Reflections on the Horror Genre

“Yet, at the same time, as the Eastern sages also knew, man is a worm and food for worms. This is the paradox: he is out of nature and hopelessly in it; he is dual, up in the stars and yet housed in a heart-pumping, breath-gasping body that once belonged to a fish and still carries the gill-marks to prove it. His body is a material fleshy casing that is alien to him in many ways — the strangest and most repugnant way being that it aches and bleeds and will decay and die. Man is literally split in two: he has an awareness of his own splendid uniqueness in that he sticks out of nature with a towering majesty, and yet he goes back into the ground a few feet in order to blindly and dumbly rot and disappear forever.”

Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death

“All those qualities, capacities and tendencies which do not harmonize with the collective values–everything that shuns the light of public opinion, in fact–now come together to form the shadow, that dark region of the personality which is unknown and unrecognized by the ego. The endless series of shadow and doppelgänger figures in mythology, fairy tales and literature ranges from Cain and Edom, by way of Judas and Hagen, to Stevenson’s Mr. Hyde in the ugliest man of Nietzsche; again and again such figures have appeared and made their bow before human consciousness, but the psychological meaning of this archetype of the adversary has not yet dawned upon mankind.”

Erich Neumann, Depth Psychology and a New Ethic

“People think that I must be a very strange person. This is not correct. I have the heart of a small boy. It is in a glass jar on my desk.”

Stephen King


Horror attracts us while it repulses us. We are confronted with our most hidden taboos in sinister forms. We investigate our shadowy dreams and terrors, seeking out the Other, anxious before the strange and unknown. We face forbidden ideas, lurking beneath the sewers and deep in the woods, unspoken, uncomfortable ideas, in the darkness of ourselves.

Our monsters reflect the most terrible aspects of our nature. They are our unconscious rejections, our atrocities against one another, our insatiable greed and consumption and narcissism. They return to haunt us, to torment us, when we foolishly believe that we are gods, when we transgress the laws of all humankind.

Horror sickens and disgusts and nauseates us. Yet our hearts tremble to the pleasure beneath our fear, to the endorphins of our near death, to the tragedies that we cannot help but stare at.

Horror teaches us the consequences of when we take too much and care not enough for others. It shows us what happens when we deceive and murder and destroy our sacred idols.

We must take on the embodiment of evil, whether it afflicts us in the realms of the supernatural or natural, literal or metaphorical. Through our struggles, we may be releasing the ghosts of our past or preventing the apocalypse of the near future.

Even if we pretend that we are going to remain young for eternity, we are flesh, we are bones, we are blood and pus and aging and disease and death. We are part of a cosmos we don’t fully comprehend. We don’t know what our fates will be as individuals in a community, as a species, as organisms on a planet.

We are temporary, vulnerable. We are primates lost in the vastness of space. We struggle for an illusion of control, a sense of familiarity, so that we can feel safe and secure, while knowing that nothing will ever last. We fear the threat of what we don’t know, the possibility of future anguish.

There are dangers inherent in everything we do, existing on different scales, from driving our cars down a highway to walking alone at night, from polluting our atmosphere to declaring war on a neighboring country.

We are agonizingly aware that we are going to die, that everyone we know will die, even if we distract ourselves with parties and drugs and work and fashion and games and sex and religion and politics. We are filled with an existential dread that we try to alleviate with meanings beyond ourselves. Yet there is always the possibility of nuclear war and environmental catastrophe and societal unrest. There is always the promise of the undertaker.

Horror is a safe place for our fears, our anxieties, to express themselves under the guise of a chainsaw-wielding maniac, a zombie horde roaming through the mall, a cannibal, ghoul, goblin, snake, slasher, demon, or vampire that casts no shadow.

We can look at our inner darkness rather than hide from it. We can grapple with the unknown rather than pretend it doesn’t exist. Only when we are honest, when we burn our light through the chasm of darkness, can we be liberated from our suffering.

Horror disturbs our sanity, shocks us out of our comfort, mocks our hypocrisies, exposes our underlying insecurities. We need horror to awaken us out of our complacency, our smug delusions of perfection, and let go of false certainties.

We must find a way to grieve for our losses, to turn toward the truths that scare us, to participate joyfully among the sorrows of the world. We are human beings, achingly conscious, here for a short time with each other. Our life on this earth is precious and fleeting and uncertain. We can withdraw from the unknown, clinging onto normalcy, wallowing in our most mundane days, or we can free ourselves to the mysterious.

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On George Orwell

Eric Arthur Blair (1903–1950), better known as George Orwell, was an English writer. Although he was an accomplished essayist, he gained his fame through later works such as Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four.

He was born in India but grew up in England. When he was eight years old, his parents sent him off to a private prep school in Sussex. As a young adult in the 1920s, he served as a member of the Indian Imperial Police. After Blair resigned from his post in Burma, he tramped around London and Paris. He set out as a wanderer, sometimes without any place to stay, recording the daily struggles of the poor. 

He wrote enough to get by but didn’t find much acclaim until years later. During different periods of his early adulthood, he picked hops in a field, washed dirty dishes in fancy restaurants, taught teenagers at a private school, and clerked in a bookshop. 

