1. Physical development, puberty
3. Broken heartedness
4. Parenting adolescents
5. Cognitive development
Materials needed: Journal, crayons or colored pens, old keepsakes or scrapbooks
Books needed (in this order):
Eternal echoes: Exploring our yearning to belong
The path to love
The illuminated Rumi (optional)
Living from the heart
Healing into life and death
* Magical child
Cutting through spiritual materialism
Like a thousand suns
* A path with heart
Practices and exercises:
Need to belong
Sitting for meditation
Directing the mind
Buddhist view of mind
Like a thousand suns
* If you have been working through the previous guidebooks, you will
already have these books. The others will be used throughout the
guidebook in other units as well as this one.
There is nothing new for you here, so we will just review. The most overtly noticeable signal of puberty is a growth spurt. This occurs earlier in girls than in boys as a general rule as can be seen during a walk down the hall of your local junior school. Puberty is initiated by gonadotropin hormones secreted by the pituitary gland. These hormones stimulate the ovaries to increase production of estrogen and the testes to increase secretions of testosterone.
Girls develop breasts and their weight increases. Along with this, their fat is redistributed and the pelvis widens to create a more mature figure. Pubic and underarm hair appears, and the uterus enlarges. The first menstruation soon follows and with it the emerging capacity to reproduce. There is a fairly wide range within which normal development occurs. Girls in climates where there is more light and/or warmth and girls who are heavier tend to mature earliest, some at ten or eleven years old. Girls who are malnourished, or who live in northern climates and/or who engage in strenuous exercise may mature later, some at fifteen to sixteen years old. Emotional disturbances may delay or hold off maturation. Anorexia or bulimia can also delay puberty. Obviously this is an oversimplification since diversity is the rule. We’re speaking here of general trends.
Boys have a more sudden increase in the rate of growth including that of the scrotum and testes and widening of the shoulders. This is followed by the appearance of pubic and facial hair and growth of the penis. Increase in production of testosterone causes production of sperm and maturation of the prostate gland and seminal vesicles. It is also responsible for distribution of the beard and hair on the chest and abdomen. The larynx enlarges and vocal cords become longer and thicker causing the well-known voice changes. Onset of puberty in boys occurs around the ages of twelve to fourteen and may not be complete until eighteen. Again there is a wide variation within normal ranges.
Puberty is often accompanied by awkwardness or clumsiness as the adolescent learns to adjust to his or her new body. There are also new urges associated with the increased sex drive that must be dealt with and socialized. The term “raging hormones” is often applied to the emotional mood swings that torment many young people in this age range.
Read the Introduction and chapters 1-3 in Focusing by Eugene Gendlin. This book contains exercises that will help you identify and release feelings and emotions that are held in the body. This assignment will enable us to get started with that.
Erik Erickson (1968) says that adolescence brings on the crisis of identity vs identity confusion. The challenge is to develop an awareness of one’s self-sameness and continuity that coincides with the perceptions of one’s essential meaning by significant others. This means development of an ego that has the characteristics of centrality, initiative and wholeness. This goes along with a new level of self-respect and ability to reality-test events and situations that appear to be threatening while, at the same time, keeping oneself open with fluid boundaries. It also means knowing when those boundaries need to be drawn and/or defended. Success in this endeavor puts a person on the road to mature individuation and social responsibility. Failure may result in time diffusion (just marking time and going nowhere), abnormal preoccupation with who one is, role fixation, work paralysis, confusion about sex roles, authority confusion and confusion of values. Most of these dilemmas are experienced by adolescents, at some point, as they navigate this stage of development, and not all come out of it successfully.
It should be noted that not all young people in the world experience identity crises. It appears to be a culturally-instigated personality development that has the goal of preparing individuals to become autonomous enough to go anywhere and attempt any kind of future vocation. The society of the United States along with most of the nations in the western hemisphere is highly mobile, at least in the upper and middle classes, so a person cannot function well if s/he is tied down by a single identification with a specific social group as appears to be the case in many indigenous cultures.
Several outcomes of successful identity resolution are as follows. First, one transcends old roles and takes on new, more meaningful and reciprocal relationships with the society in which one is embedded. This means taking on responsibility for the well-being of the society and for maintaining oneself financially. Second, there is now the possibility of freedom of choice and the self-confidence to make decisions that affect one’s life. Third one feels a sense of self-sameness even while actively choosing to play different roles depending upon the social context. Fourth, there is usually a sense of having a philosophy of life based on significant values that are important to oneself. There is a goal in life and a sense of directionality. Next, because the personality is intact, integrated, secure and flexible, it is now possible to engage in intimate relationships with others without fear of loss of identity or engulfment. And finally, a new balance between individuation and socialization is achieved based upon mutuality in relationships with others. One has self-respect and status or prestige in the sense of recognition and appreciation of one’s unique gifts and beingness by significant others. Obviously, in order to achieve this last goal, it is necessary to free oneself from inappropriate need for approval from or dependency upon others.
