“The wisdom of Trees in Winter: they show us the beauty of letting go.”
I have recommended the Hidden life of trees by Peter Wohlleben to a number of people as the book illustrates what Trees can help Humans learn about life and living well.
Throughout our lives We let go of things all the time, mostly without recognising that we do. Whether that’s time, relationships, clutter, jobs, money, skin cells, brain cells and other unmentionables we dispose and let go of without a second thought.
A thought struck whilst eating about letting go of things that have been used. I usually have creative illuminating thoughts in the shower. There is something about the running of water that invites reverie and space, perhaps the act of creating for me is more about the act of cleansing – another letting go.
As I put aside the lid to the pot of yoghurt I thought about what it was I was letting go of. Like the tree this was a leaf of plastic. If we think about this thin veil of plastic – it comes from oil which comes from organic matter that came from a tree or other vegetation millions of years ago. The plastic leaf did not cascade from my hand to the table with that carefreeness that a leaf from a tree descends to a loamy forest floor. No.
This lid was placed onto my wooden dining room table carefully and with little grace. The aim of the act was for the lid to be discarded in time. Without much consideration. The plastic leaf eventually going to a landfill site to add to all the other lids and plastic detritus that have accumulated rapidly in the course of my life to be a little big problem. Plastic life, spans a time of decay of between 10-200 years with little up-cycle value but with huge ecological impact and cost.
Being mindful of my impact, of my imprinted footprint on a multitude of ecosystems is worthy of thought and action. Observing where I can let go of less, which negatively affects the course of generations of Earth’s inhabitants is a cause I can ascribe to. Less plastic consumption. More demands on local councillors to reduce plastic consumables available in production and sales of various products. Small big acts. Recycle recycle recycle Michael.
With the coming of a new day, new moment, new year, new experience letting go invites me to reflect on the space that is discovered/recovered from discarding what has had use. Letting go of something that costed time, energy, money and sanity is a useful leaf to shed. Moving into another moment I can reflect on the benefits of either holding or releasing an element or relationship or thing.
In 2018 a number of leaves fell: I left my counselling space in Lee, clients finished short pieces of work with me, I stopped working for Together, the illness MS progresses and reveals other hidden horrors. My eldest left primary school and started his defiant walk towards adulthood.
My tree holds few leaves now and I am starting to witness each curve, and knot and root, branch, twig – offering a collection of unparalleled unique beauty. There is learning here also as I struggle to understand what letting go has revealed. A dream to be realised? Challenges to be overcome and triumphed with? To finally see that in letting go we win?
Energy is to be gained in the release. It is not ‘the loss of’ that I fear, it is the idea I will not ever be: whole, good, qualified, enough. Even here the Wintered Tree teaches ‘These ideas too are to be released.’
There are a number of stories that capture the experience of unmet potential, stories of people falling and staying down long before they had chance to fly.
Having supported teenagers in schools and working in rehabilitative settings for service users. The experiences of: loss, betrayal, resentment, let down, anger, low mood, dis-regulation of the maturation process and abdication of responsibility appear to have an accumulative effect to understanding being made about life paths. An unknown internal point is not reached or appreciated and a resulting cacophony then is the result.
As Dr. Lori Desautels and Michael McKnight have illustrated in their 1st book Unwritten the Story of a Living System. A person, especially a child does not grow well and develop within an environment of high stress and high anxiety.
The result is a reduced sense of self-esteem, reduced mental capacity to uptake new information, lowered tolerance to *stressors, heightened response to survival habits of Freeze-Flight-Fight-Friend actions, hostile engagements with others, use of explosive language and behaviour to process and deal with challenge and of pupils forming uneasy volatile alliances with pseudo friends and ‘family’.
‘I’ll hang around with you, if you and your group protect and don’t victimise or bully me. And if you do I am in the In Group so that’s okay.’ How long before the quasi friendship turns into manipulation? Where anti-social activities are the order? Where thrill seeking is obtained through risky behaviours. Where aggression and rule breaking appear normal?
Would the (apparently unbreakable) association/link/connection with the group take an evening? A weekend? A Month? A Term?
