A morning mist in March. Fog. Blur. No clear view ahead. No sight of the sun lighting the scene. A sense of stagnation, impasse and a lack of clarity.
Therapy can feel a bit like that.
The mist early March, which happened to come the day after our Prime Minister’s presentation of the roadmap out of Lockdown 3, mirrored my inner state and what I experienced in the lack of clarity around me. It reflected the times in therapy where we find ourselves in a similar sense of fog, stagnation and uncertainty. The times between the ‘aha’ moments, the lightbulb moments, the breakthroughs of understanding.
How we long for those breakthrough moments. The sun breaking through the clouds. The breaking of physical restrictions amongst our loved-ones. The moments when brightness and clarity is seen and felt inside us and around us (however much we might sometimes take comfort in hiding in the dark and holding ourselves in this isolation).
The knowledge that these other moments are still to come make the fog more bearable. We know it will lift and we will once again see a path ahead. I am fortunate to hold this knowledge for you in therapy when you are unable, freeing you up to sit, be and wait to discover how you will emerge.
The roadmap out of Lockdown 3 is cautious. Schools open but homes do not. A pair can sit on a bench in a public space, but private gardens are still not the place to meet.
Nature seems similarly wary so far.
The first weekend in March burst into spring with bright, warm sunshine, leading us into a week of fog, cold, rain and then on again into blustery, grey, bitter winds. Every year the snowdrops dare to appear, the daffodils follow behind, and still in March we fear the morning frost will tamper with their best efforts.
This changing, tentative progression of the season parallels the slow lifting of restrictions. It can be difficult to build up a pace. We are not sure if we will wake to blue skies, or grey. We are not sure if schools will suffer the chaos of last term with isolated cases closing whole year groups or if the virus will wreak havoc with our hopeful plans. We do not know what lies ahead or what challenges will appear.
Over the last twelve months we have been forced to accept that we do not know what is around the corner. At any moment our well thought through plans may collapse. We are not actually in control at all.
This slow transition is something we see in all sorts of processes, not just coming out of lockdown, the seasons and therapy.
We find the same slow process all around. Cooking a rich, flavoursome stew for example, the need for those hours to allow simmering to bring the fullness of the meat’s flavour and texture. So too a fine Ragu. I’m more familiar with cake, which also needs its own good time. And Yorkshire pudding and pancake mix – always benefits from sitting awhile. Pieces of art. Building a house. Refurbishing a property. Decorating a room. Writing a book. Living a life. They all take their time. All go through stages, times of activity, times of waiting, processing, preserving, growing, readying. Not all stages are easy or interesting or quick or seemingly fruitful. Some are terribly frustrating, dull, tedious and we are not always sure that what we are attempting is going to work out well.
As a therapist I am familiar with this state of waiting. I hold onto the sense that we’re not there yet. I know that depth of understanding can take time. I know too that it will come.
This doesn’t necessarily make it comfortable or bearable for you, the client. It can be terribly frustrating. We are more satisfied with quick answers, solutions and fixes. We usually enter therapy with an idea of what we need to address. We often discover unexpected finds. We can go through periods of fog.
Therapy mirrors life: we go through all of these phases/seasons and in doing so gain a sense of the whole. In seeing the whole we appreciate the different parts and the significance each part plays. I do not know until we discover together what the balance is, that is our work.
Do not fight the fog. It is the waiting place for what is to come. It is the stillness before what is next.
Accepting whatever comes, rather like Rumi’s ‘The Guest House’, equips us to deal with the unknown. COVID has thrown us this curveball repeatedly over the last 12 months. If we try to reset each time and think we are back in charge, we are fooling ourselves. More freeing is to accept we do not know, we are not in charge, but we can respond to what comes in any given day.
This reality hits after any sort of life trauma. A pandemic. A war. A death of a loved-one. Redundancy. Divorce. We realise we do not know what is around the corner. We are only human. We are vulnerable after all. And for a time we cease thinking we are in control.
As we reach the anniversary of the first lockdown, I hope we learn to grow from the experience. I hope we take with us the knowledge that we do not know what is around the corner and so we can pay more attention to what is in front of us.
When the fog lifts, will we be ready to emerge? If we have paid good attention, rested and restored ourselves, gathered our resources, then yes; as ready as we can be. And if not … then we can wait until the next fog and process a re-emergence plan then.