Tag Archives: compassion

Celebrating Quiddity

Celebrating Quiddity

The dog in this NYTimes article by Alexandria Horowitz is named Quiddity by his two lexicographer “parents” (they don’t say owner). Quiddity is a “mid-sized mixed-breed dog with a sleek black coat, a scruffy schnauzer-like face and Brezhnev-esque eyebrows that gave her the appearance of a wise old man.”

Bringing Home Some ‘Hairy Joie de Vivre,’ and Taking Notes

Like many, the canine behavioral expert Alexandra Horowitz adopted a dog during the pandemic. She had extra incentive: understanding a puppy’s development. Now, she’s turned her observations into a book.


Because Alexandra Horowitz, 53, knew the dog’s mother and saw the puppy on the day she was born, “her early life was not full of trauma, and yet nonetheless she was not the dog I hoped she would be at first. She wasn’t responsive to us in a way that I wanted her to be.” Quid was impulsive, eager to run heedlessly after squirrels and other elusive creatures, inclined to bark more relentlessly and with less apparent purpose than Horowitz’s two older dogs.

“I feel now that I was way too focused on dog behavior,” she said. “In the beginning, nothing would slip by me, and it was too much for a puppy to bear. Over time, as I began to release my vise grip on the idea that she should be someone other than who she was, I began to appreciate her for who she really is.”

Untrammeled Enthusiams

Alex’s lexographer husband said, “I think she’s fascinating and full of excitement and love and she has a hairy joie de vivre. She is untrammeled in her enthusiasms, which is nice. Nobody’s interested in a jaded dog. She is also kind of a pain in the tuchus because of those untrammeled enthusiasms.” I looked it up and enthusiasm can be countable or uncountable. Apparently, he can count her enthusiasms, which include squirrels, tennis balls and untrammeled barking.

Quiddity can be defined as the essence that makes something the kind of thing it is and makes it different from any other. Quid is latin for “what” so if your dog was named Fred you would love his “fredness.”

I think Quiddity is what Dr.Rita Levi-Montalcini had in mind when she urged the Praise of Imperfection.

Esalen Experience

Esalen Experience

I made a number of incorrect assumptions about Esalen. Because they have no cell service, I thought it was east of the two-lane Highway One, up in the mountains overlooking the ocean. It’s not. It overhangs the ocean.

Esalen Baths – Not My Photo

I had been following the authors of The Radiance Sutras online for a couple of years and wanted an in-person experience. I knew they had been teaching at Esalen since the previous century. Here is a photo of them with the original, self-published version of the book, of which I have a copy. When they announced a September class, I signed up quickly because I wanted the low-cost, communal, sleeping-bag-on-the-floor room. On their Zoom calls, nearly all the participants are women, and most are 50+ so I assumed I would be sharing a room with older ladies. Error. I also did not realize there would be more than one program going on at the same time.

Lorin and Camille at Esalen with First Edition Book – Not My Photo

There were five in the communal room, two of whom were in my group and two in the dance group. All four were 30-ish. The Esalen demographics were dumbell-shaped. Young people without kids who were just out of their twenties who had some time and money to work on theselves, and people 50-ish whose kids had left home for college and were turning their attention toward themselves. With gasoline prices hovering at $6/gallon, my trip cost about $1000 including the stay at Moss Landing. Others, who decided at the last minute that an Esalen experience was what they needed, had much more invested in the five-day/four-night Radiant Sutras seminar. One professional woman with a daughter in a California college flew in from Ontario, Canada and a 30-ish lawyer from NYC who had hit the stress wall so hard she was on medical leave had to accept the most expensive lodging along with last-minute air fares so their investments were north of $5,000. We all got partial refunds. One member got a complete refund. Here’s what happened.

