Serendipity: Day 1 The Course

The Black Men’s Introduction to Group Therapy Course began on the 13th of November and was a Kings and Queen making experience with my co-counsellor Sheila Samuels. I borrow the term from Ron Brown High School and Dope Black Dad’s Podcast’s chief presenter Marvyn Harrison who addressed me recently as King.

The moment stood out, fresh like beads of sweat dotting a brow furrowed in deep concentration. Mentally I did a double take and thought…
Who is he speaking to?
Me?
Really?
King?
Oh I get it.
Those are large shoes to fill.
I’m ready to put that mantle on.

Now.

Collaborative Communication
5 men attended the group and told their stories of why they saw a need for the group. The men held out their independent requests for the room to see feel and identify with. There is a unity to be had in sharing hopes with a room who know what you are saying because they, I, we, have said similar things too.

The Philosophical meets the Practical

Safety
Groups are always nervous in the beginning. Leaders/Facilitators are too! With a new venue.
New people to get to know.
A new course.
Not knowing met with new, then came upon nuanced and introduced those who attended to what has the potential for being made to exist in the now.
For this group it was a Black safe space. Rare. A space curated, created and secured for men of the African Diaspora to meet and talk and discuss and experience warmth from a forgotten Sun. The aim – to discuss Black Mental Health with other Black Men with 2 highly skilled counsellors.

Knowing
A good therapy group often operates well with 2 counsellors steering the conversation. Having worked with Sheila at the prison a few years ago I knew she would be a great co-facilitator for this group. Knowledgeable, flexible and able to support the group engage with the sensitive topic of Black Mental Health.

Diversity
The group of 5 men with differing ages, professions, from a range of different London Boroughs, from a collection of countries of origin all came with a singular focus: To open the sometimes locked box and speak about mental health, as vulnerable, sensitive, engaged, intelligent, responsible, aware, concerned advocates and as Black men.

Sensate
There was laughter, there was a felt sense of wanting to support and be simply acknowledged as friend, brother, seeker, father, colleague like in the classic Ralph Ellis book Invisible Man being seen and understood is a priceless gift.

I could just about keep my hands from clapping all the time or staying on my seat from sheer giddy exuberance: This Was Actually Happening! Finally!

It did, and there are more to follow, on the 20th 27th November 4th, 11th 18th December.

One attendee asked if there are plans for the group to continue past the 6 weeks… Both me and Sheila looked at each other and answered “Well that all depends…”

Who Knows by Ram Dass
Thank you Anne Willoughby for introducing me to this tale…

*Cover Image from This Book Could Help

Street Art - Poetry

Falling

It’s rare for me to hear something that stops me dead in my tracks and makes me fall as if through space wondering what wonderment is this? Prepare yourselves, this is another musically inspired post. Join me as I revel…

Knocked Out
Montara by Bobby Hutcherson was like that, when I first heard the track back in the early 90’s visiting my sister in Stoke Newington listening to Jazz FM. I thought about the magic of music. Bobby transported me to a new dynamic of experiencing the world. His playing of the vibes opened a portal to a different time, place and sensibility about music.

I had a similar experience on hearing FTB by Robert Glasper in 2008, and then Gretchen Parlato’s Weak in 2015. Then came Warren Wolf’s Knocks Me Off My Feet released in 2016, but heard in 2019. I know this song. It has belonged to Stevie Wonder for years. What Warren is able to do is make the song his. Yes he is a talented jazz percussionist. Yes he plays the vibraphone like a pianist with all the musical dexterity and complexity that has left me spell bound but the *laterality of his thinking and then playing of this version of Knocks Me – is mesmerising.

Walking into Tower records in the late 90’s and hearing Bobbi Humphrey’s Satin Doll Album. Being assuaged into another late night musical crawl was the ultimate falling experience. I had never heard a *flautist do what Bobbi did on this album. I bought it without hesitation and have savoured her playing ever since. With the Mizell Brothers doing what they did best, producing fresh nuanced music to new audiences.

Visibility
But his rendition of Knocks Me Off My Feet has had me singing out loud (in the comfort of solitude in the car and when no one is at home. I was not gifted with a great singing voice).

