More Food Collages

I’ve been posting my daily food collages on FaceBook, and have received quite a bit of positive response, but have hesitated to put them here. My fear is that I could easily turn this blog into a food-oriented adventure, and much as I enjoy food adventures, it’s just one small part of what I think about and how I want to interact with the world. I must admit, though, it is one I enjoy very much! I have a grand time cooking up healthy, supportive, nurturing food for folks who attend workshops and gatherings at Skyote (our place in the Santa Cruz mountains). I’m always pleased and somewhat amazed by the excitement. I have been doing my photo collages daily without missing a day. For now, I will indeed post these daily, so that those who are not on FaceBook have an opportunity to see them. Here is this past week:

 

 

Food for the day

I’ve been documenting my daily food consumption, as an awareness and accountability exercise. Thought I would post them here occasionally, and perhaps that will inspire some blog writing. I generally eat lots of protein and produce, with some whole grains in some of my meals, but today was a high grain day – and a planned indulgence snack at the end of the day. I only do that a few times a week!

 

More on Ceremony

Rituals are transformative, while ceremonies are confirmative (Heinz, 2004), although there is certainly room for overlap. In my work I have tended to focus on rituals, planned sequences in sacred space that are designed to shift consciousness, both in the moment of the ritual, and in  lives beyond that moment.

In my workshops teaching ritual I often provide an opportunity for the participants to think of a difficulty in their daily lives that might be supported by a brief ritual. Often this involves transitions that are a challenge, like coming home from work – what does it take to move gracefully out of work consciousness and into being home, either alone or with family? Sometimes this is the time of the day when people struggle with compulsive eating, which might be an unconscious way of nurturing their drained self at the end of a work day. This is a perfect opportunity to invent a ritual that can consciously provide that inner self with some acknowledgment of what is felt in that moment, and a way to move into a different state of consciousness.

Ceremonies, on the other hand, are a formal acknowledgment of a transformation that has already occurred. This brings an internal change into the community’s awareness and the shift is in the consciousness of the community, who can now see the individual in a different light, in a new role or status.

I have already done all the work to achieve this PhD; the ceremony on Sunday will not change anything internally for me. The graduation ceremony focuses on the larger perspective of how I am seen by my friends and family and the community at large. The ceremony is an acknowledgment of the ripples that expand outward from the work I have done, and the ability I have to expand my work beyond myself and beyond the scale of my past endeavors.

This ceremony is also an opportunity to express my gratitude to all of those who have contributed to my process along the way, starting with my parents and grandparents, whose support created a foundation for this possibility long ago (my mother said in an email to me yesterday, “Little miss ‘I want to do it myself’ indeed did it herself”). Every teacher who has ever recognized and supported my gifts and potential in a positive way is part of the path that brought me to this moment. I especially want to recognize a few teachers and mentors, some of whom have become friends, whose influence made a memorable difference in the development of my work: Phil Soinski, Anne Welsh, Sara Shelton Mann, Laura Dean, Stuart Schlegel, Noel King, Frank Barron, Philip Slater, Konrad Fischer, Stephen Gilligan, David Lukoff, Eugene Taylor, Stanley Krippner, and Allan Combs. For a long time I have been teaching and collaborating with a few friends and colleagues, primarily Anodea Judith and Kylea Taylor, and our work together has been an important part of my continued development as a teacher. In addition, the hundreds of students and clients I have worked with over the years have played a significant role in the evolution of my work and my thoughts about how we grow and transform and how we live to the fullest.

These folks are the tip of the iceberg – I am so aware of how I am touched and influenced by everyone I come in contact with. I continue to grow and learn and understand more deeply, and I thank all of you who are part of my life in any way, and those of you who I have yet to connect with. May we all grow and evolve together!

Reference

Heinze, Ruth-Inge. (2004). The nature and function of rituals.

Graduation Ceremony

I knew I would participate in my PhD ceremony, though I actually graduated in November 2009. But I forgot until the past few days how important these ceremonies can feel. Our culture doesn’t have many ceremonies, and sometimes doesn’t take the few we have seriously, but I am feeling touched by how many people are congratulating me and wishing me the best for my walk on Sunday. Not that these folks hadn’t received my original excited announcement last November that I was now Dr. Selene Vega – and most had congratulated me then. So I wasn’t expecting so much response from friends and families for what could be seen as just a formality. And I certainly wasn’t expecting myself to be so moved by their heartfelt good wishes.

