November 21, 2004
Sometimes the thought of a dose of intimacy creates a similar feeling for me. I know that I need it because I have been told so. But I do not really believe that it is going to feel good. In my mind it could hurt more than it might help.
Connection comes hard for me. Disconnection is more my natural state, my default mode. I would rather pursue rugged individualism. When a Gathering is coming up I never say or feel, “Won’t it be great to be with a bunch of people Wednesday night?” Because I have been to many Gatherings, I know in my head that it will be great. But I cannot make that connection with my heart. I cannot make the connection to anticipate the joy.
Despite this limitation, I work hard at intimacy. I define intimacy as two or more people sharing their feelings and what is truly going on in their lives. I work hard at it because it has transformed my life.
Twelve years ago I was at the ground zero of my life. Everything had been blasted away and I was dealing with a blank slate. My days were fairly vacant. At first I spent most of the day at home alone with my books. I knew I needed people and eventually I would go out at midday to the mall so that I would be near people. I could eat lunch and read my books in the midst of strangers. It was the best that I could do at intimacy.
But over time I progressed. At some point I needed a calendar to keep track of my events. I started consciously scheduling luncheons with friends so that the white blocks on my calendar would not look so white. I would get on a roll and schedule two or three, and they would happen over the next two or three weeks. And then my calendar would be blank again and I would start another round of calls. But in the meantime there would be a gap. Eventually I learned to make rolling calls to get rid of those gaps.
All of that took hard work and it still does. But my calendar now regularly contains many events of intimacy. I checked on November: a Gathering, the Couples Festival, one artist opening, two dinners, one meeting for coffee, seven lunches and five men’s group meetings. All of these events were wonderful and I had great times.
And all of this is in addition to the intimacy in my nuclear family, who gives me the greatest and most important opportunities for intimacy.
Intimacy does not come naturally for me. And yet I do it anyway. I hope that some day I will be all excited about some upcoming events. But until then, I will keep filling up my dance card and dance with wonderful people. I do this because I have experienced the difference it makes in my life. I get a good dose of what I need.
September 21, 2004
Some people have urged me to look for the lesson in this illness. Those folks I have shot, so they will not be reading this newsletter. Instead I would prefer to look at the humor in all of this. I have had to look very hard because for a long time there was no humor.
My favorite day was my trip to the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary. This is the holy grail in the Boston area for any malady from the neck up. It took many weeks of letting my suburban doctors tell me how much they did not know before I could get to Boston.
Due to an insurance snafu I spent a long time in registration that day. After awhile I was struck by how many blind people were in one place. They kept coming through the lobby. I had not been to Boston for a long time, so I figured it had to be a city thing. Blind people must live in the city. About twenty minutes later it dawned on me where I was – in an EYE Infirmary. My brain was a little slow.
I was released from registration on probationary status and ascended to the medical offices of Otoneurology. That is where they drive through your brain. The secretary proceeded to tell me in a very loud voice about all the forms I was to fill out. Why was she shouting at me? I tried to fill out the forms but she kept shouting at everyone that came in.
I asked my wife, "Why is everyone in here yelling?" Her answer was clear, "Because people can't hear. This is an EAR place. Oto means ear." More evidence that my brain was a little slow.
But my brain was not missing. I have proof now – an MRI of my brain. My nickname in childhood, given by my loving older brothers, was "Head" due to my oversized noggin. I guess they were right because my MRI pictures come in a very large size. I like to think they are oversized because there is so much information stored in my oversized brain. My brothers still say otherwise
I met my new doctor and of course he was younger than me. That seems to happen more and more. Do they send these people directly from nursery school to medical school? What ever happened to more mature doctors?
He wanted to make sure I qualified to be in his hallowed office. So he took my head and shook it in every direction he could think of and then looked at my eye reaction. Did he do this just once? Oh no! Have I felt worse since seeing him? Oh yes!
I have a few more tests before this Harvard Medical School doctor can definitely say that he does not know what is causing my illness. Up to now the medical ignorance is just speculative. Next up is the Full Battery Vestibular Test. They hook up your ears to a car battery and see if they can get smoke to come out your eyes. That will be followed by a VEMP test. That stands for Very Energetic Mind Pummeling. I cannot wait.
After all of this testing I will be easy to spot. I will be the guy with the big head, droopy ears and fire breathing eyes.
May 24, 2004
I ordered the hot tub for our deck at home two months ago. I had to prepare for it by reinforcing the deck. The contractor said he would lie under the deck and dig the holes for the new concrete piers by hand. I asked him how deep the holes would be. He replied, "As long as my arm." Ah, the practical side of construction that I know nothing about.
Two months is plenty of time to prepare for installation and placement decisions. I agonized daily about exactly where the tub would go. The big day arrived, I was ready and all went well.
After filling, heating and treating, Merry and I were ready for our first soak together. We slid into the warmth and "oohed" and "aahed" away. At least she did. I was a wreck. I was second guessing all of the decisions that I had made. Should I have bought the bigger tub? Did I place it too close to the wall? Did I face it the wrong way? Did I get the wrong color? And on and on and on.
These questions and the resulting anxiety were eating me up. I could not relax and enjoy the hot tub with my wife. Months of joyful anticipation had resulted in disaster.
I told Merry what I was thinking and feeling. She said, "Let it go, Jim. Everything is fine. It's a great thing that you have done. You have made all of this happen."
Her words broke the spell of negativity. She was correct. I had worked hard to make this happen. Ninety eight percent of what I did was good. And the last two percent was probably good too, but open for debate by someone who was looking for debate.
My inner critic was looking for debate. It was looking for an opening to wound me, a self inflicted wound. I had allowed my inner critic to speak so loud that I missed the totality of what I had accomplished.
Inner critics are tough on perfectionists. The writer Julia Cameron named her inner critic Nigel, a proper, bony-fingered British gentleman. She talks back to Nigel so that he cannot run her life.
I am tired of missing the joy of life because of the debatable two percent. I am going to try to hold sight of the big picture and not get lost in the perfectionist details. Jade is just too lovely to miss.
April 21, 2004
Picking up sticks that the wind have blown down. It turns out that this is a hazardous activity for me. Somehow the continuous motion of bending over gave me vertigo
Vertigo can be nasty. The more you move, the worse you feel. It stopped me dead in my tracks. All the things that I had been doing in my life were suddenly on hold and I became depressed quickly.
Depression is not a new state for me, but I do not frequent it as often as I used to. This bout was a different experience in that I could see so clearly what was going on. The self hatred and self loathing appeared quickly with a depth that surprised me. A life that I loved had turned into a useless exercise overnight, at least in my eyes. And I felt the deep shame of being a depressed, worthless person. I was so ashamed of the state I was in that I did not want to be with anyone.
I did not want to face anyone and especially my wife. We have been through this many times in the past and it is so hurtful when I disconnect from her. She knows my patterns well. She let me do what I needed to do while offering to connect as much I would allow. I would not allow much, even though I knew it was helpful.
The day before I became sick I told a depressed friend that he needed to connect with others even though he was depressed. Later, in the midst of my depression I could hear myself mouthing the words about connection, but I could not bring myself to do it. I just could not do it.
When I get into this kind of space I know enough to continue to meet the obligations that I have made. Somewhere I learned that. After a scheduled lunch with a friend he said he would call me the next day and see how I was doing. Then he said, "Or you call me." I responded quickly, "I won't call you. I just won't." I knew that the shame was so big in me that I would not do the thing that I needed to do most: connect.
My friend did call me and other friends called to check on me. Conversations were short because I did not want to talk. But I know that they helped.
I went to the doctor yesterday and started some medicine which should help. I have some hope now that this vertigo state will end soon. Hope makes all the difference in the world. The depression is lifting.
In real estate they say that the three most important things about a property are location, location and location. Maybe in life the three most important things are connection, connection and connection.
This lesson is just starting to sink in with me. It is easy for me to connect when I am feeling good about myself. But it is during the bad times that I need connection the most. When I want connection the least, that is when I need it the most. That is a hard lesson to learn. I wonder how many more times I will have to learn it before I act on it.
