Tag Archives: Vulnerability

“Tale Told by an Idiot” Still Being Told

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

This famous Shakespearean wisdom from Macbeth has stuck with me from the first time I heard it in high school when, stuck in a literal mindset at the time, I found Shakespeare and literature…other than the Bible…horrifying.  This wisdom is frightening as it takes the reader right into one of humankind’s worst fears, “Is anything real, and if so, am I participating in it?”

But now after three decades cavorting about in the delightful realm of Shakespeare’s imagination, I’m not as frightened or even daunted when I come across one of his glimpses into the scary parts of our psyche.  Here he was certainly telling us that we are all mad but the body of his work conveyed the conviction that there is “method to this madness” that we call life, that, “There is a Divinity that doeth shape our ends, rough hew them how we may.”  Shakespeare recognized what we now call “consensually validated reality” as a stage play in which we play various roles throughout all of our life, all of them amounting in some sense only to “performance art.”  And he knew that this social facade was necessary but he liked to point out to us in his plays and sonnets just how given it is to duplicity, hypocrisy, dishonesty and the rest of the ugliness of the human heart that reigns in us all, though we are hard-wired to keep it covered up beneath the surface of this “dog-and-pony show” that we call reality.  But occasionally the gods will send along a vivid illustration to let us see just how much non-sense we are mired in and then it is our task to have the courage to learn from this object-lesson that is being provided us and amend our ways.  But we must always remember the wisdom of W. H. Auden on this note, “And Truth met him, and held out her hand, and he clung in panic to his tall belief and shrank away like an ill-treated child.”


Two other blogs of mine are listed here which I invited you to check out:





Psychotherapy & Negative Capability

Poet John Keats offered the term negative capability to describe his ability to embrace a host of subjective experiences that most people avoid.  In a letter to his brother in 1817 he defined negative capability in these terms, “…when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reach after fact and reason… in order to allow, as yet unimagined, creative possibilities to emerge.”

In an article in Contemporary Psychotherapy, Diane Voller applies this notion to her work as a therapist, declaring, “‘Negative capability’ is the advanced ability of a person to tolerate uncertainty. This does not mean the passive uncertainty associated with ignorance or general insecurity but the active uncertainty that is to do with being without a template and yet being able to tolerate, or even relish, a sense of feeling lost. ‘Negative capability’ involves purposely submitting to being unsettled by a person, or situation, and embracing the feelings and possibilities that emerge.  (http://www.contemporarypsychotherapy.org/vol-2-no-2/negative-capability/)

Voller introduces the concept of “space” to describe the intimacy of a close relationship that can be found in therapy or with any care-giving relationship, professional or personal. This is the ability to get out of oneself and realize that the distinction between “me and thee” is not as definite as we are taught that it is and yet avoiding the pitfall of co-dependency.  It is the ability to enter the domain of “no-boundaries” even as one maintains his/her own “boundaries.”  The 13th century Persian Sufi poet Rumi best described this essential spiritual skill, “Out beyond the distinctions of right doing and wrong doing, there is a field.  I will meet you there.”  Rumi keenly grasped the need of getting beyond the distinctions of “me” and “thee” if we are to enter sacred space with another person and clinical work is intrinsically spiritual.  Or it should be.

Voller is simply putting on the table for therapists and care-givers the notion of vulnerability.  It is so much easier to practice clinically when one is ensconced in jargon and “shop-talk”, hiding behind a diagnostic knife which always keeps the client “out there” separate and distinct from oneself.  And relevant to vulnerability, my mind always comes to a pithy observation from Norman O. Brown, “To be is to be vulnerable.”  If one is invulnerable, he/she lacks ‘be’-ing in the world.  He/she is just another object in a world full of objects, devoid of any spiritual (i.e. “spacial”) presence.

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.

“Perfect Love Casteth Out Fear”…Eventually!

Hmm. Well, if it does I’ve got a lot of work to do for I have a lot of fears. But these fears are diminishing as I’m slowly beginning to accept God’s love, realizing that this love is a dimension of life that is not “out there” in some objectified projection from our collective and individual heart. God is immanent as well as transcendent.

But fear will never go away completely for it comes with being human. Those who are so proud of being totally fearless might take caution as this could be merely the brazen arrogance of psychopathy. To be is to be vulnerable. And to be fully human, or to be in the process of maturing as a human, is to be increasingly comfortable with the experience of vulnerability. And that is often scary!

I have tried most of my life to escape vulnerability…and human-ness…with ideologue-ism. It is a very dependable escape and when we opt for that “fig leaf” we will always have the affirmation from others who have subscribed to similar ideas. And, I can assure you that it is so comforting to know that one is in the comforting warmth of like-minded “believers” and to have that firm conviction that one’s view of the world is “right.” Coming to the point of maturity and seeing that this “escape from freedom” was a self-imposed prison has taken courage that I didn’t know that I had…and, I don’t really know that I have it even yet! But I see so clearly now the tyranny of ideas when not moderated by an open heart. I see now so clearly how the ideologue-ism of those days of my life included participation in a group effort to control others. And I see this same poison so vividly illustrated today in extremist groups such as ISIS and political factions in my country who seeks to deny rights to minorities, even the right to vote and the right to health care.




Waging the War We Are

“We wage the war we are.” This poetic quip by W. H. Auden is probably the quotation that I use most often in this venue and even in the whole of my life. And, this is no coincidence as I am realizing and experiencing that my life has been one “hell of a battlefield” all of my life. Only now am I finding the maturity and courage to dive into this fray and be a more “present” factor in my life.

