The Violence of Interpretation

Photo by Patrick Hendry on Unsplash

I know this is an intense title. Just stick with me for a minute. I chose the word “violence” because it feels most appropriate, although it is important to understand that what we are talking about here is incredibly subtle.

In my work as a clinician, and as a therapist in private practice, I found early on that I love applying my mind, my subtle perception, and everything I’ve studied, experienced and know about human development and the human condition, to the presenting issue that has brought someone to therapy. There is a kind of perception going on in the consulting room that transcends that of everyday interactions. My whole body feels like an instrument, and most importantly, my heart, an embodied (and somehow, simultaneously, a metaphysical) place that can develop the most refined and important perception of all.

There is immense satisfaction, for me (selfishly), in finding that I am able to help someone understand a longstanding life issue in a radically new way, or that I am able to assist others in expanding their awareness of the true etiology of a current pain point, and in so doing, shift it at the root.

In an ideal situation, I facilitate these subtle goals of therapy by skillfully guiding and nudging, and by trying my best to keep any current, working interpretation as a moving, living hypothesis, alive with what Einstein called holy curiosity. I should get into the tail of each client’s healing comet, as it were, and track them, validate them, support them, mirror them (accurately and lovingly), and hold my lantern next to theirs as we make our way through a dark forest to the client’s final arrival at their own answers, their own embodied epiphanies about who they are, and how things came to be as they are. Ideally, the client should be the white rabbit, and I should be Alice, trying to discover where it is the rabbit is headed, and continuing to follow the rabbit on its own adventure.

This is one dimension of good psychotherapy. There is another dimension, though. Each client lives in a subjective world, and I also live in a subjective world. Rather than trying to pull the client into my “correct” or “professional” subjective understanding, I should try to get as much into their understanding as I can, and join them there, and then together, join our understandings in order to arrive at a somewhat more objective understanding. Both of us are transformed. My understanding of this is very visual. I imagine each subjective understanding as an enclosed understanding “on the ground,” as it were, and the new, more objective understanding that we will arrive at together, as a third enclosed understanding, above and between the original two.

And yet there is another dimension. As I track and follow each client in their process, I am putting pieces together, and I am starting to “see” things that they perhaps do not see. At times, I imagine that it may be the right moment to offer to the client what it is that I “see,” in order to assist them in expanding their awareness into their unknown unknowns (we all have them). Read: an interpretation. I have noticed that the responses to this can vary.

On the one hand, this kind of offered interpretation is received almost as an epiphany, or the facilitator of an epiphany of some kind. At other times, it is received as if I am a violinist in a symphony orchestra who showed up to rehearsal without having tuned my instrument. In other words, it feels discordant. It does not “resonate”. In both cases, I am fairly convinced that people are far more sensitive and subtly aware than they give themselves credit for, and that these acts of interpretation can be perceived as the most subtle affront, or the most subtle danger. Even when the interpretation “resonates,” it is almost like finding that someone can see through your clothes, or they can see through your closet door and have some sense of what is behind it. I concede that even when the interpretation does not “resonate,” it may very well be right on target. (Interesting to note that the first synonyms that come up for “accurate” in the dictionary are “precise,” “on target,” “unerring,” “deadly,” and, “lethal”.)

Let me explain. Many schools of psychotherapeutic thought, and even some contemplative traditions, include some rendition of the idea that we each contain an internal community, or an internal committee. Some of these internal “parts” might be more accurately referred to even as “fragments” (aspects of self that split off at various intervals in early life, while we were being socialized). The psyche seems to organize itself in such a way that the fragments, or parts, that we learned were not desirable and would not guarantee our ongoing access to safety and love, were buried, pushed into the closet, repressed, rejected, denied, disowned (however you want to say it). They are pushed away from the front-side (conscious) personality that constructs itself in order to survive well in its environment. (Note that this process is taking place most dramatically in childhood, and many of us grew up in early environments that caused us to develop adaptations that actually would not be adaptive in the world outside the home, but there’s not enough space for that subject here.)

I propose that when an interpretation does not resonate at all, or even especially, when there is a strong negative reaction to it, it may be that the defenses of the front-side, conscious personality are springing up in order to keep that fragment in the closet. To the conscious, front-side personality, this kind of interpretation is received as a dollop of ketchup on an ice cream sundae. It does not resonate, it does not go together, and the immediate reaction is repulsion in some form. And, of course, there is always the possibility that I am wrong. **Insert tears of laughter emoji**

This is why therapists have to be incredibly skilled in getting all of the client feeling safe and on board early on, even naming that there may be moments when therapy begins to represent every place your conscious, day-to-day personality does not want to go. I consider the resistance to awareness, or integration, in this case, or “the wall,” as another “part” of the self that deserves to be lovingly worked with and understood, just like all the other “parts”. It is also useful to clarify early on (even during the first consultation call) that this is the kind of work I do, and to ensure that my ideal clients are able to push through the discomfort that can arise in the early stages, and to ensure that they have some sense that the process will ultimately be incredibly rewarding. I have to quote Jung here to give some sense of the treasure hidden in the parts of our selves that we relegate to shadow, or to the unconscious: The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.

There is a place for interpretation in therapy. I try to pass each interpretation or hunch through my heart before I offer it, checking that the intention of offering it is to propel the client along on their path, not to impress or wow them with my high-powered perception. (Hey, I’m human. We all have to check our intentions regularly. Daily.) The ultimate goal is integration, becoming who we truly are, what Jung called individuation. I view it as a process of soul-making; a process that deeply, unspeakably enriches the life of anyone called to begin it. Click the link below to schedule a free 20-minute consultation call with me to find out more.

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Why Red?

