Counselling and Psychotherapy for the Covid 19 pandemic
Below are some of the poems, art, music, people and ideas that I've drawn inspiration from as I've thought about our current situation and the challenges and opportunities it presents.
I hope they might be helpful or interesting for you too and welcome your thoughts and the things that have inspired or sustained you during this time.
What if you thought of it
as the Jews consider the Sabbath-
the most sacred of times?
Cease from travel.
Cease from buying and selling.
Give up, just for now,
on trying to make the world
different than it is.
Sing. Pray. Touch only those
to whom you commit your life.
And when your body has become still,
reach out with your heart.
Know that we are connected
in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.
(You could hardly deny it now.)
Know that our lives
are in one another’s hands.
(Surely, that has come clear.)
Do not reach out your hands.
Reach out your heart.
Reach out your words.
Reach out all the tendrils
of compassion that move, invisibly,
where we cannot touch.
Promise this world your love--
for better or for worse,
in sickness and in health,
as long as we all shall live.
by Lynn Ungar
To touch your heart
I find this TED talk by the inspirational composer and conductor Eric Whitacre talking about the power of singing together, and how his virtual choirs came into being enormously uplifting. I love Eric's work and chose this talk for these times because it shows people from all over the world creating something so beautiful and being part of something incredibly powerful together whilst in their own homes, never meeting each other in person. Our human spirit, our creativity and our capacity to reach across space and time to each other does not have to be hampered by self isolation or social distancing.
Click on the picture above to watch the video.
If you liked the music you heard some of on the video here are links to the full versions.
I would respectfully suggest sitting comfortably, lights off, maybe a candle or two and volume up. Immerse yourself in these beautiful harmonies.
If the earth
Just for now the earth is getting a little respite from the damage we keep inflicting. Perhaps as we process the shock of what has happened which is touching the whole world, we have the opportunity to grow a different perspective, a different view of how interrelated we all are and crucially, how cherishing of our planet we need to be. I love this anonymous poem for the sheer imagination of a different perspective.
the earth were only a
few feet in diameter, floating a
few feet above a field somewhere,
people would come from everywhere to
marvel at it. People would walk around it
marveling at its big pools of water, its little
pools and the water flowing between the pools.
People would marvel at the bumps on it, and the
holes in it, and they would marvel at the very thin
layer of gas surrounding it and the water suspended in
the gas. The people would marvel at all the creatures
walking around the surface of the ball, and in the water.
The people would declare it precious because it was the
only one and they would protect it so that it would not
be hurt. The ball would be the greatest wonder
known, and people would come to behold it, to be
healed, to gain knowledge, to know beauty and
wonder how it could be. People would love it,
and defend it with their lives, because they
would some how know that their lives,
their own roundness, could be nothing
without it. If the earth were
only a few feet in
d i a m e t e r.
Hope is a powerful weapon.
There is no one more qualified to teach us how to survive isolation than Nelson Mandela who spent 27 years incarcerated mostly in solitary confinement, in a prison cell on Robben Island.
Click on Mr Mandela's picture above to go to the New York times website where there is an article and video of political prisoners reading extracts from his inspirational letters.
This one from 1979 particularly resonates with me since so much of our contact with each other is now in texts and emails and through various online group communications. I have a sense of old and new friends from my local community , and all over the world sharing ideas, experiences, and information , their care, humour, generosity and compassion transformiming in a most welcome way my sense of isolation.
"Throughout the many years of incarceration numerous messages of good wishes and hope sent by people from different walks of life, have cut through massive iron doors and grim stone walls, bringing into the cell the splendor and warmth of springtime. No two messages are ever the same and each one has struck a special note… Frankly, there are moments, like now, when I feel as if the whole world, or at least the greater part of it, has been squeezed into my tiny cell. I have comparatively more time to think and dream; obsessed with a sense of involvement and with far more friends than ever."
In thinking about stress and anxiety which is so significantly raised for all of us during this time I am mindful that those of us who have the virus or whose loved ones do are on heightened alert for any breathing difficulties. The thing we take for granted so much of the time and don’t even think about becomes our focus and a potential source of anxiety in itself.
I am also aware that using our breathing is a proven way we can reduce anxiety,panic and regulate our nervous system.
There are many sources of advice about this but clicking on the picture above will take you to a website that gives a good overview and a very simple breathing exercise to practise.
