Healing the Soul of America

The time was 1997. That's before the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq. Many things have happened over the past twenty years. One of the people important in my own growth and development recommends a book that was written in 1997. It is "Healing the Soul of America." I wish I could make it required reading for every Americans no matter if that person considers him or herself conservative, liberal, Republican, Democrat, Independent or none of the above.

This is not a partisan book. It is a book that describes how we became the country we were in 1997. Most social and political commentators say that conditions have only worsened since then. Reactivity is at an all time high - at least in my life time. Where fear rules, judgment and anger rush in to fill the void. These are things that we do not want to allow to rule us - no matter what our political persuasion.

Please, read this book. It is not a long read but it is sobering, encouraging and practical. To say nothing about the fact that even written in 1997, it is still so timely.

Where Does It Hurt?

Recently two of my colleagues mentioned an interview that was on the podcast "On Being." I listened to it and found it profound and profoundly helpful. I believe you will as well. You can read or download it by clicking here.


The Mask You Live In

My colleague, and director of the Hines Center for Spirituality, Brooke Summers-Perry, recently recommended a movie for me to watch. We downloaded it from Netflix last night and sat transfixed as it played.

I want to urge you to watch it. Pay particular attention toward the end of the film at the statistics that are shown.

For decades I have given attention in my counselling practice to the plight of men, especially those who fall into the category of "men in mid-life crisis." The problems in the male culture are not getting better - only worse. The first step toward creating change is awareness.

I'll make you a solid promise. If you watch this film, if you persuade your adult children to watch this film, you will be not only grateful but also affected.

Where People Pee

I wrote the following piece to use in a talk I gave in Ordinary Life on June 12. I did not know when I wrote the piece or gave the talk about the horrible mass shooting - yes, yet another one! - that had taken place in the early morning hours of that Sunday.

In 1993, that’s 23 years ago, we went to visit good friends of ours who lived in Seattle. They were among our best couple friends when they lived in Houston and when they moved to Seattle, we went to see them almost every year.

One of the times we went we went East from Seattle to hike on what they called “the peninsula.” We checked into the little motel where we had reservations, I think this was in Port Stewart, got into our hiking gear and headed out. Our destination was a place called Goblin’s Gate, a waterfall way at the end of a long hike.

We got there and it was beautiful. Our friend, Wayne, is a master of the native American flute and always carries one with him. We sat watching the waterfall and listened to Wayne play his music.

After a while we got up and began the long trek back up the wooded mountainside looking for a place where we might have the food we had brought. Sherry and Linda headed out first. Wayne and I stayed behind. Soon I got up and headed up the trail. Wayne continued to play his flute.

As I hiked up the trail I looked up and saw Linda running toward me. She shouted, “Bear, bear! We have to get out of here.” But where was Sherry? I’m married to a woman who is afraid of nothing.

I hurried up the trail to find my beautiful bride with her camera trying to see how close she could get to two bear cubs in order to take their picture. “Are you nuts!?” I thought. “Come on! We’ve gotta get the hell out of here!”

And, we did. We had to go across the stream that fed the waterfall, hike north, hike back across the stream, then find our way up the mountain and out of the woods to our car, being wary - at least I was - of a protective mother bear along the way.

We drove back to the motel, bathed and changed and went to dinner at the restaurant connected to the motel. It was like a Steak and Ale. Remember them? Make your own salad. Order from a limited menu. Rustic. As we were finishing our salads and the waitress came to take our order, Sherry said to me in a voice she thought was a whisper, “Bill, those two women who just came in are not women. They are guys dressed as women.”

The waitress overhead her and said with much pride, “Oh yes. Those are cross-dressers. There’s a convention in town this week - Esprit ’93.” Indeed, when we went back to our rooms that is what it said on the hotel marque - “Esprit ’93.”

The next morning we went to breakfast there. Four of us. Three with significant psychological training. One an experienced film and television producer. The place was filled with men dressed like women. We were gawking. The natives could care less. By the way, some of the younger ones were drop dead gorgeous. As they got older, it was harder to tell if this was a man dressed like a woman or a woman dressed like a man.

I was told later that they have these kind of gatherings in the Pacific Northwest because the ethos there is to leave people alone. Indeed, the locals eating there seemed not to care a whit.

Why am I sharing this with you? Because recently, for some bizarre reason, there has been an explosive concern about trans-gender bathroom usage. Those men, dressed like women, twenty-three years ago, used the women’s rest room. It’s been going on for decades. So?

To focus on this rather than the issues that have fueled a political dysfunction in this country, the fact that there is a mass shooting every day, that we as a society are shooting ourselves in the foot by not providing adequate education for all our citizens is absolutely silly.

