Monthly Archives: December 2022

How to Find the Seeds of an Equal Benefit

Image courtesy of Pixabay

It is how people respond to stress that determines
whether they will profit from misfortune or be miserable.

~Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi~

I was thinking recently about Napoleon Hill’s statement that inside every adversity lie the seeds of an at least equal benefit. Good results can follow bad experiences. I have had times in my life when things looked quite bleak. Each time I learned something useful from the experience.

My wise friend, Steve D’Annunzio, has frequently reminded me that adversity, particularly in the form of illness, is God’s way of telling us there is something in our lives that needs attention. Judging by the magnitude of adversity piled on some of us, Big Ben must sometimes be necessary when we don’t pay attention to the snooze alarm.

Three people of my acquaintance have recently been diagnosed with cancer, one in the late stages. A good friend of mine is mired in serious depression. I wondered what the message is for them. As I thought about it, I realized I don’t have to understand their message. It is theirs, not mine. My job is to heed my own messages.

We are often too busy with troublesome emotions to hear the message. We may be angry at God for torturing us. Some of us, troubled by human suffering, have concluded that there could not be a loving God who would inflict such torture on His creatures.

Others of us become preoccupied with feeling sorry for ourselves. We look around and do not see others with the same problems as ours. Why should we have to put up with such troubles? It isn’t fair!

Still others of us are overcome by fear. What will become of us? How will we manage life with the burdens we have to bear? Will we ever be able to get back to our old selves?

If being angry, sad or fearful doesn’t help, what are we to do? The first step is to back off from our immediate emotional responses. We need to learn to be still within ourselves. Maybe that is part of the message. I heard somewhere that when God speaks to us, He/She does not shout but whispers. If there is too much noise in our minds, we can’t hear the message. Meditation, time in the woods or a prayerful attitude can all open our minds.

Once we are in a receptive state, what do we do with the message? Remember the seeds we started out with? Seeds are not very impressive in themselves. Given care, nurturing, and time, they can become giant redwood trees. People also start as seeds.

What wonders might be hiding in the seeds of the benefits awaiting us? Let’s consider an example.  Someone I know ended up filing for bankruptcy. He entertained feelings of fear, sadness and depression. He was invited by people who cared about him to look at how he could start living his life with a sense of prosperity. Now he is doing better financially than he ever dreamed. He is not wealthy but has learned to respect money and himself.

Action Steps:

  • How can I put aside my troubled feelings?
  • How can I still my mind and heart?
  • What do I hear when I start to listen?
  • What new aspects of my life await me?
  • Can I let go of control and let God be God?

Selection from my book, Navigating Life: Commonsense Reflections for the Voyage, available at Amazon

Stop Making Problems of Life Situations

Image courtesy of Pixabay

Whether you’re winning or losing, it is important to always be yourself. You can’t change because of the circumstances around you.

~Cotton Fitzsimmons~

Oprah once featured Eckhart Tolle in a series of interviews about his book, The New Earth. I decided to review my copy of his earlier book, The Power of Now, which lays the groundwork for The New Earth. His words interested me since I have spent so many years listening to people’s problems in my work as a psychologist.

He described a problem as “dwelling on a situation mentally without there being a true intention or possibility of taking action now and making it part of your sense of self.” I wish I had thought of problems that way when I was counseling. This reflection keeps popping into my mind every time I hear people complaining about situations in their lives.

Tolle went on to say that there are situations in all of our lives which we would prefer were not present. Sometimes we can do something about them. Rather than dwelling on how bad the situation is, this is the time to do something about it. Get on with it and don’t get stuck making it a problem.

Sometimes there is not much we can do about a situation, at least for now. In that case, the best we can do is accept the situation as it is and move on. Perhaps there will be something we can do about it in the future.

But what happens if we don’t take either approach? I can think of a time when I made my financial insecurity a problem. For quite a while, I did nothing about it. I just worried about it. I worried that I would never be able to retire, that I would be stuck paying off bills for the rest of my life and that I would not have the money to do the things which were important to me.

