Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Sam Keen

American Psychologist, Author, Professor and Philosopher

"Perhaps the greatest price men have paid for the obsession with fearlessness is to have become tough on the outside but empty within. We are hollow men. The connection between fearlessness and feelinglessness should be obvious."

"Since boys are taught not to cry, men must learn to weep. After a man passes through arid numbness, he comes to a tangled jungle of grief and unnamed sorrow. The path of a manly heart runs through the valley of tears."

"“Negative” emotions [“fear, anxiety, despair”] are much like repressed and disposed peoples in the body politic. They cease to be destructive when they are invited into full participation in the commonwealth. Repress them and there will be insurrection rather than resurrection."

"Freedom lies beyond conformity or rebellion."

"Modern men, anxious as we are, uncertain of ourselves, lost without a map, may be better equipped to survive than our more solid and unquestioning forebears. Paradoxically, our instability may be the key to our strength."

"Begin where you are."

"The mind is a hologram that registers the entire symphony of cosmic vibratory events... any mind recapitulates all cosmic events... [the] mind knows no barriers."

"A society in which vocation and job are separated for most people gradually creates an economy that is often devoid of spirit, one that frequently fills our pocketbooks at the cost of emptying our souls."

"Burnout is nature's way of telling you, you've been going through the motions your soul has departed; you're a zombie, a member of the walking dead, a sleepwalker. False optimism is like administrating stimulants to an exhausted nervous system."

"Chronological time is what we measure by clocks and calendars; it is always linear, orderly, quantifiable, and mechanical. Kairotic time is organic, rhythmic, bodily, leisurely, and aperiodic; it is the inner cadence that brings fruit to ripeness, a woman to childbirth, a man to change the direction of his life."

"Deep summer is when laziness finds respectability"

"Good men and good women have fire in the belly. We are fierce. Don't mess with us if you're looking for someone who will always be 'nice' to you. Nice gets you a C+ in life. We don't always smile, talk in a soft voice, or engage in indiscriminate hugs. In the loving struggle between the sexes we thrust and parry."

"I try to steer away from high metaphysical belief because I think we humans do best when we realize that we don't know all that much."

"In a pluralistic culture . . . every individual must create a private mythological system. I must discover within myself the Garden of Eden from which I am exiled and the New Jerusalem toward which I am journeying."

"Call it "womb awe" or even "womb worship" but it's not simple envy. I don't remember even wanting to be a woman. But each of the three times I have been present at the birth of one of my children, I have been overwhelmed by a sense of reverence... It was quite suddenly, the first day of creation; the Goddess giving birth to a world... Like men since the beginning of time I wondered: What can I ever create that will equal the magnificence of this new life?"

"Freedom is an inside job."

"Each day befriend a single fear, and the miscellaneous terrors of being human will never join together to form such a morass of vague anxiety that it rules your life from the shadows of the unconscious. We learn to fly not by being fearless, but by the daily practice of courage."

"Soul grows in communion. Word by word, story by story, for better or worse, we build our world. From true conversation - speaking and listening - communication deepens into compassion and creates community."

"Men have all been culturally designed with conquest, killing, or dying in mind. Even sissies. Early in life a boy learns that he must be prepared to fight or be called a sissy, a girl. Many of the creative men I know were sissies. They were too sensitive, too compassionate, to fight. And most of them grew up feeling they were somehow inferior and flunked the manhood test. I suspect many writers are still showing the bullies on the block that the pen is mightier than the sword. The test shaped us, whether we passed or flunked."

"The Greeks invented the idea of nemesis to show how any single virtue, stubbornly maintained gradually changes into a destructive vice. Our success, our industry, our habit of work have produced our economic nemesis. Work made modern men great, but now threatens to usurp our souls, to inundate the earth in things and trash, to destroy our capacity to love and wonder."

