Meaning-Makers

Introduction

We are searching today for many things. Whether it is connection, security, material wealth, or health and happiness, there appears to be a whole list of things that people believe will bring them some form of significance, recognition, and comfort. There also appears to be a desire to obviate the struggles inherent in living. We want those things that will enhance our personal nirvanas without having to get our hands dirty, experience some bumps and bruises, and perhaps go through some difficult times. I think these desires say something about human beings in that we basically have a longing within us for some type of personal meaning. Indeed, we are meaning-making creatures. Although at times we may not want to admit it, we long for something deep within us that will tell us that life is meaningful. We want to believe that this existence counts for something, that we’re not just merely here for a brief moment, and then gone like some meaningless vapor.

The Search for Meaning

One of the works that had the most impact on me when I was a student, and then later as a professional counselor, is Viktor Frankl’s, Man’s Search for Meaning. I believe as he proffered in that work that we human beings are meaning-making creatures, regardless of how actively aware our search for meaning may be. Given that belief, some years back I began my private counseling practice that I call Contemplations. I sought to provide time and space for people to enter counseling so that they could explore what is valuable in life for them. More importantly, upon discovering what is valuable to them, how could they go about living out the values they claim to embrace? Obviously, such searching is never done once and for all in this life, but is indeed a life-long process full of sinuous paths that twist and turn in various directions with hills and dales along the way. One’s search for meaning in life is a quest that speaks to our being human. Our search is for something that speaks to our core that tells who we are and what we’re all about. What are some characteristics of this search?

Day-to-Day Living

An important realization about our search for meaning is that it addresses all facets of life. There’s not one big M (Meaning) that ends the search for everyone. Meaning and purpose are what drive us to face and live through each day. For many people such a drive may be found in their work. Many artists and entrepreneurs would claim that their work and creativity give them purpose to continue on each day. Others may find such purpose in connection and family. Still others may find such value in serving other people in some way. Some search for the meaning in some form of spirituality. Then others may find a meaningful and fulfillment existence in striking a balance in all the above – work, family, service, and spirituality. Some individuals believe that spirituality is what allows them to strike such a balance. Whatever it is that gives people meaning and purpose, it is that thing that allows them to face existence day-in-and-day-out. It allows them to face the challenges that come their way that may lead them to question their values and what they believe to be meaningful.

The Struggle for Existence

A second characteristic of our search is that it will involve struggles, questions, and doubts. If something is worth pursuing to a meaningful level, it will not all the time come easy. Existence and the experiences it entails have a way of testing what we truly value and desire in life. Values are formed through the tests of fire. We may find through particular experiences that we actually value something different than we originally believed. Likewise, we are faced with the question through the fire of experience whether or not we’re willing to pay the costs to carve out the life we believe to be meaningful. These struggles are the very things that lead many people to give up their search and live what Thoreau called lives of quiet desperation. The thing I’m not saying is that we should purposely search for difficulties, struggles, and pain in our lives. That’s called masochism. Life has a way of bringing about enough struggles without our having to look for them or create them. People’s struggles also vary from individual to individual. We all have our own level of difficulties and what they produce in our lives. The key thing to understand is that if we want something that is meaningful on a deep level to us, it will require something more than smooth sailing.

The Search for Meaning is Individual

The notion of individualism today is chock full of baggage, misunderstanding, and political correctness. We are all connected to others, and we have been since we were brought into existence via a family, society, and culture. Regardless, our search for meaning is something we must carry out individually, even if it entails how we hope to relate to others. For example, if one finds meaning in family or serving others, that person doesn’t lose who he or she is in the process. Indeed, following out what one believes to be meaningful enhances rather than annihilates one’s personal identity. No other human being can give you your meaning or create your life for you. For sure, we seek out those whom we believe to be wise and from whom we can garner understanding and wisdom. Ultimately however, individually we must decide our life’s path and follow it.

A Note on Spirituality

As a Christian, I believe that I will find my ultimate meaning in my relationship with the Triune God. Not everyone will agree with me here, but it is my personal belief. Some may ask if I’m not just looking for another form of the big M. In saying that my personal meaning is found in my relationship with God, that entails the way I am to live from day-to-day. From the Christian perspective, we call such daily living our sanctification, by which we seek to become conformed to the image of Christ. Like any search and hope, this involves daily living with struggles that challenge our faith, make us question things, and even doubt things about our faith. Such a relationship with God also entails a calling. Work, family, and service of some kind are all inherent in a personal calling, one that each of us must search out for him- or herself. Just as no one can give me meaning, no other person can have faith for me. My faith falls within my calling and personal relationship with God.  

Conclusion

Not everyone will agree with me regarding my spiritual beliefs as a Christian. My private practice is open to all. Contemplations is a space where anyone who desires can take the time to explore what they truly value – what is purposeful and meaningful for them. I deeply believe that we are meaning-making creatures. The struggles that life throws at us will make us question a lot of things. Life’s experiences will lead us to question our very act of making meaning. The depth of living comes at the risk of pursuing what we claim to value so as to live the way we hope to live, finding our meaning in the day-to-day battles and blessings of life.

John V. Jones, Jr., Ph.D., LPC-S/May 14th, 2019

GENERAL ESSAY

Palm Sunday Reflection: Sacrificing Depth

Introduction

I make it a habit to journal in the mornings along with taking time for prayer and reflective thought. This past week the thought popped into my head, I have sacrificed depth. I’m sure that many people are no strangers to being haunted by the idea that they have wasted valuable time in their lives. Likewise, I’m sure that they also have felt the prick of conscience whereby they yearned to recapture that time. Metaphors about time hit home with a deep thrust. Time is a river that flows on and slips away. It is the wind blowing through our fingers that we can’t grasp and hold in place. As a counselor, I work with clients who are Christians. Since this is Palm Sunday, in this blog article I want to speak to two counterbalancing truths that always appear to challenge the capacity for human thought. There are truths cut into reality. Actions have consequences; and we can waste the time allotted to us. There’s nothing more frightening than a wasted life. A deeper truth, however, flows from another sacrifice that was made over two millennial ago. Although we cannot reclaim the time we let slip through our hands, or alter the consequences rendered by our choices, God’s grace nevertheless abounds as the most powerful force in the universe.

The Idea of Discipline

I’m sure by now that most people know about and have pondered what is called the 10k rule. There’s a lot of good common sense ensconced in that idea, and we would be foolish not to attend to its accuracy. The rule basically states that to become deeply skilled in an endeavor requires ten thousand hours of study, practice, and development. When we look back on wasted time that amounts to years, we recognize that we allowed many of those hours to vanish without sowing the opportunities for later fruit. We are left standing only with the now that faces us. Time for depth goes beyond the mere 10k rule, not in terms of hours, but in terms of habit, sticktoitiveness, and discipline. That latter word, discipline, truly captures the notion of time and depth. Often I reflect on what I’ve sown regarding several pursuits throughout my life, but I particularly think about it in terms of the pursuit to know God. Time spent with God surely leads to depth, but one must pursue. Growing in the knowledge of God and incurring spiritual growth is what the Bible calls sanctification. And it takes time and discipline. I became a Christian in the autumn of 1969 in a dorm room visited by a couple of members from Campus Crusade for Christ. This next September in 2019 will be fifty years since that evening on the campus of the University of North Texas. There are certain questions I find difficult to contemplate. One is: What have I done with those fifty years?

