Winter Solstice

Surviving the Winter Solstice and all the celebrations that go with the shortest/longest day of the year depending on where in the world you live or what may be happening for you. Winter/Summer is worthy of forethought.

Spare a Thought
Christmas in prison can be a bleak time for those men and women who are behind the wall. It is filled with the memory of happier warmer times. When they were not inside. When they were with loved ones. Where they could relax and be with those who made them feel safe. Prison is often cold with temperature of the cells and with people’s actions and behaviours to others. Officers to prisoners. Prisoners to Officers. Prisoners to Prisoners. Officers to Officers.

Alternative
For other people in prison the Winter Break can be about withdrawing and settling in for the stretch ahead. 2020 could be the year of release, parole or marking that there are another 20 – 25 years left to serve. The countdown continues to a time in the near or a distant future where they will be living beyond the wall. With loved ones and away from a place of perpetual pain and desperation.

Time Away
Last year when I originally wrote this a person living in prison asked me how I was going to be spending my Winter Break? I had served just under 3 months as a counsellor working in that prison.

I shared that “I wouldn’t be doing that much. Watching TV, seeing a few people, eating too much and attempting to fit too much in that could leave me exhausted with the effort of cramming.”
“Oh?” he said “So just like us in here then!”
We both laughed.

Celebrationsss
The reality of Kwanzaa,
Hanukkah,
Christmas
Prepping for the new year can take its toll.

Restive
In all honesty I’d like to sleep through some of the hype. Avoidance is not possible. Resetting my sights, I could advise try thinking into February. The New Year holds unknown promise. Resolutions can take weeks to take hold and be made into fully effective ways of being. The Gym routine, Running, Swimming, Dieting, Drinking less, Developing good spending habits/saving habits, making religious commitments, holiday plans, committing to a relationship, plotting new learning or job opportunity choices.

I am sure there are more I may have missed (add suggestions in the comments below), that go into planning and reflecting on the year passed and the new one that is to arrive.

More 2 a Year
January the 1st is just a date signifying the start of the next calendar year. There are other significant dates that one could be mindful of. Anniversary’s, School/College terms, Tax Years, Birthday’s, Religious observance dates, St Valentines, Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter for us living in the Northern hemisphere. Summer, Autumn, Winter, Spring for those living antipodeanly. Dry and Wet seasons for those near to the equator.

Target Setting
Choose a date that marks a meaningful time for you. Set the date for after the change is to be noted. By 1st of March I will be able to play cards, list all of [insert musician’s] catalogue of records in date order, know the test inside out, have written the final chapter of the book I am working on, met with a personal trainer, coach, to get this out of shape mass moving again.

Capturing a new day
Photo by Marc Clinton Labiano on Unsplash

Once the date is met and passed evaluate if the intention is there to continue and set another date a few months ahead once again. Keep checking reviewing altering and going. Achieving a goal is only half the story. It is the change that comes with the shift that reveals another way of being in the world.

Pause
The Winter Solstice existed as a time to slow down or stop. So perhaps like other hibernating creatures we could too. Stop, review what has been a part of your life. Recall and think what has been learned. Review what could be left in last year (2019). Also what could be carried in to the year to follow.

That’s the gold of the alchemical process we are all engaged with. Living well. At the precipice of our potential…

See you on the other side.

CTA
I invite comments below, I remain as always interested in what you think of this blog and any of the others written this year.

Thank you for your ongoing interest and support of these thoughts -captured.

Resources
7 Days of Celebration
Christmas Re-imagined Code Switch Podcast
Christmas Origins
December Stories The Moth Podcast

Cover Photo by Erik Witsoe on Unsplash

REFLECTION Reviewed pt 2

Pain
The pain of being held accountable,
of being made to feel perpetually wrong,
of shame and embarrassment,
of being made vulnerable and seen as weak or lesser than,
is a fear
for a person who may have narcissistic traits
to hold on to their distortion
that little bit harder and for far longer.
Than is healthy/necessary
The threat of being made small again is too great.

Because once, a few years ago, perhaps when they were infants they had been made to feel all of the above by valued loved ones, friends, teachers, frenemies.
So they, Narcissus, erected a wall. Keeping all the bad out and locking in all they perceived as good.

Tactics like division, fear and threatening behaviours are used to enable self-aggrandizement and remain with a sense of strength (Omnipotence), being right, whole, good, beautiful and powerful, employed at other people’s expense and often their suffering.

The right of Narcissus’.

Hand Holding Crystal Ball

Narcissistic personality?
Narcissism produces a distorted self-image, an oversized ego, and a presumption of superiority not based on any real-world accomplishments. Narcissists reveal their feelings about themselves and others through their actions, which are often manipulative and self-centered. Despite the depth of feeling narcissism generates, and the deep-seated insecurity it compensates for, people diagnosed with severe narcissism (narcissistic personality disorder) can learn to manage humanity, their symptoms, and reduce the disorder’s influence over their lives. That is if they recognise that change is beneficial.

