Archive for the ‘Articles’ Category

Now why would a psychologist want to write about Adam and Eve?  Well, because it is a story that is known to just about everyone in the Western world.  “Mankind’s fall” and “original sin” are an integral part of Christianity and have been recurring themes for  around two millennia, in religious thought, art and folklore.  Who does not know the story of how Eve tempted Adam with the apple, resulting in the pair of them being cast out in disgrace from the garden of Eden? 

Everybody knows, the reason for the fall,

When woman tempted man down in Paradise’s hall

                                                                                                                                                 (Manfred Mann – Fox on the Run.)

This story has played a fundamental part in the formation of the Western Christian psyche and has resulted in an enduring misogyny, guilt, persecution and cruelty.  Right through to today, we can  see this story being repeated afresh, even in books for children. 

And, just about everything I have ever read about it is WRONG!!

(By the way – misogyny means hatred/dislike of women, not hatred/dislike of gynecology.)

In the beginning:

When I was a lad in school, there were a number of rather churchy girls in our classes.  My mates and I (brats that we were,) delighted in teasing them and debating derisively with them about their beliefs.  Until, one day, being a fairly bright young fellow, it dawned on me that I was arguing on a topic that I actually knew nothing about.  (“So what’s changed?,” asks my beloved.)

In those days, in Henderson, West Auckland, there was an old junk shop, where there is nowadays a parking lot.  This shop was filled with all sorts of fascinating clutter and was presided over by a crusty, grumpy, gnomic old fellow, who would chase us out of the place if he figured (quite rightly) that we were not going to buy anything.  On a shelf behind the counter, there was a stack of old bibles.  One evening, I bought one.  It cost me 10 shillings (about $1  in today’s money – but two hours work then) so this must have been in 1966, as we changed to decimal currency in 1967.  I have it still.  It is the King James version, with no date of publication that I can see, but there is a hand written note on the fly-leaf stating that it was presented by Ralph to “Dear Mary,” his sister, who was leaving Melbourne  for New Zealand in 1874.

On arriving home, I started reading at the beginning – Genesis.  I was stunned!  Seldom before had I read such words of simplicity, power and beauty: My favourite, most evocative lines, from the very beginning:

1:1  In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth

1:2.  And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness

was on the face of the deep .  And the spirit of God moved

upon the face of the waters.

I read the first three chapters of Genesis.  And I have returned to read them many times over the years.  What a wonderful story.  But even then, at the age of 16 or so, my thought was: This is not an account of mankind’s fall, or of any sort of sin, original or otherwise.  This is the story of mankind’s ascent, of how we  became human and it is told in a wonderfully allegorical form, which was never meant to be taken literally.  Let me explain:

The Garden of Eden

Think for a moment about animals living in the wild.  Don’t they live in a “Garden of Eden?”  All their requirements are right there.  Their shelter is right there.  They have no need of clothing.  Their food is “the plant and herb of the field” – and often enough each other.  In this garden of Eden, the lion truly does lie down with the lamb.  And tomorrow he will lie down with another one!  Animals don’t really know death, or life for that matter.  They come into being, they do what they do and at the end of their lives (either from old age, disease, or being lunched on by something bigger and faster,) they just stop.  The rest of the herd may show a moment of consternation, but then moves on looking for the next meal. 

Would you like to live in a Garden of Eden?  I sure wouldn’t.  Those first two or three chapters of Genesis don’t actually say it was a nice place.  Besides, I like my comfortable, warm, safe house. I like quality music on a good sound system, I like the occasional glass of red wine, good dentistry, comfortable underwear and food that doesn’t fight back.  I certainly don’t fancy dying screaming as I become something else’s food. 


So, we have the situation where God (whatever/whoever we believe God to be) created the earth more or less instantly over a period of many millions of years.  (Time doesn’t have any meaning if there is no-one there to measure it.)

Now, if you will, picture the scene:  A group of Adams and Eves, proto-humans, living an animal like existence, browse their way across the Savannah, foraging for whatever they can eat and with a wary eye out for large and hungry predators. 

Gen: II, 16: And the Lord God commanded the man, saying,

of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat:

17:  But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil

thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou

eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.  (My emphasis.)

(Yes I know this was before God created Eve from Adam’s rib – don’t be picky!)

Note that it was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil – not an apple tree.  Now what does it take to know good and to know evil?  It takes conceptual thinking surely?  (Conceptual thinking is the ability to think in concepts.  Good and evil are concepts and the ability to think this way requires not only a degree of intelligence, but also a sense of “I-ness” or self-identity.)

The Fall (or was it?)

So the group of Adams and Eves are sometimes happily and most times warily foraging away, when all of a sudden (see note on time above) Eve begins to think in concepts: “I like that – that is good.”  “I don’t like that – that is bad.”  She thereby reaches out, (with a little prompting from the serpent) takes and eats the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  She takes a step up the evolutionary pathway to truly human.  In that instant, the garden of Eden is gone from Mankind forever.  She begins to know good and evil.  And, once you shake that tree, all sorts of things start dropping out:  love, hate, cruelty, kindness, jealousy, greed, revenge, awareness of life and of death – and what happens after death.   And then there was Adam.

(Sigh – the gals got one up on us here guys.  Could that be the source of all that misogyny over the centuries?    But can’t you just picture the scene:

Eve:      “Adam, love, I think that log would look better over the other side of the cave and how about taking that pile of bones off down the hill, they’re starting to pong.  Oh and while you are at it, what about some art-work on the walls.  A few running animals and the like?”

