Monthly Archives: January 2012

Giving and Receiving

The third of the Twelve Principles of Attitudinal Healing outlined by Jampolsky (2000) is that to give is to receive.  I would like to see myself as a kind, helpful, and giving person but, when I really examine my behavior and my thinking, I tend to be just about as selfish and ego-addicted as the next well-defended person. While I try to avoid it, I tend to be a score keeper. I notice when the tally sheet isn’t balanced and it irritates me. This is the case whether the imbalance is in my favor or shows an advantage for the other guy. When I’m ahead in terms of receiving, I feel alternately blessed and indebted. When I’m behind in receiving, I feel neglected and cheated.  When I’m ahead in giving I may feel superior but also reminded that giving more means I’m not getting enough in return. If I’m behind in giving, I feel negligent and selfish. It’s an exhausting game and it’s inherently bad for all kinds of relationships because keeping score means competition and competition means someone has to lose. While I know this to be true intellectually, it is hard to let go of in practice at least in part because winning feels very, very good.

In his description of the third principle, Jampolsky talks about the “universal law of possession” which is that what we value can only be kept when freely given away and taking it from others results in its immediate loss (p. 87). Looking at this from the point of view of the ego may make this idea more clear. Jampolsky states that “our egos believe in the law of scarcity — if we give something to another, we automatically have less” (p. 87).  When we are focused on the ego, we feel isolated and in competition for seemingly scarce resources.  The ego commodifies inherently unmeasurable things such as affection, attention, and love. The ego sees these things as scarce and suggests that we should covet and hoard them. Clearly they should only be given to the deserving; and, when people show themselves to be unworthy, these things should should be taken back. Relationships, to the ego, are negotiated, impermanent engagements between separate entities. Since they are contractual, the terms of these relationships can be violated. When they are, the parties feel justified in feeling hurt and needing to retaliate. None of this promotes growth, peace of mind, or healing.

My 13-year-old recently devoured all of the books in the Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins. She asked me to read the first book in the series so she could talk to me about it (I know! How can any parent of a teenager pass that up!).  The 16-year-old female protagonist, Katniss, lost her father to a mine accident and her mother to grief over his loss. She has been the provider for her family in an environment where she must break the law to feed them and herself. She is highly skilled with a bow and prepares what she kills for eating. She is athletic, smart and persistent.  She is far from cold and conscienceless. She is devoted to her younger sister and enjoys her connection to her (older male) hunting partner but being trusting would not be an attribute used to describe her. She looks for games, strategies, and threats in everything and everyone. Creating relationships which involve intimacy would mean losing control and independence as well as allowing herself to be put in debt yet she is extraordinarily responsible and committed to the people in her life. She readily sacrifices herself for her sister and takes risks to help others who are vulnerable even when they are strangers. When Peeta, a 16-year-old boy who has apparently been carrying a torch for Katniss since both were 5 (The target market for the books is teenage and young adult girls/women who are total suckers for earnest, love-sick boys/men who try to humanize female characters who seem to have misplaced their femininity and become far too capable of taking care of themselves…sorry…brief intermission for feminist rant), risks his own welfare to save her life repeatedly, her first concern is being in his debt (he loses a leg — talk about debt!).

Katniss: I feel like I owe him something, and I hate owing people. Maybe if I had thanked him at some point, I’d be feeling less conflicted now. I thought about it a couple of times, but the opportunity never seemed to present itself. (Collins, The Hunger Games)

Her second thought is that he is playing her. Both possibilities make her angry and resentful.  Her internal tally sheet is completely out of balance and it unnerves her. Katniss actually reminds me of a couple of the people I know who experienced trauma as children. She’s resilient but guarded and more comfortable giving than receiving. These are people who give and give and refuse to allow anyone to get close enough to give back. They don’t connect and they seem very lonely.

