flowing motion

Posts Tagged ‘poetry

In the early hours of this morning, I discovered Imtiaz Dharker.   She has a beautiful melodic voice and you might like to hear her reading her poems before you read them.  BBC will probably keep the podcast up for a week or so.

Psychologists need poetry

I have one piece of advice for anyone who aspires to be a psychologist.  Read poetry.  Read good novels.

Your College or Department will jump your through a  lot of pseud-scientific hoops.  Jump through them but for a different reason to the one they give.  Jump through them because they will teach you how to ‘fail informatively’.  Yes. Fail informatively.

In the future, you will be able to handle unfamiliar situations by proposing one or more reasonable ways forward.  And then you can set up some experiments.  You can choose the best way forward.  And if you have set up your experiment well, the less favorable ways will also teach you a little more than ‘wrong way’.  This is the reason why you should study science.

To understand people, well, meet a lot of people and do things with them.  And read.

A good read is Paolo Coelho who also blogs and tweets.  Today he posted a 1 minute parable on the meaning of happiness.  It is an easy read.  The ending sums up the meaning of happiness.

For psychologists out there, this parable talks about two important psychological phenonena.

#1  Management of attention.

To manage one’s own direction and to pay attention to what is going on around us.

We need lots of practice at doing this. Computer games help us do this.  TV and reading books does not.  Sport helps us learn this.  Writing does not.  But speaking does.  Make sure you get lots of practice at learning to manage your attention so that you tackle frontiers with greater ease!

#2  We live at our frontier.

To define who we are by what we do.

Not what we feel, or believe.  But what we do in various contexts defined by who else is there.  We are our frontier.  We are our edge.

Perhaps we are a young man who cannot carry two drops of oil and look around a new place.  Or frontier is the new place, the new idea, and our own confusion.  It is here that we are ‘alive’ with our dreams and our hopes, our confusions and our sorrows.

This is a tough challenge for psychologists.  We have nothing to measure.  The definition may even be circular.  That is because psychology is not a thing. It is a goal or a purpose that is supremely personal.  Our goal is to live a our frontier.  The story of our frontier and our confusion is the story we all want to hear.

When we want to do the maths, then we look at whether we were in a situation that covers the whole gamut of emotions and whether we were able to respond appropriately as events unfolded.  Or were we like the young boy, first forgetting the context and then forgetting his task.  Can we recover from confusion and distress or do we get stuck?  Are we so scared of life that we insist that it be plain sailing all day and every day?

Do we approach our frontier or do we hang back?  And under what conditions are we able to approach our frontier and learn to carry the oil and look around despite our initial confusion?

Yes, positive psychologists do know something about this.  But so do poets.  Begin with them.

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I Am Much Too Alone in This World, Yet Not Alone

I am much too alone in this world, yet not alone

enough

to truly consecrate the hour.

I am much too small in this world, yet not small

enough

to be to you just object and thing,

dark and smart.

I want my free will and want it accompanying

the path which leads to action;

and want during times that beg questions,

where something is up,

to be among those in the know,

or else be alone.

I want to mirror your image to its fullest perfection,

never be blind or too old

to uphold your weighty wavering reflection.

I want to unfold.

Nowhere I wish to stay crooked, bent;

for there I would be dishonest, untrue.

I want my conscience to be

true before you;

want to describe myself like a picture I observed

for a long time, one close up,

like a new word I learned and embraced,

like the everyday jug,

like my mother’s face,

like a ship that carried me along

through the deadliest storm.

Rainer Maria Rilke

Teaching XVIII

No man can reveal to you aught but that which already lies half asleep in the dawning of our knowledge.

The teacher who walks in the shadow of the temple, among his followers, gives not of his wisdom but rather of his faith and his lovingness.

If he is indeed wise he does not bid you enter the house of wisdom, but rather leads you to the threshold of your own mind.

The astronomer may speak to you of his understanding of space, but he cannot give you his understanding.

The musician may sing to you of the rhythm which is in all space, but he cannot give you the ear which arrests the rhythm nor the voice that echoes it.

And he who is versed in the science of numbers can tell of the regions of weight and measure, but he cannot conduct you thither.

For the vision of one man lends not its wings to another man.

And even as each one of you stands alone in God’s knowledge, so must each one of you be alone in his knowledge of God and in his understanding of the earth.

