Happy New Year? a.k.a: ‘Tell me what you want, what you really, really want’

So, it’s Happy New Year time! Enough money to solve world hunger has been spent on fireworks and Facebook is awash with cheery messages between family and friends wishing each other a ‘magical’ 2015: ‘may all your dreams come true’ and ‘may this be the best year ever’, etc, etc. I love fireworks, and value everyone’s good wishes, but find myself strangely reluctant to join in. I’m trying to work out if it’s just me being Annette-the-Party-Pooper, or if there’s something more to listen to in it. I thought I’d let you in on my ponderings ….

Every New Year we repeatedly dare to hope that somehow life will get better, be happier, more fulfilling.  But let’s be honest, come next Monday morning, most of us will return to a life that looks much like the one we were living in 2014; all that make-believe about this year being ‘the’ year like so much champagne gone flat, our resolutions forgotten or abandoned, and, for many, ‘quiet desperation’  rather than ‘magic’ the flavour of our daily diet. How much, and in what ways, did your life change last year?

What’s to be done? How can we truly invest in our happiness this year? Let me ask you a question: What do you want this year?

Now, what do you really want?

And again, what do you really, really want?

And finally, to get it, what do you need to add in, or let go of?

One way of working out what we really, really want, not just for this year but for the rest of our lives, is to try the following imaginative experiment:

Imagine you’re near the end of your life, celebrating your birthday. As you look around, at family and friends gathered to celebrate with you, and reflect on your life, what are the 3-5 things that will have made your life happy and fulfilled? e.g. children, partner, work (paid or voluntary), travel, sport, creative pursuit, good food, your home…..

Next, what would you want to hear your loved ones say about you?

And finally, what would you like written as your obituary? (Keep this brief – 2 sentences will help you focus on what’s most important.)

It’s really worth taking a few minutes to do this. Hopefully it will filter your attention down to what really matters to you and you can set your sights on investing in those things.

My own answers boil down to my relationships, both personal and in my spiritual direction and therapy work; and also to my creative endeavours: to have loved others, and myself, well; to have added to, rather than subtracted from, the compassion and beauty in the world; to have lived wholeheartedly. It seems to me I can use that realisation to filter all sorts of choices I make each day so that I build an investment in what really matters to me. (And of course, every day I will fail in this, fail those I love, and make poor choices, but I hope each year to see a little more of me oriented towards what really matters.)

And with that, I really do wish you all a happy and fulfilling 2015.

 

 

Where’s Wally (aka the Christ child)?

Do you know the ‘Where’s Wally?’ pictures? Busy, busy cartoons with hordes of little cartoon characters busy with various activities. Somewhere hidden among them is a little chap in a red and white stripy shirt and hat, the challenge being to find him amidst the busy detail. It’s more difficult than you’d think.

Earlier this week I ventured out to attempt some Christmas shopping. Within 30 minutes I felt overwhelmed, exhausted, resentful, and completely out of touch with my care of the friends and family I was thinking of buying for. And the Christ child, whose birthday it is after all, was nowhere to be seen.

Each year seems more frenzied than the one before and I feel increasing horror at the busyness, the expense, the meaninglessness of so much of it, the buying of gifts for the sake of buying them, for people (including me) who already have too much of everything.

Bah humbug!

It’s not even merry for many of us: rather it’s a time when we feel, more keenly than at other times, the pain of bereavement, divorce, family tensions, disappointments and financial struggle. The tinsel, merriment and busyness (and copious quantities of food and drink) thinly plaster over the cracks, but they’re all there staring us in the face again on Boxing Day – or the 27th if you’re lucky, along with the credit card bill, which is why therapy enquiries soar in January.

Further afield, how do we celebrate Christmas in a world where children are shot and killed at their school desks? It’s the Slaughter of the Innocents, victims of grown men’s politics, all over again and the tinsel and grinning Santas look even more obscene placed alongside that.

So what’s to be done and what is the point of it all? So much of me doesn’t have an answer and any attempt feels trite, but in the middle of Marks & Spencer’s this week, in the middle of the madness that is Christmas shopping I thought of ‘Where’s Wally?’ ….

Somewhere, hidden amidst the manic busyness, frantic consumerism and heightened emotions, and yes, even the violence, is a tiny vulnerable child, born to announce a joy, peace and love that no amount of presents or food can deliver, and that no amount of violence and darkness can destroy. He’s there, I promise you, probably where you least expect.

