Thursday, July 25, 2019

An incredible talk by Dr. Gabor Mate, and the relationship between the egoic mind and our essential self

Since discovering the work of Dr. Gabor Mate (see previous blog post here), I have listened to a number of interviews conducted with him, as well as several individual lectures he has given -- and the above lecture by Dr. Mate from 2015 given at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco is undoubtedly one of the most comprehensive presentations I have heard him give regarding the egoic self, the authentic self, the role of trauma in severing our connection to the authentic self, the physical consequences which are created by chronic anxiety due to the loss of this connection in early childhood, and the path of recovering our self (which is always available to us at all times, because our own authentic self has never actually left).

I would highly recommend downloading the file to a portable device in order to listen to it as soon as possible -- or simply listening to it using the embedded player above.

Dr. Mate in this lecture presents a number of striking and extremely powerful insights -- too many to list here. However, a few are particularly notable in light of my conviction that the world's ancient myths display abundant evidence that they are given to us for the very purpose of pointing us towards the recovery of connection with the self about which Dr. Mate speaks so eloquently in the above talk.

Beginning at 0:52:36 in this lecture, Dr. Mate declares (speaking of the exposure to the authentic self which can be attained through various means, including but by no means exclusively through rituals involving natural psychedelic substances):
We live in a world that rewards us for being inauthentic, and punishes us for being authentic. And we live in a world, and a culture, that seduces us from our true selves with every possible blandishment, reward, and promise of fulfillment through artificial means. And we live amongst a lot of people who are as unconscious today as maybe we were yesterday. So that the difficulty is integrating the knowledge, integrating the insight -- and that's the hardest task. And I don't want to claim that I've discovered the answer to that one. But anybody who does this kind of work, they really have to pay attention not just to what happens in the experience, but also: what do you do with the awareness that may result from that experience? -- and how do you make that work in your life? 
The other problem, as Alma says, is that your mind, your egoic mind, always wants to invalidate your essence. Because the egoic mind develops as a replacement for the essence. When essence shows up, the mind is threatened -- the ego is threatened. So it wants to fight back. When the psychedelic substance really reveals the mind -- what's underneath the mind -- and puts the ego onto the sidelines: as soon as the effect is gone, the mind wants to come in and reclaim its territory. And it does that by making nonsense of the experience you just had.
I would suggest that the dynamic Dr. Mate is describing in these paragraphs is beautifully pictured for our deeper understanding in a tremendous number of ancient myths involving the "doubting" and attempts to "invalidate" the encounter with the divine twin who illustrates our essential or higher self. Among these is the familiar story of Doubting Thomas (discussed in numerous previous posts including this one, this one, and this one, as well as in my 2016 book Star Myths of the Bible), and the ancient Greek and Roman myth of Eros and Psyche discussed in previous posts such as this one and this one.

Note that in both of these ancient myths, the doubts of the representative of our egoic mind (Thomas in the gospel story and Psyche in the ancient Greek myth) attempts to "invalidate" the appearance of the figure who represents what Dr. Mate describes as "the essence" in the quotation cited above (Jesus in the gospel accounts, and Eros in the myths of ancient Greece and Rome). In each of these two stories, the doubts and defensive behavior exhibited by Thomas and by Psyche create a temporary period of alienation from the figure representing the divine or essential self (Jesus in the gospel story and Eros in the Greek myth).

Another very important truth contained in the section of Dr. Mate's lecture quoted above is the fact that our "mind" is not actually "who we really are" -- even though we typically assume that this is the case. The ancient myths and sacred traditions of the world illustrate this truth as well: one previous post discusses a passage from the Katha Upanishad (also called the Kathopanishad) of ancient India,  here, in which the mind is described as being the reins of a chariot, with which the "horses" of the senses and the emotions can be controlled, but which is not the one who is steering the chariot itself and holding the reins.

Note that in the ancient Sanksrit epic of the Mahabharata, the god Krishna is pictured as the divine  charioteer who guides the chariot of the hero Arjuna through the battle of Kurukshetra. Just like Thomas in the gospel story and Psyche in the Greek myth, Arjuna himself is wracked by doubt prior to the great battle (indeed, I would argue that Arjuna like Psyche and like Thomas depicts our egoic mind during this episode of the Mahabharata and the Bhagavad Gita, and the Lord Krishna like Eros and like Jesus represents our higher or essential self).

The important point to note is that the mind is not the essential self -- it is a tool that has a positive role to play, but is actually intended to play a subordinate role to the divine charioteer of our higher or essential self. Similarly, when Thomas is finally reconciled to the risen Jesus, Thomas declares: "My Lord and my God," a proclamation which (I would argue) indicates the proper relationship between the essential self and the egoic self.

As Dr. Mate explains in the passage cited above, the egoic mind wants to usurp the role of the essence or essential self, to the point of denying the authenticity of any revelation or manifestation of the essential self. But as he explains at a different point in this amazing 2015 lecture, the authentic self stands ready to put the egoic mind in its proper place, doing so through the medium of unconditional love (which is just what we see manifested by both Jesus and Eros in the respective ancient myths).

