Losing Butterfly: a Poem

I recognise a great
Tragedy happened when
Last we ate
Together

Softly sharing the
Hurt across dinner
Tables hearing others
Laugh and talk in
Hushed colours about last
Nights events as if nothing
Important were happening
Between
Us.

The tear significant and
I thought I could be
Brave and strong and
Remain resilient and
Affable.
This thing

Began with a walk
By walled water.
The walk both long
And humorous. We both
Laughing and talking
Camden bound.
Winding slowly towards
A loch and beers.

Beers Shared and problems halved?

Always with beers.
Four years of needing
You to stay and
Continue with your
Not so gentle insistent
Strength pushing my
Mind to new awareni
And then you left.

Lost.
Floundering like a
Fish pulled from water,
Without the balance of the
Deep blue to continue the
Holding, guiding nurturing
Affirming.

Your city is not that far
But already seems
Too great a stretch to.
A homeless friend
Often says ‘Until we
Meet again’ and I know
That cannot happen

Until a veil is
Lifted. Imperceptible
A skein, as delicate
as cobwebbed lace.
Spun golden,
Yet seldom worn.

When we next meet it
Will be to say with
A mouthful of I’m
*sorries that the world
My world was warmer

When you were
Near. Now a cooler
Dawn awaits me with
Your version of silly gone.

This loss cuts like the
Others, as all departures
Eventually do. Only this
One caused by neglect
Was of my own undoing.

Standing like a half
Buried Minoan head,
Brooding deep purple
Grey. It’s Thunder
Claps and rain.
Again

Resources
Raymond Antrobus on CBC
Grenfell Tower Have You Heard George’s Podcast?

Images
Cover Photo by Eeshan Garg on Unsplash
Photo by Tom Rogerson on Unsplash

Winging It

We’re Winging it just like everyone else. Holly Hunter’s character said on the Big Sick. A marvelous film watched over the Winter Break.

My mind, always ready and willing to jump at new ideas, sat up and said “Ooooh I like this!

So I ask:

Do we know what we are doing?

Where we are going?

How are we getting there?

What happens on the journey?

Is it worth the effort?

What happens after we arrive?

Does Psychotherapy, Counselling, Therapy, Coaches and coaching, Mentors and Mendallas, Science, Scientists and Doctors have the answers we all are potentially waiting for?

I think that we want to believe that they do. Only they don’t. We don’t. We are intellectually figuring it out with you.

Perhaps we’re all Winging It.

Principally with hands raised over our heads and hoping it works out alright, for us, for them, for we, for you and for I.

We are making it up aren’t we? Yes. Trained. Yes. Confident and then unleashed we are sent out into the world to do some good. Mostly…

The truth of it all, is we don’t know that we do THAT much good. There is a statistic that says that if something bad happens to you and you see a therapist you may get some support and feel better within 3 – 6 months. If you don’t go and see a therapist. Chances are that you might feel just as good in 3 – 6 months too but not have paid out the 1000s for the support of someone like me offering soft plenitudes and platitudes to make it all ‘feel’ better.

Whether you are a doctor, mechanical engineer, teacher, law enforcement officer, director, editor, musician, astronaut, martial arts instructor, or surfer you may know your science, but if we were to strip it all back to basics every thing is up for chance and really we have only a thin veil of knowledge (deceit) figuring out what our next move is going to be.

We are all champion guessers, frauds if you will and there’s fun to be had in the not knowing of things and having the humility of wanting to figure this stuff (Life) out.

Let’s have fun with it. C’mon I dare you!

Pause

For 37 weeks, I have hummed hawed and harried away at my writing. It has been a joy, a jog, a job, a journey .

Over Thirty thousand words written and shared, mostly. Some a surprise to me, some a surprise for you too. Most of the words my own, a few, and only a few, from others.

Topics have been varied and I hope interesting. I will return in February. I am attempting another task of writing. My BACP accreditation needs attention, basic application then completion.

Thank you for joining me, reading my work and making contributions to the mill that continually spins. I could not have achieved what I have without the conversations, observations and comments.

