's okay to feel guilty. As a result, in times of crisis, we learn to swallow anger and wallow in guilt. Bad ideas.
Nature gives us anger as the first and most important emotion of grief. In fact, we experience anger every time we encounter a problem. It's one of the most valuable attributes Nature gives us because it gives us the emotional energy to solve the problem that caused it. We can see how this works in our everyday lives under conditions when our culture tells us it's okay to be angry.
Say that you and a companion are driving to a friend's house for dinner. The road is smooth, the engine is humming quietly, the temperature is just right, and the conversation is congenial. All is right with the world.
Now imagine that your companion says he'll give you fifty dollars if you stop the car, get out, remove the contents of the trunk, and mess up your clothes to change a tire. You simply wouldn't do it, even for fifty bucks.
Suddenly, you hear a loud pop and the car swerves dangerously. You know immediately you've had a blowout. It's a problem, and you feel angry. Now, how do you feel about getting out of your comfortable car and changing the tire? You don't like it, of course, but you do it, and you do it with gusto. Angrily. Your anger has enabled you to dofor freewhat you wouldn't have done for money. You've solved a problem.
But would you just as easily tap your anger to energize you if a loved one died? If you're lucky in what your parents taught you, you would, but if you're afraid of looking ugly, like a "terrible two," it's likely you'll hide your anger from othersand from yourself.
Of course, we don't go through a reasoning process to deal with our anger. Instead, we rely on our unconscious mental habit of repression to automatically make it "go away."
The problem is, repressed anger doesn't go away. Its emotional energy churns on, turning against us and making us sick. Chronic depression, rheumatoid arthritis, hypertension, skin rashes, Crohn's disease, and asthma are just a few of the conditions that are rooted in repressed anger.
The idea is, if your client is blocking his or her grieving by suppressing anger, you can help by using any means at your disposal to get them to recognize itand use it. A clue to this is that your client will avoid saying anything that might suggest anger, but the anger makes itself known in non-verbal ways-for instance, with a sense of hopelessness and helplessness.
My friend Katie's story in my book illustrates the process. I knew Katie as a warm, giving person with stable emotions. So when she came to me for counseling mute and in tears, I guessed that she'd been raped. I'll read from the book:
Three times Katie started to raise her head to speak, but each time she quickly retreated. I could see that her eyes were swollen and red, and her face was distorted and curiously pale. I hurt for her.
I wanted to hug her, to comfort her, but I sensed that giving in to that impulse would only comfort me. So I waited.
Several tense minutes passed before she pulled herself together enough to speak. Then, in a strangled voice, barely above a whisper, she said, "They fired me."
Weeping reclaimed her.
Fired? Katie? My image of Katie didn't allow for this possibility. She was too competent, too successful, too productive. I knew then why I'd guessed she had been raped. For her, losing her job was just as traumatic.
I was perplexed. Then I felt my own anger.
"You must be furious," I said.
She stopped sobbing instantly. She even stopped breathing for a moment. Finally, she looked at me through reddened eyes.
I'd made contact. I pressed forward, hoping to break through her defenseswhich weren't defending her at all, but were holding her hostage and torturing her.
I was her friend, but my experience with my own healing propelled me to confront her. "You must be furious," I repeated.
It was Katie's turn to be perplexed. Her glance at me expressed her surprise and disappointment. She had expected a gentler expressionan "I'm sorry" perhaps, or other words of sympathy.
Suddenly her eyes flashed and she hurled her words: "No! I'm not furious. I'm hurt!"
I was relieved. The spirited Katie was backthe Katie I knew. And her tone of voice betrayed that she was indeed angry. Finally, we could talk.
You can read how Katie used her anger to survive her crisisand thrivein my book.
A useful way to help people manage their anger is to recognize a harmful myth that is hidden in our language. We say, "I'm angry at" someone or something, as if anger has a direction. This belief makes us reluctant to acknowledge our anger for fear of starting a fight with that someone. But understanding our language helps us get out of this semantic trap.
Notice that we don't say, "I'm sad at..." or "I'm happy at..." or "I'm afraid at...." Instead, we say, "I'm sad because..." or "I'm happy because..." or "I'm afraid because...." In fact, none of our four emotionsanger, fear, sadness, and joyhas a direction. That's why we should learn to say, "I'm angry because...." If we make this a new habit, it's much easier to acknowledge our anger because we know we won't be picking a fight, and we won't feel guilty.
A second way to help people manage their anger is the fact that anger always starts with a problem. Knowing this can help people expressing their anger to others.
