Movie: MASH (1970)

MASH is an amazing movie. I’m not talking about the TV series here but the original movie from 1970, directed by Robert Altman.

This was a controversial film when it first came out because it was full of 1960’s cynicism and anti-war sentiment as well as lots of graphic blood-gushing surgical scenes. However, I believe this film also carries a very positive message which is frequently overlooked…

To me, this movie is about freedom. The freedom to choose our focus. The freedom to decide what to make of our experience rather than having it define us.

MASH is the story of a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (the title is the acronym). This can be a very depressing place. Here are people confronting death and suffering on a daily basis. Yet their focus is on doing the best they can to alleviate the suffering and find ways to see past it, to distract from it and to lighten it up.

Not everyone in the film adheres to this philosophy, but those who resist it do so at their peril. Some adjust and some are crushed, they reap the consequences of their choices.

It’s a dark film to be sure, but it sheds a lot of light on how people may face traumatizing circumstances in the healthiest possible way. I find it very uplifting on this level.

While facing horror and death, these people choose to celebrate life… and in that celebration lies their salvation.

If you haven’t seen MASH, or haven’t seen it lately, check it out. It’s about finding/creating some good in a very bad situation. That’s a lesson I can always use.

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Telling My Story

We all have our story. From time to time we tell our story… to friends, relatives, co-workers, co-passengers, bystanders, strangers, bartenders, and of course people tell their story to therapists. It’s your story and you are the one telling it.

Here’s a big question: When you tell your story, do you tell the truth?

Some people embellish their story. Some people hedge a bit. Some gloss over details here and there while others outright fabricate.

So I ask you again: When you tell your story, do you tell the truth?

I believe you always tell the truth. You can’t help it. But the truth I’m talking about here is not objective, universal truth. I’m talking about your personal truth.

A therapist’s job is listening to your story and trying to zero in on the truth. Not the truth of the story, but the truth of you, the person. These are quite different things. We are always telling the truth about ourselves, to anyone who can see past our words.

Sometimes, for whatever reason, someone else winds up telling our story.

Here’s another big question: When someone else tells your story, do they tell the truth?

Absolutely they do! However, the truth they tell is their truth, not yours. You are hearing their story told through the details of your life. That is a very interesting (and potentially confusing) turn of events. But there is an upside…

It takes your story to new and interesting places. It opens up new ways of seeing the story when you view it through someone else’s eyes. This is a very rich opportunity indeed! It gives us the chance to find refreshingly new takes on our story… and ourselves.

Recently some very accomplished story tellers decided to tell a bit of my story. Here is a glimpse of what it can look like when that happens:

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Quote: Definitive Power

“The power to define the situation is the ultimate power.”  -Jerry Rubin, activist and author (1938-1994)

As a political activist, it is likely Mr. Rubin meant that power derives from being able to define situations for others, thereby influencing their actions and reactions. And that is a great power indeed. This is the power of the Spin Doctor!

However, I believe a more practical meaning arises when I take this as the power to define the situation for myself. After all, the situation is only the situation. It is what it is. But the big questions are: What will the situation become? What do I do next?

My actions do not derive from the situation itself, my actions derive from my beliefs about what the situation demands. And as we all know, this varies a lot from person to person. Are my beliefs about this situation derived from my own worldview or were they shaped by others? Is my choice internal or external? Is it rigid or flexible? Am I acting or reacting?

In other words: Who’s defining the meaning of the situation? Who’s in control of my perceptions? Whoever this is, they control my direction.

Some people think it’s impossible to shift your perceptions. If that were true, no one could intentionally change or redefine themselves. Don’t believe everything you think!

I would add one thing to Mr. Rubin’s quote:
The power to define the situation is the ultimate power to facilitate my own growth.

And it’s a power well within anyone’s reach.

