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.

Prius Power

April 21, 2013

The beauty of aging lies in acts of subtraction. Subtracting the multitude of acquisitions, both material and psychological, that have gathered and stuck like sea barnacles to our rocky egoic self. By the egoic self I mean the many ways the mind attempts to build up an identity structure that feels important and self-enhancing in order to compensate for feelings of lack and insufficiency.

Believe me, I know aging can be brutal and anything but beautiful. I took care of both my parents as they were dying of very ugly diseases and the suffering of everyone involved was terrible.

I’m talking about the changes brought on by aging particularly in the middle stages of life when the body begins to change and needs for surrender begin to take on real features. Some familiar examples are changes in vision, hearing and physical stamina.

These are opportunities to practice letting go before the really big changes occur in old age. Of course surrender implies a certain amount of grief, over the loss of capacities and talents, which can be difficult. So I don’t mean to suggest this is easy or with out pain.

But the beauty of this stage of life is in the lightening of ones backpack. The recognition of what is most important. And in the laying down of material and psychic weight, an opening to ever-greater experiences of a simple love for existence is possible.


You’re probably wondering what this has to do with a Prius, right? Well let me tell you what I have foundDSC_0532 in my two week old relationship with this amazing car.

If this were the 50’s, someone would have written a song about the Prius. This car is that good! I am proud to say I am now part of the Prius Nation. My hometown of Portland, Oregon, could be the capital of the Prius world. Last weekend we were cruising The Pearl district and my son spotted no less than 23 in a span of 15 minutes! They’re everywhere!

We traded in the Toyota Highlander after about 5 months of watching the gas guage drop with every mile. You can get lynched in Portland for eating up that much petrol. (My dear friend, Matthew, calls our fair city, “The People’s Republic of Portland.”) We bought the big 4-wheel drive rig to go to the snow, but that dude drank gas faster than I used to drink beer in my prime.

Ah, the Prius, it sips gas like you would a fine Merlot. It starts up quiet as a desert night and then moves out into the street as if it wasn’t there. Nice. What is remarkable for a small car is the interior space. I’m a big man and I am very comfortable getting in and out and have plenty of headroom.

These are all attractive features, but the best part of driving a Prius is the education that comes from the experience. First of all, the electronics are very cool. As usual, I had to hire my 16 year old, Joey, to give me a tutorial. He seems to figure it out in a flash like he learned the language in the womb. That’s why I hired him for my business too: he’s my tech guy.

While the tech stuff is cool (the gas usage graphs are colored silos standing in single file) the big teachings come on the road. It begins with acceleration. Our Toyota salesman said to me, “It will change the way you drive.” I’ve been driving for 48 years, so I didn’t give much credence to his comments. In fact, I wondered if the lack of power would bother me: flashbacks of the 68 GTO danced in my head.

Smooth acceleration and ample horsepower seem obvious enough psychological boosts to an egoic self in need of a feeling of power. From the time we could dream, many men saw themselves behind the wheel of a hot car like James Bond and his Austin. Laying rubber from a stop sign, drag racing with the old man’s car, these were signposts of coming of age and finding adventure in the out back regions of the Mid-West culture that otherwise seemed to suck the juice out of most of life.

Look around at what our society finds alluring and it seems to suggest that the adolescent self is here to stay. That is what makes the Prius truly different. This car begs for a light foot. It coaxes the driver into slow, patient departures from stop signs. Before you know what has happened, the electronic guage has hypnotized the inner teenager into keeping the power needle in the eco zone. The end of an era has come. You head out into the road slow as a turtle, and loving it.

Now I’m not suggesting the adolescent self should be purged from the psyche. Not that you could, of course. This aspect of ourselves provides a much needed feeling of aliveness and the inspiration to reach out for adventure and risk taking. All for the good we would say, right? Providing, of course, that this spirited energy is grounded and modified in accord with adult realities and responsibilities.


A few years ago my family and I had the good fortune of making a trip to South Africa. We went directly to



the bush and spent days watching the great animals of the African plains live as they have for thousands of years. It was life changing.

Besides their beauty and graceful movements, what struck me was the unhurried pace of these magnificent animals. None other than, “The King of Beasts,” the noble lion, walked for the great majority of the day without a sense of urgency. Even when stalking her prey, the mother moved silently through the under brush slower and slower until ready to make her move. The strike was a relatively brief event followed by a return to the effortless, ambling gait that preceded the chase.

When I returned to Busy Town USA I felt out of place and staggered by the pace of the hustle and bustle. I sounded like Rodney King, only I was remarking, “Why can’t we just slow down?” The Prius dares to make a virtue of slowing. It implores the user to find power in quiet and in being last off the line.

As if that wasn’t enough, the Prius has another surprise in store for us. I didn’t know it, but the Prius’ battery is charged by braking! Braking converts the momentum of the vehicle into energy and transfers it forward to the battery. What a great metaphor for what ails this hyper-extended society.

What would our world look like if we used the brake more? If we slowed the manic pursuit of profit and production? If we transferred energy from the worship of growth and progress to the worship of the sacred presence we call now. What would our lives look like if we stopped talking so much and practiced listening and knowing our neighbor? If we backed off our cherished opinions, and returned to a status of wonder?


Every morning when I rise, I stop before I begin, and meditate for 30 minutes. Throughout the day I make it a practice to stop and sit with the blessed breath that enlivens and sustains. Muslims break five times a day for prayer. As a people, we seem frightened of stopping. Frightened of stillness. What if we were to stop, and listen to birdsong and the song of the wind? What if we were to meditate on the word, enough?

The Prius is a move in that direction. The slow acceleration changes my relationship to space and time. Movement is altered from the frantic race to get somewhere as fast as possible, to something resembling a walk and appreciating the sights appearing and disappearing along the way.

There are many Prius types being born in our world. Many movements towards slowing and creating environments devoted to service, art and thankfulness. They don’t make the news so much. And in some ways they are powerless to alter the momentum of the culture of acquisition. However, something is happening and the humble Prius and its many brothers and sisters are a part of a quiet force that will shape our destiny.

So let’s all try to experiment with slowing down. Try eating slower and eating less. Chew each bite as if it were your last supper. Breath deep, and slowly. And when the grocery line is moving at a snail’s pace, or the traffic is bumper to bumper and going nowhere, go ahead and get annoyed, but then ask yourself, what am I trying to get away from and where am I trying to get to?

Life isn’t going anywhere. It circulates through the present. Try adopting Prius Power into your life, you might find that less speed allows for more spaciousness to experience love and gratitude.










4 Responses

  1. Heather says:

    Nice car! Well, life is going somewhere, but there is no reason to rush it. I love the quiet and the peace…and it seems god has willed that I walk slowly into that good night. I do wish people would slow down, especially in their gigantic SUVs. It demonstrates an attitude of hurried unkindness and narcissism that is disturbing. Where are they going? Is someone’s life in danger? Anyway, love the car! I almost got a Prius…but I went with a Honda Fit. Cheaper and better suited to my dog-toting lifestyle.

    • Phil Kenney says:

      Hi Heather, thanks for your comment. We should all walk slowly into that good night. Where are they going? Where is that pot of gold? A friend of mine has the Honda Fit and he loves it. Good doggie car.

  2. Andy Robbins says:

    Welcome to Prius Nation and yours looks very sharp!

    Great points about slowing down. My story tells me the rest of world won’t slow down with me. It’s time to trade in that story….

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