This an excerpt of the book.
1 ROOTS OF THE DEMON Roots grow deep and tangle. Just as the pale bellies of leaves turn up to drink the incoming rain, blown by cool breezes, roots like spindly fingers reach deep to find the water and the mere traces of nutrients in dark, rich soil. If one compares a photo of a plant’s roots, a galaxy and human neurons, there is a definite corollary in the realm of nature and natural development. Where it takes years of striving and reaching for the roots to reach farther and sap the gifts of the ground, it also takes eons for galaxies to coalesce, and it takes years for neurons to connect and network into the world’s – at this writing – most powerful super-computer.
Roots do not defy the laws of gravity, but they defy the firmness of earth, and so it’s similar with humans and their neurons. Ivan IV, endowed with the power of all Russia by age three, after the death of his father, Vasili III, and remained under the power of his regent mother before boyars possibly poisoned her in his eighth year – only five years later. Having suffered such great loss so early, once he ascended to tsar – the first tsar of the Russian Empire – he opened a reign of terror on the boyars who kept him hungry and without clothes as a child. Like many abusers, the boyars dressed him up and trotted him out for show, but treated him like trash to such an extent he became known as Ivan the Terrible, not terrible as synonym for horrible, but as meaning fearsome, strong, groznii related in Russian language to grom, or thunder. The boyars planted seeds … in the earth … that grew to be roots for their own destruction. Our own roots of being, probably much more benign than Ivan’s, follow the same trajectory, produce the same entanglements. Ivan’s mental roots grew so intertwined that Ivan, in a rage, beat his son in the head and murdered him. When artist Ilya Repin imagined this scene, he portrayed the thing that, again, fulfills the template of human behavior: manic, wrenching regret. Carried away, enraged, master of his domain, the world stops with that one break in the series of crushing, bloody strikes. Boiling down the flowchart of human behavior, with its intricate facets, we have all experienced similar moments – the heat of emotion, the action of emotion, the flash of realization, and the shock of a new set of roots: regret. In the still moments of the night, memories revisit me, and I know regret. The universality of this is my only comfort. I know you are out there, enduring the same thing. In clinical practice, I listened to story after story: “I was so mad. I couldn’t even see straight, and I –” insert regretful thing to say or do. I’ve met men and women haunted by their regrets. One moment of emotion can lead to a lifetime of regret.
If I had enough of these in a group, I taught emotional control in group therapies, and the results yielded tremendous dividends. I would be in a store and hear, “Hey!” to turn and find a former patient who bubbled about their changes. I had them for a maximum of seven days. When I worked another unit, I found a patient handing out answers to fellow patients. Some patients, when brought in against their will, either resisted or acting like a staff member to deal with the affront handed them. I watched the woman, serene, smiling, and it only reinforced to me that those who care for others also need to care for themselves. People who work in psychiatric care are on the same level of their patients, but hopefully operating from a better mental ecology.
But we’re discussing roots. Long, tangled roots. Think of when you were a child. Did you see adults around you bicker? Did you see adults around you scream and rage? It felt like the bottom had fallen out of your world. The fear response made your heart pound. If you saw it with common frequency, you had a wealth of references for everything calming down after a time. You also built a dangerous reference: that for you to feel involved, for you to feel loved, you had to have a cycle of tension and release. This same child may grow to experience the perfect relationship, where the other partner allows him or her to be themselves without asking change, and sabotage the relationship by taking on the behavior of an abusive person – the behavior that builds tension until there is an eruption that leads to a relaxation phase.
This is the root: the observation of parents in earlier infancy through to being a toddler. We learn behaviors by observing behaviors. We have no way of intellectualizing them, of future-pacing them to see their ultimate rational outcome, we just know: eating too much makes you feel like you’re close to family, drinking too much helps you forget the echoes of memory that haunt you, or cigarettes make you feel connection to instant friends who are banded together in a rebel group against prissy society, making sure someone says something we don’t like means they must be verbally or physically punished until they are defeated into silence, or that relaxation is more meaningful than working to increase someone else’s bottom line off of our slavery.
