Tag Archives: Mental Health

Shakespearean Wisdom for This Moment

Hamlet is perhaps my favorite Shakespearean character.  He was such a sad, tragic figure allowing what Eckhart Tolle would call his “pain body” to tyrannize him, often moping about the castle with his nose in a book trying to escape through literature.  At one point his mother, Gertrude, noted of him, “Look yonder, the poor wretch comes reading.”

Each of Shakespeare’s characters revealed a glimpse into his own heart and how he saw the world of his day.  Hamlet’s famous lamentation, “The world is out of joint. O cursed spite that I was born to set it right” revealed that in Shakespeare’s astute judgment his world was pretty well “out of joint” and probably always had been.  With Hamlet’s arrogant claim of responsibility to “set it right”, I think Shakespeare was pointing out the silliness and arrogance of anyone thinking he could “set it right.”

Shakespeare was clearly an idealist and had keen understanding of the heart of man leading him to describe our collective machinations as “a tale told by an idiot” on one occasion.  This wisdom helps me at present moment in my “idiotic” world to remember to “chill out” when I’m getting too over-wrought with the Trumpian lunacy, not even being close to taking the ego’s bait that I “was born to set it right.”

I think that Shakespeare realized that in describing life as a “tale told by an idiot” he himself was part of the fabric he was describing and therefore not spared idiocy himself.  The world at any moment has a “world-view” which is taken to be the valid way of seeing things but Shakespeare was reminding us, “Hey, keep in mind that beneath the surface there is idiocy lurking.”  And that is always true on a personal level as well as a collective level.  With most of us, if we could subscribe to this wisdom, would merely have to recognize occasional internal conflicts which will never become “idiotic” if we simply have the presence of mind, and humility, to recognize their presence.  “Awareness is all” says a bumper stick on the car of a friend of mine.


ADDENDUM—This is one of three blogs that I now have up and running.  Please check the other two out sometime.  The three are: 






Shakespeare and the Unconscious

“I have within me that which passeth show.  These are but the suits of woe.”

Hamlet uttered these words one day when moping about the castle he was confronted by his family about his despondent mood.  He was saying, “Hey, you think this is depressed.  This is nothing.  This is only a cloak of depression; but I have within me the real thing.”

Shakespeare knew that life was but a “show”, a display of what was going on within our hearts, individually and collectively.  He was the greatest psychiatrist that we have any real record of, though I think Jesus Christ and Lao Tzu…to name but two…could have given him a run for his money if we had more of a record of their wisdom.  Shakespeare had a grasp of the human heart because he had a grasp of his own heart and could therefore convey this wisdom in the characters of his plays.  Without this ability to sublimate into thoughts, concepts, and literary contrivance he well might have ended up escaping into the abyss of alcohol or some other worser fate.

The Bard knew of the unconscious realm long before Freud and Jung made it popular.  He was familiar with the heart’s ravenous impulsivity, its abysmal darkness which knows no restraint, which would not permit civilization without the intervention of the gods who provided that marvelous contrivance which we know today as the neocortex.  And, though he had no knowledge of modern neurological science, with his God-given intelligence, intuition, and humility he knew “it” was there though he could not define it as we can today.

I look at the insanity of our world today…and reflect back on my own, realizing that it is not a thing of the past…and wonder, “Why do we do this to ourselves?”  I then am reminded of my gifted guru, Richard Rohr, a Franciscan monk in Albuqurque, Nm., who has interpreted the words of Jesus who on the cross said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” to mean, “Father, forgive them for they are unconscious.” And I reflect back on the stupid, ugly, self-serving, and mean-spirited things I have done and said in the name of religion and realize just how much I had no idea what I was doing and saying.  And, yes, that ignorance is still with me, no doubt!



To Be is To Be Vulnerable

OUR JEOPARDY by Thomas John Carlisle

It is good to use best china
treasured dishes
the most gentle goblets
the oldest lace tablecloth
there is a risk of course
every time we use anything
or anyone shares an inmost
mood or comment
or a fragile cup of revelation
but not to touch
not to handle
not to employ the available
artifacts of being
a human being
that is a quiet crash
the deadly catastrophe

where nothing is enjoyed or broken
or spoken or spilled
or stained or mended
where nothing is ever
pored over
laughed over
wept over
or found.

Symptoms of Spiritual Awakening

I’m going to share a list of 12 symptoms of spiritual awakening that I found on Face Book, formulated by David Avocado Wolfe in “recoverytradepublications.com.” But I’d like to focus briefly on three of them which pertain to the subject of judgment: 9) A loss of interest in interpreting the actions of others; 10)A loss of interest in judging others; 11)A loss of interest in judging self.

Philosophy posits the notion of “the faculty of judgment.” My take on this notion is the necessary function of interpretation of our environment and even of our own subjective world. With this “function” we carve our world up into “categories” which is much related to the task of assigning words or “names” to things. And in so doing, we are accomplishing what my background in clinical work describes as “object separateness.”

