Stoicism; Where Psychotherapy, Philosophy and Pandemics Meet

I attempted to write this blog in a concise but meaningful and artistic way about 5 different times and each time it ended up being about 20 pages long. Am I just too wordy? Do I ramble? Is the subject just too weighty to be summed up in a blog? Do I just suck? Probably all of the above. So I’ll try something different and make this a sort of bulleted list that gives you a very basic over view rather than my typical blah, blah, blah of a windy blog. Further reading is strongly encouraged. Here we go.

Introduction

I enjoy learning and find myself interested in a variety of topics. The problem with this is that I dabble in dozens of things and end up having a surface level knowledge of a lot of things rather than a deep knowledge of a few things. Quantity over quality, jack of all trades…pick the cliché that you like. Just before the Covid-19 pandemic hit though, I decided to try something new. Somewhat due to the inspiration of a client, I decided to commit myself to a 3 month at a time, immersive deep dive into a single subject. Approximately 11 months and four subjects into this practice now, I’d like to tell you about my first subject of study, Stoicism and some things I’ve gained as a result. One of the reasons I think this topic is important and one of the reasons I’m writing about it is that there’s direct application to the current realities of pandemic life and all the shitty things that have come with it.

History

Stoicism is an ancient Greek philosophy that was further developed by the Romans. Zeno is said to be the philosophy’s founder. Other notable names are Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, Epictetus and Cato. It is an active philosophy that is meant for daily use. Though perhaps not stated so directly, the implication of Stoicism is “do these things, in this way and your life will be better because of it.”  

Basic Tenets (or at least the ‘Overly Simplified Brandon Armchair Philosophy Expert’ bits that are relevant)

The dichotomy of choice – The act of intentionally seeing the world in terms of that which you can and cannot control. For the Stoic, controllables were such things as thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Uncontrollables were essentially everything else. Those things over which you have no control, say the Stoics, are to be treated with indifference.

Virtue– Stoicism suggests that nature and the laws that govern it were the ultimate source of truth and wisdom. In a sense, nature was god. Not in the literal way but more in the sense that nature and natural laws are forces larger than humanity that play themselves out in predictable and consistent ways. Nature unfolds exactly as it was meant to. What takes place, was meant to be and was to be accepted and revered. To accept and revere nature was to be virtuous. All things have a fundamental way of being and man’s way of being, said the Stoics, was reason. Therefore, the use of reason by man was the ultimate expression of virtue. Why should I act this way or that way? Because logic and reason demand it and acting with reason and logic are virtuous.

Don’t focus on the outcome – Reason suggests that outcomes fall within the realm of that which we cannot control, therefore, living with virtue is enacting the dichotomy of choice and treating outcomes with indifference. I can diet and exercise in the most precise and dedicated way and still get hit by a bus and die tomorrow. I eat healthy and exercise because, logically, these are the things that will likely lead to a longer, healthier life and will help me feel better in the moment; they are controllable. Past that, however, I have no power, leaving indifference towards outcomes my remaining virtuous and healthy choice.

The Covid/therapy part

Covid-19 is a terrible fate that has befallen us. It’s sucked from day one to day whatever this is. But the Stoic teachings of the ancient Greeks and later Romans give us as a way to work around it. It’s also worth mentioning that during the reign of the Stoic philosopher and Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, there existed The Antonine Plague, just one of hundreds of pandemics that have plagued (pun intended) the human race. If for no other reason, the Stoics have something to say about Covid because very literally, they’ve done this before.

The dichotomy of choice Other than wearing a mask, social distancing, washing your hands and getting vaccinated, you have no power over coronavirus. Therefore, it is to your benefit to treat it with indifference. You CAN control your behaviors. You CAN control your thoughts and emotions surrounding it. You cannot control any other aspect of it. It is to your psychological and emotional benefit then to treat with indifference all other aspects.

Virtue – Logic and reason are virtuous say the Stoics. You can use your reason to employ the dichotomy of choice to train yourself to calm your fears of covid. Your logic says, control the things you can, don’t worry about the rest. This is a direct and specific way to manage anxiety and depression and the like.

Don’t focus on the outcome – If you manage the controllable aspects of covid (or any other situation really), you have done all you can do. The outcome of even the controllable aspects, however, are out of your hands. Nature, in the Stoic sense of the word, will play itself out in the way that it was destined, likely without your permission. Reason tells you that whether or not you contract the virus can be influenced by your behaviors but ultimately will be in the domain of fate. Focus on your controllable behaviors and allow yourself to let go of the idea that you can beat this thing. If you get it, you get it. Somehow, some way, you were going to die anyway. Perhaps this is the way nature intended it. Reason will tell you that you are subject to the same forces as all other beings. It’s normal, it’s healthy, and it’s part of it. It’s okay.

(Disclaimer: Although I feel these last several statements represent universal and ultimate, factual truths that are unaffected by one’s personal feelings about them, apologies if comes off as cold and insensitive to those who are sick or who have lost someone close. Disrespect is not my intention and I hope you won’t take it as such.)

A personal note

My only beef with the Stoics has been from a clinical perspective. While I’m no complete expert on Stoicism, it appears that at least in its classical Greek form, the philosophy sometimes advocates repression and avoidance of feelings. As a therapist, I simply can’t endorse that idea and I can reference mountains of research on why I take this stance. However, the potential resolution of this came in the form of a YouTube video on Stoicism. A quote from the lecture stuck with me; “The Stoic aims to understand all feelings so that he may assent to them or dissent from them”. If you’ve worked with me in therapy before, you may recognize this as very foundational Brandonian Philosophy; “Feel your feelings and then step away from yourself at some point and assess your feelings. After that, enact free will to choose whether or not it is healthy to continue to feel this way.”

I acknowledge fully that I, like basically all of us, have struggled during Covid. But Stoicism has enabled me to acknowledge those feelings, take the actions on it that are in my power and then simply dismiss the rest. It doesn’t work 100% of the time. I’m a fallible human just like everyone else. I can tell you, however, that my Stoic practice has been immensely valuable during this time and continues to help me maintain a consistent level of mental and emotional health during a terrible time in human history.

Very rarely in my clinical practice do I tell clients what to do but this is one of the times I will; Incorporate Stoicism into your life. It will help. “Do these things, in this way and your life will be better because of it.” DO IT!!

Unrelated book – EMDR: Basic Principles, Protocols, and Procedures by Francine Shapiro; EMDR was one of my 3 month study subjects and I hope to blog about it in the future as I gain more knowledge and am eventually certified in it. This book is dry, technical and boring stuff but make no mistake, EMDR literally may hold the secrets to world peace! Check it out!!

Unrelated Song – I recently introduced my 7 year old daughter to Star Wars and no surprise, it was a hit. Unrelated to Star Wars, there’s a whole series on YouTube called “Bad Lip Reading”. Where the 2 subjects meet is this:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U9t-slLl30E

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The Obligatory Coronavirus Blog

As I’m fond of doing, I’ll start with a disclaimer or two. Firstly, everything I say here applies to me as well. I’m not saying anything to a reader that I’m not saying to myself. This is a one size fits all and I’m wearing this particular boot right along with you. Secondly, this blog entry isn’t for the faint of heart. If you’re on the figurative or literal ledge, maybe save this for a time when you’re stronger (and also call 911 for the ‘literal ledge’). I’m also aware that I’m saying this as someone who is currently healthy and safe and has family and friends that are also healthy and safe. This may prove to be a privileged place from which to preach these words.  I stand behind everything that is written here but my tune may change if I or those I care about become infected. This whole thing may come off as insulting, morbid and depressing but I promise you it’s not so please don’t view it that way. As is frequently the case in my writings, there’s an unexpected and oddly positive twist that you’ll never see coming. Well, at least you wouldn’t have if I hadn’t just told you it was coming. Before we get too deep into those dark waters though, won’t you join me in a selfish, childish rant? Please? Oh you will?! AWESOME!

It goes without saying that we’re in the midst of difficult and uncertain times. We’re all anxious and depressed; all of us; literally, the entire species. To put it more bluntly though and perhaps in a more unapologetically American way, THIS SHIT SUCKS BALLS!! I’m working from home like practically everyone reading this. I have a very small, makeshift office at home but it’s rarely used. The cheap folding chair that’s stationed at my 15 year old Ikea desk was only meant to be used for brief periods of time, NOT 8 CONSECUTIVE HOURS! (It’s also  worth mentioning that the chair was literally found in a dumpster so yeah, there’s that) Due to this, a new part of my daily routine entails frequently trying to get feeling back in my legs. I’ve been seeing clients via webcam and phone for just over a month and to ensure confidentiality the original makeshift office has been forcefully “remakeshifted” and now resides in the “comfort” of my own bedroom. It’s been my practice for years to wear a tie on Mondays and Thursdays and as I’ll discuss later, I’ve been trying to keep normalcy by continuing those routines. Do you know how strange it feels to be wearing a tie and slacks while sitting 3 feet from your own bed? My wife has turned the dining room into an additional makeshift office and until recently, when she finally broke down and bought a small card table, her work computer and monitor was something we simply had to “eat around” because it was stationed semi permanently at the dining room table. The few times I tried to move it to a more convenient location were met with threats of bodily harm. I never really wanted to learn it but I now know what “N-95” means (sort of). I’ve washed my hands so many times that I almost have a panic attack when I think of what the water bill will look like this month. I feel like SUUUCH a tool bag wearing a face mask in Kroger. I’m sick of smelling my own breath, I’m sick of that breath fogging up my sunglasses and I’m sick of the little crease it leaves on my nose for 10 minutes after I take it off. I’ve been forced, as many of you have, to adopt the title “Unprepared, Unqualified, Impromptu Home School Teacher”. A friend of mine said “I bet you’re gaining a new respect for teachers huh?” “NOPE!”, I said. “THEY’RE GETTING PAID FOR IT AND THEY’VE HAD TRAINING TO DO IT AND THEY’RE DOING IT WILLINGLY AND THEY’RE NOT DOING IT AT THE SAME TIME THEY’RE DOING THEIR DAY JOB AND THEY’RE NOT DOING IT IN HER OWN DAMN LIVING ROOM!” Oh and anyone else need a haircut? Jesus! I’m starting to look like Jimmy Hendrix come back as a white dude with dadbod.

