Tag Archives: psychology

Can the Problem of Evil Be Solved Or Only Contained?

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By Deepak Chopra, MD

ISIS and its atrocious acts have thrown the issue of evil into high relief. Once more we are forced to confront a horrifying aspect of human nature and to ask ourselves what can be done about it.  This post isn’t about U.S. policy against ISIS–that’s the business of the President, his advisers, the military, and Congress. But evil itself deserves better, clearer thinking than what it generally gets. If better thinking leads to better policy, all the more reason to find it.

Recorded history contains no time when human evil didn’t exist, although only very recently has it been called a problem. Traditionally, evil was looked upon as something much worse than a problem–the fruit of sin, the work of cosmic satanic forces, a divine punishment, or an animalistic instinct. It has taken thousands of years to get past such thinking, and when atrocities arouse public fear and hatred, the old explanations return. But on the other hand, it has become possible to think of evil in terms of psychology and its insights, which is a mark of progress.

Turning to psychology has made evil our responsibility; it can’t be shuffled off to a supernatural agent, either God or the Devil. Also, by taking responsibility, we can stop blaming “the other” as if a whole class, gender, race, ethnicity, or religion is uniquely evil. There’s enough war, crime, and general violence for everyone to accept the blame, and if we take psychology seriously, blame is clearly not a solution. In times of war, the normal boundaries that keep evil in check are lost, and even the “good” side of the conflict is forced into the fray under extraordinary circumstances. But that’s not my topic here. I’m not forgiving or condoning ISIS; forgiveness has rarely been a practical means of dealing with evil when it shows up on your doorstep.

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Who Is Right About Happiness?

Tandem skydiveWe know very little about what it takes to be happy, and a lot of what we know is wrong. This seems to be the conclusion of some voices in the movement known as positive psychology. It’s a relatively new field set against the traditional focus of psychology, which has delved into neurosis, psychosis, and mental illness generally. Positive psychology studies normality and tries to improve it. Is happiness normal? That depends on who you ask.

Pollsters, for example, usually find that happiness is quite common; around 8 out of 10 people in the U.S. report that they are happy. This number fluctuates with the rise and fall of events. A recent Gallup finding is that Syrians and Iraqis have the highest rate of negative thoughts – not a surprise – while people in South America have the most positive thoughts, which is a surprise. Gallup also studies well-being, using various leading factors, and hardly any country exists where 30% or more of the population is “thriving,” Gallup’s highest measure of well-being. A sharp drop in well-being occurred in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya just prior to the turmoil of the Arab Spring.

Among psychotherapists, happiness is generally viewed pessimistically. Some estimates from therapists indicate that up to 50% of the population exhibit signs of mental illness, including anxiety and depression. Suicide rates among white males rose by 40% recently, which is generally attributed to the economic downturn, and it’s no secret that antidepressants and tranquilizers are a multi-billion dollar market, even though neither class of medications actually cures anxiety and depression.

Against these conflicting reports, some commentators assert that we stumble into happiness” here and there, while our dream of being constantly happy is self-delusion. People are bad at knowing what will make them happy, we are told. Things like getting married, having a baby, winning the lottery, or even having a high salary don’t bring the happiness that we assume, as a society, they will. Mothers of young children report, for example, that taking care of infants and toddlers is one of the biggest stressors in their lives, while lottery winners typically say, a few years after their windfall, that they were happier before they won.

Why are we so bad at being happy? Were we born to struggle? These are questions that have fueled centuries of philosophy and spirituality, with no reliable conclusion. Since the Sixties, the rise of the New Age amounts to a search for a higher reality that promises more happiness than organized religion does. Has the promise come true for dedicated seekers? We’ll see. In a way it’s depressing that the most famous soliloquy in Shakespeare is about suicide (“to be or not to be, that is the question”). Now that I’ve laid out the contradictions that are involved, the next few posts will explore in depth how happiness works and where the pursuit of happiness should be leading us.

