Tuesday, April 9, 2024

The Mirhady Lecture 2024: The Existence, Purpose, and Metaphor of Prisons in Iran and Around the World

A Slide of Golnar Nikpour's Book Cover
After a four-year hiatus, which was not out of choice, the Mirhady Lecture with its focus on Iranian studies was finally back on the map again last week. The previous one was on March 1, 2020, which was a handful of days before Covid 19 officially became a pandemic and when subsequent safety measures and restrictions came into effect worldwide. It is interesting to note that this year’s chosen theme and focus was on prisons as we have had globally - due to the pandemic -first-hand experience of being locked in and isolated from each other for a substantial amount of time.

It is also a moment to reflect upon the history and practices of incarceration, which despite the narrow focus on modern Iran in this lecture has much wider, global, historical, social, and political repercussions, which were partly addressed and which I shall add to and expand upon at end of this post.

The invited speaker was Dr. Golnar Nikpour and her recently published first book The Incarcerated Modern Prisons and Public Life in Iran published by Stanford University Press. As a historian, she defined “modern” in this context as starting from the 18th century to the present, which were partitioned into three separate breaking points: the Qajar period, the Pahlavi reign from 1925 to 1979, and then, the subsequent Islamic state right after the ‘79 revolution in Iran up to the current day.

Interestingly, forced confinement was rare during most of the Qajar period. There were cases and occasions of corporal punishment on display, such as the public whipping of the soles of the feet but there was no systematic punishment via incarceration. In fact, there were no prisons to speak of at the time; they existed only in a makeshift form and fashion to keep and house criminals for a certain amount of time.

Nonetheless, this was about to change starting from 1910 due to growing lawlessness in the region. There was a decisive shift with a more systematic approach as uniforms were introduced in the 1910s and 20s and the concept and institution of the modern prison system starting to catch on and take hold.

This was what Golnar called the “public life of the prison” during which Iranians had to learn how to adjust and navigate around not getting arrested alongside ideas of good citizenship as opposed to more clear-cut criminal acts and behaviors of previous times. A new awareness of one’s own duties toward others and the nation began taking shape in the consciousness of its people with the introduction of the added punishment of being isolated and locked away from others and losing one’s liberty and freedom of movement due to transgressing and breaking the established codes, rules, and laws.

This was expanded upon by the Pahlavi period and different reasons and motivations were added to the fray. The immediate repercussion was that inmates increased from mere dozens to tens of thousands during that reign. Ironically, the post-revolutionary Islamic period, which had criticized the previous administration on its restrictive and inhumane prison system, rose and expanded to a quarter million, if not more, inmates.

The emergence of the modern prison system had various consequences on daily life. To begin with, despite the appearance and promises, justice was not necessarily enforced in a uniform and fair and balanced way. As there was not enough independent democratic oversight, it led to corruption and abuses, and not just an increase in corporal punishment but also the implementation of torture and forced confessions.

This changed the whole dynamic regarding power, citizenship, and incarceration. It also had effects on the psyche of its people around notions of freedom and unfreedom, the finer details and print between lawfulness and lawlessness as well as the distinction between what constituted good citizenship versus a more simplistic view of being a bad criminal.

Image of speaker with a slide of Iranian queen

That said, the purported intentions were not merely to punish but rather to reform and even train the ones who had allegedly swayed from the “good path.” While prisons were previously seen and referred to as places of council, during the Pahlavi period, it had a more therapeutic outlook, namely, to cure if not purify people from their criminal tendencies and to turn them into good citizens. Imprisonment was not presented as a punitive measure, but the inmate was treated as a patient and the prison was thought to provide the necessary albeit mandatory and enforced cure.

Yet, politics was always going to play a role and so there were political prisoners as opposed to ordinary or more common ones, i.e. those who had engaged in infractions ranging from minor to more serious crimes. Yet, political prisoners would always be a sticky point especially in less democratically inclined nations, where these inmates would be presented, represented, and framed as a national security threat or a danger to the public.

The lines would not be as clearly defined. Incidentally, many political dissenters ended up not only meeting each other in these confined spaces but they also created networks and learned from each other. In fact, Bozorg Alavi, a communist sympathizer, explained how “in prison, one read in earnest” and due to less distractions of daily life, preoccupations, or entertainment, their focus was more on learning and by extension to further their respective causes.

Alavi touted his educational achievements because it was thanks to prisons that he had learned Russian and English, which were most useful and helpful for his political aims and aspirations. Moreover, it was not uncommon to write and even publish clandestinely in prison and to even create political parties in confined and concentrated places like those.

Ironically, (note that history as well as politics tend to be filled with it), the prison system became the rallying cry of the revolution itself and many of them had had first-hand experience of being imprisoned. That did not, however, stop the new administration from creating an elaborate, even more restrictive, and punitive system themselves. Even so, the Islamic government may not have defined prisons as therapeutic, yet they considered them to be “virtue training schools,” where inmates were supposedly taught necessary life and vocational skills in addition to morality and Islamic values.

This is not too far off from the modern political system on a global scale. Even the term penitentiary involves a certain aspect of penitence, of having the criminal repent their sins and wrongdoing and upon release to be cured or reformed from doing evil. This is the blueprint or foundational structure of the prison system because it tends to see itself as a place of reform and rehabilitation. In some cases, therapy is an added element in addition to the establishment, support, and maintenance of law and order both within and outside of the prison walls.

It is something that both pre- and postrevolutionary periods have in common. The difference would lie in its focus, whereas the previous would be more secular, the other would be decidedly Islamic in nature and outlook. Nonetheless, the other aims of the modern prison system exist equally in various parts of the world, that is, to make society safer by incarcerating dangerous repeat offenders and keeping them off the streets for the benefit of the populace and society.

This becomes arbitrary when there is a lack of independent and institutional oversight with a less clearly defined and designated judiciary system. There is also both an overlap as well as a distinction between the role and purpose of prisons and mental asylums or psychiatric facilities. Yet, sick people, whether in the confines of a prison system or any other type of facility, ought to be treated humanely before there could be any talk of a potential cure.

Also, the prison system should not purposely aim to lock up troubled, troublesome, or troublemaking populations. Whether it is a social or political matter or a case of addiction and substance abuse, there need to be appropriate and distinct categories and measures applied to each case and situation.

In the current example of Iran, not only has the prison population exploded for a wide range of alleged misdemeanors and crimes but there is also more surveillance of its people. Ankle monitors are other forms of punishment and restrictions of movement that are being practiced and this includes people that are not officially counted as part of the prison system as they are not kept or housed within its compounds and premises.

