Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Infinite Love: Part C

     Infinite math makes nearly no sense to me. Someone explained it to me like this: if a hotel had an infinite amount of rooms, all of which were booked, and a new person came in, they would still be able to find that person a room. That's pretty much where my brain breaks. Unfortunately, I don't know if I have a full grasp of what it means to be infinitely in debt. In spite of this, there are still some lessons I have learned that are applicable. I'll address this a bit more in the next post, but for now, I want to focus on the infinite debt aspect of Love.
     The debt of Love to another, willingly taken on, is infinite. Luckily, Kierkegaard illustrates infinity by what it is not. There is a lot of confusing language leading up to it, but here's what I've gleaned from it: It's either Love or envy.
     Envy is the selfish focus on what others have in relation to what "I" lack. It deals with "right now" and instant gratification. It is never truly satisfied or satiated. We can have enough, but someone else will always have more. Envy is a selfishness expressed through comparison to another. Envy requires us to keep score.
     Love requires us not to keep score. The infinity of debt means that we can never do "enough". Yet, whatever we do in Love, is more than enough. Once again, we have quickly come to the point of brain-breakage.
     Here is the hopeful takeaway: If I become resentful in my relationship, I must discover the origin of the resentment within myself. For instance, I hate washing bottles. I do it anyway. I do not resent my wife for it, and I'm pretty sure I can say I have washed more bottles than her because I stayed home with both the children for the first six months of their lives. There were a LOT of bottles. There was a time when, as I stood, hunched over out kitchen counter, I found myself mentally cursing the existence of bottles. And then, it was if a flip was switched, I realized that as much as I hated washing these bottles (which was a lot), I Loved my wife more. Love allowed me to not keep score, and washing bottles became an act of Love she was unaware of. And that was fine. Eventually, I enjoyed washing the bottles because I hated them. There will never be a time when I look at my wife and say, "I have washed enough bottles. Today is the day that I am done. The rest are yours". There have certainly been times I have asked her to help with the bottles, or where she has done them without asking me. Even in those moments I asked her not to do the bottles because I wanted to, because I knew how much she hates washing them!
     Does that make sense at all? That our debt must be infinite because it cannot be repaid, it is not a bill to be balanced or a score to be evened. Love requires that, out of Love, we can smile and joyfully shoulder a burden without resent or bitterness. And in those acts of Love, we are reminded of who we Love, and how deeply we Love them.
(C) Nathan D. Croy
Infinite Love

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Indebted Love: Part B

"The essential characteristic of love: That the lover by giving infinitely comes into – infinite debt." Kierkegaard, Works of Love, 2006, p. 172.
     I truly enjoy Star Wars. To clarify, I enjoy the "real" Star Wars (episodes IV-VI). I even read the books and bring my lunch to work in a Star Wars lunchbox. Not even kidding. One of my favorite relationships throughout the series is Han Solo and Chewbacca. The life debt Chewie swears to Han began as the fulfilling of a cultural institution, but grew into a genuine relationship of Love. If I can have a bit of license, I think Chewie’s life debt is a fantastic illustration of healthy Indebted Love.
      When Han prevented Chewie’s clan from being enslaved by the Empire, Chewie took a life debt to Han. Now, this doesn’t mean that Chewie is Han’s slave. Nor does it mean that Chewie’s life debt is fulfilled if he saves Han’s life. What it means is that without Han, Chewie would not have a life, so he willingly (see Intentional Love post) gives his life in service to Han.
     Articles on Star Wars state that the idea of a "life debt" is fictional and does not exist in the real world. I would suggest that it does exist and we call it marriage. Kierkegaard continues to expand on this idea when he writes that "for his own sake the lover wishes to be in debt; he does not wish exemption from sacrifice, far from it" (Ibid, p. 174). For instance, is there anything that can be done, any act that can be committed, that will fulfill the vows of marriage so that one is no longer married? No! That makes no sense and renders marriage useless.
     Any relationship based in Love must be based in a willingly taken on indebtedness. Perhaps, instead of saying indebtedness, it may be more accurate to say selflessness. Selflessness, truly understood, is being joyfully indebted to another whom we Love. This does not mean we sacrifice self to another. If that were to happen, then "we" couldn’t be in the relationship, could we? In fact, a relationship would not exist at that point. Kierkegaard addresses abusive relationships by submitting that staying in them would be tantamount to enabling, which is one of the least loving things we can do. However, we are not to give up on the other.
     One seemingly inescapable conclusion of this line of thought is the inability to remarry after a separation. While I do not have an argument to defend staying single after a separation or divorce, I would offer this: Would people be as quick to rush into Love relationships based on indebtedness if they knew the ending of that relationship limited their access to relationships later? If we were obliged to suffer the consequences of our relational choices until death, would we act any differently? Would we be more free to love? More free to make mistakes? What if, as Kierkegaard wrote, we were to live relationships of Love "imprisoned in freedom and life" (Ibid, p. 176)?
If a Wookie gives you a Valentine, you take it!
(C) Nathan D. Croy

