Process Work Contributions to Men and Power

Chapter 1: Men and Power: The Contributions of Process Work

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Chapter 1: Men and Power: The Contributions of Process Work.

  1. Introduction

We have turned the corner into a new millenium. With this turn we bring with us many unresolved issues as a world community. We also face new challenges, which are emerging each day. Many of the painful events that occur today are repeating yesterday’s history. The genocide of Albanians in the Balkans, Tutsis and Hutus in Rwanda, the ongoing genocide of people and cultures in Tibet, Myanmar and the Philippines are all examples of the oppression of marginalized groups in every country in the world. Past and present history is full of examples of a common pattern where the enemy is projected onto the ‘other’ as the problem and the solution is the removal or the repression of this problem.

History continues to repeat itself. Power theorists such as Foucault (1980) warn that revolution without systemic change only results in the replacement of old leaders with new ones who are similarly oppressive. Learning from history is important. We have the opportunity to learn from our own mistakes and in time create a world of greater awareness, understanding and support for each other.
Central to all of the painful events that repeat in the world is the use of power. Power itself is natural and not troublesome, but the way it is used can create many challenges and very painful conditions for both the wielder of power as well as those affected by it. Wisdom, development and vision are essential in the non-harmful use of power. A good example in recent history is Nelson Mandela of South Africa. After hundreds of years of systemic abuse of black South Africans, as well as a lifetime of personal oppression, at the age of 72 Mandela was made president of South Africa under its first free and open election. The tendency for Mandela to seek revenge upon the white group who had abused him and his people must have been enormous and historically well founded. The white group in South Africa continues in large part to be overtly racist and holds significant economic power directly gained from the abuse of black people. Yet Mandela continues to encourage his followers to forgive those who have oppressed them. His use of power has been to serve a greater vision, where the rainbow of South African people might live in harmony together. In this example, Mandela is an inspiration as to how power might be used effectively to build community. However, the effective use of power can’t be solely placed on the leaders of a country. Leaders constantly change, some are better and some are worse in their use of power. As we all learn how to use power effectively, we take the focus and responsibility off of the leader alone, and rely further on our own leadership. Everyone needs to know how to use their own power to effect useful changes. In this thesis I intend to show that studying the nature of power and how it can be used well--personally, in our relationships and in the world--provides us with the potential for learning and enriching our lives, improving our relationships with others, and creating a world we can be proud to live in.
Each of us has power to effect changes in ourselves, our relationships and the world around us. For some of us the amount of power we have is limited. Others of us have more internal and external support to express our power. Some power is earned by skill, eldership and awareness. Other power is ascribed by virtue of age, social position, race, gender and many other attributes mostly chosen by the dominant culture, which favors certain characteristics and bestows power and privilege on these while marginalizing others.
In Western culture and most other nations around the world, men are attributed more social power than women. In the Western world the differentiation is more defined and becomes that of white men. The effects on white men of having social power are complex. Social power bestows a comfort and social ease. It also bestows responsibility and an expectation of how white men ought to behave, as well as an accountability as to how power needs to be used. This group of men is being increasingly challenged and questioned as to how they use power. An outstanding example is the investigation of Bill Clinton, the United States president, who has been called to account for his affairs with women, and the use and abuse of his social power to gain these favors. In the 1960s President Kennedy was known to have had a string of affairs and was never challenged or even questioned publicly about his activities. Today the world is different. There is increasing pressure on white men to explore and become more conscious of their use and abuse of power. We need to investigate the use of power, not only for our own personal health and the well-being of our relationships, but also in consideration of the environment we would like to live in and the well-being of the planet.
There is a growing awareness to work on world issues as if they are an extension of the psyche. Hillman and Ventura (1992) aptly titled their book We’ve Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy and the World’s Getting Worse. Hillman comments (p.3) that work with the psyche has been mostly individual and on relationships. The soul has been removed from the world which itself has symptoms, is ill and needs attention. One of the few psychologists who has had the courage to address world issues is Dr. Arnold Mindell, the founder of Process Work. Since the late 1980’s he has explored group work and work on world issues as inherently part of psychological growth, and as important additions and compliments to individual work. Within the Worldwork setting, a large, diverse group of frequently over 300 people meet together to work on world issues. During these week long formats, as well as other shorter formats and town meetings, issues of diversity, marginalization, power, abuse and privilege are explored. The central idea behind these meetings is to provide a format for a diverse group to discuss, confront, challenge and learn from exchanges with each other. Learning together provides a deeper understanding of how we can live together with more appreciation and effectiveness in the world.
In the wake of the Balkan wars, I recently attended a seminar where Croats and a Serb were sitting across from each other addressing their differences and their own personal pains. From the meeting grew recognition of their similarities as well as their differences. It was the first time that some Croats had talked to a Serbian person. Many felt changed from the experience. Process Work provides a unique model for working with individual, relationship and group issues simultaneously. In this thesis I explore the contribution of Process Work to understanding the important inter-relationship between men, power and contemporary world issues.

