I’m knowing to die



Ever talk to someone who knows everything? That’s a trick question because you can’t talk to someone who knows everything. People who already know everything don’t listen. Why would they? They already know. Schiller writes “knowledge is death”. I think this means the state of ‘knowing’ involves stagnation, a closing off of the curious outlook required to attune to the world around you. Knowing means there is no reason to investigate further, integrate new information or question your perspective. People who know things go through life with eyes smugly closed, applauding their own awareness while remaining disengaged and unavailable to the world around them. Knowledge is particularly devastating when we think we know each other. First of all, you can never really know a person, not even yourself. People are constantly changing, every day, every moment. You are literally not the same person you used to be, partly because your cells completely regenerate after every 7 years, and partly because your mind goes through a similar continuous metamorphosis. People who say they never change aren’t paying attention or they have numbed and suppressed themselves to the point that that changing part of the mind has simply been lulled to sleep or worse. If you know a person, you stop attuning to them, and therefore you cannot nurture them. Nurturing means a person is aware of your ever-changing needs and takes steps to accommodate your needs. This dynamic is the way we sustain the mind and the way we sustain relationships with each other and with ourselves. So the next time someone says they know you, ask them to reconsider this perspective. The people who care for and mean the most to us in life are those who continuously rediscover us every day. Taking a stance of not knowing allows us to be more open to the nuances and subtleties of the self and others, which means you can respond to needs more efficiently and quickly. My clients often come to me disturbed that they don’t know themselves. To this I say “Congratulations! Let’s bottle that and sell it. Knowing yourself is the last thing you want. Knowing others and being known by them is the fast track to empty exchanges. Always be naive to yourself and your life. Approach your life as if it is undiscovered territory, and you will see that it mostly is. This is when real change happens.”

Emotional horsepower gets a bad rep

Hombre conduciendo un automóvil sujetando un volante.

(I must credit Nietzsche for the inspiration of this article. He said “The man who moves mountains also moves valleys.” This column is my understanding of that sentiment.)

“You’re so emotional!” When people say this, it is rarely meant as a compliment, it infrequently belies a sense of confidence and high esteem. This is because the person who makes decisions guided by extreme emotions has the capacity to make costly mistakes that everyone seems to fixate upon. We hear news of impulsive, destructive and abusive behaviors that come from anger. We see people who are disabled by their anxieties, people who experience severe loss of functioning and loss of relationships as a result of grief and sadness. In the field of psychology, we are often saddled with the task of reducing emotionality in our clients.

Perhaps we haven’t been entirely fair in our perspective of emotionality. In order to look at the flipside of emotion, I must first define what emotion is. To me, emotion is horsepower, plain and simple. It is the force behind which we pursue our needs. There are tremendous benefits to having this force, because without it we would not fulfill any of our needs or goals. If you approached all of your needs with a ‘meh’ attitude, you probably wouldn’t get much done at all. If your lover was imploring you for more affection and you didn’t care, if you had an interest in embarking on a new career but felt no passion toward it, if you were dying of thirst in the desert and it didn’t move your emotional needle, your life pursuits would quickly derail.

Most of the really successful, brilliant, creative, experientially engaged and interesting people in this world are also rather mercurial by nature. Their emotionality is what allows them to build upon all their internal pursuits. So imagine some people are like Ferraris and some people are more like my 2001 Volvo POS stationwagon with car seats in the back (no offense to Volvo, they are great cars that’s why I bought one). The Ferrari has hella horsepower, the Volvo not so much. If the Ferrari is being driven carefully, it can go further faster than other vehicles (big win for the Ferrari). But if is not being driven carefully–the driver is unaware of where she is steering, the alignment is off, there’s mud all over the windshield and the like–it can crash. And when it crashes, it crashes hard. Things blow up, people run in flames from the wreckage, there’s weeping mothers in the street, etc. Now if the Volvo is misdirected, it will still crash, but it doesn’t hit with nearly as much force. It’s a fender-bender, no big deal. Perhaps the air bag goes off (Volvos are also the safest car in the world, practically death-proof). Everyone is OK when the Volvo crashes because it doesn’t go 260 mph, it only goes 40 mph top speed.

