Review of “I Am That I Am: Uncovering the Truth of the Mind, Body and Spirit”

To be honest I would not have purchased I Am That I Am: Uncovering the Truth of the Mind, Body and Spirit based on its cover or back matter. When something claims itself a #1 bestseller but it is clearly not I am suspicious, but not in a way that makes me want to investigate it. The back matter shows me that the author has a similar path as my father and other superlatives made me similarly wary. Nevertheless, I decided to give it a read on someone special’s suggestion and found myself greatly rewarded as a result.

One of the aspects of the book that I found engaging was the pleasant simplicity of the prose and concepts container therein. Dr. Michael’s descriptions of a wide variety of psychological states, the causes for their crises, analysis of components of the ego, etc. align with similar, more scholastic readings I’ve done. Yet it is presented in a way that engages the reader to be a participant in his excavations of human motivation and the Higher Self (not his term) moreso than mere exegesis of the history of those concepts in various schools of thought (a la Becker). There are multiple instances of hypnotic writing therein that are intended to get the reader to explore their own embodiment of love and fear-directed thinking and behavior (Michael’s terms).

By giving in to feelings of guilt or shame or having an ego that controls rather than a more conscientious form of mind-body-spirit co-management psychic disequilibrium starts to be create. During this period crisis can be relieved or, more often, deepened as the internal contradictions become intensified. But “What happens when the reality that you created becomes too much for you to bear?” Dr. Michael asks and responds with, “You sedate yourself with something stronger to completely alter and escape from your perception of reality.” This can take the form of self-stimming in many forms, addiction to television, gaming, books, as well as alcohol and drug abuse. Freud designated this tendency pattern repetition. While Dr. Michael does not use this term specifically, he does point out that “The experiences that you did not learn from lead you to continuously repeat the same reality, resulting in guilt, pain and limitation.”

It’s this focus on limitation and examination on how the heart hardens and contracts through examples that sets this books apart from others. While I’ve been studying psychological development and various disciplines to achieve personal empowerment, I’ve often found the discussion either too metaphysical or too clinical. This makes sense as the purpose of the course readings and participatory, experiential based practicing of those materials in groups and one on one settings was to impart technical training. However, the reformulation of the material here is oriented more towards being a component of a spiritual practice.

Returning to power

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This is evident in the fact that each chapter ends with an overview and an affirmation. Besides the trace-inducing writing, there are also multiple points where you are encouraged to say aloud certain phrases. While I read this from cover to cover, this is also one of those books that you could simply look through the chapter list to find places to speak to certain areas in your life that are causing one to stray from Love and Truth, for it’s when one doesn’t operate from those perspectives but from Fear that profound internal and external problems begin to occur. By running from pain you lose the opportunity to learn from it and from that power is returned to the self. To quote my father, one must face, embrace and replace the survival messages that emerge from certain periods in our life that become no longer beneficial to our innermost needs.

In close I think it’s worth mentioning that after reading the book I engaged the counseling services of someone who’d studies with Dr. Michael. One of the components of the session was to repeat the affirmations with passion, in a similar manner that experiential psychologists would but with physicality included. This combined with other reformulations of previous traumatic experiences was a good reminder that living a happy life is often not nearly as complicated as our ego’s would like us to believe.


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Review of The Denial of Death

We leave a worryless life and emerge from our mother’s womb and learn many new sensations that must at first feel rude and grating. We scream as we gasp air for the first time, are dried, are held by not all sides. Somehow we innately now knowing that we must eat to continue to exist in this world. To quell this state of terror we transfer onto our parents our own sense of self. We map what symbolic values they and the culture associated with them onto ourselves, while repressing the arbitrariness of it through psychological repression that people who do not practice mindfulness techniques rarely notice. Thus begins a critical response to Freud through the lens of Soren Kirkegaard and Otto Rank, Ernest Becker’s The Denial of Death.

I found much of the commentary by Becker on Freud’s character similar to that of Walter Kauffman’s. They diverge, however, in their appraisal of Freud’s correctness in the base cause for the manifestation of anxieties in human character and thus what at base most motivates us as humans. Becker discount’s what he sees as Freud’s hedonistic interpretation and instead proffers one based on heroism of personal expression rather than inherited cultural roles, religious roles or the pursuit of wealth by explicating Soren Kirkegaard’s novelistic insights to human’s self-motivation and Otto Rank’s reflections on his own therapy practice.

