Monthly Archives: December 2005

serenity prayer at 2:28 am

god, grant me the serenity to accept the things i cannot change, the courage to change the things i can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

what’s that all about?

one day, god is the old god. some unknown but benevolent male entity. the next it’s actually “goddess” – and the one goddess i can best connect with is hekate. the next day “god” is some vague kind of goodness, made up by all the higher powers in this world.

“grant” – that’s something that i have difficulty with. it makes me think of Q from startrek, an arrogant monarch who may or may not give me something, according to his whims.

serenity. i love that word. i can’t have enough of it. (which may be my problem – if i had true serenity, i would have enough)

the courage to change the things i can??? that’s the funny one. i used to think of myself as someone who loves change, a change agent, oh, i am so cool. until i took the luxury to look at the things i don’t want to look at, the things i don’t want to change. or the things i’m too chicken to change. oops. this part makes me so nervous i’m drawing a blank right now regarding what i should/could change. okay, here is one. there’s some kinds of anger i run away from. — so, yup, i need the courage.

the wisdom to know the difference …hmmm … yeah, i need that, too. and i mean “wisdom”. i often have “information” – like, i know it’s better to go to sleep before i’m so tired my feet get ice cold (like now, for example). but “wisdom” – that’s more than just having the information, isn’t it? it’s something that goes far deeper. it’s knowledge in the head, in the heart, in the bones … maybe even knowledge that compels action …

virtual reality

this is what brought me today:

Psychologists at the University of Liverpool have found that people still find it difficult to understand how mirrors work.

Dr Marco Bertamini, from the University’s School of Psychology, conducted a number of experiments by covering a mirror on a wall and inviting participants to walk along a line parallel to the mirror.

He asked them to guess the point at which they would be able to see their reflection. Results showed that people believe they can see themselves even before they are level with the near edge of the mirror.

Dr Bertamini said: “People tend not to understand that the location of the viewer matters in terms of what is visible in a mirror. A good example of this is what we call the Venus Effect, which relates to the many famous paintings of the goddess Venus, looking in a small mirror.

“If you were to look at these paintings, you would assume that Venus is admiring her own face, because you see her face in the mirror. Your viewpoint, however, is rather different from hers; if you can see her in the mirror then she would see you in the mirror.”

Participants were also asked to estimate the image size of their head as it appears on the surface of the mirror. They estimated that it would be a similar size to their physical head. However, participants based their answer on the image they saw inside the mirror rather than on the image on the surface of it. They failed to recognise that the image on the surface of the mirror is half the size of the observer because a mirror is always halfway between the observer and the image that appears inside the mirror.

Dr Bertamini added: “Mirrors make us see virtual objects that exist in a virtual world; they are windows onto this world. On the one hand we trust what we see, but on the other hand this is a world that we know has no physical existence. This is one of the reasons why throughout history people have been fascinated by mirrors.”

what do you think of that?

it’s interesting to see the word “virtual” in connection with something other than what computers bring us (the internet; games). what else is virtual, and we often confuse it with reality? books, maps, movies … and of course, for us psychology types – our beloved theories are virtual, too.

oh, and i guess what i think of others is a sort of virtual reality, too. how i see my husband in my mind is certainly not how he sees himself …

a spiritual encounter with the body

i am sitting on the greyhound bus on my way back from vancouver. tomorrow i’m giving a talk about “sacred hedonism”. that phrase popped into my mind a few weeks ago and now i’m sitting here trying to figure out exactly what i meant by that. i know i had in mind to refer to a book by stephanie paulsell, honoring the body. it is one of the most delightfully written books i’ve come across in a number of years. there’s a quiet, reverent voice that’s speaking in that book, very feminine – or no, i think the word would be “womanly”; that voice seems to be confiding in me personally a secret – a secret not because what it speaks of should be kept hidden but because it is told so softly, so intimately, and a secret that this voice wants to be shared.

i am not sure that the word hedonism comes up anywhere in that book. stephanie paulsell is a christian, a disciple of christ to be exact. somehow i can’t connect the idea of hedonism with such a seriously christian group. (btw, i’m going to try to send this blog to ms. paulsell, and would happily stand corrected on this issue).

