Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Exploring Intimacy: A New Book by Suzann Robins

I met my colleague Suzann Robins in two worlds we both travel in: the worlds of body psychotherapy and the world of integrating sexuality and spirituality. It seems fitting that her new book, Exploring Intimacy represents the juxtaposition and integration of these worlds. Suzann also integrates these two more contemporary bodies of work and world views with more traditional schools of thought about psychology, health and human development.

The subtitle of the book is "cultivating healthy relationships through insight and intuition." I might add my own subtitle: "developing an integrated framework to understand the evolution of relationships, energy and connection in today's world."

Suzann does a remarkable job of outlining an evolutionary timeline of the history of thought, the history of medicine and the history of holism, and brings them all up to date with an understanding of energy medicine, emotional intelligence, intuition, gender energy and the spiritual dimensions of intimacy and sexuality.

At the very center of human experience and human relationships is our life energy, a vital force that seeks movement, connection and expression. I love the way Suzann defines emotion or "e-motion," as "the actual energy charge in motion," and also a basic part of a sixth sense, intuition, "and intuitive intelligence that formulates ideas about other people and our reactions to them."

She continues, "Perceptions formed through our sense of intuition relate to our ability to 'read' another person's energy fields, which is different than how a body is positioned in space. We detect location, orientation and movements of the body through the nervous system, especially visually and within the semicircular canals of the inner ear. Reactions to others occurs within the internal systems of the body's mind. Different streams of information combine to send signals to the brain."

The more levels of perception we are consciously aware of, the more completely and subtley we can read other people, express ourselves and relate and connect with them. When we add the less commonly acknowledged lenses of the heart and the kinesthetic felt sense to more commonly acknowledged lenses of visual cues, sounds, and thoughts, we gain a more complete experience of ourselves and others.

When we add the energy dimension to human psychology, we unite an understanding of the body and the mind. When self-actualization expands to include the transpersonal as well as the personal, Maslow's hierarchy of needs can be updated to provide a more comprehensive progression towards an integrated self.

For the past two years, I have taught a class at UMass Boston on how to create mutually empowering relationships. We look at the history and evolution of relationships since the founding of the United States, explore the wide variety of approaches to counseling that have evolved over the past several decades, and in the case of tools from other than Western cultures, longer than that, and try to describe a contemporary model of healthy relationships that incorporates the challenges we face as we grow beyond our past models in climate of constant change.

Suzann's book could be a wonderful textbook for my class, skillfully integrating past and present,
with an eye towards the future, and encouraging us to know ourselves both more broadly and deeply, so we have the space and perspective to more deeply connect with others as well.

This book is fascinating for students and practitioners of psychology, energy medicine and counseling, and provides a template for what it means to be a human being, on ones own and in relationship.

Exploring Intimacy: Cultivating Healthy Relationships through Insight and Intution
by Suzann Panek Robins
Rowman and Littlefield, 2010

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Emotional Risk-Taking, Emotional Intelligence and Social Integrity

My son, Alex, participates in a wonderful community called Boys to Men. The community consists of adult men who recognize the value and even essential contribution of mentoring teenage boys as they transition from boyhood to young adulthood. A key part of the mentoring work includes developing a connection to their sense of integrity, courage, respect, compassion and leadership.

What is very sad is that many adult men have never had the opportunity to spend time with or relate to, in either a short-term or on-going way, with men who can model these very qualities. As a result, they never have the chance to fully develop into integrated men, who have the emotional space to pass the torch on to the next generation of men.

Jeff Kidman, the MA leader of the Boys to Men program made the comment that boys needs to engage in "emotional risk-taking," not just physical risk-taking. Every time a man takes an emotional risk, he grows spiritually and emotionally. And he also models and helps create a climate of emotional safety that empowers boys to take emotional risks as well.

Creating a climate that is safe for emotional risk-taking, that includes emotional support, and accountability for one's commitments, behavior and actions, not only helps individuals develop emotional intelligence, but also helps a group of boys and men develop a sense of social integrity.