Adieu until

Simple Beauty

Quote

A client shared a quote that I will never forget…

“The wisdom of Trees in Winter: they show us the beauty of letting go.”

In Hiding

I have recommended the Hidden life of trees by Peter Wohlleben to a number of people as the book illustrates what Trees can help Humans learn about life and living well.

Throughout our lives We let go of things all the time, mostly without recognising that we do. Whether that’s time, relationships, clutter, jobs, money, skin cells, brain cells and other unmentionables we dispose and let go of without a second thought.

Clean

A thought struck whilst eating about letting go of things that have been used. I usually have creative illuminating thoughts in the shower. There is something about the running of water that invites reverie and space, perhaps the act of creating for me is more about the act of cleansing – another letting go.

Voile

As I put aside the lid to the pot of yoghurt I thought about what it was I was letting go of. Like the tree this was a leaf of plastic. If we think about this thin veil of plastic – it comes from oil which comes from organic matter that came from a tree or other vegetation millions of years ago. The plastic leaf did not cascade from my hand to the table with that carefreeness that a leaf from a tree descends to a loamy forest floor. No.

Addition

This lid was placed onto my wooden dining room table carefully and with little grace. The aim of the act was for the lid to be discarded in time. Without much consideration. The plastic leaf eventually going to a landfill site to add to all the other lids and plastic detritus that have accumulated rapidly in the course of my life to be a little big problem. Plastic life, spans a time of decay of between 10-200 years with little up-cycle value but with huge ecological impact and cost.

Subtraction

Being mindful of my impact, of my imprinted footprint on a multitude of ecosystems is worthy of thought and action. Observing where I can let go of less, which negatively affects the course of generations of Earth’s inhabitants is a cause I can ascribe to. Less plastic consumption. More demands on local councillors to reduce plastic consumables available in production and sales of various products. Small big acts. Recycle recycle recycle Michael.

Refraction

With the coming of a new day, new moment, new year, new experience letting go invites me to reflect on the space that is discovered/recovered from discarding what has had use. Letting go of something that costed time, energy, money and sanity is a useful leaf to shed. Moving into another moment I can reflect on the benefits of either holding or releasing an element or relationship or thing.

Cascading

In 2018 a number of leaves fell: I left my counselling space in Lee, clients finished short pieces of work with me, I stopped working for Together, the illness MS progresses and reveals other hidden horrors. My eldest left primary school and started his defiant walk towards adulthood.

Almost Bare

My tree holds few leaves now and I am starting to witness each curve, and knot and root, branch, twig – offering a collection of unparalleled unique beauty. There is learning here also as I struggle to understand what letting go has revealed. A dream to be realised? Challenges to be overcome and triumphed with? To finally see that in letting go we win?

Re-lease

Energy is to be gained in the release. It is not ‘the loss of’ that I fear, it is the idea I will not ever be: whole, good, qualified, enough. Even here the Wintered Tree teaches ‘These ideas too are to be released.’

And so…

Resources

Suzanne Simmard – Trees

Mark Manson – The Subtle Art

Don’t Think Twice – Letting Go

Tactical Empathy and Effective Altruism

blue-masque-2.jpg

Flow state thinking

An interesting blending experience happened after I listened to two of my favourite podcastsPhilosophy Bites and Pod Save the World. One was the thought that both ideas appeared similar and could be done to support those who through no fault of their own are facing unsurmountable challenges. The other was is there something here about listening for the solution in a way that supports a peaceful outcome. Tactical Empathy merged with Effective altruism…

A definition of both Tactical Empathy and Affective Altruism follow.

There are plenty of ways to get what you want in a negotiation — kicking and screaming, threats, and bribery among them. But perhaps the most effective strategy is one that’s pretty counterintuitive: Focus on what the other person wants instead – Chris Voss Author of Never Split the Difference.

