I'm a good Midwestern/North kid. But, I was nobody in the world of religious studies, American sociology of religion, spirituality, and the like, no one even knew the book, or I, existed. I was first, yes, but a nobody, nonethelss. No sales. No money. No notoriety. Nuthin'.Read More
"People reveal their character in patterns. They reveal their secrets in anomalies. And both are driven by fear. Name the fear and you've named the person." -- Sven ErlandsonRead More
Of course, I now tuck that phrase quite perfectly into the Swedish-Minnesotan piety in which I long stewed that believes there are no greater crimes against humanity than A) Immodesty, and B) Imposing on anyone for anything, ever, for any reason whatsoever.Read More
The long term effect of constantly trying to direct your child is that the teen/young adult is then forever looking for external sources of guidance -- parent, spouse, boss, friend -- rather than trusting his or her own inner voice. The effect is that other people wield an enormous amount of influence over the young person, even as they progress further into adulthood. That sense of dependency not only grows, but an inner weakness grows with it.Read More
What if the NFL's single greatest champion -- the one whom the Superbowl trophy is named after! -- was wrong? What if the greatest truth of life and success went counter to everything every young athlete were ever taught? What if?Read More
"Change will not occur, until the pain gets bad enough." For it is only pain that has the power to force a change in your core belief system. The old belief system -- about life, about yourself, about people, about God/deity, about family, about what is important, about the world, etc -- has to become so confining, so painful, so suffocating, so debilitating as to drive the person away from it, as to give the person the courage to both cut it away and pursue something new and terrifyingly unknown.Read More
Far too common nowadays is the parental practice of befriending the child. It is a total “friends with benefits” situation, not sexually, but soul-wise/emotionally. So many parents nowadays LONG FOR a parental-child friendship, because they long for someone who gives a sh*t about them, the parent. The effect of mom's ACTIONS, regardless of what other words of support are coming out of mom's mouth, is that the child grows up believing he/she doesn't matter, because something else or someone else matters more. And there is no message more guaranteed to bring long term damage than that one. By engaging in parental-oversharing, which is the natural by-product of parent-child friendships, the parent is effectively raping the child's soul, and the world is clapping.
The only way to get to the place of letting go of what society is pressuring you to want is to go through the pain of realizing that what everyone and everything external to you wants for you no longer feels good, and that you no longer have interest in pursuing it. But, setting that aside, not that you really can (or assuming you are on your real path that is most authentic to who you really are), the real way to get to the place of power that is living in the pursuing/not-pursuing tension is to ultimately be okay with never having that which you are convinced you most want.Read More
The single biggest mistake most people make in trying to get happy is that they do more things that make them happy. In fact, that is only half the battle. It's the easy part! What needs to happen before that is far more difficult.Read More
Pt. 2: Long-distance Relationships, Control, and Fear: Making Relationships Great: An Article for Men
It does you no good to be all macho and hardcore, pretending like you’re tough and nothing bothers you, because it’s a lie. And the more controlling and jealous you are, the more you reveal just how terrified you are. For, jealousy equals fear; always, always, always.Read More
Long-Distance Relationships, Control, and Fear (Part 1): The Truth Behind Cheating; An Article for Men
The very thing the man was most trying to avoid -- his girlfriend cheating -- by having his girlfriend spend less time around other men and around her friends is the very thing that he basically creates by cutting her off from her sources of joy. By reducing her positive sources of happiness he drives his girlfriend to find maladaptive, non-constructive sources of happiness.Read More
“If what you are following, however, is your own true adventure, if it is something appropriate to your deep spiritual need or readiness, then magical guides will appear to help you. If you say, 'Everyone’s going on this trip this year, and I’m going too,' then no guides will appear. Your adventure has to be coming right out of your own interior. If you are ready for it, then doors will open where there were no doors before, and where there would not be doors for anyone else. And you must have courage. It’s the call to adventure, which means there is no security, no rules.”
Joseph Campbell, from "A Joseph Campbell Companion: Reflections on the Art of Living"
...of course, the wonder of it all and the endless tedium of those who drone on and on about ‘untreated depression’, “I’ll be there for you if you’re considering suicide”, and all the other overwrought blather.
I mean, we’ve all thought about it, at one time or another...Read More
It is one of life’s ugliest, yet most beautiful paradoxes: creation and destruction are forever inextricably dancing; pain and joy live in the same breath; blessings and curses can never be extricated from their mad embrace. We, it seems, need only have the eyes to see, need only have the courage to look into the eye of the beast that afflicts us in any given moment or period of life.Read More
I don’t buy it. In fact, I think it’s a bullshit excuse. So, with that said, you know where I stand on the issue. Now, let me tell you the issue and why I think it’s near-total crap.
