Relationships

It is hard to know the right thing to do. Within any decision there are competing forces that make appropriate decision making difficult. Generally, we want our decisions to be logical. But we also want decisions to be made by people who are closest to the issue, local knowledge is king. Unfortunately, the closer you are to an issue the less likely you are going to be able to view the issue through an objective lens. This is particularly true within a family or a relationship.

Generally, we think that parents know best what is for their kids, or people who are dating can most accurately measure the health of that relationship (as opposed to someone on the outside). In fact, we have strong cultural norms against providing advice to parents or dating couples unless explicitly asked, even if the relationship seems incredibly unhealthy or dangerous. When it comes to child rearing the response is particularly strong if you don’t have children but try to make recommendations to parents. It is often you will hear things like “You don’t have kids so you don’t understand”. While that may be true, it could also accurately be said “Because they are your kids you aren’t seeing the situation clearly”. Though, I would expect to be slapped or blocked on Facebook if I said that latter phrase.

The truth is, sometimes we our knowledge is “too local”. We are so close to the situation and our view blinded by love for a person that we can’t see that things aren’t healthy. We need people on the outside who can be more objective and give us straight answers. In short, we need therapists. A therapist is someone that you can share the details of your situation with but who is outside of it and can provide a more objective perspective. Sometimes a friend can act as a therapist, but often friends are also emotionally attached to you and the situation, and will provide guidance that is overly negative or positive. I think we’ve all had friends who dated someone who was terrible for them, but if we gave honest advice we would risk losing the friend. Because we are emotionally invested in the friendship it is impossible for our point of view to be objective or considered objective.

Unfortunately, many people cannot afford or are not willing to see therapists. I think everyone should see one occasionally, even if they aren’t in a relationship that could be destructive. It is really sad that people who can’t afford a therapist are unwilling to research the science on things like child-rearing or making relationships work before entering into a lifetime commitment. People (myself included) seem to intentionally go into things unprepared and hope that things will just work out.

It is simply false to believe that any of us will “naturally” know what to do to raise a child in the modern world or make a 50+ year relationship work.  It is just as dangerous to adopt cultural norms as your guiding force, just because our parents did something some way or you see other relationships operating in some way does not make those ways best. Evolution and most of our social norms developed in very different worlds than the one we live in now, and many of those lessons are no longer applicable. We only encourage unhealthy relationships if we refuse to seek objective viewpoints on our situation. None of us will naturally know what to do and cliches like “love is enough” are simply not true for healthy long-term relationships to thrive in 2016.

 

Sex and Work

Say I have a friend, let’s call her Crystal. Crystal just graduated from college and is currently trying to move to a new city to find work. She has a little savings but is on the look out for some part-time work to smooth out the transition. She posts the following on Facebook “Hey friends! I’m really excited about my move to Chicago, it has been a dream of mine to live in that city my whole life. Unfortunately, money is a little tight (housing is expensive!) and I need to find some part time work. Does anyone have any leads for online work or need help with anything? I’m not looking for a handout or donations, I will gladly work hard!”

Now, I don’t own a business or have any particular need to hire someone. I also don’t know of any online jobs available. But, I do find Crystal attractive and I’m willing to pay money for nude pictures of her. Unfortunately, if I were to send her an offer to pay her money for nude pictures (that I would promise to never share with anyone else) that would probably be frowned upon by society. The pleasure I would be deriving from this exchange would be sexual, and that is seen as an unacceptable exchange among friends. Using her body in that way is bad, but if I asked her to use her body to shingle my house or pour concrete at great risk to her physical health that would be okay.

It is strange that we have this stigma around sex work, particularly sex work among friends (even “Facebook friends” which may exist between people who have never met). I recognize that sharing nude pictures can be dangerous if you don’t trust the recipient to honor your discretion, but let’s ignore that for now because I am not an asshole). We all use parts of our body to directly and indirectly provide value to others, and some of that value involves pleasure. When a chef cooks a meal that I enjoy, I get pleasure from their labor. When I accomplish a task for my supervisor I free up leisure time for him so that he can get pleasure from other things. Why are these things not stigmatized? Why are we afraid of providing sexual pleasure for our friends… it is a nearly universal pursuit of adults and I don’t think it should be shunned the way it is.

