Suzanne: the beauty of life

image by Suzanne

Upasana: Have you been through a time in your life that you have thought of consulting a psychologist or counsellor and decided against it?

Suzanne: I have had a couple of times in my life when I have thought about consulting a psychologist. My first serious episode of depression was possibly post natal depression…. I thought about seeing someone then, but I was a bit over crying all the time and decided it was easier not to make that step. I was put on medication by my GP, which really helped get me back into balance. After a couple of years I was felt strong enough and weaned myself off them.

My other time was going through breast cancer treatment, surgery, intensive chemo and radiation. It was a pretty emotional time, and hormonal…

I was often in tears at chemo; scared. I was referred to the psychologist at the hospital who specialised in cancer patients. I even got a mental health plan done by my GP.

I was put onto medication to help with hot flushes, which had the added benefit of stabilising moods. I didn’t end up going to the psych.

Upasana: What were your reasons at the time for not taking that option?

Suzanne: I think it was about not wanting to expose myself. I felt better when I was on the medication, felt back in control, and out of the dark pit. So I didn’t want to go back into those dark places once I was out.

Upasana: What ways have you developed to help you through challenging times?

Suzanne: My family, talking with friends, exercise, meditation…. I used a lot of guided meditation apps during my cancer trip… they really helped.

Walking through the beautiful parks where I live, and getting a wonderfully cheeky dog in my life have all helped.

I have also continued to work on developing my exercise program, including yoga and pilates.

Upasana: Do you think that as a culture, Australians lean too heavily on counselling for support instead of developing other resources?

Suzanne: I don’t think so. I think that talk therapy, whether with a friend or a counsellor can be really helpful, and I suspect that counsellors have the ability to help guide people struggling with challenges in their lives to find other resources which may help.

Upasana: Can you tell me a little about these photos you have shared here? What do they mean to you?

Image by Suzanne

Suzanne: I think the pics best represent celebrating the beauty of life every day I am here to do it…. enjoying every breath…. the park where I walk most days, and enjoying the sparkle and bubbles…

My Beautiful White Couch. Excerpt of an interview with Gabrielle Roth by Tami Simon.

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Gabrielle Roth:” I felt like I had a self to fall back on, which was very important, that I had been feeding and nourishing and developing for 50 years of practice, and that I had practice that helped me. Even though I wasn’t able to dance, life is a dance, and I still was able to see through the perspective of the 5Rhythms and to feel and to be in my body and to be instinctive, which was the most important thing of all. Because you have a lot of people telling you what to do, and they all have on white coats, and you also have information coming in from your cousin, the doorman, and the taxi driver’s great-aunt, and everybody who you meet knows somebody who’s doing something with cancer.

… So there was a tremendous amount of energy coming at one, when we’re first diagnosed with cancer, and I think that for me, I fell back inside of myself and just went very quiet and just paid attention to my body. For example, the first treatments that they felt that I needed to have, radiation and chemotherapy—my whole body recoiled. It was like I was contracting. And I looked, and I just saw myself. The doctor was speaking, and it was like he was speaking to someone else. And I just knew that that wasn’t right for me at that moment. It wasn’t that it isn’t right but that it wasn’t right for me in that moment.

I was exhausted. I had been running all over the world. I’d been teaching full-time, writing, doing everything, and in the irony of spreading a practice that is a healing practice and an artistic practice, and now I was the one who really had to stop, look, and listen, in a very different way, in a personal way. So I actually sat on my beautiful white couch in my loft here in Manhattan and was just with myself, meditating, drinking my green drinks, letting go of sugar, and doing some just very practical things in getting myself together and taking in information that was important.”

Tami Simon:” Now, Gabrielle, a couple things: one, I just want to thank you for just being so vulnerable and heartful and sharing you experience. I know so many people have looked to you now for decades as a pioneer, as a way show-er, and that you’ve done that through your work with dance and music and teaching, and here you are helping us understand through your own experience, something quite difficult. Thank you. You don’t have to be talking to me right now about this. And yet you are. So thank you.

