Sunday, April 22, 2012

The importance of labelling

Labels are often decried as being destructive, and indeed often they are. People rightly see labels as ways of boxing other people into fixed roles which limit their ability to be all they can be and give all that they have to give. A child labelled "the troublemaker" or the "class crown" or "the responsible one", a work colleague labelled "a shirker", an  old man labelled as 'dirty", an ethnic minority labelled as "stingy" or "criminal" or "subversive" - these labels are ways of discounting the other, and often of holding them to the worst or least appropriate of their behaviours. They have been rightly challenged, as has been the need to assign (and reduce) people labels in the first place.

But like everything, labels also have a positive side. labels sometimes allow pople to articulate to themselves their usefulness, their value, and as such become the platforms from which people can operate more effectively in the world. They can also put other people at ease so that they have enough of an initial "take' on you for an ineraction to begin with some (admittedly arbitrary) orientation points they have in terms of their framing of you:: "Hello, I'm an...a accountant / farmer/ revolutionary / poet / in sales / fitter and turner / mechanic/ lawyer/ publisher/ social worker/ full time mom etc."

I often what label to asign myself when presenting myself to people, what label I can produce that adds value and dignity to myself, gives a comfortable sense of solidity and area of expertise. I have variously across the years presented myself (in person, or perhaps on a busines card or CV)as a student, soldier, journalist, writer, poet. scriptwriter, lecturer, teacher, film maker, wannabe filmmaker, corporate worker when I was at Liberty Life, blogger, instructional designer (for elearning) online content creator, dad, husband, cousin of, bar mitzvah teacher, Hebrew teacher, Jewish studies teacher/ children's author etc - depening on the time and context. Some of these labels ring more sexily in my ears than others, are seen as bestowing me with more dignity and value than others, as having the capacity to help create an intial orientation on the side of my interlocutor of interest or "respect."Now as I decide what ticket to present to the world next I cast around for convincing and solid labels; poet and psychotherapist; counsellor and poet; counsellor and communicator bla bla bla. Eventually I will come to something that feels reasonably solid, that reflects some of what I am and do, which i can occupy for a good few years, and which enhances my usefulness and value both in my own eyes and in the eyes of others.

It seems to me - and this is really the point of this post and the rest a long preamble - that a really useful thing that a therapist can do with clients is help them find affirming labels for themselves, even when at first this seems like a very big challenge. Not with a high functioning client who is a CEO or CFO or who has a distinct professional identity (dentist, tax consultant, architect) or commercial identity (real estate agent, commodities broker), or a "tradie" as they call them in Australia (plumber, electrician, builder) but with someone who may be unemployed, unemployable, between jobs, wrestling with an addiction, awaiting trial or post incaceration, a survivor of some kind of abuse - they too have their story and they too could benefit from a calling card. What could the card of a homeless schizophrenic be? If she sometimes manages to walk dogs, or do a bit of gardening, she could be a "household assisstant" or "botannical worker" or, if she just walks around the streets a "neighnbourhood patroller." "Survivor of domestic abuse" or perhaps just "Survivor" Street poet? Cleaner? "Evoket of compassion." "addiction expert" - the call is to get creative and find something that fits for the client and facilitates new movement. That allows them to present themselves to themselves (and then to the world) in a new way.

Obvioulsy phony and politically correct labers which try to avoid substantial work JUST with a new label are not going to do the trick. we are talking here of providing labels which are a starting point towards wellness, which help provide people with a few cms of psychic turf onwhich to stand as they try to figure out how to be usefully in the world.  

The therapist as parent...yes, but also sometimes the therapist as witness, modelling for the client how it is to be with what arises, without acting out or suppressing, just gently meeting, being with, seeing - "the seeing is the doing" (Krishnamurti)

Psychotherapy is like poetry; there are more people teaching and offering it than those who want to consume it says in the Talmud "more than the calf wants to suck the cow wants to suckle"

To Gerday Boyesen:

my peristaltic rythms testify 
I am ripe
so let me be harvested

At the borders of the body-mind entity
somatic psychotherapy


The best "therapy" (and what a loaded term that is)
happens between a good enough mother *
and her infant
in the first year
of embodied life
get that kind
and every other you receive
will just be a refresher course

* (or father or caregiver)

Sunday, April 8, 2012

BDS and Political Correctness

Is the BDS (Boycott Dirty Semites) campaign just another vehicle for people to express their resentments without having to own that that is what they are doing? Does it offer people a way to express and nurture and feed their resentment of Jews while supposedly doing it for the sake of Palestinians? Does it allow its groupies to express profoundly visceral and irrational and ugly predjudices in a cloak of pseudo rectitude as if they were serving some noble cause? Possible payoffs are:the togetherness of communities built around shared resentment, the avoidance of one's own real issues, the false self esteem that comes with sanctimoniousness, the chanelling of agression and violence towards a relatively safe target (if a few suicide bombers attacked protesters outside a Max Brener shop you'd see a marked fall in attendance by the recreational protestors who are the mainstay of these events) but as it is at the moment there is no overt personal cost for anti-Israeli protestors. (Other than that blindness of lemmings who sacrifice clarity and personal power for the safety and abdication of reponsibility offered by the mob.)

For those who say that the central organising principle of the BDS phenomenon ( I wouldn't dignify it with the name "movement" - is pornography and the millions of people engaged by it a movement??) is a concern for human and Palestinain rights, and not simply a conscious or unconscious visceral resentment of Jews, then why are these same fervent 'campaigners' not organising similar boycotts against Turkey for its ruthless supression of the Kurds and its denial of an autonomous Kurdish homeland, Russia and its brutal suppression of Chechnya, China and its repopulation of Tibet and supression of The Uyghurs (a mainly Sunni Muslim group found throughout Xinjiang Province), Morocco for its occupation of Western Sahara etc.