Ever since the publication of his first book (Down and Out in Paris and London), which was seen as too scandalous for the time, he wrote under the pseudonym of George Orwell.

In 1936, at the start of the Spanish Civil War, he volunteered to fight in Spain. He joined up with the communists and anarchists and socialists, among other leftist groups, in opposition to fascist powers.

During a battle on the front, a sniper shot him in his throat, almost killing him. While recovering from his wounds, he was forced to flee to France after conditions around him became too unsafe (Soviet propaganda turned against the militia he once was a member of). After many dissenters were repressed, Blair became disillusioned with intellectuals who supported the Soviet Union. Throughout his life, however, he deepened his commitment to democratic socialist principles.

Blair wanted to fight against the Nazis in WWII, but the British army rejected him due to his poor health. He accepted a position at the BBC instead. While there, he contributed a minor part to the propaganda campaign against the fascists. Eventually he quit so he could work on literary pieces for the Tribune, a democratic socialist magazine. 

During different periods in his life, Eric Blair worked as a dishwasher, novelist, journalist, schoolteacher, bookshop clerk, and soldier. He was a tramp on the muddy roads of England, a lieutenant in the trenches of Spain, and wrote about it.

His writings exposed the brutal inequalities in authoritarian systems. As a result, his ideas were seen as too subversive. In some countries, his novels were banned and burned. People caught with his words were put in prison. 

Blair had his blind spots as well. Some scholars have criticized his racist, sexist, homophobic attitudes. Yet many of his experiences were so impactful that he was forced to confront his prejudices. 

He felt a lot of guilt, for instance, as a privileged white man in the service of the British empire. During his employment with the Indian Imperial Police, he had to take on the compromised role of an authority figure. He was seen as an outsider, as part of an occupying force, oppressing the poor of another country. The more that he adhered to the duties expected of him, as if he were performing before the locals, the more ashamed he felt. After five years as a police officer, after witnessing the direct effects of imperialism, he quit his position.

He later disguised himself as a tramp, voluntarily living in destitution, so that he could learn more about those in extreme poverty. While many in the lower classes had no way out of their unjust circumstances, he could escape. Even though his family were “lower-upper-middle class,” (as he wrote in The Road to Wigan Pier), he still had socioeconomic opportunities that others didn’t have. 

After his time in Burma, though, he had changed. He wanted to write authentic stories about the downtrodden. He often took the side of the poor laborer who struggled for higher wages, of the vagabond who roamed the countryside, of the hopper who slept next to other workers in a tin hut, of the miner who toiled in the coal mine. 

Blair was known for being a sharp critic of injustice. He looked through the biases of ordinary living to find truths that most were afraid to admit. He attacked authoritarians in every guise, despising those who wanted power for themselves while hiding their true intentions behind propagandistic language. Despite their claims of morality, many ideological groups imposed their order through violence and censorship.

Blair wrote with a sense of wry humor, almost as a defense against his own disappointment. His opinions were unflinchingly honest. He believed that while people were so capable of progress, they were still susceptible to the dangers of totalitarianism. 

Sources:

Orwell, George. The Complete Works of George Orwell: Novels, Memoirs, Poetry, Essays, Book Reviews & Articles: 1984, Animal Farm, down and out in Paris and London, Prophecies of Fascism… Frankfurt am Main, e-artnow, 2019.

Orwell, George | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. iep.utm.edu/george-orwell/. Accessed 17 Sept. 2022.

Woodcock, George. “George Orwell.” Encyclopædia Britannica, 8 Mar. 2019, http://www.britannica.com/biography/George-Orwell.

REVIEW: On Liberty (John Stuart Mill)

John Stuart Mill (1806–1873) was an English philosopher. He wrote On Liberty in 1859.

Reflections

1. Individual liberty must be protected against all forms of tyranny. Tyranny can arise from the state, a powerful minority, or the prevailing opinions of the masses.

2. Mature people should have sovereignty over their bodies and minds. Societal power can justly be exercised over those individuals, socially and legally, when preventing them from harming others.

3. The majority has the potential to suppress the ideas of the minority. Those who are in power, whether they are part of the minority or majority, have historically persecuted those who are not in power. There needs to be precautions in place to protect people from an abuse of power.

4. Punishing individuals for having differing views is harmful to society. People should have the right to publish what they want. They should have the freedom to agree or disagree with popular beliefs. They should be able to determine how they want to live as long as they are not causing suffering to others. If they are mature enough to make their own life decisions, they are mature enough to accept the consequences of their actions.

5. People are not infallible. They are not perfect. Even the wisest individuals will make mistakes when pursuing the truth. Civilizations grow out of the failures of past ages. Even the present time may seem inhumane to future generations.

6. Nobody has the right to decide the best way to live for everyone else in the world. Many possibilities exist for a meaningful existence. People have varying degrees of knowledge in certain subjects. And they know nothing about other subjects. The more that they learn over time, the more they will become aware of what they know and don’t know. Those who impose their dogmatic beliefs on others act from an assumption of infallibility.

7. Individuals come from different backgrounds. They have a variety of preferences, perspectives, and experiences. People grow through a diversity of views. They are challenged to examine their old beliefs when they are confronted with new evidence. Ideas have to be tested continuously rather than obeyed out of custom and habit.

