My Year-End Reflection

'Tis the season to... reflect. At least that's what I always feel most inclined to do at this time of year, much moreso than exchanging impractical presents and over-eating, all in the name of "traditions" which require that we behave in certain rote ways without reflecting on why we're doing it.
I'm not against acknowledging certain dates on a calendar, though. Since we do live under the construct of a linear time continuum, holidays and anniversaries can serve as moments "in time" to look over the period just ending to try and understand what motivated us to live how and where and with whom the way we did ("What did you do and how did it feel?" is the only question I think God actually ever asks anyone at the end of a lifetime.). I find a good year-in-review process at once gratifying and disheartening. Gratifying to see the ways in which I may have evolved in the past year, and to take note of the non-material gifts I have given to others, given of myself, in other words, to the degree to which I was able to be myself genuinely with those others. Disheartening to face the ways in which I was disingenuous at times.
One thing I've stopped saying is: "This year was a year of transition." Ha! Why? Because in looking back, I've been saying that exact same thing about almost every preceeding year for most of my adult life. Perhaps, I'm finally accepting that this is a transitional lifetime for me, though if the present moment is all there is, and all time is simultaneous, then what I am transitioning from and to is up for grabs.
Reflecting on the outer world situation, I had an insight recently, expressed somewhat in my recent essay, "Ain't That America." [] The insight was simply this - that as bad as things seem today, in terms of corruption and greed and dishonesty and brutality in so many areas of our various societies, it has been no better or worse for any long stretch of history that we are aware of going back at least a few thousand years. Which again speaks to the simultaneity of time. Clearly, we are exploring and experimenting with the dark side of the human experience, from Ancient Rome, the European Dark ages and the American continent's use of genocide and slavery to establish its sovereignty, to today's exploitation and despoiling of our world and children under the tyranny of corporate and religious fascism.
Sounds grim, but yet this thought did not leave me at all in despair. Quite the contrary, it focused me on the two things that really matter most: self-knowledge and love. When you examine any extensive text of spiritual teachings that stand up without dogma, the only two things that ever really seem to "interest" God are finding more and more creative expressions of love, and deeper and deeper explorations of God's "I Am-ness." So, too, for human beings, each of us as part of that greater I AM, when we are mostly about love's expression and knowing ourselves, we are in harmony.
So, in looking back at the calendar year of 2007, a year that held more than a few bits of turmoil for myself and many people in my sphere, I am ultimately gratified, as in full of gratitude, because I did indeed find more ways of expressiving myself creatively through love, and I do actually know myself that much more at year's end than at this time in 2006. And I had the great pleasure of sharing similar journeys with fellow seekers. I end this year, then, feeling blessed. And grateful.
So, from the great I AM from which we all originate, I wish you a wonderful rest of the holiday season (and hopefully a little actual rest during the holiday season!) and a spectacular New Year!
All my best -

