There are incredible people out there.

There are incredible people out there.

I need to write this down before It fades.
I went to the opening of a yoga studio in a downtown area of Cape Town. This was different from what you may imagine. There were no fashionistas wearing Lulu Lemon, or preening yoga abs invested in attracting attention.
The studio has been built by a visionary couple who are living in alignment with what many of us struggle to understand, vision, courage, purpose and commitment. They are not wealthy, or flash, they have little but are rich beyond measure, offering selfless love and compassion to the community they serve.

The studio has been built in an effort to bring light into dark spaces.

They have transformed a dilapidated old house into a magical space
filled with warm wood, beautiful floors and epic views. Children run around the garden which had originally been a rubbish tip where drug dealers used to peddle their wares to the disaffected. The exhausted community ravaged and suffocated by thugs and drugs, pulled together and donated their time and remaining energy to building a space where people could heal through yoga and meditation.

Although this is a predominantly Muslim community, the clear intention of service that this couple offered seems to have transcended any cultural resistance and encouraged a climate of tolerance and acceptance seen all to rarely in our diverse, troubled country. Many who had lost hope picked up glass, laid bricks, offered whatever they had in an effort to see the studio open. And now, it will be a donation based space where every member of the community can access and explore not only the physical practice of yoga, but the pivotal psycho-spiritual role it can play in healing traumatized psyches. This country is short on pockets of calm where troubled souls can seek out a softer, safer space within.
Idealistic? Not what I saw today, it looked like a vision that had been built brick by brick.

I left feeling humbled, inspired, reminded…to stop obsessing with my own dramas and to open my heart wider and to endeavor to empower others, with everything I have.

I leave you with a piece someone gave me while I was there.

“Nature loves courage. You make the commitment and nature will respond to that commitment by removing impossible obstacles. Dream the impossible dream and the world will not grind you under, it will lift you up. This is the trick. This is what all these teachers and philosophers who really counted, who really touched the alchemical gold, this is what they understood. This is the shamanic dance in the waterfall. This is how magic is done. By hurling yourself into the abyss and discovering its a feather bed.”
– Terence McKenna

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Sirens of the deep.

Sirens of the deep.

If nothing else, I remain tenacious, for although I have lost much this year and throughout my life, I continue to learn. I am however not so enthused by how loss and learning often travel together.
Questions constellate, how does one move along this path of personal transformation and deal with the inevitability of loss and separation that comes with growth? Does one grow with someone, or are there parts of the journey that can only be traversed alone? So many bloody questions, so few breadcrumbs to follow.

At the moment, I keep going back to the theory of attachment looking for clues (a rich trove). Lets suppose as the theorists would have it, that our early caregiving experiences set up particular attachment styles which we carry with us into adulthood. In our relationships we unconsciously attempt to repair those initial wounds through intimate relatedness, but often end up recapitulating the initial wound thereby reinforcing old scripts of ourselves or others as unloveable,inadequate, punitive etc. This pattern often leads to repetition and heartache.

So what happens when one sees the pattern as a ‘mature’ adult?
I offer myself as the guinea pig.

Although I have chased intimate, secure attachment my whole life, driven by a deep hunger to connect through early parental neglect, it appears to have largely evaded me. At times,it created an anxious-preoccupied style of attachment within me as many of the people I was drawn to were primarily dismissive-avoidant, much like my primary caregivers (except for my wonderously available grandmother). Thanks to an extended period of secure care-giving from her, I miraculously emerged with a largely intact, resilient, secure attachment pattern (flecked with periods of anxious-preoccupation when the other is dismissive/avoidant).

An important addendum, when one is unaware of being in an attachment related repetition, it is quite possible for a codependent style of relatedness to develop which is often characterized by the dance of approach and avoidance. Exhausting stuff. So what to do?

As an adult, one is more aware of these ‘patterns’. Often the emotional discomfort one feels is a good marker that a repetition is afoot. Unfortunately, in many cases, we attempt to sort this repetition out by trying to change our partners behavior without acknowledging our own injury, or being spectacularly insensitive to their own struggles with intimate relatedness.

A period of reflection on what has been activated becomes important, does my partner activate the unavailable mother in me? Are they the controlling father? Do I feel invalidated? Where does this come from etc?

If one is in a relationship where both parties are receptive, aware and can work with their own ‘scripts’ (unfortunately this appears to be quite rare) it becomes possible to grow together, if not, the repetitions endure, evoking each others defenses and eventually the couple system breaks down. Difficult stuff.

In an attempt to map some of the terrain, I offer a brief description of each adult attachment pattern below, see if you can not only recognize aspects of your own style, but try and identify that ‘siren’ to which you are almost compulsively attracted to in relationships, in an unconscious effort to repair old injuries.

