Sitting with “what is”

Yesterday at therapy school I saw something that was basic and profound. Frequently the kind of drama therapy that I am learning can be loud, animated, and playful. Getting out of your head and into spontaneity and embodiment can be remarkably healing. Something as simple as being in the moment is something that most of us lose track of -living either in relics of our past or the preconceptions of our future.

Developmental Transformations (DvT) is the type of drama therapy that I’m interested in, and it’s hard to explain. It’s like free association improvisational theatre that happens with shifting and non-linear content that arrises from physical impulses and encounters with other people. What a mouthful. If you were to walk in on a DvT session and not know what it was, you would probably say something like “Um. whaaaaat… is going on here?” But when you’re familiar with the experience, and you’re in it, you are faced with connection. Connection to others, to yourself, to your impulses, your delights, and your fears. Reality is there and it is in your face if you’re brave enough to see it.

What does it mean to truly sit with what is? Sitting with “what is” is so simple, yet often absent from our lives. When was the last time you sat with yourself or with a friend and just simply existed? It can be a moving experience -holy, even.

Yesterday I watched a 1:1 mock DvT therapy session. It started out as it often does, with some basic, yet spontaneous body movement -usually a swaying or repeating gesture. Next the movement morphed into a playful space where the therapist attuned to the needs of the client. Movements and voice quieted, but connection did not. Eventually it became clear that the client just needed someone to sit with her; so the therapist did. They sat together for several moments and the connection was melancholy and vibrant. “I feel a little sad,” said the therapist. “Yeah, me too.” replied the client. They sat some more. That was it. That was the therapy. Not only for those involved -but for the people watching as well -well, for me, anyway. I felt present with the couple. I felt their connection and I shared their sadness -a universal sadness- and we “just were.” I was touched and in awe of the beauty and fleeting nature of the moment. We are here now, and this is it.

In times when I feel sad and alone it helps me to imagine myself in two parts. The part that is hurting and the part that is compassionate to hurt. I literally envision two parts of myself sitting together and just being. When I can do this, my pain becomes something that is no longer just pain alone; it’s pain, love, beauty, and respect for self. This is a space that I carry for myself whenever I need it.

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My life at 29

This past year has been both the most enriching and the most challenging of my life. Here is my annual check in:

I was blessed with the opportunity to experience what it could feel like to have a family and a “grown up” life that was very nearly just as I’d like it to be. Sadly, and to my surprise, however, things did not stay how I wanted them. Still, I am left with a definition of what I want and I’ve been trying to find my way back ever since.

In the last year I got to experience being in love again (a rarity). What surprises me about my falling in love process is that there was a point at which a choice quite clearly presented itself: I could risk vulnerability to allow love or keep status quo. At a certain point I recognized that the person I was with was cool enough for me to say to myself “okay, I think I’ll allow myself to fall in love now.” It’s strange that I can both be reserved yet casual about falling in love.

Being in love was amazing: Happiness felt more frequent and full, I joyfully envisioned my future, my partner’s home felt like my own home, and simple routines emerged that were enjoyable and satisfying: making dinner together, watching movies, doing chores together, exploring new places. As I write this, those activities seem pretty ordinary, but they felt quite right when I was in love.

Regardless of if I’m in love with someone that I’m with or not, I’ve noticed that I attach to very firmly to the people that I am romantically involved with. This makes moving on a challenge, but it also seems help me keep friendships that are deeply important to me –which usually tends to be everyone that I’ve dated for an extended period of time. I also notice, though, that I don’t want to detach from my partners after our romantic relationship ends because when I do I’m left feeling painfully alone.

I also tend to idealize the people I’m in a relationship with or want to have a relationship with. This is both good and bad. Good because I’m very loyal and enjoy my partner an extra large amount and bad because I don’t accurately see them and if/when things go awry in my relationship the loss feels extra difficult.

I made the mistake of assuming that because I’ve been told that I’m a “great catch,” I’m immune to anyone ever leaving me. Nope. Being a “good guy” doesn’t necessarily mean that I’ll get what I want. I guess there is a narcissist living inside of me and he got mad when I got humbled. Now that I can see narcissistic parts of myself I feel ashamed of my ego.

I discovered that sometimes I’m trapped between narcissism and self-hatred and I don’t really understand why that happens. Both are so extreme and seem to be opposites but I suppose they can coexist. I also have had a hard time finding the sweet spot of knowing that I’m awesome while still remaining appropriately humble. I continue to rely on others to tell me my worth more than I’d like.

When I was 28 a few people said things to me that made me feel accused of being unmanly and out of touch with my anger. I did a self-revelatory theatre piece in consideration of said perceived accusations and I determined that I am, in fact, in touch with my anger and I’m fine as I am.

