On Personal Experience (and not taking it personally . . . . )




You wake up, stand up, and there you are again.

Standing at the center of the universe.

(Just like everybody else.)


It’s a trick of the senses. Hard not to be at the center of your experience of the world.
Your thoughts, feelings, talk and other actions, if there’s any movement at all, ripple outwards.

But it’s mostly familiar and therefore OK. Been here, done this before, right?

Or maybe not.  Maybe look again.
Imagine unfamiliar points of view, for example being responsible for the other end of a conversation. 

Of course it takes effort.
A lot of attention to details.
And persistently, repeatedly disregarding the obvious.

Having an opinion is easy.
Having a correct opinion is more difficult.  
But the hardest: paying close attention while not having to have an opinion. 


The King is Dead. Long Live the King.


Back when I was (only) 40, my good doctor said, “That Pepsi and M&Ms diet is not working out for you. You’re diabetic. You need to make some changes.”  She wasn’t talking small or temporary. We’re talking life changes on a scale that maybe happens if you’ve ever been brave enough to do the fire walk. (Not this tenderfoot.)

Suddenly everything normal was toxic and life-threatening — like nearly everything that tastes good except cucumbers and oregano. Not only that, she said, “You want to cut out stress. Stress will kill you.”  This was a harsh sentence for a devout foodie who made his own pasta, had a survival kit stocked with chocolate, and was a young lawyer taking on other people’s stress for fun and profit.

But the sentence was imposed. And after a decent interval for denial, bargaining, mourning and the rest of it, I came to acceptance: The old me had to die (dammit) if I was going live.   

But how does that work? Die? Really?  Well, yeah, sort of . . . .

In my head there is an imaginary house, with an imaginary room, with an imaginary fireplace. Over that is an imaginary mantel and on that is an imaginary urn. And in that urn are the ashes of Old Greg.  Luv that guy! Don’t want to see him go. Those were some good times. So I visit that guy in that room from time to time. And the conversation is short but heartfelt and goes something like this:

     Hey, man.


     You good?

         I’m in a jar that’s in your head.

     Um, yeah.  Sorry about that.
     But you know you gotta stay there, right?.

          . . . .

     Those were some good times.

          True that.

     Well, I’m doing good.  Walking the walk and all.

          Miss me?

     Like you were me. All the time. But still . . .

          Yeah, I know, like they say in England  — 
          The King is dead . . . .

     Long live the King.



False Hope is Still Hope (sadly)

Road Sign with Hope and Sky

A recurring theme in mental life (and so in psychotherapy) is the wish for something that is missing, unavailable, or out of reach. Often it takes the form, “If only ______, then ______.” As in, if only I [had enough money/was loved/was better], then [everything would be OK/I would be happy/I would be vindicated/I would be at peace /. . . .”  Sometimes it boils down to wishful meaninglessness: “If only I were loved, then I would feel loved.”

When we are looking forward, hope is a motivator, even a lifesaver.  As Margaret Atwood said recently, “What hope means today […], is what it’s always meant: Where there is hope, there’s more hope. And, in view of the dire predictions we face, hope is the very least we need to keep going.”

Yet, when we are focused on the past instead of the present, hope can be a seductive dead-end. “If only something in the past had not happened/or had happened differently, then my life now would be so much better.” If only the past were not the past.

The seduction is in the approach: “If only” is a statement of hope. It feels hopeful and positive. If only [name any good thing] were true, then bliss/absolution/whatever. But the past has, of course, already happened. False hope always starts out feeling right, but crashes as it must on the rocky shore of reality. If we just believed hard enough in magic, then maybe the incantation of the if/then spell could finally work. We keep returning to hopeless hope, at least for the promise and the feeling of feeling hopeful.

But as they say in AA, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result. The cost of moving forward is this: we have to give up all hope of having a different past. Give up all hope of being luckier, of having a partner who didn’t cheat, of having a parent who was emotionally supportive . . . . We have to forgive all that, mourn the loss, and start over. Start over without that fantasy. Star over with nothing. Give up the shoes that don’t fit for no shoes. The prospect seems, well, hopeless.

“Hope is the very least we need to keep going.” But let’s be hopeful about what comes next. Hoping for a different past is still hope, but if it changes nothing going forward, it’s just an old shoe, a drug of choice, a lie.

Forgiveness faces forward.


Another Pop-psych Myth Bites the Dust (statistically speaking)

Men and Women May Not Be So Different After All

According to a new article at PsychCentral —

“Despite considerable popular literature suggesting a vast psychological difference between men and women, a new study suggests that gender differences are relatively insignificant.

“Researchers studied a comprehensive list of characteristics ranging from empathy and sexuality to science inclination and extroversion. Overall, they performed a statistical analysis of 122 different traits involving 13,301 individuals.

“Their findings rebuke prior studies that suggested character traits often vary by gender.

“In the new study, the scientists were able to show that statistically, men and women do not fall into different groups. In other words, no matter how strange and mysterious your partner may seem, their gender is probably only a small part of the problem.”

See the full article . . . (really, you should).

and, here’s the original feed from the University of Rochester.


Op.Ed.: Old Wine in New Bottles Dept.

Hey, Dr. Mars, maybe that game of yours on how to manipulate each other was
actually written 48 years ago, and we we are all just Earthlings out for a spin. Shocking.

Pot Causes Psychosis? Yeah, I knew that.

Cannabinoid Receptor Sites

From My Health News 2012-11-19:

No, it’s not a flashback to Reefer Madness. New research at King’s College London’s Institute of Psychiatry (Biological Psychiatry, Nov.15, 2012), indicates a genetic marker may increase the risk of psychosis from smoking cannabis.

“People who smoke pot may be at increased risk for psychosis if they have a certain genetic marker, a new study finds.

“The results show people with this genetic marker who use cannabis are twice as likely to experience psychosis compared with those who use the drug but do not have the genetic marker.” [ . . . . ]

“The genetic marker in question is one variation of a gene call AKT1. The new finding confirms earlier research, which also linked this marker with the risk of psychosis after smoking pot.” [ . . . . ]  The genetic marker likely acts along with other genes to contribute to the risk of psychosis[.]”

You are when you eat.

Ask a few four-year-olds whether they want ONE marshmallow now, or TWO if they can wait just a little while.

Then let the fun begin

The marshmallow experiment is a famous test conducted by Walter Mischel at Stanford University and discussed by Daniel Goleman in his popular work. In the 1960s, a group of four-year olds were given a marshmallow and promised another, only if they could wait 20 minutes before eating the first one. Some children could wait and others could not. The researchers then followed the progress of each child into adolescence, and demonstrated that those with the ability to wait were better adjusted and more dependable (determined via surveys of their parents and teachers), and scored an average of 210 points higher on the Scholastic Aptitude Test.

And many more . . .

And, of course, the version for mature audiences