Episode 1

May 06, 2023


Part 1 Three Words On Your Tombstone; Three Counselors Talk On Death, Meditation, Meaning, and Suffering

Hosted by

Joel David Lesses
Part 1  Three Words On Your Tombstone; Three Counselors Talk On Death, Meditation, Meaning, and Suffering
Unraveling Religion
Part 1 Three Words On Your Tombstone; Three Counselors Talk On Death, Meditation, Meaning, and Suffering

May 06 2023 | 00:27:29


Show Notes

In Part 1 of this episode, at Joel's place, in the midst of new friendship and burning Sage, Mike Morde, Mike Pernot, and Joel Lesses talk about life, spirituality, psychology, meaning, and deathExplored are the importance and practice of meditation and mindfulness; also 'awareness of the process as the goal in life.' The vital link between service to community and our individual health and well-being, the importance of a good name. If life is suffering, what are the ways in which we can 'suffer well?' How do we live the best quality of life in the midst of suffering? Acceptance versus expectation in life, the relationship of Thích Nhất Hạnh and Thomas Merton, Catholicism's relationship to Buddhism. Impermanence and aging. Death and meaning in life.


Mike Morde, LMHC, NCC has worked in behavioral healthcare since 2011 and currently runs a private practice in Rochester, NY.  He currently serves on several boards and committees for advocacy and mental health affairs on local and state levels, and is a co-founder of ROC-ACT, an affiliate group in Rochester for the Association for Contextual and Behavioral Science.  More information can be found on Mike's website at mikemordecounseling.com.

Mike Pernot is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor practicing out of Rochester, New York regularly implementing Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction as a way to relate to stress differently and to honor and recognize preverbal senses in a more compassionate way. He has worked in inner city community mental health and substance use disorder settings with adults as well as in pediatric behavioral health. He has maintained a private practice since 2019 while also currently working in an integrated healthcare facility in a Rochester City High School. More information can be found on Mike's website at www.mjplmhc.com.