The worrying aspect I find with working at a stage of a person’s negative spiral (prison in my case) is the sense of hope being lost. Of individuals giving up on themselves, their families, on rehabilitating and returning from prison and by-passing society as a whole.
Primary desistance may have been achieved. Secondary desistance may still be a process that is being worked with by a prisoner or service user. Tertiary desistance is where a moral and societal shift occurs in the service user and the individual recognises themselves as part of, not a part from, society – their community. Counselling I find can be useful with a person’s 3rd stopping point.
I witness what the result of stripping social services are for vulnerable people and communities. Crime increase, homelessness, experiences of people in mental distress visible and not able to be cared for by hospitals or carers. What frustrates me is that the experience my son is having with his school and peers could be impacted on positively.
The pain filled progression of pupils, a percentage of whom that are permanently excluded from school (that had the potential to be a pro-social engagement), are victims to, or perpetrators of street violence, join illegal import and export dis-organisations (anti social engagement) to eventually becoming labelled and branded socially unsuitable, un-fit for ‘non offending populations’.
Being removed from mainstream education where students either attend alternative provision for less time than mainline school I feel is a damning move for students, school and society overall. Pupils earn less time being supervised by adults that can provide adequate pro social modelling. Feeding the productionline.
The need then as mentioned in Ignored Song would be for individuals from a range of backgrounds and experiences to provide support to a range of school experiences across the country to ameliorate the perspective some young people have about the world in which they live. And to change how schools and teachers view and support disorganised pupils.
The world does not have to be a dangerous and risky place where disagreements could cost several young people their lives. The aim would be to not minimise their understanding or patronise, but would be to offer challenge and support growth. To see beyond the barriers and horizons they may have erected to protect themselves.
In 2017 I approached a number of alternative school provisions with an initiative to run morning workshops to groups of students. The theme delivering thinking skills with the topic of psychology as the main driver.
My interest in psychology firmly rooted because of the counselling course. Witnessing that our world is governed by psychology increases my fascination. Psychology is a growth from Philosophy and I am in absolute awe of the impact thought has on us as humans. Continuing discoveries in neuroscience perpetually astound me.
Discussing psychological ideas with students at alternative school provisions in London I felt had the potential to be transformative. When a person begins to come upon a new realisation it is like a gift that was buried. Once unearthed the gleam of treasure that crosses a person’s face is priceless for me – every time.
Working at a prison with service users in Kent, the look after they realise a hard earned truth feels the same. The service user often points and subtly rears back; like a soft push has just happened. Then a small smile is offered and the subtle shaking of their head. Astonishment!
The chance to experience and practice on the world the new found thing for service users in prison is sometimes delayed by the length of their sentences. Trial runs of new thought and behaviour can be made prior to release in prison with some degree of success. They may alter thinking traps and patterns or their behaviour may flip to be outgoing and light. Interactions with a peer, or group of others could do likewise and change to the positive with new thoughts.
My want was to work with school attendees before they entered the criminal justice system and had negatively altered their lives or the life of others dramatically, irreversibly. Reducing the impact and societies unconscious load that it projects onto those that it classes as criminal. No. We should not wait until our son’s and daughters are detained within secure environments before we develop packages of support. The change I believe has to start now!
The invitation/demand especially in light of Britain teetering on the edge of Exiting the European Union is:
We all must want better now for all.
We have to face up to the challenge.
We must all be willing to work to achieve a brighter tomorrow.
To be the last person standing is not what my son or young people seek. An unblocked, unfettered, untainted future is…
The Path to Connecting with- Kids “at-risk”. ( Brendtro and Seita )
1. Recast all problems as learning opportunities. 2. Provide opportunities for fail-safe relationships. 3. Increase dosages of nurturance. 4. Don’t crowd. 5. Find their passion. 6. Decode the meaning of behavior. 7. Be “authoritative”. 8. Model respect to disrespectful youth. 9. Enlist troubled youth as team members. 10. Preemptive connecting. 11. Give seeds time to grow. 12. Keep positive expectations alive.
