"Imagine all the people living life in peace. You can say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one. I hope one day you will join us and the world will be as one."
We live in interesting times. Times of rapidly accelerating change, where old certainties become yesterday's misunderstandings or today's superstitions. Our knowledge of the world is growing by leaps and bounds. We are all struggling in the midst of a paradigm shift as we leave the comfort of Newtonian laws and move towards a quantum uncertainty. Things are no longer clear cut. The conceptual lines that held us for so long are becoming blurred. We are no longer even sure whether a photon of light is a particle or a wave. It seems to be both, but we know that this can't be so. So it seems that it depends on the observer or more accurately on the intention of the observer. What this means in practice is that science is reaching a place where it is discovering that intention shapes reality. The outer world and the inner world are no longer clearly distinguishable; they are coming closer. It appears that Shakespeare was right: "We are such stuff that dreams are made of". At this moment in time the dream is changing very fast and most people find this difficult. Human beings like stability and security. When this is not present, we tend to get restless and fidgety; we become stressed. Stress is a buzzword in the world today. It kills many people and is the cause of countless heartbreaks and mental breakdowns. This unwelcome pressure is forcing people to pay attention, to think again and to look for a better way. The human race is going through a process of reinvention and of a redefinition of the dream.
As we observe the dream of the world unfold, we can see the interplay of two main currents. The first is the objective material current with its emphasis on production and consumption. The material world is a demanding master; it takes up an enormous amount of our mental and emotional reserves and seems to occupy a great deal of our precious space and time. This current brings untold changes in its wake. The world is now a smaller place, a global village which one can criss-cross instantly. We are really and truly interconnected on a physical level for the first time in human history. This implies that things are in place for a shift of enormous proportions. I will go so far as to say that we are in the midst of the shift right now. Because it's happening to us, we tend to take it for granted and we hardly notice it. We assume that what we are going through is just normal living. We don't have time to stop and question it too much. We are all too busy, rushing madly in a vain attempt to keep up with changes that are taking place at a mind numbing speed. It is not very surprising that travelling at this accelerated speed the only possible thing a man or a woman can do is to react to the currents of change and try to keep their head above water. Hardly a time or a place to reflect.
The second current, the subjective current, is also growing exponentially as more and more people in the world are turning their attention towards the inner world. Here too, the scenario is shifting very fast. There is much confusion as the old structures of traditional religions are reluctantly being brought into question and appear to be losing ground in their ancient strongholds: the areas of monopoly on truth and unquestioning authority. The map of the subjective world is in turmoil as men of the cloth, psychotherapists, counselors, teachers, gurus and masters; the shamans of the subjective world, struggle to consolidate their fiefdoms. Given this confusing state of affairs, it is not surprising that a growing number of individuals are turning to psychotherapy in their search for help.
Psychotherapy is an extraordinary journey into inner space. Coming to psychotherapy is a major decision in a person's life. Contrary to popular belief it is not a place where people with too much money and not enough to do come to indulge their whims and fill their time. Another hurdle one has to jump over is the prejudice that people who come to therapy are losers that don't have the strength to deal with things by themselves, and are looking for someone else to take responsibility for their life.
The opposite holds true; when a person decides to visit a psychotherapist, it is because they are deeply unhappy in themselves and with their lives. It is a sign from the self to oneself that something fundamental has to change. Patients do not always know this in a conscious way, but somewhere inside them, they know full well. They wouldn't bother if they didn't. Of course, many people would like everything to change and the uncomfortable thoughts and feelings to be removed without having to change themselves. I am afraid that this is just another illusion. As you change yourself, the world you inhabit changes. This is the law of cause and effect. You can't treat the effect and ignore the cause because if you do, the cause will find a way of manifesting again in some other shape or form.
When a person walks into my consulting room, I try not to get caught up with the disturbance that they are manifesting. I assume that behind any mask a person might present, there is within them a sane person trapped who is trying to get out. Psychotherapy for me is quite simply an attempt to release the sane person within. To the degree that this goal has been achieved, I will rate the success of the process and of my work. There is a colorful Yiddish word "meshugas", which means absurd or crazy. Our "meshugas" are the blocks that we have set in place and impede the free expression of who we really are and what we really feel at our deepest level. This is why I often describe psychotherapy as a process of "de-meshuganization".
The analytic contract is the first step in this unusual journey. It is the seed from which the therapeutic tree will organically evolve. From an external point of view, the contract between a patient and a psychotherapist is a straightforward rather uncomplicated affair. The patient approaches a therapist for a service. Once they meet and have a discussion about the process, they will usually come to some very basic structural agreements, like number of sessions a week, times and fees for the sessions, etc. The contract is open-ended because the treatment usually lasts for some time and there is no way of knowing at the outset how long it will take. In my experience, it is more like running a marathon than a hundred yards sprint. The patient is free to terminate this contract at any time, if he or she so chooses.
