Saturday, February 27, 2016


My accumulations of paper — which persist in spite of computers or maybe because of computers because it’s so easy to print — include much on the theme of development in humans.  The theories come and go, the names of the same phenomena change, and the pendulum swings from focusing on individuals to groups and back again.

I’m looking at this tempting bit of a larger document.  I can’t make it copy and paste so I’ll summarize a bit.

“The attachment system provides the safe container.”

Since today is Saturday and I’m composing my post for Sunday, it occurred to me that it was worth looking at these concepts in terms of congregations.  Some words are so worn and abused (traumatized, you might say) that they have lost their meaning or have been seized by people who use them as weapons:  I’m thinking of the words “church,” religion,” “community,” “family,” and so on.  They become triggers.  The fists come up ready to fight.  So we say “congregation”, “spirituality”, or whatever but don’t really examine the phenomena.

Here’s the assertion:  “Within the safety of that attachment system, children are able to explore their worlds, and develop a range of skills, including the ability to regulate their body and emotions, build an early understanding of self and others, and over time, develop an array of increasingly sophisticated developmental competencies.”  We are all lifelong children.

What makes a congregation “attachable”?  Safety is the consequence of being attached, but what safety is there during the process of approaching, testing, awareness of exits, identifying what dangers there might be?

This little bit of an essay asserts that there are two kinds of trauma with quite different developmental consequences.  One is the catastrophic overwhelming kind of trauma and the other is the constant erosion of smaller insults, losses, deficits, and uncontrollable change.  To be frank, life in general is a sequence of traumas.

The newer material about surviving life itself, both as an individual human and as a human group, is quite different in tone.  Conformity has been removed.  There is little talk about morality.  Not only is the discussion quite secular, but it begins to sound like learning to play the piano:

Making order from chaos.  OR in the name of re-organizing, creating chaos.  (Tolerating temporary chaos is a competency, but persistent chaos is a malfunction.  Temporary chaos as a self-protecting strategy can work either way.)

The ability to self-regulate emotions and experience.   (I suppose you might have not considered how important emotion is as a music principle.)

Openness to new strategies if the old ones don’t work or are outgrown or maybe even were imposed by clumsy helpers.

Willingness to address and resist destruction from outside the sphere of attachment.

Small attachments among individuals within the larger community and competency in managing them.  (Truly sophisticated musicians consider and internalize the micro-relationships between notes.)

The point of this discussion is to support caregivers, not to directly address the traumatized.  So I suppose one could say this is for professional and natural caregivers in the group.  The authors sketch what they call a “theoretical framework” rather than a “manualized protocol.”  

Right there — in the beginning — is what I’m seeing as a major and possibly hindering prerequisite: the failure of our modern systems to produce leaders who can think at the level of theory and abstract principles.  Particularly in conventional churches, the idea is to prevent change, and we can get frustrated about that, but what I’m finding in this small prairie town is that brains have not been encouraged to take the last step of development which happens after high school, in the early twenties.  High school is considered completion, the rules learned then persist through life.  Sometimes that’s not helpful.  They think only in terms of learned "boxes."

Backing up, “within the Attachment domain, 4 key building blocks for the caregivers”:

1.  Getting the caregiver to maturity in self-management.
2.  Attunement: “the capacity to accurately read each other’s cues and respond effectively.”
3.  A collection of strategies for meeting melt-downs or roll-ups or outright flight.
4.  Consistency and predictability.

The Competency Domain isn’t about pathology, but what about what every person needs to know in a tough world.  Three basics are:

1.  Problem solving:  personal agency, ability to generate options, reaching out.
2.  Knowing one’s own identity, finding coherence, feeling valuable.
3.  Ability to accept what developmental tasks are limiting and confidence that there are ways to learn them.

There’s a lot more than this.  For instance, the interference of the criminalizing forces (both criminals and law enforcers), the constant manipulative barrages from media, and awareness of suffering around the planet —coming your way in vivid technicolor.  A UU minister observed that our congregations seem not to be as intensely centered as they once were.  This particular movement seems to have moved to social action or personal development, depending on the extrovert/introvert aptitudes of the group.  The social action part has different allegiances depending on their outside affiliations.  The personal development interests vary all over the place — art to yoga.  Conventional churches are still arguing about the various theisms, which we've left behind.

I think there are not enough well-defined challenges.  In a middle-class group things can get worrisome and lately we realize that any of us can be thrown out on the street overnight because of some policy change or renovation project.  This class arose as shop-keepers and salarymen, but now the world is dominated by franchises and corporations — coupon-clippers in a capital-dependent world.  

Under all those economic arrangements (everything is economic when you’re talking survival and I’m talking biology here —you MUST have enough food, water, shelter to survive and that’s economic) is the planet itself.  Tsunamis, droughts, earthquakes, firestorms, hurricanes — you wanna talk trauma?  Lately I’ve been thinking about the catastrophic/economic/corporate consequences of grain crop failure, since I’m living right in the fields.  

The ebbing of the middle-class on the prairie (the closing of shops, the disappearance of wage labor) means that the middle-class religious groups who depend on dressing up and using good manners on Sunday morning have also shrunk.  They still love to sponsor community feeds in a place where diabetes and gluten-allergies are real.  Their ministers are all part-time.  Alcohol is still the favorite medication, as it has been for most of their ancestors since Medieval European times, and they still watch network TV.  Their dependence on cell phones is only limited by the lack of infrastructure.   “Rough sleepers” are few around here: they would die.  We’re not so modern.

Most seriously, they know nothing about the larger world, not even the layer of culture where their kids live, nor the layer of highly intellectualized thought where I live.  So much of the world is confusing and distressing that they cocoon.

Ben is the near-ninety-year-old man who with his wife operates the Cut Bank laundromat where I spent most of the morning yesterday.  He was in the military in Nuremburg during the post WWII trials.   He is sharply aware of the importance of such events, not in terms of who got which penalty, but in terms of order-keeping.  Larry Reevis, whom some will know from his “letters to the editor” in the Glacier Reporter, lives nearby.  He’s working on the politics of the Blackfeet Rez.   The “” website referred to above is the source of the “Vikings” series that Harry Barnes likes to watch.

Maybe the three of us very different people represent caregivers in a broad sense.  We are all rather intensely attached to our lives and people, maybe more consciously than most.  With that comes awareness of the pain of many humans and a need for safe containers while we figure out ourselves and others.  I keep thinking, “What on EARTH sort of childhood traumas could have created the US politicians?  Where are the ones who grew up happy and learned to be competent?”  I think this is an essential religious question.  Because “religion” is about survival.

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