This quote reminds me of a 2000+ year old saying: “We are disturbed not by events, but by the views which we take of them.”  -Epictetus, Greek philosopher, c.80AD

Today, while trying to verify that quote I kept finding this:  “It’s not the events of our lives that shape us, but our beliefs as to what those events mean.” – Tony Robbins

Apparently two millennia ago people thought the author of this quote was Epictetus, but nowadays it’s Tony Robbins. That’s an interesting situation. What should I make of it?

It could be “everything old is new again.” Or maybe “some things never change.”
How about “there’s nothing new under the sun” or even “talent borrows, genius steals!”

I guess it depends on which way I choose to go with it.

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The Specificity Paradox

What is your client population? Who do you want to see? Who will you help?

These can be vexing questions for psychotherapists in general, particularly so for interns and trainees. These questions raise many emotions for us, chief among them is fear.

Here is a sample internal dialogue:
“If I’m too specific I might lose a large part of my potential client base.”
“Oh? Who is your potential client base?”
“Well, there’s mood issues, anxiety, trauma, relationships, grief. Oh yeah, and eating disorders, OCD, social issues, work pressures and life transitions. Pretty much everyone.”
“So you want to see everyone?”
“Of course not. But I don’t want someone to read my ad and think I can’t help them.”

Aha! Fear of rejection. Which in this case is a mask for a fear of inability to launch my career. A career in which I have invested more years, $$$$’s and intimate personal resources than most professions come close to demanding. After this kind of commitment, I don’t want anything to limit my ability to succeed!

So when I answer the question, “Who are my clients?” my main goal is avoiding rejection.

That makes sense psychologically, but it’s a very poor strategy. Here’s 2 reasons why:

1)  In order to avoid rejection you are going to make your ad so generalized and so amorphous that no one will identify with it. Therefore, no one will see their issue in your description. Therefore no one will have any reason to think you can help them.

2)  You can’t see everyone! There isn’t enough time in the week.

I’m afraid if I’m too specific about my primary client I’ll miss too many potential clients. But to get clients I have to be specific enough to be chosen.

This is The Specificity Paradox!

Do you want clients? Then take this to heart:

Getting clients is not about avoiding rejection, it’s about getting selected!!!

Getting clients is about reaching the 100 people in the area who need your help. It’s not about keeping 1,000,000 people in the area from rejecting you.

You only need some clients. So when you answer these big questions, be as specific as possible. The people looking for you need to know you are the one they seek!

You can’t see a million clients. But if you design your marketing to appeal to all of them you can easily wind up with none.

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Quote: Flow of Life

“I cannot prevent the wind from blowing, but I can adjust my sails to make it work for me.”  ― Code of the Order of Isshinryu

There is a flow to the universe which happens regardless of our actions. This flow goes by many names: Natural order, God, Cause & effect, Karma, Physics, Fate, etc.

But flow it does, leaving us only one real choice: join it or resist it.

When I resist I get very busy. The world abounds with opportunities to spend my energy. This gives me the illusion I’m getting somewhere. Swimming up-river is a lot of work, but it’s a very inefficient use of time & effort.

It’s easy to work hard, but working smart tends to be more productive. Working hard in smart directions should be unstoppable. So… what should I work on?

How about getting in touch with this flow? If I work hard on recognizing the flow, I can learn to drift with it and get “there” faster. I’m freer when I release my destination and learn to focus on where I’m heading… particularly when my heading needs to change.

If my goal is to arrive in only one place, I can fill my life with lots of work and the constant feeling I’m not there yet.

On the other hand, if my goal is to explore and express my true fundamental desires, I’m always being where I’d most like to be and I’ll still wind up somewhere. Surprisingly, this formula leads to many wonderful places and a more enjoyable journey as well.

OK, so how do I identify my true fundamental desires?

That, my friend, is an entirely other blog entry.  🙂

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An East-West Metaphor

Here is a story which illustrates one possible take on the difference between Eastern and Western approaches.

Imagine one day some aliens come down to earth and they issue a challenge. They are going to leave a specimen with us and we must analyze it over time and report the results upon their return. The aliens split the specimen right down the middle. They give one half to the East and the other to the West, and then they leave.

