I am a Therapist

I am a therapist.

I have worked more than three decades to get where I am today.

The work I have done has allowed me to remain on this path which has helped me to achieve success and happiness so I can help others find the same degree of success and happiness.

I have worked hard to overcome difficulties in my own life to achieve the happiness in my life which I have come to enjoy.

People come to me for therapy and have unrealistic expectations.

People expect me to make changes for them. This is NOT the way this process works.

Change in the lives of others is not my responsibility. It is the responsibility of the individual seeking change.

I am simply a guide. I am the person who you approach asking for direction and support.

I am that person who you want to be open and honest with you when you ask that I provide feedback and support.

I am not that person if you are not looking for honest feedback. If you are looking for someone to lie to you about the problems which you experience in life as a result of decisions which you make, I am not that person. What you need, what you want is a friend. Most of us have had friends who tell us what we want to hear. This is NOT a friend. A friend, a true friend will provide us with honest feedback. We are lucky to have walked a path in life with at least one true friend.

I am that person when you search for honesty. I am that person who will hold a mirror to you and help you see the flaws in the process.

I am that person you hire when you realize you need more than a friend.

I am that person when you search for honesty. I am that person who will help you search for honesty. I am that person who will help you identify and find the path which you desire to make the changes which you decide need to be made to achieve the happiness for which you have been searching.

Our life, your life is one in which we have the opportunity to either stop reading or to make the changes we desire to make to come to a happier ending.

I am that person.

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The second day…kind of…

I greet you this morning with arms outstretched in gratitude.

So…I’ve attempted to begin running, again. I first began just one month after my knee surgery in March of this year. I admitted that was a mistake. It was way too soon after the surgery but hell, I was motivated and couldn’t wait to get my dad bod back in shape. I know…the visual. Well, you’re going to have to live with that in your head. No apologies on my part.

A few months went by and I started running again in September and fooled myself again. This time there was no knee pain, for which I have been eternally grateful. There was also little in the way of motivation. Getting up early was a struggle. I also bit off more than I could chew and found myself actually detracting from what little motivation there was because starting to run again at 54 after a year off, well, it SUCKS!!! Moderation is something this cusping baby boomer struggles with.

beach run

Another month went by and I started running, again. This attempt lasted just two days. Motivation had done gone and left the building. I added my runs to “Smashrun” and it was as if the website began to mock me. The Smash Run website has a feature designed to increase or at least help to increase one’s motivation by reminding you that for every day you don’t run, you lose a percentage of fitness and increase the likelihood of dying. Now that last part is not true, but that is the jist. So, when I stopped running again, you guessed it…motivation had once again gotten up and left the building.

After having a gym membership that I paid for a few months…ok…several months…ok…an entire year; God that hurts when I say that; I decided I needed to get my ass out the door and like the slogan for Nike says, “Just do it!” I love this quote from George Sheehan, “Success means having the courage, the determination, and the will to become the person you believe you were meant to be.”

This time I decided to go back to what worked almost a decade earlier when I had returned to running after a lengthy layoff. I began by rereading George Sheehan’s “Running and Being.” This, for me, was “the book.” I refer to it as “the book” because it is what shaped my running when I first read it in 1978. It also helped shape my spiritual beliefs and helped me remove myself from the dogma that is organized religion.

Now when I step out the door, I have goals that are realistic and that will help me achieve success. My humble apologies to those runners who I stopped following on social media. Watching posts of “I just ran a 20-miler in an insane time” just wasn’t helping me. I also want to apologize to those runners whom I saw when I was driving to and from my office. I did not intentionally seek to run you over but your graceful stride and smile just pushed me over the edge. Now before anyone gets their panties in a bunch, I would never intentionally use my vehicle as any type of weapon. If you didn’ read the sarcasm in this post…well…

When I run, I run for me. I run for the beauty of the solitude. I run for the freedom that George Sheehan wrote about when he quoted Thomas Merton, “Thomas Merton, another solitary, understood that. The beginning of freedom, he wrote, is not liberation from the body but liberation from the mind. We are not entangled in our own body, we are entangled in our mind.” I run to untangle my mind. It makes no difference to me my pace or my distance but to return home and to know the tangled web of thoughts which accompanied me as I left my house is no longer a tangled mess.

By the way, it was 32-degrees when I stepped outside the door this morning.

Namaste

The Disease of Being Busy


I have struggled with the “dis-ease” of being busy, of feeling as though I need/needed to be doing something all the time. I had my share of time when I felt guilty because I wasn’t necessarily doing something which other people might have defined as productive. It has taken me a long time to accept the fact that taking time for myself is what assures that I have the energy and the desire to accomplish those tasks which I need to accomplish throughout the day.

