…has happened since I last wrote in mid-June. The sameness of life (which inspired a friend to call each day of the week ‘blursday’) under the heavy blanket of a global pandemic, coupled by the multitude of emotions (same friend calls this ‘corona-coaster’) sets up a strange paradox in daily life for me. I’ve simply not wanted to write since mid-June. Neither my blog, nor my book. A big breakthrough has been giving myself the permission to not drive on through the apathy and lethargy: to rest under the heavy blanket and ‘give in’. Thank goodness I did, as I now stand on the threshold looking ahead to the autumn / winter feeling resourced.
Having managed to actually get to my beloved France in early July, I felt so much gratitude yet more than a tinge of sadness. No matter where any of us managed to ‘get away to’ we could not escape the situation. No doubt this emphasised the post-holiday blues but the feelings would not budge for days and weeks after arriving back. I spent much of July and August with a heavy depression. At first I felt guilty to not be enjoying the gift of summer. I was so focused on the story of “it feels bad now and its beautiful outside, how will I cope in the dark months of autumn and winter when this virus takes a grip again?” I also watched others, including friends and family, trying to ‘make the most’ of summer. I remember one Sunday, my wife and I went for a walk on the Downs (my beloved ‘back garden’). We took a picnic and sat on a hillside overlooking Birling Gap. It was packed as is the normal on an August weekend. I watched the silhouetted figures walking along the cliffs and it felt so surreal. I can only describe it being in my bubble looking out – in the world but not of it. And that separation felt so painful – yes, absolutely my choice, but a felt split of what I wanted and what I needed. I appreciate everything we do now is about risk calculation. I feel safe in my bubble, yet it denies me of another important need – relationship.
Having withdrawn from the world, I have been enjoying time with the ‘companions’ that surround me here at home – my books. I’ve been deeply immersing myself in Buddhism, Jungian and Enneagram reading. As a psychotherapist, I could explain this away under the banner of “continued professional development’, but it has a more self-oriented motivation. I’ve been studying the nature of mind and self, and how self is created in relationship as much to understand my process as the people I work with. This is not just since this pandemic hit, but in the process unfolding in my mid-life transition for some 2 to 3 years now. I was particularly struck by Jung’s ideas on introversion and extraversion, expressed powerfully by this Murray Stein piece:
“Jung’s map of the soul” pg 119
The fact that ‘other’ is part of the psyche for an introvert has helped me understand more deeply why I am so affected by the lack of other in a locked-down world: there is more room for introjection and influence. In other words, relationships play out in my being long after actual contact. I hear something similar in my more introverted clients; and it might explain in part why the ‘cost’ of my therapeutic work is felt long after my working day ends. In Peter Fonagy’s words, I ‘hold in mind’ others even when not in their company.
Like many cerebral types, this understanding has helped reduce the pain around separation, and an oft felt paradox of wanting to be alone yet simultaneously lonely. One teaching point I often bring to my work with trainee therapists is how we are all to some degree trying to navigate along a continuum between togetherness – separation, proximity – distance: this is the dance of intimacy that the therapeutic relationship gets to work through. My meditation practice is also helping me work this through, as I am seeing more clearly the narrative that arise in the mind distinct from the awareness that is seeing it. I don’t have to believe the stories that my introverted psyche is holding onto in the absence of the ‘real’ relationship in the external world.
In giving up the stories, in giving up the struggle against it, and staying with the felt sense of the separation has allowed me to tap the wisdom of depression, to truly grieve the loss. Depression has been a gateway to a deep yet tender-hearted sadness. As many of us find, and meditators will know this, when we give up the struggle and simply experience ‘what is’ a sense of contentment can arise. There is nothing ‘wrong’, there is nothing to ‘fix’. It is why I can look ahead to the autumn / winter now not with a sense of claustrophobia and dread in reaction to what are my projections and “worse case scenario” thinking; but more with an ease resting with ‘what IS now’…and right now the sun is still shining; autumn is my favourite time of year, and actually winter can be ‘cosy’ not ‘claustrophobic’.
And there is something about that ‘getting cosy’ that feels like an intentional opportunity to retreat and withdraw from the world; a very different feeling to the enforced separation. It is why I have been able to find the flame of inspiration to sit and write this morning. The spark however was provided by a dear friend asking if he could postpone our Zoom coffee date this morning as he felt the need to withdraw and be alone. His request brought tears – for one, knowing a friend is feeling pain; but also feeling a resonance with his (fellow-introverted) process, and the liberation offered by feeling free to withdraw.
As I bring this post to a close, it is important for me to acknowledge the importance of this period of writing: it has broken a writing silence and set out an intention. It has also allowed me to connect with my beautifulstudy and writing environment. One thing that emerged during the summer is how important it will be to monitor my energy going in to the back half of this year and addressing some of my working patterns. Friday is now free for writing, study, or practice…or even nothing. It is too early to say if my book writing will come back online with ease, but being here now, writing today has been soothing and regenerating.