Thursday, October 27, 2016

Creative Listening

In the executive summary of Theory U: Leading from the Future as it Emerges, Otto Scharmer writes:
Why do our attempts to deal with the challenges of our time so often fail? Why are we stuck in so many quagmires today? The cause of our collective failure is that we are blind to the deeper dimension of leadership and transformational change. This 'blind spot' exists not only in our collective leadership but also in our everyday social interactions. We are blind to the source dimension from which effective leadership and social action come into being. ("Addressing The Blind Spot of Our Time").
To access the source dimension, Scharmer suggests we slow down our listening, moving from the limitations of downloading ("Yeah, I already know that") and factual listening (the scientific approach, noticing what differs from what you already know), and even past empathic listening (knowing how the world appears through someone else's eyes), to generative listening (attending to the emerging field of future possibility).

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Know Thyself?

At midlife I met my devils. Much of what I had counted as blessing became curse. The wide road narrowed, the light grew dark. And in the darkness, the saint in me, so well nurtured and well-coiffed, met the sinner. Connie Zweig, Prologue, Meeting the Shadow: The Hidden Power of the Dark Side of Human Nature (Zweig & Abrams -- Eds.)
When I was in college I wrote our dorm's script for the annual skit competition. The theme was "Know Thyself," drawing from the many sources for which that concept is key. Right now I can only remember biblical and ancient Greek references, and that we lost to a much livelier and less heady skit.

I was, of course, onto something that would lure me toward self-realization my whole life. But it wasn't until I was well into midlife, with only glimpses of my shadow self, that I began to truly engage with "the great burden of self-knowledge, the disruptive element that does not want to be known" (Meeting the Shadow, p. xxi, Introduction).

For the past few years I've been intrigued by Peter A. Levine's somatic experiencing approach to resolving trauma. Trauma is most obvious in severe cases such as the PTSD we've read about in war vets and victims of sexual abuse. Practitioners are now finding a similar freeze response in any situation of thwarted survival energy, such as the "normal" events of childhood that require tamping down our natural responses because of real or perceived threat, where we don't feel safe unless we hide from or conform to childhood situations.
The SE approach facilitates the completion of self-protective motor responses and the release of thwarted survival energy bound in the body, thus addressing the root cause of trauma symptoms.This is approached by gentle guiding clients to develop increasing tolerance for difficult bodily sensations and suppressed emotions.
I've recently found someone to help me deepen access to those most unknown parts. I'll give one example, noting that we don't have to understand any of this. No need to analyze, to know how or why certain aspects have been hidden. In my case, I had often expressed surprise that I'd never felt shame. I could be present to clients who experienced shame but, with one exception, I had no felt sense of it. I didn't particularly want to experience shame, and I don't know what triggered it for me this time, but two days after a session with my SE therapist, I awoke swimming in shame. She had given me the resources to stay present to any unfreezing and, though it was pretty awful, there was a difference this time from the earlier occasion linked above: I was also feeling excited, because I know all children are shamed to some degree ("How rude," "You're embarrassing me," "What a trouble-maker!") and I'd felt guilt ("my actions were bad") but now finally was finding shame ("I'm bad") more accessible.

The somatic experiencing approach is not one, I believe, that we can do fully on our own. I had tried to do so for several years after first reading Levine's In an Unspoken Voice: How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness. Any self-work vs. engaging with an SE-trained therapist is similar to the difference between rubbing your own neck and shoulders and having professional deep tissue massage.

What we can do on our own are some of the exercises suggested in Meeting the Shadow. These self-initiated actions can take you a long way toward knowing yourself:

Solicit Feedback from Others: This is one of the most effective ways to gain insight into your personal shadow, though it can be threatening. Learn how to listen and take in feedback that surprises or hurts you. When more than one person describes the same trait, especially, explore their observations more deeply.

Examine Your Projections: Whenever you have a strong like or dislike of someone else, examine them closely enough to identify the trait that pushes your button. The qualities you especially like or dislike are likely to be projection, a fairly accurate picture of your personal shadow.

Examine Your "Slips": Slips of tongue show aspects of shadow we wouldn't dare express consciously. Slips of behavior can be even more revealing. Think of a time when you said or did something that later dumbfounded you. A more subtle "slip" is discovering that others perceive you in a completely different way than you see yourself (see #1 above). This is information about an unknown part of yourself.