Today's society fosters so much isolation and disconnection, we struggle to develop and maintain our personal integrity, never mind create and sustain a sense of social integrity. If we can build emotionally safe spaces that empower boys and men to be real, vulnerable, accountable, responsible and community-minded, we can transform the fabric of society, and remove the space that allows and perpetuates a bullying culture.

Jeff pointed out that kids need something to push against so that they can get internally stronger in their sense of self. Just like going to the gym, where we exercise muscles by lifting weights or running on a treadmill, which help us build fitness and strength, having relationships and social spaces that offer healthy limits, consequences and accountability build emotional fitness and social strength.

Although I am a mom, and the wrong gender to be directly involved in the weekend programs for boys and men or the monthly journeymen group, I can surely offer my behind the scenes support for such a powerful, impactful, valuable and needed program! And I can also offer my appreciation for people like Jeff and his comrades, who are growing this work here in Massachusetts, and elsewhere in the world!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Roots of Bullying: A "Blaming the Victim" Culture

I am having the opportunity to continue to reflect on the roots of bullying in our culture and why it is so widespread today. My 14 year old son, who is a straight A student, emotionally intelligent and literate, with a defined and grounded sense of self, all too often is in the pathway of insecure bullies, who "bully up." One of my friends was shocked to hear that a tall (he's over 6' tall), smart, mature kid would be in the line of fire. I explained that in middle school, when ANYONE sticks out as "not comforming for conformity's sake," they are in the line of fire.

My son was brave enough to go to the principal, along with an ally, his 7th grade history teacher, who is one of the most emotionally intelligent teachers I have ever met. My son presented a well-thought out and respectful picture of what was going on and what needed to be done.

One of the comments my son shared with me that really caught my attention was the principal's response to when my son was being bullied last year when he broke his dominant arm in two places on a school field trip, and brought a pillow in to rest the arm when it was first healing in a heavy cast.

The principal's comment after my son explained the constancy and the intensity of the bullying was, "why didn't you keep telling the teacher this was going on?" My son's point was, "If you keep telling the teacher, you get labelled a 'tattle tale,' and then you get bullied more for that."

My son's advocate asked the principal why there is so much responsibility placed on the bullying "victim," and why the teachers or the system can't be proactive and prevent this activity from happening in the first place, or respond the FIRST time a bullying problem is reported.

I thought the teacher's point was spot on. What it says to me is that there is a lack of EQ not only among the kids, but also amongst those in the administration, charged with holding the space the kids operate and live in during the school day.

Phoebe Prince went to the principal of her school the week before she committed suicide and reported the extent of her experience. She was sent back to class.

WHY do we keep "blaming the victim," rather than recognize that bullying is a systemic problem? It is not just about the kids--be it the bully or the bullied. It is also about the entire environment our kids are living in, which begins at home, and continues at school.

Until we can get to the root of the matter, and stop putting all the responsibility on the kid who is bullied, bullying is only going to become more epidemic.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Changing the World By Living From the Heart

"When the heart is completely liberated, it's impossible to deliberately harm another being. It's impossible to act acquisitively. It's impossible to take advantage of another being sexually or use your sense world indulgently. It is simply impossible. You can't lie or use speech in a harmful or deceitful way. It's as if the force of spiritual gravity won't allow it. There's nothing there that could cause you to bend the truth. . . Goodness feels good because the attitude resonates with reality. Lying and harming feel bad because they are dissonant with that reality of what we are. It's as simple as that."

-- Achan Amaro

I received this quote in the e-mail, and really liked it. When we are emotionally grounded and live from the heart, we create a very different world than the one we live in today. Our world is so emotionally unsafe, emotionally illiterate, and even emotionally dangerous. These conditions create a struggle for survival, gross inequities in the allocation of resources, and great challenges for any of us who wish to co-create and sustain meaningful relationships with others.

We suffer from a collective heart wound where truth is hard to come by, trust is rarely earned, and sadly, selfish self-interest can dominate when fairness and respect is needed.

