In this issue
In praise of darkness (free article)
Effie Lunn explores the darker aspects of life
Focus on older people
Denial and the ageing process
Jennie Cummings-Knight focuses on denial and ageing
Spiritual therapy — a client’s perspective
‘Catherine May’ offers her appreciation of her therapist’s spiritual approach
An ecological perspective
To the beach of stars
Keith Hackwood reflects on nature and spirituality
One death café, a play about dementia, two workshops, a meander around a cemetery and more than a few laughs
Amanda Anderson reviews her experience of Oxford’s ‘Kicking the Bucket’ festival
Robert Jeffery reflects on death
Welcome from the editor
I have a couple of winter rituals involving music. Every year, I try to find time to go to an Oxford carol concert. Also, in the past few years, I’ve become interested in Schubert’s song cycles and listen to Winterreise (Winter journey). Schubert wrote Winterreise at the age of 30, when he was dying of syphilis. The song cycle begins with a young man setting out on a journey into the winter darkness. In the first song, ‘Good night’, the young man sings:
‘I cannot choose the time
Of my journey:
Must find my own way
In this darkness.
A moon beam goes along
As my companion,
And on the white meadows
I look for tracks of deer.’1
In this issue’s special focus, Effie Lunn encourages us to take a closer look at the archetypal topic of darkness. The so-called darker emotions (such as fear and anger) are so easily pushed away, and we often hurry to the light. As counsellors and therapists we need to examine our shadow and be prepared to encounter the darkness within us and around us. Our clients bring material to sessions that forces us to question our assumptions, our beliefs. Not knowing the way through the darkness and lingering in the places where we are stuck can feel awkward and challenging. In Robert Augustus Masters’ book, Spiritual Bypassing, he has a chapter on ‘Healthy and unhealthy transcendence’:
‘Descending into our darker elements may be construed as a “downer” or a slippage, a failure, dropping into the “lower”. We tend to either pathologize down-ness (especially when it shows up as negativity, fear, depression, shame, or contraction) or keep it at a considerable distance, as if it is just some sort of noxious or unwholesome substance… But having to stay “up” cuts us off from our roots, our history, our ground. Having to stay “up” dilutes and impoverishes us, leaving us to feed mostly on recycled spiritual clichés and other heady souvenirs of secondhand living.’2
Jennie Cummings-Knight continues her focus on older people, with an article on denial. A quote from the Hindu text, the Maha-bha-rata, seems apt: ‘Of all the world’s wonders, which is the most wonderful? That no man, though he sees others dying all around him, believes that he himself will die.’3
Often, it can feel like we’re in the dark about what clients feel about working with us. Catherine May’s beautifully illustrated article is a tribute to her work with her therapist. In it, she expresses a deep appreciation of her therapist’s spirituality.
In mid-November, I attended a conference at the Eden Project in Cornwall about the relationship of psychotherapy with the natural world. A beautiful setting for an important gathering of counsellors and therapists exploring this topic. Keith Hackwood continues his exploration with an article focusing on therapy from an ecological perspective. He mentions the rise of pathologising and how there seems to be a move towards the removal of all disease, using scientific methods.
I love listening to choral music and a few years ago, I found a recording of a choir from Belfast, the Ecclesium Choir, singing the Anima Christi. Robert Jeffery returns to some material he wrote, reflecting on this prayer.
As a Buddhist, I have done many meditations focusing on impermanence. I will never forget doing walking meditation towards a skeleton in Gaia House’s walking room. In many ways, it seems rather obvious that impermanence is a given, and I’ve had experiences of how fleeting life can be. How fully can I embrace impermanence? I have a tendency to procrastinate and think that there’s always tomorrow. In early November, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to attend the ‘Kicking the Bucket Festival’ in Oxford and I’ve written about my experiences in this issue.
Irvin Yalom, the well-known American psychotherapist, has written a lot of material about death. In his textbook on existential psychotherapy, he reminds us: ‘Denial plays a central role in a therapist’s selective inattention to death in therapy… Many therapists, though they have had long years of personal analysis, have not explored and worked through their personal terror of death; they phobically avoid the area in their personal lives and selectively inattend to obvious death-linked material in their psychotherapy practice.’ He then goes on to discuss the ‘role of death in the genesis of anxiety’.4 The Guardian recently published a thought-provoking series of articles on the topic of death and dying.5
I would like to wish all our readers a very happy and abundant New Year.
Amanda Anderson, editor
1. Bostridge I. Schubert’s winter journey: anatomy of an obsession. London: Faber & Faber; 2015.
2. Masters RA. Spiritual bypassing. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books; 2010.
3. Maha-bha - rata.
4. Yalom I. Existential psychotherapy. New York: BasicBooks; 1980.
5. https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/death-and-dying (accessed 1 December 2016)