(To be cont.)

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Suicide Prevention Week: Depression – Shedding Light on the Darkness (Part 2)

98831359_49ede3af3bClick here to read Part 1!

Rebalancing yourself in the face of depression can take several forms:

  • Be aware that you are depressed and seek help.
  • Treat your body well, including exercise.
  • Reduce stress.
  • Get enough sleep, meaning a minimum of 8 hours a night.
  • Address situations that would make anyone sad, such as the wrong job, a bad relationship, normal grief, and serious loss. Don’t passively wait for time to heal your wounds.
  • Regain a sense of control.
  • Claim your sense of self – depressed women in particular may show a pattern of giving away too much of themselves in a relationship, leading to a sense of weakness and low self-esteem.
  • Examine your reactions to difficult situations. You will often find that reacting with helplessness, passivity, retreating inside, and turning passive lie at the root of your depressed state.
  • Spend time with people who give you a reason to feel alive and vibrant. Avoid people who share your negative responses and attitudes. Depression in some sense is contagious.
  • Rely to a minimum on antidepressants and apply your main efforts to other therapies. Pills should be as short-term as possible. They work best in removing the top layer of sadness so that you have a clear space to address the real underlying issues.
  • Talk about your problems and share your feelings with those who can listen with empathy and offer positive steps.
  • Make friends with someone who has recovered from depression or is handling the condition well.
  • Find a wise person who can help you to undo your most negative beliefs by showing you that life has other, better possibilities.

Because everything on this list requires a choice, bringing yourself back into balance means that you are aware enough to make decisions and have the ability to put them into practice. Quite often depressed people feel too helpless and hopeless to face the right choices, in which case outside help is needed, meaning a therapist or counselor who specializes in depression.

Here’s a general picture of how to make a plan for your own healing.

Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, works as well as medication for many people. It may be used alone or in combination with other forms of treatment. Studies have shown that psychotherapy can cause changes in brain function similar to those produced by medications. Focused, goal-oriented forms of therapy such as cognitive-behavior therapy appear to be the most effective in treating depression.

Diet may play a part in protecting against depression. Mediterranean countries have low rates of depression compared to countries farther to the north—and it isn’t just because they get more sunlight or have a more relaxed way of life. One large-scale study tracked almost 3,500 people living in London for 5 years and found that those who ate a Mediterranean diet were 30% less likely to develop depression. Researchers speculate that the foods in the Mediterranean diet may act synergistically together. Olive oil, nuts, and fatty fish are rich in omega-3 and other unsaturated fatty acids, and fresh fruits and vegetables contain flavonoids and phytochemicals that are full of antioxidants and folates (B vitamins).

Aerobic exercise is a very effective for depression. It’s been shown that moderate aerobic exercise done just 30 minutes a day, three times a week, can reduce or eliminate symptoms of mild-to-moderate depression and can help with severe depression.

It’s well known that exercise stimulates the release of endorphins, the “feel-good” chemicals (which function as neurotransmitters). Less well known is the startling effect of exercise on the structure of your brain. Exercise stimulates the creation of new nerve cells in the hippocampus, your brain’s center of learning and memory, so that it actually increases in size. This is especially relevant because depression, unless countered with effective therapy, causes the hippocampus to shrink in size. Exercise has also been shown to raise levels of serotonin and norepinephrine and to multiply the number of dendrite connections in neurons.

Yoga has been shown to lessen stress and anxiety and promote feelings of well-being. Communication between your body and your mind is a two-way street. Certain yogic practices can signal the brain that it’s all right to relax and prompt the parasympathetic nervous system to initiate the relaxation response. For instance, slow, deep, conscious breathing is also a vital element of yogic practice. This form of breathing is very effective in prompting the relaxation response to counter elevated levels of stress hormones. Someone with depression might be advised to practice “heart-opening” postures that elongate their thoracic spine. They may be told to stand with their shoulder blades drawn together so that their lungs are lifted and they are able to breathe more freely. An important component of yoga is paying close attention to what’s going on in the body at all times and locating and releasing any areas of tension. Yoga should ideally be practiced with the guidance of an experienced teacher.

