alfreddepew

Archive for the ‘Relationship with Self’ Category

Studio notes: a painting dream

In Abstract painting, Dreams, Inner Work, Painting, Relationship with Self on May 18, 2013 at 6:04 am
Alfred DePew, acrylic on paper, 2007

Alfred DePew, acrylic on paper, 2007

In the dream, I sit in front of a large painting of two irregular rectangular shapes. The painting was begun by someone else and appears to have been abandoned. The shape on the left is a reddish mauve. The one on the right is a cerulean blue, lighter than the form on the right. And on its inside edge is a swipe of white that has picked up the blue underneath.

I keep looking at the space between the forms and this interesting edge, until I feel nearly ready to resume work on the painting.

When I look again, I see that a student has painted over the rectangular shapes with burnt umber and yellow ochre. The top part of the canvas is full of a loopy script.

I see that she’s working very fast, moving from this painting to two smaller canvases and back again.

I’m shocked and disappointed.

I had wanted to go into the painting and work on it myself, but it was her painting all along.

I want to tell her to slow down, sit back, and look for a while.

I ask her to imagine a story about a woman and a painting or a narrative from the painting’s point of view. I invite her to write several versions and discover what happens in each.

I wonder what it would be like if in one version, all of a sudden she encountered a magic animal that asked her a question.

When I wake up, I wonder why I am so interested in the original painting and so intent upon working on it myself.

And why does it seem so important to me that the student slow down, stop, and just look? Advice I myself have been given by every painting teacher I’ve ever had.

And what am I hoping we will discover by telling stories about the painting?

And if it were my story of the painting and I encountered a magic animal, what would that animal be?

And what would it ask me?

In Flu, Illness, Influenza, Inner Work, Relationship with Self, resilience on May 18, 2013 at 5:54 am
Illustration from the pulp magazine Weird Tales (October 1936). Source: Wikimedia Commons

Illustration from the pulp magazine Weird Tales (October 1936). Source: Wikimedia Commons

Influenza, a musical word, like belladonna. Beguiling and as full of deadly potential.

Flu is the thing we hope to avoid each winter, and whose vaccine we either get or don’t depending upon our opinions.

Shot or no shot, it can infect us—carried by the air we breathe, the objects we touch, the hands we shake.

It is ubiquitous. Like fear. With a mind and life of its own.

And despite my best intentions and massive doses of Vitamin C, it takes me down in January. Stealthily at first. And then with real insistence, it grabs me like a thief and hisses, “Don’t mess with me.”

I’ve heard it can last from three to six weeks—lingering. It can turn into whooping cough or pneumonia. It claims lives.

So I cancel everything that will require my leaving the house for two weeks, including a business trip back East.

And I go back to bed. I surrender to days of fevered delirium, fitful sleep, and waking dreams—nightmares mostly—of my life in various stages of collapse.

The flu as metaphor.

The flu as signifier.

The flu bearing news that I can hear in no other way.

“Be still and know that I am God.”

Is that it?

Have I been wrestled to the ground by an angel?

I leave one of the window blinds open each night so that I can look out from time to time and see lights in other buildings, other people awake at three and four in the morning.

I manage to conduct interviews and post two stories about the Egyptian revolution on its second anniversary.

Disillusionment. Uncertainty. Exhaustion.

I ache all over.

I can find no comfortable position other than standing in a hot shower. When I lie on either side or on my back or sit in a chair, fiery tendrils radiate out of my tailbone and down my legs.

I read online that back pain is not unusual with the flu—something about the virus enflaming the nerves. I can’t sleep. The Tylenol I’ve been taking is two years past the expiry date and does no good.

I call the nurse’s line and find out that’s the wrong thing to take in the first place. What I need is an anti-inflammatory. My nerve endings are in flames.

So this is what it is to go viral.

St. Vitus’ Dance.

Suddenly I think I understand the experience of the chronically ill who have surrounded me all my life. So this is what they went through. A tease. The swing from feeling “better” to “this will never end.” Dying would be a relief. Abandoned by my own body. Cut loose. Afloat.

What does one pray for in moments like these?

Deliverance? Peace?

“I no longer believe in a peaceful revolution,” writes a friend from Cairo.

Off the record.

Speak the unspeakable, something in me keeps saying. Tell the truth.

I post both stories about the Egyptian revolution.

I cancel a radio appearance on the East Coast.

The pain subsides thanks to Advil, and I can sleep again.

