Internal Family Systems–A Life Philosophy or Therapy?

Why am I writing this blog?  Because I am very attracted to the ideology of Internal Family Systems and its promise of healing, and find it very disturbing at the same time.  I’m hoping I may convince myself to have a more integrated point-of-view if I explore it.

I studied English literature and, at the same time (approximately), read philosophy voraciously.  I found statements, scattered here and there, written by novelists, poets and philosophers, about how metaphysics and the definition of human nature had fallen out of the hands of artists and philosophers, and that in modern life, psychotherapists had taken charge of defining reality and human nature, if not the relationship between heaven and earth.  Like most writers with a philosophical (and metaphysical) bent, I resented this.  And because I am a Pisces and hold on to resentments into eternity, I still resent it.  In fact, as time has gone by I’ve come to be horrified by the hold psychology has on our modern consciousness.  This doesn’t keep me from going to therapy, BTW.  But then, every time I go (particularly to couples therapy), I blog and make fun of the therapist.  So at least I get some amusement out of it.

Internal Family Systems, developed as a discrete model for approaching therapy, was developed by Dick Schwartz and is now the hip therapy to learn (along with Diane Fosha’s AEDP, which I am not attracted to) .  He’s an interesting guy–fairly unassuming as therapy gurus go–but then, since his model is derived from what his clients told him, he would have to be.  And he seems to encourage other therapists to apply his way of thinking to all aspects of life–coaching, co-counseling, political models, etc.  He’s not obsessive about holding onto and controlling his own ideology.

This is all to the good.

Internal Family Systems in based in Jungian theory (among others) that we all have a multiplicity of subselves that operate to protect us from life’s vicissitudes.  They may be archetypal, but they are, of course, a family of subselves, and family systems theory may therefore be applied to an understanding of the individual.  Schwartz classifies the different types of subselves and their relationships in this way (simplified):

  1. Protectors–Subselves who work to prevent an individual from experiencing unpleasant emotions.  For example, after a bad experience, a “Manager” Protector will come up with a strategy to avoid any experiences that might resonate to the original painful experience.  If a repeat starts to occur, a “Firefighter” Protector will introduce an extreme and immediately numbing behavior (like drinking, overeating, blaming/yelling) to shut the experience down asap.
  2. Exiles–Young subselves who carry the unwanted and painful emotions.  The Protectors want to keep the Exiles from being reactivated.
  3. SELF–The essential core of any person, creative, confident, compassionate, and able to heal and coordinate the other parts.

Of course, in all therapy, language is taught:  “I” statements, for example.  My partner and I joke all the time about saying, “I feel that you are an asshole.”  Or, “From my perspective, you are an asshole.)  We like to call this recovery with a license to kill.

Anyhow, in IFS (Internal Family Systems), languaging is taught as well, but goes even further.  Clients are taught to identify parts and to speak of them in the third person–to speak for parts rather than from parts. But IFS goes beyond languaging.  In order to do this type of therapy, in order to learn the language, the client must first agree to the construct–that there are subselves or parts, and that there is a dominant and central spiritual self with certain qualities and abilities.  Introspection as well as communication is guided by this understanding–the client looks internally for typical experiences of exiles, protectors, inner critics, etc.  And the client must seek, always, to be “Self-led.”

By the way, I do accept the construct of subselves and I also empirically understand the experience of an enlightened “self” within me.  I even find the concepts for introspection really interesting.

So what’s the problem?

Think of it this way.  Feminism teaches us to 1) listen to each other rather than to assume any one opinion or world view is best (opposite to the paternalistic, one right way approach), and 2) that empowerment comes from facilitating and supporting a person’s own vision and point-of-view, rather than correcting, reframing, controlling, or dominating.  In other words, basic respect comes into play.  It’s easiest to do this from a relativist philosophy, or from a Catholic (as in, pluralistic) understanding that incorporates many different perspectives or systemic approaches to the world and being human.

This is where IFS can run into trouble.  In IFS, the education is very explicit, and therapists can and often are dogmatic in practice.  In a session, for example, if you say how you feel, the therapist is likely to say, “You mean a part of you feels that.”  Then the therapist will explain to you whether that’s a protector or an exile, and may give lectures about how the different subselves relate to each other.

I may or may not disagree with this in any particular moment, but I have to return to feminism and say, isn’t it dangerous for someone to interpret another human being’s internal world, label its construction, and insist that this construction be memorized as a set-in-stone interpretation?  I have heard IFS practitioners say, “Managers ALWAYS elicit firefighters.  They can’t ever get along.”  I was like, really?  Subselves have prescribed relationships that never vary, individual to individual?  Man, that is a SCARY way to think.

Then, while I strongly believe that spirituality is the true foundation of human healing and human change, I worry about how specifically Self is defined in IFS, and how practitioners will say, “That can’t be a Self thought because of x, y, and z.”  The spirituality implicit in IFS is both its strength and its great danger, because often spirituality is taught as a belief system, and if people are taught a belief system, that’s usually called a religion or a cult.  And if clients are pressured into beliefs, the name is malpractice.  (I grew up Catholic, and believe me, there’s not a lot of difference between, “If you don’t accept x, y & z then you are going to hell,” and, “If you don’t accept x, y & z and see the world this way, then you won’t heal or your healing will take decades longer.”  Both are threats; both contain language to invoke shame.)

