It has been a few weeks since writing. It wasn't my intention to take this break, it just happened: the inevitable consequence of finding myself squeezed and stretched by life 'happening'; a combination of things across personal and professional. Helping my parents move from their flat, the end of the academic year, the marking of assignments. Something had to give.
I can't say it was a completely conscious decision to leave off the writing and take some space. At times, the realisation it had been "another day" that I hadn't made the time to sit at my Mac popped in to my head; and I might have loosely promised myself "later maybe?". But to be honest, I didn't have the energy to make it a big deal. The main thing on my mind was getting through May. In the last week of the teaching term I felt was barely present. It had to be "one day at a time", as to look up and ahead felt too much.
It is perhaps no coincidence that my colleague Dwight and I decided to add a session on "self-care" in to the teaching programme on a module we teach. We had recognised a week beforehand how low the energy was in the group of trainee counsellors before us; and we too were feeling it had been a long year. Dwight handed out a questionnaire to the class; I took one look and thought "I can't do this now". Another way that I knew I had to pull in, to not expand excess energy.
What I am writing might not paint a very positive picture, but its actually the converse. Whenever a client of mine is talking about the big stressors of life (moving, relationship break-ups, bereavement etc), there is a inevitability about it being a big deal; that it IS stressful, and to be anxious and / or run down is the NORMAL response to these events. The positive note in my current experience is that I haven't added to my load - and that is breaking a very long-held patterning of mine. Even on the meditation cushion I have been "not meditating" and instead, simply sitting and being - no striving, no effort. When squeezed we need to find all the space to breathe that we can.
It has also been a reminder how tight the mind - body system is: the physical experience of anxiety, and the mental experience of my fatigue. The body-mind were constantly reminding me to live small, take small steps and conserve what energy I could.
I made it through May. My parents are moved, my marking is done...and now my attention can turn to the rejuvenation that summer always promises. I have a week's holiday and then a week on retreat. So this time, I can - with consciousness - announce a break from this blog.
See you in a few weeks!
When I go out on my bike at the weekends, I often take a podcast for company. I have a few podcasts of which I am a regular listener - and one is Dan Harris’ “10% happier”. This week he interviewed Brene Brown: a researcher in vulnerability, authenticity and shame who came to public awareness with her TED talk that first aired in 2010. Since then, the 20 minute talk has amassed over 40 million viewers. I watched the talk about 5 years ago and then read a couple of her books - “Daring Greatly” and “Braving the wilderness”. I especially enjoyed the latter given its focus on the quest for belonging and how significant that aspect of human being-ness (with its flip side loneliness) has been to me on my life journey to date. On listening to this interview and hearing Brene had a new show on Netflix I suggested to my partner that we take a look over the bank holiday weekend.
Even if I hadn’t heard this interview with Dan Harris or if I hadn’t been exposed to Brene’s previous work I probably would have been curious enough to watch the Netflix special when I next logged in for my regular Netflix ‘fix’. The title of the special “The call to courage” invokes another of my personal path processes - in Paul Tilich’s words “the courage to be”. I’ve shared with you previously on this blog that much of my personal journey has been learning to listen to my experience of anxiety and develop an alternative relationship with it. To hear how it helps direct me towards needs for connection and invites courage to be my Self - when alone and with others. In some ways, courage IS my path. Rather than rid myself of anxiety by nailing down as much certainty as I can, it is to open to the fear…courageously.
You can watch Brene Brown’s special for yourselves, so I don’t feel I need to provide another review or account of it here for you. Instead, I wish to simply share a few of the highlights for me; things that made my partner and I take stock and relate to our own lives.
As I walked to the train station the other day after work, I was passed by a man on a bike towing a small girl. It was one of those arched tow bars that allows the child to pedal away on hers and therefore contribute to the forward movement of the bikes...if so inclined...this young girl was not. As the man on front (I presume her father) pedalled hard she had her feet off the pedals, swinging her arms. Happy to follow, happy to let her Dad propel. I had a little chuckle based on my own experience of riding a tandem bike but also because it struck a chord with a dynamic in therapy work, one that had come up in discussion just that afternoon in a supervision session I had just facilated.
This group of supervisees have recently qualified as counsellors and are building up their private practice and work in the voluntary sector. We were reflecting on client groups that felt easeful versus those that represent more of a challenge; each had their own experience of this, and we talked about opportunities to develop a 'niche'; a reputation in a given field of therapeutic work. We talked about how our own personal story, patterns in development, and indeed our own version of a wound influenced who we felt resonant with or distanced from. This can be the very essence of the wounded healer. Jung explained this as the compulsion to heal because we ourselves are wounded; if we take that further, we perhaps are compelled to heal those who share a similar wound. I have certainly reflected upon this as a therapist / Buddhist. I have experienced a sense of 'lack' when the paths could not be woven together. Therapists who didn't know the language, and skeptical tutors encountered in my therapy training. More latterly, I have found others who respect, appreciate and utilise both in their understanding of what it is to be human and have experienced the healing power of that synergy. This has proved my inspiration to how I want to practice; and with whom I feel I can help the most. I want to provide to others what I once lacked.
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