This is from my book:
Many people will misinterpret your statement, "I'm angry," to mean that you are attacking them. Avoid this misunderstanding by changing the focus. Express your anger with the statement: "I have a problem." Others will know intuitively that you are angry, but they'll also know that you're not attacking them. At least, most people will.
Beyond telling others that you are angry, an additional benefit derives from telling them that you have a problem. Most people care enough about otherseven strangersthat they will want to help you with your problem. Provided, of course, they are assured that you are not attacking them.
For example, imagine a conversation between Marty, who is angry, and Chris.
"I have a problem," says Marty.
"What is it?"
"My foot hurts."
"Because you're standing on it."
As soon as she hears this, Chris immediately apologizes, of course, and moves her foot. Neither friend loses anything in this interchange. Indeed, each of them gains from it.
I'll not belabor this topic any further here, but you can read more in Chapter 3 of my book: "Using Your Anger to Heal."
The second obstacle to healing is inappropriate guilt, which is nearly universal when a crisis looms. With a little imagination, we can find all sorts of reasons we brought it on ourselves, and we generally do. Though most of this guilt is bogus, it interferes with our healing.
Of course, if you murdered someone, guilt would be entirely appropriatenot that it would bother murderers who go to court and declare they're "One thousand percent not guilty."
Guilt is a huge topic, so I'll just mention one aspect of it that you won't hear anywhere else. To read more on the subject, you can go to Chapter 5 of my book, "Mastering Guilt."
In the orthodox mythology, the conscience is a single, monolithic part of the mind, but it isn't. We have three consciences, and they're very different from one another.
As we grow and mature, our conscience changes substantially, with newer ideas overlaying older ones. By the time we reach adulthood, our conscience reflects three levels of maturity: primitive, empathic, and ethical.
Each of these levels corresponds to a distinct mental process: the primitive conscience to conditioning, the empathic conscience to emotional intuition, and the ethical conscience to reasoning.
It's important to recognize these three layers, because mastering inappropriate guilt depends on using the re-learning methods that correspond to each one.
The primitive conscience must be mastered by counter-conditioning, because reasoning doesn't reach it. This lowest level of conscience responds to behavior therapy, but not to talk therapy.
We acquire our primitive conscience as young children by a system of rewards and punishments for our behaviors. This level of conscience drives us to obey rules without thinkingwhether or not the rules are constructive. Blindly following rules is considered good behavior, so children who slavishly obey rules are called "good" or "moral" children. Thus, the primitive conscience corresponds to morality.
People who advise us to let our conscience be our guide, or who defend their own actions as following their conscience, need to reflect on the nature of the primitive conscience. I'll read from Chapter 5:
The primitive conscience is not the collected wisdom of the ages. It is no more than the collection of the conditioned responses learned in childhood. Thus, the primitive conscience is intrinsically neither good nor bad. Yet, its contents can be either good or bad.
Because their primitive consciences are built by conditioning, conditioned children are the equivalents of programmed robots. Adolf Hitler knew this. He said, "Give me a child until he is six, and I will control him for the rest of his life."
Hitler intended to use the consciences of children, not for society's benefit, but for his own. He fostered guilt in the name of national integrity, just as many parents foster guilt in the name of the family's integrity. Children of such parents learn to feel guilt for reasons that reflect, not society's needs, but their parents' needs. Their parents lay guilt on them to enforce their own feelings, annoyances, or perversions. Because abused children learn antisocial guilt, they are likely to grow up to abuse their own children. The "child-abuse" model exists in their conscience just as the "child-nurturing" model exists in the consciences of other parents. Obviously, this kind of guilt does not help society, and it hurts those burdened with it. Perversely, it is antisocial guilt.
Mark Twain's wonderful character, Huckleberry Finn, encountered his antisocial conscience after he helped his friend, Jim, a runaway slave. At first, Huck obeyed his conscience and criticized Jim for stealing himself from Miss Watson. Later, after reflecting on Jim's decency and humanity, Huck said,
I warn't feeling so brash as I was before, but kind of ornery, and humble, and to blame, somehowthough I hadn't done nothing. But that's always the way; it don't make no difference whether you do right or wrong, a person's conscience ain't got no sense, and just goes for him anyway. If I had a yaller dog that didn't know no more than a person's conscience does, I would pison him. It takes up more room than all the rest of a person's insides, and yet ain't no good, nohow.
Though Huck had been abused by his alcoholic father, he managed to overcome the consequences of his abuse by mastering his conscience with reasoning. Nonfictional abused children aren't as lucky; Mark Twain can't think for them.
