Saturday, September 30, 2006

Aftermath, Part Three: By the Way . . .

I'm Back!

I still have a lot of processing to do, and some of that may end up in this space. But I spent my week in the abyss, and it's time to move on. Mourning is an ongoing process and it doesn't have clean start and stop dates, but there is a lot to be said for embracing the change and letting it work me over -- in whatever way that might happen.

Thank you all for hanging in this last week and continuing to read -- in spite of my self-obsessed postings.


Eight Variations on Change

One of the hidden gems in Beck and Cowan's Spiral Dynamics is the change model they present. The book presented seven modes of change, to which Beck has since added an eighth variation. How we cope with change -- or why we might choose one or the other of these variations -- is a complex subject that I will address in another post. I also want to look at the six conditions necesarry for change to occur, but that will also be another post. For now, I want to introduce these basic variations on the theme of change. It's fundamentally impossible to address this topic within the structure of Spiral Dynamics without using some integral jargon, so please be patient.

Beck and Cowan divided the modes of changes into three categories: horizontal, oblique, and vertical. I am most interested in vertical change, which can be defined as movement up or down the developmental spiral, but the other forms will be discussed as needed. [A more thorough explanation of vertical change will be presented in another post.] What follows is a brief introduction to the varieties of change.

There are three forms of HORIZONTAL CHANGE, “fine-tuning,” “reforming,” and "upgrading." Horizontal change is any attempt to make changes that do not effectively change one’s world-view or developmental level. Essentially, it is change that broadens the possibilities at the current level of being. This may be, by far, the most common attempt at change.

Fine-tuning is the first variation and involves an adjustment of the current approach to dealing with life conditions. One may develop better techniques for coping and acquire better information, but everything stays essentially the same. In reforming, nothing within the system is really changed, but assignments may be juggled or re-aligned. A company may replace one advertising slogan with another, but nothing about philosophy changes. With an upgrade, one seeks a new and improved model. Basic operating assumptions remain unchanged. This is the approach to personal change that seeks a better body as the key to being happy.

Reforming and upgrading were lumped together as expanding out in the original book. These forms of change can sometimes feel like they are more substantial than they actually are.

The two OBLIQUE variations of change (change that is neither fully vertical or merely horizontal) involve “stretching down” and “stretching up.”

In stretching down, the fourth variation, the individual remains in the current worldview, but reawakens earlier strategies for coping with change in order to deal with the current crisis. For an individualistic, rationally-minded person (we’ll name this person Pat), this may mean a reexamination of one’s belief in God following a near-death experience. The crisis in faith may propel Pat back to the church of his/her upbringing, but over the long-term, if Pat successfully navigates the crisis, the result will be a faith compatible with the scientific and individualist worldview held before the experience. A stretch down response is a common first attempt at dealing with change for many people, in that it allows them to recall previous habits and approaches that are more comfortable and comforting.

In a stretch up approach, the fifth variation, the individual takes the opportunity to try on more complex and challenging behaviors to cope with change. For Pat, s/he may turn to therapy as a way to re-contextualize the way s/he approaches the current life conditions. Rather than reverting to an earlier, more comfortable approach, the choice is made to attempt a more complex method of coping with the crisis. The underlying worldview remains unchanged, but if Pat successfully navigates the change in this way, s/he will integrate some more complex behaviors into the existing collection of skills. This is often a best-case scenario for those who are confronted with change, but do not possess the needed conditions to experience an actual vertical change.

These first five are considered first order variations (not to be confused with first tier). Changes may occur in the system, but the fundamental assumptions or givens remain unchanged. While modes of expression may change, essential beliefs are also unchanged and function as anchors to insure stability. In second order variations, however, the whole sytem or way of thinking is brought to question and overhauled. New operating assumptions are adopted -- what Beck refers to as, "The new wine has new wineskins."