Using the Enneagram as a Tool for Growth in All Areas

Years ago I was encouraged to explore the Enneagram as a tool for self-understanding, personal and relational growth. If you know nothing about this powerful tool, I encourage you to learn about it. You won't regret it.

A good place to start is with a book by Renee Baron and Elizabeth Wagele, "The Enneagram Made Easy." This is a book that is clearly written and truly easy to understand. Knowing the Enneagram has been valuable to me in my own personal growth and in my intimate relationships.

Recently I encountered another book, "The Spiritual Dimension of the Enneagram: Nine Faces of the Soul" by Sandra Maitri. I am encouraging all of my clients to read a particular chapter in this book. It explains how we get separated from our essential and True Self. I've created a pdf of this chapter and you can find it here. It won't take you long to read it but the investment of your time will be well spent. Again, trust me on this.

Can/Do People Change?

I think the question I get asked the most as a counselor is: Can/do people change?
Usually this question is asked about another person - a partner, a child, a colleague, etc.; about someone who is seen as a "problem" in the life of the person asking the question.

The answer to this question is a mixed one.

No, people don't change. We come into the world with a personality that stays with us until we die. If you are a parent with more than one child, you know that from the beginning we have personalities that express themselves in unique ways. These don't change. Our best hope to is become aware of our given personality and learn to ride it rather than allowing it to ride us. This is one of the reasons I am so emphatic that people become aware of the Enneagram and figure out what there Enneagram Personality Type is. If you are interested in pursuing this I recommend two books: "The Enneagram Made Easy" by Made Easy by Wagele and Barron and "The Enneagram In Love and Work" by Helen Palmer. There is even an app you can get for your smart phone called "Know Your Type." Knowing and working with the Enneagram can facilitate your growth in freedom and love. It won't change your personality. It will help you be less reactive.

Yes, people change. Carl Jung believed that symbols, images, stories and rituals contributed to transformation for people. One of my favorite ways to experience this "transformation" is through spiritually literate movies. If you want to have a handy list of such movies click here. This website, Spiritual and Practice, is a wonderful resource. I personally use it on a regular basis and have taken several of their "on line" courses. The list of movies, The 100 Most Spiritually Literate Films, has been a trustworthy guide for me over the past several years. Check it out. You will be glad you did.

A Love Letter About Fear and Terror

The follow was written by the Rev. Stephanie Warfield. Stephanie is a educator at Seton Cove Spirituality Center in Austin, Texas.

This is a love letter.

For the first time ever, in all of my 62 years of living in the US, I am afraid of living here. I write this letter because I do not want to live in this fear. I want to love through the fear. You might be surprised by what I am afraid of. I am afraid of US – this growing community of ugly Americans. I am NOT afraid of Muslims or Islam. Why? Because my husband of ten years is Muslim. He is Iraqi. He is from Baghdad. He came to the US because we – the US – invaded his homeland. Think about that for a minute. WE invaded his country. We bombed cities, destroyed roads and infrastructure, devastated many ancient sacred sites shared by Jewish, Muslim and Christian traditions, and killed many innocent people. This was HIS beloved country. He carried the same feelings for his country that we have for OUR country. He worked as a civil engineer building roads and airports. He had a large farm in southern Iraq that yielded great harvests of fruit, dates, and vegetables. He raised Arabian horses and loved to ride freely across the land. He shared delicious meals of falafel, hummus, kibbeh and baklava with family and friends. He loved drinking tea at the corner café – not just for the delicious hot tea but for the opportunity of community and conversation. He laughed and played. He did all of the things that we cherish in this country.

Ten years ago he came to the US to bring his nephew for advanced medical treatment because this teenage boy had been kidnapped and tortured and had suffered nerve damage in his arm. My dear nephew is a delightful young man who dearly loved his homeland, his Iraq. His family also had a large farm that produced grapes, many varieties of vegetables, and dates. Much of this produce would be given to the local villagers. Now my nephew is a US citizen. In the coming weeks, he is graduating from college and getting married in the US.

Ten years ago our paths intertwined and I said yes to marrying this Muslim man. Our officiant, a dear friend, is a United Methodist minister. I give abundant thanks to God/Allah for this union. And it is the one and only thing I thank President Bush for about the US-led invasion of Iraq. Even so, I would give all of the past years back if my husband, our nephew, and their (my) entire family could have their homeland back. I have never been able to visit their beloved country. They have all suffered more greatly than many of us will ever fully understand.

We do not need to fear Muslims. Instead, we need to fear our shadows, our darkness around power and control. My family – my Muslim family – are some of the kindest people I have ever known. We need to love and learn from Muslims. They have so much to give us. They are incredibly resilient. Living in all parts of the world now, they have been learning to adapt to new languages, new cultures and new traditions of daily living. They are generous. I have so many examples of this generosity – too many to name here. They are playful, compassionate, and beautifully loving. They are peaceful. They want all of the same things many of us want. And this small group of Iraqis – beloved Muslims – are my family. This makes me very, very happy. My life, my worldview, my love has been so enriched by their presence.

