Parents’ Screen Time Is Hurting Kids – The Atlantic

When it comes to children’s development, parents should worry less about kids’ screen time—and more about their own.
— Read on www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2018/07/the-dangers-of-distracted-parenting/561752/

Revealing Weaknesses of Mental Health Professionals & Diagnoses

The other morning I was enjoying my morning routine of coffee and news when I came upon Dr. Frances‘ (psychiatrist and former chair of the DSM-IV Task Force) comments on Trump.  If you don’t know, there’s been a ton of debate among psychiatrists, psychologists and other therapists on whether or not we have a duty to comment upon the perceived mental health of public figures who are in positions of power.  Frances’ comments addressed this topic as it relates to Trump and I found two sources.  The first was a short piece he wrote in Psychology Today months ago and the other is from an interview with the Verge, which was what I found on this particular morning.  As a regular person and as a Clinical Psychologist, I was frustrated but more disturbed than anything.  I’ve witnessed many mental health professionals that are in leadership positions get a lot wrong, and in some big ways.  Frances’ comments are concerning to me because he’s been heavily involved in the development of the DSM.  While this article focuses primarily on Frances, I also want to raise issues related to therapists needing to improve their level of psychological insight and health regarding themselves, and also point out that the DSM does not diagnose relationships.  I find both of these extremely problematic and upsetting.

1 |  Rejecting a Diagnosis is to Diagnose Someone

Those who use the DSM are advised to not diagnose at random, not to diagnose people whom they have not met, not to diagnose people who are not their clients, and that a diagnosis should not be publicly made unless it is the client disclosing this information.  When a diagnosis occurs, a process called “Ruling Out” happens at the same time.  “Ruling Out” is when a clinician (e.g., psychologist, psychiatrist) determines that a client does not meet the criteria for a specific diagnosis.  In order to do this the clinician has to know the person well enough or have enough information about them in order to say, for certain, that the diagnostic criteria are definitely not met.  In this way, to say that someone does not have a diagnosis is to diagnose them, which is exactly what Frances did.

Frances said, “The psychiatrists and psychologists who are now publicly diagnosing Trump feel compelled by the higher call of national interest to break any restrictions against diagnosis at a distance.  But the argument fails because their diagnosis is poorly informed and simply wrong.”  Yet, Frances says directly that Trump does not meet the criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder.  How can he say that when he’s not supposed to diagnose anyone publicly, from a distance and without adequate information about the person?  He can’t but does so anyway.  As a result, Frances contradicts himself and has grossly misled the public.  But this isn’t the most concerning thing about Frances’ statements.  But before I continue picking apart his comments I think it’s important to note that he has some good points in these two publications.  Given the outrage, they could go unnoticed.

2 |  Not All Bad

First, Frances’ comments seem to be complex and nuanced, which is what I would hope to see from any clinician.  As much as the human brain wants to over-simplify facts or reality, it’s always infinitely nuanced.  Consequently, not all of Frances’ statements are bad or without merit.  From my perspective, about half of what he says is worth considering, is accurate or possibly helpful.

First, diagnosing from afar is dangerous and our egos often have more to do with this than a desire to protect others (though Trump may be a very real exception to this for some clinicians).  The average person generally doesn’t understand the many layers of thought that go into the process for diagnosing.  This isn’t because people are dumb but rather, they just haven’t gone through the extensive education and training that it takes to adequately consider a diagnosis.  No amount of personal reading or Google searches can equal this training.  This is why diagnosing should be left to the professionals.  Everyone should know that such an exercise, though seemingly simple, can be very complex.  Professionals can also have different opinions or diagnoses that are often valid, and this can confuse the average person but for the professional it makes perfect sense.  While Frances is right that clinicians should avoid diagnosing from afar, he violates this himself.  I’m interested to know how he didn’t catch that or if he did, did he think that the rest of us wouldn’t notice it?  Obviously I’m just guessing here in an attempt to understand his large error.  Regardless, I think that there’s also something to be said for professionals to taking action when someone is acting in abusive and manipulative ways.  As I see it, Trump (like many other politicians) is abusing the American people and manipulating them in so many different ways.  If there isn’t something unhealthy or diagnosable about these behaviors then I think that there’s something very wrong with the DSM and those who support it.

