I was very fortunate as a young child, but it took me many years to realize why. I was what would be called LD, or learning disabled, in today’s world. I did not begin speaking until I was old enough to have my parents pretty worried about it. Family legend has it that one evening we were all sitting around the dinner table and my parents were discussing what they should do about the fact that I couldn’t talk. My brother, who is almost three years older than I am, piped up and told them that in fact I could and did talk, but only to him. They found this hard to believe, so Mike grabbed my bowl of ice cream (I love ice cream) and wouldn’t give it back to me until I asked for it. Which I did. My parents were stunned. It was the first time they had ever heard me speak.
I am also dyslexic. One definition of dyslexia is difficulty in interpreting words, letters, and other symbols. The key word here is “interpret.” Interpret according to what criteria? Interpreting something is a way of making that something fit into the neat box of our personal/social conditioning. When we begin to interpret, we are stepping away from the actual reality of the moment into our conditioning.
I wasn’t exactly a whiz in school. I was not good at being hypnotized. As my mother loved to point out, things would come in one ear and go right out the other. The programming was not working, not because I was fighting it, but because it just didn’t seem to have anything to grasp onto.
At an appropriate age, my brother proved to me that our father was Santa Claus by showing me that all of the little gifts that we left for Santa were hidden away in my father’s den closet. Well, I can’t say I was very disillusioned, as I had always found the whole thing a little hard to buy in the first place. I may have been LD, but I wasn’t stupid, so I never said anything. I loved getting gifts as much as anyone. Years later, my parents finally figured out that we had stopped believing in Santa quite a while back.
By this time in our lives, Mike and I were made to attend church and Sunday school for awhile. And there were a bunch of grown-up, supposedly intelligent and successful adults believing in stuff like a judgmental and wrathful God, who was also loving and forgiving, but only if you did exactly what you were supposed to and believed exactly what you were told to. It took me some time to realize that they really believed all of this stuff was true. More than that, they really believed that we should believe it, too. That really scared me. My question then, and still, is: “How do you know?” Their answer: “We believe!” Well, if I’m going to “believe” in something, I’m going to “believe” in Santa Claus. Simpler story. Nicer guy.
I had learning problems. My poor mother was very concerned about this and began telling me on a regular basis that I had better get through college or I’d be a ditch digger for the rest of my life. (Actually, digging ditches isn’t so bad. Part of what I did as a Conscientious Objector during the Vietnam war was dig ditches out in the woods. You had job security, as no one wanted your job. And the supervisors seldom bothered you, as they didn’t want to have to jump down into the ditch and show you how to do a better job!) My mother finally succeeded in getting me worried about all of this and so I read self-help books, learned self-hypnosis, hung around with very smart girls (a practice I continue to this day), and basically tried to “learn” to give a whole bunch of meaning and significance to things that, on first glance, certainly did not appear to have much meaning or significance at all.
Basically, what I was learning to do was cathect. This was the doorway to hell. Or, as one of my gurus liked to call it, America Maya Land. Take your pick.
The word “cathect” comes from psychoanalytic theory. It means to invest our libidinal energy (creative life force and emotional energy), consciously or unconsciously, into giving meaning and significance to particular ideas, events, objects, or people.
I eventually began to learn to give significance and meaning to money, education, status, cars, houses, political parties, certain people, and, above all else, spiritual and religious teachings and the gurus that offered them. The good news, although I didn’t know it at the time, was that I am LD.
Since I was now seeking significance and meaning in life, I naturally turned to the spiritual path. One of my first teachers was a very powerful and charismatic guru. He walked the walk in that being in his presence did trigger radical and mystical states of consciousness, some of which brought about profound transformations.
He claimed his mission in the West was to bring about a meditation revolution. I already knew the tremendous value of meditation, so I was all for it. My fantasy was that as disciples we would sit at his feet for hours a day in profound states of samadhi, so I spent two summers at his ashram training to be a teacher and meditation center leader and spending as much time in his presence as I could.
What we actually did at his ashram was spend hours a day chanting our brains loose. One of the chants we did every morning for about an hour and a half (it seemed like an eternity to me) was about the glory of the guru. According to this chant, the guru is not a human, but the grace-bestowing power of God. The guru is God. In fact, the guru is greater than God. The guru, with infinite power and wisdom, has taken human form as this little old Indian man, and if we had any sense at all, we would worship the very ground he walks on. And so we did!