Monday, August 26, 2013

Intentional Love: Part A

     I only know of one way to write about love: personally. Everything in my life, from my personal philosophy to my professional practice, hinges upon my understanding and definition of love. So much so, that when I refer to love throughout the rest of this blog and in my other writings, it will be capitalized. This is to set it apart from the general population’s use of the word "love" to describe how they feel about everything from their family to various carbonated beverages. "love" has become a shadow of its former self and if I can restore the concept of Love to its former glory for just a few people, I will consider my life a success.
     I was sitting with a friend at restaurant and we were discussing Kierkegaard’s book, Works of Love (aka Ethics of Love). The server walked over, saw the book on the table, and asked what it was about. We both froze for just a moment because the book is such an intensely in-depth study of the concept of Love as it applies to various settings; it was difficult to say what the book was precisely about. In a moment of panic I did the best I could do and said, "It’s a book that tells you how to know if you’re really in Love". That seemed good enough for her, probably because she wasn’t that interested in the first place, but for me the answer seemed very hollow. I decided that, right then and there, I would have an answer the next time someone asked me about Love.
     Love, as defined by Kierkegaard, is an infinite debt to another, willingly taken on (Works of Love, 2009, p. 172-173). When asking ourselves, "What is the most Loving action in in this situation?", there are three basic facets of Kierkegaard’s definition that must be considered: (1) Intent, (2) Infinity, & (3) Indebtedness. This post will address the Intentionality necessary for true Love. The next two will address its Indebtedness and Infiniteness.
     Part of Kierkegaard’s definition is that the infinite debt of love must be "willingly" taken on. In order for this to be the case, we must Love others on purpose. This may sound like a trivial point, but it is most certainly not. How often in popular dialogue do people talk of "falling in love"? People do not fall on purpose. Falling implies a lack of intent or awareness; as if love was something they happened into or was sprung on them by surprise. While attraction and the emotions result may in fact happen unexpectedly, that is not Love. It is more likely that is hormones. Or beer goggles. Or both.
     Love, true Love, requires an intentionality of commitment that regardless of what the other person does, who they become, or how horribly they fail, we will continue to be in relationship with them. Please do not take this to mean that people should stay in relationships that are abusive. There will be another post about why staying in an abusive relationship is the least Loving action possible. For now, it should suffice to say that it is almost never acceptable or Loving to remain in abusive relationship.
     The point that must be adhered to is this: once I enter into a relationship of Love, I cannot truly leave. Therefore, entering into Love relationships must be done with the utmost Intentionality and forethought possible. The initial condition for Love is a commitment, made willfully and intentionally, to the best of our ability. Anything less will inherently doom the relationship to temporality; even if there is no separation.
There is a great deal more to be said on this particular topic, but it’s not within the scope of this blog. Please click this link to be redirected to a Forum topic titled "Love", as I would like to encourage more dialogue on this. Also, leave a comment on your thoughts about intentionality as it relates to Love.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Dynamically Static.

