Complex thinking for a simple life

I have a habit of persistently entertaining tentative, complex ideas that tend to have a subtle and discreet influence on my approach for living – ideas that I cannot shake easily. So I accept that there must be something in them that might yet clarify troubles that have developed while I go about my ever-increasing complex, daily life.

Then I find myself craving simplicity because of the tiresome nature of complexity but I know that would not be enough to keep my curiosity and sense of adventure satiated. So what is the answer? Perhaps complex thinking balanced with trying to lead a simple life.

Breaking up the passing of complex times into smaller units has been a great place to start for the benefit of simplicity & often leads to breaking up a day into smaller and smaller units depending on how that day is unfolding. It is compartmentalising to survive some crazy days relatively unscathed. If I have to move forward with consideration of the time between the seconds, then that is an indication that any approaching & passing moment has the power to change everything. Asking myself “What can I do with this second?” seems a simpler way of moving forward, even while it is a question that seems ridiculous & perhaps risks overthinking such details. It appears to be working for me so far, even while I slip up, say the wrong thing, do something foolish, and then have to go through the discomfort of reflecting on the mistakes I have made. So much choice equals increased potential for mistake-making, surely. That’s ok. I know I put a lot of thought into it all, perhaps too much sometimes and my brain aches. While it works & provides a sense of balance, I will keep on doing it.

During my clinical placement as a creative therapist, I began to think of myself as a conduit of emotion – I became a pathway that transferred a variation of another’s experience away from them to unknown destinations. After each experience of helping others in my role as a trainee therapist, I became acutely aware of others’ feelings that I took on & took home with me, & how those emotions and my developing awareness of professional concern for others subtly played out in my personal life. As I supported others to find comfort and potentially heal from their trauma, I felt the weight of their emotions run through me during my own emotionally laden desire to assist in some way. This resulted in a sense of myself as a conduit of emotion. But the analogy does not end there. If I broaden the concept to my life as a whole, it has enabled me to gain a sense of myself as one unit, one cell, one neurone in a connected web of thinking & doing, with my interactions potentially leading to affecting another. There is power in that & I try not to wield it naively. But one is often forced to start in a place of naivety and after some time of exposure, experience leads to wisdom & being qualified to know what works, what is authentic, and what one’s truth really is.

As I have developed a strong sense of the integral nature of being one unit that can potentially influence another “unit”, I have also begun to understand the power of one moment. This idea has expanded my thinking to consider the ultimate power I have from moment to moment, from second to second, and within the space between the seconds. I have gained a sense of the power available to me at a constancy that is enlightening while also frightening, defined beautifully by Marianne Williamson – “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.”

There is power in control & power in losing control. Perhaps that is why I continually defend the need for time to reflect, & time for processing challenges before the desire to impulsively react, respond or to choose is forced upon me, while I am still wondering what the best course of action should be. But taking the time to reflect when I can may lead me to the practice of impulsively making the right choice. When a massive challenge presents itself to me, and is always accompanied by intensity of emotion/s, if I am fortunate enough to set aside the time to process what is occurring and consider what options are available to me, I can move forward with the optimum confidence and security in what I intend to do because I have allowed for the time necessary to consider, decide and act. If there is time to process and consider thoroughly, perhaps problem-solving or healing is likely to be more effective. In one passing moment, there is power, and as one who is naturally connected to many others, the power I own can undo, repair, support, or enhance. It is there when I drive, there when I walk past a charity stall, there when I grocery shop, there when I converse, and there when my limits are tested.

I have limitations and I try to know them before I test them too much. The catch is that I only know my limits from going uncomfortably beyond them. The consequences of going beyond one’s limits and principles can be ugly, unpleasant and damaging. I have felt disempowered many times, or have given my power away but as I learn to accept and appreciate my actual power, I have begun to feel more empowered than ever to have my say or choose not to say anything. And the conduit analogy still holds true – my power can affect or perhaps even determine another’s power, as it is with parenting…or voting.

My power is selective and appreciatively positioned within a privileged lifestyle. I respect that is the case for most others around me. How I choose to exercise my power can be as different from another’s as is the difference in our fingerprints. My preference for means of activism or community mindfulness are respectfully different from others. Rather than judge the other for what their preferences are, I have realised that we individually make choices that we are comfortable with, feel are most important or are prepared to stretch ourselves so that we can extend our desires and needs…or perhaps even test them. This realisation has brought me comfort & enhanced my respect for others while knowing we each have the power to affect another.

Many people have their selected cause or causes. I understand that we have choices in what is important to each of us and where we desire to spend our efforts. Sometimes my efforts outside the family’s needs have to be restricted to live simply. After 5pm, rather than rudely react to those evening and weekend calls asking me for a donation or to sign up to their service, I have devised a way of politely letting the caller know that as a rule, I do not make donations after 5pm when those hours are for me with my family in my home. I politely let them know that they have called in “family hours” and my policy is to not respond to such phone calls in evening or weekend hours. “Try me in working hours”, I tell them and so far, I have had a respectful & understanding response. It has been better for both of us in that particular exchange rather than it be about my “caught off guard” irritation and their persistent audacity. I always get an understanding reply, usually an apology, and an “I’ll try again another time.”

