Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Tipping the Balance

The phrase work-life balance is banded around freely.  Extolled as a virtue towards which we should each aspire I have been wondering, what lies beneath this phrase?  

I come into contact with individuals each week who talk about their day jobs as though they were nothing more than slaves to their employers (or their bank managers).  I am never short of gratitude for their reminders - I am truly fortunate to have extracted myself from a profession I never fully arrived in, before stumbling towards and then tripping head-first into a 'line of work' that feels far better aligned to my true vocation.  

Our fascination with our work means that it is pretty well the first thing we ask one another on first meeting - we are beginning to define ourselves too readily, by our occupations.  Work is no longer our occupation; it is our preoccupation.  I work therefore I am...  Really? 

I claim experience, rather than expertise.  I am an expert only to the extent that I have discovered (through relentless trial and sometimes exhausting error) what does not work for me.  From this, I have deduced those things that seem to work better, and identified those that currently seem to work well.  

Like so many things, the moment we arrive 'there', we need to set off once more:  As nothing remains constant, this mysterious balance requires near-constant and vigilant supervision.  The world is moving around us.  We are forever in transit.  Our approach therefore is necessarily dynamic, requiring review at regular intervals.  What seemed to work then, may no longer serve us.  

In order to change anything we must first be(come) curious...  

So, when speaking of this 'balance' to what, precisely, is it that we are referring?  After all, heading on a quest without a map of the territory will doubtless make for a longer journey.  I am interested in what it is that sits on the other side of the see-saw.  Where is it that each of us can show our real selves - and be met as the imperfect, unfinished works-in-progress?  
And who is it that reminds us who we really are, and what we can be if our hearts so desire it?  Who is it that holds the precious hopes and dreams we are apt to espouse from time to time, and calls us to account on our bucket lists?  For, if there's no one sitting on the opposite side of the see-saw, chances are we'll fly too high - before coming down with a bump.

So, how is your current work-life balance?

Are you merely trying to get through a day?
Are you barely making it to the end of the week?
Do you feel completely exhausted by the time you get home?
Are you feeling stuck on a (metaphorical) hamster wheel, just wanting to get off?
Are you drowning, or falling behind, feeling hopeless you'll ever catch up?

Who am I?
You will want to reflect on your skills, values, interests and priorities. Writing down your thoughts and share your ideas with a professional or someone you trust to be your "accountability buddy."

Doing, in a life of balance, should be driven from who you have decided to be.
Patrick Rhone
Where am I going?
List your goals that match the information gained in the previous stage. Be clear about your personal definition of success.
List goals in each of these areas of your life: faith, family, friends, finances, fitness, fun (yes, fun), future career development, and finally further learning. What investments will you make in each of these areas?

How do I get there?
Develop a strategic action plan to attain your goals on a weekly, monthly and annual basis.

Step 4 is the Evaluation stage, when you determine what went right and what went wrong.

There is no such thing as work-life balance.
Everything worth fighting for unbalances your life.
Alain de Botton

Getting it right - for you

Visualise your ideal life
Dare to dream and write down the top ten things you want to accomplish on your "life list."

Write down a personal vision statement and mission statement
It will help you see where you are going in life.

Turn off the television
It is a passive activity that won't give you energy.

Limit Internet time
Set better boundaries so that technology does not rule your life.

Pursue your passion persistently
Own it and be disciplined in achieving what you truly desire out of life.

Keep a journal
Writing it regularly will help you to stay focused on what is important to you.

Every weekend 
Set a goal of doing one fun activity.

Define your daily exercise time
What works best for you, 30 minutes in the morning, afternoon or evening?

Go to bed a half hour early and get up a half hour early
This will allow you to carve out additional personal time.

When confronted with a choice, ask yourself:
What's the cost?  Will this add to my life or create more stress?

Let go of the people and things that you feel are holding you back 
(i.e. clutter, negativity, clothing, luxury items, toys, etc.)

Prune any activities that are not productive or non-priorities.

Find 3 things you feel grateful for every night
When you do this you will come to realise that you are too blessed to stress.