Blasi (1995) suggests some additional dimensions to Erikson’s theory. One is that identity is essentially a subjective answer to the question, Who am I? which implies that there is a central, intuitively felt essence that constitutes the basis of identity. This is that aspect of ourselves that does not change over time, that “I” that is most deeply personal and unique. This resembles Almaas’ concept of personal essence that was briefly reviewed in Book I of Return to Spirit. Blasi says, “The self as subject, in sum, is understood here as the specific way by which one experiences oneself as agent, unified in one’s agency, different from other agents, and capable of standing back vis-a-vis oneself in reflection” (p. 417). Notice that this could also be a definiton of dualism and/or separation. The main questions that guided his work were: “How do people at different states experience themselves as distinct and separate agents? What kind of sense of unity do they seem to have? What kind of self-reflectiveness and distance from themselves do they manifest?” (p. 419) He came up with four main themes: self-perception, self-control, self-criticism and self-protection following social rejection.
Blasi also does a beautiful job of analyzing Loevinger’s stages of ego development (pp. 419-421). These are social role identity, identity observed, management of identity and identity as authenticity. Of these, identity observed is probably the stage most relevant to adolescence as it represents an awareness of an inner self that is separate from others and that is subjectively real as opposed to the mask usually presented to the world (persona). Self-reflection also comes to the fore during this period. Management of identity comes later during young adulthood when standards and ideals based on a philosophy of life become the operative factors. For more details, I recommend this article as a good summary of the literature on identity to 1995.
Please notice how all this research on identity documents our progressive separation not only from others but also from Spirit. We have institutionalized isolation and aloneness to the point that not only is it considered normal, but it happens frequently enough to show up reliably in psychological research.
Get paper and pencil. Then begin to ask yourself: Who am I? Write down your answers in a list as you go until you run out of responses. When you are finished, review your list and see if any categories present themselves. Note these down. Then identify which are social roles, which are labels, which are personal characteristics or temperaments, and see what is left. You may want to continue by asking, Who am I really? to see if anything else is forthcoming. Next, take a look at your list and ask yourself which ones you could do without. What would be necessary to give those up? How would your life change if you did? Which ones are essential, i.e., you would not be you or recognize yourself without them? Make some notes on how this exercise made you feel and what you learned from it.
During this period and as a direct response to sexual maturation, sex roles become more rigidly enforced by the culture. There may be an inherent wisdom in the roles that have been in existence for thousands of years in terms of protection of the children and the social group. However, in our milieu, women’s insistence on equal rights has upset the apple cart, and new adaptations must be made that take care of the needs of children, sexual needs of adults and the establishment of home life. At the time of this writing, there are huge problems with insecurity and violent behavior in children who are not properly loved and nurtured. Single parents are grossly overworked and stressed due to imbalances in shared responsibility. It has become necessary for both parents to work (where there are two parents) in order to make ends meet because expectations have changed since women entered the workplace in large numbers. Fewer people want to do housework and child care on a full time basis any more, and those who do are often denigrated. So it is easy to see why adolescents might be confused about how to find their place in the world.
Inferiority vs self-esteem
Self-esteem is based on feelings of competence and confidence. This means that we can feel capable of controlling, when necessary, the events and people who are in a position to make demands upon us. We need to feel we are attractive to others and that others want to be our friends. We would like to be successful in school and, at the same time, maintain the respect of our peers. We want to be pretty or handsome and attractive to the opposite sex. When young people are homosexual, these issues intensify to the extent to which there is no acceptable role for them to play. All through elementary school, children have been experimenting with behaviors to see what works for them toward acceptance and recognition. Now, in adolescence, they find themselves in a new context, high school, with new strangers to get to know and accelerating academic goals to achieve. At the same time, their bodies are betraying them by becoming awkward and different. All of this tends to upset earlier convictions of confidence, particularly social competence.
Exercise: The Focusing Manual
Read chapters 4-6 in Focusing and try out the method. Make notes about your experience. Have you noticed the felt sense in yourself before? What do you notice in the process as it begins to come more clearly? After you have run through the exercise once, try it again and ask a question about your self-esteem. Journal what happens.
Peer Influences and Need to Belong
High schools can be a cemetary of shattered ideals, hopes and dreams for many adolescents. The need to belong is probably more acute in adolescence than at any other time of life. This is, at least in part, due to the transition that is being made from dependence upon family members for our self-esteem, attention and love to that of our peers. This shift is part of the identity crisis, a move toward independence and personal integration. However, the peer group cannot function as a family substitute unless a person is accepted into a group and not all individuals are. In fact, probably many more than we know of are not. And many who, in fact, do belong to a group may not actually feel like an integral part of the group or may wish they were in another, more prestigious or influential clique. If you have ever been through a sorority or fraternity rush experience, you are familiar with the facts. There is a huge demand to conform in order to be accepted into a group. In addition, there are variables like appearance, family background, who your friends are, your level of maturity, etc. that play critical roles in your acceptance. We could say that there is a cult of popularity based on what, from an adult point of view, seems to be a pretty superficial set of criteria. Furthermore, the criteria may differ from one high school to another. Another factor that seems to be important is how long you have been around. Newcomers may have difficulty breaking into established groups unless they have stellar qualities.
