Affirmations Psychological Services, LLC
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Humanistic Hummings

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Seeking the rhythm within untold stories ... hummings from a psychological Being.

Author, Dwight Tolliver, Ph.D.
tollyphd@gmail.com


 
Poking Positive Psychology and Extending Carl Rogers

Over the years, I’ve picked up on a certain phenomenon. It hasn’t been researched (as far as I know) so feel free to peck away at the legitimacy and/or unscientific Nature of the phenomenon. When the weather is grey in Ohio, most people easily and comfortable blame the weather for their blah-like mood. As many blame the grey, they pine for the sun. Weather blaming and sun pining are normal, conventional, and socially acceptable ways to vent frustrations. Yet, the blaming of the weather isn’t the interesting phenomenon. Instead, I’ve picked up on what happens when the grey goes away for a few days.

February seems to be the time of the year when this phenomenon manifests most loudly. Just this past week, the sun has been shining. It’s been setting later and later each evening. Result? More interpersonal conflict and tension. I received various stories where the storyteller was either directly involved or indirectly around arguments, disagreements, frustrations, etc. The interpersonal conflict didn’t discriminate between home, work, or play.  The tension was everywhere. The pining for the sun was replaced by angst-y energy. Fortunately, I escaped the “bug going around” this week because my youngest daughter, Lindsay Marie, turned eight on Monday, February 25th. Happy birthday, Lubird!

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If you noticed the “positive reframe” as I shifted abruptly from the paradoxical yet unproven scientific phenomenon of ‘Sun Angst’ to my youngest daughter’s birthday, you’re following along quite nicely. My finger is pointing toward Positive Psychology (“PP”) and ready to offer a subtle yet respectful jab at the PP machine. As an entry, PP emerged in the 1990’s. Unfortunately, PP emerged in the 1990’s.

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During the advent of PP, happiness became the marker of one’s mental health status. Ugh. There are some, not many, psychologists who have asserted the idea that rhetoric, institutionalization, and industry are the culprits behind the mistaken beliefs about happiness in our culture. Stated simply, PP offered easy answers and comfortable guidelines to and about mental health, which solved the problem of ambiguity and uncertainty. As soon as psychology and educational leaders backed positive psychology as a science, the intended or unintended consequence was industry (business) could sell positivity easily. In other words, rhetoric rode on the coattails of the binary movement, galvanized by the polarization and Self-righteousness embedded within the collective unconscious of our Environment.

On the surface, PP seems like a humanistic approach. Yet, PP criticizes the negative aspects of Life. Good/bad and agree/disagree found a new companion with positive/negative. Instead of happiness being a natural yet impermanent emotional state, happiness became an achievement holding the potential of permanence. PP makes happiness a goal for which human beings reframe, trick, deceive, manage, or quest. What happens when you quest for something only to figure out it was there all along? Carl Rogers, the father of Humanistic Psychology, offered the beautiful antidote below.

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Dr. Rogers and I didn’t see eye to eye at first. His brilliance sunk in over time. Specifically, Dr. Rogers referred to human beings as organisms. Organisms? C’mon, Doc. Early in my doctoral training, the idea of human beings as organisms felt incongruent and seemed dehumanizing. Rogers coined the term congruence in his humanizing work. So how could this eminent scholar and leader of the humanistic movement refer to human beings as organisms? I didn’t like it. (I blamed the weather.) I held onto the feeling of incongruence because it seemed important to receive the words of Rogers, even though the language didn’t make sense initially.

Then, the power of the words struck me one night while I laid with my second daughter, Mallory, as an infant. Mallory slept on my chest, the nightly routine of giving Shan respite from her breast-feeding responsibilities. In those moments with each of my kids, I tried to receive their infancy. On that particular night with Mallory, I became aware of the subtle shifts she made with her body: for the purpose of gaining air, warmth, comfort, security, or belonging. She moved naturally, as she was built or designed to contort.

Yep, I understood Carl. His views on congruence and use of the word organisms resonated finally. Human beings are organisms that involuntarily and voluntarily (unconsciously and consciously) move toward comfort, safety, and security ‘cause survival and adaptability matter for human beings. In other words, human beings nestle into the neck of Mother Nature for warmth and comfort while creating enough space to breathe and feel confident in their Environment.

