You can be free: How fear holds you back

I’ve been reading Ryan Holiday’s inspiring Courage is Calling. Holliday practices Stoicism, a way of life that’s become my life credo, though I confess my frequent failure to live up to its tenets of courage, temperance, justice and wisdom.

Stoicism is a discipline requiring daily practice. It’s taught me how much fear lies behind our modern anxiety and behavior. As Holliday writes, “This is how it goes, whether you’re a billionaire or an ordinary person, no matter how physically tough or brilliant you are. Fear determines what is or isn’t possible. If you think something is too scary, it’s too scary for you. If you don’t think you have any power . . . you don’t. If you aren’t the captain of your fate . . . then fate is the captain of you.”

Anxiety with its burden of worries culminates in stress, and we know its harsh consequences for our mental and physical health.

Worry teaches you that the future is happening now.

It falsely tells you that worry will make it go away.

Worry makes you care more about what others think.

It inhibits your boldly attempting new things like falling in love again, having children, resuming your education, investing your money, traveling to new places, changing your residence, trying a new doctor. Maybe even quitting your job for something, even if for less money, but more fulfilling.

It says you can’t ever escape your past, whether a bad childhood or failed marriage, a hurtful friendship or demeaning rejection.

Fear anchors you to what’s familiar, seemingly safe. It forfeits possibility and, with it, the future.

The truth is life is inherent with risk. Loss, illness, grief, death embrace every nook and cranny of life. Its remedy is to step up and step out, doing what you can.

Paradoxically, mastering anxiety begins with acceptance of what you can’t change. Uncertainty is inherent with life. In his book, The Liberated Mind, psychologist Steven Hayes writes that “people like to think the world is ‘happy happy joy joy,’ but if you live long enough, you start running into pain and illness and loss and tragedies of all sorts. It’s just part of it. That’s part of life.”

But there are things you can change. Yes, you can master living in a temporal world of vicissitude, but you must be willing to sign the bottom line.

Take inventory of what inhibits your resolve.

It may cost you money, even estrangement, but how much better to walk away free. One of life’s caveats is knowing when and how to jettison habits and worries weighing you down.

You can be courageous in every day life in so many ways.

It takes bravery to ask for a pay raise, confront injustice, leave a demeaning relationship, find a new hobby.

Don’t let fear bully you.

Don’t let routine dictate your everyday doings.

Happiness doesn’t just happen. It requires flexibility, resilience and daily practice. Frequently, it’s a life of sips more than gulps to get there.

So much of life is living in the moment. You do what you can, attempt what you’ve wanted. You act to realize yourself, becoming agent of your own destiny.

Mastering your fears begins a new portal. Yes, you can find freedom in an unfree world.


Stein’s Map of the Soul—Persona: Review

Anima, animus, archetype, shadow, persona, apperception, individuation—pure Jungian parlance that remains with me still, despite the passage of years since I first read depth psychiatrist, Carl Jung. For a time, I seriously thought about changing careers and becoming a Jungian therapist.

I initially came upon Jung in teaching a college course dubbed Introduction to Literature, designed to teach students how to write expository essays, using literary models. One of its units featured Jungian archetypes. I was hooked.

The archetypal offered a simple palette for opening up literature for my students, baffled at how I somehow could extract meaning from a text that otherwise was simply prose. Know the pattern and you unlocked the door. The hero archetype, for example, with its separation, initiation, return triad.

Jung began my fascination with myth, which led to a National Humanities stipend to study the subject at Claremont Graduate School in 1978. I would learn that myth transcended what the public associated with, say, Greek and Roman mythology popularized by Edith Hamilton. Much more, myth was any attempt to render meaning in an an accidental cosmos, whether religious, political or philosophical, etc. If nature abhors a vacuum, so does the human mind. Myth confirmed Jung’s notion of a Collective Unconscious, or primordial repository of symbolization embedded universally. All cultures, for example, share legacies of a flood, or of Man’s first sojourn in a garden paradise.