Meditation can be a useful treatment for both stress and mild-to-moderate depression. Numerous studies have examined the effects of mindfulness meditation, designed to focus the meditator’s attention on the present moment. One study measured electrical activity in the brain found increased activity in the left frontal lobe during mindfulness meditation. Activity in this area of the brain is associated with lower anxiety and a more positive emotional state. Subsequently, the researchers tested both a group that hadn’t meditated as well as the meditators for immune function. They did this by measuring the level of antibodies they produced in response to a flu vaccine. The meditators had a significantly greater reaction, which indicates they had better immune function.

I know that the easiest solution is to pop a pill, and in this country powerful forces back up the promise that drugs are the answer. Keep in mind that antidepressants only alleviate symptoms, and that in the long run couch therapy has proven just as effective in changing the brain responses associated with depression. The real goal should be to rebalance your life, gain control over the disorder, understand who you are, and elevate your vision of possibilities for yourself. All of that is harder than opening a pill bottle, but every positive choice leads to real healing and a much better life in the future.

 

For more information go to deepakchopra.com

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PHOTO (cc): Flickr  / madamepsychosis

Originally published October 2011

Suicide Prevention Week: Depression – Shedding Light on the Darkness

It’s not news that depression has become a kind of invisible epidemic, afflicting millions of people. We live at a time when depression is approached as a disease. That has a good side. Depressed people are not judged as weak or self-indulgent, as if they only need to try harder to lift themselves out of their sadness. Yet depression, for all the publicity surrounding it, remains mysterious, and those who suffer from it tend to hide their condition – the medical model hasn’t removed a sense of shame. When you’re in the throes of depression, it’s hard to escape the feeling that you are a failure and that the future is hopeless.

Before considering how to handle depression, let’s ask the most basic question: Are you depressed? The bad side of the medical model arises when people rush to be medicated because they don’t like how they feel. Doctors barely bother to get a correct diagnosis, because the easiest thing to do –and the thing that patients demand – is to write a prescription.

Let’s see if we can get beyond this knee-jerk reaction.

Becoming sad or blue isn’t a sure sign of depression. Life brings difficulties that we respond to with a wide range of normal emotions: sadness, anxiety, resignation, grief, defeated acceptance, helplessness. Moods are cyclical, and if these feelings are your response to a tough event, they will subside on their own in time. If they linger, however, and there seems to be no definite cause or trigger, such as losing your job or the death of a loved one, depression is accepted as the conventional diagnosis.

Depression isn’t one disorder, and even though an array of antidepressants have been thrown at the problem, the basic cause for depression remains unknown. For a diagnosis of major depression, which is more serious than mild to moderate depression, at least five of the following symptoms must be present during the same 2-week period..

  • Depressed mood (feeling sad or empty; being tearful)
  • Markedly diminished interest or pleasure in all, or almost all, activities
  • Significant weight loss when not dieting, or weight gain, or decrease or increase in appetite
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia (sleeping too little or too much)
  • Slowing of thoughts and physical movements
  • Fatigue or loss of energy
  • Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt
  • Diminished ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness
  • Recurrent thoughts of death (not just fear of dying), recurrent suicidal ideation without a specific plan, or a suicide attempt or specific plan for committing suicide

If you can count five or more of these as being present, know that your list must contain “depressed mood” or “diminished interest or pleasure” before you’d be considered medically depressed. We’ve come to recognize different kinds of depression that fit certain circumstances:

  • Dysthymia is mild, chronic depression. It must present for at least 2 years for a diagnosis of dysthymia.
  • Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a form of depression that generally arises as the days grow shorter in the autumn and winter.
  • Postpartum depression begins after a woman has given birth and may get worse as time goes on.