I wish everyone could know and love these dear people. Let’s all take a look in the mirror and see – truly see – that we are ALL in pain. The real terrorists are those neglected parts of our being that speak of hate and fear of the “other”. We ARE the other. As Khalil Gibran wrote: And God said “Love your enemy,” and I obeyed him and loved myself.

May love prevail!

Rev. Stephanie Warfield, MA, BCC, CZT
Educator and Spiritual Director
512.451.0272 | 512.451.0284 (fax)
sawarfield@seton.org | www.setoncove.net


Journey Inward

Recently I was interviewed by Kyrie O'Connor of the Houston Post for an article she was doing on mid-life issues. You might know her as a frequent guest panelist on the NPR comedy news program, "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me." We spoke together for over an hour and though there is no way to capture all of that in print, she did a most credible job. I've copied the article and am putting it below. I hope you find it useful.

If you have difficulty reading the scanned article, try this link.

What Courage Looks Like

In a world where a new wave of terrorism has raised its ugly head, living in fear is not healthy for individuals or societies. Courage is not, as someone has said, the absence of fear, but rather, acting in spite of fear.

Photo of her biography

A few weeks ago I saw a perfect example of this in the newly released documentary, "He Called Me Malala." This film looks at the events that led up to the Taliban's attack on Pakistani schoolgirl, Malala Yousafzai. She was shot by the Taliban because of her speaking out in favor of education for young girls. She won the Nobel Peace prize in 2014 for her stance and has come up with the slogan,  "One Child, One Teacher, One Book and One Pen Can Change the World." She has also said, "When the whole world is silent, even one voice becomes powerful."

She keeps moving forward in spite of dire and unfair and frightening circumstances. When she was ten, the Taliban entered her hometown in Pakistan and turned her beautiful valley into a war zone. They controlled all forms of media, closed schools, raided houses, kidnapped woman, shut down businesses, made bonfires of books, CDs, DVDs, TVs, computers, etc. They publicly whipped and beat 'disobedient' people, blue up buildings, museums, and houses, and murdered resisting forces. 

Both Malala and his father stood up and spoke out against the wrong-doings and evil that the Taliban were bringing to their world - especially to the writed of continued education for all.

For all of this she was shot in the head at point-blank range while riding the bus home from school. She was fifteen years old.

I strongly encourage you to rent and watch the documentary or to buy a copy of her memoir, "I Am Malala." It will "in-courage" you.

Being Mortal

Being Mortal

Good friends and clients urged me to read Atul Gawande's best selling book, "Being Mortal." I postponed doing so for every reason the author mentions in the introduction of the book. None of us like to think that we are mortal or of the facts involved in the final months or days of life.

However, I don't think I have ever been as captured or captivated by a book upon first picking it up. Gawande is an outstanding writer. Not only that but also he puts before us a topic of utmost importance in the most winsome of ways.

At one time, not so long ago actually, we looked to our elders for wisdom and guidance. Now, in this digital and technological age, we look to our teenage children to tell us how things work and to show us the way. The matters of meaning and wisdom are, sadly, becoming less and less important culturally.

Read this book. You will be glad you did.

Recovering From An Affair

A couple of years ago there was an article in the Houston Chronicle about the Ashley Madison website.

I checked it out after the article and the "splash page," that is, the one first seen when the site is opened shows a woman with her finger to her lips is that classic "let's keep a secret" pose. The caption reads, "Life is short, have an affair." The website endorses "married dating." If you are married and are interested in having a sexual relationship outside of marriage, this is one of the places to go. This website, according to an article in the Houston Chronicle on June 20, 2012, has compiled a list of Houston's "Top 10 Neighborhoods for Cheaters." The website has over 14 million members. More than 93,000 of these are right here in Houston. The top five neighborhoods in Houston are: Kingwood, River Oaks, Downtown, Bellaire and Sugar Land. Noel Biderman, founder of the site, is quoted as saying, "By allowing people to have affairs without interrupting their lives, we help people stay in their marriages."

Anyone who has ever discovered his or her partner having an affair knows that simply isn't true. The devastation that an affair brings to a relationship is often irreparable. The betrayal and damaged trust can take years to overcome. Further, the damage to character done to one by carrying such a secret is very damaging to emotional, relational and spiritual growth. This is reflected in the fact that when the Ashley Madison site was hacked recently and names of subscribers released, several people committee suicide.

There is likely no simple reason why someone chooses to have an affair. Fear of conflict, lack of fulfillment, living a life based on feelings all no doubt play a role.