Secure attachment.
Most of the Securely attached people I know tend to agree with the following statements: “It is relatively easy for me to become emotionally close to others. I am comfortable depending on others and having others depend on me. I don’t worry about being alone or having others not accept me.” This style of attachment usually results from a history of warm and responsive interaction. Securely attached people tend to like themselves and their partners. Often they report greater satisfaction and adjustment in their relationships than people with other attachment styles. Securely attached people feel comfortable both with intimacy and with independence and many seek to balance these essential ingredients in their relationships.
Secure attachment is promoted by a caregiver who is emotionally available and appropriately responsive to her child’s attachment behavior, as well as capable of regulating both his or her positive and negative emotions.

Anxious-preoccupied attachment.
People who are anxious or preoccupied with attachment tend to agree with the following statements: “I want to be completely emotionally intimate with others, but I often find that others are reluctant to get as close as I would like. I am uncomfortable being without close relationships, but I sometimes worry that others don’t value me as much as I value them.” People with this style of attachment seek high levels of intimacy, approval, and responsiveness from their partners. They sometimes value intimacy to such an extent that they become overly dependent on their partners. Compared to securely attached people, people who are anxious or preoccupied with attachment tend to have less positive views about themselves. They often doubt their worth as a partner and blame themselves for their partners’ lack of responsiveness. People who are anxious or preoccupied with attachment may exhibit high levels of emotional expressiveness, worry, and impulsiveness in their relationships.

Dismissive-avoidant attachment.
People with a dismissive style of avoidant attachment tend to agree with these statements: “I am comfortable without close emotional relationships.”, “It is very important to me to feel independent and self-sufficient”, and “I prefer not to depend on others or have others depend on me.” People with this attachment style desire a high level of independence. The desire for independence often appears as an attempt to avoid attachment altogether. They view themselves as self-sufficient and invulnerable to feelings associated with being closely attached to others. They often deny needing close relationships. Some may even view close relationships as relatively unimportant. Not surprisingly, they seek less intimacy with relationship partners, whom they often view less positively than they view themselves. Investigators commonly note the defensive character of this attachment style. People with a dismissive–avoidant attachment style tend to suppress and hide their feelings, and they tend to deal with rejection by distancing themselves from the sources of rejection (i.e., their relationship partners).

Fearful-avoidant attachment.
People with losses or sexual abuse in childhood and adolescence often develop this type of attachment and tend to agree with the following statements: “I am somewhat uncomfortable getting close to others. I want emotionally close relationships, but I find it difficult to trust others completely, or to depend on them. I sometimes worry that I will be hurt if I allow myself to become too close to others.” People with this attachment style have mixed feelings about close relationships. On the one hand, they desire to have emotionally close relationships. On the other hand, they tend to feel uncomfortable with emotional closeness. These mixed feelings are combined with, sometimes unconscious, negative views about themselves and their partners. They commonly view themselves as unworthy of responsiveness from their partners, and they don’t trust the intentions of their partners. Similarly to the dismissive–avoidant attachment style, people with a fearful–avoidant attachment style seek less intimacy from partners and frequently suppress and deny their feelings. Instead, they are much less comfortable initially expressing affection.

This post is a work in progress, it offers a snapshot of a turgid period of personal reflection, but it is also an offering to help light your way in a murky quagmire. Some of us get the repetitions cognitively, but when these deeply ingrained ‘sirens’ emerge in relatedness, deep core emotions stalk the internal landscape and balanced, compassionate awareness is a rare commodity. Such a pity… because it is a pivotal opportunity for healing, for moving away from the repeated towards the needed.

No one said learning was going to be easy.

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Father Hunger

Father Hunger

At times, dealing with the powerful visisitudes of life without the support of a loving, reflective father figure has been daunting. The pressure of having to make pivotal decisions without the benefit of knowledgeable, wizened counsel has lead me to develop a powerful internal locus of control which I can trust to make balanced decisions (most of the time). The problem emerges when things go wrong. It is at these times that I recognize just how difficult it is for me to seek out and trust support from other men.

I miss the idea of having a father I never had.

As I’ve grown up and become comfortable with my self, I’ve learned to overcome the big issues I had with him, but I point out the scarcity of affection in my relationship with him because I think it partially explains why male approval was always such a distant, yearned for quality for me growing up, why I still have a soft spot for male affection and why I sometimes find myself seeking the respect of older men.