In 1986, I studied Jung and Freud in an eight week seminar at Yale. In that wonderful summer, I read perhaps a layman’s best introduction by the sage himself, Man in Search of a Soul. Critic Northrup Frye’s Anatomy of Criticism proved a cogent, expansive source on archetype, and then there was Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myth with Bill Moyers series, enjoying popular acclaim on PBS.

A few weeks ago, I downloaded on my Kindle Murray Stein’s recent book, Map of the Soul—Persona: Our Many Faces, which gathers not only his own insights, but those of other prominent Jungians.

I knew Murray when he was just sixteen, not yet a Yale student. His father was pastor of our church in Sterling Heights, Michigan, and we’d share long talks on varied topics, especially contemporary biblical criticism. Murray now trains analysts at the International Analytical Institute in Zurich, of which he’s president, has published widely, and lectures internationally.

Stein’s book is a short, but welcome, review of Jungian essentials for lay people, particularly on the persona:

Persona is a type of mask. It hides parts of the self that you do not want to be seen by others, and it also expresses who you feel you are at the present time.…But it does not say who you are when you are alone.

In brief, we are much deeper than the masquerades performed by our personas, which unchanged, inspire those complexes, or sub-conscious elements of charged emotion frustrating our living authentic lives and achieving the happiness authenticity makes possible. Deep within our subconscious, lies the Shadow, or unknown self, contrary to the personas we project. Often, we repress it for its contradictions to our social roles or its resulting angst. And here lies the crux and challenge of the Jungian approach—to acknowledge that repressed element and achieve reconciliation in what Jung called “individuation”:

But if we understand anything of the unconscious, we know that it cannot be swallowed. We also know that it is dangerous to suppress it, because the unconscious is life and this life turns against us if suppressed, as happens in neurosis.…Consciousness should defend its reason and protect itself, and the chaotic life of the unconscious should be given the chance of having its way too – as much of it as we can stand. This means open conflict and open collaboration at once. That, evidently, is the way human life should be. It is the old game of hammer and anvil: between them the patient iron is forged into an indestructible whole, an ‘individual.’ This, roughly, is what I mean by the individuation process.

Stein’s earlier book, also titled Map of the Soul (minus the persona tag), ironically caught the attention of the Korean rock group BTS, which have spread Stein’s Jungian message worldwide in their album, Map of the Soul Persona. Stein comments extensively on the album’s songs and their Jungian components in the book’s opening pages.

I think you’ll find Stein’s book riveting and a good place to begin your acquaintance with Jung, one of psychology’s foremost discerners of the human psyche and a principal influence on my own life.

The Vanishing World of Touch

Not long ago I celebrated in my brimmings blog the realm of touch, so wonderfully depicted by my favorite nature writer, Diane Ackerman, in A Natural History of the Senses. What she doesn’t touch upon is the increasing loss of that tactile dimension in a virtual age powered by Artificial Intelligence now pushed to the forefront by the corona pandemic. Nearly a third of us now work from our homes. Fewer of us are needed. Sadly, we are probably witnessing the loss of a way of life to which we won’t fully return: fewer teachers, doctors, etc. , increased surveillance, a cadre of workers, many of color, working as grocery clerks, industrial farm laborers, or from remote warehouses.

The loss of a tactile world undermines the human enterprise for which social media becomes a poor substitute. And then the outcome for families, the stress of uncertainty and limited horizons of opportunity in a touchless society where we no longer shake hands, give hugs, or bestow a kiss upon the cheek, airport embraces of coming and going reduced to impalpable memory.

As never before in a world such as ours, we are children in the night needing to be held and to be loved. We cannot live happily in a world of reduced signifiers of human belonging. Touch is the lingua franca fundamental to our destiny.


Happiness: What it is and How to Find It

happinessI came across this still proverbial Tibetan saying in my pre-meditation reading the other day that I wanted to share with you:

“Seeking happiness outside is like waiting for sunshine in a cave facing north.” In short, our happiness must be found within ourselves and not in events, goods, or even among those we love, for life often doesn’t reciprocate what we want, love, or even deserve.

