My name is Evan and I am the person behind wellbeingandhealth.net. This page is mostly about me and a little about this blog. I live in Canberra, Australia.
The Following is the Story of my interest in health. It should give you a good idea about me and why this blog takes the approach it does.
Health and Me
My interest in health really began in my 20’s (I’m now fifty). I’ll explain a little about my life to then, to give you some background, and then tell you the story of my interest in health.
Up to My 20’s.
I was brought up a fairly serious evangelical christian. This meant that we were meant to be disciplined and put others first. I usually went to church twice a day on Sunday, and the youth group attached to the church went out on a suitable activity on Saturday nights and had a Bible Study on Friday nights. It was pretty full on. In evanglical christianity our physical bodies were (and still are) largely regarded with suspicion: they usually appeared in our lives as bringing ‘temptation’ our way – and against this we were to be always on guard. We were encouraged to live a life of vigilance and deliberateness. This pretty much suited me – I was quite a heady person. That the god we followed had taken on a physical body was in a parallel universe; it didn’t impact on the suspicion with which we were meant to regard physical life/body. It wouldn’t be ’til my 30’s that this contradiction would hit me over the head.
I completed year 12 and then a Bachelor of Arts (majoring in English Literature) at Sydney University.
My 20’s: Beginning to Discover My Emotions
It was in my 20’s that I joined a christian mission group called Fusion Australia (not a perfect, but a remarkably admirable, organisation). They put in lots of energy to training and, I suppose because it was a youthwork organisation, there was lots of emphasis on self-awareness and relationships. This was my introduction to taking my emotions seriously: in the christianity I was brought up in emotions were not trusted and thoughts were. So I had largely ignored my emotions. But then I came up against the truth that our emotions had a huge impact on our relationships (one of the strengths of evangelical chrisitianity is its commitment to truthfulness). And I found that I could be a good listener.
Up until this point I had attempted to use thoughts to relate to people. If people didn’t understand me or what I was saying I would try to explain a more general intellectual system. (After all emotions were subjective and so how could they help?) It was now – in my early 20’s – that I discovered that what really communicated was what was most individual. The most vividly personal experiences were what touched others most profoundly. My formulation of this (I was then and am still very verbal) was the paradox: the most individual is the most universal.
My time in Fusion was, on the whole, a very positive experience. We were given fantastically good training. And we were largely trusted to set the direction and get on with the job. There was a genuine valuing of the individual and their unique calling. My one claim to fame comes from this time – I once shared a house with Scott Rankin. Scott is now doing magnificent work with young people – developing dramatic works with them that tell their own stories. It really is important and innovative work.
It was during this time that I discovered Perls, Hefferline and Goodman’s Gestalt Therapy. We had been introduced to gestalt therapy in our training in Fusion. This book changed my life. The exercises in awareness, married with superbly written theory, freed me up enormously. I learned four things from it that have been enormously important to me.
- Most profoundly it introduced me to thinking in polarities. This led to me seeing that what were often thought to be alternatives or contradictions were often different ends of a continuum.
- It also introduced me to thinking contextually. My eventual formulation of this was: everybody is sane. That is: when we know how people see themselves and their situation then their behaviour makes sense – we can usually see that we might do exactly the same thing.
- It also introduced me to the fact that experience occurs in the here and now. This isn’t a command (it is often understood to mean something like: you shouldn’t think too much, or, don’t think about the past or future). It is an observation. It amounts to an invitation to broaden what we are experiencing – plans and reminiscing also occur in the here and now and can also be delightful and fruitful activities. When I can become aware of other aspects of my experience in the here and now, when more of me is present to my experience, then I usually have a more satisfying experience.
- That our experience is unitary. For me this means that we are one social-individual entity with physical, emotional, mental and spiritual dimensions. (For those christians interested there is a superb study of the OT that shows the biblical conception of people is also unitary. It is J Pedersen – Israel Its Life and Culture. Vol.1. It was published nearly 100 years ago now. This was the book that changed the theological idea of the person from fragmented (arguments were over the different parts and what they meant – the heart, soul, mind etc) to the unitary. It is very well written and easy to read. It is also horrendously expensive to buy. If you have a theological institution or a university with a theology section near you read it there.)
