A Crucial Clarity – The Quandary of Understanding Adolescence


The Canadian philosopher Marshall McCluhan often quipped, “We don’t know who discovered water, but we’re certain of one thing: it wasn’t the fish.” “Telling fish about water” is inherently difficult and this quandary is applicable in all kinds of embeddedness and familiarities, but in every case, when unconscious presumptions are illuminated, a conscious growth and liberation are possible.

     Here, in these very words, we are in a confluence of waters, but there is a world-wide sea that I will labor to illuminate: the adolescent “knower” that is the globally accepted medium of our conversations. The full implications of these presumptions are as invisible to us as water is to the fish — and we are drowning in limitations we don’t see.

     In the Allegory of the Cave, Sokrates reveals two kinds of embedded interiorities: first were those mythic-minded souls who indeed saw the broad outlines of actualities, but were convinced that their shadowy perceptions were reality; then there were the rational knowers who scoffed at the childish believers, for they “knew” the profiles on the wall were only projections across objects from a rational fire. Neither the believers nor the knowers saw their chains nor suspected their interior presumptiveness. While the world is presently crowded with childish, provincial, and mythic “believers”, the effort of this writing is directed to the dominant adolescent knowers in the cavern of their subjectivity that they may become aware of a different order of illumination — and thus grow to stand out of their cave-like separative-ness and personal opinions into the intimate truth of ecstatic Sunlight.

     Parmenides (fl. 480 BCE) was the philosopher/sage who pointed out that to understand the Way of unconcealed Truth, we must understand the interiority of Opinion. In today’s adolescent world, it is practically a violation to speak of truth beyond point of view, in fact many propositions begin with, “In my opinion…” What must be critiqued is not the attempt at humility nor the nihilism and forms of cognitive science, but rather the entire and unexamined subjective framework that disallows or dismisses the paradoxes of ecstatic speech and the formless Mystery, Truth, and Being that infuses and embraces every point of view.

     Keeping with the ancient Hellenic meditation on cunning and mythology, let us reach further back to their foundational texts: The Iliad and The Odyssey. Both texts, while clothed in mythological textures, pivot upon the cleverness of Odysseus. In The Iliad, the armies had endured nine years of stalemate when Odysseus proposed the ingenious ruse of the Trojans’ own symbolic animal: the horse. Beyond the impasse of vital and mythic powers, it was the dramatic introduction of a new power that finally turned the tide: adolescent cleverness. The “Trojan Horse” shows that the mind that is embedded in mythic understanding can be manipulated by the clever, “thinking” mind. But while strategic cleverness wins the battle of power, its hubris makes an odyssey out of returning to his hearth and love. The power and fault of adolescent cleverness thus forms the foundation of Western civilization — and we are not yet home.


The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Athena, the goddess of cunning, was born full-grown from the forebrain of Zeus. It is no accident that the Western crystallization of logic and science could be said to have begun in and around the ‘Golden Age’ of Athens. Science, from ‘scio‘, “I know” has set the world free of 10,000 mythological imperfections and produced the modern world. (Personally, I have two arms, can walk, and am not dead due to ‘hard’ science.) A million songs of praise can be sung to the adolescent advance of logos or reason beyond childlike mythos, or story. That’s the good news and we can all appreciate this.

Unfortunately, the same abstraction that sets things apart to be examined inflicts that same abstraction upon our very selves. And the capacity to do so has morphed from simply being a very useful tool to being a world-view. Adolescents are naturally caught in this mode and most come to feel distant from the world, others, and even oneself. As the great Sage Adi Da Samraj pointedly reveals: “Consider it yourself. When you look at your foot, doesn’t it seem to be ‘down there’?”

Imprisoned in the chatter-box upon our shoulders, the alienation compounds itself in the mindful stream that captures identity as the verbal mind — and we are tormented and depressed by endless thinking. We are as if behind the eyes, separate from all else, looking out into a separate world, and (not understanding the epistemological structures of cause-effect language) imagine a separate Cause or God or Energy or Source. We search for scientific proof of the existence of such a One, as if the Condition of all conditions could be a cause or effect beyond all doubt or opinion.

Like Odysseus, we are on an odyssey, cast by cunning, and we cling to our cunning for the answer. (No wonder it takes forever.) It gets worse. In our earlier childhood, there is a pervasive mood of dependence, needing sustenance and approval from mom and dad for most of life’s supports. With the advent of adolescence and the insistence on our own independence, we painfully discover there is no real independence and the mood of dependence is replaced by the alternation between dependence and independence in a mood of dilemma. Not only are we subjectively thinking, thinking, thinking, we are always in dilemma. That’s the bad news.

