Episode #93 Truth, Integrity and Authenticity: Conversations on Climate Change with younger generations with Louis Weinstock
In a world of uncertainty, transformation and potential catastrophe, how can we find our own truth and, from there, speak with authenticity to the children and young people in our lives about the world that is coming? Louis Weinstock is a celebrated psychotherapist who finds ways to help people of all ages connect with their own truth and share it. In this episode, we explore our attitudes to death, loss – and the climate emergency – and how we can hold the conversations that need to happen.
Louis is a remarkable man – a deeply committed therapist who does his best to make his skills available to as many children and young people as need them – and so many do. He focuses on grief and loss, initially around death and diagnoses of fatal illness, but increasingly the existential grief of our dying ecosystem and the despair, rage and frustration at a world that is not acting as it could or should.
In this profoundly moving podcast, we talk in depth about how all of us can exist with our grief and despair, how we can hold them tenderly, and how, from these places of resilience and strength, we can hold the conversations that need to happen in our widening circles.
Louis works with children, and the child inside us all, the one that wants to be loved, the one that wants to cry, the one that knows what it wants, the one that really does dance like no-one’s watching, the one that spends timeless hours looking at bugs under a piece of bark, the one that keeps getting back up no matter how many times they fall down.
He helps people find a light in the darkness, especially in grief, in the shadow, in the things that are unseen, unheard, unspoken. Her sees death as our greatest teacher, and avoidance of it our biggest mistake. He made an audio course all about death and life here: it will help you become more fully alive in your everyday existence.
He runs Magic Power of Grief circles at festivals, and in other spaces and places. He believes the body is deeply intelligent, and our ‘symptoms’ are just fragments of our soul seeking wholeness. Rumi once said “What is the body? That shadow of a shadow of your love, that somehow contains the entire universe”.
He loves using design, collaboration and creativity to solve big, meaningful problems. One way he does this is by helping to run a charity – Apart of Me – that helps kids transform their grief into compassion. This project also has two side projects which are focused on helping younger children grow into emotionally empowered leaders: Earthlings and Bounce Works.
Making a home for experience in words is his favourite spiritual craft. You can check out some of his writing here. He’s currently writing a book titled How The World Is Making Our Children Mad And What To Do About It – available next year and we’ll invite Louis back on the podcast to talk about it when it comes out.
Manda: My guest this week is someone that I have been wanting to speak to for a long time. Louis Weinstock is a child psychologist. He’s a game designer. He’s a human being who is working at the leading edge of what it is to be human in this moment of transition. We came to him because so many of the people in Accidental Gods, either the people that we interview for the podcast, or the members of our membership programme are adults who struggle to know how to speak to their children about the times that we’re in. We can no longer feed them the stories of their world being better and brighter and bigger and more full of good stuff that they can have than our world was. That reality has broken down, and we don’t know what to replace it with. And Louis has a website called Finding Our Light in the Darkness. And I want to read you a little bit of his bio before we head in.
Manda: He says: “I work with children and the child inside us all, the one that wants to be loved, the one that wants to cry, the one that knows what it wants. The one that really does dance like nobody’s watching. The one that spends timeless hours looking at bugs under a piece of bark. The one that keeps getting up, no matter how many times they have fallen down. I help people find a light in the darkness, especially in grief, in the shadow, in the things that are unseen, unheard and unspoken. I see death as our greatest teacher and avoidance of it our biggest mistake.’
And I read that. And I felt that if we could bring some of this to the Accidental Gods podcast to the Accidental Gods world, it would be a good day in our world. And as ever, this podcast went to places I wasn’t expecting. Usually they’re conversational places. In this particular instance, as you’ll hear, we went to places inside me that I wasn’t expecting. And it was a profoundly moving experience. So we share it that you may explore similar places within you, because I really do believe that this is the way we move to where we need to be. So people of the podcast please do welcome Louis Weinstock.
So, Louis Weinstock, welcome to the Accidental Gods podcast and thank you so much for taking time out after your Greek visit. Was it good in Greece? It sounded amazing.
Louis: It was amazing. Yeah, we’ve been going there for about 15 years now to Kefalonia. It’s such a peaceful, lush place. Just, you know, you wake up in the morning and you’ve got the sound of goats with bells around them walking down the hill and just an instant relaxation feeling going there. Love it.
Manda: Yes, and a way to recharge batteries after what I imagine must be a life that requires quite a lot of recharging.
Manda: Although… Goats with bells…. Many years ago when I was a vet, I worked with some people who had cows with bells and they said, you know, they spend a lot of time kneeling in the mud and they down their bells in the mud. And I think that’s because it’s driving them completely crazy, probably walking around with this thing jangling every time you move. But the cows had learnt how to silence them. I was deeply impressed and spent quite a lot of time trying to persuade them to take the bells off the cows, which worked in the end. Anyway. So you do a number of things, but essentially you specialise in working with vulnerable children and young people on the margins of society, helping them to process their grief and their alienation and everything that our society does in taking these amazing little forager hunters that we give birth to (those who give birth) and then turning them into what we turn them into. So always at the start of this podcast and here as well as ever, I would really like it if you could situate us in your life and how you came to be someone who has the skill and capacity and desire to take on something that sounds so huge to me and so profound.
