Tag Archives: books

finding your way through grief

grief is not something that i have a lot experience with as a counsellor, so it was interesting to read through psychologist roberta temes’ solace – finding your way through grief and learning to live again. the book’s no-nonsense, empowering tone is set right in the first paragraph of the introduction:

you are experiencing this death in your unique way. your experience is valid for you. your response is right for you, for now. don’t let anyone suggest that you are mourning the wrong way. you are your own expert.

that resonates with me. there was a time when i felt ashamed that my father’s death had not affected me as much as my dog’s did; it would have been lovely to have heard these words.

like any good book about a specific subject in psychology and therapy, the principles used apply to more than just the topic, like this, for example:

trends come and trends go. philosophies are in vogue and out. stop listening to bereavement experts; they will change their minds and what is considered abnormal today will be obligatory tomorrow.

for example, there was a time when experts claimed that you must talk about the death, cry about the death, wail about the death. you were instructed to go directly to a psychiatrist if you were unable to loudly express your grief.

today we know better.

in line with this down-to-earth approach, temes peppers her books with a wide variety of suggestions from people who survived the death of a loved one, for example

suggestions from marion, a dog lover

my pets saved my life. when i couldn’t pull myself out from under the covers for anything else, i did for my pets. i recommend you get a pet or two or borrow on from a friend or a neighbour.

these suggestions are supplemented by people’s stories, told in their own words. i prefer these little biographical vignettes over the long-drawn-out narratives that often spike self-help books. you know the one: “one day, babette walked into my office. she was a tall brunette and worked at a prestigious bank in downtown san francisco. when she took off her jacket, i noticed her well-manicured hands shaking …” etc., etc. so thanks for getting to the point, roberta.

chapter 3 immediately drew my attention: “helping yourself” this is where you can really see roberta temes’ practical, life-affirming approach. the subheadings read

work is therapy
socializing is therapy
organizing is therapy
taking action is therapy
food is therapy
planning is therapy
religion is therapy
writing is therapy
art is therapy
learning is therapy
reading is therapy
sweet moments

she also doesn’t clobber the reader with simplistic “think positive” advice; in fact, in her appendix, where she lists more authors to read – something that i always appreciate in any book – she promises that the list will not contain anything that will estrange readers through overly confident and positive “smugness”.

the last page contains these words:

i wish your days to be filled with kindness and goodness and many reasons to smile. i wish your nights to be filled with secure sleep and sweet peace. i hope you follow a life-affirming path and i wish you a fine life ahead, full of good memories and laughter and love.


does this happen to you, too? once in a while you look at an obvious fact for the 1,285th time and all of a sudden, its profound truth hits you like a ton of bricks.

for the last few days, this profound truth was – well, let me say it this way:

humans are 60-70% water and 98-99% emotion.

as you can guess, this post is be mostly about emotion (i’ll leave the water to my good friend raul) although it is interesting to note that in some traditions, water is intimately connected with emotion – in most pagan traditions, for example, as well as in jungian thought.

freud spoke of the thin veneer of civilization, and boy, is it thin. even when we are rational (for example, in science). or maybe even then. how edgy we get when our thoughts/logic/rational arguments/fill-in-the-blanks are challenged! anger and fear arise, the stomach knots up, blood pressure rises, heartbeat increases and wham! we fight back. if we stay “rational”, our arguments will not be physically violent or replete with swearing; they will be well crafted and most likely laced with sarcasm, knowing we are right, an unwillingness (and inability) to hear the other and a frantic scrambling for hitting the other with more facts that prove our superiority.

