Better Angels

shrinbks-links-photo1Last week, which was the second week of the government shutdown, was the week in which a large proportion of the clients I saw complained about the stress of having a government that, not only can’t get along, but does not seem to even want to get along. I didn’t bring it up; they did. These clients see me for all kinds of problems and issues; but for many, this was one of their issues last week competing or even eclipsing other concerns.

The stress might be similar to that a child might feel when his parents are fighting; when they are fighting so much that dinner never gets made, baths are never drawn, and bedtime is forgotten; except for one thing: my clients are not children and Donald Trump and Nancy Pelosi are not their parents. The government is at odds because the people are at odds; at least the noisy ones. And they are at odds because they value the point they are trying to make more than they value getting along.

If you value getting along or at least having a civil dialogue and not making hostages of federal employees, then you could start yelling, too, and add to the clamor; or you could get involved with the Better Angels, a citizens’ organization uniting red and blue Americans in a working alliance to depolarize America. I’ve been involved for a couple years. Just before the holidays we tried to get a local event going, but simply lacked enough people to plan it.  I know there should be more who are willing to speak up, not to add their voices to the din, but to get everyone else to settle down.

Click here to go to the Better Angels website.

Why You Should Observe Advent Even If You Don’t Do Christmas

Old Posts

You know what Christmas looks like. Busy malls, colorful lights, the ubiquitous Santas. You know what it sounds like: jingle bells, jolly music, ho ho ho. You know what you’re supposed to do: attend parties, kiss under the mistletoe, go mad buying things no one needs. You know what it’s supposed to feel like: generosity, warm fuzziness, wonder, enchantment, and excitement. Christmas has the distinctive smell of pine needles and ham dinner. You know when it’s supposed to occur; before Halloween is definitely too soon. Even if you don’t celebrate Christmas, you know all about Christmas. Getting what you want is like Christmas to you.

You may think you know all about Christmas, but you may not realize that you’re missing a whole ‘nother holiday between Thanksgiving and December twenty-fifth. No, I don’t mean Black Friday. You’re missing Advent.

You think you know about Advent, do you? There’re the candles and the little paper houses where you open a new door every day. You’ve been there and done that; it’s not your thing. But, I bet you never thought about the true meaning of Advent, just like the true meaning of Christmas is often hidden under mounds of discarded wrapping paper.

Advent is about waiting. Continue reading

You are Sisyphus

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You may not realize this, but you are Sisyphus.

Who’s Sisyphus? He’s an ancient Greek guy who was condemned by the gods to roll a huge rock up a mountain, only to see it repeatedly roll back down again.

How are you Sisyphus? I know you’re not an ancient Greek guy, but you’re just like him. Day in and day out you go to work, looking forward to the weekend, only to begin again on Monday. The things you build are fated to crumble into ruin; then in time, even the ruins will be gone. The people you heal will die. The ones you educate will forget everything they ever knew. Everyone you love will leave you. Despite everything you do to stay healthy, sickness will triumph. When you’re a child, you thought it would be great to drive a car. Then, when you got a car, you were miserable if you didn’t get a girlfriend. You thought you’d be happy when you finished school and started work; but no sooner did you start work than you looked forward to retirement. You want this, and you want that; but when you get any of it, you just want something else. That’s you, rolling the boulder up the mountain, only to watch it roll back down again. That’s all of us.

You’re Sisyphus when you expect things to be fair, but they’re not. When you want to be happy, but happiness eludes you. When you want truth, but truth is hard to find. When you want to matter, but the universe doesn’t give a crap.

So, what can you do about being Sisyphus? Why bother? Is there any way of making it all less futile? Continue reading

Frustration

Photo by Ryan Magsino on Unsplash

A lot of feelings will draw your attention elsewhere where your attention doesn’t do you any good. The feeling of frustration is this way. When you’re feeling frustrated, your attention is on the object of your frustration when it should be on yourself.

You’re trying to be on time for an appointment and two elderly drivers are traveling ten miles below the speed limit, side-by-side on the highway. If you’re feeling frustrated, your attention is on those two drivers because they’re in the way. It appears that you will feel better or worse depending on whether they let you by. Your feelings are in their hands. However, it doesn’t have to be that way. You can take control if you pay attention to what you’re doing instead of paying attention to them.

Let’s be clear about what frustration is. The feeling of frustration is what you get when you expect or try to do the impossible. Continue reading

The Ambiguous Picture

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Continuing my series of the objects I keep in my office, today let’s look at a picture I keep in a frame on the bookcase facing the couch. It’s a well-known image.

Ambiguous picture

If you look at it one way, you see a young woman with a big hat, turned away from the viewer. If you look at it another, there’s an old woman in profile. It’s impossible to see both at the same time. If you’re seeing the young woman and want to see the old, you have to locate a prominent feature and redefine it. Find the young woman’s necklace and think of it as a mouth. The rest of the image of the old woman will fall into place. Then, once you see the old woman and want to see the young, go back to that feature and call it a necklace. The young woman will return.

The reason I have this image in my office is because it illustrates a problem many people have when they come to therapy. Their thinking is stuck. Often, it’s negative thinking they’re stuck in. Things are actually better than they think they are. They’ll admit they don’t really have anything to complain about, but they complain, anyway; they are unable to do anything but complain. They are like the viewer stuck on seeing only the old woman (or, if that sounds too ageist for you, the young woman). How can they switch? Continue reading

Shame

Photo by Ryan Magsino on Unsplash

We have no emotion that’s not useful in some way. Everything is there for a purpose, even an emotion that undermines its purpose.

I’m talking about shame. Its purpose seems to be to help us fit in with others. Shame, and its milder version, embarrassment, comes up when you violate a social norm which might get you expelled from the group or, at least lower your status. Continue reading