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A number of studies have shown that exercise can remodel the brain by prompting the creation of new brain cells and inducing other changes. Now it appears that inactivity, too, can remodel the brain, according to a notable new report.
The study, which was conducted in rats but likely has implications for people too, the researchers say, found that being sedentary changes the shape of certain neurons in ways that significantly affect not just the brain but the heart as well. The findings may help to explain, in part, why a sedentary lifestyle is so bad for us.
Until about 20 years ago, most scientists believed that the brain’s structure was fixed by adulthood, that you couldn’t create new brain cells, alter the shape of those that existed or in any other way change your mind physically after adolescence.
But in the years since, neurological studies have established that the brain retains plasticity, or the capacity to be reshaped, throughout our lifetimes. Exercise appears to be particularly adept at remodeling the brain, studies showed.
But little has been known about whether inactivity likewise alters the structure of the brain and, if so, what the consequences might be.
So for a study recently published in The Journal of Comparative Neurology, scientists at Wayne State University School of Medicine and other institutions gathered a dozen rats. They settled half of them in cages with running wheels and let the animals run at will. Rats like running, and these animals were soon covering about three miles a day on their wheels.
The other rats were housed in cages without wheels and remained sedentary.
After almost three months of resting or running, the animals were injected with a special dye that colors certain neurons in the brain. In this case, the scientists wanted to mark neurons in the animals’ rostral ventrolateral medulla, an obscure portion of the brain that controls breathing and other unconscious activities central to our existence.
The rostral ventrolateral medulla commands the body’s sympathetic nervous system, which among other things controls blood pressure on a minute-by-minute basis by altering blood-vessel constriction. Although most of the science related to the rostral ventrolateral medulla has been completed using animals, imaging studies in people suggest that we have the same brain region and it functions similarly.
A well-regulated sympathetic nervous system correctly directs blood vessels to widen or contract as needed and blood to flow, so that you can, say, scurry away from a predator or rise from your office chair without fainting. But an overly responsive sympathetic nervous system is problematic, said Patrick Mueller, an associate professor of physiology at Wayne State University who oversaw the new study. Recent science shows that “overactivity of the sympathetic nervous system contributes to cardiovascular disease,” he said, by stimulating blood vessels to constrict too much, too little or too often, leading to high blood pressure and cardiovascular damage.
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Philosophical Counseling and Contemporary Mainstream Philosophy
Projections of the good life are key to philosophical counseling, given its practical orientation and the fact that philosophical counselors work with troubled people. Thus, in a sense, by definition philosophical counseling works with those who lack the good life, in the effort to claim (or, in some cases, re-claim) it. In doing so, philosophical counselors differ from psychologists or psychiatrists merely in the methods used. The range of concepts and methodologies used in philosophical counseling is philosophy as a whole: any doctrine or method, if used skillfully and with proper judgement, may help clients understand and resolve their life issues. While the task of philosophical counseling so described does not appear controversial in any way, occasional friction with the therapeutic professions such as psychology and psychiatry can be understood primarily as economic, or professional ‘turf’ issues, However, much more puzzling at first sight is the unwillingness of mainstream contemporary philosophy to embrace philosophical counseling. Given that philosophical counseling is inclusive of all philosophical theories, concepts and methods, such reluctance by the philosophical industry of our day to work constructively with colleagues who pursue philosophical practice may seem unwarranted and unexpected.
Philosophical counseling builds on and radicalizes the paradigm-shifting view by Pierre Hadot that the fundamental role of philosophy is to be a way of life (Hadot, 1995). Hadot’s argument mainly concerned ancient Greek philosophy, which he described as a quest for the good life, accompanied by ‘superstructures’ in the form of cosmology or metaphysics. These superstructures portrayed the universe, the earth or the gods in terms that would help people adopt values which were going to improve their quality of life. On this view, when Epicurus developed his ‘atomistic’ philosophy of nature, he did so with the intent to present fear of death as immaterial: if everything consists of atoms, which merely disperse at the time of death, then death itself is not a frightful experience. Fear of death, along with fear of gods, was among the main reasons for anxiety that members of the Epicurean ‘Garden’ worked to ameliorate. Similarly, when Plato developed his metaphysics of ‘Ideas,’ on Hadot’s reading, he did so in order to illustrate, on the level of ontological concepts, the fundamentality of values, which one tries to approximate in the course of cultivation of one’s character, and virtues. Hadot generalized this interpretation of ‘core philosophy’ and ‘superstructure’ to all ancient philosophical schools.
Philosophical counseling as a contribution to contemporary philosophy is more radical than Hadot; it adopts Hadot’s principle and takes it one step further. Philosophical practice, including counseling, aims to take any philosophical school or method of thinking and turn it into a tool to alleviate human suffering. It does so on certain conditions: that the client’s problems are philosophical rather than medical, that they seek philosophical insight rather than a diagnostic label, and that their goal is the good life rather than to make the bad life bearable enough to live another day, which is typically achieved by mind-altering drugs.
The problem with this approach, from the point of view of mainstream philosophical industry, could be the perception by mainstream philosophers that, if philosophical practice were embraced by mainstream contemporary philosophy, much of the current specialized philosophy, detached from real life, might appear as ‘mere superstructure.’ Even a cursory glance through some of the dominant journals issued by mainstream philosophical clans shows that the range of topics and approaches, by and large, remain irrelevant to the ordinary person. In fact, some of the debates led within these clans concern only a few members of the clan who have previously already said something on the same topic, meaning that the readership of some of these arguments is no more than a few dozen people worldwide. With some of the topics, even the dozen readers would find it very difficult to find any practical use for the texts. Most modern philosophical production neither seeks to assist the achievement of the good life, nor is useful for this purpose. In fact, much of that production is not useful for any practical purpose at all.
On a methodological level, the treatment of many of the philosophical problems by the mainstream philosophical industry today is what Russian theatre director Nikita Michalkov recently called ‘McDonalds Science’: a nicely and neatly processed, well packaged, nicely presented and hygienic stuff with dubious ‘nutritional value.’ The standardization is applied rigorously: the packaging of style must be perfect, the methodology must be clear and make the product easily digestible, and the combination of ingredients must be well documented on the product label. For most ordinary readers, even educated ones, once the dense packaging of references and bibliographies is unwrapped, and as with many modern products to do away with the packaging can be a time consuming task, the product is often bland and unconvincing. The production standard of mainstream modern philosophy is industrial, and this is why the entire mainstream philosophy, divided in its families and ideologies, could be called ‘industrial philosophy.’ The industrial standard of philosophy, as any other industrial standard, allows no major deviation from the sample. Any product likely to cause indigestion or containing ingredients knowing to cause upset is routinely eliminated. The industrial philosophy of today would never allow the publication of Nietzsche’s or chopenhauer’s ideas if they were to emerge now. It would probably consider Hegel nothing short of seriously psychotic. And most likely the noble patriarchs of the contemporary philosophical ideological tribes would call for the arrest of Epicurus as a ‘rogue.’
Simply put, philosophy is incompatible with industrial standards. Philosophical progress is predicated upon a freedom of intellectual creativity and right of expression, and any ‘quantification,’ ‘indexing,’ ‘counting of citations,’ or anal-retentive ‘editorship’ militates against such progress. The existence of all these things borrowed from the natural and mathematical sciences is the reason why contemporary philosophy is stagnating. At the same time, mind-altering drugs in most nations are used on a par with food. As philosophy, the primary intellectual way to make sense of life, has rendered itself impotent, caged in the selfimposed Procrustean frame of quantitative sciences, the new professions, defected from philosophy and led by psychology, have proceeded to medicalise the increasingly unhappy and ‘unreflected’ daily lives of millions worldwide.
