This morning I shall be helping to facilitate a workshop held in the local library on what might be called ‘positive psychology’. For many therapists it is a source of concern that studies on psychology have focused so intensively on emotional illness rather than enhancing and supporting wellness. There is a shift from just helping those struggling with mood disorders etc to survive, and looking instead at what constitutes authentic contentment, following the work of Abraham Maslow, Erich Fromm, Martin Seligman and others.
When I sobered up, I moved, as so many others have done, from a state of extreme and anguished desperation to a profound experience of gratitude. That shift in attitude and orientation helped me change my life around. My solitary existence became a life of engagement as I became involved with others in recovery, connected with my community, established new and healthier work practices and discovered creative activities that were both play and work-related. My life took on meaning and purpose because it was based in service and giving something back, asking for and receiving help, understanding reciprocity. Since then I have discovered that ‘spirituality’ is not an individualistic wish-fulfilment exercise in a void but a reorientation that flows out of concrete engagement and with others and ‘neighbourliness’. Spirituality is not some imagined compensation in a vacuum, it is what deveops in relationship.
And this too: the choice to focus on those who play a positive role in our lives rather than those who undermine or backbite or flatter. All communities and organisations are human and flawed. Troubled people act out and behave in inauthentic and inappropriate ways. Controlling behaviour often signifies anxiety rather than tyrannical tendencies. Learning to speak up and say no is easier for some than for others. Those who are stuck in attention-getting behaviour can dominate groups and get all the attention (albeit negative) they are seeking. But much of the time, there are solid trustworthy friends and members whose contributions we overlook. If we don’t develop the skills of discernment we should not be surprised if we find ourselves disillusioned or disappointed: we are placing trust in those who are not ready to assume responsibility, we are taking fools at face value, we are placing our lives in careless hands.
So we shall all gather together today out of the cold bright wind and look at ways to strengthen and build community, ways to interact meaningfully and selflessly, look at what is involved in leading a balanced life. And how to keep the focus on solutions and togetherness rather than scapegoating or us/them thinking. To move beyond blaming.