Episode #131 How the World is making our Children Mad – and what to do about it – with Louis Weinstock
How can we create a world where our children can grow in safety – both physical and emotional? How can we find that sense of psychological safety within ourselves? How can we find the authenticity and compassion to heal our own wounds so we don’t pass them on? With Louis Weinstock, child psychologist and expert in complex trauma.
Louis Weinstock is a psychotherapist who works with children and the child within us all. He helps people find light in the darkness – in the things the are unseen, unheard and unspoken. For over 20 years, he has expertly guided children and adults through some of the toughest challenges life can throw at us – loss, trauma, divorce, burnout and breakdowns.
And now he has a new book: How our World is Making our Children Mad – and what to do about it. He’s taking ‘mad’ in both senses of the world – the one that means ‘not fitting in with consensus reality’ and the one that means ‘massively angry – enough to go on strike and take to the streets’. With absolute compassion, deep wisdom and years of insight, he opens up seven roots of our trauma and the fruits of healing that each offers if we heal it.
In the podcast, we explore the origins of the book, and move beyond it to the ways we can heal ourselves and the divided culture in which we live. We touch on some of the moving case studies in the book, and the ways we can extend the learning they bring to ourselves, our inner children, and the children in our lives, always striving for healing of self and planet. I am always struck by Louis’ deep authenticity, his emotional intelligence and his capacity to hold balance and find wisdom in the chaos of our world. As a starter for healing, this feels huge.
Manda: Our children that are the focus of today’s podcast. Louis Weinstock first came to the podcast back in September of last year, in episode 93. We talked about truth, integrity and authenticity; how to hold conversations on climate change with the younger generations in ways that were honest, that said what needed to be said, that gave them the space to express how they were feeling. Since then, Louis’ book has come out: How the World Is Making Our Children Mad and What to do about it. And this is one of those books that I think every one of us listening to the podcast will want to read. I read it in a single sitting, which might not have been wise, but it was profoundly moving on every level. Because this is not just a book about the children that we may or may not bear. This is a book about the children that we all carry inside. Our world not only makes our children mad, it made us mad, too.
And what Louis has done, with the same authenticity and integrity and compassion that he brought to us back in Episode 93, is to create a framework within which we can begin to understand our own wounding. In a moment, Louis is going to read from the opening of the book. But I want to read from a few pages further in where he says: ‘This is a book about our children’s minds. And it’s a book about the world. Because our children’s minds are affected by this world and we don’t talk about this anywhere near enough. There are some features of our world that are making our children mad. When I use the word ‘mad’, I’m not just talking about the epidemic rates of depression, anxiety, self-harm and suicide. I’m also talking about how millions of children are taking their anger onto the streets to fight for a viable future’. And I think if you’re listening to this podcast, you’re someone who is also wanting to find what you can do to create a viable future. And the more I work in this area, the more I talk to other people about how we build regenerative communities, how we create an economy that is not predicated on destroying the planet, how we find ways of connecting so that everybody has a voice. It becomes, every day, increasingly clear that the most work, the most important work and the most detailed, is on ourselves.
If we can’t do the inner work, that brings us to be the best of our selves showing up in the world, all of the time, without excuses and without it feeling like we’re lying to ourselves. Then the rest really doesn’t matter. So I offer you this podcast as a step in to beginning to do that inner work, however much you are already doing. And I wholeheartedly encourage you to read Louis’ book. And very briefly, in case you haven’t listened to Episode 93, I just want to let you know that Louie is a psychotherapist who works with children and the child inside us all. He’s an incredibly compassionate individual who helps people find a light in the darkness, in the things that are unseen, unheard and unspoken. He’s worked with children with deep and complex trauma, and increasingly he’s working with children who are facing the trauma of a world and a climate that are disintegrating. He is also co-founder of A Part of Me, a multi award winning charity that helps young people to transform their grief into compassion. His work has been featured on the BBC, on ITV and in The Guardian newspaper, and I suspect after this book in many other places in our national legacy and digital media. So, with all of that under your belt, people of the podcast, please do welcome Louis Weinstock.
Louis: We had entered the Twilight Zone. It was 4:30 a.m. the morning of Halloween. We were in a home from home room at the Whittington Hospital, North London, where my wife Laurey had just given birth in a big tub of water to our daughter, Rose Gaia. After four whole years of trying to make a human and four miscarriages; a series of broken promises and broken hearts, this moment was everything. As Laurey got out of the tub, the midwife passed this warm squidgy creature to me, and I held her against my heart. She felt so delicate. I felt so tender. This was a space between two worlds, the world of the womb, where everything was safe and all her needs were met. And this mad world where life can be so tough and there is no happy ending. I really wanted to build a bridge for her between these two worlds to help her feel safe. If there was one single lesson, all those years of psychotherapy, training and practise had taught me, it was the importance of helping children to feel safe. So I rocked her in my arms and whispered to her over and over, You are safe. You are safe. You are safe.