Even though no one knows exactly what causes depression, it is clearly a state of internal imbalance. Balance is essential for the healthy functioning of both your body and your mind. The upsetting factors that make it more likely you will get depression form a long list: genetic predisposition, being female, death or loss of loved one, major life events (even happy ones, like a graduation), other mental illnesses, substance abuse, childhood trauma, certain medications, serious illness, and personal problems such as financial troubles. What these things have in common is that they disrupt the normal balancing mechanisms of mind and body. A treatment that aims at restoring balance therefore makes the most sense, and in tomorrow’s post I will outline measures for rebalancing.

Stay tuned for Part 2 tomorrow!

 

For more information go to deepakchopra.com

Follow Deepak on Twitter

PHOTO (cc): Flickr  / madamepsychosis

Originally published October 2011

The Survivors of Suicide

NaseknanThis week is National Suicide Prevention Week. It is heartbreaking to think that suicide is that pervasive of a problem in our society to warrant such a week. And yet it is. Suicide takes the lives of over 30,000 Americans every year. There are twice as many deaths from suicide as there are from HIV/AIDS. It is the third leading cause of death for 15-24 year old Americans. And there are more than 800,000 attempted suicides every year.

Those are the statistics.

And then there are the stories.

Perhaps the worst thing about suicide is the pain it causes to those left behind. These people are known as the survivors. And telling our stories can help us to heal from the trauma of this experience.

When Gia Allemand, the reality television star, took her own life last month, the topic of suicide became a part of a national discussion. Gia’s distraught mother spoke with Dr. Phil about her feelings, which echo those of many survivors.

Sometimes there are warning signs. And then sometimes the incident seems to come from out of nowhere. That’s how it was when I found out that my friend Ophir had died. I remember getting a phone call from our mutual friend Curt. He was in a state of disbelief as he had just gotten the news. It took a few phone calls to figure out exactly what had happened. Ophir had committed suicide.

I knew Ophir as an extremely talented and creative composer. We worked together on several music projects. We had a close friendship and a great respect for each other. Ophir helped me bring my songs to life. When Ophir had a hernia operation, I had him stay at my home while he recovered.

I was aware that Ophir used drugs. I spoke with him about it many times, offering him alternatives, and suggestions for a more healthy way of life. But he did not want to hear it. He did not want to talk about it. He always functioned perfectly well when we were working, and he assured me that he did not have a problem. When I heard that Ophir had died, I assumed it was an accidental overdose. But there was no accident about Ophir’s death. He planned it. He put a rifle in his mouth and shot himself.

Like most people do in this situation, I started asking myself all kinds of questions. What could I have done to prevent this? Why didn’t I see this was coming? What was so terrible that he had to do this? I felt awful, not only for myself, but for his family, everyone who loved him. Suicide is such a violent act. It is terribly hurtful to everyone left behind with so many unanswerable questions. I don’t know what brought Ophir to his decision. I do know and recognize that although our relationship has changed, he is still very much a part of my life. I have the songs we wrote together on my websites. He taught me so much about music and the creative process. When certain songs come on the radio I am reminded of him, and his amazing energy, sweet smile, and sly sense of humor. His words still influence me. His music still moves me.

I know the agreement Ophir and I had was complete even before his death. There was no unfinished business between us. We learned from each other, both creatively and personally. At his funeral I met many others who felt the same way.

This was the second time that I had been affected by suicide. When I was around eleven years old, shortly after my parents’ divorce, my mother’s brother took his own life. He was a Vietnam veteran, and he became hooked on drugs while he was in the war. When he got home, he couldn’t handle normal life after seeing everything he saw in combat. His drug problem got worse, he would have hallucinations, and he overdosed to escape the pain.

