Bottle Fish. Going and Doing. Being.


Bottle Fish

When I was walking on Tuesday, I passed a house near the river covered with sculptures and art. Three fish made from old glass bottles with sheets of metal shaped into heads and fins were suspended above planters beside the street. These bottle fish are like my experience of the creative spirit. I am a hollow vessel to be filled, a fountain pen for ink, a tea bag that awaits the kettle.

First I breathe open the space inside. Then I wait and watch and listen. Like the bottle fish, there must be space for the creative spirit to inhabit and also an egress for that which flows through.

“The ocean swims inside the fish.” Rumi.

This creative process requires a lot of being.

Going and Doing

Since our blatant acts of de-materialization this year (we gave away and sold ninety percent of what we owned), my husband and I have both been wondering what to do next and where to go next.

Our conversations sound like this:

“I don’t know what to do next.”

“Me neither.”

“I don’t know where to go next.”

“I don’t either.”

We live with our children are in our rental outpost. We hold each other and our few possessions tight to us like flotation devices in an unknown sea. We each have shreds of going and doing to comfort ourselves while we re-open to the less familiar being.

Most nights I dream that I awaken inside our former family home. I realize we’ve been asleep in a house that belongs to another family now and hurry to get us out of it. You don’t need to be a psychoanalyst to read this dream’s meaning. It’s a snapshot replay of our de-materialization that I made happen over several weeks this past summer. I awoke to the fact that I could not continue to go and do as I had been. I got rid of things and left our house to a new family.

I did and then I went.

Since then, I have been preoccupied with where to go next and what to do.

Do and go.

Go and do.


As I walk and sit, cook and eat, I watch the busy-ness around me. Everyone else is going and doing. There’s a lot of going and doing happening all around me.

I’ve slowed my cooking. I walk to the markets for fresh vegetables and bags of flour and masa. I slow-ferment my dough in a traditional French method. I bake my loaves till the edges are just this side of black. I soak beans for 24 hours and then sprout them two more days before cooking them. I ferment vegetables. I make tamales. This is all going and doing as well. But it’s a much slower version.

Now I watch the brightening of the sky each morning. I sit and study the waves before we put on wetsuits to venture out into the ocean. Then I wait and watch for the good wave that will carry me to shore.

I walk. A lot. I walk for errands. My twenty-year-old car stays parked. Around me on the streets, many others are going and doing at high speed and costs.

Segue: Cars don’t kill people. People kill people.

All this going and doing by automobile has allowed the grim reaper to hire additional staff for his industry. Automobile accidents are the number one cause of death of all Americans from the age of 4 to 34 (per the CDC). Death by car is a close runner-up in most other age categories. These preventable deaths are only the tip of the death-iceberg when it comes to the costs of racing around going and doing.


Do you remember being? I remember being.

Being was before we were trained in school to go and do. We go to school, do school work. This is to train us to go to work and do our jobs.

I remember being. I remember.

I lay high in the swaying arms of my favorite tree and watched the leaves play. If I were very still and quiet, I could hear everything speak. Trees murmur and sigh. Golden light makes soul music on skin. A field of green fast-growing corn in late July whispers and chatters like leggy teenagers in the sun. Water speaks with many voices. It tinkles and giggles, hammers and rattles, booms and lays silent. Water talk is my favorite still.

There was time to be with others. Mostly the old people, the old farmers and retired gardeners, castaways on their small plots of land growing food the old ways. At the end of weeding a row we would sit in the shade and wait for hoes to cool. The older children, who had been spirited away to school, had no interest in this.

I couldn’t imagine any other way but this being.

Then school came for me.

Paradise Lost

Going and doing. Buses and homework. I got credit for going and credit for doing. Credit for sitting still and credit for shutting up. My sunlit song was replaced by sticky gold stars. Rain water trickled silent on the outside of the school bus windows.

More going to school. Then even more going to school. I rigorously trained to go and do for credit. I was graded, judged and valued on going and doing. Staring at clouds lost me the credits I had gained by all the going and doing. Talking to others lost me credit. I learned that my only value was go and do for credit.

I lost being.

Paradise Regained

It seems that all the wants I have now for going and doing are a drug withdrawal, of sorts. I have been hooked, addicted to motion, fed on credits, isolated from the earth, from my humanity and from myself.

The value of my being has been reduced to going and doing, working and earning. My fish was caught and pulled from the sea, emptied of water and given credit for going and doing, sitting still and shutting up.

There is extra credit to be had for going along with the rest and doing what they do.

To stop this is not easy.

I feel uncertain, simply being in the midst of all this going and doing.

How much uncertainty can I tolerate?


To those who wander here:

Thanks for reading this mental meander of mine.

All those who wander are not lost.









Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.


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  1. Have


    DO BEHAVE! haha.