Khalil Gibran

Like so many people, I resent the paper of business. I resent the untidiness of returns that go off to government at odd times that bear no relation to what is happening in the business itself.  I hate the way it takes half-and-hour to process a bit of paper.

Other people hate other aspects of their job and probably for the same reason.  The rhythm of what they are doing clashes in some respect with another rhythm.  As I resist settling down to a task that takes far too long to orient – to work out a step-by-step process – and needs to be finished from beginning to end otherwise that settling down time will be wasted again tomorrow, I found another poem from Khalil Gibran.  We work to be in step with “life’s procession, that marches in majesty and proud submission towards the infinite.”  We need to find the rhythm of the dull parts of our job and revere them.   Not to do that is “to become a stranger to the seasons”.    That’s a more interesting way to look at the parts of our job that we find deadly.

What do you think?

Work chapter VII

Then a ploughman said, “Speak to us of Work.”

And he answered, saying:

You work that you may keep pace with the earth and the soul of the earth.

For to be idle is to become a stranger unto the seasons, and to step out of life’s procession, that marches in majesty and proud submission towards the infinite.

When you work you are a flute through whose heart the whispering of the hours turns to music.

Which of you would be a reed, dumb and silent, when all else sings together in unison?

Always you have been told that work is a curse and labour a misfortune.

But I say to you that when you work you fulfil a part of earth’s furthest dream, assigned to you when that dream was born,

And in keeping yourself with labour you are in truth loving life,

And to love life through labour is to be intimate with life’s inmost secret.

But if you in your pain call birth an affliction and the support of the flesh a curse written upon your brow, then I answer that naught but the sweat of your brow shall wash away that which is written.

You have been told also life is darkness, and in your weariness you echo what was said by the weary.

And I say that life is indeed darkness save when there is urge,

And all urge is blind save when there is knowledge,

And all knowledge is vain save when there is work,

And all work is empty save when there is love;

And when you work with love you bind yourself to yourself, and to one another, and to God.

And what is it to work with love?

It is to weave the cloth with threads drawn from your heart, even as if your beloved were to wear that cloth.

It is to build a house with affection, even as if your beloved were to dwell in that house.

It is to sow seeds with tenderness and reap the harvest with joy, even as if your beloved were to eat the fruit.

It is to charge all things you fashion with a breath of your own spirit,

And to know that all the blessed dead are standing about you and watching.

Often have I heard you say, as if speaking in sleep, “he who works in marble, and finds the shape of his own soul in the stone, is a nobler than he who ploughs the soil.

And he who seizes the rainbow to lay it on a cloth in the likeness of man, is more than he who makes the sandals for our feet.”

But I say, not in sleep but in the over-wakefulness of noontide, that the wind speaks not more sweetly to the giant oaks than to the least of all the blades of grass;

And he alone is great who turns the voice of the wind into a song made sweeter by his own loving.

Work is love made visible.

And if you cannot work with love but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work and sit at the gate of the temple and take alms of those who work with joy.

For if you bake bread with indifference, you bake a bitter bread that feeds but half man’s hunger.

And if you grudge the crushing of the grapes, your grudge distills a poison in the wine.

And if you sing though as angels, and love not the singing, you muffle man’s ears to the voices of the day and the voices of the night.

Khalil Gibran

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It’s tax return time again and I began looking around for some poetry about commerce.  Here we go. Do you agree with Khalil Gibram?  Does he put the case for honest business well?

Buying and Selling chapter XI

And a merchant said, “Speak to us of Buying and Selling.”

And he answered and said:

To you the earth yields her fruit, and you shall not want if you but know how to fill your hands.

It is in exchanging the gifts of the earth that you shall find abundance and be satisfied.

Yet unless the exchange be in love and kindly justice, it will but lead some to greed and others to hunger.

When in the market place you toilers of the sea and fields and vineyards meet the weavers and the potters and the gatherers of spices, –

Invoke then the master spirit of the earth, to come into your midst and sanctify the scales and the reckoning that weighs value against value.

And suffer not the barren-handed to take part in your transactions, who would sell their words for your labour.

To such men you should say,

“Come with us to the field, or go with our brothers to the sea and cast your net;

For the land and the sea shall be bountiful to you even as to us.”

And if there come the singers and the dancers and the flute players, – buy of their gifts also.

For they too are gatherers of fruit and frankincense, and that which they bring, though fashioned of dreams, is raiment and food for your soul.