April 2, 2004
May Day is a grand day of celebration in Europe and particularly in England. The ancient Celts and Saxons celebrated May 1st as Beltane or the day of fire. Bel was the Celtic god of the Sun. It marked the beginning of summer, time to move with the flocks up to summer pastures.
The Saxons would have an evening of games celebrating the end of winter and the return of the sun and the fertility of the soil. The revelers, led by Diana, the Goddess of the hunt, and Herne, the Horned God, would travel up the hill shouting, chanting and singing, while blowing hunting horns. Many would wear animal masks and costumes.
As society became more agrarian, Diana became the Queen of May and Herne became Robin Goodfellow (a predecessor of Robin Hood) or the Green Man. The Green Man would become the Lord of Misrule for the day.
People would put up a maypole by taking a growing tree and bringing it into the village. People would go off into the woods to collect trees and boughs and get into all sorts of hanky panky. May Day used to be a day of great sexual license. One writer reported that a hundred youths had gone off into the woods overnight and “scarcely the third part returned home undefiled.”
The puritans banned May Day by an act of Parliament in 1644. No wonder the customs never made it to America. It was restored in 1660, but it never was quite the same. The sexual elements went underground. And later the Victorians overlaid a more moral tone on the festival, emphasizing innocence.
Like Halloween, this is a time when witches, fairies and ghosts wander freely. The veil between the worlds is thin. The Queen of the Fairies rides out on a snow-white horse looking for mortals to lure away to Fairyland for seven years. The fairies, pagan spirits, would help Earth to clad herself once more in green. Green is the color of the fairies.
May Day could be the oldest religious festival in the Northern Hemisphere. Ritual human sacrifice to a death/fertility goddess was an early practice.
Here at Shalom Seacoast we are committed to reviving May Day in America. We think that the human sacrifice thing may be going a bit too far. But we need the fairies and spirits to be among us. Mostly, we need a reason for a party.
March 12, 2004
How can I tell? An early tip-off was when I was following a yoga DVD and my mind would not come into the room and join my body. It was in other parts of the house doing many different tasks. Or maybe it was the four different cooking recipes that I was working on in the kitchen all at once. It is important to find an outlet for being nuts and multitasking can keep it going pretty good.
Crying while standing in the shower was another tip-off. No, my heart was not broken. I was just feeling too much pressure from the shades – window shades. You probably are unaware of how stressful shades can be.
I promised to go with my wife to the shade store today and we were having a difficult time fitting it into my schedule. (When I get nuts I get quite a schedule.) We settled on an afternoon trip to the store – no need to waste my more productive morning time.
But then the schedule was trashed by a power outage during the yoga DVD viewing. Certainly I could not do yoga without a DVD to follow. God forbid I should try to make it up as I went along! I also could not do all the other things that I wanted to do on the computer. The power outage created a vacuum in which many scheduled tasks could not be performed. What kind of inefficiency was that! How would I finish my list of things to do?
Using my well honed powers of analysis, I suggested an early trip to the shade store so as not to waste the time during the power outage. We even called the store to make sure they were unaffected by the outage. (“We” means I asked my wife to call.) This change in schedule sounded good to someone who was not nuts, but it caused a lot of problems for me.
You must first understand shade shopping. Design decisions abound. Measurements have to be made and relayed to the store correctly. At many points this can be screwed up. And perfectionists like me do not like all those possibilities for failure – especially when we are nuts. It is hard enough on a good day.
I knew that I would not stand up to the pressure of all this if it had to be accomplished in a limited period of time. And the new schedule, which I had created to be efficient, was going to have a small window for shade shopping. I would be rushed. Today, I could not do rushed. Nutty perfectionists cannot be rushed. Therefore, I was standing in the shower crying.
I have learned that when I am crying for no good reason, it is time to reevaluate whatever corner I have painted myself into. It was the “I have to buy eight shades of different sizes and different designs in a half hour” corner. So I asked out. I asked to go alone in the afternoon when time would be endless. I calmed down.
Now “calming down” when you are nuts does not mean becoming calm. It means being just a little bit less wacky. It means bathing your body in liquid other than tears and remembering whether or not you have already shampooed your hair. It is not exactly “be here now” but it is better than “being everywhere else but here now.”
Will I be nuts tomorrow? I do not know. It comes and goes like a sponging relative. I have no choice but to let it in. It is fun for awhile, but it gets old real fast. But right now I am not worried about tomorrow. It’s only noon!
February 20, 2004
by Jim Hession
Peter Gallant lives in the woods. He lives in a stone house in the middle of the Wendell State Forest in western Massachusetts, several miles from the nearest paved road. His home is powered by sun and wood. He lives there with his wife, Pam Richardson, their chocolate lab and a cat. Peter has a psychotherapy practice in Newburyport, MA that he has gradually scaled back from full- to part-time, allowing him to spend most of his days in the woods. Peter and Pam practice couples therapy together in Newburyport and, more intensively, at their forest home, StoneOak.
Peter has been listening to the lessons of the woods for some years now. A conversation with Peter Britton about intimacy and relationship sparked in both of them the idea to pass along some of what Peter has learned.
Over lunch, Peter Britton enlisted my help to interview Peter Gallant. Peter Britton’s enthusiasm was overwhelming and the very next day we were sitting at StoneOak with Peter and Pam. It was December and low light was streaming in the front window. The fireplace was prepared, but not lit due to the warmth of the day. Mya, the lab, curled up to make a circle with us.
Hession: What is the state of intimacy in our culture today?
Gallant: We are lost. As a culture, we have gone way wide of the mark, because intimacy was never an intention of western civilization. We never set out to be intimate with one another. We set out on a mission of commerce and then we set up our ways of relatedness to fit that model, thereby missing the whole intention of being alive. This is not a recent development. It surfaced way back in Greek times when we made the decision to leave our bodies and our intuition behind and to work out of our intellect and our head instead. We devised a notion of the earth being a secular rather than a sacred place. We relegated the earth’s sacredness to celestial bodies, clearing the way to start commercializing, extracting for profit what had been sacred - that is where the whole problem started: the myth of separation. We developed this notion of a free market economy, capitalism, which certainly is not user-friendly to notions of empathic human contact, shared power and cooperation. It encourages separateness and competition. All our institutions and systems, including education and justice, are predicated on - and serve - these two ideals. They have morphed into our cherished ideal of “rugged individualism.” When we decided not to inhabit our intuitive bodies which had been living in one sacred union with the Great Mystery, we created a duality, a bifurcation, a society of winners and losers, arrogated above the earth. We have lost our humility - a word coming from humus meaning “of the earth.” The dominator evolution began when the need for certainty displaced the reverence of mystery. We are in the desert now. We do not even know where true north is. Eric Fromm said, many years ago, that only an exceptional man can be a lover in a capitalist society. An ordinary person gets enveloped in the survival pressures of such a system.
Hession: What is intimacy?
Gallant: It starts with one’s relationship to oneself. That is the foundation of intimacy. But in our culture there is very, very little awareness of the self, the essence of one’s interior. The cues that we take for our being are all coming from the outside. We are turned inside out. We do not have a sense of what we desire. The word desire comes from the Latin desiderare which means “of the stars.” Desire is our linkage to the universe of knowing. We do not know how to manifest our own internal desires. Instead, what we encounter internally is shame. That is what we run into when we try to connect with someone from our true desire. That obscuring of the natural self has created a real lack of awareness of any self at all. In modernity, the self is an imposed self controlled by propriety and appropriateness, the masks of shame.
Hession: What are some examples of the imposed self?
Gallant: We have all these masks that we wear. We have all these roles that have become institutionalized identities. We have a variety of occupations, or lack thereof, which distract us, separate us from one another and from truly knowing who we are. We have come to believe that we are our institutionalized identities. Distinguishing ourselves from each other supplants connecting with one another. The fabric which weaves us together - which is erotic Energy - has been destroyed. We have no fabric that weaves us together that we can really relate to. Had we stayed in connection with the earth and our intuitive wisdom, we would have stayed connected to Eros and to one another. We would have a mechanism for loving the fullness of our whole selves. But instead we embrace only our light side and project or punish our dark side. It is easy to see how we came up with the notion of an axis of evil, the whole idea of externalizing the darkness as “out there” someplace. A kind of righteousness has supplanted the notion of embracing our wholeness with all its tensions. A dangerous reductionism has been metabolized as truth. If we had not separated the light from the dark, the good from the bad, then we would have both fully embodied in each of us and we would be able to accept both shamelessly. But in that we make those separations, we perpetually cut off half of ourselves. We disown it. So, we cannot represent ourselves fully to the other. We cannot be known. And if we cannot be known, then we cannot be loved. We cannot even trust love if it comes our way, because it is not based on knowing who we are.