One wonders what would happen if philosophical practice more generally assumed its natural place in mainstream philosophy journals, at philosophy departments and in undergraduate philosophy curricula? How many readers or students, once they encounter the vista of practical ‘general’ philosophy, would opt for career devoted to understanding what it means to follow a rule or to utter a malapropism, if the alternative is to study what it means to lead a good life or join a community of intellectual friends? How many PhDs would be written about what it may mean to make a decision, when the alternative is to write about what it means to make oneself and others happy with their lives?
The above is not to suggest that specialized work on various miniscule topics is not philosophically valuable, but it is to suggest that such work is less directly relevant to improving the quality of life and is much less attractive for most people than a more generalist use of philosophical concepts and methods to address real-life dilemmas and conflicts. This is where the modern ‘McDonalds’ philosophical industry may feel that a threat from philosophical practice might lie. It could be that the dominant philosophical clans who disown philosophical practice, or pretend that ‘they do not know what it means’, as they sometimes phrase it, in fact fear that their painstakingly achieved status of specialized manufacturers of industrially standardized philosophical burgers might quickly be relegated to ‘mere superstructure.’ This is a scary prospect. Fortunately, the fear is unfounded.
Philosophical practice, and especially philosophical counseling, can provide a context for almost any type of philosophy to become practical and relevant to real life. While for the strict disciplinary philosophy of language the preoccupation with malapropisms or with reference may take place within an isolated ivory tower, guarded by clan worriers armed with mathematical formulae and hermetic symbolic language, the use of philosophy of language in counseling is one of the most potent tools to help people understand their issues. John Searle’s famous idea that philosophy of language is essentially the philosophy of mind comes to life most directly in counseling sessions, where people are faced with the intricacies of their linguistic intentions and the features of language as Wittgenstein’s ‘picture of the world’ of themselves and their important others. Analytic ethics dealing with what it is to lie is confined to a narrow academic readership per se. However, when it is brought to life in philosophical counseling, it can help people to give meaning to and resolve dramatic and debilitating relationships and frustrations. The same applies to almost any type of philosophy when it is placed in the counseling context. Philosophical counseling is potentially emancipating for almost any type of academic philosophy; it offers specialized contemporary philosophy a chance to become relevant to ordinary people again.
‘The Good Life’ Ground Zero: Pleasure
There are various conceptions of the good life for various philosophical schools, systems of religious belief, and even various therapeutic schools. Many of these concepts are mutually contradictory and arise from opposed starting premises and mutually incoherent value systems. In what remains of this paper I will focus on what I believe to be ‘ground zero’ of the good life from a practical point of view: the life of sustained pleasure. While the idea is historically Epicurean, and is commonly associated with the philosophy of ‘hedonism’, I will argue that it is in fact a much more serious component of any feasible conceptualization of the good life in any type of counseling, including philosophical, but also pastoral counseling. I will explore the initial Epicurean concept of pleasure and show that the pleasure Epicureans sought was in fact one found in ascetic life. I will then proceed to argue that even those forms of counseling that explicitly oppose pleasure as the founding value of the good life implicitly rely on pleasure. To illustrate this, I will examine the Orthodox Christian view of the good life as a life of asceticism, and show how the Christian doctrine of redemption, which putatively denounces pleasure, in fact logically presupposes the cultivation of particular types of pleasure in order for the faithful to achieve the good life and earn redemption through such life. If this argument is sufficiently compelling, it should establish the quest of pleasure as the primary goal of practical philosophy, with special focus on philosophical counseling. This should go some way towards proving that it is both practically and logically difficult to viably conceive of the good life without founding it on pleasure.
Epicurean Principal Doctrines no. 1, 2, and 34 read:
1. A blessed and indestructible being has no trouble himself and brings no trouble upon any other being; so he is free from anger and partiality, for all such things imply weakness.
2. Death is nothing to us; for that which has been dissolved into its elements experiences no sensations, and that which has no sensation is nothing to us.
34. Injustice is not an evil in itself, but only in consequence of the fear which is associated with the apprehension of being discovered by those appointed to punish such actions.
These lines suggest a ‘brutal hedonism’ devoid of any reference to virtue and morality. They are partly the reason Epicureanism has been perceived as simple hedonism and rejected by much of subsequent moral philosophy. There are, however, different lines in Epicurean teachings that reflect an entirely different practical relationship with moral philosophy: 5. It is impossible to live a pleasant life without living wisely and honorably and justly, and it is impossible to live wisely and honorably and justly without living pleasantly. Whenever any one of these is lacking, when, for instance, the man is not able to live wisely, though he lives honorably and justly, it is impossible for him to live a pleasant life.
3. The magnitude of pleasure reaches its limit in the removal of all pain. When such pleasure is present, so long as it is uninterrupted, there is no pain either of body or of mind or of both together.
15. The wealth required by nature is limited and is easy to procure; but the wealth required by vain ideals extends to infinity.
19. Unlimited time and limited time afford an equal amount of pleasure, if we measure the limits of that pleasure by reason.
Many lines in Epicurean writings show that they were far from advocating profligate life styles. The ‘calculus of pleasure’ inherent in Epicurean ethics reaches the inevitable outcome that a quiet, ’withdrawn’ life amongst a small group of friends, focused on the minimum of ’necessary needs’ which rule out even some of the ’natural needs’ is sure to result in lasting pleasure, defined predominantly as the absence of pain:
21. He who understands the limits of life knows that it is easy to obtain that which removes the pain of want and makes the whole of life complete and perfect. Thus he has no longer any need of things which involve struggle.
27. Of all the means which wisdom acquires to ensure happiness throughout the whole of life, by far the most important is friendship.
Philosophical counseling provides a framework in which it is particularly easy to depict the practical value of the Epicurean views of pleasure and the good life, because it allows moral standards to be examined in the context of real everyday motivations for action. When moral concerns are integrated with the dynamic role that pleasure plays in our lives, two things become clear. First, practically, the ideal situation for the good life is that a person enjoys doing what is morally desirable for them to do. This is the practical meaning of ‘virtue,’ which ensures both individual fulfillment and social acceptance. Second, the reason pleasure has been treated as a suspect concept in much of the moral philosophy of virtue has been the lingering sentiment of Kantian aprioristic ethics, which insists that acting rightly, if it is motivated by personal preference rather than abstract understanding of duty alone, deducts from the moral nobility of such action. This view entails that it is more ‘noble’ to act morally correctly when such action causes deprivation and suffering to the actor, then to do so when acting rightly brings satisfaction and joy. The logic has been mocked my philosophers who ‘apologized for finding pleasure in doing good,’ but it has marked an entire era of moral philosophy which has caused apprehension of pleasure and a downgrading of the good life as the goal of ethics in favour of absolutist rationalist constructs of duty.
The reason why the ethics of duty is not easily reconcilable with ethics of the good life and with the goals of philosophical counseling (or philosophical practice more generally) is in the fact that it is a theoretical reconstruction of what a human being ought to be morally, rather than a statement of what the human being naturally strives for. Ethics of the good life works to integrate moral standards into the interpretation of what actors are naturally motivated to do. It tries to merge natural motivation with moral ideals, and perceives character-development, or ‘moral training’ as an empirical life project where one learns how to become a better human being by using one’s natural motivations in more sophisticated, socially constructive and, ultimately, personally fulfilling ways.
