Monday, 31 May 2010

Transpersonal Psychology

Transpersonal psychology is a relatively new science that emerged in the late 1960s. It emerged from the psychological schools of behaviourism, humanism and psychoanalysis in a bid to explain what couldn’t be explained by conventional means.

The foundation of Transpersonal Psychology is accredited to William James, Carl Jung and Abraham Maslow who used transpersonal methods of thinking in their psychology. In 1969, Stanislav Grof, Anthony Sutich and Abraham Maslow created the first issue of the Journal of Transpersonal Psychology. In 1972, the first Association for Transpersonal Psychology was founded.

Maslow considered Transpersonal Psychology to be the fourth major wave in Psychology schools. He thought it was the most positive and truly complete psychology par excellence because it deals with human development in its entirety from scientific to transcendental; in mind, body and soul.

Transpersonal Psychology aims to understand human nature, the world and the universe at large, in relationship to one another, in a holistic way; as a whole instead of segregate parts. It’s concerned with different states of consciousness individual’s experience and the highest potential humanity can attain through self-development, peak experiences, mystical and spiritual experiences and everything that goes beyond what is considered a physically tangible experience.

The transpersonal domain seeks to explain what conventional science has dubbed as “miraculous,” “extraordinary phenomena,” or simply “impossible to believe.” More importantly it is a psychology that seeks to understand what it means to be a spiritual being having a human experience.

Transpersonal Psychology integrates the principles of conventional psychology, philosophy, healing, spirituality and creativity in all its forms in order to research and understand the human experience of life and the cosmos as an interactive “oneness”.

The basis of Transpersonal ideology is that all life and the universe are one and form part of a higher consciousness that can operate through any individual who is capable, or aware enough, to tap into its infinite resources. It is within this infinite cosmos that it is believed all knowledge is stored, pre-existent and available for tapping into; for the good both of an individual and humanity at large.

Conventional science relies on tangibility of proving with facts and figures. Transpersonal science lacks somewhat in this area because there are no one set of specific rules or formulas that can be applied for comparative or investigative purposes. Transpersonal research is almost impossible to subject to rigorous scientific tests.

Transpersonal Psychology seeks to comprehend everything beyond physical and scientific reality; how this differs or is similar among different people within different cultures; how something beyond human comprehension can operate through an individual. It seeks to explain how the infinite works through the finite.

Within the realm of the transpersonal, everything has it’s own, particular, meaning. Nothing happens by chance and individuals can alter their life, or any part of it, by way of a shift in conscious awareness.

A simple alteration in the way an individual thinks, interacts with their environment and within the universe itself can bring about big changes.

The transpersonal world could be described as the independently conscious realm that lies beyond the realm of the physical senses. It is an independently explainable realm beyond the proven logical and scientific realm. It is the supreme infinite of “being” along with the eternal wisdom that has always been, is and always will be, which resides within, through and beyond all of us.

This infinity resides within each and every individual; only some are more in tune with its frequency than others. However, all of us have the potential to tap into it with the right guidance.

Venerina Conti

Creativity, Healing and Meditation

Creativity and Healing abilities can be a lifelong journey of discovery and a step by step progressive growth over the decades. They change with age and spiritual maturity.

Creativity and healing can only happen when a person is ready, open and wants it to happen. Nobody else can make it happen. We can all receive guidance from others, from books, from inspiring people but ultimately, we are the only ones who are responsible for ourselves. We need to find new ways of communicating with ourselves on all levels.

To move forward, we need to break old patterns of thinking; even if sometimes this means going against every belief structure we have. Most of the time, we are our own worst enemies. We hold ourselves back with the amount of junk we store in our minds. We recreate and exaggerate the bad things in our minds until they eat away at us. Sometimes, we give ourselves bad advice when we should just be sitting patiently and quietly to see how things play out naturally.

Somehow, from childhood to adulthood, we forget how to be creative. Sometimes because of a lack of encouragement or because the society we live in dictates a certain type of acceptable behavioural pattern. Sometimes we are forced to believe that maturity means being serious, taking responsibilities with a certain attitude, which makes for creativity being viewed as a childish whim.

Regardless of the reasons, the truth is we forget there are limitless boundaries of infinite possibilities. We confine and limit our thoughts, which consequently imprisons us by making us believe we can no longer be whoever or whatever. One day, we wake up and feel gloomy because we are resigned to never achieving whatever it was we use to dream of.

As a consequence of this imprisonment, we eventually lose our motivation to strive for the achievement of our dreams. We doubt or ignore our capabilities and we often settle for a “second best” way of living. Given time though, as I have discovered in my many friends, in later life this sense of second best living fills us with remorse and/or a sense of resignation. Remorse eventually eats away at us and before we know it we’re ill. We’re depressed. We don’t know how to cope with the world around us and we’ve forgotten who we are and how to live.

In contrast to popular belief, children do not look to adults for help in being creative or inventing their characters. They do not consult with them over decisions about how each character should be. Instead, children are totally independent in thinking. They quite happily go off, invent and explore without consulting anyone for anything. The only thing children do is look to adults for inspiration and approval. So, why do we become so reliant on others in adulthood?

