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Grow Up or Die, But How?

By Carolyn Baker

17 June, 2010

A commentary on Clinton Callhan's Directing The Power of Conscious Feelings

In May 2008 I was approached by psychotherapist, Clinton Callahan, offering me an article entitled "Beware of The Psychopath, My Son" which asserts that people in places of power in the systems of empire are often devoid of conscience and therefore have participated in setting industrial civilization on a self-destructive course that cannot be altered by rational dialog or appeals to altruism within those individuals. Callahan's thesis brilliantly illumines the aberrant behavior of politicians and corporate CEO's, offering a perspective that makes sense of their anti-social and anti-ecosystem behavior.

More recently, Callahan has published Directing The Power of Conscious Feelings: Living Your Own Truth (Hohm Press, 2010) This book is nothing less than an encyclopedia of emotional healing, offering a "biblio-boot camp" of preparation for the collapse of industrial civilization and the Next Culture that might emerge from it. I highly recommend the book, and although I have not experienced any Next Culture trainings, they appear to complement all that I have written and taught about the inner transition necessary for navigating the coming chaos.

In recent years, writers such as myself and Daniel Quinn, Derrick Jensen, Richard Heinberg, Michael Meade, Malidoma Some, Joanna Macy, and others have written extensively about the infantalization of the citizens of empire and have suggested that rites of passage or an initiatory process is needed in order for us to become responsible adults who accept and live within the limits of our planet. Callahan adds:

Modern culture is a child level responsibility culture, far below adult level. Modern society does not require that a person grow up prior to being given (or allowed to take) positions of responsibility...Our society makes messes without having consciousness of, or taking responsibility for, the consequences of those messes.

The example Callahan gives is the corporate practice of "externalizing costs", but a more timely and poignant example is quite simply, the worst manmade environmental disaster in the history of the United States, created by the BP Corporation, now turning the Gulf of Mexico into a giant dead zone-an event which will soon have unfathomable ramifications globally. In a child's world, there are no worries about cleaning up messes. Caretakers (governments and taxpayers) exist in order to provide the child everything it wants and needs, and if messes are made in the process, then it is the caretaker's job to clean them up.

Yet few who have addressed infantalization have offered a specific path for the journey from it to adulthood. While Callhan has no formula for this, he asserts that the principal rite of passage from emotional immaturity to maturity is the capacity to consciously, constructively work with one's feelings, directing the power of feelings in service of the entire earth community. In Directing The Power of Conscious Feelings, he validates what most of us have felt all of our lives regarding our feelings in relation to modern culture, namely that none of them are acceptable.

Many of us have experienced that feeling sadness, fear, or anger in this culture is threatening to others, so we keep those feelings in check, preferring to share them only with trusted others. Yet even joy in the culture of empire is unacceptable.

Recently, I was speaking with a friend who had just returned from a visit with her son who is in his late-twenties and works as an executive with a major transnational corporation. My friend has done a great deal of work on feelings and appropriately expressing them. In a conversation with her son, she verbally expressed her sadness about something in her life, and he responded with, "Could we not have any drama today?" The next day she mentioned feeling angry about something that had nothing to do with her son, at which point, he said, "You know, I'm really tired of your drama."

I share this story because as Callahan clearly demonstrates, the ideal in the culture of empire is a state of numbness. No feelings--sorrow, fear, anger, and even joy, are acceptable. People are esteemed for abiding in a state of numbness which is defined as sane, stable, and even-tempered. While following the recent oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, there was a public outcry for President Obama to become outraged regarding the devastation BP had created, but the ideal perpetuated by political pundits and advisors was for Obama to remain "cool-headed". They and the President knew that any passionate display of any emotion would result in a decrease in popularity and a perception of him as "irrational." The desired and only acceptable state in the culture of empire is numbness, and any variation from it is frequently perceived as "drama."

Curiously, Callahan talks about drama in the book but uses the term "low drama" to describe any action that is designed to avoid responsibility. Actions like this are legion, but we could say that any time we avoid feeling our feelings, we are engaging in low drama because the abdication of responsibility begins with numbness.

The author inspires us with the term "next culture", also the name of his website, and gives us a glimpse of what that culture might look like in terms of how people relate to their feelings and to each other. He uses the term "archearchy" to describe a culture that is not dominated by the masculine principle or the feminine, but by both. As he says, it is "a new and truly sustainable culture, oriented more toward being present and being with, and less toward consuming, owning, having, going, and doing."

Directing The Power of Conscious Feelings is filled with diagrams, charts, illustrative photos, and "maps" which make the book remarkably reader-friendly and beautifully clarify the author's concepts in no-nonsense fashion. My favorite is a map comparing the attributes of modern culture and the next culture which contrasts the essential mottos of both cultures and leaves us with: "Human cultures are so immature. Can you grow up?"

By the time the reader reaches this point in the book he/she will have been given a treasure-trove of tools for boarding the ship of feelings and steering it in the direction of a new culture that cannot be realized without conscious emotional, and I would add, spiritual, preparation. I believe that these tools constitute a profound rite of passage for non-indigenous people and provide a structure for psychospiritual maturation.

The work Callahan offers us doesn't look easy, but it does look amazingly rewarding. The time to begin that work is not when we are in the throes of the collapse of life as we have known it, but now, as we create all manner of lifeboats for navigating inner, as well as outer transition.

Clinton Callahan may be contacted at the Callahan Academy at: