• Jody Kussin

#64 Family Matters Meaningful Souls

In These Times by Dr. Jody Kussin, May 17, 2020

When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves. Viktor Frankl

Between 1942 and 1945 Viktor Frankl labored in four different concentration camps, including Auschwitz, while his parents, brother, and pregnant wife perished. Based on his own experience and the experiences of others he treated later in his practice, Frankl taught that we cannot avoid suffering but we can choose how to cope with it, find meaning in it, and move forward with renewed purpose. Frankl's theory holds that our primary drive in life is not pleasure, as Freud maintained, but the discovery and pursuit of what we personally find meaningful.

We thankfully are not currently living through a period of genocide (in the U.S.) and we are not in living in Concentration Camps. Dr. Frankl’s words are applicable in these times however. We are driven to make meaning in our lives, and the harder the times, the less we understand in our world, the greater the effort to seek to make sense of it. Our seeking is intellectual, heart-felt, and spiritual as well.

A long, long time ago….

I was a young professor in a doctoral program, teaching Psycho-Diagnostic Assessment. At that time, I believed I knew lots and was imparting important information to many a psychologist in training. I took my work incredibly seriously. I did not tolerate tardiness, procrastination or lack of curiosity. I adored my students and spent a million hours preparing for each class. I was gifted with Teaching Assistants and support, but still wanted to read and grade most papers and assignments. I taught about bias and sensitivity and limitations in ‘testing people’ as well as basics regarding administration, scoring, interpretation and writing integrated reports. I also taught professional development and how it all comes down to two things: relationships and reputation.

I had no idea that those many years of teaching would yield life-long lessons and friendships for ME.

Miraculous, really, thinking back on it. Such blessings, these alumni (and now decades long) friendships.

In these times of the pandemic, I’ve tried all kinds of new learning activities: Piano skills, guitar skills, choral singing skills, cooking and baking skills, and even bike-riding skills. All in all, I had not ‘found my passion’ in seeking meaning (and, let’s not kid ourselves, ways to pass time) until more recently, when a dear friend of mine suggested we have weekly discussions on the topic of ‘spiritual and religious enlightenment and faith.’

My friend, Reverend Michael Weiler, S.J. is a few years my senior. He was my student ‘back in the day’ (1993-1994) and then my pre-doctoral intern whom I had the distinct pleasure to supervise. He is not a psychologist, as you may have surmised. He is a Catholic priest and member of the Jesuits, a Catholic religious order. He spent a dozen years serving as a mentor for Novices (first two years in the order) and supervisor for Jesuits serving in the Southwest. He then walked the Camino to Santiago, Spain, before beginning as facilitator for an international community of Jesuits in their last stage of training in Portland, Oregon, where he currently shelters in place, reads, paints the house, and mows the lawn.

Mike and I connected decades ago on many planes, and in my long list of blessings, his friendship continues to be highly ranked. We’ve shared much and figured that this is a fine time in life to have a regularly scheduled visit and chat. Plus, we are very proud of ourselves for figuring out the technology that fosters this communication and ongoing conversation. We decided that we would discuss the broad topic of religion, sharing thoughts, questions, and ideas. We have no agenda and no text so basically, we meet and try to figure out the role of spirituality in our lives, present and historically, and examine both the good and the terrifying. Father Mike has actual professional credentials in this area, and me, I just like to contemplate human behavior and try to understand us in relation to the Universe and one another.

I’m a fan of the concept of community and being part of a larger historic context than just the here and now. So much to learn – from the curanderos (healers from the Latinx cultures) and Indigenous and Native People in their spiritual practices to the Judeo/Christian/Islamic traditions and all the Eastern spiritual beliefs and traditions.

We talk about the NONES – have you heard that term? The large percentage of (mostly millennial in the U.S.) who indicate they are ‘none of the above’ when asked about their religious or spiritual world view. What, if any, are the implications? Much negative has been done ‘in the name of religion’ so perhaps this is a good trend. On the other hand, much good has been done, and continues to be done, be it practiced by Muslim, Hindu, Buddhists, Jews, Christians (of all denominations), Sikh, or Indigenous Peoples, to mention only a few.

There are many differences across us and between us, and many a book has been written about comparative religion.

Father Mike and I are more interested in what brings comfort and inspiration. What is the soul? Is it consciousness? Or eternity? Or heart and mind intertwined? How does our ability to connect on a spiritual basis lift us up and help us in caring for one another and giving voice to those with no voice, power, or strength?

In our visits with one another over the past 30 years, across continents and the U.S., Father Mike and I realize, time again, that an integral way to make meaning is to establish and sustain friendships. It nurtures the soul. And the mind. And the heart.

Thank God.

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