Okay, okay, I’m done. At least for now. Everything I just mentioned is real and I’m certain you can relate to at least a few of them, but obviously these are just the petty complaints. It sucks but I can live with the fact that I haven’t seen my friends in months. I can live with the fact my wife and daughter are driving me insane despite my love for them. I can eventually reconcile the deep, deep shame I’ve felt for breaking down and actually watching the entire Tiger King series (OF COURSE, Carol Baskin killed her husband!). It all sucks, but in the grander scheme of things, none of that stuff matters. So let’s get serious now and turn our attention this unsettling “grander scheme.”

Here’s the bottom line; we have a very bleak and limited set of options in regards to this crisis and unfortunately even those options are largely out of our control. I’d suggest that those options look something like the following: Accept/Cope/Adapt and/or become sick and die.

We’ve (hopefully) all been practicing the standard precautions such as hand washing, social distancing and not touching our face (and by the way, this is TMI but I have a lot of nose hair and it itches all the time. There’s no way I’m ever going to be able to stop touching my face. It’s just not gonna happen). Our exercising of these precautions decreases the likelihood of contracting COVID 19 but it does not preclude it. We have influence, not power. Whether or not we contract the coronavirus is largely a matter of fate. The act of contracting the virus and then how it ultimately impacts us is also mostly a matter of chance. We have very little power in this matter but strangely, that lack of power is precisely where both therapy and existentialism come in handy.

Existential thought suggests that as humans, we are finite and limited in power. Other than the fact that we, can contemplate our finality, we are not special. We are accidentally conscious bipeds, who, like every other bit of matter on our planet, are made  of carbon, nitrogen and oxygen. We are animals not unlike any other in our universe and follow the same physical laws as every other being both great and small. Existential therapy takes this line of thought further and suggests that if we acknowledge this powerlessness and this lack of specialness and integrate it into our lives, we live more fully. When we acknowledge, accept and then integrate the idea of our powerlessness over death, we tend to use it as a motivator rather than a depressor. We tend to view our life as fleeting and, therefore, more fragile and sacred and then make a greater effort to live it in a mindful, satisfying and fulfilling way. In this we see exactly what I stated earlier; accept, cope/adapt/die. In regards to death, we have terribly limited power. We can diet, exercise and live our lives with the utmost regard for safety and still get hit by a drunk driver and die. We can be privy to the most advanced medical techniques on the planet and will still, at some point, become sick and die. We can wash our hands, not touch our face and work from home for the next thousand years and still die from the coronavirus. 

Let me be clear; I AM NOT saying, “you’re gonna die anyway, may as well live it up and go party.” That would be the hedonistic path and that path ultimately leads to disillusion and lack of meaning and purpose. I AM saying take this crisis seriously. I AM saying take precautions. I’m saying make every attempt to live as safely and healthfully as possible while at the same time knowing and acknowledging that your efforts will ultimately be in vain; perhaps via COVID-19, perhaps by other means. Accept that in the act of living, we risk sickness and certain death but can and still should still live our lives in meaningful and purposeful ways. In possibly the most bluntly stated way ever, take precautions and try to survive this. But if you don’t, that’s fine. You were already dead anyway.

In closing allow me to do something I rarely do and give some direct advice. Here are, as a client once said, some “actionable items”:

  1. Set your feelings aside: This is one of the few times when a therapist would advise this and I’m very uncomfortable suggesting it but I still believe it to be true. The coronavirus is a potential threat to our survival. In survival situations, our fight or flight mechanism can easily be activated. It’s a good thing that can keep us alive but it’s meant to be a short term solution. It will not serve us as individuals or as a species remain in constant paranoia. This is the time to say “I’m going to focus on logic for the moment. I’m going to do what I know is healthy and smart both long term and in the immediate sense. My feelings may mislead me at the moment so I’m going to compartmentalize; I’m going to put my feelings in a box and come back to them when it’s safe to do so.”
  2. Accept the lack of power you have over this: If you catch it, you catch it. If your loved ones catch it, they catch it. If you die, you die. There’s very little you can do about this and the sooner and more readily you accept this, the easier the situation becomes. Those people you see at Buffalo Bayou and Memorial Park who are CLEARLY throwing caution to the wind in regards to social distancing, the 6ft 5in guy in Kroger who got close enough to reach above my head to obtain something off the top shelf, the idiotic, fear mongering preachers who say that this crisis is punishment from god, the just as idiotic leadership in this country who seem to have zero clue what to do with this situation; they’re all outside both your influence and power. Accept life on life’s terms and do what’s in your power. Let go of the rest.
  3. Take good care of yourself and your loved ones: Keep up with your daily routines even though they my seem pointless now. As mentioned earlier, they were pointless already, we’re just more acutely aware of it currently. The act of coping entails accepting the situation as it is and then asking yourself “what can I do to work around this as best I can”. Keeping up with your diet, exercise, sleep schedule, meditation, and other healthy practices won’t resolve the situation but they can help for now, whether “for now” ends up being 2 days or 80 years.
  4. Use this time to better yourself but don’t beat yourself up if you aren’t able to do so: I’ve heard that in China, smog has started to lift. I’ve read that in Yosemite National Park, wildlife is flourishing. I’ve witnessed firsthand, a decrease in noise pollution and a LARGE increase in biking and walking in my neighborhood and on the larger scale a general trend towards more friendliness, compassion and cooperation in people. Take a cue from this trend and use this time to reflect and shore up the areas within yourself that may need it. Become stronger in spite of this tragedy. When you get depressed and want to sit on the couch, fight that urge. Get up and do something, ANYTHING. But there may be those days that you simply can’t. We are finite and fallible creatures and some days we will lose the battle. Allow yourself to be human and take the time to rest when you need it. Do not go gently into that good night but accept that you will ultimately go…and that’s fine too.
  5. Seek therapy: Yeah, maybe this is a plug for my practice but so be it. Seek help. Counselors are out there and we all need them now. Make that call, send an email or send a text. I and others like me are here to help.
  6. Stop watching the fucking news: The need to be informed is valid but for most of us, it only serves to make us more paranoid and depressed. If you’re reading this, you’re likely a therapy client or considering becoming one and therefore, likely depressed and/or anxious. The last thing you need right now is further fuel. If there are important bits that you need to know, there’s almost a 100% chance that you’ll hear it from your friends, family or on social media or elsewhere. Stop making yourself crazy thinking you’ll miss something.

I wish you well and hope you and those you care about and even those you don’t care about stay healthy and safe. Good luck!

This time you get a double bonus! 2 unrelated songs and 2 unrelated book recommendations:

Song: Cannibal Corpse- The Bleeding: mostly recommended because I was listening to it while writing this.

Song: Man, The Robot- Your Absence Has Been a Constant Presence: Mostly recommended because it’s my band and we just released it!

https://mantherobot.bandcamp.com/album/your-absence-has-been-a-constant-presence

Unrelated Book: The Plague by Albert Camus. Mostly recommended because it so completely applies to humanity’s current state.

Unrelated Book: The Little Turtle: Mostly recommended because I wrote it. Message for details!

Turtle1

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Brandon Bosses You Around Part 2 (Minimalism and Grocery Lists)

Time for the next installment in the Brandon tells you how to live series; Grocery shopping! I can’t think of a more exciting topic to discuss (WordPress doesn’t give the option to insert the standard eye roll emoji, so just assume it to be placed here).

Picking up from the last blog,(https://brandonpeterslpc.wordpress.com/2019/08/07/brandon-bosses-you-around-1-minimalism-mental-emotional-health-and-meal-planning/) once you’ve created your menu and done a few more up front steps, creating your grocery list is mostly copy, paste, purchase. Let’s start with the “up front steps” and then I’ll move on to some examples. First, you’ll need to create what I call the “Non Menu Grocery List”. As the name implies, this is a list of items that won’t fit neatly into your menu for the week. Maybe you like Gatorade from those little bottles they sell. Maybe it’s 6 pack of beer, or a bag of pretzels or maybe it’s gum to help with your stank breath. What I’m talking about is making a list of those items that you won’t be using directly for your meals but that you like to keep on hand anyway. An example would be hot sauce. I may not use Frank’s hot sauce in my actual food prep but it’s nice to have on hand if I want to flavor up one of the meals I have prepared. Another example is chips. I love, love, LOVE store brand nacho cheese tortilla chips. I can easily run through an entire bag in a single setting if I don’t exercise some self control. I like to keep a bag or two of them on hand but I’ll never actually be using them for a recipe. (Side note: I like chips so much that a LONG time ago I wrote a stupid poem about them and posted it to MySpace. If you can find it, I’ll give you 5 bucks.  The winner of the $5 will likely be my buddy Donald who is an avid reader and frequent smart ass critique-er of my blogs. IT’S ON SON!)  

