Archive for June, 2009

Can Depression Heal Us?

June 30, 2009

balancing treeWhat if our “depression” were our soul’s way of saying, “You are on the wrong path—you’re not making enough art, or loving the world enough, or loving yourself enough?”

What if instead of trying to stifle the voice of our soul, we paid a little more attention?  What if we asked that dark beast that leaps out of the jungle of our psyche, “Okay, what are you trying to tell me?”

What if it answered, “Your life is perfect, it’s your way of seeing it that is causing the pain.”  Victor Frankl was a prominent psychiatrist and scholar who was put on a train to Aushwitz.  The Nazis killed his wife and, oddly, he found a sense of transcendent spirituality when everything that he thought mattered in life was stripped away.  He stopped “trying” to survive and focused on doing what he could as a doctor to help others.  He even thought he was about to be freed and allowed others to take his place (and all those that got on the bus were not taken to the Red Cross but rather trapped in a building and burned).  Frankl wrote about his experiences in “Man’s Search For Meaning,” and I would highly recommend this book to anyone who thinks that their life is so bleak that no one in such a situation could find happiness out of it.

Let’s dedicate today to compassion to all who are not happy in their situation, in the service of your own personal wishes as well as in the service of all our collective children.

Namaste, Bruce


If Mama’s Not Happy, What Might Help Her Get Happy?

June 29, 2009

Since if Mama’s not happy nobody’s happy, we begin our second week of a year of mindfully parenting with a focus on depression—in the hopes that if mama, or dada, isn’t feeling happy, we might get a little insight going, move the energy around and see if we can’t do a little something to help.  Last week was all about fears and anxieties—which are about dread of the bad thing that we imagine is coming.  Depression is largely about the feeling that nothing good is coming—the flip side of anxiety; the two are intimately related, connected and close friends. red tree

Firstly, depression can range from what we are better off to call normal human sadness, all the way to black despair and the potential for self-destruction.  Depression also has a strong genetic component, and if your parents and/or grandparents suffered from it, you are at increased risk, as are your children. 

If you, or someone you love, suffer from depression, it’s going to take a lot more than some ideas in a blog to move the needle.  If you even remotely suspect that you, or someone you love, suffer from depression, please call your doctor, pastor, or local mental health clinic to find out if treatment is in order.  This blog is meant to get ideas going, raise consciousness and inspire the reader to trust their own instincts—on parenting as well as on healing ourselves so that we can be better parents.  Properly done, parenting in and of itself can be a powerful agent of change in our psyches.  In fact, if we step up and parent even when we don’t feel like it we help change our minds by changing our behavior.  Insight and compassion aim to support us to persevere and give, even when it pains us.  This is productive suffering—it is not at all the same thing as denial.

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Is God a Cliché?

June 28, 2009

AngelsThe word “cliché” is from the French and literally means a printer’s plate—something that was used over and over to say the exact same thing until it dulled and had to be tossed out, no longer able to clearly communicate its original intention.  In this sense the word “God” is a cliché—a word that once glowed and pulsed, numinous with the sacred.  The word we commonly use now points to the sacred for some, but for many others it is muddied, unclear and problematic.  If there is some ultimate Truth and source of being, this nameless and transcendent non-thing can never be contained within any name, rather all names and things would derive from, and be contained within, this mysterious non-thing.

Now this is complicated enough, but how could we transmit our respect for the sacred to the mind of a young child?  Or is it that the young child transmits to us an experience of the sacred that is wordlessly closer to the “Truth” than anything us grown-ups, with our language and our analytic intellects, could come up with?

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Death of the Puer—Michael Jackson and Child Development

June 27, 2009

Manet Dead MatadorMany of us are talking about Michael Jackson this week, lamenting the talented kid that he was, and the quasi-freak that he became, and now grieving the passing of an icon and an era. 

In “Sympathy for the Devil,” Mick Jagger sings, “I shouted out, ‘Who killed the Kennedys?’ when after all it was you and me.”  The same may be said of Michael Jackson, with his brilliant talent, wounded self (or lack thereof) and tragic demise in the glare of our electronic eye. 

Michael Jackson was my peer; we grew up together—he on TV and me watching him on TV.  He sparkled when I was eleven, he dazzled when I was twenty-something, he got weird when I was thirty-something and he got even weirder when I was forty-something.  Now at fifty, it’s over.

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The Marlborough Man vs. Godzilla

June 26, 2009

big bird on small treeWe’ll finish our week of exploring anxieties in the service of better parenting by delving into the final frontier of dread:  annihilation anxiety.

This psychological black hole is a “primitive mental state,” meaning a mind-set harking back to a time before we had a coherent framework to hinge together our sense of existence (i.e. in the first few weeks of life).  This is a feeling of nameless dread that drives parents to the brink of losing it, and sometimes beyond. 

