Stop Placating the Volcano

Those who study the his­to­ry of reli­gion tell me that back in less enlight­ened times, a lot of reli­gious prac­tices devel­oped as a way to try to con­trol nat­ur­al forces.

For instance, if your vil­lage was nes­tled at the foot of a vol­cano, the thing you feared most was an erup­tion. So to try to pla­cate the vol­cano, your reli­gious prac­tices might include sac­ri­fic­ing a pig, per­form­ing a rit­u­al dance, or tak­ing what­ev­er action was tra­di­tion­al­ly pre­scribed for pre­vent­ing the god­dess­es of the earth from rain­ing lava down on your vil­lage.


I don’t mean to dis­par­age anyone’s reli­gion, but I think I can safe­ly say that these tra­di­tion­al prac­tices were entire­ly inef­fec­tive. After all, it was a vol­cano.

One of my patients was telling me that she found her­self in an anal­o­gous sit­u­a­tion. As a child, the most urgent thing in her life was try­ing to con­trol her father’s drunk­en out­bursts. At the time, she believed that her actions could influ­ence her dad’s behav­ior.

I think I can safe­ly say that her efforts were entire­ly inef­fec­tive. After all, her dad was an abu­sive alco­holic. It was inevitable that he was going to erupt from time to time.

Not only were her efforts hope­less, but in the end, as an adult, the per­son she harmed the most was her­self. Her father is no longer in the pic­ture, but, like most of us, she’s now got her own inner vol­cano.

Not every­one has an “inner vol­cano.”  Some peo­ple have an inner deep, dark, lone­ly cave.  Oth­ers have a bot­tom­less cesspool of muck.  You get the idea — we all have feel­ings that make us uncom­fort­able. We all have parts of our­selves that we don’t like. We’re all vul­ner­a­ble to emo­tion­al trig­gers that set off a near­ly auto­mat­ic chain reac­tion that’s dif­fi­cult to con­trol.

Some peo­ple indulge them­selves in their loss of emo­tion­al con­trol, imag­in­ing that they’re express­ing their inner feel­ings in a ben­e­fi­cial way, when in fact they’re mak­ing them­selves into a big­ger mess.

Anoth­er strat­e­gy is to try to pla­cate your inner vol­cano:  Avoid peo­ple or sit­u­a­tions that push your but­tons. Tamp down feel­ings. Devise per­son­al rit­u­als that dis­tract you from your emo­tions.

To a degree, these strate­gies are valu­able. No one should leave him­self or her­self vul­ner­a­ble to neg­a­tive, out of con­trol emo­tion­al swings. But pla­cat­ing only takes you so far.

The sci­en­tists who study vol­ca­noes have helped us to be far, far bet­ter off than before. We still can’t con­trol vol­canic action, but we can imple­ment warn­ing sys­tems and take safe­ty pre­cau­tions. Mean­while, we’ve begun to learn to tap geot­her­mal ener­gy – the heat that dri­ves vol­ca­noes – for ben­e­fi­cial pur­pos­es.

That’s all an indi­vid­ual can do, too. At some point you have to learn more about your­self. You can’t per­fect­ly con­trol your feel­ings, but you can under­stand them and place them in a more objec­tive con­text. You can begin to tap their ener­gy for ben­e­fi­cial pur­pos­es. That’s the key to per­son­al growth and health.


About Ronald Lavine, D.C.

Dr. Lavine has more than thirty years' experience helping patients alleviate pain and restore health using diverse, scientifically-based manual therapy and therapeutic exercise and alignment methods.

His website,, provides more information about his approach.

Please contact him at or at 212-400-9663.

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