Here’s an actual copy of my Non Menu Grocery List:

Soy sauce

Banana

Blueberries

Raspberries

Zucchini

Jalapeno

Black beans

Boca soy crumbles

Habanero sauce

Taco seasoning

Garlic powder

Chopped spinach

Tony Chachere seasoning

Plantains

Morningstar chicken nuggets

Frank’s hot sauce

Corn chips

Cheese pizza

Green olives

Canned potatoes

Tomato soup

Veggie soup

Corn

Spinach

Asparagus

Trader Joe’s rice

Peas

Chopped peppers

Bell peppers 

Tortilla chips

Celery

Garlic

Oregano

Paprika

Cayenne pepper

Black pepper

Apples

Apple juice

Grape juice

Tortillas

Flour

Chickpeas

Mayonnaise

Dill weed

Lemon juice

Canned Potatoes

Cashews

Cilantro

Brown rice

Cumin

Paprika

Egg noodles

Peanut butter

Lime juice

Roasted peanuts

Seitan

Cauliflower

Gum

Trader Joe’s Mandarin chicken

Trader Joe’s Mozzarella burger

Trader Joe’s Fruit Squishee

Trader Joe’s Plantain chips

Pepperoni Pizza

Pringles

PB+J Crackers

Bagels

Almond milk

Trader Joe’s Veggie lasagna

There’s no place in my recipes for bagels but my daughter will eat them for breakfast. There’s no recipe that calls for PB&J crackers but they’re a good on the go snack. I eat cereal with almond milk 4 days a week but it’s not necessarily a “menu item” if you will. Point is, you’ll need to create a list like this to account for odds and ends that don’t fit into your menu.

Next step:

Once you have your menu and your non menu list completed, start copying and pasting! Here’s my menu for week 37 of the year (which it happens to be right now, Check out https://whatweekisit.com if you don’t want to calculate it) for this 2 week grocery shopping cycle. (I like to buy a few things for that 3rd week just in case something puts grocery shopping behind):

WEEK 35 Trader Joe’s Enchiladas, Side of the week- Broccoli and Cheese
Dinner – Chickpea Curry 

WEEK 36 Veggie Spaghetti, Side of the week– Columbian Lentils
Dinner – Potato Curry

WEEK 37 Veggie Tacos, Side of the week- Spanish Rice
Dinner – Bean and Salsa Torta 

Here then is my grocery list, copied and pasted from documents I created and then saved in my email (thus giving me easy access at all times):

Trader Joe’s Enchiladas x 6

Broccoli and cheese x 6

4 potatoes, peeled and cubed

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 yellow onion, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 1/2 teaspoons cayenne pepper

4 teaspoons curry powder

4 teaspoons garam masala

1 (1 inch) piece fresh ginger root, peeled and minced

2 teaspoons salt

1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes

1 (15 ounce) can garbanzo beans (chickpeas), rinsed and drained

1 (15 ounce) can peas, drained

1 (14 ounce) can coconut milk

Spaghetti noodles

Uncle Ben’s Spanish rice x 6

1 15-ounce can black beans, or pinto beans, rinsed

3 tablespoons prepared salsa

1 tablespoon jalapeño

½ teaspoon ground cumin

1 ripe avocado, pitted

2 tablespoons minced onion

1 tablespoon lime juice

1 16- to 20-inch-long baguette, preferably whole-grain

1⅓ cups shredded green cabbage

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

3 whole cloves

1 white onion, halved and thinly sliced

3 ounces tomato paste

2 tablespoons curry powder

1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon ground turmeric

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon dried basil

1 pinch ground allspice

1 pinch salt

3 cups warm water, or as needed

1 (15 ounce) can garbanzo beans (chickpeas), drained

1/3 red bell pepper, chopped

2 cups fresh green beans, trimmed

1 cup frozen peas

1 teaspoon rice wine vinegar

Salt and ground black pepper to taste

1/2 cup lentils

1 1/2 cups water

1 small tomato, chopped

1 small onion, chopped

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

2 small yellow potatoes, cubed

Tortillas

Broccoli

Cauliflower

Trader Joe’s peppers

Taco seasoning

Habanero sauce

Frank’s hot sauce

Olives

Boca soy crumbles

Now add on the Non menu grocery list Items:

Trader Joe’s Enchiladas x 6

Broccoli and cheese x 6

4 potatoes, peeled and cubed

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 yellow onion, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 1/2 teaspoons cayenne pepper

4 teaspoons curry powder

4 teaspoons garam masala

1 (1 inch) piece fresh ginger root, peeled and minced

2 teaspoons salt

1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes

1 (15 ounce) can garbanzo beans (chickpeas), rinsed and drained

1 (15 ounce) can peas, drained

1 (14 ounce) can coconut milk

Spaghetti noodles

Uncle Ben’s Spanish rice x 6

1 15-ounce can black beans, or pinto beans, rinsed

3 tablespoons prepared salsa

1 tablespoon jalapeño

½ teaspoon ground cumin

1 ripe avocado, pitted

2 tablespoons minced onion

1 tablespoon lime juice

1 16- to 20-inch-long baguette, preferably whole-grain

1⅓ cups shredded green cabbage

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

3 whole cloves

1 white onion, halved and thinly sliced

3 ounces tomato paste

2 tablespoons curry powder

1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon ground turmeric

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon dried basil

1 pinch ground allspice

1 pinch salt

3 cups warm water, or as needed

1 (15 ounce) can garbanzo beans (chickpeas), drained

1/3 red bell pepper, chopped

2 cups fresh green beans, trimmed

1 cup frozen peas

1 teaspoon rice wine vinegar

salt and ground black pepper to taste

1/2 cup lentils

1 1/2 cups water

1 small tomato, chopped

1 small onion, chopped

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

2 small yellow potatoes, cubed

Tortillas

Broccoli

Cauliflower

Trader Joe’s peppers

Taco seasoning

Habanero sauce

Franks

Olives

Boca soy rumbles

Soy sauce

Banana

Blueberries

Raspberries

Zucchini

Jalapeno

Black beans

Boca soy crumbles

Habanero sauce

Taco seasoning

Garlic powder

Chopped spinach

Tony chachere’s

Plantains

Faux chicken nuggets

Franks

Corn chips

Cheese pizza

Green olives

Canned potatoes

Tomato soup

Veggie soup

Corn

Spinach

Asparagus

Trader Joe’s rice

Peas

Chopped peppers

Bell peppers X 2 (for stuffed peppers)

Tortilla chips

Celery

Garlic

Oregano

Paprika

Cayenne

Black pepper

Apples

Apple juice

Grape juice

Tortillas

Flour

Chickpeas

Mayonnaise

Dill weed

Lemon juice

Canned Potatoes

Cashews

Cilantro

Brown rice

Cumin

Paprika

Egg noodles

Peanut butter

Lime juice

Roasted peanuts

Seitan

Cauliflower

Gum

Trader Joe’s mandarin chicken

Trader Joe’s mozzarella burger

Trader Joe’s fruit squishee

Trader Joe’s plantain chips

Pepperoni Pizza

Pringles

PB+J Crackers

Bagels

Almond milk

Trader Joe’s Veggie lasagna

DEAR GOD WHAT A LONG, UNWIELDY LIST! THAT’LL COST A ZILLON DOLLARS A MONTH! Calm down, there are a few more steps. Go through and eliminate any duplicates, things you may not need for this particular menu cycle, as well as the measurements and such from your list and you’ll have this:

Trader Joe’s enchiladas x 6

Brocoli and cheese x 6

Potatoes

Vegetable oil

Onion

Garlic

Cumin

Cayenne pepper

Curry powder

Garam masala

Ginger

Diced tomatoes

Chickpeas

Peas

Spaghetti noodles

Spanish rice x 6

Black beans

Salsa

Jalapeño

Avocado

Lime juice

Hoagie rolls

Cabbage

Olive oil

Cloves

Tomato paste

Flour

Turmeric

Garlic powder

Basil

Allspice

Red bell pepper

Green beans

Vinegar

Lentils

Tortillas

Broccoli

Cauliflower

Trader Joe’s peppers

Taco seasoning

Habanero sauce

Franks

Olives

Boca soy crumbles

Soy sauce

Banana

Blueberries

Raspberries

Zucchini

Habanero sauce

Taco seasoning

Chopped spinach

Tony chachere’s

Plantains

Morning star chicken nuggest

Franks

Corn chips

Cheese pizza

Green olives

Canned potatoes

Tomato soup

Veggie soup

Corn

Asparagus

Trader Joe’s rice

Chopped peppers

Tortilla chips

Celery

Garlic

Oregano

Paprika

Cayenne

Black pepper

Apples

Apple juice

Grape juice

Lime juice

Gum

Trader Joe’s plantain chips

Pepperoni Pizza

Almond milk

Okay, that’s a little better. But there’s one more step and it may be the most important one. It’s the step that eliminates duplicates, eliminates waste and brings the cost down significantly; COMPARE THIS LIST TO WHAT YOU ALREADY HAVE ON HAND!!! If you already have enough of that item to get you through the next 2 weeks, cross it off the list. When I do it with the list above, here’s the result:

Trader Joe’s Enchiladas x 6

Broccoli and cheese x 4

Spanish rice x 3

Cabbage

Tomato paste

Red bell pepper

Green beans

Tortillas

Trader Joe’s peppers

Banana

Blueberries

Raspberries

Plantains

Corn chips

Cheese pizza

Tomato soup

Veggie soup

Tortilla chips

Gum

Trader Joe’s plantain chips

Pepperoni pizza

Almond milk

Look how short that list is! We went from roughly 167 items to around 23 items and from well over $100 to less than $50! Remember, Minimalism isn’t just about getting rid of stuff, it’s also about eliminating wasted time and money and unnecessary actions. When you have less externally to focus on, you can be more mindful of what’s going on in the present. Research suggests that mindful living helps us live longer and be healthier and happier while we’re doing it. With a menu and a grocery list, you save money. You reduce food waste and food storage. You waste less time at the grocery store. Potentially, you eliminate unwanted calories and pounds (by eating only preplanned, healthy foods and keeping on hand only the ingredients for such). Having less to focus on externally, be it actual objects or unnecessary practices, helps you live in a simpler, healthier way. The brain space cleared up by simplifying your grocery experience opens up new areas for mental and emotional growth and development. Reducing the external makes more room in the internal for gains. 

