So I came to get therapy to deal with my relationship, my depression, my anxiety, my life crisis... what's all this about ecotherapy? Why should I connect more with nature?
My first answer to this question is you don't have to do anything! Lucid clinicians offer a range of modalities and approaches, only one of which is ecotherapy. It's up to you. But, for those with some curiosity, read on, because ecotherapy is not what you think, and might be relevant to your life than you'd think.
Sitting still is hard. I feel qualified to say this, having done my fair share of retreats involving sitting very still and being aware for hours on end. It's particularly hard when we feel agitated or anxious, as many who seek therapy initially feel. It's harder yet for a lot of men to sit still and talk from the heart, to look into another person's eyes and reveal what we've been ashamed to reveal. It's hard to sit still if you're a teenager, to sit in someone else's world, an office which is designed to evoke an adult professional world that you don't belong to and that you're not sure you ever want to belong to. It's probably hard for a lot of other people, for a lot of other reasons, too. But you get the idea.
What if that teenager could take their therapist to that hill that he found late one night, where he looked out at that view of the city lights that made him hope that his dreams weren't so stupid after all, if he could just dare to believe that someone would listen to them?
What if that anxious and agitated person could walk up and down a big grassy field with a therapist who would help her to experience for the first time her ability to soothe herself through the rhythm of walking, and the way in which a large open space can help her put the crowd of anxious thoughts in perspective?
What if that man could tell his story without resorting to masks and without having to deal with another's gaze, whilst staring out and talking with the sea as his witness, side by side with a therapist who would wait until he had said all he needed to say and until he turned and asked him, so what do you think?
These are just some of the possibilities for working in therapy in a way that makes use of our environment, rather than shutting it out. That said, ecotherapy can also take place in therapy consulting rooms, and can look like a lot of things other than the examples above. Let me know via the comments section, what do you think about these examples? I'd love to hear. Subscribe or check back in for part two, soon.
Of the three part series on beginning, continuing, and finishing, this post has been the most difficult to write. This reflects our individual and collective struggle to end well - something we rarely accomplish in Western cultures. For many clients I have worked with abrupt, unexplained, and distressing endings or abandonments by early attachment figures have generated the challenges that brought them to therapy. Ending a project or a living situation also have a significant impact, as anyone who has ever been made redundant can attest.
I've been reflecting on the hard questions that finishing asks us: Can we complete, and would we recognize the feeling of completion if we have it? Is there anything left when we finish and let go, or do we feel lost, alone, and without any purpose? Do we hang on or delay finishing at all costs? How often is our difficulty with starting or continuing a project or relationship due to a fear of it ending?
As much as endings tend to evoke our patterns and feelings from all of our past significant endings, they also confront us with the existential truth of our uncertain future and the unpredictability of death. If we have a belief in an afterlife, is our faith strong enough to deal with existential anxiety? If we don't have such a faith, do we feel that we've lived meaningfully enough and left enough of worth behind to die content?
If the questions above have raised some degree of anxiety in you, then you're probably not alone. Somewhere amidst the questions, fears, shame, and guilt that difficult endings can evoke, are also moments of grace - if we can access them. As the Western world shifts to more freely acknowledge the ultimate ending of death, this reduces the internal and interpersonal censorship that prevents us acknowledging and sharing our experience of endings. Talk with somebody you care about, about an ending that's important to you from your past, present, and future. You'll probably be doing both of you a favour, and you might even taste a moment of grace, or freedom. Endings matter when that piece of life that is ending has mattered, and conversely, sometimes our life matters only when we can allow the endings to matter to us.
Whilst the Lucid practice is still very much in a start phase (see last blog post), I've become excited about continuing the theme of the last post by addressing continuing, or the mid phase of any relationship or project. This involves maintaining momentum (on a project), or maintaining intimacy or energy (in a relationship), as well as hopefully increasing these factors.
So, here we are in the middle, where the initial novelty or excitement has gone. The honeymoon in a relationship is definitely over, as our projections drop away and we discover what we don't like about a partner, and what they don't like about us. We've discovered that however exciting that initial project idea was, that it mostly is coming down to following up many little individually boring or even distasteful steps. It's easy and very human to want to leave for someone or something more exciting - to re-enter the intoxicating beginning phase. This may be the case particularly if we've never seen what is possible in traversing this territory well. This leaving impulse may be compounded by an unconscious fear of merger - losing one's sense of self and independence by truly committing.
So what is good about this phase, when it's going well? In one word: flow. Strangely close to the experience of the mundane, the boring, or the routine, is the experience of flow. Studied by psychologist
Csikszentmihalyi, flow is when some or all sense of self drops away in complete immersion in an activity. It is not passive (like watching television), but not self conscious or intentional either (as the beginning phase tends to be.) The activity (or partner in a relationship) is like a dance partner, which we respond to intuitively and highly effectively.
Flow is inherently rewarding and rejuvenating. If we cannot access it to some degree, some of the time, we are likely to leave the project or relationship, or wish we could. Why is flow so accessible in this phase? Because the mentally stimulating initial excitement or drama of the beginning has dropped away. Flow needs some degree of focus and mental quiet. Some ways of attaining this are by shifting perspective, as done in therapy, and/or via mindfulness practice (the topic of future posts.)
Thanks for reading. Please post a comment about your experience of the middle/maintainance phase, or flow. Subscribe to RSS feed, or check in a few days for the final in this mini series: endings.
In the self-reflective tradition of psychotherapy practice, it seems appropriate to write about beginnings as we launch this website, this practice, and of course, this blog. Scott Belsky in his book "Making Ideas Happen" points out some common pitfalls in starting projects. One is the risk of intoxication - new ideas (or relationships!) are so exciting that we may not take on board feedback or warning signs, or may flit from new beginning to new beginning, riding the wave of that initial excitement without following through. The other risk he points out is that of pulling back at the last moment, letting the fearful "reptilian" part of our brain convince us that we need to prepare more before sending that draft to a publisher, asking that person for a date, or committing to that speaking engagement. The solution is just to do it! If we wait due to fear, sadly we'll probably never do it.
Beginnings of projects or resolutions are delicate times, but how much more delicate is the start of a relationship, or more delicate still, the start of a therapeutic relationship? After many years of being with clients for first therapy sessions, the first meeting still excites and enlivens me. It's often of considerable therapeutic value compared to the (still necessary) slower later on integration process, in which insights found in the therapy room translate into the rest of life. I believe that no other form of inquiry or research can come close to replacing the value of just spending time in person talking to a potential therapist.
If you're considering doing therapy, I encourage you to take the plunge. Towards the end of these initial meetings I always encourage clients to reflect with me about what from our conversation felt like it worked, or didn't work. I've never found this to be an unproductive discussion. So, whether it be a relationship, a project, or starting therapy, the question that might draw you forward is: wouldn't you like to find out, and experience it first hand, for yourself?