There is, moreover, the use of biometric technology as well as traffic and police cameras to enforce rules established and enforced by the morality police for what are generally not considered offenses in other parts of the world. Technology has become part of a system that can in different ways lead to other types of control and punishment, which are not necessarily physical in nature.

The lecture by Golnar was quite insightful and thought-provoking as you can attest for yourself and as exemplified in the summary here. I found it most interesting that she kept referring to her book as a “book project” even though it has been already published. But I would like to take the opportunity to add some more thoughts to this topic of discussion and not just look at prisons as premises or means of enforcing and propagating ideas and ideology but also see it as a metaphor for our current socially and politically volatile times.

Prisons are not just social in nature but also in our imagination. Although Golnar briefly referred to it, her point of view was more about being controlled by others or government and elite forces, often perceived, designated, and judged as evil, malignant, and nefarious entities with a hidden (or not so hidden) agenda.

Yet there is a blind spot. By firmly believing and standing by her own point of view and interpretation of events and circumstances, she may be missing and overlooking important clues and opportunities. It is of course a tendency that people not only want to be right but to convince others that this is indeed so. It is not just her specifically I am referring to but also a wider culture around her that supports, encourages, and applauds her ideology, such as the institution of Simon Fraser itself.

Over the years, I have been to dozens of talks and lectures, and they claim and tout themselves in offering open dialogue as well as diversity. Yet with one notable albeit unintended yet utterly hilarious exception (I’d be glad to provide more details on this “colonial oversight” in the comment section should there be any interest), every single talk and lecture has been minor variations of a common theme and refrain. There is no element of surprise and no insight that does not perfectly if not artificially align with the established doctrine.

Those are taken as true undisputable and untouchable facts with no pause for reflection or allowance for any other points of views or observations that even slightly diverge from this “absolute truth.” This is hardly a case of open dialogue because it lacks and even prohibits a priori any type of openness or discussions.

Although there can be moments of insight and the furthering of education and knowledge, this is all framed within such an obvious and narrow agenda in mind that it can become rather counterproductive. An educational system ought to teach us how to think, not what to think, and sadly, our minds are not only being taken hostage here, but they are imprisoned as well as force fed, not unlike the system they tend to point fingers at.

Finally, prisons are not just places where movements are restricted, but the exact opposite can be the case where the place itself is off limits, so you are not able to go or move there at the peril of your own freedom and life while at the same time being away from it is a form of prison and punishment as it causes tremendous pain and suffering.

In the context of Iran, this applies to those who have sought political asylum abroad and may not be able to return to their homeland at risk of being punished, imprisoned, or worse. My father was one of those people who had deserted his homeland, sacrificing everything in the process, his home, his job and career, his family, and friends to save those who mattered most to him, us, his children.

Although we lived in different parts of the world, I do not think that he ever was at home or felt accepted. In Germany, that was certainly not the case, as we were unfortunately designated and branded as Ausländer (foreigners) despite living there for more than a decade and even if, as in my case, I did not have an accent, it was our looks that gave away that we did not belong.

In my own case, not having a home has been its own joy and cross. On one hand, it means that I am home wherever I feel at home and wherever my heart may be at a given moment, yet it also means that I have no specific home to speak of, no place to rest my weary head or be fully seen and accepted as who I am.

In ancient Greece, Socrates was first imprisoned but then he was given a choice, to either leave his home and live in exile or drink a cup of hemlock. He chose the bitter cup of poison because he could not imagine being away from his native home and country. He would rather die in a place where he was not free than be free in a place that was not his home.

Saturday, March 30, 2024

Creating Space Within and Giving Yourself Room to Grow and Explore

Art Installation of colored glowing Walls
As children, it is often of paramount importance to us to have our very own room. Although for economic reasons, we often must accept shared accommodation with siblings, and in times of poverty or exorbitant and uncontrollable inflation, you may all find yourself in the same room, or if the situation is even dire, you may not have shelter to speak of, let alone your own space. Notwithstanding, it becomes clear that for each of us, it is important to have our own personal private and un-intruded space.

This is part and parcel of and even a visible and tangible sign of independence, yet at the same time, it also comes to represent the place where we can be truly and fully be ourselves. If we have liberal-minded and permissive parents, we may even have a say in how we wish to decorate it. Moreover, in the comfort of this space, we can engage in activities that we enjoy, that resonate with our inner core and that give us pleasure.

As life progresses, many of us lose that access or at least certain aspects to that sort of privacy. In our college days, we may have a roommate or types of shared accommodation where we can be ourselves and feel perfectly at home, but it may come with certain limitations. Later, when we are living with our partner, that space is lost physically, yet we may maintain it in our minds by spending time away from home, either with friends or on our own. It then becomes a figurative or invisible space where we can be completely who we are without any pretense or excuses.

Incidentally, I am currently writing this not from my home but from a café. The idea, or rather the reason I tell myself, is to be less distracted but that is not always the case and that is not the main reason I choose to do so. It is rather looking for a different kind of space where regular distractions are warded off against and where I can experience different facets of myself. Add to that, the unexpected where I could potentially run into someone or meet someone new, which, however, rarely happens not necessarily due to a lack of people but because of my own timidity.

Oddly enough, I find that ideas in this “other space” tend to flow more freely, which may not be too surprising as there are various others who appear to tap into the same vibes and frequencies or thought patterns. As a university student, I would indeed often “escape” my room, which was tiny, but it was purely my own living space as part of the residential college I was at, and I would go to nearby beaches, including a nudist one, to do many of my assigned readings. Reading outdoors is just more fun, whenever the weather cooperates of course, and the surroundings are not too distracting.

As you can probably tell by now, the room I am talking about here is as much mental as it is physical, if not more so. We all need a room of our own was a song by Billy Joel and it is also a previous blogpost of mine based on and inspired by a podcast I did with creativity coach Eric Maisel. His view was to redecorate and redesign our mind and mental space and give it the renovations, uplifts and upgrades that we wished to have.

The concept is very interesting, and I would like to add to it here. It is not so much the way the room looks, whether your curtains are grey, blue, or multi-colored but how big or small it is. Size does matter. We often take up a more unassuming space not only in reality but also within our mind and spirit. In the real world, it is often due to financial pressures or limitations, and it is no secret that the increased square miles come at a rather significant cost.

Nonetheless, we take on the same mentality and apply it to our psychological space. It may be due to modesty, humility, lack of confidence, or fear of being seen as pretentious, arrogant and ungrateful, or simply because we think we do not deserve the extra space and have to accept and deal and content with what we got and what we get in life as the Rolling Stones remind us that we can’t always get what we want in life.

