Appeasing the Ghosts of our Ancestors
We pride ourselves on being an advanced culture, not subject to superstitions like this. But perhaps we are even more superstitious than they were: we have the same compulsions but they have now become unconscious – a place we have created to protect ourselves from such forbidden knowledge.
Freud, who discovered the unconscious, also discovered our need for compulsive repetition: the need to keep repeating our past. In other words, to appease the ghosts of our ancestors – usually parents or parent-figures from our unhappy past. Instead of giving these up, we keep rehearsing them over and over – never seeming to tire of it, and never realizing what we are doing. The old emotional charge is so powerful we cannot resist it.
This results in what we now call the death instinct, although he called it the death drive:
In classical Freudian psychoanalytic theory, the death drive (“Todestrieb”) is the drive towards death, self-destruction and the return to the inorganic: ‘the hypothesis of a death instinct, the task of which is to lead organic life back into the inanimate state’.
This is something a plain as the noses on our faces – but something we deny strenuously, to use later terminology. As a result, we have destroyed ourselves – while saying as loudly and insistently as we can “Nothing bad is going on.”
How do I know this? By paying attention to my own unconscious compulsions while I am meditating, using a practice sometimes called insight meditation which you can learn about by following the link indicated – keeping in mind that mental understanding will not benefit you much. You have to stubbornly keep doing the practice – no matter what. And few can do this.
At this point, I must also add a disclaimer. My meditation teacher, whose skills were awesome, suffered from a total emotional collapse – and needed the help of a psychiatrist to recover. Evidently his childhood was more than he could cope with, even with his strict meditation practice – and all the help he was to many others. He was not able to help himself – a very common problem in the helping professions.