Therapy in a Time of Climate Crisis

Therapy in a Time of Climate Crisis

You’ve probably been made to feel at some point in your life that there is something “wrong” with you for feeling anxious, angry, or sad. I always take the tack that you feel anxious, angry, or sad (very likely) because there is something right with you.
This kind of approach to mental health and human emotions takes on particular dimensions of poignancy in times of out-and-out climate crisis. Climate reports of recent years have actually been sending people to therapy, surpassing (in grimness) even the most pessimistic predictions of decades before.
The phrases “climate dread,” “climate anxiety,” and, “climate despair” have been coined to describe this new kind of existential dread that is a valid and direct response to this unique situation of facing the very real possibility that each of us, or any one of us, will be impacted by climate crisis in very real ways at some point in our lifetimes, maybe even much sooner than we’d like to think.
Many people describe feelings akin to being given a cancer diagnosis after reading the most recent climate reports. Some recent reports (put out by distinguished, well-respected, renowned climate scientists, not “fringe” people by any stretch of the imagination) warn readers that young people alive today may have about a 50% chance of witnessing the actual extinction of our species within their lifetimes, and will almost certainly be exposed to food shortages, mass migrations, and other responses to escalating climate crisis during their time here on earth.
Okay. Please take a deep breath. I write with such scathing, relentless honesty here because I care very deeply about the fact that this appears very convincingly to be the case. I know that feelings of climate despair can crop up when we have thoughts like, “It doesn’t really matter what I do. Go vegan. Stop flying. It’s all still going to happen.” And feelings of climate dread come from the idea of an immanent, existential ending of some kind. Valid. Valid, valid.
Add to this the despair associated with not knowing whether the legacy of our life’s work matters beyond the immediate people we touch within our lifetimes (for creatives and artists especially). Add to this frothing cocktail of emotions and considerations a smattering of total confusion about the moral responsibility of having biological children, especially for female-anatomied people who are way more pressed for time in making this momentous decision.  Add to all of this the fact that no one knows exactly how the tumbling domino effect of climate change will unfold. So there’s a thick frosting of deep uncertainty on top of the cake of utterly lugubrious recent scientific predictions. Wow. Jesus. Humans are amazing for breathing through this welter of conditions and emotions and decision trees ever at all.
What has not changed? We are all going to die. Sorry. That was always true. How can we transmute the harsh substantiation of that reality into a huge blessing for possible future generations? I believe that many Millennials, and younger generations, are revolutionizing the importance of what it means to be a human, alive, in the present moment.  These generations seem to be totally rethinking the way we place value on our happiness and the way we feel TODAY, and seem to be discovering how this can actually (contrary to traditional thought) be a very wise and joyous way to guide and direct your life.
However the current climate crisis unfolds, it never hurts to seek mental health support with your very valid feelings about the situation, with understanding how you’d like to spend your time on earth, understanding what you truly value, and understanding what your authentic spirituality looks like.  Therapists treating individuals with climate anxiety and/or climate despair should not hurry to “fix” the feelings, and should focus, rather, on simply being present with them, hearing them, seeing them, and validating them.  The power of relationship becomes particularly obvious in the face of such enormous, existential feelings; both the therapeutic relationship and other loving, personal relationships.  The presence of another human being can be like an anchor, a single thread to hold onto, when the feelings (or the experience) are so big that it seems they could burn us to the ground.  For some clients in the grips of climate despair or climate anxiety, encouragement to engage in activism and/or to adopt more ecologically friendly lifestyle choices can certainly be indicated.  On the one hand, an active approach can reduce feelings of hopelessness.  On the other hand, for those who feel certain that there may not actually be much hope, an active approach can still have a wonderful ameliorative affect on climate anxiety/despair if it is looked upon as a simple act of beauty.  In other words, even if there really is not much hope, engaging in activism and making ecologically friendly lifestyle choices may still feel like the “right” thing to do, and one might look upon engagement in the “right” thing for its own sake, even when there is no hope, as an act of beauty, or a spiritual practice.
What else do we continue to have in common with every human being who ever lived? All we have is now, and all we have is our subjective experience, plus whatever we are being told about the nature of reality and the world around us.  Said another way, all we have is the meeting of our own subjectivity with the great mystery itself.  Contemplation of the one true thing, or the only “true” things we know, can also be calming for those experiencing climate dread or despair.  So, in addition to the activist, spiritual and philosophical dimensions of an active response to an individual in emotional pain over the state of the world, we could also take a creative approach.  All you have to do is write one true sentence.  Write the truest sentence that you know.  (Hemingway)

The Law of Attraction and Mental Health

I am sure my readers are all aware of the film, The Secret, which came out in 2016 and became a massive cultural phenomenon.  For those of you who are not aware or not too familiar, the film introduces and explicates a metaphysical principle, or law, commonly referred to as ‘the law of attraction’.  To put it simply it is the law of like attracts like.  The film inspired and brought hope to millions of people by suggesting that each individual is far more powerful than they ever dared dream, and that we can all take control over what we bring into our experience by doing a better job of tending to our vibration (through the thoughts and beliefs we practice, and through cultivation of better feeling states).  If you get really into it, you may even do some ‘visioning’ for your heart’s desires by creating a vision board, or making a practice of relaxing while listening to music that helps you cultivate the feeling state that you imagine the fulfillment of your heart’s desires would bring, and actually visualize your dreams unfolding.  There is more to it, but too much to get into here . . .