Cathect. Cathect. Cathect. The chanting was a crash course in cathecting, given every day when we were barely awake! We were learning to cathect all sorts of meaning and significance onto the guru. Fortunately, I was LD and it didnít completely take. I in no way disparage the incredible value I received from this man and his teachings, but over time I began to see that most spiritual teachers and teachings were waking us from one delusional system only to put us to sleep in another.
Catholics cathect on crucifixes. Buddhist cathect on Buddha statues. Disciples cathect on gurus. Teenagers cathect on rock stars. Adults cathect on movie stars. Infatuated couples cathect on each other. Patients cathect on therapists. Therapists cathect on patients. Readers cathect on books. When the cathexis ends, usually so does the relationship.
I definitely learned to cathect on books. When I was in the second grade, I had to go to a special private school in Connecticut to learn how to read. Once I learned to read, I came to love books. All of the secret answers to the universe were hidden in books, if you could just find the right ones. I knew it. Over the years, I read thousands of books. Most of them were spiritual books. I read them from cover to cover, underlining everything, and then read them again, this time using a red pen to underline the even more significant passages. Books were great treasures. I loved bookstores. In fact, I met my wife, Bonnie, in the wonderful bookstore she owned. I didn’t cathect on her. I clearly saw her as the absolutely perfect and beautiful being she is.
I continued to go to spiritual teachers and spiritual retreats for many years. Eventually, I became a spiritual teacher. As a spiritual teacher, the heat was on. People came to me wanting to hear some comforting interpretation of some supposed truth. Initially, I taught what I had been taught. I “knew” an incredible variety of techniques, methods, teachings and information that I had received directly from the hands of great gurus. I had the spiritual energy thing going. It really worked. People just loved this stuff! It was cool and neat and fun and certainly gave us all something comforting to believe in. Some people actually experienced my spiritual “powers.” Some suspected I might actually be a “guru.” People began to cathect on me. If I had had any sense, I’d have taken the ball and run with it.
Well, the problem was, being LD and all, I began to notice that if I didn’t keep propping up all of this spiritual stuff all the time with an incredible investment of practice, thought, belief and energy, it kept falling apart. This made me very suspicious!
How true is something if you have to believe in it in order for it to be true?
How true is something if you have to keep propping it up all the time in order for it to be true?
These questions were like a depth charge that sunk to the very depths of my being and exploded.
I realized that if something is true, I didn’t have to believe in it, because it is true. I only had to believe in things that weren’t true, because they are not true.
I suddenly stopped believing in anything.
Suddenly, “I” spontaneously stopped propping up all of “my” beliefs and philosophies. The bottom fell out. The entire universe as I had known it collapsed. “Me,” as I had known “me” to be, disappeared. Cathexis had stopped.
As cathexis ended, it was discovered that the one thing that had been cathected the most was this idea and image of a separate “me!” When cathexis ended, the experience of a separate “me” ended. This cathected “me” idea was the source of all other cathexis. When it is said that you create your own reality what is really being said is that the creative intelligence energy that has become identified with a “me” is now cathecting an entire universe to prop “me” up. When “I” give meaning and significance to something, it becomes the mirror that reflects meaning and significance back to “me.” “My” guru, “my” car, “my” religion, “my” country, “my” beliefs, “my” opinions, “my” experience, “my” husband or wife. It makes “me” appear more real. How fun! At least for awhile.
The human being, or the human instrument, begins its programming long before it is born into this world. First, it is full of genetic material that gives it so many of its natural dispositions, not only physically, but also in terms of personality and life tendencies. For example, one is born with a tendency to be either an introverted or an extraverted personality. This immediately makes a difference in how one interacts with others and perceives the world.
Also, while in the womb, the growing fetus is influenced by the mother’s blood chemistry. If she smokes, drinks, uses cocaine or other substances, healthy or unhealthy, so does the baby. This influences the baby’s neuroendocrine development. The baby is born with certain chemical preferences already in the system.
