Recovery Star or crucifix?

I loved the original concept of recovery: “Regaining what has been lost or taken away”. And I grieve for the way it is being used as a tool for discipline.

@TallaTrialogue presented a link and wrote:  

“A brilliant way of helping to measure outcomes in Recovery for both service users and services.”

When I was having severe dissociation problems, shoving this star with its checkboxes at me would have made me even more confused: 

Embedding some tweets with links:



@maddoggiejo called this star “A cross that they nail you to”. Here is her version:

And she has these suggestions for backup interventions: 

Reading PDF document on the recovery Star made me think of Leanh Ngyen’s excruciating and beautiful paper on “The Ethics of Trauma”

During the Physicians for Human Rights evaluations of the Iraqis, some of the men laughed incredulously upon reading the questionnaires. One man looked at the items in a studious, puzzled way. Another said, “What is this?” One man pushed the questionnaire away in despair. “I can’t do this. I don’t understand this.” Another man eventually refused to continue and said to me, “What you want to know, just ask me.”

Just ask me.

These reactions conveyed to me that the clinician-listener-witness was failing her traumatized subject in the task that the historian Dominick LaCapra (2001) has called “remaining in empathic unsettlement”: to stay unsettled in order to look at, not past or beyond, the subject. To stay in the not knowing and trying to know with the subject—such is the task that we may be failing when we unquestioningly engage in “empirical” standardized testing of traumatized people.


Reposting this, as the original post is acting weirdly.

Maybe “Operation Beautiful” can be seen as a decrapping process? I have a feeling that many of us see crap when we look at ourselves in the mirror – and have been brainwashed into thinking it belongs to us.

Or we spend our lives shying away from mirrors in fear of only seeing crap.

zingerella wrote an article on Livejournal some time ago that I have found very useful. I’m copying it here, with her permission, as it fits so well in with the main theme of this blog. Here it is, in Zingerella’s own brilliant words:


A long, long time ago, a friend took me to Alateen. She and I had bonded, in part, over the substance-abuse problems in our respective families, and she’d found a lot of good in the program. It didn’t take with me, long term, but it didn’t do me any harm, and some of the people I met there had some useful things to say, from their experience interacting with their own messed-up families.

The Wall of Shit theory is perhaps the most useful thing I took away from Alateen, and I don’t think it’s an official part of the program. Here’s how it goes:

Throughout life, everyone has a certain amount of crap hurled at them. Some people get more crap, some people get less crap. Some people, the lucky ones, also get issued shovels, and spend their formative years being shown how to garden and constructing gardens in their hearts. So they’re well equipped for dealing with the crap life throws at them. Sometimes it builds up, but they have their shovels, and use them and the crap to fertilize their gardens, and it’s more or less okay.

Other people get only crap. They get crap from a very young age, and there’s nobody to show them how to deal with it, because the people in their lives are dealing with their own crap, and throwing crap all over the place. So it builds up, in layers around their heart. After years and years of crap, their hearts, which may be beautiful, are pretty much surrounded in crap. Anything they try to send out is either trapped behind the wall of crap, or if it manages to squeeze out, it emerges covered in crap, sometimes to such an extent that it’s impossible to recognize as anything that might ever have been beautiful. The same thing happens to anything that other people try to send in: if it gets in at all, it’s covered in crap, and the person wonders why the world is throwing more crap at them. Because the crap is so thick, nobody can tunnel through from the outside, to find the beautiful heart. People get lost, and the crap sticks to them, and if they emerge at all, they too are covered in crap.

You can’t really blame people for not wanting to be covered in other people’s shit.

Sometimes, if the crapped-upon person can learn to recognize the crap, he or she can begin to reach through it, or learn to look for the openings. If a person’s spent their entire life surrounded by crap, however, they don’t always know to look for anything else—how should they? So you have people on both sides throwing love and kindness and whatever at a wall of crap, and people on either sides of the wall wondering why the people who profess to love them are giving them only crap to deal with.

Throwing more love at the wall of crap often doesn’t do anything, because the person inside all the crap simply can’t receive love that isn’t covered in crap.

There may be one or two little tunnels through the crap, and something may get through these, but, of course, they’re hard to find, and not entirely stable, and surrounded by still more crap. So even if you find a way through the crap, for some love to get through, it’s not going to be easy or pleasant to get it to the person inside the wall of crap.

