Archive for the ‘Psychology’ Category

BS and meta-BS

I’ve written more about a particular relationship on this blog than about anything else. It’s the relationship about which I wrote the poem “DRY” and numerous posts.

The interaction has finally ended, as it should have more than a year ago, with a lack of ending: there is no bold statement or move to make; there is only the acceptance of what was and wasn’t, what continues to be not, and what will never be–acceptance that came with my recent “Acceptance Revolution,” about which I plan to write soon on this blog. Stay tuned.

My message today is a small one dealing with a lesson I learned from this relationship: don’t tolerate BS, and be wary of meta-BS.

BS refers simply to the modes by which one permits oneself to be mistreated in a realtionship. It’s just a truism that, in general, we human beings are willing to put up with quite a bit when we love and care about someone. It’s an understatement to say that I loved this person a lot, and thus I put up with a lot over a long period of time. I had a romance with her that failed. I tried to rekindle the romance, and that effort also ended in heartbreak. I tried to be “just friends” with her several times, putting a lot of time and effort into even that diminished relationship, but ended up her spiritual whipping boy each time.

Meta-BS refers to a person’s “going meta” on his or her BS, apologizing for it, explicating reasons for it (i.e., making excuses), and promising and perhaps even demonstrating efforts to reform it. Meta-BS differs from genuine apologies, reasons, and reform in that the person, either consciously or unconsciously, lacks the intention or the ability to do right by the target of the BS.

Meta-BS can keep you on the hook a long time. Think about the addict who cleans up and falls off the wagon in a never-ending cycle, while his or her family members in turn celebrate the reforms and suffer through the rock-bottoms. So it was in this unhealthy relationship, in which the person in question continually served up the BS and then apologized for it. Meanwhile, I was myself like an addict, unable to kick the habit as the aforementioned poem describes.

My Acceptance Revolution provided me the means of final (I believe) extrication. Contrary to past practice, in which I would try to push away the pain the relationship had caused me and the feelings for her that lingered, I simply accepted all of my internal content, committing myself only to the management of what I am able to manage: my words and actions.

The remarkable thing is that the pain and the feelings immediately subsided to the point where now I am truly beginning to forget her. Or, to paraphrase the country tune, “More and more I think about her less and less.”

Now that I have (I feel) extricated myself from one of the most painful situations of my life, I have little doubt that she will contact me again, show me her baby pictures, and try to do the little things that, in the past, pushed my buttons and roped me in. Come what may; that’s just how these things work. There is little more for me to say to her than, “Congratulations. Blessings.” I will continue to accept my internal content while managing my words and actions as well as I am able.

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Dropping the L-bomb

Under what circumstances do you say, “I love you,” also known as “dropping the L-bomb,” when you enter a new romantic relationship?

In considering the matter, one digs into a veritable sundae of sociological, psychological, and spiritual issues:

  • What is the vision of romantic love in the society?
  • What phrases, if any, in the society indicate a person’s belief that he or she is feeling romantic love of a particular level for someone?
  • Regardless of a particular society’s vision of romantic love, what actually is happening in “love” on various levels: sociological, psychological, physical, and spiritual?

One could write a book about how love has veen viewed through the ages and what phrases were used to indicate one’s recognition that love is present. Here, however, I’d like to talk about how things are in the US and Japan and how they jibe with my opinion of things.

Whereas in the past love and marriage were viewed in a more (but not necessarily exclusively) sociological context (i.e., marriage was more for practical and economic purposes, such as procreation and bringing families and even countries together), in the US we see marriage as existing for personal fulfillment: i.e., we want to find the person who complements us and experience love with him or her. The experience of love is primary; procreation and other aspects of the partnership are definitely secondary.

The following seem to me to be the basic principles of feeling love and using the phrase “I love you” in the US:

  • People in a loved-based partnership or relationship (e.g., marriage, living together, girl/boyfriend) ought to be feeling love for one another. Contrariwise, people who don’t have such feelings ought not be in such a partnership. For, there is a general belief that married people that don’t “really love each other” should get divorced and find partners they “really love.”
  • People who feel love for each other ought to express those feelings verbally (“I love you”), and something is wrong if they don’t, either with the relationship or with the partner or partners who won’t say the magic words.
  • Mutually saying “I love you” is a major milestone in the development of a relationship.
  • One ought not say “I love you” without really meaning it (whatever “really meaning it” means).