Manda: Beautiful. That makes me cry when I read it. And it makes me cry when I listen to it. And I’m guessing because you have done the audiobook, that it’s going to be as moving and as powerful if people listen to the audiobook. So thank you and welcome Louis Weinstock to Accidental Gods for the second time. How do you feel now? How old is Rose Gaia now and do you feel that she is safe?
Louis: Good question to start with Manda and thank you for having me back on the podcast, by the way. So when I wrote this book or when I came up with the idea for writing this book, it was because I had this realisation. Some people might call it a climate awakening and it was a year and a half after Rose had been born and I was walking back from my houseboat. I’d had a busy day and it had been quite stressful; I’d had a client who was in real despair. And I remember the bus stop near our house. There were all these posters with these beautiful pastel colours and then a skull and crossbones on them. And I was just so curious about these icons and the colours and the contrast between them. And then I saw it said Extinction Rebellion. Obviously I was aware about the climate crisis and we did our bit, but it was really only after seeing those posters and seeing that name and then going home that evening and looking up online, a bit more information about this Extinction Rebellion. And really reading in the starkest language I’d heard of up until that point, the possible or probable future we’re facing as a human species. And because my daughter had been born by that point, and I remember sort of bathing her that night and this stuff that I’d been reading about our possible extinction and the future that she was facing just really was working its way through my nervous system.
And I remember looking at her big brown eyes in the bath and just feeling both a sense of terror and real guilt, actually. I really sort of questioned what kind of a world had I brought her into. And then, of course, as we as we all do, as parents and as human beings, that night, I tucked her into bed and read a nice story with a happy ending and wished her sweet dreams. But obviously the feeling stayed with me. It was a sort of searing question that I just really felt that I had to think about and figure out for myself, is what kind of a world is this that I brought my child into? So coming back to your specific question, whether I feel differently now, having written the book and a few years later, and whether I feel that Rose is safe. The place where I’ve come to, Manda, is I think the world in many ways isn’t safe. That’s the bottom line. We do need to help our children to feel safe. But when we hide some of or many of the difficult realities of the world from our children, we actually create more of a sense of unsafety than we would do if we could gently guide them through some potentially difficult and uncomfortable truths. So that’s kind of where I’ve got to with that question in the writing of this book.
Manda: Thank you. Yes. And for the listeners, I always record the intro and the outro after the conversation as I’m sure by now is obvious. So I may have said this in the intro, but I cried through reading most of this book, and also became very much more aware of where I’m holding the terror and the resentment and the rage and all of those things physically in my body. I got to the end of it and thought, That’s it. My gastric ulcer is actually going to perforate now. But it was also… It was such a relief, Louis, to have somebody speaking to the child within. I’m not a parent. Never have been, never had any intention of being, I haven’t ever tried. But each of us, it seems to me; this is not just a book about parenting. This is a book for everyone who has an inner child that is cowering in the corner, thinking the world is going crazy and they don’t know what to do. So have you had much feedback yet? And I realise it’s only really right in its infancy, this book. About how this is affecting the adults who read it. I’d like to look much, much more about how we can help our children, but I’m just curious as to the impact on the people who are capable of reading it, who are not the young children.
Louis: Yes. Well, I have had quite a few people, grown ups, both parents and non-parents, who have read it and had a similar emotional response. Which I guess with my therapist hat on, that’s a good response, because it means that the book’s connecting to people’s hearts. And it’s speaking, as you said, really nicely to that sort of child within that in some ways has felt misunderstood or excluded from conversations. And I think a key word in all of this is congruence. What we find when we’re growing up, for most of us, if not all of us, is that we are incredibly sensitive to the world around us. Children are really, really sensitive. And in the book I talk about them being like canaries in the coal mine. They’re really sensitive. They have these highly social relational brains that are constantly picking up signals from the environment around them. And obviously the primary environment is the family and the parents. And what happens almost inevitably, and it’s through no fault of the parents, but children pick up on incongruence. So the parents say one thing, but their body language and the way they’re acting is giving off a different signal. And that incongruence obviously has an effect on us as we grow up and it kind of creates a split. And so the truth that we carry in our bodies get split off from the part of us that needs to believe that the parents are honest and truthful and that we can rely on them. And we could talk more about that in terms of the attachment system. So I think your experience of reading the book is shared with the people I know who’ve read the book so far, in the sense that it sort of bridges that gap between the part of us that’s adapted to the world that we are told exists; or that our parents told us exists; and the world that we pick up from in that sort of really subtle and very early sort of sensitivity that we that we have really from birth.
Manda: Yeah. Yes. And I think also one of the things that I’ve noticed, I do quite a lot of energy work with people and horses. And that horses, more than dogs, dogs pick up incongruence, but they’re more able to zone it out. But horses pick up that incongruence, too, and they’re 500 kilos. And they make it obvious when you’re being incongruent. They’re great teachers of incongruence. I want to read a little bit, partly because it would take too long for me to describe to get you to read it, I’ve got it on my screen.
