A Flutter of the Cosmic Cape

December 10, 2017

On Thursday I awoke suddenly to the beating of my heart. It seemed faster than usual. Since the procedure that corrected my atrial fibrillation I have been much more conscious of my heart, I focused, it was still in sinus rhythm then it seemed to miss a beat. I was immediately traumatized; I practically leaped out of bed; the possibility that my atrial fibrillation was coming back deeply disturbed me.

Coping With Denial

At first I did not want to know. I decided to engage in my morning meditation practice hoping it would dissipate by the time I finished. However it still seemed to be beating faster than usual. I made my morning tea, sat for a while with my anxiety then checked my pulse again. It was definitely beating faster than I was used to however it did not have the familiar pattern of the arrhythmia that I had lived with for ten months. My first coping strategy was to suppress what could be happening. I would rather spend the day in denial rather than address the situation. I had an appointment with my cardiologist in less than week; I would try to defer worrying until then.

A Tinge of Relief

I headed to the gym. As I began my 35 minutes on the treadmill, I was apprehensive about what would happen. For ten months the treadmill had not been able to measure my heart beat because of the erratic rhythm. (At the time I had assumed all the machines were broken.) Since my procedure they had worked fine. After fifteen minutes I gingerly placed my hands on the monitors. I practically held my breath waiting the fifteen seconds for the reading. Finally 154 showed up. I gave a sigh of relief and offered up a brief prayer of gratitude. It was not arrhythmia but why was my heart beating less efficiently? It was definitely about ten beats faster than usual. Was I becoming obsessional? Was this something to worry about or was it just within normal range? I knew it wasn’t tachyarrhythmia, the levels would be much higher and it wouldn’t steadily decline.

Slipping into Mindlessness

I did my best to pack my anxiety away and get on with my workout. I was relieved to find it didn’t possess me as I got on with my day. It was only later in the evening that I noticed I had shifted into a state of preoccupation with overlapping mindless activity – Netflix, playing games on my iPad and feeling restless. When this happens it is like a stop sign reminding me I had unresolved anxiety.

Contemplation and Reflection

I decided to spend the last two hours of the day in contemplation and reflection to assess what was going on. I began by putting on some sacred music, then picking up my journal.

I began to unpackage my anxiety. It was not so much about the condition – I had lived with it for ten months; I was fortunate enough to have few side effects. However I certainly did not want to get embroiled in the medical system once again.

The Anxiety Behind the Anxiety

Then I realized what eminent Jungian analyst and author James Hollis describes as the anxiety behind the anxiety. I had undertaken a three-month inner journey as a result of my atrial fibrillation. (See https://wp.me/phAyS-CP) Suddenly I was facing a realization that perhaps my quest for meaning has been nothing but a delusion. Perhaps I had made it up to feel better. This was the real fear – that this inner journey had been for nothing In summary, “I guess feel bummed, and the proponents that life is random win out.”

The Puzzle Unfolds

As I sat reflecting, listening to the beautiful music of Enya, some pieces of my personal puzzle emerged. On Tuesday I had held a dream group. During the evening we drew angel cards and another from a deck called The Nature Speak Oracle by Ted Andrews that had previously offered great insight. On this particular evening I had drawn Courage from the angel cards and Power of Prayer from the nature deck. Neither had seemed particularly relevant then but they certainly did now. Then I recalled a practice I often do when I am suffering from challenges of faith. I review what I refer to as my Soul Journal. It is a collection of meaningful moments on the Soul Journey including something I describe as Moments of Awe and Wonder. It is my “Go To Chest” in times of challenge.

Exploring My Go To Chest

Somewhat synchronistically the previous day I had come across the very first entries when I first started in 2010. As I reviewed I began to capture the list again in my journal.

  • Taking a hiking cane for the first time on the day I broke my ankle, without it I would never have made it off the mountain.
  • Doing a 360 over my handlebars to avoid a small child and finding myself sitting on the ground with no injury as a passerby said “wow that was spectacular”
  • Meeting a woman for the first time in a line up at the library and realizing I had her telephone number in my pocket as someone I wanted to write about.
  • Driving up Mammoth Lakes Road and feeling what I thought was an electric shock. When I stopped I saw a turn-off that I knew I needed to explore and found a couple desperate because they had locked their keys in the car.
  • Having a psychic love affair as a result of which my worldview completely shifted.