But those are limitations that we are setting ourselves and sometimes even imposing upon each of us. I agree with setting boundaries to protect ourselves, whether it is physical or in terms of effort, time, and energy invested but I disagree with these types of artificial barriers that we may unconsciously fence ourselves in and with. It is not only about what our room looks, like Eric Maisel explains in his book and on my podcast quite eloquently and creatively, but also how much space we give and allow ourselves. And in our imagination, should the sky not be our upper and topper most limit?

I am saying this at a moment in my life where I find that I have been selling myself short. It comes with the fact that I feel I have come up short and that I have been generally underappreciated, which at the time I assumed was only my imagination until I realized that it was not. It had its roots and anchors in facts and reality. Yet, in all fairness, I have not been doing myself any favors with my own false sense of modesty. This is the type of modesty that lacks true understanding of the facts and actual situation and circumstances. It is false because consciously or unconsciously, it denies and even diminishes if not denigrates our own skills, talents, and abilities.

Put differently, I need to expand my (mental) room because it does not allow for my essence and talents to exist fully. I do not have to continue living in my shabby self-imposed apartment because it is not where I currently belong. Perhaps it is time to move out or move up or even move altogether to a new mental space.

Psychologically speaking, this small room has been difficult because I have been limited myself in many ways. This is what Dr. Carla Marie Manly would designate our jail cell, the place that may be our so-called comfort zone but where we are willingly staying and lodging because we have shut the door with locks and all and barely dare to look out the window.

On one hand, this limited space restricts movement. If your inner space does not have much “legroom”, you will find it hard to go to places. You are not free but often restrained and constrained. You are also filled with negative expectations that seriously hamper your outlook and chances. Anything that is beyond the room you are occupying is not seen as an invitation or a welcome challenge but quickly brushed off as simply not for me.

In our cocoon, we live in an artificially set comfort zone, which is not comforting in the sense of its culinary cousin comfort food, which, although often not the healthiest option out there, fills us up with warmth, pleasant sensations, and pleasing memories. Here, we just remain entrenched in our “home” and filled with fear. The small black-and-white television gives us comfort although we are aware that there are more modern and much better options and variations out there.

Additionally, to grow, we need the room to do so first. Like a potted plant, that needs a bigger pot, so we need an area to expand more freely. That means, we need to tweak our views, perspectives, and expectations. We also need to take a good look at our fear and insecurities, which often turn out to be defense mechanisms based on previous situations that are simply outdated and no more valid. But we hold onto it like our tiny black-and-white TV set in front of us in our shabby apartment space.

We need not only a room of our own but room to grow. And to get there, we need room for error. It is a misnomer that we can get it right just right off the bat. No one can really do that because it is not realistic or feasible. You cannot expect to play Beethoven without taking piano lessons and without those hours and hours of endless practice and millions and millions of fumbles and mistakes along the way. I do not think that practice necessarily makes perfect, but it certainly helps us to tackle things much better. Yet, all this involves both effort as well as the willingness to make errors and be ready and willing to occasionally or often fail as we do so.

Give yourself room for errors and failure. They are not the end of the world but as vital and necessary for your growth as learning scales on the piano. It may not always be fun but if you have your eyes and heart set on a bigger living space, then you must accept this as a part of necessity. Incidentally, once you give yourself the much-needed extra space, you will also give others more room in your mind. They also need space, but it is hard for you to see that when you yourself can barely move.

Finally, you must be willing to accept change and to welcome it into your life. This is a hard thing to do because we get used to and entrenched to certain things and places. We get accustomed to our room as it is the place we know, and we have lived in for a long time.

Moreover, the job that we have may be far from perfect but it is the devil we know. It is better than nothing, we tell or try to convince ourselves. The person we are with we assume to be the best possible option because no one will love us more or better out there. It sure beats being alone and lonely, we tell ourselves. The country we live in, whether it is our home or the home of our choice is simply where we belong, for better or for worse.

Certainly, all or any of this may be true, no doubt. This cannot be judged here without additional details and some scrutiny as well as complete honesty and after serious, intense, and intimate introspection and reflection. Yet, there may be a change in the offing or at the very least some room for improvement in your living space, be it physical or mental, in your relationship or at your place of work.

But if we are blind to it, if we do not see it or choose not to perceive it, it does not mean it is not there. The best way is to expand our room, to not only look out of the window but step out, and then take a second look and find out for ourselves. We may be surprised that we have been living in an unnecessarily confined place but no more starting from now on.

Saturday, March 16, 2024

Ode to Supporting Actors And Actresses That Do Not Win

Ken from Barbie with shades on
The film industry’s award season tends to come to an annual end with the culmination of the popular, prestigious, and much-coveted Academy Awards. Although each award and film festival are precious and valuable on their own, combined they give weight and momentum to several selected individuals who then become the frontrunners at the Oscars.

There is a building and budding narrative that gradually takes shape and form over this period, and we often see certain trends emerge where a handful of specific movies, actors, actresses, filmmakers, etc. are favored throughout. For better or worse, all of this then culminates in the Oscars, the playoffs of all things movies and filmmaking.

Yet, more often than not (the occasional upset, snub, or surprise notwithstanding), we have an inkling or two of who or what movies are most likely going to win in their respective categories. It is not always set in stone, but the element of surprise may have less of an impact once we get to the award ceremony. That said, things become more interesting when there is a close competition or run-off, usually between two opponents that are just too close to call.

Although it may be a more muddled affair regarding Best Pictures (we even had a mix-up in which everyone had easily accepted La La Land as the year’s recipient when it in fact it had not won), it usually becomes more or less clear who the frontrunners especially when it comes to the acting category. This year, the leading actor with a realistic and probable shot was pretty clearly outlined, that is Oppenheimer’s proud Irish boy Cillian of course although Paul Giamatti had a good run and made a strong push by gaining some admirable momentum towards the end.

The Actress in a Leading Role category was an altogether different matter, however. It was a close and virtual tie between two powerful performances (sadly at the time of writing, I have not seen either movie so I cannot weigh in or make any credible or valid judgments on the matter) and up to the very end, it could have gone either way. At any rate, both deserved to win but only one had to be chosen.

Yet what about the other nominated actresses? Essentially, there was no chance for them to win. They started off the award season with high hopes and the potential to win, but they would have to be content with just being nominated. I mean, of course, it is an honor and accomplishment to be there (so many in the acting profession would envy them) but think of it how it must feel to put on your best outfits knowing fully well that you had absolutely no chance of winning.