‘So this is the radical idea I invite you to explore in this book. And radical means getting to the root. Whatever we blame for our children’s problems, we can find the roots of these problems inside our own minds. When we follow these roots, we discover hidden, unloved parts of ourself. And when we bring some love to these hidden parts, we have a better chance of helping our kids and having a positive impact on the world.’ And then, moving on a bit, you say very clearly ‘getting rid of Donald Trump’ (or I would say Boris Johnson) ‘isn’t going to solve the root problem that allows leaders like him to get into power. Using less plastic isn’t going to solve the root problems that have led to the climate and ecological crisis. Having a few sessions of CBT or an antidepressant isn’t going to solve the root problems that cause a child to feel stressed or depressed.’.
And these are all manifestly true. And so I’m wondering, as you go through the book, there’s so much of really deep insights into, using particular children as examples, into how we can help those children. It occurs to me to wonder, still looking at the adults. At what point and why and how do we start to zone out the incongruence around us? Because it seems to me that Donald Trump or Boris Johnson would not be where they are if we, the voting public, didn’t have an extraordinary capacity to not care about the obvious incongruence that is being presented to us and that that dissociation is kind of one of the places that we need to kind of unpick and and be less comfortable with. Does that make sense as a question?
Louis: Yes, total sense. And in the book I talk about psychological defences and I describe them as being a little bit like the spikes of hedgehogs, which obviously protect a hedgehog from predators. And we have similar defences that develop internally, that protect us from being vulnerable to what we might call psychological attacks or psychological vulnerability. There’s loads of these defences, but one of them is for sure, denial. Another one is fantasy. We can talk a bit more about that, but essentially it’s important to know that just as much as an animal might develop certain defences to protect them against physical threats, human beings for sure develop psychological defences that help them to defend against predators. The problem, of course, is that if those defences become too thick, or they kind of get stuck in a sense. In other words, we’re defending against predators that aren’t necessarily even there anymore, or made up predators. We don’t allow ourselves to drop into that space that you described where we can actually be open to and sensitive to the truth of what’s going on around us.
In some ways, I always say this, I learned this from my supervisor, Graham music, but it’s really important that we honour our defences. So working with children and grown ups in therapy, you would never try and push somebody to a place that there was clearly a lot of resistance to. You know, there’s a term in motivational interviewing, which is a technique that is often used with addictions called rolling with the resistance. Essentially, that’s another way of saying honouring the defences. That these defences have developed for a reason. There’s a reason why this child or this grown up doesn’t want to go to that sensitive or that vulnerable or that uncomfortable place. So first we have to work with those defences, understand why they’ve developed, and then we can go a bit deeper and get into that sort of part of us that’s incredibly intelligent, actually. The defences are intelligent and then there’s parts of us beneath those defences that are really intelligent that pick up on, as we’ve been saying, the truth or the reality of the world.
Manda: Right. And I’m remembering one of the case studies in the book of the young person who’d been in a car crash and their best friend had been killed in the same car crash. And that set of defences were so big, that in the beginning it was impossible even to speak about it. But what I gather from the book and what I’m hearing from you now, is that it’s possible to work, over time, rolling with the defences until we get to a point where those defences are not needed anymore. And it seems to me that that, on a societal level, we need to be doing that as a whole society. Because otherwise we end up with people like Boris Johnson and Donald Trump as being a kind of expression of our resistances that we don’t want to look at. And I’m thinking that you deal with people who come to you for healing, and they’ve at least chosen to be there. It’s like the old joke of how many therapists does it take to change a light bulb? And the answer is only one, but the light bulb has to really want to change. And yet, I may be projecting, So tell me if I am. It seems that the number of people who are sitting down going, I need to do the inner work of healing because we won’t get to a place where our children are safe if we haven’t all done the inner work of healing, are not yet in the majority? How do we hold the conversations with people who are still locked in denial to the point where trying to go there would be hard?
Louis: I think one of the critical things for me, one of the biggest lessons I’m trying to share in the book, is that we can have a radical shift in perspective. Where we can really listen to our symptoms or our children’s symptoms as being intelligent, or even, I would say, sacred messengers. They are giving us some vital information and often they’re really just wanting to heal something in the world around. But the problem, which I do talk about in some detail in the book, is the dominant model of mental health treatment, at least in this country. And most of the Western world is predicated on the paradigm of the individual. So if a child or a grown up is struggling with something, we automatically think that it must be something wrong with us inside our own heads. And usually it’s something wrong with our brains. Which leads to, obviously, the worrying rise in antidepressant medications for children and all sorts of other medications, too, which obviously are a quick fix. But they stem ultimately from a particular way of looking at mental health, that thinks if there’s a symptom, there must be something wrong with you. And instead of listening to the symptom, we just fix, try and get rid of the symptom. And what we lose then is we lose this real intelligence. And I’ve seen that happening time and time again. Like one of the examples I share in the book is a mother who I worked with, whose son who was nine, I believe, got to a place where he was being really angry and then he actually threatened to kill himself.
