The virgin executive

DESHeadshotBS-1I know I’ve left it late in the session – but I’ve got to start working on this dream with you …

Patient:      … it’s definitely part of the sequence.

Therapist:  We can always make a start. It’s important to capture the energy while it’s fresher; we can come back to it then.

[The therapist’s eyes close to listen.]

P:               I walk into this huge organic building. It’s like it’s made of pushed-up earth but it towers above me – not like a skyscraper – although it’s tall. I get this strange essence that it is alive. It has a heavy ring towards the top – like some form of viewing platform or an escape route. Before I enter the building I’m in a clearing. I don’t know if it’s some sort of jungle that I’ve walked through? Tall, overpowering grasses sway in the perfect temperature.

T:               Perfect temperature?

P:               Yeah, sunny but not hot; cool, not cold. Like those wonderful spring days when the world hints at what summer will bring. That first day when you slip off your winter clothes. You feel the world on your skin after all that insulation.

T:               Le Sacre du printemps?

P:               Sacred spring?

T:               Yes.

P:               There’s an air of real danger outside. I can hear an old woman’s voice that carries across the clearing. She is singing a song I know. I can’t sing it though; I know that I mustn’t sing the words.

T:               What might happen if you did?

P:               I don’t know … but, as always, there’s something very dangerous about stepping into the building. I can see the vestibule is open. It’s not very big. I’m a bit concerned I could get stuck if I start to walk in. It’s like that claustrophobic feeling I had when I went caving as a teenager. Then I realise something bad will only happen if I step in knowing the words. I try not to hear the song; I cover my ears. I try not to sing the words in my head. I know the song foretells the future and the future that waits in the building could change my life in big ways. My heart’s beating really heavily; I feel drenched in sweat. I’m just about to turn back as a group of young women flock around me and push me through the entranceway. The instant I’m inside the building, the women fall to the floor.

[There is a long silence. The therapist doesn’t move. The sound of water being gulped and swallowed invades the space.]

T:               Are the women dressed or naked this time?

P:               Bound in cheesecloth. Full-length dresses. Like they’re in some sort of shroud. I run my hand over one of them expecting warmth, a subtle smoothness beneath the material, but I realise she’s made of sand or perhaps salt. I can’t swallow.

[A glass chinks just before the gulping sound enters the room again.]

P:               I look round the white inner space. All the people have divided into two separate groups.

T:               Are they doing anything? Saying anything?

P:               They form up a procession that leads out of the space. They pass some sort of holy metal object or relic along the line and I’m forced to follow it right out of the building.

T:               Atmosphere?

P:               It’s incredibly powerful … spiritual. I’m laid to the ground by the procession. I feel very free. When I look up there is a sage woman looking at me. She rests her hands on my head and then, with an opening of hands, I’m thrown high into the air, floating on a passage of energy.

T:               Any other signs or symbols from the dream series?

P:               Just those obvious recurring ones …

[The patient pauses.]

P:               When I look down the young women have begun to draw circles on the ground. I can see one particular fire-haired woman. She gets lost in the action and is suddenly abandoned in the main circle.

T:               Do you know what’s about to happen at that point when you’re in the dream?

P:               I do. I know exactly what’s going to happen next. But I wake up before she starts to dance.

T:               You want to see it?

P:               No, I don’t want to see her die this time.

T:               Not even for the elements – the soil, the flame, the drops of water or the breeze?

P:               No, not to appease the gods. It’s changing. For once, in the dream, I realise I want my life. I don’t want to be reborn a young woman, no renaissance life. I want to be anima rising. To use my life.

[Her eyes move towards the clock. He smiles at her warmly.]

T:               Well, the outline’s told. I think we can pick up on it next session. Perhaps we can reflect on the sand/salt women and the change to the sacrificial dance?

Duncan suggests …

Reading Man and His Symbols by C G Jung, since knowing when things are a sign and when they are a symbol of something else is one of the most import things we can learn.

 

All rights reserved © Copyright Duncan E. Stafford 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author of this post is strictly prohibited.

 

Neuroclimaterialising

Jimblog1The other night I dreamed I was some kind of warrior-poet, wandering up and down a mountain range like a madman, singing my head off without knowing the words …

Exciting at the time, and liberating to lose my head – though all the while telling myself there must be proper lyrics to go with this. The mountains would speak to me, they would reveal their ancient and magnificent secret, if only I could get the words right. Suddenly I knew my life depended on it. Things got intense. But the louder and more fiercely I sang, the less my language mattered. Before long I started screaming wildly – and woke up.

