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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.

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cant sleepDid you know this week is sleep awareness week? It's the Sleep Foundation’s annual initiative aiming to highlight the importance of good sleep health for “individuals to best achieve their personal, family, and professional goals”. This year’s theme is “Begin with Sleep”, and I cannot help but see the irony (or synchronicity perhaps) that I write having not slept well last night. And I am not alone. A UK survey recently revealed some thought provoking stats: Two thirds (67%) of UK adults suffer from disrupted sleep and nearly a quarter (23%) manage no more than five hours a night; and half (48%) of UK adults admit they don't get the right amount of sleep, with women more likely to agree (54%) than men (41%).*

I have a long term relationship with insomnia, some 11 or 12 years. So I know the “day after the night before” feeling well. And, with this long term relationship comes understanding in what the sleeplessness tells me, and a confidence that I can cope with the following day. In other words, not sleeping doesn’t disturb me like it used to when my capacity to find sleep first started disappearing down the plughole. Given this is a media driven awareness week, my intention is not to harp on about the importance of sleep, nor go through (the needless to say very important) checklist of “sleep hygiene” measures one can look at**. What I really want to emphasise is how significant a difference can come from befriending our sleeplessness - not because we WANT to be lying in bed staring at the ceiling at 2am, 3am, 4am (repeat), but because getting anxious about losing sleep will only heighten the block; AND (I would say this as a therapist wouldn’t I?) there is often something this “symptom” is telling us - it points to a deeper, more meaningful, part of our process.