From the inside it is a different story. For me, the psychotherapeutic contract is a quasi sacred contract with another human being. The sane person within me will be trying to reach out and engage with the sane person within my patient. When I take on a patient for psychotherapy, I become a servant of that person. By this I do not mean that I become a servant to the personality and character of the patient. Far from it; that would be unhelpful and collusive. I am the servant of something deeper and much more profound. I am at the service of the patient's higher good. I know one could argue about what higher good means; and how does one knows that what one is serving is the higher good of someone else and not just an imposition of one's conceptual mind, in other words, one's own projections. This is a valid criticism and there are no easy answers. From this level, one is free to think what one wants. But if we can at least for a while suspend our natural disbelief, we can try to go a little bit further.
I am starting from a basic assumption that at the deepest level all human beings are the same. We all want the same things: we want to be happy, feel well in ourselves and in harmony with the world. We would all like to feel loved unconditionally and to find peace and fulfillment in life. Of course, patients never say this or articulate it in this way, and certainly not in an initial interview; I wouldn't expect them to. People come presenting their disfunctionalities, their fears, their worries and their feelings of inadequacy. They will also offer us their defenses and their stubbornness. Their loftiest ideals, their grandest visions and their higher aspirations are not readily expressed. These are guarded jealously under lock and key. They are buried deeply somewhere in the heart and covered over by a hard crust of disillusion, pain and cynicism. Quite often these higher aspirations are so well guarded that the patient is unaware of them himself/herself. The most intimate, softer and cherished aspect of the self lie buried deep down in the sea of the unconscious, protected by currents of mistrust, gloom and disbelief. Obviously, one doesn't make all this explicit to a patient in the initial interviews. It wouldn't be appropriate. In the same way that it wouldn't be appropriate to sit down for a quiet chat with a person caught up in a fire. First of all, one would try to get them out of the fire and save what can be saved. Then, after the crisis is over, if the person still wants to, there is always plenty of time to have that quiet chat and try to understand what has happened and where to go from there.
My main responsibility as a psychotherapist is to be the custodian of the highest and deepest aspirations of my patients. This is the Holy Grail of my work. It informs my practice and strengthens my commitment. The direction of the psychotherapeutic journey points to the land of self-acceptance and self-reliance. By this I do not mean becoming rigid and drawing a stiff upper lip. This is not real self-reliance. Self-reliance means a whole-hearted trust in the self. For this transformation to take place, the patient will have to move out of the country of self-judgment and self-condemnation. This is what I meant when I said that as a therapist I was the servant of my patient's higher good and from this point of view, psychotherapy is akin to a religious experience.
You are probably aware that excitement blinds the reason. When people come into therapy they can be in a very excited state indeed. This makes for an interesting journey, which at certain times can be quite daunting for the therapist as well as for the patient. There is no way out of it, and we wouldn't want it any other way because the journey is the best teacher for both. The journey I am referring to is always the same journey in a thousand myriad forms. From self-judgment to self-acceptance, from self-condemnation to self-love. Two continents with two very different emotional climates. One unsettled and menacing, the other clear and joyful. In my experience, the outcome of the journey will depend on the willingness of the patient to tame the mind and to allow the heart to melt. When people come for therapy, this is usually the last thing on their agenda; it is an alien and frightening idea. After all, the reason they come to therapy is because they have had to struggle so hard and they have suffered so much. They already feel vulnerable, wounded and in pain and, on top of that, they are being asked to bring down their trusted defenses. This is a very scary proposition indeed; it goes against normal thinking; it's counter-intuitive and it conjures up all sorts of past ghosts and daunting "what ifs?". Unless a person is extremely reckless, which most people are not, they will first need to feel very safe and trusting before they can even contemplate doing something so radical. The "person-patient" has to have real trust in the "person-therapist". Trust is a precious commodity. We have been conditioned from early on not to trust with our trust. "The world is a tricky place", "People are dodgy, they are out to get you". I am sure you know what I mean. To overcome this learnt mistrust, we have to go through some of our discomfort barriers and break a few of our self-imposed taboos. Trust is akin to faith and to love.