Appearance versus Substance

Alfred Adler spoke about the notion of appearance versus substance. To pursue mere appearance of achievement in the world is to sow to what is in fact shallow. Appearance can be manufactured. Substance has to be carved out of life through effort and skill development. As a Christian, the substance comes from God, knowing him, knowing his word, and engaging in prayer with him. He provides us with the gifts with which we can carve out our depths in obedience to him. Dallas Willard and Richard Foster have written extensively about the Christian disciplines. Like any discipline, the effort put into it can become either a legalistic duty or the meaningful pursuit of spiritual formation and transformation, a pursuit I call meaningful depth. Spiritual formation and continued transformation requires effort and time.

Effort and Time

We are always using time in one way or another. There is the kind of time that one puts into something. Call it quality time, disciplined time, conscientious time, or however one wants to label it. Whatever it is, it’s not simply watching-the-clock time. I can sit looking at a book for hours, mindlessly casting my eyes on the words. Or I can read it with studious intention. The pursuit of a skill requires effort, discipline, and time. Likewise, skill development consists of testing and measuring oneself as to how one is progressing. Spiritual development is the same with the added notion that from the Christian perspective, a relationship is developed with the one true Creator of all things. The Psalms, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes are chock full of statements about how one develops and accrues wisdom. Biblical wisdom is about the skill – the depth – of living life, what the theologian B. B. Warfield described as not mere knowledge but that instinctive skill in the practical use of knowledge, that moral and spiritual insight. . . (1). Whatever I sacrificed during those fifty years, many of which I didn’t pursue my relationship with God, it entailed the ability to wisely live life. Additionally it entailed sacrificing substance for the shallowness of appearance.

Tensions: God’s Grace and Human Choice

So what do I do about those wasted years? Can anything be done about them? Am I left merely with the fact that there’s no remedy for having floundered them? Is there a way to overcome bad choices? There are tensions in life that we must simply hold although we cannot totally comprehend them. God is gracious and merciful. It’s not that he cannot give me my time back. It’s that he will not because such choices and consequences are fixed into life. The writer of the Book of Hebrews stated it is appointed for a man to die once. . . We have the life that God has given us. And daily, we have the choices in front of us that we make. His grace abounds nonetheless. If there is an overcoming, (and I believe there is), it lies in the grace he provides. Where he can take me now is beyond my imagination. He can take me beyond all the foolish choices I’ve made to destinations I could have never imagined. Wherever that place is, it will be more about changing me than the choices I made and my circumstances. I don’t know what that means or what it will look like. What I do know is that I am here now. Knowing that now is what counts. Part of spiritual growth no doubt entails facing the choices I’ve made. They are real, and there’s no unmaking them. Spiritual growth also entails constantly casting those choices on God’s grace. Spiritual formation and ultimate transformation can and will occur if I pursue knowing God. What I would say to Christian clients who are in the same boat that I scull is this. Welcome along for the ride. Let’s see where it takes us.

Conclusion

This is Palm Sunday. Perhaps today, we can embrace the full meaning of this time and next Sunday when we celebrate Christ’s resurrection and think about the choices we’ve made, and the real consequences that come with them. Our choices and consequences are due to our fallen nature. A sacrifice has been made to cover that fallen nature and all it entails. Again, the writer of Hebrews tells us what we have available to us. He calls us to approach the throne of grace to find grace.

(1) Warfield, B. B. (1970). Selected Shorter Writings [Volume 1]. Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing.

John V. Jones, Jr., Ph.D., LPC-S/April 14th, 2019

GENERAL ESSAY


Values & Counseling: Working as a Christian Counselor

Introduction

I am a Christian. I’m also a Licensed Professional Counselor with Supervisory Status [LPC-S], licensed in the state of Texas. Obviously questions emerge as to how I practice as a counselor with the belief system I hold in a field that, for the most part, has embraced a postmodern worldview. I am asked such questions as what do you do when your clients are not Christian? In fact, most of the people I work with report no spiritual beliefs at all while others have sought me out because I am a Christian. Others want to know do you seek to proselytize your clients? This is a question to which I can answer emphatically no. For a Christian who is a counselor, the goal of counseling is never evangelism. Still others inquire how can you help but judge your clients if you’re a Christian? Every therapist possesses values off which they operate. Given that fact, the question how can you help but judge relates to everyone who works as a professional counselor. Moreover, the question relates to how one lives life period while seeking to embrace his personal values. The conversation around values, particularly when it revolves around religious and spiritual values, is a delicate one indeed. I strongly take the position that not only can a Christian work with individuals from all walks of life who hold various and sundry values, but also I believe that no client has anything to fear working with a Christian counselor anymore than he would working with any other therapist.

The Dirty J-Word: Judgment

As a Christian counselor how can you help but judge your clients is the way the question is commonly put. Like many questions and statements, one has to peal back numerous layers of premises that underlie them. One premise is that Christianity is all about believers going around condemning and judging people. Like anyone else, I live in a world populated by countless and contrasting worldviews. Although I disagree with many worldviews, I don’t find that fact any more relevant for a Christian than I do for a pure rationalist, an Objectivist, or a radical atheist. Everyone lives in a context whereby they meet up with worldviews that counter their own. It appears many times that individuals tend to equate judgment with any disagreement whatsoever. That’s a tendency that adolescents fall into. In fact such short sighted views define adolescence. What’s more at stake here is the fact that people of all walks of life hold contrasting and even diametrically opposed moral values. Yes, people hold different moral standards. The question that matters is not whether people hold moral standards that are in opposition to one another, but how they go about holding such views while interacting with those with whom they lack common ground and disagree. Individuals who hold different moral values have assessed – judged – and have reached the position they in fact hold. If for that reason one believes that a person who holds a different moral standard from his is judging him, then is he not also judging the other by holding a different moral standard? The word judgment carries a lot of baggage that is wrapped in all sorts of caricatures. The fact is that most people will take a stand on what they believe to be right or wrong. We see someone beating a dog, slapping a helpless person around in public, or stealing money from someone. We have made a judgment – taken a stand – as to what we think about such actions and how we should respond. Our stance emerges from our worldview. But when most people talk about judgment, such matters are not what they are talking about. Suffice it to say, I believe that God will ultimately judge the world and its inhabitants. What that means for me is more about how I’m to live, knowing that I too will be judged. This notion segues into other questions that are posed to Christian counselors.

Counseling is Not Proselytizing or Evangelizing

I will gladly talk to anyone about my faith, why I believe the things I do, and who I believe Jesus Christ to be and what he has accomplished. Given that I hold a Judeo-Christian worldview, that is something that I simply do, no different than someone who talks about why they believe in Nirvana, Objectivist rationalism, or radical atheism. Like any counselor who abides by the Professional Code of Ethics, however, I do not view counseling as foisting my values onto my clients, seeking to either persuade or convert them. If I did such things as a Christian counselor, it would be equally but no more egregious than if someone sought to persuade his clients that God doesn’t exist. My job is to meet my clients where they are with what they are bringing into the counseling room. I hope to help them live out their own lives according to their own values whether or not I agree with them. To do otherwise I or anyone else would be violating the client’s autonomy. Some clients seek me out because I’m a Christian. Others do not. Sometimes clients may want to inquire about the belief systems their therapists hold. I’m willing to have that conversation as long as the client wants to have the conversation. The notion that Christian counselors somehow are the ones who are overly concerned with proselytizing their clients is a gross fiction, even given some of the stories that people may hear. In addition to those stories, I’ve heard additional ones regarding therapists who seek to persuade their clients to have certain outlooks on life. It’s a trap into which anyone can easily fall, Christian or otherwise.