Frank Morrison’s Art I have long admired. This work is titled as Arithmetic. The pose of both students is emblematic…
The state of education
My eldest son aged 11, came home from school recently and shared that he had concerns about his experiences that have troubled and alarmed me. As his father I want nothing more than to protect and shield him from the shadier elements of London living. I realise however the contradiction as I write, because I have worked in prisons for over four years. I have also worked with vulnerable people on the margins of society and that live in the shade for over 8 years. Deepening and grading my perspective considerably.
Working for almost 4 years with Together a National charity that supported service users and probation officers and courts in London. Together’s highly skilled team of practitioners provide mental health support and psycho education to service users involved within London’s criminal Justice System.
‘*Shade is a factor of life, it precedes and follows light.’
My son has moved from a well-resourced primary school with a committed PTA (Parent Teacher Association) with middle class values and expectations to a secondary school that whilst being in the same neighborhood seems to not be as well supported. The commitment the school has appears geared to raising it’s educational achievements as a secondary school. The social and emotional development of it’s pupils seems to have been overlooked. The documentary called School emphasises what the lack of investment and resources has meant for secondary schools across the country.
My son reports that nearly every day there are playground fights and his year group are involved with something called “violating” other pupils. A form of engaging negatively with another pupil that shames them and makes them either react aggressively or retreat from social engagements. Which can have a huge social impact on students – limiting the scope of making firm social connections and friends and bearing witness to the challenges of inner city life.
John Leguizamo’s Latin History for Morons on Netflix is a phenomenal expose on growing up ‘Othered’ within a country that does not want to accept it’s involvement with the systematic destruction and demonisation of several groups of people and their cultures. Ghetto Rage is a topic of interest John mentioned that I will further investigate and write about soon.
As a 40 something year old man I don’t understand the culture of school being a site for malevolence and cruelty committed by pupils as vulnerable as peers of my son’s against fellow pupils. Being assertive is a factor of living learning and growing. Bullying as part of systemic form of disorganised peer oppression troubles me.
My son simply does not want to go to his school or participate in any of the senseless acts of pseudo violence, passive and active forms of aggression as a result, or other acts of hyper masculinity that seem to have besieged his year group. What is going wrong I wonder with state education? Why are young women and young men acting in harmful ways to other children and themselves and what can we all do about it?
I doubt I will be able to find the answers in this piece of writing however I can raise my concerns and offer ideas of possible ways forward. I wonder if a member of parliament’s child were attending my son’s state school what they would think/see/feel?
I am disappointed that the choices we are left to think through are: exiting the school, non-attendance and living with a sense of anxiety that has grown in my son and through our family. The social development versus academic achievement focus appears to have been the split that this school has made.
The thinking I have is that the school has grossly under estimated the effect that the focus and pressure toward academia could have on it’s key stage 3 and 4 progression results and overall exam achievements. A socially and emotionally balanced pupil could perform academically better. Not just at exams but in life also.
Perhaps another way is to be found with education that invites collaboration, communication and creativity. Few children my son included are without the curiosity to look for answers or create story’s that make sense of the worlds that they inhabit. For their, our children’s, worlds are different to ours. They face challenges that are new for the planet, maybe we should be teaching all differently…
Perhaps we are supposed to wrestle with family scripts for portions of our lives. It is possible that the wrestling supports our growth and development of resilience. Maybe understanding what came before helps us know what direction we are to travel or perhaps when we should stop and drop the heavy load.
3rd Layer Down – Winter Fortress
There are a number of differences between who Isaac my father was and who I am being for my sons. An uncomfortable realisation was that he Isaac, was not a consistent presence in our lives. His extended trips to Ghana, caring more for his political interests and party, his letters to parliament, his conflicts with the then local council of Haringey appeared more important and relevant to his identity than being a consistent part of mine and my sister’s lives. In Inception, something important happens on this point in the film: the inception is made.
I am a long way from the perfect parent. I am not attempting to get there. Good enough parenting is the aim, not do as bad as Isaac did. What I wanted and needed from my father was to above all talk, be heard, discuss, debate and wrestle with aspects of life, with him either cheering or advising. Relating to me as Adult.