Frances made another good point and it had to do with scapegoating.  He said that we need to be cautious about pointing the finger at one person, Trump, who is supposedly the source of all of our problems.  On this point I definitely agree.  Humans prefer simple answers and when things go bad, they (we) want something and someone to blame.  Interestingly enough, this is our own narcissism at play because by dumping the blame onto someone else allows us to walk away from the situation squeaky clean.  So when Frances says that Trump isn’t causing the world’s problems, I believe he’s partially right.  Where he’s wrong is that Trump is causing some major problems and making a variety of social issues much worse.  The fact that there were enough people to put Trump into office shows us that there are much bigger societal issues at play.

These involve the dominant societal definitions and approaches to mental, physical, social and environmental health.  Right now I would say that our definitions and approaches are weak, often misguided and that our country has always struggled with excessive arrogance and narcissism.  Unfortunately, doing what is healthy for us, on an individual and collective level, is generally not very popular (unless it increases our narcissism) and as a result, the rate of improvement in these areas is painfully slow.  Trump seems to be the ultimate expression and symbol of the selfie, our social media tendencies, our greed, our abuse of others, our racism, our ignorance, our misogyny, our admiration of narcissists and abusive people, and the privilege of white men, Christians, the wealthy and conservative people, and so on.  So yes, let’s not scapegoat Trump.  He’s one problem and then we have all of the problems that I just mentioned.  These are the sicknesses that are present in each of us and throughout our society.

3 |  Politics Over Truth, Mental Health & Public Welfare

For me, the most disturbing thing that Frances says to the Verge is, “We [made] the decision to introduce narcissistic personality disorder in DSM-III and I wrote the version that’s still used now.  The decision to include it was purely for clinical purposes and we never dreamed it would result in the diagnosis of NPD being used in political warfare now.  I think that if we’d had that thought along the way, we would have thought twice about including it.”  Wow.  Those who meet the criteria for NPD and hold leadership positions cause so many of the problems in the world, in our communities and in our families.  They can take advantage of others, they belittle them, they disregard anything that others say, they’re greedy, they’re manipulative, they destroy, they’re without regret or remorse, they lack empathy, they distort reality, they destroy the environment and they are deeply, deeply troubled.  Yes, there are problems with the misuse of diagnoses within the general population but this DOES NOT mean that we should prioritize politics over accurate diagnoses.  We shouldn’t hold back from labeling an unhealthy behavior because people in the public eye might be slandered.  We should work to counter slander but we shouldn’t sacrifice truth for it.  Yet, if this is truly what Frances believes then what about all of the other disorders that are tossed around or slapped on so many?  NPD is much more prevalent in men and he didn’t make any comments about those disorders that are overused and misused for women and children.  Does he wish to change all of them to avoid possible slander, public misperception and consequently degrade the validity of a diagnostic label?  Or is his particular focus on NPD revealing his privilege, bias or blindspot?

4 | Privilege Revealed

Another sizeable problem with Frances’ comments is that he seems to approach the subject of mental health as though he has the final word on the subject and its definitions.  His statements are presented in a way that seem to suggest that he has or believes he has the absolute right to define mental health…for all of us.  For me, it comes across as a bit self-aggrandizing and this is quite ironic given the topic of conversation.  To say that someone is not disordered “because these traits don’t cause him distress” is absolutely absurd.  From the looks of it, many serial killers and criminals aren’t distressed by their actions.  Does this mean that they don’t have serious mental health issues?  Of course not.  So how can Frances, someone who’s influenced the DSM significantly, maintain these views and expect us (psychologists and other clinicians) to use his definitions and diagnositic book?  Why wouldn’t we begin to question the whole system to ensure that there aren’t more distorted influences on the core resources that other clinicians use?  Regardless of whether or not Trump’s public personna is real or not, I believe that a person who chooses to conduct themselves as he has should not be considered mentally and emotionally sound.