I’m not going to take up the whole tech-loathing-because-gadgets-undermine-human-connection conversation from the beginning. Rather, I’ll take it mid-stream because the whole thing has started to bore me. We’ve all heard it. And, quite likely, all of us see it and have some measure of agreement that incessant internet access fractures hopes of connecting with people. Parents of tweeners, crotchety old people (which more of my generation seem to be becoming) who need to lament the demise of American values, and even young adults longing for more human connection all see it – as much as we love tech, it’s killing parts of us, both individually and collectively.
So, taking that awareness we all have of the problem, I’ll say simply that I don’t buy it. I don’t believe that is the problem. Or, more accurately, I don’t believe that increased tech, increased access to the internet, and cooler apps, games, and HBO/Netflix shows are the real reason we’re connecting less – to people, to nature, or to street signs telling us when not to cross.
In my last book, I Steal Wives: A Serial Adulterer Reveals the Real Reasons More and More ‘Happily Married’ Women are Cheating,** I spent a full chapter discussing how tech makes marital infidelity much easier today. No longer does an unhappy wife have to contact two old friends to find out what happened to that cute guy from English Lit class in high school, not to mention then go to the public library to leaf through the white pages for Albuquerque before calling his house there, only to hear a woman’s voice on the other end. Nah, as we all know, it just takes typing the 11 letters of his name into Facebook, LinkedIn, or Google. A bit of scrolling, then – click – there he is. And, no worries of a missus answering (unless he’s one of those guys who shares his account with said missus) an innocuous enough note.
So simple. So accessible. Cheating proliferates because of the mere accessibility of possible partners and the ease of continuing the illicit behavior without detection.
However, the mistake would be made in asserting that the increase in tech and accessibility cause cheating. They facilitate it, but the underlying unhappiness and fear – which, parenthetically, generally pre-date the marriage/relationship, itself – are what drive infidelity.
Underlying the Tech Problem
The real effect of tech is that it acts as a new virus on an already weakened human-social immune system. This, then, begs the rather obvious question, What the hell is the real problem, if it’s not the tech and accessibility?
And, as always, the solution is not that difficult to unearth if you know where to look and have eyes to see the real shit.
Just ask yourself one basic question. It’s not the cure-all question, but it gets us in the ballpark. What do you do when you’re at Starbucks, after you’ve ordered, and waiting for your drink? Or, for church-going folk, perhaps while you’re standing in line to exit the sanctuary at the end of service? Or, when you’re standing on the platform waiting for the subway? Or any line anywhere, or anytime people are around?
You look at your phone, right?
Well, I’ll tell you why I do it, sometimes. Cuz I feel like a fucking idiot for just standing there with nothing to do. I fear people are looking at me and thinking, “What’s wrong with that douche, just standing there? Doesn’t he have anything to do? (Doesn’t he have a phone to look at?)”
The incessant and generally unnecessary glances at the cellphone are invariably and inextricably linked to fear. We fear what others may think when they look at us. And so, to both distract our minds from that fear AND appear like we actually do have something urgent to do, we start flipping through email, texts, or banal Facebook posts….ANYTHING to keep the fear at bay.
And so, about now, I could start a rant on how we all need to stop giving a shit what people think of us. And that’d be a damn good rant. I’ve made it before and will make it again in the future. We all need a whole lot more of not giving a shit what others think. (And, I’m not immune to telling you I’m absolutely fucking convinced that your life will be a whole lot better the more you put the pinch on that very fear.)
But, no, the problem on this one goes a whole lot deeper (and this is why I call my work ‘spiritual’ counseling, because it goes down to the very core issues driving the behaviors of life). On the surface it presents as the same problem teachers and parents addressed in us, back in junior high: Stop caring what other people think (as if those same parents and teachers were doing so in their lives).
It cuts to a couple of issues, each deeper than the last.
See, to a very large degree, the fear is not just of what people think, but below that is the fear of simply standing there, still, doing literally nothing. For ‘doing nothing’ is terrifying. We don’t know what to do when we’re doing nothing, not just with our bodies and our time, but with our minds. What am I supposed to do with my mind when I’m not doing something?
We have a society that is afraid to be still. For, once you do that, once you quiet the body, you are confronted face-to-face with a mind that seemingly cannot stop: ‘What are people thinking’, ‘Where are my hands’ , ‘Does my makeup look shitty’, ‘How do my arms look’, ‘What is my daughter/son doing right now’, ‘When will this line be done’, ‘I hate this shit’, not to mention ‘I should talk to someone around me, but if I do, they’ll think I’m stupid or will reject me.’
And that’s only the beginning.
See, once we really sloooooow down and even stop (God forbid!), all the real shit of life comes washing over us like a wave we are powerless to avoid. The fears, the past resentments, the feelings, the thoughts about family members and friends, the insecurities, the embarrassments.
