Turning inward to look up and out

turning inwardEach year for nearly a decade now, I have used my time over the Christmas and New Year break to turn inward and reflect on the year that has been. This year, that process took on new profundity as I continue to navigate my experience of living in this time of pandemic and its consequences. I sit with the same question prompts that I have used since 2012 – and the first step in my process is to read the year before’s review and intention setting. Reading my thoughts on how 2019 went and what I hoped for in 2020 struck me very deeply. A stark reminder of how “the best laid plans” are subject to conditions outside of our control; it is as if this huge, worldwide curve ball shattered a naivety – usefully shattered I would say. I have learnt a great lesson in not taking ANYTHING for granted, and in ironing out some still present attempts to micromanage my life.

Given the year lived, I decided to sign up to an end of year retreat: 3 days with the London Shambhala centre community, led by teachers Peter Conradi and Jim O’Neill. The retreat focused on “shamatha-vipashyana” meditation; and as well as seeing this as an opportunity to close out the year in deep reflection, the amount of scheduled sitting meditation felt to be what was needed in a year that has focused on my Ngondro practice. So much has happened within, without…and my being needed some time to digest, accommodate, and assimilate. The practice of shamatha-vipashyana also mirrored my “year in review” process – the turning inward and settling (on the breath) offered by shamatha, being the ground upon which to look up and out (on life) as we raise the gaze in Vipashyana. It made for a beautiful year-end. I book marked the 3 day retreat with a day of reflection on 2020 beforehand, and a day of intention setting for 2021 afterwards.


Given the “shrinking” of my life in 2020 – by that I mean how my ‘footprint’ has reduced – I was pleasantly content with how much I set about to accomplish in 2020 actually happened. And as we move into 2021, many of my aspirations and inspirations remain consistent and on a similar trajectory. This gives a nice feeling; that I am settling in to my life and know with more clarity what my meaning and purpose are. I feel the most secure and content in my life situation than I ever had, allowing me to bring more energy to my internal landscape and the alchemical processes that need my attention. Again like shamatha-vipashyana, the settling has allowed clear seeing – and in this year’s review, I came into contact with a motivation to re-examine my working life; and specifically, how I practice psychotherapy.

A desire to look at my working practices did not come out of the blue. Over the autumn period, a few experiences got me chewing over how I work with my clients. In fact, I would say the whole year of 2020 was a “bubbling-away”, each bubble leaving its impression and feeding into ideas on how we heal as humans. Experiences in my practice of Ngondro and meditation confirmed my confidence and faith in my Buddhist path; upping my commitment to continued professional development and attending training events gave me time to reflect on theories I am attracted to and resonate with; and certainly moving to Zoom working and seeing the efficacy of online therapy has had a big impact too. In fact, I would say that for many, the “shrinking” of our real life footprint and the necessity of moving a lot of life online has opened up opportunities: I have been able to access more dharma offerings and diversity of training events because of the move online (and I for one hope we don’t lose this as we re-set life in the months to come).

Four Pillars
For those of you who have spent time on my website will have read an explanation of how I practice as a psychotherapist: and all of that remains true. What my reflections have revealed to me is the importance of acknowledging the centrality of what were previously “influences”. I remain a Humanistic psychotherapist with emphasis on the frame of Gestalt – and the three dimensions I wish to expand and declare are compatible to that frame. I am excited to bring together more overtly what I am referring to as my “four pillars” of practice.

Gestalt psychotherapy. Online training offerings have allowed me to explore different approaches to the healing task in 2020; and yet still I come home to the base of Gestalt. Its existential-phenomenological frame has helped me enormously this year as clients have needed to explore their relationship to ‘being’ when ‘doing’ has been curtailed somewhat. I would also suggest that its focus on immediacy and subjectivity have helped me transition to online working: as many therapists are discovering, the virtual environment is intensifying relational experiences and Gestalt offers ways to explore this in the here and now.
Embodiment. From my time as an athlete, a physiologist and my own path of finding ‘home’ in my body, embodiment has always been a corner-stone of my practice. What with the move to online working, there has been a need to rely more heavily on my own sense of being and presence in the therapist chair in the absence of physical togetherness. I was also fortunate to attend a training workshop in the autumn with one of my Gestalt heroes, Ruella Frank. It was inspiring to see how the advantages of an embodied intersubjective approach to psychotherapy can still be had during online working.
Buddhism. Writing of my book in 2020 has allowed me to spend a lot of time reflecting upon the integration of buddhist principles in my therapeutic work; it is as if the writing has been helping “think out loud” as to how I have been practicing and formulating exactly how I want to take my work in the future. The book in a way has become my working-practice manual! I have until fairly recently been quite cautious about bringing Buddhism into my work explicitly. But as if to aid my aspirations, I am finding my clients becoming more curious about my integration of the spiritual. And, I think I have had more new client enquiries mentioning this side of my portfolio – perhaps speaking to the times we are in and something of their own ‘turning inward’ I have mentioned in this blog. Furthermore, aligning myself to what is known as the ‘transpersonal’ approach within psychotherapy, opens up two related opportunities – firstly, to work with a client base I find particularly stimulating: people that want to combine their spiritual and psychological explorations; and secondly, offering more overtly my services as a “spiritual mentor”, no matter the wisdom tradition that is practiced.
Enneagram. I have mentioned this psychological “map” a few times in my blogging from 2020, each time promising to elaborate on its system and benefits. I remain committed to do so, but in brief – the enneagram is a nine-pointed diagrammatic map of humanity. Each of the nine types describes a particular set of emotional, cognitive and behavioural tendencies. As a humanistic therapist, my training has taught me to be suspicious of any system that ‘types’ or categorises people. Yet, I feel inspired to share something so helpful to me in the domains of my personal, relational and working life. The late Claudio Naranjo, a Gestalt therapist and advocate of meditation, was a lineage holder of the enneagram tradition and thus provides an example of how well the system can be integrated alongside Buddhism and Gestalt. Expect some blog posts appearing on this theme later on in the year.

On one hand, this blog post falls short of communicating my enthusiasm, and in the details of how I intend to work with clients: however, writing this post was important to get some thoughts together, and to get me started with my blog in 2021! The importance of ‘Helen the writer’ surfaced in my 2020 reflections. One of the most silver linings to come from the dark cloud of 2020 is the possibilities and potentialities of online working – to call to and to meet a clientele who are looking for a particular integration of the psycho-spiritual. I need no longer be bound geographically, and that is exciting.

If you are inspired to work in this work, please do not hesitate to reach out to me. In the meantime, which this space as I share more specifics of how I work in these four pillars.

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