Many clients who come for counselling have received messages from family, friends and school about what they’can’t do’. Children learn successfully to hide their strengths and shy away from risking doing some things because of a fear of failure. What is more surprising is that many of us can be even more afraid of being successful. There is a huge motivation to fit in and John Holt wrote a book in 1974, Why Children Fail, which suggested that children actively learn to position themselves in the middle somewhere between those two. I’ve often heard university students talk about having been bullied at school for being particularly bright or being afraid of even higher parental expectations if they do well. Children are amazing at working out how to best survive their environment and thrive.
What I have always found important is that it is when role models, friends, family do well at something, this gives permission to other family members, friends, well all of us to achieve things maybe we didn’t believe we could. Wise, strong, powerful, humble and creative role models are essential in this world for all of us. Nelson Mandela has always been a hero for me with his capacity to forgive, put the past behind him and shine his light powerfully for the highest good of all. This extract from the Inauguration speech of Nelson Mandela which I think originally came from a book by Marianne Williamson was a handout I used often for clients:
“Thereason why worry kills more people than work is that more people worry than work.” Robert Frost
As soon as worrying thoughts start to go around and around we can find ourselves blocked from moving forward positively and constructively. Here are FIVE STEPS FORWARD to break in to that pattern:
Do ONE small job: e.g. clear out a drawer/handbag/file using 10 minutes to achieve one thing;
Spend one hour during today or this evening doing something just for you that breaks your routine. Something you really enjoy and that energises you: e.g. have a long soak in the bath; listen to a favourite CD you haven’t played for a while; read a book or magazine just for fun; sit and doodle; watch or listen to something that makes you laugh…;
Think of a positive statement about yourself and repeat it several dozen times during this afternoon and this evening in terms of: I am…; She/He is…; You are… (these last two while looking in the mirror) and make sure this positive statement is the last thing you say to yourself before you go to sleep tonight;
Call someone on the phone who you really care about and who you don’t get to talk to very much – someone who energises you;
Plan something good for yourself, something out of the ordinary, a special occasion, a visit somewhere, something exciting to look forward to.
This is a poem that I’ve given out to many clients who have found it to be a useful reminder about how we change. I’ve added the last verse, a change from the original, which I found many years ago without an author’s name. If anyone knows the name of the author, I’d love to know it so that I can acknowledge them.
THE POTHOLE POEM
I walk down a street
There is a deep hole in the pavement. I fall in
I am lost….I am helpless – It isn’t my fault
It takes forever to find my way out
I walk down the same street
There is a deep hole in the pavement.
I pretend I don’t see it – I fall in again
I can’t believe I am in the same place
But, it isn’t my fault
It still takes a long time to get out
I walk down the same street
There is a deep hole in the pavement
I see it is there – I still fall in..it’s a habit
My eyes are open
I know where I am It is my responsibility I get out immediately
I walk down the same street
There is a deep hole in the pavement
I walk around it
I walk down another street
Sometimes, I walk down that old street
Stand over the hole in the pavement
and smile to think how many times I fell in
How good it feels that now I don’t have to.
The Canterbury Labyrinth sits on the sloping campus of the University of Kent overlooking Canterbury Cathedral. It is a work of art, designed by Jeff Saward and constructed, using 8,000 pieces of hand cut York Stone, by Hayward Landscapes Ltd. Labyrinths can be used as tools for teaching; relaxation and reflection; therapeutic support; healing and spiritual development. Mazes were created to entertain, tantalise; indeed part of the fun is getting lost, but in a labyrinth there is one path into the centre and the same path out, and it is a place of peace where you are much more likely to find yourself.