The foundation of psychotherapy is a relation: the relationship I am referring to is the one that takes place between the therapist and the patient. It is incumbent on both to make it as wholesome as possible; to make it so that it is good. Trust, respect and gratitude are the natural outcome of a well aspected relation. They take time to develop and are the welcome indicators that a mature relationship is in place. This doesn't just happen magically; for it to take place, there has to be two things present: a willingness to try and courage to take a risk. Psychotherapy is risky because it is an encounter behind the mask. When we reach behind the mask, we enter the territory of our soul. By this I mean our intimate being. On the surface, the world of the intimate being in every person looks very different. Each human being is unique; the inner world is shaped by a complex series of factors like an individual's history, circumstances, feelings and beliefs. History is the background, the past; circumstances are the present, the setting of someone's life; beliefs are the parameters which shape experience; whilst feelings carry the flow of the energy in the inner world.
The inner world can be a pretty mixed-up place. In a way it mirrors the mixed-upness that we face on the outside. It is a world populated by conflicting voices, diverse needs, confusing feelings and impulses to action, which vie for our attention. The world behind the mask, the world of the inside, can look very much like a house divided and in chaos.
To understand that we are responsible for the state of our world is the greatest gift that we could ever give to ourselves because therein lies the road to maturity and freedom. This world of ours is in need of attention and is craving for some tender love and care. Our divided houses have many mansions; we hold within us many heavens, hells and purgatories. Several of these places have not been visited for a very long time and we may even have forgotten that they are there at all. They lie neglected and protected by what can best be described as "amnesic barriers". We all know that our memory is highly selective and unreliable. We tend to remember certain things and the rest goes into a big bag that we carry called forgetfulness.
In inner space, memory and forgetfulness coexist and affect each other in myriad subtle ways. They get entangled with each other, knotted-up and confused. This gives rise to feelings of unease and insecurity as one is tossed and turned like a leaf in the wind by conflicting pressures. These strong currents affect our perception and cloud our vision. As a consequence, we tend to become confused and who we think we are and how we see the world gets distorted.
At the deepest level, who we think we are is of fundamental importance. It is the backbone of inner space; the organizing principle around which everything else gets ordered. Our identity is a provisional "psycho-construction" which we place on our sense of self. I say it's provisional because as you know from your own experience, it changes over a lifetime. That is why we call it a dynamic process. It is always in construction because it is affected and shaped by our life experiences and what we make of them. What we make of something will depend on our ideas. Beliefs, opinions, thoughts or snippets of thoughts are all ideas. Different parts of the same thing. Ideas are words in the language of the mind; they are the way in which the mind communicates with itself. They are so much a part of us that we tend to ignore them and take them for granted. They are so obvious that we don't question them and forget that they shape and color our experience. We ignore them at our peril.
Few people realize that ideas are not a fact, they are a choice. An important aspect of the psychotherapeutic journey has to do with an in-depth examination of what it is that one believes. The exploration of the belief system of a person can be very rewarding. It usually shows that they are not consistent; it's quite often a very mixed bag. We tend to hold on to a lot of contradictory and unfounded beliefs. Trying to remain faithful and loyal to a complicated and muddled system of beliefs leads to a chaotic and unintegrated experience of life. Finding out what ideas one holds, is a bit like making an inventory. It takes time and perseverance. Beliefs are important because they can either aid one's growth and development or they can be stumbling blocks; dead end roads that lead us to "no where's Ville". Psychotherapy provides the patient with an opportunity to find out what ideas he/she is holding and then decide what to do with them. Some beliefs are plainly wrong, divisive, and are well past their sell-by-date. I call these "squashifying" ideas because they squash our inner world and distort our sense of self. It would be advisable to let these go. Other beliefs we hold are wholesome and inspirational. These are worthwhile keeping and fostering. We are the gardeners of our mind, and it is up to us to decide which are the weeds and which are the flowers, what are "squashifiers" and what are "inspirationals". As one puts one's beliefs into a new order, what is being transformed is one's sense of oneself. I am not today what I thought I was yesterday because what was good for me then, is no longer good for me now. As we remove these squashifying concepts or beliefs, deeper aspects of our identity will be allowed to surface and will be granted space to express themselves in a more straightforward way. As the energy flows more freely with less blockages, it will change us and the expression of who and what we are will become clearer and more authentic.
There is another aspect that needs to be realized. Thoughts do not come alone. A thought is like a comet with a long tail. The tail of a thought is a feeling. Each thought that we entertain elicits a feeling of which we might or might not be aware. It is important to be sensitive to feelings because they are the language in which we communicate with ourselves or perhaps the language in which our heart communicates with the world. Feelings are the heart of the matter. They constitute the climate of inner space and besides, it is only through the path of the heart that one can approach the sane self.
In the practice of psychotherapy we tend to encounter hearts that are in a state of turmoil like an orchestra without a director. Each instrument doing its own thing, generating a cacophony of inharmonious noises. This is a reflection of the state of the mind with all its mixed-up ideas. It is not surprising that many individuals in this predicament suffer from "heart shyness". A messy heart is an insecure heart and it is a fearful place to be in. Heart shyness can be a formidable obstacle in the pursuit of truth. It is important to keep in mind that we only grow by overcoming our fears; our self imposed limitations. As I said before, this is a journey that requires courage, determination and perseverance.
