Our long awaited residential! The bone of such contention within the group; the organisation of dates and anxiety about arrangements! As the date approached, my fear surrounding it grew. A friend had scared me a little by suggesting that it would be overwhelmingly confronting, and that being away with the group, I would have nowhere to hide. I guess I was feeling anxious about this, until the Monday session immediately preceding it, when (thankfully) our tutor informed us that we would still have our own rooms – a private suite to retreat to at the end of the day. Once I knew this my fear dissolved, and gave way to feelings of excitement – my own private room! I do not have this luxury at home. Ever since my divorce (and financial ruin) I have lived in a tiny little cottage with my kids, giving them the bedrooms (they are teenagers and need the space) and sleeping downstairs on a little day bed. As you can imagine, I do not have very much privacy, I long to stretch out star shaped on a double bed and have a little retreat from everything sometimes!
So the event began well for me, very well indeed, when I found that I had been allocated the biggest room on the corridor! I am sure that this wasn’t an accident – I am quite aware that it was a lovely gesture from my tutor, who had probably overheard me voicing my excitement and I appreciate it very, very much! (Hope you know that, J, as you will be reading this)
The exercises began with a story – the story of ‘The Velveteen Rabbit’ to be exact; a story I was familiar with, having read it to my children when they were small. I have never had it read to me before, though. Funnily enough, I can’t actually remember ever having had stories read to me when I was little – I’m sure I did, but I was probably too small to remember. I know I was an early reader, and I have previously mentioned in my journals how my childhood was quite a solitary affair, being the youngest child (with a large age gap between me and my siblings) of the family, and both parents having to work very long hours. Although I may not have had bedtime stories; I do remember one of my sisters giving me a ‘bedtime cabaret’ sometimes – which I loved! She would sing me a song, or recite me a poem, maybe even give me a little dance (she was a performing arts student, can you tell?)
Having ‘The Velveteen Rabbit’ read aloud to me that afternoon felt wonderful. J read it in such a beautiful way; it was calming, thought-provoking, soothing and felt like a whole new story to me, as if I were hearing it for the first time all over again. The story itself felt like a metaphor for the journey of self through life; uniqueness, change, love, pain, separation, happiness, authenticity, self-trust and belief were all touched upon, as well as many other concepts. So simply put, and gentle and clear with its message. We shared our feelings and thoughts on it afterwards, and immediately began to feel the restorative effect of sharing an experience with others, the power of sharing an emotional occurrence in a mass. I enjoyed it immensely.
The next exercise was called ‘The self puzzle’. The task was to draw a map or a puzzle representing the way we view ourselves. We were given coloured pencils and paper, and a fair amount of time to complete it in. Mine was a mass of words – each one a different colour, every colour of the rainbow, positioned at a different angle or orientation, leading to a central word – my name written in a golden yellowy orange, like the sun, surrounded by a ring of stars. The words were a mix of positive and negative, personality traits, qualities, flaws and a few objects I feel attachment to;
shy, sensitive, alternative, flamboyant, thinking, organised, music loving, evolving, loyal, quiet, feisty, argumentative, spiritual, daft, handmade, aesthete, smiley, books, pro-active, saucy, home-loving, naughty, funny, woolly, analytical, raucous, chaotic, weird, searching, Mum, questioning, books, cat, dynamic, insecure, perfectionist, independent, family, unsure, faddy, rude, rebellious, creative, mental and challenging.
What did I learn from it? Lots – the obvious – the jumbled appearance, even though I also thought it was an organised chaos is very much how I view myself – the colourful nature – also obvious and the words used, self explanatory . What was most telling to me was the word that I left out, that I did not write, but that I knew should be there; bipolar.
Because it is what I am. (revision on re-reading; it is ONE of the things I am)
It is fundamental to my way of being, it underlies all of my behaviour and character traits, yet I felt it unacceptable to write it down, because I am still in denial about having it. Why? Because I am scared that it will mean I am not capable of being a counsellor, and I am scared of becoming my grandmother; living out my life trapped by my own mind.
I was furious with myself. So furious that, when asked to do the next task – wander around the grounds and take 2 photos, one to represent my inner self and one representing my outer self – I went straight around to the service entrance and took a beautiful photo of the wheelie bins, and the surrounding rubbish!
Luckily, the grounds are beautiful – a fabulous Victorian building with acres of land surrounding; it quite a calm, fresh kind of day, and the peace and tranquillity combined with a gentle walk, gave me time and space to reflect, breathe, focus on being in the moment, clear my mind of reprimands and reminiscences, and get a better perspective on who I really am. The process of searching for objects that reminded me of myself gave me an opportunity to take myself out of myself, study it rationally and refocus on the more positive qualities that make me who I am.
I returned to the room refreshed, I had let go of the anger that I had directed inward (another pattern of mine that this exercise helped to make me more aware of) and felt okay about presenting my photos to the group. I felt that my two photos were interchangeable – they represented facets of both my inner and outer self – opposites, both coexisting within me – and that is okay; it is who I am. I am congruent with my contrasts – I am learning to be more honest and open about my flaws – this taught me how important it is to me to always do that, how awful it feels when I don’t.
