On the Arrogance of Power

Our news these days is filled with stories of persons of power using their positions for personal gain. Often the personal gain is sexual in nature. From the Catholic Church to Hollywood to the United States military to the Federal Government we are learning of persons, most often male, using their status to solicit sexual favors or to force them. In the field of psychology there is a new term –MST. Military Sexual Trauma. The saddest aspect of all is that such abuses of power are nothing new.

Power is a dangerous thing. It takes a person of great self-awareness and spiritual strength to have power and not abuse it. Face it. We all covet power, most often in the workplace but also in other arenas. When we are placed in a position of power, whether by promotion or election, the result is very heady stuff. The temptation to use that power for personal gain is even more enticing.

There are those of us who collude with such abuses by way of silence. We may see a fellow employee be bullied, a female colleague be sexually harassed, a fellow Catholic make an outcry. We remain silent usually out of fear. “If I speak up, I’ll lose my job!” This collusion of silence is as serious a matter as the abuses of power themselves.

For those of us in positions of power, we must face the Shadow within and acknowledge how enticing is the temptation to use that power for personal gain. In an ideal world, persons of power would have spiritual advisors.

For the rest of us, we must face our fears and speak up or otherwise express our dissatisfaction. We can vote those abusing power out of office. We can support union action on behalf of employees being bullied or harassed. We can embrace the whistle-blower. We can take the time to listen to those victimized by power. Historically we know that the Voice of the People can have impact. From Viet Nam protests resulting in a president not running for reelection to Boston Catholics forcing the Church to oust a Cardinal who looked the other way, our history is replete with stories of the power of protest.

Yes, you may be harassed and shunned yourself if you speak up. I know, having once been labelled an “Enemy of the Church”. But for those of us trying to follow a spiritual path, the demands to speak up are unavoidable. The only place for silence may be in meditation.

ReflectionWhat have your experiences been with speaking out?

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Further Thoughts on Hope

These are the days of senseless shootings in Las Vegas and elsewhere, of destructive hurricanes, and earthquakes, of ongoing wars and potential new ones. These are days when hope may be elusive.

Hope for what? Here is the key. What do we hope for? Freedom from suffering? Riches? Success? Suppose we hope for simple things such as peace of mind. Or just peace. It seems more and more difficult to base that hope on anything substantial.

I often find myself unimpressed with our species. We appear to be a violent, self-centered species bent of destruction. And yet I know from Viktor Frankl and others how important is hope in the face of tragedy.

But hope is empty unless it has a real foundation. I can’t just passively hope for a “better day”. I must base that hope on something tangible.

Ironically, as a person who doesn’t like people much, I end up finding my hope in other people. One of the enduring images for me from the recent Hurricane Harvey was the long line of boats heading to Houston to help with rescue. It reminded me of the miracle of Dunkirk, another instance of people at their best. The recent hurricanes, earthquakes, and forest fires have been rich with small stories of people helping one another. Similar stories are emerging from Las Vegas, some of them reflecting people sacrificing their lives to protect loved ones.

Somehow our species also seems to be able to rise above fear and the instinct to survive. The results are dramatic and very moving. That is part of the blessing of my own work as a psychologist. I meet regularly with people who try to rise above tragedy and hardship, trying to face such stresses with dignity and courage.  I think of a man dying of AIDS telling me he looked forward to stepping into the light. I think of a combat soldier holding his dying friend in his arms, trying to comfort in the midst of bullets and bombs. These and many other heroes help me find hope.

Beyond that, if I have hope that peace is possible, I must try to live that life of peace in my own way, embracing the charge to love my enemy. And at dark moments, I remind myself of the words at the end of Shawshank Redemption: “Hope is a good thing. Maybe the best of things. And no good thing ever dies.” As Morgan Freeman says at the very end of the film, “I hope…I hope.”

Reflection: How do you sustain hope in your own life?

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On Meditation

Modern science has affirmed that meditation is good for us, helping us not only find greater calm but even lowering our blood pressure. Meditation is also gaining ground as a valuable part of treatment for such conditions as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The problem is  — how do I do it?

There are indeed many different approaches to meditation, some of them based in religion. A key element in all forms of meditation, however, has to do with breathing. It may seem odd to suggest that many of us do not breathe correctly. In fact this is true. Thanks to stress, many of us breathe in a shallow manner. In the extreme, such shallow breathing can trigger hyperventilation. In any case, a first step in meditation is proper breathing.

The basic goal is to breathe in the way you do when you are asleep. This typically involves breathing from your diaphragm. Put your hand on your stomach and try to breathe so that your hand moves up and down. If you are breathing with your diaphragm, this will happen. You’ll also notice that your breathing slows down as it becomes deeper.

