The Mandala of Being

An excerpt

by Richard Moss, MD

Published by New World Library; January 2007; $15.95 US; 978-1-57731-572-8

Copyright C 2007 Richard Moss, MD

How We Become Who We Are Not

We are not born, in essence, American, French, Japanese, Christian, Muslim,

or Jew. These labels are attached to us according to where on the planet our

births happen to take place, or these labels are imposed upon us because

they indicate our families' belief systems.

We are not born with an innate sense of distrust of others. We do not enter

life with the belief that God is external to us, watching us, judging us,

loving us, or simply being indifferent to our plight. We do not suckle at

the breast with shame about our bodies or with racial prejudice already

brewing in our hearts. We do not emerge from our mothers' wombs believing

that competition and domination are essential to survival. Nor are we born

believing that somehow we must validate whatever our parents consider to be

right and true.

How do children come to believe that they are indispensable to their

parents' well-being, and that they therefore must become the champions of

their parents' unfulfilled dreams, fulfilling them by becoming the good

daughter or the responsible son? How many people revolt against their

parents' relationships by condemning themselves to lives of cynicism about

the possibility for real love? In how many ways will members of one

generation after another efface their own true natures in order to be loved,

successful, approved of, powerful, and safe, not because of who they are in

essence, but because they have adapted themselves to others? And how many

will become part of the detritus of the cultural norm, living in poverty,

disenfranchisement, or alienation?

We are not born anxious for our survival. How is it, then, that pure

ambition and the accumulation of wealth and power are ideals in our culture,

when to live for them is all too often a soulless pursuit that condemns one

to a path of unending stress, which fails to address or heal the core,

unconscious feeling of insufficiency?

All such internalized attitudes and belief systems have been cultivated in

us. Others have modeled them for us and trained us in them. This

indoctrination takes place both directly and indirectly. In our homes,

schools, and religious institutions, we are explicitly told who we are, what

life is about, and how we should perform. Indirect indoctrination occurs as

we absorb subconsciously whatever is consistently emphasized or demonstrated

by our parents and other caregivers when we are very young.

As children we are like fine crystal glasses that vibrate to a singer's

voice. We resonate with the emotional energy that surrounds us, unable to be

sure what part is us -- our own true feelings and likes or dislikes -- and

what part is others. We are keen observers of our parents' and other adults'

behavior toward us and toward each other. We experience how they communicate

through their facial expressions, body language, tone of voice, actions, and

so on, and we can recognize -- though not consciously when we are young --

when their expressions and their feelings are congruent or not. We are

immediate barometers for emotional hypocrisy. When our parents are saying or

doing one thing, but we perceive that they mean something else, it confuses

and distresses us. Over time these emotional "disconnects" continue to

threaten our developing sense of self, and we begin to devise our own

strategies for psychological security in attempts to protect ourselves.

None of this is accompanied by our conscious understanding of what we are

doing, but we quickly deduce what our parents value and what evokes their

approval or disapproval. We readily learn which of our own behaviors they

respond to in ways that make us feel loved or unloved, worthy or unworthy.

We begin to adapt ourselves by acquiescence, rebellion, or withdrawal.

As children we do not initially approach our worlds with our parents' biases

and prejudices about what is good or bad. We express our true selves

spontaneously and naturally. But early on, this expression begins to collide

with what our parents encourage or discourage in our self-expression. All of

us become conscious of our earliest sense of self in the context of their

fears, hopes, wounds, beliefs, resentments, and control issues and of their

ways of nurturing, whether loving, suffocating, or neglecting. This mostly

unconscious socializing process is as old as human history. When we are

children and our parents view us through the lens of their own adaptations

to life, we as unique individuals remain more or less invisible to them. We

learn to become whatever helps make us visible to them, to be whatever

brings us the most comfort and least discomfort. We adapt and survive as

best we can in this emotional climate.

Our strategic response results in the formation of a survival personality

that does not express much of our individual essence. We falsify who we are

in order to maintain some level of connection to those whom we require in

order to meet our needs for attention, nurturance, approval, and security.

Children are marvels of adaptation. They quickly learn that, if acquiescence

produces the best response, then being supportive and agreeable provides the

best chance for emotional survival. They grow up to be pleasers, excellent

providers for the needs of others, and they see their loyalty as a virtue

more important than their own needs. If rebellion seems to be the best path

to diminishing discomfort while also gaining attention, then they become

combative and build their identities by pushing their parents away. Their

fight for autonomy may later make them nonconformists unable to accept the

authority of others, or they may require conflict in order to feel alive. If

withdrawal works best, then children become more introverted and escape into

imaginary worlds. Later in life, this survival adaptation may cause them to

live so deeply in their own beliefs that they are unable to make space for

others to know them or to emotionally touch them.