Because of the separation of the adolescent culture from the larger society, young people often finds themselves adrift in a sea of conflicting norms and values. How do they fit into the larger scheme of things? Often, they rebel against the anxieties of trying to deal with identity issues and assume the role of “teenager” until some unspecified future time when the pressure may be relieved. Unfortunately, we can see all around us “adult” people who are still ensconced in the relative security of the teenage role making others uncomfortable by their demands to be taken care of while refusing to collaborate with others to make life work.
Exercise: Need to Belong
Read chapter 1 in Eternal Echoes by John O’Donohue. This
book explores our yearning to belong. Allow yourself ample time to read
and savor this book as the author’s writing is beautiful and his ideas
so condensed that you may find you need time to assimilate them.
You might want to take a section per day for meditation. Read the
section, then sit for meditation and let the ideas sink into your conscious-ness
giving them time to do their work on a deeper level. O’Donohue comes
out of the Celtic tradition of Ireland and brings a rich heritage of mysticism
and imagination to us.
One way the need to be intimate is occasionally confronted is to become sexually involved with someone. There is considerable evidence to support the idea that sex may serve as an intimacy substitute, in young girls expecially. Many allow themselves to become pregnant even when they have access to contraceptives because they want a child to love them. No one else does. This story is heard repeatedly in women’s shelters and crisis centers. Or they think the father will marry them if they become pregnant, but he does not. It has not been that long since the sexual norms of abstinence until marriage prevented a great deal of this tragedy, but increasing social acceptance of adolescent sexual intercourse has removed the one protection young girls had going for them. It is true that there is no panacea to prevent teen pregnancies, but we did not need to remove the ones we had. Nor is this problem limited to adolescent girls. There are plenty of adult women who are motivated by the same need to be intimate who engage in unwanted sexual intercourse in order to be embraced or held close. This raises some critical issues about how we want to be together.
Romantic Love and Dating
Aahhh! The ecstasy of being in love. From the saints’ raptures to the teeny bopper’s “Isn’t he cute?” the feeling is the same. There’s a glow that pervades your entire sytem. It’s timeless, ask anyone of any age. No matter how many times we get hurt, we keep going back for more. It is like a drug to which you get addicted. And when we are not feeling it, our lives seem flat somehow. Or we become edgy and irritable. Or we give up on ever experiencing it again and settle down into the ho hum of daily existence completely unaware that the need is still simmering down below in the depths of our psyches just awaiting its chance to emerge again. The fact that falling in love only really begins to take shape in adolescence suggests that there is a sexual component to it. That it persists well into old age long after the sexual desires have lost their urgency implies that there is something more afoot here. Deepak Chopra (1997) says, “All love is based on the search for spirit”( p. 65). He has a great deal more to say about this, and we will connect with him again later.
In adolescence, romantic love often takes the form of dating. However, patterns change from one generation to another. In my day, couples went out on single or double dates. My children’s peers went out in mixed groups and sometimes paired up and sometimes they did not. In any case, the primal urges of sexuality trigger the process of trying to find a compatible mate. The brain gets into the act by supplying the necessary hormones both for attraction and for the ecstasy that accompanies falling in love. The idea that these are not necessarily the same hormones is supported by the fact that it is possible to fall in love without experiencing a sexual attraction (cf Celibate Passion by Janie Gustafson, (1978) or any biography of a saint who is in love with God).
1. Read chapter 3 to page 88 in The path to love.
2. Then take a few minutes and go through your things gathering up assorted old keepsakes that memorialize your past romances during your adolescent and young adult years. If you are not the type to save such things, take a few minutes and write down the outstanding things you remember about your romances during that period. In fact, you could do this anyway even if you do have artifacts. Then review and study what you have. How would you like to reframe your dating experiences? What would you do differently in light of your more mature knowledge? Now write an account of how you now understand those years and those experiences. Why did events happen the way they did,, and what was your contribution to the outcomes?
You will find that it is possible to redeem old, painful memories in this way. In essence, you return to the scene in memory and relive the events in your imagination while you apply new meaning to what happened out of your current understanding. This reframes your conception of what happened in light of what you have learned since then. You could think of it as redoing a past life in this life since there is no time but the present. If it seems relevant, as you do this exercise, you could use the focusing technique to work through any difficult issues that might arise.
3. If you have a copy of The Illuminated Rumi, read the
poem on page 95. Reflect on the levels of meaning in it. Perhaps
bring it to meditation. You might call this high romance. Rumi
was an ecstatic poet of the Sufi tradition in the mid-thirteenth century.
He is known for his passionate love of God.