The heart has room for difference, for authenticity, for uniqueness, for commonality and most importantly, operates on a foundation of respect.

If we treat others heartfully, acting on the power of the fully liberated heart, we create openings and possibilities that enrich our lives and the lives of those around us.

Healing our own hearts, getting to know our own hearts and building heartful principles into the fabric of our lives is a demonstration of social change at work. May more of us join together to support one another in healing our hearts, listening to our hearts and following our hearts--individually and collectively. Together, we can create a more honest, comforting, equitable and sustainable world.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Bullying and The Battle of the Head and the Heart

When my son was in grammar school, I approached the principal of his school and proposed to teach the staff, the faculty and the students an emotional literacy curriculum free of charge, because the lack of attention to emotional literacy in our school system (and our culture) creates countless problems as children grow older and in the adult world as well.

I was told, "Yes, emotional literacy is a good thing. We just don't have time for something like this." Even in 4th grade, I saw bullying behavior develop, and because kids have no language, modeling or boundaries for "respectful" conflict. If one child wanted to provoke a classmate, saying mean things, poking, punching, hitting or stealing a pencil quickly escalated into all-out, uncontained primal behavior.

In one incident, when several boys were pinching and poking my son, and stealing his pencil, when Alex used "appropriate skills" for drawing boundaries, saying no, and telling the boys to please stop, he might as well have been speaking Serbo-Croatian. "Appropriate skills" only encouraged the boys to pinch harder and move to punching. Alex recognized the only way to stop the bullying was to meet the boys on their own level: the physical. So, he kicked the ringleader in the shin, where the boy already had a wound. It worked. The bullying stopped.

The only problem was that Alex was sent to the principal's office for disciplinary action. This is so typical of what happens in schools. The boys who were bullying, got off "scott free," and the kid who finally fought back got punished. This makes no emotional sense. In fact, it is emotionally illogical.

But somehow, in disciplinary matters, there is an intellectual rhetoric that seems to miss the heart of the matter. If a child who has developed "appropriate conflict management" skills is thrown in with kids who are emotionally illiterate, the conflict operates at the lowest common denominator.

This school, which did not have time for the emotional literacy program I offered to bring was spending countless time on behavioral problems that intellectual rhetoric was never going to solve.

As a child I used to say, "hearts can hear heads, but heads often cannot hear hearts." Heads can be "headstrong" and stubborn and think their point of view is "right" or the only way, ignoring or missing that there are other points of view. Hearts are more open to all the possibilities, and bring a greater sense of equity and fairness to a challenging situation. Rather than "either/or" and "judgment," hearts embrace a "both/and" and "understanding" point of view.

How much could this boys learn if someone would slow them down, and teach them to listen to their bodies and hearts, and ask WHY were they pinching, stealing and punching in the first place? And what might be the cost of this behavior to their relationships with others, and even themselves?

If the boys needed to establish a "pecking order of dominance," might there not be healthier ways to compete and EARN a position of respect? Can one not rise through right action, not just brute force? There is a very different outlook of the head and the heart.

Mind you, there is a time and place for most everything. And rather than being at war, might the head and heart not benefit from playing on the same team? Is it not worth the time we save addressing the growing litany of bullying situations, if we teach our kids emotional literacy skills from the start? Doesn't it take a lot more time helping a kid heal from trauma or recover from pain than to create an environment where trauma and its resultant pain are just not necessary in the first place?

While some adult men might say, "the only way to put a bully in his place is to throw him up against the wall and make him scared," I would counter, "in the short term, the behavior might stop, but in the long-term, does this not perpetuate another generation of bullies?"

How do we teach our children, and one another heartful and heathful ways to manage conflict?
How do we help each other learn that there are as many points of view as people? How do we help each other realize that if we work together and share our resources, we are all better off than by continuing the competition of the dog-eat-dog world?

Until we are able to let the heart have its rightful place at the table, we are all likely to be casualties of the battle of the head and the heart.