Thursday, September 29, 2011

Things I'm likely to blog about

I'm going to post about a lot of different things here.

The breadth of topics here is a reflection of my approach to living and to my role as a helping professional: eclectic in form but philosophically consistent.  I have a perspective on things, and by revealing this perspective in myraid forms, my hope is that I can clarify for my readers the way in which I see the world. 

In order for this to be of value, I commit to being open and honest in my communication here.  I don't want to try to be too clever or too impressive, or to present myself in an overly-polished manner.  This seems to be a significant pitfall in the world of blogs and social media, in which we are a curator of our own self-referential content. 

So I'll share my perspective and my knowledge.  I'll also try to share my vulnerabilities and foibles.  Because the last thing the world needs is a blog by some together know-it-all with all the answers, promising just THE thing that YOU need to make all of your obstacles and difficulties vanish into thin air.

The general overview, then, of the blog could be summarized as this: Things I love, the ways in which I keep myself separate from them, and how I (and you) can learn to better embrace the things in life worth embracing, even when my mind (and yours) get in our own way.

An incomplete list of likely topics:
Navigating change, psychological flexibility, behaviorism, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Relational Frame Theory, psychological science, the practice of coaching and/or psychotherapy.

Fatherhood, masculinity, relationships, commitment

Fly fishing, hiking, snowboarding, or any manner of outdoors activities, and the impact of nature on our own sense of well-being

Ecology and the Environment

Food and farming, the good food movement, health and wellness

Mindfulness, meditation, world wisdom traditions


More as they strike me!

And I may start adding a regular photo feature at some point.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Fathering with Flexibility

A goal I have for this blog is to share, honestly and with openness, the knowledge and experience I've gained as a student and professional in the general arena of behavior change with my own lived experience as a human being, struggling with the painful and often confusing task of striving to live a purposeful life.

The content of the blog will be quite diverse, but this thread will weave it's way into the vast majority of my posts.

So, a topic that is relevant in the highest possible regard to both change and to my lived experience of change is my role as a father. I've got two boys, three and a half and nine months of age. They are, as you might expect, the apples of my eyes.

New fatherhood is a crash course in learning to navigate change. Because, quite simply, it changes everything. It is also a really sharp opportunity to highlight an important component of successful adaptation to changing life conditions: psychological flexibility. Psychological flexibility refers to the ability to adjust your behavior to effectively meet the demands of your environment while maintaining fidelity to your value system.

In other words, you are able to focus on and do what matters to you in the midst of constantly changing life circumstances. I could not imagine a quality more useful for new fathers.

It is easy; in fact it is for many of us the default setting, to try to live our lives by trying to hold on to something solid, a foundation that we can adhere tightly to. These often manifest as principles, or sacred truths that we grip tightly with resolution and determination. The problem is, it is maddeningly difficult to find something solid to hold on to in this life.

Let's use the topic at hand as an example. I could easily point to my children as the quintessetial example of what is important to me. Still, while I can, at this point, hold on to them, I won't be able to forever. The way in which I express my love to them has already changed, and will continue to change over the course of our lives- at least it had better.

What would happen if I continued to show Quinn my love for him when he is 17 in the same manner that I do now? My guess is nothing good.

This is pretty obvious, but it gets tricky. What happens when what actually occurs in our lives deviates from what is supposed to happen? When we have a notion of what things should be or an idea of how things should go, are we quick to let go and adapt to changing circumstances? In general, I would propose that most of us are actually fairly terrible at doing this, myself most emphatically included.

Psychological flexibility is born from contact with reality as it exists, right now. As such, it is often undermined by our own attempts to define what "should" be, or to relate to what is in front of us based not on the facts of the situation, but on our interpretation of those facts as filtered through our belief systems, expectations, and life experiences.

If I don't have room for flexibility, I don't have room for my kids to become who they are. If my role, or set expectation, is to do x, my kids require y and I don't adapt, I'll fail to meet their needs. Often I find myself locked into this pattern, and the results are generally not what I'd like them to be.

There are also times when I am willing to put aside my preconcieved ideas about what I am supposed to do and about how my kids are supposed to behave. During those times I listen more closely, behave more compassionately, and react with greater nimbleness. It is spontaneous, and I often feel like I am traveling without a map. When I'm willing to do this, I have found a deep and resonant feeling of satisfaction, the kind of richness that tends to come with doing my best at something that is vitally important to me.

