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Archive for November, 2009

Wise Questions

Recently I met with a client who’s struggled with feelings of inadequacy and dependency as long as she can remember. Before our session, Sharon asked how she could know whether her left brain was controlling her alternate hand’s writing. This seemed to be happening:  her alternate hand had written, You’re not good enough.

I have never seen this kind of self-condemnation coming through anyone’s alternate hand. It’s always been the opposite: compassionate and supportive. I was puzzled, to say the least.

I asked if I could borrow the book she uses for her alternate writing. What I discovered is that the accusatory language came when she was in a self-help program that required her to voice her deepest fears so she could overcome them. Her alternate hand wrote of those fears because that’s what her dominant hand asked it to do. You’re not good enough reflected Sharon’s fear that she’s weak and inadequate.

In reading her other writing, though, I found that before the self-help program, her alternate hand had written movingly of being a small child, even drawing pictures of herself. Then Sharon had been able to connect to her very outspoken body, who told her I’m strong and can do anything I set my mind to do. When her dominant hand wrote, ‘What if I don’t like challenges?’ her alternate hand replied, Oh, but I think you do.

I kept reading. I’d suggested to Sharon that she go back to basics when the startlingly accusatory writing appeared. The basics are to write your name with your alternate hand. When she did that, she was able to ask  questions that tapped her right brain’s wisdom:

Dominant Hand: Do you know who I truly am?

Alternate Hand: You are a remarkable woman.

DH: How are you feeling?

AH: Excited! I’m letting go of the grip of self-hatred. I like who I am. Sweet and gentle.

During our session, I mentioned these other writings to Sharon. She had forgotten about them, and even asked me to show her where they were in her book. The negative, self-condemning language was all she remembered, even though she’d written pages of compassionate and supportive language since. Our inner critic is an amazingly powerful part of each of us.

Sharon tried writing again. As she answered questions with her alternate hand, the fingers of her dominant hand were in constant motion, as if impatiently waiting to seize the pencil. I suggested that she write a question that would throw her judgmental left brain off track. She wrote,  ‘What would make my inner child happy?’ As her alternate hand responded, I watched her dominant hand’s fingers slowly curl to her palm and go still.

Early in my own AH writing, I asked, ‘So I have to ask the right questions?’ and my alternate hand replied, it helps! At the risk of sounding like your 4th grade teacher, there are no wrong questions. But I encourage you to use this practice wisely. Ask questions that will guide you to new truths, not to old misconceptions. It can be difficult sometimes. You don’t like challenges? Oh, but I think you do.

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Fighting Everything

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This is a photo of me flying from a circus-height trapeze. I know it could be anybody, but it’s me.

Why would I do this? Because I wanted to prove I could, and because I’d heard that it would let me release inhibitions and learn to trust.

Mission accomplished, right? (Really: it’s me. I have witnesses.) Yes, but not before I spent several minutes arguing with the very nice man at the top of the platform about reaching out to grab the other end of the pole from which I’d be swinging. Even though I was attached to a safety rope and he was holding me by a safety belt, the idea of leaning out over what seemed like an infinitely long distance to grab that pole was just insane.

We have three possible responses in stressful situations: fight, flight or freeze. I’ve had several alternate handwriting sessions about my preferred response, which is fight. In my very first writing ‘excursion’ AH noted, you fight everything. When my dominant hand wrote, ‘Why do I fight everything?’ my alternate hand replied, protection.

‘Against what?’ AH: yourself

‘What does that mean?’ AH: you cut

‘I cut what?’ AH: chances

‘Why?’ AH: safer

‘I’m protecting myself from myself?’ AH: yes. you’re ok but don’t think you are

‘How ok am I?’ AH: as good as you’ll let yourself be, which isn’t as much as it could be

‘What’s holding me back from thinking I’m ok?’ AH: you. YOU

When my right brain/alternate hand wants to highlight a point, it will write it twice, the second time printed in capital letters.