The divergence of perspective has a number of large effects but the most important could perhaps be summed up as follows: whereas psychoanalysis seeks to alleviate as much as possible the neurosis that prevents the normal functioning of areas in life which the patient seeks greater control; a more appropriate means for achieving fulfilment, gratification and community is through the pursuit of a heroic ideals. Depression thus becomes a matter of courage, the inner artist failing to must their talents and energies. The neurotic, born through the choking off of action, need only keep acting in the manner that takes them on what they most want. The manner that Becker puts it is, I think, better: “When the person can no longer convincingly perform his safe heroics or cannot hide his failure to be his own hero, then he bogs down in the failure of depression and terrible guilt.”

As the human begins to develops to its highest potential, rather than just along the axis of its neurosis as process begin, the following begins to become the inner drive of our consciousness: “The self must be destroyed, brought down to nothing, in order for self-transcendence to begin. Then the self can begin to relate itself to powers beyond itself. It has to thrash around in its finitude, it has to “die,” in order to question that finitude, in order to see beyond it.” Having recently read the Seducer’s Diary I was pleasantly gratified when reading Becker’s commentary on the story of Coredelia and K in Either/Or as it was aligned with my own thoughts about his depiction of a weak spiritual fortitude. Becker even has a name for it, which is important as it becomes the point at which he turns his attention from desire, fulfilment, anxiety and character to develop his model of human health.

Jonah Syndrome is a state of consciousness that leads one to believe that lasting happiness is not only something that is impossible but that proximity to it will lead to one to be ”shattered, disintegrated and even killed by the experience”. To guard from this they pull back and away from what would in a better adjusted view would be a fount of. As it is the destruction of the self that is actually a pre-requisite to being able to achieve lasting happiness, that person soon lapses into depression and neurosis. The solution to the problem of neurosis is Goetheian: Make a game of the world and play it in the fashion that one most wishes. One may not like the cards they are dealt, but grit and perseverance will get one there.

Becker’s extensive exposition of Rank’s views of the artist are both profoundly insightful and beautifully written. Rank, like Hubbard, exalted the artist as the highest embodiment of human potential. Establishing a balance between the self and the world means thus following one’s hero project wherever it may lead for the whole of one’s life. The creative solutions that we come up to get that is the genius possible within our species being and truly being dedicated and convicted people may come to know the artists that are inside them.


Review of The Autobiography of Assata Shakur

A former Black Liberation Army member that has obtained political asylum in Cuba for perceived lack of evidence for crimes connected to the murder of two police officers, Assata Shakur is a polarizing figure. She is still wanted by the FBI and talk of her possible return to America was discussed between respective nations bilateral trade meetings leading to online talk of her spiking to numbers not seen since legal defense committees received donations in her name for other sham trials in the late 1960s. Assata was one of many black political and cultural activists that were falsely imprisoned for hours to years based upon the whims of the judicial system. The Autobiography of Assata Shakur memoirs describes the evidence against her, the conditions of her trial, penetrating and poetic social insights, her treatment in the prison as well as her socialization with white communities under Jim Crow, her work with the Black Panther Party, etc. It is, another word, wonderful for touching on so many of the important issues of that epoch.

At a young age Assata describes herself as being very sensitive to the Jim Crow conditions which she grew up under. She tells of the isolations of being unable to play with neighborhood children because of her families purchase of a home in a white community. She describes how the low level of intellectual abilities that her classmates first had for her.  Later she will also describe in detail her close relationship to two of the five young girls killed in a church bombing that happened a short distance from her childhood home.

Yet her anger is not without a certain sense of revolutionary irony. Revolutionary as while recognizing the seriousness of the situation – racially informed class oppression – she is also able to recognize the base absurdity of its claims and the essential precariousness of the various power allegiances keeping it together. For example she describes going into a shoe shop in Montgomery with her friend as a young teen. A white clerk and overweight customer look at her in red-faced anger and terror quickly take on a tone of deference granted as they speak with a French affectation and claim to be from the Martinique. They are Caribbean, the social thought of the day went, therefore exotic and ergo not black. They are conversed with by the staff as they try on shoes.  Assata, at the time named Josephine, speaks in her best accent and finally breaks character. The initial angry attitudes return, however the girls can’t stop laughing. Now speaking in plain English, as they leave the store, she calls the people present out for their bigotry. There are many poetic turns of phrase and local color captured in these and other exchanges, all of which is to sound please but be immoral. Given these exclusionary experiences it is no wonder that she begins to have increased involvement in black nationalist cultural and political networks and organizations.