Happiness can’t be imposed from the outside, since it derives from making peace within ourselves, free from the demons of self-doubt, jealousy, and anger and a critical spirit that can spill over into our daily lives, eroding relationships.

But if happiness is an inner thing, how do we go about having it? The Buddha tells us that our suffering, or unhappiness, derives from our craving. Modern psychologists like Freud and Skinner appear to confirm this, finding that we are creatures of Ego, perpetually seeking gratification.

We find happiness specifically in recognizing the temporality of everything, both of ourselves and of the world to which we belong. When we find it, we no longer react to life’s volatility of event and circumstance.

Accepting change and ourselves as a part of it, we are anchored even in duress.  What happens is that our egos dissolve when we discover the ability to let go through focusing on what really matters in a cosmos of entropy.

Such contentment derives from living mindfully in the moment, celebrating the treasure of being alive, or as Hellen Keller expressed it so wonderfully:

Use your eyes as if tomorrow you would be stricken blind. Hear the music of voices, the song of a bird, the mighty strains of an orchestra, as if you would be stricken deaf tomorrow. Touch each object you want to touch as if tomorrow your tactile sense would fail. Smell the perfume of flowers, taste with relish each morsel, as if tomorrow you could never smell and taste again.

We develop this capacity through practice, or meditation, being kind, not judgmental, about ourselves when our minds wander, as they always do.

Mindfulness meditation, which we can apply to every sphere of experience, disciplines us ultimately into intimate awareness and, with it, a rippling comprehension of not only ourselves, but of others in a wider empathy.

Mindful people find peace not only within themselves, but its enhancement in the outer world through service to others, which psychologists increasingly tell us yields that kind of gratification money, position and power cannot equal.


Postscript: A book I highly recommend as an amplification of my post is David Michie’s Buddhism for Busy People. I promise that you’ll find it difficult to put down. (While I’m not a Buddhist, I’ve found Buddhism, more a way of life than a religion, offers a redolent wisdom that modern psychotherapy has found worthy of implementation on a universal scale, and validated through empirical research.)

Open the door and come right in….

o-mindfulness-practice-facebookMindfulness is everywhere these days. I was at our local Kroger store yesterday, sampling its magazine section and, sure enough, there were two mindfulness magazines. Go to Whole Foods, it’s the same.

Mindfulness has taken off in the medical community as well, where it’s become increasingly a centerpiece in psychological therapy, helping patients cope with stress, anxiety and depression. (For a sample listing of leading medical schools offering mindfulness curricula, see Medical schools.)

It’s also proven a boon to helping cancer patients live with their pain and the stress of chemotherapy.

Last week, I completed an online course, housed at Leiden University in Holland, called “Demystifying Mindfulness.” According to the university’s figures, some 8000 students have now taken the course, which introduces you to mindfulness and its origins and contemporary applications–psychological, cultural, and political, with a look at its future.

You also get right down to practicing it, listening to guided MP3
sessions, generally 30-40 minutes.

To me, that’s the hard part, finding a time for practice removed from the distractions of daily life, compounded by living in a digital age. Of this, I’m well aware, so I try to get at it right out of bed in the early morning.

Mindfulness practice can take on a myriad of formats, as it teaches you to focus, and you soon discover you can focus on just about anything. But it isn’t easy.

Our minds are wanton wanderers. Buddhists call it the “monkey mind,” where your thoughts just seem to jump randomly, or like a monkey, from tree to tree.

I’m okay with that.

The trick is concentrating on some sensory aspect, i.e, taste, sight, smell, etc., and when the chatter comes, as it surely will, getting back on track. You do this by returning to a focus on your breathing, no mantra or chant needed as in most meditation.

Ultimately, mindfulness helps you live more fully in the present, unburdening yourself from the past with its nostalgia, self-pity, regret, and perhaps anger; likewise, helping you toss your worrying about the future.

