Category Psychology

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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Civilization and Predation: Notes on the #MeToo Movement

So it’s a tough time to be a guy in this world, yes? Our “brand,” as it were, has become rather tarnished of late, not that it was ever all that lofty to begin with. After all, the other half of the population—the distaff portion, the XXs, our “better” halves—have been hip for quite a few millennia now to the mess we keep making of things, the brutal competition for food and land and the upper hand in every argument. Our romance with war.

They’ve worked around us as best they could, even with the stark disadvantage of their smaller stature that has proved decisive when the distribution of power has been determined by purely physical means. But this uneven distribution has consigned them to live in a sort of hell of our making, shunted off to the sidelines as men went about shaping the world in their own image.

This includes men’s notions of the God above who thunders and blusters and roars i...

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The Impersonality of Dreams: Going Underground With James Hillman

We go about our day lives, keeping them seamless as possible with day planners, work to-do lists, business appointments and friend meetups. We change clothes as various settings require, put sequential streams of thought together in presentations and emails, pay bills, stop to pick up groceries, get home to run down the day’s highlights with a spouse or friend.

We know who we are and what we are about in this life.

And then night comes, and…

I am being tricked and then pursued and captured in the deep dark woods by sly, evil people, stumbling and tripping, being threatened with physical and sexual violence and betrayal and hateful stares and mean, spiteful words.

This was just one fragment of several dreams endured over a matter of weeks recently by a dear friend whose life, in general terms, is going quite swimmingly...

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