Negativity and Rebellion
Adolescents are known for their tendencies to rebel against their parents, teachers, and authority figures including the society as a whole. This is no doubt related to the search for independence, but it is also a response to the gap between an ideal and the actual world in which they live. This suggests that the veil of socialization has not yet fully enshrouded them, so they can still see the hypocrisy of social conventions. “What is a world without love?” a popular singer croons. Then they look around them and the answers are all too obvious.
Exercise: The 60s
If you were living during the 1960s and 70s and have memories of what the New Age movement was like as it was ushered in, do some reflection about the ideals that were important to you then. If you are too young to remember this era, interview your parents or some others of their age on the subject. What has happened to those ideals? Do you still feel the same way? How were you involved or not involved in the movement? Do you feel a sense of disappointment or of achievement with respect to your participation or non-participation in the events? Is there anything going on now in our culture that you think is the result of that activity? Makes some notes on the potential of youth groups to catalyze change in the larger culture.
Because this need is so strong and because adolescents are trying to move away from the birth family as a source of support, rejection by the peer group is especially debilitating. It results in an unwelcome isolation that creates incredible stress and grief especially since, most times, the person does not know how to remedy the situation. One possible reaction is that the emotions are turned inward and attack self-esteem, so that the person then feels unattractive, then behaves as if s/he is unworthy which then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. People are not attracted to those who are in a victim mode or feeling sorry for themselves and whining. Alternatively, the response may be anger, and this can either be turned inward as an attack on oneself or outward as an attack on society. Which form it takes depends upon how the person delegates responsibility for the problem.
When young people are rejected over long periods of time without relief, the pain eventually becomes unbearable, so the heart is closed down. It is as if there is a threshold for the endurance of emotional pain, and, when it is reached, defenses must be brought in to deal with the wounding. One way of doing this is to say, “I don’t care. I don’t need you. I don’t want to belong to your group, etc.” This closing down puts an end to attempts to find a way to be accepted. Love is withdrawn into the self and a protective shield is put up around the heart. This is sometimes called armoring. In a book, which has escaped my library, is a picture drawn by a clairvoyant of a black cage around a person’s heart. This expresses exactly what I mean.
1. Read chapter 3 in Eternal Echoes. Do you resonate to any of the prisons O’Donohue describes? Were there ways in which you were delivered from some of them by good friends during your adolescent era? Maybe your prisons came earlier or later than adolescence? Can you identify the two or three most effective and persistent prisons in your life? Choose one of them and reflect on how you might free yourself. How healthy is your creativity? Do you have problems with forgiveness? Are you in touch with your guardian angel? Make notes for yourself or write a reflective paper on how you imprison yourself.
2. Think about your high school experiences with belonging to
groups. Were you popular? If so, did you feel secure in that
role? If not, what did you feel about it? To what extent, if
any, did those experiences shape your adult life in terms of expectations
about being accepted into new groups or about your status in the ones you
belong to now? Read chapters 5-6 in Focusing and do the exercises
first as instructed, then do them again to look at your feelings about
The term “instinct-injured” refers to at-risk teenagers whose pain is not seen nor is it responded to with love, appropriateness, kindness, creativity or compassion (Geggie, 1994, p. 4). Geggie says that such teenagers lose “. . their sense of uniqueness, individuality, compassion and empathy, creativity, and a real, loving, trusting connection with life. They lose their sense of humor, singing voice, and the ability to create without fear of failure or criticism (p. 4). Furthermore, they develop adaptive, protective false-self systems or sub-personalities that further alienate them from their authentic selves.
Exercise: Heartwork Preparation
Read chapters 1-2 in Living from the heart. We are going
to work extensively with these exercises to help you become more familiar
with your heart and to help you open it more fully. This reading
prepares the ground.
Another reason for closing the heart is betrayal. Someone you cared for deeply has let you down, or they have taken advantage of the deeper knowledge they had of you in some way that is hurtful. Or they have rejected you and taken another lover. It has been said that children are very cruel. This is, in part, because they are unable to empathize or put themselves in another person’s shoes. Since it is only in adolescence that this kind of flexibility of thinking is potentially developed, it is not surprising that we find a similar kind of insensitivity in teenagers. Telling a friend’s secrets to an outsider is a very common form of betrayal, and we all know how painful that is. Malicious gossip is not limited to adolescence, of course, and it may reach a new level of sophistication as people grow older. We could say that the phenomenon of instinct-injury mentioned above is a form of betrayal by one’s family, one’s peers or by society at large.
The mechanism of betrayal is probably found everywhere. Primal betrayal refers to a loss of confidence in the Divine One as a result of the frustrations and disappointments of embodiment. When we take on a body, we lose our direct contact with the Beloved. Then we feel our loss keenly and need to blame someone. The mechanism of projection allows us to blame the One and call what happened a betrayal. Perhaps we feel we made an agreement to be born for some reason, and then we found the situation was not what we expected or wanted it to be. Michael Washburn (1995, p. 62) describes a similar process that he calls primal alienation. It is a self-imposed separation between self and others that is an extension of the original separation into dualism that happened at birth. It occurs very early in life as a result of the conflict between the ego’s need for independence and the need for intimacy in relationship with the mother.