One of the pernicious consequences of living in a country still struggling with homophobia, social verticality and patriarchy, is not just the rigid gender roles this system imposes on men (and obviously women), but also the way it prevents grown men from expressing love, gratitude and affection to each other (and often to their sons). Because of this, many boys grow up seeing affection as inherently unmasculine because their fathers never modeled affection and unconditional love as a constituent part of their own masculinity.
One of the major systemic tragedies for boys is the ongoing poverty of male affection in their lives. Boys grow up seeing affection as sexual behavior and not social behavior.
Just as tragic, our system still punishes boys for expressing love and affection to each other (except in the case of sports) by subjecting them to social and sexual taboo, which means boys will grow up seeing affection as (hetero)sexual behavior and not social behavior, which is troubling. For many straight boys, affection will become gendered, the unique behavior of girlfriends, moms and female friends. While girls are victims of the system just as much as boys are, the system victimizes them in different ways at different stages (through shaming, income inequality, domestic relegation, sexual objectification and ownership, for example). But one of the major systemic tragedies for boys is the ongoing poverty of male affection in their lives.

As psychoanalytically unsatisfying as it is, for many grown men, there is a void inside us that was earmarked for our fathers’ attention and approval (which can often feel like signifiers of love). It’s a void we carry with us into adulthood, a void that only disappears (if it disappears at all) with friendships that are deeply communicative, supportive and unconditional. This void only disappears (if it disappears at all) with a lifetime of self-forgiveness for the emptiness we feel inside. This emptiness is not our fault, but if we deny its existence or pretend we’ve moved beyond the scene of our childhood trauma, we become victims of our own pathology, innocent bystanders in the crossfire of denial, unlovability and self-reproach.

Men only heal when we surround ourselves with others who are engines of deep and uncontrollable love, people who are compassionate, affectionate, forgiving and open with their emotions. For me, the most recent source of affection, kindness and love has been my children. In high school, it was my English teachers. At University it was my lovers and friends. Today, my own fatherhood gives me new emotional space for repairing the tiny broken parts of me and for expressing my endless devotion, explicit love and continuous affection for my children.

One of the strange elements of life is that girls become women simply by growing up and physically maturing (for the most part), but boys must earn manhood. We do not become men simply by growing into an adult body, we are forced to repress or deny natural parts of ourselves (emotions, compassion, vulnerability, and so on), and to adopt the four basic rules of manhood (via Michael Kimmel):
1. Don’t be a sissy: You can never do anything that even remotely hints of the feminine. In South Africa we don’t raise boys to become men, we raise them to not become women.

2. Always win: Wealth, power, status—these are the markers of masculinity. “He who has the most toys when he dies wins.”

3. Be a sturdy oak: What makes a man is that he is reliable in a crisis. And what makes him reliable is how closely he resembles an inanimate object. A rock, a pillar, a species of tree.

4. Go for it: Exude an aura of daring and aggression. Live life on the edge, Take risks. Don’t give a damn about what others think.
Then there are also two ways we define manhood – (1) not feminine, (2) not gay.

All of these “rules” for growing into manhood force into false roles – we are much more than these simplistic limiting rules. When we adopt these rules to fit in and be considered men, we lose large parts of ourselves – and this leaves up wounded and hurting.

But we do not have to live this way – we can begin to wake up to the ways we have been forced into these little boxes of manhood. We can undo the wounding and become more expansive and whole. But it requires we do some work – hard work – to uncover our pain, to find our lost emotions and reintegrate them.

Someplace inside of us – not matter how cliche this sounds – there is that child who holds all of the feelings and desires and hopes we have denied we have (in our effort to be seen as men). We can access that child with help from a therapist, a coach, or with some personal growth technologies.

We can reparent that child with love and compassion, give him permission to have his feelings, to dream big dreams, to follow his natural curiosity. In doing so, we heal ourselves as adults. It’s not an easy process – it requires more strength and courage than most men possess. But the rewards for doing so are tremendous.

With the wisdom of an adult, we can be the loving parent or guardian we needed as a child.
Events from childhood, our first experiences, have the power to shape our lives. Some do so immediately, offering us challenges to overcome and encouragement to make use of our talents and interests. In the process character is built, and we make the first steps upon our personal paths. Other events seem to lay dormant until adulthood, when our closest relationships help to bring out the deepest aspects of ourselves. This is when unexamined lessons can be put to use and untended childhood wounds make themselves known in a call for healing.

We may discover issues of trust coming up, or perhaps we find ourselves mirroring actions from our past instinctively. No matter the case, we have the power within us to heal ourselves at the deepest level. With the wisdom of an adult, we can be the loving parent or guardian we needed as a child. Knowing that we are each whole spiritual beings having a human experience, we can nurture ourselves from that wholeness, and then reach out to others as well. We can recreate scenarios in our mind’s eye, trying different outcomes and following them to their logical conclusions. In doing so, we may be able to imagine possible reasons a situation occurred as it did, and even accept that it could not have happened any other way. With the wisdom born from age and experience, we might be able to see events from a different perspective, bringing new understanding and freeing ourselves from any hold the past may have on us.

