Thursday, May 29, 2014

Clippers vs Mavericks

Clippers vs.

I remember very little from high school biology classes except how badly I
wanted to not be there. There is, however, one image that has stayed in mind since that time 18 years or so ago. It is the image of the cell wall of a leaf. I even remember my teacher telling us about how the cell wall has to be able to take in the good, nutritious stuff like sunlight and carbon dioxide and let out the waste products of photosynthesis and respiration. Not only do they have to let in and let out but they also have to be able to block bad stuff from coming in.

Our bodies are similar. Let in the good, let out the bad and don’t allow entry to anything toxic.
Life is a balance.

Health is a balance too, both physical and mental health require balance.

At one point some genius recommended that people in mourning for the loss of a loved one should be prescribed antidepressants so they don’t feel the pain.

Not good. That’s an example of being out of balance. Just because a feeling is unpleasant does not mean it is unimportant. In case you should feel like arguing I will point out the value of the pain of being burnt. Even though it is unpleasant it also just stopped you from melting your hand to the stovetop.

Most therapists (including myself) agree that a general definition of good mental health is the ability to experience a range of emotions without being taken over (for too long) by any of them. Note that I did not write that the definition of good mental health is perpetual happiness, it’s not.

If you feel like you did not understand the last few paragraphs about balance then read them again. They are supremely important and this concept of balance is the basis of this blogletter and others to follow.

What’s the difference between Donald Sterling and Mark Cuban?

It’s certainly not looks. They’re both pretty ugly in their own special ways.

Let’s take a brief look at what they said:
                The Don: "It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you're associating with black people", and, "You can sleep with [black people]. You can bring them in, you can do whatever you want", but "the little I ask you is ... not to bring them to my games." (Wikipedia)
                The Cuban: “I know I’m prejudiced and I know I’m bigoted in a lot of different ways,” he said. “If I see a black kid in a hoodie on my side of the street, I’ll move to the other side of the street. If I see a white guy with a shaved head and tattoos, I’ll move back to the other side of the street. None of us have pure thoughts; we all live in glass houses.” (The Washington Post)

One of the major differences that we see here can be summed in a popular therapist buzzword: mindfulness. Mindfulness has a few different connotations but has been defined by some as the ability to think about your thoughts.

Mark Cuban is able to think about what he’s thinking and even make a judgment about it by saying “we all live in glass houses”. Donald Sterling just doesn’t want black people at his games. He doesn’t show any insight in to that thought and he doesn’t make any judgments of his thoughts he just puts them out there.

I’ve never met Mr. Cuban nor did he agree to be interviewed for this blogletter (I didn’t even ask him). So I don’t know his actual intent but I’m going to interpret his words for you anyway:

(Close your eyes and imagine Mark Cuban’s slightly odd voice speaking the following paragraph)
"There is always a balance, extremes are rarely (if ever) healthy. My balance is my recognition that I have some racist tendencies on one side of the great scale and on the other side of the scale is my full intention to not hurt anyone because of those racist tendencies. I am aware of what I do and don’t like and won’t apologize for that awareness. Nor will I make believe that I see everyone equally without bias but I will be sure to try to stay aware and use that awareness to make myself a better person both for myself and for my relationships."

In sum, this author (me) comes out on the side of the Mavericks. Mark Cuban shows his willingness to consider his beliefs and to own his preferences and his fears which is something we could all benefit from. Mr. Cuban also seems to show his reticence about moving toward extremes.

The great Jewish sage and mystic, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, once said: “the whole world is a narrow bridge and the main thing is to never be afraid.”

I urge you, dear reader to the ultimately brave thing and consider those places in your life that you are out of balance or have fallen. What are you ignoring? What do you need to do to get back in balance or back on the bridge? Who can help you do that?

Your friends and family can certainly help you. And so can I. Just give me a call @ 303-803-4832.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Self Love

Late Wednesday evening I was sitting in a de-icing truck in the middle of Denver International Airport. We sat listening to the radio as one flight after another requested permission to taxi to the runway. We watched the airplanes rolling by and saw the passenger silhouettes in the windows as they settled back to be carried to points across the globe.
Photo Credit: Ari Hoffman
At times like that, in the safety of the small truck cab it is not uncommon for us to wax philosophic.
“Friends, love, and trust, are all very fluid concepts”, my truck mate opines.
I inhale the smell of rain and jet fuel from the open window and reply, “yes, I agree”.
So much said in so few words. I like it like that.

Here are a couple ideas about love:

As we discussed last week, self love is a prerequisite to loving someone else. Notice I didn’t say that narcissism is a prerequisite, just self love.

How do we define love in general? As my truck mate pointed out, it’s a fluid concept. So there are probably a number of definitions. One of my favorites comes from the Hebrew word for love, ahava. The root of that word is the word hav which means to give.

If I love you, I give of myself to you, physically, spiritually, emotionally. I am present to be there for you. I want you to have the best and I want to be the one to give it to you.

 How about if I love me? Same thing. I work on giving myself the best thing for me. This does not mean that I give myself the best cut of meat, the nicest car, or the tastiest spicy Cheetos. This means that I seek out opportunities for me to grow, to be a better person and to increase my quality of life.

How can I possibly know how to love someone else if I haven’t taken the time to love myself? This doesn’t mean that you should become a hermit until you figure out how to love yourself. It does, however, mean that you should watch your relationships improve as you dedicate more energy in to improving yourself.

I wanted to write about this topic after considering the verse from Leviticus mentioned in last week’s blogletter, “you should love your friend like yourself.” I thought to myself, “Ari, if you treated your friends like you treat yourself, you wouldn’t have any friends!” I can be quite hard on myself sometimes so I will extend a lesson that I’ve learned but need to review regularly:

A large part of loving yourself is recognizing your humanity and your inherent fallibility. Be gentle to yourself in your successes and your failures and you will certainly find yourself being more gentle with the people and world around you.

Finally, look at beautiful things and allow yourself to bask in that beauty, if only momentarily. Take 30 seconds and focus on that beautiful thing. Try to allow other thoughts to pass through and go out but focus on the beauty. Just try 30 seconds. I believe in you.


Friday, May 2, 2014

Love. Like you love yourself.

I am going to tell you a little something about love.

As many of you know, in the Jewish tradition we read a section of the Old Testament in the synagogue every week. The Old Testament is divided up in portions so that we finish the entire book every year.

Photo by
Last week we read a momentous sentence, one that most of my dear readers have probably heard in some form or other before.

In Leviticus 19:18 it says, “love your friend as yourself”. Listen in Hebrew

You could translate it like that but it would not be much of a grammatical stretch in Hebrew if you read it slightly differently:
“you will love your friend like you love yourself”

 So maybe it’s a commandment or maybe it’s sage advice: You want to love someone? Learn how to love yourself.

Learning to love yourself is a prerequisite for learning how to love others.

Stay tuned next week for how to love yourself.
Very sincerely,
Ari Hoffman MA, LPC

Do you have something related to personal growth, parenting, or relationships you want to read more about? Let me know. I’m happy to take requests.