His Majesty the Baby

Certain aspects of the infant's psyche may be usefully examined. There are three factors which should receive mention. The first is, as Freud observed in his priceless phrase "His Majesty the Baby," that the infant is born ruler of all he surveys. He comes from the Nirvana of the womb, where he is usually the sole occupant, and he clings to that omnipotence with an innocence, yet determination, which baffles parent after parent. The second, stemming directly from the monarch within, is that the infant tolerates frustration poorly and lets the world know it readily. The third significant aspect of the child's original psyche is its tendency to do everything in a hurry. Observe youngsters on the beach: they run rather than walk. Observe them coming on a visit: the younger ones tear from the car while their elder siblings adopt a more leisurely pace. The three-year-olds, and more so the twos, cannot engage in play requiring long periods of concentration. Whatever they are doing must be done quickly. As the same children age, they gradually become able to stick to one activity for longer times.

Thus at the start of life the psyche (1) assumes its own omnipotence, (2) cannot accept frustrations and (3) functions at a tempo allegretto with a good deal of staccato and vivace thrown in.

Now the question is, "If the infantile psyche persists into adult life, how will its presence be manifested?"

In general, when infantile traits continue into adulthood, the person is spoken of as immature, a label often applied with little comprehension of the reason for its accuracy. It is necessary to link these three traits from the original psyche with immaturity and, at the same time, show how they affect the adult psyche. If this is done, not only will the correctness of the appellation "immature" be apparent but, moreover, a feeling for the nature of the unconscious underpinnings of the Ego will have been created.

Recognizing Immaturity

Two steps can aid in recognizing the relationship between immaturity and a continuance of the infantile elements. The first is, by an act of imagination, to set these original traits into an adult unconscious. The validity of this procedure is founded upon modern knowledge of the nature of the forces operating in the unconscious of people of mature age. The second step is to estimate the effect that the prolongation of these infantile qualities will have upon the adult individual.

This attempt should not strain the imagination severely. Take, for instance, the third of the qualities common to the original psychic state, namely, the tendency to act hurriedly. If that tendency prevails in the unconscious, what must the result be? The individual will certainly do everything in a hurry. He will think fast, talk fast and live fast, or he will spend an inordinate amount of time and energy holding his fast-driving proclivities in check.

Often the net result will be an oscillation between periods of speeding ahead followed by periods during which the direction of the force is reversed, the brakes (superego) being applied in equally vigorous fashion. The parallel of this in the behavior of the alcoholic will not be lost on those who have had experience with this class of patients.

Let us take the same trait of doing everything in a hurry and apply it to the word "immature." Few will deny that jumping at conclusions, doing things as speedily as possible, give evidence of immaturity. It is youth that drives fast, thinks fast, feels fast, moves fast, acts hastily in most situations. There can be little question that one of the hallmarks of the immature is the proneness to be under inner pressure for accomplishment. Big plans, big schemes, big hopes abound, unfortunately not matched by an ability to produce. But the effect upon the adult of the persisting infantile quality to do everything in less than sufficient time can now be seen in a clearer light. The adult trait is surely a survival from the original psyche of the infant.

The two other surviving qualities of the infantile psyche similarly contribute to the picture of immaturity and also, indirectly, help to clarify the nature of the Ego with a capital E. The first of these, the feeling of omnipotence, when carried over into adult life, affects the individual in ways easily anticipated. Omnipotence is, of course, associated with royalty, if not divinity. The unconscious result of the persistence of this trait is that its bearer harbors a belief of his own special role and in his own exceptional rights. Such a person finds it well-nigh impossible to function happily on

an ordinary level. Obsessed with divine afflatus, the thought of operating in the lowly and humble areas of life is most distressing to him. The very idea that such a place is all one is capable of occupying is in itself a blow to the Ego, which reacts with a sense of inferiority at its failure to fill a more distinguished position. Moreover, any success becomes merely Ego fodder, boosting the individual's rating of himself to increasingly unrealistic proportions as the king side eagerly drinks in this evidence of special worth.

