Books I’m Reading – Unbroken

Thanks to an amazing article at artofmanliness.com, I reserved Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand and started up my first biography in a long time. I haven’t been able to put it down.

The subtitle to this brilliantly written book about Louie Zamperini is, “A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption,” and this couldn’t be a more accurate description. Zamperini’s story is almost too fantastic to be true (which is probably why Angelina Jolie is making itinto a movie). Zamperini went from a devious troublemaker in New York, to an Olympic runner in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, setting world records and well on his way to being the first man to run the mile in under four minutes.

“Yet a part of you still believes you can fight and survive no matter what your mind knows. It’s not so strange. Where there’s still life, there’s still hope. What happens is up to God.”

He was drafted as a bombardier in WWII to fly in the South Pacific and was stranded in a raft for 47 days after his plane was shot down. During this time, he and his raft mate were harassed by sharks daily and shot at by Japanese airplanes, only to be captured and held as a POW by the Japanese. His story is incredible and such an inspiration for perseverance and clarity of focus.

Being controlled by “shoulds” we lose sight of how we really feel

“We are less aware of the harm done our feelings by these pervasive shoulds than of other damage inflicted by them. Yet it is actually the heaviest price we pay for trying to mold ourselves into perfection. Feelings are the most alive part of ourselves; if they are put under a dictatorial regime, a profound uncertainty is created in our essential being which must affect adversely our relations to everything inside and outside ourselves.” Karen Horney, Neurosis and Human Growth

How I changed my name in residency

2014-07-03 12.04.30When I started this last year, I was faced quite painfully with many of the forgotten and unexpressed emotions that I had for such a long time resisted. I was a boy once with dreams, an imagination, an innocence, and a carefree-ness.

I began to believe things, one way or another, about myself. Things that were not true. Things that made that boy “grow up.”

Shame, guilt, competence, fitting in, having the right answers, not getting caught… these were things that I didn’t know or care anything about. But I began to believe things, one way or another, about myself. Things that were not true. Things that

2014-07-03 12.08.28made that boy “grow up” and push down feelings of loneliness, sadness, anger, and confusion. My supervisor told me one day, “Nate, I want to know that little boy’s name.” For a long time, I just called him “the Little Swedish Baptist boy.” He was the one who was hurt, the one who was not quite ok just the way he was.

And then one day, or over the course of a few days (I don’t remember how the process fits together), I realized that I have always been known as Nate. At least since our family moved to Michigan and I first experienced what it was like to be bullied by my peers. There was another Nathan in the class, a mean little guy, who was so cruel to some of us. I was the new kid so I accepted the name change. And Nate was the self I crafted. Nate became, to an extent, a false self. Not to say there weren’t glimpses of my true self coming through, and often, but I’ve experienced a lot of “hedging in” in my 34 years. A natural and good curiosity told that this or that was outside the realms of orthodoxy or was “new age” or was silly or an embarrassment… the list could go on. I realized that around the time of using “Nate” as my name, I first began experiencing tangible shame.

2014-07-03 12.06.51So I tried introducing myself as Nathan. It was a reminder to myself that my true self can do this job. My true self is ok to be present here. Often speaking of this significance brought me to tears. So Nathan is sticking. As my supervisor noted one day, “It’s almost as though you are realizing that Nate can’t authentically do this work of chaplaincy, but Nathan can.” How true, how true. It becomes easier and easier for me to speak of myself as Nathan, a name that for many, many years didn’t seem like it fit me any more. Each time, part of my true self is brought into the relationship and I am reminded of who I am.

cropped-img_3359.jpgTraditional rites of passage for men almost always involved some sort of naming. A boy would go into the wilderness, leaving his family and his community, to connect with Spirit and with self. It was in the wilderness that he would find what his true gift to give to the community was. And he would be given his new name. He would then re-enter the the world of his people with his new responsibility (Bill Plotkin calls it the “soulcraft”) and his new name. It is in a legacy such as this that I will often say that this time has been a year-long rite of passage. For I have my soulcraft, my sacred dance, and I have my name.


Books I’m Reading – Neurosis and Human Growth

Karen Horney’s book, Neurosis and Human Growth: The Struggle Towards Self Realization, has been stretching me on so many levels. Horney, who wrote this book when she was in her 70′s is one of the most original psychoanalysts after Freud. In the book, Horney describes the “search for glory,” or the pursuit of the idealized self. The implications are so relevant for so many of us who had to develop certain ways of interacting with the world and view ourselves in the midst of ongoing early anxiety. The need to actualize the idealized self, that self that one wants the world to see gets prioritized over the so-important realization of the true self. At the end of the first chapter, Horney writes of the “devil’s pact” to refer to the solution of two powerful desires: “the longing for the infinite and the wish for an easy way out.” She then concludes with, “Speaking in these symbolic terms, the easy way to infinite glory is inevitably also the way to an inner hell of self-contempt and self-torment. By taking this road, the individual is in fact losing his soul – his real self.”

It seems so often the world we live in teaches us that we can be whomever we want, do what every we want, we just have to work hard at it. Websites, workshops, books are created to help us perform better, look better, be more charismatic, and make more money. While none of these things are wrong in and of themselves, my own experience tells me there is a drive there that is far from driven by contentment or acceptance with what is. Frustration of our progress leads to guilt, shame, working harder, desperation and anger. We shift the responsibility to others, we cry “Unfair!”, and we have every defense under the sun why we are not covering something. This is the “pursuit of glory” that Horney writes about, the actualization of an idealized self… a false self.

IMG_4318My hope is that individuals everywhere would seek to realize and discover who that true self is that was forgotten and kept quite so long ago. My hope is for communities and families to arise who will encourage true selves to blossom, to sing, and to dance. Though I am not far into Neurosis and Human Growth, I find that Karen Horney provides such an accurate look at a very real problem we face and many ways to find freedom. After all, awareness often leads to change.


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