I saw how this shattered my mother and grandmother. He also left behind a wife and baby daughter. It was tragic. As a child I could sense how awful this was for everyone. And now as an adult I can see how my uncle’s life mattered. Even in the short time he was with us, he brought joy to his mother and love to his family. He struggled with life, and he chose to die. But while he was here he lived, and he had the opportunities and experiences that allowed him to learn and grow. He may not have made the best choices, but they were his choices. In situations like this you have to get past the blame, and the guilt, and know that there is nothing you could have done to change the outcome. For whatever reason, this person took his own life. It is not rational, or logical, or right. But it is irreversible. And we learned by going through all of this together as a family.

Chaim Nissel, PsyD is the Director of Yeshiva University’s Counseling Center in New York City, and an expert with the American Association of Suicidology. He has this to say about coping with the loss of a loved one from suicide:

The death of a loved one by suicide has all the trappings of conventional grief plus a host of other intense, difficult, and confusing emotions. These include feelings of guilt and responsibility, anger and blame and often a disconnect with the individual who killed himself. When we lose a loved one to cancer or AIDS, we accept the reality, feel the loss, grieve, yet we don’t blame ourselves. Following a suicide, it is hard to accept the reality that the individual chose death. We feel responsible and wonder “if I had only…..” he’d be alive today. We would rather blame ourselves because it is difficult to place the responsibility where it belongs, on the individual who killed himself.

One who experiences the death of a loved one to suicide is fittingly called a “survivor.” They must now learn to cope and survive their loss. Most survivors experience anger, guilt and emotional turmoil. There is often anger at the deceased for taking their own life, it is seen as selfish, because their pain ends, but the survivor’s pain begins. Guilt over what they could have and should have done to prevent it (although if the loved one wanted to die, they would have despite your interventions). We like to think that we can control events, but when another person is in such emotional pain that they want to die, the choice to kill themselves remains their choice, despite everything that you can and did offer them.

There is still tremendous stigma and shame associated with suicide and when the fact that one died by suicide is hidden or denied, it becomes so much more difficult to come to terms with it. When we try to “cover” or pretend the death was accidental, it takes its toll on the survivors and will impact them the rest of their lives.

To help us find closure, Dr. Nissel has this advice:

  • Talk about it! Find supportive people in your life who you can share your feelings with.
  • Focus on the person’s life, and the good memories you have of the person. Know that you will never truly know why he killed himself.
  • Recognize that the person’s pain is over, now it’s time to start healing your own pain.
  • Have answers prepared for when people ask questions. This will help reduce your anxiety and emotional reactions. You can say “He took his own life” or “died by suicide” or even “he suffered a long illness.” If someone is persistent, blaming or insensitive, you can say “it is too difficult to talk about right now” and end the conversation.
  • Know that you are not responsible for your loved one’s death, in any way. Only the individual who killed himself is responsible.
  • Know that the likelihood is that the person was in such pain, for so long and now the suffering is over. 90% of those who die by suicide suffered from some form of mental illness, most commonly an affective disorder such as depression or bipolar disorder.
  • Seek resources such as professional counseling, support groups, and books.
  • Being exposed to a suicide makes you somewhat more susceptible to suicidal thinking. If you are having thoughts of killing yourself, get help immediately by contacting a local psychologist or psychiatrist. If you feel you may act on these suicidal impulses, call 911 or go to your local emergency room.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (afsp.org) helps survivors of suicide. Actress Michelle Ray Smith, who played “Ava” on the daytime drama “Guiding Light,” talked about her father’s suicide in an interview with Soap Opera Digest magazine a few years back. She said that participating in AFSP’s “Out of the Darkness” event, an overnight 20 mile walk, helped her connect with people who had been through the same thing. “For the first time since he died – it’s been three years in September – I feel at peace.”

Talking with people, sharing our stories, is one way that we can help each other to heal.