Ego separates giver and receiver as having independent and, therefore, potentially conflicting motives. Jampolsky argues that “while we focus all of our attention on a weak and miserable self-image … we block our recognition of what we are. Therefore, we seem to experience all the feelings that a tiny body traveling through a dangerous and uncaring world would experience” (p. 90). We have all experienced people who appear to give freely their love, time, or attention but who are also alarmingly quick to pull those things right back when they are slighted. We have all been those people. Jampolsky’s message and that of A Course in Miracles is that giving doesn’t involve cost or sacrifice. “When we recognize that what is in the best interests of another is also of complete benefit to us, we gain inner tranquility … because for that moment we have left our personal hell behind” (p. 89). If giving and receiving are in fact the same, it makes no difference who occupies what role because egoless giving is joining.

As we begin to feel a sense of joining with another person, we seem to forget about ourselves. We become less concerned about our own feelings as we extend and expand. It is at this point that one feels the gift of giving and receiving becoming one. The supply is endless, and we become more and more full. (Robinson, n. d., p. 10)

Jampolsky suggests an alternative to the law of scarcity subscribed to by the ego: that love exists in infinite abundance. “The more we borrow from our store of love and peace, the more abundantly it grows” (p. 98).

One of the lessons in A Course in Miracles is designed to help us practice and learn that giving and receiving are one. In the lesson, we are instructed to give everyone peace, quietness, and gentleness and expect to receive the same in return. I’ve felt this in only moments of time but those moments remind me of who I am.



Rainer Maria Rilke has been a favorite of mine for as long as I can remember loving poetry. This has moved me more than any other.

Dove that ventured outside, flying far from the dovecote:
housed and protected again, one with the day, the night,
knows what serenity is, for she has felt her wings
pass through all distance and fear in the course of her wanderings.

The doves that remained at home, never exposed to loss,
innocent and secure, cannot know tenderness;
only the won-back heart can ever be satisfied: free,
through all it has given up, to rejoice in its mastery.

Being arches itself over the vast abyss.
Ah the ball that we dared, that we hurled into infinite space,
doesn’t it fill our hands differently with its return:
heavier by weight of where it has been.

Shutter Island: Dangerous and Damaged

For the first several years of teaching Movies & Madness, I began the semester with Milos Forman’s classic One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975).  This tradition ended when a student who had taken the class sent me an email with a link to the trailer for a film due to be released in the coming months. In her message, she said that she and her friends were out at the movies and, when she saw the trailer for Shutter Island (Scorsese, 2010), she knew I would be interested. After watching the film (my husband and I had a rare date night after which he said, “Next time, can we have a date where you’re not working?”), Cuckoo’s Nest was replaced as the opening film for the class.

My current group of students will be watching Shutter Island this evening.  Shutter Island was directed by Martin Scorsese and stars Leonardo DiCaprio. The film is based on the novel of the same name by Dennis Lehane (Gone Baby Gone, Mystic River). Their instructions will be to watch the film mindfully and intentionally. Their charge will be to answer this question: What does this film communicate to the audience about people with mental illness and mental health care providers?

Chuck: All I know is that it’s a mental hospital.
Teddy: For the criminally insane.
Chuck: Yeah, if it’s just folks runnin’ around hearing voices and chasin’ after butterflies they wouldn’t need us.

The story is set in the 1950’s and begins with U.S. Marshals Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) arriving at Ashecliffe Hospital on Shutter Island to investigate the disappearance of one the patients.  The woman (Rachel Solando) they are looking for murdered her own children but lives in a delusional world where she believes that they are still alive. The appearance of the island as they approach is menacing and the music dark. As they walk up to the gates, Teddy and Chuck are met by the Deputy Warden (John Carroll Lynch) who takes their firearms before allowing them to enter.  He states that they “only take the most dangerous, damaged patients” making it clear to the audience that they are walking into a very, very dangerous place.

The Patients/Inmates

In many ways, Shutter Island is a typical “asylum” thriller involving a number of common elements including a series of “zoo” scenes which serve to introduce the main characters and the audience to the patients and the facilities. In Shutter Island this first occurs as Teddy and Chuck approach the hospital building after entering the gates. The first patient encountered greets them with a silly, childlike grin and wave. He is manacled and is raking the lawn. The next man is older, also manacled, and he stares blankly as the men walk by. His clothes are faded and old.  Some patients appear to by attended by individual staff who shepherd them around and monitor them as they work. The most memorable patient shown prior to their entry into the building is a woman whose image was heavily used in promotional material for the film. She is manacled, emaciated, much of her hair is missing, her eyes are darkly clouded, and her teeth black and decayed. She initially communicates a warning (“Shhh”) but then switches to coquettish flirting.