Adam:      “Huh?”

Eve:          “Come on Adam, do a bit of evolving here. You’ve been sitting on you butt for 200,000 years.  Wake up, get with the tour, smell the coffee!”

Adam:      “Coffee!  Pizza!  Fishing!  Beer!  Television!  Way to go babe!”

Eve:          “Oh God, what have I started?”)

So, having discovered conceptual thinking,

III : 7  … the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked;

 and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.

(Just in passing, if you are inclined to take all this sort of thing literally, doesn’t the notion of a talking serpent seem just a teensy bit strange?  And, in case you are inclined to say nasty, evil serpent, take a look at Matthew 10 : 16  “Behold I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents and harmless as doves.”  Hmm!  The serpent can symbolise wisdom – isn’t that interesting?) 

Anyway, back to my theme, then comes God, walking in the garden in the cool of the day (and presumably pretending that he is not omniscient.)  He calls for Adam, Where art thou?  Adam and Eve, exercising their new-found conceptual thinking, have hidden from him, ashamed that they were naked.

Ah-ha, says God (Gen III : 11)  Who told thee that thou wast naked?

(Adam, of course, catches on to this conceptual thinking lark rather quickly, especially to notions of responsibility (denial of) and blame and when put on the spot by God, dumps Eve right in it:  III : 12 : “The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree and I did eat.” )  And then, according to traditional interpretations, the fertilizer hits the atmospheric recirculator for Adam and Eve. 

But hold on a moment!  Have a read of that chapter and tell me where it says that God was angry.  True, the serpent gets his butt kicked (and his legs ripped off,  – III : 14)  but where does it say that He was angry with Adam and Eve?  Yes, yes, yes, I can see all the fingers pointing to III : 16 (I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children … etc.)  And III : 17, to Adam, (… cursed is the ground for your sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life.) 

But isn’t God here depicted as talking with A&E rather like a father who has seen his children grow beyond their childhood and begin to move towards adulthood?  And to warn them of the trials, tribulations and dangers out there.  How many of us, who are loving parents, watching their children grow, have not experienced that moment:

My child, my beautiful child,

You have left your childhood forever,

You can never return

You are entering the world, with all it’s beauties and wonders

And all it’s cruelties, sorrows and suffering

You will long to return to your childhood – even on your death-bed

But you cannot.  The path leads ever forward.

And the clincher is, III : 21

Unto Adam, and also to his wife, did the Lord God make coats of skins, and clothed them.

Hardly the actions of an enraged deity, disowning his creations and chucking them out in the street, is it?

So Adam and Eve walked out (figuratively speaking) of the garden of Eden, as they absolutely had to, in order to begin the journey of human social and spiritual evolution.  The story told in Genesis is then, is an account of Mankind’s ascent, it should be seen as a triumph, an ode to joy, not some crabbed and nasty fall into sin. 

(Just in passing, compare what I have written above, to the First Noble Truth of Buddhism: that much of life is pain and suffering.  We struggle throughout our life against all sorts of vicissitudes and tribulations, we inevitably age, sicken and die.  The Buddha went on to reveal the Eightfold Noble Path, to assist his followers to attain freedom from the cycles of pain and suffering.)

Yes I am aware that Genesis is part of the Jewish scriptures and is not Christian as such.  It has, however been appropriated and incorporated into Christianity, where it was given it’s negative spin.  My impression is that Judaism has been much more inclined to view the story as symbolic and to interpret it in many different ways.  (For more on this see Karen Armstrong – The Bible, the Biography, reviewed on this site.)

III : 23 :  Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from

the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken.

24:  So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the

garden of Eden Cherubims and a flaming sword which

turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.

Cherubim #1:  “It’s my turn to hold the flaming sword.  You’ve held it since 4004 BC*.  I never get to hold it, it’s not fair.”

Cherubim #2:  “Oh, here – go for it.  Sorry. I didn’t realise.  Tell the truth, the thing creeps me out a bit, turning this way and that.  Like it’s looking for something it can lop off.”

Cherubim #1:  “Let’s face it – they aren’t coming back.  We haven’t seen hide not hair of them for millennia.  They’re out there begetting and begatting like rabbits, building, fighting, partying, fiddling their taxes.  I don’t think they actually want to come back – apart from a few fundamentalists, and they’re a few scrolls short of a revelation, I can tell you. “

Cherubim #2: “God, I hate this job.” 

*  In 1650, Irish Archbishop James Ussher, after counting backwards through all the begetting and begatting, (he really should have got out more) published his conclusions that the world was created on Sunday, October 23rd, 4004BC, beginning at sunset of the 22nd.   He didn’t actually put a time on it, as popular notion has it, but some of his contemporaries seem to have – eg 9:00am, or 3:00pm (presumably GMT.)



Read Full Post »

It comes on with little or no warning – a tightness in the chest perhaps, a churning feeling in the abdomen…  Within minutes you are gasping for breath, your heart is pounding, you are struggling to breathe, sweating, shaking, dizzy and faint.  Your chest feels like it is about to burst, you are terrified that you are about to die, your pulse rate has taken off like a rocket, everyone is staring at you.

Eventually it passes off, leaving you feeling weak, sick and exhausted for hours, sometimes for days.  You are terrified that it will happen again, but know that it probably will.

Panic attack.

