Jul 012016
 
David Bowie

Photograph: R Bamber/Rex Features

Several people have told me recently how helpful David Bowie was at certain times in their lives, so I was interested to read in The Guardian recently about Oliver James’ new book Upping Your Ziggy: How David Bowie Faced His Childhood Demons and How You Can Face Yours. 

“It’s a commonplace,” writes James, “that we are different people in different social roles – mother, worker, friend, lover. We put on a face to meet the faces that we meet. Creating new personas, or using ones from other settings, is important in order to flourish.

“David Bowie’s life is a powerful illustration of how we can be more conscious of which persona should be the host of the radio show, so to speak.”

In the 1970s, Bowie became a star in the role of Ziggy Stardust and, says James, he was also able through that persona to comfort and reassure himself in face of his fears in difficult times. He went on to create other selves that served the same purpose, and in the 1980s emerged a more emotionally healthy man, after years of sex addiction and drug abuse.

James goes on to explain how in his own work as a therapist he helps his clients explore and take charge of their various personas, many of which are concealed even from themselves. In the process they learn to express who they are in a fuller, more authentic and satisfying way, more in charge of how they bring themselves foreword at any given time.

We work a lot with this idea in Haven programs. The Haven’s co-founder Ben Wong wrote about it using the metaphor of The Landscape of Our Lives (click to read and listen to Ben reading). There are so many areas of our personalities that we have never explored, he said. We limit ourselves instead to small, familiar, patches of territory (even when at times we don’t much enjoy being there). Fortunately, though, it’s not too late to explore!

We all have our mountains of exhilaration, surrounded by our cliffs of danger and hardships. Each of us has places of contentment and placidity, like soothing lakes and gentle forests; similarly, each has deep, exciting and sometimes threatening waters as well as scary, unknown jungles. There are in everyone various parched deserts and lush, productive wetlands. Each of our landscapes is endless in the variety of appearances and experiences.

Although the choices are numerous, most people tend to limit themselves to living in only a few parts of the total possibilities. Some people are mountain people while others tend to live in their valleys. However, no matter which part of their landscape that they may find themselves, if they would look carefully in all directions, they would see that the entire landscape is always there.

If you have taken Come Alive perhaps you have experienced a “two-pillow” gestalt process where a person has a conversation with some aspect of themselves that may not normally get much airtime (or maybe always runs the show) … the scared little boy, the voice that is eternally critical, the person who dreams of a better future. This is just one way of exploring, owning and integrating one’s various personas, or exploring the  different regions of one’s inner landscape.

In other programs such as Living Alive Phase I or II you might more literally embody a persona, by dressing, acting, and interacting as a different gender or job or personality, trying on a role, identifying and shaping some inner resource. You might explore aspects of your shadow, parts of who you are that you may have repressed, believing them to be negative or dangerous … or, conversely, thinking yourself not worthy of embodying.

Oliver James writes:

There are many ways for us to take charge of our personas, be it simply by self-reflection, with the help of friends, by writing novels or creating art, or through therapy. We simply need to get a dialogue going between our different parts.

The Haven offers a way to do this through transformational learning in a group setting. Our focus on self-responsible, relational living encourages honest dialogue with one another and with the various aspects of our own individual beings. So come to The Haven, and Up Your Ziggy!!

 

Jun 152016
 

identityWriting last week about The Vocation Myth and Impostor Syndrome, I was reminded of the four Identity Statuses outlined by James Marcia, a Canadian developmental psychologist who taught at Simon Fraser University.

Susan Clarke, Cathy McNally and I have recently referred to Marcia’s ideas in the 25-day Living Alive Phase I. This program offers all sorts of opportunities to delve into the question “Who am I?” and Marcia’s model provides a very helpful frame for that enquiry. The model also offers clues to what goes on in Come Alive, The Haven’s 5-day “introductory” program.

It was Erik Erikson who coined the term “identity crisis,” proposing (for the first time in his 1950 book Childhood and Society) that the central challenge of adolescence is to resolve a conflict between identity achievement and identity confusion. Starting in the 1960s, James Marcia elaborated on this by suggesting that adolescence is better understood as an opportunity to both explore and commit to an identity, in areas such as intimate relationships, friendships, gender roles, politics, occupation, and religion.