What makes this such a compelling book is not just the everyday heroics that comes to be displayed but also it’s structure. After childhood and arrest are covered the structure shifts to a back and forth between a horrifying depiction of what life is like in jail and narrative of her work as an activist. First one starts to become painfully aware of the cruelties of the treatment afforded her because she was a political prisoner, such as being forced to live in an isolation room for 21 months on end – a practice which was only stopped after a long struggle to get an independent investigator of the court to verify Assata’s claims. Following this Assata describes her work at a Black Panther Party breakfast program for children. She would wake up at 4am in the morning and cook for all of the children and come up with various educational programs for them to help get in the learning mood before going to school. She describes the paranoia and fears of briefly having to live an underground life as she’s just discovered that she’s again being promoted in the media as responsible for a crime that she’s not committed. And what helped her face such COINTELPRO actions? Her good skill set was recognized and she was promoted to New York to help the Party be more efficient.

Assata’s autobiography is good not only for the above, but she also reminds the reader that there were many others targeted for assassination, observation, infiltration, and social subversion through ruses, rumors, and other sorts of intelligence campaigns designed to delegitimize and destroy trust. She names three people that were connected to high ranking members of the Party that were used in FBI conceived plots to entrap or bring harm to Members. She is not, however, wholly uncritical of the Party. Some of the members are upbraided for their misogyny when she first arrives in New York. She eventually left the group as she found Newton’s ideology to be incompatible with her own, as she thought they needed to have less of a focus on the thoughts of a greater leader and more information on black history. Certainly anyone seeking to learn about black history is well served by reading this story and her other writings.

On Commitment and Honesty on the Path to Self-Betterment

Freud and Lacan, those seminal figures of psychoanalysis, both conceived of the psychological structures that form our Self as a language. While perhaps not an image that is immediately intuitive, a closer examines reveals similarities. Our perceptions of our environment and ourselves are primarily a series of ordered symbols. We, as we conceive of our Selves, are a series of relations to family, community, friends, work, affinity groups, the future we wish to actualize, etc.

The familial relationship is the primary means by which a concept of the world and our Self is transmitted and due to the reliance of the child upon parents for survival is one readily adopted for fear of rejection and death.

Whether with conscientiousness to the effects that human interactions and language has on the child or not, this provides the basic grammar for a child’s future behavior. How an adult will deal with stress, determine whether someone is an enemy or an ally, what they aspire to accomplish or seek to avoid are just a value of the many values that form the language of human psychology.

It is extremely difficult to understate the impact that these early lessons have on the foundation for future character traits as well as physical and mental health.
As maturity increases into adolescence children gain more autonomy and this language becomes more plastic. Once firmly established as adults they are, normally, no longer dependent on their parents in order to live and this combined with different experiences with various social groups allow them to broaden and determine their own views.

Continuing the metaphor of language, then, personal development is a movement away from the limited, parochial familial or cultural language of what the Self is to one that is more self-styled. For example, perhaps some grew up in a setting that was emotionally muted and expressions of need were met with reprimands or denial. In this case it could be worthwhile to develop one’s connection to one’s feeling as well as learning more The Art of Communicating those feelings with other people. Perhaps those consistent repressions of emotion lead one to bottle up their emotions and then injudiciously express them inappropriate situations. in this case one would want to learn to deal with their Anger. Perhaps one’s early family was all around inhibitive of those admirable traits of human character, in this case it could be worth learning how to turn those negative experiences into strengths via Reconciliation and Healing the Inner Child. Reading, however, is not sufficient to adopt this new language. One must also include other practices. For instance one can decide to respond to writing prompts about the material one is reading such as “How does this relate to what I learned growing up?” or “What would it look like if I’d practiced this today instead of relying on my old habits?” or “Why do I struggle to embody this particular idea?”. This prevents learning from being merely intellectual and being a lived part of the Self. This is not the only obstacle one must face when in the process of adopting this new self-chosen language of the Self. Here are some others, by no means all inclusive, that are also well suited to the language metaphor used by Freud, Lacan and other psychologists and psychoanalysts.

First, just like a new language that one intends to learn, if one does not daily commit to daily practice than the knowledge once consumed does not become as readily accessible. Put more succinctly – if you don’t use it you lose it. For example, several years ago I had enough skill to travel Europe with ease and find temporary employment as a bi-lingual hostel employee in Budapest after having intensively studied German for three years. Now I can only remember and apply a small fragment of the knowledge that I’d once poured over.

Secondly, in order to continue to develop this language of the Self one must re-order tens of thousands of hours of accumulated experience. Consistent actions alone – such as reading a book – is not enough. Language (like the Self) is a social medium and requires people, be it a recovery community or caring partner that has expressed willingness to talk to you about your journey, are needed in order for those new words of the Self to be sounded out. Such places provide a safe space to try on new tonalities of character, inflections of thought and modulation of habits. It allows you to understand other people’s struggles and transitions and thus more accurately determine what sort of future and better Self one can be while also receiving acceptance during the inevitable period of plateau and backsliding inevitable to such a giant task.

