Significant transformative experiences are life changing and make an enormous difference to the trajectory of one’s life. There are limited opportunities for significant personal transformation presented in a lifetime, although smaller growth moments may present more often. The smaller growth moments may be harbingers of larger changes but are incremental. These opportunities may come to us benignly — because we are receptive to subtle clues and have accomplished a healthy wholeness of self-identity and creative flow — or we are catapulted into a physical and/or psychological crisis that provokes us to make drastic changes. At times, no matter how we are living our lives, how healthy and responsible we are psychologically and physically, we can be tossed out of our comfortable status quo and thrown into the mysteries of the unknown, shocked and upset and have to learn new rules of the game.
This post was originally written in May 2017 around the time the U.S. pulled out of the Paris Agreement and mysteriously it was not posted. As I revisited this post in light of our current roiling planet, it made sense that I publish it now.
In the last few weeks many of us have been experiencing an apocalyptic foreboding as fires rage through brittle dry trees creating falling ash and dark skies filled with smoke resulting in unbreathable air; violent hurricanes dismantle islands and pummel cities — storm surges create overwhelming deluges as hurricanes, one after the other, batter our cities tearing up lives and structures as if they are weightless toothpicks to be tossed aside; earthquakes flattened areas in Mexico and we watched all of these events with deepening alarm. One could not help but feel the climate chaos and our sustained blindness to planetary suffering. (See: This Season, Western Wildfires Are Close By and Running Free; New York Times, 9/16/17.)
My son, Kyle Lemle, published a potent and psychologically provocative article titled in June 2017: Beyond America & The Paris Agreement: Eco-Cultural Regeneration as Climate Justice.
Kyle writes of our country’s climate denial: our contactless relationship to planet earth, our habit of squandering vital resources as it relates to our historic and current American psychology of consumption, manifest destiny and chronic absence of collective responsibility. Currently, American leadership is but an exaggerated parody of our enduring American style of plundering the weaker; a culture that preserves selfishness, self-centeredness and greed and harbors a delusional, non-inclusive attitude that we are not all in this together. We have always lacked reciprocity, “the process of giving back what we have taken.” Kyle reminds us that this has been a continuous cultural mandate and we must not deny and fall into the current blame game. Rather, we must look deeply within to alter the ways we interact within our environment. I encourage you to read his article.
Reich discovered, through years of working with patients as well as methodical research, that “…the psychic structure is at the same time a biophysiological structure which represents a specific state indicative of the interplay of the person’s vegetative forces.” 1
What does this mean and how do we apply it to our lives?
In Orgonomic therapy we work to disrobe, if you will, the character — layer by layer. That means the therapist observes, points out, and explores with the client the way — the style that defines how the person engages within himself and the world. How do these character attitudes manifest and shape his total expression and are they effective or problematic? Our job as clinicians is to release our client from the severely limiting character traits that are defensive in nature, learned as a way to cope with early and later life challenges. Although the defenses ‘worked’ to some extent, they become liabilities with negative repercussions increasing with age if not altered.
For example, if a client habitually withdraws as a way to cope with life, that defense is unmasked and deeper feelings are released that have been bound in layers of armoring (the term Reich coined to describe character and biophysical defenses). Then the client learns a more effective and expansive way of relating by developing skill in self-expression rather than relying on retreat. Another example is if a client is emotionally controlling with outbursts of dramatic expression that dwarf the other; that habit is sheared away such that deeper feelings that drive the dramatic display are revealed and new ways of relating are instated. Harshness in style and tone is a sign of character and biophysical armor.
Writing a book has been on my radar for many years as my method began to take shape; yet, the material had not ripened sufficiently until April 2015 when I officially committed to the process at Sea Ranch, California. I discovered a no-nonsense editor and began what would become a 2.5-year process.
In my mid-20’s, I was drawn to the theories and clinical approach of Wilhelm Reich while in a master’s degree program at Goddard College. As my own clinical practice and role as a mentor and teacher developed over the years, I realized the importance of updating Reich’s character typologies to include attachment theory while keeping the legacy of Reich in tact. Jung, the great master of dream analysis and transformational psychology, was an essential component of my analytic perspective. My method has taken shape over the years and is now ready to be shared.
“Love is a story we tell with another person. It’s cocreation through conarration.”
I am referencing an article in the This Life section of the Sunday New York Times that highlights the significance of a rather natural routine of couple’s joint storytelling, (for example, the “how they met story”). Storytelling is integral to the deeper process of establishing a bond with another person. It is both challenging and rewarding to create an intermingled identity with another. Couples may engage in joint narratives without realizing that it is a stabilizing vehicle as they try to embrace each other’s differences. Creating a shared story of the couple’s life and how it has unfolded actually strengthens the relationship. Often, new couples share the story of how and when they decided to partner up or marry with family and friends. The stories can include mystery, humor and laughter, synchronicity, hardship, and elements of destiny. As the couple’s life evolves over time, their story becomes more elaborate and the feelings deepen through their varied shared experiences and inevitable challenges. Possibly children are added, the spice of extended family, and all matter of ingredients are poured into the pot. The co-creation of the story establishes the identity of the couple and reinforces their shared life. Mr. Feiler, the author, notes that as couples construct a joint reality, it balances the “contradictory impulses of independence and interdependence or selfishness and selflessness”. Those conflicting needs battle within all of us as we try to establish an intimate bond.