I could find no acceptable answer on my own. Finally, I got tired of worrying and asked people I thought could help me what I might do about it. Eventually, I learned how to stop worrying and do what I could to change my situation. How I did this is another story which I will tell some other time.

In the quote above, Tolle tells us what will happen if we continue to dwell on the situation and make it a problem. It becomes part of our sense of self. We make it our own and even start defining ourselves as a person with that particular problem. We are stuck regretting our past and worrying about our future. What a waste of our time. All we have is right now. We have the more viable choices of doing something about our situation or accepting it.

Action Steps

  • Do you have situations in your life you think of as problems?
  • How much time to you spend worrying about them?
  • What can you do right now about a problem situation?
  • If you can’t do anything, how about accepting it for the time being?
  • If you insist on worrying, how about setting aside part of each day for worrying?

Selection from my book, Navigating Life: Commonsense Reflections for the Voyage, available from Amazon

Dealing with Stress and Its Discontents

Image courtesy of Pixabay

The only pressure I’m under is the pressure I’ve put on myself.

~Mark Messier~

I find it hard lately to drive anywhere without finding another car ten feet behind me, desperately seeking a way to pass me. Television commercials shout at prospective buyers or bombard them with frenetic claims overlapping one another. Newspaper and magazine articles blame stress for physical and emotional ailments. Lately, I have noticed more reports of murder and suicide in cases where people apparently find life intolerable.

Sigmund Freud wrote a book called Civilization and Its Discontents. Without belaboring Freud’s comments, two statements from the introduction struck me. One is his observation that people would rather suffer than change. The other is a summary of the book’s theme that as long as there is culture, people will be unhappy.

I didn’t like reading either statement. I prefer to think that people can change in a way which makes their lives more satisfying or at least more tolerable. I also don’t like the idea that culture makes people unhappy. Would we be any happier in an uncivilized world?

Certainly civilization means that our world is more complex. Our lives in a civilized society consist of more than hunting, eating, procreating and dying. I think it would be fair to say that founders of the world’s great civilizations sought to make the world a better place in which to live at least for their own citizens.

So where did stress come from? At one time people were so focused on survival that they had no extra time or energy to consider how they felt about their lives. Vacations, weekends and time for relaxation just didn’t exist. Now they do. We have come to rely on our leisure and even expect it as our birthright. Maybe unexpected inconvenience leads to stress. We tell ourselves we have a right to life on our own terms. We have forgotten that life is a combination of joy, learning and discovery accompanied by sorrow, loss and grief.

How can we deal with stress? First we should consider how much stress we create through our expectations. If we are convinced that life should involve no disappointments or inconvenience, we are bound to feel off kilter. Our frantic efforts to tailor the world to our convenience can’t lead to anything but stress. We can avoid much of our stress by accepting the world as we find it rather than trying to force it into the mold we would like.

I remember Eckhard Tolle saying that we have three choices when faced with a situation we don’t like. We can accept the situation as it is. We can do what is possible to change the situation and then move on. We can also become upset about it. What’s your choice?

Action Steps

  • How do you deal with uncomfortable situations?
  • Are you satisfied with your approach
  • How else can you react?
  • Ask yourself whether your expectations of life are realistic.
    If not, how can you adjust your expectations?
  •  Selection from my book, Navigating Life: Commonsense Reflections for the Voyage, available from Amazon

Stressful Situations Come in Many Different Degrees

Image Courtesy of Pixabay

Stress is basically a disconnection from the earth, a forgetting of the breath. Stress is an ignorant state. It believes that everything is an emergency. Nothing is that important. Just lie down.

~Natalie Goldberg~

There are many degrees of stress from mild annoyance to feeling overwhelmed. If everything is going well, we take fairly large amounts of stress in stride. Under more trying circumstances an otherwise minor stress may put us over the top. If the stressful situation in question is the only one we face all week, it is not so bad. If we have ten of them to deal with at once, it is a different story.