David Hume was perhaps the clearest exponent of the ideal of moral learning without aprioristic prejudice as to the nature of the motivation for such learning or for moral action itself. (Hume, 1963). He argues that the development of virtues is possible through practice and repetition, as long as the person is ‘tolerably virtuous’ to begin with. ‘Where one is born of so perverse a frame of mind, and of so callous and insensible a disposition, as to have no relish for virtue (…) such a one must be allowed entirely incurable, nor is there any remedy in philosophy’ (Hume, 1963: 172). However, with sufficient discipline and a reasonably sound character one could develop the virtues that one choses in order to improve one’s character. Moral practice will lead to moral improvement, and one will gradually learn not only to act rightly, but also to find satisfaction, or pleasure, in so acting. This type of moral improvement is more sustainable than discrete aprioristic choice to act out of duty because it depends not only on the substantive description of the action one choses and the moral value of that action; the empiricist’s moral improvement works on the sensibilities of pleasure as well. Such moral training aims not just to cause the person to choose the morally right action, but to develop one’s character so that on any occasion one finds pleasure in choosing the right action. This idea is essential for the practical application of philosophy in counseling, whose goal is to instill lasting capacities in the person to act in most optimal ways while at the same time finding personal value in such action that will improve her quality of life. This is a dramatically different perspective from that of purely academic considerations of what it means to choose the right as opposed to the wrong course of action.
On a practical level, the value of the language of pleasure in philosophical counseling arises from the intuitive nature of the Epicurean idea that ‘all men seek pleasure and avoid pain’. Starting from such an intuitive premise allows the counselor to work with the common prejudices and problems that the counselee brings to the session with greater ease and with less resistance by the client than if the counselor starts from a ‘moral distance’. More fundamentally, however, the introduction of pleasure early on in the counseling is useful for the process of influencing value-judgments in the counselee. One good example of how the transformation of pleasures works relates to an exceedingly common problem in philosophical counseling, namely that of a deficit of self-esteem. Self-esteem is a significant source of satisfaction in modern society, where it arises from the fulfillment of externally imposed, and subsequently internalised expectations of oneself. A deficit of self-esteem will be triggered only by failure to achieve goals that the person has internalized, not just from any failure to measure up to someone else. As Alain de Botton (2004) pointed out one will not experience a crisis of self-esteem because one cannot dance as well as somebody else or because one cannot fly a plane, unless someone has already set these things as one’s goals and has worked to achieve them. On the other hand, even in things seemingly unnoticeable to others, such as specific social skills or conversational habits, one might experience a lack of self-esteem if one has tried to improve without success, while somebody else, especially if this is a significant other (family member, colleague at work, close friend) has achieved the goal. Botton points to William James’ formula of self-esteem:
Self-esteem = Success/Pretensions (James, 1890: 311)
The problem arises when the specific elements of this equation are considered separately. Success in various endeavors obviously depends in part on the resources available. However much resolve one might have to achieve a goal, if resources are inadequate the result will inevitably be difficult to achieve. Modern societies have provided far greater opulence of resources than had been the case throughout earlier history, and this would suggest that people’s self-esteem should have increased, because their success has multiplied in most areas of life. However, the current epidemic crisis of self-esteem is caused by the much greater increase in the expectations, or size of goals, imposed by the society. The increase in the resources to achieve certain things has been dwarfed by the increase in expectations of achievement. The ‘mathematical’ result of such quantitative changes in the elements of the equation has led to a true crisis of selfesteem and the resulting mass problems with anxiety and depression. The pharmaceutical industry has eagerly tapped into this structural problem to temporarily ‘fix’ the subjective side of self-esteem, while leaving the entire causal structure untouched. It has capitalised on a steady and increasing demand for temporary and sometimes damaging ‘quick fixes’, while maintaining a deliberate oblivion for the structural causes of the problems.
One obvious way of resolving this issue is contrary to the dominant modern civilizational trends: rather than trying to catch up with the ever increasing expectations and muster maximum resources to do so, one might consider reducing self-expectations and learning to find pleasure in the existing successes. According to James, this will automatically lead to increased self-esteem. However, the strategy presupposes at least two conditions. The first is a reduction of perceived personal needs (similar to the Epicurean reduction from ‘all natural needs’ to just ‘necessary needs’). This is a step that introduces a turn from the habits of the mainstream community. The second condition is the existence of an ‘organic community’ that will support such lowered standards of expectations and provide motivational support and an alternative external valueverification to the person. Such a community will largely differ in its values from the mainstream, as the Epicurean Society of the Garden did, and as the contemporary well-integrated parish communities often do. A potent example, of course, is the monastic life within many religions, including the Christian one. According to St. Gregory the Theologian, ‘absence of all worries in a quiet life is more precious than the shining of a public office.’ St. Isidore of Pellusium writes that ‘(…) the person who moves in a crowd, while seeking to know what is of the Heaven, must have forgot that whatever is sown among the thorns will be chocked by the thorns, and that a person who has not found pleasure in a rest from the everything of this world cannot know God’ (Turner, 1905). St. Nicodemos the Hagiorite makes it explicit that monastic life makes finding pleasure in asceticism easier than does secular life (St. Nicodemos, 1989).3 The reason is that monastic life is lived with strong support by the organic community which shares the same ascetic values, and it takes place far away from the mainstream secular community that is motivationally caught up in the vicious circle of chasing the ever increasing social expectations of success with modestly increasing means to do so.
A shift in the concepts of pleasure as a prerequisite for the achievement of a ‘good life’ was a common precept in Ancient Greek philosophy. Aristotle argued that the intellectual pleasures are nobler than the pleasures arising from victory at war or from success in sports. The Epicureans were probably the first to recommend such ‘ascetic’ pleasures to everyone as a way to avoid anguish, guilt and fear, and live a happier, more peaceful life. This is why Epicurean ethics is potentially so useful for pastoral counseling. Its fundamental precept is that reducing the expectations of pleasure will ultimately lead to increased pleasure perceived as absence of pain and peace of mind, because in the long term the adverse events typically arising from the pursuit of more ‘full blooded’ or extreme pleasures will be avoided. Not just moderation, but asceticism in the proper sense is the Epicurean way to minimalist yet sustained pleasures throughout one’s lifetime. Lowering what could be considered inauthentic aspirations and personal goals in a perspective of ascetic character-building can considerably benefit from an initial adoption of Epicurean views on pleasure.
Moral Pleasure and Character-Building
The view of pleasure as integral to virtue and of character-building as instrumental to the ability to achieve a sustained good life highlights a strange fact about morally right action that is at sharp odds with the idea of a good life. This fact is that it is possible to act morally rightly while retaining the affinity to act morally wrongly. This is possible either through conformance to moral pressure exerted by the community or family, or through active self-interruption and independent self-discipline. Hence, it is possible to act morally correctly, while remaining ‘a bad person’ as far as one’s affinities and true wishes are concerned. Clearly such morally right action will not contribute to the achievement of the good life, because it does not accord with one’s true wishes and sensibility. From the point of view of duty-ethics a morally desirable state of affairs could therefore exist where moral communities are inhabited by morally upright, yet utterly unhappy people.