And how would robbing Israeli Jews of their statehood serve Palestinian interests? Obviously it would only create an enduring passion for Israelis, robbed of their autonomy and rights, to subvert any Palestinian state errected on the ruins of the Jewish one. Are there calls for the dissolution of Turkey so that the Kurds may be free? Or of Russia so that Chechnya can gain its indepenence? Clearly the triumphalist paradigm of BDS does not emerge from real compassion for anyone, but from the desire of people to handle their own psychic garbage via projection, disassociation and splitting.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Four Pesach: The Seder as group therapy, as truth telling, as Satsang

The number "four" plays a big role in pesach. Four cups of wine. Four languages of liberation. Four fore mothers. Four questions.

Four was an important number for Apache Indians as well.

And Jung saw the number four as important too.

For Pesach to be relevant to me, it has to be about individual as well as collective liberation. Indeed, it is worth asking a chicken and egg question: Does individual liberation necessarily preceed collective? Or the other way round? Or do they happen simultaneously? Or is the distinction between the two artificial, and as Sri Nisarghadhatta Maharaj says: "I AM the people." (i.e He is not concerened with helping or saving "them" as he does not see His Self as apart from or separate to "them")

Given the thrust towards individual liberation (and what a virile word "thrust" can be) it would be great to continue the four tradition by inviting each seder participant to proffer a deeply clung to belief that people have begun to suspect may no longer be serving them, and then question it with four questions, courtesy of Byron Katie:

1)Is it true?
2)Can you absolutely know that its true?
3) How do you react, what happens when you believe that thought?
4)Who (What) would you be without that thought?

I often cling to the belief that I am inadequate, that I am not up for the task (and what is the task? Imake that up too, as I go along...)

1)Is it true that I am inadequate? No, in most contexts in my life I seem to be abundantly adequate
2)Could I ever know if I am absolutely adequate or inadequate?No, seeing as I will never know what I'm supposed to be adequate at - all my roles - father, brother, son, lover, provider, dependant, redeemer, destroyer - i have made up, and have made up their content, often by making up what "society" expects of me.
3) How do I react to the thought? I get sad and heavy? I loose contact with "now". with myself, and with the people around me.
4)Who would I be without the thought? Lighter, easier, freer, probably more effective. More generous, more available, more energised.

Nahafoch hu - (Hebrew = "the opposite is true) or in Yiddish: Punkt verkeerd

Turn the thought around

a) to the self ( Its not you who finds me inadequate, I find myself inadequate)
b) to the other (I find you to be inadequate, I judge you and dispense with you in the same way as I judge and dispense with My Self)
c)to the opposite (You find me adequate, I am adequate)

and find three specific, genuine examples of how each turnaround is true for you in the particular situation.

This pesach may we be freed from excessive eating, meaningless ceremony and sterile and platitudinous thought. The invitation to leave the psychic Egypt (in Hebrew etymologically Mitzrayim comes from the root tzar = narrow, place of constriction) requires a pathless exodus along a trail we have never been before. But en-couragement is vital to take the first step, and that we can do for each other, like Penguins on the lip of the Antarctic ice.

For thousands of years, at various times, there have been Jewish communities in Egypt, many of whom were able to live with a fair degree of freedom from persecution, and in prosperity. I wonder what it would be like as an Egyptian Jew to read the lines in the Hagadah about being brought out of Egypt. I suppose the same as it is for Israeli Jews living in Jerusalem to read the lines about "next year in Jerusalem." These texts and narratives occur in meta landscapes which don't necessarily connect to the physical landscapes in which we move and live.

faith traditions continue for as long as people cling to the metaphors they provide, or for as long as people find those metaphors more useful or comforting or powerful or better fitting or more accessible than personal metaphors they may be able to develop or that suggest themselves to them. See also being-about-our-business

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Jewdaism and the reduction of suffering

The strange thing about Judaism is that, despite Jewish experince through the ages being so associated with suffering (in the eyes of so many) suffering and the reduction of suffering do not seem to be at the core of its theology. Suffering is a non-issue. What is central is the requirement to perform the creator's commandments, and to believe in a redemptive creator (less central than the former) who acts in history and both creates the conditions for people's bondage and then the conditions for them to become liberated.

While many of the mitzvot (commandments) may have the effect of reducing suffering [and some may have the effect of increasing it] this is never proffered as their primary function. Mitzvot are performed becuase the eternal suposedly commanded them, and if they have some benefit in terms of increasing soial cohesion or individual self esteem, or more profoundly, assisst each individual to express more profoundly what is at the core of their being as created reflections of the divine, than those are added benefits, but not the reason. There is no utilitarian ethos which underpins the mitzvot, and what could be more useful than reducing the ubiquitous suffering which seems to characterize our experience as embodied - read limited -beings?

Interesting to compare and contrast some "mission statements" of Judaism with those of Bhuddism:

"To be a light unto the nations" (Bereishit - genesis)
"He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does Yud-Kay-Vav-Kay require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your G-d." (Mikah)
"Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole [duty] of man." (Kohelet - Ecclesiastes)
"What you yourself hate, don't do to your neighbor. This is the whole law; the rest is commentary. Go and study." - Rabbi Hillel

To reduce the suffering of all sentient beings

As for these mission statements, for them to make any kind of sense, what kind of context must be assumed?

That there is a world
That we have bodies
That embodid units - called people - are organised into discreet nations.