I recall it now as a dream about climate breakdown (more precisely: about my struggle to write something here about climate breakdown). Or about my potential for having a psychological microclimate crisis. I imagine millions of people are having dreams like this. Let’s call them visions. And let’s also consider them as stories flowing from a mysterious and distant region of time and space. To be clear, I’m saying this as a dream agnostic. Therapeutically, I don’t work a lot with dreams – it’s more a case of dreams working a lot with me. Our psyches come out to play constantly, and if you take life itself to be a dream, if you take yourself to be the dreamer of your reality, to be one of the exemplary dreamers of our collective dream, then I’m up for that as a psychotic possibility.

We radicalise our subjectivities, not by our thoughts but by our not quite having had them.

The evident urgency of climate breakdown can bring up and break down deeply rooted substrates in our seemingly separated psyches. There are things we like to get hold of together – objects, mostly, and facts, sometimes – and there are thought-droughts and thought-fires and thought-waters, which hold us. There are fleeting universes, which transfix us. We know the mountain range that holds our Earth-time attention now so magnificently is in cosmological time a flickering wave – making it even more magnificent, therefore, and utterly unholdable.

Because we are disrupted by what we hold onto, we become held by disruption. There is a form of ‘being held’ (a phrase therapists use a lot, mostly in a metaphysical sense), which is more like being considered, remembered, pondered. Climate anomalies hold our attention like a series of bad dreams. Your gripping nightmare is an extreme psychic weather event, almost unattended.

In this neurocloud, you and me, conversationalists of a type right now,

regarding each other’s immaterial presence respectfully enough.

Aroused by the frequency of looking around, even when we’re sitting still,

settling into the sensational silence of all that passes for thought.

We’re unsolid, anti-dense, semi-detached, forever under reconstruction,

sending elemental signals of therapeutically unscrewed awe.

The silent signal is ordinary, momentous breathing. Inspire, expire – simply attend and repeat. You’re breathed by this act of attending. Now, where to direct your inspired attention? If I could know everything there is to know about climate change, including all the latest scientific analyses and all the forecasting models and every wonky public argument and scholarly debate about the entire massive problem – the hyper-object, some say, of nightmarish proportions – how would I be acting differently? To have perfect and complete knowledge of everything would be to have no opinion at all. Your breath is not a matter of opinion. Keep breathing then, one by one, sigh by sigh, let’s be sure to keep breathing well – that’s good science and good mysticism right there.

Concentrate! Don’t concentrate! Your knowledge is no use until you’re free of it. The oldest philosophies say we already know profoundly what’s what but we scream and moan and forget about it all – even foregoing our own precious identities – at the orgasmic moment of ultimate truth. Climate justice, migrant justice, water justice, every kind of humane justice you can conceive of is brutally compromised by nature’s supreme amorality. We are not the keepers of the keys to the riddle of the cosmos, only agonised bodies in a puzzle of our own screwy design.

The crunch of science, like concussion or awful bloody facts,

grinding its way through our busy shopping brains so unpoetically.

Everything seems too much for us and never quite enough for us,

climbing down at last from the fat neurotic mountains of our minds.

Hard-wired like-mindedly, we generate this almighty hard-edged world,

forging its language within our worried skin and warrior bones.

Good therapy embodies us soulfully while scientific mysticism dematerialises us. There are no things, there is only thinging. This is the feeling of what happens, whether I’m awake or dreaming – and I act as if I know there’s a difference. The truly climactic part of sleeping is the waking up. What’s it like, that transitional momentary world when the waking mind simultaneously recalls and dissolves the dreaming mind’s visions? Sometimes I sense the beginning of a wild argument between the waker and the dreamer. A brilliant fight could break out for the rest of the day.

Jim recommends …

Handbook of Climate Psychology (available free): http://www.climatepsychologyalliance.org/handbook

 

All rights reserved © Copyright Jim Holloway 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author of this post is strictly prohibited.

Saying goodbye

DESHeadshotBS-1 ‘On the outside the emotions are being covered?’

‘Yep, there’s a terrible risk in saying “goodbye” that something on the inside will rupture out of me.’

