Category Archives: psychology

the nature of attention


…the nature of attention alters what it finds; and specifically that when we cease to act, to be involved, spontaneous and intuitive, and instead become passive, disengaged, self-conscious, and stare in an ‘objective’ fashion at the world around us, it becomes bizarre, alien, frightening…madness…is the end-point of the trajectory [that] consciousness follows when it separates from the body and the passions, and from the social and practical world, and turns in upon itself…there is a close relation between philosophy and madness. The philosopher’s predilection for abstraction and alienation – for detachment from body, world and community, can produce a type of seeing and experiencing which is, in a literal sense, pathological.*

The Master and his Emissary
Iain McGilchrist

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the rememberer


the rememberer…is a person who defies the natural laws of decay, one who makes the heart a more hospitable  ground for the traces of the past than stone could ever be. The rememberer might also be a lonely rebel against the passage of time. To resist the erasures occasioned by this passage of time, memories have to be written down.

…the memories which lie within us are not carved in stone, nor do they tend to become erased as years go by. But often they change, or even grow by incorporating extraneous features. ‘This scant reliability of our memories will be satisfactorily explained only when we know in what language, what alphabet they are written, on what surface, and with what pen: to this day we are still far from this goal.’ [Primo Levi] *


Bridge Across Broken Time

Vera Schwarez


EV Abraham


BC Kofford

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symptoms are way home


Symptoms are ways home.  They are our routes, our passages, our betaking of ourselves. A symptom is a kind of sigh, a sort of relief in a routine of life, a letting go of the unfamiliar and entering the unfamiliar.  It is not a dangling part, but rather a striking, integrated expression of self. In the system of interpretation of traditional acupuncture, the symptom acts as a leitmotif, a main theme of a persons’ life that has been called up to be dealt with, to be completed.  The symptom is not for the sake of itself.  It is, rather, an instrument for wholing, healing, coming home.

The symptom sits in the person’s history.  It is a request for support; not support for simply getting rid of, of fixing it; but support for bearing it; for suffering it as an expression of life; support for seeing the wisdom and embrace ability of the symptom.  It may even be said that a symptom, no matter how awesome or terrible, is life requesting to be embraced in all its manifestations.      . . . A symptom is a way to the whole, to the person’s story, to her history, to her “storied” life.  Like any opening, anyway in, there are things that come into view right away; so the symptom acts as an opening to vision and relationships beyond the ordinary, beyond the suffering (All Sickness is Homesickness, Connelly, 1993)

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Aha!…those moments of insight

As old age arrives,
considering just the day’s length
can move one to tears. ~ Issa*


Haiku transforms the most mundane of moments into something special. In Zen it is glimpses like these, rather than the study of the doctrine that are said to lead to enlightenment – the realization of the true nature of existence…The haiku poet, knowing that words are not enough to capture the fullness of any moment, inscribes a partial idea that leaves an all-important space for the reader to fill in. As you question what the poet has omitted, the poem comes alive through your own memories and feelings. (p.8)**

There is a relation between the pleasurable ‘aha!’ phenomenon of insight and the right amygdale, which mediates interactions between emotions and higher frontal cognitive function. In fact an extensive body of research now indicates that insight, whether mathematical or verbal, the sort of problem solving that happens when we are, precisely, not concentrating on it, is associated with activation in the right hemisphere, mainly in the right anterior temporal area, specifically in the right anterior superior temporal gyrus, through where there are high levels of restructuring involved there is also activity in the right prefrontal cortex. Insight is also a perception of the previous incongruity of one’s assumptions, which links it to the right hemisphere’s capacity for detecting an anomaly.

Problem solving, making reasonable deductions, and making judgments may become harder if we become conscious of the process. Thus rendering one’s thought processes explicit, or analyzing a judgment, may actually impair performance, because it encourages the left hemisphere’s focus on the explicit, superficial structure of the problem. (p. 63)***

*The Spring of My Life and Selected Haiku Kobayashi Issa
Trans: Sam Hamill

**The Moon in the Pines
Trans: Jonathan Clements

***The Master and his Emissary
Iain McGilchrist


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the path of the bodhisattva


The Tibetan Wheel of Suffering offers my Western eyes a contemplative tool by which to explore how psychological patterns –unconscious drives and needs, impulsive and reactive responses, learned and conditioned habits, and obsessions and compulsions – serve to keep me locked in self-defeating or misguided mental formations.

The Wheel of Suffering illustrates the prominent suffering within each six separate realms of existence; deva, asura, human, animal, hungry  ghost, and hell. It also offers hope and instruction by which to ease suffering through the inclusion of six tiny figures symbolizing the bodhisattva.