Panic attack, or panic disorder affects around 1% to 2% of the population, (or so I’m told, that seems a bit high to me, frankly but …)  They usually begin during teenage years, or early 20’s and women are about twice as likely to be affected as men.

These are my tips and strategies for managing panic attacks:

1.  A principle:

The principle I usually suggest to panic attack sufferers is this:  Gain a little control, even if it is only a very little bit of control.  Once this is established, the attacks don’t seem quite as fearsome and from a small beginning you can establish greater degrees of control until you can diminish the attacks to zero.

2.  It won’t kill you!

In the midst of an attack, it is all too easy to believe that you are about to die.  The attacks are terrifying and you feel your heart is about to burst or you will suffocate.  But you have survived each attack (or you wouldn’t be here!) and you will survive the next one.  People don’t die from panic attacks.  Even knowing this, is a small amount of control – “I am not going to die from this.”

3.  It will pass.

Hard to remind yourself of this in the midst of an attack, but again, as with #2 above, they do pass, (otherwise you would be in a permanent state of panic attack.)    Have a look at my post on this site – This Too Will Pass.  Begin to remind yourself – it won’t kill me; it will pass, I will survive.  A little more control.

4.  Manage your thoughts (self-talk.)

Have a look at my post on this site: Managing Unhelpful Thoughts.  Our internal dialogue (self talk) is very powerful.  If you have the sort of self-talk that goes: “Oh God, here I go again. I can’t stand this, I’m losing control, I’m going crazy, I can’t breath, I’m going to die, everyone is staring at me ….” then you are setting yourself up to make a bad experience so much worse.  If by contrast, you are able to say to yourself something like: “Bugger it, another panic attack, OK, I will survive it, it will pass off, come on get it over with, I can manage it, who gives a **** if anyone is watching me …” then you are much more likely to maintain an edge of control and feel better about yourself for doing so.  Become more aware of unhelpful thinking and incorporate positive management strategies into your daily life.

5.  Breathe!

Sometimes panicky feelings can be caused by poor breathing.  Either gasping too much air, or breathing too shallowly and too fast, alters the chemical composition of our blood, causing dizziness, nausea, chest pains and the like.  Learning to breathe properly can avert this.  Have a look at the information here on Hyperventilation Syndrome.  Have a look also at this information on Yoga Breathing, which is a good form of breathing to learn and cultivate.  When you have learned to breathe well and steadily, incorporate it into your daily routines.  Take the time to remind yourself, until breathing properly becomes a habit.

6.  Mindfulness/Meditation

Have a look at my post on this site: Calmness Through Mindfulness.  Meditation is very similar to mindfulness, but with a somewhat different focus and purpose.  An excellent on-line book on meditation is Mindfulness in Plain English, by Henepola Gunaratana.

Many people who suffer from anxiety and panic attacks spend much of their time locked into unpleasant memories of the past, or imagining an unpleasant future, or away in a fantasy world imagining unpleasant things that might happen.  Well, as Mark Twain famously said: “I’ve had a lot of problems in my life, most of which never happened.”

Mindfulness and meditation are means of bringing our mind into the present and keeping it there.  They are also means of developing states of calmness, both physical and mental, maintaining that calmness through times of trouble and stress and discerning what is real from what is imaginary.  A very pertinent feature of mindfulness is the realisation that any sort of thought can come up in our mind, but we don’t have to accept it as real, or react to it. 

Here again, is the development of control.  If we can be aware of and manage what is happening in our mind, we develop insight and calmness and our thoughts and our body-reactions are much less likely to spin out of control.

7.  Relaxation

This is closely allied to mindfulness/meditation.  Being able to physically relax gives us control of body and mind and alters our systemic levels of harmful stress chemicals such as cortisol.

There are all sorts of relaxation methods: listening to music (thrash metal, death metal and rap not recommended!) Tai Chi, Progressive Muscle Relaxation, to name a few.  My own method is to take a good full yoga breath, hold it for a few seconds, then imagine the tension in my body being breathed out.  I mentally move my awareness through my body, breathing out tension, moving my awareness finally to my face, lips and eyes, making sometimes subtle movements of small muscles that take away an amazing amount of tightness.

8.  Traumas and triggers.

There is a high association between trauma and panic disorder.  Sexual, physical, emotional abuse, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, often contribute to the triggering of a panic attack.  Other people, however have attacks that are not related to trauma.  Sometimes a particular situation, or memory is enough to trigger an attack.  Going to a supermarket, where there are crowds of people, for example, is quite common in setting off an attack for some people.

If you know your specific trigger, a procedure called systematic desensitization  may help.  The idea is that you slowly expose yourself to increasing amounts of the situation you find stressful until you can manage it without freaking out.  The key is start small and go slowly!  I recently saw someone who had a tremendous fear of (injection) needles.  I started with “I could go down-stairs and get a syringe – how do you feel about that?”  We spent quite some time dealing with feelings, emotions, physical reactions, self-talk and getting everything under control.  Then, with my client’s permission, I went down-stairs and got a syringe.  Coming back, I said, “It’s in my pocket.  How do you feel?  Same procedure.  Then I put it on the far corner of the desk.  How do you feel?  Eventually, they were comfortable touching it, taking the cap off, looking at the business end etc.  Slowly, respectfully, carefully, dealing completely with what came up at each stage.  It works.

