Affirmations Psychological Services, LLC


Humanistic Hummings


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

Author, 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).


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.


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.


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.


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?  


(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…

Meditation: The Importance of Transitioning

For many human beings around the world, 9/11 shifted Life. I witnessed the event from a hospital lounge as Shan and I were making final preparations to take our first child, Julianne Kristi, home for the first time. She was born on 9/10.  (Happy birthday, sweetie!) Life has been different since those two days…


“Once upon a time there were two countries, at war with each other. In order to make peace after many years of conflict, they decided to build a bridge across the ocean.

But because they never learned each other’s language properly, they could never agree on the details, so the two halves of the bridge they started to build never met.

To this day the bridge extends far into the ocean from both sides, and simply ends halfway, miles in the wrong direction from the meeting point.

And the two countries are still at war.”  

~Vera Nazarian, The Perpetual Calendar of Inspiration


Unfortunately, this is an all-too-common human experience. We’re at war with each other. We’re at war with Self. Learning the art and science of transitioning holds the possibility of two different entities (two countries, two people, two parts of Self) learning “each other’s language.” We can learn to build bridges. But to learn “each other's language,” we need to create ladders. If not, we end up “miles” away from Self and each other.

Bridges are transitional structures used to overcome obstacles separating two distinct areas. A bridge overcomes rivers, ravines, and roads as obstacles. In essence, bridges offer human beings the ability to move between two distinct places. For example, using a bridge is less risky than swimming across an alligator infested river.

Ladders are transitional structures used to overcome gravity and human limitations as obstacles. Ladders take human beings into qualitatively different spaces... risky, unexplored, and uncomfortable spaces. To learn “each other’s language,” ladders are vital mediums of connection because they reduce the risk-taking involved while climbing trees with high-hanging fruit.

Bridges and ladders are transitional objects. For the human psyche, transitioning is one of the most important markers of being healthy. And meditation is the daily practice of learning the art and science of transitioning. Just as bridges and ladders are structures built and created in our Environment, a meditation practice becomes a structure built and created within Self, a rewiring of brain circuitry.


During the initial moments of a meditation experience, daily stressors seem to bombard our conscious thoughts. These thoughts may shorten our breathing as we hold our inhales in our chests, giving rise to a mild panic state. Typically, it’s a challenge to transition away from short-term tasking. To the human mind in this moment, the practice of meditation seems wasteful and maybe even indulgent.

Here are possible thoughts during the initial stages:

  • “this is stupid”
  • “this doesn’t solve anything”
  • “this doesn’t get the laundry done”
  • “of yeah, remember the breathing part to this” (this is the transition back to breathing)
  • “the kids need a bath”
  • “he really said that to me today”
  • “the report needs to be finished by tomorrow”
  • “deep breath, you can do this” (another transition back)
  • “meditation is stupid”

As our human system transitions between tasks, sitting silently with the intention of focusing on deep breathing is challenging. Daily tasking rules and governs our emotional and mental states. We become consumed by these tasks. When the daily task transitions to the practice of meditation, we struggle mightily. We struggle because we should be doing something else, and we struggle because we’re failing at the thing we’re doing right now, which we should be able to do “right.”

Yet, failing is an inevitable outcome during the practice of meditation. To this day (after 12 years of a strong meditation practice), I fail every single time. And failing is highly uncomfortable for human beings.


Let’s zoom out for a second… isn’t the task of meditation, simply, to focus on deep breathing? Not exactly. There’s a difference between a task and an intention. The intention is to remain focused on deep breathing. Yet, the actual task in front of us during a meditation experience is to feel competent when Self is the authority.

