Archives For Shirley

It’s Saturday 14 June and my husband is looking after our son. I am meeting up with a longstanding friend and very much looking forward to it. It’s one of the highlights of the summer where we do something arty, eat some nice food and share about our lives. We are professional women who are wives and mothers too. We were born in the same year and married one day apart.

This year we’re attending the Royal Academy of Arts Summer Exhibition. Last year we saw The Amen Corner at The National Theatre, South Bank with Marianne Jean-Baptiste and a few years ago it was the Anish Kapoor exhibition. With her art and my therapy training we enjoy interpreting what is presented: the creative skills, the subject choice, what we imagine the artist is trying to say and how it makes us feel. It’s great to keep adding layers and affect each other’s perspective and be moved by our experience. We catch up too on being mums, about keeping boundaries, modeling how to be and our developing children.

We share our challenges and receive a fresh viewpoint from the other. Eventually after 2 hours in the exhibition and a 2- hour lunch we make our way down Piccadilly towards the tube. As promising writers – I have authored two books and she is completing a book on healing – we stop at Waterstones to browse.

Soon after leaving the shop a familiar looking tall black man walks past rather quickly. He is wearing glasses, a hat, headphones, shorts, trainers-type footwear and a Pharrell-style cardigan. Could this really be Samuel L Jackson of the Hollywood movies? I check it out with her but she does not know. Encouraged by her I speed up to find out. Just then another black man and I notice that we are both trying to follow the tall man. He confirms excitedly to me that it is Samuel. My friend is falling behind and encouraging me to continue whilst Samuel is going further away. I hesitate as am not sure if I should continue to follow him and for what purpose. I am not an agent, I don’t have a script and he probably won’t want to be interviewed for my local magazine. What will I say? “I’ve seen a few of your films.” These thoughts rush by.

We arrive at Piccadilly tube and my friend and I hug goodbye whilst Samuel dives into Lillywhites. This is not how our meet-ups usually end but there is a distracting moving target. Despite all the deep conversation I turn out to be as fickle as the next person. She leaves for her long train journey back to her family. I consider doing the same but find myself in the shop trying to make eye contact with Mr. Jackson.

He seems to look both through and around me with a determined focused expression on his face. I feel that if I get any closer he’ll have me in some martial arts brace and see it as self-defence. I am disappointed with the outcome and a little bit “how dare you ignore me”. I know I am a good person but I am not sure why I am trying to get his attention. What’s the point of a little star-dust, if that is what I seek?

Of course I don’t know him and he doesn’t know me. There are lots of people on the street watching the street dancers and performers. Why is he the only person I want to meet? If I were him I might easily do the same thing – dress ordinarily and try to walkabout like a regular person. The alternative is to have an entourage, be on show and feel unable to walk about freely.

He owes me nothing. If I pay to see his movie then I have the pleasure of seeing the movie. That’s the end of the contract. And yet still I stand outside the shop trying to decide whether to wait for a while or return home to my family and be with the people who are part of my real life.

Ten minutes later he comes out and I try to get a picture with my phone. In a flash I could see the back of his head as he walks away from me. I decide that this is the end of any encounter. It’s time to forget this and return to being present to my environment: a lovely Saturday in the summer filled with friendship, art, good food, books and now street performers and people from all over the world. I enjoy a leisurely walk to Trafalgar Square arriving near the end of a free Christian concert then getting on a train to begin the journey home. A
pleasant and eventful Saturday in London.

The Power of Now has received rave reviews from many people in the personal development and spiritual sectors.  One of Eckhart’s biggest fans is Oprah Winfrey and he has been in conversation with her over the years. This book is more about spirituality than religion. He mainly speaks from his personal experience and from his understandings of the great texts.  Underpinning all this is a belief in a deep spiritual place within each of us that connects us to the divine.

Eckhart encourages the reader to look within and find peace and joy in being.  It is about recognising that our incessant mental noises prevent us from a stillness that can connect us to God. This helps us to be more fully present to ourselves and in the world.  If we are always thinking then we live in a world with continuous problems and conflicts that need solutions. He believes that this incessant thinking separates us from ourselves, each other and God.  Instead of us using our mind – it uses us.  If we can never switch off our mind then we are slaves to it.  Strong words when we’ve been educated to believe that thinking is good and the more we think the better.  It is a reminder too that “beauty, love, creativity, joy, inner peace – arise beyond the mind”.