Consider Your Humor and Identification: What's said in humor is often a manifestation of shadow truth. Behavior that might otherwise result in fines or imprisonment can bring hearty laughter. People who deny or repress shadow may find few things funny. Notice when a joke or cartoon makes you laugh.

Study Your Dreams, Daydreams, Fantasies: Shadow may appear in your dreams as a figure of your gender or some opposite aspect of yourself, even in a form you fear and want to escape. Observe closely its actions, and attitudes, and words. When you're awake, where does your mind go, what images invade your thoughts? In these fantasies and daydreams are opportunities to know yourself, especially in ways that are difficult to accept consciously.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Veils Parted, then Snapped Shut!

Before I knew anything about the Enneagram I was coaching the head of a nonprofit agency in Cincinnati (let's call him "Brad"). After interviewing his staff and board members, I shared their feedback with him. The short version:
"According to your staff and members of the board, you're highly entrepreneurial, with a strong drive, and you're a masterful networker, building support for your organization's goals with the board and with influential members of the community. But your focus is perhaps too much on being 'Mr. Outside.' Your staff says you're not involved enough in the day-to-day, nuts and bolts aspects of running the organization, and they have a strong desire to build more teamwork. While consensus is a stated organizational value, they describe you as persuading people to do things your way in what is only apparently a consensus-building process."
"Why, that's exactly my profile on the Enneagram!" he replied. "Style Three." 

I was blown away by this response because, serendipitously, only the day before I'd received Helen Palmer's The Enneagram in the mail, mistakenly ordered instead of the book on genograms I was researching. Had Brad not made this connection I would have sent the book back to the publisher. Instead, I decided to read it so I could speak a language familiar to him.

That Saturday morning I sat in bed and opened Palmer's book. Her description of style Three's patterns gave me such insight into Brad's personality I decided to read more, starting with Enneagram style One, and to figure out my own. All had characteristics I could relate to, and I was beginning to give up on identifying myself. Finally, I made my way to style Nine.

As I read, I fell into an intuitive state of knowing: You're on to something big!  Every molecule of my body was tingling with the sense of veils parting, something I'd needed to know that had been standing slightly behind me, waiting to be seen. And here it was!

Underlining style Nine's mediator qualities, I thought, My whole consulting career has succeeded because of my skill in resolving other people's conflicts. I've used my gift in a positive way, but it's been reinforced so much, I've failed to look at my personal avoidance of conflict. I've been too busy helping other people not make waves! Continuing, I became excited to learn about this personality style's distractibility. This is so important to me. I'm going to go make a pot of coffee and spend the entire day reading about this wonderful system.

I wandered toward the kitchen, but in the hall on the way noticed a pile of dirty clothes I'd set out to wash, so I made a trip to the laundry room. When I returned to the hall I realized I hadn't started the coffee, but on my way to the kitchen saw the telephone and remembered I hadn't called my Mom in a week, so while the coffee was brewing I called her and we talked for almost an hour. The veil had snapped shut! 

As I sipped my third or fourth cup of coffee I walked around my condo, trying to decide what to do with the rest of the day.  

First, I'll get dressed.

There in my bedroom I saw Palmer's book lying on my bed where I'd left it more than an hour earlier, and again the veils parted.  

Not only had I been given a new vision of my gifts, I'd experienced a prime example of the ego-state that had held me captive -- distracting myself from the most important of my own agendas, to find myself behind the programmed patterns.


Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Following the Metaphor

(Two coach clients practicing with each other)

What would you like to have happen?

For me, I think it's about being busy. I'd like to be busy.

And what is 'busy' like?

Maybe it's like canoeing down white water rapids instead of being stationary in a lake; an element of movement, like going down a slide. An element of movement, some sort of slide downhill.

And is there anything else, when you talk about this movement downhill, is there anything else about that?

Well, it's invigorating, it's fast. Instead of the rapids, it's a picture of a slide, one of these slides you see shooting downwards, changing direction, the whole element of speed, excitement, uncertainty. 

So when you have this element of speed, excitement, and this uncertainty, is there anything else about that?  

It's fun; it's enjoyable. Yeah, it's fun.  

And what is it about 'fun'?  

Because it's happening so quickly you can't quite control it, but you can; you're on the edge. I think that's what I like about it. Time goes quickly, minutes go quickly. I think it's the quickness of speed that gets me.

Is there anything else about that speed, where time moves quickly?  

Well, the key is the angle of the slide. Unless it's angled a certain way it stops; the angle of the slide is critical. 

