Author Archives: Joe Langen

About Joe Langen

I am a retired psychologist after thirty-five years of professional practice. I am now retired and write full time. I have published five books, all available on Amazon. I also maintain two blogs on Wordpress, Chats with My Muse Calliope and Release Your Stress and Reclaim your Life. I also distribute a free biweekly newsletter on commonsense and mindfulness topics.

How do I get my body to be at peace?

How do you get your body to be at peace and in harmony? Once you see the answers to this question, they might seem like common sense. Unfortunately we do not always use common sense in our approach to our bodies. Sometimes we take partial or baby steps. That’s a good start, but the more you understand about your body’s needs and the more you treat your body kindly, the more at peace you will find yourself.
What does a peaceful body look like? On the surface your brow is smooth and not wrinkled in distress. Your face is calm; your hands are relaxed and your fists are not clenched. You stand straight and are not stooped over under the weight of your daily stress.
Looking inside, your bloodstream is distributing nourishment and collecting waste and not chronically clogged with stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. As we saw before, these hormones serve a useful purpose in preparing you for approaching danger and shutting down regular functions of your body not specifically needed to fight stress.
This is fine when your body is under attack, and you need to defend yourself or get you out of harm’s way. Yet immediate threats pass fairly quickly, and your body hopefully returns to a more relaxed and peaceful state. When you are constantly beset by worrisome thoughts, emotions or both, your body stays in a state of high alert preventing you from feeling at peace and eventually exhausting you and keeping you from living a productive life. Your body, mind, emotions and spirit are all interconnected.
Your blood pressure, pulse, and heart rate all rise when you are in a state of stress or anxiety and become lower when your body is at peace. When you are peaceful, you have more energy to use in constructive activities rather that spending it all fighting stress.
Once you get stress out of your life, you will find that in addition to more energy you will a better appetite and better digestion. Rather than finding natural ways to achieve peace within your body, you might be tempted to seek the help of prescription drugs, alcohol or street drugs as a way to compensate for the unrest inside you. Chemical approaches can be helpful at times. Yet better long-term results can be found by considering changes in the way you live your life. What changes? That’s a long story which I will get to another time.

How do I find peace in my life?

Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me

~Sy Miller and Jill Jackson~

When we think of peace, we tend to focus on what it is not. Peace is not being in conflict with others or within ourselves. It means not being at war. This is part of it. We have an idea about what we don’t want. Yet it is possible to not be at war or in conflict with anyone and still not be at peace. Sound strange? It’s not if you consider peace as more than the absence of conflict.

Here is the definition of peace proposed by the Christophe Barbey for the Institute for the Progress of Peace, “Peace is part of human dignity. It is living in, as well as the right and the duty to live in, to prepare, to maintain or to restore a creative state of permanent harmony amongst all.”

In this sense, peace is not a construct or an invention of people or governments. Peace is part of the recognition that human life is worthy of respect and that we all share in a sense of dignity just by being born human.

Of course, people have not always viewed their fellow humans with dignity. Throughout history, various groups of humans have been viewed as possessions or objects to be bought, sold and used with impunity as we might do with any other possession. In some countries, only certain people are allowed to vote. Others are not seen as full citizens.

By viewing everyone with the same human dignity shared by the rest of us, we necessarily change the way we look at each other. No one is beneath us, less a citizen, without rights or unworthy to be included in the discussion about how we conduct ourselves locally or globally.

We all have the same dignity and should respect this dignity in each other. When we define peace in this way, we learn to approach each other with generosity, empathy, common sense and non-violence.

 Looking at peace this way is certainly not part of how some people and some nations approach each other in current times. It has been the exception rather than the rule throughout recorded history and perhaps before then. Yet it can be a goal for the future and would be to the benefit of all of us, presenting a healthy alternative to destroying or controlling each other for our own selfish purposes.

Most people who pray at all pray for peace on Earth. Maybe we think God will bring us this peace. We have had times of peace but frequently return to times when peace seems out of reach. Is that God’s fault? I don’t think so. God has left peace as something for us to earn. Sadly, we are often preoccupied with getting what we want for ourselves rather than working together toward what would benefit us all. Our journey toward peace starts with ourselves. Let’s get started on that journey.

