In the psychology of personality if we use a model such as the Enneagram, we are helped to face our emotional avoidances. This is a huge step towards cultivating psychological wellbeing. If you are coping with an unexpected dire illness or accident, extended family issues that involve your spouse or other family members, abusive behavior by a boss, or any other intense experience, how do you react? We each have a strategy of avoidance.

Previously I highlighted three avoidances, failure, pain, and vulnerability. Let’s examine three other common avoidances. One is to experience intense stress as internalized anger, not anger that devolves on others but anger at oneself for not being perfect and so allowing the situation one is facing to have manifested in the first place. Those who avoid this kind of anger see themselves as moral standard-bearers and they see the potential for perfection in the world. Yet they can never make the world as perfect as they perceive it could be. The panacea for internalized anger is to try to bring an ever-expanding awareness that the way things are is perfect in itself. To see the “imperfections” caused by stress as perfection inherent in the way things are.

Another avoidance is feeling ordinary, living in a mundane. The cause of stress is processed as a feeling that you are special. Stressful situations are to be avoided and they pull you into a messy emotional morass where you do not belong. You are ill because you thought of yourself as too special to take healthy precautions, those routines are for others. Your extended family is in turmoil because no-one realizes your uniqueness and they blame you for relationships not running smoothly. Your boss is rude and harassing because (s)he does not appreciate your creativity, and anyway (s)he should never have asked you to do those mundane tasks in the first place. The panacea for those avoiding ordinariness is to cultivate compassion and empathy and see the basic goodness of all life in every moment lived—whatever that may be.

A third avoidance is not to form connections on an emotional level. You overvalue privacy and independence and draw back from personal conflicts. Engaging in stressful situations drains you and you guard your time and energy. You try not to let stressful situations arise by continually signaling your unwillingness to engage. You can easily withdraw into the safety of your mind, pull up the drawbridge of communication and interaction and literally not be present, even if you are in the same room. The panacea for those who avoid interacting on an emotional level, however low key, is be present in a calm, balanced and non-judgmental way that can be helpful to everyone in charged situations. If others feel your presence and attention they will accept and appreciate your rational perspective.

A methodology I teach for us to be able to enter our avoidances and include them in our emotional development is to write a letter to Dear Anger, or Dear Ordinariness, or Dear Emotional Connectedness. Ask what you are avoiding and why. Write a reply to yourself from these mind states. Continue the correspondence until you begin to engage with the avoidance. This is hard inner work but one way to ensure our psychological wellbeing.

In my next blog I’ll look at the final three common personality avoidances.

You can read more on the avoidance and other aspects of the psychology of personality in my books Know Your Parenting Personality and The Enneagram Intelligences. More information at http://www.janetlevine.com

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Apologies to my loyal readers for my lack of blogging activity in past months. Something has to give. Several months ago I began working with an editor on my latest fiction manuscript “Love Affair in the Shadow of Apartheid.” I have worked with many editors after decades of publishing, both as a journalist and book writer, and, thankfully, my current editor is an editor’s editor, in other words — a perfectionist. This means that the first round of reviews is an almost complete rewrite of the novel, paragraph by painstaking paragraph. Possibly if I had known how hard I would be working I may not have taken this on . . . However here we are in the penultimate and then hopefully ultimate  go-around and as my editor says, “It looks like a book now.”

A good editor makes a good writer; what a debt we owe editors. Maxwell Perkins, of Scribners, made the American “greats” of the 1920s and 1930s, well, great. Daphne duMaurier, the hugely popular British novelist of the 1940s and 1950s apparently turned in atrociously written drafts, but they encompassed unsurpassed modern Gothic story lines that her regular editor then turned into gold. There are many other examples of famous writer-editor duos.

With the ever-increasing pressure on writer’s to send agents publishing-ready quality manuscripts or for most writers to have ebook ready manuscripts, the editing business is booming. Daily editors thank Amazon and Kindle, Nook, Smashwords, and all other indie publishing and self-publishing ventures.

But for writers, for the hours and hours — day by day, week after week, month following month, and, often, for the years that go by — writing is a preposterous vocation, avocation, hobby, past-time. I have published four books but I have no idea what will happen to this latest creation. As I have written on this blog previously, publishing is undergoing a seismic shift.

It used to be that a well-written, competent novel would find the mid-list of most of the “big” publishers who wanted the cachet of publishing literary fiction. But now the “literary” tag is almost extinct among the vampires, romances, horrors, mysteries, young adults, chicks’ lit, and other genres. Literary is no longer a genre that is “in”, viable or relevant. And the world of ideas is poorer for this.

In this writer-editor go-around something has surprised me, how patient I have become. I am a Type-A personality, it all has to be done yesterday. But somehow now, possibly knowing that this lovingly nurtured creation so many months and years in gestation, may be still-born, has made the process as precious to me as the product. And that, in itself, perhaps, is truly a good thing.

