Saturday, 30 April 2011

Never Never Land

"If growing up means it would be beneath my dignity to climb a tree, I'll never grow up, never grow up, never grow up! Not me!"  Peter Pan

Although I have read it before, this excerpt stirred me when I came across it recently:
"Being a teenager is vastly overrated. We all make mistakes, we are stubborn and we couldn't give two shits what our parents think, we hate school, we cause shit, we fight, we love, we cry, we give up on believing in a higher power. We're all fucked up and that's the truth, we all come from dysfunctional families, because no family is perfect; we say things that we don't mean, we yell, we scream, we get broken hearts, we get drunk, we have sex. Grades don't mean a thing anymore, we live on quotes and music that describe our lives and most importantly we are tired. We are tired of waking up each morning and having to go to school where we see the people we hate or the people we love, we get tired of waiting for the text message that's not going to come and we get tired of pretending we're fine..."

It caused me to think in some more depth about the challenges faced by young people as they negotiate adolescence.  Change confronts us, whatever age we are, but few transitions can be compared to those that confront the individual who is somewhere between child and adult.

I feel privileged to work with young people.  They keep me connected to part of myself that might otherwise fade into the background of my unconscious, and this feels important as we all, at some level, continue to revisit the challenges that first beset us at this crucial stage of life.  I am never left in any doubt as to the resilience and resources young people have at their disposal, and am frequently humbled by the creativity they demonstrate.

Adolescence is full of challenges for any child.  The change is fast, everywhere, and hard to keep up with.  Their physical body changes in response to increasing levels of hormones; their cognitive processes develop as they begin to think more broadly and in an abstract way; their social lives change radically, and their peer group typically becomes far more significant as a catalyst and conduit of change.  And all this happens simultaneously. 

We all need 'holding' and 'containment', not least when we're facing the unknown, the unfamiliar, and the frightening.  Adolescence could be said to be all of these things.  As an adult, and a survivor of adolescence, I believe it is most helpful for me to support those going through this by respectfully making use of my life experience, maturity and resources.  Acknowledging the young person's complex and sometimes conflicting needs in a way that I am able to frame their experience within a context is one of the tools I have at my disposal and seems to me, to be a useful place to start.  After all, knowing you are not the only person who has encountered this montage of messy feelings, is perhaps itself reassuring.

Adolescence involves a re-working of older issues that have been around since infancy.  Adolescents yearn to develop a unique and independent identity, separate from their parents’.  This is often characterised in the adolescent rebellion, the significance of which should not be understated.  Yes, they love their parents, but they don’t simply want to follow their foot steps.  They challenge their parents in any way they can.  They disobey their rules; criticize their "old fashioned" values; and (publicly, at least) discard their suggestions.  Parents need to adapt in the face of these changes, to keep up with their evolving offspring.  Emotions run high in households where teenagers reside.  Emotions run high in every corner of a young person's life, which is exhausting for all concerned.  The peer group is often the young person's new 'family of choice' and it is within this environment that the individual seeks to establish themselves.  The significance of the peer group is enormous, as it is here that a young person often defines and develops their identity.

“The day the child realizes that all adults are imperfect, he becomes an adolescent the day he forgives them, he becomes an adult the day he forgives himself, he becomes wise.”  Alden Nowlan

For many young people, realising that childhood is over and the pressures of the real world are not too far down the road is enough to trigger the onset of depression.  School tasks and pressures, family issues, relationships (or lack thereof) and social pressures add to the problems teenagers already face, making teenage depression a a very real problem that is on the rise.

Young children are often heard confidently vocalising their life ambitions.  Many teens experience an erosion of these childhood dreams and find themselves feeling disillusioned and directionless.  As our experience expands with age, we lose the innocence of childhood and are confronted by frightening realities and responsibilities. 

"Growing up is never easy.  You hold on to things that were.  You wonder what's to come.  But that night, I think we knew it was time to let go of what had been, and look ahead to what would be.  Other days.  New days.  Days to come.  The thing is, we didn't have to hate each other for getting older.  We just had to forgive ourselves...for growing up."

