Insights and Healing with Patrick Moore

30 % WHOLE Facts
June 2, 2017, 8:56 am
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My wife, writer Traci Moore at her “fun desk” this morning, made me this collage:



generously blended with


roasted and kneaded

born of century old

tradition, faithfully produced

IN A COOL DRY PLACE the Swiss Alps!

Incomparable flavor!


I believe this inspired message comes from her training in the “Wild Mind” process that she’s been learning in Alameda and will be teaching in new workshops this summer…


A Little Princess and Is the Sun Conscious?
October 28, 2016, 8:45 am
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Literature again meets Science meets Religion, with Eriksonian Stage-Psychology

This morning I listened to a podcast that asked the question, Is the Sun Conscious? The two scholars who spoke seemed to say, yes, it is very probable the sun is conscious, or it could be. Here is the link for the podcast but don’t listen to it yet…

I would start differently. Because we are likely to answer the question to immediately to ourselves, before we even read it. Instead I suggest you just imagine it as a thought-experiment. Like, I don’t believe the sun is conscious but what if I were reading a sci-fi story of the future, or fantasy story from the past, of a race of people (say Egyptians) who considered the sun conscious?

I think it is important to start off with this skepticism, and I will tell you why. I think those who listen to Rupert Sheldrake podcasts are probably already convinced. He is preaching to the choir. That is fine to do. My life goals are different. I would like to non-preach to the non-choir. I would like for there to no longer be choir members and choir non-members, but one group of humans who consider many things, with an appropriate balance of appropriate skepticism and appropriate willingness to consider new things.

What I would like to talk about in today’s paper is not whether the sun is conscious or not, but what it would mean to individuals, to shift from a belief of no, to a belief of maybe.

I read a lot of psychology classsics as I have blogged about in the past: Kohlberg, Maslow, Perls, Burns, Ellis, and their antecedants Epictetus, etc. One that bears on today’s question is Erik Erikson’s Identity Youth and Crisis. For a person to go from a no to a maybe, would trigger an identity crisis. Most people cannot tolerate an identity crisis and so they stop short. New models that threaten the identity cannot be considered. The individual personality has several extremely potent methods of dealing with information that threatens how one identifies oneself. The information seems to vanish.

We have seen this in literature and history. Or, we should see more of this in literature. Let me paint a story the way it should be written. Take A Little Princess by Francis Hodgson Burnett. I love the movie. My daughter and I watched it numerous times together and I always got a tear in my eye at the reuniting scene.


But it is not realistic to how Erikson accurately describes youth identity. The story goes like this: During WWI, a girl and her father are separated because the father must go to fight in the war. She is told he died in the war, which makes her an orphan. The comfy living is gone, and she must work for Miss Minchen, who shames the girl and makes her do endless chores. In the movie the girl maintains an identity, I am a princess. All girls are princesses, because my father said so. But in reality her personality would develop around the reality of her situation: I am a low class servant, I am shameful and bitter. Life dealt me a cruel blow when it took my father from me. Life continues to cruelly assault me daily because this is a world in which life is cruel. I am a low class shameful bitter person. Years after the war, there is the discovery of a man who has lost his memory, and it turns out to be her father. They are reunited and everything is wonderful. She is restored to her status of princess. But in reality, a child whose personality has formed around the identity of shameful bitter low class, would not be flexible enough to adjust itself to the new discovery. Even though the new situation is preferable, personalities just don’t do that. They resist even truth, even reality. The girl would resist believing this was her father, and even if she were reunited with him, she would continue to behave as if life were cruel and she were shameful and low class. Because personality is formed early. Now, some will argue with me. Yes, if the girl’s personality were fully formed and resilient before the father went off to war, she might be able to continue her identity as princess even through all the tortures of Miss Minchen. It all depends on when personality formation begins and ends. Experts are pushing it earlier and earlier. Some are now saying personality structure is completely formed by age 3.

How does A Little Princess relate to Is the Sun Conscious? We humans perhaps once (experts on Egyptology tell us in the podcast) considered themselves children of the sun. It is likely that 20,000 years ago, 10,000 years ago, the sun was considered Our Father. At some point we were taken from this father, and then we were told this father had died, and then we were told this father never existed, it was just a superstition. Those of us alive today would not even dream that the sun could be our father. Our personalities were formed under different circumstances. Our identities are invested in a much different “reality.” To listen to a podcast today, and hear the sun may be our long lost father, is inconceivable. Of course it is farfetched, at least to modern thinkers. But besides being farfetched, it is literally inconceivable because our personalities forbid our conceiving it. Why do our personalities forbid our conceiving it? Not because it wouldn’t be good for us, it could be fantastically good for us to think this way. We are forbidden from conceiving this because it would mean the identity we have built for ourselves, is built upon faulty assumptions. Were we to conceive that the sun could be conscious, and that it is like a Father to humanity, to individual humans, this concept would question the foundation upon which we have built our identity. To even conceive this possibility means our identity could be built upon sand. Our personalities find it intolerable to ask: if who I always thought I was is not true, then who am I? It is too painful. Our personality replies: Creating the first identity was painful enough! You want me to recreate a new one, now that I am fairly secure? NO WAY!  

According to Erik Erikson’s theories of youth identity formation, for us to have a reconsideration, a complete review of the question, who am I, or even, WHAT am I? would lead to an identity crisis. Most of us are unwilling to face an identity crisis. Our personality simply puts on the brakes. No way. Dealbreaker. I am not going there. That’s the end of the story. We will go to our deaths grasping at an identity that is not accurate. Those of us who have dealt with, or are dealing with aging parents know this is true: they will hold fast to an outdated identity, one that does not even serve them in today’s world, one that limits their sense of freedom and fulfillment in life, until their final breath. Because they are unwilling to go through another identity formation, to pass across an identity crisis.

Passing across an identity crisis doesn’t have to be walking on coals. If there is someone to help you, who has done it already (perhaps multiple times), then it can be like a vigorous hike. Or a series of vigorous hikes over uncharted territories.. But the personality fears the unknown so dramatically that it will put in all kinds of resistance and diversions rather than go there.

Think of it from the personality’s perspective: facing a reformulation of identity, is like death. The personality thinks it is going to die. It isn’t going to die, in fact it is going to be improved, greatly improved, since it will be able to perceive far more of reality rather than filtering so much out. The potential for fulfillment will be multiplied a hundredfold. Relationships all improve. Intelligence improves. There is no downside except the struggles during the rites of passage. But the personality does not know this. None of my friends have done this. Our society has not done this. The whole culture and society is formed around defending the old identity, and only this one guy Rupert Sheldrake, and other outliers are suggesting this new identity. It seems like a bad wager, and most people pass before they even give it a second look.

My advice: don’t commit to the new identity, be skeptical, but do give it a second look. Treat it as a thought-experiment. What if the sun were conscious? What would that mean for me personally? How difficult would it be for me to adjust my personality, my lifestyle, my relationships, if I were to even agree the sun COULD be conscious?

I do not advocate identity crises. It is more likely to end in a reversion to the old way, when it is too sharp, too painful. I advocate gradual transition. Don’t listen to Sheldrake’s podcast. Just consider that there are other ways to identify oneself than the ways I identified myself when I was 3 or 6 or 9. And see if in a year or two, you actually want to listen to Sheldrake’s podcast. At some point it will feel like a drink of cool water after a long hike. Even if you don’t buy Sheldrake wholeheartedly, it is still refreshing (for those rebuilding their identities) to get as many different perspectives as possible.

Profession-Ethics from Plato to Spinoza
October 26, 2016, 2:15 pm
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Six hr. workshop with Patrick Moore Monday, Oct 31, 2016


What is Ethics? 

Ethics is figuring out what is right or wrong behavior. Once you know what is right or wrong, ethics includes convincing others of your choice and making recommendations for how to behave.

This definition brings up a bunch of questions that are very difficult to answer:

How do we know what is right and what is wrong? Where do ethical standards come from? Religion? The great philosophers of the past? Universities? Government? 

Are ethical standards created by humans, to fit certain situations at certain times and places? Or are they universal truths?  

Are ethical standards arrived at by faith, by reason, or some other method?  

Is every person capable of correctly discerning right behavior from wrong? If everyone is capable, why do we disagree on what is right and wrong to do? 

When everyone expects standards to be upheld, the big questions do not have to be answered. For example, if everyone expects murder to be prevented and punished, we don’t have to ask why murder is wrong. Profession-ethics fit into this niche, of what is expected of a certain profession.

For example, doctors are expected to:

  • Do only that which increases the person’s health.
  • Disclose when they do not know how to help, and refer to other professionals who may know how to help.
  • Maintain privacy.

What is ethical to do with packrats? Killing is bad.. but if you don’t kill them, they breed and damage your neighbors’ property… ?

Why Have Profession-Ethics?