If you are looking for an adequate theory of psychotherapy this book is a superb foundation. It was published fifty years ago and is still well ahead of current practice and (in my opinion) theory. I think this is just as true of those who claim to do gestalt as those who don’t. (A topic I could go into into at great length. If you are interested a friend and I write a blog called Community Psychotherapy that deals with this issue.) It is not an ‘easy read’ – you need to read each sentence. But in my view every hour spent with it pays dividends. It is an adequate theory of psychotherapy (in about 250 pages) and a set of experiments that can lead you to living a far more satisfying life (about 200 pages). I regard this as a truly great book.
My 30’s: exploring wholeness
During my last years in Fusion I was mostly in the National Office. This meant dealing lots with computers and paper and not much with people. This led me to the next stage of my interest in health: my physical body. During this time I also began training in Transactional Analysis. I didn’t finish the training as I moved cities to get married and do other things. I still think Transactional is one of the best psychotherapies – and certainly the most accessible. The commitment of Transactional Analysis to using simple everyday words is commendable. Also, as a group, Transactional Analysts are the best practitioners of psychotherapy that I know. The best self-therapy book I know is Born to Win by two Transactional Analysts, Muriel James and Dorothy Jongeward. It is quite cheap and readily available. It doesn’t have the theoretical depth or social awareness of Gestalt Therapy but it is much easier to read.
While working in National Office I started getting interested in physical skills. I found, for instance, that programs on TV about craftspeople were fascinating. This led to me eventually enrolling in a massage class and investigating a system of self-development called Shintaido, and, for a little while getting interested in aerobics. (My interest in aerobics was very short lived – there seemed to be nothing in it for me – just moving my body with no involvement of thoughts, emotions or my spirit.) The massage course was Swedish Massage at an after hours evening college in a local school. I got intrigued by the fact that after a massage my emotions were different. Likewise when aerobically fit it was easier to handle the frustrations of the day. This led me to formulate a question: if aerobics helps us be patient what exercise would help us develop compassion? Shintaido, with its emphasis on the heart rather than the lower belly was one answer to this. I didn’t persist with Shintaido – I found the Japanese emphasis on hierarchy unattractive. I’m a fairly resolute individualist. Though co-operation and collaboration are what we usually find most satisfying this is on the basis of respect for individuality. Otherwise it is deadening instead of enlivening.
I pursued my interest in massage by studying various different kinds. I was fortunate to find a good course run by Francois Novi (I don’t know where he is now) which gave a simple routine that could be used on any part of the body and which emphasised moving from the lower belly – whatever stroke we were using. This led me to study part of a course in Zen Shiatsu. This remains my favourite kind of massage – it is delightful to both give and receive. (I think it could also be a great way to teach the location of the channels for acupuncture – it follows the course of the channels and you also develop a good feel for the different qualities associated with the different channels.)
I left Fusion to get married, work with another christian group and develop my own massage practise. This involved moving from Sydney to Brisbane (about 1000kms away). All of these reasons for moving didn’t work out. I left my marriage after 8 years, the christian group fell apart. I ran some successful retreats but when I wanted to make enough money to repay my work I priced myself out of my market.
In Brisbane I studied Deep Tissue massage. I didn’t pursue this – it inflicts pain and I think this is buying into our culture’s hostility to our body. During this time I also studied acupuncture – once with my friend Geoff Wilson, where I learnt acupuncture, and once at a college where I gained a not terribly useful qualification. (This was partly due to industry politics – on which I have strong feeling and much to say, but this isn’t the place.)
I became a qualified presenter of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. I have found this to be easily the most useful tool to give an idea of our overall approach to life. I first discovered it because I am very sceptical of psychological quizzes. I saw a simplified version of it in a book and thought I’d do it for fun, and to see how inaccurate it was. I did the quiz and read the description given based on my answers. I was simply stunned with the accuracy. The understandings of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator are well and truly part of me. They are one of the frameworks I refer to in order to understand any conflict I may have. It can be confusing at first – there are quite a few different concepts – but once you get a feel for it then your understanding of others can be hugely increased. The best introduction I know is Kiersey and Bates’ Please Understand Me (the first edition – the second edition isn’t nearly so good in my opinion).
