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What does it mean to be healthy?

The definition here is somewhat different than definitions we have learned about during our training. In fact we really, or at least I do not recall much about the topic of “health”/”healthy” being addressed during training. The focus was on the absence of health or to state it more plainly, disease. Diseases were well defined for the most part by objective criteria. And if and when those objective criteria moved back (WNL) into the normal range and the patient was feeling much better they were said to be on the road to or have returned to “health.”

I remember a lecture in med school in which we were taught that our job as physicians was to get folks back the way they were prior to getting sick. That was our job. That is one perspective. In that relationship with the infirm other we held the power to fix the problem. And get folks back to….? To what? To health? Or to the way things were prior to getting sick? To normal.

And to me that is not the same thing. So how, then, do I define ‘health?” Health here is the ability to work, to love, to play and to think soundly. That means that someone with hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, bipolar disorder, cancer, etc. can be healthy. Whereas someone else without any known ailment and lab results WNL, probably isn’t. It’s not about the criteria we learned in medical school, however poorly defined by the absence of disease. It is about how people experience the living of their lives: their jobs, their families, their friends, their gifts, their purpose, themselves and well being. It is a definition I stole from Ashley Montagu in a book titled, GROWING YOUNG.

His premise is that we aren’t meant to grow into the kinds of adults we become. We are not meant to grow old we are meant to grow young. We are meant to stay in a developmental process throughout the life cycle, staying in touch with the wonderful behavioral characteristics of the child, which helps us stay vital, and yes, young, regardless of our age.

Because we do not stay in touch with those traits, we can slip into a box long before we are dead. So what happened? We learned, we got acculturated  on the road to becoming grownups and what we learned allows us to function now as adults in the work-a-day world. Being able to function as normal adults means when stressed we often make a bad situation worse, addictive disorders abound with workaholism rampant, that 50% of marriages end in divorce, financial wealth goes up but happiness doesn’t above $65,000/year, less than half of Americans are happy with their jobs, in families with teenagers when the youngsters have problems their parents are the court of last resort, we are better at competing than cooperating with each other, honesty is not the best policy, we repress how we really think and feel while expressing just what’s safe to say and we learned to be our own worst enemies!

That may be normal but it certainly isn’t healthy!

The irony is that sometimes it isn’t until someone gets sick that they wake up and get healthy. They may have cancer but they see the familiar in a new way and make life decisions that reflect what is actually most important to them. They begin doing what is suspiciously healthy and can even be grateful for their world stopping, status quo breaking diagnoses.

Why wait for cancer or the near death experience to see what we want to start doing that we haven’t risked doing yet? Why wait to stop doing what is unhealthy for us and our relationships as well? And finally, what do we want to keep doing, albeit differently? Open that box. It seems safe but it’s a trap. You may be caught, but look. The door opens from the inside.

Self-compassion gets tested daily

Testing one, two, testing….did you take the test, the self-compassion test yet?  There is a link to it in the last blog.  It’s true there is an actual test, 26 questions to determine if you are low, moderate or high in compassion for yourself.  The reason to know is that there are health implications.  Folks that score high are more optimistic and happier with less anxiety and depression.  And they make healthier lifestyle choices about food consumption and issues of weight loss.

This makes perfect sense to me although it may be contrary to popular pundit opinion.  Why? Self acceptance is the beginning of change.  Accepting the actual reality of our common humanity means letting go of perfectionism to appreciate the wonder of our common beauty as we are.  Sure, maybe you do need to lose some weight.  But you don’t have to beat yourself up about it to lose it.  In fact, beating yourself up may have just the opposite effect.  The belittling self talk only makes you feel bad about yourself and more likely to then use food as a medicative behavior for those bad feelings.

Dr. Kristin Neff, who came up with the test, makes the point clearly.  She said that the reason many folks aren’t scoring higher is cultural.  ”Most people have gotten it wrong because our culture says being hard on yourself is the way to be.”

I had a patient who was overweight who came in to see me and I noted that she looked great.  It was clear she had lost weight.  I asked her how and she said something that fits in this discussion.  She told me about standing naked in front of a mirror and looking for long periods at her image.  Her goal was to love and accept the person looking back at her in the mirror.  The better she got at doing that, the more she made healthier choices and the more weight she lost.

Here’s Dr. Neff, “if you care about yourself, you do what’s healthy for you rather than what’s harmful to you.”

The NY Times article, 3/1/11, says a much shorter test can get at some of what we are talking about here relative to self-compassion.  It’s just one question.  Do you treat yourself as well as you treat folks you care about, your friends and family?  If you do, great.  If not, start.  You’re worth it.  And you’ll lead a healthier life while infecting friends and family by example.

Compassion for others and….

I always enjoy reading the Science Times section of the NY Times on Tuesdays.  In today’s WELL article, by Tara Parker-Pope, on the HEALTH page one finds this headline:  Go Easy on Yourself, a New Wave of Research Urges.

So I recognize this as another synchronous event and pay attention.  The article makes the point that I have been making here.  That being, part of normal not being healthy is how hard we are on ourselves. We get acculturated to believe that hard work is the secret to success at the same time we learn something else. If you care about doing a good job, shouldn’t you be hard on yourself?  Of course!

