International Women's Day 2018: a personal reflection

We sit together in vulnerability.

In the twelve months passed, I’ve worked in depth, therapeutically, with twelve women. This is coincidental, and didn’t happen neatly in blocks as the months sit in a year, or indeed as increments of time sit around the clock. But the number is meaningful to me. 

This morning I woke up with a profound sense of love and care for those women that have come in and out of my life this year – as I have come in and out of theirs - noticing how I carry each of them with me for much longer than they (or I) might have imagined. I feel grateful to have met them, heard their stories and been alongside them in the unpicking and sense-making of their trauma, abuse and bereavement.

In weekly meetings over several months you become woven into each other’s lives in a way that is unlike any other relationship. It is intense, and at times wrought and anguished, but also ephemeral, ambiguous and without label. You sit together in painful vulnerability. You sit together in the universal frustrations of being human, and the personal victories. In stuckness. In strength. You silently root for them to root for themselves. You’re on the edge of your seat. You are sunk in.

Sat with my morning tea today, I wondered: how are they getting on now? Are they still healing? Are they hopeful for their future? Do they feel enough? In therapy, you quickly adapt to planned, abrupt and unresolved endings; you get used to the fact you might never find out what happens next though you may wish to. Increasingly you recognise there’s something difficult and beautiful in that, and the easiest way to carry it, is not being afraid to.

Learning to love the Other without expectation of reciprocity or longevity, is one of the oldest, most fundamental and existentially challenging lessons that there has ever been. It is what opens a space for the Others self-acceptance, self-forgiveness, and subsequent growth. A lack of love (felt and expressed as warmth and respect for the essential life within everyone) is the thing to fear most in and out of therapy. Sitting bravely with love – trusting in its errant and unfinished process – enlarges the capacity we all have for more of it.  

So, as I walked in the woods this morning I gathered twelve small cones for a jar on my desk. I piled twelve stones into circle and sat for a while. I listened to the wind, and felt the coming rain. I sat with the things that don't speak, and with the ever-present future wish. Finally, I dismantled the circle and left the woods.

Happy International Women’s Day 2018.

We Sit in Vulnerability

(an old photo taken in summer 2017)


On Sadness

No one seems to talk about being sad anymore. In a world rich with the parlance of mental illness and diagnosis, 'depression' is pushing out - what is to me at least - the more tolerable and beautiful elder of depression, sadness.

It's not easy to talk openly about sadness - perhaps because of the fear of deepening a hole in our bones for it to sink further in to, or because of what it 'brings up' that is uncomfortable to face - but the ubiquitous presence of sadness in art, music and literature tells us that we're as drawn to sorrow and melancholy as we've ever been. Hard to resolve as it is, there is a great deal of beauty in sadness. There is something alluringly cathartic about embracing the sad moment, and giving over to it's longing in the privacy of our own hearts, to the soundtrack of a song played in the minor chord.  

How we do sad is personal. For some, there is a need to be together in collective moments of grief and loss. For others, it can be an intensely private affair. There are some who release it through crying; finding relief in this climactic expression of pain and heartache. And others who will simply sit unto themselves and wait patiently for its end. But both states do not offer an end. Sadness cannot ever fully end, principally because everything else can.  Sadness is, because one day we will not. Sadness is an indication of reality. 

I identify with being a sad person, not because I'm unhappy and joyless - much of my life is a joy to me, expressed in hope - but because above all I am enthralled, enchanted and motivated by the 'difficult feelings' that flow out of the finitude of our human condition. I'm grateful to get up every day and start again, precisely because I know - sadly - I won't always. Like many, I have experienced enough loss to fill my shadow several times over, and I have invested my time in understanding how to work with it. At times, I hold on to sadness too tightly - I have done this again recently despite awareness of my 'process' - as if in doing so I might keep what cannot be kept - perhaps even relieve from others what they can't carry themselves. In doing so, sadness becomes unbearable.

But generally, I've found that a curious and kind approach to the inevitable visitation of sadness over the years has lead to my most empathic and compassionate work. If I can carry my own existential sadness with an embracing joy in the suffering of it - if I permit that in myself - then it invites and allows others to walk freely in and out of their own. Because there is nothing so stifling as being told what you should feel, nothing as liberating as being invited to feel what you want. Every feeling has it's own need for expression in and through the individual. Anything held too tightly can become a problem.

Sadness needs to breathe itself out, as much as we do. Mindfully noticing sadness and letting it move in and out of the rooms of our life, is to acknowledge that everything is welcome, before time ultimately runs out on us. Letting sadness in is an invitation to our mind and body to do it's most courageous work of recognising it's potential to do no more. There is no path that can be taken without it. But in the end the wish of sadness fulfilled, is peace. 