the funny thing is that a truly rational response would be to reach out, to soften, to be curious. that is, assuming that one has in mind to have a true exchange between equals, which again would be a rational thing to do. we could define rational behaviour according to psychologist albert ellis as

acting, emoting and thinking in ways that are alternative-seeking, realistic, flexible and most importantly self- and social-helping and functional in helping humans in achieving their personal and social goals and desires

and somehow we find this incredibly difficult. currently i’m reading three books (you always have at least five books on the go, too, right?) that show just how deeply important emotion is to us. one is mark goulston’s just listen who keeps driving home the fact that in order to interact with people rationally, we need to make sure that they can actually hear us, without being prey to the “amygdala hijack”. the amygdala is part of our limbic brain (sometimes referred to as the reptilian brain) and initiates the fight or flight response. it compares incoming information (e.g. facial expressions, tone, body language, smells, etc.) with emotional memories. an amygdala hijack occurs when the amygdala decides that the information it has just processed threatens survival and hence any reaction needs to be fight, flight or freeze – and not be directed by the frontal cortex, which is the part that helps us act rationally (i.e. the amygdala “hijacks” decision making power from the frontal cortex). the amygdala will react similarly to the threat of being eaten threatened by the woolly mammoth and a perceived emotional attack.

the other book is daniel ariely’s predictably irrational. from the jacket cover:

not only do we make astonishingly simple mistakes every day but we make the same types of mistakes … we consistently overpay, underestimate, and procrastinate. we fail to understand the profound effects of our emotions on what we want, and we overvalue what we already own.

fortunately, ariely proposes that

these misguided behaviours are neither random nor senseless. they’re systematic and predictable.

that’s good. it has such a – rational sound to it.

finally, a book i have been gnawing on for months now is made to stick – why some ideas survive and others die, by dan and chip heath. i’m “gnawing” not because it is hard to read – it decidedly is a joy to read – but because there is so much useful information in it. the main idea of the book is that in order to get a message through to an audience – students, for example – the last thing we need to do is inundate them with facts (which is something our rational brain likes to do). ideas that stick are simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, contain a story, and appeal to our emotions.

they give an example of an appeal to help starving children in malawi, africa. one appeal provided very informative statistical bullet point to show reasons for giving; the other told of a little girl, and what the money would do to help her educate and provide her with medical care. not only did the story-based appeal result in donations over twice as high but also when potential donors were presented with both the story and the statistics, they still gave significantly less.

as i said, many of the points i made are pretty obvious. but do we really act on them? often, way too often, it seems that some irrational part of our brain tells us to keep hitting people over the head with too much rationality.

does that happen to you? how do you deal with it?

now what – who are you really?

"now what" by by laura berman fortgangonce in a while, the good people from FSB associates send me a book for review. usually, i read the book from front to cover and then write about it.

this time, i’ve decided to do it differently and put the book to a test. the chapters test.

you know when you go to chapters (or whatever your big book store is, barnes & noble, or indigo, or if you’re in my home town, munich in germany, hugendubel) and you go for a troll? cruisin’ for a few books? you’re exposed to 50 gazillion books, quite a few of them actually good, and you don’t want to spend more than, say, $100?

will this book withstand the test?

the title is now what? – 90 days to a new life direction, by laura berman fortgang, author of living your best life and take yourself to the top.

first the book has to catch my attention. “now what?” – the title sounds good; i want to know more.

do i like the looks of it? yes, i’m very superficial. did i tell you the first ever university research project i did was entitled: “i do judge a book by its cover”? it turned out the best predictor for whether i had fully read or perhaps even re-read a book in my over-stocked personal library was how visually pleasing the cover was.

the cover of this book doesn’t bowl me over but it’s nice. lots of white space, and then mostly red and black – i’ll almost always go for those colours.

aaah! the topic! does the topic interest me? to be honest, not me personally.  it’s my stock-in-trade and for now i think i’ve read all i want on the subject – but i’m always on the lookout for something to recommend to my clients.

three classics come to mind on the matter of life direction or life changes: barbara sher’s wishcraft, which i’ve discussed here before), richard bolles the three boxes of life, and teri e. belf’s simply live it up. that’s the competition, in my mind. only they’re old. barbara sher’s updated wishcraft from 2003 is the most recent of the three. i might want to have something more recent to recommend – but it still has to be high quality.