And you hear it all the time.  ”Yep, I’m my own worst enemy.”

Remember, our best kept secret is that each of us has feelings of inadequacy that we don’t want other folks to know about.  That part of us I call the scared one.  He/she learns to be focused on meeting the needs of others while being neglectful of his/her own needs.  After all, to be that concerned with getting your own needs met is to be what?  SELFISH!  And how can you be selfish and still be seen as a good person.

So we busy ourselves trying to be good people, ones that are accepting, caring and compassionate of others.  At the same time we withhold those same warm emotions from ourselves.  Have compassion for others not for self.  In fact, there is a self-compassion test you can take and those that score low are busy “berating themselves for perceived failures like being overweight or not exercising.”

Get this, it turns out “that giving ourselves a break and accepting our imperfections may be the first step toward better health.”  For readers of this blog, both of you, familiar? ….take it, I did.

Vigilance VS Joy

Last time we talked about how our scared one is constantly vigilant and is chronically stressed. Then we saw the connection between chronic stress and a compromised immune defense system.  It's a paradox.
Our psychological defenses stay up and our immune defenses go down.  The result?  We can get sick.
And this morning I get this from Inward/Outward, a daily bite of soul food I receive.  Its author is Philip Slater and it is from Wealth Addiction:
"Vigilance and joy cannot coexist…. Joy is an emotion that only occurs when we let go of all watchfulness, all concern about outcomes, and simply let experience flood in and feelings flood out. Joy is incompatible with search behavior because there is nothing missing. Joy is feeling complete, full. Wealth addiction is feeling empty."

So I figure it's a synchronous event and that I should pay attention.  And I think he makes a great point. Being constantly vigilant and being joyful are mutually exclusive.  It also makes me see that being in a chronic stress state is to be joyless.

And if that is true then the remedy for being chronically stressed is to go for what brings us joy. What is it that brings you joy?  What are the circumstances in which you can drop your guard, drop your defenses and risk being vulnerable.  Do that.  For me, true joy comes from first getting my ego in check so I can relax.  Then I can feel the joy of deeply connecting with another person that I let past my perimeter to connect with my authentic and imperfect self.  That may not seem like a lot but it's enough,"because there is nothing missing."

No longer alone on guard duty, being in the guard house with a friend is also one of the best stress management strategies ever.



Give yourself a break today

We have been talking about the scared one and how stressful it is to be constantly vigilant.  Being always on guard against looking bad or doing/saying something wrong isn’t just a psychological state.  It’s also physiological. Science has long shown us the connection between psyche and soma, mind and body.  The body is a slave to the brain and what we do between our ears drives activity at a distance in the body. For example, your adrenal glands produce stress hormones, different ones depending upon the acute or chronic nature of your stress.

Chronic stress causes them to produce corticosterioid hormones.  These steroid hormones are like predisone which is used to surpress that itchy inflammatory response when you get a bad case of poison ivy.  In other words, they surpress your immune response.  This means that you are more likely to get sick when you feel you have to always be on your toes.

You know the slogan, “you deserve a break today?”  Running around all day long living our McNormal lives, dressed for success while putting our best foot forward, don’t we deserve a break today?! I think we do.  I just don’t think it’s a Big Mac.

Maybe the break is to notice the scared one running your life.  Then punch out on the trying-to-impress-others clock and do something else with your time and attention.  After all, concern for how others are thinking of you may be misplaced.  In fact, they probably aren’t thinking of you. Their scared one is probably doing with you what you had been doing with them.  :O)



Guard Duty

I’d like to follow up the juggling act with one of its implications.  What you have learned in the past not only hinders learning something new, like juggling, it keeps you from being able to relax, kick back, let your hair down and chill.

Remember that juggling is a great metaphor for learning.  Meaning that the final common pathway of learning is mistake making.  And you cannot learn how to juggle without making many mistakes, albeit small ones and making corrections over and over.  You must recognize that dropping the balls is required prior to keeping them in the air.  When you have dropped them enough AND LEARNED THROUGH THAT MISTAKE MAKING PROCESS you have earned earn right to be a juggler.

Part of normal not being healthy is that we do not honor the mistake making process.  WHY?  Because of what we learned early in our lives.

When we made mistakes, did things wrong growing up, we learned something else.  We learned to feel bad about ourselves “Bad boy, bad girl, aren’t you ashamed of yourself?”  So we learned mistakes are to be avoided otherwise we get in trouble and feel ashamed.

When a child makes a mistake and is corrected it is often without warmth. “What’s wrong with you?  If I’ve told you once I’ve told you a thousand times…”.

Gee, he’s told me a thousand times.  I must really be stupid!

The grownup ends up reinforcing two things.  The first is that mistakes have a very negative emotional charge.  Second, the mistake maker is not capable, is inadequate.  It’s not just that one does something wrong.  There is something wrong with him/her!  “What’s wrong with you?”

Hence, our best kept secret, the “scared one”, that part of us that has feelings of inadequacy, is born.  So the way to keep the secret is to not do anything wrong, don’t make any mistakes lest others find you out.  Don’t misspeak yourself.  Don’t risk failing.  Stay safe doing the expected and performing it well.  Be the one with the right answer in school.  And better yet, be first with that right answer.

