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.

Hurry Up

December 13, 2015

Were Alfred E. Neuman and Mad Magazine to stage a comeback (wouldn’t it be great?!) the cover caption for our time might well read, “What, me hurry?” Why worry when you can hurry? Really, worry is so out of date: we have outrun it, medicated and left it behind. “Hurry up,” is the first commandment of the market economy. Forget about loving God, that stuff is for sissies; you better move fast or “it” will pass you by.

I am pained to remember how many times over the years I have said to my kids, “Hurry up, you’ll be late!” I cringe thinking how many times I got mad when they had the audacity to continue on with their enjoyment of the moment when I thought it was imperative that we leave for school, get ready for bed or comply with any number of urgent schedule demands.

In 1981 David Elkind came out with the first addition of The Hurried Child in which he warned of the negative effects on children pressured to grow up way too early in their lives and way too fast. Sadly, Dr. Elkind’s voice of reason and wisdom was drowned out by the din of a society accelerating towards a life of more and more and still more. Never enough.

We need a modern manifesto on “The Hurried Society.” A wake up call to the manic depressive nature of our culture of consumption and how it eats people up and spits them out. In my own life I find myself hurrying to gulp down my granola in the morning, tripping over myself to put my socks on and get out the door, cursing at the traffic when it is making me late for my first patient, snapping at the boys when they are moving too slow…I’m embarrassed to say, the list goes on.

What are we doing? Where are we going? What do we want? Who is it that stands over us with a whip making lunatics of the lot of us?  “I’m so busy” has become our code of honor. The code of respectability. The code that reads, “I will race around getting a lot done and prove that I am a good person.” Our collective fatigue and breathlessness is proof that we have earned our status as worthy human beings. But who can blame us? The demands of the economy for more productivity have made it so most people are franticly trying to keep up or simply survive. What to do?


It is mid September and chestnuts are falling. Hundreds of chestnuts, thousands, falling on the sidewalks and the street outside my office. We have a tradition in our household; every September I bring home a bunch of these beautiful chestnuts to my family. We don’t roast them, we place them on the table and adore them.

We all take a look and marvel at the rich deep brown of the newly hatched chestnuts. We get lost in the shine, the radiance of the color. They don’t need polishing but we can’t help ourselves and rub them for good luck until each is glowing like a mirror and reflecting back something more than color: a beauty that can’t be named.

It is my habit to walk about the neighborhood on those scintillating autumn days searching for unblemished chestnuts and I have come across the perfect sanctuary near the entrance to Washington Park. There the little darlings can make the long fall into a soft bed of bark and cedar needles. Some don’t even break out of their armored casings. I even found a set of twins once snuggled into their utero shell: such happy kittens!

When I discovered the bed of pristine chestnuts, my heart skipped a beat and I began foraging for the most beautiful specimens I could find. Some were still in their prickly shells and slipped out oh so smooth and glowing. I gathered enough for a queen’s necklace but as I did I noticed a disturbance growing in my gut.

I was hurrying. Hurrying to find the next incomparable beauty. Hurrying. Dis-ease growing. The hunger to find a perfect chestnut became compulsive. I hurried from one to another, rejecting some gathering others. Slowly I became aware that the hurried state was taking over and was in actuality a camouflaged state of anxiety.

What the hell? “What, me worry?” The pleasure and delight dissipated and a serious, almost desperate, greedy energy came from somewhere to take over the moment. Some hunger to find the perfect gem, the diamond in the rough that would make me feel…what, complete, whole, happy? I’m the best Dad in the world? What was I anxious about? What was I after?

Effortless Being

So it does come back to worry. Alfred E. Neuman was right. Worry is the engine for hurry. It’s just that as the world speeds up and the demands for more profit take over along with ever faster and more captivating technology, many of us are increasingly distracted from nourishing relationships, our core self and too tired to tend to the needs of our planet. The cry of the people often sounds like this, “What me worry? Hell no, I’m ambitious and too busy for that. But why is it that I wake up anxious every morning and feel so empty inside?”

Where should we turn for help with this dilemma? How about looking to the example of Dunbar in Catch-22? Dunbar was the master of slowing down time by cultivating boredom at every possible opportunity. He outwitted the grim reaper no less by his clever approach to every day life. Perhaps we could learn from Dunbar and slow down the hurry up syndrome.

Or maybe we could model ourselves after the great animals of Africa. A few years ago I was fortunate to make the journey to South Africa with my family. The first thing that stunned me was seeing that the great majority of each day, the wonderful mammals of the bush move in slow motion and rest a good many hours. Even when it’s time for dinner, the big cats move very slowly through the grass approaching their prey. Could we be more like them?

