Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Learner Therapist (70) … Breath taking focus
Torrey Orton
Jan. 26, 2016

Breathing, preparing muscles for action and initiating imagined action, without taking action

Both Custers and Bargh acknowledge that their research undermines a fundamental principle used to promote human exceptionalism — indeed, Bargh has in the past argued that his work undermines the existence of free will. But Custers also points out that his conclusions are not new: people have long sensed that they are influenced by forces beyond their immediate recognition — be it Greek gods or Freud's unruly id. What's more, the unconscious will is vital for daily functioning and probably evolved before consciousness as a handy survival mechanism — Bargh calls it "the evolutionary foundation upon which the scaffolding of consciousness is built." Life requires so many decisions, Bargh says, "that we would be swiftly overwhelmed if we did not have the automatic processes to deal with them."  

Think You're Operating on Free Will? Think Again


We know that physical preparation for taking action occurs faster than the conscious thought of doing so does, which has been taken as evidence that we are not in control of what we do, that we do not (effectively, we cannot) choose. It is ‘evidence’ like this which encourages me to continue learning how I work in therapy and related activities. The question is ‘what are the facts evidencing’? The following are some of my recent awareness acquisitions in search of that what for me.

First, there’s the actual breathing of writing – the partly held breath of an idea’s first sentences appearing in writing. It is not at all the same thing as editing an existing text, which is much slower, and while also focussed it is in another place of my thinking self. Just writing the last few words has that breath-holding character to it…even though the ideas I have are already available in a hand-written version a few days ago.

Actions without intent

Second - and in the night, too – slight jaw preparations for an imagined talking interaction. Then there’s “restless” legs or feet as I’m ‘walking’ myself through the byways of a search for something, a definite something but not definite enough to be grasped fully yet, and so not yet a matter for any action, but between the first and second stage of change – pre-contemplation and contemplation. In this grasping process my jaw is often chewing lightly, giving me experiential meaning to ‘mastication’, a word I’ve never used (too dental for normality?), and which now gives access to rumination as a normal productive process rather than its defective mental health relative. That it is still some ways from intentional action is confirmed by lack of teeth grinding in the chewing.

Breathtaking experience is a relative of breath-holding in that both imply a constraint of a highly motivated (in the moment) intent, a readiness on a leash. Trauma patients’ breathing is often choked or squeezed or throttled, depending on the traumatic matters which are seeking expression through the constraints of inhibitions long established and constantly maintained. Shallow breathing can be seen, and a yawn often arises, after the release of a previously constrained subject. In this way their repressed or out of awareness or unremembered or dissociated matters are present to them in the struggle to breath in everyday interactions. And, in that sense they are not forgotten. As Van Der Kolk says: “the body keeps the score.”

As I’m re-reading this and shifting between composition and editing from moment to moment (shifting from a productive intention to contemplative attention) I am slightly rocking in my desk chair, the upper half of my body backing-and-forthing rhythmically, reflecting the light touch of my mental gaze’s eye movements across my field of vision and back - a process out of consciousness. (http://www.scholarpedia.org/article/Human_saccadic_eye_movements )

Back to the unconscious…

Now all this sits in the context of our self-defence system which always operates in the background. It is perhaps the system which mindfulness competence accesses in as much as this system is the repository of the ability to be present but not active in the present, and eventually to be present while also active in the present. Our everyday access to this system is through spontaneous perceptions on the edge of our fields of perception – hearing to the side and back, sight to the sides  and above - which work to warn us by interrupting our forward focussed actions to announce an unexpected, and unexplained, percept – a flutter, a squeak or rustle, a feeling of ground moving, etc.


Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Learner Therapist (68) … our historical context’s generational demands
Torrey Orton
Dec. 29, 2015

Multi-generational, multi-ethnic, multi-national traumas…

One aspect of what’s in us is our recent human history. It is a conundrum of trauma therapy that trauma at the family level tends to repeat itself over generations. It is an easy assumption, when looking for causes of this pattern, to notice and but not embrace the all-too-human recourse to violence to overcome the residues of the past (or defend them as abidingly necessary truths). We cannot do without our pasts, nor stay anchored mindlessly in them. Pasts are there regardless of the honourable or wondrous purposes and futures which the present may be holding out before us. Here is a literary version of the generational trauma of the first fifty of the last hundred years captured from a novel:

“With 10 million dead, the four years of World War I legitimised contempt for individual life, making possible the purges, pogroms and Holocaust and tens of millions of corpses of the next war, and the pitiful civilians: an old woman with seat covers sewn into a dress, a man in a jacket made from a flag, which gave them an air of desperate grandeur, like guests at an asylum ball.”