The last three variations are forms of VERTICAL change. In particular, the sixth variation, break-out, is the most relevant to dealing with personal crises. Break-out occurs when one is in the midst of change, caught between what was and what is yet to become. This period can be quite prolonged and involves a great deal of frustration and anger. Beck and Cowan say, “This time of emotional loading is when all hell breaks loose, symbolically or literally. Such transformational change is tumultuous; it marks life passages and ‘significant emotional events.’” When one is in the depths of this type of change, which can be equated with the initiatory stage of ritual when liminality is the rule, the traditional response is an all-out assault on the perceived barriers keeping one in that liminal space. Using Pat once again, this may mean therapy, going back to school, attending seminars and workshops that offer to help Pat find his/her path in the world. Pat might also enlist the help of friends and family, and those not willing to help might be labeled traitors and dropped as friends. The mentality is that of revolution, and the risk is that the assaults will fail and regression will be the outcome. The break-out approach is the only one where total regression to prior approaches to handling life conditions is a serious risk.

The seventh variation, up-shift, is a relatively rare approach in which one sees the crisis coming, or is not floored by it if it comes unexpectedly, and is able to quickly adjust to meet the new demands. This version of change might also include situations that are initiated consciously by the individual. All six of the conditions for change must be met for this to even be a possibility, and when they are, change can be a consciously chosen experience, even when it forces the adoption of a whole new set of behaviors for dealing with one’s life conditions. Unlike the sixth variation, there is no need to destroy any of the existing modes of behavior; instead, the approach is to transcend them by adopting more complex and comprehensive behaviors. Using Pat once again, s/he might suddenly see that s/he has been living an isolated life with few close friend and few peers. Further, Pat might see that s/he has been too focused on his/her own life at the cost of friends, family, and humanity at large. The solutions might involve deepening relationships, using existing knowledge and training to mentor youth, adopting a spiritual practice, and any number of other behaviors that are more expansive than those that were relied on before the near-death experience.

The eighth and final variation, quantum change, is the most massive and rare type of change one can endure. It is very rare, but under certain intense circumstances, it can occur. When one is experiencing quantum change, several areas of one’s life are being forced to change all at the same time. In most integral models (either Ken Wilber's, Spiral Dynamics', Robert Kegan's, or any others), human beings are seen to have many streams of development that comprise their sense of self. In quantum change, several of these streams are being forced to adopt more complex approaches to the prevailing life conditions, all at the same time. For Pat, this may mean that following her/his near-death experience, the intellectual stream is no longer capable of functioning in a world devoid of meaning, the emotional stream is no longer willing to live an isolated life, the spiritual stream is recognized for the first time, the physical stream realizes that the heart attack was a result of poor health habits and forces Pat to change his/her behaviors, and the moral stream recognizes that the needs of others are as important as self-needs. All of these different streams are forcing change at the same time and, although each of them may be at different developmental waves, the combined force for change is experience by the Self as a quantum event, beyond the bounds of linear progression.

Before any of these variations can occur, however, the subject (person, group, business, culture) must meet certain characteristics. I'll get into that in the next post.

Environmental News

From the Environmental News Network:

Top Ten Articles of the Week

In the news September 25th - 29th: A landmark law, the value of northern forests, fences and migration, protecting wetlands from drilling, and much more.

1. Schwarzenegger Signs Landmark Greenhouse Gas Law
In a move backers hope will change the U.S. approach to the problem of global warming, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a law Wednesday aimed at reducing the state's greenhouse gas emissions.

2. China to Release Rare Tigers to Shrinking Forests
China will train 620 endangered Siberian tigers to survive in the wild as part of a controversial effort to return them to the country's shrinking northeast forests, state media reported on Monday.

3. Intact Northern Forests Worth $250 Billion a Year, According to Study
Forests in northern nations such as Russia and Canada are worth $250 billion a year because of services they provide by purifying water or soaking up greenhouse gases, a researcher said on Tuesday.

