Category: narrative therapy

Resilience – the Gift of Christmas

Resilience – the Gift of Christmas

There is no denying it – 2020 was a year of huge change for many. It was a year that forced us to retreat inward to, quite literally, to stay within the confines of our own homes. For some, the initial measures may have seemed like ‘YAY’ – all the fun and excitement of an extended sleep-over at our friend’s house – or a couple of unexpected days working from home in our PJs. It soon became apparent something much bigger was evolving. 

It’s not helpful to get into politics across the world but I do want to acknowledge the pain and loss, suffered by so many this year. As a Scot living on the East Coast of Australia, I have looked on from afar as my family and friends around the world went into lockdown after lockdown – each one more severe than the last. The toll on mental health, the physical endurance required just to keep going, the strain on relationships, and the inevitable decline in the economy have all been too apparent. 

As writers, it’s our job to document what is happening in our world – from our own viewpoint – with our own voice. In this way, we record our version of history and provide a window for future generations to peer into and, hopefully, learn from. As writers, we can draw on these experiences – yet we also have an opportunity to reframe them in a way that may help build some resilience. It is a tricky balancing act to find the true positives – the unstoried parts of the story – without seeming to diminish or detract from the extent of suffering all around. It requires an understanding of the sensitivities of the human condition. 

Interestingly this is where resilience enters – stage left.

Psychologists define resilience as the process of ‘adapting’ in the face of trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress. There are, of course, shades of grey within all of these scenarios. There is a big difference between being short on wages for a few weeks compared to the collapse of the business you had worked the last 10 years to build. Each situation still calls for a degree of adaptability – a certain level of resilience.

We have all had to develop this core strength in 2020 – we have each had to adapt to whichever scenario we have found ourselves in. We can rage against those who seek to keep us locked up or talk about our rights to ‘infect the masses’ being dismantled – or we can decide to reframe the narrative and adapt to the script we’ve been given. One could argue it depends on which character you’re rooting for – you or humanity!

Within those shades of grey, there have been so many ‘extremes’. From the tragedy that continues to unfold in the US or Italy, to simply dealing with empty shelves where Toilet Roll should have been. Sometimes the resilience required is simply to roll our eyes at such a basic level of selfishness on the very outer ripples of that tsunami of trauma.

If you have lost a loved one or lost your income, you may not be in a place to hear this right now, but we are hard-wired as humans to be resilient in the face of such loss.  

That’s not to say there will ever be a silver lining – that would be ridiculous – but there are techniques that can help navigate the range of emotions that come to the surface. In time, journaling or writing about those emotions may also help (I know that sounds so banal right now but I can attest to the power of writing in times of pain). 

Indeed when we explore narrative as a ‘therapy’ we can see at its core the objective is to address the ‘meaning’ we give to our experiences. Narrative therapy helps us build resilience by identifying and enabling an ‘alternative’ story to emerge. That’s not to say a ‘fictional’ story – but a previously ‘unstoried’ part – the part that is hidden behind the emotional experience.

It’s vital to still remember what is good in our world when we are going through grief.

Even for those who have not lost someone in 2020, you may still actually feel a sense of loss and grief or anger. You may feel as though something has been taken from you. Our collective experience as human beings means that even if we did not live the same experience (or suffered the same losses) – we have an experience we can certainly relate to on the same emotional level. So what can you do with that feeling – that experience?

I do believe 2020 really did teach us to go ‘inward’ in terms of discovering who we truly are and what we want our life to look like. For some, it has been a spiritual experience. We have pondered the big questions. Are we happy generally? Do we enjoy sharing the same space with our partners? Do we even like our jobs? Do we want to continue to commute when all this is over? I mean, if your employer gained an extra 2 hours working time from you  – wouldn’t your employer want you to work from home too? Granted that’s not a spiritually-driven transformation but we can’t get too sentimental where productivity is concerned, can we? Or can we? Do we want to do things differently? Will we hug our loved ones a little tighter the next time we are able to see them?