The Wonder Years

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Still no cure for the common birthday

"Nobody grows old merely by living a number of years.  We grow old by deserting our ideals.  Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul."  Samuel Ullman

Walking down the High Street always provides entertainment - cognitive if not always comic.  On a recent amble something caught my eye, as I saw a rather aggressive mother pushing her super smart buggy (is that the correct term, and what is the difference between a buggy, and a push chair, and does anyone have a pram these days?) complete with very happy looking child on board, overtaking someone with more wisdom and experience who was pushing her own four wheeled apparatus, in the form of a shopping trolley. 

Within this quite ordinary, and in many ways quite unremarkable scene, there was so much - about life, and our passage through it.  The young mother, busily going about her day - cramming in the shopping, having fed her infant, walked the dog, and was now racing to meet friends (with similarly grand infant-carriers) for coffee.  In front of her, taking things at an altogether more sedate pace, was a lady belonging to a different life stage - perhaps trying to remember what it was that she came out for or working out whether she had enough in her purse to buy what she needed. 

I wondered whether, with the passing of time, our mode of existing changes, and we naturally (or essentially) become less concerned with doing, and are more interested in being.  Knowing neither of them I found myself in the position of a detached observer with the privilege of witnessing not only the representative younger generation 'catching up' with someone their senior, but 'over taking' and in doing so displaying a sense of entitlement communicated without words, but energetically displayed for anyone to see should they happen to notice. 

The population of the UK is aging.  Over the last 25 years the percentage of the population aged 65 and over increased from 15 per cent in 1984 to 16 per cent in 2009, an increase of 1.7 million people.  Over the same period, the percentage of the population aged under 16 decreased from 21 per cent to 19 per cent. This trend is projected to continue.  By 2034, 23 per cent of the population is projected to be aged 65 and over compared to 18 per cent aged under 16.

We know this, but do we connect with this?  Moment to moment, there are more of us living longer.  We are living at a time when the oldest old are the fastest growing population, with far reaching consequences at a societal level.  The fastest population increase has been in the number of those aged 85 and over, the “oldest old”.  In 1984, there were around 660,000 people in the UK aged 85 and over.  Since then the numbers have more than doubled reaching 1.4 million in 2009. By 2034 the number of people aged 85 and over is projected to be 2.5 times larger than in 2009, reaching 3.5 million and accounting for 5 per cent of the total population.

The statistics speak for themselves.  As a result of these increases in the number of older people, the median age of the UK population is increasing.  Over the past 25 years the median age increased from 35 years in 1984 to 39 years in 2009.  It is projected to continue to increase over the next 25 years rising to 42 by 2034.  With the average age set to increase, how will we define "middle aged"?

"You are as young as your faith, as old as your doubt; as young as your self-confidence, as old as your fear; as young as your hope, as old as your despair."  Douglas MacArthur

This issue is making its way onto the public agenda, and being considered from a politico-economic perspective, but it struck me that some of the thinking will inevitably happen at an individual level.  It is not now uncommon for 4 or even 5 generations of a family to share time on Earth, and yet we have progressed a long way from the 'nuclear' family.  

Times are changing.  Radically so.  Social care is necessarily under review and will (with any luck) be revised in light of the population trends, and resultant demographics.  Where does all of this leave the 'average family'?  Where does it leave those who are living longer, but are apt to fall off the agenda, as they maybe lack access to the resources us sprightly young things take for granted?
My seemingly insignificant decision to pop to the shops opened Pandora's Box (I almost forgot what it was that I had gone for)...  What I saw, as the two women struggled for space on the pavement struck me hard.  Existential issues are never easy to face let alone explore, least of all early on a weekday morning (before sufficient coffee) but perhaps seeing the small, haggard, slightly dishevelled, or disorientated old lady threatened at a deep, and unconscious level, the omnipotence of the young seemingly-has-it-all mother.  How long will any of this last?  Is there enough to go round?  What is the discrepancy between those of us living longer lives, and those living longer healthy, and fulfilled lives, in which they feel safe and comfortable?

"When I was young, I thought that money was the most important thing in the world.  Now I'm old, I know that it is."  Oscar Wilde

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Recovery: Swimming Upstream

The metaphors are plentiful, the research provides confirmation.  I am renown for 'prescribing' exercise.  Anything will do, time spent outside of one's head (as opposed to off it) is valuable to anyone - especially those in recovery.  Getting clean at this time of year has its challenges (it's hard to walk down a street without people drinking on the pavement or in the park) but so too does it have advantages - you can build time spent outdoors into your recovery regimen. 