Sometimes we have little control over the amount of stress we have to face at any given time. Sometimes we contribute to our stress. For example, high mortgages, car payments and credit card bills come from our choice of lifestyle. We could have chosen to live in a way which did not involve these stresses.

We do not often stop to ponder our stress. Whether we are aware of it or not, our thinking has a considerable effect on how we react to a stressful situation.

Consider an example. Suppose you are walking down the street and someone bumps into you. Do you get upset? If you see this person bumping into everyone in front of you on purpose and laughing, you would probably get quite angry. If the person is distracted by a conversation, and is not watching where he is going, you might get less angry. If the person is carrying a white cane and obviously can’t see you, how angry would you get? You would probably have three different reactions depending on how you see the circumstances and what you tell yourself about them.

Even if we think we are reacting to someone else’s behavior, we are actually reacting to what we tell ourselves about their behavior rather than to how they act.  We can become angry if we feel slighted by someone regardless of whether they know we feel slighted. We choose to avoid some of our stress by taking others’ actions less personally.

How have we come to feel so much stress these days?  I think part of the answer lies in cultural changes. Two hundred years ago, people struggled for survival and had little time to consider what their lives were like. Focus was on survival. I am not sure life was any less stressful then, but people took pressure for granted.

We don’t expect the burden of stress and are surprised when it hits us between the eyes. We forget that stressful situations are a part of life, that we have some control over these situations and that we have choices about how to react to them. Next time you are feeling under stress, think about how you got there. Concentrate less on how awful it is and more on what you can do about it.

Action Steps

  • Do you realize not all stress is the same?
  • Do you react to inconveniences the same way you react to disasters?
  • Do you always know the difference?
  • If you have control of the situation, take effective action to change it.
  • If you can’t control it, minimize its effect and move on.

Selection from my book, Navigating Life: Commonsense Reflections for the Voyage, available from Amazon.

Reconnecting with My Muse

Each of the arts whose office is to refine, purify, adorn,
embellish and grace life is under the patronage of a muse,
no god being found worthy to preside over them.

~Ralph Waldo Emerson~

There is no classical Greek muse for fiction, yet I have a fiction muse. There was none for roller skating either, yet one appeared in the movie Xanadu. Something in that movie excited me. Was it Olivia Newton-John or her character? I thought it might be a rekindling of my adolescent fantasies. Partly by fate and partially by choice, I have not yet finished being an adolescent. After seeing the movie three times, I realized that there was something more here for me than just a movie. It took a while to figure out what stirred me.

For years, there has been an extra feminine presence around my house. It was not my wife or either of my two daughters. It was more than the female presence of the dog or cat.  At first, it was very ethereal, like the memory of a purple dressing gown from Victoria’s Secret. There was no form, at least none that was well defined.

She does have other sensory qualities. I can hear her swish by or rustle near me. I can feel her warmth and softness against my shoulder or thigh. At times, I have been aware of a faint lavender scent. I can feel her closeness and the weight of ideas she offers me. I am aware of her restlessness when I choose to read rather than write and her disappointment when I watch television.

She first appeared after I attended a noontime concert, inspiring me to write a story about music and schizophrenia. I had not planned to write the story. I had written nothing creative since my bungling attempts in high school English class. All I had published were newspaper articles about mental health. All I had written recently were psychological test reports.

I had a new computer. I knew enough about computers to know that there were no ideas inside. All the computer could do was say yes or no, although it did so in some very sophisticated ways. I sat at the computer and somehow my fingers typed the first story. Other stories followed, without my realizing where they originated or why I felt compelled to write them.

I found out the hard way that muses do not like being ignored. I decided that I needed to concentrate on my finances for a while rather than on my writing. Shortly after that I found my attempts to write yielded wooden outlines, stony starts and ideas which scattered like feathers in the wind.

Nothing worked. She was gone. Reading fiction prompted new ideas. Writer’s Digest provided tools. Writer’s Market listed publishing prospects. All too late. Nothing worked.