Alright, here’s my honest-to-goodness stance on The Secret and ‘the law of attraction’ :

I can dig it, because . . . why not?  Maybe it “works,” maybe it doesn’t.  But in either case, if you work the principle of like attracts like for one day, then you just created a better-feeling today and therefore, very, VERY likely a better-feeling tomorrow.  And you began to focus on what you’d like to create instead of on what you wouldn’t like to create.  (And I’ll let you in on a tiny little secret, because I’m racy like that:  It really, really does seem like the universe might be holographic, but I am NOT a quantum physicist.  I only know that Western materialist science to this day cannot explain how it is that matter produces consciousness.  So consciousness could be the primary medium of reality, not matter, as has been supposed in the West at least since the Age of Reason.)

NOW.  Not everyone is always in a place, emotionally or clinically, to receive this.  There’s a time for emotional vipassana and there’s a time for loving kindness meditation.  There’s a time for empathy and validation and there’s a time for gentle confrontation.  In other words, there’s a time to melt into it and go through it and there’s a time to stop beating the drum of a shitty story.  Additionally, some folks need some help imagining the possibility of these meta-levels of reality because their viewpoint has become constricted to the point of pathology and is causing them real pain everyday.  On the other hand, some folks are already so deeply inside the meta-levels of reality, that practicing like attracts like may not be the tool they most need at a given time.  I think of the latter camp as the folks who were born to be mystics, and I like to help all of my clients become practical mystics.  Think of the image on the classic Rider-Waite tarot card, Temperance.  The woman has one foot in the water and one foot on land.  I like to get a sense of where people’s feet are (if you will) and how they can find balance.

ANOTHER DISCLAIMER.  Shitty things do happen to good people.  My biggest qualm with ‘the law of attraction’ and communities that are centered around it is the way that the teachings can be spun almost into subtle blaming of the individual who has fallen ill, or who is going through a divorce, for example.  Asking someone to consider how they may have manifested cancer, for example, is a way that this metaphysical teaching can be twisted into subtle (or overt) forms of cruelty.  (Again, it is too much to get into in this blog post, but it is helpful to consider also that “good” and “bad” are human judgments and qualifications.  No event is inherently ‘good’ or ‘bad’.  I am sure you are aware of situations that at first seemed ‘bad’ but later turned out to be a ‘blessing in disguise,’ or situations that at first seemed ‘good’ and then turned out to be the varnished facade of something that was rotten underneath.)

WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH YOU, YOUR MENTAL HEALTH, AND YOUR THERAPY?  If you have read this far, good on you.  You probably have at least one foot on the ground **wink**.   I would wager a guess that there is no good clinical reason why you shouldn’t try keeping a gratitude journal.

Now, buckle up: this is the fun part.  So, do you remember that moment in The Secret when Michael Bernard Beckwith declares something along the lines that the universe is always responding to your thoughts and beliefs, WHETHER those thoughts and beliefs are conscious or unconscious?  That’s the rub, he says, but he doesn’t get into how to address the unconscious stuff.  Here’s where I come in and here’s where I think therapy becomes almost like magic (and I realize that’s still a dangerous thing to say).

Therapy approaches like EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) are designed to target and loosen the grip of unconscious programs that have been running us all our lives.  Whatever your unconscious belief schemas involve (and this absolutely applies whether you believe in these metaphysical principles or not), any clinician worth their salts will be able to explain to you the hows and whys of unconscious behaviors designed to get the world and other people to reconfirm our unconscious beliefs about ourselves, the world, life, and other people, again and again and again.  When the origins of those schemas are understood and then they are drained of their emotional charge (with remarkable expediency with an approach like EMDR), then your ongoing beliefs and feelings about the most important aspects of your life will have shifted dramatically for good.  And no metaphysical principle is necessary to explain the ways that this leads to a much better-feeling life experience overall.  But if you do believe in metaphysical principles (such as the law of like attracts like) then, as far as I’m concerned, it really seems like completing a course of EMDR is probably the very best way to juice up your game.

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Feminine-ist Entrepreneurship, Part I

Let me first clarify what I mean by “feminine-ist”.  And let me offer this disclaimer at the outset: I will be using the word “feminine” to describe an actual kind of energy or way of being in the world.  I know that the words “masculine” and “feminine” are so heavily charged with cultural crapola that many prefer to never use the terms anymore at all, opting for “yin” and “yang” to describe basically the same things that I mean when I say “feminine” and “masculine”.  That is fine.  But don’t say I didn’t warn you that I will be liberally sprinkling this tract of writing with a word I personally love: feminine.

Now.  What makes “feminine-ist” different from “feminist,” I hear you ask?  I think of feminine-ism as the latest and greatest iteration of the waves of feminism that came before.  Earlier waves were focused on fighting for women to win the most basic human rights that men had always enjoyed (like the right to vote, or own property, for example).  The next waves were focused on setting women up to be able to reserve a seat at the men’s table, getting them into jobs typically reserved for men, and into higher and higher positions of power in a man’s world.  (Note: Women often felt they had to stuff themselves into a “man-suit” in order to do this, adopting more classically masculine qualities in order to be taken seriously at all.  Not only that, but they often also felt like they had to work ten times harder than the men in order to ever be taken seriously at all.)  And AT LAST, I give you: Feminine-ism, after a long, slow strip tease.

Feminine-ism is feminism, all grown up, as far as I am concerned.  Instead of shoving women into men’s suits and tables, women are encouraged to create their own tables.  Their own damn fine tables where they can paint the chairs whatever color they darn well please, and where pretty soon the word will get out that THIS is where all the fun is happening.  And all are welcome, ALL.  I am being a bit silly.  So let me take you further.