It makes me wonder how my Facebook friends would respond if someone offered to pay them money for nude pictures. Would they be less willing to provide them if they found the person unattractive? Would the price go up? Is a certain level of mutual attraction necessary for the transaction to be seen as non-creepy? Do we apply this same level of compatibility to other business transactions (I’ve certainly worked with some assholes but have been able to separate that in my mind)?

This is purely hypothetical. To my knowledge I don’t have any friends who are looking for freelance online work, and even if I did I don’t think I would be comfortable confronting them with this offer. Which kind of sucks, social norms are preventing people from having more opportunities, but I’d be afraid that I’d be stigmatized if I made this offer to someone and they became offended. I bet a lot more people would be better off if sex work in all forms was legal and non-stigmatized.

Note: This could easily apply to couples who want to make some extra cash or to single men. I just used Crystal and she pronouns for writing simplicity and on the assumption that the most common situation would be straight-identifying men buying pictures of women (though, I could be wrong on that).

Childless Among Children

Well, I stepped in a big pile of online poop a few days ago. I posted a question online and it touched a few nerves. I shouldn’t be surprised, the subjects involved were two things that seem to create the post passionate responses: veganism and child rearing.

My inquiry was relatively simple, I was curious how I (as a childless person) should answer children when they ask why I am a vegan. How honest should I be? Do kids know that meat comes from live animals? Should I discuss how a plant-based diet is healthier? Should I talk about how I think it is wrong to kill animals for human pleasure? Basically, how do I handle questions from kids about my alternative lifestyles when I don’t want to piss off parents.

I received some good advice. Several parents gave examples of how they would like that situation handled and some language that would be appropriate for children. In general, I am probably overthinking much of this but I am fascinated by child-rearing (and terrified of pissing off parents who are my friends). Most parents even said they would have no problem with me explaining my beliefs, even though those beliefs contradicted their own.

There were some people who were more passionate though, some who did not like the idea of sharing ideas with their kids that ran counter to their own. How children are raised is a grey area in all societies, and one in which there doesn’t seem to be a perfect answer. Most people don’t see their children as property that can be treated as they see fit, parental rights don’t extend to abuse or neglect. But we also don’t like the idea of non-parents stepping in to tell parents how to raise their kids, and rightfully so. Parents, in theory anyway, have the best intentions for their children and have the most localized knowledge. That means they should be the ones in the best position to raise the children, but we don’t always agree on what counts as abuse or neglect.

Some would see permanently removing a part of an unwilling infant’s genitalia as part of an ancient religious ceremony as harming a child and violating that child’s autonomy, while others think male circumcision is fine. Others would say using religion to try and heal a child from a disease is appropriate, while others see that as neglect. Some see raising a child along a certain religious or ethical path as the parent’s rights, while others think that closing your children off to differing opinions is brainwashing and damages their ability to function in the adult world later on.

Parenting is hard, and it shouldn’t be entered into lightly. It might be one of the most important things a person can do with their life and, as such, I think people should be educated about the best practices to raising children. We also shouldn’t shame or stigmatize people who decide not to have children, instead we should use childless people as a resource to provide a more well-rounded education to children and provide support. I don’t want kids of my own, but I will gladly help my childbearing friends by living in a communal system with them, babysitting so that they can get a date in with their spouse and bump uglies for a night, have conversations with them that the parents are uncomfortable with, or take them on an adventure over the summer that will open their minds to new experiences.

I’m not sure that I am comfortable lying to children though, or even really sugar-coating things (though, I will be tactful and attempt to use appropriate language for their age). I guess this is a warning, if you have kids and don’t want certain subjects discussed please let me know ahead of time. If I’m not warned then I will openly answer questions about veganism (or atheism, anarchism, sexuality, non-traditional relationships, vagabond life, or anything else that comes up). I’ll honor the parental request about keeping silent on these issues, but to be honest, I won’t be comfortable with it, and I’ll probably ask about it later when the children aren’t around. On the flip side, if parents are uncomfortable talking about things with their children (I’m sure this is true for some subjects, particularly sexuality which should really be discussed in an appropriate form very early on) feel free to make me the eccentric uncle that they can turn to with their questions. I’m always open to explaining things to all ages and am available via email, text, etc.