     A book was just recently published about tough questions kids ask about Christianity. During an interview about the book, the author spoke on how he wanted to help parents not have a “deer in the headlights” look when their kids asked something and they didn’t know the answer. He rushed to say that no one has all the answers, but we should be willing to find the answers with our children.
     I think the entire premise of this book is what is wrong with Christianity today. The book, due to its format, is a static description of what we think the answers are at this moment in our history and culture. While there may be some absolutes (see: “Just Love”) that we should all agree on, there was a time when some of the principles we see as bedrock now, were absolute rubbish; and vice versa. Christ illustrated this throughout scripture when he condemned the pompous and proud Pharisees. They were so sure they had all the answers, they were no longer willing to be wrong. Their answers had become their god, so God could no longer be their answer.
     An alternative to static, rigid, unchanging answers is that, instead, we teach process. However, this manner of education is a double edged sword and we must be aware of this as we wield it. What I suggest is that we discover what the core process(es) of Scripture are. According to Scripture, loving the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength is the greatest commandment, and the second is like it; love your neighbor as yourself. For all the laws and prophets hinge upon those two commands. Both of those commands hinge on our ability to love. That seems to assume that we should be figuring out what it means to love and how we know when we are being loving. In other words: What do we do and how do we know we’re doing it?
     The laws of Scripture have never been, nor will they ever be, the path to salvation. Scripture says this, not me (Rom. 8:3-6). The process that is at the core of Scripture is to love. If this is the case, then when our children ask about the Trinity, the covenant, politics, abortion, gay marriage, or anything else, why not join them in discovering what the most loving thing is? In order to do this, however, we must be honest with ourselves and brace for the day when we follow this process and it leads us to doubt what we believe to be right or wrong.
     My parents generation fought against racism. Their parents fought against sexism. Their grandparents fought to against slavery. Our generation is fighting for equality. But here’s the thing, and it’s something we must not forget as we age: Each generation thought the previous was backward and needed to change. Each generation thought they were right. And each generation, for the most part, thought the one that came after them was forgetting their values. When we begin to walk this path with ourselves, our children, our parents, we may not always like where it takes us. But if we spend the time to discover what it really means to be loving (something I’ll talk about in my next post), and judge our actions by that standard, we will begin to live out the lives and actions to which Christ called us.  
     What do you think? Is it better to have "the answer" and tell our children what is right, or should we take the chance of them coming to the "wrong" conclusions and being mislead? There are risks to either choice, so which risk is the most severe?

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Anxiety or Fear?

"I define anxiety as the apprehension cued off by a threat to some value which the individual holds essential to his existence as a self." ~ Rollo May (Psychology & The Human Dilemma, 1996, p. 72)
     Who would have thought that amongst the dust bunnies and forgotten Army men there existed a demonic force that no one would dare challenge. At least, no one under the age of 5. It would disappear when adults looked for it. Later, a movie with Fred Savage taught me that they really just turned into clothes, but I was unaware these powers existed at the time. The emotion was palatable in the darkness of night and, if I listened closely, the sound of breathing would be the only thing to comfort me. Once, it sent a minion out and as it scurried across my floor I screamed. Not ashamed to admit it, I screamed like a little girl. Father came rushing in, scanned the room, looked at me, and asked what happened. My mind rushed to create a logical explanation, otherwise the existence of the minion may be completely in question. What, in the real world, is black and scurries soundlessly across the floor and is about the size of a coffee mug? There’s only one obvious answer and you’ve probably beat me to it: Tarantula.
      I explained to my father that a giant tarantula had scurried across my floor. He looked at me, and managed to hold it together for a good thirty seconds before his expression of concern cracked and became laughter. He explained that it was "probably" just a mouse and he would buy some traps the next day. Fine by me. Mouse traps would probably work on giant tarantula’s, right? Of course!
      So, here’s the question: What was 5 year old me feeling? To whit; is there a difference between anxiety and fear? In The Courage to Be, a book often referenced by May, Paul Tillich draws clear, and perhaps arbitrary, distinctions between multiple forms of anxiety. However, one thing they both agree on is this: Anxiety is the fear of "no thing". Kierkegaard calls it, "the dizziness of freedom" (i.e., potential). For me, that is distinction between fear and anxiety. Fear has a clear and distinct source: A lion about to pounce, a car swerving into my lane, emotional distance of a spouse. To quote Tillich, "Fear and anxiety are distinguished but not separated. They are immanent within each other: The sting of fear is anxiety, and anxiety strives toward fear."
     The concept that "anxiety strives towards fear" is crucial. As a 5 year old lay in his bed, imagining monsters waiting to destroy him, a mouse running across the floor was the object upon which I projected my anxiety. Today, I’m trying to learn how to sit with my anxiety, but I doubt I’ll ever master that ability. People aren’t designed to exist in a nearly constant state of anxiety. If you don’t believe me, get some history on your neurotic friends; you’re going to find a great deal of anxiety. I always want to know why I’m feeling anxious, not simply that I’m feeling anxious. However, I have gotten better at realizing when my anger is misplaced fear/anxiety and it helps me realign my priorities and consider my actions in a new context.
    In other words, there have been times where my wife, my friends, my coworkers were just mice going along their way when I projected the fear of under-the-bed-monsters onto them. Then, trying to make sense of my irrational fears made real, I tried to think of a logical way to explain my anger with them: they must be tarantulas (things that I know exist and/or have seen/experienced in the past). However, understanding what I have projected onto others, my own transference and countertransference is a crucial step in being able to begin to know if how I perceive other people is more or less accurate. In other words, are my feelings for the other person based more on our interactions or on my presuppositions and projections? If the former is the case, then I can begin developing a genuine and authentic relationship. If it is the latter, then I am in a relationship with myself more than the other and most attempts to work on difficulties in the relationship will be for naught because the difficulties may lie more in myself than the other.
     What do you think? Are the terms "anxiety" and "fear" merely synonyms or are there real, meaningful differences?
(C) Nathan D. Croy, 2013