Because survival is at the root of the false self, fear is its true god. And

because in the Now we cannot be in control of our situations, only in

relationship with it, the survival personality is poorly suited to the Now.

It tries to create the life it believes it should be living and, in so

doing, does not fully experience the life it is living. Our survival

personalities have identities to maintain that are rooted in the early

childhood escape from threat. This threat comes from the disjunction between

how we experience ourselves as children and what we learn to be, in response

to our parents' mirroring and expectations.

Infancy and early childhood are governed by two primary drives: The first is

the necessity to bond with our mothers or other important caregivers. The

second is the drive to explore, to learn about and discover our worlds.

The physical and emotional bond between mother and baby is necessary not

only for the child's survival but also because the mother is the first

cultivator of the baby's sense of self. She cultivates it by how she holds

and caresses her baby; by her tone of voice, her gaze, and her anxiety or

calmness; and by how she reinforces or squelches her child's spontaneity.

When the overall quality of her attention is loving, calm, supportive, and

respectful, the baby knows that it is safe and all right in itself. As the

child gets older, more of his or her true self emerges as the mother

continues to express approval and set necessary boundaries without shaming

or threatening the child. In this way her positive mirroring cultivates the

child's essence and helps her child to trust itself.

In contrast, when a mother is frequently impatient, hurried, distracted, or

even resentful of her child, the bonding process is more tentative and the

child feels unsafe. When a mother's tone of voice is cold or harsh, her

touch brusque, insensitive, or uncertain; when she is unresponsive to her

child's needs or cries or cannot set aside her own psychology to make enough

space for the child's unique personality, this is interpreted by the child

as meaning that something must be wrong with him or her. Even when neglect

is unintentional, as when a mother's own exhaustion prevents her from

nurturing as well as she would like to, this unfortunate situation can still

cause a child to feel unloved. As a result of any of these actions, children

can begin to internalize a sense of their own insufficiency.

Until recently, when many women have become working mothers, fathers have

tended to transmit to us our sense of the world beyond the home. We wondered

where Daddy was all day. We noticed whether he returned home tired, angry,

and depressed or satisfied and enthusiastic. We absorbed his tone of voice

as he spoke about his day; we felt the outside world through his energy, his

complaints, worries, anger, or enthusiasm. Slowly we internalized his spoken

or other representations of the world into which he so frequently

disappeared, and all too often this world appeared to be threatening,

unfair, "a jungle." If this impression of potential danger from the outside

world combines with an emerging sense of being wrong and insufficient, then

the child's core identity -- his or her earliest relationship to the self --

becomes one of fearfulness and distrust. As gender roles are changing, both

men and working mothers perform aspects of the fathering function for their

children, and some men perform aspects of mothering. We could say that in a

psychological sense mothering cultivates our earliest sense of self, and how

we mother ourselves throughout life strongly influences how we hold

ourselves when faced with emotional pain. Fathering, on the other hand, has

to do with our vision of the world and how empowered we believe ourselves to

be as we implement our own personal visions in the world.

Day by day throughout childhood, we explore our worlds. As we move out into

our environment, our parents' capacity to support our process of discovery

and to mirror our attempts in ways that are neither overprotective nor

neglectful depends on their own consciousness. Are they proud of us as we

are? Or do they reserve their pride for the things we do that fit their

image for us or that make them look like good parents? Do they encourage our

own assertiveness, or interpret it as disobedience and quell it? When a

parent delivers reprimands in a way that shames the child -- as so many

generations of generally male authorities have recommended doing -- a

confused and disturbed inner reality is generated in that child. No child

can separate the frightful bodily intensity of shame from his or her own

sense of self. So the child feels wrong, unlovable, or deficient. Even when

parents have the best intentions, they frequently meet their child's

tentative steps into the world with responses that seem anxious, critical,

or punitive. More important, those responses are often perceived by the

child as implicitly distrustful of who he or she is.

