Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Christmas Adventures in Glasgow

Entry for 24-27 December 2011

This year we have been exploring unknown territory: Christmas in Glasgow.  Each year at this time, for the past five years, we have gone back to the USA for three weeks beginning around the winter solstice and only returning around the 10th of January, in time for Celtic Connections.  Thanks to the UK Border Agency, this did not happen this year; and so we are here, for a change.  In the meantime, we are savoring the unfamiliar bits, which are many:

1. Last week we discovered cinnamon and fresh parsley in the supermarket, after we had given up on them.  As is so often the case, you just have to know Where To Look.  In this case, these things are kept not in a place but in a time: Christmas.  I'm not sure about the fresh parsley, but a bit a research told us that cinnamon was once a very expensive luxury, so it came to be associated for the extravagance of the holidays and so is excluded from ordinary life the rest of the year.  If one of the three wise men had left behind his gold, frankincense, and myrrh, he might have replaced it with cinnamon! (Probably not parsley, though…)

2. You'd think that Christmas carols here would with minor exceptions be pretty much the same as in the US, given that so many came from the UK and Europe in the first place.  However, this turns out to not be the case.  At St. Mary’s, last Thursday's service of 9 Lessons and Carols turned out to be filled with familiar carols with unfamiliar music, familiar music with unfamiliar words, or just plain unfamiliar words and music.  Very nice... I liked the UK melody for It Came Upon a Midnight Clear better, actually.  But different…

3. It turns out that BBC Radio 3, the main classical music channel in the UK, plays hardly any Christmas music.  On Christmas morning when I turned it on, they were playing a Rachmaninoff orchestral piece.  After the opera on Christmas Eve, this was the last straw, so I tuned into my longtime favorite radio station from San Francisco, using my handy KDFC iPad app.  After that, I listened to a Norwegian Christmas/Solstice program on Music from Hearts of Space, a long-running American public radio new age music program, also produced in San Francisco.  My Dad would have approved!  Actually, I've been mining his extensive library of Christmas music this season, almost a 1000 tracks' worth.  I've particularly enjoyed his country and western, new age, and jazz selections, and have been playing them a lot.

4. Diane and I miss our kids and have been Skyping with them a fair amount, but we've also really been enjoying each other's company in this season. Usually we are distracted by our families of origin and spend much of the holiday season in different elliptical orbits, touching base from time to time.  We miss our families and spent several hours Skyping with various more or less chaotic bunches of them, but we are also enjoying our quiet time together.

5. Over the past few years, as we travelled here and there during the holidays, I've missed the big Christmas services that we had at Trinity in Toledo: O Antiphons, Christmas Eve.  I haven't been to a 4th Sunday of Advent service for years, since we're always travelling then.  This year at St Mary's we got to experience the whole thing: The 4th Sunday in Advent service was devoted almost entirely to Mary, which I loved.  Winter Solstice Goddess Festival!  Then we had a big Nine Lessons & Carols service, as I mentioned, with the Bishop and all, the church packed out.  After that, the Christmas eve service focused on Angels, with Kelvin (the Provost or main priest of the cathedral) asking us to imagine angels hovering over Glasgow.  In most languages, the word for “angel” originally meant “messenger”.  What messages do they have for us?
6. After snow and bitter cold here last year, this year has been very mild, although wet and windy.  We did have some snow and ice a week ago, but it's all gone now, and it's mostly been excellent weather for running.  The wind finished eating my umbrella on Christmas Eve on a short trip to the local market.  But as we walked home at 1am, after the Midnight Christmas Eve service at St. Mary's, the rain had passed and the wind had died down.  The streets were unusually quiet for a Saturday night in Glasgow, most of the traffic consisted of taxis, and a few stars shone through between the clouds.

7. On Christmas day, we had dinner with our Australian friends, Juli & Tony, as well as Beth’s son James, from Brazil.  This turned out to be a brilliant idea, given that all of us were feeling somewhat abandoned by our faraway families.  So we enjoyed a multicultural Christmas dinner, with Australian/British roast turkey/pork/vegetables, American apple pie/cranberry-orange relish, and a Brazilian confections known as brançinos.  But the piece de resistance was Julie’s authentic Christmas pudding, many weeks in the making, and finally wrapped tightly in a cloth, heated in a big pot of boiling water, doused with brandy, and set afire, before being served with custard.

