Thursday, 25 July 2013

Fleeting Flutterings (of Self) and Endless Learning

I am one of the most highly trained therapists I know.  Yes, you did read that correctly.  I do not claim to be the best therapist, but I know very well how well trained I have been.  And continue to be.  See for me, my training did not end when I qualified in 2008.  Rather that was when my training began.  

We all of us (therapists) train on the job.  It is a prerequisite in the field.  You learn as you work, and you work as you learn.  The learning cannot be separated from the working, though your work is protected through clinical supervision and by the ethical framework(s) to which you subscribe.  

I will, I think, always be learning.  I live to learn, and learn to live.  The day I stop learning will, I hope, be the day I die.  Or at least retire.  Doing this work, I would be useless, if not dangerous, were I not constantly inspired and motivated to deepen that which I believe I know and that which I hope to someday understand. 

For, as I was reflecting on this afternoon with a group of colleagues who had just met one another for the first time, making meaning is both important and valuable.  

A lot of my work in the therapy room is highly creative.  Which isn't to say that I use rely heavily on the Arts (though I hope to do so more in future).  The creativity is about meaning-making.  Coming to understand through collaboration, co-construction and co-creation.  

T.S. Eliot, in his Four Quartets referred to having the experience, but missing the meaning.  Therapy is an opportunity to address that void, and explore its implications which can often be longstanding and life changing.  

I am interested in making meaning, not for meaning's sake, but for the containment it can entail.  To make sense of something can be extremely affirming, and rewarding.  It can comprise a resolution and, in that, something of a homecoming.  To comprehend something, is to alter one's relationship to that which was formerly not understood, seemingly beyond understanding, or simply not known.  The impact can be far reaching.  It can, and frequently does, shift the sense we hold of ourselves.

Which is why it is important to hold this sense so lightly.  We are all of us in transition.  Ever changing, and in flux.  Never still, and never constant.  Always moving, always developing.

Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart 

and try to love the questions themselves, 

like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. 

Do not now seek the answers, 

which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. 

And the point is, to live everything. 

Live the questions now. 

Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, 

live along some distant day into the answer.

Raine Maria Rilke (1875-1926)

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Playing house - then and now

I remember well my first kitchen.  Not the one within which my mother cooked for my sister and I, but my kitchen.  It was, I recall, reasonably well equipped.  Everything one needed had its own place.  All neat and tidy, and matching.  I can't recall how anything smelt, or tasted, but it all looked pretty good.  

These days I don't derive quite the same pleasure from the ordinary business of day to day housekeeping.  In truth, probably too little time is spent 'keeping house'.  But this is more to do with the schedule of activities that take me beyond the front door, than sheer dislike.  

I don't, in fact, dislike many of the activities that sometimes get very bad press.  And this was what got me thinking about what it is, that I have come to appreciate about the apparently mundane.  After all, it is the day to day that we find ourselves doing most days.  It is rare for me to spend extended periods of time in catered accommodation, so cooking and cleaning are, for the time being, somewhat inevitable.  Better therefore, to become acquainted with what it is about these tasks that I don't dislike (non accidental double negative).

Laundry is actually something of a pleasure for me.  I enjoy the stages it involves.  Collecting, sorting, and then actually getting down to it.  Leaving it in the temporary care of the washing machine, and coming back to fresh smelling clothes and bedlinen.  I don't have a washing machine that tells me how long the cycle has remaining, but know the various tempos well enough now to forecast the conclusion of the rinse, the commencement of the spin and the click of the door lock as it releases.  

I find the predictability comforting.  I do my part, and the machine does its part.  It is a thoroughly complementary process.  Hanging things out, particularly in the recently clement weather, is another pleasure.  I am fortunate to have outside space and have come to understand why my mother has always used her tumble dryer so sparingly.  Returning to aired and dried laundry is, I think, something of an underrated pastime.  I derive no end of pleasure in the reunion - meeting my clothes revived and anew, waiting to be returned to the places they call home, folded on shelves or hung in the wardrobe.  