But let’s back up. There is the influence of parents, siblings and grandparents – some extended family – when we are too young to parse through their behavior for logical analysis. If a person yells, you have to yell louder to tire them out; if a bad thing happens, the executor must be punished; the rules must be strictly enforced through terror. But a new thing happens: we get opened to a wider world through school, which offers teachers and peers. The teacher wants you to remain in your seat, the peers form amorphous rules for what works in minor cultural subsets, and you’re exposed to a new set of rules. Not following these instructions results in pain, be it detentions, expulsions, or expulsions from the natural herd, and expulsions from the natural herd can be the most painful, for it strikes at the heart of primordial evolutionary survival notions seated deep in the subconscious. This, however, is the beginning of self-correction. To authority figures outside your family, you have a choice: comply to be part of the herd or walk a path of non-compliance to risk being ejected from the natural herd. We may even receive messages from media that blazing our own path is deified, but rarely is the distinction made that a rebel like so many great minds like Einstein or Bill Gates or Steve Jobs is much different from any other self-trailblazers with the exception of potential consequences. The thing is, those earliest influences will remain the strongest, and in school one learns socialization, which is essentially the disguising of family influences in the social field, or social sphere. During the years of social exposure to peers, we observe, learn, and refine our systemic approach. One of the most educational points in my school years came from a peer. In high school I decried the requirement of gymnasium, and a peer said, quite simply and eloquently: “School is made to make sure you’re a well-rounded person, body and mind. Physically capable, intellectually capable.” That one, simple statement was thirty years ago, so you can tell that stuck with me. This is a case where peers informed the internal mental ecology. But I’m referring to a different group of years: the discomfort of adolescence. This is where the strange, disjointed, emotionally dissonant experience of adolescence comes in. It is where young people are learning to be adults. In fact, when handed the responsibilities of adults, the mistakes seem larger and more consequential. The reactions from adults, while you and your hoodlum friends master the universe, become stronger, because we’re taught stronger retaliation shapes the behavior of others much more powerfully. But our childhood observations are buried to meet the acceptable model established by greater society. We’re still making observations, but we are comfortable with our behavior, even in the face of massive opposition. Forging your own path is part of learning how to be an adult. Here there is a disparagement: you may go to work, or you may go to university. While the pressure to conform to social norms may relent (unless you’re so outside the norm of your peer group), but you risk the entrance to a romantic relationship, and this is where the person is laid bare. If your norms do not match, this is where you’ll find out, but it is clouded by the influences of your significant other. This is where the greatest pains are likely to find you, but only because it is the area of greatest intimacy. Your lifestyle, your familial influence, are all laid bare against another’s,
This is the entanglement of roots, and if you’re keen, you spot the changes you may need to make. This is the height of emotional involvement. When they say there is a thing line between love and hate, this is where the truth of that emerges. I used to hear older people say, “Marry your best friend,” and though that was the dumbest advice ever given; your best friend is your best friend, and you spouse is your spouse, but when I sat there, married, and looked at my spouse thinking, I would never hang out with you, I would never spend time with you given a choice, I knew the value of that advice.
All those things aside – whether you’re in the middle of that, before that stage or after that stage and re-claiming your life and patterns on your own terms (which feels fantastic, by the way) – this point and other similar points reveal something important. Losing a job you’ve been at for years, ending a marriage, there is a palpable sense of relief. What a strange phenomenon. It’s easier to focus on the worry of getting another job or the mourning of what’s passed, but the relief is there. We like being comfortable. We like having our patterns, because there is no stress of cognitive intervention on those patterns all day every day. But this is a pivot point, and I would say the highest order of mental change: trauma. Trauma has been proven to provide a reboot of the brain, so to speak, in that the patterns scramble.
