Stephen Crippen Therapy

A blog about you (and me) by Stephen Crippen.

Archive for the ‘holidays’ Category

Laziness does not exist

Friday, January 3rd, 2014

“Maybe I’m just lazy.” “He’s just lazy.” “They’re just too lazy to do anything about their problem.” “I’m lazy today.”

I’d like to take issue with comments like that. You’d be better off if you let go of the whole concept of “laziness.” It’s a fiction. At best, it’s a fairly accurate but self-defeating way to describe yourself, or another person.

First, calling yourself “lazy” creates a practical dead-end: if you’re lazy, that’s a character flaw that you can’t really change, or at least not right away. It can be exhausting even to imagine motivating yourself when you’re laboring under the belief that you’re lazy. And your belief that your neighbor is lazy only piles your contemptuous judgment onto the problems she already has that are keeping her stuck, unproductive, or depressed.

Just let it go. Nobody’s lazy. We’re just tired mammals.

I live with two non-human mammals. When they’ve satisfied their hunger drive, emptied their bladders and bowels, and confirmed that they are relatively sheltered and safe, they just … lie around.

Humans are the only mammals (I believe) who make a connection between their daily work output and their estimation of their own value. The other mammals (in my unscientific observation) see work for what it is: the stuff they need to do to fill their belly, reproduce, and live to see another day. Humans make ultimate meaning of work and rest, labor and recreation. We (to our own displeasure) see work as valuable for its own sake.

I once knew a therapist who designed an online scheduling program (something I’m planning for 2014) so that he had one fewer administrative task to do in his private practice. “I let the internet schedule my appointments so I can play tennis, or go for a run, or hang out with my kids,” he said. Is he lazy? I think he’s just a smart mammal who doesn’t want to work when he doesn’t have to.

Do you know how tired you are? Even if you feel tired at this time of year, you may not be in touch with how exhausted you really are. Do you feel too lazy to take down the tree this weekend, or whatever it is you’re “supposed” to do? It’s not that you’re lazy. You’re just a tired mammal.

You should take a nap.


Happy New Year!

Tuesday, March 1st, 2011

Ahh, it’s March 1st. Such a lovely day. Every year I feel as if the month of February is the longest month of the year. Winter is still going in full force, it seems, and it’s been months now since we’ve really enjoyed nice weather. The light is returning, but it’s still dark during dinner, and not too light in the early mornings. And this year, there was a long cold spell at the end of February, delaying my spouse’s rose-pruning and keeping the garden dormant. Blurg.

But now it’s March 1st! In ancient Rome, so unloved were the first two months of the year that they didn’t really have names. March was thought to be the first month. Hence, “September” means “seventh month,” even though it’s the ninth on our calendar. “October” means “eighth month,” even though for us it is the tenth. Fifteen years ago, when I lived in Minneapolis (where February can be particularly cruel), a friend of mine with a doctorate in history told me this trivia about ancient Rome, and in a moment of idle speculation and late-winter whining, we thought up names for January and February. (Well, he did.) They are the months of “Malum” and “Odium,” in keeping with their awful natures.

(Maybe I shouldn’t tell the world about these somewhat dorky pastimes in my history as a nerd/geek. Ah well. I could do worse.)

So, for me, March 1st is a lot like September 1st—it’s a “little” New Year’s Day, a time in the calendar when, for the hundredth time, I can start fresh, and look forward to at least six months of mostly decent weather, lengthening days, and sweet warmth. It’s a “today is the first day of the rest of your life” kind of day. What will you do today, this New Year’s day, to live life more fully, more joyfully?

Valentine’s Day 101

Monday, February 14th, 2011

So, today’s the day. That ambivalent, complicated, frustrating day (for many people). Like Christmas and other holidays, it can be hard to feel good today when you’ve lost someone, or been dumped by someone, or have never had a Special Someone. It can be particularly hard if you thought you had a soulmate, but learned that the person you loved no longer loves you, or isn’t who you thought he/she is. Valentine’s Day is not just a day for candy hearts.

In 2009, when Valentine’s Day fell on a Saturday, I was open for business and saw several couples. (I had plenty of chocolate in the office.) I still believe couples therapy is the best Valentine’s Day gift! But if that’s too strong a potion for you, I’ll offer my reflections on the day, including my beliefs about what exactly is worthy of celebration today.