Photo by Loïc Fürhoff on Unsplash

Since the Kali dream, red has become more than just a color to me. Now it is charged with far more meaning. It represents the sacredness of the body, birth, and sexuality. It represents the generosity of a broken-open heart that radiates unfaltering love like an uncapped fire hydrant. Red represents the kind of love that reaches the places where we are most broken and most vulnerable. Red is the color of Mary Magdalene’s cape, the goddess Kali’s tongue, and Dinah’s tent or menstrual hut, in the Torah. With the Kali dream, red, for me, became a sacred reminder of the truth I had been converted to– that the Divine is also feminine. -Meggan Watterson, Reveal

Once again, at risk of sharing more about myself than propriety would encourage, my relationship with red began in 2015, when I read The Pregnant Virgin: A Process of Psychological Transformation by the great Jungian analyst Marion Woodman. The book contains anecdotes from Woodman’s work with some of her female analysands over the decades. Many of the woman were becoming ‘virgin,’ in the Woodman sense, not in the biblical sense. Think virgin rain forest-virgin, not never-had-sex-virgin. They were becoming one unto themselves, undivided, allowing their bodies to work through ancient rage, and coming all the way out the other side, as full, individuated women. It is a process of soul-making, soul-finding or soul reclamation. One woman stated that, in the midst of this process, she returned home from buying groceries after a day at her typical, breathless clip, blustering through her seemingly frantic daily activities, and after the door closed, she dropped the grocery bags and dropped to her knees, and stayed like that for a while. When she picked herself back up, she began to move around the house slowly, holding herself with complete reverence, like a priestess, she said. Often, profound dreams accompanied these processes of transformation, and all kinds of reclamations.

As I read, I felt myself entering the kind of process described in the book. In the midst of profound dreams, a deeper level of embodiment than I’d yet known, and all manner of synchronicities, I found myself craving the color red as if it was a nutrient I’d been deficient in my entire life. I had always identified as a ‘cool-colored person,’ if there is such a thing. Red was a profound reclamation for me. I wanted to be wrapped in it– I wanted red sheets, I wanted a red tent. I had no idea, still, what it all meant, but this process felt precious, even sacred, to me.

After the initial influence of this book began to wane, I was listening to Tami Simon’s podcast, Sounds True, one day, and I stumbled upon a recording that I hadn’t heard yet. The nerves in my legs felt electric when I saw the title: Red, Hot, and Holy, an interview with Harvard-trained theologian, Sera Beak. It felt like another synchronicity, another wink, another indication that maybe I had been “onto something” with my red kick.

I immediately gobbled all three of Sera’s books, The Red Book, Red, Hot and Holy, and Redvelations. I learned of Saint Sarah, or Sara-la-Kali, or Sarah the Black, the apocryphal daughter of Jesus and Mary Magdalene (whose nickname, as it happens, had been Red), patron saint of misfits and outcasts. There is a shrine dedicated to her at Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer in southern France, where Romani people make pilgrimages each year and carry her effigy, in her red cape, down to the sea, where it is said the three Marys arrived on a boat as asylums after the crucifixion of Christ.

Whether you believe these stories are literally true, or just allegories, I feel an ancient and holy resonance through them, as if there is some lineage I can feel in them, and my soul knows that lineage, or hungers to return to it. It feels like a sacred feminine lineage. And I do not choose the word ‘feminine’ as a way to exclude anyone from a sense of this lineage on the basis of gender, as I believe we all contain the energies that might be described as ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’. It’s just that the feminine side of divinity has been excluded from the Western tradition for the last two millennia. Red became a reclamation of vitality, and my yes to life, all of it, as profound and as difficult as that can be.

Then, as fate would have it, I found the work of Meggan Watterson, a scholar of Divinity and Theological Studies. She has dedicated her life to unearthing the soul and the meaning of the buried Gospels of Mary Magdalene, and the meaning is feminist, it is beautiful, and it could not be more revolutionary. (Note: Her latest book, Mary Magdalene Revealed is beautiful, and red.) To put it very simply, the central teaching of those (literally) buried gospels is that no one needs any institution, other “more holy” person or intermediary of any kind to access the divine. It is right here, all the time, in the human heart. You can see why this was buried.

Meggan’s sense of red representing the kind of love that reaches the places where we are most broken and vulnerable is perfectly in line with the way I work in my practice. I lean much, much more into depth-oriented approaches than approaches geared towards excising what is unwanted. My approach treats the “problem” areas, the unwanted aspects of ourselves, or whatever we have relegated to shadow, as holding the key to our salvation, so that what seems to be in the way is the way. Meggan calls it healing all the way back and all the way through. It is an integration-oriented approach, an approach designed to help people become undivided, and able to love themselves all the way to the ground. Click the link below to call me for a free consultation and find out more.

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The Modern Resurgence of Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy: What the Heck? Is this for Me?

Photo by Dmitry Zvolskiy

We’ve all heard the name Freud. Often the name is thrown around as a synonym for silly preoccupations with mother-lust, castration fear or penis envy. The bizarre and eyebrow-raising features of an isolated working model for understanding human suffering that ought to be relegated to the historical dust bin, right?

And why ever take seriously this quirky, historical system of ideas when we have a simple, structured, step-by-step, evidence-based approach endorsed by basically all major insurance companies, i.e., CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy)? It is so seductive (for both therapists and clients) to imagine that happiness, wellness, and “getting better” will be a streamlined, structured, quick set of explorations of one’s glitches in thinking.

A rigorous study of psychoanalysis, weighed against “treatment as usual” (usually involving CBT) was published by London’s Tavistock Clinic in 2015 showed that 18 months of psychoanalysis were actually far more effective and had far more long-lasting results, than “treatment as usual”. This study was preceded by a series of studies and meta-analyses going back to the 1990s yielding similar conclusions.