I cannot help but welcome complexity in my life – it promises new challenges to learn from and achievements to be gained. However, a complex timetable often leads to confused thinking and more concerns than I can handle in a time frame that is not allowing for reflection and processing. It can risk everything. So the equation that works best for me is a simpler timetable & lifestyle to allow for complex thinking, leading to links that makes sense of arising complications. If I wonder and am frustrated, I allow the searching to continue, tentatively and patiently, while seeing to the needs of a simple set of objectives – family, homelife, community involvement, and a fulfilling enough career. If these are established as the values for grounding me, then the answers, or at least possibilities, for complex ideas do eventuate.

Disempowerment for me can be as benign as the concrete pathway that leads my children and I to the town centre. As my children hop, skip, & jump along the pathway and the youngest slips up, falling to the side, I have to remind her of the dangers of not containing herself carefully within the metre wide concrete path,  that takes us in only one direction, so that she does not fall in front of a passing car on one side or a stranger’s garden on the other. My telling her to conform frustrates me but perhaps it is because I grew up in a seemingly endless, bush environment that had few boundaries. If there was an obstacle in the scrub, you went over it, under it, or through it. I guess that is perhaps why the children’s picture book, “We’re going on a bear hunt”, is so popular. The adventure in willingly going through some obstacle of nature to get somewhere else is exhilarating because of the potential skill building and growth-promoting challenge while interacting with the rules of nature.

When the pressure is building, I don’t like to think of having to sacrifice something to regain balance. That would seem to be going without. Instead, I have begun to look at having to take something out of my equation as “pruning” – at least by removing something to allow for new healthy growth, I may find that the yield brings better rewards than continuing with too much overgrowth that threatens me with sickness & tension under the weight of too much to do.

At the end of last December, I had a conversation with an extended family member to let them know that I felt the coming year would likely be difficult enough to concern me early on & I wanted someone to know that – to look out for me and my family. Being able to say to someone who cares, “I think I am in for an unusually trying time – I just want you to know that in advance. Can you just look out for me and my family?” was powerful & comforting. I try not to require too much from others, but being upfront about potential struggles helped me to accept the coming difficulties and awareness that my limitations will be tested and this family member would be our back-up. But now at the end of that difficult year, I need to hold off from looking towards identifying a New Year’s Resolution until I process the Old Year’s Reflection. Reflecting on the year that has passed, with the desire to always attempt to make improvements upon my life as it unfolds, is more effective for making plans for the New Year.

Much of what my intentions regard is about taking control, role modelling for my children, & designing strategies to avoid the grasp of depression. If a persistent period of being overwhelmed and feeling helpless, hopeless & sad takes me over, it can compound the sense of being a failure and the threat of finding myself in depression’s grip. Suffering from depression involves a significant sense of shame at failing to manage one’s life while others appear to be managing fine. Depression is becoming the leading cause of disability world-wide and I cannot help but wonder if my experience of it is somewhat akin to many others’ difficulties of moving too fast to be able to keep pace with a complex life. Losing control in those unknown depths for an indefinite period of time is a state I would prefer to avoid by having a personalised bag of tools with which to mend myself. My bag of tools are well-refined, frequently modified & select, custom made by me for me. And while I have them always available to me, I feel relatively well-prepared for the obstacles that lie ahead.

No wonder we loved her.

My grandmother passed away recently at 93 years of age. She was the last of that generation. My children, her great-grandchildren, were fortunate to know and love her. After she passed away, I thought much about how I would remember her. What was her essence to recall and pass to the generations that follow, or just to keep close to me? I think it was her determined innocence — her child-like state that she defiantly opted never to grow out of and my knowing that I could rely on her to remain comfortingly static while I changed, grew, desired independence and sought out challenges.

Whilst Nana’s way of being had its limitations, I have recently realised that this lady chose to remain in that state for almost a century during hardships and brutal challenges. This change-less way of being had an appeal for me that was a constant comfort to return to after my own challenges, to heal my wounds under the warmth and love of her aged hands. How many of us wish there was always that comforting, age-worn, perpetual figure to return to for some gentle words with an unyielding stance preferring to turn away from expectations and new developments? Can I always give that to my own children for their comfort whilst still welcoming change and modelling a sense of adventure? My Nana’s passing has motivated me to consider it.

While I seek growth and critical thinking, my Nana was not one to independently look for change and extend herself. She followed, was loyal, and outlived those who lead. She appeared to need very little to be content. But she had her share of trials and weakening experiences. Remaining in her child-like state with the softest hands reminiscent of a new born’s unweathered skin, and with the presence of an english rose, Nana never changed. She was a constant for me in an ever-changing world in which I am always trying to keep up.