Thirdly, it’s best to steer clear of those people, places and situations that evoke use of that first, inherited language. This means avoidance or cessation of relations of those that bring to mind the Self that one seeks to avoid. One can’t learn a new language if one is always listening to speakers of the one already known. As it relates to situations, for a lot of people this typically means avoiding places centered around consumption of alcohol as this was a component of maladaptive behavior and thought acquisition. For many people in today’s economy this can be problematic. More and more millennials are returning home and for those there this have a devastating on their quest for self-betterment.

Without consistent practice of new habits beyond mere consumption, maintaining regular socialization with people aligned with one’s goals, and avoidance of those restimulative people, places and situations a kind of atrophy sets in which leads not only to a reversion to old patterns but oftentimes a denial of them. Denial itself is bad enough, but in the light of the old Self, those that once had helped to facilitate the acquisition of this new language of the Self can come to be seen as enemies. After all the Ego, always seeking always to be right, superior and unharmable, sees such people as a threat because they can recognize the hurt and pain underneath the composed exterior.

In the path to self-betterment, it is important to be committed and honest with oneself when one is temporarily unable to work to acquiring the new language of the Self. Committing to the daily work and remembering whom one’s allies are can certainly be difficult – however being honest means sometimes listening to those that have already gone through like or a similar struggle and thus not allowing that old language of the Self to come back. Additionally one must truly commit to this path for there are no half-steps possible. Commitment to a new conception of forgiveness or love, for example must mean that one TRULY acts in accordance to this new language. It is the only way that fluency will be achieved and the old language can be refuted and unlearned.

The Secret of Embodiment’s Role in Achieving Your Goals

Since the publication of The Secret in 2006, the Laws of Attraction have gained currency amongst many that have sought to bring increased intentionality and positivity to their lives. In helping people to realize that they are not trapped by habit and history in whatever situation they are in it has been phenomenal. However what is missing from such admonitions to change your life is that thinking is merely a first step. It is not enough to merely THINK about what you want to get, you must wholly EMBODY that desire if you want to achieve it. Your body is your unconscious mind and if it is not fully committed to your intention in its core you will have inner conflict that causes attention to be disrupted by the doubtful or opposing intention or thought. The unconscious mind/body is like an iceberg: most of it is beneath the surface. As every thought creates a biological reaction when the body and emotions are not fully aligned then the bodies three brains sends out mixed messages and creates confusion. Neuroscience has clearly demonstrated the importance of the body/mind/emotion alignment for generating strength and focus. This is why it is important to remove and release any opposing thoughts and feelings as they biologically and mentally sabotage success.

To make an analogy, if like-attracts-like is the Law as it is written, than your body’s embodiment of those desires are the enforcers of those desires. Your body can either express a strong, muscular desire or a weak, flabby one. The law can either be followed so that order is maintained or an arbitrary and unjust rule will reign over your actions. As it relates to developing attentiveness, you are likely now wondering which embodiment is most effective for your obtaining your goals. The answer is multi-faceted and depends on what your intention is.

First, you need to have a clear vision of what you really want in a situation. Determine what it is you desire and then write down what steps you need to take in order to obtain it. This reminds you of what needs to be done and allows you to cross them off the paper when you’ve completed a step so you can see that you are progressing towards your goal.

Second, you need to determine the intensity level of your intentions through self-calibration to evaluate which embodiment will be most effective to fulfill each task. Let me give two examples of what I mean. If your intention is to relax at the beach on your vacation, you don’t want to be standing in a rigid position. If you have encountered an immanent threat, you don’t want to lay down. Self-calibration isn’t limited to just yourself, also consider your social and professional network to help you determine what barriers you might encounter. If you don’t have support you can count on, think about how you might be able to get some.

You also want to learn to be able to rapidly adjust to any situation, as they may change during your quest to obtain your goal. Embody a position of strength, but also flexibility. Regardless of external conditions, the collapsed embodiment of an apathetic person destroys attentiveness just as the puffed up embodiment of an enraged individual or the rigid embodiment of a frightened individual causes imbalance and weakens the ability to focus. An attentive embodiment is a strong physical and emotional structure abiding in peace, presence and is congruent to the existent conditions.

Third you want to bring into your awareness any negative inner dialogues you have concerning your desire. A fear of failure because of earlier failed attempts, a feeling you are inadequate and unworthy to reach your goal or a sense of guilt you still carry from hurting others to get what you wanted, all must be acknowledged and forgiven before your core power is totally focused.

