Saturday, January 13, 2018

TMI (too much information)

I recently saw a young man, 21, who had these complaints: He has “no energy, no motivation” to do anything. Nothing interests him, including activities he used to enjoy. At college, he pursued a major in Oceanography, but found everything about the curriculum painfully unpleasant and failed every course. He left school but recently returned with the mildly desperate purpose of having “fun.” He’s into the Art Education major. When others tell him his projects are good, he doesn’t believe them. Several days a week he goes to a camping-related job that should be, almost by definition, pleasurable. It’s just work to him.

It was very clear from my client’s tone and from his missing words that he had no idea he was depressed. Therapists know that a Dysthymic person may not be aware he has depression. But the young man was naming textbook features of an acute disorder. Yet he identified himself without it.

I gave him the name of his problem. That seemed not terrible to him, though he had an expression of “dull stun” rather than one of acknowledgment or acceptance.

But when I explained where depression comes from, from depth theory, it seemed to be terrible for him. As the session came to an end, he looked like a changed person, as if everything looked different to him now. He had said that his family was problem-free, though he and his slightly-older brother had never gotten along and had recently reached a cold détente about it.

I let him know that depression is in the ignorance of the family, of mother and father. They don’t see you, who you are. They are riding along on their own life, and you think that’s normal.

– Mommy, mommy . . . the teacher was unfair to me today.
– Now dear, the teacher was only trying to do his best.*

I told him that lack of empathy in a normal home creates a different child because he never gets to be himself unless there is a listener. He never gets to feel loved without someone’s eyes and words and smiles drawing him out. The home may be lively and busy, with kaleidoscopes of conversations, laughs and activities and purposes, but without empathy, without being drawn out, it is a place to lose your life.

I don’t recall going far beyond that, but it was enough to cause him to land on planet Earth, no longer float along. He looked back to sense his origins. He could no longer assume that life is necessarily good but for some surface flaw that you call “depression.”

It’s not unusual for first sessions to feel good, warm, like an unexpected odyssey. The client’s eyes are wide, deeper. She feels this was very different, even very important. Almost always she returns. This young man – I wonder not only if he will not return, but if he may wander off to some underground continent where one’s eyes never close to the darker and emptier self.

Questions I ask myself now: Should I avoid telling very surface-living clients, such as this young person, about their problem? If no, and as the facts are not mitigable, is there a way to have depth therapy without falling and drowning in the deep end? If yes we should avoid knowledge what can really help this problem, depression, that turns every cell in the body and mind into a clock whose hands read “the past”?

I’ve learned the history of psychotherapy and have read the old “legends” – case histories that all seem so drastic and moving – so feces and incest, dreams and libido-twisted – but more as intellectual mind-fucks in the musty pages, less so in the impeccably dressed supine patient on the couch. Real change may have only nipped the surface in our modern, feel-all culture with Esalen and Whitfield and their inner child, Bass and Davis and their women sexually abused as children, “codependent no more” and est and Perls and Oprah. And still, I’ve seen almost no approach, other than Janov’s primal therapy, that brings our buried roots into the room to be healed, or at least worked with. And even that system of radical insight can only help those who are already partially better: men and women who’ve read the books and know of their killed childhood, who accept that there’s an ocean of blood waiting to be screamed out. Most people, most clients who come to therapy are on an adamantine plane of unreality. They cling to the parents who have ruined them. They choose only the present and ignore their history. They are uncomfortable with silence, and lying on a couch.

If I could redo my session with the ignorantly depressed young man, I might say: Do you want to know what has tired out your interests and energy? Do you want to know where your depression comes from?


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* From Paul Vereshack’s online book, Help Me – I’m Tired of Feeling Bad --

Thursday, January 11, 2018

A letter

Earlier (, I wrote about “Greyhound therapy,” a term of scandalous meaning – clandestine busing of undesirable psychiatric patients to another state – that I co-opted to describe a different and benevolent approach. This was for a client to leave, sometimes wrenchingly, a long-toxic relationship (typically with authoritarian parents and enmeshed family), to cut the umbilical cord and begin anew with troubles in tow in a far-away state. I used to find myself suggesting this drastic renaissance to maybe three or four clients a year, though it’s now been a long time since I’ve found the occasion to propose it. I don’t know that anyone ever carried it through as a direct result of our work.

Here I want to describe a different but, one could say, related intervention. It cuts ties, too, in an internal way. At this moment, I cannot think of a reason that I might suggest a client's situation might suggest one severing instead of the other except that traveling might be for the young. My own experience is to have done both, young and older.

Many clients were, in their childhood, the black sheep or “identified client” or scapegoat in their family. The stories I could tell of children who were the deliberate torture object of sick parents, who mother told to “shut the fuck up” or “stop whining” if they expressed a feeling, who were punched in the chest, sexually abused with the family’s knowledge, who were painted shit while the siblings were on pedestals, who were the designated slave, breadwinner and de facto parent to also-abandoned siblings, who were colluded against and shunned by three generations of inbred clan. Many years on, everyone grown or old or migrated away, the familial ether settled underground, binding all across different states, muttered and impotent until someone – my client – stirs the pot because he or she – finally he or she – needs help or wants to hope. Then the bipolar sister pounces, slathering her venom, the Borderline Medea* mother stabs anew, factions find a way to abuse her financially or emotionally, stain her reputation on Facebook. She is devastated again, still the child, ever the target, ever invisible.

On the couch is a person who has never completely grown up. He tries, but his back is too bent by all the people and injustice he’s carried. Or she grew the most cynical, chronic trauma-based personality that keeps her chained in the basement where she lived as a little girl. With so much a failure in her adult life, her deepest pain may be how she knows she is still seen by her family, how there has never been an inkling of justice.

I wonder if my client feels it is time to rip the smiles from their faces, the neurotic complacence from their brains. Time to make them very, very uncomfortable or angry. Time to rip off their shut eyelids and cause her to be seen for the first time ever.