The person who explained the Wall of Shit theory couldn’t tell me what to do about other people’s crap. He didn’t know if one could do much. Over time, I’ve learned that, when it comes to other people’s crap, my choices are pretty limited. Since the CUP (crapped-upon person) can’t see their own crap, and doesn’t know that they’re throwing crap at me, I can merely decide how much crap I’m willing to endure for the sake of whatever beauty I can see shining through the crap. I can shovel away from the outside, but there’s never really any way of knowing what’s inside the crap, or if I’m even digging in the correct direction. If I can find the tunnels, I might be able to get a shovel to the person inside, but after that, it’s up to them to dig their way out.

They have to dig their way out, or tell me how to find the tunnels, and accept that once I get to them, I may not smell like roses.

See, I knew, when I was a teen, that my dad really cared about us, and really tried to love us. But his love, even when he wasn’t drinking, was sometimes kind of crappy. And I would try to love him, and it would feel like nothing I did was right, like he wasn’t seeing me. Understanding that his own rather messed up childhood, his drinking, and his dysfunctional marriage with my mom had given him way more crap than he could ever hope to shovel through meant that I wasn’t the one sending bad love.

Since my Alateen days, my dad and I have learned to interact a bit better. I’ve learned to keep a cloth on hand, for wiping crap off of things, and not to expect him to send me bright, shiny love. If he lectures me about my professional life, it’s not because he thinks I’m utterly incompetent—he’s trying to help me, and I don’t have to listen to all his advice. He’s getting better at finding paths through the crap, too, and I think he’s not feeling completely defeated all the time, the way he did with my mom. And being grown up means that I just don’t have to deal with his crap all the time, anymore. I can walk away, and say “This crap is not my crap.”

I’ve walked away from other CUPs—people who were so far behind their walls of crap that I couldn’t hope to find them. People whose walls of pain and anger and other emotional ordure meant that no matter how much I wanted to love them, I could send them only things covered in crap, and they could respond only with more pain that I would send them crap. I mean who needs more crap? Their crap, however, is not my crap.

Right now, nobody in my life seems to be throwing crap at me. So it’s easy to pitch in and help the people I love shovel the crap that comes their way, if they need it, and spread it around to see what grows.

"Mandatory optimism"

I am posting this because I am participating in a discussion on positive thinking in Sigrun’s Norwegian blog, and I agree so  very much with ms Ehrenreich:

“Acclaimed journalist, author and political activist Barbara Ehrenreich explores the darker side of positive thinking”:

Here is a link to “Bright-Sided”, Barabara Ehrenreich’s book on the dangers of positive thinking

Heroes: Harold A Maio

We no longer talk about ‘the’ Jews. So why do we talk about ‘the’ mentally ill?

Here is an excerpt from  Harold A Maio’s article:

“English is not a complicated language. The rules for prejudice are rigid and clear, regularly practised against a “this” or a “that”, which changes with time. The techniques do not change; the target does.

“The” Jews. One has no difficulty pinpointing where that metaphor rose, or fell to its lowest. The industrialised murder of “the” Jews is taught in about every culture, we are aware of the effect of reducing a group to a “the”, and how far someone can take it. I address the form not the incidence.

Presently popular worldwide is “the” mentally ill, a replica of “the” Jews. It is seldom recognised. In 2008 all nine US supreme court justices agreed “the” mentally ill existed. I shuddered; the US went silent. The entire country went dark and did not notice. An alley expression had reached the height of the US supreme court and journalism fell silent, neither seeing it, nor wanting to. Not just in the US, but worldwide. It is one of the prejudices I track worldwide on the net. I respond to each example.”


No, this is not about THE POWER OF THOUGHT. My internal jury is still out on that one.

It is about the power of thoughts. The power of thoughts to kill, for example.

Like guns, thoughts don’t kill people. People kill people. But as we saw here in Norway on July 22, thoughts can make it easier for people to kill people.

Thoughts are powerful forces for harm. They can constrict, restrict, mutilate, gag, torture and kill. They can render people emotionally mute, as Yashir Ali points out in his essay on “gaslighting”.

They can also be nurturing forces for change and growth. 

