Monday, November 29, 2010

Kopp's Laundry List

Today, I am posting "An Eschatological Laundry List" from 'If you Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him' by Sheldon Kopp.  Sheldon Kopp was a psychotherapist and author.  He died at the age of 70 in 1999. 

Eschatology is defined as:  any set of doctrines concerning final matters, such as death, the judgment, afterlife, etc.  While we may not agree with every item on Kopp's list, it makes for a provocative read.  This list was clearly composed from an existentialist point of view.  Thoughts on the list can be used as triggers for reflection on the following:

~ freedom which asks us to look at responsibility
~ isolation or aloneness which illuminates the role of relationship 
~ meaning and meaninglessness which forces us to look at our levels of engagement 
death which demands that we deal with existential anxiety

Whether we choose to address these issues consciously, or not, our psyche is always addressing them and creating compensations or defenses for what is left unacknowledged.  We can use Kopp's list to get a glimpse at what we may not yet have addressed.  Usually the information we resist or react to contains the information we most need to approach, reflect upon and come to terms with.  What points in this list do you notice yourself reacting to?  What might that mean for you?

 Reading the list today (I have read it many, many times as for years I had it as a hand-out in my waiting room) I noticed I reacted to #22 "progress is an illusion".  I was sure I witnessed progress in a small way with myself and someone else last week!  Hmmmm - a little more thought required.  Thinking ... thinking ... 

It just occurred to me as I type these words that a core belief of mine has just been brought to  light while contemplating Kopp's list - I think I have believed that with enough study, work, energy, effort I can make 'progress' toward understanding - and that understanding will attenuate anxiety.  Hmmmm - that would indicate that contrary to Kopp's #2 I do think there are 'hidden meanings' and I have been on a quest to unearth and understand them.  It would be so much easier to accept what I can never know and embrace the mystery of it all.  Thank you Sheldon Kopp! 

I hope you will share any insights that come to you as you take a moment to ponder any of the thoughts on the list that you react to.  The reaction is valuable information FROM yourself TO yourself!  If you don't want to do that much work - simply enjoy the read.  

 (P.S.  Some of you have mentionned in your comments that the list seems so black and white and full of absolutes, and you are absolutely right.  This book was written in 1976 and Kopp was perhaps not sensitized to the importance of diverse perspectives and the value of 'grey' between the extremes of black and white.  In spite of that, it remains a good read, so please - give it a try.  :-)

An Eschatological Laundry List

1. This is it.

2. There are no hidden meanings.

3. You can't get there from here, and besides there is no place to go.

4. We are already dying, and we'll be dead a long time.

5. Nothing lasts!

6. There is no way of getting all you want.

7. You can't have anything unless you let go of it.

8. You only get to keep what you give away.

9. There is no particular reason why you lost out on some things.

10. The world is not necessarily just. Being good often does not pay off and there's no compensation for misfortune.

11. You have the responsibility to do your best nonetheless.

12. It's a random universe to which we bring meaning.

13. You really don't control anything.

14. You can't make anyone love you.

15. No one is any stronger or any weaker than anyone else.

16. Everyone is, in his own way, vulnerable.

17. There are no great men.

18. If you have a hero, look again; you have diminished yourself in some way.

19. Everyone lies, cheats, pretends. (yes, you too, and most certainly myself.)

20. All evil is potentially vitality in need of transformation.

21. All of you is worth something if you will only own it.

22. Progress is an illusion.

23. Evil can be displaced but never eradicated, as all solutions breed new problems.

24. Yet it is necessary to keep struggling toward solution.

25. Childhood is a nightmare.

26. But it is so very hard to be an on-your-own, take-care-of-yourself-cause-there-is-no-one-else-to-do-it-for-you grown-up.