In total I recorded eighteen of these moments of awe and wonder. I felt a clarity and calmness. No one contrary incident could cause the experience of years to collapse. My worldview felt affirmed. Perhaps I was supposed to live with atrial fibrillation, if that was my destiny then so be it. I will continue to seek meaning in every experience. It is my way.

Power of Prayer – I Hope

I decided was time to engage in the power of prayer. I have a somewhat dualistic relationship with prayer. I know it works – there are too many amazing stories about prayer. (Check out Larry Dossey’s books on the subject.) But how when and why is all part of what I call the Mystery. Who exactly I am praying to is beyond my comprehension. I don’t believe in praying for specific outcomes for my self. The phrasing of this particular prayer was more a discussion.

“Divine presence within me, I would prefer not to have my atrial fibrillation return but I am willing to accept whatever is for my highest good. In which case I pray for the gift of acceptance and surrender. Maybe it will come back, maybe it won’t, help me to surrender”

An Amazing Shift

I noticed how much better I was feeling. I found a new poem to learn and wrote it out, I did a gratitude meditation and focused on the transmission of positive energy to others. I realized how much better it was to spend my time in this manner as opposed to the mindless television and games playing.

The next morning I felt different. After my meditation I checked my pulse – the gentle, slow beat of my heart had returned. I sat with gratitude in my heart and wondered what I may have been missing.

A Flutter of the Cosmic Cape

The words the fluttering of the cosmic cape came into head. Like the matador fluttering his cape at the bull, perhaps the cosmos had been trying to get my intention.  As I contemplated this possibility, it occurred to me I had lost my way in terms of two practices that used to be a key component of my day. On the day of my episode I had spoken to a friend in Ontario who shared with me her morning practice of music, journaling and contemplation. As she spoke I remembered that used to be my practice before I got an iPad. Then the ability to check e-mail created so many distractions that contemplative practice vanished. Also my evening gratitude practice had also become truncated and squeezed in between TV watching and bed.

Finding My Way

It is time to disengage and set a different focus. My day would begin with meditation; continue with music, journaling and contemplation. At ten in the evening, I would put away my devices and focus on my inner journey. I would try and spend from 10 p.m. to 10 a.m. without devices.

Post Script: Missing The Clues

It was only as this particular episode completed that I realized that the flutter of the cape was perhaps the end of a series of hints and clues my Soul had been sending me. (I sense the fluttering of the cape is one step ahead of the cosmic 2 x 4.)

First I burned myself on a hot dish, then I damaged my ribs helping my friend load his truck, spilt a bag of almonds and lost a toque that I was fond of. Then there were two dreams: one with Woody Allen and the other featuring Donald Trump reminding me that if I follow that which is mindless, shallow and inauthentic I will lose out. All small things but certainly suggesting my life had lost its flow. (See my dreamclarity blog for more on the dreams

James Hollis suggests in his book “What Matters Most” that the psyche asks of us what sustains the Soul and what sustains the Spirit and if we do not answer these consciously they will go underground and show up as somatic disorders, behavioral disorders and projections. I sense my Soul was asking the question but I was asleep.

 

 

 

 

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The Souls Journey – How to learn to Say Yes

August 9, 2017

Yes:No - Lorne

My recent blog on “How to Learn to Say No” triggered an unexpected self-awareness. I needed to learn how to say “Yes”. My default response when asked to do something was often “No”. This was intriguing. While I was exploring the mechanisms that caused someone to react with a ‘Yes”, I realized I had the opposite inclination. So what gives?

I realized my initial response would always take care of my own needs and feelings first. In fact I would not naturally consider the impact my response may have on another. For example recently I planned a visit to idyllic Cortes Island where I am fortunate enough to have a second home. One of the gifts of visiting is I get a chance to hang out with a dear friend of many years. One of our shared interests is soccer and when he knew of my intention to come he suggested we watch the Confederation Cup Final together. As my interest in the sport wanes in the warmer weather, I abruptly dismissed the idea. It was not until I began this inquiry that I began a process of reconsidering my reaction. Suddenly I began to see that that this was not about soccer but friendship. It never entered my head that he may have extended the invitation because he wanted to see me. At no time had I considered the feelings that may have been behind the invite.

