Moral Alchemy: Order From Chaos


In working on a Daddy Lorry (Lawrence Hiken ) photo and frame “art” project, which is something I’m doing for my own personal growth and healing,  a lot of sadness (emotional pain) began to swoop over me like the owl in my unusually spiritual blog entitled “The Owl”.  Telling my personal “story” and writing out my convoluted history and associated lunacy A.R.D (After my ex-wife Rona Died)  is not really “it”.  That part of my life, for the most part, is still generally a reflection of my standard issue (L) human ego, my overwhelming  pain and my protracted period of wandering “dazed, divorced and confused” in the desert… time of life. I know it’s not the big, bigger, biggest picture of all and it’s just one little life in a huge expanding Universe.

I cant be sure about this but I think God doesn’t care so much about that kind of temporarily “lost and crazed” nomadic behavior which like being a teenager is chock full of impulsivity and  lower brain function type acting out. One of the best and most popular books on divorce is called “Crazy Time”. Put into perspective it’s all fairly predictable and  comprised of heroic moments punctuated by embarrassingly bad and foolish behavior.  Maybe it’s the kind of hard to imagine dichotomous conduct that happens when someone gets separated, divorced and then suddenly becomes a single parent (in rapid fire succession) with three very wounded and traumatized children.

Remembering my biological father and connecting that to the pain and suffering that my own children experienced when their mother died, now THAT was eye opening and grief-inducing to say the least. Who mourns for the dead? We all should. However, in this contemporary culture we are continually reminded and even admonished in action movies, videogames and zombie-apocalyptic fantasies to be strong, “ to go on”,  to “leave me here dude”, to “get over it”, or to just push the replay button when somebody important dies  like Arnold Schwarzenegger jumping into a vat of molten steel in Terminator II, or my father Lawrence Hiken disappearing one night in 1956 into the mist of time and quantum space. The part of me that wants to remember (and commemorate) such a personal loss seems to conflict with the part of me that wants to forget (but not necessarily forgive someone, including God). Honestly, there are times I feel the same way about my marriage, divorce, and early parenting, ie.  “Could I please have a “do over?”  Where is the psychological “reset” button on such things?

There is always going to be a push-pull between the inner and outer forces of light and dark, animal lust and rational mind, morality and immorality, sin and virtue, and even remembering and forgetting. In fact, the Israelites did it pretty much every time Moses turned around or shlepped up Mt Sinai to get better cell reception with the God of Israel. The people waved goodbye, wished him well and immediately forgot and began fornicating like wild dogs. They started re-worshipping the good old idols and deities like Astarte the sexy plump fertility goddess and Ba’al, the Golden Calf statue. Compared to the Roman Empire later on and it’s ubiquitous penis obsession and general penchant for excess in everything, they were relatively well behaved.

Basically they (the early Hebrews) acted like I did when my parents went away on vacation  to Nassau and I “accidentally” clipped off part of my sister Julie’s lip with a pair of orange scissors from the kitchen (I was twelve and she was around six I think. I kinda forget, ha). I really thought I could do what the guy on Bozo’s Circus with a bullwhip did with the stoic young circus lady and her mouth held high cigarette…but I missed, even tho it was pretty damn close….but no cigar. God I felt horrible!! I still do. To be fair (to myself) I really despised cigarettes and once also put an exploding trick pellet in my mother’s pack of Virginia Slims. She likes to remind me (quite often) that it blew up and almost lit her satin and lace negligee on fire.  Let’s look at it this way. Either “when the cats away the mice will play”, “idle hands are the devil’s playground”, or when somebody tells you “dont push the red button” or “be careful this plate is really really hot”….alot of people are going to go crazy pushing the button over and over and burning the shit out of themselves. Dont ask me why. They just do.  Either way, I really wish that didn’t happen. Again, there is no do-over for such a thing, and I regret it.