27. Each of us is ultimately alone.

28. The most important things each man must do for himself.

29. Love is not enough, but it sure helps.

30. We have only ourselves, and one another. That may not be much, but that's all there is.

31. How strange, that so often, it all seems worth it.

32. We must live within the ambiguity of partial freedom, partial power, and partial knowledge.

33. All important decisions must be made on the basis of insufficient data.

34. Yet we are responsible for everything we do.

35. No excuses will be accepted.

36. You can run, but you can't hide.

37. It is most important to run out of scapegoats.

38. We must learn the power of living with our helplessness.

39. The only victory lies is in surrender to oneself.

40. All of the significant battles are waged within the self.

41. You are free to do whatever you like. You need only face the consequences.

42. What do you know for sure...anyway?

43. Learn to forgive yourself, again and again and again and again.


  1. I think that list is brilliant in it simplicity. We are here, that's all, there's no hidden meaning. What you see is what you get - which is pretty much how I see things.

    - Jazz

  2. A number of them resonate with me. And I'm sure many others have/would at different times in my life. It's certainly worthy of a lot more thought because really, I ask myself... #42.

  3. You know what makes me very happy? These make sense to me! I am pretty certain that just a few years ago I would not have been able to say that.

    What also makes me very happy is that I am pretty certain that these would make sense to my son also (not sure about my daughter), and he's less than half my age.

    There's one thought that I've been meditating on for some time now (I think it's Eckhart Tolle's) that #14 reminds me of: It's no one's responsibility to love you. It is only yours to love yourself.

    Man, I wish we could sit around and discuss with a few of our friends here ...

  4. Very interesting, Bonnie, and this deserves a great deal of thought before one could answer each question with confidence. Many of the statements contain elements of the truth, from my perspective, but are phrased in such absolute terms that I would have to answer "no" is asked if I am in total agreement. The statements that I most agree with are: (14) you really can't make someone love you; (16) everyone is, in his own way, vulnerable; (27) each of us is ultimately alone; (28) we must live with the ambiguity of partial freedom, partial power, and partial knowledge; and (40) all of the significant battles are waged within the self.

    Thanks for this exercise. It's quite revealing, I think, in terms of summarizing where I am in my journey.

  5. Hey Jazz! They are simple and forthright aren't they - no equivocating for Kopp!

  6. Hilary: Yes, it does very much depend on where one is in the life cycle, as to how one reacts. I'm not sure Kopp asked himself #42, like you!

  7. Hi Ruth: I have one daughter who would certainly agree with more of them than I do. My other two might have more problems embracing them all. I love your idea of a discussion - perhaps a 'go to meeting' one ??

  8. Hi George: While I love how this list challenges me, I must admit that like you I bristle a bit at how absolute he makes his statements. If there is anything I have learned over the years it is as Hilary says to ask myself #42 "What do I know anyway?". I grew up in a culture of absolutes and do not like them. I try to reframe Kopp's list into certain givens or principles with which I need to embrace in my way and with my timing. Actually, this is a very old list edited from an even older essay.

    I'm glad you made this point here George. Thanks.

  9. "important decisions are all based upon insufficient data" Love that one. Why do I find myself giggling at many of these? It's not because I don't agree, most of them I do - some I think I need a bit more clarification - it's as if he sees in b&w and not gray areas. And I do think there are many gray areas. But then again, I do believe in most cases there is only one right and one wrong. We just aren't "guilty" because we don't know any better. that my "Catholic" coming out in me or what?!! Great list, I will have to print this out and stick it in my meditation/prayer books.

  10. Hi Margaret: He does seem oblivious to shades of grey. But there is still a lot of value that can be gleaned from his list. You have to recall that he was an existentialist/humanist and did not believe in a god as savior nor an afterlife - "This is it."

    I love his comments after mentionning some painful reality of life, where he says, '... and we have to struggle along anyway..." or something like that.

    It is interesting to observe ourselves when confronted with beliefs different than our own ...

    Thanks Margaret!

  11. OH THANK YOU Bonnie! I know now what to get for gifts for EVERYONE! This book! So simple! Thanks!

  12. ok, i agree with some...others i struggle with...i think there are meanings that are hidden from us, or maybe we just are not looking...and i dont think anything is random...

  13. Linda Sue: Your welcome. I think anyone who makes pink Jesus fetus ornaments for her xmas tree was bound to love a book that suggests killing the Buddha! Then again, what do I know?

