Tuesday, February 15, 2011

You're Gonna Have to Serve Somebody


Dylan sang it and wrote it and in his way he tries to live it.  His song, You’re Gonna Have to Serve Somebody, probably has roots that go as far back as the Bible.
You have to serve somebody, even if all you think you’re serving are your own appetites and needs. Even if you’re a bank robber, you’re serving somebody. And if you’re the Ben Affleck character in Town, who is a bank robber, you end up serving somebody other than yourself, anyway, if you’re lucky.
And why not?
What at first may seem like a command, a stricture you have to follow, like taking bitter medicine, probably distasteful at first, but ‘good’ for you in the long run, “You’ve got to serve somebody,” actually offers insightful advice, a brilliant piece of coaching that if implemented in the right spirit can open up the world and make you feel more alive, connected, present, valuable, successful, and yes, even happy.
We are connection-seeking beings, almost every one of us. Connections, solid, deep, and caring have been shown to help a man or woman lead a longer and happier life.
So why not serve and be connected?
Well, you might say, I do that already. I take care of my family. I love them. I guess I serve them and I’m grateful for it.
What about in your job?
What about in your parenting?
What about in your friendships?
What about in all your relationships?
What about when you’re at the checkout counter at Trader Joe’s?
Why not an attitude of service wherever you go and with whomever you’re with?
Of course, we have to be careful of being do-gooders. As Thoreau pointed out, do-gooders, those who consciously go out to do good, are often a pain in the butt. You have to be mindful of what you’re doing and why. But that needn’t stop you from exploring and opening up to a world beyond yourself, a world of other people, available to you when you let others in and consider how you might be of service to them.
Why not take to heart that, “You’re gonna have to serve somebody”?
Not as a doormat, not at the expense of your own needs, and happiness, but as a fulfillment of your purpose as a human being, and as a means to your own growth and happiness.
It seems, to be really happy, we need to be about more than just ourselves.
Me, Me, Me, turns out to be a rather small place to live. And it can get boring.
The more we serve, the bigger our world gets. The more connected we feel to those around us, the more alive we feel. This will be different for each of us. Some of us are more introverted than others, some of us love the grand stage, while others prefer the quiet grove.
No matter. We each have our world and our place to contribute and connect, our place of service. We can serve many who we do not even meet, at least not in person, by our writing, for example. Dylan, though he’s been on tour forever, is, I am told, a rather shy and almost reclusive man when not performing. An acquaintance once met him at a party in Malibu where he lives. Dylan barely spoke a word. And yet his words have served millions.
Dylan believes in music and in songs, the songs that carry the truth of times past and times present. The songs, and he knows more of them probably than any person alive, are his gospel, his sacred texts that tell him about life, love, loss, and the hope of salvation. That’s what he serves, that truth, and the part that he can play in keeping those songs and those timeless truths alive by recording, and performing year after year. He’s serving something larger, something outside himself, something beyond the songs. He must care about people, the people who may hear the songs and may learn from them, and find some truth in them and some comfort.
Bob Marley was the same. He sang his heart out for liberation, for equality, for a life of possibility and hope. During his last concert when he was dying of cancer and he sang, “No Woman, Don’t Cry,” he wasn’t just mouthing words, but living what he believed and what he stood for. Everyone in his band knew he was near the end and that he probably should not be on stage working so hard, but Bob Marley knew, like Bob Dylan knows, that you’ve got to serve somebody. And Marley did so happily, with all his soul, so he could die complete at the age of 36.
            I’m in real estate, not a very sexy profession compared to being Bob Dylan or Bob Marley, but it’s the primary way I pay my bills. Up till very recently I compartmentalized it from much of my life and much of who I am. I loved the people. I often love the houses. But somehow I tainted the whole thing because I thought I was doing it for me, because I needed the money. Which was true, but only partly true. It was also true that I genuinely enjoyed the clients, even the difficult ones. I have a playwright’s heart and can love even challenging characters. Yet I was missing something. I was looking at the whole thing slightly in the wrong way.
I realized that I had been looking at my life in slightly the ‘wrong’ way for too long. I was coming from the position of ‘it’s about me’. I often still do, but I’m trying to get better at it.
You might say that’s very convenient, to look at your work as serving others, while it serves you as well. It even sounds a bit Machiavellian, where you make your deeds look like good ones, while the whole time you’re lining your own pockets.
Some people question whether we can truly be altruistic. They say that our good deeds benefit us and that’s the real reason we do them, not to help others, but to help ourselves.
Maybe that’s true, but I’m certain that the happiest people are those who are connected to others and truly do their best to help them. My ninety-year-old mom has a mailman like that. He serves all day long. For years he’s been bringing the mail up the stairs to my mother’s door. He brings her stamps when she needs them. He takes her packages to the post office, puts postage on them, and collects from her the next day. I think he’s the happiest mail person I’ve ever met. And it’s because he serves.
Or does he serve because he’s happy?
I think the service comes first and the happiness follows.
It’s a worthwhile experiment either way. Try serving others a bit more rather than focusing too much on yourself and see how it feels. You may find that “you’re gonna have to serve somebody”, or some thing to be genuinely happy. It could be beauty you serve. It could be the earth. It could be peace. These things connect to people sooner or later. 
Try it out for yourself. See what it feels like. Open yourself up to the possibility of more and more service in your life. Think about what this means for a person in real estate, or a mail person, or a coach, or a nurse, or a teacher, or a police officer, or an electrician, or a mechanic.
In your interactions with others try holding an attitude of service.
“How can I help you?”
“What do you need?”
See what it feels like, and let us know.

I can be reached at drjohnluca@gmail.com or 680-5572.

I can be reached at drjohnluca@gmail.com 805/680-5572

Friday, February 4, 2011

What Are You Doing to Live Your Life as Best You Can?

