Psychosynthesis Essentials course – Reflections on day one

It’s been hard deciding what to write about today, because I’m at the start of a process I don’t yet fully understand and I’m not sure even as I write this that I really want to share my feelings about it. And yet, as my feelings about it are all I can currently focus on I find in actual fact I have no choice. So, for better or worse, here goes…

Today was the first day of a four day intensive course I’m taking in Psychosynthesis, which is a type of transpersonal psychology that’s focused very much on the concept of the whole “Self” as a product of its past, its present and its future potential. As this was day one I won’t even attempt to explain the principles behind it further. What I will do, however, is touch upon how it’s made me feel.

As I’m taking this course through work (the founder of  the Psychosynthesis Trust is also the CEO of my charity, Teens and Toddlers) and others have come to it for more personal and profound  reasons I initially felt a bit of a fraud. But after the initial sessions I realised just how much I could benefit personally from the experience.

At the end of each day we have the opportunity to observe our fellow students having a counselling session with a psychotherapist and we, in turn, each have the opportunity to have a session ourselves. My session is tomorrow – I chose not to do it today because I was nervous about going first, and because I wanted to learn more about Psychosynthesis before I did it.

But I found I learned such a lot just by observing the two sessions this evening. The therapists were so skilled at navigating their way through the maze of the clients’ minds and feelings, all the while making them feel respected and understood. They knew when to tread further down a path and when to step back. They didn’t lead the clients into discussing anything they weren’t comfortable with, and yet the clients still revealed so much-and were often themselves surprised by their own revelations.

I’m not sure I want to say much more than that this evening. It’s been such a long day and I’d just like to process what I’ve learned, seen and experienced. Suffice to say it’s been a tremendously rewarding and enriching day, and I’m looking forward to seeing what tomorrow brings.

The perennial debate of “they’re”, “there” and “their”

As a precocious child at primary school I had labelled myself as ‘one to watch’ in the literary world by the approximate age of seven. During weekly writing classes I refused point blank to write anything other than my ‘never ending story’ – a down-the-rabbit-hole (well, mole-hole, actually, but I digress) type tale not that dissimilar to Alice in Wonderland, though I would have driven a stake through my own heart before admitting plagiarism.

In the years since then I’ve had a love affair with the many nuances of the English language and have greatly enjoyed grappling with grammar, spelling and punctuation. Which is why I sit firmly in the ‘anti-dumbing down’ camp when it comes to modern day language usage.

So you can imagine how horrified I was to read what Simon Horobin (a professor of English at Magdalen College, for goodness’ sake!) said at this week’s Hay Festival. According to Adi Bloom, who wrote this article for the Times Education Supplement Magazine, Horobin – author of a book entitled ‘Does Spelling Matter?’ (YES!!) –  suggested that the spellings of “they’re”, “there” and “their” could be standardised. “Is the apostrophe so crucial to the preservation of our society?” he asked, before concluding that “spelling is not a reliable indication of intelligence.”

On that last point I must agree with Mister Horobin – poor spelling is not necessarily a sign of low intelligence, but (and let’s exclude dyslexics from this argument for obvious reasons) it is a sign of sloppiness. In the majority of cases people have been taught how to correctly use grammar but don’t view it as important enough to master. Now I’m not archaic enough to hold the view that in this brave new digital age all language must be set in stone. But, in my humble opinion being able to demonstrate a basic grasp of when it’s appropriate to use ‘your’ versus ‘you’re’ is hardly an insurmountable challenge.

That’s why I for one am glad that the education secretary – for all his faults – has developed a new English curriculum that sets strict rules for learning correct grammar in primary school. Because if they don’t know they’re arses from there elbows then their just not going to get very far in life – and if Simon Horobin doesn’t realise that, he must be even closer to Alice in Wonderland than my never ending story.

Forever young

I’ve never been a fan of beauty features, especially those interminable ones that harp on endlessly about the latest ‘miracle’ cream which most of us would have to sell a kidney to stand even a chance of affording. These days even girls in their early twenties are slathering on anti-wrinkle serum every night in the hope they will forever retain their youthful complexions. Whatever happened to growing old gracefully?

Lord knows I’ve done enough damage to my skin over the years through sunbathing and smoking alone. Fortunately I’ve now firmly knocked the smoking on the head, but I’m still partial to the odd high factor cream-less lay about on the Common, despite the regular health warnings we’re now subjected to (have the people making the announcements actually looked out of the window lately? It would be a miracle if the sun’s rays were able to penetrate the thick canopy of cloud that’s hung over us for the past few months).

