Archive for June, 2007


Just came from class (spirituality and mental health) where we read selected chapters from Foucault’s Mental Illness and Psychology. I found the discussion to be very meaningful for my own personal growth and reflection, listening to various thoughtful perspectives. At the end of the conversation we reflected on a quote by Foucault “Psychology can never tell the truth about madness because it is madness that holds the truth of psychology.” Such a profound statement that I’m not quite sure what to make of it (if you have insights on this, please share your thought). In the following chapter he states, “The contemporary world makes schizophrenia possible, not because its events render it inhuman and abstract, but because our culture reads the world in such a way that man himself cannot recognize himself him in it.” I came away thinking that perhaps we live in a society that decides to draw a line in order to separate the normal from the abnormal (based on a certain given criteria at the time within the sociological and historical context). For us who have been exposed to many cultural beliefs and practices, we know that the line can be drawn in so many different ways and that each time a line is drawn, people are excluded. A line can inflict great pain. A line is a very powerful tool. My reading of Foucault is that we decide to draw this line and then we invest our energy and analytic skill at studying this very line that we drew. We drew the line and we study the line that we drew. Perhaps this is why “psychology does not hold the truth about madness.” Just a thought.

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I was in a room with a number of people and there was a brown poisonous snake. And I was the designated person to remove the snake. When I tried, the snake wrapped itself around my hand and he bit me on my palm. I tried really hard to shake it off. I was somewhat frighten but not panicking. When I managed to remove the snake, I saw two punctured holes on my palm and I was bleeding. My initial response was to do nothing. A little while later I started feeling as if I was not going to make it and so I walked toward a friend and asked for help. Two doctors came in. One gave me a shot in my arm. I felt my heart beating really fast. The doctor explained that it was normal. Then I started feeling like I was going to faint. I also wanted to throw up. After throwing up, I slowly regained my strength. And I knew I would survive. There was a strange feeling of compassion and gratitude. I experienced a very positive emotion and went to both the physicians with a smile and gave them each a hug, There was a sense of transformation taking place.

Here is the interepretation of the snake symbol in dreams I found on the internet:

Snakes as Symbols of Initiation

In many dreams a single snake will come to bite you, and you may in fact be bitten after a brief struggle. To your amazement though, you will not die, and may find that the situation is not as bad as you thought. This type of dream can come when you have been fighting for your life with some problem, relationship or challenge. Such a snake-ordeal is an important signal that you are going through a kind of initiation; a psychological and spiritual trial that has the potential to change your life for the better if you deal with it bravely and with a clear heart. You may have to give up something you thought you couldn’t, or take a stand for your principles or faith. This type of dream is responsible for the widely held belief that “snakes represent transformation.” In my opinion, these dreams state the potential for growth and transformation inherent within a current difficulty. But to harvest this promise, you must walk through your fears and be willing to let go of the old in order to gain the rewards of the future.


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What if most of what we have been told about life, what we have worked so hard for, isn’t true?That people who do well in schools are smart. That smart people become successful. That successful people are happy. That happy people are those who are respected by the society. That to step beyond the societal boundary is to be in aberration. And so we live our lives accordingly believing this to be the formula for satisfying, gratifying, and fulfilled life.But what if this isn’t true? What if life has a life of its own? And the path is non-linear. Intelligence does not always mean success. Happiness cannot be determined mechanically. Society is not qualified to define aberration. And the mystical power of heaven remains very much a part of life. Where do we go from here?

I heard people say “I go to work and I am not successful enough. I go to school and I am not smart enough. I play and I am not fast enough. Then I come home and wonder why my kids are not like my neighbor’s kids who top their classes, play violin, sing in the choirs, join honor programs, invest in stock markets, and compete at national sport stadiums.” It seems as if there is always something more that we ought to do. Where we are in life just isn’t good enough. We keep hearing voices speaking to us “you are not good enough. Be more productive, more successful, more cheerful, more charming.” The word ‘more’ is exhausting and yet very tempting. It judges, evaluates, and assesses. It is seductive, persuasive and convincing.

