Category Psychology

In Praise of the Darkness

A rather well-known book once began with this rather foreboding line: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep.”

A few lines down in that same story, we read:

“Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs and seasons, and for days and years…”

Much later on in the Book of Matthew, Jesus talks about sinners being flung into the darkness, where there is “wailing and gnashing of teeth.”  That would be down there with the devil, of course, the guy who, in pagan and much early mythology, is associated with ice and cold, even though he presides over the everlasting fires of hell.

Which reminds me of the movie, “The Exorcist.” I saw it again just a few years ago, and I can report that it still scared the bejeezus out of me.

If ...

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Life, Aging, Death, Self: Atul Gawande’s “Being Mortal”

The problem isn’t so much that in the end, we die. It’s in all the time leading up to the end. Not death, but severe decline is what puts fear in our hearts. A long debilitating illness or just aging that cuts us off progressively (regressively, come to think of it) from all that we love.

We all peak physically at some 30 years of age, but robustness and increased life satisfaction can persist for decades longer as we go about building our lives and come to accept our aging and its limitations with equanimity and often, good doses of humor.

But the decline does march on, as inexorable as fall following summer.

At a certain point, we stop running, then hiking, then walking without assistance, then walking altogether.

We stop driving long distances, then at night, then at all.

No more foreign travel, then it’s no to flying anywhere, then no more leaving our town, our house, and finally our room (except t...

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A Halloween Tribute to Hermann Hesse’s “Steppenwolf”

“O dark dark dark. They all go into the dark,” wrote T.S. Eliot in a poem that was not about Halloween but maybe should have been. (It might have helped lighten Eliot’s mood.) Eliot was writing more about the encounter with non-being, rather than the relatively jocular invitation to explore the dark side of human nature via America’s second most commercially prosperous holiday (trailing only Christmas in economic activity.)

Sure, Halloween is rampantly commercialized and mostly a bonanza for the candy companies and costume stores. But it also reflects a rich tradition of human beings who are not only aware of the shadow side of life, but welcome it. Even though it takes the mostly light-hearted form of costume parties, house decorations and candy for the kids.

Halloween is a chance for our alteregos to get a little attention. To take a walk on the wild side.

Spending a lot of time on the East Co...

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Outliving Ernest Becker and “The Denial of Death”

In his 1973 Pulitzer Prize-winning work “The Denial of Death,” cultural anthropologist Ernest Becker wove together major threads of psychology, philosophy, anthropology and religion in positing that the central motivating force of human life is the fear of death, which compels us to live in its denial. We do so by not thinking or talking about it much, by drinking and drugging too much, sleepwalking through life as if it were giving us all the time in the world, embracing eternal life doctrines of religion, and by pursuing any number of immortality-seeking “hero” projects in our jobs, sports, the military, hobbies, and private obsessions. (Climbing Everest, making beautiful pots, writing a book, getting rich, becoming a philanthropist with buildings named after us…)

Becker also placed great importance on our embrace of culture—our affiliations with family, community, nation, race, tribe an...

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Best of Times, Worst of Times…and the Time Between

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

So wrote the English novelist Charles Dickens in the opening sentence of A Tale of Two Cities in 1859. This was 70 years after the French Revolution he was alluding to and two years before our own Civil War began here in the U.S.

You grammar geeks will be dazzled to know the sentence went on fo...

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