Chair’s Update, January 2022

When gearing myself up to write an update for this newsletter, I happened across this image, first published in the Washington Post in June 2020. I was struck by the figure’s pensiveness, their apparent isolation and the way that coronavirus seemed (to me at least) to be moving inexorably towards and into their space. Despite being surrounded by a firm, clearly defined contact boundary, the image seemed to highlight humankind’s vulnerability to this airborne virus: Covid in its 19 th iteration. I notice my own embodied responses to this thought, as I fluctuate between a familiar pattern of feeling into my emotional experiencing (fear in this case) alongside a compelling urge to disavow all feelings and inhabit an illusory normality.

Reflections on the newsletter
In this issue of the newsletter, there are many accounts of people’s experiences of the pandemic on different continents. Contributors describe a plethora of ways in which they, or their fellow nationals have survived the collective, cumulative trauma of the past two years. There are accounts that speak to the creative aspects of denial, of pushing through the boredom, fear and pain, of using media broadcasts to deflect and distract, of being actively engaged with community, or simply slowing down, whether that means cooking and eating a healthy meal, watching a fire burning, sharing a conversation and a ‘hot totty’ with a child, or engaging in crafts such as knitting, crochet, writing poetry or taking photographs.

Others provide vivid accounts of ways in which they have nourished their minds, bodies, hearts and souls to go deeper, beyond ameliorating their sense of aloneness. Attention to breath, noticing and connecting with feelings are evident in accounts of mindfulness meditations, loving self-talk, sending others love and compassion, communing with nature and connecting deeply with younger parts of ourselves. So many small acts of kindness towards self and others all make an impact, not just on an individual’s sense of aloneness but also on the world we want to walk towards with others. My thanks to Michael Albright, Maja Mojaš Andrijašević, Vivienne Barnett, Guy Gladstone, Gerrie Hughes, Vikram Kolmannskog, Viktor Lukovtsev and Zara Maqbool.

I am struck also by the creative contributions we have received: an evocative allegory from Fiona, one of our new editorial team members; four moving, powerful poems, all of which use movement as a metaphor. In contrast, two sets of images depict personal experiences of being and feeling both alone and connected, to self, emotions and nature. My thanks to Kirath Ghataora, Ben Graham, Fiona Jones Hartnell, Julia Ouzia, Bea Kruszelnicka and Piotr Mierkowski.

In Bernadine Evaristo’s (2021:189) latest book, Manifesto, she claims that ‘there is a manifesto in each one of us, emerging over the course of our lives, changing and reconfiguring through our experiences’. Longer papers by Malcolm Parlett, Ben Harris and John Hovell all seemed to me to communicate key facets of each author’s manifesto. Malcolm Parlett’s paper for example, addresses this directly. Malcolm charts his journey towards conceptualising a ‘whole intelligence manifesto’, which you can access directly from his paper. I strongly recommend this as an engaging and stimulating read.

All three papers probe more deeply into the significance and meaning of aloneness/non aloneness with reference to theory, therapeutic frames, personal experience and some of the relationships between interconnected phenomena (e.g. climate change, politics, vaccinations, leadership). I really enjoyed reading these and they prompted further reflections on my own personal manifesto, which has been significantly influenced by Evaristo, particularly her belief that ‘Everyone should have the opportunity to create, share and consume stories that reflect their cultures and communities, so that we all feel equally validated” (2020:189). My thanks to Ben Harris, John Hovell and Malcolm Parlett.

What does all this mean for UKAGP?
As I embark on my final six months as chair, I recognise that UKAGP has more work to do to become a place and space where everyone is welcome and where there are multiple opportunities to be seen, heard and validated. We certainly need more time and opportunities to tell personal and cultural stories, for dialogic conversations that help to heal and transform old wounds and build bridges across our differences.

Without such efforts towards sharing and healing, it is often safer, healthier and easier for those who feel on the outside, to stay there, to be alone on the edge of community, rather than to risk engagement. I am therefore thinking that it might be worth our while to spend some time as a community to co-create a UKAGP Manifesto. This would speak to the ways in which we want to connect: to directly challenge and transform our tried and tested ways of being together. ‘Society operates via powerful and impenetrable networks that uphold its tribal hierarchies, so we must establish our own systems as counter-measure” (Evaristo, 2021:189). I couldn’t agree more. What’s stopping us?

