What is Mindfulness? And other questions about how I approach therapy.
I get asked this a lot: what is your approach to being a therapist? Or rather, what can we expect therapy to be like together?
My approach to therapy is informed by a number of factors the first is my background and training. I came to this field later in life. I didn’t always think I would even become a therapist, even though I have long admired and worked next to the profession as a crisis manager and adviser to students. I try to bring the variety of experiences and various paths in my life to the work.
I call my basic approach to therapy as a Mindfulness therapist. I will talk about some other therapeutic approaches that take like CBT, IFS or solutions based therapy but this post is going to center around mindfulness.
Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention to the world around you. Trích Nah Hanh has a quote I practice when I eat, it goes like this, “let my fork rest between bites so I can know it is a fork and not a shovel.” Mindfulness is just that, can you eat when you’re eating? Or are you eating so that you can get to doing the dishes? Once you get to the dishes are you thinking of sweeping the floors? How present are you in your life and is Mindfulness the practice of getting you to slow down and realize what is happening. Summed up with the simple expression: be here now.
The work of slowing down our minds and paying attention is scary. The thoughts come very quickly. The judgments, the criticism. All of these thoughts are part of a mind-system which you have had all of your life. Some of us remember a time when we were very young and we turned to our parents and we said, “mommy, I hear voices in my mind.”
Pago passed March 19th, 2021
I had the opportunity to walk the earth with another being that gave me such incredible love and fierce grace across the course of almost 12 years. I am now saying goodbye to him, in the only way that I know how, which is by writing about our life together. As someone once told me, "write to make it all real."
What follows is his story. If you have lost a dog it may give you solace or it may cause to reflect on your sadness. I am a writer first, and all other things second, so this is what I do for my process. If this helps you on your own journey then peace be with you.
Gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi sva
gone, gone, everyone gone to the other shore, awakening beyond
Pago Santí was born in the streets of Saint Louis to a mom that left he and his sister in an alley. He was found by some nice folks who took him to the Webster Groves Animal Hospital in Missouri. Pago caught the eye of Leslie Sanazaro (then Leslie Santi) who mentioned that “if you are ready to be a dog dad, then there is a really cute dog at the animal hospital.” My first interactions were watching him run around on the floor by my feet. He wouldn't hold still and as soon as I reached down he would turn on his back for a second and then run away again. He never would hold still long enough for me to pick him up. I caught a sort of energy, a jolt of playfulness and love energy that was unshakeable. Leslie and I adopted the dog at 8 weeks old and were told we needed to wait another 2 weeks before we could pick him up.
Pago, who was originally called "Misto" which is cool in Romanian. He got his name after we figured his birthday fell close to the tax day in the United States. Since Leslie and I often feared Tax day coming, we called him "Pago" or "I pay" in Spanish. It stuck and he loved it. The training of Pago was hard at first, he was fiercely stubborn and required intense attention and devotion. At times, I felt as if the test of dog ownership was beyond what I was capable of. Further, Pago needed hours of play and walks. He was always horrible on a leash but he loved to run. It was in Saint Louis where I first began to bike with him while he was running. More than a few times I fell to the ground after he caught sight of a squirrel. Another strategy to wear him out was to kick a soccer ball up a 15 foot hill. Pago would sprint up and then run down. He did this for dozens of times and was not tired still when walking home.
Training was slow with Pago at first but he began to unwind with love and kindness. He loved spending time on the couch and I believe his couch kill score was 3 couches, both in chewing and licking leather. One night when Leslie was at a show, I remember he continued to growl and bite at me when he was on the couch. I put in him the corner with his bed with all his toys. Over the next 30 minutes, while he continued to growl, I took one toy away at a time and put them in the bathroom and returned him to the corner. Finally, it was just his bed. He began to tear at the bed and growl at me. I took the bed away and then put him in the corner again and he sat and stared at me. Finally, he was calm, I think we really understood one another from that point on.
Pago had a certain toughness which came from his demeanor and breeding. It would not surprise me that he was descended from fighting dogs. With people though he was the sweetest and most friendly animal around. Ever interested in playing and a joy to play with. Despite this sweetness he did not make many dog friends. I wish I could say Pago was good with other dogs but early on he had a tussle with a much older dog which I think shocked him. Ever since then, Pago was unpredictable at best when another dog came around. This severely limited our hangout time with other people with dogs. He was responsible for ending at least one romantic relationship early over a dog fight and I had to ask more than one friend for forgiveness. It was hard with some of my best of friends. As time went on, Pago and I traveled across the country together. He lived in Missouri and NY and took trips with me across eleven states. He loved visiting Maine on a particularly brutal winter weekend. He never cared for playing fetch with a ball for too long, he'd simply get bored. Sticks were also interesting to a point and then he'd simply chew them.