Hession: What can a person do?
Gallant: The posture we adopt is “don’t-get-found-out” because our true self is so thoroughly shame-bound. I call this original shame, just like original sin. We are so infused with shame, we spend a lifetime trying not to be found out, all the while seeking connection. So what we can do is try to dismantle that “don’t-get-found-out” mechanism and see what is under there. We can do that only with great courage and great risk because the imagined threat is disenfranchisement.
Hession: What do you think is under there for most people?
Gallant: The truth. There is a cauldron of both “good” and “bad” brewing under there – light and dark.
Hession: What kinds of things are you talking about?
Gallant: I am talking particularly about the areas of desire and need. For instance, our institutions have put sexuality in the closet, in our collective shadow. We live in an anti-sexual, eroto-phobic culture, so that once we uncover some of the masks, some of the prohibitions against being seen, what we are going to discover is that we are highly sexual beings. We have tremendous sexual energy. But we are so obsessed with the “who/who not” of sexual love that we have no notion of the “how.” The ancient art form of sacred intimacy is all but lost to the idea that transcending our desire is good. However, Eros is not successfully regulated by the institutions set up to regulate it. It is just masked and persists as energy right below the surface - unless despair and depression have snuffed out the flame.
Hession: So the idea would be for a person to delve into and find his or her own self as a precursor to intimacy?
Gallant: Yes. For instance, if you were to start to uncover your true self, it would cue me and invite me. It is a participatory thing. One cannot go off and contemplate one’s navel and do it. It happens in relationship. At least two people agree to break the law of the great cover-up and lift the veil that protects the shame core. Going beneath it, we start to see who we really are and experience the truth of the other person. We find that our true selves are similar. From this connectedness we can celebrate our differences rather than be fearful of them.
Hession: It is not done alone. It is done in relationship.
Gallant: Yes. It is done in relationship. That revelation, that uncovering has to be done with another. That is the way we dismantle the shame. We need the eyes and ears and the presence of another to do it. This seeing is the seed of compassion for the other.
Hession: Talk about original shame. What is it? How does it show up in our lives?
Gallant: Shame is so complete in the culture. John Bradshaw and Pia Mellody talk a lot about the shame core. We are familiar with that from recovery circles and from other codependence theorists. And the shame core, as they describe it, is that dark place inside that thrives on non-disclosure, on not being seen, on staying shrouded, yet it is the “master emotion.” It starts to dissipate with exposure, when the light of day hits it. Their idea is that it develops within us when we are abused as children, but I think the origins are wider than that. I think that shame is implied just by being in the culture in the same way that the Judeo-Christian tradition is implicit in the culture. It is endemic. Shaming pervades the socialization process. It is in the drinking water. We grow up feeling our essence is tainted, that it is terribly flawed. So, we devise myriad ways of not being seen in our essence. We have all kinds of behavior and postures and rackets we run so that we can get by. We learn how to play the game. We make the right noises. But we are never really being seen because we are covering the core that we believe is not acceptable to others. We believe we will be judged severely and lose our membership in the culture from which we spring. So in the interest of maintaining our place, we are intimidated into adopting “appropriate” belief systems and behaviors and hiding “inappropriate” ones. That is the core strategy that perpetuates our shame: hiding what we believe is unacceptable. And this is the foundation of culturally-endorsed lying. Appropriateness is shame in drag.
Hession: What kind of behaviors are you talking about that are unacceptable?
Gallant: What comes to mind first is sexual behaviors, the way we are socialized around sexuality. We are not supposed to be sexual at all. Conventionally, we get one sexual partner for a lifetime and then we base our integrity on whether we can maintain what is called sexual fidelity to that one person. So, there is a lot of judgment made around whether someone can stay encapsulated in that one posture, that one narrow bandwidth, for a lifetime. And if they cannot do it, the judgment is that they are somehow less than or weak or even evil. We pretend that we believe that and that our body believes that and the set of precepts or value systems that we have taken on help us pretend that we believe that. But in fact it is a very stressful belief system because our bodies do not believe that at all. It is not the truth about us. Our sexuality is not vectored that way.
Hession: What is the truth? What are the forbidden things?
Gallant: Freud was onto it. What we are talking about here is the id. Freud’s concept of the id is something ancient cultures knew about. Unlike Freud, they revered it as a raw, wise life force in us that shapes our longings and is a portal to the divine. Today, these longings and the behaviors they might lead to are feared, vilified and forbidden - a portal to hell. So, to maintain membership in the clan we short-circuit this powerful erotic energy. We have dishonored Eros. The menu of acceptable sexual expression is so narrow as to prohibit creativity and diversity. We have nearly extinguished the fires that enliven our extraordinarily sensate bodies. In this internal warring, we lose touch with what is true for us. The truth is that our sexuality is not confined to “the one,” to only one person in the world. It does not begin when we get married and it does not end when we get old. These myths uphold shame as a “good” quality. Until we fully accept and inhabit our intuitive bodies, our knowing of our truth remains obscured. And when we do find our truth, we run the risk of great loss. Our understanding of what learning is needs to move from the outside-in to the inside-out. Our reptilian brain and limbic system tell the truth.
Hession: What do you mean by we run the risk of great loss?
Gallant: We can lose our positions and possessions. We can lose our loved ones. We can lose our very lives if we are “acting out” in the wrong way.
Hession: What do you mean by the wrong way?
Gallant: What I am saying is conventionally the wrong way. Sex happens in our culture. It is happening all the time. Some of it gets talked about and some of it gets discovered as newsworthy. But it is all happening energetically all the time. The only kind that really gets conventional endorsement is the one-size-fits-all kind, the kind in which you are married and have one partner. There is some latitude given to sexual experimentation on the way to marriage, there is some kind of tacit agreement that that is OK even though we teach our children not to do it. We continue to mouth the idea that sex is not a good thing to do even as we find ourselves awash in a sea of titillating air-brushed, unattainable images of sex. It is crazy making! Mostly, our sexuality goes underground. The concepts of sex offenses and sexual addiction all get called into question here. Any time you try to stop energy from happening, it is like trying to stop grass from growing up between blocks of concrete. It is just going to happen anyway. So we develop a kind of compulsivity which is really an insistent life force that cuts right across the grain of the culture. This is as much about power as it is about Eros. Often it gets recognized as evil and has to be extinguished in accordance with a rampant monoculturalism. Pornography is an example. Engaging in pornographic sex is an attempt to resurrect feelings lost in the shame core. It is “safe sex” in a perverse way.
Hession: Is there such a thing as a sexual offense?
Gallant: Yes. There are certain things we can agree on as sexual offenses, but we have to do that through a justice-making process that does not exist anymore. The missionaries won out over nature. The celibates imposed the sexual codes and they did not leave much latitude. Any expression outside of their parameters runs the risk of being offensive. How we judge our sexual behavior needs to change. We may come up with the same conclusions, but the way we get there is important. The way we arrive at the conclusion, the way we own it as ours and the way we can be fully seen in that ownership are very important. So, if I am in relationship with someone and there is a question about how we are going to relate one to the other sexually, then the terms of our sexual relationship have to arise out of a process of mutuality. Any satisfactory sexual relationship arises out of and serves the expression of each person’s true longings, otherwise it is not sustainable. Full discovery and disclosure are crucial. Mutuality, the concern for the spirit of the other, is what I am talking about. The truth about loving is that you are really not loving somebody unless you are willing to stretch yourself deeply into their spirit, unless you can be deeply concerned for their spiritual development - and vice-versa. The spirit I am talking about embraces our sexuality.
