Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Gay Enlightenment

By Payam Ghassemlou Ph.D.

After the hard emotional labor of tearing down the closet door, the quest for enlightenment can begin on a deeper level. For gay people life after the closet can gain more meaning by walking on the path of enlightenment, which involves developing a relationship with the unconscious. Gay people have an advantage as far as enlightenment is concerned. Most gay people grow up feeling "different," and that differentness helps to not identify with the collective. As Eckhart Tolle, the author of The Power of Now, suggested, "...realization that you are different from others may force you to disidentify from socially conditioned patterns of thought and behavior. This will automatically raise your level of consciousness above that of the unconscious majority, whose members unquestioningly take on board all inherited patterns. In that respect, being gay can be a help. Being an outsider to some extent, someone who does not fit in with others or is rejected by them for whatever reason, makes life difficult, but it also places you at advantage as far as enlightenment is concerned."

#LGBTQ #GayEnlightenment

Depth psychology, which deals with making the unconscious conscious, offers valuable tools which can be useful on the path to enlightenment. In this article, I will share my knowledge and experience regarding encounters with the unconscious. Working with your unconscious is a powerful approach toward self-realization. Within our unconscious resides creative potential and answers to many of our life’s mysteries. Carl Jung, Swiss psychoanalyst, talked about unconscious as "the unknown in the inner world." This unknown place wants to reveal itself by "speaking to us in language of symbols." Images from the unconscious can manifest in our dreams, which provide windows to our unconscious. By analyzing our dream images, we can learn about the content of our unconscious. As one of Jalal-ud-Din Rumi's (1207-1273 A.D.) poems, translated by Coleman Barks, describes,

"Many wonders are manifest in sleep: in sleep the heart becomes a window. One that is awake and dreams beautiful dreams, he is the knower of God. Receive the dust of his eyes."

The unconscious can also be accessed by bringing hidden images into consciousness. Working with these images psychologically can offer us valuable information about our psyche. For gay people who are seeking deeper understanding and connection to their gay essence, these images can be a doorway to powerful inner realizations about gayness. Furthermore, images from the unconscious can provide consciousness about internalized homophobia, which is the shame that gay and lesbian people were forced to experience growing up in anti-gay societies and homophobic families. Having a psyche contaminated by internalized homophobia can cause self-hatred, which can result in self-destructive behaviors. Working through internalized homophobia can protect gays and lesbians from reenacting their homophobic childhood.

Many gay men grow up in families in which their artistic interests were shamed, and they were forced to play sports to fulfill traditional male gender roles. As a result, their relationship to their imagination was severed. Encouraging gay men to participate in creative activities, which involve working psychologically with their imagination, can help them to redeem their creative world. The following is one of the exercises I have used with myself and others to evoke images from the unconscious and work with the imagination. This exercise has helped me and others to start the process of accessing unconscious materials around being gay. It is important to have the support of others during this process. According to Robert Johnson, the author of Inner Work, "Be sure that there is someone available for you to go or call in case you become overwhelmed by the imagination and can't cut it off." A counselor who has training in depth psychology, or the psychology of the unconscious, can be a helpful guide in this process.

"Close your eyes and picture an image or symbol that symbolizes being gay for you." This is how I start the exercise. Do not worry if the symbol seems strange or does not have anything to do with being gay as you understand (intellectually) what being gay should be. Just let go of trying to control your imagination and let it offer you whatever it wants surrounding the topic. It's okay to have more than one image. Images come from your unconscious, and they do not lie or judge. "I am seeing a green jungle," said one of the participants in this exercise." “I am seeing a scared lonely boy," said another participant. "I can see rainbow," someone else said.

I encourage maintaining an ongoing dialogue with the image that you discovered in relation to your gayness. Sometimes your image can evolve and give birth to new images. This dialoguing with your image is what Carl Jung described as active imagination. During this process, you can use pen and paper to record your dialogue with your image. By setting time aside and dialoguing with your image, you are developing a relationship with it. Also, you need to discover and understand feelings associated with your image. For example, if your psyche offered you an image of a lonely sad child as a symbol of gayness, you need to hear the little boy's story and find out what happened to him. He is your gay inner child, and he wants so desperately to tell you what he went through growing up in a heterosexist world in which his existence was denied. Try to understand his feelings and have empathy towards him. This way, you are less possessed by the effect of his sadness on your life and more in a position of helping him heal. Working psychologically with his painful feelings can transform those feelings and give birth to new feelings. Your inner child's healing can add vitality and meaning to your life. Many people, including gays and lesbians who are possessed by certain contents of their unconscious, do not understand why they feel and do things that they do. Only by conscious dialogue with different parts of yourself and understanding of your emotions can you come to new realizations around your feelings and actions. These new realizations are similar to the work of alchemists who were trying to make gold, or, in our case, consciousness.

