Category: Don’s Blog

Tips for Fishing and Living # 73

Tip # 73:

“To ask certain questions is to answer them. The answer to ‘Should we punt?’ is always yes. The answer to ‘Is that Sinatra or one of the other guys?’ is always one of the other guys. The answer to ‘Is this fly too big?’ is always yes.”

 Jon Margolis and Jeff MacNelly, How to Fool Fish with Feathers

One favorite question bantered about is the one where the wife asks her husband, “Does this dress make me look fat?” Any successful, veteran – I call them professional – husband – absolutely knows better than to answer. It’s a “trick” question. Some have to learn the hard way.

Many questions are not even questions at all. Rather they are someone’s attempt at getting support for their opinion or perspective, or an attempt to justify why one is going the opposite of what makes the most sense. “Don’t you agree that…?”  “See what I mean?” “Am I right or am I right?” This is what we call being rhetorical.

Questions are important, however. Too often we ask lousy questions. We therefore get lousy answers. Sometimes we need to ask different questions – better questions. A couple come to see me with an upsetting situation. They tell me how terrible living this way is for them. I often ask them “so what’s good about this?” Another way to say this is “what’s the pay-off?” Initially they’ll look at me in utter disbelief. They have a look that says, “Didn’t we just tell you how terrible it has been for us to live this way?”

Although this is indeed true, what is also true is that, at least up until now, they have tolerated this situation. And that’s because there’s been some sort of pay-off – some perhaps ill-minded benefit – or they would have discarded this so-called problem long ago. They are here with me now because the upset is finally outweighing the pay-off.

More to come on this later.

Back to the quote above, it seems a bit of a stretch to think of this quote as a fishing quote, but so what? It turns out the source, How to Fool Fish with Feathers, is a humorous, but very informative, introduction to fly fishing that features tips on casting, suiting up, proper equipment, expert techniques, the various uses of flies, and, perhaps most important, where to find the fish. Throughout the book the authors promote the importance of humor. I completely subscribe to this essential point not just for fishing, but for healthy living in general. Humor and playfulness is the antidote of anxiety. Fishing, like many other things, can be a great source for relaxation, to lightening up, and for seeing the humor of life itself.

Learning to ask better questions is a critical strategy to unravel the stressfulness of our hectic and frenetic life. Better questions can get us out of being stuck, feeling dead ended, and hopelessly trapped into not seeing any resolution to undesirable situations.

So here’s but one quote from this great book:

“Fly fishing is for those who hold that the fun in the race of life is in the running, not just the winning, that existence is its own justification, that a day spent in a stream or a pond with a goal in mind is a joy, even if the goal is not achieved, though a greater joy if it is.”

Such thinking can only come about from a commitment to contemplative living. Yes, this is my on-going and repetitive theme with all of these Tips. Admittedly I am a broken record, and once again may I say, “It ain’t about fishing!” I have nothing against fishing, and I do contend that fishing in and of itself can readily do the trick. That is, however, if fishing gets you to s-l-o-w d-o-w-n and to profit from your slowing down by using this slowed down way to be more reflective. The term I have been floating is: Contemplative Living. It is borrowed from Thomas Merton, the late Trappist monk and mystic. If fishing helps you get to a state of being facilitative of a contemplative life, well then, I am very happy for you. And not to be overly dramatic, but I am also truly happy for our world since we now have one more non-reactive, thoughtful, conscious person in our midst.

Here are some questions that may be useful whenever you feel stuck:

  • What’s good or useful about this problem or situation?
  • What are the pitfalls I might have to endure if I change things for the seemingly better?
  • What are the costs for having this difficulty, and why am I willing to pay them/tolerate them?
  • What will I gain by no longer having this situation exist as it presently does?
  • What will I lose by no longer having this situation exist as it presently does?
  • What is holding me back/stopping me from doing what I say I truly want?
  • Who will be most upset by my changing things?


Tips for Fishing and Living # 72

Tip # 72:

“In the best stories about fly fishing … big fish are caught or lost; people say wild and spontaneous words; event becomes memory and sometimes, in the hands of a master, bleeds into art.”

                                Nick Lyons, author of Bright Rivers and Confessions of a Fly Fishing Addict

Gail and Sam have a great and glorious marriage. It’s not perfect, and they intentionally work on it all the time, striving to make it even better. The reason they have a glorious marriage is simple: they tell anyone and everyone who will listen that they do. The primary reason they tell this to others is mostly to remind themselves of the vision they have for themselves – of being extraordinary. Telling other people about their glorious (extraordinary) marriage does something quite useful and is a very effective strategy. As they go about proclaiming this they are better able to continue to press onward toward becoming a couple with a great marriage. They’ve figured out they’re more likely to do those things that help facilitate having a great marriage by proclaiming it out loud. By telling themselves and others they are more likely to do what it takes to have what they say they want. It facilitates them into walking their talk.

