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The Language of Inclusion

the slopes of haleakala

The language of inclusion is about two three–letter words: “but” and “and.” In grammatical terms, they are called conjunctions. They bridge two clauses of a single sentence together. In communication (and negotiation), these words are subtle manipulators of exclusion or inclusion. Generally speaking, “but” excludes, denies, discounts or in some way rejects the previous clause. For example, the statement “she is a very productive employee but she can be a bit demanding” is subtly different than “she is a very productive employee and she can be a bit demanding.” In the first example, the “but” tends to convey a negation of the first clause of the sentence in favor of the second clause of the sentence. In the next example, the “and” tends to convey an inclusion of the first clause along with the second clause.

Take another example: “Yes I understand you need to meet with me before tomorrow’s meeting but my schedule is packed full” vs. “I Yes I understand you need to meet with me before tomorrow’s meeting and my schedule is packed full.” In this example, by using “and” instead of “but” the speaker not only avoids negating the initial clause but also conveys to the listener that his/her concerns about needing to meet are acknowledged.

Using “and” is also a much softer way to say no. For example, the typical “yes, but” can easily be replaced with “yes, and.” For example, the request “We need to purchase new computers” can be responded to with “yes I know, but we can’t until next year” or “yes I know, and we can’t until next year.” The “and” does not negate the “yes” whereas the “but” does tend to convey a sense of canceling out that which preceded the “but.”

The use of “but” is extraordinarily common. In fact, few people actually recognize the subtle influence of using but. If you were to consciously attempt to change “but” to “and” in your speaking, you will notice how odd it feels. It is a worthwhile exercise if for no other reason than to become more comfortable with the ability to switch from one to the other. However, there can be a more important reason: using “and” instead of “but” can positively influence dialogue. When using “and” instead of “but” there is a sense of inclusion and acceptance even if the conclusion is a denial or refusal.

Try it out over the next several days. Listen to others’ sentences and when you hear “but” change it in your own mind to “and.” Then, start listening to your own sentences. When you hear yourself about to say “but” change it to “and” but remember one thing…oops…and remember one thing…you do have some choices in life….

Love and Despair: Recovering From A Breakup

koi fish

 

Love and Despair: Recovering From A Breakup

When we’re in love, the world is golden and nothing gets us down. When we are out of love, we are desperate to regain those feelings we had while in love. The desperation can be so intense, we find ourselves thinking and doing things we would be ashamed to tell our best friend. The excitement of falling in love, being in love, is not just a thrilling psychological and emotional experience. It is as well a bio-chemical experience, what might be called a “high,” and there are resemblances to a chemical addiction, and withdrawal, which become evident when we break-up. Some of the neuro-chemicals in the brain associated with being in, and out, of love are ‘dopamine,’ ‘serotonin,’ ‘neuroepeniphrine,’ ‘adrenaline’ and ‘phenylethylamine.’ Depending on the level of these chemicals in the blood, we can be ecstatic, or terribly depressed. Some research has shown a similarity in blood chemistry and neural activity in regions of the brain between people in the first stages of love, the infatuation phase, and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.

Most people are aware of ‘testosterone’ and ‘estrogen.’ These hormones, along with ‘pheremones’ are largely responsible for sexual attraction. Pheremones are hormones that are excreted or secreted, rather than remain internal. We often find ourselves attracted to (or repelled by) a person based on their scent. That scent is secreted or excreted chemicals, i.e., pheremones, Although pheremones and hormones may ignite the initial spark of a relationship, they aren’t able to maintain a relationship. The hormones ‘oxytocin’ and ‘vasopressin’ are released in the body during the heights and climax of sexual intercourse and reinforce the attachment and bonding that occurs from physical intimacy. If a couple were to meet and fall in love, and then take some medication that dampened these love chemicals, they would find themselves rather indifferent about their affections for each other. After years, or decades, of marriage, couples fall out of love due in large part to the waning of these chemicals. One or both partners may seek extra marital affairs to again feel the thrilling flow of those hormones through the blood. The despair we experience after a break-up is not because we are estranged from our loved one, but because the love chemicals in the blood are no longer there, they have diminished, or vanished. If those same love chemicals could be injected back into the blood, we would feel more than fine. A good solid, stable relationship has built up a bond of affection based on the initial stages of love. That stable affection can then in turn reignite feelings of lust and romantic love, which reinforce the stable long-term relationship. In many love relationships, it is the initial thrill and excitement that is of most interest and when that begins to wane, sexual activity can become more adventurous, which can be a good thing; but it can become overly aggressive, and violent, as well. Affairs outside the primary relationship can develop. The term ‘love addiction’ or ‘sex addiction’ are appropriate because of the chemical basis for these obsessions. It is not the wild sex or the affair we are after, it is the chemicals such activities generate in the blood stream.