And before you leave the marketplace, see that no one has gone his way with empty hands.

For the master spirit of the earth shall not sleep peacefully upon the wind till the needs of the least of you are satisfied.

Khalil Gibran

And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom

Anais Nin

I wonder when that time comes?

We fret when we are not blooming

I think we always know when the blooming is about to happen just as surely as some days we wake up and know we will tear through the to do list. But we can’t bloom all the time and when we aren’t blooming, we fret.

  • Some times we are anxious to flower before our time. We are not really ready to bloom. We are just anxious that we will miss the summer. We want reassurance like a child needs to know how many nights to Christmas.

Our sense of timing has gone missing. I am sure we could get it back with a few moments quiet contemplation or a five minutes of genuine listening to a friend’s distress.

  • Other times we are reluctant to bloom and we miss the summer. Sometimes we are not paying attention or we are trying to blackmail the world.

Maybe we need to “go out” and get in touch with the world to see if we notice the seasons changing. Maybe our friend needs a brief of fresh air or a change of scenery.

  • Other times we need to blossom but the weather is foul and we don’t want our fine petals to be cast into the wind.  We fret because we also know that there is no time other than now. “Conduct you blooming in the noise and crack of the whirlwind.” says Gwendolyn Brooks.

Maybe we stopping through vanity. Yes, we will be ragged and have no idea where our petals will fly. Maybe they will just lie unnoticed.

But it is time to bloom. And we can’t remain in a tight bud out of vanity.  It is time to burst into flower.

We always know when we are about to bloom

We will know when we are going to bloom anyway. Though we may have no applause.

No need to be vain. Bloom.

Autumn will come soon and we will be in another season of our lives.

Is happiness = pleasure?

Gaye Prior kindly commented on my post about poetry and positive psychology.

“Pleasure does not give life meaning and purpose and love. These are more important to me than passing enjoyment and survive even in the face of tragedy, horror, awfulness and loss.”

Do positive psychologists equate happiness with pleasure?

I’ve promised to reply in four parts describing the 4 puzzles of positive psychology.  This is the first part.

Principles of positive psychology

Let’s make the 1st principle of positive psychology the study of the positive (rather than the study of the negative or gaps or deficits.)

The 2nd principle is that well-being or happiness has three parts. As Gaye says “Pleasure does not give life meaning and purpose and love.”

Martin Seligman points out that well-being is made up of

The pleasurable life

The engaged life

The meaningful life

There is a questionnaire on the Penn Uni site that anyone can do. The items on the questionnaire flesh out the concepts.  Scroll down to the bottom of the page and pick “measures 3 routes to happiness” under “life satisfaction questionnaires” (2nd last on the page as I write).

Using the ideas of pleasure, engagement and meaning to enrich your life

Here is the description of the three levels of life provided by the psychologists at Penn Uni.

Higher scores on the Engaging Life (knowing what your signature strengths are, and then recrafting your work, love, friendship, leisure and parenting to use those strengths to have more flow in life) and the Meaningful Life (using your signature strengths in the service of something that you believe is larger than you are) have been shown to lead to greater satisfaction with life. Higher scores on the Pleasant Life (having as many pleasures as possible and having the savoring and mindfulness skills to amplify the pleasures) don’t add to satisfaction. To measure your satisfaction, use the Satisfaction with Life Scale.

Keeping pleasure, engagement and meaning in balance

Few of us have our lives in balance. That is the message for people who live in abundant circumstances.  Seek balance (and stop complaining!).

Seeking pleasure, engagement and meaning in difficult circumstances

For those of who do not live in abundant circumstances, we have serious shortfalls in one area or another and these shortfalls are not under our control.

I am always uneasy about casual interpretations of positive psychology that dismiss reality. Life can be awful.

The point though is what can be done about it?  If something is not under our control, there is little point in railing about it. It it is not under our control then it is not under our control.  Focusing on what is out-of-control just makes us feel helpless.  That was Seligman’s original speciality btw ~ learned helplessness.  Continually focusing on what cannot be done destroys our ability to do anything.

What we can do is work with what we’ve got, and work with whomever will work with us, to leverage whatever we can. We may not be able to change reality but we can do what we can.

Taking control of what little is under our control increases our chances of surviving difficult circumstances

Doing what we can with people who are important to us also seems to increase our chances of survival. Those chances might be minimal, as they were for later psychiatrist Viktor Frankl who survived an extermination camp. But they improve.