I know we’ve covered this before but it bears repeating. Basically what I’m telling you is our words have tremendous power. Our words have power over where our lives will ultimately go. Words are magical. When we declare something we make it happen; we facilitate it. We cause it. We have the power to bring it into existence. Some say we manifest our lives via the things we tell ourselves. I’m not talking about just saying some positive affirmations alone, although this can and does readily help.

What I’m talking about are those things we declare that then compel us to do the very things that will bring our vision we are proclaiming into reality. We become undeterred and unrelenting in seeing to it that these ideas get to happen. They are what inspire us and cause us to be so stubborn – relentless – that we keep marching on – as we keep declaring – and thus ultimately bring about this new reality into existence.  

In an old Warren Beatty film, Heaven Can Wait, his character compares running his company to running a successful football team. He tells his board of directors that they need to do all the things that a winning team does throughout the season so that when they get to the Super Bowl they will have already won it because they’ve been winning it all year long.

Unfortunately many of us manifest lousy or terrible things by what we tell ourselves. Lousy or terrible input equals lousy or terrible outcomes. We are not nice to us at all. We say and think negative things and thus end up feeling terrible, as well as, create terrible results. We think things that if we were to say them about other people out loud we could be sued for liable. Then we wonder why we have poor or unsatisfying results. Who wouldn’t create terrible outcomes if they only listened exclusively to a constant barrage of limiting thoughts and negativity?

I have a poster in my office that reads: “Don’t believe everything you think.” It makes me laugh every time I read it. It also reminds me to question any and all of those thoughts I manufacture, especially those that bum me out. After all, since I am the creator of those thoughts – of all the things I tell myself – I’d do well to question why I would want to subject myself to such negativity that ultimately ends up causing me to become depressed or discouraged? Why should anyone do this to themselves?

Print, Cut out, and Paste up the following quote somewhere where you can see it and read it often:




“We are living in a rough time and we are helpless.” A lot of people believe this and see it as unmistakably true. Some consider or have already done the following: purchased a gun, left the country, or are sinking into despair. Some people have been turning toward drinking too much or other addictive behaviors. There are jokes about drinking a lot of wine that seem really funny, except that it’s possibly true for too many who are unduly burdened by the circumstances we now face. If we buy into this doomsday thinking we can easily become discouraged and depressed; even mentally or physically sick, or both.

So here’s a much better thought: “these are rough times and we are challenged as we go about getting through it and ultimately will be better for it.” Call me an incurable optimist. None of us gets to determine the events and situations we are facing. But we can determine how we respond to the events and situations. Our response can give us a powerful say in the matter of our lives.

In the midst of this pandemic, recession, the mounting social injustices, the growing global warming/climate change, it is imperative we take appropriate actions while also keeping ourselves steadfast.

How? Where do we start?

Begin with gratitude. Each morning even before you get up, say “Thank you.” Then as you go about your morning ablutions start running through all you are grateful for. Do this while brushing your teeth. Make this your daily practice and notice how you will start to feel better as you draw more attention to what you are gratitude about. It’s a great place to begin.

You’ll also discover that this creates access to more things to be grateful for. You’ll have some, “Oh yeah, that too…moments.” The great scientist Albert Einstein revolutionized the way we view time, space and gravity. From his poor background and poor beginnings, one would imagine it would not be possible for him to achieve all that he did. Einstein said “Thank you” hundreds of times daily. He thanked all the great scientists who preceded him for their contributions that enabled him to learn and achieve even more.  Gratitude is a way to super-charge your desires and sends a more powerful signal out into the Universe.

I see this unprecedented period we are presently experiencing as our wake up call. It is a tipping point. It is a time for us to come together – even as some try to divide us and who are determined to undermine what we want for our future. Yes, 190,000 plus deaths in the U.S. from Covid-19 with more to come! An economic recession that is already hitting the most vulnerable. Social injustice that is bringing about upheaval in mostly peaceful protests. More and more evidence of global warming that is accelerating. And while all of this is occurring, we also see people coming together and uniting in new ways. While this is not on the evening news this truly is more common than we may realize. This may indeed be the first time on our history that we have an anti-racist majority. We will soon find out. There are other moments where we previously did come together and made the necessary changes that have and do make it the reason that America is Great.


