Tag Archives: WELL BEING

THE FREEDOM TO BE HAPPY

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I believe the purpose of our lives is the pursuit of happiness, joy, peace, love, wisdom and playfulness. Hopefully, we can achieve this with a degree of compassion, grace and gratitude. It is surprisingly difficult to free ourselves to be able to do just this.
It is a journey that is exciting, painful, creative and frustrating but worthwhile. We grow and blossom just like a flower. A time of growing, shining our brightest light in full bloom and a gentle fading when, if we are lucky, we are able to pass on to others what we are learning and eventually a closing down that leads us towards death.

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Three things that we have control over can limit our happiness:
Expectations: Having a goal or a dream can help us to find our way, but when it comes from a rigid place, the place of an expectation, it can limit our happiness. Fortunately we can free ourselves of rigid expectations and free ourselves to simply be, do and have the best we can instead. Expectations can create pressure, strain, stress, judgement and criticism of ourselves and others. Expectations can stop us from living in the present moment and being able to tap into recognising and pursuing what truly leads us to joy, peace, love, wisdom, playfulness and happiness.
Negativity: A positive thought, feeling, memory can flow through us so quickly, sometimes hard for us to hold onto. A negative thought, feeling, memory can hold us imprisoned for hours, days, weeks and months. Practice overthrowing a negative thought, feeling, memory with a positive one. At the very least we could give them equal time and space in our lives.
Attachments: When I use this word I mean those thoughts, feelings, behaviour, beliefs, relationships, often from the past, that we allow to dictate to us and that we hold onto in a way that limits our movement and ability to be our real selves. They become heavy and a trial at times. It is a freedom to build positive, compassionate and loving connections with people, places and belief systems, but connections you can tap into and tap out of again so that your thinking, feeling and beliefs are free to change, to move you on. Unconditional, positive connections are a lightness and a joy in our lives. They help us to belong and feel part of that ocean of life that we are all swimming in together. Attachments weigh us down, hold us back, limit our thinking, imprison our feelings and our freedom to be who we are.
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Photographs by Angela Barnes

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FINDING LOVE IN THE LOOKING GLASS – AVAILABLE NOW

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Available now from www.karnacbooks.com, postage free worldwide

 ‘This rich, practical, and potentially transforming book provides the lay reader, as well as the counsellor, psychotherapist, and student of counselling, with a clear, practical guide to insightful dialogue, and the effective use of innovative techniques in counselling. Devising relevant case stories from her extensive experience in this field, Maggie Yaxley Smith offers us a fluent, personable, and compassionate approach to the struggles, vulnerabilities and previously undiscovered potential and strength of human nature.  This creative, illuminating, intimate, and authentic account makes an immensely significant contribution to personal growth, helping us to break from old patterns that limit us and allowing us to realise our potential and live life more fully.’           Brian Graham, clinical supervisor, counsellor, therapist and international educator.

‘This is a beautifully written and multi-layered insight into the counsellor/client relationship. With each in-depth case study, the author reflects on the emotional and psychological subtleties and complexities that clients bring into the counselling room. Her honesty, warmth, sensitivity, and skill with each client shines through on every page as she invites you to share in each person’s internal struggles, breakthroughs, and ‘a-ha’ moments as they journey from past hurts to self discovery.  This is an engaging and positive book.  Whether you are a seasoned therapist, someone thinking about having counselling, or simply curious about what the counselling experience is like, then this book is for you.’        Anjula Mutanda, relationship psychologist, presenter and author.

Lan-li returns to the painfully self-destructive behaviour of Anorexia that nearly killed her at 15. In order to survive in her world, she is allowing herself to be dominated by what she believes others want from her.

Shirley and David’s body language in the waiting room shows a marriage destined to become ink on a divorce petition. They have stopped listening to each other and are filled with a bitterness and frustration ‘iced’ with a veneer of being ‘right’.

Michael is 25 and is burying himself in a career as a lawyer, resigned to becoming his father.  He has nightmares of being buried alive and has dark thoughts of killing himself when driving on motorways.

Karen, a successful investment banker, is living in a crazy world of cocaine addiction which mirrors the craziness within the abusive family that she grew up in.