I dream of a wall of pinpoints—each one opens into a hopeless story. Each story says: if you don’t do it perfectly, you die. Then one opens into a story set in Lapland that says the key to survival is staying connected.

I am delusional if I think I know anything about chronic illness. I have suffered three maybe four days. I know people who have lived like this for years.

The fever breaks. I am giddy with relief.

I know what I have to do: resign all my various jobs and read poetry. I must claim the life I have left. Claim at least two days a week in the studio—one day painting, one day writing.

I don’t want to feel like my old self again. I want to remember what I’ve learned these past few days in bed—about letting go—of all of it.

About freedom. Authority.

The fever breaks, and I wake up in a T-shirt drenched with sweat, feeling clammy.

It’s as if the room has been stripped bare and I must choose what I will put back in it, one object at a time.

I wake up, curious and bemused. Slowly, cautiously, I enter something I will one day call my new life because the old way of being has already disappeared.

The Wisdom of Self-Doubt

In Children, Education, Family, Inner Work, Parenting, Realtionship, Relationship with Self, Schools on December 20, 2011 at 12:30 am

Maria V. Chatila

Guest blog by Maria V. Chatila, ILM, ACC, ORSCC

Maria V. Chatila is presently living in Dubai with her husband and three children. She works as an Education & Relationship Life Coach. She is dedicated to helping schools, families, couples and individuals to build personal and family awareness’ while creating empowering relationships. Maria has given talks to large groups of parents at schools as well as smaller groups of parents at their homes.

I dedicate this article to all parents and children in the hope that it may motivate and inspire you to achieve your full potential.

Anyone who knows me will agree that I am unable to wear the mask of pretender very well. Most often, I wear my emotions on my sleeve. Not only do I hang my emotions out for the world to see, I also assume that others will follow suit. Fortunately, I am mistaken. However, for the sake of this article, I will blast open one particular emotion that I tend to find very interesting and very wise. The emotion of the month is what I would like to call ‘Self-Doubt’.

According to the Collins dictionary, Self-Doubt is a lack of confidence in yourself and your abilities (Collins, 2003)

The Invasion of the Gremlins

As I sit here writing this article, I find myself reminiscing over my school years and the self-doubt that I experienced all of those years ago. The interesting thing about my memories is that my fears back then now seem so young and ridiculous. But, if I remember correctly, to the much younger Maria, those fears were very real and very scary. All these years later, the funny thing is that the essence of my younger self-doubt still exists.
My inquisitive nature leads me to use my curiosity and find the wisdom that lies behind the self-doubt that we may be feeling and use it to serve my audience of readers.
This is the time of the year when children and their parents may be feeling both very excited and very anxious about the upcoming end to the academic year. Most families have plans of enjoying a summer of carefree attitudes that means they could enjoy the freedom and flexibility that summer has to offer. The school schedule these days is about juggling the social and academic obligations and with this comes the knot in your stomach that for most people means SELF-DOUBT. Parents on the one hand are constantly wondering, ‘am I doing it right?’ Children, on the other hand, are wondering, ‘will my parents be proud of me?’

Last summer, I interviewed children of various age groups about how they felt about returning to school in September. The youngest of my interviewees Aya, was only 4 1/2 and she was ever so excited to begin school because this would be her first time attending the Big Girl school. She looked forward to a lovely new teacher who would surely love her and she especially was excited to play on the school playground. Apparently, says Aya, only clever big girls could play on the special playground so she was going to be a clever big girl this year! I was very impressed with Aya because it seemed that until this point, she really did not have any self-doubt. This made me really curious because, if most children were as confident as Aya commencing their careers as students then when did Self-Doubt begin to kick in?

Later on, I met Nicholas. He was 5 years old and he was preparing to attend Year 1 at his primary school. Overall, he had no real fears about recommencing school. However, he did say that he was a little bit nervous about meeting his new teacher. He claimed that until he could ‘see’ her face, he would be nervous. I asked him what he would be looking out for in her face and he said that he was nervous that she may not be nice and he would be able to tell this by looking at her eyes. He would be disappointed if she had ‘big circle eyes when she looked at him’ because this would be bad.

Michael, 7 years old, was getting ready to attend Year 3 and he was most definitely excited. However, he also claimed to feel really nervous too. Michael stated that his fears were mostly about the new teacher and his friends. He stated that meeting a new teacher makes him nervous because new teachers have new rules and new work that he will have to do. He was also nervous about his friends because he stated that if there were new people at school, he would have to make new friends.

