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Posts Tagged ‘Relationship’

When a house was a home and not real estate

In communities, Realtionship on April 5, 2013 at 5:11 am
The house on Pine Street, Portland, Maine

The house on Pine Street, Portland, Maine

Published in the Vancouver Observer news site | November 14, 2011

Circulation: 100,000 monthly readers

Even empty, even in the disrepair left by its last tenants, the soul of the house on Pine Street in Portland, Maine remains intact, palpable, and still welcoming.

In August, I walked through it for the last few times, showing it to friends and fellow artists who might be interested in buying it, talking to people from consignment shops about the five remaining pieces of furniture, and one last time to smudge it and bless it and thank it for being home to me for more than 15 years.

Before me, the house belonged to a colleague in the sculpture department at the Maine College of Art, and I had visited the back part, where the painter David Cedrone lived and had his studio.

It’s a house I had passed several times a day on my way to and from downtown, and it always caught my eye, not because it was showy, but because it was singular, somehow. Unlike any other house on the street. Simple, square, stout, and plain—wood frame with asbestos siding the colour of, well, let’s say “tan”—with the oldest tree on the block out front. And in the spring, clustered around one of John V’s sculptures, an abundance of blue flag iris.

I was not looking to buy a house in 1994, but when I passed it one day, and John was outside, he said he was selling. I asked if I could see the inside in case I knew of anyone who was looking to buy.

He walked me through his part, the middle room, which he used as a studio, the front room, where one of his sons was living, the kitchen, the large bathroom and the open space behind the kitchen.  Upstairs were two bedrooms he rented to art students and a bathroom; then there was David’s section in back—two rooms, a bath and kitchen area.

It was a lot bigger than it looked from outside, and I had the uncanny feeling that I already lived there.

“Uh oh,” I said. “I might have to buy this house, and I don’t even know how to buy a house—even if I had the money.”

Indeed, I wasn’t sure I entirely approved of home ownership. Some old Marxist impulse in me.

“Go to the bank,” he said, “and see if you can get a mortgage.”

A mortgage, I thought. Much too grown-up for someone like me. And yet with one thing and another, I qualified for a low-income first-time home-buyer mortgage, and somehow it all worked.

The night of the closing, after everything was moved, I went to a Christmas party and admitted to people how frightened I was to go back to the big empty house. It was odd. Here it was mine and I was scared of it. I kept having dreams of people who lived there I hadn’t known about. I dreamt of rooms I hadn’t seen. Whatever spirits there were in the house were friendly enough, even welcoming. Even so, it took time to live into the place—boxes everywhere, only two chairs.

Friends from a meditation group came to bless the house. Then I held a potluck supper. In addition to food, I asked people to bring a plate to eat off of and/or a chair. House warming gifts.

I fashioned a large table out of a hollow door on milk crates, threw a cloth over it, placed a vase of flowers in the middle, and waited. And people arrived, bringing just enough chairs, just enough plates. From thrift shops, potters’ studios. Each one different, unmatched, singular. Together a collection of unmatched objects, each its own shape and colour, conforming to nothing but the spirit of the house itself: improvisation and Yankee ingenuity.

Which pretty much characterized my life in those years. The next summer, I had my first writer’s fellowship at the Wurlitzer Foundation in New Mexico, which began eight years of migration back and forth. I began studying massage and Polarity Therapy. I returned to painting.

The house provided room for writing workshops, Liberal Arts faculty meetings, potluck suppers, community organizing, and healing sessions in the treatment room upstairs. Summers, I would rent the house to a writer who wrote three of her children’s books there. A friend of mine’s father came to stay with me for a week or 10 days, so I could work with him on a book he was writing about sailing solo across the Atlantic to celebrate his 70th birthday. I hosted my men’s group once or twice a month, switching off with another member who had a photography studio. I could meet with my students from the documentary centre down the street when we needed more space and quiet.

That first winter, while I was shoveling snow between storms, an elder man stopped and told me that’s he’d been born in the house, pointed to the front bedroom upstairs.

“In July,” he said. “It was so hot, my dad and his friends kept pouring water on the roof to try to cool the birth room down.”

During my first nor’easter, the house began to rock and creak like an old ship. I called a friend who live down east who assured me that its movement was good news.

“It’s made of wood, right?

“Yes,” I said.