I do understand that Dick Schwartz developed IFS through observation, and since I took a workshop with him, I also know that he explains IFS specifically as a collection of observations about what clients had in common in explaining their inner lives.  I suppose, therefore, part of my problem is simply with the practice, with making the observation of IFS into dogma, and losing the impulse that Schwartz had originally–careful and present listening as the way to truly help.

I bristle at being told what to do, what to think, or how to speak, just as a matter of principle, and also, truth be told, because I like to rebel and be different (or I can’t help rebelling and being different, or I have subselves who rebel–firefighters and managers).  But I also find that the greatest challenge for all of us humans is to be present to what is, congruent to the present moment in our thoughts and behavior, and to be endlessly creative and adaptive.  We can’t phone it in.  Accepting thoughts or constructs or the stories we tell ourselves about why other people do what they do as gospel–well, I study Buddhism so as to quiet that insanity.  And it is insanity…all the righteousness, all the one correct way, is insanity.

So philosophy or therapy?  It is both.  And therein, as the man says, lies the rub.

The good thing is that thinking about IFS calls into question all therapy–which always contains a life philosophy, always contains a definition of human nature and the human mind, and must therefore always and continually be questioned.

Therapy, as a practice, is an art form, not a science.  (Sometimes science is an art form, but I won’t go into that.)  And we must be careful of each other.  Because one side of the couch or the other, we are flawed, even with our best intentions.  We can hurt each other.

As for me, I’ll probably keep trying this stuff, because I’m ridiculously curious.  But I’m also arrogant, so let me say that I hope to try it with someone who is close to my level of intelligence.  Otherwise, it’s all war, all the time.  Because no one gets to tell me what to think, what to say, and what inside me is nearest to the light.  If I let them, then I abdicate my independence of mind and spirit.  And how can that help anyone?

Click to access Fosha_Meta_Therapeutic_Processes_2000.pdf

The Stork Returns. I mean, REALLY!!!!

My partner is in love with the Stork.

As we interviewed couples’ therapists and fired one after another (nicely, since I now practice Buddhism), she finally started crying and saying how sad she was we couldn’t see the Stork any more.

I told her if he meant that much to her she could always see him alone, so we went back in to do closure as a couple so she could see him as an individual, and he turned out to be kind of great (meaning honest, sorry for his mistakes).  In his Stork way.  He even kind of got me, for the first time.  (I seem to be heavily inscrutable to these people–it took him a year.)  So closure turned out to be let’s-check-it-out again, and I started tagging along while my partner did the sessions.  Once I fell asleep while she talked to him.  The Stork was like, “Lyralen must finally feel safe if she falls asleep.”

My partner was like, “Am I that boring?”

I was like, “Hey, it’s all you, all the time, don’t complain.”

Of course, I’m still traumatized from the therapist who fell asleep on me when I was 21, but who’s counting.

Meanwhile, the Stork yawned through the only session I talked in, so I can only say that payback is a bitch.

And there is this–comedy reigns in sessions with the Stork.  He’s more or less promised not to cook rice or make telephone calls during our sessions, so things are looking up in the sanity department.  I expect it to last a month or two, tops, before he goes super annoying again and provides me with much blog material.  Stay posted.

Of course, get this–even though I knew, in that super intuitive way I have, that my partner and I belong with the Stork, I insisted we try out another couples therapist who is smart and boundaried.  I knew it wouldn’t work with her–no, not because she’s smart and boundaried.  She has this funky dark edge to her energy that seems pretty judgmental (not my favorite).  But really, I had to actually apologize to her, because me fighting reality (that I am destined to a farcical couples therapy with a very honest Stork) isn’t a good reason to start some therapeutic relationship that has no chance of succeeding.  I mean, I didn’t mind firing the other 7 therapists after mostly 1 session interviews.  We were spending money we didn’t have; and the therapists were either out there controlling (that’s partly the couples’ model, but hey, supposedly they have a brain…they could figure out it’s controlling and get innovative)  (What am I saying?  Most therapists would not come anywhere near Mensa status.  Or any award in independent thought, either.) or completely insane (the one with the gorilla puppet stands out in my mind particularly).  Like, who cares about firing them?  They totally deserved it.

But, my fight with reality causing us to go to someone I know we’ll not ending up seeing who I kind of liked when I met at Kripalu…that felt lousy.  So I apologized last night in an email.  That’s my second apology in a month to a therapist, so the practice of Buddhism is seriously changing my personality.  It’s quite frightening.  Almost as frightening as the occasional lack of chatter in my mind.  I’m like, “Whoa, that is way too quiet.  I’ve gone stupid.  I’ve gone boring.  What am I supposed to do without all these neuroses?”

Of course, that doesn’t stop me from attending the Letting Go of Fear meditation practice group on Tuesday nights.  People in the group laughed when, after announcing I had no fear, I had to ask the meditation leader to repeat his descriptions of unskillful reactions to fear because I kept forgetting everything he said as soon as he said it.  Clearly I am about to join my partner in the land of Garcia Marquez’s novel One Hundred Years of Solitude in which a whole village loses its memory and everything has to be labelled with its name and function.

