Friday, August 11, 2017

What About Me?

"What about me?" is a common cry among people who feel that they have given too much of themselves to others and have neglected their own happiness or development. Sadly enough, this cry, however heartfelt it may be, is based upon some serious misconceptions about the relationship between Self and Other.

Let's begin with the fact that a large number of people in many different cultures have been brought up to believe that the welfare of other people is far more important than their own. The usual result of this is that such people spend a large portion of their lives - and some spend all of it - suppressing their own emotional needs and desires while trying their best to ensure that the needs and desires of others are fully satisfied. The inevitable result of this is a great deal of psychological, emotional, and even physical pain.

One reason for this is that suppressing one's fundamental emotional needs and desires always leads to psychological, emotional, and physical disharmony of some kind or another, depending on the degree of suppression. This is because emotions are forms of energetic movement whose nature is to be expressed in thoughts, feelings, and actions. Suppressing this movement causes tension, and unrelieved tension causes disharmony. The fundamental emotional needs and desires - to feel connected and to feel effective - are energetically creative when they have an outlet, and energetically destructive when they do not.

A second reason for the pain is that one can never fully satisfy the needs and desires of others, no matter how hard one tries, because needs and desires are subjective, not objective. This means that no matter how much you do for other people, or how well you do it, they always have the option to decide that what you've done is not enough. This increases your feelings of disconnection and ineffectiveness and increases the pain or discomfort of your own suppression.
A third reason is simply that the whole concept of putting the welfare of others above one's own is based on an assumption that there has to be a choice between you and them, between total selfishness and total selflessness. I wonder who made up that stupid rule. I say "stupid" because either way the result is disharmony.

Total selfishness leads to feelings of isolation and despair, and total selflessness leads to feelings of isolation and despair. It's a lose-lose proposition. Even when the choices are less than total, for some people these pathways have a tendency to produce increasing cold-heartedness and inhumane behavior on one end, and increasing resentment and violent behavior on the other.
Remove that one assumption and it's amazing how things can change. It's entirely possible to take care of yourself and take care of others if you want to. You can be happy and share happiness, be rich and share the wealth, empower yourself and empower others. Amazingly, you can even discover - if you remove the above assumption - that sharing happiness increases yours, sharing wealth increases yours, and empowering others empowers you.

There is another side to the problem, however, and that is when the need for connection and effectiveness so great that one is always looking for signs that others don't care enough. It could be a friend who doesn't write or call often enough or when you want them to; people who don't appreciate what you do for them in the way you want to be appreciated; strangers who don't pay attention to you when you want to be noticed; and many other forms of behavior that seem to demonstrate that other people don't care enough about you no matter what you do. Some people with this problem get depressed, and some get angry enough to make themselves sick.

The real problem here is that a person with this kind of need doesn't care enough about himself or herself. This lack of self appreciation can become so great the responsibility for appreciation is thrust onto others, usually with strict rules about how they should behave so that the lack of appreciation can be monitored and quantified, thus justifying the rules. Besides the physical, emotional, and mental stress this can cause, the demand that other people behave correctly has the effect of making them want to avoid you, rather than get closer. Trying to solve the "What about me?" crisis by this method is like trying to attract flies with vinegar instead of honey. The solution, when you are ready to take responsibility for your own experience of course, is to start practicing unconditional love for yourself as far as you are able. That means starting with 10% if you can and increasing from there, with no need to ever reach a hundred. And reducing your rules for others by 10% as well.

There are still choices to make, of course. You'll have to decide when and where and how you will express your own needs and desires, and you may have to decide when and where and how to help others fulfill theirs. Finding a harmonious flow between taking responsibility for your needs and desires while NOT taking responsibility for the needs and desires of others and still being willing to help them, may prove to be a challenge. But a challenge is not a duty, being good to yourself does not require guilt, and doing good for others without expectations on either side can become a source of joy.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The Age Of Electronic Shamanism

A very subtle, quiet, and pervasive revolution of sorts is in progress all over the world right now. It's happening in homes, schools, and offices with the help of computers, game systems, and electronic devices of many kinds.

