According to the latest researches in cognitive science, we do what we do to survive because we have little choice in the matter. Gurdjieff was right and modern day psychological studies repeatedly demonstrate that he was a pioneer in the matter.
We are programmed, conditioned, set up to be targets in some celestial side-show. I knew from my experiences with hypnotherapy that few people ever have any deliberate intentions to hurt others, to create dramas in their lives that drive their loved ones away, or produce situations in which everyone is miserable, tragedies occur, and hearts are broken. Yet that was the state of the world. The “Noonday Devil” of stalking mundane evil was alive and well. We were all in its grip. (Of course, at the time all this was being written, I had not yet embarked on my studies in psychopathy, so the reader ought to take that into consideration.)
So when I saw Frank going through the dreadful experience he had created for himself, knowing the dreadful experiences I had created for myself, I had nothing but sympathy for him. I wanted to help him, to heal him, to make him whole. I realized that, more than anything, he needed someone who accepted him as he was, with all his unique talents and quirks and brilliance and very human foibles.
And that brings us back to the “family planet” as the environment in which we grow and evolve. We all have some idea of what a “normal” and “healthy” family is supposed to be. But really, has anybody ever seen such an entity?
According to researchers in child psychology, the ideal family is supposed to be the haven of support, where our personalities grow and develop the same way plants grow and develop in a garden. In our families, we are supposed to find a place of rest from emotional burdens, nurtured by its caring and loving members. In the ideal family, a child feels safety in sharing experiences and feelings and thoughts without having to be defensive. Ideally, the response will be open and accepting. The family, as the first and the most important source of identity and of emotional support, is a greenhouse where a child feels loved, accepted and secure.
We learn to share the tasks of the family, promoting its survival. The family responds to us with material sustenance. Here, we learn what is considered moral and acceptable. Here, we develop our mode of absorbing, processing and using information.
Psychological growth seems to be the result of a sort of dance, an interaction of inner nature with external environment. When the inner self reaches out to the environment and encounters an obstacle to its needs, desires, or will, growth may be arrested to some extent, or it may merely be “redirected”. This redirection may be similar to pruning a plant, or training a vine to grow where it ought to be, rather than running amok all over the ground. But it seems that, like trees, the human soul is “designed to grow” no matter what. A tree that is planted in suitable soil with the proper area for growth has the ability to grow straight and strong. If it receives adequate moisture and light, it will grow full and abundant. If it is properly pruned and trimmed when needed, it can be a thing of great beauty and usefulness to those seeking shade or birds needing homes.
But a tree that is planted in the wrong soil, with insufficient area for growth, with many obstacles to growth in the way such as barriers of concrete or overshadowing of other trees that block the light, or various restrictions on straight and healthy growth will still grow. Just as a tree can send out shoots that twist and turn around obstacles, ever-expanding, resulting in the crumbling destruction of the mightiest structures of mankind, so does the soul send its roots out into the soil of the Universe, and its branches out to seek the light, no matter how many obstacles are in place. And, just as a tree that encounters these obstacles to growth can be stunted or becomes twisted and distorted in its growth, so can human souls become deformed and ugly, or destructive and diseased.
This “force of growth” compels the individual to continue to grow in the face of an obstacle or “disturbance in the force,” and then the personality literally twists and turns, deforming itself, to reach functionality in the world. Psychological development follows the rule of all life: adaptation above all, growth at any price; straight or deformed. It seems the force of soul is stronger than any hindrance. Human beings develop personalities on the outside of their souls that are best suited to their needs for survival, based upon the fundamental constraints of childhood combined with their individual temperament. Such a person may be, indeed, abnormal.
But where there is life, there is hope.
We can go in any number of directions with the tree analogy, coming back to the idea of the family planet where the conditions for potential growth are initially established. We have looked at my own family planet and seen certain atmospheric aberrations, but basically, the soil was good and rich and there was a consistent sort of “pruning,” even if we might think that it was definitely overdone. In another sense, instead of twisting around obstacles, whatever was growing inside me literally pushed obstacles out of the way. I’ve talked about the “family planet” in which Larry grew and developed. Again, the soil was adequate, and there was pruning of another kind that allowed growth in some directions and not others. These situations are fairly standard even if we would not call them “ideal”.
Perhaps the metaphor can be extended to include different kinds of trees representing the different temperaments. We were all, in the beginning, different kinds of trees.
So, we come to Frank. Here we find another tree with certain growth adaptations we might easily assume are similar to those I experienced, that Larry experienced, that most of the human population on the planet experience. But in Frank’s case, the results were quite extraordinary due to his genetically determined temperament.
I spent quite a number of years in a very close interaction with Frank, engaged in thousands of hours of conversation, and interacted with his family. Frank’s father was a physician. During his childhood, they lived in Chicago. He was brought up in an upper middle class neighborhood where he never, then or since, suffered lack or deprivation of any material sort. His family environment placed great emphasis on logic, monetary value, and scientific transactional approaches to life. In his family, cerebral and academic excellence was an expression of superiority; a means to an end. And the “end” was generally to live well, be rich, or even to be famous.
