Mosh It Out

I watched a great movie over the weekend called “Manic”, about an adolescent male (played brilliantly by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who nearly bludgeons a kid to death at a baseball game and is subsequently admitted to an inpatient unit.  Throughout the film we see other adolescents with a myriad of issues from being molested by a stepfather to being raped by a friend to being completely ignored and emotionally abused by parental figures.

As I watched the film, I was struck by how much pain there is in the world and it honestly moved me to tears.  Why should a 13 year old boy have to live with the trauma of being molested and raped multiple times by a stepfather?  Why should a 16 year old have to deal with not only the early death of his father but also the fact that memories of his father involve bouts of drinking and abuse?  I happened to watch this movie on a day that I was feeling particularly sorry for myself because of a few struggles that paled in comparison to what I was watching on the screen.  The world has enough pain on its own without me adding more to the mix.

There is one scene in particular in the movie that really struck me and I wanted to share it here.  Through group therapy, individual sessions, and time spent simply talking and playing games in the common area, these youth have begun to process some of the intense emotions that have been locked in for so long and found their expression in ways that are a danger to self and others.  There are intense interpersonal conflicts and alliances that form through this process, but there is one moment in the film in which they all come together in a Gestalt-like release of emotion while moshing to a Deftones song.  Even Zooey Deschanel’s character, though she watches from the sidelines, seems to gain insight from watching this all unfold around her.

My favorite part about this scene is delivered by Don Cheadle, playing the staff psychologist, who sees the scene and seems to understand the importance of what lies beneath.  While most adults would view this as a group of rowdy teens disturbing the peace and causing destruction, he sees something else.  He sees a group of kids who have been forced to grow up far too quickly in a world that is far too painful.  He sees that while it is important to teach kids respect and healthy ways of expression, perhaps the power of this shared emotional experience outweighs the potential damage done by allowing it to continue.

After all, the emotion has to come out somehow and there are much more destructive ways of expressing it.  

Do It Anyway

I attended a meeting yesterday of a group called Koinonia; a greek word that connotes meanings of community and participation.  This particular group is a weekly gathering of graduate students at Loyola University Maryland to discuss issues of faith and spirituality.  Yesterday our topic of conversation was the notion of forgiveness.  At the end of the hour-long meeting, the leader shared a prayer that I thought was quite profound and hit me square between the pockets.  It is called “Do It Anyway”, and is reportedly attributed to Mother Theresa.

People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered.  Forgive them anyway.  

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives.  Be kind anyway.  

If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies.  Succeed anyway.  

If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you.  Be honest and sincere anyway.  

What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight.  Create anyway.  

If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous.  Be happy anyway.  

The good you do today will often be forgotten.  Do good anyway.  

Give the best you have, and it will never be enough.  Give your best anyway.  

In the final analysis, it is between you and God.  It was never between you and them anyway.

Finding My Silence

IMG_0052We all know how important it is to find silence in our lives, time and space to step back for a moment and put things in perspective.  It keeps us from rash emotional responses and helps to make better decisions.  It seems that discussions of the need for silence take the forefront at this time of year, during the season of Lent as we await (depending on your faith tradition) Easter, the spring season, and new life taking root after a cold winter.

I always had trouble with finding silence and have often struggled to grasp what this concept really means.  I tend to live continually in my head.  My wife gives me a hard time because of my selective memory.  I remember some things crystal clear while others bring no recollection for me at all.  The truth is, I am usually hearing so much noise in my head that at times there is simply no room to process anything else.  I have always had a difficult time living in the moment.  I am usually functioning in the moment but living in the regret of the past or the fear of the future.

People have found many ways to be in the moment; some healthy, like meditation or exercise; others not so healthy, like excessive use of drugs and alcohol.  Either of these paths could lead to trouble in excess, I suppose.  If working out begins to interfere with your daily life functioning, perhaps you have a problem.  The point is that we have a basic drive to find ways to silence all the noise in our head so that we can live and thrive in the present moment, not worrying about tomorrow as it will have enough worries of its own.  And not living under they oppression of past mistakes but rather allowing them to teach their lessons and then move on.

This all sounds remarkably similar to teachings I grew up with but didn’t make much sense to me.  Didn’t Jesus talk about this?  Also Buddha, I’m pretty sure.  Maybe Muhammad as well?

I was on a hike with my dog Oliver yesterday in Gunpowder Falls State Park and I experienced what it feels like to be fully present in the moment.  It was incredibly refreshing.  As I stood on the bank of the river, slightly off the beaten path, I was fully consumed by listening to the sound of the river flowing over rocks, smelling the brisk winter air and feeling it invade my nostrils and brush harshly against my skin, admiring the way in which the water move so effortlessly over rocks and around turns.  Nothing else mattered in that moment.

I found my silence.


My parents recently moved out of state and gave me their 1999 Chevrolet Prism as a parting gift.  Two years ago I would not have even considered accepting such a gift and thereby making my wife and I a two-car family; but things change.  So, when they made the offer, I took them up on it and hitched a ride with my brother to pick it up.  As I drove home along a Pennsylvania state highway with my dog in the backseat, I felt like I did after getting my first car in high school.   I felt free.

There is a concept in family therapy called differentiation, first touted by a psychiatrist named Murray Bowen who was one of the first in the field to study and treat entire families as opposed to simply the individual who was suffering from some type of disorder or disturbance.  The notion is that the ideal developmental context will allow a child/individual to develop a strong sense of identity within the context of the family unit.  There is a tenuous balance that must be walked between exaggerated emotional reactivity on one end and emotional fusion on the other.  Too far in one direction leads to an overdeveloped sense of independence and little emotional connectivity in relationships.  Too far in the other direction leads to an underdeveloped sense of self and an over-dependence on relationships for emotional validation.  It seems clear that this is a balance we continue to walk throughout our lives, not simply a deterministic chain of events that happens in our childhood.

Many people talk of “losing themselves” after being in a marriage or committed relationship for a number of years.  When my wife and I hit a rocky patch 7 years in, I realized that I never really had an strong sense of myself to begin with.  In fact, I always thought that having a sense of your own identity was a bad thing; my identity was supposed to be found in Jesus alone.  Only problem was, I never really knew what that meant.  So instead of having a strong sense of identity as part of a cause or movement or church community, I simply looked to those with whom I was in close relationship to give me direction in who I should be and what I should do.  Wrong answer.

What happens when all of those relationships are stripped away?  Even for a short period of time?  Then you’re left with nothing.  Except for hurt, which is a strangely comforting but miserable companion.

Over the last couple years, I have often felt imprisoned by my own psychosis, cut off from relationships for reasons yet unexplained to me.  At some point I began to see that the true prison was the dependence that I felt on validation from my closest relationships.  When I began to understand that being alone with myself was not the miserable prison that I often thought it was, I felt more free to enjoy relationships with those closest to me because I no longer felt I needed their approval in order to stay alive.

I’ve realized how important it is to have a well established sense of identity and some confidence on which to stand.  And it feels good.  But it is a daily struggle.  And it helps to have things to call your own, spaces that are sacred.  Like your own set of wheels.

Call it my own little sanctuary.

How do you walk this balance?  Where do you find your freedom?  Where do you find your sanctuary?  Would love to hear your thoughts!