8. Societies are held back when individuals are too scared to share their opinions. If they are punished for their thoughts, then more people will be hesitant to express themselves. They will self-censor. They will hide their minds. They will internalize what is deemed as acceptable by their dominant culture. They will rebel.

People should not be afraid to make mistakes when seeking the truth. Many timid geniuses have been suppressed before they have reached their conclusions. Many promising minds have been smothered by the negative pressures of the masses. Geniuses, although small in number, can only prosper when they are free to think.

9. There may be errors hidden in accepted views. Some ideas, once considered true, have eventually been shown to be false. No belief is above being criticized, even the most cherished ones. Nonconformists, who often question the prevailing dogmas in society, shouldn’t be silenced or denounced. They should be honored for disturbing the unthinking complacency of the masses, for challenging the status quo.

10. People do not exist in isolation. If they harm themselves, they may negatively affect those who are closest to them. Individuals should be free to express themselves. Other members of society have the right to approve or disapprove of their choices. But when their actions are harmful to their communities, then they have to be held accountable.

Questions and Criticisms:

1. How is harm defined? The meaning of harm changes throughout Mill’s essay, especially when applied to the blurring contexts of public and private life. Will there ever be a universal definition of harm?

2. Practically speaking, do the ends justify the means if the moral gains are higher than the moral losses? Who determines what ends are justifiable, especially if the means are unjust?

3. Mill supported colonialism on utilitarian grounds. He believed in liberal values for certain members in his society, but then made exceptions for this standard.

He considered England, which was a major hegemonic power of the time, to be acting out of civilizing benevolence.

When he was writing in 1859, England had already committed atrocities in countries such as India. Mill believed that England was justified in “civilizing” places that were considered “primitive.” He wanted to educate the “barbarians.”

These “backward” countries were all coincidentally outside of Europe.

Powerful countries often intervene in the affairs of weaker countries. They claim to be humanitarians. They talk about peace and justice, while actually serving their own self-interests. These interests can be devastating for the population, while enriching those in power.

Reflections on Chan Buddhism

Chan is beyond symbols. It is a practice that directly points to our minds.

We don’t need to avoid or get caught up in our stories. When our thoughts and feelings and perceptions arise, we can let them come and then let them go. We can return to the present moment, softening our hearts.

As the seasons change, we can be alive to that change. Before our categorizations of right and wrong, big and small, good and bad, dead and alive, past and future, and so on, life is what it is.

We can honor every moment with our presence. Our time is so precious and fleeting.

When we wash the dishes, we wash the dishes. When we go to the bathroom, we go to the bathroom. When we listen, we listen. When we walk, we walk.

Rather than trying to accomplish everything at the same time, we can do one thing at a time.

We are so often distracted by our worries and ambitions and regrets. As Seneca said, “We are more afraid of our imaginations than reality.”

When we are single-minded, we can gain clarity. We can be present, over and again.

Venerable Chang Zao said that we practice so that our minds can go from defiled to pure. When we first start to meditate, our minds may wander. With enough patience, we will eventually settle down. We will become stable.

When we meditate, we are letting life be as it is. Because we are creatures who are so used to thinking, we become attached to our thoughts. We abstract ourselves away from the moment, forgetting who we are. Usually we are living in symbols, believing that we are separate and permanent.

We often don’t notice that we are aging every moment of every day. But after a few decades pass, we might look at ourselves in the mirror, and wonder how we ever got to be so old.

We are not the same people at five or fifteen or fifty. Our thoughts, perceptions, and feelings change over the span of our development. We adapt to our environments, whether natural or social, while those environments shift around us. Even the atoms that make us who we are, such as hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen, came from a process billions of years old.

We are interwoven in this universe. Yet in our ignorance, we act as if we are apart from it.

When we are present, we can naturally gain wisdom. We can begin to see the confluence of conditions that make us who we are. Without the sun, trees, and oceans, we would not be. Without our ancestors, we would not exist.

We are as old as the Big Bang and as young as a newborn. We are transforming right now.

When favorable conditions arise, we can be thankful, but they will not last. When unfavorable conditions arise, we can be thankful for their many lessons, but they will pass too. Everything can be our teacher if we are aware enough.

Chan practice is not reserved for monasteries hidden deep in the mountains. It is not only for seekers who wander alone in the wilderness. Any activity can be sacred when it is done in a space of stillness. We are practicing wherever we go, touching eternity in a single moment.

The Power of Myth

Our dreams are private myths and our myths are public dreams. Each represents the gods within us, energies that conflict and harmonize.

Our stories, told in different cultures and times, are born in us, and change as we change. They show us our paradoxical natures. They guide us as we cross through the dark forest to find the light.

Sometimes our public myths will match our private ones. Then teachers will appear, helping us to learn more about our internal journeys, interpreting our paths with familiar symbols. At other times, opening ourselves to the mysteries of life, engaging what is deep and sacred, can only be handled alone.

We can be enraptured with what is beyond us, in awe of the unknown. We can experience a timelessness that permeates through all forms, that is transcendent of symbols, even though during most of our lives, we are conditioned into the dualities of I and thou, black and white, good and bad. To claim the absolute truth is not to have found the truth. To know is not to know. To not know is to know.