The title of this post about Nana, “No wonder we loved her”, is a reference to the film Yentl, in which a woman is portrayed as happily in servitude. She wants nothing more than to be of comfort and service to her family. This was my Nana – not wanting to be a bother to anyone, helping in the smallest, honourable ways. She preferred dependence and resolutely pursued her need to not expect too much of herself while requiring leadership from others, in that child-like fashion.

She lived in her own cottage positioned near my parent’s house on their country property. We visited often to spend time with Nana and she was ‘Gran-Nan’ to my children – their own term of endearment. My children have many memories of her, captured in colour and recordings. But with her passing, I wanted to hold on to my own idea of her and what she will always represent. This I have done.

Now Nana will remain forever on a country property, scattered to rest under jacaranda trees, by a bench lovingly carved to allow us to sit with her and remember who she was for each of us – her delicate softness? Her sweetness? A child forever more?

Below is a poem my children and I wrote together to be read out at Gran-Nan’s memorial service. It became a precious way to share in our combined memories of her and pass it on to generations to come, to remember a woman who gave us life.

A poem for Gran-Nan

With warm, soft hands and a beautiful, lined face,

her angelic voice would bring us back to this place.

We’d sit on her porch getting cookies galore

while hearing her tell the same stories of war.

She’d push B on her walker (a gem to be small),

and when we were down, she’d help us stand tall.

A beautiful smile around sparkling, false teeth.

Sometimes she’d remove them to give us all grief.

We felt loved and enjoyed on her porch, along with Bill.

That little dog knew he was loved and is still.

Blue trinkets would be left on her fence for the bower

so the male bird would visit hour after hour.

When we came to visit, her roses were neglected

because we were loved, therefore never rejected.

B walked her home on a dark, torch-lit night.

She made sure Gran-nan was safe, free from fright.

She was a child forever who liked to play games

that children do still to keep life safe and sane.

A song she devised for children who waited

for their daddy returning to faces elated.

Here we all stand in honour of Gran-Nan

who lasted through hardships with impulse – no real plan.

She lived her life the best that she could

when dealt hands of Canasta that should have been good.

Her voice was renowned among those who knew

her talent was worthy but heard by too few.

With the voice of a songbird she’s flown home to roost

with long-lost loved ones who now need her to soothe.

Sad songs and sorry said in cars.

I recently became a car commuter, merging with so many others on the asphalt express to find a purpose that sits independently outside of mothering & wife-ing. As is the case for many who opt to get there by car, it is convenient and efficient. But when I drive alone to do something necessary, something exciting, something daunting, something adventurous, it has also become a mobile refuge from all the craziness on the way there.

I tell myself I should be more environmentally conscientious and travel on public transport, I should be biking it, I should car pool. But I don’t because my car has become a therapeutic, healing space — sacred time to be alone with my thoughts and my music as I carefully accelerate to achieve something, or slow down because I am not quite in the right headspace yet. I have become one of millions of commuters who may be finding, like me, that their car provides precious down-time to contemplate, meditate, process, or opportunistically tune out the world — or maybe even just to mindfully feel the power of operating the mechanics of turning, slowing, indicating, stopping and arriving at a destination.

Cars are where babies are conceived and relationships end. A slam of the door can  be a very clear sign that one needs to be outside of the problem while the other remains inside, relieved to have the bubble back to themselves or ready to abandon it hurriedly in need of union once again. For some, the car is just for getting from here to there. But I wonder, as the world seems to become more about ‘think locally, act globally’, is it also for seclusion? As I stick to my personal car space along a motorway, reassured by the decency and co-operation of other drivers, I appreciate them as they keep to their personal space. Could road rage be about having one’s personal space invaded as much as being offended by another seemingly not bothering to follow the rules?

Whilst rolling along in my mobile refuge, music has become a method of figuring out the mystery of my feelings, my relationships, my wonderings. The right song in my ‘pseudo studio’ can answer questions in a rhythmic, lyrical, melodic and succinct way. Some songs are my secular prayers. The right song can inspire faith, hope and love.

On a road trip one frivolous day out, I was told by my self-declared, depression-free passenger that some of my beloved songs were too sad to listen to after I identified a random song as having poignancy for me regarding my experience of depression. My response was to explain that such songs say what I haven’t been able to for myself, or to others, so exquisitely. They help move the sadness through me and out into the universe with care and company.

I questioned myself long after this conversation had passed, knowing there was something else about the experience of opting to listen to a sad song that I could not name for some time. And it took another drive to realise what it was……I am okay listening to my favourite list of sad songs because I can control how long I am willing to feel the sadness – will it be for one song, one song repeated many times, or shuffle them and be willing to go with the selection my smartphone makes for me? The choice to listen to a sad song happens whilst alone but always in the band’s virtual company. In any others’ company, if I am feeling resentfully distracted by melancholy, I’ll try instead to chat, discuss, sit comfortably in silence, or play an upbeat song to be one of a car choir.