Although I am an atheist, some thoughts that are attributed to Jesus send shivers down my spine …

Matthew Chapter 5:“43 Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.
44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you …”

And it’s not only the extremely radical message of “Love your enemies” that I find so liberating, but the words “curse”, “hate”, “despitefully use and persecute”.  He doesn’t shrink from describing what we humans are capable of doing to each other. 

If Jesus were to say this today, some enlightened person might, in the nicest possible way, suggest that he “be positive” and “try to understand” that they’re not really enemies, they’re just people whose childhood needs were not met, they didn’t really mean to cause pain, and: “To heal, we must forgive.”

Would Jesus be shocked to hear that people who have been despitefully used and persecuted are constantly being pressured by well-meaning helpers into trying to be nicer than he was?

“And Jesus said, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” 

He did not say “I forgive you.” 

He said “Love your enemies”. He said “do good to them”, “pray for them”.
He did not say “try to understand them” or “forgive them” or “never accuse or judge them”. 

He also said a lot of stuff about obedience to the Father … and there he lost me. 


Norwegian here/på norsk her 

I might not agree with everything Oriah writes, but her “Invitation” seems to be the perfect description of mental health, as opposed to “normality”:

The Invitation by Oriah
It doesn’t interest me
what you do for a living.
I want to know
what you ache for
and if you dare to dream
of meeting your heart’s longing.
It doesn’t interest me
how old you are.
I want to know
if you will risk
looking like a fool
for love
for your dream
for the adventure of being alive.
It doesn’t interest me
what planets are
squaring your moon…
I want to know
if you have touched
the centre of your own sorrow
if you have been opened
by life’s betrayals
or have become shrivelled and closed
from fear of further pain.
I want to know
if you can sit with pain
mine or your own
without moving to hide it
or fade it
or fix it.
I want to know
if you can be with joy
mine or your own
if you can dance with wildness
and let the ecstasy fill you
to the tips of your fingers and toes
without cautioning us
to be careful
to be realistic
to remember the limitations
of being human.
It doesn’t interest me
if the story you are telling me
is true.
I want to know if you can
disappoint another
to be true to yourself.
If you can bear
the accusation of betrayal
and not betray your own soul.
If you can be faithless
and therefore trustworthy.
I want to know if you can see Beauty
even when it is not pretty
every day.
And if you can source your own life
from its presence.
I want to know
if you can live with failure
yours and mine
and still stand at the edge of the lake
and shout to the silver of the full moon,
It doesn’t interest me
to know where you live
or how much money you have.
I want to know if you can get up
after the night of grief and despair
weary and bruised to the bone
and do what needs to be done
to feed the children.
It doesn’t interest me
who you know
or how you came to be here.
I want to know if you will stand
in the centre of the fire
with me
and not shrink back.
It doesn’t interest me
where or what or with whom
you have studied.
I want to know
what sustains you
from the inside
when all else falls away.
I want to know
if you can be alone
with yourself
and if you truly like
the company you keep
in the empty moments.

I am posting this with the author’s permission, and I am adding this information at her request:

“By Oriah Mountain Dreamer from her book THE INVITATION (c) 1999 Published
in English by HarperONE, San Francisco. Published in Norweigan by Ex Libris Forlag. All rights reserved. Presented with permission of the  author.”

Repeating the website:
And linking to her blog: 


Norsk kortversjon: Dette er en diskusjon om ansvar. Om at det å ta ansvar ikke er det samme som å påta seg Byrde, Skam, Skyld og Kritikk. (Her i Norge brukes uttrykket “å ta selvkritikk” – hvordan gjør man egentlig det?) Og konklusjonen er at for å ta ansvar, må vi ha vilje til å være kilden til livet vårt. 
Vilje er det som skjer når du kommer gjennom all motstanden, alle bortforklaringene, alt pisspratet. Det som er igjen, er interesse. Det er vilje. Ut av det, flommer alt annet.” 

English summary: This is a discussion about responsibility.
The conclusion is that responsibility is not  Blame, Shame, Burden, and Guilt, it is a willingness to be the source of your life.
“Willingness is what happens when you get past all the resistance, all the reasons, all the bullshit.  What’s left is interest.  That’s willingness.  Out of willingness flows all the rest.”  

