mountain-landscape 27 Apr 2018

BY: Caroline Cairns Clery

Therapy

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Mountains, Mole Hills and Common Sense

To an ant a molehill may be large, but common (ant!) sense will tell it that, for an ant, nothing need be too tall and it will soldier on regardless.

Common sense for us human beings derives from the collective, so-called folk wisdom of our forebears, integrated within our everyday experience. So, from what kind of clothes to wear in winter (warm!) to useful aphorisms worth considering in certain common situations, like ‘A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush’, or again, ‘Pride comes before a fall’, there are hundreds of examples. And actually, of course, although it is a living, changing thing, our language itself has been bequeathed to us by the dead.

I am not talking as if I were some fervent, sub-Conan Doyle-type spiritualist about our actually dead loved ones and relatives speaking with and to us. Or am I?  Who knows?  Some people claim to see, hear and feel the dead both in their waking lives and in their dreams. Some of these get admitted onto acute psychiatric wards against their will under a section of the mental health act. But who is to say with any certainty that at least some of them do not have conversations with people now gone?

Collectively speaking, i.e., for most of us, death is a like vast mountain rock face up which we cannot climb and over which we cannot see. If, that is, we are facing forwards into the future. But churches, mosques, temples and shrines all attest to the wisdom of trying to mine at least some of what was learned in the past, even though between ourselves and our dead loved ones is another vast mountain of absolute silence over and beyond which only memory and imagination can try to reach.

For the dead and the not-yet born those mountains do not exist. They are not even mole hills.

But in this ever-changing, present world ‘valley’ of blood and bones and breath between the twin insurmountable cliffs of our, as yet, unconceived descendants and our already long dead ancestors (and theirs and theirs and so on), we experience the ever-changing light of the present. Within its beams we can make mole hills. We can make mountains. We can make prairies, savannahs, and deserts. We can make ice caps melt and whole cities disappear in explosions. We can do almost anything. And we do.

So, in the present of our own lives it can help to remember when we are frightened of our own feelings, for example, that we may be catastrophising. Or when we are feeling on top of the world, that pride comes before a fall. Or when we are putting off something we need to do, that a stitch in time saves nine. Or when we are depressed and it feels like a mountain, that we need comfort. Or when we are not sure about something that we need to confer with someone else in our ‘world of other people’ to ascertain whether it’s a mountain or a molehill.

It’s common sense really, a gift from the dead.

Blog written by Caroline Cairns Clery, Family Psychotherapist at The Surrey Centre

 

Camouflage face image 21 Apr 2018

BY: Caroline Cairns Clery

Anxiety / Treatment

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Camouflage

A lit candle in daylight. A moggy in a dappled wood. An iguana coloured in perfect harmony with its jungled surroundings. A face in a crowded sea of faces.

It is wonderful thing to be able to be and yet not to be perceived or singled out.

There is a fit between us all which allows us to merge into a safe anonymity, a collective identity behind which our individual differences and eccentricities can be quietly hidden. We can be members of different kinds of associations or classes, from football supporters to baby showers, politics, or an interest in the weather; happily allowing our uniqueness to shine through only to a few trusted others and only when we want it to. Close friends, partners and children may ‘really’ know us a little bit more, or think they do, but in the end, do we even ‘really’ know ourselves?

Living in a world of other people, as we do, and also being shaped by it, as we are, as we make our way through a process of developmental change called life, it is sometimes hard, if not impossible, if we are honest, to know who and what our ‘true’ selves are without at some point running up against a brick wall of counter-truths which somehow give the lie to them.

So, we do what we can to fit in with what we hope and think best expresses what matters most to us. We can, if we are lucky, find it easy to shift from the domain of the personal to that of the group. Unless we are too rigid and inflexible either for reasons over which it is our fate to have little or no control like autism, cerebral damage, or intellectual disability, or an over-attachment to a collective ideological belief provided and shored up by institutional ‘isms’ such as politics or religions, and over which we can have some control.

But if we are anxious in social settings and lack confidence in relation to ‘the world of other people’ it is understandable that we want to conform to, (or equally conform by rebelling against), societal expectations about how we should behave. From how we dress to how we speak and the activities we participate in, there is a fitting in, a camouflaging, of our individuality that we feel we need to protect by so doing. But adopting and adapting camouflage to protect our private, deeper sense of self does not mean that this public face, or persona, is inauthentic. Unless, that is, we lose touch with or disconnect awareness from our underlying sense of our whole individual personality, private, naked, camouflaged, public, known and unknown. Under those circumstances we might find ourselves doing something harmful to ourselves, perhaps developing an eating disorder or an obsessive compulsion or even putting ourselves at risk of going mad.

So, don’t worry if your public persona does not completely or ‘truly’ reflect or express your inner sense of who you are, or even that it seems to morph and shift depending on whom you are with. We all need a persona with which to interact with the external ‘world of other people’. You don’t become an inauthentic liar having one and using it even though it does indeed shift and morph.

That lit candle in sunlight is still a wick dipped in wax with a flame on top!