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Subjectivity & Truth, & the Moon.

"Subjectivity is truth." ~Soren Kierkegaard

     Probably one of the least understood quotes of Kierkegaard. The most common interpretation is that all truth is relative. However, this goes directly against what Kierkegaard was trying to say. What it means is that people can only know what they know. Seems redundant, but it's true. Brian Regan actually makes a joke about this that may illuminate the point I'm hoping to make.
     There have been times when I was discussing my frustrations, hurt, or experience with someone. That someone then takes it upon themselves to trivialize my experience as "less than" because their experience was so much worse, greater, or better than mine. I believe Regan references how often this happens when people are talking about getting their wisdom teeth removed. See the video below after the jump. Somehow, everyone feels some compulsion to one-up the previous story. These often start with phrases like: "You think that's bad?" and "Well, you haven't experienced...". While I'm all for good natured fish stories, there are some areas that are sacred.
     My daughter, at three years old, was nearly certain that the world would implode because she wasn't going to get a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for dinner last night. Initially, I thought about how silly and petty her frustration was. Then, I remembered; in her subjective world, tomorrow is not a real thing! Time doesn't work for a three year old the same as it does for adults. I still remember being about five and my mom telling me dinner would be ready in three hours and me thinking, "three hours? That's it! I'm a goner and she doesn't even care! She's not even sweating and she's talking to a dead man. A dead man that's dead because she wouldn't feed him!" This left me in a bit of a bind because my daughter needs to understand that when the family eats, she eats. We don't make her special food. Life doesn't work like that. On the other hand, should I risk minimizing her experience of stress by saying there are starving children in Africa?
     Just because someone else had it worse, doesn't mean whatever your current experience isn't the worst for you. This is where Brian Regan points out how difficult it could be to have a friendship with someone who's walked on the moon. I mean, what story could you possibly have that would top, "I walked on the moon!"? None. There isn't one!
     We must allow others to experience their pain as they are experiencing it and attempt to see it from their view. Entering into their experience, their subjectivity, may require us to set aside out own judgments about the severity of their story and identify with this: This may be the worst they have ever experienced. It doesn't matter if we've walked on the emotional equivalent of the moon and see their struggle as a triffle. What matters is that it matters to them. And that's all it should take to matter to us.

(c) Nathan D. Croy. 2013

Monday, August 19, 2013

"Never the twain shall meet."

     I heard an article on NPR about the change in courting behaviors in youth. The piece ended with with a quote that gave me pause. The author said, "For me one of the most moving comments I heard over and over and over from 18 to 25 year olds was 'We're the most connected generation in history, and yet we are the worst at real love'." The people of my generation are desperately longing for something real, yet they are constantly inundated with the means to distract themselves from their own longing. It's as if they are separated from themselves and their own desires. Now, it would seem, the children of my generation are being isolated from themselves and others via electronic communication that lacks authenticity. More than that, it lacks risk.
     In Works of Love, Kierkegaard defined Love as an infinite debt to another willingly taken on (2009, p. 172). An infinite debt like that also requires infinite risk. The "other" will always have the option and the ability to leave me. If I attempt to take that freedom away, either through abuse or manipulation, in order to assuage my own fear of abandonment, then I am clearly acting out of selfishness instead of Love. Please, click on this link and listen to the report. How do you think we can bridge the gap between the seemingly unavoidable inauthenticity that arises when technological interactions usurp genuine face-to-face interactions? Is this any different than writing love letters? Is it the technology/means in and of itself, or is it the way it is being employed?

