My writing year

And so, here again another Friday morning I sit at my desk with a writing day ahead. My beautiful Mac, a wonderful Downs view, a mug of tea, and a cat happily warmed by my desk lamp. Ah yes, I kinda wait all week for this – a luxurious opportunity to immerse myself in solitude (with exception of said cat) and pursue the contemplative life my writing serves. It has been my first full week back at work post the winter festive break which makes reaching this writing time even more rewarding. And, its been a good week – catching up with supervisees and their re-energised selves post-break, reconnecting with clients and their stories of learnings in recent weeks, and getting back into the University to see students and colleagues. All of those pockets of my working life bring energy, stimulation and excitement. And reaching today is not a sense of relief of my working week nearly over, but rather more a deep sense of appreciation and contentment.

There is often a sense of “what to write” when I wake up on a Friday morning; and my run along Eastbourne seafront first thing is a time I collect my thoughts and feelings and to consider what is significant to me right now. What needs my attention and what I would like to share. And what comes through as I take my mug of tea between both hands and look out to my Downs view is that appreciation of a scholarly life that affords a depth of thinking about my work as a therapist. 

A scholarly life, a contemplative life, a writing life. I have a mind thirsty for ideas, hungry for mastery. Last week, after I put fingers to keyboard for my blog post, I spent some time thinking about my writing plans for 2024: one aspect within the “professional” domain that I hadn’t entirely fleshed out through my end of year review process. When I was transitioning from my prior career (as researcher and coach in exercise and sport) into my present vocation, I did so through the territory of life coaching. I would ask then clients to imagine “it is December 2024, and I have completed…” and so I did this to fix my writing priorities for the coming year. To sit as I was then, in front of a roaring fire with cat on my lap (always my muse!) and ponder what would bring me contentment 12 months hence…I got excited and motivated as some very clear aspirations came out.

A basic commitment to write…

To do as I am now, just sitting down with Mac, view, tea, cat…write. To trust that just in this act of sitting here that something will flow and inspire. Just making that commitment, regularly, to hone my craft as a writer. A sort of sharpening of the sword as Stephen Covey would encourage (whilst acknowledging the pen is mightier!). And so I went through my diary, blocked out Fridays and a few other occasions where I can commit to long weekend “writing retreats” throughout the year.

To begin writing for book number 2…

I’ve recently finished interviewing a group of humanistic psychotherapists to get their view on what makes a humanistic psychotherapy. From the perspective of a researcher, I am curious as to distinctions between counselling and psychotherapy; and from an educator position, how do we ensure we keep our PGDip into MSc curricula relevant (especially in times of standard framework development like the BACP / UKCP initiative of SCoPEd). As a writer, I want to flesh out the research findings (and journal publication) into a more complete book form: a book I hope will inform budding existential-phenomenological therapists and experienced practitioners alike. Much of the inspiration for this comes from my Buddhist practice and the writing of my first book – I am more passionate than ever concerning the importance of phenomenology in our work to help clients integrate long lasting growth and change.

Prepare the ground for a book on the enneagram in counselling and psychotherapy

Okay, an admission…THIS is my real passion right now…but to those of you that follow my blog, this is not a secret! And my (poor) supervisees have to endure this guilty pleasure weekly! When I listen to other writers (especially those writing non-fiction), it appears I am not alone in thinking more about the next book than the one I am creating now. I know it was one conclusions of “weaving the paths” that if I were to start again, the book I was writing would look very different to the one sitting in its (beautiful) cover. As I was finishing that book, ideas of phenomenology were already bubbling over in me; and so again as I start the book that insists on its inclusion in an effective psychotherapy, I am practicing restraint with my enneagram passion. A learning for me here is firstly how to stay on current plan AND not stifle what is to come. Tend to the fire AND let the bubbles effervesce. No surprising then that this “book 3” is going to have an element of alchemy involved 😉

Mull over a collaboration on “mind and consciousness”

…that comes from the module on neuroscience my colleagues and I developed for MSc programme. We developed one hell of an amount of original material and synthesised across a range of ontological, epistemological and metaphysical perspectives. I’m really excited about this – and not just because I am a self-confessed psyche-naut; the new module was also a project that enabled a collaborative endeavour, and I love team working. I get stretched and inspired by others – it fosters critical thinking (when working with others that think differently) and supports a path to mastery, a key value of mine. And who knows, maybe this is “book 4” (or 3, or 2…let us see which one gets to the finishing post!)

What us clear from all those plans I am sharing with you today, writing is a strong strand in my life, a contemplative life. Whether it is time in solitude, like now, writing at my desk; or time in collaboration, like with teaching colleagues or with members of my forthcoming group on the enneagram (who will be co-participants on my enneagram journey in 2024).

Just pausing again, and thinking back over my week, two experiences come to mind that reinforce what I have just said… 

On Wednesday, our teaching team put aside a day (as we do each year) to mull over curriculum development and get creative about our provision. To sit in a room with friends and deep thinkers, throwing ideas around about psychotherapy was incredibly enriching. Whilst the seven of us may have quite different approaches to therapy and what we think is integral, the fact we can sit in a room and work harmoniously from WITHIN our difference is testament to our open mindedness. And we have some exciting course developments ahead!

And yesterday, I spent my day marking student assignments from our PGDip programme in counselling. Two cohorts, two different essay tasks. Our first years were asked to consider “what makes therapy humanistic”. I really enjoy reading this first assignment of their training as it gives me a sense of their developing passions and what will lead them to becoming the unique therapist they will be in 2 years time. I have been marking such pieces for getting on for a decade now; and what strikes me is how the content of this essay evolves as our world, society and we in that life-world do. I see a generation of therapists truly concerned with the current existential matters – yes, the usual “givens” (meaning, uncertainty, death, choice) always come up; but now inclusion, diversity, feminist critiques appear more and more. And similarly, our second year’s – tasked with writing a case study report of their client work – are bringing the “world out there and then” into the “room here and now”. Considerations as to how power, race, gender, belonging all manifest in the therapist-client dyad. So many factors impact the relational space, and therapy becomes a place they can be brought into awareness.

As I bring this period of writing to a close, I am left with a sense of how important that back and forth between input and output is; the interplay of reading and writing; the dialectic of indwelling and discussion; being alone, being-with-other. Next week I will visiting one of those poles more fully, as I fly to the US to be with my Buddhist sangha and reside on silent retreat for a week. I am looking forward to more indwelling and regeneration before the second half of the academic year begins in earnest.

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