Encounter Groups

I first heard about Esalen back in the 1970s when I was in graduate school. We did our Massachusetts-version with a mash-up of students in the graduate school of Education (where Bill Cosby was a doctoral student) and students in graduate business school. We rented a seminar/business-conference place and spent the days sitting on a circle on the floor, interspersed with talks from instructors (usually post-docs teaching at the graduate level). The goal was to break through your inner barriers and the cliché was to shout, “I hate my mother!.” This is what I expected at Esalen.

Yet another incorrect assumption. Even though people were naked in the baths (pictured above) and the warm-water swimming pool on the lawn in front of the dining hall, complete decorum was expected at all times. Cannabis is not allowed on the site, and alcohol is served only from 6-7:30 p.m. and is low-quality and costs extra.

Dining Hall on Left – Warm Water Pool on Right

In an effort to solidify my streed-cred as “woke,” I wore my new $30 baseball cap embroidered “Stacey Abrams, Governor” the first morning as I stretched on the deck in the early morning light, waiting for the 6:30 a.m. orientation class by JJ. To my dismay, a beautiful young black woman walked up beside me. About 30, she introduced herself as Nicole, a massage therapist from Los Angeles. In an effort not to appear pandering, I swept the hat off my head and tried to unobtrusively turn it inside out as we chatted. I was struck by her elegant posture and friendly, accessible manner. The orientation class was outstanding, combining a chakra talk with the economics and history of Esalen. I was surprised to hear that they were $7 million in debt. The surprise diminished as I discovered the expansive concrete earthquake stabilization/handicap access work that had been done. The students at 6:30 a.m. were mostly young and about 60% female.

The sutras class started at 8 a.m. but I slipped out to go next door for the 10:15 “Inhabiting the Body” yoga class with Liz which helped me feel safe and protected. When I slipped back in to the sutras class, members were thanking Nicole for her share which I missed. The following afternoon (Wednesday) the trainer played a video a lot like this two-minute version of Reginald D. Hunter’s act, twice. The trainer played it twice.

The version the white male trainer played did not have the final joke about Reginald’s conversation with his father. I understand this concept well — insult humor and the feeling of oppression, and I laughed saying, “I speak Irish.” At the end of the Wednesday afternoon session, Nicole walked past me as she exited the room and it seemed she was so angry that steam was coming out of her ears. As I left the meeting room, the lightbulb went on about the language in the video clip. I realized the trainer was in big trouble.


At dinner, the professional woman from Canada was sitting at a table with Nicole and others. I joined them as the meal was winding down, and the training couple stopped by. The Canadian woman engaged the male trainer in a discussion about the video, saying that “it hurt my heart.” The trainer completely missed her point and replied with something about soothing a hurting heart. Nicole, fuming, left the table.

The couple led the Wednesday night session starting at 7:30 p.m. and he kept giggling and seemed disorganized. I wondered if he was stoned. He told the story about how his wife danced each of his translations and helped him select the best one. A few people read aloud sutras from his book. Later on, someone not in our sessions told me that several women objected to the wife’s name not appearing on the book even though she was integral to the work.

Esalen Eggs are Pale and Tasteless. Vegetarian Options are Better. Bottle from Earlier Vacation.

Thursday morning before breakfast I danced my brains out at Jovina’s “Soul Movement Sanctuary” dance fest. The sutras session started after breakfast with the female co-trainer weeping for about five minutes before she apologized for the “hurtful language” in the previous day’s video. The male trainer just sat next to her making notes. Finally, Nicole got up and gave the damp 70-year-old white woman a hug and the emotionally/socially/attunement-deaf husband took a photo of them hugging. [He was later forced to delete the photo.]

Far up the canyon, in the Ventana Wilderness, Porter Springs bubbles to the surface to provide about 75% of Esalen’s Water

He then started the class with no reference to the video. A different white woman raised her hand and politely asked for an apology, saying that everyone makes mistakes but that it was not sufficient for his wife to apologize, she was asking him to apologize. He insisted that he was using the video for training and it was unfortunate that she missed his point. Other class members raised their hands and politely requested an apology. When the trainer accused the First-Amendment-Rights attorney of “projecting” her issues onto him, the other 30 year old attorney from New York left the room because it brought up her suffering from the dominating language used by the man she had been with for seven years.