Warren’s version – takes you into the joy of falling, and falling, and falling in love. Within that happy play of love. It is a joy to behold. Like being held in the rapture of someone else’s perfection. Spellbinding. His art is to make a song his and yet remain recognisable. It is the magic of Warren’s vision and of the accompanying musicians who allow the play of the vibraphone to musically enthrall and take you to the zenith of falling or being knocked off your feet.

Re-Done
Montara by Bobby Hutcherson is universally held as a great, no, a fantastic piece of jazz music. It broke records and has been highly sought after. The Roots did a great rendition of Montara on the New Groove Album with the lyric Do What You Want, Do What You Like, Do What You Feel/Do What you Need. I loved this version for as long as I can remember with those late night conversations in my mid 20’s, late night drives, late night studies it was the only version of the classic I could readily access.

Huff and Puff
Then along came Warren Wolf. Blowing everything even the original away, with his version of Montara. Why? Bobby made it his! It is his. The Roots made it theirs. It was theirs. Wolf reinvented Mandala and brought it full force into the 21st century. It’s like what Christian Scott did for Isadora, Robert Glasper has done with the piano and with his experiment experiences, Gretchen Parlato reworked SWV’s Weak up to and what Warren has done with this age old classic.

CTA
Compare contrast congratulate and then comment below. There are few that have been able to do re evolution better. Warren Wolf is someone to look out for.

The poem at the end of I Stand Alone by Robert Glasper is worthy of repeating often. Primarily because the poet speaks about there being multiple changes with each re-interpretation, re-evolving not just copying mindlessly. Suggesting that each go round takes us – musician and listener – to a different newer higher level.

Tactical Empathy and Effective Altruism Combined

Flow state thinking
An interesting blending experience happened after I listened to two of my favourite podcastsPhilosophy Bites and Pod Save the World. One was the thought that both ideas appeared similar and could be used/accessed to support those who are facing insurmountable challenges. Like the men and women I counsel in prison.

The other thought was about asking myself ‘if there was something here about listening for the solution?’ Listening in a way that supports a peaceful outcome for the many? The thought was what if Tactical Empathy merged with Effective altruism…?

Florian Wehde: Museum of Islamic Art, Doha, Qatar

What are they?
A definition of both Tactical Empathy and Effective Altruism follow.

There are plenty of ways to get what you want in any negotiation
Kicking and screaming used by infants and some adults!
Using threats to coerce an outcome using the idea of danger and/or harm.
Finally we have bribery as a way to produce a desired outcome from others.

Perhaps the most effective strategy is one that’s pretty much counter-intuitive: Focus on what the other person wants instead. Chris Voss Author of Never Split the Difference advises that this closes a loop for the other and the negotiator.

Or with “Tactical Empathy” it is the ability to share someone else’s feelings while executing a specific plan to achieve a particular goal. Information collected from LEO Hearted T-shirts

Effective altruism is a philosophy and social movement that uses evidence and reason to determine the most effective ways to benefit others. Effective altruism encourages individuals to consider all causes and actions and to act in a way that brings about the greatest positive impact, based upon their values. Definition by Wikipedia

Ashkan Forouzani

Tactical Empathy and Effective Altruism
Blending TE and EA
The first podcast is a 15-20 minute show discussing our responses to those in need with Larry Temkin on Philosophy bites. The second is an incredible story of a reporter Arwa Damon who was under siege in Mosul for 28 hours, her rescuers bravery and her desire to support Syrian refugees.

I had the chance to listen to both podcasts within a few days of each other and arrived at a similar point. Both podcasts discuss: tribalism, humanity, decision making and a desire to better understand choice that affect us the individual and the choices we make/could make that effect humanity/society/communities/villages we are living amongst.

Choice with Others in Mind
Interestingly the ideas of tactical empathy and effective altruism were discussed by both Larry and Arwa. For Larry there was the experience of appropriately understanding choice and making decisions that ultimately serve the greater good. One could look and feel bad for a period but the delay to look after a larger number of people is the better outcome for many more – so choose the greater gross affect.

