Friday, January 29, 2010


I was talking to a friend the other day and somehow we got on the topic of passion.  He said that he's always thought of passion as a good thing.  I think most people tend to think of it that way.  They see passion as a desirable force that motivates one to act and gives one a sense of purpose.  These things are, in fact, accurate.  Passion is invigorating.  A lack of passion can make life seem dull or without meaning.

Like most things in life, however, passion can be a force for good or for evil.  A quick review of the definition of the word makes this clear.

*Any powerful or compelling emotion or feeling, as love or hate
*An outburst of strong emotion or feeling
*A strong or extravagant fondness, enthusiasm, or desire for anything
*Violent anger
*An abandoned display of emotion, especially of anger

In fact, the word passion was originally used to refer to the "sufferings of Christ on the cross."  It wasn't until much later (1638) that the word was used to denote enthusiasm.

When you think about it I'm sure you are familiar with the relatinoship between passion and anger.  There are those who are invigorated by their desire to exact revenge on one who has wronged them.  There are those who are empassioned by their hate for particular groups of people, e.g., members of the KKK.  Sometimes a person is so passionate about a cause that he or she no longer recognizes limits and/or infringes on the rights of other people.  For example, there are people so strongly opposed to abortion that they advocate killing a doctor because he or she performs abortions. 

The reason I'm writing this post is because I've noticed that people have a tendency to idealize passion.  I think it's important to remember that passion in and of itself is neither good or bad -- it is the intention of the empassioned that makes it so.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


Ever since I was a kid the thought of eternity has scared me.  I remember wondering what heaven will be like and getting this sinking feeling in the very pit of my stomach when I considered the fact that, once there, time just goes on and on and on without end.  I still get that same sense of uneasiness when I think about it today.  Ironically, I don't feel at all uncomfortable when I think about spending eternity here on earth.  In fact, I would be just fine with life going on and on and on without any interference from death.  Because the concept of eternity only scares me when I think about spending it somewhere I've never been I must conclude that it's not really eternity I'm afraid of. 

If it's not everlasting life that scares me then what is it?  I think part of it is the great unknown.  No one knows for sure what happens to a person after he or she dies, although there are countless theories about this.  What I want to know (well, ONE of the things I want to know) is if I will be with the people I love.  Spending eternity without the people I love would be hell, not heaven.  In the past, what has sustained me after the death of a loved one is my firm belief that I will see them again someday.  I cannot envision eterntiy being a pleasant experience without my loved ones there. 

Death scares me, again because of the unknown that follows it.  I'm afraid of simply disappearing from existence -- of no longer being me.  This is clear evidence of my attachment to ego -- it's hard to work towards "no self" while fearing it at the same time.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Jedi Buddhists

I spent my day off yesterday watching the three Star Wars "prequels."  This wasn't the first time I'd seen the movies but this time I saw something in them that I didn't before.  Over and over again I was struck by the similarities between Jedi and Buddhist philosophies.  Obviously I'm not the first to recognize the parallels between the two -- a quick google search revealed a wealth of information and commentary on the topic.  Still, I was quite surprised and pleased to find some familiar and comforting messages in such an unexpected place.  I was so pleased that I decided to dedicate a blog post to it.

Yoda seems to be the character who knows the most about "The Force" and it is most often his statements that reveal the similarities between Jedi and Buddhist philosophies. 

In "The Revenge of the Sith," Anakin comes to Yoda after he has a premonition of his beloved wife dying in childbirth.  Anikin wants to know how he can stop this premonition from becoming a reality.  Yoda offers different advice.  He urges Anikin to let go of his fear of losing those he loves.  He tells him not to feel sad for those who die, for they become one with the Force.  This resembles the Buddhist belief that we are all made of the same Essence and that through enlightenment we can break the cycle of life and death and return to that Essence.  Yoda cautions Anakin that "attachment leads to jealousy," which is the "shadow of greed."  He warns that fear and attachment cause suffering, stating, "Fear leads to anger.  Anger leads to hate.  Hate leads to suffering."  "The fear of loss is a path to the dark side," he adds.  The belief that fear and attchment lead to suffering is an integral part of Buddhist (as well as Jedi) philosophy.