Let me quickly make it clear that psychoanalysis, and psychoanalytic psychotherapy, is not all about analyzing the client’s or patient’s lust for a parent, their castration fear, or their penis envy. Far from it. I have attended numerous trainings at the Jung Institute in San Francisco, and I have attended an intensive training with one of the greatest living analysts, Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes, and I employ psychoanalytic techniques and theoretical orientations in my work regularly. I have never mentioned, or even been concerned, with any of the typical, ludicrous-seeming emblems of Freudian psychoanalysis. What seems to differentiate this kind of approach from a more CBT-style approach is a fundamental disagreement about the nature of human suffering, and how to ease it.

According to a more CBT-style approach, the symptoms or problems with which someone comes into the therapy office are seen as problematic growths to be excised as rapidly as possible. According to a more psychoanalytic approach, the symptoms or problems with which someone comes into the therapy office carry a deeper meaning which is unique to the individual, and deserve to be understood in the context of the individual’s depths and complexity, the full dimensions of which are rarely (if ever) fully appreciated or grasped, even by the individual herself. A psychoanalytic approach requires for the therapist to constantly apply her mind, in each moment, to the unique multitudes of the individual before her, and to remain curious about the underlying cause(s) of the distress.

I’ve always been fascinated by people’s stories, and by the uniqueness and depth of each human experience, and by the complexity of human emotional life. So naturally, a more psychoanalytic approach appeals to me a great deal. And it really appeals to many others a great deal. But it doesn’t appeal to all. And that’s okay!

What it comes down to is the individual’s underlying assumptions about the nature of human suffering, and of their own suffering, and thereby, what kind of approach most agrees with them. Of course, there is no one therapeutic approach that is the silver-bullet for all psychological maladies. And CBT does have its merits. I often weave some CBT techniques into my approach with clients who are not interested in going “deeper” (through EMDR, or through the use of a more psychoanalytic approach), or with clients with whom I do discern some glaring cognitive errors, and for whom some basic Socratic questioning might ease suffering significantly in the short-term. It’s part of the basic triaging of concerns that I am constantly doing with clients as I tailor therapy to them and what they are bringing in week-by-week in the beginning, middle and end of the arc of therapy.

If you are curious about whether a more psychoanalytic approach is appropriate for you, ask yourself, Am I willing to view my symptoms or problems as doorways into a deeper, and more compassionate understanding of myself and my astonishing depths, and thereby, transmute and integrate them? Or would I prefer an approach that helps me to eradicate my symptoms or problems as efficiently as possible? There is no right or wrong answer to this. And yet it would certainly be helpful to ponder this in your selection of a therapist, and in your ongoing search for a therapist, with the the overwhelming array of choices.

If you’re interested in a more depth-oriented, or psychoanalytic, approach, click the link here to schedule a consultation and see if we’d be well-matched!

Perennial Wisdom as Medicine for the Global Community

Photo by Matthias Zomer

The United States of America as we currently know them represent the first time that human beings have ever tried to live together in a mass, multi-cultural, democratic republic. Other modern nations or historical empires have attempted to be one, two, or three of these, but never all four at once, technically speaking. For that reason, I’ve always felt that this country has an important role to play in making peace and in demonstrating peace between and among differing groups of people living together, however great the remaining distance we have yet to cross before fully realizing that.

The reason I begin this tract of writing with this statement is that, with the advent of the worldwide web, we are now more “connected” than we have ever been with our fellows on the other side of the planet. And with shared existential threats (probably the most important being the ecological crisis, as well as the possibility of nuclear disaster), we really should be connecting and coming together like never before, I would hope.

I am not declaring that the entire planet is now or should be a “mass, multi-cultural, democratic republic”. But it has become, or is becoming a mass, multi-cultural community– a global community.

As the global community becomes more real, people from all walks of life and all cultures can interact freely on the internet. People with different political and religious beliefs. People from different cultural backgrounds. At times, the global community seems like a forum for feuding and chaos, rampant misunderstanding, or lack of trying to understand.

I’ve always been interested in the common threads that I could find through different philosophies, different religions and different wisdom traditions. It’s very simple, really. I’m sure you already know what they are.

I am no expert, but in my studies and in the traditions I have been exposed to so far, it seems the perennial tenets of all the world’s great traditions are:

Love. Compassion. Service. Understanding. Tolerance. Self-Examination. Contemplation. Humility. Oneness. Kindness. Non-resistance. Building a beautiful inner citadel in order to be less and less bothered by the “wins” and “losses” of the external world. Building it through connection to what might be called the heart, and its perennial radiance and warmth. Many of the traditions have some tenet which is akin to what we would call “the golden rule”: Treat others the way you would like to be treated. Some go as far as to say that the entire history of the cosmos is pretending to be the person in front of you, the cat in front of you, the leaf in front of you. I suppose I would greet and treat the entire history of the cosmos with joy, awe and reverence. Similarly, Mother Theresa would say that each person she served was Christ, was the divine light. In that way, her devotion and service to others was always devotion and service to the divine. And Russel Brand, in an interview, mentioned the Christian mystical idea that when another person is treating you badly, the Christ within them is crying out to you to be loved and saved. I do not identify as Christian. I identify as a peculiar agnostic who chooses to have faith in the divinity in all beings, somehow, as long as I possibly can.

My hope is that we as a species, at this critical turning point, will be able to hold onto our perennial wisdom, which is one of the things that makes us great.

I can imagine readers thinking, also, of all the things that do not seem to make us so great. The tack I take with that, on a global and historical level, on a public interaction level, on an intimate interpersonal level, and even at the level of my relationship to myself is this: Perhaps the divine human task is to love through all of that. To love through the shit, if you will. Often it is done with great sorrow, and great care. In this way, we are fully human and fully divine, both, at the same time, perfectly. It makes me think of my favorite line from A Course in Miracles:

“the holiest place on earth is where an ancient hatred has become a present love.”