After a beautiful dinner (so lovely to be cooked for – felt so spoiled!) we returned to our group room, and relaxed together, watching the film ‘The Hours’. I had already seen it, knew what it was about, knew how depressing the subject matter is (suicide, mental illness, the struggle of congruence with self), and so – engaging the counselling practise of self-care – I chose to work on my crochet quietly, engaging enough with the film so that I was still with it, but not so much that I went down. After all, it was only two weeks before that I was considered a suicide risk, myself, and put into crisis care. I was fine at the end of the film, but knowing how everyone would be discussing it in the bar afterwards, I chose instead to retire straightaway to my room for the night (and enjoy my lovely big bed)
The whole of the next day was spent creating and presenting a large collage representing our ‘ideal self’ Wow! What a lot of fun! It felt like being a child again – paint, glue, glitter, paper, scissors, stuff everywhere! The whole group was laughing together – all of us were enjoying ourselves. It was a wonderful bonding experience. Presenting in the afternoon, however, was emotional.
My picture was that of a human figure, featureless – representing how the outer was unimportant to me, coloured in with tiny star shaped sequins – representative of my spiritual views; how I believe we are all connected within the universe, and that I have ambition within me, that I want to achieve, that I want to be fulfilled. I made beautiful coloured tissue paper flowers stuck through the central column of the figure, in the chakra points – showing how I want to achieve balance within myself, how I seek balance within the chakral realms, and there was extra emphasis on the highest chakra –the one associated with connection and spirituality, the highest part (that very top point on Assagioli’s egg diagram)
Connection is so huge to me, so important. I want to feel like I am a part of things again – I purposely removed myself from the world a few years ago, feeling too much hurt, too much distrust; I needed time away to rest and heal, and now I feel that I have done that (as much as will happen, within this isolation that I have created for myself) and I am ready to re-enter – well, within reason, within my own parameters, anyway. It has been a lonely healing process, and I’m not sure that I made the right decision when I took myself away, as I can’t help but wonder if whilst tending to some emotional wounds I managed to unwittingly make others larger and deeper in the process.
The background to the figure in the collage was peaceful; pale blue and green tissue – calming – showing how I want my environment to be tranquil, helping me to feel tranquil within it. I cut out lots of small squares of colourful felt and created a soft, warm cushion for my figure to sit on, almost reminiscent of a patchwork quilt. To me this was representative of my love of comfort, soft things, handicrafts, colour and interest. The symbolism of the patchwork quilt is quite huge for me – I just adore the idea of time, energy and love being poured into an object that will be kept forever and turned into an heirloom that will be passed on to future generations. The tradition of women quilting together in groups; sharing, helping each other, chatting, listening, enjoying the therapeutic benefit of the crafting – it is a feeling and energy that I tried to create in my shops, in my previous life as a store owner. I ran craft groups, craft lessons; knitting, crochet, basic sewing techniques, that sort of thing. The people who came along to the groups felt the warmth and the therapy that my little craft haven offered, and stayed. Often people are drawn to handicrafts when they are at a point in their lives where they need some kind of restorative force – the creativity, focus and soothing effects of handicrafts are well documented. I suppose that was my inner ‘healer’ archetype wanting to put some positivity and healing energy out into the world in the only way I felt able, within my working environment at the time.
When I presented my work to the group the discussion surrounding it focussed mostly on my spiritual beliefs, and even though this is the most personal and intimate of all subjects to me, I felt able to talk freely; able to voice my ideas in a supportive non judgmental environment – nobody told me I was a ‘daft hippy’, nobody gave me the patronising look that I have become so used to, or the expression of “I think you are mad but I won’t say anything because I don’t want to make you upset” that I get ALL THE TIME from friends and family. For the first time since – forever, I felt complete ‘okay-ness’ with exposing my innermost thoughts and desires; the power and support and healing energy of the core conditions. Not just offered by one person, but by a group of ten – ‘magnified core condition healing’ – so, so, so powerful.
I felt quite exhausted and emotionally drained, to be honest, by the intensity of the work we did in that room that afternoon and so I was relieved of the respite offered by watching another video as a our final activity. It was interesting, and absorbed me at the time – but I find that I cannot recall very much of it now. I think that I was way more tired than I realised.
So finally, we rounded things off with a process group session. Possibly one of the best process group sessions we have ever had – honest, brave, emotional, supportive, free, and an overwhelming feeling of acknowledgement that we are each complex evolving individuals, moving along our own pathways towards higher consciousness and self awareness and forming a powerful human collective that can hold us when we need or want it.
Amazing. I can honestly, hand on heart, say that the shift that occurred within me over the few days, has been one of the most powerful – as it is the first (and possibly only) time in my life that I ever been able to focus on ME, purely on ME, and been given the time and space to engage with myself on a metaphysical level like this – what a gift!