What else can we do? Focus on what we want, not on what we do not want. Start visualizing on exactly what it is you want while forgetting what you don’t want. Only imagine the positive outcome we do want. Create a possibility that moves and touches you. Get clear as to what inspires you. You will notice that when you do this “no possibility” will indeed show up. Just notice it and let it go. Then get right back to your Possibility.

Those things that will kick in are things like: “this is impractical.” “It’s going to be too difficult.” I’m not that strong.” And much more. All of these are us being reasonable. They are our REASONS for not creating our great possibility. You and I are called to be UNREASONABLE.

Inventors that brought their particular inventions into reality first saw a picture of it in their minds. There is not a single building that has been built that someone didn’t first draw it or make a scale model of it. Then they held onto that image of their end result, in their mind, or on a board or in a blue print, and kept it there. By holding that picture, the Universe aligned with it and brought into existence for the world.

 Back to Albert Einstein, he said: “Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life’s coming attractions.”

 Right now, as with other prior times, we have two choices: 1. we can operate in fear. Or, 2. we can operate in love. The world we dwell in seems to promote a lot of fear. Fear is contagious. It is a good way to control others. And we can be led into the cult like delusions and lies that get spun by such trickery.

But this not who we are. Love is really who we are. It is our best self; our best nation; our best world. The problem is we haven’t really given love a full shot. The opposite of love is not hate; the opposite is fear. Fear is manifested in hate, greed, selfishness, rage, pride, guilt, shame. These negative attractors operate out of Force. Whereas Love is not a Force, but is rather a Power. And Love is vastly more powerful rather than any Force, of which are those weaker, fear-based attractors Forces.


Gandhi brought the British Empire to its knees. He effectively brought the curtain down on the centuries-old drama of colonialism, and he did it by simply standing for a principle: the intrinsic dignity of the individual person and his/her right to freedom, sovereignty, and self-determination. Fundamental to this principle, in Gandhi’s view, was the fact that such rights come by virtue of the divinity of his/her creation. He held that human rights are not granted by any earthly power, but are ingrained in the nature of the human being because they’re inherent in one’s creation.

Violence is Force. Gandhi did, as did MLK Jr., John Lewis and many others protesting on our city streets today are doing, and who are uniting the will of more and more people. Power accomplishes with ease what Force, cannot.

We must not forget this. In the end Love always wins out. It always has. It always will.

Tips for Fishing and Living # 71

Tip #71:

“By the time I had turned thirty, I’d realized two important things. One, I had to fish. Two, I had to work for a living.”                            Mallory Burton

I know of three strategies for living a fulfilling and satisfying life. One way is to get a job you really love; one where you get to express your gifts, talents and your passions. The second is to get a job that provides money and/or resources to do the non-job thing(s) you really love to do so you can fully engage in these non-job things. The third is to do a combination of one and two.

Some people have that perfect job they love, that pays them well for doing it while expressing their giftedness. Such a job doesn’t feel like work. But most folks don’t have such a job. For them it becomes a matter of locating that part of one’s soul’s desire and finding ways to satisfy these desires. There is no excuse for not doing this. Lots of poorly employed or under-employed actors pay their bills as wait staff or do other temporary jobs while they take acting classes, get small parts in commercials or other productions, all in the hope these will lead toward a career in acting. They persist in their belief that at some point they’ll be discovered and will get their big break. Some do; some do not.  

Some of these folks eventually quit pursuing their initial dream. So instead they seek other related things which align with their soul’s desire. For instance some would-be-actors get a job they enjoy and immerse themselves into community or regional theatre. Some go teach high school drama, or pursue other artistic avenues.

The key is fulfilling one’s passion, and being creative about it. Some even discover they enjoy wait staffing. That’s cool. “Do what you love and love what you do” includes all of these possibilities and more. 

Part of this pursuit includes learning what it is we don’t like to do, as much as it is learning what we do like. When I was 18 years old I had a night shift job at a local factory on the assembly line inspecting electric motors as they came off the line. I did this while also attending a junior college for electrical engineering. It was a great job for two reason: it paid me so I could stay in school, and more importantly, it confirmed for me that I did not want to work in this type of job or career. It motivate me to get my college diploma in order to gain greater access for what I did want to eventually do.

The Jr. College and this job helped me realize I didn’t want to go into engineering. So I dropped out, entered the USAF and four years later came back to earn an undergraduate degree in psychology. This got me closer to what I realize to be my fascination and passion with human beings and human behavior.

The various steps of discovering what I did not enjoy were an essential and a beneficial part for my discovering what I did and do enjoy. My continued journey eventually drew me into graduate school for marriage and family therapy, something that even today brings me great joy and satisfaction.