But the power of listening to a song that evokes my sadness is the control of when I put the song on and when I decide…..that’s enough…time for something cheerful – “mahnah mahnah, doo doo do-do-do”.

The power is in the control of knowing when I have to feel the words and music course through me and I determine how long I will feel it. It has become a way of trying to take control of the mood that threatens me, to acknowledge it and allow it to pass through me in a way that is more acceptable to me. The right song commiserates, soothes, reassures, joins with me and heals. When the song ends, the doubt-inducing sadness has passed for the time being, been put to one side because I have acknowledged it with self-care and virtual company. How powerful to have others so talentedly put what I feel into poetic words and music, then share that with me and a mysterious multitude of others. Do those other fans do the same? What is their experience of the song? Does that matter? We each listen to it to feel what we need to feel.

There are a handful of tried and trusted, sombre songs that are jewels to me — precious songs that seem to sound and feel like depression so I feel less isolated in my experience. Those songs are often played in my car on a lone trip, going somewhere necessary. When I feel the haunting company of my sadness, the car trip is an opportunity to listen to those songs privately. The car takes me somewhere to achieve something purposeful, but a song will often remind me of why that outing is so important to me.

Sharing a song with another to ‘say it all’ on my behalf is not an easy option. To attempt to express my sadness to another, via a song, can get lost in the translation of another. It just won’t do. The personal is always personal and no matter how we might assume the same interpretations are experienced by another, it has been through my observations that this is not reliably the case. So my self-help songs help only me in the way I need them to. Sacredly.

There is a song I often play when I return home from a difficult day or from a road trip far away. It sings of me “heading westwards towards the sun”. It is an uplifting song but the chorus is “I’m sorry” repeated many times. The chorus had bothered me because I wasn’t sorry to be heading home. This song does not evoke sadness but elation. It jarred with me. I had no-one to apologise to whilst feeling so comforted as I headed toward my family home and my tribe. This song celebrates my return, like a well-chosen song that plays as the credits roll when the film has ended on a dream come true. But the apology became a discreet point of conflict between me and this beloved song. So I challenged myself to think more about what the song could mean for me in its entirety. I did not want to deny parts of it when it was my theme song whenever I return home, towards the sunset, after the open road has beckoned me – “the open road is infinitely hopeful” (another line from another song). So I pondered the apology……what could it mean? It is also a love song. It always connects me with whom I love……..and loving another is about the willingness to say sorry…….

Sorry I am late……Sorry we can’t agree……Sorry I wasn’t with you when you needed me……Sorry I can’t give you what you want……Sorry I hurt you.

Sorry.

But I am here and you are in my song. You always will be. The song tells of a chapter in my story and you are one of the supporting roles.

 

 

 

A day becoming.

Foggy, so foggy.

Easily, happily distracted……and listless.……while I fluff about doing itty bits of information hunting and gathering. Today will not be productive in its usual sense. It will pass me by with guilt accumulating as a by-product of both my vacant headspace and trying to look busy for my Jiminy cricket who knows how much I have to get done.

I roll my eyes as I write “today will be one of those days”. I am often surprised at how rare they are. So many mornings, I expect the worst of days when I wake to the multitude of “To do’s” in my head and yet the hours pass by productively, with gratitude. Thank goodness for that! Those days are a close shave with the doubting self.

Um………Sigh…..

My head suddenly feels vacant from trying to cram so much into it. I guess my Zombie-like state is from saying “Yes!” too often to new learning and opportunities. My brain has become a production line of recent orders of ideas and my workers just can’t keep up with putting them in the right boxes. So they stand back dumb-founded as to what to do with the overflow.

I know my limits and my instincts tell me I will be of no significant use to anyone today but to soothe and shush—shush myself. At least I know that is something. It seems to be the least way that I can use my time. But I can tell myself confidently and comfortingly that it is also one of the ways that I only appear to waste my time. What is wasted time, truly? Is it time that, more often than not, one accuses others of, just through witnessing and judging? Escapism and meditation comes in so many forms. If another safely spends endless hours doing something that I can’t see the value in, I try to entertain the possibility that it usefully quells their particular fears and doubts, and that has to be okay with me. Knowing how I seemingly waste my time allows me to give another permission to do the same.

But my story, my history, has shown me the fog always eventually clears to reveal the rock solid pavement leading me towards a momentary destination to plant my feet and shout my closing battle cry of “Enough is enough!” for no-one’s ears but my own. Enough newness, enough learning, enough juggling, enough discomfort, enough anxiety!

Enough.

The moment is but a moment but it is enough to shift my point of view to one that is more forgiving of my limitations. But I have to keep going just to slot in time to re-evaluate somehow, somewhere.

