Thursday, July 10, 2008

Peeling Away The Layers 4



It's time to take a break from writing in this blog.  Writing is my own favourite form of therapy, of getting to grips with whatever sort of person I feel I am or rather should be.  I believe now, as I'm fifty years of age, that my personality is always in the making - it's an on-going personal project.  What I am is what I am becoming, if you get my meaning.  I have always loved the word "open."  A child is open to the world and all the possibilities that lie before him or her.  Unfortunately, through encounters with the "unfeeling" world of reality he or she soon learns to wear masks of all types - in other words to be "closed" to the essence of life in varying degrees.  As one progresses in self-knowledge, one realises that one has to do a huge amount of un-learning.

So being "open" is the essence of growth - the essence of harnessing all that personal potential.  Here, I'd like to bring this little series on "Peeling away the Layers" to some sort of conclusion.

A Preliminary Exercise:

Okay, right now you are seated before your computer - fully open to the many distractions of the seemingly infinite world of information right at your fingertips.  To attempt to comprehend this gigantic body of information bites in all its complexity and totality would be unnerving.  Forget it all for the moment.  Just close your eyes.  Become aware of your body.  Where are the stresses or pains or twitches or whatever sensations in your body right now?  Attend to your shoulder and neck muscles.  If there is any tension there imagine it flowing gently out and down your arms and out through your fingers.  Attend to your spine and the way you are sitting on your seat.  Become aware of your breath.  Notice the colder air as you breathe in through your nostrils and the warmer air as you breathe out through your mouth.  Sense what it is like to be a living and breathing creature.  Become aware of your creaturely-ness as it were.  Become aware of the animal or creature that is you.  We are after all members of the Animal Kingdom.  Also become aware of your feelings and emotions.  How are you feeling.  Are you suppressing anger, pain, grief or envy at this time?  Is there some other emotion which wants expression.  Emotions are good.  Remember emotions are "e-motions" - they need to be moved or expressed not locked in or blocked.  See is there any feeling you can get in touch with.  Allow it to say something to your body.  Now try to let go of all those thoughts, one by one.  Don't try to evict them immediately.  Just become aware of them one by one and bid them goodbye.  That's it.  All is done nice and easily.  Let go and let life be in you.  Remain in your quietened position for about 10 minutes.

Being Rooted in the Self:

Now that you have got in touch with what is termed the Body-Mind, I call that awareness you have achieved a sense of being rooted in the Self - your real Self - not any old sham self, or self-image self but the Real Self (Carl Rogers) or the Self-Worth Self (Tony Humphreys). 

(1)  Real love is unconditional love for the Self, for the Real Self.  This is no ego love.  In fact it is the absolute opposite.  There is no posing here; no need for striking postures; no need for wearing masks; no need for pretence; no need for mind games or any type of games.  There is just the purity of being wholly and essentially you; wholly and essentially the Real Self. In this mode you accept yourself as you are in all your raw and naked reality; in all the truth of your own childhood innocence and trust in and openness to the world.  You do not say - I'll love my Self if I achieve top grades or this or that job or have this or that type of car, or this or that type of relationship.  You even love yourself in your very flawed-ness; in all your weaknesses and fragmentation and disintegration seeking always to heal the broken and jagged bits of self and integrate them into the Real Self.

(2) Unconditional  Love for Others: This is the only love worth taking about.  All others are sham loves - tawdry impostors of the real thing.  This is a love that does not place conditions of any type for its existence.  It is never cross or irritable.  It does not withdraw its affection because of some mistake or mishap.  It does not over-protect.  It is a love which rears children to let them go.  Once a little fledgling is able to fly and take care of itself, it's time for freedom.  Love knows that it can only protect it's object from realistic dangers, not from every inevitable evil.  It does not seek for relationships where the other is going to be totally dependent on it.  It cherishes the independence of its beloved.  It realises too well that all love is free; so free that it breaks all bonds of dependence and control.  Love flourishes in freedom and in freedom alone.  It loves the beloved even though the beloved has hurt the lover.  Unconditional love never compares one child with another or one lover with another; for it cherishes the beloved in all his or her strengths and weaknesses.  Unconditional love does not place demands on the loved object or the beloved.  Unconditional love allows the beloved to fly free if that's what's called for at that point in the relationship.