Frying Pan?

What is with the title of the blog?

To answer a question with a question: what does Frying Pan evoke for you? For me, the following each participate in relational frames with Frying Pan:
  • The greatest trout stream in Colorado, nay, in the US (The Frying Pan river in the Roaring Fork valley)
  • Cooking over a campfire
  • Smoky bacon grease (apologies to my vegetarian readers
  • Sunsets
  • Family
  • Fatherhood
  • Childhood
  • Masculinity

Of course, I could go on. I'm not sure what Frying Pan evokes for you, but the power of words to evoke conditioned associations is something I find fascinating and important. For me, Frying Pan is a positively joyful verbal stimulus, which is why I named the blog The Frying Pan.

To make a larger point, though: it isn't guaranteed that it will remain that way. Of course, every time I cook a meal over an open flame in my cast-iron Lodge I will reinforce this association. Even now, thinking about the smells, sights and relationships coordinated with this word warms me a bit. On the other hand, I could imagine a scenario in which this association were to become painful. Perhaps I, or someone I love were to be attacked by a madman with a frying pan. Suddenly, a previously cherished symbol would become toxic and painful. Perhaps I'd want to rename the blog. After doing so, it's possible that the very act of blogging would bring to mind this post, and I'd experience sadness as a result. Perhaps I stop blogging so as to avoid the unpleasantness of my memories.

Our experience is composed of an unfolding process of associating arbitrary thoughts with one another. By arbitrary, I mean things that are not inherently related (frying pan and fatherhood).

What am I talking about? And why? Hopefully this is a small demonstration about how painful memories, thoughts, or sensations can integrate themselves so insidiously into our current experience of life. This process of relating takes place completely independently of our actual experience in the world. For instance; let's say I take an important test to qualify for professional liscensure. Perhaps I haven't been a particularly strong test taker, and I associate test taking with failure. Somehow, though, I manage to do well. One would think that I would feel excited, proud or confident. And maybe I do...but in the background comes an associated though..."well, you did well on a test once in graduate school too, but the next semester you failed miserably." Suddenly, instead of being sensitive to what has happened in the world (passed! yay!) I doubt my own ability to succeed in the future.

All of this is point towards the inherent unreliability of our own mind, in certain contexts. Certainly, if you are reading this, your mind works well at at least some things, like reading and navigating a computer; probably countless others as well.

But now consider an area in your life in which you have a considerable amount of difficulty. Perhaps with food, or with disciplining a child effectively, or getting off the internet (wink) and getting your work done (don't leave yet). How reliable has your mind tended to be in this circumstance?

There's a line from an old Steve Earle song, Devil's Right Hand:

It'll get you into trouble, but it cain't get ya out

Now, Steve's referring to a cap and ball Colt pistol, but he could just as easily be referring to his own mind. And if you know anything about this incredible singer/songwriter, you'll know that his mind has gotten him in a fair amount of trouble.

I'm sure he's not alone. I'm certainly there more often than I'd like. So now what?

This blog is largely going to be about the conundrum of living with a blessed, cursed mind and trying to find a bit of wisdom in the space between.

Stay tuned.

Blog Rules, pt. 1

It's my blog, so I'm going to set some rules for myself, so you can get an idea of what to expect.

-->No stock photos. Really, why put up images that add nothing? I will, however, use photos that have been taken by my wife. Because she's great at taking pictures.

-->No blatant SEO pandering. If my writing isn't interesting enough, then so be it.

-->Regular posting. Two substantive posts per week, by Tuesday and Friday. I may be early but I won't be late. Supplemental posts will happen as I am moved to do so.

-->A regular feature. I don't know what this will be yet. A song of the week relevant to the theme of this blog? A photo feature? A joke? I don't know, I'm going to have to think a bit more.

-->No spelling or grammatical errors. I am a blogger, not an idiot. But also human, so this is certain to be broken. It's an aspiration.

-->There will be cursing. I don't plan on lots of fuck-filled rants, but now that I have kids, swearing has been exorcised from nearly all aspects of my life. I like swearing, and this blog will not be a place in which I whitewash my sometimes irreverent manner of communication.

