Tuesday, May 31, 2022


"March for Our Lives" on March 24, 2018, in Washington, D.C. [Alex Brandon / AP]

It only happens in America: Our kids blown away in their classrooms and the rest of us gunned down shopping, worshipping, or going to a nightclub. One hundred Americans are killed each day with guns. Since Sandy Hook in 2012, there have been 950 school shootings, including 27 so far this year.

Sadly, none of us are innocent bystanders, as Roxane Gay points out in the NYT. We are complicit by being too civil.“When politicians talk about civility and public discourse, what they’re really saying is that they would prefer for people to remain silent in the face of injustice. They want marginalized people to accept that the conditions of oppression are unalterable facts of life.”⁠1

The root cause is a tyrannical minority that has seized control of our government, according to Heather Cox Richardson, a history professor at Boston College. Look at the facts: Republicans have won two of the last five elections with a minority of the votes. The Senate is elected by a skewed, white cross-section of America, much more conservative than the average voter. And the Supreme Court is dismantling the Democrat’s political-economic base while helping to strengthen the Republican’s anti-majoritarian hold on  power.⁠2

Worse yet, since 2016, the Republican party has morphed into a one-man Trump show:  Until now,“I can tell you that at no point in America's history has one of the two main parties literally rejected the rules of the game,”⁠3 Richardson says. We are rapidly sliding into authoritarianism.

The time has come, as Gay says, to become uncivil. But uncivil doesn’t have to be rude and violent: It can be respectful and peaceful – yet still staunchly unbending. The image that comes to mind is our Plott Hound, Coco, now sadly departed. She loved going hiking with us, with one glaring exception: she hated hot weather.

On hot summer days, Coco would hike until she was hot and then stage a sit-down strike. We could neither budge her by leash or doggie treat. We tried walking ahead, hoping she would follow, but she never came. Forced to turn back, we would find her sitting right where we left her. Only then did she stand up to happily escort us home, wagging her tail at our capitulation.

What worked for Coco can work for the rest of us. Nonviolent resistance has an illustrious history: Gandhi's nonviolent campaign liberated India from English colonialism, and Martin Luther King's civil rights campaign empowered blacks. Today, high school students like Maddie Ahmadi from Vermont are showing us how: After the recent Texas shooting, she organized the first of a series of student walkouts that took place around the country: "Our lives are more important than schoolwork," she said.⁠4

We need firm resistance, leavened with theater and humor, like that displayed by the 1960’s generation protesting the Vietnam War. I'm thinking of the 100,000 protestors who marched on Washington to levitate the Pentagon. That's when the iconic photograph was taken of young folks disarming a line of threatening soldiers by putting flowers in their rifle barrels. 

Once again, the next generation is leading the way, fueled by Ahmadi's sense of urgency: "This didn't feel like a time to ask for permission.". After the horrific school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018, David Hogg, a survivor of the Sandy Hook shooting, organized one of the biggest protests in U.S. history, involving millions from all around the country.

His organization, March of our Lives, was not a flash-in-the-pan. They have continued to sponsor events like the “Road to Change,” inspired by the Freedom Riders of the 1960s to register young voters. They spurred a historic youth turnout in the 2018 midterm elections, with a 47% increase over the last midterm election.

We need to get behind such movements – and start our own – to counter gun-toting lone rangers who detest not just regulations but our government itself. It's a cruel joke to think we can survive as a nation of antisocial cowboys armed to the teeth – like reliving a Clint Eastwood movie with dead bodies strewn all over the street. 

Instead, we are most vital – and fulfilled – when we participate in a democracy composed of a close-knit community of mutual support. That's what will last! As Lincoln  proclaimed, such a “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

David Hoggs says, "Right now we are … stronger than ever.”⁠5 On June 11th, March of our Lives is planning a massive march in Washington D.C. and around the country, with 100 local protests (and counting). 

Let us all be uncivil and join in!



