Behavioural Change?-You need a Protractor, Aircraft and Earthworms.

Recidivism means literally “a falling back” and usually implies “into bad habits.” It comes from the Latin word recidivus, which means “recurring.”

Recidivism is the reason only about 5% of diet programs are successful, and also why New Year’s resolutions fail to make it into February.

In this video Peter contemplates how Protractors, Aircraft and Earthworms speak to the challenge of behavioural change.

The Five Gates of Grief – Gate 5

This week as we consider Ancestral Grief, we conclude our study of the Five gates of Grief outlined by Francis Weller .
Looking at our family trees or our clan origins, we realise that along with their DNA we may have inherited our ancestors’ grief. One of the realities of diverse South Africa is unless your heritage is Khoisan, most of us descend from ancestors who arrived from somewhere else. They were either displaced by the expansion of other tribes who squeezed people further and further south, or by colonial forces that promised struggling Dutch, British and German peasants a better life in a foreign land. Some of us may have servitude and slavery in our heritage, our families brought here simply as units of labour.
And despite the hopes and dreams they brought, they must have carried a deep grief at their loss of land and roots which they had to leave behind.
We are the descendants of aliens and immigrants, those people who arrived here on unfamiliar soil, and whose grief and sadness has found its way into our beings.
These ancient unknown characters also had a part in shaping the world we inherited.
Most people believe there is some form of afterlife where those who have gone before find themselves “in a better place”. This Valhalla, Xanadu or Heaven is imagined as a place where the ancestors share perfect knowledge and insight they never had while alive.
In my Gates of Grief workshops, I encourage participants to imagine their ancestors in this place of full insight, writing a letter of apology to us living now.
We owe it to ourselves and them to recognise the many untruths which we drank in with our mother’s milk and made our own.
Our task in this generation is to examine those beliefs and decide which of them are no longer true nor valid. Then for the sake of our own health we must let them go.
Consider for example the prejudices, suspicion and bigotry they passed on to us. Their violence, sexism, racism, exploitation of women and children and of the earth in general. Their promotion of tobacco smoking, slavery, child labour, and corporal punishment. These misconceptions, errors or deliberate strategies have scarred us and are part of the deep sorrow we carry in our collective unconscious.
Along with the ancient grief in our bones, there may also be our experiences of the grief and loss of our immediate parents and grandparents which we are required to mourn. The Swiss Psychiatrist, Carl Jung wrote, “The greatest burden a child can bear is the unlived life of its parents.” Perhaps our own lives were stunted because our parents projected onto us their unfulfilled agendas and could not allow us to become who we were born to be.
These deep ancestral memories invite us to create rituals of mourning from a past that is asking to be redeemed. To mourn these ancient griefs is sacred work.

You can schedule one on one Skype or Zoom sessions with Peter by emailing peterwoods.pe@gmail.com

The Masked Persona or Facebook Self

In this episode I explore the role of the inner “persona” or mask in our relationship to the world.
The word persona comes from Latin and is the term Romans used for the Greek theatrical mask (prosopon) which allowed actors to play more than one role. Because there were no big screens or optics to improve the audience’s view, the masks were larger than the actors’ heads and set in expressions that portrayed the nature of each character.
We all have a public Facebook self-mask that we have curated for the world.
Sometimes our professions seduce us into stereotypical ways of being in those roles.
The mental-healthy trick is not to become over identified with the masks of our professional or social roles, but to be as authentic when facing the public as when facing ourselves.

You can schedule one on one Skype or Zoom sessions with Peter by emailing peterwoods.pe@gmail.com

How to Profit from Loss

To be human is to experience loss. In the Buddhist, Five Subjects for Recollection is the phrase, “all that is mine, beloved and pleasing, will become otherwise. Will be taken from me.

Peter reflects on how we process loss. The destructive as well as more constructive responses.

In the talk Peter references the work of Dr Gabor Mate a helpful resource on addiction.

Please search for him on YouTube.

Please remember to subscribe to this channel

You can schedule one on one Skype or Zoom sessions with Peter by emailing peterwoods.pe@gmail.com

I know you’re a follower, but are you being followed?

We are all busy following something or someone. Diets, exercise programs, studies, teachings, religions.
But what if we lose the will to follow? What if we just cannot go on?
Peter suggests a good test of what we are following, is to ask if they will follow us when we get lost.

You can schedule one on one Skype or Zoom sessions with Peter by emailing peterwoods.pe@gmail.com

The Wounded Angel Network takes flight

I am delighted to introduce my latest project of YouTube videos where I reflect on matters of healing, integration, motivation and clear thinking.

Hugo Simberg, The Wounded Angel / Haavoittunut enkeli, 1903, painting, oil on canvas, 127 cm x 154 cm, A II 1703, Ateneum Art Museum / Finnish National Gallery, Ahlström Collection. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen.

The project is named after Hugo Simberg’s 19th Century painting (more here) I first saw the image on a study text titled “The Healing Spirit” by Paul R Fleischman and ever since, I’ve seen it as symbolising my therapeutic work.

