Success & Common Sense — Parents Back Off

Contemporary parenting is once more the subject of investigation.  In the NYimes book review the discussion examines this issue in contemporary terms. [article]
 One of the more fascinating aspects of this subject regard the motivation of today's parents–are they truly motivated by what is "best" for their child or are they seeking to bolster their own egos in the reflected light of their child's accomplishments?  And furthermore, what life lessons for their children are being lost in the process?
 The topic of how to assist your children in reaching their full potential is an obsession of many.  The "helicopter" mom continuously hovers.  The insist that their children get the "best" teachers, have the "best" tutors, receive the "best" grades.  They refuse to accept less than perfection from their children and their scholastic environment. They continuously compare their child with those of their friends and contemporaries.  They fear their children will not go to Harvard, Princeton or Yale.
 There is danger in such micromanaging.  Not only does it create a horrifically neurotic relationship with their children which refuses to acknowledge human imperfection, but it attempts to block their children from dealing with adversity.  The result may be a generation of chronically dependent children who then become young adults and eventually inadequate to deal with the challenges of mature adulthood. 
Most of us are imperfect (lol).  Most of  us fail at something we deeply desire to achieve.  But what then?  How do we overcome such adversity.  And more importantly, who has decreed that the qualities that produce great students is necessarily the same that allow creative, innovative, motivated individuals to achieve their own definition of success?  We are all away of many successful individuals whose path to achieving was "nontraditional". 
Rather than create a robotic, neurotic, fantasy of their parents' projections, allow that young individual to find a path that feels comfortable for them.  That does not imply the parents step back and not pay attention.  It does not require parents to not intervene when reasonably necessary.  It does speak to a "back off" approach to every nuance and detail of their children's lives. 
Failure builds resilience.  Lack of complete fulfillment teaches their children to evaluate what is important in life and perhaps seek alternative pathways.  Qualities that lead to success are often not the same as appear on standardized exams.  The creative, entertainment,  intellectual and business world are replete with successful individuals who did not follow traditional pathways.
And ultimately should it not be the path that our children choose rather than one imposed on them? How else can anyone find the determination to overcome obstacles
 I believe Albert Einstein is quoted as saying If you want your children to be geniuses, tell them fairy tales. Einstein was not seeking to generate a generation of "successful" test takers.  Genius requires imagination, innovation and new ways of looking at the world.   Would today's parent's buy into that approach?

Trying Too Hard to Be Happy — Hmmm

Is it possible to just try too hard to be happy? 
 Ruth Shippman, a British citizen of California seems to think so.  In her piece in the NY Times http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/09/22/america-the-anxious/?hp she correlates the effort to be happy with its unintended consequence–anxiety.  She has an interesting perspective.  The British approach to happiness is to, well, not try so hard.  Happiness is not an expectation that everyone needs to focus one all the time. 
She points to the plethora of courses, self-help books, meditation, yoga retreats etc.  It seems as if the harder we try to be happier, the more frustrated and therefore anxious we become.  Perhaps the realization that life can be difficult (an understatement for many) can take the pressure off of those of us who feel that happiness eludes them more than others.  The truth is that we don't know what anyone else is truly feeling.  External factors don't always correlate with inner peace anyway. 
 Now I have written a fair amount about the pursuit of happiness.  I do believe there are techniques and tactics that can assist us in finding a semblance of serenity.  I do believe such personal efforts to understand how our mind influences our state of being can help us do better.  But her point is well taken.  When any goal, however how worthy, becomes obsessional, happiness gives way to its polar opposite.
 Perhaps we can all learn something from her point of view.  If happiness becomes the unexpected result of life's activities, or our achievements, realizations or just a walk in the park, perhaps we can appreciate it more. 
While pursuing happiness, let us give ourselves the right to be unhappy because that is respecting how we feel at that particular time.  There should be no effort to suddenly chastise ourselves or feel like a "happiness failure".  Just observe ourselves feeling that way in the moment and respect that truth.  Self-delusion in the cause of happiness makes no sense.  But understanding the power of nonattachment in those moments releases its grip on us.
No one can force themselves to feel at peace. It is an oxymoron.  On the contrary, only by letting go can serenity filter into our state of awareness. Nonattachment may be the most reasonable path to ultimate happiness, one that recognizes the natural cycles of life and our natural reactions to the events that bring with it emotions and feelings.

Pondering The Unthinkable — The Doctor Is Human

Interesting synchroniticy.  I was reviewing this posting originally done several years ago and about to update for Facebook.  Saw an article in today’s NYTimes regarding high rates of physician suicide.  This piece touches on some of the same issues.

