Please check out my election musings about the 2 candidates running for president. Peace!
My girlfriend and I have taken our love of cooking and eating to the blogosphere. Here is our first installment, bon appetit!
Catharsis: Not the Goal
With one eye barely opened, and with my girlfriend long having given up the battle to stay awake, I finished watching an old episode of Boston Legal (my new favorite diversion.) While being entertained by the twisted characters played by William Shatner and James Spader, a twisted story unfolded involving a psychiatrist, his patient, the patients x-wife, and the BL lawyers.
The patient (and client of the BL law firm) had ‘fantasies’ about killing his ex-wife. The doctor, would allow his patient to express and articulate these fantasies in his office (and would eventually tape them) in order to allow him a place to vent his anger, and hopefully ‘eliminate’ his frustration in a safe environment vs. doing something harmful in real life.
In due time, it became unclear to the doctor if his patient was just venting his feelings, or plotting the murder of his ex-wife. What should the doctor do? Warn his ex-wife? That would be a violation of doctor/patient privilege, and could lead to a law suit, and/or losing his job. On the other hand, if he didn’t warn her, she could end up dead..
James Spader comes to the rescue (noting to the doctor that this particular case was not his best work), and comes up with his usual underhanded plot to illegally/legally get the word out to the ex-wife, and have her watch the tape of her ex-husband expressing his killing fantasy.. Maybe she could tell if this was a real threat since she knew him best?
Ultimately, the wife feels very threatened by the whole thing, and believes her ex is plotting her demise. Upon returning to her house to discuss the matter further, the lawyers drive up to her house, only to find it surrounded by police cars.. Oh no.. did he try to kill her? Did he succeed and carry out his twisted fantasy?
The lawyers come in and ask to talk to their client (the psychiatric patient in case you are falling asleep by now like I was when watching it), and want to know how the wife is. The police let them know that their client is lying on the floor, after being shot in the head, and the wife was on the couch, recovering from just killing her ex-husband.
What we know is that the husband came to the house, and asked to talk to his ex-wife (word had gotten out to him that she had watched the tapes). As he walked toward her, she told him to leave.. He again said he just wanted to talk.. and he walked toward her yet again.. and she eventually shot him.. shot him down…to the ground.. yeah she shot him down.. (sorry.. my son has been playing Hey Joe a lot lately!)
With both eyes now fully opened, I was left wondering what I would have done if I was the doctor or lawyer in that situation. But perhaps more importantly, I thought of how this ties in to the subject of catharsis, and helps illustrate a very important point I wanted to make.
While it was unclear if the ex-husband intended to kill his ex-wife, it was clear that all his catharsis and emotional release of pent up frustrations – all congruent with repressed emotions and feelings – didn’t seem to work. He wasn’t getting better.
Since I love illustrations, and since I have a picture of a well pump that needs explaining.. I will proceed with another hopefully illuminating story.
When I was a kid, I actually enjoyed trips to the cemetery with my family.. yep.. you heard that right.. I enjoyed trips to the cemetery.. explains a lot doesn’t it?
My absolute favorite thing to do (up until the age of 8 or so) was to go to the well pump, and pump water for the flowers around the gravestones of our relatives.. I was kinda puny so at times I would have to throw my whole being into the process of priming the pump, and hope I was strong enough to get water for the flowers.. Sometimes I needed, and reluctantly took help from my much stronger younger sister.. She threatened to beat me up if I didn’t let her help, so I did.
Well, once the pump was primed, the water would flow.. and I would feel like Hercules! By my efforts, that water came up from 1600 feet underground.. wow! I would have my younger sister carry the bucket to my parents (they were too heavy for me.. she inherited more from the Russian side of our family.)
I hated when it rained and that my valuable pumping service were not needed! Pumping water was the funnest thing ever, at least at the cemetery that is.. So.. I eventually found my way to the pump even if my services were not needed. I would pump water for others, for a small service fee of course, and started by first small business right there with my dead relatives looking on!
Ultimately, once my customer base decided my fees were too high, I began pumping water for it’s own sake.. just letting it gush out, and run into the ground.. Now that ‘felt’ wonderful for me, but was I accomplishing anything?
Did I hear you say.. ahh.. I see??
To me, this illustrates what happens when we view catharsis, emotional release, bringing up and getting in touch with past hurts, etc., as the end instead of ‘a’ means to an end (notice I didn’t say ‘the’ means to an end.)
So going back to my illustration.. What was the purpose in pumping the water? Since it’s not a trick question, it was to get water to flow into the bucket. Mission accomplished? Not yet.. The water needed to be transported by my much stronger younger sister to my parents.. Done? Nope.. They had to water the flowers.. Now we are done right? Have we reached the end of the reason for ‘priming the pump and getting the water’ to come out?
Why are we watering the flowers after all? Just for the sake of having nice flowers? No.. so that our experience as a family would be enhanced, and that the memory of my younger brother, who only lived a day in this world, would be honored.. Tenderly, while my mother would fix the flowers, I would sit next to her and help wipe off the gravestone.. I would ask.. what color was his hair? Did he look like me or Ana? How did you come up with his name? What did it feel like to have him and lose him after one day?
