For this week, I would like to write about two events that I recently attended. The first is my (second) weekend at PAIRS mastery class with Ellen and Chuck Purcell in Reston, Virginia. This weekend, I learned about “fair fighting” or, in other words, conflict resolution in close relationships. I learned that anger and fighting can be separated, and positive changes can come from an authentic, loving approach to conflict.
The second event is my evening meeting with Metro Collaborative, an organization of cutting edge clinicians, organized by Bill Dennis. We were invited by Bill to present our own short “TED” talks, as a way of introducing our practices. I was moved and inspired by the transformative journeys that led each health care professional to become who they are today. After their presentations, I felt more connected and self-accepting. I will share with you what happened.
PAIRS and Shares
The past four days have enriched me so much through insights and learning that I feel somehow more whole than I was before. I want to share a little of what I’ve learned and hope that you will be able to benefit vicariously from my experiences. First, I will write about the PAIRS classes and then I will write about what was shared at the Metro Collaborative meeting.
This past weekend, in PAIRS, we began with a discussion about the enneagram. The enneagram is a system that divides people into nine different personality types, with emotional and mental filters associated with each type. Though I am not completely sold on the idea that people could be so neatly sorted (even the names of the nine types change from book to book), what is central to the enneagram is the idea that people come with their filters, priorities, and personality types, into any relationship.
Through these filters, we react to conflict in predictable ways. Recognizing that each person has their own style of approaching life moves us a few steps closer towards resolving conflicts already. I bought a paperback book called, “The Essential Enneagram” by David Daniels, MD and Virginia Price, Ph.D. It’s a good place to start, if you wish to learn more about enneagrams.
On the second day, Ellen and Chuck informed the class that anger does not need to be a part of fighting. One participant, upon hearing that, asked what we were all wondering, “What’s fighting without anger?”
First, we were taught how to release intense emotions through proper venting techniques (take this class to learn what they are!). Then we were given tools on how to navigate conflicts, directing the majority of the attacks away from the partner and towards a neutral PAIRS coach. Students in the class practiced being the complainer, the recipient, or the coach. There was a lot of laughter and fun, as we practiced.
What moved me the most happened during the third day of class, as Ellen and I sat as coaches, for a wonderful couple. I watched them work on deeply hurtful conflicts with intense love and humility. I saw her husband wipe his tears, then hold her hands and ask for what he needed, to resolve the conflict between them. I heard her agree to his conditions with generosity, forgiveness, and understanding. It was all very tender and vulnerable and heartfelt, even though there was plenty of conflict that needed to be resolved.
I learned that love could resolve conflicts and that anger didn’t need to be involved. Never have I seen fighting done in this manner. It was a life-changing moment for me. I felt illuminated.
The next day, Monday, I attended a Metro Collaborative Meeting, where holistic and cutting-edge health care professionals met, to talk about their practices. This evening, Bill Dennis, the creator of this group, asked us to prepare a short “TED talk” related to our practice, encouraging us to share what we felt passionate about. He asked me to be the first to begin. I had taken his suggestion to heart and had decided that I would share, as authentically as I was able, how I became a holistic psychiatrist.
Raised in a setting where conformity and obedience to authority were highly valued (being a woman, Chinese, Mormon, and physician), and born with an artist’s temperament focused on a creative writing career, I began life very far removed from being a holistic psychiatrist. I shared the challenges that shaped me and the trials that forced me to find creative solutions. After I shared my experiences, there was a long silence. Bill invited a man to go next. He said, “I don’t know how I can follow after that. I don’t have such experiences to share.”
But he did. He shared how he had been an attorney and how his health had suffered, because of the demands and expectations of his career and accompanying lifestyle. Then, after reading a book, he made his first step towards regaining his health. He decided to eat real, whole foods and to let go of processed foods. Ten years later and 60 pounds lighter, he shared his creative ideas and powerful approaches, as an enthusiastic health coach.
Another functional physician shared how, growing up, he had never intended to be a doctor either. He wanted to fly and did fly. But then cancer devastated his health, and he had to stop doing everything he loved. Life challenged him to find new meaning and fulfillment elsewhere. He shared with us his difficult search for new meaning, purpose, and direction for his life. Now as a clinician and teacher, he is a valuable leader in functional medicine.
Before others shared, I had this unconscious feeling of separation and alienation, because I just assumed that others at the table would not be able to relate to my circuitous journey through life. I will never assume that again. Nor will I allow myself to feel so different and alienated from others. I belong. I belong to this circle of healers, and my trials and suffering had a purpose. Through our common experiences, I came to feel acceptable, as I accepted others.
The stories were each profoundly moving and deeply personal. I felt, after each had finished sharing, as if I had found another friend. I saw their courage and strength of will. I felt surrounded by a company of lights. What a powerful way to light the holiday season.