Part 7: Playing

Playing
Playing

As I approached the beach I could hear the laughter. A group of children where playing in the sea. I could feel their joy jump through the lens as I took the photograph.

A child’s natural energy is playful, spontaneous and joyful. A child does not need to be taught how to play.

Most people consider work and play to be mutually exclusive. In today’s society, this certainly seems to be the case. Work is serious, considered to be very important and is done by adults. There is usually a clearly defined task or activity to be done, and after completion of this, you are rewarded financially. A signed contract governs what you can or cannot do, how long this should take, and the benefits that you will receive in the process. Unfortunately, work has been formalised and regulated to the point that it has become sterile and meaningless. In the process, work has also become stressful. The heart energy of a person shuts down under these conditions. When this occurs, work loses its ‘soul’.

Playful energy is at the heart of creativity. Being playful is a way of being, that encompasses lightness, joy, freedom and spontaneity.

Sport is formalised play. Professional sport offers the athlete the opportunity to integrate the worlds of work and play. The challenge for the professional athlete is not to lose sight of the fundamental reason why sport was chosen as work. When the energy of joy and love is brought onto the field of work (play), exceptional performances occur.

 

Part 6: Working

Working
Working

The ground was dry and the farming appeared primitive. She was working every morning when I passed this field just after sunrise. She was still working in the late afternoon.

I admired this elderly woman. Working the land is a physically demanding endeavour. She was so engrossed in her work, seldom resting. While she seemed poor, there was an aura of contentment as she watered the crops.

The act of watering reflects care. I remember my father emphasising the importance of this. Taking care in whatever you do and striving for ‘quality in action’, was a value that he passed on to our family.

The vegetable plants were growing and she was seeing the fruits of her labour.

As I took this photograph, I thought of the zen-like mental state that she was probably in, as she worked. The simplicity and routine of her work, coupled with the ability to remain in the present and not to get distracted, are the necessary elements to enter such a meditative state. It seemed rather strange that this elderly lady could probably teach young professional sportsmen and women (who are so richly rewarded financially), much about how to remain focused, when dealing with the ongoing, repetitive routines of athletic practice.

Part 5: Learning

Learning
Learning

The little boy was absorbed in what his father was showing him. The father was explaining how the motor worked.

Human systems are learning and evolving systems. Formal and informal learning occurs as knowledge is passed down from generation to generation.

As we move into the future and encounter more and more complexity, we need our children to know that there are two distinct types of reasoning when dealing with problems.

Firstly, we need to teach them that there is technological knowledge which is embedded in Newtonian physics where there is a right answer in trying to solve a particular problem. The reasoning processes that are applied in such cases, usually requires linear cause and effect thinking. Such thinking and knowledge is the predominant teaching in our formal educational settings.

On the other hand, we also need to teach our children to think in terms of processes and patterns that occur in nature and in people’s lives. This type of thinking is generally referred to as systems thinking and is best applied to ecological and human problems such as poverty, pollution, global warming, migration issues, war and terrorism (to mention a few). There are no absolutes in the world of ecologic, so in order to resolve an issue, one needs to apply ‘both/and’ type thinking to the dualistic conflict that is being encountered.

Gregory Bateson contended that the major problems in the world are the result of the difference between how nature works and how people think. On this point, our children need to know when to apply technological thinking and when to utilise ecological thinking. What type of thinking and reasoning in turn, is determined by the nature of the problem that needs to be (re)solved.

Applying more and more technological reasoning to complex global issues is not working. Helping our children to think in terms of the unfolding processes in a holistic, inter-connective way will provide them with the necessary reasoning skills to help heal the fragmented, intense and conflicting world we live in.

Part 4: Observation

Observing
Observation

It was early morning and my eye caught an old man looking down and observing some passers by. He was drawn into what was unfolding below him. He was totally absorbed in observation.

As a therapist, I have come to learn that my observation is constantly being pulled and pushed in different directions by those I consult with. This occurs through what is being said and how it is being said. Problems are like visual magnets. They draw you into a particular reality, usually a rigidly defined water tight reality. The challenge, as a therapist, is to notice what is not ‘being said’ about what is unfolding right in front of you. Or to notice the little unusual pieces of behaviour or insights that are not part of the dominant story being told.

Central to the very heart of reality, a beautiful vision is available – when we can ‘see’ without adopting limiting positions (quote by Tulku, 1977). But in order to access this reality which is full of possibilities, you need to be aware of where and how you look at what is unfolding before your eyes. Where you look, is what you will see. What you see is determined by what you believe and the assumptions you may make. In other words, what you observe in reality tells you more about yourself (the observer) than what is perceived as the ‘truth’ that exists external to yourself (the observed).

When taking a photograph, you have a range of possibilities in how you want to frame a scene. Do you want to use a telescopic lens to highlight specific detail in the distance (narrow focus), or a wide angle lens to include as much detail so that a broad context is revealed? What about the position of the camera, taking the photograph from a low vantage point, or standing tall? What about the light: during early morning, mid-day, sunset or at any random time that is convenient? All of these many different factors then converge to create the final product.

Life philosophy (including religion), attitudes, beliefs, assumptions, values, family ecology (ideas/knowledge passed on from generation to generation), education, life experience and culture are some of the interacting factors that converge to create the ‘photograph’ that you see in life.

In general, I believe that we can view life through one or more of four lenses: (a) the co-operative, (b) expansive, (c) perfect and/or (d) random lens. Each of these lenses, views life from a different perspective. This philosophy helps me to understand some of the complex dynamics of life and guides my observations, responses and actions in my work as a psychotherapist.