Side note: The discussion on my Facebook wall made me realize that being vegan is kind of a privileged position in the United States. In order to go without eating animal products you either need extra money or extra time. Most parents, particularly parents of multiple kids, don’t have either. If your meals are primarily fast food because your weekly schedule doesn’t allow for any breaks too cook then it can be incredibly burdensome to have a child with ethical problems with meat consumption.Vegan fast food tends to be more expensive and cooking meals for a large family is very time consuming. I can sympathize with that.

Sometimes It Sucks

Not every day of an adventure is good. In fact, there are long stretches where the bad days outnumber the good. Your body, mind, and spirit crumble under the weight of it all and the thought of continuing on bring dread upon your heart.

Perhaps it starts with a sudden pain in your knee. The weeks and months of constant repetitive motion take their toll. Despite all the best intentions to stretch and take care of your body, you failed and you are too weak. You ignore the pain and hope it passes, foolishly believing that acknowledging it is to give it power and make it real. Maybe, just maybe, the mind can convince the body that everything is fine… that physical reality is a concept that can be created and destroyed by our thoughts. But it isn’t so, the body is weak and eventually succumbs to the abuse. Eventually all machines fail, including our body. Entropy wins.

Or maybe it starts with a brush with death. A noise gets your attention and you spin around just in time to see a car narrowly miss you. Your mind starts down an infinite rabbit hole of “what if” scenarios. That car could have hit you and paralyzed you. Is the adventure worth it? That sound in the night could be a rapist or murderer who destroys the person you love. Is the adventure worth it? The narrow bridge you cross finally collapses after decades of neglect and you plunge 100 feet into the icy river, ending your life as the water fills the lungs of your unconscious body. Is the adventure worth it?

Your soul starts to second-guess your motives, too much time alone with only your thoughts makes you reconsider your life course. Maybe everyone else is right, maybe it is a sign of immaturity, weakness, and cowardice that you don’t just live the life everyone has. Can millions of people be wrong? Maybe you didn’t grow up. Maybe you are that same 13-year old who wished each night that you would wake up with mutant powers like Cyclops or Jean Grey. Maybe you should have outgrown this childish desire to be unique, this feeling of being special, this drive to make your life matter in some grand way. Maybe everything you feel is just a delusion of grandeur. Maybe you are inspiring nobody and everyone is just laughing at you. Maybe you think you are traveling towards adventure but you are really running from responsibility. Maybe you are mentally sick. Maybe you should admit the truth and done the costume of the insane, whether that be a straight-jacket or a suit and tie.

You get tired sometimes. Tired of sleeping with one eye open in a strange place with a gun next to your pillow. Tired of your safety relying on the competence of strangers. Tired of not knowing where you will find water or food. Exhaustion takes hold and you just want to rest somewhere safe and have a dreamless sleep.

Is the adventure worth it?

Is it worth it to spend years of your life without a home? Traveling to see places that you won’t clearly remember? Meeting people that you will quickly forget? Is true freedom worth it when society has paved such a clear path to security?

Some days I don’t know. The truth is, sometimes the mountain isn’t worth climbing and sometimes the adventure was a waste of time. Sometimes, the bad days win and I would be better off in not adventuring.

Sometimes, the adventure sucks.

The Thrawn Trilogy

Today, I finished the Thrawn Trilogy by Timothy Zahn. Overall, I really enjoyed the books and feel like it was a great introduction to the Extended Universe/Legends. I like the Star Wars Universe, but I’m coming to realize that it isn’t really a sci-fi series, it is more like a religious fantasy series than anything. Instead of swords, magic, and dragons you have lightsabers, the Force, and aliens. The Force plays a dual role; it is both the source of magical powers for some people as well as an independent omnipotent(?) being that seems to guide the action.

It is the latter part of the Force that kind of bothers me. I’m not big on a god-like being interfering in the character’s lives. Within the trilogy there were several Deus Ex Machina moments that could all just be blamed on the Force. People were so often “coincidentally” (thanks to the Force) in the right place at the right time in a way to stop Thrawn’s plans that is started to bug me. I started to realize the good guys would win no matter what, even if they didn’t deserve to.

