Success Is an Inside Job

One of the things I find delightful about writing is the way it helps me shape my views. In a recent email exchange with my friend, Larry Berkelhammer, PhD, I began by offering advice but ended up changing my opinion. Much of the text that follows is excerpted from that conversation. (Larry, by the way, has recently started a new blog on : In Your Own Hands. He has given me permission to share the...


Gonna make you, make you, make you notice…

Earlier this year I watched two swallows feeding their chicks. When mom or dad returned to the nest, the hatchlings jostled for attention, pushing each other aside, their bright yellow throats agape. Sometimes I think we humans are no different in our clamor for recognition.

In my writings I've sometimes advanced philosophical notions. To be honest, I hoped readers would be impressed (though there was never any evidence that they were). What I didn't understand was...


Unproductive, and Proud of It

As the days shorten, I've been working to keep my head above water. Although my spirits often feel liberated and expansive, the state of mind is unstable. My psyche is over-ballasted, and foundering comes easily.

It doesn’t help to live in such a grinding materialist culture, with its competitive measures of worth, in which every human quality is ledgered as asset or liability in the global economy.

As the beneficiary of disability income left over...


Doubt Is Healthier for the Mind than Faith

This post's title may sound like a call to skepticism, but it's not. In my experience, skepticism gets exercised when I critique someone else's beliefs, but seldom when I consider my own. Doubt, on the other hand, is indiscriminate; I'm as likely to doubt myself as anyone else. Although this can become excessive, to the right degree it's helpful to mental life.

I don't say doubt is healthier for the mind than faith because it's more...


An Atlas of Angst

Continuing the theme of societal expectations and my failure to satisfy them, I write today from a more detached perspective. At the moment, it doesn't seem to me like everything 'they' tell us is wrong, but I do believe society hands out a map for life that is supposed to lead us to contentment but instead points us toward angst.

We're told to work hard and prove ourselves better than others, so that feeling superior...


Could Everything ‘They’ Tell Us Be Wrong?

Why should I let others define what's important for my life? Do they know better? Or if they know better, does what they know apply to me?

More and more, I'm thinking not. I'm thinking that what society values is not what I value. I'm thinking that what our culture considers a successful life doesn't apply to my own trajectory, which I still believe--or want to believe--has been a valuable one.

Consider a child raised to feel...


The Problem Isn’t Neural, It’s Spiritual

"You're taking a lot of garbage." Those words, spoken to me by a psychiatrist newly evaluating my case, changed my life.

At the time I was on two antidepressants, two mood stabilizers, and an atypical antipsychotic. I had also been prescribed Oxycontin for the neck disease and chronic pain that had ended my surgical career. Between 2000 and 2006 I had deteriorated from fully functioning physician to obese, pre-diabetic, mentally dulled psychiatric patient and opiate addict.



The Religion of Mindfulness

More than once I've found that critiquing the mindfulness movement--even very gently--prompts some readers to voice objection. Few of my other topics spark disagreement so predictably.

The title of this post responds to a book about mindfulness written by vocal atheist Sam Harris: Spirituality without Religion. Harris and many others believe the practice will satisfy our desire for spiritual connection while avoiding religion's dogmatism, hypocrisy, and intolerance. Neither of these conclusions strikes me as justified. The...


Mindfulness Instruction: A Trigger for Flashbacks of Abuse?

Why can't mindfulness and I just get along? It's perverse: here's this healthy practice endorsed by scientists and mystics alike. Since I respect both, you'd think I'd find it easy to join the fad. But I balk. I find myself returning to a theme explored in an earlier essay on a different blog: Where Mindfulness Fails.

It isn't that I don't practice mindfulness--I work on it every single day, sometimes for hours. And it isn't...