The point has struck a nerve with Christian authors as well. Emanuel Swedenborg espouses a view that ‘God casts no-one to hell,’ because the ‘testing of the soul’ that the Christian dogma stipulates as occurring after death ensures that everyone ends up where one’s affinities lie: those who have a strong affinity to sex and extreme pleasures would simply not be happy in Heaven. Those who find the meaning of life in the adrenaline-charged business transactions or sports may likewise belong elsewhere. However
controversial his views might be for the mainstream Christian scholarship, Swedenborg illustrates a point that ought not to be so controversial: depending on the affinities developed through the character-formation that this life ultimately represents, the future destiny of the soul will be guided precisely by the affinities it has developed during life. The idea is common to the Patristic theme that in order to qualify for salvation one should learn to ‘lead an angelic life’ here on Earth. What needs to be made explicit is that such ‘angelic life’ inevitably involves pleasure being found in the Christian virtues of moderation and self-denial. It is very clear that a sensibility for pleasures needs to be developed through character-building, and that the tests attributed to the initial after-life experiences in fact ‘verify’ the results of change of character. It is character that opens up the soteriological perspective in the Christian ethics, as far as a person’s own efforts are concerned. As has become clear earlier on, it is possible for a person to act rightly, while retaining the desire to act wrongly, and thus to fulfill the demands of duty ethics, while remaining a ‘bad person’ psychologically. Clearly the Christian dogma does not allow the ascent of ‘bad people’ into Heaven, nor would they be happy there, according to Swedenborg. In other words, the ideal of an ‘angelic life’ here must be conceptualized as a ‘good life’ with pleasures being found in the exercise of virtue. The threshold of salvation is higher than moral duty, aprioristic self-restriction and discipline in the repetition of rationally chosen ‘virtuous’ actions. What is required in a Christian ethics of the good life is much the same as what Epicurean ethics suggests: recognition of pleasure as the main drive of human action, and the successful transformation of this drive from a quest of ‘base’ pleasures to a yearning for quiet and ascetic life of peace, contemplation and absence of disturbances by worldly concerns.
One of the key Epicurean principles of the good life is to lower the level of expectations and find pleasure in the small things that are easy to obtain. The safest way to lead a ‘pleasurable’ life is to remain within a circle of friends, learn to enjoy peace and absence of pain, avoid public life, and cultivate trust and mutual support between members of the community who share the same values. One wonders just how radically this ideal differs from that of a monastic community or that of a harmonious Christian parish.
Moral pleasure as the dynamic side of character-building is not limited to Christian or any other religious morality. It is a logical presupposition of any type of sustained virtue that is relevant to the achievement of a good life. However one perceives the good life, assuming that it is founded on basically morally upright principles and that it is socially desirable (not the ‘good life’ of drug traffickers or professional assassins), there are two key elements to it: the values and virtues defined by those values, and the character required to attain the virtues and approximate the values in life.
The goal of attaining a good life through the cultivation of adequate character, based on upright and instrumentally productive values, and virtues that embody these values, defines philosophical counseling. The functional base-line for the success of philosophical counseling is working with the client to develop sensibilities for finding pleasure in virtues and the corresponding character that are productive for the attainment of the good life. In this process, the client’s initial values and strategic choices in life are taken seriously, but they are not treated as unchangeable. The dynamics of the counseling is a philosophical interaction between the client as she enters the counseling and the counselor as he enters the counseling. At the end of the counseling, neither the client, nor the counselor need be the same, however the success of
the counseling is measured by the progress one (the client) or both (the client and the counselor) have made towards the good life. For the client, this progress might consist in the development of specific new sensibilities for moral pleasures and the corresponding habits, resulting in character-modification, which will make their life more satisfying, freer and more autonomous than before. For the counselor, the progress might consist in a better appreciation of another philosophical theory of method, or a new understanding of the practical application of particular philosophical concepts. For both, progress and success in the counseling will manifest in particular pleasures, which for various clients might be vastly different, while for the counselor are likely to be of the intellectual type of pleasures. These pleasures have an irreducible moral character, because they arise from a specifically moral goal: to do right for oneself by doing right for others. Philosophical counseling uses philosophical theory to produce moral pleasures on several levels in the counseling process, and in the lives of the client and the counselor.
Conclusion: Running with the Wolves
In their highly illuminating book on the neural foundations of emotions, including an account of the effectiveness of counseling from the point of view of neuroscience, Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini and Richard Lannon argue that counseling success has no significant connection with the discipline, method or school of counseling: counseling of whatever type is only effective if the counselor is willing and able to abandon the ‘therapeutic distance’ which some still consider as the professional credo number one, and become deeply immersed in the counselee’s world, to the extent of almost losing touch with one’s own world (Lewis, Amini and Lannon, 2000). The counselor must go with the flow of the client’s emotional and neural processes, empathise and even identify with the client’s perceptions, emotions and reactions, and only then refer to his own world, outside the client’s, for tools, judgements and values with which to address and alleviate the problems caused by the clients thoughts, perceptions and feelings. The effectiveness of the counseling depends more on the personality and empathic capacity of the counselor and on the receptiveness of the client to the counselor’s persona than on professional skills.
At first sight, this might seem as a mechanistic view, and certainly one that might alarm the dogmatic adherents to various ‘therapeutic approaches’ in the healing professions. On another level, however, it is a sobering truth: counseling is a bi-directional process, where one personality uses her personal (including the professional) resources to empower another, compromised or threatened personality to find the lost way. All else concerning counseling is a myth. No amount of theory, expertise or empirical knowledge will assist the counselor if her personality does not have access to the resources to address the client’s problems. At the same time, this sobering truth lays bare the practical value of philosophy for counseling: it assists the counselee by resourcing the counselor on a personal, as well as professional level. The philosophical way is one of self-improvement, not of the accumulation of methodological or technical expertise or information. A person who leads an ‘examined life,’ to use Socrates’s famous concept, is a philosopher. By definition, a good philosopher should be well equipped to help others reflect on their problems and develop strategies, both rational on the one hand, and emotional and volitional, on the other, to resolve or heal these problems. To do so, the philosopher must be one who perceives philosophy as a way of life, and not as a discipline that in its use of scientific methodology falls just a little behind physics and is so much the worse, as many modern industrial philosophers perceive it. Further, to be an effective counselor the philosopher must embody the character traits and values inherent to philosophy as a way of life: he or she must be open-minded, tolerant of differences, refined in his emotions and genuinely interested in the puzzle that the other human being is and the drama that makes them who they are. Most importantly, however, to be effective as a counselor, the philosopher must be at ease with the task of a life-long search for ‘the good life,’ and must be experienced, if not with clients, then with oneself, in putting all the conceptual resources of philosophical thought and tradition to the task of making a good life for oneself and for others. This is another way of saying that the effective philosophical counselor must be a decent philosophical ‘generalist,’ as Lou Marinoff puts it, with skills and depth of insight that result from living one’s philosophical dilemmas and meanderings, and with keen interest in and empathy for other human beings. This is a lot to ask.
The combination of professional and human qualities required for effective counseling will obviously make the proponents of some philosophical disciplines and approaches more likely candidates for philosophical counselors than others. An existentialist or an ethicist are more likely candidates for counselors than formal logicians or philosophers of mathematics or physics, simply because the latter are likely to have chosen their fields partly based on certain character-traits and sensibilities that are less concerned with other human beings, and more with abstract truths pursued in privacy. This is not necessarily, always so, but it is the case more often than not. A keen philosophical mind is a necessary, but not a sufficient condition for success as a philosophical counselor; a keen interest in other people and a propensity to identify and empathise with them are also required. Finally, the acceptance of professional risk to ‘run with the volves’ in their territory, along the private midscape of another person while retaining clear view of the main postulates of philosophical counsel—quest of the good life by virtuous character-building, clear reasoning and healthy discriminating judgement—must be part of the counselor’s own projection of the good life. These pre-conditions for becoming a philosophical counselor, while required, must also be desired. They are the virtues that make up the type of character and the range of moral pleasures which define a person well suited to run with the volves and take professional risks in order to help others articulate and attain their own value- and character goals. Ultimately, these are the character requirements for a philosophical good life that is suited to helping others create their own good lives.