Being fast with that hand in the air, fast with the right answer, compensates for those feelings of inadequacy.  Thus, you prove your mettle to the assembled, both class and teacher.   Alas, it’s not enough to make those feelings retreat forever.

You have to stand guard.  You always have to be on your toes, constantly vigilant, for to drop your guard is to risk the breeching of your perimeter.  Then they’ll know “what’s wrong with you.”

Being constantly vigilant is to be chronically stressed.  Therefore, you can’t relax.  Well, you could, but you don’t, save for the times you are with that small contingent of others with whom it is safe to be your imperfect, ball-dropping self.




The Secret of Juggling


Part Nine

I mentioned last time that while I am still in development, I did finish a book entitled, “Why Normal Isn’t Healthy.”  Part of normal not being healthy is that we all share a secret that we don’t discuss.  That secret being that we all have feelings of inadequacy and insecurity we don’t want others to know about.  The part of us that carries those feelings I have named the “scared one.”

Last time, I discussed a personal example of the “scared one’s” effect on the book project.  I’d like to continue to explore how our secret affects our development.  Or, another way to say it, how our “scared one” hinders our growth toward emotional maturity, health and wholeness.

First, a question: how many of you have tried to juggle?  I’m not talking schedules or “the books” but objects.  How many of you have tried, at some point in your life, to juggle 3 balls or other like objects in the air?  When I ask this question to groups of people, about 80% to 90% of folks acknowledge such attempts.  But when I ask, “How many of you have learned how to juggle?” Only a small per cent mastered the skill. 


            When I ask why, respondents tell me things like:

            “Poor hand-eye coordination…”

            “I don’t know.  I tried it and I just can’t do it…”

            “I’ve never been good at sports…”

            “It wasn’t that important…”

            “No one taught me…”

            “It’s a kid thing…and I’m an adult…”

Let me tell you what I think.  The people that try to juggle and don’t learn the skill, approach the learning from a normal, but not healthy perspective.  They attempt the new behavior because something about it interests them.  They think, “Gee, I wonder if I can do that?  It looks like fun.”

They try for a brief time to see if they can do it.  And they fail.  How does it feel trying and failing at any task?  It doesn’t feel very good.  Why?  To begin with, we learned, “If you can’t do it right, don’t do it at all.”  And we're obviously not doing it right!

It doesn’t feel good for two related reasons.  First, we are not doing it right and second, the “scared one” risks being seen as inadequate when we fail.  So when we try something new and we’re not a “natural,” we don’t “get it” right away, it reinforces our feelings of inadequacy.

We try, fail, and feel bad failing.  So, how can we stop feeling bad?  Easy.  Stop trying the thing that causes the bad feelings.  We don’t persist because there is no pay-off in dropping the balls over and over and over.  We tried and learned, “I can’t juggle.”  Why continue when we already know, “I just can’t do it?”

It’s interesting how we use the word can’t.  The contraction of ‘can not’ almost implies no fault, no accountability, no responsibility.  I wonder if we often use that word in the place of “won’t.”  This contraction carries a different quality of energy, a quality of ownership, of responsibility.

To me, it says I’m not willing to (will not) suffer through the learning that is required to have the skill.  It isn’t that I “can’t” (can not), it’s actually that I “won’t” (will not) pay the price to earn the learning.

This brings me to juggling.  Juggling is a wonderful metaphor for learning and for a life of learning. 

What is the secret of juggling?  You don’t earn the right to have the skill unless you sustain your effort and fail enough to “get it!”

How long do you have to drop the balls before you learn to keep them in the air?  Just long enough.  When you’ve dropped them enough you don’t drop them any more!  You “get it.” 

Our problem is that we compare ourselves with others, and see how quickly they “get it.”  And in comparison to them, we feel uncoordinated and inadequate.  That feels bad.  The “scared one” risks exposure as an inadequate person, simply because it takes some people longer to “get it.”

Well, what if we change the game?  What if we decide that it isn’t important how fast we learn something?  What if we slow down?  What if we quit comparing and competing with others?  What would change? 

There would be a conservation of our energy making more energy available for learning.  Why?  Energy follows attention.  If you are attending to the other jugglers, and wanna-be jugglers, while you are attempting to learn, your energy is invested unwisely.  STOP for a moment.  Put down the balls.  Multitasking drains energy and slows down learning. 

Shine the flashlight of your attention on someone who has learned.  Watch to see what they are doing.  Then pick up the balls anew and try what you saw them do.  You get a much better return on your energy investment.  Energy expended on what they are doing while you are trying, splits your attention and your energy. So less is available for you to use to learn the new skill. 

Having less energy to utilize, you quickly get tired and frustrated.  Saying, “I quit!  I just can’t do it!” 

Whoa, slow down.  We’ve all been there.  It’s OK.  And, don’t quit.  Just take a break.  Change your mindset by adding “yet” at the end of the sentence.    I just can’t do it yet!

The best way to conserve energy is to focus on your own process.  Make the competition ‘you with you.’  Eliminate the external reference by attending to the task at hand.  And when the “scared one” starts to say self defeating phrases, stop the chatter.