A. to protect the Profession:

If a few rogue doctors were to do procedures designed only to make them rich, that ended up harming patients, this would damage the reputation of doctors everywhere. People would stop trusting doctors. The good doctors would lose patients and lose money, which would be bad for doctors everywhere. This harms the profession. Profession-ethics prevent rogue doctors from doing things that damage the reputation of the profession.

B. to protect the public:

  • To stop professionals from doing things that would be unsafe for an individual, that could actually harm the person’s health or kill them. For example, you need to be licensed and tested before you are allowed to do brain surgery, otherwise people undergoing brain surgery might be harmed or die.
  • To protect people from other embarrassments or discomforts. For example, doctors sometimes need to see people with their clothes off. An unethical doctor could take advantage of this situation and tell everyone to take their clothes off and inspect or touch private parts when it is not necessary for the procedure.
  • To stop professionals from doing things that would be a waste of the individual’s money. Professionals have access to more education than average people do. This gives them access to tricks that most people would not know about. Practitioners can easily take advantage of this to do unnecessary procedures, procedures that will not be effective, but take many sessions, bringing in lots of money.
  • Protecting the public trust of that profession, serves the public. When the profession loses credibility, people stop using that profession and they suffer for the loss of something that had helped them. For example, when people stop trusting doctors, they do not receive procedures that could save their lives. When people stop trusting police, they do not call the police when their lives could be saved.

We are glad for profession-ethics! There is profession-ethics for builders, so that we know it is safe to drive our cars over bridges, that buildings will not fall down when the wind blows, that we will not die from asbestos inhalation. There is profession-ethics for loan officers, to protect us from getting loans that we are unlikely to be satisfied with in the long term. There is profession-ethics for teachers, clergy, counselors, lawyers, police, emergency medical technicians, social workers, food handlers and many other services.


A Profession-Ethics Problem: Rules or Outcomes?

Imagine a doctor is in a situation where he thinks, “If I lie to this person, it is likely to save his life. If I tell him the truth, he is likely to die.” What should he do? In a rule-based ethics, he must always tell the truth. But that means his patient will probably die. In an outcome-based ethics, he should do what saves the person’s life, even if it breaks the rules. Would you prefer doctors to operate using rule-based, or outcome-based ethics?

Do you view the massage therapy profession as having rule-based profession-ethics, or outcome-based? How do you personally operate as a therapist: rule-based or outcome-based? Or do you have another basis for your ethics? Can you give examples for your view?


Ethics Questions for Massage Therapy:

Financial Gain Ethics:

  • A local area is “saturated” with massage practitioners. A massage school is aware of statistics that show a very low percentage of graduates have been able to remain employed in that area. Basically, their money has been wasted. Is it ethical for the school to continue taking in new students?
  • A person comes to you with a symptom of “headaches.” When the session is over, you ask if the headache is reduced and they say, No, but I really liked the massage. Can I come again next week? Is it ethical to take the person’s money for “massage therapy” when you are pretty sure it will not help them with their health goal? Will you do it anyway? What thought process goes into your making your choices?


Boundaries (2 hours)


Transference is when the recipient begins to see you not for who you are, but as someone from their past. In particular, people lying nude on a table while you stroke them with warm oil, are likely to begin to view you as their mother. Massage therapy standards of conduct and codes of ethics tell us to “avoid transference.”

Countertransference is when a therapist’s feelings toward a client become redirected. The therapist becomes emotionally entangled with the client. Massage therapy standards of conduct and codes of ethics tell us to “avoid countertransference.”

Dual Relationship is when one power differential is created at work, and then when you meet outside of work with the person, the same power differential is likely to occur. Massage therapy standards of conduct and codes of ethics tell us to “avoid transference.”

  • A good-looking person comes in. While you are professional, and the person is polite, still you feel a tingle of connection. Working on the person is a joy. Your draping is very professional, but your hands feel as if they are expressing love as they glide over the person’s body. You find yourself smiling the whole way through, and you are in a very good mood when it is over. After the session, the person expresses that it was the best massage they ever had. They want to come back every week. The person is gushing with praise. After they leave, you wonder, is this a good idea to continue? How will you decide?
  • Have you ever worked at a ritzy resort spa or “professional” dayspa where the customer is “queen for a day”? If she is queen, that means you are her servant. This creates a power differential in which she has the greater power. Have you ever met that person again outside of work? What was it like? Did the person take advantage of you? What can you do about this situation? What does ethics dictate you do? What will you actually do?
  • Do you ever encourage people you massage to see you as motherly, or nurturing? Do you hand them a bottle of water or let them get their own water? Do you speak to them in a different voice than you use for equal friends? Do you encourage them to sleep and protect the quiet so they can sleep? Do you dress differently for massage than for friends?


New Findings in Body-Countertransference

A study was done with female therapists in Ireland. These were talk-therapists, working with traumatized people. Researchers Egan & Carr asked them if, and how often they felt these symptoms. For the following list, up to 26% of them said, “Yes, this happened to me often in the last 6 months”:

  • Sleepiness
  • Muscle Tension
  • Unexpected Shift in Body
  • Yawning
  • Tearfulness
  • Headaches
  • Stomach Disturbance
  • Aches in Joints
  • Throat Constriction
  • Loss of Voice
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea

These symptoms indicate countertransference had occurred, the researchers conclude. Therapist’s bodies reacted as if they were the traumatized person. Therapist’s emotions become entangled with the client’s emotions. The therapist’s feelings toward the client had been redirected. The researchers hypothesized that mirror neurons caused therapists to feel like the traumatized people feel. This research shows it is very difficult to “avoid countertransference.”

  • What is bad about countertransference, that our profession tells us to avoid it?
  • If it can’t be avoided, what should we do about it?


Plato’s Ethics: The Bag of Virtues

Plato avoids the problem of rules vs. outcomes by suggesting we be virtuous. For example, be patient. Be tolerant. Be humble. Be curious. A rule is something you do. A virtue is something you are.

Many have called Plato’s ethics “the bag of virtues.” But this is not accurate. A bag of anything is something you own. It is not who you are. Plato would have said no, virtues are not something you possess. You cultivate them until they are you, as you as any attribute of you-ness. Plato’s way is a way of being. Plato called our being, our essence. Virtues are not something you learn, they are something you are, that you develop. Virtues are attributes of your essence. You are created curious, so ethics is discovering and developing the curiosity that you already are.

Plato does not focus on outcomes, for determining if something is ethical. His ethics does not promise the outcomes of health, wealth, security or comfort. Plato describes Socrates as the virtuous man. Socrates lost his court case. He was sentenced to death. He lost his wealth, security, comfort, rights, status and admiration in the community. In fact, he lost his life. But Socrates explained on his death bed that what he gained (by being virtuous) was far more valuable to him than anything, even life. Earthly outcomes are unimportant compared to being true to one’s essence, in Plato’s view.

Plato wrote no books telling us: do this, don’t do that, this is right, that is wrong. He only wrote dialogues with characters having discussions. Most of the dialogues had Socrates as the main character. Socrates was a real person and some of Plato’s dialogues about him are accurate to history. Other dialogues are fictitious. In some of the plays, Plato wrote Socrates as being less astute than other characters. Plato didn’t give rules, not even through his character Socrates.

Socrates had a little voice in his head. When he was puzzled by an ethical question, he would pause and wait for it to speak to him. Maybe this was his essence.

Would Plato’s ethics work for massage therapists? What virtues would massage therapists BE?

Can you think of an example where being virtuous would be better (or worse) than following rules? If you were virtuous with a client but broke a rule, would that be ethical? If you followed a rule only because it helped you indulge some vice (like judgment), would that be ethical?

Can you think of an example where being virtuous would be better (or worse) than working toward outcomes? If you saved a man’s life by being non-virtuous, would that be ethical? If you were virtuous with the man, but he died, would that be ethical?


Jesus’ Ethics

Jesus did not write any books but gave verbal ethical teachings. Some of his sayings include:

  • Do not judge.
  • Love others as you love yourself.
  • Love your enemies.

He also taught by example. He apparently saved no money but relied on a daily basis on his ability to serve others as a healer and teacher, and the others’ willingness to give him food and shelter. Like Socrates, Jesus was brought to court and given the option to retract the teachings he had given, or face the death penalty. Like Socrates, Jesus would not retract the teachings. So he too was put to death.

Would you say Jesus was an ethics teacher? Many scholars, though they debate other things about Jesus, agree he was a teacher of ethical principles. Did Jesus teach ethics as a set of rules, as outcomes, or as being virtuous? I read Jesus as being more of a virtue teacher than a rule-teacher or outcomes-fighter. Jesus urged us to be nonjudgmental. Be unconditionally compassionate. Don’t be a hypocrite but be the opposite (non-self-important). Be vulnerable.

Did he add new ways of teaching ethics besides rule-based, outcome-based and virtue-based? Yes he probably did. If you think yes, how would you describe these ethics methods?

