The Greatest Danger : The Deadening of Heart and Mind

Chapter 2 of the book “Coming Back to Life” by Joanna Macy and Molly Young Brown talks of the Pain for the World, what deadens our heart and mind and the cost of blocking our Pain for the World.

Here are some extracts from the book, which I have also recorded on the podcast “Coming Back to Life, Readings and Practices” (see Spotify link above)

“The Great Turning arises in response to what we know and feel is happening to our world. It entails both the perception of danger and the means to act. As conscious, embodied beings endowed with multiple senses, we are geared to respond: instantly we leap from the path of an oncoming truck, dash to douse a fire, dive into a pool to save a child. This response-ability has been an essential feature of life throughout human evolution; it allows us to adapt to new challenges and generate new capacities. It enables whole groups and societies to survive, so long as their members have sufficient information and freedom to act. In systems terms, response to danger is a function of feedback — the information circuit that connects perception to action. Appropriate response depends on an unblocked feedback loop.”

 “What we are dealing with here is akin to the original meaning of compassion: “suffering with.” It is the distress we feel on behalf of the larger whole of which we are a part. It is the pain of the world itself, experienced in each of us.

No one is exempt from that pain, any more than one could exist alone and self-sufficient in empty space. Feeling pain for the world is as natural to us as the food and air we draw upon to fashion who we are. It is inseparable from the currents of matter, energy and information that flow through us and sustain us as interconnected open systems. We are not closed off from the world, but integral components of it, like cells in a larger body. When that body is traumatized, we sense that trauma too. When it falters and sickens, we feel its pain, whether we pay attention to it or not.

That pain is the price of consciousness in a threatened and suffering world. It is not only natural; it is an absolutely necessary component of our collective healing. As in all organisms, pain has a purpose: it is a warning signal[…]”

“The problem, therefore, lies not with our pain for the world, but in our repression of it.

“So let us explore two questions. First, what causes this repression, and then what that repression costs us and our world.”

So, what deadens the heart and mind, we ask?

  • Fear of Pain
  • Fear of despair
  • Spiritual traps, like spiritual bypassing
  • Fear of not fitting in:

Sadness and regret are seen as a sign of weakness, while impassivity is seen as “cool”. Plus, no one wants to be seen as a prophet of doom or a conspiracy theorist

  • Distrust of our own intelligence
  • Fear of guilt
  • Fear of distressing loved ones
  • View of self as separate
  • Hijacked attention by all the gadgets and social media around us
  • Fear of powerlessness – What’s the point? L
  • Fear of knowing and speaking:

We cling to the image of our leaders as well meaning, even if they are incompetent, like we would cling to an abusive parent, and or fearing retaliation in some cases

  • Mass media ‘s message “CONSUME, OBEY AND BE SILENT”
  • Other factors such as time pressure and social violence and injustice that deaden our response…

And now, what is the cost of blocking our pain for the world?

“We may try to protect ourselves from feeling pain for the world, but that very effort costs us a great deal. We pay a high price in diminished awareness, understanding and authenticity.”

Impeded Cognitive Functioning

“As a doctor working with Vietnam veterans observed, “The mind pays for its deadening to the state of our world by giving up its capacity for joy and flexibility.”

“We cut ourselves off from information that contradicts our preferred assessment of the situation and that might arouse stressful feelings. Consequently, there’s less of our natural intelligence available to us.”

Impeded Access to the Unconscious

“What we ban from consciousness does not disappear. On an individual level, we store repressed material in our bodies where it may manifest as illness. And on the collective level, as Carl Jung pointed out, the distress we would banish gets acted out on the stage of history.”

Impeded Instinct for Self Preservation

“To be afraid to look at and respond to that which threatens all life constitutes a blocking of the muladhara, cutting off primal intelligence and energies essential to survival. ”

Impeded Eros

“To be cut off from this root chakra robs us of our birthright to deep ecstatic connections within the web of life. Without Eros, our lives become more desiccated and robotic, even as we dream up robots to serve us. This loss of Eros has led to a flourishing of pornography in which we pathetically try to revitalize our sexual natures in contrived and trivializing ways. The frustration of so basic an urge can lead to violence as well.

When the erotic drive is weak, we pay less respect to the aesthetic dimension of life. No longer seeing the arts as essential, we use them for embellishment and display of wealth, and we cut support and funding for art, music and drama in our schools and communities.

At the same time, we see a desperate pursuit of pleasure and short-term gratification in our culture today. There seems to be a new hedonism in the consumption of goods, entertainment, sex, alcohol. This hedonism derives from more than sheer appetite. Its frantic quality does not reflect a healthy lust for life so much as the contrary: the absence of — and yearning for — a truly erotic connection to life.”

Impeded Empathy

“Eros nourishes our rootedness in the web of life, fostering empathy, that vital connection to those with whom we share this world. Without empathy, our natural capacity to sense and identify with the joy and suffering of others is crippled. Instead, we tend to project our repressed fears and anger onto other people”

Impeded Imagination

“Free play of the imagination […] opens us to new ways of seeing and new ways of being.

This crucial source of all creativity is blocked when we resist images, ideas or feelings that might trigger moral pain”

Impeded Feedback

“Each act of denial, conscious or unconscious, is an abdication of our power to respond. It relegates us to the role of victim, before we even see what we can and want to do.”

Coming Back to Life

“ Our pain for the world […]is dysfunctional only to the extent that it is misunderstood and repressed.

[…] We don’t retrieve our passion for life, our wild, innate creative intelligence, by scolding ourselves and soldiering on with a stiff upper lip. That model of heroic behavior belongs to the worldview that gave us the Industrial Growth Society.”

“The worldview emerging now […] lets us behold anew and experience afresh the web of life in which we exist. […]It opens us to the vast intelligence of life’s self-organizing powers, ”

“It lets us honor our pain for the world as a gateway into deep participation in the world’s self-healing. ”

Excerpts From: Joanna Macy and Molly Young Brown “Coming Back to Life.”

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