Archive for April, 2011

What teachers really teach

Image and video hosting by TinyPicWhen my daughters talk to me about their teachers, they rarely talk about the subject matter but about something funny the teacher said, how the teacher made them feel, and the stories the teacher tells about his or her personal life.

I thought of this while reading how Carl Jung, while giving talks to educators, would tell them that teachers don’t teach their subject. They teach themselves.

I can’t recall a thing I learned in fifth grade, but I will never forget how my teacher made me feel at ease about being an introvert, as she was an introvert herself and never ragged on me about being quiet during class discussions, unlike the other teachers I had up until that point.

I also can’t remember anything I learned in my 8th grade math class but I will never forget how the teacher told us the story of the childhood wounding she received that made her decide to forever avoid men and become a lesbian.

I will always remember how to read music and play the violin, even though I’ve barely touched it in 25 years, thanks to the orchestra teacher I had for 7 years. I stuck with the violin that long, not because I was any good at it, but because I liked the teacher and his stories. He freely gossiped with us (I loved that), worried about us like we were his own children, and invited us into his home once a year for a spaghetti dinner that he prepared and served himself.

One day I entered my high school psychology class and noticed a Moonie there preparing to give us a talk. My best friend and I turned on our heels and marched directly to the office to tattle, as we intuited this was probably against school rules. Yep, it was, and she was reprimanded. We were quiet kids who usually didn’t assert ourselves like that and my boldness took me by surprise. The next time we had class the teacher came up to me and gave me the most sincere apology I’ve ever received. I had a great rapport with her the rest of the semester with no ill feelings. I can’t recall her name, or anything I learned in that class, but I’ll never forget what she taught me through her apology.

I still retain a smattering of French, and that is thanks to my high school French teacher, a reserved man with high expectations, but who also had a dry sense of humor and a twinkle in his eye that communicated more than his words did. I knew he liked me even though he never said as much, and even though I was far from proficient in French. I won’t forget how he showed up at my high school graduation and told me it was the first graduation he had attended. His watery eyes and quick hug said more than his words could ever say. I was deeply touched. The way he made me feel, and what he taught me about himself, is probably the reason I took far too many French classes in college.

My favorite high school English teacher taught me much about herself, including how a devastatingly dry wit can put teenage boys with huge egos in their place. She could even find something witty to say about Jonathan Edwards’s sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, which was required reading in our textbook. I loved what she taught me about herself and I suspect that had a significant role in my choosing English as a major. Fortunately I had the opportunity to tell her that when I ran into her in a store several years ago. She died on Christmas Eve 2009 .

So it would seem the ability to be vulnerable and authentic is something the best teachers excel at and probably matters a lot more to our kids than the teacher’s credentials and it sure beats being lectured at. They also probably wouldn’t mind if all of us adults were more like that.


My 12 minute ultramarathon: the conclusion (or the beginning?)

Image and video hosting by TinyPicAs I indicated before, I’ve been afraid of running since I was a child, so five weeks ago I started using the 9 week Couch to 5K plan to see if I could finally run 12 minutes without stopping, something I was unable to do as a child.

Today was the day in the program where you run one 20 minute interval without stopping.

This was a big jump from Wednesday, when it was two 8 minute intervals with a 5 minute walking break in between. That wasn’t an easy time and the above toon is an accurate reflection of what it was like.

So since Wednesday I was dreading today, fearing I wouldn’t even make it the 12 minutes, let alone 20. I slept poorly last night and had a stressful dream about going to the gym this morning and forgetting to use the treadmill. Ha.

I went to the Milwaukee art museum with my oldest daughter yesterday and I became a bit winded after climbing the stairs to the third floor, so I said to myself, “Dammit, I can’t even climb three flights of stairs without getting winded, how the hell am I going to run 20 minutes tomorrow?”

I internally yelled at myself some more this morning: “What am I doing setting running deadlines for myself when I have enough deadlines in my life? If I couldn’t run 12 minutes as a child when it’s logical I should have had the energy to do it then, then why do I think I can do it now all these years later?” As you can see, I was still in the throes of my running complex, even as I stepped on the treadmill this morning.

