29 03, 2012

The death of my mother

March 29th, 2012|love|2 Comments

 

This post is of a very personal nature I’m still processing, so please forgive me if it rambles a little…

A short while ago, I was at the wake for my mother, Diana Mary Carsten. She died early in the year. On a Tuesday night, I drank wine at the local Odd-fellows hall in Corvallis, Oregon while listening to her husband and many activists in say how lucky they were to have her in their life. My brother was there and said something banal about how she believed in mind over matter. I didn’t speak. In an environment where you’re supposed to say positive things, I didn’t want to say anything when my feelings were so mixed.

She was a fighter. I heard this over and over again from representatives from all her causes. She was a great advocate and board member for social movements: the League of Woman Voters, the Odd-fellows, the Oregon Green Party, a court advocate, the local symphony, her Christian Science church, and the Peace Vigil. She loved hiking in nature and would travel around the world. When she felt something was wrong, she would fight and not back down, stubborn as hell. You were glad to have her on your side. One young mother might have ended up on the street if not for her.

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26 03, 2012

Writing again

March 26th, 2012|dealing with life, listening, love|4 Comments

Here I am again, writing after a year or so. I could have let the domain name expire, but felt at some time I would feel like writing again. And now I’m back.

I stopped writing because I felt that how I wrote (not what I wrote, but how) wasn’t helping me or others. Sure, people said lots of great things – when my blog was on myspace (remember when people actually used it?) at one time each post got around 100 comments. It gave quite a buzz; I don’t think I got one really negative comment. I had thought carefully about what I created and some of the thoughts were unconventional. Hell, I even got a few dates from some local women that perhaps thought I must be a great guy. But it became more and more effort and less rewarding. The praises felt empty, and it wasn’t self-fulfilling.

One really big reason is that I wasn’t being that real. I of course didn’t want to show how f***ed up I am, who I dislike, my own neuroses – and perhaps that I was trying to escape from my own problems by playing healer to others.

That last one is IMO probably the most common motivation for everyone in the healing, counseling or personal growth field. It’s so common it is generally overlooked. So much ‘help’, in whatever form it comes in, does little more than convince the ‘helpee’ that they are being helped and then prop up the egos of both sides. The Bowen family systems theory called this the “overfunctioning-underfunctioning” dynamic. It’s a form of connection that seems to feel good to both sides at the time, but reinforces the escape from deeper issues. From my experience, I think the writer gets to feel admired and like a ‘healer’. The reader gets to think they’re improving and doing good work – but all at the cost of ignoring some deeper voices.

I read a lot of Alice Miller a couple years ago, and this quote stuck with me:

“In the last few years I have learned more than ever about the situation of the child in our society and about the blockages in the thinking and feeling of psychoanalytically trained persons.  These blockages often result in patients being subjected to lengthy treatments that cement the blame that had been leveled at them as children, a process that can scarcely lead to anything but depressions.  The most successful means of escaping such chronic depressions is to enter the profession of psychoanalysis oneself; this permits a continuation of the cementing process by using theories that protect one from the truth – but now, of course, at the expense of others.”

– Alice Miller, Banished Knowledge

If you’re a regular reader of personal growth writing, ask yourself if any of it really helped with the inner shame and blame that you might have. I’ve been to a number of counselors, coaches and other forms of healing in my search for inner peace and harmony, and I had to admit (after months of reflection) that they were generally counterproductive. I went there because subconsciously I thought something was wrong with me – there was something that needed to be solved in me. Fixed. Gotten rid of. Perhaps it was pain, or maybe that a normally quiet voice inside me suddenly screamed “NO!!!” at certain times when I was supposed to act ‘normally’ or when I needed to follow through with something. And so I wanted the quick fix; within a few session I wanted to be able to relax, not get in my own way, feel better, and succeed. Even if I knew it didn’t exist, I wanted The Quick Fix. But part of this inevitably meant that I thought a part of me – the part of me that resisted or said no – was bad. And so I increased my shame. I reinforced patterns of suppression and avoidance, not listening to the part of me in pain, which lead over the years to physical symptoms.

Now, in all honesty, I hate any sort of ‘healing environment’ which advocates pushing through barriers through some sort of peer pressure, firm rules and groupthink. It may get things to move in the short term, but that sort of forcefulness always has violence of a form in it, and violence is never the road to peace and harmony.

