Saturday, 11 October 2014

The Organiser

My partner left last week for an eight-month stay in Thailand. After 6 years in the UK, he wants to reconnect with his culture, visit his family and study Thai massage. The trip has been planned for at least a year, so I have had plenty of time to get used to the idea that we will be apart for this extended period. However, as the reality of being home alone sets in, I’m feeling vulnerable. I have Peppar my dog to keep me company, but she doesn’t quite compensate for his absence.

As the days unfold, I can feel the presence of my Primary selves as they circle around me to protect the Little Boy in me who is missing him. Their job is to keep me from feeling sad and upset and they are an awesome bunch. There’s my Rational Mind, my Pusher, my Pleaser and my Perfectionist, but chief amongst them is my Organiser who came into existence very early in my life.

My mother was an extremely neat and tidy person and one of her major rules was that all my toys had to be put back in their boxes after I had finished playing with them. I might have rebelled against this, but instead chose the path of least resistance and followed her injunction. As a result, I developed my own top-notch Organiser who took his place in the pantheon of my Primary selves.

In addition to having me follow the household rules, my Organiser became a useful ally in protecting me against the overly protective, possessive and needy feelings that came at me from my mother. I could rely on him to create structures that would defend me against her. Each night for example I can recall lining all my soft toys up in exactly the same order along the wall by my bed. They formed a symbolic shield and with them in place I could safely fall asleep.

Later, my Organiser used my electric train set to fashion similar boundaries. On sheets of chipboard that stretched in a large L-shape along two walls of my bedroom I created a detailed landscape of undulating hills and valleys with miniature trees, a river, fences and fields with sheep and cows. Cornflakes packets became high-rise apartments and my matchbox cars travelled along black painted roads. Through this highly organised terrain the railway track weaved its way in a large and irregular loop, passing through tunnels and over bridges.

I would spend hours arranging and modifying this landscape, lost in my self-constructed world. No one was allowed to re-organise, alter or even touch it. This applied to friends and family alike - but especially to my mother who was forbidden to dust it! Organising objects around me like this became a way for me to create a boundary within which I felt secure when events, situations or people triggered my vulnerability. I felt I was in control and therefore safe.

By the time I was a teenager my Organiser had infiltrated every aspect of my life influencing how I arranged my books on the shelves, my clothes and all the objects in my cupboards. I loved the preparation for a cycling holiday or camping trip as much as the event itself. My Organiser had me write detailed lists of what to take, check and recheck everything was in order and pack my bags with great care and attention. As a consequence I became an expert at planning and time management. I even fantasised that some day I would be a great logistics officer in the army or an operations manager in an international company.

Being so identified with my Organiser has been a wonderful asset to me in my work, but inevitably it has meant that I have attracted into my life people who are less-organisationally skilled and who don’t value order so highly! Friends who come to stay in my neat and tidy home invariably have the uncanny knack of creating instant “mess” with bags, clothes and belongings strewn all over. Many of my lovers have had as one of their Primary selves a spontaneous or more laissez faire self. At the outset this has seemed a rather cute and endearing characteristic. But as soon as stress-levels have risen and we have gotten into arguments, my Organiser has rounded on them, judging them as “untidy”, “shambolic” and “out of control”.

Which brings me to my current partner who of course feels no need to wash and dry the dishes immediately after eating, or put them away in the appropriate cupboard. Nor does he mind leaving shoes, bags, coats, letters, socks, towels, newspapers, hats, gloves, bottles, jars, tubs and tubes lying wherever they happen to land! In contrast to me, he feels comfortable and secure when his environment is haphazard and chaotic. Too much organisation can make him feel constrained and boxed in. It reminds him of his Aunt’s house where he was raised after his parents died. She was a meticulous person and was always criticising him for being messy and muddled-headed. No matter how hard he tried it was never good enough so he finally gave up trying.

We realised early in our relationship that we could learn a lot from each other - him how to be more organised and me how to let go and be more impulsive. We knew that if we didn’t do this, we would end up just gritting our teeth and bearing each other’ behaviour or endlessly judging our opposing selves. Either way the relationship would be in jeopardy. For my part, I have practiced separating from my Organiser and choosing occasionally to leave the bed unmade, the cushions on the sofa unplumped, the washing up in the bowl overnight or the garden path unswept. I have also embraced the part of me that is comfortable acting without a plan, and found a joy and excitement in this.

But now, with my partner gone and my Little Boy feeling abandoned, I sense my Organiser trying to muscle in to protect me as he always has. He has already hijacked the pad by my bed that I use to note down dreams. It has now become a list of things I have to do the next day - things like sorting kitchen cupboards, rearranging bookshelves, cleaning out the shed, tidying up the garden and clearing away my partner’s perfumes and toiletries in the bathroom. None of these things are bad, but if I do them unconsciously and allow my Organiser to take over and drive me relentlessly until they are all done, I will not be able to stay in touch with my Little Boy. Instead, he will get buried beneath a flurry of activity.