"Our inner dialogue is frequently composed of old tape loops that we run again and again... The normal personality marshals sufficient defense mechanisms to exclude dangerous and unknown stimuli and just enough windows to let in an occasional wandering minstrel. Neurotic identity crises come when our defense mechanisms have been too successful and we're encapsulated in the fortress we have constructed with nothing to refresh us in our solitary confinement. So we play the old movies with their stale fears and their unrealistic hopes until we become bored enough to risk disarmament and engagement."

"One part of love is sweet and easy, something we fall into and are swept away by. But the other part is hard: it requires discipline, willpower, and opening your heart again and again to someone with whom you are angry, can't stand, and do not like."

"In a way, human beings have never been part of the natural order; we're not biological in the normal sense. Normal biological animals stop eating when they're not hungry and stop breeding when there is no sense in breeding. By contrast, human beings are what I think of as "biomythic" animals: we're controlled largely by the stories we tell. When we get the story wrong, we get out of harmony with the rest of the natural order. For a long time, our unnatural beahvior didn't threaten the natural world, but now it does."

"Love isn't finding a perfect person. It's seeing an imperfect person perfectly."

"The psyche cannot tolerate a vacuum of love. In the severely abused or deprived child, pain, dis-ease, and violence rush in to fill the void. In the average person in our culture, who has been only normally deprived of touch, anxiety and an insatiable hunger for possessions replace the missing eros. The child lacking a sense of welcome, joyous belonging, gratuitous security, will learn to hoard the limited supply of affection. According to the law of psychic compensation, not being held leads to holding on, grasping, addiction, possessiveness. Gradually, things replace people as a source of pleasure and security. When the gift of belonging with is denied, the child learns that love means belonging to. To the degree we are arrested at this stage of development, the needy child will dominate our motivations. Other people and things (and there is fundamentally no difference) will be seen as existing solely for the purpose of my survival and satisfaction. Mine will become the most important word."

"The lover heals the world not by a vague and abstract love for everybody and everything, but by becoming passionate and vowing fidelity to concrete relationships, persons, institutions, and places."

"The sacred is discovered in what moves and touches us, in what makes us tremble."

"To be on a quest is nothing more or less than to become an asker of questions."

"There is no easy formula for determining right and wrong livelihood, but it is essential to keep the question alive. To return the sense of dignity and honor to manhood, we have to stop pretending that we can make a living at something that is trivial or destructive and still have sense of legitimate self-worth. A society in which vocation and job are separated for most people gradually creates an economy that is often devoid of spirit, one that frequently fills our pocketbooks at the cost of emptying our souls."

"To sustain love, a man and a woman must continually be marrying and divorcing, moving with, against, away from, and beyond each other, saying 'yes' and 'no'."

"We can only choose whether we will feel and not what we will feel."

"We are all war-wounded."

"Trust what moves you most deeply."

"We come to love not by finding a perfect person but by learning to see an imperfect person perfectly."

"You can know what's in your life when you know what's in your heart."

"Whoever authors your story authorizes your actions."

"Without knowing how to calculate the odds on such matters, it seems improbably to me that God would have whispered the meaning of my life into the ear of some guru or authority."

"You come to love not by finding the perfect person, but by seeing an imperfect person perfectly."

"A bit of history; in agricultural cultures the model for death is the seed. The seed goes into the ground, dies, disintegrates, and comes to fruition again. The seed is the metaphor for the soul. So, death is understood as a passage, a transition, a transformation, a going down into the darkness a disintegration and a rebirth."

"A sacred community emerges not from a contract but from a covenant based on the experience of the essential communion of self and other. I and thou are not separate self-interested entities but entwined spirited beings. We exist only by coexisting. There is no I without thou; no self without other; no singularity without plurality; no plenitude without multitude; no passion without compassion? no promise without corn-promise; no potency without co-potency."

