Love

I read out the first chapter of my memoir to my writers group recently. Part of which gives a basic outline of the dynamic of a romantic relationship I was in many years ago. A relationship that didn’t work out too well. I felt at the time I read it that there was an element of risk involved in opening up to a group of people, some of whom might not be able to take on board the story without being able to be nonjudgmental about it. I needn’t have been concerned, as they were quite accepting really. I’m always open to questions though, but when someone asked, “did you love her?” I have to confess I was a little taken aback, and responded, rather glibly, “define love”. I noticed one or two knowing nods from my audience and realised that I had struck a chord here, and a fairly common one at that.

Many people have written on the subject of love for millennia. It’s a subject that occupies a great deal of humanities time and attention, and I don’t think anyone has ever come close to a satisfactory definition of it. Apart from one that kind of appealed to me a very long time ago, and I’ll get to that shortly.

There have been times in my life when I have turned to other thinkers about the subject. One of these people was an artist, poet and philosopher by the name of Kahlil Gibran. He wrote a poem entitled “Love”, and three lines of this poem really hit me when I first read it. They were:

Love gives naught but itself and takes naught but from itself.

Love possesses not nor would it be possessed;

For Love is sufficient unto Love.

Now, I’d like to look at this thing we call Love from the perspective of this Blog I write. Which is sub-titled, “A mental health Blog”. I’d like to look at it as a mental health issue.

So did I love this woman I was with for ten years of my life; I believe I did. She also professed to love me, but one thing she said to me occasionally was that she wasn’t “in love with me”. At that time I wasn’t sure what she meant, and I’m not entirely clear on the matter now to be honest.

One thing I have learned over time is that we seem to feel the need to put this feeling we call love into categories. So we have something like, mother love, sexual love, puppy love, erotic love, romantic crushes and obsessive love. You name it and we could probably find room for the word love in there somewhere. We even use it to describe what could be seen by some as apparent cruelty, in the form of tough love. Throughout history it has remained an incredibly powerful word, used to excuse all manner of atrocity as much as acts of goodness.

A rock band called R.E.M., (bear with me I’m going somewhere with this honest) were very popular some years ago. One of their best loved tracks was titled, “everybody hurts”. It was aimed at people who were at their lowest ebb emotionally, and was meant to reassure them that all emotional pain had an end to it. The words urged them to hang on in there as, however sad and lonely they felt right now, these feelings would pass and that there were people out there who did care. It’s a lovely song and I would urge anyone to seek it out and give it a listen.

I have a lot of favourite quotes from a variety of sources, and one of them is still quite apt for me as, if not a definition, then certainly a kind of touchstone reminder. It goes, “love is the way anyone would naturally feel about someone, if there wasn’t any hurt in the way.” Now on one level that statement sounds incredibly trite and simplistic, as one only has to look at the current state of the human race, to realise that there’s an awful lot of pain around and precious little love.

For me however that statement goes right to the nub of the problem in regard to understanding love. It’s a feeling that we are born with. One that connects us with other beings like ourselves. Absolutely key to our health and well-being to the degree that we cannot thrive, or sadly in some cases even survive without it. Unfortunately life is not perfect for us. There are joys yes, but also plenty of painful events that lay down a lot of emotional scar tissue. Some of these events are random and there’s not a lot we can do about those. As they say, shit happens. A lot of this pain though, is laid down via a kind of social contagion. Put simply, we get hurt, and if we don’t fully recover from that hurt we risk passing it on to others.

One of the things that I really feel strongly about in counselling is that at its core, it’s not about flashy techniques or methods. More important than anything that might have been learned in some diploma course or PHD, is that sense of common humanity that exists in everyone. As a client I have felt that some of the most profound insights into my own psyche have occurred when I picked up that my counsellor genuinely felt and believed that my negativity about myself had no basis in truth at all. I’ve been lucky enough to also experience this shift from the other side of the fence too. When as a counsellor I have allowed my own common humanity, compassion and empathy to come through and witnessed the person in front of me blossom as a result.

To me this is love. It’s not possessed by special people who are trained to use it to help others. It’s there in all of us. Maybe running in the background for some; but it is there. All we need to do is to practice checking in on it as often as we can and give it the chance to be expressed and heard.