Because we have feelings of inadequacy, doesn’t mean we’re inadequate.

By attending to my own negative internal dialogue, I have the energy to stop the noise that creates interference in the learning process.  Then I can change the conversation.  For example:

“I know you.  You’re scared because that’s your nature.  You bought the standard line.  ‘If you can’t do it right, don’t do it at all.’  It’s normal, but not healthy to feel that way.  It’s not healthy because you’ll never try anything new if you have to do it right the first time.

“Let me assure you that failing doesn’t mean you are a failure.  I know you have trouble with this concept.  That’s your nature.  Although I honor your need to see the world as you do, I cannot, and I will not let it hinder my learning.”

By dealing directly with the “scared one,” we keep him/her in check so that we can drop the balls as much as we need to learn to juggle.   Remember it isn’t so important how quickly we learn.  What is important is what we do with what we learn and to know that we can learn anything.

I learned to juggle in medical school.  It was one of the things I did to de-stress, to relax.  As you might guess, medical school puts a huge emphasis on ‘doing it right.’  The pressure is continuous.  Competition fierce.  There are multiple opportunities daily to have your feelings of inadequacy reinforced.  It’s not exactly a healthy environment for learning.

I learned to juggle three balls.  Then I learned to pass.  That’s what it’s called when jugglers play catch or juggle back and forth to each other.  Anyway, I had a lot of fun alone as well as juggling with others.

Then my wife got me juggling clubs.  Imagine the scene.  It’s Christmas.  All four daughters watch as I open the special present.

“Oh, boy.  New toy!”  And I immediately begin to throw the juggling clubs.  Guess what?  I couldn’t juggle them.  It’s always fun failing in front of the little ones, isn’t it?   Guess how I felt?  Could it be . . . inadequate?  Yep, I was pretty embarrassed and went off to practice. 

Was I going to practice in public or private?  Right, in private.  Why in private?  Because no one would see me failing over and over.

So, I went limping off to practice in private when I had an ‘ah ha’ experience.   I remembered my own BLEF system.  BLEF (I never was much of a speller.)

[B]  I believe that anything I do, I can do Better.  Myself, all of us are underachievers relative to what we are capable of doing.

[L]  If I am willing to Learn, there isn’t anything I can’t do better.  And there isn’t anything I can’t learn.

[E]  But I Earn my learning the old fashioned way by . . .

[FFailing enough to “get it.”  The final common pathway of learning is mistake making.  We earn our learning one mistake at a time.

No, I didn’t want to practice in private.  I wanted to practice in public.  I wanted my kids to see me fail over and over and not quit.  I wanted them to see me get frustrated, but persist until I finally learned how to juggle the clubs.  And that’s what I did.

Remember my line, “I’m slow, but trainable.” Others may be quicker on the uptake.  But, there’s nothing I can’t learn if I’m willing to fail enough to eventually “get it.”

How about you?  What is it you’ve decided you can’t do?  What is it you tried and failed at, that caused you to lose belief in yourself?  Perhaps you might revisit that experience and see if it looks different from a juggler’s perspective.






1370 words



OUR BEST KEPT SECRET A Real Life Example of “Why Normal Isn’t Healthy”

 I started writing a book in 1989. The title is “Why Normal Isn’t Healthy.” I didn’t finish writing and publishing that book until many years later. Why?  Not finishing means not risking. If I finish the book, someone might read it! Then I risk others rejecting the ideas presented. And that rejection, that potential criticism, would be taken personally! Having my feelings of inadequacy reinforced feels so bad that I sabotage completion. If I kill the book I slay those feelings before they occur in reality.

My ‘scared one’ plays out worst case scenarios to avoid exposure to rejection. I stay safe by not finishing the book. Then no one can read it to find out how stupid, unoriginal, banal and superfluous I am. That’s a perfect example of ‘why normal isn’t healthy’. My ‘scared one’ will avoid risk-taking and, thereby, the anxiety inherent with the risk.

Risk management to the ‘scared one’ means to avoid being seen as a flop or a failure in the eyes of the world. By not finishing the book, or certain other projects, for that matter, I decrease my exposure. Playing out the rejection in my imagination reinforces my feelings of inadequacy. “Why should anyone read this book? There are so many good books out there already. What makes me think I have anything to add?!”

As a risk manager, my ‘scared one’ downsizes risk by presenting reason after reason to put off completion: “It will be so hard to organize my material in a concise way for the reader. Besides it will take away from other fun stuff that I really enjoy.”

And when sitting down to write, to work through the internal resistance the ‘scared one’ creates, distraction is always one thought away: “You know, I think I’ll get something to eat.” or “Look at that floor. I can’t believe its so dirty. If the floor were cleaner, I could write better.” or “I need some exercise. Yea, that’s the ticket. I’ll write better, concentrate better after I work out and shower.”

The irony of it is, that the ‘scared one’ is endlessly creative in the distractions he presents to keep me from the task. He will map out detour after detour to avoid reaching the end. And then, to add insult to injury, he says: “You really are pathetic! You’ll never finish that book. You’ve been blowing smoke for years. Why don’t you just forget it!” It’s a perfect example of ‘why normal isn’t healthy.’

