Listening into Voice

“All of a sudden I’m having feelings. They’re uncomfortable.
I’m feeling lonely…I miss my family…I haven’t talked to them for years.”

These are the words of Corey a few weeks before Christmas. A middle-aged Black man, homeless, and coming to life at the Salvation Army, he has been diagnosed as schizophrenic, having heard voices to jump off a building and having visions of putting kids in a wood chipper. A longtime drug user, in and out of prison, his first arrest took place when he was 17, when police beat him up for dating a white girl and later pinned a robbery on him. Grief followed him, especially when his young son died of aids, having contracted it from his mother. Now it had been over ten year since Corey spoke with his other children, as he fell deeper into homelessness and chemical dependency.

Today, however, he had been clean and sober for a month, was taking antipsychotic medication and, while still hearing voices, said “I pay them no heed.” He wanted to talk about his loneliness. Was this good or bad, he asked. He looked better than I had ever seen him, and I told him it was probably good, because he now had emotional life flowing through his veins. His feelings were a sign he was coming alive and not self-medicating away his personal pain. What could he do about it, he asked. We got to talking about calling his family members, telling them that he was ok but missing them, that he was getting healthier and wanted them to know he was thinking of them and wanting them to have a Merry Christmas. That he loved them and was working on loving himself.

Feelings, however unpleasant, are signs of health because they are all about relationships. For Corey it was important that he understood his loneliness as a pain he could do something about. He said he had the telephone number of his Aunt, and she would have other numbers, especially the numbers of his children. If he wasn’t going to drown his feelings in drugs, it was important for him not just to look at his feelings but take a leap of faith, faith in his own desire to love, faith that his children would hear him out, faith that he wasn’t stuck in the past. He had to give voice to his feelings and get busy living.
Note: the word emotion comes from the Latin movere, “to move,” and it is in the passive form, i.e. “to be moved.” Emotion, then means not so much “to touch” but “to be touched.” Corey found himself being touched, proof positive that he missed someone with whom he yearned to be connected.

Something clicked!
Andrew recalls he began using drugs when he was eleven. A “normal” kid, he was passionate about sports, especially baseball. He recalls that he never saw his Dad cry, but he had many images of his father drinking. An industrious fellow, Andrew was good at solving problems with a natural talent for plumbing. Married at a young age, he took pride in building a new home for his family. [Read more →]


How we learn

Look before you leap!” When it comes  to learning, there are three approaches: Lookers, Leapers, and Landers.


Lookers are keen observers of the world around them, armchair philosophers who usually have answers for almost everything. But they hesitate to leap because they’re not sure where they will land.

So…they think and think into Analysis Paralysis.


Leapers are great at leaping, not so good at looking. So when they land, they can’t figure out how they got there.

So they leap onward in  Aimless Action.


Landers have figured out that if they look before they leap, no matter where they land, they can modify their looking and leaping to land where they really wanted to be.

So they move onward in Persistent Progress.

Lookers, Leapers, and Landers illustrate a model of human learning based on the principle of Knowledge of Results. [Read more →]

Relating Face to Face

Why you can’t tickle yourself, and others can (tickle you)

A profound question, yes!

You’d think there would be better things to ponder. But maybe this one is at the core of life itself.

Let’s start with an experiment.
Get a large book, something with a little heft (5-10 pounds will do).
Find a friend and ask her to extend her right arm with her hand palm up.
Place the book on her hand and have her hold it for about 10 seconds.
Then, quickly, without warning, take the book away.

Observe what happens.
Her right hand will jerk upwards briefly as the weight is removed.
No surprise here.

But wait.
Repeat the procedure.
Have her hold the book for 10 seconds.
But this time ask her to remove the book herself.

When she removes the book, her right hand will remain steady.

What happened?