The trainer challenged Nicole to “coach” him. She declined saying it wasn’t her job. By this time I was sitting next to her and I volunteered to coach him. I stood chest-to-chest with him and, in an effort to build connection before attacking, I acknowledged that I got the point and that Ireland has no history of black enslavement. This got Nicole to say her piece directly to the trainer. I went back to sitting next to her as she finished. His response continued to deflect and dissemble and Nicole left after several minutes of it. He continued with his denial and I quietly left too, joining the New York lawyer on the lawn by the swimming pool. Things were crumbling.

Around lunchtime we were told that Esalen was intervening and there would be a 3 p.m. meeting with an Esalen mediator prior to the 4 p.m. regular session. I skipped both, instead going to the yoga class scheduled for 2:15 where the teacher did not show up, so classmate Anthea taught it instead. I went to the baths and learned that our explosion was the talk of the Institute.

The Baths in Afternoon Light

When the bar opened at 6 p.m., I bought a beer and sat down with the British producer who attended the 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. sessions and who had been very polite yet very insistent that the trainer apologize. The Brit told me that the Queen had died. I offered my condolences and smirked, “England’s difficult is Ireland’s opportunity.” “Don’t say Ireland!” he replied in mock horror. I cracked up, then asked if the trainer’s apology was sincere or theater. He considered this for a beat, then said sadly, “theater.” A little later on, we asked a nearby daytime soap actress the same question. She thought about this, then her face looked sad. “Theater.”

The Canadian professional woman came by and offered to refill my beer. I followed her in to the bar, but while we were waiting I started talking with Marjan. By the time we finished and I returned to my waiting beer, I had missed dinner. I spent the rest of the evening talking to Marjan’s husband, Robert, who plays the hand-pan which is a Swiss-made refinement of the steel drum.

My Roommates

The moon was almost full on my final day, and I watched it set into the Pacific Ocean from the deck in front of the communal room where I slept with four others. Somewhat dehydrated from two beers and no dinner, I went to the dining hall for some tar-black leftover coffee diluted with hot water. The male trainer came in and sat where I could see him. I greeted him but did not engage him. My roommate Adam came in and sat with three friends from the dance group. Lorin button-holed Adam and walked him out to the deck where I could not listen to their conversation.

Deck Outside Dining Room – Not My Photo

When it was finally daylight, I went back to the room to pack my gear, silently, because Maggie was still sleeping. Geoff came in with a loud greeting and I absent-mindedly greeted him back and we both woke up Maggie who forgave us and engaged in the conversation. Geoff launched into the most interesting riff of the stay.

Why tell the truth? Bad people don’t tell the truth — why give them the advantage? When you lie, it just evens the playing-ground. You don’t have to make it a big lie, just say you were late because your dishwasher overflowed and you didn’t want it to leak into the ceiling of your downstairs neighbors so you had to mop it up right away. Make it easy for them to forgive you.

It had never occurred to me that other people, like men or those with English accents, thought it was okay to lie. I had always thought that they knew it was wrong and did it anyway. What if they don’t even think it’s wrong? “All’s fair in love and war.” Maybe Lorin thinks it is okay to stonewall, gaslight, obfuscate, deflect, and deny.

When Adam returned, he told us what happened when Lorin walked him outside. Lorin was trying to elicit his support against the “conspiracy.” Then Adam said, “I learned the value of a simple apology, so, Anet, I apologize for waking you up with the air mattress inflator.” I was surprised and said, “Thank you for that.”

Another hot day was forecast (it was 115° in Santa Rosa two days earlier) and I wanted to get on the road early enough to beat East Bay traffic because I was planning to go through San Leandro, Oakland, and take and Richmond-San Rafael bridge home. I talked to the front desk and requested my refund and left about 10:15 a.m., got home by 3 p.m.