    I think this sort of fits rather nicely here, to reflect your message. From Dana:

    “This time ‘our work’ won’t so much be about inner work for those who have been heavily focused on that. It will be on embodying, living, being and creating in physical form what we know to be true on a higher level. ”

    “Most of us have read all the books, done all the seminars, healed, released, cleansed and cleared. We have done what we needed to do to reach higher states of consciousness, thinking this would give us the fulfillment we were looking for. Instead we find ourselves more conscious yet still feeling that something is missing. It is now time to descend back into our bodies, taking our hard-gained wisdom with us and using it to give it meaning, power, and purpose to every aspect of our daily life. We are being called to a new kind of enlightenment, one that takes all that we have discovered on our inner journeys into the outer world. It’s time to get out of our caves and take whatever enlightenment we have into the real world, into corporations, governments, politics, schools, media, health and social systems. We have been waiting for the world to change, meanwhile the world is waiting for us to act.” – Dana

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  2. I know exactly what you are talking about.I grew up in Europe just after the war in a village. We had so much freedom! I pitty the little children of today. After university, I worked for two years in Austria. People had time for friendships,contemplation and meditation after work.Then I went to Canada and I was shocked by the way of life in Northamerica. it was all run, run, run, work, work, work, no time for friendships or philosophising. There was money, much more than in Europe but money was not enough for me. Mind you the american way of life has moved over here. Luckily I am a pensioner by now so I can take my time and sit in the garden, listen to the blackbird, feed the robin, smell the honeysuckle, tend my garden. One doesn’t need much to make life worth living!

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    • Alix,
      Thanks for reading, thinking and writing.

      Your pensioner life sounds lovely.

      The American way of life is very busy and filled with stuff and noise. We have no time to be with people, even our own families. Babies go to day care at six weeks of age. However nice the workers may be, they are not the parents. No amount of “quality time” can make up for this. I feel pity for little children today as well.

      I read today (in drug company sponsored education material) about three year olds diagnosed with anxiety disorders, depression and elective mutism. Perhaps a three year old in day care for ten hours a day since the age of 6 weeks is right to feel anxious, depressed and not want to talk.

      All the best.

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  3. Alice,

    You are such a gifted person and such a good soul that I am sure you will find a way to make a big differences in your communauty with small gestures nicely thought upon.

    I might even suggest, as an example, that you set up some local communauty awareness about mourning a loved one -or even loved ones in case of car or boat accident or whatever.

    I use myself for my pro bono informal practice with great preventive success the leaflet for mourners and their carers from the Royal College of Psychiatrist. Although they ask for a donation, it is free to print their material as long as you print also the ligne of intelectual property at the end of it.

    Those leaflets are printable not only in English- which is useful.They are concise and crystalclear but comprehensive -even the possibility of hallucinations seing the deceased or hearing him-(her)is explained and dedramatized- in my experience it is better than just having a psychaitrist telling you tha tit is nbothing to worry about to the client and their carers ).

    I think you can make a big difference only by putting those leaflets in funeral homes or at the office where people do declare the deaths is useful in a country where the national association of psychiatrists will ufficially allow only two week for mourning in the DSM5 .

    Just a passing thought of course.

    All the best to you and your family.


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    • Ivana,
      Thank you for staying in touch. I enjoy hearing your point of view on things and appreciate your encouragement.

      What a lovely idea these leaflets are. Do you have a link to locate them on line? It would be good if every patient were given information like this BEFORE drugs are considered. If people know what to expect and what the wide range of normal human experience is, they will cope better and use fewer drugs.

      There were times people came to me to be told their experiences were NOT crazy. Leaflets could help.

      I do not have an office now or treat patients. If I had an office still I would certainly put something like this out in the waiting room. The “informational” and “educational” leaflets available from organizations here have a strong medication bias. When I had a private office, I made up some of my own leaflets and left them out. One was on Sleep Hygiene, how one could improve and regulate sleep without drugs.

      One could not leave out leaflets in a “doctor as employee” office situation. This is how most doctors work here in the US. In my experience, informational leaflets here are carefully controled by management. They come from NAMI or drug companies. The leaflets carried the drug bias of those who paid for them.

      Thanks for sharing your ideas. All great things start with ideas.


      PS I did get back and reply to your comment of december 8 on “Just the way things are”.

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      • Dear Alice,

        You asked me about what can explain the poor buddhist immigrants suffering less from psychosis.

        To the best of my knowledge, nobody has the answer yet. Of course strong family links with respect for the parents and any older person are strong in those immigrant communauties but exploitation runs high also with clandestine factories and very poor but expensive -compared to wages- sleeping spaces etc…

        I reckon – just to venture an ideas or two- that parents and elders you trust are a psychologically reassuring force although you might get exploited more easily by an elder person and not choose your future profession yourself and you will give a lot of your money to your parents if they are in need- no free lunch…Also buddhism fatalism helps to get rid of ressentment against other people and the self. Food and genes might play a role too.


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        • Ivana,

          I also think family connections and leadership of elders is important. Family and community conections have been shown to lower the incidence of psychosis and improve outcomes in other places. Also the Buddhist philosophy must help.

          It would be nice to know what’s working for this population. Perhaps there are way we can reduce the incidence of psychosis and manage it better here.

          Thanks for your ideas.