I live inside my head. Everyone lives inside their head to some extent. I know my story well and that is an understatement. When I make judgements, it is because of my own historical page turner that I load words and actions with associated meanings that no-one else could truly imagine. Because they are not me. And I have to assume the same of others. My head is a jumble of experiences and hopes and to simplify a moment takes some effort. There are so many options for that one moment. But as balance is a word I try to live by, without naively trying to give all my needs and wants the same amount of time and consideration, if I have given much to one option then it is another’s turn for consideration, and that just might be a vacancy I do not need to fill. Just let it be. Don’t unlock the smartphone, don’t hang the washing, don’t try to decide what next. Just waste some time instead.

Smoko used to be a moment to take a break, sit back, (puffing away for some), but essentially looking to the horizon, just quietly considering, stimulated by your immediate environment or what happened last night. Now one just needs to focus a foot away at the smartphone to know what the whole world is considering from one moment to the next. Naval gazing has suddenly taken on a whole new overwhelming meaning.

When the Blackberry phone became a handy organiser, it also became a pest, true to its name. I wondered for some time why it was called a Blackberry. But when it became the constant companion who interrupted any attempt at sitting at a cafe in the company of family, I realised that the invasive pest would only need an up-ended mochaccino to eradicate it as a nuisance. Perhaps the name of Blackberry was meant to be a joke on us. Once it arrives, it is so hard to get rid of.

As I relate to my varied communities and environments and write about it in my own way, I think of all the nuanced conversations I have had. Then I realise that I am aware of tuning in to listen to others speak in their own way. They make marks upon the world in their own way. They sigh in their own way. Ownership of communication and language is a right, an entitlement. It can be a form of creative expression.

I know recording these thoughts in words, not always pictures to support my creative therapy career pathway, will likely make me a better therapist. I want to relate to others in so many possible ways but I need to know myself before I can appreciate the journey a client may feel compelled to take to know themselves intimately – to tell their story and maybe hear it told in their own way for the first time. So I willingly tap into all those parts of myself that do not feel entitled, that are easily shamed, and seem to be holding me back from opportunities to learn and grow. I defiantly reflect those parts back to myself to look the same and yet be viewed so differently – that they are just as valid and gift-giving as they are worthy of ignoring or denying.

Before a “wasteful” day begins, hinted at only by my intuition, I give myself permission to pull out half way through the day. That is the beauty and benefit of always trying to put your best foot forward — there are those few times that you have to lead with the foot that is dragging the dead weight of the unknown and incompetent. You are visibly tripping up, but you are forgiven with an understanding word or two.

I bring the dead weight of doubt with me to every new experience and hope to chip off a small, polished piece to place in my bag of precious jewels —— my learning. The dead weight should become gradually smaller but then there is me who says “Yes” to any opportunity to learn for the sake of growth, and expects to get ever lighter with each step forward. There is yet another who discreetly follows behind to add another blob of Yes to the dead weight without first weighing up the consequences. It does not always work that way. But 6 months into this great endeavour to studiously master myself as a creative therapist on clinical placement, I am still new to the feeling of being out of my depth with too much newness. If I had a client today, I would feel differently. My time would be spent feeling focused, helpful, learn-ed. But today nobody else needs me and so my client is me.

Sometimes, in isolated moments I talk it out quietly aloud with myself. I soothe and reassure. The Nike slogan often comes to mind but I resent its message of lone empowerment. I spend so much quality time coupled with others to help assist them feeling comforted and empowered that Just Do It as a loner seems unfair. So while I crave telling my story to others, I tell mine to myself when I can and I listen well and I understand.

But sometimes I want to tell my story without hiding on a counsellor’s lounge of sentimental fabric with screened windows which stop the world from watching and wondering what troubling secrets are being disclosed to one trained pair of ears.

“I wonder what her problem is?”

Sometimes I need to take the problem outdoors, to see how it interacts with my environments. With sunlight shed upon the issue, perhaps it will become clearer with the fog burning off from the heat and open air. It’s worth a try. Sometimes being closed off in a room somewhere reminds me of being closed off and stuck in my head. Creatively working around my troubles needs to be met with positioning myself in an environment that best suits my nature. But a closed room can have its place too. Diversity is key to trying to tackle one’s troubles with no information on how to do it. That is when safely experimenting with different ways of being could reveal a solution.

Today, I need to hear the words from my mother-self, “It’ll be okay”. It is faith once again that I need to be reminded of, but in the fog, it is easy to doubt where the way forward lies. Which responsibility, what requirement, whose agreement, and how many obligations do I fill and prioritise?

If I get too stuck in my head and heart, my body will do a sit out on the edge of the bed in protest of the inequality.

body

So much head and heart work is limiting the body work that needs to be attended to. I need to collaborate with my body to see what it is capable of and test its strength. It is the vessel in which I travel so it cannot be neglected if I want to keep moving forward. I know it. It is a thought——an awareness that has been hounding me. Maybe that will fill my wasting time.

So I joined a gym.

