Psychology Today

My friend looks over at me.  We're driving through gray light and mist to the eastern desert. "So what is your practice?" he says.  I laugh.  "Practices," I say.  "One is the morning meditation; another is eating almost a whole bag of potato chips; another is Not Doing; another is driving with a friend out into the eastern desert.  None of them are rules from a teacher or spiritual way.  All of them have arrived in my life and refuse to leave."

"It's good that the last one won't leave," he says.  "I like to ask my friends that question because I don't seem to have found my practice."

"Bulls--t, " I say. The road drops out of the junipers.  We are in a huge world of silver sky and dark sage. "Wrong," I say.  "You are a father.  You do that work with constant attention and respect.  You walk this country the same way."

He is quiet.  I turn onto the road that goes south to China Hat and Fort Rock.  "I can't believe I get to be here," he says and gestures toward the mist and low mountains. There are layers upon layers of vapor, colors for which I cannot find words.  I think of how the wet gray back in town suffocates me and how not being able to walk without watching every step for hidden ice makes me furious.  Here I can breathe.  Here I know that obstacles in the path are gifts.

I park. We get out and begin walking across piebald snow and sand.  There is a basalt ridge gleaming black.  There is bitterbrush, mahogany red, and gray-green sage. I pinch off a few leaves and crush them under my nose.  I smell the scent of my Arizona homeland.  My friend tells me the human names for this Oregon sage: bud sage, Big Sagebrush.. I tell him that Black Sage grows in the high Southwestern desert where the humans have disturbed the soil.  "Not here," he says, "coyotes and badgers are the culprits."

We walk for a while in silence.  He and I have taken to driving out to this basin-range a few times a week.  I come out alone more often.  No visit has ever been the same as another.  There is nothing charming out here, no cute or tasteful "viewpoints" signs. There are cow pies, rusted barbed wire and Off HIghway Vehicle trails snaking up into the basalt. When I am here, something always surprises me.  It has been years since a human was anything but predictable.  Including me.

My companion surprises me.  "I know another way I practice," he says.  "I pay attention and I get angry.  Sometimes I think I want to change that - get all mellow, see the goodness in everything - but here, where there is only is in everything, I want to stay as I am right now."

"That's an old Havasupai prayer," I say.  "Let me remain as I am now."  

We walk a little longer, then drive further south.  The road curves up out of the sage into stands of Ponderosa and Juniper.  We stop again and walk across the snow toward an old time-blasted juniper.  Lush clumps of lichen glow yellow-green on the bark.  My friend teaches me about lichen, about its bi-polar nature: fungus and photosynthetic partner; and the bi-gender aspect of the juniper on which the lichen lives: male and female depending on the requirements of survival.  I walk further up the faint trail in the snow.  When I look back, he is taking a picture.

We are on our way home in comfortable silence when he laughs.  "I keep thinking about having a practice," he says.  "Keep thinking I should make a vow of some kind.  Then I realized that we've walked in this desert a dozen times in the last month.  We never agreed to do that.  We didn't promise anything - not to the desert or to ourselves."

"I know myself," I say. " I've broken almost every vow I ever made.  That's what humans do.  Besides, curiosity keeps me alive.  Once I throw up walls, I close myself away from what might be fascinating."

That night, I email my friend a quote I found in the Portland paper.  An artist spoke the words, but I believe the joke into which I want to be stretches ahead in the year to come, across the Desert of Surprises, out to horizons whose colors I cannot name.

You do as much research as you possibly can.  You look at every show.  You have to know everything that is going on.  You have to be in on the joke, whether there is a joke or not.  ---Noah Davis, Seattle artist, 2010.

photo of a living Old One by my friend

 

   

 

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So what's the glory in living?
Doesn't anybody ever stay together anymore?
And if love never lasts forever,
Tell me what's forever for?
- Rafe VanHoy(1982)

I don't send as many letters as I once did, but still enough that I periodically need to buy stamps. In recent years, whenever I have bought stamps, I have faced a dilemma. Should I buy a booklet of the increasingly lovely first class stamps that the United States Postal Service (USPS) has been issuing, running the risk that the price will be raised before the booklet is used, or should I buy the more mundane Liberty Bell "forever" stamps, knowing they can be used not only forever but also whenever?