View Full Transcript

Episode Transcript

Speaker 0 00:00:00 So I'd like to welcome everyone to another installment of Unraveling Religion. Uh, true to form, uh, the conversation today surrounds, uh, a new friend and an old friend, uh, both named Mike <laugh>. Speaker 2 00:00:21 Mike squared. Mike Speaker 0 00:00:22 Squared. And so this is the first time that I've ever recorded an episode, I think, here at my place. Uh, I just returned from, uh, Rochester to Williamsville New York, Buffalo, New York, and, uh, in 2022 last year. And so this is the first episode of Unraveling Religion, uh, in my new place. So I wanna welcome Mike and Mike. Speaker 2 00:00:44 Yeah. Thank you. Wow. Thank you. Speaker 1 00:00:48 Mm. Speaker 2 00:00:55 I love the smell of the sage. Um, there's this organization called mkp Mankind Project. Have you heard of it before? Speaker 0 00:01:04 No. Speaker 2 00:01:07 Um, it's this nation, maybe international, but it's this organization that I think the original intention was that it was, uh, male focused. And that's kind of expanded a little bit over the last, I dunno, significant chunk of time, but it was about like men who come together for like a weekend and they call it a weekend warrior project. And that's where you, they engage in some, uh, some variations of like healing arts or interventions. Um, that's usually led by some experienced practitioners or, you know, uh, therapists or whatever. It's not meant to be a therapeutic space Exactly. But there's some things that they talk about in terms of like having some insight on who you are and why you've acted the way you have and what kind of man do you want to be. It's kind of focused around the idea of identifying your values with this foundation of, um, Speaker 2 00:02:07 Um, like I would say maybe sanitized Native American culture. And there's aspects of like calling in the four directions and like respect towards nature and the divine. However, that's, you know, considered to be, it's a really lovely organization actually. But part of the process is you get together in these small groups, um, after you leave M K P, um, you know, the, the training or, or the, the special weekend and you have little pods that you belong to, you know, in your local community. And part of the process is getting smudged by stage in the beginning of every like, hour and a half or two hour long meeting that you might have on a regular basis. But it really helps set the, the tone, or at least for me in particular, like, it really felt like it helps me just whoosh. Speaker 3 00:02:58 Yeah. I mean, we can only live through the senses, right? So it makes sense that we're going to have this natural transition period with a new scent. Speaker 2 00:03:10 Yeah. Yeah. I like that. Kinda like some more. Speaker 0 00:03:13 Yeah, please help yourself. This is, this is our space. So yeah. Speaker 2 00:03:45 I appreciate you having us here. Like, this is so lovely. Yeah, Speaker 0 00:03:48 Of course. Speaker 2 00:03:49 I don't feel like I have a chance very often to really be able to connect, uh, with myself very often in like a sacred way cuz I get so bogged down with emails and, you know, returning calls or, you know, that rigamarole. And I try to practice like a little bit of mindfulness with my clients, but you know, they're like blips, right? It's not very often that I actually sit down on a regular basis to really just be for an extended period of time. So this is like a real gift plus the sage. Speaker 0 00:04:23 Yeah, the sage is nice. What Speaker 3 00:04:26 Age is nice? Speaker 0 00:04:28 Hmm. So I don't know, uh, would you guys just give it like whatever, however you feel like it, uh, just sort of like give an intro or little introduction of yourselves? Sure, yeah. Speaker 3 00:04:42 Yeah. So, um, I'm a licensed mental health counselor based in Rochester. Uh, I currently work at an integrated healthcare facility at a city school in Rochester and have a private practice on the side. I've been doing private practice since 2019. My primary focus is on folks struggling with depression, anxiety, life transitions, trauma. Um, and my path to counseling has been a winding one, but I've been in practice for about six, seven years now and have really found my niche, which I get a lot of meaning from my work. I get a lot of value from my work. Um, and there's many, many, many overlaps in the quote unquote counseling environment and spirituality and finding meaning. And a lot of my therapeutic approaches are from this existential lens of really trying to find how we cultivate meaning in our own life. One of my core beliefs is that life is inherently meaningless and it's our job to find that meaning and to cultivate that meaning. Mm-hmm. And in that process there's a lot of confusing aspects. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. So that sacred environment of the therapeutic space, the therapeutic relationship really allows people to dive into really what is important to me, what is not so important to me, what has been told that is important to me that no longer is. And finding those points of discord is really where most of change happens in my experience. So that's a little bit of a glimpse of where I am, uh, professionally and even personally. Speaker 2 00:06:56 It is appreciated. Thank you so much. Mm-hmm. Speaker 3 00:06:58 <affirmative>. Yeah. Speaker 2 00:07:00 You also integrate mindfulness and or meditation as part of your practice with clients? Some or all or any or I mean, what do you, how do you do that? Speaker 3 00:07:10 Yeah, those that are open to it, those that express an interest in wanting to slow down and wanting to really connect with the here and the now. Those are folks that I'm open to exploring that with. Some people really aren't open to that and they want to get into therapy