Rituals and routines of this kind feel safe, and grounding.  I can derive satisfaction and even a mild sense of accomplishment as I go.  Often it is the state of mind that I bring to the activity that influences my state of mind during and afterwards.  If I can embrace the task with attention and presence, I am likely to engage with it in a different manner; I am reminded of the curiosity with which I prepared and cooked in my first kitchen.  The difference is remarkable.    


Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Recovering on and off the bike

Once upon a time I used to enjoy singing Magnificat - now I ride them.  Well, I rode all over this one!  Charlotte says I'm training hard.  And I reckon she knows a thing or two about training.  When the going got tough (which it did at a number of points along the way) I reminded myself of this - "shut up legs, you're in training!"

The forecast for blistering heat (and more reliable recent conditions) did not deter me from a seriously early start to get down to Newbury and join the throng.  Over 2,000 likeminded cyclists - all of us, out of our minds.  

During the 82 mile circuit I found myself pondering a great many things, navigating some demanding South facing hills with the sun beating down on myself and my companions...  It occurred to me, as it has in the past, that there are a great many lessons to be learnt from the saddle, applicable elsewhere.

Make no assumptions.  One may have been taught that what goes up must come down.  This is only partly true.  Experience tells me that it's best to assume very little, and that it's best to simply get on with it.  Thinking about hills does not get you up them, in the same way that merely considering the obstacles that stand between us and our goals does not usually get us past them.  

The second assumption to address and deconstruct is that the downhills are easier than the uphills.  My forearms, neck, back and shoulders reveal a different story.  Descending into the unknown is never easy.  None of the journey is likely to be plain sailing.  Vigilance and diligence are required whatever the terrain.

The marshalls along the route reminded me of another crucial tidbit - look before you leap!  They flagged up junctions where caution was advised (and advisable).  But that's all they did.  They didn't wield lollipops.  There is wisdom on offer, but no one's going to carry you there.  Knowledge is not much use when out on a ride - it's experience that counts.  

Whilst it felt as though I was overtaken by the whole world and their wife yesterday, I knew I was not alone.  People would stop and help if I asked them to, and I had a phone number in the event of an emergency.  A good reminder really - I need never feel alone, and support is only ever a phone call away.    

The food stations, to my mind essential on these long journeys, are about keeping going.  Finding what works, and then using it.  Keeping topped up, and avoiding hunger.      

In order to stay on the road, it's vital to keep one's bike in good working order.  Carrying a toolkit at all times is important, as you never know when you're going to run into trouble.  There will be potholes along the way...    

There is no point comparing using only one's eyes.  Whilst I appreciate a shiny (ideally Italian carbon frame with impressive wheels) bike, it's not really about the kit.  Appearances can be deceptive.  It's essential to actually walk the walk.  As a wise someone pointed out to my yesterday - if you've got the money, it's easier to buy the pricey bike than get out and actually do the training.  I've yet to hear of someone that is truly happy simply because of their material comfort.  Often it's the opposite.

The sportives I have been undertaking are not in fact races.  Everyone who completes the course in one piece is a winner.  Safety is paramount.  Herein lies a good parallel - to take it easy.  One mile at a time is how you get from the start to the finish.  Together we get stronger, fitter and maybe even faster.  But that's not really the aim.  

Training is about putting the footwork in and I've certainly been doing that.  Practice, practice, practice.  If at first you don't succeed, try again.  I have learnt so much over recent months.  And have plenty more still to learn (like the basic art of bike maintenance - which will happen).  There is always more to be learnt.  What has been helpful has been the wisdom and experience available to me from the real 'winners' - the old timers who keep coming back.  So, it's not so much the shiny new bikes I gravitate towards, but those that look to have clocked a few miles.  Those who carry decent repair kits with all the essentials in the event of a mid-ride emergency (rather than those who are keen to shed the extra ounces in the interests of velocity).