The issue is not about saving a penny or two per letter, but rather that I do not want to go to the bother, when postage costs increase, of obtaining one cent stamps in order to make up the difference. The dilemma: Go for the lovely stamps, which I know to brighten my day, however briefly, or avoid the hassles, which I know to take a toll on my well-being, again however briefly. I usually avoid the hassles. Sigh.

In a move resulting from budget deficits, the USPS has recently announced a plan that will resolve my dilemma. Starting January 22, 2011, all new first class stamps - including I assume the lovely ones - will be forever stamps and thus hold their value

Since 1987, some 28 billion forever stamps have been sold and now account for 85% of all first class stamps that are sold, suggesting that many people, like me, have opted against loveliness.

As much as I admire the Liberty Bell and for what it stands, I welcome this pending change, even if it is driven by financial considerations.

Who says the world is not getting better?

 

 

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How would you like to pay every time you downloaded something from You Tube or spent a while surfing the Net to find an answer to a health question you had? What if your favorite political website moved so slowly that it was near impossible to get to it? How would you like it if the only quick connections you could get were to major networks like MSNBC and FOX, and smaller news sources were inaccessible? Well this is probably only the beginning of what you can expect if we users do not put our foot down and tell the giant Internet Service Providers that we are madder than hell and not going to stand for it.

What I am talking about is the end of Net neutrality. Net neutrality means that everyone has an equal voice on the Internet and where the same information is affordable and attainable by everyone. It is what now makes the Net an incredibly free and open bastion of democracy. But this is all about to come to an end.

Here is my plea to help save Net neutrality:

On New Year's Day, between the hours of 2 and 3 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, we the people shall go offline to express one unified voice against the creation of a pay for priority Internet system, the abolition of a flat fee for Internet access, and any attempt by Internet service providers to block, censor or otherwise restrict legal Internet content.

Recently, the Federal Communications Commission passed rules that fail to put a stop to the demise of the free Internet. While the FCC uses the terms "transparency," "no blocking," and "no unreasonable discrimination," these rules are based on a provision of the Telecommunication Act that "encourages" but does not forbid giant Internet service providers such as Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon from blocking or slowing websites and otherwise discriminating against certain content providers. In fact, these companies are now poised to create a pay for priority system, which will divide the Internet into two lanes, a fast lane and a slow lane. According to this plan, only content providers with deep pockets like MSNBC, FOX, and CNN will operate in the fast lane, which means that they will have good bandwidth or connectivity, while the rest of us will be relegated to the slow lane. From the users' side, these same companies want to abolish the flat access fee and instead charge according to the amount of time and megabits of data downloaded. This plan will mean that poorer people will have less access to information than better off people; and it will mean that none of us will continue to enjoy the robust and democratic Net that we are now accustomed to.

What presently gives Comcast and the others the legal authority to dismantle Net neutrality in these ways is a 2005 Supreme Court decision, the Brand X decision. Prior to this decision these Internet service providers were classified as common carriers. This meant that the Internet pipes through which data passed were regarded as public utilities that anyone could use. All this changed when the Court gave the FCC the right to turn these public roadways into private property; which meant that the owners had the right to restrict their use by others. If a content provider was not welcome on these private roadways, they would be trespassing and could be prevented from sending content down them.

The issue before the Court in Brand X was whether Internet service providers offered telecommunication services or information services. Essentially, this was the question of whether the Net was more like a telephone conversation or a cable TV station like Fox News. The obvious difference is that a telephone conversation is a two-way exchange of data whereas a cable news station is not interactive, and information travels from the network operator to the viewer. Clearly, the Internet is interactive and therefore more like a telephone conversation, however the George W. Bush FCC claimed otherwise.

The Court's decision in Brand X ultimately rested on one of its own prior decisions, Chevron U.S.A., which said that "if a statute is ambiguous, and if the implementing agency's construction is reasonable,...a federal court [is required] to accept the agency's construction of the statute, even if the agency's reading differs from what the court believes is the best statutory interpretation." So all the Obama FCC had to do was to reverse the Bush FCC's ruling by saying that it was more reasonable to classify Internet service providers as common carriers. Brand X gave it this legal authority, but instead the Obama FCC rested its decision on a provision of the Telecommunication Act that was little more than a recommendation and was legally unenforceable.

