Friday, January 9, 2009

Angst! What Is It Good For?!

As the Buddha said, “All human beings are quite deluded.” The line between the staff and patients is sometimes frighteningly thin....It’s only a matter of degree.
Stephen Cope

Should I pursue a path so twisted?
Patti Smith

I’ve gone through a lot of these incredibly emotionally volatile periods (don’t worry—I’m not going through one right now)–generally when I’ve been getting really deeply into yoga, or therapy, or otherwise simply digging into those messy places inside my head on my own–which at times have led to strained relations, generally erratic behavior, and remarkably poor performance at anything practical I was trying to do at the time. So, for the most part, it’s not very pleasant, and I want it to end as soon as possible, but, at the same time, realize that, if I can navigate my way through the chaos I’ve unleashed and follow it to its source, there are amazing opportunities for change and growth…..

...from a depressed point of view, any situation and any life will look like crap. Not that I’m gonna throw any positive affirmations at you–if there’s one kinda situation that makes me depressed it’s when desperate positivity freaks start throwing positive affirmations at me....probably the most vile book ever written is the 120 Days of Sodom by the Marquis De Sade...it’s about these four libertines who...you really don’t wanna know...but it’s an important book, I think...even though I couldn’t get through more than a hundred pages...and even that was enough to seriously screw with me....I was walking down the sidewalk in Rochester NY and had these unspeakable images stuck in my head...believe me, you don’t wanna know....there was a movie based on it called Salo, directed by Pasolini, best known for a movie about Jesus...which has been called unwatchable...though a guy I knew in grad. school loved it...along with a lot of other things...but it’s seriously tame compared to the book...which maps out those dark places Conrad hinted at like nothing before or since...

he feels that moving into the areas of society that he had rejected is the same as working with the parts of himself that he had rejected.
Pema Chodron (describing a Zen teacher named Bernard Glassman who works with the homeless)

So... what’s all this angst and mental distress good for? I have this extremely part time gig tutoring recovering addicts in reading, most of them from the kinds of backgrounds the nasty old Marquis would’ve taken way too much pleasure in writing about...and, a couple years ago, was a volunteer teaching college writing in a maximum security prison and publishing a now-defunct web-based magazine written and edited by those prisoners....I was there through the auspices of Cornell University, where I taught freshman writing for a year—for a while, I was teaching Ivy League kids in the afternoon, and men doing hard time for violent felonies in the evening...and man, did I prefer that second group....so, having done a lot of self-evaluation in the past year and a half or so, I’ve decided to expand my work with these populations, in terms of both quantity and depth, and am looking into getting the training and credentials necessary to use writing as therapy with them....I’m told that my interest in addicts, prisoners, and the dispossessed in general will be an advantage, in pragmatic terms, since they’re precisely the people most counselors and social workers try to get away from as soon as possible, preferring to work with middle class neurotics from the suburbs...not that I have anything against middle class neurotics from the suburbs...I mean I am one...and I have a lot of experience in the field of psychotherapy...even if it’s all been on the other side of the desk....

...and it's taught me that there are basically two kinds of therapists: (1) those who see themselves as residing on a lofty plateau of pristine normalcy and mental health, and are prepared to help their clients to be just like them, and (2) those who aren’t complete assholes....

18 comments:

svasti said...

I'm proud of ya darlin'. As you know :)

Its a beautiful thing you're doing, and exciting, too... my wonderful, compassionate and humble friend xo

Aggie said...

Sounds like nteresting and rewarding work ... good for you.

the walking man said...

http://jrthumbprints.blogspot.com/


This blogger teaches in a prison

Seeing Eye Chick said...

I know why you prefer the second group. Middle Class folk oft times are not even awake. Whereas hardened criminals, like military folk and other survivors are often painfully aware.
There is hope in the latter. Awareness has it's own innate currency. It might not be pretty or even welcome, but, there it is. The roots of the lotus are often burried in the mud and other unspeakable things.

Brooks Hall said...

Yes! The notion that mental health or spiritual insight should be pristine and perfect or cleansed through bombarding the already over-stuffed brain with false positives (or through repression) doesn't ring true to me. Positive growth comes from rummaging in the dark basement of one's psychology. And the stuff that looks really nasty at first can (with care) eventually yield beauty, deeper understanding, and a greater capacity for love. Or it might just bring peace.

