Mindfulness in Difficult Times

by Velleda C. Ceccoli Ph.D. on March 22, 2020

It has been quite some time since I wrote a post, but given what is going on in the world at the moment, it seems like a good time for a comeback. So, Hello dear readers near and far, this is perhaps the first time that many of us will be homebound: doing our work, minding children, caring for partners and elders. In different parts of the world, the response to Covid-19 is starting to be the same: uncertainty, fear, panic buying, and a need to know as much as we can about what this virus is like, what we can and must do about it, how to help ourselves, our families and our communities. All of us are experiencing the impact of this pandemic. We are, all of us, in the proverbial same boat – afloat an uncertain ocean. And furthermore we are, each of us, captain’s of our own ship – we are in charge of taking responsibility. Covid-19 has united us in the way that major calamities and catastrophes do – reminding us that we are one human race, with the same basic needs and wants , and that it is only by coming together, mindfully, that we can survive.

I want to share some thoughts from the book: Consolations – The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words by poet David Whyte. This particular essay looks at the crisis all of us face when our internal worlds collide with the outside world.

Crisis is unavoidable . Every human life seems to be drawn, eventually, as if by some unspoken parallel, some tidal flow or underground magnetic field, toward the raw, dynamic essentials of its existence, as if everything up to that point had been a preparation for a meeting, for a confrontation in an elemental form with our essential flaw, and with what an individual could until then, only receive stepped down, interpreted or diluted.

This experience of absolute contact with an essential hidden dynamic, now understood to be essential to our lives, often ignored but now making itself felt, where the touchable rawness of life becomes part of the fabric of the everyday, and a robust luminous vulnerability, becomes shot through with the necessary, imminent and inevitable prospect of loss, has been described for centuries as the dark night of the soul: La note oscura del alma. But perhaps this dark night could be more accurately described as the meeting of two immense storm fronts, the squally vulnerable edge between what overwhelms human beings from the inside and what overpowers them from the outside.

The waveform that overwhelms a maturing human being from the inside is the inescapable nature of their own flaws and weaknesses, their self deceptions and their attempts to create false names and stories to place themselves in the world; the felt need to control the narrative of the story around them with no regard to outside revelation. The immense wave on the outside is the invitation to give that self up, to be borne off by the wave and renamed, revealed and re-ordered by the powerful flow.

Walking the pilgrim edge between the two, holding them together, is the hardest place to stay, to breathe of both and make a world of both and to be active in their exchange: aware of our need to be needed, our wish to be seen, our constant need for help and succor, but inhabiting a world of luminosity and intensity, subject to the wind and the weather, surrounded by the music of existence, able to be found by the living world and with a wild self-forgetful ability to respond to its call when needed; a rehearsal in fact for the act of dying, a place where inside and outside can reverse and flow with no fixed form.


Be well. Be mindful. And pay attention to the details they have always mattered.

{ Comments on this entry are closed }

The Tale  by Jennifer Fox

by Velleda C. Ceccoli Ph.D. on May 17, 2018


The Tale – Film by Jennifer Fox

In The Tale, Jennifer Fox captures all of the above and goes further. Here we have her personal story: a story she wrote about when she was 13 years old for her English class essay, and then dissociated and rewrote in her memory. What was in effect a betrayal of both the woman she loved as a glamorous version of a mother, Mrs. G, and her running coach Bill, who sexually abuses her, turns into a story of Bill as an older boyfriend, whom she does not talk about in order not to freak people out. Memory provides a translation of lived experience that allows Jennifer to move on, not as anyone’s victim but as the hero of her own story.And a hero she is.

It is Jenny that tells both Mrs. G and Bill she will no longer continue a relationship with either of them, after finding out that they have been planning a foursome involving her and another young woman.

It is Jenny who writes her story as an essay and turns it in to her English teacher.

It is Jennifer who dialogues with her young self (Jenny) in order to find out the truth and reconnect with her memories and her experience.