While Marcia’s work focussed primarily on adolescence, it also applies to later life, especially when a person is confronted by other forms of crisis, or circumstances that lead them to question their identity and reassess their life. People often come to Come Alive and Living Alive Phase programs in situations of this sort – experiencing separation, loss of loved ones, health challenges, disruptions at work, depression, crises of confidence, and so on. Marcia described these situations as states of disequilibrium, mirroring the chaos that Virginia Satir said occurs when the status quo is disturbed by an element of change.

Marcia discusses four identity statuses – Foreclosure, Diffusion, Moratorium and Identity Achievement – and characterizes them by the levels of exploration and commitment present in each, as shown in the chart below.

Marcia

Here’s a quick overview.

Foreclosure (high commitment, low exploration): This is what happens when a person takes on a “ready-made” identity, with little or no exploration of alternatives. For example, a young person will go into the same profession as a parent, or take on their political or religious beliefs. As Marcia put it, “the individual about to become a Methodist, Republican farmer like his Methodist, Republican farmer father, with little or no thought in the matter, certainly cannot be said to have ‘achieved’ an identity, in spite of his commitment.” Marcia also discussed “negative foreclosure,” where a person takes on a fixed identity in direct opposition to what is expected.

Diffusion (low commitment, low exploration): People in this state attempt to sidestep the whole question of self-definition by avoiding both exploration and commitment. They are amorphous and tend to be socially isolated. They may not experience much anxiety, because they do not care about much; if they begin to care more they will either move towards Moratorium (see below) or become increasingly disturbed, negative and self-destructive.

Moratorium (low commitment, high exploration): These people are actively exploring themselves and their environment, searching for an identity. Marcia says they “report experiencing more anxiety than [others] … The world for them is not currently a highly predictable place; they are vitally engaged in a struggle to make it so.”

Identity Achievement (high exploration, high commitment): These people have experienced a crisis, have explored, and have made commitments. Marcia suggests that they have developed “an internal, as opposed to external, locus of self-definition.”

Perhaps you recognize yourself in this model, in the ways you have reacted or responded to crises at different stages of your life. Perhaps you are facing a crisis right now.

Crisis and disequilibrium are inevitable facts of life. They are often painful, and can be disastrous. Potentially, however, they can lead to periods of “reconstruction,” which Marcia called moratorium-achievement-moratorium-achievement or MAMA cycles, a growth process developed through both exploration and commitment.

Come Alive and the Living Alive Phase programs can help you see the places you have been in your life with understanding and compassion. The Haven is an invitation into an exciting, relational process of exploration, commitment, and self-definition.

In Erikson’s scheme of life stages, successful negotiation of such crises of identity opens the door into a life of intimacy, care, and faith. For many people, Haven programs have been vital steps on that path.

****************

Thanks to Denise Goldbeck for introducing me to James Marcia’s work.

Jun 032016
 

impostor syndromeOne day when I was about eleven years old I was sent home with a school report suggesting that I was “too eclectic for my own good.”

We had to look the word up.

Eclectic: selecting or borrowing; choosing the best out of everything; broad, the opposite of exclusive.

Reading that now, eclecticism sounds like a pretty good thing, and yes, I was into lots of different things as a kid. But apparently you can have too much of it, and I should have been more focussed – and though my life has since developed in many directions, that thought has stuck with me. Over the years I have developed what I now discover to have a name, or maybe two. It seems I suffer from The Vocation Myth and Impostor Syndrome.

The Vocation Myth is described rather well by The School of Life:

When asked what you do for a living, it can feel a bit uncomfortable if you can’t describe your job in one word – doctor, plumber, seamstress, florist, teacher. If you’ve experienced this confidence-knocking sensation, you may be under the spell of The Vocation Myth.

