Wednesday, 1 April 2009

The Crucible

In the mid 80’s I was introduced to an Englishman who had a management training business based in Munich. Paul ran programmes for German business people aimed at improving their cross-cultural communication skills. We hit it off immediately and soon began developing and running intensive workshops together.

The German business milieu values order, detail and discipline and I felt very much at home. I was good at organising and planning, and loved the process of creating new programmes. We worked and reworked the structure, content, timing and delivery of each workshop until they were perfect. We impressed clients with our logical explanations, clear paradigms and comprehensive models. No request was too much for us and we drove ourselves relentlessly. A typical seminar day began at 8am and did not end until the last participant left the hotel bar, often after midnight. Our German participants thought we were “wunderbar!”

In the third year of our cooperation Paul and I trained 180 days in 50 locations. This did not include the days spent in development, preparation and travel. Professionally and financially I had become very successful, but I was beginning to feel a growing emptiness inside. I had no time for a social life or to develop intimate relationships. Something told me I should take a break or I might I burn out.

I negotiated a three-month sabbatical with Paul, devised a detailed itinerary, bought a round-the-world air ticket and headed off - first stop S.E. Asia. I had lived and worked in that region before and there were lots of people and places I wanted to see again. I also had a list of destinations I had not previously visited that I wanted to explore. After a hectic six weeks of sightseeing in Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong and Japan, I flew to Hawaii to meet up with some old friends, and then on to San Francisco. It was there that my carefully planned schedule got derailed.

At a party, I was introduced to Arturo, a Mexican from out of town. He was studying in Tucson, Arizona and I was intrigued by his warm, easy-going energy and engaging personality. We chatted about all manner of things and at the end of the evening he invited me to take a trip to Tucson to visit him. I thanked him for his kind offer, but told him that a trip to the South West USA was not on my itinerary. “I think that surely you are not a slave to your own schedule,” he replied, “In life we should be flexible and accept what life brings, no? Who knows what fate God has decided for us? Here’s my number, if you decide to come give me a call. Mi casa es su casa!”

And so it was that ten days later I took an unplanned detour.

Tucson is surrounded by mountains - as if sitting in the hollow of a huge crucible. Native Americans consider it a sacred site where the energies of Mother Earth are strong. It is supposed to be a good place to experience personal transformation. People entering the crucible are of two kinds: those who find it hard to settle down and cannot stay; and those who are drawn in and cannot leave.

Arturo was a great host and introduced me to lots of his Mexican and Hispanic friends. I loved their attitude to life and was fascinated by their values and beliefs. Their emphasis was very much on relationships. “A man may work hard and become a millionaire, but if he has no friends he is poor,” said Arturo. The days unfolded in a leisurely way and I never knew ahead of time what we would do, who we would meet or where we would end up. Time slowed and I began to relax and unwind a little. The hot desert environment with its weird and wonderfully shaped cactae was a world away from my life in Germany. My sabbatical was drawing to a close but I knew that it would not be long before I returned to this magical place.

Within six months I had given up my work in Germany, and was living in an old adobe house on the edge of Tucson. A friend of Arturo employed me part time in his small consultancy business and I became acclimatised to a very different pace of life. I hiked in the mountains, explored the canyons and learnt how to respect the desert flora and fauna. Everything was going well with my new life until I started to get more deeply involved with Mexican culture.

The Mexican border was only an hour away and I became romantically involved with a series of Mexican nationals. To my dismay, each relationship followed the same pattern. At first I would be entranced by their laidback approach to life and in awe of their ability to go with the flow. But sooner or later their behaviour would begin to drive me crazy and my judgements would start: “You are never on time.” “You are so disorganised.” “You keep changing plans.” “You waste a lot of time talking instead of getting the job done.” “You are over-emotional and totally irrational.”

I struggled to understand what kept going wrong. Why was I both attracted to and judgemental of all the people I met? Was there something wrong with me? What could I do to change these painful patterns? In my search for answers to these questions I tried many different modalities and techniques - Psychodrama, Rebirthing, Holotropic Breathwork, the Hoffman Quadrinity Process, the Sedona Release Technique…. I read all the latest self-help books and visited counsellors and shamans, tarot readers and astrologers. The heat was on and the crucible would not let me escape. I was by turns grilled, boiled, fried, baked and roasted!

After two intensive years of introspection I was starting to feel burnt out. How could this be? Wasn’t this the same feeling I had had in Germany? I had left the intensive seminar circuit behind and yet here I was feeling stressed again! I was on the point of despair when someone recommended a new therapeutic process called Voice Dialogue. Would this be any different to all the others? I was very sceptical but decided to give it a try.

The facilitator was called Gail and in my first session she spoke to two parts of me - my Pusher and my Organiser. To my amazement I discovered that not only had they been running my life in Germany, but that they had continued to run it in Tucson as well! It was they who got me involved in so many different therapies, trying this one and that one, and never letting me rest. Along with my Perfectionist and Rational Mind, they formed a formidable team whose job was to have me be the best at whatever I did – whether it be management training or personal development.

As I did more sessions and discovered more of my selves it slowly dawned on me that the qualities I was both attracted to and then judged in my Mexican friends and lovers were those of my disowned Carefree, Easy Going, Spontaneous, Emotional and Intuitive selves. Gail explained that it was actually my Pusher et al who were doing the judging. With this new perspective, I could see that my Mexican friends were in fact my teachers, helping me to become aware of my disowned selves. I realised that if I was to break the cycle of burn-out and disillusionment I needed to consciously embrace all my many selves - the more relationship oriented Mexican ones as well as the more task oriented Germanic ones.

How perfect that Arturo had invited me to Tucson. The crucible had worked its alchemy and could now release me. I left the dry desert of Arizona and moved to the moist coast of California. I had found a new path and taken my first steps on the journey of selves discovery - one that continues to this day.

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