Have you ever noticed that the jobs that involve care giving, service, or nurturing tend to be the very most societally important (if you are really honest with yourself), but they are also the very most low paid and are often afforded low levels of respect?  And have you noticed that professional athletes often make millions of dollars per year and are sometimes seen as living gods?  Have you noticed that those care giving jobs have typically been held by women, and have been associated with the classically feminine quality of nurturing and attunement?  And have you noticed that the professional athlete jobs have typically been held by men and associated with classically masculine qualities?  My contention is this: We need to recognize that we have collectively devalued the feminine, very deeply, and for a very long time.  I am speaking more of what the great Jungian analyst Marion Woodman would call The Feminine Principle here.  And it is a part of all of our lives and all of us, no matter our gender.  I repeat:  The feminine has been devalued inside all of us.

Feminine-ism is a brand of feminism that allows women, and all people, actually, to fully embody their authentic qualities of juiciness, nurturing, creativity, flow, pleasure, intuition, receptivity, without having to feel any less powerful or important because of it.  In other words, you don’t have to put on a man suit or fight your way to the top of a corporation to join this parade.  You can be every bit as feminine (yes, I said it, FEMININE) as your heart desires and be considered powerful, whole, and worthy of respect and reverence, and yes, of course, fundamental rights (Jesus, already).  You can wear your Little Bo Peep costume and lead a rally if that is what you damn well feel like.  You can put dahlias on the table that YOU created for yourself and your friends and colleagues (friend-leagues?).  And a bowl of jelly beans, too.  Whatever tickles you, whatever takes your fancy.  Take these statements as lesson 1 in feminine-ist entrepreneurship.  You can also fully express any and every expression of the feminine principle, as it wants to express through you, in its magnificent childbearing glory, its flowing sexiness, its resplendent heart (NEED that), and sometimes, yes, its sailor mouth.  The feminist writer Camille Paglia once wrote, Mother nature is the most fowl-mouthed of us all.

Let me add here also that feminine-ism does not glorify the feminine over and above the masculine or over and above anything.  Feminine-ism recognizes that we all contain all of these energies, in fluid, mysterious, difficult-to-categorize ways.  The goddess Hecate would approve (She of the disdain for categories).  That means you don’t HAVE to be ultra-feminine.  You don’t HAVE to be anything except exactly what you are right now, and what you are as you continue to answer the call to authenticity, which is a sacred call.

Everything that the Feminine Principle represents has been buried, and disdained, for too long.  I would argue that everything that the Feminine Principle represents is exactly what we need, exactly what we are dying for, on the planet right now.  I’ll close this one with a quote from Ruth Fisher, the mother on the HBO hit series, Six Feet Under: Feminism means being accepted for who you are.

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The Violence of Interpretation

I know this is an intense title. Just stick with me for a minute. I chose the word “violence” because it feels most appropriate, although it is important to understand that what we are talking about here is incredibly subtle.

 

In my work as a clinician, and as a therapist in private practice, I found early on that I love applying my mind, my subtle perception, and everything I’ve studied, experienced and know about human development and the human condition, to the presenting issue that has brought someone to therapy. There is a kind of perception going on in the consulting room that transcends that of everyday interactions. My whole body feels like an instrument, and most importantly, my heart feels like an embodied (and somehow, simultaneously, a metaphysical) place that can develop the most refined and important perception of all.

 

There is immense satisfaction, for me (selfishly), in finding that I am able to help someone understand a longstanding life issue in a radically new way, or that I am able to assist others in expanding their awareness of the true etiology of a current pain point, and in so doing, shift it at the root.

 

In an ideal situation, I facilitate these subtle goals of therapy by skillfully guiding and nudging, and by trying my best to keep any current, working interpretation as a moving, living hypothesis, alive with what Einstein called holy curiosity. I should get into the tail of each client’s healing comet, as it were, and track them, validate them, support them, mirror them (accurately and lovingly), and hold my lantern next to theirs as we make our way through a dark forest to the client’s final arrival at their own answers, their own embodied epiphanies about who they are, and how things came to be as they are. Ideally, the client should be the white rabbit, and I should be Alice, trying to discover where it is the rabbit is headed, and continuing to follow the rabbit on its own adventure.

 

This is one dimension of good psychotherapy. There is another dimension, though. Each client lives in a subjective world, and I also live in a subjective world. Rather than trying to pull the client into my “correct” or “professional” subjective understanding, I should try to get as much into their understanding as I can, and join them there, and then together, join our understandings in order to arrive at a somewhat more objective understanding. Both of us are transformed. My understanding of this is very visual. I imagine each subjective understanding as an enclosed understanding “on the ground,” as it were, and the new, more objective understanding that we will arrive at together, as a third enclosed understanding, above and between the original two.

 

And yet there is another dimension. As I track and follow each client in their process, I am putting pieces together, and I am starting to “see” things that they perhaps do not see. At times, I imagine that it may be the right moment to offer to the client what it is that I “see,” in order to assist them in expanding their awareness into their unknown unknowns (we all have them). Read: an interpretation. I have noticed that the responses to this can vary.

 

On the one hand, this kind of offered interpretation is received almost as an epiphany, or the facilitator of an epiphany of some kind. At other times, it is received as if I am a violinist in a symphony orchestra who showed up to rehearsal without having tuned my instrument. In other words, it feels discordant. It does not “resonate”.  In both cases, I am fairly convinced that people are far more sensitive and subtly aware than they give themselves credit for, and that these acts of interpretation can be perceived as the most subtle affront, or the most subtle danger.  Even when the interpretation “resonates,” it is almost like finding that someone can see through your clothes, or they can see through your closet door and have some sense of what is behind it.  I concede that even when the interpretation does not “resonate,” it may very well be right on target. (Interesting to note that the first synonyms that come up for “accurate” in the dictionary are “precise,” “on target,” “unerring,” “deadly,” and, “lethal”.)

