Archives for Change
My grandmother is a sly sage (as so many of our grandmothers seem to be). On our most recent wander through her backyard, when I casually commented on her magnolia tree, she paused and replied, “Yes, we have a lot to learn from the garden…” And so we do. It’s been a pretty bleak time for me over the last couple of years. (Which is why I took a break from blogging). Lots of changes driven by heartache and pain. As sometimes seems to happen in life… The walls of my internal garden during that time have housed next to nought, as necessity overshadowed nourishment, and everything ended up neglected and parched. And though I kept ‘ploughing-on’ through the days, somehow I forgot to plant new seeds… So the field’s been kind of empty for a while. Do you know that feeling? Perhaps only too well. So many of us do, at some time or other. And as Valentine’s Day approaches, this kind of stuff just seems to get harder, harsher, the contrast highlighted by all the ‘lurve’ and flowers in the air. It seems easier just not to look; at the hype; at the self. And then, walking up my back steps the other day, I saw it anyway. A vine untangling and growing beneath my very house. Right there, in the dark and the dust. Neglected, not watered, but flourishing anyway. A vine of verdant hearts. (That’s it in the photo above). Yes, we have a lot to learn from the garden…
It's an old story. Old as the hills. And yet new every time it tells itself again. Have you heard it told to you lately? The clouds have gathered, thick and dark, on your skies. They're banked up and rolling heavy to your horizon. Maybe the rains have already started, pouring their grief over everything you know and soaking it all through with shadows. And then maybe the wind starts up. The lightning. It seems everything is going wrong at once. It's hard to imagine ever riding out this storm. And yet, if the story has its way, there will come a moment. A moment you might not notice at first. A moment that can start out smaller than small. But it's enough. Enough to invite a shift - an infinitessimal shift - that's almost no shift at all. Except that it is. So something tiny changes. And somehow that awakens the next little change. Until, gradually, all these fragile moments come together - like countless particles of light converging - almost invisible on their own. But together, slowly, they can start to pull the temperature of your day in a warmer direction. Together, they start to matter.
One of the things I love about living in Australia is the grace of the gum trees. Even in the bustle of the city, they're dotted around the streets, their leaves quietly whispering of stuff more grounded and true. And recently it's been the time of year for some of them to shed their bark (like in the photo, above). It's an inspiring process in a metaphorical way - a time to slough off the old and let the new parts of you come to the surface. Sometimes, for the trees, it might look messy for a while, with great strips of their old selves peeling off and swinging in the wind before they fall away. But, with a bit of time and persistence, they come clean again, with brand new skins to face the world in. So, if you could shed your own bark like these trees, what would you be shedding?
Trust is such an important part of therapy. And, of course, of life… So do you trust yourself? To know yourself. To grow yourself. To heal. A gentleman born in the early 1900’s trusted you, even though you’ve never met. His name was Carl Rogers, and he was a psychologist. And he believed that you – that all of us – have the innate power to understand and heal ourselves. He believed that somewhere inside, you have the solution, the answer, the salve for your life’s struggles. And that trust will help unlock them. So how do you do that?
On a day that started with torrential rain and umbrella wrestling (and weather forecasts of doom), it seemed almost miraculous to be able to stroll the street in a dry golden-blue-sky evening. But that’s what happened. Unexpectedly. And it was exactly then that this notice on a shopfront window caught my eye (you can see it in the photo, above): “All things must pass.” (And they certainly seem to). Sometimes this apparent truth about the world feels confronting. Unfair, even. Because these “things which must pass” inevitably include the things we love, and the things we celebrate. The things we might want to hold on to and never let go. But they're not the only things that this saying is on about...
A lot of therapy is about sort of stepping back and seeing things – seeing yourself – from a different perspective. Getting out of the weave and the warp of the moment and looking more at the whole fabric of the situation you’re in. Seeing if there’s any repeating motifs or themes that might help you unlock some solutions… or even unlock parts of you. And the wonderful thing is that you can do this without being in formal therapy. Don’t get me wrong, traditional therapy is a great way to get the hang of this pattern-spotting business. And it’s incredibly powerful to work with someone who’s got your back and can help you see any blindspots you might have. But once you’ve become a pattern watcher, you can use it anytime you like, to find deeper insights and often deeper healing, too. So what sort of things might you try to notice? What helps spot the patterns? Sometimes questions like these are a good place to start:
It was on this same trip to work the other day, walking a different way, seeing different things, that I spotted this sign: "FEED YOUR MIND." And it led me to wondering... What are you feeding your mind? Are you nourishing it? Or mindlessly stuffing some junk in for a quick bit of rush? What are you putting in there? (And what are you hoping to get back out of it?) In his book, "Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life," world renown Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh writes about mindful consumption. Not just of food. But of everything you ingest: television, conversations, images, thoughts. So, if you were to look at the typical "diet" you feed your mind, what might you find?
I took a different route to work yesterday. And I saw different things. Suddenly, in a gap between buildings, I spied this view in the photo, above: stairs and a distant clock face above them. A thought struck immediately: "Take the steps to make the time..." And then, a heartbeat later: "... time for the things that matter." I had to stop for a second, to drink it in and let all the bustling commuters around me blur on by. So what are those things for you? The things that matter? Life can change at a moment's notice - we all know this. Profound, unexpected change where the things we previously took for granted become the things we miss, for we can no longer experience them in quite the same way again. At least for now... At the moment, I'm getting lots of reminders of this. Lots of losses, big and small, in my own life, and in the lives of those close to me. I guess it comes back to our fragility. Our mortality. Our passage through the (limited) time we have. And our ability to recognise what really matters to us, so we can live it, love it, while it's here in our hands.
So much is unknown about this mystery we like to call “life.” We have our theories and ideas about it, our values and beliefs that may help guide us through it, but watertight certainty about any of it is hard to find. Except for one thing: This is probably the only time your life will be lived. Just think about that for a moment... This is the only time when your unique talents and abilities and yearnings and experiences and even your pain can mix together in quite this way. It’s more than just the chance of a lifetime… So it’s also probably the only time your dreams have a chance to be lived out in quite the way that you – and only you – could live them. So will you let them live?
Sometimes it’s hard not to feel like an outsider. Like you don’t quite fit in. Maybe you’re carrying a certain sadness that sets you apart from the places that other people seem to inhabit right now. Or maybe you doubt your worth or your ability to contribute sometimes. Maybe you just feel “different.” Or even “weird.” Or that your values or the way you want to live your life aren’t quite what society currently sees as “normal.” Feeling a bit out of step with the people around you – your family or work colleagues or friends – is often tough. One theory suggests there are two opposing "life forces" we balance inside ourselves: the “force of individuality” and the “force of togetherness.” Individuality is about our uniqueness, while togetherness is thought to heighten our sense of safety and survival in a group. So it can be tempting trade self for safety sometimes. To hide your points of difference and gloss over them. To keep the surface calm so that no-one else’s boat is rocked. To muffle the parts of you that would sing a different tune. To shrink yourself to make the anxiety smaller, too. (All of which usually just means that you get to keep all the dissonance inside you, instead of sharing it around). What if there was another way?