(3) Growing in the Wisdom of Years:

Here I would like to quote what I consider the most wonderful and wise quotation I ever heard about growing up.  I have quoted it on my Facebook Profile.  It goes thus: 

The day the child realizes that all adults are imperfect he becomes an adolescent; the day he forgives them, he becomes an adult; the day he forgives himself, he becomes wise. -Aiden Nowlan

Just go through your life now for a few moments.  Every child thinks his father and mother are tantamount to gods.  Daddy for the young child is all-powerful.  Then, when he or she grows into adolescence they learn that daddy is all too human.  He gets angry, often loses the plot.  He does not always give them what they want. In fact he, too, gets sick and can be very cranky - he may even leave mammy. In fact both daddy and mammy are very imperfect human beings.  This is shocking for the adolescent, but it is real. Eventually, the young person grows in self-knowledge and becomes an adult and realises that he or she make mistakes and blunders, too.  Now they begin to forgive their parents and other adults for their perceived and real offences.  Then, I like the last piece of this fantastic wisdom.  Eventually as they grow into further adulthood they learn to forgive themselves.  This is no easy task.  Having worked in various forms of counselling over the last ten years or so, and having lived life as reflectively as possible, the forgiving of oneself  can be the hardest task of all.  If you let someone down badly, and even if they forgive you, can you go on to forgive yourself?

When I was young I used to think that forgiveness was an act you did for someone else solely.  In  fact, through lived experience, I now realise that it is essentially an act one does for oneself - an integrating act for one's own self-healing, for the integration of all the jagged bits of painful existence into the Real Self.  Of course, I admit, it does help the person "forgiven" to move on, too.  But forgiveness is both directed to the healing of the Self and the Other.

Growth is always Painful:

Just look at nature.  We belong to nature, to life that has sprung up from planet EarthMother Gaia is a bountiful mother where growth happens in cycles.  Plants grow, bear seed and scatter them to the four winds, then die and the whole cycle begins again.  So also is it with animal life.  As we are part of the Animal Kingdom, so is it with us.  To live means to die.  In fact, think about it here and now - if you are living, then ergo you are dying.  The very concept of dying is contained within the concept of living.  You simply cannot have one without the other.  When I reflect on this philosophical statement  death never seems to be that bad after all.  As one of my  colleagues wisely puts it:  "I don't mind growing old - because it means that I am not dead... yet!"  What wisdom and he's a mathematician and computer buff, but a wise one.  I love my chats with him.  Another piece of wisdom from this man - when a very young colleague of ours burst into tears after some pupils had badly scratched the the newly-sealed wooden floor of the school hall  -  was the wonderful Biblical quip:  "This, too, will pass!"  How right he was/is.

Likewise with our own growth - it is painful.  Call these pains "growing pains."  If you are worried or fretting or regretting - well, it's all part of our human lot.  We learn wisdom through our mistakes, and by definition mistakes are painful and pain-causing.  Another quote, often used in sporting circles is the quip - "No pain, No Gain!"  Also how true this is.  Now, that you're in pain, do something about it.  If you have a physical pain you react immediately and do something about it.  Yet, if you're in emotional pain, you just might not do anything at all about it!  How foolish you are!  Go out and talk to someone.  Tell someone you're sorry.  Go weep on someone's shoulder.  Do a small act of kindness.  Go and get help from a friend or a counsellor or therapist.  Reach out to others.  Don't go it alone.  Tell someone you love them.  Smile, laugh or cry.  Treasure your emotions - express them.  You won't be sorry.  In fact, you'll be all the healthier for it.

 

Note:

This marks the end, for some time, of this blog as I wish to write more in Irish and Italian.  I may come back sooner.  It all depends on whether I need to write more in English.  If you have read these posts, thank you for doing so.  If you have just dropped by and paused and then gone elsewhere, thanks for dropping in!  Beannacht leat a Scríbhinn.


I have uploaded above a picture of me when I was roughly 7 or thereabouts. The young boy in the picture was always full of life. He never dreamed that someday he would become this creatuire that has written these posts! He never dreamed that life was essentially such a promise of potential and such a mystery of the entanglement of good and evil. He has long since grown up but has never forgotten the wonderful world of his long lost innocence.

Peeling Away The Layers 3



There are many ways of getting to know oneself; of achieving some self-development; of approaching as near as one possibly can a sense of integration as a human being.  There are many activities we can engage in, but self-awareness and self-reflection is certainly a sine qua non.   I will list here possible ways of engaging in self-development or in "soul- making" as the poet John Keats put it nearly 200 years ago: "Call the world if you please 'The vale of soul-making.'(Letter to George and Georgiana Keats, 21 April (1819), in H. E. Rollins (ed.) Letters of John Keats (1958) vol.2).  These items are in no order of importance, but are randomly enumerated as they spring into my mind.

1.  Engage in meditation exercises.  These involve listening to the body and to the mind or more correctly listening to the body and emptying the mind.  Self-knowledge accrues gentle over the years of practice.

2.  Having said the first point, I am reminded of that ancient piece of advice from Roman times that it is important to develop a "mens sana in corpore sano" which translates as "a healthy mind in a healthy body."  We need to exercise our bodies as well as our minds.  Hence it is very important to take plenty of exercise.

3.  Cultivate a garden.  Plants flowers and care for them.

4.  Do some D.I.Y.

5.  Listen to music - all types, indeed.  However, choose pieces that suit your mood.  If you're stressed out listen to some type of "chill out" music.  There is a plethora of CDs available for relaxation.

