Online AGM & Community Meeting – 18th July, 09.00-12.00
2021 UKAGP Conference – ‘Healing Dialogues: the process of inclusive practice’ on
18th September, 10.00 – 17.30 at The Wesley Hotel, Euston, London
“… Come with me into the woods where spring is
advancing, as it does, no matter what,
not being singular or particular, but one
of the forever gifts, and certainly visible. …”
— Mary Oliver, “Bazougey” (Dog Songs, 2013)
Welcome to the Spring Edition of the UKAGP Newsletter
It has arrived at last! Spring The rebirth of nature started this April, as it does every year, in its full glory. Blinding sunshine with noisy birds singing continuously from midnight till sunset, every day. Their collective twittering, tweeting and chirping usually starts well before dawn with just a few songs by robins, blackbirds and thrushes. They are soon joined by other voices until all the birds can be heard singing together from every corner of the garden and every tree of nearby woodlands. The only exception is when some take off to fly. In spring, their flying is frantic as they are in a rush to find a compatible partner to produce their offspring, and suitable places to build their nests. As the competition is great and time is limited, on recent numerous occasions dizzy birds have almost bumped onto me – an unwelcome barrier standing in their way. Here and there in the shrubs and branches, all over the garden, I spot delicate twigs carefully arranged in little piles.
If like me you too are fond of birdsong, I highly recommend listening to the compositions of a young British instrumentalist, Cosmo Sheldrake. He has recorded many wake up calls of endangered birds and combined them together with his own tunes. His composition Evening Chorus and some other pieces of music performed by him in the bluebell filled forest can be heard on this video, available on YouTube: https://youtu.be/v27RFiVIDK8.
Each April, there is a whole new palette of fresh colours that Spring uses to brighten the appearance of our reality. Suddenly, everywhere one can see subtle shades of green, white, and yellow flowers, and bright lime green foliage. These sharply contrast with the brown and black bark of the tree trunks that remain clearly visible at this time of the year. By this late stage, with May just around the corner, the heavy pink and purple petals of meaty magnolia flowers have almost all fallen to the ground, leaving space for plentiful juicy green leaves that sprout fast. Several fallen petals are rapidly turning light brown and have congregated themselves into a two feet high heap by the fence at the far end of the garden. They had been blown away by a strong and stubbornly cold wind brought straight from the Arctic! As the weather report reminds us almost daily, spring is of a variable nature and “temperatures can still drop sharply overnight”.
At least in the forest everything seems still and unchanging – like every year in late April, unfailingly, a new carpet of bluebells has been rolled out providing all with a stunning vista. Every time I enjoy a spot of ‘forest bathing’ on my walks through local woods just behind our Hertfordshire house, I find myself taking masses of photographs of this gorgeous scenery. Each year the sights seem so much sharper, brighter, more colourful and intense than before. Spring seems so sensual that it is impossible not to see it, feel it, and hear it and so, every April, my senses sharpen too, like a cat’s night vision, at least this is what I think. And all this hypnotises and invigorates me at the same time – this is a magical time, just as Mary Oliver describes in her poem, When I am Among the Trees:
“…Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, ‘Stay awhile.’
The light flows from their branches.
And they call again, ‘It’s simple,’ they say,
‘and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine….’”
With all this fresh foliage, flowers in bloom and birds singing noisily, it is impossible not to experience the rush of new energy, the sense of freedom and being unfettered. Or maybe, on this occasion, my intense rise of mood is enhanced even further by the easing of our collective isolation. The inevitable rise of hope that the misery brought by the COVID-19 pandemic will soon end… if only in this country… at least till the end of the summer, when the heat will get the better of us. Perhaps everybody will once more feel like retreating back home?
