Boxes of oranges
It has been months since I put pen to paper for iPinionSyndicate and I can no longer blame COVID-19. At first, it was the societal restrictions which gave me good reason for a disturbance of routine and an excuse for a lack of productivity. Life had ground to a halt. But not so.
I’ve spent the time learning some new skills. Oh, I know I’m always learning and extending my skills, but here is an area I’d love to share. I’ve learned how options are like oranges and everyone deserves to have a box of them delivered from time to time. Well, seriously, I have learned to ask better questions. Better questions of others and of myself. Where do you want to go? What do you want to achieve? and Who do you want to become?
My grandmother can’t go very far, physically relying on a walker/trolley for mobility and under lockdown restrictions in England. So the question Where do you want to go? seems trite and disrespectful. My grandmother is now nearly blind. I ask her this question, and I know she is resigning herself to the status quo but on her face I see the spark of memory listing her previous adventures. Then, there is something more. In the same way, my voice goes with my clients when they are in hypnosis, so does my grandmother with me when I reach out into the world. She goes with me. I know this because at 7.15 every morning I take her there via FaceTime through meetings, social gatherings, and interesting stories I’ve written, read or experienced. Where do you want to go? The answer is not just through her memories now that she is confined by her lack of sight, limited mobility and government restrictions, but to go with me and live life through me and I am happy to carry her with me.
I asked a client what did she want? She told me that she wanted to not drink a second glass of wine, nor a third glass and nor a fourth and so on. So I asked her again — what did she want? To want the absence of something is too problematic for many to achieve. Goals need well formed steps and conditions. The absence of something lacks the posts through which to score. She wanted to be able to have a single glass of wine without …. And there again she threw herself into another negative space but nature abhors a vacuum. To create a negative space is opening an invitation for its immediate occupancy. So we exchanged challenges (one of the more fun types of conversation) and it became clear quite quickly that her problem with how she was, when drinking too much, was in fact the same state as when she was sober — she was trying to create options for herself. Alcohol had just provided her with different options. She was still in the process of creating freedom for herself to choose in life. What did she want? Together, we coded the desired state of mind (neuro linguistic programming technique) and it became apparent that oranges had become a symbol for options and she wanted a box of them, not just for herself, but also for the person who had been denying her options throughout her life. She wasn’t angry. She was compassionate and ultimately neutral about her emotional need to drink more than one glass of wine. All I did was ask and re-ask a very good question.
My niece is 12, I think, and being an absent aunty, I live largely in FaceTime. I see her grow in leaps and bounds. She becomes more like Rapunzel with each living second, except perhaps more of a cheerleading Rapunzel. She is as close to my mother as I am to my grandmother (Nanna) and as I watch her grow, I am tempted to ask her what may seem like a serious question for a 12-year-old — Who do you want to become? Of course, her experience of the world is exceptionally limited even with access to TIKTOK, YouTube and other online communities. I buy a teen/tween empowerment book for her Christmas present, hoping to inspire her to take note of Helen Sharman, the first British astronaut (and cosmonaut), the very great, and sadly late, Ruth Bader Ginsberg of the US Supreme Court. I want her to be inspired by Graça Machel, politician and humanitarian and Jacinta Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand to mention just a few. I want her to, I want her to, I want her to…. It is then, that I realise, Who do you want to become? is not a question for her but for me. Even at 51. I still want to become something of those women. I too want to walk on broken glass and feel the wind in my long hair. Recently, finally, my actions have begun to reflect this.
I have learned to ask better questions and in that knowing, I have discovered how I am as unsophisticated as a child, as wise as an ancient and as unformed as that block. I am still uncarved. I am beginning to like the rugged hewn landscape of my current investigations. I can’t travel abroad to search out new and interesting cultures, I can’t even fly to visit my family, but I can ask of myself — How can I have more fun doing this? And so, I ask it, when I am working or meeting deadlines or even focusing on providing my husband and I with more oranges… And it’s surprising how many orangeries there are in life if you look for them.
I’ve another good question for you. It’s What do I have to be grateful for? There is a science behind gratitude. Gratitude activates the central and dorsal medial prefrontal cortex. It triggers the production of dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin through the stimulation of feelings of reward without stress, morality, interpersonal bonding and positive social interactions. it reduces the need for us to compare ourselves with each other. I know that as a therapist I have asked of my clients ‘do you practice gratitude?’ but since Covid-19, the question is now precise and unabashed in its asking, What do you have to be grateful for?
Through these COVID times I have also been participating in a series of conversations with Rob McNeilly, an ex-pupil of the late Milton Erickson, (incredible psychiatrist and clinical hypnotherapist) and others also interested in Erickson’s work. Here I learned a few more excellent questions and these have become the base of my problem solving. I thought I’d share them with you to see if they spark anything in you — because they are after all, excellent.
What do you like? — that’s a bit like what do you want but it’s more immediate and it anchors you into an experience. What is it about it that you like? Good questions elicit specific answers. Understanding the key drivers or motivations about an experience is like having the answers to a quiz. What is the problem? Again — a nice specific question, but get this next one: How is the problem the same as the thing you like? Head turning, neck smacking and annoying — because it’s true. Think hard enough and you’ll be able to see the connection. There is always a connection. And now I’ve written them down I am inclined to say — ask those questions in any order you like, because they will be your questions and not mine. But they will, most definitely, bring about a trans-derivational search (both sides of the brain working) which will put you into a most resourceful state of mind (trance) for problem solving.
So, I’m here again. Fingers hovering over the keyboard, boxes of oranges next to the fridge and questions to stimulate the subconscious mind. It’s good to be back.
Thinking on Purpose by Bandler, Bradstock and Fitzpatrick
The Science of Gratitude by Karen Young