Mindfulness teaches you how to get on with life, even in the hard places.

You can practice it in so many ways, like focusing on a candy in your mouth, or intently listening to a loved one, or even while walking or listening to music.

If I were to sum up mindfulness, I’d say it primarily aims, not merely at increasing your awareness, but helping you become more insightful as its reward. In turn, you’ll respond more positively to those around you.

Properly done and practiced daily, mindfulness increases your capacity for empathy, or compassion, for others. After all, when you become more mindful of others, that is, when you really start listening to them, you begin to see yourself as kindred in life’s journey.

As my instructor at Leiden put it, the evidence of your having effectively done mindfulness ultimately exhibits itself in an ethical response to your fellows, along with an effort to ameliorate their life contexts, often imposed by seemingly inherent cultural injustice.

Think about it: Just maybe if we’d all get down to mindfulness we could ultimately bring about a world of fraternity. The revolution I’m talking about doesn’t derive from armed struggle, but the collective, incremental empowerment of reconciliation fostered by a salient awareness of the human kinship that bonds us.

Mindfulness even features exercises that have a direct bearing on helping you achieve greater empathy, or what I like to call emotional intelligence (EQ).

An example of this comes from Dr. Ronald Siegel, a mindfulness therapist at Harvard Medical School:

Cross your hands over your heart.

Think of someone you love, or even of someone who’s brought stress into your life.

Visualize them and say the following:

May you be happy.
May you be peaceful.
May you be free from suffering.

Do this several times.

But keep this caveat in mind: You can’t really love others fully without
self-esteem, resulting in your needing others to validate yourself.

Now say to yourself,

May I be happy.
May I be peaceful.
May I be free from suffering.

While mindfulness won’t cure all of life’s ills, it helps you cope with them, making you aware we’re all in this together.

Discovering yourself and becoming more mindful of others leads to that reciprocal joy Judy Collins famously sings about, and–yes–it can be yours:

Open the door and come right in
I’m so glad to see you my friend
You’re like a rainbow coming around the bend
And when I see you smilie’
Well, it sets my heart free
I’d like to be as good a friend to you
As you are to me.


Leap Frogging

frogsI continue to read Shinzen Young (The Science of Enlightenment), and always with the thrill of discovery. No one, and I mean no one, has opened up the insides of mindfulness meditation more for me.

You know you’re keeping good company with a book you can’t stop scribbling in with notes and highlighting. Later, I become this grasshopper–or better–a frog leaping pages, landing on passages, sometimes amphibiously diving beneath, feeding on nuances that the residual of absence makes clearer and often multiplies.

My guru tells me that any experience, even if painful, yields relief when I pin it with concentration rather than avoidance as many of us do.

Doing so, we make a breakthrough, at long last, mining insight into our Self, that vein of subterranean opaqueness affecting so much of our surface life. The frog thing again.

If mindfulness begins with concentration, it succeeds with clarification, simply because it detaches us from the Self or Ego within us, affording us that rare objectivity.

A still further dividend is that our own wrestlings dissolve in a humility energizing our capacity to love each other more fully.

We measure mindfulness’ success in the amelioration it brings to our daily lives in the acceptance of the finiteness within ourselves and others, creatures never standing still, but always becoming.

While mindfulness can lead us to moments of ecstatic release from the shoulder heavy burdens of anxiety, worry, and resentment–even physical pain– it’s not really about that. Physical suffering, for example, may linger, but it no longer pervades.

Successfully done, mindfulness helps us live happier lives. independent of life’s circumstances with their undulations of good and bad:

Ordinary experience, when greeted with concentration, clarity, and equanimity catalyzes a process of insight and purification which culminates in the ability to have complete experiences whenever you want. This theory is quite elegant. It has all the marks of good science….It well deserves the name, “science of enlightenment.”

There’s so much more I !d like to say, but it’s early morning as I lie in bed, prepping for a new day with its granary for both promise and regret; but as Frost insists, “I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep.”

