Wednesday, 29 February 2012

A Power Greater than Ourselves

Travelling by train on the East Coast mainline recently provided a wonderful and unanticipated trip down memory lane and an opportunity to reflect on recent years as I used to travel between London and Peterborough at the beginning and end of school terms, and between Kings Cross and Durham as an undergraduate.  I have, I now realise, spent a lot of time on trains one way or another. 

"This is England", I thought to myself as the train sped through vast, uninterrupted green space.  Agriculture and pasture land in every direction, as far as the eye could see.  Bliss.  From the flat environment of Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire, to the rolling hills of South Yorkshire. 

As I pondered the scenery (and procrastinated opening my laptop and the work I'd brought along with me), I was reminded of something I heard recently at a meeting, where someone was talking about their spiritual journey in recovery.  Recovery, it is often said, is an inside job.  Addiction is symptomatic of a deficit, deep within and a void the sufferer desperately seeks to fill with the wrong thing(s). 

"You don't have to believe in God, just stop acting like him."

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Effortless Progress: Getting somewhere without striving

A lot can happen in a week.  And generally does.

Last week, as I tentatively placed a few raisins in each of their outstretched palms, and invited them to regard the little objects as though for the first time, they looked at me as though I had travelled to York not on the East Coast mainline, but off a spaceship from another planet. 

This week whilst a few eyebrows gently lifted at several points during the second in a series of three mindfulness workshops, the commitment to open mindedness and willingness to trust the process were both in clear evidence. 

Mindfulness is a little like a tap slowly dripping into a bucket.  You can hear it before you can see it.  You feel it even quicker.  Today I invited those I worked alongside to jump into their experience, and throw themselves into the present moment.  We joined together in several live experiments (for sometimes the 'being' is achieved through 'doing') and investigated with curiosity the results suspending judgment and introducing compassion to formulate outcomes.

As a teacher and a facilitator of the group process, I thoroughly enjoyed the day.  I was deeply humbled by those who attended.  I was moved by the spirit with which they participated and felt enormous warmth towards each of them, embarking on a journey they had not envisaged the destination of which they may never know.  To provide a map and a compass was a pleasure and a privilege, and together we shared an appreciation of the scenery we noticed along the way. 

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Keeping it simple. Living it Rich.

For me today, it really is the small things that make life worthwhile.  This week I've had several reminders of what brings a smile to my heart and what lifts my heart and prompts my soul to sing (so to speak)...

Seeing a friend's number flash up on my phone as an incoming call when I most need to hear from someone who might ask me how I am and actually give a damn about my response to their question.
Having a handful of close friends is an immeasurable blessing.  We are not intended to travel this journey alone.

"Let us be grateful to people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom."  Marcel Proust

Waking up to find that the sky is blue and the sun is making an appearance having been so shy of late and remembering there's only a month until the clocks go forward - Spring really is on the way!
The connection between meteorology and mood is well documented.  Even without suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder our outlook and general sense of well being is subject to fluctuations determined by our environment, including the weather. 

"Gratitude is when memory stored in the heart and not in the mind." 
Lionel Hampton

Finishing anything - be it a bottle of shampoo, or a project I've been anxiously fretting about for days, weeks or months and only just made the deadline.
The combination of achieving something (even if we are left with an empty bottle) serves as a reminder of our vitality.  It is reassuring; we are moving, changing, and growing.

Unpacking my shopping having been to the supermarket.
I doubt I will ever tire of grocery shopping.  It represents, at a very basic level, self-care in action:  As an adult, I am both capable of and responsible for looking after myself.  I appreciate firstly the availability of food and the enormous variety I have living in London.  (Cooking is an entirely different matter).   

Getting into bed having made it that morning.
Being the creature of habit I am, I tend to make my bed in the same way each morning.  Returning to it in the evening prompts me to take inventory of the time that has elapsed in between.

A nice cup of tea, just the way I like it.
Ah...  Yes, I am so very British.  Tea possesses magical qualities.

"There is no trouble so great or grave that cannot be much diminished by a nice cup of tea." 
Bernard-Paul Heroux

Ticking things off a to-do list (even when the only reason they appeared there in the first place, was to tick off, there being no chance of forgetting the particular item).
The search for measures of progress is innately human.  In this respect, we all tend to like to know we are making headway, that we are moving, that things are changing and that we are agents in such change.  I value a tangible reminder of this, and am rarely to be found without notebook in which a rolling (rather than endless) to-do list is to be found. 

Meeting a new client for the first time and feeling an immediate 'fit' and believing I have something to offer that might be useful to them.
I consider the work I do to be nothing short of a privilege.  The education and training I have undertaken have brought me into close alignment with my life's purpose, which I feel closely connected to.  Coming into contact with fellow human beings in this capacity is an honour.   

"Gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder." 
G. K. Chesterton

"If you count all your assets you will always show a profit." 
Robert Quillen

By acknowledging the simple pleasures, life instantly becomes richer.  Pleasure is not only a real possibility, but one within easy reach.  Abraham Lincoln was credited with saying that most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.  Something about turning towards my actual experience, and tuning into the abundance that represents strikes a chord with his sentiment. 