The End of the Job

In the first two decades of my adult life, I was convinced that I had a problem with work. I could never successfully force myself to stay at a job for long if I wasn’t really enjoying it, not even if I desperately needed the money - and there were times when I desperately needed the money! In fact, until I finally began my own private therapy practice, I had never lasted more than two and a half years at any one job. I never got fired, and in fact, I was a dedicated and enthusiastic professional. As a clinical social worker, I’d worked in private and non-profit agencies, groups homes and runaway shelters, drug treatment programs, foster care, mental health clinics and even a VA hospital for a while. But in the end, which always came sooner rather than later, the limitations and frustrations of bureaucratic work – the time clock, the paperwork, the regulations and excessive caseloads that prevented one from making really creative interventions with clients, and the general malaise of the social service work force, plus the rush-hour commuting in New York City led me to throw my hands up and give notice. These seemed like good reasons to leave a job at the time, yet a creeping judgement in my mind said I was being irresponsible or self-indulgent, that I had a problem.
I took two hiatuses from my chosen field during those first twenty years, both times going into my family’s small home improvement business, once even starting my own house-painting company in Westchester County, just outside of New York City. What I particularly liked about those two stretches of non-white-collar work was that the jobs felt more project-oriented. Small crews of workers would come together – plumbers, carpenters, electricians, painters – and like a team, they applied the skills of their individual trades in harmony (mostly) with each other to transform or build from scratch a new living environment. Then, the various tradespeople would separate until they might meet again on another project. This made sense to me as an efficient way of getting things done, each person invested in the completion of a project, rather than just putting hours in at the same repetitive task day after day, and somehow, the coming together, accomplishing a task, then separating made the work experience more exciting and festive.
It also made sense to me intuitively that work should be fun, compatible with one’s personality and integrated into the "rest" of one’s life, just as "rest" should be an integral part of one’s work-life. I knew all of this in my gut (though before I started doing bodywork psychotherapy, I wasn’t always sure that gut feelings held true wisdom – see the section on "GUT FEELINGS" in my article entitled: "Feeling Human" - coming soon).
I often recall an older man I knew in my teen years named "George", a very kind man who hated his work. He used to say that even though he hated his job, he was okay because of his attitude towards it: "Work is just an 8-hour interruption of my day", George would say proudly. At the time, I thought he was really a sage, and I tried that attitude on for size when I entered the work force in earnest in the 1970s after getting my degrees. It hit me almost immediately, though, once I actually started working, that eight hours was a third of a day, a third of my life! Way too much time to spend in a state of "interruption." As my transient job history evolved, I felt resigned to the fact that I would be a work-force rebel in a world of nine-to-fivers who were responsibly slugging it out in work-days they couldn’t wait to just get through and at jobs they weren’t gratified in.
In 1994, however, I found vindication in, of all things, Fortune magazine! The September 19 cover story of Fortune that year was entitled "The End Of The Job." It heralded the changes to come as the new millennium approached in terms of work-life. "The job is a social artifact", Fortune proclaimed, born of early industrialization and assembly line production methods that were no longer relevant. "We cannot afford the inflexibility that the job brings with it…Jobs discourage accountability because they reward people not for getting the necessary work done, but for ‘doing their jobs." The article pointed out that before people had jobs, they worked in "shifting clusters…in a variety of locations, on a schedule set by the sun and the weather and the needs of the day."
Although no longer for reasons like daylight or weather, but more to do with advancing technology and mobility, and the elusive "quality of life", it has once again become more effective to work that way. Consultants, sole proprietors, temps and subcontractors have become today’s versions of the itinerant craftsmen of the past. Working by the hour is being replaced with working by the project, as it had always been done in most of the blue collar trades.
Furthermore, the article predicted that leisure time, vacations and retirement as they currently are structured would dramatically change. "Without the job, time off from work becomes something not taken out of job time but something taken during the interims between assignments or between project contracts. And retirement? As ever more people become businesses in themselves, retirement will become an individual matter that has less to do with organizational policy and more to do with individual circumstances and desires."
All of these prophetic declarations by Fortune 13 years ago are now commonplace realities in 2007. People do work differently structure-wise, much more independently, solo or in make-shift teams, and it is now the rare exception to meet someone who has been at one job or with one company for ten years, let alone an entire career. (I hadn’t realized that I was part of a pioneering professional class back in the Seventies!) Now, as feature articles recently in the New York Times Magazine have declared, everybody is quitting their jobs.
My favorite essay from the late 90's was in fact entitled, "The Joy of Quitting", written by Michael Lewis. In the piece, Mr. Lewis not only describes the sound economic and creative reasons for regularly changing jobs, he points out that there can be destructive effects from "sticking it out to the bitter end", as we are often instructed to do in childhood. "Finish what you started!" is a common admonishment that so many of us heard from parents, teachers or other authority-figures. In relationships or jobs, this rigid, often shame-based mindset can in fact cause a person to miss or pass up opportunities for greater accomplishment, growth and happiness that could only come by letting go of a current stagnant situation.
Some things have indeed shifted in our attitude towards work during the last decade, and in the ways mentioned, for the better. Yet, a different problem has re-emerged in recent years as part of this transition, perhaps born out of anxiety about not having the security of a "steady job." People, and especially Americans, work too much!