Blog written by Caroline Cairns Clery, Family Psychotherapist at The Surrey Centre

 

Bad News image for blog post 13 Apr 2018

BY: Caroline Cairns Clery

Therapy

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Bad news

Sometimes on this planet bad news comes from within. Within the body from a headache or a cut finger at one end of the scale to a cancer diagnosis or a stroke at the other. And within the mind, from a nightmare at one end to on-going symptoms of major mental illness at the other. Bad news from within is different from bad news in the outside world in that it is relatively inescapable so whether we want it or not we somehow have to deal with it. We can try to put it in perspective, or deny it, or embrace it, or treat it, but there it is. Inside us.

A long time ago I used to be a social worker. Sometimes I had to try to help little motherless refugee children. I could not tell them they would never see their mum again, although it was likely. All I could do was hope that my intervention might make a tiny difference to their experience of the world as now utterly malign.

Last night I had two separate dreams of each of my now dead parents. Quite something given my advanced age! Or maybe not. Neither dream was very nice. In one my dying mother, whose head I was trying to support on my shoulder as she lay in her hospital bed, jerked herself away from me crying out, ‘Vile, vile!’. In the second dream, set on Glastonbury Tor which played a big part in a long epic poem I wrote a few years ago*, my wilful, demented father was wandering off, being a law unto himself. Both dreams, subjectively anyhow, were ‘bad’ and both involved ‘negative’ images and negative feelings and reactions on my part when I woke up.

This is what they also left me with:

That ‘bad news’ from within when set alongside the ‘good’ reminds us that we live in a world that is always turning, presenting ever-changing contrasts, that the one consistent element is actually ourselves experiencing these external and internal days and nights of our lives.

That we cling onto life and love (if we can) because we are genetically and emotionally programmed, as it were, to do so. (I am not talking about intelligent design. I don’t do God).

That given how many of us there are, this ‘programme’ is evidence of how important each drop in the ocean of humanity is.

That being time-limited, we do get released from the human experience, but while we are alive, our job is to feel the bad news and notice not just that it affects us but also how it does so and even to try to consider why. And not just the bad news. Also the wind in the trees, a painting on the wall, a wonderful dream, a cloudless morning, a starry night, a loved one’s uniqueness, everything!

Doing so helps us to move on through the course of our lives; to allow ourselves to let our parents and children, alive or dead, be themselves; to recognise, unless we have been irredeemably damaged by the bad news we have been subjected to, that most of us are nice. And to try to care for those who for very good ‘bad’ reasons, like events over which they/we could not and cannot control, are not able to be.

Blog written by Caroline Cairns Clery, Family Psychotherapist at The Surrey Centre

*’Searching for a Home’ in ‘Engenderings’ by C Clery, Chipmunka 2013

 

sign-direction-future-past 06 Apr 2018

BY: Caroline Cairns Clery

Therapy

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Ancestral and descendant voices

It’s a truism attributed to Santayana that the only thing we learn from history is that we are condemned to repeat it, i.e., nothing. How many times have I left a pot to boil over? Countless, believe me, but still I do it!

Insight doesn’t stop me. I know perfectly well I should turn the heat down just before boiling point is reached but still, half the time I forget to do so until it’s too late and the contents spill over.

So, it is clearly not about a ‘lesson learned’ that leads me to repeat my mistake. It is not about education. Or at least only in part.

What would my great, great grandmother have said about this? Or her great, great grandmother? Or grandfather? Perhaps they would have laughed. Or become impatient with me. Or would they rather have said as long as I don’t do harm and attend to what matters, (which is both different yet the same for everybody), all will be well? And what would my great, great grandchildren’s great, great grandchildren think, for example, of how little I did for the environment by cooking with gas?

Who knows? Who knows what those who are yet to come and those who have already left through the birth and death gates would say to me? Who knows what they say to us about the things we do?

Well, we do, we all do, if only we would listen to our blood and bones! But to do that we have to be able to hear. And to hear the voices of our ancestors and descendants it is necessary to be quiet. To switch on our inner ear. To open our inner eye. To taste our inner food, touch and be touched by our inner feelings and to pick up the scent of our unique personal meaning. Each one of us….

After writing that I fell back to sleep (I always write early in the morning and today was a Sunday) and into a dream.

I dreamt I was wandering around lost and confused, trying to be independent, not unhappy, but needing help. Everything was and was not familiar. I won’t go into detail, but it left me with this thought:

If in the mysterious and wonderful eternal present of our sleep, dreams are actually ancestral voices and visions, i.e., the voices and visions of the dead, merging their experiences and imaginations with our own and with those of those yet to come when we ourselves will be dead, then it is clear that they were telling me that, like me, they too got and will get lost and confused; that that is often how it is here on Planet Earth, part of the human condition, that therefore we must actively collaborate and cooperate with one another all the time, help each other, every single one of us.

Urgently, all of us, about everything!

Blog written by Caroline Cairns Clery, Family Psychotherapist at The Surrey Centre

For more information on Carrie, visit: TheSurreyCentre/Counsellors