‘Dead my old fine hopes
And dry my dreaming but still
Iris, blue each spring’
Ome Shushiki (1668-1725), Japanese Haiku (Series I)
Preparing this spring edition of the Newsletter has proved to be far more challenging than I had expected. The reason for this was certainly not a lack of contributions, as members sent in their Spring Newsletter poems and photographs, and made suggestions as to which pieces of poetry they wished to use to depict their reactions to and feelings about the new virus and the uncertainties it has exposed.
Many of the contributions, as you will see later, point to a striking contrast between the darkness of the current unsettled times and the loveliness and joy that has been on offer during the exceptionally good weather this spring. One such offering is a poem by Philippa Grindal, Life and Death, depicting them as intertwining realities. Another brilliant and thought provoking contribution is the photo, Joy in Small Things by Anna Bradshaw. The author has placed images of flowers from her garden into separate photographic boxes, so single florets, pairs and groups of flowers became divided by a solid white line, which at the same time frames them and keeps them apart; fresh, full of colour, jolly spring blooms look together and yet remain isolated from each other. What an amazing metaphor for so called ‘social distancing’ at a time of pandemic in spring – flowers on Zoom! Anna’s creation was able to communicate many ambivalent thoughts and feelings that the current situation has evoked for me. I was very moved by her picture and am curious to know your responses as you read.
There is a wind blowing through me,
an icy wind, sharpening itself like knives.
A sentence has been passed
on my brain’s tongue:
Twenty years in solitary.
The moon is spitting in its cup.
The sun has drawn the blinds
on the only window in the house.
(Sentence, Susan Kelly-DeWitt, October 2019)
The current edition includes poems some of which are by fellow gestalt practitioners and some from the wider community, all of which have been suggested for inclusion in the Newsletter by our members. We have also been very lucky to receive a whole collection of poems and haiku written specifically in response to the coronavirus. This collection is the result of a fascinating experiment undertaken by Gillian Downie, Anne Pettit and the trainees of Gestalt Centre Wales, and accompanied by an interesting commentary from Gillian on their process.
Fiona Turnbull has sent in a short piece of writing in which she reflects on working remotely and especially in the context of her work with terminally ill patients. As this was the only piece of prose received, I decided to reprint a handful of articles and opinions which I have found in different papers and which I thought might be of interest to gestalt therapy practitioners. In my enthusiasm I ended up with too many ideas, and had to make hard choices.
However, being spoilt for choice was not the main difficulty. My challenge was the personal cost inflicted by the new virus which has interfered with my ability to focus on preparing the spring edition. Daily news of the incomprehensible number of people dying or falling severely ill, lack of adequate preparations for the crisis, unclear communication from the authorities, compounded by the necessity to make radical changes to established ways of living and working have instilled in me a permanent state of being on alert, as if in preparation for the worst. My instinctive reaction was to carry on regardless, to the best of my ability; as if following a quintessentially British stiff upper lip approach to dealing with whatever life throws at us, which can be handy if employed sporadically, but becomes harmful when overused, particularly without awareness.
In order to stay home I did not return to my London consulting room and moved my practice online. I cancelled international workshops I was due to facilitate, which meant not only some financial loss but also facing the disappointment of both participants and organisers. Having until now worked almost exclusively face-to-face, with my focus being on embodiment and presence, I have been neither interested in internet advances nor technically inclined. Hence I was presented with many challenges when moving exclusively into the world of virtual work. The heightened state of anxiety and distress of most of my clients and some supervisees brought by the sudden change and real danger has been clearly present or palpable even if by some not yet fully acknowledged. Added to this was my private struggle with health issues, my own and more recently my husband’s, as well as fears relating to the lack of clarity about the future. All of this has been accompanied by lots of worry about the health of my self-isolating elderly parents in Poland. I am well aware that the events described above are far from unique, in fact the results of a recent survey from UKCP carried out amongst its members echoes my experience. Despite this or maybe in defiance of the gravity of the situation, I have been carrying on, trusting my resilience and ability to manage in the crisis. An overview of the UKCP survey “Delivering Therapy During Covid 19” can be read further down.
In the process I underestimated the true impact that the current crisis had had on me. The words of my supervisor spoke directly to this experience: “Piotr, you are keeping an awful lot of anxiety in, your own, your clients’ and that of the wider field”. Her statement so resonated that I lifted the scales from my eyes and recognised the extent to which I had not associated my mood and behaviour with the simple truth that in the face of Covid-19 my world and the world of those around me has been turned upside down. We are living in unprecedented times, at least in our Western hemisphere, when the field is, to a greater or lesser degree configured around sensations of fear, which ebb and flow.
It is the interplay of life and death, the impossibility of extricating one from the other that the coronavirus epidemic has exposed. I do not see how any human being can relate to this reality with total stoicism or indifference. After all, death ends all relationships, projects and hopes, takes away our loved ones leaving us with loss and pain, which is at times inconsolable, especially when untimely, rather than in line with our learned expectations. So not surprisingly the fear of death and dying is simply in the air and all around us and in order to escape, for most of the time we turn a blind eye to the grim prospect of our own death or the finite life of our nearest and dearest. And yet, to see death in the midst of life, which is what the current pandemic forces us to do, may evoke a more philosophical approach, a sober acceptance, that death is necessary in order to make space for more life.
I am concluding this Editorial with a poem by Wisława Szymborska, my favourite Polish poet, written in the last decade of her life – a brilliant expression of departure, our own and universal – after all it concerns each of us. Whilst using the simple language of a weather forecast she evokes the defining quality of all things, their impermanence – the very ordinary, daily, unproblematic inevitability of our death that is so evident especially in a time of pandemic, ‘this very passing moment that’s just passed.’ For those wishing to listen to the poem in the original Polish language read by the author, please see here.
The morning is expected to be cool and foggy.
will move in from the west.
Visibility will be poor.
Gradually, throughout the day,
as high pressure spreads from the north
the sky is likely to clear up locally.
Strong and variable winds at times,
so storms may develop.
better weather across most of the country,
with a slight chance of precipitation
mostly across parts of the Southeast.
Temperatures will drop sharply,
whilst the barometer will rise.
The next day promises to be sunny,
although those still living
should bring umbrellas.
(The day after – without us, Wisława Szymborska, 2005)
I am adding my thanks to Vivienne Barnett who supported me in shaping this editorial. Please do email me 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 4th July 2020. We look forward to hearing from you.