On working with pain

I don't believe life is meant to be simple or easy.

I don’t believe life is meant to be simple or easy.

My circle of Facebook friends often post about their physical and emotional pain. I read several such posts today. Some of them asked for guidance. I expect they all seek mercy.

I have studied this subject for many years. I have been to workshops, including yoga, many, many times. I also have read some excellent books. I will mention three of them in this post.

The most dramatic title might be Full Catastrophe Living. Subtitle is Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness. The author is Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D. He describes wholeness as “a vague feeling or memory left over from when we were children.” That says it for me. Wholeness is a major theme for the author.

Many years ago I went to a workshop guided by John Bradshaw. His book is titled Healing the Shame that Binds You.  He described shame as a false self. I was deeply shamed by my family. There were three suicides and a murder, and some divorces. He introduces the phrase toxic shame. I know something about that. It’s not an easy challenge.

The third book is Care of the Soul, by Thomas Moore. His friend James Hillman, whose work I also respect, wrote this: “Years pass. I get to read a lot of psychology but the sincerity, intelligence and style—so beautifully clean—of Tom Moore’s Care of the Soul truly moved me.” He advises us to see the significance of myths, and to see how those stories describe us. I think that is good advice.

I have been rejected several times by people who were my friends for several years. It is an informative experience, but not because they are willing to talk to me. I am left to wonder about my place in their myth. Have you had such an experience?

On sending the elevator back down

Parker PalmerKevin Spacey tells us that if we succeed in life we are obligated to send the elevator back down. He elaborates on this in his short video about how he teaches acting skills and techniques. The video.

Aaron Sorkin teaches screen writing. Werner Herzog teaches film making.

These three experts teach us a valuable life lesson. The videos are short, informative, and entertaining.

As a young teacher, I yearned for the day when I would know my craft so well, be so competent, so experienced, and so powerful, that I could walk into any classroom without feeling afraid. But now, in my late fifties, I know that day will never come. I will always have fears, but I need not be my fears—for there are other places in my inner landscape from which I can speak and act.—Parker Palmer, The Courage to Teach

Celebrating silliness

I was born real. You were too.

I was born real. You were too.

Great minds have explained to us how our sense of self is a cliché based on teaching we suffered when we were young at the hands of the misinformed and insecure.

People who have said this to us include Joseph Campbell, Robert Bly, Harville Hendrix, Thomas Moore, and many others.

I’ve read the books they wrote many times. My problem remains: I take my sense of self seriously even when I know it’s an error.

One of the remedies is to watch films. One of my favorites is Wayne’s World. It contains many references to topics that were popular in the 1990’s. So you have to know some history to see the amusing aspects of all the scenes.

Groundhog Day is also wonderful. Animal House is sweet and informative. African Queen is another wonderful resource. So is Field of Dreams. And We’re No Angels, and It’s a Wonderful Life with Jimmy Stewart. They inspire us to redefine our self image.

These, and movies like them, invite us to redefine ourselves with an open mind. That is the same message we get from the great teachers. What we need, in my opinion, is to relax our sense that we are right, and to be open to a richer perspective.

I think movies are our greatest asset in this line of work.

Your favorite films?



Body taboos


KendraHarville Hendrix published his book Getting The Love You Want in 1988. I opened my copy of it a little while ago, and I read a section titled body taboos. Hendrix makes the point that we are taught early in life to numb ourselves in a variety of ways.

We take that numbness into our adult relationships, and we scold ourselves for breaking any of the rules we were taught. We try to remain numb even while attempting to create successful relationships. Our partners are likely to be numb in ways that differ from our own, and one of the rules is that we are not to discuss our numbness.

He used the example of the rules that govern breast feeding and the perception that it requires privacy for the sake of the public good.

The internet provides abundant opportunities to experience being numb. Nudity abounds, as does pornography. Nudity is often quite specialized. There are sites that show photographs of female feet, for example. What causes us to scold ourselves for harmless pleasures? We were told early in life that such behavior is a mark of correctness and responsibility.

The photo that illustrates this post is from a series I created that recorded this woman’s entire pregnancy. I assembled them into a book.

It is normal and natural for an infant to want to have those good feelings, but we rarely allow it.—Harville Hendrix, Ph.D

How much richer would our life experience be if we confided in each other how we have numbed our impulses? The first step is to simply give ourselves—and others—permission to speak.

Your thoughts?




Three books on fear

Rosie the Riveter

Rosie the Riveter

I estimate that fear is the dominant problem in the world. Some wise people confirm that.

The three I have in mind are Pema Chödrön, Chögyam Trungpa, and Krishnamurti. The books are, in sequence, The Places That Scare You, A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times; Smile at Fear, Awakening the True Heart of Bravery; On Fear.

I will mention that Pema wrote the forward to Smile at Fear.

Dealing with fear, these teachers tell us, involves several challenges. My personal favorite is to smile at fear. Invite it to join us for dinner. Raise a glass to its consistent dedication to duty. Offer it a warm place to sleep.

Frightened people tend to generate fear in other people. This is intended, I suppose, as a defensive move. I’ll intimidate you before you do it to me. It explains the state of the world.

One of the great lessons these teachers impart to us is that we are not real. The self we try so desperately to protect does not exist. It is basically an idea, and we contribute to the definition of that idea.