If we look at it from the principle that children only look to adults for inspiration, comfort and/or approval; when these needs are not met or when the child is ridiculed, punished or reprimanded for their creative actions, they begin to form unrealistic opinions about themselves.

Self-doubts and fears begin to set in and slowly but surely the child starts to lose his/her creative and imaginative qualities.

As the child grows older, he/she begins to depend more and more on the opinions (judgments) of others because there is no longer enough self-confidence to trust their own. After long term dependency on this reliability of others, people become slowly drained of all enthusiasm. It then follows that in adulthood people need to look to others for motivation and validation. Some may even rely on others to tell them what their goals in life should be and what path they should take.

To try and clarify what I mean, here’s a perhaps extreme but simple example: A little girl, age 4, who I will call Sara, dresses up like a princess; long dress, crown, her mother’s shoes, make-up and feathers. She runs to her parents in the living room who respond with a critical and demeaning tone: “Don’t be stupid, you will never be a princess, get that stuff off, you look ridiculous.”

In that one sentence, Sara has been given such a negative view of herself that if it is persistently repeated over a period of time she will assimilate into her own perception of herself. She will accept is as her own concept of her reality.

What happens is:

Doubt sets in. Creativity is viewed as a negative quality and so is imagination. Sara would have a low amount of self-esteem. She’s thinking, “I’m stupid, my parents told me so,” “I’m not good enough to be a princess,” which in later life translates into: “Well, as I am stupid, I am never going to learn anyway, so why should I bother” or “I’m not good enough, so why should I bother aiming high?” Motivation and drive is gone. Desire to achieve has gone and the self-belief in her own capabilities has gone.

“You look ridiculous”, in Sara’s mind could equate to thoughts of: “I am not pretty.” In later years, no matter how good she may look to others, Sara will never think she is pretty enough.

I am not saying that we should run out and blame our parents or our teachers or others who have influenced our life. I am just outlining some possible causes for loss of creativity. As adults we cannot deny our own sense of self responsibility.

We all need to learn to become more self-reliant, more self-validating and more independently minded thinkers. The beauty is that as an adult we can make our own choices based on formulated opinions from information and experiences we have accumulated. We can choose to find a lesson and the positive in negative situations. We can choose who to surround ourselves with and what influences to take on board. We can choose what to believe and what to discard.

When I was younger my grandmother who couldn’t read or write (but was very wise) said to me once: “We are all born alone and we will all die alone, so we should never have to completely rely on others for anything. You make your bed, you lie in it.” As I get older, I begin to really appreciate how true this statement is. In fact, I have taken it one step further.

I believe that alone decide what goes through our mind daily, what thoughts we choose to have and whether they are negative or positive. We alone decide what types of internal dialogues to have with ourselves every waking minute we spend with ourselves.

Over the years working in luxury hotels around the globe, I have spent a considerable amount of time studying, observing and questioning successful people and their attitudes.

By successful I mean people who have achieved their dreams in life or who are happy. The conclusions I have drawn from my quest are always the same: He who really wants something, makes time. He who desires something, does everything in his power to make the circumstances right for things to happen and he who really craves change, works every hour God sends (even for free) in order to achieve it.

There is nothing that could stand in this type of person’s way. There is no mountain too high to climb. There is no obstacle that cannot be gotten over and there is no shame in failing time and time again until. The key is belief in one’s self regardless of others.

Here’s a classic example of not using Creative energy. Three years ago, I was sat in the staff area of a hotel when a barman came in complaining bitterly about his job. He went on and on about how much he hated working in a hotel bar, how much he wanted to do something else where he could earn more. He wanted to have enough money to go on nice holidays, stay in luxury hotels, buy a better car, have a nicer apartment etc. He went on about how much he felt he was unappreciated and how he felt stuck in a rut; like life was going nowhere.

After about twenty minutes of listening to him, I enquired as to what he thought he might like to do and how he planned to do it. More to the point, I asked him if he’d thought about an alternative career and how he planned to achieve it.

I must add here that this barman is a wonderfully, talented artist who has created some beautiful pieces. Art was never something he had ever tried to pursue. Despite encouragement from his mother, in his mind his talent would never earn him money.

I asked why he didn’t consider trying to pursue an artistic career. He replied that he wasn’t good enough. He had never tried and was obviously not really interested in trying.

So, I asked whether he had ever considered further education in order to acquire more qualifications.. His reply was that he didn’t have time, he didn’t have the money, he didn’t enjoy studying and couldn’t really be bothered. He even brought his girlfriend into the conversation saying that whatever time he had available was dedicated to her.

I would just like to point out here, his working times were between 3pm and midnight (roughly) five days a weeks. He had two days off a week and every night he went to bars with his friends. I am not going to judge him but he could have made time. He could have saved enough money by not going out so often. What distinguishes this type of person from one who succeeds is the conscious decision one makes not to be like it anymore. We all have a choice and the power to decide which choices to make in life.

When we learn we are not just the bodies we live; when we realise that life is far beyond our limiting physical abilities; when we realise that we can be as infinite as the Universe and when we learn that nothing is really THAT bad that it matters that much; when we learn that we alone are responsible for ourselves; only then can we truly begin a healing and creative process that goes beyond all imagination.