Louis: Wow. Well, firstly, thank you for sort of describing the situation so well and so lucidly in terms of the hunter gatherer children and what we turn them into. I guess that was in a way my experience, like it is most of our experiences. I grew up in a loving family with its own flaws; like all, families have flaws. When I became a teenager, I started to feel increasingly disaffected, like many teenagers do. Although interestingly, perhaps we can talk about this later, the idea of a stormy adolescence is a very western idea. It’s not actually as universal as we think it is. But it certainly was in my case, and I started getting into trouble at school, with the police and getting involved in various things that looking back probably shouldn’t have done. And I ended up, when I was about 17, I came back from raving all weekend and had a moment with my parents, who were waiting for me. My mum got really upset and started crying. My dad got really angry. And I often refer back to that as a bit of a turning point in my life, both for better and for worse, because I woke up the next day and I was like, I don’t really want to be this angry, disgruntled teenager who’s creating suffering for other people anymore.
And I did this very sort of naive drawing on a post-it note. I remember it very clearly. I just drew two smiley faces. One smiley face add one smiley face, equals smiley faces. So, that was me being inspired by rave culture and also compassion. So that was in a way my turning point, and I started sort of just wanting to be a better person. I also, and I’ll talk about this perhaps later, but I also disconnected from my anger a lot at that point. And I’ve been reclaiming that more recently. But I started wanting to help people. I started with a job at university where I was a support worker for a disabled couple who are amazing. I’m still friends with them now. Mike and Linda. And then partly by chance and also by following this path, I did some work with young homeless people. I think a lot of it is the typical sort of wounded healer journey where you end up working in places where you’re actually really trying to heal your own wounds fundamentally. And that was definitely true for me.
And there was something about working with young people on the edges of society that was helping me. I remember, for example, I used to run a therapeutic school for teenagers who had complex trauma and were kicked out of lots of other schools. And I always used to think that the kids who came to that school were much more real, way more alive than the majority of people, typically middle class people that I would hang around with. And I think that’s quite telling, perhaps, because I think my experience has been that we do cover up a lot of our aliveness. You know, a lot of our what you call ‘the hunter gatherer’s instincts’, many of which, I’m sure a lot of listeners know, are actually much better than we have assumed them to be. So that’s been my journey, really. I’ve supported vulnerable children and young people now for over 20 years. More recently trained as a child psychotherapist and have been doing that for the last years as well as running this charity called ‘A Part of Me’, where we help young people on a journey from grief to compassion.
Manda: There is so much there. Let’s start at the end of that, then tell me more about your charity, because the little that I know of it sounds really enthralling on every level. Did you set this up?
Louis: Yes. So I set it up with Ben Page, who is co-founder. The back story is: I met his wife at a meditation retreat; at the time I was working on and off with Headspace, the mindfulness app and company. I’d actually invited them in to the school I was running to develop a sort of mindfulness for kids with complex trauma programme. And then they invited me back to do some work for them about kids and mindfulness. And so I was already starting to think about the greater possibilities for design and digital technology, to solve what I was becoming increasingly aware of, as a growing crisis in child mental health. And I met Kirsty, a child psychologist, on a meditation retreat, and she said, “Oh, my husband’s an amazing techie guy and he really wants to use his skills for good”. So we started chatting, and then I was working at a hospice in Hackney, part of a psychology service where I was providing counselling support to families; either where a parent, usually, or a sibling had a terminal illness. Or somebody had died and it was more sort of, I guess, traditional grief support. And during that time, we started to realise that there was a real need for a more innovative solution to help young people with grief, because the sorts of young people who end up in a counselling service, they’re usually more resourced. Even then, I was meeting lots of young people with real challenges in their grief. They’d gone down lots of really challenging paths. So we set up this charity, ‘A part of me’, and it’s based around therapeutic mobile game. The idea is, and it’s been working well so far, is to provide a accessible platform for young people. Particularly those who are at risk of developing problems in their grief; so that they don’t end up down that path of mental health problems, offending behaviour and all of the things that we know from the research are associated with what’s called ‘complicated grief’.
Manda: So are you able to tell me about the game? I ask as a as an addicted gamer, I’ve given up World of Warcraft four times so far, but on Monday I’m leading my first battleground again, so we’ll see how well that went. So I’ve probably just lost most of our listenership. But I’m really curious to know how this game works; because most games, we all know this, feed into our dopamine systems by feeding us little successes at random. And in the case of of the ones that allow you to fight other people, you have the the competitive edge. As someone who used to do battle re-enactment, I find that Warcraft gives me exactly the same buzz as winning on a battlefield did when it was all mud and rain and sleeping under the stars and listening to them singing ‘the Philosopher’s Song’ at 4am in the morning when they were all drunk. And now I don’t have to do any of that bit. I get to stay dry and have showers and not listen to drunk men singing and I can still have the buzz. But that’s not probably healing complex trauma, really. So how are you creating a game that is engaging? And healing.
