Sunday, December 31, 2006


For whatever reason, there seem to be some scenes in movies that just get to me. Like the scene in "V for Vendetta" when they show Valerie's story. Or the closing scene in "A Perfect World."

Tonight, that scene was in the movie "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" -- when Cedric's father finds his son's dead body on the field and weeps "My son! My son!" I remarked to my wife as I choked up with emotion just how different it seems to watch that scene as a parent. How much easier it was to keep a certain emotional distance from such a display before I had children.

One of the reasons that I love watching movies is that they have this tendency to get me thinking. In this case, about how the death of this fictional character moved me...and yet there are all of these brutal deaths occurring all over the world. Not fictional ones we can rationalize and forget about. Real deaths. Fathers, Mothers, Sons, Daughters. People with names. People with just as much a right to live as any of us. Killed by the brutal realities of Darfur, of Iraq, of poverty and injustice worldwide.

Where are their movies, I wonder? What stories are being told of them beyond a recitation of cold statistics on the evening news?

2006 certainly had much that was good in it. Yet looking back at it, it is hard not to weep, to shake your head and pray to God that 2007 finds an end to all this bloodshed, all of this unnecessary violence. I pray that 2007 will find peace spreading, heart to heart, family to family, community to community, nation to nation.

Friday, December 29, 2006

a story heard before

It was a story I'd heard many times before.

This person I met with grew up in a home with a father who was an alcoholic, a man who was physically, emotionally, and sexually abusive to all the children in the home. And the mother who had to have known something, but who has consistently denied ever seeing anything inappropriate happen in the home.

Awful, brutal stuff. But like I said, I'd heard it many times before.

So what struck me today was not so much the story, but the fact that I had heard the story so many times. Different variations of it, of course. Different perpetrators, different outcomes, different victims. Different ways of coping with the trauma. But always the common denominator of pain, of anger. Of a sense of having been damaged or flawed by what they went through.

I've heard the story so many times.

I also see some commonalities in how it affects people now. Their difficulties with being vulnerable, for instance. How they will withdraw or lash out rather than having to feel powerless, rejected, or defective. And often their experiences cause them to choose people who now treat them poorly. But sometimes they have otherwise loving people in their lives who are puzzled at how a relatively benign protest caused such a reaction.

I've heard it so many times that I sometimes wonder if I sometimes become a little deaf to the pain I'm hearing, if I want to jump forward and discuss things like improving their insight into what's happening inside of themselves, distinguishing reactions based on past experiences from what's going on in their lives now, diminishing the power of the self-criticism inside of themselves.

All good things to discuss, I'm know. But sometimes I wonder if my rush to discuss them has to do with where I want to go more (wheren I'm comfortable staying, emotionally) than what they're wanting at that moment.

As human beings, we are designed to experience empathy. When we hear others in pain, our "mirror neurons" (yes, they're actually called that) start firing and we experience something similar. It is, perhaps, the basis of compassion. But for those of us in the healing professions (therapists, pastors, etc.), this means a certain emotional bombardment -- story after story of pain, abuse, anger, betrayal, loss. I think we develop a kind of emotional distance that we need to be able to do our job, a kind of buffer zone perhaps.

I also think it may be why it is so important for us to actively nurture peace within ourselves, through meditation, prayer, and exercise. It has to be a priority or our jobs will overwhelm us.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

surgery and childhood

My six year old, Patrick, had minor surgery today. Actually, I don't know if it technically qualified as "surgery" in that there was really no invasive procedure. He had a few cavities, and needed a cleaning -- but, what with his autism, freaked out when we took him to the dentist's office a month ago. So she recommended taking him in to the local surgery center and putting him out so we could do everything in one fell swoop.

Which happened today.

There's just something about being a parent, watching as your kid gets carted off into the surgery room. Seeing him look at you, wondering, pleading, unsure of what is happening. Every moment with this vague sense of worry. What if something goes wrong?

And then when they bring him back, his throat sore because of the breathing tube they inserted and removed. Just lying there, groggy from the anaesthesia. So strikingly beautiful. There's this profound joy when he opens his eyes, mixed with a kind of empathy for his discomfort.

So he sits up, looks around, takes a sip of water. We ask him how he's doing and he says "I need to take a nap." And we laugh. The comment seems funny because he's been unconscious for most of the past two hours, but also because laughter gives voice to our profound relief. He is here, he is OK.

Someone once wrote that to be a parent is an act of profound courage -- for it is to have your heart removed and go walking around in the body of another. For me, it was to experience and understand what it means to love in ways that I hadn't previously understood or imagined.

To feel such love for a child changes you. For one thing, you look back at whatever dysfunction was there in your family when you were growing up, and you wonder why it was you never felt this way when you were a kid. Then you realize how much more love is possible for your other relationships.

And then you begin to think about what it would really mean for God to love you in this way, or what it would mean for God to love you in ways infinitely more meaningful and profound. Which is at once a lovely thought and somehow rather scary. For it calls out to make a relationship with God more than just about an idea of God. It calls for a relationship in its deepest and most profound sense, one that challenges, nurtures, encourages. My first reaction is to feel somehow not ready, not up to whatever might be asked.

But then, I can only think that our children might sometimes feel the same way.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006


I downloaded an album off of iTunes not long ago, "Eyes Open" by the group Snow Patrol. They have a song that's been getting some airplay called "Chasing Cars." Some of the lyrics include:

If I lay here
If I just lay here
Would you lie with me and just forget the world?

I don't quite know
How to say
How I feel

Those three words
Are said too much
They're not enough

If I lay here
If I just lay here
Would you lie with me and just forget the world?

Forget what we're told
Before we get too old
Show me a garden that's bursting into life

Let's waste time
Chasing cars
Around our heads

I need your grace
To remind me
To find my own

If I lay here
If I just lay here
Would you lie with me and just forget the world?

Part of what struck me in listening to the song was an unexpectedly strong emotional reaction to the lyrics, particularly to the words "If I lay here, If I just lay here, Would you lie with me and just forget the world?" My reaction piqued my curiosity. But sitting back and reflecting on it, I think it speaks to the sense of hurriedness I've had in my life recently. Especially after taking on the expenses from my professional trainings (see previous posts), I think I went into a bit of a financial panic mode -- perhaps taking on more than I should have at work. I think I resonate with those lyrics because I yearn to simply rest, to have time for quiet and reflection, and to just be.

I actually enjoy the lyrics most when I think of them as a sort of prayer to God, almost a modern Psalm, yearning for that kind of connection, where all striving and manner of "doing" can rest, and the soul is refreshed by Divine embrace.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas eve

It has always struck me as strange that despite the fairly clear definition of the word "eve" (as in, short for "evening"), the entire day before Christmas is collectively referred to as Christmas eve. But this is perhaps a small matter.