I suggest a letter, a letter sent to every family member at once, that comes from blood but no wound, from serene anger, strength and knowledge. It says:

To this family –
I know you are all sick. You’ve lived in the dark and the shit all your lives, as if that were better than the rose you bore. The child. Me. Let me introduce myself. I’m the one you didn’t want, had no ability or desire to care about, needed to be silent and defective. The one you dumped your pain into. I’m the sibling who took care of brother and sister, which a parent should have done, so now you are botched, helpless and vindictive. I’m the niece you never talked to, aunt and uncle. I suppose that wasn’t your job. But you might have been a human being. Grandfather: I’m the grandchild – you crap – you forced sex on. Do the others think you’re the respected and loved foundation of our family? You are sick, you have been eternally sick, and you are in hell.
After many years being lost, set on a blind path by you, I have grown because I’ve had to. You – mother and father, sister and brother, aunt, uncle, cousins – never had to, and you didn’t. Ive learned in my therapy that many people never grow up. I see and hear and know you, and you continue to wallow in your own filth.
You will not have any more contact with me. You won’t see my children, you won’t know my celebrations, and I won’t remember your funerals. Maybe it would be nice if you could wake up and see what you are, that you were inhuman to abuse and degrade and make invisible a child, and are still children yourselves. But I don’t expect it. What I do expect is that your always-whining and always-masturbating denials will echo among you until you bite your faces off and fall asleep drunk. And I’ll be as oblivious of them as you have been of me.

I don’t, of course, give my clients these lines to say. I only reflect their own pain and describe a possible value of autonomy, and the pain of losing even a poisonous dependency and being so alone. Some do write a letter.

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* Christine Ann Lawson, Understanding the Borderline Mother

Sunday, January 7, 2018

New and improved God*

I recently slipped into a strange but placid teleological position. I’ll describe it here, mostly as a record for myself.

I have an extremely reductionist mind. It tends to question the truth or sanctity of almost anything, such as what “belief” really means, if people actually feel love, why we’re attracted to our partner, why boys really become soldiers, the legitimacy of forgiveness, the legitimacy of our thinking, the value of family ties, whether our pleasures are noble or masturbatory, the nature of wanting, cognitive therapy, “strength.” And other sacred cows. A big one, I suppose, is the nature of the universe.

Like many people, I wonder what everything is, where it came from. Unlike some smarter people, such as physicists who believe an extremely small something exploded out of the blue, created time, and became absolutely everything, I see no sense in a theory of one beginning or many beginnings. Arbitrary creation and infinite regress are theories that are child’s ideas and meaningless ideas, as I understand it.

My teleological position came out of the undeniable insanity not only of existence, but of our required thinking about existence. That is, we cannot assume that a smallest particle of existence exists. We cannot assume that a largest or limited universe exists. And our mind is not capable of conceiving an answer to these problems: Once we contemplate existence, we reach nonsense.

To be clearer: The mind cannot picture “smallest.” It cannot picture “largest.” It cannot picture “beginning” without “seeing” something right before that. It cannot conceive of nothingness. In other words, all our rationality – and there is a good amount of it – sits on a ground of the complete absurd.

So comes my belief system. Reality itself seems to have no limits or cause or sense, which is absurd. However, our mind at its best can only conceive of nonsense, which is necessary and inescapable. Therefore, it is likely that Mind is the basic state of nature. Mind that knows nothing, and thereby is the basis of an unknowable universe.

I hope this satisfies my readers. We’ll call my new theory Fred.

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* Alternately titled -- Your move, Larry Krauss.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

For the new year

Never, until a moment from now, have I paused to consider how there can be such a contrast between the bleakness and fatalism of my psychology and the positivity and sanguine warmth of my sessions. It’s not as simple as someone’s “knowing we’re all going to die” yet being high on life.* I believe our psyche is essentially a curse, where the inevitable early injury is almost never healed and becomes the crooked, painful ground – the feet – of our adult life, our significantly pre-determined adult life. Whenever we cease to muscle ourselves forward – cognitive and physical muscle – and away from our deeper history, we are again in touch with our incomplete childhood, all the losses that leave sadness, fear, anger, craziness and emptiness in us.

But I believe we don’t need to make up bright thoughts or appeal to some truistic realism (“it’s not all bad”) to lighten depression or feel a clear, good path. Instead, we can reclaim the deepest, and maybe smallest, indestructible kernel of love-force in us, inherent in our first cells. This is something all people – but for the born psychopath – have. We start out “pro-life” – a fact, sense, and the root of hope that can’t die, most evident, paradoxically, when we suffer the deepest existential pain.

What “spooky action at a distance”** can reach that kernel? It could be smelling a flower, music, feeling love, sometimes just waking up and the kernel has floated to the surface during the innocent night, before it descends again. For me, one source is the presence of a person who wants help in my room. That’s a personal thing. My entire childhood, after age eleven or so, was anxiously, dissociatively shut away from people. For decades after, I was never present with anyone. Now, broken out of this shell, to me people are a startling phenomenon. It’s as if one has given a child a pirate’s treasure chest of absurdly magical toys and a map to Neverland. Almost as if I were born at each encounter, I am jolted by the existence of another human being. And while being jolted is not entirely positive, my room is made to receive only the best part of this “birth” experience: the hopeful, the caring, the mysterious, the tangible and intangible.

This is how “the pessimist” rolls.

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Monday, December 25, 2017

There are few songs

The last song on Phil Ochs’ final album, 1970, is No More Songs. “Once I knew a saint who sang upon a stage / He told me about the world, his lover / A ghost without a name / Stands ragged in the rain / And it seems that there are no more songs.” It may have been an early suicide note: A few years later, Ochs hanged himself. Or possibly, a related epitaph: Disenchanted that his beloved 1960s peace-and-crusades movement was fading from rainbows to dust, slipping into a workaday world, he could no longer write.
Similarly, but without the moribund factor, I’ve lately been thinking there is no more psychology. Human existence has its two spheres: our living of it and our detachment from it, traveling and adventuring versus introspection and insularity. We are blind to our inner workings and believe everything is on the same life plane: happiness and suffering, successes and mistakes, wayward dramas and peaceful endings, passion and indifference. That way we may fly, or flail and spin in circles or crash and burn, but it all seems like the juicy stuff of life. Or – we stop, turn inward and realize there is a genuine conflicting force, a malevolent force, the anti-life. We are not just interesting or eccentric or moody, we are sick. Our lost love is not melancholy, is not a “story,” it is sabotage planted by our parents thirty years earlier. Our personality is not our self, it is scar tissue over injury. Seeing this, we are no longer traveling, adventuring. We are in the prison of consciousness, no windows out, wondering about causes.