 

Let me explain. Many schools of psychotherapeutic thought, and even some contemplative traditions, include some rendition of the idea that we each contain an internal community, or an internal committee. Some of these internal “parts” might be more accurately referred to even as “fragments” (aspects of self that split off at various intervals in early life, while we were being socialized). The psyche seems to organize itself in such a way that the fragments, or parts, that we learned were not desirable and would not guarantee our ongoing access to safety and love, were buried, pushed into the closet, repressed, rejected, denied, disowned (however you want to say it). They are pushed away from the front-side (conscious) personality that constructs itself in order to survive well in its environment. (Note that this process is taking place most dramatically in childhood, and many of us grew up in early environments that caused us to develop adaptations that actually would not be adaptive in the world outside the home, but there’s not enough space for that subject here.)

 

I propose that when an interpretation does not resonate at all, or even especially, when there is a strong negative reaction to it, it may be that the defenses of the front-side, conscious personality are springing up in order to keep that fragment in the closet. To the conscious, front-side personality, this kind of interpretation is received as a dollop of ketchup on an ice cream sundae. It does not resonate, it does not go together, and the immediate reaction is repulsion in some form. And, of course, there is always the possibility that I am wrong. **Insert tears of laughter emoji**

 

This is why therapists have to be incredibly skilled in getting all of the client feeling safe and on board early on, even naming that there may be moments when therapy begins to represent every place your conscious, day-to-day personality does not want to go. I consider the resistance to awareness, or integration, in this case, or “the wall,” as another “part” of the self that deserves to be lovingly worked with and understood, just like all the other “parts”. It is also useful to clarify early on (even during the first consultation call) that this is the kind of work I do, and to ensure that my ideal clients are able to push through the discomfort that can arise in the early stages, and to ensure that they have some sense that the process will ultimately be incredibly rewarding. I have to quote Jung here to give some sense of the treasure hidden in the parts of our selves that we relegate to shadow, or to the unconscious: The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.

 

There is a place for interpretation in therapy. I try to pass each interpretation or hunch through my heart before I offer it, checking that the intention of offering it is to propel the client along on their path, not to impress or wow them with my high-powered perception. (Hey, I’m human. We all have to check our intentions regularly. Daily.) The ultimate goal is integration, becoming who we truly are, what Jung called individuation. I view it as a process of soul-making; a process that deeply, unspeakably enriches the life of anyone called to begin it. Click the link below to schedule a free 20-minute consultation call with me to find out more.

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Why Red?

Since the Kali dream, red has become more than just a color to me. Now it is charged with far more meaning. It represents the sacredness of the body, birth, and sexuality. It represents the generosity of a broken-open heart that radiates unfaltering love like an uncapped fire hydrant. Red represents the kind of love that reaches the places where we are most broken and most vulnerable. Red is the color of Mary Magdalene’s cape, the goddess Kali’s tongue, and Dinah’s tent or menstrual hut, in the Torah. With the Kali dream, red, for me, became a sacred reminder of the truth I had been converted to– that the Divine is also feminine. -Meggan Watterson, Reveal

 

Once again, at risk of sharing more about myself than propriety would suggest, my relationship with red began in 2015, when I read The Pregnant Virgin: A Process of Psychological Transformation by the great Jungian analyst Marion Woodman. The book contains anecdotes from Woodman’s work with some of her female analysands over the decades. Many of the women were becoming ‘virgin,’ in the Woodman sense, not in the biblical sense. Think virgin rain forest-virgin, not never-had-sex-virgin. They were becoming one unto themselves, undivided, allowing their bodies to work through ancient rage, and coming all the way out the other side, as full, individuated women. It is a process of soul-making, soul-finding or soul reclamation. One woman stated that, in the midst of this process, she returned home from buying groceries after a day at her typical, breathless clip, blustering through her seemingly frantic daily activities, and after the door closed, she dropped the grocery bags and collapsed, sobbing, to her knees, and stayed like that for a while. When she picked herself back up, she recounts that she began to move around the house slowly, holding herself with complete reverence, like a priestess. Often, profound dreams accompanied these processes of transformation, and all kinds of reclamations.

 

As I read, I felt myself entering the kind of process described in the book. In the midst of profound dreams, a deeper level of embodiment than I’d yet known, and all manner of synchronicities, I found myself craving the color red as if it was a nutrient I’d been deficient in my entire life. I had always identified as a ‘cool-colored person,’ if there is such a thing. Actually, in my preschool days, my favorite color was always “rainbow”.  Red was a profound reclamation for me. I wanted to be wrapped in it– I wanted red sheets, I wanted a red tent. I had no idea, still, what it all meant, but this process felt precious, even sacred, to me.

 

After the initial influence of this book began to wane, I was listening to Tami Simon’s podcast, Sounds True, one day, and I stumbled upon a recording that I hadn’t heard yet. My nerves felt electric when I saw the title: Red, Hot, and Holy, an interview with Harvard-trained theologian, Sera Beak. It felt like another synchronicity, another wink, another indication that maybe I had been “onto something” with my red kick.

 

I immediately gobbled all three of Sera’s books, The Red Book, Red, Hot and Holy, and Redvelations. I learned of Saint Sarah, or Sara-la-Kali, or Sarah the Black, the apocryphal daughter of Jesus and Mary Magdalene (whose nickname, as it happens, had been Red), patron saint of misfits and outcasts. There is a shrine dedicated to her at Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer in southern France, where Romani people make pilgrimages each year and carry her effigy, in her red cape, down to the sea, where it is said the three Marys arrived on a boat as asylum seekers after the crucifixion of Christ.

