Archive for March, 2011

Your Test

Image and video hosting by TinyPicThe test of a psychologically mature person, and therefore spiritually mature, will be found in his or her capacity to handle what one might call the Triple A’s: anxiety, ambiguity and ambivalence. – James Hollis


A street fight with vulnerability

Below is a TED talk by Brene Brown about the role of shame and vulnerability in how we connect with other people.

She has a Ph.D. in Social Work and, while doing research on what makes connection unravel, she discovered shame and excruciating vulnerability are at the core of that.

So she set out on a one year study to “deconstruct shame and outsmart vulnerability.”

It turned into a six year study and she gathered thousands of stories. She learned that those that are the most connected with other people believe they are worthy of love and belonging.

They believe this because they have courage, according to the Latin definition of the word, which means the ability to tell your story wholeheartedly. Because of this they aren’t afraid to lean into discomfort and aren’t as much in service to anxiety management systems.

They also fully embrace vulnerability. It’s not excruciating for them because they believe vulnerability makes them beautiful.

She finally had to begin to deal with her own difficulties with vulnerability on a personal level. At the 12:00 mark in the video she talks in a self-deprecating way about her year of therapy, which she describes as a “street fight” with vulnerability.

During this street fight she learned:

* You can’t selectively numb emotions. When you numb one you numb them all, including the positive ones like joy.

* We tend to want to make the uncertain certain, even in religion (reminds me of my recent post about getting over certainty).

* We pretend what we do doesn’t affect others (this includes not just us as individuals but corporations, the government, etc.).

* We try to perfect ourselves and, more dangerously, our children.

To get beyond this, she says we need to let ourselves be seen, practice gratitude, and love with our whole hearts.

Sounds easy, but how many public and private places do you know of where you are comfortably vulnerable? I’m reminded of what some people who have done 12 Step programs have said about how everyone there was so open with each other about how they are messed up. Such a spirit doesn’t permeate many of the public spaces of our life. It’s also difficult to be comfortable with the vulnerability of those private anxious moments of waiting for the results of a medical test, waiting for a child to come home who is past curfew, initiating a conversation with your spouse that you know will be difficult, etc. etc.

Anyway, here’s the video:


Getting over certainty

One of my favorite U2 lyrics is from their song Stand Up Comedy: “I can stand up for hope, faith, love/But while I’m getting over certainty/Stop helping God across the road like a little old lady.”

And, of course, James Hollis has some interesting things to say about getting over certainty:

Meaning will not be found through any arrival at certainty, for any place we settle will soon prove inadequate. Meaning will arise from sundry departures from certainties, obligatory deaths and rebirths, and surprising new arrivals from which, then, new departures perforce persist. This is meaning.


Cellist Zoe Keating’s unique landscape of sound

Below is a wonderful 6 minute documentary of cellist Zoe Keating.

She talks about when she started playing cello as a girl (“It never occurred to me that I could stop playing the cello”), the visual aspects of music (“I can almost see the way the music happens”) and more.

I like how she says she has a hard time answering the “what do you do for a living” question: “I’m creating a world and it’s really hard to say what it is…you can’t describe it with words and that’s why it’s music.”


Your Agenda

Image and video hosting by TinyPic“Your fears must be your agenda.” –James Hollis

To put it another way, if we’re going to be fully present in our life, then we have to study the role our fear management systems play in our life.


Fun Friday: 3 fun songs

Image and video hosting by TinyPicBelow are a few songs I’ve added to my playlist in the last week or two. They’ve been fun to listen to while doing things like driving 262 miles in constant rain (Pandora radio helped with that too), enduring the exhausting two-handed kettlebell swing, surviving spring break at home with the kids, etc.

I’m not normally into heavy metal music (shocking, I know) but I guess because because this song by Sevendust uses acoustic guitars, I find it easier on the ears than conventional metal and it’s fun to listen to:

From the other end of the music spectrum is this song by Newsboys:

And this one from Robyn, whose songs (the ones I’ve heard anyway) don’t ever have lyrics that make one go “ewwww” like some of Lady Gaga’s:

By the way, Janelle Monae remains my favorite 20something musician.

Hope you have a fun Friday.


Your Biggest Obstacle

Image and video hosting by TinyPicJames Hollis said the #1 thing he learned during his six years in Zurich while training to become a Jungian analyst is this:

Who we’ve become is our biggest obstacle.

