Thursday, January 22, 2015

Full Functioning - That Which We Already Know

Chapter 7 (continued)

I’ve referred to the full functioning nature of childhood a couple of times already without giving it formal definition – relying instead on context in order to invest the term with adequate meaning. It’s actually got quite a rich history, though, and I would be remiss if I didn’t spend some time exploring it further. Full functioning was first defined by counseling psychologist, Carl Rogers, in order that he have some objective criteria for determining the psychological and behavioral health of the adult individual. Such criteria could then be used to determine the success of the counseling process, or the need for it in the first place, as the case may be.

A key difference between the way I use the term and the way Rogers used it is that, whereas Rogers considers full functioning to be something that the self-actualizing adult has attained, perhaps after having successfully engaged in the process of psychotherapy, I consider it to be our birthright that we unwittingly discard as we grow and mature and engage in the process of constructing our self in this fallen world. These differing views are easily reconcilable as long as one remains mindful of the context. Toward that end, let me take a moment to review the three fundamental components of Rogers’ (1961) conceptualization of full functioning – experiential openness, organismic trust, existential orientation – highlighting along the way how I’ve reconsidered these three components from the vantage point of childhood.

Experiential Openness: The openness to experience that Rogers speaks of does not necessarily have to do with becoming more receptive to hang-gliding, ballroom dancing, or what have you – although I suppose such expanded receptivity would not be out of the question. Rather, our return to full functioning means the attainment of greater freedom from reliance on whatever defense mechanisms we’ve constructed in order to protect our self from that which we’ve deemed uncomfortable. Openness to experience, then, given that defense mechanisms distort our view of reality in service of the created self, entails a newfound openness to experiencing the world exactly as it is, along with whatever difficult emotions such unprotected awareness might bring forth.

Defense mechanisms, in the classical Freudian sense, are constructed and invoked by the unconscious mind. In a more general sense, however, we construct ways of looking at the world that tend to bolster our own self-image. An example might be an individual who enjoys reasonable material abundance protecting himself from the anxiety of seeing others living in poverty by constructing a worldview in which those who work hard are rewarded and those who are lazy go without. Such a “just world” view protects the individual’s psyche from both the worry that poverty might befall him despite all of his hard work, as well as the sense of responsibility that he might otherwise be burdened by with regard to helping those who live in poverty.

Children, however, have not yet constructed the defense mechanisms of which Rogers speaks. And, anyway, the child is as yet without a strong sense of self in need of protection. Sure, a child might recoil from an unfamiliar person or situation, but this is precisely because she greets life without defense. If something frightens her, then it frightens her. She feels no need to justify or explain her fear, or create the false impression that she is not really afraid at all. Her inner feelings and her outer appearance and behavior are congruent. Keeping up appearances for the sake of appearing cool, fearless, in charge, or unfazed will come later – once she has created a self and has an image to protect.

Organismic Trust: Organismic trust is trust in one’s being, one’s gut, one’s felt sense or intuition. The fully functioning individual trusts himself to assess whatever new situation might present itself and behave accordingly. He doesn’t feel any compulsion to “follow the herd,” or to check on how some respected individual might have behaved in a similar situation, or to reflect upon how his actions might be viewed by others. He has confidence in his ability to read situations clearly and accurately, and to read his own feelings about those situations clearly and accurately.

So often we adults end up second-guessing ourselves – especially with respect to the various personae we adopt. Since our personae do not necessarily arise from any innate or natural need, we often need to learn the “right way” to behave. For example, suppose a new corporate manager gets a call from one of the low level staff in another department. The new manager might ponder what the corporate culture would have him do. Should he feel honored that he’s already being viewed as a valued resource on the corporate team, or should he feel chafed that some underling thought he could just call up the manager of another department without going through the “appropriate” communication channels? Should he simply return the call, then, or should he find out who the caller’s supervisor is in order to have a chat with him?

This is a contrived example, of course, but don’t we think along very similar lines much of the time? Which persona am I in this particular case? What are the expectations for someone in this role? How will this look? What will people think of me? We often go through life figuring out how to behave based on our observations of the behavior of others who’ve adopted the same persona. It’s as if we’re constantly comparing some cardboard cutout version of ourselves to whatever template exists “out there” in society of who we think we’re supposed to be.

The fully functioning individual, on the other hand, has a diminished need for outside validation of his feelings or actions. He can be himself regardless of the situation. If he is not expert, then he is not expert; he has no ego to protect. If he is expert, then he is expert; he feels no need to hide his talents. He is, once again, congruent. He is authentic. He does not fear the world seeing him precisely as he is.