Many have used this time to study online, or adapt their business to the online world – they’ve had to adapt their business to survive – they’ve had to adapt their skillset – to survive. Others have taken up new hobbies – learned to paint or taken writing courses. This all proves how resilient we are if we so choose to focus on a more positive narrative.

In Australia 2019, it felt wrong to celebrate Christmas and New Year because of the catastrophic Bush Fires. The loss of life, the loss of habitat and wildlife was truly devastating and we all felt that collective grief. Yet, the National Parks have filled with green shoots of life again – proving how resilient nature is and how resilient our planet is. It doesn’t take away the pain of what was lost – but it does give some hope that we can learn something (PLEASE GOVERNMENTS ) and move on – progress. Adapt.

My wish for everyone this Christmas and throughout 2021 is the gift of resilience. It can’t change what has happened this year, but we can journey inward and reflect and adapt. As a writer, I hope  2021 will be the year you write that story – or reframe the narrative with a new point of view. Either way, in amongst the debris, I hope you discover the subtle gifts of 2020. Try to find the one good thing you learned – or the difference you made to someone else.  What did you have to overcome in 2020? If you can find one good thing – focus on that – because focussing on the good when everything else is upside down – that’s what builds true resilience.

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The Old Gum Tree and the Ironbark

The Old Gum Tree and the Ironbark

I was feeling very out of sorts today – precipitated by a Migraine attack that forced me to ‘STOP’ and rest.

Away from my glaring computer screen, lying down, I began to tune in to my body so I could observe how it felt. I mean ‘really’ felt. How often do any of us do that? Really check in with how we are feeling? As I scanned, weighed, held and shifted through the vibrations within, I couldn’t deny the unmistakable feeling of grief. It was clasped around my throat, fluttering in my solar plexus and twisting in my stomach.

Grief? But where had it come from? Why had it settled within, like a skulking, wounded animal, or a squatter stealing the joy from someone else’s home?

I felt compelled to walk the talk. To do as I have so often advised others on a road to healing. Write without form. Write without thinking.

Perhaps, if you’re able, you can follow seemingly unconnected words like breadcrumbs into the darkness. There’s always a chance you’ll flush the real emotion, thought or feeling out into the daylight, to be examined, to be acknowledged for what it truly is. For me, it’s a rogue energy that’s stolen my joy, leaving me bereft. Such is grief.

These last few months have been stressful in one way or another – on an emotional level at least.  We’re all suffering as a result of this COVID situation. Here on Lorikeet Lane, we have counted our blessings. And then counted them again. We are luckier than most and we know it.

But like anyone, we still feel sad that much anticipated and longed for plans have fallen apart. We feel the loss. Simple hugs and time spent with loved ones become ‘treasured memories’ to reflect on in our relative isolation.

As I say, we are luckier than most. We are the custodians of endless space under a benevolent blue sky.

I open the veranda doors to allow the cool Southerly breeze to flow through the house. As I lay on the couch, I feel refreshed by the chill settling on my brow. From where I lie, I have a view of the Old Gum Tree.

Her branches are reaching out to me across the deck, like a mother’s hand extended, patting down an infant in a pram. Her elongated leaves bristle in the wind, and yet I sense her busyness is accompanied by a melancholy. All at once, I feel the grief wash over me again.

I ‘feel’ the Old Gum Tree speak to me. Since moving to this property, I have often ‘communicated’ with the Spirit that envelops us here. As soon as we first arrived on this spot it called to me. I didn’t care what the house was like – I just knew I needed to be on this land.

I started my own journey of healing here – helped by the outstretched leaves the smell of Earth – and the unique, coded downloads of light I absorb on a daily basis.

I promise myself I will just write whatever comes. I am familiar with that feeling of being unable to keep up with the words as they flow – I am familiar with the illegible scrawl that blurts from my pen– the words that demand to be written so they may be exorcised along with the emotion they carry.

