As many of you know, most Unitarian Ministers are Winter patriots. Thus, they call upon some of their flock to fill in for them during the Summer months. That is how I got to be chosen as your preacher for today. Our Minister, Kenneth Hurto, asked me to share my experiences at the ARK 2000 - a forty day, multi-modal, continuous intensive therapy training program held biennially since 1986.
ARK 2000 was the second in which I served as a leader and the first held without its founder, Dr. William Smukler. Like on so many of its participants, both trainers or trainees alike, ARK 1998 and ARK 2000 had a profound effect upon me.
One day, over breakfast, Kenn asked about my involvement in ARKS 1998 and 2000. I began my recounting about how the ARK's "Noah," in the person of Bill Smukler, had called me in December 1997 and asked me to become the ARK 1998's seventh leader in order to maintain a trainer to trainee ratio of one to two. I agreed on one condition: that he would allow me to to offer all trainees and trainers a pre- and post-battery of psychological measures designed to plot any changes that might occur in the participants ways of thinking, feeling and acting within that forty day period. He agreed and so I agreed to participate.
I explained to Kenn that all of the trainees, but only one leader, had come to ARK 1998 significantly anxious and/or depressed and more inclined to go against themselves, against others or away from others when they found themselves in conflict with such significant others as a parent, life partner or their progeny.
When ARK 1998 and ARK 2000 were over, none of the trainees were significantly anxious or depressed. All but two of us had changed to going towards rather than away from others or against themselves or others at the ARK. And I knew from my contacts with former ARK graduates, that those changes persisted even in their relationships with the significant others in their lives outside of the ARK group members.
Then, I mentioned to Kenn what had happened to me towards the end of ARK 2000 immediately after our "Long Dance Evening" and our last "Sunday Sharing" of the sandbox scene we had created the day. All ARK particpants, including trainers, use a two foot by three foot sandbox in which to construct a "scene" of plastic figures of animals, humans, flora and fauna of all kinds to portray what feelings they are experiencing on any given day.
Most of those scenes had started out being quite dysphoric, with objects symbolizing a participant's negative feelings.
During the previous five weeks we had relived and become desensitized to many of those negative feelings and the traumas underlying them, so most of the sandbox scenes were becoming euphoric in tone. Note that these were traumas which had not been previously reached by so-called "talk therapy" or by "free association." This was because the traumas had occurred neither before the full development of speech nor afterwards, but instead happened during an altered, non-rational state of consciousness.
By a stroke of fate, my first significant traumas came long after I had grown up and happened during periods when I was still quite rational. But, nonetheless, I suddenly found myself feeling despondent, and recalling something I had dismissed many years earlier when it was presented to me by my son-in-law.
During a passionate discussion he had insisted that it was too late to save our planet from
destruction - from ecological disaster. Suddenly, I was
agreeing with him that we humans would surely outstrip our planet's
natural resources, face a second flooding because of the
rising temperature levels and perhaps, as a species, destroy ourselves in
efforts to get "ours."
I now know that the trigger for my despondency was my deciding to build a model of Noah's Ark for my last sandbox scene. There were plastic models of the Ark among the hundreds of available sandbox figures. However, I wanted an Ark big enough to place other figures into it. So I took a large kitchen plate and began making an Ark in it out of clay, using the coil method which I had seen potters use when they had no wheel on which to throw pots. I had seen such potters roll clay into cords and then create a pot by coiling the cord to make the sides of the pot.
During my coiling of the clay around the edge of the plate to build up the sides of the Ark, I suddenly became Noah! Only this time, I found Noah, (myself), placing soldiers around the Ark with their rifles pointing out at the animals and humans trying to enter the Ark, via the gangplank. Dreading being asked to share my negative sandbox story with others that last Sunday, I tried to come up with a positive caption and explanation of it, but all I came up with was the caption: "May There Not Be a Second Flooding." I finally decided not to share my sandbox scene with the rest of the group.
The probable source of my despair became clear the following dawn as I lay half-awake in bed. I was remembering much of Daniel Quinn's book: Ishmael and the movie Instinct which was Hollywood's version of the book. Instead of Daniel Quinn's tale told by a gorilla to a human, in the film it became a tale told by a human about his living with and studying gorillas, finding a sense of peace and total acceptance from them such as he had never found in his own
human family back in the States where he had been a anthropologist. Unfortunately, he was later to see his gorilla family killed by poachers/ This had provoked him into violence to stop the poachers he had had to kill most of them.
Vividly into my imagery came the movie scene when the anthropologist is back in the States confined to a prison for the criminally insane. He is being assessed by a young ambitious psychologist who is determined to get a book out of the assessment. Suddenly, the anthropologist grabs the psychologist in a neck hold and threatens to kill him unless he writes down what he, the anthropologist, has just lost. The first answer is "My freedom?" "No" says the anthropologist, "Guess Again." "My ambition?" "No." "One last time, what have you lost?" Finally, he answers: "My illusions!" That was it. I, too, had lost my illusions about the future of our planet and its human species. How could I have been anything other than despondent?
Then what happened to me has probably happened to many of you between sleeping and awakening. My mood and my vision had changed instantly. Before me, the "coil" of the clay Ark I had built, became the acronym for "Conceive Only In Love."
I was asking myself: "What if all children were to be conceived only in love? What if all societies on earth became fully aware that traumas experienced by a fetus in the womb are recorded in their nervous system and that such traumas have a lasting negative impact on how they, as adults, come to think, feel, and act and on how they interact with even their most loving family members?
What if we finally all came to realize that our personal perception of things that have happened to us will become our reality? Most who are conceived, carried to term and raised in love will perceive ourselves and others positively, while those conceived, carried to term and raised either without love or with a mixture of love, hate, abuse, and physical trauma, will perceive ourselves and perhaps others, negatively?
Confining unprotected sexual intercourse to those times when a loving couple wishes to conceive, carry to term and raise a
child, would not only drastically reduce the world of unwanted, unloved children but would also drastically reduce the plague now devastating Africa and soon to devastate India. I am referring to the AIDS plague!
If we in the United States dare to proclaim in our Declaration of Independence that "All men are created equal," we can also proclaim that all children deserve to be conceived, carried to term and raised in a loving, caring family and community. And what better place in which to make such a proclamation than here, in this church, where each week we declare that our Covenant is, among other things, "To serve life in community to the end that all souls shall grow in harmony."
Those were my thoughts upon awakening that dawn. They ended with: "My God, my muse, thou hast answered me!"
Joseph R. Sanders, Ph. D.