Congruence becomes a viable option for human beings experiencing and seeking Self in a way that allows abilities, interests, or capacities to manifest naturally. As an infant, Mallory shifted involuntarily. During development, I became a humanistic psychologist the very moment Mallory nestled her head into my neck. In fact, it’s our ability to fight for our lives that inspires Self and others to choose Life.

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(For Matrix Trilogy fans, Neo wasn’t ‘The One’ until he rescued Morpheus from Agent Smith. Neo needed to believe in something (e.g., that Zion needed Morpheus) before he could manifest his capacity of dodging, and not needing to dodge, bullets.)

Congruence catalyzes confidence and trust in Self, extending or expanding beyond the “fake it ‘till you make it” jurisdiction. Shit, when you’re blind-sided; you may actually feel an incredible burst of energy instead of feeling defeated. Congruence sounds simple and easy even though it can feel frustratingly elusive as well. Speaking of frustrations, human beings’ fixation on time, in the short-term, unnaturally limits congruence. Instead, congruence unearths short-term and long-term bursts of energy. Time is finite and quantifiable. Time focuses on tasking more so than experiencing.

Extending Carl’s humanistic work, the paradox he presented earlier was the idea of change through acceptance. Yet, the paradox begs the question, “what do I accept, and what does change mean?” Hypothetically, congruence holds two primary characteristics; it unearths energy and offers the stability of subsistence. Energy is different insofar as it isn’t burdened by time. Energy seeks and discovers space.

For example, the ‘Sun Angst’ phenomenon wouldn’t blame the grey as seriously or pine for the Sun so desperately.  As a result, we may flow with less resistance (thaw out more quickly) when the Sun rejoins our world. Since congruence unearths energy; we become younger and healthier as the energy pours out of us. We don’t disguise our interests, hide our talents, or mask our unique characteristics. We co-create, which enables our capacities to move toward the Sun and away from conflict, tension, and Self-righteousness. Magically, releasing our energy creates more time. Beautifully, we find acceptance.

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(With energy, Neo found the energy to save time, speed up, and save Trinity.)

Moving along, unearthing energy and manifesting our Nature moves human beings toward subsistence. Practically, subsistence refers to Self-supporting at a minimum level. Philosophically, subsistence can exist outside of space and time. In other words, subsistence means human beings can Self-support in a way that isn’t dependent on or contingent upon the objective realities of cultural conventions (space) or standardized rules (time).

In other words, subsistence leads to sustainable change. Subsistence redirects the power to the inside, rendering the outside world less powerful and ruthless. For Carl, a primary tenet of Humanistic Psychology is the idea that human beings (organisms) don’t need to be managed or controlled. YEP! Can you sense the change, where ‘Sun Angst’ mutates into solar power?  

Furthermore, congruence embodies flexible and fluid movement. The path of least resistance may result in movement away from barriers. However, fluid and flexible movement may result in moving against or moving toward various aspects of the Environment as well. Congruence exemplifies movement that varies per context and across situations. Human beings extend or expand into this type of fluid AND crystallized movement. Carl discussed the idea that human beings are driven by the process of becoming. The becoming process seems to be related to the union between fluid and crystallized intelligences, the fusion of non-linearity and linearity, or the synthesis between chaos and cosmos.

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Monty
My Surrenderings

It’s time to celebrate THE New Year again! It’s time for resolutions, reflections, strategies, goals, and changes. Suffice to say, the New Year highlights the passing of time. Which causes a chain reaction inside the cracks and crevices of the human system. Sometimes we overcompensate by trying to make up for wasted time (e.g., become highly productive and goal-directed). Sometimes we overreact (create fictional narratives) by becoming too critical of Self (e.g., “you’re a lazy piece of s*#t) and/or our Environment (e.g., “you’re a lazy piece of s*#t). (nope, there are no typos in the previous sentence.) Sometimes we sink into the oblivion of despair and hopelessness...

