An article by Paul
As I begin writing this piece, I want to start with some guidelines that describe the intent of what I will say and why I am exploring it. First of all, this is not a piece in which I will debate the deeper meanings contained in the many writings of the Christian traditions. Instead, I want to look at the way that how I think and respond to life was and still is a product of a fairly common and widespread (mis)interpretation of the Christian teaching that was planted in me at a very early age.
I will describe how being brainwashed in this manner continues to influence my conscious, and especially unconscious, thought patterns to this day, even though long ago, as a teenager, I turned away from Christian belief concepts as any kind of viable understanding of truth or reality. In addition, I do not claim any level of expertise in child development psychology that might “easily” explain what developmental disorder of which I was a victim. I am simply hoping to share a personal exploration of a process that, with the assistance of my wonderful life partner, Angelika, has allowed me to uncover an amazing network of old conditioned, and ultimately, life draining and destructive thought patterns.
Recently, Angelika and I have been working with some valuable writings by the author, John Welwood. Mr. Welwood has outlined a new model for the role of relationship in our spiritual development and has shown how some practical exercises of careful examination of our inner thoughts and especially the body’s felt reactions to them can point to blockages to the natural flow of the spiritual layer to which many of today’s spiritual teachers, notably Eckhart Tolle, have pointed. Angelika has herself written several pieces here on this blog that describe Welwood’s work in greater detail which I recommend reading.
Being with a partner like Geli, who is so deeply spiritually involved and aligned with these processes already, can easily help me to sense when I am blocked, both intellectually and especially emotionally, by unconscious fearful thought remnants that have their origin deep in the earliest time of my childhood. For someone like me, it has been challenging to come to terms with undergoing a process of uncovering these past shadows that consequently shaped my entire life. I struggled with the notion that these early thoughts, feelings and experiences could still be seen now after so many years, let alone be uncovered and felt again, or “refelt.” As Geli would also point out to me, in an ever so gentle, yet persistent way, was that I was resisting the very idea that doing this would do any good at all.
But the beauty of entering into a true self-exploration with the loving care of another sensitive being is that the ordinary experiences of everyday living can easily bring up matters that point to some of the most core spiritual issues. Such was the case for me.
Here is a simple illustrative example. I am a band director for an urban American high school district in Grand Rapids, Michigan. A couple days ago, a simple problem came up in the course of my teaching day. An incident arose where there was a student who was not happy about the way we had arranged the band students into groups in order to distribute free school instruments for those who needed them. This student was unhappy because according to her, the grouping implied that a separation was being made that suggested that there was an elite group of students, a group into which she herself had not been placed. Consequently, this student later reported her unhappiness with this event to her mother, who then proceeded to contact one of the top administrators in the school district. From there, it did not take long for this “problem” to travel from one administrator to the next, and finally to me. I was directed, with a very intense level of concern from my own supervisor, to immediately call the parent and explain what had happened and “get this taken care of.” When speaking with my colleagues, they all agreed that the reason we divided the group made perfect sense from a tactical viewpoint, and that things should clear up once it was explained to the complaining parent.
The surface matter of this issue was readily resolved, but the useful insight that came out of this experience was something that was quite unexpected. I realized later when I looked at what was happening in me as I responded to this incident on the inside was that there was another reverberation, or echo, of a pattern that began in me very long ago. Ultimately, this “inner voice” was a conditioned thought/emotion/fear response in me that goes back to my childhood. Specifically, it stems from the way in which both my mother and grandmother repeatedly planted deep seeds of Christian notions, and most importantly, fears and feelings of guilt that still manage to survive and arise to the surface in me, usually without a conscious awareness that they are still happening.
So, how did I come to realize that my reaction to the recent simple event that took place at school can be traced all the way back to my days as a young child? I see the connection, the pattern, by looking at many other painful life experiences and feeling the quality of fear and almost panic that arises in each and every episode as I remember them now, that I realize that there is always a common denominator at work in me, which is, a very deep unconscious fear of all of the “bad things” that I was taught as a young child would happen to me if I did not give myself to the Christian beliefs and way of living. This way of living ultimately included behaving in a manner that my parents, but especially my mother, instilled in me over and over. No matter what I did, I had an “inner judge” who constantly reminded me of the way that I should behave, and more importantly, think and feel.
The Christian doctrine, as it was pushed and programmed into me, told me that I had to always maintain the thought, the idea, the belief that Jesus is God. Just that. Jesus is God. Over and over again…
Why? Why did I have to believe this? Because, my caretakers, again my mother and grandmother, both convinced my 4-5 year old mind, that without this belief, I was in REAL trouble, i.e., I would wind up tortured in hell after I died. I became morbidly afraid of this hell, whatever it was.
