Sunday Hike

Hi groupers,

Yesterday we had 12 hikers, one of our larger groups in recent months, including 5 new faces. We hiked for more than 2.5 hours, although it was a relatively easy hike, so we had a lot of time to practice therapy techniques, such as empathy, and also to do some personal work. I had the opportunity to do some personal work with four individuals. It’s always an honor to work with colleagues who are being so open and taking the risk of being vulnerable. Mairin brought us some magic about half way through the hike–thanks, Mairin.

We worked on many themes during the hike, including one type of death of the ego. We sometimes think there is something we “need” to feel happy, joyous, worthwhile, and fulfilled. It might be love, or the approval of others, or great success, or some addictive substance or binging on food, or even a certain kind of career path that we’ve always dreamed about but can’t have, or some role in life we think we are “supposed” to fulfill, or entitled to have. I have even had a number of patients over the years who sadly were unable to have children—and some of them strongly believed they could never find true happiness without a child of their own.

This type of “neediness” is almost universal in varying degrees, and can be an important key to recovery from depression, anxiety, and anger. But overcoming these “needs” involves motivational techniques as well as cognitive techniques, because we may not want to let go of the pressure within us to achieve or to “get” something we so desperately want. It might even be perfection or enlightenment.

So we may tell ourselves that we can’t possibly be happy with that thing. Or we may beat up on ourselves for falling short, or for making mistakes, or for being “average.” And we may even pout and complain when we don’t get what we want–kind of like shouting at the clouds when it rains the day we planned our picnic. And we may not want to “accept” ourselves, or our lives, because we are totally convinced that “acceptance” will be the same as losing, or giving in, or “settling” for mediocrity.

Sometimes I have said, “When you no longer need to be special, life becomes special.” But it can be very hard to grasp what this means at first. The death of the ego is painful. No one wants to die.

I am aware of four deaths of the ego involved in personal work, and also in learning to be a skillful and effective therapist.

We did not have our usual brunch following the hike since my wife and I had a house full of guests for the weekend, including both our kids, my son-in-law, and our 5 year-old grandson, who worked the crowd and sang a hiking song he kind of made up for us when we returned.

I hope you are all having a great weekend and holiday today. I look forward to our training group tomorrow night. And those of you who attend our Sunday hikes, thank you for what you bring to the process. The hikes are always a highlight of my week, just as the Tuesday groups are.

David

The following is a response from Taylor Chesney, Psy.D., a psychologist who is one of the members of our training group.

Hi groupers,

David, this is something you wrote in your email:

Sometimes I have said, “When you no longer need to be special, life becomes special.” But it can be very hard to grasp what this means at first. The death of the ego is painful. No one wants to die.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what you wrote above. It’s so powerful. It actually brings tears of sadness to me, and happiness. Since I’ve moved to California a year or so ago, almost immediately after meeting David and learning T.E.A.M. therapy, I’ve given up on my need to be special.

Being surrounded all the people in our training group is so inspiring and I’m just so happy in life now, life has become special. I can’t pinpoint what it was, but I feel like I’ve given up almost all of my anger, my narcissism, my need to be the best, and my need to prove I’m better than the next, and I couldn’t be happier.

However, and this may be a distortion, it seems easier surrounded by all of you. I feel like I’m in a world of people not trying to be special which makes life so much more special…does that make any sense?

I can explain further if I’m just babbling. As you know, my husband and I will have to move back to New York in August because of his work. My greatest fear is leaving this area, and interacting with people in NY who aren’t like you all…. but that may be another distortion. Maybe I have a new lens on life now, and things will be different in NY.

What part of life becoming special has to do with other people in our life also giving up that need to be special? Can I experience the same joy even if I’m not surrounded by the same type of open and warm community of colleagues?

It kind of feels like we get high on life off of each other… is this crazy talk? or do others feel that too?

There’s my two cents!

Taylor

The following is a comment by Jill Levitt, PhD, who is the co-leader of my weekly psychotherapy training group at Stanford.

Taylor,

I love what you have written here and I do know what you are talking about, with this environment being so supportive and freeing. At the same time, it is my experience that change starts with me.

If I enter a conversation of moms talking about how great their kids are, I often say things like, “Wow, your kids are awesome, mine kind of struggle with X, Y, and Z,”  or “You seem like you totally have your act together, I am just barely hanging on today…” and 9 times out of 10 others then scramble to find something to complain about–or to change their tune so they are more real!

Really, I think you have the skills to create openness and intimacy out there on the scary East Coast!!  You can create the interpersonal reality that you most want. And when it doesn’t work, you just move along, and find those that it works with.

Some people want to be open and real and others want to pretend. And sometimes people who pretend actually want to be open and real if you give them a chance….  And if all else fails, just let me know and I will set you up with my best friend who is a psychologist in NYC and is the most real, open, and vulnerable person you will ever meet!!

And thank you Taylor, for treasuring us as much as you do! We treasure you too!

Jill T. Levitt, Ph.D.

The following is a comment from one of our group members who was on the hike yesterday.

Hi David and Group,

As always, David, thank you for taking the time to write your thoughts. I learn something every time you write and often find myself thinking about what you said hours or days later.

I felt magic yesterday and think it speaks to the power of empathy and of kindness. I often think of magic as achieved through methods delivered by a skilled therapist—and not as I found it yesterday—through sobbing in the Los Altos woods in the most unattractive way possible. I cannot remember the last time I cried like I did on the hike and being able to was a gift.

I have wondered if there is something wrong with me because I haven’t been able to cry for years, despite wanting to, and it was wonderful to learn, as Stephen put it, “there are many things wrong with you but not that you are emotionally dead.”

I have more thoughts about what you wrote but need to intervene in my daughter Sarah’s renewed commitment to eating her weight in dirt before her second birthday!

Thank you, David, and everyone else who hiked yesterday.

Mairin