FORTY YEARS LATER

“He who does not know that he does not know is a fool, avoid him. She who knows that she does not know is a wise woman, seek her company. He who does not know that he knows is a saint, love him. She who knows that she knows is God, worship her.” — Anonymous Something was breaking and breaking again, over and over, something in my chest, under my ribs, without pain, a flood of emotion, a cataract of sorrow and a tremendous love, bursting from my heart, the breaking of my heart such as I had never felt in forty years of daily meditation, not just an idea of it breaking but the actual sensation of something inside me being shattered, like a vessel cracking apart, waves of a sorrow beyond sorrow and a love beyond love. Watching it, feeling it, I remembered my darling teacher, inspiration, collaborator, brother-in-law Robert McCrea Imbrie asking me to promise to laugh every morning for five minutes with nothing to laugh at. Twenty years of daily laughing practice had taught me that no matter what I was feeling, toxic or not, I could give it up at a moment’s notice and avoid… Read more »

DIGGING FOR INSPIRATION

“O Nobly Born, O you of glorious origins, remember your radiant true nature, the essence of mind. Trust it. Return to it. It is home.” — Tibetan Book of the Dead Engineers have proven conclusively that bees cannot fly, because their wings are not sufficient to sustain them Manoel de Oliveira, the most famous Portuguese film director, shook hands with Clint Eastwood at the Cannes Film Festival, and then, crisp, fit, took the mike to thank the festival for acknowledging his work in film. When I saw the video of de Oliveira, and was informed that he, at one hundred and one years of age, continues to make a new film every year, my vision of my own future as a director and writer of plays and films, and as a psychotherapist, became radically and delightfully refreshed. I decided then and there to aim at living at least until one hundred and five, writing, directing plays and films, and serving others as a therapist up to the end. Such is the power of how we see ourselves and our future that the thought of a man like de Oliveira can transform our thinking. When Martin Luther King dared to face… Read more »

BEING NOBODY, GOING NOWHERE

“I’m nobody, who are you? Are you nobody too? Good, then there’s a pair of us—don’t tell! They’ll banish us, you know. How awful to be somebody, how public, like a frog, to croak your name the livelong day to an admiring bog!” — Emily Dickinson “I don’t know where I came from, I don’t know where I am going, but I know that I came well, and I will go well.” — Walt Whitman “Being Nobody, Going Nowhere” is the title of an amazingly simple and powerful book by a Buddhist nun, Ayya Khema, who as a Jewish child in Germany was saved from the Holocaust. She later became a wife, a grandmother, and a wise and scientific practioner/teacher of the Buddhist journey to love and peace, the same journey– with different signposts– made known to those of every faith and no faith who study without prejudice the laws of existence. The first sentences of the Dhammapada, the path experienced and taught by the Buddha, gives us the key to shedding the almost universal pain that arises when we think we have to be somebody, and we have to know where we are going: “All that we are is… Read more »

Health Label That Actually Might Mean Something

By Margie Nichols, Ph.D. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association (Fourth Edition) is the “Bible” of mental illness. The DSM is being revised, and in a few years DSM 5 will come out. I think – along with a lot of others in the mental health field – that there is a diagnostic category we could use that might actually be useful but is being ignored because it is seen as indicative of a highly stigmatized disorder. One of the revisions that didn’t make it into DSM 5 was the recommendation to create a disorder called “Emotional Dysregulation Disorder.” Instead, people who suffer from the inability to control their own emotional reactions and moods are lumped in the category of “Borderline Personality Disorder,” now to be called “Borderline Type.” Borderline Personality Disorder – BPD – is stigmatized even by mental health professionals. Until a type of therapy called “Dialectical Behavior Therapy” came into existence twenty years ago or so, it was considered ‘untreatable’ and ‘incurable,’ and many if not most therapists still see it this way. There are ten symptoms, according to the DSM 5 proposal, of “Borderline Type.” A few of them are pretty extreme:… Read more »

A MEMBER OF THE AUDIENCE, APPLAUDING MY LIFE

“Life is not a puzzle to be solved, it is a mystery to be experienced.” — Rajneesh Once upon a time, 39 years ago, when “CAR”, a play I wrote with McCrea Imbrie, was presented at the Director’s Unit of the Actor’s Studio, I heard the founder, Lee Strasberg, speak of the most important quality needed by a director, the only quality that Strasberg insisted cannot be taught. This is the ability to see what is actually happening on stage, not what the director thinks/hopes/persuades himself is happening because he so loves the work he did, but what objective spectators actually see and hear. How often it happened, in my experience at the Actor’s Studio and other theatre groups to which I belonged, that a director or a writer could in no way hear and accept the feedback from thirty or more colleagues trying to be of help, because he was so in love with what he thought he had directed or written. And how often, in our relationships with others, we cannot step back and be a witness to our own unskillful and toxic thoughts, words, actions, as well as our own loving kindness, compassion, joy and peace. One… Read more »

