Cognition & Reality

Monday, 25 April 2011

The Survival Instinct

Filed under: Basic Goodness,Human Evolution — drtone @ 5:59 pm

Sometimes we do things that are hard to explain at the time, only to understand their significance later. It could be that this represents some kind of instinctive response that, because it arises from deep inside one’s being, does not respect time and space. I have had at least one experience of this phenomenon.

Anyone who knows me knows that, outside of the written page, I am “organizationally challenged.” I somehow managed to acquire a doctorate, although I can’t take notes to save my life (no matter how strong my survival instinct); the same problem with note-taking has arisen again in connection with my clinical practice. My “files” are a ridiculous, musty mess. Most of the time, every horizontal surface in my place is at least partially obscured with papers, magazines, and other crap. I am the opposite of “detail-oriented” and am the world’s worst clerk. Nevertheless, years ago, I accomplished a difficult clerical task, involving repeated attention to boring details, that promises to make it possible for me to live without having to flip burgers.

When I was working for Western Psychological Services, in LA, I found out that I could count my hours at my job toward the 3000 clinical hours required to obtain a psychology license. In order to accomplish this, I had to submit an application to the state Board of Psychology to be a “psychological assistant.” This involved asking my department head to be my “supervisor,” something I was loathe to do, because I never liked owing him anything. In addition, I had to send the Board a passport-sized photo and my fingerprints, which involved spending a few bucks at some Kinko’s-like place. If the business had not been farther than only a couple of blocks away, I might never had gone there. I also had to fill out a long form and have my transcripts sent from UCSD (and perhaps other places). Furthermore, I had to reapply each year to renew my status as a psych assistant, which I managed to do, as well. After I accumulated my hours, I also studied for and passed the national examination, the name of which escapes me, that is part of the California licensing process.

I did all of this stuff, although it was entirely out of character for me to do so, something I recognized at the time and mentioned to more than one person. Further, I filled out the applications, paid various fees, and maintained my status in spite of not needing a license for my work and without intending–ever!–to become a psychotherapist. At the time, nothing in my life was forcing me to act in ways I would normally not act unless forced. I even went to state orals exam, which I failed miserably (scoring 7-1/2%!), although it cost money and involved spending an absolutely horrible day at an airport hotel. I proved that I didn’t care whether I had a license by not finishing the process, because I knew I would have to study for real to have a chance of passing the orals.

Nearly a decade after abandoning my desultory quest for a license, I found myself in Silver City, New Mexico, facing both a divorce and the prospect of starting my life all over again. I knew that it was impractical for me to stay in Silver City, where there were no job prospects. Desperate for a sign to tell me where I should go next, I called up the California Board of Psychology, sure that they would tell me that my application was void and that, time having passed, my hours had expired. They told me no such thing. In fact, everything I had accomplished, the hours and passing the national test, remained in place. Miraculously, they told me that the state had abandoned the oral exam that had stood in my way previously, replacing it with a multiple choice test!

Having passed the national exam and aced many other multiple choice tests, I assumed that I would be able to pass the new exam easily. I was wrong: It took me over a year to prepare for the test. Once I passed it two years ago, however, I was a licensed psychologist in the State of California. It would never have been like that if I had not engaged in the bureaucratic dance years before. It was as if I had known, almost a decade in advance, that I would need and want to have a psychology license.

I’m not sure what this all means. At minimum, it warns that the feeling one has that one’s actions are transparent may be wrong. Sometimes, at least, our motives are hidden, and sometimes they’re downright mysterious.

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Monday, 4 April 2011

Something Will Happen

Filed under: Attachment,Basic Goodness,Perennial Philosophy — drtone @ 9:28 am

Last summer, a client and I came up with a sort of slogan describing the usual status of human affairs: “Something will happen.” Just when you think things are on a rail–going well, or going South–something will happen that changes your circumstances and your attitude. For example, last year I thought I was running completely out of money until I discovered, more or less by accident, that I could draw on my 401K at age 59-1/2. I would be that old exactly when I ran out of my other source of funds. Admittedly, it’s not great to be drawing on my retirement right now, but it’s better than immediate penury. Presently, I’m worried about my psychotherapy practice, because I have so few clients, but Something Will Happen. Guaranteed.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

“Getting Better”

Non-attachment means recognizing the basic goodness of our situation. I give up my goals, my notions about improving, because trying to “get better” implies moving away from WHO I AM NOW. Whatever I do, win or lose, come or go, I experience reality as it happens, unadorned by my stories about it. By the same token, as long as I focus on where I want to be in the conjectural future, I reduce the psychic space available in the present. If I am not attached to results, not only am I free from the suffering I might engage in, but also my mind and senses are clear. Paradoxically, once I renounce my attachment to going anywhere in particular, I become more effective at going where I want to go.

