Receptive Curiosity

What does it really mean to listen and to be heard?

To get a sense of what another is saying, requires full attention, not necessarily about what is being said, but the energy and need behind the thought’s, the words the narrative.

When a person wants to share something, or be heard in some way, it’s possible that their words may get in the way of them being truly listened to.

When someone wants to tell you something, it’s in the wanting to tell that drives the content.

Who is it then that is driving and directing the story?

Who is it then that is speaking?

And who is it that wants to be seen and heard?

The desire to relate, to attach and to connect starts before language and thought and even before impulse. Of course this need to bond with another is paramount to our very survival and existence, yet is this drive more than just that?

Are we just separate and isolated individuals looking to belong?

Or are we one organism and a multitude of separateness looking for a reconnection of singularity or oneness, just one being showing up as many?

Some philosophers and many religious authorities often elevate their theories as they point to the transcendent upward motion and drive toward merging with something other than themselves. In this hope the divine or mythic deity or godhead will hear them and embrace them and all will be well.

And many psychologist’s may take their reductionism theories and suggest that this drive to connect and be heard is an infantile attempt toward attachment, to reconnect as far back is possible, toward safety and maybe even as regressive as the oceanic bliss felt in the womb experience. (If indeed your prenatal experience was a blissful one?)

The first principal is referred to as the trans-rational and the later often the pre-rational, yet all to often they get a little caught up and confused with each other.

(See Wilber who has this beautifully mapped out with the pre - trans fallacy).

Yet on a truly personal level, listening beyond words needs heart, which naturally enables a deepening of your own self- awareness whilst in relationship. This is absolutely possible when listening is based upon an intention of open and receptive curiosity toward the self that drives the need, and the self that also then speaks the story.

These extraordinary moments of connection and real intimacy can happen in an instant, here lies the secret to truly hearing and really seeing another.

Revisiting Legitimate Suffering

Carl Jung stated that the definition of a Neurosis ‘is a defence against legitimate suffering’.

In this statement lies the answer and solution to all behavioural and psychological addictions, dependencies, obsessions and fixations.

The above symptoms are experienced by all human beings to lesser or greater debilitating degrees. The detail of each symptom is often unique to each individual, yet each individual is not uniquely alone.

For example, someone who has dependency symptoms will have their own unique object / subject to whom or what they are dependent upon. At worst the overly dependent individual attaches themselves so strongly to the object (actual thing, person, substance) or subject (fictional thing, i.e, thought, idea, symbol, image) that without (or the loss) of ’the thing’ the individual may feel overwhelmed to the point of feeling like they are losing their actual self. 

In the moment or at a time of overwhelming distress these defence strategies or avoidant mechanism’s can be useful and necessary, however if left unacknowledged or addressed, a litany of problematic symptons will continue to mask the 'legitimate suffering’ that one may feel. 

Try applying this basic premise to any manner of unhealthy psychological and behavioral symptons, as they are in the thousands.

Question: So if therein in the grand statement lies the answer and the solution, what indeed could the solution be?

Answer: To connect with our legitimate suffering, or in other words, our genuine pain.

The defence strategies then (neuroses) are the avoidance of pain, discomfort, fear or any other difficult thoughts or feelings which have at some point been repressed out of ones awareness, often unknowingly.

However, once fully experienced and explored, many people find that building a relationship with the previously disowned suffering is often less burdensome than the layers of symptoms that they had been living with.

Depth psychologists like Jung, along with Freud and many others built their work around this fundamental premise. Support a person in accessing the cause of their unique legitimate suffering and the symptoms will over time become less debilitating and are likely to be integrated.

This is why a crisis of symptoms can force us in looking at our underlying causal problems. The trick is to notice difficult symptoms arising and start the archeological dig sooner rather than later. If the symptoms have become unbearable, digging oneself out of embedded and layered patterns can be a much longer a sensitive haul.

Most behavioural and psychological addictions, dependencies, obsessions and fixations are dealt with in modern medicine and culture by addressing the symptoms directly, and by helping the person to stabilise and regulate by management techniques and medication.

Although these methods are often useful, I would suggest that this is a preliminary step, and once this is underway the causal work is then to be addressed, as this will give any of us the very best chance of a much more sustainable recovery towards our complete health.

Guilt - a thread that guides us

Most of us at some point, to a lesser or greater degree have had the feeling of guilt. Those that don't experience guilty feelings are often labelled Sociopathic and for those that ignore and consistently oppose the social expectations are judged as Anti-Social.

Socio being the operative word then, let's look a little at how guilt has a multitude of contribution’s from social encounters and society at large. 