The hospital/prison is highly secured with locked gates, electrified fencing, and alarms. Patient rooms are barren and lack personalization. The day room includes patients smoking, playing cards, and otherwise engaging in either bizarre or purposeless activities. Later, two more patients are interviewed. One is a young man dressed a tattered sweater vest with a boyish hair style. He committed a very violent crime but he has an aggressive tantrum when pushed. The second is an older woman who murdered her abusive husband. She is composed and calm at first but becomes frightened and agitated by the end of the interview. Finally, viewers are introduced to the Ward C patients who are male, violent, and frequently very bizarre in appearance. Several are naked. One is tearing at his skin and marking the wall in blood.  The physical space of Ward C is wet, dark and industrial. It is a haunted house of horrors.

In his book Media Madness (1995), Otto Wahl argues that people with mental illness in the mass media tend to be presented with certain, stereotypical attributes: Dangerous/Unpredictable, Childlike/Incompetent, Blameworthy/Malingering, and Contagious/Untreatable.

Throughout the film, the patients are presented as dangerous and unpredictable while simultaneously being childish and incapable of caring for themselves. In addition, their crimes are morally reprehensible. This serves to enhance their blameworthiness and underscore the belief that no treatments will work.

The characteristics outlined by Wahl are especially obvious in the central character of the film. It eventually becomes clear that Teddy Daniels is actually Andrew Laeddis. Andrew is no longer a U.S. Marshal and is a patient at Ashecliffe. He is there as a result of murdering his wife because she killed their three children. He no longer acknowledges his identity as Laeddis instead adopting the complex delusion that he is the hero Teddy Daniels. Even before the audience knows who he really is, he is violent, unpredictable, unstable, and obviously stressed. He is shown experiencing hallucinations, delusions, flashbacks, nightmares, and headaches. He becomes increasingly paranoid as the story unfolds. The audience finds out along the way that Andrew is a decorated war veteran who may have committed atrocities of his own while liberating Dachau. It is more than implied that he has been traumatized by his wartime experiences and may be suffering from PTSD. It is also suggested that he is an alcoholic. In one character, the audience sees a man who has suffered multiple traumas, is an addict, has a wife who has bipolar disorder which he ignored, whose wife drowned their three children while psychotic, and he murdered his wife because of what she did.

As is the case in many films in this genre, the idea that mental illness is contagious (or at least contaminating) is communicated in Shutter Island in terms of the transformation endured by the film’s main character.  As was the case in One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, the protagonist enters the hospital in street clothes with a strong sense of identity.  As the film progresses, the relatively colorful suit and tie are stripped away and replaced by a white orderly uniform.  In the final scene, he is wearing the same greys and blues as the other patients and is submitting himself to an identity erasing procedure.

The Doctors/Staff/Guards

Dr. John Cawley (Ben Kingsley) seems sincere and caring but also deceptive and guarded. He presents a philosophy that is actually quite progressive. He says that he has “…this radical idea that if you treat a patient with respect, listen to him, try and understand, you just might reach him.” He argues against pharmaceuticals, psychosurgery, and harsh treatments.  He argues on behalf of the patients as the storm approaches. And, as the film concludes, he is shown to have gone to extreme lengths professionally and personally to treat individual patients regardless of their crimes. As he states, “My job is to treat my patients not their victims. I’m not here to judge.” At the same time, the elaborate treatment he has designed for Andrew is at best unethical.

Dr. Jeremiah Naehring (Max von Sydow) is presented as a stereotypical, European, psychoanalyst. He asks Teddy questions which are intensely personal and in some ways threatening. Invoking the image of a German doctor is intended associate psychiatry with the acts of the Nazi’s in WWII concentration camps. Naehring is decidedly more harsh and controlling in his approach to treatment.  He is “Dr. Evil” in contrast to Cawley’s “Dr. Wonderful.” When they are introduced, Naehring pushes Teddy/Andrew to see himself as a man of violence tainted by trauma.