next step in the test – open at a random page. that’s the first page of chapter six, “your purpose needs a vehicle”. that speaks to me – the purpose in a vehicle, i can see that in my mind’s eye. it’s followed by a quote by mary wollstonecraft, an early british feminist, for whom i have a soft spot. the paragraph starts with “it’s time.” i like that. a light beginning, and a call for action. the layout also speaks to me – the page is not too crammed with words.

now i leaf through the book and find more things i like – more of the nice layout, and really well written chapter and paragraph headings: “cement it”, about fortifying positive beliefs with relevant actions; or “but i’m not qualified”, which focuses on working on skills rather than theoretical knowledge.

since i’ve gotten this far (and often i don’t, so this is a good sign), i’ll look at the table of content. each chapter corresponds to a week – so she carries the “90 days” theme through. follow-through is something that scores high in my books (it pleases me when things harmonize).

one last leafing-through – although i’m sure by now that i would recommend the book to my clients. oh, look at that! there’s a test in the beginning of the book. yes, i’m one of those people who loves writing in books and finds tests irrisistible. “use this list to help you find where the program will help you most.” okay . turns out i have little to no problems in all areas except for the last one:

following your life blueprint

implementation and execution are just as important as innovation. putting one foot in front of the other and monitoring all your opportunities are keys to moving on.

aaah, yes, i can see that. let’s see what that chapter has to offer. one sentence there is

if you leave this process with only one thing, i want you to leave it understanding that who you are is more important than what you do. getting to be truly yourself will make you happier than any dream job, dream mate or dream house that requires you being someone other than your true self … it is the key to your future self.

interestingly, the chapter section previous to that was “one thing a day”.

what would it be like for 90 days to journal every evening on “what did i do today that showed who i really want to be?”

it’s summer – time to go on a blog book tour!

next week i’ll be hosting a guest post by janet riehl as part of her blog book tour for her new audio book “sightlines: a family love story in poetry and music”. it is a companion to the already existing book of the same title, which has already won her quite a bit of acclaim. in the words of one reviewer

the poetry collection “sightlines: a poet’s diary” by janet riehl is a soaring, poignant homage to family, sorrow, and the rebirth that comes with pain and loss. written after the death of her sister in a tragic automobile accident, riehl cobbled together her father’s mournful poems as well as her own and set out to document the ties that bind and the things that matter most.

interwoven with collections of family photographs are meditations on the importance of family and the comfort of kin. using memories and recollections as her foundation, riehl’s poems are heartwrenching and triumphant. many of the poems read as journal entries, and diary submissions. there’s no belletristic prose or coruscate syntax, it’s simple, it’s original and straight from the heart.

though the book obviously caters to those who have experienced a similar loss, there is a resounding conviction in her writing that allow her words to enter into the hearts of the reader.

janet has put an incredibly amount of work into this tour, contributing thoughtful and audience-specific content to each and every blog on her tour – that’s almost a book in itself, janet!

here is the whole schedule – please go and visit, i know you’ll find all kinds of delightful surprises!


week one

1 velda brotherton includes janet riehl as part of her stories woven in time. see “on being a writer” at http://vbrotherton.blogspot.com. velda and jaent are both members of women writing the west.

3 kendra bonnett & matilda butler welcome janet to http://www.womensmemoirs.com where everyone has a story to tell. a guest post on the theme of using story poems as an approach to writing your memoir. kendra and matilda are both members of story circle network and we all blog on SCN’s telling her stories.

4 susan tweit interviews janet on the themes relating to place that reaches out to include the metaphor of quilting and the writing process at http://susanjtweit.typepad.com/walkingnaturehome. susan’s blog is named after her newly released memoir “walking nature home.” her blog presents thoughts and conversations on living a green and generous life, rooted in place wherever we find ourselves. susan and janet both belong to women writing the west and story circle network. susan and janet have often carried on “blog duets.”

week two

9 claire applewhite interviews janet on the st. louis post-dispatch book blog where she is a contributing writer. claire’s most recent and fifth release is the wrong side of memphis, a noir mystery novel. claire and janet are both members of the st. louis writers guild.