How about in Japan? The vision of romantic love in that country is not tremendously different from our own, and the way people approach dating is roughly the same as well. Furthermore, the phrase “ai shite iru” (literally, “I am loving [you], with the object of the verb usually left implied, as is common in Japanese grammar) has approximately the same sociological import as “I love you.” Once people are in a relationship, however, there seems to be much less of an expectation for verbal reinforcement.

So, according to the unspoken rules, we need to feel love for someone before we say “I love you.” We know as individuals what it’s like to feel romantic love for someone, but what is really going on? What neurological patterns are at work? What is happening in the spiritual dimension? We must confess our ignorance.

Furthermore, we cannot assume that a person who says “I love you” is necessarily feeling the same things that we are. We may try to judge through our five senses and even through senses beyond these whether the person is sincere in his or her words, but I have yet to see anywhere a table or chart that tells us what what degree of love goes with what facial expression or amount of light shining from the fourth chakra.

No, here we are definitely working in a world of fuzzy logic, in which a person must self-assess his or her feelings of love to decide whether to release the three-word trope, and we must in turn assess through uncertain signs whether that trope has been released appropriately. To complicate matters further, people drop the L-bomb even when they do not “really feel” love. For example, they may drop it in hopes of placating their partner now and “really feeling” love later. Or they may, like myself, be willing to say it under a rather lax standard, in which romantic love is conflated with altruistic love.

It’s true: I drop the L-bomb rather easily and retract it rather cautiously, as I try to “love everyone,” and hey–even if my romantic feelings for you are deceased, still “I love you,” right? I need to ponder more whether it is proper for me to use these words in this way.

All that said, there are of course times when the feeling of love is so strong on both sides and the energy working between and emanating from the persons in combination so great that only a fool would say, “We don’t know what’s really happening here in the hidden dimension; therefore we cannot say if they are really in love.” I would even venture to say that most of the time, when people say, “I love you,” they are expressing something sure and true, an apt symbol of something important and mysterious. Although I may be lax in dropping the L-bomb myself, I am no cynic when it comes to this most important of things.

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Depression is power and wisdom within you and for you

Chapter 7 of Care of the Soul by Thomas Moore is entitled “Gifts of Depression.” Moore writes,

The soul presents itself in a variety of colors, including all the shades of blue, gray, and black. To care for the soul, we must observe the full range of all its colorings, and resist the temptation to approve only of white, red, and orange–the brilliant colors.

As the chapter title and the quote imply, Moore goes on to teach us how depression can be of great use to us. I highly recommend the book and praise the wisdom of Moore’s view of depression.

Here are a few ideas of my own. First is my take on the difference between sadness and depression: sadness is the painful mental state that occurs when one desires something that one does not have but can imagine having. One may be sad, for example, at the death of a close relative; the return of the relative is impossible, but one can at least imagine it. One key aspect of sadness is that it could instantly be eliminated were the object of desire made available.

In my experience, depression has something of the “flavor” of sadness but differs in that there is no particular object of desire missing and no apparent path to resolution. Depression may feel as though it was caused by, say, the death of a close relative, yet at the same time one does not intuit that the darkness would lift should the relative return. Moreover, despite whatever causes may seem to pertain, depression ultimately feels like a dissatisfaction with existence itself, with the very nature of the universe.

It is this existential nature of depression that makes it such an important tool for our development: it takes us to the very heart of things and lets us abide there for an extended period of time. Certainly, depression is the pathway to the “Dark Side” of the heart of things, but once we are in the heart we can learn more about both the Dark and the Light.

In our society at present the typical view of depression is that it always weakens and reduces, never strengthens or augments–but is that really the case? Depression, of course, used to be known as “melancholy,” which state of mind has spurred deep reflections into the human condition and produced great art in all media. Before you push your depression away, despising it, see what gifts it has to offer you within its black inner sanctum. It truly can be power for your use in many areas of life.

There is both a mundane side to depression and a spiritual. Of course, there is no firm dividing line between the mundane and the spiritual; they are completely mixed together, and the smallest things in life can have great meaning: that’s why we’re here. Too often, however, depression is merely treated as a mundane matter, a chemical imbalance, a nuisance to be rid of as quickly and conveniently as possible. Take a pill and feel better.

To those in extreme mental anguish, I certainly recommend getting the necessary help, whether from a therapist or a psychiatrist, whether through talking it out or taking medication. There is no shame in that; doing so doesn’t make you any less spiritual of a person. Indeed, I highly recommend working with depression on both the mundane level (this is a nuisance making my life worse) and the spiritual level (what can this teach me about myself and about Reality?).

