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The Internal Landscaper


adventures in mental topiary
by Bob King

Internal Landscaping: The internal landscape is a concept that you will find mentioned in a lot of places around the web. It's also dealt with in some therapeutic contexts, either as a therapeutic tool or as a dangerous "retreat from reality."

What the internal landscape "really" is provokes heated debate; some people consider it a delusion, some people consider it a product of imagination, others consider it a symbolic representation of internal structure.

For our purposes, it's not terribly useful to consider it a dangerous delusion. Since if it is, there's no point in learning how to be deluded more effectively - well, unless it's a USEFUL delusion.

From the viewpoint of working with it, our experience has been that the most useful way of looking at it is as a symbolic representation of internal structure. It seems to be best suited to the way our minds work -- to think of things in physical terms, to represent unconscious thoughts and intentions in ways that are generally associated with practical things in the external reality we are used to.

In other words, if I want to talk to someone, inside, I might pick up the phone and talk to them, or I might walk over to their house. If I want to share a memory with them, I might hand them a photo, a book or a diary.

What is happening - I presume - is the opening of neural pathways between areas that were isolated before. Certainly, the results are what you would expect from that; better communication, better ability to co-ordinate, better function.

1: How

Well, that's the easy part. You just make stuff up. But you may find that it's difficult to simply make things appear. You may have to build them, or you may have to look around and find them, or you may have to put on your magic hat and wave a magic wand for things to appear. Everybody's mind works in different ways. And some ideas and symbols will come into being more easily and naturally than others. Some things, you will realize, will have to be based on things you have to do first.

While I can't exactly say what those might be, I can give some illustrations. If you want to use telephones for communication, you need to string wires, or send up satellites. If you want food, you need kitchens to cook it, or fast food outlets or something. If you want communities, you may need to literally build them. What needs to be built and what seems to just appear probably indicates areas that need to be worked on as opposed to things that exist and just need an appropriate symbol. The interesting thing is that it is possible to change things by doing something as irrelevant-seeming as stringing imaginary phone cords.

2: Who (are we)

This is the harder part. Once you have a context to be in, there's the question of who you be. This takes some thought, for some folks, because they are mostly sure of who they aren't, or have an identity that's centered around just one thing; trauma or ability. Which works fine in a more restricted context, but in a brave new landscape where they have to interact, talk, converse and use the stretches of time between doing whatever it is they do, there's some exploration and growth needed.

We refer to this process as individuation. Before you can figure out where you fit and what your role in a collective is, or can be, you have to know and adequately define for others who you are and what you do. This process can be difficult and it can be painful, it's often exciting and it sure requires a lot of intense concentration. But since it is a process undertaken by each individual, it doesn't have to take up the whole attention of the collective.

In other words, nobody has to "wait their turn," everyone can get started.

Progress will be affected by things like system resources, of course. This is an energy-intensive process; you will need lots of it in all forms. Meditation, food, prayer, running, social activities, alone time in a forest, fasting on a mountaintop, writing, reading - all these things may provide the energies you need for a particular task/person. Don't be surprised by odd desires, needs, and cravings; within the bounds of reason and prudence, indulge them.

One thing that most people find very difficult in this process is that people in theinner world often have rather different views, needs and desires. Their morals may vary; they may have entirely different belief systems and values. They may seem to be either dark and dangerous or entirely too "nice." You will also likely find that people seem to be noticeable, at first, by one or perhaps two defining characteristics; not exactly well-rounded. In some cases, that's how they may remain, either because it's their nature to be just that, or because they've chosen to emphasize certain aspects and specialize in them. In other cases, they will tend to round out more, becoming more flexible and adaptive. Part of this dynamic of individuation is to find out what needs doing, what IS being done, and how to make it easier for each person to do what it is they do best.

Very often you will find that the way things have been getting done is through manipulation and coercion. There may be one or two people that function as co-ordinators and rule-keepers, who boss everyone around, or it may be that there are two or three such, perhaps working in uneasy co-operation, but in competition for resources.

