Winter UKAGP Newsletter, 2020

‘There is a slumbering subterranean fire in nature which never goes out, and which no cold can chill.… We feel warmed up by it…. What fire could ever equal the sunshine of a winter’s day, when the meadow mice come out by the wall sides, and the chickadee lisps in the defiles of the wood? …This subterranean fire has its altar in each man’s breast, for in the coldest day, and on the bleakest hill …summer is in his heart.’

(Henry David Thoreau, A Winter Walk, 1843) 

Welcome to the Winter Edition of the UKAGP Newsletter. This is my first Newsletter as an editor, so I was not surprised to feel a bit anxious at first; even though Belinda, our chair, had given me free rein to experiment with this new format, and I had plenty of support from Alec, our administrator; Alec has all the necessary experience to make my ideas work in practice. 

My initial anxiety related more to taking on responsibility for what in my view is akin to a ‘shop window’ for UKAGP, or as I described it when asking for your contributions last December, ‘a platform for getting together and keeping the spirit of our organisation alive between conferences’; in other words the Newsletter is one way of keeping the symbolic fire glowing. Receiving no response to my initial call for contributions I was really scared the flame would go out.  Being brought up on books by Tove Jansson, I could easily say that I felt like Moomintroll from Moominland Midwinter, who wakes up from his hibernation early, and unlike the rest of his family, who after consuming heaps of pine needles all sleep soundly till April, awakes to face the world alone all winter. He is not only scared, but soon grows angry at the absence of enjoyable sleep, warm sun and his friends. 

I felt therefore a great relief, when during my search for a fitting winter quote to illustrate the striking photograph of a sunrise at the Cornish gardens of Heligan, I came across A Walk in Winter by Henry David Thoreau, a beautiful essay by America’s great nature writer and political thinker; he depicts the winter’s kinetic imagery and soundscape like no-one else I know. Just as one walks through the physical world, the physical world moves through us as sound and also an array of textures. These were the words that finally reassured me: ‘There is a slumbering subterranean fire in nature which never goes out, and which no cold can chill.’ 

Thoreau’s essay spoke not only to my own experience of long winter months during which life, seemingly extinguished, remains preserved in the bare tree trunks, and seeds buried deep in the ground, or the hearts of ‘the furred life which still survives the stinging nights’; it also reminded me of experiences of long silence in groups and extended breaks in a client’s work when, at times, all seemed ‘dead’. I have since learned these are  crucial moments in therapy when the sense of trust itself is being examined. ‘Trust the process’, I recalled someone wisely advising me. This realisation enabled me to relax and just get on with it, and then… the contributions started flowing in.  

Thinking back to my favourite childhood book by Tove Jansson, I am just realising it contained exactly the same message, that in order to remain well one has to surrender to the rhythms of nature, and so to experience the lifelong discomfort of uncertainty – something, I can forget at times, particularly new situations, such as this. 

Moominland Midwinter – has another thread I want to mention here. It is a thread very personal to me as a gay man, but also relevant to the composition of this issue of the Newsletter. Our midwinter edition, apart from the usual content and regular updates on the work of UKAGP and the forthcoming conference in June, has inspired the less often heard voices to contribute; they seem to speak directly from their hearts about things that matter to them personally, in this case: music, poetry, and spirituality – subjects that only sporadically find their way onto the pages of professional journals in counselling and psychotherapy. The winter pages of the Newsletter suddenly began to resemble the winter landscape described by the lesbian author of Moomins when using the voice of a wise winter-loving little creature in a stripy jumper; Too-Ticky was modelled on her life-long partner. She informs and illuminates for her readers that ‘there are such a lot of things that have no place in summer and autumn and spring. Everything that’s a little shy and a little rum. Some kinds of night animals and people that don’t fit in with others and that nobody really believes in. They keep out of the way all the year. And then when everything’s quiet and white and the nights are long and most people are asleep — then they appear.’

All contributors to the Winter Newsletter are clearly fired up; they write about matters close to their hearts; subjects they feel strongly about. At the same time, each author draws connections between their particular passion and the world of therapy. Chris O’Malley writes about his passion for the music of Ludwig van Beethoven and its transformative powers. Chris’s detailed analysis of  his Missa Solemnis illustrates how an intimate engagement with music gives us a chance to ‘explore the polarities of the one and the many, the democracy of individual expression against collective utterance’ – such a vital ability especially in our contemporary reality. Karolina Burda honours her life-long inspiration, drawn from the poetry of Czesław Miłosz, and reveals its significance for growing equally into the therapist’s ‘capacity to confront the world’s suffering’ and to embrace the world’s joys – the balance of creative indifference. Jim Robinson reminds us of the radical heart of Gestalt therapy, that places awareness of here and now at the very basis of any change, and calls for a return to our revolutionary roots.

Let’s go see what Now 
is like outside. 
Let’s open the door 
look up at the sky 
feel the cold night air 
on our noses. 
Let’s look at our breath 
as we walk out 
to the street. 
Let’s look at how Now
holds the moon 
in black branches, 
how stars shine down 
with a Now from long 
long ago, how 
they stare down 
on our Now which 
has coaxed them 
to wink at us. 
Let’s listen 
to the night sounds 
that rove the dark Now 
beneath the traffic. 
Let’s stop, look back 
into the Now at the end 
of the street; there 
is something there
but I know it is behind us
in a place called Then
where our footprints
have forgotten
we ever made them.

(Tamara Madison, What Now is Like, 2015)

I feel enthusiastic about all the very personal contributions that found their way to this Winter’s UKAGP Newsletter. They seem to provide a vital counterbalance to other subjects, such as research and formal academic essays;  whilst being equally valuable to clinical practice, these have in my view, excessively dominated the field for far too long, and are underpinned as well as supported by our Western values and culture. And yet, personally speaking, research leaves me cold, whilst, to paraphrase a poet, I feel the real heat that emanates from the fire of the writings of these three new contributors and I know where to turn to feel warmed through this winter. I hope you, the readers, will enjoy their fire too.

Please do email me any responses you have to the content, as well as emailing us your own articles, essays, poetry, brief reflections and artwork, photos or paintings by the next deadline of 25th April 2020, so that we can published them in the Spring edition. All contributions to the UKAGP Newsletter can be sent to [email protected].

We look forward to hearing from you.
Warm wishes,

Piotr Mierkowski
Publicity Officer, UKAGP
[email protected]