On Play and the Absence of Play in Adulthood.

Play is such an interesting concept in our culture. On the one hand, it’s viewed as frivolous, as undeserving of our serious consideration. Or maybe I should say, adults’ serious consideration, as there is a huge percentage of the population which does take play seriously and engage in it regularly. In fact this segment of our population engages in play to the point that we adults have had to set up a situation in which play is curtailed to a large extent.

Okay, so maybe I was having a bit of fun in the last paragraph. But this brings up an interesting point. If I think of this blog post as play instead of work, I feel a loosening of tension within my body. I feel giddy even. How often do adults think of work as just that: work. Would it be better if we thought of it as play? Would we get more of the activity done? It is a feeling of play I’m talking about. I’m not saying, that we shouldn’t be mindful of the activity we are engaged in. But I think having a feeling of playfulness wouldn’t be as detrimental as people think. The key is knowing how to feel an emotion without it carrying you away. If we were to put this into psychological terms, we would speak of emotional regulation.

As I’m writing this post, I feel playful but not to the point of jumping up and down and running around my living room. If I simply allow the feeling to be there, I enter a state in which I feel neither playful nor serious.  It is a neutral space where I feel at peace. Where the divide between work and play ceases to be. If this sounds like meditation, it is. I feel fully present as I write.

One thing that I find very fascinating is the question of whether the low amount of adult play is impacting our mental health. I’m no psychologist, but as a young person I noticed how resigned most adults seemed. Even when they were happy, there was a muted quality to it. I was often able to turn this around by simply being in the room, especially when it came to my family. But I would wonder why they seemed truly happy only when I or another kid was around. I’m not saying adults need kids to be happy. In fact, I believe if adults hold this need even subconsciously, this can be a detriment to the young people in their lives. I certainly felt this way. One group of adults I liked being around very much was the elderly. There was this cheerfulness to most of them. They couldn’t get up and run around, but they had that childlike acceptance of life. I wondered why my parents’ generation, being younger, didn’t have as much access to this quality themselves. I reasoned that being younger should make a person more able to access a childlike state. But reality was showing me something completely different. I now wonder if this tension I sensed, is more of a general mental dis-ease within adults.  

Another thing, isn’t it strange how adults put themselves down on purpose when introducing themselves to each other? This whole routine of, “Oh, it isn’t anything that major” to be honest is quite unnerving to me. Compare that to most kids. If they know they are good at something, they’ll tell you straight out. They’ll even praise someone to high heaven if they admire them for what they do. I saw this with one of the 4th graders I worked with last year.  

The experiences I share here, are my experiences as a young person. But I wonder how common they are in the lives of young people today. I wonder if young people perceive their parents and other adults in the same or a similar fashion.

Please note: Portions of this text contain ideas from the excellent work of Peter Gray, a Boston College research Professor and author of the book “Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life.” The book can be found here. He’s also the author of the wonderful Psychology Today blog entitled “Freedom to Learn” which is available here.

.

Everything Is in One Place

I was wondering how I might merge my two blogs into one. I started blogging way back in 2009, but all my earlier blogging has come from my old “Life of a Preemie” blog. I just found out how to import all those old posts from there. So, everything’s in one place.

Have a look through the archives to see how my thinking has changed over the years… or hasn’t as the case may be. I have new posts coming. But, my chronic pain is bugging me right now so stay tuned…

Exploring Gurdjieff’s Fourth Way with Peter Ouspensky

A couple days ago I started reading Peter Ouspensky’s “The Psychology of Man’s Possible Evolution.” No I wasn’t actually luckty enough to be taught by Ouspensky himself, in case you were wondering. The book is made up of lectures where Ouspensky introduces G.I Gurdjieff’s Fourth Way teachings I hadn’t read the book before except for a brief peak years ago. The book is divided into five sections. Each of them is a lecture Ouspensky originally gave.

As I was making my way through the first chapter, I noticed some terms Ouspensky was using, seemed very similar to terms I was familiar with. These terms belonged to a spiritual system called “The Michael Teachings.” On a whim I flipped to a random spot in the second lecture, and found that he uses the term centering. I became very excited because The Michael Teachings has the same term, and Ouspenksy was using it in same way! His system has five centers, (as far as I know,) while The Michael Teachings has six.  I recalled Michael themselves mentioning The Fourth Way, in the very first book I brought on their teachings. I remember them saying there were some distortions in Gurdjieff’s views compared with theirs. But what strikes me is how much Gurdjieff got right. I’ll have to read the rest of Ouspenky’s book but I’m really fascinated by what I’ve read so far.