In a New York Times editorial, entitled, "Working Better or Just Harder?", Stephen S. Roach questions the way we are currently measuring the productivity of our work force, which government statistics say is quite high. Since improving productivity is "not about working longer", according to Roach, but about "adding more value per unit of work time", then our "24/7 culture of nearly round-the-clock work…endemic to the wired economy" of "laptops, cell phones, home fax machines…" is indeed producing more quantitatively, but not producing "better", that is more productively. We are all simply working too much.
How much? Well, while there are no statistics for how many hours people log in by logging on at home to do work, a study by the International Labor Organization states that Americans put in an average of 2,000 hours at work ten years ago, which was 83 more hours of work than in 1980. Juan Somavia, head of the labor organization, quoted in a Times article called, "Americans Lead the World in Hours Worked", by Elizabeth Olson, bemoans the situation we’re in here in the US: "While the benefits of hard work are clear, working more is not the same as working better."
Let’s look at the situation from the other side by examining the stats on comparative vacation time taken around the world. The United States has now become the workaholic capital of the world, it seems, surpassing even Japan. Americans, according to the World Tourism Organization, average a measly 13 days off per year, the fewest on the WTO’s list of countries. The next closest countries are Japan and Korea, with 25 annual vacation days. Italy, of course, my ancestral country, is all the way at the other end of the vacationing spectrum with an average of 42 days per year of rest and relaxation, with France, Germany and Brazil about a week behind at 37, 35 and 34 respectively. (I was in Italy two summers ago and it was quite a revelation to witness an entire country’s work force take off for 2 or 3 hours every day at 1 PM. The Italian in me felt the organic wisdom of this break time, but the American in me wondered how they could ever get anything done!)
If all that’s not bad enough, I heard an insult-to-injury statistic announced on WINS all news radio around April 15 that crushingly declared that the average American works 124 days per year just to pay their taxes. That is almost half the work-year!
Some might make the counterpoint that Americans as a whole are making much more money these days, and it’s a tempting argument, but at what price for our wealth, and more importantly, are we happier?
In a Times article entitled, "Pursuing Happiness", Paul Krugman sites a classic survey by economic historian, Richard Easterlin, who formulated what came to be known as the "Easterlin paradox." The survey found that above a very low economic level, economic expansion does not seem to improve people’s feelings of happiness. Working with people around matters of personal happiness, I see this "paradox" validated in my therapy practice all of the time, though why it is considered a paradox, I don’t know. Conventional wisdom has always known that money can’t buy happiness. Conversely, having money doesn’t bring unhappiness either, but while people’s levels of happiness are rarely determined by their level of income, what is true is that as people become happier, and pursue their hearts desires in all aspects of their lives, including work, a common by-product is that their financial lives expand, sometimes greatly. In my experience, money is not the way to happiness, but happiness is often the way to money.
So, what then are the keys to "working better?" In my experience, both as a working person who has been in blue and white-collar jobs, and as a psychotherapist counseling those who struggle with their work-lives, I have found that there are certain essentials.
First, ferret out the mind’s illusion that we must live compartmentalized lives with separate aspects that compete with each other for time, like George’s job being an "8-hour interruption" of his presumed "real life." When a person arrives to understand that their whole life is just one "work", one creation, and that there is no inherent separation between work and play, time suddenly opens up. You are no longer worried that resting and playing are "wasting time", nor are you experiencing work as robbing you of time for pleasure. Several article recently have appeared in the mainstream press recently extolling the virtues of taking naps during the course of the work-day, as the Italians do, and in fact, several major companies have begun providing rooms at the office with pillows and blankets for that purpose. Afternoon nap breaks replacing the afternoon coffee breaks? This represents an excellent organic shift in consciousness, in my opinion. When one is tired, instead of pumping yourself up with caffeine to keep going, you refresh yourself with a little rest.
Secondly, clear out the guilt and other side-effects of rigid childhood conditioning that can make you blindly hunker down and suffer through an ungratifying work-life because you were told that quitting was "bad." If we are growing, we are continually "graduating" from things, and as with formal graduations, we benefit from celebrating what we are leaving by reviewing what we’ve accomplished, acknowledging what is still ahead to do, expressing gratitude, letting go and moving on.
Finally, and most importantly, follow your heart and do what you really enjoy doing. Working can be a pleasurable and creative experience if it is approached as a vehicle for fulfillment, expansion and pleasure. Here’s a quote on the subject from Alexander Lowen, author and creator of Bioenergetic therapy: "Every creative act begins with a pleasurable excitation, goes through a phase of work, and culminates in the joy of expression. From start to finish, the whole creative process is motivated by the striving for pleasure. Not only does pleasure provide the motive force for the creative process, it is the product of that process."
If there is any theme that we will keep coming back to in Full Permission Living, it will be the importance of pleasure - as the essence of life, as everyone’s birthright, and as Lowen says, as both the motivation and the result of our unobstructed creative process.
So, we arrive once again to the famous "pleasure principle" that’s been already referred to in previous lectures and articles in Full Permission Living. Coined by Sigmund Freud almost a century ago, the term identifies one of the main guiding forces in our lives – the instinct to follow pleasure and avoid pain. As Freud and others realized, the pursuit of pleasure is not a frivolous endeavor, but rather a built-in guidance system in human beings to provide direction for self-actualized living. We all know somewhere inside that any task is better performed when it is being experienced with joy and satisfaction. That knowing feeling in our gut is coming from our place of deepest wisdom.
Perhaps, then, we are arriving to the day when we will leave the house in the morning to go to work, or when we are assigned a task to perform at the job, and our loved one’s or boss’ parting words of inspiration will be: "Have fun!"