1 https://www.nytimes.com/2022/05/25/opinion/roxane-gay-uvalde-school-shooting.html

2 https://www.vox.com/2018/9/12/17850980/democracy-tyranny-minority-mob-rule-james-madison

3 https://www.ft.com/content/08f3728c-bbff-493f-aa66-a1aa35dd3924

4 https://apple.news/A0jX9ayzgSA6Yz52JZljQMg

5 https://www.msnbc.com/all-in/watch/david-hogg-the-movement-to-end-gun-violence-is-stronger-than-ever-140840005517

Thursday, May 26, 2022

Hearing Voices


Finally, the powers-to-be are acknowledging what lowly counselors and social workers have long understood. The World Health Organization(WHO) recently unleashed a scathing report, castigating psychiatry for how it treats severe psychiatric disorders. For these conditions, the report dismisses the effectiveness of most psychotropic drugs, the mainstay of the profession; it also calls for an end to all involuntary or coercive inpatient care. All of this was recently detailed in  NYT Magazine.⁠1

The article follows the life of Caroline Mazel-Carlton who has heard voices since childhood. She was prescribed every conceivable medication, but the voices persisted; she lived a troubled life into her twenties, including being arrested and institutionalized on multiple occasions. Finally, after being locked up again  in her twenties, it became clear to her the toll the meds were taking on her, “the futility and harm.” She stopped taking all of them cold turkey. Rather than falling apart, her voices became more subdued, and the hair she had been pulling out grew back.


Caroline did work at low-end jobs until landing a position leading support groups for the Hearing Voices Network (HVN). These groups are similar to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings but for folks with auditory and visual hallucinations. There are no clinicians in the room, or if they are, they remain transparent. These groups are voluntary, and self-disclosure is optional. They have been so effective that they are blossoming all around the country, including NH, which I will get back to.

What psychiatry refers to as psychosis, the Hearing Voice Movement calls “non-consensus realities.” The group facilitator’s role is never to dispute the reality of what a group member self-discloses. Instead, their job is to pay close attention to the content of those voices and to show curiosity by asking the member to say more about their experience. Talking about their voices helps defuse the stigma that society has placed on them. Furthermore, exploring what the voices are saying can lead to deeper meanings.  

Non-ordinary states of consciousness can cover a broad spectrum, as I discovered in my psychotherapy practice; they can range from purely spiritual states without any pathological features to clearly biological conditions that require medical treatment. Many are the result of early trauma or abuse.

I am reminded of a client that fit this profile; he was a gentle, awkward man who had been institutionalized on several occasions after being given a medical discharge from the Army after serving in Vietnam. He was symptom-free most of the time, but he would hear voices telling him he was God whenever he encountered specific stressors. He would then hole up in his room, decompensate, sometimes being remanded to a psychiatric hospital.

Because of my eclectic background, I took naturally to what appears to be the HVN position: The most important thing I did was listen to him deeply without judging him or disputing how he saw the world. Being accepted by a fellow vet as an equal, not as a crazy person, broke through his defenses: he was able to relax and, over time, tell his story. Through that process, we were able to unearth underlying conditions, helping him make sense of his voices.

Here’s the story the veteran told: He had always been extremely anxious and, by all accounts, a poor choice to be assigned to a frontline combat unit, but that’s where he found himself. Soon after his arrival, his base camp was battered by an intense mortar attack. The other soldiers immediately took cover, but my client panicked, running frantically this way and that, attempting to avoid the explosions, landing all around him. Finally, he collapsed from exhaustion, fervently praying to God to save him. Like a miracle, at that exact moment, the mortar barrage stopped.

Afterward, he appeared lost, walking around in a daze repeating the voices telling him he was God. He was given a medical discharge and sent home. After returning to civilian life, he coped pretty well. It turned out he only heard voices when triggered by a particular sound or smell that caused him to flashback to the mortar attack. After therapy and with greater self-knowledge, he no longer fell apart when he heard these voices; as a result, he was able to get on with his life without being recommitted.

Now back to the Hearing Voice Network(HVN). I did a little research and found that NH has at least one HVN group at Monadnock Peer Support in Keene: Jude Grophear, a voice hearer herself, has been facilitating this group since 2015. She will also be co-facilitating a 3 day HVN Group Facilitator Training in August.

I’m pleased that NH is on the vanguard of this movement to provide innovative new strategies to de-stigmatize people who hear voices, helping to bring psychiatry into the 21st century.



1 https://www.nytimes.com/2022/05/17/magazine/antipsychotic-medications-mental-health.html

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Are Scientists are new Shamans?

The black hole in the Milky Way has three bright spots along a ring 

tilting face-on toward Earth. (Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration/AP)

“Stories and myths are the connective tissue between culture and nature, between self and other, between life and death⁠1,” writes Joan Halifax, a prominent Buddhist teacher, anthropologist and ecologist. If she is correct, which I believe she is, how do we come to terms with the two very different stories circulating in America today – only one of which will determine our future.