GR: Well, I don’t think that we can “understand it,” but I think we can learn to dance with it and to build the territory in which it is occurring, to keep feeding the healthy heart of oneself and to keep feeding—emotionally, physically, and mentally, to feed ourselves with the nutrients that we need. That’s the thing that we all can do. And, of course, it’s very advisable to have a practice before you ever are given some incredible diagnosis that you have to deal with.

It’s advisable to have a practice because the practice is there to save you in the moment of need. It’s the enduring sense of practice that we have something that we do every day whether we feel good, whether we feel bad or happy or sad. We have a practice that we do that—we learn to move through all these changes and nuances and to keep ourselves fluid and in touch with ourselves. We need a practice that allows us to get to know ourselves in a very deep way and so you know certain things about yourself that you really learned, and you apply them when you actually, really need them, like in matters of life and death.

All the things that I’ve ever taught, or the 5Rhythms, are based in very practical wisdom that comes from the body first, and by being grounded in the body, which most people are really not—being really grounded and comfortable in the body and then learning to be really grounded and comfortable emotionally, and then being really grounded and comfortable mentally.

In other words, to not have a head that is filled with theories, beliefs, fears, anxieties, and all of this, but to actually have an empty mind, a mind that is fluid and capable of making instinctive, intuitive choices that only you can make. The 5Rhythm practice is very personal. It’s a practice that kind of says, “You’re the teacher here.” The 5Rhythms are like the master. They’re this fluid thing that we’ll never really get a grip on, but they are an energy. They are an energetic language that allow us to see ourselves and everything else in motion—and the very few things in life that are fixed as fixed. But that’s very few things.

TS: What are those things that are fixed?

GR: Well, like birth through death, for example. Nobody goes from birth to maturity, then goes back to childhood, dies, and then comes back a teenager, although most people would like that. Life has this organic—the laws of nature, you know—of the rhythms of nature that are predictable. But inside of that, everything else is unpredictable. So it’s predictable that I will be born, or how, or to whom, or where I will be born. Everything else is fluid. So it’s learning to live with that unknown, the unexpected: that is what my practice is about. It’s about learning to dance with the unknown and to be comfortable there. To dance in the chaos.”

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Image: livingfortoday365.blogspot.com

Freud’s Couch

Image: tea-and-carpets.blogspot.com

Although I studied Psychology, the curriculum of my undergraduate degree did not thoroughly cover its history and steered us firmly away from the writings and theories of Freud and Jung. They were considered unscientific and at the time I studied my degree, every effort was being made to demonstrate the scientific validity of Psychology. At that time in my journey as a psychologist, Freud seemed to me to be a looming shadow; someone to inspire skepticism; someone we should ‘break’ with if we were to evolve into a respectable science.

Of course, after I graduated the responsibility to educate myself returned to me – as it should. I am slowly filling in the pieces and learning to be more inclusive in my understanding of what it is to be human and what it means to assist in a healing process.

“However much the analyst may become tempted to become a teacher, model and ideal for other people and to create men in his own image, he should not forget that that is not his task in the analytic relationship, and indeed he will be disloyal to his task if he allows himself to be led on by his inclinations. If he does, he will only be repeating a mistake of the parents who crushed their child’s independence by their influence, and he will be replacing the patient’s earlier dependence by a new one.”

Freud.

Feral Couch: A sample of one of my favourite blogs

I love this blog so much, and particularly Lorianne’s pages on feral furniture. Sublime couches on their own journeys.

Hoarded Ordinaries

Feral sofa

This morning, the couch had collected a lounging house cat as well.

Feral sofa with cat

I’m eagerly awaiting the spontaneous arrival of more roadside couch accoutrements such as a beer-chugging guy with a television set or a bathrobe-swaddled woman in curlers and bunny slippers.