Live Longer Now

Bodybuilder Ernestine Shepard, 78
Bodybuilder Ernestine Shepard, 78

It’s funny how your mind takes vast jumps, transcending time and space, hurling you into the past or thrusting you into the future. It’s happening to me now.

I remember sitting in my sixth grade class in Florida, fascinated with my teacher’s story of Ponce de Leon’s search for the fountain of youth, motivating him to travel to a new place, which he called Florida.

I think we’re all Ponce de Leons in quest of perpetual youth. We fear ending, the withering of our youth with its exuberance and beauty; the diminishing of resolve motivated by idealism, born of innocence; the advent of entropy and the descent into morbidities presaging that eternal sleep.

We evade our mortality in many guises, obsessing about film icons who seem to have the best of good looks and agelessness.

Advertisers grow rich, pedaling snake oils to mummify us from time’s erosion.

Religion offers consolation; materialism, avoidance; power, the illusion of mastery.

Mortality is the underlying cadence of the arts, arresting time’s flow in capturing the moment’s essence. Think Keats’ Endymion: “A Thing of beauty is a joy forever/Its loveliness increases;/it will never pass into nothingness….”

Medical science isn’t any less pervaded by its own Ponce de Leon quests into unlocking the mysteries of aging, harnessing our genetic codes, refining the regimens of diet and exercise.

A good number of scientists are busy at work, confident that they’ll ultimately win the day. There is Silicon Valley’s California life Company (Calico) for example, determined and well-funded, zealously hiring the foremost scientists on what it deems a moral mission to vastly beat back aging and pre-empt physical demise.

And there are other start-ups, too, like Venter with its ambitious plan to augment Calico’s efforts by creating a gargantuan database of one million human genomes by 2020.

Unfortunately, the landscape of new technologies is littered with bad case scenarios of Frankenstein prototypes unleashing their new horrors on humanity.

I’ve been reading this wonderful book, The Science of Enlightenment by Shinzen Young, an immensely learned Buddhist monk who has made it his mission to reconcile the best of Asian mindfulness practice with contemporary neuroscience.

I happened to come across this passage that set this present blog in motion on how we needn’t concern ourselves with whether science succeeds in its endeavors of extending longevity. We can have it now:

Now imagine that you will live just a normal number of years, but that your experience of each moment will be twice as full as it currently is; that is, the scale at which you live each moment will be doubled. If you only lived each moment twice as fully as the ordinary person lives it, that would be the equivalent of one hundred twenty years of richesse. Not a bad deal.

Hey, I’ll buy into that. I’m 76 and well aware of the math underpinning insurance actuaries. I’m lucky to have gotten this far, and with reasonable health, but it wouldn’t have mattered to me overly if my demise had been at 60.

I’ve lived my life up to the brim with world travel, including third world countries, conversing and making friends; gone from a Philly street urchin, raised by an alcoholic father,  to a professor of English, privileged to share the beauty and wisdom of literature with several thousand students who’ve enriched my life and, I trust, theirs.

I’ve filled my life with passions that have anchored my happiness–a love for reading, nature, languages and writing.

I wake each day, plotting new ventures. As the remarkable Hellen Keller wonderfully put it, “Life is either a great adventure or nothing.”

Not least, there’s been Karen, who entered my life some twenty-five years ago, balancing my introversion with her openness and steady optimism, igniting new vistas with her refusal to foreclose on possibility and stunning ability to rebound from life’s vicissitudes.

Hopefully, the best part of all of this transcends Self in its yield of an encompassing empathy that’s taught me how connected we are to each other and the absolute that we love one another.

For Shinzen Young, longevity is best measured experientially, not chronologically, when we live mindfully in the present. “Meditation is the key to this kind of non-mythical life extension,” he writes. “By developing an extraordinary degree of focus and presence, it allows you to live your life two or three hundred percent ‘bigger.'”

I couldn’t agree more.

Dream Rummaging

We dream–it is good we are dreaming–
It would hurt us–were we awake.
Emily Dickinson

Freud in his London office (1939)


Do you dream a lot?