Getting some kind of co-ordination going here is one key. The other key is finding out what resources are needed and obtaining them. This may mean re-evaluating some hard-held views as to what is proper and appropriate.

Very often, when there are disturbing behaviours going on, they occur for a reason. Now, these reasons may well be trauma-based, but they very often have some sort of symbolic value. It's usually not a good idea to try and get people to stop doing things unless there's an immediate safety issue, not until the system has a better handle on why those things are done, who has the needs, and what the goals are.

Most systems have a good number of people who deal with various "unspoken" issues; sexual needs and hungers, for example. They are often associated with various unconscious urges. They are also very often protector entities, guarding and providing for the system on a very essential level. Or at least, they are capable of doing so. When the system isn't being protected properly, it's often due to isolation, misinformation and misperceptions, or disagreement on goals and priorities. It usually is not because of any malevolent intent.

Usually. It's quite possible for there to be, quote evil alters unquote. They are people, after all, and we all have choices to make. Sometimes people make ultimately bad choices. However, it's far more likely for people to confuse "unpleasant" with "evil."

Truly evil people are usually far more charismatic; it allows them a far greater scope of effect. On the other hand, every society needs a certain number of nasty mean paranoid sonsobitches who are more than willing to draw a line in the sand with a bayonet. These people are the enforcers of boundaries, amoung other things, those who keep us "nice folks" safe, and it's a vital thing to do.

One does not want a "kinder, gentler" force of Recon Marines, one does not particularly desire cute or non-threatening attack helicoptors or innocuous, inviting perimeter walls that simply invite people to stroll past. It means that enforcing the boundaries causes far more hurt than is necessary - people don't always respect boundaries they don't see as such, and resent it when you try.

There is a place for barbed wire, broken glass and slavering werewolves running free between the perimeter fences. It is courteous to place notices that an area is patrolled by dragons, and that trespassers may be eaten.

3. What?

The creation of things in the internal landscape and the process of discovery of things there can be seen as means to manipulate symbols, relate those symbols together and create results.

Highways, towns, marketplaces, libraries, watchtowers, caverns and warrens, cybernetic sidekicks, telephone, telegraph or other communication devices... all these things help with increased functionality, co-conciousness and communication.

What exactly will be needed depends a great deal on how many persons there are in a collective. A small collective needs a house and a yard, perhaps, with a living room to get together and talk about things.

A larger one may require an entire city, or even many cities. Nor is there any requirement for modest accomodations. Since this is the product of fantasy and imagination, if you are unable to imagine that you deserve good, functional things, that should indicate an issue that needs work right there.

That is one great utility of the process; finding out what does and what does not belong, or "fit" in your reality. If it were merely a process of fantasy, anything might be possible. In practice, what we are able to imagine says quite a bit about us, in fact, it's pretty definitive. Even more indicative are the things that come easily and naturally.

If you are capable of doing something easily and naturally inside and it's difficult or impossible outside - and we aren't talking about throwing fireballs or flying bicycles - that's also something that probably needs attention.

It's important to realize something. Your internal reality is you. This is the last place to practice any form of self-censorship, it's also the last place to try and realize things that simply are not you. And while things that definitely cannot work, won't, it's certainly possible to impose limitations on yourself, or direct resources in directions that will ultimately be fruitless.

But even though your inner reality is created by a process of imagination, there's no particular reason to worry if it "conforms" to anyone else's view of what it should be. Nor should you be embarrassed to find that there are existing parts of your landscape, as you look inside, that are ripped wholesale from childhood imaginings, adolecent readings and favorite, ongoing fantasies.

Granted, it may seem odd to have animated cartoons interacting with Tolkein elves, but these things tend to sort themselves out, very often in interesting ways. And whatever makes sense to you all is the right way to do it.

4. How long?

Well, it can take a while to get these things in order, but there's no reason why you have to drop everything else to do it. One good way to do all of this is to journal them; have everyone report what they find and what they do. If you-all can make a story out of it, so much the better. If you have any artistic talent, creating images of each person helps too. It's all highly individualistic, by definition, and there is no right way or wrong way.