Hession: You have been working with couples for awhile. How has what we have been talking about informed your work with couples? What are you finding when you talk to couples?
Gallant: What I am finding when I talk to couples is that couples do not talk to each other. They do not talk. And they do not tell each other the truth if they do talk.
Hession: Why don’t they?
Gallant: Because they are married. They will not do anything to destroy the marriage or shake up institutional ways of behaving and relating to each other which are not the truth about them to begin with. They are all about protecting the comfort and safety of an institution they feel they cannot do without.
Hession: Is this part of the template from the culture?
Gallant: Yes. Marriage is a kind of syndrome that has arisen partly because of the economic conditions we find ourselves under. People cannot afford to have the kind of disturbance that they imagine intimate dialogue would bring to their lives. They think they cannot afford it, financially and emotionally. Couples conspire to remain hidden from each other. Everything is based on a couple holding together because attachments define them in the absence of a durable identity. We celebrate longevity not quality of relationship. We have celebrations for anniversaries, but we never have celebrations where we acknowledge that two people are real examples of how to “be” together. We do not acknowledge that because we don’t know what true beingness looks like. Conventional marriage gets to be a repository for accumulating stuff, servicing debt, raising kids, identifying one’s status and preparing for retirement and the “hereafter.” That is a word I never understand: hereafter. They are two different words, an oxymoron or something worse - a kind of deferring of life to later and a denial of death rolled into one concept.
Hession: So you have a couple that comes to you. And they are not talking to each other. What do you do with them?
Gallant: First, we try to find out what their intention is. Lots of times when a couple comes to us, one of them at least is trying to leave the marriage, but is unwilling to shoulder that responsibility. He or she has no intention of really staying. So we try to find out who that is and test the intentionality, test whether that person is open to changing his mind. Once it is established that the idea is to stay together, then we try to stimulate them to start to tell the truth about who they are.
Hession: So it is about telling the truth.
Gallant: It is about telling the truth. It is about unveiling, uncovering so that both can start to really live in the relationship.
Hession: Telling the truth about what?
Gallant: About who they really are, about what they have really done and what they really desire. They can go back, historically, correcting silences and deceptions. They do not know each other. And if they do not know each other, the love that they have for each other is meaningless. So they seek meaningful love elsewhere or they go without it.
Hession: So part of it is disclosure of the past.
Gallant: Yes, part of it is disclosure of the past, but it also requires a disclosure of the present. The biggest part is not confessional in the sense that we are looking for forgiveness of our pasts because that is relatively easy to bestow. The most dangerous part is to talk about current knowing, desires and fantasies. That is where it starts to get pretty tricky. We are familiar with the idea of forgiveness for past “sins,” but we are not so amenable to one’s standing firmly in the intention of being who one is despite the fact that the other one may not like it.
Hession: It would seem that when you start talking about the present or the future or your desires, you are not necessarily staying within the allowed game, whatever it is.
Gallant: That is it. The idea of the standard marriage contract is to fix the relationship in space and time at a certain level. Essentially, you contract not to change. This is counter to life! It is counter to the organic process of growing until you die. So, marriage gets to be a burdensome cloak that one tries to drag along for safety and convenience purposes, so as not to lose one’s footing in the culture. But it does not do anything to stimulate growth. In fact, it is counterintuitive.
Hession: Besides losing one’s footing in the culture, is there fear of loss and abandonment?
Gallant: Absolutely. If we grow up shame-bound, we are pretty convinced that there is no one for us. If we have snagged someone, we had better hang on, even though the noises we make are different than that. If that is the conviction underneath, it creates a great deal of clinging.
Hession: So, you have a couple come in and you test their intentionality. And if they seem to want to go forward, then you try to get them to become known to one another.
Gallant: Yes. And in that process they actually become known to themselves for the first time. So the self emerges in the presence of the other. We try to stimulate that process right then and there.
Hession: And so as the couple reveals themselves to each other, they are revealing desires and fantasies that are perhaps outside the parameters of the marriage. So then what happens with this couple? It must be pretty scary.
Gallant: It is very scary. It forces them to look at the precepts of the relationship that they have been operating in, their value systems, which are essentially just a collection of prohibitions, and to reevaluate them. Whether they are going to be together or not, we encourage the couple to reevaluate them. They have to remake their relationship based on new information. One of the things that marriage does is prohibit new information. So, many of the awarenesses that shape you as you grow in the world cannot be delivered to the marriage because they threaten the institution. The idea of therapy is to crack into that scheme, break it apart, dismantle it and hopefully create a context or clearing ground for rebuilding new value systems collectively, with mutuality.
Hession: What do you mean by mutuality?
Gallant: Mutuality is a true meeting of the spirit of two people. If one person’s spirit has taken him or her outside of the marriage for a loving liaison, this event - and all that has led up to it - dismantles the contract. The offended party is empowered in the culture to be righteous and leave the relationship. The therapist’s job in that case is to short-circuit the righteousness and encourage the offended party to see him/herself in the offender. In other words, to see that their spirits are actually similar, to see that the expression of self that has been called a “betrayal” is also part of the other person who has been offended. And the offended party needs to identify his contribution to the betrayal. This is the path to forgiveness. What you have to do is reach deeply into yourself to see what the truth about yourself is in the light of someone else being caught, essentially, in your truth.
Hession: To see if you also are an offender?
Gallant: Exactly, because we all are both, the light and the dark.
Hession: So, what happens when you have a couple and all of a sudden they are at the edge of starting to disclose?
Gallant: They are feeling shame. They are starting to be seen and they are starting to feel the terror and excitement of coming out of hiding. So the person in that space needs a lot of support and encouragement to come out. Quite often the “offender” cannot depend on the spouse for support because there is so much anger. So, it is a very tricky maneuver. That is where the therapist has to be the support system, sometimes taking on the offended spouse to show it is possible to stand firmly in one’s reality despite anger and disapproval. So there is some modeling that has to be done and some learning that has to be done. Both people may now be more of a mess than they were when they started, but they are experiencing true intimacy. The therapist is actually building a fire under the problem. He is creating a kind of crucible, turning up the flame so that the couple can blow the contract up, break into new territory.
Hession: What happens when they blow it up?
Gallant: When they blow it up, they experience the explosion that they were trying to avoid and they survive it. Not only do they survive it, but they start to see who the other person is and they can love them. This is where they learn to be in relationship with the truth about the other. They will have to get more tolerant. They will have to see what the truth is and start loving the person in spite of who they are as well as because of who they are, if they are going to stay in relationship. I do not know if they will stay in relationship, but at least they will know what they are choosing to do. It will not be role-playing anymore. They will have to come out of hiding to make the decision. They will have to see their own stuff in action. They cannot just pin it on the other person. I have a lot of faith that once you see your own stuff, once you stop making it about the other person, it is much easier to be in relationship with them. In fact you are drawn to them, if they have seen you and experienced you and have not done and said the things that you predicted they would. And even if they have done and said the things that you predicted they would, you have survived what you thought you could not. And you are still drawn to them. You do not have to go. You do not have to avoid them. So what? You said the worst thing in the world, the thing you thought would be a deal-breaker and there you are. Maybe there is hope for going on from there. Unspoken truths stop a relationship from evolving. It starts to get rotten. And it stops the person from evolving. So he or she has to evolve outside the relationship and that leaches all the energy out of it and it atrophies.
Hession: So that is the impact of someone going outside the relationship?
Gallant: Yes, if you are going outside the relationship for things that vitalize the relationship. I am not saying that you have to live exclusively in a relationship and get everything you need from one person. I am not saying that at all, particularly because the evolution into truth is expansive, but you have to be truthful about what you are doing. You have to be able to be seen in all your postures. Essentially what this means is that anything you would say to anybody any place on the planet, you would also say to this person. Any posture that you would take anywhere, you would also take in your relationship. And this is so often not the case in marriage. I am stunned when I have someone in individual therapy and they describe their relationship and who the other person is and then they come into couples therapy; often I do not recognize the other person or the relationship from the descriptions I have been given. It is all a story the client has made up. It is not what is going on. It is not what is happening. This is because of all the distortions and all the stories and all the projections that we make to avoid our own shame-bound truth. We make it all up about the other person so as to avoid ownership of our truth.
