A Psychoretrocognitive Memoir
by Iona Miller, 2010
Alphabetized: I Was a Beta-Test for Intelligence
"To be sensitive to the beauty of something is to perceive the totality of it. The mind that is thinking in terms of a part can never perceive the whole. In the whole the part is contained, but the part will never make up the whole, the total."— Krishnamurti, New Delhi 1960
“By 2007, my artistic medium changed: the world is my canvas; intelligence is my medium.” “If the world is my canvas, the palette is a shapeshifting morphology of belief systems and ideologies." --Iona Miller
In The Drama of the Gifted Child: the Search for the True Self, Alice Miller seeks the truth about her own childhood experiences and in so doing defines the model that has become widely accepted in psychotherapeutic circles, such as the Tavistock Institute. She addresses the two reactions to the loss of love in childhood, depression and grandiosity; the inner prison, the vicious circle of contempt, repressed memories, the etiology of depression, and how childhood trauma manifests itself in the adult.
A child-like man is not a man whose development has been arrested; on the contrary, he is a man who has given himself a chance of continuing to develop long after most adults have muffled themselves in the cocoon of middle-aged habit and convention. - Aldous Huxley
ABSTRACT: Developmental theory helps us gain a concept of what unblocked or free flowing developmental process looks like in terms of the fulfillment of human potential. The integrative developmental framework emphasizes the continuing evolution of the whole person; ultimately it is a spiritual process. The results of the stimulus of forward development and progression that is provided by the normative crisis of midlife, with its adjustments to aging and mortality, is examined in respect to the Consciousness Restructuring Process (CRP). The goal of treatment is elimination of blocks to the still-evolving personality and to the course of current and future development.
The adult experiences a constant process of dynamic change and flux, and is always in a state of “becoming” or “finding the way.” We present seven hypotheses about development in adulthood, and identify phase-specific issues and challenges, including typical adult rites of passage and the developmental phenomena of middle and later life as well. Erickson’s eight stages of life are used to outline the developmental continuum through the illuminative phase of potential transpersonal experience. Process therapy often leads to spontaneous initiatory spiritual experiences.
The evolution of the authentic self in adulthood is a dynamic process which is part of the lifelong shaping of identity and self-image. The attainment of authenticity is a central, dynamic task of adulthood achieved through restructuring of the self. Confronting the quintessential adult-human experience can lead to integration of the highest order and produce profound awareness of what it means to be human. A number of factors, some unique to adult experience, build on the self constructed from earlier phases of life and develop it further. Some of the most important include: (1) the body, (2) object ties, (3) time and death, and (4) work, creativity, and mentorship. --Iona Miller, "An Integrative View of Normal Adult Development", Chaosophy (2000)
I was born at Ground Zero. The past is constantly determining our present actions. LA was a kaleidoscope of amusements and a youth-oriented culture. The flipside was our childhoods were spent in a revolving cycle of disaster drills interspersed with what passed at the time for education. There were so many -- fire, mudslide and flashflood drills, earthquake drills, and atomic bomb 'duck and cover' drills that it was hard to keep track of which remedy went with which disaster. About all we lacked was a volcano. But at least we had smog.
In 1942, the city even claimed to be attacked by UFOs in the "Battle of Los Angeles." A more recent trip back to the OC by Disneyland for a nanotech conference felt oddly familiar, when the hotel got a bomb scare and we had to go through the whole drill, displaced from our rooms for hours, evacuated to the parking lot and the tender mercies and vittles of Joe's Crab Shack, Anaheim -- "Peace, Love & Crabs." I guess some things don't change.
Thus, we were inculcated with the psychosensory notion that the sky could come crashing down at any moment in the blink of an eye. It peaked with the Cuban Missile Crisis standoff. If the bomb came, surely it would target LA. If that isn't enough to make you somewhat paranoid, no one is home in the cranium. Imminent disaster possibly for the whole human race seemed a certainty, even if it came in slow motion, stealing your soul like a thief in the night.
Existential angst was a given. Who wouldn't be depressed; why not be grandiose? My solution to "disaster preparedness" was to live life backward, and retire in my youth, the real Golden Years. Now, I'd be content to continue with my present work as long as possible, since work and play are synonymous. I prefer to get my drama from accomplishment not uproar. I don't claim to be the smartest or most successful person, but I was part of a social experiment that went mainstream.
From the 1920s to the 40s, California had the most aggressive eugenics program in the US, which became a program of social hygiene. At the same time the world was poised at the brink of nuclear disaster, I was a precocious unwitting subject of "California Project Talent," a forerunner of the MGM program (Mentally Gifted Minors), which began in 1963. Lewis Madison Terman created the Stanford-Binet IQ test, from the work of Alfred Binet and Theodore Simon.