The trick is to learn to take small steps at a time. As Edgar Cayce said, we need to learn to have higher ideals, we need to set ourselves realistic goals, we need to find within ourselves love, compassion and brethren towards our fellow human beings. We need to learn to respect our environment and we need to break free from moulds society would have us confined to.

We will make some wrong choices along the way but we need to learn that that is ok. We need to find the lesson in the bad choices we make. Once we have learnt that lesson, we need to accept what we did as a natural process of growth. We need to forgive ourselves and move on.

If we never made mistakes, we would never learn. If we never learnt we would never grow, and it doesn’t matter how many times we make a mistake or the same mistake. No-one is perfect. Life is not a competition and everyone learns in their own time.

As long as we are moving forward we cannot fail. Failure is only a concept created in the mind of those who expect to climb Mount Everest without ever having walked more than a mile in their lives!

If we are going to heal, we need to learn to be our best friend.

Learning to recognise a peak experience or a spiritual moment is an excellent way to begin the healing process internally. Frequent meditation can restore inner peace and harmony. It’s an indispensable part of healing and re-connecting the mind, body and soul to create balance. It also has amazing effects on Creativity.

Meditation can put everything into perspective. Meditation is an excellent means to connecting with the self and making self discoveries that have previously been suppressed or ignored. When we stand outside the issue, we can see it more clearly. It also allows us to connect with our Higher self and the Universe.

Eastern philosophies such as: Buddhism, Vedanta and others similar that advocate that education for the intellect alone is insufficient and should be accompanied by education and training for what he refers to as the “eye of contemplation;” the opening up to knowledge that goes beyond the realm of the physical, rational, categorised and explainable.

Meditation, can help us to control our minds and emotions, although it requires patience, time and dedication in order to achieve a quietness within and around the mind.

Each human being is confined and delimited by way of that which they hold in their mind. Buddhism focuses on the need for man to be in control of his own mind and not vice versa.

More specifically, it mentions the need for “attention training and cultivation of concentration”, which are considered essential to stop the mind from wandering off on its own. It suggests that a well ordered mind will be capable of controlling and nurturing emotions, at will, such as: happiness, love, compassion etc. It will, also, be able to shift emotions from negative to positive; alleviating, or even eliminating sadness, fear and anxiety.

Recognising these destructive emotions is the first step to changing them and nurturing the positive ones, with the aid of a few transcendental practices.

Qijong, Taoism and Yogic practices teach us that by recognising every moment is precious and unique, and by gratitude for “what is”, by way of inner peace, an individual can be truly happy because nothing more than this moment will matter and every new moment will be a new experience.

Venerina Conti

Labels and Self-Descriptors

Labels reflect a person’s life, the way they’ve chosen to live it and the beliefs they have. They are born of a person’s history and experiences. They tell us something about who they were and who they’ve become today. They also give us clues as to why they are the way they are. Yet, they may still not be the true I of a person. So, you might be asking: Is there a true I of a person?

In 1936, Sicilian author and 1934 Nobel Prize winner for literature, Luigi Pirandello published Uno, Nessuno e Centomila; (One, Nobody and One Hundred Thousand). Vitangelo, the central character in the book becomes aware that everyone he knows has a different definition of who he is. He doesn’t identify himself with any of these definitions. He sees them as separate personas people have created in their minds about him.

In an attempt to destroy these personas, Vitangelo starts to act foolishly; in a way that almost borders on madness in the eyes of others. Yet, no matter how foolishly or madly he acts outwardly, he comes to realise that his spirit is definitely incapable of being mad or a fool.

The moral of Pirandello’s novel, as the title suggests, is that everyone is made up of one, none and one hundred thousand Is. Often, we each show the I we think is most appropriate at any given time. That I is then subject to others’ interpretation of us. It mulls around in their internal processes and resurfaces in the shape of a persona I they have just created for us.

The I we manifest and the way we choose to conduct ourselves are relative to the environment, the culture, the circumstances and the people we find ourselves in the presence of. They are relative to points in time throughout our lives, and they are built on the foundations of the ideals we have.

Although we manifest a few similar characteristics of our I all the time, we can potentially have as many I’s as we do circumstances in life. We can also potentially have as many persona I’s created for us as the number of people we know in the world. Everyone is unique in their way of thinking. They may share some common traits but, generally, their definitions of us will be different.

Whether we do it consciously or not, when we are in the presence of others, we assess who they are, how they might respond to us and we adjust ourselves accordingly. Of course this is not a general rule because there are those who cannot, have not or will not master this adjustment quality.

Those who can and do show a particular sensitivity towards others. They are demonstrating an ability to put themselves in someone else’s shoes and see a different perspective to their own. As we will see in the chapter on Neuro Linguistic Programming, one of the tricks to effective communication is being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and see perspectives other than your own.

No matter what labels we choose to use in life, we are all spiritual beings having a human experience. We walk between the spiritual and the physical realms. We are an interconnectivity between energy and mass. We exchange this energy all day long with others and with our environment.