 

ouspensky-book

Book Review: Riding on the Power of Others by Ren Hurst

51jc47vom-l-_sy344_bo1204203200_   For a while now, I’ve been exploring the idea of authentic relationships. I first came across the idea in a book by an amazing  author who completely changed the way she related to horses. I read the book based on my interest in horses. It had been a while since I spent anytime with them. But I remembered the amazing relationship I’d had on the ground with a horse who I visited regularly in my adolescence. I would be in her paddock, Just me and her, with nothing on her head. As I spent time her in this way, I began to question the normal way of doing things. This culminated in me giving up riding all-together. It sounded from reading the blurb about her book, that Hurst had come to similar conclusions. As did I did all those years ago about horses as far as riding them.

In the book the author, Ren Hurst, journeys from traditional horse trainer to not training horses at all, choosing instead to relate to them authenticity. She goes from using outright physical abuse of the horses she is working with. as a form of discipline, to completely giving up all forms of control. As she says, “…no body language, no ropes, or sticks or even a halter, no rewards or punishments…” One example of the abusive training techniques used in schooling horses, is the process known as sacking out. In this technique, one of the horses legs is tied up and his or her resistance is slowly worn down. This is done until the horse’s spirit is broken. Another name for this horrific technique is simply horse breaking. As Hurst continues on her path, she comes to Natural Horsemanship. Natural horsemanship typically involves a trainer using the horse’s body language to from a relationship with the horse, and  Unlike many trainers who first encounter it, she didn’t see it as a way to improve the relationship with the horses she is working with. She simply viewed it as a more efficient way of training and selling horses. Throughout the book Hurst catches glimpse of what authenticity might look like, but because of her traumatic past is unable, to follow these leadings. Her major breakthrough comes when she meets and buys Shai a stallion. This horse, simply by his presence, forces Hurst re-evaluate everything, when it comes to relating to others. He showed her both her flaws, as well as her rich potential for growth. At the same time, he challenged her very notions of what a horse can be. At one point Ren found herself teaching Shai colors and amazingly he’d never get them mixed up not even once.

As I read Ren’s story, I saw a similar journey to the one I’d taken with my views on children and young people. My view of them evolved from indifference, to a deep joy in connection with them. In my high school, when my aspergers was making it difficult to connect with my peers. I discovered that the younger students were only two willing to allow into me into their lives. Although not all of these young people were my friends, they showed me genuine kindness, and acknowledgement from them. With the young people I’ve become with friends with, both back then and since, the experience of authenticity is rich beyond comparison. One boy who was seen as a troublemaker by most of the staff, when I was in high school, opened up to me about a family member of his who was suffering from chronic health issues. We were in class and I was helping him with an assignment. There was a pause, and I decided to reveal to him my struggles with chronic pain after which he shared his own story. For true connection with another to take place, it is necessary, as Hurst found out with horses, to be fully present. One has to let go of the need to control another in any way.

Like Ren, with her horses, I have experienced much in terms of authenticity from a class of people so often treated inhumanely. Perhaps, like her, I may lean a bit too much on young people for this need of authenticity within myself. I am learning to notice the authenticity in my adult friendships.

At the end of her book Ren recounts a father and son, who visited her sanctuary in Northern California. Ren describes the son’s interaction with her horses and how amazed she was that what took her over 15 years to see, this boy saw immediately got when it came to horses. Namely, his ability to share space with these animals without resorting to control. After this experience both father and son, visit again, and Hurst notices healing beginning to take place between them.

Riding On the Power of Others, is a book I’d recommend to anyone who is ready to begin the journey to authenticity with whomever the share their lives with, whether it’s animals, people, or even perhaps plants. The world needs more people who in Ren’s words “stand in their true power instead of a false power.”