The ability to administer the affairs of state, both large and small, is taken for granted. The belief that he is a natural executive placed in the wrong job merely confirms his conviction that, at best, he is the victim of lack of appreciation, and at worst, of sabotage by jealous people who set up roadblocks to his progress. The world is inhabited by selfish people, intent only on their own advancement.

The genesis of all this is beyond his perception. To tell him that his reactions spring from the demands of an inner unsatisfied king is to invite incredulity and disbelief, so far from the conscious mind are any such thoughts or feelings. People who openly continue to cling to their claims of divine prerogative usually end up in a world especially constructed for their care. In others, the omnipotence pressures are rather better buried. The individual may admit that, in many ways, he acts like a spoiled brat, but he is scarcely conscious of the extent of the tendency, nor how deeply rooted it may be. He, like most people, resolutely avoids a careful look because the recognition of any such inner attitudes is highly disturbing. The unconscious credence in one's special prerogatives savors too much of straight selfishness to be anything but unpleasant to contemplate.

And so, for the most part, people remain happily ignorant of the unconscious' drives which push them around. They may wonder why they tend to boil inside and wish they could free themselves from a constant sense of uneasiness and unsettlement. They may recognize that they seem jittery and easily excited and' long for the time when they can meet life more calmly and maturely; they may hate their tendency to become rattled. But their insight into the origin of all this is next to nothing, if not a complete blank. The king lies deep below the surface, far out of sight.

Inability to Accept Frustration

The last trait carried over from infancy is the inability to accept frustration. In an obvious sense, this inability is another aspect of the king within, since one of the prerogatives of royalty is to proceed without interruption. For the king to wait is an

affront to the royal rank, a slap at his majesty. The ramifications of this inability to endure frustration are so widespread, and the significance of much that occurs in the behavior of the alcoholic is so far-reaching, that it seems advisable to discuss this trait under a separate heading.

As already indicated, on the surface the inability of the king to accept frustration is absolutely logical. The wish of the king is the law of the land, and especially in the land of infancy. Any frustration is clearly a direct threat to the status of his majesty, whose whole being is challenged by the untoward interruption.

Even more significant is another aspect of this inner imperiousness. Behind it lies the assumption that the individual should not be stopped. Again, this is logical if one considers how an absolute monarch operates. He simply does not expect to be stopped; as he wills, so will he do. This trait, persisting in the unconscious, furnishes a constant pressure driving the individual forward. It says, in essence, "I am unstoppable!"

The unconscious which cannot be stopped views life entirely from the angle of whether or not a stopping is likely, imminent, or not at all in the picture. When a stopping is likely, there is worry and perhaps depression. When it seems imminent, there is anxiety bordering on panic, and when the threat is removed, there is relief and gaiety. Health is equated with a feeling of buoyancy and smooth sailing ahead, a sense of "I feel wonderful!" Sickness, contrariwise, means lacking vim, vigor and vitality, and is burdened with a sense of "I'm not getting anywhere." The need to "get somewhere" to "be on the go," and the consequent suffering from eternal restlessness, is still another direct effect of an inner inability to be stopped or, expressed otherwise, to accept the fact that one is limited. The king not only cannot accept the normal frustrations of life but, because of his inordinate driving ahead, is constantly creating unnecessary roadblocks by virtue of his own insistence on barging ahead, thus causing added trouble for himself.

Of course, on some occasions, the king gets stopped, and stopped totally. Illness, arrest, sometimes the rules and regulations of life, will halt him. Then he marks time, complies if need be, waiting for the return of freedom, which he celebrates in the time-honored fashion if he is an alcoholic: he gets drunk, initiating a phase when there is no stopping him.