Some of us live in one of these places, some in the other. I think most people are probably eighty-twenty: not too aware, just going about on their surface. Therapy messes everything up by making the mirrored prison necessary and respectable, when it is the worst of the two ways.

In twenty years I’ve taken around sixty “continuing education” workshops. Not one of them has had the slightest value but for some facts about professional ethics. Beyond that, I sink deeper into a unity or nihilism. I don’t see diagnostic categories anymore. A person is depressed. What does that really mean? Look for where in his deep past the life force got buried. A woman is anxious and depressed, one state. In what scenes did that chemistry happen? The prodigal son in a celebrity family binges, like a vortex, on dough, sweets, junk, alcohol, speed. What did his parents deprive him of? A woman hears command voices day and night. What was the slow boil that caused her to leave reality? In fact, people have no labels. My client feels all sorts of emotions but has no sense of agency or identity. A woman can’t identify what exists inside, other than feeling naïve, but she continually moves into needy men’s homes. There are no labels. One can’t paint the ocean.

Psychology, I’d say, is just holism. Mind and body and time and never-healed injury, all one. To “heal” is to change. One might doctor a seed with chemistry, an embryo with stem cells, graft parts of two saplings together, and the end product will be a new life form. But people, a sort of balanced holism, can’t change significantly with all the coaching or tampering or purging in the world. We are already alive.

There is little psychology.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Fragile bags: This would be the cup-half-empty perspective

The closer I get to a client – I mean literally closer: inching forward on my wheely chair – the more I feel and care about the humanity, feelings, meaning and history of him or her. If I’m at a clinical distance, five or six feet, the interaction may be too intellectual except for occasions when we’re deep into emotive work. But whatever the distance, I always see people as fragile bags, fragile bags waiting (sometimes their whole lives) to explode or implode, shake apart, rip, melt, go crazy, become gibbering insensible vacuums of a non-existent Self. I see them as untenable chemical solutions poured mindlessly into a test tube, with eyes attached to a deep fire, hearts attached to twisted gear systems run amuck, minds running from early nightmares. I see people as absurd unfortunates, entities barely holding themselves up, trying to create a homeostasis of viability out of some unrealistic supposition.

This is what – Jesus Christ – childhood does to us.

We are made to become a paradox: anarchy and multiple pains wanting to have meaning and a positive identity. We have stopped and do not move on when we suppress ourselves in childhood. Our mind, now braked by suspended animation, destroys itself by pushing us on. Our ideas instantly become and remain nonsense: gaseous escapes that are not – were we to feel deeply into them – us.

The body is roiling sludge on fire, and that’s what the mind should be.

Even the most outrageous berserker patient or criminal out there is a held-together, false and censored person, still following rules, talking in mature sentences, sitting upright with his hands in his lap. But the bleeding out-of-sync energies within him want to bash against walls, lacerate them, scream every muscle, vein and organ projectile-wise out of his body or drown him in his tears. Our pain and wrongness want to scream and explode. But we don’t.

Here is the person: Picture a landscape ablaze, a great country burning, all of its history and loves destroyed. Now see it from afar, as in a movie, and hear sad or heroic symphonic music in the background. The scene is poignant now, meaningful, it has the contour of life, and we can accept it. But walk into the landscape, stop playing the music, stand there. You have the person in her natural state.

Imagine sitting two feet away from her for the hour.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

In-house #7: Late thoughts on therapy

I have realized that lately, I put no effort into my work, into the hour, other than what the situation-at-the-moment calls for. This means rarely a technique, such as Empty Chair, sentence completion, Death Bed Situation, other feeling-reaching process, cognitive therapy procedure. I feel almost tabula rasa with each new person, and almost tabula rasa with regular clients at each new session. In the old days, I might see a client in the third session or after and assume he or she is already on a train of momentum: We are working on something, we are in the theme of healing. I do carry a knowledge base into each encounter, which is the knowledge that depth is true and the here-and-now is false. But after the person is shown this, it is applied only as it is workable and useful at the moment. The one energy or atmosphere, maybe, that is pervasive is the sense that the client needs some relief, and the kind that human communication can bring.

I have become less hopeful of great change, and thereby more compassionate, and my clients stay longer – long – and enjoy our times almost consistently.

We are the depth, always, but it’s not always good to re-experience it. After the beginning, I never go there again with some clients. Occasionally, someone is saved, and I mean literally saved, by knowing that the roots of her addiction and self-destructive life are her childhood with imperfect parents. It is not her fault. But mostly I have changed from militancy to the serious touch of affection, opening up, and insight.

I don’t really know why this has happened, but that it’s either that I’ve grown up (my parents always said I was a “late bloomer”) or that experience itself has evolved.

It’s true that real help will sometimes have to go to drastic depth. One elementary school teacher, after giving the brief history of her teen rape trauma and her derailing after that, talked mostly about her oppressive work with difficult students and their disengaged parents. One session, eight or ten in, I said, “Last time, we’d agreed to focus on you.” And she fell into old grief, revisited and relived this disaster to her heart and her feeling of being alive. So directly broached, so directly done.

Another woman, after a couple months we stared at her perennial tight fake smile, partially disabled it, then went into the feelings and internal map that life with a confusing and blood-sucking Borderline mother caused her, which that smile had always held under. What a good session. At the end of it she deceptively asked, “Do you think I should come every two weeks, or stay with every week?” How could she want to detach now, when we had finally reached a good place? As it was obvious what she wanted, I lied and said every two weeks would be fine.

We are “working on something” with some clients, but the fact is I can’t think of a single one, right now, whose theme is their past injury or even the solving of a current life problem. The “presenting problem” may have been depression or anxiety or bipolar or methamphetamine dependency, but what happens is that he or she just talks about serious things and fairly often becomes tearful, feels a little better, and talks about something else. Carl Rogers thought (if I remember correctly) that clients, doing this, were working out their conflicts. I don’t think so. I think they’re connecting to themselves in a place where they can put the brakes on their life, and so feel like the owner of it, and be seen to be the owner of it. For some that will be a good feeling, for some it will not.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Follow-up to 'Where is the answer?'

Though no one has asked, I want to address the “other shoe dropping” of my suicidal client. She does have this seemingly immutable identity of a death-waiting, death-needing-to-happen person. But she does give out the impression that were she to lurch over the Rubicon of symbiotic dependency with her mother, that may just bring her to a new world, one whose horizon wasn’t sick and stuck inside her. But there’s the additional sense that such a leap could be the death blow itself.