“Then it’s supposed to do that. If it were a brick house and it was swaying, you’d be in trouble.”

“Besides,” she continued. “That house has seen more nor’easters than you’ll see in your life.”

She had a point. The house had survived the Civil War, the Great Fire of 1865, and any number of hurricanes. What was one more snowstorm?

After posting notices at the art school and the hospitals nearby, after telling every artist I knew that the house was available with a shed out back that would make a perfect studio, after upwards of 50 showings, a developer has bought the house to reconfigure and resell.

For the first time in its 188-year history, the house has been bought by someone who will not live in it. This dwelling housed students, artists and writers for the last 30 years or so, was once a boarding house, and may have for a time been a whorehouse (small and intimate to be sure. This house with a soul that called me to it, in the end, has become someone’s investment property, just another piece of real estate.

Not my first choice. Not my choice at all, but the way things turned out.

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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

.

James Hillman: Jungian, iconoclast, philosopher and wizard

In Inner Work, James Hillman obituary, Jungian pyschology, Men's movement, Realtionship on November 6, 2011 at 11:47 pm

by Alfred DePew

(Reprinted from the Vancouver Observer)

Its imperiousness, its shameless elitism—the very things we love to love about the New York Times can just as often make me spitting mad. And this time it’s the NYT’s obituary of James Hillman, which calls him “a charismatic therapist and best-selling author whose theories about the psyche helped revive interest in the ideas of Carl Jung, animating the so-called men’s movement in the 1990s and stirring the pop-cultural air.”

So-called men’s movement? Stirring the pop-cultural air?

Am I over-reacting, or does that sound snarky?

And who am I—a pipsqueak journalist, from western Canada, no less—to argue with the Gray Lady?

In my view, James Hillman was among the most important American thinkers of the second half of the Twentieth Century. So there! He was a Jungian analyst, theorist, philosopher, author, mentor, mystic, lecturer, visionary, and enthusiastic gadfly. By turns brilliant and obscure, his presence in the lecture hall is hard to describe.

You just had to be there. And I was, on two occasions.

The first was a retreat in Cambridge, Massachusetts with his co-conspirators poet Robert Bly and storyteller Michael Meade. 700 men gathered for two and a half days to unfold “The Water of Life,” one of the Grimm’s Fairy Tales. I had just returned from my first trip to Russia, so I think this must have been in the late spring of 1990, which felt important to me because I had been deeply in the archetype of Mother Russia (an archetype whose fierceness survived the Soviet years) and now I was surrounded by men embodying a German story. And in both cases, I wasn’t really sure what the hell I was doing there.

I was very uncomfortable. That much was clear to me.

And I knew something important was going on—in and around me—though I’m still hard-pressed to say exactly what. A felt sense of something in me opening or arising. A gathering of men around me (something I quite simply could not have imagined possible, much less desirable). A deep dreaming and a simultaneous awakening.

I experienced the luminosity of my imaginal world and its connection to history, legend, and the present moment.

Heavy stuff, eh? But you have to understand how hard we all laughed at ourselves and the world, even as we were in awe of the story itself. Even as we were in deep grief. Even in outrage, there was a line of pure zaniness in the men. On stage and all around the auditorium.

See what I mean? You had to be there.

The thing I remember most vividly about James Hillman is how he’d get carried away by his own thinking. A true flight of fancy. Until Bly or Meade would shout something like, “Come back to earth, you pedantic old fool,” and rein him back in.

Which gave rise to a spontaneous insult-hurling competition, each insult longer and more bodacious than the one before, until everyone was laughing so hard, it was almost impossible to tell who won.

A few years later, I drove up to Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, to hear Hillman lecture for two hours on the colour blue.

Don’t ask me what he said. I have no idea. And yet it was one of the more memorable talks I’ve ever heard. It was the atmosphere he created, the quality of feeling, the wide range of thought and association. Charged, pyrotechnic, astonishing every bit as much for the thoughts and feelings his talk engendered in us, as the line of thought he was following in himself at the moment.

Indeed James Hillman seems the very incarnation of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s idea of “Man Thinking” described in his 1837 address “The American Scholar.”

“Him … the past instructs; him the future invites,” writes Emerson.

“The office of the scholar is to cheer, to raise, and to guide men by showing them facts amidst appearances. He plies the slow, unhonored, and unpaid task of observation.”