Grief. Could it be I am feeling grief for the two trees that have to be cut down on our property? Both are less than 10 metres from the house.

They stand proud like ancient Elders on this land, front and back, scanning, surveying the ridge – still with an instilled sense of purpose and responsibility – while simultaneously nodding down on the life that plays below.

One is sick and dying. She is the old Ironbark behind our house. The crimson red resin that bleeds from cracks in her blackened, wrinkled bark, hardens and twinkles like a Ruby, jewelled in the sunlight. In the twilight the resin takes on a candied appearance – though either way – beautiful, remarkable in her resilient substance.

She is arched and frail and has been quite stubbornly stoic in the face of her back-breaking pain.  She stands as patiently as a loyal dog, waiting for the command that allows her to lie down and rest awhile.  Though she may feel a blessed relief to be released from her post, I feel sad for her just the same. She is a part of our landscape. Indeed, she was here casting her gaze over the ridge long before the foundations of our home. Long before we set foot on this property. There is an energy of the Great Mother about her. She belongs here. And yet. She is precarious in the way she bends towards the roof at the back of our house – stooping, swaying. 

Though she is sick, she still provides shelter and a sense of home. She’s given me moments of wisdom and healing. I can see the stories of her past etched upon her and she reminds me of the times I used to sit with my grandmother at the kitchen table. Just talking and spending ordinary, precious time together.

Her outstretched, weary branches still provide protection and shade for the young raucous hens below, or a bow for the courting Australian Wood Ducks to jostle and woo, before bonding for life. The dear old Ironbark protects life from the eagle eyes that circle above but will just as willingly offer a rest stop for that same Eagle, providing a vantage point to survey the menu in an adjoining paddock. But the sad reality is, for all her willingness to nurture, she is a danger to herself – and to those she protects. We had knowingly put off the day when we would have to make some tough decisions about her future.  

With love comes huge and sometimes achingly painful responsibility.

The other tree – the one my eyes rest on now – the one that’s reaching over to me with a concerned presence – is the one that pains me the most. This tree’s impending demise feels more callous, more brutal because, though she is weary, she still participates fully in her life on the property. Enveloping. Protecting. She is resolute and proud.

The Old Gum Tree has already adapted to adversity more than once – her twin trunk now being her weakness rather than her strength. The split happened early on life. The left trunk bears left to overhang the front of our house while the right stretches skyward, backward, swaying with an unpredictable abandon, flailing in the wind.

The most striking feature of the left-hand trunk is a strong, horizontal bare branch. It juts out at right angles creating the perfect perch for the three Kookaburras that take turns to outlaugh each other as the sun dips below the ridge. It’s the perfect presentation platform for the Butcher Bird when she boastfully introduces her new clutch of chicks to us. It’s the place of respite for the exhausted Magpies who send their over-sized young to say hello to us while they take a much-needed rest from the incessant demands for food. So much life comes to sit on that branch, and we have a unique and privileged vantage point being so elevated ourselves. Here we reside amongst the Cockatoos and King Parrots under the benevolent, blue sky. Alas, fire season approaches.

I don’t understand the tears below the surface. The grief that’s demanding to be acknowledged.

I feel somehow, I am betraying what I promised to protect.   

After the unconditional support and shelter they have provided – I am to be responsible for cutting them down. I will preside over their fate.  I feel they know on some level – perhaps through their interconnected root system or through osmosis – but they know these are the last days they will see the sun set over the ridge.

As I continue to write – encouraging the emotion to surface – without thought – without judgment. My thoughts take a surprising turn and I find my inner viewfinder resting on Peter’s parents.

I met Peter’s mum (my mother-in-law) the very same year I lost my own mother.

I was welcomed as though I had been long ago lost to them, and now returned.