I know I do.


I dream more now that I’ve gotten older, abetted by having to get up in the nights at this juncture.

Should I care about dreams?

Do they have meaning?

Can they help us?

Perhaps show us our real selves?

Make for a better world?

I know I’ve always been interested in them from earliest days.

The catalyst was probably Freud’s massive Interpretation of Dreams, which I confess to reading all the way through.

For Freud, dreams reflected repressed desire, often of libido.

The wish principle always.

But how can that be?

Don’t I often dream my fears?

With Freud, I always sensed a wanna-be novelist at work, ingeniously spinning narratives, howbeit, in the name of science–alas, to confirm an a priori hypothesis without the backup of today’s medical formulae of random testing and cohort studies. But then, how do you quantify something so ethereal as dreams?

But don’t get me wrong.

I think his Civilization and Its Discontents one of the great masterpieces, despite its surprising brevity.

His triad of Id, Ego, and Super Ego continues to spellbind me by virtual of the myriad ways I see it manifest itself in both myself and others.

Auden, as always, said it so well in his “Memory of Sigmund Freud” (1939):

for one who’d lived among enemies so long:
if often he was wrong and, at times, absurd,
to us he is no more a person
now but a whole climate of opinion….

I was surprised to read in neurologist Oliver Sacks’ tell-all memoir, Moving On, published just several months before his death last week, that he was seeing a psychoanalyst for some fifty years–and, remarkably–the same one every week! Sacks kept a notebook on his nightstand, recording his dreams faithfully.

Make no mistake: Sacks is a man I came to love and respect deeply. I just wish I knew why he kept finding psychoanalysis a cornucopia of self-knowledge, apart from crediting it with his rescue from drug addiction acquired from his youthful halcyon California days a la Muscle Beach.

For me, the great influence on how I look at dreams has been Freud’s former disciple, Carl Jung. His notions of anima and animus, often projected in dreams, have proved revelatory personally and hence liberating.

He taught me that so much of living life is finding equilibrium, or the balancing of Ego and Self.  Dreams offer symbols to excesses in ourselves that can be remanded.

He also introduced me to polarity as the essence of mythos truth with its tension of paradox.

If Freud looked to our past as the repository of dream content, Jung saw dreams as projections of possibility and therefore hope.

Jung was more a cultural analyst, or pseudo-anthropologist, finding universality across a wide spectrum of symbolic significance, rummaging what he collectively called archetypes.

In younger days I nearly chose becoming a licensed Jungian therapist and sometimes wonder if I committed one of the great follies in my life in turning down its seduction. Campbell, that ardent Jungian, famously urged we should follow our bliss. That maxim, aside from its latent dangers resident in reductionism, may often prove wise counsel and its rejection the source of substantial human misery.

But to sum up, I think what I’ve liked best in Jung is his acceptance of the banality of evil, Arendt’s phrasing for resident evil in Man. No liberal withering away via socio-economic exegesis, often speciously argued in my view.

Maybe my lifelong fascination with dreams stems from my youthful days drenched in fundamentalist biblical parochialism. There was Joseph, so masterful at dream interpretation that the Pharaoh took him into his confidence, ultimately saving Joseph’s kindred Hebrews.

And of course, there’s Daniel.

For the ancients, dreams gave warning and with it, admonition.

I chose to pursue a Ph. D. in English Literature. Well, you guessed it: Coleridge’s famous Kubla Khan poem, which he explained as the aftermath of an interrupted dream. But that’s just one dream poem. There are scores of other dream poems.

What I’m meaning to say is that there have been so many threads feeding into my dream fixation, not just Freud and Jung who were obviously mesmerized.

Do dreams exhibit patterns?

Do they help us to know ourselves?

I believe they do.

And that’s why I need to go back to exploring my dreams again, now that they seem to occur more frequently.

Like Sacks, I may soon be keeping a notepad on my nightstand.