Our favorite activity was going for long walks together. I would get lost and he would get lost and we would find one another. I would often be writing a poem in the woods or taking a photograph and then he would wander off and chase something. I would then whistle to him and he would eventually return to my side.
He was a handsome dog. I liked to say he was born in a tuxedo, as he had a large white patch that went from his neck all the way down his belly. He turned into quite a handsome and stoic dog. Lean and quite muscular he weighed 70 pounds and came up to my side. He knew all the usual commands but he was especially fond of "side" which put him on his side to show submission, it was one of the earliest tricks I gave him. Finally though, Pago was a great yoga dog. I developed a regular practice with Pago when he was a puppy and he learned early that he would need to wait for me to have a shavasana for him to get a kiss. A frequent attender of my yoga classes at CrossFit Pallas, he welcomed students to my classes and would come over and kiss students that needed extra love. Later, it became his ritual when I would close to come to me when I was done and then kiss everyone in the class. He became so richly aware of everyone and everything--he developed this emotional support and began to exude a deeper love for everyone.
Over the years, Pago and I stopped running and biking together, mostly because it got harder to keep up with it in the winter. Also, I got tired of taking spills off the bike. During the cold season in NY, I trained him to use a treadmill before he ate his morning food. This kept him going for 20 minutes or so of intense jogging. He was smart and fun to be around and loved to be cuddled and kissed. He was driven by food and this had long been my method of working with him, and as he grew older we celebrated his birthdays by cooking him steak. Yes, a full steak would be his birthday present. We loved swimming together, more than a few people reading this, met us when I took him to East Shore park. We would get in the water, he with an extend-leash and I would swim out and he would follow. Pago loved the water.
I loved having a big dog. A dog that I could lay on top of, and tease and roll around with. I would just lay my body on top of his (making sure he wasn't in pain of course) and just give him a big kiss. As a child, two out of the three dogs had been hit by cars on a busy road, the third was taken to the SPCA. I was also bit by a dog when I was a child and I had one particular childhood memory which entailed a chihuhua that barked at me at 5 years old and scared me so much I ended up on a strangers dining room table trying to get away from it. Pago was my responsibility for most of his life and taking care of him and being close to him was a constant joy in being connected.
If you have never "had" a dog or been their caregiver then I urge you to do so. It is a rewarding and powerful experience. I find myself now working through thoughts in nearly every moment of how my life now needs to be edited. I look for him by my side and the instincts to find a comfortable place for him to lay on the floor is now gone. When I am in the kitchen, or walking through the living room I am aware that each step is in relation to where his body may be. When I am preparing food and something falls to the floor, I am so used to being too slow to stop Pago from eating it off the floor. The list goes on and on, having a dog is like this. "Should I let him outside while I take the garbage out?" or "I'm walking by his water bowl does he have enough?" A dog gets into your mind and you adapt to them quickly and quietly over the years. In the same way he adapted to my life. It is this which I believe causes us to fall so intensely in love with dogs and creates such a bond. We take on one another's habits and engage the world in a shared unity. They say the alliance of homosapiens and dogs may have been the death toll of the neanderthals and I can see why--a dog finds a way to integrate themselves in your life--and the degree of which they do is based entirely on the love you have for them. The more love, the deeper the integration. This is why losing a dog feels like a certain madness overtaking you.
There were many times I found him intuitively caring for me, there were dark days together. He would lay his head at my side or lick my face. I found in him a companion and a friend at all times. He was patient and kind with me. Emily Dickinson said of dogs, "They always know but never judge."
In the 5th year of life, Pago found himself with 5 acres of land to roam and he began his years of having the thrill of the outdoors regularly. He may have been born in the streets of Saint Louis but Pago loved being in the land in Trumansburg. On any given day, he would go outside and 6-7 times. When it was sunny we would spend time outdoors together, he would lay on the porch and me in my hammock. We went for daily walks and found time to ease the comfort of solitude of being alone together. We grilled food when it was warm and I found myself sleeping next to him on the coldest of nights.During the winter he was not a fan of the cold, especially as the years would go on and he would find himself cozy by the wood stove otherwise.