Would Jesus’ ethical teachings apply to service professions today? After all, he was in a healing profession, often touching his clients…

An interesting note is that “profession” originally meant when someone made a profession of faith, or vows to a holy order. “Professional” ethics were first applied to those in holy orders, and then hundreds of years later were applied to other professions like law and medicine.



Epictetus was born a few years after Jesus’ death. He earned his freedom legally, and then made a living teaching morality, spirituality and ethics. Epictetus’ main point was that you can’t change other people, you can’t change life’s events, but you can change your own thinking and actions. He learned this the hard way: as a slave, you really can’t change what the slave-owner will do, especially what he will do to you. But that does not mean life is without meaning. Even a slave has power over his own thoughts, attitudes and interpretations. In fact, no matter how much the slave-owner does things to your body, he cannot touch your mind. It is interesting that by discovering these things, he earned his freedom.

The serenity prayer goes back to Epictetus:

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

Courage to change the things I can,

And wisdom to know the difference.

Epictetus probably would have added a few words:

               …to accept the things I cannot change: other people,

…to change the things I can: my own attitudes,

And wisdom to know the difference.

Epictetus did not write any books, but the conversations and teachings he gave were written down by one of his students. Aaron Beck and Albert Ellis consider Epictetus to be the inspiration for 20th Century talk-therapy method they call Cognitive Therapy. Cognitive Therapy is where the therapist helps you examine your own interpretations, to see how they lead you to unwanted emotional reactions and unhelpful behaviors. When you recognize you have power to change your interpretations, you can think more accurately and flexibly. Then you have much nicer emotions and behave more helpfully. It is a very clean, efficient method of talk therapy. There is a do-it-yourself cognitive therapy book called The Feeling Good Handbook by Burns, which makes the teachings of Epictetus into practical step-by-step exercises.

Did Epictetus teach ethics? He did not tell us what is right and what is wrong. He described how to have clarity, and how to have more power over the things truly within your power. With more clarity, you actually gain wisdom, intelligence, intuition and good choices. By using your mind for you instead of against you, you end up behaving more ethically.

Later in life, Epictetus adopted a child and raised it as his own.

When massage therapists get stuck in ethical questions, we could ask ourselves, how am I interpreting this? Can I change the other person? No. Can I change how I think and act? Yes. Would this process help us to be more ethical as therapists? Would it help us to be more fulfilled in our work? Would it help us to be more effective therapeutically?



Plotinus said that we humans are tiny slivers of shards of God. From this idea, we all would possess God’s attributes, just little splinters of slivers of those attributes.

Did Plotinus teach ethics? You might say this model provides a perspective about right and wrong behavior. For example, we can be loving and merciful, in our way, because our qualities of love and mercy are reflections of reflections of God’s love and mercy. Plotinus’ ethics is not rule based, not outcome based and not virtue based. It is a new way to do ethics, by having a model or perspective.

Would thinking of yourself as pieces of parts of God, help you to be more ethical in your therapy profession? How? If not, why not?


Spinoza’s Ethics

Spinoza wrote a book called The Ethics. So we know he had something to say about ethics, otherwise he wouldn’t have gave the book that title.

Spinoza had a very interesting life. He was a Jew living in Holland at a time when most of Europe was killing Jews. Holland was one of the last places that would allow Jews to live. As a child, Baruch Spinoza learned Hebrew amazingly quickly. He learned the Bible so well they decided to educate him to become a Rabbi. But he began asking sticky questions of his teachers, like, If the promised land was promised to Jews as a contract, and the Jews broke the contract, isn’t the contract now void? He was not irreverent–in his mind. He believed strongly in God but felt that most people had misinterpreted God. It was the other people who were being irreverent, in his mind. For sharing his ideas, he was put on trial before the Jewish community. He was offered an opportunity to back down from his positions. He did not back down. A murder attempt was made upon him. That did not work, so the elders excommunicated from the Jewish religion. In the written decree, Spinoza was called an atheist, and his soul was cursed to eternal damnation. All Jews were forbidden to speak with him on penalty of being excommunicated themselves. This was while he was a teenager. He changed his first name from the Jewish Baruch to the Latin Benedict. He began wearing a ring on his hand that said, “Caution.”

Like most smart boys of the early 1600s, Benedict was fascinated by the philosophy of Descartes. So he studied Latin and Descartes, moving into the home of his teacher. He fell in love with the teacher’s daughter, who though she was younger than Spinoza, was his Latin tutor. There was another guy who liked the daughter. The other guy was a fool but had money. She went with the other guy and Benedict’s heart was broken. That was the only romance of his life, but he carried the sense of betrayal, sadness and jealousy for many years. Not to mention the horrific traumas of the murder attempt, being shunned by your family and community and damned for all time. It is important to know about his emotional early life, to understand his writing.

In The Ethics, Spinoza revives Plotinus’ shards of God concept. Only we humans are even further removed from God than Plotinus said. We humans are beings with two of God’s attributes—minds and bodies. God has millions of attributes—no, billions—no, God has infinity attributes. We possess only two of that infinity of attributes. The number 2 divided by infinity… that’s close to 0% of God-ness in us! But it’s there. And the two attributes of God we possess, we don’t even possess—we are merely modes of those two of God’s attributes. All this rigmarole in the beginning of The Ethics is to demonstrate that it’s like Plotinus said; only we are even further diffused from God.

The good news is, we are created finite but reflecting God. Which is a pretty good way to start out.

Spinoza also revives Plato’s essences of things. Our essence is godlike, but in a finite manner. Our essence is actually god-derived. A derivative of a derivative of God’s essence. That gives us a sense of … pride? Birthright? Responsibility?

For those who don’t believe in God, Spinoza gave an option: Nature. A phrase that appears multiple times in The Ethics is “God, or Nature.” Nature with a capital N. It’s sort of like a lot of people today say The Universe, as in, The Universe is giving me some challenges lately but I know it’s for my own good. While Spinoza is wholeheartedly reverent to God, he writes his book friendly to atheists too.

Like Spinoza’s God, Spinoza’s Nature has infinite attributes or qualities, two of them being physical body and mental process. We humans are finitely derived from infinite Nature. Again we feel the dignity and responsibility of how we were originally formed.

The beginning sections of The Ethics give a very detailed picture of who we are. Spinoza must consider self-knowledge to be an important part of Ethics. Would you agree that to be ethical, you need to know who you are? Or that it helps? Can you give an example of someone being ethical without knowing who or what she is?

If we were formed so nobly, how did we get to be so petty? Spinoza explains this better than any other philosopher does. Because of desires and aversions, we get conditioned into processes that hinder and hide our true nature, our essence. The hindering processes, Spinoza calls the passions. Later sections in The Ethics give specific recipes for how each of the passions began in us, and then directions for how to resolve each of them. These last sections of the book are the first self-help how-to book. Spinoza tells how to restore yourself to the original essence you were created to be.

In these later sections, he doesn’t write any sordid memoir. But since we know from other sources how he was betrayed by his church, betrayed by his girlfriend, jealous of the other man and angered by the murder attempt, this gives us understanding when he describes how jealousy, anger and betrayal operate upon the human mind, and how to unravel them.

When you are jealous of another massage therapist, or of a client, would it help you to understand how jealousy got started in you? Would it help you to be able to follow it back through the steps how it led you away from your essence? Would this knowledge help you as a therapist, to be more ethical, more serving and more effective therapeutically? I think it does help.



Like the heroes of ethics, I also give no rules in this handout and workshop. Like Socrates, I ask you good questions and hope your essence inspires your own enlightenment. Like Plato, I suggest virtues rather than rules or outcomes. Like Epictetus and Spinoza I help you figure out your own knots and help you unravel them.


Blame Ruins Relationship Satisfaction
September 26, 2016, 2:35 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Dr. David Burns wanted to know what kind of relationships were satisfying. He asked 1,200 people a bunch of questions about a relationship. This could be any relationship–a romantic partnership, people at work, family, or friends. He had them rate their agreement with 16 Beliefs, some of which were beliefs about oneself, and the rest were beliefs about the other person in the relationship. Finally he asked how satisfied they were with the relationship. He wanted to know if one’s own beliefs, the other person’s beliefs, or what pairs of beliefs, let to satisfied relationships.


What makes relationships satisfying? Why do we hurt the ones we love?

Dr. Burns made some predictions before he looked at the data. For example, imagine one person has belief #2,  People who love each other shouldn’t fight. Anger is dangerous. The other person has belief #7, I’m right and you’re wrong and you’d better admit it! He predicted the more aggressive person would find this relationship more satisfying than the more passive person would. He and his colleagues made many other predictions. To his surprise, all of their predictions were wrong. There was no correlation among any of the pairings of beliefs.

Beliefs Listed in the Study:




  1. Pleasing Others. I should always try to please you, even if I make myself miserable in the process.
  2. Conflict Phobia/Anger Phobia. People who love each other shouldn’t fight. Anger is dangerous.
  3. Perceived Narcissism. You can’t tolerate any criticism or disagreement without falling apart.
  4. Self-Blame. The problems in our relationship are all my fault.


