The Brink of Upheaval
Have you ever been in a situation faced with an important challenge that felt insurmountable by your usual methods of coping and problem solving? Into every life flows crisis. Every breath rides on the brink of upheaval. Every human beat of a heart holds within it a turning point, a crossroads. A time, when the “old way” or the “comfortable way” or even maybe the “only way” we know, is threatened. Threatened and challenged and possibly found to be unusable. What once was our key to our future has become a useless artifact of a past once perfectly fitted.
Who Holds the Key?
They can take so many forms: You catch your husband cheating on you or you make a vow to stay with someone through thick and thin. You have a week to live or you’re gonna be a new daddy. Or maybe you got fired or ran out of money. What you thought was true is not. What you thought was not, is. These are cataclysmic crisis situations. At these crossroads, we must make a choice. Continue to use old ways and methods that are no longer working? Or, I shudder to speak it, change…our…ways. Ouch, no thanks. Most times I would rather blame outside forces who are conspiring against me than admit that I myself may need a course correction. Hubris will get you every damn time. However, these are sacred, life-altering times these so-called incipient moments of crisis.
Crisis As Opportunity
This week we will crack open our moments of crisis. We will train ourselves to view these moments as opportunities to find new paths we never saw before. Most know about the Chinese word for crisis and how some people say it means “danger” plus “opportunity.” Here are my 2 cents: Wei (危) means “danger.” Ji (机) means “a point of juncture. Danger is easy to grasp. Danger means something that is potentially harmful, risky or not preferred. It is mysterious and requires your full undivided attention if you wish to go unscathed. A juncture is where two things join and generally seems to be risky business. So much can go wrong…or right. Any union can be challenging and fraught with difficulties. When two become one and that one is, at the same time, a product of what came before, and yet, at the same time, new and altogether itself!
Welcome the New
What two things are coming together in the Chinese idea of crisis? That’s right, you and your new way of dealing with your life! You and a new way of thinking. You and a revised method of living. Loving your life again and in new ways never fathomed before. This is a crisis on a monumental level. Your olds ways have admittedly failed. But not all of you has failed. Just certain ideas and behaviors have betrayed our true futures. A new method can be learned and applied. It will be dangerous and difficult. However, if we “refuse to let a good crisis go to waste” as Winston Churchill quipped once, we will reap the inevitable boons. We may even learn, like an ancient master, to (dare I say?) welcome crisis. Welcoming crisis? Audacity! Yes. Believe this. Points of juncture are inherently dangerous. They are also inherently rewarding.
Crisis Is a Blessing
There is an image in Zen Buddhism involving yanas. A yana is a vehicle. A way to get from one place of understanding to another place of understanding. You find yourself on an unhappy shore in a land of confusion and sorrow. You see across the water, a new land! A land of clarity and joy. You must get there. But how? You construct a yana. In this case, a boat. With tremendous effort, you row yourself to the other shore and find yourself on the beaches of your desired goal. Clarity and joy abound. You walk off into this new world…carrying your boat on your back. Food for thought: Crisis is derived from a Greek word which is spelled krisis. It means “decision.” That is what a crisis forces, a choice. Crisis is a blessing. It opens your mind up to new understandings and new possibilities to explore.
A Quick History
Count up the number of therapeutic modalities currently used in psychotherapy worldwide and they probably number in the hundreds. The psychiatrist Irvin Yalom would say that all psychotherapeutic modalities must inevitably deal with the Four Existential Givens of life. On the other hand, behavioral therapists might say all modalities deal with our behavioral responses to stimuli. The founder of Stoicism, Zeno of Citium, first derived this idea in 3rd Century BC Athens. Later Stoic Epictetus spread this idea further, stating, “It is not events that disturb us, it is our responses to them.” This notion inspired the entirety of what is now called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Freud would have said the influence of unconscious drives can explain all human behavior. Furthermore, bringing such drives to consciousness for the purpose of working with them adaptively is the purpose of therapy.
A Point of Departure
In the 1950s the psychiatrist Eric Berne, who trained for years in classical Freudian psychoanalysis, became dissatisfied with Freud’s focus on the individual in therapy. As a result, he began to develop a way of working with human behavior that involved analyzing social interactions. In this, Berne was part of a leading edge of therapists in the mid-20th century who were focusing on relational therapy, or more formally, Intersubjective Analysis. This is a fancy way of saying that humans are relational and therefore understanding those around us and being understood by others become primary drivers of human emotional health, growth, and change. It was, in fact, out of this movement toward relationships that the discipline of Marriage and Family Therapy was born. Even Freud recognized that our family relationships are crucial influences on our emotional health, as is the state of our various other relationships, particularly our intimate relationships.
Transactional Analysis: Three Basic States
Berne used a number of ideas from traditional psychoanalysis to organize Transactional Analysis. He postulated that all humans think, feel and behave out of three basic ego states: Parent, Adult, and Child. Depending on the given situation a human finds themselves in, and depending on that human’s relative state of emotional maturity, she or he will function adaptively in one of these three ego states or a fluid, blended state. Difficulties arise when the ego state I’m operating from does not really fit the situation I’m in.