Dr. Jeremiah Naehring:  Did you know that the word trauma comes from the Greek for wound? What is the German word for dream? Traüme. Ein ist traüme. Words cannot create monsters. You…you are wounded, Marshal. Wouldn’t you agree, when you see a monster you must stop it?
Teddy Daniels: Yeah. I agree.

The nursing and support staff at times appear professional and engaged while at others disinterested or disdainful. The following is one memorable interchange:

Teddy: Huh. Anything unusual occur?
Nurse: Define unusual.
Teddy: Excuse me?
Nurse: This is a mental institution, Marshal, for the criminally insane. Usual isn’t a big part of our day.

The guards are generally authoritative and apparently competent but menacing music often accompanies their arrival in scenes. The Warden (Ted Levine of The Silence of the Lambs and  Monk) while not appearing in many scenes in the film, has an interchange with Teddy/Andrew during which he makes essentially the same argument as Naehring but in more colorful language.

Teddy: I’m not violent.
Warden: Yes, you are. You’re as violent as they come. I know this, because I’m as violent as they come. If the constraints of society were lifted, and I was all that stood between you and a meal, you would crack my skull with a rock and eat my meaty parts. Wouldn’t you?

Ultimately, the Warden has a great deal of control over Teddy/Andrew’s fate.

Finally, Dr. Sheehan (Chuck Aule) has been playing multiple roles in Andrew’s treatment. As Sheehan, he is his primary doctor directing his treatment. As Chuck, he is Teddy’s new partner. In both roles, he is compassionate and supportive.

Psychic Damage and Unforgivable Sins

The theme that is revisited repeatedly throughout the film is that madness is caused by trauma and violence is an inevitable extension of madness. Wrapped around this causal pathway is the suggestion that people’s choices, their mistakes, their sins, make them deserving of both trauma and madness. For Andrew, he carries guilt from his behavior at Dachau. Even more importantly, however, is the guilt stemming from the death of his children. He knew his wife was ill but he failed to take action and, worse, left his children alone with her. As Sheehan puts it he drank and he stayed away. In essence he is as responsible for their deaths as he is for shooting his wife.

As happens so often in the “asylum” genre, the conclusion to the film reinforces the idea that there is no treatment that will work. The best, the only option is annihilation of the self. Similar to the ending in Cuckoo’s Nest, the lobotomy plays a pivotal role.  In this case, Andrew chooses obliteration to life with the full knowledge of his past.

Teddy: You know, this place makes me wonder.
Sheehan: Yeah. What’s that, boss?
Teddy: Which would be worse, to live as a monster or to die as a good man?
[Teddy gets up and walks towards Cawley and the orderlies]
 Sheehan: Teddy?

What does the naive viewer take away? Primarily, viewers receive a heavy dose of reinforcement for the stereotypes they probably already believe to be true about people with mental illness and those who treat them.  People with mental illness are seen as dangerous, violent, unpredictable, untreatable, and contagious while treatment providers are either brutal and controlling or simply impotent. I’m left wondering how many times the same tired story needs to be told leaving real people with mental illness to be victims of prejudice and discrimination in the real world outside the theater.

Letting Go of Fear

The second of the Twelve Principles of Attitudinal Healing outlined by Jampolsky (Jampolsky, 2000) is that health is inner peace and healing is letting go of fear. “Healing is letting go of fear, because when our mind releases fear it returns to its natural state of love and peace and naturally extends them into every aspect of our lives” (Jampolsky, p. 73). Much of Jampolsky’s practice involved working with people facing difficult, sometimes life-threatening health challenges. Some of the people he describes in Teach Only Love were facing cancer and other debilitating conditions including traumatic brain injuries. While he describes some instances of miraculous physical recoveries, he also describes people who died or who did not recover to be exactly as they had been before.  The point of the stories is not the specific physical outcomes. Instead, the focus is on the mind. Jampolsky states that to “make changing the body our goal is to fail to recognize that our single goal is peace of mind” (p. 73).