A couple of things I learned on my particular journey:

  1. I love people

I got this first and foremost from my family. My church reinforced this, but even when it did not, it was my family that infused into me the belief that each and every individual person is sacred. My old friend and former colleague, Father Tom Lynch, loved to say “All families are messy and crazy. All families are also sacred and holy. And it is within the messy and the crazy that the sacred and holy emerges.” The God I believe in loves all of us, equally, fully, and unconditionally. This God wants only for us to be happy. Happiness arrives out of a life that we are fulfilling on our purpose. Our gifts and talents are aligned with our purpose.


  1. I love learning and consider myself a life-long learner.

One of my best teachers, mentors, and a long-time dear friend, Ed Lynch, PhD., still considers himself a student. I, too, think of myself in this way and consider myself a curious person. As a child I would take things like clocks and radios apart to see how they worked. Usually I could not put them back together or back together in working form. But I was learning a great deal and eventually I did get better at returning them to working order – most of the time.

I, like many, think of myself as a problem solver. I readily love to read and watch mysteries. Sherlock Homes is one of my favorite sleuths, as are many other contemporary detectives. All of us are often sleuths whenever we pursue figuring out a solution to a given problem we may wrestle with. When I work with couples I am a sleuth by trying to get insight into the root cause of their presenting problem. I see their presenting problem as both a problem and as a symptom. I look for ways to go beyond mere symptoms for a systemic and, therefore, long-term solution.

I continue to have a curious mind and this includes keeping my mind open. I am open to new ideas, and realizing that I may be wrong, or I have insufficient information to form a viable or workable solution. When a couple comes and says they see no alternative but to divorce, I will tell them they may not yet have enough information to make a good decision, as we work on their issue(s).

I constantly study and investigate different and disparate topics and subjects. Sometimes a piece of information about something seemingly unrelated to what I am attempting to problem-solve will come from another and unconnected body of information. It’s not really from left field, rather it is applicable and refreshing to see the connection.    

Connecting sometimes seemingly disparate things can inspire us to newer insights and create breakthroughs. Metaphor and analogy, as well as storytelling, can all help unravel a problem that we may be too close to and that appears we’re stuck on or not progressing beyond. 

My formal education may long be over but I continue still to study and learn more. I read, take courses, and hopefully keep improving my understanding and skill set. I see myself doing so until I die. I hold the belief that we are either: (a) growing and evolving, or (b) we are shut-down, closed and basically dying. This has little to do with chronological age. There are young people that are figuratively dead. And there are old people who are extremely vibrant and alive because of their inquisitive mind.

The quote at the start of this piece states how the author “had to” fish and “had to” work. It’s those things we feel compelled about doing – the things we “have to do” – that are what usually drive us to further pinnacles of our very purpose.

The late Robert Kennedy said: Some men see things as they are and ask, “Why?” I dream things that never were and ask, “Why not?”

What makes your spirit dance?

What is it that makes your spirit come alive? Dance is such a great metaphor for life. Think of being at a typical wedding reception. You’ll see some of the guests just sitting and watching others going about dancing. Sometimes one of the people sitting wants to dance but their partner does not. Sometimes the one that wants to dance goes and finds a person to dance with and leaves their partner who won’t dance. Then there are those who go out on the dance floor and do their one-step-all-step regardless of whether it’s a fast or slow dance. They do the basic dance they may have learned long ago but have never kept up and advanced their dancing any further.

And then there are those few couples who have kept up, and who now know all of the newest dances. Maybe they’ve taken classes to keep learning more. They’ve practiced; and whatever they have done has resulted in their mastery as exquisite dancing partners. These people glide across the dance floor with ease and grace. They are such a joy to observe as they seem so in tune with each other. They literally make their spirits dance.

RFK also said: “We will find neither national purpose nor personal satisfaction in a mere continuation of economic progress, in an endless amassing of worldly goods. We cannot measure national spirit by the Dow Jones Average, nor national achievement by the Gross National Product.”

Contemplative living slows us down to awaken to the True Self that we are but that gets buried and hidden in the False or Separate Self. Our separate self is good and necessary to get us started on our journey. However, in order to grow we must move beyond to discover our True Self. This requires us to surrender our Separate Self that is ego based and fear driven. The reality of our separate self is culturally conditioned, and gives rise to needless anxiety, unnecessary suffering, cross-cultural competition and violence.

The True Self is connected to something inexhaustible and not able to be hurt. It is here where we realize our true nature and within it our objective union with God. It requires us to surrender and trust we are one with our maker.