And elsewhere in the essay:

“Free should the scholar be, – free and brave. Free even to the definition of freedom, ‘without any hindrance that does not arise out of his own constitution.’ Brave; for fear is a thing, which a scholar by his very function puts behind him.”

Fearless, James Hillman certainly was, and irreverent when it came to his own profession, as evidenced by the book he co-authored with Michael Ventura: We’ve Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy—and the World’s Getting Worse.

When it came to myth, imagination, and the resilience of the human psyche, however, Hillman was in deep and respectful wonder.

A wonder he was able to instill in us all.

Making Difficult Conversations Less Difficult in the Workplace

In business, Dialogue, organizations, Realtionship, Work on January 13, 2011 at 5:29 am

Miriam Grogan, CPCC, ORSCC

A Guest Blog Post by Executive Coach Miriam Grogan

Does anyone like having difficult conversations?  After all, difficult conversations are, by definition, difficult.  (Sharing uplifting, positive messages with employees also seems to be difficult for most people, but that’s another topic.)

We may know something is wrong.  We may be able to define it and why we need to address it.  But ask “what do you want to be different?” and you’re likely to be met with a blank stare and long silence.

Three sub-questions can help you shape what you want to say.

After the conversation, what do you want the other person to

  • KNOW?
  • DO?
  • FEEL?

What do you want them to KNOW?

Sometimes, this is the easiest of the three, as answer is often written down somewhere, in a company policy or job description.  “Our workday begins at 9:00.”  “We’ve reassigned the taking the checks to the bank from Jane to you.”

That said, this question can be difficult to answer, if what you want the listener to KNOW involves the impact on others.  “You have a lot of good things to say.  But you say so much, people are tuning out everything.  Your good ideas are getting lost.”

What you want your listener to KNOW is a critical building block for framing a conversation.

What do you want them to DO?

What action do you want the person to take as a result of the conversation?  What do you want to start, stop, increase or decrease?

“Our workday begins at 9:00” may be important to know.  But it doesn’t necessarily lead to an on time arrival.  “Please make sure you’re at your desk ready to go, coffee cup filled, good mornings completed, by 9:00” has a better chance.

In the second example, only pointing out what the too-talkative employee is doing wrong leaves her hanging.  (She might even talk more because now she’s self-conscious and doesn’t know what else to do!)  Give her something to do.  Consider, “When John asks a question in our staff meeting, count to three before saying anything.  See if anyone else has an answer before you jump in.”

How do you want them to FEEL?

This is often the hard one.  The good news is, you often don’t need to, or even want to, articulate a response to this question.  But you cannot skip over answering it for yourself.  In Difficult Conversations, Stone, Patton and Heen write, “difficult conversations do not just involve feelings, they are at their very core about feelings.”  There’s no substantive conversation if you skip over the very core.

How do you want the person to feel?  Sorry?  Inspired?  Appreciation for the gravity of the situation?  You may or may not say it explicitly, and the person may or may not feel the way you hope they will, but choosing a “feeling outcome” will influence the conversation as much, if not more, than your words.

Using the examples above, let’s say you, the supervisor, want the person to feel

1.     On notice!!  You are sick of this behavior.  If it doesn’t stop – NOW – they’re cooked.

2.     Inspired.  You like this person, want to see them fix the problem and soar.

Read the sample sentences out loud from each “feeling.”  Different, eh?

Know, do, feel.  Clarifying what you want may not make the conversation easy, but chances are it will be less difficult.

To find out more about Miriam Grogan and her work, visit: http://www.stellarcoaching.com/pages/about.htm

The Parents’ Drinking Problem, Guest Post by Pearl Mattenson

In couples, Family, Parenting, Realtionship on December 1, 2010 at 10:57 pm

Pearl Mattenson, PCC, ORSCC

He comes home from a long weekend at a friend’s house. He is a senior in high school. At 17, he is able to drive his dad’s car, which he had borrowed for the weekend. Walking in the door, he gives his mom a hug and helps her out with a project.  They catch up on the events of the past few days. His mom asks,

“So was there drinking going on?”

“Yeah”

“Did you drink?”

“No”

Several hours later the mom happens upon her son’s Facebook page left open on her computer. She learns he had been drinking beer. She learns he threw up.

——————

I am so tempted to end this story here and ask: How would you handle this?

