Tag Archives: blowing out

Acedia underlies global warming

It's all too much.
It’s all too much.

Have you ever asked yourself how we have ended up with the problems of global warming? Or what stops us from solving these issues? We have avoided resolution of the issues for more than 50 year now. The superficial issue of global warming is technological, but what keeps us stuck is emotional?

First of all, the issues are incredibly complex; they overwhelm our political, economic and ethical systems (see Reason In A Dark Time: Why The Struggle Against Climate Change Failed — And What It Means To Our Future) — witness the repeated failures or only limited success of the United Nations Convention on Climate Change COP meetings, most recently in Paris, December 2015 — a non-binding agreement to limit global warming to 2°C, hopefully to 1.5°C. Scientific American in April 2016 indicated “The average global temperature change for the first three months of 2016 was 1.48°C” — and that does not include normal overshoot as the system stabilizes (see here for excellent visual representations of how all this has occurred since 1880).

But it’s only 1.5 degrees — so what. Well, look around at the superstorms and the changing weather patterns. They are only the beginning of potential “natural” disasters, at a temperature increase of less than 1.5 degrees. The earth is a very finely balanced ecosystem, with many feedback mechanisms to ensure stability, and we are exceeding the limits of these systems. It is likely that, by 2°C, we will have irreversible changes, including loss of at least 33% of all species on the planet (not yet us, though). By 3°, we could well be into run-away feedback loops that are not reversible, with almost certain loss of civilization for thousands of years, and perhaps our extinction.

But why? I know the issues are complex, and the propensity of modern life is to leave it to the experts. But why have we gotten to this dilemma in the first place? And why are we so passive about global warming? The scientific community is in agreement (at least 97% consensus), but the political morass wages on. Given all this, why do we not stand up and demand change? We actually do, in small ways: witness the Occupy movement, Avaaz, the many activists, but there is not the overwhelming process that we really need. Nor do the many small ways seem to be coming together in coordinated fashion.

So for the next few postings, I am going to be exploring what I believe is blocking us. Essentially I will propose that various features of acedia have been a major part of the problem.

It is possible that in the next few postings I will seem to be critical of almost every human being (including myself) in Western civilization. That is not my intention, but I do want to identify processes that affect almost everyone. Perhaps what I am identifying could be called “the elephants in the room that nobody talks about.” If you feel criticized, please understand that I have the deepest compassion for the struggles of living in the modern era.

The vast majority of people I know are good people — they do many good actions, but they are simply overwhelmed with too much stuff: too much information, too many demands, et cetera. In my book Acedia, I referred to a TED talk on apathy, and also suggested that the numerous subtle difficulties of modern life have become a form of trauma, constantly wearing us down. And in all this, to pay attention to the demands of global warming has just become another demand, especially when confused by the dis-information regarding climate change.

I believe that these people get on with their lives hoping that somehow the “experts” will eventually fix the problem, but I remain doubtful. Over time, I have moved to the stance advocated by The Climate Mobilization as noted in my previous post: the personal costs will be high, but the risks are simply too great.

I suggest there are three mechanisms at play:

  • collective behaviour of groups: in order to act (and overcome fear of criticism), human beings need to exceed a certain threshold of anxiety
  • acedia: a human characteristic is the risk of laziness, fearfulness, and/or self-righteousness as a way to avoid painful experience
  • evil: a more important human characteristic is that which deliberately sabotages movement towards health

In some fashion, acedia is part of all three. I will be commenting on each of these in the next few posts.

Coming next: The threshold of overcoming anxiety

Jamieson, D. (2014). Reason in a Dark Time: Why the Struggle Against Climate Change Failed — and What It Means for Our Future. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Global Warming: My Stance

I truly wonder if we will survive as a species.
I truly wonder if we will survive as a species.

I’ve been ill for the past week, still somewhat frail — it has given me an opportunity to think about what I really want, and why I am writing this blog. Succinctly, I believe that as a species we are on a suicide mission, and as a culture we are incredibly angry; you only have to look at the American politics to see how angry we are, and you only have to look at other situations to see how frustrated. I want to have a positive impact in changing all this.