Unrelated Song: The Melvins – Boris. If you know, then you already know. If you don’t sit back and find out.

Unrelated Book:

The Myth of Sisyphus – Albert Camus
Maybe I already did this one but it’s still been a major influence on my life both personally and clinically. You should read it too!

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Brandon Bosses You Around # 1 (Minimalism, Mental/Emotional Health and Meal Planning)

Invariably in an initial session, I tell clients some version of “Therapy isn’t just me telling you what to do, it’s something you and I build collaboratively”. (Generally I phrase it as ‘Therapy isn’t just some guy with a degree and a fantastic beard telling you what to do’ and, of course, it gets the small amount of awkward pity laughter that a lame, dad joke of its kind should get). My approach to therapy assumes that within each of us exists a self-healing mechanism and that if you and I create in our sessions the “right conditions”, as Carl Rogers once said, that self-healing mechanism takes over and does most of the work for us. My assumption is that you already possess everything you need to be happy, healthy and successful. My job as a therapist is not to teach it to you but rather, to help you tap into the resources that are already there; to help you remove the stumbling blocks that are in the way of the hidden power you undoubtedly possess. The therapist, on one hand is always working hard but in other ways, does very little.

Having said that, today I’m going to break my own rules and tell you what to do. Or more appropriately, I’m going to tell you how to do it. Okay, how about this; I’m going to tell you how I DO IT and hope you’ll do it too. Better? Consider this the first in what I plan to be a series of blogs in which I prove to you that I practice what I preach and where I show you a version of how you might practice it too. There will be a tad less philosophical fluff in this series than there normally is and and in it’s place more concrete suggestions for actual behavioral change. Also, the blogs will be shorter. Yay you. Keep in mind these are MY VERSIONS. They may not work for you in the form presented and they may not work at all. Likely, however, they will work if you take the basic idea and modify it for your own life. So, here it goes. Brandon’s soon to be not so secret guide to meal planning!!

Most people’s first reaction to Brandon’s Meal Planning is “WHAT THE FUCK? YOU PLAN YOUR MEALS A YEAR IN ADVANCE?” Yes, yes I do. Sure, it sounds a bit extreme but it’s actually not. It’s a bit of work up front but after that, it’s terribly simple and makes life so much easier in so many ways. Furthermore, meal planning/prepping is one of the ways I practice minimalism. For me, part of minimalism means eliminating waste; wasted time, wasted effort, wasted thoughts, wasted feelings, wasted money…the list goes on and on. With my meal planning/prepping I avoid several pitfalls; when you come home from a long day at work, you don’t have to cook. You just warm up. You don’t have to come up with some meal idea and hope you have all the ingredients, you just warm up your food. You don’t have to come home frustrated and angry and hungry just to find that you don’t have any food because you forgot to grocery shop, you just warm up what’s already there. You don’t have to come home to an empty pantry and decide to eat at McDonalds instead, and spend unnecessary money and calories, and support a horrible corporation, YOU JUST WARM UP THE FOOD THAT’S ALREADY THERE. Meal planning and meal prepping are ways to simplify your life, create less waste and overall reduce precious time and energy on food, leaving more available for mental and emotional growth and development.

Here are some facts to help create a framework:
1. There are 52 weeks in a year
2. I see clients 4 days a week
3. I eat mostly vegan meals (by the way,just because it’s vegan doesn’t mean it’s healthy…something I’m working on)
4. Due mostly to my dietary preferences, my wife and I cook separately (formerly, we grocery shopped separately as well but we currently do grocery pickup, which will be discussed at some point)
5. My wife and I alternate weeks on whose responsibility it is to take our daughter to school and prepare her lunch.
6. We generally eat out Friday night, Saturday lunch and Saturday dinner
7. We have a fairly strict written budget that we track fairly meticulously (notice all the ‘fairly’s’ in there)
8. We grocery shop every 2 weeks, with the occasional in between trip for small items.

With these parameters in place, I then move onto a simple formula for meals:

Lunch and dinner consist of:
1 vegan/vegetarian main course
1 vegan/vegetarian side dish
1 fruit
Weekly -X 4 for lunch, X 5 for dinner
(Sundays I mostly wing it for lunch)

Breakfast consists of:
Saturday-Wednesday: Cereal with berries and almond milk
Thursday – Peanut butter and jelly sandwich
Friday – No breakfast (Just a weird quirk of mine. I hate breakfast and breakfast food so I allow myself to skip it on Fridays as a treat.)

In order to construct my meal plan document, I simply found about 20 or so recipes on the internet that I thought I’d really enjoy and that were relatively simple to make. Then I did the same for side dishes. Then I copied and pasted the ingredients and cooking instructions for each meal and side dish onto the bottom of my meal plan document. (An obvious but easy to overlook trick is to not write down all the ingredients and instructions but to just copy and paste them from the internet onto the bottom of your meal plan document. It saves a ton of time). At the first of the year (usually around December actually) I start with a blank form and randomly plot down meals and side dishes from the lists I’ve created. For example, starting out the form would look like this:

WEEK 1
Dinner-

WEEK 2
Dinner-

WEEK 3
Dinner-

Then, randomly pulling from the list of meals at the bottom, I’d place meals in the slots:

WEEK 1 Chickpea Sandwich
Dinner- Veggie Burrito

WEEK 2 Cheese Pizza
Dinner- Trader Joe’s Lasagna

WEEK 3 Asian Tofu,
Dinner- Pablano and Mushroom Fajitas

Again pulling from the list of about 15 or so recorded at the bottom of my meal plan document, I add a side dish for lunch:

WEEK 1 Chickpea Sandwich, Side of the week- Trader Joe’s Rice/Broccoli/Cauliflower
Dinner- Veggie Burrito

WEEK 2 Cheese Pizza, Side of the week- Trader Joe’s Lentils
Dinner- Trader Joe’s Lasagna

WEEK 3 Asian Tofu, Side of the week- Trader Joe’s Jaipur Vegetables
Dinner- Pablano and mushroom fajitas

The finished version of the form looks like this:
52 WEEK MENU
2019

WEEK 1 Chickpea Sandwich, Side of the week- Trader Joe’s Rice/Broccoli/Cauliflower
Dinner- Veggie Burrito, Tortilla Chips, Banana

WEEK 2 Cheese Pizza, Side of the week- Trader Joe’s Lentils
Dinner- Trader Joe’s Lasagna, Vegetable Soup, Grapes

WEEK 3 Asian Tofu, Side of the week- Trader Joe’sJaipur Vegetables
Dinner- Pablano and Mushroom Fajitas, Corn Chips, Peaches

With this plan, I only need to prepare and cook 2 meals and two side dishes per week (Since I’m home for most dinners on this plan I can easily just slap something together like canned green beans or canned soup as a side dish). Super simple right? The remaining slots that aren’t accounted for are usually are filled with restaurant meals and a grocery store pizza on Friday. Now, you may say that you can’t eat the same thing every day. First of all, I’ll say bullshit. You’ll be fine if you don’t get endless variety. Don’t be such a spoiled and entitled, whiney American. Secondly, it’s not nearly as bad as you think. Third, the time, energy and money you’ll save doing it this way will be worth a bit of epicurean boredom. Furthermore, YOUR VERSION of MY meal plan could have slots for 5 different meals each week, or 2 different meals or 7 different meals, etc. And finally, for my lunches at work, I try and simply view food as fuel. I don’t have to love it (even though I usually do). It’s just nourishment that I need to get me through the day.
Repeat this process for all 52 slots on your document and TADA, you’ve got yourself a meal plan buddy! You’re well on your way to less waste, less mental and emotional clutter, more time, more money and a happier, healthier, more minmimalistic and therefore easier life. Now go out and produce your own meal plan. In the next blog, I’ll discuss grocery shopping in reference to the meal plan above. Stay tuned!

Before I post the unrelated book and song, I’d like to give a very RELATED plug to a new colleague of mine, Judi Fallin Natareno. She’s the lead consultant at Clutter Free Families. Find her on Facebook at @ClutterFreeFamilies and give her a like!

Unrelated book recommendation: The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas J. Stanley – I’m sure I’ve said this a few times but this book really has changed my life. Really. You should read it.

Unrelated song – One of the weirdest bands I’ve ever seen. I give you PPL MVR!

