Easier done than said

Jimblog1Silence is the natural part of speech that never lets you down.

If at your initial meeting the counsellor looks even more miserable than you, don’t go back.

Laughing and weeping and sighing – it’s what humans do best, in no particular order.

I lie in order to bring myself roughly into being and only then can I begin to speak the truth.

To make yourself out to be happier than you are is to be happier than you think.

It goes without saying. Of course I’m happiest when I forget all about being happy.

Common sense would suggest that common sense is a good thing.

Your particular suffering is always somehow perfectly unspeakable.

Who exactly is insisting that you live your life the way you are living it now?

That unusual word you use, that odd turn of phrase, that untamed metaphor – there’s your magic.

When your therapist tells you a slightly different story about you as if you didn’t already secretly know it …

Lighten up and get over yourself – the best advice I’ve ever given to me and ignored.

It can feel great to play it but don’t let your therapy become merely a language game.

My opinions strike me as provisional no matter how long I spend forming them.

A smart thought rarely dispels a bad mood but running on the spot for a minute or two will do the trick.

Know your profound emptiness amidst abundance and nothing is ever lost to you.

Not just clearing my throat. Sometimes in a session my body sings and I can barely utter a word.

If you find some other people wonderful why not let yourself be just as wonderful to others?

Saying nothing much to your therapist is only human after all.

Your first solo act of responsibility as a little child was to talk candidly to yourself.

Soulfulness seems to become deepened by the mundane as much as by specialities.

When you pay your therapist you are instructing them to look after their own mental health.

It helps us to understand each other better by looking like we could.

The power of then. The past isn’t happening now so let’s get going before it restarts.

In another life I’m still dreaming of this one.

It could be scarily liberating to realise that hardly anyone knows anything about your existence.

That subtle and penetrating insight you had yesterday – where is it hiding out now?

Profoundly therapeutic dialogue can’t help but generate moments of divine silliness.

Your life may be no more or less painful than anybody else’s but you’re the only one who can live it.

To heal means to become whole, so get ready for a mighty slow-motion internal explosion.

Reassuring to know your inner child is always listening intently to you talking away like an adult.

Every gleaming sentence is a spell cast in the hope of teasing out the next crappy one.

What’s almost true is more exciting than what’s totally true.

Perhaps nobody ever truly empathises with another person without making bland assumptions.

Partiality. You’re talking to me as if I know you, when all I have is my version of your version of you.

To listen to counsellors and therapists having a discussion you’d think they were in love with suffering.

He could see my puzzlement and smiled at me like I knew what he meant, then suddenly I did know.

In good therapy, when two people talk and one is a therapist, both become therapists.

Jim recommends:

Listening to the 1960 Elvis Presley song ‘It’s Now Or Never’.

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Mother Nature

Portrait_002It’s pretty snug in the back of the café on the high street. Soft fried eggs are being popped by chips on most tables, washed down with builders’ strength teas while unapologetic white bread – spread with margarine – is busy mopping up baked bean sauce.

Across the aisle, to my right, a table of five sit talking – three young women in their mid-twenties, a giant of a man (probably thirty) and an angelic blonde child of about fifteen months who is sat in a high chair with her back towards me.

I’m not quite sure what first draws my attention to the group but I’m suddenly aware of something completely chilling. The woman closest to the child (who appears to be her mother) displays open anger and disgust, for no apparent reason, towards the child, who is finger feeding herself.

I am so tightly aligned with the mother’s eyes that I can’t believe she hasn’t seen me looking directly at their dyad. I’m unsettled. Here in the friendly atmosphere of my favourite greasy spoon, where I have never heard cross words spoken or seen tension displayed. Here in this friendly high street enclave I am deeply disconcerted at some momentary flashed expressions.

And now I’m no longer enjoying the acidic bite of the tinned tomatoes that accompany my eggs, chips and beans. My human ability to read two of the six universal emotions purported by Ekman and Friesen* have seen to that.

Mother is looking blankly at the child. Across the table engaged with her friends and partner she appears inconsistent: sometimes smiling and engaging but then turning to her child with poison and what I see as resentment. Father strokes the child’s head for a moment. Mother, checking to see the others are engaged away from her, flashes more disgust at her child. Mother’s upper lip is raised, the bridge of her nose wrinkles and her cheeks are high.