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An interview with Lindsay: learning to reach out

message chosen by Lindsay

faith, hope, love

Upasana: Thinking back on the challenges in your life, has there ever been a time that you thought of seeking help from a counsellor or therapist and decided against it?

Lindsay: Yes, there have been several times that this has been the case, with one instance particularly significant.

U: What were the reasons at the time behind your decision?

L: At that one time, things in my life seemed in my mind at least, very firmly beyond help or redemption. It seemed to all be down to me.

U: Could you expand on what you mean by ‘down to me’?

L: Yes, certainly – by  ‘down to me’, I refer to the fact that I have no living family of any kind and, at that time, had really no other source of support.  I had just moved to Melbourne from Far North Queensland to begin anew after 3-4 years of recovery following a serious work-related back injury. I could no longer work, and as such had developed further feelings of inadequacy as a ‘non-provider’. After being injured, I lost all that I had, essentially, including my home & my marriage – I had been married for some12 years by then, with a daughter less than a year of age. To say it was traumatic grossly understates things.

Though my injury was plain to see, and had cost me everything, a great many friends and work colleagues had felt that my injuries were much less severe and significant than they were.This resulted in constant and ongoing attacks upon my integrity; something which has left many scars.

After my arrival in Melbourne in 2001, I began a relationship that was far from suitable. I hadn’t given myself nearly enough time to heal from the trauma of my marriage ending before jumping into a new relationship. I had little support or understanding from my new partner. I was at a very low ebb, with my self worth in a very bad place.  This relationship after the injury was a huge error, and yet I was drawn in: attracted and clinging to what ever hope there was of warmth and affection. I was in a new city where I knew no one at all, and had begun to feel very alone.

At crisis point, it came down to only Me. Of course, this was the very moment I needed some kind of support but I had always believed I could get through using my ‘inner strength’, and that things would improve with time and tenacity. I was very, very wrong. This led to a very intentional overdose at a time when I truly believed there was nothing else, no way out, and little if anything at all to live for any more. I have since learned, thank goodness, that I am a bit more valuable than this, not to mention being rather hard to kill!

This was perhaps the one time that I desperately needed counselling from a good source. Ironically, I have sought counselling since for what were really much lesser issues…

U: Since those years, have you developed new ways to access help and support when you need it?

L: I guess that over the years, I have developed differing means of coping with grief and loss, and with issues of self worth, some of them effective and some less so. But this has improved greatly with increasing knowledge, self awareness and help from truly great friends.

In general terms, I have tended to be self-reliant in dealing with most things, and yet I am profoundly aware that in almost every significant instance, there would have been so much more support, and with much better overall outcomes than was the case, had I simply sought help from a counsellor.

U: where are you in your journey of learning self-worth? And how will you continue to develop this learning?

L: I have always held dearly The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, and have dipped into this for so many years now. Also, a lot of the Dalai Lama’s writings, and more recently the likes of Carolyn Myss, many of the ‘Toltec Wisdom’ works (Don Miguel Ruiz). I have also read several works by Hermann Hesse, who has written some beautiful words.

‘Wake Up Now!’ by Stephen Bodian has been read time and again and treasured by me for the simplistic yet powerful manner in which he imparts his message.

In the last 1-2 years, I have read things by Dr. Wayne Dyer and, really, anything else that L, a good friend of mine, hands me along the way. She always seems to have precisely the right book for me….any and all of these are always precisely what I might need at the time….the authors of many of these I have quite forgotten, but many of the words still resonate.

L. herself, as the beautiful friend she has always been, has been so inspirational and supportive toward my growth, something that is ongoing. I attribute the largest parts of my well-being today to her, unquestionably – I could never over state the many ways in which she has supported and guided me – she is a true friend, the likes of which come into our lives so rarely.

Lauren, Remote Health Supervisor, NT.

Lauren.

Upasana: where do you work and what is your role?