But whilst many of my peers won’t use anything but the best on their skin to try and redress the balance of years of excess, I’ve always balked at spending over £15 on any single beauty product (with the sole exception of Boots No.7 Protect and Perfect serum, which is scientifically PROVEN to work, don’t you know). My mum, who’s in her sixties, still looks fantastic for her age and claims never to have used anything but soap and water, Oil of Ulay (as it was ‘back in the day’ – sorry Mum!) and E45 on her skin. So I’m praying to the God of Genes to keep me in good nick without a monthly shipment of Crème de la Mer.

What I have begun to fall victim to now I’m advancing further into my thirties is the latest tranche of fad food supplements. Only last week a packet of Spirulina powder plopped onto my desk (soon to be followed by a packet of Wheatgrass powder). Promising to “combat various forms of malnutrition, boost the immune system, protect against cancer, support detoxification, increase overall energy level, fight infections, counter obesity and relieve stress,” this is one SERIOUS super food.

The downside (because of course there is always a downside with these things) is that it tastes AWFUL. This morning when I mixed up my first dose with some apple juice and banana it smelt so bad I could hardly bear to raise it to my lips and take a sip. But I persevered, because if it does even half of the things it claims to do I might very well live forever – which will likely cost a fortune in skin cream, even if it is the £15-a-pop kind…

Insomnia

Sleep deprivation should be classified as an illness – and a serious one at that. Admittedly it affects different people in different ways, but few could claim not to find their mental capacity somewhat lacking after a bad night’s sleep.

I’ve always admired my mother tremendously for how well she copes with chronic insomnia. She’s suffered from it ever since I can remember, and has tried every suggested remedy under the sun to tackle it, with little effect. For some time she resorted to prescription sleeping pills but stopped taking them – much to her credit – because she hated feeling like a zombie. Now her sleep patterns are left to chance, and whilst some nights are better than others she still regularly wakes after a few hours and is unable to drift off again before dawn breaks.

Speaking as someone for whom sleep has always been a source of great comfort, I find the very concept of chronic insomnia unbearable. On those few nights where I have lain awake in the dark alone with my thoughts, I’ve felt a rising sense of anxiety that this, the one vestige of escape from the prison of my own hyperactive brain, was being threatened.

Because of course it’s not just the body that sleep helps to repair. It also helps restore the mind. At highly stressful times such as exams and relationship break ups, sleep is the only thing that takes us away from our stressors for a few short hours, allowing us to drift away and dream of other things. Without it, we are trapped in wakefulness, unable to switch off from daily life.

So it is much to people with insomnia’s credit that they’re able to function near-normally despite not having the respite that – the odd restless night aside – the rest of us take for granted. Truly I take my hat off to them, because if I even get an hour’s less sleep than ‘normal’ (which, for me as for most others is between seven and eight hours) I am noticeably (hopefully only to myself, but I’m sure it rubs off onto others on occasion) irritable, anxious and struggle to cope with even the most simple of tasks.

“To sleep perchance to dream” – wasn’t that what Hamlet said? And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to do exactly that.

This pic was taken on my 2011 travels, and captures a moment when me and my friend Alistair had partied so hard we conked out on the beach. Ah, happy memories..

Writer’s block

The blank page sits and waits. It does not judge as the writer hesitates, procrastinates and makes another cup of coffee. It is bemused, however, by the writer’s seeming inability to do the one thing they proclaim to love. What, it wonders, is so hard about putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard? The ideas are there, after all. The font of inspiration never runs dry, not really. The very notion is a construct of the human mind, so small in its thinking, so closed. In reality inspiration is a boundless well, but writers in particular are so shackled in their own self-doubt they fail to see the truth: That it is quite within the realms of possibility for them to lower the bucket whenever they choose.

Perhaps, the blank page muses, the writer is like a fountain pen, the ink being inspiration and the nib the point at which the creativity unfolds. When the fountain pen is first used it must be shaken to activate the ink. Only then can the ink trickle down to the nib where the two can connect and create words. Yes, thinks the blank page with a degree of smugness. That must be it. The writer is like a fountain pen that needs shaking. If only I could be the one to shake them. But alas, I am but a blank page, a canvas for the elusive words the writer struggles so much to produce.