What is quite remarkable about this revolution is that most of the people involved in it aren't even aware of it. They are conscious participants without being conscious of participating.

Let me increase your awareness of this revolution by relating it to some of the practices of shamanism, a general term for using the powers of the mind and the forces of nature to increase knowledge and influence material reality. Some of the things I'll discuss are practiced by people who would not think of what they do as shamanic, but using shamanism as a basis makes the discussion more simple and clear.

Let's begin with telepathy, usually defined as mind-to-mind communication with someone or something in the absence of physical contact. Modern scientists love to debate its existence, but virtually any group of three or more people willing to talk about it will have personal experiences with telepathy to share, whether with another person, an animal, or something else. In addition, every culture in the world has stories of telepathic experience as part of its lore. Scientists tend to deride these accounts as being "anecdotal,' meaning based on personal experience rather than research, but personal experience of telepathy is as real as personal experience of love, and research does not make it more real.

So, let's take a closer look at telepathy, the experience of knowing the thoughts and/or feelings of someone or something at a distance without a physical connection. In many shamanic and other cultures this is accomplished on purpose with the help of physical tools, like crystals, pendulums, and patterns formed by symbols of various sorts, such as Tarot Cards, I Ching coins, or the knuckle bones of sheep. In modern times the same thing is being accomplished with the help of radio, television, computers, and cell phones.

I can hear some people crying, "Wait! That's not the same thing. Those things are physical!" And I reply, "Crystals, pendulums, and symbolic patterns are physical, too." And these people cry out again, "But radio and television waves, electromagnetic fields, and microwaves are also physical, and they can be measured." And I reply, "It's time you learned that those waves and fields you just mentioned are no more physical than what we might as well call 'telepathic' waves and fields."

The fact is that radio and television waves, electromagnetic fields, and microwaves cannot be measured directly. The only measurements that can be made in relation to them are measures of the physical effects they produce on devices designed to respond to them. The waves and fields themselves are as non-physical as anything can be. Furthermore, let's examine what actually happens when you listen to a radio program, for instance. Someone speaks into a microphone. Something in the mike vibrates in response to the sound wave pattern, and this vibration generates a non-physical electrical signal that somehow retains duplicates of the original voice patterns. More physical equipment processes this signal and converts it into non-physical radio waves of a certain measured frequency that also somehow retains duplicates of the original voice patterns. These waves are broadcast from the station in, apparently, a 360-degree, three-dimensional ripple. The antenna of your radio, attuned to that particular frequency, converts the radio wave to an electrical signal that eventually stimulates the vibration of a membrane of some type that generates sound waves carrying duplicates of the original voice patterns to your ears. Amazing, isn't it?

Now, the brain can be considered as an organic device designed to respond to telepathic waves and fields, which would include the conscious awareness of thoughts and emotions from others without the use of eyes or ears or mouths or gestures. And just as a radio cannot pick up a station it isn't tuned to, so a brain does not pick up thoughts and feelings it isn't tuned to, either. A thought or a feeling is broadcast out in all directions from someone or something, maybe using a brain and maybe not. 

Assuming your brain is tuned to that particular telepathic frequency, something in you picks up the signal and converts it into electrical impulses retaining some degree of duplication of the original source pattern and these go to various parts of your brain, depending on the content of the pattern, where, again depending on the content, you end up with some kind of sensory, emotional, or kinesthetic awareness accompanied by measurable chemical and physical changes in your body. Because most people are not used to tuning their brains to telepathic input, there can be a lot of distortion in the final interpretation of the signal. That's why physical devices like crystals, pendulums, and symbolic patterns can be useful in keeping the reception closer to the original pattern, by converting the input into visual and kinesthetic output. I think we still have a long way to go in developing more accurate devices for receiving telepathy, but then early radios weren't so great, either.

