Life Threatening Crises for Friends

 Maturing Happily  Comments Off on Life Threatening Crises for Friends
Jan 012017
 

In the past few months, the wives of two close friends have had late diagnoses of advanced cancer which could be fatal.  The husband of another friend has had a stroke.  At the Summer School I go to each year, two couples from last year are now singles, having lost their spouse to cancer.

These are relatively young people in their fifties and sixties, with a history of good health and lifestyle.

I feel deeply upset and shaky in the face of all this.  The presence of death feels big and close.  The distress of the healthy partner is almost unbearable for me: I feel powerless to comfort them or alleviate the situation.

I’ve read some good books and articles about dying, I know some of the good approaches.  But it would feel false, almost insulting, to try quoting things to these close friends of mine who are in such pain.  And whilst most of my blog postings try to offer constructive tips to you, the reader, that feels a bit too neat this time.

The word compassion literally means, ‘to feel with’.  My impression is that when I feel distress along with my friend’s, it does give him or her some comfort and support.  The desire in me to say something which would magically heal his or her pain, or make his or her partner well, I need to realise is a poignantly young, child part of me, who also needs my compassion – but the child’s desire is impossible, is best let go.

My friend’s pain, his or her partner’s illness, are true.  The fear in me is a child’s sense of inadequacy because I can’t make it all OK.  As I try to find my clear, loving adult and spiritual centre, I know I don’t have to make it all right.  Nor do I have to offer clarity in a time of overwhelming uncertainties.  All I need to do is be present in a loving way.

In my own life, I have lived through enough crises and anguish to have faith – a sense that what’s happening is the right thing, and eventually I may understand why.  Currently, my partner Linda and I are trying to live each day as if it’s our last: this is helping us to enjoy each other and all our blessings more deeply.  It’s not stirring up fears of death.

In a strange way, it seems to me that the distress of close friends is harder to bear than my own.

Here’s the letter I sent to one close friend:

Dear Steve

I feel gutted by the news about Sarah’s illness.  I hope that you can both feel my love and prayers, and those of the many friends around you, and the support of the angels and spirits who I believe are with us all.

This must be heart-breaking, and I hope you can open into whatever are the blessings of the crisis – they must be there.  My guess is that it’s a time to drop whatever ideas you had about the future, and just feel fully the love between you now.

If I can help in any way, physically or emotionally, please let me know.

With much love to you both,

Alan

 

 

Exploring Elderhood: Creating the map

 Maturing Happily  Comments Off on Exploring Elderhood: Creating the map
Jan 012017
 

The idea of elderhood may sound good, but where do we find the role models, the route to this destination?  These days, we need to create our own map.  The place of elders in tribal society offers some useful ideas: but our own times are so different that we can’t start from here.  People just aren’t waiting around to receive the wisdom of the elders any more.

If we think about the maiden-mother-crone model of three ages of womanhood, it shows us a big part of the problem, for men and women: getting old is not seen as desirable or fruitful.  The media assail us with the cult of youth.  So how do we start the map-making? One relevant feature of tribal elders is the way peer groups would evolve a wise response to new challenges.  I have helped create such gatherings for maturing men and women, and they can start the process of finding yourself as an elder.  Discovering your identity through a group, not individually, may be novel in our society, but it’s relevant in elderhood.

Carl Jung said that in early adulthood, we choose to fulfil a few parts of ourselves, and if in midlife we don’t open the door to the other parts, they’ll break in through the window.  So there’s an inner collective involved in elderhood as well as an outer: your inner voices not only need to be heard, but also gathered and guided in a positive direction.

I believe adolescence is a useful model for entering elderhood: both are major transitions where the past can’t really guide the future.  And in both, some people step into the new stage smoothly, as if born to it, and others struggle.  I haven’t found elderhood easy: partly because I was still hooked on being a warrior, a role that suited my readiness for heroic struggle.

So you may find that your threshold into elderhood is a loss or a shipwreck.  Some women experience menopause as a loss that needs grieving.  Or it may be a more general sense that you are losing a level of health and energy as you age.  Episodes of loss like this are good to face, and can move you through to gratitude for all the capacities you still have.

Recalling Jung’s comments, elderhood is a time to find new aspects of yourself, and new skills which can replace what’s lost.  For me, one of the painful changes is having less control in my life, less power to make things happen: but the gift in this is learning to influence situations by the qualities I embody, and the reflections and support I offer others, which I believe is the way of elderhood.  The good thing about the lack of role models for elderhood is that you’re free to figure out how you want to do it.  Just beware of being limited by the attitudes of society, family or friends.

