Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Making peace with myself

I'm told that, when I make a contribution during the class, what comes across to the rest of the group is a wealth of knowledge and depth of understanding.  It's also been said that I don't seem to realise how much I help people.  What I've heard from some of the people I've supported, whether informally or in my work, is that they've told me things they would never tell anyone else.  Occasionally, people go as far as to tell me that I've been good, that I've helped them, and they feel a weight has been lifted from their shoulders.

I should be able to accept all this positive feedback.  I think it's now reached the point where I really should accept it, because a failure to do so would suggest that either I don't trust the judgement of the people saying these things, or I believe they are being dishonest.  Actually, that was never the problem.  The problem was that I was suffering from impostor syndrome - a feeling that I really shouldn't have been there, and certainly not getting praise for it, because doing so only meant that I had successfully pulled the wool over the eyes of a lot of people.

I'm at an age where I've started to question everything that's happened in my life so far - the journey, as it were - and try to understand what it all means.  Hopefully, by asking ourselves these questions, and finding the answers, we reach a state of congruence, self-actualization, self-acceptance, or whatever it may be called in the school of psychology or belief system to which we subscribe.  I prefer to look at it as being at peace with who are, because I believe that reaching this state brings us peace and, if we are to make peace with the outside world and the people in it, we must first make peace with ourselves.  I also believe that, in trying to achieve this inner peace, we are, to some extent, aiming at a moving target.

I realise that a piece of writing such as this could be seen as a narcissistic drone, but I sincerely hope it doesn't come across as such.  If you see it in such a way, it is easy enough to stop reading.  Maybe you'll see something that applies to your own situation, though, and reading my self-absorbed waffling will help you in some way.  Has that been my intention all along?  I'll leave that for you to decide.

If we accept that a sense of inner peace is a moving target, how do we achieve inner peace?  Some people find it through religion or spirituality.  Some people find it through finding a sense of purpose.  I hear that some find a certain contentment in family life, whereas others like to travel and learn about cultures that are different from their own.  One of the things I find wonderful about us humans is that we are all so different.  It stands to reason that a sense of inner peace will look different to each of us and, as I have said, is likely to be something that changes over time.

I started by talking about my inability to accept positive appraisals of my ability as a counsellor.  I regard this as an obstacle on the path.  I feel that achieving a sense of peace within ourselves requires many of the same elements which are needed to make peace with others: patience, understanding and, most importantly in my eyes, acceptance.

We change and, hopefully, we grow as individuals.  So, a sense of inner peace is largely a moving target.  As much as we change, however, key aspects of us remain the same, or were there all along, and we were barely conscious of them.  We could see these as the core, or fundamental, truths of who we are.  In person-centred therapy, this is known as the organismic self.

Abraham Maslow spoke of a hierarchy of needs, where basic physical and safety needs must be met first, before a sense of belonging and self-esteem lead the individual further along the path towards what he termed self-actualization.  Maybe there should also be a hierarchy of acceptance, where we first accept the fundamental truths about ourselves, then the things about us that will change, before we are able to practise acceptance of the wider world and the people in it.

My own path is currently leading towards me becoming a counsellor, and stands in stark contrast to where I was being led by my earlier career and academic endeavours.  Looking back, I can see how I ignored the fundamental truths about myself or, as Carl Rogers might have said, I was in a state of incongruence.  What I would say is that, although I still struggle to accept positive feedback, I'm on a path where I feel more at peace with myself.  Should I say I'm in a more congruent state, or I'm further along the path to self-actualization?  I'd argue that those are equally valid, but those who know me will be aware of the effect that Zen philosophy has had on the way I see the world, and may be more surprised that I didn't refer to the path of enlightenment.

My reason for talking in terms of peace is that what I see are a great many people who aren't at peace with themselves.  Am I, through simply listening, without making judgements about them, able to help people find a way forward and feel more at peace with who they are?  I truly hope so.  I don't consider that I have any great skill or wisdom: I just listen.  If you've made it this far through my ramblings, then you have effectively done the same for me, and I offer you my most sincere thanks for that.

Monday, 23 May 2016

The true self

For the last few months, I've been attending two dance classes and continuing with my study of counselling skills.  What I haven't been doing - and it's a change that was forced upon me - is attending lessons in wing chun.

Before my temporary break from martial arts practice, a number of things had pointed the way to feelings of which I was barely aware.  Some of the other students, and one in particular, had said that I was one of the more defensive fighters in the class, and didn't seem particularly eager to attack.  More tellingly, my performance in sparring sessions was poor.

As recently as six years ago, when I was a student of jujitsu, my performance in sparring sessions was anything but poor.  I'll say no more about that, because I take little pride in it now.  A few minor incidents outside of my time in the wing chun class also showed that I was more than capable of applying what I'd learned, if needed.  A sparring session with some mixed martial artists convinced me that I'd built up a great deal of skill.  So, why the poor performance in sparring and chi sao?  Why was I a defensive, rather than attacking, fighter?


The way that I came to learn to dance could almost be described as an accident.  I was at an outdoor concert, and one of the ladies present mentioned that she was going to give a dance class about which she'd heard a go, if someone would go along with her.  Eventually, it became obvious that I was the focus of her request that someone go with her to the class.  I agreed, with the warning that I probably wouldn't enjoy it.

I was wrong about not enjoying it.  I was learning a new set of movements, and none of them had anything to do with combat!  How could I be enjoying it?  Around this time, in the counselling skills class, we were learning about the concept of the organismic, or true, self.  The theory is that we try to mould ourselves to fit in with the expectations of others but, as much as we try to hold it back, the truth of who we are will eventually make itself known, to some extent, in a way that even we may not be expecting.  The real me likes to dance, apparently.

Things change

Now, the time has come for me to go back to wing chun, and taking a break from it has changed things.  When I tried to run through the forms again, I noticed that some muscle groups had been neglected, through not training, but dancing had developed other muscle groups.  More importantly, I'd had time to analyse my relationship with martial arts, and come to terms with it.

I've come to realise that violence, and the threat of violence, have always been a part of my life: sometimes in the background, and sometimes very much to the fore.  My response was to commit much of my time to attempting to make myself a one man army, so to speak.  On that journey, however, I became more interested in Zen and the other elements of philosophy behind the combat arts I was practising.  Again, this was a very clear sign that my true self was gradually becoming known to me.

A little bit of self-reflection, courtesy of my study of counselling skills, put the final piece of the puzzle into place, and revealed something that I really should have known all along.  I have no interest in fighting, and it's likely that I never did.  I've seen too much violence, and taken part in quite a bit of it myself, and I have no wish for that to continue being a part of my life.  I'm going back to wing chun, but with a different focus, or maybe the same focus that I had all along, if only I'd been able to admit it to myself.

I was reluctant to take a break, because I feared that a temporary break would become permanent.  What happened, though, was that the break became a chance to check my motivation, to ask the questions that weren't being asked.  The result is that I'm returning to something I love, but now it's different because, this time, I'm going as myself.