Lastly you need to continually self-calibrate. How you feel in each moment allows you to make small adjustments to keep yourself centered. Just like a car, you need to be aware of your fuel and water level, your temperature and speed as otherwise friction and heat can lead to malfunction. To do this you need to have excellent self-communication skills. These helps you manage your internal impulses while maintaining the ability to interact with others in a peaceful connecting way. Inner awareness also helps you establish mutual interests. Self-sensing of your body, emotions, attitude and spatial feelings provide a present time feedback mechanism to direct and guide your thinking, decisions and actions. When not calibrated to your body you live in the virtual world of your mind. You become caught in idolized pictures of perfection, unfulfilled desires and fears. Your goal is to live life with confidence and focus and not to get caught living a virtual existence solely in thoughts. Thinking and imagining certainly have their place, but being present to experience the magnificent diversity of life is far more enjoyable and satisfying.

On Communication and Intention

Intention is embodied in the unconscious mind/body and through the tone used during a communication. When speaking from the ego we often concentrate on the words used as being most significant aspect of a communication. However it is the body’s position and gesticulations, the facial movements and the tone of voice that represent eighty five percent of the message. Most speakers don’t haven’t a clue of the significance of these other aspects and ignore their importance at their peril. This is because confusion can be created when body language says one thing, tone something different and the words another story all together.

Such inconsistency is at the root of many difficulties in relationships. When there are unrecognized conflicts between these essential elements it becomes difficult to determine which message is the one that is actually intended to be conveyed. Effective communication, however, is consistent in each aspect of what is expressed. You may find it very instructive to have someone video some of your interactions when you aren’t aware you are being taped, so you can see first hand the mixed messages you may be sending. This, however, isn’t practical so instead a simple formula to ensure good communication is as follows: it is the responsibility of the originator to ensure their intention is fully comprehended.

That the meaning of a communication is the response the originator receives is not a truth with a wide currency, but it is one that once adopted will drastically improve your communication abilities. If, for instance, after expressing yourself the recipient reacts in a way contrary to the intention of the communicationyou can pause, apologize and acknowledge that a miscommunication transpired so as to restart the cycle of exchange.

One of the reasons why this rule for communication is so effective is that it recognizes that all people’s understanding of language, verbal or corporeal, is inflected by their perceptions, beliefs, wishes, judgments and experience. You might not like their response – as you want it to be in accord with your beliefs, wishes, judgments and experience, but this is a condition that is destined to fail as people are always right from their own perspective! As such it is important to abide by a principle for communication that is less concerned about asserting one’s correctness with it’s cost of disconnection, but one that engenders connection and mutual comprehension.

Another effective communication principle is to take nothing personally. When you honor their perception and respect it, connection is maintained. Change your posture, tone and volume was that lead to the miscommunication and try again in a different manner. Whisper, smile, be gentle as if you were holding a newborn baby in your hands! If your recipient perceives your body language as threatening, your tone as condescending or your volume as angry, they might not really be “there”. These types of transmissions send people into a defensive mode to take personally everything you said. Remember, most people have experienced being yelled at, scolded, or berated at least once in their lives. Until healed, these emotionally charged memories can get triggered by any emotional experience that has any type of similar qualities in it. When a speaker raises their voice or gives a nasty look, many unconsciously regress to a time in their childhood when they were punished or felt threatened. This withdraws attention from the here and now and has them act from there and then! Once you improve your ability to get across what you really intend you develop a better rapport with people. Whatever the specific conditions causing the miscommunication, patience and mindfulness of these principles will help you undo them.

Notes from the Global Leadership Summit

So this weekend I attended the Global Leadership Summit at Palm Beach Community Church. This event brings together a wide range of noted business, church, government and social leaders at the Willow Creek theatre and is then broadcast simultaneously throughout the globe to different viewing locations.

On Friday Susan Cain and Patrick Lencioni spoke and both of them presented what I would consider to be variations of the speeches that gave at the World Leadership Conference. Bryan Loritts, however, was new to me and I found his speech on instigating change through personal sacrifice to be a highly thoughtful meditation on the manner in which the minor alteration of certain habits and beliefs can bring about large changes in our lives. He gave examples of how it is that our being accustomed to be in a decision making position can sometimes lead us to overestimate our perspective at the expense of others. Loritts framed this within an explicitly Christian context. He said that our attachments to aspects of our perspective must be abandoned to better exemplify our beliefs in the eternal oneness of humanity. A series of general prohibitions, which reminded me of the better aspects of Catholicism, followed with illustrations how such attachments can bring about poor dynamics in an organization. The examples that he gave were all related to the modern workplace and made me think about a conversation I recently had with Steve DeMoss, founder of Word in Deed ministries.