(Excerpt from my book, From Violence to Peace. For a free sample of this book, follow this link and choose Look Inside.)

What Do Teens Like Best about Themselves?

teen girl

Teens like a wide variety of things about themselves. Being able to entertain friends or having a nice personality come to mind for several of the teens I talked with. If you are fun to be around, you will be popular and never lacking for company. Did you ever wonder what makes you attractive to others? It’s not so much what you look like. Being very pretty or handsome might even make others jealous.

A researcher in the nineteen sixties studied what people look for in a friend. The number one quality is being able to listen. If you can keep your mouth shut when you need to, hear what someone is saying, and understand how that person feels, you will be very much in demand. As Amy puts it, “I have the ability to put myself in others’ shoes.”

Some see their sense of themselves as their best quality. Ellie says, “I know who I am and stick with my values.” This is not always easy to do. You have to think about what’s important to you and decide that what you believe in is more important than making others happy.

Did you know it’s impossible to keep everyone happy? No matter what you do, there will be some people who like what you do and others who don’t. If you follow your own sense of values, you will attract friends who respect what you believe in. You probably wouldn’t enjoy the company of others who don’t share your values anyway.

Can you imagine having a friend who changes his or her mind all the time? Maybe you have a friend like this. You never know what to expect and probably wouldn’t be able to count on that person for anything important. Being consistent in your values makes it easier for you to decide what to do when something really important happens. It also helps your friends know what to expect from you. Consistency is probably the most important quality of a good friend after being a good listener.

Other teens like their physical qualities such as their appearance or sports ability. As with personality, these might be just as much a reason for others to be jealous as to like you. However, what is important is that your physical appearance or sports ability might give you some confidence which you might not otherwise have. Your self confidence just might attract others more than your special abilities or appearance.

Sometimes it is not so easy to choose one quality you like best about yourself. Punkman sees his grades and willingness to help others who need him as tied for his best qualities. This is not surprising. Most teens have several things they like about themselves. Did you know it’s easier to think of things you don’t like about yourself than things you do like? When I asked teens and adults in counseling to make two lists, the list of dislikes is usually longer than the list of likes. Maybe people tend to take their good qualities for granted.

(Excerpt from my book, Make the Best of Your Teen Years: 105 Ways to Do It. Read a free sample by clicking on this sentence and choosing Look Inside.)

How can I communicate effectively?

Effective communication is the glue that helps deepen your connections to others and improve teamwork, problem solving, and your social and emotional health. But all too often, what we try to communicate goes astray. We say one thing, the other person hears something else, and misunderstandings, frustration, and conflicts ensue. But whether you’re trying to improve communication with your spouse, kids, boss, or coworkers, you can learn the skills to interact more effectively, improve your relationships, and build greater trust and respect with others.

What is effective communication?

Effective communication is about more than just exchanging information. It’s about understanding the emotion and intentions behind the information. As well as being able to clearly convey a message, you need to also listen in a way that gains the full meaning of what’s being said, builds trust, and makes the other person feel heard and understood.

More than just the words you use, effective communication combines a set of 4 skills:

  1. Engaged listening
  2. Nonverbal communication
  3. Managing stress in the moment
  4. Asserting yourself in a respectful way

While these are learned skills, communication is more effective when it’s spontaneous rather than formulaic. A speech that is read, for example, rarely has the same impact as a speech that’s delivered (or appears to be delivered) spontaneously. Of course, it takes time and effort to develop these skills and become an effective communicator. The more effort and practice you put in, the more instinctive and spontaneous your communication skills will become.

(Excerpt from  from Lawrence Robinson et al’s article in Helpguide.org. Read more.