I found myself thinking more today about an awareness of the Divine in our lives. It is easy to find this in rituals and prayers, if we are putting enough of ourselves into the process. Yet somehow I feel that God whispers to us throughout the day, calling on me to acknowledge the truth in some feedback or criticism I may not want to hear, calling on me to be open to change -- in how I think, feel or behave. Calling on me to be continually growing in compassion, acceptance, love.

In my experience, it is not the grand gestures of the Divine that are most difficult to accept or respond to -- it is the subtle whispers, those signs or messages we can conveniently ignore or discount. It can be easier to stay in old patterns, rather than having to face the anxiety and work of change.

It can also be a trap to assume that God's desires for us all involve having to change or correct something bad in ourselves. Sometimes the most difficult change to do is a profound acceptance of our essential goodness and worthiness. Some of the most profound and important changes are the most difficult for us precisely because they contradict our central ways of perceiving ourselves and our world.

The capacity to be mindful of our own thoughts, beliefs, and feelings -- to rise above them, to respond to them, to listen for messages and signals at odds with our most fundamental ways of seeing things -- this capacity provides us with opportunities to experience grace daily.

I am profoundly grateful this Christmas season for all of my good friends, and particularly those who have been so kind as to share their thoughts and wisdom with me on this humble blog. Peace and blessings, my friends. May this Christmas season fill you with joy and light.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

quirky things about my job...

I fairly often have people referred to me for evaluations. And from time to time the request is accompanied by something vaguely resembling an apology. Which usually means they're frustrated as heck at dealing with whomever they're sending my way -- and possibly concerned about whether I will stop taking their referrals after I see whomever they're sending.

Most typically, this happens when they're sending people to me who are angry. And this is particularly acute when the evaluation isn't so much voluntary as "hey, this is what you have to do if you ever want to get 'the system' off of your back."

In other words, many of these individuals resent being sent to me, see no particular reason to discuss what's going on in their lives with me, and basically feel like anything they might reveal has a good chance of somehow being used against them.

And then there's the ones who choose to try and pick a fight with me. Honestly, that particular approach used to puzzle me, even make me a little anxious. Now I just feel bad for them. I think that's because I've become pretty good at not getting sucked into an argument. For example:

Client: This whole thing is stupid
Me: I'm pretty sure I'd feel exactly the same way if I was you.
Client: Then why do you keep asking me such stupid questions?
Me: I certainly haven't meant to offend you with any of the questions I've asked. Could you let me know which questions really bother you?
Client: No, it's just this whole *@!& thing! This is pointless!
Me: I understand. You're feeling like there's absolutely no reason why 'the system' is in your life right now -- and you sure as heck don't see a reason to come see me, right?
Client: (clearly reluctant to agree with me) right...
Me: Gosh, so what's that like for you, having to come in here even if you don't want to?
Client: (typically falls silent, puts their head down)

Usually these are folks who really feel most comfortable if they can start a fight. They know how a fight works. They feel a sense of control. I'm taking that away from them, and honestly, most of them are close to the point of tears when their efforts to pick a fight with me aren't working.

It would almost feel cruel to take that from them, but I have come to believe that doing so is actually very helpful to them. It forces them to confront whatever fear, pain, or other emotion is really underneath all of their anger. If I'm lucky, I can get them talking about it. And that is where healing becomes possible for them.

drugs and research

OK, did anyone else see the article yesterday proclaiming how hallucinogenic mushrooms briefly alleviate severe OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) symptoms? If not, you can find the BBC link here.

Now, on the one hand, this is kind of interesting. And may God bless and heal the poor people who suffer from this condition.

But there's another part of me that says, is this really news?! I mean, the idea that folks who struggle with incredibly rigid patterns of thinking and acting find short term relief when given hallucinogens? And how much money is being spent on this kind of research?

But in the spirit of this study, I am proposing to study the following:

1. Whether alcohol can provide short term relief to individuals struggling with mild to moderate social anxiety?

2. Whether cannabis (marijuana) can provide short term relief to individuals feeling "stressed out" or upset.

3. Whether stimulants can provide short term relief to individuals struggling with depression related fatigue.


I guess I just hope that there's research that hopes to find more of a long-term solution for people suffering from this condition (at, those who are unable to benefit from current interventions -- cognitive-behavioral treatments actually are remarkably effective for most).

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

finding faith alive now

more cows was good enough to challenge me recently to think about what brings faith alive for me now.

I was surprised at how much of a struggle it has been to try and answer that question. I think in part that might be because of my struggles with my religious tradition -- and consequent tendency to push away old ideas of God, of what a relationship with the Divine might be. It struck me that I've been doing a lot of thinking about God lately, but haven't had that many experiences that I explicitly identified as being in contact of communion. I haven't had many experiences lately that really made faith feel alive for me (with the important caveat of having the privilege of reading blogs by such good people as more cows and mags).

Which, naturally, saddened me a bit. Have I (through my efforts to resist elements of a religious tradition I am struggling with) ended up pushing God away as well?

Part of where that gets confusing is the difference between having an experience of the Divine, and explicitly recognizing it, labelling it or acknowledging it as such. I would guess that I have continued to have the former, but perhaps fewer than I should of the latter.

Which got me thinking about the kinds of experiences that do provide an opportunity for faith to come alive. Here's what I've come up with (and please pardon a brief segue) -- these kinds of opportunities occur out of the response of the full human being. (Sounds all nice and theological, don't it?)

Let me explain how I got there. The brain consists of various sections. Each section has its role or job, and can function fairly independently. For instance, if I am asked "what is 2+2," the memory and/or math calculation portions of my mind would spring into action to answer that question. Yet other situations call upon us to process information on a different level. If a friend of mine says that they are hurting, I'm not just using my analytical side to understand the cause of their pain. I'm feeling with them, striving to make sure I'm understanding them, perhaps moving closer to them to show support, verbalizing something supportive (hopefully), monitoring their response to see if I've got it right, etc. In other words, I'm processing this information with much more of the entirety of my being.

I think this experience is called many things by many traditions. Some might call it "being fully present." Some might call it "mindfulness." Some might call it "compassion." But it is a response out of the fullness of ourselves.

It is in these moments, I think, that I am most aware (or most capable of being aware) of God's presence -- of having an experience that brings my faith alive. Whether that is in kissing my son goodnight and simply recognizing the power of my love for him, noticing the beauty and grandeur of the sky, or reading the inspiring thoughts in others' blogs. After all, the question is not whether God is there, but whether I am able to be aware of Her presence.