(I am very wary of a technique called flooding.  As the name might suggest this consists of surrounding the person with the stimulus they find scary, flooding them with it until they simply get used to it and stop freaking.  I think this is potentially harmful for serious problems.  Besides, I’ve worked with guys in the prisons who could pull my arms off if I annoyed them!) 

You may well need professional help for traumas.  If you see a counsellor or psychologist, do make sure that they are actively working with you on your problem and giving you strategies and insights.  Fairly recently I have seen two people who spent years in vague, waffly, hand patting “therapy,” costing thousands of dollars and leaving them no better at the end of it than when they started. 

9.  Co-opt your existing skills.

Often, the people I see have very good skills, the principles of which they could make use of to assist in managing their panic attacks.  One man was the driver of big rigs.  He could drive the largest of trucks calmly and competently through the worst of road or traffic situations,  I suggested to him that he take these skills and apply their principles to the management of his anxiety/panic.  He found that he could practically and usefully do so.  So can you! 

10.  Medication.

Medication can be very helpful, but beware, it can also be the proverbial double edged sword.  It is also clear to me that a medication that one person may find helpful, may be of little use to another person and may even make the problem worse.  Consult with your medical adviser and listen to what your mind/body is telling you.


      Tricyclic anti-depressants (TCI’s).    Examples: Amitriptyline, Nortriptyline.  These have been around for a long time and are said to be helpful.  I don’t see a lot of evidence, mainly, I think because they are not so often used nowadays.  They have quite a few side effects and are dangerous in overdose.

      The Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitors, (SSRI”S)  Examples: Prozac, Citalopram, Aropax etc.  These have less side effects and are not so dangerous in overdose.  They can be helpful.  Note, however that some side effects can make the problem worse.  If you take them, monitor what is happening for you.  Most anti-depressants don’t begin to have a full effect until you have been taking them for three to four weeks. (NB – mixing TCI’s and SSRI’s can be very dangerous.) 

The newer generation meds in this family, the selective serotonin/ noradrenaline (norepinephrine) re-uptake inhibitors such as Effexor/Venlafaxine also seem to be helpful

      Benzodiazepines.  Examples: Valium (diazepam) Clonazepam, Lorazepam, Oxazepam, Alprazolam etc etc.  There are dozens of them.  Some of these will deal with anxiety/panic, right enough, but beware – they are addictive.  They can produce a nasty addiction which can be very hard to shake.  The ideal nowadays is that they should not be used for longer than about a fortnight, but they are often (in my sometimes less than humble opinion) prescribed much too readily and for too long.

      Alcohol, Cannabis, Opiates.  Using these to manage anxiety/panic is asking for trouble.  If you have problems with these substances, seek professional advice. 

So, medication can be helpful, but my suggestion is to use medication in conjunction with the sort of psychological strategies that I have been outlining above, so that you can eventually either minimise your reliance on meds, or eliminate them entirely. 

End notes:

I re-state my principle outlined above:  Gain some control, even if it is a little bit, then expand that control as your confidence grows until it overtakes and manages the panic disorder.

Here is another principle:  Don’t wait until you are having an attack before trying to work with these strategies – that will not be particularly effective.  The very time you need to implement these techniques is when you are feeling OK.  Developing calmness, developing control, exploring your own body/mind connection, learning to turn down the stresses before they get out of control is the essence of prevention. 

Remember the rabbit from Alice in Wonderland?

“I’m late, I’m late for a very important date.  No time to say hello, goodbye, I’m late, I’m late, I’m late.  I’m late, I’m late and when I wave, I lose the time I save…….”

Slow down, bunny. Breathe. Be calm. Relax.  Smell the flowers.  They’ll wait for you!

Read Full Post »

 Over a period of many years, I have seen a substantial number of people who have had dreadful life experiences.  I have met those who, even from very early childhood, have been beaten (sometimes savagely and with objects,) sexually abused, neglected, emotionally abused.  Many have witnessed violence, been forced to fight and have been raised in families where violence and drug abuse were the norm.  Others have been kidnapped, raped abandoned, or otherwise traumatized.  Often, abusiveness has been perpetrated by the very people who were supposed to have been caregivers.

The outcomes for these individuals have been a variety of psychological conditions, ranging from anxiety disorders, panic attacks, depression, suicidal feelings, self-harm, drug abuse and addiction, feelings of worthlessness and helplessness, self-loathing, sexual dysfunction and self-esteem that is virtually non-existent.  Many feel totally alienated from ‘normal’ people.

It would be fair to say that most people I see who fall into this category have very poor concepts of self and seriously distorted views of life’s meaning and purpose.

Often, after I have completed an assessment, I invite the person I am talking with, to consider the following, in the context of their life experiences:

First, I draw pictures of two babies:






(Actually, I can’t draw anywhere near that well and can only manage stick figures, but no-one has laughed at me so far and I’m trying to be a little professional here!)

Then I say: Here we have two babies, born at the same time.  You could say that these babies have been created by God and are thus entirely equal. Or, if you are not into God, here are two babies, born of the substance of creation, however that happened and, in terms of value, worthiness, etc., are entirely equal.

Let’s look at the first baby, who grows to have the following life experiences:








I point out that when people have messages of this sort put upon them, eventually they come to believe that they are true and they become the messages.  They become sad, unhappy people with lousy self-esteem, who often view themselves as deserving of all the dreadful things that have happened to them and deserving of all the disadvantages that have been heaped on them. 