8.  The Roman midwinter festival of Saturnalia went on for many days.  Similarly, in the UK and Scotland, there are the two days of Christmas Eve and Christmas itself, plus New Year’s Even and New Year’s Day,  the latter known as Hogmanay in Scotland.  However, there is also Boxing Day, the 26th of December, and in Scotland Hogmanay extends to the 2nd of January.  Beyond this, lots of things simply close down altogether for the entire week between Christmas and New Years, and this year the University doesn’t even reopen until 5 January, the day before Epiphany.  Most of our local shops are closed.  There is hardly any email.  The result is a large cultural pause, a kind of still point at the turning of the year. This is the time we are living through, this year’s Christmas Adventures.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Indefinite Leave to Remain

5 December 2011:

Out of blue this morning, our visa renewal came in an anonymous-looking envelope, which included our passports with the new visas saying that we have Indefinite Leave to Remain in the UK.  Actually, there is nothing indefinite about it: We are "settled", and can stay as long as we want, which in our case is another 4.5 years.   

My first reaction was shock, because I wasn't expecting it this soon and had totally given up on hearing back before Christmas.  For months, we had been mentally preparing ourselves for a longer wait and even to be turned down and deported.  We had given up on travelling to the US for the holidays, and had instead arranged for Kenneth to come visit us here.  I’d started to worry about a February training I am scheduled to run in Belgium.  Suddenly, all the familiar waiting was gone, vanished, leaving a kind of vacuum of missing expectancy.  

It was only after the initial shock had worn off and we had read through all the paperwork that I began to feel an easing in my body, relief from an implicit tension that I’d been carrying for many months, really almost a year, at the uncertainty about our future. 

Surprisingly, I am also left with a sense of being a bit daunted by having my life, all these months in limbo, hanging suspended, suddenly shift into gear and move forward again.  But where?  How?  What’s next?  What first?  What to do with this unexpected Christmas gift of More Time, a reprieve?

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Big Chapter Done: Getting my life back…

Entry for 3 December 2011:

I’ve been working on a huge review chapter on research on experiential psychotherapies for the past 6 months, and finally finished it late last night, three months late.  I don’t know if the editor will take it that late, but for now I’m glad to have my life back.  At times, I despaired we’d ever finish it, but fortunately my co-authors came through with their bits, and that gave me the impetus to push on, if only for the sake of the effort they’d put in. 

Toward the end, as the chapter got more and more overdue, it gradually took over more and more bits of my life, crowding out things like writing blog entries, running, Saturday Adventures, watching television, going to the folk club, doing email, church, taking a reasonable time to eat breakfast in the morning, reading more than a few pages of science fiction a day, grocery shopping, and so on.  At times it felt like having some sort of life-sapping illness.  I rarely cheated on my sleep; and I continued to make adequate space for my clients, and did my teaching.  However, my PhD and MSc students have been neglected (apologies to them!), and at the end Diane had help me check the 300 references.

Yesterday, as the End come into view, I became elated at the prospect of getting my life back.  Finally, about 11pm I sent it off to the editor and my co-authors.  Diane and I celebrated by watching an episode of The Mentalist and, just for good measure, The Big Bang Theory.  Then, this morning I went for a run, we had a leisurely brunch, and then went on our first Saturday Adventure in a month:

We walked over to see the newly installed Antonine Wall exhibit at the Hunterian Museum at the University of Glasgow.  For last 300 years they have been collecting the old Roman mile markers, from the road built by the Roman legions about 140 C.E. just behind the Antonine Wall, which spans central Scotland, from the Firth of Forth to the Firth of Clyde.  In addition to almost all of the mile markers, they’ve got grave stones, altar stones, lots of statues of the Goddesses Fortuna (Fortune or Luck) and Victoria (Winged Victory), and quite a few bas relief cartoon-like depictions of bad things happening to celtic warriors and prisoners.  There are even a couple of statues of Silenus, Bacchus’ drinking companion.  There are also lots of roman household artifacts found in the Glasgow area, some quite fascinating, like a cheese press and accompanying lead weight, or fake tin denarius coins for a wishing well.  Afterwards, we made a quick visit to the nearby Hunterian Art Museum, which I think is underrated due to the proximity of the Kelvingrove, but has its pleasures.  Finally, we walked along Byres Road, and then home again.  Saturday Adventures were back! 