I thought she was gone for good. I guess I deserved it. I never thought much about how to entertain a muse. I have since come to realize that muses are much like people. If there is nothing to interest them, they move on. I did not invite her to come to me in the first place, and did not know how to get her back. Maybe somebody else could use the books I had bought about writing. I could go back to enjoying others’ fiction.

While driving to northern Michigan, I tired of thinking about money. My thoughts drifted to floating in the lake, hearing the squawk of the imported peacock and being transformed by the classic but youthful music at Interlochen National Music Camp.

Sitting at the picnic table outside the cabin on the second day, I realized my muse was back. The swish was there, the warmth. Was that lavender in the air? I had another chance. But which muse was she? She was not Polyphonia. My work could scarcely be called sacred poetry. She did not appear to be Erato, Euterpe or Calliope. I don’t write love poetry, lyric poetry or epic poetry. What I do can not be considered astronomy, so she could not be Urania. My work is read, not staged. Therefore, it could not be inspired by Terpsichore, famed for choral song and dance. I clearly write fiction and not history, eliminating Clio. My writing does not feel like tragedy or comedy, leaving out Melpomene and Thalia.

That was nine. There were no muses left. Then I recalled that muses are not fond of revealing themselves fully. Nor, as I should have been aware, are they particularly logical. Yet there I was trying to figure her out. One of them must be my muse. Since there is none for fiction, she must be Calliope, the muse of epic poetry and the one most likely to take an interest in my writing.

Learning from past mistakes, I finally realized that my job was to make her comfortable, give her space in my mind, and listen to what she whispered to me. I will have to take better care of her. Next time she leaves, she might not come back.

Action Steps

  • Where does your creativity originate?
  • Do you take credit for it?
  • Do you depend on outside inspiration?
  • How do you find your creative stimulus?
  • Give your Muse the respect she deserves.

Selection from my book, Navigating Life: Commonsense Reflections for the Voyage, available from Amazon.

Out to Sea

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

I think I might be watching too many political programs on TV. One minute I am encouraged that our country and its people are coming to their senses. The next minute it appears that we have lost all sense of reason and are destined for endless conflict, ultimately ending up on the trash heap of history.

Voices of reason calmly tell us that we can listen to each other, understand one another’s desires, fears and misgivings. Then voices of lunacy suggest that vaccines are responsible for peoples’ death and the medical providers and those who listen to them need to by investigated.

Some resent the world and specifically our government for not providing what they need or want and are ready to destroy our democracy in an act of justified revenge. We seem to have lost the ability to talk with others who do not think exactly as we do.

Rather than working together to understand and provide for each others’ needs, we have turned to blaming each other for our not have our needs met. I have not recently heard the words “common ground” uttered in any public or private conversations.

Social media, which were once seen as a vehicle to bring people together, have largely become a way to promote our grievances toward each other. It is easy to blame others for our not having what we want in our lives. Many people seem to be looking for ways to punish those whom they blame for their misfortune.

Continuing in this vein will not make life better for any of us. After punishing those we blame, none of us will be better off that before. If we want something from others it is necessary to tend to their needs as well.

When we are angry, it is easy to rage at others. You may have noticed that raging at them does not bring you any closer to meeting your real needs although rage may make you feel a little better for the moment.

If you want to move toward cooperating in the best interest of everyone, the best way is to be quiet and listen to what others have to say. Maybe they will have something useful to say. If they go on about how awful some other people are, ask them how they would like their lives to be and how they might find common ground with others to everyone’s benefit. Then at least you have a starting point.


What Moving Has Taught Me

Image courtesy of Pixabay

Without change, something sleeps inside us, and seldom awakens.
The sleeper must awaken.

~Frank Herbert~


For several weeks, I was busy sorting through the remains of my life so far in preparation for a move from Batavia to Leroy. During the process I discovered long forgotten memories.

I found books from my graduate studies in psychology including works of psychologists from the 1880’s. My favorite novels surfaced, including those of John Updike, Mark Twain, and John Irving. Art, history and gardening books reappeared as did musical scores.