A memory of Peter and I announcing our engagement surfaces. Like branches, his mum extends her loving arms out to me, and as I stand there, eyes shining, she cups her hands around my face. She draws me in, holds me in a space of tenderness and love. I allow her to pour this love into me, knowing I have been unable to ‘allow’ before. In that moment she voluntarily steps forward to help me heal my own deep and aching mother wound. Peter’s father and I need no words – osmosis. A knowing. But love vibrates at its own frequency. It does not need to be uttered, It is felt.

The engagement. A bonding moment, rippling like rings in a tree, encircling Peter and myself.  I feel an acceptance I have rarely experienced in my life. A healing. It reminds me of the pure unconditional love I feel as the Ascended Masters, Elders and Guides step forward in my little studio. The connection, the belonging and the healing this land has poured into me. Whispering its secrets …

Then suddenly the tears blurt along with the words …

These last few months have been stressful in one way or another – on an emotional level at least … you see we’ve had to make some tough decisions lately … for The Gum Tree and the Old Ironbark 

This is just another example of how writing something down can help us identify a thought or emotion that’s niggling away at us – but we can’t quite place it. The process of writing takes us on a journey and we just follow along behind it – until it leads us to the source of our pain. This was written on a day I was feeling low, but just couldn’t understand why. As I began writing I realised the trees were a metaphor for that feeling of connectedness. I was upset they had to be cut down. They were both diseased and a fire risk – both of which could have impacted our home and the wildlife around us. So we had to make that difficult decision before something serious happened. It was a strange co-incidence to realise that in the same week, we were moving my husband’s parents into Residential Care. Both had been in hospital together for the last 2 months and it became clear they could not return home. So it’s been a challenging time. Suddenly the connection between the trees – and what they represented became so clear. Sometimes with love comes the responsibility to make difficult and painful decisions. This then led me to think about how we are all connected through nature and through love. So you can see the process for navigating emotions about seemingly unrelated topics which is why I say, if you are feeling out of sorts – just write. You’ll soon find your way again.

Narrative therapy principles in Memoir writing

Narrative therapy principles in Memoir writing

When people embark on a Memoir writing course they sometimes come up against writer’s block. A block of any description is just another word for Fear. When we experience writer’s block it generally suggests we are not confident, or we are experiencing discomfort, in the telling of our truth. 

What makes my sessions unique is, not only do I help clients with the technicalities of writing their story, I also assist them to move towards healing aspects of their story. That’s right, those scary parts that create those ‘blocks’ (and probably those scary things are the very reasons you want to write your story in the first place).

These blocks manifest as ‘No-one would want to read my story.” “Who am I, to think I can write?” “My story doesn’t really matter” and so on. These are all aspects of Fear and this holds the potential writer back from achieving their true potential.

In this scenario, there are many possibilities, many directions in which the conversation may flow. The examples above are generally given when someone does not recognise their true self-worth. Perhaps they have been kept small or belittled throughout their whole life. Even when we believe we have moved through those childhood issues of a domineering, abusive or even narcissistic parent, it’s amazing how deep that ‘wiring’ goes. Generally, we can see where the root of the fear comes from – depending on how it manifests which is helpful in considering where to start that conversation.

Narrative therapy puts you right in the middle as the expert in your own life (rather than being told by someone external, how you should view your challenges). This form of therapy views ‘problems’ and ‘challenges’ as completely separate from you – the individual – and assumes you have the skills, competencies, beliefs, values, commitments, and abilities to find the solutions that will ultimately help you to help yourself.

There are many crossroads, intersections, paths, and tracks to choose from. In Akashic Records healings, for example, I call those ‘pathways of probability’ and ‘pathways of possibility’. With every step, with every thought – a new possibility or pathway of probability opens up – with so many narratives operating at any one time.

So what do we mean when we talk about ‘narratives’? When I explain narratives to my clients, I ask them to visualise a golden thread … running through their daily experiences.