This is all leading up to my contention that the electronic devices that we now use to transmit thoughts and feelings are not, as some think, leading us away from the development of our natural telepathic abilities, but are instead serving to subtly train us in those abilities, especially as they become smaller and more efficient and more accurate. They are helping to create a subconscious expectation of how easy it is to communicate with someone halfway around the globe, so much so that fewer and fewer words are becoming necessary to communicate our thoughts and feelings. Just think about the fact that a simple emoticon like :) can make you feel good, and a few letters like AOS can, if you are a teenager, let you or your friend know that an adult is at your shoulder looking at what you are doing, so be discreet (AOS = Adult Over Shoulder). Adding to this effect is the now standard 5-second clip used in advertising. You often hear that it's because the attention span of the audience is getting less, but since people still watch much longer segments in normal programming, it is actually increasing people's ability to get more information from less input.

Another electronic technique is training people to absorb more information from what at one time would have been an overwhelming amount of information. Here I'm speaking of the common practice of many television news programs, especially those devoted to financial news, of presenting multiple, simultaneous inputs of information. CNBC, for instance, will have one or more people speaking as two lines of type at the top of the screen give current market results for stock funds and commodities, while two lines of type at the bottom - one moving faster than the other - give current quotes of various types of stocks, and another small screen above those two displays information or news that may or may not be related to what the speakers are saying. Since our brain is constantly receiving far more information that we are usually consciously aware of, this may be helping to prepare us for paying more attention to telepathic input that we would usually ignore.

I have emphasized telepathy up to this point, but practically every shamanic skill is being practiced by more and more people today without them fully realizing it, especially by those many millions who are joining virtual worlds through a computer connection. To demonstrate my point, I will use only one such world as an example, that of Second Life. For those not familiar with this kind of experience, the standard operating procedure is to use your keyboard and a mouse to manipulate an "avatar," meaning a digital character that represents you in a virtual three-dimensional environment.
In a typical Second Life session, here are some of the shamanic skills you are likely to engage in:
  • Telepathy: this is usually done by "instant messaging" someone who may be anywhere in the real world.
  • Clairvoyance: you do this with a "camera view" that lets you see things around corners and far out of the line of sight of your character.
  • Levitation: whenever you wish, in most virtual locations, you can leap into the air and either float or fly to a destination of choice.
  • Astral Travel: just open a map, choose a location, press a Teleport button, and "whoosh!" you're there faster than a Star Trek transporter could take you.
  • Shape-shifting: as you will it, you can change your body shape, your skin, your eyes, and your hair to suit your own fancy. You can even turn yourself into an animal.
  • Materialization: with a beam of energy projecting from your avatar's hand, you can cause a wide variety of fundamental shapes to appear out of nowhere, and then you can turn them into houses, boats, planes, clothing, jewelry... nearly anything you want.
  • Healing: this is one of the most amazing effects, because the results produce actual changes in your living mind and body. To understand this, you have to realize that we all have a subconscious tendency to mimic the state or action of anything we put our full attention on. One of the ways this tendency is used in Real Life is to have athletes watch videos of experts in their field, and then practice what they've seen. Experiments demonstrate that the performance of the viewers increases significantly after the viewing. Another way, used in many, many areas of Real Life, is to imagine vividly what you want to do or be, and then do it or practice being it.Back to Second Life. When you immerse your avatar in a steaming hot tub, your physical body begins to relax. When your avatar meditates in a forest or a temple, your real mind and emotions calm down. When your avatar stands in a field of energy, your real body feels energized. In some cases, when another avatar uses healing touch on yours, or gives your avatar a massage, your real pain can go away.
If we look at this phenomenon with the concepts of Rupert Sheldrake, hundreds of millions of people all over the planet are generating and sustaining behavioral and mental morphic fields that will make it easier and easier for more and more people to begin expressing shamanic talents and abilities that are usually associated with legends, fantasy, or science fiction. The talents and abilities area real, however, even though up until recently they have only been practiced by a few. Now, however, millions and millions of people are involved, and the training of the whole human race has begun.
Will this revolution happen easily? Most probably not, because so many people's lives are based on fear. The most common potential areas of resistance are these:
  • Fear of anything electronic or electromagnetic. This is based on ignorance of how such devices work, and many people don't want to learn.
  • Fear that people will become addicted. This is based on ignorance of what addiction is. People of very low self esteem can become addicted to anything at all that brings them any degree of pleasure. If you take one source of pleasure away from them, they'll simply find another.
  • Fear that people will become so dependent on electronic devices that they will lose their natural abilities. This is based on ignorance of human nature. Human beings are tool-using creatures. We always have and we always will use tools to enhance our natural creativity.
I just remembered a story I was told a number of years ago about a white Australian and an Aborigine who were hiking together in the Outback and got lost. The white Australian said to his companion, "Hey, why don't you use some of those powers you're supposed to have and get us some help?"
"Okay," said the Aborigine, and he pulled a cell phone out of his back pocket and called some relatives.
"Wait a minute," said the white Australian. "I thought you people were able to communicate with your minds!"
"Oh, sure, we can do that," said the Aborigine, "but this is so much easier!"

