Poem: I Will Not Be Reasonable

I don’t like

When people say,

“Everything happens for a reason.”

I will not be reasonable. Yes, I won’t.

I don’t want to miss

the seven impossible things before breakfast.

Or the disappearance of the missing socks

that will not stay with their twins.

Those socks are not reasonable. Yes, I won’t be too.

I will put on my shirt backwards inside out

And wear a gold fancy dress to coffee.

Yes, I will disturb

The state of Things.

I will eat cupcakes for breakfast.

I will not be reasonable. Yes, I won’t

I will put my elbows on the table

And eat my fork, knife and spoon.

I will drop stitches, forget to cross my t’s

I will forget my pleases.

I will stand on my head and walk on my nose,

And start my sentences with and.

I will ride my purple unicorn

All over your reasonable explanations.

I will mess up your reasons one by one

And give them back to you glued to the

Outside of your Box so you have to peek out and take them back;

I don’t care if they shrank and turned pink in the wash.

Now we can both say seven impossible things

to each other

Before every meal.

Writing 101, Day 7. “Hook’em with A Quote.”

I chose this quote because it came to mind right away. Simple sentences are my new mantra. Life without art is stupid. It is true. It is simple. It needs to be said. People take art for granted, degrade it, devalue it, stomp on it, but it refuses to go away. When you use less words you can get to the real stuff more directly. You don’t have an option to pile on words and decorate and embellish. In other words, no bullshit.

Life without art is stupid.

The other important thing about this quote is that Einstein or Van Gogh, the Dalai Lama or Jesus or Virginia Woolf did not say it. I don’t know who said it. I first saw it as a photo on a sign. When you have no person to go with the quote, there is no extra stuff piled on, no association to a great artist. It could have been said by an artist who sold no paintings, had no shows. You don’t get to say, well this person was such and such so blah blah blah. I think some of the best things were said by Anonymous.

If I were telling someone what I’ve learned in the 47 years I’ve been on earth, what kind of wisdom I would impart, etc. I would have this wonderful answer, “Life without art is stupid.”

The great thing is the quote says so much in five words that I have nothing much to add to it. I can say that these are the words I live by, that for the most part, life without art would not only be stupid, it would be unbearable. Imagine having no music, no paintings, drawings, no movies, TV shows, no comic books, no literature, no video games, etc.

There’s your answer to the question, Is this true and what does it mean?. Life without art is impossible. So next time you come across a person making anything, and you know they are going to not get paid for it and maybe nobody will be the audience of it, or that this person or you might make it and throw it in the garbage, just remember that this person, simply by making something that is not useful in any practical way, by making something the world doesn’t need, is contributing to your life having value.

When you see a creative YouTube video and think, wow, only three people looked at it and it’s been up for a year; why do they bother. Remember this quote and know that every person out there has a creative spirit, and without the collective of our creative spirits, life would be unlivable, stupid, impossible, unbearable. You would not be here right now without art. Period.

The age old dynamic of spirituality versus organized religion… Another Book About It

If you’ve been waiting for a book on this topic, it seems like Harris has synthesized it all, and that his book is a mixture of memoir and non fiction, which in itself is an interesting genre (I found a great book about insects by a naturalist that did this mix well), but none if it will seem new to anyone who has dropped whatever organized religion or religions they were surrounded by in favor of spirituality as the more inclusive and non violent non excluding of parts of the human race which all religions love to do (we are right and the others are wrong. Therefore we will force every in else to believe what we believe or we will consider ourselves “chosen” in some way and better and more worthy than everyone else…) that the term “spirituality” embraces. Spirituality has become a slightly meaningless word, or maybe a word that gets thrown around a lot especially in opposition to “organized religion”, but I like to think of it as a combination of the ideas of mindfulness, which leads to appreciation of what is in and around you in the moment, and the practice of loving kindness towards all other beings, ultimately with the goal of not arranging people and beings in some kind of hierarchy of importance, which all religions seem to do. The bible is filled with stories of getting rid of groups of “bad people” and saving others, even killing innocent babies born to the wrong people. So many stories of wiping out lots of groups of people and starting anew with a few, the Noah story repeated endlessly. Genocide it turns out, in the bible, is practiced by the character “God”.