I think I raise my right hand to my mouth to try to cover the words I’d like to shout across the room. I want to stand up in the back of the café and address my fellow regular patrons. ‘Am I the only one who can see this?’ I’d shout. I want to race across the room and ask what is wrong with this friendship group that they do not challenge this mother, their friend. Why do they not want to protect the Angel from this storm?

I’ve lost my hunger and I am left in a universe of uncertainty. Did my own mother feel these emotions towards me when I was a child?

Angel, who has been so calm and contained for one this young, reaches over her plastic feeding bar and attempts to get to more food. Her father strokes her head gently once more. Mother stretches to the food, breaks off a crust of toast and drives it in the air past her daughter’s eyes to her own mouth, and drops it in. Every gesture aimed at Angel says, ‘I hate you; you disgust me.’

I deploy my inner therapist as my own referee against demonising this young mother.

Thankfully, mother and friends are ahead in their meals and don’t look as though they will sit and talk after they finish. Dad produces hand wipes for mum to clean Angel’s hands. The three engage, and Angel is allowed to witness and absorb more of her mother’s bile. Mother’s eyes dart around her friends and partner. She places the first wipe, now dirty, on Angel’s head; it looks like she wants to humiliate Angel, turn her into a rubbish dump. She begins to roughly clean her other hand. Father’s long arm reaches over and removes the wipe from Angel’s head and places it on the table. Mother smiles at her partner in a sarcastically petulant manner, then turns a disgusted face once more towards Angel – dismissing her.

My inner therapist has decided he is watching the acting out of an envious attack from mother to the child who has stolen her lover. It is dangerous, raw and uncomfortable to see. How have I been able to be this voyeur? How have I not been seen watching in plain sight?

Father rises from the table, stoops and picks up Angel from her chair. He holds her lovingly in an embrace and I see, as they twist around, the brightest of faces, a smile and a giggle. Now moments later mother is manoeuvring the empty pushchair through the café. She looks depressed, abandoned, weighted by the world.

The observation is over. I am unsettled: ‘What could I have done?’

I so hope I will not read of a mother and child killed on the nearby railway crossing or of Angel battered and abused, then removed into care.

This breakfast has left me feeling empty; I’ll not forget it for a long time yet.

* Ekman, P. and Friesen, W.V. (1971). Constants across cultures in the face and emotion. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 17(2), 124–129.

Duncan recommends

Winnicott, D.W. (1992). Babies and Their Mothers – a classic text on this subject area.

 

All rights reserved © Copyright Duncan E. Stafford 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author of this post is strictly prohibited.

Mother Ayahuasca

3monkeyGlennA line of candles on sticks light the trail to a clearing deep into the woods. The light is already fading on a warm July evening. At the centre of the clearing is a large newly lit fire. Twenty or more people sit or lay down in a circle around the fire.

A slight build, dark skinned man sits smoking a long pipe. He has a proud feathered headdress peaking perhaps two feet above his head, his face is painted, his clothes are patterned with bright whites and cool and dark blues. Under his necklaces I see images on his top that look familiar. Before I’m able to identify them the shaman starts speaking. A young woman translates his native Portuguese into English: ‘You must stay in the group until morning when the ceremony ends … Do not wander off into the forest away from the circle … If someone needs help, even the person next to you, do not help them – anyone needing help should raise their hand and I will come.’ The shaman then tells us he has been a shaman for more than sixty years, since he was eight. I wonder, is he trying to reassure us? I don’t think so. As I digest these words the images on his top are suddenly clear; two stormtroopers from Star Wars. Wow, really! And yes of course that is Darth Vader standing behind them. Odder still is that I find this somehow reassuring.

The forest has transformed, the fire is a giant coiled anaconda watching me amid the flames, the shaman is an icaro bird singing and dancing, calling to the forest. The sound of retching circles around the group, participants trying to hold down the thick bitter brown liquid; it’s mostly dry retching as they’ve not eaten since noon. The retching becomes a sort of wordless somatic conversation. My body responds with laughter. The conversation moves on; someone retches, I laugh, others laugh, someone moans. This is Mother Ayahuasca at work. I realise my laughter is joy. I’m not laughing at others’ discomfort, their retching noises or the irony of medicine making them sick. Joy was bubbling up as laughter. I realise joy makes no room for, nor has need of, empathy. Ah yes! Joy, not empathy. Ah yes to respond with empathy only reaffirms the dichotomy of the ‘healer’ and the ‘sick’.