11 kendra bonnet & matilda butler welcome janet for a conversation on memoir with this special “memoir moment” at http://www.womensmemoirs.com where everyone has a story to tell. both live and recorded.

week three

17 sharman apt russell interviews janet on the theme of love, place, and meaning at http://loveofplace.blogspot.com, a group blog celebrating place and a greater relationship and intimacy with the natural world. she lives in silver city, new mexico.

mary ruth donnely reviews sharman’s beautiful memoir “standing in the light” on www.riehlife.com the same day. learn more about sharman and her work on www.sharmanaptrussell.com

17 kendra bonnett and matilda butler’s book raves, their book reviews for women’s memoir.

18 isabella mori hosts janet’s guest post in dialogue with sarah luczaj: who owns the poem? (here on this blog).

week four

23 eden maxwell interviews janet at www.edensart.com where he wisely proclaims, “you can’t outsource your soul work.” eden has appeared several times on www.riehlife.com on dharma and artful living. his handbook an artist empowered: define and establish your value as an artist-now is available at http://www.lulu.com/content/928739

week five

june 30 antona smith interviews janet on pink latte publishinga wonderful little space for a writing journey. pink latte publishing is antona’s creative writing muse. check out antona’s main blog the musings of a latte queen: narratives of everyday life.

july 3 yvonne perry interviews janet with a blog post, podcast, and book review. yvonne is a freelance writer, editor, award-winning author, speaker, and owner of writers in the sky creative writing services nashville. check her main blog here: www.writersinthesky.com. yvonne is a long-time supporter of janet’s work and blogging buddy. her son-in-law, scott kidd was the audio engineer for “sightlines: a family love story in poetry and music.”


week six

4 molly lundquist welcomes janet for a guest post, review, book club suggestions, and midwestern recipes at lit lovers (http://www.litlovers.com), a well-read community dedicated to books and book clubs

8 janet muirhead hill interviews her sister-janet (there is a club of us janets!) at http://janetmuirheadhill.blogspot.com. janet muirhead hill is the author of the miranda and starlight series of books for children as well as the founder of raven publishing. check out her two websites at: www.janetmuirheadhill.com and www.ravenpublishing.net. both janets are members of women writing the west.

10 susan gallacher-turner interviews janet on susan’s art & words at http://sculpturepdx.blogspot.com where susan shares insights on living the creative life with essays, interviews, book reviews and articles. her main website is http://www.susangt.com where you’ll see images of her beautiful work.

week seven

15 mary cunningham woof! (women only over 50) hosts janet’s guest post on achieving your dream after 50 through collaboration at http://www.woofersclub.blogspot.com simultaneously, mary will feature the audio book at http://www.booklandheights.blogspot.com, reaching new heights in the land of books.

mary is the author of a fantasy/time-travel series, co-author of the soon-to-be-released book, woof: women only over 50, an uplifting collection of personal anecdotes and poems about how it feels and what it means to be a woman in her fifties. she lives in the beautiful mountains of west georgia and is a member of the society of children’s book writers and illustrators. she is a frequent commenter on www.riehlife.com.

17 janet elaine smith hosts janet riehl on her internet radio show “marketing for fun and profit” on pivt (passionate internet voices) at http://www.internetvoicesuadio.com/arch-janetesmith.htm. see her main website at http://www.janetelainesmith.com where you can learn more about her fun faith-based fiction for the whole family.

week eight

21 damaria senne (pronounced da-maria sen-nay) interviews janet on “story pot: a writer’s online journal” http://damariasenne.blogspot.com. story pot cooks the complexities of modern african life with traditional spice. damaria is an award-winning writer based in johannesburg where i visited her in august 2008. she kindly arranged for janet to visit her family in her home village. damaria’s current focus includes relationships, HIV and aids, and career development. damaria’s first children’s book the doll that grew was published by macmillan SA in 1993. her second reader, boitshoko was listed by heinemann SA in 1996 and translated into 4 languages.

