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How to soak in divine brine.

Why? Because we're always pickling in something...

Sometimes I get a little wacky in my psychotherapy office. Occasionally, I ask patients to imagine a big garlic pickle on my couch.

"What do you want help with?" I ask the pickle.

"Well, doc," it says, "everyone tells me I smell and taste like garlic all the time, and it's just getting unbearable! "

So I ask the pickle, "Uh, well, do you suppose your problem has anything to do with the fact that you are always floating in a garlic-flavored brine?"

We are all constantly soaking in some sort of brine: the brine of our culture. Our attempts to deal with the great questions of being human--What is happiness? What is love, and why is it often so difficult? What is my true purpose? Am I succeeding in life?--are so confusing because our lives are immersed in such a confused culture.

Here's a simple analogy: I live in the Toledo, Ohio, area where, in the summer of 2014, algae blooms contaminated Lake Erie with a toxin called microcystin that can cause liver failure. One possible response to the problem would have been to treat each affected individual for liver damage, but that obviously wouldn't make much sense. Instead, more than half a million people drank bottled water for several days, and the community began to focus more attention on the runoff problem and climate change that create the toxic algae blooms.

But we are not so adept at detecting threats from cultural pollution to our emotional and spiritual health. Not recognizing that so much of what we're contending with is in the cultural water we're consuming daily, we struggle in isolation. We're constantly being poisoned and believe it's our own fault.

Even as I spend a portion of my days writing about matters of the spirit, a culturally conditioned voice in me constantly critiques the effort; that voice wants me to get back to doing something more successful, productive, and remunerative. He believes that constant busyness is a requirement of responsible living, and that daily reflection and meditation constitute dereliction of duty. He feels guilty when I spend time on Skype with my daughter who is overseas during that sacrosanct time called "the workday." He would be content if I'd find our teenager's argument that "everyone else is doing it" a compelling reason to grant permission for something my parental instincts have red-flagged. He wants me to ponder and get worked up about deep questions like whether or not I need a marble countertop in the kitchen. His yammering gives voice to both my own dysfunction and the culture's deep confusion.

When he seems silent, it's usually not that he has given me reprieve; rather, I have become so habituated to his presence that I have trouble distinguishing the cucumber of my authentic self from the brine of culture. How do we get out of the pickle jar of cultural confusion?


After spending the past four years researching the preserved words of wisdom figures throughout human history for my book, The Inconceivable Surprise of Living, I've come to understand that none of our cultural "dis-eases" are new. At first, I felt a creeping sadness that so many of these people who were becoming so alive in my mind and soul have been gone for hundreds or thousands of years. I wondered how human beings I have never met could become such trusted advisers, until I realized that the written word allows for the only form of time travel yet discovered.

Now, both in my meditation practice and in the rest of everyday life, I've developed a delightful access to a pool of wise advisers who are ready to cleanse me of cultural confusion. Hundreds of wisdom figures live in my mind and assist me in seeing myself, as well as my culture, from a better perspective. Their presence in my mind helps me challenge not only my own maladaptive thinking, but the culture's dis-ease-producing energies, as well.


I also work with my clients to help them create their own healing pools of trusted advisors. To start the process, I have identified twelve cultural "dis-eases" with which most of us are familiar. There is no psychiatric diagnostic category for any of them; but they collectively cause more suffering than the hundreds of recognized diagnoses in the psychiatric codebook. My clients first reflect on the dis-eases that feel most relevant and then choose the advisors that provide the most clarity both in their meditations and in daily life.

The process is deceptively simple and can be remarkably powerful. For some it's cognitive therapy on steroids.

The wisdom figures I cite here may or may not be ideal for you. Developing your own pool involves finding and committing to memory preserved words of wisdom that speak to the particular issues with which you struggle.

The average person has about 50,000 to 70,000 thoughts per day, and if we could put them under a microscope, we would likely see that the brine of culture saturates most of them. Creating your own pool of wise advisers is a way to begin saturating your mind with paradigm-shifting perspectives that allow creative possibilities for your life beyond the influence of culture.



Comparing is great for prices at the grocery store, but when we start treating the unique and sacred story of our own life that way, we always invite suffering.