As children we cannot differentiate our parents' psychological limitations

from the effects they cause in us. We cannot protect ourselves by means of

self-reflection so that we can arrive at compassion and understanding for

them and ourselves, because we do not yet have the awareness to do so. We

cannot know that our frustration, insecurity, anger, shame, neediness, and

fear are just feelings, not the totality of our beings. Feelings seem simply

good or bad to us, and we want more of the former and less of the latter. So

gradually, within the context of our early environment, we wake up to our

first conscious sense of self as if materializing out of a void, and without

understanding the origins of our own confusion and insecurity about


Each of us, in a certain sense, develops our earliest understanding of who

we are within the emotional and psychological "fields" of our parents, much

as iron filings on a sheet of paper become aligned in a pattern determined

by a magnet underneath it. Some of our essence remains intact, but much of

it has to be forfeited in order to ensure that, as we express ourselves and

venture out to discover our worlds, we don't antagonize our parents and risk

the loss of essential bonding. Our childhoods are like the proverbial

Procrustean bed. We "lie down" in our parents' sense of reality, and if we

are too "short" -- that is, too fearful, too needy, too weak, not smart

enough, and so on, by their standards -- they "stretch" us. It can happen in

a hundred ways. They might order us to stop crying or shame us by telling us

to grow up. Alternatively, they might try to encourage us to stop crying by

telling us everything is all right and how wonderful we are, which still

indirectly suggests that how we are feeling is wrong. Of course, we also

"stretch" ourselves -- by trying to meet their standards in order to

maintain their love and approval. If, on the other hand, we are too "tall"

-- that is, too assertive, too involved in our own interests, too curious,

too boisterous, and so on -- they "shorten" us, using much the same tactics:

criticism, scolding, shame, or warnings about problems we will have later in

life. Even in the most loving families, in which parents have only the best

intentions, a child may lose a significant measure of his or her innate

spontaneous and authentic nature without either the parent or the child

realizing what has happened.

As a result of these circumstances, an environment of angst is unconsciously

born within us, and, at the same time, we begin a lifetime of ambivalence

about intimacy with others. This ambivalence is an internalized insecurity

that can leave us forever dreading both the loss of intimacy that we fear

would surely occur if we somehow dared to be authentic, and the suffocating

sense of being dispossessed of our innate character and natural

self-expression if we were to allow intimacy.

As children we begin to create a submerged reservoir of unacknowledged,

nonintegrated feelings that pollute our earliest sense of who we are,

feelings like being insufficient, unlovable, or unworthy. To compensate for

these, we build up a coping strategy called, in psychoanalytic theory, the

idealized self. It is the self we imagine we should be or can be. We soon

start to believe we are this idealized self, and we compulsively continue to

attempt to be it, while avoiding anything that brings us face to face with

the distressing feelings we have buried.

Sooner or later, however, these buried and rejected feelings resurface,

usually in the relationships that seem to promise the intimacy we so

desperately crave. But while these close relationships initially offer great

promise, eventually they also expose our insecurities and fears. Since we

all carry the imprint of childhood wounding to some degree, and therefore

bring a false, idealized self into the space of our relationships, we are

not starting from our true selves. Inevitably, any close relationship we

create will begin to unearth and amplify the very feelings that we, as

children, managed to bury and temporarily escape.

Our parents' ability to support and encourage the expression of our true

selves depends on how much of their attention comes to us from a place of

authentic presence. When parents unconsciously live from their false and

idealized senses of self, they cannot recognize that they are projecting

their unexamined expectations for themselves onto their children. As a

result, they cannot appreciate the spontaneous and authentic nature of a

young child and allow it to remain intact. When parents inevitably become

uncomfortable with their children because of the parents' own limitations,

they attempt to change their children instead of themselves. Without

recognizing what is happening, they provide a reality for their children

that is hospitable to the children's essence only to the extent that the

parents have been able to discover a home in themselves for their own


All of the above may help to explain why so many marriages fail and why much

that is written about relationships in popular culture is idealized. As long

as we protect our idealized selves, we are going to have to keep imagining

ideal relationships. I doubt they exist. But what does exist is the

possibility to start from whom we really are and to invite mature

connections that bring us closer to psychological healing and true


Copyright C 2007 Richard Moss, MD


Richard Moss, MD, is an internationally respected teacher, visionary

thinker, and author of five seminal books on transformation, self-healing,

and the importance of living consciously. For thirty years he has guided

people from diverse backgrounds and disciplines in the use of the power of

awareness to realize their intrinsic wholeness and reclaim the wisdom of

their true selves. He teaches a practical philosophy of consciousness that

models how to integrate spiritual practice and psychological self-inquiry

into a concrete and fundamental transformation of people's lives. Richard

lives in Ojai, California, with his wife, Ariel.

For a calendar of future seminars and talks by the author, and for further

information on CDs and other available material, please visit

Or contact Richard Moss Seminars:

Office: 805-640-0632

Fax: 805-640-0849


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