In my last post I coined the word “LifeStyle” to describe our whole of life living in the world for all our life (a word to cover both archetype and vocation).
As LifeStyle is meant to cover our whole adult life it needs to accommodate learning and change.
There are two sorts of learning or changing I think. The first is getting better at stuff – a particular skill. The second is about including more of who you are – in some therapies this is called ‘integrating the shadow’. The basic idea being that there are parts of ourselves we don’t like, and we spend energy suppressing and attempting to ignore these parts. When this energy can be used to engage with life instead of being directed to fighting ourselves our lives are better (free, less conflicted, having more ease. The feeling when this happens is usually one of elation.).
1. Getting Better at Stuff
Any LifeStyle will have skills that can be improved.
The simplest map of this process that I know has four stages: unconscious incompetence, conscious incompetence, conscious competence, and finally unconscious competence.
If you do some kind of emotional care you will probably need to get good at listening. At first you may think you are good at – but soon find out you aren’t sometimes. Becoming aware of this can be surprising and depressing. And you start noticing how often you don’t listen. You then adopt conscious strategies (not interrupting, clarifying, paraphrasing etc). And eventually you find that you listen well without having to be deliberate about what you are doing.
My favourite map for getting better at stuff is by Dreyfus and has five levels of skill to ‘skilful coping’ roughly equivalent to unconscious competence. (There are levels beyond this for those who wish to innovate and find news of doing what is done in a particular domain: the person who introduced the lay up into high jumps (going back first over the bar, rather than ‘stepping’ over it) was more than an unconsciously competent high jumper. Picasso was more than an unconsciously competent painter.) The stages are:
Novice. Where you ‘do what your told’ – follow specific rules consistently. Eg in golf: keep your head down while you swing.
Advanced Beginner. A sense of the different aspects of the situation. In driving using the clutch and accelerator together while staying aware of other cars, while staying in your lane.
These first two stages are about knowing the rules and following them well in a real situation.
Competent. Having a sense of what you want to do and achieving this with some reliability in normal conditions. You can generally learn your part and deliver it as part of a performance.
Proficient. You are able to cope with the unexpected. Usually this means having ‘rules of thumb’ for coping with the unexpected. In counselling if you get surprised and don’t know what to say – and you feel a response is called for: If all else fails reflect (saying something like, “So what you’re saying is . . . “ or “It sounds to me like you’re feeling . . . ).
These two stages have moved beyond rule following to taking the situation into account.
Expert. There is a good intuitive grasp of a wide range of situations that you respond to without being deliberate (“spontaneously”). Here you have a grasp of the principles or philosophy underlying the discipline. You may like to play with the different approach to using spices in cooking: can you use the contrasting approach of Indian cuisine in European cooking; could you use the subtle enhancement of flavour used in Italian cuisine with an Italian dish?
2. Including More of Who You Are
Focusing on one thing, means not focusing on everything else. Which can lead to you becoming tunnel-visioned. To be refreshed and live with more joy means including the parts of you that have been excluded. The most common form of this is a mid-life crisis. Here are some examples of what it means to transform your LifeStyle.
If you live the LifeStyle of a devotee (devotion to “god”, a great purpose) it is likely you will emphasise choice and focus. This usually means a neglect of your instincts. Members of religious communities often have trouble with sexual urges, anger and gluttony. Coming to terms with these leads to a devotee with greater humility, who has more gentleness – more flexible and ‘centred’.
Those who pursue a caring LifeStyle, often come to realise they have been neglecting their own needs (most tragically by burning out). As they integrate their own needs into their caring they find a better sense of boundaries and that more of themselves is present in their caring; there is the sense that they are meeting the one cared for – not just someone providing care.
Those who pursue a LifeStyle of a maker, can neglect their relationships. Artists can become absorbed in their making and forget appointments or not pay attention to the needs of their loved ones. Gradually an artist can make the art a part of their life – rather than giving their life to it. Then the art nourishes them and enriches them, rather than it being draining.
These are examples of what it means to ‘integrate the shadow’: it leads to you becoming something of a different person. Which is qualitatively different to getting better at a skill. It means some change in who you are.
I hope this post gives you some idea how you can pursue the one LifeStyle throughout your life; and how it can keep nourishing you.
Any and all comments are most welcome.