"Lack of activity destroys the good condition of every human being, while movement and methodical physical exercise save it and preserve it."  Plato

There is an old expression containing a long accepted truth - 'when I got busy, I got better'.  The most challenging question I ask anyone during an assessment is why they want their recovery.  There is no doubt in my mind that they are deserving of it, but both they and I need more than this: they need a purpose.  Without purpose, we're lost, and if you are more likely to get somewhere you want to go if you have a direction in which to travel. 

Putting down whatever substance(s) or behaviour(s) leaves a void.  A great big gaping hole which needs filling.  Addictions in their chronic form sap energy, and the life of an addict/alcoholic is generally directed towards the getting/taking of their substance or the acting-out of a compulsive behaviour.  Take away the object of the addiction, and this is where the real work begins and this is the true challenge of recovery - the replacement of all that the addiction offered. 

An addict's identity and life becomes synonymous with their drug of choice.  Recovery involves nothing less than reinvention.  It is a creative journey and one that is full of possibility.  It also poses a big problem for those unwilling to step beyond their comfort zone, for this is a complex task that challenges the resources of even the most willing. 

I am regularly asked as to how I define the difference between sobriety and recovery.  The answer is simple: they are incomparable.  Getting clean is, for most, the easy part.  Staying clean should not be underestimated, but is not overly complicated.  Recovery, on the other hand, is a different story and entails a quality of sobriety and encompasses, I think, a 'moving on' in one's life.

Finding and maintaining leisure activities and interests is just as important as staying clean.  Humans function best when they have meaningful activities which they enjoy, and feel that they are good at.  Recovery is a personal domain, and what one person classifies as meaningful may be quite different to someone else - the point is that anyone in recovery needs to have things to do, places to go, and people to meet.  In short, we need to import new areas into our lives to preserve and protect our sobriety and promote serenity.

Exercise is but one example of a recovery-friendly recreational activity as it fulfils some important criteria - firstly, it has the capacity to meet our need for immediate gratification.  Rarely has someone been known to come out of the gym, pool or studio, and felt exactly as they did before they started on the cross-trainer, or put on their boxing gloves. 

Recovering addicts need to learn to take time out to enjoy.  We need to re-connect with our bodies, and our physical, felt experience.  Many who come into recovery have all but forgotten how to be playful with self esteem that struggles to leave floor level.  Addiction deprives people of so much more than money.  It is destructive of the very things that allow us to feel what it is to be human - we forget that we have abilities, and talents, we neglect our potential and forget our accomplishments. 

Exercising in company is even better and can help build motivation and commitment, as well as providing a social dimension and source of camaraderie and support.  Exercise simulates the effects of an anti depressant; the dopamine released can help to minimise cravings and provide a healthy distraction from rumination.  The endorphins released during physical activity appear to stimulate the brain in positive ways.  They seem to be natural pain relievers and are perhaps the body’s own way of combating the muscular changes that go along with exercise as well as elevating the participant's mood.  Recovery relies on discipline, and exercise instills this whilst promoting empowerment and alleviating stress. 

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Joy as the 'missing ingredient'

Downs' apparently simple definitions seem to make a lot of sense:  Passion as the repeated experience of joy in an activity.  Love as the repeated experience of joy in another.* 

Passion and love are both meta emotions, or emotions that are only felt after the observation of other emotions over time.  In this sense both require a degree of skill in the act of mindful noticing, for unless acknowledged, the joy which leads to either has a tendency to be fleeting and forgotten.

What drives joy is quite different to what drives validation and existences based on the pursuit of validation will quite display an absence of joy, and therefore lack passion two determinants of depression.  Joy is generated and experienced internally; validation by definition seeks external approval and is therefore a public affair.  Joy in contrast, is inherently private:  people find passion for activities which they undertake and experience joy, rather than because they are doing what they think they should, ought or must do.