And what's that 'angle' like?  

It's quite steep, but it's also not the same angle all the time; it'll change, it'll slow you down a fraction, then speed you up; it's always busy, you can never predict it; it's happening fast.

You've got this angle of this slide, and it's steep, and you can't predict it, and it's happening fast?

Like a roller coaster.  

Like a roller coaster. Is there anything else about that?

I can see things coming toward me clearly. And the busyness and the speed of it is what I want. It's not something I'm trapped in; it's something I've chosen to go in; so in that way it attracts my desire for busyness. 

And reflecting this desire for busyness, what is that 'busyness' like?  

I suppose it's like wanting something but not knowing if you can create it. 

It's like wanting something but not knowing you can create it. So what is that like? Is there a feeling in there, a picture? 

I got a picture of jumping on climbing walls and not being able to predict if there's anywhere to put your feet and your hands. A bit like being spider-man but not knowing, if you throw yourself against the wall, if you'll stick. 

When you're spider-man and throwing yourself against the wall, is there anything else? 

It's like not knowing which wall to start with. It's being unsure of knowing which wall to start with. 

And not knowing which wall to start with; can you say more about that? 

Yeah, it's very unsettling. 

Anything else about 'unsettling,' when you don't know which wall to start with?

Yeah. It means you can procrastinate a hell of a lot.

And what is that procrastination like? 

A feeling of sluggishness. 

And how does that feeling of 'not knowing which wall' connect with that 'invigorating fast slide'? 

It's completely opposite. They're the antithesis of each other, and I'm often in the middle.  

And when you're in the middle of not knowing which wall and that invigorating fast slide, what is that like?  

That's like being in a hot country and a cold country at the same time. It's very strange.  

Anything else about 'that kind of 'strangeness'?  

It's very difficult to gauge where you are at because you go from one extreme to another, from a fast slide to a slow-down.

And is there anything else about that 'slow-down'? 

It's like the opposite of the slide, still in the slide, but you have to move yourself in the slide. 

So where are you when you're between the rock wall and the slide? 

I'm not in the slide. The slide is where I want to be. The rock wall is hard work.

And when you're on the rock wall, what needs to happen for you to get to the slide?  

It's like one of those bridges in Harrison Ford movies, Raiders of the Lost Ark, one of those bridges that connect the two.  

What's that bridge like? 

It's quite wobbly. It's safe but you've got to keep your balance. 

And is there anything else about this wobbly bridge'? 

I think you need to be steady. 

Steady like what? 

Steady means a good rhythm. 

A rhythm. 

Yeah. A rhythm of intention; a rhythm of A to B, a rhythm of certainty across the bridge. 

And is there anything else about this rhythm of intention? 

I think it's just a rhythm where you need to make a decision and move to a place that's consistent. 

And can you do that? 

Yep. I'm doing that as we're talking. It's a lot longer than I thought it would be. It's taking a lot longer, and elements get in the way of crossing the bridge so it's not as easy as it might seem. But it's going to the right place. 

You're going to the right place when you're on this bridge that's sometimes a little wobbly? 

Yeah, it's uphill going to the slide. 

And what happens now on this uphill going to the slide? 

I quite enjoy the view, actually. This view is quite interesting. 

Where is this interesting view? 

It's actually going into space now. The bridge is in space and I'm looking into stars as I seem to walk endlessly, going up this bridge. 

And is there anything else about these stars and walking endlessly?  

It's a very different picture, a very enjoyable picture, a very motivational, inspirational picture. It's not a slog, actually a really enjoyable walk. It's a HUGE distance, a hundred times more than I originally pictured it, and it's an incredibly enjoyable walk to the stars

So can that incredibly enjoyable walk up this bridge to the stars, can that happen now?  

Um hmmm. 

What needs to happen for this walk into the stars? 

It's happening. I can see myself walking along. 

Anything else? 

It's like a Stanley Kubrick movie, out in space with music. 

And with this walk up to the stars where there's space and music, where is the 'busyness' now?  

Well, the busyness is quite a long way off. It's a matter of how long it will take me to get to the busyness. 

So a long, long time. Is there anything else about that? 

It would be better if the busyness were closer. 

What is the bridge to the busyness like? 

The bridge is quite easy to walk on; it just seems like a long, long bridge, stretching out into the far, far distance.

