While out walking last week, I was stopped in my tracks when a sudden shaft of sunlight pierced through the drab dullness of the cold wintry morning. I gasped in awe at nature’s illumination – the beauty of bare-branched trees caressing the sunlit sky, frosted leaves glistening around my feet and little birds delighting in the unexpected warmth. Windows of wonder flung open in my soul. Senses heightened, imagination enlivened. As I skipped along, I burst into song: ‘Oh my God, it’s good to be alive!’1
As I continued my walk, I recalled a scene from a short story, The Windows of Wonder, that I had first read in secondary school.2 A newly qualified schoolteacher takes a temporary post in a village school. She is shocked to discover the children in a state of imaginative deprivation, bound by a rigid rational-based curriculum. Through music and myth, dream and legend, she beckons the children to unlock the windows of their imagination.
‘Your minds are like rooms all dark or brown devoid of light. But somewhere in the rooms, if we try, we can pull aside the heavy curtains, you will find the windows of wonder. Through these you will see the yellow sunlight or the silver stars or the many-coloured wheel of the rainbow. The windows I speak of are the legends of our people. Each little legend is a window of wonder. Each time you hear a story or ponder upon a story or dream yourself into a story or break or remake a story, you are opening a window of wonder.’2
Although the story ends on a sad yet hopeful note (she is dismissed), she receives reassurance that the windows of wonder, once opened in the souls of the children, will not shut easily again. Our intuitive mind is a ‘sacred gift and the rational mind its faithful servant’.3
However, our way of being in the world more often honours the servant and dismisses the gift. As a consequence, our souls can become weary and our creativity dulled. In our personal and professional lives we need to seek ways to keep the windows of wonder open and expanding. The wellsprings of spirituality can be a vital resource in the promotion of a healthy balance between the rational and imaginative, supporting wellbeing within communities of belonging. Witness the phenomenal success of the exhibition ‘Living with Gods: Peoples, Places and Worlds Beyond’ at the British Museum, London.4 This exhibition illustrates powerfully how stories, objects, images, prayers, meditation and rituals have provided ways for people to cope with their life circumstances, make sense of their worlds and help form strong social bonds. Seeing how people believe, rather than considering what they believe, suggests that humans might be naturally inclined to believe in transcendent worlds and beings. For those of us who live too far away to visit the exhibition in person, there is a suite of excellent resources online.5
Spirituality, according to Stein, emerges in therapy through archetypal transferences, dreams, active imagination, silence and synchronicity.6 The BACP Spirituality division exists to help all members of BACP to work effectively with spirituality in its many forms within the counselling relationship. Our gifts of imagination, intuition, discernment and reason are vital resources when working at the interface of the spiritual and psychological.
Change is afoot for the division in 2018, following BACP’s recent Strategic Review. Key questions in reconfiguring the division are: How can we work across the whole of BACP to share our divisional expertise for the benefit of the whole membership? What will we then need to do differently? One thing we are doing differently, in partnership with BACP Events, is to make a webcast of sessions available from our recent highly successful Working with Soul event in Cardiff. We will be working closely with the Events team to plan more CPD and continue to develop a suite of resources in spirituality and counselling for all BACP members to access. With new technological advances within BACP, forming an online community to share clinical expertise, good practice, valuable resources, may not be that far off.
Happy New Year 2018 – with whatever change, challenge and wonder it may bring to us all.
Maureen Slattery-Marsh, Chair of BACP Spirituality