Tuesday, 13 May 2008

In Flight Selves: 2

The negative bonding with the passenger on my left (see part 1) had kicked in within minutes of entering the aircraft. I wanted to escape from his energy and the unpleasant judgements and feelings I was having around him. Withdrawal rather than confrontation has always been my primary way of dealing with discomfort. Maybe I could move. There were three empty seats to my right and I had my eye on them. How perfect it would be if I could just slip across the aisle…. But just at the last minute a young family boarded and settled in to them. Damn! The flight was full so there was no escape.

As I pondered my predicament I found myself becoming interested in the family - especially the father. I guess he must have been in his early thirties. His beautiful wife was clearly pregnant and between them sat their little boy - probably around three years old. The father was good looking, wearing fashionably relaxed clothing that intimated a defined yet not overly muscular physique. His clothes - designer jeans, a T-shirt with some kind of biker logo on it and black leather boots - suggested a macho personality. Yet in his interactions with his wife, fellow passengers and air stewards he was soft spoken and polite. He also supported and hugged his wife when she appeared overwhelmed with the task of feeding or changing their son. I imagined him to be a perfect lover. With his son he was attentive, caring and patient. The perfect father! I also noticed that he had strong, powerful hands.

Having resolved my negative bonding with the passenger to my left, I now felt my attention shifting more and more to this wonderful man to my right. To me he seemed to embody the essence of strong yet sensitive male energy. I realised that in my fantasy about him I was putting him onto a pedestal and making him too perfect. What disowned selves were at work here?

On my wall at home I have one of Jan Saudek’s iconographic pictures called “Life” (www.saudek.com/en/jan/hlasovani.html?fid=20). It shows a young, muscular, working-class man wearing jeans and no shirt holding a naked baby to his chest. We cannot see his face or the lower part of his body. His hands are large and his nails are stained, indicating that he does hard manual work. The baby seems secure and safe in his arms - one hand cradling its body, the other protecting its head. The image is immensely strong yet tender and I have always been drawn to it. I imagined my neighbour to be exactly this kind of man.

My grandfather was a blacksmith - strong and with the kind of hands that Saudek’s man and my fellow passenger had. He left school when he was fourteen. He wanted me to get the education he never had and go to university. When I accessed his introject many years ago in a session with Hal, he said that he now regretted this because going to university had created a monster! He saw me as effete, overly sophisticated and much too intellectual. His injunction was simple: work hard, eat when hungry and sleep when tired.

As I grew up, I developed a very strong Rational Mind as a primary self and I have experienced a lot of my life through that Rational Mind. I have largely disowned my grandfather’s hands and his kind of practical, responsible masculinity. I have never had a manual job or taken care of a wife and children. My own strong, nurturing father and husband energies have been buried. I realise I was projecting these disowned selves onto the man to my right.

So what was the lesson here? As I watched this capable father across the aisle I could see that by embracing some of my disowned masculine energy I would have more confidence and presence in the world; I would be more balanced and grounded in my relationships; and, most importantly, I would be better able to nurture and protect my own Inner Child.

Saturday, 3 May 2008

In Flight Selves: 1

The theory of the Psychology of Selves says that as we grow up we develop primary selves that keep us safe in the world, protecting our vulnerability. The price we pay is that we more or less disown the opposite selves, and also lose touch with our vulnerability. When we encounter our disowned selves in other people, we either judge them or put them on a pedestal and find them mysteriously attractive. I recently had an experience of both on a flight to London from San Francisco. In this posting I’ll first describe the judgements.

I had booked an aisle seat and, when I boarded, a middle-aged couple were settling in to the two seats next to me on my left - the woman by the window, the man using my seat to unpack things from his bag that he would need during the flight. I said, “Hello”. But he didn’t acknowledge me and seemed irritated that I had arrived to take my seat before he had finished. As we headed east at 35,000 feet he clearly felt it was his right to use the whole of the armrest and block my reading light by holding his book up high in front of him. He never said “excuse me” or “thank you” when he had to get by to use the toilet. I noticed that he only used monosyllables and grunts to respond to his wife’s questions and requests; and, to top it all, he drank quantities of wine and spirits!

You have to understand that my primary selves have to do with being polite, communicative, respectful, accommodating, and pleasant to others. Also, I seldom drink alcohol. So here I was sitting next to a whole bunch of my disowned selves in the form of my fellow passenger!!

I could feel the judgements of my primary selves coursing through my mind and body. I felt myself tightening and sitting more rigidly, waiting for the opportunity to recover the armrest should he move his elbow. Then I paused. I was on my way home from a weeklong intensive Voice Dialogue training with Hal and Sidra at their home in northern California. There had been much sharing and analysis of negative bonding patterns and I decided to put into practice what I had learnt and experienced during the training.