Working with Clients Who Are Christian

Quite frankly, I enjoy working with clients who hold a Judeo-Christian worldview because of the common ground that we hold in seeking to navigate the world and all the struggles it brings our way. Common ground, however, doesn’t mean that believing clients and I agree on everything. Christians disagree on numerous things, and not just unimportant matters. In fact, Christians, like anyone else, have to conclude at times that they and their Christian acquaintances simply do not see eye-to-eye on some things and never will. Common ground exists between them however to which they can constantly refer as to how to interact when such disagreements emerge. My goal is to respect all individuals, Christian or not, simply because I believe they are created by God whether or not they believe they are so created. Otherwise, I would be treating them less than I’m called to treat them. Christians or otherwise, I believe people find it smoother sailing to work with those who hold similar worldviews to theirs because of the common ground that exist between them. I think that’s simply a part of being human. We can all learn how to better interact with those with whom we disagree. Such interaction is a constant learning process and one of personal growth.

Conclusion

Many people claim that it’s okay to disagree on the smaller matters of life, but not on the heavier issues regarding how to live. I couldn’t disagree more. In fact this is one area where those who claim such things and I would have to agree to disagree. I believe that it’s the mark of civilization to have the ability to disagree on the weightier matters of life and still coexist. I think today we are reaching a point where that ability is lacking more and more in our civilization. It is a weighty thing that you and I might hold totally diametrically opposed moral values. It’s no small matter at all. Such opposition however carries no apodictic conclusion that I wish you ill or hate you on some level. Hate is a word thrown around today in ways that makes one wonder how elastic a term can become and sill have any semblance of meaning. It appears that hatred as it’s commonly used now means that if you disagree with me on important matters, then you hate me. For sure, if we disagree, both you and I have taken a stand on something. We have made a judgment. There is no logical conclusion that we must hate each other because we fall on opposite sides of an issue. We may want to spend more time with other people who have similar worldviews to ours. Such is the nature of being human. To recognize that we hold diametrically opposed worldviews yet can still discuss and realize where we part ways is the mark of civilized people. Divisiveness appears to be ruling much of our dialogue these days. F. A. Hayek once said that a civilization can easily be destroyed. It does not follow that once destroyed it can easily be built again. If we cannot radically accept that the world comprises people who hold diametrically opposed moral standards and values, then we must question what that means for social interaction and ultimately, our civilization.

John V. Jones, Jr., Ph.D., LPC-S/March 14th, 2019

GENERAL ESSAY       

The Feast of Saint Valentine

Introduction

Given that this blog is published the 14th of each month, it comes as somewhat of surprise even to me that over the five-plus years I’ve written here, I’ve never uttered a word about Valentine’s Day. Although over the years Valentine’s Day has become associated with romantic love, sending gifts such as flowers and chocolate, and engaging in fun dates, it may come as news to some that this day historically carries a religious significance. And I’m not talking about chocolate.

The Feast of Saint Valentine

Valentine’s Day began, as what is called in the Western Christian tradition, a feast day, honoring one or two early saints named Valentinus.  Saint Valentine of Rome was a widely known saint commemorated in 3rd Century Christianity. Martyrdom stories accompanied the celebration of this saint. For example, one story had it that Saint Valentine became persecuted for performing marriages for soldiers who were, for various reasons, forbidden to be married. Supposedly he was imprisoned for ministering to Christians who had been persecuted by the Roman Empire. Another story proffered Saint Valentine as a healer. As the story goes, he restored the sight to a blind girl who was the daughter of judge. He wrote a letter to her signed Your Valentine as a farewell letter before his execution. In A.D. 496, to honor Valentine of Rome, Pope Gelasius established the holiday, the Feast of Saint Valentine, on February 14th, the day of Saint Valentine’s death.

Valentine’s Day is an official feast holiday in the Anglican Communion and Lutheran Church. Many parts of the Eastern Orthodox church celebrate Saint Valentine as well, but on different dates during the summer months. Since the High Middle Ages, Valentine’s Day became associated with courtly love, as described by some of the writings of Geoffrey Chaucer. As the holiday continued to be celebrated into the 18th and 19th Centuries, it became associated with romantic love, the heart shaped symbol, doves, winged Cupid, and romantic nights out for pleasant dinners. Western Europe recognizes Valentine Keys that are given to lovers to unlock the giver’s heart. These keys likewise are given to children to ward off Saint Valentine’s Malady, also known as epilepsy. Interestingly, Valentine’s Day as a romantic event is celebrated all throughout the world, more than just about any other holiday. Though considered a holiday, it is not officially recognized as one whereby people get a day off from work. But from the Far East to Western Europe, and the Americas, Valentine’s Day is a celebration not to be forgotten by lovers without grave consequences.

Lovers and Relationships

I’ve never come across any statistics that point out whether or not relationship issues in counseling increase exponentially during the month of February. Since intimate relationships are one of the main reasons that many clients enter counseling, some doctoral student out there might generate some interesting research on couples’ counseling during the month of February. No doubt the month highlights the theme of intimate relationships. C. S. Lewis’ interesting work, The Four Loves, could provide some meaningful commentary on Valentine’s Day, as well as the nature of love itself. In this work, Lewis delineated four types of love: 1) Storge or empathy bond; 2) Philia or friendship bond; 3) Eros or erotic bond; and 4) Agape or unconditional “God” love. Obviously, Valentine’s Day has largely become associated with Eros, but could not all four types of love be celebrated on Valentine’s Day? And could a broader understanding of what it means to love bring about a well-balanced relationship among lovers, expanding our understanding of love beyond Eros?

The Four Loves

The empathy bond (Storge) occurs among family members, including the natural love that parents have for their children. It’s the type of love whereby familiarity and fondness lead people to meet the needs of those of whom they are fond. When needs cease, this type of love may play out, not due to selfishness, but due simply to the fact that needs are met and people move on. This love may be described via the notion of affection.

The friendship bond (Philia) is one that Lewis believes is a lost art in society. Friendship love is a strong bond that exists between those who share common values, interests, and activities. Think about a strong marriage where both husband and wife claim to have married their best friend. To some degree, I agree with Ayn Rand, who claims that it is next to impossible for people to become close friends when their values are diametrically opposed.

And then comes (Eros), and everyone knows what that kind of love entails. The erotic bond is what many mean by being in love. Yet Lewis offers a warning here. The goddess Venus holds sway over raw pleasure. But Lewis believed that Eros could broaden and deepen the escapades of Venus, making a distinction between what Lewis described as wanting a woman and wanting a particular woman. Eros turns the instinctual pleasures of Venus into the most appreciative of all pleasures whereby the reasoning angel and the instinctual angel meld into one. Moreover, Lewis warned of the dangers of turning Eros into a god, as he saw modern society doing. Venus through all her pleasures can urge us to evil, as well as good. Eros fills us with instinctual pleasure, but can lead us down a dark sway that can be the disaster and ruin for many a man and woman.

Unconditional, selfless love (Agape), Lewis considered the greatest form of love that holds regardless of one’s circumstances. The other three loves, Lewis designated as natural loves. Agape is God-love and sustains the other three. This form of love provides the foundation for the other three to exist. Unconditional love means that one stays with the ship regardless of the storms that rage around it. As human beings, we cannot naturally pull this kind of love off. It requires a spiritual strength, which Lewis believed to reside in the Biblical notion of Agape. Yet unconditional love can become a goal of the highest order, and is one that I suspect we all would admit down deep is a type of love we’re looking and hoping for.