    1. My Personal Journey in Exploring the Issues of Men and Power.

For many years I have been actively interested in men’s issues and how men use and abuse power. The seeds were planted by my grandfather over the years of teaching me chess and spending time with me on his balcony after his retirement. I felt his love, support and care for me, and the kinship of being men together. Once my chess began to improve and I began winning some of the games, the scene on the balcony began to change. He began to tremble and shake during our games and frequently looked uncomfortable. I never asked him why he was shaking, but clearly, losing those games was no fun for him. I knew that he wanted to win, and the fun and camaraderie of the game on the balcony was disappearing. He was proud of my skills at chess, but found difficulty in supporting me to go further than he himself. In my adult life I have been touched by some elders who have been able to support those who are emerging in their power to develop further than the elders themselves have achieved. This form of eldership has been rare, and almost non-existent in my youth.

My grandfather gave me a sense of personal connection and pride in being a man. He was proud of his achievements and spiritual knowledge. He was Jewish and taught me, mostly indirectly, of the experience of being Jewish. He told me with pride that he studied at a famous Yeshiva (Jewish Religious University) in Lithuania before moving to South Africa. Because of his studies he was consulted by, and often corrected, Rabbis at his synagogue. He had worked hard all his life and was able to retire at a reasonable age although he lived quite sparsely. What he didn’t tell me, nor did my parents, was the experience of the Jewish people over the last number of milleniums. However, this story was deep within him, in my parents and in myself. It is the experience of the oppression and genocide of our people over time. It was embedded in the way my grandfather acted, his values in life, how he related. It was where he lived and everything he did. He did not want to stand out in the crowd, nor want to be seen as skilled or exceptional. He accepted living in a place and way, which was not based on choice. He recognized anti-Semitism and lived in a way so as not to incur the wrath placed on so many Jews. He hadn’t simply left Lithuania, he fled just in time. If he had waited a few years later, he would have been killed. He was a small part of my maternal ancestors who did survive. He told me he was on his way to the United States but could only afford to make it to South Africa before needing to save enough money for my mother and grandmother’s journey to meet him. His life in South Africa was that of a refugee, trying to make a safe place for his family to survive. In his last years he moved to Israel where he could live in a place where being Jewish was given a sense of value and pride. Israel may have been the embodiment of a place and attitude he had been searching for all his life. I think he didn’t tell me his deeper feelings and experiences of persecution, as he wanted to protect me. Yet these things, although not said, are told in so many ways. I appreciate and am thankful to his spirit for the care and love he gave to me.
The paternal side of my family had similar painful stories. My father left Holland with his family in the 1930s. Of a family which lived in Holland as far back as records indicate, at least from the 1600s, the only ones who continue to hold my last name are my brothers and mother. In Amsterdam none remain. When I see the list of Dutch Jews murdered during the holocaust, the list of my last name takes pages. Over a hundred of my relatives were killed mostly in the Auschwitz and Sobibor extermination camps. The oppression of people and the abuse of power have caused untold tragedy. For me, the death of my relatives can hold meaning in preventing this abuse of people from ever happening again and challenging all of us to use our power well.
My maternal grandfather was also a patriarch who felt self-righteous in his attitudes and behaviors. There was very little latitude for others to have opinions different from his own. My grandmother suffered greatly from this oppression. She managed to develop a deep spirituality, and I felt a love and warmth from her often in the background during my visits. My mother was furious with my grandfather for his oppression of her mother and confronted him repeatedly for this self-righteous attitude. She was determined to stand against male oppression in her life, and I felt her power and fury towards men from my early years. From this, she taught me about standing against oppression. She was vocal about not being oppressed and was instrumental in my eventual decision, which went against cultural expectations, to not serve in the white South African army.