It is out of a superabundance of anxiety and distress and sense of abandonment that the  egoic mind behaves the way it does (again, this is beautifully depicted for us in the personalities and behaviors of Doubting Thomas and the equally doubting Psyche). The divine counterpart (Jesus in the gospel story and Eros in the Greek myth) restore the broken relationship and repair the schism through their demonstration of love for the alienated Thomas and the alienated Psyche.

During the 2015 talk recorded above, Dr. Mate provides a particularly powerful example of a woman with an aggressive autoimmune disorder who was able to begin to recover her relationship with her own essential self through the use of ayahuasca, a traditional and extremely potent psychedelic plant brew of the Amazon. You may want to listen to the entire lecture above for greater context before proceeding to the quoted material below.

Beginning at about 0:33:53 in the above presentation, Dr. Mate explains:
Psychedelic substances have been used by human beings for thousands of years, but not randomly, and not in an anarchist kind of way. They were used traditionally, in ceremony, under the guidance of deeply trained and devoted elders and shamans and teachers. And the purpose wasn't to go on a trip but to go on a journey, which is very different. It wasn't to get high: it was to have a higher awareness of yourself and your reality. And so, when I talk about the use of psychedelics in healing, that's the context in which I am talking about it. I'm not talking about you go home with a bunch of friends and you drink ayahuasca, or take acid, or whatever. It has to do with intention, and it has to do with context, and it has to do with guidance. 
Now in Mandy's case, the guidance had to be purely internal, because she couldn't leave her house to go somewhere and travel somewhere to do ayahuasca ceremonies. So she actually did it at home, without much guidance. But there was something in her that allowed that guidance to emerge. And Mandy experienced entities, coming to say: "We're in your life, and we will hold you." 
[. . .]  
So as a California-based pyschoanalyst says, "Developmental trauma occurs when emotional pain cannot find a relational home in which it can be held." 
[. . .] 
It's enough, that the mother should be depressed. It's enough, that the father should be angry. It's enough, that the parents should be distracted because of their own travails of relationship. And then the child is no longer held emotionally. And that means that the child, in order to survive, will disconnect from himself, because it's too painful to stay connected to your pain. 
So, when these entities show up for Mandy, and they say, "We're gonna hold you," -- well, you can understand it in any number of ways. I've done ayahuasca quite a few times. I've never had any entities showing up for me. I've never had Mother Ayahuasca -- you know, "In your hour of darkness, Mother Mary comforts me" -- you know, Mother Mary never shows up for me. I just sit there with a stomach-ache. But that's maybe because I don't need these entities, I don't know. Maybe I'm not ready for them.  
The way I understand those entities showing up for Mandy: what are they? They're actually her essential self, that can actually hold her. That can create the internal environment to be held. It's a trust in life. It's a willingness to open up and be vulnerable again. It's a willingness to drop her defenses, her compensatory mechanisms, where she has to be everything for everybody -- those are the entities that are holding her. Now if you want to believe that these are real entities that showed up for her -- why would I argue with you? I don't care: They did their job. 
And then Mandy began to look at her life and have some insights. And she then writes, she wrote to me: "It made me realize that all of those traumas that I've experienced in my life could be meaningful. It meant to me that they were also manageable." So the trauma is no longer bigger than she is -- she is now equal to them. 
This is an amazing passage and worthy of deep contemplation, and long and careful consideration.

The point Dr. Mate makes near the end, when he says that he understands the entities Mandy encountered as being actually her essential self, but that if you wish to understand them as entities somehow outside of her as well, it doesn't matter, is in my opinion very helpful for our approach to the world's ancient myths. It relates to a discussion found in this previous blog post about the work and message of Paul Selig, who receives and relates messages from entities he refers to as "the Guides," in which I ask "where do these messages come from?"

My conclusion was that it makes very little difference if we argue they come from his own subconscious or from a spiritual plane "outside of himself" -- because it is through our subconscious that we have access to knowledge that far surpasses what our egoic mind can access, including to knowledge which at times goes beyond even the five senses and in some cases transcends the apparent limitations of geographic distance. It is through our own essential self that we gain access to the realm of spirit at all.

We might similarly ask whether the gods who help Odysseus in the Odyssey are external to him or not -- and the answer is that they can be both, but that in any case he has access to them through his essential self. The ancient sacred traditions of the world universally declare that the gods act through men and women (and this is certainly demonstrated in the Odyssey as well). For more on this important subject, see for example this and this previous post (among others).

There are of course many more amazing, powerful, and therapeutic subjects discussed in the above talk by Dr. Gabor Mate. I believe it should be clear from the discussion above, touching on only a few of the points Dr. Mate presented, that the subjects he discusses are central to the message of the world's ancient myths -- and that the myths stand ready to assist us in the vital task of restoring the proper relationship between our egoic mind and our essential self.