(c) Nathan D. Croy

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Less is More, or Less.

     "This is an age of cheapness. Get it as cheaply and as quickly as you can, with just as little cost and tiresomeness." ~T. Austin-Sparks.
     For my sixteenth birthday my parents got me a car. Well, I should use the term "car" pretty loosely. It was a yellow GEO metro LSI, convertible, three cylinder, mobile coffin. Still, free car! It was "fondly" referred to by other high schoolers as a roller skate. It was small. For my wife's sixteenth birthday she, actually, I don't know when she got her car. I do know that she had a job at 15 in order to save up for a car. She eventually bought a 1985 Camry and affectionately named it Owen. About a month into her proud ownership, the engine exploded and she put in a new one. She still had her car after we were married. I was on my third or fourth car, none of which had been named. My wife took good care of her car. I did not take good care of mine. I appreciated them, but they were just cars, nothing more. My wife's car, on the other hand, symbolized independence, freedom, genuine ownership, blood, sweat, and tears! It was more than a car, it was a symbol.
     There was less meaning for me in my cars than for my wife. While I appreciated them as gifts and they were a symbol of my parents love for me and a celebration of my birth, I never had the same attachment to my first car as my wife had to hers. Perhaps that could be better explained in the differences between male and female. In truth, I wasn't all that attached to my next car for which I did work. Regardless, there is something to be said for the association between sacrifice and appreciation. The word we often use for that association between sacrifice and appreciation is "work". In Psychology and the Human Dilemma, May (1996, p. 93) makes an incredible point that as therapists, people in relationship, and humans in general, often miss, and it's this: Not everyone wants to be well.
     Please, let that sink in for a moment and really think about it. Not everyone who is suffering wants to be at ease. Not everyone who is hurting wants to heal. Not everyone who is angry wants to be at peace. This seems, to me, to be unhealthy. It is, inherently, damaging to self and others. It goes against the very nature of my calling. To be clear, this does not refer to people who are suffering and lack the skills, mental capacity, and/or tools to become well. I am referring to people who are in dispose of the necessary and sufficient elements to become well, and then, at some level, make the decision to remain as they are while knowing there are other options.
     May (ibid, p. 95), writes that, "sickness is precisely the method that the individual uses to preserve [their] being". The neurosis, mental illness, or whichever myriad way the sickness manifests, it is there for a reason and has become a part of the person and they will cling to it like an addict. Yalom urges therapists to avoid the "crooked cure" (Gift of Therapy: An Open Letter to a New Generation of Therapist and their Patients, 2001, p. 102 ). In the entire chapter, he never explicitly defines what a crooked cure is, merely how to avoid it. However, what I think it may mean is that "giving" someone the answer to their problems instead of helping them "work" to get their own answer, can merely become substituting one neurosis for another. No genuine or authentic change has happened. Spoon feeding solutions often provides no real solutions at all. My car transported me just as well as my wife's car transported her, but her car came with a heaping helping of earnest work and pride in accomplishment. Mine should have come with a helmet.
     Now, there is nothing wrong with giving gifts, I am still grateful for their generosity, and we should all be able to accept acts of love from others with appreciation and humility. If you want to buy your child's first car, go for it! However, make sure, like my parents did, that they have plenty of opportunities to struggle and work for something. Otherwise, they may miss out entirely on understanding what appreciation is, what they are capable of, and what it means to earn something. And in that process of work we often discover that circumstances, our general being, and our world, can be made into something intentional and genuine. If we're lucky, we may even learn there is nothing wrong with failing.
(c) Nathan D. Croy