You enjoyed the bridge when it went from point A to point B from the rock wall to the slide and when it went up to the stars, and the bridge seems really long.

Yes, never-ending.

Never-ending. So what needs to happen for that bridge to shorten?

I've just seen a sign, "Go this way."

Which way is 'this way'? 

To the right. 

And what is on the right? 

I think it's more of a solid platform that leads to the slide. 

And this platform -- what is this platform like? 

It's very solid, takes you from a bridge that's quite solid, where you know you're getting closer to the slide. 

So with this wobbly bridge and then this solid, supportive platform, what happens to the 'busyness' now?

It starts to happen because I'm near the slide. I can hear it, I can feel it, I can see the angle; I'm at the starting point of the speed. 

So can the busyness happen now? 


What happened right before you stepped onto the platform? 

I think it's the rhythm on the bridge getting a little bit quicker; a number of things on the bridge have interconnected and come together, a natural speeding up of things at that point, speeding up, integration, coalition, absorption, all these words, starting to gel. 

Anything else about that speeding up, that integration right before you step on the platform? 

That also coincides with the inner integration of things happening. 

And what's that like when the inner integration happens? 

It's a bit like when the wall has footholds. You know it's right. Your body knows it's right. You've got an internal sense of it being right. It feels right. 

Is there anything else about that internal sense of when your body knows 'it's right'? 

There's an excitement about it. It feels good. Just about to step on that platform. 

Where is the busyness? 

In my feet.

Can the busyness happen now, that's in your feet? 

Um hmm 

OK, I want to check in with you. How are you with ending here? 


Sunday, January 3, 2016

Parts Party

From Virginia Satir (Your Many Faces), based on an exercise in John Bradshaw's Healing the Shame that Binds You, take a deep breath, relax, and imagine this happening as you read:

Close your eyes. . . Spend two or three minutes becoming mindful of your breathing. Relax. As you breathe deeply in and out, relaxing more and more, notice a screen in front of you and the number seven appearing on the screen. If you can’t see it clearly, hear a voice saying “seven” or picture yourself finger painting it. Then see, hear, or finger paint the number six; then five; then four, down to the number one. As you focus on the number one, let it slowly turn into a stage door and see it slowly open. Walk through the stage door into a small theater. Notice the walls and the stage. Look at the closed curtain. Sit down in a front row seat and feel the fabric of the seat. Make it your favorite fabric. Make the chair comfortable. Look around again and make this theater be any way you want it to be. 

Then see the curtain beginning to open. Let yourself feel excitement. As the curtain opens see a large sign covering the wall of the stage. It reads The [your name] Parts Review. Think of some part of yourself you really like. Imagine a famous person or someone you know well who represents that part and see that person walking out on the stage. Hear applause. Repeat the process with another part you like until five people are on the right hand side of the stage. Then think of a part of yourself you dislike or hate or reject, see it personified by a famous person or someone you know walking out on the stage. Hear a resounding boo as each of five parts you don’t like walks out to the left side of the stage.  

Now imagine a wise and beautiful person walking to the center of the stage. Just let your wise person appear. Notice whatever strikes you about this person, who then walks off the stage toward you, inviting you up to the stage to review your many parts. Walk around each person who represents a part of you; look each in the face. How does each part help you? Hinder or limit you? Take your time, gaze into all ten faces. What can you learn from each? Think of a current problem you have. See them interacting at a table discussing this problem. Notice what each part says. Does that help you? Hinder you? Would you like to change any part? Modify it until it feels right to you. Repeat that procedure with every part.  

Now, go around again, facing each part and imagining that part melting into you. Do this until you are alone on the stage with your wise person. Hear the wise person tell you "This is the theater of your life. All these parts belong to you. Embrace your selves, love and accept and learn from each." Show your wise person appreciation for the lesson. See your wise person walk away. Know you can call on your wise person any time.  

Walk off the stage. Be aware of yourself sitting in the theater looking at the stage where you play out your life. Let your mind see each of your newly modified parts float by and feel yourself as a whole person with many aspects and interacting parts. Say to yourself “I love and accept all of me.”  

Now imagine standing up and walking out through your theater doors. Turn around and see the number one on the curtains at the stage. Finger paint it and hear it. Then see the number two and do the same, then the number three and feel the life in your fingers and toes, letting this energy come up through your legs. See the number four and feel your whole body coming alive. As you see the numbers five and six, continue becoming fully conscious. See the number seven and be restored to your full, waking consciousness.