I’m not here to teach you anything: Some thoughts on facilitating

I originally wrote this post in 2014 for the blog of tlanetwork.org, the website of the Transformative Language Arts Network. It seems appropriate to re-post as I am preparing a graduate course on Expressive Writing in the classroom for Castleton University’s Center for Schools. Although in this situation I will be technically a lecturer/teacher/professor rather than a facilitator and I will be imparting more information than I would in a workshop, I will still apply the methods I know best and which have proven to be helpful to participants.


Justus Sustermans - Portrait of Galileo Galilei, 1636

Justus Sustermans – Portrait of Galileo Galilei, 1636

“I am not here to teach you anything.”

Expressions of confusion flicker across the faces of those circled around me. Wasn’t the very reason they signed up for this workshop to learn something?

I continue: “I am here to show you how you can learn from yourself.”

Smiles break out and the workshop begins.

While this is not intended to be an op-ed on the benefits of teaching critical thinking, how I facilitate is how I believe children should be taught: Teach them to learn for themselves. And this is how I approach my workshops. I give guidance, I provide prompts, and then I sit back and witness my “students” learning from and for themselves (and from the words of others in the room) — not to impress me, the “teacher.”

How does this work with TLA? Galileo Galilei said, “You cannot teach a man anything, you can only help him find it within himself.” Transformative Language Arts, or any form of self-expression which facilitates healing change within a person, is, by its very nature, a way to tap into something within: a wisdom, a knowledge, a gnosis that we may not immediately know on a conscious level. It is only when we can know why we do the things we do or feel the way we do, that we can truly learn about ourselves. And when we know we can grow. I could talk until I was blue in the face about the benefits of writing, but until they try it themselves and see that it works, that they have the ability to discover their own truth, I have taught nothing.

While many people want to learn definitive tools, to come away from the class with a bulleted list of techniques or goals accomplished, it is the job of a facilitator to show them why it works. By all means, give them the list to take home (so they can continue self-teaching after the workshop), but it is only by doing it will they truly understand the how and why.

Yes, you may be the “expert” and you do have much information to impart. Indeed, I sometimes get so excited by everything factoid and bit of research I have learned that I want to share it all. But it doesn’t help be a talking head.

Jim Henson wrote: “[Kids] don’t remember what you try to teach them. They remember what you are.” If you are a facilitator, I would assume (hope!) you have done the work yourself. You know the ups and downs of writing on your own road to self-discovery and healing. This knowledge, this self-awareness will show more than you could ever tell.

Yes, give them the tools, the safe space, the opportunity, but then get out of the way. The best teachers instruct by asking questions. When you provide the opportunity for your “students” to ask themselves the deepest questions they may have ever faced, you are giving them a great gift: How to learn from themselves.

Scars to prove I showed up

This is one poem in a series from the “Write to Recover” group I facilitate. I put them together from phrases that resonate with me while participants read, adding nothing but punctuation and the occasional conjunction. This one is comprised of the words of five participants who were writing on the theme “Overcoming an obstacle.”

mountainI am a letter written to the world,

Trying to be self among all this chaotic happening,

Scared to be anyone but me.


Madness, the veil of darkness,

The gift of my mother,

My normal has been misconstrued.

My demons pretend they have healed me,

Then I blow away on the next strong breeze.


My biggest obstacle has been me,

Sinking down of my hopeful self.

What do I trust? What is real?


I have scars to prove I showed up,

Survived to face another one,

Another corner to turn.

I keep the breath coming,

Attempting to win completeness.


Take three steps away from me and see me,

Inside I am all good,

I am beautiful —

Like an old leather shoe.

Focusing on being focused,

Awaring I am.


I will always be part of that mountain,

Breathing through the gap.

Release the sunshine,

Come out to shine.

Authentic Voice Project: B is for Belief

The Authentic Voice Project: Week 2


I was near tears already. Angry-sad tears at the current state of affairs in our country and world. So it wasn’t with the most gracious heart that I took in the message on the frame around the license plate of the SUV parked in front me:

“If you are living as if there is no God, you better hope you’re right!”