Friday, August 16, 2013

Mediocre Expectations

     Kierkegaard, in Works of Love (2009, p. 246) writes that "The eternal does not even understand, it divorces itself as vanity the cleverness which speaks only about the extent to which one's expectation has been fulfilled but does not at all consider just what the expectation was. In eternity everyone will be compelled to understand that it is not the result which determines honour and shame, but the expectation itself. Therefore, in eternity it is precisely the unloving one, who perhaps was proved right in what he [frivolously], enviously, hatefully expected for the other person, who will be put to shame -- although his expectation was fulfilled". Expectations matter. But what may be even more important than our expectation is an awareness of them and then being able to act on them authentically; genuinely.
     I remember reading a case about a man who desperately wanted a divorce, but was unable to ask his wife for one for multiple reasons. Instead, he began verbally and emotionally abusing her. It started a little at a time with passive aggressive comments about her cooking, her weight, or how long it took her to get ready. These escalated into more direct comments about who she was a person, how she was a failure, and could never make anyone happy. This went on for several months, nearly a year, before, she had an affair and left eventually left him.
     After the divorce he found himself in therapy trying to make sense of why he wasn't happy. After several months, the therapist asked, if he could remarry his ex-wife, would he?  After thinking about it, he said no. The therapist then asked, "so, what's the problem?" The client looked up and said, "the problem is, she left me and I was supposed to leave her."
     These things may seem like technicalities or hair splitting, but they matter because they expose intent. If this man had been authentic and asked his wife for a divorce there would have been fighting, but there was plenty of that anyway. What he would have retained is the knowledge that he was honest; i.e., genuine because his intent was congruent with his act. And who knows, maybe a marriage could've been saved because both parties would know something was wrong. With his passive aggressive and inauthentic actions, his wife, and his self, were merely fighting shadows. Inauthenticity produces anxiety that takes an excessive amount of time to abate. Authenticity may produce discomfort and fear, but not anxiety. Discomfort and fear may give way to acceptance and courage. If anxiety as the byproduct of inauthentic actions, it merely conceives more anxiety.

Thursday, August 15, 2013


     "Sangry" is a made up word to describe someone who is sad and angry at the same time. It often strikes me as an odd combination because anger is a motivating emotion, designed to get people to act. Sadness usually leads to isolation, quietness, and lack of energy. They seem so antithetical we may miss one emotion due to the other. Working with foster children, I am often reminded that, in children, depression usually manifests as anger. As I work with adults, I wonder how often anger may manifest as sadness.
     Kierkegaard, in his journals, writes about how incongruence can often be overlooked by others: "I have just now come from a party where I was its life and soul; witticisms streamed from my lips, everyone laughed and admired me, but I went away — yes, the dash should be as long as the radius of the earth's orbit ——————————— and wanted to shoot myself" (Journal entry, 1836). There is a great deal of talk in therapy circles about "primary" vs "secondary" emotions. While I do believe emotions may be ordinal and even causal ("First I felt ___, then I felt ___"), but the labels of primary and secondary have often been interpreted to mean that one emotion is more "real" than another emotion. This may be a disservice to emotions. This can be traced back to Freud's quote that "anger turned inward is depression". This view of depression, while not comprehensive, may not be entirely wrong. The problem begins to arise when therapists try to treat one emotion over another in order to relieve both.
     A prime example of this is present in Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT). I was lucky enough to speak briefly with Susan Johnson, the progenitor of the theory, at an EFT conference in San Diego. Within the EFT forums there are lively debates about the "secondary" or "primary" nature of anger. Susan Johnson stated she believed it was a primary emotion and cited a case she worked on where a husband had been unfaithful in the marriage and several sessions were spent allowing her to appropriately vent her anger. When I asked her what experience they dealt with next, she said, "The wife's pain at being hurt and abandoned by her husband".
     In wrestling with this question about which emotions come first, second, third, or fiftieth, I think I've come to one conclusion: it doesn't matter. Rollo May describes the solution this way: "...if I ask, "what is shame?" nine out of ten answers will deal with why shame develops, and say nothing whatever about what shame is. We tend to assume that if we have a causal explanation or if we describe how things develop, then we have described the thing itself. This is an error. The phenomenologists hold that we must cut through the tendency in the West to believe we understand things if we only know their causes, and to find out and describe instead what the thing is as a phenomenon -- the experience, as it is given to us, in its "givenness." As a therapist, I find that both I and my students get into interminable binds trying to figure out the cause-and-effect pattern of the patient's shame, for example. But if we ask, "what is he trying to say by his blushing? What is the experience in its immediate givenness?" we find ourselves not only freed from the vicious circle [of trying to know] but often able to offer a sudden illumination of what the shame is all about. The phenomenological approach not only adds richness and a liveness to the data, but also makes patterns of behavior accessible which were previously a foreign language" (Psychology and the Human Dilemma, 1996, pp. 88-89).
     May goes on to clarify that this does not mean causes don't exist or are not important, only that they do not completely define the outcome. That, perhaps in diagnosing or treatment planning, categorizing emotions as primary or secondary may be beneficial. However, as we are experiencing a person, perhaps it would be best to experience their anger, their joy, their sadness, as it is. If I were to become better at this, how much more like would I be to see the true source: the person experiencing the emotions? Ultimately, that is the issue. A person may be sad, angry, or sad and angry, but they are still a person and that fact must not be missed. Staying present and with the current emotion is mandatory if we are to remain present with the person feeling those emotions. We may reflect, interpret, and ask, but, in the moment, it does little good to understand a cause at the loss of the source.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Just Love.