I find myself reflecting on this April anniversary of the deadly pandemic. All the misery that it has brought to the entire world. Insufficient assistance from richer nations continues, relentlessly, inflicting further suffering on poorer and more populous nations like India, Peru, Brazil and other South American and African countries. These thoughts remind me of another piece of literature, this time in prose – the science fiction novel by Mary Shelley, The Last Man. In the novel the author depicts a futuristic world ravaged by the Plague. Similar to recent months in the UK, at the height of the deadly disease, nature seems all the more quietly determined to affirm the resilience of life when Spring arrives, with irrepressible bursts of beauty. The idealistic young hero and narrator of the Shelley’s novel attends and surrenders to nature’ swell. Hopefully, we might also begin to regain faith, not only in our endurance but in the beauty and the worthiness of life.
“Winter passed away; and spring, led by the months, awakened life in all nature. The
forest was dressed in green; the young calves frisked on the new-sprung grass; the
wind-winged shadows of light clouds sped over the green cornfields; the hermit cuckoo
repeated his monotonous all-hail to the season; the nightingale, bird of love and minion of the evening star, filled the woods with song; while Venus lingered in the warm
sunset, and the young green of the trees lay in gentle relief along the clear horizon…”
(Mary Shelley, The Last Man, 1826, Chapter 4).
The similar play of contrasts, which this year’s spring has brought – with its mixture of beauty and joy, but also sadness, reverie and loneliness – can be seen in one particular painting by Leon Wyczółkowski, a print of which adorned my friend’s guest room back in Warsaw, where I often stayed whilst a youth.
The watercolour, Spring – the interior of the artist’s studio, shown above, is one of the last works by this Polish artist who died only five years after he completed the painting, in April 1936. There is something elusive in his work. I find his choice of black for the furniture in his house somewhat unsettling – this looks even more striking in later versions. From behind the wind-blown muslin curtains one can see an orchard bathed in sunlight and a blossoming white cherry tree, or is it a plum? One has the impression that the artist just got up, put down his paints and walked out into the orchard. After completing the work, the artist wrote:
“Spring in Gościeradz, May 1931, The spring comes with its fragrance and breeze… Study
of an open window overlooking the garden, a wind-blown curtain, an armchair. There it plays
white and green (…). Spring enters with its fragrance and blast. I want to dream about this
spring in my grave (…).”
As Spring sharpens our senses, more daylight, noisy, busy, excited birds and that lavish display all seem to shout out: ‘REJUVENATION and RENEWAL!’, ‘Here I am, come and get me if you can!’, I had an idea of introducing a fresh, new format to this issue of the newsletter and to focus on the three S’s: Sensuality, Sexuality and Spiritually. After all, I’m guessing, most of us can feel the excitement of being alive and the joys of life that rise in every spring; the lyrics of a lovely song A Fine Spring Morning (1956) by Blossom Dearie playing on the radio a short moment ago, points to this experience:
“This is a fine spring morning
It’s everywhere for us to share
Just look what a fine spring morning can do
I’ve got a brand new feeling
When I think twice it’s awful nice
I hope everybody is feeling it too
Kids are getting cozier
Neighbors getting nosier
Bulls are getting more & more bulldozier
Bums are getting bummier
Chums are getting chummier
And yummy looking girls are getting yummier…”
(If you wish to listen to the whole song sung by Blossom Dearie, go to YouTube, here is the
At the very start of the COVID-19 lockdown last April, 2020, I formed an ongoing fortnightly support group for Polish speaking gestalt therapists. Here I learned that themes of sensuality and sexuality have been important for many people during this period of time. Most people have been deprived of physical contact and had to survive without any, or much diminished opportunities for touch and intimate body to body interaction. Some were forced to live in total isolation, remotely, lonely, wilting away like unwanted plants and despairing. I am not only talking about older people locked away in nursing homes but also about younger people and the middle aged. Anyone in fact, who has been unable to connect with others in their usual ways, whether at schools and colleges, or in pubs and clubs, each other houses, at parties or on football pitch and gym, or cruising grounds. The customary ways of meeting each other in order to make friendships or love has been greatly limited.