Over dinner he’d described the need for the values educations found in missionary work as often times in the places of dire poverty that he did mission work in Africa the moral reasoning which was prevalent was so short-term that workers would, for example, sooner steal goods to pawn for an equivalent of a months pay made in a day rather than work daily for weekly wages. Getting back on track, this long time, eternal orientation was one not devoid of attachments but aware of their operation on the spirit – a compelling imperative for the self to live by indeed! Carly Fiorina’s perspective on the manner in which it is important to use multiple markers for assessing performance and its relationship to continuous, successful innovation were some of the primary characteristics of a successful leader. Her role as the president of HP certainly gives her message an import based not solely on research but also on practical application.

On Saturday I especially liked the first featured presenter, Joseph Grenney, author of the book Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High. Crucial conversations are those defined by their having high stakes, opposing opinions and strong emotions. Indeed the health of an organization is the degree to which certain subjects are wholly taboo or limited in such a scope that it prevents real positive adaptation. Grenney pointed out how often when people are forced to engage in such crucial conversations they often fare poorly. This type of aversion should be avoided, however, as people that are unable to talk it out will often act it out and because it can generally negatively affect the behavior at the workplace. Crucial conversation need not to be see too much as a contest amongst conflicting positions, but a trust-building accelerant to intimacy and better organizational efficiency. To make sure that the conversations are candid, organizations need to make sure that people are safe. The ingredients of safety are the recognition of mutual purpose, mutual respect and mutual movement forward. By recalling this alignment of current intentions, value for each other and agreement on how things will go into the future organizations are able to set up a smooth pattern for how interactions will be in the future.

I was less impressed with Erica Ariel Fox, author of Winning from Within: A Breakthrough Method for Leading, Living, and Lasting Change. The speech seemed to drag with unfunny jokes and anecdotes that were too long for the point that they were trying to convey. She did, however, speak of two things that I found rewarding. The first of these are performance gaps, or the space between people’s potential and their actual behavior and how it was the quality of a great leader to be able to identify them and work with people to close them. What precisely this form of measurement is she didn’t go into great detail about, but as someone that’s been lately learning about life coaching and psychoanalysis for personal and professional growth and development it didn’t bother me that much. The second point that she made is how biochemically our brains are more like an orchestra than a soloist. According to her we have four major internal forces/spirits; The Dreamer, The Thinker, The Lover and The Warrior. We also have a number of minor roles, but she didn’t delve into this instead talking about the four major roles. The Dreamer is the creator of possibilities that sets strategic vision, the Thinker analyses data and clarifies perspective, the Lover manages relationships and feels emotions while the Warrior catalyzes performance, takes action, speaks truth and helps reach goals. Worth noting is how I see a certain similarity to the work of Carolynn Myss, and other Eastern inspired psychologists such as C. G. Jung, that also sees a benefit in fixation upon certain recurrent characters found in an archetypal form. This is worth talking about more, but not here and now.

Later came Don Flow, who also kind of ambled his way through his speech. He seemed to me to be exhibiting a loving swagger that was perhaps fitting for those that knew him but didn’t particularly translate well for me. That said, I did really like his thoughts on love and serving. Living love means that we are called to be with people while to serve mean to display Self-Respect, Earn Trust, Reach for Perfection, Value input and Energize others. To me this is a great little acronym and mnemonic device in order to recall those components. All in all I had a great time there, am grateful that I was able to attend and look forward to being in situations where I can put this knowledge to practice.

Review of Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead

Being vulnerable in our personal lives is difficult for many people. Behaving from a place of openness can give us a feeling of emotional exposure, uncertainty and even risk involved in speaking up. As expression of one’s thoughts, fears and desires openly and honestly with a partner, a child or a co-worker can lead to feeling judged many people quell their concerns and simply hope for the best. However unless we have these Crucial Conversations than our romantic lives are not as fulfilling, our familial dynamic can be thrown into imbalances and the business and civic organizations we are a part of can lose their dynamism and decay. In order to illustrate the importance of embracing vulnerability Dr. Brene Brown in her book Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead shows how it is that vulnerability and shame emerges and operates within our current social topography and how to combat it. After all, allowing this influence to continue to operate unopposed means that we live a life with a dearth of mutual connection, trust and engagement with others. Wholeheartedness, the willingness to act from a place that is open, present and vulnerable, gives us the opportunity to genuinely be embedded in our world, for good or bad.

Dr. Brown’s research first distinguishes between shame and guilt and their relation to vulnerability. Shame is connected to being language (I am a screw-up, I am a liar, I am not worthy) while guilt is related to action language (I have made mistakes, I have lied, I made mistakes). While it may seem a trivial manner of categorizing, the adoption of such logics by the psyche has wide-reaching implications that neuro-psychologists give significant credence to. On a more practical level, use of the former prevents personal self-transformation while the latter is the means by which we can gain control over our personal narrative. This is why if one’s self-talk denigrates and self-destructs an effort must be made to acculturate oneself to a different understanding of themselves and thus their value.