Therapist: anger management

For almost 25 years, I taught anger management, and I was good. A judge would sometimes specify my weekend program as part of his judgments, to the exclusion of other better-known programs. A Probation Officer send me more that 60 clients for domestic issues over the years — he could only recall two who re-offended (after a while, he kept informal count, and eventually he gave me detailed feedback, published in my book Blowing Out The Darkness). Not all angry people end up with probation issues, but only two poor outcomes out of sixty is astounding.

During my career, I generally noted that my long-term clients fell into two groups. One group was very active in personal growth, and would change their lives in astounding ways; personal growth itself can be painful — these people would work through the pain, arriving at places in their lives where they were deeply satisfied.

My Acedia Clients

The second group was inactive. I came to characterize them as lazy and/or fearful. I am not intending to be pejorative, simply descriptive. By lazy I mean they would say they would do the work, and then produce no results other than excuses. By fearful, they would talk about how painful the work would be if they did it, and that they were afraid of the consequences (they were fearful — this was not fear!).

I eventually came to the conclusion that these issues were a broad reflection of their (unconscious) refusal to be authentic (so-called existential issues) and/or a refusal to engage in the profound beauty of life (one of my definitions of spiritual). I also know that I had no tools to offer — laziness and fearfulness were choices, and all I could do was to challenge the client to live authentically. (Actually, if the client accepted the challenge, the therapy became easy.)

PhD: Climate Change

After about 25 years, I recognized that I needed a break from my career, and the opportunity came for me to do my PhD at a university that emphasized authenticity. I decided that here was my opportunity to study laziness and fearfulness, and started on that journey. (I soon added self-righteousness, and subsumed all three under an ancient word acedia.)

Early in the course work, we were talking about the current state of our society, especially global warming. Given my first university degree was in physics, I easily understood the science and mechanics of global warming — I recognized we were on a suicide course, the extinction of the human species, no ifs! It is that serious. I was devastated, and it took me almost two years to get out of my despair (now long gone, but with residual sadness). So my dissertation became the relationship between acedia and global warming, eventually resulting in my second book Acedia, The Darkness Within, and the darkness of climate change.

Travels

For the next few years, I travelled, and saw a lot of the Caribbean, South America, and some of Europe. I also pondered one of my favorite expressions: “As individual human beings, we are capable of incredible greatness, but as a species, we are psychotic.” (Introverts, especially hermits, are very good at pondering.)

Global warming is a technological issue, but we do not resolve it. We have known about the issues for approximately 50 years, but we have continued on a path of denial and greed, such that now it might be too late. I hope not, and I intend to live as if it is not too late.

And global warming is simply the outcome of our hubris as a species. For perhaps millions of years, the Homo species has lived as hunter-gatherers. Ten thousand years ago (a drop in the bucket), we started to create civilizations through the dynamics of power. Eventually came scientific materialism, our marvelous technology, with hidden costs. And in our hubris, we did not want to pay the costs. Hence, we are where we are . . .

What I Want

About a year ago, after much vacillation, I decided this was not good enough. This is not how I want to spend my life, pondering. I have skills that are important to this whole struggle.

The world needs to mobilize its forces to deal with the ills of civilization. I can assist with this, although it is not my strong point. First, it must be mobilized to resolve global warming, likely at the level demonstrated in the States at the beginning of their direct contribution in the 1940s (see The Climate Mobilization). Second, we must create a more humane culture, one that honors the whole of the planet.

My skill is in being a resource to people who want to do the work. I believe there is a huge amount of anger in the world, even in the people who are doing the work. There is nothing wrong with anger, provided it does not lead to violation, but anger poorly managed leads to burnout, and burnout is not useful to doing the work. And I am very good at the management of both anger and burnout.

Next: What underlies global warming — the nature of acedia.

This post is part of what I am calling the core posts for understanding what I am attempting by this blog. For other core posts, click here.