Conclusion

I hope that everyone has a wonderful Valentine’s Day and Feast. No doubt, Eros will be in the air. How even more wonderful the experience of Eros might be if we consider all of the Four Loves that C. S. Lewis delineates as a package that by God’s strength we can attain. Such well-rounded love is a journey that goes beyond Valentine’s Day. In the meantime, enjoy. Then continue the journey through a full feast served up by the Four Loves.

John V. Jones, Jr., LPC-S/February 14th, 2019

GENERAL ESSAY

Circle of Control

Introduction

I am sure that most people have read or know of the Serenity Prayer. The prayer speaks to a key element for our understanding that I believe is important if we are to navigate this life while trying to maintain some sense of sanity. That key element forms the foundation of Stoic philosophy, and is addressed throughout the wisdom literature of Judeo-Christian thought. If we are to be wise we must possess some understanding of what is and what is not in our control. Such understanding helps us act on the former while letting go of the latter. Such understanding is not solidified as such until we act on it. The Stoics distinguished between externals and internals. They stated over and over in their writings that we have little to no control over externals. The chaos that life throws at us via natural catastrophes, social and political upheavals, and the pain individuals close to us bring into our lives is beyond our control. Although we would prefer that these things would not occur and happen to us, we cannot escape the fact that they do.

According to the Stoics, what we have under our control is our reactions to these events when they happen. We can let such events upset us, bury us in depression, and even disrupt and destroy our lives. To the contrary we can by what the Stoics call reasoned choice respond to these events in ways that we encounter them, know their impact, then let them go and choose to move on with our lives. The Stoics have often been misunderstood in their position here. Reasoned choice doesn’t mean that events in life are not painful, catastrophic, and life altering. It doesn’t mean that we don’t get angry, cry, and feel remorse or regret. It does mean, however, that we do not let these emotions bury us. The Stoic is not Mr. Spock of Star Trek fame. Life is a struggle, and through the pains of living we learn to let go of what we can’t control. To continue to hold on to what we can’t control leads to further agony, pain, and loss. The Stoics referred to what lies within our abilities to respond as our circle of control.

Reasoned choice is what the Stoics call mind. Mind is one of the key themes that I want to explore over the next few years while I remain on this earth. I have spoken of these various themes on this blog here and here. Stoicism is one form or way of thinking about mind. Given my faith as a Christian, I will add my spin on what the Stoics have to say.

Stoicism and Mind

In his Discourses, Epictetus informs us that we have a limited circle of control. If we seek to control all that lies outside that circle, we are trying to face life and its vicissitudes with abilities we simply do not possess. The ability we do possess is to control our reasoned choice. Stoicism tells us the one thing that lies in our circle of control is our mind. When you get right down to it, there’s a truckload of life experiences that lie outside our control while perhaps there’s a thimble full of effort that lies in our control. That doesn’t mean that thimble full of wisdom is not important. It’s very important that we sharpen our skills in the use of our mind, particularly when it comes to understanding our circle of control. In terms of our circle, even more than this is important for us to understand. While we have the ability to make choices, we do not possess the control to know where our choices begin and how they end. The consequences of our choices are part of the fallout of living in this world with all its beauty and all its pain. We hopefully seek to make the wisest choices we can, but we also fall short of that most of the time. Even when we do make wise choices, we have no control over where they lead. Epictetus calls us to live, “. . . giving up all outside of your sphere of choice, regarding nothing else as our possession, surrendering all else to God and Fortune.”

Fatalism Is Not Allowed on These Premises

Talking about the reality that we as human beings have an extremely limited circle of control might lead people to interpret Stoicism as fatalistic. Nothing could be further from the truth. An accurate understanding of our place in the world is the foundation of our ability to live wisely. Such understanding is a source of strength, stability, and wise action. It’s our way of not seeking to do and expecting more in life than we should. From a Christian perspective, the Scriptures speak to much of what the Stoics address, adding from my perspective more depth and comfort. The wisdom literature and the New Testament gospels appeal to the same understanding of surrendering to God. (I’m not sure who Fortune is 🙂 ). We have far reaching promises for a right relationship with God, but what the Bible does not promise us is that in this life we will get all that we expect and hope for. The moral will of God is given to us. Beyond that we do not know our paths. We do know that our paths are in God’s hands. I truly believe, although I don’t like it very much, that we have little in life that is under our control. I would even say to the Stoics, I don’t even have control over my mind the way they tend to proffer. So it behooves us to work as efficient as we can with what is in our control. From a Christian perspective, I need added power to even accomplish that feat. Such power is promised us. What is not promised is that life will give me all that I want. Rather than fatalism, one can take comfort in knowing what is under one’s control and what is not, thereby living accordingly.

Conclusion

There’s a lot of discussion in the counseling field regarding what leads clients to seek out counseling. Many times when people think of psychotherapy, they immediately think of mental illness, hospital wards, medication, and things like psychoses and debilitating neuroses. Although such cases make up many experiences for some therapists, numerous people enter counseling who would not be considered mentally ill or diagnosable. They simply are dealing with the struggles that life brings their way. Meaning, purpose, interpersonal relationships, and questions around identity drive people into counseling. One experience I see over and over again is people seeking to deal with things they can’t control, but not wanting to let go of the hope that they can find a way to control them. Why wouldn’t this be a common experience in counseling? It’s a common experience in life. It’s a common experience I face in my life everyday. Whether it’s dwelling on the past, or painting some magnanimous picture for the future I would like to see happen, I find that I’m losing focus on the present moment and not dealing in that small realm with which I can actually deal. Viktor Frankl came to grips with the reality of his limited circle of control when the Nazis ushered him into the concentration camps. In his work, Man’s Search for Meaning, he stated that the powers that exist could take everything away from him except one thing – his response to his circumstances.

I believe strongly that coming to grips what our circle of control is a constant battle that is the human condition.

 

John V. Jones, Jr., Ph.D., LPC-S/January 14, 2019

GENERAL ESSAY

Meanderings: 2018

Introduction

Each year, I approach this final blog of the year to reflect upon the past 12 months, project some ideas into the future, and summarize my thoughts about things professional and personal. As I reflect back on the year, retirement mode, my private practice, and changes in the counseling field stand out. As I think about the future, readings in neuroscience, supervision methods, and building my clientele surface to the forefront of my mind. In terms of things professional and personal, I have a sense of being in a good place as a counselor but I need to pour more work into making my practice what I hope it to be. Writing still pulls at me, so I have set a goal over the next year to accomplish some projects upon which I’ve been reflecting for some time.

Retirement and Private Practice

I reached semi-retirement as a professor over five years ago. I have written on this blog about my thoughts on retirement, knowing that I was in the midst of that transition. Now retirement mode has come full force, and I’m completely retired from being a university professor, with that income no longer flowing into my bank account. Of course, that raises some anxiety, but presently I haven’t fallen into impoverishment. Although I may at times do some adjunct work for the university, for the most part, the identity of being a university professor has come to an end. Having lived in that identity for nearly thirty years (counting time spent teaching at the community college level), its finish brings on a strange sense of existence to say the least. But overall it’s a good sense.

Transitioning from university prof to professional counselor has its challenges although I’ve maintained a part-time private practice over the many years I’ve taught at the university. Building my practice is not something I have to start from scratch, which is a good thing. Because well-seasoned thought is difficult to accomplish, what will be more difficult for me is to conceptualize how I want to shape my practice going forward. What do I want my private practice to be about? The lingo used by some to reflect upon this question revolves around the notion of branding. When people see my practice, what is it exactly that I want them to see? Answers to these questions must be worked out over the next year because the time to truly solidify my thoughts on these questions is now. No doubt, supervision will remain part of the make up of what I do. Where I really need to put in the work is discerning what kind of clientele I hope to attract. I have written about that topic on this blog before, but now I need to put some shoe leather on making that come alive in my practice.