And every little line, every incidence of being around people, and every little moment of ‘not doing’ stirs up the fears, which are undergirded by the grand fear of the real shit of your life – your past and all the beliefs about self that grow out of those tapes from the past.
As discussed in another chapter in the book, we (especially women, today) so venerate doing and busyness, as if it’s some grand virtue, because we so fear quietness, calm, and the tidal wave of fears, insecurities, and feelings that overwhelm us when we do slow down. Queerly, the very thing many people claim to want – peace – is the very thing those same people fear most.
This sheer terror of the silence, the calm, is what breeds all manner of maladaptive behaviors, from infidelity to gambling, from over-imbibing to over-exercising, from working too much to, yes, even over-parenting. It’s that mad desire to stay in motion, either bodily or mentally, but preferably both.
And what stills that busy mind is both an ongoing confrontation with and address of all that afflicts it, which is often a long process (though one there are definitely short-cuts for), as well as a deeper variation of a sort of “who gives a shit” mantra. See, at the core of all fear, uncertainty, insecurity, and maladaptive behaviors is a question – a choice between fear and trust. The fear is always that, for whatever reason, I won’t be okay. Thus, the trust that must be chosen is that I will, in fact, be okay, no matter what happens. And, really, the surest way to come to that sense of trust in near-inevitable okayness is the experience of going through hell enough times to realize that you always come out the other side. Yeah, it sucks going through hell, but eventually the other side always comes.
But below that choice is the question of whether or not you suck.
I know that may sound odd, but every insecurity, every moment of fear – whether in the Starbucks line or in an elevator with people you don’t know – has at its root the very real belief that you suck. You are absolutely terrified that all the shit slung at you in junior high or on the playground in elementary school, or by your siblings or parent(s) even to this day, is actually true and that people see it, somehow, when they’re standing there looking at you waiting for your latte. The terror is that you really do suck and that people see it.
THAT, believe it or not, is the reason you’re inanely looking at your phone when you really have no reason or desire to. It’s not the fear of looking stupid, it’s the fear of your deepest fear being confirmed.
And rather than actually get deliberate about life and address your core debilitating beliefs, which is inevitably spiritual (but not religious) work, you keep running….and keep looking at the damn phone.
The problem isn’t the tech or the internet or Apple’s clever shit.
The problem is your sheer terror of looking at who you really are and what is really driving your life.
And, on one hand, there’s nothing wrong with that. Fuck, it’s your life; you can live it however you want to live it. But, don’t start blaming computers for the world’s problems, and stop complaining that you’re so damn busy and can’t seem to catch a breath. Stop complaining that your body can’t keep up with your busy life. (And don't even get me started on how caffeine plays right into this busyness obsession.) Stop.
Because it’s all just a ruse. It’s all a cover for the real truth. And the truth is that you’re scared of your truth, scared of the silence, scared of the not-doing, scared of just being.
Further, whether you believe it or not, your true happiness and lasting inner peace are intricately tied to the fears underlying this incessant busyness. If you refuse to slow down and actually begin to look at your life and live deliberately, you will, as a matter of absolute fact, continue to be eluded by happiness.
The only way to still the mind and find lasting peace and happiness is to begin by stilling the external life…and start looking at the stuff that keeps you running, in the first place.
And that, my little friends, is the real scary shit of life, but it’s also where the gold is.
Got the courage?
Though the book, I Steal Wives, is about infidelity, the insights and wisdom in it have powerfully changed the lives even of people who do not struggle with infidelity.
The real success is in sticking your heart out there and loving, and choosing to NOT live in fear. For, again, all of life, every decision boils down to that fundamental choice: fear versus trust. It's not even fear versus love, really. We all feel the love and want to express it; it's our natural state. But what keeps us hamstrung, what keeps us from expressing that love is that we fear getting hurt. More specifically, we fear that we won't be okay, that the pain will be too great, that we just explode or die from the pain.Read More
I had a once-in-a-lifetime experience, yesterday...
Was sitting outside one of my Starbucks, here in Stamford, just outside of NYC, yesterday, doing my morning journaling to a bit of Led Zeppelin in my ears, when an older fellow came out of the shop with his cane and his coffee in hand. There were no other seats available, so I offered the second seat at my table. I had seen this gentleman the day before and had nodded when he and his wife got up to leave and walked by me, thus it was only right to offer him a place to sit today.
He accepted, and we spent a few minutes chatting, which was somewhat strained, because he had a thick accent. Well, to jump to the conclusion, he and I sat and talked for over an hour and his wife joined us, at one point, after she had done her morning walking. This man, Harry Weinruth, who was celebrating his 87th birthday, WAS A HOLOCAUST SURVIVOR. He revealed it in the first five minutes of talking. This, of course, immediately caused me to pull out my earbuds and offer him my full attention.