Leadership

I stand accused of being a fraud because even though I refuse to take on the designation and role of leader, my actual behaviour suggests otherwise apparently. So I’m kind of wondering what it is I am doing that is giving this impression. I’ve always had a sense of what is right or correct, a strong sense of responsibility, an interest in new ideas and a desire to communicate those ideas. I like to think I’m a good communicator of those ideas. I aim to care for and think about the people in my life and to help them when I can and when appropriate, occasionally It’s been suggested that I’m a bit charismatic!? I’m not too sure about that last one. I happen to believe that the others are perfectly normal human traits available to everyone to a greater or lesser degree.

A couple of years ago I was approached by someone, who said that they had been giving some thought to my becoming a leader within the network of peer counsellors that I had reconnected with. I was a bit taken aback by this pronouncement and my gut response was to say, “well good luck with that one”, a response which was just as much of a surprise to them. I think what irked me about it at the time was that, at no point was I given any advanced notice about this decision. My input hadn’t been sought. To me it was a thoroughly unworkable way of going about things; for someone else to decide that I was going to, “be” something.

My own past experiences in leadership have been pretty much disastrous; particularly for me. It’s not a role that I would naturally choose for myself, and I think with good reason. I’m someone who feels far more comfortable in the background, I really don’t like being the centre of attention, and as a leader being up front and centre is a key part of the territory. And yes, I do know the advice is that everyone needs to step out of their comfort zone now and then, but it still has to be my decision and my choice. Otherwise it could do more damage than good.

It seems to me that the minute someone is designated, or designates themself, as a leader, it immediately becomes open season for anyone who wants to take a pot shot at them. The shooter may not even have any grievance against the person who has taken on the role. It’s just the office of leader itself that seems to be the target.

So what is this thing called leadership? I think part of the problem is that there doesn’t seem to be a clear definition of the role. Ask six different people to define it and you’ll probably get six different descriptions. Each leader will also have their own ideas about leading.

Thinking about it, I’m wondering who the first leader was that any of us can remember? It was probably a parent or another significant adult in our early lives. Someone we looked up to for guidance, teaching and support. Sometimes they got things right and sometimes they got things wrong. That’s the nature of being a parent; it also seems to be the nature of being a leader.

I consider myself a working class man who also, earlier in life, fell foul of the mental health system. I tend to see those two institutions, the class system and the mental health system as in cahoots. The latter as an agent of the former. I guess a psychiatrist would suggest that was just my paranoia but, as someone else has said, “just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you”.

I’m the first to admit that I have something of an issue with authority. It always seemed to me that leadership, when practised on me, was more about control than a benign form of management. From when I was a dot, bigger people than me were hell bent on trying to shape me into something. Something that was more of an image of what they wanted me to be. Starting with parents and the older siblings in my family. Then I was handed over to teachers, doctors and any other authority figure in society for them to continue the moulding and shaping of my personality. This was the path of, not just my life, but of everyone around me. Eventually I entered the world of work, where the moulding and shaping went into overdrive. Any individual thinking or innovative suggestion was frowned upon, and if I dared to question the logic of any authority, well that was usually met with a firm put down.

So given the models of authority and leadership that have been imposed on me for all of my life, is it any wonder that I’m reluctant to take on the role myself. I’ve no desire to be like any of them. Let alone put up with the flack that would inevitably come my way.

Anniversary

Around about now is the anniversary of my formally joining the writers group I’m in. I’d been attending the meetings for a few months previously, so I felt like I’d had a good introduction. I was invited along there by a woman I’d got talking to in a walking group I’d been part of for a few years. She happened to mention that she was a writer of crime novels, and although it’s not a genre that I’m particularly interested in, I had been considering getting back into memoir writing for some time. I’ll be ever grateful to her for encouraging me to come along to the group.

I don’t generally have a good track record with groups of any description but I seem to have dropped lucky with this one. I’ve rarely come across a nicer bunch of people. A previous writers group I had been in seemed to have members in it who felt they had to offer critical appraisal and advice to other members; something that was unhelpful to me, for reasons I’ll go into shortly.

In my current group everyone is genuinely respectful and interested in the work of their fellow authors. Any advice or critique is only given if solicited by the writer, and everyone is careful to be constructive and not cruel. The atmosphere is such, that I’ve found it really helpful in kickstarting my writing again. I’ve even gained a little more confidence in reading my work aloud in the presence of others. However, I still struggle with many aspects of writing and I’m still quite wary of so-called constructive criticism or advice. The reasons for this go back a long way.

