Posts Tagged ‘Gerald Lucas’

One of the hard parts of psychotherapy  – and the unavoidable realities –  is remorse.  Inevitably, once you become more aware of who you are, and how you’re living your life…you wish you’d done so sooner.

Patients are always telling me they’re kicking themselves for not getting to my office (or at least someone’s office) years before.

One patient this week wept as he reviewed all the relationships he’d wrecked over the years by behaving exactly like his father, suspicious and controlling, exhausting the women he dated until they finally left in frustration.

“All those wasted years,” he sighed.  “All those wasted opportunities for happiness.”

There isn’t much I can say to that, except that’s how awareness works – when it arrives, you always wish it made the trip a little quicker.

Then I remember what Gerald Lucas, a psychotherapist and institute director, used to say at times like that:

“What a fool I was at 80, said the 90 year old man.”

There’s no such thing as perfect wisdom.  Lena Fugeri, another psychotherapist I used to work with, used to say you never finish with psychotherapy because as soon as awareness arrives, life throws you new challenges.

Lena was right.  My patients in their teens are struggling with their first relationships and finding meaningful careers. My patients in their 40’s and 50’s might be dealing with raising children, navigating a marriage with a partner, learning to manage others on the job, or the death of their parents.  And my patients in their 60’s and 70’s and 80’s and 90’s are handling growing older and the entirely new set of issues triggered by that process.

You are like a lotus flower – the more you peel the petals away, the more petals you find within.  There is no center – only more layers to peel away, new hidden wonders.

Instead of beating yourself up for not achieving awareness sooner, it makes sense to emulate one of my favorite figures from Buddhism – the Bodhisattva of Compassion.

The Bodhisattvas, in Buddhism, are followers of the Buddha who achieve sufficient wisdom to attain enlightenment, the state of nirvana.

The Bodhisattva of Compassion, alone, chooses to remain behind in the world, to assist mankind on its journey to awareness.

In one famous story, three monks wander the parched desert until they reach a walled garden. They hear the tantalizing splash of water within.

The first monk climbs on the shoulders of the others, and leaps into the garden, disappearing.

The second monk laboriously scales the wall and is also soon hidden amid the plants and trees.

The third monk clambers up all alone and perches himself atop the wall, studying the lush garden and cool, clear spring.

Then he slides back down, and returns to wander the arid waste.

This monk’s job is to search for other lost souls. He shows them how to locate the garden.

This is the Bodhisattva of Compassion.

You might be wiser now than you used to be.  I hope psychotherapy helped you acquire some of that insight.

But please don’t forget – part of wisdom is passing on what you’ve learned to others.

Don’t sit in a walled garden, thinking you’ve got it all figured out.  You don’t.

Share what you’ve learned.

You’ll acquire more wisdom showing others the path to enlightenment than sitting in a garden surrounded by walls.

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Gerald Lucas, a psychotherapist who runs an institute in New York City, used to tell his patients he regretted he couldn’t make the world a better place – he could only make them better able to handle it the way it is.

Sometimes the key to happiness is a little like the key to Weight Watchers – learning to stay away from things that are bad for you.

Luck certainly plays a role.  My relatives fled to the United States from Poland and Lithuania because the Czar and other nasties were oppressive, violent rulers.  Forty years later, Hitler rolled in and committed the worst crimes in human history.  It could have been my relatives in those Nazis death camps, but for dumb luck and the determination to leave the bad behind and seek something better.

The world can seem like an unpleasant place sometimes.  If you need evidence, open this morning’s paper and take a look.

As a psychotherapist, patients bring plenty more proof that evil exists.  It’s a good wake up to some harsh realities.  As with everything else in psychotherapy, awareness is all.

One of my patients was violently raped in her early twenties.  Working with a rape survivor taught me a lot about human dignity and the process of recovery from trauma.  It also taught me about rape.  Knowing someone who has been victimized by violence introduces you the fact that it really happens, to real people, all too often.

This woman gave me a book to read about rape, “Lucky,” by Alice Sebold, the author of “The Lovely Bones.”  It is a memoir of Sebold’s own experience of rape, and a book I shall never forget.  My patient taught me another important lesson:  if something like that happens to you, you will do everything in your power to avoid letting it happen again.  She took a self-defense class, carried a can of mace, and never again walked home alone late at night.  There are predators out there, and at very least, you can take all available precautions.