I just got over the second-worst depression of my life (and I have only really had two big ones). It was a time, I feel, of great development for me. Indeed, both my commercial and creative writing work continued to go better than ever, I made tough deadlines, and in general my life was orderly and productive. I was able to listen to classical music, to read poetry, and to appreciate both of these at a deep level. At the same time, I was in deep pain, pain which could not be divided from the lessons I was learning and the power I was accessing.

Depression is a teacher, but eventually the student must graduate. After I felt I had learned all the lessons this particular depression had to offer, I requested help from a Higher Power to leave the darkness. Within two days, the depression had lifted. About a week later, I had what might be termed a relapse, but this time I felt that a different approach was being requested of me: I was not supposed to push the depression away but go through it, into it, and out the other side.

I prayed the prayer, or mantra as I call it here, that you see below. In this mantra, we empathize with depression, seeing it not just as the source of the bad but the victim of the bad–while at the same time recognizing our complicity in the bad. We also see our Sat-cit-ananda (being-consciousness-bliss) nature as the ultimate remedy to the Pain-darkness-destruction of depression.

This prayer had for me an immediate and lasting effect. I invite you to try it and see if it doesn’t work for you, too. Of course, it is not really the words that have power but the concepts behind them, which are the wisdom of many teachers and many times.

If you are in pain, I wish you healing and love.



Source of Pain, I bless you and succor you; I have caused pain. Order of Darkness, I bless you and succor you; I have done the work of darkness. Power of Destruction, I bless you and succor you; I have caused destruction.

With being I free you from destruction, who destroy all. With the light of consciousness I free you from darkness, who bring darkness to all. With bliss I free you from pain, who bring pain to all.

Source of Pain, I bless you and succor you; I have caused pain. Order of Darkness, I bless you and succor you; I have done the work of darkness. Power of Destruction, I bless you and succor you; I have caused destruction.

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Darts can teach you a lot about yourself and reality

The dart board of Matt RougeI first really played darts in 1999 when I was interning at Schering-Plough and spending a lot of time in Brooklyn with my best friend Tom. Thereafter, I didn’t play until 2006, when I joined the Columbia Club in Indianapolis. That got me back into it. I bought a dart board in early 2007, which entertained me a bit when I was snowed in, but I lost interest and didn’t play again until late August of this year, when I drove to New York to hang out with Tom, who now has very cool pad in Manhattan.

I think I’m hooked on darts for good this time.

Darts is a great way to meditate. It’s all about you, your mental state, your skill, and your relationship to physical reality. In other words, it’s just “you” and “not-you.” Whether “you” and “not-you” are in harmony or disharmony is up to you–and not-you.

Why did you let yourself hit the target this time and not that other time? Does “zoning out” allow you to hit the target better? Or are you just aimlessly firing and taking what comes? Do concentration and careful, conscious aiming help you hit the target? Or does focusing too much produce the opposite result? Why does a certain mental state help you sometimes and not others?

These are the questions you might ask yourself, and often answers come to you.

One thing I have explored through playing darts is how the self allows the self to succeed or not succeed. Practice certainly has the effect of honing actual skills like aiming and throwing, but the negotiation the self engages in with reality (not-self) while practicing is extremely interesting to observe.

Self: “Is it okay for me to hit the bullseye this time?”

Reality: “I’m not sure. You’re really quite inconsistent. You need to prove to yourself and me that you can hit it so many times in so many throws. Let’s work up to it a bit.”

Self: “But I’ve got mojo this time. I can feel a kind of electric charge on the board; it’s going to suck the dart right into the bullseye.”

Reality: “Okay, I know how that feels, and I can accept that. But on the throw after that, as a kind of recompense for success, you’re going to throw wild. Can you live with that?”

Self: “Yeah. I guess.”

Reality: “Go for it then.”

Thunk. Bullseye. So much in life works this way.

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The words "sympathy" and "empathy" are ruined

Now and then an English word gets ruined. For example, according to Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language (The World Publishing Company, 1959–this is my favorite old stand-by dictionary), “livid” means,

1. discolored by a bruise; black-and-blue: said of the flesh.
2. grayish-blue; lead-colored: as, livid with rage.

How many people imagine “grayish-blue” when they say things like, “He was livid”? Nearly zero, I suspect; in fact, I suspect that most people imagine that someone who is “livid” is red and excited with anger, as that is how we normally experience very angry people (the word “livid” used to be, I assume, useful precisely because being ashen-gray with anger is an uncommon but recognizable phenomenon).