Many people seek out drugs, either prescribed medications or illegal substances, to help them cope with the despair of withdrawal that often arrives with a break-up or separation. This, of course, makes perfect sense since the feelings of being in love are chemical in nature. Some drugs can dampen the feelings of despair; some drugs can escalate the feelings of euphoria. Neither one of them is a truly satisfactory solution to the break-up. There is however, a healthy way of responding to the despair a break-up can leave us with:

1) Exercise. There is such a close proximity of the word ‘exercise’ to the word ‘exorcise’ that one has to consider exercise as a way of exorcising the demons of chemical imbalance. Exercise has been shown to release neuro-chemicals that make one happy, even ecstatic, without being in love with someone. It is in fact the same chemicals, but produced in a different context, a self initiated context, one that is not dependent upon another person. Exercise not only produces these happy chemicals, it teaches us that we can generate them on our own; we become more autonomous, more stable within ourselves. It’s just a matter of doing it.

2) Proper Diet. Don’t eat junk. If there is any truth to the adage ‘we are what we eat,’ then if we eat junk, we are going to become junk, and feel like junk. If you have just broken up from a love relationship, you already feel like junk. It doesn’t help to compound the problem. Decide to eat well. Do your own little research project on what that would look like for you. Get to know your proteins, carbohydrates and fats.

3) Positive Focus. It’s often found that before a person fell in love, they were doing well enough in life. They held a job, had a variety of activities they enjoyed, good friends, interests, hobbies…..And then they met somebody….fell in love…..and lost all focus on the elements that had made up their life in favor of this one person. That positive focus needs to be regained. Those elements of one’s life gave it meaning, purpose and satisfaction. Reach out to friends, take up that hobby again, rekindle the interests that were enjoyable, fun and rewarding. It is an act of will and determination at first. But, you will soon find yourself in that good groove again. And, when you next find yourself in a love relationship, don’t forego these important elements of your life.

4) Talk story. If you have a close friend, relative, or even parent, who is supportive, caring and non-judgmental, share with them your story. You may have neglected them in favor of your now non-partner, but you can reach out again to them. Share with them your thoughts and feelings. It can be very helpful. If you do not have such a support person in your life seek out professional counseling. By talking it out, you can objectify what has happened to you and that can help you see things more clearly.

5) Meditation. Take time to be by yourself.
a. A long solitary walk can do wonders for the soul. While walking, recall the blessings in your life, all the good things you have had, and have now. Breathe deeply and walk with confidence that you are a capable person able to meet the challenges that life brings to you around any corner.
b. Sitting quietly alone, without music, television or other distractions is healing. There is a saying ‘feel it to heal it’ and meditation can be the perfect opportunity to do just that. This type of meditation is not about gaining a peaceful state of mind, it is not about obtaining insight or enlightenment; it is about feeling the pain, not denying or avoiding the hurt but rather acknowledging it, even honoring it, as a human experience we are all prone to. During this kind of meditation, upsurges of emotion are to be expected. If the urge to cry emerges, it is to be allowed. Crying is one of the best ways of releasing pent up painful emotional energies. Don’t be ashamed, don’t be shy…let the healing balm of salt-water tears cry out….
c. Visualization is a form of meditation in which we see, clearly, in the mind’s eye, with detail, an image of our choosing. Visualize yourself healthy, happy, friendly, understanding, strong and stable. Add affirmative statements to your visualizations that reinforce your worthiness and value as a person. Be aware that the mind does not register negative goals. That is, if you say, “I will no longer think about (name of person), the mind only hears “think about (name of person).” It does no register the ‘I will no longer’ part. So, you would rephrase it to say something like ‘I now think clearly about my immediate tasks at hand.”

6) Masturbation. This can be a sensitive topic; however, there is enough objective information based on decades of research to say it is both normal and healthy, for both sexes, at any time, not just after a break-up. As the writer/director/film-maker Woody Allen said in his classic movie “Annie Hall,” “Don’t knock masturbation, it’s sex with somebody I love.” Masturbation may be a necessary component of the ‘withdrawal’ from sexual activity with a partner. Furthermore, it is known to produce happy chemicals and reduce sexual stress and tension. If you are inhibited, anxious or concerned about this very common behavior, you may need to do some research and reading. There is plenty of reputable studies and sound advice out there.