And what I did is worked with the mum primarily, and we did some exploration of her own history and we found that when she was nine, one of her family members had committed suicide and she hadn’t been given the truth about what happened. So a part of her split off; there was that incongruence that happened. And I don’t know exactly how to explain how this works, but I’ve seen it happen so many times. It just seems to be deeply true to me, that very often parents bring children to see me at the exact same age where they had some kind of a trauma or some kind of a disruption in their own lives. So the work in this case and the work that I typically do is helping the parent to heal that part of themselves. And as a result of healing that part of themselves, it has this knock on effect on their child. So you don’t necessarily need to have specific techniques to try and fix things in your child. The child ultimately is part of the same world, the same environment as you. So as soon as you heal something in yourself, in my experience, the child benefits from that without you actually having to necessarily do any specific parenting strategies.
Manda: Yeah, it seems very congruent with a lot of the work that the Constellation people do. You don’t even need to have the people in the room. You do the constellation and then miraculously you get a phone call from the estranged family member that was in the Constellation who doesn’t know that you’ve done this and it still seems to work. Yes. And I was very struck in the book by, well, everything in the book. But one of the stories was the young man who had been diagnosed at a very young age with ADHD and medicated, and eventually gets to you and you discover that the reason he got that diagnosis was at the age of three he was found crawling on the roof. And you dig a little deeper and we discover his dad’s a violent drug dealer and his mum’s an alcoholic, and as a three year old, that’s probably the safest place to be, is just get out of this house! And then somebody goes, oh, ADHD and puts him on Ritalin. And it’s our whole system. I mean, I’m guessing this is some poor GP who’s got 90 seconds to think about it and looks at it kind of the way some of my veterinary colleagues look at the dog and you go, This dog needs not to be in this household. But I can’t do that, because it’s not legal to say I’m sorry, you’re leaving your dog with me. And you end up putting the dog on Prozac. And this is the same with the kid, just ends up on drugs because the GP doesn’t have what it takes to sort out a house where Dad’s a violent drug dealer and Mum’s an alcoholic. Or am I being too kind to the GP? Is it just easier to dish out the Ritalin and medicate the child until they’re adult and then you just keep medicating them and they go away?
Louis: No, I think it’s really important to say it’s not the fault of any particular individual, whether it’s a GP or a psychiatrist. It’s a paradigm that we live in and it’s a way of thinking. It’s quite difficult to shift out of that. And there obviously are systemic constraints, as in a GP, as you said, has a very limited amount of time to dig in to what might be the deeper reasons why somebody is presenting with certain symptoms. And interestingly, in the States now, I don’t know if you’ve heard of the adverse childhood experiences stuff.
Manda: Yes. But tell us anyway, because quite a lot of listeners won’t. Tell us about it.
Louis: It’s a groundbreaking longitudinal study that they did in the States, where they followed a huge cohort, I believe it was in the tens of thousands, of children from birth into adulthood. And what they discovered is if you have what they call an adverse childhood experience, which can be a loss, a trauma, having a parent with a mental health problem or an addiction, there’s a whole range of these adverse childhood experiences. If you have a number of these in your childhood, you are significantly more likely to develop not just mental health problems, but also physical health problems from heart disease to obesity. It’s actually staggering when you look at the correlation between what are essentially psychological or emotional experiences that end up in adulthood without the right support, leading to physical health problems. So the reason I’m sharing that is because now, and I don’t know how widespread this is in the States, but they are getting at least some GP’s to use the ACE’s screening questionnaire when they see patients. So it’s a really good development, as in GP’s are now encouraged and I think incentivised to actually ask some of these deeper questions. It’s not actually transferred over in any scale as far as I’m aware to the UK yet, but I hope that it will do at some point.
Manda: Yes, as we’re heading towards full privatisation, doubtless it’ll become a money spinner at some point. Let’s not go there. So I’ve been dragging us away from the book into my own obsessions of how do we heal the whole of society. But so two things came up for me there. One was that so much of our Western medical system still insists on seeing bodies as complicated. Where you see a symptom, you know, you see the broken fan belt, so you fix the fan belt. And a body isn’t a car and a human being is a much more complex system. And that what you are doing with your work and what you describe so lucidly and with such compassion in the book, is the complexity and yet the simplicity of sitting with compassion with somebody and accepting them for who they are. And it’s not pushing their resistances, but helping them to dig into their resistances can have such an extraordinary ripple effect on the whole of the system around them. And I think each of the examples you use in the book seems to do that. I wanted to come to the example of Ainsley, the young boy who had the climate anxiety. And I’m wondering, was he one of the ones that, on those early days when you saw Extinction Rebellion, had it been him? Can you just tell us a little bit about that story? Because that seems really relevant to the kinds of things we’re talking about.