1. Think about a betrayal you have experienced recently and notice how you feel about it. Read chapters 7-8 in Focusing and do the practice with this person in mind.
2. In Healing into life and death, read chapter 9 and do
the forgiveness meditation on pages 98-101. You may want to tape
this or have someone read it slowly to you, so you can give it your full
attention. If a friend is present, share your experience with him
or her and notice whether you feel lighter when it is over.
Character Armor and Vulnerability
When we close down the heart as a result of unbearable pain and vulnerability, we may also create an armoring for protection against any further wounding. This reinforces our sense of rejection, isolation and separation which adds to the complexity of dualism. We cannot love now because of fear of more pain, so a fear-love dimension is created. Fear and love are mutually exclusive. I cannot open myself fully to love you if I’m afraid of you. This is something many men cannot understand – why, after an unpleasant argument, their wives or lovers do not want to have sex with them or cannot respond to them, let alone make love.
Grief and sorrow are painful also and may lead to defenses against loving. Self-absorption is often associated with pain, grief and sorrow because the person is looking within for the cause of the problem. However, this, too, is isolating and alienating.
When enough pain has caused character armoring and a set of rigid defenses, consciousness may also be sacrificed to some extent. One way of avoiding pain is to go to sleep or cultivate unawareness, mentally and emotionally. Although that creates a very flat, single-dimensioned existence, it may be preferable to the pain and helplessness that is being avoided. We see sleep-walking all around us, people who go through their lives like zombies feeling nothing, risking nothing, joyless, unhappy and unfulfilled. Sometimes it is called social hypnosis – going through life in a trance that admits nothing that is potentially harmful.
Exercise: Character Armoring
1. Read “Hurts So Good” in the Yoga Journal, March/April, 2000, pp. 106-111, 188-190, 192-193. Fred Mitouer has developed a therapeutic method for relieving the muscular tensions associated with body armoring. He explains how the wounding is translated into holding in the body and what therapeutic measures can relieve it and unleash the emotional blocking. He creates a safe space, helps to subdue the inner critic and enables healing. Yoga Journal may have their articles online. [www.yogajournal.com]
2. In Living from the heart, do the heart rhythm practice on pages 10-12. It would be a good idea to make this an integral part of your daily meditation by sitting with your heart at the beginning of your sessions for a few minutes until you have been able to tune in.
Being the parent of adolescents can be very trying because suddenly your children may become unpredictable, uncooperative and demanding. They want to test reality for themselves and do not want to listen to advice or information about how the world really is. You are aware of their pain and frustrations, but often are not allowed to intervene. You are still responsible for their welfare, but realize that you must give up control over their lives if they are to learn how to take care of themselves. It is possible for them to destroy themselves experimenting with drugs or damage their future by becoming parents themselves prematurely. They may kill themselves in an automobile accident. They may fall in love with and marry or become sexually active with someone you know is not an appropriate mate. They might acquire HIV through careless sex or experimentation with drugs. There is no end to the dark potentialties of turning a physically healthy adolescent loose in the streets.
One parent recently quipped, “Worry is a form of prayer.”
So what can a conscientious parent do to protect an energetic adolescent?
The parents I know that I regard as successful are those who love and respect their children. They also provide enough boundaries to provide a sense of security without being too restrictive for growth to take place. In these days, parents must walk a fine line of balance between protection and release. Single parents, especially are challenged to find quality time with their children to provide the necessary guidance and love. Issues of trust are inevitable. However, most youngsters really do not want to alienate their parents, so a middle ground can usually be found if communication channels are honored and kept open. Sharing the truth in love can often reopen closed channels. Empathy is the secret of such mutuality in parent child relationships especially as children reach adulthood according to Boyd (1990, p. 76). The four poisons of relationship are especially important to avoid in dealing with adolescent children: criticism, defensiveness, contempt and withdrawal. This means both of you must avoid them. You will remember that these factors are reliable predictors of divorce. They will also separate you from your children.
Practice: Sitting for Meditation
Read chapter 3 in Living from the heart and do the practices recommended. If you have come this far and have not established a meditation practice, now is a good time to start while some direction is available. A path with heart is a helpful guide as well. If you have been meditating for a while, Bair’s instructions may open up some new spaces for you. There are some good ideas about sleep at the end of the chapter. I would add a glass of milk to his recommendations. Milk is a natural source of tryptophan which is sleep-provoking.
Stephen Levine has a good mindfulness meditation on Watching the Breath in Healing into life and death on pages 214-216 if you have trouble keeping your mind still.
Mind is greater than anything in the universe. (Mishra, 1987, p. 101)
In this section, we will be making a distinction between the intellectual functions of mind and the intuitive ones. Ironically, we find information on development of intellect from western psychology and on intuition from eastern psychologies. We will look at modern psychology first since it is most familiar.