While revisiting the chapter describing the second principle in Teach Only Love which includes examples of people living with traumatic brain injuries, I was reminded of a story most Americans have followed for the last year. The shooting of Gabrielle Giffords and 18 others in Arizona happened on January 8, 2011. Six people died. Giffords survived being shot in the head at close range.  Her injury was severe but her recovery has been nothing short of amazing.  After watching the 20/20 special (Gabby Giffords & Mark Kelly) documenting the process of Giffords’ recovery, I began to see how the idea that healing is letting go of fear may function.  Giffords’ husband, Mark Kelly, chose to videotape the often painful and frustrating challenges Gabby has faced over the past year.  What I found so powerful in the footage was the optimism, caring, compassion, courage, and resiliency of all those involved. As Mark put it, “Optimism is a form of healing. Hope is a form of love.” I believe that, had Gabby and the people around her given in to fear and anger as anyone in their situation would at least occasionally be tempted to do, her situation today would be very different. In his interview with Diane Sawyer, Mark recounts a conversation with Gabby in which she said, “I’m beaten.”  He replied, “You haven’t been beaten. You’ve been beat up.” The word beaten implies surrender and finality. It implies giving up hope. Getting “beat up” suggests living to fight on and continue to learn.  We have a choice of seeing ourselves as beaten and done or as capable of rebounding and continuing to grow and learn.

“Optimism is a form of healing.Hope is a form of love.” Mark Kelly

In her interpretation of the second principle, Patricia Robinson (n.d.) talks about our experience of emotions such as anger, hopelessness, depression, and guilt in our physical selves. I know from my own experience the physical perception of depression and hopelessness. I experience these as soul-sucking pain. She argues that these emotions are all connected to fear and that we have a choice about how we respond.  “We can become helpless and be a victim, or we can actually change these feelings” (p. 8). How is that done? I, of course, want a linear, step-by-step plan. Robinson, however, suggests that “we must become both aware and willing to change” (p. 8). Emotions such as anger are not to be denied, suppressed or ignored. Acknowledging and mindfully experiencing emotions such as anger involves examining them without the ego’s fear-based concerns. Ego is fearful and  judgmental.  Ego allows us to feel we’ve been attacked at our center. Ego allows for the possibility of being beaten. Robinson believes we can refocus on a higher self when we permit inner peace to be our only purpose.

For the past week, I have existed in a state of virtually perpetual anger and irritation stemming from a conflict with someone in my life which has left me feeling personally attacked and vulnerable. I can see no way to resolve the situation that doesn’t involve my complete surrender.  As I write, I know the anger I feel about this situation is based on fear. I don’t want anyone to think I’m mean. I want to be liked and respected.  I also want lots of other people to see me and only me as the injured party in this dispute.  As a result, my ego self feels like a hostage of the views of others. That makes ego angry; Jack Bauer angry. Jack Bauer with plastic explosives, several guns and a moral imperative angry. I don’t want to feel that way. Look how Jack ended up. Look how all his girlfriends ended up.

If I follow Robinson’s logic, I can persist in feeling like a victim or I can let the fear go and refocus on allowing inner peace to be my only job. I don’t yet seem to be able to hear the inner voice that will remind me that holding onto anger serves no purpose.  I know what I want to feel but I can’t quite get there. When I described this state of knowing what I want but not being able to master it to a friend, his response was “LET GO.” He’s right. I can only imagine Gabby Giffords’ frustration while working with therapists day after exhausting day learning to walk and talk again.  Hope or surrender. Surrender isn’t a part of my nature (I blame my father who climbed aboard a combine to harvest crops far more quickly than any rational person would after open-heart surgery). Perhaps part of the problem is that I think holding onto anger means not surrendering when it really means imprisonment. For Jampolsky, “…fear can be reinterpreted as our mind’s invitation to us to rise to a higher level of freedom” (p. 86).  I would like to choose hope.  Jampolsky’s advice is to “make this instant your door to freedom and you will find that it will crack open a little further each time you return to this moment in peace” (p. 86). Beat up. Not beaten.

Beat up. Not beaten.

100 Reasons to Stay

I absolutely adore this video project. It was created by Michelle Brandow and Lauren Taylor.  It is simple but very powerful and uplifting.


Love and Connection vs. Fear and Judgment

The first of the Twelve Principles of Attitudinal Healing outlined by Jampolsky (2000) is that the essence of our being is love.

I admit that the first time I read this, I was unable to suppress a deeply sarcastic eye-roll.  I’m not, generally speaking, a lighthearted, mystical, or even optimistic person. I’ve been known to tell students in my Personality Theory class that I tend to be a behaviorist with an existentialist’s outlook (i.e., life is hard and then you die) who is prone to occasional flights of humanistic and/or transpersonal fancy (e.g., I’d really like to believe that people are basically good and capable of growth). As a rule, I don’t believe in the paranormal or the metaphysical.  At the same time, it was C.G. Jung, or rather a pop band’s reference to synchronicity, that got me into psychology in the first place. I’m simultaneously captivated by and annoyed with the Jungian concepts of the collective unconscious and synchronicity. They are, after all, unscientific, untestable ideas that violate my empiricist values. But they are also very, very cool to think about and hard to ignore when they appear to assert themselves. What if we really are all connected across time and space through a shared archetypal language? What if that consciousness drops breadcrumbs for us to follow that help us generate meaning? What if our essence is eternal?

In Teach Only Love, Jampolsky argues that the mind is without limits and our true nature is spiritual rather than physical. I can say that and even attempt to wrap my head around it but my tendency is to feel and experience myself and my world within the boundaries of my body. I feel physical pain and illness as well as pleasant sensations. More of my energy is consumed with my experience of emotion, however.  I have spent days, weeks or months angry or anxious or depressed. I’ve spent even longer than that believing that I would only be happy when I had found someone to love. For most of my life, I have believed that my emotions are more often than not under the control of external factors. If I’m angry, it’s because of something someone did to me. If I feel loved, that love has been supplied by someone else and could just as easily be taken back. We also have a tendency to see certain emotional experiences as finite. This is why we compete with one another for affection or time and feel cheated when we don’t get enough.

In her description of the first of the Principles, Patricia Robinson describes love as “a pure energy that flows through us. If it is not blocked by pain, anxiety, anger, all  manifestations of fear, we can recognize the essence of love and learn to feel peaceful inside” (p. 6).  When we are fearful in relation to others, we look at them with judgment and conditionality. They have to earn their way into our lives. When they let us down by breaking our rules, we are infuriated and threaten them with withdrawal. Essentially, we attempt to hold others hostage to conditional love which Jampolsky describes as “neither dependable nor permanent, and its temporary nature causes us to carry the underlying fear that we are about to be abandoned” (p. 61). Conditional love is about controlling people not connecting with them.

I argued in my last post that US culture is highly judgmental, harsh, and critical. We hurt each other for fun and sport and attempt to wave our hostility off with “just sayin’.” We seem to crave competition and vengeance.  We function in a way that is the antithesis of love.  Jamolsky states that “…we rarely choose peace over conflict and happiness over fear because of the sacrifices we believe this choice must entail. We also believe that there is satisfaction in revenge, that we can be right by proving someone else wrong, that to humble someone who is being difficult will give us ‘a little peace and quiet'” (p. 61). What we fear is losing our coveted separateness and independence and we will fight like cornered beasts to protect it.

Where does this leave us? It leaves seeing ourselves as vulnerable, separate bodies that have to compete in a hostile world to control other seemingly vulnerable, separate bodies. Love is seen as a quantity that is in short supply. Sounds like a recipe for near constant fear, sadness, and anger even in our closest relationships. Perhaps especially in our closest relationships.

The alternative to living in fear and judgment is to allow ourselves to be aware of love and connect with others with authenticity. Connection based on love isn’t contractual or judgmental. It isn’t focused on differences. “Love overlooks differences, for it notices something of far greater importance: how much alike we are because how much like love itself we are. Once we see this honestly, we quickly begin to lose our fear of others…” (Jampolsky, p. 72).

Do I perceive myself and others in a way that invokes conditionality? More frequently than I would like to admit. I have a temper. I whine and complain a lot.  Actually, I piss and moan a lot. When I’m with my kids and my husband … well, you know. Thankfully, I can choose again. I would like to learn to chose to see myself as I really am and become capable more often of connection.  I asked a friend who is a beautiful and loving soul once how she always seems to know what to say when people are suffering. She said, “I simply remind them of who they really are.” I will remember that the essence of our being is love.

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