 

My First Real Life Choice

I looked around during meditation that evening, especially at the priests and realized that in another ten or twenty years my life would probably resemble one of theirs. Was there anyone in the monastery I wanted to emulate? I respected several of the priests for their intelligence. Of the three priests I respected most, one seemed rather paranoid and fearful of expressing his own ideas. One I saw as selling out to the establishment and not sticking up for what he thought, much less what we thought. The third appeared broken and bereft of his dreams.

Most of the other priests I saw as unhappy in a variety of ways, or as having made compromises in their commitment to the religious life. After I had considered everyone, I realized there were no priests in the monastery I would like to turn into in the foreseeable future. I also realized that in another ten years I probably would be like one of them. None were willing to challenge the system and the few students who did want to see change were outnumbered and constantly under a cloud.

I reviewed my observations with God. I tried not to be judgmental about the priests I had just finished considering. It was up to them to decide whether they were living the life God wanted for them. It seemed clear that this was no longer the life for me. I didn’t know what God had in store for me next. It seemed that whatever it was, I had learned something about difficult times and felt ready for the next challenge.

I told Father Xavier I wanted to meet with my Uncle Bob who lived in the Union City monastery across the Hudson River from Manhattan. With his permission, I called my uncle who suggested we meet for dinner in a restaurant in Manhattan. He traveled by bus and I took the subway. Remarkably, we both arrived at the restaurant about the same time. After a few pleasantries, I told him that I was thinking of leaving the monastery. He was not surprised, based on our previous conversations and word which had filtered back to him through the Provincial.

He explained that he had always wanted to preach, but never had much of an opportunity to do so. He went to college to prepare himself to teach Physics at Holy Cross. Then he then became Rector of St. Mary’s Monastery, Rector in Scranton and eventually Provincial Consultor. I told him I thought this must have been quite frustrating. He saw it as his being willing to do the things that needed doing so others could do what they wanted.

I told him I admired his self sacrifice, but found it very difficult to let go of any dreams I had. I also found it hard to trust superiors who seemed to know so little about student development in a changing world. They seemed afraid of the changes which progress implied.

Despite our differences, he understood my position and agreed to respect whatever I decided to do. I told him I had thought about all the priests I lived with and did not want to turn out like any of them. I did not feel I had the self sacrifice to live as he did. I told him I thought it was time to leave the monastery. I felt sad on the way back to Jamaica, realizing how happy he had been when I joined the seminary and how disappointed he must be to see me leave, even thought he did not express it.

The reality of leaving seemed to come upon me fast, although I had been dissatisfied and frustrated for some time. I held out the hope that there would be a resolution to the concerns several of us had raised about the limitations and contradictions of our way of life. It became increasingly clear over time that the order was not about to budge and seemed fearful of change. The only possible resolutions seemed for me to give up my interest in change or to leave. I did not think the first choice would be possible for me without leaving me very embittered and resentful. This was not how I wanted to live. Leaving the monastery remained my only choice.

Excerpt from my memoir, Young Man of the Cloth. For a free sample, follow the link to the Amazon page and choose Look Inside. 

My Profession of Vows

The Provincial had selected my Uncle Bob to receive our vows as well as to give our Profession retreat. He would preside over the Vestition and Profession ceremonies in Father Provincial’s place. I was impressed by his quiet appreciation of our faith and of our way of life. I was also happy that he had a chance to preach as he had always wanted to do.

After the Vestition ceremony and a meal of celebration, I had a chance to walk in the monastery garden with my uncle and talk with him a little about the novitiate. “Over the past year, I have had to change my life almost completely. I don’t feel like the same person I was a year ago.”

“You’re not. You have given yourself to God and have let go of your own desires. You will be following God’s will from now on in everything you do.”

“Right now that doesn’t sound too hard. I wonder if I will have trouble with it when there is something I really want to do.”

“No doubt. Everyone has times like that. It is a trial of faith which makes us stronger.”

“I have read about such trials in the lives of the saints. I hope I am strong enough to face them, whatever they are for me.”

“That’s why you have a community to live in. You don’t have to face anything alone.”

My uncle was an intelligent, thoughtful and wise man who also had a good sense of humor. In contrast to my father’s family, most of whom were quite serious and quick to annoyance and harsh words, Uncle Bob was always the voice of reason and was able to use his humor to diffuse any conflict.