As we follow the path of the heart, we encounter all sorts of ghosts and spooks that are leftovers from yesteryears. They are illusory defenses that bar our own way back. This is why I also describe psychotherapy as a process of "despooking" and "ghost busting". Little by little, as our beliefs get reordered, one's strength and confidence starts to grow; we begin to overcome the inhibitions which were the natural outcome of misplaced fears. Fears are illusory blocks which impede the spontaneous and natural expression of oneself. They are like scarecrows or frightening masks on the surface of the heart that just lie there, scaring us silly and guarding something precious, which I call "the source". In the garden of our heart, there is a hidden corner where dreams of true love, trust, goodness, harmony and joy live and are cherished. These high ideals make human life worthwhile. They are the very foundations of the pyramid of man and they are also the very top.
Between the foundations and the top, there is all the bit in the middle which is where most of us spend most of the time; we mistakenly call this the real world. As long as we over-focus on the middle bit, the source gets battered, forgotten and ignored while we are busy dealing with the vicissitudes of life. We don't feel worthy of these high ideals and we might easily decide that they are just unrealistic dreams. In other words, we squash the essence of what makes us true human beings. We plod along ignoring our foundations and building a Tower of Babel above them. As you know, the Tower of Babel is a world of confusion. We wonder who is sane and who is insane. We no longer know for sure. There are so many competing voices clamoring for our attention. We perceive in fragments, little snippets that assault our senses. The voice of reason is confused with the voice of irrationality. The voice of freedom is mistaken for the voice of slavery.
The path of the heart leads to the dismantling of Babel and a return to the source. As we learn by doing, what we have to do, is to undo. I have to know that if I want peace, it is no use to ask someone else to give it to me. I have to make myself at peace, and in turn, give it to others. The same applies for love, joy, harmony or anything else one cares to think of. This is what is meant by putting first things first.
It is often said that our God given right as human beings is to have free will. If this is the case, it seems advisable to exercise this privilege. We have the capacity to imagine and to dream, to create and recreate our world, our history and our experiences. If we really want to, we can always change perspectives and see things differently. Of course, this freedom of choice is a double-edged sword. We can use it irresponsibly and create even bigger muddles which is the direction of foolishness, or alternatively, we can use it with care and responsibility to clear up the muddles and clean up the world. This is the direction of wisdom; the "Perennial Wisdom" as it is sometimes called. Wisdom and foolishness live happily or unhappily side-by-side in the world we see and within every one of us. Inside each person there is a constant struggle between the currents of wisdom and foolishness. The struggle is about who is going to be the captain. A comedian once said: "Hell is other people". It is a good line, but I am afraid it isn't true. We are the makers of ourselves, the artisans of the heavens and hells we inhabit. In the end, wisdom will win; it has to because it represents the truth, but in the meantime, the battle persists and the "psycho-show" goes on.
For a practical illustration of this discussion, let me invite you to turn your attention to my consulting room.
Some years ago, a young man came to see me in my practice. Chippo was 18 years old when he came to therapy. He was raised by two very bright parents who were quite successful in their careers. There was a strong non-verbal message that Chippo would excel at sports and academics. When he was young, Chippo was found to have a moderate learning disability that made it very difficult for him to excel scholastically. Athletics became his haven, his sanctuary of excellence, but it was not enough; he needed more; there was whole part of his being that was not engaged and had no creative outlet; this made him feel extremely frustrated. As he was never able to live up to the non-verbal expectations which he sensed all around him, Chippo became a rebel. He found his own way to shine: if he could not be the best one, he could at least be the worst and he enthusiastically embarked in that direction. He became a "dope-head", actually "the king of the dope-heads". He would consume drugs in great amounts and even deal in them. He got up to all sorts of mischief and tricks and often played on the borderline of the law. He didn't have much respect for himself and as a consequence, he didn't have much respect for anybody else. Among his peers, some of the more way-out one's saw him as a hero and a role model, and most of the rest thought he was a bit of a nutter.
The relations at home were strained and the communication between Chippo and his parents was of a very narrow variety. Arguments would not help and neither would punishment because Chippo held the trump card. He had his finger on the "self-destruct button" and because he was so unbalanced and unhappy, everyone thought he might press it if push came to shove. Even Chippo believed that he might do it. He didn't care. What was there to lose? Life was a bitch anyway and he didn't have anything better to do. So his message was clear: "Don't push me or I'll jump!".