Piaget was the first person to study mental development systematically, so he laid the groundwork for modern research in this area. He coined the term “formal operations” to describe the attainment of mature thinking ability. It roughly parallels left hemisphere thinking with which we are all familiar and includes such things as rational thought and space-time linearity. Piaget (1972, p. 1) says that formal operations become established at about the age of 12-15 years. You will remember that the word “operation” refers to how a set of things is manipulated or combined. It is a representational act that enables us to think more rapidly because we can juggle a series of words or symbols that represent whole classes of events. It eliminates confusion.
Formal operations differs from the concrete operations of the previous stage of development in that thinking is now detached from a concrete referent. Abstract thinking is possible. A person can now think about his/her own thought. The speed of thought is enormously increased and becomes more flexible. Hypotheses can be set up and tested in thought alone. Logic becomes possible, also analytic thinking, hierarchial classification, abstract reasoning, and field independence. Space and time become infinite because thought can go anywhere. Theories can be developed, stated verbally, then tested systematically. An argument can be followed mentally thus opening up the hypothetico-deductive methods of science and discussion. In fact, adolescents spend hours discussing the state of things and probable outcomes of possible actions. One of the tools of this type of thinking is called a “lattice” which is a set of elements and a relation that can hold between or “relate” two or more of the elements. So it is a combination of content and operations taken together.
Self-reflection becomes possible now because the person can look at him- or herself objectively from a witness perspective. Consequently introspection becomes a huge pastime for adolescents who spend hours assessing their self-images and imagining how they come across to others. This is called egocentric thought, partly because its focus is the self and partly because it puts the self in the center of the universe. Along with this tendency is that of personal myth (fantasies of grandeur and/or heroism) and imaginary audience. In both cases, adolescents imagine themselves to be the constant object of others’ attention. One unfortunate outgrowth of the new potential is the feeling of immortality that often develops. It may lead a youngster to take chances with his or her life with disastrous consequences. All of these factors, of course, contribute to identity development, the outcome of which will be most favorable if the fantasies are reality-tested in the real world. Wilber (1983) sums up this process neatly. He says,
Exercise: Formal Operations
Read Chapter 20 in Magical child by Joseph C. Pearce. Keep
track of the pros and cons Pearce offers with respect to formal operational
thinking. Do you agree with him?
Ability to Concentrate. Another function of the intellect and one that can be trained is the ability to concentrate. This means focusing attention on an object or activity and being able to maintain it over a period of time. It is essential in order to accomplish tasks, to study effectively, to succeed at games and to plan ahead. Concentration feels like using your mind as a lens to direct attention to a rather small field of perception rather than taking everything in. It filters out whatever is irrelevant to the job at hand. It is the direct opposite of the opening out that is characteristic of meditation and intuitive thinking.
We need to be careful, however, in developing this faculty that it does not become so rigid that it dominates all our activities. However, used appropriately it is a magnificent tool.
Read chapter 4 in Living from the heart and do the practices.
Use the breath as a focus for concentration especially if you are upset
by something when you approach your sitting. The mind and the breath
are connected, say the Yogis. And, therefore, if you can calm the
breath, the mind will follow. Likewise, if you learn to control the
breath, you are one step closer to controlling your mind. This is
why the breathwork is so important.
Role of the Mind in Defense. The mind can set up filters to screen out perceptions that are felt to be dangerous for whatever reasons. It can also support concentration by filtering out extraneous noise that would be distracting. Because of their separating characteristics, cognitive filters support dualism. One of the most obvious and most often overlooked filter is that which establishes artificial boundaries around concepts. Though it enables formal operations, it damages reality perception. It also allows us to construct pairs of opposites, put them on opposite ends of continua and call them different when, in fact, all reality is a seamless web of interconnections (cf Bell’s theorem in physics).
Another side effect of cognitive filtering is automatic rehearsals of the scripts we learned as children and keep on repeating whenever the matching stimulus is presented. We simply do not see that they are no longer relevant to our lives. Let us say little Joanne’s mother was super critical and Joanne developed an automatic shutoff response whenever her mother prefaced a remark by “You know what I think? . . .” Now, 40 years later, a friend says, “You know what I think? . . .” and Joanne is unable to take it in regardless of what follows the initial remark. Or someone who resembles Joanne’s mother engages her in polite conversation, and later Joanne cannot remember a word she said. These are filters at work protecting our soft underbellies. It can be a good thing. Or it can constrict our enjoyment of life.
Practice: Directing the Mind
Read chapter 5 in Living from the heart and do the practices.
These will begin to teach you how to communicate with your unconscious
and also how to send thoughts to others who may be at some distance from
you. Notice that distance is no obstacle as thought transference
A similar defense mechanism is found in internal rehearsals of woundedness. Playing a victim role in our minds serves to keep us eternally vigilant against the possibility of being hurt again. However, it forecloses any development of freedom and personal responsibility. This is a kind of feedback loop that goes on internally and is part of the stream of consciousness that goes on ad infinitum. It maintains the status quo which, although it may be uncomfortable or even painful, is preferred to the imagined potential for loss of control. You could say that because of threats to safety and security in early years or perhaps as the result of adult trauma we use our minds to constrict our perceptions to what we feel we can control. However, in doing so, we lose access both to genuine, external reality and to our unconscious minds.