For me he lives in quiet corners: in winter sun reflecting off the river, in dancing in my kitchen to corny Christmas music, in the unexpected cheeriness of a busy shop assistant, in the smile of a child (he lives in all children, those who are still around to open their Christmas stockings, as well as those who died at the hands of violent men; he lives also in the child within each of us). He comes and sits in my heart as it aches for the families of those dead children and helps me pray for them.

So when I feel my breath catch, or the light touch of joy, or a warmth steals across my hurting heart, I know I have found him. He is indeed the peace that passes understanding, the wholeness at the centre of a broken world.

Where might you find him this year?

Dreams …… they tell you what’s really going on

Every now and then I have a Big Dream ….

I have many dreams, mostly forgotten, from which I waken with undefined feelings of loss or anxiety or happiness. Just occasionally I wake up with the story and feelings of my dream clearly remembered, so I grab my phone and write it down in my ‘Notes’ app before it fades from view. My experience has been that these dreams always announce the thing that is really happening in my life, that needs my attention.

Dreams are gifts delivered by our unconscious, heralds of Important Information that if reflected on, and shared in therapy and/or spiritual direction, may help us know what’s really going on in our journey to know ourselves and our deeper truth. In my experience, reflecting on a dream (my own, or a client’s) can bring insight and added depth to the process that nothing else can offer, at least not as succinctly or creatively as a dream can.

I had a Big Dream recently. The details don’t need to be shared here, but suffice to say it was about moving into and rebuilding a house that had been shattered by war and abandoned. My feeling was of being newly ‘at home’ in this house. It announced with symbolic precision a shift in my perception of the life I inhabit. In my waking life, I don’t always feel confident about that shift, but the dream announces what is in process, what is ready to happen, and I can have confidence in that. When I falter, or find myself inhabiting my ‘previous house’, I need to recall the dream, because it tells me what’s REALLY going on.

So listen to your dreams, write them down, look for the message in them. If possible, find someone to help you explore that message.

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Breath

IMG_4723By the river on a carpet of autumn fallen leaves, a soft breeze lifts my hair ….

I am walking, and breathing.

(The Hebrew word ‘ruach’ means wind, breath and spirit, and the original syllables of the unpronounceable-name-of-God which we now pronounce ‘Jahweh’ may simply be the sounds of breath, inhaling and exhaling.)

So I say to God ‘you are in my breath’

And God says back to me ‘You ARE my breath’

……… Which takes my breath away.

 

Walk in the Park I & II

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Walk in the Park I
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The park belongs to the stags this morning,
Territorial bellows sounding out across the dying bracken,
This too is beauty, but with otherness, strangeness, frisson of danger
I tread carefully …. this is not my world
                                                       ………………………………………..
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Walk in the Park II
Today is raindrop day,
Their tip-tap music dripping through the trees,
Every frond of grass hung with delicate jewels.

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Therapy is like … Mayonnaise!

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Mayonnaise is amazing stuff, don’t you think? A miraculous combination of egg yolks, oil and vinegar that is so much more than the sum of its parts. Whenever I have it (and I like mayo with pretty well everything) I wonder about the anonymous French housewife or possibly overworked royal chef in the dim distant past who decided to take precious, costly ingredients and experiment recklessly with them. And I wonder how they deduced that this amazing substance only comes about through a constant, lengthy, (exhausting!) whisking or beating, accompanied by the painfully patient adding of the oil, drop by drop. Add the oil any faster and you end up with a gelatinous curdled mess. How many eggs were broken and wasted over that particular experiment? And what enabled that distant cook/chemist to keep belief in the trying?

I made mayonnaise for the first time recently. I was on retreat, and my intention, as part of the ‘slowing down’ that is one of the gorgeous gifts of retreat time, was to make something each day that in the usual frantic pace of life I don’t have the time or inclination to make. So it came the turn of mayonnaise, and as I stood over the bowl of egg yolks, dripping the oil in at instructed slow pace, I pondered on the similarity to the process of therapy (bear with me) ….