Speaking of tension, here are some thoughts that occur as the focus turns inwardly and tension heightens in the human system:

  • “I suck at this”
  • “I’m failing miserably”
  • “but I’m laughing at myself”
  • “oh shit, I’m supposed to be focused on my breathing” (transition back)
  • “I kind of like this ‘no rules’ thing”
  • “my hip is tight”
  • “breathe, Dwight” (you get the point)
  • “I annoy myself sometimes”     

As you can see, the second phase of a meditation experience transitions inwardly in a more pronounced way. Human beings focus and live externally, so it makes sense that the transition into Self is challenging. Potentially, the practice of meditation brings clarity to what’s being stuffed away along with when and how human beings avoid and ignore various aspects of life. With clarity, tension mounts. Tension is uncomfortable. And growth generating. Yep, the purpose of meditation is to be uncomfortable. Ironic, right?

Don’t grumble... it’s not as if this is an absurd phenomenon. Muscles grow and strengthen from resistance training because muscle fibers are disrupted and/or damaged at the cellular level. Exposure to germs at earlier ages, on average, foster physiological benefits across the lifespan. If you’ve performed the yoga exercise of ‘Plank,’ you’ll recognize the idea that tension heightens as you resist gravity. Similarly, the practice of meditation is a type of resistance training exercise for the brain and mind-body connection.

The last phase of a mediation experience is nonlinear. As stress and tension are activated and heightened, human beings feel and and sense internal pains. We enter a different realm. Time and space are distorted. Ego and identity aren’t needed. We feel and sense the meaninglessness of daily tasking. Emotions and truths (mirrors) enter the fore of our consciousness. We create ladders. We learn “each other’s language.”

We see different paths. We envision options. We sense a deeper sense of fear. We feel our own pain. We envision Choice.


For Matrix Trilogy fans, Neo chose Trinity (the door on the left). In some ways, he chose Love. In more ways, he chose differently than ‘The One’ had chosen the previous five times. Beautiful!

The practice of meditation is a voluntary choice. There’s no way around the pain we feel and sense during meditation. Here are some thoughts you may experience while in the time-space distortion of this realm:

  • “I feel sad and vulnerable”
  • “I’m scared to love the people I love”
  • “I want to love more”
  • “I can stay connected to my breathing while sensing these feelings” (ladder moment)
  • “my stomach feels woozy and irritable”
  • “my head is pounding with pressure… the right side”
  • “I can’t imagine dying”
  • “Breathing is Life”
  • "Julianne is Beautiful"
Dwight Tolliver, Ph.D.
Curiosity Matters

“Curiosity killed the cat.” Even though a cat has nine lives, curiosity is its demise. Or is it? The actual phrase, originating from English playwright Ben Jonson's play Every Man in His Humour in 1598, stated “care’ll kill the cat.” Now we’re getting somewhere. Yup, care killed the cat. That makes so much sense from a psychological perspective. In other words, too much care, taking on too much responsibility, too much ego, too much concern, etc. is the real threat to prematurely end the cat’s Life.

As we expand the idea of caring too much, we begin to notice the toxic burden of clutching onto too many expectations, taking on too much responsibility for the world’s problems, toting around a rigid identity related to righteousness, and carrying ego-dependent identities (rigid beliefs about Self and others). As the cat informs, this way of moving through the world weakens our very nature as human beings. The weakening occurs because we become consumed by our own rigidity. We don’t adapt. We don’t expand, extend, or grow beyond the surface of the identity onto which we’re toting and clutching. Similar to the cat, weakening our human system make us more susceptible to being preyed upon.

For the Matrix Trilogy fans out there, holding onto a rigid identity may result in either deletion (Death/Eradication) or being controlled by the Merovingian (Loss of Autonomy/Freedom).

For the Matrix Trilogy fans out there, holding onto a rigid identity may result in either deletion (Death/Eradication) or being controlled by the Merovingian (Loss of Autonomy/Freedom).

