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Touching the Void - or is it?

In my darker moments, it seems that this is what psychotherapy is all about: looking into the void, venturing into the seemingly endless chasm that can open up inside when it feels as if the bottom falls out of our world – or more prosaically, someone has pulled the plug out. 

 Having been through my own therapeutic journey, I remember there were times when I felt great fear at approaching difficult feelings.  I felt that if I started crying I would never stop, that I would be overwhelmed and engulfed, that the pain would be just to big to encounter.  I’m writing this blog because I know for me, these moments, and finding a way through these moments, were really important in enabling me to grow and feel freer of my past.

 The film “Touching the Void” tells the true story of how the central character, Joe Simpson, and his partner are descending a mountain after Simpson had broken his leg.  In the descent he slips over a crevasse and is suspended in the freezing air.  His partner has to make the choice to die with him or cut the rope.  He cuts the rope, letting Simpson fall into the crevasse.  Simpson survives the fall, and decides that his best chance lies in going deeper into the crevasse, using what he has left of the rope to let himself down into the unknown.  He has no idea whether his rope will reach the bottom, but goes down as far as it will reach.  He does reach the bottom, and despite his injuries and the cold, eventually succeeds in crawling to the entrance, to emerge into daylight and safety.

 I’m not suggesting psychotherapy is quite as bad as this; though speaking from my experiences as a client, it has felt very difficult at times.  And sometimes, the only way forward is into unknown, uncharted, fearful territory.  Psychotherapy does require strength, perseverance and faith: for both client and therapist.

 And this of course is the difference.  There are two of us involved, all the way through.  In the film, the rope is cut: his partner makes the heart-rending decision to send his friend to almost certain death in order to save himself.  Joe Simpson is entirely alone, completely dependent on his own resources and determination to survive.

 In therapy, there is someone else there, even if, as I know from my own experience, accepting the therapist’s help at a deep level can be an excruciatingly difficult thing to do.  I learnt from an early age that I should look after myself, pride my independence and to be wary of showing any vulnerability.   So I found trusting someone who genuinely wanted to help and make contact was hard.  Psychotherapy helped me see how I needed to do this as a child to protect myself from wanting more from my mother than she could necessarily give, and the inevitable disappointment that followed this.  As children we tend to think that we are the problem, that if only we were a bit more “right” we would be more lovable. 

 As an adult I have been able to re-assess these beliefs.  But doing so involved touching the pain and sadness that I had protected myself from all these years:  the unbearable pain of not being understood, feeling unloved, feeling rejected or somehow not good enough to deserve the parents’ full attention and love.  Touching these feelings as I started to trust the therapist did feel like entering the abyss.  But the difference was that the rope was not cut.  I was connected and held as I looked over the edge and saw the feelings from a different place.  The grief and pain was there, and there were certainly tears, many tears, but they did stop, because I was no longer in that place. I was looking back to it, and recognising where I had held this pain in my body through these years. I could see how I had protected myself against the pain of connection and vulnerability.  I could see what this had cost me in my relationships.  Now I have a great deal more choice.

Light in the Darkness: Skyspace in Salzburg, James Turrell

So I do believe there is hope, and surprising strength, even in the darkest, hardest times.  Therapy brings a connection, a rope that is strong and will not be cut, unless we choose to make this happen.  Once one rope is in place it often helps us to see that there are in fact other ropes connecting us to other people.  We are less alone than we think.   Our sense of connection may take many forms: it might be a ladder that appears, that enables us to climb out of a deep pit, or a suspension bridge that takes us across a gorge. There are many potential ways in which we find connection with others once we start on this route.  What are yours?



Recovery - slow and tedious or a time for learning?

My frozen shoulder isnt quite so frozen any more.  In fact it can do all sorts of exciting things like digging holes and cycling up hills, and waving at people.  But there are still loads of things I cant do - and after some enthusiastic digging my osteopath suggested that I had probably put my recovery back by a few weeks. That is the frustrating thing about any recovery journey.  When things get better we want to leap into action and do all the exciting things that we havent been doing, we want to feel fully well again, and all that patience and acceptance from my last blog just goes out of the window!