So this week, when a beautiful young female patient complained to me about what she’d been through recently, I wasn’t surprised.  In the past year she’d had a guy slip a drug into her drink, an older man – a professor, no less – approach her inappropriately for sex, countless construction workers whistle at her, and a best friend fall victim to domestic violence, then return to the boyfriend who beat her up.  It was quite a list, but I believed every word.  We talked about how she could be careful – and stay away from people who mean her no good.

Another patient I saw recently had a run in with a sociopath, a person who lacks a conscience.  A sociopath will tell you whatever you want to hear, take pleasure in lying to you and generally not give your feelings a thought as he pursues his own agenda.  “Sociopath,” or the technical term, “Anti-social Personality Disorder,” are arguably just mental health lingo for a criminal.  Many of the people who populate our prisons – the hard-core law-breakers – are socipaths.

The sort of run-in that happened to my patient could happen to anyone, and all too often it does.  It’s not a nice experience.  This guy was very charming, and appeared to have a successful career.  He moved in with her and said he wanted to marry her and have a child.  What he didn’t mention was that he already had a family – a wife and children – who knew nothing about this other relationship.  The “business trips” were spent with this family, 20 blocks away.

My patient asked what she could do now that she’d discovered the truth.  I gave her my blanket advice for dealing with sociopaths:  stay far away.  She moved somewhere else, and hasn’t seen him since.

Obviously, women aren’t the only people who are victimized by evil deeds – although they do seem to receive more than their fair share.  Children are victimized in terrible ways each and every day, and  I’ve worked with adult men who have survived domestic violence, sexual abuse and other ills.  Bad things can happen to anyone.

My point here isn’t that the world and everyone and everything in it are bad.  There is plenty of good out there, too.  It’s just that you need to keep what is bad far away – and, at the same time, pull the good nice and close.

In everyday life, that means more than just staying away from predators and sociopaths.

It also means:

Don’t date someone if he doesn’t treat you with kindness, consideration and respect.  He should be grateful and appreciative to have you in his life – or you can find someone who will be.

Don’t work in a setting that is hostile or toxic.  Your workplace should make you feel appreciated for the work you do.  You should look forward to coming in to work each day – or you should work someplace else.

Don’t consider someone a friend unless he’s got your back.  “Friend” is a powerful term – it means someone you can say anything to and who can say anything to you.  It implies loyalty, caring, trust and respect.  Anything less is an “acquaintance.”

Breathe in the good.  Breathe out the bad.

Sometimes it’s that simple.

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Sometimes a patient will stop during a session, mid-sentence, look abashed, and say:

I must sound ridiculous.  Here I am, prattling on about my problems.  And there are so many people who have it so much worse than I do.

Gerald Lucas, a psychotherapist I studied with years ago, had a useful response he employed at those moments:

It’s true, some people do have it worse, but then some people have it better, too.  So, please, keep talking.

The fact is we live in two different worlds at once:  the first, in which our petty cares are the center of everything, and a second universe in which we realize our place as a tiny piece of a larger whole, unimaginably fortunate to have a roof above our heads, enough to eat and clean water to drink.

We’re used to accepting this split as an element of the human condition:  it is the same existential dilemma we face in striving to achieve our dreams, fully aware that we are headed for the grave.  At some level, our efforts on this Earth are as pointless and egocentric as the tombstones erected over our meager remains once we’re gone.  It all ends in dust – just as it began.

The lesson here, if there is a lesson to be drawn from a tragedy like what’s happened in Haiti, is that life is an all-too-brief opportunity for joy, and it shouldn’t be wasted.  So let’s try to keep a sense of perspective, even when our own challenges threaten to overwhelm us. Perhaps it isn’t asking too much to stop and locate the abundance in our lives, and share a bit with others in need.

A good way to support the Haitian relief effort is via The Clinton Foundation’s website.  President Clinton is the UN Special Envoy to Haiti and has shown a long-standing dedication to addressing poverty and environmental degradation on the island.

Here’s the link:  http://www.clintonfoundation.org/haitiearthquake/

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