I experience this a lot. I find it hard to describe the work I do at The Haven … facilitator, counsellor, group leader, teacher? None of these is entirely accurate or particularly informative. And in any case, that’s only one of my jobs. I’m also a book designer, or a graphic designer, or an editor, or a publishing coach … or what? How much easier it would be to be able to say, Oh yes, I’m a psychotherapist. Or, I’m a doctor. I’m a musician. I’m a farmer.

Convenience and ease is just part of it. What about that “confidence-knocking sensation” the School of Life talked about? Here’s how they describe it:

We tend to see confusion about our career paths as a slightly embarrassing failing that reflects poorly on its sufferers. Confusion is readily taken as a sign of being a bit muddled and impractical, of being unreasonably picky or hard to please; perhaps we regard it as a consequence of being spoilt (‘you should be thankful for any job’) or as a troubling symptom of a lack of commitment or general flightiness. We arrive at these rather harsh assessments because we’re still under the spell of a big and often poisonous idea which can be termed the Vocation Myth.

Oh, how familiar!

The School of Life does a good job of tracing the historical origins of the myth, with examples from St Augustine to Michelangelo and Marie Curie. Perhaps you’ll recognize yourself in there somewhere.

But for now let’s move on to impostor syndrome. Here’s the Wikipedia definition:

Impostor syndrome (also known as impostor phenomenon or fraud syndrome) is a term coined in 1978 by clinical psychologists Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes referring to high-achieving individuals marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud”. Despite external evidence of their competence, those exhibiting the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be.

On his blog, Barking Up The Wrong Tree, Eric Barker introduces the topic like this:

“You don’t belong here.”
“You’re not good enough.”
“You got lucky.”
“They’re going to realize you aren’t that smart.”
Ever heard this voice in your head? You’re far from alone. It’s called “impostor syndrome.”
More than 70% of successful people have felt it at one point.

I have an occasional dream of standing in front of an orchestra on stage as the soloist in a concerto … holding an instrument I have no idea how to play. A nasty attack of impostor syndrome indeed! And yes, the appeal of being able to describe my job in one clear word is in part that it would then be a real job and I would not be an impostor or a fraud (though apparently people with real jobs have the same problem too!). Anyway, that’s how the story goes.

Fortunately, there are other ways to tell our stories. The Haven’s Selves Model, for example, has some helpful things to say about the “rather harsh assessments” of our lives that we can so often trap ourselves within.

Having ideals about who we want to be and what we want to do is an important motivator to action and growth. Problems arise, though, when self-hate and its symptoms develop as we fail perfectly to meet our ideals – and at the same time lose touch with our authentic potential. As I have learned and continue to learn, it is also possible to meet these realities with self-compassion, curiosity, and humour – and these too can be fine motivators to action and growth.

So, if you think you might be suffering from impostor syndrome, the vocation myth, or self-hate, take a look!

To close, a couple of sentences from Eric Barker’s blog again:

At its essence, curing impostor syndrome is simple: take off the mask. Don’t be an impostor.

Haven programs offer countless opportunities to practice just that, in the company of others. You are not alone!

Oct 072015
 

Cathy_Toby-1297Tomorrow evening (October 8 at 7 pm Pacific Time) Cathy McNally and I are presenting a free webinar that uses the Johari Window as a frame for thinking about Living Alive Phase I, which we are leading together at The Haven in November.

You can register for the webinar here.

The Johari Window has been around for 60 years1 and is pretty well known. Perhaps you have come across it before. Cathy and I view it as an energy model.

In the diagram below, you can think of the Open area (what you know about yourself and others know too) as free, available energy. The red box that overlies the diagram shows that this area can both expand and contract. Often we tie up or restrict our energy in working hard to control what others know about us (that is in keeping aspects of ourselves Hidden). We also tie up our energy by controlling what information we are willing to take in from others and what areas of ourselves we are willing to look at (that is, there are areas we are Blind to).

This constriction of energy can have all sorts of consequences, including illness, depression, addiction, loneliness and all sorts of difficulties in relationships.

Living It_ johari window TM

The model suggests ways that we can if we want expand the Open quadrant, by asking for and receiving feedback (thus reducing the Blind area), and by self-disclosure and giving feedback (in order to reduce the Hidden area).