Another person who participated in this exercise reported an image of a green jungle in relation to his gayness. Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, who writes and lectures about Sufism, has mentioned in many of his books green as the color of growth, becoming, and the realization of God. Green also is the color of Khidr, who is the archetype of the Sufi guide. In his book, The Call & The Echo, Vaughan-Lee stated, "Khidr, the Green Man, is an important Sufi figure who represents the direct revelation of Divine Truth." Divine revelation around our sexuality and gay identity happens to many of us by just becoming aware that we are different; that we love differently.

The image of the green jungle as a vision or association with gayness can symbolize the mysterious and unknown process of coming out. Coming out for many gays and lesbians feels like entering a lonely green jungle with no external support or guide. Our only guide is our longing for love and understanding. The flame of our passion for same-sex connection, like a burning torch, brings light to our journey. As a gay man who started exploring the green forest of his gayness many years ago, I recall that my only guide was my longing to find my soul figure. Despite all ugly things I was told about homosexuality, including the shame I was being made to feel for wanting to come out and family rejection around my gay identity, I kept venturing into this unknown forest. I was told that gay people will burn in hell, and yet I knew I had already experienced hell when I was in the closet, murdering my homoerotic feelings. Coming out, which has been essential part of my journey of self-realization, starts with a response to a call from within. This call is unique to gay and lesbian individuals. For me, this calling initially manifested as certain feelings of longing that I would experience in the presence of handsome men (my soul figures). The calling reminds me of one of Rumi's poems, translated by Coleman Barks:

"You have been a prisoner of a little pond. I am the ocean with turbulent flood. Come merge with me..."

In this poem, being prisoner of a little pond can serve as a metaphor of being stuck in the closet. There is an intense calling to dive into the ocean. The ocean is a metaphor for the unconscious in which homoerotic feelings reside and need to be made conscious. Understanding these homoerotic feelings as a longing for a union with the Beloved has helped me to honor them as part of my journey of self-realization. By diving into the ocean of my unconscious, I have been doing the inner work of redeeming the pearl of my gay essence.

Not every gay person survives the journey of coming out. Many get lost in the dark green forest and never make it to the other side. The demon of homophobia, in the form of depression, addictions, gay bashing, or suicide, is waiting to violently attack our people and turn the journey of coming out into a journey of going out of existence.

Those of us who have survived despite ongoing homophobic assaults need to take this journey to a different level and discover the gift of our gayness. By going to the underground of our unconscious, we can discover the gift of our gayness and offer that gift to our troubled planet. Again, you need to find a guide or consult with someone who is trained in depth psychology before undertaking this work. As Rumi writes:

"O seeker without the shadow of a pir (teacher) the clamor of the beast will torment you."

Hafiz also emphasizes the need for a guide in the following poem:

"Do not take a step on the path of love without a guide. I have tried it one hundred times and failed."

After you have dialogued with your image and experienced its feeling, you need to bring your image to life. What can you do to give it a physical reality? You can write about your image, draw it, paint it, sculpt it, find sand and form the image in a sand tray (sand-tray therapy), or use dance and body movement to keep it alive. You can even make it into a musical note. Giving your image a physical form will help to make it a conscious part of you. Images carry their own energy and ‘feeling tone’ that can affect your life. Having a conscious relationship with your images and bringing them to life can liberate you from their possession and control. It is important not to manipulate the process of working with your unconscious for the sake of your ego gratification. This work should be done with great deal of humility in order to avoid inflation. Hopefully, by doing this work, we can, as Carl Jung states, "kindle a light in the darkness of mere being."

As you go through your day-to-day activities, pay attention to external situations that might shed some light on your understanding of your image. A synchronistic event can link your image to an outer event. For example, the person who was working with the image of a lonely sad child reported later coming across books and articles that helped him to understand this image. Finally, by cultivating an ongoing relationship with your unconscious by understanding your dreams and images, you can promote psychic wholeness. Your imagination can be the arena in which dialogue between your conscious and unconscious takes place. This dialogue can reduce the conflict between the conscious and unconscious and create a partnership between them.

#OUT #ComingOut #Psychotherapy



© Dr. Payam Ghassemlou MFT, Ph.D. is a counselor in private practice in West Hollywood, California. www.DrPayam.com

Monday, May 23, 2016

Vulnerability

By Payam Ghassemlou Ph.D.

As human beings, we are faced with many threating possibilities such as illness, accidents, rejections, unemployment, war, loss of our significant relationships, and other kinds of suffering.  Living our lives in an unpredictable world where things happen unexpectedly can make us feel vulnerable; therefore, vulnerability is part of life. No one, no matter how rich or famous, can escape the reality that we are not in total control of what can happen to us. When we don't accept this, we develop unrealistic expectations of ourselves. We can feel shame for simply being a human being and having limitations when it comes to dealing with events that we cannot foresee. Our ability to feel secure in our lives depends on how well we embrace our vulnerability. Putting this concept in perspective is the focus of this short article.