Louis: So we essentially have designed ‘a safe space’ is the simplest way to describe it. So it’s based on an island and your character arrives on the island and we’re quite direct about the purpose of the game. So as soon as you land on this island, you come through this stormy sky and you’re greeted by a guide; the Guide of the Island, who’s this wise elder, who explains that they’ve been through something similar to you. Their role is to support you through your process. So the game is essentially based around exploring this island, meeting different characters, listening to stories that you can find in a cave from other young people who have lost loved ones. And then there’s some more direct therapeutic tools that have been turned into more sort of game like elements. So you collect rock and you drop them in the rock pool and they unlock meditations that are focussed on helping through grief. You catch fireflies in a net, and each firefly teaches you wisdom about a particular emotion that people experience around grief. There’s another feature where you learn about different perspectives on death and dying. That was really important for us because there’s so many different perspectives, and we didn’t want to just be beholden to one single narrative of death and how to process death and what happens when you die.
And then there’s one other feature worth mentioning, which is Quests. This was really important for us, because Quests are essentially a challenge where you are able to ask questions and have conversations that would usually be really difficult or uncomfortable conversations. So for example, if you choose the pathway in the game where you have a loved one who has a terminal illness, a quest might be to get you to ask that person; say it’s your mum or your dad; ask them what their favourite memory of you was when you were growing up, or how do you remind them of them? Those kind of questions that allow you to build that bridge, which is often really difficult because when somebody is facing the end, so many conversations can become fraught, especially with children. Because a lot of parents, you know, in some ways I really understand this, they really want to protect their children from the brutal reality. But when you do that, it often makes everything seem superficial. In my experience, children are much more intelligent and sensitive and kind of pick up on what’s going on. So that feature is really encouraging those connexions and those difficult conversations.
Manda: So if I were, let’s say, a seven year old: I’m playing this game (and I’m assuming that my parents have encouraged me to play this game) and I got the quest; and let’s say my dad is dying. The quest is for me to actually sit down, and put the phone down, away from the game, and go and talk to my dad and ask him the questions that the quest has given me?
Louis: Well, there’s kind of options within that. So we felt the simplest way in the first instance would be to send (So there’s a ‘share’ feature, so you can just send that question) and the answers can get stored in a in a digital journal. But obviously, it’s great if that conversation can be supported in real life. I mean, as much as a digital platform can help with any type of mental health problem, I also am a huge believer in the importance of in-person face to face interactions. So this was a stepping stone, and it’s really what we have out there at the moment. It’s been played by over 90,000 people around the world, which is great and a really good start. But it really is sort of the first step. It’s a prototype and we’re actually just starting a fundraising journey at the moment to bring on board a core team of brilliant game designers and developers and various people to help us really expand the impact and the reach of the game.
Manda: Brilliant. Oh, this is so amazing. I used to work for a computer games company long, long ago between being a vet and being a writer. I think I would like to put you in touch with that team because I think they would be really interesting. The guy who runs the company is David Braeburn, who wrote a game called Elite, which was the best selling game on every platform back in the mid to late 80s, I would think. And now he runs Frontier Developments Ltd. in Cambridge, which is… Yeah, it would be really exciting. I’d love to bring you, and beside which I want to be on the writing team for this!
Manda: Let’s take a step back. This sounds so exciting, and we could spend the entire podcast talking about gaming, but bearing in mind that our listenership might not like that…. You spoke about different perspectives around death and dying. Can we unpick that a little bit? Can you talk us through what some of the perspectives, that you are aware of, around death and dying are? Because it seems to me we are facing the death of our civilisation, possibly our own deaths, in the very near future. It’s basically happening around us. And we don’t have, whatever age we are, we don’t have the tools to process this. So could we talk about that a little bit?
Louis: I would slightly separate perspectives and tools. Only because perspectives is one very important tool. But then there’s other tools that aren’t perspectives, if that makes sense. So the actual feature in the game is really sharing a mixture of spiritual and religious perspectives on death and dying. And also, there’s one you could say atheist or non spiritual perspective. Although that is still very nature based, I would say. And it’s kind of the perspective that we can observe that our bodies decompose or get decomposed, and then they support other life to grow. And actually, that’s a really, really simple and honest and helpful perspective for children. There’s actually a really great book that I recommend for younger children who are struggling with death called ‘Life Times’, which has just beautiful illustrations and talks about that sort of life and death process in a very natural way. So that would be the perspectives, I would say. And then I think you were also orienting more towards sort of tools. Like how do we actually deal with the reality of losing someone or something that’s so precious to us? I mean, obviously my focus is mainly with children and young people, although I’ve done a lot of grief work with adults as well. My feeling in my experience is that more than anything else, it’s not a technical problem, really. It’s more we need just spaces where it’s OK to be honest about what we’re thinking and feeling, and just to give you a specific example of that;I ran one of the first grief workshops I ever did for young people at a festival called Wider Horizons, which is an amazing festival. I’m going to give it a plug it and if it will make it into the podcast, but run by a friend of mine, it’s really about young people who are on that transition to adulthood and empowering them. There’s so many, so many amazing teachers and amazing work going on there.