Grad school and drama therapy have been amazing and exactly what I want. I’m learning with a beautiful group of people and I haven’t been this happy in a community since high school. Apparently I am also very good at grad school and drama therapy, which feels great (but a little foreign). I’m used to painfully struggling with schoolwork since I used to have untreated ADHD. Since medication, however, it’s like I have super powers and I can actually get through a book without having to read the same sentence 4 times before I finally retain it. I also wrote several papers that I am very proud about.

I love school and I love asking questions and I love it when my teachers love it when I ask questions. I also love how the work we’re doing isn’t about satisfying something our teacher wants –it’s about satisfying something that we want. Drama therapy is riveting and exactly what I want to do. I’m especially fascinated with DvT and want to learn more about it.

Jes has been a good friend and she’s told/helped me with a lot of drama therapy related things. She is living with me, which I never in a million years would have thought would be working as well as it is. I’ve always had a no-living-with-friends policy, but it turns out that Jes and I work well as roommates. No one seems to understand how our cohabitation could possibly work, but it totally does. People we have/are dating are understandably uncomfortable with our arrangement, though. For the time being it’s just gonna have to be the way it is and that’s okay.

I started online dating again, which is a frustrating and exhausting experience that only occasionally yields vague promises of new relationships here and there. Many people in the online dating world do not follow through with keeping dates, which is completely not cool with me. Maybe this is largely a San Francisco thing? I don’t know.

Something has changed for me this year and I now want to find a life partner. What sucks about trying to find someone to settle down with is, I end up being alone a lot more. Once I can tell that I can’t see myself with someone, I am left with having to end the relationship and go back to the drawing board, which is a slow process for me.

I’m finding how to stay in the present and enjoy what’s in front of me instead of wishing for something in the future or past. Being in school helps because I am so riveted there.

I resumed Aikido and loved it –but had to give it up again because of being to broke and busy with grad school. I started going to Yoga for the first time ever and then stopped when my yoga partner and I broke up. I learned how to Blues dance (and for the longest time I have not liked dancing –but I guess that’s changed). Aaaand! I started going to the gym regularly (thanks to my brother –my inspiration and sponsor).

My roommate of eight years moved out, which was sad because we had good times together. With FOUR new roommates moving in I have slowly been doing many many home repairs and upgrades that have been immensely satisfying! My house is becoming more and more classy. Now… if I could just get the landlord to replace the carpet!

In the coming year my intention is to deepen my relationships with the people in my life. I have many friends (many new ones that are classmates) that I think are cool but don’t yet know as intimately as I’d like. I have a deep capacity to love and appreciate people and that has not felt exercised since my last big romantic relationship. I also hope I find a serious relationship but I don’t want to have to be too upset, lonely, or out-of-the-moment if that doesn’t happen.

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Confidence

Recent changes in my life have brought me to focus on developing one particular quality in myself which, in the past, I’ve managed to scoot by with very little of: Confidence. Let’s talk about confidence, shall we? Mmmmkay. Months ago I was showing Kristin a picture of a girl that I’ve had a crush on for much of my life. “That’s her,” I said “she’s the model for the kind of girl that I am most attracted too.” “Huh. Interesting,” replied Kristin “and she has a boyfriend right now… and he looks similar to you!” “Yeah, I’ve noticed that. That guy’s lucky -I was always too scared to approach her.” “Actually, you’re kinda more attractive than her boyfriend, actually. A big reason why she’s probably with him is because he’s got high confidence! Women love that,” Kristin pointed out.

Could that really be true? Could it sometimes be that all that’s standing between you and your dreams is just a matter of confidence? How often do we fail or fall short simply because we are hesitant or feel like we aren’t any better or more capable? For the past year and a half I’ve been blessed to have some amazing support as I crawled my way out of a depression. Today I am a very different person. I walk taller, I look nicer, I try new things outside of my comfort zone, I take risks, and I let things go when they don’t quite go the way that I want them too. Not only are these changes benefits in themselves, but they also become noticed by others and in turn they become reenforced thereby making me more confident. It’s a cycle that makes itself stronger whether you have low confidence or high confidence. But how do you make the switch from low to high confidence. I was talking about this with Jes the other day.

Jes works with shy/”geeky” guys that are having trouble finding and forming romantic relationships. She mentions confidence as being a key necessity for finding success with finding new partners. But… how can someone be confident if they really aren’t and, in fact, they’re feeling terrified inside? One answer to this challenge I found to be particularly interesting: If you want confidence you should, quite simply, “fake it ’till you make it.” Straight up change your actions in a way that exhibits behavior that would be classified as confident. Once you make that change you may start to notice that your feelings and thoughts start to generally wan towards a new inclination. Before you know it, if stick to your guns and take risks, others might start reflecting your own confidence back at you which, as I’ve mentioned, can start to have the effect of actually making you more confident.