Though we hold advanced degrees in our fields, Frances and I (or anyone else else for that matter) are not in the position to establish, absolutely for all people and cultures in the world, a definition of mental health and that of mental illness.  We are not the final authorities because we cannot speak for everyone, every culture, every country and every related field.  Yet, some of those is our field believe that they have the right to make such declarations.  Why?  Because of privilege.  Even though I believe that there are many issues of privilege present in Frances comments, I’d like to focus on his declaration.  This is because people could run with this and they have the potential to use his statements to support their own biases and perspectives.

While I don’t believe that any of us can claim something absolutely, I do believe that we should voice our views on a given subject matter, especially when its within our profession.  I think if we’ve studied and worked within a field for a long time that it’s important for us to throw our views out there for people to consider.  This is one of the primary ways in which we advance and mature as a species.  But we have to be careful when we toss things into the ring and this is where Frances went wrong; he didn’t “IMO” enough.  Though this phrase seems so overused, I believe it’s a good trend because it emphasizes that no one is the ultimate authority over a thing.  It recognizes that a person’s view is one of many.  If it is sincerely meant, then it is a humble acknowledgment of our collective or socially constructed reality.  Frances would have faired much better had his contributions embodied this philosophical and social position.  From my perspective (aka, IMO) and as a person who’s studied psychology for over 30 years, our individual level of mental health is largely determined by our ability to adapt, handle stress and how we conduct ourselves in relationship to the world (i.e., people, animals, environment).  And yet, this is where the weaknesses of the DSM are revealed because it has no diagnosis for relationship patterns.

5 | The DSM Lacks Relationship Diagnoses

This is probably where eyes will start to glaze over, if they haven’t already, but I’m going to make this short so hang in there with me.

The DSM is a narrow in its focus and extremely biased in its approach to diagnosing.  It’s based upon the conditions of an individual and a diagnosis is determined by observed behaviors or traits and statements the individual reports about how they feel about themselves, others, etc.  Simply put, a diagnosis from the DSM is viewed as medical diagnosis (though that’s in theory…but I won’t get into that).  One of its huge weaknesses is that it has failed to derive relationship-based diagnoses.  If an individual physically, sexually or psychologically abuses other people, there’s no diagnosis for this.  What a clinician will try to do is to give them an individual diagnosis such as Antia-Social Personality Disorder or something to that effect.  So if a person is an abusive predator of others but it never bothers them, disrupts their life or if it fails to meet existing criteria in the DSM, then they won’t have a diagnosis.  Of course, this is if we follow Frances’ example and his reasoning.  This would be like us saying that Jeffrey Dahmer wouldn’t have received a diagnosis until he went to prison because his behaviors finally disrupted his work-life balance.

We still have a lot of work to do in this field and despite issues such as these, I’m glad to be a part of it.  All of us, and I mean all of us, just need to work hard at being better for ourselves and others.  The culture in the U.S. rewards some of the most troubled people and even puts them on a pedastal.  I can only hope that Trump’s example will show all of us just how destructive, mean and hurtful such traits are and then we can alter this trend.  Who knows, being humble and psychologically healthy might actually become popular one day!  Well, I can always hope.

Being Yourself When Others Don’t Want You To Be

“I’m already myself,” you say…but I’m not so sure. You might be and that’s great, but there’s a really good chance that you’re tricking yourself into believing this when it’s not true.  Of course, I can’t sit here (nor will I) and tell you whether you doing this or not because I don’t know you.  However, having studied the human condition for 25+ years, I know that there is a great deal that happens in each of us that remains outside of our awareness. So, I ask that you take a moment to sincerely, honestly, and openly question this for yourself.

