Today we begin a new series on images of healthy parent models. It’s no real stretch to suggest that how we were parented influences who we become. From Freud to now, psychology has been dominated in large part by the reconciliation of childhood experiences with presenting problems in adult life. After all, is it not the inner child we hail supreme in psychotherapy? And why? Of course, these formative years mold the ego through modeling of the environment. Naturally, mother and father provide our first real images of how one engaged with emotion, relationships, responsibilities, beliefs, and life itself. To one degree or another, our work at Barn Life is about bringing out of these models. We explore how we have taken them into adult life: what worked, what didn’t, what motivates, and what destroys.
Substantiating Our Best Selves
From wounding to winning, the parent models we had present to us our best efforts and our worst limitation. If, for example, we rely too heavily on our strengths we may never know the meaning of failure. As Winnicott once wrote, we would be best set up for a healthy individual life with a good enough mother and a good enough father… too good and we never find our interiority, too bad and we find only the survivalist within. Adopted in childhood, these external figures formed how we find motivation, nurture, and relationships to our own goals both as the clinician and the client. The resources we acquire to substantiate our best selves as we will explore rely heavily on the images we hold of how to self parent.
Archetypal Images of Masculine and Feminine Figures
There is a problem with simply processing what was formative from our parents. Specifically, we may never reconcile these images to the whole. Without corrective experiences of a healthier nature, we battle out the same inadequacies of our ancestors. In this effort, I want to use this series to explore universal images of masculinity and femininity in order to open up the conversation about the inner parent model. We will explore the missing links of the psyche in what may be underdeveloped and what may be over-relied upon. In an effort to bring us closer to the organizing principles of mothering and fathering we will be spending the next several weeks exploring archetypal images of masculine and feminine figures in myth and fairytale. These figures help us to better understand the nature of our own unique experiences. Additionally, we find new voices of motivation, nurture, acceptance, and effort.
A Deeper World of Exploration
For our first week, I want to draw special attention to the way we draw on our learned models. How do we confront obstacles? Conflict? Inadequacy? Failure? Stress? What beliefs do we hold about what we deserve? As we will see in coming weeks these structures resemble the personified images of mythic and fairytale figures. These learned models are doorways to a deeper world of exploration. With the intention of an expanding imaginal life, we will work to make more conscious who is among us as the voice of father and mother inside and out and who we might long to meet in the pantheon
I stood upon a high place
And saw, below, many devils
And carousing in sin.
One looked up, grinning,
And said: “Comrade! Brother!”
The Center of Consciousness
Undoubtedly you have heard of the third eye chakra. In large part, we might say the third eye is the dominantly favored center of consciousness for us westerners. Since the scientific revolution, humankind in the west began to reduce our concept of wonder, mystery, divine, and imagination to the measurable and mathematical. For example, what once was the mysterious magic of divine wonders became the arrangement of chemical structures. Chemistry, mathematics, and the clustering of ideas are products of western psychology. Here, one can attribute these rationalistic virtues to the mind itself. While artistry flows through intuition, sciences generally strive for calculation. What does this have to do with the third eye and mental health?
The Eye of the Mind
To be blunt: everything! Our mythological structures and sciences work like a lens over the eye of the mind. For example, if we are primed with the narrative that all things can be solved, what then becomes of the journey? I say one of the great problems we all have today is the many predicted outcomes that dictate our experiences before the journeys themselves. When, for example, our motive is resolution rather than revelation our aim is to no longer experience the surprise of life, wonder dies as predictable systems darken our peripheral vision. The third eye chakra is all about these tensions.
A Tremendous Shadow
If one does not release the tension behind the eyebrows, strive for execution, and follow the unconscious mythologies of the sciences, the soulful unfolding of a meaningful life may fall under a tremendous shadow. Longing, an innate and necessary messenger of the soul, may instead grow perverse. The adventuring and intimate seeker may consider longing to be a precursor to failure rather than an opening into meaning. The third eye is all about mystery. It draws in the images and intuitive fluctuations of the unconscious. When in talk therapy we ask a client open-ended questions, we are supporting them to look with the third eye at the material unresolved. One might ask, are we seeking to reduce another’s experience down or to open their experiences up?
A Balanced Third Eye
Of course, there is room for both in the balanced third eye. In fact, without balance, one may experience, on the one hand, an overactive third eye. Here, images and intuitions are un-grounding and often disassociating from the presenting moment. At great extremes, we call this psychosis. On the other hand, without an intuitive and reception gaze through the mind’s eye, one may experience a rigid, concrete, obtuse, stubborn, perfectionistic, judgment and even tyrannical attitude toward one’s self-concept, ideas about the past, others, and more.