We can’t open selectively, however. Because pain and turmoil are part of life, we must accept them if we are to remain open to love and joy. I have told clients who have come to me as a result of ruptured relationship or financial crisis to welcome the opportunity the seeming disaster presents. Although these events are painful, to say the best, they also can illuminate pathways that would have been impossible to see under the prior, apparently more comfortable, circumstances. Notoriously, for example, a secure marriage, once gone, reveals itself as having been a hindrance to growth. Non-attachment from the immediate consequences of separation and divorce can therefore lead directly into previously foreclosed possibilities.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

New Car, New Experience

Filed under: Attachment,Basic Goodness — drtone @ 10:37 am

I bought a new car yesterday, a 2011 Hyundai Sonata GLS, which has received rave reviews in Consumer Reports and elsewhere. The car is black with tan interior, the most important options being an automatic transmission and power seat, both about being nicer to my back, which had been rebelling against the manual transmission and the seating position in my otherwise excellent Forester turbo. In addition, I expect to save money on fuel, the main reason I bought a new car that includes the technological changes that have come with $3+/gallon gasoline.

The most amazing thing about the purchase was how un-nervous I was. The only time I got a little sick to my stomach was when I first went inside the dealership, realizing that I was maybe going to buy. From there on, it was easy. This was the fifth new car I’ve bought in ten years (what with cars I bought for me and for my former wife), and I was more anxious throughout the process with each of the preceding four, a lot more anxious; and the upset had remained when I drove off the lot. Not this time. I ended up spending a little more than I thought, but not much, partly because I did some low pressure bargaining, using the internet and playing a little with what they were going to give me for my trade-in. I was  happy that I  seemed to know what to do and did it without hesitation. Because I wasn’t attached to buying the car right that minute, having come merely for a test drive, I did not sweat or fret, exactly the mood to be in when making a deal. I liked the experience of non-attachment almost more than the car.

Buying  seemed like a no-brainer afterthought. I really liked the way the the car drove almost as soon as I got off the lot, although the variable-assist steering seemed a little stiff early on, as we followed a guy going ver-r-r-r-y sl-o-o-o-wly. Eventually, the salesman had me drive up a steep windy stretch just west of Temecula, on the road up to the Santa Rosa Plateau. He told me to step on it, and I did. The car went fast and held the road. The engine and transmission worked together to supply more than adequate power. On the freeway, a few minutes later, the car downshifted for passing far more smoothly and quickly than I could have done in the Forester. The steering was responsive, the handling agile and smooth. The car as a whole was smooth, smooth, smooth. It even looks smooth.

I thought, “This car performs as I had hoped and expected, based on my research. Nevertheless, I should drive some other cars. Is that true?” Having already scoped out the performance figures and cost of the competition, I knew that anything better would be out of my price range, and that my alternative was to pay about the same or more for a lesser vehicle. What if the Nissan Altima is better, or the driving position on a Honda Accord is exactly what the doctor ordered for my back? What if, a year or two from now, it becomes clear that I shouldn’t have spent the money? What if. The decision felt unencumbered, showing me what it would be like to live life without my Inner Bully’s interference every moment.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Fetchin’ Gretchen

Filed under: Attachment,Basic Goodness,Perennial Philosophy — drtone @ 2:41 pm

My 10-year-old dachshund Gretchen, whom I have described before as indefatigable, loves a couple of games more than eating, more than she loves me, maybe. In “Squirty-Squirt,” she attacks a “jet” stream coming out of the hose. She bites the water, dances around it, makes attacking passes at it, and barks like crazy the whole time. The other is “Fetch.” She’s good at Fetch, but not great. First of all, she’s only so-so at catching the ball. Second, she has a thing about giving the ball back to me, coyly playing with it, mouthing it, dropping it and then snapping it up, until she actually lets me pick it up. She never puts it in my hand; I gave up teaching her to do so years ago. Don’t tell Cesar Milan.

When Gretchen plays Fetch, she tries to catch the ball, usually on a bounce. Sometimes, she does catch it. Mostly, she misses, and ends up chasing the ball to the wall, about 10 yards away. I like it when she catches the ball, especially when she snares it cleanly out of the air from a difficult angle. Occasionally, I clap as if she were a Little Leaguer who’s made a difficult play. Maybe she likes catching the ball, too. Mainly, however, she doesn’t care whether she catches it or chases it. Either way, it’s the game, and the game is fun. She spends no time or energy judging herself when she misses. It does not matter. It’s all good, as far as she is concerned, the “basic goodness” of dog and ball. This is Gretchen’s lesson about non-attachment.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Going There

Filed under: Basic Goodness,Emotion,Psychotherapy — drtone @ 4:05 pm

Sometimes, you’ve just got to go into those bad feelings, remembering that they happen anyway. Of course, it’s possible to numb out, stopping consciousness of sadness and shame. Unfortunately, numbing either doesn’t stop the feelings from continuing, or it actually intensifies them by adding fuel to the fire.