Hession: And what is it about the institution of marriage that makes it such a fertile ground for all this distortion?
Gallant: Conventional marriage is a static institution. It is an attempt to fix the relationship in time and space, to freeze frame it for time eternal. It does not provide for growth. It does not provide for the organic process of change which is constant. I see it all around me here at StoneOak: birth, growth, death and rebirth. Marriage gets to be the template for what intimate relationship is supposed to look like. I think this is backwards. What we need is a new template for intimate relationship and then we should fashion marriage after that. We have the thing upside down. Conventional marriage is a bad template for true connection. We use marriage to describe a condition of intimacy, yet closeness and intimacy do not usually reside in a conventional marriage. Remember the Sinatra tune “Love and marriage - go together like a horse and carriage?” We forget that the horse had to be “broken” to the harness!
Hession: When a couple discloses to one another, is there usually tremendous relief?
Gallant: Yes, tremendous relief because they have come out of hiding. They feel relieved and they feel free in the relationship maybe for the first time. They have been silently squirming and suffering due to a loss of freedom, of personal power, the power of beingness. Because they have had to adapt, adapt and adapt. They have danced according to their own projections of what the other person would tolerate, not to the tune of who they both actually are. Now they find that the other person can love them in their truth. And that is an important learning. And they can extend the same generosity to their partner. Essentially what we are talking about here is breaking up the mutual imprisonment game, getting free from the tyranny of one’s own dire imaginings.
Hession: And so that will lessen their shame?
Gallant: Yes, it will lessen their shame about themselves and it will lessen their shame about their hidden thought processes about the other one. What happens is that we get involved in our own belief systems and we create a whole story. We have lots of stories. We live by stories. One of the stories is about who the other person is. And how their being who they are prevents us from being who we need to be. Demonizing the other one is part of being in a conventional marriage because that is how we can legitimize or rationalize not becoming. We are terrified of our own “yes.” So, we make our “no” about the other person. We blame them and we stay hidden behind serving the relationship, behind maintaining the marriage. We can go to even higher moral ground: we can make preserving the marriage into a virtue. Silent suffering is virtuous in the Judeo-Christian tradition. The difficulty is that on a deeper level we know that this is a bunch of bullshit, that it is really our own terror that is keeping us incarcerated. So to expose that as being bullshit, as being a made up story, is a big deal. It is liberating.
Hession: So you have this couple, and they are starting to disclose and they are starting to listen to one another and they are starting to know one another. And they are scared. What do they do with all this new information?
Gallant: The information is a new proving ground for relationship. It is grist for the mill. It is the stuff out of which they can forge a brand new relationship, which is necessary periodically anyway for the thing to continue with any kind of vibrancy. In order for it to stay alive, it has to be reforged constantly. Recreated. But people do not recreate relationships usually unless they are in crisis. The idea is that the relationship be recreated almost on a daily basis. I have to believe that I never wake up in the morning beside the same person that I went to sleep with. And I am not the same person. And I need to catch up with the news of who she is and who I am and what the world is. I never walk through the forest the same way, see the same forest twice or step in the same river. But there are so many things in my life that I want to ritualize and habitualize in the interest of security and safety. I have to be constantly vigilant about that.
Hession: Can you talk about security and safety?
Gallant: We have mistaken security and safety for the good life. We have a national epidemic now of concerns for safety. Some under-nurtured, frightened people in power are capitalizing on it. They believe that in order to be safe we have to secure ourselves from outside evil influences and that means we have to build higher walls somehow. My experience with alienation tells me that in order to be safe we have to do just the opposite. We have to take the existing walls down. We have to get into deeper relationship with our fears, so that safety comes from being able to cope with threats rather than eradicating them. What we have now is a combination of denial and projection, or externalization, of all that is evil. What is out there has to be controlled. Those people, those places, those things have to be controlled in order for me to feel OK. What we need to do is get more internalized about this whole thing. What is out there is the way it is, I am part of creating it and much of the problem is the meaning I assign to it.
Hession: So how do we act despite our desire for security and safety?
Gallant: There is no substitute for living in the truth of the moment, if we can get there, but we have to learn how to do that. We do not have many models for it. This is a learned thing. So I cannot say how one should act because we then have another situation where we have proscriptions to live up to. But I could say that what we need is radical tolerance of each other so that we can provide a container in which we can each function more freely. This is about freedom, really - freedom in our own skin from the toxic teachings.
Hession: Do we have freedom?
Gallant: We are not free. I think about the ideas of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” We are not free. We are less and less free every minute in this culture. We have lost our democracy. We have been seized by this military-industrial complex. We have an oligarchy. We are international terrorists. We are waging a war against diversity - biological and political, a diversity that is pivotal to survival. We are creating all kinds of trouble around the world for all cultures, for everybody. We can have no freedom from that legacy. And we have no license to even send our attention to where we want it to go. For example, we have all kinds of laws about what drugs to take. Some drugs might take us on a journey which is outside the dimensions of acceptable thought. We really are not free. We have all kinds of institutions and churches that confine us to certain thoughts and behaviors or we will lose membership in them. So what I am talking about is providing the kind of tolerance, one to the other, that creates true freedom to discover and be who we really are, to suspend all the judgment about that. Not that we can actually stop judgment. We do not have to stop judgment, but suspend it long enough to actually get a glimpse that who you are is who I am. And if I can embrace your complexity and contradictions, I can probably accept those in myself.
Hession: How do we make ourselves safe?
Gallant: We make ourselves safe by increasing our own tolerance of risk. The more risk we can take on and survive, the safer we really are. For instance, if you were dropped into the woods and you were terrified that you could not survive, and yet you managed to build a shelter and a fire and to find food, that would be an intervention on your fear. You would also find out more about who you really are. But given the parameters of the culture, you are not going to get that opportunity. So opportunities have to be created. You have to create opportunities to move into areas of relatedness that do not feel safe.
Hession: And that is the risk portion?
Gallant: Yes. So, when people say, “Jeez, I don’t feel safe doing that,” I say, “Great! Let’s go.”
Hession: Can you give an example?
Gallant: I am sitting in a group and someone says, “I don’t feel safe in this group because of so-and-so’s presence. I don’t trust him. I don’t trust him to keep confidential what happens in this group.” What I would say to that person is, “Go ahead and take a risk. Go ahead and say it anyway. And what is it about you that needs to be so kept confidential? What is it that is so terrible, that you are so ashamed of, that you cannot have anybody know about? What is it about you that is so unique, that must remain a secret?” We need to be seen, not insulated.
Hession: And what would that person learn from that experience?
Gallant: The person would learn that he can evolve into who he really is in the presence of other people without the illusion of safety and the need to manage others’ impressions of him. He would learn that he does not need to control the future to survive. He does not have to hide out from other people. He is just projecting his fears onto someone else. He is just picking someone to use as a way of not evolving.
Hession: So people need to be responsible for their own safety.
Gallant: Yes, within certain parameters. Not if there is an ax-murderer in the group! But, essentially, people are responsible for creating their own safety by risking their way into it. People need to take what they may consider to be an inordinate amount of responsibility for themselves.
Hession: You wrote, “We need to stop externalizing responsibility for safety onto other people, places or things and western psychology is a major contributor to this collective irresponsibility.” What has western psychology done?