He was present at all the major events in my life. He had married my parents before I was born. He baptized me. He was present at my First Communion where I thought he was a visitor. When it was time for me to receive communion, he came down from the altar, gave me communion and then returned while our pastor finished. He was here now to help me with my next major step in life.

I told God I was as ready as I ever would be to take the next step. I knew I was not perfect, but I didn’t think he expected me to be. I promised to do the best I could to follow the religious way of life and live my life the way He wanted me to. I told Him I could not do it on my own and asked again for His guidance.

We entered the monastery church for Profession of Vows in a solemn procession, the newly vested novices singing hymns from behind the altar. I saw my parents, three brothers and sister sitting near the front of the church. Most of the ceremony was a blur to me as I focused on the commitment I was making. The religious community prayed over us. Confrater Gary’s uncle preached a sermon outlining the life we had chosen and the meaning of our vows. Father Augustine Paul served as master of ceremonies. Confrater Daniel’s and Confrater David’s brothers, Bernard and Claude, assisted as ministers for the ceremony.

As at our Vestition, each of us climbed the altar steps and approached a chair in the center of the landing in front of the altar, this time occupied by my uncle. We knelt one at a time before him and placed our folded hands in his hands to signify our connection with the Passionist Order, with my uncle as Father Provincial’s representative and ultimately God’s.

As we knelt, we professed that we would follow each of the three traditional vows of poverty, chastity and obedience as well as the fourth vow of promotion of the Passion of Jesus.  We said all of this aloud. At the end we whispered, “…for three years.” Temporary vows were a chance to try out the religious life without a permanent commitment. If we decided not to continue in the religious life, we could request release from our vows any time during the three years. If we decided to continue in the religious life, we would take permanent vows. If someone still was not sure of a permanent commitment, he could renew his temporary vows. If someone later decided to leave the religious life, he could request release from permanent vows, but only by petition to Rome.

Evening Reflections in the Seminary

 

I got into bed, feeling tired after the day’s adventures, hoping to get to sleep. I had never slept in a room full of strangers although I was getting to know a few students. I had been away to Boy Scout camp and to visit relatives, but that was different.

I found myself lying on my back with eyes wide open, a lump in my throat, a knot in my stomach and feelings I could not identify. I eventually realized I was lonely, sad and homesick. I missed the comfort of my family and the familiarity of my room and belongings as I lay in the cold anonymity of the dormitory. I imagined my brother going to bed in our room and seeing my empty bed next to his. I knew I would not have liked to be in his place.

After falling asleep, I dreamed of home and everything I knew there. Nothing here was familiar and each hour seemed to hold expectations of new behavior quite foreign to me. I supposed I could get used to it. I guess I thought I would just become a priest as if by magic. I had not considered all the steps of going through high school, college, the novitiate, and monastic seminary for philosophy and theology before ordination. A long road lay before me and I had completed only one day in the seminary.

(Excerpt from my book, Young Man of the Cloth) For a free sample, click on Look Inside on the Amazon page for this book.

Serenity; 7 practical ways to make your life more peaceful.

You can’t calm the storm, Stop trying. What you can do is calm yourself. The storm will pass. ~ Timber Hawkeye.

Serenity is maintaining a sense of inner peace and focusing your energy where you can make a difference. It’s about finding calmness within yourself and staying unruffled even in troubled waters. Energy flows where attention goes remember? And so it’s very important to practice serenity.

(Excerpt from Jessica Hugo’s article on JessicaHugoInspire. Read more.)

Personal Origins of Violence

Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.

~Isaac Asimov~

Have you ever seen a violent newborn baby? I haven’t. No one is born violent in the sense of trying to harm others. So how does someone become violent? Psychologists and sociologists have conducted many studies over the years to try predicting violence without much success.

No way of understanding violence has been able to predict whether any given individual is about to become violent. Once a person displays violent behavior, it is clear that he or she is capable of violence and likely to be violent in the future.

