Meet the Sages (and Get A Free Poster!)

In recent years there’s been a surge of interest in ancient philosophers. Three of my favorite books in this vein are Expect the Unexpected Or You Won’t Find it: A Creativity Tool Based on the Ancient Wisdom of Heraclitus by Roger Van Oech, Breakfast With Socrates: An Extraordinary (Philosophical) Journey Through Your Ordinary Day by Robert Rowland Smith, and The Bed of Procrustes: Philosophical and Practical Aphorisms by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. I’m going to add to this growing body of literature by introducing the ancient writers of Hebrew wisdom literature. These sages said many interesting and often astonishing things, especially given how long ago they wrote. For example, two millennia before Freud and modern psychotherapy the sages wrote, “Many are the purposes of a person’s heart; one with wisdom draws them out.” There are things that go on in a person’s psyche about which we are simply unaware. In 2011 Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman wrote about this in Thinking Fast and Slow (read my summary here). Over one hundred years before that (1902 to be precise) William James said this about consciousness and perception, Our normal waking consciousness is but one special type of consciousness, whilst all about it, parted from it by the flimsiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different, ” (Varieties of Religious Experience). These are all fancy ways of explaining what we mean when we say…
  • “Perception is reality”
  • “Appearances can be deceiving”
  • “My brain has a mind of it’s own”
  • “There are two sides to every story”
  • “Life is not always as it appears to be”
Woe to the person who doesn’t know that their consciousness can be altered an a variety of ways or that our minds can play weird tricks on us. Even neuro-scientists remind us that feelings of being right are not necessarily right. Click here to read an interview with Robert Burton, author of the fascinating book, On Being Certain. Which brings me to a free gift I have for you. The sages were preternaturally aware that things like emotions, health, hunger, sleep, and other factors trick us. I’ve collected (and drew faces for) thirty of their sage warnings that remind us that we can’t always trust our thoughts. You can download a free 8.5″ x 11″ color printout of this poster by clicking here. (Signed 13″x 19″ color posters are available for $30 (+$4.99 shipping in USA) on Amazon; small size posters are free to readers of this blog). The brilliance of these sage warnings is that being skeptical of our cherished beliefs will lead to open mindedness, mental flexibility, and a willingness to contemplate alternative ideas. This is often our focus when doing mediation or therapy–when emotions or other mood altering factors hi-jack our brains we don’t think rationally or clearly. I hope this handout (poster) will inspire careful self-reflection.

Lemons and Grief (6 of 7)

 Lemon Funnies.5

You’ve heard about the “five stages” of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. These do not happen in a tidy sequential pattern; we bounce from one to the other and back again. Rather than being passive letting “nature take its course,” we suggest being pro-active in a timely manner and using our resources to actively move closer to acceptance and building a new life. Specific actions that help transformation process:

  • Embrace hope. This doesn’t mean we pretend grief, troubles, or “lemons” don’t exist. It means we trust the effects will not last forever.
  • Not making any important decisions during the first year of loss.
  • Keep a feelings journal. This helps us realize we don’t feel one emotion 24/7 but we experience several throughout the course of a day, week, month.
  • Create a scrap book, memoir, or memorial box.
  • Learn to sit with the pain. Mindfulness is a non-judgmental awareness of what you feel.
  • Spiritual resources: prayer, readings, rituals, soul care, community.
  • Gratitude: what are you thankful for and who can you thank?
  • Forgiveness: God, self, loved one. Resentment impedes growth.
  • Express feelings: “When I think about my loss I feel ____. When I feel ____ I feel (good, sad, bad, healthy, guilty, angry, other). I would like to feel ______.”
  • Listen to other’s stories of loss. They need your ears.
  • Share your story of loss with others. You need their ears.
  • Invest in “me” time: sleep, diet, exercise, health, check ups, fresh air, sunshine, music, massage, yoga, candles, bath, gym, track/field, nature, hobbies, fun, books, etc.
  • Rituals of remembrance: photos, prayers of gratitude, write to your departed loved one, write letters of what you imagine they’d say to you.
  • Counseling and cognitive therapy. Challenge the unhelpful thinking which might be taking up valuable brain space.
  • Find new meaning, purpose, vision. This is a huge task but very helpful!
  • Remember: we did not choose this loss but we can choose how we respond to it: victim or survivor?

Meditation: By confronting my loss and accepting that I am starting a new stage in my life, I have been able to acknowledge that I have the capacity to keep loving, and to transform my life. I understand that I have painful memories and moments of doubt. However, I do not fear them. They are not easy to confront but I will embrace them and make them mine. They are part of the process of accepting this new dimension in my life. I have realized that I suffer such pain because I have a great ability to love and to feel.