  14. Hi Brian:

    I'm sure some of these go against the grain for many. I would love to hear more about 'nothing is random' ... I have difficulty with that when it comes to child abuse ... how do you see that as 'ordained' or 'fated'? I'm not challenging you, btw - I'm genuinely curious!

  15. A very thought provoking list. #42 crosses my mind just about every day!

  16. I have problems with many of these.

  17. I'm making progress...but, then again, progress is only an illusion...

  18. Thanks for this, Bonnie. It is an interesting exercise to see which ones get your dander up.

    Another way to play with this list is to perform "Byron Katie" turn-arounds on them, for example:

    1. This is it.

    1a. This isn't it.

    1b. That is it.

    1c. That isn't it.

    Our reactions to the turn-arounds can be interesting, too!

  19. I so agree. The older I get the MORE I appreciate other beliefs and viewpoints. It either strengthens my own due to forcing me to think about them, or do away with the old belief and embrace the new, so to speak. One of the reasons when asked if I wish I were younger (and I remember slim thighs and firm behind) I hesitantly say ... no - due to the fact that I like my more "enlightened" mind. :)

  20. the fact that someone feels confident enough to make such a large list throws me .

    and I always am in the What do I Know camp. It keeps me humble, but keeps me eager to learn I hope.

    very intriguing , Bonnie

  21. These are very interesting, Bonnie, and I'm copying them to my clipboard for further perusal. I think their bluntness must be intentional - as a provocation and a challenge to us to really think about them and agree/disagree/qualify? Some seem like cliches; others are quite original. Good stuff.

  22. Lost Aussie: Yes! And I find if it doesn't cross my mind of its own accord, someone or something reminds me how little I know. Keeps our heads the right size for our bodies, right?

  23. lakeviewer: Seems you are not alone! :-)

  24. Paul C: Everything, it seems is an illusion in one way or another ... Guess that's why it's a brilliant strategy to accept what is ... while it is ... for it won't remain what is for long!

  25. Dan: We play that Byron Katie 'inquiry' game here in our family all the time. It sure forces one to question assumptions and assume responsibility for one's state of mind.

    Great thoughts, thanks.

  26. Margaret: What you say reminds me that growth comes from the tension of opposites. If we never 'rub', as you say, one idea up against another our perspective remains stilted, brittle and weak - like unexercised bones and muscles. Great points! Thank you for sharing them.

  27. deb: What a great perspective. Dwelling in 'not knowing' keeps one humble, and eager to learn. Beautifully said!!

  28. Solitary Walker: Many do sound cliched, don't they? Well they've been around for over thirty years. We don't have to subscribe to them, but as you say, we can use them to think about what we really do believe and our stance toward life, death, meaning, freedom, isolation and suffering.

  29. So I've read through the list several times, I can laugh and acknowledge the ones I have worked through, but there are a few that I keep returning to. I get stuck somewhere between "Childhood is a nightmare," and "But it is very hard... to be a grown up." Very evocative for me. What a great list to come back to time and again.

  30. This list is liberating, frightening, truthful...and so simple. It's also a list I need to read again and again. Looks like I'll be printing it out today since it left me wanting to analyze each one!

  31. Hi Vicky: I had trouble with that one too. I've certainly met people whose childhoods were not a nightmare - although they do seem to be in the minority. And I do find it hard to be a grown up - I have too many silly jeans. Drives my kids crazy. When I'm gone they'll appreciate it! ;=) I'm hoping they read this!

  32. Gwynnie B: Well - you've got it. Existential givens/realities are frightening and that is why we often balk at confronting them. And as you suggest, when we approach what is frightening we are sometimes surprised to find how liberating it can be. Thanks for a perfect summary!

  33. Vicky: I just now see my response to your comment and tho' I kept telling my silly self to type 'genes' not 'jeans' - look what happened. Myself totally ignored me and typed the silly version of what I wanted to convey. Hmmmmmm.

  34. yes, yes, yes, yes, . . . . . . .
    I never even knew such a list existed yes each of the statements is one that I could have made.

    What does that make me? Bleak? Or just realistic?

  35. Friko: Well - you have to decide precisely in which of those two categories you fall. I will say that it makes you quintessentially and endearingly YOU!


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