From a young age I learned that life was always about getting there. There is always something there. If you really want to find what you want in life you have to get to a certain place in life. No matter what you do, do not just stay here. Do not remain here. Do not wait here. You have to go on, move on. Keep fighting till you get there because here just isn’t good enough.

We are haunted by a sense that what we have, who we are, is not sufficient. This sense intensifies our striving for more hoping that when we get there, everything will be just all right. But when we get ‘there’ it does not feel like we are really there. The journey continues because ‘there’ will always be there. It is not here where we currently are. It is not now but ‘then’ and ‘there.’ Always ‘there.’ The experience of pain intensifies as life moves from one category to another multiplying standards and norms. “There” is always there. Yet somewhere in the midst of this busyness of our striving, the spiritual self begs us to pause, to rest, and to step back. Somewhere deep inside a voice invites us to ponder the transforming power of silence. The spiritual dimension, the divine play that transcends human categorical understanding of life, moves in the opposite direction. In the urge for more, it asks for less. In the strife for height, it asks for depth. In the search for something, it asks for nothing. Here resides salvation promised by wisdom from religious traditions from generation to generation.

Life needs to come to the realization that the best of life is not a fight for more but that movement toward nothing, toward silence.It is not a struggle to get there but the courage to remain here. J. Krishnamurti writes, “In the light of silence, all problems are dissolved. Speaking of life’s problems, he argues,

“Does it not come about when there is this constant urge to be something, that desire for a result, the desire for self-improvement, the desire to achieve a certain noble action? As long as one is competitive, ambitious, there must be disturbance, there must be conflict. Without beginning near, we want to go far, but we can go far only when we begin very near. And beginning near is freedom from ambition, from wanting to be something, from the desire to be successful, to be recognized, to be famous.”

J. Krishnamurti, In the Light of Silence, All Problems are Dissolved: Excerpts from J. Krishnamurti’s Talks and Writings (Chennai, India: Krishnamurti Foundation India, 1992), 3.

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A couple of days ago I was sitting next to a retired professor from Emory University during breakfast (I was attending a conference in Puerto Rico, what a beautiful place, especially for a conference). I asked what he is doing now that he is retired (since I’ve known him to be such a productive scholar). He mentioned that one of the things he is engaging is relearning how to play classical music and proceed to explain how music can actually alter the way we think. Being very interested in the role of music and rhythm in relation to healing, I asked for his opinion on the therapeutic role of music. The reason this has taken on a very important role for me has to do with my research on depression and spirituality. While interviewing many individuals with chronic depression, many indicated that music played a very important role in helping them cope with depression. Having heard this a number of times, I became very curious regarding the mechanism of music in relation to healing and therapy. What role does rhythm play? So I posted this question to the retired professor. His answer is most helpful. In his opinion, music is about emotion. Music is able to express the type of emotions that words are not capable of. I came away thinking that perhaps when one listens to music, in a way, one is able to find an expression to what goes on deep within one’s soul. And through the process of identification, this becomes a form of self-expression that articulates deep feelings that transcend words.

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According to the economist David Korten, in the past fifty years the economic growth has increased fivefold, international trade twelve times, and foreign direct investment two to three times.  He went on to state, “The world has more poor people today than ever before.”  Reporting on the UN report on development Pamela Brubaker points out that “in 1960 the gap between the riches 20 percent and the poorest 20 percent of the world population was 30 to 1.  By 1991 this had grown to 61 to 1, and by 1994 to 74 to 1.”  She went on to make a striking comparison regarding the way  we spend and the state of the world:

“In the United States, $ 8 billion a year is spent on cosmetics; only $ 6 billion more than is now spent would achieve basic education for the entire world.  Europeans spend $ 11 billion  on ice cream; only $ 9 billion more would provide water and sanitation for all.  Europeans and Americans spend $ 17 billion on pet food; an additional $ 13 billion would provide basic health and nutrition for all.  In other words, about $ 30 billion more than is now spent would provide basic education, water and sanitation, and  health and nutrition for all.  Compare this to the amount spent globally on advertising or military budgets.  Advertising costs over $ 430 billion.   Military spending topped $ 719 billion in 1999.” (Pamela Brubaker, “Globalization at What Price? Economic Change and Daily Life, Pilgrim Press, 2001).