Next, consider baby #2, who grows up with the following life experiences:








This child also grows up to “become the message,” to reflect the life experiences that he/she received.  Unlike child #1, however the outcome is much more likely to be someone with sound self-esteem, who is confident, can relate positively to others, who believes that they are worthwhile and who is psychologically robust and resilient. 

This, roughly speaking, as a big part of the process by which we grow up to become the person we are and how we develop the self-identity which we wear through our lives.  For baby #1 the outcomes have been dire. 

I then return to the image we constructed of baby #1:








I point out that these dreadful messages are not the real you.  These are only the messages and life experiences that others have put upon you and which, by and large, you have come to identify as you.  In fact they are the twisted and disturbed projections of other people’s problems, which they had no right to dump onto you.

Where, then, is the real you?






Remember at the beginning, I drew images of two identical babies.  Here is an indication of the real you – a creation of God, (or a part of however creation was created,) and thus equal in worth or value to anyone else. 

Once you are able to recognise that the identity that others have put upon you is just that – something false and toxic that other have dumped you with, then you can set about changing it.

(OK, the development of the identity of baby #2 has largely been influenced by others too, but this has been loving, caring and nurturing – who would seek to change that?)

Sometimes, what I have outlined above, is all that people need.  Wow, they say, – I’ve never thought of it that way before – and off they go with a copy of the drawings and begin the process of turning their life around.  Usually, though, it takes a bit more than that.

I usually suggest that people spend some time looking at the images of themselves that they have, over time, come to believe are true, then decide which parts of these they want to keep and which they want to discard.  (Not everyone’s life experience is uniformly bad, or uniformly good for that matter.)  Then, I assist them in the process of discovering and acknowledging those qualities of self that are valuable, worthy, stable and meaningful.  This can be hard work for someone who has been conditioned over many years to believe the worst about themselves and to discount any worthwhile qualities they have. 

One young man, who had had a dreadfully abusive early life, was struggling to believe anything good about himself.  Eventually, knowing that he was the father of a young boy, I asked him if he would treat his son the way he had been treated at that age.  He sat bolt upright – “NO!” he almost shouted, “NEVER!”  In that instant, he realized that he was a strong and loving parent, who cared deeply for his child and had broken a destructive and crippling cycle of abuse.

I suggest to my clients that they spend time at home, constructing a list of their good and worthwhile qualities.  Perhaps they are kind, care about others, are good parents, have an artistic talent, are keen to better themselves, care for a pet, assist at a community agency, etc. etc.  Each time they become aware of a quality, they are to write it down on their list and put it on a home notice board, or stick it to their fridge and look at it frequently, to remind themselves of who they really are and who they are steadily becoming. 

Once this process is started, it continues.  Plant a garden, (weed out the unhelpful thoughts occasionally) and soon it will flower and flourish.

Read Full Post »

This is a follow-up post to Positive Parenting, on this site.

The smacking debate in New Zealand continues to rage.  A few days ago, one of our Sunday newspapers ran an article on the issue.  I spluttered indignantly into my morning coffee as I read a quote from some pro-smacking character to the effect that:

“Children are not little bundles of innocence:  they are little bundles of depravity and can develop into unrestrained agents of evil unless trained and disciplined.  Selfishness, violence, lying, cheating, stealing and other such manifestations of rebellion are just the child unpacking some of this sinful foolishness from the vast store in his heart.”

I had a certain opinion on this, the politest words of which were: Who the …… was the ….. who said that?

“Ah,” says my wife (the historian) nonchalantly, “that’s from the bible.”

“The wha..?” I replied eloquently.

She disappeared off into the chaos she calls her office and emerged a short time later with a reference to a lecture she hosted recently.  “Here it is,” says she, “Psalm 51:5.”

Muttering darkly, I sifted through my book-case for my old bible, purchased for ten shillings in 1966 (approx. $1 then) and which contains a hand written dedication dated 1874 – (more about that at some future time.)  Straining my aging eyes at the tiny print I read Psalm 51:5.  In fact, I read the whole psalm, then looked up a commentary on in on the net.  51:5 reads:

“Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.”

What!? Is that it?  Here we have David grumbling because his mum seems to have been a bit of a good-time girl, how does that translate into little bundles of depravity?  Well, I suppose shapen in iniquity would be a bit on the bratty side, but hang about, read a little further:

55:7 says:”Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.” 

Well, if that’s all it takes, the iniquity can’t have been all that foul.  A spot of sacred herb and a bit of a scrub-up wouldn’t work on some of the characters I’ve come across, believe you me!  I took a turn around the garden.  Hmm, no Hyssop.  I wonder if Rosemary would do the trick – got plenty of that.

OK, the pro biff yer kids types also cite Proverbs 22:15.  Back to the fine print:

“Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.”

Ouch! That seems pretty cut and dried doesn’t it?  But, hang on, take a look at this excellent post from a thinking Christian parent.  Ah-ha!  So the rod of correction is for guidance,  not something to beat the crap out of your kid with.  Interesting what you find when you actually read what is there, rather than pluck items out of context, isn’t it?

Also quoted in support of clout your kids is Jeremiah 17:9:

“The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked: who can know it?”

I read the whole chapter  (oh dear, much more of that and I’d have been howling at the moon – where’s the prozac?) – it doesn’t seem to be about children at all, but rather Jeremiah having a good old kvetch about some place called Judah.  And all so very gloomy and pessimistic – but isn’t that how he got his name? (!)