Final thought: When we become more contemplative we pay attention to our breathing. Psychology is two words: 1. Psyche – meaning soul or breath, and 2. Ology – the study of. Therefore psychology at its most basic meaning is the study of breathing. When our spirit is alive and we are engaging in our god given desires, we are breathing fully. We take in full breathes.

So make sure you are filling your lungs, and you are doing those things that compel you to breathe fully in, and full out. Again. And again…

Inhale. Exhale. Repeat. Again. It is so great to be alive.

Tips for Fishing and Living # 70

Tip # 70:

“There will be days when the fishing is better than one’s most optimistic forecast, others when it is far worse. Either is a gain over just staying home.” 

Roderick Haig-Brown, Fisherman’s Spring, 1951

“What’s the worst thing that could happen?” Such a great question to ask whenever you are contemplating doing something new and unfamiliar. Most people are timid or afraid of asking for something they desire for fear of getting rejected. This is faulty thinking. If you begin with the fact that you presently do not have this thing you want and you go ahead and ask for it, you’ll have one of two possible outcomes:

  1. You do not get it. However, you have lost nothing since you didn’t have it to begin with. You are exactly where you started; that’s all.
  2. However, by asking for it you improve your chances of getting it 100% more than by not asking for it. You might get it and then you do have it. The difference between a wish and a vision is that with a vision we take some action steps. Asking is one very important action we can readily take. More simply put: the road to heaven IS heaven.

Too many suffer from their own self-defeating and limited thinking. We’ll conclude ahead of time that we are not going to get whatever it is we want, so we often don’t even bother to ask. We call this our already always way of thinking. It goes like this: ‘I already know what you are going to do/say/etc.’ Or we think, ‘who am I kidding to think I could have/get/want such and such?’

Often this limited thinking is based purely upon our past. You said “no” to me last time so I presume you will still say “no.” But how do I know this is true now? We don’t. Or we ask for what we want in such a feeble and un-appealing way that it almost ensures us not getting it. “You probably wouldn’t want to help me out with this thing, would you?” we meekly ask.

Undermining all of our asking or not bothering to ask, is a deeply held conviction that we don’t really deserve what it is we want. We tell ourselves these limiting thoughts and ideas that block any possibility of us getting our dreams fulfilled. This goes on so often and so automatically that we don’t even allow ourselves to desire things. We’ll stay vague or uncommitted. Or if we do we have them as secrets and don’t dare speak them out aloud. Some people deny their hopes and dreams and won’t come up with things they’d like to have/do/experience, and keep these secret inner whispers to themselves.

What is there to do instead? Here is the antidote:

Ask, ask, ask, ask!

Ask with a mindset – a conviction – that your request; your desire – could actually happen. Start with a positive thought: ‘This will work.’ ‘This IS possible.’ ‘This could happen.’ Then stop all that second guessing about how this other person is too busy, or can’t afford, or doesn’t like us enough, and so on. We don’t know any of that. How about being open to the possibility that this person we ask is more than capable or very willing to provide our request. In fact we might be providing him/her with a gift they’ve been waiting for. Perhaps we are giving them a wonderful opportunity by asking – giving this person(s) some joy and satisfaction in providing us with our request. See our request as an opportunity that they may gladly embrace.

Tameka Brown story.

Tameka Brown had become the age where she could now join the Girl Scout as a Brownie. Her mother, a single parent, told Tameka she had two dreams for them: 1.To travel around the world together, and 2.To give Tameka a college education.

She told her daughter that her plan was that she’d first work hard in order to get Tameka college-educated, and then once Tameka had a good career established the two of them would be able to do some world traveling together.

When Tameka joined the Scouts she immediately learned about the annual Girl Scout cookie sale drive. She also learned that first prize for selling the most cookies was a trip around the world for two! Tameka realized that she and her mother could do their world trip now, and all that Tameka had to do was to sell the most cookies in the Scouting program.

When Tameka went out door-to-door to sell cookies she typically would greet each person with her radiant smile, and with a greeting that went something like this: “Hello my name is Tameka Brown. My dream is to take my mother and me on a trip around the world by selling the most Girl Scout cookies. How many boxes of our delicious cookies would you like to buy?”  

That year Tameka sold more cookies than everyone else. She did so the next year, and the year after that. In fact she become a phenomena, so much so that eventually she was invited to speak to Fortune 500 company sales people on the art of enrolling others into a vision. You see Tameka was not selling cookies; she was enrolling other people into her dream. And she wasn’t simply using skills and techniques; Tameka was using her powerful and compelling presence. She took on that other people, of course, would want to assist her in her realizing this glorious goal she and her mother had.