And sometimes, when we lose touch with everything else, all we can do is KEEP BREATHING. This beautiful song by Ingrid Michaelson has been at times the only words, the only melody in my head and I take comfort from it. I hope you do too. We are allowed to not cope, to not be our best selves, to struggle and to feel terrible in these most terrible of times. And we can do this without shame.
We are human and sometimes all we can do is keep breathing.
George the Poet
I love George the poet. Click on the photograph above to hear this inspirational, thoughtful young man speak of our need during this crisis more than ever to collaborate and work together.
George the Poet is a London-born spoken word performer of Ugandan heritage. His innovative brand of musical poetry has won him critical acclaim both as a recording artist and a social commentator.
What I love about George is the way he uses that combination of his mind and his heart to reach people, and that whilst powerfully challenging sometimes, he is inclusive, not strident and embraces the complexity of our human struggles.
Here you can find a link to a performance of George's beautiful song "My love is your love".
George is also a multi award-winning pod caster. .
Flash mob with a difference.
I once sang in a flash mob in Lewisham Shopping Centre and it was such good fun. I love singing with people anyway but there is something really special about surprising people with music and song in unexpected places that really lifts everyone’s spirits, flash mob and flash mobbed! People getting together to give something of themselves for no other reason than to bring a smile to people’s faces, to touch their hearts is mutually beneficial.
The particular version you’ll see and hear by clicking on the picture above really moved me. Maybe it’s something about the sunshine and all the people milling around, so different from what we can currently do, or maybe it’s the slow build up, with more and more musicians coming together adding their voices until the whole thing explodes into a stunningly powerful musical climax., or maybe it’s the sentiment in some of Schiller’s words:
“If you've mastered that great challenge:
Giving friendship to a friend,
……Celebrate your joy with us!”
During this time more than any other in my life I have been repeatedly moved by the way not just friends, but neighbours and strangers have shown in so many small and not insignificant ways kindness, thoughtfulness, deep understanding and compassion.
All the more remarkable that this work was written by Ludwig van Beethoven, a man who had many physical ailments to overcome, not least that he went deaf quite early in his life and so suffered terrible isolation as a result. It's hard to imagine a worse pain for a composer than not being able to hear any more.
Yet he wrote this and many other wonderful works. This “Ode to joy” speaks of the vision of universal brotherhood and sisterhood, something so relevant and powerfully spoken of in the next moving and challenging video of the poem,"You clap for us now".
Why not me?
I have long since loved the wonderful poem by Ellen Bass called "Relax" which you can hear performed here by Kim Rosen by clicking the picture above. . . It’s humour belies one of the truths of life that we cannot avoid and should expect times of pain and grief and suffering in life as well as times of joy and hope and fulfilment. If we can find our way through the disappointment, pain, loss and grief that sometimes comes our way, when life suddenly swerves from calm and normality into loss or catastrophe, like now during this Covid time, then we can continue to find the joy and the hope where it resides, often in the small things in life. We can stay alive to what is good and sustaining.
Of course it’s not easy. Of course life floors us and sometimes we have to crawl on our hands and knees just to keep going through the pain and anger and fear that can overtake us.
When I learnt I was going to lose my sight in my mid thirties it was a terrible shock. I struggled to comprehend that this was happening to me. I was terrified for my future imagining my whole life becoming some sort of narrow, lonely poverty stricken existence.
As I found my way through this I began not to ask “Why me?” but “Why not me?”. In all this world of unfairness and pain and suffering, why shouldn’t something like this happen to me and why shouldn’t I be able to continue to get the most out of life that I possibly could?
I like this thoughtful considered talk by Aimee Mullins,Paralympian, neither denying the struggle of the adversity that comes our way nor seeing it as something that we all need to avoid or be rid of in our lives.
She says: “Adversity isn’t an obstacle that we need to get around, in order to resume living our life, it’s part of our life. …
So it’s not about devaluing or negating these trying times as something we want to avoid. Or sweep under the rug, but instead to find the opportunities wrapped in the adversity.
So maybe the idea I want to put out there is not so much overcoming adversity than as it is opening ourselves up to it, embracing it, grappling with it."
IN my view this is not a passive act but one of engagement and passion, and where the real courage lies. .
There is another wonderful poem which uses the image of someone clinging for dear life to some roots whilst hanging over a cliff. I have just been reminded of the extraordinary story and work of Lemn Sissay, poet and author.