Here is an example of how “faking it ’till making it” was able to work for me: Recently I went through some difficult relationship changes and from the start of my challenges I knew that I was going to have to muster up some big-time confidence to get my life back to where I want (or… dare I said -even more how I want). On a particular lonely day I made a facebook post that landed me an invitation to go out dancing. I’ve never considered myself a dancer -in fact, I’ve always thought I was kinda bad at it. The idea of dancing scared me yet I saw the opportunity to take a risk that might make me feel good about myself if only to prove to myself that how hard I am willing to push myself towards a new and better life. I jumped in to my invitation and made a particular point to not divulge the degree of worry that I was feeling about dancing. I carefully framed the communication of my feelings about dancing in an optimistic “hey, I’m excited to try this out,” sort of way when, in honesty, I noticed that initially I was kinda feeling dread about dancing. The result of altering my thoughts and actions had the result that I was hoping for: I found that it was easier to belay my negative thoughts and feelings about “not liking dancing” or “being a bad dancer” by refusing to think those things. Sure enough I wound up having a good time and feeling pretty good about how I danced given that it was my first time.

Wielding confidence can help you squish together the gap between what you do and what you think is out of reach for you to do. Who wouldn’t like to have sharper tools to carve out a better life? Do you have confidence? If so, from where do you get it.

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Satiation and the great unknown

“I do not know what I may appear to the world;
but to myself I seem to have been
only like a boy playing on the sea-shore,
and diverting myself in now
and then finding a smoother pebble
or a prettier shell than ordinary,
whilst the great ocean of truth
lay all undiscovered before me.”

-Sir Isaac Newton

It’s odd how much I think I understand and live that quote -yet, consistently, I arrive to find that I have yet again falsely believed that I have a firm understanding of a deeper reality. Why do I forget that the world is more complicated than I can see and understand? My goal right now is to sit with myself patiently and compassionately while I ask some questions.

I think that it is the nature most humans to think up constructs that help provide a sense of control. Could it be that when there is a risk of pain we reach for compartmentalization to manage our fears of not having control? What does it mean to not have control? Why should that make us more vulnerable to pain?

Recently I have found that it my very attempt to control and avoid pain is what leads to me have it at all. A construct that I manufactured causes the very thing that I wanted to prevent. Is it possible that that is always the case? –that we always propagate pain in our very attempts to have mastery over it? Where would energy be better spent? In accepting a lack of control? In being compassionate towards oneself as well as towards others? Why does that seem so hard? Why is it so hard to let go?

Is it always an illusion to think that we have even a degree of control? My inclination is to say yes. There is always more depth than we believe there is. As humans, we can merely reach a point of satiation of understanding –or joy, or enlightenment, or love. To us, that satiation may feel infinite –which is great! And it serves our purpose- yet beyond our human grasp must lay more! Isn’t that what they say wise people believe? Why? Why do I feel like there is so much in existence that we will never be able to grasp or comprehend? How can I know that there is more than meets the eye –more than what can fill the human soul?

I guess I don’t know… and that is the very thing itself. I guess that perhaps my time would be better spent just enjoying the beach in front of me. To satiate my soul as it yearns to be satiated –and to do that I must relax and allow the waves to ebb and flow in the way that it inherently does. When my sand castles get washed away perhaps I shall just smile and shed a tear and that will be enough. This will be my greatest challenge yet.

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My life at 28

Dear people of the world,

This is account of my life as a 27 year old has been created since I recently turned 28. (I have a tradition of doing these once a year now)

This past year has faced me with many surprising challenges: health complications (Mono, and appendicitis which landed me in the hospital for over a week), the passing of my grandmother, and health difficulties with my family on the East Coast –all of which afforded me missing about 2.5 months of work racking up a bill of $3500 (the max that my insurance can charge me within one year.)

My response to each of these challenging occurrences has been one of growth and appreciation. Grandma taught me to be a truly loving –almost magical person. With her passing I have been propelled into taking the first major steps toward enabling myself and hence my potential family to likewise engender the same love that grandma afforded me (e.g., I made a firm commitment to go to graduate school so that I can build a career to support a family, I made remarkable progress on my journey of self-understanding, and I sought to fully commit myself to a relationship (which, by the way, is going great in part because I was lucky enough to meet an amazing woman.) My health complications reminded me of how precious life and health is. Facing the reality of severe health complications will really prompt a fellow to examine what is important in life –and in many ways it can inspire you to wake up. My East Coast family’s difficulties really illuminated how much I love and miss Mom, Ivan, and my brother. My experiences with helping them have removed any remaining doubt that I may have had about making psychology and therapy my career of choice.