Of course, the above thoughts assume that I don’t want to fully retire from work all together. I don’t see not working as a part of my life. Even if I did fold the practice, I would want to see what I could accomplish with writing, which is another goal I’ve set for myself.

So I Want to Be a Writer

When my goals are put in a statement such as that, it sounds silly. A writer writes. He doesn’t sit around thinking about being a writer. Although at this point I’m not ready to make public my ideas about writing, I most definitely have some thoughts I want to pursue. Presently, I have over a hundred poems I’ve written over the past four or five years that I hope to self publish. I have some other ideas as well that I’m not ready to state publicly. Suffice it to say that I’m having some thoughts while reading Richard Foster’s Sanctuary of the Soul: Journey into Meditative Prayer. Projecting into the next year, I’ll have more to say about this reading and what it means as well. For now, it’s important to say nothing until I’m more certain about things. Too often I talk, but do nothing. Now is the time for silence and to get things solidified. My personal faith will have a lot to say regarding how my future will be shaped. At least, I hope it does.

I’m not sure how much my ideas about writing will involve counseling. Obviously, at least to some small degree, this field in which I work will influence my ideas, thoughts, and conclusions in ways that will work into some of the things I might write. The major way in which counseling will play out in my writing is its contribution to my understanding of human nature. Presently, researchers and practitioners in the counseling field are experiencing the impact that neuroscience places upon the field. Given this pressure, I hope to do some reading and study in the arena of neuroscience. I’m not sure that counselors recognize what the full impact of findings in neuroscience mean for our field. I have already written on this subject to some degree. I believe more work is needed in this area because so many claims are being made on which we need solid and concrete clarification.

Conclusion: Things Professional and Personal

The name of this blog is Contemplations: Exploring the Life of the Mind: The Arts, Sciences, and Critical Inquiry. I want to fill out what that title means for this blog. I have written before about core areas in which I’m interested, one of which involves mind, exploring the core elements of human nature. I still strongly believe that we are meaning-making creatures seeking a life of fulfillment whereby we search out ways to live in alignment with our values, lining up how we act with what we believe. We are creatures with a worldview that we hope will guide us through the living out of our lives.

Presently, we live in a postmodern age where the idea of truth has been made so relative that it’s difficult for people to take a stand on what they believe to be true. Given the impact of postmodernism, a backlash in thought has occurred where the age of Enlightenment is seen as a remedy to the assault on science as a way of guiding us in thought and action. Although I agree with many thinkers who have come to be heavily critical of the postmodern age, there are also dangers in store from the new gurus touting a return to the Enlightenment. I value what the Enlightenment brought to human thinking and knowledge, but there are many questions regarding spirituality and the sacred for which neither postmodernism nor the Enlightenment offer a foundation. All of these ideas, thoughts, and inquiry I hope to explore and write about moving forward into the future, which begins with the New Year of 2019.

Highways and crossroads wait for us all. Hope to see you there.

 

John V. Jones, Jr., Ph.D, LPC-S/December 14th, 2018

GENERAL ESSAY

Foundations: Reflections upon the Holidays

Introduction

For as long as I can remember, the holidays have always been a fun-filled time for me. I’m glad during these septuagenarian years that I haven’t changed in that regard. Beginning with Halloween, the celebration is on. Of course, being a Christian, Thanksgiving and Christmas carry more import for me. No doubt my growing up in the family that surrounded me imbued the holidays with special meaning. Solid foundations that a loving and nurturing family can lay form springboard for moving on into life.

Home at Thanksgiving

Last year at this time, I penned a blog regarding my mom and her journey into becoming a professional nurse. I tend to become reflective about family at the beginning of every holiday season. Unfortunately, I believe Thanksgiving gets the short end of the stick when it comes to festivities. Everyone is wild about Halloween, and then the Christmas decorations start emerging in all the retail centers. One hears questions from various people like, what happened to Thanksgiving. Christmas decorations coming out in late October and early November appear to jump over Thanksgiving like a game of checkers. As for Thanksgiving, people can become more excited about Black Friday sales than the holiday with family interactions.

My family always celebrated Thanksgiving with the traditional dinner, joined by relatives and friends. Although there was plenty of turkey over the years, my mom enjoyed baked chicken due to its succulent and moist taste. She learned from my grandmother on my dad’s side how to cook, and she never disappointed. The aromas of food ready for preparation created a mien throughout the house beginning a couple of days before the big Thanksgiving feast. Over the years mom became more and more adamant about preparing holidays meals herself rather than letting other family members take on the task. She loved the big spread that covered a large dining table, and before she would let anyone take a bite, plenty of photographs had to take in the scene to commemorate each year’s feast.

I remember those times being about family, fun, and of course, food. Seeing relatives that otherwise lived miles away made the few days of Thanksgiving special. Cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents filled the times with memories. The Thanksgiving meals remained a Jones tradition for decades. During the time I was in school, Thanksgiving Day always fell on the last Thursday of November rather than the third Thursday as it does now. That meant that my birthday also fell on the Thanksgiving holidays. Ever so often, it would fall on Thanksgiving Day itself. So for me, that made Thanksgiving even more fun.

What made Thanksgiving, as well as the other holidays, truly special was the energy into which mom poured her self into preparing all the food, calling and inviting the relatives, and decorating the house. She truly loved those times and never saw them as something she felt coerced to engage. Was she exhausted when they were over? Absolutely. But she wouldn’t have changed a thing. I will always remember our home as festive during the holidays.

Time Moves On

When I was young, I had a faint sense that the future would entail the passing on of my parents. As I grew older, that sense strengthened into a full-fledged awareness, and eventually became a known reality. As a professional in the work-a-day world of counseling, I know the importance of family. My experience of my family, however, imbues that importance with a reality that counseling theories can never touch.

You see, I’m one of those corny guys who does not hold grudges against either my mom or dad. I didn’t grow up in a home where I regret anything regarding family. Any regrets I have are due to my own actions. I don’t have any repressed hostilities against family authority or something called patriarchy. Did my parents and I have disagreements? You bet we did. We had our disagreements and arguments like any family. The key thing for me, however, even in the midst of times where we vehemently disagreed on things, there was never a question regarding support and love.

As a professional counselor, over the years I’ve worked with people who didn’t grow up in the kind of family I was blessed enough to be a part of. So yes, I know the importance of family first hand. I know the importance of how core beliefs, values, and ways of taking on life emerge from family. I know, as well, that it’s hard to learn those lessons when a nurturing, supportive, and loving family is absent from one’s life. Learning about life is something that cannot be made up in a short time. Even with the supportive family I had, I’ve had to learn about time and heeding lessons. The foundations laid in family experiences will last a lifetime. That’s why those times are immensely important. They shape the way we view, engage and experience the most important relationships we have moving forward.

Time moves on whether we want it to or not. In many ways we become aware of its inexorable press forward when we would like to slow it down, hold it back, or shut it down for at least a little while. But we do not as finite creatures possess the power to stop or alter time. The one thing I would advise people to do, if I can take the position of a septuagenarian here who at least has some worthwhile advice to give, is to grab hold of your family experiences with all you have in you, and learn from them all that you can glean. Make memories. And then make some more. Family can be a foundation on which you can stand for all your life.

