Night Canyon Sticker

As a psychotherapist who works with those who struggle with mood issues like depression and anxiety, I see how these conditions distract a person from the experiences of pleasure or the enjoyment of daily living.
A depressed person cannot see or experience the parts of life that may inspire or open them to further possibility, like a sunset hidden by the clouds. In fact, the opposite is often true.
A person who is feeling emotional pain can find themselves completely focused on their symptoms in a way that becomes self perpetuating. With depression, we call it a downward spiral, the process that reinforces the bad feelings and negative beliefs such that they become worse and worse. Anxiety also feeds on itself, at one point becoming the anxiety of feeling anxious.
In both cases, a person can be pre-occupied by an internal mechanism that calls attention to itself, to the exclusion of other possible realities…and the alternative set of feelings that come with them.
The first two essays* I wrote for this blog were aimed at self regulation. Regulating one’s will (sense of control) includes the development and strengthening of willful habits, recognizing the limitations of one’s will, and understanding how and when to exercise acceptance as an alternative to will. At the age of 20, Hunter S Thompson said it this way, “Whether to float with the tide or to swim toward a goal, it is a choice we must make, consciously or unconsciously, at one time in our lives.”
I believe we can make this choice over again and again in ways that produce equanimity, a balance of mind. The same is true for knowing and regulating emotions. It is emotional extremes that override the thought process and disconnect us from our bodies. When we know our feelings and maintain calmness, we broaden our set of choices and align our responses with our values and desires. Once again we gain equanimity.
The third essay* comes as a result of developing this self-regulation. It represents the opposite of depression or anxiety. Instead of closing down and being preoccupied with an internal process, we open up to the sunset, or the ideals that exist in the expansiveness of our balanced mind. When seeing through the lens of equanimity, we can see possibility. Ideals become guiding influences.
*Part I: Will, Emotion and the Force of Idealism
*Part II: The Force of Idealism
*Part III: Healthy Mindedness and Emotions


The Art Of Wisdom Is The Art Of Knowing What To Overlook -William James

Wisdom might be one of the ideals that we aspire to, we sometimes recognize, and rarely attain. The thoughts I share are really an attempt to point in the direction of a deeper…or more elevated…collective knowing. I will follow the lead of William James and others once again.

William James believed that it is in what we choose to attend to that determines the course of our experiences.

I would like to explore the process of “attending to” and show how necessary it is to see the problems that are part of the societies we are in and to see beyond them. In therapy, it is to gain meta-awareness, the ability to see a dysfunctional pattern while it is happening, so as to gain awareness of other possible choices.

Deep Calling Deep

Pain calls attention to itself. When we have been hit in the shin or have a pounding headache or have something “bothering us” we are less able to directly and openly experience the particular time and place we are in. We may be preoccupied, unable to concentrate or distracted. It represents a sub-text to the direct connection we have with the environment we are in. Our broad awareness is reduced, our senses are activated toward our pain, our ability to observe is limited; our experience of the moment is centered on that which is painful. We all recognize the acute version of being in pain.

We also have duller and more chronic versions of “pain”. When we look into ourselves, we often find emotional pain that exists in subconscious layers, not far out of our daily awareness. Almost everyone has fear, insecurity, self-doubt, a sense of inadequacy, frustration, anger, guilt, shame, and anxiety… a few layers deep.

One Soul Sticker

A third source of pain is in the world itself. The news we see and hear every day is massively painful, both in the awareness of the experience of others (our natural empathy for them) and the fear and frustration that it elicits in our helplessness to solve the problems we see. This seems to be an increasing preoccupation and maybe relevant to the topic of how it is we should attend to it.

So it seems that in order to attend to the broader view of what is possible, we need to know what to do with the painful truths in life. Denial and escape are well practiced reactions; forms of coping. But is there a way that we can attend to the harsh realities, while simultaneously keeping our heads up, with our eyes on the fullness of living, the promises of hope?

It seems to me that it is in the contextualization of these two aspects of life…the harsh and painful…and the joyful … that we find the answer.

Balancing The Collective Mind

We need to see that our ideals are concepts that are not, and cannot be fully realized collectively, at least anytime soon. The justice we have is a relative measure of what is the ideal. Our harsh realities come from the ways in which we have yet to learn to live according to what is ideal…with love, and justice, and a full awareness of the wholeness of our connectedness. Rather than measuring ourselves as failing to live up to our higher ideals, we can see the degree to which we are bringing our ideals into life.


If we attend to the love or the peace that exists in the world, we will create more of it. If we are pre-occupied with the hate, and the killing and the fear that it generates, we will create more of it…especially if we become hateful or violent as a way of combating it.

When we normalize the human condition as being in a process that is developing toward higher levels of consciousness, we are able to contextualize the degree to which our patterns of behavior and our social systems have not yet emerged to the point where they perpetuate the positive upward cycle that is possible. Like a depressed person caught in the cloud of despair, we have yet to discover the means and mechanisms that liberate our collective selves from the self defeating patterns.

My next essay will apply the ideas above directly to social realities that are common to the human experience of our times. ~Doug
“I am a psychotherapist living and practicing in Hanoi, Vietnam. I am also Jeff Daverman’s uncle. I glean from field of psychology and the lessons I have learned working with people. I try to make applicable ideas that fit and are relevant at both individual and social levels…the micro and the macro. I hope my writing serves as food for thought and generates comments and responses as an honest platform for dialogue.”