I hold the view that children are sacred.  This does not mean that children do not need guidance and discipline.  It does not mean that children are incapable of behaving badly.  Nor does it mean that positive parenting is an easy way, or a laissez-faire affair.  Fleeting fantasies about joining an axe murderers empathy club are par for the course, as is chronic anxiety disorder, hypervigilance, several conditions that the American Psychiatric Association hasn’t come to grips with yet and reaction times that would make a striking cobra seem languid by comparison.  I’m sure we’ve all seen those little signs on cars: “Baby On Board.”  I saw one that said “Sleep Deprived Hormonally Unbalanced Mother On Board.”  I drove very carefully around that one. 

The point of this rant is that if you view your child as a little bundle of depravity and an unrestrained agent of evil, guess what you are going to see in your child?  And guess how you are likely to wind up treating him/her? (And guess how he/she will behave!)


If you have a view of your child as sacred, guess what you will see in your child?

A little bundle of iniquity who’ll block the loo with 600 metres of toilet paper the moment your back is turned that’s what!  Aaargh – where’s that rod? –  (I need it to unblock the loo!)

And finally, for those who are tempted to take scriptures too literally:  (This has been around in various forms for quite a while, but is still pretty good.)

“I do need some advice  regarding some  elements of God’s Laws and how to follow them:

1. Leviticus 25:44 states that I may possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can’t I own Canadians?  (In our part of the world this would be Australians.  New Zealanders would love to have Australians as slaves, and vice versa of course.)

2. I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her? She is 6 years old, healthy, and very smart. She doesn’t want to be a slave, so that might be a problem.

3. I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanness – Lev.15: 19 24. The problem is how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.

4. When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord – Lev.1:9. The problem is, my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?

5. I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2. clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself, or should I ask the police to do it?

6. A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination – Lev. 11:10, it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don’t agree. Can you settle this? Are there ‘degrees’ of abomination?

7. Lev.21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear contact lenses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle-room here?

8. Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though Lev. 19 expressly forbids this: How should they die?

9. I know from Lev. 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?

10. My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev.19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? Lev.24:10-16. Couldn’t we just burn them at a private family affair, like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Lev. 20:14)

Thank you again for reminding us that God’s word is eternal and unchanging.”

Very Truly Yours,



Read Full Post »

I am the proud Grandfather of a little girl who is two and a half years old (at the time of writing.)  A couple of months ago, she had a big upsurge in language acquisition.  Word, words, words – a whole new crop every day.  And she only needs to hear a word once, even quite complex words,  to repeat them.  (Hmm… in that case, there are quite a few words that need to be dropped from Grand-Dad’s vocabulary, very quickly thank you!!) And hard on the heels of word acquisition came sentences – whole sentences that make sense, convey quite complex information and, by and large are grammatically correct.  (There is a sensitive period for grammar in child development.) 

She is also showing a blossoming enthusiasm for exploration of experiences and ideas.  She is into everything, she wants to be involved in everything and she wants to do as much as she can for herself.  In this, she fairly sparkles with self-confidence, assertion and determination.  If she wants to struggle with something by herself, she will firmly rebuff any attempts to help her and readily speaks up to tell us what she wants.  She will also ask for help and ask for a hug if that is what she feels she needs.

I am fascinated to watch this development of enthusiasm, assertion, confidence and determination.  Fascinating too, to contemplate this in the context of my daughter’s (and her husband’s) decision to foster and enhance these qualities in the context of positive parenting. 

What are some of the principles of positive parenting?

      – holding and cuddling

      – not leaving a child to cry or become distressed

      – not leaving a child to cry (scream) herself/himself to sleep

      – providing comfort when the child requires it

      – co-sleeping, or having the child sleep in the same room

      – no smacking (hitting)

      – no intimidation or shaming

      – the use of positive methods of discipline

      – treating the child with the respect that we would expect from others

According to John Bowlby, one of the earlier attachment theorists and researchers, the ideal of a parent-child relationship is the development of a healthy self concept in the context of the relationshp with the child’s parent(s).  

          Self                                                 Parent/Other

        Competent                                       Available

        Valued                                             Responsive

        Worthy                                             Nurturing

        Cherished                                         Affirming

 It requires little imagination to see that a healthy self-concept, as nurtured and developed interactively with parents can then generalise to healthy concepts of self in relation to others.   

Some people, particularly new parents, are confused and troubled, however about certain aspects of this approach, particularly in the face of some “expert” advice.  Whilst we can all agree that children need love and care, we can hear advice relating to babies such as: “Well you have to establish a routine, you know, or they will run you ragged.”  Or, “They will have you on, you know,” etc.

There is confusion too because of the many messages and practices that have been ingrained into our culture (and indeed our collective unconscious) regarding the “correct” ways of rearing children.  How often did we (have we) heard maxims such as:

      Children should be seen and not heard

      Speak when you are spoken to

      Don’t talk back

      Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about

      And , of course, the old tried and true favourite: Spare the rod and spoil the child

Remember the line from the old Cat Stevens Father and Son song: “From the moment I could talk, I was ordered to listen…”  Unfortunately that is the growing up experience of many children.

Often I have seen psychological insecurities beginning at a very early age and these accumulate as the child grows older.  Then, of course, the child comes into contact with other similarly blemished children in the school (or pre-school) systems where unpleasantness and suppressed aggression is acted out, compounding the problems that have already been established – and often enough traumatising the kids who have been raised in positive homes. 