These characters are entirely fictitious characters but as their counselling unfolds, they grow into themselves in a very real way.  There is something of all of us in these clients who, once they find the ability to see their own strengths can create a more positive way forward in their lives.  I’ve worked with many clients, over 35 years, who’ve said, ‘I wish I’d come for counselling sooner.’ It is hoped that this book may encourage people who would benefit from some counselling to do just that.

Finding Love in the Looking Glass: A Book of Counselling Case Stories,

ISBN: 978-1-7822012-4-3

by Maggie Yaxley Smith MA MBACP (Accred.) Senior Practitioner. BACP reg.

 

A ‘MUST HAVE’ BOOK ON RELATIONSHIPS WITH SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE

Anjula Mutanda, (2013).  How to do Relationships: A step-by-step guide to nurturing your relationship and making love last, Vermilion, London.

 ‘When relationships are going well we feel good about ourselves, connected and supported, but when things are going badly we can feel dissatisfied, anxious and sometimes very lonely.  Clearly, feeling loved is very important to us.(page 1).

This book is full of valuable information and tips about relationships; it is clearly written and easy to understand; it is a book that I wanted to read from cover to cover but it is also something I could imagine keeping and dipping into at specific times when it would prove helpful again and again. It is refreshingly full of common sense and wisdom AND it is the accumulation of many years of study, experience, insights and intuition from a very experienced therapist with a deep level of sensitivity, compassion and understanding about human nature and how relationships work.  This book is an invaluable resource for all ages and every type of relationship.

Anjula begins by assisting us to develop an awareness of who we are before considering what kind of relationship we want. There are many questions, exercises and thought provoking case studies that enable us to discover more about ourselves and our partners. This is a book that shows rather than tells us how relationships can be improved, enlivened and enjoyed but it does it by giving us the power to do it for ourselves with the use of tips, questions and authentic and relevant case studies.

 ‘Getting to know yourself better is the cornerstone of a happy and positive relationship with another person, and that means having a healthy level of self-awareness.’ (page 11).

It is important that this book normalises and accepts the layers of difficulty that can occur in any relationship:

 ‘Recycling feelings from your past happens in relationships; it’s a by-product of living with another human being.  What this means is that you may sometimes unconsciously redirect feelings from an influential person in your past – like a parental figure – to your present-day partner. You bring to the table significant others who have influenced your beliefs and you will bring a wide range of internalised emotions about yourself, relationships and the world in general…We do this whether or not our experiences were great or dreadful. Becoming aware of this process is key to working through problems.’ (page 35).

 I remember the film, The Story of Us, with Bruce Willis and Diane Keaton playing the parts of a couple going through a divorce. There was one fantasy scene where they were filmed talking to each other in bed, with each set of parents in the bed with them; it was chaos with everyone talking at once!  It was funny but also poignant and a great truth about what happens in terms of the role models and luggage that we take into our relationships with us.  Often, we hear our parent’s voice emanating from our partners instead of what our partners are actually saying, both positively and negatively. That’s how things can become more confusing and complicated than they have to be and this book helps to explain and build an awareness of that process. I believe this book has a relevance to other important relationships as well, with friends, family members, colleagues and even our relationship with work, study or our creativity.

Anjula leads us, step by step, through our most intimate relationships from the early days, through decisions to move in together; commitment, marriage or not; starting a family and coping with blended families, which I think is a really positive term for the many different realities of modern day family life. There are interesting highlighted paragraphs with up to date research and genuinely helpful information and tips that give us short cuts to assess what is going on.  The book moves on to question how we survive crisis and learn to manage the ‘Bumps in the Road’ and ends with a sensitive, practical and poignant look at ‘Growing Older Together.’  At the end of this book, I felt there were very few stones left unturned and there was a satisfaction in the breadth and depth that was explored and achieved.

 ‘By learning how to increase your self-awareness, exploring your relationship journey so far and then rolling up your sleeves and doing the practical exercises, you will have the best ingredients to help you towards creating, nurturing and maintaining the positive relationship that you’ve always wanted.’ (page 6).

I felt the real gift in this book was that it set out to help all of us understand more about ourselves and our partners.  I remember reading a book called, The Education of Little Tree, (by Forrest Carter, (2001) University of New Mexico Press) about a Cherokee Indian boy and the word for love taught to him by his grandfather was the same as the word for understanding.