Louis: Yes. So Ainsley was a 14 year old boy who was sent to see me because he’d been getting into a lot of trouble at school and he’d actually just been temporarily excluded from school. And his mum brought him to see me and she explained that she just didn’t understand what was going on. Because a year ago he’d been reasonably well behaved, studious, and suddenly something had changed and she didn’t understand what it was. And during the course of the first few sessions, Ainsley shared with me that about a year ago he had started reading about the climate crisis online. And he started to dig deeper and deeper into the research and hearing people talking about extinction. And essentially what happened to him, is that he went to a very hopeless nihilistic place. Obviously can be exacerbated as an adolescent when we have this sort of period of existential questioning and we’re wondering what’s the point of anything and starting to not trust the adults around us. And what Ainsley said to me, is that he felt that everybody at his school was being completely fake. That all the teachers were carrying on as though life was just normal. Business as usual. And he described how fake he thought their smiles were. So it’s just this, again, this incongruence between this sensitive boy sitting in the classroom and looking at these teachers, teaching him about subjects, and he’s carrying inside him this existential terror about not just himself, but about the whole thing about all human beings and what’s going to happen in his future.
So when I talk about that story in the book, I talk about how confronting it was for me to have a person who was quite strongly holding this hopeless, despairing, nihilistic energy. And typically as a therapist, I’d say most therapists kind of have a bit of a rescuer complex where they really want to fix people. And it’s part of us trying to heal ourselves, of course. And so, you know, of course you want to try and help him to get through the nihilism and the despair, to find some hope and some optimism. And so I found myself making a whole series of suggestions to him, like joining the youth climate movement or Extinction Rebellion, or just thinking about some ways to engage in some kind of activism. But everything that I threw at him was met with just complete, yeah, not interested. Didn’t see the point of doing any of that. What’s the point? Because it’s not going to make any difference whatsoever. And what was difficult about that for me is that he was speaking to a part of me. He was speaking to a part of me that carries that same feeling and that same sense of hopelessness and despair. And in the end, what I realised, and I’m really grateful to Ainsley for helping me in realising this, is I had to really sit alongside him. I really had to basically put one foot in there with him and join him in this perspective on the world, which does feel hopeless and does feel despairing. And it was only by being in there with him and looking out at the world from the same perspective with a sense of curiosity and compassion that we could get to somewhere on the other side.
But really, I had to let go of the part of me that just wanted to make it better. And so I use that story in the book, in a chapter about despair and hopelessness, really, just to offer something to any grown ups who might have similar feelings. And I think I can probably safely say that at some point we all have those feelings. Sometimes those feelings transmute into thoughts of ending it all. And that can be really difficult because when we have those, we definitely want to bat those thoughts and feelings away very quickly. And it’s a huge taboo in our culture. But the key thing, and particularly for parents who might have children who might experience this sense of hopelessness or even some kind of suicidal ideation or despair, for me and the research backs this up, if you can create a space where it feels kind of okay just to talk about it, it often, very often makes it better. Not completely gets rid of it, but it brings a sense of relief. I know that’s really hard lesson for people to grasp, and I do appreciate that. But it’s so important. Because the opposite of that is pushing these feelings away. And then you create a breakdown of trust between children and grownups. And it does get worse. When you push it away, it typically gets worse.
Manda: Yes. Yes. But then convincing people. It’s… I end up in cycles of what do we do? And the only answer is coming back to doing the work on myself because I’m the only person I can work on. So I want to come and look at the seven roots of your book in a moment. But I have one question just linked to that, because you talked about the existential nihilism of adolescence, that certainly in our Western, the dominant culture, we do tend to get to adolescence and then go, so what’s the point? Why are we here? And not trusting the adults. And I recently read The Dawn of Everything by Davids Graeber and Wengroe, which was looking at so broadly and richly at who we have been and who else we could be if we weren’t this culture. And in almost every culture that they identified, there were rites of passage in which ‘why you are here’ were given a frame, and you absolutely trusted the adults who held you in that space. And I’m wondering, looking forward to when Rose is adolescent, which yeah, it’s a while away, but you must be thinking about it. All the parents I know are looking forward to adolescence greatly, not. Are you contemplating rites of passage? Some kind of rite of passage for her, and without obviously structuring it completely? Have you a sense of how that could unfold, in a Western context, that isn’t going to make an adolescent young girl go ‘you’re kidding. I’m not doing that’. Whatever that is.
Louis: Yes, I definitely will. We will plan some kind of rite of passage for our daughter when she gets to that age. And there are loads of great examples of people who are organising these. My friends run a project called The Visionaries and they do some amazing rite of passage work with young people. So I would really recommend checking them out. There is something I want to say, though, Manda, which is I do think there can be a risk of romanticising other cultures for sure. And we sort of think, oh, well, they just had this perfect system where they had a rite of passage and the young people totally trusted the adults. And then after the rite of passage, they were perfectly integrated into adult life with no emotional or psychological issues whatsoever. And I think that’s probably, I mean, I’m not an anthropologist, but I think that’s probably not true overall.
And I think I’ve been reflecting on this a lot recently. There’s some interesting research in animal biology that shows that adolescence is a distinct biological stage. Where there’s studies of rats, adolescent rats, who are much more likely to take risks. If you put them in a certain situation, they’re much more likely to drink alcohol.
Manda: Oh, really?
