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.
mid-January 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
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: email@example.com.
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.
Due to the cornavirus outbreak I am now seeing all clients online via Skype and Zoom. I’ve always had mix of face-to-face clients and online clients from all over the world, so it’s not such a big change for me.
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.
The connection between us is different, and it is still just as real. 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 Zoom or Skype as I can face to face.
In these unusual times we can find ourselves feeling all sorts of different things. Being in lockdown might create anxiety or depression, and it might bring anger and frustration to the surface. If you need some extra support, I’m here. Book a session.
Rainforest Mind: Shhh, listen. Being, doing and love.
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.
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
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.
In our Buddhist community, at the invitation of our local XR group, we dedicate one practice session each month to the living earth. In our most recent session I talked about and made a space for grief, and I’ll share some of those same thoughts here.
I remember a childhood holiday to Cornwall. We drove down from the West Midlands in our blue-grey Lada and at the end of the journey, after we had set up camp, my dad washed the car windscreen. We had hit so many bugs on the way down, and their splattered bodies were spread across the glass. Last year I drove to Scotland and the windscreen was almost clear.
People older than me might remember having to pull over to
wash the windscreen on long journeys, or the moth ‘snowstorm’ that appeared in
the headlights of cars driving at night.
You will have your own experiences of the loss: how you used
to be woken up the dawn chorus as a child, but now the early mornings are much
quieter; a favourite wild place that has been built over; or the loss of people
and places to extreme weather events.
I am moved as I write about and name these events. I can feel tears and grief in my stomach wanting to rise up and find expression.
We often shy away from feeling such powerful emotions out of fear that they will overwhelm us. Not wanting to feel this pain is completely understandable, and this denial can prevent us from taking action to support of the living planet.
Understanding our own reluctance to feel grief can allow us
to understand why others don’t want to feel this grief and why they don’t take
the action we might like them to take.
A Second Kind of Grief
I am a child of the 80s and 90s. We were promised endless
material wealth, if only we would work hard. We were fed endless material
“Get this, buy this, things will make you happy!”
“When you grow up you can choose to spend your
money however you want.”
“Travel the world!”
I recently looked into my heart and found a place that grieves for not getting what it wants. A small boy who still wants those promises to be fulfilled, “But you told me I could!” he cries. When I first discovered this about myself I was ashamed. These are not the feelings of a conscientious person. And yet, the feelings we have are the feelings we have. I have found a way to be kind to that part of me, and to allow its grief to find expression.
Again, understanding these places in our own hearts allows
us to more deeply understand those others.
It’s important to find places to express grief; to find ways of allowing the pain to exist which aren’t overwhelming. When we can acknowledge our deep feelings — anger, blame, hurt and sadness —we allow them to move and shift and change. They become a source of strength rather than a source of fear.
What is it that allows us to process and experience our own
grief? It is love.
For me, much of that love comes from my Buddhist faith.
Knowing that I am loved and supported by the cosmic Buddhas returns me to a
feeling of safety, where I can name and feel powerful feelings without being consumed,
overwhelmed or traumatised.
Some of you will have religious higher powers that you can
take refuge in like this: God, the Tao, Krishna and so on.
Some of you will have loving communities and relationships
where you find this same kind of love. A love that accepts you just as you are.
Some of you will intuit something loving in the natural
world: watching a sunset, being in wilderness, looking up at the night sky.
Some of you will find a place inside yourselves that unconditionally
loves and accepts yourself and others.
Some of you might find it in professional therapeutic relationships.
Some of you might still be searching for this.
As we find safe spaces to grieve we come to know ourselves
more deeply. We discover our pain, and
our resistance to pain. We come to know the human condition more deeply.
This knowing is essential for our work in relationship to
others. As we process our own deep feelings it is easier to come into
relationship to the deep feelings of others, and to find ways of standing
And as we find ways of letting grief in, we come into a more
intimate relationship with the natural world and are more able to celebrate and
champion the diversity and life that still flourishes.
I encourage you to find spaces to grieve in, and to support the grieving process of others. That can only be good for us, and for the living planet.
We come to therapy when we want to change. Sometimes we are desperate to change, and that urgency makes complete sense; we feel awful and we want to feel better, or we can see the downsides of our moods and habits and are worried about getting into more trouble.
If our whole system was ready to change, we would have already changed and we wouldn’t need to be in therapy. We are a mixture of feelings and habits – we all have many different aspects. We come into therapy and some parts of us want us to change, and some parts of us are afraid of change.