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: No matter how much you want to change, no matter how much joy waits for you on the other side, I can almost guarantee that the process is going to be painful at times. Working on a relationship can mean leaving behind familiar ways of protecting ourselves from getting hurt. Overcoming anxiety can mean erasing long-held, easy-to-come-by patterns of thinking. Counseling can support you in navigating the contrasts of loss and gain inherent in the change process.
True change involves loss.
(I wish it weren’t so.)
As we approach Easter, I’ve been thinking about tombs. Not bunnies, not jelly beans. The part that comes before all of that.
In the Christian tradition, long before any of us were born, long before any of us tried to change, there was this notion that perhaps the tomb and the womb are not all that different.
As the story goes, Easter really begins with Jesus crucified and placed in a tomb, covered by a stone and enclosed in darkness. Lifeless, gone.
But that’s not how the story ends. It is told that mysteriously, miraculously, from that same tomb Jesus was brought back to life. Resurrected, reborn. New life victorious over the shadow of death.
Whether or not you are a Christian, Easter illustrates the consistent, confounding interconnectedness of loss and newness of life. The tomb--the dark, uncertain in between of change--is also the birthplace for mysterious, miraculous newness to emerge victorious over the shadows of our lives.
No pain, no gain.
Winter makes way for the spring.
Dark before the dawn.
If we want something to be different, we need to be ready to say goodbye to something that already is. These might be things we are eager to say goodbye to: our tendency to worry too much, our fear of what others think of us, our habit of doing too much for others while neglecting ourselves. But just because we want to get rid of something about our current reality doesn’t mean it won’t be painful when we lay that part of ourselves in the tomb.
Feelings of sadness and grief and even longing for the ultimately undesirable past are normal parts of the change process. After all, if we had nothing to lose by moving forward, we would already be where we want to go. Letting go of the familiar, even when the familiar is uncomfortable, can involve just as much hard work as grabbing on to what we seek.
Often, this part of the change process can catch us off guard. We were expecting bunnies and jelly beans, not the tomb! We question this new thing we thought we wanted. We doubt our ability to do it. We feel foolish for even trying. We contemplate giving up. This part of change can feel heavy, as if an immovable boulder has been rolled in front of the opening that was just beginning to appear.
If you find yourself in a painful part of creating change, take heart. A new synthesis is coming. You are exactly where you need to be, but you’re not going to stay there.
Loss hurts as it carves open space within us: cavernous as a tomb.
Yet in the emptiness, in the uncertain darkness...new life is born.
For further reflection: What will you have to let go of in order to take another step towards the changes you want to make in your life?
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.