Arriving early was a good move.  Something I've picked up along the way.  And there was tea and cake afterwards, and a healthy sense of fellowship.  We all picked up medals.  And most of us wore them.  Because it's the taking part that matters.  

No one said it would be an easy road.  No one said it would be a flat road.  But it is a well worn path that I have chosen to travel.  The events I have signed up for are, for the most part, courses that have been completed by hundreds, if not thousands of other enthusiastic amateurs.  They are not beyond my compact chainset (though my legs might protest otherwise).

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Splashing 'n' Crashing

My two most recent swims have not been the most successful.  The lido was packed on Sunday.  Even at 9am.  We thought we'd get up early, and beat the crowd.  We could not have imagined the scene that awaited our arrival.  There we were, all keen, and wetsuit free.  And there was everyone else, sun lotion at the ready and towels aplenty.

The lanes were busy.  And lacking in decorum.  There was nothing to choose between:  The fast lane was slow.  The slow lane was treading water.  We gave it our best shot.  And Charlotte's shot was far more poised than my own.  She managed to get in, and get on, finding a rhythm and taking it all in her 'stroke'.  

My stroke suffered.  I couldn't breathe.  I found a like-mind who was equally disappointed (but far more determined than I to get her 2k in, to ensure she didn't regret the wasted journey later in the day when she had a friend's leaving BBQ to attend - and was, one might presume, planning to indulge).  We chatted.  I observed that it was unlikely the pool was going to get any clearer.  It got progressively busier.  

Charlotte treated me to our favourite post-swim green beverage and (completely unnecessary but simply delicious) pastry at the Blackbird Cafe.  All was once again well in my world.  When I walked back past the Lido I was staggered to see the length of the queue which stretched right round the building.  South London is serious about making the most of this sunshine.  

I took to the water again today.  With a little more success.  Until the crash.  

She was a swimming instructor.  Clad in rash vest and bikini bottoms.  She had gazed in my direction nonchalantly from where she sat on the poolside chatting with (or maybe that should be up) the lifeguard, watching me clock up 60 or so lengths.  Up and down.  Down and up.  I had been happily sharing a lane with another female aquathlete with whom I had settled into a comfortable yet productive pace.  She had since got out.  

I stayed in.  

Whereupon I was joined by she, who commented on the fact that we had the same paddles.  I wasn't using mine at the time, and didn't intend to.  They have been useful in the choppy waters of the Lido recently, but aren't essential in the relative calm and tranquillity of the 25m indoor pool.  

Shortly after I pushed off, she decided to paddle-up and followed me up the pool whereupon I turned to come back down the other side of the lane (as directed by the signage positioned at either end of the pool, and clearly visible, and presumably well familiar to her by now as an in-house instructor).  

There I was, merrily minding my own business, and actually rather enjoying what I anticipated to be the beginning of my penultimate set of 20 lengths and BANG!  She had not in fact followed me, but swum on the other side of the lane, straight into me who in naive compliance had simply followed the sign and swum clockwise.  

It was a nasty shock, made all the worse by her paddle-clad hands.  I was put out, but not put off.  I was no longer in the same zone, but all was not lost.  I decided to warm down, and finished my swim a little prematurely, but treated myself to extra time in the steam room in lieu of the final 20 lengths.

It's good to know when it's time to get out.  Letting off steam is, I have come to realise, done more efficiently on the poolside than in the water.  

Monday, 8 July 2013

'Tricks' of the trade

Wat Buddhapapida in Wimbledon
the first Buddhist Temple in the UK
It came as little, if any, surprise to me to hear that Djokovic, whom even after his defeat yesterday is still ranked No. 1 in the World, took time out during the Championship and found a Buddhist temple in SW19 the perfect place to do so.  