Practice: Woundedness Rehearsals
During your meditations and throughout the day, watch for instances
of victim or woundedness rehearsal if you are prone to thinking of
yourself this way. You might want to keep a record of the frequency
of this kind of thinking if you do it a lot. You might be surprised
at how strongly you are reinforcing this attitude by repeating it in your
mind. Incidently, this practice can be applied to any mental rehearsal
you engage in that seems to be counterproductive; so, if you do not feel
wounded, try working with some other scenario that won’t go away.
Control Over Mind. Yogis insist that a major and essential accomplishment on the spiritual journey is to gain control over our minds. When we do so, we can enjoy periods of peace and quiet while the mind rests and lets us alone. Gone temporarily are our worries, anxieties, plans, past and future. We find ourselves in what the Buddhists call a spacious meadow in which anything can happen. Mind control also allows concentration when a task is engaged.
May I remind you that I am not talking about the kind of mind control used by cults to indoctrinate people, but one’s own ability to control one’s own mind. If we allow it to run on and on, it puts us to sleep and lowers the level of consciousness we can enjoy. So we gird up our loins and take courage in one hand and determination in the other as if we were going to tame a wild animal. Thus forearmed, we set off to engage in spiritual practice.
Intellect vs Universal Mind. This is just to remind you that the intellect we are discussing is but a small part of mind in general. The intuitive mind is another whole system with its own characteristics and modus operandi which is very different from that of intellect. And above and beyond the personal intellect and intuition is the Universal Mind within which we are all embraced. Beyond that is the Ultimate Reality that conceived the whole show. Review Unit 4 in Book I of this series for more information. Larry Dossey (1998) says,
Another name for intellect in Buddhism is samskara. This means a collection of mental states or patterns which may have emotional overtones. These can be thoughts, attitudes (which have the emotional tonality) or concepts. They can be good, bad or indifferent.
Consciousness. Consciousness is the fifth skandha and it is articulate and intelligent. However, this skandha is subconscious rather like the stream of consciousness defined by William James. It acts rather like a subflooring in a building, to support the other functions of thinking. It includes a memory bank of undesirable thoughts that are being ignored. Because it is not in the forefront of awareness, this level of consciousness tends to be cloudy and confused. We are not talking here about the focused mind of concentration, but more the discursive mind that runs along on its own independent tracks without any particular direction.
Mindlessness. Basic ignorance can take three forms. The first is basic self-consciousness, thinking that we really exist as a separate individual. It is based on the six senses that include the [manas] mind. The second form is emotional reaction such as passion, aggression, ignorance, jealousy, pride, doubt, etc. These come out of the ego’s realization, on some level, that it really is not in charge. The third form is mindlessness which is a state of total bewilderment and confusion. It is a fixation on the phenomenal world that freezes the natural spaciousness of being. It is the fundamental style of ego.
“Meditation is an act of non-duality,” says Trungpa (1987, p. 79). It is engaged in order to undo the ignorance and reveal the natural state of awareness or wisdom that is called transcendental knowledge or prajna. The ultimate state that is sought is called tathagatagarbha which means Buddha nature. It is the basic intelligence inherent in every experience life brings us. It means being fully awake and open to things as they are; in other words, acceptance. Tathata means “as it is.” Obviously one must transcend the egomind and all its games in order to reach this level. This is not easy as you have probably already discovered.
Exercise: Buddhist View of Mind
Read the Introduction and pages 13-22, 63-164 in Cutting through
spiritual materialism. You can add Zen mind, beginner’s mind
if you want to go into more depth by looking at the Zen Buddhist approach.
The Yogic View
You met the yogic view in Book I which was based on Jnana Yoga. This is the path of knowledge and self-study. For a fuller discussion of these concepts, see Book I of Return to Spirit.
Exercise: Like a Thousand Suns
The section of the Bhagavad Gita that is relevant to this book is the middle six chapters. To tie that in with this discussion of mind and thinking, read the Introduction and Chapter 7 which is the first chapter in Like a Thousand Suns. The introduction will resonate somewhat with the ideas that have just been presented from Buddhism. We would expect this since Buddhism grew out of the Yogic tradition. In the introduction, Easwaran offers his eight-step program for spiritual living which includes meditation and mantra. Compare his concept of one-pointedness with the Buddhist concept of no-mind. Try to answer the following questions:
What is Self-realization and what is the related concept in Buddhism?
What is the Self? What is buddhi? Who is Purusa?
What is projection? What is Om? Do you have a mantam?
If not, do you like any of the ones Easwaran describes? What
characteristics of the Lord do you find in this chapter? Make a list.
Then try to describe the nature of God for a child. What is maya
and to what concept in Buddhism is it analogous? How does it manifest?
