Archive for November, 2008

Reluctance

November 26, 2008

The reluctance to change is the bane of the therapist’s existence.  The word originally means ‘to struggle against’ from the Latin for struggle: luctari, as in ‘ineluctable’, meaning ‘inevitable’ – not able to be struggled with: Obama defied the ineluctable logic that he was unelectable.

We do we all struggle so against change?  There is a fundamental fear of change that is almost like the will to live – we struggle against change even when we want it.  One client in the class today is scared shitless of making a change whose utility God has made so clear to her.  A student is so self-deprecating to the point of ridiculousness, until you have the temerity to point out something she might change that she herself has not mentioned – then she gets immediately defensive.  Another student made a cogent criticism of our approach in a required paper, and I notice my own reluctance to change our approach rears its familiar head.  Ain’t that the way it goes?

We are all reluctant and resistant to entering this new era of economic contraction, even though we have all had reason to decry this period of headlong speed, where we were all so busy with making money and getting upwardly mobile that we could hardly take our eyes off the road ahead.  Now perhaps we can slow down, turn to each other, start bartering instead of buying for instance, and see the real value of the people on the journey with us, instead of – I actually saw my daughter do this – walking up to someone you’re talking on cell phones and actually stand in the other person’s presence, still on the phone with them.

Although I have been personally hit and hit hard by the imaginary number of my ‘net worth’ retracting, I have been trying to ‘go with the flow’ by appreciating in mind and body the value that will accrue over time to being off that yardstick, and on to something more real.  Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven – makes more sense than it did a few months ago.  So often I have been dragged, kicking and screaming and heels dug in, into my future – a future that, when looked back upon as past, seems ineluctable, and my reluctance a ridiculous resistance to a reliably revealed emergent reality.

Lamu

November 25, 2008

My pending trip to South Africa has me remembering my last trip in 1979.  I have previously written in this blog about the lions, and the girl in Nairobi.  My time in Kenya was magical, many stories and indelible memories.  Unfortunately I lost the journal I kept on the trip, and fortunately, I have forgotten how much of a bastard I was at 30 – an egotistical liar and the worst kind of seductive.  I am with Gurdjieff: people are shit.  So if you see a glimmer of something that is not shit, you can feel good.  Those who think people are basically good are in for a life of disappointment.

Someone just told me about their recent trip to Lamu – how they could not go out at night for fear of being attacked, how the hotel compounds were walled in – so I will never go back, for here’s how it remember it in ’79:

First, feel the heat. The road is long and straight through the mangrove swamps and desert of the upper coast of Kenya, near poor Somalia.  The bus is an oven.  It’s a short ferry ride over to the island of Lamu and its Arabian town, once fueled by the slave trade, all white rounded buildings with dark carved doors, fretted with cool little alleyways and stinking open sewers.

All the people friendly, that handsome mix of Arab and Kikuyu, all garbed in swirling kikois (wraps) and round pillbox hats or skullcaps, all loping along with slow-swinging hips.  All, that is, but the intensely thin kat chewing boys in the town square, sitting in a circle desperately peeling this superbly bitter rhubarb-colored amphetamine grass to stuff it in their mouth so they could peel some more, their jaws working the tight circle of their lives like camels.  Of course I tried it, but it held no attraction – good for soldiers, I would have thought, but not for the laid-back.  I was more with the old men and their ancient game of ndawa (‘kings’, I think), somewhere between checkers and chess, played slowly with pauses for tea and contemplation.

The local crab in the verrrrry slow restaurant – too expensive for hippies on a budget – was the very best seafood I have ever had, before or since, much better than the more prized ‘lobster’, really langouste – even more tender and succulent than our Maine lobster, an’ that’s goin’ some.  The few travelers – mostly German, honesly, they’re everywhere and they’ve always been there first – would gather on the roofs of the hotels at night – the rooms were too hot – talking trash about where they’d been and sharing a smoke as we overlooked the harbor.

The whole front of the island was a beach, so you just walked out to where you wanted to be – alone or with people.  No one bothered you, not even the beach hustlers if you went a bit away from the town.  Walk out farther – got your hat? – and around the corner of the island and you came to Peponi’s, where if you had brought enough clothes to look decent you could drop in for a Pimm’s with the snobby British ex-pats in their khakis.  I think Peponi’s might have had a generator, and maybe they had one in town, but it was all lamps and candles, no electric lights – so quiet, so dark.  It’s so hard to find that now.

