Tuesday, December 29, 2009

New Year's Resolutions?

I've been trying to decide if I want to make New Year's resolutions this year.  There are a lot of benefits to doing this -- mostly that when you make a conscious committment to something I think it becomes more likely that you will at least make an effort to stick with it.  My problem has been trying to come up with personal goals for the next year.  I browsed some websites for ideas and found the top ten New Year's resolutions among people in the United States.  Here they are along with my thoughts about how they might (or might not) work for me:

1. Lose weight and/or get in better physical shape:  I'm pretty satisfied with my current weight and I exercise 3 to 4 times a week already.  I'm ok with that.

2. Stick to a budget: Ok, I admit that I could do a better job budgeting.  However, I'm also realistic enough to know that I look at a budget as a guideline and that it would be very difficult for me to go by an exact budget.  That being said, why make a resolution I know I can't fulfill?  Still, I might consider something like, "Save $200 a month," but I already try to do that anyway.

3. Debt reduction: I don't really have a lot of debt and I'm steadily paying on what I do have.

4. More quality time with family and friends: I think I do a pretty good job with this.  I visit my parents (and often my sisters and nieces are there too) once a week and talk to them more frequently.  Every couple of months my sisters and I get together for a "sister day."  I do Saturdays with one of my best girlfriends almost every week, and I talk to my best friend in Georgia at least once a week.

5. Find my soul mate: I don't think this is a valid goal because it's something a person doesn't have much control over.  A better goal might be, "Date more often" or "Meet two new people."  Plus I'm dating someone and I'm relativley satisfied with the relationship.

6. Quit smoking: I don't smoke.

7. Find a better job: That was my resolution for 2008 and I did it.  I like to stay in one place for a few years and I'm ok with where I am now.

8. Learn something new: This actually isn't a bad resolution.  I just have to decide what I might like to learn.

9. Volunteer/help others: I've ran into some problems finding volunteer work that's outside of normal working hours.  Also, I'm a therapist so I help others for a living.  One of the reasons I chose the profession is because I wanted to help others and also because I wanted to feel good about what I do every day. 

10. Get organized: I'm really not that disorganized.

I'm not saying my life is perfect -- far from it.  I think I'm just satisfied with the way it is.  I don't know if that's a good thing or if it's a cop out.  I like "learn something new" as a goal -- I've been thinking about taking an art class and have actually looked into it.  I wonder if "take an art class" is ok for a New Year's resolution.  I kind of thought New Year's resolutions needed to be major life changes.  Maybe I'll just keep it simple this year...

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


Relevant to the topics of spirituality and psychology is the concept of epistemology.  Epistemology deals with how a person knows that something is true, i.e., what evidence a person accepts as proof that a particular thing exists.

Some spiritual disciplines ascribe to the belief that truth is known through direct experience.  A Christian might believe in God because he has seen a person healed through prayer (although others might not except this person's healing as proof that God exists) or because he has felt the "holy spirit" move through him.  Buddhists believe that one can eventually experience his or her true essence through the continued practice of mindfulness meditation.  Whenever this practice is explained the person doing the explaining always cautions that the experience of one's true essence cannot be adequately described; one has to experience it directly in order to understand it.

Also prominent among spiritual disciplines is faith epistemology, i.e., "I believe in something; therefore, it is true."

Psychology, in its struggle to be accepted as a "real science" (as opposed to a "pseudo-science"), also looks to direct experience as proof that something exists.  However, the field of psychology will not except subjective experience; proof that something exists must be demonstrated objectively via testable hypotheses and observable results (that can be duplicated).  In short, psychology has moved towards relying on the scientific method to determine what is true.

In doing a bit of background research I found that epistemology is a very complex subject (philosophical in nature) with numerous types and subtypes.  What struck me was that none of the types and subtypes I read about seemed to be sufficient in and of themselves; it does not appear that any one method is the absolute and correct way for determining what is true.  There are different types of truth and many ways of knowing.  Truth cannot always be reduced to "either-or;" frequently we must think of it as being "both-and."

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Psychology and Spirituality as Overlapping Disciplines

I've long been interested in the overlap between psychology and spirituality.  The similarities in the two fields are reflected in how readily the psychological community has embraced Buddhist practices such as mindfulness as legitimate means for improving mental health.  (I think the Buddhists were way ahead of us on that one -- they realized centuries ago that inner peace is something that is both spiritual and psychological in nature).

Even the meanings of the terms "spiritual" and "psychological" overlap.  "Spiritual" is a word with multiple meanings, both objective and subjective.  When a person describes himself as spiritual we usually have to ask him to clarify what he means by this, as the word tends to have different connotations for every individual person.  To one person spiritual might mean, "of, from, or pertaining to God."  In this case, when he describes himself as spiritual he is referring to his relationship with God or some other diety.  Some who call themselves spiritual speak to their relationship with nature.  In this instance they may be referring to the intangible "spirit" that is inherent in all things natural.  In consulting the dictionary I found that both of these meanings are correct.  I also found that spiritual can be defined as "of or relating to the mind or intellect."  This definition suggests that spiritual and mental are one and the same.

This is, in fact, very consistent with what the Buddhists believe.  They believe that consciousness is the essence of the universe and that we can experience our essence through mindful awareness (attention).  (I do realize this description is in no way a complete representation of the Buddhist belief system.  I'm just keeping it simple; a full description of Buddhist traditions is beyond the scope of this post).