Thanks, more cows, for inspiring my reflections on this one.

Monday, December 18, 2006


My name is Steve, and I am a news junky. (All together now, "Hi, Steve.")

I have tended in the past to acknowledge this little character trait with something resembling a bemused acceptance. Sure, I knew it affected my stress level, but so what? Isn't it good, even perhaps God's will for us, to stay informed? Shouldn't we be open to God's call for us, to be concerned when ill falls on our fellow human beings? Couldn't a sort-of willful ignorance even be considered sinful?

Well, yes, but...

I've come to realize that ingesting so much news can be rather different from trying to discern God's call from the news. This rapid rush of information that builds layer upon layer of anxiety within us can actually distract us from that sort of listening. Worse, opening myself to so much misery can create a sort of helplessness or hopelessness that can blind me from doing what I can.

I find it very difficult to bring peace to my world if there is no peace in my soul.

There is, I think, a balance here that I need to find. A balance between staying informed and cultivating peace and love -- so that any action I take on the former is based upon the latter.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

when faith became alive

All this talk of Advent, of the point at which we prepare for Christ's birth, has had me thinking about the point in my own life when faith became a living thing, something that interested me and inspired me rather than just a set of beliefs.

It was in the early months of my senior year of high school, as I recall. The teacher of CCD class I was taking (which I participated in with some combination of resignation and loathing -- one more thing in my life that I "had" to do, which was not of my own choosing) happened to mention that there was to be a TEC retreat, and wondered if anyone would be interested in going.

I actually surprised myself when I raised my hand. Did I really want to go? I'm not sure. Religion held no particular allure for me at that point in my life. But something about the description sounded interesting -- or at least caught my attention. And so I volunteered to go.

The weekend of my retreat, I remember walking into the classroom in a school about an hour away from my hometown. My apprehension about doing so was fairly substantial. These people were singing hymns. (Hymns! Voluntarily!) And this wasn't even church, where everyone generally agreed that the proper recitation of hymns was somewhere on God's checklist for entry into eternal glory -- kind of like an earthly substitute for the flames of purgatory. Hymns!

Mind you, I was seventeen.

Anyway, the hymns eventually stopped and the retreat began in earnest. The first day was "Die" day. Sadly, I recall very little of the topics discussed, or the people who presented speeches that day. I do recall the basic idea of examining our lives for areas of sinfulness, reporting these to the larger group, and a mass with an option to enter the confessional.

What I recall far better was my group leader, Jennifer. Jennifer remains to this day the best example I know of God's willingness to use almost any means to make people take a relationship with the Divine seriously. Subterfuge. Trickery. And, in my case, some degree of adolescent hormones.

Jennifer was, in a word, gorgeous. Not merely pretty, gorgeous. She had been Miss Teen South Dakota the previous year, had active work as a local model (not that I knew any of this at the time). And the thing was, she wasn't stuck up, arrogant, or any of that. Quite the contrary, she was kind, genuine, compassionate. A truly beautiful soul.

Mind you, this is all very difficult to understand for a kid who felt socially awkward and unsure of himself. This was the kind of girl the star football player spent time with in the hallway at school, not an average (albeit earnest) member of the debate squad.

So I had a hard time falling asleep that night. Feelings of guilt over the areas of sin in my life, concern about what the others might be thinking about me, and significant confusion over why Jennifer was acting so nice to me swirled in my head until fatigue finally got the best of me. Even then, I didn't sleep particularly well.

The next morning began "rise" day. Which, of course, began with a mass. And when it came time for the sign of peace, Jennifer walked over to me, gave me a hug, and said simply "I love you, Steve."

It was another thing that she did quite simply, naturally, and easily. It was sincere and came off her tongue without difficulty. Which, looking back on it, leads me to believe that she probably felt quite comfortable saying this kind of thing, probably said it to a lot of people in her life.

Anyway, there it was, my moment of grace. I felt...loved. I had this indisputable proof that I was worthy and acceptable and...loved. Which is a shocking and powerful thing when you've spent years building up an identity as something of an outsider, as someone who didn't quite fit in. It shook me to my core.

I sometimes wonder where she is now, whether she had any idea how much that moment changed me. I honestly have no idea where she is now or what became of her. But I think if fortune ever crossed our paths, I would simply want to say "thanks." Her example of simple kindness and genuineness sticks in my head to this day. I pray to show my gratitude by living my life in a way that lives up to the example she showed me.

Monday, December 11, 2006


I did what might be considered a good and generous thing today. I wish I could feel better about it.

I was contacted by an attorney not long ago, asking me to do an evaluation on a pro bono basis for one of his clients. "Pro bono" as in: free. No charge. And I accepted, feeling that it would be a good thing to do, that the attorney would get to know my work, etc.

The thing to understand here is that the kind of evaluation requested isn't just an hour or two out of my day. It was the whole day. The second thing to understand is that I'm in private practice. This isn't like a salaried position where I get the same amount of money regardless of what is collected in may name. If I don't bill for it, I don't bring money in.

Which is why it was a good thing to do, and probably a big part of why I don't feel very good about doing it right now.

If I look deeply enough into this feeling, I think a lot of it has to do with how much money I've had to invest in training lately. Two trips to Houston for a week apiece. The hotels, the meals, the cost of the seminars themselves. Basically, we've had to dip deep into our savings to pay for that.

On top of that, my wife and I both cut back our hours at work in order to have more time to spend with our boys, trying to work on their autism. So whereas before it used to feel like we were pretty comfortable financially, now it feels more like living paycheck to paycheck. Or, better, like "paycheck to paycheck" isn't enough -- like we're cutting pretty hard into savings at this point.

Of course, the truth is I have no real reason to complain, in the big picture of things. This cost is temporary. Savings can be rebuilt over time. The training I'm getting should be of direct benefit to my work with my boys.

And yet, I think in a sense this feeling is trying to teach me something. Helping me to understand that my negative feeling isn't towards this evaluation, but to more general financial worries. Helping me to understand my need to do something to feel a bit more financially secure -- even if that's just developing a plan to get there.

And going through that process, there is this realization at the end of it that doing the right thing should matter more than my short-term financial concerns.

Friday, December 08, 2006


I can still remember my first therapy case. This person, sitting there, probably wondering whether I could help them. And me, sitting there, having basically no clue how to do so. Fumbling through conversation, trying to be supportive, yearning for some easy opportunity to apply some bit of skill or wisdom I'd picked up along the way. Worried, above all, that my supervisor was going to watch this tape, that they'd somehow see how utterly clueless I was.