It is Jennifer who confronts Bill when she is an adult.

And it is Jennifer Fox who brings us this moving and difficult tale of survival, disturbingly shot with sexual scenes (we are advised that all sexual scenes were filmed using an adult stand in). Incredibly difficult to watch and upsetting in its sexual and emotional exploits – it is Jennifer Fox’s courage to film it in this way which finally communicates the truth about sexual abuse in all of its painful, unnerving, ominous and alarming detail.

One of the hallmarks of sexual abuse is that speaking of it disturbs everyone and that many not only do not want to hear about it, and want it not to be true, even when confronted with evidence of its truth, people also often “forget” about it. It is as if a cultural dissociation descends over many, working its powerful mix of narcotic anesthesia over the horror and reality of sexual abuse.

Fox begins her Tale by telling us that it is “true as far as I know”, and so, we are immediately brought into the land of memory, that personal area of our brain that records everything that happens to us- sometimes revealing it to us with clarity, other times through a haze, sometimes hiding it from our conscious knowing, sometimes ushering in unexpected flashbacks brought on by a song, a smell, a summer day. Memory is the repository of all of our experience and yet, it changes with the coloratura of emotions, feelings, sensations, and time. Memory is also subject to dissociative waves that isolate knowledge because of its traumatic impact on the psyche. Memory is individual, and not based solely on language but on our experience of events and of the impact of those events on our psyche. In this sense, memory shapes our nervous system and the neurons in our brain, thus the power of physical memories – the body never forgets, it remembers everything. It is the mind that alters experience and blurs memory in an effort to survive.

“Funny how you live with people in your mind” a young Jennifer tells us. Indeed, what we do with people and things is turn them into our personal, internal individuals imbued with the attributes we want or need them to have. Thus, Mrs. G, Jenny’s British horseback riding teacher, appears to her beautiful and dazzling, disciplined to a fault and a person to emulate, to be like. For Jenny, Mrs. G becomes the model for femaleness and provides the focused attention her own overburdened mother is unable to give. Jenny falls in love with Mrs. G the way a young girl falls in love with an ideal self. She wants to please Mrs. G by becoming a version of her, a version that Mrs. G can love and approve of. And it is Mrs. G that introduces Jenny to Bill, the running coach who is also Mrs. G’s lover. Together, Mrs. G and Bill begin to groom Jenny for their sexual exploits, under the cover of being the only ones who understand and love her, “we will form our own family” they tell her. Young Jennifer might think it is “funny” how she lived with this duo in her mind, but in telling us her story we understand immediately that it is Mrs. G and Bill that purposefully shape how Jenny lives with them in her mind. The adult Ms. Fox depicts these grooming behaviors with precision, young Jenny is only aware of her idealization of Mrs. G and Bill retrospectively, as is always the case.

Pedophiles and their child victims are involved in what psychoanalyst Sandor Ferenczi termed a “confusion of tongues”: where the adult seeks sex and the child seeks affection. These two remain intertwined for the survivor of abuse, who must then do difficult psychic work in order to untangle sex as the means of gaining affection. Jenny the child was seeking attention, affection and to be special to Mrs. G. Since Mrs. G loved Bill, Jenny began to trust and depend on him too. The attention and specialness was the key, and Jenny thrived on it. Yet, sex is a different story. And Jennifer (the child and the adult) know this. The physicality of sex involves bodies that are tangled up in a transgressive act, no matter how consensual and pleasurable it is for the adults involved. The child seeks affection: cuddling, hugging, playing, and most importantly, a safe space to experiment with coming of age and adult attention. Sex, and the physical demands it entails push through a boundary that moves affection and even love, into something else, something not entirely known or safe, a mixture of aggression, lust, passion and even surprise. Children cannot manage the ‘something’ that sex entails, either physically or emotionally, because they are unprepared for it. It constitutes an assault on their body as well as their psyche. There is a whole lot of flirtation, play, dating and experimentation with peers that must come beforehand. Thus, young Jenny’s body revolts, it makes her physically sick and helps her step away from Mrs. G and Bill forever. “My body told me what my mind refused to accept,” she tells us, as she saves herself.