Myths change from environments to individuals, from individuals to groups. The gods of the rainforest are different from the God of the mountain top. The divine in nature is different from that of the church. Even the nomadic tribes who hunt, who rely on movement and intimate bands, perceive other realities than the settled farmer does.

Myths endure from an evolution of ideas and from how well they can touch the archetypes of humanity. Otherwise they will fade into their own oblivion. Myths must adapt to the period they dwell in, relative to culture, environment, economy, and myriad other influences. If they do not bend with the moment, they will break from their archaism.

In myth, often there is a hero. A hero must leave home, venturing into the unknown. To leave their safe comfortable life, to be thrust into danger, is to begin their quest, whether physical or spiritual. The only way for them to return back home is to go through their trials.

What distinguishes heroes from average people is their willingness to sacrifice themselves for an ideal, another being, or the purpose of the quest. What the hero defends will not always be commonly accepted, but as they let go of their selfishness, and confront the dangers ahead, they are truly courageous.

The hero must slay the dragon. In every stage of life, from childhood to old age, a dragon will arise, whether in the form of greed, inhibition, stagnation, or resistance. Individuals must first look within themselves to find their own way.

Mythology can act as an interpretive system for deciding what paths are the wisest to take, what practices can lead to a higher purpose, how to reduce the despair of other beings, and so on. Disciples can perform elaborate rituals that represent the crucial stages of human existence. From learning to love to embracing death, mythology weaves in stories that point to inner truths, showing what swords will slay what dragons.

When heroes cross the threshold of their experience, they transform. They return to where they began after they left for the first time. During their arduous journeys, their consciousness changes, heightened among the ordinary.

A Bodhisattva is enlightened but still chooses to remain in the world, helping to free all beings from their suffering (Dukkha). The shaman broods from their sacred wisdom, guiding others through language, penetrating rituals, visions, and medicines.

At the deepest level of consciousness, the hero is love. Interdependent being. They have an enduring compassion for all living creatures, a reverence for nature. The hero has experienced oneness, an interconnection with all that is. They have shed themselves of their old skin only to be reborn again. This cycle of birth-death-rebirth will repeat over eons in endless forms.

The troubadours believed that love was the highest meaning of life. They would undergo pain only for the chance of finding themselves in another. The Bodhisattva will “joyfully participate among the sorrows of the world” while the “mystic will swim in the symbolic ocean.” (Campbell, Joseph)

While one myth will celebrate the divine through the masculine, another myth will honor the feminine more. Some stories contradict each other logically while still suggesting the same essential messages.

Beyond any dualistic judgments of birth and death, up and down, black and white, here and there, right and wrong, and past and future, at the ultimate dimension, existence hums from a timeless energy. The cosmos is interdependent, perfect, whole.

While “the map is not the territory” (Korzybski, Alfred), a mythological map can be useful for the right person, at the right time. Travelers can navigate down its paths and landmarks and dead ends, until eventually moving beyond any known land. A map is not a final authority on where to go or what to experience. It is a guide, directing those who are curious, who dare to question and seek, beyond themselves, toward the transcendent.

Beyond Success and Failure: Ways to Self-Reliance and Maturity



“I think I could turn and live with animals, they are so
placid and self-contained;
I stand and look at them long and long.
They do not sweat and whine about their condition.
They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their
sins;
They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God.
Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with the
mania of owning things.
Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived
thousands of years ago.
Not one is respectable or industrious over the whole earth.”


Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass



Children need to depend on outside authorities, such as their parents and guardians and teachers, for their development. In order to psychologically mature, however, they must shed their attachments at appropriate stages in their lives.

Human beings have the potential to grow or decay. When they are at their healthiest, they are independent, competent, and compassionate. They can adapt, and learn from their past mistakes, while knowing when to let go. They can discover their authentic values and meanings and beliefs from following their “inner gleam.”

Yet when people compare themselves to others, they activate their “infantile acquisitiveness.” They desire what they do not have rather than being happy with what they do have. They brood about what they lack, unsatisfied with who they are, where they are, and what they own. They always want more, which is never enough to satisfy them. At the root of their mindset, they feel hollow, poor, and unfulfilled.

When people allow others to lean on them, they lean back as well. They create a mutual “admiration society,” where they feel needed, or superior, when others are attached to them, but not when those same individuals are capable of living for themselves. When they exploit the vulnerabilities of others, they crave a sense of wholeness, yet their “need to be needed” stems from their childish dependency.

Those who seek outside of themselves for validation, for a life direction, degrade themselves.

Free individuals don’t need to lean on others for their personal worth. They don’t need anybody to lean on them either. To be free is to confront the present moment and to deal with things as they are. Rather than pretending that reality is in some idealized state, they play with what they can control, while not worrying about what they cannot control.

“The free mind manipulates impersonal circumstance — not people.” (Beecher, Marguerite & Willard)

Dependent people do not have an “inner direction.” What comes from outside themselves, such as parents and friends and teachers and celebrities and news programs and political parties and gurus, are their first authorities. They value (but may eventually come to resent) these influences as superior to them.