Before I go on into more related topics and meanderings, here is the link to the description of this book and quotes from it: The book is entitled “Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion”

Neuroscientist Sam Harris on Happiness, Spirituality Without Religion, and How to Cultivate the Art of Presence

Mindfulness is not religious; it works well with science as it involves the practice of basic detailed observation of the world around you, as well as observation of your own mind and noticing what your senses are perceiving. It also involves observing your own breathing and even your heartbeat, all of which are quite obviously agreed upon types of realities. You need believe in nothing to practice mindfulness. And not magically but probably due to something that occurs in the brain that neurologists will be able to explain, loving kindness towards other creatures will eventually follow mindfulness practice. It has already been well documented that empathy and compassion when practiced release some kind of endorphins and make the person practicing it feel good, which is why it has survived alongside human beings’ great interest in ways to destroy themselves and others and the planet. So science is taking an interest in certain topics that are also entertained by spirituality. If you go at it from the point of departure of spirituality, which could be defined as some kind of meaning seeking or meaning making that humans engage in and basically through the perspective of individual experience, basically engaging in mindfulness type activities, versus the scientists working on ways to map the brain and observe what goes on in the brain and rest of the body during mindfulness activities, you can choose to try to engage in the actual experience or in the observation of it and mapping of the brain. In some way those two activities do intersect, as the scientist who is mapping the brain is probably engaging in mindfulness while observing someone else’s brain engaged in it…

I am not sure about the mysterious connection between being more awake and aware of the world around you and your presence in the world with the practice of compassion and loving kindness. Harris describes the discovery of this kind of compassion towards all creatures as something he observes feeling after taking the drug exctasy. Luckily you are not required to take any drugs to feel this kind of equanimity mixed with compassion and a melting of the concept of self and others. Ironically, the practice if mindfulness will eventually take you there, but it’s a slower more annoying and boring path. Mind altering drugs have been documented as the quick ticket to this kind of awakening and awareness of really taking in the present moment and feeling your mind and consciousness expand. There are other documented ways to go this route by depriving the body of food and/or sleep or exercising to an extreme point of feeling this expansion at the expense of your health. People have starved themselves and stopped sleeping to achieve a mind altering state of consciousness, probably since the first humans were around, just like there have probably always been some kinds of substances like peyote, magic mushrooms, extasy, LSD found in nature that humans have ingested and noticed a mind altering state of consciousness experience.

Anyway, the cheap, challenging and not fun but healthy route to experiencing a real awakening to regular old reality is to practice disciplining the mind through mindfulness exercises which can range from simple meditation (following your breath, noticing when your mind has run away, returning to the breath) or meditation in action which simply involves being as aware as possible of your present environment and of your mind and body in the moment. According to this practice of “observe and describe”, you can really have a “spiritual” experience. Look at Harris’ words, which are similar to the new “Positive Psychology” and Psychology of Happiness that has become a flavor of the moment:

“Most of us spend our time seeking happiness and security without acknowledging the underlying purpose of our search. Each of us is looking for a path back to the present: We are trying to find good enough reasons to be satisfied now.

Acknowledging that this is the structure of the game we are playing allows us to play it differently. How we pay attention to the present moment largely determines the character of our experience and, therefore, the quality of our lives.”

This is nothing new, it’s similar to what is said by Marsha Linehan in her writings and practice of DBT, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, which combines the dialectic of total acceptance as the route to change, and which has a big mindfulness portion as part of its “practice”, as DBT is ultimately a practice that is not limited to teaching people with BPD, but a practice that all of us can benefit from. If you read about the mindfulness aspect of DBT, it will probably sound a lot like what Harris is talking about, with more specific types of exercises to help the individual become more mindful and aware of self and environment. Ironically, by listening to our senses and perceptions in our minds, we are observing both what is in the present moment and what is going on in our minds in the present moment.