Lauren: I work for Remote Health in the Northern Territory. I am the Clinical Supervisor for the Remote Alcohol & Other Drugs Workforce which supports 27 mostly local Aboriginal workers in their remote communities. My clients are essentially the workers, but sometimes I will see community members as part of assisting the workforce members. I work in 17 communities across the Top End & Arnhem Land and all the way down through the Barkly to the border of South Australia, but I myself live in Alice Springs. My role is to provide support and supervision in a culturally-appropriate framework. I consult on a weekly basis with Aboriginal Elders, adopted family, friends and colleagues for cultural advice in order to do my job effectively. I also have a very small business providing supervision to human services workers here in Alice.

Upasana: How do you work with people?

Lauren: I utilise a strengths-based framework which is the basis of all our work within our Workforce. Research has found that in the NT that strength’s based rather than deficit models are most successful with Aboriginal people. Strength’s based work means focusing on what is working for the client or community, rather than what isn’t working which generally Aboriginal people don’t appreciate. (see attached resource for example). I spend lots of time building relationship and rapport with the workers. I am friendly, but always firm, honest and talk straight, as I find generally that Aboriginal mob can tell whether you are genuine or not very quickly, and are excellent judges of character.

U: What are the things which have most informed your practice?

L: Cultural knowledge undoubtedly the most important thing that informs my work.

U:  What is a good day at work?

L: A day on community, spending time with the workers and community members, laughing, being on country, sharing stories and supporting each other. A good day is full of unexpected joys like playing on the beach with children, 4wding across the desert, flying over Kakadu and the islands of north-east Arnhem Land, or fishing off Gove peninsula. A really good day is providing supervision that is so fulfilling for us both, that in that moment, nothing else matters.

U: What are your challenges?

L: Working with other organisations that don’t share the same values, that talk the talk but don’t walk the walk. Dealing with high level issues, such as impulsive suicide attempts and supporting workers who are often dealing with constant death, grief and loss, and clients who are their family members. Managing my own self care as I travel up to 6000kms per week! Trying to retain pieces of Aboriginal languages and knowledge of the community and kinship structures etc in each area I support workers in. And working in drug and alcohol and Aboriginal health are highly political environments, and is challenging for a mperlkere (whitefella)!

U: How has your work changed your life?

L: My work has transformed my life, I feel I am living and working a life few dream of. I have the blessing of being welcomed by local, tribal Aboriginal people, experiencing cultures that few have the opportunity to experience, and sadly few even want to experience. Each and every day I am constantly confounded by the depths of their culture, so different to mine, and how little I know and understand, and how much I want to understand it. I experience cultural challenges at that at times frighten me in their magnitude, and at other times leave me almost breathless, with such gratitude that I should be so fortunate to experience, and will remember for the rest of my life. My work stretches me, and I hope, makes me more flexible and able to flow like the rivers, bend like the desert oaks, and shift like the sands. I don’t lose my ‘whiteness’ but I hope let my otherness be my strength. My love of Aboriginal culture and people help me to find our common ground without losing sight of our differences. My grandfather (see photo) who adopted me here in Alice Springs has taught me language, culture, kinship and Tjukurrpa (Dreaming) that helps me as an outsider have a small level of understanding that I utilise in my work every day. He tells me I am Aboriginal inside, and that while I am a whitefella, there is a part of my spirit that makes me Aboriginal. My work, my life, makes me a richer person in my spirit, and inside and out, in makes me laugh, cry, sing and dance with joy. People tell me I work too hard. I tell them it’s not work, it’s love. I love too hard.

 

About

Hello, my name is Upasana. I have been a psychologist and counsellor for enough time to feel the need to reflect on this journey. I hope also to move beyond my way of working and to communicate with people who work in other modalities equally dedicated to healing. I find the healing therapies and particularly counselling to be the most creative of pursuits. Courage is required in both the counsellor and participant every single time they enter the room together. I hope here to share my love of both sides of the couch.