When Worrying Helps

Bob Marley’s hit song “Everythings Gonna Be Alright,” delivered with hypnotic reggae beat, buoys our spirits when we travel troubled waters:

Don’t worry about a thing
Cause every little thing gonna be all right.

Don’t you just wish it could be so in what poet W. H. Auden famously dubbed “the age of anxiety”?

Let me count some of the worries that trouble many, including myself:

  1. Climate change with its perilous threat to life upon our planet, or at the very least, its incalculable fallout as millions flee flooded homelands, hunger, and economic devastation.
  1. A disease pandemic as the world increasingly shrinks and we’re introduced to new diseases, augmented by exponential germ resistance to last stand antibiotics.
  1. Emergence of a new Frankenstein in the guise of artificial intelligence with the smarts to outwit humans bent on shutting it down. According to Stephen Hawking, it’s not a question of if, but when, and may lead to the end of human life.
  1. Massive technological replacement of human beings in the work force by computers and their robot offspring, performing tasks more quickly and efficiently for fewer bucks.
  1. Continuous rise in human population, especially among the most impoverished, threatening to outstrip resources to feed, shelter and provide economic well-being, increasing the likelihood for conflict. Malthus may have been right all along. He just didn’t get the timing down.
  1. Nuclear proliferation with more nations, some of them rogue, seeking the Bomb, increasing the possibility they might get used.
  1. Fanatics ultimately cajoling us into doing stupid things like opposing vaccines, free trade, immigration reform, fossil fuel addiction, gay rights, a woman’s right to choose, ad infinitum.
  1. Depletion of resources, including not only metals, soils and fertilizers, but flora and fauna essential to human survival.
  1. A natural calamity in which an anomaly intervenes, such as the sun increases its energy variability, or an asteroid hits us, or Yellowstone’s thermal springs go big time again.
  1. World markets collapse and a depression ensues, wiping out every vestige of economic security.

Worries come in temporal wrappings, short and long term.

Those we can do something about and those we can’t.

Our most subtle danger, however, lurks in the human leaning to ignore possibility, despite ample signs that “everythings [Not] gonna be all right.”

When we do this, it’s the Child, not the Adult, within us that speaks: “Please, Daddy, make the pain go away!

It gave us WWII. And in 1962, nearly World War III.

We push aside possibility daily in so many ways, neglecting our health, or overspending, or investing in wrong loves.

We do it on a larger scale when government prefers expediency, refusing to fund social security sufficiently, or confronting global warming, or curbing its addiction to deficit spending, or standing fast against terrorist regimes.

Bottomline, not worrying when we should may pose the most lethal danger of all.


You Aren’t Who You Think You Are!


Have you ever found yourself so angry, say in an argument, that you’ve yelled, or said mean things, or left the room, or slammed a door, only to feel ashamed later?

Have you ever panicked, ready to pull your hair out, because your fear seemed overwhelming, demanding a quick fix that seemed elusive?

Perhaps it was in getting bad news such as being fired, or being told you have a serious illness, or finding out your spouse wants out.

It’s been said many times you are what you think about. If you’re having happy thoughts, then chances are they’ll carry you through the day, making it a good one.

Conversely, when you’re upset–who knows about what?–you’re apt to put in motion unhappy scenarios throughout your day. Not only that, you may be spreading your viral malcontent to others.

But it’s your unconscious thoughts that may influence you even more, and with greater fall out, since you’re unwitting of the sources behind what you say and do. In short, it goes a lot deeper than just what you think about.

It’s as though you’re living with a stranger usurping your identity. There he is, randomly, unexpectedly, projecting himself upon your conscious world.

Your thoughts, then, seldom come close to mirroring who you really are, though they may try to tell you that you’re either lacking or even very special.

And this is the good news, since your thoughts most likely come short of who you really are.

Your mistake is identifying with them.

This becomes clearer when we resort to linguistics.

In English, we always say things like “I’m angry” or “I’m lucky” or I’m afraid,” when logically this can never be so.