Have a beautiful week 🙂

Contact me if you want to talk about this stuff. I’m a therapist, but I also like just talking to people just because sometimes, and I certainly like fueling these important conversations.

Feminine Rage: What is It? How is it Different from Anger? What to Do.

Photo by Min An

Scary, huh? Whether it’s welling up inside your own body, or whether you are witnessing it in another. Well, that’s what the culture would have us think.

According to the yogic tradition (on which, I am certainly no expert), all emotions are holy. They speak truth. For those of us who have difficulty with our emotional lives, this can be a useful idea. Turn your emotional awareness practice into a spiritual practice, right?

But rage is different from regular old anger. The lever for rage (unlike anger) is not tripped by any one, specific, identifiable thing. Rage, once it is tapped into, feels like it is beginningless, endless, limitless, transpersonal, even historical, even ancestral. It burns like an unholy fire, or like the froth on top of a bottomless lake of howling, unmanageable despair. Allowing it feels like allowing an uncontained wildfire.

At risk of sharing too much about myself, I attended a Psychedelic Integration workshop in January this year, co-hosted by a licensed marriage and family therapist and a nurse practitioner. At one point, we were supposed to partner up and practice a Jillian Wellwood exercise for accessing our least favorite emotions. The exercise goes like this: You sit across from your partner, facing each other, so that your partner can witness you. You begin to repeat the phrase, “I am willing to feel my [insert emotion you are typically not fond of feeling],” while stating what you are feeling in your body between each affirmation, as the emotion begins to move and shift.

Well, I chose “anger”. Anger was hot. It started in my stomach and moved up as a red heat in my face and ears. By the time all that red, hot anger got into my face, I was surprised by the tears that came into my eyes. I started to cry. I enunciated, almost not even completely believing the words myself, “I was never allowed to be . . . a full . . . person.” Then I began to sob. Uncontrollably. One of the CIIS workshop attendants noticed this and made his way over to me with a box of tissues. He asked me if I wanted to step outside. I did, kind of. I knew that what I had just dropped into was so big that I literally needed someone to hold me while I howled. But I didn’t know him. Was it a safe place for that kind of major emotional release that I never even knew I was needing? Would people decide I was the “unstable” one in the group? What would happen?

Meanwhile, my partner packed up his “integration” gear and made his way off of the premises. We never switched roles. I held myself and convulsed, stemming a river of tears, alone, for the second half of the exercise. His departure did not surprise me. I had a strong gut feeling (aided, of course, by the non-verbal indicators of glassy eyes and a strange, distant, careful manner) that my partner truly was integrating some kind of heavy psychedelic experience of the day and/or night before, and that my *shit* was probably just too much for him to witness in that moment. I could respect that, I supposed.

And yet, I left feeling like I’m still carrying this bottomless well of wild, compartmentalized grief inside of me. If the workshop was not the appropriate place for opening it up and understanding it, well it would go on my list of “things I need to attend to at some point”.

Pause. I want to make it clear at this point that my statement (which I surprised even myself by making) that I was never allowed to be “a full person” was not directed at any one person in particular, any parent or caregiver, school, job, friend or lover. It was a wild thing to say, precisely because it came from the inner wild of what is absolutely true in my experience, and possibly also in the experiences of many others designated as ‘female’. There is more to say here, but I want to bend this tract of writing at this point more in the direction of the universal.

There are damn good reasons to feel enraged, and to feel grief and despair as a citizen of this country and as a sentient, female animal packing a prefrontal cortex on this planet. It’s just that these particular ‘transpersonal’ feelings (if you will) can feel so uncontained, so wild, and so endless, that many of us find ways to tuck them away, compartmentalize them, repress, deny or disown them. This is especially the case if we were socialized to be “nice” and “pleasing” at all times and at all costs. Oftentimes this is done through some form of socially acceptable, addictive, numbing or comatic behavior. Surveys seems to indicate that both identified men and women are uncomfortable with “female anger”. An angry woman is hysterical, crazy, or a bitch, right?

Perhaps feminine rage and despair deserve to be honored, and can be transmuted into a practice. Lord knows they can push people into action. Political action, artistic action, or radical truth-speaking action in any one of the myriad forms it can take.

I think of Sylvia Plath’s poems. Her rage sometimes leaks like a not-so-secret, defiant tear of blood out of the masterfully crafted containment of a poem, sitting neatly on the page, naked and absolutely true. I also think of Courtney Love’s anthems, described by Barbra Walters as “music with teeth”. Say what you will about Courtney. She certainly embodied feminine rage. I also think of so many of the badass feminist activists of all the waves of this country’s history.

I hope to embolden readers to honor not only their day-by-day, moment-by-moment emotional lives, but to also honor any aspect of your “feeling” life that taps into something that feels bigger than you, historical, ancestral or transpersonal, and to transmute it into productive, desperately needed action, or art. Feminine rage feels like a place where all has been violated and stripped, even the most sacred and secret places. But consider the Pablo Neruda line, “They can cut all the flowers, but they can’t stop the Spring.”

Any one of the fierce feminine deities of the world’s traditions could be a guiding image for this practice. Having been brought up Catholic, and having studied the Black Madonna to some degree, I think of Her energy as being the right kind of energy to transmute anything that feels scary, hidden or “dark” into something sacred, useful and loved. In a recent interview, comparative religions scholar Meggan Watterson stated that when she visited a Black Madonna shrine in France, all of the women passed the “regular” Virgin Mary statue and bee lined straight to the Black Madonna, sometimes falling to their knees, sometimes reaching for Her feet, to anoint them with tears. When she asked why, one of the women shared, “She has been through the fires. She knows our pain.”

