New book by Philip Kenney

The Writer's Crucible Meditations on Emotion, Being and Creativity

Phil Kenney

Philip Kenney is a practicing psychotherapist in Portland, Oregon. He did his post-graduate work in British Object Relations at the Washington D.C. School of Psychiatry and has taught Self Psychology as part of his private practice. A long time meditator and poet, Mr. Kenney is the author of the novel, Radiance, and a collection of poetry, Where Roses Bloom. He strives to bring together the worlds of psychology, creativity and spirituality in his work and is the author of a new book on those subjects entitled, The Writer's Crucible: Meditations on Emotion, Being and Creativity.

Enough IS Enough

May 4, 2013

My patients are better therapists than I am. Sure, I do a lot to facilitate the process of discovery, but in every case, though I may shine my flashlight into the depths of the psychic basement, it is the individual on the couch calling out, “over here, I’m over here.”



In other words, it is the patient who is the expert. The success of our work together often depends on me being wrong, or at least corrected. Many years ago, I thought it was my job to be right and that only laser sharp insight could cut through the layers of personal defenses armoring my patients.

Psychoanalytic thought, and psychotherapy have historically cultivated the notion of an omnipotent therapist treating the unenlightened neurotic patient with flawless interpretations. The therapist was in the know, the patient in the dark.

All this has changed dramatically in the past twenty years or so, although there remain holdouts to that point of view. Yet, as Adam Phillips points out in his outstanding book, Terrors and Experts, “everything now is increasingly subject to expertise, from mourning, to making love – with child rearing, in particular as a growth industry. We are living in the age of the specialist.”

Last week I had a root canal done on a back molar and I was glad to have an expert, with a steady hand, working in my mouth. But really, try telling most people an everyday problem and you will hear from an expert faster than you can say, “Can you help me?”

I came of age in the 60’s when we put bumper stickers on our cars that read, “Question Authority.” Today in the literary and art world, we are plummeted by the opinions of experts and critics who do not hesitate to lecture and pontificate on the rights and wrongs of writing and art.

It is no wonder that countless authors and artists are terrified to begin work. I know many that are frozen at the keyboard or easel. For many, writer’s block is simply a dread of encountering those devaluing voices, whether or not they originate from the outside or the inside.

Certainly this is not unique to writers and artists. It seems to me we are witnessing an epidemic of people overcome by anxiety and the dread that they are just not good enough. As opposites reside in the human psyche, it is clear that seated next to the inflated expert in the mind is a deflated, forlorn soul characterized by a feeling of self-loathing.

Believe me, I see this over and over in my practice, even in the best and the brightest, and the most successful of people that you might least expect to be suffering in this way. Actually, it is worse than what I have stated. So many of us are living with a persistent and embedded certainty that something is very wrong with what we are. Life is then a struggle to overcome this stain and manufacture self-worth or hide from the feelings associated with it.

Lost in the skirmish for self-worth is a sense of play and a delight in the art of practice. We have become a serious bunch. I seem to remember an old Chinese tale of a master painter who considered all his work prior to the age of 70, nothing but practice. Imagine the freedom and joy we might experience if our work could evolve from that place.

As it is, we hold up outrageous ideals as standards to meet. I have to write the “Great American Novel,” and right now! It is impossible, and only increases the terrible anxieties eating at the heart of artists, writers and individuals in most walks of life.

Years ago I visited a Matisse exhibit in New York. This particular show included, alongside the finished masterpieces, initial sketches and drawings. I was stunned by the crude beginnings of his paintings. Later I realized the playfulness and fearless experimentation behind his inspiration. His freedom was on display. What a relief.

Many people learn that I have written a book and the first thing they say is, “Wow, that must have been so hard!” I’m not being modest when I tell them it wasn’t. It was fun. The words and sentences rolled out of me. Sometimes at 2 or 3 in the morning! I felt as alive as I ever have.

My friend and author, John Hohn, says you have to “romance” the book and its characters. I think this is so true. For me it was a romance of listening intently for a deep, interior voice longing to be known. It was communion with a lover, the most personal play of waiting and receiving.

Sadly, most of us are under the influence of the not good enough branding. What follows is either an anxious striving for acceptance and validation or the depressive paralysis of defeat. Striving from this place of lack is doomed to repeat endless cycles of disappointment.

Father Thomas Keating is a Trappist monk. Many years ago he developed a meditation called “The Centering Prayer.” This is a very simple exercise that can be practiced any time of day for 5-10 minutes. You simply chose a word with meaning to repeat silently to yourself for the interval of time you have set aside.

Many people will chose love, or acceptance, but I’m suggesting we try the word enough. Enough. What if we try to welcome enough into our hearts? What if we try to say that good word and let it reverberate throughout our cells and muscles? Bring it into your lungs and listen: enough, enough, enough.

When the striving to overcome our imagined lack and deficiency slows, something dramatic happens; spaciousness and being begin to expand. An unfamiliar ease quite readily opens up and for the first time it is possible to be really present to one’s self.

Finally we can write or paint, dance or love, from an inner calm. Action becomes an expression of that

The lightness of being

The lightness of being

inner acceptance and expansiveness and not the contracted strivings for self-enhancement. From here it is possible to know rest, and to experience the incredible, and fertile lightness of being.







4 Responses

  1. Andy Robbins says:

    I completely agree, we have an epidemic of not good enough. I see this in my coaching and all around us with the marketing messages of perfection that are streamed to us 24 x 7. Brene Brown talks at length about good enough, the fact we are striving to hold ourselves up to someone else’s standards.

    Thanks for an important post, I need constant reminders of this.

  2. Phil Kenney says:

    Hi Andy. Thanks for commenting. The marketing campaign is relentless and staggering in the images bombarding our senses. I call it, “social harassment.” My constant reminder is meditation. The best way to dissolve the not good enough brand.

  3. Erin Reel says:

    Phil, another great post. Writers, artists and the experts/coaches who help them need constant reminders of this message. Thank you for sharing this very important message.

  4. Phil Kenney says:

    Hi Erin, and thanks for commenting. We all need to help one another with reminders of our basic goodness, don’t we? I appreciate the many reminders you give to me and to so many others.

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