   What hill am I willing to die on? This is an important question, and one everyone should know. For every aspect of our existence, in each phase, we will have to fight some battles. Deciding which ones are worth fighting is often more important than how many battles we win. Even if someone had an adequate amount of resources and energy to fight every battle, they would eventually run out of time. And, more likely than not, they would run out of ground (i.e., they would be on the morally wrong side of at least a few of the battles). This leads us to learn how to prioritize; figure out what matters and why. In my own life this has not always been easy. I am often overwhelmed by the moment and lose sight of context. However, an attempt at increasing personal awareness of our own priorities should be done at frequent intervals, otherwise, we may forget what is important.
      This week I read John 15:17. It quotes Jesus saying, "This is my command: Love each other" (NIV). When Christ was put in the position to summarize all of Scripture and God’s desire for our lives, he summed it up in three words: "Love each other". That was, quite literally, the hill he died on. I will not often get into theological issues on this blog because I want it to be as inclusive as possible and, for many people, any theological statement becomes one they want to die on. I’m not interested in that. What I am interested in is my own hill. For me, the hill I am willing to die is "Love each other".
     What I am discovering is this: love is very difficult. Trying to decipher what the most loving action or intent is in any given situation quickly reveals how limited my scope of awareness is. I am certain that I will be a failure at loving everyone. I am equally as certain that I will still try. What would it mean if you joined me?

Monday, August 12, 2013

Not me, nor I

    "So modern man was set up in an undeclared war upon himself. 'Conquering ourselves' of the Victorian nineteenth century became 'manipulating ourselves' in the twentieth. The human dilemma of subject relating to object...became perverted into the subject, 'I', exploiting the rest of myself, the impersonal object 'It'. This sets up a vicious circle -- one of the outcomes of which is the overflowing of our psychological clinics. The vicious circle can find relief, so long as it remains within this deteriorated form of the dilemma, only in the diminishing of the subject, that is, the reduction of consciousness. But alas! we cannot in the long run expect healing to come from applying more of the same disease we seek to cure." ~ Rollo May, Psychology and the Human Dilemma (1996, p. 79)

     Read Huxley, Postman, Buber, Frankl, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Fromm, or a hundred other authors who focus on the existence of individuals in relation to themselves, and a theme will emerge. Primarily, I believe, this theme is ultimately one of fear. The distraction to the point of losing one's self that May's quote speaks about (above) is, on the surface, a form of denial. But the question that begs to be asked is this: What is it that I'm trying so hard to deny, i.e., what am I protecting myself from? The word "protect" implies threat, and the perception of a threat is met with fear.
     Denial is fear of reality. Pride is fear of powerlessness. Envy is fear of inadequacy. Gluttony is fear of poverty. Sloth is fear of failure. There may be room to disagree with me on the particulars, but the fact is this: Fear is ever present, it is only our awareness of the fear that wanes. One point I would like to be clear on is that I do not believe each of us is under a constant threat of loss or pain in some form or another. While the existence of potential for suffering is universal, the potential for joy is just as likely.
     Here's the challenge: Find your fear, face it. If my struggle is pride, what would it mean to be powerless? If my struggle is enviousness, what would it mean to not have "it"? Am I gluttonous? What would it mean to give something away? Am I slothful? What would it mean to try and fail? If we begin asking these questions, with trusted friends and/or professionals we may discovery a bravery that we had forgotten long ago. Begin asking the question without being so concerned with the answer, and you may be pleasantly surprised at how enjoyable the challenge of fear can become.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Crisis of Right Now.