I’m always surprised when people are praiseworthy of their childhood experience of school. I occasionally hear them express a desire to return to those happy days. I’m pleased for them I really am, but my own experience of education and much of childhood was horrendous. Schooling, whether at home or in the class room, was brutal and critical. The adults around me seemed more inclined to point out where I’d gone wrong than dish out anything that even vaguely smacked of praise.

When I was at primary school, I remember we were issued with new, shiney, red “Silverline” exercise books. On the back of these were a lot of arithmetical formulae, including multiplication tables from 2 to 12, and we were given these times tables as our first introduction to homework. Homework that my dad decided he was going to help me with. We sat down together at the dining table to start work, but within a few minutes he lost all patience with me, scolded me and dragged me to my room and shut me in, stating that I wouldn’t be allowed out until I’d learned them off by heart. Needless to say I was in tears, and to this day I have a clear memory of lying sobbing on my bed and wishing I could climb inside a crack in the plasterwork just above my head. I wanted to curl up and hide warm and safe in there. I struggled with figures for the rest of my life after that one formative incident.

Sadly, the rest of my education was pretty similar. At primary school most of my teachers were women, but from then on around 90% were male and many of them were pretty disciplinarian. I became quite good at the more creative subjects, and come to think of it, most of those subjects were taught by women who generally had a teaching style that was less strict than their male counterparts. So I learned to enjoy art and craftwork and, curiously, essays. The latter probably because of the creative element of storytelling. Writing and composition though, were things I learned to dread. For some reason I struggled to understand punctuation and grammar. To this day I don’t really get it, so I try to keep my style pared down to basic and simple.

Handwriting was another nightmare. I grew to hate exercises and tests. My hard work always came back with negative, sarcastic comments. Usually along the lines of likening my style to that of a spider that had walked through a pool of ink. Eventually I got to the stage of developing writer’s cramp within minutes of putting pen to paper. I even gave up cursive writing in favour of block text, which took longer but was at least readable.

For many years I avoided writing anything unless I absolutely had to. Then one day something happened that set me free. It was the creation of the word processor. God bless whoever it was that first developed that machine. I’d looked at typewriters occasionally, but decided that I would waste as much paper with one of those as with my handwriting. The thing that impressed me about word processors was that everything I typed into it appeared on a full page on the screen in front of me. Not only that, but I could save the document to be recalled later for editing. It was wonderful!

So this anniversary, for me, is one that is well worth celebrating. Because it’s the anniversary of meeting a group of people, whose kindness and non judgmental attitude have contributed to boosting my confidence considerably over the last few years. Thank you to all of you.

Trilogy

I came across this poem I wrote many years ago, and thought it seemed quite appropriate to our current situation with Covid-19. It’s not exactly cheery, but the third part is, hopefully, uplifting.

ISOLATION/LONELINESS/SOLITUDE (a trilogy).

ISOLATION.

Outcast.
Constantly trying to connect,
With eyes that look past.

A taunted leper.
Forced to ring a bell,
Not to attract, oh no,
To repel.

Held back with poles.
Lest I be touched
And contaminate,
Purer souls.

LONELINESS.

Rescuing fingertips
Just out of reach.
As your feet feel the ledge,
Crumbling beneath.

Forever falling through space.
The constant apprehension of impact,
Without its blessed release.

SOLITUDE.

Silver blue reflection fingers,
Smooth out creases
In a moonlit lake.

A crisp fresh wilderness dawn,
Pierced by the song
Of one small bird.

The gentlest collision with self.
Finding, at last,
Love at first sight.

19-04-92. 7am.

????

Warning….if you’re looking for an uplifting read, then this one isn’t for you. Just give it a miss.

I am not in the best of places right now. Like everyone else, I guess, this whole thing just gets to me. Early on I went through the Dunkirk spirit bit of the lockdown. That all for one, one for all thing that gripped the whole country. And that was fine for awhile, but now it’s starting to wear a bit thin, and I’m noticing that many are beginning to be quicker to anger or at least irritability.

I guess that’s the normal way of these things. When people’s lives are turned upside down there is bound to be a reaction. I just feel I’m surrounded by a quietly simmering rage…with a smile on the surface of it. Everybody is pretending to be okay…really.