Born a week apart
Murray and Djokovic met on the court as eleven year olds

He and Murray met as Juniors and their superpower rivalry is relatively new in comparison to their longstanding friendship.  They have had four head to head contests in Grand Slam finals, at which they have each picked up two trophies.  Djokovic has yet to beat Murray on the green grass at Wimbledon.

Both players have revealed their 'secrets'.  Both know how important it is to truly relax, in order to maximise their focus during their long matches which demand as much psychological stamina as athletic brilliance.  

But whilst their game strategy might confuse those of us who rarely pick up a tennis racquet, and have yet to play on grass, there is nothing particularly complex about the holistic approach that is central to the repertoire of both players.

"When we are all retired the four of us will go to a bar, drink too much beer, 
and look back on all the great matches we've had."  
Novac Djokovic (referring to himself, Murray, Federer and Nadal)

There is no trickery.  It stands to reason:  in order to be at the top of your game, you have to know when to come off-game.  The all-important difference between doing and being.  It's my guess that both Andy and Novac know how to shift between the two efficiently.  Surviving the hectic grand-slam atmosphere demands it.

Andy's game has come on in leaps and bounds.  His psychologist emphasises the importance of mind and body working together.  He has highlighted the importance of routine (or even ritual) - finding something that 'works' and then practising it, consistently.  He also makes reference to the inherent paradox of winning - focusing on anything but the outcome.  

The players he coaches are coached in the skills of remaining present, and taking their games task by task - moment by moment.  This is the only way to be truly responsive.  He warns that the winner's mind is not an empty mind, but one that is filled with the right thoughts.  I like and respect his approach which makes a great deal of sense.  Methinks that were we ever to meet, there'd be no shortage of conversation...  

"Everybody always talks about the pressure of playing at Wimbledon, how tough it is; but the people watching make it so much easier to play."  
Andy Murray, OBE

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Superficial personified - The Bling Ring (2013)

Something of a documentary.  Based on apparently true(ish) events portrayed in the media; a controversy that centred upon the series of high profile burglaries at the luxurious piles of realty (rather than reality) dotted around the hills of Hollywood.

'Let's go shopping!' takes on a whole new meaning.  They shopped, but before they did so, they robbed.  We see the co-conspirators up the ante until they can up it no more.  But by then they have broken into the home of every celebrity they've ever obsessed about.

This is a film all about obsession.  If you look carefully enough you can see it there, lurking in the shadows.  It drives the most outrageously antisocial behaviour.  It masquerades as age appropriate rebellion, but these girls are not your average run-of-the-mill Valley girls.  This is a different breed altogether.  This is the special and different brigade.

The clues are there for the discerning.  There is a distinct absence of parental participation throughout (with the exception of one fanatic of 'The Secret'), the fact that these girls (plus the rather endearing young man they take willing hostage) are never seen to wear the same clothes twice (let alone killer heels, handbag or sunglasses) seems to go unnoticed.  One is left to imagine where on earth they store their haul before passing it on to even less attractive individuals.  

Whilst the lines of coke they snort seem endless, and the crack they smoke seems to last forever, what troubled me most was the total lack of intelligence possessed by any of these young people.  Obsession had, it seemed, taken over, and consumed the space where rational thought might once have been found.  Which makes for a fascinating, yet dull film.  There is very little to be said for the script, which does not engage its audience.  For sure, they know their Hermes from their Prada, but beyond that...  They are bored and, after 90 minutes, I was beginning to know how they felt.  

Theirs are lives lived without gratitude.  In spite of the near constant sunshine, and the opportunities that clearly surround these youngsters, they are all too busy wanting to be people and things they are not intended to be.  They strive so hard to emulate those whose lives they voyeuristically chart through the media, they have never had the opportunity to consider their own identities.

And the real shame is that no one seems to have noticed.  They've been disciplined by the schools they once attended.  They are in the hands of an 'alternative' education system.  (The options are decidedly limited: the LA high school they've so proudly named Idiot Hills, or the world according to 'The Secret').  No one seems to care.  The adolescents we meet are over indulged victims of acute neglect and deprivation. 

