Monday, November 2, 2015


                            for Sarah

Moonlight was silvering
the palm tree on my lawn.
It lit up the long arc of one frond.

After many years in California,
my first thought: A weeping birch?
I have a birch tree on my lawn?

And birch groves left behind a lifetime
ago came to me, bowed and flowed —
silver branches of that Celtic night

when the blindfold of time slips loose
and we see behind and to the side —
just as now that I can barely walk,

memories of mountain hikes
come rustling: Angel’s Landing,
Mammoth Crest, Red Cones.

Surprised by the brilliant crescent,
I walked on. The last of Halloween
children dressed as flame-red

devilkins or pink ballerina angels
were shooed by mothers into cars.
Only the souls of trees walked with me,

birches and beeches, pines and maples
joined sycamores and liquidambar.
Silently I whispered to them:

remember me. They replied:
It’s not important to be remembered —
only to be beautiful.

~ Oriana © 2015

This poem reflects the shift in my attitude from achieve! achieve! to less compulsive, relaxed productivity and more enjoyment of beauty. It took me a long time to understand that we belong to our moment — and that transience is fine. So what if we will be forgotten? That’s an excellent thing to remember whenever we catch ourselves putting a lot of effort into some dubious project — at the cost of making ourselves unhappy with stress and missing the beauty of existence. 

Love is not a feeling. Love, unlike pain, is put to the test. One does not say, “That was not a true pain because it passed away so quickly. ~ Ludwig Wittgenstein

 Being yourself — isn’t it over-rated? ~ Sarah L.

First of all, a static self doesn’t exist anymore than the soul does. The “self” is not a thing. Our consciousness is a process — different neural networks compete for dominance. I like the idea of a “higher self” — not that it exists as a fixed thing, but it’s an ideal of calmer, more rational function.

It seems that the tide is finally turning away from the idea of self-expression at any price. Thank goodness for the new book, F*ck Feelings — a much needed call not for emotional repression, but for a healthy measure of self-control. The authors, a father and daughter team, encourage the reader to stop and think about the consequences of simply emoting, especially when it comes to anger. Great ideas tend to have a stunning simplicity. Imagine, after decades of rhetoric glorifying feelings and putting them ahead of reasoning, here comes a therapist who says: STOP AND THINK ABOUT THE CONSEQUENCES.  

 We’ve been told so long that we’re irrational beings that some have taken it as a license to dispense with what flickers of rationality may nevertheless lurk in the psyche. It’s strangely reminiscent of religion’s put-downs of human reason as impotent.

Now and then anger is positive because it gives us the energy to stand up to a bully. But most of our anger tends to be about things we cannot control, and ranting about them only keeps us focused on the negative. Worse, if we express anger without regard for consequences, we may end up harming ourselves and others.

Buddhism is wise here: “witness” your anger. Then ask yourself what good — or harm — might come from expressing it. Will your marriage be improved if you attack your spouse who’s probably under too much stress already? Is there perhaps some other action you could take?

If you focus on doing something productive, you are more likely to end up feeling proud of who you are, and others will enjoy being around you. No one likes an angry screamer.


(Oriana: As friends go, I vastly prefer people who are "doers." A "feeler" may be good for giving you empathy, but a doer will often push for a solution, for action -- and that can be invaluable, to be given a kick out of merely feeling into doing something. And doers are often shining examples of success.)

“A profanity-filled new self-help book argues that life is kind of terrible, so you should value your actions over your emotions.”

“Michael explains that, when people act only on their feelings, it can lead to an unreasonable, knee-jerk response: ‘Thinking before you speak — thinking of the consequences and where it’s going to get you and how it fits with your values — is a lot better than venting and then regretting what you’ve said.’ When you don’t let your feelings direct what you do, you start thinking and seeing your problems from a much more practical point of view.”

~ Put down the talking stick. Stop fruitlessly seeking ‘closure’ with your peevish co-worker. And please, don’t bother telling your spouse how annoying you find their tongue-clicking habit—sometimes honesty is less like a breath of fresh air and more like a fart. That’s the argument of Michael Bennett and Sarah Bennett, the father-daughter duo behind the new self-help book F*ck Feelings.

The first step is accepting what you can’t control. So many people who come to [a therapist]  want something they can’t have. They want a happy relationship that’s never going to be happy, or they want opportunities that are not easy to come by.

So it's [about] accepting what you can't control, the factors that are out of your hands, and seeing what you can do with what you can control. And learning to be proud of yourself not just for accomplishing what you can, and not beating yourself up for what you can't. Not seeing yourself as a failure, when you haven’t really failed because it’s not something that you could have controlled in the first place. And admiring your ability to withstand a feeling of rejection, and the frustration and the pain, and keep going on towards a more reasonable goal while being a good person. That’s also what’s emphasized so heavily. Figuring out your own values and sticking to them.