The first is our dominant myth, based on Christianity, asserting our right to control nature as God decreed in the Bible: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”⁠2

Over time, this myth has resulted, aided and abided by Capitalism, in desecrating our natural resources, polluting our planet, and causing the greatest species extinction in history from disruptive climate change. In a word, this myth is leading us directly toward death.

The alternative myth, practiced from time immemorial by indigenous people, is based on the belief that all of creation is alive. As Jack Forbes has described in Daedalus, “the most important aspect of indigenous cosmic visions is the conception of creation as a living process, resulting in a living universe in which a kinship exists between all things.” Mother Earth is a living being in this story, as are the waters and the Sun.

Central to Native American belief is gratitude, a feeling of overwhelming love and thankfulness for the gifts the Creator and the Earth has bestowed upon them, giving rise to deep feelings of indebtedness.⁠3  Black Elk, the legendary Lakota shaman, expressed these sentiments in eloquent terms: 

“The Great Spirit made the flowers, the streams, the pines, the cedars—takes care of them. . . . He takes care of me, waters me, feeds me, makes me live with plants and animals as one of them. . . . All of nature is in us, all of us is in nature.”⁠4

The choice is clear: if indigenous myth is based on renewal while our current Western narrative is steering us toward death, we must choose life. Toward that end, I see hopeful signs coming from an unlikely quarter. When science first arose in the 19th century⁠5, it  was part of the problem, reducing a reverence for nature into quantitative materialism.

But the worm started to turn with the emergence of Albert Einstein, the genius who, concocting revolutionary new theories, ushered in quantum physics. His initial insight didn’t happen in a state-of-the-art laboratory but from riding his bike in the countryside while performing what amounted to a shamanic trance: Imagining his bike was traveling faster than the speed of light. 

In the quantum world, events are unpredictable leading to spooky behavior worthy of a shaman: Examples include counter-intuitive phenomena that defy common sense: like quantum entanglement, which has proven that once two particles interact, they will forever act in unison even if on opposite sides of the universe; and string theory which posits we may be living simultaneously in up to  10 parallel worlds, 9 of which we can’t see.

Like the shamans of old, this new breed of scientist relish exploring spooky worlds. In the process, I'm hoping they can rekindle our sense of awe at the sheer mystery of the universe, including, of course, our own precious Planet Earth. Scientists have already stepping up to the task: Look at the "aliveness" of the following quotes by scientists, celebrating the first image ever taken of the black hole in our galaxy:

“Astronomers announced on Thursday that they had pierced the veil of darkness and dust at the center of our Milky Way galaxy to capture the first picture of “the gentle giant” dwelling there: a supermassive black hole, a trapdoor in space-time through which the equivalent of four million suns have been dispatched to eternity, leaving behind only their gravity and violently bent space-time.”⁠6…”The black hole is not a static entity: It is “gurgling.”⁠7

Scientists are so in awe of what they have seen that they are speechless. "It is unknowable," said Vincent Fish, a research scientist at MIT. "They are the most mysterious objects in the universe.”⁠8

To my way of thinking, these scientists are our new shamans, worshipping a living and breathing world, just as indigenous people always have. What we need now are good storytellers to make this story so compelling that it will morph into a new dominant myth – a narrative capable of filling us with the same gratitude and indebtedness that Black Elk felt.



1 Joan Halifax. The Fruitful Darkness: A Journey Through Buddhist Practice and Tribal Wisdom (Kindle Locations 1030-1031). Kindle Edition.

2 Genesis 1:26-28

3 Ibid.

4 Ibid.

5 https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/652691

6 https://www.nytimes.com/2022/05/12/science/black-hole-photo.html?campaign_id=2&emc=edit_th_20220512&instance_id=61229&nl=todaysheadlines&regi_id=30753738&segment_id=92116&user_id=273ae8c1ede4fde7d59a2b0627accb9

7 https://www.washingtonpost.com/science/2022/05/11/black-hole-milky-way/?utm_campaign=wp_post_most&utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter&wpisrc=nl_most&carta-url=https%3A%2F%2Fs2.washingtonpost.com%2Fcar-ln-tr%2F36d23a6%2F627d2edb956121755a7547bb%2F61015b7e9bbc0f0fbeed5be1%2F8%2F72%2F627d2edb956121755a7547bb