It surprised me to have many at my work comment on how great it is that I have been able to claim that this year, despite all the turmoil and struggle, has been my best year in a long while. I suppose this has illuminated that I have a strength that enables me to turn almost any situation into an opportunity for positivity.

This year has been what I refer to as “my personal Renaissance.” Since graduating in 2006 I’ve felt mildly depressed and in a slump –content to float around for a while. In fact, I think I needed the past 4 years to be low key to rest and establish a baseline from which to launch (as I have this past year). Back in 2006 I felt pressure from family to move on to starting a career. It made me mad when my father practically insisted that if I didn’t start grad school right after undergrad, then I’d never go. I think I needed to have time and space to reclaim my own desire and accord to continue moving forward on my own. I needed to know what it would be like to not be pressured and to not have anything in particular to challenge me. What I learned is that being in such a state makes me miserable. This realization, combined with the challenges mentioned above, helped to fuel my launch into full adulthood.

To aid in my quest of “being all that I can be” I have made a markedly increased effort to make myself more healthy. I attended therapy about once every two weeks for just over one year and was able to drag myself out of my mild depression and gain awareness and perspective of how I perceive and function in the world. I no longer attend therapy and I’m seeing how well I can make it through life on my own now that I have some extra tools (e.g., greater understandng, internalized skills, some phrases my therapist used to say that still resonate in my head, etc).

I learned about cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a style of therapy that challenges you to notice and reprogram your thoughts in such a way that, hopefully, will be more to your benefit. I have incorporated CBT into the work that I do with my clients as well as into my own life. I now know what “Automatic Negative Thoughs (ANTS)” are and I try to crush them when I see them arise.

I realize that I have many automatic negative thoughts –particularly in the realm of “mind reading.” Many times I will assume that people are thinking things which, in reality, they are not. I have come to be aware of just how inaccurate my perceptions of what others are thinking are. I now recognize that it is helpful for me to have reminders (both internal and external) to help keep me from making inaccurate and potentially detrimental assumptions about others. I still struggle in this area.

Since I did not get into graduate school as early as I would have liked, I decided to pick up the department chair’s book and read it, anyway. The book is excellent –a wonderful blend of how you can use improv as therapy. The book has me very excited to start the drama therapy program –and now I feel as though I’ll have a little leg up from having read the main teacher’s book.

Having Kristin in my life has challenged me in new and exciting ways: I have a completely re-designed stream line view of aesthetics that I find more satisfying. I have matured my professionalism and desire to achieve in my career. I have re-examined my connection with my family and found a more comfortable direction to go in my experience of fitting in. I have re-examined my family history and the way that it has formed the man I am today –including how it affects my relationships with others. And finally, I am venturing into uncharted territory with our relationship because I am ready to be fully available and I’m hoping to find mutual love.

This year, with the help of Myers-Briggs, it has really come into focus that I am primarily an internalized person. I can spend hours inside my own head and be sufficiently entertained. This affects my perception of time –when I go in my head time feels as though it speeds up (this is helpful when I have to wait for things like public transportation or doctor appointments (of which I have had plenty of in the past year.)) Where my being “internally preferenced” causes difficulties, however, is when I get triggered or upset and I tend to withdraw and shut down to the outside world. My ability to mange interpersonal interactions gets retarded when I am under stress.

My job has had me working with, and learning about somatic therapy, a therapy that examines how internal states affect our emotions and behaviors. Somatic psychology has illuminated new awareness of stress and anxiety that exists within my clients and also, to my surprise, within myself to a heightened degree. By looking at my own internal physiological symptoms of negative emotions (stress, fear, anger, sadness) it has been revealed that my baseline emotional state is one of elevated anxiety. Since this realization I have started medication to help me address and facilitate a leveling-out of my baseline state. I have been supplementing my medication (or vice versa?) with stress reduction skills and cognitive restructuring (CBT as I mentioned above) –the very tools that I work to empower my clients with.

In addition to anti-anxiety medication (which I just started in December), I have had very successful results with taking anti-ADHD medication for the past several months. It would seem that I was correct in my suspicion that, for most of my life, I’ve struggled with reading and remaining organized –an occurrence which has made me feel resentful towards education and task-oriented achievement. In the relief of some of my focusing difficulties, I feel as though I have developed superhuman abilities to complete tasks. While this has greatly helped my self-esteem, it would seem that, at times, being a “task-terminator” has begun to cause me harm. In the thrill of being better able to “get things done” I’ve over compensated to the point where I feel anxiety when I’m not checking things off my to-do list. At times I have found it challenging, now, to relax and simply spend time with the people I care about. This realization has gone into my decision to investigate medication as a way to help reduce my baseline anxiety.

