The Next Step: Alaska Family Systems

Now a few years after publishing my dissertation, it occurred to me that this site needs a final post. The publication of the dissertation was an appropriate end to the period of deepest thinking I will likely have in my life. I was in graduate school in clinical psychology, a field revealed by the dissertation to still be mostly a philosophical rather than scientific field. I was living alone on a sailboat and meditating three hours a day, which gave me some of the most efficient, clearest, and broadest thinking a person can have. I made few friends and grew few roots. I was totally emerged in my work.

But the thread did not end there. This period produced a philosophical, epistemological, and theoretical model deep enough that it continues to produce an overwhelming number of new projects, products, and articles. I use this model every day in the software field, organizational development, systems coaching, and most of all in personal life. The work from this thread continues formally at

Alaska Family Systems focuses on Bowen theory, the Family Diagram app, and its supporting programs, research, and projects. While the list of articles to write includes some on vipassana meditation, AFS is focused on projects that are more explicit and based on the engineering principles of induction and evidence toward material things that can be built.

There is a book in the works, or at least a set of topics that could become a book given the headspace to work on it. These include a theoretical synthesis of Bowen theory, vipassana, and the collective intelligence and collective behavior research. It is clear that these ideas are viable and probably even important. But these deep and novel topics take a lot of time and a social life has been fun to live since narrow focus of graduate school.

It is possible, and even likely, that I will require a place to put more philosophical or speculative musings. If that is so then I will begin adding to this site again. But until then, it will hold a special place in my heart, as all projects of a calling do.

-Patrick Stinson, Psy.D.

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Creation as Awakening


Eskimo, Greenland. From the book Light On Land, pp 65.

Tolkien’s Ainulindale immediately come to mind. The insertion of subordinate consciousness into primordial darkness. The feeling out of the world by the first being(s). The original rejection of evil. The creation of the stars from an earthly source, and finally the awareness of the origination of darkness and the majesty of the light.

The Elves being born in middle earth under the stars is possibly my favorite concept of Tolkien’s stories. There’s something about their existence in the dark and the sensitivity that comes with it that speaks to me heart. It’s as if they were born into the unconscious with a deeper awareness of subtle things. Maybe it’s because I am from Alaska and no summer or daylight experience is as vast as the darkness of winter, or maybe there is a more collective archetype at work here. Either way, the star-lit origin of the elves, and the persistence of the dark elves in particular, speak to my heart.

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Snow On The Desert

This morning I was visited by a memory of watching the movie Jeremiah Johnson as a kid. Something that stuck with me was how there was snow in the desert. Until then, I imagined the desert as a hot place with snakes, spiders, and sand dunes. Finding out that there is snow even in “the desert” hinted at the fact that there was more to the story. I was compelled to look deeper.

…which somehow reminds me of the beauty and spirit of ‘merica. “The greatest country on earth.” Hmmm. While I am not a fan of a building the collective ego, there are strains of truth to that label as there are in the soul of every person that loves their heritage. It seems like the feeling of those real, pure, and truth-full values are just what the world needs.But stagnation is always a danger. I might rephrase that proclamation to “Loving your heritage is one of the greatest things on earth.” The kingdom of heaven within, yada yada yada. After all, a political state is just a blink in history’s eye, while love for one’s heritage endures well beyond the person’s death.

  • Forging one’s own destiny. Work hard, be honest, and you will succeed. ADD: Owning the responsibility of your own experience. Loss (an fear) of community. FAULTS: Egocentricity; The belief that “we’ve made it”. Inability to rely on (and trust in) others.
  • The vastness of the West. Expanse of the unknown. Charging into darkness. Opportunity. The wild west and ADD: It’s easy to get comfortable. Snow in the desert (of the west); Watching Jeremiah Johnson. Alaska is the new west FAULTS: Loss of the past. Less than 3 generations of cultural memory.
  • The “United States”. Connection, Unity, Harmony. ADD: Islam also means ‘Peace’.
  • Simplicity. Country. “Folks” ADD: Less is more. Stick to the core.
  • Demanding Proof. “Show me the money”. ADD: FAULTS: Stuck in the concrete. Loss of the irrational.