I’m doing this workshop called the magic power of grief, and I thought on a Sunday morning at this festival of young people, young adults, there was all this other cool stuff going on…I thought, I’ll be lucky if I get five people there. In the end, the tent was completely packed out. There was about 60 people in there. So what I really was amazed by in this workshop, is the courage of the young people who came, the honesty and particularly how powerful it is even for young people – I don’t know why I’m saying even for young people – but to have a really tight knit group sitting in an enclosed space; in a safe space. And even those who aren’t sharing things, they just naturally tune in to this sort of energetic sense that this is a place where it is safe for me to connect to my feelings. Even the ones that are more uncomfortable. And I’ve seen that happen, now, time and again in the workshops that I’ve run. It just is creating that safe space. There’s not much technical stuff, although I really love to use – do you know Francis Weller? He wrote ‘The Wild Edge of Sorrow’, and he has the five gateways of grief. So I use that, and we go deep into a meditation using those gateways to unlock the different sort of parts of ourselves that might be feeling the grief. For loved ones, the grief for our ancestors, grief for the world. It’s an amazing structure.
Manda: Do you happen to know? So we got loved ones, ancestors, the world. That’s three out of five. Do you remember the other two off the top of your head?
Louis: So the other two are grief of what we expected but did not receive. And the other one, I’m pretty sure, is grief for the parts of ourselves that haven’t received love.
Manda: Ok. All right. That sounds sounds glorious. I think we’re going to get a lot of people signing up on your workshops as a result of this. And it always seems to me, I have to say, when I’ve worked with young people, that they are desperate to find a space that feels authentic. That they’re surrounded by a world that is marked and defined by its inauthenticity, and that when they find authenticity and they find a space that allows them to speak their truth, it feels like a coming home. And we spoke earlier: You said that the Forager Hunter model of of what we are and then we domesticate ourselves into this unreality; that teenage angst was a Western thing. Which, given that I spent a lot of the Boudicca books as I was writing them, deeply embedded in as much anthropology as I could find; to try and work out who we were before the Romans came. I blame the Romans for a lot of this. How have you seen teenage angst and how it could be, and what adolescence could be if we allowed it to be healthy? Does that make sense as a question?
Louis: It does, yes. So I think it’s important to say that there is something biological about adolescence. There’s been studies, as they always do these studies, on mice and rats; where they show that adolescent pups are more likely to take risks, and risk taking is a significant feature of moving into adulthood. And it’s also an evolutionary advantage, because without that risk taking cultures don’t evolve. So there is something biological about it. But, in our sort of modern western culture, we’ve extended that period of adolescence now. I mean, some people sort of joke that it goes well on into the 30s, at least these days. One of the things, perhaps obviously, that we’ve lost are the rites of passage that in more traditional or tribal cultures have evolved over time as mechanisms to support that transition from childhood to maturity to adulthood. And the key thing about those rites of passage is a young person will be given a challenge and they’ll be taken away from their comfort zone. But the challenge is a real challenge. For example, I understand in some Native American cultures, the young person will be taken to the top of a mountain and essentially left to fend for themselves for three days and nights. But there are elders who are keeping an eye out for them, so they’re not completely on their own. And when they’ve gone through this challenge, obviously there’s a significant psychological shift that’s happened then. And the big thing, the big differentiating factor, is when they come back into the community, they then have a different role.
So we have some sort of rites of passage in our culture that sort of, you know, very loosely continue that theme. Some people feel that going to university can be a rite of passage, and it is in many ways. But I feel like what’s happened is we’ve sort of dragged out adolescence and extended the period of essentially this sort of intermediate phase where you’re neither a child nor a mature adult. And there are real problems with that. Especially in a time when young people are increasingly exposed to some really difficult realities in the world, which kind of force them in one sense to to grow up. In a sense, they have to find a way to cope with the realities of climate change, you know, just even single events that are representative of broader social problems like the murder of George Floyd. When that video spread around the world, I had a number of clients who were really struggling to process the grief and the emotions that they felt around that. So, you know, we can’t really protect our young people from these realities anymore, but we need to find ways to support them to make that transition into adulthood.
Manda: And if we were to design a route from our current culture to one that was more healthy and more supportive; have your ideas of what we could do, now? We don’t have time to create blanket systemic change, but if you were asked to advise the people who had the power to make it happen, of some things that we could do to begin to create that sense of authenticity. Can you see a route? It may be that there isn’t one, that we would have to change the whole of our culture so much that it’s hard. Have you got ideas?