It does feel like I’ve accomplished something. I remember hearing from teachers throughout my early years of education, usually in a roundabout way from my parents after parent-teacher conferences, that I wasn’t “working to capacity.” Some idea they had of what I seemed capable of that wasn’t showing up in my schoolwork. Not surprising, really. I had a lot going on in a troubled life outside school, and there was little in school that interested me – I was considerably more excited by what I found in books on my own in the library and my parents’ bookshelves. And then in my teens I was absorbed by dance and theatre, leaving early to take classes, go to rehearsals, apprentice in teaching kids’ dance classes. School just was not where my attention was focused.

Over the years, though, my interest in studying and the availability of coursework that interested me and teacher-mentors who could guide me on my path of learning came together in a satisfying way, leading to this doctorate. I’m stilll excited about the research I did for the dissertation – a multiple case study exploring the integration of transformative workshop experiences into daily life post-workshop. And I’m excited about future possibilities – there’s plenty more I want to learn and research. I’m excited also about finding ways to share what I’ve learned and my approach to assisting others in learning and transforming. I’ve been doing that for a long time now (it’s been over 40 years since I apprenticed as a dance teacher!), but the process continues to evolve.

The Isolated Therapy Office

Another of my archived columns from the mid-90s. As I reread this, I find myself wondering how much our interconnectedness through the internet has changed things.

The Isolated Therapy Office

by Selene Vega

Santa Cruz CAMFT Newsletter, July/Aug 1995, Therapists for Social Responsibility column

What a strange paradox the work of a psychotherapist is. We sit with an individual or family in a closed room, separate from the rest of their lives, often separate from their relationships, definitely separate from the culture in which their ideas and values have formed. It would be so much more effective to change the environment in which we and our clients live! Unfortunately, though most of us would like to see our culture move towards health, and may be doing our best to help it along in our small ways, we’re not really expecting overnight miracles. In the meantime, we can at least create a safe respite for our clients. From there, we attempt to facilitate a change in the interactions that our clients have with the world outside our office door.

There’s something to be said for the perspective that can be gained from that distance. Perhaps our clients can see a bit more clearly when they are not in the thick of things. In the quiet of this place apart, the relationship we develop with them can move them in ways that seem impossible while they are surrounded by the messages of family and culture. From this safe space, with our support, they can begin to form their own sense of who they are and who they can be.

Of course, the changes that begin in our offices must be sustained in daily life, and this is often the most difficult part of the therapeutic process. We may be working against the cultural current, and our clients may feel as if they are swimming upstream to maintain their progress. Support groups can be a partial remedy for this, particularly if they meet frequently. For example, 12-step groups can provide a community that counteracts the media messages and reinforces the changing values and behaviors of a newly recovering addict. At least their members have a subculture to model and encourage new ways of being that may feel out of step with the rest of the culture.

The cultural messages that our clients incorporate into their own thinking may attack even the concept of therapy. The idea of seeing a therapist may make a client uncomfortable when they are told there is something wrong with them if they can’t “work out their problems” on their own. Those who value therapy as a means of growing further, or finding deeper satisfaction in their lives, or other non-pathological reasons, are a much smaller percentage of the population than we may want to believe. Santa Cruz and the Bay area have a larger than usual sub-culture that honors psychotherapy as part of fulfilling human potential and increasing our effectiveness in the world. Traveling around this month in other parts of the country has reminded me that this is not true everywhere.

I’ve been reading James Hillman and Michael Ventura’s We’ve Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy and the World is Getting Worse. Hillman and Ventura are concerned about the navel-gazing focus of therapy. They raise many questions about how therapy may be working at cross purposes to social change by keeping people engaged in their individual process without a sense of how that might connect to the rest of the world. That separation and distance that I mentioned at the beginning of this article is one of the aspects of therapy that they see as a problem. How can we help people to be more active in their world by taking them out of it?

I wish I had answers to the questions Hillman and Ventura raise, but even they don’t have answers. They have at least brought to light some issues that are worth pondering, and this is a first step (much as we often tell our clients that their awareness of what they need to change in themselves is the first step towards actually changing it). If we all begin to think about the paradox of therapy taking place so isolated from the cultural context in which our clients’ problems are born, perhaps we can find ways to bridge that isolation. Bringing our own awareness of the world into the work we do can be our first step.

 

Finding the Time

Another column from the past.