Simply put, society, family or culture collectively creates and agrees to ‘the rules’, ‘the law’ ‘the expectations’ and ‘the roles’ to which an individual must adhere to, or face the consequences as such.
Punishment, criticism, exclusion are just some of the ways to keep these premises in place by inviting one to feel guilty and submit or to accept the sentence that is duly passed.

Note the word ‘invite'

The dynamic in this type of transaction can quickly become binary and/or polarised. Often you will find a ‘judge,’ and on the receiving end an ‘accused’. A persecutor’ and a ‘victim’, ‘a sadist’ and ‘the willing masochist’, a ‘dominant’ and a ‘submissive’.

These are externalised archetypal behaviours that are easy to see where guilt would be part of the inevitable outcome. Yet what can be a little harder to spot, is how we end up with the feelings of guilt when there is no obvious outside influence or force.

Some may say that through a millennia of socialisation, guilt is something learned through the way we have experienced living together in groups. Enabling the group to develop moral’s and ethics that support cohesion and togetherness, and relational structures that each group decides that are of value. This could be one of the benefits of feeling guilting, (if indeed there is a benefit), yet in this context I would refer to this type of guilt more specifically as ‘conscience’.

Many of us have been born into historical structures and collective narratives that were made aeons ago, and we have unconsciously and tacitly agreed to the way things 'are' or 'should' be. Herein you will often find the subtleties of guilt that are hidden just outside of our awareness.

Feelings of ‘badness’, ‘lack’ and ‘low self worth or value’ are all part of the guilt ‘catch all’ picture here. This guilt I refer to as ‘malignant’, as it is often difficult to locate its origin and has a slow insipid erosion over time on one’s sense of self.

Some of the malignant origins are clearly steeped in early religion. I briefly mention those omnipotent, omniscient mythic entities that are permanently watching our every move, lest we step out of line and end up in a hell, looking for ways to absolve or expiate one’s guilt. To work harder, renounce (sacrifice) or give up your self (self-less), are also part of an historical doctrine aimed at control and managing others. 

Just over a hundred years ago in France, 1 out of 4 people were locked up in asylums or institutions in an attempt to create social order and those that didn't fit with the remit were labelled the lunatics and dealt with accordingly. It was only when the French government saw that it was nearly bankrupting the state that they started to release the 'inmates' back into society.

And that brings us of course to money. That earth metal symbol that the ancients saw in reflected sunlight from the heavens, and collectively agreed that this was indeed spirit and ‘god’ mirrored in matter. The early cultures believed the more ‘Gold’ you had, the closer you were to the light or spirit of the sun ‘God’. And of course those that had this knowledge or sacred language (jargon) inherited the power in its manifest hierarchical roles and guises.

In fact the early Roman’s saw gold as sacred also, but in being human, you were considered damned if you were to literally touch this aspect of the divine. This is why ancient money was handed over to the Jews (early pagans) to deal with on behalf of the Romans, as the Jews were considered ungodly in the first instance by the Roman’s. The term ‘Filthy Luca’ (dirty money) has its roots here.

Here we start to see how social status relates to those that have, and to those that have not, and the history of our need for materialism and object fetishisms. The more or less we materially posses of ‘worth’ and ‘value’, equals; the more or less ‘worth’ and ‘value’ you 'are'.

The origins of merchants (mercantilism) and capitalism lie here and more importantly, whether you perceive, or are perceived as good or bad, worth or worthless, of value or value-less.

Lastly but by no means least there is ‘existential’ guilt. The inevitable burden that one may feel knowing that in every decision one makes will have an outcome for better or for worse for ones self and for others. This is why many will submit to being told what to do, and agree to an authority (be that the leader, the boss, the parent, the government, the god, the spouse, the society/culture) lest a mistake or wrong doing is made, and guilt is the outcome. And often paradoxically (or co-dependently) the authoritarian character in their assertive role often needs the agreement of the submissive other to assuage their guilt.

Guilt then comes in a few disguises, masked by history and the passing of time. Not just priests and law makers, but all humans have cultivated a need for cultural meaning making systems born out of a need to find meaning in our mortality. We are all born in nature as mortal animal and over thousands of years we have developed a way of finding symbolic meaning for our lives in multitude aspects of culture.

Guilt then is partly a construct that is imposed on us by history and our cultural indebtedness. However, this will only remain part of our makeup if we continue to unconsciously impose the guilt position on our selves, tacitly accepting and agreeing to it when invited.

Perhaps then imagine for a moment, what would happen if we were to personally to decide to let go of all the inherited and historical guilt that we carry and to also collectively give up on the guilt, that is part of the glue that keeps the wheels of society turning.

