Friday, 28 October 2011

Who was it that helped you get here?

Benign characters are those very special individuals we meet along our way who make sure we get to where we think we’re headed, or point out to us that a different way might in fact be better.  They are the people who ensure that the reward really is the journey.


[bih-nahyn] adjective

1.  having a kindly disposition; gracious: a benign king.
2.  showing or expressive of gentleness or kindness:  a benign smile.
3.  favourable; propitious:  a series of benign omens and configurations in the heavens.
4.  (of weather) salubrious; healthful; pleasant or beneficial.
5.  Pathology: not malignant; self-limiting. 

I have been fortunate and feel blessed having come into contact with a great many wise travellers who at critical times have held me, guided me, and supported me in my journey.  Some of them have helped me when I’ve encountered cross roads, and dead ends along the way.  A great many of them have been more important than they will ever know. 

As part of my assessment, when I first meet a new client, I always enquire who their benign characters were.  I don’t believe it’s ever any coincidence that someone walks into my room, and oftentimes I acknowledge this very fact, asking them who it was that helped them to get to this point in their life. 

Benign characters are to be found in the most unlikely of places.  Commonly they are not members of our immediate family.  They say you can pick your friends, but not your family, and the same is true of these gems.  They tend to shine brightly, but are at the same time invisible – we have to become skilled at recognising them, through their characteristics which are generally those we aspire to, and wish to emulate within ourselves. 

They may be with us for a short while, or accompany us down the road for a while.  It is not the longevity of the relationship but the quality of it; these are the people we feel safest with, those who have encouraged, supported and loved us unconditionally and in so doing inspire and motivate us to pursue and achieve our most worthwhile goals. 

It is these individuals that pick us up when we are down and who ensure that we continue to thrive, even in the most unfavourable of circumstances.  They are, in this way, the wind beneath our wings and the support behind the scenes.  Whoever it is, they have shaped us into the people we are today.  We are where we are because of their presence, seen and unseen.  Unfortunately, it is these characters we are most apt to forget when we reach the top of the peaks we wouldn’t have considered embarking upon were it not for the map they studied with us, and the boots they lent us.  Which is why I ask the question...

"The heart has reasons that reason does not understand." 
Jacques-BĂ©nigne Bossuet (1627-1704)
French bishop and theologian, renowned for his sermons and other addresses.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Cirque du Soleil: Magical Perfection

If ever I needed a fix of something out of this world it was this week.  I was lucky enough to get tickets at very short notice to see one of Cirque du Soleil's 23 current shows touring the globe: La Nouba.  It exceeded any expectations I might unknowingly have taken with me into the auditorium.  From the opening scene I was gripped.  Sitting on the edge of my seat, motionless, holding my breath watching in awe and amazement the spectacle that I was met by. 

The show really was breathtaking.  Watching men fly through the air, between trapeze, and later juggling impossible numbers of different shaped objects, witnessing people jump higher on a trampoline than I thought possible, in order to perform precision flips and twists whilst airborne!  The entertainment is a feast for all with high wires, BMX bikes, Chinese diabolo sequences and skipping ropes used in ways you couldn't imagine without having seen this show.  The stunning choreography and magnificent range of acts are ingeniously blended together to form an unforgettable experience.  As the performance continued I lost count of the number of times I exclaimed 'unbelievable' or 'unreal', for it really was, and I was struggling to consider myself as a the same species as those before me.  The athletic and gymnastic finesse was exceptional.  Never before have I seen anything like it. 

If you haven't already, go and see it. 

If you've been before, go again; I defy you not to be wow-ed by it all over again. 

This was my Cirque debut, and I cannot believe I've neglected these truly magical shows.  Cirque started in Quebec, in 1984 when 73 people worked for the outfit.  They modestly claim to provide high-quality, artistic entertainment and their product has grown to be a global phenomenon with over 5,000 employees worldwide, including more than 1,300 artists.  They are, quite simply, the best at what they do, and certainly achieve their aims of evoking the imagination, invoking the senses and provoking the emotions of everyone who sees a show.  To date, more than 100 million spectators have seen a Cirque du Soleil show, and they forecast that close to 15 million people will see a show this year alone.  I am in good company. 