I do hope you will enjoy the videos and should you subscribe to the YouTube channel, you will be advised of future posts as they are uploaded.

Please click here to go to the Wounded Angel Network playlist and please hit the red subscribe button when you get there.

‘Talk is cheap’, they say, ‘but money buys the whisky’.

There are various forms of this adage. The earliest one written down is from P.T. Barnum the circus tycoon whose antics were recently told in the movie The Greatest Showman. He said, ‘Talk is cheap, until you hire a lawyer.’

Speaking of whisky and illusionists, if you have ever worked with an addict you will know just how cheap talk can be. Especially if the talk can buy whisky or any other addictive substance they need to survive. The cheapest talk from addicts are their words of apology that roll out so easily when they’ve been exposed in some dishonesty. Addicts regularly paint themselves into some corner by lies and deception in support of their habit. Usually the apology follows a standard form, “I am so sorry for the hurt I have caused”. Said with doleful face and cast down looks the words mean nothing and will be repeated just as easily next time the addict is cornered.

The most effective method ever devised for dealing with addiction, any addiction, are the Twelve Steps. This recovery map first used in Alcoholics Anonymous is now applied in almost any self help programme where people are trying to curb their destructive behaviour. When you examine the twelve steps surprisingly there is not a single mention of apologising. The word is never used. Not that addicts have nothing to apologise for either. If you have lived with an addict you know how much damage they can cause.

So why does AA not speak of apologising for the harm? Because recovery from addiction doesn’t happen by talking.
No significant change in behaviour or circumstances comes from cheap talk. A fact politicians and preachers know only too well. Talk changes nothing. What changes anything is action. So if you want to change, alter your behaviour and attitude.

Oh and by the way, don’t tell me, show me.

The twelve steps calls it making amends. It’s step nine of the twelve and right after, ‘We made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.’ Having completed the list in step eight the person in recovery is reminded by the old timers who have gone before and who are now their sponsors how ‘We made direct amends to such people (we had harmed) wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.’

No cheap talk apology here. If you are serious about recovering from your destructive behaviour don’t apologise, make it right. Make amends. Fix what you broke.
Who can count the parents, spouses, children, employers, friends, and family repeatedly suffer the destructive effects of some deeply addicted person they care about? They pray, they care, they rescue, they enable and through it all the addict simply mouths some cheap apology whilst stealing their money to buy the whisky.

Recovery lies in making amends and not in apologising.

Tolerating Intolerance

TOLERANCE“You get what you tolerate”, was tattooed on the inside of her forearm. I suggested “You get what you negotiate”, she was adamant and anyway it was her arm! I didn’t argue but I did ruminate.

We really are becoming less and less tolerant. Especially in matters of faith. Fundamentalism,a relatively new phenomenon and a reaction to the Modernism and Humanism of the late 19th and early 20th centuries is deeply suspicious of change. It attacks any new viewpoint in ethics, social behaviour and human rights and yet is the fastest growing sector of all religions not just Christianity.

In Judaism it’s Zionism and Askenazism and in Hinduism the Indian BJP movement. In Buddhism the 969 movement in Burma is extremely intolerant of Muslim Rohingas, and Islam is disproportionately caricatured as only producing Jihadists.

It would be naive to assume that fundamentalism is about religion. These zealots may practice their faith aggressively but in almost every case fundamentalism pursues some nationalist agenda. Religions falter when they lose their essential focus on spreading goodwill and making the world a better place, and are instead seduced by power and privilege for only their members. At that exact point a nationalist agenda will embrace religion to spread the lie that only certain lives matter.

But how do these nationalist-fundamentalist intolerants find a foothold in civilised democratic countries as they do? The ironic answer takes us back to my friend’s tattoo. “You get what you tolerate.”

Some of the world’s most sophisticated nations have fallen prey to militant fundamentalism simply because they regard religious tolerance as the politically correct thing to do. Religious tolerance in Europe only appeared after the French Revolution when one of the proto-republic’s founding philosophers Voltaire was banished from France and lived in England for two years. There he penned twenty four “Letters concerning the English nation” to explain the islanders to a friend back home.

A surprised Voltaire writes, “This is the country of sects. An Englishman, as a freeman, goes to Heaven by whatever road he pleases.” The statement had profound implications for any citizen of France, a nation that had almost destroyed itself in order to establish Catholicism as the only practised religion. Now Voltaire saw that English society was as bigoted as his homeland and how only Anglicans made it in politics and power, but he noticed when it came to business, “the Jew, the Mahometan (sic), and the Christian deal with one another as if they were of the same religion, and reserve the name of infidel only for those who go bankrupt.”

So in England religious diversity was easier to tolerate than financial failure and where politics always bedeviled religion, money made anything tolerable.
It was this free market and business openness that created the religious tolerance which empowered progress in the West.

