I had a short conversation over the web with Shadow Walker yesterday leaving me reeeling and obviously triggered. Yet it seemed in the course of events, what became uncovered for me, was one of the greatest stunting blocks appearing on my journey for the last couple years. Our conversation was about the nature of feeling, thought and fact and the decisions we make accordingly.
There is no question that relying on thought as an indicator of truth, is ludicrous. In my experiences as a therapist and a spiritual traveller, thought is fleeting, born of a history an an internal narrative that continues to be repeated in mantra form until we bring an awareness to thought and question it's relativity. Than there is feeling, a quandry that brings up all kinds of junk for me. Thinking deeply on this I think it's fair to say that feeling although strongly present all of my life, the validity of feeling was something I didn't factor in to decision making for the greater half of my life but instead found a consistent means to eradicate, along with what i perceive to be a healthy percentage of North American Society. Feeling depressed? Push it down and keep working. Feeling heartbroken? Push it down and keep working. Feeling like something isn't quite right? Don't entertain quandry, push it down and keep working. I had for the greater part of my life created a relationship with feeling that said, my feeling faculties were untrustworthy and part of my dammage and had hence spent a lot of time investing myself in the great art of "therapy" and self-help expenditures to fix those feelings that continued to rave as an uninvited guest until I met the spirituality movements in the post divorce years and finally received some validation, that my feelings were in fact important and contained within them was a budding wisdom that could teach me something about the space in my life that i was in and where to go from there. So I spent a great deal of time teaching myself how to listen to these feelings, how to honor them and most importantly how to begin trusting them. Many authors, teachers and gurus alike, do differentiate however between the nature of feeelings and e-motion, too lengthy a discussion to get in here, but one that I will be looking into further. Then there is fact. When we began conversing about fact, it seemed i had entered the ocean of the unknown and one in which i worried often that I would begin drowning in without a life boat to bring me ashore and catch some ground. When Shadow Walker suggested I not come to make decision based on feeling but rather a micture of feeling, thought and fact, thats when i began to swim, while moving into an ocean of overwhelm, i discovered it was my newly formed relationship with feeling that i was trying to protect and more importantly the question of fact that lay at the very bottom of the ocean floor begging the movement of it's tides. It was the nature of fact, once so solid, distinguishable and trustworthy, that now seemed so elusive, fleeting, culturally specific and untrustworthy.
Defined by the Oxford Dictionary, Fact is said to be "a thing that is known to exist or be true, an item of verified information, truth/reality, a thing assumed to be the basis of an argument". And just a few words apart from Fact in the dictionary remains the word Factitious defined as "specifically contrived or artificial". I think it's fair to say that this war that continues to churn within me finds itself exactly there...inbetween the places of fact and factitiousness. It seemed the events and experiences of my life had brought every element of myself to play on that battleground, family structure and life, career ambitions and livelihood, beliefs, direction, knowings, personhood and agency. All of it was there and in many cases the ambivalence about decision making that had arisen since my call to investigate the role of spirituality in my life, was right there between fact and factitiosness. If i knew the facts I would have a sign post on which way to direct my ambitions, if they were ambitions at all or just a delusion/fantasy of the mind. The spirituality movement would say, that there are no facts, everything is an illusion, so gauge your wandering by your feeling. When i say feeling in this sense, I am talking about the place deep in your gut that tells you oh no, this is not a good situation, not neccessarily i feel like shit today so im not going to do anything, even though some would argue thats a good basis of self-care and others would call it an indulgence of a fleeting equally as untrustworthy as a thought. So what really are the facts about all of this?
I am currently reading a book by Gary Greenberg entitled "Manufacturing Depression" to which he explores the disease climate of mental health as a product of capitalist consumerism, rather than truth, but none the less has been daunted by physicians, pharamceutical companies and helping professions alike to exist as a fact. While reading it today, again the space between fact and factitiousness arose. In it he writes.
