What does it mean to be openminded?

saganbrainmindA few weeks ago I was considering going to a dinner party called “Conscious Collective Gatherings: Non-Denominational Conversation”. It sounded pretty new age hippie-esque, which is totally not me, but I figured “hey, I might meet a few people there that are intellectually curious and not necessarily the left-wing equivalents of young earth creationists”.

Since the organizers didn’t know me – I knew one of the people they knew – one of the organizers wanted to chat with me first before formally inviting me. Perfectly sensible as it is at their house. So, in our Facebook chat conversation, she asked me why I was interested in attending. I responded something to the effect that I am very interested in philosophy, values, and mindfulness and such and I’d be interested in meeting others who may be similarly interested. What happened next was somewhat interesting. She told me that the people who would be attending would mostly be a bunch of “young namaste hippies”, and that as long as I can “keep an open mind” everything is good. I assume that she must have been tipped off to my strong orientation toward scientific rationalism by cues peppered throughout my Facebook profile, because I’m pretty sure that I didn’t say anything that would suggest that I’m a member of the Richard Dawkins fan club (I am, by the way).

I am quite confident that the person who wanted to make sure that I could keep an open mind wasn’t actually concerned about my openmindedness. Rather, she was concerned that I may stir the pot. Rock the boat. Challenge cherished beliefs of other attendees who just want to “go with the flow”, “connect with their spirit-soul”, and other such laid back ethereal activities. Continue reading

A brave new world: Why moving beyond university can precipitate crisis

As students approach the completion of their university education some are excited to enter the “Real World”. Others are in no rush to “move on” – perhaps out of fear or uncertainty about their future, anticipatory nostalgia, or a keen awareness of what a uniquely special time the university years are.

University really can be a tremendously special time. Thousands of energetic, big-dreaming, hormone-charged, young adults for whom alcohol and pot are still exciting new adventures, all living away from home for the first time. An intellectual commune housed in a mixture of historic and state of the art buildings where the only people over 30 are the professors. Pretty much everyone is in the same life stage: one of possibilities, ambition, learning about oneself, the world and one’s place within it. It’s understandable why some students are in no rush to move beyond this life stage.

All of this being said, it’s understandable why some students are eager to move beyond their school years. Most students nearing the completion of their university years have never not been students. Yes, most of them will have had several summer jobs, but these were mere intermissions in the student play that had been running for their entire lives.

They are ready for a change. They’re ready to not be broke anymore. They’re ready to no longer have homework. They’re ready to start building their own lives. They’re ready to close their last textbook, submit their last paper, hand in their last exam, and stare blankly at a boring professor for the last time. All of this is entirely valid.

It’s hard to fully appreciate or understanding something when it’s all you’ve ever known. In the weeks and months after graduation, lifelong students who had previously only dangled their feet off the dock take the plunge into a brave new world. The Real World. Some of them will struggle as they come to realize for the first time that despite having spent 2 decades in training, they apparently never became strong swimmers. What some of the same students who couldn’t wait to take the plunge would give to go back… Continue reading

This New Year’s, Resolve to Stop Chasing Happiness

Happiness makes for a poor goal.

It’s not particularly well-defined. What is happiness? How much happiness is enough to be happy with – to not eventually be let down by?

The steps to achieving it are not particularly well understood. Common paths attempted to achieve happiness include religiosity, conventional success, and family living.

Religiosity and piety offer no assurance of happiness. While religious people en masse tend to present as being happier than nonreligious people, there are plenty of religious people who are not particularly happy, and plenty of nonreligious people who are.The same can be said of marriage and having children. As teenagers and twenty-somethings, how many times have each of us been admonished NOT to get married? Even by people in long-lasting, apparently relatively happy marriages. If marriage, children and a career were such sure bets at lasting happiness, the Mid-Life Crisis would not be a well-known experience.

Conventional success also offers no guarantees. Those who have risen to wealth, fame, admiration, and excellence are sometimes – frequently? – disappointed when they are not met with lasting happiness at the top of the hill. Some will be disillusioned as they struggle with questions as “This is it?”, “Was it worth it?”, “What now?”, and “If all of this hasn’t brought me happiness, can anything?”. Continue reading

The Grad School Gospels – Part 2: Passion, Fear and Indifference

bullpen_gospels_dirk_hayhurstIn The Grad School Gospels: On Professional Baseball, Academia, and My Shared Experience with Dirk Hayhurst, I juxtaposed Hayhurst‘s pro baseball journey – which he recounts in his first book, The Bullpen Gospels – with my journey through academic psychology.

Several factors conspired to make our situations alike. We both laid most of our eggs in one basket, deriving identity, strength, purpose, livelihood and self-esteem from a single source. We were accustomed to success, praise and the ability to live indefinitely off of success in our chosen field. For a while this worked out swimmingly. Intrinsic passion and well-fed appetites for success and praise made for well-oiled machines. To succeed, one needs drive. Few things are as motivating as having one’s livelihood, reason for living, identity and dignity all riding on one high risk, high reward gamble. But it wasn’t terrifying. It was mostly fun, because passion, success, praise and positive expectations ruled the day. Continue reading

The Grad School Gospels: On Professional Baseball, Academia, and My Shared Experience with Dirk Hayhurst

bullpen_gospels_dirk_hayhurstIn The Bullpen Gospels, author and former professional baseball player, Dirk Hayhurst, takes readers through his lived experience in the cut-throat world of professional baseball. As I read Hayhurst’s story, I find myself impressed by his talent as a writer, sympathetic to his hardships as professional baseball player, and connected to him by analogous personal struggles.

A few years prior to returning to school in 2009 to train to be an occupational therapist, I was a research graduate student in Cognitive Psychology.  Back then, in many ways graduate school was for me what professional baseball was to Dirk. I was not alone.

The purpose of this post is to juxtapose excerpts of Hayhurst’s struggle to self-actualize through professional baseball with my prior struggles to build a life, self-esteem and respectability through the academic world. Continue reading

Buddhism for Skeptics of Religion

I’m not a Buddhist. I subscribe to no traditional religion (though as I argue here, like everyone else I am religious). I am an agnostic atheist who values secularism, science, reason, mindfulness, and the pursuit of individual and collective wisdom and wellness. As an expression of these values, I would like to highlight key aspects of Buddhist philosophy and practice that I believe can be palatable, useful and positively enriching for even the most ardent skeptic.

Concepts to be addressed:

  • Monism
  • Atheism
  • Impermanence, Emptiness and Dependent Origination
  • No Self (or No Soul)
  • Attachment as source of Suffering; Letting Go as source of Freedom
  • Pursuing Wisdom, not Happiness
  • Mindfulness as a path to Wisdom and Wellness
  • Reincarnation and Rebirth
  • Karma

Continue reading

Kicking Addictions: Commentary on What It Takes and What Helps

A few weeks ago, Daniel Fincke did a post on what it takes to  kick an addiction such as alcoholism. Factors considered include self-discipline, humility, support and substitutions (i.e., replacements to fill the life-space previously filled by the addictive substance). Based on education and experience gained via an undergrad degree in Psychology, years of practicing and studying mindfulness meditation and related philosophy, a Masters degree in Occupational Therapy, and an outpatient mental health placement in which one of the focuses is on assisting people in managing addictions (e.g., smoking, alcohol, marijuana, hard drugs, impulsive spending, self-destructive sexual promiscuity), I would like to offer additional perspective on the issue of what it takes and what can help in kicking addictions. Concepts to be addressed include:

  • Reasonable goal setting;
  • Commitment and discipline;
  • Tolerance for lapses;
  • Support;
  • Substitutions, Distractions and Strategies; and
  • Mindfulness and insight into the nature of one’s emotions and thought.