  1. You should always treat me in the way I expect. It’s your job to make me happy.
  2. Justice/Fairness. If you don’t meet my expectations, I have every right to get mad and punish you.
  3. I’m right and you’re wrong and you’d better admit it!
  4. Other-Blame. The problems in our relationship are all your fault.



  1. Love Addiction. I can’t feel happy and fulfilled without your love.
  2. Fear of Rejection. If you rejected me, it would mean I was worthless. I can’t be happy if I’m alone.
  3. Approval Addiction. I need your approval to feel happy and worthwhile.
  4. Mind Reading. If you really love me, you’ll know what I need and how I feel without me always having to explain myself.


  1. Achievement Addiction. My self-esteem depends on my achievements, intelligence, or income.
  2. I must never fail or make a mistake. If I fail, it means I’m worthless.
  3. Perceived Perfectionism. You won’t love or accept me as a flawed and vulnerable human being.
  4. Disclosure Phobia. I can’t tell you how I really feel inside. I have to keep my true self hidden.


from Feeling GOOD Together by David D. Burns, MD, 2008, p. 56.

Of all 16 beliefs, only one strongly correlated with relationship satisfaction. None of the beliefs correlated with high satisfaction, but one belief strongly correlated with low satisfaction. That one was #8, The problems in our relationship are all your fault. He labels this belief, Other-Blame. Those who blame others, are very unsatisfied with the relationship.

At first Dr. Burns was disappointed with the result of all that work. But once he began using this one simple fact in his counseling practice, he found it helped people improve their relationships significantly and quickly. At least, it helped the ones who were willing to reduce how much they blamed the other, and instead to take responsibility for what they could do differently.


People who blamed their partners (or other people in general) for the problems in their relationships were angry, frustrated, unhappy, and intensely dissatisfied with their relationships. In addition, this mind-set accurately predicted what would happen in the future. Individuals who blamed their partners for the problems in their relationship were even more miserably unhappy three months later. Things were clearly going downhill for this group. In contrast, people who were willing to assume complete personal responsibility for solving the problems in their relationships, and who felt a strong commitment to making their partners happy, not only reported the most satisfying and loving relationships at the time of initial testing, but their positive feelings seemed to increase over time. …individuals who focused on changing themselves … were usually able to work wonders in their relationships. In most cases, it didn’t take long at all.

In the following section of the book, Dr. Burns wanted readers to know that, once you stop blaming others, that does not mean you should blame yourself instead. That doesn’t help either! The cure is to stop blaming altogether, to be nonjudgmental [his word, p. 62]

This is great information! Still, I feel Dr. Burns does not describe well enough how to be nonjudgmental, or even how to not judge oneself. In fact, many of his terms seem loaded with judgment about oneself. Yes, in his earlier book, The Feeling Good Handbook  he demonstrated nonjudgment VERY well. But in this book … not as well. Which is unfortunate because to learn to be nonjudgmental, we really need examples, someone to demonstrate it for us.

In particular we need a nonjudgmental explanation for how and why we appear to be hurtful and blaming of our partners and other people. We need an answer to the ages-old question, “Why are we so hurtful to the ones we love?” … an answer that does not in turn hurt or judge US. Dr. Burns does not provide that kind of explanation in this book. I think the book lacks something without this explanation, so here is my attempt:

In our culture, we are trained from an early age to determine who is to blame. If one person is found not-guilty, then there must be another person who is guilty. But in relationships, most of the time neither person is blameworthy. We are trained from an early age to see blame as a black-or-white subject, when it is not that way at all.

Let’s take an example. Mickey is a person described earlier in the book. Here is a sample of Chapter One of Feeling GOOD Together that tells Mickey’s story.. scroll down about 60% and look for the bold heading, “Why Should I Have to Change?!”

Mickey blames his wife for all kinds of things that make the relationship unsatisfying to him. As Dr. Burns asks Mickey more questions, it becomes clear Mickey is doing far worse things to his wife, than the things he listed she was doing to him. In fact, Mickey is having extramarital affairs, and waving the evidence in front of his wife, to torment her. Why is Mickey doing this? The explanations Dr. Burns gives, seem to shift the blame to Mickey. Dr. Burns says Mickey is “intentionally doing things that are certain to demoralize her and ruin the marriage.” I have a different explanation.

I think Mickey fears his wife’s complaints about him would undermine the basis for his identity. Her criticisms would make him feel like the very foundation for his value could be lost. Who would he be without his values, core beliefs, and chosen identity? If this identity is shattered, he fears something like death. He can’t bear to have his basis questioned, or even revealed (for I am guessing, he too is suspicious that his foundation might be built upon sand). Therefore he pokes, even tortures his wife–just to keep her off balance so she doesn’t expose his inadequate foundation. It’s not that he really wants to do her harm, he doesn’t. He loves her. But when it comes to the survival of what he thinks of as his very Self, he can’t let his Self be destroyed, so he feels he must go on the offensive.

By the way, nobody on their own would think this offensively. It is not natural. Animals don’t naturally do this. Plant’s don’t naturally do this. It is not an inherent part of nature, not even human nature. It is artificial. How do artificial patterns get established? Two ways. One is that it is shown to you repeatedly. As an impressionable child, people demonstrated for Mickey the Offensive Method of Protecting Your Identity. His parents demonstrated it, his teachers, his leaders, the great books he read and the media he heard and saw. Repetition repetition repetition. The second way artificial patterns are instilled is by being the recipient. Somebody did this to Mickey when he was young. They used the offense upon him, terrifying him, demoralizing him. At some point being the recipient, he told himself, “Never Again!” Since that time, whenever a scenario smells as if he might have his identity or value destroyed, he now offends, rather than feel that pain again. In particular, it is only people who get close to him who are likely to see the foundation of his self, and this explains why he only hurts the people who love him.

This has happened to all of us. There may still remain a few indigenous cultures on Earth where this is not done, but everyone who partakes in Civilization has experienced both the repetitive demonstrations and being the recipient. It is done to us early, when we can’t defend against it. Then we carry it forward into our own relationships. I call this Enculturation (after learning this concept from Stephen Bruno).

Dr. Burns has made a misdiagnosis of Mickey, in my opinion. Mickey is not to blame. It’s our cultural heritage. Everyone does it, even Dr. Burns.  As terrible as Mickey’s behaviors are, as offensive and deliberate as they seem, they are only intended as self-protection. Mickey didn’t “intentionally demoralize his wife and ruin their marriage.” He only did those things the only way he knows to protect himself when he thinks his value is being questioned. If he knew another way, or learned that his Self does not need protecting, he would no longer do this.

Dr. Burns has some good advice: “Don’t blame others, and instead look at what you can do differently.” Yes, that will work, but nobody will actually do it until certain things occur:

  • the person needs to gain some accurate perception of who he truly is.
  • accurate perception of one’s true self naturally gives the person a true sense of value. Mickey’s true self is far more admirable than he had ever thought of himself.
  • One’s true self is naturally influential, safe and secure. It does not require protection because it cannot be injured or destroyed. There is no point in protecting what can’t be damaged. Defending oneself (one’s TRUE self) is silly, amusing.
  • the person needs to gain some accurate understanding that all people have this true self, that is inherently admirable, altruistic, influential and safe. Mickey’s wife has her true self that is far more than he ever thought her possible of.

When psychologists give a test to measure “self-esteem,” this only measures how strongly the person identifies with the cultural identity, the foundation built upon sand. This is why “high self-esteem” does not correlate with satisfying relationships, virtuous acts, or any other positive quality.

Knowledge about the true self, or essence, is more a matter of philosophy than psychology. Think Plato, Plotinus, Aquinas and Spinoza. I think this distinction between the true self and the cultural identity is necessary for understanding a couple of things in the book, Feeling GOOD together.

Dr. Burns’ describes frustrations he has when giving relationship counseling. Individual counseling works well using his prior methods, but relationship counseling falls flat. He doesn’t understand why people are so horrible to their partners. It appears to them these people are just plain mean, and he says he can’t help them.

I think none of these people (at least none of the ones he describes) are just plain mean, intentionally demoralizing others. They are simply insecure, because their identity has been built upon sand. So they are overprotective. I am this way too. I do all the things on Dr. Burns’ lists. But if I were to agree with Dr. Burns, this is my “dark side.” I don’t think it is a dark side. I think it is just my being defensive, because I am still insecure about what gives me value, so I strike out at anyone who questions my value.

The people in Dr. Burns’ book are not petty, vindictive, shallow, narcissistic, or mean. They are just uncertain about who they are.

Think of it this way: When your favorite person in the whole world, the one you chose to be your special person forever, starts questioning your value—that’s a big deal! You’ve put all your eggs in that basket! You’ve given that person extra power over you. And now they are using that power to examine whether your value rests upon a firm foundation or not. Ouch! That hurts! That person is supposed to be on my side and it sure feels like they are against me when they do that. I have to stop that activity! I will do anything to stop that pain! And so we react with extreme measures.