Other Key Concepts of Transactional Analysis
I can’t adequately summarize Transactional Analysis briefly, but beyond the idea of the three Ego States as the building blocks of personality, it involves some other key concepts:
- Script: A story we have learned and internalized about ourselves. Negative stories about ourselves or others tend to result in dysfunctional social outcomes. The script itself tends to be out of our conscious awareness.
- Games: We all have our scripts and with them, we engage in various “games” that generally involve winners and losers. Games in Transactional Analysis have been defined thus: “a series of duplex transactions which leads to a ‘switch’ and a well-defined, predictable ‘payoff’ that justifies a not-OK, or discounted (less-than) position.” In a transactional game we act out our internalized script and things go well for a little while. Ee receive the “strokes” we expect to get from acting out our script instead of being vulnerable and authentic, until things inevitably go south – the “switch” – and then we get the “payoff.”
- Strokes: The pleasant or familiar thoughts and feelings we receive from playing out our social games with our internalized scripts.
- Switch: The moment when our internalized script’s utility breaks down. This is usually when the script prevents us from expressing our authentic identity in that moment. We begin to feel sad, confused and angry.
- Payoff: The usual, expected result of our game, wherein we end up feeling a loser, or less-than.
Autonomy and Authenticity
The mature, ideal goal for any game in Transactional Analysis is “I’m-OK/You’re-OK.” That is, we both “win.” This results only when all the processes outlined above are within conscious awareness, which is the point of TA therapy. Naturally, this can take a while. We all have many scripts we have internalized from childhood or adolescence which are often quite dysfunctional. More generally the goal of transactional analysis is autonomy. In other words, awareness, spontaneity, and the capacity for intimacy. In achieving autonomy people have the capacity to make new decisions thereby empowering themselves and altering the course of their lives. This week at Barn Life Recovery, we are discussing the building blocks of TA therapy with our clients. What games do we play to live out our scripts and avoid authenticity and true intimacy? How do we do this? How does doing this make us feel?
There are too many good quotes about truth to share in a timely fashion. However, two of my favorites are:
“There are three sides to every story: yours, mine and the truth.” – Robert Evans, filmmaker
“Three things shine before the world and cannot be hidden. They are the moon, the sun, and the truth.” – usually attributed to the Buddha in a paraphrased version
The sort of “truth” we will be exploring this week will pertain to inner truth. The truth about who you are and how you shape your reality based on this inner truth. The Greek word for “truth” is aletheia. This word means literally to “un-hide” or “hiding nothing.” It conveys the thought that truth is always there, always open and available for all to see, with nothing being hidden or obscured.
Chung Fu: Three Images of Inner Truth
In Chinese philosophy “Chung Fu” or Inner Truth relates to three different images or ideas. One is the wind blowing over the lake stirring the surface. When the wind disrupts the surface of the water, we see ripples. These ripples are a physical manifestation of the wind’s effect on the water. This unsettled water expresses the visible effects of the invisible. Inner truth is like the wind in this example. What we feel to be our truth will manifest itself in the “agreed upon” real world.
Over-Brooding and Under-Brooding
The second image is of a baby bird being held down by its mother’s foot. This expresses the idea of brooding. Brooding in this sense means how a mother bird cares over her young. Some mama birds over-brood their babies and the hatchling grows too large for the nest and falls out before learning to fly. On the other hand, under-brood and you miss the hints and clues. Correct brooding means actively listening to what another person is expressing. In fact, paying close attention to something or someone is how one broods. The baby chick will give the signals, while the mother only needs to have the desire to be aware. In order to care for the flightless hatchling, the mother listens closely and reads the signs honestly.
Opening Your Heart
The third idea is listening to others. This last image offers clear instructions on how to practice inner truth. Receiving what others say and do with an open heart. Attacking people with YOUR preconceived plans and opinions is never the path to inner truth. Only by paying close attention to the stirrings of others can you find open-heartedness. An open heart allows inner truth to penetrate just like light and heat warm an egg and “quickens” it into a living thing. That empty space in the egg is key. Inner truth is also an empty space in you that fills with interest and compassion in others. Furthermore, the source of a person’s strength lies not in herself but in her relation of that self to other people.
The Fragrance of Orchids
Remember the three sides to every story quote? “There are three sides to every story: your side, my side, and the truth.” Well, there is more to that quote that always gets left out for some reason. The next two sentences read, “And no one is lying. Memories shared serve each differently.”
Life leads the thoughtful man on a path of many windings.
Now the course is checked, now it runs straight again.
Here winged thoughts may pour freely forth in words,
There the heavy burden of knowledge must be shut away in silence.
But when two people are at one in their inmost hearts,
They shatter even the strength of iron or of bronze.
And when two people understand each other in their inmost hearts,
Their words are sweet and strong, like the fragrance of orchids.
– Ta Chuan