Being born and living in South Africa as a white person in a time of oppression and racism taught me a lot about abuse and privilege in a culture where the color of your skin shaped so much of your destiny. People of color were treated as second class citizens, and were frequently patronized and abused. The pain and insensitivity of racism was rampant in my childhood. Many people used alcohol and drugs as a way of numbing the pain. However, even in this oppression the spirit of black people in South Africa arose and the music, spirituality and psychological depth were evident in many black people I met. The white oppressors were terrified of reprisal from the black people they oppressed. The walls around the white people’s houses grew bigger and bigger, as did the walls inside the white people. An abusive environment affects everyone. As a white child and adolescent, I too suffered not only from fear but also frequent physical and emotional abuse. Growing up in South Africa taught me the horrors of oppressing others and the effect of abuse on everyone in the culture.
Within my family my father was mostly absent. He loved his work as a pharmacist, and I felt that his pharmacy was more like his home than our house. I felt loved by him, although at times he had difficulty expressing his affection. He had a conflicting relationship with my mother and often felt quite withdrawn and independent from the family scene. I was deeply affected by his early death at age 49, when I was 15 years old. In his death he planted some memories with which I have wrestled: that some strong unknown force could overpower my father, a man who had pushed me over in an instant. For many years I was angry with him for not living longer and giving me the opportunity to learn to fight back. I later realized that a personal fight was not the only experience that I needed. In my dreams, instead of my father entering my room, death did. The loss of my personal father had opened a dialogue with the transpersonal and spiritual. My battle was no longer with a personal man but with forces of nature, with god and with death.
My maternal grandmother and my paternal grandfather also died during this period. Life became tentative and fragile. I tried talking to my remaining grandfather about death. Our communication was mostly by letter and I don't recall receiving an answer that appeased me. He had referred to nature and the patterns of life, but didn't give me a personal account of his own struggles. Death had shocked me. Over the years I have continued to wrestle with death and I have learned many things from this teacher. It has prompted a search through Eastern philosophy, meditation and spirituality. It has prompted a search through Western psychology. It has prompted me to live fully knowing any moment could be my last, and it has prompted me to live with meaning. It has prompted me to follow a life purpose and direction where I can die satisfied that my life has had the depth and meaning of a life well lived. For me this includes contributing to the world compassion and kindness, as well as working towards world change so we can all live easier, working against oppression, and learning to use power well.
In my search for effective models of doing this work in Western psychology, I came across Arnold Mindell and Process Work. I found a model where experiences, attitudes, and challenges were not judged in terms of right or wrong, but viewed as meaningful. They were to be understood and brought fully into awareness. Within the difficulty itself was meaning and the wisdom to enrich life. In the Process Work model, the person’s experience was believed in and trusted. Many of the challenges of the abuse of power in therapeutic relationships and the world are recognized and addressed. My vision of how psychology should be is reflected in this philosophy and approach.
My personal story has been of a man wrestling with his own identity. It has been a story of a man attempting to understand his own power and the power of others. My story encompasses the suffering of my grandfather at the chess table when I became better than he was at chess, as well as the experience of being a Jewish man, part of a Jewish family and group which has been persecuted through the abuse of power for thousands of years. It is the story of the fear of white people in South Africa, who used power to oppress others and themselves, and of my mother standing for her rights as a woman, using her voice to stand against oppression. It is a story, in the final moment, which is bigger than the human issues of power. It is also the story of the spirit of death, who bore my father away effortlessly at a moment of its own choosing. My life has been a wrestling with these forces of power, both human and spiritual.
Writing about men is part of my search for my own identity and the identity of men around me. Men are in transition. Old patterns no longer work, and new patterns need to be forged out of the wrestling with deep feelings, conflicts, behavioral patterns, relationships and culture. Many men have used their power poorly. We as men have been and are confronted by this regularly. Changes in the way men use power are beginning to happen. There is a need to understand and encourage this movement, to understand who men are, how men use power, why power is abused, and how men might live up to the expectations and challenges of having power so that it might be used well. In this thesis I discuss how the skills of Process Work can assist in this exploration.

    1. Overview

In the next chapter I present a brief outline of Process Work and its applications. I explore some of the philosophical roots of Process Work and discuss Process Work in the context of the field of psychology. I present the skills and metaskills used in Process Work, and discuss their application in working with individuals, relationships, groups and world conflicts.