It’s normal to let the ‘scared one’ drive the engine of the psyche. It’s normal to be grateful for the detours s/he provides from the anxiety inherent in risk-taking, in doing the new behavior. But, if I am aware of this tendency in myself to sabotage what’s best for my development, for my health, I can watch. I can pay attention. I can see when I am being my own worst enemy. And, my energy follows my attention.

Paying attention, energy is then available to deal with the ‘scared one.’ In a metaphorical sense, I reach over, turn off the engine, and take the keys. “I know you. I know what you’re trying to do. You’re the ‘scared guy’ and you’re anxious about exposure. You don’t want to stick your neck out, ever. It’s too risky, too scary. So, I have to stop you now. I’m taking over. I’m going to drive now. You get in the back seat. I know you’re anxious and I honor that by feeling scared too. However, I’m going to act in spite of my fear.

I’m not going to allow that anxiety to keep me from standing up for myself and expressing how I think and feel. I believe Kirkegaard was right, anxiety is our best educator. I’m not going to allow anxiety to keep me from new learning.” Part of ‘normal not being healthy’ is that I can be my own worst enemy. If I can be my own worst enemy, I can also be my own best friend.

Because I have feelings of inadequacy doesn’t mean I’m inadequate. Because I have a risk-averse ‘scared one’ inside doesn’t mean I have to avoid risk. But it does require that I am awake to the workings of my own psyche so that I can watch when the ‘scared one’s’ attempts at self-sabotage appear. Energy follows attention! By paying attention, I have the energy to deal with this internal terrorist and disarm him. It doesn’t require being judgmental or critical.

I don’t have to beat myself up because I have a ‘scared guy.’ He will always be present and play his ‘scared guy’ role in the movie of my life. But he doesn’t have control of my performance. He will make appearances, but if I’m paying attention to my life; to my thoughts, to my feelings, to my behavior, to my body, to my health and to my relationships, I’ll see him pop up.

If I fall asleep at the wheel, and the ‘scared one’ takes over, it is really helpful to have a supportive community of friends to hold up a mirror and reflect back to me the image of the ‘scared one’ at the controls. Their care and concern lovingly nudges me to wakefulness. Fully alert, I see the situation with clarity.

By paying attention, energy flows differently: “Ah ha! I see you clearly now. Your turn is over. Give me the keys, get in the back seat, shut up and hang on! We’re gonna have an adventure. Life can’t be an adventure without risk. And with risk comes anxiety. But, remember Kirkegaard’s comment that anxiety is also the dizziness of freedom. Yahoo!!”

Part of ‘normal not being healthy’ is that some people, even people who love us, people in our own families, don’t know how to give healthy support. When we’re too scared to jump, they belittle us, thereby reinforcing our feelings of inadequacy. Or they push and push and push us over the edge. Their energy was required for the leap, so they take the credit. “Well, you wouldn’t have done it if I hadn’t been there.  So we relearn what the ‘scared one’ never forgot. I’m inadequate. But that’s not true.  It's a con. Because we have feelings of inadequacy doesn’t mean we’re inadequate !

Of course, another aspect of ‘why normal isn’t healthy’ is that to even ask for help or support means to risk being seen that way. “Need some help?” “Nope, I can handle it.” It’s also normal, but not healthy for some people to think that supporting us means to help us stay stuck where we are with a friend. “You know, I think I’ll just forget about doing that stupid book. It’s so hard to fit it in with the other work I’m doing. Besides, everything’s already been said before. Why say it again?”

“Yea, you’re probably right. Why stress yourself? I’ve got tickets to the basketball game. Let’s go have some fun.” Or “Yea, I know what you mean. Say, why don’t we go to the shore this weekend. We’ll put on some steaks, drink some martinis, smoke some fine Cuban cigars and relax. No one reads books anymore, anyway.” It’s normal, but not healthy, for some friends to tell us what we want to hear. And let’s face it, a lot of what the ‘scared one’ is hoping for is a helper, a friend to support us in taking the detour away from risk-taking exposure.  “Whew, I’m off the hook!” I think to myself, “that sounds great.” I say out loud.

“But wait,” you say, “I don’t feel inadequate.” “That’s great!” But let me ask you something. Why are you running around doing project after project? Why do you have lists of lists or projects? There is the immediate list. Then the long-term list and of course, the list of what to do if you can’t find any other list. Compulsively ‘doing.’ You’re always so busy. What is your busyness all about?

Wouldn’t you admit that much of the economic wealth in this country is built by people running full speed trying to prove how adequate they are? In fact, we’ve built a country that provides an opportunity for others to come and prove it also. If not, what are they and we trying to prove? Could it be that if you get enough done, complete enough projects, serve on enough committees, you will finally reach that critical mass of accomplishment to establish once and for all that you are adequate?!

Or even better, superior!! Superior. Interesting concept. It surpasses adequate as the next level of value. A superior piece of workmanship is worth more than something merely adequate. In fact, the adequate job is now inferior by comparison. So, superior is better. Having a car made with superior engineering costs more because of the added value of the design, etc.