If using labels sometimes hold us back in life, then so do self-descriptors. When we say, I can’t because I am not that way inclined or It’s not in my nature, I’m not strong enough, I can’t help it, I’m too overweight to do that, I’ve never been able to, we’re:

Keeping ourselves from discovering new possibilities, taking risks and putting ourselves out there.
Stopping ourselves from acknowledging and implementing the positive qualities we do have.
Using descriptors as excuses for maintaining the status quo.
Attempting to manipulate other people’s behaviours.
Really saying “I have no intention of trying or changing.”

In his 1976 book, Your Erroneous Zones, Dr. Wayne W. Dyer explains descriptors at length. I am going to briefly give you an outline here. Dr. Dyer calls them our I’ms and places them under appropriate headings. I have placed them into the following categories:

Academic avoidance – I’m not good at science, maths etc. By using this descriptor, we never have to master a particular subject we’ve never found interesting enough. They’re excuses for expanding our knowledge.
Lack of skill – I’m no good at swimming, cooking, drawing etc. Not only do these descriptors justify our failure in the past, they also justify why we should never have to do them in the future.

I would add that in some cases, like cooking, cleaning or sewing, they’re excuses we make in order to get someone else to do something for us. Therefore, they can be manipulative.

Genetic/Personality excuses – I’m too shy, I’m quiet, I’m nervous etc. These descriptors are used as resigned self-acceptances. Using them does not challenge who we are nor force us to re-evaluate ourselves. They support the negative self-beliefs we hold onto about ourselves. Sometimes, they are just opinions others have expressed about us in the past, which we’ve woven into our idea of our I.

Ridicule avoidance – I’m clumsy, I’m uncoordinated etc. We use these when we avoid doing something, we might like to, for fear of being ridiculed. Particularly when it involves activities we don’t consider ourselves as skilled as someone else for.
Physiological – I’m too tall, I’m too short, I’m not pretty, I’m overweight etc. Dyer explains that we use these to avoid putting ourselves on the line with the opposite sex. He also says it’s our excuse for not having to work at being attractive to ourselves.

I will add that sometimes we use these descriptors as excuses for not mixing with other people in general. They’re a perfect excuse to barricade one’s self at home and not go out very much. Furthermore, I’ve heard these types of descriptors used to justify not getting a job, a role, a gig etc.
Of all the descriptors, I think the physiological ones are probably the worst. They are the ones that have the biggest impact on us. Not only can they socially disable us but they have serious long-term psychological effects on us as well.

In most case, these descriptors are the ones we worry about the most. The media has conditioned us into thinking there is a perfect physical type we should aspire to. Yet, if we look at nature, it comes with all kinds of faces, shapes and sizes.

The most important thing is being healthy. Yet, health isn’t always equated with a perfect physical type.

Behavioural – I’m untidy, I’m a perfectionist, I’m meticulous etc. These descriptors are somewhat manipulative. They justify certain behaviours of ours and kind of demand that others behave the same way around us. They act as rule makers.
Excuses for ineffective behaviour – I’m forgetful, I’m careless etc. When we do something that is less than effective, it is very convenient to use these as an excuse to validate our actions.

Ethnic – I’m Italian, I’m French, I’m Chinese etc. I explained these in terms of being labels; earlier in the chapter. Yet, Dyer is making a point here that we use our environmental and cultural background as excuses for many of our behaviours. If a behavior is too difficult to explain, if we plain don’t want to explain it, or if we don’t want like it but don’t want to confront it, we use our ethnicity as an excuse to pardon ourselves.

Excuses for hostile behaviour – I’m bossy, I’m the leader, I’m pushy etc. Instead of learning to control our tempers a little more, we react first and justify later with phrases such as these.

I think these types of descriptors are very dictatorial and manipulative. I find that their usage can be very emotionally stressful for the receiver. Sentences like, I’m the boss, you do it my way or you’re fired is a perfect example. The act of firing may be a heat of the moment idle threat, but the seed of insecurity has been planted in the receiver’s mind. As well as the obvious, there is also an element of emotional blackmail in that phrase. Trust and respect have been breached. They will be lost and unrecoverable.

Behaving in a rash way and then, in calm retrospect, justifying it with I’m sorry, that’s just me, I’m bossy by nature represents the detrimental mind games people play with each other, which can have more serious long term psychological implications.

Age – I’m too old, I’m tired, I’m Middle-aged etc. These are classic descriptors a person uses to justify not taking a chance on something new and moving any further forward in life; especially when there may be an element of risk involved.

We are not the labels or self-descriptors we use to place ourselves into categories. Nor are we the ones others would pigeon hole us with. They are the product of our lifetime’s journey. Labels and self-descriptors are ways of identifying ourselves with others. They are ways of justifying our shortcomings and validating our behaviours and actions.

While we cling to our labels and descriptive qualities, we do not have to aspire to anything more. We don’t have to take any risks and we don’t have to put ourselves out there on the line. We don’t have to face our fears. We don’t have to leave our comfort zones. We can just stay exactly where we are; unchallenged, without judgment and set in the same old ways we’ve been accustomed to for years.

Life, however, is in the present. We can’t keep living in the past. What’s gone is gone. It should be blessed for having taken place, and we should be grateful for all of it. No matter how bad something may seem at the time, it always has something to teach us. Once the lessons have been learnt though, we need to let the events go.