So why, when faced with choice, is my automatic response more likely to be no, and what can I do to become more conscious in my decision as opposed to reactive? Once again I suspected this is a pattern created in childhood by a coping mechanism. However while I find the situation that is likely to create the reaction of “Yes” easy to comprehend, I could not immediately see what circumstances may lead to the opposite result.

Those who can only say yes are likely influenced by demanding or narcissistic parents where yes is rewarded whereas no could result in a withdrawal of affection and the like. So under what circumstances could “No” become the answer that gets rewarded and affirmed.

I sense the key must lie in my early dependence as a child. At the age of six my mother had a baby girl; my younger brother was only four and she had three older children to care for as well. As a result I became extremely independent.

As a therapist suggested later my needs weren’t being met yet my self-sufficiency as such resulted in this not being a problem. My universe became that containing me and my younger sibling. We create a world that was autonomous of the world around us. Under those circumstances it seems reasonable that self-preservation of this entity became the coping mechanism and a natural consequence of that was to reject things that interfered. In this way saying no, unless it clearly served the primary scenario would emerge as a natural result. Thus my automatic response to anything that does not immediately resonate with serving myself is “No”.

So how to change? Well the first step in this as in any other healing journey is awareness. By becoming aware I can begin to notice when the default response is about to manifest. The second step is to play for time – can I let you know later? The third step is consideration of the other – how will they feel if I say no? Is there a higher good to be addressed? How would I feel if I said yes? Finally there is the conscious response which may be either yes or no but it will be a considered response as opposed to a reactive one.

Recently I had scheduled an evening with a small Spiritual Guidance group that I facilitate. When the number dropped to only two people attending I decided it was not worth the time and energy. However both of the remaining people seemed quite upset. They asked if I would meet with them anyway. I noticed my immediate inclination was to say no but I took some time rather than reacting. I realized that perhaps there was a higher good that took precedence over my feelings so I reinstituted the meeting. It was a wonderful rewarding evening that I am so glad I did not miss. As the Hindu proverb says, “you take one step toward God and God comes running towards you.”

 


The Soul Journey – Signs and Synchronicities

February 22, 2017

He stood there looking more serious than usual. ‘I have to take my shoe off”, he announced. I found this a tad bemusing as he always takes his shoes off when he arrives for his spiritual coaching session however he continued to gaze at me in a somewhat accusatory fashion. I developed a sense I must be missing something then he repeated himself. “I have to take my shoe off”!

The penny dropped – “you didn’t do it again?” I asked. Last time he had turned up he had inadvertently trod in dog shit while parking his bike. We had thought nothing of it at the time and concealed the offending shoe on the back deck during our session. It seemed an amazing synchronicity for this to have happened twice in a row. I have lived here for twenty-three years and never trod in dog poop outside my house.

As you may be aware I believe that each of us have access to a guiding force that resides within. The reclusive poet Emily Dickenson referred to it this way, “The sailor cannot see the north but knows the needle can.” This inner compass can speak to us in many ways. What I refer to as the languages of the Soul are not as readily understood as our native tongue. They include dreams, metaphor, symbols, signs and synchronicities amongst many.

Carl Jung created the term synchronicity (synchronizität in German) to describe a meaningful coincidence. I was eager to explore the possible metaphoric meaning of my client’s current experience.

After opening our session with our usual guided meditation I asked him to recount how it had occurred. “I remembered last time”, he told me, “so I knew it could happen again, that patch seems a particular favourite for untrained owners and their dogs so I was aware of the possibility and more careful than usual. But then I stepped back on to the sidewalk into a pile that I was not expecting.”