With the author’s permission, I’m posting a chapter from “A Matter for Men”, book 1 in the “War Against the Chtorr” series. David Gerrold is an author whose books have made my brain crackle and pop and rearrange its perceptions, and this chapter most of all.

I read it when I was heavily involved in a Support Centre Against Incest, and it gave me an answer to the ubiquitous fear of “judging” people who were accused of child molestation.
I can safely recommend all his books, and I’ve recently ordered one I wasn’t aware of until now: ”The Martian Child”, based on the his own experiences as a single adoptive parent of a survivor of serious abuse.

The Last Day
“If God didn’t want men to masturbate, then why did he make the opposable thumb? 
“If God didn’t want women to masturbate, then why did she make the middle finger longer?”
—Solomon Short
It was my worst nightmare. 
            Whitlaw was standing over my chair, looming like a mountain, glaring down at me and waiting for an answer to his question. 
            “So …McCarthy.  What is responsibility?”
            I didn’t have the slightest idea. 
            And I was certain that this was it—I would stammer something and it would be wrong and Whitlaw would finally lose patience and just kill me. 
            Or worse—he’d ravage me with one of his exquisitely sarcastic observations about my lack of intellectual capacity.  And then I’d die of embarrassment.
            Whitlaw had long ago stopped waiting for us to raise our hands.  We didn’t.  We thought that was the best way to avoid being held up to ridicule.  But the man had us surrounded, and if we didn’t volunteer, then he’d start to call on us, one at a time.  Today, he had lowered his voice to a shout—and he was demanding that we “participate in the process of our own lives.”  You couldn’t tune him out. 
            That was the thing about Whitlaw’s class.  There was no place to hide.  If you sat in the back of the room, hoping not to be noticed, Whitlaw would stride to the back, take the comic book out of your hands, rip it up, and drop it in the trash.  Then he’d move you to the front of the room. 
            His radar was unerring.  If you went for more than three days without raising your hand to comment or to ask a question, he’d start calling on you.  “Just checking to see if you’re still alive,”  he’d say.  “I’ve already given up all hope of intelligent discourse from this collection of somnambulists.  Cabbages have more crunch than you do.” 
            On this particular day, he’d begun his attack with a diversionary maneuver.  He’d said,  “Let’s review what we’ve covered so far.  You’ll remember that we determined that there really is no such thing as rights or freedom.  What there is, is responsibility.  Hmm,”  he said, and stopped.  He froze at the board, stylus still in hand.  He turned back to us, a thoughtful expression on his face.  “Responsibility.  There’s an interesting word.  We haven’t really defined it, have we?”  He put the stylus down in the tray below the board and brushed nonexistent chalk dust from his hands;  that’s how old he was. 
            He looked at me with a piercing expression.  “I mean, we’ve talked about it all semester long.  We’ve all used the word as if we’re agreed on what it means.  But I don’t think we’re in agreement at all.  I don’t think we’re all thinking of the same thing when we use the word responsibility—” 
            I was already starting to sweat.  Some of these lectures could go on for a week or more.  And this one had all the earmarks. 
            Whitlaw stepped past me.  For a man with a limp, he could be surprisingly limber.  He headed for the back of the room and I breathed a sigh of relief and relaxed in my chair. 
            “McCarthy,”  he said, terrifyingly close behind me.  He had turned and was studying the back of my head.  “You start.  What is responsibility?” 
            “Uh—”  I squirmed around in my seat to face him.  “Um—it’s, uh—the, um—” 
            “Yes …?  Go on.  I’ll wait.”  Whitlaw spoke with the sweet dulcet tones of deliberately exaggerated patience.  He was going to let me writhe on the hook until I died. 
            “—the obligation—”  I seized the word.   “—um, to—uh—” 
            “Obligation ….”  Whitlaw repeated thoughtfully.  “Hm.  An interesting perception.  The obligation.”  He furrowed his brow and focused intently on me.  “Perhaps the word you’re looking for is accountability.” 
            I felt my heart resume beating.  I might survive this after all.  “Yes.”  I was a drowning man, grabbing eagerly for—an anvil. 
            Whitlaw’s expression was pitying and disappointed.  He shook his head sadly and looked around to the rest of the class.  “Accountability,”  he said, with deep sorrow.  “That’s what McCarthy thinks responsibility is.  Accountability.”  He rubbed his hands together in a Uriah Heep gesture—but the way Whitlaw did it was much more like a praying mantis preparing to dine. 
            Oh, no …
            Whitlaw tsked.  He began counting off on his fingers.  Finger number one:  “Blame.  That’s what McCarthy thinks responsibility is.  ‘Who’s responsible for this mess?  Who can we blame?’ “  Finger number two:  “Shame.  Or perhaps McCarthy thinks responsibility is shame.  ‘This was your responsibility, McCarthy.  Look how it turned out.  Aren’t you ashamed?’ “  Finger number three:  “Burden.  ‘All right, who’s willing to accept this responsibility?  Who’s willing to take on this particularly onerous task?’ “ 