Hmmm.  Fear.  Why am I taking this workshop?  Well, we’re supposed to acknowledge 3 moments of fear each day.  I had my 3 by 5am yesterday, though I ended up acknowledging only one of them.  So I guess I have fear.  Hello to worry, panic (that was in a traffic jam…I’m claustrophic…oh, right, that’s a fear, I must have fear), anxiety, terror, etc.

It should be said that after acknowledging the panic, calling my partner, and pulling over to sit with it, I was able to do a terribly long drive in relative peace.

I practice Buddhism because it works.  Unlike therapy.  In which the therapist gets to act like they’re way more enlightened and sane…a complete lie.  At least in Buddhism we’re all insanely constructing realities that don’t exist.

I am nothing if not egalitarian.

A Little Self-Aggrandizement…Or NOT

The best thing about me is that I truly know how full of shit I am.

No, really.

Having spent last week in the company of so many therapists, I realized that the deepest danger is in believing your own bullshit.  In other words, believing that you are somehow better and more enlightened than other people.

Of course, I often believe this.  But, back to the first sentence, all the meditating has taught me just what a load of crap that belief ALWAYS is.  And when you face that belief in people who invest in it, who live from it, well, it is definitely cringe-worthy.  As in, “I can’t believe I act like that sometimes.”

The enlightenment of the cringe and identification can only resonate if you recognize that you probably act like that a whole lot more often than you realize in the present moment.  Then you can descend/ascend (it’s not clear) to new levels of humility, making you much more bearable to live with.

Of course, this is me we’re talking about.  And therapists.  So I’m like, “Thank whatever/whoever I’m not as stupid as you a*(hol$#S.”  I mean, give me a break.  Do I really have to practice enlightenment with therapists?

It seems I do.  Though since my partner and I have gone through 6 couples therapists since last September (okay, 3 of them we only saw for one-two sessions, and we only saw FUH for 3 sessions), with the Stork-man the hands-down favorite (we lost count of how many session with him, but it’s probably more than 15), I still have to be grateful to the grief counselor with her animal-patterned socks and keep myself from yelling at the new IFS therapist who dresses like an interpretative dancer and continually explains things to me that I ALREADY KNOW.

From the point-of-view of Hindu philosophy, I am obviously exploring my samskara truly, madly and deeply.  (Samskara are life patterns, complexes, re-enactments of old issues that re-occur forever or at least until you reach enlightenment.)  I would like to say, for the record, that I hate it when people don’t seem to recognize how smart I am (telling me things I already know) and when they limit what I want to explore.

I don’t know how to have humility about how smart I am.  I’m really smart.  Maybe I could practice thinking that intelligence is a gift I didn’t earn, awarded at birth through some accident of genetics.

Naw.  I’m just really smart.

But not better than other people.

Oh, comparison.  The truth is that therapists go around thinking that they’re better because the human condition is truly overwhelming and we really have no idea what we’re doing, though we keep telling ourselves that we do.  Just getting up and facing how little we truly know is an act of courage.  I’d much rather criticize the therapeutic profession than admit that I’m terrified I’m going to miss the boat entirely, off on some samskara or another.  Smart–yes, but that can be just another way to create some super-intellectual bullshit that has no relevance to how to live a life well, in search of enlightenment, grounded in peace.

When I know how full of shit I really am, when I fully admit how little I know, there is only surrender, which is unconditional and exists as a possibility in every moment.  In other words, I don’t know what I’m doing and I don’t have to.  I ground into the moment, and I trust in some source of Light or goodness that will open up a way I can’t see yet, and that it will be hard, wonderful, right.

That may just be another story, but it’s the one I’m going with for now.  Because guess what?  Samskara often falls away in the light of surrender.  I don’t know why, but it truly does.

FUH, Part 2

I would like to have another topic besides couples therapy.  Especially because right now, at this very minute, I should be studying for my yoga teacher training test, which is tonight.  If I fail, it’s the blog’s fault.

Wow, a cool new thing to blame!

But, back to wanting a new topic, I don’t really have one.  There is just the new couples’ therapist, not long for this world, because I think she’s psychotic.

Why do I think this?

Because I told her that interrupting me when I’m telling my partner I’m hurt didn’t win her any points, and I don’t really like therapists, etc, etc.  Then she says, staring directly into my eyes:

“How will this affect us?”

I put a jacket over my entire head and squealed a little.  I could feel my partner laughing next to me.  Finally, I took the jacket off of my face and looked at FUH.  She was still staring into my eyes, but now at least she didn’t quite know what to do.

I’m like, “That is just way too intimate for me.  I don’t even know you.”

I did not say, but will say here, “US?  What the f*&( do you mean, US?  There is no us.  If you want to ask how it affects the therapy, fine, but at least acknowledge that it is a business relationship, not some kind of deep bond or collaboration because the truth is I don’t even like you and I really think you desperately need a fashion consultant!!!!”

My partner and I agree that when FUH looks at you like that, she’s trying to suck your soul out of your eyes right into her super intense need for a life that she clearly does not have.

In other words, couples therapy continues to provide us with a common enemy, thereby fulfilling its purpose of keeping us bonded and getting along.

But I really don’t think I can look at FUH’s wardrobe for much longer.  It kind of hurts my eyes.

