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Book excerpts

  ---There was something special about putting my life and work down on paper. No matter how much I have shared with therapists, closest friends and a soulmate, there was always more that was unshared. I needed a record of the big moments in life to keep from forgetting or repressing them, all the way until I was seventy-four and had gathered enough confidence to go public. Which is why this memoir was sixty years in the making.  


---Writing an extended memoir gives a different kind of freedom than talking; in public or privately, talking is too guarded by the vigilant social brain. With a memoir all you have to do is find your one-of-a-kind river, jump in and surrender to the current no matter where it needs to go. I found that in my river I could laugh about what I write without caring if anyone gets the joke; it is me only on my terms. Family members will disagree with my memories, readers will like me or not, but no one else can understand what is going on the way I understand.  


--- Because I have been on a lifelong quest to find my “what-ness and who-ness”, I was extremely lucky to become a therapist for children and their families, since their stories have had such a great influence. I was never taught how this two-way, giving and getting arrangement can make therapy succeed or fail. I was professionally raised in the days of the dominant “medical model” which meant the doctor diagnoses and the patient gets treated. The importance of a therapeutic partnership was not part of the training. . 


---Writing about model scenes is the method used throughout this book to describe the major influences that made me and all of my patients who we are, for better or worse. Some scenes are about the general topic of soothing, but most try to capture the essence of the people I am writing about. For these individuals and families, model scenes can help explain how we sometimes get stuck with damaging negative self-beliefs, but with help, can learn something about self-acceptance. With hard work and good fortune, we can even find ways to create more optimistic stories about the future.  


--- All good therapy eventually soothes, and when the partnership was working, my patients left with the tools and positive beliefs they needed to soothe themselves as they moved forward in their lives. I will constantly emphasize the importance of features of the therapist that are essential for the treatment to work, such as empathy and caring, creativity, and understanding the model scenes in child development.  


--- Soothing is what we can’t stop needing or giving whenever possible. For all psychotherapists, the goal is not only to relieve discomfort, but also to add something to the patient’s life: new healthy ways to self-soothe.   


--- It was only when I was well into this memoir about my two conflicted lives that I began to search for their origins. Writing can do this: motivations can be looked at with clarity, as if from afar. What I learned was that I could not fully understand my own career motives until I was actually doing child psychotherapy, and doing it well. 


--- For a child psychologist, the search for personal fulfillment and helping others is about practicing good psychotherapy. I know this is so, but I am making it sound much more simple and easy than it was in the beginning. For a long time, I knew I wanted to make others feel better, but it was a dream without a plan. Can you actually be taught to practice good child psychotherapy? If so, can you really help children and their families and make a living doing it? 


---The possibility of creating a full-time facility devoted to better parenting seemed like the next logical career move for me. I didn’t know it at the time, but my zeal to do something about dysfunctional families had a deeper motive. I needed to prove something. I needed to prove to myself and the world that what happened long ago to sensitive kids like me didn’t have to be that way. I needed objective, scientific evidence about what goes wrong when children learn bad habits and end up with poor self-esteem. Then perhaps I could prevent this unnecessary suffering for others. With my scientific background, I felt prepared for the job. Unconsciously I must have felt that if I could not change my past, perhaps I could change the future for others. 


--- So why have I made a life of trying to provide care for unhappy children of all ages? Because they are our future and they need it the most. I also do this work because a wise teacher once instructed me to practice this ancient wisdom: “If there is something you need and don’t have, give it away”. 


--- Pema Chodren put it this way: Things fall apart, and then they come together. And they fall apart again, and then they come together again. I had a totally new idea about integration after I read Pema’s quote. If she is right, then I could have been wrong from the beginning about living two separate lives. A deeper truth might be that my personal life and my “helper” lives have always influenced each other. There have been private moments when I found peace of mind, and there have been moments when my attempts to help others have been wrecked by personal distress. Perhaps integration and disintegration are always in the background or foreground. Perhaps integration, at its best, is just a wish, or an intention. Perhaps the real goal is living in peace with uncertainty. 


--- In early 2014, the Dalai Lama agreed to be interviewed for Time magazine. The correspondent asked him ten questions, and at the end of the meeting wondered how he had been able to deal with the slaughter of so many of his people in Tibet in the Chinese invasion of 1950. She suggested that with his accumulated wisdom he must have found a way to integrate this tragedy into his personal life and teachings so he could carry on. The Dalai Lama said, “I try to take the wider view. Enlightenment is what I strive for and I have to work at it every day”. 


---BOOK 3, “THE MOCKINGBIRD” is an attempt to braid together the two strands of my competent and conflicted selves. This attempt at integration also showed me how writing about a better understanding of my true self was surprisingly richer than the help I received from my own therapies and hours of mental introspections. I am still looking for this ever-widening view of victories, defeats and existence itself that together with a loving relationship are the ultimate soothers.   


--- On a typical afternoon while walking from one village to the next on the old road, the mind-wandering philosopher, shifting his attention from compelling events in nature to timeless mental absorption, noticed an old broken-down shack off to the right of the road.  From a distance, he could see a peasant woman out front who seemed to be struggling with the hard earth to give up its potatoes. He then noticed that her old garment was ragged but clean. It seemed strange that she was softly humming and he then saw there was no struggle at all; she was just cleaning and caressing her latest discoveries. As he came closer, for a moment they made eye contact and she smiled as if she was utterly content with her life and everything in it, including strangers on the road. The thinker and worrier became seriously conflicted by what he saw and felt. The philosopher had always believed that if he learned enough and thought hard enough about everything, new compelling mysteries would always come. He loved his endless foraging for intellectual stimulation and found long ago he could accept his loneliness if he just kept thinking and moving.  But at that moment he could not escape what the potato digger had exposed in him, which was an ancient yearning for the kindness and peace of mind that she seemed to take for granted.  For the first time in his life, it occurred to him to ask: “She seems to have the lasting happiness I have always wanted, even though I do not understand it. Would I trade places if I could?”