Core beliefs revisited

IMG_1162I am so grateful for the comments on my blog on core beliefs.  I read more than 100 notes from people who are also questioning inner and outer belief structures, from people who seek more balance or simplicity in their lives, and from people who experienced awakenings in their minds and hearts through practicing yoga, dance, or martial arts.  Thank you so much for the kind encouragement and for letting me know you are in this process of reexamination too.

Some asked what my core beliefs are, and that is a good question.   I am talking about core beliefs in relation to my unconscious psychology, some of those beliefs that I formed as a kid and that shaped the way I see and experience things.  One is that I lack worth or a right to be myself, a perception fairly common in Westerners, from what I read.  I have constructed whole stories about myself and who I am, what I can and cannot do, around this sense of being inferior.  Stories like, I can’t have enduring good work or a decent salary, that I am an outsider.  With an underlying assumption such as that, how could I ask for help, or envision myself in lucrative work, or join a community where I could be involved in mutually nourishing connections and endeavors?

But that core belief has slowly changed in me and has been replaced with the sense that I have the right to be here and to take up space.  Mindfulness practice and yoga, as well as good relationships and time in nature have eroded my old beliefs.  I observed them in action as a hakomi body-oriented psychotherapy student and client, as a yoga and Feldenkrais practitioner, as a wilderness walker, in meditation, and I have seen through them.  The movement, mindfulness, and kind interaction with other people helped untie the knots around them, and they are loose now.  I see them kick in quite often, but I am not defined by them, I do not always react through their lens.

I am in love, I have deep friendships, I have rewarding part-time work, and I am writing.  I ask for help when I need it, and when I feel myself succumbing to the old core beliefs, I can often practice a little internal yoga, feel my feet on the ground, and release them.

Yesterday I watched this video discussion between a couple of people (Bari Tessler Linden and Ben Saltzman) examining how our core beliefs kick up around money issues: Enneagram Video.

Ben, a business and career coach, talks about how the Enneagram focuses on nine types defined by core beliefs formed in childhood.  He says he began to examine his own core beliefs when he experienced the pain of mismanaging his money and energy and how he changed by observing and unraveling his beliefs and related behaviors.  So whether it be money, relationships, work, illness, or other challenge that starts us on this path of examination, we end up in the same place:  Learning about who we are and what we believe and how that serves or hinders us.

We’ve been through the age of psychotherapy, and it seems like we are now into the age of mindfulness and community building.  Many of us are unraveling these beliefs and choosing new beliefs more consciously.  People wrote to me and said they believe in love and interconnectedness, in simplicity, sustainability, and health, in practices like yoga and how they transform us, taking us closer to our true selves and leading us to more conscious living.  Wow!

Hakomi homies

I have been interested in models for mental health care for many years, beginning in college where the approach was behavioral and not to my taste.  At that time I asked one professor if he could recommend some books on the history of psychology so I could learn more about where the field had come from as well as about other schools of thought within it.   Later I worked as a writer for the American Counseling Association, the American Psychiatric Association, and for Common Boundary, a magazine on transpersonal psychology.  And now I work in independent living, which is akin to the clubhouse model in mental health.  This model emphasizes connecting individuals with community and a range of practical resources to help them live the lives they wish given their disability or disorder.

Shortly before this stop on my journey, I joined an experiential training in hakomi body-centered psychotherapy.  This is a mindfulness-based approach sometimes called “assisted meditation.”  During a two-year training I traveled through new territory of emotion, psyche, and community.   With two excellent teachers and 22 brave cohorts, I left the achievement-oriented world and explored inner terrain I hadn’t known was there.

Hakomi drew me like a magnet.  As a yoga teacher and meditator interested in the emotional and spiritual effects of practice, it rang true for me as a method for freeing oneself of some reactivity, old beliefs, and behavioral patterns.  Observing the sensations of the body and the responses to statements and “experiments” in social interaction seemed a practical way to heal, to develop “new neural pathways” and to lighten up on the old ingrained ones.