The Canadian professional woman got a substantial refund, and Nicole got all her money back. She had the good grace to attend the 3 p.m. apology session, I don’t know if she went to the sessions after that. She gave me a hug and a kiss on Friday morning when I said good-bye.

River of Nourishment

River of Nourishment

About six months after the October 2017 fires,  I received Stanford’s Compassion Cultivation Training (CCT) from Sylvia Dolce. I was most interested in learning the difference between Empathy and Compassion.  I already knew they accessed different parts of the brain, and I learned that Thupten Jinpa, one of CCT’s main gurus, says “Empathy focuses on the problem and Compassion focuses on the solution ‘What can I do?’.”

About a year later, Sylvia Dolce taught Restorative Self Care specifically for fire and trauma survivors. In one of the exercises, she gave the students a circle of paper to take home and asked us to draw what we needed for self care. In my drawing, Compassion is the river.  Dr. Dan Siegel says that all mental illness can be categorized as Chaos or Rigidity.  The riverbanks of tangled underbrush signify Chaos. The rocks signify Rigidity.

Original Artwork Copyright Anet Dunne

The dense thicket on the banks tries to trap me in chaos,
but I will never get anywhere if I stay on the shore.
I pick my way out to the Rocks of Resentment
Rigidly clinging as the water rushes by.

"Look how hard I'm trying!"
I barely notice that I am stuck.

The sunshine of safety warms up my courage.
I release the Resentment and slip out into the flow
of the River of Nourishment,
Buoyed by the Bounty of the Goddess.

Tears Release The Beloved

Tears Release The Beloved

I have been singing with Threshold Choir for more than three years, and have been singing at the bedsides of the dying for about two. Much of my singing is at nursing homes and falls into the category of “visiting the shut-in,” but two recent bedsides have been an important learning experience for me.

The first time I sang at the bedside of Bruce, he was at home, surrounded by his beloved miniature longhair dachshunds and his wife. He did not interact with us, and others from our choir sang at his home in the following weeks. Then he was transferred to ICU for breathing problems. He had been sick for a long time, and I was part of the team that sang for him while he was on breathing support. Breathing support was removed the next day and we sang for him two more times. His room was always filled with friends and someone was always holding his hand. We had been instructed to sing upbeat, gospel-style songs. His wife told us that she had told Bruce that it was okay for him to go, but his vitals had not changed much from when he was on breathing support. He did not interact with us during any of these visits.

On the fourth sing, Bruce’s wife was holding his hand and the mood in the room had changed from the upbeat vibe the day before to something more somber. Our song mother sensed the change and did not sing the gospel songs, instead singing the end-of-life songs that are our true mission. As we sang, the steadfast courage the wife had been displaying slipped away and she began to quietly sob, her tears falling on Bruce’s hand. We continued to sing with lumps in our throats and tears in our eyes until she regained her composure. Bruce passed away that night.

Last Friday, I sang at the bedside of an eight-year-old girl. She was at home with her mother who proudly showed us a video of her daughter singing. It clearly showed that this little girl had been “medically fragile” since birth. The mother expertly infused fluids into the girl’s IV. The girl was on the couch in the living room and was on breathing support, too. We were visited by her older brother, for whom we sang Hollow Bamboo, and her baby sister, in diapers and still nursing. The mother was trying to be brave, but when the other two children were cleared from the room and she was there with us and holding the hand of her dying daughter, she began to weep during “Guide Me Through The Darkness.” We kept singing softly until she regained her composure. Eva died that night.

Both Bruce and Eva were deeply loved by their families, and yet I could see how holding on to what must be released is the source of so much suffering. The people who were on the Threshold seemed to need to be released by those whose prayers held them back. When the bereaved person truly let them go, the communication seemed to flow through holding the hand of the loved one on her tearful face.