I reflected back to him what he had just said, “you knew it could happen, so became more aware and then to your surprise then you stepped in it anyway. Does this have any metaphorical connection to your current life”? By now he was rolling his eyes as the significance of his experience sank in. “It’s what happened to me during the past week – twice! I had calls about two ‘shitty’ jobs. I could see they were both things I should say no to but despite protesting somewhat by the end of the conversation I had accepted them.”

I began to remark on the amazing nature of this connection when he interrupted me to suggest, “you don’t have to look so gleeful about it!” I attempted an apology but shared with him my awe at the amazing way the inner compass had revealed itself. It felt so affirming of my belief system.

We have worked for a long time on his tendency to want to please and always say yes. He is aware of the root cause that he loves to be picked. It is a compensation for the gawky teenage nerd who was always last to get chosen for sporting teams. This desire to please in order to get accepted is a very common wound from the child’s need to manage an overwhelming world. Eminent Jungian Analyst and author James Hollis refers to himself as the founder of a “recovering nice person’s group”.

We had developed a strategy based around not reacting but taking time to respond by always asking if he could call back rather than replying immediately. This provides time for the adult response rather than the child reaction to the old complex. However as often happens we develop a misplaced sense of confidence. Then we step right back into “it” once again.

And I can’t help feel a sense of joyful awe when I witness the inner guide working through these concrete signs and synchronicities. As James Hollis wrote in his book Swamplands of the Soul, “All we can say for sure is that a mystery comes through us, seeking its own fullest incarnation and that whenever we serve the mystery within us; we experience a linkage to the mystery outside. When we stand in conscious relationship to the mystery we are more deeply alive.” Even when standing in a pile of dog shit!


The Soul’s Journey – Coping with Trauma and Overwhelment.

November 23, 2016

There were two major events in my life recently. First Donald Trump was elected to the presidency and secondly Leonard Cohen died. Both affected me deeply but only today did I begin to see an evident connection.

Leonard Cohen’s passing was not announced until Thursday evening after the election. One of my first reactions was to buy his last recording “If you want it darker”.

It was later announced that he had died on the Monday preceding the election. It seemed an interesting coincidence that the man who wrote these words, “And now the wheels of heaven stop, you feel the devil’s riding crop, get ready for the future: it is murder” over twenty-years ago, should never breathe a single breath on the same planet as President elect Trump.

Listening to his latest work the words, “But it’s written in the scriptures
and it’s not some idle claim,
 you want it darker 
we kill the flame” resonated in a new way. Perhaps he was the flame. Is it beyond belief that either consciously or unconsciously he made the decision to leave us because of the bleakness of the future he saw ahead?

There are other words that seem overt reminders of Trump’s pre-election statements on the second amendment: “They were middle-class and tame 
I didn’t know I had permission to murder and to maim.”

So perhaps Leonard Cohen’s coping mechanism with this trauma was to “shuffle off this mortal coil”.

I began to review the many different coping mechanisms that friends of mine had manifested to the news of the election result.

Some became motivated to become more active – to join like-minded groups and support change in positive arenas such as the environment, poverty and racial tensions.

Others became obsessed to understand how such a regressive step could occur. They focused on how this could possible happen, questioning all the data particularly “how could 53% of while women vote for a man who admitted to sexual assault.

There were those who just wanted to make it all part of a divine plan. They kept texting Cohen’s words “There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” A CRACK!!! I felt like screaming, “This isn’t a crack it’s a f***ing canyon!”

There are also those who preach forgiveness and understanding for those who have inflicted Trump on us. We need to understand how they had been ignored and left behind and this was just a reaction. Although I believe in forgiveness, I struggle with understanding. These were ignorant ill-informed people, who believed the lies and who have created the most powerful man in the world out of someone who has the emotional and psychological development of a six year old. Don’t take my word for it, listen to this amazing, scary podcast by Jeff Salzman https://www.integrallife.com/daily-evolver/trump-terrible-integral-look-boy-who-would-be-king

My response had been avoidance. I didn’t want anything to do with it. I won’t listen to news about the transition. I behave like an ostrich, I want to bury my head in the sand for four plus years. (An even more classic case of avoidance is someone I know who has created a fantasy that it did not happen and Obama is staying for eight more years.)