Narrative therapy is sometimes known as ‘re-authoring’ or ‘re-storying’ those conversations we have with ourselves.The word ‘story’ has different associations and understandings for different people. For narrative therapists, stories consist of:

  • events
  • linked in sequence
  • across time
  • according to a plot

We all have daily experiences of events that we seek to make meaningful. The stories we have about our lives are created by linking certain events together in a particular sequence across a time period. This helps us explain these events or make sense of them. The meaning we attach to those events forms the plot of our story. In fact, we constantly apply meanings and emotions to any and all of our experiences throughout our life.

A narrative is like that golden thread weaving the events together, forming a story.

We all have many stories about our lives and relationships, occurring simultaneously. For example, we have stories about ourselves, our abilities, our struggles, our competencies, our actions, our desires, our relationships, our work, our interests, our conquests, our achievements, our failures. The way we have developed these stories is determined by how we have linked certain events together in a sequence and by the meaning we have attributed to them.

Let me give you an example. This is a story about someone’s perception of their writing skills.

This individual may have a perception that they are a ‘good writer’. This means they could string together a number of events/interactions that have happened to them whilst involved in writing activities. (Good/positive associations). They could put these events together with others into a particular sequence and interpret them as a demonstration of being a good writer. They might think about, and select, for the telling of the story, ‘specific’ events, such as being top of the class for spelling or reading, or passing a difficult exam. To form this story about their ability as a writer, they are selecting certain events – identifying certain events as important – to demonstrate/illustrate the plot of this ‘story’. In doing so, these events are elevated above other events or memories.

As more and more events are selected and gathered into the dominant plot (being a good writer), the story gains richness and depth. As it gains depth, other events of their writing skills are easily remembered and added to the story.

Throughout this process, the story becomes more dominant in their life and it is increasingly easy for that individual to find more examples of events that fit with the meaning they have reached.

These events of being a good writer that they are remembering and selecting out are elevated in their significance over other events that do not fit with the plot of being a good writer.

For instance, the times when they misunderstood the meaning of a word or the time they didn’t get their article published. These events might be seen as insignificant or maybe a fluke in the light of the dominant plot (a story of great writing skills). In the retelling of stories, there are always events that are not selected, based upon whether or not they fit with the dominant plots (or the ‘narrative’ we identify with).

How dominant stories influence our lives

The dominant story of the individuals’ great writing abilities will not only affect them in the present but will also have implications for their future actions. For example, if they are asked to write an article for a different magazine the dominant story the individual believes, will encourage them to write that article. If they let the negative experience be their dominant story – they would hold themselves back saying ‘they were not a good writer’ and subsequently would not attempt to write the article.

Therefore, the meanings you give to these events are not neutral in their effects on your life – they will constitute and shape your life in the future. All stories are constitutive of life and shape our lives.

With this in mind, I encourage people to take a look at the story they have been telling themselves. If someone comes to me and says, ‘I’m not a good writer,’ I want to understand the root of that narrative. Perhaps English is a second language. In this scenario I would want to look at the ‘unstoried’ part of their story. Were they teased at school for not being at the same level as the other children? Did this leave a lasting impression – a fear of being laughed at or not being ‘good enough’? The unstoried part of that story is they were adjusting to a new life, a new culture, away from everything they knew before. They were learning to communicate in a whole new language – and now they can communicate in two languages – which let’s face it – is far more than the rest of us ever achieved. Having a simple discussion could be enough to change that narrative. That golden thread we have weaved through all our stories.

There are many different sorts of stories by which we live our lives and relationships – including stories about the past, present, and future. Stories can also belong to individuals and/or communities. There can be family stories and relationship stories – and these stories can influence the way we live our lives.

As people begin to acknowledge and ‘believe’ their alternative stories, the results go way beyond working through writer’s block. Within the new stories, people live out a new self-image, new pathways and possibilities – new futures. 

The magic of this approach is being able to apply this therapeutic principle to memoir writing. When we ‘identify’ our story – we are identifying the story we have given dominance to – and yet the transformational diamonds are buried in the unstoried parts beneath. The stories we never gave any energy or attention to in the telling of our own ‘dominant’ story.

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