Over the years I have come to believe that a lack of self-knowledge is the primary cause for almost all the suffering people impose on others. I recently attended a conference that opened with a video to this effect. Since first seeing it, I have highly recommended it to hundreds of people. In the process I have had a couple of additional resources recommended to me - one of forgiveness and, then, a TED Talk about affairs. I recommend them to you in the following order -

First, click here to see the piece I first saw at the conference. Don't, please, let the "F-bomb" put you off. It is a powerful piece.

Click here to see the same person with a brief teaching on how to forgive if your partner has had an affair - or how to forgive anyone.

Then click here to see and listen to the TED Talk on "rethinking infidelity."

If your relationship is recovering from an affair, I hope you find these resources helpful.

Psychology and Spirituality

When I was in graduate school, I ran across in my reading a passage from Carl Jung that has guided my life ever since. I refer to the passage frequently. It is this:

"Among all my patients in the second half of life - that is over the age of thirty-five - there has not been one whose problem in the last resort was not that of finding a religious outlook on life."

Ever since reading that I have, in one way or another, endeavored to put "mind and spirit" together both in my personal life, my private practice and my public teachings. The best way to access what I do on a regular basis is to go to the website for the weekly talks I give in the Ordinary Life gathering. Click here to go there.

The other day (I'm writing this on September 21, 2015) I ran into a colleague who was commenting about a talk I gave to a professional organization of psychotherapists. He asked me if I had a copy of that talk available. It was on an earlier version of this website and I've decide to repost it here without editing or updating.

The talk is titled "Hidden In Plain Sight" and reflect how I attempt to put spirituality and psychology together in all of the world that I do. You are free to use the content or the presentation slides in any way you choose so long as credit is given.

In order to download and read the talk click here.

This talk makes more sense if the presentation slides are also viewed. In order to do that click here.


Films that Transform

It was years ago when I first found out about the website, Spirituality and Practice. On their website, they are constantly updating reviews of films that they consider contribute to spiritual transformation. I ran across a list of what they consider to be the 100 most transformative films ever. The list isn't easy to find on their website, at least I didn't find it so. Here it is - click here.

I recommend this site to you and, especially, this list of films. I think you'll find both enriching.

Bucket List Morality

One of the people I see for spiritual direction sent me a link to an article in the New York Time by David Brooks. The article is excerpted from a recent book of his, "The Road to Character." Every day after that initial bit of information came into my life for days, at least once a day and sometimes more often, some one would contact me and ask me if I had seen that article.

Later that week I watched a television program I had recorded. It was part of Bill Weir's series, The Wonderlist. These are places Weir wants to visit before they are no longer available because of environmental changes or human abuse. One program was titled "The Island Where People Forget to Die." It is one of the "blue zones" in the world. A "blue zone" is a place where people live long into their 90's and beyond! The people who research such matters wonder why this is.

I wrote an entire talk on this and you can either read or hear it by clicking here.

Brooks says that there are two kinds of morality: resume morality - that's what we use to "get ahead" in life; and, eulogy morality - that's what we want people to say about us at our funerals. People who work to embody eulogy morality, interestingly enough, are also those who live the longest. Check it out.

Everybody Needs a Coach

I am constantly telling people who come to me for individual consultation or who hear me speak in one format or another that I see myself functioning as a piano teacher. People come to me, and this is a metaphor, of course, because they want to learn how to play the piano. Or, they want to learn how to play it better. Even if a person found the best piano teacher in the world, just attending the lesson would not be enough. One has to practice.

In my counseling practice and when I am offering spiritual direction, either individually or to a group - such as the "life talks" I offer in Ordinary Life - I am constantly urging people to have a "daily spiritual practice." When people ask what such a practice might consist of or look like, I very often mention books to read.

The posts I'll be making under this "toolkit" menu will largely consist of very specific resources you can use to enhance your individual and/or relational well-being.

The very first book I would suggest is Cindy Wigglesworth's guide to emotional and spiritual growth, "SQ21: The Twenty-One Skills of Spiritual Intelligence." Building on the work of pioneers in defining and describing various developmental stages of human personality - Jean Piaget and Daniel Goleman, for example, Cindy has developed a very understandable guide for growing in "spiritual intelligence." She describes "spiritual intelligence" as the ability to behave with wisdom and compassion while maintaining inner and outer people regardless of the situation.

Just like people, who want to develop physically might go to the gym or athletic club and lift weights, this book offers specific exercises to help a person grow in awareness, wisdom and skill in living in this increasingly complex and interdependent world.

My recommendation is to buy the book. It comes in hard copy and e-reader formats. Read a page or two a day. Put what you read into practice. See how doing so enhances every aspect of your life.