I stopped writing because I felt that I didn’t want to pretend any more. I didn’t want to play healer or imply I could help others. I didn’t want to hide my own traumas and symptoms out of fear of judgment or that it meant I was worth less or that I shouldn’t be listened to. You don’t always know the reason you do things at the time – it just doesn’t feel right or true. Writing from the same place didn’t feel true. I edited my thoughts way too much before they came out. It was the same editing I did as I child, walking on eggshells to make sure I didn’t say the wrong thing and a blow up would happen.

Now I just want to let go of all that. I don’t want to review my postings, combing words for ways I could be judged. It turned my mind into fog and exhaustion from the effort. Literally.

So here I am, and I think I’ll keep writing, but from a different place. I don’t think I’ll review it too much, so it might not be as smooth. But perhaps you’ll be able to relate to me a little more.  Even if I get judgments or suggestions of people trying to heal me (which now I realize are the same thing) I think I’ll be in a better place.

6 05, 2011

The games we play in our voices

May 6th, 2011|beauty, freedom, Intimacy, love, relationships|0 Comments

I was listening to a speaker once, some time ago, in a community room at the top floor of a hospital. He spoke passionately and vehemently about mental health, about meditation, about positive thinking, and above all about community. I could hear his thoughts: I know the solution for you. I have overcome all you can dream of. I can be your guide.

His voice entranced, and I found myself wanting to believe. Surely there must be a simple solution to discontentment, to anxiety, to feeling isolated – these are with me still. The heartaches inside were in that moment were no longer beautiful, but the enemy, a cloud of terrorism sniping at me. And yet, after 10 minutes of a guided meditation, I found myself less peaceful. Feelings gathered: Resentment. Feeling manipulated. You don’t listen. Voices of my childhood, compounded with interest. Gathering myself later, I realised that this reaction wasn’t a problem, but a reflection of the actual dynamic, to the timbre of his voice and how things were said.

The voice is the primary means of relation we have. It’s how we make connections. It’s the impetus for learning how to truly listen to others, to be loving. It’s also how we influence and try to find a sense of power in this world. As such, everyone has tactics and communication styles they use when they’ve been disempowered, to try to find a sense of power again. It’s the double horns of a defence that can also be manipulation and control. Some do this unconsciously, some consciously. In response to others, we then have our own reactions to these games, or at least unconscious until we see what’s actually going on.

One of my favourite skills I’ve learned from acting is in the studying of people. What is someone’s goal when communicating? What’s the subtext of what they are saying? Sometimes 7% of communication is through the words; the rest is nuances in the voice and body language. Being conscious of the other 93% is the best tool I have for understanding dynamics and people at their essence.

The times I love both in watching others and in being with others are when things seem real. Conversation flows at its flowing, unmodified pace, without a seeming effort of anyone to appear to be someone else. The pace, tone, and intonation changes in sync with the emotion and what’s being communicated. There is a dynamism, flexibility and fluidity involved. When there’s anxiety, the voice is shaky and unprotected, perhaps quicker. When there’s disappointment, there’s that sense in the voice of having tripped, of falling down. When there’s joy, there’s a sunlight beaming in the voice.

It’s that sense of unprotectedness, ingenuous honesty and transparency of whatever’s there that makes me feel connected. Seeing another’s despair communicated makes me appreciate rapture even more. It’s the beauty of the human condition, a connection to a raw state. It’s not the forced connection of someone moulding themselves so as to relate, but the manifestation that it’s our bare humanness, as we are, that connects.

And yet, most of the time, we limit what we communicate. We put on masks. We have styles where we’re trying to protect ourselves or get something.

Tactics

 

I want to identify some protection mechanisms I’ve noticed in the voice. These are ways of manipulation and control, the ways we aren’t natural. I find identifying them helps me let go of my own tactics and be gentle with myself in my reactions to others. (A gracious thanks to the theatrical vocal teacher Patsy Rodenburg for many of these concepts) Being aware of protection mechanisms can help one see “oh, I’m doing this, so maybe now I can let go – or at least laugh at myself for keeping doing it.”

