Tag Archives: Trauma

What a Concept?

About a decade ago I was in my friend Michael’s apartment when we were having a discussion about what might be “real” and he said, “Russia doesn’t exist.”

As I pondered this he continued, “If you fly over a large land mass in Eurasia and look down you see a bunch of land.  The fact that we consider it Russia is simply agreed upon by many humans.”

And he said humans and homo sapiens don’t exist outside of human understanding.

In today’s context I would cite the many speeches given by politicians that proclaim “America is an idea” – exactly right, and we now know that the idea originally was that an American was a male property owner – sometimes with slaves.”

The slavery concept, of course, needed to be enforced with power and those who were its objects might not have known the word “slave” but they knew exactly what their reality was day to day.

Right now the concept of the “Dollar” is under assault by foreign governments and entities that want to substitute their own idea of something that can concretely represent value – cypto, digital currency, anything that would also reduce the power of the current concept of “America.”

But the concept of the dollar remains pretty strong for the moment, although the ability to move conceptual dollars electronically has created many problems and now threatens its stature because if the world completely grasps that the dollar is just an agreement – it’s time might be limited.

All concepts as actually implicit or explicit agreements among a collective sharing a common language and consciousness.

Big problems arise when these concepts evolve – for example many immigrants came to America because they believed in its concepts – but group after group like the Irish and Italians, before the current African Americans and Asians – discovered that those that were already here did not actually think that the newcomers were American.

Problems with more significant concepts like Justice and Truth.

Each group had to learn and adapt to the collective agreements about these subjects, and sometimes they were enforced by a government which had been agreed to – and sometimes they were decided in other ways, often violent.

Well are all concepts just agreements and ultimately meaningless?

Science (another concept) actually suggests that no, with systematic analysis and experiments we can know certain truths.

Mathematics seems to ratify this with “constants” like Pi and finite measurement of seemingly solid objects.

But you could show the numeric sequence of Pi, or the human symbol, to alien and it would mean nothing until you and the alien agreed on the values for those symbols.

And it turns out that a big part of the usefulness of concepts to measure and perhaps understand what seems to be real is good faith.  The humans using the concepts have to agree that what they’ve agreed upon still stands.  Alternatively, the concept of fraud arises.

While neuroscience strongly suggests that concepts are electrical signals in the brain, upon deeper investigation those ideas are once again – just more concepts.

We use the word “mind” conceptualize how ideas and words arise, and many believe that they are the products of independent sentient beings – again in their brain.

If we try to define precisely what we mean by mind it gets sticky

Where exactly is the “here” that arises in the mind?  Is it somewhere amid the conceptual lines of longitude and latitude that we have conceptually overlaid on the planet we seem to inhabit?

Philosopher Ken Wilber coined the concept of two different realms of Mind – he called them Big Mind and Little Mind.

Little Mind seems to be the independent self that concepts convince us that we are – separate from “everything else” and with an interesting concept that we call free will.

Big Mind is what we might call a Metaphysical concept and refers to the presence of an intelligence beyond our brains and physicality that is infinite and without limits or separation.

This is presumably where the current concept of nonduality in philosophy comes in – plainly what happens with ideas or concepts is the arising of a “thinker” who seems to be separate from everything else – particularly the objects of thought.  There seems to be, especially within the structure of the language we use to articulate concepts a subject and an object to reality.

But is there really?  Can you find the subject that seems to be “you”?  Is it behind your eyes, or in the brain with the “neurons”?  We now know that there are neurons elsewhere in the body – like the gut and even the heart.

So theoretically if the concept of gratitude somehow arises – it might literally be happening in the heart – or even the gut.

And of course, it would appear that we being “organic” creatures that something like gratitude would be biochemical reaction or electricity of some sort?  That’s what neuroscience might suggest.

I’ve had a lot of time to think about these issues because I’m not working and have been recovering from a brain injury.

In my recovery I’ve become familiar with the work of a psychologist specializing in trauma – Dr. Gabor Mate – who has a new book which I have not read.