 

 

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Below you will find a photo of peonies that bloomed in my garden this morning. For some reason this is a once in three years occurrence so I greet each bloom with excitement. They are among the most beautiful peonies I have seen, and the scent is intoxicating. I have been a gardener for as long as I can remember. Growing up in a suburb of Johannesburg, South Africa, I remember my mother at work with her roses, about 50 bushes of various varieties, secateurs in hand as she deadheaded, debudded (to leave only one rose on a stem) and carefully removed aphids and other undesirable pests. My grandfather who spent a third of every year with us always wore a fresh rosebud in the lapel of his suit jacket. When I was an adolescent I was given the rock garden as my provenance and loved to plan and plant and move rocks. My nemesis was the snails who shared my rock garden. Johannesburg, situated on a plateau at 6,00 feet, and with a temperate climate, dry heat and usually reliable summer rain, is an Eden for gardeners. There is one drawback, cyclical drought and with it watering restrictions, so every seven years gardeners watch their hard work, manicured lawns and the beauty they created wither and die. In the suburbs drilling for artesian water sources was a flourishing business.

As a young wife and mother I had first a pocket garden with an almost sub-tropical micro-climate due to a sunny vantage and thick white washed walls. Around giant strelitzes,  avocado and mulberry trees the carefullly designed borders flourished. Later I had almost an acre in which to garden and loved every inch of the rich loam in which whatever I planted grew with vigor and beauty.

When we moved to the Boston area many years ago I had to re-examine everything I had learned about gardening. Our first home was a three hundred year old carriage house set on an acre of land. We had hundred year old giant beeches on the property. The land itself had been neglected for years, but with care and attention a garden will emerge with alacrity from underneath the undergrowth and weeds. As I uncovered flower beds, dug and sowed, the garden returned to some of its previous glory. From spring to autumn we ate fresh produce from the rescued and resuscitated cold frame beds. I planted strawberries around the swimming pool, hosta in the shady areas and a riot of day lilies wherever I could. I learned to accept the cycle of the year, and reluctantly return my gardening tools to their permanent place in the garage each November. Come February the catalogs arrived and soon I would have spindly seedlings growing under lights.

I planted myself in American soil in bringing that garden back to life.

Now I have a much smaller garden again. It is all I want to manage. For me little else in life compares to the satisfaction of caring for a flower bed of rich dark soil where every plunge of the weeding fork or hand spade reveals not only the roots of the weed but wriggling earth worms too. Then you know you have an arable patch and the result is glorious peonies like these.

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This weekend I had some discussion with a high-level member of an organization that focuses on reconciling differences between Israeli settlers and Israeli Arabs. Old feuds and resentments run deep. Who took whose land from whom? We can go back thousands of years trying to understand the roots of this conflict. The truth is that over millenia the vast majority of feuds, struggles and wars between all people everywhere are over territory and resources. It is part of our DNA to defend our territory and ensure not only our food supply but the future of our children and our clan. Xenophobia’s face is that of the cave dweller across the valley.

In my native South Africa the famous Truth and Reconciliation Commission that for three years in the late 1990s tried to heal the wounds caused by apartheid atrocities for both the oppressed and the oppressor was a daily Greek theater played out on TV and radio across the land; a catalyst for airing the tragedies, the manifold tragedies of those years. The mighty, the all powerful, the members of the Security Police brought face-to-face with their accusers and humbled by the probing commissioners. Amnesty or no amnesty, a bad conscience set to rest, a death explained, some expiation of revenge. Thus far there is no similar commission anywhere that has attempted to tackle the root question of who took whose land from whom? White settlers with a four hundred year history of living in South Africa regard themselves as Africans born of African soil. And they are, but who took their land from them? History is a tangled knot.

There are so many well-meaning, well-trained mediators conducting grass-level interventions in so many conflict areas; to mention but a few,  Sunnis and Shia, Serbians and Bosnians, Hutis and Tutis, Israeli settlers and Israeli Arabs, Tibetans and Chinese, Indians and Pakistanis. These mediators do good work especially when they work with children to create a new narrative that bridges the differences of conflicting older stories. Then the children can believe, “This is the nownarrative of our land, this is ourstory. ”

A fundamental challenge for our time, as cyberspace  shrinks our planet, is how do we change the humanstory, the rigid mind structures of past eras? How do we  preserve the richness of cultures and traditions and learn to share the resources of the planet. Mother Teresa said, “Small steps with great love.”

Perhaps. But until we understand the fundamental truth that all conflict arises from a struggle for resources even small steps towards lasting reconciliation are unlikely. In North America the Water Resource Wars have already begun…how are we going to change our mind-structures to accommodate this story?

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