“Every failure to cope with a life situation must be laid, in the end to a restriction of consciousness.  Wars and temper tantrums are the makeshift of ignorance, regrets are illuminations come too late”.      Joseph Campbell (Reflections on the Art of Living)   

Shakespeare wrote that there is no prison more confining than the  one we don’t know that we are in. When we hold onto grudges, perceived wrongs, resentments, anger and judgments, we profoundly affect our  Mental, —Emotional, —Physical, —Spiritual health in detrimental ways. Unconsciously inhabiting a prison of our own making.

The brain loves efficiency and doesn’t like to work any harder than it has to. When you repeat a behavior, such as complaining, your neurons branch out to each other to ease the flow of information. This makes it much easier to repeat that behavior in the future—so easy, in fact, that you might not even realize you’re doing it. So when we judge someone or a group of people, hold a grudge, hang onto resentment or anger the neurons in our brains connect making neural pathways similar to a well-worn path in the woods.

“We don’t see things as they are we see things as we are”  (Anin)

You can’t blame your brain. Who’d want to build a temporary bridge every time you need to cross a river? It makes a lot more sense to construct a permanent bridge. So, your neurons grow closer together, and the connections between them become more permanent. Scientists describe this process as, “Neurons that fire together, wire together.”

Repeated complaining or any habit of thought rewires your brain to make future complaining or repetitive thoughts and behaviors more likely. Over time, you find it’s easier to be negative than to be positive, regardless of what’s happening around you. Complaining and negativity  becomes your default behavior, which changes how people perceive you. Psychologist Eric Bern found that “we act in ways to make people behave in order to justify how we already feel”. In other words, the outer world mirrors back what is going on in our inner world. Yet we are convinced that it is the outer world that is causing us to feel bad.

What’s worse: along with chronic stress,  complaining and holding grudges damages other areas of your brain as well. Research from Stanford University has shown that stress and negativity,   shrinks the hippocampus; an area of the brain that’s critical to problem solving and intelligent thought. Damage to the hippocampus is serious, especially when you consider how important it is to have full use of our mental faculties to cope with the many challenges we face in our work, family and personal lives. (Travis Bradperry, PhD)

Resentment, complaining and holding grudges  is bad for your health. 

While it’s profoundy helpful to know that negativity, pessimism and chronic stress leads to brain damage, it doesn’t stop there. When you are angry, anxious, fearful, stressed and   complaining, your body releases the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol shifts you into fight-or-flight mode, directing oxygen, blood, and energy away from everything but the systems that are essential for immediate survival. One effect of cortisol, for example, is to raise your blood pressure and blood sugar so that you’ll be prepared to either escape or defend yourself.

The extra cortisol released by chronic stress, frequent complaining and negativity impairs your immune system and makes you more susceptible to high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, arthritis and obesity. It even makes the brain more vulnerable to strokes. Digestion and wound healing are also impaired making us more suscuptible to gastointestinal disorders and infectious dieseases.  ( Robert Sapulsky, Phd)

Why Forgive? 

“ You are not here to cry about the miseries of the human condition, but to change them when you find them not to your liking, through the joy, strength and vitality that is within you.” (Unknown)

To start the process of of forgiving:  Look at the real consequences of holding on to upsets. Ask yourself:  

  • What do I get by keeping the upset going?
  • Write down any benefits. Who benefits and how?
  • Is being right more important than being happy?

 Being a Victim

  • How long has my victimization been going on?
  • How long is it okay to let others be in control of my happiness?
  • Am I a possible contributor to the problem and not just the victim?
By being honest with yourself and owning your role or part in the situation, you are more able to forgive.  You may need to start small at first but when you do; if feels like a burden has been lifted from your chest or shoulders,  you will feel lighter and better.  If you don’t forgive; remember holding onto grudges has a link to depression, OCD as well as a decreased immune function.  (Forgiveness Foundation.org)

So when we forgive, we get:  —Mental, —Emotional, —Physical and Spiritual Freedom. (Jim Dincalci PhD)   Our brains work better, we are happier, more creative and able to enjoy life more fully. Forgiving help us connect better to spirit. How can you experience the unconditional love and grace of God if you hold onto resentment, anger, grudges and prejudices yourself?

When will you really be ready to let go of all of your upsets? 