The writer paces, sipping coffee and muttering indecipherable words. From time to time they stop and stand, quite still, in the middle of the room, like a cat that has been startled by an aggressor. They stare intently at a spot far in the distance, their eyes backlit by a fire of recognition that is stirring deep within the chasm of their mind. Then quite as suddenly their gaze softens, they lose focus, and they continue pacing, back and forth, this way and that.

The blank page sighs to itself. Watching the writer tie themselves up in knots is frustrating. It listens to the clock ticking and the twittering of birds outside the window. Still it waits, and still the writer does not write. More coffee, a telephone call, a conversation with the next door neighbour about shrubs; the blank page starts to think it will always be like this, an empty canvas, a possibility of greatness but no more. It feels sad.

But just as the blank page is about to give up hope, the writer strides purposefully back into the room and sits down at the desk. They roll up their sleeves, pick up their fountain pen, and begin to write. Or at least they attempt to write, but find that in this latest absence from writing the fountain pen has dried up. They shake the fountain pen and eventually the ink begins to flow. And as the words begin to wrap themselves around the blank page it thinks to itself, you see? The well of inspiration has been here all along. Now lower your bucket and drink.

Growing old disgracefully

As predicted yesterday’s wedding was magnificent in every way. The weather gods were smiling and there was barely a cloud in the sky. The church was beautiful, the reception venue stunning. But nothing and nobody was as radiant as the bride herself – just as it should be.

As the sun beat down the champagne flowed, followed by wine with the wedding breakfast, and by the time 10pm rolled around it was unanimously declared to be jagerbomb time, though everybody had drunk more than enough. There was dancing and much merriment…and then there was today.

Waking up at half past six in the dress you wore to the wedding with the bedroom lit up like the Blackpool illuminations is rather disconcerting. What’s more disconcerting still is having no memory of getting back to your accommodation. And what’s even more disconcerting than that is the grim realisation you have an unavoidable three hour drive ahead of you.

After downing some water and eating a hearty fry up I hit the road, convinced once I got going I’d feel better. Not so. Shortly after leaving the bed and breakfast, in fact, I was forced to pull over and eject the aforementioned fry up on the side of a country lane – watched by a herd of unimpressed cows. Clambering back into the car and convinced that now I’d feel much better, I continued on my way.

After almost an hour of driving around narrow country roads I entered a village and my heart sank – it was the same village I’d driven through forty minutes earlier. I had, in fact, been driving around in a circle. As this realisation sank in my body decided to eject another bit of fry up for good measure. This was rapidly descending into the journey from hell. Not only was I overwhelmed with insatiable nausea, I was also now stuck in the countryside, in my very own version of Groundhog Day.

Of course there was no mobile phone reception, so when I saw the first car in what felt like hours I flagged it down and asked for directions. As I spoke the man inside regarded me with a bemused smile – it was only afterwards when I looked in the mirror I realised my hair was sticking out at right angles to my head and I had sick on my top.

Fortunately I did eventually make it out of the maze that is the Shropshire countryside, and four and a half hours later I arrived, dishevelled and grumpy, at my parents’ house, where mother saw fit to point out that I’m far too old to behave like this. And I realised I’d left my shoes in Shropshire.

Let wedding season commence

Today is my good friend and ex-colleague’s wedding in Shropshire, and as I shall shortly be embarking on the three hour journey with no wiggle room on timing this post will be brief. 

Whether it’s the occasion, the dresses, the speeches or the food, weddings have something for everyone. Even the most unromantic of souls can derive pleasure from a disco and a free bar. Weddings are also a great excuse for an overnight getaway, and a chance to let our hair down with a different crowd – scoffing cheese and nattering to Great Auntie Gladys before hitting the dance floor with Uncle Bert; what’s not to love?

But for those of us with a little more heart, being invited to watch our nearest and dearest exchanging vows is both a privilege and an honour. I never fail to have a tear in my eye at that moment when the deal is sealed and the bride and groom look at one another, dewy eyed and ecstatic, knowing from this point on they’ll be taking on the world together – as a team. I for one can’t think of anything more romantic than that.

So I’ve packed my dancing shoes and the little cream number from the Calvin Klein sample sale in New York that I’ve been dying to wear, and I am ready to P-A-R-T-Y. Like it’s 25th May 2013 – which, of course, it is. I’ll get my coat.

I captured this moment whilst walking around Central Park in New York on my visit in April.