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Posts Tagged ‘Sonia Nevis’

To listen and be heard

Thursday, May 12th, 2016

By Gwynne Guzzeau, Executive Director

Here at GISC, the sun is out. Fourteen professionals from as far as California, Sweden, Wisconsin and Denmark or as close as Wellfleet gather for their 7th day of training to learn the Cape Cod Model – our Center’s process for helping people and teams change.

Five years ago, I was in their seat as a participant and fortunate to have our founder, Sonia Nevis in the room. An avid note-taker, keen on capturing the words from each faculty member, I’ve saved my notebooks and I’ve decided to share some of the nuggets from our Cape Cod Training Program teaching.

Let’s start with the check-in – the first 15-20 minutes of each day when participants sit together with faculty in a large group to discuss any questions or thoughts that are present from the previous day’s work. Even in these seemingly mundane moments, we were being taught that “Gestalt is a way of looking at the world and thinking about your life.” Check-in is important “to get something out of your head” so we can start where we are today.

The notes that follow are what I need to do this morning to start my day with a full sense of connection to the current participants, to the teaching and learning that inspired greater range and growth in my own life, and to the creative urge that the sun – after many days of rain – has inspired within.

Day 2 comments from Sonia:

You cannot feed your own soul. Connecting is food. To have listening and to be heard is food. The basic principle of how the world is better is to really listen and to really be willing to be heard.

Sonia went on to emphasize that “the learning that takes place at GISC is getting more and more skilled at reaching other people and listening.”

And the words flowed in through my ears, my eyes, my hands as I wrote furiously to capture her specific point of view:

If there’s only one person, it’s self-reflective. We are in relationship with the past and our Self. But all you can do is repeat the same thing. We can’t continue growth without another person. We develop to the extent that we allow ourselves to be in contact with the environment.”

These notes from our founder’s voice make me wonder:

What’s the optimal blend of sunshine and support to foster new growth in your life today?

If “no one person is making an experience happen” then join me in a virtual conversation and leave a comment below.

 

Conversations with Sonia & Joe: Power and Hierarchy

Friday, July 11th, 2014

POWER AND HIERARCHY

Sonia March Nevis and Joseph Melnick

Sonia:  Let’s talk about power and hierarchy.

Joe:  The higher we are in the hierarchy, the more power we have. Power allows me to make my own decisions. I don’t have to wait. I get to decide what we have to do and you don’t.

Sonia:  This is true in families and organizations.  That’s why I don’t like talking about hierarchy without also talking about power.

Joe:  Of course with families, the relational hierarchy is always shifting in response to the development stages of the children. It shifts in organizations too as a function of changing situations, tasks, and working relationships.

Sonia:  I saw two women yesterday whose mothers made their life miserable. So many women don’t know how to raise children. They don’t know how to manage the hierarchy. Parents sometimes give it up, they give away the power—the power to decide and influence. And sometimes parents do the opposite; they become rigidly hierarchical.

Joe:  It’s hard to talk about hierarchy and power without focusing on the culture and goals of the organization. Often in non-profits or volunteer organizations, the hierarchical relationship and the ability to influence is fuzzy. In military organizations or surgical units hierarchy and power tend to be clearer and more fixed.

Sonia:  A place where we get into trouble stems from the fact that many of our beliefs about power and hierarchy are shaped in our childhood.

Joe:  Yes, when I teach this module with one of our colleagues we talk about the differences in our growing up. She grew up Catholic with nuns for aunts and became a nurse. She was taught to respect positional power and hierarchy. As a student nurse she was taught to exit the elevator if it was full and a physician was waiting to get in.

My upbringing was very different. My father was anarchistic; a union man with a chip on his shoulder—and a hater of fixed hierarchy.  I remember the controversy I stirred within the faculty when, as a young assistant professor, I insisted that graduate students call me by my first name. Now my granddaughter, age eight, goes to a private school where the children call their teachers and administrators by their first names.

