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Sunday, April 26, 2009

Doubting and Faith

April 26, 2009

My Dad keeps advising me to remind everyone, including myself, to turn off the TV, turn off the social networks, and turn off everything that feeds us information. To take a break from all that. I always ask, “why?” Why would I want to be cut off from knowing, hearing, from “being in the loop of life.” I’ve GOT to know what’s going on! So many things to consider, what’s happening with our new president, what’s going on with this swine flu epidemic, and how is it going to impact my life. Who doesn’t want to be up on these things? Well, my Dad has said it for several weeks in a row and so now it’s my duty to analyze it! What is he really trying to tell me? Am I simply over-stimulated? Are we missing more important things? Two people came to mind as I reflected, President Obama and the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard. How could these two possibly have anything in common? Let’s take a look…Kierkegaard spoke of the “leap of faith.” Faith is definitely not a decision based on evidence. It involves making a commitment without the scientific method. Kierkegaard then said if you have faith, you must also have doubt. Doubt is the rational part of your thoughts. It’s the little voice in your head saying “how can that be true, you have no evidence.” Yet people make the leap of faith all the time. So when the majority voted for President Obama, it was a leap of faith. We had no evidence that he would be a great president. And it was some in the media who planted the seeds of doubt and convinced us that our leap of faith may be faulty. The media is a great place to get some doubt in your life! But I feel conflicted, because having doubt is important, and if we didn’t doubt, we wouldn’t have faith. So confusing! President Obama said, “You know, my faith is one that admits some doubt.” So President Obama and Kierkegaard are kind of buddies, right? They both understand our doubt. And we have faith, the confident belief in the trustworthiness of a person, thing, or idea. So now what? Do I keep flooding my senses with information, continue hearing the doubt, or do I turn it all off and have blind faith? Buddha gives us one answer. Buddha said, “There is nothing more dreadful than the habit of doubt.” Make your leap of faith if you feel it inside you, temper it with some doubt, but don’t allow the doubt to ruin your faith. Dad, I’m going to keep on watching the news…and I’m going to thoughtfully address the doubt, but I’m going to have faith that President Obama is a trustworthy man.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Rise Above...Learn it, Live it

April 19, 2009

Ms. Rita Levi Montalcini turns 100 years old. How cool is that! But what’s even better, is how she got there. It’s a little something we all have stirring within us…resilience. You see, Ms. Montalcini is a Nobel prize-winning scientist, and at her 100th birthday party, she sent a shout out to Mussolini. She said she wanted to “thank Mussolini for declaring me an inferior race.” You see, back in the day, when Ms. Montalcini was working at University, steadfastly breaking the boundaries of science with insight and experiments, she was suddenly considered an outcast, along with all the Jewish people at that time. And like many, she took the challenge. She set up a lab in her bedroom and worked. Worked, lived, loved, prospered…despite significant oppression. She is an inspiration to me. She reminds me that we all can rise above and prosper in the face of wretched circumstances. There’s been quite a bit of research about resilience. Resilience is an ability to recover from or adjust to misfortune or change. You know we can’t change the fact that stressful things happen, but we can change or adjust how we react to them. Just like Ms. Montalcini, people are confronted with horrid situations, and they more than survive, they thrive. Research shows that we are not born with resilience, it is not a trait, and that resilience is not extra-ordinary. It’s actually quite ordinary and learned behavior. So here are a few tips on how you can get it. Start with the relationships in your life. Are you surrounding yourself with positive successful people? Are the people in your life encouraging and supporting? Find a role model, a mentor. Do not continue to blame your mother or father! So your parents weren’t the best…remember the research…resilience is not inherited! Find someone who is an inspiration, a success, a person you want to emulate. Next, look in the mirror. Tell yourself you are a confident and successful person. Tell yourself you will be successful, you will work, you will persevere, you will rise. Believe it when you tell yourself these things, and soon it will be. Two more tips; remember in high school, when you were wondering how algebra and all the other nonsensical assignments were going to help you in real life? Here’s the answer…critical thinking and problem solving skills! My 14 year old daughter rolls her eyes when I tell her that! But it’s true. Learning critical thinking skills allows you to analyze and overcome any issue. Practice problem solving. Read about how other people solved life puzzles. Take yourself back to all those word problems and reading comprehension quizzes…it wasn’t just about the math problem or essay content, it was about learning critical thinking skills. One of my new friends reminded me of the fun of conundrums! Conundrums are not just fun drinking-game riddles. They are intricate and difficult problems to solve. And working on them helps you develop critical thinking and problem solving skills. I can’t resist…here is one of my favorites: If you try to fail, but you succeed, which have you done? Go ahead…work on that and post your answers! And now for the last and most difficult tip to achieve resilience: you must manage extreme feelings and impulses, or you will not be able to think! Do not allow that garbage to overtake your wise mind. Now take the four tips and face your next challenge! Learn to be resilient. Follow Ms. Montalcini’s advice: “Above all, don’t fear difficult moments…the best comes from them.” I’m ready…are you?