Not all tactics are aggressive. In fact, most people in western culture have learned ways to defend themselves by non-aggressive or even withdrawing mannerisms. We have been taught suspicion of the used car salesmen, yet often have little awareness of how most subtler strategies can affect us strongly. Perhaps you can recognise yourself or someone you know in these.

I’ll start with the easiest one to recognise:

The Aggressive, Overbearing Speaker

This is the prototypical drill sergeant. The voice is usually deep and resonant, but always with confrontation at least implied. The chest is puffed up and the body leans forward, as if the person requires another to push back to keep their balance. While resonant and full, there’s little gentleness, nor room for warmth or sadness.

While this is the prototype for strength in military fashion, it also makes sure the environment is too unsafe for vulnerability. There is little room for compromise or friendship, but certainly room for fellow soldiers. Often it is a cover for emotions never felt and constantly kept at bay by the image of toughness and pushing others around through the voice.

The Hesitator

While someone who hesitates and stammers may seem to be powerless, there is a hook – that the listener is left hanging, waiting for the next word, dangling onto a potential completed idea. In the pause that follows, the hesitator can gauge the audience and draw others in the direction they desire, albeit unconsciously. Even though there is discomfort in the hesitator, there is a power in making others feel they need to tread lightly for fear of blocking the next phrase. If a room is feeled with kind, gentle people the hesitator can steer a conversation in a manner that a clear, fluent speaker never could.

The manipulation is that we are made to think that words and thoughts are being created organically before our eyes and ears. We excuse the habit in order to be generous and because we think the person is naturally shy or reserved. Yet this hesitation can constructed carefully over years – even if unconsciously – in order to learn about others without revealing one’s self. It is useful in that it leads others to vulnerability and openness without having to reciprocate. One sided vulnerability is also an imbalance of power.

The Whisperer

Otherwise known as the “de-voicer”, this is someone who goes quiet, either via a quiet voice or by simply not speaking. This is often used by guru-figures as a way of drawing people in.

It may not seem apparent as a way to manipulate others until you observe your own body in response to when you are trying to actively listen. By withdrawing and speaking more silently, the whisperer forces listeners to strain, to lean forward and to figuratively bow at his or her feet. It is de-centering to be around for a long time.

It can indeed be a hypnotic technique and is often used by executives, politicians, or theatre directors. Because it is more subtle (quiet voices are rarely perceived as dangerous) it can be more effective than being overbearing.

The Waffler

This kind of vocal manipulation involves abandoning clear and succinct language in favor of rambling thoughts. Buzz words obfuscating real meaning are often the norm. The language used can be learned and embellished, giving the impression of education and erudition, yet leaving the listener with no clear idea to latch on to.

Even more so, the listener can easily feel that they are at fault for not deciphering the message, and so can try to argue using the same language form which they are not nearly as comfortable with as the waffler. It can be a useful defensive habit to avoid answering direct questions or avoid unpleasantness, or even to convince others of something using impassioned, yet unclear words. This is a habit often cultivated by politicians, so-called experts in talk shows and doctors trying to avoid telling the whole truth.

The Role Player

The role player communicates as if everyone around them was the same. They have chosen a role –  e.g., mother, helper, or coach, to use positive roles – and infuse their voice with this at all times.

Imagine the feminine presence of someone who addresses everyone around them as if they were a prepubescent child. The automatic reaction is either subservience or rebellion, both dis-empowering states. Or the counsellor who, through a lifetime of practice, has learned to infuse their voice as someone who truly loves and accepts all others, who contains nothing but love and compassion, irrespective of what they are feeling. I am not talking about a natural voice infused with compassion, but rather a constructed voice, an artifice. This creates a pied piper, hypnotic effect where the listener reacts as if it were true, that the speaker is indeed showing love at this moment and can be trusted.

Not all roles appear “positive”, but they all have one thing in common; it is an attempt to control how others react to you by inviting them strongly to jump into the role that matches what is played.

Deeper Connection Through the Natural Voice

 

All of these styles of communication are at the same time both weaknesses and sources of power. They enable us to make an impact of source, but also limit that impact to a vastly restricted playing field. They have usually developed over a lifetime, and as such they are not let go of easily, especially if there are rewards.

The problem is that in each of these, there is learned helplessness. There are always times where a soul-driven cry to speak is heard – and at these times, if our habits are too entrenched and opposite from the silent voice inside made vocal, we will be helpless. They atrophy our range and full humanness of expression. When we surrender to the monotonous use of a single habit in communication, we surrender many of our vocal rights and abilities to connect with others and be an active member of a community or family.