Speaking of time passing, let’s awkwardly shift to birthdays before proceeding. My son, Nathan Thurman, turned 12 on January 11th. He’s a beautiful kid who smells like 12 year-olds smell! Happy birthday, NateNate…

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And to my life partner, Shan, who celebrated a birthday on January 16th… I love you! (By the way, Nathan and Shan consented for their birthdays and my paintings, as gifts to them, to be included in the blog.)

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Ok. Back to the New Year’s stuff. Let’s start a movement different than overcompensatory and overreactive New Year’s sentiments. Instead of New Year’s resolutions, how ‘bout New Year’s surrenderings?  I know. It’s not as marketable as New Year’s resolutions and doesn’t roll off the tongue as easily. In fact, most clients cringe, recoil, and/or shutter when the idea of surrender is interjected into the therapeutic journey. I get it. Surrender is associated with weakness and viewed as un-American. On top of that, the word surrender is normal in religious communities, used historically within Self-help circles, and entrenched in step programs within the mental health world. So surrenderings are weak and/or dogmatic. Ugh…

Each January though, clients remind me of the need to surrender, highlighting the importance of learning what to release, yield, and let go of during the therapeutic journey. Clients yearn for the surrendering process as the passing of time causes them to rethink who they’ve become and how they’ve learned to relate to their Environment.  As various clients have stated throughout the years, “I’m tired of being me.” In truth, the feelings of weakness accompanying the mental/emotional states leading to the surrendering process can be painful and highly uncomfortable. For example, these mental/emotional states may lead to suicidality and/or a suicide attempt. Vulnerability is no joke; it’s a sinking sensation where human beings feel small.

Speaking of feeling small, I’ve committed to writing more fully about Humanistic Psychology, trauma, and neurodiversity over the past six years. The writing projects have extended my understandings of Beauty, Pain, emotional triggers, and therapeutic processes. I’ve felt inspired and deflated. I’ve experienced a distrust of others, Self-doubt, AND a sense of empowerment. I’ve felt small and tall. I’ve experienced the limitations of Self and others and become more grounded in humility. In essence, I’ve surrendered to my neurodiverse and unconventional ways of experiencing and relating to the Environment…


Surrendering #1: I’m not different just to be different. I’m different because I am different. Do you see the difference?


I sense human beings inside-out. Certainly, I’m not alone with this way of experiencing other human beings, yet it seems to be a minority group of people who relate to others in this manner. So let me try to express what sensing inside-out means. Inside, human beings possesses a tiny, hesitant, or deflated voice. These voices seem to be unknown within and outside of clients. I smell them; they want the wind to carry their scent. They scream to me, without raising their voices. I taste their innocence and digest their curiosities. I touch the internal impulse longing to “jump in my lap” in order to be nurtured.

These disempowered parts experienced a tremendous amount of Pain while growing up and weren’t safe to exist in the world due to their encounters with unhealthy and unhelpful (or downright cruel) parents, authorities, and societal systems. As such, most human beings develop defenders who keep the disempowered parts shielded from the pernicious undercurrent of oppression and protected from monsters. In other words, defenders neutralize taste and smell with baking soda.

In reality, the defenders don’t trust the therapeutic process easily. They don’t trust the world to nurture them. I can’t blame them. It makes sense. The protectors need to trust the therapeutic process for the unknown parts to be more known. Most importantly, the protectors needed to believe in me. For that to happen, I need to believe, more wholly, in Self. Being different, neurodiverse, and unconventional accumulates Pain and struggles to believe.


Surrendering #2: Releasing the accumulated Pain feels vulnerable.


Over time, I’ve learned other human beings love/hate, hate to love, and love to hate the part of me that senses them internally. Relying on validating or invalidating feedback from others is a confusing and ambiguous process (mess). Yet, the writing projects began with the intention of reducing Pain and enhancing Beauty outside of me. Ironically, writing created enough space for me to realize I was hiding from a truth… I need to release my Pain. I need to recognize the parts of me projecting Pain and a sense of victimhood into the world.

At various points during the writing projects, I asked the simple question,“what have I found during the writing process?” The answer became clearer. And experienced as gut-wrenching. With outstretched arms and an extended consciousness, I found an infinite understanding of and relationship with insignificance. I felt the truth beyond separateness, not the victim lurking within it. I felt small. And weak. I regurgitated the acidic bile of writing through the guise of inspiration and selflessness. I acknowledged my fear to be free. A relationship with insignificance created enough space for the unknown parts to challenge and stand up to the defenders and protectors hovering within.


