A few weeks ago I spoke on BBC Radio 4’s Beyond Belief about Faith and Addiction. You can read my thoughts about the topic, and find the link to the episode on my Substack blog.
That’s where I’m managing my newsletter and blog from. Have a look here: Just As You Are
In the year before the pandemic, the year of my Wild Therapy training, I wrote lots of haiku. I wrote for myself and I took part in a haiku writing group online. Each week in the group there was a theme and each week I wrote a few haiku with that theme in mind, and a few others without. Sometimes my haiku were selected as one of the good ones, and sometimes they weren’t.
low winter sunshine
leaves caught in their own shadow
the green alkanet
For various reasons I slipped away from this writing practice over the last couple of years, and now I find myself returning to it.
I had forgotten how clear
the blue sky can be
At the beginning of this year I re-read Natalie Goldberg’s book Three Simple Lines. It’s about her visits to Japan, and her experience of reading and writing haiku, and of Zen, and as I was reading it I began to pay special attention to the natural world. I was looking for haiku again.
mist and mist and mist
catkins and mist and mist and
mist and mist and mist
Setting the intention to write sets the intention to slow down and pay attention. When I pay attention something in the world my own cares and concerns give me some space. The busy mind quietens down a little (or a lot, sometimes) and I’m simply with whatever I’m paying attention to… and counting syllables.
This break is good for my well-being. Grounding myself in the physical world is good for my well-being. And of course, I am not completely absent from the haiku, I am always looking through my own eyes, and some of my own feeling is in the poem. Because I am writing a poem, the presence of whatever I’m feeling or thinking is balanced with some spaciousness, and that’s good for my well-being too.
waiting for insects
a rotting cider apple
its wide open heart
Now I’m reading Clark Stand’s guide to writing haiku, Seeds from a Birch Tree, and I’m keeping my eyes and ears open and a notebook handy.
If you want to introduce some moments of mindfulness in to your week, why not give it a go yourself?
the floor takes my weight
and that of the small spider
just as easily
For Extinction Rebellion Buddhists:
- Healing Oppression – an article exploring a Buddhist approach to healing oppression
For Bright Earth Buddhist Temple:
- Mindful Walk – a description of a recent mindfulness walk
- What Should I Do? – exploring how to make choices about which path to follow
- Is This World a Pure Land? – is it helpful or wise to think as this world as a Pure Land (a Buddhist ‘heaven’)
- Wild Meditation Diary – a description of an outdoor meditation session
- Moving Through The Dark – a reflection on personal process and the natural world
I’m looking forward to co-leading a mindfulness walk in the Malvern Hills this weekend. Satya and I scouted out the route earlier this week. We’re beginning in a park, a place where order and the complexity and chaos of the natural world come together: tarmacked paths in straight lines, mown lawns and the wonderful abundance of life in the wild edges. We’ll follow a path through woodland at the edge of the park, with glimpses of the main road below and the big church in the centre of town, and then zig-zag up through the wilder hillside.
In the temple garden we take very slow steps in our mindful walking practice. On Saturday we’ll dawdle. Slower than a regular walking pace, but not so slowly that we have to concentrate on the mechanics of walking – our attention will be given to the world around us.
What are the benefits of this kind of amble through the natural world?
For many of us our history of wounding and trauma has taken place inside and the outside world has been a place of refuge from family dynamics and harm. Stepping back into the natural world is coming into a place of safety.
Some of us have a more complex relationship with the wild. We may have been told it was other people’s space, or full of strange and frightening creatures. Stepping into the natural world from this place creates an opportunity for healing and facing our fears.
Whatever our history with the outdoors, we are animals as much as people. Our bodies and minds evolved to be bodies and minds in the complex systems of the woods and open spaces of the natural world. If we can find a way of settling into these spaces we can experience a deep sense of coming home.
The Japanese movement called forest bathing draws on this truth – that simply being in the woods is healing.
The life of the forest can also speak to our questions and dilemmas. Sometimes it is the gift of spaciousness that allows our whirring thoughts to settle, and into the peace an answer we had been searching for arrives. Sometimes a particular encounter creates a new insight in us. A butterfly fluttering away reminds us of the possibility of lightness or of easily leaving or rivulets of water joining a stream teaches us that we are all part of something bigger, or the strength of an oak tree gives us the confidence to find that strength ourselves.
There are still a couple of places available if you want to join us on Saturday (2pm-4pm) drop us an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
How are you doing in these unusual times? My dreams have been particularly vivid since lock-down started: old memories finding their way to the surface and inviting attention and letting go. With less face-to-face contact the ups and downs of my moods has been easier to notice. Some days I’m relaxed, and some days my temper is shorter than usual.
Most people I speak to have noticed a background anxiety running through their days: thoughts about getting social distancing right; worrying about themselves or family members; worrying about health and worrying about finances.
If you’re locked-down with another person existing tensions can become more obvious as there’s less of the old life to give you a break from each other.
All of these difficulties can also be opportunities. Everything that disturbs us is also a signpost to deeper work.
If you notice an argument brewing, if you’re slowly becoming aware of defending a point of view unusually strongly, or taking a stand over some minor thing, then here is something to pay attention to.
In the moment of heat, there is an opportunity to notice the energy that’s arising — the particular mix of thoughts, feelings and impulses to act —and to invite some separation between you and that energy.