Selena, also 7 years old, had a somewhat different stance to Michael’s. She was very nervous about not being able to make new friends which would lead her to be left by her lonesome during break-times to walk alone on the playground. Selena also claimed to be nervous about making mistakes with her class work that would then cause her to getting poor grades and this would eventually be the reason that she would be seen as a disappointment to her parents and they may even become angry with her. As she spoke, I could almost feel her fear.

Finally, I interviewed Dania who was 12 years old. As she spoke, I could feel the weight of the world on her shoulders. Dania discussed how she always has a feeling of self-doubt heavily on the first day of school. ‘Too much is unknown’, she said. She worries that this may be the year that everything goes wrong and she fails at tests and disappoints her parents, her teachers and herself. Dania worries that she may not have a bright future if this academic year is not successful and that she may not be able to accomplish the great things that she dreams of. Mostly, she says, ‘I feel afraid that I may not be noticed or chosen at school to do things that help me to stand out in front of my peers’. She worries that the teachers may not be fair and that she may not be accepted by her peers. Not fitting in amongst your peers is very challenging, says Dania. Some children get bullied if they don’t fit in and this can be scary for children, she says.

As I sat listening to the answers that were being offered to me by these young children, I remained astounded by how much has not changed since my younger years. Although technology has hit an all time high for creating amazing gadgets, our children are still suffering from the same issues of self-doubt as we did in our younger days!

With Age Comes Wisdom

‘Life is 10 percent what you make it and 90 percent how you take it’ Louise Priscoll
Interestingly, my last interviewee was a mid 30s mother of two children who remembers feeling self-doubt as a young child, but most especially at this time of the year when she was younger. To Melanie, the self-doubt reminded her of the ‘inner 5 year old child that lacks confidence, perseverance and drive’. I could not agree with her more. I too remember that my self-doubt really kicked in at the age of 5. Most countries across the globe begin to welcome children into school by the age of 5 and I do believe that although school is a place where children learn to build their characters and learn to mix with other children; I also believe and agree with Melanie’s statement; ‘as parents, we must become aware of our children’s feelings’.

Recently, the news printed a story about a young 13 year-old boy who tried to end his life because of his self doubt. Are parents, teachers and the community really aware of our children’s feelings of self-doubt that continue frightening them into doing things that seem like their only hope for escape?

A Coach’s Perspective….

In my working experience and in my personal experience, Self-Doubt is very common and I have still to meet an individual who has never experienced a lack of belief or a fear of failure. All those years ago and if I am very honest, not too long ago I still believed that my self-doubt existed to harm me. However, it is now my belief that ‘Self-Doubt’ enters our lives to give us some wisdom. The question is, are we ready to ‘see’ the wisdom in our fear of failure? It is a fact that teachers and caretakers have a huge impact on our children. Most teachers have more quantity time with children than some of the parents do. Therefore, it is important that parents and teachers work together to find the wisdom in the Self-Doubt that is causing havoc on our children’s lives.

Some of my tips are:

First and foremost, normalize the self-doubt. Most children are on a sole train called ‘EGO’ and they are not aware of the fact that many of the other children are also feeling scared, nervous and afraid of not being a success at school. As my evidence shows, all of the children that have previously been in school have already developed self-doubt. Sit down with your students and your children and share
your own memories of self-doubt as a child. In fact, share some of your most recent memories of self-doubt as an adult. Normalizing a lack of confidence will help your children feel comfortable with their own feelings.

Secondly, use the child’s fears openly and brainstorm as a family or as a class around the possible wisdom that is available to the child because of their self-doubt. At first, there will be no apparent wisdom just sadness and helplessness. Keep asking and soon enough the child will begin to say something positive about their learning’s because of the existence of their self-doubt.

Finally, once the wisdom has been made consciously aware, ask your child to take more actions that will continue to let them grow. Remember, ‘It is not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters’ (Epictetus) Sit down as often as your family or class feel is necessary and discuss the actions that were taken and give your child the feedback that they need. Praise them for whatever action they took and encourage them to keep moving forward.

Final Thoughts

I believe that it is our role as parents and teachers to help each and every child achieve their full potential. I stand strong and ask that you do too. At the end of our time here, I would like to believe that as a community we were able to light a fire within our children and help them to shine brightly for the next generation to see. What have you done today to help your child see the wisdom in their self-doubt?

For more information about Maria and her work, please visit her website, www.bpacoach.com or contact Maria directly through her email maria@bpacoach.com

.

