Sticking With It: Challenge

Writing short little epithets, as seen below, after completing a 10-minute meditation has been a part of my meditation practice for just over a year. After nearly 400 days of continual practice with the Calm app, I am open to continue with the learning and growing. Recognising that I have an inquisitive and restless mind has been testing. Finding a practice that reduces anxiety has been useful for me to develop a better understanding of myself. The practice of 10-15 minute meditation every day also supports maintain my focus at this challenging time of World History.

Wise words
The quote from calm that inspired this post was – ‘Let difficulty transform you. And it will. In my experience, we just need help in learning how not to run away’ by Pema Chodron.

My response
@calm ‘Noticing that challenges are made to be overcome and they are as much ‘How’ as they are ‘When’. Ask for guidance or help when needed #meditation.

To the quick
The example of the short quip above, is an effort to show that I understand the difficulty of not turning in the opposite direction. Away from the source of uncomfortable challenge. Making a fail safe leave plan when things get tough. Like now!

Healers
There is an attempt to take the quote and re-interpret Pema Chodrin’s words. I then offer both the quote and my interpretation as a support. You may have seen the quote/remix on various social media spaces I inhabit. The quote/remixes are also a way to share that, should someone want access to mental health support I know of many who could be of impactful assistance.

Challenge as a bridge

Target 400
After 395 days of consistent daily meditation practice and a solid bombardment of information about the Corona-virus/COVID-19 pandemic. My need for meditation happens to be both an escape and a cure to return the mind to a steady hum. I have found the practice to be a salve.

Reset
The hype, hysteria and hyperbole of the disease and recognisable human responses including denial, panic buying, hoarding, frequent information fly wheel gathering, does little to aid our capacity to find a level state of mindful yet calm awareness. In fact it is often quite the opposite.

How
To overcome a challenge is a request to understand what it is and how it may affect things for you, family, friends and colleagues. See the challenge as a problem to solve. Aim at becoming creative and communicate with others about what the challenge is and see if others have met/experienced a similar difficulty and what they did? Rarely are you the only person to have faced a problem like it. Accepting advice could be an appropriate way to make it to the other side.

When
That can all depend on you. Running away from the challenge usually puts the difficulty off for an undefined length of time. But, it will return. It usually is an universal phenomena. ‘Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today’ was a saying my mum would say to me. Possibly her mum may have said it to her too when she was in her teens.

Train
It would be understandable to remove yourself from a challenge for a short time, build up the necessary skills, strength, understanding and then return and overcome said problem.

Result
The outcome for getting beyond the difficulty is the learning we gain from doing so. Being a life-long learner and a perpetual student of life supports growing past false limitations, possibly put in place by others. Apply understanding and continue honing, growing and improving. I believe growing after facing adversity is one of the best achievements of our lives. Becoming a therapist is a part of that story for me, but so is becoming a father, supervisor, lecturer, writer

Resources
Tom Bilyeu Impact Theory: Agent Smith
Science of Success with Jim Kwik

Images
Photo by Jukan Tateisi on Unsplash
Photo by Chinh Le Duc on Unsplash

Serendipity: Day 1 The Course

The Black Men’s Introduction to Group Therapy Course began on the 13th of November and was a Kings and Queen making experience with my co-counsellor Sheila Samuels. I borrow the term from Ron Brown High School and Dope Black Dad’s Podcast’s chief presenter Marvyn Harrison who addressed me recently as King.

The moment stood out, fresh like beads of sweat dotting a brow furrowed in deep concentration. Mentally I did a double take and thought…
Who is he speaking to?
Me?
Really?
King?
Oh I get it.
Those are large shoes to fill.
I’m ready to put that mantle on.

Now.

Collaborative Communication
5 men attended the group and told their stories of why they saw a need for the group. The men held out their independent requests for the room to see feel and identify with. There is a unity to be had in sharing hopes with a room who know what you are saying because they, I, we, have said similar things too.

The Philosophical meets the Practical

Safety
Groups are always nervous in the beginning. Leaders/Facilitators are too! With a new venue.
New people to get to know.
A new course.
Not knowing met with new, then came upon nuanced and introduced those who attended to what has the potential for being made to exist in the now.
For this group it was a Black safe space. Rare. A space curated, created and secured for men of the African Diaspora to meet and talk and discuss and experience warmth from a forgotten Sun. The aim – to discuss Black Mental Health with other Black Men with 2 highly skilled counsellors.

Knowing
A good therapy group often operates well with 2 counsellors steering the conversation. Having worked with Sheila at the prison a few years ago I knew she would be a great co-facilitator for this group. Knowledgeable, flexible and able to support the group engage with the sensitive topic of Black Mental Health.

Diversity
The group of 5 men with differing ages, professions, from a range of different London Boroughs, from a collection of countries of origin all came with a singular focus: To open the sometimes locked box and speak about mental health, as vulnerable, sensitive, engaged, intelligent, responsible, aware, concerned advocates and as Black men.