I came across this post by Omid Safi and am sharing his work with you. I hope you enjoy it and perhaps, as I did, find it as much a reminder as I did.

BY  (@OSTADJAAN)COLUMNIST

I saw a dear friend a few days ago. I stopped by to ask her how she was doing, how her family was. She looked up, voice lowered, and just whimpered: “I’m so busy… I am so busy… have so much going on.”

Almost immediately after, I ran into another friend and asked him how he was. Again, same tone, same response: “I’m just so busy… got so much to do.”

The tone was exacerbated, tired, even overwhelmed.

And it’s not just adults. When we moved to North Carolina about ten years ago, we were thrilled to be moving to a city with a great school system. We found a diverse neighborhood, filled with families. Everything felt good, felt right.

After we settled in, we went to one of the friendly neighbors, asking if their daughter and our daughter could get together and play. The mother, a really lovely person, reached for her phone and pulled out the calendar function. She scrolled… and scrolled… and scrolled. She finally said: “She has a 45-minute opening two and half weeks from now. The rest of the time its gymnastics, piano, and voice lessons. She’s just…. so busy.”

Horribly destructive habits start early, really early.

How did we end up living like this? Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we do this to our children? When did we forget that we are human beings, not human doings?

Whatever happened to a world in which kids get muddy, get dirty, get messy, and heavens, get bored? Do we have to love our children so much that we overschedule them, making them stressed and busy — just like us?

What happened to a world in which we can sit with the people we love so much and have slow conversations about the state of our heart and soul, conversations that slowly unfold, conversations with pregnant pauses and silences that we are in no rush to fill?

How did we create a world in which we have more and more and more to do with less time for leisure, less time for reflection, less time for community, less time to just… be?

Somewhere we read, “The unexamined life is not worth living… for a human.” How are we supposed to live, to examine, to be, to become, to be fully human when we are so busy?

This disease of being “busy” (and let’s call it what it is, the dis-ease of being busy, when we are never at ease) is spiritually destructive to our health and wellbeing. It saps our ability to be fully present with those we love the most in our families and keeps us from forming the kind of community that we all so desperately crave.

Since the 1950s, we have had so many new technological innovations that we thought (or were promised) would make our lives easier, faster, simpler. Yet, we have no more “free” or leisurely time today than we did decades ago.

For some of us, the “privileged” ones, the lines between work and home have become blurred. We are on our devices. All. The. Freaking. Time.

Smartphones and laptops mean that there is no division between the office and home. When the kids are in bed, we are back online.

One of my own daily struggles is the avalanche of email. I often refer to it as my jihad against email. I am constantly buried under hundreds and hundreds of emails, and I have absolutely no idea how to make it stop. I’ve tried different techniques: only responding in the evenings, not responding over weekends, asking people to schedule more face-to-face time. They keep on coming, in volumes that are unfathomable: personal emails, business emails, hybrid emails. And people expect a response — right now. I, too, it turns out… am so busy.

The reality looks very different from others. For many, working two jobs in low-paying sectors is the only way to keep the family afloat. Twenty percent of our children are living in poverty, and too many of our parents are working minimum wage jobs just to put a roof over their head and something resembling food on the table. We are so busy.

The old models, including that of a nuclear family with one parent working outside the home (if it ever existed), have passed away for most of us. We now have a majority of families being single families, or where both parents are working outside the home. It is not working.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

In many Muslim cultures, when you want to ask them how they’re doing, you ask: in Arabic, Kayf haal-ik? or, in Persian, Haal-e shomaa chetoreh? How is your haal?

What is this haal that you inquire about? It is the transient state of one’s heart. In reality, we ask, “How is your heart doing at this very moment, at this breath?” When I ask, “How are you?” that is really what I want to know.

I am not asking how many items are on your to-do list, nor asking how many items are in your inbox. I want to know how your heart is doing, at this very moment. Tell me. Tell me your heart is joyous, tell me your heart is aching, tell me your heart is sad, tell me your heart craves a human touch. Examine your own heart, explore your soul, and then tell me something about your heart and your soul.

Tell me you remember you are still a human being, not just a human doing. Tell me you’re more than just a machine, checking off items from your to-do list. Have that conversation, that glance, that touch. Be a healing conversation, one filled with grace and presence.

Put your hand on my arm, look me in the eye, and connect with me for one second. Tell me something about your heart, and awaken my heart. Help me remember that I too am a full and complete human being, a human being who also craves a human touch.