As you observe a human system, you will have an impact on what is being observed. This is a tenet of quantum physics. Your observation will affect the dynamics of the system, even if you do not act at all. If you are able to observe with compassion, those who are being observed will feel the warmth, care and understanding. This type of observation has the power to heal. No other action is required.

Part 3: Love

Love
Love

An old couple passed by. He was in a wheel chair and she had her hand on his back, gently guiding his movement. I noticed a moment when their eyes met; hers with care and compassion, his with appreciation.

So much is conveyed through the eyes, without a word having to be spoken. The eyes have direct access to the heart, so what the heart feels, the eyes will convey.

While I did not know anything about the couple, their ease in interaction suggested that they had been together for a long time. They probably had many stories to share about the ups and downs of married life. As I looked at them leaving the little town square, I wondered about his disability and the impact that this may have had on their relationship.

Unpredictable, drastic change in a person’s life confronts one with the fragility of life. When such change occurs, immediate adaptation and adjustment to the new circumstances is required. This is not an easy process to deal with, especially if one has grown used to certain comforts and routines.

In the square, preparations were underway for a music event. Blue chairs had been set up for the occasion. Music has the power to stir one’s emotions; especially when it comes to songs about love.

While the nature of love is gentle and yielding, it is the most powerful energy that is experienced by humans. Love can overcome any obstacle. The old couple showed a wonderful example of this. Her compassion and his appreciation that I had noticed in the way that they had looked at each other, were the interconnected by-products of the energy of love.

Part 2: Communication

Dialogue
Communication

I could hear him talking in the distance. He spoke incessantly. He was emotional and upset. Periodically he would get up and walk to and fro across the little bridge that joined the rocks, still speaking.

I walked passed him to make my way along the rocks behind him in order to take some photographs from another vantage point. He smiled at me briefly as I passed by, and then continued talking. It seemed that he was on a business call. If I had to guess, he probably was the boss and was speaking to a subordinate.

He never stopped to listen. He was in a monologue. I felt a little sorry for him since he was caught in a vicious circle of ‘more talk’ that he could not get out of. He was probably trying to resolve a problem, but unfortunately was blocking any other perspective that remained silent behind the other mobile. He was missing out on receiving new information.

Paradoxically, one may speak more if one does not feel heard or understood by others. This is especially true when dealing with complex problems or emotional issues.

It is not easy dealing with challenges in today’s rush, when so much is happening and with so much pressure to complete whatever is at hand. One may feel that there is no time to stop, breathe, think, and listen.

While too much talking may be problematic, so is, too little talking, that is caused by resistant defensiveness or passive aggression.

Human beings are linguistic systems, seeking meaning in whatever is being discussed. In order to generate new information to (re)solve problems, speaking and listening need to flow harmoniously and co-operatively between participants in conversation. Conversation needs space so that there is reflection and consideration to enhance one’s understanding of what is being spoken about.

Dialogue is not about power, control or dominance. Instead it is about intimate, unconditional sharing. As one engages in such dialogue, a meta-perspective is reached. In such a place, all assumptions and perceptions can be examined without any criticism and judgement.

One might assume that dialogue only involves language. However, this is not the case. Nonverbal messages and actions such as a smile, a compassionate look or a gentle touch are all part of the energetic dialogue that unfolds between the participants.

Being able to share perspectives unconditionally with an open mind and heart is the gift of intimate conversation. In this safe emotional place, information and energy can be exchanged effortlessly and meaningfully, without the need to be defensive.

Part 1: Relationship

Relationship
Relationship

The sun had just set. The couple sat motionless on the secluded beach. They were all alone in the privacy of their relationship. An hour or so ago, this beach was packed with other people.

When I took the photograph, he was staring pensively out to sea, she had her head resting on his shoulders. She seemed despondent. He appeared burdened. Despite this, there was a serenity to them. Their stillness offered them a moment of intimate connection.

Relationship is about the nature of the connection. On a fundamental level, energy flow and information flow determines the nature of the relationship between two people. Given this, every relationship is unique.

According to Gregory Bateson, a biologist, relationships are the essence of the living world and one of the best ways to describe and understand relationships is by telling stories. ‘Stories are the royal road to the study of relationships,’ he would say. ‘What is important in a story, what is true in it, is not the plot, the things, or the people in a story, but the relationships between them’.

There are no absolutes when it comes to a relationship. There is no truth that defines a relationship. Instead, perceptions are the creative building blocks of an evolving relationship.

Experiences in a relationship are interpreted and understood from at least two perspectives. And it is in the difference of these perspectives that a ‘pattern of interaction’ unfolds.

By nature, a relationship is a learning system. A healthy relationship is creative and should be evolving to more and more complexity. As part of this evolution, the challenge is to navigate through uncertainty and unpredictability. This may be particularly pertinent as a relationship ages, since old established assumptions may block new ideas from emerging. The ability to generate newness is necessary in order to (re)solve problems and struggles.

There is always more to a relationship than what may presently exist, just like there is more to who you may think you are. In other words, a healthy relationship is expansive.

All humans have an inherent desire and need for love, belonging, and harmony. A relationship offers the possibility for these needs to be fulfilled. For this reason, a relationship needs to be nurtured since there is also a fragility to it. Given this, nothing should be taken for granted in a relationship.

Besides having relationships with those around you, you have an even more complex inner relationship with yourself to deal with. What is the nature of your relationship with yourself? Do you feel comfortable with yourself? How critical are you of yourself? Do you care for yourself? Do you encourage yourself in times of difficulty? Answers to these questions emerge when you are all alone in your own silence. It is then that the true nature of your relationship with yourself becomes clearer.