Oops. :-)


There, there you poor super rich people

Image and video hosting by TinyPicIs there anything harder to have sympathy for than the burdens of the super rich? Yet I keep stumbling across articles about how the super rich have lots of anxieties and problems these days.

According to a recent survey by Fidelity of 1000 millionaires, 42% of them don’t feel wealthy. Because their investable assets total “only” $3.5 million, perhaps their anxiety is understandable, so surely the super rich (those with assets of $25 million or more) have it easier?

Not according to the article Secret Fears of the Super Rich in the current issue of The Atlantic.

A super rich person’s closet of anxieties is stuffed to the gills, according to this article, which analyzes a study of 165 super rich households, who average a net worth of $78 million.

Here are some of their anxieties:

They are frequently dissatisfied even with their sizable fortunes.

They do not consider themselves financially secure. I can’t resist quoting this example:

One respondent, the heir to an enormous fortune, says that what matters most to him is his Christianity, and that his greatest aspiration is “to love the Lord, my family, and my friends.” He also reports that he wouldn’t feel financially secure until he had $1 billion in the bank.

Consumption becomes so commonplace that it loses all psychological benefit.

They have lost the right to complain about anything for fear of sounding ungrateful.

They are expected to give really good presents.

They worry about screwing their kids up and that their kids will lack the motivation to work hard and will lack empathy. Their #1 anxiety is their children.

They know many despise them or envy them. According to one of the researchers:

Often the word rich becomes a pejorative. It rhymes with bitch. I’ve been in rooms and seen people stand up and say, ‘I’m Bob Kenny, and I’m rich.’ And then they burst into tears.”

Relationships with people with little wealth are difficult for them, and efforts to keep up with people even more rich than they are often leave them financially depleted.

Not having to work for a living is often a curse – their co-workers resent them for taking a job a less affluent person could have and if the don’t work their days have less meaning.

Then there’s all the complications of romantic relationships. “Does he only love me for my money?”

Are you going, “there, there you poor super rich people” yet? Neither am I.

The super rich have the option of giving away much of their money if it’s such a burden to them. The poor do not have such a quick fix for their problems.

It’s fun to imagine a reality show like those hoarding shows, except instead of the hoarding of household stuff, it would reveal how much money a particular person is hoarding and show what could be done with that excess money instead.

While accepting the Nobel Peace Prize ten years ago, former President Jimmy Carter said that the greatest problem of the 21st century is the growing gap between the richest and the poorest people on earth. Citizens of the ten wealthiest countries are now 75 times richer than those who live in the ten poorest ones (contrast that with the early 1800s when the gap between the wealthiest region of the world and the poorest was four to one).

The results of this disparity are root causes of most of the world’s unresolved problems, including starvation, illiteracy, environmental degradation, violent conflict, and unneccessary illnesses that range from Guinea worm to HIV/AIDS.


But tragically, in the industrialized world there is a terrible absence of understanding or concern about those who are enduring lives of despair and hopelessness. We have not yet made the commitment to share with others an appreciable part of our excessive wealth. This is a potentially rewarding burden that we should all be willing to assume.

Now that’s a burden worth carrying and one all of us can share, not just the super rich.


My favorite definition of neurosis

Image and video hosting by TinyPicA neurosis is wherever we are allied against our true nature.” – James Hollis

A more roundabout way of saying it is: “some profound energy or value has been repressed, pathologized, and is now reasserting its will upon us. Whenever we force ourselves to do what is against our nature’s intent, we will suffer anxiety attacks, depressions, or addictions to anesthetize the pain of this inner dislocation.” – James Hollis

Other neurosis definitions:

“Neurosis is the flight from authentic suffering.” – Jung

“Neurosis is symptomatic of a reduced vision of life, a worldview of insufficient amplitude.” – James Hollis

“A neurosis is often a rebellion of an unconscious psyche against forces which it perceives as threatening to its specific nature.”  – June Singer

Jung said our neuroses are forms of suffering that have not yet found their meaning.

“Is not our chief neurosis – by which I mean our estrangement from nature – our desire to hold fast to what is forever transforming, to freeze the familiar, to submit motion to stasis, to solicit immortality through rigidity.” – James Hollis

Don’t forget to rock your neurosis.


On dancing bears and melting stars

Image and video hosting by TinyPicHuman speech is like a cracked kettle on which we tap crude rhythms for bears to dance to, while we long to make music that will melt the stars. — Gustave Flaubert