Today is all that matters. We start building our tomorrows based on our thoughts and beliefs of today. If we choose, today, to stop using auto-defining labels and self-descriptions, we open ourselves up to tomorrow’s endless possibilities.

Venerina Conti

Sunday, 30 May 2010

Transpersonal Psychology and Crisis Intervention (Part 1)

“I’m going to die”

She cried compulsively as she buried her head into my shoulder; trying to remember the details of what happened the day she left all her belongings behind in her house. I put my arms around her and kissed her head in silence.

“There was mud coming in everywhere. I saw the wall coming down.” I didn’t know what to do. I heard someone shouting out to me; telling me to run. I ran as fast as I could but I’m an old lady. I thought I was going to die. I managed to escape just in time. When I turned around. I saw my house begin to collapse. I’d been there 40 years. All my photos are gone. All my clothes are gone. I’ve got nothing left. Where am I going to live? I’ve worked all my life. What am I going to do? I get 250 euros a month. I can’t afford to rebuild a new house or buy a new place. What’s going to happen to me?” she said almost in one breath, in a flood of tears. I continued to hold her in silence.

“Maybe it was better if I’d died. Why did I live to see this?”

This is just one of the many heart-breaking accounts I’ve heard since the 21st February 2010 and just a couple of the many questions people asked.

Everyone and their family had a story: Dnª Joana, Dnª Rosa, Dnª Ana, Helena, Dnª Ana (Nº 2), Dnª Graça, Sr. José, Sr. João, Dnª Maria, Dnª Edoarda, Dnª Leonora, Dnª Rosa, Dnª Helena (Nº 2), Fam. Silva, Fam. Fernandes, Fam. Teixeira, Fam. Camacho, Dnª Maria (Nº 2), Dnª Albertina, Dnª Idalina and all the people who are not mentioned here because the list is too long. They all have an account to share in some way, and this is just a partial list of people who were made homeless and came to stay in the army barracks with us for a while.

In the field, out in the countryside, there are hundreds of thousands more accounts. In my estimation, it’s fair to say that there are probably as many accounts as people living on the island. Everyone was affected in some way.

Although it was internationally publicised, on the 20th February 2010, Madeira island was hit by a “freak storm” that flooded the capital city of Funchal, isolated the towns of Tabua and Curral das Freiras; caused immeasurable damage in Ribeira Brava and Serra D’Água and provoked severe landslides in other areas of the island like: Jardim da Serra, Trapicho, Monte, Santo Antonio, Santa Cruz and many more. The disaster was of proportions nobody could have foretold.

Many, within a matter of hours, lost everything they possessed. They were barely saved from their homes with nothing more than the clothes they were wearing. Many lost more than that. They lost their loved ones; a husband, a child, a son, a daughter, a father, a brother, a wife.

One young man lost his entire family; eight people gone within minutes. One man, seeing the mud coming and trying to protect his family, told his wife and child to run out of the car to what he thought would be safety, as they were trapped in a shopping mall car park, but they died and he survived. One family took refuge in another family’s house, thinking it would be safer from the mud; only to have a crane fall on the house and kill all nine people.

Shopping malls and underground car-parks were filled meters high with mud. Thousands of cars were destroyed in the streets. Hundreds of video clips and photos circulated on the Internet. These living memories, and images, are just some of the traumas facing the collective conscience of the people who live in Madeira and those who are watching abroad. They need to be overcome effectively for the Madeiran community to have half a chance of any kind of re-establishment of “normality of life” in the future.

It has already been noted that people are afraid to park in underground car-parks. I have also already spoken to people who refuse to shop in certain shopping malls because they feel they are graveyards. During one rainfall, a friend of mine called her partner 28 times. He didn’t reply. When he eventually did, they ended up having an argument. When she phoned me, she was fully aware that although she thought she hadn’t been affected, she was suffering with a form of post-storm trauma. Her compulsive telephoning behaviour was due to her preoccupation with his welfare during the downpour.

These are just a few examples. The worst repercussions, in my opinion, are yet to come. At present, we are entering summertime. The rain is subsiding. People are quickly trying to forget and avoid the memories. Nightclubs have registered an all time high alcoholic consumption. At Easter, an incredibly high number of Madeirans opted to leave the island for their Easter break.

At present, people are planning their holidays; talking about their suntan; thinking about their next vacation but nobody is really thinking about next winter and what will happen when the next storm strikes. I’m not saying the next storm will cause the same physical damage as this one did, but psychologically people will be affected.

Presently, people are using avoidance techniques to sidestep dealing with the real issues that underlie the fear that was instilled this last February. Yet, when next winter comes and we have torrential downpours, the memories and the fear will come back. Panic will set in.

The truth is, when we don’t know how to deal with something, we run away because it’s the easier option. Not having to face a trauma means not having to deal with the pain associated with it. Yet, in not facing pain of any kind, at a later date we find ourselves less in a position of being able to disassociate from that pain.

A natural part of any healing process is to recognise, feel and acknowledge pain, along with any memories, in order to disassociate the emotional attachment we have to them.