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Minimalism Coaching; A New Specialty by Brandon Peters, LPC

What is minimalism coaching? To be honest, I’m not sure I have a clear definition. Unfortunately, being a private practice therapist forces you to be both clinician and business man. In regards to the latter, I’m looking for a blurb or a soundbite to market this whole thing and I’m not sure I’ve found one that would play well on my TV commercial (if I had that kind of marketing dollar at my disposal that is). I have a relatively stable idea in my own brain. I can “feel it”, I can see it in my head but still I find it extraordinarily hard to put into words. This may be due, in part, to the definition of Minimalism itself being somewhat vague and subject to personal interpretation. I’ve heard people ask questions like “How many plates does a Minimalist have?” or “Can I have a 2000 sq ft house and still be a Minimalist?” I feel like these questions are entirely missing the point but I also can’t objectively define WHY they are missing the point. I feel like Minimalism to you might not be Minimalism to me but we can both practice our versions of it and still get enjoy the same benefits. I don’t believe Minimalism has rigid boundaries; the idea is just an idea and can be interpreted as one sees fit. But again, that’s just my definition of it. As I’ve mentioned in other blogs, mental and emotional health, like the idea of minimalism, is a qualitative idea rather than a quantitative one. Therefore trying to rigidly define how to help someone lean more towards a lifestyle that is vague and personally subjective is terribly hard. But here’s an attempt at my own personal definition: A minimalism coach is one that helps clients to heal, overcome and integrate traumas and mental and emotional “hurts”/barriers that express themselves as a lifestyle of over accumulation of unnecessary and unhealthy things. These “things” or “stuff” come in multitudinous varieties both physical and nonphysical and express themselves in an individualized manner but almost always result in a maladaptive way of coping with the world that is usually but not always focused on the accumulation of and maintenance of physical objects.

In this particular role, my approach will be slightly different that of traditional therapist and the word “coaching” is at the heart of that difference. I often tell my client’s that while therapy is a definitely a collaborative enterprise I’m also working off a humanistically based theory that suggests that humans possess an innate mental/emotional healing mechanism. I will rarely say “do this, don’t do that”. All we have to do is create the right conditions in our therapeutic relationship and that mechanism does most of the work for us.  This approach assumes you already have the resources you need to be happy, healthy and successful. Our job in therapy is to remind and discover more than it is to teach and direct. Coaching on the other hand, is more directive. While you, the client remain in the driver’s seat as a fully formed adult with free will and resources, I will take a more hands on approach that is based on my own experience and conglomerated bits of research and anecdotal data. There often WILL be times when I advise “do this, don’t do that”.  However, as a minimalism coach, I won’t come to your house and help you organize. That part is up to you to interpret and put into play. What I will help with is the exploring and identifying of past traumas that push you in the direction of over consumption and/or in the direction of keeping unhealthy/unnecessary things in your life be they physical or nonphysical in nature. As our work progresses, I will also assist and encourage you in your behavioral change as you eliminate some of the unnecessary “things” in your life. I will teach and guide you along the way but it is your role to put these teachings and guiding’s into action. Again, as I’m understanding and approaching it, there is no simple formula for this. There is no standard definition of what minimalism is and no benchmark for how and when you will be “successful” in it other than your own self-reported sense of well being, and mental/emotional fulfillment.

To illustrate this process more fully, here’s a short vignette that’s based on a mixture of several fictional but realistic clients and how Minimalism Coaching would help:

Pete, 63 lives with his wife, Betty 60. Their 3 children are grown and no longer live with them and as with many folks their age, their home is stuffed to the breaking point with random junk accumulated over many decades. Pete and Betty have many unresolved issues from their individual childhoods, in their marriage and in their relationship with their sons, especially their oldest, Christopher who has struggled with drug addiction for years. Pete and Betty live in near poverty as Pete was laid off from his job several years ago after an injury that left him unable to work. As he is near retirement age, and still is in mediocre health, he has not been able to find suitable employment for a few years. They currently live off Pete’s meager disability income. Pete and Betty both grew up in similarly impoverished households and had relatively cold, emotionally neglectful families who were nearly always stressed and in conflict. Amongst other things, this has left them both with a deprivation mentality. The narrative that runs their life is “we’ll never have enough”, therefore, they hoard. Nothing is thrown away and the saying “I might need that someday” is a common one. They attach to “things” as a substitute for security. Betty has also said of the many things they have in their home “I never had anything as a kid but I’m an adult now and I can have anything I want”. This is a direct response to her emotionally and otherwise deprived/lacking upbringing. As a side effect of this, their home has reached near stereotypical hoarder levels. They acknowledge this to some degree but maintain that they are “going to do a spring cleaning soon”. However, the sheer overwhelming volume of things keeps this from ever happening. This creates a looping pattern of stress caused by feeling trapped by the stuff itself, shame and guilt related to its accumulation and lack of action taken on it in the first place and further mental chaos related to rarely ever having a clean, organized home.  It’s suggested that each item you own takes up a certain amount of brain space associated with it. Therefore, the more stuff, the more brain energy used, thus leaving far less energy to devote to health and well being. For Pete especially this plays out in both direct and indirect ways. He often buys used items, especially electronics and tools, at yard sales and thrift stores. The items rarely get used for more than a few weeks and eventually just get stored in the garage or in the home.  Pete is largely unaware of it but this is a subtle attempt to distract from his feelings. He focuses on the electronics and the purchasing of them rather than introspecting and taking a chance at bringing to the surface years of hurt and sadness. As the electronics and other items accumulate, they do, in fact, take up brain space and eventually DO distract him from his feelings.

In this scenario, the first order of business would be individual therapy aimed at exploring Pete and Betty’s upbringing and how it has contributed to their current lifestyle. As this progressed, exploration would also look at the emotions being avoided (in this case their feelings of failure related to their oldest son, lack of connection in their own marriage, feelings of failure at not having achieved more in life at an advanced age, etc.) In each part of this, therapy would also be asking, “how has this contributed to or expressed itself in accumulation and maintenance of “stuff”? As Pete and Betty work through some of those old emotions, they would also be asked to read specific books and articles on Minimalism and non consumerism in order to help retrain their brain in a newer, healthier direction. They would be given basic information regarding how neural pathways work and be encouraged to use Minimalism and related literature to start building these new neural networks. Also, obviously, they would be encouraged to continually assess their household in terms of a modified version of the Marie Kondo method. They would be instructed to ask themselves whether their items, behaviors and relationships meet the criteria of being “useful, beautiful or joyful” and if not, they would be encouraged to sell, donate or recycle or discard.

There’s not a whole of “content” to this as of yet. Again, as this is a newly developing specialty that’s inherently vague in nature, I’ll assume it will flesh itself out more as the actual practice of it takes place. As therapists, we spend a great deal of time learning theories. At some point, however, we have to practice those theories on live people.  We’re rarely ever ready when we first start but we do so cautiously and ethically so that at the very least, we do no harm and then carefully stumble and bumble our way towards mastery. This specialty will be no different. There are some basic theories that underlie it. Now I just need some volunteers to help me to experience it live. Any takers??

 

Brandon Peters
Licensed Professional Counselor
1712 Fairview
Houston, TX 77006
832.654.3147

http://www.brandonpeterslpc.com
http://www.facebook.com/brandonpeterslpc
http://www.brandonpeterslpc.wordpress.com

 

Unrelated book recommendation: 

The Millionaire Next Door– In a very literal way, this book has and continues to change my life and I haven’t even finished reading it!

Unrelated song recommendation: 

The bit starting around 4:12 still blows me away.

 

 

 

 

 