Louis: Well, firstly, I really want to say that when you mentioned earlier in the conversation about authenticity and how much young people are just craving that in a world that’s marked by inauthenticity, I really felt that and felt moved by that. Not just as a person who supports children and young people, but as a person in the world who experiences that himself. And, you know, it’s easy to sort of say, well, what young people really need… But I always think it’s just reflective of what we all need, isn’t it? We’re all yearning for more authenticity. And I do think with my focus on children, that the starting point for that is the people who are caring for them. So that’s parents, obviously in the first instance, and that’s teachers. Anyone else who’s caring for children. They can really begin to be that model of authenticity. And what that requires essentially is to trust, I think, in the children’s capacity to bear things. I mean, we’ve essentially ended up in in our culture, in a place where children are treated as precious treasures and they are precious in many ways. But we end up over protecting them, and we’ve forgotten their sort of innate capacity to bear things, to be able to tolerate difficult things. And actually, I really love, you know, the concept ‘antifragile’ from Nassim Taleb. That concept applies perfectly to human beings, to children, because they they aren’t china teacups. They need to be exposed to some stresses and some risks, reasonable stresses and risks, to allow their fullest potential to grow.
Louis: And just to make it very concrete for a moment; One of the things, because I work a lot in death and grief, I see so many parents really worried about mentioning anything to do with death with their children. And I think my advice is really don’t need to worry so much. Obviously, don’t just overload them with really challenging stories or expose them to too much stuff. But just to give you a very specific example; I’ve been quite proactive with my daughter in pointing out when we walk past things that have died and having a space where we can talk about the thoughts and feelings that come up. And it can start very early on in life. As much as I can, I try and be honest about my own feelings as well, and that’s really where the authenticity thing comes in, because I think sometimes we can feel as parents or grown ups that the grown ups are supposed to have figured it all out, that we’ve got the answers and that we need to be in control. And if we’re not in control, then our children will feel that the world is chaotic and they’ll just crumble or something like that. But actually, that old idea of power is just dissolving anyway, right before our eyes. We see the institutions that represent power and the bastions of truth all crumbling before our eyes. And it’s much better and more realistic and more likely to build strong and empowered children, if we can be honest about that in ourselves. We don’t lose anything. I think we actually gain trust through holding that sort of just authentic stance,
Manda: Which presupposes that we know what our own authentic stance is. So I guess it requires an amount of inner work on the part of everybody so that they can get to a place from which authenticity arises. You can only speak your truth if you have some concept of what your truth might be. It seems to me you’ve done quite a lot of meditation. Do you feel that your capacity to find your truth arises from that? Or have you found other routes to finding your own authenticity?
Louis: Meditation has been a huge, huge help in my life. I’ve sort of gone down a twin track in a sense where I’ve been really interested in pursuing meditation for quite an early age and various other spiritual practises and perspectives. And at the same time, I’ve been really sort of intellectually curious. At one point I was studying doing a masters in postcolonial politics. At that point, I was getting good feedback about my ideas and my writing, and I was, you know, thinking about being encouraged to pursue a potential career in academia. But I actually had a bit of a turning point. One day I was walking, I was studying in Aberystwyth University and I was walking along the pier there, and my head was so full of all of these ideas, complex and abstract ideas about the world. And suddenly it hit me that I was actually looking out a beautiful view but was completely dissociated from it, completely disconnected from it. And I actually had a little bit of a panic attack, and I ran back to the flat where I was staying, and it took me a few days to process that. And I actually in those days made a very firm decision not to go down the route of academia because I felt, you know, I was actually worried it was going to send me insane if I was so disconnected from the actual world around me and my head was so full of ideas. And that’s when I got much deeper into embodied practises and sort of realised that for me, the simplest way to access authentic truth is through the body, rather than stories and ideas and opinions that come from our mind.
Manda: Can you say more about that?
Louis: Yeah. Well, it’s simple in one level, although I understand having shared this with many people over the years that some people can have certain psychological defences against accessing their body, and particularly some people with trauma can find it difficult to access their body in a direct way. So this comes with a kind of preface. But for me, it’s really having the capacity to tune in and notice what’s going on in the body on the level of sensation. Beyond any kind of elaborate description. So if I was tuning into my body now. I’m noticing there’s a there’s a slight sense of constriction in my throat, but it doesn’t feel…. It’s just there, I’m not judging it. And if I move down my body, I’m noticing there’s a sense of warmth in my chest. So this sort of simple practise orients me to my body. Now that, for me, is a starting point for truth, because it’s just grounding me in the reality of where I am in this moment, right now. And also from that you can build on that. So I believe that the body is a storehouse of incredible wisdom that we ignore at our peril.