In fact, in April, a D.C. district appellate court found in favor of Comcast, giving it the right to slow traffic to a popular file sharing website called BitTorrent. So, without a ruling with legal teeth, this appellate court decision sets the precedent for the pay for priority system that Comcast and the other large service providers are about to institute.

Common carriage is now dead in the water, thanks to the Obama FCC, and the Internet pipes are now the private property of the giant Internet service providers who therefore have the authority to restrict and control content.

But it gets even worse. Comcast is now about to take control of NBC Universal. This means that it will soon become both gatekeeper of the Internet as well as one of the world's largest content providers. Did it not occur to the FCC that Comcast would favor its own content over its competitors and that a ruling with legal teeth was necessary? Or was this merely quid pro quo, just another back-room deal between the federal government and this giant corporation.

Consider this. In 2008 the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Amendments Act was passed, which requires telecoms like Comcast to help the government conduct mass, surveillance sweeps of all electronic communications (email messages, telephone conversations, Internet searches, etc.) of all American citizens. So these companies already work for the federal government. One hand surely washes the other and it is not rocket science to suppose that the government has reason to cooperate with Comcast just as Comcast has reason to cooperate with the government.

This is all the more chilling when we suppose that a company that is working for the government is also the gatekeeper of the Internet and can control what information flows down these pipes. Unless we stop these companies from destroying Net neutrality, it is quite predictable that not before long there will be blocking of content for political reasons as well. Is a website saying anything offensive to the White House? Well then, why not block it or otherwise make it inaccessible to the public. When and if this happens, then we can say goodbye to democracy in America.

So what can we do about any of this? Not just a few activists is enough to do something about this dangerous problem. All stakeholders, which means all of us, must get together and speak in one unequivocal voice that we will not tolerate the dismantling of the free Internet.

You can go to OpenInternet.gov, which is a public forum operated by the FCC to tell the FCC that you are as mad as hell about its failure to create an enforceable set of rules for preserving Net neutrality. You can write your elected representatives or sign a petition demanding passage of legislation protecting Net neutrality. You can organize peaceful demonstrations in your communities. You can contact your Internet Service provider. In the U.S, you can contact Comcast here, AT&T here and Verizon here.

And you can join many others throughout this nation and the world to do the following:

On New Year's Day, between the hours of 2 and 3 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, we the people shall go offline to express one unified voice against the creation of a pay for priority Internet system, the abolition of a flat fee for Internet access, and any attempt by Internet service providers to block, censor or otherwise restrict legal Internet content.

This is very easy to do. Just one hour offline and it can cost advertisers big money and force Internet service providers to take the will of the people seriously. We all must work together and do our part, however, if this is to work.

I have carried this message on the air and the message is presently spreading across the Net. So millions of other people throughout the world are receiving this same message. This is a plea for solidarity in support of democracy. To stand by and do absolutely nothing while the free Internet is about to be dismantled is wrong. To engage in wishful thinking or denial that these companies will not carry out their plan is to live in denial. This is real. It is imminent. We must all work together to stop it before it's too late.

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10 New Years Resolutions Image

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Every year I write New Year's resolutions for couples.  This year, I've posted my 2011 New Year's Resolutions for Your Marriage as a very cool poster over on the Divorce Busting Blog.   But sometimes, when your marriage is on the rocks, you start to wonder how relationship goals that require two people's active participation apply to you. That's why I decided to write Ten New Year's Resolutions for Divorce Busters, those people who don't have the luxury of their partner's support. Here are ten goals that you can accomplish yourself in 2011.

1. Envision positive outcomes

There is no way that you can begin to accomplish positive change your marriage if you don't believe it is possible. Start by imagining what your life will be like when your marriage truly turns a corner. The more you can picture every detail, the easier it will be to eventually step into this picture at some later date.

2. Act as if you expect miracles to occur

Once you can imagine positive outcomes, reflect on how you will be behaving differently when they happen. Then start doing that right now!