Dr. Brown then shows that vulnerability is not weakness, but a form of courage. It indicates a full engagement with the matter at hand rather than ironic, traumatic or ideological detachment. This can be daunting to embody given the shame-prone culture within which many people live, and further requires that one feel genuinely loveable and worthy of good things, however to not do so is to have our happiness forever dampened due to our unwillingness to engage.

Another point that Dr. Brown pulls from her research is how people often feel ashamed due to hypothesized external judgments that can empty otherwise genuine joy. For example, despite the fact that extensive social science research shows that people are most satisfied with purchases of experiences such as vacations or nights out, due to the social nature of reality people can become fooled into the idea that by spending money on status goods they will be happy. Once comparison compulsion rather than personal values or the words of other people rather than your own principles have control over your emotional life you are immediately enfeebled because of it. Ideas that limit our capacity for wholeheartedness include not only comparisons to other people, but also nostalgia for the past and the general feeling of unworthiness caused by essentialism. People in our lives that tell us we are not good enough, perfect enough, smart enough, “anything” enough as well as saying things such as we’re too unmotivated, not worthy of love, crazy, etc. perform the same function. By limiting these thoughts occurrence and our interaction with those people that claim our being as something we don’t want we are able to gain more freedom for ourselves to be vulnerable and thus happy.

One of the research conclusions that Dr. Brown’s makes that I resonated with is how: “When we pretend that we can avoid vulnerability we engage in behaviors that are often inconsistent with who we want to be. Experiencing vulnerability isn’t a choice – the only choice we have is how we’re going to respond when we are confronted with uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure.” (45). While I think the broad implications are clear, bear with me as I pull them out. People crave the feeling of vulnerability as it allows the armoring that we have produced from numerous interactions to be reduced or even disappear. However it is possible that as a result of a previous painful incident, be it work, familial or romantic relationship, we may seek for the sake of our “future self” to be protected from such violations by repressing that softer side of ourselves. Thus when we act in a manner that seeks to deny our vulnerability, we are actually acting counter to what we really wish for. I’ve seen this most often when people have a romantic relationship has ended and they describe themselves as feeling emotionally dead or drained. Their vulnerability, their hopes, their desires are all seemingly dashed and the idea of starting over again seems like a fool’s errand. If we are to be truly happy, at least according to Dr. Brown’s research, than this is exactly what we must do.

Another point that I really enjoyed about Dr. Brown’s book is the need for discomfort at times. People generally, especially those in leadership positions that want to see their employees apply critical thinking, need to normalize the awkwardness that allows for honest exchange. In the crucial conversations that we have with those around us we must expect and be OK with handling anxiety, fear and shame. Allowing their occasional appearance should become normal and the fewer the “forbidden topics” there are is an indication of organizational/relationship strength. Vulnerability is at the heart of the feedback process and it is through this process that growth develops. Lacking it we are armed from the past and stunted, unable to move forward and instead of living life to the lees it’s as if we’re always about to leave. And being caught in such a flight pattern means that we are living with distress and fear.

Review of "The Five Love Languages"

Five Love Languages in a nutshell
Five Love Languages in a nutshell

The general content of Gary Chapman’s book The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts is easily summarized. Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service and Physical Touch are the five ways that people are able to perceive the love of their partner. The presence or absence of these acts within the love relationship will determine whether the emotions evoked from the daily exchanges are good or bad. A repeated metaphor that Chapman uses is that of the gasoline tank. Having a full tank means that one is filled from one’s partner expressing love in the manner that they expressed they preferred to their partner while a low tank means there is no expression of love whatsoever or they are expressing it in a manner that is not aligned with their partners wishes. This is a very important distinction not only as it determines the quality of the love relationship, but the entire perspective of each party involved. Writing on the wider effects of this love tank, Chapman writes on page 37:

“When your spouse’s emotional love tank is full and he feels secure in your love, the whole world looks bright and your spouse will move out to reach his highest potential in life. But when the love tank is empty and he feels used but not loved, the whole world looks dark and he will likely never reach his potential for good in the world.”

As such a powerful determinant of our perception of reality, Chapman strongly encourages his readers to become more fluent in their understanding of their own desires and the desires of their partner so as to increase their capacity for and ease in obtaining peace of mind and happiness. If psychologist William James is correct is stating that the deepest human need is that for appreciation – these are the means of expressing that appreciation.