because i’m on the bus here and don’t have an internet connection, i cannot go my usual route of going to the dictionary to inspire a learner spouting forth on the greek origin (yes, that much i know) of that word. so i’ll just have to ask myself what i meant.

ok, so by hedonism i mean the enjoyment of what my senses allow me to experience. the feeling of aaaaaahhhh at the smell of freshly ground coffee. (i wish there was an internet smell experience, i could give you a link to it). the soft excitement at touching with the whole of the palm of my hand the slightly damp, green feeling of fresh grass. the drinking in of the sight of the full moon on a clear night. the sound of glenn gould playing the goldberg variations. the feeling of being, well, almost being saved when my feet, cold from over tiredness, snuggle up to the hot water bottle in my bed.

being saved. back to the christians. i am happy that i have regained a good relationship with my lutheran-christian roots but the idea of the saviour still eludes me. saved from what? the idea of needing a saviour includes a threat, and the way i understand this (supposedly) particularly strong need for a saviour that some christians talk about implies a constant, strong threat. well, i find life as it presents itself to me daily challenging enough, i don’t really want to add to the stress by imagining some horrible threat looming over me all the time.

oh boy, in this last paragraph there is enough material to write a whole bunch of theological essays but that’s not what i’m trying to do here.

what i DO notice though is, indeed, this feeling of … hmmmm …. what is it …. a feeling of relaxation, of sitting back, of relief, of not needing to keep up walls, which are associated with the examples of sense enjoyment i just listed.

is that what i meant by sacred hedonism? that the sacredness consists in giving myself so fully to the experience of my senses that i can let go, let go into the care of the divine?

christmas in jail with the boozers

christmas often makes me think of the minimum security jail where i worked for a little while. it was a pretty interesting job. once a week i’d migrate to the quaint old farmhouse in new westminster (part of greater vancouver, and british columbia’s oldest city) where that jail was. for a while they even had an organic farm there.

anyways, i was doing some counselling with the “weekenders” – all guys who had weekend jail terms for alcohol related offences. in the beginning i didn’t know what i was doing, and the inmates weren’t really that interested in talking to the “shrink”. but after a while we all started warming up to each other. i think seeing the “shrink” for a little while at least alleviated some of their boredom.

the whole experience was a little bizarre. here i was in that quiet little office in that old farmhouse, overlooking a beautiful property bounded by high poplar trees – it felt very removed from everything. i could take as much time as i wanted with everything. if i would have chosen to do nothing for a whole day, nobody would have said anything.

what i chose to do was to learn a lot. i’d see someone and then i’d keep a journal about what i’ve learned from the exchange. extremely valuable.

i think one of the reasons why christmas makes me think of that place is because the people who chose to do weekends tended to be single people – guys who wouldn’t have too many people complain if they weren’t available over the weekend. they tended to be a pretty lonely lot. so they were particularly lonely on christmas.

one of the things i really learned about there was the concept of harm reduction. there was one guy particularly who drank like a … oh, i don’t know, like a hippopotamus. it seemed pretty hopeless. AA was out of the question. so we spent quite a bit of time talking about when and how much he drank. what was neat was that after a while, we realized that he was not nearly as much under the spell of the booze as he thought. we figured out a whole bunch of situations when he wouldn’t drink, or wouldn’t engage in dangerous activities while drinking. then we figured out situations in which he felt he was able to control how much he was drinking. over a few weekends, he changed his behaviour quite a bit – for example, he wouldn’t drive to the liquor store anymore (because chances were he’d drink as soon as he left the store, leaving him too intoxicated to drive safely); he realized that he was motivated to stop doing things that scared his mother; and he found that there was a particular type of booze (some kind of gin, i think) that he would never drink too, too much of. he had no interest in stopping drinking. but he really wanted to stop the harm that drinking too much caused him and those he cared about.

i wonder what happened to him. he was transferred to another jail one christmas (ah, maybe that’s why i associate working in that jail with christmas) and somehow i was unable to track him down.

wherever he is, i wish him well. and thanks, guy. you taught me a lot.

extra! extra! how psychotherapy saves you money!

