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

 


A New Year Reflection – Do you sabotage your natural flow?

January 6, 2016
Diverting the River

Diversion

Recently while on vacation in Sayulita in Mexico I observed a fascinating battle between man and nature. Every day I stroll along the beach and encounter a creek that I have to wade across. In Summer this creek is a mere rivulet but in December it can be quite a gushing torrent that some days intersects the breakers and becomes a real challenge. One day it caused me to take a six block detour to cross the bridge.

The river has a natural flow that elegantly sweeps to the north however for some reason this normal progression offends “someone” because each day there would be two or three Mexican workers attempting to straighten it out. It was laborious as they had to dig a channel then dam the main tributary to try and divert it. By sunset they would finally achieve their goal and the creek would obediently flow through the new course they had set.

Each night the high tide obliterated almost every sign of the man-made diversion. The next day they would begin all over again. Every night the same result: the river just wasn’t interested. It reminded me of the Greek myth of Sisyphus forced incessantly to push a huge rock up hill only to have it roll back down.

It was not long before I began to muse on the metaphor this may represent in life. It seemed reminiscent of the ongoing drama between the Self and the self or perhaps the Soul and the Ego depending on your own worldview.

How often have I attempted to force my life into a channel of the Ego’s choice and by doing so lost the natural flow and rhythm that wanted to naturally evolve? The power of the ocean to force me back seems akin to the Soul’s power to throw obstacles in my way and force change in my direction. How frequently do I think I know best and attempt to remove the obstacles so I can stubbornly and relentlessly fulfill my will.

I recall when I was convinced my focus should be on decision-making. I wrote a book, organized presentations, created a web site, started doing workshops and a consulting practice. For a time I believe this was a passion shared by both the Self and the self.

Then things began to shift. Opportunities dried up, book sales slowed, the phone stopped ringing. For a time I resisted; I tried to break down doors; to identify new opportunities but to no avail. Only when I let go of my attachment could the natural flow of my life resume its course. The path of Spiritual Guidance and working with dreams began to unfold.

So how do we best surrender to the natural flow of our lives. How do we allow the river of our lives to find its natural course. How can we tell when our ego has taken hold and that the Soul is blocked?

Eminent Jungian psychologist James Hollis suggests we pay attention to the energy we feel for something – does it feel alive or has it become a dry husk? I have observed that paying attention to our lives is important. Notice when doors begin to close; observe what is capturing your attention and interest and pay attention to your dreams. Is there some passion that is unexplored? Check in and ask yourself if you feel as though you are in flow.

The New Year is a great time to take stock and assess your life’s flow.

Flow Resumed

Flow Resumed

Remember the power of the ocean to sweep away the obstacles we place in its way. Is there anything you keep doing over and over again and expecting a different result. What do you need to surrender in 2016 in order to open up to a greater sense of flow?


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.

 


Control and Mindlessness

January 15, 2015

I am walking to the gym feeling discombobulated. It is 12:30; I feel frustrated that it has taken me so long to get out of the house. My intention was to leave at 10:30 but somehow the last couple of hours had been wasted on mindless pursuits. Like a hamster on a wheel I have been getting nowhere. I can feel the judgments reverberating through my head. “chasing links on the web; no great interest in them; wasting half a day and on and on” I decided to do an attitude adjustment and think positive thoughts: “at least I am en route to the gym, I am healthy, I have a wonderful life, great friends, meaningful clients and no money worries.”

There is still a nagging sense of disappointment that I got side-tracked so easily. I get changed, climb on the treadmill and put on the seventh episode of Hauntings, the lecture series by Jungian Analyst James Hollis from his book of the same name. My mood hangover effects my reaction to what I am hearing, this was not going to be a lecture but a series of questions with three or four minute breaks so students could write down their reactions. BORING! Not much use when on a treadmill. Then his first question broke through my malaise, “Think for a moment where do you think fate has been unfair to you?” At first I smiled recalling the positives that I had just been reflecting on, obviously the vagaries of fate had not caused any lasting damage. Yes the early circumstances of my life seemed unfair but life for most children is unfair. We learn ways to deal with it then have the opportunity to unravel those coping mechanisms in later life.

The third question grabbed my attention, “where did fate especially gift you or bless you?”

This was an easy one. I have learned my gift from fate is that of curiosity. I love to unravel the psychology of my life and understand the complexity behind my behaviours. It has brought me tremendous satisfaction, a sense of meaning and empathy for others. Each event of my life causes me to embark on a journey of discovery.

At this point I almost lost my rhythm on the treadmill. Where was my curiosity about my mindlessness this morning? Instead of being curious I had lapsed into self criticism and judgment and then like Pollyanna had tried to mask it with good thoughts.

It was as though a light went on. My mindlessness was a typical anxiety management system. I felt like yelling: “enough already.” As anyone who has followed these reflections I suffer from the gift and the curse of having a need to be in control. It stems back to my childhood when it was a consequence of facing overwhelment and dealing with it the best I could. I learned to take control. It can be very helpful on life’s journey yet has consequences when I am unconscious of its power over me. My mindlessness is a way I deal with feeling overwhelmed. The Achilles heel is that is that my anxiety is unconscious; the mindlessness is a reflexive reaction to the situation. It is like a child who does not know what to do when things get out of control so gets preoccupied with something that takes your mind of the real issue.

