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My hope is that this Blog will inspire a conversation about things that support us as we encounter difficulty and loss on our journey through life.

In the groups that I have led over the years we experience the gift of connection to others who are finding their way through painful situations that they never expected to face in themselves or in those who they love.

trippingAs I think of recovery, the image that comes to mind is the experience of unexpectedly being tripped up by some circumstance in life. Next we move around searching for a way to regain our footing and continue down the road.

Many things can cause us to lose our footing. The most difficult things can be those experiences that remind us of some difficult or painful experience in the past.

Chambered Nautilus

Chambered_Nautilus_ShellAn image that has provided rich insights to me is the image of the chambered nautilus. I realize that I draw on concrete images to provide a model to represent abstract and dynamic processes.

The chambered nautilus provinces such an image. As I look at this amazing creature I see an organism that carries its present and history on its back. Each of the chambers in the shell on its back are chambers in which the little fellow once lived. Each of these chambers contain varying amounts of gas that provide support and buoyancy to the natulilus as it wanders the sea floor. I think of these chambers as places that at one time were large enough to provide shelter, home and protection to the nautilus but now the nautilus lives in a much larger chamber. I imagine that each chamber remains important to the natilus throughout life as a source of remembrances of important life lessons learned in the various stages of life. The space that was completely sufficient at one stage of life becomes too small, limiting and cramped for the next stage. Life is always moving forward to ever expanding spaces. JD Phillips wrote a book with the title Your God is too Small. God and the life that God has created is always larger than we can comprehend. New Life is a continual process of moving into larger and more inclusive spaces of ourselves, each other and the creation itself. Someone has said that organizations are either growing or dying. This is true of individuals as well. Ideally as we move through transitions in life we are constantly transforming. As we transform we are able to appreciate more and more of life. This transformation “makes space” for more of ourselves and others. It has been my experience that isolation, fear, secretive living, defensiveness and the like stunt transformation and  keep us stuck in the smaller chambers of life. In a sense we need to be open to grow beyond ourselves to become ourselves.


Appreciative Inquiry

Appreciative Inquiry was developed at Case Western Reserve University in 1980 by a doctoral student, David Cooperrider, and his thesis advisor, Suresh Srivastva. Fundamentally, Appreciative Inquiry is about the co-evolutionary search for the best in people, their organizations, and the relevant world around them. It suggests that we not only experience reality, we actually create it in our conversations and interactions with others. Appreciative Inquiry is a positive, strength-based approach to making changes in organizations. It includes co-creating inspiring images of what we want, and then building on positive ideas to make them happen. It means becoming more aware of our internal and external dialogues and intentionally shifting them to focus on what we want. It unleashes the positive potential within people and organizations through attention to the positive core. It suggests we build on our strengths, successes, and best practices to achieve our greatest hopes and dreams. Appreciative Inquiry is all this and more.

Appreciative Inquiry is about asking questions that focus attention on strengths and possibilities. The questions we ask ourselves and each other set the stage for and empower positive change. The What, How, When and Where questions go something like this:

What? Tell me about an experience when you felt particularly positive and empowered in your life or in work or relationships.

How? How did what you and others were doing strengthen the experience?

Where and When? Where and when have you seen the approach used in this experience used before?

Generally, the who, what, where, when, why, and how questions open up the conversation best. “Tell me about a time when . . .” is good for getting stories started. “Give me an example . . .” gets into important contextual details. “How did you feel when . . . ?” helps to expose the storyteller’s core values. Avoid either-or questions or any questions that begin with the words do or does, will, can, should, or is, which normally lead to ‘yes’ or ‘no’ or very brief responses.

The questioning in Appreciative Inquiry begins with a suggestion like this: “Tell me a story about a time when you felt most effective, most passionate, when you felt the best about your work and the work of your organization.” After this question is fully answered, the group is then invited to tell exactly what the employees and the organization were doing so effectively that it made a difference in the workers and in the world. This search in Appreciative Inquiry is an effort to find those values held by the majority of the group. This focus identifies what we want to do rather than search the tasks that we hate to do.

Leaders have discovered through this model that we can do more than prop up the organization; we can actually heal its problems with vision and efficiency of operation. If we focus on those things that we do well, that we feel passionate about, then the employees and the organization can more easily rise to a level of excellence. Uncovering positive attitudes and feelings increases the base of appreciation, which is the goal.

Appreciative Inquiry has had a fundamental affect both on my personal life and my counseling. Older models of therapy focused on pathology, an effort to fix what was wrong. Appreciative Inquiry concentrates on what is right, both in me and in the people that I serve.

A biblical story powerfully illustrates this approach. The story springs from the life of Jesus when a hungry crowd needed food, and a child brought five loaves and two fishes to the Master. Rather than looking at the deficiencies in what he had, the boy gave it all to Jesus and that was enough. In fact, it was more than enough. This story inspires me to value what I have and what others have. I encourage people to bring to life what they have rather than fretting over what they don’t have. Very often I encounter people who make the assumption that “life will be good when . . . . when I make more money, when I get a different job, when I get the car I want.” These illusions block our being present to this moment; looking for our life in the future is a form of avoidance. Healthy people look open-eyed at the present and make decisions based on what is.

Family Systems Theory

Family Systems is a look at the dynamics that go on within the whole family and the relationships in the family. Unlike Freud who sought to go inside the psyche of the individual, this therapy takes into account all the relations in a family and in the community. Murray Bowen is one of the fathers of Family Systems Theory. He noticed that in families anxiety controls and maintains the status quo of the family. Some families deal with conflict by moving closer and closer, creating what Bowen called “enmeshment.” Other families deal with anxiety and discomfort by a cut off. Cut off means disowning family members who don’t agree with the family rules, values and practices. Bowen also noted that individuals in families often deal with conflict by triangulation. Triangulation means, if George has a conflict with Jim, George speaks with someone else about the conflict rather than talking directly with Jim. This keeps the conflict going because those involved in the conflict never speak directly with each other. Bowen spoke about families rather than individuals because he saw families as objects of treatment. He coined the term “undifferentiated ego mass” to refer to family systems. Treatment from his point of view results in individuals becoming more differentiated. In becoming more differentiated family members are enabled to make decisions based on their own higher thinking rather than following the rules of the family.

I find this perspective extremely helpful in understanding the life of Jesus. Jesus was reared in a tradition with very strict and exacting rules. He sought to reform his culture by standing in it and speaking the truth about the social structure. His truth telling raised anxiety that eventually caused the system to put him to death.

In my family system it was understood early that children were not allowed to speak back to their parents. I felt that no one really cared what I thought or felt. The family system demanded that I meet the expectations of my parents and obey the rules and customs of our family. If I had gone for therapy with a Family Systems therapist, he/she would have discovered too many rules and expectations. First, my mother was reared in a Roman Catholic family that was wealthy and high class. She was sent to England for her schooling at the age of ten years; she lived in a convent with nuns and was educated by them through high school. She was taught that children are to be seen and not heard. Her perspective and values were transferred to our family. The Family Systems approach suggests that these values pass through one generation after another.

Biblically speaking, this perspective sheds light on how the sins of the fathers are visited on the second and third generations. When we look at these generational patterns, individuals can discover that their parents are not wholly to blame for the problem; they were unconscious victims of hand-me-down rules. They followed the patterns that had been handed down to them. In Family Systems Therapy the door opens so that different decisions about patterns of behavior are freely chosen or rejected. As members of a family differentiate, their decisions create a whole new family dynamic.