Two weeks ago I met with a woman named Linda who had asked me to do a Soul Purpose reading for her.  I spent only 20 minutes talking with her face to face, but I can still feel the knives of anger and righteousness she stuck in my heart.

My meeting with Linda was a timely reminder of what it feels like — emotionally, spiritually, and intellectually — to try to talk to someone who is filled with righteous anger.  You may as well be talking to a brick wall.

Let me describe this brick wall.  It’s a wall that a person, either male or female, chooses to build brick by brick, layer by layer, inside his or her own brain to keep out all data, all memories, and all learning experiences related to empathy.  This brick wall is a conscious construct.  It is not, as so many people would like to insist, an involuntary process or a fluke of nature except where documented major head injury is involved (eg. a car accident, an assault, or a Phineas-Gage-type occurrence).  The brick wall is built on purpose because the person in question has decided he or she doesn’t want to “hear” or “see” any information that would inconveniently contradict an internal set of beliefs.

The brain, as I’ve discussed before, operates like a symphony orchestra that needs both the sheet music (your meta-choice*) and the conductor (you and your conscious will, choices, and actions) to keep everything running smoothly.  The brain cannot hold itself together without a solid set of sheet music for all the parts to follow.  If you don’t give your brain an opportunity to work from the sheet music you were born with (your own Soul Purpose and Soul Blueprint), it will make up a set of sheet music.  It will invent something.  It will pick a story — a set of beliefs, a set of software instructions — and it will cling to that story for the simple scientific reason that any software is better than no software as far as the brain is concerned. 

A brand new CPU loaded with all the latest memory and video card and wireless capability is a useless piece of junk until goal-specific software is loaded.  The software tells the hardware how to handle incoming data, how to assess it and organize it and store it and use it.  Without the software package, there’s no interface between the data and the hardware, no “meta-choice” to guide the processing of huge volumes of data.  There’s no framework.  There’s no sheet music.  There’s no internal cookbook.  There’s nothing to guide the processing.

The brain must have a coherent set of sheet music to follow.  Otherwise, it can’t decide what to do with the vast amounts of data that come into the human brain every day — data from your hearing and your seeing and your movements and your relationships, etc.
The brain can’t keep everything.  There just isn’t room.  So it has to “triage” all the incoming data.  It has to rank the data in terms of relevance and usefulness.  It does this by comparing data at almost lightning speed to your internal software package, your internal set of sheet music, your internal set of beliefs.  It compares the data to your meta-choice and then decides what data to keep (and where to store it) and what data to dump with the nightly trash pickup.  (When you sleep, your brain is supposed to do its nightly mopping up of unwanted connections between brain cells — which is why you need a good night’s sleep every night if you want your brain to stay healthy.**)

So you can see why the story you tell yourself inside your own head is so important.  The story you tell yourself about your own life — your meta-choice, your sheet music — is guiding the way in which your brain builds itself.

In other words, inside your own head, “your wish is your command.”

If you say endlessly to yourself that nobody loves you and nobody treats you fairly and nobody listens to you and you have a right to be angry and vengeful, then your own brain will respond at a scientific level to preserve the “truth” of your belief system.  Your brain will do what you’ve told it to do.  It will triage all incoming information.  It will keep all data that seems to “prove” your belief that you’re a victim.  It will dump everything else in the trash bin.  At a scientific level, you literally won’t even “hear” or “see” the neighbour who is treating you with kindness.  You’ll hear and see only what you want to hear and see, instead of what’s actually there. The brick wall you’ve erected around the Soul Circuitry of your own brain has no doors or windows in it through which you can feel another person’s heart.  So you believe your own propaganda, and you walk around telling anyone who’ll listen how unfair life is.  It’s like you’re living in your own little fantasy world.

November 5th Delphinium

I found this lone delphinium blooming away in the garden on November 5, 2014. No self-respecting Ontario delphinium flowers in November when the nights are cold and the leaves have already fallen (as you can see in the background). This perennial blooms in the warm weather of Ontario summers. Right? If you’re determined to be right, you’ll have to conclude that I doctored this photo. After all, delphiniums just don’t do that, right? It’s not normal, right? For the record, I didn’t doctor this photo. Photo (c) JAT 2014

It took me years to understand this simple biological reality.  It took me years to understand that a person who has chosen righteous anger as a personal belief system is impervious to divine love.  It took me years to understand that the last thing a righteous person wants to hear is anything resembling objective Truth or objective reality.  His or her brain simply can’t handle it.