I am often asked what helps individuals overcome shame.  Joy and shame seem incompatible as joy is an endpoint of the authenticity which is itself the antithesis of shame.  In order to reduce shame it is necessary to receive authentic validation - validation of our true selves, rather than the facades we present in an attempt to minimise our shame.  Perhaps through the pursuit of the things which bring us joy, we are more likely to invite into our lives people who will validate our behaviour.  It is essential that joy that is the primary objective, and validation merely a coincidental by-product:  this deceptively simple sounding shift might reveal the sequence and code of passion, love, integrity and therein contain the recipe for true contentment. 

"Passion. It lies in all of us. Sleeping, waiting… And though unwanted,unbidden… it will stir… open its jaws, and howl. It speaks to us… guides us… Passion rules us all. And we obey. What other choice do we have?

...Passion is the source of our finest moments. The joy of love… the clarity of hatred… and the ecstasy of grief. It hurts sometimes more than we can bear.

...If we could live without passion, maybe we’d know some kind of peace. But we would be hollow. Empty rooms, shuttered and dank… Without passion, we’d be truly dead."
Josh Whedon (American screenwriter, producer and creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Toy Story, b.1964)

* Downs, A. (2006), The Velvet Rage: Overcoming the Pain of Growing up Gay in a Straight Man's World, New York: De Capo Press Inc.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

World Press Photo 2011: The Shadow of the Human Collective

"It is one thing to photograph people.  It is another to cause others to care for them by revealing the core of their humanness." 
Paul Strand (American photographer 1890-1976)

The World Press Photo exhibition made for hard, thought provoking, gratitude enhancing viewing.  As I walked between the photographs I became aware of the parallel exhibition - that of the reactions displayed in the faces and bodies of my fellow spectators.  Between us there was a silent encounter in which so much was communicated non verbally.  The security of knowing that we had our homes and families awaiting our return, and that we could, at any moment, close our eyes, and be removed from the challenging reality the images presented us with.

"Photography records the gamut of feelings written on the human face, the beauty of the earth and skies that man has inherited and the wealth and confusion man has created.  It is a major force in explaining man to man." Edward Steichen (American photographer 1879-1973)

The photographs we were confronted by represent the winning contributions and were selected from over 108,000 entries submitted by 5,500 press photographers from all over the world.  The stories they told were the news items that grabbed our attention as they were broadcast around the globe, until such time as it felt acceptable for us to move on, and return to the insulation of our lives, and occupations, until the next natural disaster, be it earthquake, flood, volcanic eruption or crude oil.  The images evoked more than an intellectual reponse and this was what was clear to behold amongst their witnesses: body, and spirit were directly accessed and in some cases held hostage for a period of time that endured beyond our departure from the venue.

"The ear tends to be lazy, craves the familiar and is shocked by the unexpected; the eye, on the other hand, tends to be impatient, craves the novel and is bored by repetition."  W. H. Auden

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Tears: a Painful Privilege

"Let your tears come.  Let them water your soul."  Eileen Mayhew

It's not unusual for me to witness the tears of more than one person in a day.  There have been lots of tears shed this week.  At different times, and for different reasons.  Sharing in another's emotions is both a privilege and a responsibility.  Bearing witness to someone's inner world is always humbling.

Tears speak things that it may not be able to say in any other way.  They are a visible demonstration and external manifestation of an inner process.  Tears can be cathartic.  For some people, crying is part of their everyday routine.  For others, tears are something to hide and crying something to be done only in private.  For others, tears are a last resort; a final surrender.  Tears can release.  Tears can cleanse.
For some, crying is the only way to heal.  We may recall sobbing in the aftermath of temper tantrums, and the enormous conversion of emotional experience that took place in this way.  Tears reconnect us with a deep and primal experience, as we become vulnerable to our true self and experience.

I have known individuals experience shifts in physical symptoms having 'learnt' to cry (or rather un-learned their defences to their tears).  For some, crying has been a more powerful antidote than medications as it has restored their ability to regulate and soothe.  Tears can be part of a healthy relationship, and crying in the presence of a loved one can itself deepen the relationship. 

More often than not, it takes practice to cry, and even more so to do so in front of someone else.  We may have grown up with messages such as 'you've got nothing to cry about' or 'there's no point in crying; tears will get you nowhere'.  We may have been led to believe that 'boys don't cry' or that crying will signal failure or weakness.  Worse still we might have developed a fear that to cry might itself be overwhelming, and we might never stop.  Whilst the tears shed by the courageous individuals before me have been numerous, I have never known anyone drown in them.  