The Role of the Cameraman
In short, the third eye chakra is a significant center of consciousness. For our purposes, as we engage and develop healthy psychological and somatic relationships between the chakras, we want to generate some awareness around the condition of the third eye. Often, we require the turning of the third eye down and in as we have been to engage with the subtle body of a psycho-sensual world below. As the camera lens, one must work on the role of the cameraman. Where do we turn our attention and, as with any eye, are we taking in the light?
… All I did was give him a look of confident expectation. An infant learning to walk, you know he can learn to walk, but the infant doesn’t know. You give the infant the confident support of your expectation. – Milton Erickson
Trust only movement. Life happens at the level of events, not of words. Trust movement. – Alfred Adler
Sharing Without Masks
From where are we speaking, sharing, contributing to groups, community, and individual therapy? As James Hillman suggests, we strive to make conscious who is here now rather than what is here now. In every share and every withholding, every judgment, and every insecurity some aspect of the self is moving. After exploring some of the qualities of the authentic voice – both the reasons we refrain or hide it away and the phenomena of healing that accompanies sharing without masks – I reflected on the delicate art that is deeply curious and reflective listening. Are we primarily space holders? Parents? Teachers? Life coaches? Foremost, we are models of safety. When there is room, when a client is honored for what and how they present themselves, this uninterrupted, encouraged, and exploring self finds the experience of being known.
Let the Unique Genius of the Soul Lead the Way
Something we want to encourage this week is to make room for the budding of unique esteem inside of every one of us. Rather than highlight inadequacies, failure, and character defects, let us instead look to the unique genius of the soul to lead the way. We must enter the dream of the dreamer in order to help them look around and find their way. In the simplest terms, we help clients to be within their own process. Indeed, we provide a safe space to have it for what it reveals itself to be to them. One’s treatment plan, for example, may reflect the skill set of another genius altogether. And while the outcome may be the same, the means to such outcomes are as different as the swimmer and the tree climber.
Toward Centers of Strength
As clinicians, we are charged with the task of curious neutrality. Suspended perspectives provide safety in the unknown, room for the voice of the inner parent to emerge, and the chance to discover genius. In other words, what kind of playground do you provide for the exploring and developing child? Does it have swings and monkey bars? Sandboxes or grassy fields? Or maybe trees to climb and waters to swim in? Where does your client go instinctually to nourish, to play, to find themselves? And this, as we know, puts the basis of our efficacy upon how we provoke the unique genius of each of our clients. What is their way towards success? What are their images of success and how do we lead them towards centers of strength to confront a life belonging to them?
Honoring the Undiscovered Genius
We must strive to learn the language of the living soul within our clients. May we honor them for their yet undiscovered genius. May our efforts reflect the respect that each life and will deserve. In this, I believe we have the most to offer to our clients and one another. I hope we continue to strengthen this value in trust that the unique genius of the soul knows what it is doing. We are here to assist in that work both in practical tangible goals and the unique ways the individuals under our care playfully find their way home.
This week’s theme is going to focus on two things. First, we are going to piggyback on our recent “Future Selves” blog and focus on how to create what each of us wants in our future lives. In short, how we create good habits. We want to encourage everyone to take a 21 Day Challenge, which we will be explaining below. Second, we want to focus on how to reach people in a way that is memorable and that will follow them outside of Barn Life’s gates.
We will start by introducing the 21 Day Challenge. They say that that if you do something 21 days in a row, it will become a habit. The originator of the 21 day rule, Dr. Maxwell Maltz, states that it takes a minimum of 21 days to change a behavior. And guess what! There are 21 more days in the month! So what we would like is for everyone to focus on creating a habit that will inevitably help them reach their ideal “future self.” We want to encourage positivity with these habits. We feel that, sometimes, adding a habit is much easier than getting rid of a habit. Therefore, we encourage focusing on adding positive habits as opposed to extinguishing bad habits.
Now for the leaving a lasting impression part. We cannot tell you how many times a client has come up to us and said, “Guess what! I was with my friends the other day and I told them about what we talked about in our session. How you said, “[insert therapeutic quote here]”. Of course, having a client remember something is great, considering there was something that stuck with them. However, when we go back to the session as we remember it, what they remembered is not necessarily what we were trying to focus on. Or what we thought was going to help. This led us to ask ourselves, “What is it that influences what people remember or take away from an experience?”