Finding the Time

by Selene Vega

Santa Cruz CAMFT Newsletter, Sept/Oct 1995, Therapists for Social Responsibility column

I know of someone who recently realized that he had saved up enough money from his well-paid job over the years to take early retirement. He’d been working and planning for this day – now he could stop working so hard and just enjoy his life. He hesitated for quite some time, staying at a job that was not intolerable, but also not deeply satisfying. What kept him there? Despite the rational understanding that he really did have enough money invested to manage comfortably for the rest of his life, he was somewhat fearful of his ability to survive financially without a salary. However, this was something he could work his way through, and there was a more compelling inner conflict blocking his way out of that job. He wasn’t sure what he would do with his time, or what would give meaning to his life.

What convinced him finally to take the leap were the words of several friends. The suggestion that broke through his doubts was that he take all that free time and find work that is meaningful to him without having to worry about whether or not it pays well. He had never had that luxury before, and now a whole world of possibilities opened up for him.

Even when we find meaning in what we do for a living, we can all see work that we believe needs to be done in the world that doesn’t pay enough for us to live on. Some of it doesn’t pay anything at all. The causes I support generally rely on volunteers to do the necessary tasks to create change in the world. How much time and energy any of us has to contribute to the work we believe in depends on how much we have left after doing what is necessary to survive. For some, there just isn’t anything left over after hours each day spent with clients, paperwork, managing a practice (for those of us self-employed), dealing with a bureaucracy (for those of us with agencies or organizations), and then attending to our homes and relationships.

For me, volunteering time feels essential to my sense of hope. I need to be contributing on some level, no matter how small, to the ongoing process of change sustained by organizations that are trying to do something. This can feel like a drop in the bucket, as there are many, many worthy causes, and much work to do in each of them. I can only do so much, and I am constantly aware of how limited my contribution is to the large picture. I seem to have made my choices about where to put my time and energy by following opportunities that presented themselves to me, rather than attempting to judge which cause is the most worthy. My focus changes now and then and I have relied on that to reassure myself that even if I’m only working with a small part of what needs to be done, I may find myself later in another camp, approaching the problems from a different angle.

As I work with a group of people striving towards some goal or mission, I get the benefit of a sense of community that grows out of these working relationships. This is especially important for me, as I have consistently formed my closest friendships with housemates or co-workers. Now, earning my money from my private practice and teaching, I am struck by the fact that my main contacts through work are people with whom I must keep appropriate boundaries. Clearly, my clients will not form my supportive community. Even with students, the relationship is circumscribed by situation. Only when I reach out to my colleagues for peer consultation or get involved with work-related organizations can I find a sense of community through my professional associations.

Reaching beyond our immediate work requirements to find places where we can come together to contribute creates community on another level, one where we have the satisfaction of doing our part to bring about the changes that seem important to us. For example, at the last CAMFT (California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists) meeting, as we listened to the folks from Santa Cruz AIDS Project talk about their programs, it became clear that several of our members have been volunteering their skills to help SCAP fulfill its goals. After the meeting, one of them told me that this has been an incredibly fulfilling way to do essential work and at the same time satisfy her need for community involvement.

We are so very busy, running to stay in place. If we can find just a little bit of time to reach out beyond our individual survival pathways and join in where a collective push is needed, perhaps we won’t have to wait for retirement to find a world of opportunities awaiting our involvement. Right here, right now, we can be part of a movement towards our visions for this planet and its inhabitants.

Community

I’ve been posting these columns from years ago to get this blog going, and to archive these somewhere – but rereading them, I am struck by how simple they seem, almost naive. Has 16 years really changed my thinking? Not so much changed, as left me feeling a pressure towards sophistication. This piece seems like yearning for more simple times – while we are moving further into complexity.

Community

by Selene Vega

Santa Cruz CAMFT Newsletter, Sept./Oct. 1994, Therapists for Social Responsibility column

It seems like whatever topic we start out discussing in Therapists for Social Responsibility we end up talking about community. So many of us struggle to find or create a sense of community for ourselves, and as therapists we are often aware of what a difference community can make for our clients.