Or  “Tactical Empathy” is the ability to share someone else’s feelings while executing a specific plan to achieve a particular goal. LEO Hearted T-shirts

Affective altruism is a philosophy and social movement that uses evidence and reason to determine the most effective ways to benefit others. Effective altruism encourages individuals to consider all causes and actions and to act in the way that brings about the greatest positive impact, based upon their values. Wikepedia

Blending

The first podcast is a 15-20 minute show discussing our responses to those in need with Larry Temkin on Philosophy bites. The second is an incredible story of a reporter Arwa Damon who was under siege in Mosul for 28 hours, her rescuers bravery and her desire to support Syrian refugees.

I had the chance to listen to both podcasts within a few days of each other and arrived at a similar point. Both podcasts discuss: tribalism, humanity, decision making and a desire to better understand choice that affect us the individual and the choices we make/could make that effect humanity.

Choice with Others in Mind

Interestingly the ideas of tactical empathy and effective altruism were discussed by both Larry and Arwa. For Larry there was the experience of appropriately understanding choice and making decisions that ultimately serve the greater good. One could look and feel bad for a period but the delay to look after a larger number of people is the better outcome for the many.

The idea of effective altruism or tactical empathy is a challenge to our sensibilities, compassion, recognition of the plight of fellow humans. There are a number of stories Larry Temkin discusses throughout the podcast that nudge a few uncomfortable ideas towards our awareness. The $5,000 watch and the drowning child was particularly distressing and also informing.

Links to Social Responsibility

Previously I wrote about the School to Prison Production Line. The need for interrupters to change the direction, influence and flow of the components that can produce those that make up a forensic population taps into the idea of tactical empathy and effective altruism. By putting the needs of a disaffected displaced over represented group of peoples alongside our own, perhaps even before, then significant derailment of the production line can and will occur.

For Arwa the understanding I arrived at was a sense of compassion that even though one might live in an area affected by conflict, war, and civil unrest. Life is still lived. A birthday is still celebrated, a new visitor treated like a very welcome guest. Arwa’s description of her experiences with the people that were able to offer her a safe place to hide from threat of capture and death are ‘clutch’ moments. If we were to apply tactical empathy and a degree of critical thinking to Arwa’s story we would note that her job was to collect a story. The story became about her survival.

Tactical empathy – effective altruism. Two concepts that are in mind as a continuum. Arwa setting up a foundation recognises that her efforts to raise awareness and create change for the many she had to organise her thoughts and other people to offer more. The Return to Mosul documentary and frying an egg appear as a reminder of humans caring about other humans.

The Call

The aim here then, could be to encourage critical thinking, being aware of our altruistic natures and when necessary use tactical empathy to listen and create change for self and others.

Resources
Philosophy Bites – Larry Temkin
Arwa Damon – The Seige

Truth & Reconciliation

truth and reconciliation poem
At a recent conference held by BAATN, I met an inspiring person who spoke openly about her experiences. We talked about challenge and she shared that as a poet writing and sharing has not been an easy thing to achieve. I mentioned that I would be happy to share her work as you will read below it is exceptional.
By Jodene Oghenakaro…

It’s not always the journey that matters,

it’s what you do within it that makes the difference.

The truth is in the telling, feeling heard & retelling.

Like I tell my kids…sharing is caring & caring is sharing.

We suffer in silence and in that silence, we suffer more.

Are we rotten to the core, like we bleed the earth & leave it sore. Feeding the rich & starving the poor.

Seething with hatred, envy & desire. Why can’t we love our neighbours & just inspire.

A culture of uncare & an uncare of culture.

Where does change begin, from the inside out or the outside in.

Is the enemy out there or within. A God within, a God without.

Building walls & defences but what are we running from in these races & whatever happened to face to faces.

Face the enemy, the trauma, fear & anxiety, instead of splitting, dividing the reality.

Earth, sky, heaven, hell, shadow, light, dark, black, white, immigrant, citizen, good, bad, mad, sad, flesh, spirit, soul, mind, love, hate ..when will we learn that we are one body & integrate.

The wise mind, depressive position, individuation, self-actualisation, integration, a revelation..

does it really matter what we call it..it’s accepting the truth that we are all these things, then healing & reconciliation can begin.

