Sunday started warm, and, as we wanted to go for a walk, we set out early. Even so, as we ventured onto the road, the sun made no bones about how hot she was. To stay as cool as we could, we stuck to the shady side of the streets. We met fellow walkers, runners, and cyclists on our route and when we were about half way we came across James.
James (not his real name) is an artist. Educated, intellectual and homeless. Once a fine art lecturer, he now lives on a pavement between two restaurants and survives on the goodwill of individuals he had befriended and the church. We had met him drawing at a local creative art space.
He doesn’t look like your typical homeless person. He always shows up clean, he wears washed, albeit well worn, clothes, and carries his drawing equipment in a faded backpack.
On this morning he was walking down the road we were walking up. We waved to him and called a greeting. He loped over to us. We asked how he was doing.
“Um, okay,” he replied, “Still homeless. Just got some food from someone who helps me regularly.” He waved a white polystyrene container in his hand.
“You still doing your drawing?” asked Matthew.
“Yup, working on labyrinths. Got all my stuff here,” he said and patted his backpack.
Trying to have a conversation
The conversation turned into a monologue about post modernism and the failing of the democratic state. James bemoaned the lack of support for “real” art and how communities had stopped supporting each other. All of which was to blame for him being homeless. He was talking rationally, if passionately, was hyper intellectualised and very idealistic in his view.
We invited him to join us as we walked. Trying to dialogue, rather than be at the mercy of a lecture, we attempted to provide some alternative perspectives and a reframe on his view, but he was having none of it.
“Yes, but….Yes, but…..Yes, but….”.
“It is hard to have a conversation with you when you persist in answering with a “Yes, but”,“ remarked Matthew.
“Yes, but - “ he responded.
“You have just done it again,” replied Matthew.
Reflections offer an ideal place to begin a journey of change.
Caught in a maze
James walked with us for a block and a half before we amicably parted ways. At no point, despite our gentle encouragement, would he make any concessions in his thinking. He was firmly aligned with his victim status and fully embraced his rightness.
As we walked up the hill we reflected on James’s stuckness. Sadly, he was never going to get out of his predicament with his current mindset. He was full of blame, and rigid in his view that society, the community and the country had to change first before he could get out of his predicament. He believed he was helpless in the face of this dispassionate and cruel world. He believed he could do nothing to change his situation.
“It is not surprising that he draws labyrinths,” noted Chantal.
James had not noticed how much support he actually got from the community but there is only so much a person can do. If James is going to change his circumstances he will need to become more aware of where he is, accept whatever part he had to play in getting there and then take some action, however small, to do things differently.
We felt a wistful compassion for him and wondered if anything we had said had made any difference to his morning at all. He had certainly made an impact on ours.
Connecting with nature is a wonderful way to nourish yourself
On the other side of the spectrum from James is a young teenage girl from an extremely difficult environment who has battled with depression, despair and anxiety. She came on the Vibarealm Super Power Programme. Last week she went to thank the head of the foundation for offering the programme to the learners. She said she had learnt so much from it and that she was in a much better place emotionally. She had stopped engaging in self harm and cutting herself*. The skin she had taken a blade to was now healed. There were no new lines. The maze was fading.
She has very little control over the environment within which she lives but she chose to make some changes to herself. She chose to show up after class, to learn skills to support her emotional and mental health. She became unstuck.
Luckily her thought process had not yet become cemented by her trauma and difficulties. She was still open enough to explore something different. Her hurts had not yet closed her down.
Hat’s off to Robyn our big hearted head of the Ikusasa Lethu Foundation who had the vision to see, understand and implement our emotional fitness offerings for youth
A necessity, not a nice to have
The feedback confirmed our belief that it is vital to expose young people to alternative ways of being and provide them with an armoury of tools to turn to when times get tough. And times can get very tough for some.
In the absence of enough time, sufficient resources and enough qualified professionals we offer young people a way to build inner strength and resilience, or as we like to call it, emotional fitness.
Unlike James who has become stuck in his own maze, teenagers can still build the capacity to find their way out of their difficult circumstances or build strength to navigate a challenging world.
Whether from a resourced background or an under-resourced environment, having the skills to develop relationships, build grit, manage emotions and filter out the negative narratives is, now more than ever, a necessity not a nice to have. Not everyone appreciates that, but those that do will be the change we wish for our world.
Until next time.
Yours in feeling,
Matthew & Chantal
* It is widely known that self-harm is considered a risk factor for suicide. Receiving feedback like this is a beautiful testament to the capacity building abilities and effectiveness of the Vibarealm Super Power Programme.
Hawton, Keith, Kate Ea Saunders, and Rory C O’Connor. “Self-Harm and Suicide in Adolescents.” The Lancet 379, no. 9834 (June 2012): 2373–82. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(12)60322-5.
About the author
5th Place is a dynamic organization that's passionate about emotional fitness. We're the creators of Shape of Emotion, a revolutionary tool that's changing the way we understand and manage our emotions. But we're not just about theory - we're about practical, tangible change.
We offer Emotional Fitness Classes and courses that help individuals, from children to adults, build emotional resilience and well-being. For our younger audience, we've created the Vibarealm, a vibrant universe that encourages a healthier interaction with emotions.
Join us on this journey to emotional fitness and let's make the world a better place together.