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Work Sux

In this blog I’m going to talk about a subject that may contain a great deal of what I like to call “Brandon punk rock morals”. I may come off a bit hippie liberal anti-capitalist douche. I AM a bit of all of those things but not entirely. I’m not anti-capitalist but I am anti-some of the things we practice culturally in America related to jobs and capitalism that bring us mental, emotional and other harm. I’m not necessarily saying I have a better answer and I’m only quietly muttering about what a better system might be. I am saying, out loud and proud however, that there are damaging parts of our occupational culture that can be decreased if not done away with entirely.
First, the hippie liberal douche part; Look around you. Everything you see was bought and sold…the drywall, the paint that lay on the drywall, the wood that comprises the frame on which the drywall hangs, the trucks that brought all those materials to the construction site, the gas that enabled them to do so and the machines that sucked it from the ground and later refined it. And speaking of that last part, it’s also worth mentioning that in each step of this process, an environmental resource was negatively impacted in some way. With every financial transaction, a further, but quieter price, is paid by the earth. Author Mark Boyle discusses this in great depth in his book “The Moneyless Manifesto” and I’d highly encourage you to read it.
There was a time in our species where jobs and money didn’t exist, a time when we simply took from the natural environment only what we needed and nothing more just like other animals do. I’m not necessarily saying it was a better time. I consider air conditioning to be one of the most important THINGS to EXIST, EVER. I’m putting it up there with love and charity and world peace and all those other grandiose ideas. It’s in the top 5 for sure. I’m not saying that I personally would want to live in that harmonious, balanced but un-air conditioned time, I’m just saying it existed. But, we act as if it didn’t. That’s where the problem starts. Ever heard yourself or someone else say “I HAVE to have a job”? No. No you don’t. Having a job is not mandatory nor is it even necessary in the grander scheme of things. It’s only that it benefits one in the current social/cultural situation in which we find ourselves. It’s an arbitrary product of how we’ve constructed our society. And it’s a rather new thing. If we look at humanity on the level of our existence as a species, there’s vastly more time behind us where we DID NOT conceptualize the world in terms of money and jobs than time before us. Perhaps it’s cross cultural but especially as Americans, we view our vocation as a central part of who we are as an individual. For some of us, it’s the main things that defines us. For others, it’s the only thing. “What do you do” is one of the first questions we ask a person when we first meet them. We’re trying to get a sense of who they are and the job they do, it’s suggested, is a great answer to this question. It’s important. So important that it forms a large part of the narrative of our lives; go to school, get a good job, buy a big house, drive a nice car. This is what we’re taught. If you follow those rules, you’re a success. You’re “good”. Conversely, if you don’t follow that line, you’re bad. You’ve failed. Something’s wrong with you. You didn’t work hard enough. You’re lazy. It’s your fault. Shame on you.
Recently, I visited Central and Eastern Europe. While in the Czech Republic, I visited The Museum of Communism. One of the ideas that stood out was the term “Shock Man”. As the museum materials explained, in the years of communism in the Czech Republic (then Czechoslovakia), the Shock Man was a man who worked well beyond his capacity with enthusiasm and vigor for the state. His productivity was in the order of hundreds of percentiles. He surpassed his fellow man with his output levels in a drastic fashion. It was shocking how hard he worked. The Shock Man, was how a man was supposed to be, went the Communist Party propaganda. He was the ideal of what a good citizen looked like. A success story was a man who worked well beyond his boundaries in service of the state. This was what morality and goodness looked like. Due to the blatant failures of the communist regime in that part of the world, it’s easy to look back and see that this was manipulation. The common man was worked to death and those at the top benefited from an eager, disposable labor force. It’s easy now to sit back and look at this period of time and see how open and obvious the corruption and oppression was. We can dismiss it as an afterthought. Obviously this was trickery and manipulation by an evil government. Everyone knows that right?
One version of the occupational situation of practically every American is this: A powerful entity exists with the sole purpose of obtaining the most productivity out of an individual or group of individuals for the least amount of all forms of compensation with the end goal of securing the most possible resources and power. (This sounds familiar. Is there an echo in here?) While I don’t believe that there’s some dark, mysterious, figure that sits upon an exalted throne somewhere behind the scenes, pulling the ropes of society whilst rubbing his hands together in a fiendish, cartoon like manner, I do believe that we have essentially the same result in modern America. Like the Shock Man of communism, a cultural system that says “Get a good job, be productive, make lots of money, buy a big house and lots of stuff or you’re a failure” mostly benefits those in power. And we’ve bought into it entirely.
Let’s add another idea to those mostly unspoken messages: Go to school, get a good job and if you do, you will be happy and fulfilled. Nearly every day in my practice, I hear client’s talk about how much anxiety, depression, stress and general negativity is created in direct relation to their job. Sometimes, it’s due to too much work, sometimes it’s not enough work. Sometimes, it’s due to a particular other person they work with. Sometimes it’s the uncertainty of their work and whether or not it will be there next week. Sometimes it’s the certainty that it will be there next week and forever and that they’ll be doing the same monotonous tasks for all eternity. Sometimes it’s the lack of pay. Sometimes it’s simple hatred for the nature of the job itself. The complaints come in as many varieties as there are paint colors in the Home Depot paint department. For many, this is a major part of where the problem comes from; “I’m doing exactly what I was told to do and it’s not working…I don’t feel satisfied, I don’t feel happy.” The simple reason for this, is that it’s a lie.
Before I go further, let me digress. I’m not suggesting that we all quit our jobs. I’m not saying that finding meaning in one’s work is a bad thing. I’m not suggesting that advances and innovations that have come of the occupational world are inherently evil. Again, I like AC. I’m glad some dude invented it and I’m glad that some massive corporation now produces them on a large scale. It’s a good thing. I have a lot of things that I’ve bought with the money from my job that I’m very happy to have. If I have to work a few long hours to keep my house in a perpetual state of cool, it’s worth it. If I have to have a job to put food in my daughter’s belly, sign me up. I like my job and I’m glad I have it. “It’s how I manage to live indoors and eat cooked food” as one client put it. But for the most part, that’s as far as it goes. It’s a means to an end. I do find meaning in what I do but it’s not the most important thing about me. being a therapist is a large part of my identity. But I’m also a father, a brother, a son, a musician, a writer, a martial artist, a knife maker, a Trekkie, a Simpsons fan and many, many other things. Therapy is definitely a passion and I’m lucky to be able to do it as a profession but it’s only as important of a priority as it has to be for me to be a solid professional, to be truly present for my clients and to make the money I need to provide the life I want to live. It’s important but not the most important thing.
James Hillman was a Jungian psychologist who’s ideas I’ve only more recently become aware. Although I disagree strongly with a lot of what he says, some of his thoughts to fit very well here. In one of his writings, Hillman suggests that therapists have been doing humanity a disservice since their emergence as a discipline. To paraphrase him, we have certain social, cultural, familial, economic and other institutions that serve as the model of and the source of information for “how to do things”. When we do those things according the model we’ve been given and they don’t work, we look inward and ask “what’s wrong with me” rather than questioning the model. He suggests further, that the therapy room, rather than being just a place for introspection, should be a “cell of revolution” where we look externally and challenge those ideas. A place where we say, for example, “maybe I’m not feeling bad just I had a rough childhood but also because most of the food available is unhealthy or because the water I drink isn’t always safe or because I live in a society where the leader of my society has modeled that it’s entirely okay to ‘grab her by the pussy’”. Maybe the problem is external rather than internal. Maybe it’s YOU and not ME. This is where I’ll take Hillman’s lead and suggest we do the same with our attitude towards work. We’ve been deceived. Directly and indirectly we’ve been told that if we have a good job and make lots of money, we’ll be happy and that we’re inherently good. THIS IS NOT ALWAYS TRUE. We’re also led to believe that if you don’t do this, you’re a failure. THIS IS NOT ALWAYS TRUE. We’re also taught to base the entirety of our self-esteem on these ideas. THIS IS DANGEROUS AND WILL LIKELY FAIL. A situation in which you are potentially being exploited will, due to its nature, always disappoint you. It is an absolute set up for failure to base one’s self esteem, emotional wellbeing, and personal identity on this. If your job or your company or your industry exists on some levels to use you as an expendable resource and plans to do so by as much exploitation as it can possibly get away with, WHY THE FUCK WOULD YOU CHOSE THAT AS THE THING ON WHICH TO BASE YOUR IDENTITY AND SELF ESTEEM? Don’t do it. It’s a trap.
Be productive, be a good employee. Find meaning in your work. But also remember that doing so in too large a measure means both an increased potential for disaster as well as the imminent risk of becoming a mindless, zombie sheep ripe for on ongoing slaughter. Don’t fall for the propaganda. Focus on parts of yourself that lie outside your job. Develop them and enjoy them. It can be as simple as finger painting or gardening or bike riding or writing blogs that only 7 people read. They don’t have to be grandiose, they only have to matter to you. When you do so, not only have you stopped the manipulation, you’ve also regained some free will. You decide what’s important because you chose it. Not because some unspoken idea says so while it quietly benefits from you doing it. And if your chosen meaning fails, you have the free will and power to change it or chose something else entirely.

Unrelated song: Slothrust – Magnets part I and II. A band that was recommended to me by a former client and oh how grateful to him I am for this! This is a live version and in my opinion is way better than the album version.

Unrelated book – The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey
Yeah. He’s an asshole. But he’s an asshole who makes some good points and many of those points transfer well to the clinical setting.

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Meet Your New BFF, Nihilism!

It was only a short while ago that I fully began to know what the word “nihilism” really means. Admittedly, I’m only about 95% certain that I even know now. I’m almost certain that I mispronounce it on a regular basis. As a self proclaimed Existentialist and considering how much the idea pops up in existentialist literature, perhaps I should be ashamed of my shortcoming in this area but mostly,  I’m not. (I’ll attempt to justify that apathy in direct relation this blog later so be on the lookout for it) And besides, like YOU’VE never used a word in conversation you didn’t fully understand, PLEASE! (eye roll).

My initial introduction to nihilism came from Nietzsche and I understood it to mean “the reevaluation of all values” (this is where I claim further ignorance because I only THINK he said that. If you’ve read any of his work, you’ll know they’re super hard to follow, so I may be incorrect on this as well). When I heard “reevaluation of all values” my interpretation was this; question everything… It may be that all the things you feel and believe are not as true as you’ve been taught to believe. Nothing is certain. All things are relative. Through his spokesperson Zarathustra, Nietzsche stated that god was dead and, therefore, there exists no judge other than ourselves for interpretations of the world around us. The subjective experience of the individual is the ultimate source of what is good and true. All values are are based on individual interpretation. (This is argued in other ways in my ‘Fuck Your Culture’ blog: https://brandonpeterslpc.wordpress.com/2018/03/01/fuck-your-culture/).

This sounds like an amazing and wonderful thing to me! If there are no preset rules for humanity and no ultimate designer of value then what remains is the absolute freedom to interpret life entirely on my own terms. What autonomy! What power! No omnipotent deity watching over my shoulder reading and judging my thoughts, no angry creator threatening me with eternal torment if I’m not wearing the right hat or if I shave my beard, or eat the wrong animal, no preset rules on how to live my life other than the ones I chose!

As I dig deeper into this idea, however, I’m understanding that Nietzsche and other philosophers see nihilism as a BAD thing. There’s an old cautionary statement regarding free will that goes something like this: “Everything is permitted“. (I should know who said it but I don’t). What this implies is that a lack of preset morality and preset rules on how to live leaves open all options, rendering all choices free from consequence beyond the immediate. If good is good, why can’t evil be good too? If one has free will, one can choose from an infinite number of options on how to live and in my more current understanding of what nihilism means, they’re all equally valid and moral as there are no operational definitions on what is The Way. One can choose the pious, saintly life or exercise free will in the direction of becoming the most prolific child rapist the world has ever known and theoretically, if there are no rules other than the ones we create for ourselves, they are both equally valid and moral choices.