The immaturity of such a person is readily evident. He is impatient of delay, can never let matters evolve; he must have a blueprint to follow outlining clearly a path through the jungle of life. The wisdom of the ages is merely shackling tradition which should make way for the freshness, the insouciance of youth. The value of staying where one is, and working out one's destiny in the here and now, is not suspected. The 24-hour principle would be confining for one whose inner life brooks no confinement. The unstoppable person seeks life, fun, adventure, excitement, and discovers he is on a perpetual whirligig which carries him continuously ahead but, of course, in a circle. The unstoppable person has not time for growth. He must always, inwardly, feel immature.

This, then, is how the carry-over of infantile traits affects the adult so encumbered. He is possessed by an inner king who not only must do things in a hurry, but has no capacity for taking frustration in stride. He seeks a life which will not stop him and finds himself in a ceaseless rat race.

All this is part and parcel of the big Ego. The individual has no choice. He cannot select one characteristic and hang on to that, shedding other more obviously undesirable traits. It is all or nothing. For example, the driving person usually has plenty of energy, sparkle, vivacity. He stands out as a most attractive human being. Clinging to that quality, however, merely insures the continuance of excessive drive and Ego, with all the pains attendant upon a life based on those qualities. The sacrifice of the Ego elements must be total, or they will soon regain their ascendancy.

Harry M. Tiebout, M.D.

Skin in the Game

I have been thinking about getting older recently, how I am ultimately more out of touch with the times. I am having a harder time speaking the language of current culture.

Paradoxically there is also a stronger longing to reach the next generation, but my ideas seem too traditional, to “deep” or intellectual for the times.

I have thought of late maybe I need to eschew this way of being to have more skin in the game.

Maybe it is like that moment when God decided to descend to earth to reach humanity, in an act of great humility and humiliation.

Paul explains the act of God descending to earth as Jesus in Philippians.

5-8 Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.

9-11 Because of that obedience, God lifted him high and honored him far beyond anyone or anything, ever, so that all created beings in heaven and on earth—even those long ago dead and buried—will bow in worship before this Jesus Christ, and call out in praise that he is the Master of all, to the glorious honor of God the Father.

I think of the evangelical pastor who buys hipster jeans and fashionable clothing so the ancient message of Christ can be made known to a younger generation. Reaching the lost through whatever means.

Other things come to mind like a story about an Orthodox monastic that dispensed chocolate to young kids as a gift of love, it rotted their teeth, but it was the only way to get their attention.

Or a father who takes a job as an engineer at the refinery, really an artist at heart, he puts it aside his passions to keep his family afloat financially.

Tonight I will watch the Bachelor because it is one of the few opportunities I get to spend one on one with my wife.

What is this common idea here?

The culture of frivolousness, the vanity of vanities, used as a means to share time with one another.

Skin in the game.

Jesus could have easily presented ultimate truth in one final blow. But instead, he steeped himself in the essence of the culture, the simplistic forms of life on life’s terms.

He offered a cold glass of water to someone with a parched throat.

Broke bread and ate fish to commune with his best friend Peter.

It is like the time I offered a dirty Halls lozenge in my pocket to an elderly woman having a coughing fit at the airport.

Or when my friend who was a celebrity pastor got into a horrible car accident and was laid up in bed, unemployed and without purpose. He told me it was an agnostic heroin addict that came over consistently and played video games with him, that ultimately led to his emotional healing. His congregation flooded him with platitudes and theological propositions, but none knew how to simply pass the time with him.

It also happens to be the clearest indication of mastery for most of the great filmmakers. The aim of my greatest vocational aspirations. Concealing ultimate truth and subtext, the art of subversive communication through symbolism, metaphor and common storylines.

One could easily stand justified, separated and purified from such a lower existence, but then they might miss the connection with others.

How does one do this without becoming convoluted, trite, insincere? Corrupted by the corrosive secular materialism of our time.

Especially when the current postmodern agenda and everything 'of the moment' seems to be antithetical to God, almost apocalyptic.

Stand on the outside and throw stones? Surely as great prophets have done in the past...

But what about love, the love the meets people where they are in the mundanity of their everyday lives, the place they spend most of their time?

This is the realm of communion and connection.