But the question remains: Where does violence come from? Let’s look at some contributors to violence. One is the path your life takes. Your pattern of life experience can incline you toward acting violently, peacefully or somewhere in between. Dramatic events in your life can also steer you toward a peaceful life pattern or a violent one.

I refer here to violence done by an individual or group of individuals. A person may be influenced by what happens in his or her culture or peer group. Violence may be a group effort in which more than one person is responsible for the violence. Your being part of a group acting in a violent way can give you a reputation for violence whether or not you actually participate in the group’s actions. This is known as guilt by association.

Researchers have debated for years about whether violence or a tendency toward violence can be inherited. This debate continues and has yet to be settled despite years of research. Hormones appear to play a role. Testosterone is seen as a contributor to aggression, which may well account for the much greater number of male than female aggressors. Aggression is generally viewed as quite similar if not identical to violence.

Aggression might look similar but is not always intended to harm anyone. Remember that intent of harm is one of the parts of the definition of violence we discussed in the last chapter. Men tend to engage in more physical forms of aggression while women tend more toward verbal aggression although neither form is unique to one or the other gender.

Life circumstances and experiences while growing up appear to play a significant role in the violent tendencies and violent behavior of individuals. Here are a few developmental circumstances which can make a difference:

  • Your treatment in your family
  • Your family’s stability
  • The safety of your neighborhood
  • The adequacy of housing and food as you grew up
  • How others react to your racial or ethnic background
  • How you learn to react to threats

Other contributors beyond you developmental years and into adulthood include the following:

  • Your feelings in response to physical danger
  • How you think about yourself
  • How you view other people
  • How you see your life situation
  • Your prospects for a satisfying life
  • The adequacy of resources for managing your life

 

Reasons for Violence

 

Violence, even well-intentioned, always rebounds upon oneself.

~Lao Tzu~

Violence is seldom random although it is often described that way in the news. There is usually a reason, although a violent person might not have much understanding of the reason. Wikipedia suggests a few possible reasons for violence:

To express anger or hostility– Many people show their anger by hitting someone or something or at least wanting to do so. Your first reaction might be to show how you feel by striking out which does not usually change anything for the better. It shows people you are angry, although it also shows how little control you have of yourself. If you often act violently to show your anger, you probably have no goal in mind other than to express your rage. It is a purely emotional reaction which shows others you are upset but does not convey why you are upset or what you would like to have different about the situation associated with your anger.

To assert dominance–Violence can be a way of trying to take charge of a situation or of another person or group by force. It is a way to show others that you are more powerful than they are and that they can’t push you around.

To intimidate or threaten–This is similar to the attempt to dominate others. Here you want others to fear you, and you act in a way to bring this about. If you are successful, others may be less likely to do whatever they did to make you angry next time. This is an emotional response and often does not have any specific goal or circumstances in mind other than to scare others into acting as you want them to.

To achieve a goalSometimes you may turn to violence when more reasonable methods do not get you what you want. You might not be adept at less aggressive ways of getting others’ attention. Yet, once you turn to violence, people are usually less likely to pay attention to what you want and concentrate on avoiding interaction with you.

To express possession–This is a way of dramatizing your control of property. It can also be a way to show others they are threatening your control of your possessions and you want to warn them to stay back. When they don’t back off, you might escalate your violence to make your point.

A response to fear–Protecting yourself in the face of danger is a basic animal instinct commonly seen in humans as well as other species. We saw earlier that violence is an attempt to cause others pain. While others’ pain might be a side effect of your attempt to protect yourself, deliberately wanting to hurt someone goes beyond the need for self-protection.

A reaction to pain–This is similar to your response to fear. Violence is an extreme reaction to managing pain. Aggression might well be necessary when someone is causing you pain, but again, wanting them to suffer goes beyond basic protection of your needs and rights.

To compete with others–This is a similar motivation to intimidation or threat. Violence is a way to lessen the competition for what you want. Deliberately going beyond fair competition, violence puts you squarely in the role of the bully.

(Excerpt from my book, From Violence to Peace)