7) Future Orientation. The mind is ‘teleological’ by design. That means it is goal directed. If you continue to think about the past, the mind will tend to take you in that direction. You will repeat old patterns, maintain old thoughts and beliefs. If you think about the future, where you are headed, the mind will focus in that direction. You will generate new thoughts, beliefs, perceptions and strategies to get you moving that way. Perhaps you have heard it said that ‘the grass is greenest where it is watered the most.’ Focus on what you want, not what you don’t want. Focus on your goals, not on your obstacles. Focus on your successes, not on your mistakes or failures. Focus on your strengths, not your weaknesses.

8) Know yourself. Self-knowledge is a life long developmental task. Recognize the break-up or separation despair you feel now as part of the self-knowledge curriculum. And, consider the love you have lost, and the despair you have found, as a stepping-stone to an expanded self-awareness, and a greater capacity for compassion. There are clearly risks in a love relationship. You can be hurt, even devastated. And yet, new life does rise up out of the ashes. Although you may think your heart is broken and you can never love again, your heart can also be viewed as opened, for, indeed, a broken heart is an opened heart, and able to become more capable of loving, and being loved, than it has ever been before.

Psychological Healing

healthy woman standing on rocks

All Wound Up And Wounded: Some Thoughts On Psychological Healing.

 

It may be of some surprise that the word ‘wound’ is used to represent a cut, hurt, abrasion or more serious injury AND that same word can mean tied up tightly, coiled up, or bound as in “I was all wound up with stress.” We tend not to think of being wound up and stressed as an injury, or wound. However, on a psychological level, that is exactly what it is. In today’s jargon, the word ‘trauma’ is used, and aptly so. Trauma is Greek in origin and translates into English as ‘wound’ – as in hurt or injury. When we speak of trauma, we are talking about being all wound up with woundedness. It’s easy to get wounded in this world, both physically and psychologically. It happens to us all. Even positive experiences such as falling in love can wind us up and promote symptoms of trauma as suggested by the title of Elvis Presley’s classic rock ‘n roll song “All Shook Up.” In the song, Presley outlines some of the behaviors felt when shook up with love such as

 

“…I’m itching like a man on a fuzzy tree
My friends say I’m actin’ wild as a bug…”
and
“…My hands are shaky and my knees are weak
I can’t seem to stand on my own two feet…”
and
“…My tongue gets tied when I try to speak
My insides shake like a leaf on a tree…”

 

Behavioral symptoms like that, taken out of context, could point to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
It’s almost impossible to arrive at early adulthood without having been shook up, or wounded, which are, essentially, traumatic experiences. Any number of psychological and emotional ‘shake ups,” or traumas, occur during childhood and adolescence from punishment to rejection to ridicule to embarrassment and more. Severe trauma such as being in an auto accident, critical illness, violence (as a victim or a witness), abuse, neglect and rape, can create significant psychological and emotional injury, or woundedness, the ramifications of which can spread over decades of one’s life. Even the process of being born into this world, the experience of transitioning from the warm womb to the bright and often cold world, the shock of separation from the umbilical chord, the first searing breath, can be traumatic. It would appear that we are all wounded, all wound up, all traumatized, to some degree. As such, the concept of healing becomes important to just about everybody.

A lot of healing is actually repair and restoration. The body has a remarkable inborn repair process to deal with injuries such as cuts and abrasions, sprains and breaks. One hardly has to do anything but clean it and bandage it; the body does the rest automatically. Even in more serious wounds, once it is dressed, the body’s internal repair process takes over. Significant damage to parts of the body, or the brain itself, has shown remarkable abilities to restore some functions, often through adaptations of existing structures and functions. Such is not necessarily the case with psychological and emotional repair due to the freedoms of individual choice. And, in fact, individual choice can actually hinder both bodily and emotional healing. For example, when a cut on the skin is in the repair process, it itches; scratching it does not help. Yet, one often finds themselves scratching at it, and working against the natural repair process. Emotional healing or repair often requires time alone to feel the hurt, to cry…And yet, one may choose to ‘party hearty’ and cover up the pain, which is not restorative or healing.