During these years I made my first serious attempt to write something worthwhile and original – on a christian, physical spirituality. The first result was a booklet. I realised after I’d written it that this had really been a way of clearing my head; and I went on to write a book about it – it is currently waiting on photos to illustrate it. It examines the physical emotional, mental and spiritual aspects of the experience of our bodies from the feet to our legs to our waist then chest, neck and head. It is called The Christian Body. I sent it off to get an opinion on its suitability for publication. The comment was that it was neither fish nor fowl and so fell between two stools. This is no doubt true – and also it’s only merit in my view.
Needless to say this innovative and important work on filling a major gap in evangelical christianity – a faith based on the incarnation which pays no attention to our physicality – was met with overwhelming silence and indifference. It wasn’t that people thought it was wrong – it was just so far off the map that it didn’t register.
My 40’s: exploring the external world
Moving into my 40’s was about moving from my interior world to the exterior world. This fits the Myers-Briggs understanding of personal development. That we start out more interested in one of the worlds and then switch to the other at mid-life. (Actually we alternate between them: from birth to adolescence we are more interested in one, we switch in adolescence, then back to the first one in our twenties and then back to the other in our thirties. Which brings us to mid-life and the big switch. That is: if you start out occupied with your interior world – I was quite a dreamy kid – then in adolescence you switch to the exterior – I had lots of plans to change the world, in your 20’s back to the interior – for me sorting out my emotions and values – and in your 30’s back to the exterior – for me this was when I finally got around to thinking about a ‘career’. Then in mid-life the big switch to the exterior. (I am now venturing out into the world of blogging and seeing if this can become part of my ‘career’. If you start out interested in the exterior world reverse them all the way.)
After my marriage ended I set out to create a series of retreats and to write a book about my particular approach to psychotherapy. The retreats didn’t eventuate but a friend and I did write the book. It’s Living Authentically: living from the core of who you are for lasting satisfaction. This was my own approach to the process of awareness used in gestalt psychotherapy combined with a Taoist understanding of our experience.
I discovered from a program on Australia’s Radio National (the Australian public broadcasting network) the work of an ex-patriate Australian called Michael Marmot. His work showed that the two biggest influences on health are the individual’s sense of agency and the strength of their relationships. Yes, more than fitness, diet and so on (this only applies to the moderately well off, not the starving). The details are in his book, The Status Syndrome. It is well written, thorough and easy to read. This seems to me to be the most important finding about our health for many years (at least since the discovery of penicillin). It means we have to completely rethink our approach to health (or at least western biomedical people do – this approach to health has been championed in the alternative/complementary health world for many decades).
The next step in my journey with health is putting this understanding out into the world. This blog is part of that next step. I haven’t found it necessary to give up any of my prior commitments. I still see myself in the christian tradition (though those I grew up with probably wouldn’t). I still value enormously Gestalt and Transactional Analysis. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is still as valuable to me as ever. I still think it is important to have a wholistic understanding of people and our relationships.
From this blog, I have launched a course. It follows an eight-stage process of our experience and deals with the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual aspects of each stage. I have also written a long article about living authentically that is available as a free report.
I hope this long story has given you an idea of what has shaped me, ‘where I come from’, and my approach to health. You are most welcome to ask me for more details about any of it. I may not be able to answer, but I shall do my best. Looking forward to hearning from you. Evan
My hope is that the posts on this blog will contribute to you having a long and healthy life.
My slant, while trying to take in all aspects of our lives, is to the self-development part of the story.
My hope is that I just don’t tell you what I think, but give enough information to know whether what I’m saying fits your experience. I also try to give opportunity for reflection and guided exercises so that you can investigate for yourself the topic I am dealing with.
My intention is that you become more aware of your experience and so able to live more fully. Evan.