The right practice may not look the same for everyone. Whatever emotions or feelings you typically compartmentalize could contain a blend of rage and anger: Valid anger about some chronic, ongoing, current situation as well as some rage about childhood abuse or rage about systemic, historical injustice as you’ve experienced or witnessed it. The right practice for facing and managing these emotions does not come in a one-size-fits-all formula. The only direction I do want to offer, however, is this: Anger about a current situation can feel hot and strong in the moment, and it is often related to the ego. It feels like getting “ticked off”. I don’t want to demonize the ego. It helps you know whose mouth to put food into. What I would encourage for moments of being righteously ticked off are practices like emotional vipassana, or a practice called ‘self-emptying love’ from the Gnostic gospels — Any practice that allows you to witness and validate yourself, to love yourself enough to be present with yourself in this difficult emotional state. And once the reaction has been witnessed sufficiently, the response to the situation that pissed you off can be chosen. And I would emphasize that these practices are like going to the gym. You don’t just lift weights one day and then you’re jacked for life. You are going to get righteously ticked off again. And again, and again.

When it comes to rage, on the other hand, you may want to make a special trip for this one. Buy a whole bunch of brand new dishware, drive out into the desert and smash it all. Find some yawning chasm in the earth and scream into it until you lose your voice. Give it a name. Give it a guiding image. Again, the world’s traditions offer many options. Imagine this holy image when it flares up in day-to-day life. Imagine this holy image transmuting that uncontained fire of rage into holy action, in whatever form it takes. Holy action is the wild freedom of art-making, the wild freedom of speaking truth from the heart. Holy action, when channeled into activism, takes stock of the probable outcome of the action, and makes that the focus, even more than the action itself. Although, some activist actions, done from the wild purity of an enraged and loving heart, become their own feral acts of beauty. The night of the Women’s March in Washington, D.C., I saw another young woman, topless, at the top of a monument which had been covered in the rainbow-colored signs of protestors from the largest protest in this nation’s history, which had taken place that day. Painted across her bare chest was the word, ‘PEACE,’ and she shouted at cars that flew past her where she stood in the middle of the road, “Kindness! KINDNESS!!” with both hands up in peace signs. When the feminine (in each of us) has been repressed, suppressed, devalued, scorned, disbelieved and ridiculed for millennia, there is something wild and beautiful about a young woman uttering with such simplicity the word, the voice, the side of all of us that hasn’t been tried yet.

How to See More Magic in Art, and in Everything

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It seems like a hunger for magic or enchantment has become a part of the Zeitgeist, beginning with the unexpected cultural tidal wave of Harry Potter after the debut of the original books in the late 90s and early 2000s. I suspect some deeper, pre-existing hunger was cracked open and revealed by this phenomenon, and it only seems to be picking up speed. Lord knows, lots of people are feeling all kinds of disenchanted these days. It’s no wonder there is a delicate, vulnerable, poignant and utterly true craving for a sense (somehow, somewhere) of the enchanted, buried deep down inside so many of us. Well, let’s dive right in with an Alan Moore quote, shall we?

I believe that magic is art and that art, whether it be writing, music, sculpture, or any other form is literally magic. Art is, like magic, the science of manipulating symbols, words, or images, to achieve changes in consciousness. -Alan Moore (The Mindscape of Alan Moore)

Is this a socially, or culturally, dangerous idea to espouse? Perhaps. But consider for a moment Alan’s idea, elaborated after he enunciates the above, that magic, for a long time, was simply known as ‘The Art’. It tempts one to imagine that there may have been a time, somewhere, where there was not a great sense of separation at all between art and ‘The Art’. Maybe not just somewhere. Maybe in several human cultures. This topic deserves lifetimes of study, and I am certainly no expert. But I sense some deep grain of truth in this.

By this definition, dream work, or dream tending, are close to the vein of magic. As are many Jungian, or depth psychological concepts and modalities. The Jungian practitioner, and their client/patient/analysand, are exploring symbols and archetypes as they constellate in dreams and in other area’s of the person’s life, in order to achieve changes in consciousness (one might say, insofar as the individuation process itself constitutes ongoing, subtle, totally organic and healthy changes in consciousness).

The great Jungian analyst Marion Woodman propounded the idea in The Pregnant Virgin: A Process of Psychological Transformation that art is culturally resonant to the degree that it emanates the numinous, or to the degree that the viewer or participant can sense something archetypal, universal or tremendous standing behind it.

Perhaps lots of art (though maybe not all art) really is doing just that: manipulating symbols in order to achieve changes in consciousness. The change is most certainly viewer/participant-dependent. Art can serve as a kind of Rorschach in that way.

I’ve elaborated in earlier blogs my idea that, for the atheist or the agnostic, the creative process may be the closest she ever gets to the realm of the gods, or to what feels like a truly transpersonal realm. I believe human beings crave contact with the numinous, the ineffable, the tremendous, the rapturous, the transpersonal. They crave communion with it, regularly. It’s one of the unique things about our species. And in modern America, there are very few culturally acceptable outlets for the expression of this bone-deep urge. In addition to that, few of us in America are so blessed as to be in a line of work that allows us regular creative freedom. If there is any truth to this idea, that art and magic are really the same thing, it makes sense that people are feeling disenchanted (for this, and many other reasons), and are secretly hungry for enchantment, in one form or another.

Although Moore’s definition of magic has little to do with learning how to make quill pens float in the air, or learning how to make your enemy’s house burn down (ugh, please don’t do that– please try not to have any enemies, actually), there is a life force underneath the definition — something that rings true. Author of Making Magic, Brianna Saussy, stated in a recent Sounds True interview that magic is bigger, closer, and more powerful than we typically know. Whether or not she is right, it does seem true that what we feel to be magical, and what we crave in our disenchantment, must be right here in ordinary things. It must be as close as breath.

