Beyond the Solstice….

This is the solstice, the still point

of the sun, its cusp and midnight,

the year’s threshold

and unlocking, where the past

lets go of and becomes the future,

the place of caught breath, the door

of a vanished house left ajar.

Margaret Atwood: excerpt from Shapechangers in Winter a long poem in her 1996 collection Morning in the Burned House.

Now we are past the winter solstice of 2020, a year many people are looking forward to bidding good-bye to. A year that has been defined by Covid, fires, protests, election. People across the world have been in and out of lockdown, restrictions, changes and of course losses of all kinds. And then a different Christmas, not travelling, not gathering, re-inventing rituals, adapting them to smallness.

We stand on the threshold between 2020 and 2021 where the past lets go of, and becomes, the future. How are you making sense of the way you’ve got through the last year, what have you learned? Before Christmas I worked with many of my clients on identifying the strengths, skills and experiences that had supported them in difficult times.

Some people have read their way through the year of Covid, others have watched their way through it. People took up different activities, abandoned others. Making lists is one way to see where we’ve come from (the media are full of end of year lists) and aslo of weaving together the strands of the past. What do your lists look like?

Make a list of:

  • Reading: books, poems, papers etc
  • Watching: films, series, shows
  • Walking: places, routes, observations
  • Eating: changes in habits

Then devise your own taxonomy for your list – put things into categories and write about what you notice. Reflect on what it tells you about your life during Covid. What have you learned?

Christmas Day: I gave myself the Christmas gifts of a long walk in nature and Margaret Atwood’s new poetry collection Dearly. What did you give/receive?
  • What haven’t you done this year?
  • What did you let go of? [These lists will contain both positive and negative allow yourself to be surprised]

One new and surprising activity for me was discovering digital story-making, a fascinating combination of words and images to tell personal and therapeutic stories. I took a workshop with Patient Voices where, under the skilled tutelage of Pip Hardy and Tony Sumner, I found myself making the story I needed to make before I knew it myself: A Story of Death and Birth

Some people wrote books:

My student Yocheved Rottenberg published her book combining the wisdom of Jewish writings with therapeutic writing:

Write Your Way Home: A Torah Guide to Therapeutic Writing

Begin the year with a gentle combination of writing and yoga: The Pen and the Practice: Envisioning 2021 with Journalling and Breath-Centred Yoga is a two and a half hour zoom workshop on January 9th to help you look ahead. Details here.

Another month

Walking

Walking, moving, landscapes, connecting.

Many people are finding that getting out and walking helps in many ways to mitigate the conditions of the pandemic; not just the confinement of being at home for so long. This may result in many more people on the trails, open spaces are being shared with greater numbers. This can make solitude and silence harder to find but recently I, literally, discovered that

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference

Robert Frost - The Road not Taken




It really did make a difference to the experience. Each time the trail forked or another path turned off the way forward got steeper, there was more snow, and there were fewer and fewer people.


Journal prompts

Think about the forks in the road, literal or metaphorical, you have come to recently in the continuing experience of the pandemic.

What choices did you make? 
Where did they take you? 
Where do you imagine 
the road not taken have gone? 
What are you curious about?


Letters

I am told that people really are writing more letters in these times as they seek connection beyond their immediate environment. Someone said to me that she wrote letters to people with no expectation they would write back – so a letter in return feels like a gift.

Someone else said to me that in the course of clearing out a cupboard she came across letters I’d sent her years ago.

If you re-read old letters there is the opportunity to use the Feedback Loop and integrate your insight:

"When I read this I feel.........."
"When I read this I notice........"
"When I read this I remember........"


Journal prompts

And finally:

Write an unsent letter to your post-pandemic self.

People who live alone have particular challenges in this time:

What has helped you? What do you miss most?

What is your experience?

You can leave a comment on this blog by typing in the Leave a Reply box at the bottom of the page or you can contact me directly by filling in this form here:

Connections in lockdown…….

At the beginning of this lockdown, in the middle of March, the lake was frozen. So much was frozen. The levels of anxiety and uncertainty stacked up, personal griefs nestled inside the larger griefs as we adapted to the local conditions and read about the wider world. When everything changes and nothing changes, what do we do?

lake-3-1

Galway Kinnell’s 1983 poem Wait could have been written for this time.

Wait, for now.
Distrust everything if you have to.
But trust the hours. Haven’t they
carried you everywhere, up to now?
Personal events will become interesting again.
Hair will become interesting.
Pain will become interesting.

 

Journal prompt: What are you waiting for? What are you missing? What do you hope to keep from this time?

When you read what you’ve written, what do you notice?

One form of connection, the touch of another human, even the casual touch, may only be a memory for some people, stored in the body. but other forms of connection may be strengthened as other forms of communication are revived or practised differently; text, e-mail, phone, social media, Zoom, even handwritten letters.