I think that is part of why I started to like Thrawn. He was certainly a bad person in a lot of ways, particularly the way he handled some of the incompetence in his ranks and the way he dealt with the Noghri people, but he was also an incredible tactician and not evil like Vader or the Emperor. Thrawn worked hard at studying his opponents and coming up with unique battle plans, he was an incredible leader who his soldiers trusted and he worked to minimize casualties. Without any Force powers of his own he was more of a character out of a Tom Clancy novel than fantasy.

Much of his hard work and intelligence was a waste because he wasn’t defeated by a superior tactician or someone who worked harder, he was mostly defeated because the Force wanted him to be. Sure, many of the final events were a result of his mistakes (the Noghri and handling The Mad Jedi), but the New Republic wouldn’t have had a chance without a long string of coincidences that the Force put into play. I guess I would have rather seen the groups that combine creativity, hard work, perseverance, and ingenuity have a chance of winning instead of knowing ahead of time that the “good guys” will be victorious by the end of the series.

I know it sounds like I am bitching about the series, but I actually really did enjoy it. Maybe I just need to get used to the Star Wars Universe, read more, or stop taking things so damn seriously. If you haven’t read this book you really should, it is enjoyable fiction and the audiobook version on Audible is phenomenal.

Sacred Cow

Is there any cow more sacred to Americans than voting? Few things spark such rage and distrust as questioning the ballot box. It doesn’t matter how reasoned your argument is you will be met with fury and scorn. Voting is something you don’t question. We are told that it is both a duty and effective, with no evidence to back that up.

“People died for your right to vote!”

So what? People died to keep slavery going. People died to create theocracies. People died to get a good selfie shot of themselves on a cliff.

The willingness to die for something tells us nothing about the quality of that thing. Whether something is universally good, or why a previously good thing is still relevant, is not defined by the amount of blood shed.
It is a distraction and an appeal to emotion. Show me how my single vote can reasonably effect change and I will vote, but don’t tell me to waste my time because of something outside of my control.

“If you don’t vote you have no right to complain?”

Why? Because I was given the opportunity to vote? So what? I am given the opportunity to do a lot of things that I abstain from, but if someone else does those things and it negatively effects me I have every right to complain. If I’m in Las Vegas watching two people play poker I have every right to complain if they take my money from me to bet. My opportunity to join in the gambling has no relevance. Really, the only people who can’t complain are those that voluntarily participated in the system.

“But if you don’t vote then Trump/Obama/Clinton/Bush/Supreme will win!”

Nope. They will win (or lose) regardless of my vote. There is no place in this country where my vote matters on a national election. It is simple math.

“But it’s your duty!”

To who? To my country? Nah, if I had any duty to my country (which I don’t) that was paid in full by four years in the military. Besides, voting is the least effective way to implement long term change in the world. If all you do is vote then you clearly don’t care about improving this country. Regardless, my only duty is to uphold my explicit commitments. I didn’t sign your fucking social contract.

“People all over the world wish they could vote!”

Irrelevant. People all over the world wish they could force religion with violence. People all over the world wish they had a sex robot that looks like Seven of Nine. The desires of anyone else is not an argument for the morality or efficacy of an action.

So, go vote (or don’t). But leave me out of it. Voting, like all sacred cows, should be ridiculed for what it is… a illogical practice that exists mostly as a way to justify tyranny and allow the public to participate in a congratulatory circle jerk. Go ahead and wear your “I voted” sticker with the blood stained American flag on it. You, like millions of Americans before you, pretty much just wasted your time.

 

Psychotherapy and Spirit

After finishing my blog post yesterday I decided to dive into some of the Transpersonal therapy material that I’ll need to get familiar with over the next few years. To assist with my understanding I will occasionally use my blog as a place to share thoughts and notes on the readings. So, this might be kind of dull or boring to some people.

The first book on my list is “Psychotherapy and Spirit: Theory and Practice in Transpersonal Psychotherapy” by Brant Cortright, and thanks to the magic of technology it only took a handful of seconds to purchase the Kindle version and have it on my phone and computer. I choose this book to start with because Naropa University requires you to reference it in their Statement of Interest, which makes me think it is pretty important to be familiar with it.