Heigh Ho, Heigh Ho, Back to Therapy We Go

Tuesday night my partner came to the theater from her meditation class to nab a ride with me.  I asked her to drive and then went off on a rant, so I’m sure she wished she had waited for the T instead.

The precursor to the rant happened on Monday, as we ventured back into couples therapy with a therapist I have now named F$#^ing Ugly Head.  But I was not content to go off on only Monday night’s ridiculous couples session.  I had to include the fact, which I will now confess, that after Don’s death and the end of the theatre production, I went back to individual therapy as well, to see a grief counselor (more on this later).  And then I decided to try my partner’s new love, Internal Family Systems, so somehow I ended up with two therapists, which, considering how much I truly, and I do mean TRULY hate therapy, is beyond ironic.

Anyhow, we’re driving down Longwood, past the hospitals and the library where my partner works, the streets empty with those circles of light falling on the pavement, with the buildings in shadow, only the occasional doctor or nurse in green scrubs scurrying across the street.  I was like, “OH MY GOD, can you believe last night?”  My partner’s like, “I know.”

And that was all the permission I needed.  The rant went something like this:  “What is with her hair?  I mean, it doesn’t even have a part.  And that shirt.  I mean, it squashed her boobs, and frankly, I don’t want to see my couples therapist’s cleavage under any circumstances.  And if she asks one of those questions like “How does it feel to be seen by me and your partner?” again, I am going to scream, puke, and then walk out the door.  I mean, I don’t even know her.  I don’t f*&%ing care what she sees or doesn’t see!  Just get a new wardrobe, for Christsakes!  What is with these people?  I mean, the IFS one looks like she’s ready to burst into an interpretative dance at any moment and the grief counselor has little animals on her socks!”

My partner couldn’t stop laughing.  Then she’s like, “Wow, I don’t think this couples therapist is going to last long.  I mean, ‘F$%^ing Ugly Head?’ You must hate her a lot.”


Then I made the mistake of asking her this:  “What do you think about my problem with the Interpretative Dancer’s tendency to diagnose and use labels from the DSM whatever?”

She said, “I think you have a point, but it’s also a really good trailhead for something big underneath.”

Trailhead is an IFS term for any event that leads to pain from the past.  I’d much prefer my partner had been referring to the South Kaibab Trail or Bright Angel, both paths at the Grand Canyon, where we met.  No such luck.

It took me a couple days to find the rant on that trailhead, which was not funny and was all about having my humanity diminished twice, the first time by people who hurt me enough to send me to therapy, and the second by the therapists, who reframe my experience, label me, analyze me, tell me who I am, and/or seem to get into how sexy, interesting and compelling I am, either hitting on me or telling me they wish they could be my friend/mother/student, etc.  I was crying during this rant, and fashion problems were not mentioned.

I do truly hate therapy.  And here’s the funny thing–the grief counselor, who I actually like, and, in spite of the animals on her socks, is often wise in how she handles me, is the one I seem least interested in working with.  I mean, she let me come in and talk and cry about Don for two months, barely saying a word (which, frankly, I think all therapists should learn to do–KEEP THEIR MOUTHS SHUT).  It’s clear she’s not diagnosing in an extreme way.  She’s irritating, occasionally, but she’s kind, and she’s just really good at seeing and witnessing instead of asking, “How do you feel about being seen by me?”  (To which, BTW, I responded, on Monday, with, “I don’t feel seen in couples therapy,” thereby confounding expectations and pissing FUH (acronym for F$$^ing Ugly Head) off enough for her to add, rather aggressively, “Do you want to be seen?”  I did not say, “Absolutely.  I’m going to start a new trend in streaking any moment now.  I hope your neighbors don’t mind.” <She sees people in her house.>)

Anyhow, the grief seems to have gotten better, and I’m no longer blaming myself for how powerless I was to save Don and get him better medical treatment, so therapy with the Grief Counselor has gotten kind of boring.  I’ve stopped going, at least for the next month, which is incredibly busy with work and yoga teacher training.

But couples therapy–my partner and I have gotten really happy and sweet again, which I attribute to having a butt for my jokes who is not her, and aligning ourselves against the common enemy: the couples therapist.

So while I think that FUH isn’t long for our world, I might as well milk her stupid questions for all they’re worth and just let myself behave miserably while I can.  I am so sick of being Buddhist and skillful with these people.  I am planning on going in to the Interpretative Dancer and saying, “So I suppose you have a thing for Isadora Duncan?”  I am planning on saying to FUH, “Have you read my blog on new fashions for therapists and wearing clothes that are not a size too small?”

I mean, would anyone die?

Of course, my partner reads this blog, so she’ll probably talk me out of the FUH idea, and I’ll have to be all skillful and say, “Let’s get real.  If this is going to work, you can’t ask me those therapist questions.  And, by the way, the next time I’m all vulnerable and telling my partner that she hurt my feelings, which is not easy for me, I’d suggest you not change the F$%^ING SUBJECT!”

Really.  What is WITH these people?

3 days and counting….

So.  It happened.

The fight.

Not a blowout.

Unclear who started it.  I mean, you could trace these things back to the caves, if you know what I mean.

Also, I suppose I kind of started it, but only in the vaguest possible way.

We had just returned from interviewing the new couples therapist, and she had a scented candle we were both allergic to, so really, it’s her fault.