Once this less-judgmental explanation of Why We Hurt the Ones We Love is added to Dr. Burn’s book, I find his suggestions very useful. I am learning a lot from his books.


Spinoza’s TPT Upholds Compassion as the Means to Salvation
September 6, 2016, 10:46 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

I have recently read Spinoza’s 1670 book Theologico-Political Treatise (TPT) for the third time. I would like to share my increasing excitement with others in a little series of blog posts.

Reading the TPT’s early chapters you get the feelingthat Spinoza is Bart Ehrman 340 years earlier. The first chapters of the TPT find faults in the bible’s prophets, who spoke in a slanted manner, more fault in the first writers who slanted the messages again, faults with the subsequent copyists who slanted it again for new generations, and even evil intentions in the final compiling committees who slanted it again to bolster their own sects against opposing sects of the same religions. So far, all Ehrman.

But unlike Ehrman, Spinoza has another, hopeful message, one he is far more passionate to tell:

after all this mangling, the bible’s core message still shines through!

God always communicated the same essential simple message: Love Others As Yourself, Spinoza says. By Love, Spinoza means not the emotion of love in one’s thoughts, but actual works of service to others. Spinoza includes in God’s injunction both charity (do works that serve others) and justice (make efforts to protect others’ needs and rights). As yourself, means you do for others, as fervently and frequently as you do for yourself. Spinoza claims that all the prophets who spoke God’s wishes, including Jesus and the apostles, were speaking versions of this one simple command.


Spinoza – public domain – unknown source

Yes, Spinoza says, the prophets slanted the message according to their own perspectives of life. They slanted the message according to what they thought would change the current population. That is a good thing, not a bad thing, Spinoza claims. It serves those who are listening to the prophet speak.

This is why one prophet will say God is Love and will Reward you if you Do Charity and Justic, and another will say God is Angry and will Take Revenge if you Don’t. God never told the prophets He is angry, that He will punish or reward. Those parts were all the prophets’ ideas. But this slanting doesn’t make the bible flawed, Spinoza says. It shows that the message was always communicated in ways that (prophets believed) would change these listeners on this day. Some generations needed to imagine a rewarding God while other generations needed to imagine a vengeful God, in order to be willing or compelled to be more charitable and just. Later when humans were recopying the documents, they would again slant the messages to what they felt would be most effective with the new generation. And again when the councils codified the books of the bible once for all, these councils again slanted the meanings to be what they felt most effective or would benefit their own sect against competing sects.

Still, the slanting of the message by every prophet, every copyist, and every council is not evidence that the bible lost God’s message or is entirely fictitious (or whatever Ehrman is trying to prove), but evidence that that the bible maintains God’s simple message across thousands of years and thousands of communications, regardless of how it is retold to each generation:

  1. do compassionate service to others.
  2. behave justly to others.

The ten commandments follow from these two. Jesus’ three additional “love commandments” and beatitudes were fuller expressions of these two, Spinoza adds in the TPT.

Besides proving that God’s Word (be charitable, be just) remains intact in the bible, Spinoza claims that nothing else in the bible is worth believing. When the bible says God has hands and feet, don’t believe it, Spinoza says. That was just one way that one prophet used to inspire awe in a particular crowd. Nothing in the bible is worth believing, Spinoza says, except the key message, that God commands humans to love others as self. All the rest of the bible is simply either various prophet’s methods of getting this message across, or history of the people who attempted to follow God’s orders. The fact you can’t believe anything else in the bible is not bad news, but good, Spinoza claims. It means you don’t have to worry you didn’t understand the bible. The bible is extremely simple to understand because it comes down to be charitable to others, be just to others. The simplicity of the message means the bible is impervious to misunderstanding, Spinoza says.

Does the bible teach us what God Is? No, Spinoza says. The bible, or shall we say prophecy, which is God speaking orally through humans, was intended by God only to give the simplest message that would work for all people, that would lead all people out of the danger of being lost in life’s troubles. The simple message in 1) and 2) is the path to salvation, being saved from misery and despair, being elevated to the quality of life we are capable of experiencing. How and why do the two things lead people from misery to salvation? The bible was not intended to explain the how and why. What kind of being is God? The prophets didn’t ever attempt to explain that accurately. The purpose of the prophetic utterances of God’s Word was to give the simplest possible message that all people could understand, not to explain complex concepts to scholars and theologians. Any indications that God is large or small, angry or vengeful, that he leaves one place and enters another, are fabricated by prophets in order to have a convincing effect on the ones in hearing distance of their speeches. The bible contains no theology. If God had intended to describe His nature, the hows and whys of theology through simple illiterate prophets, the bible would be incomprehensible. This is why God chose to keep the message simple, to reveal only through prophets the simple, understandable orders, be charitable, be just.

God is depicted by prophets as only two things consistently: God is charitable. God is just. Spinoza believed God is many more things. In fact, God so vast, with so many attributes that finite humans could never conceive of even a portion of God’s attributes. God’s demonstration of these two things, and only two, serves two purposes. The first is to demonstrate the simplicity of two things that humans are capable of emulating. More of God’s attributes, would only confuse many people and so God deliberately kept the message, and the demonstrations simple. You won’t find any theology in the bible, Spinoza claims. If you think you found theology in the bible, you are reading into it things that were not originally intended, Spinoza repeats.

The second reason God kept his demonstration to two things was because these two things He had already previously written in their hearts, Spinoza says. When people heard the prophets orally speaking about God’s two qualities, the people would be able to verify the truth of charity and justice, because they would feel their hearts vibrating with the same.

Imagine it’s eight thousand years ago and a shaggy man is standing on a box shouting about God. Things shouted that resonate what is written in the heart, awaken the heart. Things shouted that do not resonate, fall to the side without much effect. When prophets adequately spoke God’s Word–serve and protect others with the same effort you serve and protect yourself–this resonated what was already written upon their hearts, so a sort of glow occurred in that group of hearers. A halo effect. The prophet was revered, and what he had said was written down.

I’d like to make a side point here about Dr. Bart Ehrman’s work. I love Dr. Ehrman. I have listened to all his early tapes and his voice soothes me with its reasonable though passionate critiques. I think he has been very careful and I can find fault with not one thing he has ever said or written. However, it appears his only intention is to destroy, and not to fill in the space with something better. He never tells us, is there anything in the bible worth salvaging? Is there any message that is consistent, contextually credible, multiply attested and different from what sectarians would have fabricated? He won’t say. Does Ehrman even believe in God? Or at least some cosmic principle of compassion? Or at least some purpose or meaning to life on this planet? Anything that could be considered hope or salvation from life’s miseries? He won’t say. Spinoza gave the same bad news Ehrman gives, (centuries earlier) but Spinoza does it to give what he feels is an even greater gift to humanity; the two things that cannot be tainted. How is Ehrman’s work received? Does it help humanity? Or does it divide us? I have read books and reviews of Ehrman’s work. The reactions to his work may be worse for humanity than the truthful things he writes. Not that I am advocating he stop sharing his useful messages. But I wonder, is there time for Dr. Ehrman to somehow fix the divisiveness he has exacerbated? But back to Spinoza.

Oh yes. Spinoza was passionately reminding us that each of us has written upon our hearts. Spinoza says the Word of God is nothing but the two things: be compassionate, be just to others. Spinoza says the Holy Spirit is nothing but the feeling you get when you are doing the two things. This explains why, when we hear about the two things, or see it happen in the news, in events we witness, when we hear it in stories or see it in movies, we feel.. exalted. Our hearts melt. We love those we had hated. We know there is something there. It resonates deeply with a part of us—maybe this is the soul.

Spinoza includes both the old and new testament when he describes the mutilation done by copyists, scribes and councils. He includes both the old and new when he shares the good news that the bible still contains the essence of God’s simple commands. Oddly, though Spinoza was raised Jewish, and began training as a Rabbi, he seems to hold Jesus as a clearer conduit of God’s word, than he holds the earlier prophets. Still, in a further oddity, Spinoza never converted to Christianity, even though he had several close friends who were Quakers who said he’d be a great Quaker. As an adult he didn’t go to any church, but on Sunday afternoons he would ask his friends kindly what they heard in the sermon that day. While he had good reasons to hate organized religion (after all, he was excommunicated from the Jewish faith and actually cursed with damnation in a written decree), still he cared for people deeply and wanted them to have the consolation that the bible and religion provided them, the means to salvation through the simplest method that Religion advocates: by behaving with loving service to others. What was Spinoza’s belief? He clearly believed God exists, and has influence in all beings. To explain Spinoza’s beliefs further we’d need to talk about his other work, the Ethics, which I may do another day. Suffice to say Spinoza was more concerned with the effects of our thoughts, more than the belief that is held. Does the belief lead to charitable actions and protecting others’ needs and rights? Then that belief is fine even if inaccurate, he said. On the other hand, accurate beliefs, followed by harmful actions to others, is not fine. Not at all fine, to him.

