Thursday, 28 August 2014

The pose begins when you want to leave it...

My Amazon account tells a story.  I'm in over my head.  And so I order books.  I am grasping to understand.  For, through understanding, I hope I will come to accept.
Acceptance is a live project for me right now.  I'm trying to walk the walk.  And this particular road seems all too often cruelly uneven.
"Yoga teaches us to cure what need not be endured,
and to endure what cannot be cured." 
B. K. S Iyengar (1918-2014)
Amidst my reading, I have been trying to breathe.  Breathing into stretches, seeking out the 'yield' the DVD's accompanying audio repeatedly refers to.  For this, apparently, is where it's at.
This is the 'yin' of yoga.  It's slow.  And it gets stuck.  30seconds...  90seconds...  4 minutes.  And rel-ease. 
It seems apt for me just now.  My focus has shifted.  The rules of this game require something other than strength.  This is a long haul requiring stamina.  And a whole of self belief. 
Aesthetics have never caused me great concern from the sacred territory of my yoga mat.  Whilst I may not have compared and despaired, I have often sought to push myself.  And this is where I am learning a vital lesson:  right about now I need to know my limits.
Remaining close enough to the edge between ease and effort is the task at hand, and my yin yoga practice is teaching me how to get into the zone, and stay there long enough to settle into the discomfort of what is. 


Saturday, 23 August 2014

Learning to swim

Deep within that hollow stare,
of our presence they're unaware.
A life that is fading away,
in spite of things we try to convey.
Memories locked up in their mind,
and there they're kept all confined.
Good times spent long ago,
and all their love they did bestow.
For these moments will live forever,
Seeing them lying there we know why,
Dementia is called the long goodbye. 
The cards, we hoped, would serve as something of a memory jog.  We asked staff for some string and were granted our wish, meaning we could hang them as you might (and indeed, we might do) Christmas cards.  She seemed happy enough. 
Whatever that means.  It is, I think, perhaps easier to get angry than feel the sadness that this sorry situation entails.  And I have been furious. 
I'm angry that I've lost her:  I've lost my mother.  What I'm left with is a shell.  And one I don't yet know how to relate to.
Over lunch I looked at her, quizzically.  So much about her is hard to recognise.  And when I catch a glimpse, it's gone too fast.  She fades, before vanishing. 
I couldn't taste my lunch.  I chewed, but felt nothing as I swallowed.  This illness is extremely unpalatable. 
The party we had planned together months ago with considerable alacrity was cancelled without apology.  This was, without question, the right thing to do.  So very little on this steep, narrow, twisting path seems clear - but this was.  On her big day, the birthday girl required prompting, despite being surrounded by cards and flowers, and later cake. 
To acknowledge the depth of loss I feel just now feels overpowering.  I fear the current might pull me under.  I'm learning to swim. 
I thought of you today,
but that is nothing new.
I thought about you yesterday
and days before that too.
I think of you in silence,
I often speak your name.
All I have are memories and
your picture in a frame.
Your memory is a keepsake
from which I'll never part.
Whilst conversation may now be difficult
I hold you always in my heart. 

Saturday, 16 August 2014


It was, quite simply, perfect.
Just, precisely, what I needed.
I was so pleased to make it to the 'Slow Down' yoga workshop at the end of the working week.  A rare opportunity to properly mark the transition between Friday and Saturday.  To honour it, in fact.
It was a terrific way to unwind, and allow my mind and body to get back in sync with one another. 
All too often one is ahead of the other.  The body is tired, but the mind remains wired.  It is far harder to really, truly relax than many of us realise. 
Graham gently reminded us of the reality of chronic overstimulation and the impact that this has.  He described what I already knew to be the case:  not from the headspace, but from deep within my body.  Between my shoulders, and around the base of my skull.  Tightness and tension.  Holding.  On to what? 
Relaxation is a challenge for most of us.  Perhaps we are too easily seduced by the 'flop 'n' drop' but only ever re-charge, treating ourselves as though we were mechanical objects or, worse still, battery operated systems that simply need a bit more juice before we exhaust our batteries back down again.  In the age of the iPhone, perhaps we too think we have that extra life in us.  The reserve tank mentality. 
When what our bodies need is high quality rejuvenation.  The equivalent of a full service, oil and filter change.  And then a wash 'n' vac.  Only with this sort of maintenance can we expect ourselves to function at the high levels we demand of ourselves. 
And that's where the focus of the workshop was placed.  We began with a series of asanas, gradually moving towards the floor.  On meeting the floor we met our breath, in a wonderful pranayama practice, to prepare the mind having prepared the body, for the closing, glorious, practice of yoga nidra.
I felt cleansed and uplifted.  I had a choice as to what I took with me into the weekend.  And let other stuff float away.  Leaving me free to make my journey back down the Northern Line alongside the revellers who were letting off steam in an altogether different way... 