As I was standing on the trapeze platform saying not only No, but Hell No to a stressful situation, I managed to stop and ask myself what I was fighting. Which was of course releasing inhibitions and learning to trust, the very reasons I was up there. You fight everything also flashed through my head. So I reached out and grabbed the pole.

I stopped protecting myself and let myself be ok. Jumping off the platform was a snap.

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Multitudes

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In a recent class, I asked if anyone would like to share what they’d written with their alternate hand. Several people talked about the different “voices” that their writing seemed to represent, and one man said he was reminded of a line from Whitman’s Song of Myself: I contain multitudes. I stared at him in wonder. What a perfect set of words.

I’ve always thought of Whitman as sort of a “manly-man” poet. I admired his hospital work during the Civil War and his heartfelt requiem to Lincoln, but there seemed to be too much chest-pounding in Leaves of Grass. My apologies, Walt. I contain multitudes is a miracle.

I wrote about multitudes during an AH session a while back. As usual, it started out on a completely different topic. Eventually we got around to a meeting where I’d been firmly told that other people’s opinions, positive or negative, should be received as “interesting points of view” and dismissed. My dominant hand wrote, ‘positive “reviews” are precious to me.’ AH responded, because LB (Little Betty, my inner child) is starving for them. let her enjoy every ounce!

‘Is she different than me?’ my dominant hand asked. ‘I mean, do I acknowledge her needs while knowing I’m an adult? Brother, that doesn’t even sound remotely right!’ I was trying to make this practice, which is eminently emotional and timeless, into a logical and linear one.

AH addressed the real issue: just like JB (Judge Betty, my busybody critic), LB is part of you. all part of whole, all what make you you (us!). other parts not yet named: creative, compassionate, funny, sexy, careful, insightful, stubborn, passionate, courageous, curious ETC Bettys are all part of us.

I contain multitudes. So do you. Your alternate hand gives voice to them.

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Firing Synapses

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I recently had the great pleasure of hearing Daniel Pink speak at Texas State University. Author of A Whole New Mind: Why Right Brainers Will Rule the Future, you can probably understand why I drove 30 miles in a raging thunderstorm to hear what he had to say. I’m now officially a Dan Pink groupie. Really, I’m a fan of anyone who’s hilariously funny and immensely smart, and my new hero fills both requisites.

That’s him in the photo above, probably talking about one of my favorites of his one-liners: gasp-worthy factoids. I’m going to use G-WF from now on, giving him full credit, of course, when I describe the different ‘personalities’ of the left and right hemispheres of the brain. In return, I hereby give Mr. Pink permission to use my own highly unscientific term for engaging  both hemispheres simultaneously: whole-braininess.

Which is what alternate handwriting is all about. Clients and students often ask me if they should write down something “even if I already hear the answer in my head.” This is my cue to remind them that there are no rules to this practice and then to say, “Write whatever you hear or feel like writing.” Listening is a big part of this process, and if they’re hearing an answer, their synapses are already firing.

That’s probably also unscientific but it’s the visual image I get of how AH works. Both sides of the brain are communicating, just as both hands are writing back and forth. One student told me it felt more like drawing than writing. I love that analogy. You’re watching as your alternate hand forms the letters that make the words. You know it’s your own hand but it doesn’t feel or look normal. Sometimes this is the logical left brain judging, but it can also be you delighting in what’s appearing before your eyes. Talk about gasp-worthy. This whole process is gasp-worthy.

Remember me telling about my presentation preview group, and how they advised me to toss most of my material? Well, one of several things they said that I agreed with was to talk more about how I’ve seen alternate handwriting help others. I made a list (like that’s a surprise) and read it to my class. I’ve been privileged to participate in watching:

  • parents connecting with their children in new, compassionate ways
  • artists cracking creative blocks
  • professionals discovering keys to revitalizing their careers
  • adult children coming to a deeper understanding of their family story
  • unhappy people finding forgotten joy, love and laughter
  • perfectionists giving themselves permission, even encouragement, to fail — and learn
  • individuals realizing that they’ve found something they can trust implicitly

I discover something new every time I teach a class or work with a client. I look forward to enlarging the list. And that’s a factoid.

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