Louis: Yes. So there’s something about the stage of adolescence, which I think is designed to help us to actually evolve as a culture. And that’s why I talk in the book about seeing adolescence as this fiery stage, but it carries some kind of a hope. That’s why we see young people at the heart of most revolutions that we see around the world. So there’s something about that stage that rites of passage would definitely help. But I think there’s something important also about that existential questioning. And I feel there’s something important about a breakdown in trust, where you get to a point where you look at your parents and you look at the grownups and think, hang on, they don’t really know what they’re talking about.
Manda: Yes. And then you become one of them and realise you really have no clue what you’re talking about.
Louis: Exactly. Yeah. But what it does, I think, that breakdown of trust is it opens up a space for figuring things out for yourself. And that’s where, from an evolutionary point of view, new possibilities can emerge.
Manda: Yes, yes. Because you’re not still locked into stuff. And yeah, this could be so interesting. This is probably a whole other podcast. But I remember a while ago reading that almost everybody locks into their political belief system at adolescence, which is why it’s so terrifying when basically everybody over 60 votes and nobody under 30 does because you’re locked into the political belief system that evolved 50 years ago and is not appropriate for now. But the other thing that came up – I totally am with you that we have a tendency to romanticise. There’s the whole ‘we all need to just be more indigenous’ movement, which drives me crazy because actually as a Western person, I’m trying to run courses, teaching people to really connect with the web of life and most of them haven’t got time. Yeah, it’s a really nice idea, but when you go, you know, you’re going to have to spend half an hour sitting with a tree. It’s like, Oh, well, next week. But I also remember, in The Dawn of Everything and I had read it before, that pretty much every single human being who had been ( this is in North America), embedded in the indigenous tribes in some way, and was dragged back into the white Western dominant culture, escaped to go back to the tribes. And I remember vividly,in Dawn of Everything, there was a bloke who’d inherited some huge estate, I think in Scotland, who came home in order to give it to his younger brother. He picked up, took a gun and a great coat and went back again. And they all thought he was completely mad, because he was going to be, you know, the Lord of somewhere or other. And he no, thank you. I’d rather live in a tepee. And the thing that they cited when they were asked every single time was the lack of fear.
And this is back to wanting your daughter to feel safe. And my quest now, most of my intention setting in the morning in meditation, is what does it feel to wake up in the morning in a world where there is no fear? And how alien does that feel? It’s extraordinary. But how different does it feel to the reality that I otherwise inhabit? And I wonder what it feels like to grow up in a culture where you probably are afraid that the seventh Cavalry is going to come over the hill. But for the rest of your life, there isn’t the kind of existential fear that the separation, scarcity and powerlessness of our culture creates. And I find it an interesting avenue to explore, but it’s probably not where we need to go.
Louis: Well, can I say something about that? What you’re saying about these people who were part of these tribes in North America and left, and very often, if not always came back. Makes me think about just coming back to this frame that I hold and offer in the book about children’s symptoms that we might diagnose as mental health problems. But what they might actually be signalling is almost like a, you know, an instinct guiding us back to a world. That’s really what I believe. It’s guiding us back to a sense of home where we actually do feel safe. And home doesn’t mean like, you know, bricks and mortar, but it means a way of being in the world, a way of relating to each other that we feel we have a memory of that. We have a memory of that that we carry in our bones, in our DNA, in our soul, whichever level of understanding feels most comfortable to you. And so when we don’t get those sort of needs met, that we remember. Somewhere in our bodies, our bodies rebel or they revolt. And they’re signalling to us something. Like, right, something is not right about this world. And I just think taking it to the sort of broadest perspective and in what we’re seeing in the child mental health crisis with, you know, huge rise in depression and anxiety, self-harm, suicide, ADHD, autism, basically there’s a huge rise in all of these mental health problems. But I’m just offering a perspective where if we listen to these worrying symptoms in a particular way and collectively, if we listen to them, it could just be a really necessary wake up call guiding us back to a place where we feel more at home.
Manda: Yeah. And one of the things in the book you said, if I’m remembering correctly, that between 10,000 and five thousand B.C., there’s no evidence of any warfare. Is that did I get the numbers right? So this is within the time frame of the agrarian revolution, because we all tend to have the mindset that 10,000 years ago we started building fields. And Yuval Noah Harari’s comment that the first bloke who put up a field; that was, you know, the end of Eden. And without going there, 10000 to 5000 is well within us farming and having crops and being more sedentary. And yet we weren’t finding the need to kill each other. And I haven’t gone back and looked at the primary data on that. But is it because we were just really widely spaced and there was a lot of room and we didn’t need to? Does anybody try to think into why that was the case? Or why did war evolve 5000 years ago? It seems a really interesting question.
