Therapist's Note: We often associate the process of counseling with moving participants toward solid explanations of what they're experiencing and why they're experiencing it. Personally, I tend to take a different approach to my work. Drawing on theories and practices that emphasize the ways we construct meaning, I often find that what best supports clients in making change is providing space for explanations to shift and evolve (and even contradict one another) over time. A change in our explanations can create all kinds of other changes, like petals opening from a flower.
Winter winds creep in.
Dark, damp days stretch into one another:
the difference between dawn and dusk grows difficult to perceive.
Nearly frozen raindrops fall like needles.
All color begins to drain from the natural world.
A bright bloom stretches tall.
Tender, tenacious petals unfurl.
Unexpected beauty blossoms--
startling and soothing to the soul.
The view outside my office window has become increasingly dreary and depressing this past week, but this delightful flower keeps capturing my attention. It's funny, I'm sure she's been gracing me with her presence for quite some time, but it wasn't until the chill set in that I paid her any mind.
I found myself pondering what meanings and motivations she would assign to her surprising existence...
Is she blissfully oblivious to the impending threats as she revels in the present?
Or is she radically defiant, undeterred by worries and expectations?
Does she notice just how excruciatingly exposed she stands?
Or does she feel the wonders of being stretched-wide open?
Does she shudder self-consciously about how out of place she appears?
Or might she take pride in standing out from the crowd?
I imagine if she could speak, she would answer each question with a sigh of recognition and a loud, long "YES". She would resist my efforts to tame her into simplified "this" or "that" explanations. After all, those who are created wild and free know well the joys of embracing the complexities and contradictions of being alive in this world.
Each of us are like that bright bloom as we move through change.
We are tender yet tenacious.
Oblivious yet defiant.
Exposed yet open.
Self-conscious yet proud.
Step back from yourself for a moment. Take a genuinely curious look through the window. Can you see all of that in you in this moment?
When we can gently hold together contradictory aspects of our experience of change, we gift ourselves with both grace and flexibility. Grace to experience self-compassion as we set aside judgments about being too much of "this" or not enough of "that". Flexibility to draw from any of those parts of our experience that serve us well in the present moment.
There's no need to tame yourself.
You are created wild and free.
Wild enough to brighten dreary days.
Free enough to bloom in any weather.
Ah, I can hear the sign of recognition and your long, loud "YES".
Reflection question: Which pair of contradictions listed above most resonates with you? Why might that be?
Therapist's Note: We often think that getting started is the hardest part of making change, but in many ways I have witnessed and experienced that it's the messy middle that can be the most frustrating. One of the important ways I support my clients when they reach this juncture is to offer the reminder that discomfort and disorientation are not signs of failure, but in fact signs of life under construction--something new is coming.
Sunshine filtering through the trees.
Music playing on my radio.
Wheels gliding down the road.
Orange flashing lights.
A barricade with a warning attached:
Welcome to my drive to my office all summer long!
(I'm listening to the steady beat of jackhammers as I write this, by the way.)
From week to week, new road construction projects have been cropping up at nearly every intersection between my home and my work. While a few have remained steady for a period of time, most days the exact locations and nature of these pesky interruptions have been in a constant state of flux, leaving me caught off guard more often than not.
There's no poetic way to put this, it's been incredibly....annoying. I'm the sort of person who appreciates moving from point A to point B as directly and as efficiently as possible. I like my morning commute the way I like my morning coffee: straight up, with nothing unnecessary added.
When our lives are under construction, each day can hold disorienting detours that catch us off guard. The orange flashing lights. The drum of jackhammers. The barricades that stop us from taking familiar, favored paths. There's no poetic way to put this, it's incredibly...annoying.
The in between space of life-as-construction-zone can feel hazardous. We want to believe that when the dust settles we will have a smoother, more pleasant road to travel. But in the meantime, all that is evident in the present moment is the certainty that the debris is getting in our way.
So here's what I've been learning about road construction...are your ready for it?
All the detours I've had to take have helped me find new paths I never even knew existed.
When the construction crews move on to the next corner and my usual road opens back up again, I find myself contemplating a fork in the road.
Do I stick with the route I comfortably traveled before?
Or do I allow the detour to become my new normal?
In some cases I've chosen the former, but in other cases I've chosen the latter. Admittedly, even when I've gone back to my usual route, it's comforting to know another option is there for me should I need it again down the road.
What if all the detours we take while our lives are being jackhammered apart and cemented back together can become as much of a gift as the end result of our change process?
Being forced to explore new avenues for being and moving and responding brings discomfort, disorientation, and annoyance, absolutely. But it can also expose us to a new normal that we grow to prefer. At the very least, being rerouted provides us with knowledge of another option we can try again someday.
As you travel, if the rubble and the rumble of construction throws you off course, take heart. Not only is something new coming into being, even better, you are being invited to learn a new route.
(Grumble if you need to.)
This detour is only temporary.
But the pathways it will share with you are yours to keep...forever.
For Further Reflection: What is one new option you've discovered in your process of change? Do you think you'll keep taking that route once the construction crew clears or will you return to your past pathways?
Therapist's Note: A common response I receive when I tell people what I do for a living is: "Oh gosh, isn't it awful listening to people's problems all day long?" I always respond, "Actually, that's not at all what I do; I hear the most amazing things every day, I witness incredible resilience and growth, it's pretty awesome." Yes, clients come to counseling having experienced messy, heart-breaking things in their lives. But the mess ends up fertilizing some incredibly beautiful, tender blooms.
The pungent aroma.
The sting of grit clinging to skin.
The creepy, crawling things writhing and wrestling.
I've been spending plenty of time in the garden recently: preparing the beds, planting the seeds. In my interactions with the dirt, I found myself pondering the contradictions within it.
On the one hand: discomfort and disgust; mess and chaos.
On the other hand: soft, soothing warmth; a satisfying, soulful connection to life-giving, life-sustaining earth.
There are moments in life like dirt.
When everything becomes pungent.
And the creepy, crawling things surface..
And the grit clings to every crevice of our wrinkled souls.
Our first instinct in these messy moments may to recoil in repulsion, eagerly searching for a clean sink to wash our hands of it all. Yet...these are the rich, fertile moments that enable us to plant something new. If we can allow hope to shelter us like a well-worn sunhat, if we can place trust as a cushion beneath our aching knees, we can stay there beside the soil, tending to what is to come.
If you find yourself in a dirt-like moment:
Let your hands turn the warm, damp earth.
Wipe the sweat from your brow with your dusty forearm that feels like sandpaper.
You can sit back with a glass of cold lemonade--water beading on the smooth surface, ice chiming. You can survey the work you have done with a sense of satisfaction. You can take a long hot shower, sighing in relief as your skin feels new again, as the water eases your aching muscles.
Just when you are starting to doubt (or perhaps just when you've forgotten to look for it), a tender green shoot will rise from the pungent, gritty, creepy-crawly, warm, soothing, life-giving dirt.
And you will rise along with it.
For further reflection: What is one thing that grew out of a dirt-like moment in your past? If you were to imagine that one thing as a plant, tree, or flower, what would it look like?
Here you will find metaphors, images, reflections, and inspiration on the change process. Psychotherapy intersects with creativity, nature, and spirituality on these pages. You can start anywhere you'd like. You'll find a note on my thoughts as a therapist as well as a prompt for your own reflection at the beginning and end of each entry.
I'm a licensed therapist in private practice in Indianapolis who provides counseling to individuals and couples, particularly around issues of anxiety, adjustment, and relationship wellness.