Sonia:  I grew up with no hierarchy. My father disappeared when my mother died and I was sent to live with a series of families as an outsider. Because I was “temporary,” I didn’t have to conform or rebel.

Joe:   My parents had a disrespect for hierarchy so I didn’t have to rebel against them. But when I see a hierarchy that is rigid, my belly tightens up and my adolescent self reemerges.

Sonia:  I just ignore it.

Joe:  I remember when we invited the leadership group of a police department to spend a day with us as clients so our students could practice our model1.  The chief walked in with his flip chart and markers. With barely a hello, he ignored you and our students and began organizing the day.

Sonia:  Yes, I remember. He said nothing to me. He jumped right over me and started taking over the class. I went up to him and explained that we were similar. That outside he is the chief and people need to follow him. But in here I am in charge and he needs to follow me. I went higher than him for the moment. I had to take my power. I needed to be higher than him for us all, including the police and students to have a good experience. Otherwise no one would listen to me. Luckily he smiled, handed me the marker, giving me permission to be the leader.

Joe:  You took your power and he allowed you to take it and to lead. Sometimes you have to take a risk.

Sonia:  Normally, as a consultant coach or therapist, one of the first tasks is to be the leader. Usually I speak to the leader off line, prior to the first meeting,  in order to create enough trust for him to let me lead. But this wasn’t true in this case.  We were all strangers to each other. If it is done well, you are aligned with the top of the hierarchy, and if you don’t shame them, they will support your work.

Joe:  Yes, and it isn’t just the leader who you need to get to follow you. I remember working with a group of litigators once and one of the lawyers opened up a newspaper and started reading it just as I began to talk.  I was first startled. I then began walking around the room continuing to talk. When I got to him I firmly took the newspaper, folded it up and placed it next to him. I didn’t want to fight with him or humiliate him.  I said nothing, and neither did anyone else. We were all fine after that.

Sonia:  Yes, there is often a “magic moment” when the hierarchy and power relationship shifts. It is often non-verbal.

Joe:  Yes. With families that are physically abusive, it might involve a child just standing tall and looking the parent in the eye while being hit.

1 In our Center we offer a one-week practicum applying the Cape Cod Model in organizations. We invite leadership teams of organizations to receive a free day of consultation from our students.

(more…)

Conversations with Sonia and Joe: Messing Up

Tuesday, March 11th, 2014

Conversations with Sonia and Joe

Over the past 30 years we have enjoyed many conversations around everyday experiences. Some of these conversations have been turned into articles around such topics as intimacy, contempt, love, commitment, power, surprise, jealousy, desire, ethics and optimism. Others sit half-finished in the back of a filing cabinet, while even more have never made it into writing, having instead faded into the air as our interest waned. Yet, no matter the outcome, these conversations have been immensely satisfying to us.

We would like to expand these conversations beyond the two of us by sharing some of them with you, and hearing back regarding your observations, thoughts, feelings and personal experiences. 

Please join the conversation by posting your comments below.  We would love to hear your thoughts.

Sonia March Nevis and Joseph Melnick

Messing Up

Even the best of us messes up often. To turn against ourselves after we mess up is rarely useful. A competent person knows that these things are ordinary and that the next day will bring new mess ups, but, every once in a while, we have a perfect day.

Joe:  I remember years ago you saying that it doesn’t do me any good to feel bad once I’ve messed up. If I wished to feel bad, I should have felt bad before I messed up, not after.

Sonia:  Yes, people turn on themselves rather than saying, “You know I was a jerk that time; I don’t know why I didn’t do that.” Anything that helps put it out, spit it out in an easy way. Knowing that it is a part of life—neither good nor bad.

Joe:  Yes, I can look at almost anything I’ve done and find a hundred ways that I could have done it better.

Sonia:  Yes, me too.

Joe:  We don’t appreciate the ordinariness of messing up.