This is not a matter of performance. The performance has already been done and it is finished now and all they can do is watch and hope for a miracle. Miracles do happen but this is one of the cases where there is very little one can personally do to make it happen or to bring it about. Unlike athletic events, you could have an exceptionally great day and pull off an upset, or the favorites may just have a bad and unlucky day, yet in this case, your fate is in the hands or fingers of voting members.

Many of these nominated actors and actresses know that they have almost no chance of winning and so they go to network and socialize and have fun. A funny incident in the television award season was Pedro Pascal who had given up hope and decided to get drunk only being shocked that he actually won! Yet, for the most part and for most actors and actresses, having a good time is what it is all about.

Yet, I am curious about what it feels like to go to each of the award seasons and not to win a trophy each and every time. Is that not discouraging or having a negative effect on one’s mental health? To say to yourself, here we go again, and we will yet again not win another award? Would one at times not prefer to be watching afar instead of facing cameras and subsequent social media scrutinizing each nonverbal gesture and response to the often expected announcement?

Although generally those in the acting profession tend to show up and they should be good at bottling or hiding emotions like anger, disappointment, frustration, all courtesy of their career, there have been occasional glaring absences, which may be due to involvement in other projects or simply because they do not wish to be there and go through the motions. Yet, here we go again, I am making pronouncements on things I will never experience myself and hence know next to nothing about. And yet, it is curiosity that makes me think and wonder about such things.

I do not have a solution or suggestion here. Except to ensure that those who are not on the winning side ensure that they do not carry negative feelings but instead focus on the positive aspects and experiences. To boycott those events when you know you cannot win would send decisively negative vibes to the entire award season and the film industry itself so showing up on the red carpet smiling and going through the motions despite knowing that there is little to no chance of winning still seems to be the best option out there.

But this is my ode here to support all the actors that do not win and including those who never get nominated. Some of the greatest actors and filmmakers have not won awards and it does not make them any less great. Quite to the contrary. They are who they are, and they (hopefully) know this deep inside.

Then, there are those who should not have quit their day jobs, but they did anyway. They may not be particularly good at acting or filmmaking for that matter, but they have a passion and a dream, and I would be the last person to step on those wishes and desires. You do what you do and if you are fortunate, you will be doing what you love. If awards and recognition come to you, it feels great but that should not be the end goal. The end goal is to do what gives you joy and if it happens to bring joy to others as well, it is definitely a win-win situation.

Maybe we can learn from Ryan Gosling who in my view had the best performance of them all. But like his character Ken, he is a ten, but he does not get what or who he wants. At times, life is such. No matter how hard we try or how much we desire something or someone, we are left wanting.

It is like waiting for a call or calling that just won’t come or materialize.  And yet, the best (and really only) thing one can do for sure is to give an awesome, inspired, fun, and memorable show (Gosling’s showstopping performance anyone?) and not take any of this too seriously. I mean, after all, it is just an awards program and there are other things to life than winning or not winning an award.


Wednesday, March 6, 2024

Upcoming KPU Talk on Arts and Humanities, Creativity, and Mental Health

Dear Blog Reader,

First off, I would like to express my gratitude to you all for visiting my blog! It is very much appreciated! Moreover, I am thrilled and excited to invite you to a free virtual event taking place on March 13, from 12 – 1 PM (PST) on the topic of mental health. I shall be sharing my research interests, my lifelong love and passion for the arts and humanities in addition to personal life experiences.

My proposal is that the arts, in whatever way, shape, and form, have the potential to help us not only deal with stress and anxiety but also to give us comfort and solace during difficult times in our lives. Furthermore, they can motivate us on the quest to find and refine our own unique voice and carve our own path in life filled with empathy and purpose.

Although anything can have its share of disadvantages and downsides, if the arts and humanities are channeled and seasoned with care, hope, optimism, and critical thinking, they can lead us to unexpected shores of knowledge, insights, and epiphanies.

I will talk about my interest in literature, my passion for classical music, opera, alternative rock, and cinema (everything from Taxi Driver and The Matrix to The Dark Knight and Wings of Desire) as well as my deep fascination and appreciation for philosophy and psychology. I believe they can all liberate our hearts and minds from undue stress and negativity, unlock our hidden creative potential, unleash our beautiful splendent uniqueness, and bring inner and outer peace into the world.

I very much look forward to seeing you there and you will also have the opportunity to comment or ask me questions at the end of the session! 😉

You can register here: KPU Arts Speaker Series

Thank you very much and hope to see you soon!


Thursday, February 29, 2024

The Algorithm of Relaxation and How Being Yourself Is Your Best Version and Option

I have always been suspicious of the concept of attempting to be the best version of yourself, and for good reason. This idea tends to be sponsored and promoted by the Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy community that was pretending or believing that it was merely a matter of changing your mindset and then you could just act out what you think or assume would be the best possible scenario in your mind and by extension the best version of yourself.

Although I am not averse or opposed to this notion and idea when it comes to planning, setting goals, following dreams, and even setting boundaries, there can be no better version or substitute than being who you truly are deep inside; that is authentically giving your innermost essence a voice and acting from it, that is from the heart.

But how do you know who you are? It would start with first figuring out what resonates with you. This cannot be achieved except by tuning into yourself and looking inward, a curious mindful mix of introspection and reflection that would give you insights into the core of your essence. It involves an openness to thought, feeling, and action to discover and uncover who you truly are. Many times, you are not who you think you are or even who you wish you were, and yet, the real you needs to shine through like rays of the sun. That is in fact the only time you would not only find but also embody inner peace and calm.

How to get there? The answer is it is not easy and will take effort and hard work. Yet one thing is certain, you cannot be yourself and worry at the same time. To attain a connection with yourself, like your source of creativity, you need to be calm and collected. Anxiety would create ripples in the sea of your essence and not let you see and feel things clearly.

Put differently, to be yourself you must relax, and ipso facto, the first step is to deal with anxiety. Anxiety, stress, and worry tend to be negative and toxic emotions that make you tense, and they are by definition the opposite of relaxation. In many ways, they would lead to thoughts and behaviors that may be the exact opposite of who you are and how you are as well as how you would like to be.

For your anxiety to diminish, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, you would want to be aware of it and accept that it is anxiety. Although it may fluctuate in level and intensity, we all have it and those who claim they are not anxious tend to score higher on the spectrum as they fail to recognize that they are human and will need to have a certain level of anxiety to function and survive in the world.