Anyhow, it looks like year 25 is still going to happen, fight or no fight.  We’re being all mature and talking about it.

Does this mean I can no longer text, “i hate u 4ever?’

I think it does.

I may lie down and die.  Because those texts really get me through the day.

Also, I am considering starting a whole new business.  Like, I plan new web pages in my head when I’m meditating.

I’m just a whole bunch of enlightenment in one body, let me tell you.

5 Days and Counting!

Mush, mush, mush, mush.

That’s what it’s like around here these days.

Though there was some talk about whipping someone with wet spaghetti.

And we have two, count them two couples therapy sessions this week, (Final sayonara to the Stork and trying out someone new we can’t afford because she wants us to do our own insurance billing…what is WITH these people?).

Yesterday my partner texted me: “I love you.  OMG, intimacy!”

I texted her back: “Me 2.  I mean I hate you 4ever.”

She reported later that she laughed very loudly in the middle of a silent writing exercise in her how-to-do-therapy workshop.  (My partner texts during her therapy workshop!  There may be hope for her yet!)

I would also like to state, for the record, that I am very disappointed that not a single person voted on whether or not we’d have the big blowout fight.

But I bet you could guess who it was that brought up the wet spaghetti idea.

5 days and counting.

I think it’s now just a question of how creatively neurotic we become as the 25 year mark inches its way toward us.


The Queen of Polish OR “I” Statements and Going Easy on the Stork’s Swan Song

I am suave, smooth.  I communicate elegantly.  In other words, our breakup with the Stork couples therapist (ongoing) started last night with a bit of, well, ahimsa.  And panache.  And f*&(ing “I” statements.

We started the conversation like this:

Me:  (To my partner.)  You’re on.

My partner:  Uh.

Me:  Uh?

My partner: Um.

Me:  (Pause, looking at her.)

My partner:  (Pause, looking at me.)

Me:  I guess I’ll go.

Then I proceeded to communicate my experience, including my doubts, questions, mistrust, self-questioning, without once blaming the Stork for being an insane person.  I periodically turned the topic over to my partner:

Me:  So it’s your turn.

My partner:  Uh.

Me:  Are you stuck?

My partner:  (To the Stork.)  I just want to blame it all on you.

Stork:  I can take it.

Me (thinking silently):  That is one big fat lie.

My partner:  Uh.  Um.  (She looks at me.)

Me:  Still stuck?

My partner:  Uh-huh.

Me:  Allow me.

Then I again talked about my own experience in a very moderate and adult way while steering the conversation to solutions without directly suggesting any.  We ended with the Stork encouraging us to interview other therapists while still seeing him, so we weren’t left in the lurch (read:  homicidal and very anti-ahimsa with each other) in the meantime.  Which was pretty much my goal, and I do usually get what I want when I’m all elegant, polished, kind and focused on ahimsa.  (Is it really ahimsa?  If I’m getting what I want?)

Of course, now that I’m back to doing the John Sarno investigation of my unconscious and apparently limitless homicidality, clearly such elegance also results in BACK PAIN, which is not ahimsa at all, since I end up suffering.

And there you have it.  The bind of all existence.

I have said this before:  The shadow must have its day.

I’ve been having epiphany moments about my new life–you know, the one I’m fantasizing about in between doing 7 million hours of yoga and reading the Yoga Sutras of Patajali as well as texts on Buddhism.  And it all comes down to this–yoga, religion, meditation…isn’t it all about turning us into good little boys and girls?  I mean, really, all that higher self and elegance is just so….boring.

Mind you, lock me in a room with someone possessed by criticism and blame and I’ll get on my ahimsa high horse in a flat second.  It’s more the impossibility of eradicating sin, or the animal part of our natures, our primal emotions, that concerns me.

I think of the Meisner technique at its most advanced best, when the humanity of two actors collides without barriers–and there is love, joy, sexuality, rage, pain, hurt, flirting.  People have said things to me in the repetition exercise that brought me to the point of shaking with fear or angry enough to hit, and then afterward I felt so close to them.  If it had been life, I’d probably have made sure I never saw the person again.  It’s the safe container of the creative world and the exercise itself that allows all parts of the self–dark and light–full expression.   That’s where the creative closeness comes from.  Especially if you’re in the service of story, expression, meaning.

We just don’t seem to be able to allow for that full expression anywhere else.  There’s such danger of really damaging each other.  So it’s all about controlling, containing and civilizing.  The problem is that while those things are important–who wants violence or verbal abuse in their life?–there’s a tendency for them to actually feed the rage and pain that lies underneath bad behavior.  The standards expressed by religion, or therapy–speak only in “I” statements (therapy), be only peaceful, follow these rules, calm the mind…can’t undo our inherent messiness, and when these rules are imposed with rigidity, the shadow grows stronger and in need of expression.

I’m mostly messy with my partner.  Sometimes I say, “I just really need to be bad right now.”  Then I jump on her and tickle her and she makes jokes about how long this particular fit will last and will she survive it.

Sometimes I come home from a day of successfully practicing ahimsa and I say, “Oh my God, I’ve been so mature today I think I’m going to die.”  Then I throw myself down on the yoga mat and writhe for a while.

I frequently announce that I need attention or that I’m about to show off or that I’d like to kill x, y, or z.

