Archive for February, 2010

Narcissism Misunderstood

February 28, 2010

A recent New York Times Op Ed piece by Roger Cohen, “The Narcissus Society,” makes some good points about health care and the importance of working together as a society.

In lamenting how community has eroded, Cohen says, “In its place have come a frenzied individualism, solipsistic screen-gazing, the disembodied pleasures of social networking and the à-la-carte life as defined by 600 TV channels and a gazillion blogs. Feelings of anxiety and inadequacy grow in the lonely chamber of self-absorption and projection.”

As one of the “gazillion bloggers” I could imagine that the way things are changing might be experienced as a threat to the old order, especially if one had carved a niche within it, say as a provider of content in mainstream media that sees it’s viewers declining; however, I’m not sure that blogging and reading other blogs is necessarily more alienating that the non-connecting of the past—watching the nightly news and imagining that one was experiencing a sense of community… sponsored by Coca-Cola or Depends.

At least with an à-la-carte menu of potential connection we have many more people potentially experiencing and building community in a way that mass media may have killed more than facilitated.

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February 27, 2010

A good, and widely traveled, friend emailed me in response to “Where are my dudes?” to concur that in other cultures affection amongst friends, men as well as women, is more accepted and widespread—and really important for us humans to feel connected, loved and less alienated.  While kids are more huggy these days than when I was growing up, it’s never too late to get more affectionate.

A recent NY Times piece about Touch takes a scientific look at how touch, even small gestures like a warm hand on the shoulder, makes a big difference in how we feel and behave.

Research shows that kids are more likely to volunteer for things if the teacher has given them a supportive touch on the back or arm.  A study of pro basketball and touch finds that the best teams are also the most touchy-feely.

Warm touch reduces stress by lowering cortisol levels (which can, over time, lead to heart disease, obesity, and is consistent with reduced immune functioning) and it also seems to release trust-enhancing hormones, building bonds, lowering depression and facilitating well-being.

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The Politics of Normal

February 26, 2010

In a recent NY Times article, “Revising the Book on Disorders of the Mind”, the fact that so-called mental disorders are decided by people, rather than being self-evident “facts,” is readily apparent.

As a psychologist, this is old news, but for many parents who may come into contact with “experts” who have been using jargon for so long that they mistake it for some inexorable and inevitable truth, it is good to have a wider perspective on things.

Children who do not behave annoy parents and teachers, but how much is childhood angst a product of adult angst, particularly societal angst?  How much does denial, emptiness and anxiety filter down to children where it gets projected by parents who would rather treat their kids than look at their own issues?

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Red Flags

February 25, 2010

Years ago, when Andy and I had a meeting with our child’s preschool teachers, I remember sitting around the little table meant for Playdough and snack-time and the preschool director saying something about certain behaviors being “red flags.”

I had walked in expecting to hear something like, “his crayon scribbles are really creative” or “he really likes hanging on the climbing structure.”  To be honest, to this day I can’t really recall what the “red flag” was a “red flag” for, just that there was a “red flag,” and that this made me feel woozy, and sad, and worried, and inadequate.

A red flag that made my inner Ferdinand just want to sit and smell the flowers; a red flag that made me swoon with fears about having already messed up my kid, maybe by being a therapist, maybe by giving bad genes.  I’ve worked with so many parents by now that I’m more calm to know that we almost ALL seem to have these worries to some degree or other.

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Scorsese: The Wisest Guy in the Room

February 24, 2010

Readers of this blog are probably aware that I’m not a big horror film fan, while my son is; in the service of striving to be my best Self as a parent I’ve cringed, shuddered and jumped out of my seat through I am Legend, Zombie Land, The Book of Eli, Paranormal Activity and this week… Shutter Island.

From the first glimpse of the terrifying trailer months ago, my kid had gotten me to promise to take him to Shutter Island, and I went with a measure of trepidation.  Not only is Scorsese a brilliant filmmaker, arguably our best living and working American master, but if he wants to scare, he knows how to scare.  In fact Cape Fear has to be one of the scariest films I’ve seen.

However, if you were thinking to skip Shutter Island because you don’t care for horror films, my vote is to strongly consider checking it out as a work of haunting art.

When it comes to intelligence there is knowledge and there is wisdom.  Scorsese has both:  he has the knowledge of cinema history (and is one of the champions of film preservation, understanding the importance of our cultural legacy), but he also has wisdom, intuitive knowing and seeing that gives him a touch of magic with actors, with mood and atmosphere, with themes and emotional tones—with how and when to move the camera, a gift for mise en scene… in a time of big iconic franchises based on comic books where the word “auteur” is laughable, Scorsese is an auteur.

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Happiness is subversive

February 23, 2010

If one is happy, one is present to the moment.  In some sense happiness marks moments we wish not to end.  But as we get more acclimated to happiness, even our melancholy about the fleeting of time calms down.  In these moments the eternal opens up in the here and now.