For more information about how to find closure go to http://www.closurebook.com

How Light Affects Our Sleep (And Overall Happiness)

moring in prague

Anyone who has ever experienced insomnia can tell you that lack of sleep is one of the cruelest barriers to happiness. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 25% of the U.S. population reports not getting enough sleep, and a whopping 10% reports chronic insomnia! Not only are we stressed, sick, and overweight in this country, but we are dangerously under-slept – and all of these circumstances undoubtedly have something to do with one another.

In addition to temperature, stress, and other factors, light has been shown to have a major effect on the circadian rhythm. Timing, intensity, and quality of light all play into either promoting or detracting from healthy sleep patterns. Imagine the difficulty night shift workers have to establish their sleep cycles! But even those of us who work regular hours and expect our sleep time to comfortably overlap with the dark hours can be negatively impacted by a disturbance in our light exposure. Think: computer and cellphone screens, artificial light, television, and the like.

Doctors and scientists in recent decades have developed light therapy treatment for various issues, including sleep disorders, and their results are promising. One study published in the American Psychological Association journal reported patients’ improvement in circadian rhythms after two hours of bright light exposure in the morning in conjunction with light restriction around bedtime. Another study published in Biological Psychiatry reported that bright light therapy can reduce the incidence of relapse in patients after other forms of sleep therapy – the results of which, by the way, may have a major affect of reducing depressive symptoms in patients with depression. The future looks bright, indeed.

Bright light therapy has also been shown to help treat seasonal affective disorder (SAD), as well as reduce the incidence of behavioral disorders in patients suffering from dementia. All evidence points to the fact that light gravely affects not only our sleep patterns, but also our minds, emotions, and overall pursuit of happiness. With that in mind, it’s heartening to know that there may be measures we can take, which include light therapy, to increase overall health and wellness.

 Here are some tips on promoting sleep health with light therapy:

  1. Put your phone, computer, and television away after dark, or at least close to bedtime. Those moments right before bed might seem like the perfect time to catch up on email or your favorite show, but doing so may inhibit your ability to fall asleep. So save it for the morning, and pick up a book or sketch pad, instead.
  2. Go to sleep a bit earlier to align your sleep rhythm more closely with the day. This is hard to do, especially if you’re a parent, student, or busy professional. But going to sleep earlier might just allow you to wake up a bit earlier, too, and not lose an inch of productivity!
  3. Try using candlelight and natural light as much as possible. Artificial light has been implicated in the growth of sleep disorders – and again, much of this has to do with laptops and television screens. Turn it off, unplug, and opt for natural light.
  4. Make sure your bedroom is lit (and unlit) as much as possible by natural light. For instance, keep it dark after dark and around bedtime, but be sure the morning sunlight makes it in, as well. Exposure to bright light upon awakening, as we mentioned, can help promote healthy circadian rhythms. So let the light in!

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Déjà Vu “Explained” 3 Ways, But Still Super Bizarre

Screen Shot 2013-08-29 at 1.57.59 PMHave you ever that eerie, ineffable feeling that “you’ve been here before.” The feeling might be triggered by something someone says, or by a series of events, a scent, taste, or texture. It may hit you all at once or perhaps dawn on you slowly as a conversation unfolds.

It’s such a common experience, you’d think there would be some good research out there to explain the phenomenon. But there are several difficulties that get in the way. For one, you can’t induce déjà vu or predict when it will come about. And researchers aren’t prepared to just sit around waiting for it to happen. Even if they did, it would be hard to tell if any two people experience déjà vu in the same way.

There are several theories out there, though, which attempt to offer insight into, if not completely explain, the bizarre phenomenon. This enlightening TedEducation video outlines three such theories, with awesome animation to accompany.

What do you think déjà vu is? Do any of these theories adequately explain it? Tell us your thoughts in the comments section below!

Make an Imaginary Friend and Find Happiness

gasp at lifeWhen I asked my almost 3 year old. to sing me a song in the car, he told me that he would, but he could only sing one because he was pretty busy. “I have to pick up a jumparoo for Sissy’s baby sister at 9 o’clock, so I’m pretty busy right now.” I didn’t know Sissy had a baby sister! I didn’t even know Sissy up until a month ago.