My ‘intention’ or question for this ceremony was about how I approach my work. I was seeing how my question is based on the duality of ‘me and my approach’; with this thought, two things happened. I thought ‘I can’t wait to tell my therapist; he’ll love it’; immediately a voice in me blurted out ‘He doesn’t exist!’. More laughter, more joy. ‘I’ve made him up, of course; of course he doesn’t exist.’

As I lay back tucked into my sleeping bag my joy went from laughter to a stream of emotionless tears. ‘He doesn’t exist; neither do I.’ As Glenn slipped away, this whole night as an experience slipped away also. I saw the sky and canopy reaching down towards me, the trees and smoke dissolving into vibrant living patterns tracking back down where I lay. As I closed my eyes I felt ants crawling on my face, there was nothing there, I could see in my mind’s eye tiny creatures knitting together and unpicking my mind, wave after wave of patterns swept over me.

As I opened my eyes I saw my favourite painting hanging from the consulting room wall. Under it, on the sofa, sat Lena where I’d left her, wide eyed looking expectantly at me. ‘You went to sleep.’

‘Was it for long?’ I was still getting my bearings.

‘No maybe two minutes or so, no more.’

‘It felt like ages, really deep but, yeah just a few moments …’

‘So, did you dream?’ she asked with her eyes fixed on mine.

‘Yes.’ I paused, waiting for words to come out of my mouth.

‘So what did you dream?’

‘That’s just it; I don’t think I’ve stopped.’

Glenn recommends

Ayahuasca is classified as a class A drug in the UK and is therefore illegal. In the Amazon it is treated as a potent medicine. It is unclear what the legal status of ayahuasca is if the boundary between dreaming and waking life has dissolved.

 

All rights reserved © Copyright Glenn Nicholls 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author of this post is strictly prohibited.

Indiscreet notes on the wisdom of reading too much

Jimblog1All possible thought could stream instantaneously through your mind at some point and then what?

How we fill the void of our terrifying incomprehensibility with an infinite number of stories is the only story.

Life might have no deep meaning. Wondrous relief, not to make an effort one way or another!

For me to ignore my luxurious experience of excessive reading would be even more decadent than this.

One mind, one thousand million books – all full, all empty. All fucking infuriating. All a complete wonder.

No matter how introverted you are, it’s always other people’s suffering that brings you to the fight.

It helps to walk around a bit and talk frankly to your other self and spit things out.

Bookshop as quiet war zone. Wandering out without a text to hand, feeling like an unarmed monk.

Call the world, it will come. Turn away and it will come even more ferociously. Not available in book form.

Infinite reading room in the eternal library – and your real life is the one in the best seat by the window.

Far too many words in a book. A handful of sentences would do for a lifetime.

Several lifetimes just to wake up.

The smell of books brings me to tears because of all the death and love and because there’s nothing else.

Your knowledge is no use until you’re free of it.

How to mind the gaps between sentences, where meanings live and die and shudder.

Gap the mind. Don’t be clever. Be the idiot-spark in the timeless gap. Just go on.

No, actually, the meaning of meaning is always already right here and suddenly understood.

Reading a book to find myself in the world, to recognise myself in it, then realising we’ve already met.

Don’t read yourself too carefully, you are already more wild and random than you know.

Books are other people without the change of mind.

My fresh and sophisticated maxim is your tired and ancient homily, and the other way round.

Even the smallest library is an excess of absence, like a graveyard. Evidence of our burning desires.

A person free from all pretence would be constantly fearless and a bloody pain to hang out with.

I am superbly pretentious, especially when I think I know you well. You get my fear just fine.

There is not much self to be found other than this constant, slow, brilliant shattering of syllables.

Don’t meet me in the field but in this very word which places us there already.

A single sentence: no less presumptuous than a novel, just forgotten sooner.

The most important book on this planet is mud.

How well we live when we put our books down and laugh at nothing!

Over-reading or over-eating or over-dreaming – the only difference is your odd degree of spiritual torpor.

Count the people now in the world who have the same thoughts as you and count yourself a fortunate idiot.

Make yourself up by going along with your destiny.

Deep truth as error. When you know a wise person has said something unforgettable, you forget it, wisely.

Sitting behind my wall of books with a head full of mind, the freedom not to read is unsurpassable.

The pause between reading and not reading is the actual reading.