Sonia:  I think that’s the right language. It’s a waste to put yourself down for almost any reason whatsoever. Now, of course, there are exceptions and extremes, but most people are talking about simple ordinary things. They forgot to do something, they were told not to do something and they are doing it anyway. Or they didn’t invite somebody to a party. We are full of that stuff all the time.

Joe:  Yes. I forgot their name and I feel so badly, or everyone is dressed a certain way and I’m not, or your zipper is open.

Sonia:  Or you fart. There’s always something.

Joe:  We learn to feel bad early. Maybe it’s a need to be perfect. To be more than who I am.

Sonia:  If there are any medals to be given, they should go to people who say, “Whoops, I’m sorry.”

Joe:  I remember when we were kids and we would say, “so sue me, or shoot me.” Kids have ways to brush it off because they mess up so often.

Sonia:  It is important to teach kids to learn to not feel too bad. It’s amazing how people can be humiliated over simple things—like mispronouncing my name.

Joe:  People will often collapse.

Sonia:  I allow my kids to feel bad over mistakes, like saying, “no, you did something wrong.” I think the goal is to not put it on ourselves or on others; to just put it out without judgment. The only way to get rid of it is to put it out in the air—not to take it in and not to blame others. We have to teach people that there is nobody walking around who’s perfect. There’s always someone better. That doesn’t make you bad.

Joe:  I remember working with a couple and I told her she was entitled to feel this bad [spreads his hands 6 inches], but not this bad [spreads his hands two feet]. She looked stunned. It’s as if she didn’t know that she had a choice. She had a choice of how bad to feel. I’ve sometimes asked people, “How long do you want to feel bad for?”

Sonia:  You can feel badly and hold it in or you can put it out. The other thing you can do is to apologize so you can join with someone.

Sonia:  I like that because it is a matter of acknowledging that most of life is still not this [spreads hands wide]. Many people feel terrible even though they have not done a terrible thing.

Joe:  But suppose there is not another person. l suppose I could apologize to myself.

Sonia:  I often laugh at myself.

Joe:  I remember what they do in a lot of parent-training courses. They tell you to tell your kid, “I’m not angry with you, I’m angry with your behavior—that you stole the milk.” I doubt kids believe that. I know two parents who, when their young kids misbehave, have them put their doll into “doll jail” for a time out.

Sonia:  The opposite is also true. We work with people who don’t feel bad when they should. They blame the others and, of course, these are the most difficult.

Joe:  Yes, these are the ones for whom life never changes. We have to learn to own our mistakes, but learn to carry them lightly.

Please leave your comments below.

Conversations with Sonia & Joe: Nobody Owns the Truth

Monday, February 10th, 2014

Conversations with Sonia and Joe

 

Over the past 30 years we have enjoyed many conversations around everyday experiences. Some of these conversations have been turned into articles around such topics as intimacy, contempt, love, commitment, power, surprise, jealousy, desire, ethics and optimism. Others sit half-finished in the back of a filing cabinet, while even more have never made it into writing, having instead faded into the air as our interest waned. Yet, no matter the outcome, these conversations have been immensely satisfying to us.

 

We would like to expand these conversations beyond the two of us by sharing some of them with you, and hearing back regarding your observations, thoughts, feelings and personal experiences. 

 

The following is the first in the series.  Please join the conversation by posting your comments below.  We would love to hear your thoughts.

 

Sonia March Nevis and Joseph Melnick

 

 

Nobody Owns the Truth

 

Nobody owns the truth. There are many ways to look at things since we all see things differently. A competent person is willing to talk to and listen to other people who are different from her.

 

Joe:  As I get older I get more and more amazed at how different people are.

 

Sonia:  The differences are certainly endless.

 

Joe:  Then what do you say to people who believe in “truth” and we don’t? Too often we struggle to connect with people who are eager to talk about their “truths” – often either politics or religion. It’s hard to know what to say.