Isn’t that largely how children behave? They fumble about in their play without regard for looking silly or being judged. They sing and draw and run and dance, without any self-image to protect. They play when their being says play. They eat when their being says eat. They rest when their being says rest. And if you ask a child a question, you know that they will do their best to answer it – without any ulterior motive, or hidden meaning, or guarded language. ‘From the mouths of babes’ is an expression that honors this truth-telling tendency of young children. This is the organismic trust of children. They’ve not yet learned how to second guess their feelings or motives. They’ve not yet learned to feel inadequate for what they don’t know, or what they can’t do.

Existential Orientation: A life lived from an existential orientation is a life that is very much in tune with its unfolding in the here and now. An individual with innate trust in the totality of who she is (the entirety of her organism), who is unhindered by cumbersome defenses, is freer to live life in the present moment. She doesn’t need to selectively edit her experience in order to make it safer and more palatable. She doesn’t need to run it through a filter of thoughts and concepts in order to make it fit the way she thinks it should be. With fewer preconceived notions as to the nature of her self, she is free to become whatever the present moment might “need” her to be.

I doubt that I need to convince the reader that children are inherently expert at living in the moment. What is the play of children, after all, if not absolute engagement in the moment to moment unfolding of the circumstances in which they are immersed? A child can give himself up entirely to his play without concern for how he looks, and without feeling the need to conform to any standards that others have set for him – least of all himself. He isn’t pondering for even one instant how any particular experience will assist him in furthering his play career. Rather, he becomes his play. And when he is done playing, he will become the eating of his snack, and then the taking of his nap.

What would it be like to have such freedom once again? What would it be like to live without our self-imposed constraints, and our various and sundry conceptualizations? We need only to look within. We already know how to see without projecting who we think we are and what we think we need onto everything that comes into view. We already know how to be without measuring every action against those of another. We already know how to engage the world with the fullness and totality of our being rather than with the fragmented and inhibited self that we’ve become. We only need to recall the full functioning of our childhood days.

End Chapter 7


Rogers, C. (1961). On becoming a person: A therapist’s view of psychotherapy. Houghton Mifflin Company.

Image References

Running by Nevit Dilmen via:
Original Rustic Garden Gate on Riverside at Eynsford by Richard Croft via:

Copyright 2015 by Mark Frank

Saturday, January 17, 2015

The Recollection of Wholeness - That Which We Already Know

Obviously, I’ve been reflecting quite a bit on childhood in these seven chapters up until now, both the topic in general and my own in particular. But how often do you think about yours? And what is the nature of your reminiscing when you do? Does it mostly visit you by happenstance – like an impromptu pining for more carefree times in the midst of a stressful day, or a sudden wave of nostalgia washing over you and then quickly receding? Perhaps you actively engage your childhood years much as I’ve done here – plumbing their depths for clues that might point you toward some meaning, healing, wholeness, or closure, or simply a better understanding of who you are. On the other hand, you might well do your very best, consciously or otherwise, to keep such memories in their place – locked in their trunk along with all the other bundles of pain and fear, anger and abuse.

Regardless of how pleasant or difficult or intentional the recollection of our childhood stories may be, revisiting them can help us clarify the nature of our present lives. They can help us glean insight into the genesis of our various neuroses and defense mechanisms, thereby diminishing our reactivity in the here and now. They can help us better understand the unfolding of our karma – our created patterns of thought and behavior – thereby allowing us to act with greater freedom in the present. Such insights notwithstanding, there is an even more fundamental benefit to examining our various stories and recollections; they allow us to take stock of the wisdom that is already ours.

This book is about the recollection of that which we already know – the re-collection of the wisdom that we already have, but which we’ve forgotten over the course of our fall. Our wholeness awaits. It simply requires our awareness for it to be brought forth once again. Some might find this vaguely reminiscent of psychoanalytic theory, wherein newfound awareness of some previously unconscious conflict allows it to be brought forth to conscious resolution. The difference is that, whereas the goal of psychoanalysis is to bring awareness to our forgotten brokenness, the goal of this book is to bring awareness to our forgotten wholeness.

Let me be clear, though, I’m not advocating that anyone put an end to whatever psychotherapeutic relationship they might be engaged in for the sake of celebrating some newfound wholeness that they’ve not yet fully realized. Instead, I hope that whatever exploration the reader might engage in related to the ideas contained in this book will be done in conjunction with whatever treatment regimen you’ve already begun. We must ‘render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s’ at least to some extent. What I mean is that we live in a fallen modern world – Caesar’s, in a manner of speaking. If we allow ourselves to be judged by the criteria of this fallen modern world, then we might indeed be considered broken. Our minds aren’t fast enough to keep up with its pace. Our skills aren’t valued enough by the economy in which we must work. Its social disconnectedness has us feeling lost and alone. Its stress and fear-inducing realities put pressure on our psyches, thereby revealing our various so-called “weaknesses.” However, when viewed within the context of your higher power, your truest self, your Lord, your God, your creator, your source, your ground, your ultimate reality, etc. you are unbroken to this day. You are whole, and you need only to fully realize as much.