"As a master idea ?courageous inquiry? implies: 1. Heartful thinking ( fr. cuer ?the heart as the seat of intelligence or feeling) 2. Willingness to face danger, take risks, and tolerate anxiety. 3. Inquiry involving moral and/or political questions. 4. An existential commitment to the quest."

"As Americans, our ego ideal is to be: Independent, Secure, Happy, Loved, Powerful, Winners, In control, Active, Individuals, Innocent, In dying we are: Dependent, Insecure, Suffering, Abandoned to professsionals, Impotent, Defeated, Out of control, Passive, Patients, Shamed. We burden the dying with the impossible task of dealing with the psychological garbage of a lifetime, and expect them to accomplish the task with dignity. When we avoid dealing with death until we are terminal we ask ourselves to do the impossible? learn to die well when we are already dying. Death education should begin when we are young and vigorous and it should not be left to the medical or psychiatric professions. Dealing with death should be an amateur enterprise, a form of wisdom best learned from a dilettante. (?amateur? from the Latin amator lover??-?dilettante? from dilettare, to delight). Those who most delight in life should be the ones who teach us about death. We best learn about our mortality where we are enfolded within a context where we are loved and where the ten thousand living beings that surround us day by day are greeted with wonder and appreciation."

"As for the moral obligation to replace what we use. Each of us needs to find ways to fulfill our ecological responsibilities. I?m not sure how to calculate my proper share of the yearly mountain of newsprint and lumber. But near where the old oak trees stood I have planted four California pepper trees, three apples, two plumbs, a pear and an exotic Chinese Tallow tree. Just to be on the safe side I plant a seedling every month or two. I suspect I am developing an obsession because lately I have started hanging out at nurseries fondling saplings and wondering whether a willow or a hickory would grow down by the winter creek. Or maybe a cedar. Or?"

"As I give up explanations and theories I find I am able to develop a practice that allows me to live thankfully and joyfully in the presence of the ultimate mystery of death. The primary rule of this practice is?- when you meet a demon don?t run. Go toward the unacceptable thing."

"Being storytelling animals, we strive to transcend the present moment, to locate our fleeting lives within the context of a dramatic narrative that explains the pattern and purpose of time, the beginning and end of life. The mythic imagination envisions life as a journey that moves from an origin to a destination, from an ancient once upon a time to a someday beyond the horizon. Eschatological visions of the end, theories of the ultimate destiny of the world, come in a dazzling array ? religious and secular, apocalyptic and gradual. Broadly speaking, eschatological thought has two foci, one that emphasized doomsday, judgment and destruction and the other that focuses on the utopian vision of a golden age beyond ordinary history in which a redeemed humanity will dwell in peace."

"A wise old man once told me: ?Never go to sleep immediately after going to bed. Simmer. Lie quietly and review the events and experiences of the day and sort out what has been important and what has been trivial. It may be the best advice I ever got. Our society, already flooded with information, might act with greater wisdom if we developed the habit of simmering. At the end of every day, turn off the television, put the newspaper in the trash and return to the sanctuary of silence within yourself. Quietly, without distraction, sift through the images and experiences of the day and judge for yourself what is real, what is important, what is true. Plato knew better than our modern critics that without silence and time for deliberation we are condemned to live in the darkness of the cave, to be imprisoned in a virtual reality not of our making, without the guidance of private reason or enlightened public opinion."

"As I learn to take the fear of death straight, my character armor begins to loosen. I give up perfectionism, orthodoxy, the habit of anxiety and the obsession with knowing the answers. Inviting the awareness of death into my conscious mind, I no longer have to build a wall of sand against the incoming tide. Acknowledging terror as a legitimate part of human existence I am surprised by a rebirth of wonder. There is room enough in my spirit for the Siamese twins ?-terror and wonder, the mysterium tremendum and the mysterium fascinans to live side by side."