I teach at a university where many students pride themselves on the “study hard, party hard” lifestyle. This might be a reflection of many of our lifestyles and our busy-ness — that even our means of relaxation is itself a reflection of that same world of overstimulation. Our relaxation often takes the form of action-filled (yet mindless) films, or violent and fast-paced sports.

I don’t have any magical solutions. All I know is that we are losing the ability to live a truly human life.

We need a different relationship to work, to technology. We know what we want: a meaningful life, a sense of community, a balanced existence. It’s not just about “leaning in” or faster iPhones. We want to be truly human.

W. B. Yeats once wrote:

“It takes more courage to examine the dark corners of your own soul than it does for a soldier to fight on a battlefield.”

How exactly are we supposed to examine the dark corners of our soul when we are so busy? How are we supposed to live the examined life?

I am always a prisoner of hope, but I wonder if we are willing to have the structural conversation necessary about how to do that, how to live like that. Somehow we need a different model of organizing our lives, our societies, our families, our communities.

I want my kids to be dirty, messy, even bored — learning to become human. I want us to have a kind of existence where we can pause, look each other in the eye, touch one another, and inquire together: Here is how my heart is doing? I am taking the time to reflect on my own existence; I am in touch enough with my own heart and soul to know how I fare, and I know how to express the state of my heart.

How is the state of your heart today?

Let us insist on a type of human-to-human connection where when one of us responds by saying, “I am just so busy,” we can follow up by saying, “I know, love. We all are. But I want to know how your heart is doing.”

Namaste

Don’t be afraid to be different!

As a therapist, I have found myself becoming increasingly frustrated with where this profession, the profession which I love is headed.

I was previously “forced” to be a member of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) in order to get my liability insurance renewed. This was rescinded the following year I am hoping as a result of what I can only imagine are the numerous complaints which this organization has received. The last time I was a member of this organization was sometime in the early 90’s. I didn’t know what they did for social workers then and I still don’t know what they do for social workers. I remain on an email list and smile when I read the headings of the content. The majority of the content starts with “What social workers should think about…..” No thank you. I am very capable of thinking on my own and no I am not interested in who was identified as “Social Worker of the Year.”

I was raised to believe as Steve Jobs had said: “Think Different.” I love my approach to change as do my clients. It works. No fancy bullshit just real, honest feedback.

I was a fan of Charles Bukowski long before it was “cool.” I love Quentin Tarantino movies and other artists who are willing to risk thinking outside the box.

These people are/were game changers. They wouldn’t think twice about coloring outside the lines and breaking the rules.

Ya want to get better? Break the rules!

Summer paddle

I slipped the bow of my kayak into the glass smooth water. I quickly followed the boat and rejoiced as I felt the kayak free itself from shore and it began to freely float. I settled myself into the cockpit, gently stretching the spray skirt around the cockpit combing.
I reached behind me with my paddle and gently pushed the boat into deeper water. The memory of the paddle stroke quickly returned as did a smile on my face. The bow of the boat gently sliced through the water leaving a gentle wake in my path. The lack of even the slightest breeze leaving the surface of the water as smooth as glass.
kayak1
I paddled along the shore examining the wondrous nature laid out before me. The wake left by my boat finally reached shore and gently lapped at the rocks along the shoreline.
The sun, finally making its first appearance above the horizon began to warm my face. I knew at this hour I would have the entire waterway to myself.
As I rounded a bend in the canal, my boat bumped gently into the trunk of a small tree which had fallen and slipped into the depths.  A pair of ducks paddled silently in the other direction.
As I paddled into a more populated area the sounds of barking dogs began to fill the air. Several ran along the shore their stride matching my paddle stroke. When they tired of the chase they returned to their human companions. Flocks of Canadian geese took off from the water circled overhead and glided silently just feet above the water, passing within arms reach of me. This beauty caused me to cease paddling and simply be in that moment.
I reached my destination and began to paddle toward the put-in. Everything that I had seen on the first passing coming to life again as the sun found itself higher in the sky, shadows lengthening, a new perspective coming to light.
Namaste

Pavlov on-call

I’m sure most everyone knows who Ivan Pavlov was. If you don’t recall the name or perhaps have never heard the name, certainly you recall the experiment he did with dogs. The experiment is often and simply known as “Pavlov’s dogs.” During the 1890s Russian physiologist, Ivan Pavlov was looking at salivation in dogs in response to being fed, when he noticed that his dogs would begin to salivate whenever he entered the room, even when he was not bringing them food.

