Saturday, July 23, 2022

Northshore Notes: Finding Peace

     One beauty of my job is I never have to weigh in on any particular subject. Much bad writing comes from obligation. So after a blog post and a column on the initial shock of the Highland Park massacre, I could draw away and look at matters less horrible.
     A valid reaction. Still, I'm glad that our Saturday correspondent, Caren Jeskey, who has been working with survivors of the shooting, has kept a steady gaze on the situation, which is easier to bear filtered through her compassionate worldview. I appreciate her sharing, and her photos, and know EGD readers do too.

By Caren Jeskey

     Walking past Ross’s in Highland Park yesterday, where the shooter perched on July 4th, stopped me in my tracks. A small and unassuming store, just sitting there on a hot summer’s day with the blue sky and innocent cirrus clouds above, oblivious to the evil it hosted.
     As a psychotherapist with more than two dozen clients each week, I am humbled to be privy to the inner machinations of a varied group of people. This gives me a snapshot of a particular collective consciousness. As we all grapple with the meaning of our lives in these tumultuous times, where do we find peace?
     For Carl Jung, “we cannot change anything unless we accept it.” To those who rail and rally against “them,” with shaking fists (as I’ve done, plenty, in the past) — there is no “them.” Sure, there are those in public office and those with power in other ways who make decisions that we feel go against the grain of our very beings. “They” are not sitting somewhere in a secret room, picking their teeth and cackling at the rest of us.
     At least I don’t believe they are — though sometimes I wish it was all just a misguided experiment, these past five years or so. “They” were just studying human behavior amidst terrible stress. Those who were lost to violence would be returned to us. Our traumatic memories would be wiped, and global warming would cease to exist. We’d all be set free to live on a green earth with the ability to share, commune in peace, and preserve our planet together.
     “One love. One heart. Let’s get together and feel alright.”                                                               —Bob Marley 
     What I think is more likely is that relatively small groups of “them” sit around and use doublespeak to justify their egoistic agendas. They step over and on top of each other to win. They are pure id. Agendas that have little to no bearing on the health, happiness, and safety of the little guy. And us little guys are not well-resourced enough to turn it around. Swashbuckling sickos often win, characters in an imaginary pirate movie who fancy themselves the heroes.
   We have to have a purpose in our rage, or it becomes neurosis or worse. “Behind a neurosis there is so often concealed all the natural and necessary suffering the patient has been unwilling to bear.” Also Carl Jung.
     We don’t want to become numb. We don’t want to become disconnected from those around us. We want to be in the flow of life. We don’t want to live a life where we shake our fists at “idiot drivers,” “those jackass neighbors making all that noise,” or people who have “wronged” us. That’s not fun at all, now is it? Nor do we want to live a life of pure comfort, ignoring the plight of the rest of the world while we live off of the fruits of their labors.
     We need to learn to sit with our feelings — all of them — even those that are not comfortable.
     It’s important that we allow ourselves to feel fear and grief about things that are terrifying. From there, we can emote genuinely. We can stay human. We can receive comfort. We can make a plan. A plan that makes good sense rather running in circles and screaming, isolating, or giving up.
     We can also plunge into hell like Sylvia Plath, feeling fatalistically alone. “I have never found anybody who could stand to accept the daily demonstrative love I feel in me, and give back as good as I give.” 
     Between 2015 and 2020, an average of approximately 46,000 people in the U.S. died by suicide each year.
     What I notice (and I have acted out, mostly in the past) is an epidemic of inauthenticity. We polish ourselves up and burst into the world with our best faces on. We hide our pain. We keep secrets. In the recovery community it’s said “we are only as sick as our secrets.” We put on a face and we have “so much fun.” We collect experiences. But how do we feel when we lay our heads down on our pillows? How do we feel when we wake up?
     For many these days, it’s dread. Exhaustion. Fear. Or maybe excitement about that next big thing we’ve planned that never turns out just how we thought it would. Luggage gets lost. Flights get delayed. Hopefully for most of us here, we feel okay. We are a bit more balanced. We know the value of simple things, which Jung astutely observed that we are in need of, as we are “suffering in our cities. Tears, sorrow, and disappointment are bitter, but wisdom is the comforter in all psychic suffering. Suffering is not an illness; it is the normal counter-pole to happiness.” It’s okay to feel it; better to let it out in healthy ways, than try to keep in it.
     I’ve always been drawn to Walt Whitman, Sylvia Plath, Emily Dickinson and Carl Jung. Lore has it that Dickinson was forbidden to read the heathen Whitman’s work, yet as you read them you’ll see that their minds were incredibly similar. Jung made a hedonistic mess of his life at one point, but that certainly does not define him. Plath ended her life. Dickinson was a recluse who fell into a state of “nervousness” towards the end, after she endured a series of losses in her life.
     We are more alike than different, and none of us are ever truly alone. Reach out and text a friend you are worried about, just to say you’re thinking of them, or to tell them of your pain from time to time. Then find ways to heal. I’ve been really into meditations that utilize the incredible gift of neuroplasticity to alter the size of different brain lobes. Here is a 23 minute high for you to enjoy if you so chose. It might seem odd to a beginner, but it may be a better use of time than that 2nd (or 3rd, 4th, or 5th) episode of our favorite binge-worthy shows. Take care this week.
Pain — has an Element of Blank —
It cannot recollect
When it begun — or if there were
A time when it was not —
           —Emily Dickinson


  1. Beautiful. I am a Dickinson fanatic. I have a background in psychology as well - she seemed to have almost mystical insight into the workings of the mind

    The Brain—is wider than the Sky— For—put them side by side—
    The one the other will contain
    With ease—and you—beside—.

    1. Thank you for sharing this Dickinson fascicle!

  2. Excellent post Caren! What resonated the most to me was “We put on a face”, in my program we called it a mask. A mask to hide our true feelings from others. Also, “better to let it out in healthy ways, than try to keep in it”. I was raised that men don’t cry, men don’t show their emotions, they have to “be strong” for their wife and children. That line of thinking nearly destroyed my life. Thank you Caren for bringing your emotions & outlook to EGD. From my experience with therapy, etc. you’re an excellent therapist!

    Neil, I’m a long time reader of your columns, books, (looking forward to your new book), and have read EGD egd from the beginning. But, thank you for letting Caren post on Saturdays.

    Again, excellent post Caren!


    1. Thank you for reading, and your kind comments. So glad you were able to relate.

  3. I imagine that Dickinson fans might be aware of this, but "A Quiet Passion," a 2016 movie about her life featuring a fine performance by Cynthia Nixon portraying her, is streaming on Amazon Prime. We watched it recently and thought it was pretty good. But there's a reason that there's a 44 percentage point difference between the opinions of the critics and the "audience score." Uh, it's pretty slow...

    1. Thanks Jakash! I’ll give it a watch.

    2. Thanks again. Just started watching it, and notice it's a Music Box Films production. Gotta love the Box!

    3. I quite like Cynthia Nixon, so looking forward!

    4. Glad you were able to watch it, Caren. Yeah, I was delighted when the Music Box logo appeared, too. I hope that not offering your thoughts here afterward doesn't mean that you hated it!

  4. Thank you, in many ways.

  5. Thank You Caren for sharing your wisdom and heart. Love from Austin to all.


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