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Worrier or Warrior...chose to be one

April 11,2009

I like quotes, there are so many great quotes and I admit I’m jealous that none of them are mine! But quotes from great thinkers often represent very meaningful positions for us. It often happens that you read a quote and say, “Yes…that is exactly what I think!” So I guess you figured out that I’m about to throw a quote at you…well here it is:

If you believe that feeling bad or worrying long enough will change a past or future event, then you are residing on another planet with a different reality system.
- William James

Mr. James was a pragmatist and a medical doctor. A pragmatist has a practical approach to life; they like evidence and the scientific method, and they are most concerned with the success or failure of their actions. Definitely not cozy with dogma. Many people label President Obama as a pragmatist. I guess I can see why. He doesn’t like to make decisions until he hears all sides and thinks about what his next step should be. I like that….very unemotional…President Obama is a warrior, not a worrier.
So how about you? I often see patients who are stuck in that spin cycle, worried about what they said or did yesterday, worried about what to do tomorrow. I prescribe medicine but with cautious words, because medicine alone is not going to turn the machine off. So with the medicine comes talk. It’s called therapy in America, but to me it’s a philosophical journey with a patient. I walk with you through the original development of your core beliefs. Exploring how it is you became a worrier. And helping you move forward to be a warrior. You are not the unwilling victim of circumstances. Let’s think like President Obama. First, you must thoroughly understand how your mind and your body work together to produce worry. Go to your primary care nurse practitioner, doctor, or PA and get a physical exam and some basic lab work. Sometimes there are medical reasons for your current state of being. Then do some research and spend time meditating…thinking about how it is you believe what you do. Is it what your parents taught you, or your religion, or is it what your best friend believes? Then think about the person you want to be, the things you want to do…your dreams of what you want your mind and body to be. I know this is hard, but keep going, draw your rainbow with the pot of gold, not mere coin, but rather a pot filled with the characteristics of the person you want to be. Use visualizations and affirmations to change your self-image….so you are confident, not fearful. Here are some of my favorites: “I picture myself looking healthy and relaxed.” “I like being in control of my actions, I can choose to do whatever I like.” Then my favorite step…”fake it till you make it!” Act as if you already are what you want to be. Don’t you think President Obama engages in this? Of course he does, he can’t possibly know everything that’s happening in the world, but he sure looks like he does! When issues and events present to you, be pragmatic, be rational and positive, not emotional. So hard to do! It takes practice. And the most important step involves your spiritual self. Ask your unconscious to bring you together with your spiritual self. This is very personal and different for everyone. Maybe it’s a religion, or a creative power, or a God, or a universal consciousness, or enlightenment, or none of that. But you will recognize it when it comes. Finding joy, peace, and calm is a worthwhile struggle. Be a warrior.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Why Are You Here

April 5, 2009

Tomorrow is my 43rd birthday and my Mom called to remind me of my character flaws for the 43rd year in a row (just kidding ma…sort of)! So she spoke about how I need to budget my money better and how I remain afflicted with…poor impulse control. And after the reminders, I felt it was my annual duty to once again analyze myself, where I’ve been, and choices I’ve made. As my mind wandered through all the junk in my memory, I found the category labeled “people.” I opened the imaginary file and saw faces….faces of everyone who has come in and out of my life. Why were they there? Why were these people in my life? And then the dim light that had been fading finally grew brighter. People come to us to help… to help us learn about ourselves. If we don’t pay attention to this, we miss golden opportunities to grow. My officemate is this wonderful colleague who gives me reason. She is the one who reminded me people come to us for purpose. She and I worked together many years ago, moved on, and have recently reunited in a different capacity. I have a thankful tear in my eye. And I owe a big thank you to my officemate (who wouldn’t want me to write her name!) because she is my voice of reason. She has saved my ass over and over at work, preventing me from displaying my poor impulse control. When my affect takes over, and I start decompensating into a “well I’ll tell them what I think” mentality, she stops me, and reminds me of the consequences of that attitude. We are all afflicted with less than optimal coping skills. But if we look around at the people touching us, we can overcome our weaknesses by listening to them. By watching how they deal with things. Even the people who have passed through us for just a moment…deeply dig and you’ll find that they served you in some way. I have a successful career, and it’s partly due to my officemate.
But what about my poor impulse control. I kind of like that part of me (my Mom is cringing now!). I tend to jump into things and take risks. I embrace it! It has led me down many life paths that my wise mind would not have approved of! I have had relationships and jobs that have rewarded me with insight and self-reflection, and that has been invaluable in my quest for the meaning of life. So what are we to do? Do what others tell us or follow our own instincts? I guess a little of both. Don’t lose yourself in others recommendations, but don’t blindly fly to the stars without thoughtful input. Listen to the people in your life and listen to your gut…they are both right.