Conformists are subordinate to authorities outside themselves. These authorities dictate to them about who they should be and how they should live. Then there are negative conformists. They are contrary, obstructing others, out of reaction. They resist what’s outside of them (because it’s from the outside) and resent being told what to do. While the free person lets go of their attachments, those who resist others, who rebel for the sake of rebellion, only cling harder to their own suffering.

To be dependent is to be helpless, passive towards all of life. To be free is to be engaged. Free people make mistakes, but they grow from those mistakes, while finding opportunities in challenges. Rather than hiding from ugly truths, they grapple with them. They play with them. They find joy in the game.

“Their transition from childhood to adult life is not a stormy series of defeats and struggles against outside authorities. It is a quiet growth in self-confidence in which they learn that there are few irremediable mistakes, and they regard a mistake as nothing more than a friendly invitation to keep trying — not a loss of love, approval and prestige, or as a humiliation to be avoided at any cost.” (Beecher, Marguerite & Willard)

Dependent minds live only for external validation, not for inner truth. They react to the outside world, conditioned to obey or rebel. Unsatisfied with who they are, unable to know themselves authentically, alienated in groups, they follow the worn paths of others.

As Charles Bukowski, in Factotum, wrote, “How in the hell could a man enjoy being awakened at 8:30 a.m. by an alarm clock, leap out of bed, dress, force-feed, shit, piss, brush teeth and hair, and fight traffic to get to a place where essentially you made lots of money for somebody else and were asked to be grateful for the opportunity to do so?”

These people not only follow the same routines at work, but throughout all their lives. They attend clubs, churches, parties, watch television, surf the internet, blindly acting out the roles chosen for them, until they reach the undertaker. They appear to be good or bad, not for themselves, but for social rewards and attention.

Like little doggies that want to be petted, they perform their owner’s most favored tricks.

People can’t rejoice in their “inner resources,” or form genuine relationships, until they free themselves from their childish attitudes. They must not only leave behind their enslaved habits, but become aware of themselves in the here-and-now.

Mature people are free from thinking with the competitive mindset, while immature people always try to one-up others, and prove themselves out of their insecurity. Mature individuals don’t need to look outside for a master. Those who are dependent, who compete over everything, endlessly struggle to maintain their dominance. They never want to appear vulnerable, weak, and inferior.

“Like a good card player who does not care what cards are dealt him since his fun lies in the free play he improvises in the playing of each hand. Each game is its own reward and he seeks nothing outside of the unfolding of each hand as it is played into the hands of others. He enjoys the whole experience and all that his partners do as well.” (Beecher, Marguerite & Willard)

Mature individuals are adaptable, spontaneous in the moment. They display an attitude of exploration, curiosity, open to the mysterious. When work must be done, they press on with quiet persistence, not complaining about their given state.

While dependent people have to please others, free people must satisfy the needs of their own lives first! It is not their job to please others. Those who are subservient often fear productivity. They don’t want to work on themselves. Putting the group’s needs first leads to their unfulfillment, degrading their growth.

“Aloneness is freedom-from-dependence! Loneliness, on the other hand, is the dependent child crying as it searches for the parent or babysitter it has lost and cannot find.” (Beecher, Marguerite & Willard)

It doesn’t matter if an individual chooses solitude or the company of others. To be alive is to be present, discovering what is meaningful and valuable. The self-reliant person doesn’t feel the urge to compete, dominate, or prove their value to anyone else. Their goal is to explore, to see what happens.

Mature people don’t rely on outside authorities to determine who they are or what they are worth. If they must remain alone rather than be harmed or manipulated, then they will accept that outcome.

Without any wishful thinking or self-judgement, they honor their “inner gleam.” In the true spirit of Agape, someone who is mature doesn’t need to give or take, condemn or blame. There are no favorite people that they have to choose between, in a vicious hierarchy of superiority to inferiority, based on who gives and gets the most.

“The mature adult finds no need to beg. He is an explorer and a doer. He does not have to compete and aspire to be the favored one. Only the child or the infantile adult has to worry about his status in the eyes of those around him.” (Beecher, Marguerite & Willard)

Most importantly, a free individual is a doer. Their actions are consistent with their words. Alfred Adler once wrote that one should watch only movement, in order to not be fooled by others. To learn who people are, and what they mean, do not focus on their beautiful words, but rather, look at their deeds alone.

It is easy to blame and hate and hold onto grudges. To live-and-let-live, to seek an inner balance, to not form unrealistic expectations about the future, may be harder, but it is a more worthwhile pursuit.

When one is being and not trying to be, there is no more expecting, idealizing, comparing, proving, or depending. But when one is seeking the attention of an outside authority, they’re stuck on an eternal treadmill, chasing after what they can never catch.

“If you want to understand yourself or another person, close your ears to anything that is said or what you think and watch only movement. What a person does is his real understanding and intention.” (Beecher, Marguerite & Willard)

Reflections on the Horror Genre

“Yet, at the same time, as the Eastern sages also knew, man is a worm and food for worms. This is the paradox: he is out of nature and hopelessly in it; he is dual, up in the stars and yet housed in a heart-pumping, breath-gasping body that once belonged to a fish and still carries the gill-marks to prove it. His body is a material fleshy casing that is alien to him in many ways — the strangest and most repugnant way being that it aches and bleeds and will decay and die. Man is literally split in two: he has an awareness of his own splendid uniqueness in that he sticks out of nature with a towering majesty, and yet he goes back into the ground a few feet in order to blindly and dumbly rot and disappear forever.”

Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death

“All those qualities, capacities and tendencies which do not harmonize with the collective values–everything that shuns the light of public opinion, in fact–now come together to form the shadow, that dark region of the personality which is unknown and unrecognized by the ego. The endless series of shadow and doppelgänger figures in mythology, fairy tales and literature ranges from Cain and Edom, by way of Judas and Hagen, to Stevenson’s Mr. Hyde in the ugliest man of Nietzsche; again and again such figures have appeared and made their bow before human consciousness, but the psychological meaning of this archetype of the adversary has not yet dawned upon mankind.”

Erich Neumann, Depth Psychology and a New Ethic

“People think that I must be a very strange person. This is not correct. I have the heart of a small boy. It is in a glass jar on my desk.”

Stephen King


Horror attracts us while it repulses us. We are confronted with our most hidden taboos in sinister forms. We investigate our shadowy dreams and terrors, seeking out the Other, anxious before the strange and unknown. We face forbidden ideas, lurking beneath the sewers and deep in the woods, unspoken, uncomfortable ideas, in the darkness of ourselves.

Our monsters reflect the most terrible aspects of our nature. They are our unconscious rejections, our atrocities against one another, our insatiable greed and consumption and narcissism. They return to haunt us, to torment us, when we foolishly believe that we are gods, when we transgress the laws of all humankind.

Horror sickens and disgusts and nauseates us. Yet our hearts tremble to the pleasure beneath our fear, to the endorphins of our near death, to the tragedies that we cannot help but stare at.

Horror teaches us the consequences of when we take too much and care not enough for others. It shows us what happens when we deceive and murder and destroy our sacred idols.

We must take on the embodiment of evil, whether it afflicts us in the realms of the supernatural or natural, literal or metaphorical. Through our struggles, we may be releasing the ghosts of our past or preventing the apocalypse of the near future.

Even if we pretend that we are going to remain young for eternity, we are flesh, we are bones, we are blood and pus and aging and disease and death. We are part of a cosmos we don’t fully comprehend. We don’t know what our fates will be as individuals in a community, as a species, as organisms on a planet.

We are temporary, vulnerable. We are primates lost in the vastness of space. We struggle for an illusion of control, a sense of familiarity, so that we can feel safe and secure, while knowing that nothing will ever last. We fear the threat of what we don’t know, the possibility of future anguish.

There are dangers inherent in everything we do, existing on different scales, from driving our cars down a highway to walking alone at night, from polluting our atmosphere to declaring war on a neighboring country.

We are agonizingly aware that we are going to die, that everyone we know will die, even if we distract ourselves with parties and drugs and work and fashion and games and sex and religion and politics. We are filled with an existential dread that we try to alleviate with meanings beyond ourselves. Yet there is always the possibility of nuclear war and environmental catastrophe and societal unrest. There is always the promise of the undertaker.

Horror is a safe place for our fears, our anxieties, to express themselves under the guise of a chainsaw-wielding maniac, a zombie horde roaming through the mall, a cannibal, ghoul, goblin, snake, slasher, demon, or vampire that casts no shadow.

We can look at our inner darkness rather than hide from it. We can grapple with the unknown rather than pretend it doesn’t exist. Only when we are honest, when we burn our light through the chasm of darkness, can we be liberated from our suffering.

Horror disturbs our sanity, shocks us out of our comfort, mocks our hypocrisies, exposes our underlying insecurities. We need horror to awaken us out of our complacency, our smug delusions of perfection, and let go of false certainties.

We must find a way to grieve for our losses, to turn toward the truths that scare us, to participate joyfully among the sorrows of the world. We are human beings, achingly conscious, here for a short time with each other. Our life on this earth is precious and fleeting and uncertain. We can withdraw from the unknown, clinging onto normalcy, wallowing in our most mundane days, or we can free ourselves to the mysterious.

A Man Without A Country (Kurt Vonnegut review)

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Whenever I read a Kurt Vonnegut book, I imagine a fun uncle sitting next to me at a family reunion, telling me a story of his life.

He sips from a glass of beer and foam drips down his mustache. Then he sighs and pats his belly and wanders through old stories, stories I have heard before, but never tire of.

I tell him a joke I overheard on the radio.

Uncle Kurt smiles and wrinkles crease on his forehead. His cheeks flush from hours of drinking and joking and chitchatting and meeting cousins.

In his watery eyes, I sense something else, however. Sadness maybe. Disappointment in us as a species. We could have been so much more.


I’ve read this book about thirty times. Once I pulled it off a shelf at a house party, once I read it on a road trip to Indiana, once I flipped through it in a school library.

Why do I keep returning to it?

Maybe because it’s funny. Not so much in a slap-my-knee, wheeze with shocks of laughter, kind of funny. His books are funny in a raw and naked way. In an absurd, endearingly hopeless way.

He reminds us that we’re all humans and we’re all silly. And sometimes we do cruel things to each other when we should’ve been loving and kind.