Having ventured into and explored the notion of “being ourselves” (philosophically, psychologically, and personally), I’ve found that most of us are not ourselves most of the time.  We make compromises constantly, hold back what we’re really thinking and feeling, and we refrain from doing things that feel natural.  We’re all trained to do this because every culture teaches its people that certain ways of being and behaving are not acceptable.  Therefore, we learn to repress and suppress what happens inside of us and to stifle our natural, authentic, and genuine impulses.  As we get older and more mature, we become more aware of how and when we restrict ourselves, but again, there’s a great deal that we miss.

One of the most amazing things about psychotherapy is that it gives us the space to be ourselves and to dump our stuff out onto the floor so that you can step back and see it. This process of becoming more comfortable with letting it all hang out can be challenging at the start, but in the end, it’s extremely freeing. Not only do you learn how to see yourself and be with yourself, but you learn how to do this in front of someone…which is often the scariest and most powerful part. So if you’re one of the few people that really, really want to venture inside yourself to figure out whether you know and embody yourself authentically, this blog post and podcast may prove to be helpful.

How You’re Not You

“Good morning, how are you?” A question that we often hear and it comes from family, partners, kids, coworkers and strangers. But how often do we pause to answer this question honestly and openly? If you’re having a really shitty day, do you tell them, “Well, things are pretty hard right now. I’m feeling a bit depressed today because I’m really unhappy with my financial situation and I don’t know how to change it.” You probably avoid this, like we all do, and respond with the same bullshit and obligatory phrase, “good, how are you?” They respond with the same and you move on, right? “Well I wouldn’t tell just anyone my personal stuff,” you say. Of course not, but it IS a moment when you’re not authentic, when you’re not your genuine “self.”

What’s unfortunate is that the dominant culture in the U.S. encourages us to be fake and it punishes those, socially, who answer honestly. People who are honest are blamed for making the situation awkward or told that they have poor boundaries. Such statements communicate, “We’re uncomfortable with genuine interactions so keep everything on the surface so the rest of us don’t feel uncomfortable.” What this means is that we’re taught to sacrifice our genuine sense of self so that other people don’t have to deal with their own discomfort. Well, I think this is sad, unfortunate, and a crappy situation. This is why therapy and coaching can be so amazing because it offers a reprieve from this and for us to tap into who we truly are, deep down.

Now let’s say that we give ourselves a pass on the, “how are you,” situation and dumb it down to us using more words to convey the simple, “hello.” Well, we still have a problem because we’re so used to hiding ourselves in small ways that we’re not aware of how we do it in big ways. Our brain works with such speed, efficiency, and automation that a great deal of what we do (and why we do it) is out of our awareness (a.k.a., unconscious). In order to determine whether or not we’re being genuine, we have to amp up our self-awareness and dig around for repressive tendencies. If we’ve never done this, then we can safely assume that we have not been our genuine selves. Why? Because all societies impose a degree of conformity onto all of its members. Humans are just like this in groups.

Our Fundamental Conflict: Individuality vs. Togetherness

As social animals, we all value (though in different ways and to different degrees) our group identity and its members (a.k.a, togetherness). At the same time, we also value our individuality and separateness. When we’re in a group of people who are very similar to us, our comfort level often increases and we tend to experience more relaxed ways of interacting because we like the same things, appreciate the same social dynamics, and so on. Fundamentally, there’s less of a chance for friction, conflict, and the anxiety that can come with being with those who are different from us. By the same token, many of us have a desire to be uniquely appreciated and valued by others. We want to feel special and have something wonderful to offer the world that only we can provide. The bottom line is that we want to know that we’re loved, admired and seen as good people, worthy of good things. There’s value in both of these views but as you can see, the concepts and their natures are in total opposition to one another. So how do we deal with this? Well, most of us don’t handle this conflict very well or even consciously know that it’s going on. The natural result is that we’re not as genuine as we could be.