Terman was a prominent eugenicist and member of the Human Betterment Foundation in Pasadena (1929), which later became associated with Caltech. While they condemned German eugenics theory ("racial integrity" was not their interest), their biological science approach to human welfare amounted to human farming. They thought selected parents would have better offspring. Such research continues now in human genetic engineering, alteration of an individual's genotype with the aim of choosing the phenotype of a newborn or changing the existing phenotype of a child or adult. Human germline engineering remains controversial.
Their stated intention was "to foster and aid constructive and educational forces for the protection and betterment of the human family in body, mind, character, and citizenship." It advocated compulsory sterilization of those judged mentally defective. Increasing social control was among the stated aims of the California eugenics movement. Terman was a pioneer of longitudinal methods of study and his research on gifted children laid the foundation for further work in the field.
All these ideas originated at Tavistock Clinic in Britain where extensive experiments in child psychotherapy were conducted on children and gifted children. I started Kindergarten a year early and was still usually the brightest bulb in the class. We were tested up the wazoo from the beginning. I was enriched, accelerated, counseled and recruited for arts and science extracurricular activity. I was drilled in Creative Cognition and auditioned for and taken to TV shows.
They worked on me and put me to work. I was rarely in class, so much was added to my Jr. High activities, including extra assignments. It continued in voluntary summer school and camps. I know pilot programs ran in San Diego, LA and San Francisco. Maybe there were others. It was a global education, involving learning by doing. But the gifted aren't just smart; they are distinct. Gifted children are sensitive, alert and have many 'antennae.' I always thought mine resided in my long hair, like Sampson.
Mostly treatment was individualized, not yet institutionalized, but classes were segregated -- the brightest teachers got the brightest students and mentored them in writing and drama. I was overloaded with stimulation and exciting field trips. They had me catalog and mark books with a hot iron tool until I learned the Dewey Decimal System in the school district library. I never saw another child there. That library was my turf, my personal playground with the Swiss Family Robinson, the world of myth, and a host of biographical characters. Biographies were my favorite reading and inspired me to overcome challenges and adversity.
I had to make public speeches to civic groups, played 3 instruments in the band and conducted, acted in plays, edited the yearbook and numerous other activities. They had me tutor slower children. Maybe it was an attempt to modulate person/role conflict. I was frequently tested, taken from school and home, then taught forensics -- to debate any side of an argument, dramatic interpretation, and extemporaneous speaking. I had private tutors for that. I had both a singing and vocal coach, even though I was laughed at by other children for that. I questioned authority and asked all the impertinent questions about incongruities in The Bible. I waited in vain to be Born Again in my "closet."
We were guided by upper classmates and sent to State with them to observe their performances. We socialized with them; we liked what they liked, and that was liberal politics, horn-rimmed glasses and the folk scene, at the time. I guess we were meant to identify with the best and brightest. We were expected to excel and/or rebel, being divergent thinkers. I figured why not do both? Joan Baez and Dylan became my "spiritual parents." In many ways they still are. They revealed that the Game was rigged and we were all pawns in it. I slid from an alpha to a beta through an alternative gap in the continuum. The concrete foundation split; nature and my new nature bubbled out. It was a quantum leap in worldview. I was an Alpha Beta. I learned it was possible to escape social destiny.
We were infused with the value of our potential. Creativity has frequently been treated as a form of self-expression or a way of understanding or coping with life that is intimately connected with personal dignity, expression of one's inner being, self-actualization, and the like (e.g., Maslow, 1973; May, 1976; Rogers, 1961). Moustakis (1977) summarized the individualistic approach to creativity by seeing it as the pathway to living your own life your own way.
Barton (1969) even concluded that creativity requires resistance to socialization and Burkhardt (1985) took the theme of the individual against society further by arguing that the creative individual must fight against society's pathological desire for sameness. Sternberg and Lubart (1995) called this fight "defying the crowd," and labeled the tendency of certain creative individuals to resist society's pressure to conform "contrarianism." I was hardwired like that, being left-handed. No one ever tried to change that. No one ever pushed me. At least I did not perceive it as such.
Maybe the contrarian essence spoke subconsciously to my Sioux blood, because they also had Contrairies, a specified social role for clowns and misfits, who were magicians and healers. My paternal Grandmother was a half-breed Sioux twin. I look just like her. She was also a direct descendant of Stephen Hopkins, the oldest contrary to sign the Declaration of Independence with his contrary friends, the Founding Fathers. The combination gave me a 10,000 year old sense of rootedness as an American.
