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Sunday, March 25, 2012

No Way to Brag about Being Humble

I know I've told this story before about meeting an elderly gentleman at a small gathering. I asked him  what his interests were and among the things he said was, "and I try not to be too authentic."
I loved that and have used it as one of my life guides ever since. There is nothing more inauthentic than trying to be authentic. 

So I have to laugh at myself again for the following exchange of letters. I was just thinking to have a pleasant exchange and I was grateful for the letter writer's interest and encouragement of my work. However when I read it over, after I sent if, of course, it smacked of the very thing I do not like to find in myself, a holier-than-thou kind of attitude. There's no way to congratulate yourself for being humble. I guess that's what I ended up doing in the letter. Another lesson for me. 

And as an aside here, sometimes I am hoodwinked by thinking people are  writing out of sincerity,  to congratulate me on my work, only to discover they want me to join something, or buy something.

And the other thing here is, after all these years, I find, after reading my letter over, that I am still rankled at how I was treated by Dr. Seligman many years ago.  I guess I'm not as highly enlightened as I like to think I am. I did try to get Dr. Seligman to write a blurb for my first depression book and all he said to me was, "The president of the American Psychological Association does not go around doing blogs for people's books." Put me right in my place and that was more than ten years ago. Anyway, judge for yourself.  Here is the exchange of letters.

Dear Dr Curtis (If you don't have a PhD - you deserve one)

I am a business/ lifestyle consultant based in Chicago. I teach meditation and mindfulness practices and I am a voracious reader!

I "accidentally" found your books on the Internet and I am now reading both your books.
Depression is Choice and Brain Switch.

I am writing to tell you that both these books are very enjoyable and ground-breaking. I don't suffer from depression - I have always been a "sunny" individual and I have found creative ways to get out of slumps. I am particularly fond of the exercises outlined in Brain Switch because I use similar techniques - some of them from books and some of them were just created by me.

Have you read about positive psychology? Works by Marty Seligman?
I think your work and Dr Seligman's work are very complementary.

Keep spreading the message! We need more people like you in this world.


Dear S
Thank you so much for your note. Yes, I mention Seligman in my first book. I am familiar with his work.

A. B. Curtiss

Hi A.B. Curtiss: 

Thanks for your prompt response.

I am not aware of your marketing efforts. Are you familiar with Les Fehmi and Open Focus?
I believe there are many synergies between your work and his work.

Please check out his website  I believe that there are synergies between your organizations. If you are interested, I can provide introductions.


Dear S

Well, to tell you the truth I'm not really marketing my work. I have put it out there and it's kind of wandering around willy nilly. I have a blog that I answer people's questions and I am asked now and then to appear or consult. I just finished working with a clinic who uses my books and they are involved in a documentary, with some other organizations on alternative treatments for depression, so they interviewed me for a couple of hours under the lights with a film crew. That was fun.  

But I don't charge for any of this. Perhaps it is my fate to remain a little-known author who writes in my garret, thumbing endlessly through my tattered thesaurus, searching for the elusive right word. Thanks for your interest. I am the exact opposite of Martin Seligman as far as marketing is concerned, including my belief in the wisdom of humility.  A. B. Curtiss

Thursday, March 15, 2012

My Sister's Brother-in-Law Just Committed Suicide

Dear AB,

Spent all day with my sister  & her hubby yesterday.  We had a nice day.  Today she called with shocking news. Her brother in law shot & killed himself in the backyard of their home.  

He is a physician who was raised on a farm. He's a wonderful man. Growing up on a farm  provided him a strong foundation. His entire family are people who are salt of earth; admirable, industrious, kind people.  His sister is a sweetheart. 

Anyway, I know you have spoken/written about suicide.  What do you think about suicide?  What can I say to the 40 year old daughter when she visits this summer with her husband & children?  What do I say in May when the wife of the man who killed himself will be here for a visit? 

I am in shock. I can't imagine how  & her two grown children (& three grandchildren) must feel. These are the last people I'd ever suspect this  could happen to.  I thought they were all very happy!

She told my sis that the day before her husband shot himself he asked her to go out for lunch with him & she declined. She told him she was too busy.  Later that day, she changed her mind & told him she could go with him for lunch. He said, "Never mind, I know you don't really want to go."

He left no note. 

Thanks for any feedback you can offer.


Dear G

The only reason people commit suicide is because life has become more painful than it is worth. When I was suffering with anxiety as a result of withdrawal symtoms from the three weeks worth of oxycodene I took, I knew I would not ever commit suicide. The coping skills I developed to cure my depression would help me get through my day. But my life was so painful I didn't care all that much whether or not I lived much longer.As I was I felt like I wasn't any good to anybody.  

You can't judge another person's pain. You sometimes don't know the pressures under which they strove every day. I used to think suicide was an act of anger. Now I'm not so sure that is correct at all. I think the only way to judge a person's suicide is cosmically. We barely know the reason we are here on this small planet hurtling through space at thousands of miles per hour. Much less can we know why someone else is here, or why they choose not to be here any longer. We lose each other through death, that is inevitable. So let us remember that, and resolve not to lose each other through our careless concern for their while they are still here.

And for those who have lost a loved one, a wife, husband, or child through suicide, let us not waste our energy berating ourselves for our own failure to save them. Their suicide is not about us, it is about them. So let us not denigrate in any way their path as a human soul, by thinking we could have or should have prevented them from going onward in their soul's journey. Whatever sadness and guilt we are feeling over their suicide, let us turn this negative journey of our own soul  into care and lovingness toward those who still remain in our presence. This is the true alchemy of which the ancient wise men spoke. They were not really talking about turning lead into gold. They were talking about turning fear into love. A. B. Curtiss

Dear AB,

That is a very compassionate response.  We can respond to suicide by awakening further to the need for love and care.

It makes sense that we need also to understand that if suicide is part of someone's journey, we must accept that, even though it is incredibly sad, & very difficult to accept. We can redeem the tragedy of the event, as you suggest, by loving more deeply.

Thank you very much.

Dear G

It's a matter of acknowledging whatever fear and pain you are feeling that someone you love has committed suicide and saying to yourself, "These feelings are negative, and will do no one any good. Is it reasonable to stay collapsed into them. No. Then I will allow these feelings to continue but I will no longer think they are more powerful than me. I am having these feeling, they are not having me.

"I will allow these feelings to run their course in a part of my brain, while, at the same time, I will take a journey to another part of my brain and, while these feelings are finishing their course,  I am going to think of more positive things or do something positive concerning the loved ones around me. I can even conjure up a magical circle around them to keep them safe if I can't think of anything more practical.

"I will ask for grace to be more loving myself, and less fearful. I will use the opportunity that I have recognized the great power of fear within me so that I might use the great energy thus created for the good if those around me." A. B. Curtiss

Dear G

We must also acknowledge to ourselves that it is a sacred thing to mourn our losses but that our mourning must be on the side of gratitude rather than fear. And as the fear comes we must be the alchemist to turn fear into love. And from the place of love, our mourning will be beautiful. The good, the true, and the beautiful are inseparable and somewhere there is our grounding in human life and our beginning awareness of Absolute Reality.

And now, even thinking about it myself, I can fear losing my own loved ones. Will I be up to what I have just written myself? The fact that I understand the possibilities intellectually will help.  I will ask, like Camus, that I will have the strength “to be equal to my sufferings.”

Dear AB

Thanks for the extra words of wisdom, AB. They are very comforting.

For all of them who are suffering I will "...conjure up a magical circle around them to keep them safe..." I like that idea very much. I will  also "...ask for grace to be more loving myself, and less fearful."  I love the idea of trying to use the energy created by sadness toward becoming more loving & for creating good around me.

Wonderful suggestions.



Dear AB

...our mourning must be on the side of gratitude rather than fear.  That must be the key to grieving "well."  Wise words, beautifully said.

I will keep in my prayers AB, that you always have the strength you need for bearing whatever pains you must bear.

You have offered so much love to others.  I hope that you always feel
surrounded by a circle of love and support. 

Thank you.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

More on Playing the Family Game

Thanks so much, AB! 

I think I get it!  Yes, I do have to face my own demon, which definitely is wanting respect.  I regarded my financial conduct & choices as something deserving of respect by my family, & when I got something else, I was thrown into a tailspin.

Now I am aware that A) I don't need sis's respect.  B) My focus when with family should be on less personal matters. Keep the money discussions between husband & I. Thankfully, he & I are very much on the same page, & share many core values! C) Taking in these realizations will lessen my fear & make me less needy. I will then be less defensive & uptight.

I will try to become more aware of game playing. I can be so naive.  My husband says sister #2 is very street smart, & he says I am not at all.  Anyway, If I see a "game" starting, I will remember, "play it to lose." 

Thanks again for all the wonderful feedback & suggestions.  G

Dear G

"I used to do this with one of my relatives. She would get so ridiculous sometimes but I never tried to best her. After a while I really enjoyed what, at one time, was very painful for me because I ceased to take her comments as an attack. I began to think they were funny, then sad, and then my relative came down with dementia and isn’t that how these things tend to end. Why not love each other all along, nasty or demented."

Dear A. B.

I was touched by your experience & by your ultimate conclusion.  You obviously learned to handle the challenges gracefully.
Why not love each other all along, nasty or demented?"  But that isn't the way it goes much of the time, is it?  Guess its ego. You let go of your ego & found love.  Earlier you remarked that family is a "sacred bond."  That's different from the popular notion that family is basically an accident that occurs!
If we don't
like what we got, we needn't worry; we choose our friends! Then, we just create a new family!
Sincerely G

Thursday, March 1, 2012

More Playing the Family Game

Dear A. B.

I keep reading your reply and know it's very rich.  Meaning is escaping me though. I'm trying hard to grasp it.  I know you are on to something big!

So, if I am playing a game, and my sisters are playing a game. What would the conversation have looked like if "love" had guided it, rather than game playing?  It's embarrassing that I don't seem to know what love is, or what love looks like!  I thought I was a loving person, but perhaps I am not. 

Also...I know you refer to "winning" fairly often in your writings, as in, "All you did here was win..."  I think sometimes I am confused by the way you use "win."

I read the Parodoxical Commandments.  They are amazing!  I have been on the receiving end many times of the first one... from you !

"People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered. Love them anyway"

Thanks, AB!


Dear G.

Okay, I’ll try to be more specific. Start with:

She screamed, "You DO NOT have a $426,000 house! You paid $426,000 for it, but you knew you paid too much for it when you bought it."    "A house is worth what ever someone will pay for it," she sternly added.   

If you are in a family that wants to play the competitive game, the only way to interact with them is to play the game with them. But you can play the game to lose and it is much more interesting and you tend to take it less personally and can therefore feel more loving toward the family member who is fighting all by herself. You no longer feel like the target because you don’t think of her barbs as arrows, more like fun. This is playing the game where you are diffusing the aggressor, and when the arms stop punching, maybe you can move closer.

Possible answers:

Hang your head and say “I’m so ashamed, I shouldn’t have said it was more than it was worth. I was just trying to impress you."

Nasty comment by sister.

"I just want you make you proud of me."

Nasty comment by sister

"Well, I’ll keep trying to do better and then maybe you’ll love me."

If she takes you seriously she may wake up and feel bad for you. If she is still into winning and goes on to berate you. Let her berate you as long as she wants and answer her always in the one-down position until she runs out of steam. 

I used to do this with one of my relatives. She would get so ridiculous sometimes but I never tried to best her. After a while I really enjoyed what, at one time, was very painful for me because I ceased to take her comments as an attack. I began to think they were funny, then sad, and then my relative came down with dementia and isn’t that how these things tend to end. Why not love each other all along, nasty or demented.

You have to be careful playing this game because you can really get insulting if your one-down comments are coming from fear rather than love and the can end up as obvious sarcasm which would be really devastating a person you would rather love than beat at their own game.

And all along you will be facing your own demons of wanting revenge, or power or respect and will have to simply recognize your own flaws or they will corrupt your efforts to be close, and instead you will get very good at sarcasm.

 You don’t want to end up “winning” by “losing” because your real goal is to be close. The thing about sarcasm is that unlike outright insults there’s really no way to counter it except to call the person on “being sarcastic.” Sarcasm usually wins unless the person is smart enough to say, "well you’re just being sarcastic but that’s doesn’t mean I’m wrong," and then the argument can continue. 

One other warning. You may find playing the one-down position very painful at first. This pain is your repressed fear, and playing this game is one way you can get in touch with your own repressed fear. Just recognize it, and let it waft through you and the fear will finish itself. Love is your experience of yourself without so much repressed fear covering it over.

 A. B.