driving through kelowna’s residential streets, i watched a car park and all of a sudden i thought, “psychotherapy may not be super cheap, but it sure has saved me money!”

why did i think that? and why while watching a car park? i guess cars make me think of consumerism. and has my consumerism gone down with psychotherapy? i honestly don’t know. i get as irritated as ever at anything but a voluntary curbing of my three big spending areas: restaurants, books and thrift store clothes.

what i do know is that the more emotional support i’ve received, the more my financial life has improved, and the more i have been able to contribute financially (and emotionally) to other people’s lives. so i guess psychotherapy and other forms of emotional support have contributed to my and my community’s net worth.

ok, so let’s see what the connection is – or at least some points of connection. one thing that comes up is that my parents were typical starving artists. there was absolutely no money at all until i was about 14. so poverty was “normal” until i began to seriously consider the idea that i didn’t have to copy my parents’ lifestyle. i also spent much of my life believing that i didn’t have a right to more than was absolutely necessary. i’m still working on that one but have been exposed to enough evidence to the contrary that i’m willing to entertain the idea that i can have a lot of the things/events/people that enrich my life.

another thing that comes to mind is the idea that in the end, we are all one. this was always a vague notion but over the years, it has become much clearer to me. this makes it easier for me to have things in my possession – because i get it on a much more emotional level now that whatever is in my possession right now can (and will) change ownership at any moment. i see this particuarly in my relationhships – i am learning that they don’t “belong” to me. i participate in them. the more i have an attitude of open heart, open mind and open hands towards them, the richer they are for all concerned.

none of these changes came to me solely through just sitting there and thinking of them on my own. they came to me through conversations with my therapist, with the amazing spiritual directors at the listening post in vancouver’s downtown eastside, long conversations with friends, participation in counselling education like satir’s systemic therapy, group therapy, support groups, and through what i’ve learned from my clients.

definitely, many inights happened in my own private corner of the world, in dreams, while journaling or writing poetry, while reading books, or simply in reflection. but as much as i like to think of myself as an independent person, i believe that these insights only started to blossom as they found an echo (or a challenge) in another human being. and i think one of these human beings is my therapist, who interacts with me in a way that i need once in a while to … well, to increase all of our net worth.

so … what does that look like … taking a random 3-year period (and my therapist’s high rates), i think i probably spend about 3% of my take-home pay on therapy. money well invested.

cocky about addictions

good evening …

this post comes to you from kelowna, in the wintry okanagan.

we were driving past a new casino yesterday. judy said something about how she didn’t care for bingo but that she likes slot machines. fred said, i don’t care, all i’m into is football betting. and i was sitting in the back of the car, all smug, thinking, “what’s your guys’ problem – me, all i need is a good book and some chocolate” – and for a minute i was seriously thinking that i was above anyone’s betting addictions. then i remembered (as if anyone needed to remember me of that one) that that was exactly my problem. my addiction is around food. i’m grateful that for the past 3, 4 years i’ve had that in check but it’s a challenge that i need to face daily, otherwise it jumps in my face when i least expect it.

as i was contemplating this picture of me lying there on the sofa with a book propped up and my hand in the chocolate, i also saw a good contrast between something that i simply like very much (reading) and something that i have an addiction problem with (food).

this is what i do around books: i’m happy every time i see one. i love, love, love libraries and bookstores. i rarely leave the house without a book (or two, or three), and there have been numerous times when i should have done something else instead of reading. but i have never hurt myself reading. i have never struggled with books. i have never compulsively read things that i didn’t even want to read. of course i’ve used books to escape – but it’s rarely been an escape that i got stuck in. i have never contemplated a book with the raging lust that can only compare to the hormonal storms of a 16-year-old. i’ve never felt the need to read secretly.

but all of that has happened with food. i’ve eaten cheese sandwiches even though i knew they could give me gallbladder attacks. i’ve felt guilty about eating. i’ve eaten to escape into better feelings and got stuck in the escape, crunching, munching, biting, swallowing. i’ve gone on cruises for just the right morsel, just the right texture, just the right feeling in my mouth, and these pursuits themselves became escapes from which i could not escape.

i am grateful that for today, i am not whipped by my food addiction anymore but still have the pleasure of reading.