‘Rupture?’

‘Yes, I remember standing on stage … in my mid-20s. I was addressing the audience and was about to thank a member of my band, someone I’d been really close to since I was a child who was emigrating to Australia after the gig. I was stopped in mid-sentence … a syllable more and I would enter the rupture. I turned my face from the audience. The silence on stage was horrific. I don’t remember what next.’

‘You say “rupture”.’

‘When my mother died, I was stuck. The complex grief of losing a mother that I’d only related with well for part of my life left this dark grey block in my chest and the back of my head. I knew I needed to cry but I couldn’t bear to hear the awful sound that wanted to exit me every time I started. Eventually, I turned the music up so loud I couldn’t hear myself cry. But it’s not what I did … not what it sounded like coming out of my body. My inner ears told me what my outer ones couldn’t.’ [Silence]

‘Rupture?’ [Silence]

‘Yes … rupture. The most guttural gasp and then, and then it vomits this sound. [Silence] I’ve heard it from other people. I think it’s the actual sound of loss?’

‘Is it fearful to lose then?’

‘Isn’t … isn’t it fundamental to loving? To connection? The only way to not experience it as far as I’m wired would be by dying so you couldn’t experience loss.’

‘Do I need to worry about that last sentence?’

‘No, no … God no. Nothing like that. It’s that saying goodbye is so fundamental.’

‘So, as it’s a patient that’s brought this up for you, what do you need from supervision today?’

‘I need to say that I have a daughter. A therapy daughter, you know that. It comes from the fact that she adopted me, as a therapy dad. She led, I followed. I had the space in my life to be that figure for a while.’

‘It’s been what? Four years?’

‘Yes, four. There’s been longer, much longer, but I was “therapy uncle”, “good person”, “repairing therapist”, “the first good guy”.’

‘Never therapy dad?’

‘Never “therapy dad”. You know that bit in the training film for therapists, Gloria … the bit where Rogers says, “Gee Gloria, right now, in the moment, I think I do love you like a father”? It kills trainees. They aren’t ready for how it can work in the room. They think it’s a no-no – like he’s made a mistake. But what’s therapy without love? Isn’t it about a form of love? Safe, ethical, non-erotic love?’

And then it hits.

‘Anny is my daughter. I love her as such because she needed me to. So that the therapy could work, so that she could let go of things, discover, rediscover and then let go.’

‘You have a daughter.’ [Silence] ‘You have a daughter.’ There is another pause as the listening therapist collects himself. ’Okay, so we know you understand the process. You know how to deliver safe, therapeutic love to women and men. It’s been a particular theme for you over the last five or six years. What’s different this time?

‘This is only just in my head but … I think it’s that I have to realise that therapy dad is a foster dad. He has to let go. Fully. No matter how much he loved. He has to have played the full role, a surrogate, but when the job is done … [there is a long silence; the room charges with emotion] … when the job is done he has to make space to receive the next therapy son, daughter [niece, nephew].’

‘It’s part of our work for some patients.’

‘Yes patients – from pati – one who suffers.’

‘Imagine that everyone demanded this from us each session!’

The supervision couple laugh together. Letting go of the tension.

‘We supply what our Ps need; it’s a privilege.’

‘Honour?’

‘Yes, honour.’

‘And I wouldn’t change a moment of it, not for all those projections and transferences we have to hold.’

‘But saying goodbye!’

‘I was once given a wonderful message in a card from an “Anny” of mine.’ The supervisor reaches into a tin that is on the side of the desk. ‘There’s a whole bit before this, but here’s the bit that really showed such deep understanding of saying goodbye for me.’

There are things in this world

that even when they live in the past

and can no longer grow into the future,

retain their beauty forever.

For a moment the therapists catch each other’s eyes and each sees in the other the familiar sparkle of light when it catches water.

Duncan recounts from a therapy daughter …

“I feel able to fly, but I am sad to leave”

 

All rights reserved © Copyright Duncan E. Stafford 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author of this post is strictly prohibited.

Plumbing the depths of creativity

3monkeyGlenn‘Um, I’m a bit embarrassed – urghhh – I think I’ve blocked your toilet … I’ll check it again before I leave,’ Karl offers as he enters the room.

‘Oh,’ I reply.