 

Whether you believe these stories are literally true, or just allegories (I do not claim to know either way), I feel an ancient and holy resonance through them, as if there is some lineage I can feel in them, and my soul knows that lineage, or hungers to return to it. It feels like a sacred feminine lineage. And I do not choose the word ‘feminine’ as a way to exclude anyone from a sense of this lineage on the basis of gender, as I believe we all contain the energies that might be described as ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’. It’s just that the feminine side of divinity has been excluded from the Western tradition for the last two millennia. Red became a reclamation of vitality, and my yes to life, all of it, as profound and as difficult as that can be.

 

Then, as fate would have it, I found the work of Meggan Watterson, a scholar of Divinity and Theological Studies. She has dedicated her life to unearthing the soul and the meaning of the buried Gospels of Mary Magdalene, and the meaning is feminist, it is beautiful, and it could not be more revolutionary. (Note: Her latest book, Mary Magdalene Revealed is beautiful, and the cover happens to be . . . red.) To put it very simply, the central teaching of those (literally) buried gospels is that no one needs any institution, other “more holy” person or intermediary of any kind to access the divine. It is right here, all the time, in the human heart.  You can see why this message was buried.

Meggan’s sense of red representing the kind of love that reaches the places where we are most broken and vulnerable is perfectly in line with the way I work in my practice. I lean much, much more into depth-oriented approaches than approaches geared towards excising what is unwanted. My approach treats the “problem” areas, the unwanted aspects of ourselves, or whatever we have relegated to shadow, as holding the key to our salvation, so that what seems to be in the way sometimes is the way. Meggan calls it healing all the way back and all the way through. It is an integration-oriented approach, an approach designed to help people become undivided, and able to love themselves all the way to the ground. Click the link below to call me for a free consultation and find out more.

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Maybe Art IS Magic

Photo by Capri23auto

It seems like a hunger for magic or enchantment has become a part of the Zeitgeist, beginning with the unexpected cultural tidal wave of Harry Potter after the debut of the original books in the late 90s and early 2000s. I suspect some deeper, pre-existing hunger was cracked open and revealed by this phenomenon, and it only seems to be picking up speed. Lord knows, lots of people are feeling all kinds of disenchanted these days. It’s no wonder there is a delicate, vulnerable, poignant and utterly true craving for a sense (somehow, somewhere) of the enchanted, buried deep down inside so many of us. Well, let’s dive right in with an Alan Moore quote, shall we?

I believe that magic is art and that art, whether it be writing, music, sculpture, or any other form is literally magic. Art is, like magic, the science of manipulating symbols, words, or images, to achieve changes in consciousness. -Alan Moore (The Mindscape of Alan Moore)

Is this a socially, or culturally, dangerous idea to espouse? Perhaps. But consider for a moment Alan’s idea, elaborated after he enunciates the above, that magic, for a long time, was simply known as ‘The Art’. It tempts one to imagine that there may have been a time, somewhere, where there was not a great sense of separation at all between art and ‘The Art’. Maybe not just somewhere. Maybe in several human cultures. This topic deserves lifetimes of study, and I am certainly no expert. But I sense some deep grain of truth in this.

By this definition, dream work, or dream tending, are close to the vein of magic. As are many Jungian, or depth psychological concepts and modalities. The Jungian practitioner, and their client/patient/analysand, are exploring symbols and archetypes as they constellate in dreams and in other area’s of the person’s life, in order to achieve changes in consciousness (one might say, insofar as the individuation process itself constitutes ongoing, subtle, totally organic and healthy changes in consciousness).

The great Jungian analyst Marion Woodman propounded the idea in The Pregnant Virgin: A Process of Psychological Transformation that art is culturally resonant to the degree that it emanates the numinous, or to the degree that the viewer or participant can sense something archetypal, universal or tremendous standing behind it.

Perhaps lots of art (though maybe not all art) really is doing just that: manipulating symbols in order to achieve changes in consciousness. The change is most certainly viewer/participant-dependent. Art can serve as a kind of Rorschach in that way.

I’ve elaborated in earlier blogs my idea that, for the atheist or the agnostic, the creative process may be the closest she ever gets to the realm of the gods, or to what feels like a truly transpersonal realm. I believe human beings crave contact with the numinous, the ineffable, the tremendous, the rapturous, the transpersonal. They crave communion with it, regularly. It’s one of the unique things about our species. And in modern America, there are very few culturally acceptable outlets for the expression of this bone-deep urge. In addition to that, few of us in America are so blessed as to be in a line of work that allows us regular creative freedom. If there is any truth to this idea, that art and magic are really the same thing, it makes sense that people are feeling disenchanted (for this, and many other reasons), and are secretly hungry for enchantment, in one form or another.

Although Moore’s definition of magic has little to do with learning how to make quill pens float in the air, or learning how to make your enemy’s house burn down (ugh, please don’t do that– please try not to have any enemies, actually), there is a life force underneath the definition — something that rings true. Author of Making Magic, Brianna Saussy, stated in a recent Sounds True interview that magic is bigger, closer, and more powerful than we typically know. Whether or not she is right, it does seem true that what we feel to be magical, and what we crave in our disenchantment, must be right here in ordinary things. It must be as close as breath.

Author of If Women Rose Rooted, Sharon Blackie, stated in a recent CIIS workshop that the Celtic ‘Otherworld’ is simply another way of looking . . . at this world. It reminds me of something that Thich Nhat Hanh said about the Pure Land of the Buddha and the Kingdom of God (which seem blended, in the way he speaks about them). He said the Pure Land of the Buddha is always here now, in the present moment. To enter it, you bring yourself back to the present. Now I am breathing in, now I am breathing out. It helps to look at a tree, and the way the sunlight is dancing through and lighting up its leaves. Trees, he says, are always already there, in the Pure Land, in the Otherworld.