The overriding rule

We must remember that we have to work with what is under our control. That is you, me, the people around us and what works. Those are our tools.

The importance of pleasure

We should also not neglect the pleasurable life. We should respect fine food, the sunset and the rose growing in the garden. Oddly, savoring and mindfulness, though nowhere near the whole story of positive psychology, start a positive spiral.

Gratitude diaries provoke a spiral of well being.  On a really bad day, feel the earth under your feet. Look at that unexciting doorway of brick and mortar as the most magnificent invitation.

The unfairness of engagement

The engaged life is easy for professional people. We work and like to. Engagement is much more problematic for young people who generally only find ‘flow’ in sports and hobbies. One of the reasons that computer games are popular is that they provide the autonomy, social interaction, opportunity to learn, and opportunity to belong to something meaningful that is often not possible in our educational system.

People in low level jobs also have trouble finding flow in jobs which are poorly designed, micro-managed, and in which they are treated with rudeness and contempt. It is common for people in low level jobs to “recraft”. Why is it that security guards in Zimbabwe are more knowledgeable than shop assistants? Why are domestic help loyal? There is an element of Stockholm syndrome, but there is also a natural tendency to create a job that is satisfying to do.

The fragility of meaning

The meaningful level is provided by being part of something larger than ourselves.

I imagine more wars are created by violating this level than by anything more complicated. We are sensitive to exclusion and exclusion ‘crashes’ our psychological structures very quickly indeed (5 to 10 minutes does it.)

When we are victims of exclusion, we can create a temporary protective buffer with savoring, mindfulness and gratitude diaries. Some people use the pleasure principle badly, of course, and take to overeating and drink, both of which have their place in celebration but are ill-advised compensation for lack of  belonging. A walk or smelling a rose allow us to avoid adding a punished body to a battered soul.

Exclusion is devastating.

I hasten to add, that we shouldn’t be too judgemental about people who ‘get it wrong’ because exclusion is devastating.

There is a saying

“when someone in authority like a teacher describes the world and you are not in it, it is like looking in a mirror and not being able to see your face.”

I imagine this is why migrant who “walk both sides of the street” settle better than those who try to assimilate.

Buffering oneself from the impact of exclusion

The antidotes to institutional exclusion (that go beyond a painful social slight) are to develop empathy with others, to show solidarity, and to work on healthy political structures.

We all know the do-gooder who ‘helps’ others. I mean travel the same road as others. Suffer the same risks and share the same glory.

Solidarity is a long road but it is the best road. Mindfulness matters again but not the mindfulness of concrete pleasures. This time we want mindfulness towards the dynamism of the universe.

Simple techniques like closing one’s eyes and listening for the furthest sound can break the cycle of intense stress. Paolo Coelho’s post of today tells us to look expectantly for the magic moments that arrive unannounced and are gone in a twinkle. When we think there is only one microsecond of possibility a day, we pay attention.  Even David Whyte’s line of “everybody is waiting for you” suggests to us that we need to reach out.

In teaching, we often use Mary Oliver’s poem Wild Geese to show that we are part of any situation in which we find ourselves and by showing compassion to ourselves (as opposed to self-pity and indulgence), we help to feel in touch with the movement of the universe. I’ll add the poem at the bottom.

Three levels of a good life

In summary, Gaye identified the three levels of a good life:

  • pleasure ~ respect for beauty and comfort
  • engagement ~ enjoyment of work
  • meaning ~ belonging to something bigger than ourselves

With this layout, pleasure seems as if it is the lower level. It is a level that is easily abused but so to is over-identification with achievement or subordinating ourselves to readily to others.

All three are part of the good life. When life is in a mess, try doing an audit of what is going well in each area. Sometimes the map that follows is surprising.

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body

love what it loves.

Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain

are moving across the landscapes,

over the prairies and the deep trees,

the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,

are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

the world offers itself to your imagination,

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —

over and over announcing your place

in the family of things.

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Positive psychology in poetry

When it comes to understanding positive psychology, there really is no competition between prose and poetry.

Today, Paulo Coelho quoted a passage from his book By The River Piedra I sat Down and Wept, the first in the triology about a week in the life of someone ordinary to whom something extraordinary happens.  You must read it for yourself.

Positive psychology in prose

In prose, which is no substitute, this is what he said.