Contribution: We Must Pay Reparations Before Change Will Occur

Don't shoot the messenger.
Don’t shoot the messenger.

Violations by police occur. I encountered this article via Facebook, and upon reading it, deeply resonated with its content, a content that strongly identifies what I am also wanting to identify as the malaise of our society. As a Canadian, I am not in any way wanting to point fingers at Americans; I believe the thoughts expressed are simply the tip of the iceberg that is our Western society. I have Larry’s permission to copy it here, and thank him for his contribution.

For me, the basic message is two-fold:

  • address the systemic issues. That is where the major difficulties of our culture exists; the individual examples that distress us are simply and mainly examples of how the system works.
  • don’t shoot the messenger. Don’t tolerate violations by the messenger, but don’t shoot the messenger. He or she is simply doing the dictates of the system.

We Must Pay Reparations Before Change Will Occur

Larry Winters, 2016 July 16

What do Americans want?

As a Vietnam Combat veteran I’ve asked this question since 1967. I did my duty in an unjust and immoral war and then came home to find my country directing their rage at me and my fellow veterans, not at the people who engineered and underwrote the war.

Fifty years later, this generational schism has never closed. There is a similar split opening now between the public and the police. We are living through very dangerous times and, of course, Americans want protection from crime and violence by having our police step between us and the perpetrators. But once again we are unable to separate our anger at the root causes from the people and agencies charged with protecting us. And today each mistake a police officer makes becomes a bullhorn for the anguish of living in a dangerous world.

Like American soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq, our police work and live on the front lines. They do not make the rules of engagement. They simply serve the power structure of this country: the politicians, the generals, the congress, the Supreme Court. In turn, the people in those positions are controlled by big business interests, and they are the ones who then determine how well funded troops and police will be in the wars and street battles.

As a result, our country’s policing infrastructure is underfunded, and our police officers are underpaid, undereducated, and inadequately supported by the government and public. Just like Americas veterans. And if our politicians don’t acknowledge this chasm between our public and its protectors, it’s clear we shall step further into pandemonium.

So maybe the question is not what do Americans want, but what do they need? We need to face who we are. Our ancestors have committed courageous acts. They have also participated in holocausts starting with the native peoples of America and continuing on through the promotion of slavery, bigotry, and all the unjust and immoral wars right up to this very day. When we look honestly at how our past and present remain connected, we see a vast moral and financial debt that has never been paid. Years of politicians feeding the public the American dream has lead us to the current capitalist nightmare. The unpaid reparations for our present and historical deeds are nothing more than institutionalized moral corruption.

Instead of owning our past, and attending to social amends necessary for recovering moral balance we continue the legacy that every American has an equal chance at prosperity and safety. Instead of confronting leadership on taking moral responsibility the public and media focuses on the mechanics of our dilemmas, where the burden of change is on the men and women on the front lines. The leadership believes fixing the police, repairs the historical race issues. This over used myopic focus has provided no substantive changes. Only when we begin to pay long owed historical reparations of respect, truthful dialogue, and moral and financial recompense for the human rights we’ve ignored and continue to ignore, will we stop our focus on what Americans want, and consider what Americans need.

Larry is a retired psychotherapist, an ex-combat Marine, and the author of two books: The Making and Unmaking of a Marine and Brotherkeeper.

A question of how to release anger!

The skill is in knowing what to do.
The skill is in knowing what to do.
Anger: the canary in the coal mine

I’ve said earlier why I do anger management. I am not an advocate of anger; rather I am skilled at its management. I also believe that there is little effective teaching in our society as to how to manage anger. Most of the time, we are told we should not be angry, we should be able to contain it, and we should be able to work through the conflicts wherein we are angry. Or: “Let’s talk about it so we can understand why you are angry.”

I will say again that I have little use for the word “should” — see my previous posts, six in all on sloppy language. And in general, I suggest that understanding is the booby prize; it is only useful if it leads to effective action .

