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The Answer Within: Shmuck.

authorityIn our Modern Age, we’ve all been told that to find the real answers, we need to look “within.” It’s a message we see in magazines, hear over and over on television, and, of course, have thrust into our consciousness with the endless torrent of self-help books published every year. Even that concept–self-help–is an idea all the generations before us would have found both bizarre and blasphemous.

But culture manifests all over, even at the deli counter. I was waiting to place an order when I heard a painful whine behind me. A little girl didn’t know what she wanted for lunch. A well-meaning mother asked her in a dozen different ways what her preference was. Would she like this? Would she like that? Remember when you had it before? Do you remember what you liked about it? What you didn’t like about it? The sweet thing just didn’t know and soon she was crying. The woman knelt down near her daughter (she was quite little) and talked to her in a gentle way about finding the answer within her heart and tummy.

I thought that was simultaneously sweet, amusing, and intriguing, also impossibly patient. Of course, I think the mother was trying to teach her child a valuable skill, one well worth learning. And she probably did a lot of other things that were kind, reassuring, and nurturing for her daughter.

But that child became so frustrated and tired trying to figure it out by herself that she screamed, “I DON’T KNOW!” loud enough to wake up the cashiers in the front of the store. Poor little thing just wanted someone to tell her, “here’s your lunch, honey…” and it made me wonder if perhaps we were overdoing it a bit. Maybe within isn’t the only way to go?

Were there always answers within? Indeed, are there any there for any of us? And if there were real answers, would we really want to hear them?

I thought of all the times I tried to figure things out for myself and wound up in ditches double my reach. I can still remember at least a couple of times looking entirely to myself–the Deeper Within–with important questions, and the Deeper Within shouting the answer back up to me: “Shmuck!”  The answers I’ve received that have been of enduring value have mostly come from others with greater experience, wisdom, or grace.

On the other hand, I can also remember having moments of utter certainty in the face of chaotic circumstances, times when I absolutely knew what was the right thing to do. I may have been scared or intimidated or concerned, but I somehow knew.

So, what our loving mother was doing at the deli counter was, in my mind, at least theoretically sound. It is good to teach a child how to rely on himself to some degree. But is it always right? Isn’t it also necessary to teach that child what is right and wrong, what is expectable, and how the world works so he or she can make proper choices, can function socially, can be healthy? Isn’t it necessary to have some leadership, even if it’s as simple as pointing out which mushrooms to avoid in the woods? Or which foods to pick out at the deli counter?

As usual, I mentioned it to my husband and I asked him if he thought we could find the answers within ourselves. And, also as usual, my pithy Montanan said, “‘pends what you mean by ‘answers.’”

I thought about that for days. When people are looking for answers are they actually seeking out the truth? Or are they looking for corroboration for their impulses or desires?

The need to go to oneself may be in fact the way one satisfies the need to get one’s own desires met. Often that leads us down the road to perdition, hence the old proverb–”A physician who treats himself has a fool for a doctor.”

I asked another Montanan friend, Ed Johnson, a really bright fellow who’s worked in higher education for more than 20 years, whether he thought it was possible to rely on oneself for the answers and whether looking within was all one needed.

At first he said, “I’ll have to dig deep within myself for that one…” And then he referenced a National Geographic article he recently read on the teenage brain.

“It turns out,” he smiled, “that they’re not nuts. They have a different risk-reward equation. The teenager understands consequences, but they choose the potential-perceived reward and ignore the risks.”

Because of this and other anomalies–genetic issues, early childhood difficulties–he felt that looking within could be unreliable until there was full neurologic development.

I had to agree with him but I take it one step further. Without real health and a full emotional, psychological, and physical maturity, we’re looking for complex answers from an abacus when we require far more advanced equipment. Over the years of working with individuals in crisis of one kind or another, I have found that those who relied entirely on their own “feelings” or “inner voice” wound up in pain, confused, and rudderless because they had never received (or, later on, looked for) the kind of guidance, nurturing, or education (moral or emotional) that would have given them a proper reservoir of answers instead of a headache from feedback.

Which leaves me with this understanding: Answers are not innate. In fact, we are not born knowing very much. Children (and young animals) left to their own devices are perfect examples of what happens when we do not have the benefit of what others have learned, of ancestral wisdom. Those kids (and critters) either die or become socially and morally irredeemable. The hard-wiring for relationships is simply never created.