A NEW SOLOMON’S DILEMMA? OBESITY VS. SMOKING IN KIDS

By Margie Nichols, Ph.D. There’s an interesting piece by Gina Kolata in the Times today  about how funds used to combat smoking in teens is now diverting into obesity prevention in children.  The question is:  if you have to choose, which is more important to prevent?  Obesity or smoking?  Clearly we shouldn’t HAVE to choose….but if we did? The answer isn’t obvious.  Kolata discusses some of the pros and cons.  For example, anti-smoking campaigns aimed at teens appear to have been partially successful- teen smoking has gone down, although since rates of smoking have gone down in all age groups, it’s a little hard to attribute that purely to prevention efforts.  And, the truth is that we know of nothing that prevents obesity.  As Kolata says, “..no interventions, when tested in large studies, have caused a big difference in children’s or teenager’s weights.” So all the ‘common sense’ about preventing obesity – promoting healthier choices, more activity, soda taxes – might be about as effective as, say, the D.A.R.E. program was in keeping kids away from drugs (i.e., zero percent)  My guess is that many of these measures may prevent obesity in a small percentage of what I call ‘accidentally’ obese kids –… Read more »

THURSDAY THOUGHTS: FILLING THE HOLE IN MY GUT

Within yourselves let grow a boundless love for all creatures…Strive for this with a one-pointed mind; your life will bring heaven to earth.” — Buddha “I have a—it feels like emptiness– inside me—a hole in my gut– feels like a ten thousand foot chasm—it can’t possibly be filled– but any– any drop of love– would be– appreciated.” I remember speaking those words when it was my turn on what we used to call the ‘hot seat’, at a 43 hour group therapy ‘marathon’ (with only one three hour break) my wife Lee and I were facilitating. It was one of my early attempts to embrace the emotional truth of who I was at the time, of what my body had been trained to suppress as a child, in school, and among my peers. In the years that followed I learned, sometimes painfully, sometimes joyfully,that at the bottom of my unfillable chasm was a mother lode of playful and exciting creativity and love, often hidden deep among the hated garbage of thrown-away sorrow, unclean rage, buried fears, unacceptable shame, self-disgust wearing a mask of boredom. And, yes, the beautiful, childlike, spontaneous, creative, crazy wisdom every artist longs for, totally alien to… Read more »

Update To Anti-Lesbian Drug?

By Margie Nichols, Ph.D. By coincidence, as the news about a drug that can ‘de-masculinize’ female fetuses hit the blogs, one of my sex therapy listserves began a fascinating discourse about the prevalence of PCOS in female to male transgender people.  Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a genetically transmitted syndrome with some potentially distressing symptoms and consequences.  However, in the population of young women presenting themselves for hormone treatment to transition from a female to a male body, PCOS is relatively prevalent. Since PCOS is a syndrome caused by an excess of androgens – male hormones – in biological female, this again raises the issue of hormones in both gender identity and sexual orientation. Certainly hormones could not be the sole factor determining these complex psycho-social phenomenon, but it looks like they may play a role and that the two- gender and orientation – are at least partially intertwined.

The Anti-Lesbian Drug?

by Margie Nichols, Ph.D. What we now call ‘intersex’ conditions – children born with a whole variety of biological variations that can result in ambiguous or mixed gender – have long been interesting because of what they might tell us about how genes and hormones effect not only physical characteristics but also behavior.  For example, Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia is a condition that affects genetic females.  Medical specialists believe it results from over-exposure of the female fetus to androgens – male hormones.  CAH girls not only sometimes exhibit some male body characteristics – they also tend to be tomboys and, as adults, while most are heterosexual a higher than expected number are lesbian or bisexual.  Makes one think about the role of hormones is sex-stereotyped behavior – and sexual orientation. But a physician named Dr. Maria New is promoting the use of a drug called dexamethasone for women carrying CAH girls to use while they are pregnant. This drug is not FDA approved for this use and has never been tested in pregnant women before. But it is increasingly used to prevent ‘abnormal behavior’ in CAH girls. As Sharon Begley reports in Newsweek, New and a colleague suggest that women having little interest in… Read more »

MEDITATION ON MONDAY ON WEDNESDAY

UNSKILLED FARMERS “Unskilled farmers throw away their rubbish and buy manure from other farmers, but those who are skilled go on collecting their own rubbish, in spite of the bad smell and the unclean work, and when it is ready to be used they spread it on their land, and out of this they grow their crops. That is the skilled way.” — (Meditation In Action, by Chogyam Trungpa, founder of Naropa University) Pouring, pouring, tears of gratitude came sparkling down my cheeks, deep into heart and mind, when I read the chapter by Trungpa entitled The Manure of Experience, because it described so vividly what I and many others have been trying to learn, practice and teach in our own lives and in the lives of those who come to us for help. How do meditative tears of gratitude sink so deep into the source of art and love, flowing outward into the joy of art, and the joyful struggle to make my relationships a giving and receiving of love? It seems to me that years of acknowledging and honoring my sorrow, my fear, my anger, my shame, my disgust, without letting those emotions determine my speech or actions,… Read more »