6.  Do Tai Chi or Falun Gong or Falun Dafa

7.  Cultivate as many friends as possible.  I deliberately choose the verb "cultivate" as all relationships need to be cared for.  I try to meet as many friends as possible.  Tomorrow I'm meeting a friend from back in 1977 - in fact she appears in the photograph in my last post.  Once a month my brother and I meet three and sometimes four lads we knew from school way back in the 1970s.

8.  Read good literature.  I've always been a fan of literature and end up buying more books than I'm physically able to read.  I always have at least four or five books going at the same time: a novel, a biography or autobiography, a philosophy book, a psychology book, a book of poems.  We cannot experience everything first hand, so reading widens the expanse of our emotional base.  I've been reading snippets from Umberto  Eco's book of essays and lectures on literature.  here is how he sums up the importance of literature: "Stories...also teach us how to die.  I believe that one of the principle functions of literature lies in these lessons about fate and death.  Perhaps there are others, but for the moment none spring to mind."  (Umberto Eco, On Literature, Harcourt Books 2002, 15)

9.  Go to loads of films and dramas.  Experience what the Aristotle called "Katharsis" or the purging of your emotions at great drama.

10.  Above all listen to your friends.  A true friend will tell you the "truth in love."  That is an excellent way of getting to know yourself.

11.  Be as creative as you can in everything you do.  Don't think vertically.  Think laterally.  Read Edward de Bono - he is excellent on creative thinking as is Tony Buzan.  I have read many of their books.

12.  Sometimes pain is unavoidable.  Live it, be in it, go with it -  don't fight it.  I know that's easier said than done.  However, if you read a lot about pain and suffering you will come across thoughts on the feelings of a certain type of euphoria associated with pain.  Yes, take the medicines the Doctor advises, but go with the flow of the energy.  Don't always flee away from pain or painful situations.  Again suffering to re-quote Keats can be "soul-making."

13.  Visit your relatives and friends who are in hospital.  I find this a really enriching experience.

14.  Visit anyone you know who is in prison.  I've only done it once, but it is a blessed experience.

15.  Tell your friends that you love them.  That's important.  I often do.

16.  Waste time with others when you can - and paradox of paradoxes, you will find that the time was not wasted after all.

17.  Keep a daily journal.  Write down how you are feeling at that particular time.

18.  Write poems or songs if you are musical.

19. Read poems out loud.  Enjoy the fall of the words on your outer as well as your "inner" ear.

20.  Learn to embrace all your emotions.  It's okay to get angry and even to shout on occasions when you are annoyed.  It's brilliant to laugh and joke! It's also healing to weep.  Learn to let your tears flow when they wish to do so.

21.  Always "eye-ball" a person you are talking with.

22.  Smile as often as you can.

23.  Learn to hug as many people as you possible can.

24. Learn to cook.  Enjoy good food.  Invite your friends over.

25. Reach out to other people.  Like the flower bud in the petal there will come a time when it's bloody impossible to stay locked forever in yourself.  Reach out.  There will always be a hand that will grasp yours back!  Try it.   Trust your heart. Trust life.  Above all trust yourself.

26.  Read books on self-development and psychology and even psychiatry.

27. Attend courses on self-development.

28.  Attend a good therapist.  Everyone needs one.  It's just that some of us are too unaware and some too lazy to bother.

29.  Write down your dreams.  They are magical.  I have been keeping a dream diary for twenty years now.  They have revealed a wealth of wisdom to me about my unconscious needs and hurts.  They have been a brilliant source of healing for my soul.  Immediately after writing this post I will write accounts of two dreams I had recently.  Doing this, or even telling another about your dream is what's called "honouring the dream."  Try it.  It works.  You'll reap great rewards in terms of self-knowledge.

30.  Keep a blog.  It's good fun.  I love it.

 

Obviously, there is so much more that could be said.  These 30 points are random.  Through using combinations of them you will get a handle on the mystery that is your very self.  Good luck and good prospecting.  There's gold in "dem dar" hills!!


The above is a picture I scanned into my computer recently. It shows me with some friends on the top of the Sugar Loaf, Summer 1978. Only 30 years ago. No reward for guessing which is me!

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Peeling Away The Layers 2



In Therapy:

Okay I have attended a counsellor for some twenty sessions.  I am also used to attending a psychiatrist every three months mainly for medication, but I also insist of personalising the whole thing and delving deep into my psyche as best I can with my consultant.  Added to that, I have done a two year course in counselling skills and plan to embark on a course to qualify me after three or four years as a psychotherapist, fully registered and all.  So I know what it's like to go into a room and begin talking to a friendly other who will listen and ask some well considered questions.  He or she is about to help me reflect on how I am now in myself.  As I said this experience I have always found rewarding and affirming.  More people could do with it.  However, I have found the process to be like that of exploration or mining or indeed rather similar to an archaeological dig.  These are metaphors of course.  Another metaphor would be that of diving down into the psyche.  Hence we have the description of of certain types of psychology as depth psychology.  Okay then, there are many images we can use for the process.  I've described my own theory of the personality or psyche as being like that of an onion with each of the preceding layers being built upon by a successive layer.