For some, this might seem to be a point of no great meaning or significance. For others, it might change the way you think about your life completely. You see, even after we’ve grown into adulthood, adopted our various roles, played all of the games that society expects us to play, and then grown disillusioned with the shallowness, or meaninglessness, or callousness of it all, we nonetheless still perpetuate the thought processes that propelled us down this road in the first place! We still see ourselves as being in need of improvement, or fixing. We still see ourselves as not enough. We don’t know enough, we aren’t strong enough, we aren’t wise enough.

Isn’t it ironic that, after growing tired of playing the “not enough” game that society wants us to play, after beginning to search for something more meaningful or more spiritual, we then risk falling into the same old “not enough” thinking all over again. We study holy books, but our understanding isn’t deep enough. We dust off the beliefs of our earlier years, but our faith just isn’t strong enough. We take up yoga or some other health regimen, but our body just isn’t flexible enough or our resolve great enough. We take up meditation, but our mind just won’t calm down enough. And so we seek out the guidance of some spiritual “expert,” some “holy” individual or another, only to be told that we’re not praying enough, or practicing enough, or meditating enough, or studying the holy books enough, or going to worship enough…

Recall, if you will, that the Buddha, near death after struggling for years with a spiritual practice that just wasn’t “good enough,” then remembered being a child and spontaneously entering into meditative absorption beneath a rose-apple tree. It was only after he approached his meditation in that way that he realized his enlightenment. But just before he did he was tempted one last time to fall into the trap of “not enough.” Mara demanded of him a witness to the depth of his enlightenment. The Buddha then responded by touching his hand to the earth. He was part of everything. He was enough.

Recall that it was Jesus who said: “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” Whereas others thought that the children might not be mature enough, or intelligent enough, or understanding enough, or behave appropriately enough to be in the presence of one so holy, Jesus knew otherwise. For it is precisely what the children already know that makes them most receptive to the kingdom of God right here and now.

Let me be clear on another point as well: I’m not advocating that anyone curtail whatever spiritual practice they might be engaged in for, once again, the sake of celebrating some newfound wholeness that they’ve not yet fully realized. I’m simply advocating getting in touch with the wisdom that you already have so as to continue your practice with a much more solid foundation – a much more down to earth understanding of what you are doing. Towards that end, let’s revisit a term that I introduced very early on in this book – full functioning.

First, though, I need to take a little break! Until next week!

Image References

Trapped Childhood Memories by Rosino via:
Original Rustic Garden Gate on Riverside at Eynsford by Richard Croft via:

Copyright 2015 by Mark Frank

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Three Minds to Heal a Broken World

The world is broken. From the terrorist attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris, to police and citizens battling in the streets of Ferguson, the world is broken. From the inhumane and exploitative factory farming practices that put cheap food on our tables, to the murderous rampages of the drug cartels down in Mexico, the world is broken. From the actions of those with money and power who use them both to keep them both, to our dependence on cheap fossil fuels that is driving climate change and the likely extinction of numerous species, the world is broken. Nonetheless, I’m hopeful. I think this brokenness can be fixed, as long as we come to understand its nature.

The nature of the world’s brokenness is that we all too often think that the brokenness is somewhere else, or in someone else. We rarely grasp the fact that the brokenness is in each and every one of us. Ah, but don’t we all behave like little despots much of the time! It’s just that when we wield whatever power we have we profess to do so for the sake of righteousness and law and order – or just plain old entitlement, for that matter – but when another does so we call it rude, oppressive, destructive, or evil. We want things to go the way we want them to go, with the least amount of effort on our part, and with the most of whatever it is that we desire in return. But as soon as the desires of another come into conflict with our own we stand ready to fight, to kill even, in order to shape the world to our advantage. And all the while that we behave in this way we cry out to the heavens, or to anyone who will listen, that we just want peace. We just want peace. Why won’t everyone just behave in a way that allows us peace?

Sanshin - a three-stringed instrument

The Japanese have a three-stringed instrument called the sanshin, the design of which likely originated in China. Sanshin also refers to the three minds that one should cultivate in order to help create a harmonious monastic community: joyful mind, nurturing mind, and magnanimous mind (kishin, roshin, and daishin, respectively). These three minds were discussed in one of Zen’s most influential teachings, Tenzo Kyokun (Instructions for the Zen Cook), by the 13th century monk, Dogen Zenji. A modern translation of this text, with commentary by Kosho Uchiyama, is available in From the Zen Kitchen to Enlightenment – Refining Your Life (Uchiyama, 1983). An online translation of Tenzo Kyokun is also available.