What most of us do to resolve this problem is to repress and suppress a degree of our individuality for the sake of whatever group. As a result, we become less and less genuine over time. Why less? Because we all start off, as infants and children, by being extremely genuine. It’s only through our developmental years and the process of socialization in our families and communities that we start to repress or suppress how we truly are. A child is, by default, more genuine than most any adult and this is why we love them so much! They also remind us (which may terrify us to the point of saying that we don’t like children) that our fundamental dispositions are that of needing love and acceptance.

Infants can be fussy, sure, and that’s because they’re attempting to get their needs met. But if we focus only on their most basic needs, we see that their focus is on obtaining physical safety, love and connection. They are genuine, simple, and they desire love and softness. But as they (and we) get older, they desire more independence, individuality, and see their natural separation from the world. And when we experience this conflict we tend to suppress or repress our individuality for the sake of continuing to meet our most basic needs. But this creates a great deal of tension within each of us because we desire, more than anything, to be genuine in who we are and to still be just as loved, accepted, and cared about as before. Fundamentally, it is this conflict that many cultures, in my opinion, don’t resolve very well. What I’m suggesting is that we strive for a new alternative by embracing both sides rather than trying to be loyal to one. But before we discuss the solution, we need to understand how our emotional reactivity fuels the conflict.

Reactivity: Fueling the Conflict

What is emotional reactivity or “reactivity?” Reactivity is our emotional response to any situation and it’s typically visible through body language and behaviors. Reactivity can been seen in very small ways, such as a look of disgust, that is barely noticeable, when we’re annoyed with someone. Other times it’s very noticeable. A good example of this is when when people riot in the streets in response to an unjust court ruling or storm out of the room during an argument. The way it plays out in this fundamental conflict occurs in two ways. The first way is seen when an individual represses or suppresses their individuality in response to group pressures. The second is when we push someone to suppress their individuality and adopt the group mentality. I encourage you to sit for a day with this fundamental conflict and to watch for how this process of reactivity and repression occurs in your day. Try to notice it happening to you and when you see it happen for others. I think you’ll be surprised by the number of times it it shows up.

The Solution: Individuality AND Togetherness

The solution of “Individuality AND Togetherness” seems simple enough, right? All we have to do is let go of our reactive responses and allow both to happen. Well, it’s not so easy. We need to shift our way of looking at the world in a deeper way. While the solution is simple, in its intellectual construction, it’s the practice that’s very, very difficult. In fact, it may be so uncomfortable for a lot of you (which means your reactivity is very high and sensitive) that you can’t even entertain the idea of trying for this new balance. However, if you’re up for the challenge and believe that the fight to be genuine is virtuous enough to commit to, then you can achieve a lot more contentment and join with others to enjoy more freedom, less reactivity, less fighting, and thrive on diversity in all areas. So let’s lay out a plan to help you shift your way of viewing your relationships and the world.

Step One: Why is difference so threatening? And is it really a threat?

Think about this. Is the fact that others are different from you threatening to our lives? To our safety? To our well-being?  We all know the answer is “no,” but why do we react as though they are? What could possibly go wrong if we embraced, supported and even encouraged other to be true to themselves? What are we really afraid of?

It’s vital for us to reflect on these questions. The ultimate reality of the situation is that there isn’t anything that’s truly threatening. However, we’ve made meaning of things, such as traditions, code of conduct, and so on, that when others differ, our anxiety and anger come up.  And when our anxiety and anger come up, we’re acting as though we’re having to fight for survival.  What are we trying to survive?