We sang at the end of Bruce’s funeral — the gospel song.

“Strangers In Their Own Land”

“Strangers In Their Own Land”

“Anger and Mourning on the American Right” is the subtitle of this book by Arlie Russel Hochschild, a Berkeley sociologist. Based mainly on interviews with Tea Party Republicans in Louisiana, she delves into the “why” of poor white votes for Trump and other Republicans. Louisiana is one of the poorest and least-healthy states. It is heavily polluted because weak enforcement of weak regulations make it attractive to oil and chemical plants. Polluting industries seek the “least resistant personality profile” in the residents of the area they plan to poison (page 81):

  • Longtime residents of small towns in the South or Midwest
  • High school educated only
  • Catholic
  • Uninvolved in social issues, and without a culture of activism
  • Involved in “nature exploitative occupations” such as mining, farming, ranching
  • Conservative
  • Republican
  • Advocates of the free market

Hochschild develops a “deep story” to explain their traditional values of loyalty, sacrifice, and endurance. Polluting industries manipulate them into fearing the loss of their income if they don’t turn a blind eye to the secret pollution, the dying trees, the disappearing fish, the increasing illness. Church, state, and politicians tug their loyalty strings to believe in Capitalism at the expense of the environment. They endure the secret spillage into their waterways, staying close to home and their traditional values. They resent Liberals who point to the contamination and tell them they “are not feeling the right feelings.”

These white people work hard and they scorn the shiftless, no ‘count people below them in the social order who live on government handouts and never work. They identify with the white plantation owners, the 1%, and believe that through hard work, luck and family connections, they too will live in the white-columned mansions along the Mississippi River. But they don’t go to college and they don’t learn new technology or new ways of thinking.

They are resentful of affirmative-action types (women, blacks, refugees) who “cut in front of them in line” for the good jobs. They believe the government paid for Obama’s education, and for Michelle’s Harvard education, too. Because they never bought and read his books, they don’t realize that their education loans were paid for with the book royalties. They believe the government subsidizes this “line-cutting” that has stagnated their wages and lives.

They don’t want to feel like downtrodden victims like blacks, women and gays. They want to feel like the white 1%. Their endurance is a matter of honor. Honor is sacrifice. With their tight communities and limited education, their feedback loop is small and fed by Fox News.

Trump cashed in on Identity Politics for white men who felt trapped in 1950s ethics and values. The ones holding the KKK signs in Atchafalaya. Read David Brooks review of the book in his Fourth of July column.

Empathy and Lack of Empathy

Empathy and Lack of Empathy

Two videos: one from Brene Brown on how empathy differs from sympathy. The second, a TED talk, on how narcissists lack empathy, and how ordinary narcissism differs from covert narcissism.

How are Covert Narcissists different from the garden-variety kind? According to Spartan Life Coach

You are Told: Narcissists are always brash, loud, assertive, flashy and Confident.

The problem is: Coverts are quiet, insecure and passive.

You are Told: Narcissists will never apologize for things they do.

The problem is: Coverts can learn that a quick and TOTAL apology is a really slick way of getting their target to “go back to sleep” if it looks like they are waking up.

You are told: Narcissists are ambitious, successful, go-getters full of energy and pumped with charismatic charm.

The problem is: Coverts are marked by failed ambition, chronic feelings of emptiness, fragility, low functioning and when depleted can frequently sink into outright depression.

You are told: Narcissists can be detected because they will always tell you how amazing they are and by bragging about their achievements.

The problem is: Coverts are known for presenting themselves as vulnerable victims who can even use that vulnerability as a hook to bait you in!

The article goes on to say that while the overt narcissist believes they are awesome, the world largely agrees with them. On the other hand, the covert narcissist believes they are awesome and the world largely disagrees with them. Narcissistic supply is scarce, forcing them to be more cunning and deceptive than the overt narcissist.