Beauty surrounds me, if I only pause to look.  Without adopting rose tinted glasses, when I stop to really survey where I'm standing, I find it to be a far vibrant green than I imagined possible only on the other side of the fence.

"He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has." 

"We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures."
Thornton Wilder

Life is good.  It's far from perfect, but by appreciating more accurately what it is that I have to be grateful for, I am apt not only to enjoy it more fully, but to crave far less that which I have yet to attain, obtain or achieve. 

"All that we behold is full of blessings."
William Wordsworth

"The hardest arithmetic to master is that which enables us to count our blessings."
Eric Hoffer 

What does your side of the fence look like...?
Links to find out more about Gratitude and Positive Psychology:

Friday, 24 February 2012

Coming to terms with what could have been and never will be

Death is nothing at all.
I have only slipped away to the next room.
I am I and you are you.
Whatever we were to each other,
That, we still are.

Call me by my old familiar name.
Speak to me in the easy way
which you always used.
Put no difference into your tone.
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.

Laugh as we always laughed
at the little jokes we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me. Pray for me.
Let my name be ever the household word
that it always was.
Let it be spoken without effect.
Without the trace of a shadow on it.

Life means all that it ever meant.
It is the same that it ever was.
There is absolute unbroken continuity.
Why should I be out of mind
because I am out of sight?

I am but waiting for you.
For an interval.
Somewhere. Very near.
Just around the corner.

All is well.

Henry Scott Holland (1847-1918)

I remember first hearing this at my grandmother's funeral.  It provided me with such comfort, and still does.  I have been thinking about loss a lot recently.  My work tends to require me to.  I work with individuals who have lost so much: people who were dear to them, their physical health, their mental wellbeing, possessions that they valued, opportunities, hopes and dreams.  Someone reminded me recently that when we grieve, we mourn the loss of what could have been, rather than what was, as this is ours to keep.  It is coming to terms with the unfulfilled potential that we struggle with.


Thursday, 23 February 2012

Back to Basics

There seems to be a lot of truth in the statement that sometimes you don't realise what you have until you lose it.  My eyes have been opened this week to the value of my health, and how I tend to take it for granted. 

It is all too easy when blessed with generally good health, to fail to appreciate one's body for the incredible machine it is.  Mine, for the most part, maintains itself pretty efficiently.  I try and eat healthily, but am nowhere near fanatical; I seek to sleep 7 hours most nights, but it doesn't always happen, and I exercise because I enjoy the endorphins it produces, rather than for weight loss or stabilisation.  All in all, my body gets a modicum of respect, but is not overly attended to. 

Coming down with a cold puts all this into perspective.  Energy levels plummet through the floor, every joint aches and my brain feels like mush.  Suddenly, even the simplest of tasks feels overwhelming and impossible.  And now I reach for the supplements.  Prevention is better than cure, something of a mantra to be in every other walk of life, is hardest to apply to myself.  My cupboard is far from bare, with vitamins and minerals aplenty and yet until the first sniffle, or sign of a sore throat I nonchalantly omit to support my immune system.

Basic self care is something I am still mastering for myself, which is perhaps why I enquire with such regularity and enthusiasm as to its relevance for all those I work with.  Just as my bicycle needs maintenance, and my car needs servicing, my body requires the same degree of interest in order to sustain it. 

Eating properly and regularly, sleeping long enough and making sure I have all I need on an internal level is a precision act requiring me to pay close attention to my own vital signs.  The common cold is a non negotiable go-slow, bringing into perspective the necessity for enhanced self care.   

“The art of medicine consists in amusing the patient while Nature affects the cure.”  Voltaire  

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Falling in Love - all over again

Spring is in the air.  And with it love. 

I was overjoyed when Charlotte texted to tell me she planned to pedal in a leisurely fashion towards Look Mum No Hands for lunch.  I jumped at the invitation to join her.  We enjoyed the view across Waterloo Bridge, and were ready for the warm welcome that awaited us at the busy cafe. 


It's the first time I've got on my bike and left my postcode for a while, and it felt good.  It is, I remember, my favourite way to get around town and in spite of unpredictable taxis cutting us up on Clerkenwell Road, today was blissful. 


I've fallen in love again.  With my Trek 2nd District single speed.  This weekend I'm going to treat it to a makeover, with LMNH stickers, courtesy of Sam. 

Riding with Charlotte past a sign advertising Jeremy Deller's exhibition at the Hayward Gallery entitled 'Life is to blame for everything', I was reminded by her dignity and grace that, regardless of what life throws at us, there is still a degree to which we all have the power to alter our experience - by adjusting our attitude. 

Bravely preparing herself for round two of the chemical battle against the evil alien later this week, Charlotte has vowed to give up all negativity for Lent (which I am reliably informed starts on Wednesday, after an excess of pancakes) and has inspired me towards a matching commitment. 

Monday, 20 February 2012

The Muppets (2011) - Postmodern Pickmeup

There are times that call for laugh out loud sillyness.  The last fortnight has been just such a time.  I was so very pleasantly surprised by The Muppets movie which far exceeded the mediocre expectations I had, and caused me to swallow my own doubts that it might lift my spirits and bring a smile to my face.  I laughed, and laughed, and laughed some more.  Childlike fun intended for grown ups.   

