Just reacting? Freely striving?

Blindly driven? Wisely driving?

Who's the rider? Who's the horse?

Who's in charge? Who charts the course?

Sort your data, choose your theory,

Argue concepts 'til you're weary.

Psychologize until you die--

While we argue, life goes by.


Tom Greening

Dialogues: "Therapeutic Applications of Existential Philosophy." Vol. 1, No. 2.

As I came into consciousness

there was a war where millions died,

and even when frail peace broke out

life's anguish left me horrified.


I worked in mental hospitals,

construction jobs and factories;

I traveled where the war had been

and contemplated tragedies.


Perplexed by what I'd seen of life,

appalled by so much misery,

I sought to understand the cause

and thought I'd try psychology.


I hoped I'd find some people there

who cared about the human soul,

but learned instead it was our job

to do "prediction and control."


And sure enough, some governments

have found psychologists can aid

in customizing torture skills,

a job for which they're amply paid.


Not all psychology, thank God,

is used for purposes so cruel,

but much of what it's all about

is tailored to a basic rule:


Whatever does in fact exist

exists in some precise amount,

and so our task is to devise

precision tools with which to count.


Away with fuzzy-minded thought,

away with sloppy sentiment--

Pure science is the one true faith;

the goal of life is measurement.


Do I belong in such a field?

Can such a field put up with me?

When questions such as these grow grim

for refuge I try poetry.


Tom Greening

Dialogues: Therapeutic Applications of Existential Philosophy. Vol. 1, No. 1.

Nietzsche was wrong—

God is not dead,

but, kidnapped by Satan,

he's developed the Stockholm syndrome.

He's been drugged, brain-washed,

and, tutored by Goebbels,

he's turned into a droning propagandist

for evil.

Milton weeps,

and will not write a sequel.

The way that I've arranged my life,

I've left no time to feel.

This anesthetic works so well

I never do reveal

my feelings even to myself

or to those close to me.

By keeping busy all the time

I act like I am free,

and if I have some time to spare

I fill it up real fast,

and pray this numbing sedative

is somehow going to last.

When nosey people question me

I hasten to explain

this is my plan to get through life

by minimizing pain,

and yet at times I lie awake

obsessed by sudden doubt—

I worry that I'm just a fool

and somehow missing out.

I do not hope to really live

but merely to survive,

but will I mourn when I'm near death

not having been alive?

Emergency room nursing had not prepared her

for this. When she arrived

at Ground Zero on September 12

what stunned her even more than the rubble

was the smell.

"Rotting food," she was told,

but she had grown up in war

and knew the reek of decomposing flesh.

She still coughs from the dust,

from the memory of helplessness,

and sees on every wall

the photos of the missing

now interred on Staten Island

along with concrete, steel, glass and dreams,

as tiny sacred shreds.


Tom Greening

Published in Aftermath, a book of poems about the

9/11 attack.

I must confess that I've become annoyed

by seeing naught about me but the void,

and so I clutch and cling to lots of stuff

but never seem to gather quite enough.

How many loves and dollars will it take

to fill me up and my grim thirsting slake?

This question occupies each waking hour,

and all the while my mood grows dark and dour.

I wish this could be called philosophy,

yet fear it's just a dreary travesty.

I'd hoped that for my courage I'd be known,

but ended up a dreary rhyming drone.

I'm nothing but a boring pessimist,

a lapsed and defrocked existentialist.

Freedom vs. Determinism

No Time to Feel

Lapsed Existentialist

(placeholder)

Just reacting? Freely striving?

Blindly driven? Wisely driving?

Who's the rider? Who's the horse?

Who's in charge? Who charts the course?

Sort your data, choose your theory,

Argue concepts 'til you're weary.

Psychologize until you die--

While we argue, life goes by.


Tom Greening

Dialogues: Therapeutic Applications of Existential Philosophy. Vol. 1, No. 2.

Intuition

Some more of that, some more of this—

thus will I some day savor bliss.

Or should I abjure everything,

give up the stuff to which I cling

so I can set my poor soul free

and dwell in perfect poverty?

Some days I gain, some days I lose—

I never know which one to choose—

when to constrict, when to expand—

that's what I cannot understand.

And thus I swing from pole to pole,

confused about my proper goal,

but in the process try to be

alive more existentially.

Kierkegaard's Paradox

As I perused the gloomy paper trail

that marked this patient's lengthy fall from grace

I realized that I would also fail

and write him off as just a hopeless case

unless I sprung us both out of our trap

and met him in a place we'd never been.

But for this pathless journey there's no map,

and just a rusty gyroscope within.

We wandered in and out the prison gate

and passed each other in the dark unheard,

then met at last before it was too late

and found we did not need to say a word.

In searching for a better way to care

without a ray of hope or guiding star,

the only way to get from here to there,

is learning how to be the place we are.

Behaviorists in all their wisdom

feel it isn't worth their work

to explore the human psyche,

full of mystery and murk.


They would rather study action,

focus on behavior seen,

not unseen, unseemly insides,

motives, meanings Byzantine.


Humanists, their fuzzy colleagues,

have a very different goal:

They would elevate the species

and affirm the human soul.


Then there's existentialism,

focused on our finitude,

angst, contingency and freedom,

all with dread of death imbued.


Psychoanalytic pundits

eruditely analyze

our fixations and resistance,

thus attempting to be wise.


Cognitive behavior theorists

study how we learn and think.

I grow weary of these theories—

too much thought drives me to drink.


I have searched such books for wisdom,

but it's mostly been in vain,

so I merely write these verses,

hoping thus to entertain.

Weary of Theory

Who's mad and who's sane,

and who decides?

If you have to ask,

don't ask out loud,

or you could end up

on the wrong side of the keys,

knife, chemicals, or electricity.

What was a nice Scottish doctor

doing in a world like this?

Rattling paradigms, that's what,

and drinking more than he should.

His time is up,

and the psychiatric pub

is quieter now.

Once he asked,

"Where in the world

are lunatics allowed to bathe

naked in the moonlight?"

At last he has found the place,

but he's probably splashing

more than God allows.


Tom Greening

Journal of Humanistic Psychology. Vol. 30 No. 2, 1990

© 1990 Sage Publications

"Five decades have gone swiftly gliding by, the scarce time left will all too quickly fly, and so we gather now..."

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