Careful and Reflective Digging: 

In reading Freud recently I was fascinated to see that his topographical model of the psyche was very much influenced by the work of the archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann who could painstakingly re-construct or put together clues of ancient civilizations from traces of old buried cities and come up with a fairly accurate model of not alone what that particular city might look like but also of the habits of the people and the beliefs of that society.  So Freud's topographical model saw the psyche as made up of the conscious mind, the preconscious mind and unconscious mind.  I have already discussed this in detail before - see the following link Topographical Model

A client can go to a counsellor or therapist for a number of reasons.  Maybe he has been referred by a doctor or is experiencing some trauma or he or she is bereft after a major loss be that death or separation or recent illness or being made unemployed.  For me, I took the twenty counselling sessions as as effort to see where I was going as I approached mid-life and felt somewhat lost.  For me it was a marvellous opportunity to grow.   Therapy is all about healing and growth and in fact the word literally means the first of these two words.

The process for me, then, was rewarding.  I felt myself literally pealing down through the layers or if you like digging down.  Now one never sloughs off any of the layers - one can go back and forth between layers, but oftentimes there can be a sense that one can have "blocks" or a feeling of being stuck in one or another layer.  (I know some white-haired adolescent men - apparently happily married, but still playing the field sexually and making adolescent jokes with the lack of concern of testosterone-ridden teenagers.  This is sad to see in a fifty year old man.  In short his sexual development or appetite is somehow stuck in the adolescent layer.  I am using this example by way of illustration here).

Some people even maintain they can get a sense of recollection of what it was like to be in their mother's womb.  I have myself been a very intense anxious boy during my childhood and adolescence.  Indeed, I also suffer from hypertension and am on medication for the same.  How was my mother at my birth?  Well, years later I found out that she had lost one child to a cot death, perhaps one to a miscarriage and her first still living child was born slightly handicapped.  I never got to talk to her about this, but am merely putting the facts together.  Therefore, I should imagine that she was particularly anxious before and during my birth.  This anxiety was certainly communicated to me.  My younger brother is very relaxed, way more laid back than I. 

As a small child I loved my father's Aunt a lot.  My father's own mother was long dead before I was born as so Aunt Annie, whom we called Granny Saunders  became a surrogate "nanny" (Dublin slang for grandmother) for us.  I was always fond of her as she was more affectionate to us than our own mother.  As a little child I remember once rushing over to my mother - I could have been no more than 3 years old - and kissing her.  She was blackening the grate of the fire and she pushed me away.  Here's a memory that was stored in my unconscious for years until say during the last 20 years I unearthed it.  It had often coloured my unconscious attitudes towards mothers and some women.  Unearthing little suppressed memories like these is healing.  Once they are remembered they are dealt with in as best a way as possible.  Obviously, incidences or instances of trauma will not be dealt with as easily as this.  As the memories of the trauma are brought to the surface healing comes gradually.  It can take many many sessions of therapy in dealing with very deeply-buried trauma like child abuse in all its forms. Sometimes it can seem that a problem can re-emerge again and again when we think we have dealt with it.  Well, in this case, we are being told in no uncertain terms that we really have not dealt with it at all.

Teachers should be careful what they say to the children in their care.  I remember one teacher shouting at me when I was playing football as a very small boy - probably about nine years old - that I was "a jelly bean."  I have never forgot this insult.  To be insulted by a teacher is far worse than being insulted by a peer, because teachers are people with authority in the child's mind.  Later, when I was about 16 I remember our Honours Maths teacher shouting "fool" at me when I failed to volunteer the correct substitution that should be made in some integration problem or other.  I was in shock and hurt to the very root of my being - as I loved the subject and respected the teacher.

And so each succeeding layer is laid upon the previous one.  Old hurts are often not healed.  Therapy helps in healing them.  I remember one lovely woman who was in my group doing counselling skills saying that her mother had never shown any affection for her at all.  I remember sharing in the group about my one dreadful experience of depression when I was so low that someone could have come and said to me "your mother is dead" and that I would not have been able to register concern at all because I was so low.  This sharing helped this lovely woman who replied that indeed her mother had suffered from schizophrenia and been often confined to bed while her grandmother or aunt did the caring.  All therapy training is done in groups which, of their nature, will be intense but rewarding and personally enhancing and supporting. 

I have found myself going up and down and in and out through these successive layers in the onion or in the archaeological dig as it were.