In the past, when I was in the early stages of my own therapy, I could easily out-talk most therapist, and talking about my anger did nothing  for me. Fortunately I chose to work with therapists who would not put up with my bull. Early on, one of them said to me I was going to have to pound on a lot of coaches and push on a lot of doors. I took that to heart, and eventually built it into the system I call Blowing Out®, which became my workshop Blowing Out The Darkness! There are four basic principles to Blowing Out:

  • create safety, summarized as No SAD and STOP. Safety is absolutely essential — no compromises here.
    • No SAD: do not intend to scare any human being, do not attack any biological creature, and do not destroy in anger that which you would not destroy in peace.
    • STOP: if anyone feels scared (not intended) and says “Stop,” stop immediately, and find another way to deal with your energy.
  • release the energy anyway that works. learn the message of the energy. Is the anger a manifestation of your powerlessness or is it a result of truly inappropriate actions (lies, promises not kept, etc.) on the part of the other.
  • resolve the conflict, either work on your powerlessness or work on the relationship.
A question on releasing anger

Having said this as preliminary comment, let me now address a question I received today, from someone familiar with my work.

Good morning. I co-facilitate an anxiety and depression support group, and last night was a particularly heavy group. Lots going on in people’s lives. A few of my clients spoke of being very angry and not knowing what to do with their anger. I knew in that moment that the blowing out process would be a very effective skill. I have made the weekend workshop fliers available and shared my personal experience as far as the weekend goes.

I was wanting in that moment to do energy release work with them. I didn’t, but I did offer the skill of screaming into the pillow and pushing in the doorway. What else can I offer with safety and health.

My answer:

Hi

Some thoughts in response to your question of: “What else could I do in the support group I co-facilitate.”

First of all, some assumptions I am making. I assume that you emphasized the primary need for safety of all concerned (especially “No SAD [no scare, no attack, no destroy]” and “STOP” — I know you understand these terms, so I won’t define them further here). Second I assume you have previously discussed my work with your co-facilitator, so that the group leadership is not in conflict with my suggestions. In your indicating that you have shared your personal experiences of the blowing out process, these are both logical assumptions for me.

I’m not sure what you mean by “I was wanting in that moment to do energy release work with them. I didn’t but I did offer the skill of screaming into the pillow and pushing in the doorway.” I assume you talked about the release methods, perhaps demonstrated them.  In general, people do not learn from instructions; they learn from experiences, which can then be discussed. Normally what I do is to demonstrate screaming into a pillow and/or pushing in a doorway, so as to show:

  • how easy it is to do, and
  • how to do it safely (for example, make sure you emphasize pushing from the pelvis, not from the back or screaming with an open throat, not a close one).

I also generally demonstrate a) silent screaming and b) management of anxiety by the Valsalva maneuver or square breathing. As you know, there are many other options.

Once demonstrated, I ask for a volunteer, ideally someone unfamiliar with the impact of energy release, to explore how to do it (whichever method they choose) and how it feels. Then I coach the volunteer (who may still be very reluctant) to engage as fully as possible, perhaps again doing my own demonstration. I emphasize that the process of release is not mechanical, and ask the individual truly to put their emotion into the release. To the best of my ability, I make the process playful — we learn better when we play. If the release is effective, frequently the individual will say something like: “I never knew before that I could feel like this!”

I then ask the individual about the felt sense in their body, and what memories it brings up — seeking to explore the message hidden within the anger. Is the feeling familiar (powerlessness of self), or do they have the sense that the other person or situation is truly inappropriate (inappropriate to both themselves and to an average person)? The actual release work is only the tip of the iceberg; eventual empowerment of the individual is the goal.

From that message, I would then explore what needs to change for the individual. Does the individual need to work on their own powerlessness, or do they need to find ways to deal with the external conflict with the other? (Usually, the distinction between self and other is quite clear. The individual might need further coaching or therapy with either of these.)

So, what else? First, I would return to the subject of blowing out at the next meeting, reviewing the principles and asking if any questions. Repetition of information is essential in our fast-paced world. And, did anyone explore energy release at home? The difficulty with self-exploration here (at least in early attempts) is that we human beings are masters of avoiding our own issues. Depending on answers to these questions, I would ask people:

  • what is the positive intention of your anger?
  • what is the positive intention of avoidance of your anger? and
  • what would you lose if you gave up your anger?