Personally, I’ve been working as a volunteer since the 21st February. I was brought on board as part of the psychological support team. Here in Madeira, I am the only person, to the best of my knowledge, who is a Transpersonal Psychologist with experience in Emergency and Crisis intervention and a solid background in the Transpersonal field.

During my time in the army barracks, I was also assigned to Caritas as co-ordinator for one of the main distribution depots in the army base; where the homeless were being received and temporarily housed.

When I got there, the depot was a mess. Clothes, shoes, and bedding were thrown in piles all over the floor. People were climbing all over them to get items. They were tossed and juggled. It was chaos and a mess. The people who had lost everything came in to get something and, understandably, started crying.

One by one, I escorted them out for a walk around the courtyard and gave them a defusing and debriefing session; all rolled into one. Yet, clearly I knew that wasn’t the only solution. When I went back into the depot, I kindly asked the other volunteers to transform the depot into a shop front.

My argument was: “The people who come to us for item have lost everything. They have, more than likely, never had to ask for anything in their lives. They are people with pride, honour and self-worth. We’re not going to take those qualities away from them as well. They probably see this as a bad thing. They probably feel like beggars. We need to restore their self-worth, their dignity and their pride. We need to make them feel like nothing bad has happened. By transforming this depot into something that looks like a shop, we can modify their concept of needing something from us. We can give them back something of their self-worth. If they have their self-worth, their pride and their dignity restored, they can start to rebuild their lives again. They can build a new beginning on that. If we take away that too, they have nothing left to build on.”

The volunteers understood and within a day, we had a shop front we renamed Zara RG3. RG3 is the name of the army barracks. From that time on, instead of crying when they came into the depot, people started asking if we had matching items. Some volunteers complained people were becoming a little too demanding and arrogant. Yet, it was better to see that little touch of arrogance than unrecoverable depression from which recovery could take years. If improperly treated, some people never even recover over an entire lifetime; which is sadly what happened with some of the soldiers who took part in the Falklands war whom I met, and who never received adequate post war counselling.

In fact, one such soldier, when I met him, had suicidal tendencies due to sever depression he couldn’t explain. He admitted he had had difficulties reintegrating back into society after the war. Yet, he couldn’t explain his depression. After talking to him for a while, we came to the conclusion, and agreed that his depression and suicidal tendencies were due to the fact that his conscience weighed heavy at having killed other human beings.

Killing was against his very nature. His philosophy of living was to preserve life and not take it. He had carried out orders as a member of the Forces but it contradicted everything he was “spiritually” programmed to believe in. This contradiction caused him severe inner subconscious distress. Once he learned forgiveness and to make peace between the material world; what was demanded of him under “exceptional circumstances” and the spiritual world; restoring his “spiritual state of being”, he was able to let go and start again.

In the RG3 army barracks, many tears were shed by the people who all lost something, many hugs were given and a lot of time was spent slowly, day after day, helping to rebuild confidence, trust and a vision that there is light at the end of the tunnel, and the future will be brighter.

Each case was different and had to be treated in a different way.

For one woman, physical separation from her aunt meant emotional and affectionate separation. For her, that loss was traumatic; possibly worse than the loss of her house. It was the loss of her point of reference; her security, her comfort zone, her family nucleus and such a drastic change in life that she didn’t know how to face the future.

I met her when she came into the depot for a pair of shoes. She was looking through the boxes and found one of a pair that she liked, but she couldn’t find the other one. She was there compulsively looking for the other. Instantly, I recognised, the issue wasn’t the shoe. I casually approached and asked her to escort me for a walk. That’s when I discovered her aunt had been taken into an old people’s home when she’d been removed from their home.

I tried to explain that physical separation didn’t mean emotional separation but I could sense that my words were half falling on deaf ears; not through any fault of the lady’s nor as any criticism or judgement. When a person is suffering a trauma or a profound sense of distress, although all the senses are somewhat heightened, all cognitive processing capabilities are weakened. On a cognitive level, a person appears almost in a surreal or semi dreamlike state.

After the walk, I told her to go and relax somewhere and that we’d find the shoe. We did. When I gave her the pair, she clutched them as if they were gold dust. In an absurd kind of way, they became her new point of reference.

Meanwhile, a few days later, we found out in which old people’s home the lady’s aunt was. I, personally, drove the lady and her husband to the home so they could restore the bond with their aunt. After the visit, the lady, her husband were completely different people. The husband, who had barely spoken since he’d arrived at the barracks, didn’t stop talking. The lady was happy and talkative. That night, the shoes were stolen from her room in the army barracks but she didn’t care. She had restored her original point of reference. She had her family nucleus back and intact on a physical, mental and spiritual level.

Although this was the first time I had held an “official” emergency and crisis intervention post, this was not the first time I had been involved in situations where I was able to apply Transpersonal techniques and further study transpersonal approaches and their efficacy in Crisis and Emergency Intervention.

In 1996, I unofficially devised and studied the efficacy of transpersonal defusing and debriefing techniques with hotel clients and English speaking Cypriot citizens who endured the 6.8 earthquake that was followed by a hail stone storm, of great magnitude, the following day.