Any way you cut it, the Israelites in their long road to becoming observant Jews (and stand-up comedians)  messed up, screwed around and broke a lot of rules that God said  clearly to keep sacred. Moses, like a frustrated overwhelmed parent with multiple young children with ADHD also lost his cool completely and angrily threw down the sacred stone tablets with the Ten Commandments inscribed on them, breaking them into pieces.  Jesus, if there was EVER a time for industrial strength super-glu, a nearby Home Depot and/or a really good stone-mason that can keep a secret, that was it. That could be conceived of as a spiritual as well as biblical Humpty Dumpty moment. Putting the pieces back together was not going to be easy, but let’s keep going.  King David did it too (blasphemed and lost his moral compass)  and in plain sight of God!  At least Adam and Eve knew to try to hide their transgressions and tried to make up a good story, ie. blame it all on the snake, even tho Yahweh was omnipotent, omnipresent and no fool.  Obviously there’s no way King David got extra gold stars or worshipper points for messing around with somebody else’s wife and sending her husband Uriah to his death  just to get the hubby out of the cheating picture. I love that TV show Cheaters. Can you imagine if Joey Greco showed up in a van with video cameras and sound mikes to interview King David while he was shtupping Bathsheba? Something tells me Joey would have ended up without his head and/or with a large round stone deeply embedded in his forehead, not to mention a pretty awesome viral video on You Tube or


Either King David played the golden lyre like BB King, Jimmy Hendrix and Jimmy Page combined (to please his God) sang like Pavarotti, and composed like Bob Dylan and Irving Berlin or there’s something else involved here that is incomprehensible to most men and women of today. Bottomline: people go astray, lose their way, and break rules and laws, including some of the basic commandments that God, Allah, Jesus Christ, the Boss, and Big Daddy all agree are pretty important ones. Yet, they can and often do find their way back to personal redemption, forgiveness and God, as in ones “higher power”.

Payoff Pitch:  I believe the more fundamental psychological point is this: what makes or breaks human beings is whether they transgress against the things THEY personally believe are key elements and critical aspects of their “moral code of conduct” and “spiritual” beliefs. The Chosen people might have been chosen by God (or maybe not) but they at the very least had to choose to go along for the much longer than expected camel and donkey ride. There is nothing like a 40 year sabbatical in the desert to clear out the superfluous clutter in ones head and clarify what is paramount and non-negotiable. I dont remember them ever being held at gunpoint or spear point to be more precise. Since that time they have chosen to be either observant Jews (or not) and what exactly to embrace as their core beliefs. Hooked up to a lie detector, I would assume many Jewish people today vary in their individual beliefs about sin, transgression, reincarnation, God, and what is MOST important. These central values are not generally confined to some nation building document like the Declaration of Independence or the Bill of Rights. Nor are they necessarily the same doctrines and dogma of an organized religion or college fraternity. They are structural supports and weight bearing walls of ones personal sense of “self” and primary connection to God, whomever, whatever and however he is conceived. You can knock out a window of a house or even a minor wall or two, but you cant mess with the basic foundation, and especially key or critical points in the structural design, what the engineers like to call it’s “structural integrity”. The results of doing so are…well, either catastrophic or “corrosive” to the building’s strength and stability or in this case a person’s emotional well-being, sanity and health (mental,physical and spiritual). Again, I’m referring to someone’s deepest and most central values/beliefs, their SELF-DEFINED inner sanctum, their internalized Holy of Holies, and the things that directly reflect on why a man or woman believe they were meant to inhabit this polluted little planet. Even dyed in the wool atheists, secular humanists, Wikkans and worshippers of Christopher Hitchens and Carl Sagan have deep convictions and core values. This goes back to a previous discussion and blog I posted about “moral injury” and what makes somebody (often someone with PTSD) not want to live after going through hell, surviving combat, a Russian gulag or Nazi concentration camp and what makes some people’s souls shrivel over time and their passion for life wane while others remain exuberantly alive, even if they have three times the normal cholesterol level for their height and weight. The fascinating cable show, “I Shouldn’t Be Alive” is counter-posed with it’s mirror opposite, “I Wish I Were Dead”. Of course nobody wants to pay to produce the latter, and there are fewer companies that want to sponsor such a show and Hollywood would no doubt consider it as, “Too much of a downer and too boring”.