22 hal manogue interviews janet at http://halmanogue.blogspot.com where he shares insightful thoughts for the 21st century and considers that the now is waiting. hal’s main website http://www.shortlseeves.net invites us to live an ordinary life in a non-ordinary way. hal is a poet and essayist who authored the books: short sleeves insights, short sleeves spirit songs, and short sleeves: a book for friend. hal is a long-time blogging buddy. he read the introduction to janet’s audio book. he lunched with janet and yvonne at the yellow porch on her first trip to nashville when she recorded the studio portion of sightlines and met scott kidd, her audio engineer. he met with janet again when janet returned to nashville this year for her celebration launch dinner with the team that made the project possible.

week nine

27 irene watson hosts janet’s guest post on “how to make and produce an audio book” on blogging authors www.bloggingauthors.com,a gathering place for writers and readers. this site is a brain-child of reader views, which irene founded. book reviews and interviews of “sightlines: a poet’s diary” plus janet’s father’s novel “cattle country and back trails: two tales from the thompson western series” are located here. irene is author of the sitting swing. she is the manging editor for reader views and lives with her husband in austin, texas.

30 carol cole lewis hosts janet on the final stop of the internet tour as they chat about the tour as a case study in internet marketing http://c-cole-lewis.com. carol provides authentic, sustainable internet and media marketing for small business as she considers the question: so, you gotta have a website…now what?

image by mezzoblue

blogging yourself home – the books

for the blogging yourself home workshop at MentalHealthCamp, i had referred to a number of books in addition to leon tan’s fabulous article on MySpace and blogging as a form of self therapy.

here they are:

writing from the heart – tapping the power of your inner voice, by nancy slonim aronie

love the friendly, welcoming, comfortable tone of this book. an excerpt from one of the many writing exercises she proposes:

which story in your life do you want to feel on a new level? write a story that begins with “the last time i saw …” write only the first page and leave it. go back later, and don’t censor anything. begin adding to it. be gentle with yourself. no one has to read this but you. each day for two weeks, add to the story. keep everything you write. don’t throw away any of it. save everything; you’ll need it for later. you may need distance to hear some of your best lines. keep writing from your heart. keep coming back to “i”.

writing from the inside out by dennis palumbo

from the jacket:

writer’s block. procrastination. loneloness. doubt. fear of failure. fear of rejection. just plain … fear. what does it mean if you struggle with these feelins on a daily basis? it means you’re a writer.

one of the treats of reading these books is that they are – guess what, well written. often they have intriguing chapter headings, like this one in palumbo’s book: “lately, i don’t like the things i love.” doesn’t that resonate?

with pen in hand – the healing power of writing, by henriette anne klauser

this book is written around klauser’s client’s stories, which really speaks to me. there is very little, “do this, do that” – she simply presents powerful, powerful stories and then comments on how they use simple yet impactful writing techniques. a story that touched me in a special way was by a vietnam vet who after years tells for the first time the tale of surviving the war and coming back to an unwelcoming home country.

i could tell you stories – sojourns in the land of memory, by patricia hampl

one of the things that this book did for me was to show me st. augustine’s confessions, written in 397 C.E., in a totally new way. “he was the first blogger!” i kept thinking. he describes himself as “a man who writes as he progresses and who progresses as he writes”. hampl goes on

not to write was not to think, really not to live.

the confessions are, among other things, the desperature gesture of a writer blocked from his work, seeking again the intimace embraceand healing intelligence of language.

here was a book, most likely written by hand in private, but intended to be read aloud y small groups of educated christians (and open-minded erudite pagans), a book handed around in a kind of samizdat circulation. it was greeted by the intense, if rarefied, buzz we might recogniaze from a coffeehouse poetry reading where aficionados know an original voice if they hear one.