My personal issue is that a few years ago I took the decision to pull myself out of the rut that I felt I was stuck in. I had moved to another part of the country, leaving behind all of the contacts and social outlets I had. I don’t make new relationships easily. So for quite awhile I became isolated and shutdown. I had to make a conscious effort to build a new social network. It took me several years to build it, but slowly and surely I got there. My weekly diary began to fill up to the point where it became difficult to fit everything in. As a result, my general mood lifted. I realised that I needed other people, (that is, people other than my immediate family) and the activities that go with those relationships.

Then came lockdown, and everything that I’d worked hard to build up was suddenly knocked down. Okay, things are slowly beginning to open up again, but it’s not the same. Meeting up with people while having to be mindful of staying clear of them, holding conversations while wearing masks, cleaning everything down after it’s been handled. No one considers that to be even close to normal life.

I don’t want to sound self pitying, but I feel I’m drifting into an institutionalised state of being. It’s getting harder to motivate myself into doing anything. I’m sure many people feel the same way. Even this blog post is the first one I’ve done in weeks.

I’m sure I’ll climb out of this at some point; something will shift, hopefully. It usually does.

Lockdown (or, I love you dearly……but)

Well there’s a thing. Those who know me are aware that a lot of my time working as a client, in my counselling, has been spent trying to recover from a deeply ingrained sense of isolation. It seems that I now have that in common with many others.

However, while many are literally stuck home alone, I am locked down with my wife, my stepson and his four year old daughter. This is an entirely new learning curve for all of us. I can’t speak for the other three, (although I’m quite good at observation so maybe more of them later), but I can try to lay down what I’m going through at the moment.

I lived on my own for quite a few years, and being a practical person I managed very well. But the one thing I found myself craving was human contact. Curiously, it wasn’t a need for physical contact. No, it was a need to be in the middle of a crowd. They didn’t need to be people I knew. I just needed the comfort of people milling around me going about their daily business. There was a time when I would walk regularly from my home into the city centre. Not because I had anything to shop for but just because I knew it would be a hive of activity. I would sit for ages in a cafe nursing a tea or coffee and just soak up what was going on around me. Believe me, if there is such a thing as forest bathing, then there’s also such a thing as crowd bathing.

Fast forward to today and lockdown Britain. What a contrast, empty streets, empty shops, cafes closed. Even when people do go out there is no hustle bustle, just a purposeful focused trip to the supermarket, grab what’s needed and straight back home. Most people are friendly enough, but a polite nod and a smile from a couple of metres away is all we allow each other. Then it’s move on quickly to the next item on the list. We’re all learning to be afraid of each other. It’s a bit like some bizarre form of Russian Roulette; is this the shopping trip when I catch the Covid 19 bullet?

I’m not sure how much longer this voluntary distancing from others of our species can be maintained; before it begins to badly affect people’s mental stability. That we are a social species is written into our DNA. Yes we have our hermits, but they are quite rare, and the sanity of many of them is questionable. Even our closest relatives, the great apes, monkeys and lemurs, live in clans or troupes. To take one individual out of their group causes that individual great distress. They don’t just need to be around each other either. They have a strong drive to touch, hug and groom each other. All of this activity reinforces their sense of security and belonging.

We’re really not much different from them. We might like to think of ourselves as independent and self sufficient and we strive towards that apparent ideal. At our core though, we need other people. So what about people who are locked down and isolating together, so to speak. Well, talk to any two people who have been living together as married partners for any length of time and I’m willing to bet that, as much as they still (hopefully) love each other, they have learned of certain aspects of each other’s personality and behaviour that they cannot stand.

There’s a good reason that married couples urge their offspring not to rush into marriage. Experience has taught them that the first flush of romance, that being in love stage, eventually mellows down. Then the real time consuming bit of getting to know each other begins. Hopefully, much of this is positive. But with the best will in the world, no two people can be everything to each other. As the quote goes, “you are never one, you are always two”.

We know that, if we’ve been with our partners for any length of time, that there are areas where even angels fear to tread. We’ve learned that we just don’t go there. That this person is never going to see things our way. That they are never going to see how irritating that little habit or mannerism is, that they just don’t appear to even notice in themselves. So we adapt and learn to accommodate each other’s peculiarities.