Many of us don’t know how to help ourselves to feel safe in relation to life’s uncertainties. Instead, some turn to addictions or other mind-numbing behaviors in order to cope with scenarios in which they feel vulnerable. Others seek wealth and power to compensate for their powerlessness over life. Not knowing how to deal with our vulnerability limits our ability to take risks and live a fuller life. We can't passionately explore the mystery of life and live meaningful lives when we become paralyzed by our fear of vulnerability. When we find the courage to face and accept our vulnerabilities, we can accomplish enormous tasks in life.

As a psychotherapist with empathy for our struggle to feel safe in this troubled world, I believe it is important to access our transcendent Self, which can help us to witness our vulnerability and at the same time allow us to navigate through life with grace. The transcended Self is connected to a force beyond our limited ego; beyond anything our mind can imagine. Connection to the Self can make it possible for us to ask for help from a force or a power greater than ourselves. We can feel less alone navigating through unpredictable life events when the Self facilitates our relationship with such a powerful force. When faced with a vulnerable situation, not only do we need to rely on our courage, but we also must have the willingness to ask for help from the power greater than ourselves.

Access to the transcended Self can be granted through psychological inner work and paying attention to the wisdom that can be revealed through dream work and meditation, and by the knowledge that can be found in psychology, spirituality, mysticism, and other sources. Moreover, we can engage in meaningful practices such as mindfulness, random acts of kindness, and serving humanity in times of suffering. All of these practices can facilitate encounters with the Self. When we engage in a psychological journey within and work through unresolved issues that limit our minds and cover our hearts, we are on our way to making an encounter with the transcended Self.

It is important to note that you need to find a guide or consult with someone who is trained in depth psychology before undertaking this work of encountering the Self. As Rumi writes:

"O seeker without the shadow of a pir (teacher) the clamor of the beast will torment you."

Hafiz also emphasizes the need for a guide in the following poem:

"Do not take a step on the path of love without a guide. I have tried it one hundred times and failed."

Since dealing with life’s unpredictability requires protection from a force or a power greater than ourselves, this notion of turning to a power beyond our limited ego is associated with religious activities. Such associations might scare many people off.  Countless numbers of people have been abused or oppressed by certain organized religions, and their walls go up when the topic of God or Higher Power is raised. At the same time, turning to the force, or God Within, or whatever name you would like to assign to it, can be tremendous help when it comes to embracing vulnerability and coping with tragic life events. In a very real way, reclaiming God from oppressive religious institutions that hold a monopoly on God is a form of activism. People can learn to have a direct relationship with the God of their understanding and cut out the middleman. As the Sufi poet Jami reminded us:

 “When it is possible to hear the Beloved (God) speak Himself, why listen to second-hand reports?”

A meditation that focuses on love energy in your heart is an intoxicating way to remember the God of your understanding and deepen your connection to Him / Her. At the same time, it is important to note that not all organized religions are oppressive. In fact, there are many people who have had positive religious experiences, and they turn to praying in troubled time. People should never take their freedom of religion for granted. We all need to be respectful of each other’s chosen path, as long as one’s faith does not involve hatred and violence.

In addition to rely on a Higher Power, we can also do our individual part to embrace vulnerability. Embracing our vulnerability requires us to become grounded and cultivate humility. Knowing that we are “at the mercy of the physical world” and letting go of the things we cannot change can help us to become humble and grounded. It is liberating to deal with vulnerability when we come from place of humility. Having humility makes it easier to ask for help and not feel the pressure of facing everything by ourselves. It takes courage to reach out and seek support from others when we experience suffering. Everyone’s pain is unique, and no one deserves to suffer in silence. Reaching out and asking for help is a courageous act that people can do in response to their emotional pain. It is also an example of being brave and letting ourselves be seen in such a vulnerable state of suffering, without hiding out of shame.


Practicing mindfulness can also help us deal with vulnerability. For the most part, mindfulness involves bringing our complete attention to our present experience on a moment-to-moment basis with acceptance and compassion. In particular, we can observe our physical, emotional, and mental experiences with kindness. We pay attention to whatever is happening in the moment, and we can use our sensory awareness to stay fully present. For example, when we wash the dishes, we can see and feel the soapy water on our hands. Paying attention to the sensation of water on our body during a shower and noticing the taste of our food when we eat are also examples of being mindfully present. When we practice mindfulness, we are in the moment, and we don’t get lost in our worries. We can rely on mindfulness to witness our vulnerability with compassion and without judgment.

In summary, we may put our vulnerable existence in perspective by accepting it and taking measures to make ourselves feel safe. These measures include seeking support, training our mind to stop worrying about the future and live in the moment, connecting to our inner strength, and asking for help from a power greater than ourselves. What a relief to know that we don’t have to put pressure on ourselves to do the impossible task of controlling every aspect of our life journey.

http://drpayam1.blogspot.com/2016/05/vulnerability-by-payamghassemlou-ph_42.html


© Dr. Payam Ghassemlou MFT, Ph.D. is a mental health counselor in private practice in West Hollywood, California.  www.DrPayam.com