We had a session with good, relieving tears – that’s how she felt. Following those, her problem – somehow never yet stated – was: Do I exist if I’m separate from my mother? Everything is ripe and ready for her to move in with her boyfriend, who is seeming pretty good lately. She named self-deprecating obstacles to that. We shot them down with reality and humor. Seriously: We all laughed heartily. Breaking these objections, what she was left with were sanguine possibilities.

Is she a person if separated from her mother? I don’t know. How many of us are? Real “separation-individuation” is easily botched so early. I believe that most of us, children, are shoved to a distance from our parents rather than grow with then separate, like an acorn, already itself, falling from the tree then becoming more of itself. In this forced separation we are left bleeding out and in endless loss. It’s exactly that, see it or not. And unlike the physical, psychically one can bleed out for all the years of a life.

At this moment my hope is that she will push beyond the gravitational field, move out, live like a couple and endure the tragic, and the bleeding, and the incompleteness with mother. I think our inner life is so complicated that essentially we have to be diverted from it, while knowing it. That way – diverting while knowing – we can distance it with some unsatisfactory care, just like a parent does.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Where is the answer?

I know a young woman who has a feeling that her life is so painful, so unacceptable, she ‘doesn’t want to be here.’ “I don’t want to be alive,” she says several times whenever I see her. There have been three very serious suicide attempts over the past year. I have never seen anything like this. She is a law of nature: the necessity of death.

What makes her life terrible? We don’t really know. There are just some certainties. I can see this – horribly – though I can’t remember or imagine any similar adamant infrastructure, rule, core of certainty in anyone else I’ve known, about anything else. The closest I can find is someone’s serenity in God and His grace. But even that doesn’t feel as . . . vital . . . as this known does in my friend: The others don’t see God, but she sees death.

My primary theory is that this is the deepest buried splinter – birth trauma. I’m familiar with one study that statistically correlated respiratory trauma at birth (this was she) with suicide during one’s teens. It is a splinter with a message. I have that, myself, though my message is different. There are times when consciousness itself – just being awake and aware – feels dreadful, wrong, impossible to me, an unnameable kind of nightmare. I am as aware of that as you are that you exist. I think it’s always a fact, but it has slid underneath most of the time. In my young friend, the feeling of not tolerating being alive is chronic. It’s unobtrusive when she is with her boyfriend. But the moment they part, life is now and future a basic torture.

My second theory is that her life was ruined around age ten when her mother left her father, married someone else without even telling her daughter. These were abandonments by the one person she cannot be abandoned by.

My third idea is embedded in the second. She did not gain any psychological separation from her immature and self-enclosed mother, and in a non-American culture where one is expected not to separate. This is to always bleed against the bandage of mother’s uncertain fingers.

My fourth idea, embedded in the third and second, is that you are causing suicide when you stay living with a mother of this kind at age twenty-six, go to work, come home. When you never transition into your own life, but stay in the basement of your childhood.

But of course: To leave is to be abandoned.

I have created all sorts of passionate and dispassionate reasons why she should live. At one point, in a moment of stunning right or wrong, I offered to be her substitute father. That situation was never disappointed, but it wore out. I’ve thought (only as theory) of carrying her away to a different place. I harbor some anger toward her mother for having been this quiet poison throughout her daughter’s life. The woman could not convincingly encourage her to grow apart: She honestly doesn’t wish it.

Would someone else be more inspirational than I? What self can I not be? What approach have I not thought of? I don’t think you can grieve this kind of pain away. Her boyfriend is soft and quiet. I don’t know if that’s his nature, or if he is so shocked to be in this position.

I relish a psychological challenge. But I don’t love this. I fight with myself. I want to get angry, but “that’s not therapeutic.” I want her argument not to feel inexorable. She has none of the Borderline immaturity that equally couldn’t hold a job or pull a trigger, or which is needfully manipulative. It’s all real. “I don’t want to be here,” she says, as simple as T.S. Eliot’s patient etherized upon a table.

In other matters, a client said one day, I don’t know why I’m so complicated. I’m a pretty decent soul, but I see an airplane high up in the blue sky and I think it would be OK if it fell. Actually, it would be a delicious entertainment.”

Saturday, November 25, 2017

If all sessions could be as good as the first

I wish I had tape recorded this first session with a hopeless, self-hating, manipulative and drug-addicted twenty-year-old. She was so empty of self-worth, so poisoned by self-hate, she wanted to “run away” from herself. She watched herself demanding daily money from boys, for the privilege of dating her. There had already been a handful of psychiatric hospitalizations and rehabs. This was the rare diagnostic (intake) session where I skipped the childhood question: What situations, events, family atmosphere do you believe had an impact on you? (I rarely have to specify: negative impact.) This was because we started late – she was an end-of-day hospital referral – and because we were floating in an unusually benign and healthful mineral spring that was all the good we needed for the moment. I must admit that this was largely a fluke of good feeling I had Wednesday late afternoon, just before the office closed for Thanksgiving. There she was feeling denuded of meaning but garbage, and the atmosphere was friendly, even sweet. There wasn’t a miserable acknowledgment she made that wasn’t accepted, understood, OK in pretty much a dear way. A rare thing happened then, where she was anxiously sad that the session had to end. But before it did, I broached the subject of Borderline Personality Disorder and disorder in general, or in its cosmic nature. Borderlines and others are manipulative, because as my old professor said, ‘manipulation is the person’s effort to get her legitimate needs met in a way I don’t approve.’

And then I remembered a line that was made for this moment. “We are not defective. We are injured.” I’d like to think that if you say and explain this right, especially after proving that our strange character is a survivalist one, you will get a person with almost too much hope, but not too much that you can’t offer real assurance that it will be answered.

Sometimes the first session is so good that later ones can’t be that good, for a number of reasons. One is that so many clients are diving for hope and healing, and maybe love, into that room, into that therapist, and one can’t keep diving: You land somewhere. You land in defenses, in reality, in character.

In one of Lynn Grodzki’s books on starting a private therapy practice, the author notes that therapists should not give away essential goods at the beginning. The client will feel enlightened and won’t return for sessions. I believe that failing to do so is a sign that the therapist has no principle, no direction but the anarchic process of Rogerian being-there.

