Accepting the Unexpected

Did you ever start a project with one goal, and fail at that intention only to see the work bear unexpected fruit of another sort?

As I write this, my location is a hotel room near Washington, DC. The purpose of this trip is my attendance at the second of three medical acupuncture training seminars. In a roundabout way, the obscure blog (

Borrowing Joy

If something good happens, but it happens to someone else, is it still good? Of course! No one would argue out loud, but deep down we value our own happiness more than the happiness of others. This is natural, human, and not something to feel bad about.

At the same time, the temptation to prefer our own welfare over that of others needs to be resisted. It isn't hard to live vicariously through the success and joy of loved ones. Good parents automatically promote their children's progress at their own expense. It gets a little more challenging in the case of siblings (read: sibling rivalry), and can seem nearly impossible with strangers. How many of us would significantly deny ourselves in order to help a stranger?

Childhood of Dreams. If You Build It…

You grew up with the happiest childhood imaginable. You did! You really did! Or at least you might have. And you know the bumper sticker that says, "It's never too late to have a happy childhood"? I've learned it speaks the truth, though not in the way I always thought.

A few months ago I devised for myself a new and helpful meditation. It probably isn’t my creation, but if I heard of it before I’m not sure where. Meditation may be too strong a word; visualization or fantasy might fit better. The basic technique involves imagining a better childhood and family life than I actually experienced.

In Defense of Thoughtless Behavior

Long ago, before fate taught me the value of humility, I placed a lot of stock in my analytical intelligence. It started half way through a rebellious high school career, when I took to heart what people outside my immediate family had said about me since toddlerhood: I had a good mind.

Emerging from an upbringing that gave me little reason to have much self esteem, I grabbed onto the only compliment that had ever consistently come my way, and began applying myself. This rescued my grade point average, and soon I found myself in college, where sharp thinking was highly regarded. It became clear that I had strong problem-solving abilities, which might have been inherited from my physicist father. Or perhaps growing up in a dangerous and chaotic family had trained me to scrutinize and scheme. Either way, thinking eventually earned me a rewarding career, financial security, and feelings of power.

As I've mentioned

Save Time: Balance Your Checkbook During Sex

I can't quit worrying. I might forget what scares me.

Doesn't the mind feel that way? We don't realize it, but our rational, thinking minds feel extremely fragile. All kinds of odd and hidden anxieties follow. What's to keep us from forgetting to be afraid? If we forget our problems, what will we think about? If we don't think, will we cease to exist?  "I think, therefore I am" might become, "I don't think, therefore I am nothing."

It sounds a bit silly, but our egos embrace such fear. What amounts to faulty reasoning becomes a deeply buried motivating principle. Egos won't quit thinking, because they fear weakening their own defenses, opening the gates to the marauding armies of biology, passion, and fate. Hence the difficulty we all find in meditating. How many times, in a given attempt at meditation, does the mind wander into idle thought? And when we're not actively coaxing the mind toward stillness, thinking often runs completely unchecked. All kinds of mental phantoms haunt us because of unexamined and unrestrained thinking.

Does Life Always Suck?

Never listen to your mind on a bad day. The following post sounds acceptable now (I think), but in its early drafts you'd have seen my inner pessimist in all its complaining glory. I was not feeling well: the body achy and fatigued, the...

Breathing. What's the Point?

When you think about it, breathing is a lot of trouble. In and out. In and out. Over and over it's the same thing, all day and all night. But breathing is good for you. In particular, with a full, deep breath the body feels more grounded, the heart lighter, the mind quieter.

It's so easy to forget. Many years ago, before my neck failed and my career imploded, I commuted from San Francisco to work as a surgeon in a town thirty minutes north. The commute was most picturesque, as it took me along the bluffs above the Pacific, across the Golden Gate Bridge, and through the rolling countryside of Marin County. The morning trips lifted my spirits, but after full days spent treating patients I often unconsciously held my breath during the return drives. Motoring along contemplating my life, I would  'wake up' to find my shoulders hunched, my muscles rigid, my jaw clenched, my lungs half-full and not moving. It was as if my repetitive and stressed-out thoughts were so interesting that I couldn't be bothered with breathing. When I caught myself in the throes of such tension, I would deliberately take a few deep breaths and attempt to relax. But a few minutes later my body would lock up again.

Extreme Hazards

Several months ago I quit my final psychiatric medication after a long, slow reduction in my regimen. In the bad old days with the psychiatrist who treated my moods between 2000 and 2006, I was over-medicated. At several points I was taking six different medications...

Get Started

Guideposts to Happiness will, I hope, provide useful suggestions for dealing with life. My intent is to offer guidance to those who struggle with mood fluctuations, depression, anxiety, and other forms of emotional distress. Yes, I went to medical school and so received very basic training in psychiatry. And yes, I've supplemented that education with considerable reading of both popular and technical texts about mental health, neuroscience, and spiritual growth. Even more relevant to this project, however, is my surmounting of emotional difficulties in the course of my own life.