I love blogging and I have missed it. It has been immensely satisfying to start blogging again. Thank you, Mono, for giving me the idea to investigate re-starting a blog. (2006 being the last time I kept a blog.) I have also gotten a lot of positive feedback for my writing and that really makes me feel good. I still struggle (as I am sure you can tell by now) to keep things short and simple. I keep two blogs: one for my self development and one for my love of movies, tv, internet, books, and other media.

I really love movies and TV and one of my greatest joys is using media as a means to explore myself and my perceptions of the world. I feel accomplished and actualized when I write about such experiences in my media blog. While there is a part of me that yearns to make films, my recent exploration of dramatherapy, it would seem, has revealed that perhaps I can achieve the same satisfaction that I imagine filmmaking would give by helping people work through their difficulties in a theatrical and playful environment. Heck –it is even conceivable that once I’m established I can help others make films about the challenges that they are facing!

This past year I was able to re-connect with one of my close friends to work on my first ever official drama therapy project: A self-revelation project wherein a main actor creates a live theatre piece to process through current difficult psychological content. The experience was challenging on many angles –but, as expected, the rewards turned out to be more plentiful than any setback. Helping my friend with her self-revelation project illuminated areas where I continue to struggle in my relationships with women. I was able to unearth a hidden dynamic which has been adversely operating in my life in a detrimental way that I was, before now, unaware of.

The dynamic that I speak of helped me to see how -and perhaps why- I idealize certain women, why I frequently seem to not reach my own expectations, and why (partly, at least) there has always been some illusive force holding my back from a more fulfilling life. Where I have practically demonized certain people from my life –I have neglected to note the human flaws of others. Seeing this more clearly will help me to move forward in a more realistic and balanced way. With awareness and forgiveness I will continue on.

In closing, the words of my former therapist come to mind: “The road we are given in life will always turn out to be the best road for us to take.” With these words, we can all take peace in knowing that the challenges that lay ahead aim merely to shape us all into stronger, more content people. And so, with my deepest sincerity, I wish due prosperity for you and all the people of the world. “Let’s do this!”

Fondly,
Seth

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The burden of success.

After the performance, when the success is real rather than imagined, the old self may attempt to reassert itself, as a way of dealing with the confusion between the two self-images.
-”Acting for Real” Dramatherapy book

Well, I’m doing it. I’m succeeding on my life’s stage: I’ve managed to arrive in a relationship that satisfies and challenges me, I’ve got my physical and mental health improving in the direction that I want (thank you medication, therapy, nutritional alterations, etc.), I’m asserting my independence from my father as I launch into adulthood away from my few remaining ties of dependency, I’m in a position at my job where I feel skilled and accomplished, I’m doing my part to support some heavy challenges that my family is moving through, and I have been getting a head start on preparing for graduate school which is all lined up and ready for me to start next Fall. All in all, after years of semi-self-imposed stagnation, things are finally moving in a direction that I want! That should be great, right? Time to party and celebrate! Yeah? … party! … with the… celebrating? … no? no celebrating? … cuss.

The truth is, I don’t feel that great -and that is frustrating as Hell. I want to be happy and relaxed, but instead I feel anxious and fearful. I think this is because I have low self-esteem when it comes to practicality and advancing in the material world. For much of my life I’ve had to struggle with external (and, consequently, internal) messages that sap my self-confidence and tell me that I’m “not enough.” I am not doing enough with my life, and, of what I am doing, I’m doing it wrong or I’m not doing it well enough. I feel angry about feeling that way because my thinking brain understands that it is a lie that I’m “not enough.” I don’t want to be bound by the faulty feeling that I’m “not enough” and I don’t want to use “not feeling like I’m enough” as an excuse to resign from moving my life in the direction that I want (much like how my old self would behave).

My old “pre self-Renaissance” self would respond to my fears of “not being enough” by resigning and bottoming out. Bottoming out might look like me dropping all attempts to make or receive contact from almost everyone (family and friends), neglecting most of my responsibilities by simply ignoring them, lots of sleeping, and lots of pointlessly watching TV or getting lost in video games. Bottoming out looks a lot like depression. There were times when I felt like reaching rock bottom was the only way that I’d be able to start to make and progress towards improving again. “No where to go but up.”

My new “post self-Renaissance” self, I imagine, would address my fear and self-doubt by, first, acknowledging the “sickness” that is preventing me from feeling “good enough” in the face of so many of my recent victories. Next, I would recognize my usual (old) pattern of behavior following “not feeling good enough,” and, finally, I would make a conscious effort to tiptoe around the pitfall and not give credence to my own self-doubt. I will hold the faith that I am not only “enough” -but I’m actually kinda “super!” I will fervently put force behind my endeavors to accept myself and better myself by concentrating on the positives of my accomplishments instead of dwelling and obsessing over anything that may indicate that a total collapse may be on the horizon.