As an Organising Committee we have made efforts to embark on/engage in this process:

  • UKAGP hosts a monthly Gestalt Leaders group for the leaders of UK based Gestalt training institutes/programmes. As a group of twelve we have been working with process and have also supported one another with particular issues and challenges; the intention is for leaders to have support, and to work collaboratively for the greater good.
  • We have a new editorial team which is already working well together. I hope this will be palpable as you read this issue of the newsletter. Thanks to Hannah Turner for stepping forward to facilitate this process in her new role as Publicity lead for UKAGP.
  • UKAGP Connect is an email forum, which sparked a sub-group focused on group facilitation, thanks to Mark Williams. If you would like to set up a sub-group to meet now and again on a specific theme, then please get in touch… it is a wonderful way to experiment with an idea or develop a ‘countermeasure’ to being alone!
  • We are developing a new race, diversity and inclusion group. I will be asking for a few more volunteers via UKAGP Connect. If you are interested in being part of this process, please let me know.
  • We are intimately connected with our European colleagues through EAGT and our joint membership scheme. As Chair, I have attended meetings of the General Board in Europe and online since 2016. This has been an immense privilege, and I have been touched by the care, compassion and understanding of my European counterparts, especially during the transition to Brexit. I am clear that we (UKAGP) are not alone.
  • Finally, our Organising Committee follows the Gestalt cycle each time we meet. Our day begins with sharing Sensations as a way to develop our collective awareness of what is in the field and what needs to be born in mind during our work, before mobilising to prioritise key tasks; we then move to action, which is the focus of our formal business meeting in the second half of the afternoon. Each day ends with more process reflections to review where we are, to assess the degree of satisfaction before we all clean up and leave for home, withdrawal. In my own experience this structure and attention to process is what has made being a member of the Committee so engaging, interesting and productive. Most importantly, we have fun together; we work hard, often in pairs. We are a team and therefore definitely not alone. If you are interested in joining the Organising Committee please get in touch.

Please look out for news of a forthcoming online seminar on Gestalt Mediation, which Nick Adlington has kindly offered to host. We will soon be announcing the date, venue and theme of our residential conference this summer. Please complete the UKAGP survey to help us identify which theme would be most of interest to you, our community.

My thanks to Hannah, Gaie, Fiona and Angela for collaborating so effectively to bring this newsletter to fruition.

Special thanks to Alec Parsons-Smith, our administrator, who has transformed UKAGP systems and been the friendly, welcoming and responsive face of UKAGP since 2017. Alec put the final version of this newsletter together with his usual panache and grace. Thank you, Alec.

Recent events in my own life have reminded me that being alone is preferable to being in any relationship that has the effect of undermining or sabotaging an individual’s creativity, competence, confidence or wellbeing. I am therefore keen for UKAGP to take time to develop our own Manifesto, one which epitomises how we want to be together as a community. For everyone to be and to feel they are wholeheartedly welcome, we need to find ways of being dialogic Gestalt practitioners, whilst also ‘treading softly’ (W.B. Yeats). This poem by John T Wood is a favourite of mine, and my starter for ten to open up this conversation:

I will present you

if you are patient and tender.
I will open drawers
that stay mostly closed

and bring out places and people and things,
sounds and smells, loves and frustrations, hopes and sadnesses,

bits and pieces of three decades of life
that have been grabbed off
in chunks

and found lying in my hands
they have eaten their way into

my heart
– you or I will never see them –
they are me.

If you regard them lightly
deny they are important
or worse still, judge them;
I will quietly, slowly begin to wrap them up
in small pieces of velvet
like worn silver and gold jewellery,
tuck them away
in a small wooden chest
and turn the lock

John T. Wood (2019)

Belinda Harris, PhD
Chair, UKAGP

Evaristo, B. (2021) Manifesto Milton Keynes: Hamish Hamilton
Wood, J.T. (2019) Poem for Everyone. 4 th March

This page first appeared in the UKAGP Newsletter. View the Newsletter here.