This month’s blog completes a full calendar year of writing here. I reflect on the past twelve months and notice that, as I did this time last year, I am seeking others’ words of wisdom to help make sense of this still strange time. I offer here my findings as I continue to seek clarity.
This spring is not like any other. COVID is not new as it was last year. We are not where we were last spring with the locking-down and heightened shock, fear and sense of unknown. But this is not like previous springs either – we are not stepping out in freedom and joy.
The absence of something familiar leaves me a little discombobulated. It is not unlike the period of mourning and grief after a death when nothing seems the same and we are without our familiar Other and can feel lost and alone.
This time last year, in the early days of COVID, I sought grounding from those writing of their experiences at that time. Columnists Grace Dent and Bryony Gordon put words to the chaos and weirdness of the world connecting me to myself and what was happening around me. Now I turn back to old favourites and this month find again Yalom offering reassurance and openness about what it is to be human and the essential nature of connecting with others.
I find I am not alone in turning in this direction. In ‘From the Editor’ (Therapy Today, April 2021, Volume 32, Issue 3) Sally Brown states, “For me and, I am guessing, for thousands of other practitioners, reading Yalom’s books provided a beacon of hope during the early years of training, promising that, at some point, all this hard work would pay off in the creation of human connections like no other.” And at nearly 90, Yalom is still speaking to us of this primal need at a time when human connections are sorely restricted.
In his interview for the same edition, Irvin says, “I love the work. I love the therapy. I love the connections with people. Psychotherapy gives me so many ideas about how to get inside the human dilemma. And I feel I still have so much to offer another person. Right now, it’s a bleak time for everyone […] I feel very lonely;” (pages 26, 27)
Therapy creates space for emotional intimacy and personal connection. Yalom brings himself and his experiences very much to the process and engages with his clients in a deep and personal way. Whilst many therapists would not choose, or dare, to be as open as Yalom in his work with clients, COVID has forced a known shared experience and altered the balance bringing a new ‘sameness’ of therapist and client which is both challenging and liberating.
Easing of COVID restrictions this Easter gave the required permission to resurrect the Shelter here. For some clients, who could not or chose not to work online, this enabled a return to therapy in the great outdoors.
Working in nature is different to being enclosed within four firm walls with windows closed and a sense of choice and control over the environment I create. Others’ homes, businesses, fields and animals surround us. We exist in a shared space. Part of my contracting with clients includes the acknowledgement that we might see and hear others as we walk to and from the shelter. I maintain the essential boundaries and, at the same time, am prepared to manage any possible ruptures. It is this shared vulnerability to the elements, to COVID, to life that strengthens, not weakens, the human connection. My humanness is essential to the work, in its emotional and practical presence.
This week has reminded me that the environment is not the focus, not the vehicle, not the force of the work here; it is the human connection. The coming together and sharing of thoughts, responses and vulnerability enables change and healing. We work with what we have, whether that is a screen and digital connection, a shelter in a natural, tranquil setting, a light, spacious indoor room within a peaceful environment, a broom cupboard within a noisy GP surgery. Whatever it happens to be, I am grateful for what it provides and remember that the ability to contain and engage with others lies within.
Finding connections has been key to survival this year. New ways of meeting, speaking, sharing have been found. Technology has enabled visual, audio and emotional connection. And never before has a hug, a touch or the simple being in the presence of another been understood to be so very, very precious.
Mo Gawdat’s podcast was recommended to me by a client who found resonance in his experience. How To Fail With Elizabeth Day: S4, Ep4 How to Fail: Mo Gawdat on Apple Podcasts Whilst pre-COVID, Mo’s theory sits well with that of mindfulness, CBT and that of many Life Coaches and therapists and the understanding we have now of the function of the brain and how we can challenge and channel our thinking in new ways. It reminded me to not be a slave to one’s brain, instead draw from the here-and-now experience of what is around us. This is grounding and inspiring when we are without our usual habits and structure and serves to challenge too the hopelessness that is all too ready to overwhelm.
In gathering this month’s thoughts and reflections, how happy was I to find this timely piece from the National Trust. Drawing, as I like to do, from nature to illustrate my point, I am reminded again to watch and wait…
Spring blossom watch in the UK | National Trust has punctuated beautifully how all this reminds us to Look Up. Looking up connects us to that which is outside of us and around us. Takes us from introspection and internalisation of experience, from the shadow where we can lose ourselves to the light where we can see more clearly. Not that I am against introspection and exploring the darkness. Far from it. But I am for balance and here I find it.
In the coming together intellectually, experientially, personally and physically we find a sense of being that is whole.