Who is he?

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It would be outright wrong to ignore the very important environmental influence of the “Raiders” NFL Franchise. It does well to epitomize the time and place I grew up (Los Angeles, in the late 80’s and 90’s). Lots of upheaval; gang violence … the riots. Somehow, the L.A. Raiders summed all of that up. ICE CUBE directed a nice 30/30 Documentary episode about the similar effect it had on him.

My name is Michael. I’m originally from the U.S.A., from California, from the Los Angeles area.

Being from this part of the world played a heavy role in forming the person I’ve become. This is something I’ve only begun to realize later in life. Despite all my psychology training and credentials, and the fact that I’m a clinical psychotherapist, only now has it really begun to dawn on me – who we are is deeply connected to the set of systems, culture, people and events we grew up in it. That’s a sort of Eastern European way of looking at psychological development and personality development, and that’s why it’s not taught formally at University (at least, now when I was there).

personality-test3
There are so many personality theories; this image seems to depict the “trait” theory. A nice, catch all theory.

One day my dad, an avid consumer of pop-psych, self help type books, inadvertently purchased a “academic” style book on psychology. When he dumped it, I picked it up and began learning all about this “idea” of personality.

My qualifications were initially in psychology; what motivated me to decide to study psychology was a combination of childhood events and a specific interest in personality.

My love of personality theory was nourished; I was lucky to end up in an undergraduate program at a University that put Personality Psychology on a pedestal … we had a whose who of lecturers and researchers; direct disciples of the great Albert Bandura, and his school of thinking.

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Bodhidharma waits. A prospective disciple waits; totally ignored – in the cold snow. This is the story of Chan (Zen) Buddhism.

Things shifted in life and I moved to Australia.

I got a Masters degree in Psychotherapy in Sydney, and began doing face to face counselling. Since it’s a highly competitive field, and I was just starting off, the only people I could find to counsel were “hard luck” cases that I was lucky enough to have handed to me. I loved working with these “incurable” clients – whether they were labelled Anti-Social, Psychopathic, Borderline, whatever. I love a challenge – I loved the “competition” insinuated in working with people that the “highly paid” psychologists didn’t want.

While working as a therapist, I also took up working at an institute devoted to individuals with Cerebral Palsy. This is where I got my Cert IV in Disability Support work. This was the opposite of academic work; this certificate taught me how to do the gritty things involved in day to day life of a severely disabled (and aged) person. Cleaning of the body, feeding of the body … and the question naturally arose; what is this disability … and … is a person their body?

While all of this was going on, I was also imbibing everything I could in the realm of Buddhism. Formal Buddhist doctrine; Buddhist Theology … views on causality, conditioning … the cosmos. At the core of my interest in Buddhism, though, was experience… words don’t really convey “direct” experience well.

Disability_symbols
What is “disability”? What is does it mean?

The “experience” that led me toward an interest in studying, what I later learned to be, the emptiness of things, was on a hot day at the University of California. There was no specific event … nothing interesting to look back on; not an interesting looking person, not a wild series of events. It was simply a shift in the way I saw things. It happened just like that … I remember gazing up slightly toward the sun. Looking at myself write about the story now, it sort of sounds like Saul’s conversion to Paul. No, God didn’t speak to me.

These things are all part of my life now: Disability Theory, Buddhism … Psychology.

I play chess … constantly. My love of chess spills over into most things I write; it’s a well of euphemism and analogy … not unlike Zen Koan’s or Parables … Chess is at the heart of the way I am able to put life into words, boundaries and articulated perspective. It honestly does encompass every life situation.

The most important part of my life is my wife, Colleen. I won’t write too much about her here, just out of concern for privacy – but she’s been central in holding me together for about 15 years now. She’s the best thing that has ever happened to me; the most fortunate. When I write about relationships, forgiveness, love, etc., she’s always hidden somewhere in the midst of the “unspoken”.

painting
Carri Bear

That’s a nice way for me to think of my wife … the “unspoken” part of me.

Life has now led me to a place where I’m combining everything I know to try to write and “narrate”, or help narrate, the stories of the disabled, disenfranchised and alienated. I don’t see myself as being an “outsider” here; I would just as soon put that label on myself.

Thank you for reading a bit about me – I’d love to hear your story.

Michael

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