vision vs. hope

•October 3, 2012 • Leave a Comment

As an alternative to relying on hope to get us through rough times, a more proactive approach creates a vision of what good times could look like if it all works out like we prefer. By articulating in as much detail as possible our vision of a preferred life and compare it to what we believe we have currently, we are better equipped to nurture, to husband, to instigate, to encourage our lives towards resembling more closely our preferences.

RUSSIAN RIVER ISLET c. 2012 mjmmft

Hope can be a relatively passive practice in that it doesn’t require action on our part; in fact, we’re more likely to hope for something when we feel we can’t make it happen on our own. Otherwise, we wouldn’t need to hope for it — we’d just go get it, go do it, go have it, go live it.

Vision, on the contrary, is a first step in actively responding to every situation. After we have a clear vision, we can set about acting on it. In scuba diving it was: “Plan your dive (vision), then dive your plan (action).” The third step is reviewing or measuring your results and incorporating anything of value into an improved plan. Then repeat.

To repeat: create a vision of the way you’d like it (re anything you want to influence). Then act out that plan. Then measure the results. For example, if your vision is to be an airplane pilot, you take lessons and you practice and then you take and pass one or more tests and then you get licensed as a pilot. Then measure your results — did you reach your goal? if not fully, then by how much did you fall short? Debrief — with ourselves and/or with family or colleagues or anyone else we’re working with in some capacity on some project.

Then make a new goal and repeat.


expertise vs. vulnerability

•October 26, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Related to the issue of being considered crazy is the opposite state, being considered an expert or especially skillful or intelligent. Most of us feel that in order to help someone — ourself or another — we must use our expertise, our skills, and our intelligence to do so. Often, we also feel we must hide our faults.

But what if we aren’t in touch with our abilities or strengths? Perhaps we’re depressed or out of work — we think at the moment that we have a profound lack of skills or strength. We usually aren’t feeling like we have anything to offer anyone else at times like these.


In actuality, though, this may be among the best “modes” to be in if we want to be helpful. Being at a loss, so to speak, may be a gain for us and others in several ways.

First, it can make us more human and more like others in our fallibility. As an example, back in the 1980’s, I participated in a self-managed (ie fee-free) men’s group with 6 to 8 other guys, back east where I lived at the time. They would tell me often that it was when things were most falling apart for me — divorce, unemployment, health issues — that I was most accessible, open, honest, humble, and, to be honest, likeable…at least in their view. And these were people who’d meet with me for two hours each week, almost without interruption, for 7 to 8 years.

So that’s one way that being “down on our luck” may help us to help others…we present a more accessible image to others. It’s harder, after all, to empathize with or see the need to support the person who seems to have it all together. Others can feel more like being someone’s friend if they don’t always know it all.

CRESTWALK SIGN c. 2008 mjmmft

Also, we may have more empathy for others’ errors and shortfalls if we see in ourselves imperfections or blemishes. If I’m not perfect, and I’m learning to live with that, then perhaps I can live with other fallible beings…perhaps even be less judgemental in general, not be so impressed by the great as well as less worried by the so-called “negatives” in life.

And “not knowing” is a state of mind that is valued by artists and Zen masters, among others, for the innocence and openness it can assist them in developing. “Beginner’s mind” is a state to cultivate when the preconceptions that come with experience get in the way of seeing with the fresh eyes of someone new to any activity. Perhaps this is related to “beginner’s luck”.

In short, as we develop expertise, we may want to keep an open mind about mistakes. Not only can patience with our own errors help us to forgive and move on, thereby getting less stuck in the past, but it can also help us to empathize and be more charitable towards others, thus making us a potential ally instead of potential critic.

Be well!

crazy after all these years

•June 11, 2007 • Leave a Comment

We think or say, “I feel crazy” sometimes, don’t we? There are several different kinds of crazy, aren’t there? We may mean something completely different each time we use the same word to refer to separate states of mind or body or spirit at any given point in time that look or feel “crazy” to us.