Self-Worth Versus Self-Esteem: 

I love the distinction which Dr Tony Humphreys makes between these two terms in his book Examining Our Times. 

Self-worth is a given, unchangeable; it is what you are from the moment of conception: sacred, worthy of giving and receiving love, unique, individual, possessing vast intellectual potential and giftedness...Self-esteem is a screen self, a crust you form around your real self in order to survive in the social system of which you are a member, or in particular relationships.  The greater the threats to your expression of your self-worth, the lower is your self-esteem and the higher are your protectors.  Basically self-esteem is the amount of your real self that you dare show to people. (Op. cit., 127)

As a teacher I am highly aware from the impact of my own negative experience outlined above and from my professional training that the affirmation of the self-worth of each child or student is of paramount importance.  Personally, if I have ever been in the wrong in blaming a child, or in losing control through an outburst of anger, I have always been quick to apologise.  This is something any adult and certainly all teachers should do.  There is no loss of power involved here at all.  Quite the contrary, it enhances what I would term real or true power which comes from following what is the truth of the soul.

Little children are spontaneously giving and loving just as I have illustrated about with my story of my kissing my mother.  In other words, they are spontaneously and innately aware of their self-worth but bit by bit as they run up against society with its harshness they learn to cover up by various self-images which are marked by low self-esteem.  A person with low self-esteem may either be very aggressive, violent, blaming, workaholic, alcohol dependent, possessive, or, on the other hand be extremely passive, withdrawn, apathetic, drug-addicted, shy, timid, fearful and depressed.  I have come across all these types in my own experience of life and of these types in the making as a teacher with nearly thirty years experience.

I will return to Dr Tony Humphreys in a moment, but now I wish to refer back to the marvellous memoir Music and Madness which I dealt with over a series of some eleven posts in this blog: - M and M .  In that book he talks about his early low self-esteem.  He remembers his father referring to the fact that "Ivor was a mistake."  In other words, parents do huge damage to their children, mostly unintentionally and unconsciously, and all this hurt has to be undone by the children as they grow older.  We all have to do that.  Unfortunately, none of us is trained to be a parent.  Mostly everyone does their best, often within difficult circumstances.  As a teacher and in general from my experience in life with friends and acquaintances I am at one here with Tony Humphreys:

The more characteristics of your true self that are not affirmed, or, on appearance, are severely punished and violated, the greater the defensive screen created by the person.  There are individuals who describe themselves, for example as "stupid," "evil," "vile," ugly," "unlovable," "hateful," "bad".  These persons created these self-esteem defences as a means of survival, and not surprisingly, it takes considerable patience on the part of others to help these individuals to let go of their shadow selves. (op.cit. supra, 168)

I have said in these pages before that none of us is perfect.  We are all personalities in the making.  None of us is wholly realised or integrated - just some of us are further on the road to integration than others.   We all belong to dysfunctional families but some are more dysfunctional than others.  Some are more enmeshed than others.  A friend of mine describes his first marriage as tantamount to "marrying a family, not a woman."  She had never ever really split from her family of origin.  The ties were too strong - she was enmeshed.  One relationship I had with a schizophrenic woman was similar.  She could not split away at all from her family of origin.  She was and still is a little girl totally dependent on her mother and her family.  Ivor Browne has interesting things to say about this lack of separation from family of origin as regards mental illness.  However, we all have work to do in separating ourselves out from our families of origin; in learning to be independent; in learning to put aside the over-dependence crutch; in learning to integrate all aspects of our personality into our psyche.  This is hard going indeed, but well worth the effort.  Hence the above images I started with are somewhat skilful and painstaking and time-consuming:- archaeological dig, mining, diving or peeling away the layers.  I'll finish with the famous poem on parents and families by Philip Larkin  - "This be the Verse":

This Be The Verse

They fuck you up, your mum and dad

They may not mean to, but they do.

They fill you with the faults they had

And add some extra, just for you.

 

But they were fucked up in their turn

By fools in old-style hats and coats,

Who half the time were soppy-stern

And half at one another's throats

 

Man hands on misery to man.

It deepens like a coastal shelf.

Get out as early as you can,

And don't have any kids yourself.



Down memory lane. Above is a picture of me at a friend's debs. This was taken in 1977. I was 19 years of age!

Peeling Away The Layers 1



A Personal Take on Personality - What really Makes Us Tick

I have long been quite given to the idea of our personalities being made up by the gradual accretion of succeeding layers.  I suppose the very core must be in the little embryo huddled in its mother's womb.  As we age we put on succeeding layers, layer after layer,  like birth, infancy, toddlerhood, childhood, adolescence, adulthood, old age, senescence and finally death.  I have also stated that real growth involves acknowledging the pluses and minuses, the strengths and weaknesses of each successive layer.  The real adult must embrace every layer in his/her psyche and attempt to garner strength of character from so doing.