The 24/7 access suits my erratic, critical thinking and my full to the brim heart. The body workout is to keep up with the gymnastics going on in my head and chest. With no more productive hours end to end being spent doing tasks I took for granted – digging in the dirt for potatoes, rearranging furniture to find a new perspective, or diy to extend my refuge – instead I choose to go at it beside others who just want to shut the world out in sympathetic company. And so an hour of jogging and walking around a virtual coastline track in front of me on the treadmill screen, works for me.

It is a reminder that the context often comes first. My once scathing criticism of paying for something when one’s active lifestyle should meet their fitness needs, is now put aside because I have become a commuter, a capitalist trainee, a tertiary student, a working Mum, a distracted Wife, a gym junkie, and an ever-willing companion of other people’s troubling stories.

As I jog alongside another being, both of us pretending the other’s rhythm is not impacting on our own, I think about all the precious hours that I spend focusing on a stranger’s story and how best to support and collaborate with them to be the best kind of helper I desire to be. So I jog and think, jog and feel, jog and breath, jog and question, jog and listen, and wonder about my jogging companion’s story. My Helper motor is always idling.

But my anxieties always catch me up and sometimes I jog to run away and knowingly put no distance between me and my worries. I run but I don’t want to leave – that is the arrangement the treadmill and I have – it is that fight or flight response beautifully illustrated and practiced with no amount of running away or putting oneself closer to the source of anxiety.

When the troubles overflow once again and I hold my hands up to my face, weeping like a child, my hands reveal my age, my experience, and my knowing. Maybe my tears are as much about grief of time lost forever as it is worries — having to say goodbye to moments lost to unlearning, sadness, frustration, and doubt. But as I grieve, I also welcome the birth of the unexpected learning, peace, freedom, and self assurance.

…like today may yet become?!

Trying to find meaning in the dwindling of meaning.

In honour of Robin Williams and his passing, I am sharing this piece that I wrote 6 months ago, edited for today…

Depression whilst a trainee Creative Therapist – Trying to find meaning in the dwindling of meaning.

As I set out in January to start my clinical placement for the final year in my Masters, I was nervous, enthusiastic, building confidence, faithful, worried, but above all, passionate about what I was training to be – a Creative Therapist. The creativity of problem solving within the practice of creative therapy is what drives me. More and more and more and more, I see creative thinking as a reliable approach to managing one’s life, and creativity is an essential ingredient in so many of life’s pursuits, whether it is gardening or assisting a child with their homework. I need it like a reason for living. My children are the perfect example and product of having a creative pursuit – my ultimate creativity personified. They are their own beautiful, autonomous beings but they began as a creative pursuit – it was my desire to be a mother and experience parenthood that brought them here, responsibly, and share the joy of life with them. I am grateful to them and for them. And they are thriving!

But potential training with patients in a hospital ward was looming, weighing heavily in my head, heart and gut. Postponements ensued, and life became too complex to allow the contemplative time necessary for what was going to be required of me in my clinical placement. Low, dark feelings took me over and though I would rather not suffer them, they cast their hooks into the folds of my cortex, reigning in my intention to grow in a particular direction and instead forced me to question and doubt too much.

As the year progressed, problems arose, unexpected delays with my placement, red tape, a lengthy immunisation schedule, and no access card to wander independently around a secure hospital ward to feel integral. I had to endure remaining in a state of limbo, a trainee creative therapist with nothing yet to offer but linger in the corridors of an unfamiliar environment. The unlearning began, the lack of practicing all I had learnt and desired to experiment with, delaying the willingness to be beholden to the consenting signatures of groups of in-patients and individual out-patients put on hold, anxiety increased….and the days were passing. The year is passing and an unwanted state of being is threatening me!

My kids are getting sick because it is that time of year – their commitment to the first long term of school and my altered availability, is waning. Cancelations and repeat immunisations to enable me to safely participate in the ward are dragging on. Argh! Life goes on, complications continue but the sick kids and the well kids keep me grounded. They are my blanket but my barrier to training opportunities too. I need to be available and giving to so many. Friends and family want to talk so I listen, and I always try to listen well. My reputation may be growing as a wannabe therapist. But as I listen, I speak less. I tell less. I shut down to hold on. A sense of heaviness is lingering as I try keep it all together.

Since depression.….it…..began to rear its armoured head this crucial year – too impenetrable to deconstruct, no longer to be denied or ignored, mysterious – I have needed to continue with my research at my desk in the ward but only in Light Helvetica. Nothing else can carry me between the seconds* and through my studies with the promised lightness of being in the way that typeface can. But I was using it before I knew why. The meaning was hidden and when I realised why, I kept using it gratefully – it gave me hope that I unconsciously know what I need – there is a protective intuition that I rely on, like a mother-figure lost in the crowd but spotted at last and clung to whilst still wanting to explore and lead, up ahead, on behalf of all the fearful and doubting parts of myself.