By the same process we can tap into the Potential area of the window – aspects of ourselves that were previously unknown to both ourselves and others.

Living Alive Phase I offers fantastic opportunities to practice this. The program focuses on self-awareness, but very much in the context of relating with others. It’s an intensive course in what we describe as “self-responsible relational living.”

This can be quite the ride – sometimes thrilling, sometimes uncomfortable – and the rewards are great! Expanding the energetically Open area in the model frees up our energy to respond to the circumstances of our lives. People discover new ways through the painful consequences of energetic constriction – becoming healthier, happier and more effective – and create better relationships with their friends, partners, and families, at work and in their communities. For me, participating in Living Alive Phase I 15 years ago was a turning point in my life, and leading it now is an exciting privilege.

To find out more, join Cathy and me October 8 for the webinar and November 8–Dec 3 for Living Alive Phase I.

  1. It was created by two American psychologists, Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham, in 1955. The name Johari comes from combining their names, Joe and Harry.
Sep 212015
 

relationshipsthatworkWith Dynamic Empathy (Oct. 8–11, with me and Jane Olynyk) and Communication Fundamentals (Oct. 16–19, with Cathy McNally and Cathy Wilder) coming up soon, I have been looking back at some previous articles I wrote about those two programs. In particular, I thought again about an experience with Ernie McNally, who created Communication Fundamentals with his wife Cathy. Here’s part of what I wrote in 2013:

“Maybe 10 years ago, when I was a newish intern in Come Alive, I watched Ernie McNally working with a participant in the centre of the circle. All they did, apparently, was talk – there was no drama, no show – and yet it was one of the most moving individual focus times I’d ever experienced. At the time, it seemed to me like magic. I remember thinking, I could probably learn to do bodywork and gestalt and the other things that make up Come Alive “individual work” … but this, I’m not so sure. Something else was going on, that I couldn’t quite name … but it seemed to me a lot like love, and brought a profound kind of healing.

“Over the years since then I have learned that I too, like Ernie, can be part of such experiences; and for me, they have been highlights of my own working with people in Haven programs. I think that such conversations are actually examples of the Haven Communication Model in action; they are embodiments of its spirit, perhaps an invitation to both partners to embody and open their own spirits, and to come into connection. I think that in such connection there is healing and liberation. (And indeed, this connection is at the heart of all kinds of work we do at The Haven, including bodywork and gestalt!)”

Reading over this now, it strikes me that in that encounter Ernie was demonstrating a high level of empathy, which person-centred counsellors might refer to as “depth reflection.”1 The Communication Model is among other things an invitation to “release one’s empathic sensitivity” – that is, the ability as it were to step into another person’s shoes, to get a felt sense of what it’s like to be that person in a particular moment, and then to communicate that back to them. 2 That ability is vital not just for counsellors but also in all sorts of relationships, whether with friends, partners, colleagues, or family.

In Dynamic Empathy, Jane Olynyk and I explore various aspects of the process of empathy using a framework created by Haven founders Ben Wong and Jock McKeen, the Dynamic Empathy Model. We all have a capacity for empathy, and in this program we work on ways to understand, release and grow that capacity.

In Communication Fundamentals you’ll find out how you can use the Haven Communication Model effectively in your day-to-day life, and blend in other perspectives too.

If you’d like to know more about either program, feel free to contact me or The Haven’s registrars (register@haven.ca or 1 800 222 9211 ext 1.)

 

  1. Mearns and Thorne (2007), Person Centred Counselling in Action.
  2. Here’s how Carl Rogers defined empathy (1959): “The state of empathy, or being empathic, is to perceive the internal frame of reference of another with accuracy, and with the emotional components and meanings that pertain thereto, as if one were the other person, but without ever losing the ‘as if’ condition.”
 Posted by at 4:45 pm
Jan 302014
 
Simone Weil

Simone Weil (1909–43), philosopher, political activist, and mystic

You can feel lonely whether you’re by yourself or in company, and there’s lots of evidence that it’s bad for your health. Being personal, Come Alive at The Haven, and Simone Weil can help! Read on to find out how …