* See Robert Sapulsky’s National Geographic video “The Portrait of a Killer- Stress”.

 

“The Privilege of a Life Time” by Peter Metzner


The privilege of a lifetime is being
who you are.
The goal of the hero trip
down to your jewel point
is to find those levels in the psyche
That open, open, open,
and finally open to the mystery
of your self
being Buddha consciousness,
the Christ.

That’s the journey
(Joseph Campbell) Reflections on the Art of Living – A Joseph Campbell Companion

“Find a place where there is joy and the joy will burn out the pain” .

According to Campbell, Satan is the epitome of the intractable ego. That part of ourselves needing to be right, to defend ourselves, feeling separate, better than or not as good as others depending on our beliefs, dogma and life’s situations. Hell is the concretization of your life experiences, a place where you’re stuck, the wasteland. In hell, we blame others for our condition and are so bound to ourselves that grace cannot enter. What is hellish is being stuck without hope, without relief.*

How we mature, depends on taking responsibility for our choices, no longer blaming others, or expecting rescue from them. And to acknowledge the pain of loneliness however much we are invested in social roles and relationships. (James Hollis) Swamplands of The Soul. The mature person i.e. one who is psychologically free : “is confident in his inner world, responsible for his strengths and weaknesses, consciously able to love himself, and thus, able to love others”…. Marion Woodman

In a simple and poignant description of the human condition, and of growth; Jolande Jacobi, a Jungian analyst writes: “Like a seed growing into a tree, life unfolds stage by stage. Triumphant ascent, collapse, crises, failures, and new beginnings strew the way. It is the path trodden by the great majority of people, as a rule unreflectingly, unconsciously, unsuspectingly, following its labyrinthine windings from birth to death in hope and longing. It is hedged about with struggle and suffering, joy and sorrow, guilt and error, and nowhere is there security from catastrophe. For as soon as a man tries to escape every risk and prefers to experience life only in his head, in the form of ideas and fantasies, as soon as he surrenders to opinions of ‘how it ought to be’ and, in order not to make a false step, imitates others when possible, he forfeits the chance of his own independent development. Only if he treads the path bravely and flings himself into life, fearing no struggle and no exertion and fighting shy of no experience, will he mature his personality more fully than the man who is ever trying to keep to the safe side of the road.”
J. Jacobe, The Way of Individuation

There are two gremlins we face every morning.

Fear: I am too tiny it is too hard… I can’t do it.

Lethargy: – chill out tomorrow is another day…

Each will eat us alive… Fear and lethargy are the enemy they are not out there they are inside
Carl Jung wrote: The spirit of evil is the negation of live force by fear… only boldness can overcome that fear.
If the risk is not taken, the meaning of life is violated”

Our task is to recover our personal authority and discern the meaning of our lives.
Who are we to stand in its way?

Stepping Into Your Vision by Peter Metzner


“I have lived on the lip of insanity, wanting to know reasons, knocking on a door. It opens.  I’ve knocked from the inside.” — Rumi

All of our trouble flows from being separated from our instincts.  C.G. Jung

Freud stated that “The price of civilization is neurosis”.   Neurosis meaning being someone you are not,  being split from your natural truth and being defined by an external definition of who you are.   Living a life that is authentically yours;  means being connected to your passion,  using and developing your gifts and natural abilities  in ways that are meaningful, useful and satisfying.   This is what vocational  integration is.    To get to this place requires some reflection and being  ‘real”  with your self.    Asking the larger and important questions can greatly help this process.

Below are powerful questions from James Hollis, PhD   that can help ease access to deeper insights.   Asking the “right”  questions;  stimulates our thinking  to seek to find answers.   We need   to ask and  be open and receptive to the messages we get.  Having solitude and quiet  allows us to hear and discern the answers that come.     Each may take some time so you may want to choose the one or ones that  resonate the most with you at this time.   