The school had given up on him a long time ago and he left, or rather, he was very politely asked to leave, with no qualifications and nothing to show for all the years of torment, anguish and misunderstanding that he had had to endure.
This was the state of affairs when Chippo allowed himself to take a piece of advice from his parents, and came to see me. He was only coming to check me out. He thought he would prove what he already knew: therapists, like everyone else, were frauds with a mask of false wisdom. This was the picture I was confronted with; a very unpromising story.
To my surprise, when I met Chippo, I liked him. I liked what I saw. A boy or a man with keen untrained intelligence, who was used to getting his way by exposing the hypocrisy behind people's masks. Of his own hypocrisy, he didn't care because he was beyond redemption anyway.
We got onto a good start. When he first came, he thought I was going to pursue the adult agenda of getting him off drugs. I realized straight away that that path would lead us nowhere, so I made it quite clear that that was not my objective. What he did with his drug intake, like what he did with anything else, was ultimately his own responsibility. What I was looking for was to get to know him and for him to get to know me, in the hope that we might like each other and that a true friendship of the straightforward variety might develop. In my experience, good inspiring friendships can be an invaluable aid for growth and maturation. I recognized as well that this was a strange thing for us to try to do because I was much older than him, but I was prepared to try and if he had the guts, we could go for it.
Well you can imagine that Chippo was not going to turn down such a challenge. Besides he knew that it was just a matter of time before he would prove my incompetence and in the meantime, he could use me to keep his parents off his back.
So he said yes. I liked that attitude; I understood his logic; because I suspect that I would have said yes if I was in his shoes. I told him this and that was how we started our strange relation. From the beginning we had an understanding. The encounters between us would take place behind our masks. The real me and the real him were going to be meeting when we met. I was "Pichi", the lazy old fat wise man, and he was simply cheeky "Chippo".
The early stages of our relationship were tricky to say the least. We had to negotiate some dangerous waters and a few hair raising rapids. Chippo was sad and unhappy; everything seemed grey to him; this included the world and his energy. He was at a critical juncture. He was on the verge of losing hope, of giving up; a sad state of affairs. The wild animal was badly hurt and the severity of the wound was drawing us together.
His world was bleak indeed. There he was, living in his parent's house, stoned out of his mind all day trying to fend off the terrible boredom of not having anything to do and not wanting to do anything. His parents, watching from the sidelines, with a mixture of concern, indignation, rage and impotence made him retreat even more into a bunker of resentful contempt. What they gave him was worthless and what he took was stolen. Gratitude and appreciation were unwelcome visitors. Everybody was very worried about poor Chippo. All his mates had gone off to university and he remained at home and alone; more and more isolated from human contact. He didn't want to make any effort to meet new people and refused to recognize that he might be worried about himself or the future. What was the use of worrying if he didn't believe that he was going to live past thirty anyway?
To my surprise he agreed to come and see me twice a week. Shortly after the treatment started, the tricky waters turned into a scary rapid and I increased the number of his sessions to three times a week. This was the way we conducted most of our relationship.
Chippo always arrived on time for his meetings with me. He would usually arrive with a fresh bag of chips that he would buy from the chip shop next to my house. Out of this habit we developed a little ritual; I would always take one or two chips from his bag; this was considered by both of us as his tax. Our sessions lasted for as long as he felt comfortable, which was usually less than the stipulated 50 minutes. I decided early on that I wanted to make our relation as comfortable as possible for him so he could settle with the least amount of resistance. He was already carrying quite enough on his plate. I wanted our relationship to be a haven in his life; a safe haven if possible.
As I said, the beginning of the relationship was tricky to negotiate. My new friend had a way of threatening and blackmailing with his destructive tendencies every time things required any effort or life became stressful. This situation led to a serious agreement between us. I told him that if we were going to have any meaningful relation, he was going to have to put his gun away. I couldn't think clearly when a gun was being pointed at my head, or at his for that matter. I told him that it was perfectly acceptable to carry his gun, but to please not draw it indiscriminately. He needed to learn from the wisdom of patience; he needed to understand that life was a process and that instant gratification was quite often an expensive option. I explained that I also had a gun as big as his, but I didn't use it in the same way that he did. I had learned a long time ago that giving right of way to the more destructive parts of our nature militated against a harmonious and creative life. Chippo was an intelligent young man. He could see the truth and the wisdom behind these words and we sealed the deal. The gun would remain firmly in its holster; for the time being.
These three agreements of giving me a chance, making our sessions flexible and giving up blackmailing behavior opened the field for our real relationship to play itself out. In this way I started to get to know the man behind the mask. I found out about his great dreams and the hidden ambitions that he had for himself and for his life.