I do not say these things as examples anyone should follow.  It’s just that balance, moment to moment messiness, is a goal for me.  I’m either a paragon or a very very bad, rebellious teenager trapped in a much older body.  (My partner would say that I am vastly over-estimating my age.  She’d vote for 5 years old trapped in a much larger body.)

Spirituality, calm and beauty are things I love, but I know, truly, madly, deeply, that the shadow, the unhealed, the unexpressed, must rise up, and it’s better if I find a place of welcome for it than if I try to make it go away or pretend it never existed in the first place.

Think of Right Wing Christians, so invested in their own goodness that hatred and intolerance dominate their lives.

Being human is tricky.

This morning I helped my partner write an email about a conflict she’d had with some people.  Her first draft was stilted–non-blaming, but disorganized and hard to understand.  We had this conversation about how when she doesn’t criticize other people, she gets blocked on what to say.  So I helped her with the email (a little overbearingly…and yes, that is an invented word) and we looked at it.  The paragraph I’d written as an example was very polished.  You’d never know how devastated and triggered she was.  And indeed, polish is a mask for hurt feelings, for feeling less than, a way to hide when you’re afraid other people will use your own vulnerability against you.  We were like, “Wow, we are such opposites!”  (We realize this about every other hour or so.)  I keep people at a distance when I’m all elegant and “I” statements or when I’m too reactive/rebellious for life.  My partner keeps people at a distance by being too messy  or being silent because she’s afraid of being messy.

And so I wonder–what is the true path to awakening?  It cannot only be meditating and being oh-so-perfect.  And then I remember my Western meditation teachers warning that meditating your feelings away is called repression, not awakening.  Meditation is about knowing, investigating and holding all the feelings while recognizing that they are not you.  It’s a way to get bigger than your own experience, and so to have more choices.

In Internal Family Systems (my partner’s obsession) this would be about being able to tell the difference between an internal Manager (like the Queen of Polish) and Self (the true compassionate center that can communicate honestly about all other parts and all feelings).

I can deconstruct anything, so let me say that trying to be in Self all the time then becomes the perfection to avoid.*

But.  But.  The Queen of Polish manages the world of communication with skill and panache.  Self, the true heart, the bigger, meditated Lyralen is actually more vulnerable.  And much more accessible to other people and the world.

And therefore to be avoided at all costs.

Just kidding.

I think.

*To give Dick Schwartz his due, he does say that healthy couples live in a state of play in which different parts of who they are come and go without fear.

The End of My Life as a Christopher Durang Character OR Mixing Metaphors

Yes, I plan to commit suicide in my role as a Chris Durang character.

In other words, the Stork’s swan song is imminent (there’s my mixed metaphor).

I haven’t fired him yet, but I have sworn to do so.  I haven’t taken an oath in blood, but I figure blogging about it is almost as good, as far as commitments go.

Truth is, after he said, “Lyralen might abandon me,” it was only a matter of time.  Because who can pass up an invitation like that?  Besides, it was completely unprofessional and inappropriate.  I think sometimes my partner and I should continue our pattern of going through couples therapists like bottles of Smart Water (health freaks that we are) just so we can see what else they can come up with in that category:  inappropriate and unprofessional.

See, they’re self-employed, and they report to no one besides their clients, who are in therapy, face it, because they’re f*(&ed up and don’t know any better.  So they think they can make up the rules as they go along.  NOT.  WITH.  ME.

Okay.  Would you like to know what the Stork did this time?  I was actually saying something profoundly intimate to my partner.  In fact, I had three profoundly intimate topics in one session, which might be a record.

The first referred to a promise she made to me and how we might finally have a start on an agreement about fair fighting.  I said that it should be egalitarian, that I have to live up to it, too.  Then she made a practical suggestion about how we could do it.  I told her I thought it was a good idea and maybe one of us should take a stab at writing the fair fighting agreement.  She said she would.  Then I said, “That’s about all I can do on that subject,” and she said, “Okay.” (She really meant the okay, because we’d argued about it so much and she knew giving concessions is hard for me.  She is a person of compassion, my partner.)

The second–I decided to tell her that sometimes I can’t see her clearly because she reminds me of my father.  I get confused about what love is when she reminds me of him.  I start feeling distrust.  We were pretty much in the middle of talking about this, and in the process, one of us mentioned a Breathwork and IFS workshop she’d done over the weekend.  I said, “Yes, when you came home I wanted to just listen about it, but we still hadn’t resolved the fair fighting thing, and I’d been waiting for you to get back to me about it, and I was anxious, so I didn’t want to be close until we worked it out.”  The Stork, who’d got interested in the breathwork thing, says to my partner, “You did a workshop with Stanislav Grof?”  And she was like, “Yeah, but not this one.  The one I did with him was this fall, at Kripalu.”  And he’s like, “I didn’t know he was still alive.”  And she’s like, “Yeah.”  And he’s like, “I did one workshop and then decided to get trained in it.  I bet it helps with accessing x, y & z.”  And she’s like, “Yeah, I really like it.”  And he’s like, “Lyralen, what about you?”  And I’m like, “Honestly, I avoid it like the plague.”  And he’s like, “I thought you did a lot of bodywork.”  And I’m like, “Yeah, but rebirthing and that kind of breathwork make me want to run for the hills.”  He’s like, “It’s good to not have any control.”  And I’m like, “You really want to see me out of control?”  And so he turns back to my partner and starts monologueing about her experience and I say, “WATASHI WA!”  And I point to my nose.

