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.

10 wise people

mechanicI have always been drawn to wisdom. This post celebrates 10 people who rewarded me with theirs. This is not a ranked list. It simply honors good people and the effects they have had on me.

  1. Captain Kangaroo. His real name was Bob Keeshan. The show ran on television for 29 years. One of the recurring characters on the show was Mr. Green Jeans. It perhaps inspired the Muppets with its cast of puppets.
  2. Edward R. Murrow. He presented wonderful feature stories in a news and interview format in days of black and white television, and he smoked during the broadcasts. He had a wonderful rich voice, and he projected splendid confidence. The link takes you to a short broadcast about his protest of Joseph McCarthy’s campaign to condemn alleged communists. It is brilliant and timeless. It is a message for today.
  3. Charles Kuralt, Sunday Morning. If I could have chosen an uncle it would have been him. Delicious. Profound. Approachable.
  4. Joseph Campbell. My favorite book is a compilation of his insights by Diane K. Osbon. He says doors will open in solid walls once we accept that we are worthy of that.
  5. Brené Brown. She has posted wonderful TED Talks. Her message is especially dear to me since I was essentially told as a child that I was damaged goods.
  6. Jill Bolte Taylor, a brain scientist, had a blood vessel explode in her head. She wrote about the experience in My Stroke of Insight, A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey. Profound and informative. And let me say, inspiring. Check out her TED Talk.
  7. Care of the Soul, A Guide for Cultivating Depth and Sacredness in Everyday Life by Thomas Moore. He is a member of a gang that includes Robert Bly and James Hillman. Sacredness in everyday life. That appeals to me.
  8. The Courage to Teach, Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life, by Parker J. Palmer. If I could choose to do anything my first choice would be to teach. This blog is a crutch for that.
  9. Wherever You Go There You Are, by Jon Kabat-Zinn. He has written other books as wonderful as this one. He also wrote Full Catastrophe Living. That describes my experience.
  10. And finally, I offer you Servant Leadership, by Robert Greenleaf. It addresses what I think is our greatest shared need today.

We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty.—Edward R. Murrow

Do you have a few favorites you would like to share?


On living in a broken world

Today I began reading Come As You Are, The Surprising New Science That Will Transform Your Sex Life. The author is Emily Nagoski. Ph.D.

I mentioned in a previous post that I began reading sex advice books early in life. In those days they were quaint, having all being written by men.

Dr. Nagoski’s book is cut from different cloth. In the introduction she emphasizes that it is the world that is broken, not us. And certainly not women hoping to appreciate and enjoy sex.

The purpose of this book is to offer a new, science-based way of thinking about women’s sexual wellbeing… You are normal; it is the world around you that is broken.—Dr. Nagoski

One of the benefits of connecting with people is that we can remind them that they are sound and solid. Consider this from a post I read this morning on Facebook.

I have never felt this utterly alone in my life. I have no friends, I have no family, I have no one to talk to. No one to tell me I’m not alone.—A Facebook friend who I have not met in person

The Internet offers a huge selection of photos of women's feet. I have always felt guilty for enjoying them. No more guilt.

The Internet offers a huge selection of photos of women’s feet. I have always felt guilty for enjoying them. No more guilt.

Providing support to each other strengthens our ability to discredit those who are committed to causing us harm in order to benefit themselves. Bonding provides some weight and substance to our caring for each other.

It helps us spread truth and offer compassion. I have waited decades for Come As You Are. I am on page 18, and loving it.

I believe, after many, many years of watching authority figures preach and make demands, that the only salvation is to band together under the flag of kindness, truth, and respect. And also, may I add, to speak up.

“We have met the enemy and he is us.”—Pogo, in Walt Kelly’s cartoon strip from my younger days

I have always felt some remorse for enjoying the sight of a pretty foot. I have abandoned that. There is a huge audience that shares my enjoyment. I only discovered that by exploring this realm that I had considered off-limits. Where should I venture next?