The idea of effective altruism or tactical empathy is a challenge to our sensibilities. The challenge is towards the idea of compassion for self and others and also holding our recognition of the plight of fellow humans. There are a number of stories Larry Temkin discusses throughout the podcast that nudge a few uncomfortable ideas towards our awareness. The $5,000 watch and the drowning child was particularly distressing and also informative. I won’t do the story justice by explaining. Listen to the episode as linked below and share your thoughts in the comments below.

Duniah almasri: Daisy Flowers on paper Photo

Tactical Empathy and Effective Altruism
Links to Social Responsibility
Previously I wrote about the School to Prison Production Line. The need for interrupters to change the direction, influence and flow of the components that can produce those that make up a forensic population taps into the idea of tactical empathy and effective altruism. (Soap Box moment) By putting the needs of a disaffected displaced over represented group of peoples alongside our own, perhaps even before us, then a significant derailment of the production line can and will occur. My reasoning is that the They are Us. Forgotten song goes someway to explore this concept with the Neimoller poem.

Clutch
For Arwa the understanding I arrived at was a sense of compassion that even though one might live in an area affected by conflict, war, and civil unrest. Life is still lived. A birthday is still celebrated, a new visitor treated like a very welcome guest. Arwa’s description of her experiences with the people that were able to offer her a safe place to hide with the threat of capture and death are ‘clutch’ moments. If we were to apply tactical empathy and a degree of critical thinking to Arwa’s story we would note that her job was to collect a story. The story became about her survival.

Tactical empathy – effective altruism. Two concepts that have become fixed in my mind and operate on a continuum. Existing as variant strains of the same complex web of connections and communications that are made and lost. We live our lives daily by knowing dimly. With Arwa setting up a foundation recognising that her efforts to raise awareness and create change for the many, forced her to organise her thoughts and organise people to offer more. The Return to Mosul documentary and frying an egg appear as a reminder of humans caring about other humans in all manner of settings. Living truly with the active philosophical slant of effective altruism. Affecting change.

The Call
The aim here then, could be to encourage critical thinking. By being aware of our altruistic natures and when necessary using tactical empathy to listen and create change for ourselves and for others with others.

Resources
Philosophy Bites – Larry Temkin
Arwa Damon – The Seige

Cover photo by Hemal shah on Unsplash

And He Laughed.

Black laughter. Black Love.

There are times when I am amazed by the generosity of spirit of the people I meet in prison. They may only be dimly aware. For this man I would like to share this piece of writing with him. An action of reciprocity. Effective Altruism? Maybe…

Bad Day
I was having a shitty day. Walking with a walking stick in prison is a cumbersome and slow experience. The walking stick has me feeling vulnerable and very out there on my own. It’s a constant worry that at any moment something is going to go down and I’m going to be jumped beaten and my keys snatched off of my chain.

It has never happened to me.

(Yes, staff walk around with keys attached to a belt.) Uniformed Staff and civilian staff walk with aware that they carry a large responsibility along with those keys – a symbol of power.

Questioning
The opposite is often what I encounter. I generally do not feel powerful. My visible vulnerability brings from many I meet, including officers and often young and mature black men, the nod, or the question of
“Are you alright?” Or
“You cool?”
“What’s happened?”
“You good?”
“Take it easy, yeah?”

Fade
Here I am seen and my daily struggle is met by others compassion, seeing myself as the injured and frail one. I find myself at times wanting to be invisible. But these calls are a gentle reminder that humanity lives here. These moments are of genuine sensitivity being shown from men who are doing hard time, some serving 18-30 years. I have accountability and a responsibility to uphold, mine and theirs.

Between
On this day I passed from one wing to another. There are a number of wings/house blocks, housing between 100-150 men. Every house block has it’s own distinct vibe and concentration of prisoners: Vulnerable prisoners, lifers, remand and re-categorised prisoners. These men are due for parole or to be sent to other prisons for more open conditions. The prison has a total capacity servicing over 1000 men. Me negotiating the gates, doors and stairs takes longer as I manage the cane, the keys, assessment charts, writing paper to note take and my diary. An unholy slow moving ungainly mess.

Rutland Water Normanton Church: Slow Moving

Check-in
I am to meet with a client who attends the bereavement group. (Thanks for the reminder I will offer a write up about this group soon.) I need to see him as he left the group early on this week and I want to make sure that he is okay.