We are all individuals, and we all want and need different things. No two people can be everything to each other. So we all need to find the fulfilment of some of our needs outside of our familial group. And let’s get this straight right now, I’m not talking about anything carnal here; that’s for another writing. No, I’m talking about the things that we have learned over time that our nearest and dearest just don’t get about us. But we know that outside of this small familial circle are other people who do get us. This group of people are going to be more important than ever during lockdown.

Pandemic

If anyone had used the phrase, “mean streets of Market Bosworth” twelve months ago, Billy would have laughed in their face. This was just a sleepy old market town wasn’t it, nothing ever happened here. Oh, but how quickly things changed when that bug kicked in. So here he was defying the curfew, shuffling down back entries and trying to avoid the street lights; he was thankful there were very few of them now. He was heading to meet a dealer. Not his usual one, as he’d been taken out by a rival gang. By all accounts this new guy drove a hard bargain. Billy stepped out onto Shenton Lane, scanning up and down as he did so. Police weren’t too much of a worry, he usually fobbed them off with some sob story about his grandma being ill with the bug. No, it was the vigilante groups that were of more concern to him. More often they were made up of local gang members, and they wouldn’t take kindly to him meeting up with a rival dealer.

He slipped into the shadow of the local cemetery entrance, and there he was. A short stocky bloke who looked like he could take care of himself. Although Billy knew he wouldn’t be on his own. No, not too far away there would be a couple of heavies hidden in the shadows. These two would be checking up and down the road for police or vigilantes, but also to be on hand in case of ‘difficult’ customers.

From a respectable distance – nobody got close anymore – Billy introduced himself. The guy said nothing, but stepped over and popped the boot on his black BMW. Yes, billy thought to himself, these guys were doing pretty well out of this dark market. The trick for them was staying alive long enough to enjoy their ill gotten wealth. Cautiously billy peered over into the boot, and his heart skipped a beat. There, nestling in a sports bag, was what he had come for. He moved a little closer, oh my, he thought. Now, he knew enough to know that some of this stuff was coloured. Just a little trick to attract the punters. However, there was no trace of dye here. He looked a little closer, and there they were. The tell tale criss cross markings. These were the real McCoy. For a split second he entertained the notion of grabbing the bag and legging it, but he knew the minders would be on him in a heartbeat.

So he opened up with an offer and the haggling started. Billy was banking on the fact of this being such quality stuff, that the dealer would want to shift it quickly. He would not want to get caught with a boot full of this. He managed to get him down 50% from his starting price and handed over fifteen quid. Then he slipped his prize into the plain shopping bag he hoped would be enough of a disguise and set off for home. Secretly he hated himself for this. He should be stronger willed for god’s sake. He’d tried to go cold turkey, but the inevitable abdominal cramps just proved too much.

Safely indoors, he opened his bag and peered into its depths. He caught his breath. Oh, what bliss, what ecstasy he was going to experience, for there almost glowing in the half light at the bottom of the bag, were two pure white, quilted, luxury, toilet rolls.

Nature or Nurture

My previous blog post, Schism, got me thinking about human behaviour. You know, just for a change. In particular how we tend to use blanket terminology to describe behaviour that often we don’t fully comprehend in people. In particular the term, “human nature”. It got me thinking about what exactly is natural within a human? How much of our behaviour is written into our genetic code, and how much is written in through our life’s learning through experience? Strictly speaking, can that learning through experience really be considered natural, or should it be considered as something else such as the nurturing or shaping of personality via external factors?

I got to thinking about babies, and how pretty well researched their behaviour is; even pre birth. We’ve learned a lot about how they develop and of how that development can be affected, both positively and negatively. We’ve learned how important the first few years of life can be for the development of mind and personality.

When I first began to consider the method of personal development I wanted to do, way back in the late 1960s, I decided to look into where it had come from. Information was harder to come by back then, (now we just Google it!) and it was even harder to verify it’s sources.

One thing that cropped up a lot was something of an urban legend that circulated through the groups and classes. A story of how someone was asked to take in and look after a person who had had some sort of a breakdown. A breakdown that had resulted in them being quite shut down and uncommunicative. As they had taken them into their home, they were able to observe their behaviour close up. One of the first things they noticed was that they could burst into tears quite randomly for apparently no reason that anyone could fathom. Over time though, they also noticed that the tearfulness episodes became fewer and further apart and that their general demeanour and behaviour seemed to improve.

