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pen to paperJust before sitting down to write this post, I sat quietly in order to re-connect with my experience on 'writing retreat'. It has been 10 days since I returned home from Normandy. The space between the return and writing this blog has been intentional - a period of ‘incubation’; letting my ideas and experience in Normandy coalesce and mingle with life back home. Returning to work, the Easter weekend…normality.

As we travelled home on the ferry, I felt satisfied and I felt inspired. The 10 days away enabled my two aspirations and intentions to be met: firstly, did I really have a book that I wanted to write in me? And secondly, what would that book look like? I came back with “yes” and a table of contents drafted out. Ten days later, that still pleases me. A friend and colleague commented “well, that’s the hard bit done”. I’m sure that there will be many challenges along the way as I truly put pen to paper and flesh out that skeleton of a TOC…but I could resonate with what he said. Very often during the writing retreat I thought of a few people I know who make a living in publishing and wondered how on earth they do it.

The experience wasn’t as painful as my last writing experience in Normandy: the writing up of my Masters research turned me inside out. I had sleepless nights and when I did sleep my dreamworld acted out what was not available to me in waking hours. I felt consumed and repeatedly “flummoxed” by it all. It was only in reading Romanyshyn’s work on the “wounded researcher” that gave me perspective - the research was REsearch, finding something AGAIN within me, something already known to my unconscious but was as yet out of reach. I didn’t pick the topic, “it” picked me. Maybe it was having been through that process 3 years ago that I was more able to trust and not push this time around. Even though I didn’t get anything down on paper for 2 days I didn’t panic - I simply meditated more, went for walks, and drank coffee overlooking the beautiful Norman landscape.

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chapter oneThe main intention behind writing this blog and committing to that practice weekly was and still is to forge a writing habit as grounding for a book. Hand on heart, the motivation to blog has waned: not because I don’t enjoy it - I very much do; but rather because time and space to write feels squeezed. It’s not just finding the time, making the time but also having the mind space to sit and ponder what feels important to write about each week. Client work on Monday and Tuesday, teaching on Wednesday and Thursdays - those four days take the toll, no matter how much I still enjoy my work. I’m learning to honour the load and try not to squeeze myself so dry. I was talking with colleagues at the Uni this week - this has felt like a long term. We, and the student trainees need a break. That break comes in the shape of a 3 week break from teaching. It is my intention to spend a good chunk of that time away in France on a writing retreat. A chance to really engage with the joy of writing and planning my book. As I write that, I feel excited.

Three years ago, my wife and I spent 2 weeks at this very time of year at this very same spot in Normandy. Back then, I was writing up my Masters research. Three years later, and I want to re-visit my ideas of around the integration of the Buddhist dharma and a relational psychotherapy. Recently, following some wonderful conversations with equally wonderful friends and colleagues, the type of book I want to write is gaining some shape and clarity. I don’t want to write a text book, an academic piece but rather something more autobiographical, more heuristic. The heuristic approach is the method I used in my Masters research; and while it was a painful process (!), it really lends itself to allowing me and the reader to go on a journey: as I communicate my learning, the reader learns too. I think this will be especially true in using the blogging platform to write the book - a chance to interact with the potential readership; to hear their learning and let that also impact on me.

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experimental lifeA few things have been coming together in the past week that have moved my book project back to the foreground of my awareness: the reading of a new text on Buddhist psychology and the gestalt therapy approach, and a few conversations with supervisees and students to name but two. It feels timely that I have a writing retreat in my beloved Normandy planned for just before Easter. I can feel a buzz of excitement, this happens within me when the pursuit of meaning and experience align.

I’ve been reflecting on the common ground of my psychotherapeutic view (that of Gestalt) and the view that holds my world and very being (that of Buddhism). There is much common ground and convergence, but what I am holding figural is the key quality of awareness. In both systems of thought, suffering can be alleviated by becoming more aware of experience – to separate out the stories from ‘what is’ in the moment. In Buddhism, that quality of awareness can be honed through various methods of meditation; in psychotherapy it is the relationship being offered to develop awareness in the client. And in Gestalt psychotherapy, we have a particular method – that of the ‘experiment’.

Most of us when hearing this word will conjure up images of scientists in white coats or memories of chemistry classes at school – I can assure you, there are no test tubes or Bunsen burners in my therapy room! But when I invite a client to “try an experiment”, it can be greeted with a certain look. And, as I often share with students, the way a client responds to this invitation already tells us a lot about client process: those that want to please me and say “yes” (before even knowing what I am going to propose); or those that are already in touch with an emotion and the mere thought of contacting it more deeply is enough to elicit strong awareness (and we don’t need to go further). The key with a gestalt experiment is attitude – both client and therapist need to engage a “let’s just see” curiosity as to what might unfold. Unlike the scientist, the therapist does not hold a hypothesis; the only motivation is to move from talking about to experiencing of.