  • Within in the deva realm is a bodhisattva holding a lute signifying the joy and happiness that arises from a peaceful mind in unison with sensory experience.  The sound of the lute also alerts those in this realm that pleasures are temporary and that the happiness that comes with letting go of the emotional fusion with self and with another far exceeds that which arises from indulgence.
  • Inserted in the asura realm is a bodhisattva wielding a flaming sword, representative of discriminating awareness needed to free one paralyzed by their own jealousy.
  • Placed within the human realm is a bodhisattva holding an alms bowl and staff symbolizing an ascetic engaged in a true comprehension of identity.
  • Included in the animal realm is a bodhisattva holding a book representing the need for wisdom that arises through thought, speech, and reflection.
  • Introduced in the hungry ghost realm is a bodhisattva holding a bowl filled with spiritual nourishment.  These spiritual morsels: grace, faith, mindfulness, centeredness, compassion, loving-kindness, and equanimity, all contain the nutrients of wisdom to ease their torments.
  • Within hell, the lowest and worst of the three lower realms, is a bodhisattva holding a mirror indicating that the seeing and acknowledging, with nonjudgmental awareness, of unwanted emotions will alleviate suffering.

Many in the west conceive the bodhisattva as spiritual warriors who are compassionate beings whose sole and unique purpose in this world is to work for the benefit of all beings.

They are also generally considered as beings who, through their asceticism and transformation, have arrived at a state of awakening, but have renounced to enter into the completion of this awakening as long as there is a single being who suffers.

Yean-Yves Leloup notes within Compassion and Meditation, “a bodhisattva is a being who is undaunted by the multitude of beings who are not free, undaunted by the time, which seems to be needed for all to be free, and would sacrifice their own head and all their limbs” for the well-being of all sentient beings.

He also notes, “The Christian tradition maintains that one is never saved alone.  It is as if someone refused to experience paradise, or to see God, as long as there is one being who does not participate in this vision… As long, as a single being does not know the uncreated Creator and Love, the foundation of being and life, then perhaps we could say that one renounces, not the knowledge itself, but the savoring of this knowledge in its fullness…a cosmic state of consciousness, open to all beings.  My own body is the body of the universe, and as long as a single being suffers in this universe, I cannot know the fullness—in Christian terms, the beatitude.” (pages 39-40)

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Entangled beliefs

entangled thoughts

My intention to ease my own suffering through a journey of spiritual readings has brought me to a place and time in which to unweave and sort through the pseudo-beliefs I have simply, without question, absorbed through the lens of childhood fantasy and comprehension.  To begin this process is to invite myself to explore The Buddha’s recommendation to reformulate my beliefs through a process of mindfulness and analysis and then to know for myself, “These things are bad, blamable, censured by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to harm and ill… These things are good, blameless, praised by the wise… These things lead to benefit and happiness.”

It is not an easy undertaking to not simply believe what has been learned within family, school and church as well as conclusions reached through readings of idealized others. The invitation to not simply follow tradition brings to the surface conflicts with compliance and opposition that come from an avalanche of values and guiding principles that outlines how I understand the roles and expectations of women.

To not adhere to that which was surmised within family stories about an ancestor, who upon seeing a swarm of locust “knelt in his patch of grain and pleaded with his Maker to spare his wheat” and then saw them divide and not damage his remaining crops. Or within the story about the ancestor, who during a trip from New York to England, calmed the seas with a prayer, and while in England, after much fasting and prayer administered to a deaf and dumb boy who was subsequently healed.[1] To not simply believe opens a door of pondering about generations of family members who intimately knew powerlessness and insecurity, who eased their feelings of incompetence through prayer, and whose conceptions blinded them to their neighbors’ plight.

To not simply believe that I must endure suffering is to reject the axiom that there is an absence of fundamental faith and goodness. To not adhere to the assumed abilities of ancestors frees me from the belief that a sincere act of making amends for my sins will open the doors to Shangri-La.  To not simply draw upon scripture unbinds me to the shame that I don’t have the faith – even of the size of a mustard seed – to be deeded as “good and without sin” so what I wish for, even that which goes counter to nature’s laws, will be granted.  To ease the suffering within discontent is to not simply hold to be true that I am to acquiesce to pain until the final judgment of death, and only then will I be forever at peace, or forever condemned to an existence of even greater suffering.

To not simply believe opens my ears to the incongruence within a belief in an all-knowing presence who, if not validated, punishes, absent of the grace within loving-kindness.  To not simply believe brings a compassionate acknowledgment to the painful efforts to sway God into granting me my desires through bargaining, sacrifice, negation, and suffering, and to finally surrender with acceptance to “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  To not simply believe sheds light upon the greed, aversion, and delusions that are intertwined into my conception of and relationship with life.

