Inching Towards Spring

by Mar 12, 2024Newsletter0 comments

Approx. Reading Time: 11 minutes

Springing back

It is nearly Spring and I want to be excited and hopeful, even if I am generally more Eeyore than Tigger. But I can’t shake off this feeling that ‘something is rotten in the state of.. ’ as Will S/Hamlet once said.

Blossom on the fields near my house

The other day I was watching the chilling film Zone of Interest in which Rudolph Höss and his family live an idyllic life in beautiful nature while compartmentalizing the deaths in the Auschwitz death camp across their garden wall, I am often struck by our capacities for self-deception, only seeing the world we are invested in it, and by what the amazing Hannah Arendt described as the ‘banality of evil’.

Much of this has crystallised for me with the Middle East conflict. I know my friendships have suffered as most people are on ‘one side’ (?) or another and see the world through opposing lens. There seems so little room for braving uncertainty and complexity, for mutual compassion alongside pain and hurt. I see this mirrored so much on social media silos, and in the bigger media. Recent research clarified how we tend to believe what the people we like say, no surprise, our capacity for silo-ing has deep evolutionary roots, but we are paying a price for it.

Bion was not the first to, but described how, when a new idea comes along that threatens us, we either have to change our ideas or deny the new one. This is at the heart of the predictive brain thesis of Friston, Andy Clarke and so many others, that uncertainty is threatening and destabilizing and we humans tend to avoid what Friston, after Freud, calls Free Energy.

Where I slightly question in the Friston view is that I believe that when when we are more secure and when the world feels more safe, then we are less rigid and more open to uncertainty and can enjoy being blown by new winds. This is at the heart I think of good psychoanalysis, the capaciousness of the good object, as well as of the security in attachment theory and safeness of compassion focused therapy and so much therapeutic theory. I see this all the time with traumatised adults and children who, when they feel safer, they literally and metaphorically breath more deeply.

Having our worlds rocked by events like war/illness/climate shocks/ the unexpected generally, it seems increasingly hard to know what reality to trust. That’s when we close up and become rigid, of course. Social systems, structures, the law, money, all of these of course only exist to the extent that we all believe in them. That’s what Karl Marx meant when he talked about the ‘fetishism of commodities’. The world at the moment, to me at least, feels less tangible, more fleeting, like sand running through fingers that cant be grasped. This week I went to see the physicist Brian Cox and as ever was bowled over by the immensity of the universe/s, (click on this image to hear him talking about this.)

For sure, we none of us can know any actual reality and, as those who have worked with kids after maltreatment know, we can all cling to an identity more when we feel insecure (there’s a fascinating talk below by the spiritual teacher Ram Dass from 1987 where he talks about how we cling to our ‘spacesuit’ identities).

I have become increasingly interested in new science and theories of consciousness, which seem to be surprisingly similar to very ancient ideas, eg of Indian Vedanta. If anyone has a few hours spare, here’s an extraordinary discussion between consciousness neuroscientist Donald Hoffman and and leading Vedanta figure Swami Sarvapriyananda , below. One metaphor Hoffman uses is that we are all seeing he world via our specific headset, and it is so hard to reach out to those wearing different ones.

Conscious Reality: Unraveling the Mind | Swami Sarvapriyananda & Donald Hoffman

My response to Brian Cox’s explanations of the universe was of awe. Awe, uncertainty, seeking the new, being surprised, are all dependents on the right hemisphere, as Mcgilchrist (below) would say in his amazing works. The left hemisphere loves certainty and the only emotion the left is dominant for is anger. I am with McGilchrist in believing that we live in a world in which the left hemisphere is running amok, the emissary is taking over, and we need to work harder and harder to reclaim the uncertain, the sacred, the feelings and intuition of the right hemisphere, the ability to remain questioning and open and find compassion and empathy for those who might see as ‘other’ or who other us.

Time to be brave, uncertain humble and to try to find compassion for those we can ‘other’?

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This month’s free article to subscribers is about a successful piece of work I undertook with colleagues Kay Trainor and Jennie McShannon. It took place before COVID in a busy acute assessment unit in an overwhelmed hospital. It was recently published in BACP’s Healthcare Counselling and Psychotherapy Journal. The work, done under the auspices of Tavistock Consultancy, included coaching managers, work discussion groups and a mindfulness informed interventions for nurses. The results were positive, including reducing staff turnover and sickness and the hospital winning a staff retention award.Even back then we saw overwhelm and overstretched services leading to burnout and moral distress. While we made a difference, such work could only go so far without major structural changes and investment in the NHS and society as a whole.

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Made me laugh! Thanks to Neil Clapton of fierce compassion fame for sending this great clip on why people are scared to go to therapy.

therapy can be fun! #taylortomlinson

A poem for this moment by the sadly missed Thich Nhat Hanh, which takes in hope, projection, denial, compassion and so much

Call me by My True Names:

Do not say that I’ll depart tomorrow
because even today I still arrive.

Look deeply: I arrive in every second
to be a bud on a spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with wings still fragile,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.

I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
in order to fear and to hope.
The rhythm of my heart is the birth and
death of all that are alive.

I am the mayfly metamorphosing on the surface of the river,
and I am the bird which, when spring comes, arrives in time
to eat the mayfly.

I am the frog swimming happily in the clear pond,
and I am also the grass-snake who, approaching in silence,
feeds itself on the frog.

I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks,
and I am the arms merchant, selling deadly weapons to Uganda.

I am the twelve-year-old girl, refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean after being raped by a seapirate,
and I am the pirate, my heart not yet capable of seeing andloving.

I am a member of the politburo, with plenty of power in myhands,
and I am the man who has to pay his “debt of blood” to, mypeople,
dying slowly in a forced labor camp.