But I’ve watched a lot of Dr. Mate’s videos and I love the title of the book:  “The Myth of Normal.”

I love the title because in the course of my recovery very little has caused me as much anguish as the concept of “normal.”

As I connect to physical sensations that cause discomfort I can connect many of them to notions what I have been conditioned to believe is “normal” – or the way things “should” be.

It has been mainly by questioning all of these concepts and seeing them as agreement rather than facts or absolute truths, that I have been able to lessen their hold on me, and with it the power of what I think Wilber calls Small Mind and others call the Ego.

This would be the repository of concepts and beliefs with which I was socialized – first by my parents and then by society and peers – beginning with the concept of my name as “me.”

But when the Greeks suggested at Delphi that one should “know thyself” they wouldn’t have taken one’s name as the actual self.  They were going much much deeper.

Maybe what we are – and I believe Jesus said, “You are the truth” – perhaps we are Big Mind fooling itself with the dream of Small Mind while the life force animates our organism.

Can we wake up from this dream?  Maybe but we’d have to be sure we weren’t attached to another concept.

How It Seems to Me

I first encountered antisemitism in the womb.

How is that? Well, my mother was a Holocaust survivor and had a very brutal time under the Nazis.  Such trauma apparently affects the fetus.

Trauma is a very hot topic these days.  I first had it demonstrated to me by a wonderful neuropsychologist who was herself a child of a survivor; in fact, it was the main reason I chose to work with her.

I had had a breakdown. Looking back, I would say I was flooded with emotions that I could not handle. I had stopped taking Prozac and stopped smoking weed and broken up with a woman of great heart – but I had little experience with the heart and I felt our minds were too often in conflict – and I crashed.

My ex-girlfriend recommended the therapist and one day I remember a session where I was having an intense sensation in my gut and she encouraged me to see if any feelings came up around it, and I suddenly recounted one of my mother’s most horrific experiences which she had shared with me about her time under the Nazis.

As I told the story of her time at Auschwitz I was overcome with grief and rage, and I began to sob and instead of handing me a tissue the therapist encouraged me to deeply feel the pain I had blocked until then.

The sobbing continued, and then subsided, and I breathed and noticed – I was still there.

She pointed out that the sun had come out.

I wasn’t “cured” – because that is a concept and not a reality.  Thoughts, sensations and emotions were going to continue – but I had begun to deeply notice what they actually felt like instead of blocking them.

In the course of my story, I had related that when my mother was selected to work and survive at Auschwitz, she had tried to go to the other line to follow her parents but was slapped by an SS officer and made to go on the line she had tried to avoid.  The line that saved her life.

Existentialism 101.  Had she gone on the other line I would not be writing this.

When the Nazi hit her, my mother’s glasses flew off her face and shattered.

She stumbled forward numbly on the other line and ended up in a barracks of hard wooden bunks, nothing else, with several other traumatized women, in the dark.

Besides having been separated from her parents, my mother knew  that without the glasses she could not function, and she had been chosen to work.  How could she work without her glasses?

At that moment she felt around in the darkness of the bunk and found, and old abandoned pair of eyeglasses, held together by string. I told the therapist that she had kept those glasses and survived with them until the Americans liberated her from another labor camp.

The therapist gasped and clutched at her chest.  She told me that when she had taken her daughter to Auschwitz a few years earlier she had moved some dirt aside with her shoe and found a pair of broken eyeglasses.

It was around that time that the sun came out.

Introspection Deepens

From that time in particular, I began to deeply explore the complex of conditioned stories and belief that had shaped my attitudes up until then – and could trigger a response in my gut or chest.

I had known of my parents’ experiences growing up, and it wasn’t a pleasant education but they wanted me to have no illusions about what the world was like (according to them). 

They ended up retiring in La Jolla and truly enjoyed their final years.  I grateful to have my brilliant father until he turned 86, and most of what he told me about life has borne true – sometimes to my own detriment.

But, I led a pretty charmed and as they now say, privileged life.  My father who had left Prague with two suitcases had become the treasurer of a large travel agency – which I later joined as a trip director.