By

Jodene Oghenekaro

37

Alexandra Palace Sunset

Excuse Ville

With 37 weeks left in the year, I have set myself a challenge of writing one blog a week. Knowing and doing can be 2 completely polarising concepts. I recently wrote to a colleague from Excuseville the reasons I had for not writing are too many to list, and the longer I delay the longer I remain stalled. With the above in mind, I will ‘No Matter What’ this! No matter what is going on each week, I will submit a blog.

There, and with that intention set – I begin.

There are a number of topics that interest me: Current affairs, Podcasts, Art, Literature, Film, Education, Science, Psychology, Spirituality, Criminal Justice, Sport, Travel, Relationships and the great unknown. My aim: to share insight and awarenesses (Awarni? I have a penchant for silly made up words too, be warned you may find more Opoku-Forfiehisms as I continue.)

With the idea of ‘Excuseville’ in mind the aim to produce a blog weekly will be beset by obstacles (a few are listed below). It’s a little challenge (a game) I have set for myself to achieve.

Busyness

Currently I hold a full time role at Together as a project manager, teach at University of Greenwich twice a week, run a private counselling practice meeting clients either in parks for walk and talk therapy, online or face to face contact, I also support a number of counsellors/life coaches with their businesses as a supervisor, occasionally I also deliver guest lectures at the University of East London for their Forensic Psychology students. On a quarterly basis my time is consumed with marking and reviewing student’s progress on various courses at Greenwich including Introduction to Counselling and the Year 1 and Year 2 MSc in Therapeutic Counselling. These are my yeah but’s. Offering reason enough not to write. However no matter what…

Hustle

The amusing aspect for me is how all of the busyness began: teaching, counselling, lecturing, supervising and managing. There is a saying that ‘One should be careful what one wishes for, as you might just get it!’ A few years ago an ardent and heartfelt request was presented from my longest standing supporter, my life partner. “You need to HUSTLE!” she said. The message was much more poignant and punchier than mentioned here. The main point being that the world was moving quickly and if I did not get up and get going I would be left behind. And so I did and haven’t looked back since!

The second experience that kick started the multi-layered HUSTLE was being invited to evaluate my experiences whilst a student at University of Greenwich. I can remember stating that the training to becoming a counsellor was not for the feint of heart. I was amongst a group of 1st – 3rd year MSc students and alumni from previous years. The comment feint of heart received nods and wistful smiles of recognition. Becoming a counsellor was tough, being a counsellor was tougher still but had rewards that many other professions don’t experience.

Teaching

The following year I was invited to share with 3rd students my counselling journey, this was my first speaking to a large group of people I did not know and I enjoyed the experience immensely. In September I began my first season teaching at University of Greenwich holding the experiential group (The process group). I have written about supporting 1st year students a number of times my teaching as a visiting lecturer began from here as did HUSTLE.

All of my writing going forward will be on some of the subjects shared at the top of this post, however change may occur here to.

Book Review – A Little Life

Small – Big Life Matters

A little life ba-little-lifey Hanya Yanagihara

Revisiting my brief overview of ‘A Little Life’ the 2015’s Man Booker Prize nominee a year later was a passing idea. What could be gained from this experience was noting if my opinion had changed about the book a year later.

A Challenge

I was introduced to this book by my sister CF. She stated in a resigned fashion that this book was a depiction of a persons struggle. No matter what good experiences were presented to them, they could not heal from the pain of their past.

As a practicing counsellor with over 7 years of experience I was intrigued and appalled by the idea of a wound so great that no recovery could be experienced. Naively I approached the book like an investigator seeking to uncover what experiences a fictional character could not heal from.

Within 80 pages Ms Yanagihara (author) had me so involved within a complex story of loss, betrayal and pain that to stop reading was the furthest thought from my mind. As I turned the pages and further engrossed myself with this Little Life, I began to recognise why my sister had stated in as clear a way as possible why she proclaimed that there are scars that some individuals never recover.

