Monday, March 4, 2013

My Name is Chellis...

Chellis Glendinning grew up in Cleveland.  Her father was a caring doctor and a brutal child abuser.  She and her brother were raped, beaten, and tortured.  Her pain was swept under the carpet by the magic of dissociation — a portion of her personality split off and became unconscious.  Memories of her traumatic childhood were forgotten for 40 years.  Amnesia allowed her to function in the world.  She earned a PhD and became a psychotherapist.

One day, in a therapy session, her childhood traumas suddenly began to return to consciousness.  Chellis was determined to fully understand them, resolve them, and recover a healthy state of wholeness.  She wanted to heal herself 100 percent. 

Understanding matters of great importance often requires the use of a powerful medicine called history.  To know who we are, we must know where we came from.  Trauma and pathology are almost the norm throughout today’s society.  A daunting number of people are in therapy, or taking medication, or hobbled by untreated mental imbalances.  These problems are frequently passed from generation to generation.

Chellis explored her family tree and discovered patterns of ancestors who were damaged by alcoholism or mental illness.  She strongly suspected that her father had also been abused.  She learned about her Puritan ancestors in colonial times.  Reverend Thomas Hooker lived in what was to become Connecticut.  On Sundays, he preached the sweet love of Jesus to the faithful, and then he spent the rest of the week as a bloody terrorist, determined to exterminate the diabolical Native American savages.

Looking even deeper into the past, the trail of trauma kept unfolding.  Prior to the invasion of America, Europe was also a realm of intense craziness.  For 300 years the skies were darkened by the smoke of burning witches.  Insane leaders routinely led their people into countless wars.  The written history of Europe was insane from page one.  By and by, Chellis came to comprehend that her father’s madness was just a wee speck of pathology in an enormous tsunami of pathology that spanned many centuries and regions.

Very importantly, she also came to comprehend that this torrent of pathology did not in any way represent the normal human condition.  It was obvious that nature-based societies, like the Native Americans, inhabited a fundamentally different spiritual universe.  They did not devour the land and leave wreckage in their wake.  She could see that nature-based societies more closely represented balance and normality.  They suffered little from mental illness.  Their reverent relationship with the Earth was rooted in a million-year tradition — 35,000 generations of low-impact living. 

It became clear that the madness of modern technological society could readily be traced back to a recent fork in the human journey that occurred about 10,000 years ago, just 300 generations back — the domestication of plants and animals.  “This was the purposeful separation of human existence from the rest of life,” and the fence was its symbol.  It divided the world into two new realms: wild and tamed.  This shattered the ancient wholeness, and replaced it with chronic traumatic stress.

The transition to domestication blindsided human societies.  It was completely out of balance with our traditional, time-proven way of life — living with respect and reverence for the natural world.  The new game was about owning and controlling nature.  Eventually, these unlucky people forgot what it meant to be human beings, and they ended up living like fish out of water — flippity-floppity-flappity.  Gasp!  Gasp!  Gasp!  It was a temporary way of life with no future. 

The last six generations have witnessed the horrific transition to industrial civilization.  The nightmare shifted into fast forward, and we are racing toward a future where nature has been erased by endless shopping enterprises, clear-cuts, crumbling pavement, rotting cities, eroded farms, toxic wastelands, and endless flocks of zombies entranced by glowing cell phones.  Billions of traumatized people perceive this living death as being the normal human existence.  It is no coincidence that our era of flourishing ecological annihilation is also an era of flourishing mental illness. 

“Well-being and wholeness depend on, and exist in constant and complex intimacy with, the well-being and wholeness of the Earth,” according to Chellis.  “It’s well past time for us to come home, to return to the matrix from which we came, to recover what we have lost, to remember again the wisdom and balance of the natural world.”  To explain this process, she sat down with a wooden pencil, and wrote a book called My Name Is Chellis & I’m in Recovery from Western Civilization. 

Readers salivating to finally discover the simple, no sacrifice, silver bullet solution to the Earth Crisis will be reduced to sobs and sniffles once again.  Chellis describes a healing process that will likely take generations to complete.  It’s not about healing individuals, it’s about healing the entire society.  I must say that this book truly does provide readers with general guidelines for not only ending the Earth Crisis, but also restoring humankind to genuine sustainability, boundless joy, and complete wildness and freedom.  

There are seven-point-something billion people alive now, many of whom are victims of traumatic stress — paranoid, hyperactive, infantile, powerless, alienated, fearful, depressed, near-comatose beings whose mental wholeness has been shattered into many pieces.  Imagine for a moment repairing this mess — the individuals, the society, the ecosystem, and our history.  Imagine unlocking the shackles of technological society and walking away.  Imagine guiding humankind to a point where we are willing and able to abandon our exploitation of domesticated plants and animals.  Imagine returning home, to the family of life, to wholeness.

Many thinkers have concluded that the reason we got into this mess was a combination of excessive cleverness and inadequate foresight.  Chellis adds another chapter to the story — the immense, highly-contagious, psychological damage resulting from our terrible plunge from balance.  When we become aware of the corrosive presence of this madness, we can more fully comprehend the anatomy of our predicament.

Chellis has given humankind an important Big Vision, a potent idea to explore.  Obviously, the healing process will not be quick or simple.  Our challenge is simply to take a deep breath, roll up our sleeves, and take the first step.

Glendinning, Chellis, My Name Is Chellis & I’m in Recovery from Western Civilization, Shambhala, Boston, 1994.


Riversong said...

In the current Manichean vision that some anarcho-primitivists, like Derrick Jensen (also a victim of childhood abuse), have popularized amongst a cult following, there are the deep ecology good guys trying to save what's left of Nature and the evil bad guys continuing the rape and pillage and unreachable by reason or morality. So the only "solution" is to tear down civilization by "any means necessary" (which, of course, is the rationalization of civilization itself).

Chellis offers us a longer, broader and more mature perspective: we are all suffering from post-traumatic stress dysfunction from the abuses and loss of connection to the nurturing source that have been emblematic of civilization from its beginning, and the return to wholeness requires a societal as well as personal healing journey.

Chellis Glendinning has been one of the true prophets of our time - offering a warning of our errant wandering and pointing to a path out of the morass.

Unknown said...

Thank you for this review, and thank you Riversong for your comment.
Chellis book has been a key component of my growth and still informs my choices.

Combining Chellis solution with the latest Joanna Macy "Active Hope" begins to color the possibility for us being born at the "right" time in history, each of us with our part to play in the Great Transition.

What Is Sustainable said...

Riversong, I’m wary about bringing down civilization before having a robust understanding of genuine sustainability, and a clear vision of where we want to go. We’ve been repeating the same mistakes for thousands of years, and this is getting very boring. So far, technological society has been doing far more to bring down civilization than its critics have. I have a strong suspicion that it’s all going to fall apart long before we heal ourselves and our society. We can keep working on growing up until we go extinct. Maybe we will, some day. You never know.

What Is Sustainable said...

Fabio, the Macy book will be back in the library in a couple weeks. I’ll look at it. I’m not sure I’ll read it. I’ve been thinking a lot about “hope” lately. I get the feeling that most hope is little more than magical thinking — wishing for the economy to recover, and a return to prosperity, easy credit, and fabulous bargains at the mall. Hope works when you zoom out, see a broader perspective, and envision a post-collapse era when the healing process is finally happening — and this WILL happen, one way or another. There WILL come a day when civilization has gone extinct.