Life would be so much simpler if we weren’t complicating it all the time.

Laughter can be a healthy defense mechanism to fear and anxiety and trauma.

Vonnegut used humor to deal with the tragedies of his life. He understood the shadow-side of humanity so well that he revered ordinary people who were saints. He wanted a world where humans treated each other with kindness, a world of love for the simple joys of each day.

In our short, fleeting existences, where we often feel so confused and lost and alone, we can respond to tragedies with dignity. We can decide to be humane as we are pulled along by circumstances we can’t control.

We take ourselves so seriously. We blind ourselves in our greed lust, in our desire for more (resources, power, money, and status), that we forget our interwoven humanity.

We forget to care for our communities, for ourselves, for the plants and animals and water and air.

We ignore our planet, our beautiful planet, because we are addicts to fossil fuel. We drop devastating bombs instead of being compassionate toward each other. We murder each other for resources and poison our environment.

One day, we will lose everything because we were too power hungry and stupid and greedy, when we should have been kind.

Freedom From the Known (reflections)

Freedom From the Known (reflections)

You’re not just a separate creature that lives “in” this universe for a fleeting time. You’re not merely a “part” of this universe, apart from the indescribable processes of life and death. You are this universe. Interwoven in the cosmos.

Without spacetime, without the evolutionary line of your ancestors to you, without the soil, rivers, and wind, without the sun and flowers and rain, you would not be here. They are in you.

You do not exist as a single identity, or ego, separate from everything and everyone else. Your existence is changing, transforming in its infinite relationships, right now.

With sensitivity, you can watch interdependent relationships unfold.

They are nuanced and spontaneous, arising, passing, arising, passing.

You are like a wave, calming and crashing and sparkling with light on shadows, until merging back to an endless sea.


There is no sensitivity in ideas of the past. The past is dead and you confuse yourself by carrying around its bones. Your mind is often dulled of its aliveness because it is dominated by the past.

When you lose your sensitivity, you grind out your days with unthinking habits like overeating, smoking, dwelling on your mistakes, worrying, and so on.

You must intimately know this moment. How can you know this moment when you’re filled with opinions, judgements, and values?

When you are judging, concerned with right and wrong, agreeing, disagreeing, comparing, and so on, you’re focused on a fixed interpretation of life. Instead of seeing clearly, you are projecting, distorting, manipulating reality.

The moment that you think you know who you are, you are limited by your view of yourself, and are no longer learning.

It is hard to learn, to see clearly, to be fully alive, because you have been conditioned from language, education, culture, art, politics, religion, family, custom, past experiences. You have been trained to respond in conditioned ways, to think robotically.

Most of us don’t realize we’re conditioned until there is a great disturbance in our lives. Whether from political or economic hardships, in our families or professions, through our relationships with others and within ourselves, we become disturbed.

What can we do? Can we live with so much suffering and confusion and uncertainty?

A lot of people avoid dealing with their sorrows, their sufferings, their fears of what is uncertain. They join a new group, subscribe to an ideology, shout at others, take drugs, gamble, check their social media accounts, or watch TV. They distract themselves all day with amusements.

Instead of being present with their fears and uncertainties and anxieties, they hide from them, avoid them, numb themselves from them. Their fears won’t go away, but they have desensitized themselves so much that they don’t feel alive anymore.

You must be totally aware to understand. Often you are one type of person at the office and another with friends. You talk differently to yourself than you do with your coworkers. You act out so many different roles every day.

You divide your consciousness and create conflict with those divisions, blocking out one part of yourself for another, aware of one aspect of existence and not another.

When you do try to understand yourself, you categorize and analyze and examine, spending weeks and months and years on petty personal dramas. But still, you are no further along to enlightenment.

If you could just be aware for a moment, sensitive to all of life, to trees and wind and birds and rivers and the beating of your heart, to inner and outer energies changing without division, without any purpose or method or conclusion, then you will see immediately who you are.

You can know life more deeply without the need to compare deep to shallow, right to wrong, good to bad.

All too often, you cannot see what is, what exists beyond all symbols, because you’re trapped in conditioned states of thinking, comparing, judging, and deciding.

You narrowly perceive, trained into a rigid way of being after a lifetime of chasing after pleasure, and avoiding pain, and fearing what you don’t understand.

Can you be here without trying to be elsewhere? With choiceless awareness, you can begin to see the totality of life. There is nothing to get and no reward, except for what is happening. If you can truly be without any expectation, letting what comes come until it passes away, then you will know joy.

When you seek out pleasure, to repeat an experience of the past, you will soon know pain. Pain is the shadow of pleasure. One follows the other.

When you have what you want, you often wish to hold onto it forever and fear losing it. If someone has what you don’t have, and you want what they have, then you eventually become envious and bitter.

By clinging to your memories of pleasure, you’re in conflict with yourself. Your desire to keep something or someone, to appear in a favorable way, to not lose what you already have, eventually leads you into suffering.

To be present is to no longer be afraid of losing what you desire. You are not afraid when you are just watching yourself be. At the back of your mind, however, you think about the past and future. You are scared of losing your job, your status, your kids, your health, your life. Can you watch all these fears without trying to justify them?