That feeling eventually passed. But life is funny because experiences like that have a way of returning. I recall working at a VA hospital over the summer, sitting next to the bed of this patient wracked with the pain of a car accident -- but the even more brutal horror of PTSD. Seeing them go through flashbacks right in front of my eyes while I sat there with my pen and paper, somehow trying to complete this silly form (a symptom checklist) they'd asked me to complete. And again that feeling of utter inadequacy. Who was I, this second year graduate student, in the face of such devastation?

Later that year, after his physical injuries healed, I saw that person again. He was still wracked by his PTSD symptoms, desperate to leave the facility so he could go back to using alcohol -- the only coping skill he knew worked for him. I remember sitting him down and saying that I thought he might be the bravest person that I'd ever met. And I challenged him. Basically I asked how he could think about giving up when he just had to make it a few more weeks off of alcohol in order to make it into a more intensive PTSD treatment program.

It worked like a charm, as it turns out. I like to think the soldier in him rose to the challenge, refused to see himself as a coward.

Was this some crafty clinical approach I'd learned in school? Nope. Something I'd even seen before? No. Was I internally calm and sure of myself as I spoke those words? Not on your life! Was I desperately making it up as I went along? Yep.

That feeling still returns at times. Like the first time I worked with a certain kind of disorder, or deal with a certain kind of dangerous behavior. Or when I might have to testify in court, or when I know my opinion will have a big impact on when (or if) someone gets their kids back.

What's different now, in looking back on it, is that my response to the feeling has changed. Now it teaches me something, whereas before it could almost paralyze. Now I can study the feeling, understand its cause, learn to manage it. In other words, I face that fear, even dance with it. I no longer treat it like an enemy.

It's tempting for me to think that it's easier for me to do this now, since I have more experience under my belt. I have a bevy of ideas, skills, techniques, approaches that I can call upon. But in the end, therapy is always to some extent just sitting in a room with someone, creating a relationship with them. It's always making it up as you go along to some extent, because ultimately healing only occurs through relationships (if skills alone could heal, then there would be no therapists -- only self-help books).

Embracing the uncertainty in such situations also means opening yourself up to possibility, to change, to hope. I like to think that's how God works in our lives as well. Calling us out of our comfort zone where we are in charge, asking us to grow, to change, to love in more profound ways. If the season of Advent is preparing ourselves for God's entry into our world, then perhaps it is partially opening ourselves up to some degree of uncertainty, of inadequacy even -- so that we might grow.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

the caretaker

I've been thinking lately about another theme that comes up in my job from time to time. It's usually from those in some sort of crisis or another, and the story usually goes something like: when I met my wife/husband/partner, they seemed great, but then they started drinking. And now they yell and scream, threaten suicide if I were ever to leave them, even get aggressive.

These individuals typically were the caretakers growing up, kids who were in charge of taking care of someone's feelings -- or who tried desparately to "make everything OK." And often the current difficulty is a perpetuation of that pattern: of trying to manage things for someone, unwittingly enabling the negative behavior.

The interesting thing is that my job becomes, in part, telling them that they're right to be upset. That their pain and discomfort is telling them something -- that they can't (and shouldn't) try to be responsible for their partner's anger or drinking or aggression. That they have right to expect that their partner step up to the plate, be responsible for themselves, be more of a full partner emotionally.

It's always interesting and somewhat sad when I come across people in these kinds of situations, in part because those in the "caregiver" role are almost always some of the nicest, kindest, most decent folk you could ever want to meet.

In a sense, they're too nice. I sometimes wonder if my advice to them might come across as asking them to be selfish, to be mean. Sometimes I get this look from them, like they're saying "...whaddya mean 'turn the other cheek' isn't always for the best?"

My hope for them is that they can learn to to balance their love for others with a respect for themselves, that they can learn "love" doesn't always mean giving someone what they want. I pray that they come to see how "love" in its deepest sense can only happen when they're being genuine and real, open and honest about how they really feel, rather than hiding behind some wall of "being nice."

Saturday, December 02, 2006


There are some things that people say that stick in your head for a long time. For me, one of those was from going to a conference at some small town in North Dakota (where I attended graduate school). The presenter was talking about his therapeutic approach, and how he works with people to get out of self-defeating patterns in their lives. When it came to working with romantic partners, one of the things he focused on was the ability to be vulnerable. How there is far more power and effectiveness in saying "that hurts me" or "I guess I'm just really scared you're going to leave me" -- rather than hurling insults, accusations, etc.

That notion, the strength of being real, being vulnerable, has stuck with me. I go back to it with some frequency in my clinical work. I try to live up to that wisdom in my personal life.

So I find myself thinking about this idea again now that we've entered the season of advent, a season of preparation, so they say. Preparation for God coming into the world, preparation for letting God into our lives.

But what would that look like? How would we know? Putting aside the notion of God being everywhere for just a moment, how do we attune ourselves to be aware of moments when God is present most powerfully?

I like to think that the humbleness with which Christ entered the world is a hint in what to look for. Not in signs of war, anger, self-righteousness, or ideology -- but perhaps instead for places where there is genuineness, vulnerability, even weakness. Perhaps that means expanding our awareness and action in issues of social justice (such as attending to the devastation in Darfur). Perhaps that means paying extra attention when people around us show the bravery of being vulnerable. Or perhaps that means that we, too, are called upon to be more vulnerable at times. To speak from the deepest and most genuine areas of our hearts to those we love, to enter into dialogue rather than trading accusations.

The great paradox here, whether viewed through the lens of psychology or when considering the humble circumstances of Christ's birth, is that power comes through humility, through vulnerability.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

fear and love

Recently I've been learning a lot from my clients about fear and love.

What has struck me is how very easy it is to make decisions in life based on fear. Taking a job because of a sense that you will be respected, rather than because there's something you love about doing that job. Going somewhere with a group of friends (when you don't want to) because of a fear of social rejection. Losing weight because of a fear of losing social approval. Avoiding one's partner or spouse because of a fear they might discover your secret.

Life can so easily become overwhelmed by fear. And then life becomes empty because all we find is a sense of relief from avoiding some dread consequence.

It is interesting to me, too, to think about what it means to substitute love for fear. To find ways of doing a job because you find something about it that makes you feel happy and alive. To find ways of relating to a spouse or partner openly, genuinely, lovingly -- to support, encourage, and cheer for each other in profound ways despite our flaws. To make brave choices based on our sense of ourselves and what is right (out of a provound love of ourselves).

Fear is easy in part because the rules of avoidance are simple: you just don't bring up the truth. Love is often far more complex and difficult because it involves relationship and courage, vulnerability even. But there is no joy in fear, no life, no freedom. These can only be found in love.