Symbolism

The central character is called Jude. Jude has a number of difficulties that he is able to successfully negotiate his life with including low self esteem, self harm and a mysterious physical disability. There is a scene that springs to mind as a metaphor for the book. After a significant self-disclosure to a close friend, Jude is thrown from a roof to a window ledge in a scheme to rescue his friends. The rescue involves him undoing a lock that he alone knows how to remove.

event-horizonEvent Horizon

If a reader makes it to the impromptu rescue part of the book, unfortunately they have been pulled over the edge into the event horizon. There is little chance of escape until the book ends and even then a reader will be further embroiled with ‘But if’ scenarios and disappointed views about the characters lives in the book for months after completing A Little Life.

Support Group for a Book?

I have spoken with others and read tweets about how readers have experienced the story #aLilLife with calls for support groups and warm blankets to help the reader survive the tumult of impassionesupport-groupd story telling.

All talk about the effect the book has on the reader are accurate. The twists and turns of the story, the feelings the book and writing evoke and how, as a reader, they wish they could have friends and family that Jude has.

I read the book morning noon and night. At one point stating on twitter ‘It is the first thing I reach for when I awake and the last thing I touch before I fall asleep.’ At times I stay up for an hour or 2 past the witching hour to complete a paragraph or a chapter. A Little Life is a tour de force.

Willingness to let go

The aspect of the book that stays with me, is the roof incident and the reminder his social worker offers him; ‘You have to let others in and talk about this thing, or it will get the better of you.’ I am mindful that this coupled with the scene of him rescuing his friendsjesse-w
and undoing a lock that only he knows how to unpick are 2 moments of evidence. Jude has the tools for his own rescue if he were willing and able to open the locks. Anna provided Jude with a choice, as all good therapists are able to offer their clients.

Self-Agency

The experience of ‘Life’ can be taken for granted. A character like Jude’s helps to explore a reckoning with humanity and all that the human experience can present: Mystery, Adversity, Humour, Friendship, Challenge.

As a therapist, Jude’s story provided me with a reminder of what professional boundaries are – To walk beside a person being supported and remaining both caring and mindful of the individual’s journey towards self-discovery – hoping that they get there.

Jude’s story is tragic, many of the people I work with have disastrous life experiences too. I hold on to the idea that a character like Jude’s in ‘A Little Life’ and service users I support can take steps to change their life path if they can find value in being…

For Jude the chance to take a leap of faith appeared too great, however in my experience it is often as thin as a sheet of paper.

Ignored Song

apathy-moses

First They Came …

In Germany,
first they came for the Communists, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist; And then they came for the trade unionists, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist; And then they came for the Jews, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew; And then . . . they came for me . . .’ Martin Neimoller

Why Prisons

I was asked at a family barbecue why I pushed so hard and worked o hard, for the men and women who find themselves involved with the criminal justice system in England. My answer was simply that the they, could quite easily have been me.

I was introduced to the quote above by a friend, Mr Koukidis, who currently works at a prison in SE London. My friend is a conscientious committed counselling psychologist. He introduced the quote a number of years ago. ‘They came…’ was a poignant reference to the work we were engaged with as counsellors at this London Prison. The men we supported with members from the mental health team could, should/could not be forgotten.

Recognition

There were moments in my life where had things continued; joining a gang, engaging in destroying public property, fighting other boys on the estate, I could have found myself involved with the criminal justice system and possibly have spent time in prison. I spent 10 years living on a well known housing estate in North London and wrote about aspects of it in my MSc research paper called ‘A Son’s Journey’.

‘The block of flats I lived in consisted of a series of box-like structures in close proximity to one another. This layout created a feeling of overcrowding and compartmentalisation and it was these features that I found repeated in the prison, that are meticulously divided into cells, landings, communal areas, canteens, house blocks and corridors.

