Sunday, April 05, 2009

What the Metaphor's For, Part I

If you'll all just take your seats, we'll begin. Please extinguish all smoking materials, and place your tray tables in their upright positions. Today we have no syllabus, so fasten your seat belts until the "Buckle Up" sign is no longer lit. Thank you.

Dr. C.Eugene Mallory (pg.7) remains an enigmatic player in my thought life. He was the head of the Psychology Department at Point Loma College - an institution of the Church of the Nazarene, Point Loma College, and Point Loma Nazarene University. Yes, the same place, and yes, it's ironic in the context of this missive - - this is not meant to be a Dis-missive, I'm just sayin'. And that's a pun, not a metaphor.

Most of Dr. Mallory's instruction was, while aimed squarely at me, went completely over my head, probably because I was ducking at the time. Just as our parents become more intelligent as we all grow older, the things that he taught and the concepts that he described began to resonate with me in more meaningful ways much later; right about the time that he died in 2003. This, of course, meant that I could neither thank him nor pursue any further insights with him. Such is the nature of our existence. He and I did not have any sort of larger relationship; I was a student with a major in his department, and the son of a schoolmate. These qualified me for a lot of classroom time and some individualized instruction, as well as a few therapy sessions after I left school. He was a gentle man who often suffered his foolish students, gladly, and whose methods baffled me in my 20's, but make perfect sense to this 50 year old man.

One of the things that I have learned is that, in those times when I'm a teacher, learning does not always take place in the teaching moment.

One of the things that I was not mature enough to wrap my head around in my 20's was that the pseudo-science of psychology, and actually, all things, ultimately, are based upon philosophy. Constructs of the human mind.

"Everything you've learned in school as "obvious" becomes less and less obvious as you begin to study the universe. For example, there are no solids in the universe. There's not even a suggestion of a solid. There are no absolute continuums. There are no surfaces. There are no straight lines."
- R. Buckminster Fuller

(Now, is this "true", or do we just not have an accurate and aesthetically pleasing way to describe a straight line or an absolute continuum? Who am I to doubt Dr. Fuller? Hmmmm?)

If I had been a math major (my chances of being an astronaut were better, but not much, cause it required math), then this realization would have come, too, with the addition of the 4th, 5th, etc. dimensions. Even mathematics can and is taken into the realm where it only exists within the human collective mind. There are minds that readily accept and go with these concepts; my limited brain begins to liquefy and slosh around in my cranium until it just sounds like the ocean.

The various giants of psychology, then, were actually philosophers. What wasn't clearly said (or, more to the point, what I didn't realize, then) was that we are all philosophers. That some of us follow the teachings of Emeril Lagasse, while troubling; means that we all end up with a framework of belief and intent that informs our living. Therefore, the successful therapist would be capable of assessing the patient's actual, functional and philosophical milieu, and then be skilled at applying the appropriate therapy based upon what they needed. Now, the giants, of course, were bound to make their patients fit their philosophy. This is where I was coming from as a 20-something church kid. I'd thought there already was "The Answer", and while I didn't know exactly what it was, I thought I had a clue.

Dr. Mallory was all about meaning. Meaning and metaphor. Truly listening to another to understand. It's a fundamental element of the therapeutic process, and yet I've personally experienced therapy where it did not exist. You know what I'm talking about, from those that "get" what you're talking about, instantly, to those that will make the effort, to those that are only in the room with you - therapist or not.

I'm not going to get near where I thought that I was headed, today, with this, although the background is good - if you're still interested. This is now Part I. If you are, then take some time in the next few days to listen to another person. Listen to the language of their life - the imagery that their words create, how their descriptions are framed. Try and get a picture of how they might see the same things you do in a completely different way. These are the things that I've been dwelling on, lately.

I see that the Captain has turned off the seat belt sign, so please feel free to move about the cabin. We do recommend that you keep your belt fastened while sitting, in the event that we hit some unexpected turbulence. Thank you.