You assume that your feelings are going to tell you, since you’re unhappy, that you did something wrong. But that if you can do an inventory based on your own values, you're really doing a good job. And you’re doing a good job in spite of the fact that you’re miserable. That deserves higher praise. I think that’s sort of a basic paradox—that to live with pain and still be a decent person and make a living is a much higher achievement. It’s what you do when you’re not happy that’s so telling.

Interviewer: One thing that surprised me—at one point you say, if you have an asshole parent, that as an adult you shouldn’t worry so much about forgiving them if you were traumatized by your childhood. Could you explain the thinking behind that?

Michael: If you find that your parent is one of those people who is really just a jerk, it's sort of like forgiving a cockroach for being a cockroach, or a snake for being a snake. Forgiveness tends to assume that people had a choice and made a bad choice. Whereas, what I think you run into more often is somebody who didn't really have a choice, they're just bad.

The one you want to forgive is God, for having to live in a world where jerks have as many kids as anyone else. It’s less personal. I think in some ways it frees you up more to realize that [your parent] did what they did because they’re built that way.”

Feelings have become such a sacred cow, I'm glad someone is finally pointing out that expressing them can be harmful. On the other hand, it's also a wonderful pleasure to be with the kind of person around whom it's safe to be completely yourself, including whining and being infantile for a while. Usually the venting quickly self-terminates, because of the joy of being with the right person. Also, the complaints about what we can't control suddenly seem outrageously funny — so you vent in a funny, comedic way. But the listener has to be totally on your side, not someone who can suddenly attack you. That's what's wrong with most parents and spouses -- they have an agenda and are trying to "bring you up.” This is their mission from god. They assume they have the right to punish you.

And it’s not just you whom those parents and spouses can’t fully value. They don’t value anyone enough to just let the person be. They don’t see another person as a human being of great complexity, worth, and uniqueness. They may keep their mouth shut in front of the boss, but that’s only because of fear, not because they value the boss as a human being. But — “we are the victims of victims.” People who aren’t capable of valuing others were themselves not valued.

Imagine how different marriage would feel between two totally supportive adults. Imperfect, flawed adults, but ones who don’t wage marriage as warfare but as a cooperative project. Is it that difficult to be totally supportive? On the contrary, it’s a great pleasure.

One terrible thing about getting attacked and put-down is that you internalize it. Pretty soon, you don’t need another person; you become a master at attacking and demeaning yourself. When Louise Hay says, “Immediately stop criticizing yourself,” that alone is worth the price of her book.

Jan van der Heyden, View of Delft
From the website:


    Think Beyond The Catharsis

Don’t ask yourself whether your statement will make you feel better, introduce more honesty into the world, or punish those who deserve it. All of those outcomes, while glorious, are fleeting, while the resentment, bitterness, and anger that follow can last a lifetime.

    “Nobody’s Ever Died From Bottling Up Feelings…

…but plenty of people have died from unbottling them,” is another saying we use even more frequently than the fart metaphor. Don’t think for a moment that suppressing your feelings will harm your health or fill your life with pointless frustration; venting your feelings, on the other hand, is a good way to get punched, evicted, and generally put in harm’s way.

If your marriage turns out to be sexless, you’ve been the victim of child abuse, or you’ve generally had and unlucky and unhappy life, then you certainly have the right to feelings of resentment. There’s no benefit from telling yourself that you should feel good about experiencing so many bad things.

On the other hand, as you’ve already guessed, we wouldn’t tell you to express those angry feelings unless they can do you some good in the long run, and, usually, they can’t. As we say in our fart metaphor, beyond the immediate relief, venting ugly feelings then poisons the air for you and everyone around you.”

“Thinking before you speak — thinking of the consequences and where it’s going to get you and how it fits with your values — is a lot better than venting and then regretting what you’ve said.”

“Goals take into account that there’s a lot you don’t control, and wishes don’t. Wishes are about what you want...whether you have any control or you don’t. When I ask somebody to think about their goals, [I’m] really asking them to think hard about what they do and don’t control.” 


Feelings are transient. They are typically are about the moment and not about “delayed gratification,” so they also tend to interfere with self-discipline. As one athletic man who's in great shape told me, “If I listened to my feelings, I'd never exercise.”


The great breakthrough of cognitive-behavioral therapy was the discovery that thoughts and emotions are connected. Wrong-headed thinking can lead to emotions that hurt us rather than help us. “I should be able to attain complete serenity by meditating” is a relatively minor example of thinking that can make you feel like a failure when traditional meditation turns out to be difficult for you — perhaps impossible. You SHOULD be able to attain complete serenity?” Says who? Once you get rid of this assumption, there is no reason to feel bad. Now you’re free to do something that effortlessly relaxes you — perhaps it’s swimming, or strolling in a park.