Walking in to the lonely place

Working Bravely

I consider myself to be pretty well-versed at living bravely; I've made several big lifestyle and work changes in recent years based on instinct and calling, I adventure regularly when I can giving most of my spare time to the mountains, and I live by my own measures of success in ways that others might or have raised an eyebrow at. Nevertheless, there's always scope for growth, and this week has been a new and welcome lesson for me in the specifics of working bravely.

Faced with a decision that I had only a split second to make, I went with intuition and decided to face the consequences afterwards, as and when they arose. I agonised over it at first. I whined to myself. I felt the palpitations come and go. I ate the food that comforted me. But as the week wears on, I feel curiously convicted of my position, the anxiety has passed, and I feel emboldened to trust my own voice again next time it matters the most; when I'm on my own and only I can provide. If it goes wrong then I will say confidently 'I Had My Reasons; here they are...' At the root of this change, was the fact that I fundamentally trust myself and my judgements. 

This experience, combined with the fact I have just finished Brene Browns Braving the Wilderness (which invites the reader to brave their inner and outer wildernesses in order to discover true belonging), set me on a train of thought about what working bravely really means. Whilst examples of what it means to work bravely are infinite, and will be different for everyone depending on their starting benchmark of comfort, I identified the following factors which made sense to me:

  • Crossing borders and not being afraid to walk on for the extra mile in service of what is calling you to act. 
  • Holding firm to your values as you would your favourite bag as you make your journey.
  • Taking intuitive risks without yet knowing what the path and 'pay off' will be.

These might sound obscure or even 'nothingy' at first glance, but within them is, I think, the essence of something universal and a bit radical in the face of 'the way things are done round here' narrative. Working bravely isn't one choice you make at the point of a career change, or one decision you make every blue moon; working bravely is about making courageous decisions every day. Every day, keeping an attitude of openness to your work that allows for tenacity, fearlessness and vitality. Working bravely, necessarily invites mystery, requires independence and brings authenticity. Afterall, you can't work bravely, without standing inside your whole-self to back you up. 

I'd love to hear your tales of working bravely, either here or on Instagram - do you cross borders for yourself or others? Do you want to but struggle to trust yourself? Are you unsure of what your guiding values are? 

(Roll-top bag by Home of Millican)   not sponsored

(Roll-top bag by Home of Millican)  not sponsored

Short Thought // Thursday 1st June 2017

This last month I have been consciously seeking difference in my life.  Reflecting on my client work recently has lead me to consider the ways in which we let ourselves move in comfortably small circles. I have wondered whether it is too easy to let our lives become a pale story of moving between known quantities; letting a sort-of staleness stiffen our minds.  

Of course, we can’t always be aggravating ourselves into discomfort. There is joy in what is familiar and known. There is a safe haven in our preferred ways of being. It is OK to just be as we are. There is no insistence on change, no requirement. You are enough as you are. But sometimes, I have a deep sense that I need to go further out of myself and into the many worlds that exist around us at any one time. I want to lean into lives that are not my own.

There are countless ways we can choose to be different today, after all this is our freedom as sentient beings, and I wonder if it’s as much a mind-set as it is a practice. I cannot say that I have travelled far this month, or that I have done anything that anyone else would identify as different from the outside. But the shift to embracing difference is in me nevertheless. I have a client at the moment who is teaching me about what life is like eight decades in and uncomfortably surfaced a latent ageism in my thinking. I have, without too much fear, spoken about structural racism in the workplace. I have listened to music I’ve never heard of before. Engaged different socially. And attempted to be a different kind of sister and daughter. I have started to make new connections between the situations of life we find ourselves in by thinking differently about them. I have tried not always to reach for meaning.  And most importantly I have allowed myself to feel in new ways. I have sat with a friend and told her what’s going on for me at the moment without fear of taking up too much time and space.

I am learning that you do not have to cower against the wall of your own echo chamber. I am learning that when I don’t try things differently, my bones ache with stasis. And from a decidedly human perspective, I am learning that I do, in fact, need to experience difference in order to recognise what is valuable and good in us being the same.



Short Thought // Wednesday 24th May 2017

It is not even two days out of the orbit of Monday's bomb in Manchester, and I have woken with a pull to hope. I am reminded of all the ways we keep finding, and innovating, to rise from our private and public despair, over and again. Every time tragedy takes something from our collective humanity, we intuitively discover new ways of giving something back to ourselves. This instinct seems to be a constant movement, and through that an endless opportunity for liberation. For every door that closes, we open another and welcome in a stranger. We find in ourselves a new type of voice that can talk to someone in need of different words. We let kindness up-well spontaneously and idiosyncratically on our own unique terms. We find ways to Be with others in their pain, because we know that this togetherness has an eternal quality. We find new ways to go on. We keep moving and being moved. 

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