Forest of Illusion
There was a time when every meadow, grove and stream,
The Earth, and every common sight
To me did seem
Apparell’d in celestial light,
The glory and the freshness of a dream.
It is not now as it has been of yore:
Turn where so’er I may
By night or day,
The things which I have seen I now can see no more.
Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting –
The soul that rises with us, our life’s star
Hath had elsewhere it’s setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy.
William Wordsworth “Recollections of Early Childhood”
Conception, fetal development and birth are a mystery and a miracle. A newborn baby often elicits the observation that: “she is an old soul,” meaning that she brings prior experience with her into this life. If you could remember infancy, your memories would be of wonderment, grace and magic; a limitless, fertile imagination; deep curiosity and an infinite potential for love. You would remember receiving energetic vibrations through the open fontanelles, the “kopavi” for the Hopi. This is the “audible life stream” referred to by the Saints, an emanation or transmission that comes directly from the creative force that animates the universe, and informs, supports, inspires and heals all beings. This living connection with the sacred is integral to early childhood but fades from view as we grow older. There are numerous ways to re-establish and maintain this connection including play, nature, love, communion, dance, music and stories.
In recent times, references to the sacred and the divine are perceived as metaphorical or poetic rather than literal truth, and consigned to the realm of archaic beliefs, with no relevance to reality. According to ancestral tradition, this disconnection from the sacred is the deep tragedy of humanity. It is the first poison of Buddhism, called delusion or ignorance, and all suffering is seen to stems from it. It is the fall from grace of Genesis, and the cause of all discord for the Hopi. In the Hindu tradition, the purpose of life is to quiet the thinking mind, and heal this illusion of separation.
The mounting crisis of our times originates in this collective state of disconnection. Some cultures perceive these as “the end times”, and the toxicity of the environment, the widespread collapse of eco-systems and species extinctions all support this view. There is also an emerging belief that the planetary crisis is an opportunity and a stimulus for the evolution of human consciousness, towards a more mature awareness, with the focus upon healing the planet and ourselves. Whatever the outcome, world traditions and contemporary wisdoms agree that we are disconnected from our own nature, and each one of us, due to our personal history, carries a fragment of this collective suffering.
From the moment of conception you were embraced by the energetic field of your mother and family, and your growth and development occurred within and in relation to this dynamic. Developmental adaptations are autonomic and unconscious, executed by homeostasis through the endocrine, nervous and immune systems. They simultaneously affect the mental, emotional and physical state, with the objective of establishing and maintaining balance and minimising threat or danger.
A family is a holistic energetic system and within eco-systems, individual organisms are subject to influences that preserve the integrity of the whole. In families, these influences confer behaviours, attitudes, feelings and thoughts upon a child. As each of us is unique there are a myriad of possible adaptations. For example, burning ambition with disinterest in others; retreating into dream life and disconnection from reality; establishing a tough exterior to control the environment; creating protection with self-consciousness and embarrassment. A poverty-stricken childhood may trigger a ruthless determination to achieve wealth as compensation. An eldest child, moulded into feeling responsible for younger siblings may become domineering and resentful. An overprotected child may feel disempowered, belittled and unworthy. The unhappiness of a mother may stimulate her child to assume the role of soother, or even clown, to keep her from despair. Disappointment at the birth of a girl may unconsciously convey rejection. This response may be an unconscious re-enactment of the fact that the mother was herself rejected, as was her mother before her. These sequential rejections, with an origin deep in ancestral history often remain unknown and unacknowledged. As families are rooted in these chains of prior dynamics, they repeat through the generations, and surface as ancestral wounds. We find ourselves embedded within a mystifying world of powerful, invisible forces with no access to objectivity.
When ill-treatment or persecution is normalised within a family, the basic needs of safety, nurture and love are desecrated, and the adaptations necessary for survival are often profound and chronic. Abandonment, betrayal and neglect subvert healthy development. As an example, they depress the production of endorphins and dopamine in the brain. In the immediate situation, the infant does not complain or cry in relation to neglect or cruelty, but in the longer term, the child no longer expects her basic needs to be met, she becomes unable to experience pleasure from normal life, and she experiences a permanent state of emotional pain, heightened anxiety and feelings of isolation.
The poison of cruelty and oppression is internalised as guilt and shame, with feelings of dislocation, inner emptiness, betrayal and injustice. Victims of trauma are in a constant battle within themselves and they often turn to addictive behaviour for temporary obliteration. The human eco-system is saturated with ancestral trauma. It is an affliction of the collective soul of humanity, disintegrating the fabric of society throughout the world. Cultural persecution, manifesting as war, genocide and land appropriation, humiliates and disempowers whole communities, and these abominations aggravate and potentise trauma.
Within psychological medicine, trauma and addiction are perceived as the exception rather than the rule. The medicalisation of trauma frames it as a diagnosis of the individual instead of as a symptom of a disordered society. This projection is also widely employed in relation to mental illness and criminality. Many studies confirm, however, that a high proportion of incarcerated prisoners have experienced childhood trauma or cultural persecution.
Identity is patterned by feelings, attitudes and beliefs, and personal goals and expectations are aligned with this patterned identity. During the teenage phase, there is a particular susceptibility to the influence of others, with a need to fit-in and belong to the group. Childhood lays the foundation for future relationships. It is often noted that many people marry a partner who resembles their father or mother. This seems curious in the cases where the parent is unkind or abusive. Yet it occurs because of the unconscious desire for familiarity and safety. If the familiar realm is a harbour for feelings of unworthiness, shame, lack or disappointment, we select a partner who reinforces those feelings within us. The trauma, established in childhood, is re-enacted on a daily basis.
The familiar realm may appear to provide safety, but it comes with limitation, and you can feel imprisoned in the world that you have created. Your effort to escape from emptiness and emotional pain can lead to obsessive and compulsive behaviour. Food, sex, shopping, alcohol, drugs, gambling, pornography and internet surfing can all provide temporary relief from the pain of existence, and global industries have emerged to feed this insatiable demand for distraction and self-annihilation.
In your search to improve your life, you may change your job, diet, relationship, habits or seek religious or spiritual practices. Yet your efforts to find solutions in the outer give diminished returns, and you realise that you are losing your grip and sliding into complacency and despair. To avoid the pain you suppress your emotions, but as a consequence, you also suppress the voice that speaks to you through dreams, visions, synchronicities, and the symptoms in the body. You have a desire to “find yourself,” but you’re not sure who that is or where to look. You are lost in the Forest of Illusion.