Life offers opportunities to clear these weeds in the gardens of our souls. However, when we want to focus on easier and more pleasant tasks, we are likely to pass up the chances, leaving the wounds to continue to drain our energy and resources for living life fully today. We might find we need support to face the events of the past, so turning to a trained professional who can offer tools for healing can be a valid choice. As long as we remember that the child we were lives on within us, we are always free to go back and right old wrongs, correct mistaken perceptions, heal wounds, forgive, and begin anew.

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Sometimes you need to get lost to find yourself.

Sometimes you need to get lost to find yourself.

Sometimes We Need to Get Lost to Be Found.
By Rebecca Lammersen

Live the Life of Your Dreams.

I had everything—a home, a loving husband, two gorgeous daughters, financial security. I wanted for nothing. For years, this life was welcomed.

I felt safe. But over time, safe stopped serving me. Safe became confinement, imprisonment—I was actually miserable. I was empty.

I was lost…completely lost, with no clue how to get home.

“Where was home?,” I began to ask. I might as well have been sitting in the middle of the Sahara, not my beige Pottery Barn sectional.

My life was uncomfortably predictable—I knew what was going to happen next, in every moment of every day.

The stagnancy of my life was destroying my spirit. I was no longer myself, and I knew the journey from where I was back to my home was going to be a scary, uncertain one; but at some point I had no choice. I couldn’t live separate from myself anymore, so I started walking without any idea where I was going.

That was three and a half years ago.

Today, I’m writing this from home, from the same beige couch.

The difference? Me, and the thousand of miles I’ve traveled since. The thousands of experiences I’ve collected to bring me right back here, home—found.

There were many frightening moments, many moments I didn’t think I would make it. I made mistake after mistake, which catapulted me in the exact direction I was meant to go. I don’t regret any of it, because all of the wrong choices led me to the right place, every step of the way.

If there’s one piece of advice I would give every person, it would be to get lost.

Finding yourself is not a comfortable process, nor should it be. It is petrifying.

This period of confusion is the catalyst for questioning everything, for evaluating your life and your place in it. When you start asking the questions, you will find the answers. Just be prepared—your answers may not be the answers you want, but they are always the answers you need.

If you already feel lost, listen closely. Your spirit is screaming, “Help! I’m bored and confused. This present circumstance is no longer fulfilling me. Start looking again. Search every corner. Try new things. Fail miserably and then try something else until you find me. Keep going until you laugh again, until you discover understanding, acceptance, happiness, joy, and most importantly, purpose.”

When you feel lost, you’ve lost your purpose.

I remember being consumed with guilt for feeling unappreciative of my blessed life. Over the past few years, I’ve learned that my external circumstance (no matter how perfect it may appear) is insignificant if my internal circumstance is broken, lost and void of aspirations. If I have no purpose, my surroundings will feel purposeless too.

How do you find purpose?

Do something, anything. Do anything that is the opposite of what you are doing right now.

Get uneasy, get scared, become a beginner again. If you think you know it all, find something you know nothing about, and learn it well.

Observe how you respond and react. You will learn something new about yourself; not only about your character, but what turns on your light. Once you’ve found something that turns on your light, you’ve found purpose.

When you place yourself in foreign situations, you arrive in your most concentrated form. You will always bump into yourself in the unfamiliar.

The most difficult part of this process is the aloneness. You can’t rely on anyone else to guide you in the right direction. This is a solo mission. Doing it alone, is the whole point of the journey.

Listen to yourself regardless of what others may say. All that matters is your encouragement, not others’ discouragement.

What got me through was trust. I trusted I was always where I was supposed to be, and I would end up where I was meant to be.

This is your one life. It would be a tragedy to never discover yourself.

You can’t discover yourself unless you look for yourself, so get lost.

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The Journey Inwards

The Journey Inwards

I need to go walkabout. The pull is gaining momentum daily. It is no longer a decision to be made. I know that it will happen soon for my Soul demands it. I have started looking at adventures that will fit the particular tone I seek. I don’t want to just walk, I want to drop into a space within by using an external experience.

The article below articulates how I am trying to calibrate the journey. It is written by American adventurer and artist Daniel Fox, enjoy.

It happens every time, and independently if I want it or not, I find myself pulled into it.

Parked at Big Sur , I am getting my equipment ready. The plan is to hike to Syke Camp, spend a couple of nights there then one night on the beach and finally hike a 3,000 feet peak nearby. I should be excited, thrilled and relaxed, but instead I am anxious and worried. I try to focus on making sure that I don’t forget anything—I would really hate finding out that I have forgotten a lens or battery for the camera after a five hour hike and having to return. Despite all my previous stories written, despite all the photos that I have taken, despite the fact that deep down I know that it always works out, I can’t stop but stress about the uncertainty on if I will be able to find something to write about or find a nice landscape to photograph. Will I be inspired? If so, about what? Will the light be good? Will I see animals? Will the weather cooperate? And what if I don’t have anything to show by the end of the week? My last story,TIME, was written many months ago in Hawaii. I have since been twice in Alaska, kayaking and hiking a glacier, and even though both were incredible expeditions, I failed to come back with new words.