Take
We meet on his house block and I make my way into one of the offices that has a desk and 2 chairs on his wing.

I offer,
“I wanted to come and see you as I wanted to find out how you are after Tuesdays meeting?”
He says “Yeah, I just wasn’t feeling good you know? Sometimes this place takes the piss!”

I nod showing that I understand.

He continues “I asked for something that’s important to me for my religion and it’s not on the canteen sheet and I can’t get it!
“It’s frustrating me.
“I’m usually okay with it here.
“But this thing.
“I’ve been patiently waiting for 3 months and I couldn’t wait any longer. “I’ve done it their way for a long time and nothing ain’t happening for me. “I’m not just going for mine and leaving everybody else you know?
“This is about me and for others like me.”

Release
He shares his disappointments and numerous experiences of being let down and similar disagreements about the prison. Like, losing weight, standing forward and supporting others, confronting officers and attending to his overall fitness, wearing clothes he has had to keep care of for years because he can’t trust that things sent in will safely arrive.

Prism
He says something like jail being more like a mental health institution in patois and we both laugh. Initially tentatively. Then gleefully. Recognising ourselves in a prison situation as Black men. One choosing to be there with the other, another doing his best to find peace within his situation in prison.

Re-set
The laugh of this black man was like the baring of a soul with a comrade at arms, a fellow road weary traveller, a baller. His laugh invited me to view both his and my plight with compassion. This black mans laugh somehow seemed to restore me and also him. We sat and laughed in a prison, about prison and the folly of the circumstances we both found ourselves in. It was Capoeira meeting Jazz, Gum Boot Dance to Blues, Hip Hop bopping slow with Reggae, Salsa and Calypso rejoicing. It was natural and affirming that even here -prison – humanity could be found.

Re-Mix
The wonderful ability to take something that is both internal and external put a spin on it and make it both his and mine. The experience of the infinite in a few short moments of laughter. How deliciously wonderful, amazing and so uniquely surprising. I left the prison a little lighter that day, usually a little guilt escapes with me.

Not on this day!

There was no space for it.

Only smiles and laughter.

Resources
The Nod Do Rag
Code Switch School Daze and Gum Boot Dance
2 guys on your head Laughter/Jokes 
Making Sense Mind, Space, Motion

CTA
Comments welcome and appreciated. I am looking to engage in conversation re. Black Laughter. Black Love and the other blogs written. Thank you for reading.

Photo by Giulia Pugliese on Unsplash

Review: Shit I Can’t Say

Seeing a one person play spring from the pages of a gifted writer to life on stage is amazing. To have the writer be someone you coached as a basketball player as a teen. An ever larger sense of amazement. To see the focus of the play greet, embrace and thank his son – priceless.

All The Shit I Can’t Say to my Father
I went to see All the Shit, in August 2019. A friend, an ex baller, I coached – Abraham Adeyemi has written a modern day sensation. The night was the performance of sublime art.

Charming
The performance was led by a young charismatic actor, Zackary Momoh, who reminded me of a younger Chiwetel Ejiofor. There was something about his delivery that was precise and filled with presence. The audience were appreciative of his deft delivery and intimate bringing to life of Abraham’s words.

Autumnal Feelings

Partial Delays
News broke earlier in July that due to unforeseen circumstances ‘The Shit…’ was going to be changed to just a reading and a performance (How does that work you may ask?).

It’s part rehearsal, part working through of the words to the stage, set and possibly with an audience. The actor reads through the script aloud like a read through. Similar to a sound check for a music performance.

I thought the reading was a brilliant way to introduce the concept of what we were doing there. What we potentially could be see. A one person play engaging and interacting with the audience. Seeing the finessing of the script was seeing a craftsperson work their skills to a High Art Finish.

Throughout the play Zackary read and cast aside the pages almost as though this was part of the play. Him screwing up a few of the pages at one moment (after he had read them). Then came the toss towards a wastepaper basket was thrilling. I smiled ridiculously at that and may even have clapped. I instantly recognised both Abraham and many peoples dream of being a top performing NBA/WNBA star.

