Yesterday, while driving down the highway meditating on Julian of Norwich and her teachings on goodness along with Kristal Parks’ teachings on Joy and Justice for our Via Positiva meditations, I heard a man on NPR talking about the recent horrible mass killings in Dayton and El Paso.
He had an important story to tell since as a young psychiatrist he created a team to investigate what has been called the first mass killing in the US. In Austin on August 1, 1966, twenty-five year old Charles Whitman climbed to the top of a tower at the University of Texas campus and shot 18 people to death, injuring 31 others.
Psychiatrist Stuart Brown, now in his eighties, found that the killer utterly lacked any play in his childhood. His father beat his mother and Charles regularly and forbade him to play (Hitler’s father also beat him daily according to German psychiatrist Alice Miller). An ex-Marine and a good marksman, he also taught his son how to shoot accurately. Over many years Brown interviewed twenty-one killers in prison and 100% of them told of parallel experiences—little or no play as a child.
If this does not shed light on the power and importance of the Via Positiva, I do not know what does. This is not to say that lack of play is the only cause of the aggression and reptilian brain excess that is behind mass killings, but it surely indicates one important cause:
Does the murder of the Via Positiva precede other murders?
I am reminded of a faculty member, Kaleo Ching, who taught a course called “Tai Chi and Mask making” at our University of Creation Spirituality as art as meditation and who took the class to prisons. He told me that when he led his Tai Chi workshop for murderers on Death Row they would always say to him: “This is the first time in my life that I have experienced stillness.”
Thus would-be murderers are missing both the Via Positiva (play) and the Via Negativa (stillness or contemplative listening)–common denominators in a society that is birthing far too many men who take other peoples’ lives. And very often want to take their own also. For there are indications also that suicide too is often a part of a mass-murderer’s agenda—to go “out with a bang” and lots of notoriety and publicity.
A society lacking the Via Positiva and the Via Negativa is a society without mysticism.
Today Dr. Stuart Brown heads the National Institute for Play.
See Matthew Fox, Original Blessing, pp. 277-292.
Banner image: “Puddle Jumping” Photo by Xavi Cabrera on Unsplash
Queries for Contemplation
How does the Via Positiva awaken you to play?
How do you see play in the lives of others—children? Adults? But also other beings, other creatures?
Does seeing this move you to gratitude and even reverence and lead you to play more yourself?
Original Blessing: A Primer in Creation Spirituality
In this book Matthew Fox lays out a whole new direction for Christianity—a direction that is in fact very ancient and very grounded in Jewish thinking (the fact that Jesus was a Jew is often neglected by Christian theology). Here Fox lays out the Four Paths of Creation Spirituality, the Vias Positiva, Negativa, Creativa and Transformativa in an extended and deeply developed way.
Matthew Fox calls on all the world traditions for their wisdom and their inspiration in a work that is far more than a list of theological position papers but a new way to pray—to meditate in a global spiritual context on the wisdom all our traditions share. Fox chooses 18 themes that are foundational to any spirituality and demonstrates how all the world spiritual traditions offer wisdom about each.