In short, philosophical practice is fundamentally about reflected pleasure as the base-line of the good life, and about the moral education required to reach such pleasure. It is inclusive of all the conceptual and methodological wealth of philosophy of almost any tradition or school, and is able to make any such theoretical philosophy a vibrating and living helping tool, however far removed it might seem from real life initially. By placing philosophical theory in the context of the simple conceptual matrix of reflected pleasure and moral education, philosophical practice, and philosophical counseling as one of its main applications, is emancipatory for theoretical philosophy as a whole. By virtue of being put to use in helping identify and attain the good life of philosophy’s clients, philosophy becomes the way of life of its practitioners and, whatever its substance and concepts, becomes ‘core philosophy’, and not ‘mere superstructure.’ Philosophical practice is likely the ultimate realization of Hadot’s paradigm shift for philosophy in its entirety.
Originally, the label “borderline personality disorder” was applied to patients who were thought to represent a middle ground between patients with neurotic and psychotic disorders. Increasingly, though, this area of research has focused on the heightened emotional reactivity observed in patients carrying this diagnosis, as well as the high rates with which they also meet diagnostic criteria for post traumatic stress disorder and mood disorders.
In their report, the investigators describe two critical brain underpinnings of emotion dysregulation in borderline personality disorder: heightened activity in brain circuits involved in the experience of negative emotions and reduced activation of brain circuits that normally suppress negative emotion once it is generated.
To accomplish this, they undertook a meta-analysis of previously published neuroimaging studies to examine dysfunctions underlying negative emotion processing in borderline personality disorder. A thorough literature search identified 11 relevant studies from which they pooled the results to further analyze, providing data on 154 patients with borderline personality disorder and 150 healthy control subjects.
Ruocco commented, “We found compelling evidence pointing to two interconnected neural systems which may subserve symptoms of emotion dysregulation in this disorder: the first, centered on specific limbic structures, which may reflect a heightened subjective perception of the intensity of negative emotions, and the second, comprised primarily of frontal brain regions, which may be inadequately recruited to appropriately regulate emotions.”
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Hey! Looking much weird statement isn’t? Ya … I am talking about the wired condition of their brains which stems their behavior pattern and the emotional responses to the issues differently. What males perceive in a situ is entirely different from female point of view. How the relational issues are measured up differently by males and females in some relationship issues illustrates this vital difference. We therapists shall make use of this new found wisdom for the betterment of the apt solution through our sessions differently for them in individual sessions and joint sessions.
The newly found brain mapping and neural networking image analysis brought new insights by Dr. Ragini and her teams at University of Pennsylvania. Her team published the latest findings in the neurological “connectome” mapping and imagery. Though the brain neural network is considered as one there are sub networks too. And they are able to visualize inter hemispheric connectedness and intra-hemispheric connectedness. A simple behavior pattern of a male/female is finally explained as how many neurons are fired in a neural network to change the state like a on/off switch in a digital network and what kind of information process taken place to reach a net result (secretion of some specific brain chemistry at synoptic levels too: the back ground brain chemistry). We can’t get much simpler explanation than this. So to say, receive info; process info; and exhibit (transmit) a particular pattern of behavior unique to that personality. This is what happens in the neural networks. Here I wish to draw the attention to Allport ‘s definition on personality as “the dynamic organization within the individual of those psycho-physical systems that determine his characteristic behavior and thought.”
So the physical system as such wired and connected in different pattern for males and females attributes the basic male female personality changes unique to them. If any crossover and mixed match is found that is unique to the personality. In general the researcher found that the males have front to back connectivity in the male brain and hemispherical connectivity is high in the female brains. Inter hemispheric connectivity found more in female brain and intra hemispheric connectivity found more in male brain. Above all there is always basic neural front and back and hemispherical connectivity in every human being irrespective of the gender difference. Respectively males’ decision making and behavioral pattern are perceptive and coordinated and that of women are intuitive and analytical. It is about the cerebrum and in cerebellum it is vice versa. Hence the males are stable in motor actions. Men are single tasking but women are multi tasking in their thinking as well action too. This research proves as it the effect of the basic difference in neural connectivity pattern. They are complementary to each other too.
This new wisdom shall be used in gender specific mental disorders as well couple counseling to sort out the relationship issues and compatibility issues. By nature male and female are complementing each other and may the couple complement themselves to make harmony by understanding the rule of the Mother Nature. For more info the readers may contact the researcher Dr. Ragini Verma at Penn State University.
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Resilience is that ineffable quality that allows some people to be knocked down by life and come back stronger than ever. Rather than letting failure overcome them and drain their resolve, they find a way to rise from the ashes. Psychologists have identified some of the factors that make someone resilient, among them a positive attitude, optimism, the ability to regulate emotions, and the ability to see failure as a form of helpful feedback. Even after a misfortune, blessed with such an outlook, resilient people are able to change course and soldier on (Psychology Today).
Here are the ten steps to build your resilience:
- Have the courage to be imperfect
- Take time for yourself
- Join a social club; do some course if you are not working.
- Be active in as many ways you can
- Have good company. Find time with your friends.
- Be aware that laughter is the best medicine! Find reasons to laugh out louder!
- Sleep at least 8 hours everyday (Read Sleep Hygiene Handout)
- Seek help when you need; asking help is a positive behavior!
- Remember, this too shall pass…
- Don’t bottle up. Talk to someone who you can trust. Remember, today’s friend could turn tomorrow’s enemy. So, think twice before sharing all your too personal and private things with a friend. This is where counseling with a trained professional is recommended.
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Divorce is associated with an increased risk of future depressive episodes but only for those who already have a history of depression, according to a new study published in Clinical Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.
“Stressful life events like divorce are associated with significant risk for prolonged emotional distress, including clinically-significant depression,” notes psychological scientist and lead researcher David Sbarra of the University of Arizona. “At the same time, we know from considerable research that the experience of divorce is non-random. Some people are much greater risk for experiencing a divorce than other people.”
This led Sbarra and colleagues to wonder: Is it divorce, or the factors leading to divorce — such as marital discord, neuroticism, or hostility — that increase the risk for depression?
To investigate this question, the researchers took advantage of data from the longitudinal, nationally representative Midlife Development in the United States (MIDUS) study. The researchers matched each participant who had separated or divorced during the study to a continuously married person in the study who had the same propensity to divorce, based on a number of previously identified factors. By comparing participants to their match, the researchers were able to account for the fact that it’s impossible to randomly assign people to divorce or stay married.
In line with previous research, the results showed that divorce had a significant effect on subsequent depression.
But, as Sbarra and colleagues found, the full story was a bit more complex.
Specifically, divorce or separation only increased the likelihood of a later depressive episode for those participants who reported a history of depression. In fact, nearly 60% of adults with a history of depression who divorced during the study experienced a depressive episode at the follow-up assessment.