3. Be kind, even if you think your spouse doesn't deserve it

You may be angry, disappointed, or even devastated by your spouse's choices and actions. However, rather than react to unsettling behavior, assume your spouse is lost and confused. Be patient, kind and steady and your efforts will pay off.

4. Focus on small, positive changes

Don't expect big changes overnight or you will be disappointed and it will make it hard to stay on track. Imagine the smallest change possible that would signal a shift in how things have been going. Then focus on that.

5. Promise yourself this will be a great year, no matter what

You can not control what your spouse does, but you can control what you decide to do with yourself and your children , if you have them. Take a deep breath and envision how you are going to make this a good year regardless of your spouse's choices.

6. Exercise your worry away

The most popular New Year's Resolution is to join a health club and exercise to become more fit. That is well and good. For you, exercise will be a lifesaver. It will help to assuage worries, feel good about yourself and increase feel-good hormones like endorphins. Go for it!

7. Do one new thing you enjoy

Don't become stale just because you are having a shaky time in your marriage. Novelty will stimulate your brain and maybe even your heart and help you have a more positive outlook about the future.

8. Make sure you have quality time with your children or other loved ones.  Be present.

Many times, when people are teetering on the brink of divorce, their pain makes them become self-absorbed and staying the moment becomes and challenging task. You will never be able to do your children's childhood again, so do your best to be with them mentally when you're with them.

9. If you get off track, get back on quickly without self-blame

What separates the winners from the losers is not whether or how many times you get off track, it's how rapidly you get back on track. If you've veered from the Divorce Busting plan, hop right back on track without self-recrimination.

10. Do activities that help you rediscover serenity

Meditate, pray, hike in the mountains or watch a sky full of shooting stars. On a regular basis, do whatever it takes to bring you back to yourself. You and everyone around will benefit from your peacefulness.

Michele Weiner-Davis is the founder of the Divorce Busting Center and best selling author of "Divoce Busting", "The Divorce Remedy", and "The Sex-Starved Marriage"Subscribe to the Divorce Busting Newsletter to get exclusive marriage saving offers and first access to Michele's latest work.  

 

 

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In three days' time, our local newspaper will run a full-page, illustrated piece on the first New Year's baby born in the community. This celebration is only the most public of the many related events occurring throughout the year. We have a stream of vivid moments to mark the baby's passage from idea to reality. The pregnancy announcement may be followed by semi-public den-building as cribs and playpens start to arrive and Disney-character wallpaper is plastered on the walls of the "nursery." Ultra-sound pictures and videos of the fetus may occasion a family gathering to view them, accompanied by discussion of gender and naming. The "baby shower" widens the circle of celebrants as will the public christening, following the birth.

Little do we appreciate how much we really have to celebrate. In earlier times and, in many other societies, this unbridled optimism and public acclaim regarding the outcome of a woman's pregnancy would have been unthinkable. Here's a brief a rundown of the perils that others have faced. Most importantly, pregnancy itself often provoked an ambiguous reaction. While virtually all societies valued additions to the family-especially male-the probability that the mother would not survive the ordeal was so high that, for much of European history, for example, pregnancy was viewed as a disease. The mother's value to her family and community as a provider and caretaker of previous offspring, is usually higher than the potential value of a new baby, hence her death or prolonged post-partum depression or disability might be a catastrophe.

Aside from worries about her health, a pregnant woman could be under a great deal of stress due to others carefully scrutinizing her behavior. She labors to observe a cornucopia of taboos regarding her diet, her clothing, where she travels and whom she spends time with. Ironically, many of the food taboos and other prescriptions recorded were designed to "harden" the fetus but may have actually diminished the mother's health and increased risk. Kaliai women from New Britain Island couldn't "eat wallaby because the child might develop epilepsy and have seizures during the full moon." (1) Of course foods are not the only things to be avoided. "In Fiji nothing tight must be worn around the mother's neck lest the umbilical cord strangle the fetus." (2) For the same reason, Maisin (Sepik Region of Papua New Guinea) mothers-to-be must not wear necklaces, make string bags or, encounter spider webs. (3) Should she miscarry or give birth to a stillborn or deformed child, it will be assumed that the mother (or the father) has violated either a specific taboo or a more general proscription such as the commission of adultery or theft.