just to kind of identify those discord points and figure out what's working for them, what's not working for them, and move on Speaker 2 00:07:42 Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Speaker 3 00:07:44 But for a lot of folks, as I reflect back what isn't working for them, it really comes to a spot that they're living in the future or the past most of the time. And to have a more integrative experience, it's really important to get into the here and the now. Mm. And how I introduce getting into the here and the now is through those senses. Like we started off with so senses of smell, senses of hearing, physical sensations in the body, feeling that sensation of breath. Speaker 2 00:08:17 Yeah. Speaker 3 00:08:18 Wow. That's kind of the first inkling or the first, uh, introduction into mindfulness that most of my clients get is really attuning themselves to the breath and figuring out, well, when I'm anxious, my breath gets really short and shallow. Right. And when I'm relaxed, my breath gets very deep, very relaxed, even mm-hmm. Speaker 2 00:08:41 <affirmative>. Speaker 3 00:08:42 And so we can kind of facilitate that process a little bit. Not trying to force the breath, but just noticing it. And over time, as you keep your awareness on that breath, it kind of just naturally gets to a spot of that deep relaxed kind of cyclical pattern. Speaker 2 00:09:00 Mm-hmm. There's been times when I've mentioned your practice to my own clients and I use these like fancy phrases like mindfulness based stress reduction mm-hmm. You know, cognitive based therapy or No, mindfulness based cognitive therapy. I think that's it. Yeah. Bct. But I don't know if those labels how much they're accurate or do a disservice to, to some of what you do. Speaker 3 00:09:27 Yeah. So when I talk about, when I introduce mindfulness, I don't even really say the word. I just talk about the practice. Um, and even for things like EMDR therapy, I don't introduce, Hey, we're doing EMDR therapy today. I think a lot of people can get, like what you're saying, get caught up on those labels. And really it's more about the practice than anything else. And so tuning into those sens sensations and asking folks just to be aware of the breath, that's the practice of mindfulness. Mm. For some people who want to dive a little bit deeper into it. Yeah. We can talk about mindfulness kind of head on, but I think for most folks taking that roundabout way is more helpful than, Hey, today we're doing mindfulness. You know, Speaker 2 00:10:23 I love that. That's exactly part of the problems that I've run into because that label of mindfulness I feel like is just so plastered everywhere and has so many, like Speaker 3 00:10:36 People have a preconceived notion Yeah. Of what mindfulness is Speaker 2 00:10:40 Right. And who does it, yeah. Speaker 3 00:10:43 Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And a lot of times it's been taken over by capitalist structures that are trying to monetize mindfulness and monetize these practices that have been around for thousands of years. Yeah. Especially in the West, I think there's a focus on monetization. Yeah. Because in capitalist societies, that's what has power. Yeah. Money has power. Speaker 2 00:11:08 Yeah. Speaker 3 00:11:09 And so if, what I have found earlier on in my professional life is when I did introduce mindfulness as, Hey, we're doing mindfulness, people would have very preconceived notions that this is what it needs to look like. Yeah. And walking in with that beginner's mind becomes much, much harder. Mm. When you have this expectation or this preconceived notion that, oh, well it's just not thinking about anything Speaker 2 00:11:37 Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Speaker 3 00:11:38 And really that's not the goal. Yeah. The goal is to really facilitate that noticing when your mind is wandering and then bringing yourself back that noticing and bringing yourself back. That's really the work of mindfulness. But when people have this idea that, oh, at the end of it I need to feel relaxed, and if I don't feel relaxed, then that's a failure, right? Speaker 2 00:12:02 Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, right. It did not work. Right. Speaker 3 00:12:05 And that just facilitates that, um, like one of the five common challenges of meditation that craving, people want that relaxation. Mm. And if they don't get it, then oh, I just wasted a half an hour. Speaker 2 00:12:18 Right. That didn't work. You know, and it's not gonna work again. <laugh>. Yeah, Speaker 3 00:12:21 Exactly. Speaker 2 00:12:22 Uh, yeah, there's something about that that resonates. Um, uh, you said once, I forget the way you put it. There was, uh, this inner, this inner piece, this like stillness, I forget the phrase that you use, but what do you refer to that piece, that observing self that you're making contact with when you talk about it with clients? Speaker 3 00:12:48 Hmm. Speaker 2 00:12:50 Hmm. Speaker 3 00:12:51 I'm not sure. I'm not remembering. Speaker 2 00:12:53 I could have fabricated that entire conversation. Speaker 3 00:12:55 <laugh>. You might have, I don't Speaker 2 00:12:57 <laugh> Speaker 3 00:12:58 I Speaker 2 00:12:58 Don't think Speaker 3 00:12:58 I did. You might have. Speaker 2 00:13:00 Um, Speaker 3 00:13:00 Yeah, I'm not sure if there was some verbiage. Yeah. I'm not sure. Speaker 2 00:13:06 I know I struggled to, you know, I use other people's labels for it, which is probably just as much of an error as anything. Uh, but having to talk to somebody about what this is that you're trying to make contact with. I mean, how do you, I mean, essentially we're talking about something that's beyond words and is divine. How do you, how do, how do you conceptualize something that's not conceptual, liable mm-hmm. <affirmative>, and