Anne Susskind review of Sebastian Faulk’s Where my heart used to beat (2015) in The AGE Spectrum; 26 Dec. 2015

In the novel the story ploughs on for the next 50 years in the lead character’s reflections.

Three generations is a good span…roughly 100 years…which from now takes us back to the early 20th century when the massed forces of the 19th century’s scientific, political and social liberations, in the industrial world at least, undermined many deep socio-economic-political structures. It is a good span because chances are we all know three generations of real people - not just socio-political categories like Boomer or Gen X. In that 100 years we have the generations affected in various ways by the 1st World War (my grandparent’s generation). Then we have that generation re-afflicted by the Depression, as well as the rising generation which fought the 2nd World War (my parent’s generation). My generation has hosted a serial testing and upgrading of military potentials through Korea, Vietnam with Cold War sparring in the background culminating in the Iraq ventures of ’91 and 2002, Afghanistan and the Iraq overflow keeping military competences tested to this day.

There are variations on the inescapable calamities theme in tandem with the ones above. For instance the fates of being caught in the Balkans as Yugoslavia declined into its component parts and then into smaller parts around religion over the decade from 1995 to 2005; the various Palestinian/Arab/Israeli battles to this day; the various intramural and Islamic spinoffs in Africa worth millions displaced; the oppressions of Central America with the support of the CIA; the struggles in Chile and Argentina between lefts and rights in the 60’s – 70’s and beyond, many sponsored or covertly supported by American cold war enthusiasms.

Trauma effects

These are all events which are characterised by no escape from danger for almost everyone in them, but especially non-combatants, for long periods of time ranging from the lead up to the respective wars and the wind down into non-war, but often with enduring consequential deprivations. This is a rough configuration for chronic trauma on a mass scale, similar in internal structure to the family level experiences which touch ±20% of populations across the industrial world. Developing country levels may be expected to be higher.

We know that those who fight wars are always traumatised to some extent from the reports of survivors of the undiscussability of their wartime experience. We know that undiscussability of traumatic experiences renders them more powerfully corrosive, and we know that this applies to non-combatants as well. We know that the use of legal (alcohol) and illegal drugs are highly associated with traumas, as is violent behaviour learned in the traumas. This kind of trauma – the trauma of protective services like military, firefighting, policing, emergency services, paramedical services – is endemic for those who undertake to protect us from trauma.

Systemic traumas

There is another class of traumatic conditions, emerging in their ultimate form as genocides, usually arising from long-term systematic and systemic discriminations usually on the basis of race, class, ethnicity, gender/sex and religion. Indigenous peoples everywhere, who escaped the local genocides, are caged in actual or virtual agreements that partition off their heritage lands, their original occupancy and, restrained therefrom, their souls. The history of humanity is of growth through dispossession of our predecessors and the irretrievable pollution of their cultures.

Traumatic effects are reasonably consistent across these cultures, taking forms like endemic alcohol (and other drugs) problems which in turn sustain individual and group incapacity to enter modern life, which in turn sustain the drugs and on it rolls. The psychological problems most commonly driven by trauma are conflicts between rage at dispossession (be it deprivation of life, property or affection) and guilt at being the authors in their view of the injustices they are subject to, at helping the oppressors – be they corrupt officials or bent parents, both often themselves products of social system maintenance of the discriminations going back generations. Altogether these forms roil around, re-emerging in family violences and public criminalities.

On the passage through this all too human history we come up against the challenges of responsibility and forgiveness. Forgiveness cannot meaningfully be given except for an acknowledged miscreance, or crime, though certain religious practitioners (see review of Marilynne Robinson’s The Givenness of Things, NYRB Dec. 17, 2015) recommend grace, where forgiveness cannot be obtained or offered. This latter act is perhaps all that’s left for macro explanations of the self-inflicted injuries of humanity’s passage – that we are all fallen, etc. and the grace is that we give more than we can afford and get less than we deserve.