I’ve seen it said again and again by well-meaning (but untrained) spiritual teachers that if you always treat other people with unconditional kindness and never challenge other people’s beliefs (“turning the other cheek”), they’ll feel the truth of your love and they’ll be changed by it because everyone is already trying as hard as they can to be loving.

This.  Is.  Bullshit.

I treat everyone with unconditional forgiveness, but this requires me to be honest about their actual meta-choices.  When I meet someone like Linda, whose meta-choice is righteous anger — in other words, someone who has an entrenched belief that “she has a right to be right” — I stop talking.  I don’t try to persuade.  I don’t try to cajole.  I don’t try to sweet talk.  There is nothing I can say that will penetrate the brick wall.  I will defend myself.  I will speak honestly in my own defence (as I did by e-mail when I got home from my painful meeting with Linda).  I will speak honestly in defence of others.  But I will not tell people such as Linda that all their beliefs are worthy of respect when some of those beliefs are abusive.  Some belief systems really suck.  It’s naive and not very loving for those on a spiritual path to pretend otherwise.

It’s not my job as a spiritual teacher to spare people’s feelings by hiding the Truth.  If you want a teacher who’ll never ask you to wrestle with your own mistakes and your own belief systems, there are plenty of them out there who’ll take your money and never teach you a darned thing.  Learning means change. Learning is only possible when you decide for yourself that you want to take charge of your own brain and your own ability to change.  Learning means you’re willing and able to deal with new data that conflicts with your existing belief system.

No one has “a right to be right.”  No one.  This is why we have bodies of law written over time by large groups of people on a consensus basis (one hopes).  No one is infallible.  Not even famous religious leaders you may be thinking of.  Democracy flourishes wherever individual leaders understand that the road to hell is paved with libertarianism.

As a human being, does God give you any rights?  Of course.  You have a right to be you (the real you, meaning your soul self, with your own individual quirks and traits).  You have a right to use your own free will.  You have a right to learn, change, grow, and love.  You have a right to consider yourself worthy as a child of God.  But you don’t have the right to assume that you have all the answers and that you don’t need anybody else and that you can do whatever the hell you want in this world because you think you’re right and everybody else is wrong.

Right now the newspapers are filled again with stories about Anders Breivik, the Norwegian psychopath who consciously set out to prove his “right to be right” last year by killing 77 strangers in cold blood.  Perhaps you think this example is too extreme.  After all, many people have filled their own heads with righteous anger, but only a few of them have gone out and actually killed someone.

Well, you know, physical assault and homicide aren’t the only ways to bring suffering into the world.  Emotional and spiritual and intellectual assault also bring suffering into the world, and these effects far outlast most physical effects.  Right now, Anders is trying to use his very public trial to continue inflicting harm on others.

People like Anders Breivik don’t turn themselves overnight into mass murderers or serial killers.  They start small with righteous anger, and when they’re not challenged or corrected, their behaviour escalates.  The belief system is allowed to grow like a cacophony of brittle drums inside the brain of “poor little Anders who must never be told he’s made a mistake because it might wound his self esteem.”  Meanwhile poor little Anders never learns how to deal with his own emotions, and, more importantly, his own mistakes.  He never learns he has a much more effective blueprint or set of sheet music inside his own DNA.  He never learns how to use his own brain.  So it runs amok, lost in the fantasy world of righteous anger he himself has created, unable at a scientific level to cope with any “conflicting data” at all.

Note, however, that Anders Breivik is not a stupid man.  He’s fully capable of planning and organizing and getting what he wants.  He knows what he’s doing.   He knows how to deceive. He knows how to use anger.  He knows how to manipulate other people’s guilt.  He knows how to use technology.  He knows how to use geography.  He is not mentally incompetent in a medical sense.

He’s just very, very sure of his own rightness. 


* For more on intent and meta-choices, see “Knowledge” versus “Truth” and Pelagius and Personal Responsibility

** For more on the importance of sleep to your brain’s health, please see Jason Castro’s article called “Sleep’s Secret Repairs” in the May/June 2012 issue of Scientific American Mind.  See also “Perchance to Prune” by Giulio Tononi and Chiara Cirelli in the August 2013 issue of Scientific American.

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