Review: we can painfully intervene on behaviors moment-by-moment, or we can be traumatized and hope to think clearly enough to grab the reigns to steer things in a more positive direction. If we want to improve, we absolutely have to take the reigns and cognitively intervene on ourselves and those accidentally established patterns. We would not be able to walk, talk, read and write if we didn’t step outside of our comfort zones for the time it takes to learn these things. Look at how automatic walking, talking and reading comes now.
To invest in a deep cognitive change, there must be several factors. Change for self. Do not change for anyone else. They will disappoint the expectations you place on them, giving you prime opportunity to walk back on your changes. See the long-term investment in self and those benefits first, and then see the outgrowth to benefitting those in your field from your fantastic new qualities but see them serving self primarily.
Next, analyze the path and see if you’re willing to invest in that path for the long term. Can you do this for the long term? Can you realistically see doing this for the long term, even when you don’t feel like it? Do you have the equipment to overcome internal objections? Are there long-term benefits from this change? Does the change seem realistic?
Having a plan – for challenges, for recidivism, for odd steps off the target – makes all the difference in being able to maintain your new chosen path. Let’s take a step back and mention reading and writing again: when a teacher sets out to teach reading and writing, that teacher develops a lesson plan, and textbooks present curricula. That curriculum sets you on a path within a body of knowledge. That curriculum is considered in classes on a schedule, the same times on the same days, so the brain is ready when the time comes, but once that topic is mastered, the schedule goes away, and you’re on to another level. That is precisely one reason why these books are structured the way they are. This is a curriculum in producing a desired result, the acquisition of knowledge and ability.
Desire is a drive to do or accomplish something, want for something, the drive for something. As discussed earlier, being cast out of the social order, as a child, may create in some children an adjustment of behavior because they – and this isn’t conscious and defined – have a desire to match the values and mores of that social order. These adaptations fail at home, or they fail and change once away from that social order, because that is change for other people that can be put on and taken off like a jacket. A lot of general advice has made me balk over the years, and one such piece of advice is, “You can’t effectively love anyone else until you love yourself.” How stupid and egotistical, I thought. I had to suffer a lot of loss before I understood that I cannot hang my life on another, and I will always have me, I will always have to be comfortable with me, I will always have to look out for me. If I absorb my sense of self in another, they will inevitably tire of me, they will inevitably rankle under the pressure of carrying my notions, and I will be left bereft. I found I am worth the work, and I should be my best me for me. You have that. So rather than desire something for the will of someone else, we hopefully desire things for ourselves that spills out to the others in our lives.
In clinical practice, people were in front of me because they had reached a horrible pivot in their lives. It was Get Help or Die. They were open and receptive. You’re probably not at that point – or I hope you’re not – but you’re here to step out of a destructive comfort zone. You see a need in your life, you have a desire, you’re seeking an answer, and now you’re here. I hope this provides a comfort, though: I designed these books, because I had a need, and I know how I work: I need daily reminders, I need to push myself through climbing some mountains, and I need momentum. There are noble qualities that, if I removed all particulars and made them general enough, they would form a web of behavior that serves me well for life. But I also need periodic review, so this is always here to revisit when I feel my efforts flag in development of a particular quality.
So what is this? This is a set of daily reminders, a set of daily questions, a planner dedicated wholly to a desired quality, and ultimately a curriculum dedicated to building quality in life for self. We will look at our past and current influences, understand our automatic thinking and how to make it serve us in this aspect, and plan for honing and developing this quality in our lives and thinking. I have read and received a lot of fine instruction in change, but they’re all books that say, “Now go off and do this work on a legal pad or something.” I fly off and forget it. There is a beginning, but there is no end, and for my own purposes, I like the challenge of filling a notebook. Therefore, this is designed as a defined time, a set course, and a challenge to fill a book with the work I would do in this area.