            I was dying in my chair and praying, Please, God, let him not have six fingers.  Finger number four:  “Guilt.”  He looked at me with an expression previously seen only on the countenances of “hanging judges.”  He repeated it.  “Guilt.  ‘This is your responsibility.’  Is that what you think responsibility is, McCarthy?  Blame, shame, burden, or guilt?” 
            “Yes, it is.  That’s what you all think responsibility is.  You see it as a chore, not a challenge.  You see it as a problem.  A burden.  Something to be avoided.  This is the American mantra.  ‘It’s not my fault.’  Or:  ‘Sorry, sir.  That’s not my table.’  Or:  ‘You’ll have to take that upstairs.  We don’t handle that here.’  Or:  ‘Sorry, I don’t want to get involved.’ 
            “Do you know what that translates out to?  ‘Blame somebody else first.  Blame anybody but me.’  You sound like Republicans.  ‘Blame the Democrats first.’  You sound like Democrats.  ‘Blame the President first.’  You sound like the President.  ‘Blame the Congress first.’  You sound like everybody else in the world.  None of you are willing to take on any responsibility—and then you have the gall to complain about the fact that nothing seems to work right.  Because when you hear the word responsibility, you hear blame, shame, burden, and guilt.”  Whitlaw snorted.  “And you don’t want any of that stuff, do you?” 
            He put one hand on my shoulder.  It felt just like a brontosaurus leg, only heavier.  “Right, McCarthy?”  he asked.
            “Uh, right,”  I squeaked. 
            “Right,”  he agreed.  “You’re just saying that to agree with me—in the futile hope that I will leave you alone and pick on someone else, right?” 
            “Uh, right.” 
            “Mm, I thought so.”  Whitlaw stumped back to the front of the room.  “Your language is out of control.  You have connected the wrong meanings to the words.  I talk about responsibility and you hear blame, shame, burden, and guilt.  Sounds like a law firm, doesn’t it?  Blame, Shame, Burden, and Guilt.  In fact, that’s where you end up—dealing with lawyers—when you confuse the language;  because when you confuse the language, you confuse the communication.  But I don’t want any lawyers in the room.  I want clarity.  I want a precise definition of the word—a definition so precise that it will transform your whole experience of what responsibility really is.”  He looked out over the class.  “Anyone brave enough to try?” 
            No one was. 
            I’d learned one trick from Whitlaw.  I used it now. 
            When in doubt, look in the dictionary. 
            First, make sure you understand what you’re talking about.  Look at the words you’re using.  Understand their meaning.  Look at the intent behind them.  If you can’t find precision, there’s something wrong.  We all knew the speech;  we knew it by heart:  “Fuzzy language guarantees fuzzy thinking.  You can’t manipulate concepts without precise particles,”  Whitlaw had said.  “Without precision, you’re just thrashing around with the rest of the symbol-minded.” 
            If you don’t know or if you aren’t sure, look in the dictionary.  Be sure. 
            I’d been looking in the dictionary all semester long.  It was full of surprises. 
            I snuck a look now.  Whitlaw saw what I was doing, but he didn’t say anything. 
            1.  Accountability.  2.  Having a duty or obligation.
            Hm.  Either the dictionary was wrong—or Whitlaw was.  Right now, I’d bet on Whitlaw.  There was something else, something underneath, that he was reaching for.  He always was. 
            3. Dependable. 
            No.  That was too close to burden. 
            4.  Being a source or cause. 
            I stared at the words for a moment without realizing what I was reading. 
            Being a source or cause. 
            Suddenly it all fell into place. 
            “McCarthy?”  Whitlaw asked abruptly.  “Was that a light bulb that just went on over your head?” 
            “A what?” 
            “A light bulb.  Look it up.  Invented by a man named Edison.  It made light.  Also used as an icon to represent having an idea.  Was that an idea you just had?”
            “Uh, yessir.  Source.  Being responsible is being the source.” 
            Whitlaw looked honestly surprised.  “You’re close,”  he admitted.  “You’re almost there.  Take one step back.  What has to happen first?  What has to happen before you can be a source?” 
            “I knew it was too good to be true,”  Whitlaw remarked sideways.  The class laughed. 
            But I knew this one.  I didn’t know how I knew, but I knew. 
             “—first you have to be willing to be the source.” 
            Whitlaw stopped, turned, and stared at me, astonished.  “That’s right.” 
            The class gave me a standing ovation. 
            I blushed.  This was even more embarrassing than Whitlaw’s abuse.  All I’d done was put together two pieces of the puzzle.  Whitlaw had been hammering us with this information all semester long.  Anybody could have done it. 
            Fortunately, Whitlaw stopped the applause;  he waved the class back down into their seats.  “Not so fast.  Let’s make sure this didn’t happen by accident.”  Whitlaw zeroed in on me again.  “A willingness to be the source?  Explain that, McCarthy.” 