But I will share with you what his parents did. Some of these things happened immediately. Other reactions happened in the days following the revelation as they considered their response and reached out to others for advice.

  • They calmly sat him down and asked for a full accounting of the truth, “The whole truth this time.” They asked him what he was thinking when he made the choice to drink. “These were my best friends. I had never drunk beer before. I thought they wouldn’t let me get into trouble or make a fool of myself.” They tell him that if he had to drink, that was actually good thinking.
  • They asked him why he lied. “Because I was so scared of how mad you would get.” They told him they were far more upset about his lying than about his drinking. They expect him to test the boundaries every once in awhile. And they know that there are likely to be many more occasions in the future when he might find himself in a difficult situation. “We need to know that you can tell us what is happening so we can be there for you.”
  • They asked him what he will do in the future when in the presence of drinking. “I think I won’t drink. It wasn’t a good experience. I feel comfortable saying I am the designated driver or the designated sober guy.”
  • They told him that for the next 30 days he can’t drive the car alone. They also banned the home of the friend who hosted the drinking. They asked their son if he felt this was a fair set of consequences. “Yeah, it is.”

Your turn: What did they get right? What troubles you? What should guide a parent’s response in circumstances like these?

To find our more about Pearl Mattenson and her work, visit her website: http://pearlmattenson.com/

Shift Happens: Guest Post by Janet Frood

In couples, Dialogue, Family, Realtionship on November 30, 2010 at 2:14 am
Janet Frood,

Janet Frood, CPP, ORSCC, PCC

It’s official.  Our daughter has moved away to start University.  In one day our family system shifted from four to three — at least those of us living at home.  It’s making me think on a very personal level about system theory and patterns that we witness in teams experiencing change.

System theory says that every time someone leaves or joins a system (family, team or group) that the organic nature of the system changes.  There is an automatic adjustment and recalibration.  Often times the changes happen at an unconscious level.  If the system needs certain roles or relies on certain skills, inevitably those remaining on the team will step into unoccupied roles.  This assures the continuity of the system (functional and emotional).

In families, just like in teams, each person plays a formal role.  In this case our daughter is the oldest child.  As the oldest child, she has played certain roles in all of our lives.  She’s been the responsible one assuring that tasks get done on time and according to plan.  She’s also the tradition holder assuring that holidays unfold with certain reliable ceremony.  She values relationships and always spent time with each of us individually.

In our family system we have two nested systems – two parents and two kids. As parents, we are still parents of two yet the way we’ll interact with them has now changed.  It’s like we have become a virtual team as one of our members will only be connected virtually through Skype, text, FB and phone calls.  The home team of three will shift and change.  We’ll create new patterns and routines that will work for our dynamic.

When family systems change, just like with teams, it’s important to talk about the obvious changes – the ones you can anticipate.  When one member is gone and their strengths and skills leave with them, it’s important to plan for how you’ll mange the changes.  Speaking about the changes is important so that there are no assumptions.  In our case we had a gender balance – two males and two females.  Now, I’m the only female.  Who knows what that means for our family dynamic.  Who will watch the reality dance shows with me?

It’s also important to pay attention to the subtle signals that will emerge; the things that people are experiencing and not talking about.  Our son is already demonstrating more of a need to be close to us and hug us.  As Mom I know he’s giving us the hugs that were reserved for his sister.   It seems that by being the “only child” he’s already taking the opportunity to be seen and heard more as he often followed his sisters’ lead.  This phenomenon is common on teams where people will quietly assume new informal roles held by a former colleague.  If the system needs nurturing then others will start to demonstrate it in new ways.  That’s exactly what our little system is already doing.

It’s a fascinating time.  There are lots of adjustments ahead.  However, I hold a sense of confidence in knowing that we’ll calibrate to find a new balance and still be connected with each other – just in new and different ways.

For more information about Janet Frood and her work, please visit her website:  http://horizonleadership.ca/

The Problem with Obedience

In communities, Dialogue, Family, Realtionship, World Work on October 25, 2010 at 4:47 am

Guest Post by Kathleen Mangiafico, Relationship Specialist at Farmington Valley YMCA

Are you a person who doesn’t like to read ALL the directions to a game, and you just want to learn as you go?  I am.  Sometimes I just feel like it’s too much to absorb at once.  There’s too many rules to follow.  I’d rather just stick with the attitude of curiosity, see how the game plays out, than feel frustrated with the idea of understanding it all.  Interestingly, this isn’t how many of us approach other aspects of our lives.  We NEED to know the exact way to go about living and if we start to get frustrated….well, that’s when the real trouble starts.

