Back when New Age ideas began to float about there also appeared a book by Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death. How are these two things connected, you might ask? From the start it appeared to me that a lot of New Age ideas were at their core an effort to deny death. As if eating the right foods, meditating the right way, thinking the right thoughts, going to enough workshops would enable a person to avoid life’s inevitable end - death. And this project has continued with vigor in the years since.
It is February. Check out the covers for magazines aimed at women — Family Circle, Women’s Day, Redbook. Most years the February issue will feature rich chocolate desserts for Valentine’s Day — as lovingly photographed as fashions in Vogue. And in the same issue will be one or more articles about the best diet or some health issue requiring vigilance. It’s like food porn and exhortations to abstinence in the same issue. And women are always put in this position.
In a terrific book, Against Health, Metzl and Kirkland bring together essays from a variety of disciplines to explore how health has become a moral issue. They quote Ivan Ilyich:
“You meet your destiny on the road you take to avoid it.” ― Carl Gustav Jung
This is mid-coast Maine this morning
Fit for neither man nor beast.
FaceBook, in its infinite wisdom, reminded me yesterday that it was the 10th anniversary of the beginning of this blog. I must admit I am a bit impressed.
Looking back this morning, I found the very first post and it seems quite appropriate to the times we are navigating today.
From February 6, 2007:
"I recently ran across this powerful quote from Jung on therapy:
"The principle aim of psychotherapy is not to transport one to an impossible state of happiness, but to help (the client) acquire steadfastness and patience in the face of suffering. " -C.G. Jung
Jung understood that suffering is a part of life, that it has meaning and that to live fully is to know that suffering will be a factor in one's life throughout life. If I look back on my own life, I know that I have learned most from those times which were difficult and often painful, not because I wanted to experience them but because of the choices and consequences I faced at those times. The good times, the times of great happiness are wonderful and I have celebrated and cherished them and look forward to more. But it has been in those dark times when I have had to face myself and look deeply into my life and my actions that I have grown most.
I have other things I want to write about tomorrow and next week — looking at the story of Lady Ragnall and Sir Gawain, trauma, at the impact of fat shaming, but today there is this. I have been sitting here for several hours already, glued to watching coverage of the Women’s Marches. I just read that there are 20,000 marching on Congress St. in Portland, Maine. And 10,000 demonstrating in Augusta, Maine. That 6 buses went to Washington just from the mid-coast of Maine, an area of small towns. So many in our small state are showing up in our cities and in our towns to express resistance and support for women and discriminated groups.
Seeing this and reading these things makes me hopeful, more hopeful than I have been since Nov. 8.
This morning I awoke to the news that Ringling Brothers is shutting down the circus. When I was a child in the 50’s I used to watch Super Circus. I loved the handsome ringmaster and Mary Hartline — I even had a Mary Hartline doll.. And one of the first movies I remember seeing was The Greatest Show on Earth, a movie set in the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey circus. I saw small circuses performing in tents when we lived in Germany. And one year when my children were very young, we took them to see the Ringling Brothers Circus, which proved to be too big, to busy and with too much to look at for them or for me to tolerate. And there was the Big Apple Circus which came to Portland and performed its delightfully lo-tech one ring tent circus in one of the parks. When my kids were in school, every year during spring vacation, the Shrine Circus came to town. So the circus was a part of growing up for them and for me.
These days with the rise in consciousness about animal rights, any of us likely has become at least ambivalent about circuses, relying as so many do on animal acts and thus the dubious issue of performing animals.
“I thought I found an answer when I was older, meditation, yoga, channeling. A way of making use of a talent, a gift. And now it's back worse than ever. No, not worse than ever, but it feels like that because I've been OK so long. It's like unfinished business has come back to haunt me.”
“The gate that opens and closes can't close.”
“Two years ago I began medication and it helped, not completely, but relief. Then the sleeplessness started and my doctor suggested I speak with you.”
“Are you ready for a therapy journey?”
Michael Eigen, Under the Totem: In Search of a Path.
So writes Eigen of his beginning work with a patient he calls Rose.
Are you ready for a therapy journey? I want to remember this question, hold it in mind for the next time I begin with someone new. Describing therapy as a journey isn’t unique to Eigen, but I don’t think we say it out loud all that often and not at the beginning.
People come to therapy looking for answers, for solutions to problems in their lives. In an era of “evidence based” medicine, they expect there to be some formula, some evidence based set of things they can do to make themselves feel better. They want assignments, suggestions, techniques — mindfulness, journal writing, drawing all of which are useful tools but do not carry magic.
It is hard not to respond to this desire for a solution, a fix. Hard not to make suggestions, not to offer something to soothe the longing expressed for relief, for a partner, for happiness. We become therapists at least in part out of a desire to help.
But that kind of therapy is not what Eigen means when he asks his question. The therapy journey is a journey inward, with no predefined end point and often goes into unexpected territory. And on this journey, the therapist is more likely to ask questions than provide answers.
This morning it was -6F when I got up. And the water in the harbor was about 40F. The result? Arctic sea smoke. Some mornings when this happens, we get great billows of it and the trees become covered in hoar frost — one of the beauties of winter.
It’s January when we can count on being bombarded with exhortations to start this diet NOW. It’s as predictable as sunrise. News stories on which diet is best. Features on how to make “healthy” versions of foods otherwise deemed “bad”. And this January everywhere you look, there is Oprah touting her most recent weight loss on Weight Watchers, a company in which she is a major investor. This time it is 42 pounds and she tells us in the ads about how she can eat the foods she loves. About being her own best self.
But anyone who has paid attention knows that Oprah, and indeed every chronic dieter, has been here before. Optifast in 2008 on which she lost over 60 pounds. Working with Bob Greene. So many weight loss stories featured on her show and in her magazine.
And like most of us who have trod that path, each diet results in weight loss followed by weight gain with the result that each time we end up heavier than when we started. And most, including Oprah, place the blame on failure to comply with the diet in the long haul. So along with added pounds comes added shame and guilt.
The election and its outcome seems to have thrust many into an age of anxiety. In my work I hear again and again fears about what lies ahead — fears about insurance and safety, a re-emergence of fears about nuclear war. Anger. Feelings of helplessness. It’s important to give voice to the fears and even more important not to become frozen in them.
An acquaintance of mine, Jules Netherland, has begun posting on Facebook concrete actions any of us can take to deal with the feelings of fear and helplessness. In the days ahead I will share some of them with you. And I hope perhaps in the comments you might offer your own ideas for actions people can take.
To get us started —
"Concrete action of the day. Reach out to an old friend or mentor. You know, the one who really helped you out during a hard time but maybe you since lost touch with. Let them know what they meant to you and how they made a difference in your life. And think about how you can pay it forward to someone else.” ~ Jules Netherland
Regardless of where you stand on the election, we all face uncertainty and we are all in this together.