In the end, all of this stuff is very simple, but very difficult to achieve. Try, for example, testing your ability to experience time in the present. Unless you are very super aware of seconds, you will either be living faster or slower than real time. You start a stopwatch, or look at a second hand, then sit and wait until you think a minute has passed and check the stopwatch or second hand. Has a minute passed? Did you think it passed and only half a minute went by or did a minute go by and more? I knew I would be the former, as I am aware that my inner motor goes too fast, so when I first tried this, only half a minute had gone by, no surprise! You would think that as therapists we have a good sense of time, at least in 50 minute chunks, but it is not true!

Roald Dahl wrote a great story called “The Marvelous Story of Henry Sugar”, which is all about the use of extreme mindfulness and concentration exercises which he originates with yogis. In this story, you can see how this type of exercise can be used for personal gain versus for helping others. What is so great about this story, is that he captures how the practice of mindfulness type exercises leads to a natural change in a human from selfishness and obliviousness of others’ suffering to great compassion. He takes the character of Henry Sugar, who is wealthy, lazy, bored and completely oblivious of himself and the world around him, and transforms him. What is truly great is that Henry Sugar reads a story that convinces him to try the practice of yogic concentration in order to see through playing cards so as to win at the casinos and make money easily by in essence a kind of “cheating”; he spends many months training his eyes and mind to see through playing cards. Because he changes his actual daily experience from one of wealthy meaningless pursuits spent with other wealthy people, to spending a lot of time alone, meditating and focusing on the middle of the flame of a candle and then focusing on a playing card and concentrating for hours every day until he starts to be able to see through the cardboard of the card and see the number and suit.

As he is practicing this and becoming obsessed with spending his waking hours basically in yogic training, he is changing a lot more than his ability to focus and concentrate on a playing card. I was very excited when he was ready to go to the casino, to see if he would right away have a weird response to the casino and the people there, which of course he did, as he had a heightened sense of observation and taking in the present moment, so the world he had been used to inhabiting was now transformed into something he was observing from the outside. Even more excititng, once he had carefully won a lot of money but sometimes lost on purpose so as not to draw attention to himself, he noticed that he did not feel the way he had anticipated. He was almost disappointed, and definitely not that excited to go winning more wads of money for the fun of it. The rest of the story was splendid; in the morning he woke up and started throwing twenty pound notes on to the streets and caused a huge commotion. A police officer goes up to his apt. and has an interesting encounter with him, basically telling him he is causing a public nuisance and that this is a stupid careless way to give away money. It turns out the police officer himself grew up in an orphanage and suggests to Mr. Sugar that he give his money to an orphanage. The rest of the story involves Henry Sugar engaging in a focused plan to travel the world’s casinos, winning Black Jack with his yogic powers to see through cards and starting orphanages in every country with all of his winnings.

Besides the fact that this story with a story within the story, the story Henry randomly picks up and reads, is so well written and engaging, this is a great story about how the practice of mindfulness techniqhes leads naturally to compassion, and Dahl takes an extreme example of a very limited uninteresting, selfish uncaring man who becomes transformed by simply engaging in exercises of focus and concentration, simple exercises that require a lot of discipline and patience though, into a totally different compassionate and purposeful human being. There is some connection between midnfulness practice, compassion, and the experience of meaningfulness or “purpose driven” living. This explains how Marsha Linehan helped many extremely suicidal individuals with terrible BPD illness go from a state of constant emotional pain, self harming, suffering, suicide attempts, to not just being able to get through the day without engaging in unhealthy coping choices, but eventually transforming their lives and finding meaning beyond the terrible pain of their illness.