Since feeling is first

In couples, Realtionship, Relationship with Self, World Work on October 23, 2010 at 12:53 am

Painting, acrylic on paper: Untitled, 2007, Alfred DePew

(Reprinted from the Vancouver Observer)

Canadians often put me in mind of Dorothy Parker’s quip about Katharine Hepburn, who, she once said, “ran the gamut of emotions from A to B.”

Some weeks ago, at dinner with my friend Hal, he said he had been feeling emotional.

“Which one?” I asked.

“What do you mean?” he said.

“You know—happy? Sad? Pissed off?

“I don’t know—emotional,” he said.

Then we changed the subject.

As North American white guys, we tend to avoid direct expression of feeling in day-to-day conversation.

Unless, of course, the subject is hockey.

And yet, my stiff upper lip has been known to quiver. I have the kind of face that registers everything—worry, delight, perplexity, and suspicion.

I am terrible at poker.

I’ve had to learn about feelings—the hard way, by being tyrannized by them. Had I been born in southern Italy, I’d have had no problem. Or so I imagine. But I was raised in St. Louis, whose dominant culture was Anglo and Teutonic, despite the French name.

At sixteen, I began to suspect that feeling was not just the root of the problem but the problem itself. My first therapist was a psychiatrist, a bona fide Freudian analyst of the Viennese School. When he’d ask how I was, I’d say “anxious.” I didn’t have a very wide emotional vocabulary in those days, and I don’t recall Herr Doktor as being much help.

Twenty years and four therapists later, I heard myself say that I’d know when I was ready to stop therapy when I no longer had any feelings.

Then I laughed. So did my therapist. It was our next to last session.

What had brought me to that fourth and final therapist was grief. When my father died, I was overwhelmed, nearly paralyzed. My father and I were not close. It didn’t make any sense. It was wholly irrational. And yet, as I came to see, grief had its own kind of logic. My friend, the poet Anne Rubicam Witten, pointed me to Gilgamesh, Innana, Persephone, and Orpheus—stories about the decent to the Underworld. Stories that acted as a map in this new territory of grieving.

Therapists could only take me so far. For the rest, I needed the poets.

Robert Bly used to talk about the grief at the core of the male psyche. He spoke about it as an initiation, the “time of ashes,” essential to the evolution of a man’s mind and heart and soul.

Not that grief is particular to men. My friend Monica insists that at the heart of every silence lies some form of grief.

What Hal chose not to talk about that evening at dinner was his mother’s death and the fact that he’d recently declared bankruptcy.

Emotional indeed.

What then is the language of feeling? Not just one, surely. Proclamations of love. Lamentation. Sidelong comments. Innuendo. Carping. Sarcasm. Body language. A glance. Those looks.

I often work with couples who want more intimacy, better communication, and less fighting. Much of my work involves training them to become exquisitely aware of what  lives in the space between them. Feelings. As they become aware of the impact of what they say and do, they have more choice about how they speak and act in order to keep the relationship space clear.

When I began with one couple, the atmosphere between them was so charged that even an intended compliment could start a fight. Gradually, as they became more aware of how they were interacting and what feelings they were generating, they began trying new ways of communicating—at different times, with clearer intentions, using more neutral language. Then they noticed the impact on their children and how they were treating each other. All this took slowing down and paying attention. Giving themselves time to feel.

Another couple, men who’ve been partners for eight years, wanted to stop avoiding topics they simply couldn’t discuss. So we began with what they could discuss, always pointing to the space between them and what was there. That they loved each other was clear. That the relationship was skilled at any number of tasks was also clear. And so we built on that. Some weeks later during a session, one acknowledged the other, and he began to tear up. A hard place for men, even gay men. He made a joke and looked away. I asked them to pause and invited them to sit with what was happening. In the ensuing silence, they held each other’s gaze, tears in their eyes. This was the intimacy they were seeking to reclaim. A sweet, tender, dangerous vulnerability. And they’d learned to create the safety to experience it.

And what of our relationship to ourselves, the time we give to our own feelings?

All week, I have been busy coaching couples, setting up individual calls with my certification students in Europe, interviewing and assessing new clients. Relationship work. Then all of a sudden I am exhausted. I have stepped over my own feelings of admiration, frustration, impatience, love, envy, and longing.

They clamour for my attention.

So I close the computer, lie down and let everything surface.

After a while, I take my notebook and pen and give myself a half hour to listen and write down what I need to let myself know.