The Questions:

  • How do you know what is true for you?   How did you lose your personal authority in the first place?   Did you lose it through adapting  to circumstances?
  • What core ideas – are the defining ideas of my life?
  • What has brought you to this point in your life?  Fate?  Family influences?
  • What parts of history have framed your world?  Are there repeating patterns that make us prisoners of our history?
  • Which pieces or parts of your life are working  for you?
  • What constricts you?
  • What messages did you internalize?  i.e.  We are here to make money;  I have to be perfect,  successful;  have children and make them successful…
  • Why does so much feel like a script that has been written for you?
  • Am I choosing  security over truth?
  • Am I doing  what my peers do?
  • Do I change and grow and how?
  • Why is so much a disappointment?
  • Why do I hide so much from others?
  • What gets pushed underground in my unconscious?
  • Where do I experience the transcendent?

According to Jung, the highest calling is an appointment with our “self”.  We have an appointment with ourselves and not all of us keep it.     We need to mindful and discern where spirit is working in all areas of our lives. If the life we have lived has been too small and it may be too small for most of us;   the task of recovering ourselves is opening to largeness of our journey.

There are two  gremlins we face every morning.

Fear: I am too tiny it is too hard…  I can’t  do it.

 Lethargy:  – chill out tomorrow is another day…

Each will eat us alive… Fear and lethargy are the enemy, they are not out there they are inside.  We awaken only to fall back into the  comfort of our past life.

Jung also wrote:  ” The Spirit of evil is the negation of live force by fear… only boldness can overcome that fear.

If the risk is not taken, the meaning of life is violated.”

We all have a task and it is;  the recovery of personal authority and discerning the meaning of our lives.  Who are we to stand in its way?  We are responsible for finding meaning in our lives.

We can look at symptoms like depression, anxiety, addictions and compulsions as ruptures in our false self.   James Hollis also writes this is the psyche or our “self” trying to break out of the confines of the acquired or false self.    So welcome a symptom.  The psyche which has been captive may have a different agenda than the one our ego or acquired identity is following.    Symptoms may be the psyche no longer able to cooperate in going along the path we are taking.  Similar to the reins of a horse correcting us when we stray.

Jung believed  that every patient knew at some all level what they needed to do.   We all need to become our own psychotherapists
and heal the bridge and split from our natural truth.   The self knows you have always known.   This is the knowledge of the head in service to the knowledge of the heart which gives insight and the courage to live our lives.

If you knew what you are truly capable of, would you move forward into your life with tremendous enthusiasm and very little self-doubt?
Find  your voice and a place in your life where your brilliance  can shine through.  There is  something we all can do to bring us a sense of satisfaction and meaning.   Find  what you love the most in life.  Search inside for that deep passion or restlessness, and allow  yourself  the quiet and peace to give it full expression.
There is genius in every one of us, as a natural part of our birthright.  Let it come out.  The German Poet Rilke wrote: “Our task is to be defeated by ever larger things” .
References and suggested reading:
Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life: How to Finally Really Grow up James Hollis PH.D, Gotham books New York, NY 2006
Why Good People Do Bad Things:  Understanding our Darker Selves.  James Hollis PH.D Gotham books New York, NY 2007
Memories Dreams , Reflections.  Carl Gustav Jung  Random House, Inc. 1963
 

 

Overcoming Addictions and Compulsions: “Finding Your Self” by Peter Metzner


If something out side of your self is the reason you are happy;  you are hostage to it.  Ekhard  Tolle

In over 15 years in being in the field of Human Development, I have seen no correlation with having a lot of material things and “happiness”.   Money is important and ranks along  with oxygen to live.   Yet, when there is enough oxygen to breathe  it doesn’t register in our awareness of needs.

Neuroscience has found that money or accumulating money stimulates the pleasure centers of our brains.      If we are happy, have supportive relationships and are living meaningfully and with purpose,  material comforts can  enhance our sense of well-being.   However,  if we are unhappy,  we are  like hungry ghosts.   Searching and driven yet never satisfied.  Riches, material comfort, distractions etc.  can’t make us happy if we are anxious, driven, unhappy or suffering from low self-esteem or lack of meaning.   If materialistic ambition becomes a substitute for our intrinsic needs for giving and receiving love and doing work that is “right” for us, we can become addicted in the pursuit of diversions, pleasure, accumulating “things” , titles, accomplishments, etc.