Surrendering #3: Co-creating matters. The process of expressing transcends writing projects.


I call the defenders and protectors bullies these days. They throw temper tantrums every once in while as they attempt to pull me away from neurodiversity and toward conventionality. In other words, surrendering to a relationship with insignificance means it doesn't haunt me as much. You may ask, “Given the insignificance, why do I continue to write?” With a smile, I bridge the question with ideas such as “I don’t write. I express. I co-create. I paint. I feel color within and see the color of others.”

(For the Matrix Trilogy fans out there, Morpheus stated, “You take the red pill—you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.”)


I continue to express and co-create because I reclaimed the truest and purest form of validation. Which is the beginning, not the end. The source not the outcome. The external thing from which my human system receives energy, motivation, and/or inspiration is the Life-affirming and validating experience. Co-creating acknowledges this internal and intrinsic validation by extending (offering, responding) in kind. I don’t need anything more after the offering. And I remain open to the more…

I understand the difference between passion and fighting. I can spar with defenders and protectors (within and outside) while receiving the disempowered parts of Self and others. I've felt, sensed, and experienced more fully since I allowed insignificance and the selfishness of mattering to be Truths in my Life. I engage until people leave or shut doors. Others will question me and my intentions. Always.

Today (January 24th), I turn 45. As time passes, I create space and am at peace flowing within the neurodiverse world of Wonderland. Objectively, I continue to co-create on my 45th birthday. Subjectively, co-creating freed me from the shackles of outcomes, external validation, and extrinsic rewards. Space breeds possibilities.

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Monty
‘Just Say No’ to Burnout

In 1986, First Lady Nancy Reagan championed the phrase “Just say no to drugs and alcohol” while President Ronald Reagan’s administration made “War on Drugs” a primary aim of his presidency. In actuality, Reagan expanded on the battle Nixon fought in the 1970’s, which wasn’t about drugs at all. In truth, Nixon’s administration battled “hippies” and “Blacks.” In other words, Nixon staged a war on differences and diversity.


The humanistic movement of the social sciences, starting in the mid to late 1940’s and ending in the mid to late 1970’s, contributed to the legislations and judicial rulings that offered rights and freedoms to minorities and disenfranchised communities, most notably African-Americans. Predictably, the “War on Drugs” in the early 1970’s was about criminalizing, decrediting, and weakening the human beings and movements threatening the power and authority of privilege.


Former President Jimmy Carter, who seems under-appreciated as a leader, tried courageously to remove some of the unfairness and injustice of Nixon’s administration. Then, the charisma and Hollywood charm of ‘The Gipper’ and Nancy captured the Hearts and minds of Americans. Stereotypically, Nancy gave Americans a cognitive, internal script while Ronald played the role of the “knight in shining armor” who was punishing and battling the wrong-doers of our world. Yup, Mom and Dad were making us feel strong and keeping us safe.

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In the humanistic spirit of transparency, this writing is about the psychology of burnout not about political ideology. The idea of ‘Just Say No’ as a behavioral and situational strategy doesn’t work long-term. It’s an internal script that works some of the time. It’s too simplistic and cannot navigate the situational intelligence human beings need within ambiguous experiences, especially in duplicitous human relations and hoodwinking human encounters. Furthermore, even when other human beings aren’t trying to deceive you; encountering human beings who relate differently in the world because of known or hidden diversity markers may knock your script on its bum.


Once the wind escapes the staleness of Nancy’s message, we’re confronted with another psychological barrier. Which is to depend on the leaders in our Environment to protect us. Former President Reagan, a.k.a. The Teflon President and The Great Communicator, projected an image of being unflappable. Stoic. Strong. Sure. Confident. In this way, there is no burnout because nothing sticks. Reagan and his administration seemed to create a perception of safety and illusion of protection, maybe to deflect attention from the excessive number of scandals, indictments, and convictions directly related to his administration. Suffice to say, at various times, our protectors and Environment will fail us and/or not be around to keep us safe.