Although we have not come up with an answer to this question, we do have an idea that ties into feelings. For instance, there could be a great movie that inspires you. For some reason, it makes you feel all good inside. Then when asked, “what was the movie about and what were the main themes?” it may be hard to remember that exactly. However, if the question was “how did the movie make you feel?”, one might be able to answer quickly and passionately. There is something about emotions that locks us into a story, a memory, a point in time that helps leave a lasting impression.
So for this week, we want to encourage a focus on the clients’ experiences during the program. Don’t worry so much about having perfect content for the group. Instead, focus on leaving a lasting impression. Focus on creating emotions, memories, experiences that will last a lifetime. Our hope is that when people ask our clients about Barn Life in the future, they will be able to recall how they felt in the program and have a source of positivity that they share with others.
As we speak, at this very moment, there is someone very close to you whom you will never meet. You might feel this nearness at all times. You may catch the essence of this person as a scent in the wind. Perhaps, if you look hard enough, you may catch the glimmer of this person in the corner of your eye. However, you will never meet this person face to face. You two will forever be the closest of strangers. We are speaking of our future selves.
Our future selves are the grand total of everything we are and are doing in the present moment. And because this person is always one step ahead, it can be very difficult to show them the kindness and respect they deserve. Our futures selves are the friendly farmers who reap the harvests for which we – our present selves – are currently planting seeds. (The seeds here are, of course, are present actions and experiences.) We, therefore, have to be very careful about what we’re planting. If we want our future selves to harvest oranges, we can’t be planting apple seeds.
Kindness and Respect…Or a Field of Garbage?
Even worse, we could be planting garbage. Or we could be planting nothing at all. Our future selves set out for their harvest and find nothing but a barren field. On the other hand, it’s full of garbage – poor choices, regrets, and missed opportunities. Instead of reaping a bountiful harvest, our future selves have become garbage collectors. This is certainly not the way to show them kindness and respect.
This week then, we are going to practice just that. We are going to show our future selves the love and respect that they deserve. And how will we be doing that? We start small. We build a daily routine. Maybe we decide to take twenty minutes every morning to sit and meditate. Maybe we decide to take tai chi class seriously instead of screwing around the way we usually do. Or perhaps, we start hitting the gym a few times a week. It’s these small decisions and actions that are what creates momentum. This momentum makes life so much easier for our future selves. In fact, they’re starting to feel better already. They’re looking back at their past selves with pride and contentment.
Some Things to Think About This Week
Let’s start small and not try to do too much at once. But what would you like to have happen for your future self? What would you like them to harvest? And what can you be doing now to start planting the seeds? We mentioned it can be difficult to really face the present moment and shape it in a way that will make our future selves grateful. And it starts with loving yourself enough to do something about it. This week, we will remind ourselves that we and our future selves are worth it. And we will attend to the present in such a way that our future selves will look back on us with gratitude.
When we deny the full expression of our grief, it lays like a weight on our hearts, causing emotional pain and physical ailments – bell hooks
Processing Grief and Loss
No person who comes to Barn Life to heal is a stranger to grief and loss. Whether it be a physical death or loss of relationships or even the feeling of disconnection, we all experience having to endure the process of grief. This very personal journey can be very destabilizing for many of our clients. Many clients, I’ve noticed, have acknowledged that they have experienced the death of a loved one in the past and have never fully processed that loss and held space for grief.
A Confusing and Isolating Time
This past year has been full of loss and many have struggled to allow themselves to sit with grief or even identify feelings oriented around grief due to current circumstances. With the holidays, death and loss can be especially prominent for our clients at Barn Life. Many tend to find themselves reminded of a loved one who they have lost. It can be especially challenging for those who have not been able to fully process their loss. For these folks, it could be a very confusing and isolating time.
Healing in Community
This week, we are looking to allow space to normalize grief. Additionally, it’s important to note that the process is not always linear or clear-cut. Many times the pain of loss can be healed in communion. Think of wakes, funerals, and other memorial rituals and the power that these can wield. We are going to be using some of our process groups to allow our clients to help each other share their grief. This will be a chance to be a part of and heal in community. We could even acknowledge times when loss has helped us to develop and transform.
Some Questions to Think About
The following are some questions to consider this week. How do you perceive grief and/or loss? What has allowed you to process and hold space for your grief? How has loss been transformative or developed your character? What legacies or traditions have you carried out since your loved one’s passing? What barriers disallow you to process grief and loss? How can Barn Life best support your journey with healing from loss? How can you best support your peers and hold space for their process?
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