This person eventually got to the point where they were well enough that they were able to leave and get on with their life. The people who looked after them became curious about what was going on here. Was what they had witnessed some sort of healing process for the individual? Could this be replicated in some way; so that they could learn more about it? A decision was made to do further research, using themselves as guinea pigs. Eventually, over a number of years, enough observational data was collected for them to arrive at some conclusions about the true difference between nature and nurture in humans.

A key conclusion was that the innate nature of people, the one they were born with, was pretty good. That individuals were cooperative, creative, intelligent, loving and caring. These traits were assumed to be written into human DNA. Where things went wrong, it was concluded, was in the nurture side of human development; particularly after birth. Now the word nurture is something of a loaded one. It’s meaning is expressed as something positive. But if it is used as an expression of assisting development, then it’s useful to keep in mind that some aspects of development can also have a negative affect.

The theory put forward was, that although the innate nature of people was deemed to be fundamentally good, that nature was vulnerable to damage post birth. Put simply, we can be hurt. We can not only be hurt physically, but also emotionally and psychologically. These hurts can be installed by accident or by some form of social contagion. The good news was, that just as our body can heal physically, we also had the ability to heal emotionally and psychologically. Given the opportunity, this healing process would happen spontaneously. The outward sign of this healing was the release of painful feelings; what we observe as crying (for grief), raging (for anger) and shaking or trembling (for fear).

So it seems to me that schism in human groups, in this theoretical model, has little to do with the true nature of humans; since that loving cooperative stuff in our DNA would cancel it out. Solutions for better communication and understanding would be found. Schism must arise from the damage laid in over individual life spans. Damage that distorts and blocks rational thinking and preventing the individual from seeing the options for cooperation at their disposal.

Now this raises another question for me. Which is, how come the two groups mentioned in my previous blog post on Schism, who each had the same skill base for resolving conflict, did not apply that skill base to resolving their differences? I’m wondering if each group shares a common blind spot that prevents them from seeing not only where their own thinking is blocked, but where the other group may be struggling also.

Birth

My mother once told me that I didn’t want to be born. Which I thought was a curious thing to come out with. I’ve always assumed that she meant I was a prolonged labour for her. Considering she’d had five children before me I’m guessing that the process of giving birth is supposed to be quicker and more straightforward. But then, I’m Male, so what do I know.

But that statement, “you didn’t want to be born,” got me thinking. What if that was actually the case? After all, being a foetus is a pretty cushy number when you think about it. Inside the womb it’s warm, safe and very cosy. Sustenance comes automatically as and when required. Nothing is demanded of you at all. There’s time to think and dream. Why would you want to leave?

It has been said, that a foetus is effectively a parasite; with the mother being the host. It may well be an active parasite, in the sense that it can take over it’s host in order to be sure that it’s own needs are met; affecting it’s hosts behaviour and to some extent controlling the behaviour of the host to ensure its own needs are catered for. You may think that eating lumps of charcoal or jar after jar of peanut butter is an odd thing to do, but maybe baby knows best.

At around the time that my mother came out with her little revelation. I was not in a very good place. So I was fishing for any snippets of information about what was going on in my early years. I was also thinking and writing a lot about my situation at the time of her statement. Given the dark place my head was in it probably wasn’t the best time to begin to speculate, about how I may have experienced my own entrance into the world. But that’s what I did, and I tried to document what the experience of a less than perfect birth might be from the point of view of the baby being born. I think it was a valiant attempt, given that a baby doesn’t possess the language needed to describe its experience of what’s happening.

Of course I have no way of knowing what a baby is feeling or thinking at the time of birth. It may well be that there is some form of natural anaesthesia that kicks in at the time; shielding the infant from distress and pain. So I think that the writing needs to be taken with a largish pinch of salt. It was written in one go, just getting down the thoughts as they came into my head. Reading it now, I find it more than a little embarrassing. However, I’ll leave the reader to make up their own mind about it.

TRANSITION. (13th June 1991)

Claws buried in a body no bigger than a newborn lamb.

Crushing muscle and bone,

Compressing head into chest.

Twisting neck muscles, not yet strong enough to shake the head in protest.

A mind not yet formed enough to know what head shaking means.