This paragraph itself reflects this warfare as I posit the notion that there is an “I” which is only now willing to engage in this fray. That reflects a schizoid dimension of my psyche, a division in the soul that is present with all of us when we have the courage to acknowledge competing and conflicting voices in our heart. Simply stated, it is recognizing there we have a consciousness as well as an unconsciousness, a division that is very painful to acknowledge due to the pain of the chaos that this realization will lead us into. It makes us aware that we are always out of control is some way in that our conscious reality is more complicated than we think, that in some sense it is a contrivance we have ensconced ourselves in to deal with the “thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to” during our very brief sojourn on this lovely planet. Or, as Norman O. Brown put it decades ago, “Our ego is but a veil we have spun to hide the void.”

Now that realization will cause us to experience some “shakin’ in our booties!” That realization and experience in the depths of our heart will humble us which is necessary before “Life” can begin to flow through us. And “Life,”, which is intrinsically a “flow,” is scary if we dare to embrace it fully; for doing so will bring vulnerability into our life, a frailty which at times can become very intense. It is much easier to just avoid “Life” and toil lamely and banally through our “three score and ten,” on automatic pilot, basking in our unquestioned assumptions, speciously comfortable in in the “small bright circle of our consciousness beyond which likes the darkness.” (Conrad Aiken) I shared months ago my interpretation of a verse in Hebrews, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of a living God” to mean “It is a fearful thing to fall into ‘Life’” It is a “fearful thing” to come alive….one might even say “to be born again.” I kind of think this is what Jesus had in mind.

An after thought to offer is that this same “waging of the war we are” is also relevant to us as a social body, as a culture and even as a species. And I intend to “hold forth” on that matter next time.



NOV 15, 2014




  1. H. Auden’s observation, “We wage the war we are” also applies to human collectives. Carl Jung eloquently described the “collective unconscious,” one example seen often in mob psychology where otherwise law-abiding people can have subterranean demons stirred up to the point of violent behavior. And sociologists and anthropologists…and other social scientists…are adept at delineating how our connection with social groups influences our behavior much more than we ever would like to acknowledge. Psychologist ________ has very interesting recordings on YouTube and TedTalks in which he show evidence that my “firm conviction” to be a liberal Democrat is not without unconscious motivation just as Conservative Republicans are also driven by similar needs.


Even the species as a whole can be compared to an individual child, still early in development, struggling to integrate fragmented impulses into a working, harmonious whole. Just in my lifetime, with technological advances like computers and the internet, our world is so much “smaller,” so much more a “whole”, and we are so very near, yet so very far, to being able to come much closer to world peace and harmony than ever before. We have the means, but lack the will. And I recently came across someone who pointed out the “coincidence” that terrorism has emerged as a formless (i.e. “stateless”) expression of the violent dimensions of our collective unconscious. Jung would say that our collective unconscious is telling us that all of our accomplishments deriving from our conscious need for structure and organization, are finding their complement in the chaos of violence. It is as if our collective unconscious is reminding us, “Oh yes. Technology and progress is great. But it comes by sublimating repressed violent impulses and these violent impulses need to be given attention.” The goal is to continue to seek meaning and coherence in our world while simultaneously acknowledging and addressing the violent unconscious impulses that are within us all. And this can be done through sublimation such as with religion, literature, art and mythology. But I issue a caveat re religion—“Danger, danger Will Robinson.” For religion can easily become just another form of violence as we see so often today.


Flight 370: An Existential Observation

I’ve read some speculation in the press about why we are so “obsessed” with the flight 377 disaster. On this note, I always think of Aesychlus observation thousands of years ago, “The gods send disaster so that mankind will have something to talk about.” That is a cynical viewpoint but certainly worthy of consideration. However, our fascination, i.e. “obsession,” goes much deeper than that, reflecting a deep-seated connection that we feel with each other in this precarious adventure we are all immersed in, one from which there is “No Exit” as Sartre once noted. But I believe a story like this taps deeply into our individual and collective unconscious and stirs a sense of vulnerability that we all carefully avoid each day of our life. The notion of floating innocently through the air and being suddenly sucked into oblivion by the caprice of circumstances is a metaphor for the fragility of our life.

Here is a short poem by Eugene Mayo which beautifully captures this existential predicament:

By E. L. Mayo

This is the wind that blows
Through and through.

I would not toss a kitten
Knowingly into a wind
That blows like this
But there’s no taking

Anything living
Out of the fury
Of this wind
That we breathe and ride upon.

A “Fig Leaf” for Existential Anxiety

We are such vulnerable little creatures, described by W. H. Auden as “clinging to the granite skirts of our sensible old planet.” I think we are acutely aware of this vulnerability which is why God gave us a “fig leaf” to hide ourselves from our existential anxiety This “fig leaf” we know as our “ego” and if it does its job, we will be mercifully unaware of our vulnerability, assuming (i.e. “pretending”) that we will live forever. But, alas and alack, some of us were issued defective “fig leaves” and have been cursed with existential anxiety. One way we have to cope with this distress is poetry and I will now share a wonderful poem on the subject of vulnerability:


by Eamon Grennan

When I’d walked out to the sea surfing and spuming
into meerschaum heaps of lettuce-tinted gauze —
breakers becoming light then noise, the ocean raging
and rearranging this long spit of sand like a life
at the mercy of circumstance — I saw the north wind

drive trillions of sandgrains to scour every last trace
of what the previous tide had done, and gulls snatch
huge clamshells from the swirl and smash them
to get at and gobble each salt, soft-bodied helplessness
at the heart of its own broken home, and I felt caught

between water-violence and the gulls’ patience,
between shifting ground I stood on and the thunder-
turbulence of water, between a slowly disappearing
ceiling of cloud and the blue sky-cupola it leaves
behind, between titanic ocean-roar and the ticking heart.