The training was extraordinary but challenging for this introverted writer.  I had resisted group interaction most of my life, yet there I was, sitting in a very large circle “talking about my feelings” or someone else’s feelings. It was downright scary at times, but I was also awed.  The blend of teaching, experimenting, and sharing perceptions with others amazed me.  Where else, I wondered, would you find a group so willing to put their psyches on display and learn with others how us humans work, with all of our ingrained beliefs and perceptions and reactivity?  Where else would people be willing to let down old responses in the presence of others and make room for new ones?

Hakomi, which was created by therapist Ron Kurtz and is influenced by Buddhism, Taoism and even psychoanalysis, is a way of being with others, usually a therapist, in a mindful state, and noticing the sensations in one’s body as well as the thoughts and images that emerge.  Sometimes these things poke their heads up on their own, sometimes they arise as reactions to a statement or “experiment” designed by the therapist.  In this experience we begin to see how we are “organized” and what our core beliefs are.

The beauty in it is the principle of compassion for ourselves, the respecting of those resistances we have, and just observing them.  The gentle acceptance of the therapist allows all kinds of beliefs and reactions to arise and be “studied.”  Sometimes the noticing itself brings a shift in the belief.  In bringing mindfulness and compassion to one’s patterns, we see how they work, and we see the possibility of different conclusions and more choice in responding.

I often felt insecure and flawed sitting in a big circle and having to “share” my experience, but I learned, particularly I learned to give myself a break.  I learned from others that they all have their own patterns, that even those who seem most together have insecurities that motivate much of their behavior.  Forcing myself to talk, feeling analytical and scared, I watched myself perform, became more able to admit my discomfort to the group, and gradually to express a feeling or thought more spontaneously, with less analysis.

I loved the teaching and the one-on-one process. I gratefully soaked up words of wisdom about how we organize around our early experiences, about the dynamics and intricacies of anger.  Mostly I absorbed a capacity to be sloppy, to connect with others in the chaos and the tossing up of our fears and shames as just part of the human canvas.  To explore with others our childlike needs and how we manage them.  To dance without self-consciousness when we turned on some music and let ourselves move.

Ultimately, I came away more solid, more engaged with the world, and freer.  Being a hakomi therapist wasn’t for me, but hakomi infuses my yoga teaching, my writing, my meditation, and my interactions with others.  It changed me just like a year in a far-off land would: It pulled away my assumptions, my frame of reference, and let me experiment.  It gave me a more flexible sense of myself.  An invaluable trip, I’d say, this one with my “hakomi homies.”

Why I am not a psychologist

What is this particular blog, a negative manifesto? Why should I write about why I am not a psychologist, and why would anyone care?  Well, yes, quite so.  Here’s the beauty of blogging for the blogger; it sometimes becomes journaling.  And yet it has the added dimension of inviting dialogue.  Have you ever had the experience of thinking something is a good idea for you but then learning in practice that it is not?

I am attracted to medical and psychological professions at first blush, but then part of me balks.  I have never been able to get past taking some courses, and when I get near to practicing, I run the other way.   The truth is, even the coursework gives me a headache.  Am I dumb?  Terribly resistant?  Or is it something else?

For sure something won’t let me work as a psychotherapist.  It feels like the gods to me, or as if my wires are crossed.  Maybe I’m just one hell of a rebel, a contrarian.  Perhaps I belong on the fringe, and here I sit here in the way the Buddhist does, listening, learning, watching the world go ‘round.  Looking for my way to participate in the art of healing.