Instructions for the Zen Cook encourages engagement in all aspects of the work that is so deep, complete, and mindful as to be an act of meditative absorption in and of itself. But the work of the Zen cook is especially profound and impactful due to its potential to benefit each and every other monk in the monastery as they proceed with the fulfillment of their respective spiritual callings as best they can. Dogen says:
[W]hen working in any position of responsibility, not only as tenzo [Zen cook], but as any officer or assistant, strive to maintain a spirit of joy and magnanimity, along with the caring attitude of a parent. (Uchiyama, 1983)

I pick up the thread of Uchiyama’s commentary here, gleaning a broader, modern, and secular meaning from Dogen’s original text. Does the cultivation of a joyful mind, a nurturing mind, and a magnanimous mind not speak to us this very day as we try to come to grips with the violence that seems so rampant in our broken world? Let’s explore these three minds just a little bit further.

Dogen says of joyful mind:
A joyful spirit is one of gratefulness and buoyancy…. How fortunate we are to have been born as human beings [as opposed to some other state of being in which] …. our bodies and minds would be bound by the limitations and afflictions of those worlds and would have to suffer their burdens. (Uchiyama, 1983)
This joyfulness is rooted in the realization that we already have enough of what we need to be happy. When we stray from this understanding of sufficiency we want more and more. We start looking at what our neighbors have and we become envious, or we simply take what we want from them, without one iota of concern for whether they have sufficient resources of their own.

On nurturing mind, Dogen writes:
A parent, irrespective of poverty or difficult circumstances, loves and raises a child with care. How deep is love like this? Only a parent can understand it. A parent protects the children from the cold and shades them from the hot sun with no concern for his or her own personal welfare. Only a person in whom this mind has arisen can understand it, and only one in whom this attitude has become second nature can fully realize it. (Uchiyama, 1983) 
What are the limits of such a nurturing mind? Is it possible for us to consider those who have committed the most heinous acts of violence as we would wayward children who have lacked the appropriate guidance and opportunity that might have steered them down a more productive path? Is it possible to lament the fact that we’ve really not been very good "parents" after all? Is it possible to recognize the role that we have played in making the world the violent place that it is and strive to do a better job in the future? Oh, sure, it’s easy to pretend that the perpetrators of such violence are simply “demon children”, born of evil, not part of us at all. It’s easy to pretend that we had nothing to do with creating the world as it is today. Dare I descend into colloquial sarcasm and inquire: How’s that workin’ out for you?

Finally, on magnanimous mind, Dogen writes:
[It] is like a mountain, stable and impartial. Exemplifying the ocean, it is tolerant and views everything from the broadest perspective. Having a Magnanimous Mind means being without prejudice and refusing to take sides. When carrying something that weighs an ounce, do not think of it as light, and likewise, when you have to carry fifty pounds, do not think of it as heavy. Do not get carried away by the sounds of spring, nor become heavy-hearted upon seeing the colors of fall. View the changes of the seasons as a whole, weigh the relativeness of light and heavy from a broad perspective. (Uchiyama, 1983)
So, are there limits to what the magnanimous mind will tolerate? Are we to take everything in stride – even the slaughter of innocents? I don’t think so. But I do think we need to view such slaughter from the broadest possible perspective. What is the motivation of the perpetrators? What are the causes for such actions? What are the conditions from which those actions arise? Does “refusing to take sides” mean remaining aloof and unengaged? Once again, I don’t think so. One cannot be nurturing if one is aloof and unengaged. But how would a parent respond to one of their children striking another? Would the child be disowned as if “demon spawn”? Of course not, and neither would the parent ignore what had just transpired and do nothing.

Yes, the world is broken. But fighting over who is responsible for breaking it and who is responsible for fixing it will not get us very far. Should a novice Zen monk make some grave mistake that causes a fire that destroys the monastery’s kitchen and larder, the Zen cook will not harbor thoughts of blame or ill will. He will take responsibility. He will look within and try to understand how it was that he did not understand the mind of that novice monk and the inadequacy of the training that he received.

In closing, Dogen states:
Whether you are the head of a temple, a senior monk or other officer, or simply an ordinary monk, do not forget the attitude behind living out your life with joy, having the deep concern of a parent, and carrying out all your activities with magnanimity. (Uchiyama, 1983)
Please, let us try.


Uchiyama, K. (1983). From the Zen kitchen to enlightenment – Refining your life. (Tr. by Wright, T.) Published by Weatherhill, Inc. Tenzo Kyokun written by Dogen Zenji in 1237.

Image Credits

Photograph of a sanshin via:

Copyright 2015 by Mark Frank