We must become the kind of people that can create and enjoy a life-affirming culture.
Many of us recognise that humanity is at the cusp between evolving a viable culture and an apocalyptic unravelling of our own doing.
A critical feature of our current situation is that many people, including prominent leaders, are mentally disturbed in many different ways. Mental disturbance shows up at different levels, including massive investments in nuclear weapons and their delivery systems, workplace bullying, environmental policies that destroy our life-support systems, increased spouse abuse during COVID lockdown, and child abuse.
Mental disturbance such as anxiety, depression, and a sense of inner emptiness also manifests as ‘retail therapy’, excess consumption, and compulsion to have the appearance of high status. Mental disturbance is a significant driver of environmental destruction.
So, in addition to focusing on the large institutional drivers of environmental degradation – things like economic growth, trade agreements, and destructive environmental policies – some of us would do well to focus on improving the mental health of the general population as well.
This is a role that ‘evolutionary catalysts’ take on. We do it at two levels;
- Introducing people to tools they can use for themselves to resolve emotional issues.
- And, if we are in positions of influence, affecting the social determinants of health such as organisational culture, or, looking larger, areas of crime and poverty.
The most accessible thing we can do to act as an evolutionary catalyst is to introduce people to tools they can use to resolve their own emotional issues.
- Inner Work is a manual of such tools.
The starting point is to introduce people to the concept of the Witness, or Observer – the part of us that can observe what we do without judgement. This is important, because unless we actually notice what we do that’s problematic, we will not know what to change.
Importantly, then, we notice ‘occasions of upset’, and take them as an indication that we have something to resolve.
Useful techniques given in the book are:
- EFT – a way of tapping on acupressure points to resolve emotional triggers. Excellent training materials are on the web.
- Option Process – a way of asking Zen-like questions that can quickly get to the emotional root of a disturbed reaction.
- St Francis Process – a way of using visualisation to meet unknown parts of ourselves that are emotionally disturbed.
There is also a section on:
- Working with subselves
A more sophisticated approach to working with subselves given in
- Jay Earley Self-Therapy
It is a manual of how to apply Internal Family Systems Therapy for oneself. The web has brilliant videos on Internal Family Systems Therapy.
For those who like theory,
The Body Keeps the Score: Mind Brain and Body in the Transformation of Trauma, written by research psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk, masterfully describes brain imagery studies that show changes in blood flow which demonstrate that techniques of this sort improve brain functioning, with concomitant improvements in an emotional functioning.
These techniques work. Once you have mastered a technique for yourself (meaning that you have achieved good results with it for yourself) you are equipped to tell another person how to do it, and perhaps coach them as they try it the first time. This can be done informally over a cup of coffee.
In doing this, you’re not acting as a psychotherapist. You are acting as a trainer and coach. And for those who are open to it, this is a great service. As valuable as skilled psychotherapy is, there is a great deal that we can do on our own.
The payoff, if we persevere, is that we become much happier ourselves, and less dependent on external things. This obviously has implications for being okay with reducing excess consumption – and hence for the evolution of a life-affirming culture.
How we can turn this into a movement
As social theorist Riane Eisler observed, there are two fundamental ways of relating in the world. She calls them domination-control and partnership-respect.
Domination-control relating is about power over others, often with murderous cruelty. Think of slavery, the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the European invasions of South America, North America and Australia, as well as other places.
The attitude of domination-control also shows up environmentally. We attack nature (and ultimately ourselves) with pesticides. Fossil fuel companies spread disinformation in order to intentionally confuse the conversation about climate change. Profit trumps community and the environment.
Partnership-respect relating, in contrast, is about taking care of community and the environment.
Some might regard the idea of evolving a global culture based on partnership-respect relating as ‘idealistic’. Actually, it is essential for our future survival. This is because the continuation of domination-control is our primary style of relating – which it has been in the West for millennia – will lead to the rapid destruction of civilisation either through ecological unravelling (which is already underway), or through nuclear war.
The good news here is that there is a cohort of people, sometimes identified as ‘Cultural Creatives’, who already embody partnership-respect relating. They comprise perhaps 30% or more of the United States and Australian populations.
A characteristic of cultural creatives is that they are not obsessed with making massive amounts of money. They would rather spend quality time with family, friends and their own projects. They do not try to coerce their children into pre-set career paths, but support their kids in developing in their own way (a la Robin Williams in The Dead Poets Society). And, importantly, they care about environmental sustainability.
There is reason to suppose that deep down everyone has a core of basic decency. Buddhists have asserted this for millennia; Internal Family Systems therapists discovered it empirically. Emotional disturbances obscure our core of goodness, releasing rage, violence, cruelty and the rest of the ‘dark angels’ of our nature.
Politically then, the most important question is perhaps not whether ‘left’ and ‘right’ will set policy. Important question is: we evolve psychologically healthy and mature people? To the extent that we do, healthy people will make appropriate decisions for their time.