What’s political about the theologico-political treatise? Spinoza spends the vast majority of the book on religion and finally makes a few political statements at the end that I will summarize.

Since the prophets of the old testament, and the apostles of the new, used many different approaches to persuade people to be more just and charitable, we, today, must be tolerant of other people’s ways of becoming more just and charitable. That means religious tolerance. If a group of people believe they are inspired to be more just and charitable through stringent food preparation, let them do it that way. In fact, support them. Make it easier for them to get the ingredients, implements and space they need for their special food preparation. If a different group feel they are better inspired to be more just and charitable by imagining the end is near, let them do it that way. Support them!

Problems only arise when I insist you must become just and charitable in the same way I choose to be more just and charitable. This insisting takes the form of political force, shunning, and brute force, or violence. How sadly ironic it would be, to be unjust and uncharitable to others in order to force them adopt your way of being just and charitable! Finally Spinoza tells us, the bible itself, old and new, demonstrates a thousand different ways of getting the same effects of charity and justice—who are we to narrow down to only one of these ways to the exclusion of others?

Spinoza’s TPT was an early influence on the idea that an ideal government would hold religion and science in different categories, two realms that do not bear upon each other. This influenced what was later called separation of church and state. The TPT also suggested that each person should have the right, defended by the ideal government, to think what he likes, and speak what he thinks, which influenced the ideas of freedom of religion and freedom of speech. [It is not well known that many of the founding fathers of the United States had read Spinoza and some had copies of his books in their libraries. In fact, what the founding fathers called “Deism,” largely matches Spinoza’s writings about God. Unfortunately even current books on the Founding Fathers’ Deism, do not take into account this strong influence of Spinoza. Einstein also said, when asked his beliefs, that he believed in “Spinoza’s God.”] Now, these rights to religious freedom, in Spinoza’s reasoning, derive from the fact that all religions encourage people to be more compassionate and more just to others. Would a particular person or religion lose its political right to tolerance, if it demonstrated harm and injustice to others? Spinoza didn’t write his answer to this. Is the right only natural, while the person or group is supporting others’ right to the same?

In part two of this series on Spinoza’s TPT I ask the question, what would Spinoza say about Pastafarians? What about people who don’t care whether God exists or not like Unitarian Universalists? What about people who clearly state God does not exist? Should tolerance also be extended to these people? Would Spinoza Allow Atheists in the Ideal State? Tune in next time.

Improv Play Provides Natural Catharsis
June 9, 2016, 12:42 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

I am preparing to teach a new kind of improv play group. The details are near the end of this post so scroll down if that interests you. Before that I will describe what’s been happening with comedy improv and psychodrama these days, and what leads me to create a new kind of improv group.

My History with Psychodrama and Improv

In the 90’s I participated in group therapy and a personal discovery group, both run by Stephen Bruno. He offered them weekly, and occasional weekend workshops. And a weekly writers’ workshop. Many of the same people attended all three which means the group was interacting from 6 to 12 hours per week. I attended them all. This went on for several years so I got, say, a thousand hours of experience in group and workshop dynamics.

Stephen sometimes used psychodrama and sociodrama (along with his unique offering of what he calls “the 7 things”: unconditional compassion, non-self-importance, non-judgment, patience, presence, vulnerability and curiosity). My group experience with Stephen was all about 20 years ago.

Psychodrama and sociodrama are play-acting improvised scenes, that reveal subconscious patterns and offer direct means to resolve issues and create new patterns. Psychodrama re-enacts scenes from an individual’s actual life events, and sociodrama enacts scenes from current events.

In 2012 I volunteered to help with “Odyssey of the Mind” at my stepson’s middle school. Part of Odyssey of the Mind includes an improvised solution to a problem. So an email was sent around to parent volunteers to go see a comedy improv show. I took my wife and her son to see this show at a coffee shop slash church, and we loved it. After the show I talked with the leader, Mike, and he told me they had just begun to teach improv workshops. All three of us began taking improv workshops in 2013. Traci and I attended all three levels Mike offered. Each was 8 weeks of 2 ½ hour workshops (totaling 60 hours) plus student performances after each level, in front of an audience.

TIM red barn patrick blur

Here I was either rushing into a scene enthusiastically, or playing the character of “blur.”

Unexpected Benefits of Improv Workshops

Once we began practicing in workshops, I noticed right away similar group dynamics from my experiences twenty years earlier in the therapy group, psychodrama and sociodrama.

One Saturday afternoon, my wife and I were attending an improv workshop in a basement, with no audience. There were probably eight of us students and the teacher. I was playing a 2-person scene with a woman. She and I began the scene simply being two characters on a bus. We got to talking about socks and as we improvised, we named each other, and it became clear we were husband and wife. The wife was irritated about the husband’s stinky socks. I imagine the teacher paused the scene to suggest she, “Heighten the intensity of emotion.” She did. She spoke louder. She expressed her character’s anger about the socks, toward her husband character, who I played. I reacted in the way I thought her husband would have in that situation, which escalated her emotion even more. I was glad to let her shout at me because it wasn’t really me she was shouting at, but the character I played. When the scene was done, the rest of the students probably applauded, and the woman felt empowered, relieved and validated. She presented herself with far more confidence. She walked lightly on her toes for the remainder of that day and still had some of that benefit the next week when we saw her again.

Traci and I also attended a number of improv practice groups at people’s houses, that were run without instructors. I noticed again how people were doing cathartic things with their play. Not anything inappropriate, but playfully dramatic and potentially healing.

I believe something is lost when you play for audience approval. Traci agrees and this is why we’ve never auditioned to be part of a troupe, even after numerous invitations. But we still go to workshops.

Remembering my previous experiences with psychodrama, sociodrama and group therapy, I began to realize comedy improv provided some of the same benefits. The difference was, in psychodrama you play your self and your known issues. In comedy improv, you play fictitious characters, and nobody came there to “work on their issues.” We are just there to play. I realized that play can be cathartic, releasing, re-energizing and empowering, even without a therapist or any guidance.

I wouldn’t say improv workshops are “therapeutic,” or even “healing,” because by definition, therapy and healing work on a particular issue from the past. Therapy requires a therapist. I would say the improv workshops have “therapeuti-ness” and “heali-ness.” It is like therapy and healing, but without consciously tracking any cause-and-effect.

Roots of Comedy Improv are in Vienna, 1920

So I did a little research. It turns out that comedy based improv developed in the 1960s has roots in Psychodrama, which I have recently learned, began in the 1920s in Vienna. Dr. Moreno, it’s inventor, would have actors on a stage with an audience. The actors would read the day’s newspaper aloud (this was during the first world war), and then the actors would play scenes based on the day’s news. This would have a cathartic effect for the players and the audience. This is sociodrama, which later became impro or improv. Psychodrama is when, without an audience, a single person’s issues are played on a stage so that person can gain insight and healing. Here in Tucson you can go see an offshoot of Psychodrama / Sociodrama called Playback Theater.

Play Therapy is Natural and Inherent in the Species

Still I believe psychodrama, sociodrama, and comedy improv are not “new discoveries of the 20th Century,” but simply reconfigurations of things humans have always done. It only seems “new” and “trendy” because our culture has suppressed it and we forgot we knew how to do it. Sort of like how the Greeks already knew the earth and planets orbit the sun, but later the church punished all beliefs but their own, so for a while humanity forgot the earth orbits the sun. Then when Copernicus came up with the equations, it seemed like a new discovery. Psychodrama and Improv are nothing new. Watch dogs play, or videos of animals playing, and you’ll see that improvised healing dramas have been happening on earth from the beginning.

Why should we be surprised at this? Kids improvise scenes. Kids naturally “play out” their issues, conflicts and troubles, deriving healing and relief from these plays. I believe this is a natural part of the immune system; when we are troubled, we use imagination to play it out in a socially acceptable way. When play is socially acceptable, that is the way we do it.

Like comedy improvisers, Children and dogs have no conscious awareness of what motivates or directs the play. They are just playing, and feel better after. Unfortunately improvised play is discouraged in adolescents and adults in our culture. Even dogs in our culture are inhibited from natural play. So things get bottled up and have to “play out” in other ways, with consequences that are never “fun.” Adults still play, but their games are competitive, where only the victors feel good afterward, and the losers feel bad. The victory does not seem to give them the same benefits of child’s play or improv comedy.

When is Play Better than Therapy?

In some ways comedy improv has a lead over psychodrama, in my opinion, for average people. Who wants to deliberately play scenes about one’s issues? Who wants to play one’s father, mother, brother or sister? Where’s the fun? And what if we are held accountable or responsible for poor choices? Children and dogs, when they want to heal from irritations within them, do not control the play by saying, “Okay, I am going to play my father when he spanked me last week, and you play me.” Instead they may play a King and the Jester, or the Alpha dog and the Omega, which is fun at the same time that it is cathartic. In this sense, comedy improv is closer to what children do naturally than psychodrama is.