This creative process will definitely encourage co-conciousness and internal communication.

Encouraging co-conciousness and internal communication mostly seems to need: the idea; a reason to do it that makes both internal and external sense, to those concerned; and practice. It's best to practice anything in a way that's interesting and it shouldn't be something that occurs only during a twice-monthly visit to a therapist.

This process will tend to show you where the "problem areas" are, what your strengths are, who are the persons in there most qualified to deal with varying issues, etc. Once you have this basic information, it should be a great deal easier to have really productive sessions with a good therapist. Remember, no matter how often you go to a therapist, it's only an hour at a time. You don't want to waste that time; ideally, you should be going straight to an issue and tackling it as effectively as possible. So you need to bring as much information to the table as you can.

Concurrently, you need to have a therapist that will accept your information for what it is and not try and tell you what it all Really Means. If you find that happening - where there seems to be an imposition of views on you that doesn't seem to fit what yous are saying at all - well, it's time to find a therapist who can listen to you.

Remember, therapists are human, they have their own views, and they do tend to specialize. A therapist who is good at some things may not be good with your things. And as your needs change, you may need to change therapists as well.

During this process, you may well find one or more of you borrowing techniques and approaches and starting to apply them internally. If that works, well and good; just remember that in such a case, it's even more important to have a trusted reality check, someone with solid professional qualifications and experience.

Even if you happen to have such a degree yourself.

But given a solid starting point, a safe context in which to work and someone trustworthy to discuss the issues with; it's possible to achieve good internal communications and a useful degree of co-consciousness within six to eight months.

Depending on exactly what you mean by "a useful degree of co-consciousness", really useful improvements in function can start appearing almost immediately.

All of this obviously requires good to ideal internal co-operation. Realistically, that won't occur without some trust and some external reality-checking.

This is one of the places where a therapist, councillor or spiritual advisor is extremely useful. Not so much in their primary capacity, but as a trained listener who is willing and able to ask good, hard questions. A trained diplomat or arbitrator would work as well. Initially, the crisis issues are almost always ones of trust and communication. Family therapists have managed good things at this stage; it's the exact sort of situation they are trained to handle.

Once a foundation for communication and co-consciousness is established, though, the initial stages can proceed with startling rapidity. This is because each person will bring a large chunk of expertise to the table, and simply putting all of this insight and capability together into any sort of co-ordinated effort will have remarkable results.

But that's the good news. The hard part starts here.

As each person becomes more and more comfortable with the collective, issues will start coming up. As they become more and more focused on working together, areas of dysfunction that were masked by the chaos of emergent multiplicity will start coming up.

This is where more traditional therapeutic approaches start having real value. For the most part, these issues will be the issues of a few or just one person. And for the most part, they can be treated as such - although the approaches used in family therapy are quite useful as well.

The issue of areas of dysfunction is a trickier one, because this part will fly into the face of most currently-accepted theraputic models.

The way multis often handle such things is to create new people who can handle a needed task. Fewer is not necessarily better.

Whether this happens or not depends on a lot of factors. First, of course, whether it requires a person. If it's an "infrastructure" issue, internal landscaping will take care of it.

Likewise, if it's an extension of what someone is already doing, it's likely that person will expand their function.

Usually, it's a response to an entirely new situation or task. This is, generally, how "task-oriented" persons come to be.

But there are a number of things to watch out for. First, to make sure there is some conscious input into their role and personality, if they are ever to come to "front."

One common issue is that inside and outside don't always see eye to eye on priorities and "frontrunners" are often left out of the loop on matters that affect them.

Second, that the person is created with basic communication skills and the ability to expand their function.

Third, it's most useful if anyone is created to handle outside functions that their body-image doesn't clash horribly with the body. There's no sense creating more problems of that sort.

Bob King


BASED ENTIRELY ON PERSONAL EXPERIENCE no clinical experience is claimed.

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