Feelings on all of this can run deep and strong.  Recently, in New Zealand we have had “Anti-Smacking” legislation passed; it is now an offence to hit children.  The reason for this is unfortunately all too obvious: our beautiful country has an appalling history of child abuse and child battering; children have been hit far too often and far too badly.  I have spent much of my working life helping people get over the down-stream effects of this.  There has been a storm of protest at this legislation from people who want to retain the right to hit children, with much tub-thumping and doom-saying.  We are told that unless parents retain the right to discipline with a “loving smack” (isn’t that a wonderful oxymoron!!) then civilisation as we know it will come crashing down as little tyrants run rampant and embark on lives of crime.  Oh yeah  – and the sky will fall.  (I exaggerate only a little – the latest development is that a petition to parliament has forced a referendum which is to be held shortly.) 

Hitting children is the obvious end of the abuse scale (well … to me it is anyway.)  There is, however, a continuum of abusiveness (much, if not most of it, unintended and some of it indeed perpetrated in the name of good practice) so that the societal norm has taken on the appearance of normal – which to a significant extent it ain’t.

Philosopher Ken Wilber puts forward the notion that some ideas evolve into human consciousness when the conditions are right for them to do so and they are subsequently incorporated into our culture.  He maintains that prior to their appearance, (or evolution,) these ideas were simply not conceivable because of the prevailing cultural structures of the time.  He gives the example of feminism, which prior to 1792, was an idea that had not entered our consciousness (and, according to Ken W, could not.)  (Mary Wollstonecraft published “A Vindication Of the Rights of Women in 1792.)  I can think of several other examples: the awareness of racism and the notion that we are entitled to select our own marriage partner are two that spring to mind.  And, of course there is the idea and practice of positive parenting.

This, in my (sometimes less than humble) view is an idea that has evolved, has made progression into our consciousness and continues to do so with increasing rapidity.  We have pretty well got over the notion that children are property, or commodities to be used, abused and disposed of as we see fit – we have child labour laws and don’t send them down mine-shafts or up chimneys nowadays.  (Yes, I know there are lots of countries that still do exploit children.)  There are significant numbers of parents who are moving on further, however and are challenging the (often questionable, or downright shonky) opinions of child rearing “experts” and challenging the practices of bygone years – what psychologist Alice Miller calls poisonous pedagogy.

The internet is proving to be a wonderful resource for those of us who wish to be positive parents, with articles, blog sites and support contacts.  Positive parenting is not necessarily and easy task and it is often made more difficult when new parents have to resist the (often subtle) advice, admonitions, criticisms of family, friends, acquaintances and the weight of a body of professional opinion that is firmly entrenched in Old World Order. 

When I see my Grand-Daughter, at once so robust and so fragile, I can see the rapid development of a psychologically secure personality with a healthy concept of self and self in relation to others.  Positive parenting brings positive psychological development, which actually isn’t surprising when you think about it!

If you would like to know more about positive parenting, the following are good resources (click on the link for access) :

      – Attachment Parenting International

      – My daughters sites: Parenting Baby to Sleep and Children Need Love

      – PhD in Parenting, which has excellent information on positive discipline, among other things.

      – The Sears site

Read Full Post »

A while ago, I watched a psychic show on television.  Psychics have always fascinated me.  I do understand that many, if not most of them are unmitigated frauds, but I do keep an open mind and I figure that if I am going to be sceptical, then I should really be prepared to apply scepticism to my (our) own perceptions of reality too!

Anyway, this fellow, (lets call him Mr F.) with his lovely English accent, was conducting a question and answer session with his audience in Auckland’s town hall.  In the audience, was a rather sad looking young woman, who asked about contacting her father, who had died about twelve months previously.  After a little back and forth, Mr F said something along the lines of:

 “When people die, it is not really they who die, they go off to a better place.  All too often, it is us who die – because we stop living.  We are consumed by grief, dwell on thoughts of the person who has departed and stop doing the things that we previously found enjoyable in life.”

Mr F suggested that the departed person would find this very hurtful and distressing, and his advice to this young woman was that she do the things that her father would have enjoyed seeing her do, that she talk with him about her hopes, dreams and achievements and that she live her life joyfully in the way that her father would have wanted her to. 

Now whatever you may think of psychics, (and I’ve been to one of this chap’s shows and think he really is pulling our legs – mostly anyway,) when I heard this I thought – what wonderfully compassionate advice!  How often would psychologists and counsellors think to put it like this?  And I have related this story to a number of people I have met, who have been suffering under a burden of grief.

I usually add to this, when I am dealing with someone who has unresolved grief, by saying something like:  “If your (mother/father/whoever has departed) were here in the room with us and could speak to you, what would they be saying to you?  Would they say – “Well, what I want you to do is paralyse your life with grief for my sake, spend all your time feeling miserable, sink into depression, do harmful things to yourself and stop having a life.”  How likely would that be?  Isn’t it much more likely that they would say – “I want you to honour my memory.  I want you to keep me alive in your heart and in your mind.  But I want you to move on, live your life with joy and happiness, achieve your potential, knowing that I am always with you.  Damaging your life with grief is not honouring my memory.””

To honour someone who has passed on, we must honour ourselves.  Honouring ourselves is not selfish – our loved ones are a part of us, as we are a part of them.  Caring for ourselves is a statement of respect for ourselves and others, which endures through time and from generation to generation. 

