Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Good hearts, good minds: blogging as therapy 

It still feels slightly surreal. Getting invited to take part in the 100 bloggers book project, that is. Rubbing shoulders with bloggers who, to me, seem far more accomplished than I am. (And yes, I know that that feeling stems as much from my own self-image as it does from anything else. But that’s all part of who I am…)

I finally finished my piece a couple of days ago. This is the third element of a chapter begun by Chris, continued by Michael , then myself, and closed by Jon, with a common theme of conversation running through it.

Jon said some kind things about me in the introduction to his piece; well, in mine I make reference to being attracted to blogging by the “good hearts and good minds” of the people I encountered here. In saying that, I had two people very specifically in mind. Jon was one of those – his understanding and passion covers such a broad church, encompassing the global, human and personal without compromising any of those. I was attracted to his ways of thinking and speaking, and realised here was an opportunity to connect with people who were saying things that mattered to me.

Euan was the other. And did I have a hard time figuring which one to pass on the last invitation for Chris’ chapter to… It almost came down to flipping a coin. I don’t know a more enthusiastic ambassador for blogging than Euan (unless it’s Jon?) and I felt more than a touch guilty about not inviting him (sorry Euan!) But in the end, I only had the one invitation to offer…

Anyway, here’s my offering for the book:

Good hearts, good minds: blogging as therapy

I was 48, stuck in a rut, and although I didn’t know it, on the brink of a classic mid-life crisis: no longer young, not yet old, now that youth’s drive to create elbow-room in the world had waned, age-old questions such as “Who am I? Why am I here? What is love, really - and am I capable of it?”, long brushed aside, were pushing their way to the fore. My upbringing - a mix of post-war austerity, puritan work ethic and a traditional respect for authority - had largely suppressed individuality in deference to conformity, so after twenty-odd years as husband, father and breadwinner, I existed largely as an outer shell in which all the routine functions of daily living were acted out, and a hidden inner core - ignored for so long it had all but given up the struggle to be heard.

I had a nagging feeling that somewhere along the way I’d abandoned a vital centre of myself, leaving it marooned on an island somewhere, but that was disturbing so I avoided feeling it too often. Occasionally chance would bring my boat within sight of that island, but seeing what I’d forsaken, almost-but-not-quite within reach, created an intense inner turmoil, as though to reach that part of me I’d have to fight my way through the pounding surf surrounding the island, protecting but isolating its occupant. Staying put seemed less hassle, so that’s where I stuck.

It was against this background that, quite by chance, I came across blogging. I sensed something good going on, something worth being a part of – a community of “good hearts and good minds” as another blogger later put it. I felt a sense of attraction - excitement even - as, in the people I encountered, I recognised reflections of that lost soul I’d left marooned. The words and images unfolding before me every day in blogs had a raw immediacy that gnawed away at my detachment, awakening forgotten hopes. Just as half a century ago, TV had brought the world into our living rooms, so blogging was having a similar effect, but in an intensely personal way, reaching in and involving with a power that other media could never manage.

Why should simply manifesting who we truly are be such a struggle? For a while, I thought I’d found a way to reunite those divorced layers of self, but my boat foundered on a submerged reef, in the form of the mask that I’d grown so used to wearing, described in this extract:
“You become who I think you are; I become who I think I ought to be; I appear to be who you think I am. Each locked into a narrow channel of expectation; a universe of possible selves abandoned.

You only have eyes for the image of the person you think you see before you; obligingly, I hide all else from you. I, too, see only the projection of the person who exists in my mind, hear only the words in my head echoing back to me.

Together, our expectations write the script and set the stage; we are characters in our own play; puppet and puppeteer both.

Who are you? Who am I? Will we ever know; each other or ourselves?

In the face of Expectation, truth flees behind a mask. All around me dance characters at a masked ball; I no more know who hides behind their masks than they know who hides behind mine. How can they, when I have forgotten myself? If, indeed, I ever knew. ”
I needed to look behind that mask, that outer shell, and for that I needed dialogue: self expression, shared meaning, fresh insight.

Blogging is self expression. As open or as circumspect as you choose, it’s never not self expression.
As a dialogue with self, the discipline of putting words to feelings and seeing them reflected back from the screen helps to crystallise thoughts, which in turn helps break free from the endless treadmill of the voice-in-your-head self-talk.

True dialogue has been called a flow of meaning; the more I am able to speak from the heart, the more I find meaning flowing between myself and those who read and comment, freeing up my inner dialogue:
“To heart and soul, experiences occur whole and undivided, but mind works mostly within the confines of words, so to reach you across space and time, I divide these experiences up, package them into little parcels called words and send them streaming off to you. You unwrap them, and with a touch of magic reconstruct an experience. I do the same with your words too, and if the magic is particularly powerful, for a brief moment each of us knows the thrill of experience shared; our isolation is broken and we connect - understanding or love or fear or pain or happiness or sorrow crosses a chasm that may be inches wide or spanning the earth.”

Best of all is the kind of meaningful dialogue that feeds the soul. I brush up against more strangers on the way to work than I read blogs each day, but there’s precious little interaction with them. I don’t see into their hearts, nor they into mine; we’re not invited to share in each other’s lives. Jammed shoulder-to-shoulder on a train, we’re universes apart. But suppose instead it were like this: imagine seeing someone on the street; something about their manner holds your attention, as they approach you make eye contact and feel a sudden sense of familiarity, recognising a kindred spirit; as they pass, they offer you a few words, a message that strikes to the heart of an issue dear to you. It might happen in the movies, but not in real life. Or does it? Fanciful as it sounds, encounters like that are almost commonplace in blogging. Doubtless there’s a statistical explanation involving six degrees of separation and the huge number of immediately available connections with others, but the synchronicity seems almost magical – proof of the adage that when the student is ready, the teacher appears.
"What lies before us and what lies behind us are small matters compared to what lies within us. And when we bring what is within us out into the world, miracles happen." - Henry David Thoreau

My blogging continues to be an exploration into the un-sailed waters of what lies within, in the company of good hearts and good minds. Sometimes scary, sometimes battling against inner resistance, often with surprising, insightful discoveries. And that, I guess, is what therapy is too.

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