“Hey there reactive energy, I see you, I don’t know why you’re here right now, but I trust you think you have a good reason. Maybe you can take a step back and experiment with letting me handle this conversation without you.”
Some feelings are easier to work with in this way than others. Some will seem happy to trust you, and some will retain their strong grip. Whatever happens, this kind of noticing — paying attention without judgement, and inviting space —is good for the whole system.
If we make a note of these moments, we can also take them as the starting points for deeper work.
Why would you want to do deeper work when life is already more complicated than usual? Because working with a therapist to follow the trail these moments offer, and offering healing and letting go where it’s appropriate, you’re much less likely to get triggered in the same way in the present day again.
This has a benefit not just in lockdown, where conditions are more difficult, but the whole of the rest of your life. My experience is that each time we do this kind of work, we become generally steadier and more able to relax than before.
I know that I have my own ‘ought’s and ‘should’s that would take an invitation like this and create another burden out of it. At the beginning of our lock-down I remember seeing tweets about Shakespeare writing King Lear whilst in quarantine and how that felt like a pressure for me to do more.
So please take this as the gentle invitation that it is, rather than something extra to accomplish, and drop me a line if you are interested in a therapy session.
I have always seen clients both face to face and online. During the UK’s lockdown my practice went entirely online and now I’m back to working both ways again.
Online work is different, of course. There’s no greeting at the door and walking down the hallway into a room that we both physically occupy. Some clients like a handshake, and there’s no handshake online.
Some parts of us might prefer working online, some parts of us might prefer to be in the room with another person. For example: some parts of us may find it easier to share online where there is more physical distance between us; some parts may find face to face more intimate, but some parts might experience video calls as more intimate; and some parts may find sharing a real space reassuring, some parts might prefer to be in your own home.
The connection between us is different, and it is just as real and valuable. The work that my online clients do is just as transformative as those that I have worked with face to face.
My job is to support your connection to all of the different parts of yourself, to encourage you to meet yourself with kindness and curiosity. I do that by bringing those qualities in myself to our meeting, and I can do that just as well through Google Meet as I can face to face.
Why are gifts so important? Is everything a gift? What’s the difference between a gift economy and a transaction economy? Why is it hard to stay grateful?
Today’s episode was partly inspired by Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass. I also mention this talk by Ven. Shenyn: The Life of a Wondering Monk
You can view all the episodes of Rainforest Mind here.
I’m standing with my eyes closed in the middle of a busy street and listening. Why? And what can I learn from that experience? I talk about the false opposites of being and doing, and why I prefer lovable to perfect.
See all episodes here. Or subscribe on iTunes, Sticher, or wherever you get your podcasts.
It’s that time of year again. We’re just in to the second week of January and many of us will have broken our New Year’s resolutions already. What’s going on, and how can we really change?
The New Year is often a time for reflection and contemplation. We look at the past year, celebrate some things and feel regret about others. We imagine some ideal self that we would like to be, and aim ourselves towards it, making promises and resolutions.
I’ll go the gym more, I’ll eat a better diet, I’ll phone my mum more often, I’ll be kinder to myself and so on and so forth.
I have a rule of thumb for myself: If it takes a small push — go for it; if it takes a big push — think again.
Why are some changes easier than others?
We are made up of a whole mix of different habit patterns and impulses. Some parts of us see the downside of old behaviours and are desperate to change. At the same time those old patterns of behaviour think they have very good reasons to keep doing what they are doing.
Internal Family Systems teaches us that whilst some parts of us might produce harmful and unhelpful effects in the short and/or long term; those parts are convinced that they have our best interests at heart.
For example, part of us wants to do more exercise in the New Year. Another part baulks at the idea and instead of going to the gym we find ourselves pulling into a fast food drive through, or into the car park of our favourite shop, or simply not leaving the house.
We’re convinced that more exercise would be good for us and yet over and over again we find we just can’t do it.
Those slightly hidden parts that are keeping us away from the gym are sure they are doing the right thing? What’s going on?
Perhaps somewhere hidden deep inside there is a part of us holding a wound around exercise. Maybe some shaming in P.E. at school, for example. Our young system learnt that the way to avoid that experience was to stay away, and those stay away parts have been busy keeping us safe ever since.
Of course the ‘stay away’ parts don’t want us to go to the gym, whilst we’re there, they think, we might get shamed again. And then the New Year comes along and we say that we are going to push past all of that so called resistance and just do it! To those parts protecting us from being shamed this feels like a great threat, so of course they push back even harder, and we find ourselves back at square one.
So what can we do?
The way forward is to respect all the different parts of our system: to respect both the impulse to change, and the protective parts that want to avoid change.
Sometimes simply noticing the protective parts is enough for them to begin to relax. We can remind them that we’re not at school any more, for example, and that we have different choices about how to respond if things do go wrong.
Sometimes we need to work with these parts a little more before they are willing to relax. This is when it’s helpful to get support from a therapist.
With your therapist alongside us we can get curious about these parts. Why are they doing what they are doing? How old do they think we are? What wounds are they protecting?
Sometimes there are just a few parts involved, and the process doesn’t take long. Sometimes there are more parts involved, or more powerful parts and we need to hang out with them for a while before they begin revealing themselves to us.
This is true for lifestyle changes like going to the gym, and it is true for addressing anxiety, depression and the effects of trauma.
When things aren’t changing as we would like it’s a sign that there are different parts involved, and the way forward is not to push through but to work with all of the parts. When all the parts involved are ready for change, then change will appear.