The plot doesn't do the movie justice: Walter a wannabe-Muppet from Smalltown, USA (which bears an uncanny resemblance to Disney's Main Street) is overjoyed to take a 1950s vintage Greyhound to LA with his clueless brother, Gary and his girlfriend Mary (brilliantly played by Amy Adams).  Whilst visiting the derelict Muppet studio in Hollywood, the bizarrely naïve trio unsuspectingly stumble across the nefarious plan devised by evil real estate tycoon Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) to raze the Muppet Theatre and drill for the oil recently discovered beneath the Muppets' former stomping grounds.

The Muppets are tasked with raising $10million to save the venue.  Gary and his gang conceive of a plan to stage 'The Greatest Muppet Telethon Ever' and jump in offering their combined (if not terribly impressive) resources, to help Kermit (found hanging out in Bel-Air) traverse the globe and reunite the Muppets, who have all gone their separate ways.

We follow Kermit as he tracks down his old friends who have had to embark upon solo careers in the big old world.  He finds Fozzie performing with a Reno casino tribute band called the Moopets.  Miss Piggy is a plus-size fashion editor at Vogue in Paris, Animal has to be extracted from group therapy at the Santa Barbara clinic for anger management in which he is residing, and Gonzo takes some persuading to join the endeavour, having become a high-powered plumbing magnate.

Of course, our felt friends succeed in their mission and after kidnapping an unbilled Jack Black to be their unwilling headline act, they produce a show of which Mickey Rooney himself (who does a quick cameo early on) would be proud.  It was as hysterical as it was far fetched.  It was ridiculous in the extreme, and best of all, it knew it. 

There are some absolutely brilliant moments as the veteran entertainers make their first outing since Muppets from Space which was released in 1999.  I was mistrustful as to what Disney might do to my furry friends, having acquired the franchise from the Jim Henson estate in 2004.  I needn't have worried, the film is a family comedy in the true sense - fun for all generations.  Above all, it's disarmingly upfront about its raison d'etre - to reboot the Muppets for a new generation.  I'm hopeful it'll succeed, and that the Muppets will be around for some time yet.  In the meantime, this comeback proved thoroughly entertaining to myself, an old fan, in need of a mood transplant, and an excuse to indulge in a bit of childhood nostalgia. 

So, the Muppets have had a new lease of life.  And seeing the movie gave me a bit of the same.  Deliciously and deliriously entertaining.  With chirpy songs and boundless humour, the script is far from disappointing, with good cheer throughout alongside frank acknowledgement of the changing mores and time passed and even a wink at its own squeaky clean sillyness.  Seeking escape from seemingly relentless change, I was comforted and relieved that the Muppets continue to be played by real puppets and not by some newfangled technological rendition of them.  If it ain't broke...

For a taster of the film's upbeat score...

Life's a bed of roses in Smalltown, USA with "I've got everything I need"

Later, Gary faces an identity crisis with "Am I a Man or a Muppet?"

The Muppet ethos lives on with "Life's a Happy Song"

Sunday, 19 February 2012

More Rewarding Journeys

Delivering the first session of a three part workshop this weekend prompted me to review a question I've been exploring since undertaking the training necessary to become a teacher is mindfulness:  as a mindfulness teacher, where do I sit? 

Mindfulness based approaches differ in significant and substantial ways from an operational definition of therapy per se (if indeed there is any such thing).  The agenda at a mindfulness class resembles something quite unlike anything you might encounter in counselling or psychotherapy.  The approach is by its nature, far more tightly structured and this fact has at different times provoked semantic controversy as mindfulness courses appear to be more closely related to a skills training than a group therapy. 

It gets more complicated still as becoming more skillful at the direction in which we incline our attention, undoubtedly confers benefits to the practitioner who might, with time and dedication, find this enhanced awareness therapeutic.  

Having made a grand entrance into common parlance, any consensus as to a definition of mindfulness remains elusive.  The definition I share with those I teach is learning to pay attention, on purpose, in each moment, without judgement.  There is nothing esoteric or mysterious about this practice that has an impressive longevity dating back over 2,500 years it might however, at first glance, appear deceptively simple.   

As a teacher, I practice alongside those I teach.  I do not follow a script, instead opening myself to the present moment - embarking upon the same endeavour I invite others to undertake.  In my experience, the difference is subtle, but meaningful.  I seek to truly walk alongside those I sit with.  As such, whilst I had a lesson plan and came well prepared, our day was shaped for the most part by the spontaneous contributions from those in the room.  There are teaching points, but nothing compares to those things that participants share from their heart, reflecting their present moment experience.  My job is to hold this unusual space in which all of our experience is welcome: positive, negative or neutral. 

I have been trained in order to impart the skills I have myself found beneficial, but do not claim any expertise beyond this.  There is no right, or wrong way to practice mindfulness.  And that's where it gets tricky.  I hold the map, but do not claim to be the navigator.  It is for each individual to determine their path, and we might travel in one another's company for part of the way. 