The qualities I’ve aimed for are quite simple, and they appear through philosophies and religions worldwide. Transcendence – the ability to rise above all things, Self-Discipline – the ability to act in accordance with higher goals whatever state you’re in, Reason – the application of logic and moderation in thinking and conduct, Compassion – sympathetic concern for others, and Mastery – the ability to gain skills, knowledge or ability. While most of these aim at a singular directive, the book on Mastery had to be more flexible, because it could be mastery of a physical skill or an academic topic.
You may ask: it only takes twenty-one days to build a habit, why twelve weeks? That’s three months. Because twenty-one days is the minimum for developing new habits. Studies have shown that it can take upward of twenty-one days to 300 days, or most of a year. So we are here for Transcendence. Let’s begin in the actual quality …
2 AN EXAMINATION This is the basis for our study from here on out. Look up Transcendence online, and you’ll receive results that are shaky at best. You’ll get results about movies, a dictionary definition that states, “existence or experience beyond the normal or physical level.” The synonyms listed are alarming: superiority, supremacy, predominance and other such terms that imply grandiosity. I came to understand transcendence quite differently.
During my teenage years, I inhaled books. I challenged myself with reading. I heard people discuss religious texts with an emotional fervor, but also a lack of reasoning and definitely a lack of actual reading. These were people given a scrap of information, attached it to their internal ecology with a different meaning, and then attached their sense of godliness to it to make it powerful. Challenging this, with only a highly emotional basis, would do as well as stabbing someone with a stick of butter. So I read. Now and then, something would stick in my mind, because it smacked up against something in my life.
Bhagavad-Gita makes numerous references to control of the five senses, transcending those inputs to be the driver of the chariot, rather than the five senses controlling the path. The text featured much to do with transcending the Ego, transcending the Self and transcending, rising above, the senses for a more spiritual existence. Sri Chinmoy, a more modern teacher, has said, “I do not have any set goal; my goal is self-transcendence. I always try to transcend myself. I do not compete with the rest of the world. I compete only with myself, and I try to become a better human being. This is my ultimate goal.” Transcendence figures prominently throughout Hindu thought. Christians talk of being on the Earth, but not of the Earth. As a foundational element of spiritualism even running through native cultures the world over, transcendence has risen through the mire of nationalities, cultures and personalities to reach into philosophy, where the notion has suffered application to argument and logical analysis (most associated with Immanuel Kant), and into psychology and protracted secular analysis through people like Joseph Campbell and Abraham Maslow.
“Transcendence refers to the very highest and most inclusive or holistic levels of human consciousness, behaving and relating, as ends rather than means, to oneself, to significant others, to human beings in general, to other species, to nature, and to the cosmos.” Abraham Maslow, highly regarded and highly quoted, developed the Hierarchy of Human Needs, beginning with physiological needs (food, water, shelter), safety needs, love and belonging, esteem, and the pyramid is capped with self-actualization. Maslow was in process of working on Self-transcendence as the new cap of the pyramid when he passed away on 08 June 1970.
I personally find a problem with the constant definition of transcendence as ignoring self and getting absorbed into others. We’ve seen the over-zealous be all-too-interested in everyone else’s lives – they’re the self-righteous; they ignore their own baser impulses to point at everyone else as a way to deflect from their own short-comings. Another issue with the conventional definitions of transcendence is how it can be easily confused with dissociation, a facet of psychological diagnosis characterized by impaired self-awareness. Abuse victims can organically seek out dissociation as a coping mechanism. So when one explores dissociation, one sees that Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is in this group of dissociative disorders, as is Dissociative Identity Disorder and general Dissociative Disorder, but it all is a dulling or blotting of self-experience by removing the sense of conscious interaction with one’s environment. A personal example: I would go on 25-mile bike rides. I loved the experience. A tiring experience, I would go 12.5 miles out, forcing myself to put out the effort to get back home, or I would ride the bus to work and then bicycle home the 26.6 miles home. This pushed through a range of internal experiences, from exhaustion to second wind to repeating mantras to keep a rhythm to feeling … dissociated. Was it transcendence or dissociation, this temporary state? It felt happy, peaceful, but I also felt disconnected from what the body was doing.