Louis: Well, I think one of the insights from that historical and anthropological research, shows that we…we Know that we evolved from primates and we know that chimpanzees, for example, can be quite violent and sometimes engage in things that look quite like war, actually. But human beings are obviously different and we evolved. And there’s so many debates about what the difference is from opposable thumbs to larger brains and all of this. But one of the things that definitely is different about human beings, is that we evolved to cooperate with one another. And I talk about that in the book, this capacity for cooperation, which kind of for me sits alongside our capacity for compassion, which again is built into our biology. So it’s an inherited quality, or in the book I call it a fruit that we have, that we can cultivate. So for me, something happened. And, you know, obviously I’m not an anthropologist or a historian, but something happened where human beings broke away, in that evolutionary chain from primates. And one of the things that was different is we have this capacity for cooperation and compassion, which allows us to live peacefully with one another. And what I believe happens in the 21st century and I’m thinking, and I’m sure we’re all thinking about the war in Ukraine at the moment, is for various reasons, we can talk about trauma or the collective psyche. But we get cut off from our inheritance as humans, and particularly we get cut off from our capacity for compassion and cooperation.
And there’s some amazing studies that I really just want to mention just to sort of really drill this point home, where toddlers, they do studies of toddlers to show whether they can be compassionate or altruistic. And they’ve shown that in one study, they showed that a toddler, even one who is hungry, in the right context when they pass a stranger who is really asking for food and showing that they’re hungry, they will share their snack with them. Even if it’s a really tasty snack. And human beings are the only species that we’re aware of that share in that way. And that’s kind of for me, that kind of experiment shows, how deep this quality of compassion goes and that we can all access it. And I offer exercises in the book that allow… I mean, essentially the whole book is a journey towards compassion for self and others. But there’s some very specific exercises in there, too.
Manda: Yes. And I’ve been a very bad interviewer. We haven’t actually talked about the structure of the book very much, because you have you split it into the seven routes, which are the roots of our trauma and the seven fruits that arise so that each route has its own fruit. Which I found beautiful. It’s really interesting to look into the bits inside that are hurting and watch the physical impact of that. Anybody listening, I think everybody needs to read this book because we all have inner children, even if we don’t have physical children. And that capacity to really get to grips with our own pain and then the healing that comes when we see the fruit. So the first route is victimhood and it’s fruit is empowerment. The seventh route is hopelessness and it’s fruit is hope.
First of all, I’m really impressed that you have this as a structure. If you were to move on from that, if you were to not write about healing children and were to in fact write about healing society, and I realised that the two are linked. What would you see as the root of, if there is one, of our current societal crisis? Because it feels to me that even since the last time I spoke to you, everything has become more tense and the divisions deeper and more divided. You know, to vaccinate or not to vaccinate. To support Ukraine or to support Palestine. To, I don’t know, eat meat or not eat meat. They all just suddenly seem to be like people are so big on either side, where before it was like, okay, you do or you don’t, it doesn’t matter. That that division feels new and raw and big and potentially quite scary. Which may be just me. But if you were to see that as a route, could you find a fruit from that? Is that a difficult ask?
Louis: No, it’s a really good question. It’s hard to find one route to essentially what you’re saying is just the whole crisis that we’re seeing in the world. But if we’re thinking specifically about polarisation and this trend of people just warring with each other online and actually offline as well, the sense of division that’s growing. The opposite or the fruit of that would obviously be harmony or balance. And I think the structure of this book is probably really natural for me as I reflect on it because I am a Libran. And so I’ve been told that balance and scales is my thing. Now I realise I’ve written this book to try and provide a sense of balance. So I think I would I would answer that question by saying generally the loss of practises and traditions and perspectives that support us through the darkest times, that give us tools to help us navigate the inner parts of ourselves that feel dark and troubled. As we lose those, we end up projecting all of that stuff out onto other people. And of course, we can talk about social media and the algorithms and promoting polarisation and fear and outrage. But I do believe that we can take back power, if we just spend a bit more time tuning into these parts of ourselves that are, what I describe as, more difficult to accept. The thing is, the culture is so focussed on progress and improvement and making things better. And quick fixes. You know, we live in this culture of comfort and convenience. Everything, all the technologies that we use are predicated on comfort and convenience. So I totally get that it feels anathema to many of us, to actually want to turn towards something that might feel uncomfortable. But I think a good analogy that maybe some of your listeners will be aware of is this big trend in cold water swimming and Wim Hof stuff.
Manda: Yes. Cold showers every morning.
Louis: Yes, cold showers every morning. Yes. So many people are getting into that. That’s the physiological version of what I’m offering in the first half of this book. Is a whole set of very easy, actually, very easy to use practises that just allow you to turn towards those slightly more uncomfortable, slightly more difficult to accept parts of ourselves. And my experience when we do that, we stop projecting them onto other people and we open ourselves up to basically co-creating a more compassionate world.
Manda: Yes. And the the exercises were beautiful. I did each of them as we went through. And I definitely felt different at the end of it. And there are several that I would come back to. Even the the simple ones of the four, seven, eight breathing where you breathe in for a count of four, just gently hold it for a count of seven and then breathe out for account of eight and make sure you do that cycle several times was actually jolly useful. Because you shared that quite early on and I used it a lot while I was reading, just to kind of have that sense of coming back and being embodied and being okay to carry on.