I hope very much that my client returns. I hope that she will dive for a long time.

Monday, November 20, 2017

I seem to have become meditation

Barring the occasional insight that strikes me in the client situation, I have no ideas. I’ve recently discovered this: My old ideas were just ego-clingers, or a desire to have a theme. But I’ve now seen that none of them can be valid. Look at some ideas that are nonsense: Life is nasty, brutish and short. Life is beautiful. People are good. I’m in love with love. Service to country is noble. Service to family is admirable. I am important. Liberty is right. Life is an adventure. Children are our hope. God exists and is moral. Each of these ideas can be found to have exceptions or to be unjustifiable.

I’ve also discovered that I can’t accept any identity feelings. I am not too much of any one: sad, content, happy, loving, wistful, angry, pathetic, anxious, afraid. They swirl in and out, like a liquid kaleidoscope.

And yet, there is a primary substrate of myself. It is a loneliness that started with birth and removal to an incubator and to a depressed mother, and that has always been the underlying axiom. Though needfully married, there is always a silent room between us. Sometimes the room is very thin. I have never in five decades sat in on an employee lunch or birthday party. I walk the dog at night, a cars headlights approach from the distance, and I am angry. My two friends are states and many decades away. All my coworkers and neighbors are ships passing in the night. I’d say that is a feeling, but I’d be chary of calling it my identity.

So the upshot is that I am meditation incarnate. When I walk, or sometimes at the computer, there are no thoughts and no stories of mood, only the kaleidoscope, only silence. I have no ambition, which would be a sort of energy, but to do what I do.

An odd thing happens, though, sometimes. Thoughtless, and no spiritual goal in mind, I will press a couple of leaves on a bush, or touch one of the big rocks that are made into walls throughout my apartment complex. This gives me an odd feeling of reality, and the lightest possible feeling of affection, for lack of a better word. I don’t dare pollute that goodness with a thought. The phenomenon is the child that remains: He was once nothing but connection, or nothing but the need for it. Through neurosis and years, my eyes have become too distanced from things. But touch breaks through. If I had more ego or anxiety, I could turn that into a “truth,” a meaning. But there’s no reason to.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Mini-rant: These hibernated accusations of sexual abuse

The Pessimistic Shrink, hiding behind his wife’s name as a commenter, wrote the following:

I don’t disbelieve any of these men or women (the latest accused, as of this minute, may be George Takei), but at the same time, my eyes are rolling. Every week in therapy, I see a couple dozen adults who remain emotionally crippled, in part because they have never held their abusers to account: parents, siblings, uncles, stepfathers, neighbors. Many adults would rather remain cowed, punctured “codependents” than own their anger at a physically or sexually abusive parent. Clearly the celebrities are relatively painless targets of delayed justice, despite the courage it may take to finally open one’s mouth about the abuse. To me, it’s real courage when the woman – ten, twenty or thirty years later – calls her father a pedophile, or condemns her mother for failing to protect her.
My argument’s best raison d’ȇtre is that it was probably these earlier abuses, in childhood and within the home, that created the teenager or adult susceptible, years later, to the wiles and pressures of an entitled bastard. It was these earlier abuses that created a quiet person who could not speak out for decades, who suffered the emotional problems that keep therapists working, that make such a troubled world. There is also the more exotic theory* (clinically evidenced though not by me) that the psychological origins of “stars” – those who need fame, power and the adulation of the masses to build a semblance of ego – is in homes where the child received approval** – for her looks and talents and ability to please – not unconditional love for her simple being.

Let these women and men continue to name their perpetrators, have courage, receive the stage and receive care. But maybe . . . maybe do not keep hidden the earlier, formative abuses and neglects that made you the person you are. To unearth these takes therapy, storm and stress, battle-like courage, not a microphone.

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* and ** – Arthur Janov, The Primal Scream and other books, and Alice Miller, The Drama of the Gifted Child and other books, have described the early dynamics and consequences of approval versus love.

Monday, November 6, 2017

A very dumb society: The latest shooter

One of the blindest and most contemptible features of present culture is our gaze at the adult lives and motivations of mass murdering shooters. Twelve hours ago, a twenty-six-year-old killed twenty-six people at a Texas church. Reports give us the news about his black outfit, his rifle, whether he got it legally, what he posted on Facebook and LinkedIn, how he walked through his spree, his dishonorable discharge from the Air Force, his domestic violence against wife and child. We may soon learn what jobs he had, a quick sketch of his personality at work, maybe the “human interest angle”: what some classmate or friend thought about him in high school.

Useless, stupid, useless.

What matters is who his parents are, how he was raised and treated during his elementary school years, if there are siblings and if they, too, have had problems. Was he a head-banging infant? Were there two parents in the home, were they immature, emotionally selfish, loveless, “working all the time,” jerks? Did they hit him? Was he bullied and did his parents have cruel or indifferent or weak ways to deal with it? Was he so cut off from them that it would never have occurred to him to tell them his troubles? Did an uncle sexually abuse him? It would be good to know what made him a misérable who dealt with pain by causing it in others. Do we want to know how these things happen? The parents would be interviewed, put through individual therapy. We’d know their incompetencies, because there is no doubt in the world that they dropped most of the balls they were thrown. Was the killer ever in therapy, and did it fail as it so often does? Therapists do have to be gullible for a few minutes, taking in information openly. But if they see a dysphoric young man who speaks anger, they have to work damned hard to find a buried scrap of heart and reach it. If the child is “callous and unemotional” or the teen is a pre-mature psychopath – these facts are observable and alarms need to be sounded. Of course, not everything can be done to prevent the youth from further corrupting. I’ve confronted the deeply injured, joined them in their misery. I’ve confronted young psychopaths. Sometimes maybe all we can do is call their bluff: “I see your game,” hoping to disenchant the defense of this personality.

Because of this Olympian-sized missing the boat, society often looks to me like a joke or bad theater: playing adult-land. We could see the child in us. Think of how strange that world would be! We’d be looking at parents and families and children’s lives, not “chemical imbalances.” Wed all know basic depth psychology and see people with standard x-ray vision. Wed see children as influenced good or bad every minute of their day. We’d morph schools into education and therapy. We’d absolutely kill the “stigma” of mental illness, which is emotional pain and what happens with it. I don’t know a single solidly sound person without this pain. Do you?