People are not transformed by truth bombs, it is usually slow and nuanced, they experience healing inside of relational dynamics.

When they are being helped with simple things, frivolous things one might presume.

Today I was getting coffee at a hipster boutique intelligentsia spot. I felt like crawling out of my skin, the absurdity of it all, a whole community of people working, carrying on and dialoguing around an 8 dollar cup of caffeine. But again, it was a community of people, vibrant, connected, I was on the outside, partaking reclusively, casting stones.

This thought ultimately brings me to the connection with my own children. At the moment they are watching looney toons, Disney’s best, mindless simplistic distraction… one could argue it is their teacher in this season of life. It is essential as a father I find a way to experience what they are experiencing, to understand the stories they are absorbing. Otherwise, I will remain on the outside of their lives. I must learn the sports they love, the songs they sing and the things that keep their attention.

So I can love them fully.

So I can have skin in the game.

I still loath Disneyland but they love it.

The humility of God descending to earth as Jesus is striking.

I pray one day I might experience a peace with it.

For now I am struggling to find a way in.

Heaven bound but no Earthly good

“Do you thirst for a heavenly realm, a place beyond the hard, brutal existence of life on earth? Have you encountered glimpses of the other side through deep meditation, prayer, near-death experiences, ayahuasca, dmt, lsd or other out of body experiences? Do you assume it is a kind of 2 story universe we are living in, only passing through, heaven up there and us down here? What if you found out it was a one story universe, heaven on earth, and your unquenchable thirst for another reality was merely escapism? Would it change how you were showing up and committing your life to the relationships, responsibilities, and hardships that besiege you? After years of struggling to become more spiritual so I could transcend the material world and all of its illusions I nearly lost my marriage and my job. The disembodied experience had lead to a type of reclusive disassociation with all of reality and ultimately non-being. I was heaven bound but no longer any earthly good.” From a recovering @hyperspiritualhobo 

Suicide and Breakfast

Famous psychologist Jordan B Peterson opens up about his friend's suicide and the danger of intellectual arrogance.

In the room but not really in the room

My mother always said it was the curse of the Cephalonian people, my Greek ancestors, known for their existential brilliance, mental illness and eternal fatalistic despair. My father said it's just plain old narcissism and the cure is to go help someone else. 

It’s just a feeling I have had since I can remember being alive. 

No psychiatrist or therapist has been able to diagnosis it, at best they medicated me for 2 years in high school so I wouldn't kill myself. In the rooms of alcoholics anonymous they refer to it as a spiritual malady, the reason many of us relieved ourselves through the bottle. The Christian mystics coined it as Acedia, "a state of listlessness or torpor, of not caring or not being concerned with one's position or condition in the world. Often leading to a state of being unable to perform one's duties in life." Jeff Foster an astrophysicist explains "depressed" spoken phonetically as "deep rest". He goes on to challenge the stigma of depression as mental illness, with the idea that on a deeper level depression is a profound, and very misunderstood, state of deep rest entered into when we are completely exhausted by the weight of our own identity. 

Some of the semantics are fun to play with, I could go on, but you get it. Like a black hole or parts of our world unknown, many have attempted to explore depression with futile research, self-help programs, and psychological trickery. The recent suicides of beloved actors, musicians and wander lusting celebrity chefs don't help either. Add on a postmodern revolution of positive thinking, overly prescribed pharmaceuticals, forced self-esteem, social apps that work like slot machines and the endless pursuit of happiness and you can see where this epidemic gets a lot more complicated.  

Somewhere along the way I just stopped working against it and accepted it as my baseline, or as a passing cloud formation. I accepted my inability to find joy in the mundane drudgery of human life. High-school homework, making the bed, any routine, or anything without a clear dopamine reward in site and my gears would always shift down, my mind aching for that eternal sleep. Distraction, over-intellectualization, over-working, therapy, physical exercise, and multitasking, often got me outside of myself and worked for a small window, but eventually, I had to enter back into the despair and face life on life's terms. 