Continue reading

Mental Health Risks For Political Activists

We’ve heard of mental health risks for trauma victims, models, high-performance athletes, people in the public eye, soldiers, executives, people living in poverty, and many other social demographics. As a political activist who studies and works in healthcare, is currently on a placement in a mental health unit, and has had personal struggles with mental health issues linked to depression, anxiety and emotion regulation, I have come to believe that political activists may represent another identifiable group at elevated risk for a series of  mental health issues. Continue reading

Homeopathy Under Fire in the US, UK, Italy, Israel and Australia

Skeptic North, a well-written Canadian team blog advocating for science, skepticism and rationalism, has been a great source of information on the ongoing scientific, intellectual and moral train-wreck that is homeopathy. I have a bit of a warm spot for this blog, as it was formed in part by concurrent and later-coming members of Canadian skeptic organizations that I have been a member of in the past, and continue to endorse to this day (e.g., the University of Toronto Secular Alliance; Centre for Inquiry Canada). And though I’ve never met her, Skeptic North-er Kim Hebert and I have a fair bit in common – we’re both Canadian Occupational Therapists whom have been independently concerned about the “feel good” post-modernist “science-isn’t-the-only-truth” type thinking that often pervades the public healthcare and healthcare education systems. Each of us have experienced strong pressure within our Master’s of Science in Occupational Therapy professional graduate programs to “respect” homeopathy. Quite frankly, if I was respecting homeopathy while knowing what it was, I’d hardly be a Master of Science.

Anyhow, the most recent posting in Skeptic North’s ongoing coverage of homeopathy’s trials and tribulations (e.g., the tribulations resulting from one failed clinical trial after another) is a listing of embarrassing and potentially expensive legal suits that various homeopathic education and product outfits are currently ensnared in in the United States, United Kingdom, Italy, Israel and Australia.

When they lose their cases, maybe they can try to pay off the settlements with bags and suitcases that previously contained money…


Tomorrow’s Dinner: Homeopathic Chicken Stirfry

Tomorrow’s Dinner: Homeopathic Chicken Stirfry

As a busy single individual I like to limit my cooking to once or twice a week, each time cooking enough food for several days. Five days ago I made five days worth of delicious chicken stirfry. After finishing off my final serving, all of the chicken and lovingly cut fresh vegetables are gone. However, about a serving’s worth of rice remains. What to do with this rice? Have it as a snack or throw it out? Then it hit me!



Think about it. Homeopathic is clearly a load of anti-reality nonsense burgeoning and eminently valid field of evidence-based healthcare. After all, the Ontario Ministry of Health wouldn’t be setting up a homeopathic regulatory board – The College of Homeopaths of Ontario – if homeopathy is nonsense, right? I mean, what’s the point in regulating nonsense? I suppose it could promote safety. But in terms of maximizing effectiveness, it’s not like doing something nonsensical “the right way” (“Bill, you’re not succussing it right! You shake up and down first, then side to side!”) is gonna make it less nonsensical. Am I right? Similarly, I wouldn’t have gotten brow-beaten by my Masters of Occupational Therapy professor for being a black-and-white thinker for criticizing an idea that had a leg to stand on, right? Exactly. So anyhow, homeopathy=good.

Homeopathy contends that water maintains memory of all that had ever been dissolved in it. Similar to how water as a solvent is the base (i.e., foundation) for solutes, rice is the base of many meals. So maybe if water will remember a solute that has been completely and decisively diluted out of it (which, by the way, makes everything we drink a homeopathic solution – I wonder how many times I’ve drank homeopathic dinosaur urine…. but I digress…) my rice will remember the chicken that was in it the day before. And even if that argument doesn’t hold up, the rice is more than half water! Bulletproof.

Look how much money this will save me, too! No wonder the agricultural and farming industries don’t want us to know about homeopathic chicken dinners….

If anyone knows the conversion rate of memory proteins to actual proteins, feel free to enlighten me in the comment section below.