Saturday, September 29, 2012

Speculation on a Saturday

Have you ever heard or read the assertion, "There is nothing wrong with you"? What if you really believed it to be true? Think on it.

Much of this life, for many of us, is spent looking forward to something or other. We consciously or unconsciously identify personal and/or professional goals based on what we value, and we become heavily invested in attaining those goals. Such is the nature of things, and it's good.

What if, however, we refrained from basing our concept of self-worth, or of success, on our perceived ability to identify and attain those goals? What if instead we believed we are, by nature -- by default -- fantastically wonderful, amazing creatures, worthy of total admiration, love, and respect? And what if, in realizing those things, we discovered we can give those gifts to ourselves: that we can give ourselves unconditional admiration, love, and respect?

And what if such realizations were not mutually exclusive with living an actual human life? In other words, what if none of that stuff meant we had to live our lives as cloistered, levitating monks? Or that we wouldn't be periodically disappointed, disgusted, angry, guilty, sad, frustrated, unbalanced, unstable, irrational, or hurtful?

What if, instead, the foundational self-worth I'm speculating about enabled us to discover a truer compassion, truer forgiveness, truer remorse, truer kindness, truer intelligence, truer intuition, truer serenity, and truer freedom to pursue the goals and loves of our lives?

Food for thought.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Mind-Body Link is a Thing, You Guys

The mind-body link. Holistic medicine and healing methods. Determining the root cause of the problem, not just treating the symptom. Macrobiotic, or vegetarian, or vegan, or raw foods diets-as-good for physical and mental health. Wheat grass. Whole grains. Clean diesel. Cars running on veggie oil. GMOs (genetically modified organisms). Eating organic food.

You've probably encountered similar-themed material; or perhaps you've had an uncomfortable conversation with a very passionate person (possibly wearing Birkenstocks or driving a Subaru [kidding...or am I?]) who demands you see the Truth of some nugget of We're-All-One pseudo-wisdom, plucked from the voluminous, postmodern currents of the hippie-liberal milieu.

If you haven't, then you're about to. Sort of.

Now, a little about me, for the sake of context. I haven't worn (or owned) Birkenstocks in a long time, and tie-dye T-shirts are no longer a staple of my wardrobe. My man-mane, i.e., my pony-tail, was long ago cut off in favor of a shorter coif. I have a half-sleeve tattoo on one arm, but, depending on how you met me, you probably wouldn't know it: I also really like professional, even conservative, attire (argyle is awesome, as are well-tailored suits). I'm rather well-spoken, deferential, and well-mannered. Suited up properly, I could almost certainly pass for an active member of the Young Republicans, or maybe a yacht club. And yet...

Ok, I'll give it a rest.

The point of my humor has been to acknowledge a critique of an ecological (i.e., one that embraces and attends to the interconnectedness of all things), or holistic perspective: that it tends to be espoused by the "intellectual, liberal elite," who themselves, in turn, could be said to have some affiliation with the, er, crunchier aspects of the movements, fads, and trends I listed above.

Be that as it may, there is plenty of data and research available that explore the link, or relationship, between the mind and the body. It may be said, actually, that they are far less separate than we tend to think of them as being -- or, indeed, that they are not "separate" at all.

Listen, here's the bottom line: the stuff we find our minds wandering about, and the stuff in our subconsciousness, and the stuff we direct our attention toward, and unresolved conflicts and childhood traumas and whatnot -- all of it affects our physical vessels, or, put another way, our physical well-being. Think about it: everyone knows there's a strong correlative link between stress and heart problems (to cite one example off the top of my head). Conversely, our physical vessels affect the processes, functioning, and health of our minds -- our mental health. Think about that for a second, and all it implies. You've probably heard about or experienced a most basic example of this principle: that exercise -- even light exercise -- can help improve a bad mood. Or think about the saying, "you are what you eat." It's kind of true, even in view of what I'm discussing. An overabundance of fried food, for example, tends to lead to a pretty icky, lethargic feeling. You might feel sleepy, unresponsive, slow-witted, etc. You get the point.

Or maybe you don't. Need some further proof, or food for thought? Check out the abstract of an article entitled, "Breakfast and Mental Health" from the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition (Vol. 49, Issue 5). In all fairness, the article is older (1998), and the relationships (as the abstract clearly delineates) are correlative, not causal; additionally, there obviously exist mediating and moderating variables which affect participants' mental health (the abstract addresses that, too). Regardless, there's a demonstrable positive relationship between breakfast consumption (of cereal, in this study) and good mental health.

There are lots of studies about this topic. I encourage you to investigate it yourself. And I encourage you, as you seek to maintain good health, or to improve your health, to take the mind-body relationship into account.

Trust a hippie who knows. :)

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Dreams: the 12 steps — Paulo Coelho's Blog

Paulo Coelho's writings are an inspiration to millions, including myself. This latest post to his blog is likewise inspiring, as well as practical and extraordinarily useful.

