Tag Archives: acedia, anger, change, contribution, education, gifting, personal growth, personal self-care. retirement, therapy, values,

Being A Resource Seeking A Need, Part 5

The difficulty is to match the pieces.

This is my final post of the series on being a resource seeking a need, my exploration of the difficulties I am having with retirement. An interesting experience for me — sometimes in the sense of the Chinese curse. Since you the reader will also encounter these issues, I hope you have found the series interesting.

My PhD work also exposed me directly to the seriousness and consequences of global warming — that humanity is truly on a path of suicide, as a result both of our hubris and our acedia. I also found out the truth of a statement by the 17th century philosopher-scientist Pascal who noted that: “those who study acedia do not come away unscathed.” As part of my eldership transition, I had to work through about two years of intense despair as I came to terms with the tragic path we are on as a species.

I’m now over that despair, simply sad that the human species is so complex. And I continue to deepen my explorations — it is my way of sustaining myself. Currently, I strive to become more contemplative, deepening my inner world of spirit as I expand into the world of activism. In my desire to contribute, I cannot sit back and simply accept this outcome.

As I engage in being a climate activist, I am currently approaching various organizations seeking a need. What has surprised me most is how difficult it is to make contact. The websites of many non-profit organizations are not especially user-friendly. If I wanted to make a donation of money, it would be relatively easy, but to find a human being with whom to talk, to discuss how I might contribute, has proven a challenge. However, I am slowly making contact — mini-steps.

Overall, I have had such an interesting life. As a young adult, intending to be a theoretical astrophysicist, it would have been utterly inconceivable to me that I would end up studying the inner cosmos, the realm of consciousness. Similarly, as a introvert frequently seeking to be a hermit, it is also profoundly strange to move to being an activist.

I do know that many people are overwhelmed by the complexity of global warming. It is a major part of the Climate Lie as described by The Climate Mobilization. And it is a super-wicked problem (see my earliest postings) — the complexity is immense, there is no one in charge of “fixing” it, we have caused it, and we only have a limited time to fix it. It always seems like two steps forward, and three backwards. I don’t in any way blame people for being overwhelmed, for wanting to deny it, for not wanting to talk about it.

But these behavior patterns, these emotional patterns, will not resolve it. And we only have a limited time to change the consequences. Token gestures will not work, nor will good intentions: “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Actions made with good intentions speak much louder than motivation that encourages good intentions.

Dealing with my own pain is what has led to my personal success.

So this is where I am left — in my being a resource seeking a need. I believe I have immense understanding and skill at emotional process, and I believe that our culture both needs these skills, and yet avoids these skills. Unless we do the work of emotional maturity, we will not survive. The dynamics of power are too pervasive in scope and eventually will lead to our demise.

All this became summarized for me in my statement that: “As individuals, human beings are capable of astounding greatness, but as a species, we are psychotic.” We have a choice to respond to global warming, but we are very slow to do so. We have many resources, but we are disorganized in how we access them.

We respond best to acute situations. And these situations are increasing — witness the severity of the current hurricane season with its massive destruction in Haiti (where the recovery resources are abysmal) and Florida (which at least has resources). But global warming is not an acute issue, and it is subject to many subtle positive feedback loops — so many forms of destruction are coming.

If we wait, our resources will go to acute recovery; our emotional resources will be spent on symptoms, rather than systems. There is likely a small window of opportunity to do the emotional work of maturity, my skill set, but I am not hopeful that it will be utilized.

However, to live into the scenario of preventing destruction is one of despair. I choose to live into being available when asked. I’m willing to put some energy into waving the warming flag, even acting into civil disobedience, but not that of pushing to get a response from those who do not want to listen. I always insist on setting an outcome that satisfies me, not one that impacts others — consistent with my knowledge of emotional triangles — then I am less likely to burnout.

I also often wonder as to how other people find retirement, whether they too want to contribute, and how they find ways to do so. Surely there are huge resources that are untapped. From my perspective, it is part of our immaturity as a Western culture that we do not value elders.

They have much to offer, and would have more if there was an interplay that valued wisdom. When a culture does not value wisdom, elders do not need to strive for wisdom; they simply play golf. Perhaps too, there is wisdom in golf. There is skill, but it seems mainly to entertain and/or fill time, without adding to maturity.