My Jiminy cricket sits upon my shoulder and tut-tuts when I am being lazy, impatient, useless, resentful. My invisible jury of followers, with their closed-circuit cameras in every corner of my life, judge me about how I spend my time, on whatever I say, on whatever I think. They jolt me out of my nastiness and self-pity and remind me to behave myself or else there will be an indefinite sentence of self-criticism that will only be determined by me and my willingness to do good – to be a good listener, to hang in there, to care enough about others professionally to give them the time of day without risking my self. After all, I expect to get paid to do so one day.

As I merge with commuters on the treadmill, I resent that I have placed myself HERE but I fortify my soul with bravado by turning up the bass of a carefully selected song played loud, to feel it vibrate my chest through the driver’s seat – I have to feel it to believe it. As I approach every set of traffic lights, every intersection, I turn down the music to not bother other commuters with my boom, boom, boom. If they knew it was to keep me moving forward, would they be okay with it and commiserate or roll their eyes at my sapling-like lack of strength? I am at the wheel on a mountain range heading for the expansive city below and as I pass every turn off to a National Park, I want to be the lone artery heading away from the heart of the matter, to sit under a tree, a lone protest at the unsuitability of conformity and what I yet have to do to enable me to turn my qualified back on the veins leading to the pumping system that requires me to sit up straight, dress appropriately, smile invitingly in closed rooms, and support a sense of freedom and autonomy in secure wings.

But didn’t I want this? Yes, I do. But I so desperately want to be in my frayed shorts now, with my chin resting upon the knee of a bent leg, under dappled shade, listening intently to someone in need, comfortably, in my own costume and familiar environment. This is a training opportunity but it is also showing me what I am compelled to question. I also want to be with clients who want their hands in the dirt, who want the music up loud, who want to do creative therapy en plein air. I sometimes need more room than the unit can give me to express myself and guide others. I have self-expressions that require soil, large spaces, booming speakers, and canvases that run the length of a hall. So I will aim for that, for some day. New meaning has once again been discovered. Relief….breathe….

A tropical plant trying to thrive in a cold climate. As a child raised in the tropics in an isolated bush setting, is existing on southern suburban blocks for too long the root of my problem? My bush skills seem not transferable to suburban living but I lug bags of chook pellets on my shoulder and chop wood with a block splitter each winter to keep my family warm. It is the least I can do. The fact that I can run my hand along the corrugation of my friendly neighbour’s fence every time I park the car in the driveway is almost enough to make me shudder. On my 670 square metres of Earth, my chickens, orchard, vege garden, studio, rambling gardens, and small modest cottage, is sometimes not enough. I know every inch and I can extend its use no more. I tolerate the close proximity of my neighbours. I have my father’s wandering spirit but while he knows every inch of his 600 acres to caretake with a loving hand for generations to come – for my children – I envy the quiet contemplative time that must be his for the taking and nature’s ever-present model of timeless adaptation and expanse. I am realising what may be part of my struggle. It is an a-ha moment.

I want to run from the university rooms that remind me too much of the closed spaces of the unit where I am yet to be useful and the walls remind me of my limitations. I want a different breed of rooms to explore the alternative ways of being; a cave, a country hall, a rehab centre on a working farm. There, my identity may be in its rightful place, its natural environment. But I can only know this if I go through it. I am often surprised at how often I situate myself in a mismatched environment and only realise it in the midst of the confusion. But that is learning from experience, experimenting with a new way of being.

Patterns, ah, the joy and predictability and joy and predictability and joy and predictability of patterned artworks. I am finding that creating visual patterns, such as mandalas, doodling, repetitive symbols, to be a soothing way of calming the agitation, appearing to be busy, thoughtful, active while note-taking and as long as I am doing so, I am pursuing creative therapy, even while my mind is wanting to take a break from critical thinking and being present, to be mindful of the opportunities of the moment. So I doodle, and I doodle, and I doodle. Breathe…

 Doing trivial tasks well and making them last is suddenly appealing. If I am sometimes failing to be motivated and can’t see the joy in my training as a Creative Therapist, perhaps polishing the kitchen splash back or doodling to quell the questioning will be enough to keep me moving forward. I listen to Classic FM endlessly to enjoy instruments that have remained unchanged for centuries – exquisite musical pieces that have been appreciated for just as long. There is comfort in that. Whilst I flounder, classical music stays the same.

Ah, empathy.…for myself in these times. That talent I keep cultivating for others, to be the most authentic, non-judgemental, and warm vessel that I prefer to be. It is a gamble to be able to make a difference for another after all the training is done. But I know I can always respond to my own self care.

I am waiting with resolve, faithful that a new paradigm tailored just for me is going to reveal itself. One has to work towards clarity, not give up on it. As I sit on a rock and face a hard place, it is faith in my history and habits that keep me moving forward, dragging my feet, but inching forward. I am starting to rely on words, not quoted affirmations so much. Words I can say in a few syllables, own them, and place them where they are needed. Words like….critical thinking and problem-solving………invent, re-invent, and re-engineer………knowledge and innovation………perplexity and curiosity………develop and defend………transformative……….grit. These I borrow from what is recently shared out there. Then I add my own list of heavily recycled words such as determination, drive, passion, hard work, and resilience. They are effective enough but tired and age-worn — they seem less motivating than the first list associated with our contemporary, ever-changing world.