So I asked myself if I was unconsciously feeling vulnerable right now. It had been an amazing week where we had all supported each other as we dived deeply into our individual processes. I was still feeling quite open, sensitive and a little lost as I moved out of the safe container of the workshop and back into the everyday world. I was sad to say goodbye to my friends in California and also missing my partner in London as I had been away for 3 weeks. I hadn’t slept well the night before and I was facing a 10 hour flight with the prospect of an 8 hour time change and jetlag when I arrived. Yes, I was feeling vulnerable!

Once I realised this, and that my primary selves were on high alert to try and protect me, I was able to sit with my vulnerability and take more conscious care of myself. As I did this I could feel my judgements about my neighbour melting away. I followed Hal and Sidra’s advice to imagine taking a little essence of his energy to see what gift it could bring me. Of course! It was one of my issues that I had been working on during the training: entitlement. I was entitled to my space and light, comfort and consideration. I could do more than just cope with my very entitled neighbour, put up with his behaviour, be outwardly nice yet inwardly silently judge him. I could unhook from the negative bonding pattern and assert my rights in a neutral and impersonal way through an Aware Ego. I felt very calm about this realisation and my body immediately relaxed.

And then a remarkable thing happened. The energy between us shifted. He moved his elbow away, and for the rest of the flight we shared the use of the armrest. He reclined his seat and held his book lower and I had plenty of light. When the snack tray came around half way through the flight I wanted to take two chocolate bars. But the steward made it clear that we were only allowed to take one each. Noticing this, my neighbour took the bar he was entitled to and then offered it to me! He continued to drink but it didn’t bother me any more. We never had a conversation, but once I had embraced both my vulnerability and acknowledged the disowned selves that he held for me, the tension between us disappeared and I could relax for the rest of the flight.

Well, almost! In my next blog posting I will describe the passenger to my right across the aisle and how he was the source of a mysterious and consuming attraction.

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

After a Voice Dialogue Workshop - by Helena Weaver

Monday morning – and I woke up – and something was really different! I immediately felt aware of myself in a new way. For once I was not immediately identified with my anxious, pushy worried, selves. Yet I could feel that they were nearby, eager to put their point of view and get me up and running around. Fascinated, I brought myself a cup of tea back to bed and proceeded to conduct a meeting of any self who wanted to attend.

Instantly a very Responsible self arrived and listed a huge long list of demands, worries and responsibilities. This self sat straight and strong but with a crushing sense of burden like a heavy dark cloud that weighed him down. All these duties had to be squarely faced, he said, and tightened his shoulders and gritted his teeth. Anxiety and tension filled his chest and stomach.

I withdrew, thanked him and listened for other voices within that might want to comment.

Then his opposite took over, laid herself back amongst the cushions and began to completely chill out. She remarked that as far as she was concerned she was prepared to do nothing today for as long as possible; Helena hadn't had a weekend off for 2 weekends now and rest was long overdue! I was amazed to experience how rapidly the sense of burden and stress left my body as she lay there, guiltlessly, muscles melting into the bed, thinking about virtually nothing - expect the play of sunlight on the leaves of the trees and how good it was to just lie there.

I met this part of me in the workshop an unprejudiced way for perhaps the first time ever. Usually, I realised, I unconsciously disown her as a work-shy skiver who gets in the way by refusing to work hard enough. Yet I consciously long for a more relaxed life style, more quality of life, more enjoyment in just living.

It strikes me now as wonderfully funny and so appropriate that this part that I had been beating up, now turns out to be the key to my dreams of a happier life! I see she is the part of me that can easily access a state of just being. And that it is her that is crucially missing from my life, who can bring a quality of presence and sensual enjoyment into my life in a way that no other part of me can. After just 5 minutes in her I felt completely refreshed. To my amazement I then found I got up and began organising my week in a state of effortless ease and flow. Extraordinary, no pushing and force required!

Thank you, John, and Michael, for teaching me to open this door! This is a whole new way to discover inner balance, and one that is such a delight to use!

Saturday, 15 March 2008

An Inner Patriarch

In Her book “The Shadow King: The Invisible Force That Holds Women Back”, Dr Sidra Stone writes about a self she calls the Inner Patriarch that exists often unconsciously in women.

‘What does the Inner Patriarch expect of women? The Inner Patriarch thinks that a good woman should be supportive, receptive, loving, giving, compassionate, understanding and nurturing. She should not be too powerful, and she should not take up too much space. He likes his women submissive and tame. He fears what will happen to the world – and to the women themselves – if women were to stand up and take power either in the outer world or in the more personal world of relationship.’