To this I thought:

If you claim there is God but are living with a Belief that dictates that Roe vs. Wade should be reversed or claims all Muslims are evil, LGBT rights should be denied, or that Black Lives don’t matter, you better hope you’re WRONG.

Because I’m pretty sure I remember learning “God is Love,” not “God is Dismiss Those Whose Experience/Belief is Different Than Yours.”


Yes, Belief, when professed to be Fact, can be dangerous.

For some, Belief is Truth. There can be no wavering, no room for questions or doubt, and therefore, no room for possibility. When Belief becomes Certainty, any one else’s Belief must be wrong.

Dismissing other people’s versions of the “truth” can lead us to dismisses the actual human-beings who hold those different beliefs, opinions, or perspectives.

Michael Puett and Christine Gross-Loh in The Path: What Chinese Philosophers Can Teach Us About the Good Life, write:

Our certainty that we are absolutely correct in our views on organized religion or standardized testing, abortion or euthanasia can make us less receptive to other people’s perspectives, putting up insurmountable walls between ourselves and others. […]

This sort of thinking leads us away from … a state in which everything is inter-related, with no distinctions.

In other words, it leads us away from Love. Belief can, if it has concretized into Certainty, turn love on its head and look and act suspiciously like hate.

To me, to love is to act knowing everything is connected, that we are all One; that to, “do for the least of your brothers and sisters, you do for me.” (I’m not saying that’s always easy or that I’m never guilty of forgetting this.)


To truly love, one must be willing to listen — and hear — the story behind the person or event. While it may seem like a strength, Certainty in religion or politics or any other arena, eliminates the power of story. A person’s story, a place’s history, or a situation’s backstory highlights its many, often mysterious and always changing, facets.

Until we accept that people are multi-faceted, that they are more than just one story, we are blind to our shared humanity. Until we see there is as many Right Ways of Being as there are people in the world, we imply that one “brand” of human matters more than another. Until then, we will all remain Other.

Every person is, The Path tells us, “an individual with a complex set of sensibilities, habits, emotions, and behaviors.” And this complexity, when coupled with the complex instability of everyday life, provides an element of mystery to everyone’s personality, their way of life, and the decisions they make. It is nobody else’s place to take away that mystery, to declare it wrong, by claiming there is only One Answer.


Belief should be instead (I believe) a never-ending series of questions: What is the story here? Does it look like anything in my own life? What can I learn from it? And what is the story now? Has it changed? Has it changed me? How can it open me up to infinite possibilities and love?

I have read, although there seems to be some disagreement on this, that the word Believe comes from the same root as Be Love. Even if the etymology is off, it can’t possibly be a bad thing to ask yourself when you express an opinion or express a Belief as Fact:

Am I Be-Loving in this Belief?

And so now with a more gracious heart, I can say (now that I’m less emotional), that I don’t assume you, Mr. and/or Mrs. SUV hold the particular beliefs I accused you of at the beginning of this post. I know full well that not all Christians feel this way, just as I know that not all political conservatives do either. I don’t know you, I don’t know your story, and so I can’t be Certain of anything about you. I choose today to believe that you too strive to Be-Love.

Shape of shade and shadow

This is one poem in a series from the “Write to Recover” group I facilitate. I put them together from phrases that resonate with me while participants read. I add nothing but punctuation and the occasional conjunction. This one is comprised of the words of four participants who were writing on the prompt, “A fellow traveler…”

(Note: This particular poem is a first. This is exactly how I wrote it down during the session. I haven’t rearranged the lines or added a thing.)


To be in conflict with self is a horror

I want to be the conqueror

Not be controlled by the mess

Unloveable because of my stuff?

I am an aware person

Allow myself space

Under the sky and crows

Sharing presence

Alive face

Intensity and thought

Evil self, have his way

But I did not follow him

To be alone and to be with God

Showing and glowing with love

Fluid and rigid

Molding me into this Unbeing

Not be in fear of the loud bully

Beside the love that wants to blossom

The No-thing of being

Shape of shade and shadow

I will survive and remove his presence

The struggle is tiring

God and friends to help me

A is for Anger

The Authentic Voice Project: Week 1

voice quest wordleAUTHENTIC VOICE

As we are beginning with A, I will take a moment to define Authentic Voice as I understand it.

