Tag Archives: Alzak Amlani

Critical Thinking and the Indian American Psyche

Q. I have recently been working as a teacher with students from different parts of Asia primarily India, Thailand, China and some other countries as well. I am struck by a few things that I find curious. Asian immigrant students in general are very respectful to me as a teacher and an elder in their community. It’s very easy get them to follow directions and finish assignments on time with a fair amount of thoroughness.

However, I struggle with engaging many of them into critical thinking and discussions. They seem to understand the information quite well, but do not bring in their own ideas and questions into this topic as readily. Sometimes they seems almost afraid of challenging the authority or saying something disrespectful. This is endearing in one way, but I believe limits their level of exploration of a topic and their own personal growth. I am not sure quite how to work with some of these challenges.

A.Understanding the familial and cultural roles that many of these children have grown up with is helpful. Deference and respect for an elder, especially a teacher, is deeply embedded in their psyche. Hierarchy and social organization are based on age, gender, social roles, knowledge and other qualities.

For a child to go against some of these expectations and norms is to challenge tradition and authority. Although limiting, there is a certain kind of security in the predictable roles people find themselves in.

Having the students do exercises where they explore their ideas and reactions in small groups or even on their own is helpful. Let them know they are not being graded for these inquiries and it’s only for their own curiosity to look at something in a personal and new way.

Setting up little conversations and even debates where students are asked to take different positions and argue them fosters self-exploration. They may need time to prepare for this. Making this fun and peer-oriented will facilitate more dialog. Bringing play into the experience helps them let go of the critic or performative aspect and focus on just learning and trying out new things.

I believe that curiosity and a desire to learn are intrinsic to human experiences. We delight in learning something new or being able to see things from different sides. Teaching in ways that fosters this kind of spirit will help open up these students. portant moments.

Alzak Amlani, Ph.D., is a counseling psychologist of Indian descent in the Bay Area. 650-325-8393. Visit www.wholenesstherapy.com

I Am Not the Compliant Person I Was

Q.Most of my life I have been a sensitive, softer, and more compliant person. Now in my late forties, as I deal with some very difficult blocks in my marriage, I find that I get angry and even fierce on occasion. This is surprising, scary, and liberating. Although I hate getting angry, it seems to cut through all the ambivalence and murkiness that I so often find myself stuck in. However, I am afraid of becoming mean or insensitive. As a woman, the idea of being powerful in this way also seems unacceptable in society. I don’t know quite how to negotiate these feelings.

A.As we move further into midlife we start to access qualities and aspects of us that seem like the opposite of how we were in our twenties or thirties. This is part of psychological maturation. It seems that your marital challenges are forcing a response of strength and clarity from you. Remaining ambivalent, weak or overly flexible has not worked. Intimate relationships are not only about closeness and harmony. They are also about seeing ourselves more truly, speaking our minds, and working things out with our partners. It is one of the few relationships where there we can truly be ourselves.

Have you heard the term “fierce compassion?” I think it arises out of Buddhism, where compassion includes clarity, saying no, being very strong, and cutting through falseness. There are feminine deities called Dakinis in Tibetan Buddhism. They embody qualities of compassion, fierceness and wisdom. This force has an intuitive aspect to it, cutting through intellectual jargon and memorization of principles. Many of us get mired in ways of thinking that keep us stuck in repetitive actions and ways of relating. This is when we need a sword that cuts through the dross and gets right to the heart of the matter.

This energy has a higher purpose and is not just about an individual self or personal needs. It’s making way for a deeper truth, principle or value. Although it comes through a person, it is also not only about the person, but the larger situation.

Forming a relationship with this part of you is very helpful in integrating this newer energy that you are describing. How do you feel when you are strong and clear? Take the posture of this woman, feel the energy, presence and what it is doing in your life. The more you can know about this part of you, the less afraid you’ll be and it will support you and others in important moments.

Alzak Amlani, Ph.D., is a counseling psychologist of Indian descent in the Bay Area. 650-325-8393. Visit www.wholenesstherapy.com

Feeling Overwhelmed by Work and Motherhood

Q. My husband has started traveling for work this year and we have two young children and I work part time. It seems my responsibilities have doubled and I often feel overwhelmed. Although I am competent at my tasks, I still worry that something will go wrong and things will fall apart. This causes me a lot of anxiety, which affects my sleep, ability to concentrate and enjoy time with my children as well as focus at work. Are there ways to deal with these pressures and feel more grounded and confident?

A. Sounds like you have a fair amount of insight into your struggles. Although you sound competent in your various responsibilities, it’s a lot to hold together by yourself, when your husband is away. Is there a way you can increase support, especially while he is away? Of course, other adult family members in the area would be ideal.