Sadly with the rise of fundamentalism and the reactive intolerance of America and Brexit so evident, one can only expect the reversal of that progress in years ahead.

The power of the feminine to save. Even from Hell

We all enjoy a love story.

This one from medieval Italy is similar to a million others but is special because it happened to a great poet who recorded it in the most beautiful language. Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) is famous for writing the “Divine Comedy” which shaped Christianity’s ideas of heaven and hell forever.

He describes how he began to write the epic poem while he was walking along in the afternoon of his life and fell into a deep hole. There is no better description of the midlife crisis than going along with your life when suddenly you fall into a hole. These crises are usually about our unfinished business or unlived life. For Dante it was his incomplete relationship with Beatrice whom he had met when he was only nine. Years later as an adult Dante was standing near the Ponte Vecchio, a bridge that crosses the Arno River in Florence when he saw Beatrice as an adult and fell deeply in love. Dante did not speak to her that day. In fact he saw her very little, and then Beatrice suddenly died, carried off by plague.

Dante was stricken with the loss of his vision. She was the intermediary between his soul and Heaven itself. Dante went on to marry, and he and Signora Alighieri raised three children. Then, suddenly, at the midpoint of his life, he fell into a deep depression. Here his work began.

In the Divine Comedy, Dante is led down through the nine levels of hell by the poet Virgil, symbol of reason and intellect. Dante discovers surprisingly that the lowest level of hell isn’t fire, it is frozen. That arctic wasteland the intellect will bring us to. So he leaves Virgil behind and is led out of hell by none other than his beloved Beatrice. The message is clear. The soul, not the intellect leads out of hell to heaven. The moist, soft feminine soul, not sterile male logic is the way to salvation. Love not reason saves Dante, and us all.

dante out of hell.jpg

Six hundred and fifty years later, during World War II, the Americans were chasing the German army up the Italian “boot.” The Germans were blowing up everything to thwart the progression of the American army, including the bridges across the Arno River. But no one wanted to blow up the Ponte Vecchio because Beatrice had stood on it and Dante had written about her.
So the German army made radio contact with the Americans and, in plain language, said they would leave the Ponte Vecchio intact if the Americans would promise not to use it.

The promise was held. The bridge was not blown up, and not one American solider or piece of equipment went across it. Crazy, isn’t it? Completely illogical. But life isn’t a rational story, it is a love story. Hardened warrior men were turned by creative feminine emotion. In a modern, ruthless war, the bridge was spared, because beautiful Beatrice had stood upon it.

(Many thanks to Robert A Johnson for the bulk of this from his Inner Gold)

Stress will kill you

South Africa is stressful. The Centre for Health Journalism reports the country has a high suicide rate, psychiatric illnesses are on the rise and stress has become normal.
Every day, an estimated 21 South Africans commit suicide and, according to experts, stress could be a significant contributing factor. Studies done by University of KwaZulu-Natal researcher Lourens Schlebusch, show an estimated 7 582 South Africans die by their own hand every year and 20 times that number attempt but fail to take their own lives. Marthé Viljoen from the South African Federation for Mental Health says new data suggests this is because South Africans have unusually high stress levels.
A recent study, conducted by international research company Bloomberg, ranked South Africa as the second “most stressed out” nation in the world, following Nigeria. El Salvador was ranked third.
Another study, conducted in 2014 by Ipsos Global and Reuters, showed that up to 53% of South Africa’s workforce do not take their allotted annual leave. “High stress levels have been linked to mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety, and can also lead to substance abuse. In severe cases, these problems can lead to a person becoming suicidal,” says Viljoen.
Reflecting on the challenges of stress I have come up with six simple steps that can significantly reduce it. The steps can be remembered by using the word STRESS as a mnemonic.
STOP. There is no need for the frenetic pace at which we live. Marathon running taught me that it’s never the distance but always the pace that breaks you. If you are experiencing high stress levels it is important to structure stops in your day, your week, your year. Times when you cease and desist from business and do nothing for a while.
TIME. I remember as a child having a book called “Pastimes for Boys”. It showed simple crafts like carving soap figures and how to make cotton reel tractors. Ironically, now there is no time to pass! To destress requires an appreciation of time. Take time. Sit and watch the second hand of a clock sweep its face for five minutes. It will give you a sense of just how spacious time can be.
REFLECT. Once you have stopped and taken time, practice reflecting on your life. I find journaling is invaluable. Others sketch or doodle. Step back from the canvas of life and look at the whole journey. I call it the helicopter view.
EXERCISE. Walk, run, gym, stretch it doesn’t matter, but time off the chair is great to reduce stress. Remember sitting is the new smoking.
SLEEP. Shakespeare summed it up in Macbeth, “ Sleep that knits up the raveled sleeve of care, the death of each day’s life, sore labour’s bath, balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course, chief nourisher in life’s feast”. Every hour of sleep before midnight is worth two after.
SENSE. Allow yourself to touch, taste, smell, see, and hear what brings joy and peace.
Stress isn’t worth dying for.