psychotherapy, ethics and decisionmaking

so i was talking about buddhism in my last entry …

specifically, i was talking about “the buddhist in me”. i think what i mean by that is “that part of me that feels really close to buddhism”. and talking about parts of me … there’s also a part of me that feels a little sad and lost that i can’t say, with full conviction: i’m a buddhist! i’m a lutheran! i’m a pagan! i’m an atheist! it’s this whole religion vs spirituality thing.

buddhism, liberal christianity, atheism and the pagan worldview all influence me strongly but in the end, that’s what it is, an influence. the part of me that longs for the certainty of a religion is the part that really wishes there was more solid ground under our feet. it’s the part that would like to assert that lying or killing is wrong, under any and all circumstances.

life is so damn confusing! because as soon as i write “killing is wrong, under any and all circumstances”, i think of all the insects i’ve knowingly killed, many of them with glee. is any of you rolling their eyes now? “who cares about mosquitoes and mealy moths?” well, that’s where buddhism comes in. any life form is valuable. (and famous bach scholar and lutheran missionary, albert schweitzer, would agree). anyway, i think this makes it obvious that i need to look at things in context.

there are some contexts – many, in fact, since i’m not vegetarian – under which killing is apparently ok. which makes life complicated because it means that i can’t use a template to make decisions. everything i do i must investigate in the light of who and what is affected by it.

so when i see a mealy moth cruising through the kitchen, the housewife in me curses, hunts it down, and feels victorious if i manage so squash it. the buddhist in me may wonder how i am one with that now departed mealy moth. the christian says a little prayer for the mealy moth’s soul, together with the pagan who thanks the mealy moth for giving up its life. the depressive bipolar part of me is indecisive whether to sink into a pit of depression and confusion over all this, and i have to tie down the manic part, who wants to drop everything and start writing a PhD thesis about the topic. the atheist part glances at all of this and in less than a 10th of a split second decides that it is not worth her thinking time.

psychotherapist andrew feldmar likes to say that much of psychotherapy is not about curing people, it’s about ethics. i agree with him. much of what we do in psychotherapy is finding ways to make decisions. to a large degree, decisionmaking is about ethics.

hmmm … now that i think of it, maybe the “therapy” part of this is to come to the conclusion that much of life is about decisionmaking …

what do you think?

isabella mori
counselling in vancouver

good night & good luck – buddhism & standing up for things

my daughter and i just went to see good night and good luck, george clooney’s movie about the mccarthy era. apart from the fact that it is a marvelous movie – great camera and great acting – the story made me think about something that has been on my mind quite a bit lately.

in the movie, people struggle with an oppressive political system (instigated largely by senator mccarthy) that attempts to control people’s thoughts and acts. a man gets fired for reading the wrong newspaper and other (apparently unfounded) unpatriotic activities, and his son is called upon to publicly condemn his father’s alleged anti-american actions. CBS reporters get wind of this and, working against the prevailing political climate, expose the story, which ultimately leads to mccarthy’s demise.

how does that apply to our lives today? what sort of oppressive systems am i dealing with, are you dealing with? are there any people or entitites that attempt to control us? can we find the courage to expose and dissolve this control?

one of the oppressive systems i am dealing with, for sure, is my own system of voices that tell me i’m not good enough, not professional enough, that i should act small, that i need to content myself with limited success, etc. talking about movies – this oppression reminds me of the klaus kinski horror flick crawl space: a hidden, life-destroying, all-pervasive voice which, through a system originally intended for a good purpose (heating/ventilation) , has access to me anywhere. again, this voice can be fought by diligently and courageously seeking out and dealing with its origin.

the buddhist in me says that there are further ways of dealing with those voices. tibetan buddhist pema chodron might suggest to listen to them, acknowledge them and pay attention to how my body responds to them. does my throat constrict, do my knees feel weak? i may be able to walk through these sensations to the light, where these voices become irrelevant.

another buddhist approach might be to realize that these voices are indeed, well, just a movie. a movie i am choosing to watch. they are not reality. the more i realize how much they are just a movie – canned, artificial, two-dimensional, out there on a screen – the more i might be able to realize that i have a choice of whether to watch the movie and how to be affected by it.