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  4. Dear Alice,

    Here you are:

    ///Updated May 2011. Due for review: May 2013. Royal College of Psychiatrists. This leaflet may be downloaded, printed out, photocopied and distributed free of charge as long as the Royal College of Psychiatrists is properly credited and no profit is gained from its use. Permission to reproduce it in any other way must be obtained from the Head of Publications. The College does not allow reposting of its leaflets on other sites, but allows them to be linked to directly.///

    NB: I am not as keen on every RCP ‘s leaflets but I couldn’t do easily without their bereavement’s leaflet.

    Indeed, it prevented in my pro bono practice several people being pushed into psychiatric medication starting with sleeping pills,costly conselling sessions with a psychologist when nothing was wrong with them. It helps at any distance of the loss, in my experience, but the sooner the better.

    The human condition makes that everywhere around you some persons will lost a love one, or several.

    Thank you for taking my suggestion kindly.


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    • Ivana,
      Thanks for the link. I hope that others will also look into these to use.

      Every small thing we do to move in the right direction helps. It’s easy to think that only BIG efforts can make things better when we are up against such big problems. There are a lot of us. Each of us doing some small thing can make a big difference.

      You are right. Everyone has losses.

      All the best.

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      • The leaflet is very good indeed and is not such a small thing to give it to a family thinking that a grieving person need psychiatric help- when that person just need the shrink permission to grieve at her pace.

        Let’s hope that the RCP do not make it compatible with the DSM5 next May…

        Also, it is a way to act against the DSM5 ludicrous take on the loss of a loved one: two weeks to grieve without medication or costly psychotherapy!


        PS: We live in very different countries but we made some similar choices like putting family first and not taking for granted that the role of a psychiatrist is to prescribe pills- this written my personal experience is the same as yours : many clients do not need greedy speedy doctors to ask for pills. Even in a free homeopathy clinic in Paris, Dispensaire Hahnemann, I was astonished to witness many clients asking the MD homeopaths -working for free there to promote the use of homeopathy for poor people – to prescribe homeopathy but also a lot of allopathic drugs. Like if they went to consult there for a cheap refill of allopathic drugs!

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        • Ivana,
          The nathuropathic physicians in the state of Oregon recently aquired full “prescribing priveleges” for allopathic drugs. Naturopathic physicians have been (in the past) the doctor one went to to avoid pills. They were the specialist for “natural” healing processes like lifestyle and nutrition. Now they are yet another avenue for faster and cheaper prescription refills.

          The Osteopathic physicians (“O.D”, whose medical theories depend upon manipulations of bones) are interchangeable with M.D. here. We all train in the same specialist residencies after attending different medical schools. An O.D. Psychiatrist is the same as an M.D. psychiatrist now.

          I haven’t looked into what prescribing priveleges the homeopathic physicians have. Homeopathic remedies are sold at food stores here.

          In three states in the US, so far, psychologists (not medical at all) have aquired “prescribing priveleges” for psychiatric drugs. Social workers advocate for the ability to prescribe psychiatric drugs as well. So far the social worker initiatives have failed. Most states have authorized nurses and nurse midwives to prescribe drugs as well, with additional training.

          Child psychiatry has lost “family first”. In Oregon, masters level educators (school teachers. non-medical) can legally give pychiatric diagnoses to children. They then pressure family members to go to the pediatrician (non-psychiatrist) for fast prescriptions of psychiatric drugs. They may refuse to allow the child to return to school unless the parent puts their child on drugs.

          Many parents rely on school as the place for their child to go so they can work. No school means no work. Loss of work here can mean loss of housing. Loss of housing can mean loss of your kids. The kids will certainly get drugged in foster care. The family is not coming first in this situation.

          Thanks for giving me the opportunity to think and write more. This is a good discussion. Perhaps we can have a conversation in person some day.


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          • Dear Alice,

            I am looking forward to a conversation in person some day-may be at a meeting for unconventionnal psychiatrists organized at your beach or at a Parisian Museum’s cafeteria with a minimum number of two psychiatrists for the meeting to be hold!

            In the mean time, i am always very happy to read your blofs although sometimes I might not feel like hurting other readers by commenting like when I wanted to tell that the French soldiers would like to receive more frequently the label of PTSD they really find not offensive, useful and to the point. Not only the French army medics do not diagnose it as often as the German army doctors, for example, but the “private soldier assurances ” do not recognize it at all arguying that it would be too easy to fake it and claim benefits.
            A French soldiers’s association calls the PTSD “The invisible illness”!

            I am a great admirer of Dr Pat Bracken’s and of Will Hall and the least reason is not their refusal of any simplistic views and solutions.

            It is not nice when money talks but it is not nice either when politics talks too loudly…

            Of course, I am against paternalism for any health professionnal and I am all for the sufferers to lead and decide thei way to recovery and be heard but in their diversity.


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          • Ivana,
            You make me smile. I like the idea of an “unconventional psychiatrist association”.

            I got an email from another doctor I know. She liked the leaflet link you posted. Information in this comment section reaches a lot of people.

            All the best.

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