Anxiety is like thinking and so we can paraphrase Hamlet by saying there is nothing either good or bad in the world, but our anxiety makes it so. If you look at the sensations we have when we are thrilled and excited and when we feel anxiety, there is essentially not much of a difference there except how we label and respond to the feeling.

Even in daily jargon, we say that we are anxious for something to take place meaning that we are looking forward to it. To illustrate this with another example, we can cry for various reasons. It may be out of sadness or an exuberance of joy. This means that the act of crying on its own does not mean or constitute that it is always due to sadness; too much laughter can fill our eyes with tears. Feelings are often not as clear-cut, but we need to process them. It is of course much easier to process feelings of happiness than those of sadness but process them we must.

To be able to process them, you need to face them. Avoiding or circumventing them will rob you of the opportunity to process them effectively and by extension to learn and grow from them. Yet at the same time, it is important to be gentle with yourself and not push yourself too hard or criticize yourself too harshly.

It is best to lean into what is giving you anxiety, a form of tiptoeing into water instead of throwing yourself into the deep end. With patience and practice, you will learn to swim and even surf the waves. A given situation will not arouse strong uncomfortable feelings anymore, and even if they do, you will be better able to handle and deal with them.

To help you along is also the necessary insight and awareness of the situation and context. Our fear has kept humanity alive since time immemorial as we dodged tigers and wolves to survive. This inbuilt alarm system with its fight, flight, and even freeze options is a necessary component for our survival. We want to appreciate it and not curse it.

Yet, due to previous trauma and experiences, toxic feelings, and negative thinking, we may lose focus and even see things out of focus. That is when context is essential for us to notice that it is not always an existential threat even though it may feel as such. With this awareness, that it may not pose a grave threat but may even be innocuous in the grand scheme of things, we can reappraise and reevaluate the situation and respond to it in an appropriate and much calmer manner.

This is where AR, the algorithm of relaxation can become rather useful. You then look at a given situation and decide whether it is a serious issue or not. There are generally two options; either it is serious, or it is not. At first glance and as your knee-jerk response, you may think it is not only serious but an absolute tragedy or disaster. Yet when you ask yourself, is it really that serious and important, you may see it from a different light and perspective.

In some cases, we may not have sufficient bits of information to make a judgment call. In those cases, we often opt for the worst-case scenario, but we ought to keep that in check as worrying is not going to help us to deal and tackle with the issue in an effective way and manner.

Let us illustrate this with a few examples. Say, your boss wants to talk to you. This is usually followed by an immediate feeling of dread. We assume the worst and are already imagining getting sacked. A lighter shade of this strain of catastrophic thinking would entail being criticized, scolded, or reprimanded for something we have done.

It would be best to ask ourselves, is there any real cause for concern? Did we do something wrong? If we made a mistake, was it that serious? Will there not be a remedy for it? We could apologize or promise to do better the next time around.

What if it is nothing of importance but just a simple and friendly chat? Perhaps they might ask you a simple question that may not be even related to you and your work. Or, even better, what if it is good news and you are going to receive some praise for your great performance. What if there is the possibility of a promotion? Instead of jumping to conclusions and expecting the worst, you are giving yourself the freedom and latitude to imagine possible and potential alternative reasons for this tête-a-tête with your superior or supervisor.

If it is indeed serious, then you can tackle it with a clear focus. If it is not, you shall not waste your time and energy worrying about it. In either case, you want to avoid assuming the worst, especially without any sort of proof and evidence that it may be so. If you, however, have acted unethically or inappropriately, then it would be best to face the situation and the consequences, the same way one would face one’s anxiety.

What if your loved one wants to have a talk with you? Let us not sugarcoat this, that is usually a sign of trouble. Then again, if it is, ask yourself, if perhaps something good can come out of it. It is perhaps a long-due conversation that needs to happen, and it may not be as devasting and shattering as we make it out to be. In fact, although we may not wish it or would try anything to avoid it, it may even clear the air and lead to an improved level of communication and rapport and much less tension between the two of you.

Again, if it is indeed the end of the relationship, you may not necessarily see it as the end of the world but see it as the turning of a new page no matter how painful it may feel at the moment. That dreaded talk with your boss or partner may end up being much less serious than you thought it to be, and by using the algorithm of relaxation, you may be able to see through it much easier and much faster and spare yourself the drama and unnecessary worry and preoccupation that usually comes with it.

So why not try AR in your daily life whether it is the cancellation of your favorite concert or the just or unjust loss of employment? For instance, I used to fret over mistakes. I would call it part of my perfectionism, but one day, I realized that being a perfectionist was often used as a euphemism for one’s insecurity. It may be a different matter when it comes to the arts but for me, it was ensuring that my exams did not contain any errors. I would triple-check everything and God forbid there was a mistake on the sheet, which had somehow escaped my probing eyes.

You can imagine the amount of stress and pressure I would feel and put on myself for something that was not that important after all. Deep down, who cared if there was indeed an error? This was not precision surgery or rocket science in which a minor detail could endanger people’s lives and, in some cases, even one’s own.

Errors are part of life and for those of us whose work is not a matter of life and death, they are really not a big deal. A mistake on the exam or a wrong answer to a student’s question? Or even failing an exam here and there at high school? On the scale of AR that is simply not that important to fret about, so it goes straight to the category of not to worry about it. Alternatively, throughout all these cases, you may just be taking yourself too seriously to begin with!

Now I am aware that AR could stand for augmented reality but in a way, it is not that different from it. You are turbocharging your reaction and seeing things more clearly and are not overreacting to situations by seeing the bigger picture and putting them into context.

The more you do this, the more relaxed you will be and much less on edge that something bad will happen to you. The side effect is that you may be a bit too relaxed at times and perhaps confuse or misplace minor things, miss the occasional deadline, forget a commitment or an appointment here and there, or you may even, God forbid, make an error at work or in your private life or both.

But on the grand scale of things and when looking at the bigger picture, none of them would be life-shattering or as important and as serious as we take them to be, especially after looking at them again with the magnifying lens of AR.

Conversely, you will feel more comfortable in your own skin, which is the most important outcome, so instead of worrying about being the best version of yourself, actually be yourself, which is essentially the only version that really counts and matters.

Saturday, February 17, 2024

On How the Transcendentalists Searched in Nature What They Could Not Locate and Find in Themselves

View from of green and trees from an old cabin window
One of the main features of American transcendentalism was its quest for and refuge in nature. Both Emerson and Thoreau purposely as well as spiritually and physically turned their respective backs on what was shaping up to become an urban lifestyle and instead decided to search for peace and quiet in and within nature. Mind you we are talking about the 19th century before the advent of the noisy hustle and bustle of traffic and way before the clutter of the Internet, smartphones, and Artificial Intelligence. Their technology looked puny and rudimentary in comparison to today and to be honest, there was hardly much to speak of in that regard, as there was no television and not even radio.