Sunday, November 26, 2006


In this work we do to remediate our sons' autism, there's this concept of providing them with "Regulation-Challenge-Regulation" (RCR) experiences. Basically, the idea is to establish some sort of a regulated pattern (say, a basic activity wherein we take turns pulling each other back and forth), then you add a challenge (e.g., maybe I don't pull when its my turn, or instead of pulling I get closer to them), and then they absorb what's changed, make some sort of modification, and re-establish a new regulatory pattern.

This is all terribly common in everyday situations, it's just that with autistic kids you need to break it down, slow the process down, etc.

Anyway, so with Patrick today he was on this table in our "breakfast nook" area. And he loves his TV, even though there was no video and the thing wasn't receiving any television signal. He would just turn it on. And I decided I would make a noise and turn the TV off. Patrick laughed at that, one of those simple joyous laughs of childhood that makes everything seem worthwhile. And in the spirit of this RCR activity, I began adding variations. Different noises when he got close to the TV, different noises when I'd pull him away.

And then I upped the challenge, running away rather than being right there when it was my "turn," making him turn to engage me in some way in order to keep the activity going. He did and he seemed to love it the whole time.

It was such a positive experience for us both, really. And yet there's this part of me that looks back on things with anxiety. Wondering if I did it right, wondering if I did enough, wondering if all of this effort will really make any difference, wondering...

If this RCR stuff is as universal to true relationships as the developmental psychology folks would claim that it is, perhaps in a sense these doubts or worries are my own form of "challenge." Whether that's emerging out of my relationship with my son...or perhaps even out of my relationship with God, I don't know.

But something about this idea of "challenge" fits for me, as I look back on my relationship with God, with faith, with church. And I like the idea of "challenge" as a doorway to new insights, new depths of relationship. I also like their idea that in good mentoring relationships, there is no such thing as a devastating failure. There is only feedback, support, and guidance without the kind of overt "do this, this way, and at this time" kind of response. "Failures" are moments to learn, we need only keep trying. Development really only gets stuck when we feel so incompetent that we stop trying, when we begin to avoid opportunities for growth and challenge.

Back to that topic of anxiety or worry again. Interesting. Perhaps the lesson in all of this is to persevere, to tolerate the anxiety of not being sure if you're doing it perfectly, and to just simply continue -- to trust in the process, to grow, to be confident enough in my son's potential to know that progress is possible. Perhaps even to model the ability to face anxiety and persevere because that is precisely what I am asking him to do.

Saturday, November 18, 2006


Thanksgiving is rapidly approaching, and every year I try to put together my thoughts about gratefulness. Usually this has taken the form of an e-mail to good friends of mine. This year, I thought I would try putting it on my blog.

I should note that part of my doing so today, right now, is because I have been inspired by some lovely posts by fellow bloggers, including Magdalene's Musings and More Cows Than People. I could hardly hope to approach their eloquence. Still, the act of giving thanks, of acknowledging gratitude, seems fundamentally important to me. It acknowledges and affirms our connections with people, recognizes the role they play and have played in our lives, in who we are and have become.

So, this year I find myself particularly grateful to:

1. My wife, whose ability to tolerate me, support me, and love me humbles me every day.

2. My two boys, Patrick and Jacob. Having two sons on the autism spectrum teaches me so much about life, about parenthood, about development, about relationships. I am grateful more fundamentally, however, because they are such great kids, who bring such such energy, vitality, love and joy into my life.

3. God, who seems to tolerate me despite all my faults, including my stubborn questions about Catholicism and church attendance. Oh, yeah, and there's the whole "basic source of my existence and the existence of all that is" thing. But I'm sure You get that one all the time.

4. All of my dear friends and family, far and near. I have learned so much, grown so much, from having known you.

5. My new friends I've developed on this strange thing known as the blososphere. I look forward to reading your blogs, getting your comments, and sharing thoughts. I've been inspired, uplifted, and at times saddened by this process. Thank you.

6. My clients, whom I learn so much from every time I meet with them, and whose courage is often remarkable.

7. Developmental psychology. You can read some of my other recent posts if you really want to know more about that one.

Thank you.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Of dynamic systems and walking

OK, so this is just one of those thoughts that keeps sticking in my head and I just can't seem to get past it. I find myself enamored by this notion of self as not some distinct "thing," but as process, as something that is actively constructed and constantly in flux.

It makes me think of Buddhism, actually, and discussions of things like breathing meditation or walking meditation. They have this notion that mindfulness to such simple actions brings peace, nurtures compassion, and deepens our insight into how all things are inter-dependent.

Which somehow fits, I think, with this notion of self as actively constructed, as emerging out of relationships with other people and our world. If we walk slowly and mindfully, peacefully, then perhaps we are relating to the world in a way that builds peace within us. If we are mindful of our interconnectedness, perhaps we grow in our awareness and appreciation for this fact.

If, on the other hand, we walk hastily, impatiently, demandingly...what then are the ways we are shaping ourselves to become?

It is a small thing to walk. But perhaps it is in doing these small things with regularity, purpose, and mindfulness that we grow most meaningfully.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Of Developmental Psychology and being "Born Again"

The respected developmental psychologist, Alan Fogel, wrote in his book Developing Through Relationships that, "Upon close examination, one finds that the workings of the mind and the ways in which we perceive and understand ourselves is remarkably like the form of our personal relationships. The life of the mind is a dialogue, most typically a verbal dialogue, between imagined pointes of view...To continue treating the mind as a disembodied relationless computational machine, as an objective thing inside the head, is to be blind to the evidence of one's own cognitive experience." He also writes, "Human cognition and the sense of self are fundamentally and originally relational."

I know. All of this probably sounds rather academic, perhaps even dull. But if you think about it, the implications are rather striking. What he is saying, in part, is that our sense of self is not a "thing" in and of itself, cut off from the outside world. Rather, our sense of self is deeply affected by our relationships, both present and past. In a profound sense, we co-create our sense of "self" out of our important relationships.

Which fits with experience, I think. I mean, I can think of relationships I've ended because I didn't like the person I was becoming.

Part of my reflections about this has been on the subject of just how important it is that we choose good people to be part of our lives, people who are kind, people who are loving and respectful. Because it is truly our "self" that can be affected. Surrounding ourselves with callous individuals, we risk becoming callous ourselves. On the other hand, being around those who are compassionate and caring nurtures those qualities in us.

The other thing I was thinking about is the notion that a relationship with God must mean that we open ourselves to "co-creating" our sense of ourself out of that relationship. We do more than worship, than praise, as important as these things may be. Our relationship pulls us to understand ourselves and our world in profoundly different ways, in ways that open us up more and more to be loving, compassionate, and kind.