It can be very frustrating to accept that the path to recovery, whether emotional or physical, can be a long and often slow road.  It is so tempting to take the advice of friends who advocate painkilling injections or other apparent quick fixes.  I would love a quick fix, and I also want to stay connected to what is happening in my body.  I dont want to numb my feelings, and I really value the information my shoulder gives me about my emotional state and that of my clients.  There is an NLP principle about honouring the positive intention of something that feels like an obstacle.  Once we start to see the problems that we face in this way it is possible to let the issues and pain that feel like stumbling blocks gently transform themselves into stepping stones leading us forward.


How can a frozen shoulder be good for me?

Anyone who has had a frozen shoulder (or an impingement  - I'm not sure exactly what the difference is!) knows just how painful and limiting the condition is.  I have found myself unable to continue playing the violin, having to stop swimming, being incredibly careful during snowball fights and generally getting tired much quicker than normal.  Ive found it painful, frustrating, depressing and exhausting.  I've had lots of advice about how to fix it, and I have been seeing a local osteopath who is gradually making some headway.  But I have started to really value the learning I am getting from it.

It has made me stop.  I noticed that when I rested for a week my arm didnt hurt and I could sleep comfortably. When I returned to work it started hurting again.  I found that when I thought certain thoughts, it hurt, and with others, it relaxed.  In my own personal therapy I have been exploring what my shoulder might be expressing, and what trauma's are held in.  Very early on I noticed that after seeing the osteopath traumatic memories that I had thought resolved resurfaced, and the grief returned. I have started drawing a picture of how it feels each day - it likes that!

So now, as my shoulder is healing, I am appreciating the learning that I am gaining from it.  I'm also appreciating the things that I can do - plenty of walking, typing with one hand, singing, enjoying the goregous spring weather, and playing instruments that dont strain my arm.  The good things in life are still here - and I am looking forward to a full recovery as well!


What do you really want for christmas?

As we head into the season of good intentions, its helpful to remember just how powerful it can be to set an intention and let it go…

Some time around the age of 30 I discovered that if I could be clear I wanted something it tended to happen.  This was somewhat disconcerting, but also exciting.  If I really set my heart on something, truly and clearly, it would appear in some way. The catch of course is being clear what you really want – and being honest with yourself if there are parts of you that maybe don't want this thing just yet.

 So all through my thirties I said I yearned to be in love again – but in reality I had no intention of getting myself involved with someone, and I was making the most of being single.  It took several years of painful exploration before I could really be truly clear that I was ready to meet someone.  And once I was clear, then I did.

 Deepak Chopra talks about clarifying your intention and then letting it go – offer it to the universe as your gift, so that it can go out and come back to you.  If you grip it tightly and revisit it, it will shrivel and die.  It’s rather like digging up the potatoes to see if they are grown yet. Intentions need a chance to grow and mature.

 What is your intention for Christmas?  Is it an ideal of perfection, or more simply survival?  Of finally feeling a sense of connection with your now elderly parent, or difficult sibling?  I would invite you to stop,  sit down, close your eyes, feel your feet on the ground, and let yourself reflect what you really want for Christmas.  Allow the sense to grow, explore how it would feel to have this and be clear that this is what you would really like.  Notice  and listen to any doubts or concerns that may appear, and adjust your intention until it feels truly right for you, and does no harm to others.

 Hold that intention, give it your love, and let it go.



Is resigning your job the moment you really come to know yourself?

In todays Radio 4 Saturday Live today Richard Coles suggested that resigning is when you truly start to know who you are.  Is he right?

Resigning from your job is a huge step.  You may feel you have no choice because life is becoming unbearable and it is a chance to finally say No.  I know from my own experience of resigning from my dream job that it is a decision that musters all your resources, and may not feel like the right thing for some time to come.  But being able to say No is vitally important to establish where our boundaries are, and thus who we are.  This can be a lifes work for some of us.

 And it isnt all about saying no – resigning your job can be a powerful statement, saying yes to a future that you wish for.  Resigning can  be a step forward, a first step in showing that you have belief in the future that lies ahead of you.  As Goethe so powerfully put it:

“Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!”