I believe doorways can be found to the realm of the magical everywhere, but especially in the natural world. In modern life, most of us are so alienated from Mama Earth. We don’t often get to see, feel and breathe in the magic of landscape. Of course, in America, there is also so much sadness in the landscape, which must be honored if we wish to make a connection to the land here. You don’t have to create some great, gigantic work of art to make magic. Magic can be made in small everyday creative liberties, choices to be intentional and choices to transform the life of another, even in small, seemingly insignificant ways, like common kindness. It can be made in the kitchen, with one’s favorite herbs and spices, and with the intention to infuse every culinary creation with love.

Is this too “woo woo” for you? Maybe we wouldn’t be well-matched. If this kind of thing does feel like it belongs in your wheel house, somewhere, feel free to give me a call 🙂

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Demystifying Therapy Fees

The intention of this article is to promote transparency and understanding around therapy fees. It seems therapists often don’t openly discuss with clients the reasons for their fee, nor the back-end work involved in providing that one hour (or 50 minutes) of therapy. I’m not sure whether this is considered radical, but it seems healthy (to me) to make this matter more transparent, and to reclaim it from the realm of the taboo. It seems like allowing the therapy fee to remain enshrouded in mystery can become another way to drive an unnecessary and awkward wedge in between therapist and client as human beings. While there are certainly many areas of the therapist’s life outside of session that clients do not need to know about, it seems to me that the parts of the therapist’s life outside of session that are directly related to the service that the therapist is providing do not need to be so secret nor so carefully guarded.

Certain therapeutic modalities, like EMDR for example, require even more time outside of session reviewing notes, completing comprehensive assessments and ensuring that everything is looking really smooth for beginning to do some deeper healing work. I would also like to add (to the foregoing) that many therapists do make use of one-on-one consultation (which they pay for, and which often ain’t cheap) as well as peer consultation in free peer consultation groups. In these instances, identifying information is never used, and as little about the situation is revealed as possible– just enough to elicit helpful insight from colleagues. This is always done with the highest level of respect and care. Add, also, to the foregoing, all the hours of administrative and business management work that goes into being able to offer therapy in a private practice setting. It’s a big job. There is a lot going on behind the scenes.

In addition to this, most therapists are actively paying off student loans that are directly related to the training and education required to be able to provide therapy. Therapists are also sustaining numerous monthly business expenses (such as office rent, private email accounts, practice management systems, and much, much more). Lastly, in order to provide therapy in a private practice setting, the therapist is choosing to take on a lot of personal, ethical and legal risk. There are parts of their job that they cannot get wrong. Someone’s life may depend on it.

All of these considerations reach special dimensions of poignancy in Orange County, where the cost of living is currently higher than anywhere else in the United States. Most therapists in private practice in Orange County are simply financially unable to accept most insurances because the reimbursement rates are so low that it is nearly impossible to make a living seeing insurance clients only. I have personally considered looking into legal action against insurance companies in order to force them to change their reimbursement rates, so that more people are able to use their insurance in order to access therapy, and therapists are paid a living wage for services provided to insurance clients. I know it seems grandiose. I haven’t found the time yet. There is more I could say here, but I am wary of waxing too “political”.

I sometimes wonder if the lack of financially tuned in healthcare infrastructure around mental health in particular has to do with the lack of understanding about, and lack of appreciation for the importance of, mental health services. Mental health professionals, and therapists especially, are working in an invisible and abstract realm. Perhaps it is difficult to respect or appreciate this, or even to view this as a real science or art form, in our still heavily Cartesian, Newtonian modern Western culture. However, it is a realm that has very real consequences in the physical world, and in people’s lives. In 2015, suicide was the seventh leading cause of death in identified males, the fourteenth leading cause of death in identified females, the second leading cause of death for people age 15 to 34, and the third leading cause of death for those between 10 and 14. This is only one of several possible physical tragedies and/or misfortunes that mental health professionals and therapists work everyday to help prevent.

Since the healthcare situation (concerning insurance reimbursement rates for therapists in private practice, especially in areas with a relatively very high cost of living) is far from the dreamlike, ideal scenario of clients/patients being able to use their insurance, while therapists are happily reimbursed at a rate that allows them to comfortably maintain their business and their own life, it falls on therapists and clients to work this out together. It has to be worked out in a way that allows therapy to be accessible and reasonably affordable for the client (approximately 8-9% of monthly take-home income for therapy fees is considered pretty typical), and in a way that allows the therapist to maintain their business. This often means having to cap off after a certain number of sliding scale clients (as much as we may really want to continue taking on more), and it sometimes means having money continue to come up as a clinical issue, or as an elephant in the room. I have found that people are still able to move past and around this in the therapeutic relationship, because people are amazing. But I believe they shouldn’t have to. The only aspect of this equation currently within my control is the choice to promote greater transparency around the reasons why therapy fees are what they are. I don’t believe it is clinically inappropriate at all to talk about this openly.

I’d be interested to know what other therapists and mental health consumers think! Send me a private email (via my Contact page) and let me know what you think! (Please be informed, it is totally your decision to reach out and tell me about any therapy experience you may have had. That is your private information, and yours to share or not to share. I offer my private email here as a way to respect your privacy. Therapists, feel free to comment below!)

e. e. cummings on Being Yourself

“To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else – means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.” -e. e. cummings

I had posted this on my bathroom mirror once. It seemed like the kind of thing that needed to be remembered daily. Why? Because the assembly line-like forces of American consumer culture are amplified, I believe, by the rapid Pavlovian social reward-and-punishment machine of social media, and, in America, what was once called “the middle class” is not really a thing anymore. Most people feel squeezed, and therefore, the pressures to do what “sells,” or to make yourself really desirable on paper, might be greater than ever. The human heart and soul are in danger. People are soul starved. They don’t know what to call it. They look for rapid relief.