With other family members: Ananta and the New Jersey/New York tranche, I have empowered conversations, when we meet, we discuss and share learning and debate. Being good enough, I will be available for my sons to explore that which I did not have with Isaac. My sons call me dad. I referred to him as ‘Old Man Boogie’ as he loved to dance: my Father. Dad is a term of endearment. Offering a sense of proximity and warmth, I could not say dad about him…
It doesn’t seem to fit.
Coming back to Inception, the goal was to plant an idea into the sleeping awareness of the target – Robert Fischer. An illegal act, but one that we are to notice as consumers because we are victims of Inceptions as well.
Think fast and note what: hair product brand, mortgage company, car insurance logo or phrase, drinks manufacturer, comedy show, vehicle company, shoe brand, grocery store, furniture company,
Soap opera, holiday provider, mobile phone manufacturer or life insurance brand springs to mind as you read these words. I wonder what happened for you as you read the above?
We are brand loyal, TV show advocates and label devotees for life! We even introduce brand loyalty to our family and friends. Look upon those who are walking differently and often away from, as though they are the ones losing out!
In actuality it is us who lose continually: Money, time, worry, often distracted, procrastinating, disappointed with our lot, ill at ease and diseased, demotivated – depressed, perhaps?
Extraction and implementation has happened to us a million times.
Inception’s point was in reversing the process of extracting information…
The plant was to have the heir of a power corporation recognise that he was his own self-determining person. The aim to live beyond the idea that he was a disappointment to his father and could make choices that were his alone and no-one being able to influence him!
The subtle switch.
Planting a challenging idea in a way that organically grows to overtake the family script. I notice that my disappointment with my father is that he could never appreciate the who I was. That I was very different from him. He only saw me as a representation of his ideals not being met. Not as a person in my own right. Free to make choices and mistakes of my own. And learn from them! I became what I ought to have been: an Artist, a Psychotherapist, a lay Philosopher – emancipated from his outdated idea of what success is.
4th Layer Down – Ocean Decay
We arrive at a fundamental understanding of being human. Generally we seek to make our parents proud of our achievements. To have them look on us fondly and recognise that we are going to be okay with whatever life throws at us. We have learnt to adapt and roll with it. Get up and keep going when knocked down. That we have earned the right due to experience to be independent and resourceful. My role as a father is to support my children’s development and recognise them as younger individuals carrying their own important agendas into their futures. My wife and I are guides, providing love, information, support and ideas for them to navigate their way through life.
I can understand that Old Man Boogie’s life and mine were starkly different and as a result his father ship felt different to the one I have been able to offer to my sons. I am told that I am strict. Just like my father was with me. But feel that I differ considerably from his Ghanian idea of raising a male child. I provide love, boundaries that are flexible when necessary and firm when important. I can be silly and playful whenever and wherever possible, knowledgeable and capable of sharing what I know in ways that my children can learn something from. “Aw dad are you lecturing me again?” Sharing my views of the world with passion and in a measured reasoned way mostly is a job I hold preciously. My passion can short circuit my intentions and there are moments when I can be short sighted and short tempered.
The game is a difficult one to temper, like walking a tight rope whilst juggling seven burning batons and dodging cannon fire. It’s a fine balancing act that I have good days with and some horrible crashes – where I get caught by a cannon ball, drop a baton, or fall off the rope. Mostly it’s a case of all three! The attempt is to live and love well. Be good enough but not perfect. For Isaac good enough was not possible, not attempted and not achieved, at a loss because of his own unmet *potentia. Within Inception, arriving at the final dream scenes: beat up, washed up and old speaks to an undeniable self-script: We would all like to live well, long and happy lives, leaving a legacy, an indelible mark for those that follow.
In our dreams as well as in life – there is always potential.
When we realise that our family scripts are ours now to manipulate and fashion for ourselves then we can move into a newer *betterer now.
Family scripts, are complicated because they determine who are to become over time…
I am using the film Inception as a way of opening up a discussion about family scripts. What is a family script? Do we all have one? What is mine? A family script I believe is something we live with semi consciously. The script could be about how much of a success/failure we are to be, who in the family we are like and what our life path is. Whether we live with family or have some distance from our families.