Now, technically, this was not a once-in-a-lifetime for me. Once prior, while pastoring a church in California and having a joint Passover/Easter service with a nearby synagogue, I met a very old woman who had been in a camp and even showed me the numbers burned into her arm from her time there. Additionally, while working in L.A. many years ago for a high-end caterer, I worked a few events for the SHOAH Foundation (committed to preserving the stories of all Holocaust survivors on film or other media), including Steven Spielberg's annual fundraisers, at which I was the server for Spielberg's table (which afforded me some fascinating stories, not the least of which is one that gave me great respect for the actor Mike Myers) and served survivors.
But yesterday's conversation was unusual for its length and for the fact that Harry and his wife, Luba, were most forthcoming. Harry, who had moved to Germany after the war, at the age of 18, and had apprenticed outside of Munich for five years with a watchmaker there, then moved to the U.S. and had lived in Stamford, CT, for some 60+ years. And this 87 year-old was absolutely adamant in telling me that if anyone said they had problems, they should come and talk to him. For every day of his life, he has been a happy man, even though every day of his life he has had the memory of one night, 75 years ago, when he lost his entire family -- mother, father, and five siblings.
I did not ask him about that night, in particular, but he told me that his father had been a successful jeweler in a city in Poland near the Germany border, and in one night they lost everything and he lost them. All dead in one night. Boom. Done. Life as he knew it was done, gone, in one night. Everything. Gone.
Think about that, for a minute. These aren't just stories; this was a man's life, a man who was sitting across a table from me drinking his Starbucks, a man who at one point wiped his lips after taking a sip and part of his napkin stuck to his lip when he pulled his hand away, as it might on any of us. A man like any one of us, yet a man who had been to hell and lived it for six years....and a lifetime since.
Hmmmm. Powerful, powerful stuff.
I asked which concentration camp he was in. He said many, including Buchenwald and Dachau. And in the camps, at ages 12-18, he became an expert at stealing potatoes, sneaking out each night to do so. "Would you keep the potato for yourself, or share it," I asked.
"Share it! Everything was shared. Then as now, we are all in it together. We must share to live," he insisted.
I would like to tell you everything he told me, for I got no impression whatsoever that his story was private, but was one he was intent to pass on to as many as he could with what years he has left, but there was too much to share here. However, I must say, he was insistent that we each must kiss the ground of this country we live in. He said, "Sven, people have no idea -- NO IDEA -- how lucky, JUST PLAIN LUCKY they are to live in this country. We have everything. We are safe. Every day I am happy. I am the happiest man alive. If you know people with problems, send them to me. They have no idea."
I asked him and his wife, whose family had moved from Poland to Russia at the start of the war, and had thus survived, if it is possible to be happy after experiencing hell on earth, such as he had. His response echoed the words of Joseph Campbell, the great thinker and writer, who said that both the challenge and the goal is to live joyfully amid the sorrows of the world. Harry said that every single day he remembers and lives with the sorrow; it never goes away. Yet, every day he is happy. He is alive; the sun shines; his wife is by his side; he has good kids and grandkids (who are now in their thirties). He says he cannot complain. "What can I complain about??? I am here simply by the grace of God. Yes, I am happy, Sven, the happiest man alive. I do not hate anyone, not the gays, the blacks, the Muslims. No one. We are all made of the same stuff. We are all nothing. How can I hate someone who is just like me. We all die. We all must live and realize how lucky we are."
And that led to this question, "So, you believe in God, Harry? And what is your relationship with God?"
"Well, Sven, many do not believe in God. But I found, after the camps, that the ones who did not believe in God went a little crazy or lost their minds. No, there is no explanation for why God allows such things as what I lived through. But I believe in God and go to synagogue every week. I am not fanatical, but yes I do believe."
And one final question, "Harry and Luba, I recall the writings by Rabbi Harold Kushner on the book of Ecclesiastes. He said that all of life for all people of all lands in all times boils down to four simple things: the desire for good people, good work, good food, and good drink. Based on your experience of having walked through hell itself, are Kushner and Ecclesiastes right? Is this the secret to happiness?"
He went on to answer: Sven, there is nothing else. Yes, Kushner was absolutely right. It is the memory of the sorrows that makes the day so much sweeter. The people, the coffee, the work ("I would rise at 4am every day for 60 years to run my watchmaking store just down the street."), and so on.
Yes, he said, we are each so lucky to be alive. For that alone is happiness. "Count your blessings every day, Sven. And if you meet anyone who thinks they have problems, send them to me, Harry. I will tell them they have no idea."