In case you’re wondering, watashi wa is Japanese for me, and in Japan, if you reference yourself, you point to your nose, not your heart like we do in the West.

My partner started cracking up, because she knew I was really saying, “Shut up about the breathwork!  I have an AGENDA.”

So then I went back to talking about wanting to see her more clearly.  She said she understood, and she wanted to change things because she hates my father.  Which was good, I thought.

Finally, I got to topic #3.  The night before, I’d asked her, “Do you really want to be closer to me than we normally are?”  And she said, “Yes.”  So I’d thought about it, and said, “I can’t tell the difference between you wanting closeness and just getting mad at me when I say no to meeting all your needs.”  And she said, “I can’t tell the difference either.”  And I said, “I can’t turn into someone who finds it easy to be all mushy.  I wish I could be as open-hearted as Don was, but I can’t.  I get too scared.”

And then the Stork said something useful.  I almost fainted.  He said, “You can’t be someone else.  But you can be present as yourself.  Like Oscar Wilde says, ‘You might as well be yourself.  Everyone else is taken.'”

I said to my partner, “That’s what closeness means to me.  Like when we’re getting along and your neuroses are an endless source of amusement instead of something to criticize.”

But then the Stork says, “I’ve been kind of fading in and out, there’s just something very subdued about this session.”  And I’m like, “I’ve been crying all day because of Don.”  My partner says, “I’m exhausted from work.”  She and I look at each other and we’re like, “This is okay with me, is it with you?”

The Stork says, “I’d like to go back to the fair fighting agreement.  You know, in IFS*, you can still get angry, you just have to speak for parts instead of being blended and speaking from parts.  You know what I mean, don’t you (to my partner)?”

My partner nods.

Then he looks at me.  “Lyralen, do you understand?” As if I’m in kindergarten.

“Yes,” I answer homicidally.  Because he has only explained this about 15 times (he’s a born-again IFS person and talks about it incessantly) and besides, I read the IFS books and knew all about speaking for parts instead of from parts before session 1, which I have told him over and over again.  Also, I am conceptually gifted, so understanding the concept wasn’t exactly rocket science for me.  What I wanted to say was, “Yes, I read the books and in case you haven’t noticed I’m a lot smarter than you are.”  What I did say was, “I already told you I’ve done as much as I can on this topic.”  And he’s like, “I just want your partner to know that if she tries not to get angry at all it will build up and she’ll explode.”  And I’m like, (more homicidal by this point) “But I still can’t do any more on this topic.”  He says, “Oh.  Okay.”

Therefore, I have taken an oath to fire the Stork so I don’t have to kill him.  Much as I will miss the absurdity of Eckhardt Tolle quotes, IFS repetitive lectures, and his abandonment issues, enough is enough.

My partner, who is less reactive to the Stork than I am, basically agrees with all my conclusions.  She says, “He just has to be the center of attention all the time.”

So true.  And obviously a problem, because I need to be the center of attention, if not all the time, at least 60%.  Though 70% is better.

I’m sure this will be a topic with our next couples therapist, as my partner isn’t really happy with 40%, let alone 30.  As I’m sure you could guess.

And so, back to the world of therapist interviews.  Perhaps we will meet another therapist who talks with puppets, or who dresses as the Wicked Witch of the West or who turns into a dog between visits.  I am not looking forward to it.  To say the least.

IFS:  The Richard Schwartz theory that we are all made up of subselves called parts.  Some of these parts are protectors, some critics, some firefighters, some exiles (lost children), etc.  My partner is an experienced peer counselor in this method and is now, as I’ve previously mentioned, doing a professional training in it.  To prove my intermittent sainthood, I’m doing a workshop to get some practice in it.  But, more importantly, I am really interested in writing a comedy called, “Me and My Parts VS. You and Your Parts.”  (Which has to have some couples therapy visits in the plot.  It just has to.)

IFS info:

More YOGA: Ahimsa or At Least I Crack Myself Up

Ahimsa, is the first of the yamas of yoga and Hinduism (rules for ethical conduct) and it means non-violence.

I took my first yoga class with Patricia Walden in Cambridge a couple weeks ago, and she was leading off the class with a discussion of the yamas.  The class was on satya, the second yama (truth or honesty), but she mentioned ahimsa and off I went.

Ahimsa is the building block for all ethics, of course, and perhaps because of that the most difficult to practice.  Oh, I know, it’s easy to have some basic level of decency and then not question.  Or at least, it must be easy for someone, somewhere, as long as that person isn’t me.  On one hand, no one will ever accuse me of not examining my life.  On the other, on the list of the 5 hindrances to enlightenment in Buddhism is doubt, and questioning too far, too much, too often, questioning everything, all the time, does add up to doubt.

And, on the 7 deadly sin list is pride, which I use to counter doubt, telling myself, and everyone who will listen, how I’m smarter than pretty much anyone.

Religion.  Gets you whether you’re coming or going.  Or even just standing still.

Anyhow, ahimsa.  And, watch me, here I go with the pride thing.  I am going to marry yogic principles, Buddhism and couples therapy.  Let’s see if I can do it in one sentence.