Tortured by mind, abstracted and alienated from the natural state, we search in dilemma for fulfillment and all that surrounds us seems to counter our desire. We stand in a field of existential loneliness around our heart and evaluate everyone we encounter as to their use to us or as a fearful threat. It is not a mood that rises sometimes, its poison taints us consistently, even constantly.

Our abstraction, while making great science, magnifies both the subjective and objective forces. We, as subjects, are bound to objectify others and seek to comfortably numb our subjectivity with indulgences of every kind. We become convicted of interiority in a world of things and we are reduced to a manipulative hell and ring of power that has only the briefest of satisfactions. Caught in that ring of power, we conceive of a conspiracy of opponents trying to manipulate us and we often embark on a hero’s journey to save the world, finding endless evidence for the conclusions we sophomorically presume. That’s the ugly.

As we conceive of our isolated situation, we can see that love is the answer. Thus, we try to love, but only minimally succeed. No matter how much we vow to ourselves and others that we will persist in love, how many succeed? Turning toward the heart, before we understand adolescence, always fails, is never stable, and we are again subject to the slick sales programs of a thousand offerings. Slowly outgrowing those programs for becoming happy or loving, we finally fall into our naked sorrow and our fundamental fear. Understanding the pain of separateness and separative-ness is indeed the first noble truth. This is the necessary crucial clarity.


The Bookends of Adolescence

Developmental psychology has much to reveal about understanding adolescence. One characteristic that is prominent at its onset is the rejection of the parental-child pattern. Of course, we all remember rejecting childish dependence on our parents and standing up for ourselves or coming to terms with making our own decisions somewhere in our early teens. There is also a sociological/historical observation that is illuminative here: from the Magna Carta in 1215 (that the king could not violate his own laws) to the Declaration of Independence in 1776, both reflect this same developmental insistence.

(Interestingly, the ill-feeling of being “thrown down” or sub-ject to the king’s whims is the origin of our word for tortured thinking: “subjectivity”.)

Now a theme that is very common in our adolescent society is this “following your own path”, “not being subjugated”, “listening to and nurturing your own voice”, “hero’s journey”, et cetera. This timely wisdom contains important developmental components: we each DO need to find our voice, achieve goals, develop our own will and strength, stand on our own ground, be powerful, etc. But we must come to appreciate that this is simply a developmental moment or phase and this necessity is not the whole picture!

Let me say that no one has ever really grown up because it was another “good idea”. The transition to real maturity is not one blossom replacing another or an easy morphing of one stage to the next (as does happen). The transition from adolescent to adult also necessitates a radical conversion that requires explicit self-knowledge and the recognition of how we create pain for others and in ourselves. To mature beyond mentality and the pains of abstraction, we must acutely suffer our own form of Narcissus, see our own self-possessions, see how and when we turn from relationship. On the basis of this self-understanding, do we repent (etymologically: “turn from pain”) of the suffering we cause; we turn from our self-orientation to giving and serving in relationship. Of course, habits persist and so in understanding, we cleave to relationship, we persist in the discipline of self-transcendence, we submit to responsibility, more and more.

One more implication of the separative world-view of adolescence: the shadow side of separative-ness is we are imprisoned not only in alienation and abstraction, but also in a manipulative stance relative to everything and everyone. No wonder Isiah of Deuteronomy prophesized: “Before the new epoch appears, the cities will have a smoke hanging over them and the rivers will run as bitter as wormwood.” Our adolescent manipulative power has ruined the surface of the earth, reduced love to chemicals, and others to be exploited.

The maturation of adolescence is served in the discernment of what is harmonious, moral, and true; then we apply our strengthened will to conform our behavior and lives to this harmony. The discernment for our task of harmony and true morality is mature when it applies the will in a steady and realistic manner that is neither too loose nor too tight… just like tuning a stringed instrument. In the words of May West, “I’m all for restraint, just so long as it doesn’t go too far!”

In the attunement of our life with what greater than self, via discernment and will, there is substantial responsibility, trust, and healthy living. An integral harmony, a moral force, and a certain calmness or peacefulness and trustfulness characterizes the maturation of the adolescent phase. This true morality is an ordinary responsibility that gives us a foundation for an extraordinary responsibility.

Ordinarily, we rise and fall on the waves or pleasure and pain, the highs and lows of life. How does one come to a state of existence that puts this up-and-down in proper perspective? If we stand below the waves, intuiting the ocean of life, the waves transfigure into insignificant ripples. And what is it to ground ourselves below the waves? The Latin word for “stand below” is sub-stance. If we grow in decency, honesty, service, and moral force, we become persons of substance and stand below the waves of life, in intuitive touch with oceanic Life.

To recognize that we have been subject to a world-view that is partial, manipulative, and separative is only partly ‘solved’ by understanding and adapting to a holistic, participatory, and integral view. While changing our point of view is necessary, it is in life that the full change and new adaptation is empowered and enacted. We need a most critical—that is, realistic—apprehension of the separative and independent condition. Just a new mentality, however advanced, does not touch the unconscious, anxious core that perturbates our natural wholeness. To whole-bodily incarnate relationship, we must critically, that is realistically, understand our anxieties and self-obsessions.