finally three more books i referred to were ones that i had already mentioned here before. they were louise desalvo’s writing as a way of healing and james pennebaker’s opening up – the healing power of expressing emotions, mentioned in the post journaling for healing: 15 tips. james pennebaker is one of the leading psychologists writing on and researching the topic.

and then of course there is kimberley snow, whose book “writing yourself home” inspired the title of the workshop. i had written about the book here.

the archetypes: addict, magical child, hedonist

a magical child from brazilthe following is an excerpt from carolyn myss’ fascinating “gallery of archetypes”. most of us can recognize ourselves in one or more of these archetypes, or typical ways of being in the world. in her descriptions, carolyn myss tells us about the positive as well as the shadow (some would call them negative) aspects of these archetypes. what i really like about this gallery is that she also mentions movies, books, and other places where we might find these archetypes, for example the archetype of the “magical child” in alice in wonderland, or the archetype of the “hedonist” in babette’s feast.

below are a few of these archetypes as carolyn myss relates them – the addict who gains strength from breaking self destructive patterns; the magical child who can see beauty in all things; even in the face of horror and depression; and the hedonist, who celebrates sacred ecstasy.

the addict
every one of us is touched by the addict archetype. besides the usual suspects–drugs, alcohol, food, and sex–one can be addicted to work, sports, television, exercise, computer games, spiritual practice, negative attitudes, and the kinds of thrills that bring on adrenaline rushes. in its positive aspect, this archetype helps you recognize when an outside substance, habit, relationship, or any expression of life has more authority over your will power than does your inner spirit. confronting addiction and breaking the hold that a pattern or substance has on you can impart great strength to your psyche. discovering the empowerment that comes with perseverance has a life-long impact.

in evaluating your connection to the addict, review how many of your life’s challenges concern an external substance or a consistent, domineering pattern of trying to maintain order in your life.

films: jack lemmon and lee remick in days of wine and roses (alcohol); ben stiller in permanent midnight (heroin); dom de luise in fatso (food); claire bloom in the chapman report (sex);

drama: a long day’s journey into night (morphine) by eugene o’neill

fiction: basketball diaries (heroin) by jim carroll; under the volcano (mescal) by malcolm lowry.

religion/myth: soma (vedic god of intoxication, as well as the intoxicating drink itself and the plant from which it is made); tantalus (a son of zeus and king of sipylos in greece, he was invited to share the food of the gods but abused the honor and was punished by being “tantalized” for all eternity by food and drink he could not reach).

the magical/innocent child
the magical child represents the part of us that is both enchanted and enchanting to others. it sees the potential for sacred beauty in all things, exemplified by tiny tim in dickens’s a christmas carol, and by anne frank, who wrote in her diary that in spite of all the horror surrounding her, she still believed that humanity was basically good. her insights continue to inspire people to seek out the wondrous side of life, even in a crisis.

one might assume from the name that this archetype refers to only the delightful qualities of children, but as demonstrated by anne frank and tiny tim, it also embodies qualities of wisdom and courage in the face of difficult circumstances.

baudelaire wrote that “genius is childhood recaptured,” and in that sense the magical child is something of a genius too. the magical child is gifted with the power of imagination and the belief that everything is possible. the shadow energy of the magical child manifests, among others, as pessimism and depression,. they often emerge from an injured magical child whose dreams were “once upon a time” thought foolish by cynical adults. the shadow may also manifest as a belief that energy and action are not required, allowing one to retreat into fantasy.

films: drew barrymore in e.t.; margaret o’brien in meet me in st. louis; george du fresne in ma vie en rose; shirley temple in good ship lollipop.

fiction: the little prince by antoine de saint-exupéry; pippi longstocking by astrid lindgren; alice’s adventures in wonderland and through the looking-glass and what alice found there by lewis carroll.

religion/myth: merlin (in arthurian legend, the “child without a father” who was about to be sacrificed when he saved himself by displaying magic greater than the king’s sorcerers).