I’ve been thinking about ahimsa because in couples therapy my partner and I complain about each other’s angry energy, showing (yogic principles) that we are both sitting somewhere between the 3rd (dvesa: aversion to old bad experiences) and 4th (abhinivesa: fear) branches of avidya (bad perception) and that we possess no real equanimity (upekkha–Buddhism).

A long sentence, but there you have it.

In therapy terms, we have intimacy and attachment issues with some boundary problems thrown in.

Or, in Lyralen language, we are just gloriously f%$#ed up like the rest of the human race, scared of each other on a good day, and likely to blame each other because that’s what people do and also because growing up just isn’t on the agenda.

AHIMSA.  Really, I should just start this topic with how hard it is to treat myself really well.  I run into it on the mat all the time, as I push to do perfect asanas, and then catch myself and slow it down.  “Forget all the skinny bendy young things,” I tell myself.  “Never been there, never done that.  Think acceptance for tight hamstrings and an athletic competitive family and think of the joy of this tense, stretching, living body.  Think peace.”

For me, non-violence starts with letting go of ambition, competition, striving, stress.  I have this secret joke with myself that I get up to lie down.  Many mornings I get up and then do restorative yoga, which is basically lying down in different positions.  I often fall asleep again.

I do not think of my German mother or competitive athletic Irish father.  Well, maybe I do.  Because there is no rebellion like lying down as soon as you get up.  I mean, who does that?  I’m not even trying to meditate.  I’m not trying to do anything.

I could go on…the tiny violent things, like do you tear a brush through your hair or do it gently?  The antidote comes down to Buddhist mindfulness, but frankly, trying to be perfectly mindful is another trap for doing violence to yourself and I should know.  (Plus, you should watch all the people mindfully eating breakfast in slow motion at the Buddhist 10 day silent meditation retreats.  It’s enough to drive you out of your mind.  Permanently.)

Anyhow, I figure going around saying that I’m f$%#ed up and so is everyone else is a pretty good practice of acceptance and imperfection.  You know, like I’ll be mindful, but in a relaxed way, when it’s not too much trouble.

I would be a bad Buddhist if in fact I had signed on, which, of course, I haven’t, because I am too much of a nonconformist to even sign on for nonconformist Buddhism.

Anyhow, the point of this blog, now 649 words in, is the whole couples therapy ahimsa thing.  I have worked hard, all my life, to be contained and dignified.  I know, reading this thing, you won’t believe me, but it’s true.  I have rules for my behavior off the page (and even on the page…notice, I don’t say my partner’s name or tell any of the personal details of our fights or blame her on the world wide web even though she drives me crazy and everything is her fault) (okay, I don’t blame her by building a case with details).  I try very hard not to lose my temper or be disrespectful of other people, and, as you’ve no doubt noticed, since I can be a bit of a hothead when I’m not meditating and doing yoga, this is no small feat.

But in the last theatre production, I was so angry when people didn’t do their jobs, and so stressed with picking up slack everywhere, I know I exuded misery and anger and stress.  And here is where ahimsa becomes so difficult to practice.  I don’t yell, or swear or name call, but I know from my own relationships that sometimes that almost doesn’t matter.  You can’t claim virtue because you don’t speak when your energy speaks for you.  People know when someone is unhappy, or judging, or criticizing silently.

This is what both my partner and I find so troublesome in each other.  Plus, we’ve known each other for 29 years now (our 25th anniversary is in June), so it’s not like there are any secrets.

When I was going on and on about keeping my mouth shut the first week of yoga teacher training, what I was really, on a serious level, worried about, was ahimsa.  I was worried about containing my energy, because, let me belabor the point again, I am grieving, and grief is painful and dark, and it feels isolating, so spending 14 hours with a group of people I didn’t know scared me.  I was afraid of not being able to be centered; I was afraid of going somewhere dark in my own energy and being energetically incapable of practicing ahimsa.

Pia Melody (who I often hate and am embarrassed to admit I have read) says that energetic boundaries are a key area of safety in a marriage.  If you get really angry, you have to first put physical distance between yourself and your partner, and then you need to contain the energy itself.  This isn’t because we might hit each other, it’s because the energy feels very threatening, and you have to indicate you’re in control enough to practice love.

This makes me wonder if getting angry is seen as one of the 7 deadly sins of psychotherapeutic culture.  It’s definitely listed as one of the 5 hindrances.  But get this–swallowing anger, taking it into your body, repressing it, leads to self-violence, or, as John Sarno would say, lots of back pain.


I don’t know the answer to these questions, but I know that anger is a force that can be used for good, and I know I don’t want to scare my partner with my critical or angry energy, and I also know that with a German mother (repress everything) and an impulse-driven Irish father (why bother), I can only look at all the craziness and say, well, I definitely do know we’re all crazy.


I love the word, I have to say.  I’ve been a pacifist my whole life, but I do hate mosquitoes and kill them with relish.

In other words, as I said in the title, at least I crack myself up.  As I try to understand the nature of existence, as I tell the truth about some things if not everything, as I come back, over and over again, to the existence of human insanity, I find that humor is often the only answer.

That or homicide.  But, since I am contemplating and trying to practice ahimsa, I guess homicide is pretty much off the table.