Another question to ask yourself is, “Am I threatened by or afraid of my own individuality?” You might very well be because you’re afraid of how others might react to you, and there’s the reactivity again. Now, you might be afraid of individual choices for religious reasons, but what’s behind this push for everyone to belief the same thing? What would be so terribly wrong if others believed differently? If you’re concerned about their afterlife or immortal soul, I’d encourage you to see if you can let that go. Granted, you’re probably thinking, “absolutely not!”  But let’s consider the fact that each religion acknowledges the truth that none of us can control another person’s will. So ask yourself, is it better to practice being at peace with others in the world or is it more helpful to fight them, suppress their individuality, and to fight a battle you can never win?  The answer is pretty obvious and if you’re still stuck on this I suggest you pause here.  It’s vital to figure out how you resolve this dilemma.

Step Two: Embrace Free Will…and Your Anxiety

As I Just mentioned, we can’t control another person’s will, ever. And this means that the world is not as predictable as our fear would like it to be. When we live under the unconscious assumption that we can control another person’s will and cater to our anxieties, we’re committing ourselves to a very difficult life and a fight we can never win. What’s really going on here is that you’re uncomfortable with difference and diversity. So your challenge is to gain some insight into how this came to be for you. You need this insight in order to let it go and to alter how you are in your relationships to others.

Now let’s say you’ve committed yourself to embracing your free will and that of others. Does that mean that chaos will happen? No. All humans want safety and security. We want good lives and to have our basic needs (the ones I’ve mentioned) met. This is our common bond, and something that we can count on. If we focus more on providing others with acceptance of their individuality and appreciation for their abilities, they’ll want to respond in kind (as they get used to this). This creates a positive cycle, rather than a negative one born out of anxiety and aggression.  To do this, however, we have to be willing to face our anxiety.

Step Three: The Courage to Perpetuate the Positive Cycle of Giving

As I’ve mentioned, our social dynamics strongly influence what we do and how we live. If we don’t believe that our basic needs are getting met, we strive to get them met in a variety of ways. Most times, the way that we try to get them met is by taking and demanding from others. The problem with this is that it inspires others to take and demand from us. I’ve worked with many clients where they and their family members are deeply unhappy because they’re stuck in this cycle. The paradox is that if we give, then others are more and more likely to give to us. The result, a deeply enjoyable dynamic where we love giving to them and they love giving to us. Over time, we form a very accepting relationship that allows us to be who we are and to live an authentic life, without sacrificing the acceptance and acknowledgements that we all want and need.

Sure, it’s cliché to say, “celebrate our differences.” However, the cliché is true. By appreciating differences and accepting others, as they are, they’ll be more likely to want to do right by us. The more that all of us can do this, our lives will become easier, safer, and more fulfilling. Though, you might wonder about how to do this in the face of others who are aggressive, anxious, and demand that you fall in line. So let’s end by addressing this last issue, which is a significant obstacle.

Step Four: Working with Others Who Perpetuate the Negative Cycle

The hardest part of adopting this new way of living and viewing the world is figuring out what to do when you’re faced with situations when people are, knowingly or unknowingly, perpetuating the negative cycle. In these circumstances, your reactivity will come right back and you’ll move to suppress the other person’s will and individuality. And even though you’re working to perpetuate the positive cycle, your impulse is to get them to fall in line too. So what do you do? Do you just let them do whatever they want? Do you let them turn things to crap? No. What you do is crank up your focus on your own choices and actions.

You have your own limits, your own choices, and your areas of control. This is where all of us need to focus when we bump up against an unhealthy dynamic. If you’re someone’s manager at work or a parent, think about what you’re willing to accept, what is not acceptable, and how you’re going to respond to the other person when they act. For example, if an employee is making constant excuses for why they’re late but they aren’t changing their behavior, use your power to determine what you’re willing to accept. If they continue to be late and this is an issue, you can (and should) write them up or fire them. Let them know your limits and then follow through, but you can do this with compassion and acceptance. What they do is their choice and it’s their life. The best thing you can do is provide them with an opportunity to deal with how the world is rather than enable the negative cycle of behavior. It’s up to them whether they choose to improve themselves or to remain stuck in the negative cycle. I encourage the parents that I work with to use this approach with their kids. Set limits and expectations, communicate them, enforce them consistently, and allow kids to make their own choices. Life is all about learning, so be sure not to withdraw your caring or adoration from them. If you’ve adequately planned ahead for them to make an unhealthy choice, your response should be simple in practice and less emotionally charged. If it is, you’ll need to continue to rework your belief about these types of situations.