Guiding some courageously open minded attendees through their first ever encounter with mindfulness was a humbling experience.  The atmosphere in the space we occupied was electric with nerves, anticipation, and expectation.  We were all, somewhere, looking to get something out of today.  I'm not sure any of us got what we were looking for, but I am certain we took more than ourselves home. 

Friday, 17 February 2012

Make it Count

The Nike 2012 campaign caught my eye as I passed the Waterloo IMAX.  It resonated somewhere deep within me and prompted me to enquire of myself, whether I make it count?

Life, I have been reminded by several significant happenings recently, truly is precious.  Time is apt to escape us, and with it our lives if we're not mindful.  This is it, there is no dress rehearsal.  As such, I feel as though I've been given a wake up call of giant proportions. 

I have for some time been interested in the way in which individuals manage their time.  For much of our early life, we have our days managed for us - our primary caregivers will tend to implement some sort of routine, creating a structure within which our waking hours are framed.  This continues at school.  The older we get, the more autonomy we have as to how we choose to spend our time, and it becomes a hallmark of our character, our values and our circumstances. 

I aspire towards working 'smart' - finding something of a balance in each and every day between the things I must attend to, and those moments that are mine for the taking, with which I can do exactly as I please.  Working for myself, as a consultant and in my private practice, certainly helps.  I have a degree of choice as to my working hours and patterns.  Most of the time it feels an enormous privilege, but that's not to say it's without challenges.  Time management is both an art and a science, and something I have yet to perfect.   

I seek to make it all count - the time I am working, and the time I am playing.  When working, I want to be there fully - present to whatever it is I am doing at the time.  This involves planning and commitment.  I know my limitations - I choose to work within them, which is better for me, and better for my clients.  Whilst some therapists can work back to back non stop all day, I choose to come up for air - taking time to consider the impact my work has on me, and gain clarity and perspective from the space I create for myself.  I expect my clients to work in their sessions, and must therefore meet them fully in the endeavour in order for there to be a true collaboration.  I find this makes the work so much more productive and rewarding.  

In order that the spaces in between count, I also plan.  For me, time without structure is wasted time, dead time.  That's not to say that I spend my entire week frenetically, but I do like to maintain a certain momentum, even when enjoying my down time.  In order for me to ensure I have quiet moments, they too have to be planned and catered for within my schedule.  By mapping my time in this way, I am able to really make it count, in a way that feels valuable to me.  

I have noticed that amongst my friends are fellow planners.  They too keep themselves busy, and have to-do lists.  There is, of course, a spectrum and fluctuation is both inevitable and healthy.  Whilst my working weeks (which generally span 5 or 6 days, but are not necessarily constrained within Monday-Friday) are pretty full with plans a week in advance, my days off entail a different planning strategy with enhanced fluidity - I have ideas of things I'd like to do, and tend to review them, playing things by ear, according to impulse, mood and energy levels.  Spontaneity is good, but having a Plan B works well too.  

Making it count applies for me at a micro level too, so that within whatever it is that I am doing, I fully immerse myself in order to really derive a sense of presence and achievement.  When I exercise, I seek to make it count.  I don't just pootle along, I give it my all.  As someone who attends group fitness classes, I tend to get into the studio a few minutes before the class starts, to arrive in the space, and mentally switch gears, in order that I give myself the best chance of the maximum workout.  When I swim, I tend to see how far I can push myself, always remaining open to another 100m.  As someone with a history of and relationship with depression, exercise is not optional: it's my equivalent to and substitute for medication.  I respect it as such.

Time spent with friends and family is time I want to make count as much as any other.  The handful of close friends I boast are each blessings in human form, and time spent in their company is precious.  I appreciate the love and support I receive from those I love, and wish to reciprocate fully.  As such, I would rather spend quality time together, than snatch a rushed phone call.  Today my connections go beyond the superficial.  I seek to celebrate and honour them, making them count.  

Do you enjoy your life to the max?  Do you make it count?  Looking back over the last week, and the last month, how do you feel about the choices you've made?  Have you spent time with those you care most about?  Have you pursued something about which you feel passionate?  Do you feel connected to your life purpose?  If not, what's stopping you?  Living the most fulfilling lives we are capable of doesn't, I believe, happen by accident.  Don't just do it.  Make it count.  Now's as good a time as any to take stock, and start leading your life the way you want to.   

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Music: Mind altering. Mood enhancing. Attitude Adjusting.

The Royal Philharmonic did not disappoint.  The Cadogan Hall is one of my favourite London venues, and it made the perfect setting for a wonderful concert featuring some of the best-loved music by one of the world's most popular composers, Burt Bacharach.  The performances of the four fabulous vocalists brought something very special to the evening, which I enjoyed surrounded by a sea of couples, all of whom had opted out of the cliche to celebrate Valentine's Day in a delightfully alternative fashion.  I drunk in the lurve, and revelled in the superb acoustics at the home of the RPO which provided a feast for eyes and ears. 