Sadly, my old “bottoming out” self is more familiar to me than my new “faith in growth” self and, on busy and challenging weeks like last week, keeping the faith in the face of fear can be very difficult! -especially when I look down and realize how very far I would fall if I “bottomed out.” Success can feel like a burden to me. I feel as though I’ve been climbing a very tall latter and have now, despite being warned, looked down. My “faith in growth” self believes that I just need a moment to sit with my terror before I bite the bullet and keep climbing. I’d sure like to know when I can reach the next level where I can take a rest for a minute.

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The black horse dream

Last night I had a dream that felt prompted by my recent fascination with the movie The Social Network (as discussed in my Media Mask blog). I dreamt that I was sitting in a prestigious high school math class with several other students who were being taught a math lesson. The math that we were learning was difficult and I didn’t really understand how to do it -yet I was able to maintain the appearance that I had some semblance of understanding. What was odd about my dream was that, while I was in class, instead of a desk, I was sitting on the back of a beautiful black seated horse. I felt a kinship with the horse and it let me hug it around the neck. I was so grateful to be seated on such an amazing creature. I was aware that the horse was slightly uncomfortable being in a class room, yet it was staying because it loved me. I remember thinking “Wow! I am so lucky that this horse trusts that I am special and worth being around even though it is a little uncomfortable right now!” Others around me were aware of the horse and they thought that it was majestic and beautiful just as I did. “It’s also a good thing,” I thought, “because no one would bother to notice that I was struggling with learning math.”

At 8:50 this morning I pleasantly woke up to a friendly text message from my girlfriend. I noticed that my feelings of love and gratitude toward her were amplified as a result of the dream that I had just come out of. I think that in my dream, the black horse was a metaphor for some aspect of where I am now with my relationship with my girlfriend. In my day to day life, back before what I currently refer to as my “Seth Renaissance,” I was feeling pretty unsatisfied with my life. I wasn’t meeting my own expectations for myself just as, in my dream, I wasn’t able to understand how to do the math that I was supposed to be learning. Since my Renaissance, however, I have more or less been able to get my life positioned mostly where I am satisfied with it. Occasionally my self-doubt and demons still creep in to make me feel as though “I’m not good enough,” but for the most part, I can keep them under control. Ever since the girl I am dating asked to be my girlfriend earlier this month, I remember feeling so happy and grateful, that -to top off how good I feel about my life, now I get this amazing girl who will only amplify my life enjoyment and satisfaction. How great it is that things have gone my way! Like the black horse, my girlfriend’s faith, trust, and acceptance in and of me helps me to relax and better appreciate life. Her presence makes me feel like a stronger person. I feel incredibly lucky and grateful. I can only imagine the amazing places that we will go to together.

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Being a solid object (Arguably my biggest strength.)

I would like to talk about what I feel is arguably my biggest strength. In trying times remembering the positive can be an excellent way to make use of time. Nearly as far back as I can remember, I’ve frequently been told that I am someone who is good at helping other people by being a solid object for them. I would almost go so far as to say that this is a quality which, perhaps, I value in myself above all others. What does “being a solid object” mean, exactly? Well, I’ll tell yah. “Being a solid object” entails remaining calm and contained in the face of certain chaos.

A concrete example (albeit, exaggerated, perhaps) comes to mind comes from the time when I was working as a staff member in a group home for emotionally disturbed kids -a place where frequently “troubled” youth would lose containment over their emotions and “freak out.” Some kids would freak out outwardly: throwing chairs, fighting, cursing, threatening, and breaking things; some kids would freak out inwardly: shutting down, refusing to talk to anyone, cutting, or having suicidal thoughts. Those of us with clear memory of our teenage years probably understand some degree of what it means to “freak out.” Add to that abusive family histories, mental illness, unsafe living environments, (etc) and you have a recipe for some pretty spectacular blow out sessions (hence the exaggeratedness of this concrete example). At the group home where I worked, my skills and gifts as a staff member gained a positive reputation among clients and fellow counselors. Eventually it became not that uncommon for me to get placed to work with the kids who would freak out. My main strategy for responding to the various ways that kids would “freak out” was relatively simple: I became a grounding for them -a solid object. I would do this by simply “being with them” through their difficult emotional time. This would be accomplished, often times, by simply occupying the same space as the client while maintaining a calm and contained composure no matter how much the client would be out of control (assuming that they weren’t being too dangerous or unsafe). In Aikido (a Japanese martial art which literally translates as “the way of love”) many of the moves that are executed involve blending with your partner’s incoming hostile energy in such a way as to diffuse it and end up in alignment with your partner -often looking in the same direction as them. I mirror this technique when I am with an upset client: rather than facing them, I try to stand at their side -as if I am mirroring them from their perspective and honoring and accepting their state while simultaneously demonstrating an alternative calmer, more contained state. It doesn’t always work to calm the client down -but it certainly almost never hurts and almost always helps in some fashion at least after a little while.