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I have seen many villagers who used to have many buffalos, cows, and chickens living on five acres of land. They were once satisfied with life and were named successful. And then there were motorcycles, pickup trucks, mobile phones, and processed food in the market. Then they were told what they really needed in life in order to be happy. Things they needed to have. Processed food was better than their chickens and vegetable in their backyards. Their buffalos were not as good as the pickup trucks and their village ways of communication had to be replaced by cellular phones. And they became less satisfied. And they started to think of themselves as the outsiders. And they felt poor and oppressed. They were once again told that to move into the inner circle, to feel better about who they are, they needed to exchange buffalos for trucks, cows for motorcycles, and chickens plus cabbages for processed food. And they started to feel better about themselves owning trucks, riding motorcycles, speaking through cellular phones, and eating hamburgers. They thought life must be better even though they have sold their animals and lost their farms. From self-employed they have become employees. From owning farms, they are employed to work on their very own farms.

We were told that we live in a global village. And interdependency is a necessity. We have to learn to live with one another, depending on one another, selling and buying products from one another. I think interdependency is a great idea. However there is also that false dependency where mutuality is not the basis for ethical conducts. The more we depend, the less free we become. The less we depend on others for our sustenance, the more free we become. The more we need, the less we have. It seems to me the simpler we live, the more space we have.

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It was 1993 when I came to know, experientially, the meaning of depression…a major episode…the darkness, the sense of hopelessness, the emptiness, the grayness, the inability to sleep and those haunting dreams. It was most frightening and I had no clue how I could deal with or overcome it. I was living in Thailand at the time and did not even know that it has a name. The symptoms lasted for a year. I now realize that that experience has changed me and I am never the same. Changes occur and I have no control over it. Many studies confirm the fact that even with the best treatment, individuals suffering from depression still function at one standard deviation below norm (speaking of norms…that is a whole new conversation to engage in).

I like to believe that although 1993 was the year I experienced a major depression, the tendency was already there for me. And after 1993, it has not been any easier. And this brings me to the subject of God (not that God can be the subject of our study). I grew up in a Christian tradition that used to paint God from a patriarchal perspective. Black is black and white is white and there is nothing in-between. God is to be served and feared. Life is to be lived with the intentionality of avoiding sins in any shape and form. Religion is about expectations. Church is about conformity. Doctrines represent a boundary that determines our sense of safety. Beyond the 27th is a place that burns for eternity (I’m glad to learn that my tradition has gone through significant transformation in the past decade, but what I grew up with somehow has its own sustaining power).

Personally, depression and patriarchal theology produce toxic theology. I am only speaking for myself based on my experience and the experiences of many that I talked to. Depressed people are filled with automatic self-blame. They are experts at self-negation. Their souls produce multitude of expectations, standards, and all the shoulds and oughts. This self-negation creats within a strong feeling that one is never good enough. Never. And because one is never good enough, one remains on the outside. Translating this into a theology that speaks a patriarchal language, God is unreachable.

Speaking from my experience, the God who can heal is the God who exhibits that feminine qualities. I have to confess that enjoy the Da Vinci Code. Not because of its historical accuracy or inaccuracy. The one aspect that I found most intriguing is the emphasis on the humanity of God (the feminine quality of God). I have come to believe that if God was not incarnated, humanity would have to create its myth because the God who lacks human qualities is that God to whom we cannot relate. For humanity to survive, we would have to invent or die. My colleague, Christy Billock, and I often start our class with the statement, “we need a more sensuous spirituality.” By this we refer to embodied spirituality, the type of spirituality that is real and raw; that can be touched and felt and tasted. I believe this is moving into the realm of the feminine where we find the God who can sit with us in the deepest part of our raw emotion. The God who enables the depressed person to remain in God’s presence even when the person experiences strong emotions of anger, disappointment, discouragement, hopelessness, and pain. The God who refuses to go away. The God who keeps drawing a bigger circle to include when depressed people see themselves standing outside the circle. The God who deconstructs depressed people’s expectations, standards, and norms. The God who claims the power of grace to normalize those feelings and thoughts depressed individuals named aberration.