"..even as I walked to his (the psyhciatrist) office for the first time, it had dawned on me that this whole vast apparatus with its towers and pavilions arrayed like castles of the magic kingdom, its maze of bustling streets - the doctors checking their watches, the patients, some wheeling IV stands down the sidewalk, the family sitting crying on a bench - was a monument to one brilliant and magnificent idea: that our suffering is caused by diseases that can be cured by medicine. Well actually those are two ideas - that disease exists in nature and that we can improve nature by finding the culprit and getting rid of it-and they seem, like all common sense, to be unassailable and timeless. They may even seem not to be ideas but simple facts. But they are ideas, invented by people rather than discovered in nature and much newer ones than you would think".
That's really it, the fact that ideas invented by people are so tritely contrived as fact for purposes often not aimed at the greater good, continuing to beckon me into further exploration or abandonment, I havent quite figured that one out yet.
I will never forget the moments in which I began to question what it was exactly that as a social worker I had been trained to do, and who was I doing it for? At the mercy of provincial legislators and , agency executives struggling to attain adequate funding for any social program, let alone an innovative one and among social workers that had at times either been too rooted on the personal pathology platform of assessing human behavior or too burnt out to really care about anything other than carrying forward protocols, I knew somehow that what I was seeing and what we were doing were not headed for a happy marriage but instead a turbulent divorce. The biggest problem of this one that one side had wayyy too much power and money to even respect the flicker of a flame in the other, while the other had no means of even attaining a little lighter fluid if only to thicken the fire.
I have always been drawn to the concept that humans are inherently good. For thinking that I have been called many things. Neive, youthful, idealistic, optimistic, daydreaming, ungrounded and stuck in the ethers. I haven't figured that one out yet either, but I know its a part of me that will not go away and therefore have some appreciation for it's prescence. I am not saying however, that human nature does not have the capcity for "evil" or is incapable of commiting atrocious acts 'nor does not regularly express self-absorption, greed, jealousy and all of the other "deadly sins". In theory, one could argue that although as humans we have drawn bilateral lines of duality between behaviors, thoughts, lifestyles, choices and labelled them "bad" and "good" while attributing praise to acts deemed good and shame to those deemed bad. That first, all which are subject to differnt meanings, expectations or ways of being based on culture, cultural sub-groups, families, individuals, really breaking it down to per person, therefore static and always changing. Better yet, like many of the great philosophers and mystics have stated before us, that none of these events exist in duality, but instead are neutral. As Shadow refers to by regularly reminding us that "if the wall isn't green, there's work to do".
But because we are human, I do refer to this neturality as something theoretical, spiritually comforting in times of healing, reflection and change and as a concept we work more and more to integrate. In the meantime, in the fronts of trauma and desperation, all I could really see in the people I served were good people that for all different reasons had come from a soil that hurt their growth process and sometimes extreme and floundering efforts to regain their balance. These manifestations come out in all different forms, sometimes shocking, other times gentle , unexpected and sometimes with more predictibly, but each time, without a doubt if you listened to the story, paid attention to the soil of the climate, political, social, spiritual, it all seemed to make sense. We were living in a chaotic and unpredictable world, the notion of anything larger than us, in the many ways we call god had been displaced among the assurity of scientific theory and brilliant ideas smothered and discredited in the mask of competitive survivalism more wrought with politics then genius. Our governments although shrouded in curtains named democracy leaked of tyranny no different than the noted corruption of the countries we remained at war with in the name of. Our information sources distorted, our food manufactured with great cost to our health, our lifetsyle and in many ways living conditions (not in terms of affluency/poverty, but rather structures, dominating thought) imbalanced to such a degree that we were not only succeeding at destroying the planet, but we were succeeding at killing ourselves. So of course people were anxious, of course they were wrestling between degrees of apathy, lethargy and depression, of course they were angry, traumatized and sometimes out of control. Some of us, for reasons that might always be unknown to me had become de-sensitized and continued to plow through all of it in our expected roles, completing the neccessary tasks, reaping whatever joy we could through meeting externally imposed goals, pretending that all that was being revealed we just didn't see. Then when faced with the raw expression of human nature, in ways perfectly natural and some might say appropriate in light of this position we find ourselves in, in shock, fear and ignorance we seek to repress it in any way we can. Sometimes it's some medication, other times electric shock, shaming, imprisonment, seperation, alientaion, humiliation and control, designed out of the order of "good" and "bad". I had persued this work, hoping to learn how to help people find their way through their suffering, I had not gotten into this work to help them be "normal". "Normal" had once meant to me "well", yet the more questions I asked, the more I listend to the stories of the people that sought help and the more I paid attention to what was happening around me, the more and more it became difficult to define what in fact was "well" and what was "normal".. Everything in it's own way made sense. And the chances of "psychosis" getting out of control was the highest when you failed to validate the individual's particular place in time, most of the time people just needed a sense of feeling heard and understood. They didn't always need some grand concotion or reason for their suffering, sometimes they just wanted to be treated like they were normal.