Sissy is my son’s best friend these days, and she does some crazy stuff! Especially when he can’t fall asleep at nap time. Earlier this week, “Mommy! I want to tell you the crazy thing Sissy did! She climbed down the side of my crib and jumped into the wall and went all the way down her new porch stairs and into the street and into her house and into her own bed without scooting or waking up at all!!”  One week before, on an especially raucous no-nap day, he shouted with glee, “Hey mommy! We’re having a birthday party, will you join us and sing happy birthday?”

Yesterday I learned that Sissy has a mom named Tessie. Tessie hung out with my son in his crib yesterday when he couldn’t nap and Sissy had ridden her bicycle home all by herself. I learned that Sissy’s baby sister’s name is Ter-hion. When I was holding his real baby sister, my son was holding Sissy’s baby sister, though he decided to put her in the stroller because he couldn’t catch a ball and hold her at the same time. I should also point out that even though she loves her, Sissy isn’t always so nice to her baby sister. Over the weekend my son told me, “Sissy is in time out for biting her baby sister, Mommy.”

I asked him today what it was like playing with Sissy. He said it was fun and comfortable. I asked him where Sissy was, and he said like I should have known, “She’s in the crib! Can you take her out?”

I’m thinking he and all his fellow imagination filled toddlers are onto something here. An imaginary friend can be anyone you want him or her to be. This person can be your very own special friend. She can do all sorts of stuff. And she can do stuff for you so you don’t have to do it yourself. “Sissy, can you go to the gym for me?” “Sissy, I thought you were going to clean up the kitchen? You were flying like a bird out the window and high high into the clouds?”  Ooh! That sounds like much more fun. Makes me feel better too, just imagining it.

I’ve often read that we need to love ourselves, accept ourselves, be kinder and more patient. I’m thinking Sissy and all her imaginary comrades could teach us this by being the equanimous, unconditional, open-minded friends they naturally are. I’m going to give it a shot. Intent community, please meet….Sophie. She’s new here.

The Line Between True Love and Worst Nightmare

Happy 2gether Part IIBy Rebeca Eigen

I started studying astrology in 1985. I quickly found out that astrology is unsurpassed in its ability to help a person understand himself or herself. Most people who read the simple horoscope columns have no idea just how detailed and complicated it is. The subject is so vast you could spend your whole lifetime studying it, and there is so much to it that although I needed an understanding of the basics, I eventually developed a passion for learning specifically about relationships.

The 7th house is the house that shows us who we are and what we can expect when we are in relationships. And here is where the trouble begins, because it is a very misunderstood house (area) within the psyches of all of us. Most of us are used to finding our partners out there somewhere instead of looking inside ourselves.

A couple came to me for a reading recently, and they wanted to know “What is our compatibility?” These two people were in their mid-to-late 30s and had both been married before, and I asked them each this question: “Are you the person for you?” Yes, I know it sounded strange, but this is the real question at the bottom of our relationship struggles that we need to ask ourselves.

The people we are extremely attracted to are mirroring the parts of ourselves that we are missing. The curious thing is we can be repulsed and attracted to the very same person. When we have a feeling that we are “in love,” when we have that kind of fascination or compulsion toward anyone, it’s a real clue that it is a projection of our own unconscious contents. There will be an erotic, magnetic feeling within us when we meet someone who can carry the projection of our Shadow, our Anima or Animus as described in the analytical psychology of Dr. Carl G. Jung.

The Shadow is in us all.

This is why the ancients believed this house was also the house of open enemies, because the partner becomes the enemy that we will polarize with. At first all is wonderful. You feel you have met your true “soul mate.” But eventually (and this has to occur for our own psychological growth), the couple will begin to polarize, find fault with each other and a crisis (which is also a turning point in the relationship) will occur. The relationship will start to deteriorate so that they can differentiate, as John Sanford explains in the book The Kingdom Within. Unknowingly, they are BOTH carrying unconscious psychological contents for each other.