 

Sonia:  I am thinking of clients who live with “have-to’s” that are truths for them. I sometimes work with women who have to take care of their old mother. A large number say, “I have to go every day or every few days.” They can’t go away for a vacation. I know that I have gotten some of these women to ease up on themselves and I know it is hard for them.

 

Joe:  It is like, “I’m a bad person if I don’t do this.” So what would you say to me if I said, “I can’t stand going to see my mother every day. I have to go”?

 

Sonia:  I would say, “You are not a ‘bad person.’ Your mother might have tried her best for you. Now you have to think of yourself. Do you decide that you are doing right, or doing wrong?’”

 

Joe:  I think that these people who live a life of “have-to’s” are in a daze. They have lousy habits. We “have to” get them to shift the habit or change the context…like, why not send a card?

 

Sonia:  Oddly I am thinking of a woman who could not get her mother off her mind. She had to visit her all the time. I suggested that she send cards. She is feeling relieved. Whether it will hold or not, I don’t know.  The thing of turning on yourself is a big issue.

 

Joe:  We’re back to different truths and beliefs.

 

Sonia:  The word believe—we often hear many “hard-to-believe stories” from clients. They wish us to say, “I believe you.” I can usually say, “I believe you right now.” Sometimes it is easy to say, “I believe you.” On the other hand, when it goes over a certain boundary I no longer say that. What do you say?

 

Joe:  I say, “I believe that you believe.”

 

Sonia:  If someone says I don’t like this fish I can believe them.

 

Joe:  Yes, that’s easy. It’s the separation of beliefs from truths that is important. 

 

 

Let us hear from you!  We invite and encourage your response.  Please join the conversation by submitting your comments in the “Leave a Reply” box (or “no comments” link) below.  

 

 

 

Our Days Go By So Quickly – What Can We Do About That?

Wednesday, October 9th, 2013

By Sonia Nevis

Recently I have realized that I am 86 years old, and there is nothing I can do about it,  since each day that passes us is lost forever.

I take short walks, love my work, cherish my clients and have wonderful friends. I have loving children- I hope you can see how lucky I am.

Yet I wake up each day- sad that yet another day has gone.

Up to now I thought there was not much more I could do -but now I feel as though my life has a long carpet to walk on:  it lives on.

I have begun to see that all lost days are alive.

The experiences and memories of the life that we have lived and are living, as well as the fiction we have read and the images we have seen in the theater and the films, all contribute to the richness of our being.

Once we understand how much we hold within our hearts, we easily turn them into stories – stories which will live long beyond us.

Realizing this has shifted the way I feel, and how I am looking at my life. I’m amazed at how it comforts me.

But what matters the most is how much I can still do in this difficult world:

·      I want to turn my interest to even more people I have never met and talk to them.  That might be one of the roads to peace.

·      I will keep paying attention to my generosity.  There is so much needed that I can be giving.

I hope my long carpet stays very long. I will keep enjoying my life and doing all the things that I love.

I hope you all join me.

Fondly,

Sonia

 

Spring is trying hard to get here

Thursday, May 9th, 2013

By Sonia Nevis

 

While I was waiting for the warmth of Spring, a friend sent me a letter about a magazine that she has been reading. She was sure I would like the magazine a lot and she was right.

The magazine is the Sun and it has published 448 issues (P.O. Box 5837, Harlan, IA, 51593).  What I liked about it is that it has an eccentric point of view and it often upsets comfortable ways of established thinking.

 

Reading it in my cozy chair, I began to have images of my early life.  One of my favorite habits had been to sit alone in a restaurant and pretend to be reading a book while I listened to all the conversations around me.  Real conversations.  Where else would I have learned so much?