Given the bleakness of his world, Chippo had constructed for himself a castle in the air; an imaginary world in which he would become a millionaire before he was twenty. By twenty-two he would own his own Porsche and he would drive it into his old school. This would humiliate all the teachers who failed so abysmally with him. He would then go up to the head teacher's office, pee on the desk and leave. Somehow this hilarious picture caught my imagination. This little vignette encapsulated beautifully the state of Chippo's world. I was very interested in what came after the peeing. For this, my young friend didn't seem to have any convincing scenarios. That was the end of the film as far as he was concerned. Was that what life was all about: revenge and death? Was there nothing more to life? Is that what life could be reduced to? What about love and friendship and sharing and joy? This was the focus of our dialogue and the essence of our relationship. We enjoyed ourselves together. Of course we did. We talked about all sorts of things. He had all sorts of ideas about God, the cosmos, martial arts, drugs, sex, business and study, but we managed to never stray too far from the meaning of life and the values that shape it. Chippo was a passionate young man and a worthy sparing partner, so you can image our conversations could become very lively. Our association lasted for three and a half years. A very long time in such a young life.
Uninitiated people often ask: "What is there to talk about in therapy?" Why does it last such a long time? Surely one runs out of subjects. If that were all that psychotherapy was about, I would be inclined to agree with them. But alas, that is not what psychotherapy is about and it is certainly not what it was about for our friend. He used his therapy for a very different purpose. He used it to explore and experiment with his identity. It was quite obvious that the character he had invented in his youth had come to the end of the line, and if life was going to go on, he was in need of a radical redefinition and a major reinvention. It was time for "Peter Pan to leave Never-Never Land" and for "Sleeping Beauty to wake up". This process takes time. One doesn't know straight away how to reflect accurately one's deepest thoughts and feelings. One doesn't even know what one's deepest thoughts and feelings are, because they are clouded over by one's fears, one's avoidance tactics and one's sense of inadequacy.
The journey to truth, which is the journey to sanity, is about the removal of the obstacles that get in the way. If we don't express our deepest truth and our highest ideals, it is because we don't think we are worthy of them. We will therefore trivialise them and eventually ignore them, declaring them unrealistic and fencing-off the section which surrounds them with warnings that trespassers will be prosecuted or maybe even shot. The fact that these fenced-off areas belong to the centre of our heart, means that one is condemning oneself to live from the periphery of one's being, acting only from the more superficial layers of one's personality.
It was an extraordinary journey that Chippo had embarked on. It wasn't a positive choice at the beginning. It was a hard choice made out of necessity and they say that necessity is the mother of invention. At first our engagement took place on the more peripheral areas of his being. It was important for him to establish his credentials as a nutter, a black belt in marital arts with a predisposition towards violence. I had to count myself lucky that I was appealing to his nicer side and that I didn't get clobbered. I didn't fight with this part of him as I didn't feel remotely threatened by it. I was able to embrace it and gradually start playing with it by taking it very lightly. Once our friend realized that I was not going to attack this aspect of his personality, he started to relax. If what he thought were his hardest, most dangerous and frightening parts, were accepted and embraced, then he could start trusting me with the other more tender parts of his being. He had found a home. By this I mean a place where he could finally start to give voice to all the silent voices that he carried inside and that had never seen the light of day. It was a case of "kindness can charm a snake out of its hole".
For a while nothing moved much on the outside. Chippo's life was an uneventful series of boring days, weeks and months, punctuated by his three visits a week to my consulting room. In the realm of the invisible, behind-the-doors of the consulting room, a lot was happening. I was learning fast and understanding more and more about the soul of the man. About his feelings of emptiness and futility, about the deep humiliation that he had felt at not being able to succeed in school, and about his negative reactions towards anything that had to do with learning.
But this wasn't the whole story. I also learnt that Chippo was a very intelligent and perceptive person with a powerful imagination and an uncanny intuition. He was "psycho-gifted". He was very fast to pick up and learn about what was going on in him, in me and in the consulting room. He wasn't averse to learning, he was just reacting against the narrow ideas he held about what learning was. He had squashed all learning by identifying it with the structured, organized and massified teaching that had caused him so much pain and suffering.
When he became aware of this confusion, his "psycho-ouch" started to heal. As he gradually started to disentangle from the excess baggage that weighed him down, he literally started to lighten up. This doesn't mean that he didn't have relapses into a world of depression and hopelessness, but the visits, thankfully, became more infrequent and lasted less time.