Cadogan Hall was constructed as a Church with Byzantine architectural influences
When congregations diminished it fell into disuse and was bought by Mohamed Al Fayed

In 2000 the Cadogan Estate purchased and renovated the Hall
In 2004 the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra performed their first concert as the resident ensemble

There is, I have come to realise, an ocean between feeling lonely, and being alone. The condition of loneliness is perhaps best regarded as a constituent of the diagnostic criteria for being human:  we are all, at times, prone to experience it, no matter how fleetingly. Last night was a special reminder that I need never feel alone. Surrounded by others brought together by our mutual appreciation of the splendid orchestra, under the masterful leadership of their Conductor and Musical Director, Richard Balcombe my evening was none the less enjoyable for having been spent toute seule.

Music has magical powers. It is capable of transporting me to happier times, prompting memories or calling to mind those people and things I care most about. It can resonate with my mood, marking and accentuating it, or it can soothe my heart and lift my spirits. At other times, it simply accompanies the absence of accessible emotion, allowing me to occupy and explore the void more fully. Music really does strike a chord with my soul and psyche, and is, I now realise, something my life would feel bland and empty without. I am never far from music, and whilst I don't have a soundtrack alongside my client work, regardless of my mode of transport I generally travel with music, and tunes come with me to the gym, and even underwater. I greet each new day with music, and generally end the evening on an acoustic note. For me, music has become something of a meditation and a celebration of the wondrous beauty the world I inhabit has to offer.

Last night reminded me of my own experience of playing in an orchestra whilst at school, and I reconnected with the sense of camaraderie inspired by the moments of nervous anticipating of a performance and the challenge of individual practice (solo pieces for intermediate level double bassists are few and far between and practising one's parts in orchestral works without my colleagues was rarely the most melodic of activities!) Whilst the vicarious enjoyment available at a concert or recital is considerable, I realised last night that I miss the hands-on version. Time to find that piano teacher...

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Valentine's Schmalentines?

Many of us perhaps didn't foresee being where we find ourselves today... 

February 14th comes around again, and it would be easy to think about the things we maybe do not have in our lives today.  Easy perhaps, automatic maybe.  But painful all the same. 

Valentine's Day, like any other day, is ours to do as we wish.  We can enjoy ourselves, or we can hurt ourselves, wishing things were other than they are.  We have choices as to the direction in which we incline our thoughts, our minds, our actions and our hearts. Mourning what we lack might feel comfortable, and familiar but it's unlikely to induce the abundance we all deserve. 

"All of our suffering in life is from saying we want one thing and doing another."
Debbie Ford

"The heart is itself its own medicine. The heart all its own wounds heals."
Hazrat Inayat Khan

Recovery is about learning to love ourselves.  It can be a challenging journey, taking the risk to open our hearts to love but the love is there and its ours for the taking.  True love, real love, flows out from each of us, to others, and back again.  Today we can remind ourselves of this reality by doing something loving for ourselves.

To receive the love we want, we must first be very clear about what that looks like.  We can only attract what we are ready to receive.  Love is within our reach; it is possible to bring forth our heart's desire but we must first recognise the obstacles in our path, and learn to steer around them.  The journey to open our hearts is a serious undertaking, often involving serious healing as we learn what love is. 

"Be realistic. Plan for a miracle."
Bhagwan Shree Rajineesh

Monday, 13 February 2012

Round II - Humility in the face of an unexpected opponent

Battle commenced shortly after 9 o'clock on Saturday morning.  It was -4.5ºC outside so I drove to the ring.  This was my second BodyCombat™ class.  My opponent is negativity - invisible yet strangely present and easily brought to mind, as a focus for my jabs, crosses, hooks and upper cuts.  So immersed was I in fighting the good fight that I completely missed the announcement over the PA system that my car was attracting rather a lot of interest from several Parking Enforcement Officers. 

This weekend gym visit cost me more than muscle fatigue.  Thankfully, whilst they had attached the straps, meaning my car was dangerously close to boarding the low loader, by some miracle (and a very helpful member of staff) Herbie managed to escape the jaws of death (well, an unwelcome visit to the pound, anyway) and I have only a penalty charge notice to address. 

Having come face to face with an unanticipated opponent in human form (the lead parking officer who seemed equally surprised and possibly rather taken aback by my sudden and wholly unexpected appearance - straight from the studio and consequently still rather scantily clad for the frosty weather conditions!) I faced a new psychological opponent square on.  The temperature, combined with the adrenalin + endorphin rush provided undeniable clarity as to the challenging decision before me:  to jeopardise my serenity for the rest of my weekend, ruminating about the unfortunate (and, I confess, entirely avoidable) incident or, pay the damn thing as quickly as possible, to minimise the energy expended on something beyond my control.

In the grand scheme of things it's only money. May sound strange, particularly having just come to terms with the arduous process that is self assessment (recovery extends to my tax return which was, therefore, searching and fearless); but really and truly, how important is it? Visiting my dearest friend who is bravely battling cancer later that day quickly shifted any remnants of resentment.

Whilst I've yet to part with the funds, mentally I've come to terms with what happened.  It's not worth any further consideration.  Postmortem and retrospective analysis will achieve nothing.  Self depracation and flagellation are hardly productive.  Life is simply too precious to waste.  I've learnt something, too:  I won't park in that spot on a Saturday morning.  I will pay better attention to signage (bearing in mind that usually advertising of parking restrictions is at best ambiguous, and at worst, utterly incomprehensible.  In my experience, the true meaning of such  notices is hard to identify and the message generally fairly confusing - deliberately so, I believe).  I don't mind admitting that my professed everyday mindfulness has, yet again, been given a rude awakening.  Progress rather than perfection!   

