Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Changing our Patterns

I had a strange dream this morning. I was helping a new employee who had just been hired in our department. We worked comfortably together but then, at the end of the workday (as can happen in dreams), I suddenly realized that this new worker was actually a former colleague. How did I not recognize her?

In “real life” (a Jungian has to put this phrase in quotes), my former co-worker, “Cathy,” had caused great disruption and chaos in our department. She had felt like an adversary to many of us. But since I had no recollection of this in my dream, we began our “first” day at work together with ease and collegiality. My dream-state-temporary-amnesia allowed me to treat Cathy with warmth. If I had recognized her, our interaction would have been much different.

How many conflicts could be averted if we had selective amnesia with our rivals or foes? Our conversations would then be free of the tiny microexpressions and unconscious vocal tones that send out defensive messages (despite our best intentions). The problem is, our brain scrutinizes our environment for threats and then sears these threat-memories deep into our mind-- for our protection. Our brain doesn’t want us to have amnesia precisely because we would then be more vulnerable to dangers around us.

Emotional Intelligence theories and techniques help us understand our brain’s design. We can then, depending on our circumstances, work to utilize or circumvent our evolutionary programming.

While we can never have complete amnesia about past events, we can at least be conscious of our feelings. These can give us a clue to the unconscious signals we are probably sending. That is why self-fulfilling prophecies work. If I come into a conversation anticipating the worst--my expectations are likely to be fulfilled because of the signals I’ve sent.

Even if we can’t control our unconscious nonverbal behaviors, we can try to compensate for them. If I were to meet with Cathy today, I could emphasize listening, eye contact, smiles, and a gentle tone of voice to counteract other signals I may inadvertently send. Then we might have the same easy relating that we had in my dream.

Destructive patterns of interacting are very hard to change since both parties become stuck in patterns of aggressive or defensive signals. Still, knowing our feelings can help us break these patterns and create new exchanges with our coworkers. © Lewis-Barr 2009
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Monday, April 20, 2009

Stories of:
the wise person submitting to the will God
the wounded healer
God incarnating in the world
are ubiquitous. (The Jesus story has all three motifs.) Here are Jungian expressions of these ideas from Marie-Louise von Franz in Puer Aeternus.

“Eliade tells a story about a very successful reindeer hunger, a provider of food and therefore a big man in his tribe, who has no thought of becoming a shaman. However, he gets a nervous disease which keeps him from going hunting, and then he discovers that as soon as he learns to drum like a shaman, his disease disappears….he cures himself. But once he is cured, he has had enough of being a shaman and goes back to hunting. Then the illness gets him again. In the end he sullenly puts up with it and becomes a healer since it is the only way he can keep himself fit. Against his wish and his will, reindeer hunting is finished for him forever….”


“When the Self and the ego come together and get in touch with each other, who is wounded? ….both are wounded…these two entities cannot meet without damaging each other. …the Self is damaged in that instead of being a potential wholeness it becomes a partial reality…it becomes real within the individuated person, in the realizing actions and words of the person. That is a restriction for the Self and its possibilities. The ego is wounded because something greater breaks into its life. Which is why Dr. Jung says that it means tremendous suffering to get in touch with the process of individuation…we are robbed of the capacity for arranging our own lives according to our own wishes.”
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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Sophie and the Bone.

A local merchant likes to give my small terrier a large bone when we visit. Sophie takes it in her mouth and carries it like a prize. Why doesn’t she eat it on the spot? Maybe she wants to have it at home in one of her private spaces? Or is it too big for her to break?

We continue our walk but now Sophie doesn’t stop to smell her favorite bushes or trail behind to look for squirrels. She seems in a daze, heading home, bone in mouth. But I’m not ready to head home. It is a beautiful day and I want a longer walk. Sophie lives to walk, but this time she keeps trying to head home.

“Sophie, let’s keep going!” I coax. “Why don’t you eat your bone?” Sophie looks at me blankly, waiting.

“Come on, girl; give it to me…..” Sophie is drooling on the treat clenched in her teeth.