This is possibly why the so called emotionally “sensitive” and empathic people often appear to suffer the most and are afflicted more often with depression and anxiety and, in reverse, why bloggers are now writing absurd but intriguing articles like,”What We Can Learn From Psychopaths”. Because psychopaths feel no guilt or remorse, and because they operate pretty much 24/7 by their own selfish gene and  “code of conduct” (which is basically, “the person that matters the most is ME”) they generally proceed in accordance with their own warped principles, just like Dexter, the charismatic serial killer does on TV. MY kids love that show. Psychopaths are pretty much the opposite of  guilt-prone, highly emotional, sensitive and empathic people. I would guess the majority of people operate in the middle somewhere. The psychopaths wearing uniforms in war and the sociopaths in society who commit unspeakable crimes like murder, rape, torture and serial killing pretty much both believe they “had” to do what they did, and they dont feel bad…even if they say they do.

So going back to my favorite person, me (not really, I’m actually a closet masochist) what are my deeply held beliefs, core convictions, and what are the structural supports of my personal code and/or my spirituality? What are yours? Notice I never said religion once because religion is different thing even tho for many (most?) some of what Im talking about might overlap. We only have a finite number of what Joseph Campbell called “creation myths and mythologies” to believe in and give our lives psychological, cosmological and existential order and meaning.  The same is true of our central notions about “existence” (our purpose for living). Victor Frankl, a concentration camp survivor himself also was keenly aware of this in his seminal book, Mans Search For Meaning and in his humanistically derived logotherapy.  If I remember correctly it was all about human will, personal choice and especially MEANING.  I think I’m saying that alot of things can suck on your soul, your life energy, your Chi, your passion and creativity, but that the most harmful is when one believes they have commited serious violations to their personal logos, and to the very core beliefs they carry in their heart about human life and its “purpose”. Purpose goes even farther when one is asked to define their individual reasons for being alive.

Most people will just think I mean are they employed at a job that uses their talents and “god given” abilities, and Im sure NOT doing so does lead to depression and lower self-esteem.  But most former professional athletes (and professional soldiers who survive combat) dont kill themselves, just certain ones do. As usual we are now chasing down the medical model rabbit hole to see if their brain injuries and concussions were a primary reason, and again, it might well be a contributing factor. But the much better question, now supported by some clinical findings and research is……..did the ones who killed themselves also come back home and carry (or develop over time) inordinate guilt, shame, anger, grief, and a general sense of having let God down, as well as their fellow soldiers, teammates, squad, platoon, etc. down and were they more often the kind of person that was highly sensitive to that kind of “perceived failure” and moral injury? As an example, if a trained professional soldier deeply believes that all children are innocents in war to be protected, did they witness or participate in the wounding, maiming or killing of children during their deployment?  Of course people who are severely depressed, authors who have serious writer block, poets who’s husbands cheat on them (can you say Sylvia Plath) are at a higher risk for suicide too, but Im referring to a kind of typically NON-IMPULSIVE, progressively building process of losing ones life purpose-meaning and having internalized strong feelings that they have broken some extremely important personal code and life-affirming principles/beliefs. Moreover, do they feel that there is no way, no ritual, no therapy to recover, to fix it, to make amends, to correct it, to take it back or maybe more to the point, “clease the stain on their soul”.

So eventually I will tell you how this idea came to mind when I was fumbling with a few old pictures of my biological father Lawrence, including his by now faded wedding picture with my mother, his sister Bernice, my cousin Donna and my aunt Bobby. In terms of forgetting and failing to remember and commemorate pivotal losses, I’m thinking there is also a stain on the soul of certain families too, and the question is how do they live with it? I suppose in the end, and after all the intellectualizing is done, it all comes down to forgiveness and love for one self. Once that occurs, a person can eventually regain their self-regard, their will to live, and their place in the human race… evolution that is as much spiritual, personal and individual as it is anthropological, cultural and collective. Talk about a Lion King moment….

About captaincliff

Psychologist by day, insomniac Pirate blogger by night, this Child of God likes to share sarcastic social commentary as well as topsy-turvy observations about life, love and the pursuit of zaniness, a functional form of insanity in an increasingly insane world
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