A family script can follow us regardless. In part, a family script is as much apart of us as we are a part of it. The story of our family. Informing ourselves of how we are to live and then how we choose to live. Knowing what script is your family’s could be for you to look to parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, siblings and notice parts of their story that are similar or very different to your own. Spend time reflecting or if there is space and time, talking with them about their life’s journey. Learning more about their life and your own as a result. A great book to read that further explores and expands the idea of family scripts we are living is: They F£$K You Up by Oliver James.
I re-watched Inception recently with an aim of being simply entertained and of gaining an understanding of what I thought the film was all about. For the helpers out there I challenge you to watch any film without psychoanalysing yourself and the role of the principle characters. As mentioned in an earlier piece of writing my super power has been turned on and simply watching a film or tv show I can no longer do. The thing being watched turns into a psychotherapy session out of habit and as an intellectual game.
Inception has 4 layers of unconsciousness examined and toyed with. I understood the film finally, when I watched again. I will split this blog in to two parts. Processing the first 2 layers of the dream in this blog and the 2nd two layers in a later blog.
1st Layer Down – Rain
Layered is a simple way of sharing my interpretation of the movie. On re-watching Inception I can see that there are a number of elements that are unearthed as the movie progresses: dreams as routes to knowledge, substance use to lucidly dream, planting of new ideas, the unconscious/subconscious and it’s uses and misuses, rescuing lost love, healing of the self, making informed choices and admiration of father figures. As a psychoanalyst/counsellor/artist I enjoyed the blending of ideas. Initially I had thought the film clever and entertaining, after watching Inception again I am left with the idea of what has been planted beneath for me…
Father’s Day passed on the 16th of June this year (2018) and whilst listening to ‘Where should we begin’ podcast I thought about the now I am in. Raising two sons with my wife in London and recognising that, the experience they were having being parented by me is very different to the one I had being parented by my father. Mr Mensah a family friend once said something profound to me and my father. He said to us ‘that who your father had, is different to who Michael’s father is’.
It seems so obvious now, but a shiver went through me at the time. Inviting the idea that my parenting would be different and the same about for him as well. Our relationship was difficult for a number of reasons including being a son of economic migrants. Inception appeared to explore family scripts and expand upon the notion exquisitely.
2nd Layer Down – Hotel
My father Isaac died in the Autumn of 2015 and I still have not attempted to mourn his passing. Grief this time has not arrived like it did with my mum’s death – a raging bull – tearing and trampling at life passionately. This time grief has seemed like a faded monochrome picture of the past. I am sad that we did not mend what was horribly broken. Perhaps that task was too great for both of us. Within the film, the protagonists implant the concept that grows within their target. The term“Disappointed…” takes on both meaning and form as the film progresses.
Disappointment attempts to silence the trumpets of hope for me. With analysis as a friend and because of hope, knowing loss – can bring with it release. Letting go of unobtainable standards, misguided belief, unrelenting demands and family scripts that have the potential to stunt growth and development.
I remain unaware of my father noticing the achievements or challenges that I overcame in my life. His adoration of his grandchildren was witnessed and I took great comfort from that. In a number of ways he had already left my life due to the separation and divorce from my mother. The efforts he did make were with attempts to establish himself in two worlds that seemed not to communicate very well. Ghana of the 60s-80s was a country removing itself from the cudgeling effects of colonisation. Much of his time and energy spent, involved with Ghana’s reformation. A devotion that could have been shown to our family. A disappointing realisation of what could have been.
I wanted to have a good relationship with my father and felt that this was possible after our reunion 17 years after we last met. My attempts to have him be a part of my life were unsuccessful. The gap between us was too significant to overcome. After the separation, moving house and divorce from my mother, reforming a semblance of family was a challenge that became un-mend able.
He too far gone his way and me perhaps becoming too settled in mine. The life script of being the middle one, of being the one who brings both laughter and co-operation for the family to rally around was forever unmet. With my father’s death I can choose which parts of the family script I ignore or continue with, much like Robert Fischer does in Inception.