The expectant mother becomes a target of suspicion (is the child legitimate?) and jealousy from barren women. In the Himalayan kingdom of Ladakh, women "...hide or conceal their pregnancy to avoid the evil eye." (4) In Gapun, another part of the Sepik Region: "Pregnancy [and childbirth] is considered to be an extremely vulnerable time...when sorcerers will not be able to resist the opportunity to kill [the mother] for some past wrong by shooting enchanted substances into her body to "close" her so that the baby or the placenta will not be able to emerge."(5) Once the Gapun baby emerges from the womb, it will be secluded for months with its mother in a birthing house-a fairly common practice. For Tamils, the "childbirth house is completely shuttered and closed during the actual delivery and...much of the postnatal pollution period...in order to protect the mother and baby from marauding spirits, ghosts, and demons which are attracted to all the blood and contamination." (6)

In effect the mother and child are quarantined for some period. This is designed to protect them from harmful forces but, also, to protect others from them. The puerperal blood and their liminal state are considered to be very dangerous and polluting. And, pragmatically, seclusion draws a discreet curtain, behind which the mother or her kin can elect to dispose of an unwanted infant. Among the Lepcha of Sikkim, the first three days of the newborn's life pass with no acknowledgement of its birth. In effect, it is still in the womb; and is referred to as "rat-child." Only after the house and its members have been thoroughly cleansed, will the infant be welcomed into the world of humans with a special feast. (7) This period of invisibility or non-personhood varies, depending on the rate of infant mortality. In ancient Greece, children under the age of two were never said to have died ahoros, "untimely." (8) In societies with very high infant mortality, the child may not be acknowledged or named until it is 18 months old. (9)

The infant's vulnerability and helplessness may not provoke a strong nurturing response but, rather, an emotional distancing or disdain, for example, "Adults in colonial America viewed infants as rather inadequate creatures, extremely vulnerable to accident and disease, irrational and animalistic in their behavior." (10) Similar views of infancy can be traced to the ancient Greeks. (11) Anthropologist Christopher Little, writing about the Asabano of Papua New Guinea, explains that: "infants are seen as non-sentient beings. When I would inquire about a baby, caregivers were quick to state that, s/he "does not have thoughts" or that s/he "is still breastfeeding."...similar language is used to describe dogs and bush animals. Many individuals explained to me that dogs, pigs, chickens, and so forth, "do not have thoughts." (12)

By treating the infant as not fully human, the community can more readily expose, abandon or destroy it. It was the rare society that did not condone infanticide, indeed, forest foraging groups like the Tapirapé from central Brazil only allowed three children per family; all others had to be left behind in the jungle. (13) Well past the neonate stage, the infant would be studied carefully for signs of physical or emotional abnormality. Should such signs emerge, it might be judged to be a changeling. "Sickly babies were impostors left by goblins in place of healthy ones. The infant left behind became an enfant changé in France, a Wechselbag in Germany, in England a "fairy child. In northern Europe, changelings were left overnight in the forest. If the fairies refused to take it back, the changeling would die during the night--but since it was not human, no infanticide could have occurred. (14) Among the Dogon of Mali, children thought to be evil spirits are taken "...out into the bush [where]...they turn into snakes and slither away...You go back the next day, and they aren't there. Then you know for a sure that they weren't really children at all, but evil spirits." (15)

Dramatic and welcome changes have occurred over the last 50 years, particularly in the industrialized nations, so that we may bring our babies out of the shadows and celebrate their arrival. The death of the mother in childbirth is now extremely rare and infant mortality has fallen precipitously. Child mortality has fallen as well. We can attribute these gains to improved nutrition and prenatal care and, more hygienic birthing practices. Other contributing practices are the decline in the birth rate, and, importantly, safe, affordable contraception. Unlike their sisters in many less developed areas, women in the wealthier nations can elect to become pregnant and bear a child when they are physically, emotionally and financially "ready." The majority of our children are now born with joyous anticipation.