But when I care less (or do I care too much?) because of depression, I try to see it in the most useful light. It will surely benefit my clients to know myself so well. Some days I am having to cleave parts of myself that are not essential and then reattach them hurriedly on the days that count for presenting myself as the trainee Creative Therapist, representing it with integrity. I save caring more for the clinical placement where I try to put my best foot forward but vow to one day do it where I prefer, to be an authentic therapist when I am not restrained by the training environment. I will learn much this year and while meaning has been slipping, I determinedly try to replace it with something else. I am learning all the time while much may seem to be lacking. I look deeper and harder when the spirit permits it. If I have to sit on the edge of the bed often enough due to depression to be stubbornly unwilling to learn all the time, then that is ok. But I have not been willing to talk about it openly within my community. I didn’t want to risk that I may be seen as that depressed lady. I am not unsafe or sad to be around. I care so much. But as my depressive states are unpredictable, I have wanted to keep them to myself so I could determine how I want to come across, not be determined by others. Until now.

My writing has been an unexpected, creative compulsion to process the struggles that I now appreciate as part of a faithful pursuit in allowing for other unknown possibilities – more of a faith in my struggle through the unknown, than a fear.

My depressive phases are symptomatic of a loss of control but after I bear them, they usually herald a leap forward in my learning and I have to have faith in that. Depression is a sign that I either have no information on the present frightening situation or I find myself in a situation that I thought I had already figured out previously. Both feel potentially powerful enough to bargain with joy and contentment but have also revealed some vague awareness that I will often end up at a point where I know nothing or sometimes some things don’t change. Those unpredictable challenges threaten to lead me backwards, to a place of desired knowns and safety sitting on the edge of my bed. Moving forward risks living through fear of the unknown and consequential doubts take over. But I know this now. I have found meaning in the meanings that dwindled. So I do what I can, I do what I have to. I consider my Needs, my Wants, my Fears, and carry on, forgiving of my doubting and frightened self. With strategies in place, there is always sticking to driving in the slow lane, slowing my walking pace, selecting a car park furtherest from the unit, to allow the time I need to prepare, or inviting the kids to have breakfast for dinner. It’s fun for them and saves me.

*from Rectify by Ray McKinnon

A Good Root

The title of this blog, A Good Root, is a humourous attempt at changing the meaning of a known crude phrase into an analogy that represents nurturing strong principled foundations for pursuing a life of mindful, continuous growth. I desire and try to live a well-considered life of balanced needs and wants, creativity (thinking laterally and adapting willingly to desired or unwanted changes), critical thinking, resilience, gratitude, and care, all while keeping the fire in my belly stoked to energise my passions and power my loves.

I am foremost a mother. My experience of mothering my children informs the way I relate to others and my environment through nurturing as a practice. During years of searching for writings on the nature of mothering as an empowering experience, I came across the concept of Motherism. I have found the concept of Motherism (Acholonu, CO 1995, Motherism: The Afrocentric Alternative to Feminism, Afa Publications, Nigeria) has provided a theoretical representation of my mothering and the way I try to relate to others and my environments:

“The motherist leader is a servant in every sense of the word, not a ruler or a lord. The motherist does not dominate nature, the ecosystem, his fellow man; rather he observes, seeks to understand, and cooperates. A motherist is courageous, yet humble, powerful yet down to earth, fatherly yet a mother to the core; a motherist is a man or woman with a sense of history and continuity, ever poised to question the status quo, ever ready to promote reforms, ever ready to make personal sacrifices for the good of others like any mother would, for no matter his/her age or sex the motherist is essentially a mother”.

Motherism has become a key concept for me in creating a personal theoretical approach to living because it positions a person in a nurturing position of leadership and servitude with humility, compassion and respect regarding another’s needs. Why mothering, which appears to disregard fathering, when ‘parenting’ would be an inclusive concept. It may be because of the sacrificial requirements of gestation – carrying an unborn child as it develops is surrendering oneself to the needs of that child. Nurturing ultimately starts with this stage of ‘becoming’ under the care of the mother.

All the while, I recently realised that I will always be a student. I learn as I write and my ideas will inevitably evolve as I ponder new and old ones. While my curiosity persists, my learning continues. I am sharing my thoughts because of this unabounding curiosity. I am a mother and a wife who wonders much about what is most important when one wants to live and pursue a life that considers the well-being of oneself, one’s family, one’s community, and of one’s home – our Earth.

My critical thinking is often supported, motivated and calmed by the writings of others, and the following poem by Wendell Berry is a prime, brief example of such writing.

The Peace of Wild Things
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

The Peace of Wild Things implies searching for well-being, a sense of hope & secular faith, and finding comfort in the existing grace of natural order. The poem creatively covers what concerns and soothes me.

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