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Self Mastery

Back when Aloha International was first being formed, we listed one of our goals as being "To provide the means for individuals to attain self-mastery." This sounds very well and good, but it means nothing until we have defined what we mean by "self-mastery."

There are connotations to the word "mastery" that may lead some people to the wrong conclusions. If this word is taken in its sense of controlling or ruling, or exercising power over someone or something, then it is easy to imagine a kind of relationship with ourselves in which we use our will to browbeat our "self" into submission, put a leash on our emotions, and forcibly repress all our bad habits and tendencies. Such a course will unerringly lead to catastrophe. 

Mastery of this kind is nothing more than an ego trip based on a false premise. The false premise, of course, is that a person or thing can be beneficially controlled through the use of direct or implied force. Such an approach always generates fear and anger and the least amount of compliance possible. It amazes me that in spite of massive evidence showing that this is the most inefficient and ineffective way to get anyone to do anything, governments keep on doing it to to their people, and people keep on doing it to themselves.

Those who suppress and repress with force do so because of their own fears. When the people running a government do this it results in a neurotic society, and when an individual does it personally it results in a neurotic individual. Sooner or later, that which is held in check through force of will is going to explode in destructive fury. Self-mastery of this type is closer akin to slow suicide.

When Aloha International speaks of self-mastery, we are using mastery in its sense of having the ability to apply expert skill and knowledge. With respect to the self, this means having the knowledge and skill to properly direct the tremendous energies and talents of the self. It must of necessity include an understanding of yourself as a functioning entity in relation to the rest of the universe. This is self-mastery of the highest type: Knowing what you are, who you are, why you are, and where you are going; and also knowing how to get there.

The last sentence above defines the individual goal. The goal of Aloha International, then, is to provide road maps, guidebooks, compasses, walking sticks, and hiking skills to individual men and women trodding their individual paths of life.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

What Does That Mean?

"Knowledge must always be expressed in the lifestyle and language of each different culture for it to be accepted and believed." This is a statement by Dr. J.R. Worsley in regard to acupuncture, but it can be applied to any other field as well.
Just recently I was counseling a woman from India who had been living in California since her youth. A while before calling me she had consulted an Indian guru who had advised her to read the fifteenth chapter of the Bhagavad Gita, a Hindu holy book. The woman read the chapter over and over, but was completely confused because she didn't know what she was supposed to learn from it. She understood that it was about non-attachment, but it kept talking about a banyan tree, and although this woman was originally from India, she had never seen a banyan tree, so the metaphor made no sense to her.

At first I tried to explain what a banyan tree was so she could understand it, but with no memory to relate to it still didn't make sense. Then I switched metaphors, first using an example of rain, then of a mirror, both of which she'd had experience with, and both of which enabled her to understand what the book was really teaching. What she had to learn is not important here. The point is that in order for her to learn the lesson, the knowledge had to be "expressed in the language and style" of her existing culture for it to be accepted and believed.

I just read a Dilbert cartoon in which he tries to explain to his mother that he is neither a railroad engineer nor a typewriter repairman, but a software engineer. When she asks him what he does, he says something like "Well, today I debugged a TCP/IP network with a system analyzer," and she replies with something like, "You mean all you did was start a bot to search out bad packets?" The fact that she knew immediately what he was talking about was quite funny, especially since she knew that he was using "computerese" to cover up the fact that he really didn't do very much. It was even funnier IF the reader also knew the special language of computer geeks. On the other hand, as far as my wife was concerned the cartoon might as well have been written in ancient Sanscrit and she couldn't understand why it made me laugh.