I came across files I had been saving for some unexpected need. Maybe I could use the information for a particularly difficult client. Perhaps I would want to write a column and find relevant information at hand without having to search for it.

My plants wanted to know if they were invited to move to Leroy. They were. My bicycle was also anxious to try out some new routes. It will get the chance. My racquetball racquet looked imploringly at me. Afraid not, I don’t think I’m up to it any more. Various pieces of furniture also vied to be included. My desks, file cabinets as well as art work and bookshelves my son made for me over the years made the cut. My waterbed, several chairs and appliances didn’t.

But all that’s just stuff. What do I take of myself? My memories of course. My stuff brings back my memories, but I will have to forgo the visible reminders in some cases and rely on my mind alone. Over the years others have reminded me of events in my life which I am hard pressed to recall. I don’t need to remember everything. Besides I can’t carry around a houseful of stuff just for their attached memories. Or at least I choose not to.

I also take with me what I have learned about life over the years. I don’t think I could sit down and write a list of my life learnings. But they do come back to me when I need them and I remember my past mistakes and what I learned from them.

I take my relationships with me. Some of the people I have met are long dead. Some are lost to me and I don’t know what has become of them. Some were lost but found again to my great joy. Some have always been with me and still are. The people who have passed through my life have provided me with my greatest joy. Some have presented trials, but hopefully I have learned from them all.

I don’t know what awaits me in the next incarnation of my life. I no longer fear what might happen and look forward to the new adventures which await me. I hope to be creative in my response to them.

Action Steps

  • What are your fondest memories?
  • What are you glad to leave behind you?
  • What do you look forward to?
  • Do you enjoy the challenge of each day’s adventures?
  • Are there any course corrections you wish to consider?

Selection from my book, Navigating Life: Commonsense Reflections for the Voyage, available from Amazon

Learn to Appreciate Music as a Common Language

Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.

~Berthold Auerbach~

Once I heard the Buffalo Symphony Orchestra perform in Centennial Park in Batavia. This was the latest in a series of concerts I had the pleasure of attending. I got to thinking about the place of music in our lives. Eventually I began to consider the contribution of music to civilization throughout history and across civilizations.

In college I attended Kabuki and Noh theater performances and also saw Chinese Opera. I found the music foreign to my ear and difficult to comprehend although I saw others in the audience who appeared quite comfortable with it.

Opera, symphony, folk and rap aficionados inhabit worlds which seldom intersect. Yet they all find rapture in their own forms of music. It may be difficult for devotees to find anything in common with other forms of music. Some music speaks to us in words while others rely on melody and rhythm.

What does music mean to us? Since lyrics can be secondary to music or lacking altogether, it can be hard to find words to express what music means to us. We might be left with only the emotions which music suggests and portrays.

Most of us can appreciate musical expression of joy, happiness and anticipation even if the music’s form is foreign to us. More difficult is learning to appreciate expression of pain, anger and hurt in unfamiliar music. Music often expresses emotions shared by the people of the culture in which it develops. We use music to celebrate, express our desires and grieve. We listen to lullabies when we are born. Dirges punctuate our funerals.

Archeological findings tell us that music was present in the earliest civilizations in one form or another, beginning with primitive drums. Throughout the centuries musical instruments have taken on increasingly complex forms. Have you ever considered the workings of a pipe organ? Despite the complexity of instruments, a recent concert at the Eastman Theater during the Rochester International Jazz Festival featured instruments constructed and played by musicians from Mali.

It’s easy for us to misinterpret the meaning of each others’ words, even when we have a common language. We assume that we know what others are saying, jump to conclusions about our differences from them and even see ourselves as superior to them. Words sometimes trip us and make it difficult for us to understand each other. What if we look at each other from another perspective and if we try to understand the place of music in each others’ lives, attempting to see and hear the feelings music expresses? Maybe such an approach would help us appreciate each other a little better without becoming lost in words.

