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.

Living With Insecurity

November 21, 2015

Last Friday night in Paris, many people who left home for a fun night out on the town did not return home alive. What happened in Paris on Friday night is not only a horrific reminder of the horror of terrorism, but a ghastly introduction to a new reality stripped of the illusion of safety.

How do we live when our feeling of basic security is so damaged? What can ordinary people do to help themselves and others? Returning to the streets of Paris is good, protest is good, but what about regular, daily life when the sirens have quieted? What then? Is there a way to relate to insecurity that can be of benefit?


Fighting is erupting in all corners of the world and even from great distances, we feel the effects of trauma. When trauma is the norm, and no truly safe space exists, the body and psyche tend in two directions: either towards a shutting down of feeling and an internal collapse into despair, or alternatively, a mostly fearful, paranoid and aggressive approach to any possible threats.

In other words, the problem is how to prevent being overcome by passivity, and/or, hatred. We see these polarities acted out daily within ourselves and our communities. There are those who seek refuge in the numbing of emotions that leads to indifference and those who seek safety by way of an aggressive pursuit of revenge leading to retaliations.

With danger an ever present threat, it is completely natural to feel frightened and powerless. Helplessness can overwhelm and deplete our spirit. It isn’t surprising that we forget what is possible to better our collective life. But we can act reasonably and responsibly. As Wendell Berry says, we can assume an “active state of being” comprised of awareness, knowledge and good will.

For one, we can practice acts of kindness and peaceful co-existence towards one another. Some have chosen to call this non-violent communication. It is based on empathy and, in my view, the practice of relating to others with friendliness and a recognition that we are one people, and indeed, one being.

Here is a simple example. Yesterday we hired a man to blow the leaves from the Silver Maples around our house into the street for leaf pick up day. When he was done my wife asked him to do our friend Lois’ yard across the street. It happened to be Lois’ 87th birthday that morning. When she saw her leaves being blown Lois went to the door and asked the man what he was doing. He shouted, “Happy Birthday!” to her and Lois began to cry knowing Lori had arranged this gift.

Non-violent communication and friendliness is something we can practice in the checkout line at the grocery store, or standing at the bus stop. It is a matter of greeting people, all people, with respect and the invitation to connect: even in a minute, much can be transmitted. But we have to stop talking so much and listen.

Listen with empathy to your spouse’s complaints, with empathy to your children’s outbursts. The same could be said about hearing the hope and dread in the pronouncements of the opposing political party no matter how offensive they are to your sensitivities. And someday soon we’d better try to understand why so many young men are prey to radicalization.


We have to start somewhere to reverse the tide of hatred and violence and move towards peace. Why not start right now with each other. We are not powerless. Say hello with feeling, ask a stranger something about her/his life. It is really quite easy, and fun. Here are a few more suggestions that might inch us towards peaceableness.

1. Don’t believe in solutions. Our problems are massively complex. They can’t be fixed by simple ideas and impressive rhetoric. These “answers” are the birthplace of right and wrong which divide us and lead to fighting. Solutions prevent the slow, steady work and on the spot creativity necessary to engage the long, hard work.

2. Turn it off, turn it all off. For at least an hour a day shut down all electronics. Go for a walk. Sit down with yourself and close your eyes. Here’s a novel idea: read a book! And while we’re on the subject, here are a few ideas:

Bill Roorbach’s The Remedy for Love – A  beautiful novel about impossible love, war and climate change

Joanna Macy World as Lover, World as Self – A Buddhist manual on dealing with despair and activism

Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything – My favorite anti-depressant 

3. Learn to hold contradictory thoughts and feelings in your heart. Yes you are vulnerable, and yes you are strong. Don’t choose sides too quickly or you’ll fall into the either or trap. The opposite of one truth is another profound truth.

4. Go to bed a little hungry in solidarity with most of the world.

5. Connect with yourself and then put yourself aside and go find the light in the first person you meet.

6. Never give up on love and honesty. They can bring down empires.


It just may turn out that the end of our feeling of safety can be transformed into a good thing. After all, the notion of a safe world is largely the modern construct of white privileged society. This is a luxury unknown to the vast majority of human beings living on this earth.

Let’s not feel overly entitled to it and overly outraged that our safe world order has been disrupted. The price of this illusory sense of safety has been the tendency to take life for granted. We treat our dearest relationships as if they will last forever until there is a terrible event that reminds us of the precious and fragile nature of our lives. Remember the people of Paris on Friday night and throughout the weekend. Witness the outpouring of love and unprotected expressions of togetherness. The tricky thing is to sustain that opening when the intensity of the moment lessons.

I am hoping that the best that can come of this age of terror is that we recognize and accept our mutual vulnerability and dependency and from that place reach out to one and all, not just in times of emergency, but in ordinary time. Perhaps we’ll find the best security is found in loving connections that are nurtured and maintained through daily practice.

We will no doubt forget and we will fail. We will no doubt continue to be terrorized by forces of hatred in the world as well as the self attack that many of us are subject to. But it is possible to remind one another when we do forget. Let’s help pick ourselves up and keep walking in the direction of mutual care. This is not a call to be heroic, in fact just the opposite, most of these actions will go unnoticed by all but a few. But small acts by many add up to another kind of climate change, one of love and respect.

Love is always the most dangerous of approaches. You and I are not safe form the pain that love can bring. There is inherent risk in opening our hearts to this life. Bill Roorbach, author of the incredible novel, The Remedy for Love, said on his visit to Powell’s Book Store last year that the remedy for love is more love. The remedy for insecurity may be the very same — more love.



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