Demystifying Meditation

Just the word meditation scares many people off, with narratives of hours of uncomfortable sitting and rigid posturing and a whole heap of rules. And because most teachings are steeped in ancient religious or mystical traditions, the particular pronunciations or language can seem conceptually complicated. Vipassana, Raja Yoga, Transcendental meditation, Zen, Advaita, the list is endless.

But don’t let all this put you off from the profound and important experience that meditation can offer you, because as a practice, it is a lot simpler than you think.

So just where do you begin?

Here in a nutshell is the layperson’s guide to greater awareness, clarity of thought and emotion, greater concentration, creativity and an abundance of energy.

Step 1 Relaxation - Body

Find a comfortable position, but not horizontal; spend a few minutes focusing on all sensations that arise in your body, familiarise yourself with all of your body and become aware of your body self.

Step 2 Contemplation - Emotion

Spend a few moments becoming aware of which emotions are arising in your body, fear, anger, sadness, joy? Be present fully with each emotion, and build a relationship with your emotional self.

Step 3 Contemplation – Mind

Become aware of thoughts, any dialogue, images, symbols, concepts, and ideas that arise in your mind. Follow a few threads of thought and watch what kind of thoughts are running through your mind.

Step 4 Concentration

Focus on the space between your eyebrows and hold your attention there for as long as you can. When a sensation, emotion, thought arises just notice your attention has moved and then bring your focus back to between your eyes. Over time the ability to hold your attention will progress. Concentration is necessary to train your brain and mind to stay focused and still.

Step 5 Meditation

Without the foundations and understanding of the previous processes you will not experience the essence of what meditation is. Meditation will embrace all of the above yet will no longer be attached to what is arising. In this space alone is meditation, where you will experience the essence of your Self.

But don’t take my word for it, go try it!

Click below to be guided through this process.

Under the Spell of Anxiety

It is a rare thing for one to have never used the word anxiety, as it is used and misused as a ‘catch all’ phrase to describe a multitude of affects. Wikipedia captures quite succinctly the theme of anxiety in this statement ‘a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease about something with an uncertain outcome’.

Wikipedia also continues to point to a cacophony of words that are often used in an attempt to describe it.

Worry, concern, apprehension, apprehensiveness, consternation, uneasiness, unease, fearfulness, fear, disquiet, disquietude, perturbation, fretfulness, agitation, angst, nervousness, nerves, edginess, tension, tenseness, stress, misgiving, trepidation, foreboding, suspense; informal / butterflies (in one's stomach), the willies, the heebie-jeebies, the jitters, the shakes, the jumps, the yips, collywobbles, jitteriness, jim-jams, twitchiness; informal / the (screaming) abdabs; rhyming slang / Joe Blakes; archaic / worriment

Whatever term or terms one may use in this endeavour, each one may often miss the mark of communicating effectively to another what is ‘actually’ taking place. Yet supporting oneself in understanding objectively the symptoms of anxiety, may well start with removing the word and the phrases that we use to describe it.

The power behind the word…

‘Worry’ although an aspect of an anxious state, is ‘not’ anxiety. Worry is a way in which we may describe a cognitive process, whereby we think in words/text, create visual stories and narratives and images within our minds. This is actually a natural and vital creative process. Yet, if I were to create negative thoughts, create fictional narratives in my mind, imagine difficult situations and imbue it with meaning, it would create a number of unique affects that appear also outside of my mind.

‘The willies, the heebie-jeebies, the jitters, the shakes, the jumps’ is ‘not’ anxiety. These words are another attempt at communicating whats happening, but really only points to the physical part of the experience.

The common ‘panic attack’ phrase points to the more extreme end of the way someone may physically be experiencing the difficult sensations, associated with what we call anxiety. I often ask someone who may be using this phrase, ‘who or what is attacking?’ (of course it may feel that way) but is an actual attack taking place, is it fact or is it fiction?

As you can see, there is an important dynamic taking place between what is happening in ones mind (image creating) and what is taking place in ones body (sensations/behaviours). It is often the ‘chicken or egg’ scenario in terms of which symptom arose first. However, it is vital to differentiate and recognise between the ‘cognitive process’ (worry etc) and the ‘physical experience’ (shakes etc) by understanding and taking charge of the all elements of what we term as anxiety.

One of the problems that can make our relationship with anxiety so unclear can be found in the word itself. The word ‘Anxiety’ is a noun, and in the classic definition (that most of us were taught in our early years), a noun is a person, place or a thing, and this is often the way the word anxiety is mostly used, in the context as ‘a thing’ in itself. Which it is not. 

Anxiety is not an actual thing in itself, in fact anxiety is not an object at all, it is subjective (interior) experience and also an objective (exterior) experience at the same time. 

Threat…Fictional or Factual? 

In fact one of the most useful ways of of understanding anxiety is to look objectively at the most evolved and sophisticated part of ourselves, the body/brain and the central nervous system.  

