Friday, July 31, 2009

A Kinder Gentler Vision of Success

Alain de Botton, writer, presenter and co-founder of the School of Life, offers both a funny and thought provoking talk entitled, "A Kinder Gentler Vision of Success" on TED Talks.

A few observations made by de Botton:

“Pick up any newspaper or magazine, open the TV, and you'll be bombarded with suggestions of how to have a successful life. Some of these suggestions are deeply unhelpful to our own projects and priorities - and we should take care.”

“We may seek a fortune for no greater reason than to secure the respect and attention of people who would otherwise look straight through us.”

You can listen to a brief (2 minutes and 35 seconds) comment on happiness, ambition and wealth

You can also watch an excellent six part documentary entitled, "A Guide to Happiness" presented by de Botton here.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Healing Effects of Laughter and the Smallest Joys

Laughter is healing, we all know that. Many of us are even aware that laughter stimulates the immune system, reduces the effects of stress, can reduce the perception of pain, increase productivity, and promote overall health and well being. I love to laugh and suspect that my husband's shared appreciation of laughter has had much to do with our marriage surviving and thriving for 32 years now. It is because I believe so strongly in the healing gifts of laughter that I want to share the following video with you as a reminder of how sweetly simple it can be if we only allow it...

The Benefits of Positive Emotions has an online video by Professor Barbara Fredrickson that outlines the benefits of cultivating and experiencing positive emotions. You can view it here.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Rewriting our Stories

" I came to the middle point of my life, and I realized I didn't know what myth I was living." Carl Jung

George Gerbner, journalist and professor of communications, observed that the people who tell the stories are the ones who have the greatest influence on how we live and how our children will grow up. Not so long ago, considering the vast history of human kind, we received most of our stories from trustworthy elders who had our best interests at heart. Today, profit driven media has become our primary storyteller. By the time American children graduate from high school, it’s been estimated that they’ve been exposed to a minimum of 360,000 advertisements, and on average, by the time we die, most Americans will have spent an entire year of our lives watching television commercials. When we stop to consider what the message of this incredibly pervasive story teller has been, it's not too difficult to appreciate how much soul the American story has lost, and how much of our soul has been silenced by a story heard thousands of times every day across America, a story whose constant refrain is, “buy me."

Psychoanalyst, Carl Jung, observed that his work as a healer didn’t truly begin until he recognized that the key to comprehending ourselves resided in our stories. Jung also maintained that until each of us actively shaped and lived the unique story that resided at our core, our lives would lack the direction and meaning that we long for. If we lose our story, or fail to live it, cautioned Jung, ultimately the very direction and purpose of our lives would slip away. I wonder how much of my own story has been lost to America’s dominant and all pervasive story – a story that I was born into and to which I have had few authorship rights.

And then there's the story I was introduced to in training to be a psychotherapist. A story that stressed that the 'patient' is sick or broken and needs to be fixed, rather than that this unique and special person is in process and is responding to the world in which he or she lives. It was also a story that identified the therapist as the 'expert,' instead of a companion and ally - one with wounds of his or her own.

James Hillman in, "We've Had A Hundred Years of Psychotherapy," bravely (and outrageously according to many psychotherapists) declared that most psychotherapy models do something vicious to the people whom they are meant to serve. They internalize emotion. How? By so often turning the rage and pain brought on by the injustice, chaos, inequity, aggression, alienation, consumerism, and so much more that surrounds and diminishes us into personal demons and inadequacies. For instance, offers Hillman, imagine that a client has arrived at his therapist's office shaken and outraged. While driving his fuel efficient and compact car, he's just come very close to being run off the road by a speeding trailer truck. The outcome of this scenario, asserts Hillman, all too often leads to an exploration of how the truck reminds the client of being pushed around by his father, or that he's always felt vulnerable and fragile, or maybe he’s furious that he isn't as powerful as 'the other guy.' The therapist ends up converting the client's stress (in response to an external experience) into anxiety - an inner state. The well meaning therapist has also managed to transmute the present into the past (the client’s anger and fear is really about unresolved issues from childhood); and transforms the client's outrage about (the chaos, the craziness, the dangers, etc of the client's outer world) into rage and hostility. Thus, the client's pain regarding the external world has once again been turned inward. It's become pathology.

Hillman explains, "Emotions are mainly social. The word comes from the Latin ex movere, to move out. Emotions connect to the world. Therapy introverts the emotions, calls fear 'anxiety.' You take it back, and you work on it inside yourself. You don't work psychologically on what that outrage is telling you about potholes, about trucks, about Florida strawberries in Vermont in March, about burning up oil, about energy policies, nuclear waste, that homeless woman over there with the sores on her feet - the whole thing."

After over two decades as a psychotherapist, and almost a half a century as an American citizen, I've come to appreciate Hillman's wisdom. He maintains that a significant amount of what therapists have been trained to view as individual pathology, is often an indication of the sickness that exists within our culture. In doing this, laments Hillman, "We continue to locate all symptoms universally within the patient rather than also within the soul of the world. Maybe the system has to be brought into line with the symptoms so that the system no longer functions as a repression of the soul, forcing the soul to rebel in order to be noticed."

The Narrative therapist might call Hillman’s perspective about therapy an ‘alternative story’. When we begin to explore and acknowledge both our alternative and preferred stories, we're entering into a creative process where we lay claim to our authorship rights. Our alternative stories, unlike the dominant cultural stories that we were all too often conditioned to accept without question, evolve from our own personal experiences and values. During this process of exploration, evaluation, and creation, we’re no longer simply 'readers' of our story, we become writers too.

From here, where we begin to openly critique and dismantle the dominant stories that we have not only lived, but that have come to live inside of us, we finally become free to envision a story that has personal meaning and integrity to us. During this tumultuous and pivotal time in our country’s continuously evolving story, it may be more important now then ever that we ask ourselves the following questions, “is the story that I am currently living the story that I want to live? “Is this an honorable story?” Does my current story privilege community or competition, sustainability or excess, money or meaning, power or love?” “What are the essential themes of the American story that I no longer wish to participate in, and which themes do I want my story to embrace as an American?”

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Century of the Self

The Century of the Self is a documentary that explores "the rise of the all-consuming self against the backdrop of the Freud dynasty" including how effectively Americans are manipulated by corporations. Are you in charge of your own desires? Watch the documentary here and then think again...

Thursday, July 9, 2009

A New Politics for the Common Good

Harvard professor, Michael Sandel, makes an excellent case for a moral and civic renewal in democratic politics and calls for a new politics for the common good. What would such a politics looks like? Among other things, it would invite us to view ourselves as citizens rather than consumers and would call on us to very seriously consider the moral and spiritual implications of our actions, not only the economic ones. You can listen to his lecture at the Reith Lectures 2009

Sandel asserts that, "We live in a time of financial crisis and economic hardship – everybody knows that – but we also live in a time of great hope for moral and civic renewal…Whatever reforms may emerge, one thing is clear: the better kind of politics we need is a politics oriented less to the pursuit of individual self-interest and more to the pursuit of the common good. That at least is the case I shall try to make in these lectures. A new politics of the common good isn’t only about finding more scrupulous politicians. It also requires a more demanding idea of what it means to be a citizen, and it requires a more robust public discourse – one that engages more directly with moral and even spiritual questions."

I could not agree more....

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Earth Song by Michael Jackson

It's for work such as the above that I choose to remember Michael Jackson for.