And yet, these thought leaders felt the push and pull to move away from even relatively small crowds, partly because they could; they had the means and the choice and opportunity to do so. In the wild expansive nature of the North American continent, which was still largely unexplored and undeveloped, they still had pristine places to roam and delve into, unlike the much more restricted and relatively set geographical areas of Europe, for instance.

Let us also not forget that they had the means to live and survive in the wilderness. In fact, it is more often those who possess at least a moderate amount of income who would even dare and contemplate such a crazy idea, to begin with, namely, to seek a different and more minimal and austere lifestyle away from the comfort of one’s home. In the somewhat paraphrased words of the French singer-songwriter Soan, I’d like to sleep under the moon but only when it is my choice. Unlike many wanderers, nomads, and homeless people, both Emerson and Thoreau had a home to return to in case things went south, i.e. if they encountered dangers, ran out of food, or simply did not enjoy the experience anymore. People less fortunate would not have a backup plan to fall back on.

But such ideas do not come out of nowhere and are not created in a vacuum or on a sporadic whim. In fact, French thinker and philosopher Rousseau was quite influential in propagating this idea of a type of return to nature and the (supposedly and allegedly) simple rural life of peace and tranquility. In certain ways, they are also echoes of Jefferson’s dilemma regarding the American spirit, should the nation embrace a rural life and lifestyle or bend towards an industrialized urban life of workers and factories?

This was driven by a general dissatisfaction with the status quo of the rapidly growing and changing cities and it seemed like a viable option or a kind of refuge from the madness to venture far from the madding crowd and into the arms of Mother Nature.

On the other hand, this ideology was also expressed in the work of Spinoza and became a quasi-religion. Nature was regarded as a pantheistic phenomenon with an apparent return to more “primitive” and original beliefs of spirits living in trees and blades of grass. Although Spinoza stressed reason and rationality, he made it all part and parcel of nature, which was seen as a type of Mother goddess, the origin and pinnacle of creation, and the continuous ever-flowing source of nourishment and subsistence.

These views hearken back to a collective experience we all have and which psychoanalyst Otto Rank talks about in his books and writings ever since his quintessential and revolutionary publication of The Trauma of Birth a hundred years ago. It is the dreamlike and fantastical prenatal world and experience of the womb. In a certain sense, the turn to nature represents a return to the maternal womb, the place where one felt still, at ease, sustained, fed, nourished, and at peace. This longing has driven us from the world of crowds to the stillness that nature embodies or at least that we imagine and presume it (or she) does.

That said, it is not only an idealistic view of nature but a very romantic one and perhaps even dangerously so. The romantics who stressed feeling and all things emotional over the rational and logical embraced the natural world but failed to see it in its entirety, which included not only beauty and grace but also the power to destroy alongside other destructive forces.

This idealization of the natural world is a dangerous human fallacy that ended up costing various lives and it can be illustrated by two real-life stories depicted in two forms of art, a movie as well as a documentary. First off, we have the insightful and moving documentary Grizzly Man by Werner Herzog where self-proclaimed American environmentalist Timothy Treadwell dissatisfied with his own life and struggling with mental health issues decides to go to the Alaskan wilderness to live with bears.

He preferred their company over their human counterparts and was perhaps inspired by his affection for his cute and cuddly teddy bears in his childhood. In other words, he denied these furry animals their wild and beastly qualities and saw and idealized them as peaceful and loving beings and not as bears that would be driven more by instinct and less by reason.

That said, some humans may seem wilder and more unpredictable than animals but that is a different story, which leads us to the sad story of another nature-enthused individual who is cinematically depicted in Sean Penn’s Into the Wild.

This idealistic but depressed young individual Chris McCandless who also went by the pseudonym “Alexander Supertramp” decides to take a deep dive and plunge into the wilderness by (apparently) rejecting the materialism and consumerism of his time and era. At the same time, despite being good at school and having the opportunity (and means) to study at a prestigious university, he throws all potential and caution into the wind, burns cash, drives to live in nature, and eventually dies there due to accidental food poisoning.

Again, this seeking of nature is less a going-to-somewhere but rather a running-from-something. The same may be said of all the individuals mentioned here whether it is Thoreau (whose philosophy of civil disobedience ended up influencing Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.) or Emerson (whom Nietzsche considered “the most gifted of the Americans”) as they had their own motives to move away from traditional society, religion, and thinking.

At the same time, the transcendentalists served as the inspiration and role model to young idealistic but tormented individuals like Chris McCandless to embark upon a recklessly dangerous trip while using their books as a guide, source of inspiration, and motivation throughout the journey. They build upon Rousseau’s apparent dialectic between what is human-made and what is natural and organic and that the latter is what one should and needs to always ideally strive for.

In such dualism, we may overlook various segments of life where both can interact for the benefit of us all. This is very clear in the case of science, in particular, medicine and medicinal advances that have helped us survive the various onslaughts of naturally occurring diseases and circumstances. In that sense, a full and unprepared return to nature as in the above cases could and should be construed as foolish and misguided and certainly not beneficial to the body, mind, and spirit of all and any of those involved.

As mentioned earlier, they all had the means and the luxury to renounce a comfortable life for a lifestyle of unease and unpredictability. At times, it may feel not so much as a form of liberation but perhaps a kind of self-punishment stemming from one’s feeling of enslavement when faced with pain and trauma that one wishes to numb or escape from. Be it as it may, the notion that they are free in the wild and can howl like wolves or run around naked without necessary consequences comes from a romantic past and heritage. And yet, it is fraught with danger and each of them would have to wrestle with their own demons sooner or later.

This is not to say that the rich and wealthy cannot have insights; they can and indeed have, and it is perhaps best demonstrated in Siddhartha Gautama who gave up and sacrificed a life of comfort for his spiritual endeavors. However, I find it rather interesting to contrast the Buddha, a wealthy and privileged prince to Jesus who was born in a manger next to farm animals, rode a donkey, and died with few if any possessions, which I believe is food for thought for another and different kind of post.

Yet this does underscore that although it is important to embrace nature whose majestic beauty we do not appreciate enough, we should not use it as an excuse for not facing our troubles and personal issues. Though being in a retreat or a monastery may provide temporary relief and shelter and serve as a potential incentive for peace and calm inside of us, true peace and happiness await us and come from the inside and that could transform any place and dwelling to make us feel at home by even turning a simple nutshell into a luxurious palace.

