I am intensity junkie in recovery.
I used to be dependent on intensity. It was my narcotic of choice. It was how i recognised myself. It was what i thought was the same as 'deep'. if I couldn't have an intense conversation with someone, then i didn't know how to relate to them. Or rather - i judged them as being uninteresting, lacking complexity, emotional intelligence, or just intelligence. I confused ease and simplicity with ignorance or laziness.
Recently i am emerging from a work relationship that was characterised by a kind of systemic hyper-arousal and hyper-vigilance. This sense that everything was potentially an emergency. And everything that wasn't in accordance with the prevailing culture represented a hostile threat. A potential threat that we had to arm ourselves against.
For ages, i couldn't work out why i found it so challenging to come to quiet in this work environment, or why i wasn't doing my best work. I kept trying to re-shape myself into a closer approximation of what I imagined was needed. re-shape, re-shape, re-shape. And then i got sick. My body put me down. I'm not saying it was directly because of this situation, but i am convinced it was part of it. I'm convinced that my inability to regulate around it is what tipped me over the edge. I had been ignoring the warning signs for too long.
It was a red flag moment... like many that have come before... A clear indicator that i could not continue in that dynamic and be healthy.
This work relationship has come to represent the last vestige of a way of being that used to be my ordinary operating system. Following over a decade of similar dynamics in work and intimate relationships.
This most recent one, is the last shackle of it falling away.
Scales falling from my eyes.
The whole de-conditioning process has taken nearly 15 years.
And out of the fertile compost of all this, an emergent discovery of how i really want to do things. Following ease. Following creative possibility. Following curiosity.
The first few years of exploring following ease, rather than difficulty, i found i needed to sleep a lot. For my system to counterbalance all the free floating anxiety and hyper vigilance it needed some pretty deep wipe-out time. I had a recurring image of a restless black dog trying to find a place to settle in the corner of my consciousness and eventually i found a way to release him. I spoke about an encounter with this imagined dog in an excellent open conversation about creative courage last week with Dave Rock and Brooke McNamara. You can listen & watch it if you sign up to the Embodiment Conference (its free... click on 'Webinars' in the Resources section.)
Now, I don't know if it is just me getting older, doing all this Feldenkrais, or if it is just some deep systemic change and healing... certainly if feels like a falling away of a massive shackle of limiting cultural ENTRAINMENT. So probably some synthesis of all three.
These days I am tired, bone tired, BORED of intensity and unnecessary struggle. I see it as a dysfunction of a culture addicted to adrenaline; a system that rewards continual growth and goal setting and can't live with decay and being with uncertainty. A system that is propped up by the dangerous delusion, that an alert problem solving form of consciousness is the only valid kind.
Obviously these mindsets permeate our workplaces, corporations and education systems, but incredibly, I see vestiges of this mindset leaking into climate action groups and activism generally. Also, therapeutic workshops, self development courses, yoga retreats. Not to mention ‘resilience’ workshops! It’s bloody everywhere! The meta - project of 'is how i am being sustainable?' is neglected.
It isn't healthy biological functioning and it is making us sick. Nature is shouting loudly that this is a way of being that cannot continue with out great cost. And it is costing us.
This is not to say that there aren't situations that require appropriate urgency, hard work, focus and vigilance.
Not at all.
But now, the proportions feel more sustainable in my life.
There is more balance and perspective.
I am elastic and capable, so when there is a genuine emergency, I am better resourced to wrangle with it.
And this brings me to simplicity.
I was chatting to a friend and colleague Mairtin McNamara yesterday about what is essentially required of us as to be good facilitators and it lead us towards a conversation about complexity and simplicity and to what extent it is the responsibility of the facilitator / coach to be holding a more complex circle of attention than the client. I wasn't so sure.
These days i am so grateful for - and deeply appreciative of - the experience of simplicity. It has taken hacking through an incredibly complicated forest to get there, but it seems these days i can recognise it when i am there and seem to be able to find my way there at will. A lot of my relationships have changed tone. Or just changed. Some have fallen away. Some i no longer feel the need to make myself into the shape required to be in them any more... a quality i now recognise as a kind of high functioning dis-function.
In my theatre work, i recognise that when simplicity and ease arrive, then i am landing on something good. Sometimes it takes ploughing through some gnarly complexity to get there, but the journey is always worth it when it starts to feel simple. I know, then that something is landing. An altogether different feeling to listlessness, laziness or procrastination. It has a restful vibrancy about it.
I am learning this also when i hold space for others, in a therapeutic container, coaching container or an educational one, that if, what i pay attention to, is being a well resourced, nervous system, then the work we are doing together can have its greatest impact.
This isn't about 'controlling myself' or forcing anything, it feels more like guiding a stream of energy in a direction of my conscious choosing. And as much about a kind of bubbling brook of ventral vagal interconnection as it is about being being 'relaxed'. Something about being elastic, adaptable and alive to what is. To be able to feel what is happening on lots of levels: in me, in them, between us, in the field beyond us.... whether this is through talking, touch or holding some other kind of space.... even an online space, (which i am doing increasingly). I may only draw on one or two 'tools' for the whole session, but the focus is on tracking the ever emergent present, being a loving, well resourced, presence to support what wants to emerge, guided by both of us. Sometimes this requires invisibility. Sometimes visibility. Sometimes a tool or two. Sometimes a shift of gear. Sometimes almost nothing at all.
My theory at the moment is that the nature of consciousness is like an infinite unfolding of ever increasing fractal-like organic complexity that changes depending where attention is placed. Attention being a creative, generative principle. If i assume it is much larger, more profound and unknowable than any system, method, technique or person; much larger and more complex than any one of us can know, then i can feel I am on the right track.
Yet it is also profoundly OF me. Of us. It is the gossamer which animates the fabric of all organic life.
Profundity and complexity are woven into our biological identities, so perhaps the most extraordinary gift i can offer as a facilitator is a kind of learned simplicity. If - as some studies claim - 90% of the therapeutic effect is relational presence and trust, not technique... Ninety percent!! Then perhaps the more simple i can be in my holding of space, the more vivid, unexpected and profound can be the discoveries.
Blue Zoanthids - Image by Ka78 on Deviant Art