“Is it too big for you? Isn’t it a bother to keep it clenched like that?” \

Sophie stares blankly.
“Come on, give it to me.” I tug. “Sophie, drop it.” She tugs back.

“Come on, Sophie, give me the bone.”

Finally, her jaw tired, she releases. I take the treat and break it in half. Now she will eat it with gusto.

Satisfied, my puppy gallops forward, released from her trance. She sniffs trees and follows squirrels. I must cajole her to keep up.

Sophie is easier to walk when she has a bone in her mouth. She doesn’t pull, she doesn’t lag, and she walks distractedly, without passion. But I want Sophie to enjoy her greatest pleasure (a walk), so I break her bone and get her to eat it.

What do I hold onto instead of relishing? How do my preoccupations keep me from the wonders all around? © Lewis-Barr 2009
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Friday, April 10, 2009

The Inner World

I sit. I wait. I recharge.

But instead of basking in the sunshine like Wall-e (in his namesake movie), I bask in silence. I sit and wait. New ideas will flow in-eventually. I know this process well.

But this morning, after a hectic week, my recharging will take longer and I'm slow to access new insights. My psyche is “processing” the week but I can't yet hear my intuitive voice. Vast stores of information are hidden from me, just outside my consciousness.

So I sit. I wait. My mind wanders or sits blank. I'm “sharpening my saw,” (a la Stephen Covey). It feels great and I know this “idle” time will pay large dividends in future creativity and insights.

I stare at a beautiful pine tree. I am here, now. The tree speaks of strength and patience and the spring approaching. I notice the branches waving in the wind and the gray sky. I hear my chimes and birds. I feel grateful for this moment as I draw near my soul.

How do you recharge?
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Friday, April 3, 2009

Changing Your Mind

I’ve been reading books on brain science for years. Some of my favorites include: The Mind and the Brain: Neuroplasticity and the Power of Mental Force, Change Your Brain, Change Your Life, Healing the Hardware of the Soul, The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness, and Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain among others.

One lesson I’ve extracted from research is that neural pathways in the brain build up through repetition. These become our perceptions, ideas, and beliefs about reality. We see what we expect to see. We experience what we expect to experience. The good news is that we can extinguish negative perceptions (such as irrational anxiety) through cognitive exercises. This isn’t easy work and it does require persistence and focus but my books tell me it can be achieved. I’ve been experimenting on myself lately with some success.

It is ironic--since I am a trainer/presenter—that for years I’ve suffered anxiety over public presentations or other teaching events that are important to me. (While I know a certain degree of anxiety/excitement before speaking is normal, I would prefer less of the former and more of the latter.) I’ve used a variety of methods to manage this internal unrest and I’ve had many great teaching/training experiences. Even so, I can still sense that my brain-computer seems programmed to link “excitement over presenting” to “something will go wrong foreboding.”

Through research into my past, I’ve discerned how this glitch developed in my psyche. That knowledge is helping me “talk back” to the disturbing thoughts that rise to consciousness. But there is another level of pre-conscious thought that will increase my heart rate as a presentation approaches. Can I get to the root of this apprehension?

I’ve been experimenting with meditation, visualization, and hypnotherapy techniques. My goal is to create a new synaptic pathway. Instead of “excitement over presenting” leading to “something will go wrong fear,” I want to link “excitement over presenting” to a very positive memory that creates calm in my body. I’ve been using memories of sitting on a private balcony on a cruise ship sailing Caribbean waters. Each time I think of my presentation, I try to conjure up memories of the smells, sights, sounds, tastes, and tactile sensations of that week. My body has been relaxing. I think I’m beginning to extinguish my former associations and replace them with this new link.

While our minds and bodies naturally seek health and wellness, sometimes our physical or psychological systems can get stuck in dis-ease. We can use pills to fight our backaches or counteract anxiety and sometimes these are necessary. But medicine can also mask our symptoms without approaching the root of the problem.

Have you ever used visualization to change your performance or your perceptions?

© Lewis-Barr 2009
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