Image result for ivan pavlov

As a designee on the crisis services team with which I work, I am required to be on call one week approximately every other month. The on call time period begins at 5 PM Friday and goes through 9 AM the following Monday. It then continues throughout the week at 5 PM and expires the next morning at 9 AM. The last day is Friday at 9 AM.

During this time period, I become one of Pavlov’s dogs. Every time my cell phone rings, I am overcome by a sense of dread. I am afraid to look at the caller ID. Minimally it is a response to one of the phone aides and at its most involved It involves me going into the community to meet with the person who made the call to Crisis Services. This means the thought of making any plans become tainted by the thought that “I have to be anywhere in the county within 30-45-minutes.” Dinner in a restaurant is out. If we attend a family gathering I need to drive separately from my family. Movies in a theatre are out of the question. The other day as I was walking into a store with my daughter and grandson to purchase a bike for him, my phone rang. Before I even pulled it from my pocket, the thought of “Oh Fuck!” crossed my mind. After pulling the phone from the depths of my pocket, I tentatively looked at the screen and found it was only my son.

It’s Thursday evening and I finish this on-call tomorrow morning at 9 AM. I don’t mind the on-call but I’d be lying if I told you I’m happy to have it completed. There have been periods of time earlier in the week when there have been no calls and I have wondered if/when the phone will ring. The same will be true tonight until 9 AM tomorrow when I can breathe a sigh of relief.

What sometimes surprises me is I know all of this. As a social worker, I know about anxiety, how to respond to it proactively and what I do myself to increase anxiety. yet, like many other people, I can find myself neglecting what is important and going on autopilot. I have written about auto pilot before and while it can be a good thing, it can cause tremendous stress when we fail to look around us and keep tabs on our speed, direction, etc.

It’s that time again. I return to “on-call” status this Friday. Wish me good luck.

Namaste

Are you Living or just Surviving?

What follows is a letter written in 1958 by a then 22-year-old Hunter S. Thompson. Hunter wrote this letter to his friend Hume logan after Hume had asked him how one can find meaning and purpose in life.

I hear complaints frequently in my work as a therapist. People come to me complaining they feel ‘burned out’, stressed; that they cannot ‘find the time” to do the things they want to do, that their time is taken up by the things they ‘need to do.’

The majority of my clients do not want to hear my response. They want medication or another ‘quick fix.’ As Hunter says in his letter to Hume, there is no quick fix. Hunter talks about the importance of identifying a goal. This is another issue that the majority of my clients struggle to understand. They come to therapy with a vague goal of ‘wanting to feel better.’ Trying to ferret out a more in-depth response is often a difficult proposition which is precisely why so many of us struggle to find our way. We remain adrift throughout life like a sailboat lacking a rudder. Wind can fill our sails but lacking a rudder to ensure we are traveling in the right direction will get us nowhere.

I am going to let Hunter take it from here and share his thoughts on this question.

April 22, 1958
57 Perry Street
New York City

Dear Hume,

You ask advice: ah, what a very human and very dangerous thing to do! For to give advice to a man who asks what to do with his life implies something very close to egomania. To presume to point a man to the right and ultimate goal — to point with a trembling finger in the RIGHT direction is something only a fool would take upon himself.

I am not a fool, but I respect your sincerity in asking my advice. I ask you though, in listening to what I say, to remember that all advice can only be a product of the man who gives it. What is truth to one may be disaster to another. I do not see life through your eyes, nor you through mine. If I were to attempt to give you specific advice, it would be too much like the blind leading the blind.

“To be, or not to be: that is the question: Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles …” (Shakespeare)

And indeed, that IS the question: whether to float with the tide, or to swim for a goal. It is a choice we must all make consciously or unconsciously at one time in our lives. So few people understand this! Think of any decision you’ve ever made which had a bearing on your future: I may be wrong, but I don’t see how it could have been anything but a choice however indirect — between the two things I’ve mentioned: the floating or the swimming.

But why not float if you have no goal? That is another question. It is unquestionably better to enjoy the floating than to swim in uncertainty. So how does a man find a goal? Not a castle in the stars, but a real and tangible thing. How can a man be sure he’s not after the “big rock candy mountain,” the enticing sugar-candy goal that has little taste and no substance?

The answer — and, in a sense, the tragedy of life — is that we seek to understand the goal and not the man. We set up a goal which demands of us certain things: and we do these things. We adjust to the demands of a concept which CANNOT be valid. When you were young, let us say that you wanted to be a fireman. I feel reasonably safe in saying that you no longer want to be a fireman. Why? Because your perspective has changed. It’s not the fireman who has changed, but you. Every man is the sum total of his reactions to experience. As your experiences differ and multiply, you become a different man, and hence your perspective changes. This goes on and on. Every reaction is a learning process; every significant experience alters your perspective.

