self-knowledge

Do or Think?

The Introvert/Extrovert Dilemma

Stone sculpture of Socrates.A friend of mine once said that most people thought of him as an extrovert. He confided in me that he was faking it to compensate for his shy nature.

When I look back at my own psychological MO, I would also have to say that I played at being sociable throughout most of my adulthood. My more dominant side was drawn to ideas, the inner life, books, and—as a writer—observations.

Yet I chose a profession, teaching, where I had to be constantly on point—talking, explaining, analyzing, synthesizing, even negotiating. I was also very vocal at faculty senate meetings and even ended up being the teacher’s union president. So much for a shy, retiring, sensitive introvert I prided myself on being. Continue reading

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Mystery and the Sacredness of Life

Roman Catholicism and the Marian Miracles

I grew up in a 1950s Roman Catholic culture in which I was taught that a virgin gave birth to Christ. I was later told that, several centuries later, the same virgin, Mary, appeared to a select group of barely literate, impoverished Portuguese children at a place called Fatima. Secrets were to have been revealed to these children, the specifics of which, to the best of my recollection, neither my elementary school teachers, nor my pastor ever revealed.

The dogma of the virgin birth was complemented by the infallible ruling of a nineteenth century pope that Mary was taken to heaven, body and soul. This dogma is celebrated in the church as the feast of the Assumption.

The Catholic Church, an untiring supporter of these Marian miracles, added to the repository of these mysterious events by claiming that Mary was to have been conceived without sin (the Immaculate Conception) and that she was to have received a visit by an angel announcing to her that she would be the mother of Christ, the Messiah (the Annunciation). Continue reading

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Your Mind and Your Job Won’t Do It

This is the first in a series of blog posts in which I expand upon key concepts from my  e-book,  “A Recovery Journey:  The Beginnings”

Knowledge has always been important to me. I grew up believing that if I knew things, I wouldn’t be invisible, especially in a family where high drama and chronic volatility were more the rule than the exception.

Knowing things gave me the kind of security I could not depend on my family to supply. If I had intellectual competence, I knew, at the very least, that my worth would be valued, that I would not be another cog in the machine of my family’s dysfunctionalism.

Little did I realize that, over the years, I often used knowledge as a substitute for living. I came to believe that my identity was exclusively defined by my ability to acquire information, know historical time periods, pass a college test, get a good grade on a paper, give a convincing presentation in a speech class, shape a college lecture. Continue reading

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The Holy, Another Grand Illusion

“Abandon holiness,” says Lao Tsu. and “See with original purity.”

Although these lines are just fragments of Lao Tsu’s Tao Te Ching, they are typical of the ancient thinker’s radical take on reality.

Who, for example, would “abandon holiness”? After all, Western culture prides itself on Christian values, especially those values gleaned from the Old and New Testament, saintly teachings, and church pronouncements. And, for those who believe in an afterlife, heaven, the “holiest” of places, is the ultimate goal of those on a Christian journey of virtue and sinlessness.

Lao Tsu challenges us, however, to give up the pursuit of the holy, for it is a goal fraught with other people’s notion of what holiness is. It is also a journey that can be riddled with self-righteousness and arrogance. And it can be a path that will often distract us from paying attention to what is in front of us. Continue reading

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Generosity

An Interventionist Deity and the Inherited Powers of the Roman Catholic Church

In the first part of this two part series about where we learn our attitudes about good and bad, I discussed the “interventionist school” of Christianity, a narrative that teaches the followers of Christianity that all of our notions of good and evil are created or altered by an interventionist deity through grace, epiphanies, miracles, the handing down of the “ten commandments,” the incarnation of Christ, and a divinely inspired Biblical text.

The interventionist school of Christianity has been the guiding model of Western Christian morality for centuries. It is a model that relies heavily on a Church hierarchy and ancient texts (the Old and New Testament) as the icons of moral authority.

The Catholic Church goes even further in portraying itself as the inheritor  of powers to round out all of the intricacies of sin, morality, and faith-beliefs through a clerical hierarchy, which, according to the church’s narrative, is a direct descendant of St. Peter, the alleged first appointed leader of Christ’s followers.

Generosity, the Root of Optimum Behavior

There are many of us, however, who believe that morality can be gleaned from many sources other than a theistic or religious institutional model. Although most religions seem to adhere to some version of the do-unto-others golden rule, I believe that generosity is often at the root of all of our optimal behavior patterns. Continue reading

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Another School of Thought

“You know, John, there’s another school of thought.”

I always loved that phrase, “another school of thought.” It seems less hostile, less likely to deteriorate into a conflict-driven debate. Especially, if the sentence comes from a close friend. It is even more poignant when the discussion is about religion.

I grew up in a very Catholic environment. In fact, my entire education was in Catholic schools—elementary, high school, and college. Unlike some of my friends, the experience, in general, I found rewarding and nurturing. I truly admired the clergy-in-the-trenches who taught me what it meant to live in the world of “service.” It has made a marked difference in my life. Continue reading

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The Chronic Expert and Advice-Giver

“My ten year-old spends too much time on computer games.”

“Well, what you need to do is to ration his time. If he goes over the limit, you reduce the appropriate time on his next session. That’s what I do.”

Now, keep in mind, this might be the advice of your best friend, someone you have known for most of your adult life. You want to keep the friendship, but you know that your friend loves to give advice, to seep into the quagmires of your marital problems, to find just the right herb or vitamin for your rash, to come up with “just the recipe” for your Thanksgiving dinner. Continue reading

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Trust

I remember the day. It was fifteen years ago. I was standing outside my father’s apartment. We were engaged in a conversation about Mary, my stepmother, who had just been diagnosed with esophageal cancer.

My dad made a vain attempt at telling me that he wasn’t bothered by my stepmother’s inability to travel. I didn’t believe him. Continue reading

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