Still, I have noticed the teachers of improv are sadly unprepared to assist, and often give poor guidance, even counterproductive guidance, for players whose imaginations are attempting to naturally heal. More often comedy improv instructors will stop the healing process in order to steer the person toward doing something the audience will approve of, at the future performance. In this regard, professionals certified in psychodrama are far superior, if less playful and overly serious.

Still, children and dogs seem to be able to get some healing without an expert watching and coaching them. And yet, adults are so far removed from what was once natural to them, they probably do need a highly-trained side-coach to make sure they don’t make themselves worse instead of better, while they play.

A New Kind of Improv Group – Natural Healing Play

I have been preparing for two years to start an improv natural-play group. Stay tuned, I hope to get up the courage to begin this year.

In addition to my past experience, to prepare to coach such a group I have been reading both of Keith Johnstone’s books. He is against actors attempting to act out their real issues. He feels this controlling attitude blocks the person’s natural flow of creativity. If I may interpret Johnstone, he would prefer to train adults to play like children, where nobody cares what “issues” are being played out, if any, as long as the person is expressing their authentic source of creativity. The authentic source will take care of the person, so there is no need to control it, I think Johnstone is saying. If that is what he is saying, I agree with this approach.

I am also reading Adam Blatner’s books. In his “Foundations of Psychodrama,” Blatner makes the case that psychodrama serves two distinct functions. One is to “correct” the patient’s pathogenic patterns regarding previous traumatic relationships. Clearly that is outside my scope of practice.

The second function of psychodrama, Blatner says, is education. He devotes a whole chapter to this. Education would include things like reality testing, empowerment, responding not reacting, nonjudgmental interpreting, compassionate feedback, and so forth. These are things I have been providing in my workshops for massage therapists since 2001.

I have also attended Playback Theater, and I continue to get feedback from Stephen and another therapist trained in psychodrama.

Proposed Improv-Play Group

Here are some elements I would like to present in a non-therapeutic, cathartic improv play group:

Possible Titles:

  • Expressive Improv for Vitality
  • Direct Your Own Life Through Improv

Short Description:

Improvised stories are naturally used by children to play out their hurts and heal themselves. Play is a natural process that was disciplined out of us until we forgot it, and so it was never fully developed into its adult form. This ongoing workshop does not teach you something new but reconnects you to an activity that was always potential. Canines also play out their concerns. Play is inherent within us, part of the immune system of each species.

What Happens in each workshop:

An ongoing workshop. Part of the time is spent playing fictitious characters in improvised scenes and then having group discussion after the scenes, to really understand the dynamics between the characters, relationships, partnerships, antagonists, conflicts and resolutions. Could be a closed group of a certain number of weeks, or an open group, possibly a drop-in, pay as you go.

The Purpose of the Group: We are not learning to play for an audience. This is just for us, for fun, the catharsis of natural play, and the relaxation and revitalization that comes from natural relief.


  • Gain enlightenment how relationships work, how humanity works, how the world works, how the spiritual universe works, by playing.
  • A fun form of “reality testing,” by experimenting in scenes as a fictitious character. So there is no penalty for experiments that go sour, but there is learning from the results. Without fear of social penalties, we can accelerate our learning dramatically.
  • Universality: we begin to learn that others have the same fears and troubles, that appear in many different guises. As we learn this we feel more a sense of belonging and relief from isolation.
  • Play (and write) more realistic characters.
  • Feel better about yourself.
  • Express a wider range of feelings in a way that is safe and beneficial for other group members and yourself.
  • Healthy expression is cathartic.
  • Relief.
  • Relaxes you.
  • Burns off stress.
  • Stretches your limits.
  • Freedom.
  • Natural play.
  • Increase your sense of being deeply alive.
  • Experience exciting fresh stories from the inside.
  • Feel a deeper fulfillment, richer perception, vaster vision, greater beauty, fuller love.
  • Be more than you were being before.

Group Structure:

  • The group maintains compassionate support, nonjudgmental feedback and confidentiality.
  • The right balance of challenge in an environment safe to experiment with personal discovery.
  • Receive validation from others, and support others in the group and outside.
  • Equality with others, including ….

Develop processes and qualities:

  • Spontaneity.
  • Passion.
  • Find and express your unique individual qualities.
  • Resiliency.
  • Flexibility.
  • Range.
  • Imagination.
  • Intuition.
  • Vision.
  • Non-self-importance.
  • Influence instead of control.
  • Experimentation.
  • Vulnerability as a strength.
  • Empowerment.
  • Self-Direction.
  • Imagination.
  • Awareness of the group mind, its suggestions and offers.

Develop skills:

  • Rediscover natural healthy play
  • “Plays Well With Others”
  • Storytelling skills / writing / directing, from a group mind overview.
  • Equality with others in the story, even those with different “status.”
  • The ability to suspend your inhibitions.
  • Tune in to the group mind
  • Spirituality of group mind:
  • Connect with a process greater than one’s individual personality.
  • Experience yourself and your played relationships “from above.”

I am interested in your comments about this proposed group so please post them below or on Facebook, thanks.







Dark or Light? What Kind of World do we Live In?
June 7, 2016, 10:58 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

This morning I began reading a new essay about Melville. Why am I reading essays about Melville? Traci (my wife) and I have been reading Moby Dick to each other in the evenings. We had such a good experience last year reading Great Expectations to each other that we immediately started another classic. We are also reading Anglela’s Ashes aloud, with me imitating how Frank McCourt read it in his brilliant reading of the audiobook. As an interlude Traci read to me Ron Koertge’s Coaltown Jesus, day before yesterday. We are both writers and we find reading aloud more enlightening and entertaining than watching the tube. Our TV has a dust covering over it.


After we started reading Moby-Dick, I sensed the author was trying to teach us something about religion. I wanted to find out what critics said about this so I went to Pima Community College and found Cricical Insights – Herman Melville by Salem Press.

[A tangent: The book had never been opened. In fact most of the books I get from the Pima CC library have never been opened. I am overjoyed to find 400-level books in this library system, even though the classes only go to 200 level. I am glad they allow me to borrow books even though I am not a student there. I wonder if all community colleges have this caliber of library?]

I loved the first essay on Melville’s America by John David Miles. I may write about that essay later. What a great overview of 19th Century America, from a literary perspective!

But what really jolted me to begin writing this morning was the third essay, Melville and the Transcendentalists by Clark Davis. Wow!

Why does this topic grab me so tightly–Dark Romantics vs Light Transcendentalists?

  • it mentions Poe as being in the same camp as Melville. I love Poe!
  • It deals with the question of, Is this a Benevolent World, a Murphy’s Law World, or Random?
  • I have struggled with the dark view of life..
  • My wife says I tend to be suspicious and doubtful..

For most of my life I have struggled with a Murphy’s Law view of the world, that anything that can go wrong, will. It is interesting I’ve never believed this law would apply to others, just me, as if I am cursed, as if a cloud constantly follows over my head, making my world dark, but not the Whole World, not for Others.

Now that I am beginning to embrace light, I find it is wise for me not to wholeheartedly leap into a Pollyanna optimism where everything happens for the best. I think that view would lead me to relapse. I want to really understand life, Nature, at least in relation to whether The World wants my life to be a happy one or a sad one, or neither if The World is not even a Being. Doesn’t this seem like an important thing to know?

We Learn about Life, the Universe and Everything from Literature

I think Douglas Adams also struggled with this question. What is the meaning of life? At first he asked the question ironically as if everyone knew this was a random universe. Or was it a negative universe, with a morbid sense of humor, dooming humans to gloom? But as he went along in his novels, especially after hearing the criticisms of the pessimism in his last hitchhiker book, more and more he showed he really began to hope he could “solve” the question through his novels. Switching to Dirk Gently gave him an avenue to explore this. Before he died he was hoping to write a final novel that tied the Dirk Gently universe to the Hitchhiker universe and resolve all the loose ends. But this added pressure was too much for him and I think he just sort of exploded, unable to contain all those pressures.

It’s funny that we should rely on literature to teach us these things, isn’t it? You’d think it would be religion, science, or even anthropology, sociology or psychology, wouldn’t you? But to me it seems none of those sciences or theologies has even caught up with the 19th Century conflict between Transcendentalism vs. Dark Romanticism. It appears to me that storytelling is the leader in teaching us how this universe works. How ironic that you would tell fictitious stories in order to teach about nature.

There is a good reason that fiction writers might be the best option for enlightening understanding of Man’s Relationship with Nature. Good writers step aside from their premeditated biases, and allow the story to tell itself. Good writers develop interesting characters and then step aside, to let them speak for themselves. Nature is actually allowed to step in and tell the story. The muse is actually invited to move the pen. The writer is simply supplies the arms and fingers to type with, as the writer’s brain has humbly offered his body in the service of a higher Being.