In the Vancouver Foundation’s 2012 survey of metro Vancouver entitled Connections and Engagement, one third of the people surveyed said they found it difficult to make new friends. One in four said they were alone more often than they would like to be. In both cases, people who experienced this also reported poorer health (as well as lower trust and a hardening of attitudes toward other community members).1

There is a large body of research that links social isolation with poor health. Lonely people suffer more  depression, heart disease, sleeping problems, high blood pressure, and even an increased risk of dementia in  older age. Importantly, it is not simply being alone that can lead to poor health. It is the feeling of loneliness —  including that ‘alone in the crowd’ feeling – that can affect health.

In fact, most research indicates that feeling isolated is more dangerous than being isolated. In one 2012 study, psychologist John Cacioppo and colleagues looked at data from more than 2,100 adults ages 50 and older and found that feelings of loneliness were associated with increased mortality over a six-year period. The finding was unrelated to marital status and number of relatives and friends nearby, and also unrelated to health behaviours such as smoking and exercise.

“It’s not being alone or not” that affects your health, Cacioppo says. “You can feel terribly isolated when you’re around other people.”2

At The Haven we address the problems of isolation and feeling lonely in many ways. One frame we use to talk about it is what we call the Resonance Model. In this model, we suggest that as people increasingly conform to and internalize the expectations of their families and society they become stuck in the roles they play and lose touch with their authentic natures. They treat themselves and others more as objects than as persons, showing one another only what they think is expected of them. Among the consequences of this are an experience of meaninglessness and loneliness. Even when they are in company, including that of partners, friends and family, there can still be that experience of terrible isolation.

I have recently discovered the life and work of Simone Weil, and find in some of her writing echoes of this idea. In 1934–5, the young Weil, born into an affluent Parisian family and educated at the elite École Normale Supérieure, worked in a number of factories in France, as an expression of solidarity and empathy with working class people. Writing about work on a production line, she said:3

You are an object subject to the will of another being. Since it is not natural for man to become a thing, and since there is no physical constraint, such as whips or chains, you must bend yourself to this passivity. How one would love to leave one’s soul in the little box where one places one’s clocking ticket, and take it up again upon leaving! But one can’t … one must continually silence it.

She returns to the theme that it is “not natural for man to become a thing” in The Iliad or The Poem of Force.4 Force, she says, is that which turns anybody who is subjected to it into a thing. “Exercised to the limit,” she writes, “it turns man into a thing in the most literal sense: it makes a corpse out of him.” She continues with this extraordinary passage:

From [force’s] first property (the ability to turn a human being into a thing by the simple method of killing him) flows another, quite prodigious too in its own way, the ability to turn a human being into a thing while he is still alive. He is alive; he has a soul; and yet – he is a thing. An extraordinary entity this – a thing that has a soul. And as for the soul, what an extraordinary house it finds itself in! Who can say what it costs, moment by moment, to accommodate itself to this residence, how much writhing and bending, folding and pleating are required of it? It was not made to live inside a thing; if it does so, under pressure of necessity, there is not a single element of its nature to which violence is not done.

For me, this is a vivid image of what we do to ourselves in shaping ourselves, often unconsciously, to the demands of society and others, or to the demands of our internalized ideals. It costs us a great deal, this “writhing and bending, folding and pleating,” and leads to the loneliness, isolation and ill health that the metro Vancouver report and others highlight.

In Come Alive and other Haven programs we offer people opportunities to rediscover who they really are, the person more than the object – in Weil’s terms the soul that has worked so hard to accommodate itself to an unnatural home. It is as people do this that they can learn to relate personally to others, through courageously revealing to one another their true thoughts and feelings and opening themselves to the deeper realities of other people’s lives. In this way, it is possible to move out of loneliness and isolation, into connection and engagement.

You can read more about The Haven’s Resonance Model in this booklet, Ideas in Action.

I hope you will join Jane Olynyk and me for Come Alive, February 16–21. Call the registrars on 1 800 222 9211 or send them an email.