I once imagined, years ago, before my private practice, while I was in the middle of some big writing project, something kind of funny. I thought, Hm, life is kind of like a video game where you get plunked into the game with a soul. And an angel should whisper in your ear right at the outset that this thing, your soul, could get ripped from you at every turn. I mean it, kid. Every. Goddamn. Turn. The object of the game is to see if you’re still holding onto it by the end of the obstacle course. You’ll have to keep it safe, at times secret, but always known and felt. You may feel like you have no choice but to do things that offend it deeply. Have faith that there is always another way and you’ll be able to hold out just long enough. If you keep doing the things that offend or hurt this thing, your soul, it might wander away from you and never come back. Ooh, I see you’ve selected the American level of the game. Whew, good luck!

I am stubborn enough to believe that the human heart and soul are worth saving, and that there is a way forward that honors heart and soul, for each and every person, even here in America where soul starvation seems so rampant. Even though the forces that contribute to soul starvation seem to be ramping up, paradoxically, it also feels like there is less to lose now than ever, especially for anyone on the artist’s path. You might as well go out on that limb and try. You might as well take that big risk. If you fail, then you’ll know where that particular story goes, and then you can pick up a new story thread, very probably with newfound wisdom under your belt.

I have avoided speaking or writing about this so far in my profession, because it still seems so taboo, but mortality awareness can help with this. Even Steve Jobs thought so:

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve yet encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Almost everything– all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart. -Steve Jobs

The taboo around discussing death that still exists in our culture (paralleling, almost, the Victorian taboo around discussing sex) seems to feed into the vast confusion and soul starvation that American people so commonly feel. We are bombarded from all angles by images of others seeming to have it all so very “together,” and we are comparing that with our own pained, fragile, imperfect internal worlds, and there might as well be a vast conspiracy to never discuss some of the most basic facts of life, namely, that it ends. And that, when it does, we will be our own judges. As difficult and scary as it is, I believe it is incredibly useful to contemplate that. Our lives are precious. Why is it so easy to forget? Devotional practices and daily reminders seem incredibly useful, whatever shape or form those take.

(It could take the form of a tattoo.)

I’ll finish with one more (important) e. e. cummings quote:

As for expressing nobody-but-yourself in words, that means working just a little harder than anybody who isn’t a poet can possibly imagine. Why? Because nothing is quite as easy as using words like somebody else. We all of us do exactly this nearly all of the time — and whenever we do it, we’re not poets.

If, at the end of your first ten or fifteen years of fighting and working and feeling, you find you’ve written one line of one poem, you’ll be very lucky indeed.

And so my advice to all young people who wish to become poets is: do something easy, like learning how to blow up the world — unless you’re not only willing, but glad, to feel and work and fight till you die.

Does that sound dismal? It isn’t.

It’s the most wonderful life on earth.

Or so I feel.

Niche Update: Creative Giants

Alright, I know I’ve been messing around with my home page and menu a bit lately, and I’ve got some ‘splainin’ to do. I am always assisting my clients on their journeys towards greater integration of all their internal “parts” and greater authenticity. And yet, I’ve been sort of leading a double life. On one side of the week, I make as much time for visual art and writing as possible (sometimes only one hour per day), and on the other side, I am a 100% present, whole-hearted practitioner of the clinical healing arts. The reason why the split feels -at times- as deep as it does is that the modern Western mental health professions are a bit behind the times when it comes to the way that practitioners are trained up and educated. In grad school, during our grad school practicums, and during our pre-licensed, post-grad internships and jobs (and sometimes also, for years before grad school, as in my case, in earlier mental health-related jobs) we have certain principles of the profession drilled into us. We are informed we must not disclose anything about ourselves, not even whether or not we are married, unless we have thought it over and are absolutely certain that the disclosure would be to the client’s benefit.

By the end of all the years of training, being a clinician starts to feel like wearing a wooden mask. There are other practitioners of the healing arts out there, like coaches for example, who do not have to operate under the same ethical and legal strictures, and therefore have more free reign to tell personal stories, and to basically be fully human, both within their online presence and in their work. This is immensely attractive because we live in an age in which people are starving for real, human connection. And trained, licensed psychotherapists get tied up in knots about the degree to which they can or cannot, or should or should not, reveal themselves as humans with stories online and in social media.

I have kept my artist and writer identity totally secret and separate for this, and other reasons. I mean, for Christ’s sake, there are questions on the clinical exam about this. The gist is that therapists and mental health professionals must never reveal themselves as being affiliated with any group online that is in any way political, or affiliated with any non-clinical idea or school of thought that could in any imaginable way ever cause offense or throw a wrench into the therapeutic relationship in the event that a client were to ever find it online. And let’s think about what art is for a second. Art is utter freedom. There are no rules in the realm of art. Art is sometimes offensive, sometimes disruptive to the status quo, sometimes uncomfortable, sometimes “dark”. Art is collective medicine in that way because the artist has to be tuned into what is needed on a collective level, and sometimes what is needed on a collective level is shadow work.

So imagine becoming trained as a licensed psychotherapist, and also having a body of art work and writing that has been accumulating over the years, and wanting to share it. It’s enough to cause a person to form an ultra-mysterious, separate artist identity and pseudonym, and I almost did. Until I didn’t. I want to practice what I preach. I want to practice authenticity and integration of all facets of my life and self. In private practice, not everyone is meant to be working with me, and if I can repel those with whom I’m not meant to work, and attract those with whom I am, then that is excellent. That is the goal.