Final Note

Making this shift takes time and it can be quite frustrating. Be sure to allow yourself space to grow and to express your frustrations with people who can be supportive. This might be a friend, partner, family member and/or your therapist. I’m not advocating, nor would I ever, for you to suppress or repress your emotions. So be sure to have some outlets where you can express yourself freely without hurting your relationships. A therapist or coach might be the best choice for this because they don’t have a role in your daily life. This relationship allows you total freedom to say whatever you want and to express all of your anxiety and anger without any social consequences. This can be helpful as you continue to change. Over time, your way of being will change and your emotional reactivity will also change. Just know that your reactivity and emotions change second. I once had a therapist say to me, “when we change our behaviors, our emotions take a while to catch up.” He was exactly right, and so I pass this wisdom on to you.

If you take up this worthwhile challenge, be sure to keep in touch and post your progress and your questions. I’ll respond to as many of your questions as I can and I wish you all the best.

On the Power and Rigidity of Narrative

That we as human beings construct narratives for ourselves is as old as language itself. We tell stories to reflect and share experiences; we listen to stories and connect them back to ourselves in order to make sense of our existence. But narratives don’t just come into being as a way to communicate with others. Most of the time, we take on the role of both the storyteller and audience, and we spend much of our day-to-day existence in a dizzying feedback loop of spinning tales and, in turn, listening intently. We listen so intently, in fact, that we begin to confuse these narratives with reality, to believe in them, to invest in them, to defend them to the death. Meanwhile, we’ve cut ourselves off from an expansive world of possibility and amazement. We’ve traded a limitless but uncertain view for a narrow but controlled one, and whenever life pokes at our carefully constructed narratives and refuses to conform to our expectations, we lose even that illusion of control and are left feeling powerless, afraid, confused.
This feedback loop has been observed and addressed by many traditions–it pops up in philosophy via Plato’s cave, in the pervasive Judeo-Christian directive to put one’s life in the hands of God, in the nature based spirituality of Native American religions which emphasizes human beings’ interdependence with the shifting seasons of the earth. And of course, it’s identified by the Buddha as the root of suffering, the only release from which is to abandon our stories and accept what is. When I first read Pema Chodron’s famous urging to “drop the storyline” and rest in the pure, felt experience of the moment, I felt as though the lines had cracked the smooth, polished idea of myself that I’d worked my whole life to create. I felt simultaneously liberated and scared shitless. I infused my meditation practice with this aspiration and made ‘dropping the storyline’ the filter through which I viewed my path and felt a sense of genuine relief: thank goodness I figured this out.
And then…
I don’t know. Years passed. Life happened. I read more books, encountered more kernals of wisdom, experienced cycles of intense commitment to my meditation practice followed by cycles of avoidance and back again. Pema’s lines have always been there, in the back of mind, ready to be referenced in conversation or in thinking about thinking about thinking…but in the midst of explaining ‘myself’ to someone yesterday, the rigidity and power of these constructed narratives struck me again, and I realized that I’ve possibly grown even more attached to my narratives than since I first became aware of them. There’s a way in which I’ve actually used my awareness to make these stories of mine even more real, more complex, more compelling and, therefore, more treacherously alluring.
So what now?
I’ll bring my awareness back to my breath, I suppose, permit myself a little smile at what a long stint of “thinking” I just indulged in, and contemplate the Lojong slogan, “Regard all dharma as dreams.”