8 https://www.washingtonpost.com/science/2022/05/11/black-hole-milky-way/?utm_campaign=wp_post_most&utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter&wpisrc=nl_most&carta-url=https%3A%2F%2Fs2.washingtonpost.com%2Fcar-ln-tr%2F36d23a6%2F627d2edb956121755a7547bb%2F61015b7e9bbc0f0fbeed5be1%2F8%2F72%2F627d2edb956121755a7547bb

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

A Meditation on Time


My son looking across Jenness Pond toward Catamount Mountain almost 40 years ago

One thing for sure about my life: Time has not been measured by the regular ticking of a clock. When I was little, I played in the woods next to our home, which we named the “Green Forest” after a series of books by Thornton Burgess. I enjoyed building forts, damming up the little seasonal stream, and just hanging out.

I took solace in following the rhythms of the seasons and my biological clock. Eva Hoffman, in her insightful book on time, tells us that biological clocks are remarkably similar across the spectrum from humans to the most primitive bacteria,”suggesting that they have evolved from a single source… rather than…through evolution.”⁠1 To me that single source we all share speaks of the divine.

By the time I became a teenager, time had shrunk, trapping me in the web of the patriarchal ‘50s, watching “Leave it to Beaver” and “Father Knows Best.” I’d sit by Jenness Pond, gazing at Catamount Mountain on the other side, imagining that  the real world was out there,  waiting for me to join it.

Time changed again in Vietnam, fluctuating between extremes: When danger beckoned, my whole life flew by in a second. But mostly, time slowed to a turtle’s crawl as we languished in the Mekong Delta for what seemed like an eternity in sweltering 120-degree heat.

Going back to college after Vietnam, time again became my friend. On top of the communal energy and good vibes, awaiting the Age of Aquarius, I had the opportunity to explore big ideas, something I enjoyed almost as much as sex. Conversations and debates across campus and in the pubs were endless, as if time had stopped. As a  returning Vietnam vet,  I can completely identify with this passage from Hoffman’s book: 

“All we had left was talking. Our conversations, sometimes delightful, were a never-ending chatter over full ashtrays and cheap bottles of alcohol, night-long discussions, and hung-over mornings. Time was frozen for us. We weren’t in a hurry to get anywhere. Neither did we have anywhere to go.”⁠2

After college, time changed from sweet afterglow to strict taskmaster: that’s when I began eking out a living as a stonemason while raising a family, all within the pressure cooker of rampant social change. 

Everything speeded up, the manic final stage of the Industrial Revolution, according to political scientist Hatmut Rosa. As he predicted, the outcome is a dead-end street: the more we cram, the less those experiences can register in our minds and memories, leading to a profound sense of alienation.⁠3 

All these factors, plus my emotional immaturity, frayed our marriage, leading to divorce. My saving grace was my son who kept me open to life’s endless possibilities, in a way that can only be seen through the eye of a child.  I knew it was time to move on. I enrolled at Antioch Graduate School on route to becoming a psychotherapist. Needless to say, my sense of time changed again.

I started to meditate, read Thich Nhat Hanh, and developed ways to get off the rat race. I enjoyed a rewarding career, learning much from my patients. Retiring last year, I’ve come back to the beginning.

Life is again cyclical, governed by the physical changing of the seasons: witnessing the ice go out of Jenness Pond on April Fool's day this year, hearing the cackling of the loons returning, and applauding the tenacity of my first peas busting through the cold, hard ground.

These earthly cycles determine my daily rituals. Like being a child again in the Green Forest, I am in no hurry: I enjoy taking my time in the morning, drinking my coffee, reading the NYT, and jotting down whatever strikes me about my life and the world before it flies out of my head, perhaps never to return.

But I don't feel isolated. Yesterday, attempting to trap a marauding possum in a Havahart Trap, I caught a sultry young skunk instead. She looked at me in a bemused manner when I entered the barn, as if asking for an explanation. I talked to her softly, telling her it had all been a terrible mistake. She waited patiently as I opened the door and then sashayed away without a backward glance.

My skunk understood the facts of life that I’m still trying to master!