Obedience.  We love it!  Obedient people are easy to get along with, helpful, and generally pleasant to be around.  Obedience is an emotional gift that some people are born with by nature.  Historically however, the parent/child relationship model we’ve been working from is to nurture obedience too.  …And there is a problem that comes with being JUST obedient….it’s called the tank of resentment!  So how does obedience affect our view on life?  How does it affect our personality?  What kind of affect does obedience have on our relationships?

We are currently in what I call the “cultural and generational collision”.  When I was a kid (I’m almost 42), and certainly when you go further back in time, children did as they were told.  They followed the rules!  Children were “seen and not heard” and the old adage was “spare the rod, spoil the child”.  Obedience was consciously taught in the home, schools, and through organized religion.  Many generations later, we are coming to learn the downside of this misinterpreted philosophy and are experiencing the repercussions of this type of living.  Yet, we still have not defined how to approach life and all of our relationships from a more balanced approached.

Balance.  There are other terms we keep throwing around like organic, healthy, holistic, etc..  But what we really want to move towards is balanced living.  Balanced living cannot be judged based on a particular food you eat, whether you are being rational at the moment, or if we are completely “whole” within our relationships all the time.  Although we cognitively understand this concept, we are all conditioned to live based on obedience.  And guess what?  The human race is collectively sick of being obedient!  This is evident just by watching pop culture TV, listening to the radio, or watching the dreadful news.  The new norms and values to life are blurry at best.  Childhood and adult emotional disorders, mental illness, divorce, addictions of all kinds (food, drugs, alcohol), avoidance behavior (work a-holics, exercise a-holics, shop a-holics…), and disconnected relationships are the fabric of our lives.

Balanced living is a continuum.  Balance is a moment in time when everything seems to be falling exactly in line with what we deem to be perfect (a.k.a.)…  A peak moment!  For every other moment, we are either left or right of center!  To live a balanced life, you have to be aware of what’s really important to you and who it involves, yet still find an appreciation and value for all else that you would prefer to be different.

So how does obedience affect our view on life?

How does it affect our personality?

What kind of affect does obedience have on our relationships?

Approaching life from just the attitude of obedience will cause you to be marginalized….ignored!  As a kid, you will be loved and valued by your parents and teachers, but you will be tormented by your peers.  As an adult, your voice will not be heard in your relationships and you will start to lose value in yourself.  You will continue to only listen and follow directions and you won’t be able to make decisions!  Human nature dictates that we need to know what someone stands for.  So, if you don’t speak up and use your voice when needed, someone else will use theirs for you!

If you are obedient by nature, here’s some pointing towards growing into the whole YOU when in relationship:

If you are a kid or growing young adult:

  • Stand up for yourself on the playground!  Make sure your voice is part of the decision making for how the game is going to be played.  Stand up for yourself in the hallways of middle school. Accept that some people won’t like it and it’s not the end of the world!  Choose to leave the relationship (when possible) if your voice is not respected or valued.  Stand in the fire when needed and hold your own.  Don’t run.  Over time, you will earn the respect of your peers for letting them know who you are.  Accept whatever consequences come from authority.  Leave room for forgiveness to repair relationships.
  • In your relationship with Mom, Dad, teacher or another caretaker, don’t let obedience hold back your voice.  Sometimes the adults in your life are too controlling.  Try to understand that they are unaware of how they are treating you.  It’s not intentional.  It’s just learned attitudes and behaviors.  In the moment of disagreement, accept their rank and privilege and do what is necessary.  When the situation is calm, go to them to express how you feel using “I statements”. ex.) “I feel ____when ____happens.”  Accept that you won’t always feel satisfied, but at the very least, you will have expressed yourself and not stored your feelings in a tank of resentment.  Overtime, some of the adults will start to hear your voice and will respect it.