Every day there is a moment when a miracle is possible.  It doesn’t announce itself.  It is easily missed.  And it is likely to present itself in the most unlikeliest ways.  In a humdrum guise, or as to lowly that it is not worth earthly notice.

When we look back on our day or our year or our life, we want to look back on those miraculous moments when we were fully attentive and our understanding changed in a flash and our lives changed too.

Because these moments are easy to miss, it is very easy to spend a whole day attending only to what we know.  To make sure we never miss those glancing moments, we have to pay attention, expectantly to everything around us.

So we slow down and live a less cluttered life.  To be sure, the more we pack in, the more we are likely not pay attention to anything.

And even when life is slow, when our company is dull, when we yearn to be elsewhere, we can still pay attention to the moment, and look out for a miracle.  It may not come in that hour.   There are no promises.  But it might.

Be mindful

Don’t miss it.

Don’t spend a day without having noticed a miraculous moment when the universe converges and you were there.

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Poiesis

I learned something very interesting just now.  The Greek word for poetry is poiesis – ‘making’.

That wouldn’t have been too dramatic a discovery but management theorists are fond of the word auto-poesis.

Auto-poiesis

Autopoiesis literally means “auto (self)-creation” (from the Greek: auto – αυτό for self- and poiesis – ποίησις for creation or production), and expresses a fundamental dialectic between structure and function.

We like this word in management because it expresses the constant interplay between our relationships with the world and ourselves.

Autopoiesis vs allopiesis

An autopoietic system is to be contrasted with an allopoietic system, such as a car factory, which uses raw materials (components) to generate a car (an organized structure) which is something other than itself (the factory).

Management theory in the 21st century

Much of the management theory I grew up with was about allopoietic systems.  How do we turn inputs into something that we will send out or away?  X and Y.

Indeed, even allowing for the transformation of X into Y is somewhat of a novelty for a psychologist.  To have a feedback loop from Y to X is so challenging that the loop mysteriously disappears from some text books!

When we think of ourselves as autopoietic, we allow that “if organization of a thing changes, the thing changes.”  Here we are saying that every time a bolt and a washer, or indeed anything enters a factory, or a car leaves a factory, the factory itself has changed.

We are less concerned with what goes in and what goes out and more concerned with way the factory reinvents itself minute-by-minute.

An example of an autopoietic system

It’s a bit giddy-making when we switch from one idea to the other.

For the research minded

It is easier for research, stats-minded people to see the idea when they think of Losada’s work on the maths of happiness.  Happiness is made up of three things yet any one these is not happiness, or even the beginning of happiness.  The three things are a positivity/negativity ratio of around 5 to 1, slightly more curiosity than advocacy, and slightly more interest in the outside world than ourselves.  We don’t add up these three variables.  Rather, they “feed” off each other. At any one time their coordinates (x,y,z) can be anywhere in a 3D space shaped like a 3D butterfly.

Happiness means we have a big plump space and the coordinates swoop around.  Unhappiness means they have a repetitive circle or limited space.  Here we see the dialectic between structure and function.

We are healthy when we are constantly regenerating ourselves in response to the world around us and what we were a minute ago.

We become ill when we don’t look after who we were one minute ago (right now in other words) and we don’t attend to what is going on around us.  We are ill when our head is anywhere except here and now.

There is room for day dreaming, planning and reminiscing.  But as the icing on the cake.  Devoting space to what we are not is not healthy. A healthy mind is asking what is going on now and celebrating what is rather than what is not.

For the non-research minded

For the non-research minded, lets think of a cake made of flour, eggs and sugar.  We can vary the proportions, or at least good a baker can, and by varying proportions we get a good range of delicious cakes.   To have one type of cake all the time is boring.  Happiness, in this analogy, is a wide variety of cakes from plain biscuits to luscious forest cakes.   We have a plain biscuit today and we feel like a rich cake tomorrow, and vice versa.

Life becomes grim when the recipe never changes or we try to swap eggs for something else (like potatoes).  We need constant variety within broad rules.

We need to enjoy each cake for what it is.  A dry biscuit is that.  It is not chocolate cake. It never will be.

We also need to bake the cake. Happiness is the cake. Not a line of eggs, sugar and flour on the kitchen table.  It is a baked cake.  It is the product of interacting parts mixed sensibly.

Poiesis

I didn’t know that poetry means makingAuto-poiesis is the poetry of ourselves. The constant interplay between structure (me) and function (the world).


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