Sensate
There was laughter, there was a felt sense of wanting to support and be simply acknowledged as friend, brother, seeker, father, colleague like in the classic Ralph Ellis book Invisible Man being seen and understood is a priceless gift.

I could just about keep my hands from clapping all the time or staying on my seat from sheer giddy exuberance: This Was Actually Happening! Finally!

It did, and there are more to follow, on the 20th 27th November 4th, 11th 18th December.

One attendee asked if there are plans for the group to continue past the 6 weeks… Both me and Sheila looked at each other and answered “Well that all depends…”

Who Knows by Ram Dass
Thank you Anne Willoughby for introducing me to this tale…

*Cover Image from This Book Could Help

An Origin Story

Musings on Therapy
I can remember the moment that counselling, psychology, psychotherapy or psychopathology became the most important career choice I ever made. I was 33, this was in the summer of 2007.

Balance
3 years before I met Laos I worked at Harris academy school for girls in East Dulwich. I had begun an introductory course of counselling at Morley college. The teacher Ian Mendelberg was a great example of Carl Rogers and Fritz Perls, I was later able to appreciate. Ian was able to combine wisdom and grace with humor and presence.

SSCO
I was the school’s Specialist Sports Co-ordinator providing group and individual sports and pastoral care support. I also coached basketball in the morning as a Breakfast Basketball initiative. Within 2 seasons the programme helped beginners take 3rd place in London’s Central Venue League Basketball tournaments. A crowning moment for the team, the school and for me their coach.

Clarity
The crystalisation moment mentioned above was realised at an individual mentoring appointment with a student of the school. My own a ha moment. Goodbyes carry an emotionally laden content that is difficult to contain and manage. A yr9 pupil was relocating to a different school for the next academic year.

By me asking if she was going to be alright she replied:

“I’m gonna have to be aren’t I.?” Her South London brogue attempting to deflect the suppressed emotions of loss and attachment to her school and friends. The tears were kept inside but we both acknowledged their presence with a nod and pleasant ending phrases.
“It’s been good working with you.” I said
“I hope that the course works out for you.” She offered
“I think you can see that it has this effect on people.” I said
“Oh, right, yeah, Mr Opoku. You might be on to something.” Shaking her head
“Shall we end it [the appointment] here then?” I said
“Yeah I think now would be a good time to stop, or I really might start…” She insisted
“Okay then…”
“Good bye then and… thanks…”
And with that she got up and left.

Something…
I have since gone on to complete a Masters in Therapeutic Counselling, courses in Brief Solution Focused Therapy, Trauma Based Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Rational Emotive Therapy and a course at Westmeria College to become a counselling supervisor. The latest training has been to complete Eye Movement De-sensitisation Reprocessing (EMDR) that is reconfiguring, reconceptualising what I thought I knew about counselling and psychotherapeutic support.

The Climb
The interest in supporting others has not yet reached it’s zenith. The craft, this high art has become a greater thing than looking to care for just 1. By helping another the environment around them and the person doing the helping is immeasurably changed. I look back at the moment with the yr 9 student and said yes let’s have a conversation, which lead to many more conversations at that school and took me out of Harris Academy to other change spaces including: A boys secondary school, 7 Probation offices, supervisees, a team of Forensic Mental Health Practitioners, 6 prisons and 6 counsellors in Kent and clients in a range of settings including prisons..

I fell in love with the idea of living my purpose: the Artist repackaged. All day and everyday. ‘This Artists Way’ thing is more than most other things I have been before. Parenting can never be bested. However thinking creatively about Psychoanalysis is what I have been climbing towards. Climbing beyond a challenged past. The journey has been difficult and not for the faint of heart. I have crossed ravines and archipelagos never before seen by me, or that I ever knew existed. I have fallen and wondered about not getting back up. Events have brought me to my knees and I have asked for support in being raised back up on to my feet.

Gifts
This path that I chose has not been a bed of roses getting where I have. The challenges are seemingly insurmountable and I have failed many times. However the successes far outweigh the losses. The smiles, the thank you’s, the nods, the hand shakes all make the art worth it. There is still much to learn and to achieve.

Attempting to support service users that appear blocked and fearful of change. Supporting other professionals to grow outside of set protocols and policies to think creatively and act courageously, to support people in their communities. A drug or alcohol misuse dependency should not determine whether that person could or should get access to good psycho-social support and yet currently it does.

As a friend said in 2016 the person should want change, not the set of difficulties they have to continue. I offer that mental health services could be just as solution focused. Offering a label free, diagnosis opposed care centres treating a person with needs – compassionately. Diagnosis can be limiting. Diagnosis can also be explanatory. It is the person that experiences the difficulty that is to be helped.

Mental health support is about offering change along a continuum. Beginning at a super light spot that’s easier to assist a client experience change. Then graduating the person to access support that genuinely alters self-perception by fractions/degrees. The small changes aspect of psychological support is what I feel is most important. Great distances are walked by taking a single 1st step.

We raise we.
Not I or you.
Alone.
A simple singular exchange.

For me it is:
Collaboration,
Connection
Community.

Change
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