The Challenge of Not Knowing
Some of the most difficult experiences in life can involve being held in a state of uncertainty. Examples of this might include the transition from being a student to being a self-determining adult, relationship or work problems, infertility, unemployment, bankruptcy or homelessness. You can probably come up with more. It’s a situation where there is no clear ‘what next’, and we are invited to find certainty not outside, but inside ourselves.
Usually we are carried through life from event to event, goal to goal, and for much of this we are on mental and emotional auto-pilot. We latch on to familiar things that inspire or soothe us, and give us the illusion of control. However for many of us there comes a time when we are forced to sit for a prolonged period with not knowing. It’s a place that triggers our anxiety and defences, yet we’re unable to resolve or escape our discomfort. In this state we are challenged to meet our true nature and potential for self-realisation.
The desire for certainty is something natural. It’s the positive drive of the Ego part of our nature, to help in providing a compass point in life. It begins with the infant developing a sense of duality, (this is me; that is not me) and needing a consistent experience of that in order to gain a secure sense of itself. It’s about feeling a reassuring sense of ‘the walls of reality’ that contain us; it is a feeling of ‘knowing’. Life, and also counselling and psychotherapy, holds a tension between the need for this sense of certainty, and an unfolding awareness that we are limited by it. Somehow it separates us from our deeper selves and connection with the big prize, a sense of oneness and peace.
Mindfulness and cognitive therapy (often referred to as CBT) can be excellent for helping the person to cope with this tension. It is a huge relief to realise that you – and reality - are not your thoughts or your beliefs. When you let go of your certainties, you discover how they have been keeping you dancing to a limiting tune.
Yet no matter what we do to loosen their grip, those certainties will keep re-forming one way or another. And life keeps doing its best to dismantle them. If the ego is too weak or the challenge too much, trauma, despair, psychic breakdown or spiritual emergency can ensue.
The therapeutic relationship itself often reflects this state of not knowing, and both client and therapist feel it. The experience of being forced to face limbo is deeply painful and can be excruciating – yet perhaps it is a call to growth. The therapist needs to be comfortable enough to sit with not knowing, and to hold the limbo experience for the client until something – the tension, the resistance, the defences against experiencing true reality, can be resolved.
What the therapist can offer as an alternative to ‘knowing’ is an open minded faith: in the possibility of growth and ‘becoming’ itself offering enough of a containing reality. Then certainty changes from needing to be about exterior structures, to concerning the multi-faceted diamond of true Self.
The Effects of Abuse
I have just had a look at a wonderful illustrated book by Dr Nina Burrowes and want to share it with everyone - whether they have experienced abuse themselves, or to help others to understand the effects. It is called 'The Courage to be Me', and it can be read for free on Dr Burrowes' website, or ordered or downloaded from there: http://ninaburrowes.com/index.php/books/the-courage-to-be-me/ It's illustrated, so accessible to all.
Do take care of yourself when reading this book. It is enormously touching, deeply compassionate, and I hope it will help.
Enhancing Your Toolkit Workshop Series: Working with Dreams
I am leading workshops for counsellors and psychotherapists, hosted by Bower House Support Services or by you! Let me know if you would like to book, or contact
Bower House Support Services
32 Coventry Road,
Endorsements: "Brilliant day, enjoyed it, left feeling uplifted, not overwhelmed. Pace of day was just right." "Really enjoyed the day and powerful learning", "Stimulating and valuable content, practical and helpful in my work", "Very useful content. Great to put into practise."
A brief introduction to ways of working with dreams.
Many counsellors are unsure about how to go about working with dreams, feeling that there is a pressure upon them to interpret, or to know about the meaning of symbols.
This one day workshop will:
- offer ways into meaning through the client's own interpretation
- reduce the pressure of 'knowing'
- explore how dreams offer access to deep feeling
- help you to connect with the unconscious meaning and instinctive truth held in the body
- offer a chance to develop confidence.
Please be aware that much of the day will be spent in small groups putting skills into practice. Participants are asked to bring their own dream or snippet of a dream to work with.
This is a very brief introduction to safe practice with dreams; a precursor to further deepening of skills.