This last year of his life Pago was adopted a second time. Shona Craig and I moved in with one another in November of 2019 and Pago quickly grew fascinated by having another dog mom. He loved being close to her and laying in her office while she talked to clients. Her touch, which is one of a healer, was one Pago needed in his life. He was 10 years old when she moved in and he had begun to slow down. An injury of a hyperextended hind leg had caused him to yelp in pain in 2017 and he would occasionally limp. The doctors all said he would have to stop running and be on a leash on walks. This quickly grew impossible though, as Pago was never one to be on a leash for too long but he did stop running so ferociously. Shona's touch and continued connection to him helped him a lot over the last two years.
This past year was such an incredible year in this household. Both Shona and I worked mostly from home and Pago come this past March of 2020 was amazed to find himself with two full-time parents. He never lacked for fun and support daily. He would perpetually beg us for walks, giving a classic grunt and tail wag. His diet was healthy and he was quite a charmer to all visitors. In running Camp SkyTent in 2020 the campers always were thrilled to be greeted by a big black dog coming towards them--well, those who were dog people I guess. Ha!
About three months ago after a 2 hour hike in the woods to get ourselves out of the covid winter blues funk, Pago's leg seemed noticeably more in pain. Gone was the slight limp. Pago began full-on hopping on one hind leg. We inquired with the vet shortly after and the doctor found a lump in his right hind leg, the same leg that years before had been injured. Whether the constant inflammation had caused the tumor or the small tumor had simply gone unnoticed because of the injury, we'll never know. As a dog owner, as their caregiver you want to do more always at this point in the story. Was there a way to have prevented it? Could have I done more regular checkups? Should have I undergone chemo on an 11 1/2 year old dog with arthritis in both hips and knees? The subtlety of a dog's life is something that I wish I had only noticed earlier. I will live with wondering but I don't think Pago would want me to keep suffering as well. His life was a testament to unconditional love and mine to him unconditional love.
After running a biopsy, the lump on the hind leg proved to be the dreaded C word. We brought him home with a diagnosis which was terminal and to keep him medicated and to spoil him rotten. We did not know whether he would last a year or months. I was determined to keep him comfortable and so was Shona.
The decline was rapid and startling. It was as if he knew it was his time. Within two weeks of coming home he began to lose his appetite. We tried coaxing him with 5 different types of dog food in the following weeks. He had to be hand fed. His water bowl would come to his bed. It was frustrating and painful to watch--on more than one occasion I wondered out loud if it was psychological. Being a therapist for this amount of time in crisis will do that to you, I guess.This dog who would do anything for food before, now sat in bed and refused all meals. We gave him pain medications which made him sleep all day.
This past Monday on a walk he stopped walking half way through the woods. We got to the meadow and he couldn't keep moving. I picked him up and carried him 10 or so paces and then set him down. He moved two feet or so and then stopped. This continued until he got to the porch. He couldn't make it to his bed and I carried him there.
This grew much worse over the next number of days. His right hind leg grew swollen with lymphedema and he grew sullen. That Monday was the last day he also had use of his left leg. Shona and I looked at one another this past week and couldn't frankly believe it was happening. This warrior, this prince of Perry City, was now declining so quickly it was as if he was now an angel falling to the sky. Without any way to get him inside and outside we tied towels and then later athletic bands together. I put one around his rear and the other around my shoulders. Like this we walked like a team. He peed the bed. He peed all over the house when I would get him outside. He was listless, my time with Pago was coming to a close. The house was filled with grief and dread.
Shona and I follow a spiritual path that is probably closest to Hinduism but has touches of Buddhism and Native American faith. It is fair to say we're trying to be the most spiritual we can be in all situations. We're in process. We decided that to relieve the suffering of our charge, it meant to give him one last party.
Friday a select group of friends and family gathered. Pago was in an exceptional mood. He had not taken his pain medication and had refused all food. He was sitting up and engaging with everyone at the party who would sit by his side. The warrior had become a sage and his life and spirits were uplifted seeing everyone. This is how dogs are, they live for us and our life together with them. I cooked him a filet mignon and despite having refused food all morning, Pago ate an entire steak. I write that and it gives me joy and intense sadness, as if that is a way my mind can rationalize a different ending than what comes next. You see, I want to use that fact as a reason to have kept him alive--he was on the mend! He could have made it! My brain shouts these things and I know this is not true. His leg had swollen to twice the size. His pads on his bed needed to be changed hourly. When I fed him the steak, he could not bend down to get the pieces on the far side of the plate. It was his last meal.