4. U.S.-Mexico Border Fence May Harm Animal Migration
A plan to fence off a third of the U.S. border to stop illegal immigration from Mexico may harm migration routes used by animals including rare birds and jaguars, environmentalists and U.S. authorities warn.

5. U.S. Says Will Pull Alaska Wetlands from Oil Drilling
In a win for environmentalists, the U.S. Interior Department says it is willing to withdraw sensitive wetlands from a large area in Alaska's western Arctic region that it wanted to open next week to oil and natural gas drilling.

6. Senator Seeks to Speed Nuclear Waste Shipments to Yucca Mountain
A Senate committee chairman said Wednesday he wants to start shipping nuclear waste to Nevada's Yucca Mountain in 2010, seven years ahead of the Bush administration's schedule. A bill by Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., would mandate construction of a surface storage facility at the site that could hold nuclear waste until the long-delayed underground dump is ready.

7. Earth May Be at Warmest Point in One Million Years
Earth may be close to the warmest it has been in the last million years, especially in the part of the Pacific Ocean where potentially violent El Nino weather patterns are born, climate scientists reported Monday.

8. Journal: Agency Blocked Hurricane Report
A government agency blocked release of a report that suggests global warming is contributing to the frequency and strength of hurricanes, the journal Nature reported Tuesday. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration disputed the Nature article, saying there was not a report but a two-page fact sheet about the topic.

9. Brazil Greens See Tensions if Lula Wins Second Term
With his leftist credentials and background as a factory worker in polluted Sao Paulo, environmentalists had high hopes of Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva when he took office in 2003. But the results are mixed.

10. Diaper Component Tested to Protect Water
When Nebraska researchers began looking for ways to soak up nitrogen fertilizer from cropland before it could make its way to ground water, they turned the standard in absorption: disposable baby diapers.

Photo: A close-up of a brightly-colored Cactus flower. Credit: Gary M. Stolz/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Love and Attachment

Dharma Quote of the Week from Snow Lion Publications:
Love and Attachment People often wonder how to reconcile the Buddha's teachings on non-attachment with those on love. How can we love others without being attached to them? Non-attachment is a balanced state of mind in which we cease overestimating others' qualities. By having a more accurate view of others, our unrealistic expectations fall away, as does our clinging. This leaves us open to loving others for who they are, instead of for what they do for us. Our hearts can open to care for everyone impartially, wishing everyone to be happy simply because he or she is a living being. The feeling of warmth that was previously reserved for a select few can now be expanded to a great number of people

--from Taming the Mind by Bhikshuni Thubten Chodron, published by Snow Lion Publications

The Middle East Through History

Here is a cool map that shows the history of the Middle East in terms of who has occupied it. It's nicely done.

Found this at J-Walk Blog.

Satire: The Senate's Torture Law

This is from The Onion, so someone might find it offensive.

Senate Wins Fight To Lower Allowable Amperage Levels On Detainees' Testicles

September 29, 2006 | Issue 42•40

Senate Wins R
WASHINGTON, DC—Led by a bipartisan group of senators critical of White House policy on suspected terrorists, the Senate passed a bill Thursday that prohibits interrogators from exceeding 100 amps per testicle when questioning detainees. "Even in times of war, it is counterproductive and wrong to employ certain inhumane interrogation techniques, and using three-digit amperage levels on the testicles of captives constitutes torture," said Sen. John Warner (R-VA), who has also supported reducing the size of attack dogs and the height of nude pyramids. "Using amperages of 99 and lower, with approved surge protectors on the jumper-cable clamps, are the hallmarks of a civilized society." The legislation did not address amperage restrictions on suspected terrorists' labia.

What Art Movement Are You?

You Are Expressionism

Moody, emotional, and even a bit angsty... you certainly know how to express your emotions.
At times, you tend to lack perspective on your life, probably as a result of looking inward too much.
This introspection does give you a flair for the dramatic. And it's even maybe made you cultivate some artistic talents!
You have a true artist's temperament... which is a blessing and a curse.