"Being both conscious and self-conscious, I will always ask that most difficult of unanswerable questions: Who am I? I can hold up a mirror to myself, re-collect and remember a thousand yesterdays and craft a story, a coat of many colors, to shield me from anonymity and meaninglessness. This ability to reflect on my life is both my glory and my burden. Sometimes, like Narcissus, I become hypnotized by an image of myself as beauty or beast and I crave the simple instinctual spontaneity of animals. I want to lose myself in passion, drugs or work. But the effort to be rid of myself is never successful for long. I keep coming back like a song. The mirror moves and another image comes to the surface. I am many persons, rich in contradictions and paradoxes."

"By 1500 BCE the Zoroastrians, developed an elaborate eschatology that prophesied a cosmic battle between the righteous and the wicked ending with a last judgment in which sinners were punished before the world was purified and suffering and death eliminated. Buddhist eschatology features an automatic final judgment that establishes cosmic justice. Each individual?s karma determines the realm into which he or she will be reborn. The consequences of our deeds are visited on us through many incarnations until we, finally become wise and compassionate. What goes round, comes round. The cosmos at large also passes through endless cycles of creation and destruction and each age is graced with a new Buddha who shows the way to reach enlightenment and escape from the endless wheel of death, rebirth and suffering. The historical Buddha Shakyamuni is only the latest in an endues line of Buddhas stretching into the past and future. Jewish eschatology is linear rather than cyclical, focusing on a historical vision ?the return of exiles to the Holy Land, the defeat of enemies and the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem. At some point in the end time, the Messiah will appear and become the king of Israel. Following the battle of Armageddon when God will intervene to save the Jews from the forces of Magog, there will be a millennium in which holiness and worldwide peace will reign. Islamic eschatology centers on the appearance of the Mahdi, a messianic figure, who Shi?i Muslims identify as the Hidden Iman, who will put an end to the suffering of Muslims, brings justice to the world. Surprisingly, Jesus also makes an appearance in the end time. According to the Qur?an, Jesus will return, destroy the antichrist (sometimes identified as George W. Bush) The Mahdi, who may be alive at this moment, will complete the spread of Islam and the establish the Calaphite. None of these eschatological visions are overly strange to anyone acquainted with the history of mainstream Christianity. The Western world has been coming to an end since its birthday in `1 AD, the date that marks the beginning of the life, death, resurrection and expected second coming of Jesus. Most biblical scholars believe Jesus expected some apocalyptic event to usher in the Kingdom of God. In Mark 13, he warns his disciples of a coming time of tribulation, wars and rumors of war, a time when the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give her light. Only then will the Son of Man come on a cloud of glory and angels gather the elect from the four corners of the earth. Although Jesus refused to give an exact date he tells his disciples: ?This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.? Throughout Christian history apocalyptic expectations of an imminent end of the world have waxed and waned. The millennial years, 1000 and 2000 were widely favored dates for the beginning of the apocalypse. Joachim de Fiore, whose theory influenced Hegel and Marx, argued that history was divided into three ages, the age of the father, the age of the son, and the age of the spirit. He predicted this final stage of history would begin between 1200 and 1260. Catastrophic events, such as the black death in 1348 or the Cuban missile crisis, regularly trigger panic and the expectation that doomsday is dawning."

"Compassion follows from the feeling of kinship. It is the bridge joining the lone individual to the community. The maxim that guides the religious psyche is not Descartes? ?I think; therefore I am.? but ?We are; therefore, I am.? The elemental emotion of hope, which has nothing to do with optimism, is inseparable from the life force that drives me toward an unknown future for which I long but cannot imagine. I am a borning self within a borning universe. My DNA has been in the making from the beginning of time. Therefore, I hope. Trust is the final emotion, or disposition, we gain only by wrestling with doubt and the temptation to despair in the face of tragedy, disease and the desecration of the earth. At no time does the decision to trust or not trust become more agonizing than when we are facing death. In the end, when there is no thing to hold to, no known destination, I must lie me down and trust myself to the everlasting arms of an unknown G-D."