Answers are learned; sometimes they are intuited based on both spiritual and emotional input, sometimes inspired. But we all need road maps to start with.

People with a good inner compass have almost always been taught how to find true north, where to go and then precisely what to do to and when they get there. We may be born with the capacity, but not the skill. That is an important distinction. Unless a person is given the resources fairly early in life, the only answer he or she will find when they look within is either a resounding silence or, worse, an echo.

Which brings us back to my husband’s point: Do we want answers or do we want truth? They are not always the same thing.

Ultimately this is about the search for truth. Unfortunately most people wind up in a search for what they want. Desire leads us down one road and often truth leads us down another.

JEMS Book Review on Verbal First Aid for Children

Thank you, JEMS.Baby in a Box

It’s probably quite easy to recall an injury or sickness that occurred during your childhood,
but did you know that the first words you heard after the event played an
invaluable role in how well you would manage the situation, heal and subsequently deal
with similar events in the future?
Derived from current medical research, Verbal First Aid demonstrates how the words a caregiver chooses to say when a child is sick or in pain will cause chemical responses to travel through the child’s body and either help or hinder the healing process, as well as set the course for their physical and emotional recovery.

Techniques provided through descriptive scenarios teach the reader how to empower children to actively participate in their own healing, conquer their fears and turn seemingly tragic events into an accepted part of life.

Easy to read and compassionately presented, Verbal First Aid announces revolutionary non-pharmaceutical healing that can be used anywhere at any time. This book is perfect for healthcare providers, teachers and parents. It provides the key that can unlock a child’s inner strength in any situation, thus promoting a healthy and happy life.

JEMS—By Natalie Harris BHSc, AEMCA

The Next Osama Syndrome

For the first time in Huffington Post, you can read more about the idea behind The Next Osama! This is one of the most important things I’ve ever done and I hope I can share it with all of you. It dovetails perfectly with all the things Verbal First Aid stands for, but takes a look at it from the cultural angle rather than the personal and psychological one.

The reason I’ve done this is because of what I’ve seen in my psychotherapy practice–people who are afraid, truly afraid, and look to all sorts of products to make them feel better: breast implants (so they feel younger and aren’t so afraid of losing their luster or facing their mortality), viagra (so they feel more virile and aren’t so afraid of the normal aging process), more and more insurance (so they’re supposedly protected against everything the insurance companies can make them afraid of).

I will be releasing a host of new articles on this topic–how the culture and particularly the media perpetuate needless, pervasive and viral fear and, not only what this does to us, but what we can do about it!

As they say, stay tuned.

Kid Whispering!

Teaching Children Safety With Verbal First Aid

According to a growing number of experts, a human’s need–and search–for safety starts at conception. Studies have shown that mothers who do not want or are overwhelmed by their pregnancies induce the production of stress hormones in their newly forming babies.

Gary Sibcy, Ph.D.,co-author with Tim Clinton, of Attachments: Why You Love, Feel, and Act the Way You Do, states unequivocally that relationships–how we speak, relate, and respond to our children–are crucial to brain development. Furthermore, he emphasizes, the earlier we engage children properly in life, the more likely they are to be healthy, adaptable, and happy.

In the field of Interpersonal Neurobiology, it is becoming axiomatic that the brain is a social organ and that the relationships we experience at an early age change not only the way the brain functions but its very structure and its future function. The brain changes and forms with experience and our interpretation of those experiences based on what we see, hear, and feel around us. This particular and important feature of childhood is what experts callplasticity.

A child is not born with a fixed set of resources, not even genetically. The only thing that comes in ready to go is the brain stem, which allows us to breathe and sleep and blink without thinking. The rest of the synaptic and neural nets are wired, rewired, and wired again throughout our early lives. Eventually, those networks can become hard-wired, which is why knowing how to speak to our children is so vitally important.

For the full article, please go to:–Keeping-by-Judith-Acosta-100706-621.html

Magical Thinking and Verbal First Aid

Healing, then, is more than a technique. It is an art that utilizes every resource a person brings to bear—will, patience, strength, attitude as well as imagination. Read the rest of this entry »

Shall We Trance?