Perhaps to "co-create" our sense of ourself through a relationship with God is part of what Jesus was getting at when he spoke of our being "born again." I like that idea, if for no other reason than I had previously written off the idea (it has just come to sound far too fundamentalistic for my tastes).

Monday, November 06, 2006

A trip to Houston

Airplane flights are one of those eerily unpredictable things in life. I got to the airport two hourse before my scheduled flight time, what with the security and the lines and such. And the weather in Omaha was beautiful. Sadly, the weather in Houston at that point was not so much beautiful as, say, downpourish. Like major thunderstorms of such severity that they grounded most of their flights. I ended up leaving about three hours later than I expected.

So I was sitting there with all these other travellers, sharing various grumblings about the delay, about connecting flights, about whether luggage would make it on said connecting flights. And there were the various attempts to get information, schedule different connecting flights, etc. The airline employee was this young guy, probably in his 20s, and you could just see his stress level rise over the course of the three hours.

I couldn't help but feel for the guy. This whole situation was entirely out of his control. Stressed, impatient clients were on his back, growing steadly more irritable with every new flight delay. Towards the end, he almost seemed at the end of his rope.

As I contemplated this, my perspective on the situation changed. It didn't matter so much that I might miss some of my favorite TV shows tonight, or that I might not get a dinner meal until later than I would like. Being "forced" to sit there with an incredibly dense book on Cognition and Social Context (I think that was the title) no longer seemed so much like a decade in purgatory.

As I boarded the plane, I turned to him and said simply "thank you for being so patient with us." I think my response bewildered him, although he said "oh yeah, no problem." You could see in his face that it wasn't what he was expecting.

I hope that my comment helped decrease his stress. But what really struck my attention was how this newfound empathy for him also decreased my own stress level. Something about gettint outside of my narrow view of these events, of this newfound compassion for him, brought a sense of peace.

May we all have more such experiences of peace. I daresay the world would be better for it.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

On why I posted tonight

So I came to my computer tonight because I was thinking that I was "getting behind" on my blog, that I should really write something. And as I sat down, I became aware of this strange sense of pressure to write something interesting or funny or meaningful. I even noticed myself tempted to just log off without posting anything when nothing that seemed "good enough" popped up in my head.

Which is interesting, really, that tendency to not communicate. I mean, I suppose to some extent there is a necessary degree of self-censorship we engage in on a daily basis. We hold back expressing certain reactions. Not to do so could invite relationship conflicts on the level of "Desparate Housewives." And many of us hold back in our lives, in our relationships, out of some sort of nameless or vaguely defined fear? How many feel somehow that they have to do so, that what is inside couldn't possibly be good enough, might even drive people away?

I understand and even encourage holding back certain thoughts for the sake of politeness, for a consideration of others' feelings. But I wonder whether more often the mistake is witholding so much of ourselves that we sacrifice genuineness in our relationships with spouses, friends, and perhaps even with God.

Perhaps we do so because it is that at our deepest levels we feel childlike, vulnerable, afraid, or weak. Perhaps we worry that we are alone in feeling this way or that others would judge us if they knew. Yet Jesus is said to have told his apostles that none can enter the Kingdom of Heaven without approaching it as a child.

Maybe Jesus was saying more than just something about how to get into heaven with that comment. Maybe he was pointing to the necessity to "be real" in this way with those closest to us, as well as with God. Perhaps in admitting weakness we become strong, in admitting ignorance we start to learn, in admitting our need for support we become capable of accepting it.

Thursday, November 02, 2006


So today one of the gifts I received was the gift of a couple of hours alone with my six year old son, Patrick. I met him just after school, and (as usual) he was hungry for a snack. So we made microwave popcorn together. He helped open the bag, put it in the microwave, and waited patiently for it to finish.

Eating together, I was struck by the opportunities for togetherness. Little games would develop where we'd put popcorn in our mouths at the same time, pretend to eat it "like monsters," or drop it in our mouths. Just to be silly, we'd do unexpected things with the popcorn like putting it on our heads.

What was great for me was to be able to see how his mind was thinking. Like how he'd notice when something was different or silly, how he'd get in close to share a belly laugh, the care he took when we were trying to take a bite at the same time. Or how he'd respond to my comments of "that was fun" with a pause and then a "yeah!"

I don't yet really know what the future will bring for Patrick. I don't know whether the cognitive delays his teachers keep seeing will improve as we treat his autism, or if he will always struggle with them. I don't know how well he'll be able to read, or write, or think using abstractions. But today I looked at his beautiful face, eating popcorn with me, sharing this simple enjoyment. And somehow none of that mattered. Because if he could really be there with me, enjoying that moment, I knew he was making progress in the areas you need to be able to make friends.

My prayers today are full of gratitude.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Politics and non-attachment

One of my favorite teachings from the Buddhist tradition is that of "non-attachment." As I understand it, part of this teaching is that we should never cling to any idea or belief so strongly that it prevents us from having compassion for someone.

In this season of political attack ads and polarization, this notion strikes me as both radical and profoundly human. It is so easy to demonize those with whom we disagree, to write off their beliefs and ideas, to hold onto our worldview as if it were the best or only way to approach truth, goodness, or beauty.

Yet God did not command us to develop a coherent system of thought that is correct above all others. God commanded us to love, to show compassion, to have mercy, to work for justice. To realize, perhaps that God's truth is beyond any and all truths we might imagine, that we best approach God's plan by being open to new ideas, new perspectives. Or perhaps that ideas themselves are not so important as the capacity for simple kindness and respect.

I pray that our political leaders may strive for such an approach. I pray that I will as well, however much I may complain about the Republicans. =)

Friday, October 27, 2006


In yesterday's local paper here there was this article about a woman who follows Wiccan practices. Not too surprising, right? It's Halloween coming up, after all. But then there was a side article, interviewing a local Catholic priest. Mind you, this is man I have personally met with and have a great deal of respect for. Which was why it really bothered me when, during the course of the interview, following the Wiccan faith was referred to as being in a state of "mortal sin" as some great, dangerous temptation away from Christianity.

I just have to ask, have we Christians really learned so little from our own history? Have we remained so ignorant, so small, so petty? Must we continue to defend the uniqueness and specialness of our own faith tradition by denigrating those of others? Must we pretend we have all the answers about God, that no other approach to the divine has validity?

I am, to choose a word carefully, frustrated.

