Thursday, May 19, 2016

What it feels like to be a therapist (after one year of practice)

I’m still trying to put words to a feeling I’ve been having about being a therapist. I will try to write “the short version” here, in hopes that I can feel that I’ve expressed this thing, and then maybe know what to do with it.
I think there are two feelings at play, which I’ll call “Awe” and “Isolation.”

Awe - It’s special work. Preparing to do it, doing it, reflecting on it, I feel purposeful, helpful, engaged in something holy (meant in a secular sense, if that’s possible). Emotionally, the awe informs feelings of both joy and fear (serving the client, failing the client), pressure and shame/ambition (feeling myself to be not enough, feeling driven to improve).

Isolation - There are so many separations built into the work!
  • Being the only therapist in the session
  • Knowing the client but not letting anyone else know that I know
  • Setting aside my own life issues to focus on someone else’s
  • Rejoining my own life and its issues following long periods of focus on others
  • Sifting through my internal reactions to the client, choosing responses
  • Developing a therapist personality, authentic and yet separate from out-of-session personality

Yeah. I think that covers a lot of it. I’ve been wanting to express this to someone (friends, family) outside of the profession all year, but I’m still not sure what I want from that interaction. Do I just want to “feel felt”? To be seen in that complex experience of connection/isolation which is k’dushah (in Hebrew, this word means ‘holy’ but it also means ‘separate’)? Maybe. Maybe I’m hoping that I will have some experience of expressing it that just leads to some catharsis.

I’m not sure. It does feel good to have a shorthand for the experience: “awe and isolation.”

Friday, May 13, 2016

Tidying Up the Mind?

I haven’t read it, but this post is inspired by what I have read/heard about Marie Kondo’s “the life changing magic of tidying up.” My understanding of the core of her message goes like this: In determining whether to keep or get rid of some item you own, hold it in your hand, ask yourself if it “sparks joy,” and then keep it if it does.

This morning, I was thinking about what it would mean to apply Kondo’s method to mental objects, such as memories and emotions. Wouldn’t it be healthier to stop torturing myself with certain (apparently) unproductive emotions or with nagging memories?

Quickly I realized something about joy. Joy is something I’ve struggled with, as a concept (probably also as an experience), specifically in my desire to understand how it relates to other terms like pleasure, happiness, satisfaction, and meaning. In thinking about tidying up the mind and tossing out “the bad stuff,” I realized that joy is contextual. My experiences of joy always occur within the larger context of my life, within the context of my struggles, failures, and regrets-- not as contrasts, but as foundations.

I have plenty of memories that spark anything but joy; but, for the experiences that do spark joy, those other ones are the kindling.

Against Monotheism

I recently found this lost in my emails. 
I wrote it in 2009, during my last semester at divinity school, about a year before I realized I was a nonbeliever.

They tell me that God is One.  But I keep wondering, whether,
God being One,
He might also be many other numbers.

If "this and this are the words of the living Torah," then the one God is also Two.
If God is the dilemma and the resolution, then the two God is also Three.
And so on, right?
If God is One with those who suffer, then isn't God also Six Million?  Twelve Million?
Isn't God 12 children every minute?
If God rests where "two gather in His name" at the same time as "three gather in His name" somewhere else, while I "sit alone in meditative stillness," and you and a few others sit at "the table before God," then God is any number between One and I'm-not-sure.

And they tell me that God is One, but not in the same way that one is one.  Not the same way that I am one, or that the world is one.  The One that stands above all numbers.  Is that number still really one?  Can a number lie on and above the number line?  Perhaps that number is actually None, or just some number we haven't invented yet.

They tell me that God is One.  But I keep wondering, who,
who made One so goddamn important?  Since when was there ever really
One Truth?  Since when did all of this make sense and add up to One?
I've seen fragments, I've seen composites, but I've never seen or thought an Absolute Whole.

Is this ridiculous?  I'm not saying that there's no unity; I'm just saying that not everything fits into a perfect unity. 
Yes- we live in one "world.'
Yes- we are all interconnected, interdependent, interpenetrating.
Yes- we may indeed all have one source.
But that is different than "God is One." 
God is One, to me, means one purpose.  God is One, to me, means one truth.
God is One, to me, means one that is the best, over all others which are less-than.
God is One means my One, and perhaps your One but an indirect way, and his and her One is just way off.
God is One, to me, means the subsuming of particulars in the One, a higher unity
that cancels far more regularly than it keeps.

I'm just trying to say that Oneness is just our trip, our obsession.  The world might have other plans. 

Thursday, May 5, 2016

An Atheist Theological Perspective

I was recently invited/honored to contribute to a project collecting Jewish perspectives on God. Each section below (after the disclaimer) is based on a prompt from the organizer of the project.

Disclaimer on Sources
It seemed simpler to write something myself rather than cobble together a sheet of primary sources from more public (and scholarly) atheists, but my thoughts are definitely not original. Here are my major intellectual influences on this subject, in chronological order: Pseudo-Dionysius, Maimonides, Meister Eckhart, Rabbi Sherwin Wine, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Rabbi Adam Chalom, Rabbi Greg Epstein, and John Figdor, MDiv.

How do you understand God?
Some answers that atheists give:
  • As an anachronism of pre-scientific society
  • As a projection of childish fantasy on the universe
  • As a human concept that people use for dubious moral purposes
  • As a human concept that people use because they need meaning to be absolute, and they need the universe to have a Face
  • I don’t know and I don’t care (“apatheism”)
  • God cannot be understood; all attempts to understand God are idolatrous (“atheology”)

What is the nature of your relationship with God?
Some answers...:
  • Similar to my relationship with unicorns and other fictional things
  • No relationship with God; angry at believers for their intellectual/moral failings
  • I don’t really think about it
  • I used to believe in God but now I don’t; it’s been a major loss in my life, but that’s no reason to return to belief

Why isn't God a part of your Jewish experience?
  • My relationship with Judaism is focused on the Jewish people, history, culture
  • My relationship with Judaism is my relationship to the Jewish state, etc.
  • I care about Jewish values of social justice and activism; God part is unnecessary
  • Because I don’t believe in God and, fortunately, Judaism can be engaged meaningfully from SO many other points of contact. To take one example: for Shavuot, I stay up all night learning, socializing, eating cheesecake, and then I leave before services.

If I were to ask you about God, what would you talk about instead?

Let’s talk about what we really want to talk about when we talk about God. Instead of talking about “Our Father” let’s talk about family. Instead of talking about “the true Judge,” let’s talk about justice. Instead of saying “God is love,” let’s talk about love. Instead of “Messiah” let’s talk about a better world; instead of “heaven”, death and legacy. Instead of assuming that only God can provide a sense of good and/or meaning, let’s take the risk of seeking/making those things for ourselves, and braving the fragility and fallibility of their human origins.