It’s a fair generalisation that most adults in their 20s through 40s narrow their focus: marriage, kids, work, home take most of their attention, although we now see more individuals taking a different path.  One of the gifts of the years beyond 50 is the chance to raise your head and look around more widely.  This can include deeper links with your local community, new friends, exploring a spiritual path, and finding ways to meet the big issues of our times.  One of the vital roles of elders is providing a role model and wake-up call on issues where society is in denial, and this is urgently needed for humanity’s addictive consumption patterns and loss of connection with the earth.

Another navigation point which I suggest in mapping your elderhood is how you can serve the tribe.  As you look at the troubles and beauty of today’s world, are there issues that arouse you or inspire you?  If so, be persistent in finding ways to act on your passion and invite other elders to act with you.  Our world may not be calling for the help of the elders, but it certainly needs it.

 

Exploring elderhood at Findhorn Foundation

 Maturing Happily  Comments Off on Exploring elderhood at Findhorn Foundation
Jan 012017
 

Rich, expansive, poignant, nurturing and more…

In February 2013, I brought a vision to fruition: co-leading a week-long programme at Findhorn Foundation on elderhood.  My co-facilitator Ineke and I, had high hopes for the week, which were more than fulfilled: a tribute to the quality of our participants, to the magic of this spiritual community, and the great support we received from the community there.

We hoped to explore elderhood on the inner and outer, individual and collective levels, and amply fulfilled this hope.  We dug below the fear and denial so common about ageing and dying, and recognised the gifts and joys of elderhood, as well as the losses.  As one participant said, “When time and energy are limited, and health is variable, it’s an invitation to live wisely, focus on what really matters, enjoy every moment.”

We used a wide range of approaches, including sharings, meditations, solo time, storytelling, sacred dance, and some inspiring sessions with elders’ organisations around Findhorn.  The work of a few Findhorn elders in running the Community Care Circle is especially impressive: includes organising paid and voluntary care for those who need it, building care flats for those whose own home is unsuitable, and providing training and practical advice on many aspects of ageing, including how to receive care.

One of the most powerful experiences of the week was when our group joined the weekly Elders Meditation in the main Sanctuary.  There was such power and character in the silent presence of nearly thirty elders, with a combined age around 2000 years.  For me it highlighted a sense that the beauty of elderhood is about the emergence of full, authentic individuality, and its miraculous interweaving with others.

Findhorn is a good role model of a community which already includes and supports its elders pretty well.  Our schedule enabled our participants to enjoy this, for example Taize singing every morning, movement classes for oldies, shared meals in the community centre, sacred dance and other shared events in the evenings.

It was very satisfying to find that our week helped the whole Findhorn community to recognise and appreciate what it already does to support the elders, and also to recognise and start working on what more could be done.  For example, it would be great if the loving and personal quality of care already provided on a small scale could be expanded more widely, and if this became a role model for mainstream society.  This is one of various ideas which I and others are now exploring.  Perhaps a good summary of the whole week is this comment from one participant, “From this week I have the sense that ‘we have to do something’, and also that ‘all is well’.  I like both feelings.”

 

Men and Pornography

 Men's Interest  Comments Off on Men and Pornography
Dec 312016
 

GUEST POST by Ger Murphy

Jack(56) came to see me at my psychotherapy practice some months ago complaining of depressive episodes and lack of motivation. As he spoke he revealed that he had been experiencing strong feelings of loneliness and isolation following his wife’s recent work changes, which meant she had taken on a demanding new work role and was increasingly unavailable to him. He disclosed that their sexual relationship ,which had been vibrant, had diminished and that he had begun watching pornography for significant periods 3-4 times a week and masturbating to ejaculation.

The phenomena of the use of pornographic materials has become a major issue in the lives of many men. The increased availability of materials especially over the internet has exponentially increased the usage of porn . Pornography is now the biggest sales product on the Internet!

Many men view pornography and would say that it is harmless, and would not see it as having an impact on their sexual relationships. Many women find it distasteful, and for some it is objectifying and unacceptable. The use of pornographic material is often a secretive activity and is difficult to speak about.  It is important that we can find a way to speak of it  ,and not to simply condemn it or to guiltily laugh about it.

One way of looking at pornography which I have found useful in my work with couples as a psychotherapist is to look at the basic urge within porn. Pornography is about the urge to look. Men like looking at sexual material, and we can say that looking is an important erogenous zone for men. This may well be different for women. How could we think about reclaiming looking and its basic function for men?  Men want to look, perhaps women want to be looked at?  If these two urges could be rehabilitated into sexual relationships, how might men`s  use of  pornography be different?  If men were able to acknowledge their desire for erotic looking to their women and if women were able to allow themselves be looked at ,it could make a big difference in the use of porn.