Who are you? I am...

Like many people, you probably begin your answer to that question with these two words: "I am…"
Before you read on any further, write down on a piece of paper your own way of completing that sentence.

What followed next? Was it your name? Depending on your level of vanity, maybe your age came next? Then your profession or marital status?
After that, how else would you fill in the blank: "I am ___?"
This is the first question I ask my students when discussing the subject of the "self".
Who are you?
Some people answer with a role that they play in their lives - "I am…a mother, a father, a teacher, a student, a banker, an actor."
Some fill in the blank with a gender-based identification - "I am…a woman, a man, a boy, a girl."
Others use a description of their current preferences or attitudes in some area - "I am…a person who really values hard work." Or "I am a person who has to strive for perfection." "I am a person who doesn’t like change or surprises." "I am a person who needs to be needed."
Do you fill in the blank with a projection into the future? "I am…never going to finish my dissertation." Or "I am never going to be rich." Or even "I am always going to be in love with you."
Do these fill-ins really adequately define the self, the "I" we are referring to when we begin the statement, "I am?" Is it really a sufficient depiction of our-selves to use such narrow and limited images? And can we honestly project those images of ourselves into the future and fulfill their promises with certainty? Closer examination of the human psyche shows that while most people cling to static pictures of themselves for apparent security and identity, there is always a lurking feeling underneath it all that we are something more, something vast and perhaps somewhat vague.
I have often witnessed in my therapy work with people over the years that as one begins unblocking emotionally, and, therefore, as one is more in touch with the intuitive, feeling and energetic levels of being and living more spontaneously in the present moment, it becomes harder to define oneself in any of the aforementioned ways. At a certain point in their healing journey, when frozen or compacted deep feelings start freeing up and old belief systems get challenged, people start saying things like this:
"I don’t know who I am anymore", or "I don’t feel connected to my lifelong dreams and ambitions anymore", or "I don’t know exactly where I’m heading." "But somehow", they usually continue, "that doesn’t feel so bad. Somehow, I actually feel better, more like…myself." At such a time, a person is more likely to fill in the blank "I am…" with a more immediate emotional or physical feeling, such as, "I am…sad." Or "I am…happy." "I am angry." "I am hungry." "I am tired." "I am hot!" (Sometimes referring to their level of sexual arousal, rather than the ambient temperature!) Etcetera. This is much more in the moment, visceral perhaps, at times, and definitely transient, fluid, often changing from one instant to the next. Yet, the sense one has when expressing from that place is closer to being more oneself.
What happens even further down the self-discovery line? If we extrapolate from here, from "I am…a static role definition" to "I am…a transient feeling in the moment", where would we ultimately end up? Perhaps in that enigmatic place that "God" claimed to be in, according to the Bible, when Moses asked: "Who should I say that you are?" God’s purported answer: "I Am…That I Am." What does that mean?! Beyond definition, roles, even feelings, yet including all of the above, "I am" is simply, but profoundly, the ultimate state of undefined beingness, beyond time even, including all experience at once, past, present and future, all lifetimes of a soul existing simultaneously. As Jane Roberts describes it: "The soul stands at the center of itself, exploring, extending its capacities in all directions at once, involved in issues of creativity, each one legitimate."
Perhaps this is the "place" where we are all "heading" in our personal evolutions, to become conscious of the totality of who we are, which is existence itself. "I am that I am!" (Of course, Popeye tried to say it in his own way, too: "I am what I am and that’s all that I am." Pretty enlightened, that sailorman!)
The implications of contemplating the self in this way are indeed profound. If we ultimately are ourselves, and who we are is just beingness itself, beyond any roles, including, but more than mental, physical or emotional states, beyond definition, then we must also be beyond judgement. Nothing that we do can truly be "bad" or "wrong" inherently, but rather just part of our beingness experienced in the moment. What this kind of understanding means for constructs like morality and deviance, and for someone practicing psychotherapy, helping others sort out a variety of supposed "dysfunctions", is momentous. Some writers in the psychotherapeutic fields, from Karen Horney, fifty years ago, to James Hillman, Thomas Moore and Peter Breggin today, have eloquently written about the injurious effects of judgmental labels placed on "patients" seeking guidance from a therapist, and how the processes of healing, growth and development could be enhanced with a non-judgmental view of so-called "psychopathology".
I often think of a person’s "symptoms" as the particular mechanisms through which an individual’s soul gradually unfolds into a given lifetime, the pacing, so to speak, of the soul entering the body. It is said that a human being could not look upon the face of God or directly hear the voice of God without being annihilated. Perhaps what that means is that the full force of someone’s soul cannot be expressed right from birth when our new bodies and minds are so frail and undeveloped. Maybe, in the same way that a caterpillar creates a cocoon in order to make the transition to a butterfly, human beings create their own "cocoons" in childhood that we in the psychotherapy profession call defenses, personality disorders or character structures. Though they once may have served the purpose of helping us survive our childhood wounds, they become painful and dysfunctional when we have outgrown them. Maybe, then, the various therapy processes are the ways in which we seek help getting out of our cocoons. In any case, what can be judged about all of this as "good" or "bad?" Imagine a butterfly engaging in harsh, self-condemnation or criticism for finding itself in a cocoon that it must now remove in order to grow and live. Ridiculous, right? So, accept your temporary existence in your cocoon on the way to becoming your actualized self, even as you make strides with all due effort to dismantle it.
And remember these favorite words of mine in approaching your life and cocoon-removing self-work during the upcoming holidays from the familiar inspirational prose-poem Desiderata:

"Go placidly amid the noise and the haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible, without surrender,
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even to the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons;
they are vexatious to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain or bitter,
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs,
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals,
and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love,
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment,
it is as perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be.
And whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life,
keep peace in your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful. Strive to be happy."

PL makes the PARK SLOPE 100 List for 2007!

From the PS 100: "PETER LOFFREDO because you’re a holistic psychotherapist (and blogger) with strong opinions who is on a mission to convince parents that they deserve to have a life full of love, sex, and fun apart from their children."
See the list at:

Ain't that America?

Good news for the anti-therapy crowd from "Republicans are significantly more likely than Democrats or independents to rate their own mental health as excellent, according to data from the last four November Gallup Health and Healthcare polls. Fifty-eight percent of Republicans report having excellent mental health, compared to 43% of independents and 38% of Democrats. This relationship between party identification and reports of excellent mental health persists even within categories of income, age, gender, church attendance, and education."
Wow! What does this mean?
Libby Spencer at the Newshoggers takes umbrage:
"I’m betting the numbers reflect mostly the 30-percenters who still think Bush is a great president. Of course those Republicans think their mental health is fine. They’ve somehow managed to learn to live with a level of cognitive dissonance that would make most people’s head explode. The rest of us aren’t feeling so good ourselves because we see what the Bush administration is doing and don’t find it acceptable on any level. That’s the trouble with living in reality. It tends to dampen the old peace of mind when you see everything that was once great about this country being incrementally destroyed."
Well, I agree somewhat with Libby that living in denial can give one a temporary feeling of sanity, and that facing the realities of how those whom we trust to run our government, corporations, schools and health care industry are actually incompetent or corrupt or both is very depressing. Where I disagree with Libby is around the notion that our not feeling all right is about "everything that was once great about this country being incrementally destroyed." Everything that is insane about America today has always been there. A country initially founded on the genocide of its native people by religious zealots who thought it was acceptable to burn women they declared witches, while developing our new economy on the backs of slaves was never sane. Liberals and "Movement Democrats" take a bit too much satisfaction in past accomplishments. The bottom line is that the end of slavery only accelerated other forms of insidious racism, while the "successful" sufferage and feminist movements have still not produced a woman president. Why not? Because real change cannot be effected by politics, not even "good" politics. The most idealized movements of the past that were supposed to change things in fact gave us teh likes of Richard Nixon (twice!), right in the heart of the Sixties. His Watergate led to only one brief term for the likes of Jimmy Carter, but was followed by 20 out of 28 years of nutty Republicans in the White House, including 2 terms for Ronald Reagan, the king of "I'm Okay; You're Okay" conservativism, and 2 terms of the indefinably infantile George W. Bush.
Real change only comes from one person at a time evolving their consciousness - by peeling back the layers of denial, challenging their own ego-driven selfishness and narcissism, and developing the genuine empathy that comes from fully feeling all of one's emotions. Easy? No. Does it require a lot of self-work that most people would rather not do? Yes. But doing whatever it takes to become sane in an insane world is still better than the alternative - being a Republican who feels good about himself!
[For further information, see my 3-part series: "FALSE CLARITY TO GENUINE CONFUSION TO GENUINE CLARITY" on this blog.

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