 Laura Sewall makes the secret sauce explicit in her book, “Sight and Sensibility: our reality is textured by time, scented by the season, and responsive to incoming influences in every moment.”⁠4



1 Hoffman, Eva. Time (BIG IDEAS//small books) (p. 20). Picador. Kindle Edition.

2 Ibid. Page 3

3 https://www.wired.com/story/time-politics-democracy-elections/

4 Laura Sewall, “Sight and Sensibility,” Penguin/Putnam. NYC. 1999. Page 62.

Thursday, May 5, 2022

Are we doing it again: Whitewashing our Past

Women bang pots and pans to show their support for the emergency services 

dealing with the coronavirus outbreak © Atul Loke/Panos Pic

Stories are all important, something I’ve written about before. In “The World is Made of Stories,” David Loy shows how stories allow us to make sense of the world and teach us what is real, what is valuable, and what is possible. 

Being able to tell stories is a significant reason humankind has been so successful, as the historian Yuval Noah Harari has told us: They “enable us not merely to imagine things, but to do so collectively.”⁠1

People who study the structure of stories are called narratologists, like Frederick Kaufman, who recently wrote a NYT’s column, How Covid breaks All the Rules of Human Narrative.⁠2 I was excited to read his piece and wasn’t disappointed. He pointed out something that’s missing: While we have been inundated with a mountain of information about Covid, so far, no one has told us a story about it.

That's not unusual. When we tell our stories, we tend to block out events too painful to talk about. We did just that with our last pandemic, the Spanish flu of 1918, which killed over 50 million people worldwide: It has been called the biggest massacre of the twentieth century yet little was written about it –or remembered – in a massive case of collective forgetting.

Without a story – without remembering –  we were unprepared for Covid-19, a pandemic so unexpected that many of us assumed it must be a hoax!

Kaufman juxtaposes our reluctance to tell stories about plague with our zest to tell stories about war: “Wars, by contrast, always loom large in our cultural imagination, and the First World War, which despite its ghastly toll took far fewer lives than the Spanish flu, inspired literary classics such as “All Quiet on the Western Front” and “The Sun Also Rises.”⁠3

While Kaufman is accurate up until to a point, he leaves out a throbbing underbelly of pure pain: it neglects our aversion to owning up to the mental suffering of our soldiers as a result of combat. Because their heartbreaking suffering doesn’t jive with our preferred heroic war narrative, we repress it –only to sadly rediscover it in our next war. 

As someone who specialized in treating PTSD, I am familiar with this collective forgetting. In every documented war, starting with Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, the warriors doing the fighting have experienced grievous long-term consequences. But in each case, after the war was over, the veterans’ continuing suffering was forgotten by society.

What we are witnessing is a psychological defense mechanism on the societal level. While this might be beneficial at the individual level to  protect from debilitating anxiety, on the collective level, it resembles an ostrich burrowing its head in the sand; as such, it prevents us from preparing for the next pandemic that is sure to come. 

Recently in the Monitor, Brendan Williams, CEO of NH Health Care warned us of this shortcoming: In our “rush to put this exhausting pandemic in the rear-view mirror we may overlook the collateral damage” to our health care providers, whether it has been “death or serious illness, post-traumatic stress disorder from laboring daily to combat the virus or the economic calamity” [it has caused.]” 

In war, it is easy to tell stories about the valor of the soldier who charged a machine gun nest or the regiment that triumphed over incredible odds. We tell stories about that. And to ensure we don’t forget, we memorialize war with national holidays, including Memorial Day which is coming up.

Yet, judging from the past pandemics, we will soon forget the trials and tribulations of Covid-19: Unlike what happens after war, we will fail again to memorialize the courage and selfless commitment of our health care workers who have been laboring in the trenches to save our lives?

It shouldn’t be that  difficult!

I remember my adrenaline pumping seeing Italians on the news, all as one, lean out of their windows or stand on their balconies beating pots and pans to applaud healthcare workers putting their lives in danger, working around the clock to save them?

I suggest incorporating this irrepressible ritual into a new national holiday, celebrating not only the heroism of the scientists and healthcare workers who curbed the worst of Covid, but the steadfastness and stamina of the rest of us who have survived the gauntlet of the last two years.



1 https://www.ynharari.com/topic/power-and-imagination/

2 https://www.nytimes.com/2022/04/23/opinion/covid-plot-tv-movies-books.html?campaign_id=2&emc=edit_th_20220424&instance_id=59343&nl=todaysheadlines®i_id=30753738&segment_id=90121&user_id=273ae8c1ede4fde7d59a2b0627accb92

3 Ibid.