In 1997, in Cyprus, once again we lived in a state of Emergency as we became under direct threat of war with Turkey. Since Cyprus has no real army to speak of, my colleagues (the barmen) kept machine guns, hand grenades and gas masks on standby behind the bar; in case of attack. Early in the mornings, we would awake to the sound of Turkish jet fighters being chased by Greek ones.

Once again, it became an opportunity for me to unofficially test my own Transpersonal debriefing techniques. For a while, we all lived with the impending uncertainty of life or death. It was also a time when I re-evaluated my own personal beliefs and my own perspective on life.

In 1998, I unofficially experimented these Transpersonal techniques on US seals in Oman who had been employed in the Gulf war and were suffering post war trauma. The classical symptoms were nightmares, feelings of persecution, paranoias about their personal safety, avoidance and denial.

Furthermore, in 1998,1999 and the year 2000, I unofficially tested my theories further about transpersonal techniques and their intervention efficacy with US, Arabic and British Forces in Bahrain and Dubai, pre and post gulf assignments.

Prior to these dates, in 1995, I had worked on Forces bases in Germany in Minden, Osnabrück, Monchengladbach and Gütersloh. It was there, with the constant bomb checks and other safety procedures that I started to wonder what psychological repercussions arise in a person.

Using myself as a study subject, I slowly noticed how my awareness grew and my habitual carefree patterns of life and living began to change. I started taking my safety less for granted and from a psychological point of view; fear had crept in. My behaviour was changing by mere suggestion of what could be and not by what “actually” was.

Yet, my love for psychology really emerged from being a professional entertainer. As I performed night after night, my curiosity arose from how music had the ability to manipulate people’s moods and emotions and completely change the atmosphere in a venue; sometimes effortlessly and sometimes with a great deal of effort. So, in 1993 I embarked on my Psychology degree.

Yet, I was consciously aware that not all entertainers have the same ability to make this change in people nor touch the inner being of people in the same way. When I completed my degree, I still couldn’t find an explanation for this occurrence in conventional psychology and that’s when I realised its limitations and turned to the transpersonal approach.

In 2001, I tested my theories a little further about psychological transpersonal techniques and interconnectivity in Shanghai, China: 1) In cases of child/adult abuse and with young girls forced into prostitution as a means of survival, and 2) with police officers when I was arrested in the airport and spent a considerable amount of time in the chief of police’s office. The outcome was I made new friends in unimaginable places under unthinkable circumstances.

All my tests and experiments were unofficial, unwitting and for my own satisfaction. They were never officially recorded anywhere nor were they officially declared to any presiding psychological society. Yet, with a little push from a couple of very nice colleagues here in Madeira, I feel that the time is now right to start bringing my research out into the open little by little, making it official and perhaps make a little bit of a difference to someone somewhere; even if that be by helping another psychologist to help a client/patient.

The transpersonal models I have created are guidelines for swift simultaneous “attachment and detachment” methods in order to create instant bonds and safe environments between people in moments of Emergency and Crisis Intervention.

Until 2008, I didn’t even know the techniques I was using were determined “Transpersonal”. It was only when I came to study with Atlantic University that I was finally able to assign the label “Transpersonal” to the methods I’d been using. Until then, I’d just entitled them “Humanistic” psychological approaches.

Since 2007, I have been healing people online and offline using an integrative methods of Transpersonal Psychology and Natural Medicine. There are testimonials on my website.

In 2009, while debating whether I should continue with my Doctorate in Natural Medicine, pursue a Doctorate in Transpersonal Psychology, or start from the beginning and pursue a degree in Medicine, I visited Nepal. While I was there, I volunteered in a Tibetan Nunnery Clinic. I also visited a Tibetan refugee camp. It was there that I finally found self confidence in the craft I had turned into an art form - I finally realised my methods of Transpersonal approaches are completely cross-cultural.

Reflecting back on this, I can only award this very important factor to having worked with, interacted with, learnt from and assimilated something from all the people I have met in life. For that I am truly grateful. They were people literally from all over the world. I have lived among, worked with or met and learnt something from someone from just about every country on this planet.

They are people of all ages, from all walks of life, all socio-economical backgrounds, all traditions, cultures, beliefs and religions; and they have all left me with a new piece of knowledge.

I’ve always been of the opinion that conventional psychology is limiting. I wrote an article about the Psychology of Past lives and Reincarnation where I explicitly state the need for a more integrative approach to psychological intervention that falls outside the outdated models currently being used.

Now, as I sit and reflect upon the flood events in Madeira and my previous experience, I am resolute in my opinion that Clinical Psychology needs a shake up. If Psychologists of the future are to offer better services to their clients/patients then they need to have a more holistic training, more complete tools and a better approach; one that integrates mind, body and soul.

I believe that in situations like emergency and crisis, the least “clinically” said, the better. People just need to be heard, comforted and reassured. Emotional distresses need to defused and/or debriefed but not in a clinical way.

Formal clinical training is an essential part of training for psychologists, but there are no clinical models that can help in an emergency situation, and every human being will react and respond in a different way. It’s all a question of trial and error. What works with one person may not necessarily work with another. Assumptions should never be made and parrot fashion text book style approaches are useless.