For my point to have meaning we do not have to enter into the old argument of whether the dictionary definition is “right” or common parlance is “right.” Rather, it need merely be the case that the common usage is chaotic or empty; that is, one can turn neither to the dictionary nor to common usage to know the meaning of a word. In the case of “livid,” it is not so that, pace the dictionary, there is wide agreement as to what the word precisely means; instead, it has merely become a word associated with anger but not portraying the mode of anger in any specific or definite way. It has, in short, become a non-value-adding word. Ruined.

“Livid,” however, is a word without any political import. In contrast, “sympathy” and “empathy” have normative connotations to their modern and chaotic usage: “empathy” is good; it means really feeling what someone else feels and reacting to that feeling in an appropriate way. In the movie Species, for example, Forest Whitaker plays “Dan Smithson, Empath,” a character who readily feels as others do and is deeply affected thereby. In modern usage, if you cannot empathize, or “really feel” what others feel, you are insensitive.

“Sympathy” under the new usage is less definite in meaning but somehow less desirable than “empathy” and sometimes downright bad. Perhaps it is seen as a more superficial, less sincere version of “empathy” in which one doesn’t really get inside someone else’s skin or walk in his or her shoes.

If we turn to the same dictionary quoted from above, we will see that the classic definitions of these words differ from their vulgar cousins (I quote the most relevant definitions):


5. the entering into or ability to enter into another person’s mental state, feelings, emotions, etc.; especially, pity or compassion for another’s trouble, suffering, etc.


1. the projection of one’s personality into the personality of another in order to understand him better; intellectual identification of oneself with another.

In vulgar parlance, the definitions of the two terms seem to be more or less switched: empathy is the “true feeling” and sympathy the colder, more intellectual function of the mind.

The Wikipedia article on empathy is for the most part in harmony with the classic definition and starts off thus:

Empathy is the capacity to recognize or understand another’s state of mind or emotion. It is often characterized as the ability to “put oneself into another’s shoes”, or to in some way experience the outlook or emotions of another being within oneself.

It is important to note that empathy does not necessarily imply compassion. Empathy can be ‘used’ for compassionate or cruel behavior.

In a bow to what I term the vulgar usage of the word, the Wikipedia article also includes the following:

In addition to the above use, the term empathy is also used by some people to signify their heightened or higher sensitivity to the emotions and state of others. Empathy may be here conceptualised as the ability to fully “read” another person, completely translating each movement into understandable conversation. This, reportedly, can lead to both positive aspects such as a more skilled instinct for what is “behind the scenes” with people, but also to difficulties such as rapid over-stimulation, or overwhelming stress caused by an inability to protect oneself from this so-called ‘pick-up’.

This would seem to be what is classically termed “sympathy”: people resonating with others just as in sympathetic resonance (Wikipedia):

Sympathetic resonance is a harmonic phenomenon wherein a formerly passive string or vibratory body responds to external vibrations to which it has a harmonic likeness. The classic example is demonstrated with two similar tuning-forks of which one is mounted on a wooden box. If the other one is struck and then placed on the box, then muted, the un-struck mounted fork will be heard.

Zig Ziglar uses the words “sympathy” and “empathy” according to their classic definitions in his sales training materials, explicating and contrasting the two concepts. The salesperson who sympathizes with the prospect is less effective because he or she not only suffers along with the prospect but also is inclined to feel and therefore accept the prospect’s reasons for not buying: can’t afford, etc. In contrast, the salesperson who empathizes with the prospect fully understands the prospect’s situation and does his or her best to improve it, typically by selling a problem-solving product.

Zig’s explication of “sympathy” and “empathy” strikes me as genuinely useful, and I have adopted his philosophy of trying to help others without “feeling their pain.” Understanding pain and desiring to ameliorate or eliminate it is not the same thing as feeling it directly and suffering by dint of “sympathetic resonance.” One presupposition of the vulgar concept of “sympathy” seems to be that such mutual suffering is good.

Again, it matters not if the usage of the words “sympathy” and “empathy” agrees with classic dictionary definitions so long as clear, distinct, and widely shared concepts are in use. To me, this seems not to be the case. As with the word “livid,” one cannot use the classical definitions of “sympathy” and “empathy” and hope to be correctly understood, and yet one cannot use the “popular” definitions of these words and hope to achieve clarity, as there is no general agreement as to what they really mean.

For now, the words are ruined.

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