I began to be curious about how our initial coping with this trauma would reflect on our personal psychology. Frequently our initial and most powerful responses to major trauma are a function of old coping mechanisms developed in childhood.

I could see my own reaction clearly as an old pattern. When I finally gave up on combat with my authoritarian father, I would hide myself away. In face of the overwhelming other I just would not show up. Eminent Jungian analyst and author James Hollis does a remarkable job of summarizing our responses as a child to the powerful other:

1) Stay out of harm’s way – avoidance. We can do this by distancing, suppression, repression (unconscious), projection on to others, distraction, numbing and drugging, and disassociation.

2) The birth of the power complex – we move in and attempt to take control. Education is a benign form.

3) Compliance – give them what they want. Produces dependency on state, religion, and results in giving away authority.

How interesting. Perhaps it is another victory for Donald Trump that he has overwhelmed us into child states.

It is a great reminder to always reconsider the first reaction and allow the adult self a say. Sometimes gifts come in strange packages!

And on the subject of gifts, here are the words of Leonard Cohen’s last gift to us all

If you are the dealer, I’m out of the game
If you are the healer, it means I’m broken and lame
If thine is the glory then mine must be the shame
You want it darker
We kill the flame
Magnified, sanctified, be thy holy name
Vilified, crucified, in the human frame
A million candles burning for the help that never came
You want it darker
Hineni, hineni
I’m ready, my lord
There’s a lover in the story
But the story’s still the same
There’s a lullaby for suffering
And a paradox to blame
But it’s written in the scriptures
And it’s not some idle claim
You want it darker
We kill the flame
They’re lining up the prisoners
And the guards are taking aim
I struggled with some demons
They were middle class and tame
I didn’t know I had permission to murder and to maim
You want

 


My New Strategy for Chronic Impatience

February 19, 2016

It is a beautiful sunny February day in Vancouver. There is an inversion and I have discovered that the temperature at the top of my local mountain is 16c (60F) twice that in my neighbourhood. I am setting out with my snow boots and YakTraks for a snow hike. I feel a sense of joyful anticipation for a day outdoors, getting sunshine, exercise and balmy temperatures.The euphoria lasts only a few moments as my trip confronts a series of obstacles from red lights to construction to traffic. I observe I get impatient and try as I might to talk myself out of the state, it lingers and actually deteriorates at each light that changes red just as I approach.

I am no in a hurry, I have no deadline or appointments and logically have no reason to feel any angst yet it each red light is like a red flag to a bull.

I am puzzled and work hard at managing it. I come across a diversion and rather than give in to the impatience that would have me turn off blindly into the side streets to find my way, I decide to obediently follow the “detour” signs. 

This strategy makes it worse than ever as there is more construction, new lights and stop/go traffic and the detour is taking me miles out of my way. Finally I can stand it no more, I revert to strategy one and wind my way blindly through neighbourhood streets until ….. I find myself back where I began the diversion.

Then something unexpected happened. I began to laugh. It was as though the spell was broken. The irony tickled my sense of humour. The impatience I was feeling lost its hold over me. I actually found my way to the mountain with ease and in what seemed like no time I was at the Gondola base. Even seeing the car leave without me due to a school bus load of kids did not disrupt my good humour. I enjoyed a wonderful couple of hours hiking the Snow Grouse Grind. 

What happened? I felt somewhat bemused but sensed there was a life lesson here. I have experienced a sense of disappointment at my lack of progress to manage impatience in my life. I recall over twenty years ago while in Nepal I suspected that learning patience was part of the meaning in my life. 

I was catching a flight from Kathmandu to New Delhi, had arrived two hours early as required and was lining up with fifty other Westerners patiently waiting for the gate to open. When the it finally opened the line collapsed into chaos and one hundred Nepalese converged on the attendant. I noticed my sense of outrage and frustration that finally led me to accept perhaps this was my lesson in patience.

Now precisely twenty-three yeas later, after twenty years of meditating, spiritual contemplation and practice, I seem no further ahead. My impatience has felt like a weakness, somehow it seems unspiritual and not soulful. 