Engagement
The show felt both lyrical and compassionate. ‘The Shit…’ entertained me fully. The audience and I, were involved to see AK the protagonist’s journey. As he begins to acknowledge and unravel his taught relationship with his father.

The AK’s father is Nigerian. A Christian. A multi-talented labourer, a craftsman of often obscure and unwanted jobs. It was at this point the flexibility of the play shone. AK asked a member of the audience what her dad did.
She replied “Carpet layer – Handiman”
AK “Yeah, my dad probably did that too”
Audience – Whoops of laughter and applause of recognition.

The father, AK’s father should have been an engineer, but due to the racist notion that countries outside of the more favored commonwealth countries like Nigeria couldn’t possibly educate to the standard of British trained engineers were denied entry to the professions they trained for. Took what roles and jobs that they could and raised their families as best they could.

Off stage
The scene that caught my imagination was of seeing Abraham stand with his father. The moment happened off stage after the crowds milled out. I do not know what was said. That moment being private – Abraham’s and his fathers. What I perceived was a bridge of admiration begin to form. An acceptance of something that had been lost. The awareness that maybe something new has possibly been found. This meeting between father and son, through drama, through ‘All the Shit I Can’t Say to My Father’ is the making of new stories and about letting go of old ones.

My Bridge
I realise now that reconciliation was an impossibility for me and my father. A dream unobtainable. A number of significant changes would have to have happened in both of us first. To have approached a turning point that began a new start for us. The moment of second chances and water under the *bridgedness passed aeons ago and I am invited by circumstance, to allow it to pass too.

Duality
He was a man of the late 1930’s Ghanian, African, lacking in humility, compassion he believed, was a concept for the weak and foolish, arrogance and bull headedness was his way to confront the world. His religion was dual Christian and Muslim. A Ghanian former politician living abroad was how he saw himself. UK politics was of mild interest behind his own ambitions. Fatherhood suffered. 

We never found ground between us that felt comfortable for each other to be on. His death on October The 31st 2016 ended without a neat bow. Ours was not a story book ending. My father left not speaking to any of his children and without making amends for the pain he caused. That will be ours to tidy and pack away.

Reflection
For Abraham the play appeared redemptive and restorative. Like a deep cleanse. I was happy I got to witness that for him. For me and my siblings I hope that the clearing and cleanse happens with acceptance moving on in to forgiveness. The chalice was never ours to sup from.

The intention is set for me to start from near the beginning. Refreshed and unburdened. Again.

Resources

The Dope Black podcast – Raising Kids While Black
Revisionist History – Talking to Strangers
2 Black Guys with Good Credit – Black Power Money Power
The Stoop – Unexpected Family

Haunted

Unusually Interested

The Haunting of Hill House has captivated me for the 10 episodes of it’s debut showing. This blog will not be a review of the series you, my dedicated reader, will be relieved to know.

I can share that I have been avidly engaged and sat with and partly been haunted by the show.

Magic

The show another Netflix coup of story telling mastery, I started watching out of general interest in pushing my boundaries into uncomfortable story lines and genres. Frightening fare is not usually something I spend my time sitting in front of. Hill House changed that. There is an intelligence to the story telling, a story hidden within the character plots and twists. All things initially feel off, out of kilter, spinning to their own tune. Then the spin appears to regulate like pieces in a watch keeping time…

Travelling

The idea of haunting hit me first as I attempted to write my dissertation to complete my counselling course – ‘A Son’s Journey’. It was Steele that stated that a ‘person’s life can be haunted by ghosts’ that began a discovery into a hidden past that my parents had unwittingly hid and held from me.

Theft

The quote that stood out and began the research with fervor was ‘ Steele (2003) p. 95 Put simply a woman who is still frequently haunted by ghosts from her past is, likely to create, however unwittingly, in her infants experience an ongoing sense of potential terror in the relationship.

Hill House offers a layered approach to the idea by Steele. A number of families lives are changed as a result of their involvement with the building. Is the Building, The Family that move in, or the family that first lived there that are haunted?

The House it Moves is a great Moth Podcast episode about a possible haunting in a Parisien Apartment.