Knowing the reasons why the page has remained blank doesn’t help either. The creative process is one of the hardest things to find. And even more challenging is to protect that process as the world around you changes. Inspiration is complicated and some are more famous for their bizarre rituals then for their own art. I love being on expedition—having a set target, a destination to reach, a goal, but it is not what I live and work for. The content that I produce during these adventures is more descriptive—narrating the days, the progression, the ups and downs, the struggles encountered and the magical moments witnessed. It is premeditated. Inspiration is not really the most important aspect, but rather your ability to deliver the story, to capture the local flavors.

What I long for as an artist is much different. It is when I have the feeling, the sensation that the inspiration has come to me rather than me seeking it. It is that sense of being connected to something else, something bigger. As alone as one can be when creating, knowing that you are only a channel through which your environment expresses itself brings a total different perspective—the loneliness disappears and a deep fulfilling connectedness lives – bringing along a sense of purpose.

I am two hours into the hike and my mind is still stuck in that parking lot. I am walking the trail much like I would walk the sidewalks of New York—focused on the destination and shutting myself to everything else in between—a self defense mechanism we have had to developed to protect ourselves from the constant and relentless assault on our senses from our modern lifestyle.

Instead of enjoying the moment, I feel heavy and distracted. Layers of anxiety rooting from our civilized, moral and intellectual culture weighing on me. My ears are open but don’t hear anything. My eyes are open but can’t see anything. My body is tensed, preoccupied with every uphill steps I have to make. The Ventana Wilderness is full of wonders with majestic Redwoods and beautiful Pacific Madrones, yet, my head looks down—I am a man walking his purgatory!

After five hours, I arrive at the destination tired but wired. Where are the hot springs, where to camp? Quick lets get to work—what can I photograph? I can’t rest. This is work and I must produce! It is six pm—the tent is up, the backpack emptied, the hot springs have been located and already “enjoyed.” The kettle is on the stove. I am camping on this tiny “island” in the middle of the Big Sur River, a magical set up, yet I am totally oblivious to my surroundings. I am pacing frantically. The steam shoots out from the kettle and I am slow to realize the water is ready. So much for someone who is supposed to be “one” with nature—pathetic!

I take my cup of mate tea and sit on a log that rests slightly above the river, bridging my campsite to the north shore. My feet hang with my toes dipping in the frigid running water. I take a sip. Then I take a deep breath. Another sip— another breath. Finally, the moment I have been unconsciously waiting for is starting to manifest itself. Like the afternoon wind pushing away the morning fog, with every new sip and every new breath, my comatose state starts fading. Free of their societal constraints, my senses awaken from their lethargy. My back arches up. My chest opens up. My ears start tingling to the sound of water swirling around the rocks. My eyes start seeing for the first time an American Dipper just a few feet away, diving for a few second then reappearing with a nymph in its beak. My lungs are beginning to feel lighter. My mind is clear. My heartbeat has slowed down, yet I remain extremely sharp. By the time my tea is finished, everything feels new and fresh—alive. In reality though, it is me who has changed, it is me who is alive now. I was closed and sequestered, now I am freed and attuned. I have finally found the state of mind I came here for. And with it came my inspiration. Thought by thought, sentence by sentence, words have come back. Stripped from the confinement of technology and cultural expectations, I was finally at peace with simply one thing—being. “Nature is pleased with simplicity.” ~ Isaac Newton
“Life is not complex. We are complex. Life is simple, and the simple thing is the right thing.” ~ Oscar Wilde
As much as we want to categorize, compartmentalize, judge, humanize, and beautify nature, for me the “wild” is only one thing—real. Everything is what it is. There are no right or wrong, no bad or good, no judgement. Nothing is pretty, nothing is ugly. A dead tree has as much value as a living one. A fire will benefit some while it will kill others. The prey does everything it can to survive, as does the predator. There are no winners, no losers. No one is more important, yet everyone is connected and interdependent. Nothing is perfect—evolution is this endless chaotic yet harmonious dance where each adjust to the other, over long long long periods of time. Species adapt or disappear. Continents break while others sink. Still, every morning, the sun rises and brings with it life. And even if this sun stops to shine, another one, somewhere else in this huge universe will illuminate another world.