Again, it is through being ourselves, as fully as is humanly possibly, that we discover basic truths: We are connected at a deep, visceral level not through doing anything, but through being true and natural. Feeling loved grows from a foundation of being genuine. Warmth comes naturally when we’re being simply human, showing that there is basic goodness in however we are.

5 03, 2009

The Most Important Being in Existence

March 5th, 2009|dealing with life, emotions, love, non duality, Self, spirituality|0 Comments

It’s been a long, long time since I wrote anything here. Quick update: yes, this illness is still going on and there are many times I can’t write, and some times I find it hard to speak. It’s also intensifying the inner journey and transformation. So it’s not a bad thing.


Here’s another confession I have: I dislike affirmations. Like the following:

 

I am important. I am the Most Important Being in Existence.

This is so because of the oneness of All That Is.

What’s there to disagree with? It goes to the heart of what humility is, what false humility is, and addresses that the perception of separation is what creates problems in the first place. It’s not about arrogance, but about letting go.

The problem is that it’s nice in theory, but the execution of getting to truly know this has its own problems.

My first taste of affirmation was as a teen. I was in a fairly screwed up family dynamic: the pushy, British stiff upper lip Borderline Personality Disorder mother (not to use labels or anything!) and being expressive, I showed my pain. This was uncomfortable for those around me, so I was sent off to healers who of course focused entirely on me. One of them, a rebirthing therapist, actually helped by doing rebirthing (conscious, connected breathing) gave me an experience of what it was like to feel intensely without too many labels. Yet another thing she did was to send me home to do affirmations. 30 of each one, handwritten on paper.

Lines.

All of them were positive, like above. All of them sounded good. Yet they also felt like punishment. Like what teachers made you do when you did something wrong.

That’s just how it was introduced to me, of course. But it’s also the essence of what an affirmation is.? It is the intellect telling the heart and body to learn something. “Hey, you! There are problems here! Learn this so the problems can go away.”

But how do you learn about the oneness of the universe and the importance of Who You Are, if you treat parts of yourself as separate from others? By shouting a command from my mind, I was treating my heart as subordinate, as the one making mistakes. And of course my heart retreated. Nothing likes to be given orders like a punished child.

919567_innerpeace_1There are, of course, ways to talk to the heart. And to the body. Ways in which speaking and listening become the same thing. Talk without words. Desires without expectations. Paulo Coelho calls it “The Language of the World”, the universal language. It’s the same language that enabled Siddhartha in Herman Hesse’s book to understand the universe from the sound of a river, by understanding it through this language.It’s the language of the trees in the wind when your mind stops and just observes and feels. When the mind feels and the heart thinks, and you are completely present in your body. It’s the language of Being.

So now, when I tell myself “I am important” the sense of the affirmation above, I deeply listen to the reaction of my heart. I’m not telling myself to do anything. I know I’m not mistaken or wrote in the perceiving that I’m unimportant, or even the times that it seems like this statement is a complete falsehood. I am opening myself up to Truth, which means opening myself up to my heart as well as all the reactions that come. It’s the big-T “Truth” that encompasses all the little truths, such that my heart feels pain when I really let in that possibility.

So now a conversation with my heart may look like this:

I am important. I am the Most Important Being in Existence.

Are you sure?

No. But I know it’s Truth, and I want to live it.

I know it is too, but I’m here to make sure you know it.

Is that what all this confusion and pain and believing the opposite is about?

Sure. You have to what’s not the truth before you can see the truth for yourself. For ourselves.

Even in this conversation, it is implied that my heart is something separate from who I am, and that’s obviously not the case. But that’s part of the journey of life here: we experience something as separate so that our mind can grasp just a little part of what the universe is.

It’s not equipped to see too much. But this helps us look at the little truths with more passion. The truth of the dandelion swaying in the wind. The truth of childlike wonder in running through a summer’s sprinkler and pointing it toward others in play. The truth of our own hearts. The Language of the World.

That sort of exchange is more of an affirmation of life than any exercise from an external source can be.

The bottom line is no one can truly know their importance, in an ultimate sense, until they also know that they are the universe. That is the nature of Being.