1.  Needing Mammy:

There can be few more important truisms than that the little child's need for its mother is of paramount importance to its growth as an infant and as a child and as a toddler.  The little child learns so much about life, about when and how he or she can get their needs met from his or her mother.  All psychotherapists from whatever background or school place supreme attention on importance of these first years in  the development of the growing person.  Freud, who died in London in 1939, placed considerable importance on the early impact of the mother on the child. The psychoanalytic tradition in the UK was carried on after his death by figures such as his daughter Anna Freud, Ernest Jones, Melanie Klein and in particular Donald Winnicott (1896-1971). The latter two took psychoanalysis in the direction of the analysis of children, and child therapists to this day are influenced by this tradition.  Henceforth it was a sine qua non that psychologists and therapists would place supreme attention on the importance of these first years in the development of the growing person. Much good and much ill can be done in those formative years.  However, as our parents are all too human, and hence flawed, they make mistakes, so none of us is reared properly.  In all of this early development the relationship with mother is of paramount importance.  In more recent years the role of father in the rearing of children had got some attention as we now realise that the growing child needs the influences of both sexes.

2.  Absent Fathers:

For most of my adult life I was dealing with this in my own life.  My father was stricken with poliomyelitis when I was only four years of age and I missed his presence dearly from the house.  We lived in a small country town where he had been a postman.  The affliction - he eventually thankfully lost only the use of his right arm while many others lost the use of legs and spine to this horrible disease - meant that he had to go to hospital in Dublin, then he got work in Dublin as he could not continue as a postman with one arm.  The saddest sight for me as a child was that of the rear of the train carriage carrying him away from us every couple of months when he used come to visit us.  Then as an adolescent my father did shift work and we used only see him at weekends mostly.  We never seemed to do much together when I was young.  However, I realise that was not his fault - merely the conspiracy of events.  I see from my reading of the Internet that Barack Obama has delivered a sermon at a Black Pentecostal Church on the reality of the absent father among young black families. Here is what this political gentleman had to say on this topic:

“We need fathers to realize that responsibility does not end at conception. Too many fathers are M.I.A, too many fathers are AWOL, missing from too many lives and too many homes,” Mr. Obama said, to a chorus of approving murmurs from the audience. “They have abandoned their responsibilities, acting like boys instead of men. And the foundations of our families are weaker because of it.” ( Quoted at this link Obama NY Times, 16th June 2008)

The New Scientist reported as far back as 2003 that numerous studies show that girls reach puberty younger, become sexually active earlier and are more likely to get pregnant in their teens if their father was absent from the home from when they were young.  These authoritative reports confirmed also that teenage girls raised without fathers are more likely to suffer from depression, drop out of school and have other behavioural problems.  We probably all were somewhat hazily aware of this reality but it is good to have our suspicions confirmed.  See this link for the relevant article: NS and Absent Fathers.   It also appears that girls who have little contact with their fathers, especially during adolescence have great difficulties forming lasting relationships with men. Women without father figures lack a sense of protection and are more likely to end up a pregnant teenager, dropping out of college or never attempting college and having low self esteem.  For further information and statistics on this see this link:- continuing difficulties

As regards both boys and girls it would appear that teenage delinquency is correlated very highly with the phenomenon of the absent father.  See this link Teenage Delinquency.

Okay, fathers can be absent due to many reasons - separation, divorce, neglect, imprisonment, sickness or early death.  I have taught many children who did not know their fathers.  One boy confided to me that "I'd murder the fucker if I met him, because he abandoned my ma and me."  Yet another younger boy cried that his absent father who still kept in contact with his "new" family now and again forgot his birthday.  Still another boy who was adopted asked me in front of his peers: "Do you think that my real parents loved me?"  A few months back, a rather effeminate fifteen year old boy spoke of hating his separated father.  Even when fathers are physically present they may be emotionally absent to their sons especially.  As a teacher I have always marvelled at how well young lads whose fathers come to watch them play football or hurling or whatever do in life generally.  These are the confident youngsters, not necessarily the brightest.  Those who are working out of a sense of abandonment, even if brighter, are far less self-confident and competent socially.

Meditation techniques using self-parenting images I have found work a treat with the young lads I teach who often experience themselves as abandoned one way or another by their father figure.

Here is an interesting little snippet from the insuppressible psychologist Maureen Gaffney, Ph. D:

But to become a man, every son ultimately needs to struggle with his father - the protagonist of the old order - to metaphorically slay the dragon, and to become himself the hero, the champion of the new.  It is a struggle, however, which must be tempered by love, and is only possible through love.  Because the old order has to be first taught by a beloved father. (Maureen Gaffney, The way We Live Now, Gill and Macmillan, 1996,  206)

Through personal dream work which I've been engaged in for the last 20 or more years I've already had dreams of the individual deaths of both my mother and father.  At the time through dealing with these dreams - by writing them out - I realised that they were saying that the link between me and my father or mother was finally broken.  