Eckhart points out that through our constant thinking we are always judging, commenting, speculating, worrying, comparing, whether about the past or an imagined future. Does this sound familiar?  We live in the present with continuous commentary of voices from the past. He invites the reader to listen to the incessant thinking in our head – not to judge or condemn – but simply to observe with impartiality. He calls it “watching the thinker” and this separation helps us to realise that we are not our thoughts but more than that. We are now conscious of more of who we are and our thoughts no longer dominate us.  It is in this conscious space that we can find stillness and peace within.

It is about being aware of the present moment and not being lost in our thoughts. Meditation, mindfulness and prayer can help us to let go and be present. Eckhart also suggests becoming more aware of all the everyday tasks we do and allowing that to slow us down and stay in the present.  This is better than starting our day with worry and fear.  How might it be to really pay attention to our morning routines of washing, dressing and eating? The challenge for many of us is that we are identified with our thinking and believe we would cease to exist if we stopped. He refers to this identifying with the mind as the ego – identifying with achievements of the past and projections into the future.  On a serious note he believes that if we don’t move beyond how we use our mind or how our mind uses us, we will destroy our mental health.  For him a quieter mind allows us to experience inner stillness. It gives us more opportunity to listen to our emotions and allowing them rather than controlling them. As a counsellor and having recently done a mindfulness course I can see how this makes some sense.  But I am not sure how many people can make the changes without support.  Our thoughts and emotions have been built up over a lifetime and it may take a therapist to help us separate who we are from our constant thinking. When this book came out in 1999 it was certainly ground breaking. However I found it to be quite long: it felt like I was being told the same thing over and over in slightly different ways.  Also I do believe in balance, so there are times when it is healthy to be reminiscing and times when we should be planning for the future. However the constant distraction of our thoughts means that we may not be sufficiently present in our lives.  Being fully present in our lives, in our relationships can be quite powerful. Let me know what you think.

7.Fences, Lenny Henry and Ashley Zhangazha (c)Nobby Clark[6]

August Wilson’s play Fences is being performed to rave reviews in London’s West End.  It stars Lenny Henry, whose stage debut was a brilliant turn as Shakespeare’s Othello. Nowadays it is easy to separate Henry the comic from Henry the actor.  In a recent appearance on BBC radio 4 Lenny Henry responded to the question by stating that “comedy is my job, acting is my career”.

This leading role sees him playing Troy, a talented ex-baseball player turned garbage man.  He is a fifty-something husband and father trying to be the best he can be but weighed down by his past experiences.  The play is set in 1957 with Troy having lived most of his life in a segregated country. In 1949 Jackie Robinson became the first baseball player to cross the major-league colour line but by then Troy could have been seen as too old to play major league.

Troy is caught between the two very different generations of his father and his son.  He embodies the struggles, pain, losses and successes of his life. Henry’s stage presence means you can’t keep your eyes of him.  Troy is stubborn and very good at covering his emotional turbulence. There is an underlying weariness we get glimpses of as the play continues and we find out more of his past.  But he is also hardworking and decent and wants the comfortable life that society promises. He tries to break through discrimination at work in his desire to become the first black man to drive the garbage trucks.

1.Fences, Lenny Henry and Tanya Moodie (c)Nobby Clark[3]

Troy is the heart of the play.  His relationships with his American football obsessed son Cory, his garbage man buddy Jim and his devoted wife Rose, all serve to give an insight into the man. Cory is at the receiving end of much pent up hurt and anger. Another son, Lyons and Troy’s brother Gabriel, help to create this engaging community of people.

If I were to critique the play it would be about the limited and narrow role the female character had.  There was more action than introspection on her part until the very end when we find out a bit more about her internal workings.  Having said that, her big gesture isn’t sufficiently explained.  I could make some sense of her responses but my male companion was quite surprised at the twists at the end.

Director Paulette Randall has directed plays throughout the UK, as well as for the BBC and Channel 4. She was an Associate Director of the London 2012 Olympics opening ceremony.

August Wilson (1945-2005) was the son of a German man and African American woman.  He has written ten plays, one for each decade of the 20th century. From his early twenties he began writing plays that show the African American experience in all its fullness and humanity. He picked up a Best Play Tony Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1987 when James Earl Jones played Troy on Broadway.  Lenny Henry had big boots to fill and they seem to fit him well.

 

Welcome to my final extract from An A-Z for your life, discovering and revealing who you are today.  You can read the chapters for X,Y, Z in the book at your own pace.

Witness

Witness

Sometimes it is not simply who we are and how we are but what other people make of us.  Here I want to talk about being a witness to others, and being seen by others.  The term is used in religious and legal circles but I am using it in a therapeutic way.

It’s about really seeing another as we witness their life.  It is also about being seen by others as they witness our life.  What is it like to be seen in our happiness or sadness, joy or frustration?  Similarly, what is it like to really see others close to us go through the range of experiences and emotions that make up their life?