Lemn’s poem “Morning breaks” Is a powerful evocation of the journey many in therapy undergo of letting go of their past in order to really enter into their full potential in the present. It speaks of the excoriating pain we can face and the huge courage it takes to let go and move on, but also the transforming that can take place in the process.
As lockdown divides families and loved ones or puts already fragile relationships under unbearable stress, Lemn is uniquely placed to speak of the internal consequences of such separation and the pain of being surrounded by people whilst feeling utterly alone.Born to an Ethiopean refugee in the sixties Lemn was wrongly put up for adoption instead of being temporarily fostered. His name was changed and then after some years his adopted family returned him to care when they had children of their own and he spent most of his teenage years in one care home or another.
After much searching as an adult he was reunited with his name, his identity and finally his mother who had desperately tried and failed to find him and get him back
In 2015, he was elected chancellor of Manchester University. He has honorary doctorates from the Universities of Huddersfield (which since 2010 has offered a Lemn Sissay PhD Scholarship for ‘care leavers’), and Manchester.
Standing in the spaces...
Clicking on the image above will take you to an art work by photographer and psychotherapist Robert Downes. One of the things I have been contemplating whilst in lockdown is how much we are having to manage different aspects and parts of ourselves whilst trying to find continuity or hold onto what feels like “me”. . I am finding that taking time to connect with my internal state on a regular basis is vital in not losing touch with the me who is experiencing so many different states of mind.
There can be a part of me who is anxious, afraid for the future and what is lost but also a part who wants something different to come out of this; a part who is enjoying the quietness, the birds, and a part of me who wants to be able to drive off on holiday or have a party; a part of me who is wanting and missing physical contact with friends and family and a part of me who is longing for solitude.
At times I am peaceful and calm, at others enraged or sorrowful. Sometimes I am firmly rooted in the present and at other times past experiences and feelings are triggered and brought to life inside me again. There are many more parts and contradictions and lots of spaces inbetween in what can feel like an ever moving, ever changing me. .
Robert in his work called psychescapes photographed a concrete barrier in Forest Hill Station car park and from it created evocative mysterious images which he melds together into a gently changing video. What I like about it is that as we move through the images, all different, there is nonetheless a unifying essence which links them all together.
'I had once been splintered into a million beings and objects. Today I am one; tomorrow I shall splinter again. . .But I knew that all were notes of one and the same harmony'.
Nabokov, V. (1920).
'Multiplicity is our first characteristic; unity our second. As your parts know they are parts of you, so must you know that we are parts of humanity'.
Theodore Sturgeon (1953).
Robert explains: "PsycheScapes is a series of digital images that have been manipulated to render the material source of the image obscured whilst the immaterial source of the image is offered up to the act of imagination and free association.
In the era of selfies I have been thinking of these abstractions as a series of selfies that speak to the representation of the inner self and its ever-changing nature. The surface selfie speaks to so little of us.
In his book "Standing in Spaces" relational psychoanalyst Philip Bromberg states that ‘health is the ability to stand in the spaces between realities without losing any of them—the capacity to feel like one self while being many.’”
Respectfully I suggest that you could play the video of Robert's work whilst listening to some music of your choice and exploring the multiplicity of you during this extraordinary time.
"I can't breathe"
On May 25th in Minneapolis black American George Floyd, was murdered by a white policemen kneeling on his neck for 9 minutes. I have found myself strangely quiet about this event, not because I’m not horrified or don’t want to add my voice to the outrage of so many others but because it feels complicated, and I’m unsure how to find my way through the complexity of responses I have and hear from others. Despite years of work in education combatting inequality and challenging stereotypes and discrimination I feel confused, weary, guilty, angry, hopeless, shocked and horrified about the part we all play in how racism and other inequalities still persist in our society, in my community, in my internal world.
My thanks to Pearl Jam for the link to an uncomfortable and brilliantly thought provoking article by Holiday Phillips about what she calls performative allyship. Click on the black square above to read the article if you like me are sitting in the complexity around this current horror and perhaps many other obscenities existing in our world. I also offer you Pearl Jam's song “It’s hard to imagine”
which speaks to me of how incredibly difficult it can be to feel connected, to communicate to another human being the experience of trauma that people individually and collectively live through. It is my belief however that attempting to communicate is the main and most effective way we have to heal the divisions in our world and ourselves.
My thanks to clients who have shared their thoughts and feelings about this and other events for which I remain sincerely grateful.