WISDOM FOR ALL SEASONS
FREDERICK L. KLEIN, PH.D.
As I reflected on Voices articles that have had an enduring impact on me, I found myself gravitating towards Shelly Kopp’s work. Actually, a number of things that he wrote have stuck with me and proved to be helpful in my work and in my personal life. I think first of his An Eschatological Laundry List (1). The piece consists of 43 existential postulates, affirmations and instructions and includes such profound, pithy, succinct gems as #6 There is no way of getting all of what you want. , #9 There is particular reason you lout out on some things., #12 It is a random universe to which we bring meaning., #14 You can’t make anyone love you., #20 All evil is potential vitality in need of transformation., #21 All of you is worth something if you will only own it., #29 Love is not enough but it sure does help., #33 All important decisions must be made on the basis of insufficient data., #34 Yet we are responsible for everything we do., #41 You are free to do whatever you like. You need only face the consequences., and finally #43 Learn to forgive yourself again and again and again and again.
Without making any conscious effort to do so, I have internalized many of these statements as reminders or instructions for myself and for those I work with. Many of the statements seem to me to so beautifully capture complex, poignant tough realities of life that we all struggle with. Shelly’s words emerge in my consciousness at appropriate significant moments during a therapy hour or in the context of a personal struggle. Often these familiar words or phrases feel like the ultimate articulation of the underlying issue being grappled with. I may or may use these items explicitly in the form Shelly wrote them but, whether I do or not, they serve to help me feel empowered to cope with my own issues or to offer empowering awareness to others.
A second of Shelly’s articles that has had a lasting impact on me is his highly evocative Refusal To Mourn (2). In the article, Shelly addresses the various dynamic patterns that each of us evolve in order to attempt to fend off or contain the unavoidable psychic pain, trauma and devastation that accompany the inevitable disappointments, losses and injuries that life deals all of us. He speaks to the universality of the basic situation: At the crucial formative time of childhood, we are all small and helpless and dependent. None of us get all of what we want or need. We are all vulnerable. Life is often unfair (and all of us experience that unfairness some of the time).
Yet we must learn to lovingly care for ourselves and take care of ourselves lest we spend our lives in futile longing, seeking or demanding reparations for past injustices. Shelly delineates a process of authentic grieving for our past losses that make it possible to truly transcend the potential lifelong psychic scarring effects of these past injuries. He spells out paths taken that seek to hold onto our old grievances that constitute The Refusal to Mourn. The article has been invaluable to me when I confront my own or my client’s attempts to avoid losses. It reminds me that the path to metabolizing trauma is to stay open to the full depth of feeling of the hard to bear. This leads to greater wholeness and ultimately to the possibility of joyful aliveness.
Actually, Shelly wrote many pieces for voices that to me are classics but, when I stopped to scan internally for the most impactful, these are the two that emerged.
- Kopp, Sheldon B. , Voices: The Art and Science of Psychotherapy, Spring/Summer Issue 1969 Vol. 5, !, The Process of Dying.
- Kopp, Sheldon B., Voices: The Art and Science of Psychotherapy, Winter/Spring Issue, 1969-70, Vol. 5, No. 4, An Eschatological Laundry List: A Partial Register of the 927 (or was it 928?) Eternal Truths.
My father wrote this post-humus piece immediately following Sheldon Kopp’s death in 1999. My dad spoke with deep reverence and respect for Shelly and for what the two of them once had together. Initially my father was Sheldon’s patient, later Shelly invited my dad to join the American Academy of Psychotherapists. As my father’s professional career evolved and his status as a top innovator and trainer of other therapists in the DC community evolved, Shelly and my father were colleagues. Shelly and my dad exchanged supervision hours with each other, each offering insights and challenges to the other as they disclosed cases, stuck points, conflicts dilemma’s, impasses in their working and personal lives.
Later they had a passionate blow out. In some twist of fate, on the night my father died, he was amongst colleagues who decided to video-tape him in a rare and unusual interview process. My father tended to be anti-fame. He was very much against the idea that his charisma, talents and striking mind would be parlayed into anything that promoted him through his ego. That made such moments in front of the camera almost non-existent. I cannot think of any other moment in his entire life where he was filmed discussing his professional history or points of view.
In this video my father spoke about his relationship rupture with Shelly. They debated middle-east politics on the eve of the Yom Kippur war thirty years prior to the eve of his death. Whatever their dispute it left them far apart personally. Yet, as I came to understand it, there deep respect for each other continued as they each referred to the other often. They both left a large and indelible impression on those who they taught, trained and worked with over the years.
For me, this article seemed to capture my father’s evolving softness and tenderness towards himself which permeated his outlook on most all people. He had his own evolving Eschatological Laundry List (several actually) – which included, but were not limited to: We are all going through it – Psychotherapy is a relationship cure – We are all telling our stories all the time – Life is a process of learning how to learn and become more efficient.