When I am able to act as someone’s “solid object” something tends to occur which seems almost magical: simply being present and accepting of someone can enable them to access their own inner strength and containment. While this form of providing treatment may seem pretty simple (and in execution, the method is, in fact simple (for me anyway (we’ll get to that later))) -there is a whole host of subtle very complex exchanges occurring in an instance of me co-regulating with another person. Your right brain (the part of the brain that is concerned with emotion and creativity) is capable of taking in and processing thousands of times more information than that of your left brain (the part that deals with logic and analyzing). This could be a reason why simply demonstrating a calm state can be more effective than attempting to talk or rationalize to the other person how or why they should calm themselves. It’s actually quite remarkable to observe a successful co-regulation -I’ve found it to be one of if not THE biggest tool in my arsenal of helping other people.

Now I’m inclined to wonder: why does it come so naturally to me to be calm and contained for other people when they are in chaos? From my observations, it appears as though such a skill does not come as easily to other people (hence, other staff members placing me with the kids who were “out of control”). I have a particular strength and foundation in some sort of truth that everything will turn out okay no matter what. Why do I feel that way? Why is it harder for others to hold the faith that everything will be okay no matter what? (I’m actually asking these questions because I don’t totally have a clear answer.) I would hedge a guess that perhaps it has to do with me having grown up with a secure and healthy attachment to my loving parents: to break that down to a basic and primal attachment theory fashion: scary monsters don’t scare me as much because it has been programed into me that I can always run back to Mom and Dad who will keep me safe. Many (perhaps most?) people don’t have the fortune to have grown up with totally secure attachments, and as such, they have a level of ambivalence or a shakiness to their faith that their parents would be able to keep them safe from scary monsters -either because their parents, themselves were the scary monsters -or, perhaps, their parents simply wouldn’t be there to run back to at all. But certainly, one’s level of security or stability or “faith that everything will be okay” couldn’t only ride on the factor of their relationship to their parents. What other factors are at play here? I’d guess that perhaps spirituality plays a part here? (But then, is my spirituality merely an extension of my attachment to my parents??)

I find great strength in the spiritual philosophy that I developed for myself: I believe that “everything matters, nothing matters, neither, and both.” -a statement which, regardless of being a paradox, seems to cover all the bases for what the “meaning of life” could be. The paradoxical nature of my philosophy is a strange reminder for me that there are mysteries in life that will forever be beyond my limited means to understand. There are systems at work that I will never have the full capacity to completely understand from all view points. “God,” I suppose, may be the word that many people may use to label this concept. I choose to view God as a benevolent force. Many religions hold that claim as well -however, in experimenting with a few religions myself, I have found that religion tends to enable flawed man-made constructs which steer the original concept of a “truly benevolent god” off course… (e.g., religion makes up all these rules such as “god will only truly value you if [xyz irrelevant condition] is true.”) For me, I find it easy to envision god as being benevolent because I was fortunate enough to have been raised so benevolently. In essence, my construct of “god” has now become an internalization of my secure attachment to my parents.

I recall reading on the back of some random “science meets faith” book that, evolutionarily, man may have maintained a capacity for spirituality because it serves as an elegant way for us to handle our innate fear of death. We have an advanced ability and awareness (in comparison to other animals) to create methods which can increase the duration and quality of our own life -yet that level of intelligence also opens us up to the ability to ponder potentially frightening complex questions such as: what meaning does our life have or not have? What happens to us when we die? etc… There was a part of our brain that was allowed to persist in developing so that we could have the capacity to have “faith” -which is a quality that serves to motivate and comfort us.

A necessary component of being a solid object for someone is holding the possibility (the faith) that things will get better even (and especially) when the other person may be in a state wherein they do not have the resources needed to be able to hold that faith themselves. I am grateful for my past and I am grateful for my spirituality; both afford me what is arguably my best strength. When times are tough I shall ride true -even if things get stormy. What is your greatest strength?

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The anger dilema

“Give me the check, Vince! I can’t believe that I have a cussing academy award and I have to call YOU back! Again, and again! and again you CUSSUCKER!! GIVE ME THE CHECK!!”

“Wow, Seth! You really like to quote movies. What is it that you like so much about the angry parts?” Kristin asked me one Saturday afternoon. I got embarrassed. She was right -I do like quoting the angry parts of movies. Why is that? I’m not totally sure. Ever since I was a little kid I remember my mother singing or talking to herself while she was busy working alone somewhere else in the house. She would quote movies, or music lyrics, or just simple nonsense from the top of her head (and my Mom’s head sure seems to have a lot of nonsense to spout -believe you me!) Some of the time it would annoy me -but some of the time I found it amusing or even it oddly soothing. I’d ask her why she’d do that from time to time and she’d say “Oh, it’s just how I deal with stress.”