I trained as a labyrinth facilitator at Chartres with, Veriditas, an organisation at the forefront of promoting the use of labyrinths worldwide. If you go on their website you should be able to locate a labyrinth near to you. I return often to the stone labyrinth in Chartres Cathedral, a path worn down by millions of feet since it was built in the early 13th century. It normally has chairs on it for regular services but these are removed most Fridays; when you can see it in its full majesty
In the Canterbury area, there is a stone built labyrinth in a beautiful garden at the Pilgrim’s Hospice; an unusual grass labyrinth at The Pines in St. Margaret’s and a small labyrinth overlooking the sea on the grassy bank between Folkestone and Sandgate. In the Canterbury Labyrinth, I’ve seen students, staff and passers-by walk, run and even dance in the labyrinth, others doing yoga, meditation or simply enjoying a picnic in the peace of this place. Children love it and I watched one little boy walk backwards all the way into the centre and out.
I worked with some clients who found it valuable to spend time in the labyrinth between their sessions, using it to facilitate meditation and reflection on their process of change. Some found it useful to write about their experiences and share them in the counselling. It can be an excellent way of beginning a regular meditation practice. People struggling with high levels of stress, anxiety or panic can, with practice, find peace walking in a labyrinth. Others, on the Autistic/Asperger continuum seem to find such a walk particularly calming. Some clients describe feeling ‘held’ by the labyrinth while they are free to explore both the outside landscape and their own inner landscape. They’ve found the labyrinth both relaxing and stimulating; a place where they can ‘let go’ and safely meet ‘whatever is’ in those moments; a space where important questions may arise and be met with important answers.
The labyrinth is a valuable tool for courses on mindfulness, well-being, creativity, overcoming work blocks and stress reduction. It was the focus for a group of graduates, leaving university, to think about what they were taking with them from their university experience. They each chose a stone, from a pile of stones placed at the centre, to represent a quality they felt they needed to take with them out into the working world.
In every continent, except Antarctica, the symbol of a labyrinth has been found. On ancient Cretan coins; roman tiled floors; Etruscan wine jars; baskets woven by Hopi Indians; in Zulu children’s games. Labyrinths have been laid out in stones in Denmark; set in stone on the floor of European cathedrals; and are found on the plains of Peru. Britain has eight of Europe’s ancient turf labyrinths and three are cut into rocks in Cornwall. They have been used by people of different faiths and cultural traditions for more than 3,500 years and we are still learning much about their uses.
It can be helpful to see a labyrinth walk in three stages:
• Releasing: letting go of the outside world as you walk into the centre.
• Receiving: at the centre. This may be in the form of: an answer to a question; time to listen to ‘what is’ inside of you; or simply a few moments of peace.
• Returning: as you walk out, bringing the experience with you whatever it is.
When you do your first walk, it can be difficult to lose that self-consciousness about doing something new. Sometimes strong feelings may surface, at other times it can simply slow us down and bring us a sense of peace. People have imagined themselves walking around the labyrinth with close family members that have died; a moving and humbling experience. Others have been able to let go of negative feelings, traumatic memories and even repetitive thought patterns. Things can happen in a labyrinth! At first, it may simply be making time and space for a relaxing walk.
What happens in a labyrinth may be seen as a metaphor that can help achieve self-awareness, e.g. getting lost; feeling blocked; walking along with a stone in your shoe and not removing it. When walking the labyrinth, we can walk barefoot or not; walk quickly, slowly or stand still; dance; sit or kneel down. There is no right or wrong way to move through a labyrinth.
Useful Books and Websites
Artress, Lauren. 2006. Walking a Sacred Path: Rediscovering the labyrinth as a spiritual practice. (2nd Ed.) New York: Riverhead.
Artress, Lauren. 2006. The Sacred Path Companion: A guide to walking the labyrinth to heal and transform. New York: Riverhead.
Curry, Helen. 2000. The Way of the Labyrinth: A powerful meditation for everyday life. London: Penguin Compass.
Saward, Jeff. 2003. Labyrinths and Mazes: The definitive guide to ancient and modern traditions.
Williams, D. 2011, Labyrinth: Landscape of the Soul, Wild Goose Publication.