This is a BIG if…

Past
Narcissus may have had a number of experiences that threw their idea of self and the world in which they live into disarray at an earlier developmental age.

Experiences such as loss through bereavement or loss of home, war, poor relationships with caregivers, poverty, bullying, emotional neglect could support the development of narcissistic traits. The personhood of Narcissus may have been negatively affected by the environment that they were raised in.

Developing traits that support a positive view of themselves always, and a lesser view of anyone and everyone else around them. Projecting a view of all that hurt them, into and onto all others and everything else in between helps to protect a fragile self. The act of denying others their humanity and not recognising their own robs Narcissus of intimate contact with another/others.

Therefore Narcissus can remain perfect and invulnerable: Always.

Gas Lighting
The term gaslight was coined after the 1944 film of the same name. Gaslighting is a tactic in which a person or entity, in order to gain more power, makes a victim question their reality. It works much better than you may think. Anyone is susceptible to gaslighting, and it is a common technique of abusers, dictators, narcissists, and cult leaders. It is done slowly, so the victim doesn’t realize how much they’ve been brainwashed. In the movie, a man manipulates his wife to the point where she thinks she is losing her mind. Illustrating the destructive power of gaslighting.

Gas Mask at Altitude
Due to the human capacity for finding purpose and wanting to support others to attain fulfilment and happiness it often occurs that partners, family, friends and colleagues often want to rescue a person that appears to have narcissistic traits. The joke of how many psychotherapists does it take to change a light bulb fits here. “Ah but the light bulb has got to want change.” For any person engaging in therapy they must see the benefits of change. For someone with narcissistic traits if the problem is with all others then there is nothing to talk about and nothing that therapy can offer… Until…

Resources
Gaslighting – Two Guys on Your Head
Understanding the Mind of Narcissus

Cover Photo Serrah Galos@serrah Unsplash
Crystal Ball Dawid Zawiła@davealmine Unsplash

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

REFLECTION Reviewed pt 1

Last year (2018) I wrote an impassioned piece in support of a friend who wanted to know a little more about Narcissistic personality types. I wanted to re-touch the blog a little and help make some of the concepts discussed a little more accessible. Maybe. Just a little.

Working with service users that have spent time on probation or in prison, a few have reminded me with traits of the below story. With transparency a number of people I have met and know display some of the traits explored below. It could be that in some way we all have narcissistic traits.

Peace
You may have met people who may have narcissistic traits or display an inability to empathise with another, or view an experience from another perspective other than their own. My aim with this blog, is to offer insight to the history of Narcissus and provide an understanding of what can be done to reduce the harmful effects of coming in to contact with personality types that have narcissistic traits. I use the name Narcissus throughout this piece of writing to aid personalising narcissistic personality types.

Oppositional

Photo by https://unsplash.com/@ms88

The Greek Myth Of Narcissus
According to Conon, Aminias, a young man fell in love with Narcissus, who had already spurned his male suitors. Aminias was also spurned by Narcissus. Narcissus gave the unfortunate young man a sword. Aminias killed himself at Narcissus’ doorstep praying to the Gods to give Narcissus a lesson for all the pain he had provoked.

Mirror
Narcissus was once walking by a lake or river and decided to drink some water; he saw his reflection in the water and was surprised by the beauty he saw; he became entranced by the reflection of himself. He could not obtain the object of his desire though, and he died at the banks of the river or lake from his sorrow. According to the myth Narcissus is still admiring himself in the Underworld, looking at the waters of the Styx.

Reaction
The story above presents a number of uncomfortable ideas.
1 Narcissus refuses love and adoration from suitors.
2. The best that Narcissus can offer is a sword with which Aminais can do what he likes with.
3. Aminais chooses death and the wrath of the Greek gods to punish Narcissus for his intolerant self worth opinion of himself.
4. Narcissus falls into complete adoration of himself and dies alone and happy?

Inner Turmoil
The aspect that I find interesting about the story of Narcissus and narcissists is that their self-image is the one that they protect and adore above all others. The mirrored self is not real. The unreal self is only a reflection. The unreal self is a mirrored image of perfection that is ultimately flawed as it cannot be attained nor possessed. Thus the mirrored unreal and perfect self is as such, wanted all the more by Narcissus.

Pitiful
I hold a degree of pity towards Narcissus. Ideas about missed opportunities flit behind my consciousness and understanding of a narcissistic personality type. The idea of what they could be or come into contact with is an interesting twist of fate. Observing my compassion about working with someone who may have a distorted view of their reality, helps to maintain my connection with personality types.

Strangle Hold
By their holding so tightly to their view of reality – Narcissus.Imagine this if you will: arms, legs, teeth clamped over the reality they desperately hope to maintain. And with their eyes firmly unequivocally shut – holding themselves from new information that their view is misguided. The world as a whole by Narcissus is considered wrong, bleak, threatening, offering little that can shift perspective.