Dreams: the 12 steps — Paulo Coelho's Blog

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Serenity Prayer, Saving Money, and Control Issues

“God, grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the Courage to change the things I can, and the Wisdom to know the difference."

That’s the Serenity Prayer. It is perhaps most commonly associated with Alcoholics Anonymous, which has adopted the prayer for the purposes of its program. I won’t be discussing addiction today, but I do think very highly of the Serenity Prayer. It reminds one that many, if not most, things in this life are out of the scope of one’s control. For example, none of us can control the existence of rush hour traffic, or a line at the grocery store, or another person’s thoughts, feelings, and actions. But we can accept, even begrudgingly, that we're in the traffic jam; we can breathe through our frustration and choose to wait patiently on line; and we can recognize others' autonomy. 

I’ll argue that much distress arises from what the very existence of the Serenity Prayer indicates; i.e., the human desire for control. We like to do, and to fix. Why? Well, because we are attached to other people, we are attached to expectations (our own and others’), and we are attached to outcomes. We get ideas about what "ought" or "ought not" be, and we take these as Capital-T Truth; we get fused to them, get married to them, and even give over our inherent power of thoughtful perspective to them. If we perceive a threat to what "ought to be," then, we tend to get worked up, and to seek a course of action.

Such attachments (and others) are universal conditions of human life. As such, the Serenity Prayer explicitly acknowledges the existence of impulses for control; but it invokes a re-calibration, so to speak, of one’s inner desire-to-control compass. It gives one hope that, with increased wisdom and clarity, one will be better-able to identify what is truly within and without the scope of one's control and influence; and when one has these realities in one's view, one is empowered to detach, as appropriate, from the impulse to control. And to reiterate: when people lose sight of what they can and can’t control, undue distress may ultimately follow.


An illustration of this logic is money. I firmly believe that many of us have more control over our money situations than we perhaps would prefer to think we do. A commonly cited nugget of conventional wisdom is that one has to "have money to save money." Well, yes, this is partially true, in the sense that in the total absence of all money, one necessarily cannot save money. Now, please understand that what I’m about to describe doesn't apply to everyone; I’m speaking in particular to wage earners with a car or two, a house, some possessions, food on the table, etc. Many such wage earners are plagued by money problems, and with good reason: participation in modern life is very expensive. But that still does not mean one cannot save money.

Have you heard the principle, “Pay yourself first?” If not, it refers to a simple and effective money-saving strategy represented by what is essentially a mind game. Play along: Think of the bills you have to pay, and add another to the very top of that list – it’s your savings account. (If you don’t have one, you can open one for free, and with no minimum deposit requirement, with any number of banks.) In the “pay yourself first” system, you view saving money as being synonymous with paying a bill. Remember: you probably view bills as non-negotiable; i.e., you have to pay them. So why not give yourself and your financial security the same consideration? Listen, it can even be $5 a pay period to start with if that’s what you think you can do right now. The point is to engage the process and get in the habit: the results will follow.

I’ll bet many of you reading this are still skeptical. If so, here’s a real-world example of how it does, in fact, work: 401k plans (or any employer-sponsored retirement plan). You enroll in the plan, and a retirement account is set up. Concurrently, you determine a percentage of your gross pay to contribute to the plan; that amount is then automatically deducted from your wages. It never enters your cash flow, and you never see it in your paycheck. The amount left over is what you have to work with to pay bills, buy groceries, and put gas in your car. Amazingly, awesomely, as time passes, those deductions accumulate. Paying yourself first works the same exact way.

We are emotional creatures. We are highly fallible, impulsive, and prone to misjudgment. And we are prone to misjudgment about our purchases and cash flow management behaviors, and whether we do actually have money in our paychecks to set aside. My guess is that if you’re reading this, there are hidden expenses in your life you aren’t even aware of: things you could do without and really not even have to sacrifice too much by going without. Money represents an agreement, or an idea. It is governed by numbers and arithmetic and logic, all of which are decidedly a-emotional. Paying yourself first -- an inherently automatic, logic-driven process that falls outside the day-to-day scope of fallible decision-making -- is an emotionless process. It leverages the systems that govern financial processes. And it works as a savings strategy. I promise.


We sometimes mistake our subjective, often-faulty perceptions for an objective, absolute reality. We sometimes reach conclusions that don’t tell the whole story; but we decide or assume they do. Sometimes, we can’t see a way out of something; and instead of seeking to learn about new, as-yet unknown ways forward, we decide that our limited perception is reality, and that if “I can’t see a way out now, there must not be a way out.” We have more power than this. We all have a genius within us; and the Serenity Prayer -- and other grounding tools like it -- can help us tap into that genius. 