Going back to Sri Chinmoy – he founded the Sri Chinmoy Annual Self-Transcendence 3100 Mile Marathon. Of all well-known gurus, Sri Chinmoy was the most avid athlete. Ashprihanal Aalto is the world record-holder in this event as of this writing, having finished the 3100 miles in 40 days, nine hours. This is a mind-blowing accomplishment. My bike rides are microscopic in comparison. But this path of thinking made me wonder about the finer points of dissociation and transcendence. Through personal experience and deep inventory, I can say that dissociation cuts off all emotion. Transcendence opens us to all the joy and wonder in life no matter what happen around us. Notice how that definition ties into self-discipline and compassion. Transcendence is dissociation from anger, from rage, from fulfillment of the ego, but deep absorption, oneness, with joy and fulfillment and understanding.
In a religious sense, Buddhism talks of the Oneness, the singularity, of all things. Oneness is a part of the equation of transcendence. It is not completely loss of self, or loss of sensations of self, but a feeling of being a link in the chain of all things, of being connected to all largeness. Our bodies are made of cells, programmed for arrangement by chromosomes and deoxyribonucleic acid. Those cells are made of atoms, and those atoms are protons and neutrons orbited by electrons whizzing around the void between. We come about by the fertilization of an egg, cells dividing, and none of those things would have been possible without nutrients from the earth, be it vectored through plant life or animal life having eaten plant life, the nutrients from the earth, and when our cells stop reproducing, when we stop breathing, we are either cremated to become a part of all things, or we decay to return to the earth. Either way, we are networks of matter, vibrating energetically, vectored from the natural world, reliant on water to drink that passed over the earth, a continuum that unites us all. Oxygen and nitrogen and hydrogen are chemicals in gas form that surrounds us all, a continuum under the dome of atmosphere. For those too hurt by religion and cannot reconcile themselves to any religious notion, science proves this connectivity, this continuum and oneness through which we all pass.
Now about our fellow cosmonauts, our fellow travelers: our interactions with others are a web of concepts, prejudices, ideas/notions, judgments, and defenses of self or sense of self. If you eliminate all the subtext of interactions, there is one common element: people act out of need or perception of need. A woman dying of cancer told me, “I’m afraid of going to hell.” That vulnerability reached something inside me. I told her that there may be some born with malignant intent, but she is not one of them, and every decision was to fulfill an internal need, even if the method to fulfill it may not have been the direct route, and any creator knows why people do what they do and could not condemn the creation or the path set before the creation. Just as justified as you felt when making some of your life’s off-target occasions, just as justified as I’ve felt in making some of my life’s off-target occasions, others feel just as justified in their decisions.
That can be a difficult concept to grasp and put into practice. In the rashness of the moment, the roots speak. But the only way to find inner peace is to surrender the storms inside. I don’t know how intense your storms are. I think we’ve all been torn asunder by our thoughts at least once in our lives, so it’s a common experience – not common insofar as temporal frequency, but common among people. If it is common by temporal frequency, this book is for you, too. This book is especially for you.
Now, Maslow says that we need survival needs and safety needs and love and belonging needs handled before we can achieve self-actualization and self-transcendence. Then how do monks do it? How do Buddhists in meditation do this? How do ascetic yogis do this? I contend this can be achieved. It’s much like achieving to enjoy life or enjoying life as you achieve. I would rather enjoy life as I achieve. I would rather rise above pettiness and temporary, small things.
Before we move on, let’s define transcendence for the purposes of this book: - Rising above all around us and seeing it all for what it truly is. - Having the coach’s view of ourselves in our Field (immediate environment) - Open to the joy and wonder of all life around us - Thoughtful and reasonable