Like many fields and systems, Huna has its own specialized terms, based on the Hawaiian language, but when trying to relate to people unfamiliar with Hawaiian or Huna we need to use words and descriptions that nearly everyone can grasp. Remember, one of our purposes is to strip away the veil of unneeded mystery from the things we are teaching.

Those of us who are teachers of Huna often take it for granted that other people already know what we mean when we use terms like "Lono," and "Ku," and "Aumakua," and we may get so involved in our teaching that we ignore the blank faces in front of us. And shockingly--to us--there are billions of people out there in the world who haven't the faintest idea of what we are talking about when we mention "The Aloha Spirit."

The point of all this is that communication is not merely the imparting of information, it is the exchange of information. The exchange does not always have to be verbal, however. It can also be in the form of behavior. If you teach someone a healing technique, and the person is able to apply the technique in the way you have taught, then the behavior of that person is their part of the communication exchange. If the person is unable to apply it, then it is up to the teacher to change his or her side of the communication. In a different, but related field, someone whose name I do not recall once said, "There is no such thing as a resistant client; there is only a therapist who doesn't know what to do."

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Climate Change

Not too long ago I received the following cry for help, mirrored by many similar ones from others:

"Since I saw the Al Gore movie about the Global Climate Change I can't stop thinking, feeling, and experiencing this Change and all that is coming with it. I feel quite discouraged and pessimistic about the human destiny. Although I was aware of the situation I wasn't aware of the magnitude of the imbalance humanity has created and the short time we have to do something about it and if we really have enough time, determination, unity, will etc. to do something effective to preserve life on Earth.
What I most fear is the way I imagine we are all going to disappear. I know that everything changes constantly and that the climate has changed lots of time before, but the speed in which it's changing is what I fear most, and the catastrophes that are already occurring and making lots of places uninhabitable for plants, animals and people. I find myself thinking very often that no action would be enough at this moment because the disharmony is gone too far. I would appreciate any advice or enlightenment you could give me about it."

First, please get back into the present moment. In very practical and realistic terms, neither the past nor the future exist. The real world is the world that you are experiencing in this moment. If there is any good in it, bless it to strengthen it and help it to endure and grow.

The global climate is obviously changing, but then it always has. We know from geology that the Earth has gone through a number of dramatic climate changes over great periods of time as long as humans have been on the planet and before. According to the geological record there were times when glaciers covered most of the Earth (even in Hawaii!) and other times when the arctic was tropical. More recently, in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries in the area of Belgium and Holland, major climatic changes produced catastrophic floods from a rise in the sea level, costing the lives of a hundred thousand people. It is common for people to think that bad weather in their own lifetime is the worst there ever was.

Nevertheless, no one knows what direction the current changes will take, how long it will take, or how much influence human behavior is having on the changes. During a trip to Alaska we cruised into Glacier Bay. A shipboard talk on the subject produced the startling information that when Captain James Cook sailed there most of the bay was blocked by ice, and when we were there most of that ice had melted away. So there is no doubt that the Earth is experiencing a change of climate, but there is great doubt as to whether we can do anything about it.

The Gore movie was very well done and helps us to be more aware of what humans are doing to contribute to environmental pollution. It does not prove that human behavior is causing all the changes in climate, nor does it prove that the earth as we know it is doomed to destruction. What it does is offer scientific speculation.

Scientists are not super-wise. All they can do is to gather data, interpret that data according to their own rules, and use a computer to process that data into a probable outcome--based on the data they gathered, their interpretations of that data, and the rules they programmed into the computer for processing that data. That's not even prediction, it's speculation based on limited information.

When Gloria and I were in Africa in the late sixties and early seventies we got newspapers and magazines from the USA that were full of dire warnings about environmental pollution and how it was destroying the country. The impression we got in Africa was that the whole USA was covered by a cloud of soot, that all the streams were muddy brown and clogged with dead fish, and that walking outside was to risk one's life. When we returned to the States in 1971 it was a shock to see bright blue skies, clear streams with healthy fish, fully living forests, and people walking everywhere without dropping dead from bad air.