This is different that the traditional advice when we are stressed: “Just take a deep breath.” Wrong! The key to relaxed breathing is to slow it down. Diaphragm breathing will accomplish this.

Many different form os meditation then suggest focused attention. Such focus can be on your breathing, a mantra (repeated phrase), a candle light, etc. When I do meditate, I find music helpful and in particular like the Native flute music of Carlos Nakai.

Time was I would relax my breathing and focus on the music. Then my brain would take over: “My breathing is relaxed. I am focused on the music. What am I going to do about that depressed client? What’s for dinner tonight?” and so on. My mind would wander and I would get annoyed with myself, muttering “You’re never going to get the hang of this. Just give it up!” I now understand that such wandering is normal and part of the process. I now try to just notice it then bring my attention back to the music.

There is also the variation known as mindfulness meditation where one simply observes the flow of thoughts across awareness without dwelling on any particular thought.

If you decide to take up meditation, be flexible given there are many varieties. You may also find that something less traditional works for you. Thus, one man I know benefits from the focused awareness of leather work. Another prays the rosary. For me, running also accomplishes many of the goals of meditation.

I will never be the highly trained meditator who can meditate for 30 minutes or more. The best I can do on a good day is 15 minutes (supplemented by a 40 minutes run). Nor am I a certified meditation instructor. But its values are clear.

The role of meditation in one’s spiritual journey is also clear and simply summed up in an AA dictum: “Prayer is talking to God. Meditation is listening to God.” Remember that God’s voice does not come in the thunder or the earthquake. God’s voice comes in a whisper. Perhaps we need to quiet ourselves to hear that Voice

Reflection: What have your experiences been with meditation? What has worked/not worked for you? How has meditation impacted on your spiritual journey?

Here for your lisening pleasure and possible meditation is some of Carlos Nakai’s music. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=19nm5_nAwQg

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Excerpt from “Who Do You Say That I Am?”

The following is an excerpt from my article appearing in the September 2017 issue of St. Anthony Messenger

In Matthew 16;13-20, when Jesus asks his disciples what people are saying about who he is, they give him several answers. then he looks at Peter and asks “Who do you say that I am?” Peter answers “You are the Messiah, the son of the living God,” a response that pleases Jesus.

Was that a pop quiz for which Peter, fortunately, gave the correct answer? That is one way to view it. But suppose I view it as an invitation. Suppose I consider that the question is directed not only to Peter but to me, not as a quiz but as an invitation to explore exactly who and what Jesus is in my life. That is the invitation extended to each of us.

………..

In response to his invitation then I came up with a list of other names for Jesus that comprise my own answer to his question: prince of peace, rebel, teacher, storyteller, healer, criminal, and friend to sinners.

………..

Jesus clearly is the prince of peace. Calling him this, howe ver, is not simply saying something warm and fuzzy. If I choose to call him this, then I am embracing all that he stands for regarding peace. Jesus clearly stood for non-violence. He challenges me several times to love my enemy, remembering that my enemy may indeed be a combatant in a foreign land, but may also be my annoying neighbor down the street. Further, as prince of peace, he challenges and invites me to be a peace-maker, to not simply keep my moth shut and stay out of trouble but to actively foster peace in all my daily dealings.

 

If you would be interested in receiving a copy of this article, send me your mailing address at <richp45198@aol.com>. If you prefer to have me e-mail it, then send that address to my e-mail. The difference is that the mailed copy will be of the article while the e-mailed copy will be the original draft without the fine editing of the folks at St. Anthony Messenger.

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The Challenge of Charlottesville

White supremacists turn my stomach, especially when they claim to be Christian. I would like to leave it at that, content in my self-righteous outrage. Unfortunately I claim to be a Christian too and so, as my stomach churns as I watch Neo-Nazis shouting words of hate, Jesus’ words come back to me: “Love your enemy.” Surely he didn’t mean these people. Did he? Apparently so. He didn’t qualify that directive. He didn’t say “Love your enemies. Except for the Romans.”

So what do I do? I at least can pray for these people, asking the God of my understanding to heal the hatred within each of their hearts. It is easy to pray for the family of the young girl who was killed. For me, it is almost impossible to pray for the man driving the car. Yet that is what I am called to do.

Beyond being a Christian, I have also embraced the psychology of Carl Jung and specifically his concept of the Shadow. This notion suggests that whatever I condemn the most lurks in my own heart. Thus, the tragedy of Charlottesville challenges me to look within and face the hatred lurking in my own heart. It challenges me to face and redeem that within me that is racist or sexist and to transform it. It challenges me to face and redeem my own inner violence.