Author of If Women Rose Rooted, Sharon Blackie, stated in a recent CIIS workshop that the Celtic ‘Otherworld’ is simply another way of looking . . . at this world. It reminds me of something that Thich Nhat Hanh said about the Pure Land of the Buddha and the Kingdom of God (which seem blended, in the way he speaks about them). He said the Pure Land of the Buddha is always here now, in the present moment. To enter it, you bring yourself back to the present. Now I am breathing in, now I am breathing out. It helps to look at a tree, and the way the sunlight is dancing through and lighting up its leaves. Trees, he says, are always already there, in the Pure Land, in the Otherworld.

I believe doorways can be found to the realm of the magical everywhere, but especially in the natural world. In modern life, most of us are so alienated from Mama Earth. We don’t often get to see, feel and breathe in the magic of landscape. Of course, in America, there is also so much sadness in the landscape, which must be honored if we wish to make a connection to the land here. You don’t have to create some great, gigantic work of art to make magic. Magic can be made in small everyday creative liberties, choices to be intentional and choices to transform the life of another, even in small, seemingly insignificant ways, like common kindness. It can be made in the kitchen, with one’s favorite herbs and spices, and with the intention to infuse every culinary creation with love.

Is this too “woo woo” for you? Maybe we wouldn’t be well-matched. If this kind of thing does feel like it belongs in your wheel house, somewhere, feel free to give me a call 🙂

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Demystifying Therapy Fees

The intention of this article is to promote transparency and understanding around therapy fees. It seems therapists often don’t openly discuss with clients the reasons for their fee, nor the back-end work involved in providing that one hour (or 50 minutes) of therapy. I’m not sure whether this is considered radical, but it seems healthy (to me) to make this matter more transparent, and to reclaim it from the realm of the taboo. It seems like allowing the therapy fee to remain enshrouded in mystery can become another way to drive an unnecessary and awkward wedge in between therapist and client as human beings. While there are certainly many areas of the therapist’s life outside of session that clients do not need to know about, it seems to me that the parts of the therapist’s life outside of session that are directly related to the service that the therapist is providing do not need to be so secret nor so carefully guarded.

Certain therapeutic modalities, like EMDR for example, require even more time outside of session reviewing notes, completing comprehensive assessments and ensuring that everything is looking really smooth for beginning to do some deeper healing work. I would also like to add (to the foregoing) that many therapists do make use of one-on-one consultation (which they pay for, and which often ain’t cheap) as well as peer consultation in free peer consultation groups. In these instances, identifying information is never used, and as little about the situation is revealed as possible– just enough to elicit helpful insight from colleagues. This is always done with the highest level of respect and care. Add, also, to the foregoing, all the hours of administrative and business management work that goes into being able to offer therapy in a private practice setting. It’s a big job. There is a lot going on behind the scenes.

In addition to this, most therapists are actively paying off student loans that are directly related to the training and education required to be able to provide therapy. Therapists are also sustaining numerous monthly business expenses (such as office rent, private email accounts, practice management systems, and much, much more). Lastly, in order to provide therapy in a private practice setting, the therapist is choosing to take on a lot of personal, ethical and legal risk. There are parts of their job that they cannot get wrong. Someone’s life may depend on it.

All of these considerations reach special dimensions of poignancy in San Francisco, where the cost of living is currently higher than anywhere else in the United States. Most therapists in private practice in San Francisco are simply financially unable to accept most insurances because the reimbursement rates are so low that it is nearly impossible to make a living seeing insurance clients only. I have personally considered looking into legal action against insurance companies in order to force them to change their reimbursement rates, so that more people are able to use their insurance in order to access therapy, and therapists are paid a living wage for services provided to insurance clients. I know it seems grandiose. I haven’t found the time yet. There is more I could say here, but I am wary of waxing too “political”.

I sometimes wonder if the lack of financially tuned in healthcare infrastructure around mental health in particular has to do with the lack of understanding about, and lack of appreciation for the importance of, mental health services. Mental health professionals, and therapists especially, are working in an invisible and abstract realm. Perhaps it is difficult to respect or appreciate this, or even to view this as a real science or art form, in our still heavily positivist, materialist, Newtonian culture and worldview in the modern West. However, it is a realm that has very real consequences in the physical world, and in people’s lives. In 2015, suicide was the seventh leading cause of death in identified males, the fourteenth leading cause of death in identified females, the second leading cause of death for people age 15 to 34, and the third leading cause of death for those between 10 and 14. This is only one of several possible physical tragedies and/or misfortunes that mental health professionals and therapists work everyday to help prevent.

Since the healthcare situation (concerning insurance reimbursement rates for therapists in private practice, especially in areas with a relatively very high cost of living) is far from the dreamlike, ideal scenario of clients/patients being able to use their insurance, while therapists are happily reimbursed at a rate that allows them to comfortably maintain their business and their own life, it falls on therapists and clients to work this out together. It has to be worked out in a way that allows therapy to be accessible and reasonably affordable for the client (approximately 8-9% of monthly take-home income for therapy fees is considered pretty typical), and in a way that allows the therapist to maintain their business. This often means having to cap off after a certain number of sliding scale clients (as much as we may really want to continue taking on more), and it sometimes means having money continue to come up as a clinical issue, or as an elephant in the room. I have found that people are still able to move past and around this in the therapeutic relationship, because people are amazing. But I believe they shouldn’t have to. The only aspect of this equation currently within my control is the choice to promote greater transparency around the reasons why therapy fees are what they are. I don’t believe it is clinically inappropriate at all to talk about this openly.

I’d be interested to know what other therapists and mental health consumers think! Send me a private email (via my Contact page) and let me know what you think! (Please be informed, it is totally your decision to reach out and tell me about any therapy experience you may have had. That is your private information, and yours to share or not to share. I offer my private email here as a way to respect your privacy. Therapists, feel free to comment below!)

e. e. cummings on Being Yourself

“To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else – means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.” -e. e. cummings

I had posted this on my bathroom mirror once. It seemed like the kind of thing that needed to be remembered daily. Why? Because the assembly line-like forces of American consumer culture are amplified, I believe, by the rapid Pavlovian social reward-and-punishment machine of social media, and, in America, what was once called “the middle class” is not really a thing anymore. Most people feel squeezed, and therefore, the pressures to do what “sells,” or to make yourself really desirable on paper, might be greater than ever. The human heart and soul are in danger. People are soul starved. They don’t know what to call it. They look for rapid relief.