Some thoughts about Working with Dreams
How often do you dream about houses and certain rooms? About water flooding, or leaking, or in lakes? Flying? About mountains and landscapes, or roads, or cars? How about dogs or horses? About particular people who crop up again and again. How about nightmares of being chased, about some nameless horror that can't be faced? About magical creatures or events? About burning, body parts, or corpses and death, or marriage, or babies? Dreams which feature a particular colour or where various colours or sounds or smells are dominant in awareness? And of course sexual dreams that you know are not just about the physical release. The images are as limitless as the imagination and yet many are common to all of us and seem to have an archetypal relevance.
So what value do dreams have to us, as individuals, in our waking lives? One way of looking at the role they might play is to see them as enabling our unconscious to speak to us, to offer us a mirror of our inner world which is normally blocked to our consciousness by our rational, often ego-driven way of organising reality. Any doubts about the value to be found in them are dispelled when we touch the truth that they offer us and in the process experience insight, unblocking and release.
In psychotherapy it is often valuable to work with what persistent or powerful dreams offer by looking at them through our associations. It is possible to explore them even more deeply by using what we call the 'waking dream' technique, re-entering the dream and getting in touch - often literally, through the imagination - with its content. This method can enables you to connect with very powerful instinctive feelings and truths of which you has been unconscious. Here is a filmed inerview with Nigel Hamilton Nigel Hamilton talks about the transpersonal approach to working with dreams.
The Power of Vulnerability: a talk by Brene Brown
An inspiring personal experience of qualities of left and right brain functioning - by neuroscientist Jill Bolt-Taylor
I am part of a network of excellent fellow practitioners all over the UK and abroad who also practise using transpersonal and integrative principles and am happy to recommend them to you:
I am a Senior Practitioner at Mindtalk in Market Harborough. We are a group who between us can work with children and young people, families, couples and adult individuals.
Noel Bell, Psychotherapist Paddington W2
For those wanting help with smoking and nicotine addiction I also recommend online support via Quitza
Masks: here is a poem that simply captures the struggle we all have with revealing our true self to others, and how the therapeutic relationship can help.
I keep my paint brush with me
Wherever I may go,
In case I need to cover up
So the real me doesn’t show.
I’m so afraid to show you me,
Afraid of what you’ll do – that
You might laugh or say mean things.
I’m afraid I might lose you.
I’d like to remove all my paint coats
To show you the real, true me,
But I want you to try and understand,
I need you to accept what you see.
So if you’ll be patient and close your eyes,
I’ll strip off all my coats real slow.
Please understand how much it hurts
To let the real me show.
Now my coats are all stripped off.
I feel naked, bare and cold,
And if you still love me with all that you see,
You are my friend, pure as gold.
I need to save my paint brush, though,
And hold it in my hand,
I want to keep it handy
In case someone doesn’t understand.
So please protect me, my dear friend
And thanks for loving me true,
But please let me keep my paint brush with me
Until I love me, too.
Author is either Bettie B. Youngs or David, Wizard of Oz
The Treasure Chest: The Transformative Power of Not Knowing An experiental weekend workshop
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.
(From: The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, S T Coleridge)
v For security we latch on to things that give us the illusion of control. Yet life catapults us into limbo, for example with cancer or other illness, infertility, financial, relationship or career problems, creative block, moving home….
v As counsellors the therapeutic relationship itself sometimes reflects this state.
v It’s a place that triggers our defences, yet it’s a wonderful opportunity for growth.
Would you like the adventure of seeking the buried treasure in your Self?
Join me in exploring the challenges presented, and the opportunity provided for growth and fresh insight.
I invite you to bring an object that, for you, represents your time of 'not knowing'. We will use this along with word play, drawing and visualisation exercises designed to tap into the transformative power concealed in the in-between place we call Limbo.
Pandora’s box or a treasure chest? We shall use a mystery box and exercises to explore our shadow selves, unlocking and releasing the treasure we all seek, connection to our true, essential self.
A 2 day workshop for up to 6 people. This workshop is offered in various locations by arrangement. Please contact me if you would like to host it. Cost: £100 per person.
For bookings and enquiries please email me, or phone 07900 303 561 Follow @adlpsycotherapy