‘I know I’m full of shit, and you’d probably say I’m just really “anal”.’ Unlike the toilet, Karl’s humour flows with the same apparent ease with which his lithe body moves from the door and into the chair.

‘You’ve been saying that for some time,’ I reply.

‘I have?’

‘Yes, you complain how shit your life is, about how you dump here and on me, you apologise and then you do the same thing the next week. Blocking the toilet was inevitable.’

‘So you think your blocked toilet is a manifestation of my internal world?’

‘Sure,’ I reply. ‘You’ve brought together two key aspects of your life: writer’s block, and how shit your life is. The toilet is a beautiful embodiment of your perspective.’

Karl thinks for a moment, ‘So I’m a blocked toilet? And I thought I was the one who’s full of shit!’

‘Maybe I am, but you often say how you’ve lost your creativity – then when you do create something you devalue it.’

Adjusting his glasses as though to emphasise his incredulity Karl asks, ‘You’re seriously suggesting I value a blocked toilet?’

‘Yes. You say nothing much ever happens to you; well this is it – it’s happening right now. Writers write from experience – so write about this.’

‘Great, I can just see my editor’s face when she asks what I’m working on, and I say, “The time I blocked my therapist’s toilet – oh, and yes, my writing really has turned to shit.”’

‘See, that’s good; you just don’t see it, or you don’t value it.’

Karl pushes back, ‘Seriously? Come on …!’

‘Why not? You’re not writing anything else. Besides, whatever your stuckness is it’s forcing you to be with yourself; it’s confronting you with yourself.’

‘You’ve said that before; maybe it’s you who’s stuck.’ He has a point.

‘You don’t trust your process; you restrict yourself creatively – you don’t risk being spontaneous.’

I’m not sure if Karl’s lack of response is a grudging acknowledgement. After a brief pause a thought appears. ‘What’s brown and sticky?’ I ask.

Karl looks quizzically at me, ‘What, really?’

‘Yeah, what’s brown and sticky?’

Karl shrugs, ‘A stick?’

‘No, you are …’ Karl’s face is expressionless; I suddenly feel very exposed.

‘Are you serious? You think it’s okay to say that to a black man?’

The moment steals my breath. Karl’s eyes look pained, then almost imperceptibly, the corners of his mouth curl up as uncontained laughter ruptures his serious expression: ‘I gotcha! Ha … I’ve never seen anyone whiter than you!’

Lost for words and unable to laugh, I utter, ‘Wow … that wasn’t nice!’ He laughs louder still. I want to laugh but I first need to breathe, ‘I don’t know about you being brown and sticky, but I think I’ve soiled myself!’ With this the tightness in my abdomen releases as laughter bubbles up; we’re now laughing together and wiping the tears from our eyes.

‘I’m sorry, but you did challenge me to be more spontaneous!’ Karl pauses allowing me to take his words in. ‘You thought you’d offended me?’ His voice has a tenderness that often comes through in his playfulness. ‘You know your joke could have backfired.’

He is acknowledging the risk I’d taken; perhaps it’s testament to our relationship that we are able to connect in a place where we’re both potentially vulnerable; it was this that set the context for our exchange. I began wondering about other times when I may’ve got it wrong; there are probably more than I’m even aware of.

Karl interrupts my thought, ‘Don’t worry; your joke was racial, not racist; there is a distinction – they’re not synonymous.’ Karl’s sincerity gives way to giggling, ‘I am sorry, but your face; you looked like a ghost.’

As our laughter subsides we sit in silence for some time like a post-coital couple enjoying the warm afterglow of a brief and intense encounter.

‘So you really think I should write about this,’ Karl concludes.

‘Why not? Treat it as a writing exercise – it might unblock you, and it might not.’

‘Hmm,’ Karl ponders, ‘But who’d read it?’

‘Write it for yourself.’

Karl laughs at a private joke, ‘“Write for myself”; I’m a professional writer.’

‘Maybe that’s where you’re stuck; you only ever write for other people.’

‘I might as well just flush it all away,’ Karl replies as though he hadn’t heard me. His words belong to another ongoing conversation; rather than deflecting perhaps he’s making a connection.

Glancing at the clock and addressing himself, Karl declares, ‘Times up, and time to face the music.’

‘If it doesn’t work I’ll deal with it; I work with people’s shit all the time.’ My words follow him out of the room.

