Blog 22: A Philosophy for staying and feeling alive. What gives purpose, motivation and energy Part 1

Published: Monday, 20 April 2020 Written by Jim Sheehy

I am a psychotherapist and teacher.  Psychology helps us in life in the way of transforming how we think and what we believe about ourselves.  If negative becomes positive in our mind, then our feelings, body and behaviours change from toxic to healthy.  However, psychology for some people isn’t very effective.  What works for them is finding a reason to live, to feel connected with a life-attitude.  This kind of people are asking questions like ‘why bother’, ‘what’s the point’.  They are seeking a philosophy that makes sense to them.  I work with people who have to manage conditions: psychological, neurological, physical.  These people need a philosophy.  I have to manage 2 conditions: MS for 27 years, borderline personality disorder since I was 18.  This is the philosophy for staying alive and feeling alive that has become essential to my day, to how I function, communicate and relate.  I offer it to you and hopefully it begin for you a reflection on what gets you out of bed in the morning.  

  • Only 2 gears in living; ‘forward and reverse.’
  • Everything is based on whether I accept myself as I am.  
  • 3 states we all experience - victim, survivor, warrior / ambassador of healing.
  • Timing and do I want to change - ‘This is my time and I am and will change’
  • Assume nothing
  • Work hard; Play hard.
  • 5 needs: connection, attunement, trust, autonomy, love and sexuality
  • Should, musts, can’t and oughts are slave-masters.  Instead, trust myself, let go and have the conversation. 
  • Do no harm. Respect is minimal and expected. 
  • Is there enough for me to be content?
  • Stay in Balance - body, mind, spirit.
  • Scarcity and abundance feed each other
  • Reality is living in the present moment, informed by the past and excited by the future.

 Only 2 gears in living; ‘forward and reverse’

I can be lazy, moody and selfish.  Not a pleasant side of me to know about and experience.  The easier path is to ignore that this part co-exists with another part of Jim that is caring, focused and ambitious.  I’ve learned to accept both parts.  They can actually feed off and challenge each other.  I’ve learned that I couldn’t do my job as a psychotherapist if I hadn’t personally experienced the moods and dysfunction my clients bring to therapy.  90% of therapy is the relationship between therapist and client.  All the resources and strategies on the library shelf won’t help unless the client, in their gut, feels accepted and understood by this so-called therapist.  Has this ‘skilled stranger’ been in the dark emptiness, the volcanic rage and confusion, the stomach-churning nausea of anxiety? 

So what about these two gears in living.  It’s very simple.  I’ve learned that part of being human is that there is no neutral gear.  Are there periods in living when we take time out to contemplate and relax?  Absolutely!  But that is not neutral gear.  There’s a time when I am aware - when I notice something in my life and am curious about why my body, feeling, behaviour is either healthy or unhealthy.  Again, that’s not neutral.  Both contemplation and self-awareness are very much in the positive gear world. 

Neutral gear is when I’ve reflected, I know I’m not doing well and then choose the ‘It will even out after a while / I’m going through a phase’ route.  Neutral gear can last for years! So neutral means actually choosing to go into reverse gear.  A client in therapy has him/herself landed into or is a victim of somebody who is locked into reverse gear and has discovered that the consequences are harsh.  They have drifted, denied, hid from the family, friends and neighbours the fallout and they know now that neutral gear means reverse.  No blame or shame here.  I and everyone reading or listening to this know that neutral gear is seductive, manipulative and well resourced.  And we all fall prey to it.

So where’s the philosophy bit here. What’s the reason for staying alive and feeling alive?  It’s actually wising up and copping on that when I become aware of my mood and behaviour going toxic, I now know that the only gear is positive, not neutral or reverse.  To find in myself or reach out for the person I choose to trust as I change gear.  To find in yourself the man, woman, teenager or child that is waiting a while to be discovered and released.

 Everything is based on whether I accept myself as I am

The toughest task in life is to be authentic.  To be the same person who presents when alone, with my intimate partner and friend, with my parent or child, my boss or employee. Yes, we have to wear masks to suit the roles we assume, but the mask can complement, not suffocate, our inner self.  At 18, we each shift from what’s been done to us as children and teenagers and begin ‘my story, my choice of who I present to others’.   Some begin their adult experience at a disadvantage because life has been unfair.   But there are ‘second chances’ to chisel a new route – through a partner, travel or cultural experience, a passion that becomes a career.  As the years pass, the question of whether I’m content with who I’m becoming often gets buried with busyness and distraction.  Milestones like illness, separation, achievement or failure are commas that pause the race for a while and bring us to look more deeply at how that journey of accepting myself, the agreeable and cantankerous parts, is progressing. 

Each decade of living brings fresh opportunities to recalibrate and more excuses not to bother.  As we age, we can be trapped by our past or fantasise an illusory future.  Living the present is our best anchor but also the challenging option.  It grounds us in our limitations, accepting our ordinariness and need.  But isn’t this what makes us irresistibly attractive.  Why?  It means you’ve cracked the art of being human, of being real. 

We as a species are so afraid of difference.  This is because it’s the easiest cop-out for a person not prepared to do their inner work.  Blame and shame tactics takes the searchlight is off me and my stuff, and deflected in sorting out somebody else’s life.  Sadly, in our world today, this is becoming the norm. 

The child, the natural environment, the wise elder welcome and celebrate the craziness of diversity.  Each individual who has done the inner work, of knowing how zany and complex they are, welcomes and celebrates each change of skin, creed, identity and culture they encounter.  There is more than enough room at the inn.  Let’s be the best host and hostess whenever we can.






Contact me:

Jim Sheehy M.Ed. MIACP
Co Donegal 
F94 WV99

087 2137922


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