Gallant: Albert Ellis came up with the idea of rational emotive therapy - that our thinking creates our feeling reality. Unfortunately, he is right - in the context of the culture. But in a larger context he is dead wrong. The truth is that our intuition precedes our thinking, if we let it. Our sensory life is a lot more expansive and powerful than we have given it credit for. What we know through our senses and our intuition really is responsible for our feelings. So, the whole juxtaposition of thinking and feeling is something that western psychology has picked up in a big way. We have gone up into our heads, our cognition, to solve problems. Experimental psychology is all about cognition. Western psychology, seduced by the lure of being a “Science,” has attempted to quantify a craft, a healing art. Instead of falling into lockstep with the evolution of western culture, psychology could have remained embedded in the subjective. In fact, objectivity now turns out to be mythical. Quantum physics reveals that there is no separation between the observer and the observed; the observer actually influences what is observed. All of this New Age stuff is really just an attempt to resurrect the archaic, to bring us back to a place where we can trust the wisdom of our bodies and our intuition. To think about labeling certain behaviors as sick or pathological, good or bad, and to sit in judgment of clients - this is what the therapist does now. He is adjunctive to the prevailing paradigm. The therapist is not trained to be a change agent and he is not trained to influence the culture. Instead he is a kind of chiropractor for commerce. He is supposed to patch up the client and send him back into the fray. Get him back into the great dollar race before he loses his place. David Whyte tells the story of a psychiatrist whose young son was playing with her one day. She had never explained the nature of her work to him and he did not know anything about psychology or psychiatry. He said, “I want to be the doctor. I’ll be the therapist and you be the client.” His mother agreed. She sat in the client’s chair and he sat behind the desk. He put his elbows on the desk, leaned forward, looking at her, and said, “I can make you a lot of money!” And that was his understanding of what she did. So, this is what I mean by the irresponsibility of western psychology. We have been co-opted by the courts, by the cultural institutions at large, and particularly by industry to turn out a product.
Hession: And that product is a product of safety and comfort.
Gallant: Right. That is the adaptive individual who is functioning in this culture and is not true to his own soul. Because if he were, he would be a disturber.
Hession: Why would he be a disturber?
Gallant: Because his behavior would not fit the cultural mold of how one is supposed to be in terms of raising a family, paying taxes and serving the interests of the ruling class. After 9/11, our president told us to go shopping and to go to Disney World. Buy, buy, buy!
Hession: It sounds like you are trying to create a lot of revolutionaries.
Gallant: Yes, it does sound like that. We need a shift. I think we are desperately lost. The loneliness and desperation are profound.
Hession: Could someone just be a revolutionary in his house?
Gallant: Sure. You can be a revolutionary in your marriage, a revolutionary in your relationship with your children, a revolutionary in your church. Those are places where the real revolutions begin. We do not need to go into the street with weapons. We do not have to rail at the government. But we do have to create catastrophic changes in the way we relate one to the other and that is where the revolution is going to start.
Hession: What will the real changes be in a relationship? If someone wants to do this, what will it look like?
Gallant: There are so many marriages in which we are in relationship as if we are living with a jailer. We think the partner prohibits us from being in the world the way we need to be. We blame them for that. So the real revolution comes when we stop regarding the other person as the enemy and start to pull them in as an ally in our spiritual development and our quest for freedom. Becoming who we are is the way we break out of confinement and break into intimacy. This is the real revolution: remaking our relationships, married or not, into partnerships so that they strengthen under the new conditions of truth-telling. Partnership becomes a spiritual journey.
Hession: And what is that marriage going to look like?
Gallant: It is going to look like anything two people decide it is. It is going to look like a relationship that is forged out of their needs, and each one may look a little different from the other.
Hession: So you are not suggesting a model for it.
Gallant: No. I am only suggesting a model for negotiating it and for arriving at it. The idea of mutuality is a good one. What therapy needs to do is help people engage in the process of remaking a relationship. It is probably the biggest act of creation that people will ever do in their lives. There are plenty of opportunities for us to really create lives that are our own - we just don’t seize them.
Hession: So you see yourself as helping people negotiate these changes.
Gallant: Yes. I am experimenting with creating a life of my own design and my intention is to help others do the same. It is not easy because there is not a lot of permission. There is not a lot of latitude given. I am trying to notice and remember how I do that, where I am successful and where I am not. I am trying to look at the natural world as a model. I am trying to glean from it the way the world works. I think about Black Elk’s admonition: “nothing can live well except in a manner suited to the way the Power of the World lives and moves to do its work.” He saw the earth as fully alive, infused with spirit.
Hession: So what have you learned by watching the natural world?
Gallant: It is very difficult to translate that into words. I have learned to try to suspend judgment. Primarily, I have learned that most of what I know, or maybe all of what I know, is open to question at any given moment. And if I am to know anything, I have to live in a state of constant awe. I have to live in a state of constant readiness to be reeducated on the spot. And I have to be ready to reconcile my own history with the circumstances of the now. For instance, if there is an opportunity for a tree to stretch its canopy towards the sun, that opportunity must be taken or lost. I imagine that the tree does not spend a lot of time thinking about it. It just bends towards the sun. It orients itself towards the sun automatically. It needs to do that. It does not have a lot of deliberation about that. It does not ask whether it is right or wrong. It is not shame-bound around how far it has to bend or what posture it will be in when it bends. The form follows the function. And I think that is the way we need to do it. So if I make a commitment that I am going to be intimate with my partner, then I need to accept my resistance to her and my judgment of her before I can move into openness. Staying open means I may have to change in the next five minutes. I may learn something that means I have to shift. This gives new meaning to the word “integrity.” I learned integrity from my father. I saw him cleaved to certain principles his whole life. I thought, “There’s a man of integrity.” He was terribly angry and a danger to live with. He did a lot of things in relationship to me that were distancing, shaming and diminishing, but my idea of how to live in integrity was to be essentially like him. I was desperate for his approval, his love. He was chronically and unalterably Catholic. There was nothing about Catholicism that he questioned. So, what I mistook for integrity was his clinging beyond all information, beyond all incoming data, to the idea that there was only one God and that this God had scribed out certain parameters of behavior for everyone on the planet for their salvation in
another realm. This life was simply a proving ground. Anyone outside of that belief was to be held in suspicion, avoided or converted. His integrity was built on inflexibility. We need integrity built on flexibility. On his death bed, he gifted us with a startling summation of his life: “It’s all been a big joke.” Flexing out of our old belief system into a new one is predicated on trusting our intuition. It is a trust in intuition and experience rather than a cleaving to old beliefs. When I really pay attention to the abundance right here, I am astonished - in love. But I do not dare stay that open yet. My dog is teaching me.
Hession: You have talked about trying to find a new way to live and that there are no models. It sounds like you are suggesting a process model as opposed to a paradigm in which one is given a lot of rules to live by with the suggestion that if these rules are followed, one will be happy. This is not your model. You put yourself into a process and see what happens. You follow your intuition and when that means change, you change. Is that accurate?
Gallant: Yes. I want, as they say in the parlance of Shalom Mountain, to trust the process. I want to proceed with the knowing that all of life is process anyway. That is all we get. And I have to keep reminding myself that there is no “building of the future.” There is only the process because in the end we give up all our props anyway. At death, we have to let it all go. I have a friend who gets up in the morning and has a practice of letting it all go - his business, his marriage, his children, the whole thing - just as a way of reminding himself that it is all transient. Permanence is an illusion. What he has to do is stay in relationship with the day, the people around him, and the now in the best way he can to extract as much as he can out of life. And that is all he gets: the experience.
Hession: But you are also suggesting that one of the real drivers as he goes through his day is his intuition, not what he has learned or what he is thinking or feeling.
Gallant: And this particular guy has learned a lot, but he has to be willing to forget it at any given moment. It is the forgetting that is important. We regard forgetting as a problem. I think about the guy who wrote The Botany of Desire who sees forgetting as desirable. Some of us who smoked pot were often “paranoid,” untrusting of the interpretations of the realm introduced by marijuana - which is essentially a state of being transported to another perspective by a plant which carries information for us. In the contrasting light of the next day, last night’s information is ridiculous. It does not fit into this reality. But, what really is happening, as someone else has suggested, is that “the other world is this world rightly seen.” What really is happening is that this new information makes elements of this reality appear to be ridiculous. It is the juxtaposition, the conflict that is the problem. My paranoia was based in the fear that integrating pot-derived information would make me ineligible to continue to occupy my place. The new perspective opens a different, more useful, more intuitive way to be in relationship. So, forgetting is a form of unlearning leading to new learning. It takes a lot of courage. I was afraid to “forget” what I had accepted as truth. There are many, many realities that we can flex into, some drug-induced and most not. Some you can access with just deep breathing, some by listening, noticing. But we do not go there because we cannot integrate so much diversity. Industrialized nations cannot tolerate the kind of mystery that our ancestors lived in.