Action Steps

  • Listen to the music you like and consider why you like it.
  • What emotions or life outlook does your music express?
  • Are you comfortable with the emotions or life outlook?
  • Listen to others’ music and see if you can tell what it means to them.
  • If you can’t, try asking them.

Selection from my book, Navigating Life: Commonsense Reflections for the Voyage, available from Amazon

Trumpism for the Undead


Image Credit: Picture of Mitch O’Connell Art’s Public Billboard. Follow him on Insta and Twitter, and visit his shop here.

I just read an article by Umair Haque titled Welcome to the Rise of Zombie Trumpism published in on 12/8/2022. Haque describes Trumpism as not dead but not alive either. It can only be imagined as existing in the world of Zombies. He sees Trumpism growing creepier. Trump wants the Constitution terminated along with any other rules and regulations which might constrain him. Its pressing concerns seem to by Hunter Biden’s perceived misdeeds as well as rights for anyone other than white males.

Haque views Trumpism as undead. Apparently in line with fading interest by voters, Trumpy candidates did not do well in the recent elections, especially eschewing marginal candidates such as a football player and a TV doctor, neither of whom had any demonstrable experience or familiarity with politics.

Voters are generally looking for political candidates interested in working together in the best interest of our country and its citizens. Trumpism has nothing to offer in a positive sense, only tired axes to regrind.

Despite all this, Republican candidates remain fearful of anger directed at them by Trumpians, who constitute a loud minority. It seems many Republicans do not share the destructive leanings of Trumpism but still fear the damage it could cause their careers if they speak out against it.

Fortunately the influence of the Trumpians is starting to fade, based on the recent midterm election results among other indicators. Further nails in their coffin may well appear as Trump and his cronies are held to account for their attempts to subvert our democracy. Stay tuned!

Finding Creativity in Winter

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

The creative is the place where no one else has ever been. You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you’ll discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover is yourself.

~Alan Alda~

 I usually think of winter as a time when nature lies dormant. The color disappears from many plants and trees and some plants disappear underground not to be seen again until spring. I sometimes look at the drifting snow and think of the world hibernating.

I have done much of my drawing and painting in the summer, sitting on my front porch. Both books I have written were largely composed on my porch in summer. In the past I have thought of my creativity as burying itself in the mud at the bottom of a pond like a turtle.

This past year has been different for some reason. In early winter I found it difficult to write and had to force myself to sit at the computer or get my pen moving on a pad. My easel stood empty and my paints remained capped in their tubes.

Then last week I picked up a pencil and started drawing on the empty paper lying at the ready on my easel. Next I got out some paints and started drawing abstract designs and human figures. Then I noticed that, after painting, words came to me much more easily when I sat down to write. I don’t know how this happened.

I remember one summer many years ago when I had a chance to spend a week at a friend’s cabin on Duck Lake in Interlaken, Michigan. I had been working quite hard and had no time to write for a while. I relished the chance to have some time to sit on the shore and write stories. The first morning after I arrived, I found a convenient rock, got comfortable by the lake with the sun rising and loons lazily swimming by. I opened my notebook, took the cap off my pen and sat there ready to write. Nothing came out of the pen. Nothing stirred in my head.

I knew that I had neglected my muse and that she would not reappear until she was darn good and ready. I managed a few pages that week. I realized that I don’t have control over my creativity but can only be ready for it to appear. I can’t force ideas into my head and can’t make words come out of my pen or images come from my pencil or brush. It is my job to listen and watch for ideas to appear and be ready to capture them when they do.

Both that summer and this winter have humbled me and made me thankful for all the words and images which have arisen in my mind over the years. I came to realize that I do not possess creative ideas. They possess me and invite me to share them with others.

Action Steps

  • Think about ways you have been creative in your life.
  • What creative ideas have popped into your mind lately?
  • What did you do about them?
  • Be open to your own creativity today.
  • Don’t be afraid to share what you find with others.

Selection from my book, Navigating Life: Commonsense Reflections for the Voyage, available at Amazon.