Earlier that day, I had built a funeral pyre with my good friend Devon Van Noble, he and I constructed it with three levels to provide a send off to send his ashes into the air with God. Shona and I had ruled out giving him a burial as it doesn't suit our spiritual tradition. After his meal we drove to the vet and entered into the room alone with him. He was calm at first, until the vet tried to find a vein. It took two anesthesia shots before Pago began to calm down. He licked my face and Shona's. We whispered prayers to him and said it was ok to go. His beautiful brown eyes laid on us and then he was gone. His spirit had left his body. The spirit that I knew as Pago left his body Friday, March 19th at 6:45pm.
We took Pago to a house awaiting with family. We shared hugs and began our final preparations. I took Pago's body to the porch with Devon and I then proceeded to wash his body. I soaped every crevice and chanted ram in my head. We then wrapped him in his favorite blanket and covered him with flowers. I took his collar and put it next to him. I left the prayer beads on his neck that he had worn for the past month.
We carried him to his final tomb and encased him. We lit the fire and we played music while we let the fire raise into the night.
I wish I could have the space a month or a year later to write this--as I know reflection would be useful in the space that could intervene with distance. However, I don't want distance. I feel destroyed and robbed of my best friend. Pago taught me a certain toughness about the world and carried me through some of my darkest. He was always there, feeling what was going on with me and our time alone from 2012-2019, those almost seven years were impossible to describe. We became soul mates in the world and had a connection that was hard to shake. Shona often remarked "you know, you two actually look a lot alike." It is true. the salt and pepper beards and faces that have known endurance. We were also a lot alike personally: we intensely love those around us and at the same time we are leery of just anyone wandering into our lives. We are wanderers and givers and our life together was one of deep devotion.
I had a dream the night he stopped walking. I was in a room with another man, he laid his head before me on my lap. He knew that I was there to end his life. I stroked his hair and he touched my hand with affection and love. I then ended his life with a blade. When I woke up, I was crying and felt physically sick. At breakfast, I talked to Shona about my dream, Pago was on his bed and had not eaten anything and perked up a little as I was talking. I then gasped looking at Pago, "I think the dream was about me and him," I said to Shona. I am not saying that Pago and I were in a previous life together in such drastic of pains, however, it was my honor and duty to serve him and when the time came, letting him pass into the other world was what we had to finish the life together. If we were in that previous life together, then this too makes sense as my karma was at work and he his own.
I hold dog ownership as one of the great spiritual practices one can take as a pedestrian to a spiritual path. You begin with a sort of desire for the connection to something else--and then you begin to unfold your own attachments and pain. The dog feels that and helps you work on it. My own previous pain at having lost animals and fear of dogs Pago felt. Working on yourself with a dog is beautiful and deep sadhana. You will, likely, outlive them--whether your time with them is one year or 12, every day is an opportunity to work on yourself with another being. Get a dog, get any pet for that matter, I'm not sure the ashram is for everyone anyway. Here, in your own home, you have the opportunity to fulfill karma and to work on your dharma by being one with an animal. To care for them. To be with them present. To experience joy and suffering.
I believe that suffering at the end of Pago's life was one which I could be open to and even the smell of the urine grew on me. Caring for him, giving him food by hand. By attending to his every need is the work of life. I will never forget the moments of washing his body, of keeping him close to me, to hear his labored last breaths. He was, and will ever be, one of my greatest teachers.
Fulfilling a promise I made to writers I published almost 10 years ago
Before I worked as a therapist I was a writer and an editor of a literary journal from 2006 till 2012. It was a business that I took up with friends in order to prove a point, that literary journals could be something of a workshop for those whose stories were "just a little off" and we could give feedback to every story that we ever received. It was a bold and humanistic idea.
To run a business is a beautiful thing, to put out quality product, to find passion in commerce and working to please customers. I have infinite respect for anyone who pushes this work in their day to day life. I worked with some amazing people and learned many valuable lessons that I share with my clients today.