I'll end with one of my favorite quotes:

"You will be much more in control if you realize how much you are not in control." -- Antonio Damasio

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Reader Feedback

This is a new blog, and still very much in its development stages. I haven't yet worked too intensely on the format, set a routine or schedule for my posts, or fully established the tone and scope of the content. Bearing all that in mind, I want your feedback. You can use the following questions as guideposts if you prefer, or just go ahead and leave general comments if that suits you better. Also, feel free to either comment on this post or email me directly.

What have you especially liked or found interesting?

What haven't you liked or found interesting?

What type of subject matter would you like to see covered? (For example, posts about anxiety; grieving and loss; anger management; substance abuse; maintaining good mental health; etc.)

Of the following choices, which would you prefer to see?
     -Written posts only
     -Video posts only
     -Mostly written posts with some video
     -Mostly video with some written posts
     -Neutral or no preference

In general, what time of day is ideal for you to view this blog's content?

Do you have any general comments?

Thanks! I look forward to hearing what you have to say.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Stephen Fry: "An Uppy-Downy, Mood-Swingy Kind of Guy"

Some of you may recognize Stephen Fry; some may not. Regardless, I highly recommend watching this ten-or-so minute clip, in which he discusses some of his personal experiences with, and reflections on, bipolar disorder. The information he discusses is both insightful and factually accurate.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Vlog #2 -- Mental Health & Personal Finance

Here's the link to vlog #2: Mental Health & Personal Finance. This is a particular passion of mine, and it's difficult for me to adequately address all aspects of this in a 6 minute video. If the linkages and details seem a little hazy, let me know and I'll redouble my efforts. In the meantime, though, thanks for viewing.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Awesome Web Resource:

This link will take you to a great online mental health resource called HealthyPlace. (They're also present on Facebook and Twitter.) The site is a comprehensive repository of up-to-date information on a variety of mental health issues and their respective diagnostic criteria, common symptoms, treatment options, and resources for further assistance. It also gets my major kudos for explicitly interweaving diversity considerations throughout the site. There's also an extensive blog network to explore.


Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Short Article Link

The article linked to below is a good (and quick) read by Leonard Citron, M.A., and published on The Albert Ellis Institute's blog. It addresses perfection, fallout therefrom, and utilizes a nice little baseball analogy, for which I am an unabashed sucker.


What do you love to do?

The title of this post pretty much sums it up. There's a lot of benefit to be derived from answering that question, or from even just giving yourself space and time to consider the question.

If "love" is too strong a word to start with, use "like" instead. And if "like" is too much for now, try "enjoy." Do not impose rules on how you answer! It can be a brainstorming process if you like, or you can sit and ponder it and write out a single sentence or phrase. Work with your preference of the moment.

I recently posted about the practice of noting daily the things you've done well, or are proud of, etc. Likewise, answering this question can be part of your daily practice. Or, it can simply be a reminder to yourself; or a springboard to finding your way back to the answers within.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Video Blog -- aka "Vlog" -- Post

This video represents my first foray into so-called "vlogging," so we'll see how it evolves from here. My amateur self goofed up on my "start-talking" time, so what's cut off in the video is me introducing myself by name; otherwise, it's all there. 

Thanks, and I hope you enjoy it. Let me know what you think!

Mindfulness Article

The link below will take you to a great article about the practice and benefits of mindfulness by Jay Dixit at "Psychology Today." It's well worth the read!

Saturday, September 1, 2012


A long time ago, a college professor -- one of the great teachers in my life -- taught me that, to the conscientious observer, Life is the greatest, most constant teacher of all; and with attention, patience, and curiosity, Life teaches all lessons. It was a powerful concept in the classroom, rendered even more so by the fact that I discovered it to be true. There is potential for learning, and for the demonstration of some principle, around every corner.

The other day, I saw a tiny green bug on a counter top. It was on its back, and it was struggling to right itself. I waited a moment to see whether it could achieve its aim by its own power, and when I decided it couldn't, I gave it a little nudge. It worked: the bug was on its feet. But instead of hurriedly crawling or flying off, it stood perfectly still, as if stunned. I was puzzled by this response at first, but I soon realized it was -- anthropomorphizing aside -- frightened by what it perceived to be the gigantic, unpredictable, possibly malevolent force which had, in fact, so drastically altered its situation for the better.

It occurred to me that many of us experience similar fears when faced with life-changing events, or even the consideration thereof. Fear is, of course, an adaptive, healthy response to perceived danger. After all, fear prepares us to get ourselves out of harm's way, which is definitely not a bad thing. What's curious, though, is that our fear responses are often grossly out of proportion to any actual danger that may exist; it's also curious that, oftentimes, that which we perceive to be a terrible threat is, in fact, a Godsend.

I do not advocate throwing caution to the wind and ignoring all fear -- absolutely not. But I do think it's important that we acknowledge both the fallibility and limiting potential of fear. Moreover, when afraid, it's important that we at least pause and consider whether the object of our fear may, in fact, bring us much good.