Review your Priorities
What are your top 10 priorities for this year?  Rank them in terms of highest, high and low.

Every week make it a goal to call two friends
You are unlikely to ever regret investing in and building these relationships.

Search for the silver linings
Seek to turn every occasion in your life into a positive - seeing negative experiences through a lens that enquires, "What can I learn from this?"

Live simply, expect less and give more.

If you always do what you've always done, you'll only get to where you've already been.  Where you go in life is up to you...  Where you go with your work-life balance needs to be an active choice, and not left to chance. 

So, what is it that you need to 
Start doing…
Stop doing…
Continue doing…
Do more…
Do less…
Do differently…?
How will you know if 2014 is a total success for you?

Friday, 17 January 2014

The beating heart of my practice

My heart has been in need of surgery more than once.  Not due to any hereditary defect or condition compromising the vascular function, but something equally as painful (though, I'm pleased to say, not necessarily as serious in the long term) - put simply, my heart has needed mending.

My heart has experienced brokenness.  More than once.  

For all the 'I'll never do that again's, I did.  For all the lessons I felt I'd learnt the hard way, I had, and I needed reminding.  But the error was placing it in the wrong hands in the first place.  With time, I have learnt to treat my heart with a greater respect.  We are, possibly as a product of bitter experience, better acquainted.

Your work is to discover your world and then with all your heart give yourself to it.  

A psychotherapy training is like an extended work-out for body, mind and soul.  During which my heart was pushed to the max at regular intervals.  It grew stronger, and more efficient.  Today, I choose very carefully who I open my heart to, so that when I do, I am able to do so fully, trusting that it will be held in the way it both deserves and needs to be.

My heart gets a work out everyday.  And not just when I'm at the gym (or on a bike, or in a pool).  I take my heart to work.  

My work involves both head, and heart.  I work from my head, and with my heart.  It is a finely tuned instrument, programmed to meet with and engage the hearts of those I seek to support.  

It is, I feel, only when everyone in the room is in touch with their heart that the work can ever truly begin.  

Monday, 13 January 2014

A safe pair of hands

She deserves the best.  And I'm confident that it's out there, waiting for us.  But where, oh where...?  Entrusting the wellbeing of someone you love into a stranger's hands can never be easy.  Mothers experience this, I know, whenever they leave their child in the care of someone else.  But particularly when they do this for the first time.    

Children, I have recently found, can experience a parallel and equally daunting process, when researching options for their ailing parents.  Suddenly, the tables are turned, and it is hard to know where to start.  I feel as though I have been on a very steep learning curve of late.  One I did not foresee, seek, or particularly welcome.

There is, definitely, a shortage of information.  It is a case of going in blind.  I have read classified sections of seemingly appropriate publications.  I have placed ads.  Countless phone calls and quite a few meetings have ensued.  Whilst all the time learning a new language, the pronunciation of which befuddles me.

This is not a road I've been down before.  And, were there any choice in the matter, we wouldn't be crawling down it now, or anytime.  It's one of the hardest paths I've come across.  

First and foremost, the care I am seeking to put in place is about safety.  But comfort and dignity are a close second place.  Trouble is, it's far from straightforward second guessing what the recipient of this elaborate package would wish:  we never had the conversation in its entirety, and now it seems as though we're too late.  

To care for those who once cared for us is one of the highest honours.  Tia Walker

Friday, 10 January 2014

an Anatomical Education

I had been looking forward to seeing the products of an important experiment since the exhibition was first advertised.  Gendered Intelligence is an organisation whose name speaks its mission beautifully succinctly.  Gender is an area in which we are, it seems, lost at sea.  There is so much still to do, but Anatomy speaks volumes and starts a debate.  My only fear is that, as tends to be the case with anything about gender, it will be attended to and by only those who are already 'on the right page', if indeed a wide enough page could ever be found.