A Compassionate Response to Racism

I woke up to news on Monday morning that a school where I volunteer, Edison Elementary in Alameda, California, was vandalized in a vicious manner. After I got up, I checked Facebook briefly to see what my friends were up to. As I was scrolling through the sea of status updates, I spotted the shocking news. Like most Alamedans, I was horrified. I volunteer at this school, and my feelings are deeply personal. The school had been sprayed with racist graffiti in five places on its grounds. When the graffiti was discovered, it was promptly cleaned up by community members. Over the weekend, a candlelight vigil had been held in front of City Hall to call attention to the act and to stand in solidarity with marginalized groups.

On Monday, elementary schools across the City joined in solidarity with Edison holding gatherings affirming a commitment to belonging and inclusiveness. Signs saying “Everyone Belongs Here” were held by young people and adults alike. Edison students heading back to class found themselves walking through two columns of parents and older students who were there to welcome them back to school.

What is significant to me about these gatherings is that, unlike the protesters across the nation denouncing President-elect Trump, these students, their parents, and staff, chose to respond to an incident of racist hatred and bigotry with unconditional love, solidarity, and compassion. This is not to say that anger is unwarranted during these uncertain times. But these students’ actions, along with that of the adults, are a powerful testament to community resilience, joy, and fierce determination. These qualities are evident in a number of pictures from Edison, as well as other elementary schools across the city, which are posted on the “Everyone Belongs Here: Elementary Schools” Facebook event page.

Our community is illuminating the path a way to a world, where we can truly say “I am my brother and sister’s keeper.”

Reader’s Note:

A link to the public event page is provided below, for those of you with Facebook accounts. The reader might want to have a box of tissues at hand, as the pictures it contains are truly moving. Just scroll down the page you’ll find them. https://www.facebook.com/events/1712747355614527/

Two Years of Growth

So after a long absence I’ve decided to return. I’ve been in a process of spiritual, and psychological growth over the past two years. Well, almost two years. That is not to say I have hit some sort of plateau, or that I have climbed to the mountain top so to speak, (To paraphrase Martin Luther King Jr.) I am sure there is more to come. One thing that has become apparent to me, has to do with my new ability to think over both sides of an issue. I am no longer attached to any views I might have. I am able to hold both sides in my head, and examine them, it’s even fun.

Over the past couple years, this way of thinking was starting to dawn on me. There was however, a subject I still couldn’t do this with. That of course was youth rights.

I have been a youth rights activist, for the better part of ten years. In the beginning, I simply related to young people from a place of authenticity. I hoped through doing this that any authority figures in their lives, would take notice. I also held out a hope for change in how they were being treated.  I quickly became frustrated however; the adults were not picking up on what I was doing, or at least it appeared that way. What I had not considered, was the simple fact that because we were extended family ,my modeling for the adults could only go so far. We only saw each other twice a year, or maybe more often if we were lucky.

Contrast this with a young year friend of mine. He his mom, and I see each other at least every couple weeks. His mom has ample opportunity to see me interact with her son. She can see that I allow her son to be completely who he is, while not allowing him to trustpass my boundaries. If he wants to play video games and I’m up to it physically, we do. Even if I can’t play with him, I enjoy watching him, play, and asking questions. As far as the whole boundaries thing, I’m still working on that with him. When it comes down to it, I can’t be sure how much of my interactions with my friend have rubbed off on his mom. I haven’t talked with either of them about the subject. I do know my friend’s mom is grateful there is an adult in her son’s life who takes a genuine interest in him. On the other hand, maybe I am having an impact. The thought of that possibility fills me with joy.

I feel as though I have entered a new dimension. Everything is clearer to me now.  

I am also much less nervous, around large groups of people. This is something I’ve struggled with in the past. I would clam up and just stare off into the distance. This had to do with a large amount of psychological trauma from my distant past. This trauma has made it difficult to trust people, especially in new situations.

My psychological and spiritual growth, showed itself just yesterday, when I went to volunteer at an elementary school. I had worked at this school last year. Working as a lunch monitor this time, (due to my ideas about how young people should be treated, more on that in later post,) I had kids coming up to me asking me about my cane. I also was able to help one who’s friend had gotten injured in the shoulder. Her injury happend, while she playing some sort of ball-based game with her friends. When this student and her friend came up they asked for hall passes. I was perplexed, because I didn’t have any. Should I have some? I thought to myself. I felt like I was a bumbling idiot, because I can’t think and talk at same time, due to my aspergers/autism. So, I was looking off at the wonderful blue sky with a glazed look on my face, and trying to figure this conundrum out. I settled on asking this person and her friend to come with me to the office, so she could get her injury taking care of. On the way, I asked her her name, which I can’t remember due to actually growing older. In the office, I had another awkward moment, was I supposed to get her all the way to the nurse or just let her and the friend handle it. So, the glazed look returned as my insides churned. Fortunately I managed to tell the office manager what happened. The nurse, for her part, looked to be already attending to the injured girl.