There are various ways to feel more centered and less frazzled. Having a simple meditation practice is very helpful. Create a quiet space in your room where you can sit, especially in the mornings for a 15–30 minutes. You can simply start by noticing your breath or repeating a word that is calming for you, such as peace, spacious, or aware.

Walking or sitting in nature is a powerful way of nurturing yourself and feeling connected to the environment. Find a tree, pond or mountain that you are drawn to and focus on it while you notice its effect on your body sensations. Do you notice changes in breathing, tingling, warmth, coolness, tension or relaxation? After a few days of such a practice, you will have more access to an awareness that is less anxious and more grounded.

Feeling overwhelmed has to do with the tasks in front of us. The mind creates an image that is often negative. Then resistance, fear and feelings of being overwhelmed follow. By examining our experiences closely, it is possible to break the familiar mental patterning to make room for new experiences.

Bringing curiosity and awareness to what we are feeling itself has a freeing quality to our feelings. We identify a lot less with our worries and more with our capabilities. This is more expansive and present and less based on the past. Again, notice what’s happening in your body as you perform these inquiries. As your mind changes, you feel more grounded, which will allow more energy to flow within you.

Alzak Amlani, Ph.D., is a counseling psychologist of Indian descent in the Bay Area. 650-325-8393. Visit www.wholenesstherapy.com

Reacting Strongly to Professional Criticism

Q. I am a graduate student. I have a mentor who guides me on my discipline. Recently one of my professors, who is also my advisor at school, contacted me to offer feedback. I was immediately terrified that I was in trouble and wouldn’t graduate. He didn’t specify the feedback, except that my mentor had evaluated me with lower scores than normal and wanted to discuss it. When I met my adviser, I felt like a little girl called into the principal’s office. I became defensive and started saying negative things about my mentor to my professor and blaming her for my challenges and why we weren’t a good match. Then I started tearing up. Fortunately, at that point, the professor reassured me that I was on track to graduate. He didn’t give me any more feedback at this time because I was so self-critical. I felt ashamed of being so sensitive, but also relieved that I didn’t have to sit through more of that scary meeting. I am very committed to learning and want to find a way to be more courageous and open to guidance, but don’t know quite how to do that.

A. It’s clear that you were affected by this experience. It is normal to feel apprehensive when being evaluated. There is clearly a power difference here. Professors and mentors do grade us, which determines our professional future. However, receiving feedback is invaluable at key junctures in our professional development. As a woman you may feel more vulnerable with a male professor calling you into his office. I am glad your professor paid attention to your feelings and gave you space rather than more feedback at a bad time.

You also want to look at your previous experiences of getting feedback, especially as a girl at home with your parents, particularly your father or other older male figures and teachers. Were you shamed and criticized? Did you receive negative consequences as a younger student or in your home that felt scary? How do you feel about other people having authority and power over you? This exploration will help flesh out some of your personal history that relates to your high reactivity.

In future finding the courage to tell your professor that you feel vulnerable and scared about this meeting could be very helpful. You could also ask for reassurance from the beginning that you’re not in trouble and will still graduate.

It is often the case that beneath the apparent self-confidence, many students are often quite fragile and self-protective. Both students and teachers need to learn non-defensive communication skills and create an enriching relationship.

Alzak Amlani, Ph.D., is a counseling psychologist of Indian descent in the Bay Area. 650-325-8393. Visit www.wholenesstherapy.com

My Father Has Become Emotional

Q. In the last five years or so, I have noticed my father becoming more quiet, gentle and emotionally open. He is now in his mid sixties. When we were younger and he was in his thirties and forties, he was very stern, angry and intolerant. Now, when we have family gatherings he tears up easily and feels the loss when my brother and sister leave to go to their homes. It seems he is not able to hide his deeper feelings. I don’t know quite how to respond to him and wonder if he is all right. Can I get him to talk about his feelings and the changes he might be going through?

A. Besides aging, I am wondering what your father has experienced that has changed him? Usually there is some loss such as illness, financial crisis, forced migration, death or issues in the marriage that lead a man to soften up that much. Most of it sounds healthy and a good shift for him and those around him. As men mature and reflect on life and their personalities, they get more in touch with their feminine side. This is the inner life, feeling vulnerable and empathetic. This is a natural process and not all men are lucky enough to grow in this way. Grief can often be the first gateway in. I have noticed that men who are philosophically oriented or do some sort of spiritual practice such as meditation, change in these ways.

Start by appreciating these qualities in your father. Let him see that you notice them and enjoy his warmer and nurturing sides now. What do you know about the challenges in his life, especially more recently? Is there a way to bring those up?