Driving that car gives the driver a leg up on the other guy in the five year old compact car. It makes a statement to the world of our value, because we can afford it. And, admit it, we feel just a little superior and they may, who knows, feel just a little inferior as they compare vehicles.Our homes, our yards, condos, apartments, cars, boats, clothes, kids, schools, jobs, lifestyles, bodies, mates, friends, clubs, memberships, vacations, and yes, cigars, tell the world where we are on the value scale:

Inferior – - – - – - > Superior.

We constantly compare and compete. Paying attention to these matters we have energy for them. Part of ‘normal not being healthy’ is that we spend large amounts of money on appearances, on the surface of things. “Well, why not? You only have one chance to make a first impression.” Exactly. If your concern is with your image in the eyes of the world, that’s normal. And if your concern is on making a better impression, that makes perfect sense. Improve and enhance.The ‘fix’ only requires money and the things money can buy. It’s normal, but it’s a trap, a money trap. And you never have enough.

That’s not what really moves me or what we’ve been exploring. An investment of money is not required to carry forward our premise. What is required is an energy investment. And, an interest in exploring what it means to be a fully human person, functioning from a center that makes us unique and distinct, while also connected to the larger family of humanity.

“Even if you don’t know what you want, buy something, to be part of the exchanging flow. Start a huge, foolish, project, like Noah. It makes absolutely no difference what people think of you.” (Rumi)

The ‘scared one’ be damned. Let’s kick it into gear and bust out of the confining limits and safe habor of the status quo. The question then becomes, what “huge, foolish project” is only mine to do? Maybe I’m the project and the book a little ship.

“No. Thanks, for asking. But I really want to work on this book. I’ve been putting off finishing it for years. I know it would be fun, but it will be more satisfying for me to finish what I started. So long.”

The book is finished. I’m still working on me.

From Perfection to Acceptance


We are a paradox, both tiger and goat.  We have a ‘scared one’ inside us driven by the fear that at any moment we could be exposed as inadequate, our goat self.  Since our ‘scared one’ fears that at any given moment our secret may be revealed, he/she has to be constantly vigilant.  Therefore, “safety and security at all costs” is the motto for the ‘scared one.’

One way to stay safe is to do things well, or better yet, perfectly.  That demonstrates to the outside world how great we are.  In school some of us got all “A”s and as adults still seek that grade from others.  We seek the “A” for adequate, to compensate for our feelings of inadequacy.

Our perfectionistic tendencies are also affirmed and admired by others.  We can be proud, are even told that we should be proud, of our accomplishments.  The car, the house, the yard, the kids, the school, the clothes–everything we do becomes an opportunity to show the world how great we are.  How perfect we are!

But, what happens when we fall short of the mark?  What is your self talk like when you don’t meet your high expectations, when you fail?  When you screw-up, what do you say to yourself?

I asked this question once to a group of women at a conference.  Most of those present shouted out self-deprecating statements like:

“That was a dumb thing to do!”

“I can’t believe I did that!”

“What an idiot!”

And, one of my personal favorites:

“I should’ve known better.  What’s wrong with me?!”

But one woman said, “Oh.”

I said “Oh?”

“That’s right, Oh! O-H Only Human.”

I said, “That’s suspiciously healthy.  I should report you to the thought police.  Now stand in the corner and straighten yourself out!”

When I inquired as to whether she had always been so accepting of her humanness, she said,  “Oh, no.  I used to be a relentless perfectionist.  Then I had years of therapy which taught me to say O-H.”

Folks, save yourself some money!  Don’t use your failures or mistakes as an opportunity to reinforce your feelings of inadequacy.  Who benefits?  No one!  You certainly don’t.  Do others benefit when you belittle yourself?  No way!

So, give yourself a break today.  After all, don’t your highest values support you doing so?  I mean, is God waiting for the new improved you?  Or just as you are, flaws and all, are you loved and accepted by a mystery that exceeds your understanding?  If that is part of your belief system, use it to support your new learning.

Our culture is so caught up in self improvement.  When you go to the self help section of the book store you have to take a number and get in line.  And after you make some improvement, are you now perfect?  Nope.

So what is required?  More improvement.  Done.  Are you now perfect?  Nope.

And on it goes.  When do you get to perfect?  Never.

So when do you get to your good feelings?  Never!

What is much more useful from my perspective is self acceptance, not self improvement.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m very interested in learning, in getting better at everything I do.  My bias is that everyone is an underachiever.  No matter how well we do anything, we can get better.

But I don’t want to wait to feel better until I get better at what I do.

So, what about those feelings of inadequacy and insecurity that never go away?  How are you supposed to feel better when they are always present?  Very good questions.

The answer is connected back to the paradox of our humanness.  Think of it this way.  Acceptance of myself, with all my imperfections, creates a psychological space to create something new.

Why?  Self acceptance is the beginning of change.  For instance, having overcome my denial about some character flaw, accepting the actual reality of its existence, I can pay attention and deal with that flaw.

Energy follows attention.  I only have energy for that to which I attend.  Said with poor English, what I pay attention to, I have energy for.

Creation requires energy.  In order for me to create something new, energy is required.

