Water Fills The Space It Finds Itself In


Water fills the space it finds itself in.

 

When I recently found myself in an uncomfortable situation where I felt attacked, I was, at first, drawn into anger, in many of the dimensions of that old and familiar emotion. Anger seems the first place I go, when a situation spins out of order and sense. My “buttons” get pushed and I am dragged off in the direction of my reptilian, crisis oriented brain.

The dark clouds of raw, untamed, uncivilized emotions and untempered responses obscure my usual cheery, gentile approach to the daily challenges of life. It is a quick journey to the Dark Side.

I want to just throw my thunderbolts, and shoot endless rounds of arrows into my foe, throwing my weight around and relentlessly wage my own private war.

Old fears show up, ghosts of anxieties past, spurred on by familiar inadequacies, the voices of old and powerful critics, and the scars of self doubts.

My rational, more civilized mind, just sits there, paralyzed by all the sabre rattling, until I can take some deep breaths. I’ll need to allow myself to listen to my frontal lobes, home of reason, logic, and good memories of my prior successes in peace making and problem solving.

Slowly, thoughts of how I am a good problem solver come to mind. I can entertain the idea that challenges in my life don’t need me inputting launch codes into my own arsenal of intercontinental ballistic missiles.

I am capable, I remind myself. And, my many talents at peace making and problem solving can be applied to the problem at hand.

I realize I haven’t faced this particular problem in the past, but I have worked through things and lived to tell the tale.

I just need to apply those hard-earned skills into this new challenge.

Filling the challenge with my own unique abilities is what is needed. I need to be adaptable, flexible, and, yes, methodical. The reptilian reaction of anger, rage, and war-making won’t work, and will only lay waste to relationships and problem solving.

Change and crisis, and that initial response of anger, spiced with overpowering feelings of shame, guilt, inadequacy, failure, rejection, jealousy, and revenge, all stirred up, makes for a toxic cocktail.

Sometimes, I wonder if I’m addicted to that gut-wrenching response, and those stress chemicals are my own kind of heroin. Or, am I just a human being, hardwired to be the cranky alligator awakened from his nap.

Yet, when I can pull myself away from all that, and let my gut unclench, I can see the forest for the trees, and I can adapt my problem solving skills, and get to work.

I pour myself into the shape of the problem, like water in an ice filled glass, and fill in the spaces with my skills. Once I take this approach, and take off my armor and lay down my sword, and pick up my peacemaker tools, the solutions show up, and I can move ahead.

“Let it go,” I tell myself, pushing away the hot coals of rage and anger. “Give it time and this will play itself out.”

When I slow down the war talk, and take my time in walking through the battleground, I do better, and I start even liking myself. I begin to believe that this too shall pass, and I don’t need to start World War III. Later, that seems a simple truth. But, in my first response, I just don’t see it. I’m only the ‘gator in the swamp.

Life does that, giving us opportunities to revisit a lesson, and dust off some old tools. Again, I relearn the lesson and realize that not every affront and perceived insult calls for my reptilian warrior mode.

“It’s just life,” I remind myself. “I’ll get through it, and move on.”

I can deal with this, and do that work well.

I come to that, eventually, after I remind myself that I am like water, able to fill the space I find myself in.

 

–Neal Lemery, August 8, 2017

 

Soul Killing and Redemption


Soul Killing and Redemption

When you see your mom yelled at and beaten up by the man she loves, when you’re four years old, what do you do?

When you realize that your dad was never, ever around for you, and isn’t in your life, what do you do? Now, at 22, you hear he wants to see you, but in your heart, you figure he hasn’t been around for your whole life, so why start now? The care and the love just hasn’t been there, not when you’ve needed it. Why make the effort?

When you are standing in the yard when you’re five, and you see a guy with a knife, chased by a cop, and you watch them fight, and you see the knife, and then the gun, and then the blood, what do you do?

When your sister dies when you are four, and no one can tell you why, what do you do?

