Tag Archives: culture

Cognitive Pearl #072 Iyar 16, 5775 5 May, 15

A terribly tortured client complained about her feelings. Not a specific feeling. She simply hated the whole idea of feelings; they were inconvenient; bothersome. Not surprisingly, she was suicidally depressed, full of self hatred, and utterly confused by why she was so miserable.

There’s good news. She’s doing great now; cognitive therapy has helped her far more than all of the hospitalizations and medications. She’s come to understand that feelings are wonderful teachers and friends. Instead of repressing them she lives her life joyfully by respecting the wisdom they offer.

Her story comes to mind as I reflect on my trip (told in a previous post) to Meron. Instead of taking our car, I decided on public transportation (it was actually really nice!!). One major difference between going in a private car and public bus is that on a bus there are no bathroom breaks. Otherwise, the driver would be forced to pull over every second; tachlis, a three hour trip would take three days. So instead we must all ‘hold it in’, cutting ourselves from our the messages that our bodies tell us.

The same is true of the family which my client comes from. Many children. Harried parents. A culture which indoctrinates towards sameness and ostracizes difference. In a world like that who has time for feelings? Who has time for inconvenient truths spoken by the heart. ‘Onward!!’, she was told again. Onward towards where? To a place whose entry fee was the cruelest kind of amputation: the person from herself.

Cognitive Pearl #071 Iyar 15, 5775 4 May, 15

Be Somebody














During this Jubilee year, you shall return, each man to his property.

From this week’s portion, Behar. VaYikra 25:13

It is human nature that we collect stuff. Bags and bags of stuff, both literal and metaphorical. Books, clothes, tools, identities, debts, hurts, and resentments are just a few that crowd my home and my head. People tell us to ‘let it go’ but that’s hard. Life gets weighted down, almost impossible to navigate. We keep on doing things, not because they’re smart, but simply because of inertia and the deep attachment to symbols of the one truly universal illusion of humanity: the past. 

The Mitzvah Of Jubilee is the antidote to our despair. 

Human societies stratify themselves along the lines of ‘have’ and ‘have not’. Those who have (and you fill in the blanks: land, tenure, money, looks, yichus, job, whatever) get to rule over those who don’t have. Stratifications are quite stable; they’re multigenerational. The rich stay rich and the poor stay poor. 

This is an arrangement that, despite the few good things that can emerge from it, is terrible for humanity. Human growth requires upheaval. We are all most alive when we are improvising, changing in a dynamic environment. 

The Jubiliee and the social engineering implied by it liberates us. It breaks the economic stranglehold of social class giving the have nots a new chance and the haves peace of mind. Returning to our property is not only about returning to our ancestral land; it’s about returning to our basic selves, that pristine moment before we were kidnapped by social class and indoctrination. In so doing it compels each of us to clean out our lives, to rid ourselves of our baggage, to reclaim the only transcendent truth: we are what we are.

Because who we are is the only property that is truly ours. 

Cognitive Pearl #069 Iyar 11, 5775 20 April, 15

What You Say 






A bit of a digression.

As I write these post I’m on my way to Meron, the location of the grave of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai (you can read about him here). Hoping to skip the crowds next week (it’ll be Lag BaOmer which you can read about here), I decided to make my pilgrimage a week early. While this isn’t the place for a discussion of the mystical dimensions of this pilgrimage (and visits to the burial sites of other saints and sages) it is an opportunity to touch on culture and cognition.

Culture is universal. Wherever you find two humans you’ll find culture. Manifestations of culture are nearly infinite. My pilgrimage to the grave of a culturally designated saint is not unique; people the world over visit similar sites. And there are many other kinds of cultural pilgrimages too: cinco de mayo in Spain and Saint Patrick’s Day in Ireland come to mind. Sporting events are also cultural pilgrimages. As are festivals and annual gatherings.

So the question we need to ask is what is all of this culture about? Why do humans have his need to abandon all sense and sensibility, their jobs, their families, and the opprobrium of their normal lives and go nuts?

For me the answer begins with something I heard from Dan Siegal, a developmental psychiatrist, in an interview a few years back on Shrink Rap Radio (an excellent resource which you can find out more about here). Siegal was speaking about the mind as a process (as opposed to a thing) which regulates the flow of information within the organism and with other organisms. At one point he said something that still makes my ears ring:

Yes, I study the way energy and information flow is shared in relationships across generations. That’s what culture is!

The implications of that idea is that culture is what one generation tells another. Culture teaches ideas (we call that indoctrination) that are central to the continuation of that culture. So while pilgrimages to holy sites of every ilk fulfill our needs for belonging, entertainment, and so much more, they are primarily about absorbing the ideals of those who came before us.

And as cognitive therapists who assert that the ideas that we hold are what makes us or break us, our clients’ culture is enormously relevant.