Karl disappears into the downstairs’ toilet. A loud swooshing sound accompanies Karl as he emerges triumphant, ‘All good.’ Then with irony he adds, ‘Well at least the toilet’s not blocked anymore.’

Rather than criticism, I take Karl’s comment as a reassurance to us both that our work is not yet done. He was right about me being stuck – we are, as it were, stuck in it together.

Glenn recommends …

If as a psychotherapist you ask someone to do something, you either first have to have done it yourself, or be willing to do so.

 

All rights reserved © Copyright Glenn Nicholls 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author of this post is strictly prohibited.

One man at a time

Jimblog1How come all my clients are men? I’m not sure, and that’s OK, it’s not a problem …

I enjoy working with men. But when someone hears this and asks me about what happens in ‘man-to-man’ therapy, I find it hard to say. One reason is this: men are not men. I mean, who exactly are we talking about when we say ‘men’? I’m a man, so don’t call me ‘men’. Am I a definable or categorisable man, a so-called type? Have you ever called someone a ‘typical man’? I suppose we all think we know a few.

I woke up one morning recently and realised I’d been studying men, in one way or another, all my conscious life. Let’s say my father’s physical and emotional distance had something to do with that keen interest. But more significantly I grew up in the ’60s as the roles of women and men were being radically questioned and debunked, and I was confused about what kind of man I would or could become.

Every man studies men, one way or another. With fear and desire, with wonder and bewilderment, men watch each other very closely indeed.

Here’s the thing: I’ve done counselling and therapy with hundreds of men of all ages in the last twenty-five years or so; I’ve read dozens of books about men and masculinities; I’ve been a member of men’s groups and led several groups myself, and I’ve run courses and workshops for and about men; I’ve had journal articles published on ‘The Bloke in Therapy’ and ‘Men at Midlife’ and so on – and the fact is I don’t think there is a big story or a grand narrative to tell about men. There are many kinds of men and there are no kinds of men. And yet all the while we go around telling stories about ‘men’. We try to figure them out.

Men are as queer as anything. Of course they are! We find manifold examples in all cultures in all eras. Men love men in all kinds of ways. Men like to play with gender styles and sexual roles, from boyhood onwards. Portraying manliness is always a kind of experiment because we’re not completely sure what a man is. Games of disguise and revelation that subvert traditions of maleness and femaleness are fascinating to men. And – most importantly – men are as straight as anything too. Absolutely straight, conventional and unquestioning. Of course they are!

We’re full of feeling, us men, even when we’re full of crap, and that’s a hell of a feeling.

I’ve met a lot of men who turn away from exploring what it means to be a man. I get on fine with them in therapy, though I’m baffled by their incuriosity. Ideas about ‘toxic masculinity’, for example, mean almost nothing to them. For this blandly self-assured man, any enquiry into how he derived his performance of masculinity is of little or no interest – which makes even him even more interesting to me.

Perhaps we simply want to be free to be who we are. But what’s the context for that freedom? If the society I live in tolerates only narrow, exclusive definitions of masculinity, then although I’m certain about what is masculine I am restricted as a man. If my society accepts wide, multiple definitions of masculinity, then I’m uncertain about what is masculine and I am liberated as a man.

If there’s one thing I can say about ‘man-to-man’ therapy that could apply to almost all my work with men, it would be about how a man reveals his emotional wounds to another man without being pitied, judged or dishonoured. It’s part of what’s called, simply enough, ‘men’s work’. Not everyone understands the healing effect of this. But if you’ve done it, you get it.

Men’s muscle power, physical skill and hard graft make all our lives possible. At the same time we know all kinds of men feel deep emotional pain. What happens to men’s misery and grief? Many seem to suffer alone in armoured silence. I see this in therapy. Men come in and at some point the way we talk and relate helps them to take off the armour and speak of its terrible origin. I’ve done that in my own therapy of course. When men accept they are grievously wounded, and trust themselves to tell the whole shameful story, then they can embrace that wound and take good care of it, and manfully so. The mythologist Michael Meade says the way to guarantee that a man will continue to wound others is to keep him ignorant of his own wounds. A man who doesn’t know he is wounded can’t see that others are wounded. That’s where so much trouble starts.

 

Jim recommends …

Men and the Water of Life by Michael Meade (1993)

 

 

All rights reserved © Copyright Jim Holloway 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author of this post is strictly prohibited.