This gets corrected in languages like Spanish, French and German in which we say we have anger, or luck or fear.

Now try this little exercise in predicate adjectives to catch my drift. To

I am, add an adjective that describes you:

I am …

I am happy.

I am sad.

Et cetera.

I call it the name tag game and we all play it.

As such, these tags can never summarize in any moment the totality of who you are in your uniqueness, and thus you err when you identify with them.

Name tags reach back into your childhood as you strive for validation, or self-worth, often by comparing yourself to others.

My mother likes my sister more than me.

I’m smarter than Bill.

I’m not popular.

Unfortunately, such scripts program us; that is, unless you learn to identify the falsity of their self limitations.

By doing so, you free yourself from their tyranny.

You don’t replay them anymore.

Self-acceptance prospers in an environment saturated with love. Too many of us we’re raised, however, by parents who themselves were never accepted for who they were, and thus never fully loved.

Accordingly, their love was, in turn, conditional, or a projection of themselves.

The truth is you’re far more than the stories you’ve come to believe about yourself.

You don’t need to keep modeling yourself on what you think or have been told you are or should be.

You’re worthy now.

Too often you try to compensate for life having dealt you a bad hand:

A broken home replete with violence.

An alcoholic parent.

Bullying at school.

A physical or mental handicap.

Sexual abuse.

A friend’s betrayal.

An insensitive teacher.

And while measured by status and/or accumulation, you may even seem successful to others, you find you’re still battling feelings of inferiority or unworthiness daily.

In a kind of guerrilla war, your anxiety pushes you to flush out the enemy by doing still more.

You hunger for approval, but it’s never enough.

Afraid of disapproval, you retreat from doing new things because you might do it wrong or even fail.

Freeing yourself by identifying the stories you’ve come to falsely believe about yourself is your passport to loving yourself, and with it, finding confidence and joy.

Anxiety about yourself, unfortunately, is an acquired practice.

It follows you must undo the habit.

When you think negatively or act out destructively, catch yourself at it.

This isn’t my true self.

This isn’t me.

And you’re right.

You can help yourself by retrieving your thoughts in a strainer, as it were, by practicing mindfulness,

Breathe deeply through your nose for a count of six seconds, your hand on your belly

Feel your stomach inflate.

Now breathe out for a count of four. feeling your stomach contract.

Visualize happy scenes.

Let your body relax, beginning with your toes, then your feet, legs, back, arms and neck, each in its turn.

Now listen to your thoughts,

Do this without judging them.

If you stray, as we always do, return to deep breathing.

By listening to ourselves, detached from censure, we see objectively, freeing ourselves from anxiety’s tyranny.

We don’t allow our emotions to boss us around anymore.

To this end, I find restorative yoga the most peace-rendering exercise of any I’ve come upon.

Unfortunately, most yoga practice in the West confines itself to bodily exercise, or fitness,

True yoga is much more, or holistic, the “yoking” of mind and body, for they are ultimately one. Yoga mean “to yoke.”

This is where Western medicine so often fails, treating symptoms, not causes.

We are not mere physical creatures.

We possess a spiritual component.

We are sentient beings.

In traditional parlance, we have a Soul.

In modern life, however, we’ve disconnected Body and Soul.

The consequence is that we find ourselves out-of-balance, resulting in stress, fatigue and, ultimately, illness.

Yoga reverses this, restoring health, both physical and mental.

Yoga helps you let go.

Yoga enables you to love yourself and, with it, forgive yourself and others.

I’m sadly limited to a blog, when there’s so much else I’d like to say.

But let me recommend a book that will jump start your reconnecting mind and body. I promise you’ll not want to set it down:

Brad Willis. Warrior Pose:  How Yoga (Literally) Saved My Life.

We listen too much to our head, when we should be living life with our heart.

If you follow my suggestions, hand over my heart, you’ll increasingly gain power over that stranger who’s usurped the premises.

You’ll dislike him so much, you’ll ask him to leave.

The good news is that he will!



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