This is where I’ve already lost some of you; “My god! Did you hear Brandon, A THERAPIST, say that child sex offense is a valid way to live!?” No, that’s NOT what I said. In Back to the Future, Doc Brown once accused Marty McFly of “not thinking 4th dimensionally“. This is where I’ll ask you to do the same. There’s a realm outside of our everyday, westernized, Americanized, Christianized, religionized, standard cultural moral upbringings where no values exist. My current understanding of nihilism is that it suggests that all of what we believe about everything is arbitrarily chosen rather than emanating from some external Truth. We are born with the capacity for free will and, therefore, the capacity to chose what we believe. We have the capacity to go right along with these arbitrary teachings or to completely disregard them. The choice to live in this way versus that way exist on a relativistic continuum where all choices have the same weight.

On the contrary, if there are preset moral standards then it can be argued that they must have come from somewhere outside ourselves (i.e. a deity). It then follows that the choice to live this way versus that way is more cut and dry; don’t live this way because god says not to…this thing is this and that thing is that, because god says so. In this scenario, morality and interpretation are provided by the designer of morality and interpretation. If there is no designer, however, then there is no morality. No interpretation. Nothing is inherently good or evil. All things are permitted and all of them are of equal moral value. If there is no god to judge that sexual abuse is immoral then it cannot be said, in a conclusive way, to actually be immoral.

Again, I’ve probably lost a few of you. I’m sure some readers are saying “but it’s obvious and demonstrable that sexual abuse harms the victim and maybe even the perpetrator”. Yes. I agree, wholeheartedly. Obviously, I believe that committing a sex crime is one of the more evil forms of the trillions of harms that one could inflict upon another. There’s the argument that if it causes harm then it is inherently evil. That’s an important point that I largely agree with but it lies beyond the scope of this blog. For now, suffice it to say, that in the philosophical realm, nihilism presents a problem. If there are no preset rules, if there are no operational definitions for anything, then anything can be considered anything. All things are permitted, even that which we have socially and otherwise prescribed as evil.

One of the manifestations of the problem of nihilism that Camus speaks of (again, my interpretation) is a sort of, hopeless despair. If all things are permitted, how can we ever really know what the right one is? If evil can be committed and we can’t even fully define it as evil in an absolute way, then there truly is no stronghold for us to cling to. “Why even bother?” asks this form of despair. If all things have equal value, then perhaps that value is zero; maybe nothing matters. This is where Camus’ idea of “The Absurd” comes in to play; “meaning seeking creatures thrust into a world devoid of meaning”. If nothing matters, then there is no meaning and unfortunately, humans don’t have a great track record for living long healthy lives that are without it. Despair and suicide are the natural outcomes of this type of life we’re told. Camus warns us that nihilism is the sure path to this type of despair and encourages a zest for life in the act of seeking and creating your own meaning as part of the antidote. I agree with this fully and try to incorporate it into my life. BUT, hesitantly, I’ll dare to challenge Camus and Nietzsche and some of the other mighty forces in philosophy and suggest it’s more complicated than this. This is where I’ll remind you and myself of that I’m challenging ideas that are far older than I and ones that have been pondered by men far smarter than I, so please excuse me if it sounds a bit tentative.

If you’ve been waiting for how this relates to psychotherapy, here it is; Rather than seeing a nihilistic attitude as a sure path towards ending ones’s own life, I’ll suggest, that we instead run headlong into it, that we embrace it and integrate it into our lives. If, according to this version of thought, nothing really matters, we can extend that line of thinking to say “nothing really matters, therefore, I get to chose what matters and how much it matters”. I say take this line of logic to it’s breaking point. Create your meaning and focus your time and energy on those things. Make the important things more important, make pettier the petty things. But perhaps the greater power of this idea lies on the other side of the fence; not what you chose to give value but what you chose to not value. I can be lazy or contradictory or hypocritical or selfish or shallow or pretentious or benevolent or selfless and NONE OF IT MATTERS. If you are any of these things or hell, ALL of these things, in the grander scheme of the universe, it doesn’t matter and you don’t have to feel bad about it. You don’t have to be depressed or anxious about it. If what is good or bad is subjective and everything is permitted, chose the rules and interpretations that will enable you to live a longer, healthier, more satisfying life. Society or other prescribed moral philosophies may suggest that if you are lazy, fat, homosexual, short, an immigrant, etc, then you are bad. If all values are subjective and self created, WHY would you CHOOSE to agree? All things are permitted…why not permit yourself to be a fat, lazy, short, homosexual immigrant who’s great!

Obviously, these are philosophical ideas. A lot of unpacking still remains here. The preceding are examples of mental and emotional jujitsu that are VASTLY harder to express in actual, concrete ways than they are to simply express in a written form. There’s still the idea that if everything is permitted and that if one has free will, one also has a responsibility to act in a manner that is as free from harm to self and others as is possible. It’s suggested that free will and responsibility are a package deal. You can’t have one without the other. With great power comes great responsibility, it’s said. Again, at least for this blog, this will remain unexplored but it’s such an important side note to the idea of nihilism that I thought I should at least tip my hat to it.

One of the things I remind client’s of frequently regards the nature of the therapist client relationship. Although the general public may misunderstand therapy as a guy with a degree and a fantastic beard just telling you what to do, it’s not that. It’s not me just telling you what to do and how to live. However, since this is therapy in blog form, I’ll break the rules a bit and tell you what to do; Incorporate nihilism into your life. Embrace your free will and choose your meaning. Everything is permitted. Permit yourself to make choices that benefit you in a positive, healthy way and permit yourself to choose to not worry and feel guilty about things that will detract from your life. None of it matters anyway, so why not just choose to make things really great?

Unrelated song:
Wait…did I already do this one? Oh well, if I did, it’s one that’s worth repeating. The opening track it 10 minutes long but it’s well worth your time. From my home state of Arkansas, Pallbearer.

Unrelated book recomendation:

The Missing Piece by Shel Silverstein. Did I do this one already too? Is Brandon running out of material??  Still a good book.  It changed my life.

 

 

 

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Possibly the Most Important YouTube Video Ever.

I’m a skeptic; I don’t know anything about the guy in this video so I can’t vouch for his credentials. I don’t immediately believe all the sources mentioned here and I question the validity of the research that is mentioned as I do all research and sources.  I’m also not a huge Joe Rogan fan and feel almost ashamed of using him as a source for a blog. However, if all that is said in this video is accurate, (and I believe it to be so) then the world of mental health treatment can and needs to be almost completely revised. (And by the way, I DO take GREAT joy in reminding the reader that these are things I’ve been saying since the beginning of my career). Rather than continuing with this dramatic buildup, I’ll just let the video speak for itself as it does so very well. Please watch the entire thing and share this video as much as you can.

I don’t own the rights to this, blah, blah, blah.

 

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Brandon Moves to Montrose! (News and stuff)

Consider this a total cheat of a blog. No deep philosophical ideas presented here. Just some news and miscellaneous crap and oh yeah…MARKETING!! At least it’s a short one for once right?

Firstly, with the closing of the practice of my friend and colleague, Dr Scott Sprabery, (and therefore, the office where I’ve leased space for the past 7 years) I’ll soon be relocating.  The new office, located at 1712 Fairview, is a quaint old brick house in the Montrose area. The new space is nearer to my home and to most of my life in general and will, hopefully, be a better fit for me overall.  As it turns out, most of my clients are my neighbors, so I’m hopeful that the move will prove better for them as well.  The move is scheduled for April 1st and normal operations will resume as of that date. Hopefully…You ever tried to lift a therapy couch by yourself?

Secondly, I wanted to discuss a recent business change; the move to a private pay only practice. In other words, I will no longer be accepting insurance as payment for services. I have tentative plans to write a longer, more thorough piece on this subject but for now, I’ll just hit the highlights.

Like a lot of folks, I absolutely, completely believe that the current healthcare system in America is a broken one. The general way insurance works, especially in regards to mental health coverage, is not only broken but also grossly negligent and in many cases, absolutely fraudulent. Insurance companies, in my opinion, are a clear definition of evil. In clinical practice, a therapist’s work is made far more difficult by it and in many cases a client’s mental and emotional health is compromised as well. Let me be clear, however; I don’t have a better idea of how to manage healthcare. I’m sure there are some things from the opposing point of view that I’ve not take into account. Perhaps there’s a bit of “Brandon punk rock morals” being expressed. As both client of and provider of therapy, however, I do know that our current system is NOT the best one. As stated, I’ll try to unpack this a bit more later but for now please give me the benefit of the doubt when I say that insurance companies are a large scale scam propagated by evil and massive corporations who’s main job is to suck out the soul straight through asshole of every man, woman and child in the country and unfortunately, they are horrifyingly  successful at their aims.  I cannot claim a saintly nature. I am not perfect, nor am I trying to be. However, I am attempting to continually better myself. As therapists, we agree to an oath of non malfeasance that compels us to, “at the very least, do no harm”. I truly believe that the current form of insurance directly and intentionally causes harm and I cannot morally or ethically continue to work with companies when I have this knowledge.

As of June 2017 (yes, this is old news by now) insurance will no longer be accepted as payment for therapy services. Rates for individual/family and couples counseling are $100 per session and a sliding scale is available.

In a final bit of news or perhaps it’s just a reminder,  I want to tell you about the books I have written and encourage you to pick up a copy.  The first book, When Sam Gets Back, is a simple philosophy work as told through the eyes of a pigeon. In stark contrast, my second book, Crap I Came Up With, obviously, is not philosophy and instead, is my attempt to dabble in comedy.  You can purchase the books at the links below or you can drop by the Bayou Lights Book Store at 3708 Main St, above the Continental Club and pick up a copy in person.