"The sorrow which has no vent in tears may make other organs weep." 
Henry Maudsley 

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

The Hell of Missing

"Sometimes only one person is missing yet the whole world seems depopulated"

Alphonse de Lamartine (1790-1869)

Speaking to a mother whose son went missing nearly two decades ago really provided me with a radically different perspective.  How would any of us feel to return home and find that someone we expected to be there, was not there, and left no indication as to their whereabouts?  How long would we wait to report someone missing?  What would we do next?  How long would we hope for their return?  How would we cope when there were no leads, no sightings, nothing for the Police to follow-up?  How would we feel to be told that the case was to be considered inactive?

Can we ever imagine the unimaginable?  They say that to truly empathise with another's experience it is necessary to 'walk a mile in their moccasins'.  I am having trouble trying to envisage what this journey might comprise.  

"Absence from whom we love is worse than death, and frustrates hope severer than despair" 

William Cowper

Every year police forces in the UK receive in the region of 210,000 reports of missing people. Whilst most are resolved relatively quickly, other disappearances continue for prolonged periods, leaving family members to cope with the pain of not knowing where their loved one is or what has happened to them. 

We all have the right to go missing.  The Charity Missing People provides support to those left behind when someone disappears whose experiences have been summarised as 'living in limbo' - suspended between the hope that their loved one will return, and the belief that the worst may have happened, unable to move in either direction as both are equally unknown.  They live not with grief having been bereaved but with something more obscure, and less tangible - this has been described as 'ambiguous loss'.

"Ambiguous loss challenges us deeply.  It defies our need for meaning."
Pauline Boss (2006)
It challenges our faith in a just world, a good world, a solid world — maybe our religious faith, too.  It challenges our feeling that we have some kind of control over events, our sense of agency, of self.  It calls into question our sense of identity as part of our web of relationships, our family systems.  Who are we in relation to someone who is present and yet absent, or absent and yet present?

Missing People is an independent charity which relies on generous donations to answer every call for help. 

There are lots of ways you can donate and every penny really will make a difference. 

To help in the seach please visit:

Joan Miro: Emotional Art

"Painting and poetry are like love; an exchange of blood, a passionate embrace, without restraint, without defence.  The picture is born of an overflow of emotions and feelings."

Miro, The Farm 'La Masia' (1921-22)

I learnt a great deal about Miro on a recent visit to the Tate.  I learnt a great deal about a lot more too.

Miro wanted to discover the sources of human feeling.  He described his method of creating poetry by way of painting, using a vocabulary of signs and symbols, metaphors and dream images to express definite themes he believed to be fundamental to human existence. 

The exhibition displays his sense of humor and lively wit.  His chief concern was a social one; he wanted to get close to the great masses of humanity, and he was convinced that art can only truly appeal when it resonates with roots of lived experience. 

"Wherever you are, you find the sun, a blade of grass, the spirals of the dragonfly.  Courage consists of staying at home, close to nature, which could not care less about our disasters.  Each grain of dust contains the soul of something marvelous."

 Miro, Dog barking at the Moon (1926)

"The spectacle of the sky overwhelms me.  I’m overwhelmed when I see, in an immense sky, the crescent of the moon, or the sun.  There, in my pictures, tiny forms in huge empty spaces.  Empty spaces, empty horizons, empty plains – everything which is bare has always greatly impressed me."

His work developed through distinct phases, and although he became involved with the Surrealist movement, and made use of its methods, he never accepted any doctrine or teachings.  Miro, it seems, wanted to stand apart from the crowd, rather than become identified with it, which he thought would narrow his creativity.

In 1936 Miro fled to Paris and during this period in necessary exile, his work began to achieve great power through increased simplicity, intensified color, and abstraction.  He responded to the world around him through a visual medium which was anything but silent.  Speaking of the Civil War:

"In the current struggle I see the antiquated forces of fascism on one side, and on the other, those of the people, whose immense creative resources will give Spain a drive that will amaze the world."
Miro enjoyed international acclaim during his long and productive career and has inspired generations of artists and sculptors.  His energy was inexhaustible, and Miro continued to produce his art and to experiment with form and subject long after the years of his initial celebrity had passed.  Drifting round the Tate on a Sunday afternoon, I was both absorped and transported elsewhere - to Spain, perhaps.  Miro was an artist whose work depicts a divided consciousness and an aesthetic indeterminacy.  Into his work, he vividly and unashamedly portrays the oppositions of his vision: Catalan and Parisian, traditionalist and Cubist, naif and cosmopolite.