Here's how I see it. God, we are told, is the source of all that is good in the world. We are also told that "by their fruits you shall know them": that is, you can know whether an idea or tradition is good by the effect that it has on its adherents. As such, it follows that all traditions which create compassion, goodness, or holiness come from the Divine Mystery which we refer to as God. Doctrine, I would argue, is often pointless, even counterproductive. Look instead to see if the tradition promotes compassion, mercy, justice, love.

From the kind of articles I've been reading, I am forced to wonder about Catholicism sometimes. Which both angers and saddens me, as I still think of it as my faith tradition.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Empathy Magnifiers

I went to a conference a few years ago on the use of psychological testing. And part of what I found so interesting about the speaker was his discussion of using psychological testing results as empathy magnifiers, as ways to deepen and expand our understanding and compassion for the client. It was really just a significant shift in perspective. Much of my training in psychological testing had been about dry (abeit important) stuff like reliability, validity, diagnostic implications, etc.

But empathy magnifiers? That was new. I've never thought about or approached the process of psychological testing the same way since.

I had a discussion with someone not so long ago about all of the darkness in the world. About how easy it is to fall into cynicism about it. About how easy it can be to see when things are petty, selfish, or "stupid."

Such an outlook can even have some truth to it (I once heard someone say that cynicism " the fine art of accurate perception"). Yet it comes at such a cost. To view the world in such a way is to allow ourselves to become cynical, to put blinders on or disregard much of what is true, good, and beautiful.

And then we spoke about how different it can be if we use these moments of cynicism to look more deeply, to see the reasons why. Perhaps the individual we're judging is reacting out of their own pain or fear. Perhaps they lack the skill in some area. Perhaps we ourselves are somehow part of the problem.

Such an outlook, I think, creates its own "empathy magnifier" for us. It keeps us human and compassionate. And, I think, happy.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Strength (RDI & Spirituality, part II)

In RDI, we are told that autistic children often revert to static routines (singing songs over and over, twisting their fingers in the air, etc.) precisely because the complex real world is overwhelming to them. Or, better, they haven't yet achieved a sense of competence in dealing with the complex, dynamic environment that the "real world" of social relationships deals them. So they revert to doing the same, simple thing over and over and over. Our task in helping them becomes giving them slow gradations of complexity, helping them to attain a sense of mastery in facing change, complexity, etc.

What strikes me about this on an emotional and spiritual level is how it parallels various forms of unhealthy coping. Like those who pick a fight rather than dealing with emotional vulnerability -- because a fight is a known to them. They know what their role is, they know how to use the fight to avoid the real topic, etc. Or people who give in rather than face the possibility of conflict. Again, its an issue of doing what is known, what is comfortable, even if it's not fun, even if it happens to be painful as hell. It may be painful, but people will cling to the pattern because they at least feel like they know what they're doing, they feel competent in that role.

Which got me thinking about this topic of "strength." Strength, it seems to me, often involves allowing ourselves to be genuine and vulnerable -- to speak from those parts of ourselves that feel may feel weak, but reflect how we feel most deeply. On the other hand, strength is sometimes standing up for ourselves, facing conflict or difficulty rather than backing down all the time.

More broadly speaking, I think, strength is having to courage to go to those places where we feel most incompetent, to go to those places despite our fear and uncertainty and to learn from the experience. In asking this of my autistic sons day after day, I pray that I can also grow in my ability to ask it of myself.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

A smart, funny "Opus"

Check out this link (Opus) for one of the smartest and funniest cartoons in a long time (in my humble opinion).

Thursday, October 05, 2006

A very cool week

OK, so as the title of this little entry suggests, this promises to be a great week ahead. Why? Because at least two very good things are about to happen. First, this friday evening is the season premier of the new Battlestar Galactica season. I know, I know, those who have never seen the show are going to roll their eyes and write me off as some sort of pocket-protector wearing uber-nerd. But trust me, this show is the best thing on television right now. In fact, I believe it is one of the best television series ever, if not the best series ever. Check it out, if you haven't. You won't regret it.

The second very cool thing to happen soon is that Sting's new album is scheduled to be released this coming Tuesday. It's been too long, and I'm very much looking forward to hearing his new stuff. Which reminds me, I'm also hoping for a new Peter Gabriel album, though I have absolutely no idea when that might occur.

Monday, September 25, 2006

spirituality and RDI

I just returned a few days ago from a four day conference in Houston. It was on Relationship Development Intervention (RDI), an approach for helping remediate the effects of autism. Within the RDI model, there is a big emphasis on repairing something called the "intersubjective relationship" (IR) between the autistic child and their parents.

In essence, the IR is a relationship wherein the parent and child share subjective states with each other -- common points of reference, ways of understanding, etc. This state is fairly natural for typically developing children, but often breaks down with autistic children because the children don't provide the normal social feedback to parents.

Anyway, within RDI, there's this big emphasis on re-establishing the IR, and on creating a "Master-Apprentice" relationship with the child, where the child is willing to give up behaviors they use to stay in control -- in order to be an apprentice to the parents so they can learn mastery of some area.

So all of this got me thinking about spirituality, about what it means to have an authentic relationship with the divine. It is difficult, it seems to me, to sustain an "intersubjective relationship" with a being beyond all comprehension. For one thing, I don't think this kind of relationship can be established simply by reading the Bible. It requires something more experiential than that. The demands, then, become ones of real listening, of quiet contemplation, of seeking guidance. Trying to catch those moments of connection, of inspiration, that cause us to grow in love, compassion, and understanding.

I also began thinking about the importance of giving up the notion that we have all the answers (a sort of false competence) -- so that we can assume an "apprentice" role, a learning role. There's a certain humility that becomes involved, it seems to me. But in assuming an apprentice role, we gain the capacity to learn, to grow, to love more authentically and deeply.

I'd love to hear any thoughts.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

autism, allergies, diet

So I have two sons (ages 4 and 6) who have both been diagnosed in the autism spectrum. And a couple of years ago, my wife and I started using a program called Relationship Development Intervention (RDI) to help them. Long story short, my four year old has done amazingly well on the program, while my six year old seems "stuck" in some of the earlier stages. Actually, we're going back now to make sure he has some of the really basic skills down before we try some of the more advanced stuff again, but that's a story for another post.

Anyway, my wife had been doing this research, looking into the role of toxins and allergies on autistic children. There seems to be a movement (I believe it's called Defeat Autism Now or "DAN") that believes that autism is entirely caused by this kind of stuff. So we take our sons to have them tested -- to see if they have any of these allergies or unusual toxins in their system. And it turns out that they do. In fact, they have a large number of reactions to a wide variety of foods -- including wheat (gluten), milk (casein), soy, corn, chicken, eggs, and a long list of other substances. Plus there are these vitamin supplements he wants us to give them (like 22 of them), some "probiotic" pill to create a healthier balance between healthy bacteria and yeast in their system, etc.

