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New Existentialists

Who Decides Death?

01/30/2014
Who Decides Death?
Each person thinks that he has the formula for triumph over life’s limitations and knows with authority what it means to be a man….”-- Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death, p. 255 This is precisely the question right now in not one but two headline cases. One concerns 13-year-old Jahi McMath in Oakland, CA, who developed complications following surgery for sleep apnea. She lost a large amount of blood and doctors declared brain dead on December 12. Yet, her parents have fought to keep her connected to a ventilator. The other case, reappearing in the headlines during this past...

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New Existentialists

Waxing Existential: Eating Disorders and Meaning Making

01/29/2014
Waxing Existential: Eating Disorders and Meaning Making
Long ago in my practice, I worked with a woman who was struggling with bulimia. She would binge and purge daily, a struggle that she didn’t want, but couldn’t see how she could stop. She was ashamed and demoralized. One day, I put some clay in front of her and asked her to show me what her bulimia looked like. She began to model the clay, pulling it, smoothing it, hollowing it, transforming it into a binge, and then a purge. And then, she stopped. That was it. She had shown me what I had asked her to show me. I had witnessed her experience of a binge and purge in a sort of real...

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New Existentialists

The Pain of Creating

01/28/2014
The Pain of Creating
I have wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember. My most romantic dream about writing is being like Ernest Hemingway living in the Florida Keys, sitting at a typewriter (okay, a computer), writing in the morning, and spending my afternoon and evenings at the pub down the street sharing drinks with locals and tourists. But in the process of contributing to this blog, I am learning that writing is not such an easy task. Drafting original, meaningful pieces is at best difficult and at its worst devastating. This experience has given me a new respect for those who are artists, whatever...

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New Existentialists

Joseph Campbell’s Myth of the Hero

01/27/2014
Joseph Campbell’s Myth of the Hero
In Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949), he posits the existence of a Monomyth, a word he borrows from James Joyce referring to a pattern that is the essence of and universally common to, heroic tales in every culture. He outlines the archetypal episodes that subdivide three stages of the hero’s journey (separation, initiation, and return) using myths and fairytales from ethnic and religious iconographic sources such as Arabian Nights, Ancient Greece and Egypt, Arapaho and Navaho Indian, Buddhist, Old and New Testaments, South Indian, Celtic European, African,...

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New Existentialists

Floating Shards of Ice: Insights from a Frozen Urban River

01/24/2014
Floating Shards of Ice: Insights from a Frozen Urban River
During any active semester, my commuting routine every Monday through Thursday includes in part a brisk walk in the morning and again in the evening back and forth between Chicago’s Union Station and the Merchandise Mart, one of the buildings that houses The Chicago School of Professional Psychology where I teach. I cross over the Chicago River twice by way of the Madison Street Bridge and the Franklin Street Bridge. On very cold winter days, if I am lucky, I am able to catch the rare moments when fragile fragments of ice form like white mosaic puzzle pieces, floating downstream almost...

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New Existentialists

How To Change A Student's Life Forever

01/23/2014
How To Change A Student's Life Forever
These days we think of students as precious little orchids whose self-esteem must not be bruised by their education. The notion of a “teacher” as an authority figure is out of fashion. Have we got it all wrong? Writing recently in the Wall Street Journal, author Joanne Lipman made a case that an old-fashioned education is still the best education: that teachers who are strict, who are critical, who care about your performance more than your self-esteem, and who believe that “praise makes you weak … while stress makes you strong,” are the best at turning young...

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Rethinking Complexity

An Ecology of Life: Systems Theory, Relational Knowing and Stories to Reweave the World

01/22/2014
An Ecology of Life:  Systems Theory, Relational Knowing and Stories to Reweave the World
This is the title of a seminar I will be offering next week at Saybrook’s Residential Conference to launch the spring semester. I’m excited to be offering it in collaboration with my dear friend and colleague Nora Bateson who has produced a profound film about her father — the anthropologist and systems theorist Gregory Bateson. Gregory was a faculty member at Saybrook in the 70s and his work and legacy has been part of Saybrook’s educational fabric since then. “What is the pattern that connects the crab to the lobster and the primrose to the orchid, and all of...

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New Existentialists

I Kicked Facebook and My Senses Kicked Into High Gear

01/22/2014
I Kicked Facebook and My Senses Kicked Into High Gear
When I was about 18 years old, I made a decision to stop smoking marijuana and drinking alcohol completely. I don’t believe that I had a problem with abuse, and my decision was of my own motivation. I was an experimenting teenager. However, I had been exposed to addiction in my family and possessed a healthy degree of vigilance around substances. I was also transitioning into adulthood, and I think that rite of passage encouraged me into a different way of being. Playing with mind-altering substances lost its intrigue. I remember sitting in my living room armchair one day around this...

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New Existentialists

On Teaching Diversity

01/21/2014
On Teaching Diversity
I grew up as a young girl in a small town in Southern Colorado. There, we were one of very few Hispanic families, and I was extremely aware of how different I was—my dark brown, almost black hair, stood out like a sore thumb amongst the sea of light brown and blondes around me. My dark olive skin that quickly tanned in the summer was further testament to my Native American heritage, and I hated it. I hated being the only one who looked like me in my class. I hated that I was so obviously different, and my self-loathing came out in a bad attitude, mostly directed at the girls who looked...

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New Existentialists

In Memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

01/20/2014
In Memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Today we remember the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Rather than present secondhand analyses or interpretations, the New Existentialists will let the work of Dr. King speak for itself. We direct you to some of the following links to read some of his writings and his correspondence, as well as watch or listen to some of his talks and speeches. Of course, his most famous speech, "I Have a Dream" from August 1963, is always an excellent place to start. The website for The King Center for Nonviolent Social Change, established by Dr. King's widow, Coretta Scott King,...

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