Such are the twists and turns. I want to make a difference, but have yet to find a way that completes me at this eldership stage in my life.

Being A Resource Seeking A Need, Part 4

The difficulty is to match the pieces.

These few posts are on the difficulty I have being retired — I still want to contribute, but largely I find myself being a resource looking for a need. Wanting to contribute has been a life-long pattern for me; most of my career choices have resulted from this. (Most of my relationship issues arose because I did not know how to relate to others — only in the past twenty years have I been more successful in relationship — most of the time).

I also did my PhD from this perspective of needing to contribute. I wanted to take my work to a higher level (unsuccessful), and I wanted to research the issues that had limited me as a therapist (successful).

These issues — laziness and fearfulness on the part of clients (I later added self-righteousness) — showed up with about 25% of clients; people would attend regularly to my therapy groups (sometimes for years), but some would sit like bumps on a log, almost never openly engaging in their own work. Some would do work, but somehow never at the depth needed.

Without being pejorative or judgmental, I came to think of these people as affected by laziness or fearfulness. If given simple tasks, they would forget or be too busy (laziness) or they might tell me of being afraid of the consequences of doing the tasks (fearfulness). Nothing I did as a therapist would change this. For example, I recall one guy who worked for me for four years, almost never actively participating, when one day, he spontaneously said: “I finally get it. I have to do the work! You can’t do it for me.” Wow.

As I studied these issues, I came to think of laziness and fearfulness as spiritual or existential issues. They were simply life choices as to attitude, choices made to avoid the pain of living. My only resource as therapist was to challenge the client — by pointing out the pattern. If then the client chose to do the work, to act in spite of the laziness or fearfulness, the work was relatively easy. If the client chose not to do so, there was nothing I could do besides acceptance and the provision of safety.

Because of my knowledge of emotional triangles, I was very aware of the maxim: Don’t push the River; it flows by itself. (However, from time to time, I do get caught wanting to push.)

emotionsmapWhen I still worked as a therapist, most of my work was with anger management, but the processes I used were easily translated to all emotions. For me, emotions are simply life energy to which I give meaning and direction. If I believe I am not safe because of what you are doing (and still have some sense of my own power), but meanwhile I believe that you are more powerful than I am, I call my energy fear (F) — I want to move away from you. If I believe I am more powerful than you, likely I will call my energy anger (A) — I want to move against you. Or, if I sink down (usually because of internal conflict), I call my state sad (S). Thus, when in explaining emotions to others, I diagram them with a circular graph (wherein I also include joy).

I make a major distinction concerning emotions when I feel powerless. Here I experience my emotions as much stronger, perhaps overwhelmed by the intensity — I give them different names: terror (T), rage (R), despair (D), and ecstasy (E).

acediamapThe issues I wanted to study for my PhD (laziness, fearfulness, and self-righteousness) are also emotions, although they are usually described as behaviors. They would show up with particular clients — people who would attend regularly (sometimes for years), but somehow would not engage in the work. Nothing I did as a therapist would change this.

As I studied these issues, I came to think of laziness and fearfulness as spiritual or existential issues. They were simply life choices as to attitude, choices made to avoid the pain of living; these choices occur when we are chronically overwhelmed by our emotions — we numb out, and thus these states come to seem like behaviours.

This research into laziness and fearfulness (together with self-righteousness) eventually became a study of acedia, an ancient term, but one that I recognized as consistent with any combination of laziness, fearfulness and/or self-righteousness which interfered with authenticity. It also confirm my recognition of the difficulty of laziness and fearfulness (as well as self-righteousness) as a spiritual-existential issue, and deepened my appreciation for the struggle to be human. (One outcome of all this was my second book Acedia, The Darkness Within.)

These experiences (emotions/behaviors) are also the features of burnout. In the complexity of our modern world, it is easy to feel powerless, to feel overwhelmed, and to move into acedia and burnout. (I have previously described acedia and burnout in more detail in previous postings — five on acedia commencing 20160730 and three on burnout commencing 20160829.)

To be continued.

Being A Resource Seeking A Need, Part 3

The difficulty is to match the pieces.

In these posts, I am exploring the impact of retirement, that of being a resource looking for a need. Potentially, retirement (re-attire-ment) is a change to a new direction in my life. It is an interesting exploration, but because of the difficulty of finding a new way to be a resource, it is not very satisfying. However, as always, life is in evolution.