The project was, from its inception, challenging and exciting.  GI never imagined it would capture the interest of so many would-be transgender and intersex life models.  The work now on display at the Tavistock Clinic are some of the outcomes of a series of four practical life drawing workshops.  Those who produced the eye opening, thought provoking, assumption challenging artwork were a mixture of amateurs, enthusiasts, hobbyists and professionals.  From where I stood, it was hard to tell whose work belonged to who.  

The exhibition explodes gender to its audience before inviting the beholder to consider carefully what it is to behold the expression of another.  The space in between is a vast distance, in which I perceived a duty of care, to look more fully at what it was that hung before me.  The walls are adorned with biographies, and tales.  Sometimes angry, more often bittersweet.  There were stories being told in pictures, and images, lines and colours.  And there were big fat emotions in there too.  For those who captured the models before them, were documenting journeys rather than destinations.  

"It often seems like the harder they look, the less they see."  
- Ben Gooch

Layered Interpretation - Octavian Starr

"I believe that being Trans is a truly marvellous thing and ought to be celebrated.  Maybe one day society as a whole will take this view too, rather than seeing us as 'less' than 'man' and 'less' than 'woman' - let's recognise and enjoy all those shades of grey between too."
- Luc O
Untitled - William Stone

I was, and still am, stunned by the work I saw this evening.  The art pieces, hanging in a gallery space, really do call for attention - and rightly so.  But, it is the quality of attention that they demand and deserve that differs, I felt, from so many other contemporary art shows.  Transgender and intersex bodies have rarely, if ever, been portrayed in this way - both modelled, and encapsulated by those who identify with these labels.  This then is, and of itself, an explanation of what it is, to live a life in a body.  

For most of us, inhabiting the bodies we are born with, may not take too many thoughts.  We feel able, pretty much, to get on with it.  We conform, or we rebel.  We adapt, or we adorn.  Our complaints are largely trivial, superficial even.  What this evening reminded me is how much deeper a journey the trans or intersex person's psyche is necessarily taken on.  Go and see it.  Go and think about it.  Go and talk about it.  

"I am becoming, being realised, through the unity of art and science.  My body, no longer a stranger, he has become a dear friend..."  
- Sonny Van Eden

Just Another Life Drawing - Robin

Untitled - @Robot_Green

Cadaver Synod - Alice Warner

"Wrong body" has speciously come to define the syndrome.  A fresh-faced woman with a glowing smile arises from the hollow, lifeless cadaver that once held her.  No longer required, it becomes no more than a shadow beneath her...

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

A question to which I probably already know (part of) the answer

I have been delighted by the recent buzz of interest in the mindfulness program that I will begin teaching this weekend.  I am looking forward to introducing a full group to mindfulness and to Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy.  For details of future courses, please visit my website.
The pre-course meetings I arrange with individuals before they embark upon a mindfulness program are important.  Wherever possible I seek to meet everyone before Session 1.  If we can't meet face to face, then a phone call is scheduled.  

These meetings give participants the opportunity to meet me, and put a face to a name - most often people will approach me by email, and we exchange information (me about the course, them about themselves) - meeting in the flesh can be really helpful, making easier to walk into the room to join a group for the first time.

One of the things I spend some time considering with anyone who approaches me wanting to learn mindfulness, is what it is that has brought them here.  We are all of us on a journey. And we come to mindfulness at different times.  Mostly, I think, at precisely the right time. One of the things I often find myself saying to those who express interest in the courses I teach is that it's not my intention to 'sell' the program.  My aim is to give people information about what the program comprises, and to think with them about how it might be useful to them.  

For that's why I do what I do:  I want to make mindfulness skills accessible.  I want others to benefit from that which I've found invaluable.  It's not for me to tell anyone that mindfulness is what they need.  Mindfulness is not a cure.  It's not a fix.  It's not a solution.  But it does work.  Theory alone is worthless, but the program, if digested and absorbed fully can, and does, change people's lives.  

So, in asking someone why it is that they are interested in mindfulness, I am confident I know part of the answer ahead of time.  The majority of people who approach me have tried other things.  Plenty of people have tried lots of things.  Mindfulness is, if you like, the last chance saloon.  But it's not all as glib as it sounds.  The point is, people have tried to cure their ills in the usual fashion - and found that their usual toolbox is ill-equipped to deal with some of the things that are apt to keep us awake at night.

