Last updated on 11th January 2009
This is a continuation of yesterday's blog about regular check-ins/life planning with my great friend Larry. And now it's Sunday morning around 7.00am. Yesterday we went out to the 'hut' at Carbeth knowing that there was a good chance that the owner, Gerry, might in fact be using it himself. There had been some confusion over whether Larry had use of the hut this weekend or not. He'd been unable to reach Gerry by phone to confirm either way. We decided to head out there anyway, using the journey to begin checking in with each other. We walked and talked on our way to the bus, chatted on the journey, and talked more as we walked through the Carbeth woods. When we arrived, there was a car parked outside the hut. We didn't want to disturb Gerry or get caught up in other conversations, so we simply turned round and started heading back. It was fine, the bus journey, walk, and time waiting for the return bus in a little pub, were all a good opportunity to do a first scan over how our lives have been going and the emerging directions and priorities. We took turns to talk about different areas - family, friends (including how our own friendship has been going), self-care (exercise, food, meditation, sleep, etc), and work. By the time we'd finished this first pass over the countryside of our lives, we'd got back to Larry's flat in Glasgow and had eaten a meal together. Now there was time to sleep on things and let the review process cook and deepen.
This first overview of how our lives have been going, felt rational, organized, sensible, but a little cool, a little low-key, black and white. I typically find it really helpful to balance, interfuse, this rational, Apollonian problem-solving approach with something a bit more emotional, unexpected, Dionysian as well. Reason and emotion for me often seem to support and strengthen and enrich each other. So starting from scratch with a client - and I've done this myself several times too - I would typically look first at values. I think that it's hard to make good decisions about how to balance your life without knowing the values on which you want to base your decisions. The ‘Respected Figures' exercise is often a helpful way to approach this. I might then go on to application of these values with exercises like ‘Role Areas', the ‘80th Birthday Party' and ‘Goals for Roles'. This is all quite 'Apollonian', rational, cool, sensible - drawing and studying the map of one's life. Stephen Covey's work is a helpful example of this approach (see below). And it's often good to balance the 'reasonable', colour it in, energise it with more emotion. The 'Experiencing Scale' highlights the value of this deeper way of working. And there are many ways of digging down into the ground of inner feeling.
Larry and I use both these approaches - organized, thoughtful overviews with specific, practical intentions (see 'Skilful Goal Setting') - and also, more emotion or body focused exploration. We worked a good deal this weekend on issues thrown up by our own friendship using the simple question "How do I feel about the space between us?" It's a lovely, challenging question. Irvin Yalom talks about using it regularly in his fine book "The Gift of Therapy". See below for links to his work. We also worked this weekend with Focusing, a 'juicy' way into feelings developed by Eugene Gendlin, an author of the Experiencing Scale. See the link to the Focusing Institute below. See too Marion Hendricks' review of more than 80 research articles on Focusing and Experiencing (Hendricks, 2001). Other ways that we often use to balance the more 'rational' overview and planning are Authentic Movement, meditation, and forms of writing - both digging into difficult, painful areas (see Jamie Pennebaker's website below), and also exploring 'best possible futures' (King 2001).
So Sunday morning was spent walking, talking, having coffee, talking more. Precious. Friendship. Steering our lives. We only have so much power to affect how things go. 'Fate' quite often surprises us. We can, however, do our best with the freedom and choices we have. Two stories: A religious Arab went to visit Mohammed. With impressive casualness he simply left his camel loose as he went in to see the Prophet. When Mohammed asked him whether he'd tied up his camel before coming in to see him, the devoted man said rather proudly "Allah will look after my camel". To this, Mohammed is said to have replied "First tie up your camel. Then God will look after it". Or, on the same theme - Another religious man was desperate to win the lottery. He prayed and prayed to God to help him. Eventually an exasperated voice crashed out of the heavens "Meet me half way on this. At least buy a lottery ticket". This planning and organizing Larry and I do is buying the lottery ticket, tying up the camel - so often what we plan for works out well. And even if we're surprised, that too can be something we then choose to work with - the grit in they oyster maybe that forms the pearl.
Covey, S. (1999). "7 habits of highly effective people". Rev. Ed. Simon & Schuster. [AbeBooks] [Amazon UK]
Hendricks, M. (2001). Focusing-Oriented/Experiential Psychotherapy. Humanistic Psychotherapy: Handbook of Research and Practice. D. Cain & J. Seeman (eds), American Psychological Association. [Free Full Text]
King, L. A. (2001). "The health benefits of writing about life goals". Pers Soc Psychol Bull 27(7): 798-807. [Abstract/Full Text]
Pennebaker, J. Website. http://homepage.psy.utexas.edu/HomePage/Faculty/Pennebaker/Home2000/JWPhome.htm Accessed on 13 July 2008.
The Focusing Institute. http://www.focusing.org/index.html Accessed on 10 July 2008.
Yalom, I. The Gift of Therapy. London: Piatkus, 2003 (New edition). [AbeBooks] [Amazon, UK]
Yalom, I. Website. http://www.yalom.com/index.html Accessed on 12 July 2008.