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In ‘Sickness Unto Death’ Kierkegaard writes:

“So to be sick unto death is, not to be able to die-yet not as though there were hope of life; no, the hopelessness in this case is that even the last hope, death, is not available. When death is the greatest danger, one hopes for life; but when one becomes acquainted with an even more dreadful danger, one hopes for death. So when the danger is so great that death has become one’s hope, despair is the disconsolateness of not being able to die. It is in this last sense that despair is the sickness unto death, this agonizing contradiction, this sickness in the self, everlastingly to die, to die and yet not to die, to die the death. For dying means that it is all over, but dying the death means to live to experience death.”

This theological statement seems to reflect his own personal struggle with his melancholy; it is a theological construct at interpreting one’s existential struggle. What is worth note taking is that perhaps it was not his anxiety alone that affected his theology but the reverse may also be true. Kierkegaard’s first Major Depressive Episode was caused by his theological interpretation of his father’s sin. In 1850, reflecting on his childhood years he wrote:

“The greatest danger is not that his father or tutor should be a free-thinker, not even his being a hypocrite. No, the danger lies in his being a pious, God-fearing man, and in the child being convinced thereof, but that he should nevertheless notice that deep in his soul there lies hidden an unrest which, consequently, not even the fear of God and piety could calm. The danger is that the child in that situation is almost provoked to draw a conclusion about God, that God is not infinite love.”

Commenting on his ‘earthquake experience’ Lowrie writes: “The sudden confirmation of his father’s guilt was the ‘frightful upheaval’ which imposed upon Søren a new infallible rule for interpreting all the ‘phenomena’ which had aroused his suspicion. “It is of no wonder that Kierkegaard sees himself as the ‘object of the fury of the angry gods’. His theology intensifies his interpretation of the events thus causing him great distress which led to his ‘astray’ experience and ultimately to his first Major Depressive Episode.

It is also interesting to note that the turning points in his life started with two theological concepts: the leap of faith which allows one to accept that God forgives and forgets and secondly his acceptance of life as it is. His experience of forgiveness through faith came in 1848 when he described “But belief in the forgiveness of sins means to believe that here in time the sin is forgotten by God, that it is really true that God forgets.” And in 1852 he wrote: “Then came 1848. I was lifted up to a height which I had never before known, and perfectly understood myself in what had gone before, and the past.” In 1852 Kierkegaard came to accept his God given destiny, his heteronomy. He was ‘to be different’, he was called to melancholy. Kierkegaard realized that it was through this given ‘heteronomy’ that he was to serve God. Although the thorn in his flesh never left, it did not bother him but empowered him for his service to God. On June 19, 1852 he wrote: “I feel peaceful and happy, perhaps more definitely so and with a more tranquil confidence than in 1848.”

From the perspective of integration, Kierkegaard’s existential struggled led him ultimately to accept his melancholia as his destiny, the place from which he could contribute to the society. Viewing his theology from an existential perspective (his personal struggle with melancholia and anxiety) helps bring about the awareness that while using theology as a tool to cope, he found peace in the theology that embraces non-being, the negatives in life. It would be reasonable to believe that Kierkegaard found peace when his theology permitted full acceptance of his own heterogeneity.

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According to Associated Press, 600 million children in Asia live in poverty and are deprived of one of the basic necessities such as food, safe drinking water, health care,  or shelter.  Approximately 300 million children below the age of 18 lack more then one of these basic needs.   Globalization and economic growth in Asia have not profited this population. 

I am of the opinion that when success is measured through economic growth that feeds public discourse, more and more children will go to bed hungry. 

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About 18 years ago my wife and I visited Phayathai Orphanage in Bangkok.  We came across two little girls (twins).  They were about three months old.  Noticing that we were observing these little girls with curiosity the caretaker told us that someone walked pass the phone booth across from the orphange and heard voices of infants crying.  When he turned he noticed that voices were coming from a luggage that was sitting in the phone booth.  

I often wonder about these girls…I wonder what it is like to live with the fact that they were left in a luggage in a phone booth, to not know who their parents were or why they did what they did?   

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