So what had happened that morning? There had been a series of events none of which seem at all consequential. First I had tried to send a fax to Italy but my fax machine would not confirm it had gone through; it was frustrating and impacted my peace of mind. Then I could not proceed with my SoulClarity newsletter because I was waiting on someone to give me some feedback. Also I was stymied on sorting out the iPhone I had been given because I was waiting on a reply from someone at the phone company about unlocking it. Somehow added together they were enough to trigger the complex.

The result I came to a standstill and engaged in an activity that allowed me to escape the anxiety. A perfect anxiety management system. I realize I have a few of these: channel surfing on the TV, playing computer games and mindless internet pursuit. The gift is to see them before they engage not after.

This is my eleventh blog on how control can control me. How many more ways will I encounter to escape the “powerful other” in my life? Hopefully author and psychologist William James was right when he said, “Human beings, by changing the inner attitudes of their minds, can change the outer aspects of their lives”.

Postscript: I finally bit the bullet, paid to have my cel phone unlocked then faced the frustration of instructions I could not follow. I took the phone to my closest Roger’s store. In no time the helpful Graeme had tested it, confirmed the unlock, inserted a new Sim card, transferred my phone number and for $10 I was free to go. As I walked out into the sun I could not believe the lightness of my being. In some strange way alleviating the anxiety helped me see how much it had been impacting me. 


Discovering I had a Happy Childhood After All

November 7, 2014

My confusion about whether I had a happy childhood began a few years ago. It is not as though I have many unhappy memories of my life before eleven years of age. In fact my recollections are mostly positive – top boy at my primary school, one of the best two athletes, a prefect given responsibility over other kids, a leading light in school drama productions.

Apart from a vivid, embarrassing memory of choking during a Christmas pageant when the wise man became conspicuously silent as the words “Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume” got stuck in my throat, my childhood memories are mostly free of drama. It was too early for me to develop much conflict with my father over religion. Even refusing to attend church one day was greeted with a much milder punishment than anticipated. (This was likely mitigated by me hiding under the bed and clinging on to the bed frame for dear life as my father attempted to apply retribution.)

My overall memory is a sense of unlicensed freedom and independence from a very young age. My mother had little time to worry about me with two other younger siblings around. However when sharing my recollections of this independence and happy childhood, a psychotherapist friend of mine sewed seeds of doubt in my mind. “That’s not right” she observed, “you are not supposed to be independent at the age of six. It means your needs as a child were not being met.”

I took her seriously. Her insight combined with eminent Jungian analyst James Hollis’s perspective that much of our adult patterning stems back from the past and led me on a journey of exploration to discover the impact this may have had on my adult life.

With my mother unable to meet my needs at such a young age, I did my best to cope with the changing environment. The result was I took control of my life; I made the best of it and did very well.

The false assumption I made was that this led to an unhappy childhood. It was reading a fascinating book titled “Resilience” by Boris Cyrulnik, a neuropsychiatrist and psychoanalyst, who researches how children manage to adapt to absolutely horrendous environments – like being a child soldier and killer. Only when the resilient façade comes up against the questioning as an adult then things begin to implode.

In a much milder way my resilience to feeling abandoned to what James Hollis calls “the overwhelming other” was to do something that in hindsight astonishes me, I took control and became independent at the age of five or six. It may not have been “right” but it was sure effective at helping me cope with my situation.

It is only as an adult that I began to unravel the Gordian knot and became aware of the reflexive and reactive behaviours that impacted so much of my adult life. My need to take control is both a gift and a curse leading to impatience, manipulation, my need to be right and anxiety while helping me manage many business challenges.

It has been pleasant to reclaim my childhood as a positive memory. It stands in stark contrast to the time at the age of eleven when my illusion of control shattered and my world really did fall apart but that’s another story.


Control and Anxiety

May 16, 2014

The influence of control in my life reminds me of an octopus. It lies unseen in dark places with its eight tentacles probing into my outer world. The first seven tentacles represent resistance, overwhelment, the need to be right, impatience, anger, planning, manipulation Despite my desire to stop at seven blogs on control this eighth tentacle representing anxiety has finally overcome my resistance.

Recently I had been reflecting on anxiety and realized that although not an anxious person on the surface, I frequently suffer from a low grade, unconscious anxiety that has a surprising capacity to impact my life. Perhaps this is why it took me so long to see the relationship of Control and anxiety.

Of course a natural question about unconscious anxiety is how have I become conscious of it? This emerged from my study of Jungian Analyst James Hollis’s teachings around the unconscious and anxiety. Hollis states that we cannot know what is in the unconscious directly but we may discern influences of which we are not conscious through examination of dreams, patterns and behaviours.

He also suggests that addictive patterns of behaviour are anxiety management systems. They can take many forms from the more draconian such a drug addiction or alcoholism to the less damaging such as TV or simple habits.