Therefore, as I got older, I did all I could to be a “good boy,” and please everyone. On the outside, this was not too hard for me especially. I found it easy to usually act in the way that seemed to fit what they wanted. But, on the inside, it was much harder to live with the inner turmoil. This God who was going to decide if I needed to join the population of hell at the end of my life had the unfortunate ability to KNOW whatever I was thinking. I could not lie to him, or trick him or do something I wanted when he was not looking at me. The damned guy knew it all, and in today’s parlance, that really sucked! So, no matter what I did as a child, there was always a sense in me that someone was watching everything I did, and felt and thought!
To my young mind, my parents became the ones that I thought were the closest thing to this god, and to me, they were blurred in my mind with the same emotional and judgmental qualities that the “real” god had. Imagine that as a mother or father that your child thought that you basically are god! I am sure some parents would think that this would be great, since the behavior of the child would be so easy to control. But for me as the child, I was turned into a helpless, fearful prisoner. I was never abused physically to my knowledge, but this manipulation of my entire inner state was a very different, but also very real sort of abuse. I became one who could be easily controlled by others, because in any crisis situation that came up then or in the rest of my life, I have always felt this underlying fear that anything that went wrong in my life was a confirmation of the (Christian) belief that I was ultimately going to be judged and damned by god. I have endlessly rerun the old mental program in me that says that whenever anything does not go how it should in my life, that it is the worthless “me” that is bringing it about. Of course, if I believed in Jesus, I would be “saved” from of this.
Saved? Saved from what? Myself – i.e., the miserable cut-off-being who deserves all of the bad things that happen to him because of what “I am” – namely, a Christian Sinner.
As a teenager, I was lucky enough to realize that something about this myth was just not right. I began to read books about Oriental spirituality with topics like Hinduism, Yoga, Zen and Buddhism. I studied haiku, Alan Watts, Krishnamurti, etc. This was all in addition to studying to become a “serious” musician and music teacher. But the problem was, or shall I say, IS, that intellectual understanding was not enough for me to break free of the core fears and conditionings in myself.
It is easy for someone like me to get lost in “spiritual matters” and bypass looking at these painful experiences of my early and current life situation. There are wonderful spiritual experiences that people report, and some even make wonderful careers out of dealing with them, and I am sure they do much good for others. There are times when I think it would be “nice” to get lost in this spiritual state, but in the end, I realize I must face EVERYTHING that is real in my life in the same spirit that Adyashanti puts it when he suggests considering “I want to see it All.” And this seeing it all is not some lofty state of an elite spiritual reverie. Well, it is not for me anyway. I need to stay with, look at, feel, and relive that moment in my life when my grandmother put me into a near trance and taught me about heaven and hell. But most importantly, I need to re-feel/relive/remember how she and my mother took my precious sense of real life away from me and replaced it with the terrifying view of the Christian doctrine, and most importantly, a life-deprived view of myself. The Christian vision of heaven is what became for me the source of hell throughout my life.
How do I find my way out of this trap?
This is the point I have reached now. It is like surviving a crash landing, but at least being able to step out of the wreckage, thankful to still be in one piece. If there is some truth to the notion that the answer to questions like these lie in the question itself, then this examination will have been quite helpful. John Welwood, Eckhart Tolle, Krishnamurti and so many others advise us to stay right where we are and be with it, that is, be with “What Is.” I must stay with this pain and not turn away. Eckhart says he wants to point out that we already “have” the treasure we seek, we just do not know where to look. For me, it is NOT whether or not I “believe” in Jesus, but rather that I must see the much deeper trap that this doctrine created in me.
What do I continue to tell myself when something “goes wrong?”
The body is the key to the connection to the conditioned unconscious mind patterns that endlessly come back to me, especially in stressful conditions and situations. Inwardly, I become the child over and over again, but use my adult mind as a weapon while continuing to function from this child-like view and fear of the world. When the pain, fear and withdrawal from the world wishes to take over in me, I can now sense in the body that this is what is happening. When I return to face this fear, I return to the true intelligent self that is there, and has always been there all along.
In my relationship with a truly wonderful woman, Angelika, I see that life is something real, and not just the result of an ancient belief pattern. Life and love is what arises between us when fear melts in the light of conscious attention and awareness. Living begins when thoughts and doctrines cease to be. I cannot push these thoughts and fears out of me, because that would simply be another manifestation of them, and the ego that produces them. Rather, in the seeing and especially feeling of these painful responses to life lies the path to freedom.
And this freedom is a freedom to live and love.