Archive for the ‘Psychology’ Category

Roller coasters are definitely not my favorite. I remember when a group of friends visited Disneyland and every one wanted to ride Space Mountain. I had to act brave but held on to the handle so tightly and uttered a few non-sensible syllables to calm myself down. I often tried to look for smaller ones in order to increase my courage. Perhaps it was helpful but certainly a not cured. What a metaphor for life when internally one swings in the extremes in between…joy and sorrow, hope and disappointment, high and low, smiles and tears, fun and pain…and the ride keeps going. Perhaps one way to deal with this roller coaster is to stop and a get out of it so that you can remove yourself and watch the ride. The other way is perhap to just enjoy the ride…taking them all in…the high and the low, the fear and the thrill, and believe that in the end, the very end end of all…one will always come out all right.

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We create meaning through story telling. We tell stories by weaving events into a pattern that conveys a sense of who we are in the configuration of the “happenings” in our lives. Perhaps at the core of each story lies a desire for validation through plots and circumstances of life, or  of being thrown into life itself. However, how is story to be told in the face of trauma. Where is the place of validation of value in traumatic events especially when the trauma takes on a very personal nature. The life of Pi takes trauma to a different level, the level where transcendence is required to be able to even tell stories. And there he was in a small boat after the sinking of a commercial ship with a tiger, a hyena, an orangutan, and a zebra survived to see the hyena killed the zebra and the orangutan. And most importantly, hyena being killed by Richard Parker, the Bengal Tiger. And the rest of the story was just him and the tiger on the boat trying to survive, trying to tame the tiger, trying to negotiate with the tiger, trying to live with the tiger, trying to survive with the tiger on the same boat. How does one tell validating stories in witnessing events of violence? When the evil cook (hyena) murdered his mother (orangutan) and a sailor (zebra) and in anger and through survival mode he killed the cook. He, Pi, was Richard Parker. It is one thing to witness violence. It is another when violence emerges from within oneself. So Pi told stories of how he came to term with Richard Parker and how, finally upon landing on the shore, Richard Parker just disappeared into the forest. When trauma is too damaging, one has to turn to metaphor to convey meaning because facing raw reality of one’s internal violence, especially for a boy, is just too destructive. The story of Pi is the story that helps to sustain a person in the face of deep trauma. It is metaphoric process of meaning making. It is externalizing internal violence into a fantasy that is manageable for the soul.

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We each have many selves as we live through our lives. There are often random and contextual. We feel a certain way in a certain situation or with certain people. And then our feeling and self-perception change with social contexts and life situation. And often this is how we move along in life. And then there’s alchemy. My son was reading the book The Alchemist and the story was about a man who went in search for a hidden treasure and after all those long journeys through trials and tribulations he finally returned home only to discover that the treasure has all along been hidden right where he belongs. I suspect one’s life journey is this path toward the Self, our very core authentic self. And we all go in search for this and probably find some fragments of ourselves here and there. Perhaps until we are able to find the core narrative of who we are, it is going to be difficult to pull ourselves together. Without the main narrative, we will often be drawn into how others tell our stories. And we will be drifted along with all these different narratives, the stories that are being told about us.  Perhaps life is about the process of discovering this main personal narrative, this story that I am telling about myself and in this story we slowly have to negotiate with how others tell our stories.  It is the challenge of retrieving our sense of self from these other narratives, pulling the fragmented selves slowly together. Pulling them from various sources.  And we will keep discovering these fragments in various situations of our lives. The calling of the alchemical process is to take these other stories we have been told about who we are, and claiming them within the context of our core narrative. The path is the return of the fragmented.