If you are an adult:

  • Assert yourself in your close relationships!  i.e. your marriage, co-workers, bosses, extended family, and friends.  Stop avoiding conflict by choosing avoidance behaviors such as:  closet eating, closet drinking, doing drugs, working, exercising, cleaning or shopping too much. Stand in the lions roar!!  Don’t let his/her roar scare you.  Face the lion and hold your ground. Take space if needed and let the lion know.  When the atmosphere is calm, express yourself in a calm, deliberate manner by using “I statements”.  Accept that the lion won’t always like it immediately.  They need time to understand your roar.
  • If you are an adult who grew up in a time of obedience, then ask yourself, “How do I show up  in my role as parent, teacher or caretaker?”  Are you controlling and a bully? …Or do you tend to be a catastrophic push over, only to end up yelling and screaming?  Get clear on your expectations of your kids.  Have a family/class/group meeting to express them.  Allow the kids to express their desires too.  Get aligned on the expectations.  See where you can flex to meet the children’s wants, especially as they get older.  Hold boundaries when needed and be consistent.  Stop the negative verbal dialog.  Be aware of giving genuine praise and acknowledgment.

Obedience is a necessary attitude of life, but is extremely detrimental when used to please someone.  When using the attitude of obedience, think in terms of being obedient to The Relationship…not being obedient to the individual(s).  Result?  With much practice, three generations from now we will have redefined healthy, connected, sustainable individuals and relationships.  They will be co-arising, not co-dependent!

Questions/Thoughts To Ask Yourself When the Attitude of Obedience Shows Up

  • How will what I am about to Say or Do impact my relationship?
  • What Is Trying To Happen for the sake of the relationship?
  • What do I Need to Accept from the other person, that I would prefer to be different, for the sake of the relationship?
  • What Needs To Happen next for the sake of the relationship?

Kathleen Mangiafico, ORSCC is a Relationship Specialist.  Her expertise lies in working with diverse individuals, and other relational systems (youth groups, couples/families, businesses) and can be reached at kbmangiafico@sbcglobal.net

One Million Pounds of Fish

In Ecology, Work, World Work on October 24, 2010 at 10:22 pm

Chris Causey

Guest Post by Chris Causey, a professional mediator in Portland, Maine.

It is hard for me to imagine a world without fish.  I wish I could say that statement was linked to some scientific truth or recent data supporting the incalculable bounty of marine life but neither is true.  In fact we all know the seas are in trouble.  My relationship with fish and the sea itself has more to do with the nature of my imagination—the nature of my very soul, which is a watery place inhabited by sea creatures.  As a boy, I both loved whales and imagined I worked on tall ships hunting them.  At once I read about and studied various types of whales and also kept paintings of 19th century whaling scenes–gory scenes of men harpooning whales from open boats.  It was probably no mistake that in my young manhood, I worked as a commercial fisherman in Kodiak, Alaska–fished for six years and made my living as a deckhand on salmon, halibut, herring, crab and trawl boats.  I don’t know how many fish I contributed to killing, but I do know how exhilarated I was to participate in the hunt, the acquisition and the kill of those fish and crab.

Yet, even as I worked and made my livelihood on these boats, I related to the sea and its inhabitants in other ways, too.  The sight of porpoise dancing beneath our bow or a gray whale breaching in the distance used to fill my heart with such gladness, it’s hard to describe without sounding foolish or daft.  Once, when working on a salmon seiner, I watched two sea otters mating in some drifting bull kelp in the early morning, and was nearly beside myself.  They sort of rolled around, and I thought at first they were wrestling, then I saw the male’s piston thrust, the female’s smiling face, all in the rising and falling waves near the rocky shore, and I couldn’t help laughing.  I wished that I could turn to the multitudes and say, look at them making more otters–isn’t that the greatest thing you’ve ever seen in your life?  Any time something from below showed itself on the surface, whether shark, seal, or jumping salmon, my heart leapt for reasons I cannot entirely express.

So the idea that somehow the oceans are becoming sterile means for me, a loss that reaches to the very depths of my experience as a human being and a loss that transcends human experience.  Although I no longer make my living from the sea, my soul, my imagination and the oceans are somehow inextricably linked.  My shore for where the human meets the non-human is literally and figuratively where the sea meets the land.  It has taken me a long time to realize that what’s down there beneath the waves is both me and way beyond me, and for that, its remaining rich, fertile, diverse, and thriving is a calling of the highest order.