Many men I have spoken to found that when they could ask their partners to dance for them ,dress up in risqué clothing and allow their men to gaze at all parts of their body, they found this deeply satisfying and felt deep gratitude and deepened connection with their partners. This can be  risky for   men and women to do.  Men need to be able to acknowledge their own sexual needs without guilt and with deep respect for the feminine. Women need to be able to open and be seen ,also to say no where appropriate, and have a healthy respect for the masculine including its wish to look: Engaging in such conversation can have a profound effect on the use of pornography which otherwise can be isolating, guilt-laden and a lonely and unfulfilling experience for men.

When Jack was able to discuss his emotional situation with Jane ,his wife, including his wish for increased contact and they were able to commit to a regular time for intimacy ,including the urge to look, Jack’s symptoms improved significantly.

Ger Murphy works as a psychotherapist in Dublin Ireland , can be contacted on www.iccp.ie  and germurphy@edgeworth.ie.

Names have been changed to protect confidentiality

 

Possible accompanying images:

The Seven Planks of Spiritual Practice

 Inspirations  Comments Off on The Seven Planks of Spiritual Practice
Jan 112016
 

Having a spiritual practice may be helpful to us in many ways, but what does this actually mean, and how would we start?  When I am asked about getting started, I suggest that people explore a couple of established, named spiritual paths which appeal to them: for example, Buddhism, Quakers or others.  I also suggest that they try ‘nameless’ approaches, such as mindfulness, and meditating in nature.  For a much fuller version of this advice, see chapter 8 of my book, Out of the Woods: A guide to life for men beyond 50: this section is suitable for men and women of any age.

My own spiritual path has been evolving for 40 years, helped by involvement in several named spiritual paths, and a lot of more fluid personal exploration.  These 7 planks are important parts of my current spiritual practice:

  • Divine unity: open to a sense of divine unity and vitality in all forms of life, including the land, sea and sky. This is what Jesus, in his native Aramaic, calls Alaha.  I find this is a good counterbalance to my tendency to focus on my own problems and needs.
  • Creation is now, and we are all part of it: try imagining that our world is being shaped at every moment, and that our job description as humans is to fulfil our part in this process. You can find this idea in the original teachings of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity: see the Genesis Meditations by Neil Douglas Klotz.
  • Gratitude and Celebration: yes, there are plenty of problems, and it’s easy to feel dragged down, but you can feel more resilient, more able to choose, if you focus on what’s positive, and the scope to grow through the problems.
  • Simple presence: you can find this idea in mindfulness, Christian, Buddhist and many other teachings. In essence, the invitation is to be here now, with compassion for yourself and anyone else involved, and to let go of old stories, dramas and projections.
  • Prayer: this idea is often misunderstood. I don’t mean it in a ‘Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz’ sense: I mean prayers of conversation and invitation, where you ask to be shown how you can serve the highest good of all, and how you can fill your souls purpose in this human life.
  • Soul’s Journey: I get a new perspective, and a positive approach to upsetting situations, through the belief that my soul has a life and continuity before and after this human time, and that my soul has chosen whatever situations I am facing here and now.
  • Spiritual Community: this is what the Buddhists call Sangha. I find great nourishment and resilience in sharing spiritual practises with a group, and feeling the depth of mutual support which comes from this.

7 planks1 7planks2

Jun 162015
 

Men generally grow up seeing other men as competitors, and mostly  have poorer support networks and interactive skills than women.  Perhaps that was useful when fighting for the last bison on the plains, but it doesn’t help most men in 2015.

These days, most of us need high emotional intelligence and collaboration skills just to get through the average week.  For men, these talents need to be learned in adult life, but where?  Men’s groups provide a safe, supportive space for what can be a vulnerable process.

I have been co-leading men’s groups for 20 years, and I am repeatedly moved by how the safety and simplicity of a circle of men is so affirming.  Women don’t realise how much self-doubt most men caElder and the Ashrry: in a group of men, the first big gift is realising you are ok and accepted as you are.  It’s also a great place to learn how to express, hear and interact with feelings.

A weekend retreat with no more than twenty men is long enough for a deep exploration, and there’s also a lot of fun and playfulness that emerges when a bunch of men, even strangers, feel free and safe.

Hazel Hill is a 70-acre conservation woodland retreat centre, near Salisbury, which I’ve been running since 1987.  Being outdoors with plenty of space to hang out together round a fire, roam alone, or do some physical conservation work, is an ideal setting for men’s groups, and this wood has been used by many over the years.

On the August bank holiday weekend, I am co-leading a men’s group at Hazel Hill with Nick Mabey.  Nick has lots of experience with Mindfulness, and almost none with men’s groups, and I’m the opposite.  We’re excited by this combination, and because even we don’t know what we’ll be doing.  Our aim is to create a sense of fellowship among the group and with the wood, and then explore the issues and questions which are hot and current among us.