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I love this song. But then I love most CCR’s songs any way. I remember saying I feel spiritual listening to CCR’s and many of my students concur. What is it about this song? There are many interpretations out there but for me it is going into the very depth of every day reality…the paradox of life, the constant need to keep things in tension in life. “There’s a calm before the storm.” Linear thinking would expect the calm to remain and definitely no storms.  “Have you ever seen the rain coming down on a sunny day.” Sunny day is bright. It is just sunny. It feels nice. But then it rains when you expects a beautiful day. Have you ever stumbled upon pain when things are supposed to be bright and sunny? When everything is just looking great, suddenly you could feel the tear drops running down your face. “Where the sun is cold and the rain is hot.” And when you expect something warm, it turns out to be cold. And when you want things to cool down, the temperature rises. Such is life. Such is the reality of life. There is the ‘calm’ and there’s the ‘storm, there is a sunny day and then it rains, there are days when the sun gives you chill and the cold makes you sweat. Have you ever seen the rain coming down on a sunny day? I suppose in our mature years, we have all seen this phenomena and the person who is able to find rhythm in this song, finds what it means to live in the midst of life. I think this is what my students meant when to them this song generates a sense of spirituality.

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So I was sitting with two of my friends by Chao Praya River drinking soda and eating red beans in coconut milk with tapioca and coconut.  One was a psychiatrist and the other, a clinical psychologist. And we were discussing lofty deep psychological perspectives reflecting on the importance of being in tune with oneself, feeling connected, acknowledging the subjective aspect, deviating from linear logic that is not able to accommodate the totality of the self. And in the midst of this deep conversation I said, “That’s why I like Christina Aguilera and her song, ‘Voice Within.” They did not quite know how to respond to my remark initially but finally came to acknowledge the importance of Christina Aguilera in affirming the need to embrace the primal self.

The primal is us and we can never get rid of it. It is who we are and the linear logic is not able to accommodate the primal self because it is raw and fragmented. It is non-systematic and random. It just is and to dismiss is suicidal of the soul. It does not mean that we have to follow its lead at every turn. The primal needs to be regulated and contained. But it is so essential to acknowledge its place within our lives. It is the source of passion, the drive for life, the construction of life’s meaning. When we feel alienated, it invites us through return to its source and be reconnected with the depth of who we are. Linear reasoning delineates while grace embraces. Some where within our theological reflection it is important for us to remember that there is always a place for the primal self. It can be regulated but not denied. And it is ok.

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A destiny is a circular path that leads back to the primal self. The only difference

after the long arduousand painful years is the primal that is self-aware,

the primal that no longer maintains its naiveté. A number of years

ago a friend with whom we collaborated in preparing for our dissertations told me

her life story. She grew up in a religious home and was sexually abused by her

pastor. The trauma was damaging in so many different levels. Beside the

psychological trauma, it threw her into the state of chaos at the transcendental

level. After many long years of therapy she started to regain her sense of self.

A ritual she performed on a regular basis was to break a mug and

then slowly pieced them together. The symbolismof her ritual is profound in

so many different levels.

We grow up in a society where our primal self has to be

fragmented because pieces of us do not fit into various norms and slowly as we

try to find worth and value within the society we are raised in, our community,

we slowly give away pieces of ourselves. Until one day we become a functional

success at the expense of our very soul. However the soul is a force to be reckon

with. It has its own mechanism and when it is broken, it will find ways to regenerate

itself. Our task is to listen. The return to the primalhas lost its naiveté. We find

ourselves only this time we know enough what to withhold, what to share,

what to express,what to restrain and at interval time,

we reach deep into the depth of our soul for nourishment and sustenance.

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Over the past few years of oversea traveling I have come to observe a dimension of depression that manifests itself philosophically and through a certain perspective. This understanding is certainly not new but it is astonishing to notice its prevalence in non-clinical contexts. The domineering pessimism in ways individuals assess their lives and future projection, the level of negative emotion, the darkness of the world one lives in.  See glass half empty seems a greater indication of the presence of depression than we may wish to acknowledge.  In younger generation is can also manifest itself through anger. Anger with life, with the way things are going in life, with one’s own inability to move forward. I some time wonder what is the extend to which our society has perpetuated pessimism (and hence depression) through our idealization of what the world and life ought to be. How mass media has created a world of fantasy that reality is unable to come even close. And with increasing media comes a new world that we ought to follow but its reality is illusive and the gap gets bigger and the world seems darker even through flashing billboards and TV advertisements. The flashing lights of the world guided by the most advanced technology generate not brightness but perpetuate and evoke darkness in its midst.

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