The many questions and exercises here challenge us to take responsibility for thinking deeply about what we want.  It is one of the strengths of this book that the case studies normalise the difficulties that we can all experience in relationships and enables us to take an honest look at what might be holding us back.  Relationships can be a way of accelerating learning and understanding about ourselves and a way of helping us to make more positive choices in our lives, this book really does show us, ‘How to do Relationships’.

FEELINGS MAKE US WISE

Feelings are an important part of our humanity.  No matter what culture, age, gender, sexuality, country, politics or religion you may identify with, feelings are common to us all. Taking this further, it is something that we share with other species as well.

A very good friend
A very good friend

With the exception of people who have a specific  health issue that make feelings difficult to connect with, we all have the potential to know what it is to be sad or grieving; to be angry, frustrated or full of rage; to experience fear, anxiety or terror and we all share the capacity for joy and happiness.  Many of us are taught to know what it is to feel guilty or ashamed, although there are some cultures, for example in Tibet , where there is no word for guilt.  There is a whole spectrum of feelings from despair and hopelessness to laughter and even uncontrollable giggles that show us what it is to be truly human.

As part of our socialisation, we can become wary of our emotions being out of control but often even the strongest feelings rarely last very long and can be fleeting.  However, it is also common place for us to become attached or stuck in certain patterns of feelings that can become buried in our psyche, especially if they are unexpressed or even denied.  These can sit dormant, even simmering, for years. This is often the reason why we may seek counselling as adults, to explore, express and understand such feelings.

It is important to normalise our amazing capacity for emotion.  I have often worked with clients who were highly critical of themselves for their feelings.  There is a huge difference between having a feeling and acting upon it. One of the reasons I wrote an earlier blog about fairy tales is that such stories in childhood can make us more comfortable and accepting of a whole range of feelings that are entirely normal and ‘human’, however extreme they may feel sometimes.

We need stories  to explain, illustrate, understand and normalise our experiences and our lives as they unfold.  I often found myself saying to clients who found the way they felt to be: weird; difficult; uncomfortable; irrational; disturbing – ‘welcome to the rest of the human race’. Feelings are rarely neatly packaged, as thoughts can be and yet to be without them limits our ability to feel, even extremes that make us real and also challenging to ourselves and others.

It is important for us to be as aware and wise about feelings as it is for us to be aware and wise about our intellectual, physical and spiritual capacities. In the counselling room, much of the process is about focusing on feelings, what they are, where they come from and choices we make because of them.  It is a place to grow and develop that awareness.  We can be taught how to be clever and intelligent but to become wise, we need to be aware and able to manage every aspect of ourselves, inside and outside, and most especially our feelings.

RECORDED MEDITATIONS AND RELAXATION EXERCISES

I have used some of these meditations, visualisations and breathing exercises with individual clients and groups of staff and students.  Some of them have been designed for specific situations but the hope is that each of them will enable relaxation.

 If you have not done something like this before, it may require some practice before you are able to achieve a deep level of relaxation. I have started with some short exercises to enable you to focus on your breathing, which in itself can begin the process of creating peace inside you – hard to do in a world that is crammed full of external stimulation. Sometimes, we can feel like a bottle of fizzy drink that’s been shaken up and it can be very important for our good health and well-being to be able to find ways to quieten our inner world.

There is no right or wrong way to relax, everyone is different. I hope you may find something here that works for you. Some of these exercises are very short and can be done anywhere as a way of creating a few calm moments when you might need them most. One short exercise is designed to sharpen our imagination, which may help with some of the visualisations. Others are longer and could form part of a regular daily or weekly relaxation practice.

I have added a visualization to help people who have experienced trauma.  I developed this exercise for a client who had been stabbed and it really helped her to reclaim her physical wholeness. It focuses on creating safe and secure body boundaries for people who have experienced physical or sexual trauma or even a necessary medical or surgical treatment that might have felt invasive, albeit helpful.

There is a meditation offering comfort for people who are grieving and there are suggestions of how to create an exercise to lessen a particular fear or anxiety, which I used to good effect with students who were very anxious about doing exams.