Some of the signs of depression include: withdrawal; excessive sadness; lack of motivation and pleasure in life; changes in appetite and sleep; indecisiveness and overall low mood on most days. To have certain days like this is not necessarily a concern and can actually be a part of a deepening into one’s inner self and the more difficult aspects of life. Pretending to always be strong and joyful doesn’t work as well at this stage and need not be a strategy anymore. However to live a life with these symptoms is not necessary and shows that he is stuck.

There are two books that really address how grief and sorrow can help transform us: Care of the Soul by Thomas Moore and Entering the Healing Ground: Grief Ritual and the Soul of the World by Francis Weller. These books can help a person embrace the natural challenges that life brings and offer perspectives and practices that help integrate these inner openings, especially later in life.

Alzak Amlani, Ph.D., is a counseling psychologist of Indian descent in the Bay Area. 650-325-8393. Visit www.wholenesstherapy.com

Multiple Personas, One Person

Q. At times I experience myself as a child or have dreams of myself as a child. I have also noticed that I have a range of different “personalities” or reactions in me.

A. There is a very tough part of me and there is a vulnerable me. There is a part of me that is very athletic and another part that is more passive and loves to just sleep on the couch. I can be funny in some situations and very serious in others.

At times I don’t know “who” will speak or show up. I don’t know how to deal with all of these ways of being and knowing who I really am.

Psychologists have recognized this phenomenon that you are describing quite well for decades. Certain translators of the Bhagavad Gita have suggested that the different characters in the story are various aspects of each one of us. We are indeed complex and contradictory beings, struggling to know who we really are.

The truth is we are not simply one part. We are indeed the sum of many parts, which at times can feel fragmented and at other times connected and cohesive.

Your awareness about how you are in different situations and at different times is valuable.

First start by creating an inner space to allow these different parts to be seen. You can do this by bringing awareness to each of your parts/sides/personas. As you delve into each one, you will discover yourself in these parts more fully.

Some of the themes and memories will be new, pleasant and interesting and others will be painful, confusing and difficult to accept. To be a whole person means incorporating the full range of ourselves, not only what we like or is societally acceptable. As you get to know these parts more fully, you’ll see how they each have their place and purpose in your life. They also transform as you keep working with them over time.

Some people enjoy having these personas converse with each other. They realize that they are actually in a relationship with each other and form a kind of constellation of sub-parts. For example the lazy part might be in reaction to the driving, critical part. The critical part could be a negative inner parent and the vulnerable child in reaction to the inner parent. Thus, there is a kind of story worth discovering and telling.

This practice of making all of us conscious helps develop a fuller and more aware person, who can also start to make choices and direct these different parts to interact in a healthier and more synergistic way.

Alzak Amlani, Ph.D., is a counseling psychologist of Indian descent in the Bay Area. 650-325-8393. Visit www.wholenesstherapy.com

Feeling Lost Without Children

Q.  I am a male in my mid-forties. I have a decent career and an OK marriage. For various reasons my wife and I never had children and that opportunity is essentially over. We have not gotten closer, but there isn’t a good reason for us to separate. Most people my age are very busy raising their kids. I feel a bit like a misfit and even lost since I don’t have many family responsibilities. I work a lot but can’t seem to reach the next level of success in my career. How do I create a more satisfying life for myself?

A. If you’ve decided that having children is not an option anymore, you’ll need to deal with that reality. Life is indeed different without the presence of children. Although you have a lot more time and freedom, you may also feel lonely and isolated. Do you have natural inclinations towards parenting? Being with young children or teenagers where you can participate in their lives in a meaningful way can fulfill some of those needs. There are many ways of doing this: nieces and nephews; volunteering in a school or an organization that need elders to mentor children; becoming a “big brother;” teaching a class or becoming a tutor. This can be done in the evenings or weekends. You can make a significant difference in a young person’s life and children are hungry for nurturing and stimulating contact with other adults.

Is working a lot a form of escape from some of the emptiness you feel? It’s hard to be creative in your career, unless you’re motivated by an interest deeper than staying busy.

Moving towards fifty, is am important life-stage. Underneath some of your angst are these answers to these questions: What have I done with my life? What legacy will I leave behind? What is most meaningful to me? These are not easy questions to consider, nevertheless they can lead you to getting clearer about what you want from the next decade.

Try creating a fuller life where more of yourself is engaged. Here are some options: Pick up a sport or activity where you are moving your body. There are so many benefits to recreation and exercise from a healthy heart and brain, to creativity, to a sense of optimism and well being. Life-long learning by taking a class on a subject or activity that you are curious about is stimulating, helps build friendships and supports brain development. Doing art, gardening or cooking is great for men, as it engages the right-hemisphere of the brain and gets us in touch with life more intimately.

Alzak Amlani, Ph.D., is a counseling psychologist of Indian descent in the Bay Area. 650-325-8393. Visit www.wholenesstherapy.com