            I hesitated, thinking out my words carefully.  “Well—if we start from the word source, then being the person responsible for something means that you’re the person who causes it, you make it happen.” 
            “Okay—but let’s not get lost in the jargon, Jim.  You used the word willingness.  What’s that?”
            “Um—”  I had to hold myself back so I could get the words out clearly.  “Willingness is what happens when you get past all the resistance, all the reasons, all the bullshit.  What’s left is interest.  That’s willingness.  Out of willingness flows all the rest.”  I allowed myself a triumphant grin.  “So, it’s obvious, isn’t it?  Responsibility is being interested in and enthusiastic about and committed to the results.”  I was realizing the profound truth of it even as I was saying it;  it was a remarkable sensation.  “It means you’re the heart and the soul of the moment.”
            Whitlaw nodded slowly.  “You’ve been doing your reading, haven’t you?” 
            “Yes, sir.” 
            “It shows.  Good.  That’s very good;  it’s complete.  There’s nothing I can add to it—but I’m going to anyway.  I want to put a context around it.  It’s not just source we’re talking about here, Jim.  We’re talking about ownership.  The word source sometimes confuses people;  because source isn’t something you do—it’s something you are. 
            “So, the way we ease people into the concept and the experience of source is to talk about ownership.  Not ownership as in property, but ownership as in command—as in,  ‘When I teach this class, I own this room.’  There is no part of this room that I am not responsible for.  I make sure that the lights work, the board functions, that books and discs are available, and so on.  In other words, I am the source for this class.” 
            The finger pointed and jabbed.  “You are the source for your life, for everything that happens in it, for the effect you have on the people around you.  You can create it for yourself, or you can pass that responsibility on to someone else—say, like the universe at large—and then you can pretend to be satisfied with the results, a life out of control.”  He looked at us all.  “Are you willing to own your life or not?”  
            There must have been blank faces, because abruptly Whitlaw stopped.  I sense confusion in the room.  “Who’s lost?  Who doesn’t get it?” 
            Three of the back-row boys raised their hands. 
            “Mm-hm.  Good.  Thank you for being honest.  Mmm, let me see if I can clarify this for you in terms you’re most likely to understand.”  He folded his arms across his chest and studied the ceiling for a long thoughtful moment.  His face went deliberately blank.  Some of us had learned to recognize that posture and that expression and were already ducking under our desks.  Whitlaw brought his attention back to the three students in the back and suddenly asked,  “Do you fantasize when you masturbate?”  His tone was as innocent as if he had asked where they were born.   
            It was the perfect Whitlaw question.  Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.  There were embarrassed titters. 
            “Look,”  said Whitlaw.  “Let’s not pretend.  Ninety-five percent of the human race masturbates, and the other five percent are liars.  Masturbation is the only way you can claim to be good at sex without the corroborating testimony of a partner.  The question is not whether you masturbate.  I’m making the assumption that you are all normal healthy adolescents with the usual normal healthy overdose of hormones—”  He looked toward the back.   “—and that the three of you in particular are doing your very best to avoid dying from terminal testosterone poisoning.  As the man says, self-abuse is the sincerest kind.
            “Now, in case you have forgotten—the three of you seem to have sunk into a deeper state of catatonia than usual—I will repeat the question:  ‘Do you fantasize when you masturbate?’ “  He turned to face the rest of the room.  “I’m not joking here.  It’s an important question.  That’s the one time in your life when you are performing for an audience of one, and have instantaneous and total feedback on the success and appropriateness of your efforts.  There’s only one person in the world you are trying to satisfy.  And you always know when you succeed—or fail.  You have gratification—or you don’t.” 
            Whitlaw ignored our snickers and titters.  “Believe it or not, that experience, that fantasizing, that act of creation, is one of the truest experiences of being at source.  Absolutely nobody else in the world gets a vote on what you think about when you masturbate—and when you create a fantasy for the express purpose of satisfying yourself, you are functioning as a source.  That’s who you really are.  That’s where you live. 
            “Unfortunately, for most of you, that’s your only experience of source.  So to talk about it this candidly, this casually, is a very painful and embarrassing experience for you. 