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In essence, burnout emerges when internal scripting/strategizing AND external leaders/managers each fail to help us in a certain context (e.g., relationship, job, decision-making about substance use, tense conversation). As a result, we feel as though we’re being attacked and victimized. Ultimately, we become angry. Underneath burnout lies the searing emotion of unhealthy anger. Of course, anger has various ways of boiling over and burning Self and/or others. Many clients seek therapeutic services when they feel burned out, using phrases such as, “I’m shutting down,” “I’m done,” “I feel stuck (trapped),” “I’m tired of being me,” or “I’m damned if I do AND damned if I don’t.”


In other words, our scripts fail AND our Environment fails us. Over time, the Pain accumulates, and our Hearts begin to ache. Human beings start saying “yes” when we should say “no” and “no” when we should say “yes.” Since we live in an either/or, binary, all-or-none culture, we become contrarian and overcompensatory. Many times, we do the opposite because doing what we’re supposed to do leads to rejection, humiliation, punishment, the silent treatment, etc.  As a result, we rebel against the script, rule, convention, expectation, or standard. All of a sudden, we’re in a full-fledged burnout phase.


For many human beings, December represents the accumulation of resentments, frustrations, and irritations as we are forced back into familial and socially acceptable conventions. In other words, the Holiday Season shifts between the survival strategies of scripting and inhibiting AND the rebellious desires to ‘Just Say Yes.’ In fact, December has been the most inconsistent and unpredictable month of the year during my career as a psychologist. Clients seem more spacy, numb, forgetful, and/or jaded during this time of the year. Paradoxically and simultaneously, clients seem the most appreciative (grateful) of real, genuine connections during this time of the year. Given the paradox, it’s important to seek a greater understanding of burnout, instead of regurgitating the simple strategy of ‘Just Say No to Burnout.’ So let’s take the dive...


I get it. From a personal perspective, there have been many instances throughout my life when I have written a note or letter to another human being, spawning from the depths of my heart. Typically, the heart-felt letters were accompanied by a monetary or actual gift, and, most of the time, the recipient of the letter and gift thanked me for the gift. Regarding the heart-felt letter… radio silence. In many instances, we experience little to no payoff for being vulnerable and sharing our hearts. As such, the survival strategies and rebellious reactions are the best we think we can do to protect our Hearts. Either survival or reactivity are primary ways to manage burnout.


Optimistically, there is a middle way through the deleterious effects of burnout. Which is to follow your Heart. Following your heart means to lead with your heart and to allow your heart to receive the situation, question, conflict, tension, decision, etc. and trusting that your Heart can handle the hurt it may endure. If my Heart leads, I’ll send the heart felt letter regardless of payoff. Instead of protecting our Hearts through Teflon, we allow it to lead because our hearts are strong and can guide us more wholly, seeking the wisdom to know when to say yes or no and how to wiggle through ambiguity. Which, I know, seems counterintuitive when burnout starts knocking at the door.


Following your heart is similar to Alice following the White Rabbit. We open the door to a magical, beautiful, and tender place where the unexpected and unknown are embraced.  

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(For the Matrix Trilogy fans out there, Neo was guided to ‘Follow the White Rabbit,’ which led to Trinity, generating a fuller knowing of Self and the Matrix)

 

Yet, it would be hypocritical (and uninspiring) to end this writing with the internal script and idea of ‘Just Follow Your Heart.’ Even though I dressed up the script with a reference to a complicated and complex movie that’s anything but simple, it’s still hypocritical. As such, please allow me my heart to lead as I share more wholly and fully…


December 13th (today) is the anniversary of my dad’s death. In the image below, I was 12. Less than a year later, he died. The image below captured the last Christmas I experienced with my father. I loved my dad with all of my Being and miss him in ways that cannot be expressed through language. When he died, my heart endured a devastating blow that knocked me down in unspeakable ways.

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Yet, here’s how you know for certain I’m leading with my Heart… my dad didn’t and couldn’t (probably) teach me about how to follow my heart. He died from a heart attack. Most likely, burnout and shame were the culprits of his Heart attacking him. I didn’t learn the power of vulnerability or the strength derived within honesty and transparency from my father. Looking back, I believe he struggled to be vulnerable and couldn’t find the strength to share and express his Heart.