Monday, 11 August 2014

Powerless Attorney

This is, I think, a particularly taxing leg of the journey and one that I have struggled to enjoy having found it so relentlessly demanding.  Stretching on every level. 
I have learnt much.  All of it along the way. 
Never did I envisage a task so massive.  Or complex.  Or convoluted. 
My advice to anyone is simple:  Think about things in advance.  But do not assume that prior planning will save you hassle as, when it comes down to it, there is still the same amount of red tape to navigate your way through. 
The first step of the process is arduous in that it requires a solicitor to confirm that the 'donor' still has capacity to make the decision authorising someone to act on their behalf if, or when this should change. 
The Office of the Public Guardian has a significant backlog.  There is no hurrying the powers that are.  They simply cannot be rushed.  So get your act together ahead of time and be prepared for a maddeningly long wait which only then allows you to get on with the real business - registering the document with the various companies and institutions with whom you may need to interact on a donor's behalf. 
Each organisation has its own requirements and each organisation does things in its own peculiar little way.  Patience and tolerance are assets.  And you should boast both.  In abundance... 
What I have found most difficult is the almost total absence of sensitivity I have encountered whilst trying to manoeuvre myself through the seemingly endless swathes of paperwork. 
Why does everything have to be so impossibly tedious, long and drawn out?  Time is now much too precious to be spent making endless appointments in branch, and countless phone calls that never seem to get anywhere.  As if it weren't difficult enough coming to terms with the factors necessitating activation of the process in the first place, this particularly unenviable role has brought me to my knees comprising an undeniable reminder of my powerlessness.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Rhythm of Life

Thought for the Day on Radio 4 is one of my morning pleasures.  I will often catch-up if I miss one, or listen again, as I did to Brian Draper's recent thought, on work-life balance and the importance of recreation.  He asked a question that quite often comes up in workplace counselling, is the way you're working, working for you?
I regularly assess individuals for whom work has become a serious battle.  It's not necessarily conflict in the workplace, but the stress and strain that they find themselves taking home each day and remaining connected to, even at the weekend.
All too often I find myself having discussions with clients about the 'performance recipe':  where challenge must have an equal counterpart of support, else most people will (at some point) likely buckle under the pressure.
The territory of stress and burnout are very often avoidable, but awareness is rarely enough.  Action is essential, if stress is to be taken to task, and burnout side-stepped.  And this is where I am most likely to become directive.
You cannot hope to ameliorate your stress levels outside the workplace if you are continually 'plugged in' to it.  Logging on from home, outside of working hours is the number one contender.  And those found guilty are usually in possession of a work laptop, tablet or smartphone. 
Do you do you a job that requires you to be on-call?  Is there a rota for this?  Are you compensated for the additional work?  If not, then it might be worthwhile asking yourself why you're tuning-in to work, when you're not at work. 
Many of us have yet to get the so-called work life balance right.  And, once we've found it, we need to work to maintain it.  Draper proposed that, instead of balance, we think in terms of rhythm.
Each of us have a personal rhythm.  We will surely work best when we are in sync with this rhythm.  The relentless expectations we hold for ourselves and the perennial multi-tasking we rely on mean that we are apt to 'tag on' rest, or play at the end of a (too) long day, giving this a lot less of our energy and attention, before expecting ourselves to get up, and do it all over again tomorrow.
It is hardly surprising the 'hamster wheel' analogy gets employed in the therapy room, alongside the tendency to deny ourselves the rest we require to sustain our high level functioning. 
I too like Tony Schwartz's conceptualisation of ourselves as 'oscillatory creatures', whose energy necessarily ebbs and flows, in daily and even hourly rhythms - within a wider world of seasons, and cycles. It makes sense to me that, when we find ourselves out of kilter with our natural rhythms, we are likely to suffer dis-ease.
It occurs to me that were we to become more mindful about the ways in which we spend our energy, and those ways in which we might renew our energy, we might become more conscious of the imperative to stop, in order to rest and recharge completely.  In this way, work and rest might best be seen as more equal partners, rather than competitors. 
It's one thing sitting, thinking, and even talking about it.  One of the first things I will share with a client presenting to address work related stress is that we must set out to do precisely that:  address it.  But not with mere words.  The things we consider in the therapy room, must be actively addressed outside of the therapy room, if the referral is to be worthwhile.
I can assist, in illuminating the salient patterns that may be more or less helpful.  I can support the identification of strategies.  But implementation is not my domain.   
Change takes willingness.  Seeing a counsellor or therapist is a step.  And often a very important step.  However, whilst professionals like myself might seek to provide a catalyst, the service we offer is unlikely to be an entire ready-made solution. 