In the last post, I indicated that up until the 1980s, therapy was a field that varied from brilliance to abusive. In my own work, I strived to practice the brilliance. Therapy itself is about risking — the client was/is generally seeking resolution of major life issues, wherein there is no set pattern or protocol. At the same time, the client is always intent (at an other-than-conscious level) on avoiding this life issues — because of the pain they represent.

My job as therapist was often to be supportive while at the same time, in metaphoric fashion, I was setting a trap that reproduced the difficulty with which the client struggled. The traps challenged the client to be authentic, and to find creative resolution to the issues. Sometimes the work was very gentle, but at other times, it could be very confronting. Yet always I was seeking authenticity of experience. As therapist, I would often risk as much as the client, wherein the traps I set could have been misinterpreted by an outside observer. But I worked well, and many people wanted to work with me.

Overall, I practiced under the radar. The field of therapy was becoming much more regulated, and risk aversive. On several occasions, the ways in which I worked with people were challenged by hierarchies, and I was able to successfully defend myself. But I was aware that I was gradually restricting the ways in which I worked with people. Still good work, but … (defensive driving is generally a good thing, but defensive therapy is not).

I actually wrote my first book Blowing Out The Darkness as a result of this. One day, I received an unsolicited email advertisement from someone who claimed that they had the best anger management program in North America. But in the body of the text, it also said that the methodology was not effective for the “more hardened characters.” I took offense at this, and said to myself “Bull. My process is effective!” I was also aware of the arrogance of the email, discounting the “more hardened characters” because the program was ineffective. Hence, my book.

Thus, I was able to contribute in ways that were very satisfying to me. In many respects, these years were the happiest and most satisfying of any in my life.

As well, during my career as therapist, I attempted on a number of occasions to take my work to a higher level, to a larger audience, but for reasons that still elude me, I was unsuccessful. Opportunities arose to work with the Canadian Army, the American Army, Air Canada, and a number of other organizations but always they faded. People said they liked my work and my book, and that they would get back to me, but somehow they didn’t. Perhaps someone criticized me in the background, or perhaps people wanted more of a quick fix. And again, people have busy lives — that was the explanation given in a few cases.

I also did my PhD from this perspective. Again, I wanted to take my work to a higher level, and I thought that by getting back into an academic environment, I would find a way to network more effectively. I also wanted to research the issues that had limited me as a therapist, those of laziness and fearfulness.

To be continued.

Being A Resource Seeking A Need, Part 2

The difficulty is to match the pieces.

These few posts are on the difficulty I have being retired — I still want to contribute, but largely I find myself being a resource looking for a need. I suspect that such difficulties are common in our society.

Being a therapist I had a designated doing. For 25 years, I ran a small day-based retreat center with my wife, predominantly engaged in teaching anger management, as well as relationship skills. Over this time, I worked with over 4000 people (mainly in group therapy); I presented over 300 workshops, and ran up to 5 ongoing weekly therapy groups.

I was a very effective therapist, and I was very satisfied with my work, in my ability to work with and be a resource to those struggling with life issues. My clients ranged from practicing therapists (in later years, about 25% of my caseload) to people mandated to come — others had power (usually legal) over them.

People came from all walks of life, about a third of them required by the courts because of domestic violations (equally men and women — it is/was a myth for me that domestic violation is a gender issue). It was also a myth that these people were somehow bad, or different from the general population. In some respects, they were healthier than average, having “chosen: to work on their issues.

Over the years, one probation officer sent me over sixty clients; eventually he found that only two re-offended after coming to my anger weekend — a single weekend in which they changed their lives. For me, that is an incredible statistic.

Every few months, someone who had attended one of these weekend workshops (years before) would come to my office and spontaneously thank me — again as a result of a single weekend, they had made profound changes in their lives. A number of these clients had been to as many as six previous anger management programs; one said “No therapist has ever gotten into my head and to the root of my anger like David has.”

Amazing. And very satisfying.

Because of results like these, I was very aware of my ability to contribute. I know I am effective; I know that what I teach works. Yet, once I retired, I lost much of the ability to be such a resource.

During my career, I observed how people would slowly evolve over a few years. And I also observed how I was evolving. Especially I used to tell people that, as a therapist, I was being paid to do my own personal growth.