My wife who is wonderfully pragmatic and lives deeply into the moment always challenges me that I am ‘future tripping' or ‘living in the past' but 'shitting on the present'. The school's socio psychologist came over recently to evaluate our son's misbehavior and stated something similar. Watching our son act out, she affirmed the same thing our dog trainer said years ago when that little monster was biting everyone. A missile to my fragile masculine ego. She stated, "You are simply lacking an Alpha leader in the house. You're in the room but not really in the room and that creates anxiety for your children and wife." I almost clapped back with cunning sacrcasm to avoid what was coming next, but instead I ran through the internal Rolodex of denial. "I am sole financial provider, I stay sober, I am brutally honest under God, I work harder than any workaholic I know, what else do you fucking want from me…" I remember her watching my nonverbals, my arms crossing, my slouching in the chair, suddenly I was in my body feeling the cognitive dissonance, aware of my own shame and pain. I faintly remember her saying something like "there you are!" as if to state I hadn't been in the room before. She went on, "Next time your son is playing with his toys, go over and watch him, really watch his breathing, his eye to hand coordination, get into his world, being Alpha simply means being fully present, it is not barking orders or putting your foot down, it is about being fully with him." I was still hunched over a bit, too shameful and afraid to speak up and mention how hard it has been to live in the moment with my looming despair. Too embarrassed to admit how hard it is to change diapers, watch Toy story again and again and again and remain a forever Disneyland seasonal pass holder. There was so much shame and I didn't want to appear as any less of a father, a man without a sense of duty to his family. My wife grabbed my hand, I was drifting again, I took a deep breath, I hadn't been breathing, just biting the skin on the inside of my mouth, I think I blacked out a little, then suddenly the socio psychologist finished…"for both of you, this is what it means to be adult, where feelings are not facts and you get the choice to face life fully present, head on, it will be the best thing you can give your children, your presence." 

It has been a year since that meeting and I often find myself drifting in and out of the solution. There are moments where I am selfless enough or brave enough to go there but it does not come naturally, to just simply be. Reading a book on aplha leadership, acedia, depression or listening to a podcast on parenting styles seems to be the easier way, but I now know that it is just another form of escapism, a coping mechanism for my despair. I know I must be with my son now.

It has been my prayer recently, with or without depression, with or without that looming dread, that if God can not relieve me from the bondage of it that he would at least help me find a bare-able presence with myself and my loved ones. That I might have enough courage and grace to live responsibly moment to moment. 

Picture / Joshua Olley

How I'll leave my mark on the world

I was polishing wine glasses behind the bar when the restaurant manager sat down across from me.“Pour two shots of Stoli,” he said. I set up two pony glasses in front of him and poured the shots. He slid one back to me and said, “Cheers.” It was a slow night and he wanted to chat.“So, why do you write fiction?” He asked, knowing that was what I did all day before coming into work. “Fame and fortune,” I said, giving my standard answer. “Not because you love it?” “Oh, I love writing. I would do it even if I never got published, but making money from it is certainly a driving force.” “Any other reasons?” He inquired with a raised eyebrow. “I suppose it’s how I’ll leave my mark on the world.” “Ah, your legacy.” “Yes. How about you, don’t you want to do something that people will remember you for after you die?” “So that strangers, people I don’t know, will remember me?” He shook his head. “No. My legacy is my children.” “No kidding,” I thought, “You have five of them.” He continued, “The time I spend with them, the experiences we have, the memories we make together will be enough for me.” 