            “The point of this discussion,”  Whitlaw said,  “is to bring you to a consciousness of the possibility that source can occur elsewhere in your life.  In fact, it can occur everywhere in your life.  Look around—life is all possibilities.  You can invent it any way you want.  But let me give you some hints on how easy it is to start.  You can own the experience of washing the dishes, if you want.  If you play a game where the goal is to see how clean you can get every dish, you can wash dishes at source.  Or whitewash the fence.  Or conduct a symphony.  Or even do your homework.” 
            “Right.  For most of you, your best experience of source will continue to be your right hand.  Unless you’re ambidextrous.  But, at least now, you’ll never be able to claim that nobody ever told you that there was an alternative to spiritual Onanism.”  Whitlaw limped back to the front of the room, clapping me on the shoulder as he passed.  “But you were right, James.  Underneath all the words that we use to talk about responsibility—even the law firm of blame, shame, burden, and guilt—is the very simple and basic experience of source.  And it starts with your willingness to have it happen.  Even the consciousness that such a thing is possible is sufficient to trigger the process.  That’s why you’re required to take this class.  It’s your wake-up call for life. 
            “When you talk about all that other stuff that you’ve confused the issue with, you’re allowing yourself to forget what’s really underneath.  What we ought to ask in every situation is this:  Is the person operating at source?  Are you home—or are you just going through the motions? 
            “That’s all there is to life—to relationships, to communication, to producing results;  and the real surprise is that it’s not hard or difficult at all.  So, thank you, Jim.  Thank you for being willing to be uncomfortable.”  He turned to the rest of the class.  “Now you can applaud.” 
            They did.  Long and loud.  There were also whistles, hoots and cheers. 
            Whitlaw waited patiently until they finished, then he leaned back against the front edge of his desk and spoke quietly to us. 
            “Don’t get too cocky here,”  he warned.  “Knowing the definition is not the same as living it.  I expect most of you to forget this material ten minutes after you walk out that door.  Maybe one or two of you will remember.  Maybe it’ll even make a difference in your lives.  That’s the hope—that one day, in a moment of crisis, when you most need to know it, one of the time bombs that I’ve shoved down your throats will finally go off.”  He looked at us and grinned.  It was an honest friendly grin.  He didn’t even look like Whitlaw. 
            “I know I’ve said a lot of cruel things in here about your lack of ability to learn.  Yes, I did it deliberately.  It’s one of the best ways to keep you awake—insulting you.  I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t enjoy it.  I’d also be a liar if I said I didn’t mean it.  The fact of the matter is that if you can survive the very worst that I can hand you, and the evidence today is that you can, then you can survive anything else that the universe will throw at you.  It was always my intention to be the meanest son-of-a-bitch you ever met in your life—so that all the other sons-of-bitches waiting for you out there will never be able to lay a finger on you.  I never pulled a punch in here, and now you know you can handle it.” 
            He reached across his desk and grabbed a tissue from the box;  he blew his nose loudly, wiped a couple of times, and then continued.  “I said on the first day of this class that they don’t pay me enough to do this.  That’s true.  But, if you’ll remember, I also said that I would teach this class even if they didn’t pay me.  One of you asked why and I told you that if you could make it through to the end of the semester, you wouldn’t need to ask that question.  The answer should be obvious to you now.  If it isn’t, then I didn’t get the job done.  Does anybody still need the explanation?” 
            He looked out over the room.  I thought about it.  Was there any doubt in my mind why Whitlaw was teaching this class?  No, no doubt at all.  I looked around.  Nobody else had raised his or her hand either. 
            “The truth is that teaching high school students is like dropping stones down a well and listening for the splash.  Only, most of the time you never hear it.  I’ve been shoving time bombs down your throats.  Someday soon, they’re going to start going off.  When these things finally do go splash or klunk or ka-boom or whatever sound they make, I’d appreciate it if you’d take the time to drop me a note and let me know.  You all have my E-mail address.  Don’t lose it.  As a teacher, the only reward or acknowledgment I can ever receive that really means anything is to hear from one of you that something I taught you or caused you to realize has actually made a difference in your life.” 
            He sighed.  For just a moment, he looked tired.  “There are no passing or failing grades in here.  The universe will give you your grade.  You’ll know when you receive it.”          He added impishly,  “In case you’re wondering, the universe doesn’t grade on the curve;  it’s all pass-fail.  Here’s how you know if you’re passing:  you’re still alive.  In the meantime—”  Whitlaw grinned wickedly.   “—May the source be with you.” 
            We let him live. 
            More than that, we gave him a standing ovation—and not surprisingly, a whole bunch of hugs as well.




