Saturday, June 04, 2005

What Do We Need?

As I stroll through the bookstore I always inevitability stop by the self help section. It's typically very crowded, with plenty of people pretending that they're not looking for a book of that genre. Books like Awaken The Giant Within, Self Matters, Think And Grow Rich, all promise us a changed life and inner peace.

I turn on the television and am overwhelmed by the deluge of infomercials and other programs aimed at fishing people out of their miserable life. We spend millions of dollars a year on such media. Dr. Laura, Dr. Phil, and the like provide advice to others, operating under the guise of therapy. Gone is the introspective, nondirective techniques established to help people solve their own problems and face their own demons. "What you need to do..." is a phrase I hear from most of these pop psychology gurus. I'd much rather hear, "Why do you think you feel that way?"

Don't get me wrong. There are plenty of great books out there and certainly some fine people working to help others. In addition, I applaud those willing to work to improve their lives, despite the stigma associated with self help practices and therapy. However, I think there are many that snap up self help literature, thinking that "this'll fix everything." Not surprisingly, this leads to a constant search for the next book that will do the trick.

From time to time I run across a homeless person, murmuring or screaming loudly. When I walk down the street I often look at passers by and think that we are all murmuring or screaming loudly in our minds. We torment ourselves in uncanny ways. Imagine having a friend that knows your every secret, your every weakness. Now imagine if that friend used all of that information against you. That friend is ourself, operating within the confines our mind. I believe that such torturing thoughts arise in every human being. Everyone has their issues. We begin to fixate on such thoughts, generating more suffering in our life. Perhaps if we all learn how to silence the screaming sadness from within, we would no longer seek answers from without. Everything we think we need, we already have.

Try something on for size -- the next time you feel sad, recognize the sadness. Don't try to stop it. Don't judge it. Just observe it. Experience it. Take a deep breath, observe how your sadness manifests itself on a physical level. There is a great Buddhist image. Imagine a stream. Sometimes it thrashes about wildly, it's flow governed by turbulent motion. Other times, it flows calmly. Now imagine a foot bridge passing over the stream. It never tries to stop the waters flow, nor does it get carried away by the stream. Buddhists argue that we are both the footbridge and the stream. The stream represents our emotional self. The footbridge represents our mindful ability to stand apart from our emotions. Through non-disruptive, non-judgemental observation of our emotions, we are better able to eliminate suffering.

I know all of this sounds strange. Trust me, it works. Try it out. Did it help? If not, tell me why.


Blogger thc said...

Whoa, Vavoom. That's a little too cerebral for me on a Saturday morning. I'll have to re-read after another cup of coffee.

12:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

God, what a meaningful post. All of us at one point have picked up one type of self-help book or another (or at least thought about it). I agree with all of this quick fix crap that doesn't solve anything...I like your methods....maybe you should think of a career change!

12:30 PM  
Blogger Moose said...

I don’t think people want to feel the sadness anymore. It’s expected that everything will be sunshine and lollipops. Just look at the number of drugs on the market to combat these feelings. In my opinion, we are essentially creating a society where people are not going to be able to cope with even the smallest of disappointments. True peace lies within.
Pass the EFFEXOR please.

1:31 PM  
Blogger Vavoom said...

moose: Great point. It's in trying to avoid suffering that we create more suffering.

2:09 PM  
Blogger RT said...

Vavoom, you're really starting to irritate me. Somehow, you've managed to stay one step ahead of me on these subjects (except for that whole cartoon and imaginary friend thing, lol,) and you're saying them better than I can!

I was just thinking last night about the Comedy of Life and how we all play our roles, but sometimes we get lost and don't know the role we're suppose to be playing...

"Smooth seas does not a sailor make" (or something like that.)

We all want to be masters of our life, but when we feel we're losing that control, we turn to someone or something else to carry us through instead of internalizing it to see where we screwed up. Thing is, we didn't screw up at all. Life is all about learning, not about already having the knowledge. Nobody is born with the knowledge of what their life can and will become. You take a wrong turn, you put it in reverse, and try again. Maybe this time you'll be lucky, maybe you won't, but at least you've learned something from it. And, while you can learn from others in a general sense, you truly can't understand it until you've experienced a mistake or two.

