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Oct 16, 2013 - Uncategorized    No Comments

New song from the Maccabeats

Dear Pope Francis,

I really like the Maccabeats. They’re a Jewish a cappella group made up of students from Yeshiva University in New York. They have a new song out. They usually sing in English — or mostly in English — but this one is all in Hebrew. I don’t speak Hebrew, but still liked the video.

Here’s a link if it doesn’t play for you.

It’s a bit early for Hanukkah, but this is one of my favorite Maccabeats videos:

Your friend,

Kevin

Oct 11, 2013 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Bill Plotkin’s Wild Mind

book-wild-mind

Dear Pope Francis,

I wrote yesterday about my experience at a retreat given by Bill Plotkin. This poem that I posted awhile ago also sprung from that weekend.

Bill Plotkin came back into my life just recently when I was sent his latest book for review. It’s called Wild Mind: A Field Guide to the Human Psyche. To be honest, it languished on my nightstand for awhile. I just never seemed to get around to reading it.

On my recent trip, however, I had plenty of time to read, and so I took it along. I’m glad I did. It was great to encounter Bill Plotkin again; he has so may amazing insights.

I should probably start by saying that Plotkin’s books can be challenging reads, and this is particularly true with Wild Mind. Plotkin has a background in psychology, and his books are filled with terms such as ego, self, mind, etc… It can be a little daunting, but I never let it dissuade me. I just plunge on ahead, confident I’ll get what I need from the book regardless. It landed in my lap for some reason, after all.

In Wild Mind, Plotkin calls for a re-visioning of the primarily Western approach to psychology. He writes that psychology, like many things in the Western world, has become mechanistic, almost soulless. If I’m reading him correctly, he feels psychology has been reduced to analyzing people as if they were machines — highlighting defects, applying fixes, and generally getting the whole rattletrap back on the road as soon as possible. He also writes about psychology’s tendency to pathologize and focus on what’s gone wrong in a person, rather than what’s going right. This, he says, keeps people from finding what is their “original wholeness.”

He writes:

“And the key to reclaiming our original wholeness is not merely to suppress psychological symptoms, recover from addictions and trauma, manage stress, or refurbish dysfunctional relationships, but rather to fully flesh out our multifaceted, wild psyches, committing ourselves to the largest story we’re capable of living, serving something bigger than ourselves.”

I know that’s a mouthful (and possibly a run-on), but what I think Plotkin is getting at is psychology has spent so much time focusing on what’s gone haywire in people, that it forgets there’s a whole person attached to that particular condition, addiction or ailment. And, much of that person might be doing just fine.

Now, I don’t think Plotkin is saying that we shouldn’t be diagnosing and treating people with mental illness. It’s important, and not enough attention, in my mind, is being paid to helping those among us who are struggling with some form of mental illness. But, what I think Plotkin is getting at is there’s more to someone than their diagnosis of depression, addiction, bi-polar disorder, or whatever, and what’s going right should be just as much a focus as what’s gone a bit off.

Another of Plotkin’s insights that I particularly liked was that it’s impossible to separate psychological problems from the culture, society and environment in which a person lives And, that we’re all equally responsible for creating a supportive culture that does not foster the development of mental illness.

He writes:

“…our psychological health relies profoundly on the health of the world in which we are embedded…”

And, also:

“Behavioral patterns that some might perceive as psychological disorders are often understandable and natural reactions to a disordered world.”

I don’t think he’s saying that mental illness is not caused by biochemical imbalances and other factors. What he is saying, I think, is that it doesn’t help people who are pre-disposed to depression or anxiety that we happen to live in an era where fear and intimidation are used to make us do everything from take our shoes off in airport security lines to douse our homes — and ourselves — in antiseptics to fend off germs. By seeing mental illness holistically, he argues, we would place more emphasis on our duty to create a social fabric that does not trigger mental illness in those who are predisposed.

This is all a bit dense, as I mentioned, and I may not have it entirely right. But, what I really like about Plotkin is the fact that he doesn’t divorce mental illness from the culture we live in; he sees them in a symbiotic relationship. A sick and wounded culture leads to sick and wounded people. For people who are hoping for change, like me, and wanting to do a very small part, this is powerful stuff.

I have heard you echo some of these concepts in your comments, Pope Francis. It’s one of the reasons I keep following you. I think there’s a lot of Bill Plotkin in you — and vice versa.