If we are able to view our grief and sadness in this way, we are able to move on in our lives, we find that those who have departed come to occupy happy places in our memories and become resources in our day to day living. 

Read Full Post »

Graham was devastated.  His world had fallen apart, his life was shattered.  His beloved son Matt, only 20 years old, had been killed in a car accident.  I saw Graham at home – given the state that he was in, there was no way I wanted him to be driving on the roads.  Matt had been a wonderful young man, bright, cheerful, hard working, a keen sportsman, a friend to everyone and now he was gone. 

Over the days and weeks that followed Matt’s passing, Graham experienced a downward plunge:

     Shock and horror


         Panic and fear

           Pleading for release and self-sacrifice





                     Despair and indifference to his own life

After the initial horrific shock of learning of the accident – every parent’s nightmare come true, Graham found it difficult to believe that Matt had really gone.  He kept expecting to wake from a particularly horrible nightmare to find that Matt was really OK.  He had bouts of stricken terror and horror each time he realised that there was no turning back the clock.  He made fervent offers to whatever power watches over us, that he die in Matt’s stead – anything, if only Matt could be restored to life.  He felt helpless and stricken each time he realised that this was only wishful thinking.

From time to time Graham experienced feelings of anger and he was on the receiving end of anger from others.  He felt angry at the unfairness of a young life cut short, anger at his own impotence, even anger at Matt for dying and this, of course made him feel even worse.  Graham was the target of anger from his wife and other family.  He was accused of allowing Matt to have the powerful car that they had worked on together and in which Matt had died.  His marriage became decidedly shaky. 

As the days turned into weeks, Graham felt depressed and guilty, he felt he now had nothing left to live for.

When I first saw Graham, there was little I could do, other than be there for him as a compassionate and understanding outsider.  We talked, he cried, I listened.  I understood that the downwards plunge outlined above is the “normal” grief reaction, though for him, or for anyone going through something like this, it feels anything but normal – his world was truly shattered.  As gently as I could, I outlined the grief process to him, drawing it out on a piece of paper and affirming his feelings.  I offered the suggestion that this would pass in time, but that was something he could only see as the vaguest of hopes.  His wife and other children were having similar reactions and were also receiving counselling.

Initially, Graham could not bear to think, or talk about Matt, could not look at his photograph and could not bring himself to do anything with Matt’s possessions.  Eventually, however he began to talk about Matt, the things they did together, the hopes they had had for the future.  During the course of our conversation, I discovered that Graham had been particularly close to his Grandparents, who had passed on some time ago.  They had a fond place in his memory and he had warm images of them.  One day I suggested to him that he do a visual exercise, taking Matt from the lifeless state that he last remembered him and placing him in that happy memory place with his Grandparents.  I suggested that as he did this, that he see Matt returning to the wonderful alive and vibrant young man that he was, with all the qualities that he admired and loved.  I suggested to Graham that these qualities could live on in his memory in the same way as the memories of his Grandparents were always with him and I invited him to see those memories extending into his future.  Graham was able to smile a little through his tears. 

On another occasion, I spoke with Graham about Thich Nhat Hahn’s  wonderful book No Death No Fear.  In this book, the venerable Hanh likens the human condition to a wave on the ocean.  A wave is “born” from the water, it grows to maturity when it reaches its peak, and it “dies” when it breaks on the shore.  Yet before the wave was “born” it was water, when it reaches its peak of maturity, it is water, and when it “dies” it is water.  So too, says Hahn, with us – there is no birth, there is no death.  As expounded in this book, I invited Graham to consider that Matt had never left – that he could be seen in the trees, in the flowers, in the birds, in the land, in Graham himself, that he would always be there and always be a part of him and his family.  Graham found these images helpful

Eventually Graham reached a turning point.  He accepted the reality of Matt’s passing, he was able to look back on memories of Matt, with sadness, yes, but also with fondness and warmth and without the paralysing grief of those initial horrendous days.  He reappraised his own life and decided to continue with some of the projects that he and Matt had worked on.  Graham and his wife repaired their relationship and moved on, incorporating Matt’s passing into their future together. 

The outline above is an account of a common course of grief.  People experience this in different ways and at different times and at different intensities and it is a process that can and does occur not just because of the loss of a loved family member, but for other unhappy events such as the loss of a job, loss of ability through sickness, or even the death of a loved pet.   

Grief is a process that we should not attempt to rush, or find a quick “cure” for.  It is not an illness.  Western society tends to have a discomfort with death and loss – it is often something to “get over and done with” as quickly as possible, then carry on.  Doing this, however can short circuit the grieving process and leave wounds that do not heal normally.  I have often seen people who have been unable to adequately grieve at the time of a loss and have been “stuck” in grief, sometimes for years.

I often think that our Maori people manage the death of a loved one much better than does European society.  At a Maori funeral, or Tangi, the body typically lies in state for several days.  There are speeches and songs, prayers, remembrances and food.  At the end of this time, the body is buried, preferably in the land of the person’s birth.  The person who has passed on is seen as taking their place amongst the honoured ancestors.  This process gives the family the opportunity to pass through the grief process, with no one feeling left out, embarrassed or discomfited. 

This purpose is served, or course by the ritual of our funerals.  Funeral ceremonies mark the transition from life to whatever awaits us beyond life and they give us the opportunity to realise that at some time or another, the grief process touches us all.  All things pass, including each of us and life moves on.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »