Thursday, September 8, 2016

All Babies are Buddhists

Carl Whitaker, MD, once told me that all babies are Buddhists, because they feel they are one with the whole world.  Because of this the most important lesson we learn from children is intimacy.  They have an infinite ability to tolerate intimacy. 
It’s 4 A.M.  You are exhausted and sleepy.  Your tiredness almost hurts.  But you are willing to be up, because your baby has cried.  You are holding it in your arms.  It is a joy to have this private moment together.  This is on-demand feeding in the middle of the night.  There is a stillness at this time of night.  There are hardly any sounds in the house.  There is just the sucking, slurping sounds of your infant.  The sucking is rhythmic, but there are rest periods every few slurps.  And your baby is watching you; actually, more like studying you.  He/she is looking into your face, examining everything about you.  You are being watched and memorized.  You may look down at the cheeks as they suck away at the bottle, but your eyes are drawn back to the eyes that are watching you.  Eventually, your hands are touched by the babies little hands.  They hold onto your fingers.  You can’t help but look at the little dimples at the knuckles.  They are captivating.  
It’s just the two of you in the whole world.  There is no place to hide.  This child sees you as you have never been seen before.  This is an intimacy like none other.  Without any words, there is a communication between the two of you.  As the two of you watch each other, the bond grows.  
Sometimes the sucking starts to slow first.  Sometimes the eyes start to get heavy.  You can see them fighting sleep.  The sucking slowly stops.  Thinking they are done, you start to pull them away.  Then, the sucking starts again with renewed vigor.  The eyes open again, as if to say, “I’m not ready yet.”  
Eventually, the baby falls asleep.  These few minutes may have been the most peaceful moments you have had in your life.  Certainly, they are the most intimate you may have ever experienced.  
Did you have this experience?  If you did not, you missed out on one of the most beautiful experiences in life.  If you did, you will remember the love you shared at 4 A.M.  Children provide an unparalleled opportunity for intimacy.  It is perhaps their greatest gift.  

Friday, September 2, 2016

The Professor's Obligation

By the fall of 1975, I had completed the academic course work for my masters degree.   The thesis proposal had been approved and I had collected the data.  Subsequently, I moved to Connecticut for an internship in Psychology.  I would start my internship and write my thesis in Connecticut.  By November I sent my first draft to my major professor.  I knew she wasn’t happy with me.  She had recently divorced, had let me know she was angry at me for breaking up with my girlfriend before we left school and she was angry with men.  I was still shocked when I received her reply to my first draft.  Essentially it read like this:  “I received your paper.  I was extremely disappointed by the quality of the work.  I am now convinced that you will never be able to complete the research adequately and therefore you will not graduate.  The amount of effort that I would have to invest for this to become viable would be astronomical.  Therefore, I am quitting your committee and sending this letter to all the other faculty.”  
I was devastated.  For about three hours I felt hopeless.  Then I had the thought that this was my thesis not hers.  If I kept working on it and improving it, I would eventually graduate.  With hope renewed I wrote another professor that I respected and asked him to be my committee chair.  I sent along a copy of the paper.  
In response, Ray Wolfe, Ph.D., sent me a critique of my paper.  It contained a huge list of changes that had to be made.  I went to work.  I made the changes and sent it back to him.  My internship flew by with my sending revisions to him and Ray responding with recommendations.  
Three weeks after the internship ended, my mother was murdered.  It was a horrible time for me.  Mourning my mother dominated my life.  Over time, I again started working on the paper.  It took me 17 drafts before I was approved for my oral defense.  The defense of a thesis is an intimidating experience.  It is called a defense because it is the faculty’s job to attack the research.  I knew that I would face a hostile faculty.  Upon entering the room, I heard one professor say how this was going to be like “wolves descending on sheep.”  There were thousands of ways that my research could have been improved.  During those two hours I heard every one of them.  Eventually, it came to an end and I was asked to leave the room.  After their discussion, I walked with Ray back to his office and he told me that I had passed.  He had actually secured enough votes for me to pass before the defense.  He hadn’t told me, so that I would experience the full impact of defending my research.  He was right, I certainly felt it.    
As we set down in his office, he began to disclose his experience.  When he received the draft from me, with the request to be committee chair, he didn’t know what to think.  He had received the letter from my original committee chair.  He didn’t think the paper was that bad.  But when I changed the paper in response to his critique, he knew that I was being a student.  If I was capable of being a student, he had the obligation to be a professor.  
Then he told me an interesting story.  He told me that in the history of science there was only one major contribution that had not been the result of a student, working with a mentor and then going beyond.  Evidently, there was a nobleman in England who started studying physics.  He took some classes, but generally educated himself.  He eventually wrote a paper regarding Quantum theory and sent it to Oxford and Cambridge U.  It was so deep and complicated that none of the scholars that read it knew what to do with it.  Eventually, it reached Albert Einstein at Princeton.  He responded that this man had made the next contribution to understanding Quantum physics.  They should award him a doctoral degree.  

I have been blessed with great mentors throughout my career.  They have each contributed to my career as a psychologist and psychotherapist.  But I wanted to acknowledge Ray Wolfe and what he did for me.  My career could have been derailed back there in Geneseo had Ray not lived up to his obligation to be a professor to someone who was being a student.