 

These are some of the things I heard that I never would have known:

 

1.     You really didn’t even leave him a note?

2.     How could you not even leave a note?

3.     Oh, come on, I was twenty-five.  I was a baby.

 

4.     He broke up with me in Prospect Park. Took me there so he could do it in public.

5.     In public?

 

6.     Hey, I spent four days on a camping trip in a tent.

7.     Oh, Jesus, a tent.

 

8.     No, it was great, then he totally disappeared.

 

9.     Excuse me, I’m sorry but I am trying to read.

 

10.  I know that look on his face.  I’m going to pretend I’m not judging him.

 

This is the way I learned how to listen, for many a year.  I liked being able to take in what people talked about and how they talked to each other.

 

In my home or in my school I learned much less than what I learned for so many years just drinking in what I saw and what I heard.

 

I counted up 53 things that people said to each other that I just read in the Sun.  I enjoyed reading them all and I’m writing this to you so that you know what I mean by “learning.”  But, truly, what I wish the most is that I could listen to all of you and drink in and learn from you.

 

Take good care of yourself and of each other.

 

Fondly,

Sonia

 

 

Also, thanks so much, my friend, for having found this magazine.  I am enjoying it so much. That you thought to send it to me, somehow knowing that listening is what made me who I am, has touched my heart.

 

My summer was almost perfect

Monday, October 22nd, 2012

By Sonia Nevis

My summer was almost perfect.

I was drinking in every day of this summer of continual sun—until it came to an end.

Only then was I aware of how many of my plantings had dried up.

An odd winter and then an odd summer.  It seems true that the seasons are not as reliable as they have been.

As the weather cooled, I turned to reading again: back to sitting inside the house in my comfortable chair. I came across an article I had scanned about Homer’s Iliad, about the Trojan War. I think I had put it aside because I didn’t want to read about war, not when the sun was shining so much.

The article I read was written by Daniel Mendelsohn who was reviewing Stephen Mitchell’s new translation of the Iliad. He focused not on the Trojan War but on the wrath of Achilles.

It is said that Aristotle, in 335 B.C., did not attempt to treat the war as a whole but rather he focused on Achilles’ wrath.

Now in 2012 A.D. anger continues to prevail.

The Iliad gives us some understanding about Achilles’ rage.  The Greek soldiers were accustomed to seizing slave girls as a way of expressing their status. The more slave girls they seized the higher their status.

The Commander of the Greek army, Agamemnon, is compelled by the Gods to return one of Achilles’ slave girls to her father, a priest. Achilles, enraged that his slave girl was taken from him, withdrew from the fighting and from leading the troops.

Agamemnon was enraged that Achilles was no longer willing to assist with the troops. Achilles turned to Agamemnon and said “did you think I would just sit here alone without the slave girl?” He felt that the slave girl belonged to him.

A furious Achilles felt that he was being treated as a nobody and the fury between the two of them started in 335B.C.

Sadly, anger will probably always be with us. However, there might be ways we can soften it.

If we learn to attend to what we need for ourselves  as well as attend to what other people need, then we would not feel like a “nobody.” We would all feel like a “somebody.”

Second, if we cultivate appreciating differences rather than disdaining them, then we will have brought us together, rather than kept us apart. Anger will probably diminish.

And I guess we can try to read the Iliad, especially on a rainy day.

On the sunny days, let’s get outside and enjoy ourselves.

With warmth,

Sonia

They say that spring has arrived

Thursday, April 12th, 2012

By Sonia Nevis

They say that Spring has arrived.

We have had an odd winter – really no winter at all, only a string of spring days.

I was delighted to have such pleasant weather until I began to wonder whether it was at the cost of tornadoes, floods and other unusual weather upheavals around the world.

All these years I have taken for granted that the seasons would follow each other, that the sun and the moon would rise as they “always” do, that I would always know when to buy sandals since summer was coming, and when I need to check my snow boots since I would need them soon.

Suddenly I am faced again with the reality of not knowing what tomorrow will be.

Many years ago, I read an article that said that old age started at age 85. I felt so much freedom since my mother, my grandmother, and my great grandmother all died in their 20s.

What did I have to worry about, since I read the article in my 30s and my reaching 85 seemed impossible?