then tell somebody, uh, this is an important thing for you to be able to make regular contact with, to get out of your head and more in the moment. Yeah. Speaker 0 00:13:40 You know, it's funny cuz I think often many spiritual traditions will not label it or they will point you much more, uh, to, uh, facilitate the experience of it for oneself because there's that, the, the, the ability of the human being to get caught up in the mind and understanding mentally or in mental formation or in some kind of rational, cognitive way. And they think that they have arrived at some sort of place that is actually a hindrance or a limitation to the actual experience of what they are. Speaker 2 00:14:16 Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Speaker 3 00:14:19 Yeah. So I don't think like getting to this mystical experience that's not like the point, right? Mm-hmm. Speaker 2 00:14:27 <affirmative>. Yeah. Speaker 3 00:14:28 The point is the process. The process is the goal. The work is the goal. It's not the destination. Speaker 0 00:14:36 Yeah. And I, I really felt like when you were speaking about people in past and future, sitting in past and sitting in future, it is ultimately a disconnect with their own somatic or body experience that they have definitely mentally, mentally broken off from the, the unified experience of the body mind into, I either have to get here or I was there and it was whatever mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And so, um, to the breath is that bridge. There was a wonderful, uh, rebi, Nachman of Brett's love, I think was the grandson of the bhe to the bto. BTO means, uh, al uh, is owner, um, means husband or owner. Uh, Shem is name and tov is good in Hebrew, so it's owner of the good name. And so when they teach in Judaism that what is the greatest thing a human being can offer after they're gone or during their life, it's to, to own the crown of a good name. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And so this was a great honoring of him that he had really worked in a way for his community in a way that he was the owner of a good name. Mm-hmm. But his grandson, Robbie Naman of Brett's love, uh, said, life is a very narrow bridge. The most important thing is not to be afraid. And when I think of that very narrow bridge, I think of the moment is the bridge, right? This is what he was describing was that mm. Life is a very narrow bridge. How do we walk the moment? Speaker 2 00:16:13 Yeah. Speaker 0 00:16:16 Mike, will you introduce yourself? Speaker 2 00:16:19 No, no, I will not. <laugh>, I, I refuse to. Mike and I, uh, met in grad school at SUNY Brockport a while back, uh, with the same intention of doing this crazy thing of becoming counselors. Uh, and so that's also what I became, um, I got licensed, uh, a couple years ago. And I, we work with pretty similar populations, um, to, to some extent, although I think we have, I kind of consider us to be like cousins in the like, or, or maybe some degree of like sibling hood in the more, uh, the more cutting edge, like third wave psychotherapy of integrating this body mind connection. Speaker 2 00:17:10 Um, but, uh, I'll tell you, um, I was, I was just talking to a client about this the other day. Uh, it has to do with getting licensed and that bridge that you're talking about, which when you were talking about a bridge, I immediately was thinking of like a thread <laugh>. Oh, yeah, yeah. Walking on a thread. Yeah. Um, it took me three times failing the licensure exam, like for my practice, for my profession, uh, before I was able to pass on that fourth attempt. And it was awful. Uh, it was like just an awful, awful expensive experience. But what it taught me, it turned out to be a complete blessing. It ended up with a lot of crying after I found out. I mean, a lot of crying in my car afterwards, a lot of sobbing. Uh, but, but what it forced me to do was to take down my ego a notch because I realized, oh, I'm not gonna just be able to pass this thing. Speaker 2 00:18:15 Like I've heard other people can, like, I'm gonna have to study for this thing. And then I did. And I didn't, it wasn't hard enough than I studied even more and I put a lot more money into it, uh, you know, workshops or online exam practice things or whatever. And I still failed again. And then I got mad <laugh> I got mad. Yeah. Yeah. And, and a lot of it was because I was driven by the embarrassment. So like my, the, the thread of my bridge was just getting like tighter and tighter and tighter. And, um, the whole process like forced me to reckon with my lack of knowledge or my chosen ignorance about, you know, psychology and to get at least enough of a base that I could successfully talk about something on a super high pressure examination for three hours <laugh>. But it really, I think it made me a better therapist in the long run. Yeah, Speaker 0 00:19:13 Yeah, Speaker 2 00:19:13 Yeah. But if I hadn't have gone through that, um, I think I'd be doing a massive disservice, uh, in a dangerous service to some of my clients. But it brought me to a, to an understanding about how difficult and and suffering life could be, even on a professional level. Just when you think you've got it, just when the ego steps ahead, sometimes you don't. Yeah. Speaker 0 00:19:54 So, yeah, the Buddhist said, life is suffering and we're counselors, so what do we think about that? Speaker 3 00:20:00 I think life is learning how to suffer. Well, <laugh> Yeah. Suffering is inescapable. Right. How do we do Speaker 0 00:20:07 That? How do we suffer? Well, Speaker 3 00:20:09 I mean, Ty would say learning to befriend your suffering, learning to see that as a friend, as a teacher. Yeah. Um, not getting so emotionally charged with this is what I want, this is what I don't want. Yeah. And trying to learn to see things as opportunities, as lessons to learn. Obviously easier said than done. Right. Especially when life throws so many things as so many different people. Whether it's big T traumas or lots of little t traumas or even just life altering events, births of a child, um, starting school, um, parents getting older and sicker. Yeah. All of those things are challenging Yeah. In certain ways. But if we're able to accept things for what they are instead of wishing that they were different, I think that's where we can learn to suffer. Well, Speaker 0 00:21:15 That makes sense to me, Mike. Yeah. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And when you speak of Ty, just so people know when, who you're talking about Umthan Yeah. You wanna talk about your connection with Tek? Speaker 3 00:21:25 Yeah. So I was first exposed to Tek Han through Thomas Merton's writings, and towards the end of Merton's life, he took a, a trip to Southeast Asia and met Ty in, um, in Thailand. And that's where he actually, um, died. Thomas Martin. Hmm. Um, but they were, they connected on the non-violent movement about the Vietnam War. And so my background was in Catholicism. And so that's how that door opened for me about mindfulness and Buddhism and the Plum village lineage of Buddhism. Yeah. So mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Yeah. It's very interesting how we come to learn these various truths. Yeah. Speaker 0 00:22:16 <laugh>, definitely. Wow. That's beautiful. Yeah. You know, the, when you mentioned, uh, that Merton had died in, in Thailand or Vietnam, Thailand, uh, the potency with that word, uh, died or death kind of struck with me or stuck with me. And I'm kind of like wondering, um, if that is something that you think about often, like, uh, it's something that is often not discussed in ordinary conversation, our relationship with death and passing and dying and mm-hmm. <affirmative>, I'm kind of curious for, for both of you, uh, as therapists, because grief and loss certainly encompasses, uh, little deaths and greater deaths mm-hmm. <affirmative>, and I'm just wondering what we think about that. Speaker 3 00:23:01 Yeah. So being existentially oriented, therapeutically, one of my great mentors is Vin Yk, um, who is a great existential Speaker 0 00:23:12 Israeli Yeah. Speaker 3 00:23:13 Therapist. Yeah. Yeah. And he has many works on death and really leaning into some of that death anxiety. And from my perspective, that's where most of our meaning comes from. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, having that ultimate end to what we call life <laugh>, without that end, things don't really hold that significance. Right. So knowing, having that self-awareness, we're the only creatures that have that self-awareness that our time is limited. Yeah. And that limit on the time is really where we can get that meaning. How do I wanna spend this limited time that I have here? Yeah. And nobody knows how long that we have. So it really is about finding those things that are valuable to you that do align with your value system. Yeah. And without having that awareness of death, I think that's where people fall into these pitholes of doing things that don't really add meaning to their life. Yeah. Like having the TV watch them after a long day. Yeah. Speaker 0 00:24:22 <laugh> Yeah. Speaker 2 00:24:23 Yeah. <laugh> or Speaker 3 00:24:24 Losing themselves in video games or substance use of any kind. Those are all just different forms of escapism. Yeah. And cognitively I understand that, right? Yeah. Yep. Life is hard. Yeah. Who wouldn't want to escape. Right? But that only gets you to a, to a certain point. Yeah. And I think most people eventually get to a spot where they have this awareness that, wow, how I'm living life, really, it's not fulfilling, it's not meeting that, that need to find that meaning. Right. And that's where we have those moments of, um, awareness of our limited time, of our death anxiety. And that can pop up in a lot of different ways. Hmm. But I think really without an end, what would be the point of all of this, you know? Speaker 2 00:25:26 Mm-hmm. <affirmative> that anxiety. That's such a great phrase. Speaker 3 00:25:32 Yeah. Speaker 0 00:25:32 Where, where do you sit? Where, where do you sit with these things, Mike? You either personally or professionally? Where do you sit with sort of like the relationship with endings and Speaker 2 00:25:44 Yeah. What's interesting? Hmm. Um, so yesterday, um, I listened to a woman named Jean Oswald who gave a presentation. Does that ring a bell by any chance? No. But yeah, I don't know. I don't know if it's, uh, death doula is a phrase that I've heard. Uh, I've heard other variations on a theme, but she's a, uh, a nurse who does palliative care, like independently in Rochester. And you know, those people that you meet like every now and then, where like you don't know what it is, but they got something, you know, they got it. Um, and I was listening to her talk yesterday about what she does, and she's, I mean, she's helped hundreds of people on their, on their dying bed, uh, to war through that process or their family. I, I'm exceptionally curious about, I, I haven't had an immediate family member die, like brother, sister, parent physically, but I had a, an aunt who died a year ago. I've really had a lot of struggle, like dealing with that grief. Yeah. I've been ignoring it really well. Yeah. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Um, but outside of that, compared to a lot of people that I talk to, you know, they talk about like a grandparent dying or like a parent or whatever, and, but there's an experience there that I haven't really had yet. So a lot of my understanding of the dying process either comes from presentations or reading or my spiritual practice.

Other Episodes