For all other participants — including those who had a history of depression but hadn’t divorced, and those who divorced but had no history of depression — there was no elevated risk for a future depressive episode. Only about 10% of these people experienced a depressive episode at follow-up.
The magnitude of the difference between the two groups — 60% versus 10% — surprised the researchers.
“These findings are very important because they affirm the basic notion that most people are resilient in the face of divorce and that we do not see severe disorder among people without a history of a past depressive illness,” says Sbarra. “If you’ve never experienced a significant depression in your life and you experience a separation or divorce, your odds for becoming depressed in the future are not that large at all.”
A One-step Solution for All Your Problems
“What is this life if, full of care
We have no time to stand and stare.”
William Henry Davis “Leisure”
Life today, is so fast-paced, challenging, complex and full of ups and downs. Do you remember the last time you laughed heartily, spent memorable times with your loved ones, jumped with joy or cried like a child, looked at the beautiful sunset or spun stories watching floating clouds? Most of us would be trying to answer these questions. We may have conquered many milestones in terms of education, profession, materialistic pursuits and so on. But, deep within our emotional sensitiveness is becoming shallow.
Life manifests itself in varied ways. Some moments impart a lot of happiness and positive aspects. While some instances render us hopeless and helpless. Loss of a loved one, transitions in life, daily stress, depression, break ups, emotional pains, anger and agonies, failure and frustrations, mood swings and confusion, chaos and loss…there are manifold ways in which life hits you hard and makes it unbearable. Under these circumstances it is very hard to find a support system, a shoulder to lean on, a person who can understand you pains in a non-judgmental manner and one who can show you the way out of all these challenges and pains.
If you are someone who is struggling with the ebb and tide of life, if situations are literally churning you up and if you are becoming a prey to mental health issues…we, at ProvenTherapy are dedicated to hold your hand and show you the path out of all the atrocities you are facing.
ProvenTherapy is like a Multi-specialty and Super-specialty health set up. With more than 100 specialized counselors, therapists and life coaches, ProvenTherapy is a pioneer in the field of Online Counselling. You can find different therapists specialized in different areas of life skills, mental health, therapy and healing…..all at a single place. Here are some of the hallmarks of ProvenTherapy:
- Highly Qualified and experienced counselors and therapists
- 24/7 online counselling and therapy support through live chat, emails, etc
- Multi-specialized professionals to help you in dealing with your problems
- Your privacy, security, confidentiality and dignity are never breached
- Empathetic understanding of your pains and showing you varied ways of dealing with them
- Extensive and intensive assessment, diagnosis, treatment, counselling and follow-up systems so that all your problems are treated in a wholesome manner
- Flexible timings, user-friendly set up, easy to access and sign up, economic and less time consuming
- Additional services also can be accessed free of cost. Like: Forums, therapist forums, blogs, therapeutic articles and videos and much more.
ProvenTherapy is not just a website full of words; it is a world full of well-meaning people who are dedicated to help you and to take you out of the overwhelming problems that you are facing. We, at ProvenTherapy await your arrival to facilitate your health, happiness and overall well-being.
Prof. Fatic talks about the modern philosophical term ‘polylog’ and the implications of client-counselor relationship and dynamics. What to expect from a counseling session and why is it taking longer than anticipated? “Those who prefer to maintain a distance will be much less able to help the clients change their ways of seeing the world and reacting to it,” says Prof. Fatic. Getting through to the client is not a straight forward business, but a real challenge to any Therapist. Client-Therapist relationship is very important and highly significant. In his own words, “The relationship between the client and the counselor is the foundation of the client’s emancipation and progress in addressing the issues.”
Recent study shows that the brain can be trained in compassion!
A new study by researchers at the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the Waisman Center of the University of Wisconsin-Madison shows that adults can be trained to be more compassionate. The report, published Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, investigates whether training adults in compassion can result in greater altruistic behavior and related changes in neural systems underlying compassion.
“Our fundamental question was, ‘Can compassion be trained and learned in adults? Can we become more caring if we practice that mindset?'” says Helen Weng, lead author of the study and a graduate student in clinical psychology. “Our evidence points to yes.”
In the study, the investigators trained young adults to engage in compassion meditation, an ancient Buddhist technique to increase caring feelings for people who are suffering. In the meditation, participants envisioned a time when someone has suffered and then practiced wishing that his or her suffering was relieved. They repeated phrases to help them focus on compassion such as, “May you be free from suffering. May you have joy and ease.”
Participants practiced with different categories of people, first starting with a loved one, someone whom they easily felt compassion for, like a friend or family member. Then, they practiced compassion for themselves and, then, a stranger. Finally, they practiced compassion for someone they actively had conflict with called the “difficult person,” such as a troublesome coworker or roommate.
“It’s kind of like weight training,” Weng says. “Using this systematic approach, we found that people can actually build up their compassion ‘muscle’ and respond to others’ suffering with care and a desire to help.”
Compassion training was compared to a control group that learned cognitive reappraisal, a technique where people learn to reframe their thoughts to feel less negative. Both groups listened to guided audio instructions over the Internet for 30 minutes per day for two weeks. “We wanted to investigate whether people could begin to change their emotional habits in a relatively short period of time,” says Weng.
The real test of whether compassion could be trained was to see if people would be willing to be more altruistic – even helping people they had never met. The research tested this by asking the participants to play a game in which they were given the opportunity to spend their own money to respond to someone in need (called the “Redistribution Game”). They played the game over the Internet with two anonymous players, the “Dictator” and the “Victim.” They watched as the Dictator shared an unfair amount of money (only $1 out of $10) with the Victim. They then decided how much of their own money to spend (out of $5) in order to equalize the unfair split and redistribute funds from the Dictator to the Victim.
“We found that people trained in compassion were more likely to spend their own money altruistically to help someone who was treated unfairly than those who were trained in cognitive reappraisal,” Weng says.
Pope Francis puts his certainty of faith down to his grandmother, from whom he first heard the Christian proclamation; to a life changing encounter with Christ at age 17, through a unknown priest who heard his Confession; to his daily praying of the Rosary to his ‘Mother’, Our Lady and to allowing himself to be held in God’s gaze even when he nods off after a tiring day, while in prayer before the Tabernacle.
At 17: 30 the Pope entered the square on his jeep and for a full 30 minutes toured through the throng arriving half-way down the Via della Conciliazione to greet as many people as possible.
After two readings taken from St Paul’s Letter to the Romans and the treatise of St. Irenaeus, there were two testimonies. John Waters, an Irish journalist, spoke of his leaving the faith, in search of a freedom that “makes us feel all-powerful and deeply powerless,” typical man of today who “seeks to dominate everything and that’s why he feels isolated and alone” . He then recalled being brought to “ his knees” by alcoholism, from which he was saved thanks to some friends who helped him rediscover the faith of his childhood. Now, he concluded “I am not only John, but one with the One who created me and I could not be free in any other way.”
The second testimony was that of Paul Bhatti, former minister for minorities in Pakistan, who thanked Pope Francis for being able to “share the pain and hopes of the Christians of Pakistan.” He recalled the mission of his brother Shahbaz, who was killed by Islamic extremists March 2, 2011, his commitment to the poor, the marginalized, the weak who “are the body of the persecuted Christ.” At the same time, his brother never stopped dreaming of “a Pakistan free and open to all communities and minorities”, in dialogue with Muslims, who “bear witness to the love of Jesus.”