Some time later, the aliens return to evaluate the findings. What’s interesting here is not the relative completeness or accuracy of the findings. What’s interesting is that the East is able to return their half of the specimen almost entirely intact whereas the West has virtually nothing left.


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New Tech, Old Fear

“The young people of  today think of nothing but themselves. They have no reverence for parents or old age. They talk as if they knew everything, and what passes for wisdom with us is foolishness with them. As for the girls, they are forward, immodest and unladylike in speech, behavior and dress. When I look at the younger generation, I despair of the future of civilization.”  – Ancient Greece, 4th Century BC (personal attribution unclear)

People have always been saying the next generation will be the last. These crazy kids reject our values and engage in unwise activities which will inevitably unravel the very fabric of our society and leave us in ruin. This has literally been going on for over 2,000 years!

What’s missing is the fact that each one of these younger generations actually becomes the older generation criticizing their younger generation. What’s up with that?

The habits, fashions and technology of the younger generation is always a topic for the older generation, inspiring reactions ranging from bewilderment to panic.

Today they say internet use and texting are destroying our ability to function socially. They said the same thing about the telephone over 100 years ago. New technology usually leads to a new equilibrium. When people say society will be destroyed, I wonder if they mean society will change. It could be the end of society as we’ve known it.

Perhaps the fundamental issue is the perception of a younger generation by an older one. Maybe the truth is we simply become more suspicious of change as we age.

New technologies come and go, but the fears they incite are perennial.

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Quote: Failure’s Value

“Failure is not an end, it’s a launching point.”  -HSW

How do I know? I created one of the epic failures of our time. Here’s what I learned:

Failures are stepping stones to success… but only if we learn from them. Fail big! Fail boldly!!! But try to make each failure only once.

As Sherlock Holmes told Watson, “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” So it is with success.

As you pursue various goals in life, the probability of succeeding increases with every failure found and passed… so long as you pay attention and keep going.

I believe every action inherently contains both success and failure. One of the biggest questions in life is: Can you find them?

Always true => You’ve succeeded in arriving here now. You’ve failed to be anywhere else.

This is more than optimism vs. pessimism. It’s about gleaning the value from each, learning the lessons they conceal. Therein lies the greatest power in life.

“If you take responsibility and blame yourself, you have the power to change things. But if you put responsibility on someone else, then you are giving them the power to decide your fate.”  ― Deja King, Dirty Little Secrets


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FQP: What is it?

Here is another Fundamental Question of Personality:
It is what it is OR it isn’t what it should be?

Which way do you sway when something you’d prefer wasn’t is?

It-is-what-it-is types lean more toward acceptance, seeking attunement with their environment. They tend to find more peace and derive energy from the environment. Their impact is more subtle and they are less inclined to demand change around them.

It-isn’t-what-it-should-be types lean more toward judgment, seeking conformity to expectations. They tend to find less peace and infuse energy into the environment. Their impact is more overt and they are less inclined to leave things as they are.

Both are necessary, neither is sufficient. We are each capable of either and may shift between them from moment to moment. Together they form a Yin/Yang of personality.

I believe the world is created and destroyed by it-isn’t-what-it-should-be moments,
but it-is-what-it-is moments make it a more satisfying place to be.

The question remains: How to balance the two?

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The Latest Addiction

There is a lot of press lately on Social Media addiction and the evil this engenders.

This is typical of news coverage today. Blame the symptom instead of the cause. They cite the number of addicts but never the number of people using the “addictive substance” who are not addicted (which does not support their claim).

I believe behavioral addiction is primarily an issue in the individual, the specific activity chosen to express the addiction is secondary. It makes a better story to blame new social trends but isn’t it interesting that addiction has always existed while most addictive outlets are relatively new?

It’s process over content once again. IMHO, we need to treat the underlying mechanism in operation and not focus so much on the particular expression if we want to make real progress with recovery issues.

I’m not sure the media is helping us in that regard. But recovery counselors and treatment specialists need to remember that’s not the media’s job… it’s ours!


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