Neuroscientist Robert Sapolsky, PhD  explains, “dopamine levels increase as soon as we start anticipating a reward. Once the dopamine starts flowing, monkeys and people will work and work and work expecting  a treat.  For monkeys,  a grape is usually enough.   For people, the treats include:  a pair of sneakers, a shiny car, an MBA that might lead to a high-paying job, early retirement, a couple of minutes of entertaining diversion, a few seconds of sexual gratification, etc…    Monkeys and people’s neurochemistry  function virtually the same!    The main difference: “Monkeys don’t get hooked on beliefs, ideologies, dogma, degrees, titles, fantasies, lies, empty promises, or self-deceptions” .

What is known about addictions:

  • Any behavior that can deliver a dopamine reward can become an addiction.
  • The more powerful the addiction, the greater the denial, the weaker the free will, the more likely addicts are to detest any information that threatens to keep them from feeding their addictions.
  • It’s possible to get addicted to safety, peer approval, and esteem.   (The dopamine project)

Using brain scanning equipment, researchers have found that there is basically one addiction—dopamine addiction. When heroin addicts shoot up, the street drug tells their brains to produce dopamine. Heroin is a trigger.  Dopamine flow creates the sensation of being ‘high.’ When it comes to scoring dopamine rewards, there are many triggers. For some the trigger is cocaine. For others it’s nicotine, alcohol, sex, gambling, or food.  Street drugs are physical dopamine triggers that are hard to deny because they need the ingesting, inhaling, or injecting of addictive substances.  Sadly, physical dopamine addictions destroy lives and wreak societal damage.  Researchers have recently added video games and texting to the list. Yet the most dangerous dopamine triggers include easy to deny psychological addictions. Psychological dopamine addictions may be more insidious because addictive emotions, memories, thoughts, fantasies, ideologies, rhetoric, and deceptions also trigger release of  dopamine.

An addiction is anything you can’t stop doing and it serves as an anxiety management system.  Along with addictions come formidable psychological defenses.  They include self-deception, denial, and a lack of morality that can even lead to a capacity for murder.   Reason, integrity, morality and a distaste for lying, cheating, stealing, and killing  that non-addicts value are often no match to addicts of:   power, money, fame, substances etc.   We see  in history and current events “examples of unstoppable, unreasonable, inhumane, addict/killers attacking, vilifying, and eliminating reasoning, humane, non-addict/non-killers” (The Dopamine Project)

Addicts have an amazing capacity to dismiss and deny facts, truth, and reason.   “Dopamine flow fuels addictions: More dopamine = yes, like, do more while dopamine withdrawal = stop, hate, avoid. “Thinking”   justifies, rationalizes, and defends  dopamine-influenced decisions”. (The Dopamine Project)  In other words,  intelligence  in the service of  addiction.

One of the most addictive abstractions is money.  Someone  addicted to alcohol or drugs, increasingly organizes their life  around the use and abuse of their substance(s) of choice.  The person who uses money to mood alter can have their relationship with money spin out of control; by being overly focused on accumulating it, spending it, hoarding it or using it to control people, places and things. For example,  as with a drug or alcohol, tolerance increases and a person  may find him/ herself needing to devote increasingly larger amounts of time to these activities, to get the same mood altering high that only a little once provided.  They become increasingly preoccupied with all things related to getting and maintaining their “substance”  excluding  other areas of living.  Gradually, just like any addict, money and the relationship with money becomes a primary preoccupation.   (Tian Dayton, PhD)    Personal drives and identity become so wrapped up around money  that they lose sight of who “they really are” .

No matter how much they have, money addicts crave more.    As with all addictions, the first pleasure is soon replaced by cravings and withdrawal.  Acquiring more money only increases stress levels which keep money addicts craving more money while worrying about losing what they already have.  Money is highly addictive because it quickly and easily converts into other dopamine triggers that feed other addictions like drugs, foods, sex, gambling, approval, status, and power.  The corrupting influences of money addiction everywhere and at every level of society.

So what does this have to do with Finding your “Self”. 

“Since our capacity for Self deception is truly monumental”  (Yorum Kaufam ) Self Awareness and  Self Mastery entails being aware:  of who we really are, what truly matters, the emotions that drive our behaviors, being able to “regulate or manage them,  knowing our passions, our talents, owning our weaknesses and:   what our “Self”,  Psyche or Soul are asking of us.  This is an awareness of what we truly value and a growing understanding  of our place in the world and connection to the transcendent.  To get there,  we need to recognize the mine fields, the seductions and powerful conditioning  of society that  pulls us to these  baser levels of living, wanting  and consuming.  Freud wrote that “The price of civilization is neurosis” – neuroses defined as  ” being someone who you are not”.