The journal interviewed some of the best writers of the short story at the time. We published short stories from exciting and coming writers. We ran contests and dolled out thousands in cash prizes. We were one of the first literary journals that ran online writing workshops and I personally conducted many workshops with writers that I still keep in touch with today. The website, now defunct, you can see our checkout our archives here. Annually, we would publish a print edition. It's (and maybe still is) the gold standard of publishing to have your work in print and I made a promise to anyone who published with Our Stories that they would see their work in print. It was a big deal.
During the last couple of years of my work in the field, somewhere around 2010, I began to notice that I didn't have the energy or the capacity to work as tirelessly as I once had. The margins had been slim, the hours brutal and every three months putting out a journal grew more difficult. To add to this, I was personally going through a period of immense change. First with moving from Saint Louis, back to Ithaca, NY and then to end of a relationship. Because of this, I didn't put out two issues of print of the writers who I had promised would one day see their work in print. That has gnawed at me for a long time. Eight years.
A number of months back I decided to go about fulfilling a promise. I hired a designer. Dug up the old InDesign documents and began in earnest to make these last two volumes to go into print.
I'm proud to say that's completed. To me, when you have uncompleted work in your life it hangs over you. I never made peace with this and I'm proud to say that has now changed. Thanks for reading. Namaste.
Volume 1: 2006-2007
Our premiere short story collection for the Our Stories Literary Journal was the first we ever had in print. The cover art was done by Colin Shaw.
Includes short stories by: JE Ogle, Christian McLean, Pete Syverson, Jenni Di Placidi, Brian Heston, Lyn LeJeune, David Rosenstock, Matthew Hamity, Amy Stuber, Veronica Vela, William Hicklin, Jeremey Adam Smith, Sandy Olson Hill, Patti Smith-Jackson, Thomas Lisenbee, Jennifer Reimer, Nicholas Cook, Chuckie Campbell, Cara Hoffman, Thea Swanson, Mark Vogel.
Interviews with: Richard Bausch, Paul Cody, Matthew Sharpe & George Saunders. Essays on writing by Lex Enrico Santi.
Purchase here at Amazon
Volume 2: 2007-2008
Volume 2 of Our Stories Literary Journal had the cover art of Colin Shaw. Includes the following short stories by the following writers:
Joni Koehler, Emily Hipchen, Janice Soderling, Colin Thornhill, Patrick Berlinquette, Carl Fuerst, Alex Stephens, Dave Weisbord, Kelli Ford, Eric Maroney, Boss Carver, Douglas Silver, Megan Roberts, William Litton, Jennifer Gooch Hummer, Anne Germanacos, Tina Rosenberg.
Interviews with: Stacey Richter, Ana Menendez, TC Boyle & Junot Diaz.
Purchase here at Amazon
Volume 3: 2008-2009
The Volume 3 of Our Stories Literary Journal had the cover design by Jesse Winter and features the following short stories by these amazing authors: Tatjana Miloradovic-Lindes, Paul Dickey, Nick Ostdick, Lindsay Merbaum, Elliot Satsky, Adam Shechter, Thomas Lisenbee, Paul Vidich, Cameron Coursey, Meakin Armstrong, Keith Lord, Jo Page, Karen Best, Renee, Simms, Kristiana Colón, Paula Hari, Shane Kraus, Caroline Bailey Lewis, Erik Hoel, Cynthia Hawkins. Essays on the craft of writing and publishing by Lex Enrico Santi.
Interviews with: Adam Haslett, Steve Almond, Alan Cheuse, Stuart Dybek
Purchase here at Amazon
Volume 4: 2009-2010
Volume 4 of Our Stories Literary Journal had the cover design, of my good friend Bob Reuter, who has tragically since passed. It included the following authors: Margaret McMullan, Adam Smith, Mark Wolsky, Travis Mills, Greg Girvan, Ira Sukrungruang, James Goolsby, Onnesha Roychouduri, Chellis Ying, Louis Wittig, Matthew Lang, Connie A. Lopez-Hood. Townsend Walker, Roy Jeffords, Daryl Morazzini, Glenda Bailey-Mershon, Elizabeth Boyd, Ed Bull, Kerry Mackel.
And the interviews of : Dorothy Allison, Karen E. Bender.