In therapy, a client and therapist come together in a room and embark on a mysterious process (which Jung likened to alchemy), that requires great patience by both parties. Through the slow drip, drip of one session after another and the therapist’s careful listening and moment-by-moment gauging of a pace that the client can cope with and that will allow the building of a trusted ‘container’, something occurs that is much more than the sum of two people sitting in a rather plain room with one person telling their story while the other listens: indeed a whole world is created. The client’s world, which up until now has existed outside, enters the room and sits in the space between the therapist and client, and also in the developing relationship between them. Past and current hurts, joys, misunderstandings, sorrows, begin to be experienced in the room, to be explored, empathised with, understood, and gradually, hopefully, healed or accepted.

What is enabled is a gradual ‘re-forming’ of the client’s experience of themselves and the circumstances they find themselves in. With mayonnaise, the oil and egg yolk ‘hold’ each other in suspension: just so, therapy is a holding, ‘alchemical’ environment between an empathic therapist and a client willing to trust the process and open to the journey of self-exploration and transformation. In time, the ‘holding’ of the therapy internalises within the client as they learn to hold themselves.

It is at times an extremely uncomfortable process. Like the eggs subjected to the beating of a whisk, a client can feel tossed about and literally undone: it can feel endless, painful and without hope. But what is happening is a gradual breaking down of who they have thought themselves to be, and the world they have thought themselves to occupy, followed by a ‘reconstituting’ into a truer identity they hadn’t imagined possible.

Of course, as with mayonnaise, it sometimes goes horribly wrong. The pace was too fast, too slow, the temperature of the ingredients was wrong, the holding environment cracked or broke completely. There’s a choice then, to either abandon the attempt and begin again with new ingredients, or, with a fresh egg yolk, use the same ingredients to begin the whole slow process all over again, drop, by drop, by drop.

A Morning Thank You

IMG_4649.JPGHow glad I am that I left my bed to come and walk in this misty landscape of green, gold and burnt amber;
Hear the skylarks’ morning song and stags’ bellowing;
Witness the sun creeping in over the Kingston skyline;
And a full moon hanging in the lightening sky.
God of my breath, my eyes and legs, thank you

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In the Beginning

It’s fraught with all manner of narcissistic peril, this composing of an opening blog post: who is the ‘me’ that feels it worth adding my ha’penny-worth to the world’s word-disease? What have I to add, and what will be thought of it?

Oh the pain!…of trying to be original, and knowing it’s all been said before.

Oh the self-consciousness!…of exposing my vulnerable self to the world.

Countless possible beginnings composed and discarded…endless tweaking…a increasingly frightening, paralysing exercise that threatens failure before it’s begun. Then I recall a small but significant epiphany I had a few months ago….

In preparation of a teaching session for the Ignatian course I teach on, I browsed websites from around the world and articles from across the years, wanting to present something original and feeling haunted by the struggle of that. Out of the blue I felt a gentle, kindly and unmistakable inner voice suggest that I was exploring this subject just as had many other people across time and geography, all exploring, wondering and teaching the same thing. I wasn’t doing anything new, and I wouldn’t be saying anything new, but that didn’t matter! I was being curious and enquiring in my own time and space, contributing to the curiosity and enquiring of the universe. I was exploring questions about life and living that people have asked since the beginning of conscious thought, and will be asking long after I have been re-absorbed by the earth. Very likely none of us will find definitive, satisfying answers in our lifetimes, but to be curious and live the questions is to be human.

My current encounter with the ‘originality’ struggle – this opening blog – has taught me something: my self-inflicted pressure to be original (and therefore special) is paralysing and limiting. As long as I believe I need to be original and special, I will remain paralysed, or at least stunted and inauthentic. King Solomon of ancient times proclaimed there was nothing original under the sun, so he clearly ‘got’ this, yet it didn’t prevent him getting out his quill and parchment to have a go at expressing himself, writing of some of the most beautiful poetry and prose the world has known.

There’s an apparent paradox here: an acceptance of ‘unoriginality’ leading to extraordinary ‘originality’. Hmmm…perhaps, until we really ‘get’ that we are much like everyone else, ordinary people on ordinary journeys in the immeasurable and insignificant-making vastness of time and space, we cannot be released into our ‘particularity’ and extra-ordinariness. Alternatively put, until I know that I am simply part of the great song the universe is singing across eternity, I won’t unearth the particular song I was born to sing here and now.

So writing a blog isn’t about being original – phew! It’s about being curious, being human, taking the risk of sharing my song, enjoying a wrestling with the words that best express that.

Then pressing that terrifying ‘Publish’ button!