…and how to engage them in the present.

We can ‘test’ moments, patterns or themes of the past emerging in the present whenever a patient’s self-reported automatic response or initiative produces ineffective relationships. Sometimes that ineffectiveness will be clearly visible in the therapeutic relationship itself, expressed as an unnecessary or inappropriate silence, diffidence, deference or provocation (all defences). The ‘test’ can begin with noticing and pointing out the evidence of ineffectiveness in the patient’s engagement at the moment. If carefully gauged to the patient’s current sense of power, that test can be followed with wondering “Is there more?” or, “Are you familiar with this feeling??” which lead in two different directions of cognitive association: one, an unfinished feeling inhibited by the fear of exposing it, and two, an exploration of an existing track of very familiar recurrent feeling.

That’s for starters, only.


Saturday, December 26, 2015

Learner Therapist (69) … Digitally mediated relationships

Torrey Orton

Dec. 26, 2016

Who’s at lunch with who?

I was out to a demonstration lunch a while ago. Two demonstrations were occurring: the successful pretence of a great chef and the aspirational pretences of a bunch of diners. The pretentiousness was exemplified by the number of discrete courses – around 20: enough to occupy the whole of the only page in the menu. A socially and ethically interesting question was: who else was there and were those who were there actually there? Why they and we were there would be to follow the pretence path, but that’s another story.

Rather, it was clear from the number of phones tables and in hands that there were others being summoned, cajoled, invaded by the experiences of some diners. Perhaps the reverse was also true in response and maybe some of the apparently sharing diners were actually partaking of their digital partners’ pretences and not really present in the lunch for those moments (either in their own view or the view of their lunch relationship partners). And some connections with unknown unpresent partners on both ends may have been secondhanding the partnerships of the first instance in simultaneous sharings with unknown others…and so on around the digital twittiverse.

If you think that experience is hard to express and, more so, to comprehend, I’m sure you are not alone. Acquaintances of mine who are masters of the digital disciplines continue to amaze themselves with the unintended disclosures of their notionally private selves which blow around the cloud of endless remembering as a result of a burst of communication neediness from the grip of a heart ache or break, or a glass too many. In the same vein of virtuality, we can wonder which of these dining relationships were authentic, real, present (add your favourite behavioural, emotional, or cognitive criterion of existence here). And what would they be being authentic about?

How can we know what happens at lunch?

These kinds of practical implications of relationships are what concern my therapy patients. In fact these kinds of questions / concerns are what people are usually in therapy for – things to do with who can they be usefully connected to in myriad ways and which of those ways are appropriate on criteria that they embrace and think can be embraced by the others, and consequently may actually be embraced in a real relationship. For example, clarity about relationship types would allow increased fine judgment of what type is actually uppermost in one’s own mind and one’s partner(s) mind(s) in a specific relationship moment, event, history and prospect.

I propose that without a systematic way to classify digital relationships on non-digital criteria, we do not know what we’re talking about in discussing, and especially researching, contemporary digitally mediated relationships. Digital criteria are simple: can a digital wire be tripped in a recording device by an effective sensor signal? For an analogue example of criterion domains, are we talking about personal relationships, commercial relationships, organisational relationships, spiritual relationships …and how would we know when a relationship is one, some, or all of these at any one time (and other things not yet itemised)?

And suppose that whatever the type, there is virtuality in play. Most coarsely, is there any difference between a virtual sexual relationship and a real sexual relationship (of the body contact variety)? At least one thing is for sure, so far: no unwanted progeny can result from the virtual one without a shift of level from digital to analogue! On the comestibles side, the longest virtual lunch still leaves a half-full plate of offerings on one side and a wholly empty stomach at the other end of the digital appreciation.

One approach to classifying relationships and behaviours would be Wittgenstein’s notion of family resemblance as a tool for grasping realties. It is quite a nice theory of knowledge (which tells us how we can say something is and is such a thing reliably). It is also noticeably not standard issue RCT scientific research reality. Perhaps some research should be on the phenomenology of digital behaviour?