Diabolos (Chinese yo-yo)

The diabolo, or Chinese yo-yo, is a children’s game. This entrancing act features four young Chinese performers all under the age of 14.  Holding two sticks linked by a string, they spin, juggle and toss heavy wooden spools through the air while performing flips and keeping time to the music.  In perfect synchronization they juggle the spools back and forth to each other without ever missing a beat. Demonstrating increasingly difficult manoeuvres, the artists attempt to outdo each other in dexterity and ingenuity.  The discipline and concentration that shows on their faces during their routine turns into genuine smiles, as the audience cheers their performance.

Ballet air et soie (Aerial Ballet in Silk)

Red silk ribbons drop down from above, flowing with gentle ease and grace just like the performers for this act who demonstrate their strength and agility, grace and beauty. No safety wires hold these artists in place as they coil themselves into a cocoon, fifty feet above the stage then seemingly free fall as they unwind towards the ground. Ballet is performed high above the stage as a lone artist wrapped in silk, floats effortlessly over the audience.  In a stunning display of grace and strength, the artists become one with the ribbon of red fabric that cradles them. This breathtaking aerial dance requires immense agility and flexibility, and allows the performers a wide latitude of acrobatic and artistic expression.

Grands volants (Flying Trapeze)

Four pendulum-like swings, on two different levels allow a perfectly synchronized aerialists team to swing 53 feet above the stage in an exhibition of magnificent rhythm and athleticism.  This innovative bi-level rigging enables the trapezists to create a visually arresting exhibition of rhythm and athleticism.  Timing is key when all four trapezes are swinging in tandem and the aerialists switch places – barely inches away from colliding.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Make a Difference Today. Be that Difference.

I heard this recently, and it resonated so I wanted to share it:

Today I will make a difference...
I will begin by controlling my thoughts. A person is the product of his thoughts. I want to be happy and hopeful. Therefore, I will have thoughts that are happy and hopeful.  I refuse to be victimized by my circumstances. I will not let petty inconveniences such as stoplights, long lines, and traffic jams be my masters. I will avoid negativism and gossip. Optimism will be my companion, and victory will be my hallmark.

Today I will make a difference...
I will be grateful for the twenty-four hours that are before me. Time is a precious commodity. I refuse to allow what little time I have to be contaminated by self-pity, anxiety, or boredom. I will face this day with the joy of a child and the courage of a giant. I will drink each minute as though it is my last. When tomorrow comes, today will be gone forever. While it is here, I will use it for loving and giving.

Today I will make a difference...
I will not let past failures haunt me. Even though my life is scarred with mistakes, I refuse to rummage through my trash heap of failures. I will admit them. I will correct them. I will press on. Victoriously. No failure is fatal. It's OK to stumble... I will get up. It's OK to fail... I will rise again.

Today I will make a difference...
I will spend time with those I love. My spouse, my children, my family. A man can own the world but be poor for the lack of love. A man can own nothing and yet be wealthy in relationships. Today I will spend at least five minutes with the significant people in my world. Five quality minutes of talking or hugging or thanking or listening. Five undiluted minutes with my mate, children, and friends.

Today I will make a difference...
Even though my life is scarred with mistakes, I refuse to rummage through my trash heap of failure. I will admit them. I will correct them. I will press on.

by Max Lucado

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Do-ing, Think-ing and Be-ing

Gandhi is said to have said that there are two types of people, those who get on and do what needs to be done, and those who claim the credit for the action.  He apparently went on to say that he’d much rather be amongst the former category, whose membership is far less competitive. 