Unconscious understanding

The terror was the unknowing for me. Discovering and capturing a truth in ‘A Son’s Journey’ helped to gain understanding and put things into perspective for me about my family’s history. I can face the past, present and future with acceptance and a sense of release that conducting the research offered.

True Fiction

Hill House put a number of ideas to me that stood out. One was the idea of walls and doors holding something of importance for those that live in a building. The other was the idea of knowing the experience of nothingness as in death. A stand out scene arrived in the 9th episode where two of the remaining sisters are driving to Hill House and swerve off the road due to a surprise encounter. The younger sister shares a haunting insight. A stand out scene!

Locked – Release

The 2nd idea that meets the idea of ghosts and haunting is the idea of trying with great effort to keep things hidden behind walls and doors. Wanting to hide from aspects that are painful and shaming is human. The apparent truth to this is there is no way to hide important information or keep things supressed without cost. As a counsellor the idea intrigues me. For we do hide stuff and are often undone by secrets leaking. Better to be open to self and with others.

Watching Hill House offers a stylized chance to lose ourselves in an uncomfortable realisation. Truth has a way of surprising and surfacing that is uncomfortable, uncertain and necessary at times. There is a sense that once the truth is out things can return to normal.

Perhaps normal was not the direction or destination of travel originally imagined…

Depth

Melancholia/Co-Morbidity

noun

a mental condition characterized by great depression 
of spirits and gloomy forebodings.

Warmth

Summer is here with sun, and glorious heat and trips to beaches, swimming pools and ice cream and floating through in the background of my mind is death.

It’s a weird thought, in all of this jollity, mirth, mayhem, and madness and my mind is stuck with the idea of loss and bereavement. This isn’t the time for thinking about death, I remind myself! But the idea keeps returning like a persistent cold.

Cause

The thought about death and dieing could be connected to a bereavement group I am eagerly anticipating to begin in one of the prisons I work at. It could be something to do with the transition of my son explored in earlier blogs and his presumed loss of innocence. Or it could be the contrast between the summer months and the dread of not being; Like fallen friends and family, colleagues, neighbours or people that expired due to illness, depression, or suicide. It’s a moving and emotional thought that I am pondering onand choosing to share.

CALM

In April I attended The Man Talk at Brixton Ritzy. One of the panelist’s was from Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) who spoke about the loss of his dad through suicide Paul McGreggor @PMcGreggorCom CALM zone. The evening was filled with personal stories of men being vulnerable in front of, panelist’s, and with other men. I aim to write an overview of the first Man Talk event I attended a little later.

Disappear

I am left thinking about death not in the abstract but as an unknown definite certainty. My Ending amuses me. Less existential angst more a curiosity. I wonder if death will be painful, pain free, a sleeping drift into the great unknown, a pause that continues, a senile bumbling trundle to a stop. The end could be tomorrow, next week, next year or a decade from now.

MIA

The realisation is death’s arrival cannot be planned for. I will be surprised. I will be angry and complain that this is not my time. I will urge the dimming light that I would like another go of pitch and toss. That my duties in life – to life are not fulfilled. But end it shall and trundle I shall go.

Waves

I will leave my 2 sons, my co piloting Dr, my 3 sisters and my nieces and nephews, my co pilot’s family, friends and colleagues, supervisees and supervisors, my ability to bake, these 60+ blogs, the 50 or so podcasts and books I listen to and read that feed my ever hungry mind with and MS.

Happy Loss

Leaving Multiple Sclerosis, I believe, I will be happy to say goodbye. An account of loss that is more thief – cat burglar, than a outright murderer, but then it can do that too.

Perhaps in death I get to encompass peace and the wonder of letting go. Somber I know but it’s worth thinking about.

A few other thoughts about death are contained in the following podcasts:

2 Black Guys With Good Credit Burying the Dead
Grief Cast with Cariad Lloyd interviewing David Baddiel/Susan Wakoma
How to Fail with Elizabeth Day interviewing Mo Gawdat
Philosophy Bites Suicide

In no way am I laughing at, ridiculing or minimising the effect or impact of death. The experience IS, and so we are invited to prepare for an ending of what is known/unknown…

If any points above caused thought or triggered a reaction take a look at http://www.michaelforfiehcounselling.com and join the mailing list.