Back to the pretentious lunch…

How could the key physical experiences of the lunch be captured and shared digitally as they are occurring? La Grande Bouffe (1973) did a good job of capturing an imagined experience of dining, as did Tom Jones (1963).  But sharing real experience is notoriously difficult and highly reliant on shared communication skills and relationship depth and intensity in the experience domains of interest. Some experiences cannot be shared with the inexperienced other than by involving them in such experiences, and we are back to relationship depth and intensity. Virtually we may get a feel for the experience, but not the experience. Rather we will be having the experience of a tantalising possibility which may be the experience of an intentional or provocative deprivation, which might then be shared by the virtual attendee with the real one and we’re back to tantalising and provocation. In addition, the range of possible experiences of the virtual kind – email, twitter, text, Instagram, telephone, Skype, … – offer different degrees of deprivation potential, usually out of the awareness of the participants. Bring on the phenomenology!? Give me a ring or a ping if you are interested.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Learner Therapist (67) … My enduring ignorance and patient progress

Torrey Orton

Dec. 9, 2015

Wholes and bits

The whole person is the object of therapy, as is the case for all kinds of learning. What comes broken into pieces is therapeutic techniques, learning contents and learning processes, as if readied for piecemeal consumption. Our learning theories tell us things must be chunked, parcelled and presented.

What’s hard to preserve in the passage of the bits is the wholes. The whole person, the whole of the subject, the whole of the practice… anything whole in the moment perhaps. A first challenge to my deeper engaging this situation is my ignorance across many domains and levels of human activity. There are so many things relevant to effective living which I do not and never will know deeply. These ignorances spring from aspects of myself which were never strong – the mathematical arena for example, the related natural sciences and their associated engineering applications.

I know they exist and that they matter, but I am constitutionally unsuited to engaging them with any hope of a real grasp arising from the effort. And, I don’t have that much time anyway.

Action for a change

What I can, and do, do is this:

·         Pay attention to those domains and levels which are clearly both important to whole persons and beyond me (and perhaps beyond them, too, in varying configurations).

·         Choose a few of them to pay persistent attention to – follow them at different levels of presentation: daily news, monthly news and annual review level (but in standard educated reader publications - the best of X for year 2016).

·         Be on the lookout for signs of the chosen domains in everyday life. This should occur unconsciously as a result of the persistent attention chosen interests.

·         Develop specialty interests in the domains which you follow closely enough to be able to lead a conversation among non-experts about the nature of that enterprise / issue / domain and its importance for you, us, and them now and into the near future, but especially how it feels important to you – the kinds of feelings it elicits.

·         Find and maintain a suite of colleagues with specialisations in those areas of interest to me that are beyond my likely competence. Engage on the periphery of activities and projects which are driven by specialists. For example follow target domains in different cultures, easy to do these days by subscribing to web versions of major papers daily and get notifications of preferred subjects direct. Many foreign language majors have English editions – e.g. Le Monde, China Daily, etc.

(I learned this technique living and teaching in Beijing in the early ‘80’s when wanting to learn to read Chinese and understand their view of education. I discovered that the Guangming Ribao (the ‘intellectuals’ daily) carried a regular column of matters educational. I stayed with that pretty much for two years. I could read the then current education commentary by the end, though very little about specific subjects or courses.)

Domains and levels of interest for action

So, what are some candidates for must-know domains and levels for the next 5-10 years with testably high impact on the lives of our patients (and ourselves!)? Try these for now:

Domains of action:


1-      The Artificial Intelligence / Enhanced Performance* industries

2-      The life extension business – to the century as normal and the planets as possible by artificial starts (IVF, etc.) and hangings on (replacement parts, etc.)

3-      Climate changes and other acts of gods

4-      Macro (the degradation of democratic practices in the chief democracies) and micro (local violences) political disintegrations

5-      Loss of concrete public language* for expressing and discussing experience (the prominence of spin across everyday life)

6-      The commercialisation of everyday life and the sanctification of productivity. (The only measure of worth is money and its surrogates (stuff)


Levels of understanding:


7-      What’s normal now? (from the impacts of the preceding,  and their interactions)

8-      Dilemmas / paradoxes* (gains are losses and losses are gains?)

9-      Boundaries – defining the spaces which domains occupy exclusively

10-   Evidences* – the ‘facts’ and ‘values’ which constitute the substance of life.