Journal prompt: Think about how you are communicating with people, with whom?

Make lists (linear, circular or clusters) of the people you are in contact with and your preferences for communicating with them. What do you notice?  How do you feel about the interactions? Is anyone missing? Is there someone you’d like to connect with that you haven’t?

What do you want to do while you are waiting  – why not write someone a letter?

Wait.
Don’t go too early.
You’re tired. But everyone’s tired.
But no one is tired enough.
Only wait a little and listen:
music of hair,
music of pain,
music of looms weaving all our loves again.

 

The lake in late May is no longer frozen but we are still waiting.

lake-photo

 

 

 

 

 

 

Honoring Silence……….

What happens when we can’t write? When the ability to write abandons us? How can we make sense of this and explain the not-writing periods?

Selective mutism is a response to trauma where people stop speaking (Celie, the heroine of Alice Alice Walker’s novel The Color Purple is rendered mute by the abuse she suffers, eventually writing helps her break the silence). Harriet Shawcross explores the phenomenon of selective mutism in her book Unspeakable, part memoir, part investigative journalism. It happens all over the world.

Yet when writing isn’t happening it’s called Writer’s Block which suggests an external wall rather than an internal response to the inexpressible. Anais Nin, the 20th century feminist diarist said:

We write to taste life twice, once in the moment and in retrospect.

so it seems to make perfect sense that we should not want to taste out trauma twice and that writing would desert us in order to protect us.

There have been two significant periods in my life when I couldn’t write – in my teens and just the last few months (slowly now the ability to write in coherent sentences is returning, but not yet the ability to write story). Both times it was after a major trauma. Yet each time I felt frustrated because the very means by which I make sense of the world and process experience had deserted me.

Having been a journal writer since I could make marks on the page, it was extremely distressing to have a period in my teens when I could not write—I literally could not write—a neurological event utterly disrupted my mental and physical processes. The re-learning was slow. I was unlanguaged and felt cut off from my very self when I could not write.

(Thompson K. & and Wright J. 2015 Honoring Silence in  Adams & Thompson (eds)Expressive Writing  Counseling and Healthcare: Rowman and Littlefield)

I see over and over again that some clients who have suffered childhood abuse find it possible to write before they can speak about it. But this is a slow and tender process, one that must be broken down into small and contained parts. Traumatic memories are stored in the non-verbal parts of the brain and restoring the narrative requires access to words.

Prompt: If writing has become hard or seems to have disappeared then remember that one word counts, that a phrase or an image contains much more than itself. So, write the word  and without context. Do not try to put it into a story. Do not yet try to tell the story of your trauma. Story time will come later. And for once, do not re-read, do not reflect, leave your marks on the page and come back to them when time has passed.

Above all, be gentle with yourself.

 

 

 

Choose Memory 2……..

Not the time Jane threw a coffeepot at Don,
but the time they swam with turtles in Puako Bay.

The poem looks at how different memories are associated with events, people, places in our lives or in history. It pairs a negative memory with a positive one, implicitly inviting us to choose the good rather than the bad.

Journal prompt: write a series of couplets alternating negative and positive related memories,  beginning each:

Not the time……………

But the time…………….

cropped-dsc01256.jpgNostalgia, the bittersweet emotion, that mixture of regret for what has gone and sweetness of what it was, offers us the choice of focussing on the sadness and loss or the happiness, not wallowing in loss or bitterness but celebrating the good parts of our experience.

Nostalgia researcher Krystine Batcho says: “When we reminisce nostalgically, we want to bring the best of our past into our present”. She suggests that ruminating on a friendship that has ended can take us in two different ways – we can choose to focus on the loss, things that went wrong or we can focus on the good aspects of the experience:

Journal prompt: explore a friendship that has ended

What did you get out of it?

What did you share?

What are the things you want to remember?

How did it become a part of who you are today?

A recent study identified by Tokyo Metropolitan University identified  two characteristics of nostalgic memory:

1) they are personally significant

2) they are ‘chronologically remote’ and have not been much mulled over so that when they are recalled there is an element of novelty.

Nostalgic memories are often triggered by seeing an old photograph or an object from the past or hearing a tune or sound connected with an old event.

Journal prompt: look at a photograph or listen to a piece of music from your past

Set a timer for 15 minutes (so you don’t disappear into the past for too long).

Notice the sensations evoked in you. Write in the present tense about any memories that come to mind, describe them in detail.

After 15 minutes, read through what you’ve written and think about what you want to keep, what aspects you’d like to re-kindle (for example qualities or activities that you have allowed to lapse)  and what you have learnt.

 

If you have thoughts about these prompts please leave me a comment.

Notice: there are places still available on the half day workshop in Boulder on June 29th workshop

Expressive Writing for Health, Trauma Recovery and Wholeness: customise your journal for your needs