The poem from which I borrow my title is, after all, a love poem by e.e. cummings.

since feeling is first
who pays any attention
to the syntax of things
will never wholly kiss you;

–the best gesture of my brain is less than
your eyelids’ flutter which says
we are for each other: then
laugh, leaning back in my arms
for life’s not a paragraph

It’s the thing that flutters up behind the eyes, a movement in the heart before language.

And then … the words to say it.

Becoming Still (Reprinted from the Vancouver Observer)

In Inner Work, Peace, Relationship with Self, Spiritual Practice, World Work on January 4, 2010 at 11:40 pm

Let’s just say it’s not at the top of my agenda most days, which is why at Christmas I usually choose to make a retreat.

Chances are, if I had a regular sitting meditation practice, I wouldn’t need to take such drastic measures: booking the retreat, explaining to friends and business associates why I won’t be at their Christmas parties again this year, taking a bus to the ferry, the ferry to Vancouver Island, and a taxi to the retreat centre.

That’s the easy part. The hard part is living in my own skin for four days without the distractions I keep saying I want to escape.

Once they are nowhere to be found, distractions seem like a mighty good idea.

Who wants to face one’s failures and shortcomings? Who wants to face one’s loneliness and cravings?

And who the hell wants to listen to what goes on inside my head?

I sure don’t. And yet that’s exactly what I am faced with in the early stages of any retreat I make. To a certain extent, that’s the whole purpose. The aim is to get beyond the “monkey mind.” My fear is always that it’s nothing but monkeys as far as the mind can see. Experience has taught me that I can get beyond them, but not without going through a considerable amount of chatter.

So far, I haven’t found any short cuts.

I was trained in the retreat process by Sufis. Once—sometimes two or three times—a year, I would drive to a small centre in southern New Hampshire and sit in a tiny hut from three to fourteen days of silence. My guide would give me various spiritual practices when she came to sit with me each morning. And in the evening, she would leave a hot meal outside my door.

The retreat process is analogous to alchemy, the practice of turning lead into gold. Unhappily, it involves a lot of burning, melting and putrefaction along the way.

Not everyone’s idea of a good time. In fact I was sure I had gone stark raving mad my first time out. And I had. That was what I needed to get through before I could find anything akin to peace of mind.

This is the point at which many say the real retreat begins.

Not for me. My retreat starts shortly after I make the intention and finalize the travel plans. I’m eager, and then resistance sets in. I’m suddenly convinced that this is not the right time. My business needs attention. What about Christmas cards? You might meet someone important at one of those parties, you know. They’re going to stop inviting you if you keep refusing.

Then I encounter everything in my life that is out of whack—a sneak preview of what I will be alone with at the outset. The theme. Then I stay up late the night before I leave, trying to get everything done. (O! Human Folly!) Then I’m up in the morning, drinking coffee, then running for the bus, having forgotten to bring along the phone number of the cab company in Nanaimo. But I get there—somehow I always get there—and I begin to settle in.

It’s lovely at first. I usually start out with a nap. And then a long walk or some basic practices before the first meal break. It’s as if my mind wants to let me believe it’s going to behave itself this time and not interrupt the proceedings. Ha! Just another ploy, so it can jump out and get me when I’m not looking. I’m much easier with it than I was when I started. The mind does what it does—distracts, bedevils, tells itself bad stories, worries, and comes up with great ideas like smoking a cigar or sneaking out for ice cream. It’s a wild ride until the mind is also brought in line with the breath and the heart. And it always takes time.

Whether I intend it or not, an examination of conscience begins. Years ago, one of my Sufi guides gave me a short form—three questions. Where am I not right with myself? Where am I not right with others? And where am I not right with God? “Right” here is used in the sense of right relationship, not right vs. wrong. No matter how much experience I have with this, it’s always agonizing—and humbling. An act of radical acceptance. And essential if I am to gain any peace at all.

Peace begins with glimmers—something I read, perhaps, or after I weep. On a walk. Sitting on a stone above the lake. The silence itself is what brings it about. That’s what I’ve come here to find.

Peace is like a pulse that gets stronger as fear and resentment and worry loosen their grip.

And I remember the verse from the 46th Psalm: “Be still and know that I am God.”

On Christmas Eve, I step outside and watch the moon growing fuller. I’m aware of waiting in a vast silence, the way that I imagine Mary waited to give birth to something beyond all comprehension.

And as I stand there, looking up, there is nothing more to think or plan. In that moment, all the words fall away, and I am surrounded by blessing.