-->I may at times contradict myself. That is because 1) sometimes I make errors and 2) when writing about the human experience, behavior and the mind, sometimes contradictory things are both true.

I'll make more as I perceive the need.


On to a topic I'll spend a great deal of time on over the course of this blog: mindfulness. Mindfulness is trendy these days, and amongst those who are in the business of helping people make changes in their lives, it is really trendy. This is for good reason. It is a highly effective strategy for helping humans navigate the often painful and difficult process of living.

I teach mindfulness at the wellness center at which I work, and have for a few years. I've also practiced, on and off, for the past decade. I want to be clear, though: I don't consider myself an expert, and am certainly not particularly "good" at mindfulness. I do, however, find the practice to be highly beneficial and have found it to be of help to many of the folks I've worked with.

One of the first things I do with almost anyone who is new to the practice is dispel myths. The degree to which mindfulness meditation has infiltrated public awareness is, in my mind, a very good thing; but is not without pitfalls. I think, to a degree, popular understanding of the practice reflects an underlying cultural theme; that of pursuing good feelings and pleasure.

From a meditative perspective, there is nothing inherently wrong with pleasure and feeling good, the Buddha famously rejected asceticism in favor of the "Middle Way". Pleasure seeking is the other half of the pleasure/renunciation dialectic, though, and the Buddha was certain to steer clear of that as well. We are left neither pursuing nor rejecting pleasure, pursuing nor rejecting pain. The feelings and thoughts, or content of our experience are far less important than our attachment to them.

In other words, the purpose of mindfulness meditation explicitly is not to relax, feel better, be at peace(!?), think positively or cultivate a feeling of being in control. It's not particularly mystical, either.

So, what is it for then, and why bother?

Good question, and I'll discuss that in a subsequent post!

Monday, September 19, 2011


One of the things I do for a living is to help people get unstuck. In other words, I help people change unworkable patterns of behavior.

Of great puzzlement to me is the remarkable ability I have to continuously fall into the same traps of thought and action that I demonstrate for others how to escape. It would be fascinating if it were't so damn painful.

Check that- it is fascinating, even if painful. And that is what I want to explore in this blog, broadly. Change and the things that make change so difficult. I know a lot about my own experience of change, and over the course of my career, I've had the opportunity to view the change process of many other people. It's fascinating, wonderful, and maddening.

Starting this blog has been a wonderful case in point. I've had a desire to start a blog for some time. In fact, I made a decent effort about a year and a half ago (is it poor form to link to your own defunct blog?). For the last week, I've donked around with blogger and wordpress, played with templates and design, and read various how-to's. What I haven't done, until today, is written anything.

Why? I've been afraid, felt a lack of confidence, doubted that I'll ever have readers and worried that I will. Of course, I've questioned why on earth I would even want to do such a thing. So, the next step has been to undertake strategies to try to build confidence, assuage doubts and develop a safe, secure plan for developing a grade-A blog with lots of readers and positive feedback.

Well, I've looked high and low, and no plan exists. I can't seem to find my confidence, largely because I haven't accrued much confidence by actually blogging. The worry is still present, as are the doubts that this will ever really amount to much.

Yet somehow words are appearing on the screen in front of me. My fingers are moving acrossed the keyboard, so I can feel certain that the words on the screen are being put there by me. I am closer to my goal of having an engaging, informative blog than I was this morning, much closer than I was after a week of tweaking with font color.

I think there are a number of things in life that follow this some sort of trajectory: relationships, fatherhood, sports, work... I suppose nearly anything of value involves this same type of process. Anytime we step into the unknown, we don't really know what is going to happen. So the temptation is to not step.

The Frying Pan Blog

Certainly, I need to start posting. It is pretty easy to overthink a first post, to try to establish up front exactly what the blog will be about. From what I can tell, however, that's a pretty un-bloggy approach to blogging.

So, without a great deal of detail or a grand unifying thesis, here it is, The Frying Pan blog. I have a perspective to share, and on this blog, I'll share it. I am interested in lots of things, and I'll probably mention a lot of them.

I will have a posting schedule, although I haven't commited to one yet. I do not intend to do Top ten lists or other blatant traffic-panders.

Right now, I have no readers. I hope to earn readers through very good writing, observations on the experience of being human, and honesty.