Counselling: A Holistic Perspective

Experiences in life can be tremendously injurious and painful yet no matter how deep the wounds, our Wholeness and Integrity cannot be damaged. Even if it seems so at times. At the very heart of my work lie the principles of holism and healing and I see my work as a therapist to be one of companion and wise counsel on the path of reconnecting with one’s Wholeness.

Defining Healing: Healing, in the broadest sense means to restore to health or soundness; to repair; to cure. The process of healing is easiest observed on a physical level, when a bone is broken or the skin is cut. As soon as the injury occurs, the innate healing ability of the body is set in motion and after the required time, some good medicine, rest and support the injury is healed and the body restored to health. The process of healing physically is not dissimilar to the process of healing emotionally, mentally and spiritually. However, while a broken bone is relatively easy to diagnose and the cause is usually quite clear, internal wounds of a non-physical nature are often not as easily determined and require the therapist to be skilful in inquiry and assessment and have much knowledge, expertise and experience to help the process of healing and growth.

Every person who arrives in therapy is a complete individual with a unique history and living within a distinct context. When we first meet, it is my task to step into the life the client is presenting to me, find my bearings and understand and then work, together with the client, on new possibilities. The qualities that guide my work are: respect, care and kindness, empathy and compassion, patience and genuine presence and engagement. At the same time there is a firm focus on change, a commitment to balance pausing and deepening with movement and action.

How long? How deep?: Just as a person might go to the doctor with a cut in the skin or a major, life-threatening illness, so might a person come to a counsellor or psychotherapist with a current life-issue that is fairly straight-forward to solve or with a long-standing, complex, deep distress that needs more time, deeper engagement and stronger guidance from the therapist. In the first couple of sessions the client and I decide together on the number and frequency of sessions which is based on the client’s needs, current situation and desired outcomes.

I have worked therapeutically with hundreds of people and I have come to see that there are a number of distinct components that need to be addressed in the process of healing.

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1. The pain of the current situation: mostly people come into counselling in much emotional pain-a separation, a loss, an illness, or an overall dissatisfaction or even despair with life. In therapy this pain is heard and seen, held with kindness, cared for and given as much time and space as it needs. Its origins can be given voice, its depth understood and its impact explored.

2.  The blockages to healing: if healing were straight forward there would be little need for professionals like me. Many things can get in the way of healing and usually people have little knowledge of these obstacles. Often there are unhelpful beliefs or out-dated values that get in the way. Life-experiences and trauma often shape how a person experiences their current situation and these need to be addressed. Childhood events often impact deeply but move into the background of knowing; these may need to be processed.  Current life-style choices, relationships or work situations may need to be re-evaluated. It is often the independent yet caring point of view that offers the client new perspectives.

 3.  The vision for a happier life: at times people who come to see me are surprised to be asked what a happier, more satisfactory life might look like for them. It never occurred to them to articulate a clear vision. Others are quite clear and have a strong sense of direction already; it is more the obstacles that need to be addressed. There are many layers to this, of course, and from a holistic perspective it means being happier in body, mind, heart and soul as well as feel a sense of integrity in relationships, health and life-style.

 4.  The path to get there: there are many ways to healing and there are many therapeutic approaches that are taught and practiced to support the healing process. The methods that guide my work are based in humanistic, existential and holistic principles. As a therapist I became aware some years ago of the growing use of meditation and mindfulness as a tool for healing in therapy. With more and more research available it became clear to me that mindfulness practices were not only complementary to my existing work as a therapist but could expand my ability to help clients with different presenting issues. I include strength-based approaches, work creatively and experientially and work very closely with my clients own personality, potential and preferences. I am a lecturer at university and teach counsellors and psychologists to become professionals and as such need to stay abreast of latest development in therapeutic research and practice. I am actively engaged in ongoing professional development; I read widely, have regular supervision and am committed to my own personal and spiritual development.

 5.  The way to sustain the good life: in addition to gaining insight and making new choices for one’s life the goal of therapy is to sustain and grow what has been gained. When the counselling relationship comes to an end, long-term plans are made, resources offered and support structures put in place. In addition, I have an ‘open-door policy’ which means that my clients are welcome to come back any time they need support and guidance.

You may have questions about counselling and psychotherapy, about how I work, whether I have experience working with the particular issue you are facing, fee structure and more. Contact me via email or mobile phone: 0419 980 923 to have an initial conversation and to make an appointment.

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Cultivating Spaciousness

Cultivating Spaciousness

I recently was fortunate enough to teach a mindfulness retreat in the outback desert country. A profound experience indeed to meditate in the stillness and expanse of this ancient land. It’s a place that invites the mind and heart to grow more spacious, open, less caught up in the minutiae of daily life.