In Chapter 3 I explore the definitions and range of theories of power. I present some of the historical theories of power including the ideas of Plato and Aristotle as well as more recent theorists such as Foucault, Levinas and Kunz. I also include a brief investigation of feminist ideas of power, which critique traditional definitions and theories of power as biased against women. I explore the Process Work concept of rank and privilege, and outline the social, psychological and spiritual categories of rank. I investigate the use and misuse of rank, and discuss how the misuse of rank is related to both external and internalized oppression.
In Chapter 4 I investigate the personal challenges men are faced with and the consequent development of the various men’s movements. I explore how most men’s movements originated from the women’s movements, and how from the early beginnings in the 1970s, the men’s movements have proliferated to support diverse groups of men and their needs. I explore the men’s movements in term of the particular political themes around which each group focuses, and investigate both the limits as well as the range of applications of each group. I discuss how many men’s groups have emerged to address concerns related to power differences.
In Chapter 5 I present the methodology of my research. I begin by explaining why a heuristic, qualitative and subjective inquiry is the best suited to my form of research. I discuss the particular methods I use in my research which include: an in depth investigation of a group process; a personal study of my own experience of being a man; my professional experience as a psychologist in personal therapy and facilitating men’s groups; interviews with Dr. Arnold Mindell; and elucidations from my experiences of attending and at times facilitating many Worldwork group processes.
In Chapter 6 I present the reader with a verbatim transcript of a Worldwork group process. Throughout the transcript I present an in depth analysis of how the group and facilitation is proceeding. The analysis includes my own evaluation as well as comments by Arnold Mindell. I include a section of additional comments drawing from my own personal experience as a man, psychologist and group facilitator. This analysis gives the reader an in depth understanding of the transcript under focus, and also broadens this understanding by adding insights from the experience and historical knowledge I bring to my role as facilitator.
In Chapter 7 I interview Arnold Mindell on his view of some of the existing theories of men and power and the contribution that Process Work makes to this field of study. He shares ideas about how power might be recognized and used well, his own personal experience of being a man, and how in the final analysis we might do well to look beyond issues of power.
In Chapter 8 I discuss the main themes from both my analysis of the group process and the interview with Arnold Mindell, and relate these to the existing body of knowledge of men and power. I explore how men might recognize their own rank and its effects, and how they might use rank well. I expand the discussion beyond the focus on men to how we all contribute to the effective use of power. Finally, our own wrestling with the effective use of power leads us to our own values and vision beyond power itself. I proceed to discuss some areas where Process Work and Worldwork are growing.
In Chapter 9 I conclude the thesis by focusing on the contributions Process Work makes to both theories of power and men’s issues. I explore the benefits of investigating from a process rather than a state perspective, and the contribution Worldwork provides as an in vivo method in the research of rank and its effective use. Finally, I present ideas about where research is needed to further develop the complex relationship between men and power.

Chapter 2: Process Work

2.1 Introduction to Process Work
Process Work is a broad spectrum approach to psychology and working with disturbances, problems and their transformation. It embraces applications in art, spirituality, psychotherapy and social activism. The theory and practice of Process Work is constantly changing, evolving and building on itself. Based around it is a learning community exploring these ideas and their applications. It is a dynamic model focused on the feedback of those using the model. Practitioners are constantly exploring and developing new ways in theory, effective application and transformation. It rests on a simple yet complex tenet that the experience of an individual, couple or group is important and that the difficulties and challenges in life, once followed and unfolded, offer new insights and fresh perspectives to life’s problems. Within the very problem itself, once unfolded and developed, lies the meaning and at times the remedy to the difficulty. What is required of the practitioner is the ability to follow the course of the experience with awareness and openness, and to assist in the unfolding of this experience with respect and encouragement.

    1. Process Work in the Context of Psychology

Jungian psychology has been a significant influence in the development of Process Work. Mindell’s initial training was as a Jungian analyst, and a number of the basic ideas in Process Work have developed from Jungian psychology. The focus of Jungian therapy has been on dreams and active imagination, using mostly auditory and visual techniques as methods of analysis and inquiry. Mindell expanded this focus to include the body, its sensations, symptoms and illness as a dreaming process. These experiences can be unfolded in the same way as nighttime dreams. Since the body provides information through inner body feelings and movements, these ways of expression are included along with auditory and visual information in Process Work.

Process Work further differentiates itself from Jungian therapy by expanding its focus into social and world issues as a means for individual and collective change. Jung (1981) was cautious of the collective power of groups, and felt that the route to world change was based on individual self-reflection and the return of the individual to their own deepest being. Mindell (1995) comments that his teachers recommended he avoid large group work, focusing at best on small groups where law and order could prevail. However, Mindell recognized that the world is not comprised of docile little groups and that fear of conflict is best addressed through immersing oneself in the conflict rather than avoiding it through methods of control. He states (1995, p.12), “Engaging in heated conflict instead of running away from it is one of the best ways to resolve the divisiveness that prevails on every level of society--in personal relationships, business and the world.”

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