So it would seem foolish, would it not, to adjust our lives to the demands of a goal we see from a different angle every day? How could we ever hope to accomplish anything other than galloping neurosis?

The answer, then, must not deal with goals at all, or not with tangible goals, anyway. It would take reams of paper to develop this subject to fulfillment. God only knows how many books have been written on “the meaning of man” and that sort of thing, and god only knows how many people have pondered the subject. (I use the term “god only knows” purely as an expression.) There’s very little sense in my trying to give it up to you in the proverbial nutshell, because I’m the first to admit my absolute lack of qualifications for reducing the meaning of life to one or two paragraphs.

I’m going to steer clear of the word “existentialism,” but you might keep it in mind as a key of sorts. You might also try something called “Being and Nothingness” by Jean-Paul Sartre, and another little thing called “Existentialism: From Dostoyevsky to Sartre.” These are merely suggestions. If you’re genuinely satisfied with what you are and what you’re doing, then give those books a wide berth. (Let sleeping dogs lie.) But back to the answer. As I said, to put our faith in tangible goals would seem to be, at best, unwise. So we do not strive to be firemen, we do not strive to be bankers, nor policemen, nor doctors.WE STRIVE TO BE OURSELVES.

But don’t misunderstand me. I don’t mean that we can’t BE firemen, bankers, or doctors — but that we must make the goal conform to the individual, rather than make the individual conform to the goal. In every man, heredity and environment have combined to produce a creature of certain abilities and desires — including a deeply ingrained need to function in such a way that his life will be MEANINGFUL. A man has to BE something; he has to matter.

As I see it then, the formula runs something like this: a man must choose a path which will let his ABILITIES function at maximum efficiency toward the gratification of his DESIRES. In doing this, he is fulfilling a need (giving himself identity by functioning in a set pattern toward a set goal), he avoids frustrating his potential (choosing a path which puts no limit on his self-development), and he avoids the terror of seeing his goal wilt or lose its charm as he draws closer to it (rather than bending himself to meet the demands of that which he seeks, he has bent his goal to conform to his own abilities and desires).

In short, he has not dedicated his life to reaching a pre-defined goal, but he has rather chosen a way of life he KNOWS he will enjoy. The goal is absolutely secondary: it is the functioning toward the goal which is important. And it seems almost ridiculous to say that a man MUST function in a pattern of his own choosing; for to let another man define your own goals is to give up one of the most meaningful aspects of life — the definitive act of will which makes a man an individual.

Let’s assume that you think you have a choice of eight paths to follow (all pre-defined paths, of course). And let’s assume that you can’t see any real purpose in any of the eight. THEN — and here is the essence of all I’ve said — you MUST FIND A NINTH PATH.

Naturally, it isn’t as easy as it sounds. You’ve lived a relatively narrow life, a vertical rather than a horizontal existence. So it isn’t any too difficult to understand why you seem to feel the way you do. But a man who procrastinates in his CHOOSING will inevitably have his choice made for him by circumstance.

So if you now number yourself among the disenchanted, then you have no choice but to accept things as they are, or to seriously seek something else. But beware of looking for goals: look for a way of life. Decide how you want to live and then see what you can do to make a living WITHIN that way of life. But you say, “I don’t know where to look; I don’t know what to look for.”

And there’s the crux. Is it worth giving up what I have to look for something better? I don’t know — is it? Who can make that decision but you? But even by DECIDING TO LOOK, you go a long way toward making the choice.

If I don’t call this to a halt, I’m going to find myself writing a book. I hope it’s not as confusing as it looks at first glance. Keep in mind, of course, that this is MY WAY of looking at things. I happen to think that it’s pretty generally applicable, but you may not. Each of us has to create our own credo — this merely happens to be mine.

If any part of it doesn’t seem to make sense, by all means call it to my attention. I’m not trying to send you out “on the road” in search of Valhalla, but merely pointing out that it is not necessary to accept the choices handed down to you by life as you know it. There is more to it than that — no one HAS to do something he doesn’t want to do for the rest of his life. But then again, if that’s what you wind up doing, by all means convince yourself that you HAD to do it. You’ll have lots of company.

And that’s it for now. Until I hear from you again, I remain,

Your friend,
Hunter

I hope Hunter’s advice helps you find your way..

Namaste