Looking through the notes I took during these group meetings, I have noticed a clear trend. After the initial focus on shock and fears related to COVID-19 being officially declared a pandemic, awareness of our mortality became figural. The next theme that dominated our meetings was the impact of lockdown on sexual desire and sexual deprivation. One of the participants in the initial meetings of this group was Tomasz Rebeta. Tomasz is a renowned Gestalt psychotherapist in Poland. His poetry is featured in the Art & Poetry section of this edition of the UKAGP Newsletter. Tomasz felt strongly inspired to write a short poem on this theme:
„w zakamarkach pandemii
przyczaił się seks
uprawiać nie uprawiać
a jeśli już się zdarzy
to w maseczce czy bez
a odległość jaka
chyba nie większa od długości
zaprośmy seks do siebie
niechaj się rozgości”
(Tomasz Rebeta, po spotkaniu Gestaltystów, Jastrzębia, 05.05.20)
“in hidden corners of pandemic
sex is lurking
to have sex or not to have sex
and if it happens
with or without a mask
and what’s the distance
probably no more than the length
let’s invite sex into our midst
let it settle in”
It was therefore surprising that after putting out my intention to focus on the theme of sensuality, sexuality and spirituality, and inviting a number of diverse people from the world of Gestalt to contribute to this special issue of the UKAGP Newsletter, that only a handful of people responded. Even fewer decided to contribute. How can I explain this scarcity?
Maybe, the answer is as simple as that one of the S’s that stands for sex and sexuality was there to blame. Sex and sexuality continue to be somewhat taboo in the twenty-first century, unless it is viewed as a clinical issue, in which case every professional in the country has something important to say about it. The matter is entirely different when one is invited to speak personally about one’s own intimate experience of sexuality, as I have encouraged in this newsletter. In this case, it is possible that shame is evoked and it is risky to expose one’s most precious and secret longings for fear of being judged.
Then comes another closely linked issue linked to the language itself. How explicit and detailed can we actually be when writing about sex? How openly, or only in a whisper, can we talk about intimacy and sex? And what about the enormous diversity of sexual desire itself? Can we write openly about it, as these things happen in real life, between real people? Or are we forbidden, or even silence ourselves, as was so eloquently voiced by Audre Lorde in her speech The Erotic as Power, which has been included in the current issue. In addition, writing about personal intimate experiences of sex and sexuality on pages that are distributed electronically amongst one’s peers, some of whom might happen to be one’s clients, therapists or supervisees, is likely to be the source of some additional worry about who will think what about us. Opening up and speaking out sex and sexuality in the safety of a likeminded group of people is in fact much easier. And what happens when one wants to make any links between the erotic and the spiritual, or, god forbid, sex and religious experiences? This may offend some people, leading to disgust, protest or even riots? And, yet, let’s not deny it, such a connection exists, and has been made many times in countless non-European cultures or traditions that preceded the Judaeo-Christian era, take for instance the ancient African and Asian traditions or Tantra, which means woven together.
For whatever reasons, a special edition of newsletter focused on sensuality, sexuality and spirituality seems to be a minefield, hence I decided to abandon this idea for the time being, at the same time as including some of the received material in the current issue. There may be many reasons for the lack of response and I would love to hear them, and so invite our readers to write to me. I also want to take this opportunity to thank all those people who responded positively to my invitation and encourage everyone to contribute writing on the above themes for future editions.
The good news is that, at the same time, we have received a record number of contributions from our community on a number of different subjects, ranging from descriptions of your diverse responses to the current pandemic and the politics of lockdown, pieces of writing that focussed on death and working with trauma, as well as the transitions from one season to another. We have also received many visual offerings, and poems, and the announcements of many future events. I could also not stop myself from sharing with you the gorgeous photo sent to me from the Peak District by my friend Andrea. Thank you all very much for your generosity.
As for readers of our newsletter, I wish you all a jolly good experience as you go through our Spring Edition. I also want to invite you once more to stay connected to us. Please feel free to email any reactions and responses you have to the content of this edition. As always, we also eagerly await your own contributions; articles, essays, poetry, as well as any form of artwork and photos. All contributions to the UKAGP Newsletter can be sent to [email protected]. To ensure their inclusion in our summer edition please email us by the next deadline of 5th July 2021. We look forward to hearing from you.
With warm wishes,