I became curious about a pattern of behavior that involved watching TV. It was not any TV; it was focused on a specific form of what I now describe as comfort viewing. It would frequently feature repeat performances of old British mystery programs that were familiar, I liked the characters, they were predictable, and nothing would scare me, disturb me or surprise me.

I realized it was a form of escape; it definitely had a pattern to it; it was somewhat mindless, and like a spider could entrap me in a lethargic snare. Reluctantly I concluded it had all the characteristics of a mild addiction.

Following Hollis’s logic if I am engaged in an addiction no matter how mild, there must be anxiety at the heart of it. I realize anxiety is a bit like a referred toothache, it may not be directly associated with the real centre of pain.

This began a quest to examine potential anxieties in my life. I began with the existential anxieties of life: death, health, age and aloneness. It felt healthy to own some of my fears. Hollis suggests that the best way to deal with anxiety is to turn into fear. Anxiety is a child state while our adult self can handle fear.

However I sensed there was more and perhaps something was going on in my life that was causing anxiety that I had not known so it had been repressed.

It was not difficult to identify. I am organizing a major event in Assisi for the Spiritual Community of which I am part. It has taken on a life of its own with 90 people already registered two years ahead of time.

I realized my anxiety had arisen because I was not on top of the organization required. I was telling myself I had lots of time but at some level there was a fear of being overwhelmed.

It had tucked itself away in my unconscious to show up in my pattern of TV viewing. I realized the best way to deal with it was to tackle the problem and within three hours I had everything under control. The effect was palpable, I could engage in my life in a different way. It was as though an invisible restraint had been released.

For some reason at first I did not see the relationship between this anxiety and control. It occurred to me later that as long as I keep things under control my anxiety is managed but when I lose control, the child state once again assets itself and begins to control the agenda of my life. Once again I am held hostage by the past.

This morning the catalyst to this blog came from observing a distinct shift in my feelings and sense of self after reading a relatively benign e-mail. At first I entered a state of denial but it was difficult ignore that I shifted from feeling good to feeling “blaah”.

What had happened? The e-mail was about a pilgrimage that is associated with the event I am planning but not part of it. There is significant anxiety in the community about getting on the pilgrimage because it is a much smaller event than the Gathering. To some degree I have become the focus of this anxiety and accepted responsibility for forwarding names to the organizer.

The e-mail took me off the hook as the organizer had now stepped forward but had triggered anxiety. Why?

This loss of control means I have to accept that all the people who contacted me are no longer my responsibility. The adult accepts this however the child grows concerned and worried that he missed someone.

I turned the anxiety into action and send an email to everyone advising them of the new development and that there is someone else on whom to project their anxiety. My job is complete.

Now I can leave for Europe with peace of mind. Back in five weeks.


Control and Manipulation

May 2, 2014

This is the seventh and likely last reflection on the influence of my control nature on unconscious and conscious behaviours. As I have observed according to eminent Jungian analyst James Hollis, control is an outcome of the power complex that can develop when a child comes face to face with its own sense of powerless when confronted with the powerful other.

My tendency to unconsciously manipulate others and ensure they do what I want was first pointed out by my second wife who took great offense after an evening at a pub when I began to point out the reasons she may want to head home. It was en route to our place that she realized that it was me who wanted to go home not her. She engaged in some fairly primitive therapy to jam home her point by flushing the toilet whenever I had a shower.

I developed a greater understanding of this pattern during my time in therapy where I learned that manipulation is an attempt to get one’s needs met without having to state them. Something that appears patently absurd to an adult but the unconscious pattern is established during childhood when one’s needs seem to be ignored. This is likely not uncommon among children with younger siblings. The problem is when we continue it into our adult lives without realizing it.

It was much more recently that I became aware that this is yet another facet of control. I was writing a blog in my zenmen series, where I tell stories of my advertising career then review them through the eyes of a Spiritual Coach.

This particular story concerned a client who drove me crazy. He always wanted to be in control and would never approve anything before he had his say. In my blog I identified his controlling personality and found a way around it by ensuring he always thought it was his idea when it invariably was not. (see http://wp.me/p3z6oW-1B) I was recounting this to some friends over a beer and one exclaimed, “you were so outrageously manipulative.”

It was the next day at the gym while listening to James Hollis lecture from his book What Matters Most that I felt a little smug as he seemed to confirm my hypothesis of my client’s issue, “Those with a power complex have to overcompensate and prove how valuable they are.”

Then I began to smile as he continued, “flattery, guile, trickery and manipulation are all surreptitious strategies to overcome the powerful other.”

We were two sides of the same coin. It was my power complex versus his.

This brings me to my final point on control and its derivative behaviours. They are not necessarily bad. My ability to manage successfully is a positive consequence of learning control. In fact sometimes we need to consciously orchestrate a result using unconventional means and that could be deemed manipulative.

What is important is to become conscious of our behaviours and not be a slave to old patterns. At a seminar in November James Hollis offering some pointers to an examined life suggested, “It is time to finally grow up, to take responsibility for our lives.” I believe that understanding the power that control has unconsciously wielded in my life will help me do exactly that.