There is only one of you for all time. Fearlessly be yourself.--ANTHONY RAPP

Whoever envies others does not obtain peace of mind.--BUDDHA


Whenever my happiness gauge reads a little low, it is helpful to ask if the gauge is measuring what's most worth measuring.

Happiness is a byproduct of an effort to make someone else happy.--GRETTA BROOKER PALMER

It is not easy to find happiness in ourselves, and it is not possible to find it elsewhere.--AGNES REPPLIER

Holiness is a greater ideal by far than happiness because it embraces Struggle.--DAVID WOLPE

If you want others to be happy, practice compassion; if you want to he happy, practice compassion.--THE 14TH DALAI LAMA


Like fish that are caught over and over on the same fake worm, we are lured repeatedly by the promise of money and possessions to give us security or happiness. Living simply in a culture that is estranged from simplicity is a great challenge.

Trying to satisfy one's desires with possessions is like trying to put out fire with straw.--CONFUCIUS

Money often costs too much. --RALPH WALDO EMERSON

Attachment brings manifold miseries, non-attachment brings manifold bliss. --SIVANANDA SARASWATI

You cannot serve both God and money. --JESUS OF NAZARETH

LOW BODY IMAGE: Human beings long for beauty. One of the places we are wired to find it is in other human beings, yet it can be so easy to see another person's beauty and so challenging to believe in one's own. A constant sense that our bodies cannot measure up to perfection can rob us of the profound gratitude we can feel for the natural miracle with which we are most familiar: our own body.

The renowned seventh century Zen master Seng-ts'an taught that true freedom is being "without anxiety about imperfection."--TARA BRACH

I stand in awe of my body. --HENRY DAVID THOREAU

If anything is sacred, the human body is sacred.--WALT WHITMAN

Know that the body is like a garment. Go seek the wearer of the garment.--RUMI


I have come to view the term "self-esteem" as a misnomer. Whenever we're attached to a small sense of self, we suffer feelings of inadequacy. Our culture encourages us daily to tune into the desires of the small self, but the Self that we can genuinely esteem is spelled with a capital 'S.' Daily practice imagining like a child that the Great Self dwells within us helps many people who struggle with low self-esteem. The version of you or me with low self-esteem is an illusion. We already contain that for which we long.

Settle yourself in solitude and you will come upon God in yourself.--TERESA OF AVILA

Between God and the soul there is no between.--JULIAN OF NORWICH

See the Supreme in the body, see the Supreme in the mind.--YOGASWAMI

Your own Self realization is the greatest service you can render to the world.--RAMANA MAHARSHI


Shame is an example of the second arrow of suffering about which the Buddha taught. Whatever has happened to bring us pain is the first arrow. The second arrow--our conclusion that we are thereafter damaged, unworthy, or unlovable--causes as much or more suffering than the first arrow. While personal life experiences are often the most important determinants of shame, culture reinforces shame in us by its assumption that people are separable into groups that are more or less desirable, worthy, beautiful, or acceptable.

You, as much as anyone in the entire universe, are deserving of your love and compassion.--BUDDHA

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I will meet you there.--RUMI

Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls, the most massive characters are seared with scars. --KAHLIL GIBRAN

I wish I could show you when you are lonely or in darkness the astonishing Light of your own being.--HAFIZ


Normal, nonabusive conflict is not an invalidation of love; it is an invitation to deeper love. When we experience conflict or distance in love, it's easy to begin wondering how we missed out on happily ever after. A few years ago, I decided to give up my reactive defensiveness to my wife's issues with me. Because she knows me daily and up close more than anyone else on the planet, she can see what is in my blind spots. My best response is to put whatever causes her distress on my spiritual growth agenda. Committed love finds the areas in which we need to grow as easily as fruit flies find an overripe banana!