So we’re getting near to our end and I’d like to give listeners some sense of hope and the the last of your fruit, the seventh route is hopelessness and the seventh fruit is hope. And so two things. First is I’m kind of curious as to where Ainsley is. Without wanting for him to be my way of fixing the world, has he got to a slightly more hopeful place? And then, is there anything that we can do or that you would do, as adults in the world caring for our children, caring for the world, caring for our inner children, as well as our outer children, that you would leave with listeners to give them a sense of agency?
Louis: Yes. So with Ainsley, Manda. Ainsley, the last time I heard from him, he was doing better. He’d found a way to re-engage in life. He’d found a sense of meaning and purpose. He was back at school, at a different school, but he’d found a sense of meaning and purpose. Although I do say in the book, I don’t know how long that will last. And I really wanted to highlight for myself and for the readers, just to be mindful of the way we might project our own fantasies and hopes onto children, especially people like Ainsley. We just don’t know. And a lot of this book is really about helping us to be comfortable in the space of uncertainty. The second question you asked was about how can people who might be listening and people who read the book, how can they find a sense of hope? And in the book I talk about authentic hope, which for me, it can only actually really come from you. You know, there’s quite a lot of talk about hope, especially in the sort of climate movement, isn’t there? And there’s questions about hope. Is it helpful? Is it not helpful? I really love Active Hope, the book by Joanna Macey. There were some really beautiful exercises and insights in there. For me, authentic hope means what can you find hope in? And I offer a few examples in the book. For me, children, whether you have them or not, they do bring into the world a sense of hope. Human children are, I believe, very, very… I don’t want to use the word special, but there’s something really unique about them. We’re born very, very vulnerable, but we have this almost infinite potential. So depending on the environment and the environment obviously starts with the parents, we can become so many different things.
Louis: And that’s what’s incredible about human beings, I think. We come into the world with this incredible potential. And so I think just one simple thing to do, whether you have children or not, is just to see if you can look at children that you go past and see that they carry these seeds of hope within them. And I really particularly love, I mean, I’m lucky because I have a four year old, so I have this practise on tap, if you like. But, you know, children, especially younger ones, but adolescents, too, can really inspire us, reminding us of some of the qualities that we bring into this world. William Wordsworth calls them heavenly qualities. That we might have cut off from. You know, we’re talking about defences, denial. We just cut ourselves off from some of these qualities like playfulness and wonder and innocence, which didn’t make it into the book. But it’s still a really important quality for me.
Manda: Next book.
Louis: Next book. Yeah. So even just looking at these qualities in children and allowing them to inspire in you a kind of reminder that you have these qualities in yourself: playfulness, wonder, innocence. That helps to cut through the sort of conditioning that we carry, that we’re, you know, born carrying a burden of sin and all of that kind of stuff. And also playfulness and wonder are so important qualities to allow us to co-create a different world. We have to be able to access those qualities, otherwise we’re just moving through the motions, you know, we’re dopamine fuelled in our lives. So those qualities in particular, tuning into playfulness and wonder, I think is my probably the tip I would share in terms of finding authentic hope.
Manda: Excellent and beautiful. And we didn’t ever get to the story of the baby Krishna, but it’s in the book so people can go and have a look for that, because that… The whole book is incredibly beautiful. And the level of compassion in it really, really struck me. I know a lot of people write books about compassion, but writing a book that has compassion embodied within it is quite rare. So, Louis Weinstock, thank you so much. Thank you for coming on to the Accidental Gods podcast for the second time. I hope we’ll talk again sometime, maybe when your next book is out or whatever next big project you’ve got. But in the meantime, I hope you and Rose have a fantastic time together and we’ll see you again. Thank you.
Louis: Thank you so much for having me.
Manda: And that’s it for another week. Enormous thanks to Louis for the compassion and integrity and sheer intelligence on every level, emotional and intellectual, of all that he brings. I always feel as if I know myself a little better and can be a little kinder to myself when I finish talking with Louis. It’s always a really moving experience. And now we have his book and you can all share in a little bit of that. I genuinely encourage you to read this and to buy it for the kinds of people who might never want to listen to this podcast. This is a book that I believe transcends the various cultural divides, because it’s so honest and so clear, and is actually not standing, I think, on either side of any of the obvious divides at the moment. This could be a way in to the people who otherwise would not agree with us. I certainly hope so. And I certainly plan to buy it and give it to various members of my extended family. So I hope it reaches you in the same way and touches you and moves you.
Manda: We will be back next week with another conversation. And in the meantime, welcome back to Caro C, who’s been climbing in Spain. I am not a little envious. Okay I am quite a lot envious, but I hope it was wonderful, Caro. And welcome back to the production. And as always, thank you for the music at the head and foot. Thanks to Faith Tilleray for the tech and the conversations that keep us moving. Thanks to Anne Thomas for the transcripts. And as always, an enormous thanks to you for listening, engaging and sharing. And if you know of anybody else who wants to really engage with their inner child in a way that has authenticity and healing, then please do send them this link. And that’s it for now. See you next week. Thank you and good bye.
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