We’re all searching for something

Each of us is searching for something different, something to make our lives better, more complete. What we forget is that we’re all the same, we’re all searching.

‘In his life-form the individual is necessarily only a fraction and distortion of the total image of man. He is limited either as male or as female; at any given period of his life he is again limited as child, youth, mature adult, or ancient; furthermore, in his liferole he is necessarily specialized as craftsman, tradesman, servant, or thief, priest, leader, wife, nun, or harlot; he cannot be all. Hence, the totality—the fullness of man—is not in the separate member, but in the body of the society as a whole; the individual can be only an organ. From his group he has derived his techniques of life, the language in which he thinks, the ideas on which he thrives; through the past of that society descended the genes that built his body. If he presumes to cut himself off, either in deed or in thought and feeling, he only breaks connection with the sources of his existence.’
Joseph Campbell. The Hero with a Thousand Faces
We are all searching for something
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The individual is always a seeker. A separate person is always looking for something. We might seek wealth, success, power, fame, or we might seek for ‘spiritual’ things instead – but really it’s all the same seeking.

It seems as though everyone is looking for different things, but actually what we are looking for, deep down, is the same. Basically, everyone is in pursuit of the same wholeness (or oneness, or completeness, or whatever you want to call it) – a wholeness that is already here, but is ignored in our pursuit of a future completion.’

Jeff Foster. What Is Non-Duality? An interview with Jeff Foster by Nic Higham of Nonduality Network


* In a series of posts I call mythology Monday, I look at quotes from the work of mythologist Joseph Campbell and consider them alongside extracts from books and papers on acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) and related publications.

Trust your own strength

Mythological heroes often possess extraordinary powers. That ability and strength to overcome apparently insurmountable problems is within us all.

‘The mighty hero of extraordinary powers —able to lift Mount Govardhan on a finger, and to fill himself with the terrible glory of the universe—is each of us: not the physical self visible in the mirror, but the king within. Krishna declares: “I am the Self, seated in the hearts of all creatures. I am the beginning, the middle, and the end of all beings.””
Joseph Campbell. The Hero with a Thousand Faces.
Trust your own strength
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Part of mindfulness practice is to cultivate a trusting heart. Let’s begin by looking deeply into what we can trust in ourselves. If we don’t immediately know what there is to trust in ourselves, maybe we need to look a little deeper, to dwell a little longer with ourselves in stillness and in simply being. If we are unaware of what we are doing a good deal of the time, and we don’t particularly like the way things turn out in our lives, perhaps it’s time to pay closer attention, to be more in touch, to observe the choices we make and their consequences down the road.

Perhaps we could experiment with trusting the present moment, accepting whatever we feel or think or see in this moment because this is what is present now. If we can take a stand here, and let go into the full texture of now, we may find that this very moment is worthy of our trust. From such experiments, conducted over and over again, may come a new sense that somewhere deep within us resides a profoundly healthy and trustworthy core, and that our intuitions, as deep resonances of the actuality of the present moment, are worthy of our trust.

Be strong then, and enter into your own body; there you have a solid place for your feet.

Think about it carefully! Don’t go off somewhere else!

Kabir says this: just throw away all thoughts of imaginary things, and stand firm in that which you are.

Jon Kabat-Zinn. Wherever you go, there you are.


* In a series of posts I call mythology Monday, I look at quotes from the work of mythologist Joseph Campbell and consider them alongside extracts from books and papers on acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) and related publications.

Let go of the past

Many of our emotional responses are a result of events in the past. Letting go of the past provides an opportunity to react differently and overcome recurring difficulties.

Let go of the past
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‘The mythological hero is the champion not of things become but of things becoming; the dragon to be slain by him is precisely the monster of the status quo: Holdfast, the keeper of the past. From obscurity the hero emerges, but the enemy is great and conspicuous in the seat of power; he is enemy, dragon, tyrant, because he turns to his own advantage the authority of his position. He is Holdfast not because he keeps the past but because he keeps.’