Friday, 1 August 2014


As a child, I was regularly reminded that if I watched television for too long, I'd get 'square eyes'.  I had not come across anyone with this unfortunate condition (and have yet to do so) but, having been a visually impaired wearer of glasses since I was just 4, I was keen to avoid it. 
Television has not featured prominently in my adult life.  On leaving school, my televising declined rapidly.  As a student I never bought myself a television and, I'm rather pleased to say, still haven't.  I have nothing against TV, per se, and have been known to enjoy a documentary or a drama, but my preference remains for the big screen. 
I wonder whether youngsters today are given similar warnings.  The risk of ophthalmic angulation must have increased exponentially with the birth of the smart phone, and the tablet.  Studies suggest that children have developed a familiarity and propensity for a 'swipe' movement that was never before commonplace.  We are indeed evolving...
And in order to keep up, it is as though we must be continually switched on.
I find myself asking so-called 'office based' clients suffering from work related stress about the number of ways in which they remain 'logged in', and how it might be were they to come 'off line' - just occasionally.

The cell phone has become the adult's transitional object, replacing the toddler's teddy bear for comfort and a sense of belonging.
Margaret Heffernan
It is as though our phones have become comfort blankets - we must take them with us, everywhere.  According to the sales associate I met when it was time for me to upgrade my device, the most likely cause of an insurance claim is water damage incurred by mobiles that have the unfortunate luck to fall from their owner's pocket into the loo. 
We, and our phones, need to learn to swim.  We are bobbing around in the sea of technology and the ocean of instant communication.  Must we be endlessly contactable?  What might happen if we weren't? 
I appreciated the 'out of office' I received last week stating that the recipient of the email I had sent reads his emails twice daily, inviting me to evaluate how urgent the content of my message was, and offering me the opportunity to pick up the phone, if indeed the message was time sensitive. 
There are, I think, very few things that simply can't wait.  The 'pace of life' may have picked up but, as we are responsible for sustaining the momentum, it's within our power, to slow down, pause or, controversially, switch off. 
When we look at a screen, we can see only a tiny fragment of reality.  By looking beyond the screen, we will likely see more which may enable us to perform better than any App.   
Technology can be our best friend, and technology can also be the biggest party pooper of our lives.  It interrupts our own story, interrupts our ability to have a thought or a daydream, to imagine something wonderful, because we're too busy bridging the walk from the cafeteria back to the office on the cell phone. 
Steven Spielberg

 Cell phones are not a sign of power; they're a sign of subservience.
Doug Pappas