Finally, I describe how we can get the most out of walking in a labyrinth. There is an exercise you can do using a finger labyrinth and I have enclosed a drawing of a labyrinth which could be printed on a piece of card or thick paper and used as a finger labyrinth; it may help to have this drawing laminated. You can read more about labyrinths and how to find one near you by clicking on, Labyrinth, under the heading Counselling Tools above. I hope there might be something here that you find useful.

Joining or creating a meditation group on a regular basis can be a great tool for good health and well-being.  I would also recommend the regular practice of yoga with an accredited yoga teacher. This allows you to do physical exercise first followed by a breathing exercise and a relaxation. I find such a class can give me extra energy for the day ahead or can relax me at the end of a busy day.

Be aware that any relaxation exercise could provoke a strong emotional reaction.  If this happens allow yourself to feel whatever comes to the surface. There may be situations where you decide that you need some form of counselling or therapeutic help and on the Blogroll, on the right hand side,  there are two links to my professional body, the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy and It’s Good to Talk where it is possible to find the name of a therapist in your area.

While doing any of these exercises, many thoughts will arise, notice them, don’t try and MAKE them disappear, let them drift away in your own time. As you end an exercise and open your eyes, it can help to ground yourself back into the present by noticing a colour, picture or shape in the room you are in.

I WOULD ADVISE YOU NOT DRIVE OR DO ANYTHING DEMANDING FOR AT LEAST 10 MINUTES AFTER LISTENING TO THE RECORDINGS HERE. 

River Sculptures by Jos

CREATING LIFE’S DANCE

Each cell dances all day long,

a miracle of patterns and pathways

the sign of a body, potent and strong.

Cells unite and move with grace,

rhythmic forms, seething with power;

full of energy, ready to race.

What fuels this life every day?

Time, decorated with stillness

sustains each cell to dance and play

  •                   A SHORT BREATHING EXERCISE (5 minutes);

  • A SHORT VISUALISATION TO SHARPEN IMAGINATION (3 minutes);

  • A SHORT RELAXATION TO RELEASE TENSION (7 minutes);(You can substitute your own words or images according to what you might need at any given time.  If you are on your way to a job interview or giving a talk, you could substitute the words: CALM, CONFIDENCE, or a short phrase, e.g. I CAN DO THIS).

  • A ‘SMILING’ RELAXATION (10 minutes); (This may seem a little weird but it is hard to get through it without smiling).

  • A VISUALISATION TO PROMOTE RELAXATION AND STILLNESS (17 minutes);(This could be used as part of a daily or weekly practice).

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  • A MUSCLE RELAXATION EXERCISE (23 minutes);(This could also be used as part of a daily or weekly practice).

  • A VISUALISATION TO RECLAIM BODY WHOLENESS (24 minutes);(This has proved particularly useful to men and women who are survivors of physical or sexual trauma. It can also help someone who has experienced necessary medical or surgical treatment that might have felt invasive, albeit helpful.)

  • A SHORT VISUALISATION – COPING  WITH GRIEF (10 minutes);

  • A SHORT VISUALISATION – DEALING  WITH ANXIETY (6 minutes);]

Photo by Jim Higham
Photo by Jim Higham
  • WALKING IN A LABYRINTH (7 minutes);

  • HOW TO USE A FINGER LABYRINTH (4 minutes):

A Classical Labyrinth

A CLASSICAL LABYRINTH

If anyone would like a script for any of these recorded meditations, so they could make their own recording, leave a comment and an email address and I will send it out to you.

 

 

SHINING OUR BRIGHTEST LIGHT

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:

OUR DEEPEST FEAR IS NOT THAT WE ARE INADEQUATE. OUR DEEPEST FEAR IS THAT WE ARE POWERFUL BEYOND MEASURE.  IT IS OUR LIGHT, NOT OUR DARKNESS, THAT MOST FRIGHTENS US.
WE ASK OURSELVES WHO AM I TO BE BRILLIANT, GORGEOUS, TALENTED, FABULOUS?  ACTUALLY, WHO ARE YOU NOT TO BE? YOU ARE A CHILD OF GOD.  YOUR PLAYING SMALL DOESN’T SERVE THE WORLD.  THERE’S NOTHING ENLIGHTENED ABOUT SHRINKING SO THAT OTHER PEOPLE AROUND YOU WON’T FEEL INSECURE.
WE ARE ALL MEANT TO SHINE, AS CHILDREN DO.  WE ARE BORN TO MANIFEST THE GLORY OF GOD THAT IS WITHIN US.  IT’S NOT JUST IN SOME OF US: IT’S IN EVERYONE. AND AS WE LET OUT LIGHT SHINE, WE UNCONSCIOUSLY GIVE OTHER PEOPLE PERMISSION TO DO THE SAME.
AS WE ARE LIBERATED FROM OUR OWN FEAR, OUR PRESENCE AUTOMATICALLY LIBERATES OTHERS.
Who have been some of your most important role models?

COUNSELLING ABOUT STRESS

Sometimes too little stimulation can result in the stress of boredom or “RUST OUT”. However, mostly we experience stress because of too high expectations and work “overload” which goes on too long, causing “BURN OUT” or “PRESSURE STRESS”. Also, a new situation which people think they cannot cope with successfully can produce a sense of being out of control. Counselling can help us to become more aware and able to identify what might help and support us through this.

SOME STRESS IS IMPOSED ON US FROM OUTSIDE BUT OFTEN STRESS COMES FROM INSIDE OF US.

Some common symptoms of stress include an increase in tension, headaches, feeling irritable or bad tempered, rapid heartbeat, feeling sick, shakiness, dizziness, indigestion, fear related sexual difficulties, butterflies in your stomach, dry mouth, back pain, cold sweats, clammy hands, crying for no apparent reason and difficulty in sleeping.  Stress can also cause us to want to spend too much time “numbing out” from life or “over stimulating” ourselves on: drink, drugs, cigarettes, television, people, work, food, coffee and any other addictive behaviours.

TALKING KINDLY TO OURSELVES AND

BELIEVING IN OUR MANY ABILITIES AND STRENGTHS

HELPS US WORK AND LIVE MORE EFFECTIVELY.

Mount Canigou in the Pyrenees

THINGS YOU CAN DO NOW:

  • SIT QUIETLY AND COMFORTABLY WITH YOUR EYES CLOSED AND IMAGINE YOURSELF LYING OR SITTING IN A FAVOURITE, REAL OR IMAGINERY PLACE OUT IN NATURE.  AS YOU RELAX IN THIS PLACE, ALLOW YOURSELF TO FEEL HELD BY THE EARTH BELOW YOU AND CONNECT WITH THE SOUNDS, SCENTS, COLOURS AND TEXTURES IN THIS PLACE. NOTICE YOUR BREATHING IN AND YOUR BREATHING OUT ALLOWING YOURSELF TO BE PRESENT TO THIS EXPERIENCE FOR 5 OR 10 MINUTES.
  • MAKE YOUR WORKING SPACE MORE ATTRACTIVE SO THAT YOU ARE ENERGISED:
  • DISPLAY A POSTER OR A POSTCARD YOU LOVE; A PLANT; CLEAR ENOUGH SPACE TO WORK EFFECTIVELY, SURROUND YOURSELF WITH COLOURS YOU LOVE; HAVE MUSIC YOU LIKE ACCESSIBLE;  KEEP AN OBJECT NEARBY THAT MAKES YOU SMILE; TAKE TIME OUT FROM THIS SPACE TO HAVE BREAKS AND A CHANGE OF SCENE.
  • TAKE 15 MINUTES DURING YOUR DAY TO DANCE TO YOUR FAVOURITE MUSIC OR SING TO YOURSELF IN THE SHOWER (YES, THERE IS TIME);
  • MAKE SURE YOU HAVE SOME FRESH AIR WHEREVER YOU ARE. SLEEP WITH ACCESS TO FRESH AIR. STEP OUTSIDE AND NOTICE HOW THE SKY LOOKS, WHAT THE WEATHER IS DOING, CONNECT WITH THE NATURAL WORLD IN SOME WAY.
Clouds Passing on Amherst
Clouds Passing on Amherst
  • TRY SOMETHING NEW THAT IS CREATIVE. IT COULD BE PAINTING, SCULPTING, SEWING, DRAWING, DRAMA, PLAYING A MUSICAL INSTRUMENT, PHOTOGRAPHY, GARDENING, POTTERY, WRITING, COOKING, COLOURFUL DOODLING. ASK A FRIEND ALONG TO JOIN YOU. TAKE A CLASS WITH OTHER PEOPLE WHO ARE ENCOURAGING.  EXPRESSING OURSELVES CREATIVELY IS ANOTHER WAY TO PLAY…IT IS ESSENTIAL FOR GOOD HEALTH AND WELL BEING. SO MANY PEOPLE DON’T BELIEVE IN THEIR CREATIVE ABILITIES.  THIS IS VERY SAD. SOMETIMES IT IS FUN JUST TO HAVE A GO. WHATEVER YOU CHOOSE TO DO, IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE PERFECT, THE POINT IS TO EXPERIENCE A DIFFERENT WAY OF EXPRESSING YOURSELF. ENJOY!
  • MASSAGE – ANY KIND OF MASSAGE IS WONDERFULLY RELAXING AND YOU COULD DO A FOOT OR HAND MASSAGE SWOP WITH A FRIEND, PARTNER OR FAMILY MEMBER.  SOME CHILDREN LOVE TO HAVE THEIR FEET MASSAGED WHEN THEY AREN’T WELL. GIVING AND RECEIVING A MASSAGE CAN BE EQUALLY RELAXING
  • SPEND TIME WITH PEOPLE WHO ENERGISE OR RELAX YOU – LAUGHTER IS A GREAT ‘STRESS EATER’. NOTICE WHO AND WHAT GIVES YOU ENERGY AND WHO OR WHAT DRAINS YOU OF ENERGY.