Independently if we believe and speak about it as a separate entity, in reality we are no different than nature. Quite the opposite, we are nature, and we are intricately part of it. We are nothing more than a footnote in the grand scheme of evolution. Yet we have come to believe that everything revolves around us—that is everything is about us. Our view of the world is no different then when we thought that the earth was the center of the galaxy. Instead now we see ourselves as the center of Life, of the Universe. In our quest to conquer—not only territorially, but intellectually and morally, we have lost our connection to the world around us, to the planet and to life. We also have lost our ability to look at our environment (the surroundings or conditions in which a person, animal, or plant lives or operates) and learn from it. We no longer look at nature and use it to understand life—instead we see nature and life as flawed systems that need to be corrected and reengineered under our own perception of what it should be. We see ourselves as great saviors with god powers! Our myopia and shortsightedness have made us inefficient and incapable of looking at the bigger picture. We focus on details, obsessing about single events, while loosing perspective of everything else around. Our expertise at extracting data from pretty much anything—important or not, trivial or useless, has transformed our world into an intellectual dump. Buried under so much information and incapable of managing it, we look at technology as our only hope. Completely lost and feeling powerless, we blindly put our salvation into machines and their ability to “process”—because the only way we can make sense of anything is through numbers, equations, statistics and graphs. Common sense is no longer valued unless it can be measured and quantified. Sitting on that log, with my empty cup of tea, nothing feels out of place.

I don’t feel out of place. The humility brought by the simplicity I find myself surrounded by is relaxing, refreshing and gives me hope. Real and honest is what nature is to me. It is a constant reminder of the true essence of what life is about. It is my source of inspiration, my elixir for meditation and my most profound teacher. “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” ~ Marcel Proust This article has been adapted from the original.

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Things I Gained In The Fire

Things I Gained In The Fire

As we head towards the end of the year, it feels like a ruthless internal inventory is needed. It would have to be a brave one for this year has been hard. “Annus horribilis” plain and simple, no red bows…no fairy dust, just excruciatingly grueling. I’m no stranger to grueling, I put my head down and walk through the boneyards, often for far too long. I don’t know how to stop, endurance is my thing. It appears that I can metabolize vast quantities of other peoples negative energy without checking in with my Self.
But this year something shifted,I smelt it in the air like the ionization of an approaching storm. Small drops at first as I started to ask myself…”why? Why do I do this?” Is it to martyr myself? Do I equate silent suffering with being a “good- enough” person? (a solid downpour by this stage) The Wounded Healer? Have I always sought intimacy and proximity by holding the emotional pain body of the other? I know where this came from, the broken mother, the absent father, the love hungry child! (torrential by this point) Is it possible that I have honed this dynamic to such a point that I now even make a living from it? Hmmm…
So in the eye of the storm, I began to ask myself…what would I be if I stepped away from the responsibility of holding the injury of the other? If as an adult, I am finally able to hold my own? And could now turn and face myself with a mixture of trepidation and courage and look with fierce compassion into my own eyes and heart and ask – “What do you really need Jamie?”, “how are you going to live your best life with the brief time you have left?” The questions needed to be asked for I was growing soul-sick with fatigue.

I know that life is difficult for everyone at times and that adversity is an irreducible fact of life. But sometimes this year when in the thick of it, it has been difficult to hang onto the fragile belief that “everything has a purpose”, or “there is a lesson in here somewhere…”. Many nights were spent looking into the flames as my life burnt away feeling as if there was no bloody purpose or lesson…or meaning. That as humans we are all so heavily invested in making meaning in order to repress our overwhelming terror when faced with our brief, fragile existence. I read so much, seeking solace, seeking some way to numb the ache, there were so many wise words which tasted like ash in my mouth, but a brief passage by St. John of the Cross spoke to me. In it he says that if a man wishes to be sure of the road he is on, he must close his eyes and walk in the dark, that to reach that which you do not know, you have to go by the way where you know nothing, there are no route markers for large stretches of this terrain and you will get lost. Deal with it. Welcome it.

So slowly, agonizingly slowly, the seasons shift, fragments of meaning start to constellate like gossamer threads weaving purpose together. I catch glimpses of a possible mature Self, a man who can hold and honor his responsibility as a father, a healer who has worked courageously with his own wounds, a man capable not only of great love for others but for himself as well. And as I begin to recover from my psychic heart-wounds
a new urgency stirs within me, or rather, it feels as though something is trying to emerge–a force, a power, a drive– it directs me to create and connect, to produce things of great beauty. I am doing nothing less than rekindling an enormous, blazing appreciation for being alive which I intend to fuel myself with for the rest of this fragile, exquisite opportunity.