PSYCHOLOGY TODAY offers the Seven Signs of a Covert Narcissist. A key differentiator is passive-aggressiveness.

Some introverted narcissists deal with disagreeable people or circumstances in passive-aggressive ways. Upon receiving a reasonable request from you, they might say ‘okay,’ “yes,” “of course,” or “as you wish,” then either do nothing, or behave however they please. When you inquire why they didn’t follow-through on an arrangement, they may shrug it off with an excuse, or say nonchalantly that their way is better.

Perhaps SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN said it best. “23 signs You a Covert Narcissist Masquerading as Sensitive Introvert

In a post on The Narcissistic Life, Amanda says in the comments:

Gary, thank you for bringing up the Empath. As a daughter and sister of Narcissists, I do not see myself as an “inverted narcissist.” After a failed marriage of 24 years, I was told my ex was a narcissist. The signs were all there right in front of me, but I couldn’t see them or didn’t want to. Since the divorce I have been in a few relationships and most were narcissistic. The Narcissist is attracted to the Empath so they can gain control, power and they know the Empath will submit. The last relationship lasted for 2 years instead of 24 and he is a sociopathic/narcissist. The signs were there, but I ignored them because the “love bombing” was intoxicating and almost suffocating. I believed every word he said.

When he began to tire of me he started finding ways so I would push him out of my life. I ended up telling him he had 24 hours to get his things. I already knew he had shut me down or “discarded” me..

I can see my part in the desire for being loved from these type of men. Since I couldn’t find that in my dad and brothers, I sought this need through men.

In each relationship, there is a longing to show and express love, but they don’t seem to want this love. Maybe I never was able to attach to my dad because he was not able to love himself. As his daughter, I could sense this and tried over and over I tried to tell him how wonderful he is and how much he is loved.
He has never accepted this from me or accepted this within himself.

The fixer…

Commenter Tmoney goes on to say:

… “the inverted narcissist is a person who grew up enthralled by the narcissistic parent … the child becomes a masterful provider of Narcissistic Supply, a perfect match to the parent’s personality.” is what sets it apart. The Empath is never looking to feel like a masterful provider (someone with power over someone else), Empaths serve because they want to, its natural. Its not a way to control people.

The Inverted Narcissist is ultimately seeking to feel POWERFUL by having a Narcissist depend on them. (Because if they are the supply, they can manipulate the one who needs it.)

The Empath is seeking to feel LOVED by having someone depend on them.



Inverted Narcissists and Narcissists play an equal tug of war. Narcissists invite Empaths to play tug of war and the Empaths drop the rope, which is why the Narcissists find them so interesting.

Know Breaks

Know Breaks

Rick Hanson Ph.D., author of Buddha’s Brain, teaches at UC Berkeley. His Positive Neuroplasticity trains your brain to turn passing experiences — like self-compassion, mindfulness, grit, gratitude, and self-worth — into lasting inner resources that are encoded in your nervous system.

His Just One Thing weekly newsletter suggests a simple practice for more joy, more fulfilling relationships, and more peace of mind. Today, the message was to PAUSE.

When the mind is running fast, it can feel like a juggernaut with no brakes. When in a heated discussion, it is important to be able to PAUSE the flow of words so we may consider better responses. Know to take a break. Rick Hansen says:

nobrakesIf need be, PAUSE the interaction altogether by suggesting you talk later, calling time out, or (last resort) telling the other person you’re done for now and hanging up the phone.

Before doing something that could be problematic — like getting high, putting a big purchase on a credit card, firing off an irritated e-mail, or talking about person A to person B — stop and forecast the consequences. Try to imagine them in living color: the good, the bad, and the ugly. Then make your choice.

He recommends that we stop for a few seconds before starting a new activity and tune in to what’s going on, especially our physical feelings, so that we can briefly touch what Richard Miller calls our “inner resource.”  To know breaks give us a chance to regain our center, to calculate the consequences of actions, to compose ourselves, and to know peace.