I believe we all have an Authentic Voice. It is the one that comes to us from various sources:

  • intuitive insights
  • dreams
  • emotion-body reactions (such as butterflies in the stomach, the tight chest of anxiety or anger, the sore throat of suppressed tears, etc.)
  • expressive writing (“I didn’t know I was going to write that!” or “where did that come from?!”), and other artistic expressions
  • gut reactions and “Freudian slips”

It is the voice that many of us suppress in the name of “reason” or convention. It is a voice many of us don’t even know – on a conscious level – that we process. It is that voice that, as Carol Gilligan records in her book, In a Different Voice, caused a female student to stop short when she heard herself say, “If I were to speak for myself…” Deep down we do know we have this voice and the suppression of it causes pain. It triggers emotional reactions in us we may not completely understand. It is the wisdom of our body, of our unconscious, of the collective unconscious. And if we are to pursue our full potential as human beings we must access it because it holds the balance of the truth of who we are.

And now onto the first word of our project…


Society says: Anger is dangerous. Anger is violent. Anger should be suppressed. Anger is particularly unseemly for women. Anger is an unhealthy emotion. A “nice” person doesn’t get angry. Anger is not productive.

I say: Anger is a flag on the field, a check engine light, a high temperature indicating an infection. Anger is an emotion, which like all emotions, is a message. And like all emotions, we must heed it. Notice it. Acknowledge it. Listen to it. When and why did it get triggered? Where in the body is it manifesting? And how? Is it a pressure, a pain, a tingling?

Many times anger is the only emotion we can notice or it is the go-to one when the grief, hurt, pain, disappointment, rejection, sadness, frustration, loneliness, powerlessness, anxiety or fear is too uncomfortable. But then the guilt kicks in because we are not supposed to be angry. It’s not socially acceptable. Well, it hurts and pushes other people away. In fact, sometimes we use to push them away. Use it as our barrier… and then wonder why we are so lonely and sad.

BUT, anger can be useful if we take as an invitation to dig deeper into our unconscious to find our true, unexpressed feelings. All our feelings are legitimate. It is how we choose to use them that makes the difference. Anger expressed in rage, manipulation, violence, suppression, or physical or emotional attacks on others is merely a way of pushing our discomfort onto others, hoping it will relieve us. But by taking our anger and working with it – using it as an positive energy – we can use it to take action in our lives. As Sue Monk Kidd did, take your rage and turn it to outrage — use it as a call to action and a chance to usher in change.

Anger: Just a message.

Prompt: “I am angry about…”

It is nothing but the first

This is one poem in a series from the “Write to Recover” group I facilitate. I put them together from phrases that resonate with me while participants read. I add nothing but punctuation and the occasional conjunction. This one is comprised of the words of three participants who were writing on the prompt, “A gift…”


First sun —

Primal shine of first —

Floating in a pink paradise,

It will always be the same sky.


Trapped in my own mind,

Silence covers everything.

I push back, rush forward;

Expecting mind be gone!

I am fearsome!

(Not fear-more or fear-less.)


Nuggets of joy, nuggets of time,

It is nothing but the first.

Gaslighting, not just for women anymore

lamplight-6That’s not what you saw! That’s not what you heard! That is not what I said!

Sound familiar, America?

Yes, we residents of the United States are being subjected to what is known in the psychological world as gaslighting.

Gaslighting is a form of manipulation through persistent denial, misdirection, contradiction, and lying in an attempt to destabilize and delegitimize a target. Its intent is to sow seeds of doubt in the targets, hoping to make them question their own memory, perception, and sanity. Instances may range from the denial by an abuser that previous abusive incidents ever occurred up to the staging of bizarre events by the abuser with the intention of disorienting the victim. (Wikipedia)

You don’t mean that!

That’s not what happened! You’re delusional.