What do you think, Pope Francis (and others who may be reading this…), about Plotkin’s ideas?

Your friend,

Kevin

(The link to Plotkin’s book is an affiliate link to Amazon and if you buy it through that link I’ll get a bit of money — to buy more books!)

Oct 9, 2013 - Uncategorized    No Comments

What do I want to spend my time on?

Sundial

Photo credit: http://morguefile.com/creative/juditu

Dear Pope Francis,

I was talking to my mom yesterday. She’s my go-to guru when I’m stuck or need to look at things a different way. Both my parents, actually, are great sources of wisdom.

Anyway, I was expressing a sense of overwhelm I’ve had lately. It just seems that I have so many things pulling me in so many directions right now, it’s hard to figure out what to focus on first.

After listening, my mom said, “What do you want to spend your time on?” This struck me profoundly. I seem to spend my days worrying about how others want me to spend my time. To some extent, this is a fact of working for a living. I need to make money to support myself, so I need to incorporate the needs of others into my life. But, I think that where I can be more careful is how I apportion hours that are truly mine. I’m only at work for a certain number of hours a day; the rest are mine to do with as I see fit. That may seem like a simple idea, but, for me, it’s something of a profound realization.

Hand-in-hand with that is the idea of being more present and mindful asI go about my day. Every moment I have the opportunity to choose my focus and my intention. This, too, is a powerful insight.

As I was thinking about all of this, I saw this quote from Pema Chodron’s most recent book pop up on Facebook. It spoke perfectly to where I am right now and I thought I’d share:

“At some point, if you’re fortunate, you’ll hit a wall of truth and wonder what you’ve been doing with your life. At that point you’ll feel highly motivated to find out what frees you and helps you to be kinder and more loving, less klesha driven and confused. At that point you’ll actually want to be present—present as you go through a door, present as you take a step, present as you wash your hands or wash a dish, present to being triggered, present to simmering, present to the ebb and flow of your emotions and thoughts. Day in and day out, you’ll find that you notice sooner when you’re hooked, and it will be easier to refrain. If you continue to do this, a kind of shedding happens—a shedding of old habits, a shedding of being run around by pleasure and pain, a shedding of being held hostage by worldly concerns.”

What all of this means for me, I think, is that I am going to pay more attention to how I’m spending the time that is mine, and my intentions for what happens during that time. I may not have 24 hours in a day all to myself, but I do have a good portion of them.

Your friend,

Kevin

(By the way, the link to Pema Chodron’s book goes to my affiliate site on Amazon. If you purchase the book through that link I get a bit of money.)

Oct 8, 2013 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Paula D’Arcy

Dear Pope Francis,

I had the privilege of meeting author, speaker and retreat leader Paula D’Arcy at this year’s Sophia Summer Institute.

I first encountered Paula through a CD recording she did with Richard Rohr titled “A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life.” I picked it up from Rohr’s merch table when he visited Sophia during one of my weekends there. From my first listen, I was immediately struck by Paula, her story, and her humor. She has an amazing ability to reveal bigger truths through he words.

Paula is someone I deeply admire, and, so, I was looking forward to hearing her speak at the Summer Institute. From the start of the Institute I’d been trying to come up with a way to approach her at some point. Maybe I’d come up after she spoke? Maybe I’d catch her in line for food? I just knew I wanted to meet her and say hello. But, I just didn’t know how it would happen.

On the second morning of the Institute I made my way to the cafeteria. I got my breakfast, grabbed coffee, and then scanned the room for somewhere to sit. People were still getting to know each other, so it was a bit of a dance as to see where open spaces were, who might be receptive to company, etc… I chose a table with an open chair and made a beeline, not even looking at who was sitting there. After I put my plate down and looked up, people started to introduce themselves. One woman with mid-length black hair said her name was Paula.

“Paula D’Arcy?” I blurted out.

“Yes,” she said.

And there I was, meeting Paula D’Arcy, just out of the blue and without requiring any of my plans. The Divine works in mysterious ways, indeed.

During my vacation, I brought one of Paula’s books with me to read. To be honest, my brain wasn’t really up for “serious” stuff. I must have finished about 7 novels during the trip. But, one day, I picked up Paula’s book, took it out on the deck, and began to read. Her words, as always, comforted and inspired me.

You might want to check out some of Paula D’Arcy’s books.

Your friend,

Kevin

(BTW, any books you buy through the links on this page will give me a little commission from Amazon.)

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