I once imagined, years ago, before my private practice, while I was in the middle of some big writing project, something kind of funny. I thought, Hm, life is kind of like a video game where you get plunked into the game with a soul. And an angel should whisper in your ear right at the outset that this thing, your soul, could get ripped from you at every turn. I mean it, kid. Every. Goddamn. Turn. The object of the game is to see if you’re still holding onto it by the end of the obstacle course. You’ll have to keep it safe, at times secret, but always known and felt. You may feel like you have no choice but to do things that offend it deeply. Have faith that there is always another way and you’ll be able to hold out just long enough. If you keep doing the things that offend or hurt this thing, your soul, it might wander away from you and never come back. Ooh, I see you’ve selected the American level of the game. Whew, good luck!

I am stubborn enough to believe that the human heart and soul are worth saving, and that there is a way forward that honors heart and soul, for each and every person, even here in America where soul starvation seems so rampant. Even though the forces that contribute to soul starvation seem to be ramping up, paradoxically, it also feels like there is less to lose now than ever, especially for anyone on the artist’s path. You might as well go out on that limb and try. You might as well take that big risk. If you fail, then you’ll know where that particular story goes, and then you can pick up a new story thread, very probably with newfound wisdom under your belt.

I have avoided speaking or writing about this so far in my profession, because it still seems so taboo, but mortality awareness can help with this. Even Steve Jobs thought so:

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve yet encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Almost everything– all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart. -Steve Jobs

The taboo around discussing death that still exists in our culture (paralleling, almost, the Victorian taboo around discussing sex) seems to feed into the vast confusion and soul starvation that American people so commonly feel. We are bombarded from all angles by images of others seeming to have it all so very “together,” and we are comparing that with our own pained, fragile, imperfect internal worlds, and there might as well be a vast conspiracy to never discuss some of the most basic facts of life, namely, that it ends. And that, when it does, we will be our own judges. As difficult and scary as it is, I believe it is incredibly useful to contemplate that. Our lives are precious. Why is it so easy to forget? Devotional practices and daily reminders seem incredibly useful, whatever shape or form those take.

(It could take the form of a tattoo.)

I’ll finish with one more (important) e. e. cummings quote:

As for expressing nobody-but-yourself in words, that means working just a little harder than anybody who isn’t a poet can possibly imagine. Why? Because nothing is quite as easy as using words like somebody else. We all of us do exactly this nearly all of the time — and whenever we do it, we’re not poets.

If, at the end of your first ten or fifteen years of fighting and working and feeling, you find you’ve written one line of one poem, you’ll be very lucky indeed.

And so my advice to all young people who wish to become poets is: do something easy, like learning how to blow up the world — unless you’re not only willing, but glad, to feel and work and fight till you die.

Does that sound dismal? It isn’t.

It’s the most wonderful life on earth.

Or so I feel.

Niche Update: Creative Giants

Alright, I know I’ve been messing around with my home page and menu a bit lately, and I’ve got some ‘splainin’ to do. I am always assisting my clients on their journeys towards greater integration of all their internal “parts” and greater authenticity. And yet, I’ve been sort of leading a double life. On one side of the week, I make as much time for visual art and writing as possible (sometimes only one hour per day), and on the other side, I am a 100% present, whole-hearted practitioner of the clinical healing arts. The reason why the split feels -at times- as deep as it does is that the modern Western mental health professions are a bit behind the times when it comes to the way that practitioners are trained up and educated. In grad school, during our grad school practicums, and during our pre-licensed, post-grad internships and jobs (and sometimes also, for years before grad school, as in my case, in earlier mental health-related jobs) we have certain principles of the profession drilled into us. We are informed we must not disclose anything about ourselves, not even whether or not we are married, unless we have thought it over and are absolutely certain that the disclosure would be to the client’s benefit.

By the end of all the years of training, being a clinician starts to feel like wearing a wooden mask. There are other practitioners of the healing arts out there, like coaches for example, who do not have to operate under the same ethical and legal strictures, and therefore have more free reign to tell personal stories, and to basically be fully human, both within their online presence and in their work. This is immensely attractive because we live in an age in which people are starving for real, human connection. And trained, licensed psychotherapists get tied up in knots about the degree to which they can or cannot, or should or should not, reveal themselves as humans with stories online and in social media.

I have kept my artist and writer identity totally secret and separate for this, and other reasons. I mean, for Christ’s sake, there are questions on the clinical exam about this. The gist is that therapists and mental health professionals must never reveal themselves as being affiliated with any group online that is in any way political, or affiliated with any non-clinical idea or school of thought that could in any imaginable way ever cause offense or throw a wrench into the therapeutic relationship in the event that a client were to ever find it online. And let’s think about what art is for a second. Art is utter freedom. There are no rules in the realm of art. Art is sometimes offensive, sometimes disruptive to the status quo, sometimes uncomfortable, sometimes “dark”. Art is collective medicine in that way because the artist has to be tuned into what is needed on a collective level, and sometimes what is needed on a collective level is shadow work.

So imagine becoming trained as a licensed psychotherapist, and also having a body of art work and writing that has been accumulating over the years, and wanting to share it. It’s enough to cause a person to form an ultra-mysterious, separate artist identity and pseudonym, and I almost did. Until I didn’t. I want to practice what I preach. I want to practice authenticity and integration of all facets of my life and self. In private practice, not everyone is meant to be working with me, and if I can repel those with whom I’m not meant to work, and attract those with whom I am, then that is excellent. That is the goal.