Thich Naht Hanh, the great mystic and Vietnamese Buddhist has written a poem that challenges us to explore our Shadow side. It is called “Please Call Me by My True Names”. Here is an excerpt:

  • I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
  • my legs as thin a bamboo sticks.
  • And I am the arms merchant,
  • selling deadly weapons to Uganda.
  • I am the twelve-year-old girl,
  • refugee on a small boat,
  • who throws herself into the ocean
  • after being raped by a sea pirate.
  • And I am the pirate,
  • my heart not yet capable
  • of seeing and loving.
  • I am a member of the politburo,
  • with plenty of power in my hands.
  • And I am the man who has to pay
  • his “debt of blood” to, my people,
  • dying slowly in a forced labor camp.

This is the challenge of Charlottesville. Yes, we need  to condemn white supremacy and Neo-Nazism and destructive beliefs not at all in accord with the great religious teachers. But to heal society we must first heal ourselves.

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On Reading the Bible a Fourth Time

I have once again finished reading the Bible. I continue to experience it as moving, helpful, confusing, at times mind-numbingly boring. I looked forward to some of the stories and characters I find inspiring. I heave a deep sigh when it’s time to read Jeremiah.

There are several themes that can seem antiquated — relevent to a time and culture long gone. Such themes include idol worship, demon possession, and prophecy. Yet as I reflect I find relevance even there.

I for one am guilty of idol worship. No, I don’t worship at an altar to Baal but for a time I did make alcohol my god and continue to be in danger of making money and success a god. Others worship at the altar of power and conquest.

Regarding demon possession, there is a trend to view demon-possessed persons in the Bible to have been mentally ill or suffering from some form of epilepsy. What we miss in these stories, though, is that these people were healed and, in one case, the healing was so dramatic that the townspeople became so frightened of Jesus and his power that they asked him to leave the town. Something was cast out of that man and into a herd of swine.

Yes, I believe that depression and addiction and schizophrenia and any number of other psychiatric conditions are just that and not some instance of demon possession. Yet I also remember a man I saw in a psychiatric hospital. He believed he was possessed by demons. I could dismiss that except that during the interview his teeth would chatter as if he were freezing. This he said was the demon hissing. It made my hair stand on end. I suggested to the psychiatric staff that they consider an exorcism, an idea that was dismissed. He was given a regimen of medication and discharged at which point he went down the street, checked into a hotel, and shot himself dead. I wonder…..

And then there are the prophets. Most of these folks were not prophets in the sense of Jean Dixon or any number of folks whose predictions of the future used to appear in the Weekly World News. Rather they were guided to point out self-destructive trends of the time. Jesus himself was viewed as a prophet and he did indeed try to help people find a new way. Clearly, too, in Biblical times, there were false prophets — people who presumably made things up for their own gain or prestige. (Interestingly, when I was spell-checking this piece, the spell checker flagged the word “prophets” and suggested instead the word “profits”!)

I suspect that God’s prophets are indeed still with us. In this modern age, though, their voices get drowned out amidst the din of left- and right-wing political rhetoric. The few genuine prophets are indeed voices crying in the wilderness.

Is idol worship going on? Absolutely! Is demon possession real? Most likely, although not anywhere near to the extent fundamentalists would have us believe. Are prophets real? I am sure they are. I just find myself struggling to find the true prophets amidst the many false ones.

1. What are your thoughts and experiences with idol worship, demon possession, and prophets?

 

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Spiritual Mentors: C.S. Lewis

Image result for c.s.lewis

I have been blessed with many spiritual mentors during my journey and continue to meet new ones along the way. But I always seem to come back to C.S. Lewis. I suppose that one theme that draws me to him is that he doubted and was honest about it. Rather than avoiding or dismissing his doubts, he would embrace them and wrestle with them. In my own journey as a Doubter, I have always found hope when I return to C.S. Lewis. He has helped me see my doubts as a doorway.

Lewis is perhaps best known nowadays as the author of The Chronicles of Narnia, a series of children’s stories with strong spiritual themes. They are stories any child or adult can enjoy.

Many of his non-fiction works have enriched my journey. One is Mere Christianity which touches on his own spiritual journey. Another is The Great Divorce which helped me find a belief about the afterlife that was not grounded in fear.

I think, though, that I have been most touched by his efforts to address the spiritual problem of pain. Lewis was a man, much like Harold Kushner, whose beliefs about pain were grounded in reality.

Lewis had been living his life as a middle-aged professor when he met Joy Davidman. He fell in love and married Joy, happy beyond belief. But in short order tragedy struck as his beloved wife died from cancer. He was challenged to apply his beliefs that God indeed had a plan behind our suffering. This journey is portrayed in the play and film Shadowlands.

Out of his grief came the best book I know of on grief — his simple A Grief Observed, which is a sharing of the first year after his wife’s death. The book ends not with some happy note of closure but with the reality that Lewis was still grieving and would continue to do so the rest of his life.