What kind of clientele would generally not be offended by seeing their therapist’s art and writing online or in other media? I thought. Hmm, probably other artists. (Or at least those who also know themselves to be artists, if you’re alright with the term, on some deep stratum of their being.) I think I also have a pretty good picture of what this kind of person’s central life struggles tend to be, and I wrote about it on my Niche(s) page:

“CREATIVE GIANTS. What is a creative giant, I hear you asking. I’ll explain. A creative giant is a highly creative individual who often finds themselves biting off way more than they can chew, and probably needing to set all kinds of boundaries, though they often have a hard time doing that. Because of this tendency, they are often sniffed out as the-person-who-can-do-it-all, and others will actually push even MORE tasks towards them because others somehow intuit that they were born with a dynamic drive that has them always going, going, going, like a fabulous Roman candle that seems to magically, continuously burn at both ends. These folks tend to have a bias towards service, in one way or another, or to be somehow service-driven and caring. This is an important ingredient in this personality because art truly becomes real art when shared— This personality ingredient is the intrinsic drive towards creating something worthy of being shared, because (in one way or another) it is a gift from one heart to many others. These folks often have multiple creative outlets and projects at any one time, and sometimes require assistance with channeling their huge, beautiful energies in all the ways that their soul most deeply, truly desires.”

I understand deeply the soul-struggle of the creative individual, especially in this world that does not seem to offer many options for solvent adulthood that speak to us on a soul level, and especially not on the artist-soul-level. What distinguishes a creative giant is this continuous devotion to creating, regardless of the outcome of all of their work. They are in love with the process and want to marry it, make a lifelong commitment to it. The process itself can be so transpersonal and mysterious– and if the artist is atheist or agnostic, it is the creative process itself that is perhaps the closest they have ever come to the realm of the gods, the realm of transpersonal forces, and the realm of magic. They are not likely to say something like, “I wanted to be an artist but then realized I wouldn’t get into one of the best art schools,” or,”. . .but then realized I wasn’t good enough to make a career at it.” The creative giant will hear none of that. The outcome of their life’s labor and the response to their body of work does not matter, because to stop creating literally feels like death. To stop creating is unimaginable. I believe this is one of the real, secret reasons why we stand agape and admire the massive paintings of artists like Francis Bacon or Jean-Michel Basquiat. It is because the artist themselves is a phenomenon, a happening. Someone with cajones that big, and a passion and an authenticity that big, seems like a miraculous happening in the universe. We want to soak up the energy of it. I believe this is also a secret reason why people love concerts.

I want to help more people find that creative giant-ism within themselves, and find that miraculous happening within themselves. I want to help people name their true work and bring it into the center of their lives, even through one, devoted, small defiant act per day. There is deep self-love, and mortality-awareness in this practice. Look out for further integrations to come.

And schedule a free 20-minute consultation call by clicking the link below if you want to talk to me directly about any of this shtuff.

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Healing the Warrior Archetype

According to a Jungian depth perspective (depth psychological perspectives that draw from the work of the late Carl Jung), archetypal energies or patterns exist within the collective unconsciousness, and will continue to exist, whether they are embraced by the culture or not. When they are not embraced by the culture, or when they are actively repressed by the culture, like the dynamic force within a pressurized steam engine, they will still escape, or be expressed, elsewhere. Only in this case, the ‘Shadow’ version will be expressed.

We are all familiar with the Shadow Warrior as portrayed in films about unbelievable atrocities that occur in war time, and about men and women who are swept up in the situation or who maybe feel forced, in one way or another, to participate in what will almost certainly constitute a “moral injury” (to use a very soft euphemism) for them later. I strongly suspect that, in order to heal this archetype (if you will), it must be brought into the light of awareness, and it must be embraced, in each of us. Then it can be expressed in its healthiest and most helpful form.

According to a depth psychological perspective, like the Lover, or the Magician, for example, the Warrior is a dynamic energy or an archetype that can be brought in and embraced in each of our personalities and lives. This archetype, or a tradition or discipline associated with it, exists in just about every human culture. The healthy, embraced Warrior has a dynamic, forward-moving energy, it has grit, determination, courage, strength, and discipline (ready to take on whatever ‘training’ and whatever commitment may be required). The healthy, embraced Warrior rises up with a fierce, protective energy when and if needed, and is connected to the instinctual energies in this way. And the healthy, embraced Warrior believes enough in its own potency to not feel the need for big, showy displays of power or strength, but rather wields its potency and strength with humility, and out of duty and commitment to a larger cause.

In some ways, the Warrior overlaps with what might be called the Divine Masculine, the Sacred Masculine, the Wild Masculine, or the Healthy Masculine. That does not mean it belongs only to men. Each of us contains each of these energies and expresses them in unique ways. To take gender out of the equation, one might say that the Healthy Warrior archetype overlaps in many ways with Healthy Yang energy. There is much discussion in the culture about the ‘Divine Feminine’ these days, and for the love of all things sacred, yes, let’s please bring Her back up from underground– I believe we are all dying for that. And yet at the same time, the Masculine is also basically on life support in the culture, in those who are socialized as men especially, and I would argue, in everyone. And we miss Him and need Him too, so very much.

I want to give everyone permission to embrace and know this archetype. I would argue that part of the healthy individuation process, and part of overall psychological health, involves bringing each of these universal archetypes, energies or patterns (whatever you prefer) up into consciousness, and fully realizing their energies and potentials in the personality, and in life. There are so many large scale, and unbelievably worthy causes on the planet today that truly require the health of this archetype. If you’re curious about a depth psychological perspective in traditional psychotherapy, what that entails, and how that can be integrated with other, evidence-based therapeutic approaches, feel free to schedule a free, 20-minute consultation call with me by clicking the link below.

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