Rather than conform mindlessly or automatically to the expectations of  society,  we can  listen to that small voice. If we are quiet and still enough, summoning the will to live a life that is authentically ours.   “When we allow our light to shine we give permission for others lights to shine” ( Marian Williamson)    The great change agents throughout history, Christ, Buddha, Mohammed, Gandhi, Mandela, Martin Luther King, etc.  all answered their summons to raise human consciousness, be in relationship to the transcendent,  live mindfully, ethically and see all of humanity as family.

It is OK  to not fully know our  selves or our true North.   The beginning of wisdom is to realize what you don’t know.  To get there requires openness, receptivity and  mindfulness.    I was forty before shifting into my role of teaching, coaching & training.   By  seeking to stay true to yourself, your values and what energizes you is the compass that helps in finding your way.

The Greek god Aesculapius decreed “that it  is through suffering we come to wisdom” .   Avoidance of suffering can lead to and fuel addictions, compulsions and flights from reality.  (James Hollis) Suffering can also give us empathy, understanding and insights which can help others work through their pain.  Being fully human is to experience the full range of emotions.  Being aware and   experiencing   “all”  emotions enables us to live more fully,  better exercise  free will,  intentionality and grow into the person we are meant  to be.

 “There is hope for the world if enough people do their inner work“. C. G. Jung

References and suggested readings:

The Dopamine Project – Better Living Through Dopamine Awareness : see  http://dopamineproject.org/

Swamplands Of  The Soul – New Life in Dismal Places, James Hollis inner City Books  1996

What Makes Your Brain Happy and Why You Should do the Opposite.  David Disalvo Prometheus Books  2011.

The Portrait of Addiction by Peter Metzner


How do addictions and compulsions happen?

According to David Disalvo in his book What Makes Your Brain Happy and why You Should do the Opposite;   “Our brains are equipped with a reward center that serves to adaptively motivate behaviors that benefit us. Without this drive to seek out pleasurable experience we would be very dreary.

This center is  called the mesolimbic reward center. It is like an unprotected power grid that  can be high jacked from external forces.  These forces make use of the same reward circuitry.  The problem is that the new rewards  are usually  not beneficial.  Our brains suffer a type of reward distinction blindness and new imprints are integrated into the grid.  (Koob et al. Neuro circuitry of Addiction)

The common denominator of in all compulsive behaviors is a mal functioning reward center. Whether it is drug abuse, addiction to the internet, video games, gambling, sex, or over eating the same underlying dynamic facilitates compulsive continuation and intensification of the behavior.  (Disalvo)

Research on rats found that stimulation of the reward centers of their  brains made them become compulsive.  Rats trained to press a bar that activated electrodes  in the pleasure center of the brain would not stop pressing the bar – forgoing sleep, eating, drinking or having sex as long as the bar was available.  Many starved to death – they never gave up the bar. This explains why meth addicts forgo food, sleep and sex to get more of the substance their brain craves.   The more the reward is sought the more the craving and the compulsive behavior is reinforced.

Dopamine is often called the reward neurotransmitter.  It  is essential to our survival but  a potent enemy within when our brains reward circuitry is overwhelmed with the wrong types of rewards.  When it comes to technology, Dr. Gary Small, in his book, ibrain, found that someone with compulsive tendencies and (there are estimates of 50 million people in this country) is predisposed to a range of addictive behaviors and technology has a way of accelerating the process.

Carl Jung pointed out to the founders of AA “that the craving for alcohol is the equivalent, on a low level of the spiritual thirst of our being for wholeness – an implicit attempt to connect with a higher power”.

Alcohol or any mood altering drug offers a brief promise of this connectedness and then yanks it away. One must continue in order to anesthetize this new pain and so it goes. (James Hollis, Swamplands  of  the Soul)  “Whatever structure we have erected to bolster our shaky sense of self, our addictive patterns are defenses against anxiety whether we know it or not.”  (Hollis p. 90) All addictions and compulsions are anxiety management techniques.  As the anxiety mounts, we indulge in repetitive patterns that allow us to connect briefly before the angst and emptiness return.  This is a good description of what a living hell is like.   As Hollis writes “what cannot be born consciously  will be projected onto a person, a substance, a behavior … Compulsions narrow life down until there is no living – existence perhaps but no living. “

So in addition to overcoming the physical addiction and highjacking of our reward center, which is very difficult, Hollis also states; “the guilt and shame linked to our short comings erodes the strength needed to confront the unthinkable.”   To go down in the anxiety state to feel what we really feel is to go through and break the tyranny of the timeless emotions that haunt us” .