Crazy can mean “out of control”, like someone acting or speaking in erratic or compulsive ways or reporting, for instance, that his or her mind is bursting with helplessly rapidly tumbling simultaneous thoughts. Other times, when we say someone is crazy, we mean that that someone take risks, perhaps unnecessarily. Slang uses, as they often do, overturn the negative and emphasize the positive ~ Coltrane was crazy!

Being crazy is usually bad, except when it’s good. Challenging the status quo…proposing evidently ridiculous theories or designs or visions that might later be deemed self-evident…risking one’s life to save another’s…voting for a candidate you believe in, even when they are likely to lose…these are “crazy” ways to behave and yet may be necessary for an individual, for all of us, to really live.

At 55 years of age this Friday morning at 7:10am (Newark, New Jersey time), I see some ways that my craziness is more relaxed, perhaps, over time. Drug use is way down and most of my current friends don’t abuse much of anything at all any more. Being monogamous eliminates the risk of rashly embarking on yet another dysfunctional relationship ~ instead, I can enjoy the regular “craziness” of my beautiful wife (only kidding, honey!) And I was never very radical as a musician, but some of my friends were ~ and they’re no longer in my life, for the most part. I don’t stay out late or much anymore or go on sleepovers. I mean, what’s up with this?

Is it the onset of creeping wisdom, or the solidifying of hard-earned survival skills? Should craziness be best experienced in our youth? We expect young people to be more or less “crazy” but that’s okay because they’re young. So maybe it’s not a bad thing that I’m not so crazy anymore.

It makes me nervous. I’m used to thinking of myself as crazy, actually. My parents told me that I was, my friends, my teachers, my girlfriends, my first and second wives…the list seems endless. But now, I’m a grownup, at least I think I am. And not too many people are telling me that I’m crazy (although that could be that they just got tired of telling me so).

Am I crazy? If so, how can I use it to my advantage and that of those I care for? Suicide comes up as an option, although I don’t think I’ve done that much damage to deserve it quite yet. I’m definitely in the purgatory category of Roman Catholic afterlife rather than the hell, at least as far as I can tell. Penance ~ hey, I’m a psychotherapist!

By the way, this brings up the question, can a crazy person help another? The answer, at least it seems so to some of us, is yes. Why? Because it’s easier to see “craziness” in others than in ourselves. Because my failures have taught me some things you may not know. Because the notion of the “Wounded Healer” I was taught in grad school at John F. Kennedy University in Orinda, California, turns out to be valid. How? By supporting rather than criticizing. By reflecting rather than directing. By nurturing rather than dragging out into the middle of the bell curve.

Can you dig?

addictive relationships

•December 21, 2006 • 1 Comment

Can relationships be “addictive” in the same ways that alcohol or drugs can be?

Well, there are some important differences but there are indeed some striking similarities. Some of us know what it’s like to feel so attached to or dependent on a relationship with a person (friend, romantic partner or spouse) or an activity (gambling, eating, porn) that we can only describe it as “addicting”.

I’ve certainly had a few in my life. Some of the signs — can’t stop thinking about the “addictive” person or activity…find ourselves losing money or sleep or friends…continuing in the relationship despite other negative effects…thoughts or feelings of powerlessness over the relationship (“I just can’t leave her/him/it)…feeling crushed or like our life is over when the relationship is ended by another’s choice (our boyfriend breaks up with us; we run out of money and can’t gamble anymore; etc.).

Of course, there aren’t the same physical qualities inherent in gambling as there are in cocaine — there’s no actual substance that’s being ingested nor a direct alteration of our body chemistry. But there are clear links between attitude and emotion and our immune systems and hormones; repeated modifications to our internal mechanisms by virtue of regular indulging in certain feelings may indeed lead to a change in some internal “switches” so that we begin to resemble the substance-abusing addict regarding our dependency.

I recently began working with a new client who is holding onto the idea that somehow the lost friend and he can work it out even though they’ve had serious problems and agreed to end their romance; he keeps obsessing about what went wrong and how he can “get her back” (ie restart the relationship).

What’s wrong with this picture? Well, that old river in Egypt — denial. He’s engaging in the same kind of wishful thinking that an addict does when they tell themselves, “It can work out, I could just have a few drinks/puffs/lines/whatever and keep things under control.” The truth is, until he changes the roots of his low self-esteem and critical point of view about her, they’ll just fall back into the same old patterns again and again.