Conclusion

Time moves on. My dad died in 1999 of coronary heart disease. He would have been seventy-five years old that September. I watched esophageal cancer take mom when she was seventy-seven in 2007. I miss those days with them everyday that I move on with time. The lessons learned and forgotten are worthy, but the memories of love are forever and never relinquish in strength. Like so many, I was a rebellious teenager, a young adult who grew up in the 1960’s, and a person who changed with adulthood like anyone else who navigates life. Even during those changes, there was a foundation that never wavered. John Bowlby calls it secure base. I called it a home.

As I look back on those times now, I realize something very important. The energy and gusto that mom poured into Thanksgiving meals were not just about the holidays. Those happy times emerged from a solid and loving family that generated the festive times during the holidays, and not the other way around. My family was not what it was because of the holidays. The holidays were what they were because of my family.

I’ll never let go of all that those times meant for me. I’ll never let go of continuously learning what those times mean for my life now as a septuagenarian, who is still moving on in time.

John V. Jones, Jr., Ph.D., LPC-S/November 14, 2018

GENERAL ESSAY

The Good Life: Articulating an Idea

Introduction

Ideas are wonderful phenomena. They can be exciting as well as fun, especially when they bring one to the brink of possibly carving out a creative path for the journey one is traveling. I have been thinking lately about what the notion of the good life actually means. One of the reasons I liked being a professor for so many years is that graduate students can keep teachers tied into any creative sense they might possess. Although I’m retired now, I work with practicum students and postgraduate interns through my private practice. Recently I had a discussion with a practicum student who indicated that she is interested in career counseling, but not from the typical angle in which that genre of counseling is approached. She is more interested in what work or career means to people. What kind of value do people place on the notion of work and career? How does work fit into the way they envision life for themselves? My practicum student’s thoughts strongly resonated with me because I’ve have sought for several years how to talk with clients about work and career along the lines of valuation. Yet my thoughts have continued to float around in kind of a haze that I cannot quite articulate. How would I build a practice around such thoughts? What would my work with clients in this area actually look like? What would the work that clients and I pursue entail? Ideas are wonderful phenomena indeed. They come and they go. Some of them have handles onto which one can grasp. Many of them slip into and out of consciousness and are lost forever in cyberspace or some kind of other space. If ideas are going to fructify in one’s life, then they must move from that vague sense of haziness in the mind to becoming fully articulated. Somehow and in someway, I believe thoughts around work and career in conjunction with personal values can open up life and allow one to glimpse into some possible meaning about the good life.

Values and Career

Values exploration has become somewhat of a hot topic in counseling for several years now. An emphasis on values has always informed spiritual counseling. The resurgence of values exploration has come about especially with the popularity of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). Additionally I have never worked with a client where at least in some small way work or career hasn’t surfaced as a concern for the client.

At one time I thought I would enjoy the work of a career counselor. Such work is specifically delineated so as to help people find possible career paths or the type of job at which one would be efficient as well as enjoy. The notion of working with clients to help them find a job is not an idea that really interests me. I am more interested in the way people’s personal values relate to the jobs or career paths they have chosen. I’m particularly interested in the value and meaning that people place on work for themselves. Questions come to mind generated by this fuzzy idea I have of branding a practice. What place does work play in people’s lives? How does a job or career serve a person in terms of the way they desire to approach life? Is a career one’s ultimate goal, or is it a means that serves other ends? Is one’s work one’s passion? Or does work enable a person to pursue more meaningful passions? How does work or career fit into one’s idea about the good life? These questions and more presently form a fuzzy framework for how I envision the future of my work as a counselor. The goal, of course, is to fully articulate that framework, which is now nothing more than a vague idea.

Goat’s Milk

No. I’m not going to present a diatribe on goats’ milk, how it compares and contrasts to cows’ milk, or any other kind of milk. I will however present an anecdotal story that might lead people to think about values and work, and what might make up the good life.

Several years ago – I can neither remember the specific date nor the name of the individual involved – I read an article about a woman who worked in the power world of corporations and pulled off a success that took a lot hutzpah to get to the acme of her career. She gave it all up. And what was her reasoning for giving it up? She wanted to purchase and work a goat farm. At least I think it was a goat farm. It struck me in a way that I’ve not forgotten what that article was all about. From the acme of being a corporate CEO to goats’ milk and goat’s cheese. What was that all about? Simply put, it was about her pursuing and doing the very thing she has always wanted to do. Goats’ milk? Who knows why? What does it matter? She wanted to do it. Like anything else, she had to learn the skills that it took to make a goat farm work. The article was primarily about needing and learning the skills one needs to make a go of whatever kind of dream one is pursuing. One doesn’t simply sit around, and with the wishing all comes true. But the article about this woman’s major transition in life brings up something even more important. For her, a goat farm carried deep meaning for her, and it was her take on the good life.

The Good Life

No. I’m not going to delve into the entire history of ideas whereby countless individuals have addressed how they view the good life. What interests me along these lines is more about how people understand what entails a balanced and meaningful life. Work or career is but one component of a well-balanced life. But in our culture, it is a supercharged and an important component for most people. Work can mean a lot of things to a host of individuals for the simple reason that each person is unique. And each individual has an angle on how he or she wants to tackle life. Along these lines I hope to shape my future private practice as a professional counselor. These are questions about life that truly interest me. As I discussed with my practicum students just the other day, articulating this vision for a private practice is a key that will open up whole ways of rethinking and approaching the work they want to do. On some level such reflections will lead to what professional entrepreneurs call branding. The articulation I seek to unfold within my own mind is much more than merely branding, as important at that is. The avenue I’m seeking to clarify at the moment is about how I think about life in general, and how my thoughts and values will shape the way I hope to develop my practice. As I stated earlier, there are few if any clients I’ve worked with who have no broached the worlds of work and finances somewhere along the line we have worked together. Work and money, like it or not, are always important parts of our lives. And please, that doesn’t mean that all one cares about is the filthy mammon. It doesn’t mean that one is a coarse materialist. What it does mean is that understanding how to navigate the worlds of work, career, and money contributes to a well-lived and fruitful life.

Conclusion

Theoretically, I believe my spiritual beliefs, values exploration, some existential thought, all encased in ACT provide an excellent framework for how I hope to articulate my vision for what I hope my practice to become over the next few years. I’m somewhat excited about moving forward on this vision because it dovetails with some other literature I’m reading in the areas of economics and an anarchist approach to life. The ideas of a well-lived life, living in accordance with my values, and the pursuit of a balanced and fulfilling life require personal liberty in a context where political power is viewed as the enemy of human decency. These ideas fold into what Albert Jay Nock called the humane life that brings about civilization. My spiritual beliefs form the foundation for all these thoughts, and they provide the means by which I make meaning of life. Meaning making is another important component of a life well-lived, or the good life.

 

John V. Jones, Jr., Ph.D., LPC-S/August 14th, 2018

GENERAL ESSAY

Psychotherapy, Neuroscience, & Consilience

Introduction

A couple of months back I published a blog article titled, Game Plan, that laid out various areas of interests and research that I want to pursue going forward on this blog. I proffered those areas of thought with the hope that they would become a guiding framework for future discussions and explorations. I believe each area addresses important concerns, not only within the field of counseling, but also in dealing with human nature and the human condition. This month’s blog article concludes five years of monthly blogs since I constructed this website. Next month’s blog will kickoff a sixth year of blogging. Going forward in accordance with my game plan I will inaugurate some detailed pursuits of the major changes occurring in the field of counseling, as well as discussions revolving around the Arts and Sciences – all within a wide framework of mind, meaning, thought/action, finitude/humility, and worldview. Within the next couple of years, I do believe that major changes for our professional field of counseling are heading our way. As I stated in a previous blog, the fields of endeavor that will produce the most impact on the way we see our work will be the those of cognitive science and neuroscience. In 1998 E. O. Wilson wrote Consilience, addressing a confluence of knowledge among the sciences and social sciences, as well as the humanities. These themes have been furthered explored by cognitive scientists, such as Steven Pinker and Daniel Dennett. Are we seeing the inroads of such a confluence when we consider the fields of cognitive science, neuroscience, and counseling?