Sunday, 12 February 2012

RIP Whitney Houston (1963-2012) Almost had it all

I was very sad to learn of Whitney Houston's death, news that I heard when I was contacted in the early hours of Sunday morning by LBC 97.3FM who requested a professional comment regarding the star's demise.  The causes of her death are yet to be confirmed, but it looks likely that drugs contributed.

Whitney Houston's addictions have been widely documented - she spent brief periods of time attending rehab, but struggled it would seem to align her actions and decisions with her faith.  Addiction is a progressive illness, and Whitney Houston conceded that her addiction brought her to use freebase cocaine.

As the moving tributes from countless celebrities begin to appear on Twitter, I find myself reflecting on the immense tragedy that is the end of somebody's life, somebody who gave so much to the music industry and to the world at large.  

According to Guinness World Records, Houston was the most awarded female artist of all time.  During her career the mezzo soprano received 2 Emmy Awards and 6 Grammy Awards among a total of 415 career awards.  She held the all-time record for the most American Music Award of any single artist and shared the record with Michael Jackson for the most AMAs ever won in a single year with 8 wins in 1994.  Houston was one of the world's best-selling music artists, having sold over 200 million albums and singles worldwide.  Although she released relatively few albums, she was ranked as the fourth best-selling female artist in the United States, with 55 million albums sold in the US alone.

In this week, of all week's, anticipating Valentine's Day, the music of Whitney Houston will doubtless inundate the radio waves.  I wonder what it will take for the the plight of so many who lose their dignity, and ultimately lives to addiction to be considered with the compassion they deserve. 

RIP Whitney Houston

I Will Always Love You (1992)

Try it On my Own (2003)

I'm wiser now
I'm not the foolish girl you used to know
So long ago
I'm stronger now
I've learned from my mistakes which way to go
And I should know
I put myself aside to do it your way
But now I need to do it all alone

And I am not afraid to try it on my own
I don't care if I'm right or wrong
I'll live my life the way I feel
No matter what I'll keep it real you know
Time for me to do it on my own
Yeah yeah, mmm, yeah yeah

It's over now
I can't go back to living through your eyes
Too many lines
And if you don't know by now
I can't go back to being someone else
Not anymore
I never had a chance to do things my way
So now it's time for me to take control

And I am not afraid to try it on my own
I don't care if I'm right or wrong
I'll live my life the way I feel
No matter what I'm gonna keep it real you know
Time for me to do it

Oh I start again go back to one
I'm running things my way
Can't stop me now, I've just begun
Don't even think about it
There ain't no way about it
I'm taking names, the ones of mine
Yes I'm gonna take my turn
It's time for me to finally stand alone, stand alone

I am not afraid to try it on my own
And I don't care if I'm right or wrong
I'll live my life the way I feel
No matter what I'm gonna keep it real you know
It's time for me to do it
See I'm not afraid
I Look to You (2009) R. Kelly for Whitney Houston

As I lay me down
Heaven hear me now
I'm lost without a cause
After giving it my all

Winter storms have come
And darkened my sun
After all that I've been through
Who on earth can I turn to?

I look to you
I look to you
After all my strength is gone
In you I can be strong

I look to you
I look to you
And when melodies are gone
In you I hear a song, I look to you

About to lose my breath
There's no more fighting left
Sinking to rise no more
Searching for that open door

And every road that I've taken
Led to my regret
And I don't know if I'm gonna make it
Nothing to do but lift my head

I look to you
I look to you
And when all my strength is gone
In you I can be strong

I look to you
I look to you
And when melodies are gone
In you I hear a song, I look to you

My levee's have broken, my walls have come
Crumbling down on me
The rain is falling, defeat is calling
I need you to set me free

Take me far away from the battle
I need you, shine on me

I look to you
I look to you
After all my strength has gone
In you I can be strong

I look to you
I look to you
And when melodies are gone
In you I hear a song, I look to you

I look to you
I look to you

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Enjoying the scenery whilst trudging along the long and winding road

"We may run, walk, stumble, drive, or fly, but let us never lose sight of the reason for the journey, or miss a chance to see a rainbow on the way."

Endings are important.  This is true everywhere, but perhaps nowhere more so than in therapy.  The end of a therapeutic relationship is something to mark.  As individuals, we all have different ways in which we 'do' endings.  Some of us would prefer not to do them at all.  I have grown to rate them as highly as I do beginnings.  As such they require care, and attention.  I have learnt the importance of a planned ending.  There are so many scenarios out there in the real world where we do not, as we cannot foresee endings.  We experience their abruptness, their harshness, and lack any opportunity to reflect on what it is that has passed, or to maybe say goodbye.  Therapy need not re-enact the pain that we experience elsewhere.  We have the opportunity to do something differently, and I hold this particular prospect as a precious one.

I am regularly surprised by my clients.  This, together with the wealth that I learn each and every week, is a blessing I cherish and wouldn't swap for any salary.  No two weeks are the same.  How could they be?  I adore the variety of my week, working with different people in different ways but always somehow for the same end - working towards more comfortable and fulfilling lives.