What are the pathologies, the uniquely American diseases or delusions that drive our culture? How do they affect us? How aware are we of them? Read the rest of this entry »

Immunity Against Fear

Rebooting the Mind

The other day I was leading a group for multiple DWI offenders. One of them, a middle-aged man who was particularly angered by the bracelet he was being forced to wear on his ankle, the legal routines that filled his life, and the fact that he had to go to two A.A. meetings a week interrupted the group process with a rant on how he was being brainwashed.

I turned to face him directly, more amused and disbelieving than annoyed or angered. “And before this you were…” I opened my hands, motioning for him to fill in the blanks.

“I was sure as hell nobody’s puppet the way I am now,” he said indignantly.

“Really? So, all the times you picked up a drink and drove, knowing you could get slammed with one more DWI and put in prison, no one had you in his pocket? You were a totally free agent? And all the things you bought when you didn’t have the money and found yourself with debt you couldn’t pay, you weren’t brainwashed?”

He became quiet, but an interesting discussion ensued about the media, about fear, about the brainwashing that saturates us nearly every minute of every day. Most advertising is based on fear. The fear of not belonging, dying, pestilence, catastrophes, terrorist pandemics, war, drought, flood, erectile dysfunction, menopause, arthritis, driving an ugly car…the fears being drummed into our unconscious minds are innumerable.

Some people are so afraid, they go numb. This is particularly true where some traumatic episode has interfered with their lives. They drive too fast, drink too much, laugh too loud, get far too irritated too easily or remain blithely passive when they should be responding. Their thinking gets short-circuited. The cultural milieu does little to support their recoveries and in fact does a great deal to inhibit their healing. The culture—represented by the media—floods them yet further with messages promoting anxiety, infecting them again and again with their unique brand of viral fear that keeps them numb and buying. If you’re tired and can’t sleep, buy one of our pills. If you’re unable to be intimate with your partner, buy a new car to change your image. If your relationships are falling apart, don’t waste any time thinking about the reasons for it, come to our Happy Hour and meet someone totally new.
And on it goes.

What Should We Do?

1. Start with awareness. If we wake up and see the media’s message for what it is, we can become less susceptible, less automatic in our responses and hopefully more thoughtful. When an ad comes on or you see a product being promoted on a show or in a movie, remind yourself who and what put it there and why they’re spending so much money to do that. Awareness limits the impact of the messages that bombard us. If a sentence in an advertisement starts with “could,” “would” or “should” we can safely assume there’s an incoming fear missile. “Could it happen here?” “Could there be a bomb on New Year’s Eve?” “Should you get the vaccine now?” “Would you know what to do if…” Grammar is an extension of intent. Listen to what’s being said critically.
We can then remind ourselves that the way products and services are presented (as image, as icon, as identity or extension of self) is illusory and speaks to our fears and inadequacies more than our good judgment. They will never satisfy us in the way we are told they will. Be conscious of the truth and you will recognize the lies.

2. Do the obvious. We can limit the amount of time we (and particularly our children) spend with television, i-pods, game-boys or cyber-tennis and make a conscious effort to spend more time with one another. I do not for a second imagine that Americans will all start taking up Buddhist meditation, but having a few minutes a day without having our senses assaulted might be a good idea. The other day I met a friend at a place called the Hyatt Tamaya. It is a resort of sublime beauty, filled with roaring fires in handmade kivas, Native American artwork, sensual flute music and captivating views from every angle. I had to wait for her a while and sat near one of the fires when a man and his wife sat across from me. Presumably they’d come to the hotel together, but she sat in one corner of the couch reading a book and he sat in a chair with earphones blasting percussive music I could hear from more than 10 feet away. Why bother spending $300 a night to tune out the place you’re paying a fortune to be in doing what you do at home?

3. Ask yourself: What drives you? And spend some time with that question before you answer it. Think about what motivates you to buy, what you buy and when you buy.

4. Spend time doing things that are diametrically opposite to what is promoted in the media, such as being still, being with your family without electronic accessories, pray, walk, think, read. Live slowly, breath deeply, linger.

5. Be present. Don’t pursue anything. Especially happiness. It’s a waste of time and will only serve to make you frustrated. The only place you can really have what you long for is where you are right now with exactly what you’ve got.

6. Find someone to really talk to—a religious leader, a friend, a therapist, a doctor—anyone who knows how to actively listen without judging and who can be a true set of eyes with a perspective on things that get you out of the delusion maelstrom we call daily life. Make sure you don’t just find someone who’s going to agree with you. Get the reality check you need.