Joseph Campbell. The Hero with a Thousand Faces

Human emotional responses are just our own history being brought into the present by the current context. If our reactions are our history, and our reactions are our enemies, then our own history has become our enemy.

Steven C. Hayes, Kirk D. Strosahl and Kelly G. Wilson. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy: An Experiential Approach to Behavior Change.


* In a series of posts I call mythology Monday, I look at quotes from the work of mythologist Joseph Campbell and consider them alongside extracts from books and papers on acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) and related publications.

Living with loneliness

Loneliness can be a crippling feeling. Richard Ford described it as waiting in a line where the front gets farther and farther away. Try, for just one second, to willingly stand in that line.

Living with loneliness
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Loneliness, I’ve read, is like being in a long line, waiting to reach the front where it’s promised something good will happen. Only the line never moves, and other people are always coming in ahead of you, and the front, the place where you want to be, is always farther and farther away until you no longer believe it has anything to offer you.

Richard Ford. Canada.

‘I once worked briefly with a patient of a close colleague of mine. I was consulted on the case. The patient felt such terrible loneliness that she believed that if she willingly allowed herself to feel its far-reaching effects, she would be destroyed by its intensity. Her marriage had broken up, she had no job, she lacked adequate education to find anything but the most menial employment, her friends had abandoned her, she was barely surviving on disability insurance, and she’d tried to commit suicide and failed. Her life seemed absolutely empty and meaningless. In a therapy session, my colleague and I asked if she would allow herself to feel her loneliness, and she kept saying no until we got her down to agree to be fully willing for one second. She agreed to feel lonely openly and without defense for one second. That was a start.

‘After months of working with ACT she terminated therapy. Years passed. We’d completely lost track of her but she called a few weeks ago. Now, more than a decade later, she has a degree, a job, a partner, friends, and a purpose. She has a life. She walked through hell to get there, one moment at a time. And that journey started somewhere. It started with her willingness to feel lonely, to feel it deliberately without any defenses, as you might reach out to feel a fine fabric, for one single solitary second.’

Steven C. Hayes & Spencer Smith. Get Out Of Your Mind and Into Your Life: The New Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.

Why we need free speech

Even grumpy old Charles Bukowski couldn’t get angry at those who attacked free speech. Through mindfulness, we can learn to broaden our understanding and see that there are many ‘truths’.

Why we need free speech
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‘Censorship is the tool of those who have the need to hide actualities from themselves and from others. Their fear is only their inability to face what is real, and I can’t vent any anger against them. I only feel this appalling sadness. Somewhere, in their upbringing, they were shielded against the total facts of our existence. They were only taught to look one way when many ways exist.’

Charles Bukowski. Letter to journalist, Hans van den Broek after the book Tales of Ordinary Madness was removed from the public library in Nijmegen, the Netherlands. 1985. Source: Letters of Note. Available from: http://www.lettersofnote.com/2011/10/charles-bukowski-on-censorship.html [accessed on 11 January 2014].

‘Perhaps ultimately, spiritual simply means experiencing wholeness and interconnectedness directly, a seeing that individuality and the totality are interwoven, that nothing is separate or extraneous. If you see in this way, then everything becomes spiritual in its deepest sense. Doing science is spiritual. So is washing the dishes. It is the inner experience which counts. And you have to be there for it. All else is mere thinking.

At the same time, you have to be on the lookout for tendencies toward self-deception, deluded thinking, grandiosity, self-inflation, and impulses toward exploitation and cruelty directed at other beings. A lot of harm has come in all eras from people attached to one view of spiritual “truth.” And a lot more has come from people who hide behind the cloak of spirituality and are willing to harm others to feed their own appetites.

Moreover, our ideas of spirituality frequently ring with a slightly holier-than-thou resonance to the attuned ear. Narrow, literalist views of spirit often place it above the “gross,” “polluted,” “deluded” domain of body, mind, and matter. Falling into such views, people can use ideas of spirit to run from life.’