An essential ingredient of psychological and emotional healing can best be described with the analogy of obedience training of a pet dog. If you are not familiar with obedience training, the purpose is to train the dog ‘to heel.’ For the purposes of this analogy, let’s use ‘heal’ instead of ‘heel.’ The sound is the same, and there is actually a symbolic relationship between the two as the heel is considered a vulnerable area (i.e., achilles heel), and one, consequently, prone to being healed.

One of the most commonly used verbal commands in training the dog is ‘heal’ which when spoken means the dog should walk along side the master, or owner. A leash is used to pull and keep the dog along side the master at the same time the word ‘heal’ is spoken. Through basic conditioning, the dog learns what heal means. The dog comes to learn to walk alongside the master; the dog comes to learn that when the master stops, the dog also stops, and sits. If the master says ‘stay’ and walks a way, the dog learns to remain where it is, and not follow along. If the dog is well healed, the master can throw a piece of meat out in front of the dog, and it will not go for the meat until the master says okay. This metaphor of ‘walking along side the master” or “obeying the master” is an important concept of psychological and emotional healing. However, in this case, the ‘master’ is not somebody external; not some authority figure, skilled professional, famous celebrity or great guru. The master is the ‘still small voice within.’ It is one’s own intuition. It is the secret treasure in the chest. It is the core of our heart. It can be felt. It can be heard. And, it can be nurtured. It is a choice. Quietude is often required to align with one’s intuition. And quietude, like the physician’s prescription to ‘get plenty of rest’ when sick is a well-established and quite valid recommendation. Through quietude, calmness and stillnes, one can access their very subtle, delicate and extra-ordinarily sensitive intuition which can guide them holistically and ecologically.
One of the more important elements in healing, and being well healed, is self-restraint. Just as scratching the scab on a skin wound does not help but hinders the healing, so too there can be many, many actions, and reactions, that one feels compelled to take in the name of psychological or emotional repair but which may in fact cause more damage. As the American statesman Daniel Webster is noted to have said, “A strong conviction that something must be done is the parent of many bad measures.” Sometimes, not doing anything at all is far more helpful than doing something that is ‘thought’ to be appropriate, or even necessary. What we might think is right or helpful may be counter to our intuitive sense of what we need to do, or not do. Not doing, having restraint, can not only be highly restorative, it can be tremendously empowering as well. Conversely, there may be situations being avoided and to which the intuition is ever so softly prompting action.

Although many well-meaning friends can give various pieces of advice about what to do and not do, and some may be quite valid, and every community has many excellent healing professionals, offering a variety of modalities, techniques and methods, choices about what to do, and what to not do, are best based on something inside us, something subtle and delicate, something extra-ordinarily sensitive – something we call intuition. Alignment with that is to heal.


 

Love is Bad

red rose

In today’s adolescent vernacular, bad can often mean good. Even the word sick can mean good. You may have heard some kid saying something like ‘oh, yeah, that movie was bad’ or ‘that guitar solo was so sick’ meaning, actually, that they were quite good. Love is bad.

Our use of language naturally evolves and morphs from one generation to another. Each generation seems to invent new words to represent experience. Certainly, we have become accustomed to a plethora of new words as a result of computers, the Internet and social networking. The entire field of ‘texting’ has devised a slew of ‘words’ such as ‘lol’ that were unheard of a decade ago.

There are some words, important words, words which shape and frame our consciousness, which have been around a long time, and which have a myriad of different meanings. Love is one of those words. Depending on our experience with love, it can be bad, as in bad; or, it can be good, as in good. It can be an ecstatic experience, or one of anguish. But, is that really love?

We can say that love has many levels and many meanings; we can speak of erotic and romantic love, platonic love, familial love and we can even speak of a national love, the love a person has for his or her nation and for whom one would die. There are some common denominators amongst all of these types of love, namely that they are emotional states. Being emotionally based, this experience we call love is intimately connected with such emotional traits as attachment and possessiveness, which can lead to jealousy and even violence. One has to question the validity of a ‘love’ that in any way leads to violence, or, for that matter, anger, frustration, depression or anxiety, all of which are not uncommon experiences in the realms of ‘love.’ There is more popular music, poetry and novels written about the anguish and pain of love, both requited and unrequited, than the joys of love. Consider the lyrics in the popular 1980’s song “Love Stinks” by the J. Geils Band:

“You love her
But she loves him
And he loves somebody else
You just can’t win
And so it goes
Till the day you die
This thing they call love
It’s gonna make you cry
I’ve had the blues
The reds and the pinks
One thing for sure
Love stinks”

Love is bad, in the original meaning of bad. It’s sick, in the original meaning of sick. At least the love we think of, as love, is such. But, perhaps, we don’t know love. Perhaps what we label love is an emotional state of mind prone to anguish and torment which has nothing whatsoever to do with love. Perhaps what we have been calling love is really a kind of dependence, a kind of escape from ourselves and our own petty irritations and disturbances of mind. What better way to avoid our own lack of real love than to immerse ourselves into somebody else and call that love?