Hession: This is circling back to what you were talking about at the beginning, that we have forgotten the archaic and we have forgotten that the land is sacred.
Gallant: And forgetting that other realities are just as important as the one that we are in today. For instance, the shamans in ancient societies were the shape-shifters, they could access other realities to heal illness. They went to other places, received information and returned. They could shape shift into animal forms or trees or plants. They could learn from animals and plants. They used all the plant medicines as a way to heal people. Some of them were psychedelic, all were medicinal. But the real relatedness for all those other realities is what I am talking about. Terrence McKenna, an ethnobotanist, said the evolution of man can be traced through the evolution of psychedelic plant medicine. He claimed that it was the plants, via shamanic journeying, that informed man of what he needed to do to live successfully. And up until the Christian era, the shamans were the teachers in the world. But we have lost them. We have lost our models of how to intuit and how to access other, deeper truths, other knowings - ones that are not written on the
blackboard in second grade. There is a lot of unlearning to do of that infused information, a lot of forgetting.
Hession: All we learned from the blackboard was “Thou shalt not.”
Gallant: Exactly. We learned all the prohibitions. We have to unravel some of that to resolve shame. We are full of prohibitions. We know all about what we should not do. We do not know a damn thing about what we should do. We know the rules, but we do not know how to intuit. We are at war with our own deep longings.
Hession: So we really need to access our intuition in order to be successful in a process, to do process living. So how are we going to do that? How can we learn to do that?
Gallant: We learn to trust our own experience instead of pro forma precepts - information that comes at us from traditional, sterilized sources. We risk following our intuition, see what happens to us and we will probably go there again. And the goal is not to go there under cover, but to go there opened up, intentionally vulnerable and feminine.
Hession: You talk about the doctrine of appropriateness.
Gallant: That is a big one. I was in a workshop once with Brad Blanton who wrote Radical Honesty. He was doing some gestalt work with a woman who was doing some pretty deep disclosing about a situation of sexual abuse at the hands of a massage therapist. For some people in the room, the material was difficult to take because it brought up some of their own histories, their own hidden or stuffed feelings that they were not willing to experience. One woman in particular stood right up and said, “I don’t think that it is appropriate for you to be doing this work with this woman.” He stopped short, looked right at the woman and said sarcastically, “Lady, I can’t tell you how hung up I am on that word ‘appropriate.’ I just can’t even begin to tell you. So, what is the problem here?” She replied, “This is very disturbing.” He said, “OK, good. So why don’t you sit over there and have a psychotic breakdown while I continue doing what I am doing because everybody else came here to see this. And your fear is not going to take it over.” And he continued. I thought that was a very heroic thing for a therapist to do because most therapists are terrified of being inappropriate. And they reflect the common belief in the culture that as long as you are appropriate, you are OK. If you are inappropriate, you are out. That is what I mean by the doctrine of appropriateness. It is everywhere. It is based on valuing propriety over authenticity. It is the height of the craziness of our highly “civilized” society. We cannot even act according to our intuition. Gestalt work is very intuitive and you go where you sense the fault line. Blanton is extraordinarily talented at doing that kind of thing, so he gets into some very, very difficult and uncomfortable places with people. And the witnesses tend to come unglued if they are too shame-bound around their own stuff.
Hession: It would seem that appropriateness is the enemy of your naturally evolving self.
Gallant: Yes. Appropriateness is the belief system that definitely is one of the major enemies of a natural evolution. It needs to be taken out of the language completely. It is part of the “who-you-are-makes-me-uncomfortable-therefore-you-cannot-be-who-you-are-in-my-presence” thing. That is what the word means. Western psychology has devised a universe of appropriate/inappropriate with a whole nomenclature of pathologies: the Diagnostic Standards Manual. The DSM casts a wide net, assigning degrees of aberrance to thought patterns and behaviors that don’t pass muster - all in one neat, little, numerically organized pocket-sized manual.
Hession: You write about “a need to create a new living edge that will supplant the treadmill quality of our lives.”
Gallant: Yes. David Whyte talks about “robust vulnerability.” I think what he means is that is that there is an edge to life where the blood starts to rush through your veins in a way that you really feel it. And when you are on that edge, you know that you have come fully alive. That is the essence of the living edge. We all know when we are there. It takes a great deal of energy and courage to maintain that place. But that is where your next utterance can change your life and your world. Those utterances start to bubble to the surface right there on that edge.
Hession: How do you get to that edge?
Gallant: You need to be despaired - discouraged about where you are. All change is predicated on anxiety. Suffering is the natural condition of being alive. We go into dips of despair and depression and we know that we have to find our way out of it to go on. But we do not believe that we have created the state we are in. So, if we take what feels like an inordinate amount of responsibility for our own thinking and our own condition in life, that is the first step. It feels “unfair.” We do not ask someone else to change in order to get us out of it. We created it and we know we have to dismantle it and recreate something else. The second step is to bring that level of responsibility into being, to manifest it in your life with others. This is not about them, it is about you. Once you declare that, it is up to you to create this living edge for yourself. You have cleared the way now to take up your own authority. You stopped blaming people and you are scared. Paradoxically, you are revved up, power-filled and that feels good, pleasurable. This is a precarious place where the “pleasure police” hang out. Words like “selfish” and “hedonist” are surfacing. This is where you need to believe that if it feels good, it probably is the right thing - as long as you are not doing harm to somebody else. And harm does not include disappointing or disillusioning the other person. It is here that you start trusting your own experience of the world as a way of feeling your way along to see which path you belong on. Just begin with a vision and feel your way along. You do not know in advance where you are going - only how. You just know what feels right. Do it if it feels right.
Hession: As you are taking this journey, what is the role of relationship?
Gallant: Relationship is the stepping stone on the journey. It is the touchstone and the way that we actually get to where we are going. I need a mirror. I need a reflection of who I am. I need someone to acknowledge my voice and my self and to be resonant with. And if I resonate with somebody then it assures me that I am OK and that I exist. So much of our lives are about anticipating that others are standing in judgment of us. When we reveal ourselves fully to someone else, the fear of that evaporates. But revelation has to be done in relationship. It cannot be done alone.
Hession: Without intimacy, you are never going to touch the shame core.
Gallant: That is right. You just live in the story. You live in the made up story. If I tell you a story about myself, you are going to know if it is the truth or not by whether it is, or could be, true of you. That is how you will know. It will either resonate with you as the truth or it will seem strange. If it seems strange, it probably is just something I made up. I am not really revealing myself. If you really want to be in relationship with me, when that happens you will say, “That doesn’t seem right to me.” That, in turn, will lead me into how to be in relationship with both you and myself. I may have a shame attack around it. Or get angry. Or react. Or whatever I have to do. But if I am going to be really responsible to myself and be in relationship with you, then I have to go back and check it out. And you are probably going to be right, unless you are operating out of your own shame and fear. And that is where I have to make a distinction. If I say something that is true about me and it hits your shame core and you react out of that and deny my truth, I have to become aware of that. But I cannot use that as a way of dropping out of relationship with you. I have to understand that I could do the same thing. So I have to see you, forgive you, maintain my own reality and trust my experience.
Hession: Have your learnings altered your work as a therapist?
Gallant: Yes, I find that I am less tolerant of listening to people’s stories. There is way too much living in the story. The drama of the story takes up a lot of space that could be given to actually coming out of hiding. Insight helps you understand why you are who you are, but you are still stuck there. You may feel a little more understood, but you are still stuck in the same story. In fact, you might be more stuck because now you have welded it into other people’s minds - particularly the therapist’s - as your story, your cherished identity. “I was beaten by my father.” Well, you are seventy-five years old. Are you ever going to get over this? Life is happening while you are sitting there with that story. That is the problem I am having now as a therapist. I want to say, “Yeah, I know that story. Let’s create a new one.” At times now, I do not even want to know the story. There are only a dozen stories anyway - when viewed through the narrow lens of the culture. “Which one is it? Is it Number 11? OK, I have it. Now let’s move on. Let’s not waste anymore time.” But, of course, all that process is about somebody being seen and heard and understood and not shamed. I have to do all of that before we can move on. I understand the value of hearing them, but I am impatient with the story now. I used to think that was therapy. If I could really hear this and get this and put together the pieces for them, they would understand who they are and be free. But they already know who they are. They are just trying to hide out. They know. Now I want to elicit the truth that the story obscures. “Come on. Tell me who you are. Not your story. Tell me who you really are.”