Jon Kabat-Zinn. Wherever you go, there you are.

Don’t hide your true feelings

In mythology, clowns represent deception. They, like so many of us, hide their true feelings behind a fake smile.

‘Universal [in mythology] is the casting of the antagonist, the representative of evil, in the role of the clown. Devils—both the lusty thickheads and the sharp, clever deceivers—are always clowns. Though they may triumph in the world of space and time, both they and their work simply disappear when the perspective shifts to the transcendental. They are the mistakers of shadow for substance: they symbolize the inevitable imperfections of the realm of shadow, and so long as we remain this side the veil cannot be done away.’
Joseph Campbell. The Hero with a Thousand Faces
Don’t hide your true feelings
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The fact is that most people are not open or honest about the struggle they go through with their own thoughts and feelings. They ‘put on a brave face’ and ‘keep a stiff upper lip’. They are like the proverbial clown crying on the inside; the bright face paint and chirpy antics are all we see. It’s common in therapy to hear clients say things like, ‘If my friends/family/colleagues could hear me now, they’d never believe it. Everyone thinks I’m so strong/confident/happy/independent…’

Russ Harris. The Happiness Trap.


* In a series of posts I call mythology Monday, I look at quotes from the work of mythologist Joseph Campbell and consider them alongside extracts from books and papers on acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) and related publications.

Don’t take your thoughts too seriously

Even funny stories and myths can help us see the truth behind negative thoughts. Comedy shows us that we don’t always have to take out thoughts too seriously.

‘Myth is a directing of the mind and heart, by means of profoundly informed figurations, to that ultimate mystery which fills and surrounds all existences. Even in the most comical and apparently frivolous of its moments, mythology is directing the mind to this unmanifest which is just beyond the eye.’

Joseph Campbell. The Hero with a Thousand Faces

Don’t take your thoughts too seriously
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Ask the client to choose a cartoon character he thinks might represent or symbolize how he feels or behaves, and particularly a character he could never take seriously. Using thoughts that are typically sticky for the client (i.e., that prevent psychological lexibility or pull him away from his values), have him imagine these thoughts being spoken in the voice of that cartoon character. For example, a client who’s anxious and detail oriented might pick Brainy Smurf because Brainy is always worrying over every little thing, yet the other Smurfs dismiss him and never take him seriously. In this case, ask the client to hear his negative thoughts in Brainy’s annoying but comical voice.

The hope is that the client won’t be able to take those thoughts seriously. Instead, he will see that it doesn’t matter whether they’re right or wrong, and that he has a choice about whether to attend to them or not.’

Jill A. Stoddard and Niloofar Afari (eds.). The Big Book of ACT Metaphors. A Practitioner’s Guide to Experiential Exercises & Metaphors in Acceptance & Commitment Therapy.


* In a series of posts I call mythology Monday, I look at quotes from the work of mythologist Joseph Campbell and consider them alongside extracts from books and papers on acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) and related publications.

Tune out of your bad thoughts

Unpleasant thoughts can fill your head like a radio station that only broadcasts bad news. Let those thoughts disappear into the background like you’ve turned the radio down low.

Tune out of your bad thoughts.
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‘He … switches on the radio to shut off their conversation. The four-thirty news: earthquake in Hawaii, kidnapping of two American businessmen in El Salvador, Soviet tanks patrolling the streets of Kabul in the wake of last Sunday’s mysterious change of leadership in Afghanistan. In Mexico, a natural-gas pact with the United States signals possible long-term relief for the energy crisis. In California, ten days of brush fire have destroyed more acres than any such fire since 1970. In Philadelphia, publishing magnate Walter Annenberg has donated fifty thousand dollars to the Catholic Archdiocese to help defray costs of the controversial platform from which Pope John Paul the Second is scheduled to celebrate Mass on October the third.’