When one perceives threat, imagined fictional (cognitive process) or real factual (actual experience) a set of events starts to take place depending on the degree of threat. 

The autonomic nervous system (ANS -this system connects the brain and internal organs) starts a chain of events that mobilise and ready the body for movement and action, adrenaline is released into the blood stream and the heart beat quickens delivering blood to the muscle fibres in preparation to move in response to the threat. 

Depending on your personal default setting, the body/brain determines the safest outcome, which may be to ‘fight’ (move towards) the threat/difficulty/problem or ‘flight (move away from).

There is also a specific amount on adrenaline released, which in a functional system is in alignment to the given threat. However in modern society we are often under continuous minor threat/stress, so our adrenals are often working overtime and may be in a state of hyper-arousal or hyper-vigilance more readily and likely to be more dis-functional. 

Sometimes the amount of adrenaline we have in our bodies is more than the situation requires and with larger doses of adrenaline released from our ANS the cognition slows down (as blood flows away from the brain towards the muscles) as body is needed more than mind. Feelings of nausea and the need to defecate are there as a result of the body wanting to eliminate what is in the bowel, so one is not slowed down in movement, the dizziness that one often feels is the result of the heart pumping and blood flowing.

Incidentally there is a ‘freeze’ response which is an immobilised state which happens involuntarily as a last resort, to ‘play dead’ until the threat has passed. 

Repeatedly getting stuck in any of these states, fight, flight, freeze, leads to the experience of overwhelm and eventual compromise of the adrenal function which can lead to burnout, breakdown/exhaustion/ and depressive states. In fact the see saw/pendulum swing is what really leads to our bi-polarised states and experiences. After-all the ANS is a binary system at its foundation, Sympathetic - (fight and flight) - Parasympathetic - (rest and digest).

Anxiety or Adrenaline? 

The word anxiety may have been given far too much power and a spell cast that may have lost it’s meaning and created more confusion than originally intended. Our ANS is a result of 6 million years of evolution, language is around 50,000 years old. An understanding of the processes and pathways between these two is key.

If we can move away from our initial interpretations and understandings that ‘anxiety’ is a thing in itself, and start to understand the layers of sensations experienced, behaviours acknowledged, images created, meaning applied and affect felt, as well as how our bodies and brains relate/respond to threat, the power that anxiety may hold over us can become (quite literally) a ‘thing’ of the past.

Symbols of Worth

More than any other time in history we live in a time whereby objects symbolically imbued and agreed with collective meaning, inherently point to ones value or worth. 

Depending upon how much or how little you have of an object of worth, it is likely to give rise to a internal message or question regarding your self esteem.

Consider the next question. How much are you worth and of what is your value?

Whilst reflecting upon this question, do you create an actual monetary amount? (Or if you are a millennial, you may even be considering how many 'likes' you would need ;)

So how could, or why would one might add currency (or a 'like') to your actual value or worth? However crass this question may be, we have been led to believe that our worth and or value is determined by what our culture has conditioned us to believe.

 Systems of Worth

The world is and has been a market place of transactions over the last few thousand years, steeped in mercantilism (buyers buying and sellers selling) and our language and thinking is built upon these now often unconscious transactions.

 And consider this commonly asked question…..And what do you do? 

On the 'social level' this question may appear harmless about your work/career role, yet on the 'psychological level' an assessment of your status/value and your worth, is about to be applied. Your familial or societal ‘role’ will be determined for better or worse and these assessments are happening many, many times throughout the day. 

Consider a most basic assessment on an 'unconscious and primitive level’ that our nervous system ask's with every new person we meet, such as …

 Could the other that stands before me, be...

My friend? (safety/survival)

My enemy? (threat/death)

or My lover? (reproduction/pleasure)

In today’s complex world we are conditioned by culture/consumerism and capitalism and literally force fed via news ‘feed's’ or advertising (with the ‘buy in’ emphasis often upon lack). Yet one of the main reasons we depend so much upon what others think of us, is because it's something we have been relying on since birth, as being dependent upon the ‘OTHER’ or Mo-ther or Fa-ther’ has always been paramount for early survival. 

However, if we don’t loosen our attachment as we mature over time, we may transfer onto other’s our earliest survival needs and overly attach and depend upon these surrogate symbols or systems of worth, that will ultimately keep us un-free. And what may be more concerning, is that without the recognition from an-other or a culture 'status based expectation' or without the 'dependent object or other' within grasp, our spurious sense of safety and self esteem may go up in a puff of illusory smoke.

This attachment dynamic is the root cause of most addiction and our modern day ‘symbols/systems of worth' in all their guises underpin any manifest symptom.

 So, how much are you really worth?