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What matters?

This is a seemingly simple question, but it is perhaps, at the core of how we live and how we feel about ourselves. If we are able to be clear about what matters to us, accepting of this, and organizing our actions in support of this, life will likely be meaningful and, hopefully, satisfying. This seems pretty simple. So, then why do so many people seem to feel their lives lacks meaning and coherence? Why do so many people seem unsatisfied? Ask yourself this question: “What matters to me?” “What do I value?”  Maybe you immediately identify principles, people, and commodities that have meaning for you. Or maybe you are left with a blank space and confusion. Perhaps you begin with what you’ve been told should matter to you. Can you consider whether what you espouse is something that really resonates with you, or it’s something that is there to gain approval or to avoid disapproval? Now, spend some more time thinking and reflecting about this. Are you actually being honest with yourself? Are you leaving things out? Are you saying what you’d like to matter, but leaving out what you really prioritize over those things? Please spend some time reflecting and being open to these questions. Now, when you have arrived at a clear, truthful sense of what this constellation consists of, allow yourself to envision what a life consisting of these elements looks and feels like. “Taste” your vision to see if it is to your liking. Let yourself step into this life. Is it satisfying? Full? Meaningful?  If it is, see how it matches the life...

Forgiveness or Acceptance?

There is much in current thinking about forgiveness. It is being spoken about in religious, “pop” psychology, 12 step, and “new age” circles. The basic premises, as I understand them are: 1)When we hold onto a grudge or resentment we are only burdening ourselves, and tethering ourselves to our past. 2)The offending person is, after all, flawed and damaged, and their “true self” would not have acted in such a harmful way. 3)We might be mis-remembering or distorting the painful event(s). 4)As related to #1, forgiveness is for our own benefit, teaching ourselves to expand our hearts and our capacity to extend love, even in difficult or dire circumstances. 5)It is a way to try to continue an otherwise intolerable relationship. I would like to suggest that these positions are based on mistaken premises. In shorthand, “forgiveness is highly overrated”. This is not to say that I am dismissing forgiveness. It is a precious experience of repair in an actual relationship, and requires that both parties be present and emotionally available. So, let’s say I were to act out of anger, or through a lack of awareness, or through selfishness, etc. and injure another person. This would clearly cause emotional damage to the person, and (if I knew this person) to our relationship. In this actual relationship, if I am faced with the harm that I caused, I may feel a resonant pain, and remorse. “I see how I hurt you; your hurt evokes a pain in me. I truly feel badly for how I affected you.” If you believe my reaction, and are touched by my remorse, forgiveness...

When the Right thing Is the Hard Thing

Life faces us with difficulties. Some difficulties are situational, where we live with danger or scarcity. Some difficulties are relational, where we deal with conflict or loss or loneliness. Some difficulties are physical, where we deal with injury or illness. Some difficulties are existential, where we are faced with our questions about what matters, about the meaning or meaningless we see in life. All of these difficulties require something of us. They require us to face, accept, and engage with the very thing that is causing us pain, fear, or hopelessness. And they require that we do so with faith in the possibility of moving through and past our painful present. We all have been faced with these experiences, most of us many times. Or we are faced with the possibility of pain should we assert our needs when the world seems unaccommodating. We often seek to avoid the possibility of being fully alive in order to avoid having to endure loss or shame or conflict. And when we avoid this, we avoid our vital selves, and seek to survive rather than to live. Or faced with a painful circumstance we may collapse or prematurely accommodate a diminished life. We often see these things, these circumstances, these experiences as the limits of our lives. They are barriers that are implanted and permanent. And, we think, who we are is determined and defined by them. So life becomes dull, or hopeless, or we accept that the emptiness we feel is “just how it is”. Patients often tell me of their unhappy marriages and conclude with letting me know that “nobody...

What Do You Want In A Therapist?

If you have arrived here, you probably are searching on the internet for a therapist. Many people search with some particular ideas in mind: they want a man, or a woman; older or younger; takes my insurance; is kind, wise, strong; shares my philosophy about life… And the good news is that many therapists have spent a good deal of time constructing web sites to let you know that they are out there and care about you and your well being. That is, if they knew you. They let you know that they can help people with anxiety, depression, relationship issues, eating disorders, work/career problems, sexual identity issues, and on. They have trained in CBT, DBT, Somatic Processing, EMDR, Imago, NLP, and any other new formulation that they can get credentialed in. They are of good will, and you are in need. But, what do you want in a therapist, really, that will make this a useful and growthful experience, that will not only rid you of the stuckness and symptoms that you are plagued with, but will also open up a deeper sense of who you are as a person, a richer sense of the world that you live in, and a possibility of a deeper more meaningful life? A compelling life that you are glad, yet challenged to wake up to every day? Is that CBT? DBT? EMDR? No, it is a person, who is interested, and trained to pay attention to who you are. A person who can enjoy your uniqueness, and how you connect to the world. And who can help you notice how you...

Scarecrows

Scarecrows serve an interesting purpose: they are incapable of doing any harm to intruders, but their power lies in creating the illusion that they can and will. So, the crows stay out of the cornfields, even though if they were to venture forth they would enjoy a hearty meal and suffer no harm. We might find this humorous, seeing how their limited intelligence allows the farmer to fool them into believing what is obviously (to us) not true. But we are no different than the crows. We have ideas about catastrophic consequences that would result if we were to act according to our actual needs. Sometimes we fully believe our ideas; sometimes we observe our ideas and deem them unlikely or irrational. But usually, in both cases we obey them. I see a man who lives without love. He is married, has a beautiful home, beautiful children, a powerful career. But he believes that if he let himself love and be loved, his world would shatter: he would lose his career; he would end up in the gutter, alone. He says “God would zap me”. And he doesn’t believe it. But he does. So his choices are ruled by his fear of getting what he actually longs for, and he lives with the idea that as long as he doesn’t embrace what really matters to him, he’s “safe”. Another patient of mine feels isolated, even though he has many people in his life, including a marriage with a caring woman who he has been with for many years. He longs for closeness and being able to “let down my...

Aliveness

I spend the day sitting with patients. These are people who come to see me because they are aware (sometimes vaguely, sometimes acutely) that something is missing in their lives. These are intelligent people, educated, creative, moral, but missing something. They often blame themselves for feeling this nagging dissatisfaction. Or they mistake what they’re missing for some thing that they try to acquire – a shiny toy, a new geographical location, a new lover…But, these fixes are short lived. In their extreme, they become addictions which give brief moments of excitement or pleasure, followed by a heightened sense of loss and missing. And so, the need for repetition. What are people looking for? And what do many others trade away for the security of sameness? As I see it, it is the experience of aliveness – the feeling of energy and engagement, of this moment being a hallmark of the miracle of our time on this planet. It is the experience of each moment being fresh, of our relationship with the world being engaging, and of the experience of the inherent, compelling value of our being here. We learn to avoid this in order to maintain safety and familiarity. I often hear people tell me that they fear that if they open to this experience, their constructed world will shatter – marriages will dissolve, jobs and careers will explode, they will go crazy or die. The world will descend into chaos. Why do they think this? In part because of historical learning: because of real dangers or prohibitions that they have lived with, because of hurts that they have...