The hustle bustle of the overactive mind, busy doing doing doing until it can do no more.  I meet people on the brink of burnout.  They know it, and I know it.  They're sick and tired of feeling sick and tired.  And this is the golden moment.  They are ready and willing to try something different.  Anything.  (As long as it works).  So - after the all-important disclaimers - that this won't (by itself) change your life, or your personality, or mend your relationships... people arrive at the decision to commit to a course.

And the next chapter has already begun...  

Refuge to a man is the mind, refuge to the mind is mindfulness - Buddha


Monday, 6 January 2014

Cunning and baffling

Addiction can, and will, remain a mystery unless those of us who suffer from it make it our life's business to research it.  To be armed with the facts is to have a chance.  Facts and fellowship.  

I recently attended a meeting in a room whose walls I had not previously entered.  It mattered not.  I have been to meetings all over the world.  Two years ago, I was sitting in similarly designated rooms in Hong Kong with other English speakers.  United in a single purpose.  Together we recover.  

Compassion, I was reminded in a meeting I have been attending on and off for over a decade and that I have, at times, considered a home-group (a secure base to which I could return whatever-the-weather and find experience, strength and hope on tap), is an activity.

We cannot simply 'be' compassionate.  We are perhaps more accurately, ever becoming compassionate.  For to feel true compassion is to be involved in the suffering of another.  To pulsate alongside.  To understand, from the inside, what it is that another suffers.

The connection with addiction is self-evident.  As a family illness, suffering belongs not only to the addict who may be at the centre of the story, but to the entire system.  And, in this sad picture, no one can save anyone else.  All one can do is detach.  And do so with love.  But, as I remind the partners, and families of those who are still in the midst of their addictions, this is made all the easier if the illness, and its symptoms can be seen as separate to their loved one.  Distinguishing the disease from its sufferer can be crucial for anyone to truly recover.

Friday, 3 January 2014

Friendship: One Soul in Two Bodies

It has already been a good New Year.  The first week of the year is something I treat with a degree of respect that doesn't often get replicated too closely for the fifty one that follow.  It is, I think, often very telling whom it is that I choose to spend recreation time with. Recreation is, I feel, something to be taken very seriously.  I often ask clients at the beginning of our work together what it is that they most enjoy doing.  I even have a question on the intake form that every new client completes at the commencement of therapy - I ask them to describe what their perfect day would look like, what shape it would take, where they would be, what they would do, and whom they'd most like to spend it with...  How we spend time that we might truly call our own is, I think, very important in determining who we are, and how we feel.

This week has been something of a gift.  I have spent time with friends and family.  People who are important to me.  Precious individuals.  The people without which I wouldn't be who, what or where I am today. I am in debt to these souls, who have together given me, and continue to give me, more than they will ever know. Friendship is something that fascinates me.  I don't claim to be an expert, but I am an enthusiastic novice, blessed with some very dear friends who have shown me what it is to be alive, have supported me to find my authentic self, and given me the courage to be true to her.  

Earlier this week I celebrated my birthday.  I didn't just notice it - I celebrated.  In style, and in excellent company.  I was privileged to be surrounded by those people I count amongst my closest friends many of whom have walked alongside me (and crawled, when I've needed to take it slowly).  See, I subscribe to the idea that you don't need plenty of friends, but you need a few good-enough friends.  I aspire always to be a good-enough friend.          

Those special individuals I feel privileged to count amongst my friends are both resilient and reliable.  I know where I stand.  They have boundaries, and let me know when I've stepped out of line, or dropped the ball.  They know their truth, and aren't afraid to speak it.  I admire them.  I respect them.  I love them.  We do not necessarily have regular opportunities to see one another, but we know where to find each other should we need to reach out.  Time spent together is always special.  It is where memories are made, and something deepens between us as a friendship touches both individuals, leaving each of us subtly, but undeniably changed.  Friends challenge me.  It is with my friends, and with their support, that I have grown.