Therapists report that patients come to them saying things like, “I DESERVE unconditional love.” And the therapist is too polite to coo back, “Oh yeah?” — but perhaps that would save a lot of time. The miracle is that when you stop thinking idiotic thoughts, you stop being paralyzed by idiotic emotions.

Trouble is, a lot of idiotic notions are promoted by advertising and psychobabble. Sometimes it seems that the culture seems hell-bent on preventing people from growing up.

New Age drivel has added new fuel. “I used to be a prince in my past life,” a man once confided in me. “I don’t know how to cope with hardship. I'm just not used to it.” Poor ex-prince! What a handicap!


As with everything else, the “fuck feelings” movement can be taken too far. It’s a welcome corrective to unhealthy obsession with feelings, especially negative feelings, and its emphasis on action in areas you CAN control is sheer wisdom. Is it a call for emotional repression? Only if pushed too far. I see it as a call for emotional moderation and not spouting everything that pops into your head. That’s what children do and we forgive them because they haven’t yet developed rational thinking and self-control. But it’s actually more rewarding to be adults. You get to accomplish things, not just throw food at the ceiling.


"At one point of his career, Darwin wanted to test his survival reactions and see if he could control them in the face of danger. He undoubtedly asked himself, “Just how strong are my survival instincts? Can my modern brain take charge?” He went to the reptile house at the London Zoo and put his face against the glass cage containing a puff adder, a highly venomous African snake, intending to provoke the snake into trying to bite him. He was determined, he wrote in his diary, not to flinch or move.

Suddenly the snake lunged at him, hitting the glass barrier. Darwin described his reaction: “. . . as soon as the blow was struck, my resolution went for nothing, and I jumped a yard or two backwards with astonishing rapidity.”

It made no difference, he wrote, knowing that the snake could not reach him through the glass. His thoughts were powerless; instinct propelled him with “. . . An imagination of a danger which [he] had never experienced.”

The snake’s attempt to bite Darwin launched a primitive reaction beginning with visual stimuli registering the snake’s movement and ending with a message to the brain’s AMYGDALA. The result was Darwin jumping or, put another way, survival behavior. The cortex had no role in the reaction. Darwin could not control the reflex, even though the glass between him and the snake meant the danger was not genuine. His instinctive jump backward was automatic, happening without thought or awareness of what he was doing."

~ Theodore George, M.D., “Darwin Tries to Outwit His Amygdala,” in “Untangling the Mind: Why We Behave the Way We Do”, 2013

I wish this book were more lively since it deals with important issues: subcortical reactions and the mayhem they may produce due to irrational fear and/or anger. T. George also discusses the brain's reward system, addiction, psychopathy, and depression (“shut-down”).

The fear of snakes is supposed to be hard-wired in primates, but I think in this case we have the primary subcortical reflex of moving back when we see something coming at us. Another example of a subcortical reflex is the automatic extension of arms when we are falling. Obviously it’s useful to break the fall with hands (and arms, if needed) in order to protect the head.


“In Acts 17 Paul is walking through this city, Athens, and he sees idols there. This pisses him off so, naturally, he goes talk to the Epicureans and Stoics in the area, and they were all, “WTF?” Like, to them he was speaking gibberish. Look:

While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols [the horror!]. So he reasoned in the synagogue with both Jews and God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to debate with him. Some of them asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?” Others remarked, “He seems to be advocating foreign gods.” They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.

So Paul starts talking about the God he‘s discussing. And as he’s defending it, he uses a couple quotes. Right here:

~ God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’ ~

Who is Paul quoting there? In the original text…in whom do we live? In whom do we move? In whom do we have are being? We’re the offspring…of whom?


No, really.

Here’s the first quotation in context, in Epimenides’s Creatia:

They fashioned a tomb for thee [O Zeus], O holy and high one-
The Cretans, always liars, evil beasts, idle bellies!
But thou art not dead: thou livest and abidest forever,
For in thee we live and move and have our being.

Let’s stop there. What is this tomb for? And why is Epimemides calling Cretans “liars”?

Well, it’s because the Cretans thought that Zeus was born, lived a mortal life, and died. They also had a tomb for him, and many apparently believed that he was reborn every year. But in saying Zeus was a dying god with mortality, they were pretty close to atheists for the rest of the Greek world, who insisted, as Epimenides did in this poem — that Zeus wasn’t dead, and that he will be alive forever.

Zeus. Literally talking about Zeus. About worshipping Zeus, about Zeus’ commands, about his laws and everything he rules over…Zeus. So, to the listening crowd, when Paul said, “We are his offspring,” he was literally saying “We are Zeus’s offspring.”

The weakness of the arguments — the argument for Zeus and the one for the Christian God — both seem transparent.


