Tag Archives: listening

SLOW DOWN and BREATHE


Each week a Write To Be You Reflective Writing Workshop has a different theme.

Yesterday’s group were reminded by a big sign taped to my front door to SLOW DOWN and BREATHE. Sounds easy enough, but can be hard to achieve when you are accustomed to speeding through life. Navigating traffic.  Rushing through ceaseless emails. Skating down supermarket aisles watching the clock. Ending a conversation because you have to move on… to another conversation.  Gulping down food. Forgetting to drink. Forgetting to pee. Skipping meals because time is of the essence. Rushing to work. Rushing to school. Rushing home from work.  Rushing home from school. Are you tired yet?! I am!

The irony is, we lose the essence of time by not savouring it.  All of this urgency to make it through yet another day steals from us the chance to loiter in our lives. To linger in a subtle moment and expand it with our undivided attention.

At the end of yesterday’s workshop, as the group were settling down for their guided mediation, I noticed the UPS driver walking towards my front door.  I could see him through the glass.  I’ve only ever exchanged a pleasant greeting with him and accepted packages. I know nothing of his life, but I don’t envy his schedule. An endless litany of deliveries.

He paused at the sign on the door and left the box at the threshold. In my fantasy, he ambled leisurely back to his truck, listening to the rustle of the wind in the bamboo leaves, becoming aware of the gradual rise and fall of his rib cage, as he too had been reminded to SLOW DOWN and BREATHE.

I encourage you to take a moment to linger. Examine an object you use or pass everyday with little to no thought. Direct your attention to that object and reflect on it and then write about it in detail. Ten minutes is all you need.  So many people can’t manage to slow down, even for ten minutes. Try it! And then try again tomorrow and the next day and the next day.

Breathe deeply as you write.

Who knows, even as I post this, the UPS driver might be signing up to a yoga class. Stretching his body into downward dog. Enjoying the citrusy sting of a lemon on his tongue.

We all need a reminder…

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Let Me Give You Some Advice (Not)

Advice is a funny thing.  We ask for it, but don’t always listen to it.  Or we don’t ask for it, but have it forced upon us anyway. There are certain things that we can advise others on effortlessly, but when it comes to following our own words of enlightenment, we lag painfully behind.

When I was pregnant with my first child, I felt as if I was wandering around the world with a sign on my back blaring “FEEL FREE TO DOLE OUT UNSOLICITED ADVICE!”

Pregnant women are advice targets.  If the reams of wisdom from friends and family members are not quite enough, then do not fear, there will be bus loads of strangers on hand to give their two cents worth, or ten dollars worth or twenty pounds worth. There’s no avoiding it. The problem is, you don’t always want to avoid it, because parts of what you hear will be vital and precious, even if you can’t grasp it at the time.

Hasn’t someone invented an app to filter out ‘bad’ advice yet? A digital troll who vibrates your phone violently when a well meaning but misguided opinion is hurtling towards you at breakneck speed?

It will come.

The difficulty of being the recipient of advice overload is that it can dislocate you from your gut.

Confuse your your instinct.

Cloud your intuition.

The difficulty of not being receptive to sound advice when offered, is that you can become narrow-minded, inflexible, stubborn.

It’s a fine line.

Meanwhile, the internet is brimming with advice on writing… some of it exceptionally valuable. However, I’ve realised that it is possible to spend more time reading the advice on ‘how to’ write than it is to actually write yourself.  Just as I spent far too many hours researching breastfeeding an unsettled baby, rather than attempting to stay attuned to the unsettled baby on hand. The one who was waiting for me to tackle it with him.

I have a policy to not automatically offer my opinion on someone else’s ‘stuff’ unless it is specifically requested. Even then, I’m known to infuriatingly flip the question back to the asker (a well practiced skill in psychotherapy training!)

The task that needs tackling is how to call on the experiences of those who have walked the same road  and benefit from their stories, while staying aware that no road is ever identical.  Each of us treads a unique path, shared, but always ever so slightly different, like the variable ridges of a fingerprint.

My pledge to you is not to advise… but only to guide.  I’ve learned that sometimes when you’re in the dark, what you truly need is not someone to turn the light on for you, but to gently touch your arm instead, and point you in the direction of the sun.

Write about advice! Are you compelled to give it? Are you always asking for it? Do you have a story to tell where ADVICE, ‘good’ or ‘bad’, is the central character? All words are welcomed… I invite you to release some thoughts below…

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Strangling Stereotypes

Photograph by Chloe Green 2012

Meeting someone at a party or social occasion and revealing to them that you’ve trained to be a psychotherapist, usually evokes a discernible reaction.

Not always a pleasant one.

Scenarios I’ve encountered:

The Escape Artist likely to be thinking, “Oh dear god, get me away from her quickly! She’s definitely  dull, eerily earnest, and will probably spend the whole evening analysing my every move.”

The Dissenter“Isn’t psychotherapy merely a self indulgent pursuit with the sole intent of avoiding accountability and blaming your parents for everything?”

The Macho Man, “I talk sports, stocks, sex and statistics in no apparent order. Feelings are for females.”

The Veteran, “Been there. Done that. Have had sixteen therapists since I was sixteen. I know so much I could be YOUR therapist.  I mean – seriously!”

And finally The Virgin, “Wow! That’s amazing! It must be fate that I ended up meeting you tonight, because I’ve always thought about seeing a therapist and I have like a million stories that I think you’re going to be really interested in…”
One of the first clients I ever treated was a woman about 20 years older than me.  When I entered the waiting room to greet her, she dropped her jaw in disbelief.

“The therapy is with YOU?” 

I’m not sure what she was expecting. Maybe a few more wrinkles. A flowing cardigan and jade beads. I obviously didn’t meet her expectation of what a ‘proper’ therapist was supposed to look like.  She held a stereotype in her head, as we all have the tendancy to do.  Sometimes it is much easier to summarise people in one dimension (like I  have playfully done with my party goers above) than to stay receptive to the complexity of  all human beings, regardless of race, gender, nationality, religion, and even profession.

Stereotypes strangle.

It turned out that despite being in my thirties, with a leaning towards Death Cab for Cutie and a cupboard full of skinny jeans, I was still a good listener. And the client eventually realized that.

Writing and Psychotherapy require similar skills. If you are writing fiction, you owe it to your characters not to sum them up in a sentence (as fun and easy as that can be) Your characters should become your clients.  They need to be the ones at the party, keeping you in the corner, spilling their histories. Stay curious. Keep your ears open. Observe their body language and their gestures. Find out about their parents.  It does matter Mr Dissenter – I promise.

And if you are writing about yourself, then you have the pleasure and the pain of internal investigation. The two endeavours are bursting with benefits. And while each come with a handful of hazards, ultimately they share the same joyful purpose: to artfully activate transformation, leaving the recipient altered and opened, in ways both subtle and sweeping.

Write about stereotypes. Are you stereotyped in your world? Have you encountered obstacles as a result? OR Write about writing. What are your tricks for ‘fleshing’ out your characters? How do you avoid the pitfalls of flat packing and build more dimensional creatures instead? SHARE YOUR FINDINGS HERE! I’m the Good Listener, remember?!
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