Even sociopaths have a primitive conscience, which allows them to live successfully in prisonbut not on the outside. That's because they lack the empathic conscience. This layer of conscience develops as we learn to put ourselves in the shoes of the other person, and it allows us to treat others well without specific rules. Jesus addressed the empathic level with the general Golden Rule: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." This rule has been clarified with the qualification, "If you were in their shoes."
The empathic conscience is learned intuitively at an emotional level, but it can be reached with reasoning in many cases. For instance, you can ask a guilt-ridden client, "If your Uncle Chuck were alive, would he blame you for his alcoholism? Of course not. Why do you blame yourself, then."
The ethical conscience is the highest level of conscience we humans possess, because it depends entirely on reasoning. This is the level that operates in the absence of specific rules, but rules are often developed from the ethical conscience. Thus, ideally, the law is the progeny of ethics.
Many, many decisions on the world stage require the ethical conscience. For instance, the current debate about what to do about Saddam Hussein centers on ethics. What's the best course of action, given so many unknowns and so many lives at risk? It's not easy to answer this question, of course, because there are no rules to guide us.
Guilt that arises from the ethical conscience does not focus on breaking rules, but on mistakes. "I didn't think of that," or "I could have prevented this, if only I had...." In counseling clients, this type of guilt is likely to arise with professional people whose mistakes might have caused harm to someonefor instance, a physician who minimized the significance of a critical lab test.
Counseling such a physician with ethical reasoning might be helpful to a degree, but she knows that her overall great service to the community won't be considered if she is sued for malpractice. That's because the law is not an ethical system. It's a moral system based on rewards and punishmentsmainly the lattercorresponding to the primitive conscience.
The distinction between morals and ethics suggests a version of Gresham's Law: "Morals drives out ethics." I'll leave you to ponder what sort of world we could live in if ethics always superseded morals.
The problem with this wish is that we're born young, when we can be conditioned and before we can use reasoning. For reasoning to supersede conditioning, our species would have to be like that of Jonathan Winters' character, Mearth, on the TV show, "Mork and Mindy." When Mearth landed on this planet he was old, then he grew progressively younger.
This brings up my final point on guilt. Moral philosophers have long equated the terms morals and ethics, and even the Oxford English Dictionary defines ethical as "of or pertaining to morality." But this is a false myth. As we saw before, there are two, radically different ways of learning, and these lead to two, radically different types of behaviors. In short, moral behavior does not require reasoning, but ethical behavior does.
I think you see what I'm doing herecreeping ever closer to discussing theories and myths. I'll not apologize for this because that's what I do. I can't help it. I'm a theorist, and I create theories. Or, if you prefer, I'm a prophet and I create myths.
Previously, I pointed out that the prevailing myths about grieving don't address all sorts of crises because they don't pass the tests of observation or reasoning. Like other ad hoc theories produced by clinicians or experimentalists, they are far too narrow in scope to either be useful for navigating life, or to explain why it's important for people to do heavy learning to survive their crises and revive their dreams.
So here is a theory that overcomes these limitations. I quote from my book:
Our world-image is our mental image of the world; it is like a mental map that depicts the world as we imagine it to be. This map represents our self-image and everything else we perceive, including our relationships with each of our loved ones and other treasures.
Because we rely on our world-image to successfully navigate through life, we can safely chart our life-course only if it reliably represents the real world. And because the real world changes significantly with a crisis, we must update our mental maps to correspond to reality.
In short, the work of healing is like re-making a map. Map-making requires attention to reality, so we must use our mental skills of reasoning and reality testing. That's why we can't heal if we try to cope with our losses by using denial or other mental habits that distort reality.
With this theory in mind, we can now explain some of the commonly used terms. For instance, bonding with another person is incorporating that person into our world-image. That way, the loved one becomes a part of us, just as our arms and legs are part of us. Note that the word us refers to the self-image included in our world-image.
Again from the book:
Because we are able to bond, we can experience intimacy by mentally blending another person into our self-image. This produces the wonderful feeling of love. However, love does not generate wonderful feelings when we lose that person. Wrenching one of these parts from our self-image is as painful as tearing off an arm or leg.
In short, when the outside world changes, but our world-image doesn't change, we are left in an uncomfortable limbo that's expressed by our preoccupation with the change. And the preoccupation doesn't subside until we've redrawn our world-image to correspond to the real world.
A tangible example of the world-image after a loss is the "phantom limb phenomenon." Normally, people who lose a limb to amputation continue to "feel" their limb after it is gone. This phenomenon seems mysterious: The question is, "How can we feel a part of our body that isn't even there?" Neurological theories have been tested and found wantingfor instance that the severed nerve endings are constantly stimulated.