When the book was removed suddenly, she was not anticipating it.
Neurologically, her sensory-motor system was not anticipating it.
And by not anticipating it, she could not prepare for it.
Her hand jerked up as her muscles remained flexed.
When she removed the book on her own, she was anticipating it, and her hand did not jerk up because her sensory-motor system anticipated and prepared her.
Her eyes and hands were coordinated so she had anticipatory control.

Food for thought? Definitely.

We humans are anticipatory beings, through and through. We need anticipatory control to scratch, groom, and care for ourselves. But we also need to get beyond our anticipations. We cannot tickle ourselves because our sensory-motor system gives us anticipatory control.

Try as we might, there is no thrill because our tickling fingers are connected to our skin in a sensory-motor loop in our body and brain, giving us anticipatory control of our experience. When we don’t have anticipatory control, we and our nervous systems are open for surprises.

The absence of anticipatory control is a necessary condition to be thrilled.

Now, consider this line of thought in terms of relationships, especially face-to-face interactions. When we are face to face, we have anticipatory control only of our own behaviors. As much as we might want to, we truly cannot read the mind of another.  But we do indeed anticipate what might be on that person’s mind in our assumptions, guesses, hunches. And, you know what? The other person is doing the same with us when we’re face to face. It all happens in microseconds. I guess what I’m getting at is that to be thrilled in life, we need to let ourselves be tickled, to be surprised, to be touched, moved, and even buffeted by forces that go beyond our own sensory-motor system.  Healthy relationships are inherently conflictual because they involve more than one person, more than one sensory-motor system. The separateness can foster disconnection, but it is also the necessary condition for us to deal with someone different than ourselves. Then thrill becomes possible. But our current anticipations are based on our past experiences. When those past experiences involve relationship trauma, face-to-face interactions can become torturous.

The Difference Between Heaven and Hell

I heard this story at a scout campfire years ago and haven’t forgotten it.

A man died and went to Heaven. At the gate St. Peter met him and said: “You’re not coming in yet. I want to have you see Hell so you’ll really appreciate Heaven.”

They then went to Hell and stood before huge doors. As the doors opened, the man saw banquet tables as far as his eyes could see. The tables were piled high with beautiful abundant food. But everyone in Hell was miserable and starving.

Why? Because each person in Hell had splints strapped to each arm, so they could not bend their arms to get the food from the table to their mouths.

That’s Hell. Being so close but unable to get at it.

Then they went to Heaven. As the doors to Heaven opened up, he saw the same scene. Huge tables filled with abundance. And everyone there also had splints clamped to each arm. But everyone in Heaven was happy and well fed.


(Think a moment before you scroll down for the answer)








They were feeding each other.

We humans are profoundly interdependent. We swim in the same soup of life. But when we can’t reach out to each other, when we can’t be reached out to, we might as well be in Hell.

When we are face to face, we not only breathe each other’s air, but we are at the gate of Heaven or Hell.

It Takes Two

It takes two wings to fly.
A one-winged bird is grounded.
It takes two eyes to see depth.
Two ears to hear direction.
Two hands to lift a load.
Two legs to stand up tall.
Two feet to find firm ground.

Two is more than one plus one.
I would not write if you would not read.
Would not talk if you would not listen.
Would not play if you would not cheer.
Would never hope if you would never hear.
Would not even think without hope
you would ever hear.

Two means tension.
Two means taut.
Not tight enough to smother,
But tight enough to hold.
Tight enough to hear.
Tight enough to touch
and to be touched.

My side
Your side
Who’s side?
Our side!

If no man is an island,
then two are a continent.
One can never be two
And two, never one.

If I only did it my way,
If I only did it your way,
then I did it no way,
because I didn’t do it our way.

In you, I discover me.
In me, you discover you.
In your eyes I see myself.
In your ears I hear myself.

Face to face
eyeball to eyeball
ear to ear
hand to hand
In constant flow
Finding each other,
Finding ourselves.
Finding difference.
Getting beyond our selves.
Welcoming the world.

it takes two.
Not just me,
Not just you.
More than me.
More than you.

Jim Ayers  —  copyright 2007