I’m in the real estate business, amongst other things, and though we are now at what I believe is the beginning of the end of the real estate meltdown, a lot of people are hurting. I look at foreclosures and notices of default on a daily basis. I see the names of people I know who are behind on their mortgage payments. I see their houses about to be auctioned on the courthouse steps, contractors, realtors, business owners, and others. 
I’m impressed with how people press on, with how they deal with their losses, with how they are trying to reinvent themselves. One guy I know, a real salt of the earth kind of guy, made most of his income from setting tile. That got tough, so he opened a deli. That was pretty tough, so he took some classes, hired the right crew, bought a back-hoe and now along with tile he’s doing driveways, walkways, and walls, and he’s getting by.
But it’s not easy.
Another contractor I know is having challenges with his blood pressure. And there has to be many more like him
Though things are getting better, these are not the best of times for a lot of people. If you look at the news and hear what people in Egypt and Tunisia and elsewhere have had to put up with because of corrupt, unfair, and unworkable political and economic situations, you see that your situation is not that bad in comparison.
Yet it’s tough.
People have to cut themselves some slack during the hard times. I hear clients continually berating themselves for having taken out second loans on their homes, and how they wish they hadn’t done that and so forth. This from a guy who still has hundreds of thousands of dollars in equity in his house, and yet he often wants to chide himself for what he could have done, should have done, might have done.
I sometimes find myself in the same situation.
“What was I thinking when I did such and such with my money?” or something to that effect.
I’m fifty-three. Up till recently I never thought about a pension or retiring. I’ve always been an entrepreneur, mostly buying and selling real estate. I always thought I would be able to make all the money I needed in ways that were relatively easy and appealing to me. An electrician client of mine shared that he never had to go out to ask for work before, and that he was always able to pick and choose his jobs. He now finds it very difficult to go out there and ask for work.
Some friends of mine from chiropractic school shared how, “It really sucks. We got used to making more money each year. Our income went up and so did our lifestyle. That’s all changed, now.”
They live in Florida and own property in Michigan, two very hard-hit places.
You have your own stories and you have friends who have their stories, friends with no work, or who are going bankrupt, or have lost their home.
            You have to give yourself some credit for hanging in their during the hard times, for holding on, for finding ways to live and get your bills paid, for breathing through months, if not years of unemployment. I know a skilled architect who is happy painting houses and putting in landscaping. The physical pleasure of the work is new to him, but you have to know his heart is longing to get back to the drafting table. But in some ways he’s better than he’s ever been. He’s meeting the challenge of the hard times, some days better than others, but he’s doing it. He, along with many others of us, is having his mettle tested as never before, and surviving, even thriving. And that’s a good feeling.
            It’s not easy. I wish it were over, but as long as I can keep on keeping on, I grow and learn. And I like that. To me, that’s a lot of what life is about.
How do you keep the faith? How do you keep breathing? How do you recreate yourself? What are you doing to grow, learn, survive, and thrive?
            A client of mine has gone back to school to become a Latin teacher. I’m serious. He loves language, and it seems in top-notch schools there’s a need for Latin teachers. Another client of mine who cut his teeth in the real estate business managing construction projects is retraining for health care management, where there is a need for his skills.
Not everybody is being affected by the downturn in the same way, but there are commonalities. A buddy of mine is doing work on the BP oil spill out in the gulf. He’s a hydrologist, a water specialist, and though his work has been steady throughout the downturn, he still has to deal with his house being worth significantly less than it was a few years. The same is true in all fields, whether you’re a doctor or a high-end attorney. About one in every four households owes more on their house than it’s worth.
            I find myself stressed by what’s happening, but I also must confess I like it. I also like hard uphill climbs in the Sierras that make my lungs burn and my thighs ache. These trying times have forced me to reach further into myself. I haven’t had it this hard before, (I still have it way better than most.) and I’m finding the resources and the strength to do what I need to do. I take encouragement and support and inspiration from those around me who are finding ways to reinvent themselves and thrive.
            I’m much more appreciative now. One gift I gave my son for Christmas, I didn’t even tell him about. I promised myself I would play chess with him often. And that’s what I’ve done. It wasn’t that it was free, but something about trying financial times made me think about what was really valuable and memorable to me when I was kid.
What I remember after my dad died is that my father’s best friend, my Compare` John Santoro, would sit with me for hours playing the Italian card game Briscola. He never ever let me win, but I didn’t mind because he was treating me like a man, and spending time with me, though I was only seven. In retrospect, he seems to have had the card-playing capacities of a saint. I don’t remember ever winning, but I’ll never forget the two of us playing together.
That’s something money could never buy. I remember that now when I play chess with my son, or sit with my family watching a movie. There was a time I could never fully relax and just sit there laughing at some silly movie with my family. I was too busy. I had things to do, things to learn, important things.
Now, I can’t really think of anything more important or enjoyable than sharing a few hours with Syd, Mateo, Lisa, and Iko. It’s as pleasant as pleasant gets. It’s what life is about, at least as far as I can tell.
I’m the type of guy who can remember, while watching Ironman 2 that we’re living our lives on a speck of moist dust called Earth, hurtling through incomprehensible expanses of space and time, and that my entire life will pass in a flash, and that no matter how widely I travel, I will always be stuck, at least physically, in a very, very tiny corner of this wild universe, but in this context nothing else really seems to make sense other than to do what Jesus and all the other great teachers taught me, which was to love and care for those around me, to be as gentle and as compassionate as I can be, to be tolerant, to learn the ways of my own heart and mind so that I might be free of prejudice, greed, unnecessary suffering, limiting beliefs, anger, fear, sadness, and that I live a life open to the beauty, the mystery, and the sacredness of life, even though my bills are piled high on my desk, and thousands are in the streets in Egypt and elsewhere struggling and yearning for the most basic of freedoms and the most inalienable of rights.
            It’s tough, and beautiful. It’s the only life we have, at least for this leg of the journey. So look around. Take heart from those around you. Try to live well and wisely. Give what you have to give to those who could use your help, a smile, a kind word, a game of chess. Live now, while keeping an eye on the eternal.
          And if at all possible, be happy.
          Email me and let me know what's working for you.
          I can be reached at drjohnfluca@gmail.com or 805/680-5572. Namaste

Monday, January 31, 2011


It’s another beautiful morning in Santa Barbara. It rained yesterday, but it was wonderful in between the brief downpours. Though it’s January, the rains had an almost tropical quality about them. They came and went and came and went. They were fast and hard. Then it was sunny and windy.
Kind of like life can be some days. One hour you feel like it’s a great sunny day. You’re happy and things are going your way. Next minute psychological clouds gather, the mind darkens, and you’re not even sure what made your mood turn from sunny to cloudy.
Then, something else happens, that you may or may not really notice, and your mood changes again and you’re feeling happy and alive.
Not everyone goes through this everyday, but fluctuating moods are a challenge for many of us, though we may label the moods and deal with them in different ways. Not everybody gets noticeably depressed or unhappy when things don’t go right. Some of us get stressed, or angry, or we move faster, or we eat, surf the net, or distract ourselves in another way. Some of us go for a run, or call a friend, or meditate, rather than having a beer, or a smoke.
            Some of us deal with emotions by trying not to have them. This only works to a point. Trying not to have emotions is a little like trying not to sweat or go to the bathroom. It’s not a wise plan for the long run. Heart attacks, ulcers, hemorrhoids—you name it—a whole slew of health problems are related to an ability to handle difficult emotions.
Not having emotions also makes it a little tough to be a satisfying partner, and being emotion-free, like a robot, is probably a good way to have seriously messed-up kids. You hear this when troubled kids say things like, “My dad’s body might have been there, but he was somewhere else.”
To show up as a human being means to show up emotions and all. And we really wouldn’t want it any other way. Psychopaths and sociopaths seem to lack an ability to feel what is going on inside themselves and an inability to feel what is going on in others. And look how wonderfully their lives turn out.
To show up as a human being is to feel and be felt by those around us.
Our emotions, our feelings, have a great deal of intelligence in them. They help us do the right thing. They guide our intuition, which research is starting to show has a lot more going for it than we ever thought. Our emotions connect us and motivate us to do great things. Our emotions add color to life. They make us human.
They can also get us into trouble. That’s why we’re told we have to control our emotions and not let them control us. Emotions like fear make us run when we should stand. Anger makes us lash out when we should listen. Sadness makes us collapse when we need to rise.
This sounds like we are a house divided with good emotions versus bad emotions, with good cops versus bad cops. Emotional intelligence involves more than simply controlling our emotions.
Who’s being ‘emotional’ and who’s doing the controlling, anyway? Are there two people in there? Two personalities?
Can we bring about a bit of unity, which may lead to a bit of harmony and a bit more ease?
The more aware you can be of what’s going on inside you as you ‘react’ emotionally to things, the better. React is the operative word here. Often our anger, our fear, our sadness, is triggered by events, or more precisely, by events and the thoughts we have about those events. This often happens quickly and automatically.
 “Of course, I’m angry. The kids aren’t ready.”
We say this as if we’ve stated a law of nature and that our anger necessarily follows our kids’ lateness as necessarily as the planets follow Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation.
So why does your wife get depressed rather than mad when the kids are late? Is there a different law of nature working in her case than in yours?
This example may seem trivial, but it’s not. If you look, you will see many places in your life where you are saying, “I feel this way because…” and then you fill in the blank.
One of the most powerful things you can do to increase your happiness, success, and sexual prowess (Do I still have your attention?) is to take more and more responsibility for your life, including your emotions.
This is a very important step. Your emotions are yours. They are not simply caused by outside events. You are not a billiard ball being hit by another billiard ball that has no choice but to ‘react’ in a certain way. You have many degrees of freedom. You can look at what is going on when something begins to upset you. You can begin to cultivate a space between the action and your reaction. You can, if you want to, if you’re willing to accept the power and the possibility and the responsibility.
Responsibility can be said to mean ‘the ability to respond in a number of different ways.’ If you only have one way of responding, like a struck billiard ball, then you can’t be held responsible.
Is that what you want? To be free of responsibility for your emotions and your actions, like a billiard ball? Or do you want to stand up and take the responsibility and the opportunity to live and act like a human being?
Being human is a wonderful opportunity, but it’s also hard work. Life is often not easy. Most of us do not come pre-programmed with everything we need to live a full and happy life, nor do outside circumstances always work to make our lives safe and fulfilling. Life can be ‘red in tooth and claw’. Many of us are hurt even before we crawl, and have to work hard to find our way.
One of the most powerful moves we can make is to take more and more responsibility for our lives, beginning with our emotions and our reactions. Once we take responsibility, we can begin to learn how we’re built, how we operate, how we react. We can learn to be more aware.
Like building up our bodies, we can build up our ability to feel and be with uncomfortable emotions without reacting. We can learn to see the thoughts and belief systems that keep us imprisoned and restrict our ability to handle challenges. We can challenge those patterns and beliefs and live less reactively.
But for all this to happen, we first have to accept responsibility for our lives. That’s the foundation.
And that’s where most of us give our best excuses.
First things first, take responsibility wherever and whenever you can. That way you give yourself power and dominion over more and more of your life.
Don’t misunderstand me. This is not contrary to a religious or spiritual position that says you need the help of a higher power to fully live your life. Maybe our very existence is only possible because of a sacred energy creating and sustaining all things. Maybe not.
            You get to choose which is true for you and how you will live.
            Or you can choose to live like a billiard ball.
            That's your choice as well.

            I can be reached at drjohnluca@gmail.com or 805/680-5572

Saturday, January 29, 2011


Talk therapy gets a bad rap. Yackety-yak therapy. Woody Allen poking fun at therapy, therapists, and people like Woody Allen who go to therapy. Penis envy, castration anxiety, Freud and his red couch—they’re just too good not to make fun of.
In the early days, if you underwent psychoanalysis, the granddaddy of talking psychodynamic therapies, you could spend days each week of your adult life on your analyst’s couch talking about a few days from your childhood. How fun!
Now we have cognitive behavior therapy, rational emotive therapy and their cousins, streamlined therapies that get you to look at how and what you think, and change them for the better. There are piles of studies. Insurance companies love these therapies. No need to dwell on the past, no need to go into the stories, no need to look at the hidden motives for why you do certain things, like get divorced all the time, or feel depressed. No reason to dig up dirt. No reason to shed any tears or beat any pillows. No muss, no fuss, no mess.
We love it!
Cognitive therapy, ‘think’ therapy, is the way to go.
Except it’s not so simple.
We’ve learned a lot since Freud.
Some of the things we’ve learned are the techniques of cognitive behavior therapy, which are amazing.
But when it comes to human beings, to who we are, how we behave, what we feel, how we react, and what we believe—and how to change all that for the better—no single way of looking at things, or working with things, will cover all things human.
Turns out that yackety-yak therapy, when done well, is actually really good stuff, even, it seems, better than cognitive behavior therapy, the gold standard for many insurance companies and other data-driven types.
While cognitive behavior therapy has been getting all the favorable press, the data has been quietly piling up in favor of the new and improved versions of talk therapy. 
We human beings are a complicated and tricky lot, which is a great thing and makes for great literature and movies, and the luscious stories of the foolish escapades of the rich and famous, but it also makes us genuinely tragic. We can suffer so profoundly, often because of our own actions, because we do not know ourselves, our deeper motives, the nature of our inner conflicts, our forgotten, but still powerful wounds.
We do at times seem like fallen angels, not angels gone to hell, but angels fallen from heaven trying hard to get back there, but we’re not sure how. It’s a tricky business, this mind/body of ours, how it works, how it sees the world, what it knows but can’t speak, and how it is divided against itself by design.
Talk therapy, more properly called psychodynamic therapy, is an attempt to open up the doors to deeper material that a person may be unable to access by himself.
The trained and attuned person listens for the material in the gaps, hears what is not being said, intimates hints of unexpressed emotion, and resonates with the client and begins to ‘feel’ some of what the client is feeling, though possibly not able to say.
It’s not easy work, especially not for the client. That’s why it often takes help to go where she has never gone before, in a way that is not traumatizing.
Let’s make up an example.
A man finds himself at a very difficult place in his life. This is the culmination of many miss-steps he has made over the years. He really seems to have almost intentionally dug himself into a hole, and now he has almost buried himself alive. His life is a shambles.
Why? Why would he do this to himself?
With help, he begins to share the details of his painful childhood. Not only does he share the details, he feels the pain of it, the sadness, the disappointment and the shame. He begins to see, feel and know that much of his self-destructive behavior took place as he was trying not to feel the pain he had been carrying with him all his life.
“Oh yeah, sure”, you might be saying. “I’ve heard this liberal crap before. But show me the meat. That’s why we’ve made fun of you talking types for years, because it doesn’t do any good. Oh, woe-is-me therapy. Enough, already, just get off your butt and do the right thing.”
If only it were that easy. In some sense, that’s what cognitive behavior therapy tries to do in a thoughtful, organized and sustained way: address the issues head-on by challenging the thoughts that lead to the destructive behaviors. Change the thinking and you change the feelings and the behaviors. That’s the theory anyway. Often it’s quite effective, but not always.
Research is now showing that psychodynamic therapy does have the ‘meat’ to show for its efforts. Like the big bad hunter, psychotherapy brings home the meat, the bacon, or the tofu—whichever you prefer.
In a recent research review by Dr. Jonathan Shedler, published in American Psychologist, the well-respected journal of the American Psychological Association, psychodynamic therapy was shown to be very effective in rigorous controlled studies, and its benefits continued to accrue even after the therapy was over.
Research has shown that there’s a lot that goes into making good therapy good. Psychodynamic therapy explores emotions and helps the client feel things she may have been avoiding. She is helped to ‘see’ and ‘feel’ and understand her avoidances. Patterns are looked at and felt. The past is carefully explored, where necessary, to a great degree, the stories, the images, the sounds, the feelings, and the judgments.
It’s in relationship that problems often arise, so exploring the client’s experiences in relationship is important.
The challenge is that we are complex, multi-storied, multifaceted beings, who are often ignorant of much of what is going on in us. Good talk therapists use talk to go beyond talk, to drop into the places where unspoken material lies. The job of the therapist, or good friend, or minister is to help the person ‘hear’ the inner story, to be able to go beyond the barriers of shame, fear, and discomfort, and see, hear, and feel what is going on at a deeper level. 
Good talk therapy is not really ‘talk’ as we normally understand it. Just talking about things can be helpful, but only goes so far, because it usually stays close to where the person is comfortable. Good therapy involves going to the uncomfortable, but doing so in ways that are not traumatic.
This process is much more expanded than talking. It involves experiencing sensations, seeing images, feeling into the body, sharing the stories and words without editing or discounting them, and observing the meaning, judgments and commentary that arise from all this. Talking is used to share a report of the process. It’s part of the process, but often not the most important part.
            “Know thyself”, turns out to be good advice, as good as it has ever been. Though we’ve learned a good bit more, and gotten better at helping others to know themselves, knowing yourself is still hard work. But it’s good work, work worth doing, work that can change the course of a life, maybe your life, for the better.

            I can be reached at drjohnluca@gmail.com or 805/680-5572.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011


           It is very difficult at times to be aware of how many ways we have for making ourselves miserable by our own thoughts and beliefs. So often we structure an argument that begins, “I am unhappy because of “blankety-blank.” And believe that our unhappiness is well founded, justified, almost unavoidable, as if it were a law of physics.
          It may be true that times are tough, that someone is sick, that there is no work, that someone has left, that something is wrong. It may be true that we feel tired and stressed and at our wit’s end. It may be true that our gut is in knots and our head aches. 
          But maybe there’s a way for us to be with whatever is happening, accepting it deeply, that allows for a bit more breathing room and a little more happiness. It has something to do with really accepting ourselves as we are, including how we suffer, and how we make ourselves suffer, and how we view our perceived faults, and how harshly we can sometimes judge what we think we see. It has something to do with loving ourselves just as we are, the whole beautiful mess of a human being we are with our wounds, our shortcomings, our judgments, and our confusion, along with our glory and our magnificence. I think that’s what some people get from Jesus. Jesus opens the door for some people to love themselves and others just as they are. That’s the good part of religion: the love. The love for self and others opens the door to happiness.
            “May I love myself just the way I am, suffering and all, imperfections and all.”
Our goal, our mission is to be happy from moment to moment. It’s about being happy, here and now. And to do that, you’ve got have a little love for yourself as well as for everyone else
A lot of people have problems with this. They think happiness is too shallow, that love is for sissies. Happiness is not a good enough goal or a deep enough value. It’s selfish, small. What about my responsibilities? My job? My family? What about injustice? What about war and global warming? 
Is anybody going to solve any of these big problems anytime soon? Which is not to say you shouldn’t spend you life working on them. But how does being a miserable son-of-a-gun help you to solve any problems whether personal or global?
            The Dalai Lama has a plate full of problems he’s working on, maybe for more than one lifetime if you believe in reincarnation, yet he says happiness is the goal of life. And he appears to be succeeding at it in spite of all the travails he and his people are facing.
So, along with peace, give happiness a chance.
What’s so great about being miserable, anyway? Most miserable people are a pain. Being miserable takes up so much time and energy that miserable people often don’t have anything left over for anyone or anything else. So, do all you can to give up your misery. It may be harsh to hear, but often we hold onto our misery for dear life. Edgar Allan Poe wrote a story, The Oblong Box, where a young man goes down to his death in a maelstrom because he will not let go of the coffin of his deceased wife. It may make for a dramatic story, and who doesn’t like a good story now and then, but we must do all we can to let go of our suffering. Addiction to our own suffering is one of the hardest addictions to break. 
I am not discounting the depths of despair and the severity of depression that can afflict us. Some depression is literally gut wrenching, blinding, vomit-spewing, diarrhea-producing depression, a howlingly miserable disease of mind and body. I am not saying it is easy or our fault. I am grateful for the medications, and therapies, and procedures that can help those of us who suffer the most acutely. We must do all we can to live our lives with a sense of peace, gratitude, love and yes, happiness.
Happiness is the goal, right now. Which means we can’t be unhappy about being unhappy when we’re unhappy. Hmmm. When the alarms go off and we begin to feel like crap, we may not know whether we started off by thinking painful thoughts, or whether something started in our body that made us feel badly and then our thoughts aligned with the crappy feeling and became crappy too.
We may not know and it may not matter what came first, the body or the mind. All we know is that we feel like crap. And that’s the point. Stop and stay with that. You fell badly. At this moment, do not get lost in long drawn out cascades of psychic babble that you use to justify why you feel this way.
“Well, you see, it started before I was born. I was in my mother’s…”
Save that for your therapy sessions where you can actually work on it. For now, stay with the feeling of feeling badly. Keep breathing. Observe your body. Look for a way to return to happiness.
This is not trivial or shallow. It’s a lifelong work.
Your mom dies. Are you supposed to feel happy on the spot? No, not unless you hated the old girl for torturing you, and maybe not even then.
So what am I saying you do?
We need to explore what we mean by happiness. It’s not giddiness. It’s not being stoned. It’s not irresponsible.
By happiness we mean a deep sense of acceptance, peace, gratitude, being present to the present moment even when it’s the moment of our mom’s death. Even when tears are rolling down our cheeks and words are stuck in our throat. Happiness pays the bills, takes care of the children, does the work, learns the lessons, supports the relationship, cares about others, knows loss, looks to the future, prays to heaven, and buries the dead.
Happiness knows sadness and knows death is coming.
So, moment to moment, pay attention and enjoy your life. Live in the present. Look around. Let your eyes take in the world and feed you. Bless and be blest. If you start to feel disconnected, sad, lonely, fearful, tight, worried, or just plain shitty, stay focused on that, riveted as if your life depended on it, because it does—at least your happy life does. Don’t move away. Look for the shortest distance back to happiness, back to your centerline. Do not pass GO. Do not get sucked in by ‘problems’.
“Are you saying I have no problems?”
No, I am not saying that. I am saying that being unhappy is the problem we are talking about here and now. Fix that first, and fix it fast, if you can. If you can’t, then stay connected to your suffering. Accept it. Do what you need to do to get back the connection with your life and the present moment, even if the present moment is painful. Go to gratitude. Check in with your body. Deepen your breath. Slow down your pace. Look around and see the world. Look at your negative thinking. Pay attention to what it is saying to you and how it is making you feel. See the limiting irrational beliefs, the harsh conditioning, or the pain of early childhood issues.
Be really heroic. Get up, if you can, and dance. Stretch. Recommit to your work or your relationship. Make that phone call. Tell that girl that you love her, or that she scares you. Tell that friend that your feelings were hurt. Go to that beach and tell your story to the waves. Kneel and kiss the ground. Do what you have to do to re-establish the connection to life and the present. Get back to happy. And don’t knock it. Happy is not stupid.
If God is love, then maybe we can say that the goal of life is to know God, and to know God is to know love, love for ourselves as we are and for the world as it is, in all its mystery, beauty, and sadness.     
Love isn’t sad. Love isn’t disconnected. Love is grateful, joyful, alive, and full of possibility. That’s what you want to get back to moment by moment. That’s the prize. Keep your eye on it. It will give you what you need to live your life and solve your problems, even the problems you don’t really have, and the ones you don’t ever really ‘solve.’
We close with a quote by the American monk Thomas Merton that celebrates the transformative power of acceptance and self-love, the foundation of real happiness, and one of our deepest connections to the Sacred.          
                   "Finally I am coming to the conclusion that my highest ambition is to be what I already am. That I will never fulfill my obligation to surpass myself unless I first accept myself, and if I   
accept myself fully in the right way, I will already have surpassed myself."
Thomas Merton

I can be reached at drjohnfluca@gmail.com or 805/680-5572.

Monday, January 24, 2011


In today’s New York Times there’s an article about the resurgence of electro-convulsive shock therapy as a treatment for severe depression. Last week, also in the Times, a psychiatrist, Dr. Friedman, wrote an article about insight not being enough to make for a happy life. These two articles illustrate the challenge and opportunity we have for dealing with our problems in a myriad of ways other than the extremes presented in these two articles.
             In one article we read that most therapists feel that insight is the cornerstone of healing psychological problems, and is the foundation of a happy life. Dr. Friedman does not agree. Though Dr. Friedman accepts that insight can be helpful, he points out that often insight is not enough, nor is it always necessary.
We know he’s right. Just because we know why we do something or react a certain way, does not mean we can change our behavior or our reactions, though it may make us feel better to know why we do certain things. With traumatic material, knowing what happened and being able to play it over again and again can actually make things worse.
Dr. Friedman shares that he feels good that he can use meds and some talk to alleviate suffering. Happiness, well, Dr. Friedman says, that’s another matter. Happiness, like self-esteem, you have to work for.
And I couldn’t agree with him more, but unlike Dr. Friedman, I feel that professionals can do a great deal to help clients live happier lives and improve their self-esteem. 
What can we offer that might help? Dr. Friedman points out a very well researched finding that most forms of therapy seem to do about as good a job as any other form.
What distinguishes good therapy from not-so-good therapy is not the therapy, but the therapist. It ‘s the quality of the relationship between the client and the therapist, coach, teacher, minister, or social worker that makes the difference. As professionals, we can offer a trained ear, and more importantly, a trained heart and mind. Most of us don’t listen very well, not even to ourselves. One of the most powerful things we can do is to learn how to ‘listen’ to ourselves better. I’ll talk more about this later.
            The other article offers that in difficult cases ECT can help with very severe depression. Though the treatment remains controversial, ECT can knock out a serious bout of depression and buy the client some time and breathing room while they try to address issues and make life changes and get on a track that does not once again lead to depression.
Clearly, ECT is for extreme cases, and no one is suggesting, otherwise, but we often take for granted the many things we can, and often must do to keep ourselves functional and happy throughout the ups and downs of life.
As Dr. Friedman said, for many of us, happiness takes work. So let’s not forget the basics.
If you want to be happy, start with your foundation: your body. Make sure you get enough exercise every day, especially if you’re prone to depression, anxiety, or moods.
Aerobic exercise may be a better antidepressant than anything you can buy. Make exercise part of your daily routine.
Watch what you put into your body and when. Do not run yourself down by not eating and then collapsing. Watch how much caffeine, sugar, and refined carbohydrates you eat. Notice what happens after meals, especially at midday.
Make sure you get enough sleep. Teenagers are prone to depression if they don’t sleep enough. It may be true for the rest of us.
Get outside, especially during the day when the sun is out. SAD, seasonal affective disorder, is real. Sunlight is the cure. 
Meditate every day for at least 15 minutes. There is a lot of research out there that supports the claim that sitting quietly every day for fifteen to forty five minutes, simply letting your mind be quiet, for example, observing your breath, can have many beneficial effects on mind, body, outlook, and mood.
Learn to pay attention to your body, noticing how you breathe, how you hold tension, how you collapse in certain situations. Meditation or mindfulness practice will help you become more aware of how your body is reacting to your life.
Watch what you think and say to yourself. Watch your ‘stinking thinking’.
Watch what you say to yourself as you face challenges. If one thing goes wrong, is everything wrong? If the weather is bad, does that mean the world is against you? Do you take temporary setbacks as evidence that you and/or the world are fatally flawed? If so, there are books, workshops, and practices that can help you change what you say to yourself and increase your happiness and wellbeing. This is powerful stuff and you need to do what you can to make sure that your mental machinery is not grinding you into the ground.
There are daily practices that can help you. Practice gratitude. Take note of and give thanks for the good things in your life. See where the glass is full, not where it’s empty.
Take healthy action in small incremental steps that move you where you want to go.
Help others. It’s a great way to help yourself.
Get out of your head, specifically, your left hemisphere, listen to great music and dance--scary for many of you guys out there, I know.
            Be mindful of your body. The philosopher Descartes said, “I think, therefore, I am.” Many of us fall into the trap of thinking, “I am my thinking.” That’s it. Period. We think thinking is all there is to us. We forget that we don’t simply have a body, but we are a body.
You are not separate from your body. If you were, why would magic mushrooms or prescription drugs radically alter your experience and how you feel? Why would sending electricity through your brain shake you out of depression? Why would exercise make you feel better?
Since you have and are this amazing being with body, mind, and possibly soul,
it makes perfect sense to use the zillions of cells and receptors and nerve endings and synapses to help you live your life.
But to do that you’ve got to slow down a bit and let yourself feel what your body is trying to tell you.
That’s not exactly right.
You’re not smart enough in this area.
Your body couldn’t tell you all that’s going on even if it wanted to. You wouldn’t get it all. Just imagine the overload you would experience if you had to consciously work every muscle and fire every nerve and control every gland necessary for you to successfully chew, swallow, and digest lunch. If you think about it, we’re morons in this area. And yet, when faced with emotional challenges, we deal with them primarily from the neck up, though emotions, by definition, involve motion within our bodies.
So, pay attention to your body when you’re going through difficult times. Notice your breathing, your areas of tightness and discomfort. Do not try to make them do anything, but let yourself feel and experience what is going on.
            Silently give a name to what you are experiencing, such as sadness, anger, anxiety, joy, anticipation, or whatever. Really let yourself feel the emotion, the movements and changes and sensations in your body. Pay attention and notice the change. Don’t try to change anything unless you feel it is really sucking you in and bringing you down. If so, then bring in resources that feed you. Breath more deeply. Imagine places and people you know and love that inspire you, make you feel alive, grounded, and present. Let yourself get to a place where you feel a little better. This should show up as a change in breathing or muscle tone. You might yawn or take a deep breath or relax a bit, whatever it is take note of it.
            Over time, as you do the work, like the star athlete you are, you will find that you get better and better at dealing with life’s challenges. So good, in fact, that you may find yourself feeling good, and feeling good paves the way for feeling happy.
            It’s great that we have meds available to us when we need them, and that in extreme cases things like ECT are available if we need them, but happiness is not to be found there. Happiness, for many of us, requires work, attention, commitment, insight, practice, tools, and good friends. The Dalai Lama said happiness is the purpose of life. That’s because life is tough and being happy throughout the ups and downs is a profound and radical act that takes work and a transformed human being. Maybe being happy is the most important work we can do.

I can be reached at drjohnluca@gmail.com or 805/680-5572

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


My heart goes out to the family and friends of Mohamed Bouazizi, the 26-year-old fruit vendor who set himself on fire in Tunisia, and set off a series of events that led to the collapse of the government.
Bouazizi’s desperate act has changed the course of history in Tunisia, hopefully for the better, but from a personal point of view, what a tragedy, to reach such a low point in your life that you see no other way to proceed, other than to set yourself on fire and burn yourself to death.
Bouazizi was college educated, but unemployed, except for selling fruit. Because he had no license, the police stopped Mohamed Bouazizi from doing business and took, or stole, his fruit.
That was enough to push Mohamed Bouazizi over the edge, and the rest is history.
I don’t know the details of his situation, but Bouazizi was college educated. Somehow he got enough money together to buy the fruit for his business. It doesn’t sound like he was homeless. There are probably many people in his hometown and throughout Tunisia and the region who were and are much worse off than Mohamed Bouazizi was, but it was Mohamed Bouazizi who broke that day, and did so in a way that could not be ignored, and his countrymen responded.
Here in the U.S. things are nowhere as difficult as they are in Tunisia. Or are they?
I don’t think the actions of the Tucson shooter are a good comparison to those of Mohamed Bouazizi. There is no evidence that Mohamed Bouazizi was mentally ill, nor did he hurt anyone other than himself. One was an act of desperation and, possibly, protest. The other was an act of an unhinged mind.
I think many millions of unemployed or underemployed Americans can imagine how Mohamed Bouazizi must have felt, the sense of frustration, of beating oneself against a wall, of being underutilized—Bouazizi was college-educated, remember—of being mistreated, the feeling of life passing you by.
Please, I am not suggesting that anyone in the United States, or anywhere else, do anything that remotely approximates the horribly painful act of Mohamed Bouazizi. All I’m saying is that we can understand his frustration, and that many of us have felt similar, though hopefully less extreme, emotional pain. Many of us have known moments, even if only fleeting, where we’ve thought to ourselves, “I don’t know if I can do this anymore.”
We human beings are, as is embodied in the Constitution of the United States of America, by our deepest nature, free beings seeking a full expression of life, liberty, and happiness. That’s who we are. We are like water seeking cracks and channels into which we might pour our energies, our capacities, our knowledge, and our expertise, and it can be unbearably painful when we have no effective outlet for expressing our gifts and contributing towards a decent life for ourselves, our families, and our country.
In contradistinction to Mohamad Bouazizi, we have the example of protestors like Nelson Mandela, and our own Martin Luther King, Jr., men of extraordinary ability who could have, in their time, felt thwarted at every turn, even to the point, in Mandela’s case, of being imprisoned for years. Yet they continued to fight day after day, but they fought, not by fighting, but by keeping the vision, and never giving up.
Mandela gave up 27 years of his life to a prison cell, though he does not seem to see it this way, but never gave up his dream. Martin Luther King, Jr. shot dead at age 39, terribly young, had half his life taken away from him, though he probably would not have seen it that way either, but never gave up his dream of a more just and equitable America.
In each of these three cases life offered difficult challenges.
No matter who we are, though our challenges may seem smaller, we have our challenges, nonetheless.
We may be unemployed. We may be ill. We may be frustrated. We may be old. We may be alone, or feel that way. We may be discriminated against.
We know the pain of life, because we’re human, and there’s no way to avoid it.
Someday pain finds us.
How do we deal with it?
Mohamed Bouazizi knew full well how discomforted he felt. And so he acted.
Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King, Jr. acted too, but not like Bouazizi did. Their protest, their effective actions towards radical change did not require them to kill themselves, nor anyone else, though both were ready to die, if need be.
And as we all know, one did die, though his dream lived on.
We all can’t be a Mandela or a King, nor would most of us want to be a Bouazizi.
The difference, to my mind, is that I view Bouazizi as a man who had come to his end. His act was like that of a man who jumps out the window of a burning building.
He saw no other way out, no way forwards.
I may be wrong, but I don’t think Bouazizi thought his action would make a difference.
He was a man who had given up.
But it was Bouazizi’s pain and frustration, along with that of his countrymen, that inspired the people of Tunisia to move forwards.
Bouazizi was the catalyst, but it remains, as it always does, to the living to make the dream of a more equitable society, or any other dream, in Tunisia or elsewhere, a reality.
Life is in the living.
Some of us will not be able to bear the pain of living for one reason or another. Suicide has been with us for a long time, and will probably be with us always.
But for the rest of us, what do we do with the pain of our lives, no matter where it comes from, whether from inside us or from outside us? Pain, like love; anger, like hope; fear, like courage; sadness, like joy—both the positive and the ‘negative’ emotions—can be fuel for living and for transformation, rather than for collapse and withdrawal.
So, my heart goes out to Mohamed Bouazizi, and to his family and friends, and to all human beings who suffer, wherever they are, whether here in the U.S. or in Tunisia, Pakistan, Africa, or down the street.
           And my heart goes out to me, and to you, for though we may not be suffering today, like all human beings, we know suffering. We ask for the strength, the wisdom, the compassion, the insight and the guidance, from wherever it may come, to be able to take all that life offers us, the good and the bad, the joyous and the painful, and like Mandela and King, in our own way, live a life that makes things better for ourselves, our families, our country, and the world.                                  
            I can be reached at drjohnluca@gmail.com or 805/680-5572

