Tuesday, January 27, 2009

25 things...

One of my oldest friends, Jonathan, has tagged me for this task on Facebook. Here are the rules:

Rules: Once you've been tagged, you are supposed to write a note with 25 random things, facts, habits, or goals about you. At the end, choose 25 people to be tagged. You have to tag the person who tagged you. If I tagged you, it's because I want to know more about you.

So here are my 25 things:

1. I am a middle child, and it's frustrating to realize how much this says about me. Like the years I felt jealous and insecure for not being able to stand out in some way relative to my siblings. I am likely not the smartest child of our family (an honor I would probably give to my older brother John, though I would never publicly acknowledge that fact), certainly not the most artistic (my sister Theresa gets that one), nor the most athletic (which would easily go to my sister, Ann).

2. I tend to feel "just OK" at things. I'm OK as a writer. OK as a blogger. OK as a psychologist.

3. I'm aware that this feeling of being "just OK" is perhaps often more of an emotional echo of how I felt growing up (see #1, above) than a true assessment of my skills or abilities.

4. There's a strange kind of perfectionism that comes out of a need to be more than "just OK" at things. I have that, though you couldn't tell from the level of messiness in my car.

5. I think I have some level of raw talent as a speaker. Which led me to early success speech contests where we had to answer some question based on an analysis of the news (known as "extemporaneous speaking" or "extemp" for short).

6. My lack of preparation led me to have increasingly less success at extemp as my high school career proceeded. I strangely still carry some sense of shame about that.

7. I co-wrote and submitted a script for the television show "Star Trek: Voyager." I really enjoyed that creative process. The script was denied without comment.

8. I really enjoy golfing and probably put too much energy into trying to figure out how to fix my swing flaws and get better at that game.

9. In a lot of ways, I think I kinda stumbled onto my current career. It wasn't so much a calling as a class I kinda liked in college, and so I took some more classes and ended up as a psychologist.

10. That having been said, I think I (rather luckily) stumbled on a job that suits my abilities and interests pretty well.

11. I've come to think that something called experiential avoidance (e.g., a desire to not feel anxiety or pain) is at the root of much of mental illness and general human suffering.

12. I think that the Buddhists have actually been light-years ahead of Western psychology in understanding and addressing this fact.

13. I look back on my years of undergraduate education at St. John's as having been some of the best years of my life, largely because of the friends I met during that time.

14. I was probably even more neurotic then than I am now.

15. In some ways, I think that suffering can be a gift -- in that we can develop an experiential awareness of how hard life can be, how hard it is to overcome difficult habits, etc. It can be the basis of compassion. I thank Pema Chodron for that insight.

16. For right now, I'm reading much less Western psychology and much more Buddhist literature (from Pema Chodron and Thich Nhat Hanh). Strangely enough, I just find it much more relevant and helpful to the work that I do.

17. Likely as a consequence of this, I sometimes have clients wonder if I am a Buddhist (or am somehow trying to convert them to Buddhism). I tell them that I'm not a Buddhist so far as the religious aspects of Buddhism are concerned, but that I am a "student of Buddhism."

18. I'm really enjoying watchind DVD's of the historical miniseries "John Adams." Very good stuff.

19. I'm also really enjoying the album "Flight of the Concords" by the group Flight of the Concords. They're just so talented and funny.

20. I'm trying to get back into a better exercise routine.

21. In my frustration at myself for not exercising more regularly, I've asked my sister Ann to help hold me accountable for reaching my exercise goals.

22. I have two autistic sons, and am aware of feelings of guilt over whether I'm doing enough to help them.

23. My wife is far better at staying organized and on-task than I am.

24. We just found elevated levels of radon in our home. I'm calling around to get estimates on getting the "mitigation" done to fix that problem.

25. I never previously knew that the procedure for reducing radon levels in one's home is known as "remediation."

Peace be to all of you.

Thursday, January 15, 2009


I happened to read a news story this morning about the Catholic church. Apparently, they worry that the sacrament of confession is becoming underused, and in their concern about it's central role in the salvation of souls, they've decided that the only logical thing is to remove the shroud of secrecy around a secret papal tribunal.

Oh, how mindful I am of the temptation to make a snarky remark here. But for now, let me just comment that this move somehow fails to make me feel more like participating in the sacrament of confession.

It's not the utter lack of logic involved in the move (this is supposed to make me more interested in confession just how exactly?!). It's also the bizarre logic involved in the tribunal itself. Apparently, this tribunal is used only for really serious sins that can't be handled by priests or bishops.

Like what, you ask? Genocide, maybe? Or mass murder? Nope. The Vatican apparently feels that these relatively minor sins can easily be handled by priests or bishops.

So what kind of sin is so serious that it can only be handled by a special papal tribunal? Well, the list of sins here involves things such as the desecration of the blessed sacrament (including, and I'm not making this up, if you were to be offered the eucharist and inexplicably spit it back out!). Other situations involve the unhappy circumstance of seeking the priesthood (or of becoming a deacon) if you've ever paid money for an abortion in the past.

Sigh. Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to defend the intentional desecration of religious objects. But this policy just seems idiotic. What they're essentially saying is that Hitler could have sought absolution from his sins by a parish priest (it's only genocide, after all), while some rebellious teenager with a bad case of indigestion during mass would need a special papal tribunal to have his soul reach heaven.

But in the end, this irritation I'm experiencing probably says at least as much about me as it does about the church's policy itself. I hope to have the time to sit with this irritation today, to see what it has to teach me.

Peace to you all.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009


I met with a difficult person today. I think that probably most people would think of this person as difficult. They show that kind of chronic, cranky irritability and tendency to blame everyone but themselves that most people find...well, difficult.

But today I am mindful of how my mind reacts to this person. I want to label them as "difficult," I want them to just be quiet and go away. I presume things (not entirely without reason), such as that they might use their irritability to get their way with people.

But what I struggle to do is to sit with this person, to be present to them. It's disquieting and uncomfortable, and I'd prefer to avoid that discomfort.

In some fundamental sense, really, the problem in this situation is not with this other person. It is my own desire to stay in an emotional place that I find comforting. It is in my reluctance to stay in a situation I find harsh, abrasive, uncomfortable.

So you see, in a way, this terribly difficult person is my teacher on this day. If I can do what I hope, if I can pull this off, I may have just been able to learn, to grow in love and understanding in ways that I had previously avoided.

God help me.