Melting Defense Mechanisms Through Ceremony


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This year I was part of a significant breakthrough when Ofqual, the government body, accredited their first UK qualification in spirituality. Yes, this is a success, but it was a process that took me right out of my comfort zone.

Throughout my life I have been disturbed, nervy and irritable when I have had to order my thinking so as to fit into other people’s boxes. I am okay with simple forms, but I am not okay with anything longer or more complex.

Ask me to place a strategic business plan into a sequence of boxes in which you have to distinguish, for example, between “aims,” “purposes” and “outcomes” — and I react like a nervous horse being saddled for the first time. I also have a challenge looking at databases and excel sheets. My vision blurs and I get a headache.

For decades, therefore, I have avoided this kind of paperwork, but for the Ofqual accreditation I was faced with months of it. It was a recipe for angry depression.

I knew I had to do something about this and self-manage my process. So, for the first time in decades, before beginning work, I used ceremony. Before opening my computer I lit a candle, put on background music, meditated and said a prayer asking for help. This soothed me and I was then able to do the form filling without freaking out.

This went on for months, as versions of the course application and policies were edited and revised. Slowly, gradually, I became comfortable with the process. After a while I no longer needed the ceremony and could just sit quietly with the paperwork, even enjoying it.

During this period I also had a moment of uncomfortable personal insight. I have a background in special educational needs and I realized that I had a cognitive challenge related to my learning style. My brain is not wired easily to manage visually boxed information. It's a very minor form of dyslexia. Plus I have tendency towards impatience.

The insight was uncomfortable because I then looked back at my life and noticed how often I had disrespected people who are comfortable with boxed information, detailed specifications and databases. I had at times, under the guise of humor, even been rude and disruptive. Now many years on and after reflection I could understand that my negative behavior was a defense mechanism protecting me from my own low self-esteem because I could not do that kind of work myself. Argh!

I squirmed because I well knew that this kind of behavior is typical of people with undiagnosed learning difficulties. As well as managing their learning challenge, they also have to manage their psychological backstory and compensatory defensiveness. I knew about all this in others but had not seen it in myself.

Fortunately I could take all of this into my daily practice of meditation, compassionate awareness and healing. And of course I have prayed for forgiveness. We all have our histories and challenges. Being open about them can really support us in the highest possible way.

I now embrace administrative paperwork. My defensive negative behavior has been brought into the light and healed. These are good outcomes. More love, more awareness. But is there a more general and useful lesson that can be gleaned from my process? I think there is.

Most of us know that whenever we are emotionally reactive we are meeting an opportunity for personal growth. But this growth requires intelligent care. We need to step back, take responsibility and put into action practical strategies for self-management, healing and transformation.

At the same time there is a mysterious and benevolent flow to life, so it is crucial too that we ask for and are open to receiving help. If it healed my wayward attitude to bureaucratic paperwork it can heal anything.

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November 22, 2019

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