Unity of Knowledge

The areas of cognitive science and neuroscience will introduce some earth-shattering changes, not only in the way we conceptualize within the profession of counseling, but also in the manner in which we do our work. The new technologies emerging in these fields are introducing information about the brain that we could have never imagined just a decade or so ago. The fields of cognitive science, neuroscience, and neurology will most likely shatter the way we have thought about counseling theories in the history of our field. We will have to take on revolutionary ways of thinking about human nature. For some time now, holistic theories in counseling have been gathering momentum that challenges past thinking about how we work as counselors. These holistic approaches for several years now have criticized the headiness of counseling and have sought to reintroduce the mind-body connection back into our understanding of human nature.

Although the pursuit of understanding the mind-body connection has always fallen in the domains of philosophy and psychology, the fields of cognitive science and neuroscience have open the door to empirical evidence of what occurs in the brain in real time. Technologies that have been developed within these fields provide correlative and palpable snap shots of brain activity while we think, act, and emote. We can actually look into the brains of people who are depressed and compare them to those who are not depressed. We can get a picture of an individual’s brain as its changes overtime as a person experiences therapy, engages exercise routines, makes dietary changes, etc. These technologies provide practitioners of various fields such as counseling with information we couldn’t touch or even get to until recently. We need to heed the warning that if counselors discount and negate these technological innovations, they do so at their peril. Fields evolve. Fields also overlap and interact in ways that are helpful. Shared information among the sciences and other fields is leading to partnerships that can now be made stronger due to the technological advances that not only inform research in the medical sciences, but also inform innovative research methods in the fields of psychology and psychotherapy.

It’s not that the field of counseling has never drawn from what are considered the hard sciences to help better understand human nature. It’s just that now, such interaction with other fields of endeavor are becoming easier. More importantly, such interactions are becoming vital if we want to better serve our clients. I think this is particularly true in clinical contexts where counselors are working with such populations as those who are severely depressed, experiencing crippling anxiety, dealing with past trauma, navigating life disturbing mania, and having to live day-to-day medicated for psychotic disorders. The information and technology from the fields of cognitive science and neuroscience can and will lead to a confluence of understanding and knowledge within the fields of the sciences, social sciences, and humanities. I think we are seeing the flow of knowledge merging like several streams coming together in ways that E. O. Wilson discussed nearly a decade ago in his work Consilience. Such unity of knowledge will bring about some amazing transformations in our understanding of human nature, and the ways that we work with human beings.

The Art and Science of Counseling

Of course such overlapping and integration of many fields of endeavor can also create problems. Turf battles for funding always come to mind. But what are some of the concerns that counselors may have regarding the fields of cognitive science and neuroscience?

Medicalizing the Field of Counseling

For some time within the field of counseling there has existed what is similar to C. P. Snow’s description from several decades ago in 1959 known as The Two Cultures. According to Snow these two cultures divided along the lines of the sciences and humanities, not only in problem solving about the world’s concerns, but also in embracing two completely different worldviews as he saw it. Though Snow has been severely criticized over the years, one can recognize the animosity that has no doubt existed between the two cultures. For example, in what might be called Romantic movements, one can detect an attitude of anti-science and anti-technology. Likewise, many believe that the fields that are deemed the hard sciences have sought to become the new priesthood of the day. Across the history of the field of counseling, this animosity has played out particularly in the debates between the behaviorists, psychoanalysts, and the humanists. The debate usually falls along the lines of who and what defines the framework for the field of psychotherapy. The cognitive behaviorists attacked psychodynamic approaches as being unscientific, promulgating concepts that could be neither observed nor measured. Others in the field shot back that counseling is not a science, but an art in human interaction, communication, and relating. Other debates followed along these lines involving such historical philosophical questions as free will versus determinism. Still others in the field of counseling were uneasy with what they considered an overuse of diagnostic labels and medication, leading to what they called the medicalization of the field of therapy. Hence there began for a number of decades the development of various conceptual camps resulting in what have been called the theories wars.

Yet the challenge stood: How can professional counselors inform public consumers that what they’re buying actually works? To say that this question is unimportant is naïve? To say it can be easily answered offhand is equally naïve. Research protocols began to be developed within each theoretical camp, the main emphasis being to prove the benefits of a particular theoretical conceptualization. Such divisiveness haunted the field in certain ways, especially in academia and the fallout among faculty who held different theoretical positions. It was not unheard of that some individuals were refused academic tenure due to the theoretical position they held.

I truly believe that the consilience E. O. Wilson proffers can quail and put at ease much of this theoretical bickering. For many counselors, however, there is still the fear that the field is becoming medicalized. With the onslaught of cognitive science and neuroscience challenging views of human nature, for some counselors their fear has intensified. A particular concern for many counselors regarding these innovative fields is the notion that they will lead to another form of reductionism. I see no reason for such fears.

Helpful Research Protocols

On a positive note, the debates among the conflicting perspectives in the field led to some worthwhile research. Perhaps in any field of endeavor its development requires such debates, infighting, and bickering in order for the field to evolve. Researchers developed a host of protocols for particular diagnostic groups, such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders, etc. Likewise, other researchers developed ways of possibly measuring the impact of such variables as client strengths when they begin therapy, client engagement of therapy, and the therapeutic relationship. Hence, the two cultures were finding ways to solidify their various interests and conceptualizations.

More importantly, however, the description of what the field of counseling is all about had to be expanded. I personally find it useful to distinguish between clinical concerns for clients versus general concerns that clients bring to counseling. There will always be clients who enter counseling, not because they are experiencing some diagnosis, but because they have general concerns about their direction in life, particular problems they need to solve, and life decisions they need to navigate. Many of these clients simply do not fit diagnostic criteria. They simply need to work some things out, and in doing so, they may find it helpful to talk to a professional counselor.

We have to recognize these two populations within counseling without falling into the hard lines of the two cultures. Not only that, we also have to recognized that the concerns clients face might very well overlap. Those who work through clinical difficulties will still need to possibly address general concerns when they no longer meet particular diagnostic criteria. Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) recognizes such distinctions in the way they conceptualize various levels of therapy. Likewise, we need to be aware of the extremes whereby some therapists view medication as a panacea, while other practitioners oppose diagnostics and medication all together. In other words, we need a radical change in the way we view the field of psychotherapy, but a change that reconciles the concerns of the two cultures. The fields of cognitive science and neuroscience have ushered in that need – to the excitement of some and the fear of others. One of the more immediate ways that cognitive science and neuroscience will impact our fields is in the area of theoretical conceptualization. Although this is another blog article for another time, we may be looking at a radical change in terms of how we talk about theory in counseling. The old theoretical textbooks just might have seen their day or will soon enough.

Conclusion: Consilience

We have moved a long way in the field of counseling where we recognize that we possibly dissected the human being in terms of mind and body. For some time now, various approaches have sought to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. Whether people like it or not, there appears to be a confluence in the streams of knowledge that help us understand human nature and the human condition. Moreover such consilience can lead to a proper and civil working relationship among scientists, social scientists, and the humanities. Obviously, there will always be disagreements, even sharp disagreements regarding our conceptualizations and understanding of the human predicament. Why should we expect these different perspectives and worldviews not to lead to some sharp and intense debates? Such debates further the growth of the field.