Overall, I’ve noticed huge growth as I’ve said above. I feel like I’m finally comfortable being who I am, aspergers stomach churning episodes notwithstanding.

…And The Body Goes South

After about three weeks of feeling great my nervous system crashed AGAIN… joy!

When my nervous system goes south, I have chronic pain in my knees, wrists and hands and none of this helps the hyperacusis either. Generally, the hyperacusis will skyrocket when the rest of the nervous system is impacted leading to days filled with pain. The two therapies that I am in are highly effective when they work. When they are not effective I have hell to pay. The two therapies are cranial sacral therapy and a very unorthodox cranial facial therapy performed by a medical dentist.

The cranial facial therapy requires a high degree of precision. Ideally, your back upper and lower teeth should touch to avoid nervous system imbalances. If my back teeth don’t touch and only one side of the back touches or worse of all if my front teeth touch it creates a huge amount of imbalance and pain in my nervous system – hands, wrists and knees. I visit my medical dentist regularly to stay in alignment. In a typical appointment I sit in my Dr.’s office and patiently wait while he squirts a fast acting mold on top of my lower dental appliance (basically a splint that has a positive impact on the trijeminal nerve when working correctly) to see where my upper teeth hit the plastic on my lower appliance which I wear in the daytime. Depending on where little pin prick holes are in the mold he can tell where my teeth are hitting. Usually the holes indicate problem areas. By using the mold as a guide he drills into the plastic with a Dremel tool to create a better bite surface which results in a lot less pain and discomfort in my nervous system.

He and my cranial sacral specialist work together on me in joint appointments once a month. I see him alone as needed in between the joint appointments when my appliances go out of alignment which can happen a lot if my nervous system is challenged.

Over the past three weeks my life has been severely limited on top of the usual limitations associated with leaving my apartment due to the hyperacusis. I have basically been in a bed for most of each day dreading moving due to the pain in my wrists and knees. When I had to get up to go to the bathroom or east I would hobble around the apartment due to the sever pain in my knees. Keep in mind that nothing is seriously wrong with them. To a person looking at me my knees would look normal except for a slight pulling to the right in my knee caps but you would have to know what you were looking for. The pain in the knees is particularly creepy because I can feel stuff cracking inside the knee but my cranial sacral person assures me that there is nothing really wrong but it is due to my outside IT band being too tight. As far as my wrists are concerned before I moved to my apartment I was in such stress about moving away from home that I developed a new symptom besides the chronic pain that has been my constant companion for the last seven years. I was standing in the hallway feeling miserable about moving and I felt the usual pain and then I felt the tendon that controls the carpel tunnel subtly collapse in my hand. This symptom is nothing new so I began to do the exercise that my chiropractic neurologist had me do – quickly flex the fingers in and out. Instead of the usual response of the tendon going back to its original position, the fingers began to feel extremely loose like they were hyper-flexible (not in a good way). As I began to move them more and more the loose feeling increased. I stared at my hand in horror wondering why this exercise was having the opposite effect it should and making the situation worse. My fingers don’t want to extend fully and the exercise was pushing them too far.

When I initially moved into my own place – chronic pain wise – I was doing great. I could even get on the computer and use it which is usually my barometer. But what goes up must come down and as of today my hands are in a difficult place as well was my ears. I am diligently working with a new set of exercises from my cranial sacral specialist. I have also begun 20 minutes/day of pink noise therapy for my hyperacusis (noise desensitization). I am needing more assistance from my attendants than ever before – I will leave it up to your imagination to figure it out. I am embracing it and also trying to move forward. The hardest condition to live with bar none is the hyperacusus. The social isolation it imposes on my life is truly tragic. However, it has also taught me that you can make a life for yourself even in unfavorable circumstances.