The teachers invite us to choose a different idea to describe ourselves. The better idea is to be a warrior. Trungpa offers us this:

There is another way we could describe the education of the warrior, which is by looking at the development of ego and how the warrior works with fear and other problems that arise from a mistaken belief in the self as a solid entity.

The notion of working with fear is my personal highest priority. I want to redefine my notion of it, and I want to avoid causing you any of it.

Trungpa emphasizes that our problems are not really trying to destroy us. He explains, “The important thing is to be friendly toward our problems by developing what is called maitri in Sanskrit, or loving-kindness in English translation.”

He tells us not to turn this world into a battlefield. Doing that, he says, solidifies our view of the problems that seem to afflict us.

I welcome your comments on dealing with fear.

About heroes

Cassandra. One of my heroes.

Cassandra. One of my heroes.

Honoring heroes is on the same path as praising God. I don’t actually believe in God, but I do honor heroes. The leap from heroes to God is not a big one. God, as I understand, is simply the role model for heroism.

One of my favorite heroes is Charles Kuralt. He sought out interesting people, and he told their stories on Sunday Morning, a television show. I loved it.

Another of my favorites was Rod Serling. His show was The Twilight Zone. He taught me how to imagine beyond my usual boundaries.

There were once heroes in the news business. Douglas Edwards was an example. And so was Edward R. Murrow. We have lost a lot over time.

What we need most, in my opinion, is a return to the examination of heroics. We are sorely lacking in that category. The silence of my readers makes that point in a way that speaks to me.

On seeking God

angelI read Autobiography of a Yogi, by Paramahansa Yogananda, when I was a teenager. I re-read it many times. I considered it my owner’s manual for life.

He gives advice for our search for an encounter with God. As I understand it, we are first to choose a form for God’s presentation. It can be an array of lights.

It can be as a male figure, perhaps played by Kirk Douglas or Errol Flynn, or it can be in the image of Divine Mother, my own preference. I have not cast that part, but Cher is high on the list of candidates.

Yogananda told us that we are immersed in a dream state. I can relate to that. All of our institutions demand us to fit into their dream, and we try to do that as a survival mechanism at the expense of our own dream. We go to war in a dream state. Why else would we kill people?

I think we provide a service when we share the image we use to represent divinity to ourselves. Any thoughts you care to share?

On understanding our crisis

img005Men want to be in charge, but they do not want to expose themselves to risk.

We are taught in school, and on the job, and by the rules of society to disable our curiosity and sense of wonder. The same discipline is available in church as I remember, but I have not been in one for a long time. Things might have improved.

We are taught by every source of authority to “tone it down.” And we obey.

We pay an enormous price for that alleged safety.

I like to browse Tumblr for photos of women displaying their charms. I marvel at their sense of freedom and their joy. Men limit such displays of gusto to flattering professional athletes at public events by shouting and waving.

The United States was formed in an act of rebellion. The British were the masters of obedience and conformity. We have forgotten, I believe, the lesson in that, our learning experience.

There are areas of culture and life where I would enjoy more innovation and curiosity. I offer this short list:

  • Opening our imagination to expanded definitions of decency and morality. Why are boobs considered evil?
  • Why does skin color matter to so many people, and what can we do to influence their thinking?
  • Why do we eat meat? And beyond that, why do we obsess on doing that?
  • Why do we give so much authority to employers? They are ordinary mortals like us.
  • What moves us to consider being a servant a demotion?

I welcome your comments.


In defense of pleasure

Nude signI just finished Mark Haskell Smith’s wonderful book Naked At Lunch.

The subtitle is “A reluctant nudist’s adventures in the clothing-optional world.”

In it he examines our cultural values relating to nudity. He addresses our deep seated resistance to experiencing pleasure, much of it expressed as fear and suspicion about the human body. In the book he examines very thoroughly the origins of our fears about nudity, and he analyzes the debates that circle around this subject.

The book is 298 pages long and is, in my opinion, quite intense. It is well researched, and his writing never failed to entertain me. I like the sass and edge he brings to the subject.

I was raised in a family that was suspicious of pleasure and knew very little about it. My dad substituted alcohol in place of genuine fun. I tried to devise my own appreciation of pleasure, but it was a clumsy effort.

So, essentially, if some random dude, like a park ranger, finds your breasts erotic in some way, then it’s your responsibility to cover them.—Mark Smith

Pornography teaches us about our shared views about pleasure. Pleasure is deemed wrong, off-limits, and being wrong is touted as a way to enhance the experience. Porn informs us about our collective culture that is suspicious of pleasure.

I think guilt is a common view of the nature of pleasure. Mr. Smith defines a Puritan as anyone who is fearful that somewhere someone is happy.

Mr. Smith sets a standard for us in regard to examining our fundamental values. If we brought the same degree of intensity, wit, and humor to our exploration of all of our values and judgments I think we would do our society and our individual selves a tremendous service.










Steven Spielberg: My all-time favorite speech

Rosie the Riveter

Rosie the Riveter

I like teaching experiences. One of the best ways to teach is to speak. This speech by Steven Spielberg at the 2016 graduation ceremony at Stanford is my favorite speech ever. It even transcends the speech Steve Jobs presented at the same event. And that is saying a lot.

This blog generates no comments or guest posts. I do not know how to change that. If you watch the speech, and if you are inspired to share your impressions, I will welcome them.