OK, so here's my struggle with all of this. First of all, I'm not sure I really believe there is any link between these "allergies" (none of which have ever caused any noticeable reaction in our children before) and their autistic symptoms. Second, the kinds of intervention being requested (particularly the dietary ones) would require drastic and expensive lifestyle changes. And third, how in the heck are we supposed to get 22 pills down the throats of young boys who won't swallow pills?

Or (to pose the more difficult questions), to what extent is my reluctance selfish? To what extent is my hesitance because I don't want to have to change my diet, or to put up with their tantrums when they can't have their favorite foods anymore? I'd be dishonest if I didn't admit these issues play some role in my thinking.

But of course what I ultimately want is just what is best for my kids. I worry, though, about making all of these changes for naught. I worry about falsely believing that the dietary stuff is causing them to get better, when in fact it could simply be from normal maturation (or the other interventions we're doing). I worry about the stress. I worry about the added financial burden. And I worry about constantly having to check, to be always thinking about whether some food at a restaurant has wheat, corn, chicken, or sugar. Or perhaps better, I worry about having to find foods that actually DON'T have any of these things.

And I worry that somehow not doing these things would make me a bad parent. And there's the brutal, terrible rub.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006


I was asked to complete one of those online surveys today. One of those with lengthy questions about whether you think the country is going in the "right direction," whether you shop at Wal Mart, whether you have a favorable opinion of Lindsay Lohan. You get the idea.

Anyway, one of the questions was about whether I felt religion played a "major role" in my life. Which stumped me a little. I mean, I've always thought of myself as Catholic. I was raised in the church, had my own version of a "religious experience" during a retreat my senior year of high school, went to a Catholic university, and even received a theology minor.

But now I very rarely go to church.

I guess mostly what I find so disturbing is that the things I learned to love about religion from my theological studies and earlier experiences are so foriegn to what I see from the institutional church now. In school, I learned about the church's teachings on issues of social justice, learned that the church actually REQUIRES you to disagree with formal doctrine if you've met the requirements of an "informed conscience," learned about how gratitude is one of the deepest forms of prayer, learned about a kind of ecumenism that was broad enough to grant validity to other religious traditions.

I loved learning that stuff.

What I see largely now is a church that is politically and institutionally "in bed" with the Republican party. One that is more interested in preventing condom use than stopping thousands of deaths in Africa from AIDS, one that viciously discriminates against homosexuals, one that continually degrades the value of women (while spouting doctinal nonsense about how it isn't), one that seeks to have moral certainty at the expense of compassion or understanding. Ah, but don't even get me started on issues like married priests, women priests, altar girls, or the desperate, rabid clinging to tradition that so pervades the more conservative elements of Catholicism.

In short, going to church has become nothing that I find nourishing, spiritually or emotionally. I do so wish it were different.

Faced with these issues, my wife chose not long ago to simply join another church tradition. I simply stopped going to church. Lacking any desire to go to church, yet unwilling to give up my sense of myself as somehow still being "Catholic." Who was right? Does it even matter?

Suffice it to say that, at this point, I find that I no longer believe in hell, no longer believe that God had such a vendetta against humanity that he prevented access into heaven until Jesus hung on a cross (I don't define "salvation" in those terms anymore), don't believe that some doctrinal litmus test is what is necessary to gain communion with God after death. I explained some of this to my wife not too long ago. I think she's not sure if I'm even "Christian" by her definition of the term. I found that comment funny.

Thursday, August 17, 2006


My wife had one of her favorite aunts (Susan) die just a couple of days ago from breast cancer. Vicious disease, really. My thoughts are prayers are with Susan's husband, children, family, and friends.

Sadly, I cannot claim to have known Susan that well. But I can see the pain in my wife's face, hear the sadness in her voice as she tells some of her favorite stories from family reunions, and know that the world is lessened without Susan's presence.

There's that helpless feeling that comes across when someone you love is in great pain. There's not much that can be said other than "I'm so sorry for your loss" or "just tell me if there's anything I can do." And in the case of my wife, I could simply hold her until the tears stopped.

I remember when my father died about a year and a half ago now that I was thinking how little there is to say in the face of death. And yet how much it meant to be able to reach out to all those I love, to just hear their voices, to know that they were with me amidst the loss. To know that I was not alone.

Reflecting on things now, we all seem so fragile. Some small thing can happen that ends our lives, and it all just seems so soon, so random and arbitrary. And yet in our fragile hold on life, we can be strengthened by our connections to each other. We were created to be social creatures, and in accepting that need we are strengthened. Which, paradoxically, requires the willingness to be vulnerable, to be genuine. Banding together with our shattered hearts, we find strength, compassion, and even hope.

How much better life would be, I think, if we could huddle together in our brokenness more often.

Friday, August 11, 2006


Alright. So the initial, welcoming post is out of the way. Now for that first attempt at a substantive post.

I was thinking it would be funny to do something off the wall. Some sort of Stephen Colbert homage, perhaps. But that will have to wait for another time. Because when you're someone who thinks too much (like me), the first instinct is to become philosophical.

Which, in a sense, is what this post is about. Thinking too much, that is. To some extent, our thoughts can interfere with simply living, being fully aware of life. Thinking (oddly enought) prohibits mindfulness, in its deepest sense. What's more, thinking tends to engage all of our mental filters -- ways that we process experience. Call 'em what you want -- cognitive distortions, negative/maladaptive schemas, etc. Basically they boil down to a way that we filter sensory input. And in my experience, these filters tend to be rather egocentric. I don't mean that in an entirely negative or critical sense.

Let me see if I can explain that better. Our filters tend to reflect our pains, whether from a sense of defectiveness, a painful mistrust of others, etc. And out of our pain, we become focused on ourselves -- whether we are being accepted or rejected, whether others are out to harm us, whether we are OK, etc. All of which leads me to wonder: to what extent is it possible to truly love when we are stuck in such patterns? At the very least, it seems to me that our ability to love is suppressed by such filters, such unresolved pains -- because inevitably we are focused on ourselves rather than those around us.

Thursday, August 10, 2006


Greetings! This is my first attempt at creating my own blog, so I apologize if there are any errors early on. I hope to iron things out as I learn the format.

My thoughts for the direction of this blog are somewhat amorphous right now. I hope to discuss my thoughts on a number of topics -- politics, spirituality, psychology, buddhism, movies, music, parenthood, etc. But the "common thread" I hope to shoot for is to delve deeper into these topics, to go "beyond assumptions" as it were. If that intrigues you, I invite you to participate in the discussions.