At the conclusion of every talk she gave to various sales people Tameka would end with getting the audience to take action: “Thank you for this opportunity to speak today. There are sign up forms at the end of each of your rows. Please pass them down the aisle and fill them out: How many boxes of our delicious cookies do you want to buy?”

Many times we have a great idea – super-duper idea. But we just sit on it. We eventually even talk ourselves out of it. ‘It’s not practical. It isn’t worthwhile.’ So we do nothing about it and eventually it fades away. A half-baked idea or a good idea that you start to take some action on and you continue with regular action steps IS far better than any excellent idea that goes nowhere. The world is full of ‘Could have, should have, would have…people.’ These same people when they discover someone else has done the very thing they thought of doing they want to kick themselves because now it’s too late.

Time spent fishing whether you catch a fish or not is always better than staying home. Use this metaphor for living and make it for you living your inspired life. I’ll have wild and crazy ideas all the time. I’ll start playing with one. I might expand on it, perhaps make sketches or some drawings of it; or I’ll list steps I think are needed to carry it through. These steps most likely aren’t in any particular order. For now I just list as many as I can and add to them as I continue. Maybe I have more ideas as I am going off to sleep. I might start telling some of my close friends or family members. I am careful to avoid the negativists, critics, and naysayers, or those that can’t listen. I’ll want fine-tuning critiques later; just not now in the early stages. I don’t want the pleasers or “yes” folks either, but I also don’t want the downers who’ll gum up my think tank creativity.

I will take on critical analysis and work out different scenarios later. I will want to consider the possible pit-falls? It’s best to foresee what may impede this project from succeeding? What might be the potential costs of such an enterprise? What could likely be barriers? Obstacles? This is all good stuff; important stuff. And they have an important place within the process.

Most important is knowing the Why. We need a compelling reason or Why for a project. Why would I want to do this? If our reason isn’t compelling enough then I do not need to address the How to’s – or fret over any details. The reason for this project has to be so convincing and so enthralling in order for it to succeed. This is necessary to carry one through the difficult phases – the various tough spots.

Also, it is about our Mindset. Our compelling reason needs to be larger than us. For me it is all about becoming the person God created me to be.

I am also not afraid to jettison any idea that when it’s fleshed out it seems shaky or not viable, or there seems to be a better idea to replace it. Brain storming is a process where we generate all sorts of ideas – good and bad, smart and ridiculous, silly, mundane and outrageous. Out of numerous ideas will come an idea that is spot on – compelling and exciting and so this is the one(s) to take hold of and move forward.

As I begin I set up a few milestones – steps that must be accomplished in order to make this over-arching idea into a reality. If I am to achieve this goal one year from today, what must be completed or accomplished in the next month? Next week? Next day? I also must figure out right at the start what will be the pay-off(s) for doing this project. And what would be the outcome(s) for not doing it.

Example: My Diabetes Story

At my very worst point I weighed 235 pounds. I had become a diabetic and was now being told I would need to change from taking oral medications to taking insulin. I decided to draw my line in the sand and I went about getting my weight down to 200 lbs. I stayed at that weight for a good while until my blood sugar levels started to creep up again; so I then lowered my weight to 190 lbs.

This helped but I soon realized I was fighting diabetes, and was not seeking optimal heath. What is it I do want? Optimal health, a diabetes free life, and one with energy and vitality. I started to ask myself ‘why am I tolerating diabetes even with oral medications? Why not work to eliminate the need for medications if possible?’

Truthfully it took the COVID-19 pandemic for me to take to heart my putting up with and tolerating and seeing myself as one of those “at risk” people for covid-19: an older adult, with chronic illness, and with an autoimmune problem. That’s me! And I don’t have to be one. I will spare you the all the THINKING that preceded this insight and “aha” moment only to tell you I KNEW I could do something about my being a person “at risk.” I could not change my age, but I could do something about the diabetes.  

I currently have my weight down to 183 lbs. My blood sugar-levels have normalized. I found that there is a tipping point where my weight – at or below 185 lbs. – is inversely coordinated to where my blood-sugar levels become normal and healthy. And I am continuing to keep lowering my weight by exercise, and by eating less and eating more healthy foods, in order to find what it will take to eliminate or at least reduce the medications I am still taking.

Already I have more energy and feel motivated to continue this path toward no longer being a diabetic.  The fastest way to success is to replace bad habits with good habits. Throughout the gospels are messages to “stop sinning AND then do good.”  

Tips for Fishing and Living # 69

Tip # 69:

“Angling may be said to be so like the mathematics that it can never be fully learnt.”