Recently I returned to Kodiak for a short visit.  There I met a man and his son, also visiting, who were looking for a place to spend the night.  I shared my accommodations, and the man, call him Tim, told me about his former work as a boat captain in the Bering Sea.  Now the vice president of a software company, he was then one of the first captains to explore the cod fishery in the western Aleutians.  He said he convinced a fish processing company to have one of its processing ships follow his boat, and there was a lot of risk in that, not knowing whether there were any fish out there or not.  One day, as the cod were schooled to spawn in Nazan Bay off Atka Island, he caught a million pounds.  One day.  He said he had to drag a net full of codfish behind his boat through the treacherous Amlia pass to the processor because the processor’s captain would not take the vessel through the pass to meet him.  He also said it was the eeriest day he had ever fished.  The Bering sea, which is hardly ever calm, was like poured lead and the comet Hyakutake was in the sky.  He’d seen wind clock at over one hundred and fifty miles per hour, wind that you simply can’t believe is being churned up by nature, but that day the wind and water were so flat it made him suspect something horrible might be coming.   We stood shoulder to shoulder in front of a huge map of Alaska, taped to the wall.  “I plugged the processor,” he said smiling, but without pride.  “One million pounds in one day.  There was nothing left for us to do but start back to Seattle.  My deckhands put a charcoal grill on the back deck.  They were bowing to me and saying “not worthy not worthy,” because I had just caught a million pounds and we all had made a ton of money.

The grill was going and that comet was in the sky and I’m feeling about as great as I can feel, looking out at the sea, which can tear you up, and then to top it off, as it grew darker, Korovin Volcano on Atka began erupting just enough to see sparks of orange shooting out of it.”

I knew what it was like to watch a net or a crab put come up from the bottom full of fish, the sense of wonder and acquisition, the absolute jubilation of catching so much fish.  I knew if I were a deckhand on that boat, I would have been bowing with his other deckhands, celebrating, and I know too the sense of loss I felt, knowing that in one day one boat took a million pounds of cod fish from the sea.  I don’t consider my position ambivalent at all.  I am a predator, the most capable of all predators but recognizing too that is a grave responsibility.  I have used the words stewardship and heard it used in many contexts and understand that stewardship for hunters and fisherman cannot be a smokescreen to hide some shadowy need or hidden agenda.  It means recognizing our primordial desire to hunt and fish and take and kill and be absolutely successful doing so and looking at that closely, reconciling our need to prove ourselves and provide with a greater sense of confidence that we need not actually catch or kill the fish and that there is more than a game of chance, drive and desire as the biomass shrinks

In his book, The Gift, Lewis Hyde wrote the following: “Ecology as a science began at the end of the nineteenth century, an offshoot of the rising interest in evolution.  Originally the study of how animals survive in their environments, one of ecology’s first lessons was that, beneath all the change in nature, there are steady states characterized by cycles.  Every participant in the cycle literally lives off the others with only the ultimate energy source, the sun, being transcendent.  Widening the study of ecology to include man means to look at ourselves as part of nature again, not its lord.  When we see that we are actors in natural cycles, we understand that what nature gives to us is influenced by what we give to nature.  So the circle is a sign of an ecological insight as much as of gift exchange.  We come to feel ourselves as one part of a large self-regulating system.”

Science is about not knowing and wanting badly to know.  Fishing is about pursuing and wanting badly to acquire.  The two share similar emotions of passion and drive and the limitations of where we are now vs. where we want to be.  The deadliest catch is so popular in part because of mysterious acquisition and part because of what the men on those boats endure as they go after crab, but its flaw is that it is shot produced and shown in order to appeal on a completely human scale.  What is missing is a moral vector, the perspective that includes the non-human and beyond human, the awe and humility and veneration owed to nature because it is our source not only to what we know, but to what lies beyond our knowing.

When asked if he were a religious man, Albert Einstein answered as follows:  “Try and penetrate with our limited means the secrets of nature and you will find that behind all the discernible laws & connections, there remains something subtle, intangible and inexplicable.  Veneration for this force beyond anything that we can comprehend is my religion.  To that extent, I am in fact, religious.”

My concern lies somewhere at the heart of what Lewis Hyde and Albert Einstein are intimating.  We are part of something, not lord of it, and our connection to this something (nature) is also our connection to all the mystery that lies behind it.  It includes hunting, taking, and killing and acquiring, but it also includes relating in a way that guards against arrogance, mindless consumption and exploitation.  Otherwise the watery part of the human soul is apt to become dry and brittle.