These days, I’m worried and feeling embattled because of my relatively high PSA score, and because of knowing that next week I go in for a urology appointment, at which I expect them to put me in the prostate cancer pipeline, notorious for its inefficacy. I can watch all the TV I want, surf the Web, talk on the phone, write emails, see other doctors, and distract myself with food, but the fear and edginess remain. I might as well sink into them.

Friday, 29 October 2010

The Tip Of The Iceberg: A Blessing

Filed under: Basic Goodness,Emotion,Perennial Philosophy,Psychotherapy — drtone @ 9:12 am

I may have written about this before. I’m not sure. In any case, it’s worth pointing out that we tend to disparage the “tip of the iceberg” in favor of the seven-eighths, or whatever it is, that’s underwater, although without the tip of the iceberg, we wouldn’t know that the rest of it is there. If I’m grumpy, and it’s “really’ because I’m grieving my mother’s death earlier this year, the grumpiness is a mere symptom (“tip”) of an underlying issue (the rest of the “iceberg”). Nevertheless, the grumpiness is a token of the whole, and I might not know what’s going on if it were not for my bad mood.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

It’s All Good II

In a previous post, I spoke about the expression, “It’s all good,” and compared it with the concept of “basic goodness,” as taught by Chögyam Trungpa. There are similarities, but it is a misunderstanding to draw a line from “basic goodness” to the idea that everything that happens is “good.” Everything that happens, happens. None of us is in a position to say, in absolute terms, whether it is good or not. The issue here is reminiscent of the question often asked about God: If God is good, why does he allow children to die of leukemia?

The claim that everything is good, including the Holocaust, child sexual abuse, world hunger, etc., merely reinvests in the dichotomy between good and bad, or the dichotomy between good and evil. The terms are relative to subjective experience, in any case, and do not refer the Absolute Truth. Again, what happens does happen. Whether I consider it good or bad depends upon my story about the fictional past and the conjectural future. Whether it is absolutely good, no one can tell.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Figuring It Out

Filed under: Basic Goodness,Psychotherapy — drtone @ 4:32 pm

I suppose that it has been coming to me for a long time, but it dawned on me a couple of daze ago that I’m always trying to figure out the problem of ME. I have maintained a naive faith that, even as I understood that life cannot be lived from the intellect, I could position my mind in such a way as to answer every question all at once. Where I recognize that the mind won’t work, I nevertheless try to smuggle it in.

On Tuesday, my psychotherapist, Michael Sieck, said to me, with great impact, “Tony, you can’t figure this out. You can’t do this with your mind,” or words to that effect I can’t quite remember. From that moment for many hours, I lived in the sadness from which all my posturing is intended to protect me. It was a great release, as well as a great relief to know that I can’t do anything about it. Now I’m trying to recapture that experience with my mind.

Friday, 15 October 2010

God Of The Ice Crystals

Filed under: Basic Goodness,Books — drtone @ 9:47 am

A client gave me The Hidden Messages in Water, by Masuru Emoto. It’s the book with the pretty photos of ice crystals, by the guy who figured out how to take such photos. As the title indicates, Emoto (great name!) believes that, through the shape of the ice crystals that form in it, water can not only reflect what we see, but also what we feel. For example, if there are two jars of water, one labeled “Love and Gratitude,” and the other “You fool!,” the former will produce beautiful ice crystals, and the latter deformed crystals.

Emoto appeals to science in describing the spiritual dimension of water. He’s done many studies and demonstrations. He also believes that water came to earth, essentially one drop at a time, from outer space, a theory advanced by a respected astrophysicist. His enthusiasm is refreshing, but I can’t see the same things in the many photos included in the book that Emoto can. He exposed vats of water to different kinds of music and to photographs of various places around the world, and claims to be able to differentiate the crystals that result. Mostly, the crystals look pretty, but I don’t see how the crystal “shown” a photo of Machu Picchu “reminds us of the glory of the Incan Empire.” To me, it looks a lot like the crystal from New York City tap water. The double crystals supposedly formed in water exposed to tango music…what can I say?

For Emoto, the “hidden messages” in water are about the importance of love and especially gratitude to individual happiness and world peace. I guess I didn’t need a glass of water to tell me that. Water, furthermore, is the most spiritual of the natural elements; of that there can be no doubt. The book is in places quite funny, if unintentionally, and the photos are great, whatever messages they may convey.

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