So, then, what is real love? Is it a feeling? An emotion? An idea? A concept? Or, is it something beyond all that, something so totally fresh, so totally alive, so completely blissful and so totally all encompassing, that we, in effect, block it out, deny it and fear it. Such a state of being could vaporize all our conceptions of who we are and radically change how we relate to others, and to our self. Such a transformation could cause tremendous havoc in our lives, and that would be bad; and so, perhaps, Love is, indeed, bad.

A Philosophical Antidote for Anxiety

crater lake

A philosophical antidote for anxiety. Anxiety is a symptom of a thought process that is fundamentally based on a philosophy of life. Everybody has a philosophy of life though it may not be conscious, and it may not be genuine. That is, it may be a world-view internalized as a child from the surrounding adults. If a child hears “life sucks” enough, then that child internalizes a world view that… life sucks…

One of the more common philosophical underpinnings of anxiety is that things don’t work out; that little problems are big, unsolvable dilemmas; that small obstacles are huge, insurmountable blockages and that the smallest mistake made is equivalent to the largest failure ever committed, by anyone. These philosophical underpinnings generally manifest as ‘catastrophizing’ thought patterns. If you thought a catastrophe was about to occur, you too would be anxious. However, a catastrophe is, in fact, not about to occur, despite our internalized dialogue to the contrary.

Perfectionism is another philosophical underpinning, which generates anxiety. If we are about to approach a task such as, say, a public presentation, and we believe any mistake is a sign of failure, then a lot of energy goes into preventing that failure from happening, which manifests as anxiety. It should be noted that physiologically, anxiety and excitement are almost identical. The only difference between the two is that with anxiety, we anticipate negative outcomes and with excitement we anticipate positive outcomes.

We think in words and pictures; those words and pictures are not so much based upon what we are experiencing or anticipating in the world but rather how we interpret and translate, i.e., how we filter, that experience or anticipation through our philosophical lens. If we believe that little problems are big headaches, difficult to handle and which can easily become evidence of our lack of skill and capacity, we tend to become very anxious. If we believe big problems are challenges that can be an opportunity to exercise our creative problem solving skills and make us feel competent, we tend to have very little anxiety, and bit more excitement.

Anxiety can actually be a pathway to begin examining our internalized thought patterns and our fundamental philosophy of life, or world-view. Sometimes, anxiety is normal and natural. For example, if you were driving at night, in a heavy rainstorm, with lots of traffic, a bit of anxiety would be helpful. It would keep you alert and aware of potential dangers. Excessive anxiety in such a situation could actually increase the danger and risk of an accident. That excessive anxiety could be arising from internal dialogue and mental pictures of catastrophe, based on a philosophical world view that…. life sucks, that insurmountable obstacles occur, that huge unsolvable problems are inevitable or that “the sky is going to fall!”

When irrational anxiety arises, it requires rational, logical thinking to counter it. This kind of thinking is often referred to as evidentiary or scientific thinking. We need to look objectively at what is going on in the situation, as well as our own competencies and capacities. We need to override the catastrophizing thoughts with evidence to the contrary. Our philosophical world view, built up and maintained by our history of internal dialogue and mental pictures may be deeply entrenched; we may be emotionally attached to it and actually believe it is “the truth.”

In fact, our world-view is not the truth; it is simply what we have been taught to think about the world in which we live. Growing up is, in part, letting go of our childish world-view and adopting a more realistic, adult oriented philosophy of life. As stated in 1 Corinthians 13:11 “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but, when I became a man, I put away childish things.” An argument could be made that excessive and irrational anxiety is a childish thing. We can grow up. We can change. We can build a sound philosophy of life not based on childhood experiences and catastrophizing or perfectionism but rather based on our potential, our capacities and our competencies. As the great American psychologist William James said: “The greatest discovery of our generation is that human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitudes of mind. As you think, so shall you be.”