Four representatives from the Movements then addressed their questions to Pope Francis. Pope, who had previously read the questions, gave an unscripted response, apologizing at the end that he was “too long”. The dialogue lasted for at least 40 minutes:
Pope Francis began by wishing everyone his signatory “Good evening”. He said “I am very happy to meet you and that we are all coming together in this square, to pray, to be united and to wait for the gift of the Spirit. I knew your questions beforehand so I thought about them – this is not without some thought! First, the truth! I have them written here. But that first one, “how were you able to achieve certainty of faith in your life, and what the path can you indicate to us so that each one of us can overcome our fragility of faith?” Is a historical question, because it is about my history, my life , no?
I have had the good fortune to grow up in a family where the faith was lived in a simple and concrete manner, but it was especially my grandmother, my father’s mother, who marked my journey of faith. She was a woman who explained everything to us, who spoke to us of Jesus, who taught us the Catechism … I always remember that on Good Friday in the evening, she would take us to the Candle-light Procession, and at the end of this Procession, we would arrive before the recumbent Christ, and my grandmother made us – us kids – kneel down and she would say: “Look, He is dead, but tomorrow he will Rise up!.” I received my first Christian proclamation right from this woman, from my grandmother, right? That is something beautiful! The first proclamation is in the home, within the family, right? And this makes me think of the love of many mothers and so many grandmothers in the transmission of the faith. They are the ones that transmit the faith. Even in the early days, because St. Paul said to Timothy: “I remember the faith of your mother and your grandmother.” To all the mothers who are here, to all grandmothers, [I ask you to ] think about this! Transmitting the faith. Because God puts people alongside us who help our journey of faith. We do not find our faith ‘in the abstract, no: it is always a person who preaches it to us, who tells us who Jesus is, who gives us the faith, who gives us the first announcement. And so it was in my first experience of faith.
But…there is a very important day for me: September 21, 1953. I was almost 17 It was the “Day of the Student,” for us the start of Spring – for you the start of Autumn. Before going to the festival, I went to my parish. And there I found a priest I did not know, but I felt the need to confess. And this was for me an experience of encounter: I found that someone was waiting for me. I do not know what happened, I do not remember, I do not know if it was that priest who was there, whom I did not know, why I felt this urge to confess, but the truth is that someone was waiting for me. Someone was waiting for me for a long time. And after the confession I felt that something had changed. I was not the same. I felt a voice call me: I was convinced that I had to become a priest. And this experience of faith is important. We say that we must seek God, go to Him to ask for forgiveness … but when we go, He is waiting for us, He is the first one there! We, in Spanish, we have a word that explains this well: “The Lord always there primerea” is first, is waiting for you! And it is a really great grace to find Someone who is waiting for you. You go to Him a sinner, but He is already waiting to forgive you. That experience that the Prophets of Israel said that the Lord is like the flower of almond trees, the first flowers of Spring. Before any other flowers appear, there He is: He who waits. The Lord is waiting for us. And when we seek Him out, we find this reality: that He is waiting to welcome us, to give us His love. And this creates wonder in the heart of those who do not believe, and this is how faith grows! With an encounter with a Person, with an encounter with the Lord. Some will say, “No, I prefer to study faith in books!” Ah, yes it is important to study. But look, that alone is not enough! The important thing is our encounter with Jesus, our encounter with Him, and that gives us faith, because it is He who gives us Faith! While you were talking about the fragility of faith: how do we overcome it. Fragility’s biggest enemy curiously enough, is fear. But do not be afraid! We are weak, we know it but He is stronger! If you are with Him, then there is no problem! A child is fragile: I have seen many today. But they are with their father, their mother: so they are safe! We too are safe with the Lord, we are secure. Faith grows with the Lord, out of the very hands of the Lord. And that makes us grow and makes us stronger. But if we think that we can make it on our own, ah, think of Peter, what happened to him, “Lord, I will never disown you,” and then the cock crowed three times and he had, no? We think, when we have too much faith in our own abilities, we are more fragile, more fragile. Always with the Lord, speaking with the Lord, with Him in the Eucharist, in the Bible, in prayer … Even as a family, with our Mother, even with her because she is the one that leads us to the Lord, the mother who knows everything the Lord. So let us pray to Our Lady and ask her as our Mother to make us strong. That is what I think about the fragility: at least, in my experience. The one thing that makes me stronger every day is to pray the Rosary to Our Lady. I feel great strength because I go to her and I feel strong”.
Moving on to the second question, the Pope discussed the challenge of Evangelization for the Movements, of how to effectively communicate the faith in today’s world”.
Pope Francis said “I will say three words only. First: Jesus. What is the most important thing? Jesus . If we push ahead with planning and organization, beautiful things indeed, but without Jesus, then we are on the wrong road. Jesus is the most important thing. I would like to take the opportunity now to make a small, but fraternal, reproach, among ourselves, alright? All of you in the square shouted out: “Francis, Francis, Pope Francis ” … But, where was Jesus? I want to hear you shout out. “Jesus, Jesus is Lord, and He is in our midst.” From now on , no more “Francis”, only “Jesus”. Alright?
The second word is prayer. Look at the face of God, but above all – and this is related to what I said before – know that you are being looked at in turn. The Lord looks at us: He looks at us first. And this is my experience, this is what I experience in front of the Tabernacle when I go to pray in the evening, before the Lord. Sometimes I nod off a little bit, No?, It’s true, because the strains of the day’s work makes you fall asleep. But He understands me. I feel so much comfort when I think that He is looking at me. We think that we have to pray, talk, talk, talk … No! Just let the Lord gaze at you. When He looks at us, He empowers us and helps us to witness to Him. Because the question was on the testimony of faith, right? Prayer … first, “Jesus”, then “prayer” and feeling that God is holding me by the hand. And the importance of this is to allow ourselves be guided by Him. And that’s more important than any planning or calculations. We are true evangelizers when we let ourselves be guided by Him. Think of Peter … maybe he was taking a siesta after lunch and had the vision, the vision of the tablecloth with all the animals and that Jesus was saying something but he did not understand. Then, some non-Jews came to call him to go into a house, and he saw how the Holy Spirit was there. Peter was guided by Jesus in that first evangelization of the Gentiles, who were not Jews, something unimaginable at that time. And so it has been, throughout history, throughout history. Be guided by Jesus. This is our leader: Jesus is our leader.
And third, “witness.” We have Jesus, then prayer – prayer, letting oneself be guided by Him – and then witness. But I would like to add something. This allowing ourselves to be guided by Jesus opens us to being surprised by Jesus. When people think of evangelization, they think of projects, strategies, making plans? But … they are only tools, small tools. The important thing is that Jesus, and being guided by Him, and then come the strategies. But that is secondary. Witness, the communication of faith … but the faith can only be communicated through witness and that is through love. Not with our ideas, but by living the Gospel in our own lives, which the Holy Spirit breathes within us. It’s like a synergy between us and the Holy Spirit, and this is witness. The Church is brought forward by the Saints, who are the ones who really give this witness. And like Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI said, the world today has so much need of witnesses. Not so much of teachers, but of witnesses. Less talk, speak through the way you live: the unity of your life, the consistency of your life! Consistency of life means living Christianity like an encounter with Jesus that leads me towards the other and not as a social fact, but … is this how we are socially? Are we Christians? Closed in on ourselves? No, not that. Witness”.
The third question regarded how we can live as a poor Church, for the poor. How does the suffering of others question our faith? How can we all, as Movements, Lay Associations, offer a concrete and effective contribution to the Church and society to address this crisis that touches the public ethics “- this is important! – The “model of development, politics, in short, a new way of being men and women?.