Suggested readings and references

Swamplands of the Soul – New Life in Dismal Places.  James Hollis 1996 Inner City Books

Under Saturn’s Shadow – The Wounding and Healing of Men James Hollis 1994 Inner City Books

What Makes Your Brain Happy and Why You Should do the Opposite.  David Disalvo Prometheus Books  2011.

Neurocircutiry of Addiction, George f. Koob et al. Neuropsychophamarcology  35 Jan. 2010

Waking Up From the Trance by Peter Metzner


We are bombarded daily with messages from advertisers, the media, shows, movies, the news,  our families, work, friends, school, churches and  politicians to name a few.  Neuroscience has found that our brain is more active when we are asleep then when we are watching TV.  (Unless we are very selective about what we watch.)   Without being aware, we internalize these messages  thrust-ed upon us every day.   Advertisers use sophisticated classical conditioning techniques to make us mindlessly want things we  don’t need.  As a society, we have been conditioned to be materialistic and view success as having lots of money and “things”.     We see images of what the ideal woman should be, what success looks like, what we should drive and how we should think.    Based on our selection of news programs, our political affiliation or religious orientation as well as our self image,   we automatically seek out information that confirms and conforms to our beliefs.

In his ground breaking book ” What Makes Your Brain Happy and Why you Should do The Opposite, David Desolvo writes:  ” The brain doesn’t merely prefer certainty over ambiguity – it craves it!”  Our need to be right is actually a need to feel right!’   Neurologist Robert Burton calls this a certainty bias which skews our thinking.    Since our brains crave certainty,  we become anxious or threatened  if our world view, religious or political beliefs are challenged.  Even despite compelling evidence to the contrary.  (Disalvo)  Thus differing view points, cultures, religions and ways of living are threatening to many.   Think about it;  if my way of thinking or believing  is right, good and the only way – your way must be wrong.  So if I am good then you must be bad or evil and I should fight evil.. Right?  Or?…

It is easy to see how  religion can be a source of conflict rather than a force  towards healing .  It not that any particular religion is the problem.  It is simply our brains!      Kenneth Wilber, one of the great current thinkers of our time states moral development falls into three distinct stages.  It is all about me (egocentric)  to it is all about us (ethnocentric)  to it is about all of us. (world centric)  This parallels  Kohlberg’s three levels of moral development.  pre conventional to conventional to post conventional.    According to Wilber, 70% of the world population is ethnocentric.  Which means I see and accept the world through the lenses of my tribe, culture, religion,  country, political belief etc.

With  ethno centric populations being  70%  and numerous countries  owning weapons of mass destruction, controlling vast amounts of the worlds resources,  consuming  significant amounts of these limited resources, and polluting significant amounts –  it doesn’t take an Einstein to see the trouble we are headed towards!

In order for there to be peace, sustainability and a shared common humanity;  a critical mass of  people need to reach the third stage of moral development.  (Its about all of us ) Carl Jung was asked if there was hope for the world  and his answer:   “There is – if enough people do their inner work”.    It is up to each of us individually to wake up from the collective trance and realize that there is only one human race and we are all a part of it.  As Desmund Tutu says-  ‘We are all family”.    Jung and depth psychologists realized that on a soul level we are all connected.   This supports Jesus’ teaching that what you do to the least of us you do to the rest of us.   Einstein reasoned that that this feeling separate from each other is an illusion.   From an energy standpoint as well  – we are all connected.

