It’s Delicate

When my friend Joe worked at a state forensic psychiatric ward, one of his favorite patients was a man who never talked much except to remark, “It’s very tricky!” with a slightly conspiratorial air. Jerry would sit down in the art room and silently paint dreamy watercolor landscapes. For him it seemed life was a tricky series of negotiations between what some treatment professionals called reality and what he was actually experiencing. It was all tricky. One might also say, it’s all very delicate.

The borders between health and illness can be very delicately drawn when you’re trying to negotiate emotional ups and downs that seem to be conspiring to drive you over the edge.

But there’s nothing delicate about arming yourself with three guns and striding into an elementary school to find little kids to kill. There’s nothing delicate about shooting your mother in the face and killing her. There’s nothing delicate about the long nights and days the Newtown survivors now face without their children, their brothers and sisters, parents, friends, teachers.

As a mother of one child, a boy, I feel acutely the horror of the loss of a child when these violent acts happen, and I imagine the horror of grief and surprise that the parents of murderers must feel. Because this latest mass shooting took place not far from the house where we last lived together, I am compelled to look at pictures of my son taken long ago. An innocent infant – so inconceivably delicate:

How many nights did I stay up worrying that he wouldn’t come home? How many days did I spend agonizing over some trouble he was in and wondering if he would even make it to adulthood? It was often a very delicate balancing act, but yes, he is alive, and compared to many, he and I are lucky.

I don’t know what we can do to decrease the frequency of mass shootings – enact gun control legislation? Surely. Educate people towards a more enlightened approach to mental health? Certainly. Pay better attention to what’s going on in the delicate reaches of the minds of those around us? Yes. And perhaps try to embody light, in this dark season, a little more. It’s a delicate balance, isn’t it?

Celebration, Wonder and Not Knowing

Celebration…is self-restraint,

is attentiveness,

is questioning,

is meditating,

is awaiting,

is the step over into the more wakeful glimpse of the wonder—

the wonder

that a world is worlding around us at all,

that there are beings rather than nothing, that things are

and we ourselves are in their midst,

 that we ourselves are

and yet barely

know who we are, and barely know

that we do not

know this.”


– Martin Heidegger

“For Heidegger, human reality is both primary and irreducible. Instead of being ‘something’ in the world and thus open to scientific explanation Heidegger views human experience as the basis upon which the world shows up at all. He talks about human being as a ‘clearing’ in which the world is revealed. As such, it is beyond the easy grasp of human science which is, itself, a product of that clearing. This is not to say that we cannot, should not, seek to illuminate the nature of this clearing. The point is that this illumination can only be at best an interpretation, it is a mistake to present it as a form of scientific explanation. In addition, the fact that this clearing exists at all is a source of wonder for Heidegger. It is, simply, a mystery.

The American psychologist Louis Sass relates these Heideggarian themes to the experience of madness. He points out that many aspects of psychotic experience can be understood as a concern with the fact that human existence is not just ‘something’ in the world but rather provides the framework through which the world can be revealed. In the course of everyday life we are not aware of this framework, not aware that our reality is constructed and shaped in a particular way. Madness involves a confrontation with this framework. This confrontation is experienced by all involved: patients, relatives and professionals. Sass argues against understanding madness as a deficit state and instead suggests that it often involves a hyperalertness and a ‘hyper-realisation’ that the coherence and meaningfullness of reality are dependent on the ‘clearing’ of lived human experience. He suggests that many of the concerns which become apparent in the course of psychosis resonate with the preoccupations of contemporary artists and writers. These concerns often relate to the constructed, and thus contingent, nature of selfhood and reality.”

…from an article by Pat Bracken and Phil Thomas titled “Science, Psychiatry and the Mystery of Madness” posted at:

As a social worker, artist, nature lover, questioner and a being-in-the-world, the Heidegger quote and this article excerpt really speak to me.  I thought it would be interesting to throw some of my photographs into the mix. I hope you find inspiration here.