Chapter One of PaS is simply titled Basic Assumptions. One of my concerns about Transpersonal Psychotherapy is that it could be used to justify pseudoscience, but so far so good. This chapter defines the terms (always a good sign), presents assumptions, breaks things into theory and practice, and highlights some problem areas.

Transpersonal psychology is a merging of spiritual teachings and practices with modern psychological understanding. It “studies how the spiritual is expressed in and through the personal, as well as the transcendence of the self”. The spiritual aspect might give some science-minded individuals (including myself) some pause, but you can have spiritual experiences and believe that spiritual growth is important without a belief in the supernatural. Spiritual can simply be an aspect of the human experience that is nurtured and strengthened through meditation, psychoactive drugs, altered states of consciousness, or other spiritual practices. I believe it can be completely part of the mind. Instead of ignoring or pathologizing spirituality (as some psychological schools have done in the past) you can integrate spiritual practice into psychology. Spiritual practices have often neglected psychology as well and would rather only use dogma, holy books, prayer, or spiritual practices to help with mental healing and prosperity.

Unlike some schools of psychology, transpersonal psychotherapy does not have a particular writer or founder. It is much broader than specific viewpoints and, like all theories, is a way of viewing reality but it is not reality itself. Transpersonal psychotherapy is still realitively new on the scene and there are still much to be tested, but that also makes it an exciting time to get involved with it. In the past TP has focused on “high end” experiences like bliss, ecstasy, and awe, but neglected “low end” experiences like day-to-day life. This is changing though as TP grows and more data becomes available.

Transpersonal psychotherapy is also able to integrate practices from other schools of psychology because it is more of a relationship than a structured set of rules. It is a viewpoint. “Transpersonal therapy lies not in what the therapist says or does, but in the silent frame that operates behind the therapist’s actions, informing and giving meaning to specific interventions. It is thus a wider container which can hold all other therapeutic orientations within it.” Transpersonal therapists may use psychoanalytical, behavioral, or humanistic techniques as they are appropriate for a certain circumstance.

The transpersonal approach makes several basic assumptions:

  1. Our essential nature is spiritual. This is the merging of the spiritual practice and psychological traditions, with primacy going to the spiritual.
  2. Consciousness is multidimensional. We can gain knowledge about ourselves and happiness by tapping into other dimensions of consciousness that aren’t accessible in our standard experience. This can come through drugs, fasting, hypnosis, meditation, etc. These experiences can be beneficial and enlightening.
  3. Human beings have valid urges toward spiritual seeking, expressed as a search for wholeness through deepening individual, social, and transcendent awareness. As humans, as individuals and as a society, become more advanced we no longer need to spend as much time and energy on “base” needs like food, water, and shelter. Instead, we can pursue higher “spiritual” needs like self-actualization, belonging, passion, fulfillment. Spiritual practices are a valid way to reach the upper levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy.
  4.  Contacting a deeper source of wisdom and guidance within is both possible and helpful to growth. There is more knowledge within us that we can easily access consciously and it is beneficial to access it to have a more blissful life.
  5. Uniting a person’s conscious will and aspiration with the spiritual impulse is a superordinate health value. It is harmful to have any part of our being be unfulfilled, including spiritual pursuits (which I think can vary in depth among people). If someone feels a spiritual drive they will be better off if they look into that and practice spiritual growth. Transpersonal therapists should not subscribe to any specific dogma as being “true”, but should honor the paths each person chooses for themselves.
  6. Altered states of consciousness are one way of accessing transpersonal experiences and can be an aid to healing and growth. 
  7. Our life and actions are meaningful. Maybe not in some cosmic sense, but they are meaningful to us and can have a great impact on those we love.
  8. The transpersonal context shapes how the person/client is viewed. In the transpersonal approach is more “heart centered” than many practices and views the client as an evolving being and, along with the therapist, a fellow seeker.

Transpersonal therapy, like all practices, have challenges, particularly being rigorous in the development and testing of theory. Spiritual experiences are subjective and it is important that they are grounded in sound theory, and hopefully it can create “a more psychologically-informed spirituality and a spiritually-based psychology”