  1. Connections and Engagement: A Survey Of Metro Vancouver, June 2012.
  2. Anna Miller, Friends Wanted, APA Monitor on Psychology, Jan 2014.
  3. Quoted in Francine du Plessix Gray, Simone Weil (Penguin Lives), 2001.
  4. In Simone Weil, An Anthology, ed. Sian Miles (Penguin Books), 1986.
Jan 192014
 

PersonalparentingflierThis is a guest article from Denise Goldbeck. Denise and I are leading Personal Parenting at The Haven Feb 28–March 2 (and again in October).

……………….

Anatomy of a Parenting Scene

INT. SCENE – DESCRIPTION

Crowded waiting room at a doctor’s office. Some people are making resigned sighs and shifting in their chairs due to the fact that they have been waiting a little too long. There are three health practitioners sharing the space and behind a long, high counter, there is an assistant interacting with the telephone, a computer and patients. At the counter there is a parent with two small children needing to book a follow-up appointment for one of the children.

CHARACTERS –

PAT – A parent (could be mom or dad) with two young children – aged 4 and 20 months

CHRIS – a 4-year-old child (could be boy or girl) – tagging along

MORGAN – an 18-month-old child – (could be boy or girl) needs a follow up appointment

CAREY – a 24-year-old medical assistant (could be female or male) – single – no children

 

DIALOGUE –

PAT (parent with two small children): I need to make a follow-up for MORGAN. So what are your hours?

photo for blurb_-1CAREY (medical assistant): Well – Of course we are closed on weekends, but Monday is always 8 to 5. Tuesday is 9 to 4  – but then every other Tuesday we go to 6. Wednesday is 11 to 7 and so is Thursday but Friday afternoons we are closed. We take Friday afternoons off.

(MORGAN, 18-month-old child begins by pulling at PAT’s leg. PAT tries to ignore the pull.)

PAT: Uh, what did you say – Monday?

(MORGAN begins pulling PAT’s coat hem to amplify the plea as PAT’s body leans to one side in response.)

CAREY: 8 to 5.

PAT: (Checking wildly about for CHRIS, the 4-year-old, notices with a gasp that CHRIS has discovered the water cooler in the doctor’s office). The days you have evening times…

(MORGAN whimpers, then whines, then adds some stomping, which gains in intensity until it looks like a dance designed to attract demons. Pat beginning to feel a little demonic thinks it might be working.)

PAT: NO! MORGAN!! CHRISsss! Uh … sorry. (It is unclear whether this sorry is intended for Carey, the medical assistant or for the room).

Continue reading »

Jan 122014
 
This is the kind of reading I was getting, with medication, in 2007. It's right on the edge of hypertension. The last reading I took a few days ago was 100/70. What's been going on?

140/88 is the kind of reading I was getting, with medication, in 2007. It’s right on the edge of hypertension. The reading I took yesterday, on a much lower dosage, was 100/70. So what’s going on?

A significant event for me in 2013 was that my blood pressure dropped very considerably, to the point where I have now reduced the medication I have used for the last ten years or so and may at some stage stop it entirely.

I have been taking medication for hypertension regularly since 2001, though I first had high blood pressure readings on visits to the doctor when I was in my twenties. For many years I either ignored it, or obsessed about it. I never did much about it though until I started coming to The Haven.

My doctor here on Gabriola recently gave me a printout of my readings since I first started seeing him. In 2007 my blood pressure, on medication, was mostly at the upper limit of OK, about 140/90. It gradually dropped from there  and settled for a few years around 130/80, which is pretty good. Then at the beginning of 2013 it fell again, to around 115/75. A couple of months ago, I adopted a new diet (more of which later) and it dropped still further.  I started to reduce my medication, first to half, and just recently to a quarter of my original dose. For the last six weeks it’s never been higher than 115/75 and is often as low as 100/70. If you  monitor your own blood pressure or are a doctor, these figures will be meaningful to you; if not, suffice it to say that those last numbers are really good!

This is a big deal for me. As I mentioned in my last post, both of my parents died quite young, my father of his third heart attack. I think his first one was before he was 50, about my age now, and hypertension was one of the factors leading to it. This fed into my belief that I probably wouldn’t make it through my 60s. That I had inherited my father’s genetic disposition to hypertension and heart disease seemed to confirm it.