“Let yourself be open and life will be easier. A spoon of salt in a glass of water makes the water undrinkable. A spoon of salt in a lake is almost unnoticed.”
~ Buddha

When we meditate one of the things we cultivate is the ability to experience spaciousness. Thoughts, usually perceived as a constant stream of mental events that accompany every waking moment begin to slow, become distinct and moments of stillness arise in the time when one thought ends and the next begins. You may have heard the analogy that in meditation, thoughts can be compared to clouds in a vast clear, blue sky. Sometimes these thoughts are like wild storm clouds, other times like big, puffy slow moving cumulus and other times like fast moving clouds that chase each other. There are many others of course. With practice, the thought clouds slow, calm, become fewer, less compelling and may even fall into the background altogether. We enter the spaciousness of the big blue sky. Ahhh.

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Another place of spaciousness is the breath, our faithful friend in meditation. Here is a quote that describes this very well:

Noticing that inside this very breath is the opportunity to find a spacious freedom. Often it seems so much life is contained inside a small space. There just isn’t that much space to move or breathe. Yet the fact is that this very breath can become a doorway to a spacious, vibrant and beautiful life! No matter what. Whether I am experiencing pain, or pleasure, the fact is that every moment I am breathing, is the very opportunity to open to the alive presence of life. Article Source: http://EzineArticles.com/5011659

I call this a sacred pause.

In the Survivorship Group a few nights ago we discussed this idea of a ‘sacred pause’ in everyday living. We talked about how easy it is to become reactive, how quick we often are to say or do something that is perhaps not the most skilful way to respond. It may look something like this:

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For example: you walk down the street, see a neighbour come toward you but rather than greet you she crosses the road and walks straight past. There are a number of ways that you might respond to this but one of them might be to get upset, angry and wonder what you might have said or done for her to want to avoid you. In the long run you might distance yourself from her or get into a fight over nothing. You might feel shame or guilt thinking that you have caused this to happen.

But there is a whole lot going on in the background of our being. Perhaps this is a way to represent this:

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The trigger/event is to be ignored by the neighbour. Perception is the part that knows the event. Perception is followed in a split second by interpretation. The interpretation then is the crucial part: how do we interpret the situation? All our values, beliefs, morals, experiences, education, personality traits, fears, hopes and so on come together in this split second and give us a ‘reading’ of the trigger/event. So, if you being ignored by the neighbour is interpreted as, for example: ‘I must have said or done something to offend her’, you will ‘read’ the event through this lens.

The interpretation determines the feelings, thoughts and bodily sensations that lead to the reaction. So, say if you are feeling angry and think that she is not worth having as a friend anyway, this will lead to distancing yourself.

If we want to work more consciously and mindfully with emotions and reactions it might be worth considering the following: What if we introduce a pause into this chain of events? Rather than just ‘running’ with emotions and reactivity we could pause and take a moment before reaction. This leads to stepping out of automatic pilot, habitual reactions and ever repeating cycles of unhappiness and offers new choices, a new freedom. A new way of responding to the situation maybe born. Perhaps, in the example above, there are other interpretations for the neighbours behaviour: maybe she didn’t wear her glasses and didn’t see you or maybe she was rushing off to hospital to visit a dying friend and was too preoccupied with her concerns to pay attention to you.

There are a number of moments one could pause, even after the ‘horse has bolted’, so to speak as it is in the reflection on reactivity, that we can learn much about ourselves. Following reaction ‘upstream’ can lead to profound insights and new choices next time round.

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There is another important aspect to consider. When feelings arise and our mind and body are in upheaval, we can cultivate compassion toward ourselves rather than adding more pain to an already difficult situation. We can lean in, meet our feelings with kindness, friendliness as best as possible.

When I researched the ‘sacred pause’ I came across a passage in ‘The Wise Heart’, a book by one of my most trusted teachers Jack Kornfield. He writes:

“Because experience happens so quickly, habitual responses can come out of our mouth or from our hands before we know it. It helps to practice skilful responses when things are easy. That way when things are tough, our pattern is already set. It also helps to train ourselves to pause before our response. This is called a sacred pause, a moment where we stop and release our identification with problems and reactions. In a moment of stopping, we break the spell between past result and automatic reaction. When we pause, we can notice the actual experience, the pain or pleasure, fear or excitement. In the stillness before our habits arise, we become free.

In this pause, we can examine our intention. If we have set a long-term intention or dedication for our life, we can remember our vows. Or we can simply check our motivation. Are we trying to get even or win at any cost? Or do we want to act out of respect for ourself and others to sow seeds of understanding and courage?

The power of intention is mostly visible in our speech, in conversation we get immediate feedback, and often the response we get will reflect our intention. Before we speak, we can examine our motivation. Is our motivation one of compassion and concern for everyone? Or do we want to be right? Clarifying our intention is critical in times of difficulty. When there is a difference or conflict, do we genuinely want to hear about the concerns of the other? Are we open to learn, to see?”

So, as Jack says in the above excerpt, this is about training, about cultivating. Meditation offers this training but ultimately it’s what happens off the cushion that matters most. I agree with Jack, practicing when things are easy makes a lot of sense.