When your mom’s boyfriend yells at you and beats you up, and throws you out of the house when you’re’ seven, and then you start setting fires around town, what do you do?

When the people at school think you are a bad boy and don’t fit in and therefore stupid, you must need to be in a special needs program. Just because you already know all the answers in class and are bored to death, and you don’t like to sit still and you yell when you get angry, because that is how your family does it, and you don’t think anyone cares about you, because of everything you are inside, what do you do?

When you are fourteen, and the best thing to do is to hitchhike a thousand miles and come back in a few weeks, and people decide you need to go to detention and sit in a cell for a month, what do you do? Is “runaway” such a bad thing to be, after all that?

When the only man in the family is a drunk and has been in prison, and there’s no other guy around who even talks to you, what do you do?

When childhood and adolescence is a long list of institutions and court appearances and a long road of counselors and programs and treatments, and that is just what life is, now, what do you do?

When you’re nineteen, and you beat up a prison guard, and you find yourself in a ten foot cell in the penitentiary for six months, what do you do?

When the rage and the anger burn deep inside of you, and then someone calls you a dumb Indian, AGAIN, what do you do?

When all the “bad” labels someone can try to pin on you have all been slapped on you, your whole life, and you’ve had about all you can take, what do you do? And, then, you also know that you’ve been treated like all your family and your people have been treated for the last two hundred and fifty years, and not much has gotten any better, what do you do?

And, when you read a book by Sherman Alexie and the story of the boy on the Rez is also your story, and the rage and anger and love and beauty of that boy is also your story and your life, and that you are not alone in all of this, what do you do?

When you can take a few scraps of leather, and make it into a beautiful work of art, or when you write and then sing a beautiful song, deep from within your own precious, sweet soul, and you know you really are a wondrous child of God, what do you do, inside these walls?

When all this churns and simmers inside of you, and so many voices keep telling you that you’re stupid, and poor, and a criminal and won’t ever amount to anything, that no one comes right out and says that they love you, and the world keeps locking you up, in so many ways, and all you want to do is run through the woods, and feel the sun on your face, and be one with God, what do you do?

When you are close to getting paroled and you get accepted into a halfway house that you actually think is a good place, and then the date you get out keeps getting moved around, and now you don’t know for sure if you get out this week, or next month, or maybe in a few months, or ???, and no one seems to care enough to answer your questions about that, what do you do?

And, we wonder why some guys don’t do very well once they get out of prison, why they can’t seem to adjust very well to life “on the outside”, and follow all the rules, and don’t use drugs and alcohol and don’t get into fights. And, then, when they become husbands and fathers, we wonder why there might be some “issues” at home about life and relationships and parenting and being good citizens.

But, we should be “tough on crime” and “put away the bad guys”, and then we will have a peaceful and safe society, just because we put a higher percentage of our population in prison than any other country in the world. Is that what defines this country?

As Dr. Phil might ask, “How’s that working for you?”

And we spend all this money, and time, and people’s care and concern for young people in prison, and give lip service to “rehabilitation” and “crime prevention”, when maybe we should look back a bit in time, to when kids first come into this world. And we know they are looking to have a mom and a dad, and live in a quiet and safe and “normal” home, and love to go to school, have good friends, and do wonderful, loving things in their lives.

And, when none of this happens, and instead life is filled with rage and the distractions of a crazy and lonely society, self medication and self deprecation, and not having a place in this world to grow and put down your roots and feel cherished, and then, if you don’t fit in, we lock you up and institutionalize you, and reinforce criminal thinking, we wonder why you don’t do better?

We know what works. We know, now, how the brain grows and learns about relationships and how love, the right kind of love, waters and nourishes young souls, and how the wrong kind of relationship is a poison, not just for the community, but for every precious soul in this life.

We know that all this good work takes time, it takes love, and it takes compassion.

And, not that our schools and prisons aren’t staffed with kind and committed people, who toil in these fields day after day, dealing with the toughest and most challenging situations and personalities. And, not everyone can be “saved”. Yet, they don’t give up.