The lack of open space and privacy felt all too familiar. My block was an open tiered construct. It had covered corridors that one had to travel along to reach the domestic spaces in the building. ‘On the ground floor of the building, there were shops and businesses which created an insular feeling –  there was little need to travel off the estate as your immediate needs could be met in this ‘city’ within the city of London. In this regard, the estate also resembled prison, in that it felt like a separate entity, held apart from the rest of society. ‘

A Son’s Journey May 2012

An Almost Experience

prisons-obsolete

Angela Davis on Why Prisons are Obsolete

In some way my working experience of prison, working with service users, probation, police and the criminal justice system offers a chance for me to balance the disparity I find myself involved with. I recognise that I am an outsider but with a quasi-experience of being an insider.

One of the reasons that the quote by Neimoller has continued to live and breathe in me, could be acknowledging the truth of the quote. ‘And then.. they came for me.’ The quote references the indifference or the apathy of the person who has written. There is almost the suggestion that there would be no-one left to stand up for them.

In training to become a counsellor/psychotherapist I had not thought that I would ever begin to work with a group of people that were so low on society’s pecking order as those who had been sentenced to serve time or serve several terms in prison. Working in prison was the furthest thing from my mind when I began training as a counsellor in 2006.

Plight of the young

Between 2009-2010 my counselling experience was going well at a Drs Surgery in South East London where I had held a placement for just over a year. I had thoughts of opening a private practice and working with the general public with one particular area of specialty: Young People from backgrounds similar to mine. Inner City, low socio-economic incomes, poor educational attainment. The idea was to complete the MSc course and then gain a few years experience working in the field and then begin a small private counselling practice for myself.

Gotcha

gotcha

The Choice Red Pill Blue Pill

A list of other placements were made available to students at Greenwich University in the Spring term of 2010. I noticed a prison placement. Initially my thoughts were that I would not make a good prison counsellor (self-doubt), or that I wouldn’t get many clients that would want to work with me, and I wasn’t going to apply (denial). I discussed my prejudices and fears with my wife. The effect of which increased my curiosity about engaging with a forensic population. Making the application was straightforward then came a few months of waiting. I sent a follow up email to the lead counsellor of the prison, Anne Willoughby, who enquired about the initial email.

An invitation followed and I met with Anne Willoughby and 4 other interested volunteers in July 2010. After the initial meeting an opportunity was granted to walk the prison grounds. The size, scale, height of the perimeter wall, and security measures of the prison did little to lower my excitement and fear of walking into the complex. We were shown to various house blocks, the education department, the hub at health care, workshops and the counselling office HQ.

My initial assumptions of seeing a Hannibal Lector character, chains slinking along the ground in a menacing way did not happen. The group of 4 would be volunteers were introduced to a regular working prison with prisoners moving within it as regularly as people traverse through life whilst in the community. I witnessed nothing strange and little alarmed me.

I had walked into and out of a prison and had actually ‘liked’ the experience. It wasn’t as bad or as frightening as I had imagined. It was in fact much like the housing estate that I had grown up on. A similar modular, organised block form building that reordered space. I understood the function and physical presence of the prison. For me this recognition was my in.

I came away from the experience wanting to give time to the people who were imprisoned there. I also wanted to acknowledge a gnawing suspicion that my imagined incarceration could only be released once I had served my time, completed good pieces of work with the men there and learned some valuable life lessons. I believe one of the most important lessons was about freedom. If a person is unable to perceive that they are free. Also that they are equipped with the tools to make a positive impact in their life and the life of others. Being released to the community could be an uncomfortable challenge that a person can feel ill equipped to manage. It is possible they might return to prison a number of times until…

Divingdeepsea-diver-suit

The main learning I took from the 1st prison encounter was, men who ‘came away’ were not too dissimilar to people I had supported in the community. The main difference was the setting. If I could get past the idea of working in a prison and what that may mean then I could literally work anywhere. I started working at this London prison in October 2010. It took roughly 4 weeks before I could walk in through the front gate of the prison and not have my heart beat double time.