Then a breakthrough, I realize I don’t choose to get impatient. It is autonomous and begins with a felt sense in my body. There is no mechanism that I know of to stop it happening. I come by it legitimately – my father had little patience, and at least four of my six siblings share the same trait. From the standpoint of evolution it does not seem much of an advantage. Impatient hunters would not have much success. 

Yet somehow this genetic predisposition has survived. Are impatient people high achievers? It’s a mystery but I have always judged my tendency for impatience but now I see that is a waste of energy. Surely some growth can emerge by how I deal with it. The key is how to cope with it. I see two strategies – one is to find humour in the situation, the other is to listen to some beautiful music.

I had a chance to put a theory to the test when I arrived in Mexico on Wednesday. The immigration hall was its usual chaotic self. I can easily begin to fume at being in the wrong line, or someone else finding a shortcut. As no comedian seemed available I pulled my iPhone out of my pockets and began to listen to Albinoni’s Adagio in G Minor. This exquisite piece did its work. In fact the Mexican authorities cooperated by adding an ultra efficient agent to my line. My body calmed and my mind relaxed, The words of Julian of Norwich came to mind “all manner of things shall be well”.


Complexes – Finding The Silver Lining

November 27, 2015
IMG_0464

A $500 Complex disguised as ski boots.

It was a stunning Vancouver Fall day. I was driving across the Lions Gate Bridge, snow tipped mountains ahead, unusually blue water reflecting an equally clear sky. I had made a major life decision which felt good. It resulted from the liners of my twenty-year old ski boots completely falling apart. In fact the one time I used them last April, I had to slide my foot into a plastic bag to ski in them one last time. It was an intensely annoying occurrence because I had hoped they would survive as long as I wanted to ski as  the age of seventy-one how much longer was I going to ski?

I was driving to North Vancouver because after some soul searching I had made the decision to spend $500 on new boots and was headed to pick them up and have my ski bindings adjusted to the new boot. I entered Destination Slope and Surf Outfitters carrying my skis hoping for a tranquil experience as my helpful salesperson Lucas had told me it was his day off.

It did not begin well, when I mentioned that Lucas had said I could have the bindings adjusted while I waited, my server huffed, “It’s all right for Lucas, he doesn’t have to do them.” Then she could not find my bill of sale however my sunny disposition was not to be disrupted until….. “you know you have to pay another twenty dollars?” It was fascinating to observe the flush of emotion that was triggered. It was like a current that travelled through my body. My mood shifted and I began to protest. “No-one mentioned it; I have already spent $500 and you want another twenty dollars for a simple adjustment?” I felt surly, wanting to prolong the argument but she was resolute and uncompromising, my suggestion that this did little for their reputation for customer service was like water off a duck’s back. “Do you want it done or not?”

I stood momentarily frozen, not uncommon when in the grip of a complex until I finally I said, “I feel too bothered by this so no.” I signed a release that said if I killed myself wearing these boots it was my fault not theirs.” And walked out feeling I had lost my centre, unsure if I had made the right decision or not.

Fortunately as those of you who have followed my musings know I have had a lot of experience studying complexes. I knew this was not so much about the present moment – it was only $20 – it was about history emerging into the present moment. It seemed all too familiar – the sense of unfairness, of feeling powerless and being taken advantage of. Eminent Jungian analyst James Hollis, the master of understanding these reactions, explains that complexes are actually autonomous, we don’t control them but we can learn to manage our reactions to them. They are centres of stored energy in the body that under certain circumstances are triggered and replay our history.

As I sat in my car processing, I noticed a sense of shame that after all the personal work I have done, I can still instantaneously assume the persona of an angry, surly teenager. I gave myself a little credit for not totally losing my composure but I was left with the resulting negative mood.

Suddenly I recalled a lecture by Hollis that I listened to while at the gym the previous day. He was asked by a student “how much time does it take to go through these stages because he seems to make progress then slides back.” Hollis responded that it is indefinite and no outcome is certain which feels intolerable to the ego because of the ambiguity.” However he also reminded them that it is essential to practice understanding and that although change is easy to embrace in the head, everything within us resists it.”

It made me feel less alone and my judgment of myself was mitigated however I still felt the lingering impact of the experience and wondered how I could shift it.