Clients' journeys are their own.  No two are ever identical, and I fear it would be a grave error were I to speak of an approach that I seek to employ in my work.  I approach all those I come into contact with in a similar way, but do not claim to have a single approach.  My training has taught me things which remain invaluable in the room, but without a rapport, I am likely to be about as useful as a chocolate teapot.  I regard my responsibility to be to adapt to my clients and their presentations, and the likelihood of this happening in a manner that is productive and rewarding for both parties is what I try to discern during assessment.     

"We don't receive wisdom; we must discover it for ourselves after a journey that no one can take for us or spare us."
Marcel Proust  

I bear witness to the most inspiring of expeditions.  I accompany individuals, couples and families who possess such incredible courage, to look deep within and dispel denial that may have become so comfortable and challenge the known to investigate the less certain.  Destination unknown is as fabulous as it is terrifying.  The reward is in the journey, and the end of the therapy is simply a station en route.  Along the way there are plenty of opportunities to adjust one's view, by changing seats or even moving carriage.  There are numerous platforms into which the train might pull, and therein lies the possibility to change trains altogether.  Or perhaps take the coach, instead.  

This week, I marked with a client the ending of a leg of her journey.  We had planned it several weeks' ago, and both came to session with the knowledge that this might be our last meeting for a while.  As she left my room, she gave me a plastic bag containing a beautiful miniature rose.  Small, but perfectly formed.  The gesture touched me deep within, and I accepted it without hesitation.  To truly encounter a fellow human being, and travel even the shortest distance alongside them is an enormous privilege, and one I hope never to take for granted.     

"We are not human beings on a spiritual journey. 
We are spiritual beings on a human journey." 
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Friday, 10 February 2012

Glass half full? Glass half empty? Or perhaps the glass is broken

I am, constitutionally, a glass half empty gal.  I will always first acknowledge what I don't have, what I have lost, and what it is that I am seeking.  I tend to overlook my strengths, concentrating only on those bits of me that are underdeveloped or weak.  I refer to myself as a realist, but in doing so compliment myself and insult those who genuinely are simply realistic. 

My modus operandi is to identify what's not working and acknowledge this before seeing more clearly what functions perfectly well.  This has its place: I edit others' written work pretty well.  My fastidious attention to detail serves me, and the author.  Accuracy counts, for me and I have an excellent memory.  I can remember a great many of my sessions with clients verbatim.  Even this asset is something I can, and do, diminish the true value of, by concentrating on 'I should have said...' or 'why didn't....  occur to me during the session?'

Earlier this week I was crudely reminded of the perilous nature of my outlook when, someone honestly responded to my seasonal complaint and reference to the recently rather chilly weather pointing out that I didn't have a clue what it was to feel cold.  He reminded me that he had been street homeless for nine months, spending most of that time sleeping in a park in South East London.  I don't think I'll ever truly feel cold again.  He's right of course.  What have I got to complain about?  Today most of my problems are self created, or at least self inflicted.  Nearly all of them are remediable.  And even if they're not, they are unlikely to be worthy of retrospective reminiscence in months to come.  My problems are what some might describe as 'high class'.  On a good day, my ability to connect with some gratitude is equally refined.  Most of the time I simply need a reminder that things could be plenty worse, to kick me out of the realms of self pity and back into reality.  An attitude to gratitude is an incredible piece of armour capable of confronting even the saddest seeming drinking vessel.  After all, a glass half empty is better than an empty glass, and a glass is itself better than no glass at all.  Thirsty?  

“You see this goblet? For me, this glass is already broken. I enjoy it; I drink out of it. It holds my water admirably, sometimes even reflecting the sun in beautiful patterns. If I should tap it, it has a lovely ring to it. But when I put this glass on a shelf and the wind knocks it over or my elbow brushes it off the table and it falls to the ground and shatters, I say, ‘Of course.’ But when I understand that this glass is already broken, every moment with it is precious.”
Ajahn Chah, Buddhist teacher

The optimist says the glass is half full.
The pessimist says the glass is half empty.
The project manager says the glass is twice as big as it needs to be.

The realist says the glass contains half the required amount of liquid for it to overflow.
And the cynic... wonders who drank the other half.

The school teacher says it's not about whether the glass is half empty or half full, it's whether there is something in the glass at all.

Anyway... Attitude is not about whether the glass is half full or half empty, it's about who is paying for the next round.

The professional trainer does not care if the glass is half full or half empty, he just knows that starting the discussion will give him ten minutes to figure out why his powerpoint presentation is not working.

The ground-down mother of a persistently demanding five-year-old says sweetheart it's whatever you want it to be, just please let mummy have five minutes peace and quiet.

The consultant says let's examine the question, prepare a strategy for an answer, and all for a daily rate of...
The inquisitive troublemaker wants to know what's in the glass anyhow... and wants the rest of it.

The homebuilder sees the dirty glass, washes and dries it, then puts it away in a custom oak and etched glass cabinet that he built himself using only hand tools.

The worrier frets that the remaining half will evaporate by next morning.

The fanatic thinks the glass is completely full, even though it isn't.