Some soul: find it entertaining and heart-warming that the topic of American soul always brings me back to Hunter S. Thompson’s search for the American Dream in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. While his search was tragic and sometimes nauseating, he was looking hard for the truth.And boy, I’ll buy that for a dollar in a styrofoam cup….

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Intense Visualization

Visualization is an incredibly powerful tool. In fact, to say it’s a “tool” might distract from the fact that I believe it is almost the most important part of your very essence.

When you believe something completely, it becomes as real in your mind as it is in the rest of the world. It is incredible how much power your intangible mind has on the physical world as well. “If you believe in yourself.” Those familiar words are more true than most of us care to understand. It’s not only in yourself, but anything which you can believe.

Think positive, and positive will happen. Think health and purity, and that will happen too. This is what imagination is all about.

The other day I was in a meditation class and the teacher was explaining to us how the mind has no color, shape, or weight. He was teaching that the mind has no tangible existence in the world. I felt like my response was a little too deep for the context of the class, but I thought to myself that your mind absolutely has a tangible nature in the world – it’s the effects that your mind has on your experience in the world and how you shape the world around you that is the physical embodiment of your mind.

The tree was standing, now the tree is cut. You cut it down. The thoughts in your mind that lead you to do that look exactly like that tree laying on the ground.

A cold virus is also “intangible.” But, a pale face, a runny nose, a tired person, all these things are what that cold “looks like” in the outside world.

My meditation sessions have become more intense lately. I have decided not to restrict myself to thinking “on task,” but to allow myself to take on imaginary thoughts and sensations things as if they are real, because in a sense they are. The goal is to see what affect believing these things might have on my conscious, more realistic thoughts.

So far, this has lead to some new insights. I have always felt that there was a place near the back of my head that held a sense of clarity and truth. If I center my thoughts and feelings there, it makes me feel very good.

Today I started to feel like the source of these feelings is small and round, and sort of hovering in that space in the back of my head. I decided to do my best to imagine touching the source, and as soon as I did I immediately felt an incredible source of energy surge through me.

I can’t describe what exactly it felt like, but it was very strong. I could do it again, and again, and again.

I am amazed at the power that the mind has over the body, and the world around it. Whenever I manage to clearly visualize something, I gain a small sense of truth about it. The truth becomes more a part of my life, and little pieces of confusion and despair slowly wash away.

Imagine the possibilities of years of practice and training of the mind using this incredibly simple and basically instinctual technique! What could you do with athletics, or music, or with the people around you?

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Taking Action

I wonder if any feeling of discomfort is rooted in the need to take an action. I sit at my table and work on the computer. My hips and back get tired and achey, and I need to stand up and move around. My brain gets tired of working on the current problem, and I need to think about sun and flowers and mountains. I sense a strange feeling of lostness or loneliness, and need to preempt an engaging conversation with someone else.

Last night in Jackson Hole I watched a buddhist monk talk about “The Next Step” after reading books and going to talks to learn about Buddhism. His main point was very simple – the next step was to take action.

Funny enough I had come to that conclusion on my own only a few days before. I know a lot about what makes me happy and what doesn’t make me happy. I’ve don’t my homework learning about the rhythm of my life and the ebb and flow of happiness and unhappiness. I had decided that the only thing left was to stand up and engage my mind into the fold.

The monk said that you can learn all you want about the Dharma and Sangha, but if you don’t do it then all your knowledge is in the book, and not in your life. If it’s in the book, then what does it matter?
He moved on to tell us how to take action in the Buddhist fashion. That part went very quickly. He told us to take refuge, either in the Dharma, or your church or equivalent religious structure, and then about prostrations, mediation, and Mala.

The prostrations are meant to humble your spirit. Your identity and ego exist in your face and so should be put down and into the ground to remove the dominating strength of the ego. “Buddha make me humble, Buddha make me humble.”

Of course, the Buddha doesn’t “make me humble,” but the act of submission, or taking refuge in the Buddha (someone who has achieved enlightenment, and therefore representing a teaching to take refuge in), is how you can make yourself humble.

Moving forward I will try to take action, and remind myself to keep taming my mind towards egging in life and not hoping that it will engage me.

Moving forward, the question that I can raise about this now is when do you run out of steam to engage yourself? How long can you? Is it enough to simply remember to engage? Will i forget exactly how to engage?

I imagine that has something to do with where repetitious practices of religious practice come into play.

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