Training Your Brain

Wendy Sullivan, LMSW, a licensed social worker, developed a set of Just One Thing downloadable cue sheets to help people to structure their efforts to train their brains to feel more peace and joy. Find out more about the Just One Thing book.

Death Rate Jumps 22% for Middle-Aged Whites

Death Rate Jumps 22% for Middle-Aged Whites

The New York Times reported in a front page article that white Americans without a college degree are dying at an accelerated rate due to suicide, fast and slow.

The rising annual death rates among this group are being driven not by the big killers like heart disease and diabetes but by an epidemic of suicides and afflictions stemming from substance abuse: alcoholic liver disease and overdoses of heroin and prescription opioids.

Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman called it “Despair, American Style” in an op-ed piece today.

In a recent interview Mr. Deaton suggested that middle-aged whites have “lost the narrative of their lives.” That is, their economic setbacks have hit hard because they expected better. Or to put it a bit differently, we’re looking at people who were raised to believe in the American Dream, and are coping badly with its failure to come true.

About a year ago, two of my brothers drank themselves to death on opposite sides on the country. Dave (on the right in the picture below) died on Oct. 5 in Virginia and Greg died on Nov. 17 in Oregon. Both were in their 50’s, both had retired a few years earlier, neither retirement was completely voluntary, neither had finished college. Neither had a strong plan for retirement, both slipped in to spending a lot of time with their best friend, beer. This photo was taken one year prior, on a vacation in Florida.


In the days following the publication of this alarming data, there was some pushback over methodologies, so Angus Deaton released this drill-down info.

My brothers, who grew up in the 1950’s, rode the post-WWII juggernaut where men were men and drank to prove it. They lived their lives as if everything was going to take care of itself, which was the prevailing assumption in the days of Ozzie & Harriett and Leave It To Beaver. What was different about these two, however, is that they were musicians who became stalled at the “talented amateur” stage. They didn’t pursue enough training to focus their minds or to hone their talent. They never developed a commitment to their art.They never even learned to read music. But their artistic temperaments were difficult to live with, and they numbed themselves. To death.

blackoutSarah Hepola, author of “Blackout: Remembering the things I drank to forget” attributed alcohol addiction to heredity and culture. My brothers did not live in a culture that encouraged thinking in healthy ways. They did not see their father, another talented piano player, take an active part in creating healthier emotions, minimizing emotional suffering and maximizing joy. According to Debbie Joffee Ellis in a letter to the NYTimes, “To create healthy [emotions] requires willingness to think in realistic… ways and to recognize when we are catastrohizing, and then to dispute such thoughts. Don’t worry, think wisely, be healthier and happier.”

The New York Times review of her book says:

Ms. Hepola’s electric prose … has direct access to the midnight gods of torch songs, neon signs, tap beer at a reasonable price, cigarettes and untrammeled longing.

She may have squandered her early carreer
and now is back in Texas, finally publishing her first novel at age 40. I enjoyed the book and I think she is going to beat the odds in the charts above because she finished college, and knew she was a good writer. She made a living at it while she used alcohol as “the gasoline of all adventure.” Now she has sobered up and found her path. I’m so glad.

Yield to the Present – 10% Happier

Yield to the Present – 10% Happier
Yield to the Present – 10% Happier

“Yield to the Present” was the sign near the door when Dan Harris, the ambitious ABC reporter, arrived at Spirit Rock in Marin for his 10 day silent retreat in an effort to become “less of a jerk.” The book was a dishy read of behind-the-scenes at ABC news, which I loved, and had a lot of good information on his walk toward Buddhism

Dan’s teachers suggest using our native curiosity to train our Default Mode Network to move from Aversion to Compassion. To move from being a jerk, in his parlance, to a mensch. He shows the brain chemistry and meditation techniques to do it, including asking yourself, when you are ruminating on the same thought for the nineteenth time, “is this useful?”