 Izaak Walton -The Complete Angler 

Some things seem to come about with age, along with the vast experiences one obtains from living long enough. Age on its own doesn’t bring about automatic growth. But, with age and with the accompanying experiences from life we are provided opportunities to learn to at least avoid repeating various mishaps and mistakes, and even to start considering better options. We can take some of this learning to build upon and improve our future. You get the idea.

It’s in no way a spontaneous thing. It takes time, persistence, and some reflection, to take on doing things that seem counter to this age of the quick-fix mentality. Some people refuse to learn from their experiences. They almost seem intent on repeating old ineffective behaviors while wondering why they are not having better results. It has long been pointed out that such logic is the very definition of insanity: doing the same things over and over and expecting different results.

A hallmark characteristic of any gridlocked system – a stuck system – is the unending treadmill approach of trying harder. Parents trying harder to change their child; managers trying harder to change their employees; teachers trying harder to change their students; clergy trying harder to change their congregations, and so on. Parents will lament, “If I told my son/daughter once I’ve him/her a hundred times…” The question needs to be, “Therefore what makes you think that on the 101st time the child will get it?” This is not a learning problem; it is a teaching problem.  

Some people in an effort to avoid making mistakes won’t ever venture out to have any new or different experiences. They stay in the same old place they were before and keep doing the same things over and over, even though they know that this is not working; even though they are unhappy.

There are also the people that keep bringing their past along with them into their supposed future and end up doing nothing more than a repeat – a recapitulation – of their past while calling it the future, all the while thinking they are living into some new future but it is just the same old same old. This, of course, is doomed to keep them in a survival mode that is either an unhappy and/or hum-drum existence.

Such ways are a much safer way to live – even if it isn’t really living. It is more of an existence. People, of course, see this as safer because it does not require risking anything new or different – unfamiliar. There is the famous quote of an unknown source that reads: “The safest place for ships is in the harbor, but that’s not why ships were built.”

We are living in a time where safety has become more important than adventure. However, it has always been in the spirit of adventure where real innovation and discovery reside. While I am not in favor of rash or foolhardy actions, nor do I subscribe to doing risky things that will likely cause serious injury or even death, I do think we have now taken this to such an extreme that we are losing out on huge potential for wisdom and growth. We’ve become a nation that does not know the difference between danger and risk assessment. In our society EVERYTHING is dangerous. PERIOD.

Like it or not, if we are to advance as individuals and as a society, we need to be willing to fail – to make mistakes – to fall short or fall on one’s face – if we are to ever grow. An enlightened and liberated way of living is to see that there is no such thing as actual mistakes. Instead, what we typically call mistakes are one part of a learning curve. I tend to call them learning experiences rather than mistakes. The key is to be able to take something of value from each and every experience no matter how it works out, especially with the ones that don’t turn out so well. Then we are more likely to keep from making those same mistakes again. When we ponder that which did not go well we gain insight. This does require a good deal of resiliency, thus allowing for the learner to stay the course and keep on keepin’ on.

Thomas Edison invented the light bulb by trying different filaments that did not work until he found one that did. Persistence paid off because he had the attitude that he was getting closer to finding the right filament as each of over three thousand designs wasn’t it. 

Learning requires a bit of both science and art. That’s because this business of growing from experience requires some of both science and art, meaning we must use our brain and our heart. Right now we are having some sort of cultural war about science verses politics – a one way vs. the other way. One rather than the other. This is not helpful. A better approach is a Both-And perspective towards the sciences and arts. Ultimately such a both/and makes for a huge difference and positive outcome. Many great scientists are/were also artists and poets; as well as many artists utilize good science in their creative processes.

Albert Einstein once said “a person that never made a mistake has never tried something new.” He also told us that “imagination is more important than information.” I imagine him shuttering in disbelief at our current locked down battle of a pro vs. con stance regarding science during this raging pandemic.

We, as a society, have been in a rut for some time – long before this pandemic. We have been building to this moment. The pandemic, along with the current recession and rampant unemployment, and the blatant racial injustice toward blacks and others have pushed us, hopefully, to go beyond our gridlock.

As I have stated before I hope it is a tipping point where we might otherwise have remained stuck had not these elements pushed us beyond the chronic anxiousness of our very lives. We not only have been stuck on an unending treadmill of trying harder and harder, but also we keep looking for answers rather than reframing our questions in new and more helpful ways. And we’ve also been caught up in either/or thinking that merely creates false dichotomies. I’ve mentioned these characteristics of stuck systems in previous blogs, but they are worth restating again. 

Murray Bowen, the founder of Family Systems Thinking, would call these times we find ourselves in a Societal Regression. We’re caught up in a social science construction of reality that focuses falsely on classifications such as the psychological diagnosis of individuals or their “personality profiles” and sociological or anthropological niches, rather than on what would best be described as the emotional processes that transcend those categories. It is worth noting that all forms of “colonized protoplasm” have in common patterns that are endemic to all organisms – irrespective of any differences.