I like to think of myself as a ‘do-er’, and I’m not always that good at taking the credit for things I achieve.  To date, I have failed to attend two of my graduation ceremonies.  At the time, they didn’t feel that important.  Looking back, I think they were probably more important than I realised.  I could, if I wished, probably collect my qualifications retrospectively, but the moment has gone.  I’ve moved on, and into pastures new, and onto new pursuits.  My colleagues have done the same, and I have allowed an opportunity to pass me by – a shared experience was missed. 
In other respects, I keep much of my work pretty quiet.  This was brought to my attention recently, when a colleague remarked that she was unaware of a significant project I have been involved with since the beginning of the year.  There is perhaps a distinction between humility and privacy, and one may be more productive than the other.  In my world, it helps if people not only know, but understand, what it is that I do, and how it is that I do that.  I have a responsibility to share this information, in order that potential clients can find me, and colleagues know where I fit in to the network of helping professionals.  It also helps when my friends and family know what it is that I spend my time doing, as this is what makes me ‘tick’, and to understand this is to understand an important part of me. 
I have chosen to work in a field where silence is common.  Denial is rife.  I work with individuals, couples and families who don’t talk, because they feel they can’t talk.  Shame pervades their lives, and they risk becoming forgotten, unseen and unheard.  I know many professionals who avoid the presenting issues I search out; the outcomes are unfavourable and the work demanding.  For me, the reward most certainly is the journey, and I journey alongside those I work with.  It’s rich, fascinating, and hugely rewarding.  Whilst our journey may take time, patience and determination, I am never short of concrete reminders of my clients’ resilience and resourcefulness and of our ability, as fellow human beings, to work through and resolve the things that have held us back in order to live fruitful lives that may look radically different to our past histories.     
I am not, and never will be, my job, but my work and all that it entails are important aspects of my identity and my personality.  I bring myself into my work, and I take a great deal from my work that has brought me to be the person I am (becoming) today.    

Gandhi is also credited with having said ‘be the change you want to see’, an invitation to all of us to review what it is that we are actually doing to promulgate, expedite and realise transformation on any and every level.  Being in therapy takes guts.  Attending therapy is brave, but it is only part of the change we wish to make.  I acknowledge and honour the courage shown by anyone who is committed to looking at themselves, but with the awareness cultivated in the process comes a responsibility and a choice:  what happens outside of the therapy room? 
For me, therapy is about far more than close inspection.  Its most prized product is integration.  Bringing ourselves into true alignment.  Becoming whole through the achievement of congruence in our thoughts, words, deeds and feelings.  Doing what it is that we most value and respect as beings, and being the people we want to be through doing right actions. 
At risk of acknowledging my own redundancy, I am a realist.  Sitting and exploring our hopes, dreams and fears with trusted counsel for 50 minutes every week, or several times a week, is admirable but won’t necessarily make the difference.  Truly being in therapy, means doing therapy and herein lies the hard work.  Because, if nothing changes, nothing changes. 

Monday, 17 October 2011

Time - How fast is it?

I was thinking recently about the passage of time and its momentum.  How long is a minute, or an hour, or a day?  We know these only in relative measurements: a minute as being 60 seconds, an hour being 60 minutes and a day being 24 hours; but what defines time?  We use clocks to tell the time, but we refer to time as ‘flying’ or ‘dragging’, descriptions which are, it would seem, context and emotionally dependent.

‘Time flies when you’re having fun’ is a commonly used expression the meaning of which we’ve come to comprehend, but underlying it is a sense of our grasping on to having things the way we would like them.  When we’re enjoying something, we want it to last longer, if not forever.  Working with individuals who have experienced depression, I am regularly reminded of our attachment to good moods and mind states.  Perhaps our trouble is not our natural and inevitable mood fluctuation, but our desire that things be other than they are, which is ebbing and flowing, constantly changing moment to moment.
We use time to describe so much – feeling as though you’ve known one another for a ‘lifetime’ – what does that mean?  How would we possibly know what it means to know someone for a lifetime?  How could we know what a lifetime might entail?  We’re all living longer, but are we living fuller lives?  What makes a life well lived?
And then there’s the sense that time starts to evade us, and slip through our fingers.  Whereas a half term at school felt like an eternity, some years later the same period (likely to be about 6 weeks) may seem very brief.  Older individuals frequently remark upon a sense that they have ‘wasted’ time, conveying a sense of loss, or regret.  Underneath is usually an existential acknowledgment that time is precious and, like so many things, beyond our control.  Day turns to night, and night into day, but what are we doing with the spaces in between?
‘Where does the time go?’  I’m not sure, perhaps wherever we let it...
"So, tell me, what is it that you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?"  Mary Oliver

Friday, 14 October 2011

Therapeutic Qualities

Someone asked me what qualities I thought a therapist ought to possess.  At the time, the question took me by surprise as I wasn't expecting it.  Having had some time to reflect I began to think back to the first few years of my training, and of Rogers' core conditions:  unconditional positive regard, empathy and congruence.  These are all clearly important, but I'm not sure they comprise exactly what the individual who asked me would be looking to discover.