Sunday, February 4, 2024

The Power of the Individual: Being Yourself and Increasing Your Personal Psychology of Difference

Person alone watching across English Bay
Be yourself no matter what they say. This revolutionary piece of advice is embedded in Sting’s tune “An Englishman in New York” which by all accounts and purposes depicts a relatively mild-mannered Englishman who walks around with a cane, drinks tea instead of coffee, and prefers his sliced bread toasted on one side only. In these small things of everyday life, he stands his ground and as he himself proclaims a gentleman will never run.

By today’s standards, you may not see his stance even remotely as revolutionary or significant, and yet, it is quietly subversive and perhaps much easier said than done. Western culture, which prides itself on individuality, at least in theory and ideology, hardly demonstrates this in practice and in real life. If anything, it is indeed closer to a culture of uniformity and conformity than subversion.

In fact, even those who would stand out before and used to be considered and judged as “weird” or “strange” have now become, for better or worse, embraced and assimilated by the mainstream; now they tend to be if not commonplace then only minimally different from the rest. In a twist of irony, in contemporary society in which weirdness appears to reign and have the upper hand, it is the common, the traditional, and the ordinary that soon shall be standing out like a sore thumb.

In a world where most people drink their coffee at Starbucks, Sting’s Englishman is different and outstanding indeed. Otto Rank talks about this constant push and pull, if not love-hate relationship between the psychology of sameness and that of difference. Yet individuality by definition must exist, develop, and thrive via difference. I cannot be myself if I am predominantly just like you.

Akin to the proverbial black sheep of the family, it is the true individual who carves his or her own and often unique path away from the mob and the masses. In that courageous act of defiance, as a matter of course, these individuals will be scorned, envied, and rejected by all the others who have been caught and lulled in the comfortable web of conformity. Their scorn is also equivalent to a type of punishment for straying from the preset established course set by most people.

Put differently, it is easier (i.e. takes much less effort and courage) to conform and to be like anyone else. Seen from this perspective, the person who does not go along but actually defies the Hitler salute during Nazi Germany (depicted extensively and masterfully in Malick’s true story of A Hidden Life) is a rebel but in today’s world in the background of which any such display is discouraged, frowned upon, or even morally and criminally punished, one could potentially construe the opposite. Morality and commonsense aside, it is the addition of context that defines the act as either cowardly or courageous.  A less extreme case would be males coloring their fingernails, which in the past was rather unusual and would have raised an eyebrow or two, while under current circumstances it has been sufficiently norm-alized and become rather a standard fare in most places.

Yet in either case, the above examples are not necessarily individuals who are living and acting following their true nature, but rather people who engage in isolated rebellious acts meant to merely defy the norms. It is like the child who more out of spite than personal conviction opts for the opposite of what the parents tell them to do. And defying norms just for the sake and thrill of defying is not a sign of individuality. In fact, it could be even a sign of conformity if you wish to gain the respect of your clan, tribe, or clique; this is regardless of political affiliation because they are driven by the psychology of sameness and use their supposed demonstrated difference only to fit in, curry favors, or please their own crowd, no matter how big or small that group may be.

In any case, these acts and behaviors are not their own nor unique in the sense of individuality nor are they being themselves in a deep and meaningful fashion. In fact, these types of people are as fickle and perhaps chameleonic as fashion itself as they are being driven and compelled by what is in and trendy at a specific moment of time. Being yourself this is certainly not; it is more a quest for a desperate substitute self because if you are acting in accordance with who you truly are, you are not being guided or swayed by the latest fashion but by your inner guide and compass.

Incidentally, a more extreme case of this would be the attention-grabbing narcissist who would do anything to stand out and be seen as different even though they may not even have a self to begin with or identify with. Full-fledged narcissists tend to copy and paste from others, borrowing what suits them most at a given moment and discarding what does not benefit them personally. They are not themselves, and sadly, they may never be able to be so.

The question arises how you can really be yourself in a culture that pays lip service to individuality while in reality, it discourages and even tends to punish any divergence whatsoever from its fixed and rigid standards and expectations. Anyone who dares to speak differently is under the threat of being expulsed, and this has been more pronounced in the wake of cancel culture. It does not matter what your group or political, ethnic, national, or religious affiliation may be, if you dare to challenge adopted views, you are more often than not excommunicated. Evolutionary speaking, inflicting and receiving this type of reputational damage would be seen and treated as a death sentence.

Returning to our opening statement, it is easy to say it does not matter to us what others say but we do care what others think of us. Since we cannot please everyone (believe me, I have tried for many years), it would be best to become shunned, canceled, or a persona non grata at least for a cause or something that truly resonates with you. The trouble is that you may think and believe something resonates with you or that something is truly worth it but deep inside, you may not really care for it after all, and you may just do it because it makes you look good in other people’s eyes and to artificially increase your self-esteem.

In terms of evolution, we seek and depend upon community, hence sameness, for our physical survival. We also seek sameness and the norm for evaluating and maintaining our sanity because psychologically speaking, being normal means following and adhering to the norm. The norm has undergone many changes and what is seen as outlandish and crazy in the past may be considered as perfectly normal today, and vice versa.

To complicate matters, anyone who stands out from the crowd will instill fears and doubts in the common majority. This is the power of the individual, but it is also its inherent danger because these individuals are an easy target, and they will be attacked from all sides for being different or having a different and less popular opinion. Difference can be physical or psychological in nature but instead of shying away from it, we must not only embrace it within ourselves but also encourage it in others.

At the same time, when all dress and think alike, whether the colors and jerseys of a given sports team or the scary uniformity in clothing and thinking of cults and sects, the one person that is not in alignment will be seen as hostile and is considered the “other”. Our survival instinct comes with the pledge and desire to protect our own kind, be it relations of blood and kin or geography and nationality or culture and religion. It is pitting us against them and living in constant tension and fear of being attacked and eroded by the other or at least imagining and believing these outcomes. This is Otto Rank’s fear of death projected onto the ones that we see as different to ourselves and by extension, our group and supposed immortality comes from identifying with and propagating our own kind of people, whatever that may be for the given person.

With all this comes paranoia and hysteria. Whether it is alleged communists, supposed terrorists, or what-have-you, anyone who does not fit into this predesigned box is seen as a potential threat and danger to the status quo or toward the aims, goals, and ambitions of the specific group. When these emotions mix and blend in with one’s own feelings of anxiety and of wishing to be accepted by our fellow beings, it can get very tricky to just be yourself.