I managed to develop a number of self-checks to ease myself into another way of being whilst in the prison. My 1st mental trick I adopted, was to imagine myself entering a compression chamber and on leaving the prison entering a decompression chamber. Both stages allowed me the chance to get ready for the environment I was moving into. The idea enabled me to contextualise myself to the new spaces I was about to come into contact with. Like a deep sea diver I was able to situate myself both in and out of the prison.

The deep sea diver idea was also like having a suit of armour to manage the pressures, pushes and pulls of prison life. Mentally removing the suit on leaving I found that I was no longer carrying stuff I had no right to carry beyond the prison gate: stories I had encountered, past histories of discomfort and pain, uncertainty about the future, disillusionment about being away.

I learned that each space within the prison had it’s own vibe. Each house block, education department, workshop, gym facility, training room and areas within health care held it’s own unique energy and texture. The energy of each facility of the prison then had an effect on all that came to use these different spaces. For example when in the education department I found myself to be quiet and tentative in excusing a service user from a lesson.

In workshop I found myself to be assertive and loud when asking a service user to access a therapeutic encounter. The aim was to engage the person I was to work with in a way that showed that the service had not forgotten them. It was like the counselling service helped people to recognise that they were not ‘disappeared’ or ‘forgotten’ as perhaps they might have fears that their family, friends and society as a whole had.balacne

‘First they came …’ Reminds me of the interconnectedness of humanity and that if we are to make successful cohesive advancements in our respective communities for the betterment of all, then all should be remembered and involved in reconstruction even those who have the ‘ignored song’.

The Artist

jm-basquait Jean Michel Basquait

An early memory from primary school, was of drawing frequently. I loved drawing, painting, sculpting and running sprint races. I had dreams of becoming an artist. I knew nothing of art or of the art world then.

Risk

I remember sharing with my mum in year 3 that I wanted to become an artist and she in her infinite wisdom, said something along the lines of “Artists don’t make that much money.” Re-remembering this experience I’ve come to realise a few truths,

  1. The aim of life, in my mum’s world, was to make money. I would add she was not materialistic, more a pragmatist.
  2. Becoming an artist was a dreamer’s activity (guilty as charged – I was a dreamer, what child isn’t?), and as a result could not be for me. Our world (mine, my mothers, my sisters) was made up of hard realities.

To give context – the time I had my epiphany in year 3, was in the late 70s and money was scarce. We lived on a council estate in North London and didn’t have much. We lived on the top floor of a block of flats. Often the lifts did not work as a result of vandalism, and the council not repairing them. Aged 7 I had thoughts that I could engage in an artistic career. Earning a good living was not an issue I had previously thought much about. In my mother’s view of the world money was a constant concern.

Everywhere we could see was a panorama of concrete. Mum worked as a nurse. Dad was between two worlds. London and Ghana. He worked as a civil servant, and a representative of a Ghanaian political party. He was often away in Ghana for long periods of time. Life from my mum’s perspective was a disillusioned experience, difficult and practical. There was little space or time for the aesthetics of art and appreciations of creativity.

tangmereThe conversation about becoming an artist had a profound effect on my idea of what I was going to do with the rest of my life. I was to have further conversations with my mum about what I could do with drawing as a profession. We came across Architecture as a possible profession that utilized my creativity but could offer me a long and productive career. I imagined what life as an Architect would be like; Drawing buildings and spaces in a range of techniques, using different perspectives to show my vision. I knew little of the technicalities of what being an architect was, but knew that drawing was a part of what an architect did. I wanted to do that. Draw!

Fast forward to September 2016

There have been a number of experiences I’ve had over the past couple of months that have helped me to begin crystallising my identity as a counsellor. One of those experiences was watching a show called the Chef’s Table. The first episode in this series on Netflix observed a man by the name of Massimo Batturo a famous chef in Italy. I was able to witness a remarkable journey. Massimo’s transformation is so different in places to my own story. The multiple successes and failures so rich and complex that in parts his story resembles my own. So much so that I could see myself on his vibrantly filled exuberant passage . A light that I was unaware of, switched back to on for me. This illumination was a warm pleasant and welcome surprise.