Do the words, images, and associations to past memories disturb you so much? Look behind the symbols at the undercurrent of energy. What is actually happening to you in reality and what is only thought, feeling, and memory?

Thoughts are not realities. For example, you may have gotten sick a few years ago. Now that you are well, you fear becoming sick again.

Your resistance to sickness is a thought, not what is happening within your body at the moment. At the moment, you are fine. Instead of being aware of how you are and tending to yourself with compassion and joy, you get lost in fears about losing your health. There is a conflict between what you think and what is. You ignore what is and dwell on ideas, which are fixed symbols. The more you think, the more you suffer about non-realities that are no longer there or not there in the future, blocking yourself to all of life.

Can you look at fear without dissecting it? Can you see fear without having to control or analyze it, without having to summon courage, without directing your mind to specific things that you are afraid of? Directly look at fear without making it intellectual. Know fear without hiding, rationalizing, trying to take it apart.

You are not apart from fear. There is no fear and then you, an observer of fear. There is only, when you notice subtly enough, fear, which is you.

Then your awareness of fear — without you trying to conclude or explain what fear is — dissolves it.

Fear is not fear alone. Fear interrelates with anxiety, hatred, jealousy, violence, and many similar states.

How can a person find peace in a world writhing with war, class conflict, murder, starvation, with many forms of injustice, perpetuated throughout the centuries?

Violence doesn’t merely stop at the events. that surround you but it is within you as well.

Violence is not just to maim or kill another person. It is a harsh word, jealousy over a friend’s accomplishments, discrimination, obeying an authority out of fear.

When you divide yourself from others and refuse to see the humanity in them, you’re being violent. All too often, you separate yourself through belief and thought. You see yourself as superior, inferior, or both. You blame and judge, rather than being present, listening deeply, and learning.

If you want to transcend violence, you cannot deny, hide, or distract from the violence within. You must be intimately aware of your anger and sadness and jealousy and anxiety and fear, neither justifying nor condemning these states.

All too often, you strive for ideals of non-violence. You tell yourself that you must be peaceful rather than violent, calm rather than angry, and so on. You think about the best ideological systems to obey to become a better person and blame others for failing to follow along.

You create dualities of good and bad, right and wrong, judging and forming opinions.

You try to be better daily. You prepare so much to be a good person because you have been taught to compare, analyze, judge, and think about every situation.

Yet there is no trying. There is only what is peaceful and what is not peaceful. Many holy books have been filled with words about non-violence for centuries and people are still angry, jealous, greedy, hateful, and so on.

When you claim that you believe in the ideals of peace, but are not peaceful within or in relationship to the world, you’re acting hypocritically.

When you separate, when you condemn others while justifying your righteousness, you’re trapped. You have not learned how to see what is.

Most people are not actually with each other. They form ideas and then act on the nuanced relationships between those ideas. They live on images, on symbols, rather than being with someone in the present. The more they cling to ideas, the more they live in a universe of abstraction.

You must be able to see totally. It is one thing to intellectually understand, to examine yourself under an analysis of symbols, but is quite another thing to completely see, to be aware of what happens within you.

You are never free until you can see what you depend on, what causes you to suffer, what brings you joy, without trying to hide or deny these things within yourself. From relationship — to yourself, to the group, to society, to all of life interconnected in the universe — you can be aware.

Living in joy and Sorrow: a poem inspired by the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh

Life is filled with suffering, but it is also filled with many wonders, like the blue sky, the sunshine, the eyes of a baby. To suffer is not enough. We must also be in touch with the wonders of life. They are within us and all around us, everywhere, any time. If we are not happy, if we are not peaceful, we cannot share peace and happiness with others, even those we love, those who live under the same roof. If we are peaceful, if we are happy, we can smile and blossom like a flower, and everyone in our family, our entire society, will benefit from our peace. Do we need to make a special effort to enjoy the beauty of the blue sky? Do we have to practice to be able to enjoy it? No, we just enjoy it. Each second, each minute of our lives can be like this. Wherever we are, any time, we have the capacity to enjoy the sunshine, the presence of each other, even the sensation of our breathing. We don’t need to go to China to enjoy the blue sky. We don’t have to travel into the future to enjoy our breathing. We can be in touch with these things right now. It would be a pity if we are only aware of suffering.

We are so busy we hardly have time to look at the people we love, even in our own household, and to look at ourselves. Society is organized in a way that even when we have some leisure time, we don’t know how to use it to get back in touch with ourselves. We have millions of ways to lose this precious time we turn on the TV or pick up the telephone, or start the car and go somewhere. We are not being with ourselves, and we act as if we don’t like ourselves and are trying to escape from ourselves.

Meditation is to be aware of what is going on-in our bodies, in our feelings, in our minds, and in the world. Each day 40,000 children die of hunger. The superpowers now have more than 50,000 nuclear warheads, enough to destroy our planet many times. Yet the sunrise is beautiful, and the rose that bloomed this morning along the wall is a miracle. Life is both dreadful and wonderful. To practice meditation is to be in touch with both aspects. Please do not think we must be solemn in order to meditate. In fact, to meditate well, we have to smile a lot.

Thich Nhat Hanh

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Poem by Bremer Acosta