Poor Saint Paul. For him, everything depended on the “fact” of the resurrection. If we resurrection did not in fact happen, then “we are lost.” No we aren’t. We live as before, focusing on this life rather than worrying that one day we’ll die. It’s been observed that people who are most afraid of dying are those who’ve never really lived. When we live a full life, we feel such gratitude for the richness that there is no room to resent having to go when the time comes.

The fact that Paul was deeply influenced by the Greek culture — there’s nothing surprising about that. Apparently there is no such thing as an “original” religion. There are only variations on a limited number of central themes. And some eras are more hospitable to some variations than to others.

Paul Tillich seemed revolutionary when he promoted the idea that god is not a person — not an invisible man in the sky. Rather, god is being itself, and/or “the ground of being.” Here Tillich’s theology gets so abstract that it becomes useless, in my opinion. The average farmer will continue praying to the invisible man in the sky to send rain for his crops while the average child will pray for no rain so that the game will not be canceled. Will this continue for centuries, or will it come to a sudden end when enough people realize there is no one up there, and religion becomes confined to the lunatic fringe, waiting, as usual, for the end of the world?

Meanwhile the only sensible solution that combines the personal and impersonal idea of the divine is found in Hinduism. God is a pervasive spirit, but can have specific incarnations. If you want to pray to Kali or Aphrodite, you are welcome — just allow others to pray to Ganesha if that suits them better. And those who’d rather play with their pets are being pious too. In theory at least, this tolerance is beautiful — in practice, we know that any religion has its dark side, and it’s the most religious countries that are most backward and violent. Somehow there is no escaping the perception that the universe works just fine without a god or gods, personal or impersonal — and the end of religion might well be worth it if it results in the end of suicide bombings and other acts of hate committed in the name of a god of mercy.

“I FEAR, WROTE NIETZSCHE, “THAT WE ARE NOT GETTING RID OF GOD BECAUSE WE STILL BELIEVE IN GRAMMAR.” [“TWILIGHT OF THE IDOLS”] The grammar of dream interpretation, whether Freudian or Jungian, is a crust of dead theology. We deaden the outer surfaces of our creative response to dreams in order to protect ourselves from the creative power the dreams bring back to us.” ~ Greg Mogenson, “God Is a Trauma.”

Mogenson is referring to the brain’s power to create reality — a power too often squandered on brooding over the past or fantasizing about the future — the negative and positive inflation of vicarious living, rather than actively creating our life in the present. To quote Mogenson: “The ‘right’ interpretation is the most daring interpretation. Dream interpretation is the space project of an ever-opening consciousness. Interpretations are trajectories, arrows of longing, satellites in the surrendered heaven of man’s creating will.”

Nietzsche both lamented and celebrated the death of god as a tyrant of the soul, an obstacle to soul-making and metaphor-making. “Indeed, we philosophers and "free spirits" feel, when we hear the news that ‘the old god is dead’, as if a new dawn shone on us; our heart overflows with gratitude, amazement, premonitions, expectations.”

To Nietzsche religious faith meant “not wanting to know the truth.” Freedom is the opposite of belief. “If there is today still no lack of those who do not know how indecent it is to ‘believe’ — or a sign of decadence, of a broken will to live — well, they will know it tomorrow.”

But our belief in grammar, though weaker now, still holds and will hold as long as we need to communicate (although I’ve graded hundreds of essays which showed no belief in grammar — that was before the automatic spell-check and grammar-check). I think this is in line with “Cognitive scientists are becoming increasingly aware that a metaphysical outlook may be so deeply ingrained in human thought processes that it cannot be expunged. What you actually believe is not a decision you make for yourself. Your fundamental beliefs are decided by much deeper levels of consciousness, and some may well be more or less set in stone.”

True: we have evolved to see patterns even where there are none, to connect the dots. The belief in cosmic justice is our default setting — it takes skeptical thinking to see randomness and coincidences.

I agree that it takes a cognitive effort to see that much depends on mere chance — though we can make the best of whatever chance brings our way. And we can still reject an immoral, outdated religion, and venture to find and/or create our own journey.

ending on beauty

To be spellbound — nothing’s easier. It’s one of the oldest tricks of the soil and springtime: the blue wind-flowers. They are in a way unexpected. They shoot up out of the brown rustle of last year in overlooked places where one’s gaze never pauses. The glimmer and float, yes, float, and that comes from their color. That sharp violet-blue now weighs nothing. Here is ecstasy, but low-voiced. “Career” — irrelevant! “Power” and “publicity” — ridiculous! They must have laid on a great reception up in Nineveh, with “pompe” and “Trompe up!” Raising the rafters. And above all those brows the crowning crystal chandeliers hung like glass vultures. Instead of such an overdecorated and strident cul-de-sac, the wind-flowers open a secret passage to the real celebration, which is quiet as death. 

~ Tomas Tranströmer

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