Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Baby Trump

I have just returned from a trip to North America. It was an interesting time to be travelling there with the presidential elections looming. I had been invited to teach two Voice Dialogue workshops - one in California and the other in Mexico - and took the opportunity to visit old friends.

People who are interested in Voice Dialogue tend to be politically left of centre. It was no surprise therefore that when conversation turned to the two presidential candidates there was much anguish and disquiet about the prospect of a Donald Trump victory.

"Have you heard what he just said about immigrants?" "Did you see how he behaved towards that woman?!" "He's a bully, misogynist and racist!!!" "How could we possibly entrust the highest office in the land to someone with those attitudes?!!"

I joined in the chorus of criticism. I revelled in the judgements, condemned the man as totally unfit to be a presidential candidate and denounced the "deplorables" who supported him. I found myself savouring each new bizarre utterance from "The Donald". My sense of outrage was delicious. When I saw the October cover of the Mexican Letras Libres magazine, it confirmed my prejudices: 'Fascista Americano' - the new Hitler!!

Surrounded by my like-minded friends, it was easy to get swept away by my self-righteous indignation. Our collective Primary Selves held the values of tolerance, understanding and inclusiveness. In Donald Trump they were seeing their opposites - our in-the-shadows, Disowned Selves. And through their eyes what they saw was abhorrent.

As part of my trip I visited the creators of Voice Dialogue, Hal and Sidra Stone. When the election inevitably came up for discussion, Hal shared a recent dream he'd had. In the dream he was inside a house that he knew well. There was a door which usually led into a beautiful garden but, to his surprise, when he went through it he found himself in another room instead. He was shocked to find that the room was full of Trump supporters. Hal asked what they were doing in his house. He hadn't agreed to them using this room. The organiser responded by showing Hal official papers which gave them the right to hold the rally there. Hal then accepted their presence in his house.

There is a difference between judgement and discernment. When we point the finger of judgement, blame, condemnation and criticism there are three fingers pointing back towards us! Our Judgements invite us to look at the disowned material lurking in our psyche - in this case, our own inner Trump supporters rallying somewhere deep in the basement of our house. If we have the courage to do this - not an easy task! - our judgement changes to discernment. Our intense, visceral reactivity softens, our stance becomes more solid and balanced, and we are not so easily destabilised. We can stand in firm opposition to Trump's rhetoric and behaviour without being polarised by it.

Distasteful as it may seem, imagine taking a homeopathic pill of "essence of Trump". What benefit might that bring us? Maybe it could help us speak our mind clearly without worrying about what others might think; or it might help us to have the courage of our convictions, to stand up and be counted; or to believe in ourselves and feel entitled to ask for what we want, however impossible it might seem. The gift of embracing our disowned Trump-like selves will be different for each of us. Remember, it's just a small homeopathic dose - embracing does not mean becoming!

And there is more that Donald Trump has to teach us.

On one of my workshops I was discussing conflict in relationships with the group. I made the observation that all conflict arises out of vulnerability that either we are unaware of or that we do not feel safe sharing. To illustrate my point I showed the picture of an upset child with blond hair. "Oh my god!" exclaimed one participant, "He looks like baby Trump!!"

In that moment, something shifted in me. I suddenly saw the Inner Child, the little, vulnerable Donald. Trump the combative adult might be totally unaware of its presence in his psyche. But I have no doubt that protecting this vulnerable child has been the unconscious motivation driving his Primary Selves to seek the presidency.

Money, prestige and power - these are three ways commonly used to defend ourselves against the discomfort and pain of our innate vulnerability. I can only speculate about what unaddressed pain lives at the core of Trump's being. The more important question is how in touch am I with my own younger Selves, my own vulnerabilities? How well am I consciously taking care of them? Or am I unconsciously relying on my Primary Liberal Selves to do it for me?

Watching the president-elect meet with Barak Obama I thought he looked a little lost. I fantasised that a little part of him might be anxiously saying, "What am I doing here?!" Looking at him, and our reactions to his way of being, through the framework of Voice Dialogue and the Psychology of Selves, might we even find it in our hearts to feel some compassion for Donald John Trump? If so, the way we oppose his world view, while firm and resolute, will look, sound and feel very different.

The black actor Brandon Victor Dixon demonstrated this eloquently in his address to vice-president-elect Pence at the end of a performance of the hit musical Hamilton which Pence attended:

'Vice-president-elect Pence, I see you walking out, but I hope you will hear us just a few more moments. There's nothing to boo here, ladies and gentlemen. We are all here sharing a story about love.

'We, sir, are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our children, our planet, or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights. We truly hope this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and work on behalf of all of us. All of us.

'We thank you for sharing this wonderful American story, told by a diverse group of men and women of different colours, creeds and orientations.'

Sunday, 10 July 2016

Beyond The Selves

Metaphors are tricky. By saying that one thing is the same as another, they offer us new and sometimes radical insights and understandings. The danger is that we may take them too literally. Bearing this in mind (and at the risk of mixing my metaphors!) I'd like to share three that put my current experience of Selves into a larger context.