Before I became a counsellor I cannot say I was particularly conscious of this.  I now know how powerful it is to witness others in their pain, for example, and to be seen with my feelings.  We like to know that we are not alone and that people see that we are alive.

It’s healthy to be heard and seen when we are struggling, and perhaps celebrated with when things are going well.  Our peers may be in different situations and that’s where understanding, love and kindness come in.  But the challenge is to witness to others when life is difficult for them.  This is delicate and important.  If you are having a difficult time it is made even worse if others see your difficulty and ignore it.  This ignoring of your pain is like another blow, saying that your pain does not matter.

Maybe we could recognise the daily struggles of those close to us, and how bravely they deal with their challenges.  A compliment from us would let them know that we see their courage and vulnerability and admire them for it.  By witnessing to them we are saying “yes it is real, you are not dreaming”.

How do you feel when others witness you, in your joy or pain? Share your thoughts below.

You can order ‘An A-Z for your life’: simply click on the book cover on the right or go direct to http://www.ana-zforyourlife.com and order your signed copy today!

 

 

Values

Welcome to my penultimate post from An A-Z for your life, discovering and revealing who you are today. There will be one more on ‘W’ and you’ll have to read the book for X,Y and Z.

Your values are the things in life that you hold dear: behavioural standards you hold for yourself and for others.

If honesty is a value then you don’t need to tolerate liars in your relationships.  Your most authentic response would be to let them know that you cannot be in a relationship with them because you have found out that they do not speak truthfully and you are unable to trust them.  Without trust the relationship becomes superficial and your time is too precious for that.  Maya Angelou observes that ‘Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently. You can practice any virtue erratically, but nothing consistently without courage’.

Values are linked to right and wrong and moral codes of behaviour.  Sometimes we can figure out what we think and feel in conversation with others.  This relies on having quality relationships built on openness and trust, as discussed earlier. Where can you start?

Start by exploring yourself and maybe your unmet needs, those which you would love to have in your life but have not been able to attract.  It could be safety, trust, love and home.  This could then lead you to explore the values you hold dear.  My values are key to how I try to live my life.  It is about helping people to live the best and fullest life they can whether that is through careers advice, therapy, teaching or writing.  It is about healing our relationships and healing ourselves.  I am saddened by waste whether that is a wasted life, skills, resources or opportunities.  My values link to my belief that we are all created with unique gifts that we can offer to the world.  This book is my attempt to contribute.

What are your values and do these help you to make choices in your day-to-day life?  How do you respond when these are challenged?

I have come across so many clients who set unrealistic standards for themselves.  Are they your own values or ones that you have co-opted from other people?  It is important to find your own values to steer your life.

Leave a comment below and share your thoughts.

If you would like to order ‘An A-Z for your life’ so you can work through it at your own pace then simply click on the book cover on the right or go direct to http://www.ana-zforyourlife.com and order your signed copy today!

If you are interested in my counselling services then check out www.envisioncounselling.co.uk and email me: shirley@envisioncounselling.co.uk

 

Understanding

As we are deepening relationships, learning and growing we will continue to change. As we change we affect our environment and life becomes less predictable and more spontaneous.

When we meet new people we cannot know where they are in their personal journey and the changes that might be going on in their lives.  We can’t yet know what they might need from us, or what we might receive from them.

It strikes me that we need a great deal of understanding of ourselves, and each other.  Some of us are good at showing understanding to others and tend to value individuality and difference.  Other people like everyone to be the same, preferably similar to them.  But we are all on different paths in our journey of life so why do we judge others by our own journey?  Understanding enables us to be more honest to the variety of choices and possibilities there are without needing to feel that our way is worst or best –  just different.  Appreciate your uniqueness and that of others.

Sometimes we give a lot of attention to visible differences such as race, gender, religion and disability, but hidden differences can have as big an impact on our daily experiences.  Think of someone who hears voices or has certain food allergies and how they would experience the world differently to how they would be viewed from the outside.  With understanding we can find empathy for others and empathy for ourselves.  Studies show that when we are harsh on others we tend to be harsh on ourselves too.

Do you try to be understanding of the people you encounter in your daily life? Would you say you have too much understanding, too little or just enough?

Leave a comment below and share your thoughts.

If you would like to order ‘An A-Z for your life’ so you can work through it at your own pace then simply click on the book cover on the right or go direct to http://www.ana-zforyourlife.com and order your signed copy today!