I have found in my nearly 30 years teaching that pupils' relationships with mother and father are the most important relationships in their lives.  Often I have found that as a male teacher I have become a father figure for those who have had long-absent fathers.  I can remember two recent past pupils hugging me and thanking me publicly for so being.  I'm not singing my own praises here, as any teacher worth his or her salt would be available in like manner.

3.  Distressed Souls

In practically every class I have ever taught in my life there has been at least one distressed individual.  I call this the "distressed soul" of my subtitle above.  Indeed children can come under emotional, physical or sexual threat in the family and in each of the social systems they frequent - school, local community and sports clubs.  The clinical psychologist, lecturer and counsellor Dr. Tony Humphreys adverts to Physical Signs, Undercontrol Signs (sic) and Overcontrol Signs (sic) which such distressed souls exhibit on a daily basis.  Physical signs are obvious like bed-wetting, nailbiting, jumping at sudden noises etc.  Undercontrol signs are very obvious to teachers, police officers and social workers - namely bad behaviour of all sorts, attention seeking, verbal aggressiveness, hyperactivity etc.  I will not deal with these as much has been written on them.  Also the latter category of people shout the loudest demanding attention and they do get attention.  The ones who often don't get attention are those poor creatures who are subjected to overcontrol. Here is what Dr Humphreys says about these distressed souls:

Overcontrol (sic) signs of distress are more common in girls than in boys.  Examples include shyness, passivity, perfectionism, timidity, over-pleasing, feelings easily hurt...Unfortunately the children who are perfectionistic (sic), timid and fearful are most at risk emotionally than those children who act out their feelings of rejection and inadequacy.  It is as if those who shout loudest are most likely to be heard. (Tony Humphreys, Examining Our Times, Gill and Macmillan, 2002, 74)

Distressed souls are quiet and lost souls who need the care and attention of every teacher.  Unfortunately, the poor overworked teacher has a lot to contend with if he or she has a big class.  If there are unruly distressed souls there as well the poor quiet ones these will get most if not all the teacher's attention while the quiet ones will be neglected. 


Above I have placed a picture I took of our first year Leinster Soccer winners. Many of their parents were their to see their sons in action. This is good parenting!

Monday, July 07, 2008

Another Stream of Consciousness Exercise



(In memoriam Gerard Smith, B.Comm., H.Dip. Ed., 1956 - 1986 approximately)