So, it’s very good news to me that at this point in my life my blood pressure is a very good normal.

A number of things seem important to me as I consider how I might have got to this point.

  1. Medication has been useful to me. Before I came to The Haven I didn’t take any, ‘tho I knew I had a problem. At The Haven, I realized that getting proper medical help would be a self-responsible and self-compassionate thing to do. I’m happy to be reducing my dosage now and would like to not take any medication, but I don’t think I am strongly attached to that goal. If necessary to look after myself in future, I’ll use it.
  2. The story I tell about myself matters. When I thought I was probably going to die in my 60s, I lived in a way that was quite likely to produce just that result. Not treating my hypertension was one aspect of that; so were smoking and drinking. In shifting that story,  and imagining myself becoming 80 and 90, as I described in my last post, I began to take actions that increase the chances of that happening.
  3. For a number of years I have had a theory that my high blood pressure was related to my physical, emotional and mental tightness and – in theory – if I began to loosen up and express more I would not have to contend with so much internal pressure. This remained  theory for quite a while; I think I did loosen up and express more, but it didn’t seem to have much effect on my blood pressure … until recently.
  4. From which I conclude that sometimes my body takes longer to get things than my mind and my emotions.
  5. One realization that I think has helped make that theory more of a reality is that is OK to be tight; it is OK not to express. I’ve had to learn some acceptance of myself being this way; otherwise, just as the doctors talk about essential hypertension, I would think of myself as essentially not OK. The fact is that I often am uptight; and I am more than that, and have choices about how I respond to that aspect of myself.
  6. Related to this, I would hear people say things like, “Listen to your body. It’s trying to tell you something.” Good advice,  I suppose, except that I would hear my body accusing me: “You’re uptight and closed, come on, you can do better than this (or you’ll never do better!).” So I used the advice to feed my self-hate. I have learned gradually to speak to and hear myself with more compassion: “It’s OK, you don’t have to hold on so tight, you’re safe to let go. It’s OK to be who you are (including when you’re tight!).”
  7. Which reminds me that it is sometimes simplistic and unhelpful to say “Listen to your body,” as if it were something separate from your mind, separate from you. The speaker and the listener are one and the same.
  8. This year I’ve had pretty regular Structural Integration bodywork with Duncan Fraser. I don’t really understand what he does, but I always feel better for seeing him and I think he has contributed to long-term improvements in my physical and emotional health.
  9. In the years since I moved to Gabriola, during which my blood pressure has gradually fallen, I moved from predominantly participating in Haven programs into interning, assisting, and now leading them. This has required me to show up (to be who I am) and to turn outwards, towards others. In contrast to self-absorption, which I am pretty good at, this movement outwards (a form of expression) is good for me.
  10. Related to this, at some point I stopped focusing on hypertension as a problem. I have a strong obsessive streak and there have been periods when I have worried and compulsively checked my blood pressure. This form of self-absorption hasn’t helped. Instead, I began to focus on my life as something worth living as fully as possible, for its own sake. I think my blood pressure has improved as a kind of  “side-effect” of that intention. (I’ll have to watch the obsessive tendency now with taking readings … tho’ at the moment I do it because it gives me a kick to see how low it is!)
  11. In the last three months I have changed my eating habits, adopting a diet that includes lots of fruits and vegetables and no sugar, wheat, or dairy. I didn’t do this in order to improve my blood pressure; in fact my prime motivation was to be doing something with Rachel, my wife, who wanted to try the diet herself.  It has been a very relational process, like several of the others I mentioned above. Fortunately, it turns out that I really like eating this way, and it seems to have knocked some more points off my blood pressure. So, just like the doctor says, I think good diet and exercise (thank you Moxie, our dog, for that) are really important. And so is relationship.

I’d be interested to hear from you if you have had similar (or different!) experiences of this kind of thing.  In the meantime, here’s a song I like by Toots and the Maytals, which suggested the title of this post. Have a good day!

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