Valentine’s Day wasn’t always about romantic love. It has a history in the Christian tradition, and was sometimes a feast of “agape” love, or the kind of love one would share with God and other members of one’s spiritual community. Valentines—the greeting-cards, that is—date back centuries and slowly shifted the emphasis to romantic relationships. At this point, I think we can decide for ourselves what we think (if anything) this holiday means. And I have two answers that work for me:

1. Valentine’s Day is simply a chance to chase away the February blues with beautiful colors and rich foods. Deep-red chocolate boxes, a succulent dinner (at home: I don’t go near restaurants on this day), a chocolate-peanut cluster paired with a sweet ice wine. I accept today as simply an aesthetic respite in late winter. You could buy flowers, but it’s more sustainable—and more cheering—to take a walk and notice the small crocuses that are pushing out of the cold ground. Winter is almost over.

2. Valentine’s Day is a chance to notice, and celebrate, all of the forms of love that you experience in your life, whether it’s parental, romantic, friendship, collegial, animal-companion, or even self-love. If you feel lonesome this year, take today to reflect appreciatively about your own self, your own best qualities…and how you bring that ‘best self’ into the many relationships you have in your life. When we feel heartbroken, we can be tempted think that the person who left us took away all the love in our lives, all the delight. It really feels that way for a lot of people, particularly on February 14th. But it’s not true. Today can be a good day to tune back in to the reality of love—in all its forms—that surrounds you, even during times of painful loneliness.

And I think it’s worth saying again: chocolate-peanut clusters are really tasty. I think on this rainy Valentine’s Day, you can afford to have two!

Have the holiday you really, really want!

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

Since this is Thanksgiving week, it’s time to repost my thoughts last year about the holidays. Take some time to listen to yourself and decide what you really, really want for the coming weeks of this waning year. You only live once!

Christmas ghosts

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2009

One of my favorite center-left political journals published this article about Charles Dickens, I presume because this is the time of year when most people think about him. He wrote (of course) A Christmas Carol, a great story that has suffered the fate of popularity. There are so many versions of it—including one starring Donald Duck <groan>—that one would think it has no real cultural, let alone psychological, value.

But it’s really a great story. For this reader, Dickens captures perfectly the temporal dilemma we humans face: we are haunted by our lived past and imagined future, but also haunted by our incomplete, never-fully-savored present. The ghosts of past, present, and future are beautifully rendered to articulate this insight.

The Ghost of Christmas Past is a timeless, amorphous, mysterious figure, surrounded by light, glittering with a mysterious, shining tunic and belt. Scrooge can’t get a firm handle on what this ghost is, or what he (he?) looks like. Is he a child? Is he an old man? In my reading, this ghost resembles Scrooge’s own faulty memory, clouded by regrets, dreams, and ruminations. Scrooge’s self-centered exploration of the past is fraught with confusion, invention, and fantasy. Faced with the woeful choices he made—choices that left him alone and spiritually impoverished in his old age—Scrooge finally can endure no more of it, and begs the ghost to return him to his bedroom.

The Ghost of Christmas Present is just the guy you want at a party. He implores Scrooge to savor life, even as he scolds him for denying the richness of life (and the benefits of justice) to his clerk. This portion of the story is a hymn to the glories—and ethical implications—of living squarely in the Now.

And the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come is terror itself, terror personified, terror flinging Scrooge into his own grave. Here Dickens colorfully (and maybe with a bit too much ham) articulates the truth that to dwell on the future (or “future-trip,” to borrow a phrase from our own time) is to live in a world of swirling anxiety.

If you take time this year to watch or read A Christmas Carol, think about looking at it not as a morality play on being good to others, but a morality play on the importance of living in the Now of your life. Can you love the Now? Can you savor what you have? Can you be open to the gifts and challenges of your present moment?

Are you going to have the holiday you really want?

Thursday, December 17th, 2009

I hope it’s not too late to wish you a (truly) happy holidays. (It’s already the seventh day of Hanukkah, and You Know What is only one week away!) I touched on this in my Thanksgiving post this year, but haven’t really laid out my thoughts about the holidays.

I have a few.

I want everyone to have the holiday they really, really want. Not the one they really want, but the one they really, really want. Here’s what I mean. Let’s say you really want a holiday where nobody fights, nobody is offended, and nothing in your personal life blows up. Okay. I understand that. So you go to your cousin’s house for Christmas even though you’ve barely spoken to her all year, or you pretend that you didn’t break up because they really liked your partner and would ask all kinds of questions, or you deny that someone important has died because it’s just too painful. Or you just give up and skip the holidays because you see suffering all around you and feel hopeless about it. These kinds of holidays are enjoyed (?) by all kinds of people every year.