I’d love to hear from you about other positive and helpful ideas that help us to release stress.

OVERCOMING BLOCKS

The reason 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.

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The Arms of a Labyrinth

As a counsellor on a University campus lucky enough to have a labyrinth, I was able to suggest to clients and counsellors in training that they might consider walking a labyrinth in between sessions.  People who have done so, and reported back, have appreciated feeling ‘held’ by the labyrinth while they are free to explore both the outside landscape and their own inner landscape and have described the space of the labyrinth as both calming and stimulating; a place where they can ‘let go’ and safely meet ‘whatever is’ in those moments.

A book that I’ve found valuable is, The Continuum Concept, written by an American Anthropologist and later Psychotherapist, Jean Liedloff. She defines so well what can cause some of the deep tensions, negative feelings, misperceptions and a certain loss of faith in ourselves and the world around us which many of us carry from early infancy. She suggests that this is because we rarely get to complete the developmental continuum required and satisfied by a ‘babes in arms’ experience during the first six months of life. According to Jean Liedloff:

For millions of years newborn babies have been held close to their mothers from the moment of birth.  Some babies of the last few hundred generations have been deprived of this all important experience, but that has not lessened each new baby’s expectation that he will be in his rightful place…The earliest established components of an infant’s psycho-biological make-up are those most formative of his lifelong outlook.  What he feels before he can think is a powerful determinant of what kind of things he thinks when thought becomes possible…If he feels safe, wanted and ‘at home’ in the midst of activity before he can think, his view of later experiences will be very distinct in character from those of a child who feels unwelcome, unstimulated by the experiences he has missed and accustomed to living in a state of want, though the later experiences of both may be identical.”  (Liedloff, Jean, 1989. The Continuum Concept, Arkana, Penguin Books.)

Jean Liedloff discovered the lack of tension, innate happiness and well-being which appeared to result from this vital experience when she made many visits to, and lived for years with, the ‘Stone Age Indians’, the Yequana and the Tauripan, in South America.  I believe that babies thrive and survive despite the changes that we inflict on them, but it may still help us to retrieve our true potential if we bear in mind what may be missing in our fast moving modern day human experience of infancy. Our society has changed fast but this basic human need, this,“ancient continuum of our species…is suited to the tendencies and expectations with which we evolved.”