The mystery is solved by explaining phantom limbs in terms of the body-image. Amputees perceive, not their real body, but their body-imagetheir mental map of their body. That is, rather than believing their senses of sight and touch, they read and believe their mental map, which still contains the limb. This perceived image is the phantom.
Phantom limbs normally fade in a few days or weeks, but a few amputees continue to experience pain in their phantom limb long after their real limb is amputated. Almost always, the pain resembles the pain they had experienced before the operationthe pain associated with the injury or disease that forced the amputation. Now the mystery is, "Why doesn't the phantom disappear?"
The answer is straightforward: "Because the amputees have blocked their healing." They redraw their body-image, not to erase the limb, but to include the pain. Indeed, many people who suffer phantom pain say they have "learned to live with the pain." This common expression is unfortunate, because it reinforces the pain, making it chronic.
The bottom line is, helping people cope with their crisis by re-mapping their world-image removes their phantom pain. So it is with coping will all sorts of crises.
Now let's return to Elmer Green's experience. About six months after Alyce died, he wrote in his journal:
... nostalgia is hindering me. Theoretically, I should rise above Alyce's physical absence, and feel the closeness of our minds as always, but for some hazy reason, which I've tried to pin down but can't identify, that isn't the case....
"Theoretically," he said. What theory was that? It was certainly a spiritual theory because it depicted the mental attachment that bound him and Alyce together. The problem is, it is too spiritual. It didn't take into account the importance of her physical presence.
Let's apply the "world-image" theory to his experience and see if it doesn't pin down the reason for his nostalgia. While Alyce was "alive" in the usual sense, Elmer's world-image contained her into two places: first, she was "out there" as a physical person, and second, she was "in here" as a part of his self-image.
As her physical body slowly deteriorated with Alzheimer's, Elmer remapped the "out there" part of his world-image to accurately depict it. That's why he was able to be her primary care-giver.
His "in here" part didn't need to change, though. He and Alyce were still in love, still intimate, still communicating.
When Alyce's body died, the "in here" part of Elmer's world-image didn't need to change, but the "out there" part did need to. The problem was, he didn't redraw it. The physical Alyce had disappeared from the real world, but not from Elmer's world-image. Her physical presence was still therea phantom Alyce. That's why nostalgias hindered him.
Now let's return to the paradigm shift we all wish for. I know that practitioners are only marginally interested in theories, but I hope my discussion of coping has emphasized their importance in one context.
Very few people even know what theories are, much less understand them. That's why the word theory is often trivialized with the prefix "justa." For instance, in the recent debate in Kansas over teaching evolution in public schools, creationists call evolution "justa-theory."
Well, what about creationism itself? What about "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." Is this a fact? No, it's justa-theory, too. Or, if you prefer, it's a justa-myth.
It's important to realize that many of the evolutionists who argue these points are just as ignorant about theories as the creationists. They assert that evolution is a "scientific" fact. But it isn't. Evolution is just as mythical as the creation myth.
So, are theories trivial? Should we, as practitioners, be interested in them? What's practical about theories?
Here are four answers to these questions:
First, without a theory, we couldn't interpret any of our experiences.
Second, everything we "know," or think we know, is actually theory.
Third, if our clients don't believe in our theories, our methods won't work.
And fourth, theories and myths create our cultures.
I'd say that if our ability to interpret our experiences, the basis of our knowledge, the effectiveness of our work, and our cultural underpinnings aren't "practical," then nothing is!
The general ignorance about theories and theorists apply equally to myths and prophets. Prophets and theorists are regarded as weird peoplemaybe even intergalactic aliens.
Theorists and prophets also know they are weird. They, too, sometimes wonder about their own humanity. In the first chapter of my novel, The Last Miracle, Paul was walking among the redwoods:
As he often did during these walks, [Paul] created a surreal mindscape by entering a trance-like state. Alternating shadows and evening light filtered through the trees, nullifying his vision. Melodious currents of the river and soothing aromas from the mist-dampened redwoods captured his other senses.
As he contemplated the natural political behavior of humansthe subject of his new bookhis thoughts were unexpectedly interrupted. Was I meant for a set of parents in some remote world? Was I abandoned accidentally on this planet? Though this was a recurring musing, something else happened this time, something distinctly outside his mind. From behind him, a calm voice said, "You were. In a way."
