Sometimes my path leads me into areas where I feel exposed, uncomfortable, and without a lot of obvious support.
I depend in the end on the feel of the path beneath my feet and the knowledge that I am not the first to come this way, and likely not the last.
Rugby, Racing and Computer Games
Many years ago, I discovered a new shareware computer game, Castle of the Winds. It was a lot more fun than Noughts and Crosses or Solitaire, and it ran very nicely on the black and white screen of my 286 computer with its 640kb of memory and a 30Mb hard drive.
I was very soon hooked and one Sunday morning I spent three solid hours in tunnels under mountains killing kobolds and goblin fighters, and amassing quantities of wealth and enchanted armour and weapons, the better to kill kobolds and goblin fighters and amass quantities of wealth and enchanted armour and weapons..... I discovered that certain beasts were especially dangerous or especially fast, and others I could safely knock off for a few more points. I got to level ten, even.
Now looting and killing and/or running like hell is not my normal scene and later as I lay fully stretched out in the bush bath behind the study I started thinking about this phenomenon.
Fritz Perls reckoned love, anger and fear are different in kind from other feelings. He described them as being more like environments.
He saw human beings as homeostatic organisms. Put very crudely, he suggested that when we are out of balance in any respect, a chemical shift occurs and we experience this as a feeling. So we feel hot, or we feel sad. This generates behaviour designed to bring us back into balance. If our environment cannot supply what we need, we go in search of one that can. If we have no immediate needs we experience peace. This environment, he said, is ruled by love. Many aspects of this state as he described it correspond with preliminary unitive or mystical states.
When danger threatens, this mechanism is overtaken by the fight or flight response. Our environment changes from one of love to one of fear or anger. This state is quite clearly dualistic.
The prime need at this point is safety, and other feelings are luxuries. Most of our needs in this state are met from resources of learned behaviour and habits which make fewer demands on our system. Cultural, or tribal, as opposed to personal, factors are maximised. In an environment of fear or anger, we become tribal beings, amenable to strong leadership, easily swayed or persuaded. Our needs are secondary to tribal needs, because the tribe is what guarantees our continued security.
When the danger is past, we can theoretically revert to our homeostatic state, and once more get our needs met very precisely, very deeply. But typically we don't. We stay in tribal mode, geared towards an environment of constant low grade insecurity in which we are divorced from our personal, individual needs. By and large, this serves the interests of politicians extremely well, and some, like George W Bush exploit it quite cynically, going to considerable length to generate an ongoing atmosphere of national fear.
Even our recreation (interesting word....) is typically geared to watching confrontive tv drama, or confrontive sports events, or competitive activities of various other kinds. (The less said about Playstation and Nintendo the better.)
And most advertising is geared towards generating a feeling of vague personal inadequacy or insecurity.
Mostly, we stay in tribal mode. We operate under some degree of stress almost habitually, tuned into tribal authority. And if the stress disappears, we tend to set about creating it. The only way, very often, that we define ourselves is in tribal activity of some sort or other.
Many of us have so little experience of our internal homeostatic "feeling" environment that our sense of self is almost totally formed by what we are told about ourselves or by our relationships with others in our tribe. We have very little experience of our "real" personal needs, and very little conscious awareness of whether we are getting what we need, or whether our environment is able to supply it. We are focussed instead on our rights and duties within our tribes.
When somebody like this is put in touch with their feelings, as I was on my first encounter group, the result can be life transforming. (It can also be extremely frightening at first, and many are tempted to head straight back to the familiar world and the familiar routines that we are used to.)
Those who work with abuse victims know how how many people prefer to stay in abusive relationships.
Centrepoint Community was established as an environment in which it would be safe for us to explore this real experience of ourselves, and I still believe that it has been much the safest place that I have found.
(I do accept that a number of former members would challenge this, and I deal with this matter elsewhere.)
Even so, part of my growth in the last few years of the community has been to detach myself as much as possible from the contention that exists from time to time around the place, and between the community and those outside.
I listened and learned without feeling obliged to conform or disagree. I discovered that it was possible to have clear values without taking sides. I discovered I could still work for things that I wanted, without being a loser if I didn't get them straight away. As soon as I took sides, "went tribal", some important part of me disappeared, at least temporarily. I lost touch with my feelings. I stopped growing, and I stopped learning. I stopped seeing people.
(It is ironic that when we are most self-centred in this respect, we are least self-centred in the conventional sense.)
And I have developed a therapy practice in which people can take refuge, at least for a while, from an environment which cuts them off from their deep feelings. I have learned to reverse the physical symptoms of stress to give people, for a while, some deeper sense of themselves and their needs.
Somebody once told me, Never give advice! but this way, it is seldom called for. Each of us becomes aware of - and learns to use - his own inner wisdom.
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