As Chippo lightened up, he began to chill. Chill was a very important word in his vocabulary as it is in the vocabulary of most young people today. Because it is a generational word, I enlisted the help of an expert. As my son happens to be the same age as Chippo, I asked him to explain it to me in some detail. As far as I can understand from his explanation: "Chill has to do with a state of relaxation, peace and harmony. It is an attitude, a way of being which implies a lack of stress. It is the opposite of neurosis. Your mind is at ease when you are chilled. When you are grounded, you are chilled. When you know that you know what is and what is not. When you are free from illusions, you are chilled." Chill is certainly an idea of the inspirational variety. Chippo always wanted to appear chilled. There is nothing unusual about that. All young people want this; it is a high generational ideal. Inside him, behind the mask, this young man was the opposite of chilled; he was a "stress-head". As the stress in the head began to diminish, a genuine relaxation became his more natural state. This allowed him some peace and space as he was no longer haunted by unnamed and unnamable anxieties. He used this new found space to think, to take stock of who he was, what his strengths were, what his weaknesses were and how he wanted to plan his life.
"Slowly, slowly, catchy monkey". Little by little his life started to change. He started doing things he had never done before. He found himself a steady girlfriend with whom he had a satisfactory relation that lasted for almost a year. He also got a job in a little primary school in his area as a teacher's assistant, which also lasted for a year and proved to be a rewarding and heart-warming experience. The little children loved Chippo and Chippo loved the little children. After this, he decided to embark on his chosen path. He wanted to become an entrepreneur like Mr Branson. He tried to engage on a couple of business ventures that he didn't quite succeed in getting off the ground, though they got very close to it. He took these projects very seriously indeed, and learnt a lot in the process. Around this time he wrote a poem to God, which provides a good window into the state of being of the man behind the mask.
Beaming you light into my heart
helps me dispel the clouds that confuse me
Locked, but not chained, I struggle to keep
control of the solar powered mares
They are strong
but their canter cannot be heard
The reigns in my hands, but the power often evades me
As I try to shine, sometimes my light reflects and blinds me
The realms I seek are kind and wise
You grow with me daily within this spirit land
Cunning and sly you may be
but I know that what you have given me has a purpose
Although painful, the lesson is strong
I question myself
Why do I shoot myself?
My feet are bloody and my stride seeks purpose
but I am strong
I feel the light and strive to let it envelope me
I thank you for your praise
and the blessings you bestowed upon me
I thank you for your guidance on this stormy ocean
Although I can steer our ship
I know I am only partly in control
The tide will carry me wherever it wishes
and the wind will play its part
but I see the sun on the horizon
and we appear to be going in that direction
My knowledge of storms is growing
but I am restrained within the limits of experience
I have more to learn and your humor teaches me
My rain sheet is overboard
so if it rains tonight, I'll have to get wet.
A poem by Chippo
This poem is very revealing and it is also so moving because it comes from a very deep, sincere and transparent part of his being. In martial arts, the body's centre of gravity is called the "dantien". Susan Jeffers tells us that "… The literal meaning of dantien is the field or reservoir of vital essence, the gut force in the belly. When someone says "return to centre" in the martial arts, that means focus you attention on the dantien and let your actions derive from this always available point of power. We all have this place within from which we can radiate immense power. Master Huang calls it the "fire place". He teaches us that if you are feeling alive and blissful and in tune with the world, your fire place is working. If you are not feeling these wonderful things, it's time to stoke your fire.". The fire was starting to burn brightly in his fireplace and my friend Chippo, was getting in touch with his dantien. He was "returning to centre".
Another two years were to elapse between this poem and the end of his therapy. During this period he came to the realization that if he was ever to succeed in becoming the entrepreneur he wanted to be, he needed some practical experience. Not just any experience, but experience in working for companies that were young minded, dynamic and successful. He needed to learn how it was done and to develop networks of associates. He designed and wrote-up for himself a C.V. which was more like a creative, cheeky and provocative brochure and sent it through the internet to twenty designated companies. He only needed one to bite, which of course one did, and that is how he secured an interesting, creative and well remunerated job in advertising and sales. He had a lot to learn, but he was well on his way. This brought him a much needed sense of relief and also to all of those who were concerned about him. With the help of his parents, he procured a house for himself which he paid for by renting out several rooms. This house had the double advantage of giving him some real independence and providing him with a ready made community.
By the time the treatment ended, Chippo's train was nowhere near reaching its final destination, but it was certainly back on track. What more can one ask for?
Before leaving the consulting room, I would like to say a few words about Chippo's parents. When a young person such as him comes into psychotherapy, he is very dependent on others, usually the parents. His parents were very supportive of the work we were doing together and they had trust which allowed them to take a benign hands-off approach. They trusted their son, they had trust in me and they trusted the work we were doing together. Though they navigated in darkness with their son, they never gave up. A fine example of good parenting.