And, my heart said ‘Yes’ to the unflappable Love between us. And, my heart said ‘No’ to his premature burnout in Life. In my heart, I know he would be proud of me for learning to follow my heart AND for living differently than he lived.  


Which is the hardest thing my Heart has ever had to admit...








Monty
When October Goes

“When October Goes” was a song performed by Barry Manilow in 1984. Yet, my introduction to the song manifested through the beautiful voice of Nancy Wilson, who was born in Chillicothe, Ohio, and graduated from West High School in Columbus, Ohio. More impressively, Nancy’s singing career lasted over 50 years. The melody and lyrics of “When October Goes” depict the sinking feeling associated with November. The entirety of the song expresses the deep, aching Pain associated with Loss and Sadness.

Psychologically and emotionally, October seems to be the most chaotic month of the year. In last month’s blog, I tried to capture the erratic and up/down aspects of October through the discussion on the internal and external forces “pulling” us in different directions. As a consequence of the cortisol- and adrenaline-rich month of October, human beings seem to shift in November. Sadness sets in as the days begin to darken more firmly and temperatures become colder in a more predictable, certain way.

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Sadness is the most uncomfortable and painful emotional energy human beings face in our journeys through Life. Subjectively, Sadness (Loss) is the cost of doing business with Love. One of my humanistic teachers, Carl Jung, stated “Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word happy would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness. It is far better to take things as they come, along with patience and equanimity.”

Personally, this October brought its typical array of Beauty and Pain AND Surprise and Loss. Over the years, I’ve learned to acknowledge and release the necessary losses discovered following the turbulence of October. For example, a couple of years ago; I realized I’m not a persuasive person as I failed miserably at trying to build a bridge between a dear friend of mine. I tried too hard to make it work; I tried to persuade too much. He shut the door on our relationship… forever. Being persuasive isn’t in me. Persuasion requires too much force.

Yet, each human being carries the capacity to influence. That November, I sought a fuller knowing of the influencing part of me. I let go of trying to influence through persuasion. Instead, I became more stable and secure in my way to influence, which is through the process of understanding human beings’ movements through the world as deeply and compassionately as possible. In the spirit of Jung, I focused on internal growth… patience and equanimity.

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This November, the struggle to remain patient is real. At the beginning of October, talented scientists from all areas of the world released an Environmental report detailing the realities associated with Earth’s warming skies. It’s happening. It’s real. There are real consequences waiting for us in the future. Which is a not-so-distant future at this point. The long-term is merging with the short-term. It’s happening. It’s real. Stated simply, my sadness rests in the reality that we stopped talking about the report a day or so after it was released. Another short-term story, event, problem, crisis, opinion, etc. consumed human beings into the complacency of oblivion. Sadly, human beings lose sight of the ‘Big Picture’ easily and conveniently.

Speaking of the ‘Big Picture,’ human beings don’t have the capacity to save planet Earth. In all sincerity, planet Earth will survive for a long time. There are projections detailing the reality of Earth remaining a stable rock in the Universe for 350,000 years, at minimum. The Universe will eradicate planet Earth, not human beings. Instead, Earth will eradicate human beings and mend the violent brakes, bruises, and incisions we’ve forced onto its amazing and inspiring Beauty.  

Human beings’ consumption into short-term rewards and wants precludes the long-term companion of Sadness to influence us daily and stay with us when we feel weak or insecure. In October, I have more compassion for losing sight of the ‘Big Picture.’ November is a different story. It’s not as chaotic as October. Yet, we must develop and nurture our relationship with Sadness in order to reap the rewards November offers. In the spirit of Jung, the emotional energy of sadness can be a stabilizing force for human beings even though the experience of Loss is uncomfortable in an indescribable way. In sadness, the clarity of helplessness emerges as an undeniable truth. Acknowledging helplessness requires the understanding and surrender to the reality that there will be aspects of Life outside of our control… always. Similar to my dear friend, human beings and human-made systems will shut their doors on each of us.

