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.

 

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.

Life is like …

3monkeyGlennLife is unlike the life your parents prepared you for; they too were unprepared. The best a parent can teach a child is there’s no preparation for life …

Life is like the life your parents wanted for you, only not in the way they intended.

Life is unlike the strange men you were told never to talk to, unless you are a strange man, in which case talking to yourself is obligatory.

Life is like an encounter with a stranger; always welcome people introducing you to yourself.

Life is unlike everything you ever wanted but we’re afraid to ask.

Life is like everything you ever wanted without freedom from wanting.

Life is unlike similes and metaphors; life is a metaphor. You are a metaphor.

Life is like incorrect grammar, unless you believe in grammar, in which case you’ll struggle with breaking the rules and it’ll always feel like someone’s looking over your shoulder.

Life is unlike a fork in the road; rather, you’ll see yourselves walking beside you on parallel roads, in parallel lives.

Life is like your parallel lives; be glad you’ll never meet yourself.

Life is unlike the lives of people passing by as you sit watching from a park bench telling yourself the story of their lives.

Life is like children off playing in the fields for the day; they’ve no concept of time and are blissfully unaware of the trouble they’ll be in when they’re home late.

Life is unlike money: having more doesn’t make you happier; that’ll depend on how you came by it.

Life is like money: you’ll try to save, spend, squander, borrow, take and give it away. In the end it only buys more of the same.

Life is unlike the life you think you should’ve had; it’s the ‘shoulds’ that get in the way – unless, of course, you’ve convinced yourself they are the life you want.

Life is like listening to the dawn chorus at 4am: you long for sleep, even though you’ve never heard anything more beautiful.

Life is unlike anything else. One life cannot be compared to another; life is a false equivalence.

Life is like every other life on the planet.

Life is unlike a fairground ride; you’re told to hold on tight even though it makes not a blind bit of difference.

Life is like a travelling circus; you fear it’ll take you away, and you’re scared it won’t.

Life is unlike conversations about life; talking about it can be painful and pleasurable, and yet it’s no substitute. Psychotherapy is conversations about life; it makes pseudo-experts of us all.

Life is like being carried away in conversation: you don’t know where you’re going, or what word will come next. The ‘right’ words usually come; be patient, for the ‘wrong’ words will find their way.

Life is unlike anything you’ve ever seen before; no wonder it passes you by as you wait for it to begin.

Life is like dreaming you’re awake; if you’re lucky, you’ll wake up and realise you’re dreaming.

Life is unlike a container of assorted confectionary – it really isn’t.

Life is like a wheelbarrow full of orphaned baby orang-utans.

Life is unlike infinity; you can always find a bit of spare time.

Life is like a pain in the neck; if you stop interfering it’ll usually sort itself out and you’ll wonder what all the fuss was about.

Life is unlike your life story – all the right words in the wrong places, and all the wrong words in the right places.

Life is like an actor who fears forgetting their lines only to realise it’s all ad lib.

Life is unlike the centre of the universe unless it’s spinning off its axis.

Life is like it might never happen, unless it already has, in which case you might have missed it, only you can’t be sure. In time the feeling of missing out shapes what is absent, such that the feeling becomes indistinguishable from the thing itself.

Life is unlike a riddle; people can’t help you solve it, but they might distract you for a while.

Life is like coming out to yourself and, if it isn’t, it’ll be more like a closet.

Life is unlike the running out of time and more or less like a running out on time; abandon all concept of time. There’s enough to get to the end.

Life is like every book, film and play you never read, saw or went to.

Life is unlike the infinite promise of youth; you only realise it once you’ve let your self go.

Life is like the taking of prisoners – unless you give your self up.

Life is unlike a sandwich-filler; your life is a sandwich-filler – sandwiched as it is between birth and death. Confusing the two will hamper your sandwich.

Life is like it never happened.

 

Glenn suggests …

There’s no answer to life, since it’s not a question.

 

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

Much love, your brother …

Portrait_002My younger sibling would be turning 50 this year. I wonder what would have been explored in the last half century had that sibling survived?

I think of what pleasures and pains would have been created if I had always had the youngster beneath me in the family. I wonder how my own life experience would have been altered by being the big brother?

As a four year-old, my rather large bedroom in the eaves of the house I grew up in was ready to be divided for the coming of the newest member of our household. I clearly remember how my parents began to manipulate my thinking in preparation for the commencement of the building works. It was ‘going to be fun’ having a smaller room. I’d ‘get to choose my own bedspread’ – I’d even be allowed one that represented the cockpit of a racing car, if I’d ‘just give up [my] protests, see sense and take a positive view’. Of course, being four, I didn’t really understand what was going on and I certainly didn’t understand why my older sister was getting to keep a room of her own with all of her stuff and things in it. There would be no consequence of reduced space for her. I was very resistant and, although I say it myself, rightly so!

Skip forward a few months and a different message was circulating in my life. Unseen, but not unfelt by me, my mother had lost the baby that was due in the family. Suddenly my peace was being shattered by another direct assault on my space: apparently there was someone already in existence who might be coming to share my room. The audacity! An adopted child – whatever that meant. We were now expecting a cuckoo!

As it happens, the cuckoo-child never arrived. But as time followed on I was next introduced to the idea of emigration to Australia, where we would all ‘get new lives’.

The changes seemed to mount and I really didn’t like all of this unsettled social soup that we were living in. Most noticeably, my mother’s health began to deteriorate – her body quietly rejecting something. Loss in her was transformed into chronic painful illness. By the time a full seven years had passed from the loss of the child we were finally moving – but it wasn’t across the globe. Leading up to this move, the basement of our house, which my ‘aunt’ lived in, was converted into a self-contained flat. A new bathroom was created on the ground floor, and then the three upper floors that had been my family home were split  to form yet more self-contained properties. My ‘aunt’, a casualty of this change, moved out. It was a personal loss.

On the day before the morning I started secondary school we moved to a small house away from my friends. It seemed that for seven years one loss became another. Loss transformed until it couldn’t be clearly seen what was actually missing anymore.

Imaginations and dreams gave way to decomposition as I watched my father retreat into what I would later realise was depression. My once-safe comforting mother had, by then, almost totally dissolved into pain and anger. When both my parents were in their final phases of life I dared to fully and directly bring up the loss of the youngest member of our family – but it was ‘too late’, too hidden, ‘hardly remembered’ they said. My child that had sought the adult answers continued to be denied the required explanations, but therapy helped give the events a narrative by which to understand the family loss, pain, anxiety and depression.

Having permanently returned to my home city this year, the ‘golden’ anniversary of all that loss, I allow myself to wonder what different path there might have been if that younger sibling of mine had made it though. RIP Little One.

Much love,

Your brother

Duncan challenges you to …

… reach out to a sibling whatever your shared history.

 

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