the hedonist
this archetype has an “appetite” for the pleasurable aspects of life, from good food and wine to sexuality and sensuality. as scientific research has shown, pleasure can improve our health and extend our lives and needs to be part of a balanced life. indulging the self is central to the psyche of this archetype, whether treating oneself to a health spa or learning the nuances of lovemaking. that the hedonist is generally thought of as someone who pursues extremes of self-indulgence is more a reflection of our puritan heritage than of the archetype itself. in positive terms, it inspires creative energy in the psyche to embrace the “good” things in life. it also challenges in a positive way the collective archetypal fear of being seduced and losing control in the physical world. the shadow hedonist may manifest as pursuing pleasure without regard for other people or one’s own good health.

the search for physical ecstasy parallels the search for spiritual transformation, a truth that is apparent in the dual identity of the famous greek icon of pleasure-seeking, dionysus (roman: bacchus). besides being a god of wine and fertility, dionysus also represents the goal of mystery religions, like those practiced at eleusis: ecstatic delivery from the mundane world through the physical or spiritual intoxication induced by secret rites. (see mystic.) the sacrament of soma (also a god of the vedic pantheon) played a similar role in ancient indian spirituality.

films: babbette’s feast; like water for chocolate; big night.

fiction: tom jones by henry fielding; the unbearable lightness of being by milan kundera; les liaisons dangereuses by p. choderlos delaclos.

religion/myth: oshun (yoruba goddess of love and pleasure who is generous and benign); bebhionn (irish patron goddess of pleasure); qadesh (western semitic fertility goddess and epitome of female sexuality and eroticism); bes (egyptian dwarf god originally associated with royalty and childbirth who became popular among the masses as a god of human pleasures of mirth, music, and dance).

for the full gallery, go here.

image by carf

25 things

a bunch of people tagged me on facebook with the “25 things about you” meme. i’m going to try and do this a) really quick and b) restrict my answers to the kinds of things discussed here on this blog, namely psychology, creativity/art, spirituality, books and lefty stuff (you know, social justice, peace – bleeding heart kind of things). here we go:

  1. i still remember the feeling of my heart beating when i first read about ron melzack’s neuromatrix theory of pain which states that pain (and sensations in general) can be related to neurological “images” of ourselves, not necessarily to the physical reality of our bodies. neatly explains phantom limb pain and neurological “pain loops”
  2. i love children’s books and think that if adult books were presented like children’s books we’d all be better off
  3. watching the films “sacco and vanzetti” and “Z” when i was a teenager made a big impression on me and is one of the reasons why i’m a bleeding heart
  4. year and years ago, someone once said to a dear relative of mine that women pour all their creativity into having children and are therefore not good artists. my blood still boils
  5. i used to say the lord’s prayer when i woke up from scary dreams. hard to imagine now
  6. i once fell crazy in love with the works of torquato tasso, an italian renaissance poet who wrote libretti for monteverdi
  7. please don’t make me listen to classical italian or french opera
  8. i call the typical first two psychology courses “canadian tire catalogue” type of learning. you learn nothing but one fact after the other. yuk
  9. i once hunted down a book by abraham maslow (the “inventor” of the famous “hierarchy of needs”) at the library, only to detect later on that i already owned the book
  10. the first book i ever ordered was a beautiful book about roses by a descendant of the king of sweden who lives in a beautiful castle on a magical island in southern germany
  11. when i told my ex husband that i was thinking of becoming a social worker he said he’d leave me if i did that
  12. i am fascinated by biological psychology and utterly incapable of memorizing even the most important and most often repeated facts in it
  13. i am often baffled by how much intuitive sense buddhist ideas make to me
  14. i think i would make an awful marriage counsellor. way too opinionated
  15. a good-hearted right-winger will always win me over a mean-spirited left-winger
  16. my respect for adult learning started very early, when an uncle of mine received a PhD in theology at age 60, something almost unheard-of in 1960s germany
  17. i never had a romantic relationship with anyone who was not an artist or at least strongly interested in the arts
  18. i was one of the first people to do psychological research on the web
  19. one of my heroes in christian mysticism is julian of norwich, who lived in 14th century england and who was also the first woman in the western world to write a book
  20. i would love to be a corporate philosopher/psychologist, wondering through a company having fruitful conversations
  21. watching a bob marley concert in berlin, shortly before he died, was one of the most intensely spiritual experiences i ever had
  22. i think freud is underrated and that without him we would be nowhere today in psychology
  23. when i lived in paraguay, i had a great friendship with a pastor. we drank lots of brandy and smoked cigars; only when it came to talking about spiritual things, he got all bashful. but he was a great preacher
  24. i love singing the types of hymns they sing in evangelical churches but often feel like a fraud when i do that because i don’t subscribe to many of their doctrines
  25. i try to write a ritual poem (“words of power”) for every moon phase