When the treatment ended, they sent me this heart warming note:
"Dear Eduardo, when you think of Chippo, we're sure it will be with a glow in your heart, knowing all that he has achieved and all the warmth, humor and hard work you put into helping him reach this point. With all our thanks. Affectionately. Mum and Dad."
Of course, Mum and Dad were right. My heart does glow when I think about my dear Chippo. How could it not? Not only was he funny, witty, outrageous and warm, he also found his courage. The courage that he needed to face the rain when his rain sheet was overboard and to free his zany imagination so that he could sing while he was getting wet, or to put it in Chippo's words: "Aim for the stars and you will land up in space".
Courage and imagination are the Royal Road to "de-squashification". Courage like imagination are "psycho-muscles" that need to be exercised correctly. By this I do not mean the sort of sad courage displayed by poor Don Quixote, which he misspent jousting with windmills. That was wasted courage; he used a precious commodity in the wrong way. Our courage needs to be harnessed and focused. Courage directed by intelligence is an invincible force. My intelligence tells me that if we want to meet the sane person within, we need to work in undoing Babel. Courage is an invaluable tool in the dismantling operation. A little bit of courage applied in the right direction can do wonders. It can lead us a long way. After all, we are only talking about illusory-ghosts.
The other ingredient in the recipe is imagination. Courage without a matching imagination gets exhausted very quickly. This is a case of: "As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he". What we think in our hearts is our imagination. As one dismantles Babel, one embarks on a process of releasing the imagination; in this way, we are reclaiming our birthright; the natural freedom of our being; . Liberating ourselves is not that difficult; all we have to do is loosen-up, soften our judgment, try to relax, trust the process and enjoy the ride.
Believe me, the path to sanity does not pass through ignoring aspects of ourselves and of our lives that we disapprove of and that make us feel uncomfortable, and in just paying attention to those parts we like and approve of. This will split us in two and will lead us straight to the "blinkered person within", which is not someone we want to visit right now. The secret key to sanity is to expand the vision of our heart and embrace the totality of ourselves and of our lives. An Argentine colleague of mine recently sent me an e-mail in which he said that "Life is living. Life is not a thing, it's a process. Life is uncertainty. Life is a mystery. Life is what you want it to be. It all depends on you". The man was right and the more clearly one realizes the truth in his words, the closer one is to waking up.
Being awake is a funny business. If someone where to ask us whether we were awake or asleep, we would unhesitatingly reply that we were awake; and how wrong we would be. I have said before that there are vast areas in the foundation of our being that have been buried and forgotten a very long time ago. As a consequence of this, our relationship with the source has become rather dysfunctional. It's hardly surprising; there are so many aspects of our self that we don't experience and are therefore never able to express themselves. These forgotten parts are like precious jewels that lie in a treasure box at the bottom of the sea of our awareness, covered over by our nightmares, our fears, inhibitions and taboos. They lie there dreaming the good dream, patiently waiting for rediscovery and redemption. This is something we will all have to do if we ever hope to become consciously whole. If knowledge is power then ignorance is not bliss but powerlessness. Not knowing ourselves leads to anxiety.
Internal reconciliation is the only rational way to unity and wholeness. We must learn to really forgive ourselves for our trespasses. We must strive to remember, to recognize and welcome back into our field of awareness all of our forgotten and muted voices. Learning to listen to whispers instead of shouts could be a useful step because understandably these voices are rather shy after such a long time of oblivion.
The liberation of the Self compels us to heal and resurrect all aspect of our being so that our wholeness can shine once again in full splendor. This is what in religious languages is referred to as being "Born Again"; it also happens to be a major victory over the delusions of "Maya"; it's piercing through "The Veil of Ignorance"; it is "The Way of the Tao"; most certainly, the "Path of the Warriors of Light" and last but not least, it's "Gathering the Holy Sparks". It is all the same; they are different arrows pointing at the same target; what we are doing is essentially "Making conscious the unconscious" or if you prefer to use less technical language, we are trying to put all our eggs into one big basket and attempting to take full care and responsibility for them.
Life is for living; what life wants, if one can say that life wants anything, is to be experienced and expressed fully. If we are to succeed in this intrepid adventure, we need to act more consciously, we have to slow down and learn to love ourselves by treating kindly our unresolved areas and making some room for subtlety. Real intimacy is a gift of the heart and it would be wise to embrace and foster it because we can't have an intimate relation with anybody else if we don't have an intimate relation with ourselves; the two go together. Don't be afraid to dream of your higher good. Don't be afraid to feel the full force of your positive emotions. Don't be afraid to exercise your courage and your imagination. Just … don't be afraid. You can always open up more. Remember that love grows forever and integration leads directly to the sane person within.
Susan Jeffers: "End the struggle and dance with life"
For Jonny, Samy and Tom