Though I’ve attempted to work in the field of psychology several times, I am not doing so for the following reasons:

  1. These professions require an immersion in a system of thought that I am in the process of examining, evaluating really.  It’s true I do not feel qualified to guide others over their emotional terrain.  Call me rebel or explorer, perhaps time will tell.
  2. I am on a mission to explore the nature and circumstances of healing.  It isn’t as though one day I had the thought that this is what I must do and embarked on the endeavor; it took me over.  I’m insatiably curious about the nature of life, the human condition, and how we find wholeness in any circumstances.  Partly this orientation comes from being exposed to suffering children  through my dad’s work, but I also believe it is my daemon, my driving motivation in this life to explore these things.
  3.  I want to pull myself back from the textbook, the table, the clinical orientation, and look at the larger system in which we are embedded.  Where do some of our assumptions come from, and how do they strike us at this time in history?  We made fast progress in medicine:  From the creation of antibiotics to brain imaging, we have learned a lot about function and disease, no denying, and many lives have been prolonged.  But we are also missing part of the picture.   We’ve been coming from a materialist perspective, a reductionist perspective for a long time. As a follower of trends in psychiatry and mental health therapies, I see a movement that has traversed territory from locking away the crazy, to looking for ways to help, to applying harmful “treatments,” to deinstitutionalizing, to fearfully clinging to chemistry and treatment.  In this relatively new science, we have been like a blind man walking down the wrong hallway and into a dark dangerous alley.
  4.  I am deeply curious about the traditions and knowledge we virtually lost touch with in the industrial and information technology ages.   Those things we buried so well during the Salem witch hunts in our own country or distanced ourselves from in our quest for technological advance.  I need to know about the holistic, naturalistic approach in which we saw ourselves as part of nature and plants as medicines and foods.  Such a view is slowly returning to our Western consciousness:  Others seek such knowledge as I do, often when they come up against the limits of Western medicine or psychology.
  5.  My personality, temperament, and turn of mind make me predisposed to seek an overarching cosmology in which we see ourselves as part of the natural world.  My more global bent of mind draws me toward this perspective when comes to questions of healing and wholeness.  I want to explore the world through yogic practice and philosophy, through plant medicine, through an ayurvedic worldview about the creation of the earth and man’s place in it.  Within this view we discover ways to find balance within our bodies and with our environments.  We see the environment as part of ourselves and treat it with more respect.
  6.  I believe in the art of healing.  I also believe in the science of healing, but my daemon orients me to a full embrace of the art:  the story of the human encountering illness or injury, the communication between the man and his gods or God, the connection between the woman and her mother earth and father sky.  I see poetry and deep truth to medicines based on the theory of five elements (Indian, Chinese, native).  I intuitively relate to the idea that my bodies is comprised of air, ether, water, fire,  and earth (or metal and wood in Chinese medicine).  I can sense when one is out of balance:  my water element causing sinus headaches, or the element of air (wind) contributing to anxiety.
  7. I need to examine the role of our societal dysfunction in illness.  Economics and social demographics contribute to habits and even addictions that cause diabetes, obesity, and cancer.  Our lack of wisdom about emotional difficulty contributes to the psychological reliance on food and drink for numbing, for comfort, for protecting ourselves from others.  A myriad of issues affect an individual’s psychology, and we need more awareness of that fact so we don’t get to buried in blaming our family dynamics.
  8. Psychology leaves out the spiritual dimension.  I am interested in the role of spiritual practice in our emotional health, mindfulness as central to this practice, and the body as a conduit to this dimension.

After making this list and carrying on a bit, I feel the need to state my manifesto in more positive terms.  I am a journalist and psychological anthropologist, an explorer into other realms of explaining and depicting our mental and physical challenges.   A writer who covers mental health paradigms.   A yoga practitioner and teacher involved in a process of finding greater physical and emotional freedom.  Writing and yoga are professions in tune with my mindset and temperament; they call me and engage me and connect me with the world.

I talk to healers, dialogue with doctors of Chinese or Indian medicine, with native American shamans, medical doctors looking into integration of perspectives.  Listen to people who’ve tune into their internal wisdom and recovered from challenging illnesses.  Explore with others in a yoga class what it means to be human and how to hear our own bodies’ messages about health.  Learn about food and herbs that work synergistically with our bodies to make us more whole.  I want to bring back some of what we lost.

Against our grain

Why do some of us feel we must push ourselves against our grains?  I’m thinking about my gentle, intuitive friend joining the Army as a young woman, or me marrying an exacting forceful husband (a budget analyst) when I was drawn to artistic, free-thinking sorts.  Was my friend trying to “whip herself into shape” with bootcamp and regimentation like I was in choosing a husband who would define things for me?  If so, why?