I was five years old when we arrived in New York after having been born in Vienna to a woman who had been liberated from the camps just four years earlier.  Confused but a survivor, she met and married my father in Prague after the war.

Growing up in a middle class neighborhood in Queens I had everything I needed and felt very loved and secure as an only child of two monumentally intelligent European immigrants.  But of course, looking back I have come to see how growing up on my own in such changing circumstances must have felt, and I do remember a bit of what it took to live up to my parents’ standards.

I had only one incident of prejudice.  We had a Catholic school across the street and one day I was playing ball in a nearby lot and two young girls started throwing rocks at me and told me that I had killed Jesus.  They were just little girls and rocks were pebbles but when I told my mother, she was furious and went over to the Catholic school to have a word with them.

I grew up with no other experience of racism except at college, where I joined a fraternity where all sorts of slurs were used constantly in jock talk that would be found very offensive today.  From today’s perspective it was a pit of toxic masculinity – but of course I was pleased to be accepted.

And that is really the incredible thing – how the entire ethos of what is and is not acceptable in society has come full circle.  What my parents had suffered through was once again on the horizon and the way it became most apparent was in attitudes that were suddenly permissible towards gays, women and people of color – sometimes with frightening results.

We Believed in Progress

In the halcyon days, and the hippie years after college, we all assumed (the college educated elite that had jobs, families or careers) and were comfortable, that society was a story of progress.

We began to recognize the costs of our racism with the Civil Rights movement, and then the womens’ movement, we were on a seemingly clear path to a point, it seemed to us, when all barriers would be seen as artificial.  The notion of actual Oneness seemed less abstract and perhaps even achievable if not in our own lifetime.

We guiltily submerged our own troubling beliefs.  My parents had strong negative opinions of people they had not encountered in Europe – African Americans and Hispanics.

But I saw my father welcome and become friends with a Jamaican in his department, and later when they retired to Southern California my parents were typical liberals who saw the struggles of other people as very aligned with their own.

But what happened?

Out of the dystopian fantasies I had enjoyed watching as fan of science fiction and adventure emerged a reality that I had never comprehended.

Primordial Fears Resurface

It began the first time during 9-11 when I was in my fifties and my parents were gone, and I sensed that I could not count entirely on my world remaining as relatively stable as it had been.  America was suddenly not as invulnerable to planetary forces as it had been.  Maybe this was the other side of “Oneness.”

I was also aware of pollution and particularly what had become of the oceans but as my parents used to tell me “forget it” because I had no control over any of that.

So I followed their counsel to the best of my ability and created sort of a career in Los Angeles.  I was comfortable if not wildly successful – as I had tried to hard to be and I eventually moved to Las Vegas where I could afford to rent a house going into old age.

A freak accident led to a brain injury and surgery, and I struggled through a tough recovery.

My recovery accelerated when I became acquainted with the current trend in trauma work, epitomized by Dr. Gabor Mate and Scott Kiloby.

My brain injury had shaken my world even beyond the shock of Trump and imminent Fascism which I saw coming.

In order to make it through the day, in ways that I could not intellectually fathom. I had to put my rational side at rest and simply get through Life without any filters of “understanding.”

I got no answers to how I felt – which was exhausted and depressed upon waking up – from the medical community.  The surgery had drained the blood from my skull and then I was again on my own.

There were no helpful explanations.  I simply had to learn to accept and love the feelings and sensations again – rather than finding more ways to avoid them. The Robert Frost line – “the best way out is always through” – was relevant, and somehow after the pandemic and the election I started laughing again as I was able to notice the peculiarities of my conditioning from a more safe and impersonal space.

Rude Awakening

But the world I was recovering into was not the one I had left. It was turning even more obviously and dangerously into my parents’ world.

I had recognized the signs when Trump ran for President and insulted the Mexicans and of course as his campaign continued it was clear that he was familiar with and using the Hitler playbook.