Why does a loving deity allow us to suffer? What is your reason for
coming to the spiritual life? How is it that your life is your message?
What is nirvikalpa samadhi and what is its correlate in Buddhism?
Why is it difficult to love the impersonal Godhead and what could be done
about that to achieve unity consciousness? How can we gain release
from the tyranny of our desires?
Powers of the Mind
The antelope in the chakra diagram represents siddhis. These are more refined senses that begin to make their appearance in this chakra. Some examples are seeing lights or visions, precognition, ESP, telepathy, clairvoyance and synchronicity. At first they have the characteristics of a deer: they are shy and gentle, fleeting like touch and go, kindness, and relaxation. They are not meant to be grasped, let along harnessed for ego purposes. They come to reinforce your commitment to the path and to encourage you in your journey. The proper response to them is to watch them and let them go. They will return if you treat them with respect.
A related phenomenon is an altered state of consciousness. You may have experienced this during meditation if you have been sitting for a while. Altered states can be very pleasant, terrifying or anything in between. When they are new to you, you may feel frightened. They can take numerous forms and last for varying lengths of time. You could think of being in love as an altered state of consciousness with which we are all familiar. A state of grace is an altered state. Drunkenness is an altered state. Reviewing your entire evolution at one sitting is an altered state. Leaving your body is an altered state, to give you an idea.
You could say that an altered state is anything that is not the socially-acceptable, “normal” way of viewing the world or of functioning in it. They begin to come through at this level because the barriers have been removed. That is, they may appear if you have been doing the spiritual practices and cultivating a clear, singlepointed mind. If they are invoked deliberately and prematurely, they may run into blockages in the etheric body which can cause considerable psychological and emotional distress. Most forms of spiritual emergency are altered states that come without warning to someone who is not prepared for them.
Incidently, if you have trouble believing in out-of- body experiences, you might want to check out a newly published book called Mindsight by Kenneth Ring and Sharon Cooper (1999). They are presenting some pretty convincing evidence that people who are blind from birth can accurately report visual perceptions of events that occurred while they were having an out-of-body experience. This also speaks to the issue of whether perception and the mind are really located in the brain.
Social drugs bring on altered states which is the main reason people take them. However, you can have the same experiences eventually and safely if you engage in the purification exercises of these guidebooks in order to prepare your bodymind naturally. Experimentation with drugs is dangerous because it can result in psychosis or death if not done under competent supervision. Furthermore, the good experiences are not permanent nor as available as they might become with the proper preparation.
Review chapter 9 in A path with heart and do the meditation on
page 134. How is your understanding of this material different this
time around? Notice that what you get out of an experience depends
upon what you bring to it. How can spiritual experiences serve you
Discrimination and Clarity vs Doubt
The antidote to mental confusion and doubt is discrimination. You may have noticed by now that this concept is a recurring theme throughout your spiritual practice and study. It is extremely important to develop discernment on the spiritual path, so you do not go astray and wander down some treacherous byway. There are many temptations to detour or to use what you are learning for your own personal gain. But these must be resisted strenuously for your own psychological and spiritual health. The goal is to subdue your ego, not to empower it.
Another reason why discrimination is important is that we do so much projecting that it is difficult, most of the time, to tell whether what is going on is the other person’s stuff or our stuff. We can only deal with what is ours since we cannot change others. To be sure we know what is ours requires a great deal of questioning, self-examination and vigilance. . . discrimination.
The goal is clarity. Your mind becomes clear and full of light. All, or almost all, ignorance is erased and you are established in the knowledge of who you really are. From this position, you will be enabled in whatever you undertake. Emotions settle down and cease to bother you, for the most part. However, their energy is still available when the situation calls for it. You can tell exactly when that is but only if you have cleared your bodymind and personality of all the debris. That involves a willingness to learn new things and a basic humility. Clarity is a condition worth praying for.
1. If you can secure a copy of Parabola magazine, the Fall, 2000 issue, pp. 85-89, read “Educating the Educator” by J. Krishnamurti. You might want to order a copy of this issue as it is dedicated to teaching and we will be returning to it. Parabola is online at www.parabola.com. Think about the recommendations Krishnamurti is making for education. Compare them with the educational system as you experienced it and the ideas presented in this section. How might we bring the best of all these systems to our children? Do you think it can or will happen? What could you do to contribute to such change?
2. Read pages 187-206 in Cutting through spiritual materialism. Do you think clarity of mind and sunyata are related? In what way, if so? Have you ever experienced the void? What was your reaction? Did it scare you or were you able to rest in it? Do you like the Great Mantra? If so, why don’t you try reciting it off and on during the day and see if it has any effect on you.
3. Continue working with the practices to which you have already been introduced in Living from the heart. We will return to the others later.
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We have explored the social and educational settings in which our adolescent
children must seek their identities and their path in life. And we
have seen how some of the casualties of brokenheartedness can occur.
The next Unit III. The Wishing Tree begins
our study of how knowledge and practices from the eastern traditions can
address some of these problems.