And some essays by: Lex Enrico Santi
Purchase here at Amazon
Volume 5: 2010-2011
Volume 5 of Our Stories Literary Journal displays the mural painting by Lex Enrico Santi, and the short stories by the following incredible authors: Margaret LaFleur, Sara Lippmann, Michael Harris Cohen, Althea Black, Richard Hartshorn, Anne Earney, Charles Hashem, Alyssa Capo, Guinotte Wise, Mark Maynard, Jeanne Gulbranson, Brian Bienkowski, Ana Menendez, Cara Hoffman, Jenny Halper, Gord Grisenthwaite, Sativa January, Melissa Kriendel, Anna Steen,
Interviews with: Richard Spilman & Cara Hoffman
and essays by Lex Enrico Santi -- *Includes new introduction about the last 8 years since OS closed shop.
Purchase here at Amazon
Volume 6: 2011-2012
Volume 6 of Our Stories Literary Journal, only included two volumes, as opposed to 4. It is a smaller collection but the stories were some of our finest. The coverart is a mural painting by Lex Enrico Santi. The following amazing authors were published in the journal: Allison Field Bell, Tyler Evans, Erica Jung, Sandra Rouse, Raul Clement, Jocelyn Johnson, Mittie Babette Roger, An Tran, Amanda Holmes, Lynett Ngulube.
There are no interviews in this issue. There are essays by Lex Enrico Santi, including a special thank you to our writers and my best friend who founded the journal with me, Josh Campbell.
Purchase here at Amazon.
Pt. 4 in a series on oppression...
We often hear from individuals in the media or worse, in social media, examples of when a member of an excluded group: African American, for example, throws a punch at a white man. There are examples of this with colorful memes and such that rile up supporters against Black Lives Matter. This, tragically, is part of our next lesson. The difference between discrimination and an ISM.
Oppression works in a single direction. Discrimination works both ways. Oppression works as a system which flows from the top, like a waterfall. I love waterfalls, I live close to dozens of them. I just don't want to be under a waterfall. Why? There's simply too much power directly underneath. It crashes down on you because the concentration of force directly falls on you. It's a wondrous thing to look at from a distance.
Oppression works like that. Once you are at the bottom of a waterfall, it is nearly impossible to climb back up the waterfall, to get to the top. You would need someone sitting atop the waterfall to create an environment that would allow you to then climb up tot he top of the mountain. Imagine, if you're from around Ithaca, hundreds of people diverting the water from the mighty Taughannock that
A lot of times examples are used of discrimination where a single incident of brutality in the opposite direction, a woman killing a man, an African American slaying a white person, is equated to an example of oppression. It is not. You can't account for thousands of years of oppressive tactics which included state decisions, religious doctrines, control from insitittuoins and equate that to a punch being thrown or Charlize Theron's character in Monster. It just isn't the same.
Don't get me wrong. These are heinous and horrible crimes, but they are not oppression. Oppression is a system. Oppression is what bore out the genocide of the native peoples of America, it was built on ideology, media, legal system, and so on and so on. Oppression is decades worth of complaints that go unnoticed while baseball and football teams have mascots that are blatantly racist against the native Americans.
Acts of discrimination can happen both ways. Everyone discriminates against one another in some fashion, it's the subject object thing that we were talking about earlier. It is part of the human condition that we should discern one from the other. This is, in a sense, to discriminate then--again, we all discriminate. However, having preferences that then are rewarded one from from the other and the very life is lost or cut short because of that preference on a mass scale, that is the root of oppression. Thanks all.
PT. 3 In a Series on Oppression
This is a difficult topic to introduce because it requires to expansively think of ourselves as embodying different bodies of mind at the same time. Let me explain, I function in gender with the identity of being part of the male included group. Or, to be specific, the CIS gender group. At the same time, I have a relationship with my gender which "bumps into" other individuals. I have a relationship with the group "men" and whether that is a meta relationship or a relationship which entails getting together or influencing men as a whole. And I have a relationship with this group of men which can come into contact with a group of women or other gendered groups. This is why it is complex to understand how oppression is impacting because we can experience it on all these levels. This article attempts to explain this sticky aspect of oppression and where some of us get caught.
These different lenses we experience oppression are as follows: internalized, Inter-personal, group and inter-group.
Each one of these has their own unique attributes which keep us from seeing a wider whole of how we may be impacted by oppression.