This suggests  that there is an inner expectation that we have nine months inside our mother’s womb followed by six months continuous human physical contact with ‘a mother figure’, not as the centre of attention, but simply that constant presence going about their everyday life, from whom we gradually separate.  Being carried on their mother’s body is an excellent position for a baby to observe and experience the world of their mother, her intimates, colleagues and friends:  being joggled around if your mother walks fast (just like in the womb); a chance to play with a human body and gradually realise that this is different from your own; satisfying a developmental stage that is not even acknowledged in our modern life. The infant is not hidden away, but goes everywhere the mother goes, work and play, while feeling totally held, safe and secure. They are able to develop a faith in themselves, others and the world about them which is essential in order to fully separate in line with this ancient developmental continuum.  This is a foundation for later self-reliance, the faith needed to risk realising our true potential and the resulting satisfaction with ourselves and our lives.

The Labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral

The Labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral

Walking the labyrinth can bring us close to this ‘babes in arms’ experience in a different but entirely satisfying way.  In a place where it is easy to feel safely held, people can find their own walking pace, even their own pattern of breathing.  On a labyrinth, anything can happen as we slow down and become more connected to the present moment. We can explore and notice anything from small shiny stones lit by the sun to huge questions or answers screaming at us from inside. It is the safe boundary and unchanging character of the labyrinth that can enable us to experience or re-experience aspects of this developmental continuum. While walking the labyrinth we don’t have to be responsible for anything or anyone else.  We can dance, run or walk slowly.  We can listen to and follow our energy; something babies are expert at.  Most of all, we have the space to notice ‘what is’ inside and outside of us in the present moment. It requires a certain risk and faith to walk into the unknown of the labyrinth.The level of containment and constancy available to us in the labyrinth, apart from the positive energy which just seems to live in the labyrinth, enables us to release some of the tension, negativity and misperceptions about ourselves and the world that can be limiting to our good health, well-being and awareness of reality. It is a place, similar to those early months of being held by ‘a mother figure’, where there is a real possibility to liberate our true self and realise our potential.

There are many people who are fortunate enough to have had this, ‘babes in arms’, experience in cultures that honour this important need. Such cultures appreciate the importance of that early holding to the formation of a deep faith and ease of being, part of that early process of creating children whose very foundation for living is complete.  For those of us who were not so fortunate the labyrinth can be a valuable tool for helping to restore and recover this early need, to enable us to more fully meet the daily mystery of ‘what is’.

COUNSELLORS: LOOKING AFTER OURSELVES AND BUILDING RESILIENCE

Le Canigou

As I began this blog, my husband just read the word resilience by mistake as re-silence and that seemed to link perfectly with what I wanted to write about.

When working with people experiencing severe distress on a daily basis, it is vital that we realise the accumulative effect of such work and look after ourselves. When we are grounded and balanced in our own lives, as best we can be, we are more able to be truly present to our clients. Clinical supervision and continuous professional development enables us to be alive to our own journey but we can easily become depleted emotionally, physically, mentally, creatively and spiritually. Everyone has different needs and different ways of recharging, what’s important is that we don’t force ourselves to work on ‘empty’.

There’s a place I walk…yesterday, I looked through a long tunnel of a mixed oak and pine forest directly into the sun and there was what I call a ‘sunstar’, tendrils of light appearing to thrust themselves towards me out of the tunnel, like a firework. It made me smile. I went and sat down on a low stone wall, the smell of pine mingled with the persistent scent of ripe grapes being harvested on the slopes far below. I sat kicking my heels onto the wall feeling like a small child, at peace and yet excited by the landscape in front of me that widened out to include the navy blue and the white froth of the Mediterranean. A pair of light brown hawks hung on to the waves of air above and took it in turns to dive down into the tall grasses searching for their supper. I watched two butterflies play with each other and then settle, looking like exquisite petals.

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The breeze cooled the warm sun and the temperature was perfect. This place has an abundance of energy as old as the Stone Age. Despite our ‘high tech’ life, our inner needs haven’t changed much. I know that I need to re-connect with that, ‘re-silence’, which of course is not actually silent at all. It is full of sound: the wind blowing through the trees; a river rushing down to the sea; house martins, swifts and swallows twittering as they circle in groups to catch their prey. There are occasional sounds of buzzards mewing high up and the late summer remnants of frog song. Inside me, the energy from this place replenishes and fills me, building a resilience which I will take home at the end of my stay here.

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What does this for you?

Photos by Robin Laverock