My joy is like spring, so warm it makes flowers bloom in allwalks of life.
My pain is like a river of tears, so full it fills the four oceans.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and laughs at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up,
and so the door of my heart can be left open,
the door of compassion.

Check out this BBC radio 4 podcast , Child, Radio 4: great series, short episodes but full of fascinating information. I appear briefly in episodes 1, 7 and 9 so far, more are out in March. The ones i have heard have been really good, listen here .

Also check out India Rakusen’s other podcasts, eg Witches, its amazing listen here

The cycle of life (this time of a lemon!)

Some upcoming events

A few of mine below coming up, hope to see some of you there, and a few others of interest below:

Resparking: Working courageously with trauma and neglect

Event Link

A days training on trauma and neglect and when clients need help regulating and when they can benefit from challenge

Organiser: Brighton Therapy partnership : online

Friday 19th April

Early Years Conference Cornwall

A 2 day conference for early years practitioners in Cornwall

Organiser:Together for Families Cornwall, Wadebridge Pavilion

March 10th, 2024

Working with Trauma related Attachment in Short-term work

Event Link

Part of a series from Birkbeck on short term work with young opeople

Organiser: Birkbeck, online

March 20th, 2024

Mind-Parenting and splits between psyche and soma

Talk for Annual Conference of the FPC (Foundation of Counselling and Psychotherapy)

Location: Resource Centre, Holloway, London N7

March 23, 2024

And a few other amazing looking ones:

Leading attachment and child development researcher Alan Sroufe for MINDinMIND feb 18th details here

Reveries: Dreaming Across the Lifecycle : Great speakers here, in Manchester 6th July details here

UCL Psychoanalysis Unit: Words matter. looking at the impact of verbal abuse details here

Tavistock 9th International Infant Observation Conference 5th/6th April details here

Some blogs

A Holocaust survivor identifies with the pain of both sides in Israel-Hamas war read here

We boomers are on our way out. good piece about us/them in Unherd here

A really good piece from Johanthon Haidt about children’s use of tech: I am looking forward to his book, out soon. Here is the blog

A fascinating BBC article about the Miners Strike, oh how the world was different then, I found this very moving read here

My writing, formats and Bookfunnel

I am still finishing off my book on prenatal life and pregnancy which i hope will be the first in a series of shortish guides.

I had intended to publish independently, like Respark, but one generous soul, a journalist who I asked to endorse the book, loved it and suggested I get an agent to get a wider audience, so i am trying that and otherwise I will publish in the next few months (and then get on with other guides). Loads of you sent in stories which are in there, I cant thank you enough.

In case you forgot (!), Nurturing Natures 3rd edition is out now.

cheapest deal, psychological therapy books
available on amazon

‘RESPARK’ is also available in all the formats below

A ‘cheaper than Audible’ audio version of Respark is available here

The ebook version is available and there is a 25% discount with this link

Audio here and on Spotify and other platforms

The physical book and ebook is available from amazon or psychological therapy books or Karnac here,

Please do leave a review anywhere you buy it, it really helps a lot

Affect and Emotion (the new edition)

An ebook version of Affect and Emotion is available here at £4.99 and a further 25% discount available on this link

Also here on amazon or psychological therapy books . only about 6 quid too!

Click on links below to view or buy these:

Nurturing Natures,

Affect and Emotion

Nurturing Children,

The Good Life,

From Trauma to Harming others

For other journal papers and chapters papers and chapters see here

A few recently read, mainly non-therapy books

(get links to the books by clicking on the pictures)

Alice Winn: In Memoriam: A stunning book about the horrors of war, set in World War 1, we need to be reminded of this so much at the moment. I personally preferred it to both Sebastian Faulks and Pat Barker, although both were incredible. This also has a more modern take on social class, and on sexuality and has a touching love story read here

An enjoyable, slightly wacky book whose main protagonist is a neurodiverse woman whose way of experiencing the world is wonderfully portrayed. Read here

Natalie Goldberg is an amazing woman, Zen practitioner, writer and explainer of koans and an inspirational writing coach. I was getting stuck and struggling to write and this book, Wild Mind,, says it as needed, and not just about writing. The main lesson : ‘keep your hand moving’ (just do it), as well as trust your intuition and gut. Great advice for life.

Deborah levy: Things I dont want to know

Thanks to Yvonne Forward who recommended this to me. A great memoir, the first part at least, of a childhood in South Africa and then in the UK. Poignant, painful and fascinating. Cant wait to read the rest .

A psychotherapy book I have been reading

Of course, back to DWW.

I first bought my edition about 37 years ago, a hardcopy in a charity shop for £1 seventeen and sixpence (£1/17/6!) and had it in my hands and by my bedside for months and it is still one I continually return to.

I have been re-reading Mind and Its Relation to the Psyche-Soma (amazing he wrote this in 1949) and precocious false mind development, but i keep dipping into the other papers.

A few interesting podcasts

Top 5 regrets of the dying: Bonnie Ware with Rangan Chatterjee: Cant afford not to take this seriously. Guess what, working harder doesn’t much feature (lesson to self) listen here

Shame: A good conversation about this with psychoanalyst Stephen Blumenthal on Annalisa Barbieri’s podcast listen here

Consciousness, Vedanta and neuroscience and what is reality? (Big questions but good discussion). Its in the youtube above but also watch here

A podcast on the right brain, and finding meaning in life with iain McGilchrist listen here

Ram Dass. Taking off our spacesuit: The great spiritual teacher in a talk from way back in 1987, challenging how we cling to a sense of identity listen here

And finally …

Therapy joke:

At first I thought my therapy for Stockholm syndrome was useless.. …But now I kind of like it.

Phew, that’s it! Thanks for reading everyone, and bye from me from the infamous uber-cool Norman’s cafe in Tufnell Park, North London
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