“When October Goes” expresses the necessary losses associated with the unavoidable aging process, AND the unnecessary losses related to the inescapable reality of Loss. Yet, human being’s treatment of planet Earth is the antipode of unavoidability or inevitability. We’ve scorched our skies unnecessarily and are producing a premature eradication of the human species. We’ve waited on systems to fix real problems and depended on leaders to remain focused on the ‘Big Picture.’  Neither systems nor leaders have allowed patience and equanimity to be its primary energy source.

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For the Matrix Trilogy fans, human beings scorched the skies in a desperate attempt to take away the energy source (i.e., Sun) upon which the Machines (a.k.a., artificial intelligence) depended.


Patience and equanimity are possibilities, leading to sustainability just as Nancy Wilson’s singing career lasted 50+ years. Each offers a way to surrender to helplessness without becoming powerless, entitled, jaded, and/or complacent. Each focuses on internal growth. Each knows how to let go of short-term battles that weaken us. Patience reflects on instability, receives multiple perspectives, and offers a ladder into cooperation (not compromise, which is a bridge built by entitlement and complacency). Equanimity balances passion with sustainability, reconciling the urgency of short-term wants with the wisdom of long-term survival.

The struggle to remain patient is real this November. I’m continuing to persist and endure in the face of helplessness. This blog is insignificant and, most likely, helpless in the movement toward influencing others to focus on internal growth and cooperating with Earth responsibly. Yet, I’m helpless not to share as well. I’m helpless not to sense the need for human beings to focus on internal growth. I’m helpless not to lose sight of the ‘Big Picture.’



I’m helpless…


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Despite helplessness, I’m grateful for the song “When October Goes.” The song offered me a greater knowing of sadness, loss, patience, and equanimity. The song extended a reason to embrace “the cold November rain.”

I see a truth. Earth is neutral to whether human beings survive. For sure, it offers abundance and rewards. Yet, if we treat it irresponsibly; it will deplete its offerings. I care about our planet because I’m selfish. I don’t want our planet to punish us into oblivion. I want the human species to survive. Selfishly, I want the option, if fortunate enough, to live to be 100. I’ll have a grandchild who’s my age currently when I’m 100. I want him to experience Earth’s offerings, Sadness in November, and the beautiful voice of Nancy Wilson.

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Dwight Tolliver, Ph.D.
Surprise, it's Halloween!

Growing up, I never understood the appeal of Halloween. Dressing up as someone/something else felt incongruent and disingenuous. In fact, the only times Trick-or-Treat felt ok were the two years I dressed up as Ricky Schroder and Billy Idol. (For the younguns out there, Ricky Schroder was a cool actor kid in his heydey on Silver Spoons and Billy Idol was a rock n’ roller in the 80’s who was probably never really cool).

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I felt like I looked like them. It was more congruent. Less disingenuous. Yet, when I began receiving other human beings as a clinician; it became apparent that I missed the point of Halloween. Which is to be someone/something you’re not. To free Self from the constraints of identity, consistency, and congruence. As a clinician, this phenomenon surprised me…

Speaking of surprise, let’s transition to Nature. Specifically, try to envision the beautiful waves that can be experienced at various beaches around the world. While receiving the presence of the waves, the cresting of the waves is a “sight to behold.” Seriously, cresting can be a mesmerizing experience. Moving forward, the crashing of the waves may seem deliciously dangerous at times, meaning we can assess the risk of the crash based on the height of the crest. The cresting and crashing of the waves stimulate our senses regardless of whether we experience the waves intimately and directly. The beauty, awe, and fear of the cresting and crashing are tangible; they can create a breathtaking and relaxing experience. More poignantly, cresting and crashing can be enjoyed and experienced from afar and within.  

In the spirit of ‘transitioning into,’ the pull of the wave is a different experience. The force of the pulling wave is a ladder, not a bridge. Succinctly, the strength and unpredictability of the pulling force surprise us; it takes over and saturates our entire Being. Yet, the primary reason for the surprise of the pulling force is the reality that we cannot feel or experience the force from afar. We cannot prepare for its strength and unpredictable Nature. The force is an undercurrent, which limits our ability to see the Beauty and Pain its carrying. To understand the force of the pull, we must experience it directly (with an open heart, mind, and soul). As we experience the pulling force, our equilibrium shifts (even weeks after a visit to the ocean, the sway from the pulling force remains in the mind and body).