Robert Evans Wilson Jr. / Image: Andrew Bush 1991

Saved By A Mental Breakdown

My throat suddenly clenched closed, it was hard to breathe, the first thought was that I was having a panic attack. I was no stranger to the sudden strike of impending doom or a ferocious wave of a death mongering adrenaline. But never a clenched throat. I struggled to swallow, I checked my pulse, I planted my feet on the ground, I went through the checklist the psychiatrist had once given me. "Alright panic if you're here, then bring it on, I am ready." I had learned early in my formative years of getting sober that fighting the wave of impending doom only gives it more steam. So there I was, ready, surrendered to the terror, letting it have its way. The next day at the doctor's provided little relief, "…Well, sir, I think it might just be anxiety, go home and get some rest, maybe stick with liquids for now." That evening the anxiety turned into what felt like a total collapse of my psyche, it was hard to focus, hard to breathe, I became trapped in a thought that I couldn't shake. I pulled off the freeway. "Am I supposed to keep myself breathing or is my breathing on autopilot?" Suddenly I was hyperventilating, I had just made it into my garage and closed the door, the confusion and fear were unbearable. An all-engulfing flame of terror had overwhelmed me, it would soon incinerate the life I was desperately holding onto. 

To back up, a few weeks earlier I had just finished a year-long journey through the St. Ignatius spiritual exercises. A deep contemplative imaginative meditation on the life of Christ, forty minutes of silence every day. A recommendation from a dear friend after I expressed a feeling of being overworked, numb and distant from God. During the last session with my spiritual director, a wonderfully intuitive woman, she warned me that in my mediations she noticed I was never going to the cross with Jesus but instead watching it from afar, as a kind of bystander. She advised me to be careful on the other side of the work we had done because it was not finished. She spoke frankly, "It's interesting how much you avoided the cross, be careful this coming year…". I understood there was some death or surrender I was consciously or unconsciously avoiding but figured because I had worked the 12 steps of alcoholics anonymous, surrendered a whole bunch of power over there, I was surrendered enough. It was during this year of spiritual exercises my prolific career as a director also hit a slump, I lost several jobs in a row, my wife had gone to get her masters degree, and I was suddenly alone with myself and my pain. Hindsight I think that repressed fear or whatever that darkness was that grabbed ahold of my throat that day and sent me on a tailspin, I think somehow it had been suppressed my entire life. Busyness, distraction, over-eating, drinking, you name it helped fend it off for a season but it was always there lurking. 

But back to the everlasting panic attack. It was after a week of not being able to eat, sweating profusely at night, and feeling like real death was upon me, my wife God bless her, had had enough. I finally called my spiritual director who was also a psychiatrist. I remember it as clear as day: "…We can get you on medication if it becomes unbearable but I recommend staying the course." That simple, as if she knew something I didn't. It was after that I would face the collapse of my mind and journey into the darkest night of my soul. The agony and terror were inarticulable. I finally understood why some men take their own lives. I held onto my sponsor in AA, I would lay on his couch often barely able to keep my head up as he took me back through the 12 steps. The more I worked with him the more I realized how truly un-surrendered my life was. It was clear I had somehow white-knuckled my way through early sobriety, eventually taking all of my self-reliance and willpower back. It would be over four months later that the horror of this prolonged panic finally subsided. I was forty pounds lighter, laying on my back in our backyard looking up at the sky. I told God that I give up. I said it with the core of my being like a dying person's last breath. "Into your hands, I commit my spirit," I remember my sense of smell coming back, my ears kind of opening, I tasted what someone was cooking in the distance. I cried, I wasn't afraid and I wasn't numb. Later that day I waited to surprise my wife on the USC campus, I was perched up high on a grass hill. As I overlooked the body of students I felt a sort of weightlessness as if I was one with the grass and trees. I was translucent, the students were a part of me and I was part of them. I knew it deeply. It all sounds airy-fairy now but there was a golden hue to everything as if I was seeing another dimension, another kingdom. The moment felt like grace or a gift on the other side of a kind of ego death.  As much as I tried to hold onto the feeling into the night it disappeared like a gentle breeze. I missed it. It was heavenly and I felt free for the first time in my life, I knew I would never be the same after that. Some friends since have tried to explain similar experiences through the use of DMT, ayahuasca, or kundalini exercises, but it never really sounds the same. The boy that finally died on that cross was dead. That death has given the words of that murderous Apostle Paul to the church of Galatians a new meaning: "It is no longer I who live…"