Is it hopeless? Does someone addicted to relationships have to avoid them forever? Of course not,,,a girl/boyfriend is not actually the thing we’re addicted to. It’s a way of relating, a co-dependent/dysfunctional patterned way of having a relationship that we’re dependent on and perhaps afraid to leave behind. The good news is that doing so gives us so many more options in who we play or partner with and how we do it!

Be well!

pain management

•December 15, 2006 • 1 Comment

Pain is something everyone will experience at some point in their life ~ and probably often. In fact, moderate pain in the form of stress, challenges, and disappointments can help us build character, resiliance, and self-reliance. Kids who are allowed to pick up a cookie off the floor (1-minute rule?) may, according to the results of some studies, develop better immune systems via the bacteria that accompanies the cookie to the mouth.

However, some pain, especially when it’s severe or chronic, can also contribute to cynicism, despair and even suicide. I know I find my tolerance for minor stresses deteriorating when I am experiencing pain; imagine what losing a limb in an explosion along the road to Baghdad can do to your outlook on life!

Many of us, much of the time, quite appropriately focus on pain prevention and risk reduction — looking both ways before entering traffic, cutting vegetables away from our hand instead of towards it, and so on. In fact, much of the pain people experience is “unnecessary” in the sense that it could easily have been forestalled. The ultimate tragedy, for some, is the death of a child in a situation that could have been avoided.

But, when pain occurs despite our efforts at living painlessly, how can we turn the occasion of pain into the opportunity for benefit? What are some of the steps that enable one to take something positive from pain?

One important tool is simply an awareness that pain can be beneficial. For instance, tooth pain signals a cavity which, when treated, prevents worse pain when our tooth or gums decay beyond repair. Thus, rather than exclusively focusing on the negative aspect ~ ow, this hurts! ~ we include an aknowledgement that the pain was preventative in some way. Also, responding to pain by investigating its source and nature, instead of ignoring it or toughing it out, enables us to take advantage of the warning regarding greater, impending harm that pain sometimes offers.

Another is to use the experience of pain to deepen our empathy and compassion for others in dire straits. Having “been there, done that”, we know how hard it is for them and so can offer companionship and caring to those who may, at the moment, have little ability to notice anything positive about their situation.

Yet another is to use pain as a path towards greater self-awareness and understanding — certain religious practices, such as scourging and other forms of asceticism (lying on a bed of nails is quite painful, at least initially) make explicit this possibly beneficial aspect of pain. Yoga, for example, can be (partially) about the pain that one breathes through rather than avoids.

Here endeth the thoughts for today…be well!

attachments / or / murphy’s law is god

•December 12, 2006 • Leave a Comment

isn’t it amazing how
sometimes things work out
exactly as we planned them,
and sometimes not?
why is that?
how can we make things work out more often?
how can we avoid those days when nothing goes
the way we wanted it to, i.e.
when murphy’s law rules?

the solution, as it turns out,
to having our plans turn out
may be to be less attached
to having it the way we want.
murphy’s law ~
whatever can go wrong, will go wrong
~ affects us because
we so very much want things to
happen in a particular way.
if we didn’t care,
it wouldn’t matter.

not giving a shit isn’t any
way to live a life, in my
humble opinion.
so what i really mean is,
have several options.
don’t be so attached to plan a
that we forget to have plan b & c.
with alternatives, we are
flexible and can go with the
flow of events.
if more of what’s possible is
included in what’s desired,
we are more likely to be
okay with whatever transpires.

an old joke: want to make god laugh? tell her your plans.

be well!

…what’s up?

•December 11, 2006 • 1 Comment

welcome seekers and bodhisatvas
sinners and saviors
shy or brash
friendly or isolated

what is this place
you wonder?
a place for wondering…

how to be well? how to be now? well…
how about

alternative perspectives
signposts at a fork in the road
reports from between the lines
preferences and dreams

yours and mine

make a comment
draw inspiration
share with others
nourish yourself

be well!