But this very important and necessary function of our psyche sometimes can run amok and we use it to isolate ourselves from life, hiding behind these “categories” even to the extent that we even know our “self” only in terms of “categories.” We have subscribed to the cultural demand to become “objectified” and in some sense lose our very soul. We become an “idea” and cease to be a fluid, dynamic, subjectively alive spirit.

My life has been a fine example of this problem. I will soon wrap up a 20 year career as a licensed mental health professional in which I utilized my “diagnostic knife” to help the “mentally ill.” And this role in our culture was, and is, a valuable and necessary role. But I realize now even more than then that this clinical detachment was present in my life from my earliest years and that I’ve used to “stand up there” and make detached observations about people, my world, and even my self. I sometimes call it my “god complex.”

W. H. Auden once noted, “We drive through life in the closed cab of occupation.” I still have that “closed cab” of detachment but, having gained this insight, it is much less “closed.” I have gained insight to what I’ve been doing and am much better at just turning it off, recognizing that whatever I am observing “just is” and does not always need my labels or interpretation.

Here are Mr. Wolfe’s list of “Symptoms…”

  1. Frequent attacks of smiling.
  2. An increased tendency to let things happen rather than make them happen.
  3. Feelings of being connected with others and nature.
  4. Frequent overwhelming episodes of appreciation.
  5. A tendency to think and act spontaneously rather than from fears based on past experience.
  6. An unmistakable ability to enjoy each moment.
  7. A loss of ability to worry.
  8. A loss of interest in conflict.
  9. A loss of interest in interpreting the actions of others.
  10. A loss of interest in judging others.
  11. A loss of interest in judging self.
  12. Gaining the ability to love without expecting anything.

Be a Voice, not an Echo!

I recently saw a quip on Facebook that grabbed me, “Be a voice, not an echo.” I feel I have spent most of my life merely echoing what I have been taught and what I have been rewarded for thinking and believing. I have dutifully mirrored back what “they” have wanted in the interest of the approbation that is always promised for this behavior.

But, due to my own internal “non-sense,” I realized I wasn’t feeling the approbation in the first place. And I saw that I had been guilty of this spiritual “offense” and am finding that I live less in an echo chamber now.  But notice I said “less.” We can never think with perfect clarity…unless we achieve deity; and if I ever have intimations of having done that I hope someone is nearby with a hypodermic of industrial strength Haldol!  We always live and think in a context and we always have a human tendency to interpret things to fit with our old-brain, ego-template of the world. When this understanding comes to us, we can back off more readily with our “certainties” and allow some doubt to filter in, making room for others. I love that line from T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets about the need to “live in the breakage, in the collapse of what was believed in as most certain and therefore the fittest for renunciation.”


More Perspectival Ruminations!

Perspective fascinates me. Even as a child when I was being taught a very rigid perspective of the world, questions would arise from time to time about this perspective and I would receive a pat answer should I dare to pose the question. My usual response, not being very daring at the time, was to accept the pat answer and resign to the fiat of the bromide, “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.” I learned that when I heard that bromide, it was a way of saying, “End of discussion.” I also learned that I could use the same bromide myself later to end discussions but that contrivance worked only as long as I remained ensconced in that insular little world, an insularity which began to crumble when I went to college.

I have often quoted here, “We can’t have a perspective on our perspective without somehow escaping it.” (I think it was the philosopher Ricoeur to whom I should attribute that bit of wisdom.) When a perspective on our perspective first dawns on us, it is the advent of meta-cognition and a Pandora’s box is often opened. Pat answers will no longer suffice.

Einstein once noted, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” This wisdom is valid on an individual and a collective level. Whatever it is that ails us, if we try to rely only on “figuring it out” we will only be stewing in our own juices in the long run, much related to Shakespeare’s observation about the human dilemma being that it feeds “even on the pith of life” when it opts for this self-referential cocoon. At some point we have to explore new horizons, venture out beyond the grasp of our cognitive grasp on the world, and that always involves faith of some sorts though I do not insist that it be called “faith.” Some of you might, for example, prefer a term like “courage.”

In my own personal life as well as in my professional life as a clinician, it was always important to realize that the ultimate issue in addressing the woes that beset us from time to time is trust. My natural disposition is to “figure things out” for I am very cognitively oriented and, yes, that is putting it mildly! But life is ultimately a Mystery and we can never “figure it out” and have to trust that Mystery at some point which usually involves trusting the life process itself and an individual or individuals in our life. It is easier to “trust” a “Mystery” or “God” rather than to trust that Process or Person in terms of flesh and blood. It is much easier and less risky to trust our noble and lofty ideas than to trust another human being.

Trust often means being willing to learn to look at life differently, to lay aside outdated, maladaptive behavior and thought patterns. For example, this change might be as simple as accepting the old bromide, “The glass is half full” and not “half empty”; or perhaps deigning to see the world as basically good as opposed to “deceitful and desperately wicked.” But it is very difficult to dislodge outdated perspectives and we usually fight the loss of these perspectives “tooth and toenail.”