Seems to me, too many people are afraid of trying new things and new ideas because they're either too busy trying to keep up with all the incoming information and get sucked in by these gurus who think they have the answer, or simply because they've never learned how to deal with their true emotions and intuitions.

Point blank, people are afraid to be individuals, they want to feel like individuals, but are constantly looking for someone to relate and approve of them of them, and then showing them the way.

I say, give it up! You have to know yourself, before you can help yourself. Or, is that what you just said? :o)

Damn insomnia!

2:47 PM  
Blogger An80sNut said...

I've always said that if you don't or can't love yourself, you won't find love. Kind of circular thinking but learning to love who you are includes all the quirks, demons and heartbreaks. These make up who you are. If you can't say that you are stronger for your experiences, you are treading water or sinking. I like your insight there, Vavoom. RT has a great point about the control freaks most humans have become -- we turn the key knowing it will start the car but when that predictability is shaken many fall prey to the spiraling darkness of our own design.

4:08 PM  
Blogger Raine said...

V: You truly rock at coming up with interesting blog topics.

Anyway, I have the answer: Eat a balanced diet, exercise daily, and be involved in serving others regularly. If it’s chemically-related, I would add, seek medical care. But the first 3 I listed are paramount because they aide in giving you a healthy perspective on life. Dwelling on how it feels can sometimes be counter productive; but if the introspection is part of a meditation regime, I think it can be helpful. That’s my 2 cents.

5:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks Vavoom, that was a great post. Observing myself has helped tremendously. True, excercising and getting endorphine flowing helps, but they don't beat being introspective and compassionate toward myself. I think I have become kinder and more understanding toward others as a result too.

7:15 PM  
Blogger Raine said...

oops--replace "regime" with "regimen." Although a meditating regime might be a good thing for a country.

9:28 PM  
Blogger BarbaraFromCalifornia said...

What a great post! You ae a beautiful writer and thinker.

To me, there is a nexus between the pop psychologists out there who appeal to most people and this idea of getting a quick fix..Like a bandage made out of muslin cloth instead of clear plastic. This is something that I have noticed when dealing with others. Perhaps it is because the society has become used to that, based upon what goes on around us today.

I like what you had to say. It shows us that we can achieve the best results when we learn to walk through the pain, and not simply put a bandage on it.

9:50 PM  
Blogger Jill said...

Dont be dissing Dr Phil now people. lol

10:00 PM  
Blogger Chelsea's Mama said...

You are an incredible writer.

10:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Helen Keller said that without the valleys, we wouldn't appreciate the views. I agree. It's after a tough patch, which we all experience, that the good times seem so much better. I love the first day I'm 100% after a long cold or flu. I love the days of sun after a week of rain. I love the look of a job well done after days of heavy work, be it mental or physical.

A very eastern philosophy about embracing the sadness. It's part of us. It's part of life. Accept it.

10:20 PM  
Blogger Hulabelly said...

All the "You need to do this" is a form of counseling therapy that is counselor centered (giving the counselor the power of decisions). Freud is like that, and Ellis to a point.
I also think there's a difference between being sad and being depressed. Or as Glasser says "Depressing Yourself"
Your description of what you want is Client-Centered Therapy. The counselor is merely there to help the client sort out what's sloshing away up in the brain, with gentle techniques, like empathy, and friendliness.
That's why I have trouble with Self Help books. There could be five books on one singular issue, but they are all written from five different viewpoints, and usually from different theories. Most of the time they don't tell you the theory either. Almost need a self help book to help navigate through that section!
I think most of our problems come from the fact we have to even have a self help section. People need strong , nearby support systems made up of friends and family. I think sometimes people who can't talk to their support systems and can't afford to talk to a therapist find self help books, but the problem I have with that is that the books can't talk back!

5:40 AM  

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