It seems that it is really true that the only way to overcome or go through suffering to something on the other side is to truly embrace the present moment and accept all that it contains, being in it while observing it as neutrally as possible. A whole new post could be devoted to the connection between finding a neutral position on the moment and self acceptance and acceptance of others…

Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Death and Legos

On Feb.2, 2014, (James Joyce’s Birthday), Philip Seymour Hoffman died of an overdose. On that same day in the United States, about 99 other people also died of drug overdose.

This week in my practice, I had quite a few intense sessions with people, the kind of sessions that feel like they are of an existential matter, or an existential crisis. Talking people from the ledge, not necessarily people about to end their life immediately or go overdose, but people questioning their own life and its possible meaninglessness, feeling a lot of self loathing and worthlessness, or destroying their creative spirit with judgments, comparisons and criticisms. In about 9 sessions yesterday, I think Philip Hoffman’s death came up somehow in about 8 out of them and the morning before also in another session. What does his death represent besides a reminder of the deadliness of drug addiction and polysubstance and heroin abuse? It’s about recovery and finding yourself at a crossroads in your life, your shadow is beckoning you to eternal emotional pain and despair and a small shred of hope, a light in the distance, is still also there calling you away from the darkness. It’s about the work in most therapy, the goal being for the person to come to like him or herself more and hate him or herself less…

Some of these sessions went to a very blunt place where I pointed out, we all have what I see as 3 choices when faced with existential angst and self destructive thoughts about life being meaningless or ourselves being failures, worthless, whatever we make is not good, and being told positive things about ourselves makes us feel worse instead of better. So your choice is to end it now and be done with the endless suffering — what the BUddhists refer to as suffering due to addiction, attachment and delusion. The other is to kill yourself off symbolically and destroy your creative spirit and continue living the life of a deadened person; this choice involves giving up on yourself but continuing to appear to be alive but to be dead inside. Many have made this choice, a kind of circle of hell on earth, an acceptance of depression as part of everyday life. The other choice is the hardest for people who have been to the darkest part of their psyche and lived through it: the choice to awaken and emerge from the traps of addiction, delusion and attachment. All humans are at times addicted, deluded or attached. People wake up everyday and live through the day in such a state of mind. Addiction is not just to substances or gambling, sex, love, shopping, food or work, money, success, approval, anger, etc.

Delusion is not limited to humans wandering around in psychotic states. We are in delusion quite often in everyday life, when we do not observe what is really going on and enter a kind of state of ignorance.
“In the Mahayana tradition, two levels of ignorance (avidya) are identified. Dzigar Kongtrul explains:
There are two levels of ignorance: ignorance of the absolute, or the essential nature of phenomena, and the ignorance that prevents us from taking an accurate reading of the relative world. These two kinds of ignorance are like two kinds of thread: When they are tightly woven together, they are not easy to identify, yet they make up the fabric of delusion.
As a result of the first type of ignorance, we lack wisdom. Lacking an understanding of our true nature, we perceive that which is illusory and spacious to be solid and real. The second type of ignorance is the inability to clearly understand the laws of karma and interdependence, which then results in an inaccurate relationship to the world.” From Wikipedia

Carl Jung referred to this type of ignorance in terms of “attitudes”. When a person does not see clearly what is real, they take on an attitude or attach a kind of power to something that then renders it not real and the person continues to see it that way. We see this all the time with various kinds of simple realities. Your “boss” at work becomes more than a “boss”. A boss is someone who has the role of directing people who work for him or her and defining the tasks and roles of the people who work for him or her, but for many they attach more power to their boss and their boss becomes too powerful or their parent instead of simply their boss. We do this with all kinds of things. As an artist I have done this with a gallery or exhibition. My work gets rejected and for a while I live in a delusional state of mind in which this particular gallery and the “juror” who picked the work to go in the show and the work that was not admitted to the show become more than what they really are. I give them some kind of power to decide that I am a “bad artist”, “not good enough”, a “failure”. The gallery is one of probably millions and it is simply a place that payed someone to look through images of work submitted by artists and decide which to put in a particular show that would take place for about 30 days. When I let go of my delusions and attachments to this delusional idea of the gallery and juror of the show, I see the reality, and go back to doing what an artist does whether s/he gets in a show or not, creates art on a daily basis.

