A pilgrim in Tibet
Confronting the Sacred takes courage, whether it is the kind of Holiness that comes upon you with terror and despair or the kind that bathes and renews you, equally unexpectedly. Neither the safety of institutional religion nor the leap to delusion of some “spiritual sure thing,” this idea I’m chasing is both scientific (which is institutional) and revelatory (finding out nothing is what you thought it was). We’ve had a lot of things upside down and yet many other things are confirmed. We are dots in an enormous eternal universe and we matter. Dots add up. Once they exist they are part of eternity.
I print out and read fancy science articles that sound as though they might have something to do with “worship” design that will provide that confrontation with Sacrality. Then I get my colored fibertips and zebra-patterned clipboard (because this is not a sterile enterprise) and try to figure it out. Here are two I’m trying to digest at the moment.
“Attachment and the regulation of the Right Brain” by Allan N Schore from Attachment and Human Development Vol 2 No 1 April 2000 23-47
“The Hippocampal Indexing Theory and Episodic Memory: Updating the Index” by Timothy J. Teyler and Jerry W. Rudy. Hippocampus DOI 10.1002/hipo
Attachment is what I call “teddy bear theory” because of Bowlby’s observations about toddlers entering the great adventure of separating from the primal attachment to mother. (I’m including the blastosphere that creates the placenta that literally attaches to the lining of the womb in order to begin creating the toddler) The little one is helped by a metaphoric talisman: a teddy bear. This toy has been commercialized and often turns up on the covers of books about attachment or at the sites of tragedy.
Attachment to one’s own survival is embedded in the survival of an ecosystem which might include family, friends, nation, a specific place and time, affinity-based institutions, and the survival of other loved and loving persons. A culture can abandon or actively turn to attack a category of people, which we call genocide.
If the mechanisms that produce attachment are not present in the society, a child can become more attached to dying than living. Examples abound on reservations where kids have told me, “I just don’t want to grow up. Adults are terrible and they have terrible lives. All they do is destroy and go out of their minds.” The priest in Browning lamented, “I came to bring these people faith and all I do is bury their youngsters.”
Holy Family Mission cemetery
So if the enduring Catholic Mass won’t turn the tide, what ceremonies and understanding will? Bundle Keeping is no more powerful. Traditional ceremonialists commit crimes (including murder) and are shamed as often as secular people. The politically ambitious, even the ones with a grasp of post-colonial righteousness, are not always careful of boundaries.
You can’t go around forcing Sacredness on people nor can they pretend they feel it. Attachment is the same. Some of the trouble comes from attachment that is insecure or toxic. Parents who disappear or attack, places that trap children in stigma, or lure them into danger. I feel as though I’ll never learn enough about attachment, but maybe I’m attached to the search just for my own reasons.
“Hippocampal Indexing and Episodic Memory” are about the mechanics of how brains store information, molecularly and electrochemically. Like many other functions we thought would be contained and assigned like imitation objects, it turns out that simply creating an index to what we have recorded as memory is a matter of several interacting steps, and that a memory is neither accurate in the first place nor unchanging.
Acting and writing people speak of “beats,” which are sort of like scenes or episodes. It turns out we remember in beats, but they are stored in a scattered way, separating content, then reassembling at the point of memory which is assigned to that beat. The connector is sensory: a song, a smell, someone’s voice, a certain taste. (It can’t be like a computer because computers have no senses.) But how does a brain know when to begin or end a “beat” or how long it should be? All these discoveries lead to other questions. Now we have the technical equipment to answer many of them.
But overall we are returned to a simple disconcerting understanding that what we think is a search for God is a search for humans. All theism is really anthropology. Who we are means we grasp the Sacred in different ways and that every way is variable, unfolding, evolving.
What — as a celebrant who analyzes and responds to that — should be the elements that trigger Sacredness? I think the meaning comes from “fitting” those who are in attendance, going to meet them with accuracy and understanding. That’s the opposite of what we do in our institutional services, where we try to move people to predetermined convictions.
Listening is a beginning. The next concept after attachment is attunement: not just words but feeling their vibes. Think music. We’re not talking teddy bears here — it takes another person, though companion animals can do some of it which proves it’s not a matter of words. Eye contact and physical contact or sometimes a wraparound safe place — a cocoon.
The point is that we are constantly trying to deny we are animals and every time we break attachment we pull away from the animal part of us that does the work of attach and attune. They are survival skills of all mammals. This is not dogma but actuality.
One of the most powerful movements in what is a worldwide tide of reordering what we believe — much more revolutionary than a paradigm shift — is the realization that the brain evolves parts and mechanisms that are additive to neural systems but also conserved (the reptile brain is still at work) and often combines with newly added parts or enables or converts them to new uses or new environments. The limbic mammal brain is the home of the subconscious wordless concepts that form in the womb, continue to erupt through our prefrontal cortext, and explode through emotions. (human-ities record them.) Simply denying all this with the more recent code-trick of language systems and introspective logic is not just futile but misleading. Nor is it a matter of adding pharmaceutical chemicals.
If we can figure out someone’s inner reality, and respond to it with a spiral dance or a rock opera or by sharing a meal or simply by holding them, then we can create the attunement and attachment they need. Then the beats of memory can contain happiness and sharing.
As usual, serendipity and synchronicity are at hand. Last night’s movie was “Wildlike”, about a man and a distraught teen in the Alaskan wilderness, acting out the trope of the Path in a light-handed but believable way. (There’s a very nice bear!) Great discussion starter. Don’t get too pretentious or everyone will sit there thinking about pizza. Or whatever.
This third book will be the hardest to write. It won’t hold still — more is constantly discovered, so it demands a lot of research. It’s another path. But it’s what’s been luring me forward all this time.