One of his mentors, Mark Epstein, explains on page 164 discussion Dan could become 10% happier because of mitigation of misery, not alleviation. The waterfall of drama is still there, you gain the ability to step behind the waterfall, creating a space to witness what is going on. Instead of the kneejerk stimulus —> reaction, you have walked behind the waterfall of emotion and created enough space to move to stimulus —> response because you are less caught up in the melodrama that is unfolding. You are less attached to the outcome. You have space for a little insight because you are not clinging to success so desperately. Here the metta prayer he learned at Spirit Rock:

May you be happy
May you be safe and protected from harm
May you be healthy and strong
May you live with ease

My favorite part was in the appendix where Dan Harris mentions the research of Jud Brewer, MD, PhD, addiction psychiatrist at Yale. Here’s Jud’s TED talk shows how to calm the posterior cingulate — get it to “turn blue” in the fMRI.

Animated Film: Song of the Sea

Animated Film: Song of the Sea

Song of the Sea movieI love the Irish art from the animators of The Book of Kells and Song of the Sea is their latest release. I am a fan of John Sayles’s 1994 movie, “The Secret of Roan Inish,” about the Irish legend of a Selkie, seal-like creature that can shed its skin and live for a time as a woman. I am fascinated by the assumptions in Irish stories because it helps me understand some of the assumptions I make about life.

The two kids and dog pictured left live with their father in a remote lighthouse on the roaring Atlantic shore of the island. The mother has disappeared and no one is talking. Even the little six-year-old girl, Saoirse, doesn’t speak. No one mentions that Selkies can’t speak without their seal skin. The only connection the family has to other people is that the father goes to the mainland to visit the pub when his mother comes to visit the children. There is almost no adult conversation in these children’s lives, and no recourse when adults make bad decisions.

So, we have three elements of Irish culture:

  1. Isolation
  2. Not talking about losses as large as a missing mother
  3. Going to the pub for companionship and emotional relief

Things get worse, the grandmother comes to take the children to the mainland, but she won’t take the dog. The kids make their break on Hallowe’en, when all the goblins are out, including the evil owls that do the dirty work of Macha pronounced Maka. When Macha gets hold of the kids and the dog, lo and behold, she looks a great deal like the grandmother.

Macha wants to ease their pain and loneliness by turning their emotions to stone, as she did for her son, the giant stone near their light house. Her son was so sad he cried an ocean of tears, and to take away his pain she turned him, and his emotions, to stone. The emotions are now rocks with magical markings, and some are captured in unbreakable jars. So, more Irish culture:

  1. The way out of pain is to turn to stone
  2. It is good to help someone to turn their emotions to stone
  3. This change a permanent

In order to make his own life easier, the father has made bad decisions with dangerous consequences for his children. The boy, Ben, risks everything to save his sister Saorise (pronounced like the color Cerise).

The movie, and the legend, seem to teach that the right thing for children to do is to give up their lives for others. To accept without question that their mother has disappeared and their father cannot made good decisions, cannot take care of them, and doesn’t have to answer urgent questions.

But wait, it gets worse! And the very end, the little girl is forced to make a choice that no six-year-old should face. She has to choose between being true to herself and embracing the adventure of her true nature by joining her mother, or she can choose to take care of her weeping father and brother. And guess what she chooses?!

That’s right… she chooses to take care of her father and brother because her mother CAN’T. And her mother disappears again, this time forever. So the little girl will now spend the next 10 years taking care of these men, and trying to push out of her mind her brief connection to her mother. She has learned to put herself last.

And that’s how co-dependents are created. This is the mythology of my culture. These are the stories we tell the children.

Nathaniel Branden said, “We live our lives according to what we believe.”

Maybe it is time for my barbarian culture to evolve. Maybe it is time to develop some healthier traditions, including telling the truth to the children. And wouldn’t it be grand if parents could actually take care of themselves and take care their children? Not the other way around…