My task now is to keep my wonderful Organiser in check and take some time and space to just be with the Little Boy inside me. Sitting quietly with him and feeling his vulnerability, sadness and upset at the separation, I hope that I will be able to consciously take care of him and his needs. Doing this will allow me to maintain an authentic connection with my partner when we communicate by phone or via the internet. And it will also pave the way for a sweet reunion later in the year!

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Just Amble

I tried to ignore it, but the pain in my ankle wouldn't go away. It had started as a twinge but then grew in strength until each step felt increasingly uncomfortable. I couldn't recall twisting or injuring it in any way and was at a loss to explain the cause. Mooching around the house I hardly noticed it, but as soon as I went out and walked any distance my ankle began to complain. I found myself limping slightly and tensing the muscles in my leg to compensate.

Eventually I went to see my doctor who diagnosed a pulled ligament and recommended resting my foot as much as possible. But how could I do that when I had to walk the dog twice a day? Peppar was just over a year old and full of energy. She would go crazy if she didn't get the chance to run, sniff and play with other dogs. My partner's work schedule meant that I was the one to take her out morning and afternoon for her daily exercise - a three-mile walk by the river.

I wondered if some manipulation might help and decided to make an appointment with a physiotherapist. Before seeing him, however, I scheduled a Voice Dialogue session with my friend Michael. I thought that we could do some body dialogue and talk to my ankle to see if it was trying to tell me something.

As is often the case, what happened was not what my Rational Mind had mapped out! As Michael began the facilitation, I became aware of a general tightness and tension in my body. We decided to talk to the part of me that was causing it. I moved my chair over and out came a part that called itself my Resistor.

Michael welcomed him and asked what purpose he served.
“I put a break on the selves that would otherwise run away with his life,” said the Resistor.
“What parts are they?” asked Michael.
“Those big powerful guys over there.” The Resistor nodded to the other side of the room. “His Controller, his Rational Mind, his Pleaser, his Organiser, and above all, his Pusher. They are all very headstrong. I have thick steel cables attached to them but it takes a huge amount of energy to rein them in and anchor them down.”
“What would happen if you weren't around to keep them in check like this?” enquired Michael.
“They would completely take him over and cause him all sorts of problems. In fact they would probably end up killing him!” replied the Resistor.

“How much of John's energy do you take up doing your job?” asked Michael.
“About 90%. They pull really hard, like kites in a strong wind. I have to be constantly vigilant to stop them from taking off and flying away with him. For example, his Pusher tries to infiltrate every aspect of John's life. He can’t even leave him in peace when walking the dog. He sets constraints - a certain distance has to be covered in a limited amount of time - so that the walk turns into a route march. He also gets John to use the walk to review his dreams from the night before as well as create a ‘to do list’ for the day ahead. Every minute has to be productive. He just doesn’t let up!”

“That's amazing. I'm just wondering whether you have anything to do with the pain in his ankle,” Michael enquired.
“Of course I do. It's a result of me digging my heels in and attempting to slow that Pusher down.”
“I see. So you’re trying to get him to walk more slowly?”
“Exactly. He has been striding out like a man possessed. He needs to get that Pusher off his back, relax and use the time to enjoy the river and its wildlife. He should just amble.”

Two days later with the words of my Resistor fresh in my mind I had my appointment with Euan the physiotherapist. He examined my ankle and confirmed that I had indeed pulled a ligament and now had some secondary problems as a result of walking awkwardly.

“But I have no idea how I could have done it,” I said.
“It could be a result of repetitive strain”, said Euan. “Have you done a lot of walking recently?”
“As a matter of fact I have, ever since we got our new dog,” I replied.
“Do you walk on a smooth or uneven surface?” he enquired.
“On the towpath, which is mostly uneven.”
“I see. Show me how you walk.”

I strode around the consulting room.
“How long do you walk the dog every day?”
“In total about ninety minutes, maybe more.”
“Well, I'd say that striding like that on an uneven surface is the cause of your problem.”
“So should I stop walking and rest my ankle?” I asked hesitantly.

His answer gave me goose bumps. “Not at all. You should keep on moving your foot or your ankle will seize up. But instead of striding out like that, just amble.”

Like all dogs, Peppar is a very sensitive being and picks up small changes in my energy. She is also very bright and a fast learner. I quickly taught her to sit, stay, come and drop. To my great frustration however, the one discipline she didn’t master was to walk to heal on the lead. No matter how many times I pulled her back and said “Peppar, heal!” she always tried to forge ahead.

It was only when I followed Euan’s advice to walk more slowly rather than stride out that I understood why. My verbal command to “heal” contradicted the non-verbal energy of my Pusher, which for her was actually signaling, “Go, go, go!” As I have practiced separating from my Pusher during our walks and consciously accessed my calmer, more relaxed selves, Peppar has started to walk to heal - and my ankle has healed.

The learning for me as I grow older is that I have to get into a different relationship with my Pusher or the impact of his energy on my body will cause me ever more problems. As I reflect on this, I am reminded of the advice my grandfather gave about how to get things done without “overdoing it” and becoming stressed out. “Make haste slowly!” he would say with a knowing smile and a twinkle in his eye.

Or in the words of my Resister and of Euan, “Just amble.”