Frank’s mother was the child of immigrants from a Scandinavian country. She had experienced a very unhappy first marriage which produced a daughter, and after a bitter divorce, had married Frank’s father, who was quite a bit older. She was artistically gifted in a conventional way.
Frank’s father was quite “set” in his ways at the time he married a divorcee with a young child. As a man of scientific background, Frank’s father was steeped in the child-rearing theories of his own generation rather than the more modern conceptions of nurturing the psyche. His ideas related to “hardening the body” and “toughening” the will and cultivating the mind.
Frank’s mother, with her immigrant background, supported the same concepts since they were a part of her heritage, but she had also been brought up to “serve and support” the will of her husband and children. She was, in this drama, the “slave” to her husband, as well as the slave of her children, and that is a situation which can lead to great conflicts when the natural manipulations of children go against the will of the husband.
I don’t think that Frank was ever physically abused in any serious way, though he did claim on a number of occasions that his father “knocked me across the room”. Such incidents were, I think, rare.
What Frank complained about most was the fact that his father, finally having a son, needed so desperately for his son to be strong, to be manly and to be the “All American Boy”. This included not just academic and moral strength, but also athletic excellence. To this end, Frank said he was subjected from a very early age to various “programs” designed to produce this paragon of American virtue. But Frank was not the least bit inclined to want to play baseball, go camping with a scout troop, or exert himself in activities demanding interaction with the world at large.
As infants and toddlers, we all feel that we are the center of the Universe, that we are omnipotent and omniscient beings. In the beginning, we perceive our parents as merely “extensions” of ourselves in the sense that when we are uncomfortable in any way, these shadowy figures, the landscape of our universe, act on our behalf. Thus it is that, at the earliest stages of development, the “response of the universe” to our needs becomes our deepest belief about life itself – a belief inculcated before verbal skills are developed, and therefore, hardly amenable to psychiatric exploration in the ordinary sense.
If, when we are hungry or cold or too warm, or lonely and in need of touching and comfort, the Universe as mother responds immediately with the appropriate solution, our earliest and deepest sense of existence tells us that the Universe is safe, that it is good, that it is responsive to us. This becomes the fundamental platform from which we operate throughout our lives. We have learned that the Universe is safe, that it is good to us, that we can reach out or cry out and the Universe and all within it will provide.
When a child is treated, at the very earliest stages, as an “object” to be “molded and shaped” by regimentation, a dreadful crime against the essential self, at the deepest levels of being, is committed. A child who is left hungry because it is not the scheduled feeding time will be conditioned to believe the Universe does not provide nourishment in response to his cries. A child who is not picked up and comforted when he is frightened, startled, or simply lonely and in need of being touched, is conditioned to believe that there is no point in reaching out or interacting with the Universe in any way. So it is that a child raised according to the Cartesian “man as machine” model has no sense of safety or sufficiency.
An infant subjected to abrupt and arbitrary schedules, promoted by parents who, convinced by medical and psychiatric theories, believe they are doing the right thing, end up producing intense injuries to the infant’s tender, budding self-esteem. Such injuries can be severe and irreversible.
The empathic support of our Primary Objects, the parents, is crucial at these early stages. In its absence, our sense of self-worth and self-esteem in adulthood tends to fluctuate wildly between over-valuation of ourselves by regressing to the infantile narcissistic mode, or devaluation of ourselves as the helpless child slave of a sadistic, even if well-meaning, parent.
As the experts note, such a child can grow up with a heavy sense of bitter disappointment and radical disillusionment with the Universe as a whole. They are often unable to accept self-limitations, disappointments, setbacks, failures, criticism or disillusionment with grace and tolerance. Their self-esteem is inconstant and negative. There is a tendency to believe everything that happens to them is the result of outside events, or that everything is their fault, in some way. In my own case, Larry took the former approach, and I took the latter! A child may think that if they only give more or do more, or find the flaw in themselves, they will be able to “fix everything”. Such a view is growth inducing. If they cannot tolerate the stress of the feeling of being wrong, they often choose a growth-denying mode of reversion to the narcissistic phase of infancy. This was my mother’s choice, Larry’s choice, and Frank’s choice. And that was due to genetic temperament.
Since his father, aided and abetted by his mother, worshipped the external self, how Frank appeared to others became a chief concern. The constant pressure to be a certain way, that is essentially artificial, by default convinces the child that what is inside him is not acceptable. His parents believed, in a peculiar mix of the child as a “blank slate” and the “natural child”, that a child was a dirty and ignorant animal in need of training. In short, as a soul with specific inclinations and tendencies requiring delicate handling, Frank never had a chance.
