A priest and psychotherapist finds answers in Genesis, the work of Carl Jung and the science of meditation
|BY DAVID RICKEY — Hate crimes are nothing new. They have been around ever since the homo sapien emerged from its evolutionary forebears. Animals have an instinctive “fight or flight” response built into their brain structure.
Human beings, as they evolved, didn’t lose it; they just built on top of this “reptilian brain.” The new layer was the “cerebral cortex,” which allowed us to reflect on experiences and develop ideas rather than just act out instinctual responses. And therein lies the problem. Hate is the just the attitudinal equivalent of “Fight or Flight”.
As we evolved the ability to think in abstract ways, we also developed the ability to rationalize, to protect our sense of “self” by developing complex thought patterns that could shift the blame/responsibility to others.
Our sense of “self” and “place” are threatened by events, disappointments, failures. When our Ego can’t tolerate the threat, it calls upon the mechanisms of the lower brain — and attacks.
When confronted in the Book of Genesis, Adam said: “The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.” More aggressively, when Cain’s sacrifice was rejected, he slew Abel rather than ask, “Why?”
Scapegoating the “other”
These mythological stories point to a very human truth: We generally do not like taking responsibility for our own situations, and so we seek a scapegoat to project our foibles on.
When James W. Von Brunn entered the Holocaust Museum and began shooting, he was, once again, trying to find a scapegoat for his own inability to make sense out of his own life. In 1981, during another time of financial crisis, he attempted to take the Federal Reserve Board hostage because interest rates were so high he couldn’t manage his finances. It wasn’t his fault.
The Federal Reserve, in his delusion, was an “international bankers’ conspiracy to rule all nations from one central seat of government.” And because they were under the control of Jews (he rationalized), they had driven up the rates to make it so difficult to be “white” in this country.
This is an extreme example of the tendency of the Ego to shift responsibility for life’s negative events to something outside of its control. “It’s not my fault!” When life becomes particularly unmanageable, the shift of responsibility becomes global, and turns into hate, either of a person who represents the problem, or of a whole group like “The Jews” or “The Illegal Immigrants.”
There is probably a consistent ratio between the amount of psychic pain we have experienced (painful childhoods, or intense adult stress), but haven’t processed beyond defending against feeling the pain (see “pain body” articles on this site), and the propensity to hate and seek scapegoats for our internal conflicts.
Rising tensions in times of crisis
Although there have been several strong examples of this shift in the news lately — the killing of Dr. George Tiller for performing late term abortions, and the Islamic convert who killed two Army officers outside a recruiting center. As despicable as these all are, they are really a direct symptom of human beings’ collective failure to evolve beyond ego-driven thought patterns. It continues to be easier to blame others than do the work of introspection or develop self-awareness.
Teaching self-awareness through meditation
The solution to these hate crimes isn’t the elimination of free speech, or even just the incarceration of radical advocates of hate. A long-term solution is to teach meditation in every school, every church, ideally, every place possible, including our prison system. This would give everyone the tools they need to evolve human consciousness beyond the Ego.
This may sound idealistic, but there is no other known way that is so effective in supporting the evolution of consciousness. Meditation and yoga have been proven to reduce stress and improve learning in schools. Vipassana Meditiation is taught in prisons in India.
Meditation literally allows us to shift the center of our reactive decision making from the ‘Reptilian Brain” and the ego-centered left hemisphere of the cerebral cortex to the more holistic right hemisphere. This is the evolution of consciousness, and, I believe, the solution to hate crimes.
(Burning cross image by arash_rk, via Flickr, CC 2.0)
David Rickey is an Episcopal priest, Soul’s Code co-founder and counselor in San Francisco who does a weekly ministry at a residence for the elderly in northern California. Follow David on Twitter.
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