I guess it wouldn’t be too far of a stretch to say that stress relief is probably why I spout off random quotes as well. It was a skill that I learned from Mom. Yet, why do I seem to particularly favor spouting angry parts? I don’t feel like an angry person. People who know me wouldn’t label me as being very angry, I don’t think. So what is it? I’m gonna guess that I choose to quote angry parts of movies because, actually, I do have some anger inside that I am uncomfortable about directly acknowledging. Anger isn’t usually an attractive or desired emotion -either for the person experiencing it or for the people around that have to witness or be subjected to it. Yet, of course, being angry from time to time is part of being human. By venting stress via angry quotes (even if they are in humor as with my quote above) I am probably venting or working through some aspects of my own anger indirectly and in a safe way that I wouldn’t necessary have to be held directly accountable for. Plus, it can be fun to be angry! You get to feel “in the right,” you may feel more alive/focused/awake, you get to feel powerful, etc. Anger can be very motivating! It certainly has been for me: I was angry that my life wasn’t where I wanted it to be after grandma died so I took action to apply to grad school and re-arrange my life to be more what I wanted; when I got mono I got angry and decided to create a blog -which spurned this whole thing which you’re reading right now; I got angry about not getting straight into graduate school so as a result I decided to stay on course for another year with my job that I was considering quitting so that I could really focus on improving myself in ways that will better prepare me for when I do start.

Situational examples are easy to point out when it comes to trying to figure out why I might occasionally experience anger. With me, however, (and probably with most of us) I am sure that there are more deeply rooted issues behind why I might from time to time experience anger. Unfortunately, with these deeper issues, I often find it can be more difficult to access and understand my own anger because the anger becomes entangled with many other emotions. Fear, self-doubt, guilt, and even love can get wrapped up with my anger in ways that make it difficult for me to see or trust what I may be feeling. I am grateful that therapy exists to help me attempt to sort everything out.

Let’s look at attachment theory to help illustrate an example for how, in deeper core issues, I may struggle with anger because it can get tangled with other emotions: In normal healthy attachments, when you are young and something scares or threatens you, you run to your attachment figure (usually mother or father) for safety, love, and/or protection. Biologically, that is what we’re programed to do. It is in our nature to move in close to our pack because that tends to grant us our greatest chance for survival. But what happens, when, in a less healthy attachment, the source of the scaring or threatening becomes the attachment figure itself? Would you just run away -and go to nobody? You can’t, really -when you’re a little kid- so what ends happening is -you run to your attachment figure for safety, love, and protection anyway -even if they are the source of what is scaring you. This can jumble up your emotions and link and cross wire them in unfortunate and complicated ways: “You scared or hurt me but you’re the one that is supposed to love/protect me -so hurt/fear becomes part of love.” or “You made me angry but you’re the one that cares for me and teaches me what’s what, and you tell me that I am wrong for being angry with you so I no longer can trust what I feel.”

I got embarrassed when Kristin caught me and called me out for being a sucker for repeating and persevorating on the angry parts of movies. There are complicated ingrained sources of anger (and other difficult emotions, for that matter) inside of me that I’ve spent a long time trying to figure out and get in touch with. I’ve made a lot of progress with my explorations -yet I still have fears about the unknown parts of my difficult emotions. There is a part of me that fears that, at this time in my life when I’m preparing to find a mate (and eventually become an attachment figure myself when I become a parent), I might get rejected as a “broken” mate -or worse, I might have a hidden self-destruct buried deep within my unexplored emotions which would sabotage the happy life that I want for myself. I don’t think that that would be the case for me -but it is scary and hard for me to know for certain when there are parts of my own feelings that I feel like I may be out of touch with. Additionally, sometimes it feels difficult for me to trust how I feel.

Looking at the big picture, however, I do feel pretty okay about everything turning out well and relatively, if not mostly, on the path for what I want in life. That makes sense for me. It probably, also, would do me some good to not blame or displace my own struggles onto other people (like my primary attachments.) My energy would seem better spent enjoying what is in front of me and risking the assumption that it okay for me to move towards making the lovely life that I want for myself. We are all human -and I’m sure that whatever partner I end up with will be just as human as I am. Life won’t be perfect and I won’t be perfect -but I’ll be the perfect version of myself. I’ll continue to explore and grow, and as I risk more, my demons will be drawn out for me to handle bit by bit. I probably wouldn’t be exploring these thoughts right now if it weren’t the case that I was taking a chance in a relationship where I am willing to be vulnerable and willing to put all of my cards on the table. Worst comes to worst I’ll at least be able to say that I lived life with all I got.

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