Love finds its soul in feelings of incompleteness, impossibility, and imperfection.--THOMAS MOORE

Nearly all marriages, even happy ones, are mistakes in the sense that almost certainly, in a more perfect world ... both partners might be found more suitable mates. But the real soul mate is the one you are actually married to. --J.R.R. TOLKIEN

You may call God love, you may call God goodness. But the best name for God is compassion.--MEISTER ECKHART

The first duty of love is to listen.--PAUL TILLICH


When I flow with the speed of the culture, graced moments seem rare. When I align with the slow wavelength of nature or of the divine, everything begins to radiate grace. Much of the connection between dis-ease and disease is related to how hard we push our bodies without adequate sleep, exercise, nutrition, or spiritual reflection and replenishment. Speed creates a spiritual dis-ease that makes us blind to energies that are only available to us when we slow down, get quiet, and tune in with mindful awareness. A first step for me is to stop believing the voice that tells me daily mindfulness practice is optional.

If the mind can get still enough, something sacred will be revealed.--HELEN TWORKOV

Silence is the language God speaks, and everything else is a bad translation.--THOMAS KEATING

A mind that is fast is sick. A mind that is slow is sound. A mind that is still is divine.--MEHER BABA

What we plant in the soil of contemplation, we shall reap in the harvest of action.--MEISTER ECKHART


The overwhelming nature of the world's problems can make us doubt even the significance of our own longing to live with meaning and purpose. But it has always been that way. Authentic living requires at least two things: remembering that we will die, and choosing to live into our dreams despite doubts that do their best to block our way.

If you hear a voice that says you cannot paint, then by all means paint and the voice will be silenced. --VINCENT VAN GOGH

Our doubts are traitors and make us lose the good we oft might win by fearing to attempt.--WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE

As long as we stand in our own way, everything seems to stand in our way.--RALPH WALDO EMERSON

Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. --JOHANN WOLFGANG VON GOETHE

What great thing would you attempt if you knew you could not fail?--ROBERT SCHULLER


Worry shows up in our lives posing as our protector, but beyond basic prudence, we should be skeptical of its promises. Anxiety is a thief that has pickpocketed joy from more of my days than I want to admit. And when I am afraid, my capacity for compassion plummets.

Fear is the cheapest room in the house. I would like to see you living in better conditions.--HAFIZ

Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, it only saps today of its joy.--LEO BUSCAGLIA

If you let go a little, you will have a little peace. If you let go more, you will have more peace. And if you let go completely ... your heart will be free.--AJAHN CHAH

We will meet suffering with soul force.--MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.

Every suffering is a seed, because suffering impels us to seek wisdom.--BODHIDHARMA


Boredom may seem like a less intense dis-ease than fear, but people get into a lot of trouble trying to relieve boredom. To those in recovery from drug addiction, for instance, boredom is a high-risk emotion. Awe and wonder are preventive medicine for boredom. To keep awe and wonder alive, we need to suspend our sense that the world is something we fully or almost understand with our adult minds. When sunlight comes through the window of my office and glistens off the water in my fountain, my child's mind is again amazed that the light exciting my retinas was on the surface of the sun only eight minutes ago and just traveled 93 million miles to land in my eyes. Wow!

The invariable mark of wisdom is to see the miraculous in the common.--RALPH WALDO EMERSON

The winds of grace are always blowing, but it is you who must raise your sails.--RABINDRANATH TAGORE

Creation itself is the first revelation of God.--MAXIMUS THE CONFESSOR

There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.--ALBERT EINSTEIN


Spiritual humility involves keeping an awareness that, as Paul Tillich said, "Doubt is not the opposite of faith, it is an element of faith." My monkey mind often critiques the very idea of God when I am practicing remembering that I want to live as a filament for divine compassion. That doubting voice is, perhaps, not just a bothersome distraction in my meditation, but a reminder that what I'm most longing for is an energy I can live with, not an answer I can cling to and foist on others.

Doubt is not the opposite of faith, it is an element of faith.--PAUL TILLICH

Say not, "I have found the truth," but rather, "I have found a truth." --KAHLIL GIBRAN

The constant assertion of belief is an indication of fear.--JIDDU KRISHNAMURTI

I would rather have a mind opened by wonder than closed by belief.--GERRY SPENCE

The infinite transcends every particular content of faith. --MOSES BEN JACOB CORDOVERO

Kevin Anderson, Ph.D. is a psychologist and marriage therapist. His latest book, The Inconceivable Surprise of Living: Sustaining Wisdom for Spiritual Beings Trying to be Human, is available at Kevin can be reached at


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Author:Anderson, Kevin
Publication:Spirituality & Health Magazine
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2015
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