I was often mocked as overly sensitive and deluded when I mentioned these things and then watched as they became worse throughout his administration, and he nominated a Supreme Court majority that threatened to remove all of the rights my parents had brought me to America to enjoy.

Now as I sit here and write this, we are a year and half into the next administration and Trump is still in Florida planning a return to power – and his Nazi and Christian Nationalist fans are not shy about proclaiming their hateful beliefs and threatening to destroy a fragile democracy.

How did this happen?

We live in an age of technological marvels. We are mapping the interior of the brain and the far side of the moon, and we have decoded our own biological operating system of DNA in ways that allow us to edit the genome.

We can talk about economic issues and imbalances of wealth, but I think the genome holds the key to humanity’s future.  It is literally our organic operating system.

Our Perspective Now Encompasses a Higher Systematic Intelligence

We can only now understand a little of what this means because we have also created self-running symbolic programs that we call software.  Our computer software runs on a systematic use of symbols with clearly defined “properties” and “methods” – that is to say strict logical rules.

Francis Crick, one of the pioneers who discovered DNA, recognized that it was so advanced that he came up with the theory of trans spermia which suggested that life came from the galaxy to earth in the form of organic material on comets and asteroids that arrived with some early form of DNA, sparking evolution.

But wherever it came from, DNA which runs our bodies predates humanity.

If it is the product of an infinite or immense Intelligence – which it very much seems to be – how did it arise.  “Whose” intelligence does DNA express?

We can speculate about aliens but ultimately we might connect it to the notion of Stephen Hawking and Einstein – both of whom found the universe mysterious and amazing enough without a personal deity.

But most of humanity still lives according to the personal belief of a separate “self.”  It forms the basis for all of our misconceptions about one another and it would seem that a collective transcendence of this illusion of separation (the old “Oneness”) is the only way out of our current situation.

The need to vilify an “other” disappears when we lose our sense of separation from a whole that is unavoidable in its obvious reality.  Without words of our own projected reality like ‘clouds,’ ‘planets” or ‘sky’ what actual separation is there between these apparitions in our field of vision?  Without words they are all part of one indivisible reality of experience.

A Silent Universe

Ultimately all aspects of our separation arise from our beliefs and thoughts.  In the silent universe that preceded us there were no individuals or even species – just Life and energy.  And apparently DNA.

It is also interesting to speculate what another civilization, with an entirely different set of symbolic understanding might experience as reality.  Have other cultures lived in greater alignment with Nature, or is that just our romantic illusion?

If a clear understanding of how our own beliefs and thoughts shape our reality could be taught with critical thinking in school, and then used to describe and evaluate all beliefs on the basis of such a perspective, a truly just world of impersonal fairness could emerge.  Our cult-like prejudices could not survive discernment based on recognition of the difference between our own thoughts, and all of Existence that continues with or without “our” beliefs or participation.

A mass awakening could happen based upon the sudden understanding that comes from looking out from within our own tiny reality in the other direction – to the cosmos – where it becomes obvious that our minute existence is a brief interlude in an eternity we simply cannot comprehend.

Using the word “infinity” we convince ourselves that we have an understanding of the cosmos.  Do we?

We are not special.  Neither as individual organisms nor as a species.  We are just an ineffable part of ALL.  This can be a profound insight – that there is only the great Mystery of Life and that many our intellectual “explanations” of what happens are what the Big Leibowski said, “that’s just your opinion man.”

We Have No Idea of What We Do Not Know

Science has convinced us we are in control, but we find ourselves at the precipice of disaster if we don’t wake up to the reality that we don’t really know very much.

From a more humble perspective we can see the obvious deeply higher intelligence of Nature, which much our science has copied.  But with all our artificial intelligence and robots we will never create a bee that ‘knows’ what to do.

Only such humility as a species can now bring us to the next “Copernican” revolution, where each of us is not long the center of his or her own epic story that runs in our brain with concurrent commentary, but rather a participant in a Mystery that only grows deeper as we observe ourselves truthfully from our hearts and allow a universal energy to guide our actions.