Frank’s experiences as a child were, in many respects, similar to my own though, certainly what happened to him occurred much earlier in his life and he didn’t have grandparents, as I did, to fill in as careful and devoted nurturers. His father, supported by his mother like a Greek chorus in the background, put him down and disregarded him and his feelings. The most poignant story he told me about his childhood concerned a time when he was left, before he was two years old, with an uncaring babysitter while his parents went on a two-week vacation. Frank’s father was certain that a child so young couldn’t possibly have any awareness of a caretaker or any capacity to “feel” more than basic instinctive drives and programs. It was his father’s intention to “toughen” and condition Frank. Unfortunately, Frank was not only cognizant of what was being done, he never forgot it.
At the same time, Frank was being tormented by more than a “Face at the Window”. He was being regularly and repeatedly “visited” by what he came to know as “aliens”. He believed that he was regularly taken by them, and tortured by them, and all his efforts to communicate this to his parents were ignored and disregarded. He lived under siege with no one to turn to for protection.
He was utterly terrified to be left with strangers (not a surprise). On one occasion, he discovered that his mother had left him with a children’s playgroup without telling him, in a moment when he’d been distracted. He cried so bitterly that the teacher forced him to stand up in the middle of the group and “tell his name”. He was naturally paralyzed and incapable of doing so. Frank remembered all the other children staring at him in his misery, laughing and pointing at him.
The next day, when he realized he had to go back again, he resisted and delayed getting dressed and ready. Finally in the car and on the way, in desperation he grabbed the door handle and told his mother that if she didn’t stop the car and turn around and take him home, he would jump out that very instant and kill himself. He was only four years old.
Frank’s mother stopped and turned around. Frank had learned the secret of controlling others to do his will. His mother’s submission was probably the first time in his short life that he felt any power in his environment at all. This became a seed later to bear bitter fruit for all of them.
I have most definitely experienced that feeling of being paralyzed and unable to act. More than once. But in thinking these things over, I realize my own good fortune in the fact that my choice in every such situation has been to take some sort of definitive action to solve the problem, and that I am basically fearless in all cases. So, somebody must have done something right when I was an infant. Whatever it was, it wasn’t done for Frank. Plus, I simply have a different genetic temperament.
In the end, it seems that Frank’s efforts to deal with the “unfriendly universe” created by his parents had failed repeatedly and consistently. My own experiences had been similar in some respects, but I had learned a different way to cope. I wanted to help Frank break out of his loop also.
The contrast between the fantasy world of the omnipotent four-year-old who threatened his mother with suicide to obtain relief from external pressures, and the real world in which he was continuously frustrated, was clearly too painful to deal with. At that age, or perhaps even earlier, this dissonance may have caused him to make an unconscious decision to live in the fantasy world where he was omnipotent and omniscient. In his private world, he felt special and entitled to things for which he had not worked nor put forth the effort expected of ordinary human beings. And it was from this platform that the next interesting phenomenon developed.
As he grew older, Frank learned a curious “trick”. He discovered that a sort of rhythmic dancing (more like the shuffling steps of a Native American ritual) and creation of vibratory sounds and sensations enabled him to enter and sustain this fantasy existence to an extraordinary degree. In this trance, he was the only occupant of the universe and he was entitled to all its secrets and lore. The way he did this was to perform a sort of “crane dance” while beating the ground with a stick. He once demonstrated this for me and it was, as close as I can describe it, a shamanic performance of pure instinct.
The soothing effect of retreating into this trance state was so effective that, in the same way some people become addicted to other things, Frank became addicted to being in a trance. He had discovered the ultimate means of retreating into what was, effectively, a “pre-birth” state of non-existence.
It is likely that the first time he achieved this state, it was accidental. He described it as having occurred after one of the episodes where he reached out to his parents for love and acceptance and, instead, received a lecture which included a list of all his faults and failings. He went out to the back yard and picked up a stick and began to pound the ground with it. As he did so, he became fascinated by both the vibratory sensation traveling up the stick from the impact, as well as the sound itself. He then began to experiment with different rhythms, most likely in an idle way, and then found himself entranced. At that point, the trance dancing began.
Thus he learned a “trick” that provided comfort.
Frank began to stimulate the trance state habitually in order to derive pleasure and gratification in a world that was friendly to his real self in opposition to the real world. The fact that this self-gratification was so easy to produce, rapidly conditioned him to prefer it. This, of course, produced another effect: laziness. But, this was not laziness in the ordinary sense of the word. Frank became lazy in the psychological sense because he learned that fantasyland was preferable to investing efforts in reality where failure was assured. Frank became just like a rat with an electrode implanted in the pleasure center of the brain, repeatedly pushing the button that induced ecstasy in preference to real life.
And here we have an important clue as to how and why Frank also developed highly specific abilities that enabled certain results to transpire in my interactions with him.
Frank told me that he was performing this ritual stick dance so often that his parents became concerned and, at a very early age, they labeled him as “sick” and called in a psychiatrist.
This shamed his father terribly and only added to the demands being made on Frank to “toughen up” and “be a man”. Frank reacted by intensifying his ritualistic behavior and time spent in a trance, though he learned to hide it better.
Frank had acquired the gift of the Crane Dance. At what cost, we can only guess.