i’ll tag a few people here, and a bunch more over on facebook.

giggle on
mellow yellow

walking through walls: memoir of a psychic

bead curtainsi’ve marked at least 30 pages in walking through walls, the intriguing memoir of lew smith, eccentric husband, exorcist, vegetarian, psychic, healer, lover – and last not least, decorator to the rich and famous, the “king of beads”, the father of the bead curtain.

as well as father of philip smith, loving and perplexed son, and author of this book.

let me randomly pick a few of those pages:

about lew smith’s first encounter with his healing abilities, during a lecture by arthur ford of the spiritual frontiers fellowship:

while ford spoke, my father looked around for an empty seat, a woman sitting off to the side suddenly turned around and motioned my father to come over to her. he thought she was going to point him to a seat, instead she whispered, “i see in your aura that you are a healer. please help me; i can’t stop this terrible cough. place your hands on my shoulders and send me your energy.”

after getting rid of ants by building “a thought-form around the house that was like a natural insecticide”:

there is only one requirement for using any psychic tools or methods. your efforts and intention must be for the highest good. if you use these tools for personal gain, for revenge or for harm, it will come back to you negatively tenfold. you can’t get any with anything in the spirit world. there are no shortcuts, no get-rich-schemes.

about lew smith’s passion for helping:

my father truly wanted to help people and believed that his work could eliminate a lot of physical and mental suffering. everything he did was based on the simple notion that we are all spiritual beings with tremendous powers. until we recognized this, nothing would change – there would continue to be wars, disease, and anger … he dreamed of the day when there would no longer be a need for hospitals, doctors or pharmaceuticals with dangerous side effects.

about creativity and depression:

“isn’t depression good for creating? aren’t artists supposed to be tortured and depressed?” my father laughed. “that is a really stupid idea. i hope you will quickly let go of that thought. art should come from a serene, wise place that is not disturbed by negative ideas.”

philip smith presents all of this without abstract judgment, neither glorifying nor dismissing his father’s unusual goings-about. nor does he normalize or trivialize the spirit guides, far-out yogic practices and stringent eating habits. he tells the tales of his father from the perspective of a loving and baffled son, who is at once intrigued and embarrassed by his dad, who feels both comforted and bothered by the father’s constant psychic intrusions on his life.

like any good biography, this book is also a piece of history. the sleepy old florida of the 50s and 60s, the cocktail party-era of little black dresses and cigarette holders, the awakening of psychedelics and the forerunners of the new age movement – they’re all there.

walking through walls is well written, entertaining and – again, i want to use the word “loving”. there is nothing sentimental about these 329 pages; rather, they seem born from a deeply affectionate (and by no means straightforward) bond between father and son, and from the desire to tell a truth that is curious, important, complex, inexplicable – and just wants to be told.

maybe it’s lew smith speaking from the beyond. who knows. why don’t you check it out for yourself.

philip smith is the former managing editor of GQ and an artist whose works are in the permanent collections of the whitney museum, the dallas museum of art, and the detroit institute of arts, among many others. he lives in miami; one of his virtual homes is at walking through walls – the book. you can find more material about the book here, here and here.

image by jtstrathdee