By “community” I don’t just mean the town that we live in, though the physical location where we spend our days can be a beginning. That home base is important – perhaps more important than we give it credit for. At this past meeting, each of us talked about our home and how we relate to it. From a physical description of the place that we live, we each moved into our feelings about that place – the healing and grounding of a garden, the freedom and creativity of a table in the house where projects can be spread out and ready to work on whenever the mood strikes, the frustration of streetlights that shine at us all night

As we went around the room, I noticed that part of the description always seemed to involve people – struggles with a roommate, neighbors that we feel a bond or a conflict with, a sense of how our space feels to those who visit us. We may have a relationship with our “place”, but our place is also a home to our relationships with people. Our sense of community starts here, from our homes. In other times and other places where there is less travel and transience, community expands from the home to the town, or at least the neighborhood. Our ancestors grew up surrounded by people they knew, with a sense of community based on history and familiarity and trust

Community today is not such a given. Often our community develops from co-workers, people we work together with on projects, friends we’ve grown relationships with from classes, or groups, or organizations we belong to. Sometimes our community feels scattered, as we may live too far to drop in for tea or to borrow a cup of flour. When we’re sick or lonely, we can feel isolated in a neighborhood of strangers

Though we started this past meeting with descriptions of our homes, we moved from that very personal vision into the overwhelmingly large issue of the failed crime bill. We tossed ideas and opinions back and forth, airing frustrations, disappointments, outrage, etc. with the attempts of our government to keep us safe from violence. But when we asked ourselves what truly COULD protect us from violence, it was not about government legislation. We found ourselves talking once again about community. If we lived in communities where we knew our neighbors and all watched out for each other, we could be safer. If children were raised in communities that felt secure, where there were more adults than just the parents who might be available to talk to, where the whole neighborhood felt like home, then perhaps gangs would feel less need to create their territories

Malidoma Patrice Somé , author of Ritual: Power, Healing and Community speaks of his village in West Africa where the children are welcome to eat in any house of the village for dinner. They just follow their noses to the culinary smells that appeal to them and show up at the door. He describes a world very different from ours, and one that we can’t really recreate here. But we can begin to think about what community means to us and how we might create it for ourselves, our families, our clients.

The Spiritual Realms of Therapy

Another post from the past:

The Spiritual Realms of Therapy

Santa Cruz CAMFT Newsletter, Nov/Dec 1995, Therapists for Social Responsibility column

The path that led me into my work as a psychotherapist from the movement and dance teaching I had focused on for many years took me through a period of teaching movement awareness and yoga in an addictions treatment program. Residents there would often tell me that the experiential work we did gave them a glimpse of what the treatment program staff and counselors meant when they talked about spirituality and meditation. My prejudices about the world of psychology included the idea that there was no room for spirituality in that mode of facilitating people’s growth, but here was an orientation (the addictions model) that included, in fact emphasized, spirituality as part of the process.

I had studied transpersonal psychology, but it seemed somehow removed from the lives of most people in this culture. I wanted to be able to include spirituality in my work with people who didn’t already know about Carl Jung or the many thinkers and writers who have built a theoretical base for the synthesis of psychology and spirit. Recognizing the acknowledgment of spirituality as an essential ingredient in recovery in the growing field of addictions treatment inspired me to take the plunge into the world of clinical psychology.

Once I entered this realm, I found that there is plenty of room for those of us who have trouble finding the line between psychology and spirituality. Perhaps this is a reflection on the company I keep, but many of the therapists I know seem to agree with me that the quest for psychological health overlaps the spiritual journey towards consciousness. Whether or not we include direct verbal acknowledgment in sessions of the spiritual aspects of the work we’re doing depends on the client and on our orientation, but we can honor that awareness in ourselves and share it with each other.

Even in cases where the word “spirituality” is unlikely to pass through my client’s lips, and it is clear that this is not a topic they feel drawn to discuss, this doesn’t mean that my own spiritual growth gets left outside the therapy room door. My own spiritual work continues in my interactions with that client and my commitment to bring consciousness to my own process with them as far as I am able. In fact, this is where even the Board of Behavioral Science Examiners might see the wisdom of what I’m saying. This very consciousness that I consider part of my spiritual path is what helps keep me out of ethical binds with clients. When my own issues enter into the relationship, my commitment to maintaining awareness enables me to recognize and deal with it quickly.

Coming at this from the other side, I think about how my understanding of psychological issues informs my perspective of who I am in the world and my vision of the bigger picture that frames my personal life. As I learn about myself and the political, social and environmental context within which my personal story unfolds, my vision of that bigger picture becomes clearer. Seeing the many variations of context that exist in the world (as well as the commonalities between them) continues to broaden my understanding.