As human beings, we’re being pulled in opposite directions all of the time. More boldly, the majority of people seem to make decisions based on a reward/punishment system that’s defined externally. For example, the social psychological phenomenon of ‘Obedience to Authority,’ studied by Stanley Milgram, was influenced by the monstrous actions and complete inhumanity of the Holocaust. Unfortunately, Milgram’s research suggested that there’s a monster residing inside most, if not all, human beings. In essence, the study displayed the reality that the majority of research participants would ‘push the button’ that inflicts intense, harmful shocks to another human being when an authority told them to do so.

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In simple terms, the monster inside is following orders and is being externally directed by a system based on the established rules and standards of hierarchy and authority. In essence, one human being will hurt and harm another human being if an authority figure is telling them to do it. The shitkicker part of this is that we’re conditioned, from an early age, to act in this way. During most of our lives, conforming to authority is perceived and recognized as the antithesis of monstrous (standing in line as we marched to lunch in elementary school).

The social psychologist Solomon Asch studied conformity, noting similar results as Milgram. Conforming to social pressure and obedience to authority are valued and implicitly expected. Blending in with rules and hierarchy are validated by institutions and authorities. Obedience is desired. Order is required. The authority to obey is tangible and known. Control, not surprise, becomes the valued human experience. As such, an objective reality unfolds, which may consume our subjective experience in the world. Conformity and obedience become the predominant systems that define rewards and punishments.

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As a result, human beings are conditioned to make decisions with the goal of receiving external praise and validation Or not to receive blame, criticism, and rejection from sources originating external to them. Do you feel the pulling forces at play? Yes, human beings possess a strong drive to belong, manifesting as either blending-in or fitting-in. Experiencing a sense of belonging matters, which is an intense undercurrent in and of itself. To belong fuels the experience of reward or punishment, depending on how successful one is. As such, this particular pulling force can feel monstrous.

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Let’s dive deeper and add a little perspective… the pulling force related to being independent and autonomous, especially when our intuition tells us that it feels right, is also intense. The pull toward Self-liberation is as real as the drive to belong. In other words, the force of understanding our subjective reality is strong. This is at the heart of the challenge. Finding an equilibrium with the reward/punishment paradigm is daunting, confusing, disorienting, and painful. Human beings have limits to the amount of ambiguity and uncertainty they can tolerate or experience. There’s truth in this, and there’s no reason to trick (or treat) ourselves into believing differently about our limits.

Speaking of Trick-or-Treat, I’ve learned to embrace the experience of Surprise. When I received clients’ subjective experiences of Halloween, I was surprised. Which piqued my psychological curiosities. While engaging my curiosities, I learned the depths of the pulling forces associated with the construct of permission, especially how the permission to be someone or something different becomes a treasured Holiday in our culture. Stated simply, we are granted the permission to be different, independent, and autonomous. Yet, the permission is based on a system or some random authority allowing and/or telling us to be different, independent, or autonomous. Does this mean our drive to be liberated is more real than our drive to belong? Or vice versa? Or is it and AND both?  

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(For the Matrix Trilogy fans, Neo’s process of liberation is guided by Morpheus’     confident, patient, passionate, engaging, and steady presence. The “What is real?”     scene symbolizes the Pain and Beauty of the Self-liberation process.)

 

Oh no... the and/both scenario may indicate different and competing drives residing within human beings. The undercurrent so to speak. And the pulling force of internal conflicts and competition living and breathing inside of us. The emotional and physiological experience of Surprise offers answers to these conflicts and competing drives. I believe this. I couldn’t do my job if I didn’t believe in Surprise. I would have judged my Halloween-enthusiast clients as incongruent and disingenuous. I would have evaluated them through my eyes only. That seems anti-therapeutic and the antithesis of the process necessary for healing and mending to occur.

Yup, the human story is not and never will be complete. There is no arrival point. We covered a ton just now. You may feel somewhat woozy and dizzy. It’s ok. The process of synthesization is disorienting. The process of integration shakes our equilibrium (like the pulling force of waves). More is coming. There’s always more…








Monty