Waiting for me

As I have travelled along this path of becoming a counsellor/psychotherapist I have looked for moments that could take me home, to a warm embrace from my life partner, to a large bowl of pepper soup by my elder sister, to a big A-ha moment where I recognise like in moments of de ja vu that I have been here before, or that I remember a particular profound and beautiful experience: such as witnessing a colleague break into a smile after tasting a slice of one of my home baked loaves of bread. Moments like these are not lost on me.

chefs-table

With Massimo I recognise the inner child and the sense of wonder at the world and all that there is in life to uncover. I feel the same way about working as a counsellor/Forensic Mental Health Practitioner for Together for Mental Wellbeing and as a visiting lecturer at Greenwich University as an experiential group facilitator. The feeling of discovery in each of these moments I will describe as like that of a prospector or an alchemist finding gold. The gold I am looking to uncover with a client or a group is their light switching to on – when they say “I can see it now!”

For Massimo hiding beneath his grandmother’s table as a boy away from his brothers teasing. Watching her cook and learning from her, started for him a journey of innovation within the field of cookery and chef mastery that honed his craft like few others before him: his gold. Chef’s table observed his travels and uncovered his passions, the struggles and how things began to coalesce in his life once he returned to Modena. Happy accidents like dropping a lemon tart started in him a journey of exploration-to find the thing! (My words not his). The ultimate, the zenith in his mastery of cooking experience.

Enter art

Massimo and Lara Gilmore visited art galleries in New York at which Massimo was indifferent to. He made me laugh as he described the pigeon piece which in one moment an installation changed Massimo’s idea of himself, arts and his life’s work.

Completing my G.C.S.E.s and leaving secondary school I went to an art college in Wisbech. I attended with the view of completing a spatial design BTEC course. My view of becoming an artist had changed to that of becoming an Interior Designer. My wish to become an architect changed as a result of a conversation with my secondary school’s careers advice service. The conversation observed my lack of mathematical skill that would be necessary for becoming an architect. The careers person also observed that I was good with my hands (even though they had not seen me in Design Technology). Becoming a carpenter would be an equally rewarding career. This conversation disillusioned me further and invited me to think in terms of achievable goals. My final shift of career paths was to become an interior designer.

This from a boy who grew up on a ziggurat in North London. Attending art college was fantastic. It brought me into contact with new ideas, a wider group of artistic people, art history, photography, set design and a new appreciation to design in my life.

I knew little of the arts before I attended Isle college. I was invited to think about composition, texture, light, colour, depiction, balance, true representation, balance, organisation and frame. I developed an affinity for landscapes and fell head over heels for J.M.W. Turner’s work my favourite piece being the fighting Temeraire.the-fighting-temeraire

I believe my trajectory on this psycho-therapeutic path has been pointing me to a distant experience: Art. Massimo helped me arrive at this realisation. I had wondered when and if this moment would ever arrive.

What next?

I feel that the next part of my journey is already unfolding in unpredictable and thought provoking ways: Walk and Talk Therapy, Baking Therapy, Basketball Therapy. Often the work of a counsellor/psychotherapist bursts with so much life, complexity, colour and difficult experiences clients share. The effect of which can be fractious jarring and uncomfortable. The work can also be heart-warming, hilarious and humbling.

By viewing my work with clients as a canvas that is an ever changing palette of colour and texture I feel that I am closing the gap between where I am within the profession of psychoanalytic thought and my original goal of becoming an artist. The work then is a compositional piece that lives, breathes and carries itself forward in new and exciting ways long after we have stopped working together, with it’s many layers and qualities continuing to develop, separate, coalesce and define the self. I am attracted to the living art of working in a way that explores the unimaginable, bravely and without compromise.

The prospect of living and working as an integrative therapist holding an idea of myself as an artist could be seen as a threat to what came before, however I am witnessing a sense of discovery to approaching my work as a collaborator to a human canvas that is ever changing.

When asked who I am, my answer…

 

…I am an artist,

 

…I became what I was meant to be…

 

…eventually..

 

…Poetry.