Miro, Still Life with Old Shoe 'Natura morta del sabatot' (1937)

"We see ourselves confronted with pure abstraction.  Small problems and highly obscure subjects are, if you will, always grand in intention, and the layman would casually and quite undisparagingly trample on them if they were to serve as carpet motifs."

Sunday, 17 April 2011

The truth: rarely pure and never simple

"People say that they love truth, but in reality they want to believe that which they love to be true" Robert J. Ringer

Bryony Hannah's astonishing performance in 'The Children's Hour' has had a lasting impact on me and prompted me to think some more about notions of truth and falsehood, and the line between the two.  The web of deceit a clearly very troubled teenager spins swiftly traps everyone around her and a very sticky mess ensues.  At the moment in their lives when the two main characters' lives seem complete and secure, their world is brought crashing down around them.  And all on the basis of an elaborate story spun by a child fed by her fear, and fuelled by an overactive imagination. 

The stories people tell themselves are equally powerful, as I was reminded recently when I watched 'Shattered Glass' - a film about a fraudulent journalist who at 25, from his position as the most sought-after young reporter in Washington D.C. was making up much of what he was writing in a prominent publication - and most creative he was too.  The film charts the intrigue of competitors and latterly his editor who was himself sucked in to a wild goose chase in a desperate but ultimately vain attempt to corroborate anything in the article that brought the curtain down on Stephen Glass' career as a journo (from which he apparently moved on to law school).  The ramifications of the revelation were devastating for all around him, whose disbelief spoke for itself:  people do not like to have their version of reality brought into question.  It both threatens and terrifies.  Sometimes the truth really does hurt.   

Saturday, 16 April 2011

One is too many, a Thousand never enough

"To cease smoking is the easiest thing I ever did.  I ought to know because I've done it a thousand times."  Mark Twain

She says she'd love to have just one cigarette.  Even after nearly ten years of having not smoked, her eyes lit up as she recalled with euphoria an after dinner smoke.  The reality is that, after only a few cigarettes the addictive cycle would be reactivated and the vicious cycle of nicotine withdrawal would run her life once again.  Given her present quality of life, with advanced emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, who am I to judge her for wanting to enjoy something, even if only briefly?

Thursday, 14 April 2011

The last taboo?

"To himself everyone is immortal; he may know that he is going to die, but he can never know that he is dead." 
Samuel Butler

'Have you thought about putting arrangements in place...?' she inquired, brightly. 

When I realised what sort of arrangements she referred to, I was obliged to re-evaluate my present levels of forward planning.  There, in the middle of a busy shopping precinct, was a representative from a purveyor of funeral packages.  I hope that rather than being in denial I am somewhere closer to Ana├»s Nin's sentiment that people living deeply have no fear of death. 

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Beginnings and Endings

"There are two mistakes one can make along the road to truth... not going all the way, and not starting." Buddha

As she left the room she announced that if she still felt OK about things next week, she'd probably make it our last session together.  Given that we've met only three times to date this is short term work in the extreme but not, I suspect, unconnected to the fact that this afternoon we touched the edge of something of significance.  Something that has perhaps remained buried or hidden; unacknowledged and unexamined, in the shadows, which maybe feels too threatening to regard with curiosity just now.  Such a premature conclusion is not uncommon, and maybe represents not an ending so much, as the denial of a beginning.  Reluctance or refusal to leave the starting blocks is often for good reason - therapy is challenging.  It is not for me to coerce or cajole anyone at any time, which is not to say it's not frustrating to see the potential for growth lying dormant.  Plato suggested that the beginning was the most important part of the work - this is certainly true in my experience. 