These domains and levels can also be seen as the context for everyday persons’ lives which provide perspective on their purposes, conduct and achievements. Elsewhere I will offer some approaches to checking for their influences in the course of therapy. One implication of these domains and levels is that some parts of much therapy will have to be concerned with “tools and skills” for helping patients get their power back in domains and levels which are inescapably present to us all.

*These are my current favourites.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Learner Therapist (64) … Test myself, test my patients

Torrey Orton

Oct. 06, 2015

Feedback Informed Therapy (FIT)

It is claimed, with reason, that the most effective therapists are those who seek constant and consistent feedback on patient experience of their therapy provision. The International Centre for Clinical Excellence offers research backing for this claim and tools for feedback informed practice. I find them sensible but unremarkable, being an obsessive self-doubter about my therapeutic effectiveness, which springs a little from my tendency to self-denigration and a lot from my constitutional scepticism.

My skill at feedback seeking and giving has been fashioned and refined during years spent in various educational roles ranging from teacher to instructor, coach and, drawing up last, therapist. I became accustomed to checking if things were working well enough from both my and the other’s viewpoint. During my first two years’ high school teaching in 1966 to ‘68 I kept a teaching diary daily for five classes a day assessing the appropriateness of my teaching plan and implementation over year levels 9 through 12 in English and year 12 in philosophy. For the latter course, I invented a student reflection process which has flowed on into later life teaching/learning settings. Both have a life today when patients take up diary keeping as a path to self-clarification.

As a result of these sources, I am inclined to see my therapy skills as applicable in a wide range of learning settings and roles, though most obviously in therapy, coaching and teaching. The process of testing patient / participant purposes or needs morphs naturally into testing learning processes and outcomes, and shifts emphasis from testing me to testing them – testing their confidence in their grip on themselves in whatever ways they are seeking in our work. One could say competent confidence in one’s ability to self-correct is the signal attribute of a professional or high performing amateur of any kind.

8 critical feedback opportunities

There are at least eight critical junctures for testing what patients / participants are working on, whether in therapy or training group:

1.      Preferably first, some kind of pre-session needs assessment before the moment of first entry, which may be a proforma tick-a-box, open-ended questions or a quick inquiry by phone at the initial contact for an appointment like “what’s your concern?” or similar.

2.      On arrival for the first session, the opening test is reconfirmed in this hello: ‘What are you here for?’ or its slightly more pointed sib ‘What can I do for you?’ In a group this is usually formalised in a group needs chart cobbled out of individual contributions.

3.      A little way into the first session (and many sessions thereafter), I propose this: ‘So, what concerns you is…? Am I right?’ This is a test of me, not the patient / participant, though they often hear it as a test of them.

4.      One step beyond mirroring is framing a chunk of patient / participant input into slightly different language and at a slightly higher (or lower!) level of generalisation, which does double duty of checking my grasp of their material and testing their capacity to generalise or concretise it.

5.      I pretty consistently check progress in session by inviting patient / participant assessment of the clarity and relevance of almost anything I offer beyond mirroring their contributions: “Is that clear?” “Does that make sense?”

6.      Towards the end of a session I seek a general assessment from the patient / participant like: ‘Are we on the right track for you here?’

7.      Over multiple sessions I check how the work is fitting their original and emerging objectives’ prediction of its direction and process, sometimes pointing out a new candidate for objective of the day, or week, for which I have evidence in their behaviour. Such “pointings” are raised as queries with explicit room for patient disagreement. Almost no patient / participant arrives at the end of therapy without discovering some learning objectives they did not start with.

8.      And, at the end of the learning process (in therapy there seldom is a complete closure, just as there is no closure to learning in life except the closure of life itself) we may look back by looking forward to see what new pathways have been unveiled by the work and what vulnerabilities have now been raised to the level of self-correcting consciousness.