I just ran across an observation by the philosopher Michael Polanyi which is very relevant, “Major discoveries change our interpretive framework. Hence it is logically impossible to arrive at these by the continued application of our previous interpretive framework.” I’m suddenly reminded of an old spiritual ditty at invitation time in my youth, “Let go and let God have His wonderful way. Let go and let God have his way. Your burdens will vanish, your night turn to day. Let go and let God have his way.” That was such a moving song, tugging at my heart so deeply, but I never realized that it would eventually mean even letting go of my faith as I knew it at that time in order to find a deeper more meaningful faith, one less steeped in the letter of the law, and one which would leave me more human. It would mean finding the courage to explore a new “interpretive framework.”

“I Want to Know it All!”

I discovered another wonderful poem, this time on Krista Bennet’s blog, “On Being.”  The author is Marie Howe who is the poet laureate of the state of New York:


by Marie Howe
“Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven devils had been cast out” —Luke 8:2.
The first was that I was very busy.
The second — I was different from you: whatever happened to you could not happen to me, not like that.

The third — I worried.
The fourth – envy, disguised as compassion.
The fifth was that I refused to consider the quality of life of the aphid,
The aphid disgusted me. But I couldn’t stop thinking about it.
The mosquito too – its face. And the ant – its bifurcated body.

Ok the first was that I was so busy.
The second that I might make the wrong choice,
because I had decided to take that plane that day,
that flight, before noon, so as to arrive early
and, I shouldn’t have wanted that.
The third was that if I walked past the certain place on the street
the house would blow up.
The fourth was that I was made of guts and blood with a thin layer of skin
lightly thrown over the whole thing.

The fifth was that the dead seemed more alive to me than the living

The sixth — if I touched my right arm I had to touch my left arm, and if I touched the left arm a little harder than I’d first touched the right then I had to retouch the left and then touch the right again so it would be even.

The seventh — I knew I was breathing the expelled breath of everything that was alive and I couldn’t stand it,

I wanted a sieve, a mask, a, I hate this word – cheesecloth –
to breath through that would trap it — whatever was inside everyone else that
entered me when I breathed in

No. That was the first one.

The second was that I was so busy. I had no time. How had this happened? How had our lives gotten like this?

The third was that I couldn’t eat food if I really saw it – distinct, separate from me in a bowl or on a plate.

Ok. The first was that I could never get to the end of the list.

The second was that the laundry was never finally done.

The third was that no one knew me, although they thought they did.
And that if people thought of me as little as I thought of them then what was

Someone using you as a co-ordinate to situate himself on earth.

The fourth was I didn’t belong to anyone. I wouldn’t allow myself to belong
to anyone.

Historians would assume my sin was sexual.

The fifth was that I knew none of us could ever know what we didn’t know.

The sixth was that I projected onto others what I myself was feeling.

The seventh was the way my mother looked when she was dying.
The sound she made — the gurgling sound — so loud we had to speak louder to hear each other over it.

And that I couldn’t stop hearing it–years later –
grocery shopping, crossing the street –

No, not the sound – it was her body’s hunger
finally evident.–what our mother had hidden all her life.

For months I dreamt of knucklebones and roots,
the slabs of sidewalk pushed up like crooked teeth by what grew underneath.

The underneath —that was the first devil. It was always with me.
And that I didn’t think you— if I told you – would understand any of this –

Once again I’m captivated by someone else who is haunted like me by the knowledge that there is something “out there” or, as she put it, “underneath,” that “none of us could ever know we didn’t know.” And suddenly I’m almost a child again and can see myself curling up on the kitchen floor, screaming at the top of my lungs to God, “Why not? Why not? I’m gonna hold my breath until you let me!” For, this is a childish impulse, probably not unrelated to that age-old quest for the “knowledge of good and evil” which got us all into this mess in the first place!

But, it won’t ever happen. We will not know it all, we will not wrap out head around this marvelous mystery that we are caught up in. Even in his death throes, Hamlet, reflecting Shakespeare’s penchant for wrapping his head around the whole of human experience, lamented that “things remaining thus unsaid will live behind me.” Hamlet had so much more to say but had run out of time. (And, he could have said more had he not been driven by that unconscious need to satisfy his incestuous need and vanquish the interloper to his desire, Claudius. But even then, not “all” of it could have been said for there is always “more” to be said, endlessly “more.”)

We always come back to limits. The heart of man has boundaries as a core issue and spends his lifetime learning to accept them, knowing in the depths of this heart that the ultimate “limit” will eventually prevail and he will return to the dust from which he was made. But until that moment we are hard-wired to “keep on truckin’” and the will to life often continues even after our conscious mind fades into oblivion. As bad as it might appear to be at times, we always prefer to “cling to these ills that we have than fly to others that we know not of.”