Most of what we see in the news media happens on the inter-personal level. That makes sense right? We see one individual do something horrible to another individual based on oppressive instincts. Our relationship to the act of violence then has a relationship to our thoughts and feelings about that form of oppression. For example, if you are male, you may not think a wage gap is such a big deal--because you may hold onto ideas of internalized oppression that "well, men work harder" and this may be a very well rooted bias that you hold and it defines you in a particular way. You may then go out an say this to your partner, or get together with groups of men and advocate that the wage gap should be even greater. And so on and so forth. We have a relationship then with an institutional form of oppression (the wage-gap) and while it may not individually impact us (let's say you are male and make less than the median) you may have thoughts and feelings about it (internalized oppression) and then you act out and say that the wage gap is a lie to your partner (inter-personal oppression). Your partner gets upset and this causes tension and struggle. Then you go out and begin organizing with other men (group oppression) against women (inter-group). It sounds complicated right? It is. Don't worry, we're going to go over this a lot.
One can have a relationship with yourself and see your experience as being in an included group. The pain of being a male can be very real and yet you can still act out of your gender and the power that it has and act upon another individual. That's because in Internalized oppression, things are learned about our identities which have been part of the training and construction of having a relationship to power. This happens across all groups of identities, and it happens in included groups and excluded groups. The system of oppression's goal is to for people to police themselves and convince themselves that they cannot--will not thrive--in the system they are in--so why bother?
Just because someone is part of an included group does not mean that all that they learned about themselves is good, in fact, someone can be violent towards their way of being in the world and have a very unsatisfactory relationship with their identity. For example, men are often taught not to cry and share their feelings because it is not "manly". Therefore, internalized oppression ends up being experienced and stories are told and repeated inside of one's mind.
This is a system of oppression where we act out ideas of oppression on other people. We objectify them in a particular way and have preconceived notions on the way this is to go. Very clearly, George Zimmerman was working with a sense of entitlement and out sized ego in order to intimidate Trayvon Martin. He was likely acting out of a sense of internalized oppression as he was angry and saw himself in fact as a victim. When this didn't go his way, the incident turned into interpersonal oppression, as Zimmerman's actions clearly were based on his relative privileged of being white/Latino and Trayvon's racial identity.
We can dip our toe into ageism as well, as Zimmerman may have believed that he could intimadate a boy (Trayvon was 17 at the time) and Zimmerman was 29 years old at the time. The discussion never seems to center around the fact that someone who had 12 years on a boy followed and then executed a youth.
We experience so much on a personal and interpersonal level. When an issue becomes publicized though we begin to experience a lens into our group experience of identity. We begin to process events as part of a greater whole. The next two examples explore this aspect.
We explore how we fit into the larger context of a "group identity". What does it mean to be light skinned black in a group? What does it mean to be Latin who does not speak Spanish? How do we embrace the diaspora of the identity.
To use a relevant example and to bring this all home, let's stay with gender and the male identity. A man experiences stories and experiences of being male. He has thoughts about what it means to be a man and may have examples where he feels he was passed over for a job because of his male identity. This is internalized oppression then, he begins to process his feelings and has a "story" about his life. The oppression can be perceived and not be entirely correct of course. We can't easily change the stories in our head and once we convince ourselves of something it is brutal to interpret.
So then this man has a relationship and acts out his ideas of inferiority and oppresses whomever is of another gender around him. Let's say he begins to have an interpersonal oppressive relationship with his partner. He then experiences his internalized stories of masculinity and then carries out an interpersonal action against his partner. They may not realize how this is linked.
The next step then is for the individual to associate and work with their group to gain power and begin to associate their own internalized oppression as part of a larger movement. A clear example of these are the sad turns of men's groups like Proud Boys which believe that men's relative power has waned over the last number of years and that they must take back that power by force. Other examples of group oppression would be Nazis gathering power to commit violence.
INTER-GROUP OPPRESSION: When entire groups commit acts of violence against other groups for the purpose of exploitation or intimidation then we begin to see how power is wielded and inflicted on another group. These are large scale understandings that we learn about how one group interacts, works with or deals with another group.
You may not realize it but all of these systems of experiencing oppression are playing out around you and you're a part of it on some level. The easiest for you to work with day-to-day is how to address yourself. What assumptions do you make about yourself and where was that learned? Then next, work with approaching people not as objects to work through and get done with but as people who have a subject for you to learn about.
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Lex Enrico Santí is a mental health therapist based in Ithaca, NY. He offers therapy sessions in a home practice and can work with clients using a secure telehealth (online) practice. Contact him today for more information.