"What?" Paul shouted, whirling to see the source of the voice. He saw a man who looked curiously like himself, about fifty years old, six feet tall, soft featured, with lively dark blue eyes. Dressed in blue jeans, plaid shirt, green wind-breaker, and sneakers, he stood about eight feet away, casually smoking a pipe, its smoke wafting gently toward Paul. Paul thought he saw a mirror image, but inexplicably an image of someone else. He was bewildered.
"You were left here. But not accidentally."
The stranger's tone of voice was reassuring, but his presence was not. Paul had not heard him approach, even though it wasn't possible to walk silently upon the small stones and forest detritus. Besides, he had never before encountered another person in this part of the forest during his evening walks. And nowhere, at any time, had he confronted anyone who could read his thoughts.
That's how Paul met Mariner, a vastly superhuman entity that ultimately introduced him to enformy.
Did I mean, in my novel, that theories are revealed by superhuman entitiesangels, or even gods? No. I only meant that theorists don't know where their theories come from.
Paul is a fictional example of how theorists are alienated. Here's what another theorist said about the alienation of theorists a couple of thousand years ago:
Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house, is a prophet without honor.
That was Jesus, of course, and even though he spoke of his own family, he could have meant by "hometown," Earth, and by "relatives," our extended family.
ISSSEEM is our extended family. ISSSEEM is founded on the myth of "subtle energy," which I've criticized as useless because it's a pole, not a tent.
However, since ISSSEEM is commited to its world-view, and since the threat of changing our world-view reminds us of the hard work of coping, my criticisms of it are taken as heresya crime once punishable by death.
I'm not alone. A couple of weeks ago, I asked Larry Dossey if he would join Berney and me to present a panel to ISSSEEM emphasizing the need for a new mythologya paradigm shift. I asked Larry because, a decade ago, he had written two papers in ISSSEEM's journal that pointed out that the "energy" myth is false because it doesn't allow for non-local healing. Here's his answer:
I am grateful to be asked to be on an ISSSEEM panel as you describe. But over the years I have ranted and harangued ISSSEEM audiences that, quite frankly, I'm rather tired of it and am not too keen on repeated my performances there. I'm like a broken record there. I always feel like an alien, railing against their misuse of "energy," which is in the name of their organization twice. Some of them actually interpret my comments as a personal attack.
I understand Larry's frustration. Often, I've thrown up my hands and said, "To hell with it. I don't care. Someday, the paradigm shift will happen, anyway. It doesn't need me."
But, here I am tonight, in my hometown, preaching a new mythology to my family. Maybe I'll be without honor, and maybe not. But, as I said before, I'm a theorist, and this is what I do. So please bear with me. Even if you must grieve, it'll be worth it. You can survive your "subtle energy" crisis and revive your dreams of universal acceptance of your work.
I think the work of coping is best done within ISSSEEM, because it welcomes the healing cults based on Reiki, meridians, angels, chakras, kabbala, spino-sacral principles, and so forth. Isn't ISSSEEM the logical place where all these gods could be replaced by a single godone that would show that all of our healing modalities are actually one modality?
Well, I wasn't born yesterday. I know that the priests of these cults, just as in Akhenaten's time, owe their livelihoods, prestige, and identities to their mythologies. I don't expect them to give up their perquisites for a new religion.
Yet, I also know that the practitioners working within these cults want to help as many people as they can. They are hungry for respect within the world communityand that respect will come only with a scientific revolution and paradigm shift. That's why I'm hoping that healers and the members of ISSSEEM will be in the forefront of this revolution.
But, you ask, can I offer a mythology that, like Moses' mythology, is general enough to bring all of our cults together into a major religion?
I think I can. It's based on the idea of health as wholeness. Wholeness requires organization, and the Theory of Enformed Systems (TES) is a theory of organization. It explains, not only every type of healing, but life itself, consciousness, psi, and a host of other paranormal phenomena. It also explains creation and the evolution of species.
You can thank me for sparing you the details of the theory here. Instead, I'll simply say that the term "energy" must be replaced with "enformy" because enformy is the origin of organization. Thus ISSSEEM might someday change its name to ISSESEM. It takes only one shift of characters to acronym the International Society for the Study of Enformed Systems and Enformy Medicine. But I'll not hold my breath waiting for this.
So I beg of you, join the revolution! It's not hard. Just stop using the word energy to describe your work, and start using enformy. You'll see how easy it is when you remind yourself that enformy contains the word form. That is, enformy organizes; it forms things. Energy doesn't.
So if all you do is to warm people with energy, you could be replaced by a heating lamp. But that isn't all you do. Your work is all about organizing, making people whole. And that requires enformy!
Thank you for not burning me at the stake. Questions or comments?