You’re over-reacting (Why so angry? Raging woman! Shrill. Screaming. Over-emotional, hysterical…)

I’m going to go out on a not-so-long limb to say that every woman has heard statements similar to these to some degree or other. It is the dismissal and undermining of our own experiences, emotions, and intuition. Quoting Carolyn Heilbrun in Writing a Woman’s Life, I wrote in my graduate thesis:

Women haven’t traditionally been allowed anger, ambition, or authority and that they are denounced for shrillness or inappropriateness, which denies them power and their place in “whatever discourse is essential to action.”

Even our education, our learned and personal knowledge, can be explained away by what has been come to be known as “mansplaining.”

Mansplaining describes the phenomenon of someone (usually a man, but not always) behaving as though he has superior knowledge to someone else (often a woman) who actually knows more about the topic in question than he does.  (flavorwire.com)

In a Psychology Today article, we read:

Gaslighting can take many forms but it is a twisting of reality that turns a person into a true victim. It’s about second guessing yourself or getting so far from reality that you don’t guess it at all, you just accept someone else’s interpretation of reality.  […]

Gaslighting causes you to think that up is down and down is up. Gaslighting is sowing very real seeds of doubt in your ability to believe in you and what you are experiencing. Gaslighting takes away your ability to think rationally and critically in almost every situation.

Congratulations! We are all now experiencing what women have dealt with for far too long. Sad!

He-who-shall-not-be-named is attempting to gaslight us all. While he constantly changes his mind, his opinions, his version of events, he expects his Followers (and the rest of us) to go along with it. Urging us to deny facts and even our own eyes and ears, he wants us to blindly accept his Truth of the Moment.

He believes his authority, his rules of how the world work, which can change from minute to minute, are to be followed with no questions asked. Unfortunately, many are happily trotting along, wagging their tails as their “master” tells them what to do.

And to continue that analogy, it is well known that loyal dogs will continue to love a master even when beaten, even waiting to be hit, thinking it is love.

It is a form of abuse!

Again from Psychology Today:

Gaslighting is now recognized as psychological abuse whereby a perpetrator manipulates a victim into doubting his or her own sanity or reality.

It is an experience that happens to many who are involved with very dysfunctional or personality disordered people. The perpetrators are most likely sociopaths or narcissists.

Our President-Elect is attempting to manipulate — to abuse — an entire population.

We are being asked to not know what we know!

(And I am also very aware that the dismissal of his sexual assaults is all part and parcel of this manipulative, disrespectful, contemptuous, self-serving behavior.)

Those of us who choose to believe our eyes and ears are gob-smacked, often lacking words to explain the upside-down, bizarro world we have entered wherein we are being asked to dismiss what is clearly before us.

In my graduate thesis, I wrote on this very topic — the dismissal of our experiences — that of women and men — to be replaced by the “rules” of so-called Authorities. Patriarchal systems, including organized religion,

… can be merely a system of rules: a code to live and believe by handed down by an external “authority” who answers all questions for its followers… even taught [brain-washed? Think Fox News, etc.] to believe that they need to be told all the answers.

He-who-shall-not-be-named believes he can Speak and It Shall Be So. Like those who rely on a,

religious text(s) of choice, it sets in place a hierarchy, a pyramid of those who have an “exclusive line to the Word… [and] an exclusive right to interpret that Word…” (quoting Eisler).


It’s not going to work! While we listen to the Words — the lies — spewing from his mouth, we are also watching the videos, listening to the audio files, reading the tweets, reports, emails, news reports.

We’re not buying it! We are smarter than that. We don’t need an outside Authority to tell us what we know. We don’t put any faith in His Words. We don’t need to believe in fantasies just because he is our new leader.

Unfortunately, like the generations of women who have been denied anger or the acceptance of their own experiences and emotions, we are being told we are “whiners,” “cry babies,” “snowflakes” for our out-cry. In response to the election of a new leader whose vitriol incites violence against “The Other,” whose sexism undermines half the population, whose cronyism could dismantle the structures which are helping to ensure the rights and well-being of many, whose thin-skin and narcissism could lead us into war, our outrage is mocked and demeaned.

But we will continue to stand in our truth, the truth we see and hear and know.

An entire country cannot be gaslighted. We know the flickering gaslights are just caused by an ill man looking for something he will never find in his golden “attic.”