Friday, September 29, 2006

When Things Fall Apart

When things fall apart and we're on the verge of we know not what, the test for each of us is to stay on that brink and not concretize. The spiritual journey is not about heaven and finally getting to a place that's really swell.

~ Pema Chodron

Strangely enough, a little over a year ago I began a book on this very topic. I stopped writing at the time because I didn't feel I understood the process well enough. So life brings me a firsthand lesson. Be careful what you wish for.

I'll have more to say on this in the coming days and weeks, including some material from the manuscript.

Peter Gabriel: Blood of Eden

With special guest Paula Cole.

Poem: The Magician

The Magician

Form is finite, an undestroyable hush over all things.
~ Charles Wright, "March Journal"

A thing held too tightly dissolves,
as in a magician's trick,
the one where a crow vanishes
through some slight of hand
and there is only the absence of the crow.

It's like that, only different.
The crow doesn't really vanish, it dies,
its neck snapped by fingers
clenched, struggling against
the ethereal power of wings.

But magicians don't use crows,
so it's not like that at all.
The crow struggles, its wings
attempting the defiance of weight
the earthbound can only envy.

But the fingers hold, and they are my hands
killing the messenger, the bird
I once trusted to reveal my soul.
The snapped neck, a hush over all things,
no awareness, no applause, no magic.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

New Material at Elegant Thorn Review

I'm pleased to announce that I've posted some new material over at Elegant Thorn Review:

~ A poem by Tim J Brennan

~ Two photos by Nasser Majali

As always, I am seeking finely crafted poetry, intriguing photography, and captivating flash fiction. Guidelines can be found here.

Happy Music

I think Trent Reznor is one of my disowned selves -- the angry one.

Aftermath, Part Two: Inner Voice: Despair

This is one of my subpersonalities, one filled with despair. This is an old friend, a voice I have known for many years. It holds a lot of relationship pain and comes to the surface during the ending of relationships -- its role seems to be to convince me not to be so vulnerable ever again. It wants to protect me from further pain by convincing me that I am unable to be in relationships, that it is better to be alone.

It's the absence of her presence.

For more than five years every action, every word, every thought, every heartbeat and breath was bringing me unavoidably to this day, this suffering, this absence.

The slightest change could have shifted the narrative -- a tender word, a gentle touch, a smile in the middle of a fight, anything. If only I could have made the slightest change. But I was too stubborn, too distant, too cold.

Why did I think it would be any different this time? Why did I think it was okay to define myself by another's expectations? I've lived that life twice now and failed both times. Why did I think this time would be any different?

I couldn't let myself need her. I couldn't put myself through that suffering again. And so it turns out that I did need her, and here, at night, I feel her absence most of all.

I am becoming a mass of scar tissue. At what point does new growth become suppressed by all the calcified scars? At what point does the past become nothing more than the foreshadowing of my future?

As I am able to identify these voices, and isolate them, they lose some of their power to act like body snatchers and take over my brain. They become objects rather than subjects. And as I can look at them as objects, I can see the flawed thinking, the self-loathing that I have lived with for so many years.

This is the first true test of everything I have been working on for so long. I don't expect to be able to fix everything with mindfulness and observation, but I am hoping that it will ease the process.

Poem: Theodore Roethke

Journey Into The Interior

In the long journey out of the self,
There are many detours, washed-out interrupted raw places
Where the shale slides dangerously
And the back wheels hang almost over the edge
At the sudden veering, the moment of turning.
Better to hug close, wary of rubble and falling stones.
The arroyo cracking the road, the wind-bitten buttes, the canyons,
Creeks swollen in midsummer from the flash-flood roaring into the narrow valley.
Reeds beaten flat by wind and rain,
Grey from the long winter, burnt at the base in late summer.
-- Or the path narrowing,
Winding upward toward the stream with its sharp stones,
The upland of alder and birchtrees,
Through the swamp alive with quicksand,
The way blocked at last by a fallen fir-tree,
The thickets darkening,
The ravines ugly.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Aftermath, Part One

I suspect that this is the first of many posts tracking the fallout from the past few days.