The work that I did predominantly came from my own growth — an essential component of good therapy. Therapy is not an intellectual exercise — it is a relationship between two people in which they explore the difficulties of living.

Yet, I am very grounded in intellect. I actually have six university degrees (BSc, MSc, MD, CRCPC, MA-ABS, PhD) as well as many diplomas in diverse subjects (cooking, hospitality, various therapies, amongst others). As a teenager, I started out to be a theoretical astrophysicist (think Stephen Hawking). Synchronicity kept leading me in different directions, shifting to biophysics, medicine, anesthesia, and eventually psychotherapy. I also kept having difficulties with relationships, having totally shut off my emotionality because of Family of Origin pain. Such explorations and difficulties generally became part of my own growth.

Simultaneously, I had a number of mystical experiences that transformed me. These together with the events of synchronicity that seemed to guide me deepened my sense of trust in the universe. Because of past experiences, I had had little use of the belief systems of religiosity, but simultaneously a deep sense of trust in Spirit.

The most important of these mystical experiences was a three year period of continuously being in a state called Cosmic Consciousness (see the 1899 book of the same title by Maurice Bucke, MD), an experience of profound peace that developed over six months and then faded over the next two and a half years. But then I went into five years of despair because I did not know what to do with this CC experience.

Synchronicity led me again into good experiential therapy, and I managed to work with a number of world-class therapists as I transformed my life in ways that still astound me. And, as my skills developed, I came to appreciate how limited most therapy was, and how risk-aversive most therapists were.

Up until the 1980s, therapy had been an unregulated, wild and crazy field, with many options. Some of these options were undoubtedly dangerous, some were frankly abusive, but many were brilliant in the ways in which they challenged people to mature in wisdom. Fortunately I found the brilliance.

To be continued.


Being A Resource Seeking A Need

The difficulty is to match the pieces.

I’m retired, and I find now that essentially I am being a resource looking for a need. Periodically I find something I can do, something to pass the time, but seldom do I find a way that I can contribute. I suspect that this is typical of many people who are retired. I also suspect that anyone who is unemployed (involuntarily retired) struggles with these issues. So I invite the reader to think about your own life, and what you offer.

In this post and the next three or four, I’m going to tell the story of how my work has evolved. And of how I still seek to be a resource.

In retrospect I have always been a resource looking for a need. I am also very aware that there are two types of resources:

  • contribution (gifting), and
  • seduction (wanting something in return)

And it is always a mixture. In my case, I predominantly want to contribute, but if I make a little money in the process, it is bonus — I like to have the occasional treat.

Another way I have said this is that there are only two things I can do with people.

  • I can give them a gift of my time or my energy.
    • A gift has no price tag, absolutely none, not even a thank you! Yet I gain merit (personal valuation) from gifts — part of the paradox of life!
  • I can do something for which I expect reciprocity (a transaction for payment!).
    • I do not gain merit from this; I resent when I don’t get paid!

For me, maintaining clarity concerning these two is absolutely essential to effective living.

So what is my need to contribute.? Principally to be complete in my life, to be used up in the process of living. In essence God (life, mystery, the universe — whatever word you want to use) has gifted me, and I want to gift back. As far as I can tell, it seems to be a fundamental human need.

But in particular, I find that I am still looking for a need to which I can be a resource. I strongly believe that at some deep level within our society there is a huge need for what I have to offer, but I have yet to find a way to access it. Because of my work as a therapist, I am convinced that our world is also very afraid of what I offer — in-depth authenticity.

Retirement is an interesting word. If you think about recreation as re-creation, a shift to a new mode of being, then re-tirement is meant to be a new clothing, a transformation to a new way of being. Ideally, the process coincides with the late life transition to eldership.

I certainly find that my last few years have been in the nature of a transition. But I had not expected it to be so painful. My mid-life transition was very painful, and I had done immense personal growth since that time. I easily recall a number of times when I thought the next transition would be relatively easy. Not so!

My Western society is also very poor at transitions; there are almost none of the initiation rites of passage that are present in indigenous societies (and so essential to healthy living). In particular, my society regards retirement as a mythical state where one plays golf all day and is supposed to be happy — such a load of crap wherein the skills of a lifetime are discarded.

To be continued.