Sunday, May 03, 2009

Crisis all Around but Summer Comes Marching In

Entry for 1 May 2009:

Today is the first day of summer in the Celtic calendar, which has always seemed more logical than starting summer in the middle, at Midsummer’s day. Characteristically, it was rainy in Scotland today, when Diane woke me at 6:30am out of a sound sleep and a complicated dream that I can’t remember now. I’d spent most of the past 2 days in bed, recovering from a prostate biopsy that involved drilling 10 holes into a very personal part of my anatomy, with predictable results that I won’t go into here. I gather that 4 used to be enough, but with inflation over time the number has now grown to 10. (Yes, but how many holes does it take to fill the Albert Hall?…)

Then I was off to give the final installment of my EFT teaching to this year’s first year Counselling Psychology students, a follow-up session on Focusing. The students felt pretty flat this morning, because, they said, they had just turned in assignments for their course that they seemed to universally feel were not good. In spite of this, the session on Focusing went quite well, with the students really digging into some productive work, and as so often happens with me when I do PE-EFT, I ended up with more energy that when I had started. (Never underestimate the power of Focusing!)

Then it was off to Jordanhill to try to deal with the latest financial crisis there. It seems like every week now there is another change at some level of the University that affects our work in some way, causing us to lurch off in some direction in order to find out what is going on and what if anything we can or should be doing about it. Often these potential threats turn out to be chimerical and vanish like mist; at other times, we have to drop what we are doing, organize meetings, develop strategies and talk to various people. This is generally sufficient to deal with the crisis of the week; however, there is always the worry that one will come along that will totally throw us. Over time, this begins to feel like a chronic pattern of instability, and we begin to look for wider root causes: the financial crisis (which surely can’t be helping); the low perceived status of faculties of education (as true here in the UK as it is in the USA; I’ve often speculated that people’s negative experiences in school lead them to disparage the education sector in general, including places that train teachers); the bureaucratization of major social-cultural institutions such as education and health care (Research Assessment Exercise, NICE guidelines, Skills for Health etc) coupled with the myth of the superiority of CBT; some sort of inborn fractiousness on the part psychotherapists and counsellors; and so on.

After a while, however, we begin to wonder if these are really sane or healthy working conditions and you can see discouragement begin to creep in: We love our work with our students and clients, and the science, when there’s time for it amid the fire-fighting, is often exciting. Of course there’s too much work, as always, but why, we ask, does it have to be so disorganized, as priorities veer regularly every few months, most commonly between the agendas of research excellence and economizing? What we had hoped was a temporary situation comes to feel like a permanent condition. We find ourselves living with a borderline process, a roller-coaster relationship with our work. For those of us with a high tolerance for excitement, ambiguity and complexity, this can be entertaining, but beyond a certain point it gets increasingly taxing.

These feelings came home last night as we sat after dinner in the living room of some of our American friends, Paul and Melissa, along with their 4 lovely kids. They are exactly the kind of Americans that we miss here: informal, open-minded, independent, natural; who know who they are and don’t take themselves too seriously. It was a poignant occasion: After 2 years of trying to make a go of it here (he’s a professor at the University of Glasgow; their kids have been in various comprehensive schools [=public schools in the American sense]), they are heading back to the USA next month.

But May is here, my favorite month, the teaching is great (even if there is too much of it), I have good colleagues, and the research/therapy is going well. It’s true that things are pretty unsettled for us all, culturally and financially, with lots of unknowns, and steady leadership is in short supply, so that’s it’s pretty easy to feel bounced around and not well held organizationally, but that, as they’re saying about the H1N1 swine flu, is pretty much pandemic at the moment, which means that it’s not personal, which in turn means that… the trick is to hang in there, do our best, find pockets of health, support each other, and try not to freak out.

Because it is a time of uncertainty, and anxiety is a primary adaptive emotional response to uncertainty. Up to a certain point, this anxiety is essential for keeping us on our toes and ready to deal with what emerges out of the situation. It’s not the anxiety but the panic, the freaking out, that will get you, the massive immunological overreaction (the pneumonia) to what is in the end only a temporary but widespread viral threat.

In the meantime, it’s May again, sun and rain, and more adventures loom: Newark Castle the next day, lonely treasure on the Clyde Firth at Port Glasgow, 16th century castle surviving amid the ghosts of shipyards; next week it’s the Netherlands for a conference and a one-day workshop; then back to America for Brendan’s graduation and a bit of vacation; and on, as Summer marches along and the days grow longer (16 ½ hours and counting). There are blessings all around us, but we must keep stout hearts and support each other.

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