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

True Friends are Never Apart: Maybe in Distance but not in Heart

"The language of friendship is not words but meanings"
Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)

A recent telephone conversation with a friend was a testament to the connection between us.  She lives overseas and since we last saw one another we've corresponded minimally, and only by email over the last year.  A great deal of time had passed since we were last in eachother's company.  Many months, weeks, and days have gone and we have both had countless experiences the other shall probably never know.  Yet, in the moment we heard eachother's voices we found - complete and in tact - for both of us to feel and acknowledge - our precious friendship - just exactly where we'd left it.  Somehow the fact that our homes are distant, and our daily lives disparate neither makes or breaks the relationship we have which surpasses time difference and geography.

Life on the Inside

"Doubt is to certainty as neurosis is to psychosis. The neurotic is in doubt and has fears about persons and things; the psychotic has convictions and makes claims about them.
In short, the neurotic has problems, the psychotic has solutions." Thomas Szasz

They were busy building a new fence when I visited to attend a meeting earlier today. The sight of it represented a stark contrast with the sunshine, and seemingly boundless openness of the surrounding rural landscape. Various members of staff alluded to 'escapes' and I wasn't sure whether these were real, or imagined. I was prompted to think about the various walls that the inpatients are confined within - the physical and the psychic barriers dividing them from the outside world. As I walked between the locked corridors I wondered whether any of us ever feel truly safe.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Listening and Hearing

"Art is a major path to knowledge" Leonardo da Vinci

I attended a wonderful concert last week held at the Actors' Church in Covent Garden in aid of the Serbian Academy of Science and Art.  I didn't understand a word that was sung and have since thought about what made the evening so special.  I think it may be related to the fact that the Arts have the power to cross boundaries that language lacks.  The Church was full of individuals from all over the world, who shared a passion - music.  In their attentiveness, it felt as though we, the audience, were elevated beyond the divides of culture, religion and I was captivated by this sense of moving beyond their expression through language.  I sat alongside people who have witnessed atrocities I have only seen glimpses of on news coverage, and was able, through the medium before us, to perhaps gain a better sense of their experience.  It was a truly magnificent evening, and whilst the surroundings made an impression, it was the felt sense encountered as part of a diverse collective that I will never forget.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Belated Mother's Day

"There are two lasting bequests we can give our children. One is roots. The other is wings."

Hodding Carter Junior (1907-1972)

Simple time spent with my family is a great joy today.  It was not ever thus, but we have all grown and changed and sharing laughter over lunch in the sunshine was a timely and humbling reminder of this.  As the saying goes, we don't pick our family, but I'm not sure I'd change mine.  I would not be who I am today were it not for the love, support and encouragement I continue to receive from two incredibly special human beings I feel proud and privileged to call my family.  My education is a testament to my mother's foresight and sacrifice.  The doors it has opened and the path I have embarked upon are things for which I feel profound gratitude.  From it, I feel both a sense of strong connection to my purpose and tremendous hope, confidence and inspiration. 

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Road Rage - an Encounter with Shame

"Whatever is begun in anger ends in shame" Benjamin Franklin

Earlier this week I encountered, and not for the first time, an incident of road rage.  Not unusual on the streets of South London, but what was perhaps less usual was the sense of detached observation I experienced at the time.  Somehow, in the midst of the brewing commotion and imminent disarray I was able to see, as though through a different lens, what was happening as the frustrated female leaped from her driver's seat to vent emotions which seemed disproportionate to the immediate events.  It was as though a pot had boiled over, and those of us sitting in surrounding cars witnessed her descent into an abyss of shame, further fuelling her rage.  Having left the privacy of her vehicle with a sense of entitlement driving her fury, she found herself very much alone and embarrassed having so visibly lost control - prompting, I think, a subsequent outburst whose origins were vastly removed from her original grievance.

Springing into Spring

“Time is the most indefinable yet paradoxical of things the past is gone, the future is not come, and the present becomes the past, even while we attempt to define it, and, like the flash of the lightning, at once exists and expires.” Charles Caleb Colton (1780-1832)

The recent change in weather has prompted me to reflect on time and its passage. We often speak of time 'flying' or 'standing still'. Underlying both seems to be a dissatisfaction, and an unhappiness perhaps borne of the desire to somehow control time, and be able to 'fast forward' when things are difficult or uncomfortable, or live in 'slow motion' when we are enjoying ourselves. I wonder what might it be like to surrender, to give in to time, and become more inclined to accept all experience as valuable...