Louis: Obviously, having evolved over such a long period of time from the earliest, you know, single celled creatures to where we are now, that’s like so many years of, you could say, evolutionary intelligence and wisdom that are stored in our bodies. So from that direct perception of what’s going on in your body, you can start to tune into it and listen to it. There’s all sorts of practises that you can use to listen to the wisdom of your body, but I really like particularly working with children. You can just speak to different parts of your body. So if you feel if a child, for example, is feeling really anxious, it could be about parents arguing or it could be about the climate change; you can go into the body. I would always try and go into the body first and just say, ‘Can you just notice what’s there?’ Maybe it’s a feeling in the stomach, and can you, first of all, just let that feeling in your stomach know that it’s OK for it to be there?
Louis: And then almost always when you do that, I would say pretty much 100 percent of the time, just letting the feeling know it’s OK for it to be there gives it space. It removes a lot of the conflict and the tension that we’ve internalised that feelings should or shouldn’t be there. And then you can start to, having located the feeling in the body, you can start to kind of communicate with it; and then you can get more creative. So you know, if that feeling in your stomach had a shape or a name or a character, what would it be and what’s it here to share with you? What lesson is it bringing? That’s the kind of approach that I like to take. It can reveal a much deeper truth than just a, you know, intellectual, logical left brain conversation.
Manda: Yes, and provided, as you said, some people have complex trauma and accessing their body needs to be done in a safe space. But otherwise, anybody listening could take the time just now provided you’re not driving a car, people, to access our own bodies and feel what’s going on. So if I do that.. Then I can feel a kind of fizzing in my heart space, part of which is excitement at the ideas…no,I don’t need to label it, do I? There’s a fizzing in my heart space…. That feels like I feel when I stand on the edge of a cliff. That I could jump off here and who knows what might happen? Or I could take a step back and feel less fizzy. And what really struck me with what you were saying was that if I can talk to that bit and say ‘it’s OK to be there’, then it expands outwards. It feels almost like letting compressed gas out of a container; it just fizzles out sideways and the space becomes more like an open horizon and less like standing on the edge of a cliff, looking down into a very deep, dark, chasm. Fascinating, really interesting to explore. Thank you.
And then if we just take the time and the…. Just take the time, really, and the permission in our busy lives to go with that, I would be very intrigued to know where that goes. So when you do this, you’ve spoken a lot about young people having trauma over the climate. Because I can imagine going into this space inside myself and feeling it expand and feeling where it takes me. But I can also imagine, in the end, running up against a brick wall of I am not able to change things in the way I want to change them. Does that happen or is that my projection?
Louis: If you were to say to me that that was the brick wall that you were experiencing, I would guide you in the same way. To see if you can find that sense of something like a brick wall or something like ‘change isn’t possible’ and where whereabouts can you notice that? If anywhere.
Manda: So, then if I genuinely go into that space now, it’s actually I think it’s all around. In fact, if I actually do it, it’s not just around, it’s on top. So I end up feeling as if I’m in a brick box. And it, yeah, it’s bricks. They’re red and they’re sharp edged and it’s got square edges and it feels really claustrophobic in there, and quite panicky.
Louis: Could you find somewhere in your body that you might notice that feeling of panic or claustrophobia?
Manda: Mm hmm. It’s in my heart space. The bit that was feeling on the edge of the cliff is now… I feel there now, very tight and very dark and very fluttery.
Louis: Could you put a hand there? Would you be okay to do that? And could you let that feeling that panicky, fluttering feeling know that it’s OK to be there, maybe just take a deep breath into that space?
Manda: That’s interesting. I don’t give myself permission to panic often. So there are a lot of voices going, no, it’s not. You have to cope.
Louis: Right, that’s really great to notice. Notice the voices, the voices are fine. Let them be there. But bring yourself back to that space. And what do you notice happens when you, if you just give permission, for that feeling that panicky feeling to be there,
Manda: If we were not in the middle of creating a podcast, I would I would be really crying right now.
Louis: Ok. Well, whatever you feel is the right next move for you…
Manda: Well, I think let’s stay with this. I think we may end up cutting this out…who knows? But actually, I think this is a really valuable and interesting place to go, not just for me. Because giving myself permission to feel the panic is not something that I’m used to doing. And when I do that, the bottom of the brick box falls away. But then I’m in empty space. And this is a space that I recognise that is the most frightening thing in my entire existence. A very, very long time ago. Over two decades ago, I did an ayahuasca ceremony. That’s one of the those things that I… Anyway, I did it. And we spent a week, and on the third of five ayahuasca sessions, I ended up in this space. Which is very cold and there is nothing except me there. And nothing cares. And in all the Shamanic work I’ve done, I’ve met things that terrified me because they were big and frightening and frightening things are scary. But this; the not caring, the nothing being there is the single most frightening thing I have ever met. And so now I’m feeling the edges of that and I’m actually also feeling the edges of the chair and the desk, and I can hear you there, so I’m not completely in it.
Louis: Well, I think if we were to keep going with this, I would keep you grounded in your body. So I’d want you to just gently notice the feeling in your body and where it is and just keep allowing that feeling to be there. Because in a sense, the space for me conjures up an image of kind of existential meaninglessness. And underneath that is this sort of terror that we carry. And underneath that terror, I think, is grief.