It seems when we’re young, we experiment, test ourselves, discover what we are made of.  Yet some of us have absorbed a puritanical streak or negative image of ourselves that shapes us still.  Are the psychodynamic psychotherapists right?  Do we unconsciously recreate the circumstances of a childhood in which we felt we were flawed and needed to change?

Let’s consider.  I married someone I thought would “whip me into shape.”  I thought something in me needed to be chastised and that I needed to learn to be more efficient, productive, logical, like him.  The marriage ultimately didn’t work, because I began to accept myself as I was with this global, intuitive way of seeing things, a less structured approach to my days in which I did what felt right.  Then I no longer wanted to be chastised and corrected.  Yes, I have many qualities or behaviors that could use improvement, but I learned it is crucial to trust myself and my inborn nature, to have compassion for those qualities.  Beating myself into shape through harsh means was disrespectful to myself.

I tried to rework the “terms” of my marriage, but it didn’t work; maybe we had too many years invested in the old way.  Years later, after working and living in line with my own grain, I met a man who respects me and champions my way of being.

Here’s another example:  I have tried three times now to become a psychotherapist.  Why?  People tell me I’m a good listener, and I’m fascinated by psychology, and I have benefitted greatly from being a client.  At the same time, I matured slowly and have been shy and emotionally illiterate in many ways.  Maybe becoming a therapist would be a good idea, teach me about emotions.  But no, it really isn’t a good fit for me.  And the truth is that I have no desire to be a counselor.

But it’s a good idea, and I have degrees in counseling, and coursework in psychology, and it’s a way to make a living, and it can be flexible work, and it’s a good idea, says some part of me.  So I went round and round attempting to be a therapist in different ways and modalities.

Once again, I was trying to correct myself, change myself, push myself.  I tried to reform and to compensate for areas I’m weak in.  At times it may be okay to challenge myself; I can imagine learning to keep better track of money I spend, but I don’t think it’s a good idea to become a therapist when I really don’t want to.  How fair is that to the clients, let alone me?

My friend who joined the army hated it, and now she works for the Veterans Administration as a social worker.  This job is about as difficult for her as being in the Army was.  She is gentle and spiritual, attuned to insights emerging in images and symbols, but instead she is often running up against rules and ways of thinking and requirements of her position that drain her.  While her coworkers rely on cognitive behavioral therapy, she keeps a sand tray in her office.  I think she needs an environment that nurtures her  imaginative qualities, though I also think the VA is lucky to have her.

Why does she do it?   I don’t know.  Is she a rare individual who doesn’t belong in this material world and rather belongs in a parallel universe where people are spiritual and intuitive?  Is the world too brutal for her?  Is she punishing herself as I was?  I don’t think she even knows.

It can be quite okay to test oneself, to try new things; sometimes we need to learn from discomfort.  We have all been there.  I knew when I worked in my dream job at a magazine on psychology and spirituality that I really wanted to be there, and I was VERY uncomfortable.  I knew when I taught yoga that it was what I had to do, even though much of the time I was scared and felt awkward and out of place.  But I see these instances in a different way than the others I’ve discussed.  The others go beyond stretching and growing into violence against oneself.

Marrying as I did, or trying to go into a profession I thought I should go into, I did because deep down I believed I was worthless.  I thought I needed to be remade, from the ground up.

My my, that’s a trip.  If I accept myself, I tend to make very different choices?  If I take the “shape up” out of the equation of living, what does my life look like?  What might society look like if we assumed we were okay?  As I have healed and grown and begun to live with my grain, life is rich and full of meaning.  I enjoy my work as a writer, yoga teacher, and disability educator.  I still struggle with my foibles, my fears, my weaknesses, but I feel oriented, clear, grateful to spend my days as I do.  But life feels magical, satisfying, and precious.  This state is life-affirming.  I know it is right.

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