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The Limitations Of Self Control
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The Limitations Of Self Control

All of us have a finite amount of self-control we can exert each day. Self-control is difficult and energy-depleting, and each time we exercise self-control during the course of a day, we have less remaining for later in that day — making us more susceptible to those habits we are trying to change:

“No one likes to think they’re average, least of all below average. When asked by psychologists, most people rate themselves above average on all manner of measures including intelligence, looks, health, and so on. Self-control is no different: people consistently overestimate their ability to control themselves. This over-confidence can lead people to assume they’ll be able to control themselves in situations in which, it turns out, they can’t. This is why trying to stop an unwanted habit can be an extremely frustrating task. Over the days and weeks from our resolution to change, we start to notice it popping up again and again. The old habit’s well-practiced performance is beating our conscious desire for change into submission.

“People naturally vary in the amount of self-control they have, so some will find it more difficult than others to break a habit.

“But everyone’s self-control is a limited resource; it’s like muscle strength: the more we use it, the less remains in the tank, until we replenish it with rest. In one study of self-control, participants first had to resist the temptation to eat chocolate (they had a radish instead); then they were given a frustrating task to do. The test was to see how long they would persist. Radish-eaters only persisted on the task for about 8 minutes, while those who had gorged on chocolate kept going for 19 minutes. The mere act of exerting willpower saps the strength for future attempts. These sorts of findings have been repeated again and again using different circumstances.

“We face these sorts of willpower-depleting events all day long. When someone jostles you in the street and you resist the urge to shout at them, or when you feel exhausted at work but push on with your email: these all take their toll. The worse the day, the more the willpower muscle is exerted, the more we rely on autopilot, which means increased performance of habits [especially bad habits or habits we are trying to change]. It’s crucial to respect the fact that self-control is a limited resource and you are likely to overestimate its strength. Recognizing when your levels of self-control are low means you can make specific plans for those times.”

Author: Jeremy Dean
Title: Making Habits, Breaking Habits
Publisher: Da Capo Lifelong Books
Date: Copyright 2013 by Jeremy Dean
Pages: 161-162

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What Men Need To Live A Happy Life

What Men Need To Live A Happy Life

75 Years In The Making: Harvard Just Released Its Epic Study On What Men Need To Live A Happy Life

In 1938 Harvard University began following 268 male undergraduate students and kicked off the longest-running longitudinal studies of human development in history. The study’s goal was to determine as best as possible what factors contribute most strongly to human flourishing. The astonishing range of psychological, anthropological, and physical traits — ranging from personality type to IQ to drinking habits to family relationships to “hanging length of his scrotum” — indicates just how exhaustive and quantifiable the research data has become. Recently, George Vaillant, who directed the study for more than three decades, published the study’s findings in the 2012 book Triumphs of Experience (Amazon) and the following is the book’s synopsis:

“At a time when many people around the world are living into their tenth decade, the longest longitudinal study of human development ever undertaken offers some welcome news for the new old age: our lives continue to evolve in our later years, and often become more fulfilling than before. Begun in 1938, the Grant Study of Adult Development charted the physical and emotional health of over 200 men, starting with their undergraduate days. The now-classic ‘Adaptation to Life’ reported on the men’s lives up to age 55 and helped us understand adult maturation. Now George Vaillant follows the men into their nineties, documenting for the first time what it is like to flourish far beyond conventional retirement. Reporting on all aspects of male life, including relationships, politics and religion, coping strategies, and alcohol use (its abuse being by far the greatest disruptor of health and happiness for the study’s subjects), ‘Triumphs of Experience’ shares a number of surprising findings. For example, the people who do well in old age did not necessarily do so well in midlife, and vice versa. While the study confirms that recovery from a lousy childhood is possible, memories of a happy childhood are a lifelong source of strength. Marriages bring much more contentment after age 70, and physical aging after 80 is determined less by heredity than by habits formed prior to age 50. The credit for growing old with grace and vitality, it seems, goes more to ourselves than to our stellar genetic makeup.”

As you can imagine, the study’s discoveries are bountiful, but the most significant finding of all is that “Alcoholism is a disorder of great destructive power.” In fact, alcoholism is the single strongest cause of divorce between the Grant Study men and their wives. Alcoholism was also found to be strongly coupled with neurosis and depression (which most often follows alcohol abuse, rather than preceding it). Together with cigarette smoking, alcoholism proves to be the #1 greatest cause of morbidity and death. And above a certain level, intelligence doesn’t prevent the damage.

With regards to income, there was no noticeable difference in maximum income earned by men with IQs in the 110-115 range vs. men with IQs above 150. With regards to sex lives, one of the most fascinating discoveries is that aging liberals have way more sex. Political ideology had no bearing on overall life satisfaction, but the most conservative men on average shut down their sex lives around age 68, while the most liberal men had healthy sex lives well into their 80s. Vaillant writes, “I have consulted urologists about this, they have no idea why it might be so.”