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Reflections on the Mindfulness in the Outback Retreat

Our recent ‘Mindfulness in the Outback Retreat’ was a truly remarkable experience. I’d like to share with you some moments, some highlights

Morning Wake-Up Walk:  

The soft sound of the Zen bell had woken us early and as the land began to stir and as the sun started to rise a sleepy group of meditators set out for the daily morning walk. In silence, we let our bodies find a comfortable pace to wake and begin to feel energised for the day ahead. In the first few days of the retreat the ears and mind and maybe the whole being, so used to noise, busyness and demand, couldn’t quite believe the space and silence of the desert country. But slowly, as timelessness unfolded, there were more and more moments of settling into the rhythm of a life with few demands and room to just be.

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Aboriginal Rock Art:

on Day 5 of our Mindfulness Retreat we travelled to Mulgowan (Yapa) Aboriginal Art site in our trusted minibus. A carefully (and clearly lovingly) laid path allowed the 20 minute walk to the art site to be an easy and very enjoyable experience. To get to the Art site we needed to cross the dry creek bed of Mulgowan creek where huge red boulders lined our path. No wonder the local Aboriginal people are called the Stone Country People. After spending some time taking in the paintings we meditated in the shade of a gumtree, reflecting on the wonder of the ancient rock paintings that were painted by generations of local people as a way of passing on knowledge and sharing stories.

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Meditation:

During the Mindfulness in the Outback retreat there were many opportunities to practice mindfulness, formally and informally. Throughout the day we moved in and out of sitting and walking meditation, paying attention to ourselves and the community of people we were living within.Tired bodies could rest deeply in the care of support offered.The silence of the land and the vast space around us allowed the mind to become more spacious and somehow moved things into perspective. Each evening we finished our day with a sunset meditation, being still while the light changed moment to moment until night fell.

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Happy Belly:

We had the good fortune to have Karo cook her delicious vegan meals for us throughout the retreat. Each day she offered new delights to a group of hungry meditators. It felt really good to eat wholesome, vegan, organic food prepared with love and care throughout the week. My favourite? Probably the freshly baked bread, still warm, with some homemade jam.

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Campfire:

Most nights we lit the camp fire and for some hours sat, talked, laughed and finally fell silent. The evenings were beautiful and warm; billions of stars couldn’t quite compete with the ever filling moon for brightness but did their best not to be outshone. A couple of nights we had visitors, people from the National Parks Service who came to tell us some of the local yarns. Joe gave us an account of the history of European settlement while Steve shared with us his knowledge of aboriginal life in the area. It was interesting to hear that Mount Gundabooka is as sacred to the local aboriginal people as Uluru is to the Anangu people of Central Australia. As Gundabooka is a fairly new park new discoveries of rock paintings, water holes and wildlife are being made regularly.

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Every Moment a New Beginning

Reflecting on some recent personal difficulties I wrote a short piece this morning on: ‘Every Moment a New Beginning’ on my new Well for Life Facebook page. This is what I wrote:

Breath Practice in Meditation allows us to cultivate things that are so relevant for a good life. Breath practice focusses concentration, allows us to become still rather than reactive, soothes (or activates)the Nervous System and shows us that every moment is a new beginning, every moment is an opportunity to come back, steady oneself, reconnect, make new choices. ulties arose in my life, I found myself down the path of thinking, thinking, thinking and intense difficult emotions all the while making things worse, both within and without. Slowly I remembered….to pause, to breathe, to soften and ‘that every moment is a new beginning’ At times it’s a bit like turning the Titanic but ahh, how glad to have another place to stand with difficulties.A while ago when unexpected difficulties arose in my life, I found myself down the path of thinking, thinking, thinking and intense difficult emotions all the while making things worse, both within and without. Slowly I remembered….to pause, to breathe, to soften and ‘that every moment is a new beginning’ At times it’s a bit like turning the Titanic but ahh, how glad to have another place to stand with difficulties.

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As I thought about this more it occurred to me how profound this really is. In meditation, as anyone who has ever attempted meditation knows only too well, thoughts keep pushing their way into awareness, we get caught up in endless thoughtstreams, time and time again. Cultivating a meditation practice is cultivating the ability to bring attention back to a point of focus, most often the breath. A thousand times and a thousand times more we need to guide our attention back. This can be done with force, anger, frustration or it can be done with kindness and patient commitment to our practice. With time, the mind settles, thoughts are not as enticing and inner peace has room to grow.This poem illustrates the process beautifully:

My mind is a dog           Annie Bisset 

My mind is a dog

romping around the bedroom as I awaken,

pulling at the covers,

anxious to leave the morning,

sniffing for traces of creatures

who roam backyards at night.

My mind is a dog

straining against the leash,

wanting always more –

always more walks, more toys,

more food, wanting always

a wider territory

on which to leave her mark.

My mind is a dog

who will not let go of that stick,

who growls and postures as if her very life depends

on keeping that piece of wood

between her teeth, forgotten already

the sweetness of the chase.

My mind is this dog

craving to rest at last,

dropping down to her special place

at her master’s feet

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What a great practicing ground for working with difficulties in life. When getting swept up in a difficulty within ourselves or with another person we can remember to pause, take time to connect with our breath to steady our focus and soften into some compassion for ourselves. New possibilities for a more pleasant, peaceful and self-supporting way of being might become available. The more we practice, on and off the meditation cushion, the more we may reach for this possibility.