I think you get the picture..
Pumping the water, and getting it to flow, is like catharsis.. Our cemetery experience would be greatly diminished if not for someone performing that important piece of the puzzle. However, unless water is placed in a bucket filled with the right amount, and carefully carried and used in the right quantity according to the need of the flowers, it can be unhelpful.. Imagine my sister stopping and dumping the bucket on my head because I made fun of her muscles again? (are the real life parallels coming to mind?) How about if I took the water and dumped all of the water on one of the flowers? Not so good!
Now.. how about if I correctly pumped the water, and my sister took it my parents, and that they watered the flowers according to Martha Stewart’s guide to water flowering.. er I mean.. watering flowers.. (was she in this business in the 70’s?) BUT, after all that.. I didn’t take the time to talk to my mother and sister and have the bonding family moments that were the purpose of going there in the first place, and chose to instead go back to the well to pump more water that I let spill to the ground? Mission accomplished even though I did everything right for the flowers supposedly? No.. because it wasn’t just about watering the flowers either.
Now I had good ‘catharsis’ (pumping the water and getting it to flow) in all of the examples above.. but didn’t always have the desired outcome. Was it the fault of my catharsis? No, it’s what I did with it, or didn’t do with it..
Some of us remember when it was all the rage to encourage people to ‘let out’ aggressive emotions, and even encourage smashing of plates, punching of boxing bags, and yelling and screaming. This approach comes from the belief that there is value in expressing aggressive emotion, for it’s own sake. Studies now show, that even though some of these cathartic activities could result in successful exercise programs, they did little if anything to curb aggressive behavior, and in some cases, may have led to more aggressive behavior.
I will not pretend I have fully figured out exactly what is the right way to view catharsis, and the relative value of experiencing the emotions and release that have helped me in my journey, and that I am encouraging other to experience. I do know that if and when I experience catharsis properly, AND when I do the many other very important things that I have learned as well, life changing things occur. Like an important link in the chain I am using to climb out of lower places, and up to higher places, and to anchor my soul, catharsis is a friend that I can’t do without, but also a friend that I can’t trust alone. He can’t do for me what I need to do for myself, or what I need my other friends for.
I have been musing on catharsis as of late, and as expected, it has been quite the cathartic experience!
1. the purging of the emotions or relieving of emotional tensions, esp. through certain kinds of art, as tragedy or music.
2. discharge of pent-up emotions so as to result in the alleviation of symptoms or the permanent relief of the condition.
3. A purifying or figurative cleansing of the emotions, especially pity and fear, described by Aristotle as an effect of tragic drama on its audience.
4. A release of emotional tension, as after an overwhelming experience, that restores or refreshes the spirit.
5. A technique used to relieve tension and anxiety by bringing repressed feelings and fears to consciousness.
Four years ago, I was going through marriage and individual counseling, and stumbled into ‘bringing repressed feelings and fears to consciousness.’ I was asked to talk about my childhood experiences – what it was like growing up.. home life, school life, experiences with friends, etc..
What happened was totally unexpected. As I would describe my experiences, and asked how I felt during those times, I was suddenly transported back.. back to the school bus.. to the classroom.. to a house so often lacking in love and warmth.. and to a little boy that so often felt lost, lonely, and without hope.
As I shared, I often had to pause to keep back the flood of pain and tears that were welling up inside me. I was shocked at how overwhelmed with emotion I was. I felt embarrassed, and I apologized and explained that I had no idea what was happening. I was encouraged to continue, and that this was good.. and I suddenly knew that I was finally experiencing something that was absolutely necessary for me to get un-stuck in my life.. it was like a secret wisdom that had finally been revealed.
That experience was life changing, to say the least.
My girlfriend is taking a college poetry class. I was blown away when she described what happened when the students shared their first poem. They eloquently shared childhood memories, pain and frustration with their world and their families, and desperate feelings that needed an avenue – in this case a poem – to bring about an emotional experience with the potential for healing. Repressed feelings of anger, sadness, bewilderment came forth from their writings, and from their sometimes trembling lips.
Plato contended that poetry encouraged men to be hysterical and uncontrolled, while Aristotle disagreed and believed poetry stabilized emotions by giving them a periodic and healthy outlet to their feelings.. I have to side with Aristotle on this one.
Aristotle is often given credit for first using the word catharsis when referring to emotions.. it was desribed as ‘the sensation, or literary effect, that would ideally overcome either the characters in a play, or an audience upon finishing watching a tragedy (a release of pent-up emotion or energy).
Stay tuned to this blog as I will muse on this topic further, share some personal experience, give my controversial and slightly convoluted opinion on the subject, and hear your brilliant feedback if you have any!
Just wanted to link to a piece from a ‘scribbler in japan’ that emphasizes the positive/motivational qualities of jealousy (or zealousy as I call it), and also reminds us of the misuse and misdirection the emotion can take. Click on Jealousy below..