Linda-Sama said...

nice post. I teach yoga and meditation to Hispanic women in a domestic violence shelter. They totally "get" yoga and meditation much more so that the white bread suburban women who feel that they are entitled to it. The women in my group are so much more appreciative of it than the white breads. and they see me as one of them because #1, I was married to a Mexican, and #2 because I've been where they are now. They don't look at me as just another white suburban do-gooder (this they've told me.)

Dano MacNamarrah said...

Have you read the book by Wally Lamb and the women he teaches in prison? It's amazing. It's called "Couldn't Keep it to Myself".

I hold 12-Step meetings in prison. They are so rewarding. Keep up the great work.

Lydia said...

That's pretty wonderful of you. Very wonderful actually. (the word verification is "scoff" which may be the reaction to your goals by those in the first group of therapists....screw 'em)

Seeing Eye Chick said...

Just for the record. White, doesnt equal idiot. I am Anglo. I wouldnt want that held against me, as if that made me ineligible for spiritual depth, or a meaningful, examined life. White also doesnt equal rich, or wealthy, nor does it automatically bestow upon all, a toxic sense of entitlement. If it's not right to stereotype people on the basis of race, or color, White then should also count along with other designations of ethnicity or genetic phenotype.

Lana Gramlich said...

I like your breakdown on therapist types. Ain't it the truth!
Best of luck with working with the potentially hardest cases!
"120 Days of Sodom" sounds similar, in effect, to "Requiem for a Dream," although much, MUCH worse. As such, particularly since Requiem screwed me up so badly, I think I'll pass...
Ironically, my verification word for this comment is "dings," as the windchime on our deck is doing right now.

Chrissy said...

I worked in various prisons for a number of years, I consider I built up the oddest relationships sometimes. But, it really broadened my mind and was always interesting...I think the important thing is to relaise that if you make a difference to just 1%, then it is an achievement..

RockStories said...

Many years ago, when I was practicing law among populations like you describe (part-time public defender, part-time pro bono advocate for victims of domestic violence, fresh out of running a welfare advocacy clinic), people often told me that I was more social worker than lawyer. Discussing the very issue that you raise at the end of your post here, I was stunned when a colleague said, "middle-aged housewives in crisis need help, too." I started to dismiss the idea by throwing out the scales, but she pointed out something that has become increasingly clear to me in adult life: we all experience our crises and traumas in proportion to our experience, and those problems which may seem trivial by comparison don't seem trivial at all to the middle-class folks living them. Empirically, they may not rate, but they still need the help they need to move past it or the risks are very much the same.

Came as a big surprise to me to realize that *I* was the snob in that analysis and not those $150/hour counselors in their plush offices.

timethief said...

Good news! I must be recovering from my head injury because I can actually read your post and understand what it's about ... :P

Liara Covert said...

You always know exactly what you need to work though energy. That does not mean you always give into your instincts, or listen to your inner voice, but you appear to nurture uplifting viewpoints. Your blog sparks debate. Some people believe dialogue is itself a kind of success.

Rhiannon said...

And to think that some of those people in prison and the crimes they committed might have gotten the help they needed...before they got so screwed up in their bizzare "cries for help".

This is what sickens me about our country..the news afterwards, the neighbors and relatives comments "oh but he was such a quiet nice man or "good boy"..they never paid attention to the danger signals or maybe even the cries for help..until it was too late. Not to mention the way many were brougtht up by very abusive unloving parents.

I'm very glad to hear that your thinking of taking your time to help those in need..it's never too late and I thank you for contributing to helping to counsel prisoners in need...jail cell walls are not the way to making the system all better. It doesn't help anyone. I know there is a better answer..we just are used to doing the same ole thing about crime..."nothing" really. We rarely address the "why"?

Maybe it's time to do that now...with your help..and hopefully other professionals too.

Blessings,

Rhi

YogaforCynics said...

Comment from Bird (http://www.thebirdsinthemeadow.com/) deleted by accident:
I have a couple of friends who work in high security units and they are the most engaged with and fascinated by their work (and life in general) people that I've ever met, and they held similar views to you about teaching prisoners compared with students. I know I'm too chickenshit to go down that road myself. BTW apologies for the clunky and weird grammatical structure of this comment.

Claire said...

I would hope that I am well on the way to being therapist stylee number two, aka non arsehole.

I know I am not normal :)

muwickra said...

Quite interesting one ... overall I think I have lot to read in this blog. Will come back as I have time!!

Sjay