Best, though, was to rent a dhow.  On a walk to the back side of the island, in the mangroves, I came across a crew of five building a large dhow, about 40′ long.  They had five tools: a knife, a bowstring hand drill, a short saw, an adze, and a hammer.  They said it would take them 5 years to build this boat, and then their fortune would be made hauling cargo, and at their pace and with only those tools, I believed them.  It was well away from the water (easier to work in the shade), and I wondered how they would move it when it was finished.

The smaller dhows had lateen sails, so that to come about you had the throw the sprit, the sail, and the sheet around the short mast, but for all that it was an efficient sailing rig.  Pack up some drinks and food, and the boy we used – about 20, I think, named Mbele, little English, but hand gestures, my pidgen Swahili (Jambo, kwaheri, mzuri sana, karibu) and the color of 100 shillings did the trick – would catch a fish along the way, cook it on the shore of any of a number of small local islands, and then discreetly withdraw for a nap so that you and your companion could have some time alone on the beach before the desultory trip back to port.

The trick, as I remember, was to find some fresh water for a shower to get the sand and salt off before the night heat.  Somehow the day heat, though metallic, was easier to handle than the stuffy wet blanket of the night.The end of the road, the end of the world at the time, but now, like so many places, ruined beyond return.

The next generation, Misty’s generation, inherits a world the poorer for our lack of discipline. As the financial world unravels and it’s clear the party of the last 25 years or so is over and the piper must be paid, will places like Lamu revert to their old calm and easy lifestyle, or will such places continue to degrade into 21st century wastelands?

Shifting Gears

November 21, 2008

This week has afforded me a rapid-fire opportunity to see three different cultures close-up.  On Friday I completed a section of a training in Maine, where the intensity of the core work we were doing with ourselves and our clients was mellowed by the easy-going nature of this class of Canadians, Americans, and a couple of Danes.  These folks are smooth with sharing their feelings and keep up an easy banter and a supportive atmosphere even in the tougher times that inevitably come up in such a long training.  I even allowed one student to practice doing the nose work on me, which left me with post-nasal drip and a cough as I boarded the plane for New York that night.

The next morning, I encountered my noisy and intense pack of all-in-black New Yorkers, full of questions and confrontation as we finished a long season of training and they faced going back to their similarly demanding and abrasive clients.  This weekend we were set in Alex Grey’s Cosmosis gallery, where his large paintings of spiritual and anatomical complexity – including a new one of Barack – stared down on us with such psychedelic intensity that we were all exhausted by 4 o’clock.

After graduation, the cheerful but rapid-fire cacophony of New York was quickly replaced with the contrasting reticence of the Brits.  Straight from New York to Birmingham overnight, into one of those black grickling cabs for an hour-long cab ride with a black-turbaned Punjabi sikh to the Cotswold stone of Ramsden Village Hall, the ‘Best-Kept Village on Oxfordshire’ for 1987 – and right into another class.

While I cannot get the New Yorkers to shut up or leave me alone, I cannot get these Brits – as far along as the Maine group in their KMI training – to speak, share, emote, or even ask a question or call me over.  I have to insert myself.  (In Maine or New York, my working on someone is considered a welcome privilege.  In England, they hate to see me coming and sometimes refuse the work I offer as too intense.)  Outside of class, they are as supportive and interactive as anyone else, but in front of me and James and the entire group, English politeness prevails.  A year’s worth of bodywork training, and they still say “Sorry!” each time they touch each other inadvertently.

The material is the same, the audiences are different, and finding the way in to make a change is my art of the moment, certainly different with each culture, and then additionally so different with each and every valuable and salvageable person.

Canvasser

November 1, 2008

I apologize for the word that ends this entry, but this is a true story that happened to one of my mother’s friend’s daughter this past week.  Since my 90-year-old mother relayed it to me, I guess you can handle it.  This story seems so emblematic of the confused state of race relations in the Obama era:

The woman was canvassing and came to the familiar outpost in rural Maine, a double-wide.  She knocked and a burly young man came out, stained T-shirt poking out through the red-and-black checked shirt.  In response to her questions, he yelled back inside, “Hey, Ma, these people want to know who we’re gonna vote for.”

After a pause came the raspy response: “Tell ‘em we’re votin’ for the nigger!”

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Some I have related this story to have failed to see the humor, responding to the residual racism in the epithet rather than the post-racial light I think it represents.  Here is the other side:

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One of my students, whose Haitian origins are marked by the kink of her hair, the chocolate shimmy of her hips and her mother tongue, French – but who otherwise sports the clothes and concerns of a typical New Yorker, went to the local Maine supermarket the day after the election.  A woman came up to her and clasped her hand: “You must be feeling so good!”

(At first puzzled, then realizing, Elizabeth resisted the temptation to respond, “Actually, I was a McCain supporter.”)