When we are “in love“, no amount of logical reasoning can talk us out of it either. We have to go through it in order to develop an awareness of our whole Self. Jung explained that deep within us, the Self is guiding us to our own wholeness, which he called the process of individuation. The alchemists called this meeting, the divine marriage or the coniunctio. Because it can wake us up and help us see many things differently, falling in love can be a very transformative and wonderful experience.

Then why is it so scary?

Because it can just as easily turn around and become our worst nightmare. Just as quickly as a relationship begins, it can end. The original love can turn to hate. When relationships end that violently, you know that neither partner was able to get past his or her projections. Unless they are both willing to do some inner work, they will just go on to find other partners and it will repeat and a pattern of victim consciousness continues.

As Paul McCartney sings in the song that he and John Lennon wrote:

I’m looking through you.

What did I know?

I thought I knew you.

What did I know?

You don’t look different, but you have changed.

I’m looking through you.

You’re not the same.

CHORUS

Why, tell me why, did you not treat me right?

Love has a nasty habit of disappearing overnight.

This experience in this song is archetypal because the Shadow side of us is unconscious. What’s interesting is that everyone else can see these parts of us and we can’t.

Inside us or outside of us, it is all the same — a reflection par excellence.

Whatever sign is on 7th-house cusp, whatever planets reside therein are a detailed picture of what we will develop in this lifetime with or without our intention or consent. So we might as well learn about this part of us and choose to develop it because then we can experience the more productive aspects of that energy.

I hear people with Mars (planet of action, male principle, directedness) in the 7th or ruler of the 7th telling me how violent their ex-husbands were, how they have attracted aggressive or angry partners. People with the Moon there tell me how needy and emotional their partners are, how dependent. Uranus … how unpredictable and detached, aloof. Saturn … how cold, unresponsive, limiting and critical. Jupiter … how opinionated, inflated, self-indulgent. These are simplistic descriptions, but an astrologer, knowing your 7th house, the aspects to your Venus and the ruler, has a very clear understanding of what your own specific needs are in relationships. We are all unique. Don’t feel something is wrong with you if you cannot live the cultural model of the white picket fence and the two-car garage. That may not be what your soul is requiring in this lifetime. So stop feeling guilty if you aren’t creating it.

Learn about yourself through your astrological chart so that you can make the conscious effort to be this part of you and learn to meet people — but only halfway. And that is the dance called Libra. So as Lee Ann Womack says in her song, “When you get the choice to sit it out or dance — I hope you’ll dance!”

* * *

RebecaEigen-72-dpiRebeca Eigen, an astrologer for 25+ years and author of The Shadow Dance & the Astrological 7th House Workbook, specializes in relationships. Using your time, date, and place of birth, she uses the astrological birth chart to evoke the symbolic and help you become more aware of your total Self. Her study of the Shadow using Astrological tools has given her an invaluable awareness of the unconscious and the role it plays in the relationships that we attract into our lives. For more information, visit her Web site: www.shadowdance.com.

Deepak Chopra: You Are Not Your Body or Your Mind

What are the components that make up an identity? Stated another way, who are we and why? Day to day, we are most aware of the bodies that move us from place to place and the minds that construct thoughts and words. Even impulses and ineffable motivations, like the pursuit of morality, the desire for love, and the occasional waves of intuition might be explained away by science and psychology. But are these the only factors that define us? In this episode of “Ask Deepak” on The Chopra Well, Deepak Chopra discusses the true nature of who we are, at the core of our existence.

What is comes down to, and what many of us already feel, we are neither our bodies nor our minds in totality. Our bodies and minds rather exist within us, within our consciousness, which is greater and more complete than a mere collection of cells or series of synaptic connections.

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