I've been trying to stay centered in awareness, in the place within myself that is not attached to suffering, that can hold perspective. Generally, I am failing.

I know that the last five years have been amazing, filled with joy, growth, and love. And while I know that objectively, it's hard to live in that space right now. I don't even know if I should try to live in that space.

I hear old voices in my head that tell me all of my relationships are doomed to failure, that everyone I ever love will leave me, that I am too flawed for anyone to ever really love me. The loudest voice is the one that makes me the victim. It says that anyone who has ever left me -- even those who have died -- has abandoned me, betrayed me.

I know this is shadow stuff. I know where these voices come from -- the subpersonalities that hold these views and when they developed. But when they come up (as in the poem I posted this morning and have since removed), they hold the rest of me hostage. I become possessed with their worldview.

Many of the feelings coming up right now are leftovers from ten years ago, the last time I went through the ending of a long-term relationship. Back then I had no tools to deal with the pain. Remnants of those feelings are conflating with feelings from the current situation to make it all seem much worse than it is.

The reality is that I am in a good place in my life. I can do anything I want, and I can go anywhere I want.

Yes, I've lost the woman who I trusted to be my partner for life. Yes, there is bitterness and pain about that, not to mention a fair amount of self-recrimination -- even though I can be no one other than who I am right now.

So I struggle between those dark shadow places that I am dragging into the light and the cool awareness of detachment that keeps me balanced.

But I am clear that the shadow stuff needs to be dragged into the light -- I need to relive those dark feelings that have been buried for so many years and know that they will not devour me, that those voices are not telling the truth about me or my life.

When that shadow work happens in this space, please know that it is only that -- the shadows being dragged out into the light.

Parable on Friendship

This is from season two of The West Wing, told by Leo to Josh when Josh is experiencing PTSD a few weeks after being shot.

A man is walking along and he falls into a hole.

He sees a doctor walk by and shouts up, "Hey, doctor, I've fallen in this hole. Can you help me out?" The doctor writes out a prescription, throws it down in the hole, and keeps walking.

The man sees a priest walk by and shouts up, "Hey, Father, I've fallen in this hole. Can you help me out?" The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole, and keeps walking.

The man sees a friend walk by and shouts up, "Hey, Joe, I've fallen in this hole. Can you help me out?" Joe immediately jumps down into the hole with him. The man says," What are you doing, now we're both down in this hole." And Joe replies, "Yeah, but I've been here before. I know the way out."

Peter Gabriel: Digging in the Dirt

For those who are not fans, Peter Gabriel's US album is perhaps the best exploration of a relationship's end ever committed to a little metal disc. This is the second song from that album I have posted.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

What is the Role of the Poet in a Time of War?

I just posted a piece over at The Woodshed on something Bill Knott said today on his blog. The post looks at the role of art and artists in addressing social issues. Check it out and leave your thoughts.

Change of Scenery

One of the bright spots in my current life situation is that I am no longer tied to Tucson in any real way. It would be sad to leave my clients -- who I really do care about -- but now I can live anywhere I want.

I'm not sure I want to leave Tucson, yet. I need to sit with it for a while. My lease is up at the end of March, so I have a little time to plan, make some trips, and find work.

High on the list (if I do leave) are returning to Seattle, moving to Denver/Boulder, or going back to Oregon (either Portland or Eugene). One factor to consider is that I can transfer to any Ballys location in the country, so I would have to pick a city with a Ballys (which leaves out Eugene).

It's really tempting to go someplace I've never lived before, which would eliminate Seattle and Portland. Here's what I want in a place: seasons, progressive politics, nearby nature, cultural activities (especially literature), a recreational soccer league, and sidewalks (Tucson doesn't really have sidewalks).

Anyone have any suggestions?