The despair that manifested for the cat circumvented the basic nature of the cat, meaning it’s the only thing from which the cat couldn’t recover. “System Failure.” Too much care precluded the cat’s capacity to live out its destiny of nine lives, its essential characteristics of resilience and adaptability. Cats make mistakes because they have the wiggle room of nine lives. Yup, caring too much creates desperation and despair. Consumption infects the entirety of your Being as you quest for one outcome or attach to one right way to be in this world. When the outcome goes awry, care mutates into the unhealthy mental and emotional states of sorrow and loneliness where Death, not Life, starts knocking at the door...

For some peculiar reason, the adage of “care’ll kill the cat” turned into the phrase “curiosity killed the cat.” Without sinking into the abyss of conspiracy theories, we can acknowledge the reality that curiosity has been viewed, historically, as intrusive and meddlesome. Curiosity can be seen by others as too risky, too exploratory, or too selfish. For some reason, our society values the idea of caring. Care holds privilege from a conventional perspective. Care becomes associated with kindness, and giving the appearance of kindness becomes normal and over-valued. As such, care can be used by some as a socially acceptable weapon that hides behind the mask of conventional wisdom.

Unlike Ben Johnson’s play, curiosity, not care, is the main attraction of this play. No weapons are needed. Curiosity doesn’t hide. Curiosity looks fellow human beings in the eyes and invites them into engagement, not consumption. Instead, let’s honor a curious soul who I view as an artistic genius. Yep, it’s an honor to invite Justin Timberlake to our Play (don’t laugh). In 2006, Justin brought “sexy back,” or, at least, offered it as a possibility. In a similar fashion, the adage “care’ll kill the cat” is often followed by the rejoinder “but satisfaction brought it back.” Yes, let’s reclaim curiosity as natural and healthy movement and bring satisfaction back as a way to move in our daily lives just as Justin brought sexy back (which wasn’t really about sexiness per se).

Regarding the idea of bringin’ satisfaction back, let’s add water as a backdrop in our play where curiosity is the main attraction. Water satisfies human beings when the human system experiences mild dehydration symptoms. Water doesn’t produce earth shattering excitement; it satisfies our mind and body. Satisfaction may not be “sexy” but seems to flow congruently with the way human beings move through the world in the short-term. Curiosity is satisfying; it engages its Environment with interest and satiates the human system’s desire to move toward and participate with its Environment. Curiosity asks appropriate and natural ‘Why’ questions (and who knows where it may lead us).


Yet, and this is significant to understand in relation to the Beauty of curiosity and a primary reason others attempt to eradicate curious energy, curiosity creates tension. Curiosity can be clumsy as it unwittingly bumps into its Environment. Again, curiosity doesn’t hide behind conventional wisdom or social acceptability. The process, not the outcome, is its drive and energy source. The answer or decision is not as appealing as the joy derived from the exploring and experimenting. Furthermore, being process-oriented means we won’t attach as easily to our curious energies. In other words, curiosity isn’t desperate or Self-righteous.

Next time you have a chance, listen to a five or six year-old kid. You’ll see the Beauty and innocence of curiosity. The tension curiosity creates doesn’t encroach upon others even if it’s perceived as such. In my humanizing work with clients, curiosity creates space for me and the client. Curiosity allows me to receive and even respect desperation without becoming desperate. We create space, which offers the opportunity to engage without either of us taking the comment, question, or insight too seriously. Yet, the curious remark may build a bridge or ladder into areas of the psyche where Pain and Beauty await.

Or not.

The future is wildly uncertain and divinely unknown.

For now, let’s go with idea that curiosity satiates human beings’ desires to grow within and learn from its Environment. Like water, curiosity satisfies the human system when we’re bored (dehydrated). Like water, it quenches the human system when we’re genuinely and intrinsically interested in understanding some thing more fully (maintaining healthiness). Like water, curiosity flows well as it moves with its Environment. Like water, curiosity may run into obstacles as it looks for the path of least resistance. Like water, curiosity is essential and necessary to and for the human system. Like water, curiosity has survived the test of time. Like water, curiosity matters.

Dwight Tolliver, Ph.D.