While working in a residence, I was warned about one of the individuals I would meet in my time there. She had a reputation for making accusations completely unbeleiveable and far out there and then customarilily flying into "psychotic episodes". Her reputation among staff had so far exceeded her, I felt as if I had already armed for her attack. Finally, one night, while speaking to a colleague she approached the desk. Fragile and nervous, not more than 98 lbs, as warned, she informed me she was at risk of a bacterial infection because of the scent of the garbages. Instead of challenging her, I went upstairs, bagged and tied the garbages and removed them. She looked at me in sort of a soft surprise and quietly went back to her room. I learned quickly, that the reasons for those "so called psychotic rages" was because she was not being heard, instead challenged, labelled and disciplined. I didn't think her complaint was so psychotic. I had heard of people with different sensitivities and for some of them it was scent. Sure, I didn't smell anything peculiar about the garbage, but whose to say that she didnt? I also doubted it would give her a a bacterial infection, yet with a different chemical responsible for a wealth of disease found in many of the products we approve safe, and the mass of fear produced around the climate of such activities, who could really call this paranoia? We all have something that drives us crazy, the scares us to death, that we find ourselves obsessing over. All different depending on our life script, the events, the experiences, the feelings, the thoughts, the story we told ourselves about our lives, the world and our place in it. So hers might not be mine, but it's hers. More importantly, if one person actually stopped to listen to what she was up against in her day to day reality, in a system that is oppressive and unjust in so many ways, it also made perfect sense when she was treated yet again like she was "crazy", discarded, looked through, unvalidated and instead scolded, that she would fly into a "psyhcotic rage". But was it psychotic after all?
So here I sit..between the place of fact and factitiousness...We argue that the world is a social construction, made of human invention and story, yet there is also a nature to it with an order that we try desperately to understand and bring forth new ideas, conversations and explanations about what exactly it tells us. Yet with every generation, each story is refined to another story, and another thing called fact comes with it a story of its creation, the mistakes that were made in it's creation and out of it's critique yet another fact. Add the dimension of the spiritual, the existential, the metaphysical and one that in recent days begs us to consider the entire thing that we call reality simply a reflection of the inside of our own brains and the space between fact and factitiousness gets even more complicated. My practicum supervisor told me that philosophy had no practical value to social work. Yet in the revelation that we conceptualized everything in the way we orientated ourselves to the world and than proceeded to regulate human behavior by, I couldn't help but think if the questions I was asking were indeed philosophy, how it didnt have a place in social work. Shadow walker, when faced with my question as to what indeed was fact responded in a similar manner. "I'm not interested in philosphy" he stated "if you choose not to acknowledge any knowledge of fact, than it would seem you do have a problem on your hands". He's right, I did have a problem on my hands, but I still couldn't figure out when and how I chose it.