Poem: The Promise

The Promise

"What the mouth sings, the soul must learn to forgive."
~ Sam Hamill

THERE ARE WORDS, once spoken, hang
heavy as clouds above the horizon, dark
foreboding, a promised storm, a tempest
pregnant with rain, with meaning, promising

an ending, baptismal, wind ripping
limbs from trees, knocking ravens
from the sky, the promise of a life
laid desolate, drowned, fierce torrents

tearing self from the safety of its shell.

Then the silence, the calm both welcome
and feared, a clearing sky, fallen
trees suggesting scars upon the fields,
and the promise of morning, alone.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Peter Gabriel: Washing of the Water

Poem: Carolyn Forché


The page opens to snow on a field: boot-holed month, black hour
the bottle in your coat half voda half winter light.
To what and to whom does one say yes?
If God were the uncertain, would you cling to him?

Beneath a tattoo of stars the gate open, so silent so like a tomb.
This is the city you most loved, an empty stairwell
where the next rain lifts invisibly from the Seine.

With solitude, your coat open, you walk
steadily as if the railings were there and your hands weren't passing
     through them.

"When things were ready, they poured on fuel and touched off
     the fire.
They waited for a high wind. It was very fine, that powdered bone.
It was put into sacks, and when there was enough we went to
     a bridge on the Narew River."

And even less explicit phrases survived:
"To make charcoal.
For laundry irons."
And so we revolt against silence with a bit of speaking.
The page is a charred field where the dead would have written
We went on. And it was like living through something again one
     could not live through again.

The soul behind you no longer inhabits your life: the unlit house
with its breathless windows and a chimney of ruined wings
where wind becomes an aria, your name, voices from a field,
And you, smoke, dissonance, a psalm, a stairwell.

New Content at Elegant Thorn Review

I posted some new material over at Elegant Thorn Review.

~ A poem by my friend and former teacher, Bill Hotchkiss. I will posting more poems from his new manuscript in the coming days and weeks.

~ Two photos by Daniel Caldararu.

The NY Times Book Review looks at the new Charles Wright book, Scar Tissue.

As always, send me your best poetry, photography, and flash fiction with a spiritual feel.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Explanation [Updated]

First and foremost, THANK YOU to everyone who expressed their concern in the comments or by private email. I sincerely and deeply appreciate it. And I apologize for the cryptic message.

I've shared my sister's death, my mother's death, and a whole lot of other stuff on this blog, and there is no reason to keep secrets now. So here's the deal.

Twenty-four hours ago I felt as though my world was completely turned upside down. In many ways, it was. But my first inclination -- and this is probably an old subpersonality rearing its head -- is to feel overwhelmed by the emotions, which probably looks meladramatic from the outside. From the inside, it really feels that bad.

The thing that's different now from ten years ago, or twenty years ago, is that I don't immediately dive into some self-destructive behavior -- which is not to say that I don't want to. Instead of that, I try to stay with the feelings and trust that they won't kill me.

That's what I've done for the last twenty-four hours.

Kira and I split up yesterday after 5 1/2 years. There was no yelling, no big fight, just a break up. It would be easier if I could blame her in some way, but I can't. She made a decision that she feels is best for her. And I respect her choice.

For the last month or two, I've been slowly coming apart at the seams. There have been a few posts that shed light on the process (here, here, here, here, here, and here). Kira has been an innocent bystander in all of this, but I have leaked my turmoil all over her and the relationship. In all fairness, I've been in a semi-constant state of flux and turmoil for as long as she has known me. That's not a pleasant quality in a partner.

So she walked away. If I were her, I would have run -- a long time ago. [You can read her feelings about her decision at her Zaadz blog.]

Yesterday, it felt like the end of my world. Today, not so much.

I'm sad, and I'm going to honor that feeling and take some quiet time this week. I may or may not blog, but I'll probably not stay away for long. You people are a part of my community in a way that defies logic.

I'm grateful for that.