What about psychology?  The dictionary defines psychological as "of, pertaining to, dealing with, or affecting the mind, especially as a function of awareness, feeling, or motivation."

So how do psychology and spirituality overlap?  At the very least we can say that both fields deal with the mind to some extent.  Both also deal with awareness, although perhaps not always in the same way.  It seems to me that both disciplines seek to answer the question "Who am I?"  and that they both seek to help people find happiness and inner peace.

I hope to write more on this topic but for now I think I've said enough:-)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Using both hands

I recently read a book by David Richo entitled, "The Five Things We Cannot Change and the Happiness We Find by Embracing Them."  In the book he suggests a spiritual practice in which we hold both hands out palms upward and imagine them holding "opposites."  For example, I feel fear, which I hold in one hand, and I go forward and do whatever it is I'm afraid to do, which I hold in the other.  I hold my desire for things to be a particular way in one hand and I hold the reality that things aren't the way I want them to be in the other hand.  I hold an unpleasant situation in one hand and acceptance of that situation in the other. 

I think this practice is one that promotes acceptance.  It discourages an "either/or" mentality (e.g., "Things must be this way or I simply can't tolerate it") and promotes a "both/and" mentality (e.g.., "I don't like the way things are and I accept that this is just the way it is right now.  What can I do in light of this reality?")  We create more suffering for ourselves by insisting that things be a certain way.  I've been doing this recently in my romantic relationship and it's been causing an overwhelming amount of stress.  Today, I'm holding out both hands...

Friday, December 11, 2009


I've been dating someone for about seven months.  He's a great person in so many ways.  Unfortunately, he's also a very busy person.  He's got a child and he's a graduate student trying to finish his thesis.  He's also a bit of an entrepeneur and is trying to start his own business.  This doesn't leave a lot of time for me.  For a while I was ok with this, or at least I tried to be.  I worked on tolerating the discomfort of uncertainty caused by not knowing exactly when I would see him again.  I worked on giving myself attention when I felt lonely instead of expecting to get it from him all the time.  I worked on accepting him as he is and learning to love him for him as opposed to loving him for how he could meet my needs. 

But lately I'm just not happy.  I have a hard time trusting my perception of the way things are though.  Maybe he's giving me enough attention and I'm trying to get him to fulfill a need that I should be meeting myself.  How do I know how much attention is "enough?"  Is it fair for me to ask for more than he's able to give?  Am I being too demanding?

I know that no one can really answer these questions for me.  It just helps me sometimes to get my thoughts out of my mind and onto paper. 

Sunday, December 6, 2009

First love

Do we ever again love like the first time we fell in love?  I think maybe some people do, but most of us never again love in a way that is so naive, so innocent.  The first time we fall in love we give ourselves wholeheartedly without inhibitions.  We've never had our hearts broken so we have no fear to hold us back.  Because we lack this fear we allow ourselves to be open and vulnerable.  Yes, first loves (like the loves that follow) are full of projections, expectations, and fantasies.  But they are pure.

After we've known the pain of heartache we never love the same way again.  We hold a part of ourselves back because we are afraid to open ourselves up again to the possibility of being hurt.  We come to each new relationship with our emotional baggage, making it harder and harder to attain the intimacy we desire.

I've noticed that as I get older my romantic relationships seem to become more complicated.  I certainly don't allow myself to get swept away by my emotions the way I used to.  I don't necessarily think that's a bad thing but often I find myself holding things in because of the fear I talked about earlier.  It's sad because one of the things I want most in a relationship is to be able to openly share my thoughts and feelings and to have them validated and understood. 

And of course it's not just my emotional baggage making things complicated.  I've been in relationships with men who have known the pain of divorce, sometimes more than once.  They've had the experience of embarking on a lifelong journey with someone they loved only to have the journey cut short.  They've felt the disappointment of unfulfilled expectations and shattered dreams.  They've been betrayed and are afraid to trust.  They've vowed not to make the same mistakes they made in the past.  But sometimes the "mistakes" weren't mistakes.  Sometimes the only "mistake" they made was allowing themselves to love. 

These are just reflections -- I don't have any answers or suggestions.  I do, however, have hope that I can eventually (and perhaps gradually) sort through my emotional baggage and go on to establish a healthy relationship with another person who is able (and willing) to do the same.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Thoughts on creativity

I recently wrote a post on creative block.  One of my readers commented that he really enjoyed my thoughts on creativity and hoped I would write more about it.  I've done a little more reading on the subject and decided to share some of my thoughts.

There are a multitude of theories and perspectives on creativity and the creative process.  There are books, websites, lectures, podcasts, and DVD's dedicated to teaching others how to be more creative.  Creativity is obviously a quality our society values.  So how does a person jumpstart the creative process?

One website, creativityforlife.com, suggests that being present can make a person more creative.  When a person is fully present in each moment he becomes more aware of the world around him.  The more aware a person is the more he or she can take in.  When a person takes more in more possible sources of inspiration become available.

Interaction with other people also stimulates creativity.  Talking to others exposes us to new ideas; being with others exposes us to new experiences.  Both of these are potential sources of creative inspiration.

Ironically, creativity is not something that can be "created;" creativity is inspired.  A person can do things to make himself more open to the creative process but creativity cannot be forced.  It is something that arises spontaneously.  I find it interesting that improvesation is a technique used to encourage creativity.  I think this is very apt.  It seems like the best way to spark creativity is to NOT think and just see what emerges.

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