They have had no chance to truly thrive.  They are consequently emotionally and psychologically retarded.  See, beneath their love of labels and all things shiny, behind the array of oversized sunglasses, we have here some very disturbed teens.  Their distress is articulated in an unusual manner, but it is designed to capture the attention they crave.

And this desperate attempt to capture the gaze of their caregivers goes a little too far.  It spirals out of control, as they fail to find the boundaries they long for.  For, when you are lost, you seek direction.  When you're off the rails, you hope to somehow return to them.  The behaviours that cause us full-growns to frown upon those with fewer years' experience, are in fact profoundly reassuring developmental milestones instrumental to and indicative of the fulfilment of our inherent potential.  But we must be met  in our acting out.  For it is the way in which we are met, and consistently supported that is predictive of our successful (though rarely smooth) transition towards adulthood and the scary landscape of the real world and responsibility.  

The investigation and subsequent proceedings might just as well have focused on those who had attained legal competence.  Those who claimed they had no idea as to what their children had been doing all those evenings.  They who seemed so oblivious to the impossibly high end wardrobes of their offspring.  In this particular instance, I tend to agree with the title of one of Oliver James' excellent books that is, in my humble opinion, well worth reading.  

Monday, 1 July 2013

Ups and Downs

The infamous 'Long One' super sportive was precisely that: Quite long. At 81 miles it is something of an achievement for my legs, which are doing remarkably well (although, Bruno of Calm Blue Room - a crucial component of my post ride support team - was a tad concerned about my hamstrings this morning). I must master the art of effective stretching, and soon...

It took me rather longer than I'd anticipated to arrive at the Start and I wasn't made to feel especially welcome by the by-then-rather-stressed-out event organisers. Consequently, I started in the last batch of cyclists to leave Fontwell Racecourse on Saturday morning - we were all still adjusting our shoes and helmets as we left headed for where we knew not (but could have guessed). I was determined to make up for lost time, and not come in last. 

I did well. I was pleased to ride alongside a man whose legs told me that this was more than a mere hobby. He, and his bike, knew the roads. He wisely pointed out after I'd foolishly exerted myself up the first proper incline that, unless we were ascending or descending, we'd be lost. He wasn't wrong...

Quality climbing practice it was. And that's what counts. I grit my teeth, and dug deep. My mantra came in useful: 'Light legs, Strong legs...' it helps with the all important breathing, which together with stamina and sheer determination, somehow got me up even the worst of them. That and simply remembering the date.

See 29th June bears something of a powerful association. Saturday was the anniversary of Charlotte completing 8 hideous rounds of chemo. I remember what her body went through last year, in its bid to show the alien the door. Quitting on any one of those hills simply wasn't an option.

I was dressed for the occasion. Kitted out in pink from head to toe, including my handlebars (which this time didn't have to get coated in oil as my chain behaved itself - either that, or I'm getting more adept at changing gear!) 

So I have apparently completed one of the hardest sportives in the UK.  In retrospect, I have clocked up some seriously respectable experience. I reckon some of the hills might even be in young Sam's book entitled something like '100 Greatest Cycling Climbs: an insider's guide to Britain's hardest hills'. I'm not sure whether Telegraph or Tower (Uppark) Hills might more accurately be referred to as mountains, the chalky Butser Hill certainly had us busting a gut up to the highest point in the South Downs... Towards the end of the ride, and well beyond the third feed station the Goodwood Hill almost had me. 

But that's all part of the 'fun'...  

The area (whilst hilly) is something of a roadie's heaven. The route was phenomenal - England at its best. And even better when the sun came out.  I'm edging ever closer to the main event.  Sunday August 4th is just a month away this week.  From hereon, my legs have got their work cut out.  (Just a heads up for you, Bruno!)