In The Tale we live through Jennifer’s experience: as a child and as an adult. We see her struggle with her partner. We hear of her promiscuity. She tells us of her shame at her excitement, physical and emotional. What is it like to get turned on when you do not want to? Well, it divides the psyche from the body. So that physical experience remains dissociated from what it feels like emotionally. The mind then has to work hard to narrate a different  “tale”: “he loved me” Jennifer tells herself, “so did Mrs. G”, “she was probably abused herself”. All of this so she can survive on her own.

“I failed you” Jennifer’s mother tells her adult daughter while she is in search of her memories. “I failed to do the one thing that a parent should do: protect you.” None of us want to KNOW about sexual abuse. Jennifer Fox has given us The Taleso that none of us can ever doubt its continued existence. She is in fact not a victim, she is a survivor, and she is also a Hero, and her film a courageous narrative.


* Tune in and watch THE TALE on HBO May 26th and host your own discussion circle with free materials by signing up here: bit.ly/TheTaleDiscussionCircle. The film will also be available on HBO GO and NOW and other HBO channels following the premiere. Follow the conversation online by using #TheTale.









A meditation on peace

September 11, 2015

Many of you who follow my blog know that I believe that although words can be powerful and magical, they often cannot capture the complexity of our experience. Today, on September 11, 2015 I urge you to listen to this music by the contemporary composer Karl Jenkins, entitled: The Armed Man, A Mass for Peace […]

Read the full article →

On taking time off – and packing light

August 4, 2015

This is vacation time, the summer months calling forth warm breezes and the desire to step back, to take it easy, to take time off. For many in my profession of psychoanalysis, August is the month to leave our work and our patients and to take time to rest and play. So this post is […]

Read the full article →

ON GUILT- and getting down with our bad selves.

July 13, 2015

Guilt is one of those emotions that has been shortchanged in psychology, except to be understood as a sign that an individual has internalized societal and cultural norms and developed a sense of empathy for others. Freud saw guilt as one of the hallmarks of civilized humanity, an important emotion which signaled an internal conflict […]

Read the full article →

ON RECOGNITION – And the feeling of being known.

July 5, 2015

What does it mean to be known by another? To be recognized for who one is, warts and all?  The good with the bad and everything in between? I think we might be talking about the precondition for love, and about what it means to love another person, about the way we negotiate and make meaning […]

Read the full article →

ON RESOLUTIONS – and the will to change.

December 31, 2014

This is that time of year when everyone thinks about change and about the things in one’s life that need changing. The end of the year provides a time to take inventory of our lives, take stock of what we have done and what we have not. Resolutions abound, ranging from – losing weight, starting […]

Read the full article →

About a Woman: Marilyn Monroe

October 27, 2014

Lately I have been thinking about women, and the many incarnations we can embody and be in the articulation of our femininity and our way of being the woman we want to be. Such thoughts led me to consider Marilyn Monroe- yes, the Marilyn Monroe, the woman that illuminated that “dark continent called woman” in […]

Read the full article →

On Building a Life – Alongside.

September 10, 2014

It is thirteen years after. Almost to the day. I do not know when you will be reading this post, but I am writing it on the eve of. The eve of the event that changed everything for many of us. Strange to look out my window and see the beams of light knowing what […]

Read the full article →

ON PASSION: and the feeling of intensity.

August 12, 2014

Most people think that passion is something that we feel when we fall in love or lust – and while that is true, there is much more to passion. Passion runs the gamut of emotions. Passion adds intensity and a particular kind of alchemy to any feeling that we experience, highlighting its emotional reverberation in […]

Read the full article →