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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.

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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!

Relationships

Life is not all about seeking; we can relax and consider our relationships. Who is important to us and how would they know this?

I know it can feel embarrassing telling people that we care about them but we need to find our own way of conveying this to them. Imagine if they died and did not know how you felt about them. Similarly do you know the people in your life who really care about you? Regardless of how successful or rich we might become, life is enjoyed when we have people to celebrate our successes and empathise with our challenges. Good relationships are key to a fulfilling life.

As I get older this is something I have improved upon. I love to have intimate birthday parties where I invite close friends who are important to me. As time has gone on and life has presented its tragedies it is important to know that there are people who I can lean on and who could lean on me. This is not really about mutual support because different people offer different things to a relationship but it is about a sense of awareness, where we do the best we can to be good partners, friends, family, colleagues and neighbours. We can take responsibility for our part in our relationships. For Carl Jung ‘the meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed.’

Your way will probably be different from my way but it is important for you that you know how to do it for your circle of relations. It’s okay to be a little awkward and let people know how you feel about them rather than risk them thinking you do not care. This is not about buying friendships or performing affection for onlookers but about having an honest encounter with people in your life.

If this sounds too cosy having good relationships does not mean that everyone is always smiles and happiness. It is about being true with each other. So many people go through life without getting honest feedback because no one in their life cares enough (or is brave enough) to tell them when they are behaving inappropriately. If the first time you are given such feedback is at school or work then it has a public element to it that may make it more difficult to accept. Challenging feedback is probably best delivered in love and privately.

It is important to have people in our lives who can encourage us to grow, learn, deepen and be our best self. What are you doing to attract such people into your life and to be that friend to the people in your life? For that you need honesty, trust, care and courage. I have experienced this through my counselling training and my small church group as well as with longstanding individual friendships and peer groups. The truth is that no money in the world could buy quality relationships.

How do you communicate to let people know that you appreciate, value and respect them? Do you spend time nourishing your relationships or do you expect them to stay alive by themselves? Let me know your thoughts.

 

 Quiet spaces

It is important to have time to reflect on our life, the journey we are on and where we are heading.  It is about stopping and enjoying the moment.

Many people are embracing the idea of going slow, which is an antidote to all the rushing around and multitasking that many of us try to do.  Since starting a mindfulness course I am finding it more difficult to multitask and that feels like a good thing.

I do not believe that human beings are designed to go as fast as we are trying to.  We are presented with hundreds of choices every day from emails, posters, supermarkets, outfits and travel options to name but a few.  I am like every one else – trying to absorb everything so that I can make the best choice.  Sometimes it simply is not worth the effort and takes up valuable down time.

Another way of slowing down is to engage in the practice of meditation (or prayer).  Many great thinkers and spiritual people find this a rewarding experience.  Although we think of meditation in the context of Buddhism I believe Christians and other faiths also have a place for meditation in their belief systems.  It is also possible to meditate and not belong to any faith group.  There are lots of resources and centres that can tell you more about the practice and benefits of meditation.  ‘Your sacred space is where you can find yourself again and again.’ Joseph CampbellI do know that it helps us to slow down and find peace within ourselves and we can then carry this into the world through our daily encounters.  I do not meditate as regularly as I would like but I am doing more of it and I do know that whenever I do I am never disappointed.

So we need to give ourselves time for being rather than only doing.  I think many of us can get caught up in the need to tell others what we did on the weekend, a bank holiday, for our birthday or an anniversary.  What will our friends say if we told them we spent the weekend listening to music, writing poetry or meditating?  Are we always busy so we don’t appear boring?    If we don’t give ourselves time to reflect how do we know why we are doing what we are doing?  I think that quiet times help us on our quest to a fulfilling life that connects to our values.

Throughout this I am also encouraging us to ask questions of ourselves, and those in our life.  It is not good to accept what others tell us we should be doing.  Socrates says that ‘the unexamined life is not worth living’. This whole book is dedicated to asking questions of ourselves and then honestly seeking out the answers.  This seeking is what makes our life uniquely ours and offers vitality, authenticity and genuine freedom.

What do you think?