Human behavior clearly has an effect on the global climate. In addition to the pollution caused by industry and transportation systems, agricultural practices cause deserts and destroy animal habitats, land and ocean waste dumping affects sea and land animals and environments, and clear-cutting of forests and urban development alter things as well. And each of these has an effect on climate. However, let's not forget the effects of volcanoes, earthquakes, hurricanes, and tsunamis, which are produced by the Earth herself. While there is no doubt that humans are part of the problem, we still don't know how big a part.

Nevertheless, it is very important that we take steps to clean up and improve our systems of transportation and industry, to work for a better and healthier environment for ourselves and the rest of the natural world, and to support those who are working for this. It is just as important not to give in to fear and panic or doom and gloom based on what other people are saying about the situation.

Huna philosophy says we are never helpless, because we have more resources than just physical ones to make changes. After all, the physical world is only a convenient illusion. We are spiritual beings in a spiritual universe first of all. As shamanic healers our role is to heal, what we can, when we can, where we can, and how we can. If we bless the present, trust ourselves, and expect the best while we are taking whatever positive action is possible, then we are doing the most that can be done. There is no point in getting upset because we think we could or ought to do more and do it better. There's a Hawaiian pidgin expression that sums it up very simply: If can, can; if no can; no can.

By the way, the Earth is not helpless, either. She has a life of her own and a will of her own. As a living entity she can choose to be happy as a desert, a waterworld, a ball of ice, or the incredible mixture that she is today, with or without the same variety of life that exists now. We do not have to worry about saving the Earth, but we do have to concern ourselves with saving human beings and all the other living beings we care about that inhabit her if we want them to continue. So, do your best and rely on a Higher Power to make sure that everything works out perfectly, even if it's different from what you might think that means.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

"Huna" means "The Secret"

There really is a secret process that allows you to achieve just as much health, wealth, happiness, and success as you can ever desire. The funny thing is, it's never been a secret.

As some people discovered an unimaginably long time ago, the best way to keep a secret is to tell everyone about it, over and over and over again in many different ways until they stop paying attention and forget about it. Then someone "rediscovers" the secret and everyone gets excited about it until it's old news and it gets forgotten again.

Possibly the oldest form of the secret process is found in Huna, a name of convenience given to the very ancient esoteric knowledge of Polynesia. As a word in Hawaiian, ka huna actually means "the secret." Interestingly, this particular word has the connotation of something hard to see, not something intended to be kept hidden. The process itself is described in the Hawaiian proverb, Makia ke ali'i, ehuehu ka ukali (literally, concentration is the chief, energy is the follower), which I first translated in my 1985 book, Mastering Your Hidden Self, as "Energy flows where attention goes."

In other words, to achieve all your desires, keep your focus on what you want, and not on what you don't want, a version of the secret expressed frequently in the Seth Books by Jane Roberts. Other versions of the secret process can be found in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible, in Buddhist and Taoist writings, in Yoga sutras and Sufi poetry, and of course in the works of more modern writers such as Wattles, Hill, Emerson, Holmes, and many others. One nice thing about the Hawaiian version of the secret is that it includes specific instructions for putting it into practice. These instructions can be found in the roots of a little-understood Hawaiian word, haipule.

The Pukui-Elbert Hawaiian Dictionary defines haipule as meaning "religious, devout, pious, reverent, to worship,, to hold prayers or service, to consecrate a heiau, and a church service," but this is obviously a Christianized interpretation of this very Hawaiian word. More likely, it's original meaning as a whole word was based on the word hai (to offer) plus pule (prayer, blessing, spell). That is, haipule is a term relating to a process for making good things happen.