In my ongoing effort to be very real with myself and with others, especially in the realm of emotions (I feel sappy admitting that) I have come in touch with something that feels extremely uncomfortable, wrong, and I struggle to even admit it to myself, let alone to others.
What is this foul creature rising up from the pit of hell to take over the core of my being? Jealousy.. or at least, it feels like jealousy.
Lately, I feel jealous of so many things.. The success of others.. the creativity, beauty, talent, grace, wisdom others display that I seem to lack. Why.. if I had 1/100th of the ability I see in others, I could do so much.. or so it seems.
Now conventional wisdom may direct this musing toward the following conclusions:
1. I shouldn’t be jealous of what someone else has. It is their gift, not mine.
2. Feeling that way is a sin, and according to St. Thomas Aquarias (did I spell that right?) it’s one of the 7 deadly sins.
3. I should find out what gifts I have, and focus on cultivating those, and not be jealous of others.
Fair enough, and perhaps there is a place for that in my situation.. But digging a little deeper goes a long way.. and makes for better writing!
So.. looking up the meanings of envy and jealousy I found the following:
Envy – A feeling of discontent and resentment aroused by and in conjunction with desire for the possessions or qualities of another.
Jealous - Feeling resentment against someone because of that person’s rivalry, success, or advantages..
So.. upon closer examination of my own heart, and these definitions, I realize that most of the time that I have been feeling what I have been labeling jealousy or envy, is not really jealousy at all.. Discontent? yes.. but I do not feel resentment toward the people or things I am ‘jealous’ of.. so something else may be going on.. maybe even something positive?
So looking into this further, I discover the origins of the word jealous:
[Middle English jelous, from Old French gelos, jealous, zealous, from Vulgar Latin *zēlōsus, from Late Latin zēlus, zeal; see zeal.]
Maybe this is the positive aspect of the word.. and also a lot of what I am feeling.. After all, isn’t God a jealous (zealous) God?
So is it ok to want and even strongly desire what people have in some cases? Could it be that the ‘feelings’ happen if and when it’s something near and dear to my heart? Maybe the ‘feelings’ generated are designed to spur me toward those things?
When I examine many of my so called ‘jealousies’ in this light, I see that often they are things I am also passionate about, and probably should pursue.. not with a competitive/ill will attitude, but with ‘zealousy’.
So it seem I am both am, and am not.. jealous!
What I think is going on in me is similar to what you see when you watch the X-Games, where skateboarders reach new heights, while cheering each other on in a supportive fashion rarely seen in other sports.
I am sure they have strong desirous feelings that perhaps even hurt when they see their friends land a new trick, and the crowd roar for them.. But it doesn’t have to turn into a negative thing, and with these guys, most of the time, quite the opposite is true. They truly push each other to new heights.. and yes, some probably mean it when they say they wish as much success for their friends as they do themselves!
Ahh.. I feel better now! I do hope I am not letting myself off the hook too easily here.. and now I can be ok with singin’ that Black Crowe’s song.. or at least a few words from it..
I’m jealous.. jealous again!
Some dictionary definitions for musing are:
1. ‘to be absorbed in thought; meditative.’ 2. ’Ponder, contemplate, deliberate.’ 3. ‘To comment thoughtfully or ruminate upon.’ I like this one.. 4. ‘to gaze meditavely or wonderingly upon – to be astonished.’
This blog will be my attempt at doing just that.. sharing my musings.. first with myself, then with anyone else that is interested..
So what exactly do I think? Great question! Part of the problem I have is not taking the time to 1) consider or gaze wonderingly at things long enough for them to make an impression. 2) choose things worthy of such reflection. 3) articulate and document my thoughts on these things so that I can know where I stand, if and when I want to move from there, and how to move forward in my thinking. (I just did a minature musing on my musing shortcomings and an action plan came together.. sweet.. I guess it works!)
Motivations? I want to know what I think.. Sometimes I think I know what I think… I but I’m not always right about that if I think about it more, and articulate it..
We know and hear a lot about stuffing feelings and the pitfalls of doing so.. Could the same be true of thoughts?
Oh.. and here’s a big motivation. I think people think they know what I think, but really often really don’t.. It will be kinda fun to point to one of my own postings to bring clarity if and when there is confusion.
I want those close to me to know my thoughts, so they can know me better.. and so we can think about important/cool/fun things together. And I want to hear what others think about what I think.. (I think??) And I want other thoughtful people to help me formulate and expland my thinking.
Another motivation.. I think I have a lot of thoughts that get jumbled up in my head.. and if I don’t get them out, I may get brain damage.. if I don’t already have it!
Scope? Anything and everything that comes to mind.. Ah, I like that.. whatever comes to mind! Free at last! Well..That is.. whatever comes to mind AND moves into the category of a ‘musing’.. for me.. as defined above.. That should narrow it down quite nicely.
So.. there you have it! Please feel free to share your musings on my musings on musing, if you have any.. and we can muse happily ever after! (I think??)