I strongly believe that counseling professionals should welcome the influences from the findings of cognitive science and neuroscience. We should also be aware that when we adapt such knowledge for our practice as counselors that we are rightly and accurately utilizing the knowledge from these scientific endeavors. Avoiding misinterpreted and misapplied pop neuroscience is as important as avoiding reckless pop psychology.

We are in an age where what E. O. Wilson designated as Consilience is coming to fruition. Hopefully the animosity produced by the existence of the two cultures will abate. It behooves all of those who have existed in the two cultures to find ways to make peace, while at the same time rightly adapting to new, innovative, and cutting edge knowledge and technology so as to enhance how we work. There exists no need for counselors to fear that cognitive science and neuroscience will put an end to the need of how they serve their clients. That need will always remain, but it will also evolve. If counselors, however, choose not to embrace new knowledge and technologies that can benefit their understanding of human nature, then it might be that it’s the counselors themselves who will put an end to their field.

John V. Jones, Jr., Ph.D., LPC-S/July 14th, 2018

GENERAL ESSAY

Bucket Lists?

Introduction

I suppose that having entered the Septuagenarian club, the idea to create a bucket list is something logically that would occur to me. Note the question mark in the title of this blog article. I’m not questioning whether or not people should make bucket lists, or whether having one is a good thing or not. I just wonder what they mean, why people feel the need to make them, and what difference they may or may not make in a person’s life. Creating a bucket list appears to speak to and resonate with many people on some level. No doubt setting goals to accomplish before the final tick of the clock sounds addresses the existential question about living life out to its fullest. In addition to those questions, obviously I have indeed pondered the big question of what I would put on my bucket list. (Is that really such a big question; perhaps to me it is J.) Like many journeys, however, the highway that bucket lists take us on appear to be more about the meaning in the journey, rather than merely checking an item off as done.

What Do Bucket Lists Mean?

Legitimately, to answer that question, I would have to ask as many people as I could who have taken the time to formulate a bucket list, and then proceeded to make them come true. Just given human complexity, I’m sure that the nuances of meaning are spread across people in ways that I would find out something interesting to ponder regardless of to whom and how many people I might interview.

Obviously the one big meaning revolves around the notion of finitude. There are things I want to get done before falling into the proverbial hole and covered with dirt. Perhaps my bucket list would contain things that I want to accomplish that would make my life feel more complete and meaningful before exiting the stage. Is that part of everyone’s bucket list, or is it just something that I think about? I pose that question because another component of my bucket list would entail having some fun, especially at this stage of my life. Simply put, there are some experiences I want to undergo. Are they deep, purposeful, and meaningful? I’m not really sure, but I know I would most definitely enjoy having some fun doing things that I’ve always thought about, but have yet to do.

On a personal level, my bucket list will contain experiences that I simply always wanted to engage, but have yet taken the time to do so. The three major themes that emerge for me are traveling, skill building, and encountering the unknown. About twenty-five years ago I decided to drive from Austin, Texas to Durango, Colorado simply to experience one thing I had always heard about, but had never done, though I had visited that state several times. I wanted to take the train ride from Durango up to an old mining town in the mountains called Silverton. The trip up to Silverton and back down to Durango crosses over some amazingly breath-taking mountain passes I had only heard about. Once I had experienced them, they became etched in my mind like a deep engraving carved deep into some medium. I can envision those mountain passes still to this day. And it’s an experience I want to have again.

The Unknown

Part of the fun of a bucket list is the unknown. I had no idea what I would experience on that train ride from Durango to Silverton. As importantly, I had no idea what other things I would encounter on my drive up to Durango. Driving Highway 84 from Texas through New Mexico on into Colorado provided some vistas I’ve never forgotten. I still drive over to Santa Fe now and then, and the two-lane stretch of Highway 84 north out of Fort Sumner into the capital still captures my soul. It never gets old. Seeing the Rockies when entering Colorado and following the path on Highway 160 up through Pagosa Springs into Durango is a mesmerizing drive to say the least. The same overwhelming experience of nature flooded over me again when I flew into Missoula, Montana, rented a car, and drove up to Kalispell and Glacier National Park. The first time my eyes set gazing on Flathead Lake was an encounter that will be forever cast on my neurons. A similar experience occurred when I drove out of Boston out to Cape Cod. So I long for those unknown discoveries that are cached in any bucket list event I might want to check off. It’s not the checking off that matters, but it’s all that goes into getting something done that I never figured on when I first made the plans to do something. I’m not sure about everyone else, but aren’t those unknown discoveries we make, and the unplanned experiences we encounter the stuff that life is made of? Like so many things in life, a bucket list may be about the journey rather than checking something off.

Traveling

Obviously the theme above entails traveling, and such excursions appear to make up many individuals’ bucket lists. More journeys are definitely on my bucket list. One such trip is to Scotland at the end of this summer. I’ve already experienced Italy and Sicily. There are a couple of road trips here in the North America that I have my eyes set on that I believe will open up some new vistas and unknown experiences. The first, and one I’ve thought about sometime, is the Transcontinental Train Ride across Canada. It’s a fifteen-day tour that takes one from Ontario to Vancouver, and that’s through the Canadian Rockies. The second is a road trip from Austin through New Mexico, and into Arizona up to Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon. Along the way is the Petrified Forest. And then yes, there’s Winslow Arizona where I plan to stand on a corner, hoping to see a beautiful woman in a black pick-up Ford. (Just kidding about the last part. Or perhaps not J.) Many times life includes plans, experiences, and stepping into the unknown that makes living all that much more full. Such experiences can be planned only to a certain degree. Those experiences we don’t expect are the ones that knock our shorts off. And that’s all worth the effort.

Skill Development

As much as specific experiences like traveling, my bucket list entails some skill building I want to accomplish. After working a career for over thirty years, involving forty plus hours per week, there are some other talents I would like to develop. No doubt I will reach only the amateur level regarding these skills, but they entail some talents that I think I would enjoy adding to my repertoire. Some people want to learn to fly-fish, sail a boat, skydive, or obtain their pilot licenses. My list contains at least three things that will take some time to develop: nature photography, writing, and picking up another language. My writing is already being developed, but I want to take it to another level. Nature photography is going to require some classes and a lot of practice, which Austin, Texas can provide, as well as neighboring New Mexico. Learning a language is a skill-set that I’m in the process of working out. Skill development is personal development, and all kinds of experiences can lead to such development. And living is development if the effort is made. Likewise, these developmental goals will no doubt take me into some interesting unknown areas of life.

Conclusion

So what are bucket lists all about? Checking things off? I don’t think so. Reckoning with our finitude? I don’t believe that’s the case either, though it may play a part. Like anything we’ve pursued in life, bucket lists are about our living and carving out the kind of lives we hope to live. So if someone asks, why have a bucket list? The best answer is why not? From my perspective, there’s a spiritual element to pursuing yet to done and unknown experiences. Life affords us experiences, planned or unknown. We are afforded opportunities we can either embrace or shun. Though our travels and journeys into creating a more fulfilling life can to some extent be planned, it is those unknowns that come by stepping out on that plan that can really shape our experiences of the world and others. God’s creation is something to explore, as fully as one desires to do so. And it’s the unknown experiences that we come to know that many times appear to stick with us.

 

John V. Jones, Jr., Ph.D., LPC-S/June 14th, 2018

GENERAL ESSAY