New book by Philip Kenney

The Writer's Crucible Meditations on Emotion, Being and Creativity

Phil Kenney

Philip Kenney is a practicing psychotherapist in Portland, Oregon. He did his post-graduate work in British Object Relations at the Washington D.C. School of Psychiatry and has taught Self Psychology as part of his private practice. A long time meditator and poet, Mr. Kenney is the author of the novel, Radiance, and a collection of poetry, Where Roses Bloom. He strives to bring together the worlds of psychology, creativity and spirituality in his work and is the author of a new book on those subjects entitled, The Writer's Crucible: Meditations on Emotion, Being and Creativity.

The Weather and You

December 5, 2015

Check out this remarkable video of our dear planet twirling through space. Recently released by NASA, this footage will take your breath away, make you weep and/or fill your mind with awe.

The Earth – A Living Creature (The Amazing NASA Video) 1080p

Isn’t this a breathtaking illustration of the dynamic, interconnected systems that have somehow, in only four billion years, created and orchestrated life on this small and insignificant flying rock! What can you say when you witness those weather systems becoming and dissolving as they make their way over land and ocean circling the world?

Not much to say really; best to feel the awe that such a view inspires. Better to disappear for a moment into the deep space of your own inner world, one that moves with equally remarkable and dynamic forces creating what we call experience. Marveling at the whirlwind of inner life develops an awareness of just how similar we are to this dear planet and the ecosystem that supports our every breath.

In my new book, Meditations on the Vulnerabilities of Writers and Artists, I claim that what we call “self” is more closely comparable to weather than the conventional notion of self as a defined and independent entity. Just look at the circulation of those systems engaging with and influenced by earth and sea and know that you are looking at the patterns of psyche moving and shaping your own existence in concert with others.

This is entirely evident in my practice as a psychotherapist where I am privileged to witness the radically unbounded nature of the “I” and the bewilderment of those trying to understand how they can be so many characters when we are supposed to be one person. I believe the Greeks and Hindus have it right — we are the offspring of a host of gods and goddesses.

Children require no such explanations. They move and flow with their impulses in a beautiful and unbridled way until they are taught, for better and for worse, to develop a social self that obeys the mainstream culture’s rules of living and being. Ideally, this construct of self is not too restrictive, but allows for flexibility between the social interface and the creative inner self.

One consequence of cultural sculpting is the development of anxiety over the allegedly separate self and its security, maintenance and enhancement. Ultimately we come to dread the assumed end and disappearance of what we call our life. The relationship to self is altered from one of marvel and creativity to one of self manipulation: in short, our life becomes a project. I call this “The Self Project.”

Let’s listen to how a poet might describe these phenomena. The following lines are from a poem entitled, The Clause, by C. K. Williams, one of America’s best living poets and one of my favorites.

this hive of restlessness, this wedge of want my mind calls self,

this self which doubts so much and which keeps reaching

these layers, these divisions, these meanings or the lack thereof,

these fissures and abysses beside which I stumble, over which I reel

This ramshackle, this unwieldy, this jerry-built assemblage,

this unfelt always felt disarray, is this the sum of me?

Mr. Williams doesn’t use the language of weather systems but his lines are bursting with the same dynamic tensions of our atmosphere and the wild fluctuations of becoming and dissolving. What this reveals is the vulnerable/creative nature of inner life and the elaborate myth of a self that is conceived as fixed, orderly and cohesive.

How is it that one minute I can be riding high, brimming with confidence and the next minute picking myself up out of the gutter. Where do these moods come from? What makes them so persistent and perplexing? How is it that they can settle in and stall like a high pressure system in winter? What happens when the best of our intentions are upended by something within that has a completely opposite agenda?

Clinically we refer to these shifting internal experiences as self states. In actuality, there are numerous self states within each person. Each self state is characterized by a particular quality of consciousness and each is empowered by an uncanny element of autonomy. That is, states of consciousness can come and go and assert their authority over our experience.

Each of these self states is characterized by a particular set of thoughts, emotions and storylines. For example, one might live in a chronic depressive state with accompanying thoughts that no one understands me and a narrative organized around the notion that I am alone. and always will be. As I said, there are multiple self states at work in any given moment and often they are contradictory in nature and competing for the foreground position in our lives. When they switch from one to another is it any wonder we are often confused, question our identity and wonder what is real?

These contradictions can be confounding and lead us to think something must be wrong. What can feel terribly wrong is when these states of being are compared to what is commonly believed to be normal. That is the template for health is the notion of a separate and predictable self that is the same from one minute to the next. The other factor that makes us feel something must be terribly wrong is when a particular self state is linked to trauma of one sort or another. Then the switch to that state is experienced as frightening and overwhelming.

But what if nothing is essentially wrong with the fluidity and many faceted nature of our inner world and this is more the nature of a human being? What then? Think of yourself and your psyche/soul as reflective of this dynamic and ever creative universe we live in. Recognize and enjoy the vibrant weather patterns moving within your big self; the turbulent storms, the California droughts, the scintillating blue sky days and the ever present process of the forming, dissolving and transforming of your inner worlds. 

Above all, try not to force yourself into the cubicle of what we might call the impossible chore of being one person. Try not to idealize consistency, and the naive demand of the ’60’s, “Get it together, man.” Look to the weather for a model of your existence and the wonder of being that is always, miraculously and mysteriously making its way creating, sustaining and dissolving into something else.

We are a culture of behaviorists. As such, much of human life goes unrecognized. Consequently, a battle to change ourselves takes over that attempts to inflate certain characteristics and amputate others. This is a fight that is doomed and can cause terrible internal suffering and self attack. What is lost is contact with the dynamic complexities of motivation, thought and emotion that interact as real and energetic forces informing and shaping the broad expanse of this whirlwind we call a self.

You are more a mural than a portrait. It is unconventional but possible to accept that we are many and to stand in the plurality of life. Doing so enriches the experience of being. It enhances our capacity for empathy and it expands the range of options for meaningful and effective action.

Clearly this is easier said than done and requires of us the willingness and courage to experience what can be terribly painful in our lives. Still, making a practice of living into the depth and multiplicity of your inner world opens a big doorway to a peaceful acceptance and appreciation for the diversity of your big self.

And best of all, it reveals, paradoxically, what you might call the eye of the hurricane. A presence within every molecule of experience that more often than not goes unnoticed. A faceless knower, one that T. S. Elliot referred to as “the still point.” Listen to what Elliot has to say about this mysterious reality:

At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;

Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,

But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,

Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from

nor towards, Neither ascent nor decline.

Except for the point, the still point,

There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.

Substitute the metaphor of weather in this essay for the dance in Mr. Elliot’s poem and there you have it. The most remarkable state of all, which is not really a state, the still point. That which is untouchable and defies explanation but seems to be overflowing with particles of creation that dance ceaselessly through time. What is craziest of all is that even in the midst of all our wildest fluctuations of self states the clouds do part and we are allowed to experience this still point and the radical love and freedom at the heart of “the turning world.”

You may say this seems out of reach, impossible: a dream. But so does this lonely, blue planet circling an average star, somewhere in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by empty, dark energy that is teaming with potential and a creative thrust that defies understanding. Isn’t that an impossible dream?

The joyful nature of the still point will be the subject of, The Joy of Disappearing, the final blog of the year. Look for it in two weeks. As preparation, I’ll be publishing an essay next week entitled, Hurry Up.

Thanks for tuning in.



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