Hypnotic regression has demonstrated that the external emotional/psychological environment of the mother profoundly influences the developing baby. If the expecting parents fight and scream at each other, not only is the baby flooded with adrenaline, cortisol and other powerful stress chemicals, but the negative energy of the screaming is felt and internalized by the baby. And if the parents laugh a lot, love the baby, talk to it and send it loving energy, this will have a very positive effect on its development.
And so the human instrument is born already well programmed with certain tendencies and inclinations. Then it is given a name. As soon as the human instrument identifies with the name (Hi, I’m Richard), the name becomes the box, the “me,” that holds its unique and separate identity. “I” am a girl or a boy, smart or dumb, good-looking or homely, Catholic or Muslim, American or Australian, spiritual or material, rich or poor, entitled or undeserving, confident or insecure.
Whatever “I” become, I cathect significance and meaning into it, and it becomes “real” to me. A crucifix seen by a devout Catholic exists in a completely different world than a crucifix seen by a traditional Thai Buddhist, who does not cathect a personal deity out into the universe at all. A Catholic and a Buddhist cathect different universes, and tend to believe their universe is the “real” one.
When cathexis ends, all projected significance and meaning disappear. When this happens, if there is still some belief in a separate and unique “me,” existential despair arises. Uh-oh! If there is no significance and meaning in anything, what is the point of “me”? What is the purpose of “my” life? Who am “I”? How should “I” live “my” life? These are the existential questions of despair shouted out of the now apparently empty and meaningless box of “me.” The “me” is now attempting to give meaning and significance to the fact that life has no meaning and significance. This seemingly nihilistic view is simply another philosophical stance the “me” mind takes to protect itself.
A lucky “me” will now run right smack into an authentic spiritual teacher who will have the honor of delivering the coup de grace. Whack! It’s over.
A healthy “me,” facing existential despair, will go to therapy, join a church, find a “new age” guru, take Prozac, get an advanced degree, and one way or another, learn to cathect again. “I” was so lost, but now “I” have been born again and feel so much better. “I” know who “I” am. “I” have taken initiation. “I” have a new spiritual name. From here on out, “I” shall be known as …, as “I” am now a committed believer in … Pick something. It doesn’t really matter what. Cathect. Cathect. Cathect.
If the process of cathecting somehow comes to a complete stop, the pure awareness that enlivens the human body-mind instrument no longer has a separate “me” to worry about and reflect upon. The being simply is, present and aware. There continues to be a functional cognitive center within the body, but not much occupies its psychic space as it no longer has to keep propping itself up. Life creates it, uses it, flows through it, and is it. The being relaxes into life as it wants to be lived. There is no resistance to it being as it is, and no problem, even if it cathects. All the thought that was once necessary to prop up a separate sense of self with its own little world is now gone. There is silence instead. All the life energy once used to hold “me” and “my” world together is now free to dance as it will. And it does.
When the cathecting stopped here, the LD seemed to return big time. This brain now seems to be very allergic to most concepts, stories, beliefs, structures, books, magazines, newspapers, news stories, movies, TV shows (with the exception of The Gilmore Girls), Internet information, etc. It can’t and won’t process most of it. Some kind person will lend me a video to view, a book to read, or CD to listen to and the brain just won’t respond.
Cathecting is not good or bad. It is what the “I” does to give significance, purpose and meaning to its life. Cathecting does seem to cause apparent problems among the apparent “me’s” that actually believe in what they have cathected and then kill, burn, torture, blow up or disparage those “me’s” that have cathected something else out into the vastness. The greatest cathected value is in the separate “me” itself, without which the meaningful world cannot be projected. We love our illusions. We are our illusions. We resist being disillusioned.
The job of a true spiritual teacher is to disillusion us.
This body-mind instrument is learning disabled. It has never been fully programmed and whatever programming seemed to happen was tenuous, to say the least. My mother would always say, “You have to try harder!” “I” tried, “I” really tried! And it all seemed to work very well for a while. Cathect. Cathect. Cathect. But when the trying stopped, it all collapsed back into the silence it always is.
The life scripts and the set of assumptions they are based upon are gone. All philosophical, religious, metaphysical and existential questions are gone. There is no past or future.
Everything that exists, exists now. Everything that happens, happens now. This is it. This is all there ever is.
And if “you” don’t like this, well, cathect something!