For me, this is an ongoing process of expanding my knowledge and wisdom, a continuing exploration of myself and the the amazing world we live in. The larger my perspective, the more I am able to avoid getting lost in the details and experience the wondrousness of it all. I may not have all the answers, but I am certainly excited and inspired by the questions, and that’s what keeps me walking on this path. That I happen to use the word “spiritual” to describe it may only be a matter of semantics. I recognize many fellow travelers along this road who don’t use that word – but we’re walking together nonetheless.

Therapeutic Selves (ponderings from the past)

As I pondered the best approach to archive some of my past writing here I realized that some of the columns I wrote in the mid-90s for the Santa Cruz CAMFT (California Association of Marriage & Family Therapists) Newsletter might be worth revisiting as a starting point for this blog. That was back before blogs, but those columns were the sort of pondering I would like to be presenting here. I began writing them as a way to share with our local therapists some of the discussions and thinking that emerged from a small group of us who met monthly to explore how our work as therapists and the issues in the world outside the therapy office overlapped and intertwined. I present a few of them here as a starting point for my ponderings in this blog.

Therapeutic Selves

by Selene Vega

Santa Cruz CAMFT Newsletter, Nov/Dec 1994, Therapists for Social Responsibility column

One of the members of our Therapists for Social Responsibility group was visiting South America studying shamanism this summer, and this took our discussion into the realms of different healing practices in other cultures. We explored some difficult issues, such as what makes a shaman from another culture worthy of respect in his/her own culture and how might that differ from our own evaluations of a shaman, coming as we do from an entirely different culture with our own perspectives.

Listening to this member’s descriptions of what impressed her, what stood out for me was that she looked for some of the same qualities that we attribute to good therapists here, no matter what their theoretical orientation. Particularly, she noticed accurate empathy – the shamans that impressed her got who she is, what her issues are, sometimes without her even saying anything. They were able to come up with interventions that seemed to her entirely appropriate given the specific issues of the individual, rather than applying standardized tasks. She seemed to have the most respect for those shamans that modeled healthy, functional relationships with their families and the world around them.

I pondered this after that meeting, and came to the next gathering with a question that many of us find ourselves asking as we practice this somewhat strange profession: What is therapy? What is it that we do that makes a difference for our clients? How is what we do different than or the same as the healing work that is done in other cultures?

Those two factors that engender our respect for the shaman and give him/her the ability to have impact on those who come for help (at least the Westerners) may take a different form than when we see it in a therapist here, but it may be the context that is different, not the attributes of the healer. The first is complete presence and attention to the client and accurate empathy with their current state (as well as permission to be in that state, feel those feelings, etc.). For clients who have never experienced that, never had anyone just hear them, this can be transformative. It can set a basic foundation of trust that allows for our further interventions to have an effect – and it can, all by itself, be the beginning of a shift in the self-perception of the client.

The second factor is the modeling that can be seen as a meta-communication that underlies whatever techniques or approaches we use. We talk about the therapist’s use of self, but what I’m referring to goes beyond anything we say about ourselves. We reveal ourselves as human beings by our presence – it has less to do with self-disclosure than with the inevitability of our exposure, just by virtue of being with and interacting with our clients.

The boundaries that we place around our relationships with clients are perhaps essential in the culture we live in. Unlike the shaman in a small tribal group, we lack the cultural agreements that provide the distance, respect, and containment the shaman’s community takes as unspoken givens. Something essential is lost, though, in our isolation. Those who work in settings where their contact with clients is broader than weekly one-hour sessions may have more of a sense of the therapeutic possibilities involved. In a halfway house, a residential addictions treatment program, a school setting – anywhere that a therapist has client contact beyond the “official” individual or group sessions – the therapist can be a model through all of the interactions that a client observes or participates in.

Our skills at intervention are certainly essential to our work, but it’s worth pondering the importance of those aspects of our being that we bring to our interactions as therapists (and in the world outside the therapy room, as well) and realize the impact that these have on the people we have contact with. The society we live in may not provide automatic respect for those of us in the mental health professions, but we can generate that respect by working to bring consciousness to all of our interactions and by continuing to work on ourselves.

Fresh start

A new website, a new opportunity to share what I have to offer to those who find their way here. I hereby enter the world of blogging, and commit to putting into words some of the thoughts and ideas and feelings that travel around inside me. It will be a new adventure for me, another step in my journey towards further connection and communication with others through the written word.