Pope Francis responded “I will pick up again from the subject of witness. First of all, the main contribution we can make is to live the Gospel . The Church is not a political movement, or a well-organized structure: it is not that. We are not an NGO, and when the Church becomes an NGO it loses its salt, it has no taste, it’s just an empty organization. And this – be clever! Because the devil deceives us, because there is the danger of hyper – efficiency. One thing is to preach Jesus, effectiveness, being efficient is another thing: no, that’s another value. The value of the Church, basically, is to live the Gospel and give witness to our faith. To be the ‘salt of the earth, light of the world’, is called to make present in society the yeast of the Kingdom of God and do it first with our witness, our witness of fraternal love, solidarity, sharing. When you hear some say that solidarity is not a value, it is a primary attitude that needs to be done away with… there’s something wrong! Today people are only concerned with worldly efficacy. The moments of crisis, such as the one we are experiencing – as you mentioned before, “we are in a world of lies”, no? Lies, it is a crisis – this time of crisis, but … let’s be careful, ok? It is not only an economic crisis, it is a cultural crisis. It is a human crisis: what is in crisis is mankind! And what can be destroyed, is mankind! Mankind, the image of God! For this is a deep crisis. In this time of crisis we cannot worry only about ourselves, close in on ourselves in loneliness, discouragement, in a sense of helplessness before our problems. Please do not close in on yourselves! That is a danger. But … we lock ourselves up inside our parish, among our friends, in our movement, with people who think the same as we do … But, what is happening? When the Church becomes closed in on itself, it gets sick. Think of a closed room, a room locked for a year, when you go, there is a smell of damp, all these things here, that’s not right. A Church that is closed in on itself is just the same, it is a sick Church.
“The Church must go out from herself. Where? Towards the existential outskirts”, even if that means risking accidents along the way, in the outward journey. To those who worry about what can happen to the Pope responds : “I prefer a thousand times a Church damaged by an accident, than a sick Church closed in on itself”. Faith- he added – is an encounter with Jesus, and we must do the same, help others to encounter Jesus.
Pope Francis continued “we live in a culture of confrontation, no?, A culture of fragmentation, a culture of what we don’t really need. A culture of the disposable. But,– this is part of the crisis – just think about the elderly, who have the wisdom of a people; think of the children who are … The culture of waste. But, we have to bring about encounter, we have to make our faith a culture of encounter and of friendship, a culture where we find brothers and sisters, we can talk even with those who do not think like us, even with those with which have a different faith, who do not have the same faith as our own. But everyone has something in common with us: they are made in the image of God! They are children of God!. Being open to an encounter with everyone, without negotiating the faith we belong to. And this is important: with the poor. If we step outside ourselves, we find poverty. Today, and it breaks my heart to say it, finding a homeless person who has died of cold, is not news. Today, the news is scandals, that is news, but the many children who don’t have food – that’s not news. This is grave. We can’t rest easy while things are this way!
But … this is the way things are. We cannot become starched Christians, too polite, who speak of theology calmly over tea. We have to become courageous Christians and seek out those who are the flesh of Christ, those who are the flesh of Christ”.
Pope Francis spoke of when he would hear Confessions, he would always ask: “Do you give alms to the beggars on the Street?” “Yes, father”. “Ah, good, good”. And I used to add: “Tell me, when you give alms, do you look into the eyes of the person you are giving alms to?” – “Ah, I don’t know, I haven’t noticed.” My next question: “And when you give alms, do you touch the hand of the one to whom you give alms, or throw the coin and [wipe your hands]?” That’s the problem: the flesh of Christ, touching the flesh of Christ, to take upon ourselves this pain for the poor. Poverty, for us Christians, is not a philosophical or cultural or sociological category: no, it is a theological category. I would say, perhaps the first category, because God, the Son of God, humbled himself, became poor to walk along the road with us”.
The Holy Father continued: “Being a poor Church for the poor begins by embracing the flesh of Christ. If we embrace to the flesh of Christ, we begin to understand something about what poverty is, the poverty of the Lord. And that’s not easy. But there is a problem which is not good for Christians: the spirit of the world, the worldly spirit. Spiritual worldliness. This leads us to a certain sufficiency, to live according to the spirit of the world and not that of Jesus”. Pope Francis said that in order to address the current crisis that touches public ethics, the development model, politics we must first understand that it is a “human crisis, it destroys the man, it has stripped man of ethics. And in public life, in politics, if there is no ethics, an ethics of reference that makes us transcendent, everything, everything is possible and we can do anything we want. And we see this when we read the newspapers, how this lack of ethics in public life greatly wounds all of humanity.
I would like to tell you a story. I have told this twice this week, but I’ll tell it a third to you. It’s the story about a biblical midrash, a rabbi of the twelfth century. He tells the story of the building of the Tower of Babel, and he says that to build the Tower of Babel bricks had to be made. This meant making the mud, bringing the straw, mixing them … then, in the oven, and when the brick was made it had to be hoisted up, to build the Tower of Babel. Every brick was a treasure, for all the work it took to make. When a brick fell, it was a national tragedy, and that worker guilty of breaking it was punished. But if a worker fell, nothing happened: it was something else. This still happens today: if investments in banks, drop a little , it’s a tragedy! But if people are starving, if they have nothing to eat, if they are not healthy, it does not matter! This is our crisis today! And the witness of a poor Church for the poor goes against this mentality.
Pope Francis then turned to the fourth question about how we can help and support our brothers and sisters who still today are persecuted for their faith. He said:
“Two virtues are needed to proclaim the Gospel: courage and patience. They are in the Church of patience. They suffer and there are more martyrs today than in the early centuries of the Church. More martyrs. Our brothers and sisters. They suffer. They carry the faith until martyrdom. But martyrdom is never a defeat: martyrdom is the highest rank of witness that we have to give. We are all on the way to martyrdom. [We are ] small martyrs: we give up this, do that … they, poor things, give up their life, but they give it up – as we heard in the situation in Pakistan – they give it up for love for Jesus, to witness Jesus. A Christian must always have this attitude of meekness, humility, the attitude that they have, trusting in Jesus, entrusting themselves to Jesus. It should be noted that many times these conflicts do not have a religious origin, often there are other causes of a social and political nature and unfortunately, religious affiliations are used like fuel to the fire. A Christian must always know how to respond to evil with good, although it is often difficult”.
We must try to make them feel, these brothers and sisters, that we are deeply united – deeply united! – to their situation, that we know that they are Christians who have entered a state of patience. When Jesus goes to his Passion, he enters [a state of] patience. We must make it known to them, but also make it known to the Lord. I ask the question again: Do you pray for these brothers and sisters? Do you pray for them? …in your every day prayers? I will not ask you to raise your hands. But think well, do we in our everyday prayer say to Jesus: “Lord, look at these brothers, look at these sisters who suffer so much, so much suffering.” And they experience the limits, they very limits between life and death. And to us, this experience should lead us to promote religious freedom for all: for everyone! Every man and woman should be free in his religious confession, whatever it is. Why? Because that man, that woman are children of God”.
And concluding his unscripted response to the questions put before him, on how to be certain in the faith, on how these Movements could live out their mission, about being a poor Church for the poor and about supporting persecuted Christians worldwide, Pope Francis repeated : Never be a Church closed in on itself. Be a Church that goes outside, which is on the outskirts of existence. May the Lord guide us there. Thank you”.
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