When Sam Gets Back
https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=dp_byline_sr_book_1?ie=UTF8&text=Brandon+Peters+LPC&search-alias=books&field-author=Brandon+Peters+LPC&sort=relevancerank

Crap I Came Up With

http://whatevermom.storenvy.com/products/22905171-crap-i-came-up-with-by-brandon-peters-lpc

That’s all for today kids. Check out my books, tell insurance companies they suck and come see me at my new location. Thanks!

Brandon Peters, LPC

832.6543147

1712 Fairview

Houston, TX 77006

brandonpeterslpc.com

 

Unrelated song: Yeah, so this is an album again but it’s only 10mn long, so stop complaining and listen. In my humble opinion, THIS is how all grindcore should sound.

Unrelated book recomendation:

Becoming Myself by Irvin Yalom– This recommendation isn’t totally fair because I haven’t actually read it. I own a copy but I’ve only skimmed a few pages. This memoir of Yalom’s has been touted as his final book (by himself most notably), therefore, I’m morbidly saving it until he does pass. Yeah, I know. That’s weird.

 

 

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Fuck Your Culture

Yes, I’ll admit it. The title for this one may have been of the click bait/shock rock variety but at the same time it does somewhat expresses what lies within. And furthermore, you’re reading it so it must have worked. (insert comment about the questionable nature of a therapist using  ‘means justify the ends’  logic).

When I say fuck “your” culture, let me be clear; I’m not picking on any particular culture. I’M CALLING OUT ALL OF THEM. Human culture and all its intricate varieties. Fuck your culture but for that matter, fuck my culture too. And everyone else’s as well.  What I mean by this intentionally provocative statement is this; a person’s culture, in the broadest sense, often represents shared, unspoken, arbitrary and subjective “truths” that are sometimes represented as literal, factual truths. Many times, those truths come in the harmful variety. As an individual member of the culture, we are often taught that we are not free to choose which truths we will follow. Any deviation from these truths are considered shameful and blasphemous. My belief is that free will should and, in fact, does trump culture. An individual is free in all respects to observe and act upon those arbitrary truths as he or she sees fit, up to and including, completely disregarding and disrespecting them and should do so in those cases where cultural truths work against one’s best interest.

When I use this word culture, in my head, it has both a flexible and relatively specific definition. I use it in the sense of a group of people’s shared beliefs and practices and/or a given mindset of a group of people. When looking for a more standard definition of this word I found this;

  1. Culture: The arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively.

Okay, nope. That’s not really what I mean.

  1. Culture: The cultivation of bacteria, tissue cells, etc., in an artificial medium containing nutrients.

Uhhh…that’s something entirely different. Definitely not what I mean.

  1. Culture: a: The customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group; also: the characteristic features of everyday existence (such as diversions or a way of life) shared by people in a place or time

b: The set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization

 

There we go! That’s more the one I’m talking about! When I speak of culture in this blog, reference a blend of number 3 A and B with a hint of number 1.

So why does this matter in regards to psychotherapy and why does it even matter at all? Bluntly stated, I believe culture is very often at the core of and is directly responsible for some of the most heinous damage that can occur in human life.

Let’s start with the positive, however.

When I define myself in terms of culture, like everyone else, there are multiple layers. I’m American. I’m male. I’m white. I’m southern. I’m Arkansan, educated, a musician, a member of the Peters family, a therapist, a father…the list could go far longer than you’d read and, as stated, that’s probably true for all of us. Along with these group memberships come written, unwritten, spoken and unspoken rules or general ways of being that help define membership in that cultural circle. As a member of the culture we call “father”, one fairly obvious rule is that one must have or have had at least one child. That’s pretty much what defines it. Hard to belong to this one if you didn’t or don’t have children. (There’s probably a crude catholic priest joke in there somewhere if I tried hard enough).  I have a close friend who was raised in a Muslim family and while he does not consider himself a “believer”, he does consider himself a Muslim in a more ethnic/cultural sense. It’s tricky to define these things and I’m not sure I have the wisdom to define all the rules but they do exist in both subtle and overt forms.

 

On the positive side, membership in these groups can be a powerful and wonderful thing. The shared beliefs and practices of one’s family, ethnicity or other ways of defining one’s self can be a tremendous source of pride and pleasure and can act as a guiding light in times of difficulty or happiness and all states in between. I’ve read over and over of anecdotal and more stringent research which suggests that people involved in organized religious or spiritual practices live longer, are healthier overall and report greater life satisfaction. The research suggests that this has to do mostly with group membership more than anything mystical or magical. I’m not a “believer” or a participator in that sort of thing but I can’t argue with results And I can attest to a higher level of wellbeing as I’ve become more involved in and connected to the various non-religious groups in which I belong. It’s a good thing. Mostly.

 

Here are the bad parts. I cannot even begin to count the number of times I’ve heard a client or a friend or a family member or even strangers say some version of “I hate that it’s this way but that’s what we do in my culture”. In that last sentence we could take out the word culture and replace it with “job” or “family” or “religion” or “school” or “marriage” or a million other words and the results are still the same. For example, I’ve heard MANY times “Even though he’s treating me terribly and I want to leave him, that’s not allowed in my culture”. I’ve also heard, versions of “I’d like to tell my dad how I feel but we don’t really share our feelings in my family”. Scenarios of this type could fill volumes. Let me reiterate a point here; If culture often represents arbitrary, loosely agreed upon, subjective truths, when we come into conflict with them and experience great distress, we have a choice as to whether or not we continue with those culturally prescribed behaviors, feelings and thoughts. Furthermore, it is often in our best interest to challenge our culture and step outside of it in order to reach and sustain a certain level of mental and emotional health.

Notice that I used the phrase “Mental AND EMOTIONAL health” rather than the more common phrase “Mental Health”. Cultural truth; emotional states are nothing more than chemical reactions in the brain and they can be managed with medications and that’s the only way to view it. Any idea outside of this is unscientific nonsense and you’re an idiot for thinking otherwise.  One of the extremely common cultural patterns that I’ve observed in Americans has to do with our overly logical approach to life. In our culture we often take the approach that if an emotion doesn’t make sense, we throw it out. If it’s not logical and linear, there’s no need to explore it. It has no value. My field is referred to as “mental health” for a reason. We throw out the unpleasant, elusive and often contradictory emotions and leave only the mental state. We can then reduce it to only chemicals and neurology. We pare it down to only its basic mechanistic parts and leave out the emotion almost entirely. Is there SOME truth to this idea? Certainly! But it’s a bit more complicated than that and I chose to step outside my cultural framework and view it in its more complicated state.

 

Another example; as with many other places, in my home state of Arkansas, it is EXTREMELY common for people to own dogs. Lots of them. GENERATIONS of them and in many cases, several inbred generations of them. I’m aware that this doesn’t only happen in my hometown but I’ll only speak from my experience. As common was the practice of chaining dogs to trees or other immobile objects. In this hypothetical situation, based on actual events, it’s entirely possible that shortly after this hypothetical dog was born, he or she was chained to a tree and spent nearly the remainder of his or her life there. There’s nothing out of the ordinary about it. You can simply drive down just about any road and easily find multiple examples of this practice. Rarely does anyone have a problem with it and if they do, even rarer is a change in the practice. It’s been going on longer than I’ve been alive and will surely continue long after I am dead. In my opinion, THIS. IS. WRONG. If you’ve read previous blogs, I expand upon this idea a great deal (https://brandonpeterslpc.wordpress.com/2017/10/06/the-oh-god-this-is-gonna-end-badly-blog/). My point, however; it’s part of my culture. It’s just what we do. Whenever I’ve challenged this idea to family and friends back home and similar places, I’m usually met with some version of “Oh, Brandon…stop being so…(derogatory phrase here implying that I’m overly sensitive and should shut up and stop feeling that way) It’s a way of living that’s simply not questioned “because it’s what we’ve always done”. It’s a cultural truth that to tie a dog to a tree is a fair and proper act, but I don’t have to agree and I don’t have to go along with that practice. I have free will, therefore, I can choose what I feel is proper conduct based on my own personal morality, rather than blindly following what I’ve been taught.

For the purposes of this work, I’ll use only those two, comparatively benign, personal examples. But let’s not forget larger things like genital mutilation, repression of women, repression of minorities, repression of homosexuals, certain injustices of capitalism, church led sexual abuse, etc. I’ve known of families that have had successive generations of sexual abuse. I’ve known friends that have been shamed because they wanted a birthday party or because they were “too loud” or “felt too much”, members of my own family who have been purposefully shunned because they divorced an alcoholic husband. There are enough examples to fill a library so I’m just hitting the ones that are coming to my head as I’m writing. They all have in common those unquestionable spoken and unspoken rules that are met with shame and worse if a member attempts to question them.

Here’s how this applies to you my friend. It’s possible that right now there are a great many things troubling you. On the list of ingredients for that entrée of inner conflict may be a number of “should’s and shouldnt’s” based on the spoken and unspoken rules you were taught by other members of the groups you belong to. You may be feeling that you’d have a solution to that problem “if only I could approach it this way”. Or you may be feeling that the problem wouldn’t be there in the first place “if these rules weren’t in place at all”.  Here’s the good news; you’re right. You CAN approach it in a different way. You DON’T have to follow those rules if they don’t suit you. If you are human, you have free will.  You can step outside your culture and follow your gut when it feels necessary and beneficial and you should if you feel it’s right. Fuck your culture.

 

Unrelated song: Again, this is an album and not a song but DAYUM it’s good! All the way from Singapore, Wormrot:

Unrelated book recomendation:
I’ve been reading a lot of Carl Sagan lately so I’ll stick with that. Read Cosmos. It’s guud.

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