The strangle hold Narcissus may have on what they feel is rightfully theirs we hope would/could change. Providing logical, referenced, evidence as to why their way may not be working any longer is useful for us. Speaking with others about what difficulties we are experiencing can be useful to hear another perspective and context check that our thought processes are fully operational.

Resources
Dr Dwight Turner Narcissism of the other one
Psychology Today 6 Ways to Make it Work

Cover Picture by Photo by Thomas BRAULT on Unsplash

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.

Jitters: The Night Before

Having the jitters before the big day is normal, expected, an indication of the importance of what is to be tried. 13th of November was going to be gigantic because I was about to start providing a low cost counselling group experience for Black Men in S.E. London.

*Solstice Shuffle
With the days here in the northern hemisphere becoming shorter and shorter, and with that colder too, rather than retreat and hide. I want to fight back the dark with warmth and light. My colleague and I are to start something I feel will be big. Important. Game Changing. We have talked and laughed and listened and prepared.

It’s time.
So the jitters, and jitter bugging are a nervous type of energy. Highlighting an excitement and a wondering of what is going to be. New. Novel. Nuanced. Black focused group therapy for men.

Why?
Because why not! The reasons aren’t as important as the reasons that some are asking them. What reasons arise in your minds eye as to the reasons as to why, there could be need of an introductory course for therapy for Black Men?

Support
Speaking with my supervisor a few months ago I asked, do you think this idea of mine is racist? He took his time and invited me to think about my reasoning, my question, the need. I did and said No, I do not feel that the group is a racist idea. The want is to support an under-served social and ethnic group access skilled support at a low cost. Some psycho-education will happen and the aim will be to support members grow towards a healthy sense of themselves and their position in the world.

A memoir, an insight to living whilst Black

Lack
I recognise that men generally are less inclined to express themselves and be vulnerable with others. That takes time. It’s a strength that women largely are gifted with. Men tend to suppress their softer side for fear of being manipulated or hurt or worse humiliated. The concern is that under pressure, that hiding, turns those suppressed feelings into something toxic and harmful. We know of the term toxic masculinity.

Triplicate
Being toxic as a Black Man is like a triple bind.

1. Not speaking about ones vulnerability and pain causes us (humans) to seek other ways to find release. Some of these ways can lead to long term health factors that affect Black Men in particular and those connected to them acutely.

2. Becoming toxic, distrustful, upset and angry causes others usually friends, partners and family to flee, reduce contact, disconnect from or just avoid and hide.

Professional dislike
The trusted are often met with the same vitriol and disruptive rage as Drs, nurses, psychologists, probation officers, teachers, police personnel, employers and work colleagues. With the disruption some meet their needs through miss-telling of truths. Making the environment of the affected worse. Thus serving to – ratchet up their paranoia or distrust. Leading to more self isolation and projected anger at others.

Hitting Out
The third and final bind is when the lid blows off!

These moments tips the scales violently over.
The contents carefully balanced are shattered scattered and lost. The family, job, friends, savings, house, children, partner, colleagues, all ruined.

The man at the centre of the storm can then fall foul of pre existing stereotypes. He – unable to cope with the pressures of life. A Man Not really. A Man deemed crazy. Unable to climb and look after himself or anyone else for that matter. A drain on resources, draining energy, becoming to onlookers: menacing. Unworthy…

The Straw
Mental health services are generally not accessed before the police are called in. Usually it is this point that help is found and quickly. Society seems ready to pounce as the risk level becomes uncontained by members of the general public.

Detention
The implosion leads then to an enforced section and the man’s civil liberties of self-governance, self respect, self determination sanctioned and taken from him for between 48hours up to two weeks. Legally! Sometimes it can be for far longer. For this man it is a story he may have avoided. If there was a way to have found a space to discharge through speaking about his allostatic loads with (an)other(s).

A stong looking exterior often hides the vulnerability and the pain. Lets talk www.michaelforfiehcounselling.com
Let’s Talk now.
Photo by Giulia Pugliese on Unsplash

Perhaps
My jitters are about the chance to create a new story. For the one above. For that lonely man who shuffles along the street, sometimes talking or singing to himself. Looking unwell. Acting in a slightly bereft, unkempt way.

Rise
The idea of creating something new as a psychological model is both powerful and exciting. People engaging in therapeutic communities and therapeutic work is a different outcome to the bleak one I have witnessed as a Londoner, as a person working in prison, as a consciously aware Black Man that wants to listen for a different ending. Sometimes a situation has to reach rock bottom before it gets better.

Sometimes

Resources
Code Switch – This Racism Is Killing Me on The Inside
The Stoop – Angry Black Woman
BAATN – Beyond Silence

Comments are welcome.

Re-Edit Tactical Empathy and Effective Altruism Pt 3

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, being aware of our altruistic natures and when necessary use tactical empathy to listen and create change for self and others.

Resources
Philosophy Bites – Larry Temkin
Arwa Damon – The Seige

Re-edit Pt 1
Re-edit Pt 2
Re-Edit Full Script

Photo by Duniah almasri on Unsplash