Hession: What is it like for you to be telling your story in this interview?
Gallant: You have really honored me by driving out to StoneOak to do this interview and to hear me. But there is something that has triggered my shame also. While it feels good, it all feels in a way terrifying. Because now I am moving more out of hiding. This is the exciting/terrifying living edge.
Hession: And we are threatening to put your words out to other people.
Gallant: Right. You are threatening to blow my cover even though I want it blown. I would not be doing this if I did not want to be seen. But I am also very much a product of what I am talking about. That is why I need to have this done to me.
Hession: People might read this and say, “My God, he’s a nut!”
Gallant: Yes. This might be the end of my life as I know it. Many of these are utterances that I have come across in my own life and have not made. And I am now aware of the criticality of time. I have to say these things. I know that this will change my life - the mere uttering of them. It may destroy somebody’s idea of who I am and he may fall out of relationship with me. Other people might fall into relationship with me. I do not know what will happen, but I will change.
Hession: And you are feeling a pull or a tug or something to do this.
Gallant: Yes. I am feeling both frightened - well, frightened is not the right word - I am feeling both terrified and stimulated at the same time.
Hession: Why now?
Gallant: Why now, at this time in my life? I feel time is a critical factor. I just turned sixty. I have been out here in the woods for some years now. I have done a lot of noticing and thinking. Pam and I have done a lot of writing. We do writing practice here in the morning. We take turns picking a trigger, something we want to uncover. Through our writing, a lot has been revealed to both ourselves and each other. There has been a lot understood between us. And I have understood a lot about myself. I am more and more compelled to say things. I do not think that I am an unusual person. I am just another bozo on the bus trying to figure this thing out. But more people have to start talking, instigating change. There are a lot of other people out there doing this, particularly the deep ecologists. We have to turn up the volume.
Hession: It is interesting that you are out here in the woods thinking about intimacy and how everyone is alone.
Gallant: I know. It is quite a paradox. Pam and I have been more intimate together and with others since we have allowed the time and space for that. Being here is a way of eliminating all the noise and the confusion out there so that we can get down to the brass tacks of our lives. Our biggest disturbance here happens when the wind blows out of the east - we can hear the frenetic moan of the great dollar race on Route 2. It is a disturber. Other than that, we have a blank slate here. It is a wonderful space to experiment with being who we are.
Hession: So this is a blank slate for how you want to be in the world.
Gallant: Yes. And there is stimulation. There are a lot of teachers here. The original teachers are here. But they are not judgmental like other teachers I have known. They are just plain old instructors. I can look if I want. If I do not want to look, I do not have to. But it is a great opportunity to pay attention. And paying attention is really the only way to learn anything - really paying attention. When I was in traditional educational settings, I was not paying attention. I was competing. I was trying to regurgitate what was poured into me so that I could accrue value. But I was not paying attention. I was too frightened of not knowing. I was not able to really show up. I was not present for the whole experience. But now I am starting to show up in my life, to be present in it. And it is exciting. Perhaps I will really learn something.
Hession: But can it be done out of the woods?
Gallant: Oh, yes, sure, it can be done anywhere. It is just that I could not do it out of the woods. I could not get the kind of stillness or quiet the noise enough and quiet the “shoulds” and all the comparisons enough to be able to get the space. And I have learned the value of solitude and deep intimacy with place from other people who have lived in the wilderness. I have had models of this in my life. I have been shown that living this way could awaken a part of me that was not being fed. And privacy is a hard thing to come by these days. It is not like everybody can just move to the woods. It is very difficult to get this kind of situation. I had a big education in the Oregon wilderness from my friend Mark who lived way outside the system. His father was a school principal and Mark was a rebel from the get-go. He was at war with the system. He taught me very thoroughly that there is another way to be on the planet. He would backpack into the wilderness with a sheet of plastic and a “tin wonder” - which is an old Ashley tin stove. And that was his home. He would wrap the plastic around a few trees, put a top on it, hook up the stove inside, get some firewood and start a marijuana crop. That was his home, his workshop, his industry - and he died in prison for it. I arrived there with no idea, no conception that there was another way to be on the planet. I was busy “making something of myself” - busily building a fortune, a career, a traditional marriage and the whole thing blew up in my face. I was forced into investigating other ways to be in the world. And then, much later, Pam and I lived in the wilderness in Washington State when our daughter was two and helped Mark’s sister build a house there. We spent three months in a tent. And Pam got the bug, too. She got to know the wilderness and saw the beauty of it. So, that was the foundation of our wanting to come out here to the woods. We had a longing to live either on an island way offshore or some kind of land-bound “island” like StoneOak. It has been quite a journey. It is no accident that we are here. In fact, I could live more remotely and really love it. As long as I have access to people and intimacy. It is about just being. It is the beauty. It is the direct connection to the land and other creatures. There is a lot to be said for living in the silence and beauty of it all.
Hession: I sense an urgency in your utterances.
Gallant: I am very concerned about the current state of the world. There has been a five-hundred-year fishing binge that has decimated the oceans. I participated in it for ten years when I was a commercial fisherman. In the last hundred years, we have fouled our nest almost completely in a variety of other ways. We have lost our relationship to the abundant mother. We have lost our intuitive knowledge of what to do to have a life. No sane man would walk into a forest and cut all the trees down. No sane man would catch all the fish - not through his own intuitive, natural devices. He would not do that anymore than a Native American would go in and shoot all the buffalo. He would not have it in him. It is not an ethic that comes with being truly alive. It is synthetic. It is imposed. It is craziness, a kind of insanity. And we all have it. We are sitting here in a greed-based, acquisitive society. It is based on creating endless need and endless production. But it is a suicide economy. It cannot survive. In order to keep up production, we are extracting every last resource from the earth. And all these “needs” we have are compensatory. We are not getting what we really need. We do not have intimacy in our lives to sustain us, so we have all this other junk to fill the void. We have been doing this for so long, we don’t see the crash we are headed for. We do not even see the bars of imprisonment in what could be paradise. We take our lead from television and the backbone of television is advertising. And we have a serious problem in this culture with obesity. The projections are that in thirty years, one hundred percent of us will be obese. What is that about? I do not know, but we are almost there. We have an addiction to comfort and safety. We have mistaken those for the good life. We do not have meaningful work. We are cogs in the industrial machine and we are all about soothing that pain. If you do not have to chop firewood, of course you will not. If you can hire someone to do something physical, of course you will. We do not even use our bodies for what they are designed for.
Hession: What do we need to do?
Gallant: We need to get back to our natural selves. We need to move into intimate, intuitive relationship with ourselves, others and the earth. We need an intimacy revolution.
Peter Gallant © 2004 All Rights Reserved.
January 14, 2004
I have noticed the benefit of the periodic in other areas of my life too. I attended “The Path of the Mystic” at Shalom Mountain last summer and it was the fourth time in six years that I had been on this particular retreat. I found that I could measure myself against the person who had been there five years or two years before. How had I grown? How had I changed? And others had been with me on the retreat over the years and they could help me with an objective view of my changes.
The daily review does not seem to work for me. I get too caught up with the busyness and the minutiae of the day. It is one of those trees and forest things. I cannot see the trees or the forest.
At last month’s Shalom Seacoast Gathering I was yanked into awareness again by a periodic event. I had attended many Gatherings over the last four years, and yet there I was feeling like a completely different person. I remembered the open hearted lover reveling in the dance and intimacy of many of the Gatherings. But he was not present last month. He was completely gone off to some unknown place. Instead I was there as my disconnected and frightened self.
As hard as it was to see this about myself, it gave me some awareness to work with. It made me long to be in a different place in my life. Sometimes a bit of awareness, a snatch of longing or a thimble full of desperation can make all the difference.