The actual process, according to my Hawaiian uncle, William Kahili, is found in root meanings of the word. More accurately, the roots describe four ways to maintain a positive focus, which is the key ingredient of the secret.
Ha, meaning "life, breath, spirit." 
Breathe deeply and get emotionally excited while thinking about what you want, or at least feel as positive and happy as you can. When you lose your focus, breathe deeply to get back into the present and start over.
I, meaning "to speak." 
Speak the words that describe what you want, aloud or silently. When you find yourself speaking negative words related to what you want, stop, breathe, and go back to saying what you want instead.
Pu, meaning "to issue forth, to appear like smoke." 
This is a poetic description of imagination. Imagine what you want in as much sensory detail as you can. When you find yourself imagining what you don't want, stop, breathe, and imagine what you want again.
Le, a short form of lele meaning, basically, "to move." 
Whenever you are thinking or speaking about what you want, assume a positive posture and move in confident ways. When you find yourself feeling depressed, helpless or disillusioned in relation to what you want, stop, take a deep breath, and change your posture or the way you move into a more positive and confident mode.
You don't have to do everything every time you think of what you want, but each method reinforces the other and helps you to maintain your positive expectation.
So that's it. The secret is out. Or, as the ancient Hawaiians would have said,
Ahuwale ka nane huna
"That which was a secret is no longer hidden"
(from 'Olelo No'eau, by Mary Kawena Pukui)

Friday, April 28, 2017

The Identity Imperative

As we listen to and look at national and world news reports we see evidence of enormous conflicts between people who have identified themselves with very different ways of thinking and feeling and behaving. People who identify with different religions are at war with each other; people of the same religion who identify with different interpretations of it are at war with each other; people who identify with different political systems are at war with each other; people who identify with different interpretations of the same political system are at war with each other.

On a more local level, people who identify with different athletic teams in the same sport seem to be getting into sometimes serious fights with each other more frequently; people who identify with specific groups called gangs often have serious fights with each other, as well as with non-gang members of the society around them; and identity conflicts of a serious nature often arise between families or even individual strangers.

Two important questions that come out of this observation are: "Is there a fundamental urge to identify with something - an 'identity imperative,' so to speak - that is more powerful than other urges?" and "why does such identification so often lead to conflict?"

To answer the first question, the urge to identify with something--an idea, a belief, a philosopy, a religion, a way of life, a political system, a group of some kind, a territory, or even another person--is no more nor no less than a combination of the two fundamental urges of all human beings to connect and to be effective.

We have an initial urge to connect because feeling connected, feeling ourselves to be part of something else, is a source of pleasure. By itself this leads to pleasurable relationships with people, animals, plants, and other aspects of the world around us. When the thing we connect to also helps us to feel more effective or powerful, another source of pleasure, then we have a strong tendency to identify ourselves with that thing, to consider it and us to be virtually identical. That's why so many people proudly declare that they are "members" of something or other (the word "member" means a "limb" or an integral part of something). It's also why people like to wear clothing, costumes, badges, pins, and tatoos that help them feel more connected and powerful.

The answer to the second question above is that the more insecure we feel about our connection and our effectiveness, the more fearful we become about their loss, which leads to painful feelings of isolation and helplessness. When this insecurity and its related fear become intense enough there may be a very strong suppression reaction. A common effect of this reaction is to perceive contrasting or opposing forms of identity as a threat to one's very existence. 

So a losing sports team, or its fans, may feel compelled to fight the winners, or their fans, and even destroy anything associated with them. Do something that an insecure identifier interprets as an insult to his or her source of identity and you may receive a death threat, or worse. In some cases people become willing to sacrifice their lives to maintain their own identity as well as the "life" of what they identify with. That will not happen, however, unless such people have decided that their own lives have no worth in any other context. Self sacrifice with the intention to harm members of another identity is therefore a desperate attempt on the part of extremely insecure people to maintain a sense of belonging and personal power.

The more secure you feel about your identifications, the more tolerant you naturally are of other identifications. If you have no doubts about the goodness or rightness of your ideas, beliefs, or behaviors, then you tend not to care about the ideas, beliefs, and behaviors of others (as long as they don't physically threaten you, of course). 

On the other hand, the more insecure you feel about your identifications, the more you will react with fear and anger and the desire to destroy anything and and anyone that doesn't agree with your way of thinking, feeling, and behaving. Unfortunately, although this is essentially a position of weakness, it can cause great damage among those who are basically more tolerant, but not yet secure enough or wise enough to realize that tolerance is not the same as unbounded permissiveness.

Nevertheless,
Ma'alahi ka ha'ina, pu'ika'ika hana
"Simple the explanation, difficult the execution