WE ARE products of our genetic inheritance … talents and weak points, modes of perception and certain blind spots are hard-wired in us, and this hard-wiring determines what kind of strategies we have used to survive childhood.

WE ARE NOT what we do. But we own the responsibility for recognizing our strong points and using them constructively, and knowing our weak points and acknowledging them.

WE OWN WHAT WE DO when we are adults.

WE HAVE lots of stuff that does not sort into who we are or what we do – like survival strategies. These “are” not us. We are responsible for them, as we are for our actions, but we cannot change these directly: we have to see where they came from, what created them, and start the change there. And that change begins with giving responsibility for them to the people who made it necessary for us to acquire them.



“Intention” is what we plan or hope to achieve by doing whatever we do. For us it is a necessary part of the planning process, but we never deserve brownie points for our intentions – they are, or should be, totally irrelevant to everyone except ourselves, and to ourselves only relevant in the planning stage. (Another category could be called “explanation” or “reason”, if one has learned to find explanations and excuses for what others do, and therefore expects to be given points for excuses)

“Action”, what we do, we are totally responsible for … to the point where, if someone is hurt by my car when I am driving, I am responsible for what I did, even if I certainly did not mean to hurt anyone, and even the accident was caused by factors outside my control. I did what I did, and I own what I did, and accepting this is the only way out of a morass of denial and guilt.

“Result” is what is caused by our actions – directly or indirectly. If someone is hurt by my car when I am driving, that is a result of my actions. I do not own all the responsibility for the outcome, but I do own my actions.

Taking responsibility is not a question of taking on a huge package of blame, shame, burden and guilt. *

Our responsibility is something we HAVE – it is a part of us. Every day we choose to own this responsibility or to deny it – to be the source of our life, be in control, or to live in a tangle of excuses and denial.

* Quote from David Gerrold. There will be more about him later. And this post is going to be changed as I find the right words and figure out this pesky format stuff.

The Jante Law

Aksel Sandemose, a Norwegian author has formulated the Jante Law. And if you feel confused about yourself, it might be an idea to check if this law is being used on you. The last rule is maybe the most toxic: “Don’t think that there is something we don’t know about you.”

Don’t think that you are special.
Don’t think that you are of the same standing as us.
Don’t think that you are smarter than us.
Don’t fancy yourself as being better than us.
Don’t think that you know more than us.
Don’t think that you are more important than us.
Don’t think that you are good at anything.
Don’t laugh at us.
Don’t think that anyone of us cares about you.
Don’t think that you can teach us anything.
Don’t think that there is something we don’t know about you.