In such moments… when white clouds tower in an azure sky, when the pupils of a beloved’s eye opens wide and we tumble into a reverie of soul within body, when a warm afternoon hovers languidly, when the touch of skin transports and transfixes, when the luxury of fruit fills our mouths, when the scent of our favorite dish laps upon our shore like a zephyr as horizons of illuminated memory shimmer in our minds… in such moments we want for nothing and we fear nothing.  Such is happiness—the wanting of what just simply is.

Happiness is like the Tao, you can use it for all sorts of things, but you really can’t explain it or define it.

Yet happiness, although we “pursue” it, as is our constitutional right, appears to remain elusive and in short supply.  So much future-focus blocks happiness, but it does get us to the mall, the car dealership and the open houses, forever questing for a good feeling that slips through the holes of our colander consciousness.

By radically embracing whatever just is, we dramatically reduce both our fears and our desires.  This liberates us from the reptilian brain and opens the elevator to the pre-frontal cortex—the neuron nest where we invite the appreciation of music, the intuitive connecting with others… the good stuff.

Happiness also liberates us from being manipulated, controlled, cowed and conned—and in this way happiness is radically subversive in that it undermines the status quo in a fear-based culture.

So, let’s dedicate today to happiness by leaping into the void of wanting nothing but what is, embracing what we have, who we are with, even putting our arms around our sorrows, limitations and misfortunes.  Easier said than done I admit, but when done, powerfully transformative and liberating.  Here’s to the effort:  breathe in love, breathe out fear and desire—in the service of all our collective children.

Namaste, Bruce

When the wolf at the door is bringing sugar

February 22, 2010

BigLittleWolf has given me a prize.  Thank you Wolf.  Another word for prize, if we elevate it up to something “big,” is a “boon.”  This is the treasure that the hero seeks in the hero’s journey.

Given my interest in micro-parenting (an ethic of each of us making little differences rather than big, grandiose, change-the-world visions), I sometimes look at parenting in terms of the hero’s journey, a paradigm in which we parents (i.e. those who might embrace a parenting attitude, in other words simply caring about one’s little corner of the world, whether or not that includes children) might each be in the midst of a million small hero’s journeys—no longer gathering around the fire to hear about Ulysses or Hercules (not that story-time isn’t fun) but instead living our own small terrors and triumphs, mostly unseen, unaided and uncelebrated.

In The Hero with a Thousand Faces Joseph Campbell says, “A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”  Couldn’t we rephrase this as, “a parent, upon having a child, tumbles into a radically different way of being:  one wrestles one’s own demons and the victory of becoming one’s true self, free of bullshit and inauthenticity may, at much cost, be won:  the parent learns how to truly love, and is then able to love the world.”

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Do therapists mess up their kids?

February 21, 2010

My younger son said something to a friend of his recently that cracked me up.  He said, “The good thing about having a dad who’s a psychologist is that you can talk about your feelings any time you want; the bad thing is that you end up talking about feelings even when you don’t want.”

This was said mostly in good fun, but it reminded me of a tossed off comment a training supervisor, a psychoanalyst, once quipped:  “Therapists screw up their kids by prematurely interpreting their feelings.”

I once told my older son about this idea that therapists mess up their kids, and when he’s mad at me (i.e. for criticizing his electronic gaming) he might retaliate by blaming me for messing him up by always prematurely interpreting his feelings.  I can’t help but interpret back to him that he’d never have come up with that attack if I hadn’t given it to him.  I guess our particular Oedipal struggles revolve around blame, but even more around originality rather than the “classic” father son power battles for dominance; yet maybe he has to seek others to fight with in the virtual gaming world to work out those old-school needs for aggression… so maybe I’m screwing him up by doing too much yoga and not wanting to compete about everything?

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Where are my dudes?

February 20, 2010

Okay, so I’m a “sensitive guy,” but still I ask, in this teeming planet of six billion plus humans, half of the male gender, “where are my dudes?”

A lot of men are rather unskilled and uncomfortable in talking about feelings, having feelings, or dealing with feelings.  This gets in the way of their relationships with women, and so they go hang with their guys from where desire women but often resent them even more.  In my view this ends up resulting in a lot of unhappy men.

Don’t get me wrong, I have really dear and feeling male friends—in LA and scattered around the country—and maybe I’m just being greedy for more male bonding and intimacy, but it’s my general experience of men, at least on planet earth, particularly in the US, that getting real about things like the meaning or purpose of life, much less delving into the depths of male feelings is pretty much a no man’s land.

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s u n f l o w e r s

February 19, 2010

You can read below if you like, but my “guest blog,” highly recommended, speaks for itself:  Please click:  Sunflowers (and then click on the little triangle to “play”)


I met Paul Alexander at NYU graduate film school.  To be honest, I had gotten into USC and NYU and chose the little dingy place on East 7th Street because it was an arts school and I was interested in becoming an artist.  I knew full well that USC was the smart career move, but “smart” in terms of social positioning and money and power getting has just not been the way I’ve rolled.  This was more about fate, however, than any sort of Rimbaud-like romanticism.  I always dreamed big, it was my world that stayed small.

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