Although the question of positive intention seems a simple question, it is a powerful one, and one that many people have difficulty answering. And most people can tell what they would gain if they gave up their anger, but what would they lose requires deeper thought (because they hold on to it for good but generally unconscious reason). Just asking these questions invites people to take personal responsibility for their own issues, and eventually to shift into exploring how much they avoid what life offers.

Also, at the next meeting, I would indicate that there are many other ways to release. I would emphasize that what is essential is the engagement in the emotion, and moving to exhaustion of the energy, SAFELY. Tell your own personal stories of when it helped you, and how.

Finally, you can remind people:

  • some release methods are noisy; others are very quiet. In all, they can be safe.
    • do it safely. If not safe, they generally won’t do it, and they will likely generate more problems if they attempt to release when not safe for both themselves and others.
    • they can do it anywhere, for example, in their car with the windows closed.
  • of how unhealthy the general population is.
    • “shoulds” are a measure of the social norms, and that people ‘should’ others as a way to sooth their own anxiety.
    • the more effective their changing, the less people will like it.
  • attendance at the Blowing Out The Darkness weekend would give them more details, and a host of other skills (and remind them there is a sliding scale for costs).

So, I hope all this helps. Ask more questions as needed.

Why I do anger management

So sad.
So sad.

In one sense, this post is a digression on my current theme of visioning a mature society. But it also gets to the heart of the matter of how we are to get to this vision. For me, anger is the canary in the coal mine, and it has movement.

First, what a blog offers me.

In doing a blog, I am forced by its structure: It needs to be short and fairly concise, neither of which really suits my need to present depth. However, I go in a number of interesting directions.

  • I give major attention to how blogs attract people, a significant learning curve for me.
    • I use more lists and more subheadings — they apparently attract more attention. (Because of information overload, people seek very brief bites of information, thus very stressful and dysfunctional. Efficient, but sad!)
    • I keep the posts relatively short, forcing me to be more precise. Likely a good thing.
  • I use my meditation practice (approximately 40 minutes a day) as a way to reflect; thereby, I access my other-than-conscious mind, a very powerful workhorse for me.
  • In having pause time between blogs, I develop very interesting (to me) side-branches to the themes I want to present.

So, why anger management?

I focused on anger management as a therapist largely because anger was so much a part of my own life. With this, I soon came to realize that anger is a part of every life issue. Thus I had the opportunity to study the whole of life.

In that sense, anger is a window to cultural issues, and is a canary in the coal mine. If you want to improve any situation, augment the positives and diminish the negatives. As applied to mine conditions, for example, you work on a) education for better conditions, and b) improving the ventilation system. But if you don’t change the ventilation, education does little good. From my perspective, if our culture does not deal long-term with the underlying anger in healthy ways, much (all?) of the positive movement is ineffective.

In addition, anger has movement; it is a push against the environment. Eventually in my therapy practice, I realized that the people who were stuck were either lazy (they wouldn’t do the work) or fearful (they were afraid of the consequences of the work) — I’m not being critical here, simply attempting to identify. So in retirement, I decided to research laziness and fearfulness as the focus of my PhD. (Eventually I subsumed laziness and fearfulness, plus self-righteousness, into the ancient word, acedia.)

There are two problems with acedia:

  • there is no movement; acedia is a stuck state, and requires an existential choice by the individual that they will not stay stuck; they will move through whatever the issues are.
  • acedia is the dominant factor that has lead to the issues of climate change. As a culture, we have been unwilling to do the work of choosing a world based on justice and health.

Thus, for me, anger management has been my path to health, both individually and culturally. I’ve learned much thereby, both about the negatives and the positives.

Now, back to cultural visioning (unless I develop another digression). :)))

This post is part of what I am calling the core posts for understanding what I am attempting by this blog. For other core posts, click here.