Manda: Yeah. And what’s really interesting is that I just took it what I would consider to be a completely free breath. Which happens very rarely, like, you know, in ceremony and otherwise, not at all. Sometimes when I’m in cranio psychotherapy, so the letting go. To step into that, however frightening it is, my body likes it.
Louis: That’s really lovely.
Manda: I think we’ve probably subjected the people listening to enough. Yeah, that’s a really interesting…when I’m on my own, I’ll go back and explore that. But thank you for letting us do that. I don’t know if it’ll survive to the final cut, but I think in a way it’s an interesting… If everybody just took the time to go that far, they wouldn’t have the benefit of you there feeding back. Sorry, listeners, I’m sniffling. It feels like something that’s best done when it’s held. Doing that on our own, might we get lost in the void? Does that happen?
Louis: Mmmm. I think it’s definitely better held, but at the same time, I really feel and often want to empower people to explore these things on their own as well. Sometimes it’s not easy to find somebody to hold you in that space. So a big driver for me is trying to find out ways to make things accessible and inclusive. Yes, some of us might have to initially do some of this kind of practise on our own before we can find somebody who can hold us. I hope that’s not true for most, if not all of the people listening to this. But I know it can be true for some people. So I think, you know, I really believe more and more that we are more…a lot of what we fear in terms of going inward and looking at things is, is cultural conditioning. And if we cut through those layers that tell us about feelings and thoughts and what they mean and what we should be scared of and what we shouldn’t be scared of. Beneath that, Rumi has that quote; something like ‘there is there is a garden beyond ideas of right doing and wrong doing and I will meet you there’.So I have that sense if we get beneath the cultural conditioning and just get present with what we’re actually experiencing in the moment, trying not to label it or judge it, we can not just tolerate it, but actually we can create a space in which it can be transformed.
Manda: Wow. That would be amazing. Yeah. Ok. And years ago, many decades ago, I remember co counselling being a way where people could create space that was inclusive because you offered that and were matched and there was no requirement for a financial exchange. Is that still a thing? Does that still happen?
Louis: I don’t know much about it. I know, for parents, there’s this great model called ‘listening partnerships’. My friend Roma, who is much more of a parenting expert than I am. She is fantastic. But she is a huge advocate for these listening partnerships, which, as I understand it, two parents – it doesn’t actually have to be parents, it could be anyone – but you have a relationship where for 20 minutes a week, the other person will just listen to you and you just talk for 20 minutes. And there’s no scripts. There’s no technique. It’s just the constraint of time, that ultimately the space and the constraint of time actually allows you to really go deeper and really process things and get things off your chest.
Manda: I can imagine that is exactly my experience of CO counselling was when I was a student, but that’s exactly what we did. 20 minutes. One person only listens, one person only talks and how rarely we get that in our world. Both the helderness of the time and the freedom to speak to someone who is genuinely listening. And part of the genuinely listening is the reciprocity of knowing that then one will be listened to.
Louis: Don’t you think I might be a bit too sort of focussed on this with my background in therapy, but I really feel if more people have that sort of just direct experience of feeling connected and held in an authentic space – and I feel that in this conversation with you – if more people have that, if more parents can give that to children, I really believe that can have a really radical transformational effect on the environment and the world. It’s certainly for me, when I’m in these spaces, I leave and for a significant amount of time, I feel the resonance of that authentic connexion. It influences how I go about my business and the energy that I’m spreading out into the world.
Manda: Yes, beautiful. So we’re coming near the end of our time. I have I have two probably branching questions, but we’ll keep them both fairly tight. So in your work with children, again, you’ve spoken a lot about climate trauma. And it seems to me that the children of today, even before Greta Thunberg became a model, but definitely now, are in many ways more aware of the precipice we’re heading to than their parents generation or particularly their grandparents generation. In your work with them, with their very sharp awareness, how are you finding they’re then able to situate themselves in an outer world where these conversations still seem not to be happening?
Louis: I would say the main thing I’m noticing is that young people who have their own experience of climate awakening are struggling to find enough adults who are talking honestly and authentically about it. And you know, in my experience, seeing some young people in therapy who have really struggled to know how to deal with the extent of what they’re seeing happening in the planet. And even for me, you know, I’ve done so much sort of so-called work on myself and think that I’m pretty self-aware. But I still, when a young person sits in front of me and says, “all the grown ups are lying, the future is hopeless and I just can’t see any point in anything anymore”. Even then, I still feel a strong drive to want to make it better for them, and I think that’s natural. But I really have found and been quite tested by that, particularly with the young people experiencing grief or anxiety around climate crisis, trying to make it better does not work. And that just creates another inauthentic connexion. So I’ve had to let go of the part of me that just wants to make it better and actually just be on a level with them and say, I can really see and relate to where you’re coming from. And just being in that place is essential, before trying to come up with solutions and making things better. Otherwise, we’re missing out such a critical part of this a critical ingredient list, which is the uncertainty, the hopelessness and the grief.