I heard an example of the Inner Patriarch’s voice on BBC radio 4 the other day. A second generation British Sikh man was talking about the time when at the age of 30, and after many attempts by his parents to arrange a suitable wife for him, he finally told his mother that he wanted to marry a woman of his choice. His mother held very traditional values about the kind of woman that would be suitable for him – values that had clearly been passed to her from her mother. She told her son that he should choose a woman that was shorter than him, faired skinned, good at house work, a good cook and obedient!

The Inner Patriarch exists in both men and women. Once we can hear its voice and separate from it, this self need no longer insidiously pass on the values of a patriarchal society from generation to generation. All of us - whether male or female - will gain more conscious choice about how we handle our social and personal relationships.

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Voices in the Media

I like to keep my ears open when listening to the radio or watching TV and catch the phrases that indicate different selves are speaking. Phrases such as: “Part of me is quite sympathetic to your ideas, but practically I can’t agree with you”, “A part of me would rather not be doing this”, “I was beside myself with anger”, “Something just took me over and before I knew it I was telling him exactly what I thought of him. I felt so guilty afterwards”. “I’m in two minds about this”. It’s a fun activity!

Yesterday I heard a couple of interesting ones.

My first example from the BBC concerns New York State Governor Eliot Spitzer who apologised amid allegations of involvement in a prostitution ring. Mr Spitzer was elected governor in November 2006, promising ethical reform in New York. As New York's attorney general, he had become known as the Sheriff of Wall Street for his relentless pursuit of financial wrong-doing. His successes in that battle led Time Magazine to name him "Crusader of the Year" in 2002. Mr Spitzer had also taken a firm line against prostitution in New York. At a press interview he said, "I have disappointed and failed to live up to the standard I expected of myself."

Who is the “I” that expects such high standards of “my self”? It sounds like his ethical “Sheriff of Wall Street” and “Crusader” parts have been primary and pretty much run his public life. But being so identified with them, other selves would naturally have been disowned and relegated to the shadow. My guess is that the “I” that has “disappointed and failed to live up to the standard” is one such part. It sounds like it has been operating behind the scenes and just got him into a lot of trouble! If I were doing a Voice Dialogue session with Mr Spitzer I would first ask to speak to his primary ethical parts (his Sheriff and Crusader) and help him value and separate from them. Then, when appropriate, we might talk to the one that really doesn’t care about ethics and wants to be more self-centered and have fun - the one that got him involved in prostitution. His task would then be to stand between them with more selves-awareness and make more conscious choices about his behaviour.

The second example comes from a Channel 4 TV broadcast about a shocking series of teenage suicides in Wales. Local youth workers are receiving training in identifying and coaching young people most at risk of committing suicide. There was a brief extract where the trainer said, “These teens don’t want to kill themselves, just the part of them that is miserable and unhappy”. I wonder if Voice Dialogue could play a part in helping these young people and the professionals who are trying to help them.

If you hear any other examples in the media or elsewhere please post them here!

Sunday, 24 February 2008

Sitting with my Selves

I have had quite an interesting time getting started on this blog. I have to admit that I have never kept a blog before (do you keep a blog like you keep a diary?). Parts of me are quite resistant to the idea. They are telling me things like, “What have you got to say that anyone would be interested in?”, “It will take so much time and effort to maintain it!”, “What will happen if someone doesn’t like what you write?!”, “It is too public and you will be so exposed. It could cause you a lot of embarrassment.”

On the other side are the voices of encouragement and action, “If you are serious about setting up this Voice Dialogue UK website then let’s get on with it!”, “You are knowledgeable in this work and good at it and now is the time to put it out there”, “You should have the courage of your convictions!”, “Who cares if people don’t like something you write. If you have something to say, say it!”

Here I am sitting between these various opposites ‘sweating the choice’ as Hal says. On the one side I feel the voices that would have me keep my head down, not risk upsetting anyone and stay relatively hidden. At their core are some sensitive and vulnerable selves that fear not being liked, or that I will make a fool of myself. They are the softer energies. On the other are stronger energies – the action selves that would have me boldly go out into the world, be confident, take the challenge.

Of course, each of those voices is right in its own terms. My task is to listen to them all and make a conscious choice.

So, having checked in with them, I have decided to begin writing this blog using some of the energy of my confident selves but also with one arm around the more fearful parts of me. I don’t know how it will unfold and where it will lead, but I have finally made a start. My sense is of being at the wheel of a bus full of an amazing array of characters setting out on a journey. It is quite an old, but sturdy bus. There is a lot of noise and chatter from everyone. They all have their own agendas, concerns, points of view, needs and hopes. My job is to keep the bus on the road and make sure that everyone is heard, valued and included as we trundle along.

So, all aboard! Off we go, destination unknown. Will you join me for the ride?