What we seek is always (a) utterly impossible to find, and (b) under our noses, and (c) neither a nor b.

All the books in all the libraries at midnight, breathing out slowly, forgiving themselves for no reason.

The right books find you through chaotic acts of fate. You find the wrong books likewise.

Jim recommends

Fish, S. (2011). How To Write A Sentence.

 

All rights reserved © Copyright Jim Holloway 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author of this post is strictly prohibited.

You know the answer

Portrait_002In June 2018 my dream book came of age. During ‘our’ journey together over the last twenty-one years I have discovered a rich, individual and personal internal language of signs and symbols – from good-willed kingfishers to impossible Escheresque staircases leading to the summit of the world.

There is a humorous statement in traditional psychotherapy that says people in Freudian therapy have Freudian dreams and those in Jungian therapy have Jungian ones. While this brings a smile to my face it’s good to notice that Jung never claimed, as Freud did in 1895, that he had ‘discovered the secret of the dream’.* In fact Jung stated he wasn’t sure that his way of dealing with dreams should be called a method at all.**

Humankind has sought to understand dreams for many millennia – the psych professions are just one of the most recent to get involved. Dreams have been of interest throughout various civilisations including Indian, Chinese and ancient Egyptian cultures. Dreams were seen as important in Babylonian and Assyrian texts and, in early Mesopotamia, there where comprehensive and sophisticated explanations for dreams.

If we move away from the ancient or exalted views of dreams, what is left? A succession of internal pictures, feelings, sensations? Simple, individual stories that happen to us and us alone when we close our eyes? Or, perhaps a defence against our own awareness or fear of the aloneness at the centre of all human existence?

Neurobiology brings more concrete information about brains while dreaming. For instance, brain activity during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep – when the majority of dreaming occurs – is most like waking brain activity. But, when science leads us towards a reductionist view, we don’t often gain much succour.

Over the twenty-one years I’ve been taking an interest in my own dream life I have come to realise there really is a personal exposition going on. When I ignore my dreams, I am switching off from a health-creating audit.

I used to cycle along a quiet riverbank, lined with trees, twice a week to get to my therapist’s office. Over the years I did this, I often noticed an amazing turquoise flash of feathers as a kingfisher worked the bank and stream. Over time I began to associate seeing the bird (or not) as a sign of what was to come in my session.

In a quite revelatory dream about a big decision I needed to make, the kingfisher began to show me the way along a very difficult route. He would temporarily perch and wait for me to reach him. Then, he dipped his head as if to acknowledge me and flew on. Repeating the process many times together we ascended a stony wooded rise. As we neared the end of the tree cover, he settled on an old stump and knocked his beak like a woodpecker. To my amazement the tree stirred into the form of a wise old Jewish man who ‘smiled’ but said nothing while radiating an exceptional and acceptable warmth.

I make no secret of the fact that depression first brought me into my own therapy. What I have rarely spoken about is the way that depression lifted. From the moment I realised that the kingfisher was an individual, personal symbol for my wellness, showing me the way forward, twenty years of depression began to lift.

During a long running series of dreams spanning almost two years, the kingfisher delivered me to a series of places where the old Jewish man could be found; very often the old man, in turn, led me to a shining pearl that I would pick, like a berry from a tree.

During the final dream of the series the bird delivered me to a complex house set over five storeys. On the top storey a wooden machine of cogs and levers was shown to me. Disappointed that I hadn’t found one of my pearls, I began to wind the wheels with the help of the Jewish man. As the light poured in through the opening roof it became darker in the attic. Once fully open I looked up into the now dark sky just at the moment that the aurora borealis began. Instantaneously I understood the symbol of the pearls. Since that dream I have never again experienced proper depression.

The kingfisher began to visit my dreams again recently. He tapped out in Morse code a German phrase, Du kennst die Antwort (You know the answer) … I expect that exciting times are just ahead.

* Freud, S. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Words of Sigmund Freud, Vol. IV, First part, The Interpretation of Dreams (1900).

** Jung, C.G. (trans. 1966) The Practice of Psychotherapy, from Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Vol. 16.

Duncan recommends

To reach your inner dream world and begin finding your own answers, you might like to read Carl G. Jung’s Man and His Symbols widely available online and in book stores.

 

All rights reserved © Copyright Duncan E. Stafford 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author of this post is strictly prohibited.