For more information about Chris Causey and his work, visit: http://causeymediations.com/about-chris-causey/

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.

Next of Kin

In Family, Realtionship on October 22, 2010 at 5:35 pm

The Mississippi River

(Reprinted from the Vancouver Observer)

When I get to the Intensive Care Unit in Des Peres, Missouri, I find Pat wired to several machines that beep softly. Her eyes are open. She recognizes me, but has difficulty speaking. The beginnings of sentences come out all right, but the ends are chewed and garbled. Her jaw moves up and down involuntarily. I have to listen hard and ask her to repeat. Her breathing is laboured. I don’t want to make her talk more than she has to.

She doesn’t know what happened to her. All her friend in the retirement community said when I called was something about her kidneys. Something about being incoherent.

“Well,” Pat says, “Here—we—are. Nothing—to—do—but—wait—I—guess.”

I imagine she’d shrug if she could.

“This is a fine how do you do,” she might say if speaking were easier.

The nurse, Dave, explains that Pat has been on a ventilator, but has improved, and is now breathing on her own. Improved compared to when they brought her in. My sense is that she is dying.

He asks if I am her closest living relative, and I have to think a moment. Pat is my mother’s cousin. I run it through my mind: an only child, no children of her own, no nieces or nephews. I suppose I am. Pat had been my grandfather’s favorite niece. For some reason, my mother never liked her.

I met Pat when she attended a reading I gave in St. Louis some years ago. She came up to me afterwards and introduced herself. Nearly every trip since then, we’ve managed to have lunch or meet at Schneidhorst’s for breakfast. I would always invite my mother to come along, but she’d grow evasive and decline.

Pat and I have had similar lives. We are both writers, both worked for a time in advertising, and neither of us married. Even today, St. Louisans view unmarried people with condescending sympathy, and a certain amount of suspicion. And envy, I think. Our independence, perhaps. As if we had cheated, somehow. Shirked some essential duty of adulthood.

When she finished college at the start of World War II, Pat decided to join the Navy. She went in to tell her mother first.

“If it had been me, I’d have joined up long ago,” her mother said, without even looking up from her knitting.

The she told her father, who threw a fit—“No daughter of mine!” … That sort of thing.

Pat earned the rank of lieutenant and trained officers in Washington, DC. She was often assigned to carry secret orders—on the train up and down the East Coast, and by plane to California.

When I saw her last March, she showed me an album and told me stories about the young men and women in the photos—where each was taken, what they had eaten at picnics, who was in love with whom.

She carried top-secret orders for the Potsdam Conference and for Okinawa.

“And Hiroshima?” I asked. “What about Nagasaki? Did you carry those orders?”

“I don’t remember,” she said. “We were trained to forget.”

On the second day that I visit her in Intensive Care, she is neither asleep, nor entirely conscious. Her eyes are slightly open, but she’s not seeing me. I’ve brought a photograph of her favorite uncle, my grandfather, after whom I am named. I’d found it among the things my brother and sister and I had been going through the day before.

I stand by Pat’s bed, praying. I hum the old hymn “Softly and Tenderly Jesus is Calling.” It’s all I can think to do. I don’t want to wake her. She seems to be resting comfortably. Though her breathing is even more laboured than the day before, she is not struggling. She seems unafraid. Over the course of our friendship, I’ve learned that she’s a woman who goes to her Protestant church every Sunday, the most ordinary kind of religious observance. Conventional. There has never been a hint of rancor or resentment over my mother’s snubs or the complicated social strata of St. Louis. She never made a fuss over her independence. She showed a normal pride in her accomplishments as an advertising account executive and one of the founders of the St. Louis Women’s Advertising Club, which raised nearly twice the amount for charity one year as the Men’s Club.

She has lived by her own lights, followed her own mind and heart, always curious about the world. She doesn’t regret anything. At least not anything she’s willing to tell me about.

The doctor comes in to check on her and asks if I am her closest living relative. I reckon I am. There is no living will, nor anyone they know as Power of Attorney. That’s why they keep asking me. In cases like these, they put together an Ethics Committee to decide if treatment ought to be continued.

All I can say is what I see: my friend and second cousin, an independent woman of deep faith, unafraid, following her failing heart to peace and home.