In Triumphs of Experience, Vaillant raises a number of factors more often than others, but the one he refers to most often is the powerful correlation between the warmth of your relationships and your health and happiness in your later years. In 2009, Vaillant’s insistance on the importance of this part of the data was challenged, so Vaillant returned to the data to be sure the finding merited such important focus. Not only did Vaillant discover that his focus on warm relationships was warranted, he placed even more importance on this factor than he had previously. Vallant notes that the 58 men who scored highest on the measurements of “warm relationships” (WR) earned an average of $141,000 a year more during their peak salaries (between ages 55-60) than the 31 men who scored the lowest in WR. The high WR scorers were also 3-times more likely to have professional success worthy of inclusion in Who’s Who.

One of the most intriguing discoveries of the Grant Study was how significant men’s relationships with their mothers are in determining their well-being in life. For instance, Business Insider writes: “Men who had ‘warm’ childhood relationships with their mothers took home $87,000 more per year than men whose mothers were uncaring. Men who had poor childhood relationships with their mothers were much more likely to develop dementia when old. Late in their professional lives, the men’s boyhood relationships with their mothers — but not their fathers — were associated with effectiveness at work. On the other hand, warm childhood relations with fathers correlated with lower rates of adult anxiety, greater enjoyment on vacations, and increased ‘life satisfaction’ at age 75 — whereas the warmth of childhood relationships with mothers had no significant bearing on life satisfaction at 75.”

In Vallant’s own words, the #1 most important finding from the Grant Study is this: “The seventy-five years and twenty million dollars expended on the Grant Study points to a straightforward five-word conclusion: HAPPINESS IS LOVE. Full stop.”
Source: Psychological studies (2013).

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Attachment 101- a primer.

Attachment 101- a primer.

Every self help section at your local bookstore is inundated with supposed secret recipes for relational ecstasy. I’ve read a fair number of them (one of the hazards of the job), most are bollocks, some are interesting and a few are actually rather good. The good ones often have quite a solid theoretical foundation borrowed from psychology, socio-biology and neuroscience. But it seems that no matter how much information is out there on relationships (certainly more than there was 20 years ago), intimate, sustainable relatedness appears to be fading fast from our social milieux. Perhaps it has always been like this and that people stayed glued together by social convention and deprivation. I pondered all this at some ungodly hour…and decided to explore the concept of attachment in general. Let me share my musings.

The concept of attachment is important because it forms a blueprint of the types of relationships we (mostly unconsciously) seek out. Take John Bowlby for example, he was a Cambridge educated psychologist who did some groundbreaking research with infants in the 1960s which shed a lot of light on how we create attachments in childhood. Together with Mary Ainsworth they developed assessment tools to accurately track and measure our attachment patterns as we mature into adults.

More recent research over the past 40 years has helped us realize that adult attachment parallels what happens in infancy. And here’s the rub: our prime desire is for a secure attachment.

What are the elements of a secure attachment?

A pivotal factor appears to be emotional responsiveness, no surprise there, but what is interesting is what one finds when you deconstruct it further. Emotional responsiveness appears to have three key elements.

1. Accessibility

I can reach my partner easily, share my deepest feelings with them and know that I am important to them. My partner is available to me.

2. Responsiveness

I can lean on my partner when I’m anxious or in need of comfort. I know even when we fight that I’m important. My partner will come close or let me know that I matter when I need them. In learning to be a responsive partner, we get to practise getting back to our special person at all times, sometimes even when we are incredibly busy, tired or focused on other pursuits.

3. Engagement

I know we are close even when we are far apart. I can be close and share almost anything with my partner. I know that he or she cares about my joys and fears. They can hold me safely in their mind. One of the prime ways we can practise being an engaged partner is by being present, not just physically but by being aware of what’s happening inside of them by being interested in their internal landscape.

The three elements of a secure relationship appear to be quite simple right? So why do so many of us struggle to attach securely when it is what we claim to seek so desperately? Well, that would be where our ‘baggage’ comes in… that old, heavy, dusty trunk filled with shadow and gold that we drag into each successive relationship with us. It contains the bones of our ‘imago’, our idealized, magical other that we dress up in fancy clothes and project onto whatever hapless soul seeker we choose to ‘perform’intimate relatedness with. We drag them onto a smoke lit stage, dazed, excited while the music plays. Poor buggers, they never stood a chance, because at some stage our projector flickers and eventually stops and we are left with the truth of what the other has always been, flawed, imperfect, just as we are. We are incensed, or disappointed, or we use the truth of the other to cut ourselves free from intimacy because with attachment comes risk, of loss, of expansion…

So where does that leave us dear reader? Confused? Seeking magic potions and Dr Phil’s to soothe our existential isolation, or fierce independence in an effort to remain safe from the other? Either way lies challenge, for at some stage you will need to look inside of yourself and take a fierce inventory of what you find before moving on or you will be doomed to continually repeat that which you desperately fear. Encouraging isn’t it?

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