But, what if I’m tapped out energetically?  If you’re bereft of the energy required, go to the source of energy.  Rumi has a poem with the lines…

“Move within, but not the way fear

makes you move.

Go to the well.

Move as the earth and moon move

circling what they love.

Whatever circles comes from the center.”

What is at the core, the center of your being?  Look past the mask you’ve been conditioned to wear to your essential self.  The real you made in the image of, what?  Some say a Devine Parent.  Coming back to your belief system, are you on your own, or can you get help?  What was it?  “Ask and you shall receive.”

You see, if we place our psychological development within a spiritual space in the psyche, we feel safe and secure.  And our developmental process will be infused with the energy required for change.

The ‘scared one’ doesn’t believe any of this because he/she feels unworthy of help.  But, our ‘sacred self’ understands the secret.  At the center, the ‘sacred one’ watches with an inward-turned eye.  Turning within, “but not the way fear makes you move,” the ‘sacred one’ opens to the loving embrace of the Mystery of God.

Rumi says and the ‘scared one’ agrees:

“I am so small.  I can barely be seen.

How can this Great Love be inside me?”

Then he answers from the mouth of his own ‘sacred one’:

“The eye is small

yet it holds enormous things.”

The paradox of the ‘scared one’ / ‘sacred one’ is only known by the latter.  My ego doesn’t know my soul.  But my essential self, my soul center understands the ego as a loving parent understands a child.  It’s energetic source is the Ecstatic Love of its Creative Parent.

The dual nature of our ‘isness’ requires two sets of parents.  One set provides 23 chromosomes each, to build a body and then the environment to nourish development.

The other set made the ‘sacred one’ and implanted this essential self into the body to live through it into Realization.  The Realization of its true nature, it’s true Tiger nature.  And although the ‘scared one’ and our egocentric concerns don’t permanently dissolve as long as we’re breathing, they don’t have to drive the engine of the psyche.

We can disengage from those small obsessions of the ego by changing what we attend to.  Energy follows attention.  Change what you pay attention to and you change the energetic equation.

It isn’t by adding to what you have inside, that gives you value.  It isn’t a matter of improvement.

It is by recognizing what is already present, as a Present, a Gift, from a Divine Source.  Reconnecting with this gift happens when we remember.  And remembering often happens when life forces us to change that to which we attend.

Newly awakened, we see the familiar with Tiger eyes. Those eyes that pierce the blackest night of the soul and see clearly that which supports us, feeds us, energizes us.

Rumi says,

“Ecstatic Love is the ocean

on which the Milky Way floats,

like a flake of foam on the sea.”

Tiger food is the abundant love that flows from that source whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is no where.

“Whatever circles

comes from the center.”





Our True Tiger Nature

“Tiger, Tiger burning bright

In the forests of the night.

What immortal hand or eye

            Could frame thy fearful symmetry?”           

    William Blake

There is a familiar ring to this poem.  Most of us probably had to read it in English Literature.  I remember doing so as a kid.  I read it and moved on, probably not thinking much more about it.

Reading it now, however, has a much larger charge for me.  Because, now, I think about tigers differently than I used to.  And wanting to continue to explore the dual nature of the human psyche with you, a tiger story comes to mind.  Remember my bias that we all have both a ‘scared one’ and a ‘sacred one’ inside us.

The ‘scared one’ is ashamed of him/herself.  The ‘scared one’ is programmed by family, school, church, peers, etc. to carry culture. The local cultural conditioning process happens unawares.  Much of the interaction with the child occurs without awareness on the part of the grown-ups.  People do with their offspring something similar to what was done with them or they overcompen-sate in rebellion to the parenting they received.

So we have explored how the ‘scared one’ feels inadequate and insecure as a result of our long period of dependency upon parents or parental figures. 

Not being adequate to care for ourselves in the jungle that is the world, every child will have feelings of inadequacy.

“Dad, can I go down to the store and get some candy?”

“No, you can’t.  You’re only six years old.  You haven’t learned to be paranoid yet.  Get back in here.  Maybe I’ll take you later.  And it’s not can I, but may I.”

“Dad, what’s paranoid?”

“What? Oh, you wouldn’t understand.  Now go bother your mother.”

While we all have this secret that we share yet don’t discuss, there is another secret that likewise, we share and do not discuss.  While there is much agreement about the presence of the 'scared one’ there is more controversy about the existence of the ‘sacred one.’

This is the luminous aspect of our humanness.  This sacred component is not a product of conditioning.  It is not burdened with egocentric vision.  It is, however, often covered by psychological brushwood.  The ‘scared one’ is in hiding, the ‘sacred one’ is hidden, so deeply hidden one may think it nonexistent.

But, let’s come back to the poem and a Tiger story that will help clear away some of the brushwood.  This is an ancient story, one I heard a wonderful storyteller, Joseph Campbell, tell years ago.  I wouldn’t presume his skill as a raconteur, but this story is one I’ll always remember.


            A pregnant tigress is on the prowl hungry for goat.  She comes to a clearing and spots a herd of goats grazing at a distance.  She stealthily slips up on the herd and picks out her prey.  Slowly she moves in for the kill, and leaps upon her victim.  But while she was in midair, the goat changed position.  So when she landed upon her meal, two sharp goat horns pierced her heart.  In the moment of contact, she sustained a mortal wound and lay dying in the grass.