The 19th century philosopher/theologian Søren Kierkegaard pointed out that time is an anxiety we add to Presence. And what is anxiety at its root? Etymologically, “anxious” in Latin is anxius, “uneasy”, but anxius is further rooted in angere “to choke, squeeze, constrict”. If we constrict, choke, or knot a garden hose, very little water flows through it. If we squeeze or contract or choke our feeling, we are anxious, not alive or flowing with Presence, but caught or knotted in time. Think how one’s anxiety is heightened when we are late for an appointment; we are easily knotted (or rather, we unconsciously knot ourselves). Now you can see why we say in grammatical terms, “past tense, present tense, future tense.”

Full responsibility for our own anxiety, for our own contraction, for our own tensing, knotting, and choking is THE necessary foundation for real maturation in Presence. The first noble truth is to see and feel the pain and knot, and by this we grow in moral authenticity; then as the great Sage Adi Da pointedly illuminates, by cultivating sufficient harmony and discrimination, we more easily see our current action of knotting and choking. Seeing our present contracting or withdrawing is a responsibility that goes to the root of the painful error, a ‘radical’ responsibility that is the depth-foundation of true adulthood.

Obviously, to grow out of adolescence is not another willful achievement! The ancient Orphic story of the developmental phases of Dionysus (the god of ecstasy) sheds great insight into the adolescent-to-adult transition: In his “adolescent” (which is Latin for “nurturing”) phase, Dionysus was known as Dendrite (living in the forest of Nysa), and developed the capacity for pleasure, enjoyment, and achieving every ordinary goal. When he was fully nurtured in these, then Zeus’ mother, Rhea, initiated him into “the secret women’s mysteries”, which transformed him into the god of Nysa: Dio-nysus.  

Let us note that Rhea means “Flow” (like in rheostat and diarrhea!) and that Rhea is THE great Goddess, mother of even Zeus. In other words, when one is simply full of pleasure and enjoyment, free from ordinary anxiety, we yield or give ourselves over to the divine force, and the Spirit-Flow does the deep transforming work: the secret women’s mysteries.

Let me repeat: this transformation is not ‘achieved’; indeed it is not “achievable” by will. Instead of willful assertion, we willingly give ourselves over to Flowing, to Yielding. Now the French word for “give-yourself-over” is “surrender”. Not to be confused with the subjugation near the beginning of adolescence, flowing-surrender is found in the maturation of adolescence into adulthood. Illuminating the pleasureable Dendrite to Dionysus transition (via the Divine Flow-Yielding), Adi Da Samraj pointed out, “Sacrifice is the bridge from pleasure to ecstasy.”

The onset of adolescence makes us thoroughly ‘allergic’ to anything that reeks of subjugation (indeed, it is for good reasons that we insist on our OWN assertions!); ten thousand movies and conversations shout this theme of strong individuality. In this culture and time, subjugation (and mis-understood surrender) is the anti-theme, or anathema. A new understanding is necessary of how the transition out of adolescence is marked by discriminative surrender. Let us not conflate subjugation and surrender, but discriminate that one is passive and one is active; subjugation is to be “yoked under”, surrender is to intelligently “give yourself over”. To willfully resist and reject subjugation begins adolescence, to discriminatively and willingly give yourself over is the end.

It’s like love. Love is not something you achieve or will; you flow and fall in love. You willingly give yourself to Love. Understand this difference and so do not brace yourself reactively against surrender. Be free to Fall in Love, give yourself over to Love. Yes?



Real Adults

Now I speak to fellow lovers, not fellow knowers: I love knowing, but it is very, very small. I love loving; this is the mysterious felt-substance of living light, the substance of every single thing. Then all things can be seen and even felt to be a turning of the one-light, dissolving in a uni-verse of most real existence. And from lover to lover, I praise my inspiration open-heartedly, Avatar Adi Da Samraj, my Beloved: His Instruction, Presence, and State is the great advantage and elegance.  Now you can breathe His poem:

There is a force of loneliness around my heart.

It is not a mood that rises sometimes

in my life.

It is a force — the power of the world itself.

It is all that surrounds me,

all that counters my desire.

When I turn toward the Heart,

before I understand,

I stand in a field of loneliness

that sees the things

I look at all the worlds through

the ring of power that draws

around the brows.

My heart becomes sorrowful,

and I am afraid.

This is the crucial clarity of man.

When he sees it, then he understands.

He turns and draws it through

the Heart,

like a string around a beaded sack,

like a cord that holds his solid trouser up

He draws it with him in the heart,

And all things fall to nothing

In a joy.