The first metaphor is that Selves are the many colours produced by pure light refracted through a prism. Each colour represents a different vibration, giving a distinctive hue to anything it illuminates. Just so, when we view the world through the eyes of a particular Self our perception is coloured by its approach to life. For example, a Pusher Self will colour our experience one way; a Chilled Self another way. The more colours we have available in our palette of Selves, the richer and more vibrant our experience of life will be.

The second metaphor is that Selves are characters in a movie appearing on a TV or computer screen. They each have their own traits and qualities and a unique perspective on what is happening as the drama of our life unfolds. They interact in specific ways, each with its own set of values, attitudes, beliefs and behaviours. Sometimes a character will hold centre stage and take the lead role, sometimes it may take no part at all in the action.

The third metaphor is that Selves are the waves dancing on the surface of the ocean. Each wave has a different shape and size and is formed both by the currents below and the climate above. In the same way, our Selves are created in response to our life circumstances - our genetic predisposition and the prevailing social norms and culture. They shift and change according to our environmental conditions.

Voice Dialogue enables us to parse the multiplicity of Selves that constitute our personalities, and so gain insight into how they inform and influence our lives. But as we become more familiar with them, deeper questions emerge:
  • In what do the selves arise?
  • With what are they known?
  • Of what are they made?
As we contemplate these questions our focus naturally shifts from the rainbow of colours, the cast of movie characters and the diversity of waves to that which lies at the background of all experience and is ever-present and unchanging. The metaphors invite us to experience something beyond the Selves: the pure light out of which the colours arise; the screen without which the characters in the movie cannot not be known; and the ocean of which the waves are made.

In exploring such "spiritual" questions, however, it's imperative that we don't reject the Selves that enable us to maintain our material existence in the world. Rather, this is an inclusive approach where we live in awareness of both the relative, multifaceted realm of the body-mind and the all-encompassing, infinite field in which they have their being.

Of course, language can only take us so far in answering the above questions. A final caution about metaphors comes from the Buddhist tradition: "Don't mistake the finger pointing at the moon for the moon itself"!

Saturday, 6 February 2016

The Journey

To use Voice Dialogue as a tool for dealing with problems, issues or challenges in our lives, is to begin a journey - a journey into our psyche.... and beyond.

The first step can start with quite ordinary concerns. For example, we may be having difficulty deciding on a purchase: "I'm not sure which dress to buy for the party. Part of me thinks I'll look great in this one, but another part of me thinks it's too showy and people will judge me." Or it may concern a dilemma about our job: "Should I stay in this job or leave? A bit of me would really like more freedom to explore and try out new things. But I also feel very insecure about taking a leap into the unknown." It can involve relationship difficulties: "Part of me used to find his easy-going attitude very endearing. Now I find his indecision and lack of direction really hard to deal with." Or judgments of other people: "I can't stand their cold, ruthless approach to doing business."

All of these examples invite us to explore and embrace the multiplicity of who we are - our many I's, parts, aspects, bits or "selves". We learn which selves we are identified with as being "me", and as a consequence discover which selves have been relegated to the shadows as being "not me". It is a truly fascinating journey in which dreams, body symptoms, fantasies, judgments and conflicts all have something to teach us. Yet to meet all these many and varied aspects of our psyche is just the first part of the journey. It is not actually the goal of Voice Dialogue.

When in a Voice Dialogue session the facilitator helps us to separate from a self with which our ego is identified - for example a pushing self that by default has us work all hours without a break - we have the opportunity to meet the self that has been disowned as a consequence - in this case a chilled, laid back self that brings us the ability to switch off, relax and recharge. We now have an ego that is aware of this pair of opposite energies and a process can begin of holding the tension between their very different priorities and demands. We call this an Aware Ego Process and it enables us to make more conscious choices in our everyday lives. But there is more to this journey.

As we dialogue with more and more of our inner voices, deeper questions naturally arise. Just what is this place / space we call the Aware Ego that sits in between all our selves? If it's not a self, then what is it? Does it only operate on the material, worldly plain or does it include the realm of the spiritual? Where does the process ultimately lead? Is there something more behind or beyond it? Is there an "organising intelligence" that naturally informs and influences the Aware Ego Process? If so, what is its purpose? So from the ordinary concerns of daily life the journey leads us into extraordinary territory!

In the conclusion to his autobiographical essay From Enlightenment to the Aware Ego Process to Source Energy (2013) Hal Stone writes:

'What is it within us that drives us to learn to embrace opposing energies? It is the Source Energy that pushes us in this direction. It is this Source Energy that was instrumental in the discovery and evolution of the Voice Dialogue process. And please keep in mind that Voice Dialogue is simply a method for birthing the Aware Ego Process. For us, it is still the best method that we have found for birthing the Aware Ego process. Ultimately this Aware Ego Process can lead us to a deeper and more direct experience of the Source Energy that lies beyond apparent dualities; suddenly the apparent duality of earth/world energies vs. spiritual energies has a chance to become clear to us and this duality that has existed for so long, is no longer an issue.

The process of the Aware Ego brings honor to these two dimensions of reality and I do believe that the Universal Intelligence / Source Energy / Organizing Intelligence would smile, and even laugh, at the idea of our embracing a union of such opposites.'