John Updike. Rabbit is Rich.

Our mind is a bit like a radio, constantly playing in the background. Most of the time it’s the Radio Doom and Gloom Show, broadcasting negative stories twenty-four hours every day. It reminds us of bad things from the past (You really screwed up there!), it warns us of bad things to come in the future (You’re going to fail again!), and it gives us regular updates on everything that’s wrong with us (Your life’s a mess!). Once in a while it broadcasts something useful or cheerful, but not too often. So if we’re constantly tuned in to this radio, listening to it intently and, worse, believing everything we hear, then we have a sure-fire recipe for stress and misery.

Unfortunately, there’s no way to switch off this radio. Even Zen masters are unable to achieve such a feat. Sometimes the radio will stop of its own accord for a few seconds (or even—very rarely—for a few minutes). But we just don’t have the power to make it stop (unless we short-circuit it with drugs, alcohol, or brain surgery). In fact, generally speaking, the more we try to make this radio stop, the louder it plays.

But there is an alternative approach. Have you ever had a radio playing in the background, but you were so intent on what you were doing that you didn’t really listen to it? You could hear the radio playing, but you weren’t paying attention to it. In practicing defusion skills, we are ultimately aiming to do precisely that with our thoughts. Once we know that thoughts are just bits of language, we can treat them like background noise—we can let them come and go without focusing on them and without being bothered by them.’

Russ Harris. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) Introductory Workshop Handout.

Myths and metaphors reveal all

Metaphors, like myths, stimulate feelings and thoughts that the mind can comprehend, clarifying concepts that would otherwise be difficult to understand.

Metaphors, like myths, stimulate feelings and thoughts that the mind can comprehend, clarifying concepts that would otherwise be difficult to understand.
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‘To grasp the full value of the mythological figures that have come down to us, we must understand that they are not only symptoms of the unconscious (as indeed are all human thoughts and acts) but also controlled and intended statements of certain spiritual principles, which have remained as constant throughout the course of human history as the form and nervous structure of the human physique itself. Briefly formulated, the universal doctrine teaches that all the visible structures of the world—all things and beings—are the effects of a ubiquitous power out of which they rise, which supports and fills them during the period of their manifestation, and back into which they must ultimately dissolve.

The apprehension of the source of this undifferentiated yet everywhere particularized substratum of being is rendered frustrate by the very organs through which the apprehension must be accomplished. The forms of sensibility and the categories of human thought, which are themselves manifestations of this power, so confine the mind that it is normally impossible not only to see, but even to conceive, beyond the colorful, fluid, infinitely various and bewildering phenomenal spectacle. The function of ritual and myth is to make possible, and then to facilitate, the jump—by analogy. Forms and conceptions that the mind and its senses can comprehend are presented and arranged in such a way as to suggest a truth or openness beyond.’

Joseph Campbell. The Hero with a Thousand Faces

Metaphors make abstract concepts concrete by providing a rich verbal context that evokes thoughts, feelings, and behaviors similar to those evoked by the client’s actual situation.

The story-like quality of metaphors has the advantage of providing instructive lessons that are rich in emotional and perceptual detail, mimicking direct contact with the environment and making the experience more memorable. Metaphors create a verbal world where clients can explore new behaviors and discover the contingencies for themselves, circumventing the potential traps of learning by rules. Metaphors also draw attention to salient features of a situation that may go unnoticed in clients’ real-world environment, thus liberating them from the cage built by language.

Matthieu Villatte, Jennifer L. Villatte and Jean-Louis Monestès, in The Big Book of ACT Metaphors. A Practitioner’s Guide to Experiential Exercises & Metaphors in Acceptance & Commitment Therapy. (Jill A. Stoddard and Niloofar Afari (eds.).


* In a series of posts I call mythology Monday, I look at quotes from the work of mythologist Joseph Campbell and consider them alongside extracts from books and papers on acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) and related publications.