Contraries did everything backwards, but a clown is really performing a therapeutic spiritual ceremony for the tribe -- opening them to laughter and immediate experience, much like the symbolic Fool in the Tarot. The Sioux equally applied the name and concept Heyoka to their Clowns as well as their Contraries.
The Contraries were individuals devoted to an extraordinary lifestyle in which they consistently and continually did the opposite of what others normally do. They turned all conventions to their opposites. While the Clowns represented ceremonial figures and their performances were restricted to rituals, dances and ceremonies, the Contraries practiced their contrary lifestyle day and night. On a certain level the Contrary acted as an antagonist to his own people.
There is a clue to the potential terror of clowning in the visionary experience of the Plains clown. Black Elk, a Sioux Holy Man explained why: "When a vision comes from the thunder beings of the west, it comes with terror like a thunder storm; but when the storm of vision has passed, the world is greener and happier; for wherever the truth of vision comes upon the world, it is like a rain. The world, you see, is happier after the terror of the storm."
The same sort of imagery comes up in metaphor therapy, because it is experiential. The historical content is secondary or irrelevant compared to the felt-sense which is transformative. Change the attitudes and you change the feelings and the symbolic mindscape. But thing usually get worse -- "stormy" -- before they get better in catharsis and re-framing.
A person who had this experience and became a heyoka, a visionary clown, could from then on strut before the lightning of his fear. Among the Cheyenne, as among the Sioux, men and women who had such a vision had to act it out by clowning before the entire tribe. These people, called “Contraries,” put up a contrary lodge with its covering inside out, the lodge poles on the outside, and the smoke hole turned in the wrong direction.
Dressed in rags, they backed in and out of the lodge, and sat against it upside down -- with head and body on the ground and legs against the wall -- while all the people laughed at them. They did many other foolish things, such as run around wildly and pull weeds backwards, backing up to them and pulling them from between their legs.
They were said to act like lightning in a storm, thus becoming one with the sacred power they most feared. The entire counterculture took on much the same role in the 60s. More of us have lived in teepees at one time or another than not. The clown's mystical liberation from ultimate cosmic fears brings with it a liberation from conventional notions of what is dangerous or sacred in spiritual ceremonies. That liberation comes through psychological ego death and rebirth after confronting one's fear and pain and surviving the transformative ordeal.
Those weren't bad genes for a budding shaman/therapist and dreamhealer steeped in the Human Potential Movement. We learned to portray ourselves in a new way that honored the ancient future. Heyok'a dreamers and the Sioux "contrary cult" stand in ambiguous relationship to the healing arts. On one hand, their activities are directed at the protection of the community and the heyok'a dances are performed "for the health and safety of all the people." On the other hand, individual heyok'a are said to have the power to reverse the healing effects of any ritual, regimen, or remedy, and medical treatment should be deferred when they are present.
The heyok'a is an ancient, loosely organized, at least partly secret society. The members have specific magical powers pertaining to war, the hunt, and healing. The heyok'a, or contraries, are an integral part of the religious and ceremonial system, and heyok'a individuals have a well-defined role in Oglala daily life as well. By systematically breaking the customs and prohibitions of the community the contrary achieves a personal mysteriousness that translates into the magical and the sacred.
In Sioux society a puritanical moral code and pressure for conformity to social values are channeled into character development by ridicule and shaming. When, for example, the tensions of this process become intolerable, the heyok'a is an incarnation of relief. His presence is a counterbalance to conformity. He is simultaneously useful and dangerous, his origins are mysterious, and his functions are enigmatic. He is a Trickster. Becoming heyok'a is involuntary and unavoidable. Traditionally, dream or vision quest images demand it.
I naturally did things backward and looked at things from both sides now. I was soon to embark on my own vision quest or trial by fire. I had come Full Circle on the Medicine Wheel. Like healing, self-actualization is a nonlinear process that mobilizes natural forces such as the placebo effect, self talk and our primordial self-image, not our persona or social mask, which is superficial.
All healing processes involve passing through each of the four directions of the wheel, and each direction represents a principle, with its guide and totem, that applies to life in general, as well as healing. Each of the four directions also represents a cardinal compass point. The East is the keen-sighted eagle or seeing the nature of the problem. The South is the snake who outgrows and sheds his brittle skin in a mini-death of "letting go". The West is the bear or wolf, symbolizing the unbound self, creatively emerging from chaos. The North is the wise owl, the renewed sense of self.
So, the process is one of initiation, letting go, new vision and actualization or embodiment. Native American teachings state that one constantly travels around this circle and in so doing attains harmony and balance, and comes full circle. This cycle exists in potential in all dis-eases, providing an evolutionary opportunity for an individual to evolve.