As a result of this Societal Regression we have framed our various struggles around the Self verses Our Togetherness dichotomy. And we remain locked into an either-or methodology. Those who claim their freedom is being denied by having to wear a mask and/or to socially distance are using such a dichotomy, you could say “me vs you.” We need to have a “me and you” approach.

We will not find our way out of our gridlock simply by developing some new methods for “tinkering with the mechanics,” or by redoubling our efforts to try harder.

No, the way out is by shifting our orientation regarding how we think about relationships from one that focuses only on techniques meant to motivate others, to an approach that, instead, focuses on the leader’s own presence and his or her being. Leadership is not the same as management. Leadership is another name for being a self-differentiated person – it applies to parents, pastors and presidents, and all in between. This is such a huge shift. The need of well-differentiated leadership is not about getting an autocratic or a bully to run things. It is about having leaders that can think systemically and can take a stand. They are people who can operate within an anxious system. This goes counter to our ordinary way of thinking, as well as our anxious desire for a quick-fix solution.

As a marital counselor couples come to me wanting to learn how they can get closer. I often tell them they are already too close, and that their closeness is not a good togetherness; it is, instead, a stuck-togetherness. Their stuck-togetherness is one where each gives the other power over how each feels about him/her self. If the couple is able to re-orientate to what is required for them to emotionally separate, then they will discover how to remain together physically.

This idea that they are actually too close emotionally speaking initially sounds crazy. It is a paradox. Even when the couple first takes in what I am saying and initially agrees, they usually have also ready-made “yes, buts…” I must continue to restate this paradox over again and in different ways until it becomes their new way of thinking.

I have also discovered there are many ways to do marital counseling. Ideally both parties come in to do the work each needs to do – in tandem with each other – and to learn how to stay out of the other’s way while still being supportive. Sometimes when only one is willing to come, I agree to work with this one who seems to appear as the more motivated partner. It then becomes a matter of assisting the motivated partner to become more self-differentiated, less reactive to their partner, and able to manage him/her self within an anxious system. This usually requires an objective looking into the dynamics of one’s family of origin.

The task of every marriage partner is to “leave one’s mother and father while also remaining connected.” Couples are confronted by two opposing loyalties – a loyalty to parents and a loyalty to their spouse. Leaving home requires a capacity to be disloyal to one’s family of origin in order to become a loyal spouse committed to building a successful marriage.

Leaving home is an emotional process and has little to do with geography. One can move down the street and be emotionally separated from one’s family of origin, whereas one can move to the opposite coast and still be enmeshed in one’s family of origin. An enmeshed partner means he/she is not available for the marital relationship. 

Individuals who cut-off in an effort to leave home fail at doing any better. Cut-offs and enmeshments are one and the same. Those that cut-off from their families generally do not heal until they have been reconnected. Leaving home is the major developmental task every person must successfully do in order to become a mature adult, one capable of entering into successful, committed adult relationships.

Needless to say, taking this approach of having each partner work on his/her own self-differentiation within marriage requires working on one’s self. This is about resolving how one originally learned to relate to one’s family of origin. Too often clients come into counseling for a quick-fix solution. They want some skills or techniques that will solve their current upset. “Give me the how to.” However, skills or techniques alone will never do the job. This is because substantive change has to do with how one is being in their relationship rather than what one is doing. It has everything to do with one’s presence. Learning how to not be reactive to one’s partner’s reactivity requires discovering how we got to be this reactive way in the first place.

By becoming a well-differentiated leader is not about telling others what to do or coercively orders them around. It is not a matter of willing others to change. Rather, it has to do with the leader (be it a marriage partner, a parent, a pastor, or a government leader) being able to define him or herself clearly, being able to take a stand, being clear and well defined.

It is also about being less likely lost in the anxious emotional processes swirling about, and able to maintain a modifying, non-anxious, and sometimes challenging presence. People that can take stands risk not pleasing others. No one does this easily, and most of us have to learn to improve our capacity for such an approach.

When I am coaching one marriage partner – or both – to be this way they inevitably get sabotaged by the other partner and/or by family members, as well. Systems thinking tells us that when one person goes about making changes the rest of the system will be challenged, and therefore initially more anxious, and resistant. When the one initiating new ways of being is able to stay the course they discover an eventual shift within their marital relationship for the better. Quite often the other party who at first resisted and sabotaged begins to come around and he/she starts making the necessary changes needed, as well.