But why not go for the gold this year? It would be hard, I know, but it would be worth it. Decline your cousin’s invitation. Let her know you appreciate the offer, but you’re going to go to Hawaii for Christmas like you’ve always wanted, and hope she understands. (She won’t, but go anyway.) It would be even harder to decline her invitation and offer no reason whatsoever, but that is good manners—invitees are not required to divulge the reason for their regrets—and it’s good practice for building a new, healthier relationship with your cousin.

Or tell your family that you broke up with your ex, their beloved friend. Tell them you don’t want to talk about it, you appreciate their concern, and you really want to enjoy the holiday as best you can. When they come up to you later to ask about it, say kindly but firmly that you really don’t want to talk about it, you appreciate their concern, and you really want to enjoy the holiday as best you can. And when they come up to you again to ask about it, say kindly but firmly that…well, you get the idea. You’ll be training yourself and your family to learn healthy ways to handle awkward or upsetting information without ruining a celebration.

Or take the holiday to remember the person who has died. Put up pictures and light candles. Tell stories or (better yet) do a small ritual that acknowledges the painful absence, and also the bright presence of the person’s memory. The holidays will be darker, but also more honest, and celebration can sometimes be like that. Look at it as a more solemn holiday than you’re accustomed to. But it’s not a “downer” or a drag.

Or volunteer to work at a homeless shelter or the humane society over the holidays. Instead of despairing about all the human (and animal) suffering around you, do something about it and use the opportunity to connect with someone you don’t know. And wear a Santa hat, just to be dorky and silly.

I offer all of this because I really love the holidays, and really wince when I see people (including myself) not enjoying them to the fullest. So I mean it deeply and earnestly when I say to you, “Happy Holidays!”

Thanksgiving 101

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009

So. Here we go again. Thanksgiving, then the blur of the holiday season. I confess I like the holidays, mostly because I’ve figured out how to celebrate them in a way that works for me. Take, for instance, Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. You won’t find me camped out at 3:00 a.m., ready to trample the crowds just to get a new gizmo on discount. But I do like to take the bus into downtown Seattle and soak up all the energy. All the lights, the red coffee cups (yeah, I know they’re out already), the crush of music and crowds, the star on the Macy’s building. I’m a sucker for it all. (And I know how to hold my wallet close!)

As for Thanksgiving, other than being a lot more sensitive about animal rights than I used to be, I plan to celebrate it the usual way. But there’s one thing about Thanksgiving that usually leaves me cold: the part where people go around the table and say what they’re thankful for. I just don’t get into that very much.

It’s not that I’m not thankful. I really am. It’s just that it feels so forced, and so unnatural, to stop for two minutes on the fourth Thursday in November and remember that you didn’t create all the good things in your life by yourself, that there are other people to thank, or God or the universe to thank, for the gifts and glories in your life. If I wasn’t in tune with that over the course of the past year, then a little table talk is not going to resonate very deeply with me.

Here’s a better way: on Thanksgiving, take time to reflect on the way your whole life has been open to the gifts and grace of others. You know there have been some bad moments, or bad days, when you were decidedly not thankful, not open. But surely there have been moments over the last year when you’ve been oriented outward. For example, you could reflect on how you’ve grown and changed in your relationship over the past year, and how the two of you have made so much progress in your lives together. Or you could reflect on how, when you suffered a big loss this year, not only did your family and friends rally around you, but you had something to offer them too. Or—just to take one more example—you could reflect on the gift of new life you’ve received, whether it’s a child, or a pet, or a new job, or (fill in the blank), and how, in response to that gift, you have opened yourself up to receive this gift with grace.

If you approach Thanksgiving this way, it’s a lot more satisfying then the traditional method of “Oh, right. How easily I forget. Thanks!” Instead, it’s a way for you to celebrate how you already have been living in a spirit of thankfulness. And it allows you to gracefully accept the thanks of others for the gifts you’ve given them over the past year.

On Thanksgiving, ask yourself this question: how have I lived a thankful life, with an open mind and open heart, over the past year?

And then dig into the stuffing.

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Stephen Crippen
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