I’m going to raise an issue that makes everyone involved uncomfortable. By everyone I mean the general public as well as the medical profession. The only group of individuals who will pleased are, of course, the trial lawyers.  The issues is simply this–doctors are human beings.

As most of you readers are human beings I don’t need to remind you of the truth–we all make mistakes.  It pains me (really) to have to write about this truth. The fantasy exists that physicians are above all of that.  The fantasy exists that we are trained to be perfect and that when we make a mistake, fail to order the right test, have a complication of a procedure, fail to provide all the time and compassion that you think you deserve, we deserve to be punished and you deserve monetary compensation.

Of course our sincere “friends”, the trial lawyers who so conveniently remind us of their “concern” for the welfare of the average citizen with incessant advertising, are the real financial recipients of legal action that results.

Now for some full disclosure–I have made mistakes.  I know my patients and their families, some of whom I have treated over 34 years and three generations, will be saddened and shocked to hear this confession.  Some of them might have believed that I was a very good doctor.

Another confession–I have been involved with several malpractice cases over my three decade career.  Almost all of them where either dropped or I was released from the suit.  Ironically, there was one I was forced to “settle” on my insurance policy was  because the other sued physician, an ER doc, changed her version of the case which conflicted 180 degrees with mine, actually involved NO medical error on my part at all.  Another one still pending may involve another “settlement”.  The insurance company will see to that.

The unfairness of life, I must assume.  I am quite sure that some of my “mistakes” did not sue me.  Perhaps they were unaware. Perhaps they understood the obvious–like the vast majority of my fellow physicians, I am a human beings whose intentions are to serve my patients as best as I can. Perfection is not a term expected of the rest of humanity. This is not true of physicians.  We are held to a higher standard and understandably so.  We deal with the most sensitive aspect of human existence–health and illness, life and death.

It should be noted by my fellow citizens…..In an average working day the average physician makes literally thousands of medical decisions regarding a patient’s health.  This may involve the decision to order a medication, to stop one, to change one, to order a test, to perform one, to recommend referral to another physician etc. etc.  Each one of those thousands of decisions might be considered “actionable” in the legal sense.  In other words, each one of those thousands of decisions could result in a malpractice claim, litigation, stress, aggravation and perhaps the end of a career.

Few physicians can keep that truth forefront in their consciousness.  If the did, they just might not come to work that day or any subsequent one.  This is an extremely complex and difficult topic.  As a consumer (I am as well) of medical care, I do need to know the source of errors and omissions.  As a practitioner I fear what intense scrutiny will cause—further defensive medicine, more tests ordered, more consultants called in to diffuse the risk of mistakes, more power of the trial lawyers lobby to prevent tort reform.  It will also lead to more stress on physician’s psyches with good physicians leaving the profession prematurely.

Perhaps the answer are robots.  They don’t make mistakes, they are computers. The patient will submit their symptoms, the robot will analyze and order, the patient will have no choice but to follow.  Perhaps that will eliminate that annoying trait that today’s physicians possess–their humanity, their imperfection. Just don’t expect the robot to hold your hand or hug you when you discuss a recent loss of a loved-one or receive a terrible diagnosis.  Will a robot detect the deep sigh, the welling up of tears? Perhaps in the future the only ones shedding tears will be the trial lawyers. They might just be out of business. At least until they can figure out a way to sue robots.

Thank You Tom Friedman — Confronting Muslim Hatred At Last

I know I am not alone in this…..absolute frustration with liberal writers/thinkers who seem to apologize for the vile hatred that spews from certain radical Muslim sources. 
There has been an attempt to overlook such activities and place blame on the West, on Jews and Christians for fomenting what is clearly a world religious war and a clash of civilizations.  Finally the NY Times and Thomas Friedman have spoken out–clearly and forcefully on this hypocrisy.http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/19/opinion/friedman-look-in-your-mirror.html?hp 
The examples of Muslim hatred directed at Christians, Shiites, Jews and Sufis is truly despicable.  There is no excuse among civilized human beings in the 21st century for such hate speech.  It is the language of Hitler, of mass murders, of self-destructive maniacs.  Sadly its power to influence others to revel in this atmosphere of war and destruction is beyond comprehension. 
Israelis have been castigated since their country's founding in 1948 for not making peace with their Palestinian neighbors.  I am not justifying Israeli policies here either.  I am only pointing out the impossibility of making peace where there is no partner for peace.  When the "otherside" seeks your annihilation. When peaceful co-existence is not in their mindset.  When compromise is not a concept that is understood or desired.  When mutual respect for the beliefs and practices of others is a foreign notion, there will be no peace.
  War is always the last resort of civilized humanity.  But sometimes it is the only course of action.  Unless the Western democracies are willing to embrace a philosophy of suicide, it is time that they wake up to the sad reality of the rhetoric that is continually poisoning the minds of the Muslim world. 
Islam has had a great history of being a world leader in thought, science, philosophy, literature.  That golden age was centuries ago.  It is far from what is occurring now. But it did happen.  It can happen again.
The only  sane and rational solution seems sadly silent–Muslims speaking out against the hate spewed forth from their own leaders.  It is a decidedly risky strategy.  Intimidation is a powerful force.  But to not do so is to further damage the reputation of one of the world's great religions.
Change can only come from within.  The civilized world is waiting.  Let's hope it will be sooner than later.  The price for silence, as our news outlets reveal on a daily basis, is extremely high.

The Days of Awe – 2012

The ten day period beginning with Rosh Hashana and ending with Yom Kippur are know as the Days of Awe. They are both the beginning of the New Year and the time when we are to recall the nature of our past year.  This is a serious, contemplative period.  It is  a preview of the life review that occurs when we leave this physical existence, but in real time. During this ten days we do not plan our next lifetime, we re-evaluate this one. 

It is a time in which we question our life's choices, truly examine our moral and ethical decisions.  How did we treat each and every being we encountered?  How did we treat ourselves.  It is a period for inquiry followed by a pledge for renewal and re-birth. 

The notion of God is fascinating here as well.  The ultimate Source, we recognize with humility our ephemeral nature, yet the essence of this time turns our attention and awareness inward.  Our concern is with our interaction with our fellow human beings. Our relationship with God follows.

Each moment offers us this opportunity for renewal.  Holidays ritualize it.  It is our choice, always how it will manifest in the next moment, in the next year.

 L'shanah tova.  A good year for all.

What Are You Afraid of? — Healing Through Awareness

The most basic of emotions is fear.  Lack of the primal needs such as food, shelter, warmth, love  and safety all result in fear.  It is the survival instinct which never leaves us and, when it serves our greater good, is a useful tool for living.

 We have a choice, however, in how we relate to it.  It may be a force that motivates us to seek fulfillment and achievement in our lives.  It may prod us to succeed in our undertakings because failure seems a much worse alternative.  It may be responsible for some of our best behavior as well.

But everything in life is about balance.  So when fear begins to insidiously invade our subconscious and conscious lives, when it begins to overtake our daily consciousness and leaves us constantly worried, obsessed with potential and perceived problems, unable to feel joy or serenity, it becomes a serious problem. 

 We need to be aware that this continual low-grade fear can lead to anxiety and depression. Do we find ourselves stressed out over being on time, all the time?  Do we seem to worry incessantly over everything?  Do we obsessively worry over people in our lives and their choices, our health both physical and financial?  Do we fear  that the world is barreling toward Armageddon?  Are we actually paralyzed by these feelings, unable to move.

But how can we deal with fear?  I believe we must first name it.  It is an ancient method of dealing with demons.  "What is your name?" the exorcist demands.  By naming your fear, examining it, turning it around, looking at it from all sides, we may find it less potent than we realized.  Are we afraid of being alone? Of failure? Of sickness?  Of suffering? Of death?  

Then answer our own questions–what will happen if we fail that exam, lose a loved one to death or rejection, not be able to purchase what we believe is so necessary?  Not find a job?

Perhaps the answer is–we will survive. Somehow. We will find someone or something new.  There are sources available to help us get through our difficulties. And we can turn adversity into opportunity. No one said change is easy or that it will be pain free.  But it need not engender the fear that it often does. 

 If we have an awareness of survival of consciousness after death and view life as a continuum which transcends dying, then even that fear may dissipate.

Tap into our metaphysical wisdom, our understanding of the nature of change, of continual transformation.  Re-acquaint ourselves with the wisdom that life, love, material goods are temporary states of being.  

It is not depressing to understand the nature of impermanence and ultimately of physical death.  Those who come to terms with what is, that understand the adventures of  our soul's journey, may accept all that comes our way.

Awareness can lead us to an acceptance that mitigates  fear and allows serenity to emerge.

MONKEY MIND / CAT CONSCIOUSNESS — A MEDITATION EXPERIENCE

The expression monkey mind  is an ancient Eastern metaphor for the constant chatter of our everyday consciousness.  Just as a group of monkeys in a cage leap about from one side to another in a chaotic cacophony, so too do our thoughts and feelings often bombard us in quick and, at times, random succession.  The goal of many meditation practices is to tame the monkey mind.  For those of us who have meditated or attempted to do so, the monkey mind analogy is clearly on point. 

 And then there is my cat.  Anyone who has a cat and observed them know that they live in the moment. Presumably their brains have evolved for that purpose only.  They know when they want to eat, to eliminate wastes, to chase an object that is moving, lie down and sleep.  Being a cat they have little choice as to how their minds work. I sometimes attempt to be like my cat when I meditate. 

 Being free of thoughts of past or future is extraordinarily difficult for human beings.  It is not in our nature to do so.  Most likely the ability to examine and past and plan for the future co-evolved with our expanded consciousness.  But as we all know the price of all that excessive worrying and obsessional planning–our own suffering. 

So next time you attempt to quiet your mind–channel a cat.  It will be a challenging and interesting experiment.  Just stop short of licking yourself in public.  And besides you might just wind up with a hair ball.

CHOOSE COURAGE OVER FEAR– Revisited 2012

No one said life is supposed to be easy.  We all travel a wanderer's path:  obstructions, missing pavement, carnivorous  weeds, and blind cul-de-sacs greet our journey.

What we need to remember is who we are.  We are spiritual beings on a mystery quest who have chosen the human experience  for our learning.

What we must also remember is that our tool for navigating this maze is our free will.

We can choose it all:  what we want to believe about the nature of reality, what we want to believe about our own nature, and the decision to wear the coat of courage rather than fear.

Fear is our default position.  It grabs us when we are young and continuously lurks in the brush along the path, ready to leap upon us, threatening to devour our very being. It is the source of our suffering, our pain.

It gains its power because we grant it power–we believe that it can overwhelm us, obliterate our self.

This is an illusion.  We can choose not to fear fear.

We can choose to observe it without running, without denying, without numbing ourselves in the myriad of activities or substances readily available.  We can choose to see ourselves as the gladiator, the warrior who looks back into the face of chaos and lives.  In this choice is our healing.

Mindful meditation can be our most valuable weapon.  We can breath in and out, witnessing the storm of emotion that surrounds us.  We can observe and not succumb.  We can see that behind the struggles of life it is fear that threatens us most of all.

When we can observe fear and calmly breath in its face and survive the encounter, we perceive that we have acquired confidence.  We can also witness our own courage–the courage to continue the journey that is our life's destiny

No one said it would be easy.  But when we choose courage over fear, we are on the path to wisdom and healing.

IMPERFECTION IS THE TOOL BY WHICH WE PERFECT OURSELVES

I recently reviewed a series of about thirty statements I wrote down about 10 years ago. 

The only one that still resonated was the one in the title  imperfection is the tool by which our soul perfects itself.   We are imperfect beings.

We know this truth all too well. In fact we spend most of our lives either denying this truth to our own detriment (ie failing to address our faults and mistakes) or over dramatizing them ( ie beating ourselves up for them).  Perhaps the middle way is THE way to go.  Deluding ourselves about our failings will keep us stuck where we are. Drowning in self-pity and excessive self-criticism will keep us tethered to where we are. 

 We need to realize that we have incarnated BECAUSE we are unfinished “business”.  This lifetime is the opportunity to do better.  That’s the message. Now go out and live it. 

SERENITY REVISITED– THE PATH OF RADICAL ACCEPTANCE

The iconic Serenity Prayer is well known and deeply respected by millions.  It advocates one simple but profound concept–accept what life offers us when we cannot possibly alter the outcome of life's events.  It clearly and succinctly proposes changing what we can, but ultimately to make peace with what remains.  It is the struggle to overcome what cannot possibly be changed that creates much of life's misery.  Wisdom is a key concept as well.  How do we know what we can change and what remains immutable?  Ah, there's the rub.   

Radical acceptance implies that we not engage in a hopeless resignation to what causes us suffering, that we not "give up" and passively face the abyss,  but an active recognition that this is the only path towards healing.  

We are, by nature, creatures that imagine future scenarios, plan, try to anticipate danger and ultimately worry about it all.  We have evolved to survive by anticipating problems.  We have evolved to avoid danger, we have evolved to look to events which have not already occurred, and to worry about them. We seek out the sources of our own despair and attempt to correct them.  That is fine and necessary from an evolutionary perspective. But we tend to obsess over every possible negative outcome.  By doing so we are suffering in the present moment for outcomes which have  not, and perhaps will not occur.

Previously I wrote about the path of Gratitude.  It is an active acknowledgement of what is good, or at least positive.  The best response to life's adversity is to embrace both acceptance and gratitude.  They are not mutually exclusive.  Recognizing what is positive in our lives lifts our spirits, accepting what we cannot change is a support against the downward spiral of depression, frustration and self-pity.

It is radical acceptance because it is a choice based on a conscious decision to be at peace with what we cannot change.  It is a healing choice