           The traumatized goat is dazed, yet very aware of the closeness of the call.  He just saw his little goat life flash before his eyes.  He can hardly believe he’s not badly injured when he notices the spectacle.

            In her dying moments, the pregnant tiger’s uterus begins to contact and she delivers a beautiful little tiger cub.

            The goat is amazed at the miracle.  Out of this death comes new life.  “Wow!  What a beautiful little tiger cu….b… Wait a minute!  That’s a tiger.  I’m a goat. Tigers eat  goats.  This is a problem.”

           So the young goat goes to get the goat elders.  They come over to investigate the situation“Let’s see now.  That’s a tiger.  We’re goats.  Tigers eat goats.  Yep, it’s a problem.  But, hey, wait a minute.  She doesn’t know she’s a tiger.  We won’t tell her. 

            We’ll just just raise her like a goat.  She’ll eat goat food instead of goat.  Yeah, that’s the   ticket. 

            She’ll live her little goat life with the herd.  She’ll live like us and be like us.  Sure, it’ll work.”

            Time passes and it’s as the elder said.  The little tigress lives a goat life eating goat food instead of goat and moves as one with the herd.  Things go along smoothly. The tigress isn’t growing into her full, mature tiger self because she’s eating grass instead of goat.  And her secret identity is hidden from the tigress.

            Then one day, a large female tiger comes along hungry for goat.  She catchers the scent of the herd and tracks them down.  She begins to select her prey when …WHAT?…she notices a tiger grazing with the herd.

            Astonished at these events, the tigress forgets about her hunger and runs out from cover to satisfy her curiosity.  The herd dashes away, but the large mature tigress is much faster than the goat-tiger and catches her easily.

            “What the heck are you doing out here with these goats.  Don’t you know you’re a tiger and tigers eat goats?”

            The young one looks up at the mature one and says, “Baaaah, Baaaah”

            The big tiger cannot believe her ears.  “What!!  That’s not what tigers say.  Tigers say,  GRRRRR!   GRRRRRR!

            And her booming roar blasts the little one’s ears back.  But all she can muster is another, “Baaaaah,  Baaaaah.”

            No matter what the mature tigress does, she cannot convince the young one of her true tiger nature.  Until finally, she spots a quiet pool of water nearby.  She moves over to drink and sees her image reflecting up to her.  She calls the young one over and says,  “Here, put your head here next to mine above the pond.  Now, you see those eyes, you see those whiskers, you see those stripes??”

            “Stripes!  What??!  Can it be??!” thought the little goat-tiger.  In an instant the truth was revealed. “See, you are a tiger like me.  You are meant to live a different life than the one you have known.  Come with me.”

 And off she went to live her true tiger life.

You see the problem?  We are all born tigers and taught to be goats.  We live our goat lives, eating goat food and moving with the herd.  We feel inadequate and easily let others ‘get our goat.’  Or, to compensate for our feelings of inadequacy, we become a bully and ‘Billy’ other goats.

The story then reveals the dynamics we have been discussing.  The ‘scared one’ bleating out anxious tones from a fearful hiding spot.  Or the ‘Big One’ picking on other smaller goats to establish dominance.  Reinforcing the feelings of inadequacy in others, the bully reveals his secret.  He is unaware of his modus operandi until a still larger one appears and his tail drops between his legs in submission to the new alpha figure.

The ‘scared one/Big One’ and the goat are synonymous.  And we all have a ‘scared one’ inside.  But that is not an accurate picture of our entire nature.  That is programming absorbed by osmosis from our local environs.  We are imprinted early to think goat thoughts and move with the herd.  We replicate ourselves and teach our children to do the same.

But then, there is this Other One, this tiger self, this essential self that waits to be discovered. 

“Tiger, Tiger burning bright.”

This luminous ‘sacred one’ who is hidden behind the conditioning of a lifetime. 

“What immortal hand or eye did frame thy fearful symmetry?” 

And when this one remembers, re-members, reconnects to the “immortal hand” that birthed a universe, look out!!

Because we have feelings of inadequacy doesn’t mean we’re inadequate.  Because we have fears, doesn’t mean we can’t face them to see what they have to teach us.  For it may be only in facing what we fear the most that we discover our true stripes. GRRRRRRRR!

We experience our core “burning bright” and this light illuminates a new way.  The familiar is seen with a sense of possibility.  Our confusion gives way to a brief moment of clarity.  We see through the illusion of who we thought we were to live for an instant what we actually are.

And that moment, that one instant of direct knowing also reveals to us who is hidden within everyone else.  And though we cannot hold that moment, its memory holds us, enfolds us.  It informs all we do thereafter, the moment we remember, because our energy follows our attention.

Hey you!  Yeah You!  To what are you paying attention??  Are you busting your butt trying to keep up with the herd?  Exhausting, isn’t it!  Your energy follows your attention.  What you pay attention to, you have energy for.

Pay attention to your true tiger nature and you have the energy for living out your true tiger life.  In those moments you become a metaphorical pond for others to see their true reflection in the deep pools of your tiger eyes.