     Religious or not, lessons can be learned from the Israelites. One instance that never sat well with me is their inability to have faith even when their God was sending food from heaven, guiding them by a column of fire, and sheltering them with a constant cloud. It's not within the scope of this blog to get into the factuality or interpretation of Scripture. Even taken as an allegory or story, this is a beautiful lesson in habituation.
     For those of you not psychologically minded, let me explain: Habituation is the ability of an organism to get use to something. Things that were once not normal, become everyday. We habituate to our pay increase, how fast we're going on the highway, and to the temperature of the water in the pool. Initially, these things may jar or startle us, but we acclimate to them and then ignore them. While there are limits, there is very little to which we cannot habituate. Habituation makes sense, otherwise we would walk around so constantly amazed at everything we wouldn't be able to hold a job, a conversation, or consistent thought. We would constantly be aware of the clothes we have on, our scent, or our own heart beating. That's no way to go through life. But just because we aren't constantly aware of these things, doesn't mean we shouldn't pay attention to them at times. It just means that paying attention has to be intentional.
     This becomes especially important in the "crisis of right now". If the "crisis of right now" overwhelms the accomplishments of "yesterdays then", we may readily succumb to universal thinking and global assessments. The top phrase to demonstrate this has to be, "Nothing will ever change!" In those four words the entirety of all existence and time has been condemned to static nothingness. That's fairly bold.
     The Israelites, in facing their "crisis of right now" neglected to remember the miracles of their "yesterdays then". That God had showered them with food, protected them from the heat, brought forth water from rock, and guided them with fire, crumbled in their awareness of their immediate threat. They had become so habituated to the miraculous parts of their life, they failed to have hope. Whether those miracles really happened or not is beside the point.
     The point is this: How would I interact with my children differently if, amidst a tantrum, I was to stop and remember how I marveled at their birth? How would I interact with people differently if, amidst my frustration with them, I were to stop and remember the brevity of life? Perhaps, instead of stopping to smell the flowers, we should stop to remember the successes of "yesterday's then" when overwhelmed with the crisis of "right now".

Friday, August 9, 2013

Wax On

     Karate Kid was an awesome movie. Not the new one, the one with Mr Miyagi. "Wax on; wax off. Left circle; right circle". Daniel didn't understand what sensei was teaching him at the time. He became frustrated, demanded that he wanted to learn karate, not how to paint and wax cars.
Several scenes later and Daniel is being attacked by the bullies! Unless they are accustomed to settling disputes via household chores, Daniel is done for! But then, something happens. Something unexpected by the audience, the bullies, and Daniel: he totally makes "left circle/wax off", AND BLOCKS A PUNCH! Daniel's short lived success gives way to surprise and doubt, and he gets beaten like a rented mule, but that doesn't matter. It doesn't matter because the encounter gave him the realization that while he had no clue what Miyagi was teaching him, it was working and he had to learn to trust those lessons regardless of the wrappers they came in.
      When learning more about ourselves through therapy, life, or a trusted friend, there is a process. Trust the process. Don't allow surprise to sabotage your success. With parents, with friends, with isolation, and with our selves, let's continue to practice what we've begun to learn, even if we don't fully understand it.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Living or Lived?

     Are you living life, or is life living you? What I mean is this: are you an active participant or a passive bystander? When you look back on the life you've been given, the time you've had, will you say you spent each moment intentionally, or did your seconds silently turn into years and before you knew it, life was gone?
      Kierkegaard wrote about a coin he received as change that had been passed around so many times the face had been worn off. He looked at this and realized the risk people take when they seek to be accepted rather than seeking to be their authentic self.
      Finding yourself, defining yourself, is not terribly difficult. When it becomes truly difficult is after you've found or rediscovered yourself. At that point you have something to lose, you have a reason to be held accountable, and you risk being hurt. But anything less is to ensure you will never truly be in relationship, you will never truly live your life, and your happiness will be a fleeting emotion dependent upon others and external factors.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

To Venture.

     Kierkegaard wrote that “To venture causes anxiety, but not to venture is to lose one's self.... And to venture in the highest is precisely to be conscious of one's self" (Works of Love). How far are you willing to go to find yourself, so that you may truly be in relationship with others?
     The Truman Show is a cinematic expression of this idea. Truman could not shake the feeling that his life wasn't "real". His losses seemed genuine, and certainly tragic at times, but other people's reactions were incongruent with his what his own psyche told him. The idea that everything left to be explored, had been explored, seemed so impossible it was unacceptable. Even his relationships were too sterile and nice. There is a grittiness to real life that cannot be avoided. If we attempt to avoid it, we fall into a neurotic anxiety.
     What we must ask ourselves, then, is this: Are we brave enough to face reality? No matter what anyone says, real relationships will always involve fear because they always involve risk. But to not take that chance, is to miss out on life, entirely. Which will win, the desire to live an authentic life or fear of getting hurt?