I do hold that my beliefs and the subsequent desire for their illusive promises of validation, forgiveness, or reunification have set me upon an unending path of suffering.  These beliefs lead to harm and ill as they are like thorns that tear into my heart.  This searing pain releases resentment intertwined with envy, awakens alienation, and denies me the essence of Christ’s wisdom and loving compassion.

Christ stood before self-righteous anger and commanded that only the one without sin was to cast the first stone of punishment and, at another time and in the midst of his own suffering, sought forgiveness for those who “know not what they do.”   Within these written words, I hear compassion speaking for the suffering intertwined within anger ungoverned by moral shame and moral dread.  Compassion is telling us how suffering, entangled into knots of mental, emotional, and social turmoil, deafens us to our guiding principles and blinds us to the horrors our moral shame will witness as it awakens from darkened ignorance.

[1] Clara Fullmer Bullock, More than Tongue Can Tell (1960).


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a reflection within a water drop

in this world

i have found

no perfect drop of dew-

not even on the lotus ~Issa*


As I sort through the various threads of thought, imaginings, memories and beliefs I have woven into a tapestry that illustrates my companionship with a silent sense of saudade, I come to see a life colored by attempts to evade or expunge an underlying current of dissatisfaction. This discontent is generally felt as a yearning for something undefined, or a vague sense that things are not quite right.  It comes in the wake of the realization that dreams are unreachable, and expectations only create more turmoil. Sometimes it erupts as sorrow, grief, anguish, or despair.  As a result, I question where is the wellspring of this homesickness for a place, a person, a time that that I continue to search for despite a knowing that it simply cannot be?

Buddhist psychology seeks to uncover the truth of human suffering and to find a path that leads to the cessation of suffering.  The first two truths speak of suffering and its nature, while the third and fourth truths outline a life path that will bring about the cessation of suffering.

The First Noble Truth nudges me out of my own immersion within the misery of suffering through its validation that suffering is a universal occurrence despite one’s race, culture, or affiliations.  Even those who say, “all’s right with the world,” are impacted by the constant state of flux within their life and thus experience anxiety.

To be born is to struggle with physical changes that occur in conjunction with developmental milestones, to feel the pain that accompanies physical and medical frailties, and to wrestle with the process of dying and with death itself.  To be human is to be dissatisfied with the wanting and obtaining of that which is pleasant, to know the fading of initial pleasure, as well as to experience the discomfort of unpleasant sounds, sights, scents, tastes, physical sensations, and thoughts.  To be open to life is to experience the range of human feelings, be it fear, anger, sadness, and joy.  To be with others is to know the distress of – real or imagined and spoken or unspoken – inclusion and exclusion.

The first truth also extends these truths of suffering to the unsatisfactory nature and general insecurity inherent in the law of impermanency.  That is, all the phenomena of existence whatsoever, even the awe-inspiring and the horrifying, are subject to change and dissolution. Those who know the pleasures found within substances also are acquainted with the unease that accompanies excess. We all intimately know the truth of this impermanency in our longings to feel emotionally close to others, which soon changes into a yearning for separation. Consequently, without exception discontent does arise.

Suffering is clinging to the illusion of an unchanging self; that is, to a belief there is a permanent self within the ongoing process of physical and mental occurrences which constantly arise, disintegrate, and dissolve. Hume wrote that self is a “bundle or collection of different perceptions, which succeed each other with inconceivable rapidity, and in a perpetual flux and movement.”  He further suggested that we create an idea of self as we processes our perception of events and things.  Thus, there is not a tangible sense of self that remains consistent from one moment to the next. To desire, crave, or cling to a solid consistent self where there is only a changing psycho-physical complex is to create conditions that generate sorrow, grief, and dejection.[1]

The feeling of an “I” emerges from a reflection of the stream of experiential consciousness that awakens when one becomes aware of being observed by an internalized watcher or seer who is felt but never known.   Therefore, there is no denying that there is a wavering consciousness, an “I”, that knits together streams of memories, thoughts, feelings, and interactions in such a manner that we are able to formulate an awareness of identity, continuity, striving, as well as an sense of ourselves and others.

Memory bridges our past with the present

and brings us to an awareness that life is a cyclic process

that demonstrates the dynamic forces of togetherness and separation;

therefore, this moment is but a reflection within fragments of a past

and of a self revisited while in this process.


* The Year of my Life

trans: Nobuyuki Yuasa

[1] B. Russell, A History of Western Philosophy (New York, 1945).

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