We can’t give up. We can take the time, and we can make the commitment, maybe just with one person. Have that conversation, make that connection, get a bit involved in their life. Listen, and then listen again. Listen with your heart, with your humanity, and not with the expectations, and biases, and the vantage point of someone who hasn’t lived how they have lived.

Transform a life. You may think that young person you listen to will learn from you, and, by listening and caring about them, their lives will change. And, perhaps that is true. What will really change, though, is your life. You will see things differently, and you will understand who you are, and what you are all about, and how to change the world.

Put an end to the soul killing. It kills all of us, slowly and surely.

–Neal Lemery April 29, 2013

Coming Away From The Adolescent Male Brain Workshop


This week, I attended a workshop on what science is figuring out about the adolescent male brain. It was a good place to get some affirmation about what I have experienced in working with young men, and also to think about my male brain…

I took a lot of notes. They are kind of a jumble, but then, that is the brain at work:

Inter generational wounds
We carry what our fathers couldn’t resolve in their lives

Coping mechanisms
Self medication
Violence to others
Violence to self

Treatment takes away a coping mechanism and leaves one more vulnerable

Processing
What feelings do I have?
What did I learn?
What did I learn about me?

(We all need to process)

What you don’t know about what is inside you is toxic

There is no such thing as an unmotivated thing
We use an idea, or a tactic to survive, as a screen

Speech is not initially connected to emotion. For men, talking about feelings releases cortisol, the highest stress hormone. For females, a bonding chemical is released. Female: speech and emotion centers are connected at puberty. Men, never.

Men have to find a label, a second language, to talk about emotion and feeling.

For men, writing thus helps to safely express feelings. A bit detached, safely.

Women: speech centers are wired to sexual arousal. Men: no. So, women connect their speech centers in their brain to both emotion and sexual arousal. They are well connected, but men are not. Thus, it is hard for men to talk about their emotions and sex.

Disconnectors
Men
Sex
Alcohol
Women
Don’t have these disconnectors

So, men are really good at disconnecting!

Relationships
40% of men have genetic emotional disconnect chemical
This contributes to short term relationships.

Our culture has no rite of passage into manhood. Yet, our young men want and need the following elements:

Male box
You live here
The 4 walls-glued together by shame
Feelings and needs
Don’t have them yourself, so there is no me
Cut off self and others
Competition
Everyone, all the time
No room for you
Responsibility
Shame if you don’t
Sex and relationship
I am not important

Inside: a process, a highway
Loneliness to isolation to pain to rage
Rage is not necessarily violence to self or others
It is a fire, pressure needing to be released

Common response to rage
Self medication
Violence

We need to de-shame the release of rage

Young men are looking for a place in society, and to be themselves. Aren’t we all? What does our culture provide for them to get to that place? When young men act out, when they are violent, and self medicate, what are they really telling us? And, how do we respond?

Elements of male life and “treatment”
Tribe
Elders mentors
Sacred text – the rules for being a good man
Ritual/initiation
Play
Treatment needs male focused curriculum
Staff training and selection

(Youth gangs provide these basic needs)

Male Treatment Processes

Kinesthetic (movement) learning
Para pathetic counseling (motion, spacial) counseling (not traditional venue)
Action love (non verbal)
Competition and challenge
Writing to reflect and process
De shame, respect, pride
Aggression nurturance
Confrontation (stand my ground, earning respect)

Our educational system has been designed to provide factory workers for the Industrial Age (assembly line work, structured, orderly, hierarchical labor). Yet, the system pays little attention to all learning styles, to the developmental stages of the male brain, and how we learn and communicate.

We don’t honor young men, and we don’t apply what we know about ourselves and our brains in fashioning a society that is embracing and welcoming.

I came away with some answers, and with some more questions, and a lot more to think about.

The journey continues…

Neal Lemery, April 6, 2013