I had planned to listen to part of a Janelle Monae song, three U2 songs and Madonna’s Celebration song (I figured if I was still running by that point I deserved to listen to a song with the word celebration in it) and guessed that those would add up to roughly 20 minutes. I didn’t dare look at the clock on the treadmill. I fussed with the TV occasionally for a diversion, switching back and forth from Today Show and Good Morning America.

What happened was nothing short of astonishing to me. The 3 U2 songsImage and video hosting by TinyPic rolled by effortlessly and I felt no strain. I thought to myself, “Wow, now I finally see what they mean when they call running ‘moving meditation.'”

During the Celebration song I worried slightly that maybe these songs were falling short of the 20 minutes, but at the end of the song there was only 10 seconds left of the 20 minutes. After I hit the 20 minute mark I had the overwhelming urge to cry with happiness.

Coincidentally, earlier in my run Good Morning America had a segment on crying at work, and they concluded it was OK to cry at work but I wasn’t so sure it would be OK to cry at the gym. :-) Ironically they also said by the time women reach their 40s they are pretty good at regulating emotions. Hahaha

I couldn’t completely suppress my tears so I went and sat in a corner on the BOSU ball where no one could see me, hid my face in my arms, and let myself cry for a while, but not as much as I wanted to. I wasn’t at all expecting I’d react that way, as I always reserve these types of tears for the achievements of my children and other people I know, and even strangers, when I read/hear their stories, but I can’t remember the last time I cried because of something I achieved.

I know, I know. Who gives a crap that I ran for 20 minutes, it doesn’t solve any world problems, people a lot older than me can run for so much longer than that, yadda yadda.

But here’s the thing: ultimately this had nothing to do with running, it had everything to do with deconstructing a fear and then overcoming it. Now that I’ve succeeded in doing this with one fear maybe I’ll be able to do it with others. And, more importantly, you can too.


Creating kingdoms out of complexes

The older I get, the more I wonder if we ever have direct encounters with other people, or if we only interact with each other’s complexes, projections and neuroses.

The idea of the complex is considered to be Jung’s greatest contribution to the field of psychology and most of what follows in this post is a synthesis of Jungian analyst James Hollis’s thoughts on complexes and projections.

A complex is an emotionally charged, internalized experience that has a splinter identity and a splinter script. When you get defensive and start justifying something, you are in the throes of a complex. When your reaction to something is disproportionate to the situation, that’s a complex. Bodily changes often accompany this.

An example of a complex is when you talk on the phone with one of your parents and find yourself reverting back to childhood in your feelings, behavior and what you say.

Some common complexes are the power complex (seeking sovereignty over environment and other people),  the fantasy of immortality complex, and the fantasy of the magical other (the notion that there is one person out there who is right for us). And, of course, the mother complex and father complex. “How many children are enlisted into the impossible, not to say unfair, project of making their parents feel good about themselves?” Eek.

Hollis says one can create an entire kingdom out of a complex.

Complexes are what bring people together. One might marry to find the good parent in the other, to find an abuser in order to confirm a wounded sense of self, or seeking what was missing in family of origin.

So what about projections?

Hollis says the central law of projection is that which is unconscious will be either repressed or projected. We are never free of projections. “It is truly frightening to realize how little one is conscious in the formation of intimate relationship.” Eek.

When we fall in love, what we fall in love with is some aspect of ourselves reflected back to us in the other. What we do not know about ourselves or will not face in ourselves will be projected onto the other. We project our childhood wounding, our infantile longing and our individuation imperative. Hollis said that when he was a college professor, his students could never grasp this, for they wanted desperately to believe that their romantic partners were the fulfillment of their dreams and couldn’t accept the huge role projection plays. “I’ll see you when you’re 40,” he would tell them.

Blaming our partner for stepping on mines we have laid is where most couples are when they walk into therapy, he says.

How to become more aware of and perhaps begin to outgrow some of our complexes and projections?

This requires that we ask ourselves of every impulse and behavior: “Where does this come from within me? Where have I been here before?”

If one can identify unquestioned, reflexive tendencies in one’s life, those for which rationalizations are immediately available, one might be able to walk backward to the formative experiences of which they are the ‘logical’ expression. Then one might be able to imagine alternative attitudes and behaviors as possibilities.

And as for projections in our relationships, he says we should ask that most difficult of questions: “What am I asking my partner to do for me that I should be able to do for myself?”