Saturday, November 4, 2017

My strange cynicism

A certainty of mine: People are too complex to be able to validly endorse whatever they claim to believe in, or even to feel. A twenty-six-year-old woman says she loves her mother. But her mother was always immature, whimpery and self-enclosed, never acted with primary consideration for the child. So the young woman actually hates her mother, feels like a dead rock in her mother’s eyes.

Bertrand Russell, philosopher and mathematician, said: “I believe that when I die I shall rot, and nothing of my ego will survive. I am not young and I love life. But I should scorn to shiver with terror at the thought of annihilation. Happiness is nonetheless true happiness because it must come to an end, nor do thought and love lose their value because they are not everlasting. Many a man has borne himself proudly on the scaffold; surely the same pride should teach us to think truly about man’s place in the world.”* I do not believe that Russell felt the meaning of these thoughts, but would be in a frisson of disconsolate and other emotions at the real consideration of his imminent death. And the man on the scaffold? A desperate dissociation of terror, anesthetized with some storybook noble or learned feeling: “pride.”

A man loves his wife. But he simply lacks a capacity for empathy. This is understandable, as he never received a single atom of loving-care from his parents. He is empty of it. So what does he really feel?

People believe in God. Does having a good or self-bolstering gut-chest-feeling about something you’ve been taught equal belief? Does some kind of mental attachment to a weakly logical notion (the essences of the universe can never be comprehended, so the Incomprehensible must have caused them) equal belief? Does saying “I believe” make belief real? It seems so (try it!), but how could that really be? Peoples beliefs weather, they have doubts, their wine turns to water.

Does a white supremacist hate black people, Jews, Hispanics? Hatred, like “cause(,) is not what it used to be,” as Lord Russell noted.** We know that hate starts, in the person’s life, with hurt, with the failure to receive what should have been given by parents. Loss congeals over a pained heart and becomes fire over ice over fire. This, then, wants an idea, because thinking distances us from pain. “Immigrants are not real Americans.” This is not a belief. It’s a desperation.

I deconstruct people in this way because I have to: It’s both how I see the world and a feature of my therapy.  But another part is the blindness that is our molecular, organic structure: We just live and we just feel. We don’t “know,” we don’t “believe.” I’d like us to feel better and maybe to wonder what everything, what anything, is.

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** Russell, lecture “Why I Am Not a Christian” –  – subheading The First Cause Argument.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Warning: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

This morning, I took a three-credit Continuing Education seminar on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), and it has ruined my mind for the remainder of the day. It is a therapy of dissociation from the body – how one actually feels – and from the impact of one’s injurious history. It is a therapy of dissociating from our dissociation “looking at thoughts, rather than from thoughts,”* when thinking itself is likely to be a defense and escape from deeper truth – and living in some disembodied “value” that we must doggedly commit ourselves to. As a theory that fanatically endorses only the cognitive realm and only superficial “I want” intentionality, it must use abstruse terms of smoke: “ACT brings direct contingencies and indirect verbal processes to bear on the experiential establishment of greater psychological flexibility primarily through acceptance, defusion, establishment of a transcendent sense of self, contact with the present moment, values, and building larger and larger patterns of committed action linked to those values.” It numbs one’s mind with cotton like: “Self-as-Context: The sense-of-self that is a consistent perspective from which to observe and accept all changing experiences”; the “ACT question: (1) Given a distinction between you and the stuff you are struggling with and trying to change, (2) are you willing to have that stuff, fully and without defense (3) as that stuff is, and not as what your language says it is, (4) and DO what takes you in the direction (5) of what is vital and meaningful (6) at this time, and in this situation? If the answer is ‘yes,’ that is what builds . . . Psychological Flexibility.” In ACT, you are “distinct” from your struggles, your thoughts, your emotions. This approach’s proponents may not realize you must also be distinct from your values. But then what would be left to you?

It disturbs my reliance on human rationality that PhDs and counselors, researchers and promoters of “empirically based principles” can jump over all historical psychological knowledge, can be so lost in this man-made dimension to believe this garbage. The therapist will see you the way an ideological partisan sees a naïve and wanting soul: empty of substance but for how he can mold you into his ideas – “psychological flexibility,” “commitment,” “behavior change strategies” – which he will frame as your idea. Your pain and confusion will be shoved aside by “mindfulness,” then replaced by a “value” and its henchmen “goals” and the brute-force signed contract to push yourself toward them; depression and suicide, anxiety and identity emptiness be damned.

It’s frightening and lonely, for me, to think that clients are taken away from their true needs for help, are given this absence of care for their real self. Be aware that you will be walking into a scam that is worse than some product bait-and-switch: an existential scam.

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* This and the other quotes are from the seminar’s PowerPoint material.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Personal tenets, for any readers I've failed to trouble up to this point

*  I want my clients to become happier than they are, and happier than I am able to be. This goal – especially the second part – is not a virtue of mine. It’s actually my neurosis, coming from childhood when, early on, I ceased wanting anything for myself but derived some very transient but poignant (“vicarious”) pleasure from facilitating someone else’s happiness. That is not, however, the motivation that launched me into this field.

*  By the accidental way my brain works (in the same way I was aware of my atheism, within a lightly Jewish family, at age eight), and by chancing upon a good psychology book, I realized that the adult stage and character, as most people live them, are much less valid a reality than the child within us, the child we came from. I suspect that most people believe their adult is their replacement baseline, post-youth. Not true: It is merely the small boat riding in a deep ocean, dependent on that ocean, victim to it, give its meaning by that ocean. (The metaphor fails slightly, because you can take a boat out of the water. But what kind of boat would it be?)

*  If I had to name the essence of psychological dysfunction, I’d say it is the lethal contradiction between the injured, never-helped child’s needs, and the necessity to leave those needs behind. I use the term “lethal” without exaggeration. We might lose an arm or a leg, our health, and still have our spirit. But we can’t be a spirit with bright potential if we were not loved. I’ve seen individuals with youth, health, loving partners, the world before them, but they are in some strange, oceanic pain that says “Why am I here?”

*  I know that nearly everyone must have a delusion of happiness or contentment or serenity or “acceptance” or success – whatever their particular positive is – that rides over this darkened potential. It is for them, not the therapist, to come to question the delusion. However, I will show a woman her fake laughter, so surface yet profound a defense, because it can prevent all therapy and healing.