Friday, January 14, 2011


At the beginning of her book of poems, Evidence, Mary Oliver quotes Kierkegaard who wrote, “We create ourselves by our choices.”
I find Oliver’s choice interesting. The quote is clear, inspiring—I get it. It sounds contemporary. It’s catchy. You could put it on a greeting card along with a picture of a great blue heron lifting off the silvery surface of an early morning pond. And the card would sell.
We create ourselves by our choices.  
Who could argue with that? Yes, yes, I know, we don’t create the body we’re born into, or pick our parents, or our neighborhood, though some people think you do pick where, how, when, and to whom you are born.
The quote is powerful. It captures a great deal. It’s succinct. And yet, like all ideas, it misses so much. If it didn’t, why would Mary Oliver have to write the seventy-five pages of poems that make up Evidence?

Kierkegaard also wrote, "Wonder...is the beginning of all deeper understanding".
Can one make the choice to wonder? I wonder.
Wonder, it seems to me, has a sense of being blown away by something, being blown away by the night sky seen from a mountain-top, for instance, or by seeing the face of your child for the first time.
Wonder strikes us. We don’t strike wonder like we might strike gold. We stumble upon it unexpectedly. We can’t really prepare for it. Wonder catches us unawares. But possibly we can make choices that open the door to wonder. But we can only open the door. We can’t step over the threshold. There’s only so far we can go, because we’re too small, too limited, too time-bound. Wonder is our experience of something that’s bigger than we are.
A few lines of poetry may help us get the feel for what I’m trying to say, since good poetry can open the door for us.
Here are the last lines of the last poem in Mary Oliver’s Evidence:

How did it come to be
 that I am no longer young
 and the world
that keeps time

in its own way
has just been born?
I don’t have the answers
 and anyway I have become suspicious

of such questions,
and as for hope,
that tender advisement,
 even that

I’m going to leave behind.
I’m just going to put on
 my jacket, my boots,
 I’m just going to go out

to sleep
all this night
in some unnamed, flowered corner
of the pasture.

Why? Why go out to sleep all night in some unnamed, but flowered, corner of the pasture? Because that’s how she opens the window to which is beyond her. That’s how she let’s the night in, and the light, and the mystery of the world. She makes the choice to open the window, but what happens after that is not up to her. All she can do is make the choice to be receptive to what comes to find her. 
Kierkegaard said, "Above all, do not lose your desire to walk: every day I walk myself into a state of well-being and walk away from every illness; I have walked myself into my best thoughts and I know of no thought so burdensome that one can not walk away from it…"
He ‘walks’ himself into a state of wellbeing. He walks, not thinks, not works, not argues, but walks. He walks, and like Oliver, he lets the world find him and soothe him.
The poet Wallace Stevens wrote, “Perhaps the truth depends on a walk around the lake.”
We create ourselves by our choices. But our choices take place in a great mysterious world. Kierkegaard said we are here on sealed orders. There is only so much we can know about who we are, why we are, and where we are. To some degree, we make our choices in the dark. We are limited in what we can know and imagine. We are surrounded by things greater than we’ll ever be.
The poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote in The Man Watching   

What we choose to fight is so tiny!
What fights with us is so great!

What is extraordinary and eternal
does not want to be bent by us.

            So, go live your life. Make your choices consciously with strength and conviction, but don’t make the world smaller than it is. Make the choice to let in the mystery. Every now and then make the choice to walk away from what you think you know. Go sleep, as Mary Oliver does, in the pasture.
            A few more lines from her, and I bid you adieu.
What, in the earth world,
is there not to be amazed by
and to be steadied by
and to cherish?

Oh, my dear heart,
my own dear heart,
 full of hesitations,
 questions, choice of directions,

Look at the world.
Behold the morning glory,
the meanest flower, the ragweed, the thistle.
 Look at the grass.

Namaste. (The wonder in me bows to the wonder in you.)

I can be reached at http://www.drjohnluca.blogspot.com/ and 805/680-5572