In reality, the gallery’s juror did not want any of ten images I emailed them to be in some show of theirs. I know these are ten of countless pieces I will continue to make. When I am not attached to my work being seen or to this gallery’s show, or even to a particular art work being good or bad or craving attention for my work or addicted to approval from the outside, I can be a relatively happy being who engages in the creative process for the sake of the process and my happiness is derived from the engagement with the materials and the process not with any product or result of a product. Because I have survived many of these rejections, each time I am quicker to be able to return to reality. Reality is always much simpler than the delusional or attached or addicted version of reality. In reality a glass of wine or a new dress is a material thing to enjoy but it does not have more power than that. Having a book published or a painting in a show or an award for a movie is a part of reality but cannot define a person. Exhibit A: Philip Seymour Hoffman, human who, given 46 years on earth, achieved a level of success, reknown, acclaim and material riches, as well as a family, and promise of more opportunities to hone his craft, gain more reknown and more enjoyment from his creativity as well as further fame and money, perhaps the joy of watching his children grow, that few ever come close to, he, who with all of thi,s was not able to escape the suffering that addiction brings to all who succomb.

Bringing us back to the choices and the therapeutic session sometimes taking on the conversation of existential dilemmas nobody escapes. Challenge is: can you wake up tomorrow and show up for life whatever it brings and be awake, not living in the past or some fantasy of the future moment? If you can do that, you will escape your own attachments to some definition of who you are, who you are supposed to be, who you expect yourself to be, your addictions to anything that seems like it will fill an empty hole, your delusions about your own reality and the people and other beings you encounter throughout your day. It’s an invitation to let go of your beliefs, your assumptions, your cravings, your attachments to outcomes and goals. As Marsha Linehan wrote: “The fundamental nature of reality is change and process rather than content or structure.” I found this quote, wrote it in my journal and shared it with about 4 patients in the course of my day, as I need to constantly remind myself of this truth; armed with this one small bit of wisdom about reality, you may save yourself from the terrible fate of Philip Seymour Hoffman and the 99 other unknowns who died on Feb.2, 2014 in the USA of the same cause… as well as the countless people walking the earth, who have no awareness of their own suffering in the form of addiction, delusion or attachment…

The philosophy of playing legos, contributed by a five year old, to be explored in another post.

Dreams and Their Meaning; Dreams and Creativity

I have always been interested in dreams and dreaming. I have taken various classes about dream interpretation, mostly focusing on Carl Jung’s teachings about dreams, now more than five years ago, but I remain open to all kinds of approaches to dreaming and meaning.

I don’t know what came to me or why, but at the beginning of this month, February, I decided to make a real concerted effort to write down my dreams. It started with just a dream here or there, and within a little more than a week, I was remembering at least 2 dreams a night. I thought this would keep up, but it’s an up and down process, where sometimes I have a day or two where I don’t wake up to write down a dream, and then another day I have one or two detailed dreams. I’m hoping with the passage of time, I will be regularly, nightly, remembering at least one dream, and that my dreams will become longer, more detailed, more complicated, or from another standpoint, it could be that I’m training my mind to remember them more often and in more detail.