What kind of clientele would generally not be offended by seeing their therapist’s art and writing online or in other media? I thought. Hmm, probably other artists. (Or at least those who also know themselves to be artists, if you’re alright with the term, on some deep stratum of their being.) I think I also have a pretty good picture of what this kind of person’s central life struggles tend to be, and I wrote about it on my Niche(s) page:

“CREATIVE GIANTS. What is a creative giant, I hear you asking. I’ll explain. A creative giant is a highly creative individual who often finds themselves biting off way more than they can chew, and probably needing to set all kinds of boundaries, though they often have a hard time doing that. Because of this tendency, they are often sniffed out as the-person-who-can-do-it-all, and others will actually push even MORE tasks towards them because others somehow intuit that they were born with a dynamic drive that has them always going, going, going, like a fabulous Roman candle that seems to magically, continuously burn at both ends. These folks tend to have a bias towards service, in one way or another, or to be somehow service-driven and caring. This is an important ingredient in this personality because art truly becomes real art when shared— This personality ingredient is the intrinsic drive towards creating something worthy of being shared, because (in one way or another) it is a gift from one heart to many others. These folks often have multiple creative outlets and projects at any one time, and sometimes require assistance with channeling their huge, beautiful energies in all the ways that their soul most deeply, truly desires.”

I understand deeply the soul-struggle of the creative individual, especially in this world that does not seem to offer many options for solvent adulthood that speak to us on a soul level, and especially not on the artist-soul-level. What distinguishes a creative giant is this continuous devotion to creating, regardless of the outcome of all of their work. They are in love with the process and want to marry it, make a lifelong commitment to it. The process itself can be so transpersonal and mysterious– and if the artist is atheist or agnostic, it is the creative process itself that is perhaps the closest they have ever come to the realm of the gods, the realm of transpersonal forces, and the realm of magic. They are not likely to say something like, “I wanted to be an artist but then realized I wouldn’t get into one of the best art schools,” or,”. . .but then realized I wasn’t good enough to make a career at it.” The creative giant will hear none of that. The outcome of their life’s labor and the response to their body of work does not matter, because to stop creating literally feels like death. To stop creating is unimaginable. I believe this is one of the real, secret reasons why we stand agape and admire the massive paintings of artists like Francis Bacon or Jean-Michel Basquiat. It is because the artist themselves is a phenomenon, a happening. Someone with cajones that big, and a passion and an authenticity that big, seems like a miraculous happening in the universe. We want to soak up the energy of it. I believe this is also a secret reason why people love concerts.

I want to help more people find that creative giant-ism within themselves, and find that miraculous happening within themselves. I want to help people name their true work and bring it into the center of their lives, even through one, devoted, small defiant act per day. There is deep self-love, and mortality-awareness in this practice. Look out for further integrations to come.

And schedule a free 20-minute consultation call by clicking the link below if you want to talk to me directly about any of this shtuff.

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Healing the Warrior Archetype

According to a Jungian depth perspective (depth psychological perspectives that draw from the work of the late Carl Jung), archetypal energies or patterns exist within the collective unconsciousness, and will continue to exist, whether they are embraced by the culture or not. When they are not embraced by the culture, or when they are actively repressed by the culture, like the dynamic force within a pressurized steam engine, they will still escape, or be expressed, elsewhere. Only in this case, the ‘Shadow’ version will be expressed.

We are all familiar with the Shadow Warrior as portrayed in films about unbelievable atrocities that occur in war time, and about men and women who are swept up in the situation or who maybe feel forced, in one way or another, to participate in what will almost certainly constitute a “moral injury” (to use a very soft euphemism) for them later. I strongly suspect that, in order to heal this archetype (if you will), it must be brought into the light of awareness, and it must be embraced, in each of us. Then it can be expressed in its healthiest and most helpful form.

According to a depth psychological perspective, like the Lover, or the Magician, for example, the Warrior is a dynamic energy or an archetype that can be brought in and embraced in each of our personalities and lives. This archetype, or a tradition or discipline associated with it, exists in just about every human culture. The healthy, embraced Warrior has a dynamic, forward-moving energy, it has grit, determination, courage, strength, and discipline (ready to take on whatever ‘training’ and whatever commitment may be required). The healthy, embraced Warrior rises up with a fierce, protective energy when and if needed, and is connected to the instinctual energies in this way. And the healthy, embraced Warrior believes enough in its own potency to not feel the need for big, showy displays of power or strength, but rather wields its potency and strength with humility, and out of duty and commitment to a larger cause.

In some ways, the Warrior overlaps with what might be called the Divine Masculine, the Sacred Masculine, the Wild Masculine, or the Healthy Masculine. That does not mean it belongs only to men. Each of us contains each of these energies and expresses them in unique ways. To take gender out of the equation, one might say that the Healthy Warrior archetype overlaps in many ways with Healthy Yang energy. There is much discussion in the culture about the ‘Divine Feminine’ these days, and for the love of all things sacred, yes, let’s please bring Her back up from underground– I believe we are all dying for that. And yet at the same time, the Masculine is also basically on life support in the culture, in those who are socialized as men especially, and I would argue, in everyone. And we miss Him and need Him too, so very much.

I want to give everyone permission to embrace and know this archetype. I would argue that part of the healthy individuation process, and part of overall psychological health, involves bringing each of these universal archetypes, energies or patterns (whatever you prefer) up into consciousness, and fully realizing their energies and potentials in the personality, and in life. There are so many large scale, and unbelievably worthy causes on the planet today that truly require the health of this archetype. If you’re curious about a depth psychological perspective in traditional psychotherapy, what that entails, and how that can be integrated with other, evidence-based therapeutic approaches, feel free to schedule a free, 20-minute consultation call with me by clicking the link below.

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