Yet this is the moment where it is important to be setting our own boundaries, affirming, and confirming our own beliefs (not just mindlessly or rapidly adopting or swallowing the beliefs of others but honestly questioning and scrutinizing them), and increasing the difference and potential distance between ourselves and others.

As long as you are true to yourself, to who you are deep inside of yourself, after turning off all the voices that push and pull you in different directions or trying to grab, label, and put you in specific boxes, the voice deep inside of you that remains is your true one. If it is allied and aligned with your intuition, which would be naturally inclined to act out of love and bend towards the highest good, then you are good to go and can be yourself no matter what they say.  

Sunday, January 14, 2024

Benefits of Saying Heartfelt and No-Holds-Barred Prayers

Picture of medieval knight in prayer
Prayers work wonders. Our prayers are with you, we see them partly for reassurance, and partly because we believe in their inherent power or potential healing properties. Let’s pray on it and see what happens, we comfort ourselves and others as we are looking for an answer or wholeheartedly desire a specific outcome. Our reactions to and involvement with the act of praying can range from those who devoutly espouse it using prayers before every meal and as part and parcel of their bedtime routine like brushing one’s teeth, and others who vehemently dismiss and reject it, considering it as humbug, a waste of time and a useless activity in wishful thinking; they may shun it like the plague paradoxically treating it as it were the devil incarnate.

Yet replace the words prayer and blessing with gratitude and compassion as well as God with the universe, and all of a sudden, we are all good and fine. Regardless of whether you call it a kindness meditation, a meditation of loving compassion, or a prayer, it can equally arouse positive emotions in the core of your being and increase the feeling of warmth and joy around your heart. We may not speak the same language nor use the same words and practices, but the feeling is essentially the same.

We may resort to prayer or meditative contemplation in situations that are clearly not within our control. Yet in all other cases and situations, this cannot be used as an excuse nor a quick and easy way to assuage our conscience nor a substitute for taking appropriate action. Praying for a good grade without studying is not only futile and misguided but also a waste of time, energy, and resources. And yet, a combination of both may increase your chances and odds or at the very least, it would do no harm. By studying, you decrease your anxiety of failing, and by praying you increase your level of good feeling. Plus, there is also the potential for supernatural help and guidance throughout the process whether you are a believer or not.

In cases and situations that are out and outside of our control, then prayer may be our only hope and comfort. As it does not do any harm but could potentially do good for oneself and by extension for others, why not engage in it? Wishing someone else well has a positive impact on the praying or meditating person by filling them up with positive emotions while at the same time good vibes are being sent out in the direction of the addressee of the prayer, which may or may not be received by them but no matter, it feels good, nonetheless.

For prayers to work wonders indeed, it is important to be honest and authentic in your wishes and desires. In the same vein, our prayers, if seen as an honest and direct communication with God or the universe, ought to be filled with genuine feelings and not just platitudes. Many believers use prayer as a formal expression of thanks. This is a prayer for a shared meal whether it be on special occasions with family members, such as Thanksgiving or Christmas, or if it is part of a daily routine around the dinner table.

What they all tend to have in common is a certain level of formality as if we were addressing a cherished and respected member of the family, our ancestors, or an esteemed person with a commanding presence and authority. Worse, it may become as commonplace as plates and cutlery or a simple repetitive behavior at the dinner table, a regurgitation of slogans and empty words.

Of course, if you are praying to God, the Lord, or Jesus, you would want to remain in their graces and not make them angry in any way or manner, intentionally or not. Your life (happiness and sanity) would literally and figuratively and manifestly depend upon it. But since God is watching us 24/7 and knows our secrets and our innermost thoughts and feelings, why would we not want to utter them freely and without restraint?

I understand that you would not want to air all your grievances, anger, frustration, and dirty laundry in front of your family members but what about those intimate moments when you are asking the Almighty for wishes and personal favors. In a sense, we are like children addressing a parent and if we can point out and remind them how good we are, we would feel deserving of the gift or reward. Our tone and attitude become of importance. We would never demand or ask with a harsh demanding tone because that would anger God and, in all fairness, the Bible does present Him with a rather short fuse.

In the same way, we want to be on the good side with our bosses and supervisors and upper management in general, all of whom may be key and instrumental to us keeping our jobs or getting a much sought-after promotion, we would not want to mess with the ultimate big honcho authority who at a single whim or finger snap can not only make our life miserable and a living hell but our death an eternity of burning flames and endless pain and suffering.

But here’s a crazy idea: Why not regard the Lord as your friend? If you are uncomfortable with talking to the heavenly father in friendly terms, then address his beloved son. With a dear friend, you would not hold anything back but share your true feelings and desires alongside your innermost frustrations and pain. Nothing is off limits because you open yourself up truly and wholeheartedly to a cherished true friend.

What if you replaced all your wishes and desires with how you really feel about things, what really goes on in that head of yours, and what is weighing down your heart? Is that not a sign of trust by confiding everything to the one whom you love and who loves you unconditionally especially considering he has access to everything you are, you have been and you shall be. Does a being who forgives sinners and who loves you all the way not have enough thick skin to handle your minor slights and reproaches?  

If there were anyone you could open your heart and innermost desires as well as your secret thoughts to, it would have to be the powers that be and that can. We are rarely fully ourselves except when we are jotting down our thoughts and feelings in our journals but even then, we are vigilant, slightly paranoid, and even self-censor as we worry that they could fall into someone else’s hand and be read by them; moreover, there may be thoughts that we do not want to acknowledge to ourselves or that we fail to see and notice.

I was rather surprised but very pleased to hear of a Jesuit prayer and practice that involves picturing Jesus with yourself on a boat, which is detailed in Father James Martin’s outstanding book Come Forth. During this imaginary boat ride, you would engage in a conversation with the Lord and tell him all about your sorrows, worries, fears, and anxieties as if you were chatting with a very close friend whom you trusted wholeheartedly. Since Jesus would also be the one in charge of the universe, one could potentially also ask him any favor under the sky and the sky itself would not be the limit either.

This is not meant as a practice of self-indulgence but an openness that we often lack with and within ourselves, others, and even the being we choose to pray to. Pray, if you cannot be yourself with others, then should you not be open and honest and your true authentic self when everyone else is gone? And should you not be honest with the Almighty who is supposed to already know everything on and about you? If you are hiding anything, would it not be an evident act of futility?

And on the other hand, if you can open your heart and reveal your innermost desires in your prayer, would that not open the door for you to become honest with yourself and then by extension with others that matter in your life? It is worth a try and a practice that would be most beneficial to absolutely everyone at hand.