In order to better do this Chapman distinguishes between being “in love”, which he says is more aptly classified as limerence, and loving someone. The feeling of being “in love” is a more or less temporary madness that other research has likened to a period of intense intoxication due to the mind-body’s ready release of various pleasurable neurotransmitters. Being “in love” is a dangerous state of being as it is one of almost total fixation that will cause someone to pay no heed to work, school other aspects of life. Research tell us that this feeling, however, lasts at most a mere two years and it is only with the practice of these interpersonal exchanges that it can grow to a love that it more mature and rewarding as it is predicated on choice.

Chapman’s valorization of choice moves beyond this into his description of the first love language, Words of Affirmation. This is not just to give encouragement, but to also bring attention to the manner in which we comprehend the relationship and share that understanding with our partner. For instance, by bringing in the option of choice in exchanges, ie. “Could you please..?” instead of demands “I want you to…” a sense of autonomy is emphasized that allows for agency to develop. He further emphasizes the power of words as it relates to the role of forgiveness. He states that we can either chose to be Judges, and thus gradually disrupt and destroy the relationship, or Forgivers. Once Judgment is kept a permanent distance is created. Emphasizing the power of it’s opposite he states: “The best thing we can do with the failures of the past is to let them be history… Forgiveness is not a feeling; it is a commitment. It is a choice to show mercy, not to hold the offense up against the offender. Forgiveness is an expression of love” (47).

Chapman is clear that there is often more than one love language present spoken by our partner and that we must be open to listening to what it is that they say they want rather than expressing to them what it is that we want or what it is that we have learned that we are supposed to do based upon our familiar upbringing or cultural messages. Failing to be aware of them is, in essence, to fail the relationship as true love liberates and lacking such a mutually beneficial dynamic then it does not meet this standard.

Throughout the book, Chapman provides anecdotes based upon his counseling practice on how people’s increased ability to read their partner’s needs for Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service and Physical Touch and giving it to them radically changed their relationship. The application of them, as the stories included by Chapman shows, is not always easy as a partner may be running on an empty tank and thus slow to register improvement – but over a long enough period the committed person is always able to accomplish their goal. Minor changes in inter-personal exchange can result in major changes for both the individuals and the relationship. There are plenty of short thought experiments in the form of questions directed at the reader to help them realize how it is to better obtain this knowledge about one’s relationship and they are in a format that does not break up the pacing of the book. For these and many other reasons I can foresee myself heartily recommending this book in my private practice to couples in search of counseling.

Prayer as a Practice of Spiritual Alchemy: Why and How to Create Moments of Ritual Mindfulness

The saying of prayers before the performance of a certain rites is a recurrent practice through varied religions, be it before the taking an animal’s life, before a meal, when giving dues to the dead, the dawn of the day, the birth of a child, or saying blessings before the beginning of a season. The context is myriad but the form is the same: words and actions are tied together in aspiration for a specific sentiments actualization.

While the rationale for some such religious actions may be based on a conceived need to appease or please a deity, it’s important that those that are more scientifically minded not conceive of themselves as superior without seeing the deeper truth underlying such acts of “magic”. Thinking responsibility, and thus examining and testing our presuppositions, we learn that the vocalizer and the experiencer of those vibrations are in fact actively practicing manufacturing upon the plasticity that is their mind and body.

In a manner similar to that of a camera, that upon which our consciousness reflects gives form to our thoughts. This, combined with other elements, determines how it is that our psyche is constructed and thus how we view the world. Just as changing one’s environment, purposive social interaction for positive transformation and actively re-educating oneself are three manners in which to accelerate positive self-transformation cognitively, so too is prayer.

Establishing certain times during the day to remind ourselves of the manifold possibilities held within our True Nature’s potency can be a powerful practice on the path towards self-liberation. Doing so during the many moments in which we normally take care of our body – such as when we feed it or just before we go to sleep – or act in a ritualistic manner are especially powerful due to their daily recurrence.

One such daily action ripe for prayer is bathing or showering. When doing so we are literally removing secretions and things that have attached to us that we do not want: a fittingly poetic moment to own with intention if ever there was one! An example of a short prayer that one could repeat in such a situation is as follows:

As I wash my body I also clean my spirit and mind
And return to the state of essence purified
The best of the day stays while the rest leaves
Exiting through the trunk and extremities

Writing your own prayers based upon your self-proclaimed values is a wonderfully creative method of expanding your spiritual practice. While it need not conform to any structure or stricture other than that which you think is appropriate, making some reference to the acts that you are performing at the moment will increase it’s resonance.

If you want, following this opening prayer, you can also allow yourself to alight upon specific examples of non-alignment with your values you perceived or experienced through the day. After you’ve noticed their emergence, you should forgive yourself for the false thinking that allowed it to emerge and restate your intentions and commitment to being clear of heart and mind in your future actions.