I counseled with one beautiful woman who had lost her husband of over 50 years. She shared with me that she had been given about 10-15 books on grief by well-intentioned friends. Being somewhat compliant, she had read them all and shared that she was totally confused. “One book tells me to give my husband’s belongings away. Another tells me to keep them as long as I want. All these books contradict one another!” So….I gave her another book to read! It was Lewis’ A Grief Observed. She thanked me when she returned stating that it was the first book she’d found helpful not because it had any answers but because it helped her see that her grief as she experienced it was normal and good.

Here then are a few jewels I have found in C.S. Lewis’ words:

“Doctrines are not God; they are only a kind of map.”

“Very often the only way to get a quality in reality is to start behaving as if you had it already.” (This is a more eloquent version of AA’s “Fake it ’til you make it.”)

“Every war, every famine or plague, almost every deathbed, is the monument to a petition that was not granted.”

“The world is a great sculptor’s shop. We are the statues and there is a rumor going around that some of us are some day going to come to life.”

Further Reading: A good place to start reading C.S. Lewis is the sampling of his works found in The Joyful Christian.

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On Choosing Death

There is a man I know — a very good faith-filled man —  who is choosing to die. He has been a dialysis patient for over 10 years and is not a transplant candidate. He has slowly watched the quality of his life ebb over those ten years and has finally decided to stop dialysis.

This is a man who some would say is not intelligent, having tested with an IQ score of 82. However, this is also the man who one day asked me “How is the mind like a parachute?” I shrugged my shoulders and he smiled and said “When it’s open!” Pretty wise. I have told him over time that he has a very high level of emotional intelligence, a fact he reflected when noting that those he needed to talk to about his decision might need to express some grief of their own (as did I).

My friend approached his decision in a very thorough manner, talking to people at the dialysis center, people at the nursing home where he lives, his brother, and his pastor. When he first discussed this decision with me, he indicated his church planned to have a healing ceremony with him. When he returned after that time of prayer over him, he was more settled and at peace with his decision. I told him the healing had worked. He said that, of all the people he’d talked to, the only one who was angry about his decision was his medical doctor. My friend displayed full awareness that the process of dying would be painful and could take a few weeks. Nonetheless, he was ready

As I gave him a hug, I told him that I fully supported his decision and that Jesus was waiting for him with open arms. I assured him that he was completely rational and that this was not an extension of the suicidal thoughts he’d had in years past.

When my father was into his third year of dementia, my cousin mentioned “Some of us live too long.” This was true of my dad. It’s also true of my friend. Modern medicine is indeed a miracle but at what price?

The beauty of this man is that he is not just suddenly paying attention to the quality of his life at the end. I have known him for 20 years and have watched him overcome mental illness and a history of childhood trauma while trying to embrace life as he joyfully rode his bicycle about town.

I am not a believer in suicide as a solution to life’s problems. But my friend has challenged me to consider to what degree I am  obliged to prolong life, my own in particular, if quality is absent. I can only hope that, if I am ever faced with such a decision, I will face it with the same degree of courage as my friend.

Reflection: Have you had any experiences with people choosing death?

 

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On Fathers

I’d like to repost this in loving memory of Robert A. Patterson 1914-2000

Psyche and Spirit/Richard B. Patterson PhD

The Linn brothers have written that our image of God is often skewed through the realities of our Dads.

I first became a father at age 24 when our eldest Matthew was born. I had no clue as to how to be a Dad. As most of us do, I looked at my own Dad.

Like most fathers, mine was flawed. He had a volatile temper (although he never laid a hand on me). Like most men of his era, he was not affectionate because “men don’t kiss. They shake hands.” And he worked a lot.

As far as faith goes, his seems to have been dominated by guilt, not uncommon among Catholics then and now. As he would say after his second stroke, “I think I’m being punished for my sins.” How he dealt with my sisters’ deaths I don’t know. He never talked about it. I never actually…

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On Childhood Heroes: Jimmy Piersall

I wanted to repost this today upon learning of the passing of Jimmy Piersall, one of my earliest heroes

Psyche and Spirit/Richard B. Patterson PhD

I read somewhere once that stories that were favorites when we were children usually tell something about us (Mine was Ferdinand the Bull). The same is likely true of our childhood heroes.

Like the song says, many of my boyhood heroes were cowboys. Hopalong Cassidy. The Lone Ranger. Shane. But one was a baseball player.

Jimmy Piersall was an average ball player whose career included tenures with the Boston Redsox, Cleveland Indians, and New York Mets. He achieved much attention for his antics. Sitting in the shade of a centerfield flag pole during a pitching change. Decking two fans who tried to assault him on field. Running the bases backwards after hitting his 100th homerun. He was also known for having had a very public mental breakdown while with the Redsox. Nowadays he likely would be diagnosed to be suffering from Bipolar Disorder. So I suppose it tells something about…

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