Manda: Yes. And do you find the alternative Extinction Rebellion? Because Extinction Rebellion XR is at least asking everyone to tell the truth. That’s the first of the XR demands is to speak the truth about climate change. Does it work for young people?
Louis: This is actually…
Manda: A pink boat. Yes, we need a picture of that for the podcast. So Louis just showed me his pink boat with an XR symbol and “tell the truth!” On it.
Louis: Yeah. What was the question again?
Manda: The question was, are young people turning towards XR because their request is to tell the truth? Or do they just think it’s hopeless?
Louis: Well, there’s definitely a lot of young people who are turning to XR and other movements. I probably don’t tend to see those young people as much, not in my therapy work, anyway. I think I tend to see people, young people, who just feel hopeless and they don’t see any point even in doing the Extinction Rebellion thing. I have with some clients, you know, suggested too quickly ‘there’s these amazing movements. I’m so inspired by what Extinction Rebellion are doing. You could get involved and make a difference’. And that, again, for some young people is taking them away from this deeper truth that they are carrying, that is really important. That is, you know, that question of what is the point? How can we find a point and a meaning and motivation to take action? I do think we have to go to that place first. And of course, a lot of people…there’s some great grief work that happens in the Extinction Rebellion movement, and a lot of people have done that work. They’ve gone to that place and come out the other side, which I think is why it’s such a often a joyful expression of activism. It’s almost the grief work, I think, can take away some of that energy of the polarity and a lot of the anger that just keeps the cycles going. Yes, that’s my hypothesis anyway.
Manda: OK. And we are definitely at the end of our time. So I will abandon my next question for next time because I’m sincerely hoping we will come back. And we are planning to come back when your book is published. Do you want to take the last little while, however long you want, to tell us about your book?
Louis: Yes, I’d love to. So I am two chapters away from finishing the first draught of a book. Woo-hoo. Called How the World is Making our Children Mad and What To Do About It. And essentially, it’s my attempt as a father, child, psychotherapist and someone who cares about children and what’s going on in the world, to figure out why we’re seeing these rises in self-harm, suicide, anxiety, depression, ADHD, just the whole range of mental health problems. We’re seeing huge rises in them. And how might that be connected to the bigger problems in the world? And it’s separated into two halves. The first half is essentially shadow work for grown ups who care for children. So it’s looking at the roots of these problems. I see the modern context of, you know, rises in narcissism, learned helplessness, all of this kind of stuff; they all have deeper roots and I sort of align myself with sort of Jungian thinking, which is a model of psychology. We won’t have time to go into now, but essentially the theory of archetypes, essentially deep and recurring patterns. So narcissism is something that we know through the early myths, people have been talking about and concerned about for a long, long time. It’s not a new problem. And my feeling is we need to get to the roots within ourselves, as these things can often lie in the shadows of ourselves. And then the second half of the book is more about what the grown ups can do with children to help them develop the opposite qualities of those roots, which I’m calling the fruits. So if it’s learnt helplessness and victimhood, the opposite of that is empowerment. If it’s narcissism and loneliness, the opposite of that is compassion and collaboration. If it’s hopelessness or despair, the opposite fruit of that is hope. So, yeah, that’s that’s the summary.
Manda: Yay! And it’ll be out next year?
Louis: It’s going to be out next April. Published by Vermillion.
Manda: Fantastic. We will definitely invite you back around the time that comes out because it sounds like the kind of book we all need to read, whether we are parents or not. So we’ve hit the end of our time. Louis Weinstock, thank you so much for your wisdom and your depth and your integrity, and for opening doors to healing. Thank you.
Louis: Thank you so much for having me.
Manda: And that is it for another week. Enormous thanks, as we said, to Louis, for his integrity, for his authenticity, for his ability to bring out the authentic in other people, including me. I do spend a lot of my life striving to find authenticity and integrity in the world. But it’s rare that I have the opportunity to bring it out in real time when I’m not just sitting on the hill watching the Sun go down. So that felt really rather magical. And I’m immensely grateful to Louis for being part of making it happen. And for those of you who want to find ways to facilitate that for yourselves and each other; within the Accidental Gods membership, we have buddy groups which have become quite small groups of people who get to know each other extremely well and are able, I believe, to hold these spaces for each other. So if that feels like something that you want, then the membership is at accidentalgods.life, and please do not let finances be a bar to you joining. We do have a subscription. We are trying to fund the podcast. But if it’s too much, it’s not about you not having access. So just get in touch. Let us know. We will make things work. And while you’re thinking about that, we will be back next week with another conversation. In the meantime, enormous thanks, as always, to Caro C, for the glorious music at the head and foot and for being the world’s best sound producer, engineer and general creator of Wonderful Sound. Thanks to Faith Tillery for the tech and the website, and thanks to you for listening. As ever, if you know anybody else who would like to step into a world of authenticity, of truth, of being different, of not perpetuating what was and of stepping into what is, then please do share this link. And that’s it for now. See you next week. Thank you and goodbye.
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