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:
For many people I know (and for myself at times), 2011 has been quite a hard year. It’s held times of real challenge, times of worry, times of loss. Yet there were still beautiful bits that sparkled through it in the light.
Has it been that way for you?
As we all get ready to farewell 2011 and open a new calendar for 2012, perhaps it’s worth reviewing, for a moment, what we’re actually leaving behind. And what, if anything, you might like to carry forward with you into your future.
For there are clues written into this past year that can help you uncover what’s important and fulfilling to you, how to invite more of that in, and how you want to live your life.
Let’s take a look…
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.
Anger. It’s got a pretty bad reputation. And we’re often told what to do with it: be careful with it. Suppress it. Vent it. Override it. It’s like anger’s some kind of volatile, toxic force to be harnessed or defused.
But maybe there’s another way of looking at it altogether.
Maybe you can actually learn from anger. Listen to it. See what it has to tell you. Get curious about it.
The sticker in the photo (above), in a cleverly vandalised train carriage I travelled in recently, has another suggestion for how to respond to anger:
“If anger is present
rove to another age”
So let’s take another look at anger for a moment.
It’s so easy to take things for granted. We almost seem built to do it – wired to see the danger over the delight. To spot the problem floating on a sea of stuff that’s working.
When this happens, all the enriching, joyful, sustaining things in your life – however fleeting they may be just now – get backgrounded. Lost.
Instead, your foreground is filled with the close-up perspective of the things that bring pain and difficulties. And you get to feel all the anxiety and worry attached to them.
Can you relate to that?
What would happen if you could reverse the flow for a moment? Move the foreground into the background, and the background forward? What if you could deliberately set the inspiring and rejuvenating stuff up front for a moment? Let your mind and body remember them, and feel the relief they bring?
Well, you can…
And one of the simplest ways to do it is to harness the power of gratitude.
I stumbled upon some serendipity the other day. It was travelling on a bus. So was I.
Just as I was thinking about my life, and how I might get through some challenges, I happened to look up. Up there, near the ceiling, a small bureaucratic sticker had been partly covered over (the complete version is in the photo above).
Now, though, instead of advising passengers to keep their belongings close, this particular sticker offered something that almost seemed like wisdom:
“DO NOT LEAVE YOU”
How can public transport be so profound?
There’s a well-known existential exercise that’s supposed to really ‘bring death home’ to you. And in so doing, really bring life home…
You might already know it. Basically, you take a moment to imagine your own headstone in a cemetery. And then you write what it would say about you. How it would capture a snapshot of your life as it is (which can sometimes highlight the gap between there and where you might yearn for it to be).
Or maybe you’ve heard of the other idea of writing your own eulogy?
Or perhaps you’ve felt moved by the Canadian blogger Derek Miller’s last blog post, which he wrote to be published after his death (of colon cancer, last week).
But have you ever done these sorts of things?
Personally, I’ve only ever thought about them (which is so different than actually putting pen to paper, or fingers to the keys, and making it all more ‘real’). They always seemed too ‘big’ somehow – too involved or something.
Until the other day…
Ever noticed that ‘anger’ is contained in the word ‘danger’?
(That’s actually what the sign in this photograph says).
And it’s often how anger’s treated – like a ‘dangerous’ emotion. Volatile. Caustic. Like it might lead us to act impulsively or say things we might later regret, or to feel things we ‘shouldn’t’ feel.
So maybe you were taught to suppress it. Stifle it. Avoid it. Perhaps to secretly seethe with it on the inside but to pretty much ignore it in public. To pretend you don’t have it, maybe – that you’re ‘above it’ somehow.
Or maybe you’ve learned that anger gives you some sense of power. That it sort of justifies a ‘right’ to take spontaneous action because it ‘makes’ you. Perhaps you’ve even used it to justify behaviours you might otherwise feel remorseful about. Or maybe it lets you do things that it might otherwise be hard to work up the courage for.
But what if anger has another whole side to it that’s often overlooked?
Walking home the other evening, some melancholy thoughts on my mind, I happened upon this rhyme stuck to the wall of a building:
Roses are Red,
Violets aren’t Blue,
Smile, it will get
And (even though it’s a little kitschy) it did make me smile. Pulled me out of those thoughts and back into the world. Connected me in some intangible way to the person who had mysteriously felt compelled to share their bit of wisdom about what ‘gets them through.’
So what gets you through?
And how can you connect with it in those moments when you might feel overwhelmed with challenge or sorrow?
I just bought this bunch of everlasting daisies from the cemetery florist. It seems more than a little ironic… For wandering between the old, sunken headstones out here, the knowledge of the temporary nature of things – of life – sinks in a little deeper.
How we like to forget this… to remain hidden from it in the everyday. Shielded. If you believed the stronger messages and myths that our (western) society spins, you’d think that youth can last forever (if only you buy the right face cream or get the right surgery or adopt the right frame of mind).
But the hundreds upon hundreds of graves out here all tell a different story.
What price might we pay, collectively, to do this to ourselves?
And what might it be costing you (and your loved ones) if you stay hidden from the thought of your own death? From the impending truth of it?