*  It is the same with “love” – also too often a delusion. Let’s put it this way: When you were a child, if no one ever took your hurt away – which is the job of your caregiver – then you will still be living with that hurt, within that hurt. Whatever the reason your caregiver didn’t reach it and heal you: that they didnt or couldnt is the absence of love, regardless of their intention or goodness, regardless of your belief or your forgiveness. We reveal at high risk this delusion of love. But in good therapy, people come to see it.

*  I would like my clients to grow, before too long, a deep relationship with me, though I know it often doesn’t happen. The great problem is that they can’t reach out to me, or let me reach them, because long ago they had to withdraw into themselves to prevent more suffering. And now that it’s time beyond healing the child – so they feel – it’s even more despondent to crack themselves open to their child’s heart. By “deep relationship,” I mean for a moment they feel I am important to them. A moment when they come out of their shell and don’t feel alone with their pain. I have to be the momentary parent. If not, they have never joined the world, are just in-dwelling with their tears or grief. That cannot heal. There is a bond, or there is absence of love and continuing sickness. No other possibilities exist in therapy.

Sunday, October 22, 2017


Jimmy Carter,* in a recent article, referred to his father as “daddy.” I wonder – Do adult Southerners call their mothers “mommy”?

I’ve written throughout this blog, and have conceived in my sessions, psychodynamic metaphors such as “some people have a heavy emptiness inside them, an anchor holding them back.” “A splinter in the soul” that does damage despite the soul’s lofty plane. We are a “molecular mess.” Old-timers may remember the Dr. Joyce Brothers-type conception, “fear of success.” Janov wrote of “housewives”** who’d always leave a room or two in disarray, as a clean house, a completed task, would give them the feeling, ‘Is this all there is?’ In a way, many of us are like the father of the little girl, Twilight Zone episode 91,*** who falls through her bedroom wall into another dimension. Leaping in to save her, he is lost, floating, but then is lurched back to ground: A friend had been gripping his leg the whole time, but he had no awareness of it. Our past, the most exotic dimension, has us in its grasp, and we are not aware of it.

The explanations one woman gives for losing guardianship of her son to her terrible father! Its as if her true north were quicksand. Another woman smiles wanly, tells me her mother has won custody of the grandson on spurious charges of bad parenting.**** And watch out: When she gives birth in a few months, her mother may come with CPS and snatch this child, too. Helpless to stop it! I see a woman whose theme song has been self-ruination: Friendships curdle, gifts are rescinded; her mind colludes with her body not to be able to work; plausible plans to escape the city are spoiled; people who’d given her a room change the terms and kick her out; her son won’t talk to her, but a couple months ago they were getting along.

The many people who lose or quit one job after another. Something internal stops moving, and they wander off.

My wife and I, professional people with a strong relationship and a nice set-up, are so bad with money that we could potentially get in trouble from ten different directions.

In a bad mood, I’d want to give all these people (except myself) a tee-shirt that reads: “The dog ate my homework.” Your life is excuses. Grow up, find a backbone! Grow some fucking anger! Take off your stupid diaper! But I know about self-sabotage. Its seeds, of course, are in our childhood. But it’s complicated: soul and splinter. Depression versus the desire to love life. A twenty-three-year-old cries and whines in that gut-twisting sing-song of a child. I’m all alone. So boring at home, nothing to do! Sister criticized him as selfish when he asked for help. We haven’t yet found the awful splinter that poisoned all four siblings (the parents have a lovely résumé), but we know he cannot grow up.

Even when we seem to hit all the milestones, we may look and see there is no path. The engine is revved in neutral but the road is a decline and we move. We feel good then bad within two seconds, hopeful then inert within two seconds; expansive, then old hates emerge. Probably no one knows what real maturity means. How much, what kind of youthful psychology can we manifest that’s actually adult, not regressive? How much is nothing but regressive? People gamble much of the day, play video poker all night. It’s neurotic. (But when James Bond sits at the baccarat table, it’s very sophisticated.) Grown men play macho, women talk serious but look frilly, men make money of prime importance, women don’t report sexual harassment, people in therapy reveal they are ninety percent child. The past is so embedded in the present that we see only one thing: nothing, our blindness.

I’m wondering, as I write, if any immanent past must be a saboteur. Mine is: Future seeking, forward seeking has and will always be prevented by my particular problems. The ruining woman has to show an invisible father that she is homeless forever and in pain. The job quitters need – absolutely need – to be taken care of. But what of people who seem healthy and moving, happy, serene, accomplished? Has their past held them back? I think the answer is like quantum mechanics, where there’s a very different truth at the deepest level. If we look inside, we will feel where we have never moved on. We will find emotions that have never “matured”: still the child’s that are still attached to child’s things, though they’ve shape-shifted: A craving to be seen has become a need to impress; day camp has become a resort in Vail; a need for touch has become an extramarital affair. We will find our anchors.

Are there any conclusions we can settle on? The past in the present, the brake pedal always pressed, some. Even “failure” can be a kind of success as it tells the truth, where success often doesn’t.

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* Maureen Dowd editorial – “Jimmy Carter Lusts for a Trump Posting”.

** The Primal Scream, 1970. Arthur Janov died on October 1, 2017 at the age of 93.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Other therapy

One pleasant challenge in psychotherapy world is to find useful ways to work with those clients who cant do a damned thing. I assume this happens infrequently in private practice, but it’s not uncommon in community-funded mental health centers. And I don’t think it’s rare among clients who choose an agency name out of the book (“New Directions,” “Horizons for Youth & Families”) rather than a specific practitioner’s name. To be unable – which often means unwilling to work does not mean sitting there looking defiant or numb. (Those would be the court-ordered men.) It means individuals whose personality disorder prevents any contact with their actual state; those whose “attention deficit hyperactivity disorder” impairs them from sitting still on a feeling – or wanting to; those who are deeply uninterested in having self-insight but think therapy happens, just happens. And it can mean clients for whom I can find no entry.

I work with these people who’d best stay home or read a booklet of positive affirmations. They, after all, come for something: an obscure hopeful difference. I am good at obscure hopeful differences.

