As another year draws to a close, I decided to do something I’ve never done before and shift my focus away from the year to come and the resolutions I want to try and stick to but will likely fail at (see previous blog post) and instead, reflect on the year that’s been. I know this is something that many people do but historically, I’ve always tried to look forward at this time of year. I do think that as a counsellor, it is especially important for me to continually ‘check in’ with myself in order that I can be as grounded and available for my clients as it is possible to be and that’s a big part of my motivation to reflect.
Whilst I firmly believe that ‘being present’ is a practice that is most likely to be rewarded with good mental health and a reduction in anxiety symptoms, I do feel that it is helpful to reflect on how we got to where we are. Ultimately, we bring ourselves to every situation and it is all the stuff that came before that influences why we think, feel and act as we do. Having an understanding of this is vital in order to bring us to acceptance of ourselves and our circumstances and it is this acceptance that leads to change not necessarily in change of our situation but change in how we feel about it and of course, it’s the feeling that is everything.
So, what has 2018 taught me? Well, as with every year in my living memory, it’s been a mixture of highs and lows and all the bits in between. I know all to well that to try and eliminate the lows is not only futile but means that I’m not actually living. ( Side note – this brilliant Ted Talk about emotional agility is well worth a listen). It’s fair enough to wish that things could be mainly positive, it’s natural to not like feeling pain and sorrow but the reality is that being alive, being human means we experience the whole gamut of emotions and that is how it is supposed to be. The highs for me this year have been the health of my family, being fortunate enough to travel to some amazing places, achieving my career goals and enjoying the riches that my wonderful friendships bring. I get it that when it’s written down like that, it seems indulgent, ungrateful even to contemplate or give any attention to the negatives I’ve experienced but if I ignore the bad stuff, I’m putting an unrealistic expectation on myself to be upbeat and positive 24/7. I have to acknowledge the times I’ve suffered because that’s where the learning, compassion and understanding of myself comes. One thing I have learned this year is that how I experience something that happened to me a long time ago is a constantly evolving thing. For example, I have done a lot of work in terms of processing the fact that I don’t have parents and haven’t had since I was a teenager but the fact is, I can still be knocked sideways by it. It can still at times fill me with such anguish and despair that I don’t know where to turn and I keep asking how could it possibly have happened to me. The point is, that’s just the way it has to be. Of course I wish things were different, of course I wish it didn’t happen but I can’t change it and the challenge therefore for me is to work out how I tolerate the feelings and learn and grow from them. There have been several ‘knocked sideways’ moments this year and I know they are all telling me something. Something important about what I have lost and what that has meant for me and who I am as result.
The biggie for me (and arguably for everyone) is relationships. How I am in relationship, what relationships mean to me, how my relationships nourish me, what I contribute to them, how do my relationships make me feel and so it goes on. I am fortunate to have people in my life that I love and value a great deal but just like everything else, relationships change and evolve too. I can be guilty of falling into the ‘comparison’ hole where I inevitably talk myself into believing that I am not as good as others and this can hugely impact my overall well being. To add to this, if we are in a relationship that isn’t making us feel very good then we have to find a way to understand what’s going on not only for us but for the other person. Chances are, no one is deliberately setting out to hurt us – they’ve probably got their own stuff going on and simply can’t be available for whatever we might need but it’s easy to feel persecuted and hurt. I’ve certainly felt this way this year and I’ve had to try really hard to understand what belongs to me and what belongs to the other person and move away from the ‘victim’ mentality. Being able to do this is not only empowering but can also allow for more empathy and understanding to others and that definitely is a more positive place to work from. ALL relationships are co created and sometimes asking myself, what’s in it for me? What am I bringing to the table to make this be as it is is always a helpful starting point.
During the latter half of this year, I went ‘home’ to Pembrokeshire to go on a meditation retreat which was an incredibly positive, life affirming experience that taught me a great deal. One of the exercises involved selecting an ‘inner child’ card and through guided meditation trying to figure out what the card meant to you and what drew you to it. The card I selected (I hadn’t seen it before I selected it) depicted a gnome digging a large hole out of which grew a crystal with a rainbow pouring out of it. During the meditation, I saw myself as the gnome and despite having a very positive reaction to the card at first, this quickly moved to me feeling disappointed that I was in fact the one doing all the graft! I think my initial response understood the gnome to be some sort of guardian angel figure who was there constantly working away to ensure I always saw the inner light but seeing it as me doing it alone reinforced a feeling of isolation and on some level exhaustion. Living well is hard work! This was a really important understanding because with my teacher alongside me, guiding me, I learned that I have everything I need within me (as does every single one of us) and as long as I know my truth, my purpose then everything else will follow. It does involve self reflection and work but the rewards are abundant. My relationships will be more fulfilling and authentic because the pressure I might place on other people to be something I need them to be is gone. When we start looking outside ourselves at other people or things to fulfill our needs and desires then we can’t ever be fully content. Not because that other person doesn’t WANT to give that to us but they simply can’t. It’s impossible. Always sign post inwards and start with ourselves as that’s where the answers truly lie.
I’ve learned this but living it and filtering it through my everyday life is an ongoing work in progress and that’s the challenge as I enter 2019. I don’t expect it to be plain sailing because as I said earlier, life doesn’t work like that and there will always be curve balls to encounter but the awareness of it helps me embark on this next year from a steady platform. I feel positive and I’m especially hopeful that the progress I’ve made in learning meditation and how to teach it will be a process that thrives through my counselling practice. In the meantime, I’m going to live in the present and enjoy these last few hours of 2018. I hope you do too and if you feel you would like some support with practicing your own emotional agility please don’t hesitate to contact me. I truly love helping others understand themselves and what makes them tick and seeing the life changing results that can bring. Here’s to more of that in 2019!
Happy New Year!