Take-home message: emotional people have more capacity to experience heavier damage that results from disruptions in the way they navigate their needs, but it is not the emotionality itself that creates the damage, it is the direction the car is going. If you are speeding down an open freeway toward a self-actualizing goal, extra horsepower is a big plus. If you are speeding toward a brick wall or a school bus filled with small children, horsepower is muy bad. So if you are a Ferrari, be extremely careful in how you drive. If you’re a Volvo, don’t congratulate yourself too much for being better than the Ferraris out there. Yes you don’t smash into things but most people going big places in life don’t get there in a Volvo.

What ails you is your mind


Frustrated medical doctor sitting on floor

Humans ought to be practically superhuman by now. We live in the most enlightened of all ages. We now have the knowledge and means by which to make ourselves as healthy as is conceivable given the parameters of our mortal status. And yet, in a lot of ways, we are as far away from being a healthy population as we ever have been in history. Despite our cultural progress, the affluence of modern Westernized society, despite our understanding the human body, we remain desperately unhealthy. Our physical suffering can be seen in the soaring utilization and cost of health care and health insurance in this country. The toll that medically-related absences take on corporations is high, we are funding social security for disabled people at a rate never seen before, even chronic illnesses in children are on the rise. This seems so counterintuitive, almost oxymoronic, when you look at how much we have advanced medical treatments and preventative courses.

What is causing this insult to all our health endeavors? In a nutshell, it’s the mind. The mind drives the body’s behaviors, it dictates the choices that influence health, and in so many cases these choices are what make us sick. I’m no medical doctor (I just play one on TV), but it seems to me that the vast majority of our physical struggles have psychological origins. We make choices and engage in behaviors that are antithetical to our health, then we seek out treatment for the inevitable result of our poor health choices. The most costly health conditions include heart ailments, cancer, diabetes, and osteoarthritis…all illnesses that have strong correlates to lifestyle. Let’s face it, we eat too much, we smoke, we do drugs, we don’t exercise, we like to eat sugar and salt despite the fact that it is bad for us, we live saturated in stress, we are obese. If there were an illness associated with watching too much porn, we would probably spend billions on that as well.

At the root of the health crisis is a psychological crisis. The $64,000 question is, “how do you get people to do what they know is right with regard to their health?” If you answered that, the majority of our health problems would dissipate, and with it the astronomical cost of health care. But our understanding of the human mind remains rather a mystery, and therefore the resolution of this downward health cycle remains elusive. Despite our wisdom about the body, our ignorance of the mind is still staring us in the face, sabotaging many of our efforts to create a healthier society. There is no system of mind like there is for the body. I believe we could create one, and this system could guide us out of the ‘dark ages’ the field of psychology seems to be stuck in. If we want to prevent illness (both physical and mental) we must develop a system of mind, a better way of understanding why people do what they do, a better way of guiding that course. If we could solve the problem of getting people to actually take care of themselves the way they need to, a huge chunk of the health care crisis and everything that comes along with it would be a thing of the past.

“Prevention” to date involves education, sometimes with a sprinkling of big brother-esque laws and limitations on the unhealthy things we have access to. We tax the hell out of cigarettes, we have drinking and drug laws, some places are even trying to ban big pops and trans fats. We took the vending machines out of schools and set stricter requirements for school lunch nutrition. We urge people to exercise. Although these are certainly positive steps, I see that we must do more. We must take a macro-level approach to psychology to see why our society particularly now is struggling so much with making good choices, when the opposite should be the case. Only when the mind and the body are acting in harmony can we truly achieve good human health, and for now, the mind is fighting us every inch.