The entrepreneur sees the glass as undervalued by half its potential.

The computer specialist says that next year the glass capacity will double, be half the price, but cost you 50% more for me to give you the answer.

The engineer says the glass is over-designed for the quantity of water.

The computer programmer says the glass is full-empty.

The Buddhist says don't worry, remember the glass is already broken.

The logician says that where the glass is in process of being filled then it is half full; where it is in the process of being emptied then it is half empty; and where its status in terms of being filled or emptied is unknown then the glass is one in which a boundary between liquid and gas lies exactly midway between the inside bottom and the upper rim, assuming that the glass has parallel sides and rests on a level surface, and where it does not then the liquid/gas boundary lies exactly midway between the upper and lower equal halves of the available total volume of said glass.

The scientist says a guess based on a visual cue is inaccurate, so mark the glass at the bottom of the meniscus of the content, pour the content into a bigger glass; fill the empty glass with fresh content up to the mark; add the original content back in; if the combined content overflows the lip, the glass was more than half full; if it doesn't reach the top, the glass was more than half empty; if it neither overflows nor fails to reach the top then it was either half-full or half-empty.
Now what was the question again?

The Dutchman would suggest to both pay for the glass and share the content.
Then tells you he will have the bottom half.

The personal coach knows that the glass goes from full to empty depending on the circumstances, and reminds the drinker that he can always fill the glass when he wishes.

The grammarian says that while the terms half-full and half-empty are colloquially acceptable the glass can technically be neither since both full and empty are absolute states and therefore are incapable of being halved or modified in any way.

The auditor first checks whether the empty half is material and then designs the audit procedures to obtain sufficient evidence to conclude that the glass is indeed empty.

The waiter will hurry to replace the glass with a full one. For him there are no doubts:
the glass was empty when he took it away; it is full in the bill that he brings you.

The magician will show you the glass with the full half at the top.

The physician says that the glass is not empty at all:
it is half-filled with water and half-filled with air - hence, fully filled on the whole!

The musician says he is unimpressed with the promoter of the concert for not providing more alcohol.

The ineffective organization would discuss the question during the board of directors meeting, convene a committee to research the problem, and assign tasks for a root cause analysis, usually without a complete explanation of the problem to those assigned the tasks.
The directors would consider the problem to be above the pay grade of those assigned root cause analysis tasks.

The eternally optimistic eccentric would say, the glass is consistently overflowing
(or is that the neurotic?...)

The adolescent student says the glass is just another dirty trick played by the teacher to prove that students are dumb.

The research scientist says that following initial observation and testing a working hypothesis for further research is: "The glass is both half full and half empty," and that these findings warrant further investigation with a more representative sample of glasses and contents, which may or may not be liquid.

The algebraic simultaneous equation theorist says that if the glass is equally half full and half empty, then half full = half empty; therefore ½ x F = ½ x E; therefore (by multiplying both sides of the equation by 2) we show that F = E; i.e. Full equals Empty!

The efficiency analyst says the glass is operating substantially below optimization level, being consistently exactly 50% under-utilized during the period of assessment, corresponding to an over-resourcing in meeting demand equating to precisely 200% of requisite capacity in volume terms, not accounting for seasonal trends and shrinkage, and that if the situation continues there is in theory opportunity for savings or expansion.

The 'perfect' 1950s housewife would not leave the glass sitting there long enough for anyone to consider the question, but would scoop it up, wash it up, dry it to a gleaming shine and put it back in the glass cabinet in a jiffy.
No half-full or half-empty in her world... just a full glass or an untidy one.

The obsessive compulsive postpones the question until the level is checked, and checked again, and again, and again...

The phobic says yuck, someone drank out of it and left their germs on the glass.

The psychiatrist would ask you, "Is the half-empty/half-full glass really that important? I mean... really? Think about it. If fact, let's not. Let's set that particular issue aside for a few moments and talk about what's really bothering you.."

The sales person will convince you that even though the glass is half full/empty you are getting more than your money's worth compared to buying a full glass.
The full glass is less expensive because of the economies of producing a common standard version in big quantities, whereas the more expensive half full/empty glass represents much better value because it is more exclusive and better quality, and very hard to come by and greatly sought after.

The customer service agent will agree with you that the glass is half full/empty, and they will do anything in their power to fill the glass up at no extra cost. However, after a full investigation you will be informed that you mistakenly received a half full/empty glass since you only paid for a quarter. You therefore received a half full/empty glass at the price of a quarter-full/three-quarters empty glass. You should consider yourself very lucky, and that any further complaints might result in your having to return the half full/empty glass at your own cost, with no guarantee of any refund.

The co-dependent hurries to fill your glass,
but not so completely that you would spill it and get upset.

The radical thankful child of Jesus says, "The cup runneth over..."

The Taoist sees that the glass is both half empty and half full, that neither half could exist without the other, requiring a point of balance in order to maintain equilibrium in the universe, and therefore, are merely two mirror images of the same realistic concept, so in the purity of absolute truth the glass is neither half full or half empty, the glass simply IS...

The optimist says: "The glass is half-full." The pessimist says: "The glass is half-empty". And while they are arguing, the pragmatist takes the glass and drinks it.