A newborn’s psyche is a bit like a cloud of atomized dust, echoing perhaps the very chaos of non-being from which we all have come.  They are also wired for fear and rage, and their cries are not only heart-breaking, they can also be maddening—perhaps designed to force us to feed and soothe them just to keep the annihilation anxiety at bay.  As parents, it may be useful to better understand this most disturbing of human emotions.

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What’s So Funny ’bout Pain and Degradation?

June 25, 2009

Tree in fallElvis Costello sang, “What’s so funny ‘bout peace, love and understanding?” To which I think we parents can say, “Not much.”  However, if we ask, “What’s so funny about Pain and Degradation?” we must admit that, painful as it is, that is exactly where we find the heart of humor.  We get hit by a two-by-four, that is tragedy; someone else gets hit by a two-by-four—voila, comedy.  We generally laugh when either we see a character in a situation that we are glad not to be in (Harold Lloyd hanging from a clock-tower) or when we see pretentious characters get their comeuppance.

Comedy is anxiety—all dressed up in a clown suit, the jester daring to speak the truth to our intellects, our neurotic, emperor-without-clothes would-be leaders.  But the heart is our true king, and folks like Thich Nhat Hahn and the Dali Lama are always chuckling.  They have achieved “child mind,” they see with great compassion and love—and they see the humor in our human suffering.  They laugh with us, but trust me on this, they see our pain. 

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What “Hansel and Gretel” tells us about our Core Dreads—and how they affect our Parenting

June 24, 2009

Tree and RainIn further exploring fears in the service of better parenting, today we take a look at our two core human dreads:  abandonment and engulfment.  Although we reflexively tend to turn away from dark issues, this week is specifically all about our fears because when we are willing to deal with them our kids almost magically brighten.  Please read consciously in the service of your child, and track if it has any subtle effect on your kid.

All children suffer through oscillating fears of abandonment and engulfment, and these are particularly challenging during stages of significant transition:  becoming acclimated to life outside the womb (emerging from oneness into terrifying dependency); learning to walk (and thus walk away and risk becoming lost); and transition into adolescence (baby one moment, would-be grown-up the next).  A closer look at Hansel and Gretel may be useful to illustrate this dynamic as it contains both key dreads (as for insights into psychologically reading fairytales I must give nods to Bruno Bettelheim and Marie Louise Von Franz, both well-worth reading).

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When Mom and Dad are Frightened, Baby is… Terrified? Or Terrifying?

June 23, 2009

somber tree purple skyWhile we generally dislike feeling frightened, if we try to deny our fears they have a way of growing ever larger.  For example, if we are afraid of germs, and we give in to our fear, soon we are afraid of touching others, next we may become afraid of people in general, then of crowded places, until we become a prisoner of our fears, which can generalize into pervasive dread and isolation.  We then spend so much effort “staying safe” that our so-called lives become a sort of living death.

From there we may over-protect our children, sheltering them from all pain and danger, only to later realize that they are utterly unequipped for the world.  We wake up to realize that we’ve become helicopter parents, and that our kids resent their dependency on us and that we also resent their dependency on us.  And we wonder where we went wrong?  Perhaps it was in not recognizing our fears and coming to better terms with them.

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Where the Wild Things REALLY Are

June 22, 2009

spooky treeIf it serves our children for us parents to be happy, then it also makes sense to explore whatever might be in the way of our happiness.  Let’s start with fear.

According to Jung and Joseph Campbell, when one embarks on the archetypal “hero’s journey” the first figure one meets is the Shadow.  Likewise on our journey to become our authentic Selves (called “individuation” by Jung), as well as our best Selves as parents, we tend to meet our inner demons right away, and then again and again at each developmental transition that we navigate with our kids.  Children push our buttons; they seem at times like little monsters, and at other times they seem to turn us into monsters.

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A Year of Parenting Mindfully

June 21, 2009


Happy Fathers’ Day!

Firstly, a note of recognition and thanks to my friends, colleagues and kindred spirits who, despite wanting all the best for me personally, kind of want to puke when they read my blog (because of the rah-rah/everybody join vibe).  I have never been a joiner, and here I find myself trumpeting the call to sangha.  There is a large part of me that does this project with trepidation as I wish to do no harm.  Yet harm we do (if I blog, I’m not with my kids as much; if I’m helping one thing, I’m ignoring another; if I’m trying to be “good” then someone has to hold the “bad”).

Because of these inevitable opposites, I invite mindfulness, discussion and authenticity; and not “drink the cool-aid” isn’t it all wonderful naiveté.  Yes I am inviting us to mentally gather as a group in the service of our kids, but my friends’ counterpoint of “thanks but no thanks” helps me remember to also strive to value and give voice to the importance of the individual. 

Today marks the summer solstice, the longest day of the year.  If the winter solstice is associated with the birth of light—of Jesus, and also the ancient sun-god, Mithras, then summer, by implication, marks the “birth” of darkness.  The most sun-filled day of the year is also the turning point toward the darkest time. 

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