Going back for a university reunion: emotional intelligence, group work & learning to relate more deeply (3rd post)
Last updated on 21st March 2013
"God guard me from those thoughts men think in the mind alone; he that sings a lasting song, thinks in a marrow bone." W. B. Yeats
"We camouflage our true being before others to protect ourselves against criticism or rejection. This protection comes at a steep price. When we are not truly known by the other people in our lives, we are misunderstood. When we are misunderstood, especially by family and friends, we join the 'lonely crowd.' Worse, when we succeed in hiding our being from others, we tend to lose touch with our real selves. This loss of self contributes to illness in its myriad forms." Sidney Jourard
I'm writing a series of blog posts triggered by going back to university for a reunion next month. The most recent "Reconstructing our personal stories" linked to a dream I had sleeping in an "open trailer behind a garage on the outskirts of Rimini" back in 1970. A major reason it made such an impression on me was that I happened to be recording my dreams at the time ... not something I've done much over the course of my life. However I had been reading J. W. Dunne's classic book "An experiment with time" where he describes his experience with precognitive dreams, so I was keeping a dream record in a notebook. I'm pretty sure it was that morning that I woke, not with any kind of obvious precognitive dream, but with one that made a big impression on me and that (along with another one on "blessings" that I'll mention later) I've always remembered from that phase of dream recording over 40 years ago.
So my memory is that I woke having dreamt that I had been living in a house and down at the bottom of the garden in a very high sided round wooden enclosure was a fierce wild boar. Everyone was frightened of it and it was fenced in behind high walls made of planks to try to stop it damaging people. I had wandered down the garden and climbed up to look at the boar in its cage. Being observed like this seemed to enrage it and it started to run round and round its enclosure at a terrifying speed. Then like a motorbike riding horizontally around a "wall of death", the sheer speed the boar was travelling at allowed it to race round and round the inside of the plank walls and come higher and higher. I was a bit horrified, especially when the sprinting boar came all the way up to the top of the cage walls and spun out free into the garden. Scarey, this huge wild grunting beast questing round the garden looking for anyone it could challenge and maybe tear with its great tusks. And then something marvellous happened. As the beast found it was no longer enclosed, it gradually quietened down, began to snuffle round the garden, became tamer. Eventually ... and it didn't take all that long ... the boar was pretty much fine to be around. Not dangerous. Powerful. To be treated with respect, but also with affection. A beautiful beast to know and to befriend.
Back then I didn't really "do" emotion. Being brought up by loving, but inhibited, parents; going through a single sex, boarding school education; and even the "be here now" floatingness of the late 60's combined so that I tended to view strong emotions with suspicion & confusion and very much kept them to an enclosure at the bottom of the garden. I could do "spiritual", I could work & party hard, I could be ubiquitously friendly in a "Far out, man!" kind of way. It was genuinely rather special, but I didn't do emotions ... at least not "wild boar" grunting, angry, lustful, tearful ones ... especially if they came packaged in a multi-coloured mixture. I couldn't see how strong emotions would combine with long hair, flower power, a marijuana haze, peace and love. We were going to have to wait well over a quarter of a century before books like Daniel Goleman's "Emotional intelligence" and "Social intelligence" were to be published. However Carl Rogers brought out "Encounter groups" in 1970 and Lieberman, Yalom & Miles' groundbreaking "Encounter groups, first facts" came out in '73.
In the winter of 71/72 I travelled down to London for a weekend encounter group. It simply blew my mind. I was stunned. I spent two days with a roomful of complete strangers and was more consistently open & authentic emotionally than I'd ever been in my life. I remember feeling crazily that people would somehow be destroyed, dismembered, the walls covered with blood with such raw expressions of feeling. It was a primitive psychological technology, I think now. It was tremendously important for me though. I don't know how or why but somehow it was an element that I swam in joyfully. It took courage and sensitivity and I loved it. At the end of the weekend, the group leader said to me something like "Have you ever thought of going into this kind of work?" I went back to Cambridge, to my lovely shared hippie home, and sat down with my three housemates and experimented with being honest. It was a bit of a bombshell, but the start of something huge for me. When I went down to London in the autumn of 1972 to start three years of clinical medical training, I was deeply committed to learning three disciplines at once ... modern biomedicine, yoga & meditation, and interpersonal group work ... themes that have coloured and continue to colour the next forty years of my life.
This website is a kind of treasure trove to these areas. So there is the stark blog post "Strong relationships improve survival as much as quitting smoking", the celebratory "Friendship: science, art & gratitude", the model building of "Meeting at relational depth" and the explanatory "Different kinds of group, different kinds of friendship". Also relevant here are the many available handouts & questionnaires on the "Good knowledge" pages "Relationships in general" & "Relationships, families, couples & psychosexual". See too posts like "Conflict & disagreement, in & out of therapy", "My dilemma: passion or peacefulness?", "Conflict: not too much, not too little - and how to make it constructive" & "When to get real & problem solve in close relationships". And there are a wealth of handouts & descriptions of groups ... for example "Interpersonal group work", "Setting up a therapists' support group", "A quiet rant to group facilitators" and a cornucopia of peer residential group posts (often the quite personal descriptions seem to trigger helpful broader thinking on stress, health & wellbeing), typically mixed groups in the spring and men's groups in the autumn ... see May '08, November '08, May '09 (with a description of cathartic work), November '09, May '10, November '10, May '11 and October '11.
For heading down to the reunion itself, see the next post "Going back for a university reunion: self-esteem, hallucinogens, wonder & the transpersonal (4th post)".