Meanwhile, however, as we celebrate our babies, we must guard against complacency. In many Third World countries, conditions for infants and their mothers have changed little from those described above. (16, 17) And, in the US, we should be downright ashamed of our abysmal record when it comes to mother-infant health. Compared to other developed countries, our rates of teen pregnancy (with predictably bleak outcomes for the child), premature births, fetal exposure to drugs including alcohol and nicotine and, levels of child abuse and murder are very high. In surveys carried out by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the US rate of teen pregnancy was 3 times higher than the average for the 35 member countries. Our infant mortality rate is fourth from highest-just behind Mexico. (18) Scientific advances in genetic counseling, child nutrition, inter-birth spacing (IBI) and contraception are ignored by many prospective parents and spurned by politicians. It seems that our celebrations may have been premature or should at least be muted. Too many women and their infants still face a terrible prognosis.

 

(1) Counts, D. A. 1985. Infant care and feeding in Kaliai, West New Britain, Papua New Guinea, in Infant Care and Feeding in the South Pacific. Edited by L. B. Marshall, (pp.155-169) New York: Gordon and Beach (p. 62).

(2) Ritchie, J. and Ritchie, J. 1979. Growing up in Polynesia. Sydney, Australia: George Allen and Unwin (p. 43).

(3) Tietjen, A. M. 1985. Infant care and feeding practices and the beginnings of socialization among the Maisin of Papua New Guinea, in Infant Care and Feeding in the South Pacific. Edited by L. B. Marshall, (pp.121-135) New York: Gordon and Beach (p. 125).

(4) Wiley, A. S. 2004. An Ecology of High-Altitude Infancy. New York: Cambridge University Press (p. 103).

(5) Kulick, D. 1992. Language Shift and Cultural Reproduction: Socialization, Self, and Syncretism in a Papua New Guinea Village. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (p. 93).

(6) McGilvray, D. B. 1994. Sexual power and fertility in Sri Lanka: Batticaloa Tamils and Moors, in Ethnography of Fertility and Birth. In C. P. MacCormack (ed), (pp. 15-63) Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press (p. 48).

(7) Gorer, G. 1967. Himalayan Village: An Account of The Lepchas of Sikkim. New York: Basic Books (p. 289).

(8) Golden, M. 1990. Children and Childhood in Classical Athens. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press (p. 83).

(9) Raffaele, P. 2003. The Last Tribes on Earth: Journeys Among the World's Most Threatened Cultures. Sydney, Australia: Pan Macmillan (p. 69).

(10) Calvert, K. 2003. Patterns of childrearing in America. In Koops, W., & Zucherman, M. (eds.) Beyond the Century of the Child: Cultural history and Developmental Psychology. (pp.62-81), Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press (p. 63).

(11) Kleijueqgt, M. 2009. Ancient Mediterranean World, Childhood and Adolescence. In Shweder, R. A., et al (eds.), The Child: An Encyclopedic Companion. (pp 54-56). Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.

(12) Little, C. A. J. L. 2008. Becoming an Asabano: The Socialization of Asabano Children, Duranmin, West Sepik Province, Papua New Guinea. Unpublished Master's Thesis. Trent University. Peterborough, Ontario, Canada.

(13) Wagley, C. 1977. Welcome of Tears: The Tapirapé Indians of Central Brazil. New York: Oxford University Press.

(13) Hrdy, S. B. 1999. Mother Nature: Maternal Instincts and How They Shape the Human Species. New York: Ballantine (p. 465).

(14) Dettwyler, K. A. 1972. Dancing Skeletons: Life and Death in West Africa. Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press (p. 85-86).

(16) Einarsdottir, J. 2004. Tired of Weeping: Mother Love, Child Death, and Poverty in Guinea-Bissau. Madison, WI: The University of Wisconsin Press.

(17) Scheper-Hughes, N. 1987. Cultures, scarcity, and maternal thinking: Mother love and child death in Northeast Brazil, in Child Survival: Anthropological Perspectives on the Treatment and Maltreatment of Children. In Scheper-Hughes, N. (ed) (pp. 187-208) Dordrecht, Holland: D. Reidel Publishing Company.

(18) Keller, G. 2009. US fares poorly in child welfare survey. The Associated Press. September 1st

 

 

 

 

 

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