There are many things that I have learnt about therapy that I will almost certainly never find in a textbook.  These include the subtle, but significant difference between empathy and sensitivity, and the miles between listening and hearing.  As a therapist, I believe that pragmatism is practically essential, and that I wouldn't get very far were it not for a healthy dose of humility that I embody in the room with my clients.  The temperature at which I meet a fellow being is crucial, and whilst warm, therapy is rarely cosy.  I try to practice anything I preach and do not ask my clients to walk down any roads I've yet to journey myself, nor cross bridges whose strength I am not certain. 

Above all, I would not be the therapist I am were it not for the ethics that my training instilled within my practice, the balance I have discovered and strive to maintain, the resilience my support structure gives me and the daily inspiration I derive from colleagues, clients and fellow travellers alike. 

"By prizing heartfulness above faultlessness, we may reap more from our effort because we're more likely to be changed by it." 
Sharon Salzberg, The Power of Intention (2004)

Friday, 7 October 2011

"Well adjusted"

I paused for a moment to consider what on earth the phrase meant...  I struck a blank.

I don't have children myself, but understand that parents most likely to breathe a sigh of relief to have their offspring described in these terms. 

What is it that we are expected to adjust to?  
What do we become when we adjust?

Phrases such as this intrigue and irritate me in equal measure.  So frequently used in common parlance, their true meaning becomes so obscure that it would be easy to slide over its usage and fail to consider the implications.

So, what becomes of those of us who might never be esteemed in this way?
Do we have any choice, but to adjust, and to do so well?

My inner rebel is shrieking, and then placidly sighing.  This adjective carries with it connotations of compliance for, to adjust, one must be doing so in relation to some standard or expectation, the achievement of which would therefore render one free of any symptom which would indicate struggle and/or discrepancy.  

So, what would the hallmarks of this elusive adjustment resemble?  
And, if we fail to adjust sufficiently in our formative years (and subsequently recognise this, or have it brought to our attention), how realistic is it to hope we might 'catch up' later in life?

"A well adjusted person is one who makes the same mistake twice without getting nervous"
Alexander Hamilton, American Statesman and Political Thinker (1757-1804)

"It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society"
Jiddu Krishnamurti, Theosophist Philosopher (1895-1986)

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Chance Encounters: Meaningful Moments

"When you stop existing and you start truly living, each moment of the day comes alive with the wonder and synchronicity." 
Steve Maraboli (Speaker, Author, Philanthropist) 

Much of my life has been about saying 'yes'.  Recently, I've been reminded of this in different ways.  Telling my story, or running through my CV illustrates this, but so too do those little things that could, quite easily, simply pass me by were I not to notice them.  By bringing awareness to those precious moments, those chance encounters, the things that turn the corners of my mouth into a smile, I remember how everything I do is all part of a bigger picture, the composition of which I have yet to know. 

The other day I struck up a conversation with someone who works in an independent business in my neighbourhood.  I have just gone in for what I wanted, and walked out when I had it, but something prompted me to speak to the lady who served me, and what a profitable conversation it was.  She had grown up somewhere I am hoping to visit later this year, and began giving me hints and tips for a possible itinerary.  Later in our conversation she mentioned that she was beginning to give up in her attempt to give up smoking.  Bingo!  There it was.  Golden synchronicity.  In that moment we each had something to give the other.

"We do not create our destiny; we participate in its unfolding. Synchronicity works as a catalyst toward the working out of that destiny."
David Richo (Psychotherapist, author of 'How to be an Adult')