A recent study showed that “it’s no surprise that the older people get, the longer they think it takes for a person to reach old age”:

• On average, adults between the ages of 30 and 49 think old age begins at 69.

• People who are currently 50-64 believe old age starts at 72.

• Responders who are 65 and older say old age begins at 74.

A Pew study said that women considered old age to be when they were 70 and men considered old age to be 66.

For me, old age is still being 85.

I counted and found that I have 89 days before I get there.

When I was in my 50s, I vowed that when I was old I would always wear sneakers and eat as much chocolate as I wanted to. I’ve been true to both of these vows.

Now I will wait until I have lived my 89 days before I make new vows.

I’ll wait to think about it until the 90th day comes, although I already have a few thoughts.

I look forward to the future.

Warmly, Sonia

Almost half a year has slipped away, now I’m waking up

Tuesday, November 1st, 2011

Almost half a year has slipped away, now I’m waking up.

Many of you knew Edwin my husband. He died, suddenly, within three days. He had no pain and died at home. He was surrounded by his children and his grandchildren and it was on his birthday.

If you didn’t know him in person you probably knew him from his books.

During these last months, immersed in the dramatic shift in my life, I did very little thinking about myself and very little about Ed.

What I did think about was our relationship. I always imagined that our relationship was unique but now I suspect that many of us share the same journey in whatever relationships we are in.

They are probably just different.

Ed and I met when he was 16 and I was 15. We met near a beach in New York City.  Our connection was that we both were in the same school in Brooklyn, New York.

He had friends and I had friends and we quickly became a group. At first music held us together but soon we all rented bikes and took long rides, we walked over the George Washington Bridge into the New Jersey hills. We went to anything interesting in the city that was free. Even went to Night Court to watch.

We never “dated” but there were three marriages from within the group.

Although the group is now shrinking, we still meet regularly and stay in close touch.

Ed and I were one of the weddings. Neither of us had good homes and both of us wanted to be out of our homes. It was 1947; we had no money and no idea other than to leave our homes. We were both still in school, both had part time jobs and we jumped into the unknown.

Once we rented our own place, we clearly saw how we were different. From that beginning we laid out our own paths.

Our major asset was that we didn’t put much energy into changing each other’s lives.

Our second major asset was that if I had an idea he would consider it and use it or not.  If he had an idea I would consider it and use it or not.

The amazing thing for me is that we rarely talked things out and Ed did not want to be asked questions.

It feels like magic that our relationship continued so long. I never considered leaving him (I liked my life). I did ask him a question once. I asked him if he had ever considered divorcing me. He said sure, but not seriously.

I’m talking about a 64 year old marriage. In the last few years I got into calling it a Lack of Imagination.

Now I’ve become aware of how rich our imagination was.

We gave each other breathing space and gave each other very little grief.

My major annoyance is that Ed died before me. He clearly wanted to live to be 100, and I was counting on him to achieve it. I assumed that it was a pact between us.

On my side, since my mother died when I was five, I have had no wish to live long and yet I am already 84.

Since I am now alone, I can see clearly how Ed and I were actually on the same track. We both connected with people and took it on as our life’s work.

We just came at it differently.

We never worked closely together until we built the Center at Cape Cod.  I was worried whether we could work that out and we did. Still amazes me.

Those of you who knew Ed know how much his work drove him. My sorrow is that he died feeling that he hadn’t done enough when in fact he had done so much.

I, on the other hand, am awed at how much I have accomplished in my lifetime and am secure in the belief that the work I have been doing will continue well past my life.

Ed did not have enough time to put his work into your hands. He was waiting until he was 100 to do it. I take it on me to tell you he would have liked to have done that himself.

I will hold your hands as long as I can and am already feeling how you hold mine.

Warmly, Sonia

   
Gestalt International Study Center
P.O. Box 515, South Wellfleet, MA 02663
Phone: +1 555 123 4567