You’re probably thinking that sitting around being bored is a lousy idea, and it is far too late in the course of evolution to adopt the ways of our mammalian relatives. OK, I agree. But maybe there is something in Dunbar’s solution that might help us slow down. And it isn’t impossible to align our pace with that of animals. Here are a couple of suggestions.

Every day let’s take time to sit in a chair and do nothing for at least five minutes. Just sit, with feet flat on the floor and hands on your legs. Just sit and do nothing but be with yourself in as simple a way as possible. Nothing fancy. You can call it meditation if you like but it isn’t necessary. You can do the same thing at work. Just stop. For one minute stop, close your eyes and sit with the reality of you. You will get bored and no doubt distracted, but you just might find that with enough practice what emerges is an unexpected opening into a calm, effortless state of being.

Second, walk slowly. Several times a day walk consciously, and slowly for ten minutes. Feel every step. Feel your feet touch the ground. Listen to the songs of the earth. Be daring, even if you are late, walk slowly. Did the world end? Relax your muscles as you walk, we’ve been walking for thousands of years and your body knows what to do, just let it. Try not to interfere. Walking may be the stepping stone to sanity and the pathway towards a life unburdened by excessive hurry and worry.

Why do this stuff? It seems so insignificant. It is about interrupting the cycles of hurrying that cause big stress. Because the stress of our time is so great and the accumulated tensions so high, the personal and social realms are poised to be reactive, not creative. As the aphorisms say, “Transactions have replaced relationships and rhetoric has replaced thought.” And those transactions as well as the speed of the public rhetoric are accelerating at a dizzying pace.

Hurry and anxiety, these are the primary inner realities of our time. What are the consequences of the hurried life? The consequences are many, including depression and hostility, but the common denominator is reactivity. Lacking internal space to consider responses to the moment, we react, typically in retreat or aggression. A prime example is when couples come to see me for therapy, lost in a negative spiral of reactivity. They tend to see each other in caricatured ways and react to that portrait, not the real person. These reactive tendencies carry forth into the broader social realm where reactivity has infected people and political parties of all persuasions.

It should go without saying that the hurried society makes a spiritual life all the more difficult because spaciousness is the domain of spirituality and the first to be crowded out by the contractions brought on by worry and hurry. This is why it pays to turn away from the hurried society when possible and practice slowing down so that we can be truly responsive to the world around us and also connect to the place within that yoga refers to as “effortless being.”


I miss Alfred E. Neuman and Mad Magazine. I miss that goofy smile and the reminders that there is something mad about the way our society operates. “What, me worry?” What would Alfred E. Neuman say? I miss that goofy grin. I miss the story that reminds us that the madness is bigger than our differing philosophies and desires. Something that reminds us that we are captives of a system that is not quite sane. Something that every single day challenges us, with friend and foe, family and stranger to be what we don’t seem capable of being very consistently: caring and respectful.

Mad magazine also told us it is OK to be mad. That was a revolutionary message for me growing up in the Ohio of 1958. God knows there is plenty to be mad about today; outraged is more like it. But we need creative madness, not the reactive kind. In fact, saying no to a hurried life of consumption and distraction is a healthy protest, an act of civil disobedience that benefits many and contributes to domestic and inner peace. Saying no to reactivity is one way every person can contribute to a better world.

At the conclusion of last week’s blog I quoted several lines from a T. S. Elliot poem that spoke to the paradoxical nature of the still point. The still point which exists in each and every one of us. The still point that is the mother of everything that is and the groundless ground of unconditioned love. Next week will be the last blog for a while and I’ll be writing about the still point, which is synonymous with effortless being.

In my opinion, it is in finding the place of effortless being that we will come to a measure of sanity. This way is counterculture to the hurried society and the manic capitalist agenda for more profit and acquisition that leaves us empty and anxious. It holds the potential for ease and satisfaction that frees us to make the necessary sacrifices and do the hard work towards making communities more inclusive and the world a safer place.

Effortless being? Is that real? Possible? Yes it is! You have experienced it many, many times, I’m sure. We’ll explore the subject next week in the last installment for 2015 of Philz Blog: The Joy of Disappearing. Until then, enjoy, take some moments to be quiet and do nothing — nothing. Take a slow walk in the rain with no earbuds and try out the mantra of enough: this moment is enough, this day is enough, I am enough.



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