One mistake many psychologists make, in an emergency and crisis situation, is saying: “I understand,” at the end of a “trauma” person’s sentence.

Unless we truly go through what people in this situation have been through, we cannot begin to understand. So, there is nothing we can inwardly draw upon to even begin to understand. A simple statement like this can make matters worse. It’s better to be honest and say: “I can’t begin to understand what you’re going through but ....” and offer reassurance or comfort.
Honesty is a must. If you are dishonest, trust will be broken and the person who has just lost everything will fall further into depression and harbour feelings of resentment; not just against you but also against fellow colleagues in support positions.

As psychologists working with Transpersonal methods, we need to learn to respect all beliefs, traditions and religious faiths. This is easier for me, since, as a Buddhist, part of our philosophy is just that.

One day, as I was walking through the dining hall, two women stopped me and asked me why God punished the “more humble” by destroying their houses; making them homeless and apparently never took anything away from the rich. My first question was: “Do you both believe in God?” They replied: “Yes.” So, I said: “Do you have faith in him?” “We don’t want to lose our faith” They replied.

So, I sat with them and began to explain the reasons Funchal flooded. I began to explain the physics of river length versus depth and width. I began to show them the potential architectural structural differences between the houses that were destroyed and those that weren’t. I made them think about geographic choice of locations for more humble abodes versus more upper market properties. I offered them scientific data for climatic changes and so on, until one of them said: “So, really it has nothing to do with God punishing anyone.” I simply smiled at her.

Then, the other lady hit with a question I wasn’t expecting. She said: “What about the people who died?” My reply was honest, I said: “I don’t know. I know it’s not a punishment because God is a God of love. Maybe, with all the disasters everywhere in the world at the moment, God can’t help us and protect us all at the same time. So, maybe he needed some extra Angels to help him watch over us from up there.”

In situations of Emergency and Crisis Intervention, a psychologist (or any individual in a support position) needs to be able to:

Attach and Detach simultaneously.
Show compassion and kindness.
Respect spiritual, traditional and cultural differences.
Be calm within themselves to project and instill calmness in others.
Be empathetic and sympathetic but not patronising.
Recognise their own limitations.
Be honest and open hearted.
Practice, teach and offer integrative alternatives to conventional methods of psychological treatment.
Recognise each case as an individual case.

Anyone, regardless of whether you’re a psychologist or not, can apply these few principles when helping someone to overcome a difficult situation in their life.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Tears reflected in someone else's eyes

Someone once wrote that God never gives us more pain than we can handle. I guess what is meant by that phrase is that, as human beings, we are so resilient, we adapt to our circumstances. We take the pain and we learn to deal with it in the best possible way. We may even learn from it and eventually start to slowly move forward again; recomposing the pieces in this jigsaw we call life - growing a little stronger each day.

We may be undoubtedly left with scars, some emotional, others psychological or physical but they serve as a living testimony to our strength in overcoming each challenge we found along our path. They’re a reminder of what was; a souvenir we gained from the challenges we faced and are almost like a sign of bravery for every hurdle we managed to overcome and survive.

The healing process for each pain is different and differs from individual to individual. There are those who need to share their pain by being surrounded by others who care. There are those who need to retreat into quiet solitude with their own inner being and there are those who need a little of both.

There are those who look for answers in signs and small miracles and there are those who never question anything at all. They just accept everything as a coincidental part of living. There are some who never heal at all from their pain. There are some who only partially heal and there are those for whom wounds just keep reopening.

Whichever the case, it would seem that pain, whatever kind, always leaves a void; a little hollow space where the depth of the sheer emptiness is such that it feels like a big black hole from outer space slowly taking over - engulfing us with all its almighty dark expanse. Most of the time, we may feel like nobody understands our pain. Yet, in all honesty, we probably never truly understand the personal consequences of the pain of others.

We can sympathise and we can empathise with each other but our pain is just that - ours. Even when we go through the same experiences, we all relate to them in different ways. Our processing means, rates and abilities are all different, our sensitivities are different and our emotional make-ups are different because the experiences we have and the lessons we’ve learnt in life have all been taken in differently.

Therefore our responses to pain and our healing processes are very different and as unique to us as our personalities. We all have different coping strategies in place that are the product of our life’s journey and what we’ve encountered along the way.

Yet, we all probably share one common trait when it comes to pain. Just as we think our suffering couldn’t get any worse, something happens to trigger the healing process. A sign arrives, a friend says something, someone hugs us, or one day we may just see our own tears reflected back at us in someone else’s eyes.

Suddenly, the darkness is banished by resplendent light and clarity. The void is replaced with sheer beauty and we feel that graceful, gentle, loving touch of another human being’s soul. There is no transpersonal connection or communication that is purer, more beautiful or more satisfying to the very inner being of who we really are.

That’s when the healing process begins and we silently, but consciously, know it. That’s when we know we can get through whatever it is we’re going through.

So maybe, in relation to: "God never gives us more pain that we can handle" - perhaps it more appropriate to say that when God thinks we're on the verge of not being able to handle it, he sends us someone or something to bail us out, to replenish our souls and lay a healing hand on us.