The other sciences, theology and philosophy have no such method (unless you include Inspired Prophets, but in time it’s the uninspired Theologians who wreck even that). This is why, in my view, literature leads, when it comes to understanding Nature’s Relationship to Man.

Melville’s Doubt of Transcendentalist Optimism

Melville wrote in a letter, paraphrasing the Pollyanna-Optimistic philosophy of Goethe:

That is to say, your separate identity is but a wretched one,–good; but get out of yourself, spread and expand yourself, and bring to yourself the tinglings of life that are felt in the flowers and the wood, that are felt in the planets Saturn and Venus, and the Fixed Stars.

Melville’s letter immediately rejects this view of life:

What nonsense! Here is a fellow with a raging toothache. “My dear boy,” Goethe says to him, “you are sorely afflicted with that tooth; but you must live in the all, and then you will be happy!”

A person with a toothache, Melville feels certain, will gain no relief from communing with Nature. I am not so certain he is correct about this but let’s let him have it for the moment.

Another example of Melville’s Doubt is how Melville treats The Sea in Moby-Dick. The main character is standing on the ship deck on a lovely day, watching for whales, and feels a sense of oneness with the all, as many have felt looking at the sea. (I just read a science report in “The Week” that says having a view of the sea reduces stress.) At first the oneness-with-sea scene looks like transcendentalist writing. But shortly after, Melville shows how voracious the sharks are, so greedy they begin to bite each other. Melville seems to agree with the transcendentalists up to a point. Nature can be a source of wonderful commune, but it can also be a source of terrible horror, suffering and death. It appears as if he is saying, you can never know which way Nature will be toward you at any moment, so best be on your guard. Can you never know? This is an important question to me. Is it to you?


the “Dark Romantics,” Melville, Hawthorne and Poe, are “dark” because they are skeptical of the “light-infused” thinking of Emerson, Thoreau, and Whitman. Poe and Melville do not disagree with the transcendentalists, but only disagree that nature is only pure, innocent and loving. The Darks doubt that Nature can be trusted, because you never know what hand it will deal you.

Is Nature is fickle and random? Must we be on guard against Nature that will eat us up in a second?

I personally need to know the answer to this question, to make my life have some meaning, to feel I have some influence in my own life. I don’t want to live at the mercy of random suffering, even if I randomly get happiness too. I want some understanding, even weak understanding, of a process I can trust.

Poe’s life and Melville’s did not show them success as writers. The New York publishers were rude and excluded both. Life seemed to demonstrate to them the dark pessimism, or doubt of Life’s intentions for Man, they became known for as writers. Still their pioneering paved the way for more great American writers to prosper, like Twain. It is sad that Poe and Melville did not receive the acclaim that we now see they deserved. But this is the way with pioneers. It takes time (and other factors) for the many to see the value of the innovations. Unfortunately they could not know they were paving the way for other great writers. They saw only the results from their single lifetime and from that position, life looked as if it offered no support for what they were doing. Their existences appeared to them to be proofs of Murphy’s Law—anything that can go wrong (to you) will go wrong (upon you).

How benevolent is Nature? Must we be on guard, or should we be more trusting of Nature?

Several transcendentalist notions, I think, are true. In the 1980’s a psychotherapist pen-named A. H. Almaas confirmed these points in his book, Essence:

  • Nature will demonstrate the glorious connection, “all in all,” communing with each creature as one large organism whose mind is far superior in understanding and fulfillment than any individual could be.
  • Babies do arrive already perceiving this merged state, though they do not yet perceive “normal” things.
  • it is through punishment and reward that children are trained out of this merged state, into a state of self-importance, “every man an island,” over ten or more years.

I believe the dark romantics are also correct:

  • Nature does not always reflect to man the “pure community of all in all,” but as often reflects to him competition, suffering and death, “red in tooth and claw.”

What neither group (Transcendentalists / Dark Romanticists) showed us in their literature was:

  • The way Nature interacts with Man is Lawful (Spinoza)
  • One of the “laws” must deal with how nature “reflects” experiences to man, and the law must state that the reflected experience has some dependence on what the man is bringing to the “mirror” at that moment.
  • For example, a person who has adopted a “dark romantic” view of life, seeing bright nature as fickle or random, will see dark random suffering and random communal bliss, in the mirror. A person who has an ideology of Murphyism will see that life is against me.
  • This is not the only law of nature, there must be dozens more (or is it even a finite number?)

That is not to say, a person who has adopted a bright, transcendentalist view of life, will always have positive things reflected to him or her. Bad things happen to optimistic people. Is this because Nature is random? Not necessarily. It could be because often optimism is only a smiling mask, covering deeper doubt. Nature is not fooled by the mask but resonates with all the levels and layers of the human being. Nature provides experiences that reflect layers of ourselves that we do not consciously perceive. This is often puzzling and appears random, or worse, malevolent. When bad things happen to optimistic people, this can quickly convert an optimist into a pessimist.

I think the truth is neither Transcendentalist Optimism and Dark Romantic Pessimism. I agree with Spinoza that Nature behaves according to Nature’s Laws. We simply don’t yet understand the laws of nature, when it comes to sublime experiences of all-in-all, and horrible experiences of red-in-tooth-and-claw. Our culture currently thinks what we’re given in life is random (if we are scientific) or life’s events are punishments and rewards (if we are theistic or believe in karma).

Why don’t we perceive these laws of nature?

We simply don’t perceive ANY laws of nature, at least not in the normal way of perception. The laws of motion were only codified a few hundred years ago, even though humans have perceived falling bodies for millions of years. This shows that laws of nature are not apprehended by the five senses, but by a different capacity. For two million years before Newton, humans had seen, felt, and heard the motion of objects, but had not apprehended the laws of conservation of motion. The apprehending of laws requires many steps beyond the five senses:

  • First, a willingness to seek the laws!
  • Looking in the right places for the laws.
  • Looking with the correct perspective. Or with any perspective that does not automatically slant our objectivity (like bias or wishful thinking).
  • Sharing with other observers.
  • Really listening to their different perspectives of our findings.
  • Willingness to be wrong.
  • Correlating many perspectives, etc.

When it comes to the laws of nature that govern whether Life treats us Generously, Stingily or randomly, this science has not even really begun yet. Who is studying this? Are they beginning with open minds or do they seek only what they already believe? Socrates asked the right questions, Epictetus proposed a few axioms, Spinoza more, but these approaches are still far from mainstream. We simply do not yet have a science of human depths. Maybe we are too close to it. Maybe it won’t be until we meet people from other planets, who study us, that we will gain the objectivity to really look at this.

In fact, we are currently trying to bypass this science by studying brain synapses, mapping the brain by slicing it ever thinner and stacking the images, as if this would tell us all we need to know about the human being. Brain science is good science and I endorse it (except the billions pledged could be put to better use), but it won’t help us with our current question.

Here is an example of how one’s perception of the laws of nature is bent: You can perceive a denial your friend is doing. She can perceive a denial you are doing. But no person can perceive his own denial directly, at least not using normal perception. Spinoza mentions a “type three” perception that might do the trick. but even Spinoza struggled with jealousy over a woman he loved who went with another man. My guess is that no human is beyond the blinders caused by one’s denials, avoidances and ideologies, or at least not continuously. Even Jesus had his moments of outrage, kicking over tables, yelling and namecalling. I believe we simply don’t have anything like a science of the human depths. Yet.

I believe there are laws of nature that describe what is happening in the conflict between transcendentalism and dark romanticism. We just have not yet codified these laws. Our culture is not even interested in codifying these laws, or acknowledging that our interactions with nature, whether we experience life as positive or negative, follow laws of nature. Is this a positive world or a negative world? There is no common knowledge on this point. Even religion is divided on this, with some doctrines saying nature(including human nature) is inherently evil, some saying nature is inherently good. Current science might say: neither, the world is random and this explains why some outcomes are positive and some are negative. Nature doesn’t care. Nature doesn’t have any capacity to care. Nature is not a being. We are isolated beings within a non-alive nature.

Oops, I made a mistake. I said our culture is not interested in these questions. On further thought, I think our culture is very interested in these questions. Its interest is to steer us away from these questions. Our culture is to our society like our subconscious is to our self. We told it a long time ago to deny, evade, avoid and hide certain uncomfortable truths, and since that time it has been doing a very good job keeping up those original instructions. We can recover the things we have hidden, personally and as a society, when we show our subconscious and our culture that it is really in our benefit to have more knowledge. At first we have to be tested to see if this is true and after passing a handful of tests, the subconscious, and the culture, will be totally supportive of insights, enlightenments and understanding the laws of how life works. But currently, there is a lot of resistance to understanding these laws.

Conclusion or.. Invitation

Transcendentalism says nature is inherently good. Dark romanticism questions this by asking, if nature is inherently good, why do we so often experience horrible suffering and death at the hands of nature? There is an answer to this question, it’s just that our society’s literature has not shown it to us. Yet. Or has it?

Keep reading!