How to Soak in Divine Brine

How to Soak in Divine Brine

Why? Because we’re always pickling in something…

Illustration Credit: Andrea D'Aquino

Sometimes I get a little wacky in my psychotherapy office. Occasionally, I ask patients to imagine a big garlic pickle on my couch.

“What do you want help with?” I ask the pickle.

“Well, doc,” it says, “everyone tells me I smell and taste like garlic all the time, and it’s just getting unbearable!”

So I ask the pickle, “Uh, well, do you suppose your problem has anything to do with the fact that you are always floating in a garlic-flavored brine?”

We are all constantly soaking in some sort of brine: the brine of our culture. Our attempts to deal with the great questions of being human—What is happiness? What is love, and why is it often so difficult? What is my true purpose? Am I succeeding in life?—are so confusing because our lives are immersed in such a confused culture.

Here’s a simple analogy: I live in the Toledo, Ohio, area where, in the summer of 2014, algae blooms contaminated Lake Erie with a toxin called microcystin that can cause liver failure. One possible response to the problem would have been to treat each affected individual for liver damage, but that obviously wouldn’t make much sense. Instead, more than half a million people drank bottled water for several days, and the community began to focus more attention on the runoff problem and climate change that create the toxic algae blooms.

But we are not so adept at detecting threats from cultural pollution to our emotional and spiritual health. Not recognizing that so much of what we’re contending with is in the cultural water we’re consuming daily, we struggle in isolation. We’re constantly being poisoned and believe it’s our own fault.

Even as I spend a portion of my days writing about matters of the spirit, a culturally conditioned voice in me constantly critiques the effort; that voice wants me to get back to doing something more successful, productive, and remunerative. He believes that constant busyness is a requirement of responsible living, and that daily reflection and meditation constitute dereliction of duty. He feels guilty when I spend time on Skype with my daughter who is overseas during that sacrosanct time called “the workday.” He would be content if I’d find our teenager’s argument that “everyone else is doing it” a compelling reason to grant permission for something my parental instincts have red-flagged. He wants me to ponder and get worked up about deep questions like whether or not I need a marble countertop in the kitchen. His yammering gives voice to both my own dysfunction and the culture’s deep confusion.

When he seems silent, it’s usually not that he has given me reprieve; rather, I have become so habituated to his presence that I have trouble distinguishing the cucumber of my authentic self from the brine of culture. How do we get out of the pickle jar of cultural confusion?


After spending the past four years researching the preserved words of wisdom figures throughout human history for my book, The Inconceivable Surprise of Living, I’ve come to understand that none of our cultural “dis-eases” are new. At first, I felt a creeping sadness that so many of these people who were becoming so alive in my mind and soul have been gone for hundreds or thousands of years. I wondered how human beings I have never met could become such trusted advisers, until I realized that the written word allows for the only form of time travel yet discovered.

Now, both in my meditation practice and in the rest of everyday life, I’ve developed a delightful access to a pool of wise advisers who are ready to cleanse me of cultural confusion. Hundreds of wisdom figures live in my mind and assist me in seeing myself, as well as my culture, from a better perspective. Their presence in my mind helps me challenge not only my own maladaptive thinking, but the culture’s
dis-ease-producing energies, as well.

Your Own Healing Pool

I also work with my clients to help them create their own healing pools of trusted advisors. To start the process, I have identified twelve cultural “dis-eases” with which most of us are familiar. There is no psychiatric diagnostic category for any of them; but they collectively cause more suffering than the hundreds of recognized diagnoses in the psychiatric codebook. My clients first reflect on the dis-eases that feel most relevant and then choose the advisors that provide the most clarity both in their meditations and in daily life.

The process is deceptively simple and can be remarkably powerful. For some it’s cognitive therapy on steroids.

The wisdom figures I cite here may or may not be ideal for you. Developing your own pool involves finding and committing to memory preserved words of wisdom that speak to the particular issues with which you struggle.

Click here to read more about Divine Brine for the Dis-ease of... by Kevin Anderson.

Kevin Anderson, Ph.D. is a psychologist and marriage therapist. His latest book, The Inconceivable Surprise of Living: Sustaining Wisdom for Spiritual Beings Trying to be Human, is available at Kevin can be reached at [email protected].

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