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path ahead closedYou might notice I do this a lot - looking back to what I was doing at a certain time. I imagine this process helps me evaluate the journey so far; a way to see how far I have come, from where I have come. In part its a recognition and a gratitude for how life has unfolded for me. Last week, I shared thoughts from my cycling career; this week it is reflection on my meditation path. Because, it was a year ago to the day I was travelling to central France for a 4 week retreat, a ‘dathun’ as it is called in the buddhist tradition in which I practice.

What a year it has been since! I have got married. The Buddhist tradition in which I have been practicing, my spiritual home for nearly 9 years, has come to the edge of distinction / destruction. And, I have come to know a different Helen, and needed to mourn the person I thought I was and / or the person who has been locked behind the old identity - that sense of “if only I knew what I know now”

The latter two are undoubtedly related or at least feed in to one another: but I would say that, I’m existential psychotherapist after all, someone who will bring uncertainty and our relationship to it to the fore whenever they get the chance!

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Mountain rideThe way the sun cut through the twilight blue, the way the bird song had a tilt of optimism…little reminders; today I’ve been thinking back to years gone by when I would be spending time in warmer climes on training camps. For about 7 years, the first couple of weeks in February would be spent in Mallorca preparing for another season. First as an athlete, and then as a coach accompanying te cyclists I trained. For all of us, annual cycles give us chance to look back, reflect on how life has changed, how we have changed.

The first memories of Mallorca that came to mind were the people; people I don’t see anymore - I often wonder if their lives have continued in the same community and with the same annual pattern. I remember the fun of it all: the camaraderie, the thrill of the physical challenge, the early spring sunshine allowing us to strip back to shorts and short sleeved tops knowing those still at home would be faced with snow and ice! And then, I remembered the fear. The big training sessions, the long rides where you limp home in to a headwind, the mountainous rides that inevitably had as many downhill miles as uphill (I loved climbing, hated descending the switchbacks). I would lie in bed aching to be going home…yet I chose to go on camp every year. What was I doing to my self…note “I” to “self”: two characters - the master, the slave. Of course now I know what was going on; I know myself better. My training as a psychotherapist has given me theories and understanding; and my training as a Buddhist on the meditation cushion helps me feel what could never be felt back then.

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Dark night of the soul winter 2018 Poster 600xLast Friday saw my first visit to The Globe in London: the replica of the iconic building originally erected by Shakespeare and his playing company in 1599. I finally found a good excuse to visit - walking passed the venue back in the autumn, I saw a poster advertising an anthology of plays under the title “Dark night of the soul”. The phrase caught my eye because of research I had done as part of my psychotherapy training: an exploration as to how the mindfulness movement might in fact have a shadow side; and how reports of psychotic breaks might be a spiritual breakthrough rather than breakdown, depending on how they are viewed and worked with.

The “Dark night” was originally a phenomenon explicated by St John of the Cross: the need for a pilgrim to enter the dark before any kind of spiritual epiphany. In the case of the anthology at The Globe, the phrase was being used to explore the Faustian myth…

“Doctor Faustus sits in the Wittenberg study, restless for knowledge and frustrated with the limitations of conventional scholarship. Coveting fame and power, the Doctor conjures the menacing demon, Mephistopheles, who offers Faustus a deal: in exchange for twenty-four years of supreme power and service from the demon, Faustus must sacrifice the immortal soul to a fiery Hell. The Devil’s deal is signed in blood and Faustus’ is elevate to unrivalled notoriety and travels the world performing wonders. Yet as time ticks on and Faustus’ final hour of reckoning approaches, the true cost of the bargain becomes an all too certain reality.”