Love and Fear

I’m going to be spending a week at this beautiful spot next week – away from the incessant, assaultive  demands of electronics and media.  I know I’ll laugh at myself the first time my friend, David, and I have a discussion about something and I’ll wonder, “Who was it that said that?” and I’ll reach f025or my phone to Google the answer and then realize that this is exactly why I was there in the first place – not to be near a cell phone tower.  I know what books I’ll bring with me and I’m planning the menus for the five nights.  Maybe the best thing about camping is how everything tastes great – franks and beans…you name it.  One thing that I will welcome next week is a respite from the aura of fear that has descended like a thick, gray blanket on our public consciousness.

Public fear is much like the private fear I see in my office on a daily basis.  I am convinced that the driving force that unsettles so many marriages and intimate relationships is quite simply – fear.  It may be the fear of something concrete and nameable.  However, usually what I observe is more something that lies deeper within us.  When that attachment bond – upon which our inner security seems to depend – is shaken – is cast into serious doubt – we shift into a desperate, often ragged, attempt to regain that safety.  This comes in many forms.  I have seen these efforts expressed as rage, as utter abandonment hijacks one person’s well-being.  I have seen it, as well, in the silent withdrawal of the partner who, like Boticelli’s St. Sebastian, feels riddled with the arrows of criticism and unhappiness aimed at them by their partner.  One thing is certain.  The intensity of the fear is directly proportional to the level of anger, judgment or withdrawal.  When we are fearful, we react.  Our only goal at that moment is safety.  Abraham Maslow, in his famous Hierarchy of Needs, identified “safety” as a primary need, after basic physiological sustenance.  If we are starving, the only thing we need – that which dominates and overwhelms our consciousness – is food.  That need being satisfied, we are able to summon the psychological resources to seek out higher needs, which ends with living the highest expression of ourself in this life.  However, second in Maslow’s pyramid is “safety” and, just as with food and shelter, if this need is threatened, we will mobilize all we have available to us to satisfy that need.  Only when the anxiety – the fear – is abated, can we turn to higher, better, ends.  On the personal level, this includes listening and empathizing with the worries and fears of our partner.  On a broader level, it is building a more inclusive and tolerant society.

Years ago I heard a colleague share what seemed at the time to be an overly simplistic personal equation. That was my mistake.  He said, “We are motivated either by love or fear.  Fear distances us from love, but love, when embraced, will vanquish fear.”  This love isn’t simply sexual love or being “in love.” It is an opening of our heart to another person.  It is the certainty that whatever another person may need, fundamentally, we have inside of us to provide.  We have the power – the capacity – to ease another’s pain – and their fear.  When I see that realization gleam in the eye of an individual in relationship distress, that distress always lessens.  I witness love conquering fear.  I’m going to mull on that further in the mountains next week, away from the noxious fog of fear that is being pumped into our society during this terribly overheated election year.

Life of Pi and Therapy

This from a message to an old friend:

Neil, you’re in my thoughts this morning for two reasons.  First, I am listening to my Telemann Pandora station and I will forever appreciate your turning me on to him those many years ago.  Second – we saw Life of Pi yesterday.

 Years ago you went on and on about how much you loved that book and I tried to read it but could not get too far.  It wasn’t grabbing me.  So last week, thinking I wanted to see the movie, I picked up the book again and loved it.  I didn’t quite get the part about making you believe in God until the night after I finished it, I was putting together a dinner for some friends the next night and Mark l was over helping out (he was visiting from So. Cal. for a week) and he had just seen the movie.  We compared one to the other and suddenly I got what Martel was trying to say.  I started talking about how I was so swept up in the story until he became blind and then came across the other guy on a boat that the tiger ate and I thought, “Whoa…wait a minute.  That is pretty incredible.  (It was left out of the movie.)  The whole part before that was very detailed and you could absolutely get how it could all actually occur.  But another boat in the middle of the ocean?  And then, of course, the meerkat island.  Suddenly I began to feel differently about the story – I lost interest because I didn’t find it credible any longer.  Then at the end he tells this very troubling story and he lays it all out for you (and of course there are those little bones on the boat) .  Which story do you want to believe – neither is provable.

I think it is also relevant to therapy work.  People come in with such worries and hopelessness about their future.  But just as with Pi’s story, the future is unknowable and unprovable.  Clearly, when people come in and talk about a future of loneliness or loss or failure their present is wracked with anxiety and they are preoccupied with their distress.   If a person has some faith in the future, trust that they can be content and satisfied, their present distress abates considerably.  So, just as with Pi, which story do they want to believe?

The movie was a bit of a let down from the book, insofar as the basic theme above is concerned, I thought.  The book format allowed Martel to create a very credible story of how Pi was able to survive – and the whole early parts about animal behavior was essential to that task.  So, with the exception of the island, you could believe that story…well I could believe that story.  Ang Lee didn’t have the time or space to make the survival story as credible, I think.  But my oh my was that a beautiful movie.  I think it is the most enchanting cinema experience I have ever had.  It is watching an absolute master at his craft and an impeccable use of 3-D.

Anyway, just thinking of you on this chill, foggy, still and beautiful Northwest morning.