Next: Lemons and the Serenity Prayer





Three Observations about Depression (6 of 8)


It’s November, 2013. I’m sitting in a Burger King in Washington DC eating oatmeal for breakfast and Percy Sledge comes on the radio singing, “When a Man Loves a Woman.”

A wave of depression comes over me. It wasn’t the location, even though I was staying in a flea bag motel and eating in fast food joints. It wasn’t the meal; I love oatmeal. And it wasn’t the fact that I was away from home; I was visiting museums checking out the world’s most beautiful art.

The depression was due to traveling alone after 36 years of happy marriage. The lingering grief from my wife’s funeral ten weeks earlier was super-sized when Percy Sledge sang, “When a man loves a woman he can’t keep his mind on nothing else, he’ll trade the world for the good thing he’s found.” And I lost it.

Three observations about depression that morning in the Burger King:

  1. Music has the power to enthrall and the power to demolish. Some songs are guaranteed to put us in a funk so we do well to ignore certain songs.
  2. I had much to be grateful for. Even though my “no star” motel was sub-standard, to get to it I walked past homeless men sleeping in open shipping trucks trying to stay warm and dry. Gratitude is analgesic, therapeutic, and medicinal.
  3. That song would have depressed me even if I was staying in a “5 star” hotel. It’s not what goes into a person (environment) but what comes out of them (heart attitude) that determines mood. I clung to the promise, “This too shall pass.”

That wave of depression did subside though it still lingers in the wings ready to pounce unannounced. And I still avoid Percy Sledge.

It’s now a year later and I make it my ambition to find in the sea of discontent islands of satisfaction with family, friends, faith, creativity, service, humor, gratitude, good music, relishing great memories, and living one day at a time.

Tomorrow: Concluding Thoughts About Depression

Buy a Kindle Comic Book and Feed the Homeless

Bellingham Rats COVER


Bellingham Rats Back Cover


I thought that by September 1, the one year anniversary of my wife’s passing, I’d be able to write about grief. I was wrong. Every other conceivable subject seems to flow effortlessly but the tender subject of loss is still too raw.

Until the time comes to go public with my lament I continue to exorcise my grief the best way I know how: by seeking solace in literary and artistic endeavors. My latest creation is a tribute to the pals who have been my stabilizing influence during a harrowing eight years of terminal illness, hospice, funeral and post funeral anguish. They have been model comforters.

Their kind acts have been legion including the simple act of teaching me about baseball. The Bellingham RATS: 2014 World Series Champs is my way of saying thanks. (RATS is an acronym for Readers and Thinkers, the name of our men’s reading group).

In memory of my dear wife Vicki I will dedicate the entire proceeds from the sale of this ebook to the Cornwall Church initiative to feed Bellingham’s homeless. This is an amazing pro-community effort run by volunteers every Saturday night. Amazon authors earn 33% royalties for each book sold, in this case about a dollar. They keep two dollars. Let’s see if we can raise $5000 for a great cause. I know Vicki would not only endorse this gesture, she’d get a chuckle that I’m buying hot dogs from the sale of a comic book about baseball.

If you’d kindly spread the word, share, link, like, buy, and recommend I’d be most grateful. And so will the SALT on the Street participants. And so will Vicki. Thank you.

How’d Shakespeare Get So Smart?

ShakespeareI once quoted Shakespeare in a sermon and my wife laughed, “You never read Shakespeare in your life!” and she was right. I lack the bard-appreciation gene.But I’m not above lifting his quotes when they serve my purposes. Take this one for example:

“Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak 

knits up the o-er wrought heart and bids it break.” 

A quick Google search tells me this quote is from a little ditty Shakespeare wrote called Macbeth. Here’s my paraphrase of what it means.

“Give sorrow words…” If you’re heart is aching, talk about it. We all need a safe place to vent. This is what counselors, therapists, and friends are for. If talking isn’t your thing, write about it. Journaling is therapy. Get the pent up angst out of your head and onto paper.

“the grief that does not speak…”  Grief in our hearts is like a jabbering personality trying to process his/her emotions. We invite disaster if we silence that voice.

“knits up the o-er wrought heart…” Bottling up heartache is like putting a cork in a pressure cooker. If we bottle up heart ache it’ll ‘knit up’ which I think means stressed, tense, tight, and all knotted up.

“…and bids it break.” If we stuff those emotions long enough we’ll soon crack.

Good job, Mr. Shakespeare. Now if only you’d quit writing in King James English I might actually read Macbeth.