Making sense in difficult times!

Welcome to my first blog. As I have been at home in my apartment staying safe in these trying times, I have had a burning desire to find a way to help. Due to my age and medical status I could not go about with my usual volunteering with the Audubon Naturalist Society. Being an active person I find to quarantine in place very difficult at times as I am sure others feel the same way. Although my wife and I find projects and zooming with grandchildren to pass time, I still wish I could do more to be a helper. That’s what I have always done.

For the past two years I have been retired and am now living in Washington D.C. I had lived on Long Island, New York for most of my life. This past year I have been writing a memoir of my clinical practice. With the urging of my son Scott, he suggested that I share some of my ideas and concepts as a way to contribute towards helping all of us cope with these times. So here it goes.

As the infamous 9/11 came upon us I was immediately beseeched with frantic calls from clients, friends and family to help them make sense of what just happened. Wow, I had not even found my own sanity when I was pressured to bring meaning to events that made no obvious sense.

I realized that a good deal of my work had always been to help people make sense of life. To find meaning that can keep us feeling focused and secure. Throughout our lives events unfurl that make no sense at first. It is a struggle for many of us to get perspective again. Some people use religion to bring peace of mind. As a psychologist I could not take a religious perspective to soothe their souls. So struggling to quickly regain my perspective I put together the following concept that gave me meaning and could help others as well. The following is a section from my manuscript.

White Blood Cells vs Viruses

So many of my clients particularly those with depression have had a very difficult time finding meaning out of their lives. Their lives seem to be lost in the grand theme of existence. Why am I here? What purpose does my existence have? Why bother to work hard to change? Life is too short.

Indeed, these feelings are very common to all of us. People who cope better have found a purpose and justification to embrace life. Those in pain can’t seem to find a guiding principle to make sense of our short time on earth. Some people have a faith concept that guides them. I could not give my clients any religious perspective, yet I had to explain a purpose to life that could guide them. Finding an answer to this conflict encouraged me to develop a model that provides a way of understanding this thing called life. I constructed the following model that made sense to me and hopefully to my clients.

The first principle is that life is short. When one considers the number of years the average person lives against the vast amount of time that has transpired throughout our earth’s history, this contrast indeed shows that we only have a short stay. Countless numbers of people have come before us and hopefully so many more will live after us. Our time is very limited relative to the billions of years that have passed before our personal arrival. This is a fact we must first accept. Somewhere, some place our time will end. We cannot control that, but we can control how we live our lives.

Life is short!

The second principle we need to embrace is that life is a miracle. Let’s us consider the following. Why is it that with our scientific ability to look out among the cosmos, we don’t see a vastness of smiling waving aliens inviting us to visit. Space seems very barren. Life does not seem very abundant. There may be life elsewhere, but it is hard to see it. The earth, our home, is located 93 million miles from our sun. It is incredible that for life to have developed here it took an improbable balance and mixing of many, many factors and variables. The odds of life happening here are just as great as that of it not happening. Let that settle in for a moment to process the import or meaning.

Life is indeed a miracle. It is important to take pleasure in honoring this incredible event. We, for whatever reason, have been given a gift of life to cherish and honor. See yourself as a manifestation of this miracle. We have god like abilities to create life and to grow our existence as well as, unfortunately, we also can destroy life. There is a choice as guardians of this miracle as to how we use our god like powers.

Life is a miracle! I am a miracle!

The third principle is to understand our place in mankind’s journey, from our primitive caveman days to life among the stars, and to an age when we might be able to provide for all our essential human needs. I like to draw an analogy between the health of our physical body and the health of humanity as a body.

Let’s us first consider the health of an individual body. At any moment, within our bodies, there are a vast number of viruses that are attacking us and can make us ill or even kill us. We also have white blood cells that are working hard to keep us alive and healthy. There is a constant play of balances between viruses and white blood cells. Sometimes the viruses are winning, and we become ill and at other times the white blood cells are winning and we remain healthy.

Now consider humanity on our planet as one total living body. Within this body are people who act like a virus bringing harm and destruction to humanity. They are driven by extreme negative emotions like greed and inferiority. They produce wars, catastrophic abuse of our limited resources and divisiveness among the various races of people. There are also people on this planet whose lives are centered around healthier more positive emotions and values. They bring about goodness, kindness and loving acceptance of others. They try to enhance the lives that they interact with daily.

Over the many years in practice I interacted with thousands of people. I estimate that 99 percent benefited by my interaction or involvement in their lives. They in turn would go home or to work feeling better and would pass along this good feeling minimally to at least five people they interacted with. It could have been to show love to their family or even just showing curtesy to a passing stranger. In a sense I directly and indirectly enhanced the lives of thousands of more people. At the same time there are mean hurtful people that my clients also interacted with. Those negative people may harmfully affect both directly and indirectly a vast amount of people.

There is one human race. We are part of a large ever developing species. Some of us act like white blood cells while others are like a virus. We are on a journey together to reach our highest level of potential development. I see my life as a reflection of being a white blood cell. In my short time on earth I would like to believe that my life contribution is to be a white blood cell to humanity. My purpose in life is to help move us along in a heathier manner. The journey of mankind is a constant struggle between the white blood cell people and the virus people.

I don’t profess to understand the complexity of faith in God. Each religion has meaningful positive guidance to help us live together. I accept my client’s wishes to worship in their own ways. I believe that if there is a god then living as a white blood cell could only improve my odds of getting into heaven. If there is no god, I’m still better off as a white blood cell.

I choose to be a white blood cell. I take my miracle and see what I can accomplish with the gift I was given. I am connected to the larger human experience and a contributor to humanities ultimate destination. From the days of the caveman to the future we all have a place in this one experience called mankind’s journey.

The choice is yours: white blood cell or virus?

So in these troubling times there is a choice as to embrace the type of person we can be even when the days seem darkest. I hope in the weeks ahead to share more of the concepts I used to help make sense of life events.

Dr.Mike

Clinical psychologist 45 years in practice. Worked with children and adults. Love nature, hiking, photography and drums. Retired living in DC.

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