A being composed of flesh and feelings and needs.

Thrown into space from it’s liquid sleeping place.

Where it had lain cushioned and supported in warmth and soft light.

The only sensations, safety and nurturance.

Every need catered for automatically by it’s miniature universe.

New sensations, suddenly not safe.

As the universe collapses, crushing flesh, pressing down.

New inexplicable feelings and no knowledge or intellect to make sense of them.

Imminent death?

Sudden recognition of something other than current state.

Fast becoming previous state.

Survive!…Go back!…Hang on!

But no…

First learnings of powerlessness, as crushing forces destroy

The trust of a safe place.

Now coldness and blinding white light, noise.

An alien void, huge, incomprehensible.

And a new sense of beings other than self.

As creature grips flesh with claws, tearing from a safe place.

New learnings of powerlessness, terror and pain.

Schism

Way back in the 1960s there was a flowering of alternatives to the norms of life at that time. In general, the whole of that decade saw a number of revolutionary shifts in society. It seemed to be de rigueur to challenge and turn upside down pretty well anything that had been standard social practice. There were experiments with different lifestyles, religious practices, work patterns and pretty much anything else.

One of the revolutions that was of particular interest to me, was the mental health revolution. Much of the standard treatment within the health service was being challenged. There was a proliferation of different therapeutic models that were presented as being more workable than the treatments offered at that time. Treatments like medication and electro convulsive therapy were considered to be brutal, outdated and ultimately unworkable.

Instead, people began setting up therapeutic communities, encounter groups, primal scream workshops and meditation classes. Some of these ideas and practices came over from America while others came from the Far East. As an impressionable and rather introverted teenager who had been diagnosed as suffering from depression and anxiety and had also become rather disillusioned with my treatment, I began to research some of these alternatives.

I eventually settled on one particular model. I think I was attracted to it at the time because it appeared to be very egalitarian. It didn’t appear to rely on an expert or trained professional. Pretty well anyone could pick up what seemed to be fairly basic skills and put them into practice. The core relationship was a peer one. That is, there was no patient and professional sitting opposite each other. Just two people who had mutually agreed to share time with each other. Put simply, the time was divided equally with one person giving attention, while the other talked and explored their thoughts and feelings for half that time. Then they swapped roles for the other half.

I didn’t realise it at the time, but there was a fair amount of disagreement between the leadership in America and the leadership in the UK. At my grass roots level, I was simply keen to get the theory and skills firmly integrated into my life. So I went along to workshops and met the other beginners in the area. I duly did as I was instructed and set up sessions with the other people in the group and gradually built up the hours of experience required by everyone in order to become fully integrated into the network.

I only became aware of the schism that had come out of the initial disagreements between the American and UK leaders some years down the line. It seems that for some time I had been attending groups from both factions, and very likely had been working with individuals who had been taught in these different groups. At that time in my life I was very quiet and introverted and, I’m guessing here, people didn’t notice that I was moving between the two networks. Now I’m also guessing that quite a few people in those early days were doing the same thing, because the look and feel of the groups was very similar.

The schism, it seems, was more to do with the organisational and structural differences between the UK and the US. The American network was seen as having very much a top down autocratic structure. Whereas, in the UK, a more Laissez faire and democratic structure seemed to be the preferred model.

Sadly, and to me somewhat counter productively, this schism deepened overtime. To the degree that there are now two distinct networks each using a similar methodology. It has gotten to the point that the two networks no longer communicate or have anything to do with each other. Within my own geographical area I have learned that there are people from both factions. That there are individuals, probably not too far away from me, that I’m not permitted to work with because they’re part of the “other” network. I find this exasperating. It seems to mirror the political, religious and cultural divisions that exist throughout humanity.

The other thing that happens within these two factions, and again this is something that is mirrored by all sorts of other groups throughout the world, is that a fair amount of misinformation is put out by each group about the other. Which to me just seems to perpetuate the idea that somehow the “other” is heretical. All of this behaviour is also a complete contradiction of the core fundamental belief of each faction, that all humans are completely good, cooperative, caring, loving individuals who are striving to be the best person they possibly can be. Also, that all that is required of each individual to achieve their full potential is to use the basic skills of the counselling; that is, getting together to share time and give each other full, respectful and non judgemental attention. Go figure, people.