Yoda advises Anakin to learn to let go of that which he fears to lose.  Alas, Anakin does not recognize his clinging for what it is.  He insists that things must remain the same, that change is unbearable.  Yet, as I am coming to learn, change is constant in life and refusal to accept it causes great suffering.  Anyone familiar with Star Wars knows that this is true for Anakin. 

Of course, we can all empathize with Anakin.  Who among us does not fear losing someone we love?  Personally, the thought of losing a loved one terrifies me.  As a therapist, however, I've seen the suffering that occurs when a person refuses to accept the death of a loved one.  When the loss is not accepted it cannot be mourned.  As a result, the person buries his grief in his heart and carries it around with him.  Because it is unacknowledged (and perhaps unrecognized) the grief is transofrmed into depression or anger.  Some try to drown it with alcohol or to escape it with drugs.  Others cut themselves off from other people to avoid ever again experiencing the pain of loss.  Unfortuantely, they also deprive themselves of the joy of loving. 

There are numerous other parallels between Jedi and Buddhist teachings.  Jedis talk frequetnly about quieting the mind in order to listen to the Force within.  Do Jedis practice mindfulness meditation?  I, for one, think they do.

Here are some quotes from various films in the Star Wars series that speak to the similarities between Jedi and Buddhist belief:

From Attack of the Clones:
Anakin: "Attachment is forbidden."

From The Phantom Menace:
Obi-Wan: "...I should be mindful of the future."
Qui Gon: "But not at the expense of the present moment."

From A New Hope:
Obi-Wan: "Let go your conscious self and act on instinct."

From The Empire Strikes Back:
Yoda: "You must unlearn what you have learned."

Yoda: "Life creates [the Force], makes it grow.  Its energy surrounds and binds us.  Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter."

Luke: "I don't believe it."
Yoda: "That is why you fail."

Yoda: "You will know...when you are calm, at peace, passive."

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Worst Case Scenario

Sometimes I find myself worrying excessively about a particular problem in my life.  Usually I'm worried about the "worst case scenario" happening.  I'm one who tries to practice what I preach so when I catch myself doing this I try something I do with my patients fairly often.  I take a really good look at the "worst case scenario" and seriously ask myself, "Ok, what would I do if that happened?  Would the world come to an end?  Or would I handle the situation the best I could and do my best to keep living my life?"  The answer is almost always, "Yes, it would be hard if this bad thing happened and it would probably make me unhappy for a period of time.  However, I would get through it just as I've gotten through other difficult situations in the past."  This typically doesn't alleviate my anxiety completely but it does help to put things into perspective. 

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Lost in Little Things

I was recently struck by how easy it is to get caught up in the little things in life to the point where you become stressed out and overwhelmed.  A few days ago I noticed myself feeling extremely anxious -- tightness in my chest, unease in the pit of my stomach, muscle tension -- and stopped to ask myself why.  (I find it strange that sometimes we feel like something's wrong but we don't know exactly what's bothering us). 

Why ask myself why?  I think it's important to check in with myself when I feel anxious or unhappy.  It's important to be in touch with your emotions and to understand what you're feeling.  That's what is meant by "dealing with your feelings."  And if you don't deal with your feelings they usually end up dealing with you -- they either come out in some unintended angry outburst or they take a toll on you physically (ulcers, fatigue, headaches, decreased immune functioning, etc.). 

So what was bothering me?  Well, I think I was just feeling overwhelmed by everyday life.  I had a lot of bills due at the end of the week and my roommate hadn't paid me the rent for the month yet.  I was feeling uncomfortable about having to ask her for the money but needed the money to pay the bills.

Then I asked myself, "In five years is any of this going to matter?  Don't the bills always get paid?  If you don't pay them this week you can pay them next week when you get paid."  In other words, I put things into perspective.  Sure, my situation was a little stressful.  But in the scheme of things it just wasn't that important.  What was important was that I was wasting precious moments of my life feeling anxious over something that just wasn't that big of a deal. 

It reminded me of a question I'd once answered in a self-help book.  The question was, "Looking back at your life, what do you regret most?"  My answer was, "I regret that I've spent so much of my life being unhappy." 

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