If you are interested in my counselling services then check out www.envisioncounselling.co.uk and email me: shirley@envisioncounselling.co.uk

 

Thinking

Rene Descartes said ‘I think therefore I am.’  As you can see from what we have looked at so far, to be really engaged in your life you need to engage your mind in thinking about what you do, who you do it with and how what you are doing lives up to your beliefs.

None of us like the idea of sleepwalking though our life. Thinking is important. It encourages learning and using our individual skills to resolve our own problems rather than trying to be like everyone else.

There have been great thinkers in our world over many centuries.  There are great philosophers, politicians, scientists and mathematicians.  There are those who explain how the human mind works, how groups behave and how to design clever things such as spacecrafts, robots and submarines.  Neuroscience is discovering more about our brains, how they work and the potential for change.

We need to trust ourselves to believe we can solve our issues.  So many people have been told they are no good that they no longer trust themselves, which means that they are always looking outside themselves for their answers.  In my work as a counsellor I try to help people in growing their self-esteem and confidence so that they can trust themselves.  It takes time, mostly undoing all the negative comments they have received in their life to date, but it is possible.

Could you be making more of your capacity to think?  Are you continuing to develop by learning new things? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts.

If you would like to order ‘An A-Z for your life’ so you can work through it at your own pace then simply click on the book cover on the right or go direct to http://www.ana-zforyourlife.com and order your signed copy today!


Being open to what is real, without judgement,  underpins a mindfulness approach. I have recently completed an 8-week mindfulness course to use alongside my counselling training.  Mindfulness is not a religion and as such can be done by those with faith and those without.

The practice encourages us to stop the incessant thinking that many of us do and to accept things without judging them. This can be difficult and promises to get easier over time.  It really encourages the habit of being in present in our experience rather than spending our days longing for yesterday or worrying about tomorrow; today is all we have.

wim3

Wimbledon was a great example of being focused on the present moment.  The players could not spend their time only dwelling on their past achievements or their desire to lift that trophy.  All of their attention was needed, live, in the game, in the present, winning one point at a time.

Of course there is a place for memory and planning throughout our lives.  Only you will know if you have the balance right for your life at present.  Do you spend too much of your energy focused on the past, present or future for your current happiness? Leave a comment below to share your thoughts

 

Soul

Soul is part of our heart’s connection to the depths of our being and how we are enabled to live this truth.

For me it is about colour, scenery, food, art, language, music and dance. What delights my senses, feeds my soul.   So much richness when we engage at this level.

I am not great at any of them but I love to engage with them.  Significant relationships and my faith also really connect to my inner being.  For others it may be about architecture, design and landscaping.  For some it is being a mother or father.

Does anything get to the depths of your soul?  What really makes you feel alive?

So my alphabet soup of life is almost complete.  If you would like to order the book and work through it at your own pace then simply click on the book cover on the right or go direct to http://www.ana-zforyourlife.com and order your signed copy today!

safety

 

In order for us to begin to look internally we really need to feel safe.  From a place of safety we can look within at who we are and reach out to others in the knowledge that we can meet with them authentically.

Safety is crucial to our personal development. If you feel unsafe in your current situation I hope you can make changes so that your circumstances become safer.  Hopefully there is someone you can speak to who can support you in this.

Safety and food are amongst our basic needs.  Abraham Maslow refers to this in his hierarchy of needs.  He suggests that once we meet these basic needs, then we can work our way through our belonging and esteem needs. He sees the pinnacle as self-actualisation when we are achieving our full potential.

The bigger picture is about helping to make the world safer for all of us.  Certainly life has always had its fair share of danger but the possibilities seem to be changing all the time.  I am unlikely to be attacked by a wild animal or die of malaria but, unfortunately, I can easily be caught up in a traffic accident.  The people we know and listen to affect how safe we feel but we can’t really hide ourselves away from reality.   For me it is about making the best judgement I can, when considering activities, associated risks and pleasure.  There is no point trying to be completely safe but not living.

Many people are keen on taking bodily risks with adrenaline fuelled activities.  The body responds to the unnaturalness of the activity (e.g. bungee jumping) but the organised nature of the event means that it is likely to be safe.  This can be seen more like the organised play I mentioned earlier.  I confess to being scared of participating in many of these activities although  recently I pushed myself beyond my comfort zone in a water park; water was inhaled!

How do you feel about your own safety?  Is it something you worry about or does it not impact on your thoughts at all?  If you live in fear how is that affecting your life?  Is there anything or anyone that could help you to feel safer so that you can participate in life more fully?

So my alphabet soup of life is almost complete.  If you would like to order the book and work through it at your own pace then simply click on the book cover on the right or go direct to http://www.ana-zforyourlife.com and order your signed copy!