5 in-session reflection ‘tests’

1.      Phrase completion test – there are a number of ways to signal I am paying attention to a patient / participant: This is a normal conversational move not just a therapeutic one and has the same effect – the person feels attended to, recognised, understood and shows this by continuing their conversational flow. For example,

a)      Add the word which comes next in a run of expression when the person pauses

b)      Punctuate chunks of expression with ‘Uh huh’, etc.

c)      Ask the patient to repeat what they’ve just said in other words, or give an example

d)     Encourage them to stay on a track they’re on with a rolling hand signal, not words.

e)      Stay silent when they reach a natural pause in their talk to make space for them to continue

2.      Feeling awareness tests, often repeated especially early in the work to authorise using feelings and help discover them.

a)      Mirror back a non-verbal, usually embodied, or say back a particularly striking expression

b)      Invite reflection on where in body they are feeling something: ‘’what body feeling is happening with this experience you are describing?’

c)      Invite an example / trigger of a particular feeling.

3.      Conflict engagement test

a)      Suggest an alternative perspective for a situation they are exploring – ‘I imagine you could look at this matter in other ways. For instance…’

b)      Propose an alternative interpretation for a situation – e.g. ‘Another way you could interpret at this is…’

c)      Assert they are wrong about a perspective or interpretation of theirs, with an appropriate degree of certainty in the truth claim involved. Use ‘perhaps’, ‘probably’, ‘possibly’, ‘certainly’ (as appropriate) to show your level of confidence in your assertion.

4.      Emerging theme identification test

a)      Repeat back a word in their conversation which suggests the patient / participant is evaluating something, especially them self – words like ‘value’, ‘care’, ‘like’, ‘avoid’, ‘worth’, etc.

b)      Invite an example of a particular evaluation, especially those where ‘could’ can easily replace ’should’ or ‘must’ in their speech.

5.      Objective description test – have they covered the what, who, when, where, how and why of their concern concretely?

NB – all of these ‘tests’ are feedback opportunities for both patient/participant and therapist/coach.

Learning to learn is the primary objective of therapy (and training and coaching!!)

A useful model for thinking and acting about adult learning is experiential action learning which comes out of workplace development needs arising from unexpected circumstances which out-date existing business operating constructs and competences.

I roughly work with this kind of framework in all learning settings where local design is necessary to fit specific conditions - a typical therapeutic requirement. The above ‘tests’ of both patient / participant and facilitator / therapist can be applied (should be applied) in any such setting for optimum effectiveness.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Learning to act right (51)… Obligation and relationships – invisible bonds which bind

Torrey Orton*
Sept 28, 2015

Attachment by obligation – an implicit reciprocity

A commitment may often be expressed in and through an obligation. An obligation reflects or expresses a reliable attachment, though this may not be what attachment theory means at first glance**. Add some culture to the mix and the meaning gets perhaps even more attenuated because experienced with less insight. For instance,

30 years ago my wife and I did a favour for someone which transformed their life, and not just putting on a new shirt or haircut as the word is used today. Our favour opened the door to a future they could not have ventured, though they certainly could imagine it and had done so. We have been paying for it ever since in the form of the others’ absolutely persistent thankfulness every time we see them (every few years 1/2 a world away). Here’s the rub: sustaining our enthusiasm for their over the top gifts is difficult for two reasons - time withers the intensity as the imbalance in the equation of our favour’s worth vis-à-vis the receiver’s benefit reduces our sense of that value to them. And the counter rub is this: our failure to receive with the energy of their thankful giving may demean the value of the gift and the giver!

This could be the dynamic of any gift relationship, until it is extended over 30 years with the expectation that it will never cease! That’s the cultural additive to the mix. Such devoted thankfulness is understandable in cultures where personal control over one’s fate, to say nothing of one’s opportunities and pursuit of them, is radically conditional. Such is the case described.

Ignorance of cultural obligations

The cultural effect at the individual, family and work group levels is a set of bonds with great temporal reach, with the consequence that social and personal bonds are almost an inescapable condition of living. These bonds provide a roughly guaranteed system of support extending to the outer reaches of ‘family’ to include village neighbours (the source of financial support for many Chinese students in Australia 20 years ago; those students who failed in the relevant terms were failing a whole village of stakeholders; the shame could be terminal). In this sense and in our own case, an obligation may often be attached with anchors at both ends. Under-acknowledgement of a benefit I provide may constitute another entangling bond both for me and my beneficiaries.