One thirty-something-stuck-at-twenty Borderline waxes euthymic (fake happy), producing constant homilies of love and improvement. She has a perverse former (boyfriend is thirty years her senior) and a mirage latter. During a well-earned break, I’ll find myself making droll faces, piquant raised eyebrows, asking “why is the sky blue” questions, spontaneously playing some youtube classical music. It’s good, or at least not bad, to discombobulate a balmy Borderline. Have no fear or criticism: She believes I’m as authentic as she thinks she is. Later I may reference her childhood kidnapping and rapes and mother’s breakdowns and father’s effeteness, and make sure she understands that her very bad moods in the midst of very good moments come from this past. Else she would also feel lost.

An ADHD client with cancer is not able to hear anything I say other than questions about her health and treatment and her family. Odd as it may sound, I make money just by listening and offering the kind of eye contact that shows “I see you.” In the past with her, I tried psychosomatic theory, how to use it, suggested feeling her father’s “meanness” and brutal authority, and crying now. These were rejected by being unheard. I now support her frightened positivity with reasons for positivity, which I believe exist in our inner baby.

Mary the undiagnosable. In The Fountainhead, Rand’s character Gail Wynand introduces his newspaper’s staff to a man whose face is so nondescript, one can’t remember it while looking at it. Week to week, month to month, I couldn’t remember Mary’s childhood history but that at age three, her mother abandoned the family. Other facts about being the less-favored child, sibling rivalry, teen rebellion, always fell out of my mind, though I reviewed the chart periodically. She may have been bipolar, but that couldn’t be ascertained: On rare occasions she would have a hellish tantrum, destroying an apartment. In time, she would alienate everyone in her circle in ways she could never grasp. She used methamphetamine through her later teens, twenties, thirties, then it waned. She was sabotaged by a transient psychotic or psychosomatic interloper: One arm stopped working, or she was convinced it had. She could no longer keep a job. Like many complexly troubled women, one insult – of physical capacity or of a relationship – began the unraveling of her competence and energy: “That’s when I fell apart.” Always on the verge of homelessness, she found this and that neurotic man she remembered from her past, moved into his place, moved out. Maybe this was my purest therapy, as I had nothing to grasp but the smoke of her dependency and depression, her childlike voice, the lightning flash of her tantrums. What had happened to her?

She attended every week, always with a sad and confused story. Sometimes she lay on the couch and just rested. I once played her a program of classical lullabies.

While therapy at its deepest is those supplies the child needed when she was first hurt, we are on a different road now and have to live without essential healing of our past. I believe I have shown that if a therapist even slightly introduces the past then moves on, the client will feel a deeper more embracing reality in the room which subliminally gives her some gravity, some mastery, some childhood friendship immanent in the friendly adult conversation.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017


I think Nevada, or at least Las Vegas, must be a different animal when it comes to mental health practice. Back in Ohio, one would know of unqualified or neurotic managers or department heads, more rarely an agency director who, rumor had it, didn’t know how to run a mental health center. Generally, the feeling of most places was viability, solidity. But Vegas – it seems to be the Bermuda Triangle of hiders and charlatans, crooks and the weirdly ambitious: people who left their crime in one state; new CEO’s with old rap sheets and complementarily, a litigious bent; psychiatrists one can google for scandalous court cases, others who run an operation like a Prussian general; the echoing whisper of insurance fraud. What is it about this area? I work with a majority of down-and-out clients, with résumés of misery and life blaming and slip-and-falling whenever a success approaches. But they don’t go and open mental health centers! It’s these other folks, a kind of plastic elite species who are pastors of storefront churches on the side, a plumber franchisee with Tony Robbins-type gonzo, a beautician who probably enjoyed therapy in her earlier life.

Honestly, I have little idea. Is it easier to start a company here? Burned a few times, I began opening my eyes wider during searches. Gauche, perfumey agency names with “hope,” “thrive,” “heart,” “angel,” “blessed,” “keep faith,” “tender loving care,” “never give up,” “aloha,” popping up biweekly like those weeds that look like flowers. No websites, or generic ones with atrocious, Japanese-translation verbiage; no staff listed, no reviews. Perversely, their ads would often be four to six inches long: tedious, torturous details of job functions as if a therapist must be led by hand and cattle prod through his day. And most ads specifying “one year experience,” at the most two. I have twenty-plus years’ experience. Am I the leper?

My only guess is linked to the fact that in Ohio, mental health treatment is either private practice or community government-based. In Columbus and environs, there are many state- and local-levy-funded centers and branches. The heads are business experts or individuals who rose through the ranks of social services – therapist, department head, clinical or administrative director, CEO. They are employees with personal, clinical and professional association's ethics and governmental oversight standards under their belt. Nevada, as far as I understand, does not have this system. There are some state-run or -supported facilities such as the state psychiatric hospital, the domestic violence shelter, one or two outpatient offices. Everything else – where you go for therapy for depression and anxiety and trauma, personality disorder, a sense of meaning, marriage, loneliness and self-esteem – is a twinkle in the eye and the seed of some individual with a dream. A dream of what? Medicaid money, I’m guessing.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

A little summation at sleepy 4 a.m.

There is a conflict between “there is nothing new under the sun” and “everything is new under the sun” for each person and each generation. What wrong and right ideas haven’t been known in the past? Life’s meaning and meaninglessness, power-hunger and other success, parenting, abuse, love and loss, conflict and tyrants and conscience, religious beliefs, disbelief, violence, group-think and iconoclasm. These ideas have been said. People don’t learn. Families don’t learn.

The human race has always written the same self-help books over and over again, has always made the same errors over and over again. We stake our life on our neighborhood gods. We believe in political parties or somebody’s idiosyncratic concept wardrobe such as socialism or capitalism. We’re alarmed a billion times by the same stories.

Why is it so hard for people to know what makes sense? Why is there universal lip service to the good values such as love and cooperation? The answer is that most persons and generations are sick, and sickness bends the mind. The sickness comes from pain and injustice and loss of self in childhood. Every problem stems from these. When we’ve scarred over our organic self, our answers can never be right. Or they can never stay right.

We can hardly imagine what we, the world would be like if all were healthy. I almost picture the Earth leaving its orbit and taking off through outer space, going somewhere, always joining new mysteries. As it is, we stagnate more than we should. We get nowhere, ever, like the animals and plants, but by the mercy of blind evolution.

Somehow it doesn’t seem right.