I turned on the car and was immersed in the divine music of Beethoven’s fifth piano concerto. I sensed that my relationship to this exquisite music could support me in transitioning into a more up-beat frame of mind. It wafted over me like a gentle breeze. I found myself traversing the bridge once again and the glorious sound combined with the majesty of the scenery. Instinctively I turned off to travel through beautiful Stanley Park where giant red cedar and ocean views augmented the impact and suddenly I was free. The negative energy dissipated and found myself in joy.

It was remarkable and I sensed I had discovered in Beauty a tool for transition that could help support me on the twists and turns of life’s journey. I may not be able to prevent my complexes being triggered but I could deal with them in a more conscious way. It occurs to me that during much of the eighties I was totally at the mercy of these splinter personalities and lived semi permanently in a reactive state so progress has been made.

Hollis reminds us that despite the continued defeats, there is an energy within encouraging forward motion. It is a comforting thought because the only choice is to retreat from ambiguity to old certainties and that will not work. It reminds me of the Matrix and the metaphor of the red pill and the blue pill. Once you take the red pill you can never go back.

 


Getting Beyond the Block

January 20, 2015

One of the joys of traveling is making new friends and my recent trip to Sayulita was no exception. Staying at the same hotel was a lovely British woman working on new business venture. When she heard about my background in marketing she asked me to provide some input on a project on which she was working. As she began to show me what she had done, I became incredibly impressed by the professionalism, the quality of the work and the depth of thinking. Nothing she showed me seemed in need of any input at all. In fact the opposite was true as my suggestions were clearly redundant. As the discussion continued she began to hesitate over her words then paused to say, “I’m not sure what I want your help with anyway. Basically I am stuck on finding the right images for my web site.”

I reflected back on what I had seen so far “You realize you have done all the difficult work here: the initial thinking, the concept, the positioning, the branding, the logo, the look and image. They are all finished, now you are now looking for some photos. Why do you think you are stuck on the easy bit?” She hesitated and looked a little embarrassed then went on to explain that she had been involved in a series of personal problems that had thrown her off centre. Although valid, they did not seem to explain her paralysis.

I observed that the images won’t make or break the proposition anyway because they are easily changed. I speculated that when this kind of block occurs there is normally some fear involved. Her response was instant and clear, “oh I’m scared it will be a failure and I will look bad.” Her wheel spinning has nothing to do with the issue; it was about anxiety and apprehension for the future. It reminded me of a common depth psychology truism, “it’s not about what it’s about.” Almost like a magician’s wand, her insight seemed to free her up so she could move ahead.

It seems appropriate to add a little background. This was not an inexperienced amateur, this was a consummate professional who had spent years successfully implementing far more complex projects for her clients. She knew her experience and skill set were more than up to this task yet she ground to a halt when faced by something that in her previous role she would have simply delegated.

So what happens? Notice there was no conscious knowledge of fear holding her back. Rationally she knew that she could do this and anyway she also knew that failure was part of business life. It was far better to move ahead and learn from failure than it was to quit. However this unconscious fear created inaction, paralysis and a sense of feeling stuck.

From a spiritual coaching perspective, the first thing is to ask yourself when you are blocked is a series of questions.

  • Does this behaviour represent a pattern in my life, has it shown up before and what did I do about it?
  • Are there familiar voices from the past behind the fear? Sometimes it is a parent or a teacher or other powerful other in our early life. This is what eminent Jungian analyst James Hollis refers to as a haunting in his book of the same name.
  • If yes what does this voice cause me to do or stop doing?

Our goal is to defuse and dissipate the power that old voices have over us. The first step is awareness, the second is for the adult to reassess their relationship with the old voice. At this juncture I engage in a discussion – this reaction has a reason for being, I acknowledge it then suggest it no longer serves me and it’s time has passed. It helps me if I can identify the primal anxiety that has been aroused.

It is not always an easy or comfortable exploration but it does help us understand ourselves better and to gradually bring change into the ways we reflexively respond to certain situations.

As James Hollis once said, “we all sleep in haunted houses and in history’s unmade bed.” We need to disarm the ghost and recover our personal authority.