I will always remember that morning even though so long ago and the question on your lips about the meaning of it all the seeming pointlessness of the whole project some might even say escapade that is life and the choice here to write without punctuation in keeping with Joycean principles of streaming consciousness and that refusal to censor even edit what such a flow might pour on paper or screen ah Gerry you were a nice lad so competent in your field great at economic analysis I remember your advice your knowledgeable shake of head how I remember the sadness of your friends on your untimely death so far away from friends and family oh so far away yet not for me the grief as I did not get to know you well having moved on myself but the memory still remains and touches some place in my heart of hearts you who have given me so much so much have led me on to question and to question deeper the myths we weave the way we strive to conceive and deceive and comfort one another on the way to God knows where even the words we use Christ we're entrapped within the constraints of our own language even our ability to make that a flexible tool ah Gerry so many years have passed and I wonder if I'm wiser at all at all at all but you know there were chinks of light coming through on the rare occasions floating dust in the sunbeams in the darkened room and yet Gerry it seems the only realistic option is to keep going to keep right on going even if we get it wrong and we get it wrong so often but your gentle presence is with me now as I write and still ponder your question about what it's all about I really don't know at all at all I really don't know at all and now I believe after all the sweat and toil of the years that it really does not matter at all what the whole thing is about at all and I find writing without the constraints of punctuation somewhat liberating ah boy I've tried it all theology philosophy literature Irish English French and Italian languages and even mathematics going to imaginary realms to realm after realm of imaginary and transcendental numbers and theology and spirituality playing also with transcendence then let's go into the imaginal yes there's a wonderful wondrous word imaginal  as made in images and of images rather than imaginary and then the philosophy of science not to mention the science of philosophy and philosophical theology and theological philosophy metaphysics and physics and ontology and all those concepts we weave to keep ourselves amused or is it deceived and I tire Gerry boy of the thinking of the close rational thinking in straight lines in straight vertical lines and I need to move sideways and well as upwards and downwards and I need the magic not alone of numbers but also of poems and plays and the mystery of music and the consolations of friends and what we call those little shared moments trying to map some meaning on the chaos before us oh we silly silly little people small infinitesimally small in the scheme of things who think we are so important are we no we're not Gerry boy and you were right we do not really matter that much in the scheme of things alright we matter to those who care for us but that is all that is all boy and you were right there right there sitting on the chair that morning in the staff room before we started work oh work by which we small ants define ourselves in our scheme of things in our pre-determined little systems little little systems and then Gerry I realise that all the myriads of ways of living life from hippy to bureaucrat to lawyer to priest to teacher to engineer to bin collector to singer to actor to shop assistant to doctor to philosopher to mathematician to carpenter or mechanic to taxi driver who really cares they are all little ways of passing the time of getting through whatever the mystery is whatever the project this life is and in the end Gerry in the end nothing will matter in the greater scheme of things that there once was a Tim Quinlan who wrote these words who still writes these ciphers on a page or on a screen or whatever God Bless Turing and his Machine and all those other characters who live in the neuronal nexus that is my brain or mind ah Gerry so many years have passed and I am tiring now of all the thinking too much thinking it can be a heavy load to carry Gerry you know ten years ago I woke up in a psychiatric hospital with my brain or mind reduced to a psychopharmacological morass of neurons misfiring in some synaptic soup such a mess such a mess and I wondered who I was at at all at all at all just a psychopharmacological phenomenon not a personality any more because that had somehow drained off somewhere before I woke up benumbed in a non-feeling world and after all Gerry what was I then but a mess of neurons known as a brain with my personality so easily changed by psychopharmacological interventions ah Gerry then I realised that the real me the real I the grammar does not matter any more at all because who cares anyway I realised that I am a being always in the making always a project never something already given and I Gerry am responsible as best I can given the right situation of taking the right decisions for the ongoing development or making of whatever I may become but Gerry things happen as you know like your congenitally weak heart your short time fuse which you got in your hand of cards or the unipolar disorder in my brain I inherited  and so we can just make the best of the hand of cards we get ah Gerry I need this little talk with you I remember how I was stunned and how I could not answer you then all those years ago I cannot now remember what I said but I hope I did not say anything too stupid or trite or predictably inane or predictably conservative or too glib but I did not know then how it was for you locked in my own little world in the end in the end Gerry I think it all boils down to psychology  yes psychology and I'd like to compose a Latin phrase for this Gerry let's call it a "reductio in psychologiam" really I hear all the debates between theologians and scientists and the Dawkinses of this world and I've read them all but I remain unmoved so unmoved so cold indifferent to their so-called learned words I tackled a lot of them in my master's degree for what that was worth shortly before I reached meltdown in my brain before the medication brought me back yes Gerry boy I could answer your question a little better now not that I have any answers mind you except to say that it all depends on your needs boy some people need an outside power like God or nature to give them hope to give them a star to guide their lonely ship on the seemingly infinite sea of meaninglessness others need images of hope like those available in art theatre or music and all of us need the comfort of friends some shoulder to cry on from time to time some hand to hold from time to time someone to laugh with someone to cry with while we weep for ourselves even when we weep for others oh yes we think we weep for others but we silly selfish creatures are really weeping for ourselves because we know that death will undo us too yes death will undo us too and it is so true Gerry so true the last taboo is death the last taboo is death I must say it twice I must say it twice and okay if religion gives you hope go with that but me I've outgrown the answers that religion offered me that ten years ago when my brain went into meltdown because Gerry I could no longer believe in a disembodied soul or in a disembodied personality because my personality or psyche or soul was no longer so set anymore no longer so solid anymore instead it became so fluid yet so linked to my breaking body the two body and psyche were groaning together groaning together and so the idea of Body-Soul appeals to me Gerry whether it endures or perdures beyond death I care less oh I care less because I don't believe in heaven anymore some place out there where spirits live no no no my heaven is here in the now Gerry and you live now now now in my mind in my head and in these words oh Gerry I cried some ten or twelve years ago when the Church died for me then I did not shed a tear when my disembodied soul died no no no because something else had come to live in me some reality that is me something a little solider yet not set in stone namely my Body-Self aging and dying living and dying living to die yet dying to live a reality a new Self that somehow I experience in the Body-Self yet is not as simple as the traditional idea of soul that surprises and frightens me by turns a deep and lovely thing a deep and lovely soulanimal or animalsoul or soul-in-animal or animal-in-soul inseparable so inseparable not for me the stupidity and sham of the Cartesian dualism that horrible lie that has brought us in the West very little joy at all but backed up the soul-proclaimers and the body-deniers who saw the poor body as an empty shell to be filled by fluid soul at long last I have dispelled all those old beliefs and so now what am I left with I am left with the task so responsible of making me of making me of making me into what I should love to become my own creation with the help of others of family and friends and then then then the circle of life will out out out and then begin again again and again and so I will always remember that morning...


I offer the above photograph of the sunset which I took after visiting my mother in the nurrsing home about two weeks ago as a tribute to your memory, Gerry. It was a special evening for me because I was so open that evening to all the beauty in the universe. Rest well my friend, rest well. I have never forgotten you over all those years!