Inevitable hardships and “unforgiveable” events become integral parts of the story; a break-up that threatened to destroy the relationship, difficulties with blending families, a betrayal – there can be many obstacles along the path of solidifying a relationship over time. After an initial attraction, there is a long road ahead and you either hang-in for the reward of a stable, committed bond with another or move on and start the search all over again.
We live in a brave new world of people walking with heads down, being led by their screens – as they float through space distracted and preoccupied. I am amazed at their ability to cross through busy intersections while barely looking up. We can be with our mates, our family, our children or our favorite friend yet continue to engage in a ‘conversation’ with our devices rather then converse with whom we are with. We dine out, witnessing couples and families with one or both mates glued to their screen and, even if sharing a photo or input, there is little sustained contact or conversation that goes uninterrupted.
Supposedly, social media and our devices express our desire to stay connected and that can be a good thing. We want to share with our extended communities our experiences told in photos or shared ideas, view others, converse through text etc. We can engage in a way that supports connectivity. Yet we need to be attentive to our present situations so we don’t miss valuable opportunities for face-to-face exchanges, meaningful conversations, humor, casual talk and physical tenderness in a sustained way, without distraction.
My last post was on achieving wholeness and the challenging inner conflicts we endure within ourselves if we haven’t achieved this developmental passage, academically referenced as whole object relations. It is as if our psyches are split in two and one side voices our deeply ingrained self-doubt, self-criticalness and self-hatred (referenced as splitting). The other side may compensate with regressive clinging, grandiosity or submersion into the other. The split psychic structure results in pathological defensive character patterns that manifest in chronic physical symptoms, difficulty in relationships and other psychological symptoms. We are unable to balance our disappointments with self through a natural ease of self-acceptance that reinforces our inner wholeness over and over again.
What is the effect of our lack of wholeness on our relationships? Relationships present challenges in the best of circumstances and are always perpetual learning edges. Bringing two individuals into constant proximity – with every aspect of their lives interconnected – presents the quintessential opportunity for both a gloriously connected relationship that, at the same time, can be fraught with painful miscommunications and disappointments that pitch one or the other right out of heavenly bliss.
Wholeness may seem like an elusive goal – one that sounds great on paper but instead ends up as abstract psychobabble rather than a clear directive to achieve. Many of us know well the opposite condition. We are plagued by self-doubt, with, at times, self-denigrating thoughts that talk at us, seizing on each and every opportunity to shake a finger. “You look terrible today – you have gained weight and it is noticeable. Look at those bags under your eyes, ugh!” “You are so inadequate, you didn’t handle that conversation well at work and your boss spotted your discomfort.” “You did not measure up to your good friend’s intelligent understanding of that concept discussed.” “Your neighbor is so successful – he has money to burn and you are always struggling.” “I didn’t get a promotion or a raise and I feel embarrassed and less-than in front of my peers.” “I am not a good mom – I feel like my daughter rejects me and I get angry with her. The other mom’s at school seem so confident compared to me.” “I wish I had a better relationship with my wife – she boxes me in with her demand for sex and I don’t feel sexy or potent.” This busy dialogue in the brain can be relentless with its constant self-repudiation and we feel badly about ourselves more of the time than we feel content inside. Our good/bad, black/white thinking splits us into two parts making wholeness seem like a distant reality never to be embraced.
The New Year in California started with a continued deluge of rain, which brought heavenly moisture to our dry land and dry bones — and has caused some to feel soggy, cold and constricted.
The New Year also brought chaos on the political front with an endless bombardment of controversial executive orders reflecting a lack of circumspect and prudent leadership and stabilizing governance in a time of transition for our divided country. There has been little collaboration with other governmental department heads, or experienced qualified others – even the President’s Cabinet – thus appropriate dialogue that encourages civil and community discourse has not occurred. Rather, announcements resulting in cataclysmic change have caused chaos, fear and shock waves across the globe. The President continues to exhibit his significant personality disorder discussed in my post titled A View of Character – The President-Elect, and his impairments dominant the stage and result in faulty leadership on all fronts. The press continues to observe and report even though attempts are made to suppress what doesn’t compliment the leader’s frail ego.
Each New Year brings us opportunities for significant personal changes that can build on our prior successes and accomplishments or help shift areas of regret or disappointment. Every year we have an opportunity to choose and prioritize that which is most valuable and leave behind what we know to be inconsequential or even destructive. The idea of New Year’s resolutions seems quaint and superficial in that we realize we are unlikely to keep them. It can end up as a pretend gesture and we can laugh that we tried for 3 weeks and then go on about our business.
We can approach this effort with a bit more sincerity and intention. It might be advisable to pick one or two changes for maximum effect – eliminate the laundry list that will get blown off by the end of January. Maybe you could think about one item that really matters to you above all else. What do you want to reinforce that will provide a true avenue for the Self – what supports your development in ways that will make you feel proud and fulfilled? What states of mind are most nourishing – peace, generosity, gratitude? Or perhaps seek times of non-activity in order to allow a sense of spaciousness.