It is a necessity to have a notebook by the bed and a pen that I like, because I am often writing at 2 or 5 am in a haze. At first I found it hard to read my handwriting, but I started having the intention to write more clearly. Then while reading a book about dreams that I randomly found in the library a while ago, “The Secret History of Dreaming”, by Robert Moss, I was reminded of the concept of the really “rich” dream, the dream filled with symbols, and last week I voiced to myself my desire to dream about animals. I think I was hoping for dragons (it is the year of the dragon) and other mythological creatures. Anyway, I haven’t gotten dragons yet. However, the night of the day I wished for animals, I had a dream with a lot of pink pigs in it that took place in a hotel. (I actually have  had a few dreams in hotels and I remember last time I did this exercise years ago, I had some hotel dreams.) To me, the hotel symbolizes a transient place, and if the setting of the dream is where my psyche is at, having a hotel dream means to me that I am going through transitions, and a lot of temporary things as well as many changes, comings and goings, which seems to be true. A lot of new things are coming into my life, especially my professional life as a therapist. At the same time both the supervision group that I run and the one I participate in are going through terminations and new members and transitions simultaneously. Synchronicity!

So I am hoping I can train myself to have richer more symbolic dreams simply by having the intention of remembering my dreams. I have not done this in a long time, but I remember the last time was for a dream class, and it is very true that if you keep a notebook and pen nearby and are very focused on the topic of dreams, in any way, it becomes easier to remember dreams, and one’s dreams become longer and more complicated. Even the possibility of a kind of chain of dreams where one leads to another, can actually happen. And when you become really involved in the process, you can sometimes engage in lucid dreaming, which did happen to me once a long time ago…

When I took the Jungian classes, the method of interpreting or “translating” dreams was taught in a very specific way. The idea was that dreams contain messages that we need to decode that tell us important things about our waking life and our “attitudes”. Nightmares were seen to be dreams that shout at us that we must change something very big in our lives and “wake up” to some reality we are not facing or the results will be scary and dire. The setting of the dream is seen as the setting of one’s psyche. Having dreams with groups of unidentified men or women is seen as having a very undifferentiated unevolved animus/anima. Having a dream about an older man for a woman could mean that her animus is highly developed and wise. Having a dream of a young woman could tell a man that his feminine side is undeveloped and needs work and integration. The same is true of the Shadow in the dream. Sex dreams can be about connection and integration. There were some other very specific ideas I don’t remember any more. I still remember one teacher saying that dreaming about one’s patient(s) tells us something in the therapy is very wrong and needs to be looked at. I never liked that idea, as I think dreaming about a patient could mean multiple things, including the opposite of what he said, that is, that one is very connected to the patient or that there is something special and positive happening in the therapy. Or it could be about boundaries and fantasies.

However, I like to approach dreams from all kinds of angles, and I don’t believe there is any one way best to understand their meaning, if you believe they have a meaning. I also believe that, if you believe in dreams, if you really believe they are not random and have messages in them, then they do. I have even seen people, actually close family members, who think dreams mean nothing and are just the brains way of tossing around bits of the day or some other biological function, well, I have sometimes seen those same people marvel at a dream they had in a way that shows they have come under the spell of the dreaming mind — the mystery and wonder of it, rather than it being bits and pieces of random leftover brain matter. However this is not a common occurrence. It is we people who love dreams and looking at them, who even find a magic in them, we are the ones who will pay the most attention to them. For us, the dreaming process is a very personal and very important journey of one’s soul and consciousness.

I am also interested in doing this experiment on myself, that is, recording my dreams on a daily basis for an extended period of time, to see if this exercise has an effect on my creativity and on my work with my patients. To see if indeed, Jung’s idea is true that in dreams we can learn about how to approach important aspects of our real lives.

“A Mesopotamian term for an obscure or mysterious dream is ‘a closed archive basket of the gods.'”

“The early Iroquois regarded someone who was not in touch with his or her dreams as the victim of serious soul-loss. A specialist might be called on to bring the lost dreams — and the missing vital enregey — to the sufferer.”

Some quotes from Moss’s book that I like. I do have this feeling that I want to find something by dreaming and catching my dreams, and to feel that I am living my life more fully, more awake when I’m awake, and more awake to my dreams when I sleep…

This post will be continued in a few weeks as I learn more about this mysterious and wondrous process called dreaming.

Next week’s post will be called “Silence and its Meaning”. I find if I allude to the next post in the current post, it helps remind me that I want to address this new topic…