However, our western preparation for life included the implicit assumption that we could and should control our destinies in almost every regard. Where not possible, it became the responsibility of higher authorities to pitch in with ever more powerful health cares, safety nets and so on. Assume these conflicting assumptions in me and I came up short in receivership: I did not sustain the appropriate levels of concern for the honour they were bestowing. For me even 10 years later I emitted low grade resistance – the kinds expressed through slight withholdings of feelings…By 35 years later I had to mask a sense of irritation with the formalities. Of course lack of formality is ever so western, not eastern, too.

Binding bonds

The thing is, this bond (bind) by obligation can sustain any contents, from the merest reciprocities of food and drink to the entangling compromises of corruption and crime!! It can make anything personal and invest everyone touched by it with an ownership of the results of its exercise. So, we can track the resistance of institutions of many kinds to the acknowledgment of their various ethical, moral and legal calumnies to the need to hold the bonded together. Institution members hug their misdemeaning associates with warm embraces of approval or, under pressure, the cool handling of denial without betraying or exiling them. Those two ejecting responses are retained for punishing whistle-blowers of all kinds.


*I am a 72 year old, AHPRA registered male psychotherapist with a large caseload out of family violences. There the question of what is ‘live’ in real life is the central existential challenge and how to live better the central developmental one.


** I became aware by stepping into this simple task that whole chapters of Shaver and Mikulincer’s 577 pg. Attachment in Adulthood (2007) opened with it. A few hours perusal of it in turn reminded me of the abstract complexities of ‘attachment’ which cannot be processed in the act of engaging without disengaging to do the processing. I invite you to a small view here of that wide frame. There’s a modest (34 pg.) chapter on “Interpersonal Regulation” concerned mainly with the dynamic structures of interdependent attachment and not obviously with any contents, personal or socio-systemic, of those attachments.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Appreciation (56)… Can god learn?

Torrey Orton

Sept 26, 2015

I have regular more or less direct engagements with people who lay claim to know what god thinks, deriving from this fact a penchant for insisting the rest of us should do X or Y. It has been so for millennia. There’s bunches of such knowers assembled collectively as the religions of the Book – Jews, Christians and Moslems, in the historical order of their claim to the associated knowledge, all of which was dependent on revelations. And they each, in their more enlightened manifestations, recognise the role of the others in capturing the emerging thinking of god in the three chunks of the Book – the Torah, the New Testament and the Koran. Each chapter is a progressively less mediated relationship with the chief author, culminating with the words out of the mouth of Mohammed being transcribed as they were voiced (a source of much greater authenticity / credibility than the multi-handed reports of the Torah and New Testament, one would think).

The leading practitioners of the Book’s respective chapters, ranging from local priests through greater bishops and Ayatollahs and their associated members, tend to more rigorous views of who holds godly truth, really, in their hands, hearts and heads. From this position they put all the others of various persuasions in the spiritual shade and have enforced it with iron (as much intramurally as extramurally!) over the same millennia. Their respective institutional interests compromise their claims, of course.

For some reason the god in the second and third chunks insisted that the up to that point benighted masses put no other god before she/him/it. This turned out to be a call to arms either in their eventual history (see the Christian wars of religion, the Crusades, the Inquisition,) or Islam’s spread by the proselytising / colonising sword. The latter eventually declined into the schisms of the Succession to the Prophet continuing unresolved to this moment, repeating Christianity’s bad old days.

Now it is interesting to note that there has been nothing new from she/him/it since about 626AD. Even if we count the Book of Mormon (which the others do not) as written from the same source, little has happened in revelatory terms since Mohammed. This fact can be interpreted as a sign of closure to the revelations and so a sign of an end to the god’s learning. Otherwise she/him/it would be forced to speak again from their own emerging truth(s), as happened in the prior two revelations, wouldn’t they??

These affiliates of the god’s have had their terrains encroached by the growth of reason as a factor in grasping the nature of our worlds if not their meanings, which is religion’s real domain. The claim to meaning, however, has to be grounded in a claim to experienced realities, as demonstrated by the Book’s attempts to speak of all things under the sun authoritatively. But then in its times our worlds were more integrated, whole, partitioned only by the facts of life: that it begins and ends. Science and the arts have demonstrated the pretence of this unity at gathering rates for the last few millennia as well.

If anything this fact demonstrates one thing: that the god never had perfect knowledge, and the lack of further revelations suggest she/it/he never will, but the game is hardly over.