Jung believed that Neurosis is being or having to be someone you are not.  This is the imprisonment of  having to conform to external definitions of who or what you should be.   Shakespeare wrote the “most confining prisons are the ones that we don’t know that we are in”.  Psychological health and emotional well being is to  live authentically. This is “to see with your own own eyes and to feel with your own heart”  (Einstein)

To “wake up” and develop awareness and mastery, is to  step outside of your emotional field”.  (Daniel Starr)   To do this;  is to over-ride our conditioning.    Awareness is the foundation for growth, healing and taking responsibility for our lives.  With awareness we have choices.  The cost of staying unaware is to  be on automatic pilot and living a life that is not authentically and genuinely ours.   When we stay stuck with self limiting beliefs like we are not good enough, deserving,  we can’t make a difference etc..,  the names, the places, the people may change in our lives, but we repeat patterns with similar outcomes.  As we become more aware, we have more choices  and can live more intentionally and creatively.

So how does one  wake up from a conditioned, neurotic life?

According to Starr and the wisdom traditions,  the first step is to become an observer, or witness, to daily moment-to-moment experiences.  Once we can observe an emotion or a belief and not identify with it we are less likely to be managed or driven by it.   This is an important step towards self mastery.  Awareness helps us  learn to manage or regulate emotions rather than be driven by them.

It is important to observe without making judgment.  Self judgement and being self critical entrap you in your emotional soup. Self-awareness enhances self mastery by letting us see or witness our repetitive patterns.  This allows us to intentionally choose  our direction and experience .    Self-mastery helps us be more  effective in our work or vocation as well as other areas of our lives.

Emotions are states of mind, and we are always experiencing some state of mind, so we are always feeling an  emotion – whether we are conscious of it or not.   There is a relationship between thoughts and emotions.   With each thought, there is an emotional trigger or an emotional association. We think about something,  then comes an emotional association, and this, sparks another thought with its emotional “baggage”.   The process continues as the emotions resonate or fuel each other and increase in intensity.  We have all experienced being upset or angry about something (or someone) and by continually thinking of the situation, we become increasingly agitated.  This  called “awfulizing”.  We can awfulize or “catastrophize” about anything:  fellow workers, managers, clients, policy, finances, relationships, family, self-esteem, and so on.   The patterns are very similar.  Being aware of this,  makes it is fairly simple to master.

The most important part of self-mastery is awareness, (Starr)  so when you start to notice the awfulizing, reward yourself for experiencing this.  You are then associating a positive emotion with the act of becoming aware.  This is a lot more beneficial then getting upset about awfulizing again.

When  we experience negative emotions,  it is usually because we are experiencing something in our environment or our mind that is not in harmony with what we want.   Think about this being an opportunity to discover what we do want.   The starting point is first  knowing what we do not want.  The steps are simple:

1)      Reward yourself for becoming aware of your awfulizing, or negative emotional state.

2)      Notice what it is that you do not want, and ask yourself “If that is what I don’t want, then what is it that I do want?”

3)      Consider what you want and imagine, feel, experience what it would be like to have what you do want.

This third step is very important, for you are now choosing an emotional state, and developing self-mastery.  (Again, which is better, being in a negative state, or choosing a positive one?)  With this exercise we “shift”, from conditioned patterns to more  effective and productive emotional states which allows us to better handle stressors and frustrations.

Making this shift, requires waking up to what is happening to you in the present, and by choice or intention, consciously turning your attention from what you do not want to what you do want.   Wherever you put your awareness, that will expand.  According to William James considered by many the father of psychology – we become what we think about.  Neuroscience has shown that by thinking regularly of the virtues and strengths we want to adopt – that our brains actually start to rewire synapses which helps us embody these qualities.

Happiness is a by – product of  having purpose, meaning, healthy supportive relationships and feeling like we are making a difference.   Psychological maturity comes from knowing who we are, being responsible for our behaviors knowing our strengths and weaknesses accepting and loving ourselves thus being able to accept and love others. (Marian Williamson)   Affluence in the fullest sense is knowing what matters, going for what is truly important and meaningful and feeling or having a sense of being connected to something larger than ourselves.  We each have a summons to living our own lives and to wake up from the trance.

The world needs you.

Suggested readings:

What Makes Your Brain Happy and Why You Should Do The Opposite,  David Disalvo 

The Essential  Ken Wilber; An Introductory Reader 

The Middle Passage From Misery to Meaning in Midlife;  James Hollis

Conscious Leadership and Living by Peter Metzner


Our EGO is our made up identity.  Ego comes from the Latin word meaning “I”.  According to Freud,  it has primarily two needs:  to be right and defend itself.  Its  major drives:  sex and aggression. (I think he had males more in mind with his theories)   This correlates to testosterone which supplies men with sexual drive and aggression. When too much is produced it can get one in trouble in the way of violence driven behavior.   When healthy, the  ego mediates  drives  for sex in healthy ways – ie in a committed relationship or in “healthy”  and socially appropriate ways.  Aggression is channeled productively into work or meaningful accomplishments in sustainable ways.

Psychologists after Freud believed that the our egos have higher level needs such as a need for meaning and purpose.  (Frankel)  When our basic safety and shelter needs are met,  affiliation needs become very important. When affiliation needs are met, the  higher levels needs for meaning purpose and individuation become more important.   (Maslow, Rollo May)

So what does this have to do with leadership?

The foundation for conscious leadership is to be aware.  To be aware of self, others, what really matters, and as much as possible to the larger world in which we play and work.  When the ego is immature, we are selfish.  “It is all about me”  which is an egocentric orientation.  In the next stage of ego development we care about:  our family, tribe, company, political party, religion, etc.  the focus is more “ it is about us”  This is an  ethnocentric point of view.     The third stage of ego development is a much larger sense of  “I” . “I care about all of us.”   This is a world-centric orientationA  movement from identifying with race, political, party, religion etc,  to a fuller awareness that I am not only:  a white male or female,  Christian or Jewish, black or white, Hispanic, Democrat or Republican but an American and; ultimately a  human like everyone else.  In a Spiritual sense  it is  “feeling” or realizing a shared connection to all people and with all of  life.  Desmond Tutu embodies this  awareness with his teaching that “we are all family!”

The sense of separation and feeling disconnected  has gotten us in trouble.  Since the ego always wants more and more, has a need to be right and defend itself,  it can never be satisfied. No amount of material wealth, power or privilege will ever be enough.  Almost like a hungry ghost – always consuming – never satisfied.  Elkhart Tolle states ” The biggest fear of the ego  is:  The truth!      This feeling of isolation and disconnect from self, others and the transcendent  leads to consumerism  and looking to the outside for validation and worth.

When fixated in an ethnocentric state of consciousness – I feel a sense of belonging and connection to my “tribe” but  separate and better than those that have different belief’s  religion, political view-point, culture etc.  Kenneth Wilbur’s research indicates that 70% of the world’s population is in an ethnocentric stage of  moral and ego development.  Is it any wonder that we are collectively in the trouble we are currently experiencing with the global financial meltdown, income disparities in the US, international and cultural conflicts to name but a few?   When combined with superior technologies in the form of weapons and economic power, and mixed with high levels of cognitive intelligence, an ethnocentric group tends to serve the goals of its members at the expense of others while convinced their beliefs  and actions are moral and “self”-righteous.   The result;  unending conflict with more and more sophisticated tools to use for defense and applying against the “out” groups.    Which seems to be one  of the recurring themes and dilemmas we are living though today.

With technology reaching warp speed and our collective moral and ego development lagging far behind we all have our work to do!  Maria Von Franz widely recognized as a foremost authority in psychoanalytic theory wrote that “Specialization leads to ego inflation”  In other words the more specialized a person’s knowledge is, the greater the risk of  hubris.  She cautions we all need to be vigilant against ego inflation.   For when we become  well-educated or  successful we can be too easily be seduced into thinking  that we are better than others  because of:  our looks, degrees, success, religion political view points etc.   This feeling of superiority or arrogance can and does lead to treating others not like us in inhumane and inequitable ways .

Von Franz, at the end of her life warned:  “The greatest threat to civilization is ego inflation”    So, is there hope for the world?  Carl Jung’s answer to this is:  There is hope for the world if enough people do their work – their inner work.   As Einstein stated, the thinking that got us into trouble will not get us out.   If  enough people and leaders grow or develop  to a more world-centric or it’s about all of us view and internal compass;  I believe too; there is hope for the world.   In every crisis there is an opportunity for growth.   Currently we are fast approaching the point when the pain of not changing is becoming greater than the fear of change.     The time is now for each of us in our own unique ways to become part of the solution.  You will find your leadership at the intersection of the world’s needs and your talents.  Listen to your heart.

Peter Metzner

Nov. 5, 2011