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Riding a Coo through the Scottish Highlands

The next day after I posted The Sunset Run poem blog entry, I was trying to tell a couple of my Scottish colleagues about it.  I said, "After I got home, I went for a run and then wrote a haiku."
"What?, they said.
I repeated, "I wrote a haiku."
"You know, a Japanese poem."
"Oh!," they said.  "You mean, a 'hai-queue?'  We thought you were riding on top of a high coo [=cow]!" 

I was left with an image of the famous picture of Buddha riding the ox...

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Sunset Run

Entry for 18 October 2011:

Another haiku form poem:

The light goes away
losing five minutes each day:
Late sun still glints bright.

Hard rains these last days:
Weir booms below aqueduct,
fox lopes home at dusk.

Too much on right now:
Still, good day’s training, finished
paper, hard run help.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Reflections on 9/11: Learning from Mona

Entry for 11 September 2011:

Our friend Becky, from Trinity Episcopal Church, our old church back in Toledo, Ohio, asked me recently if I’d be willing to write a bit for their newsletter about how the events on 11 September 2001 had affected me since.  Here is a slightly revised version of what I wrote:

In the months after 9/11, I happened to be working with Mona, a devout Muslim postgraduate student of mine, and had several long conversations with her about the double victimization she and her fellow Muslims experienced after 9/11:  First as an American and thus an object of the attacks; but second and more importantly because of the discrimination she personally and other Muslims experienced after 9/11, including constant monitoring of her local mosque by federal agents.  As a result, I learned more about Islam and took every opportunity to defend Muslims from unfair treatment and prejudice.  She has since completed her PhD and now works at a university in Cairo, where she has become involved in the largely peaceful revolution that has been happening in Egypt.  My experience with Mona has since helped me to work more compassionately with other Islamic postgraduate students here in Scotland. 

I thought of this again this morning, on the anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks, but also because the lessons today focused on forgiveness. (For example, at the end of Genesis, Joseph forgives his brothers for having sold him into slavery.)  And I found myself wondering again how different things might have been if our main response to the 9/11 attacks had been to seek understanding, reconciliation and forgiveness rather than revenge…

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Gareth Williams on Possible Relationships between EFT and Buddhism

Entry for 4 September 2011:

This year’s Glasgow EFT Level 1 training was marked by more theoretical diversity than ever before, which made for some interesting dialogues with colleagues from psychodynamic, systemic-couples, … and Buddhist perspectives.  One of this year’s participants, Gareth Williams, brought a particularly Buddhist perspective to the EFT training.  After the training workshop, at my invitation, he wrote the following about possible connections between EFT and Buddhism.  He’s given his permission for me to publish these comments here.  (Thanks, Gareth!)

First, here’s a bit about Gareth: Following 2 years as a full-time volunteer at Lothlorien therapeutic community in Scotland, Gareth trained in person-centred counselling at Strathclyde University with Dave Mearns. Since then he has undertaken a long-term study of Arnold Mindell's process-oriented psychology; a Masters degree at the University of Manchester, where his thesis focused on the role of creativity in transformation and healing; a certificate in mindfulness at Samye Ling; and a certificate in supervision at Tenemos.  

Gareth is currently based on the border of Staffordshire and Cheshire, where he works as a senior counsellor with North Staffs Mind. Also in the process of establishing himself as a freelance therapist and supervisor, he has just contributed to a forthcoming book on counselling psychology. He has special interests in creativity, anxiety, mindfulness, ecotherapy, working with young people and their families, and common factors in therapy. 

Hi Robert.

Here's some gathered thoughts on how EFT fits into a Buddhist mindfulness context. My understanding is of course limited and there are many schools of Buddhism with subtle and not so subtle differences. So this is a personal Buddhist-inspired epistemological take on EFT.

EFT can help us understand the way our mind constructs experience. Not the truth or anything like that, simply our experience of life.

(And in the process of exploration we no doubt contribute to the construction.)

From a Buddhist perspective, life and who we are cannot be fully summed up ever. It’s all part of an ongoing life process.

Shantideva, Buddhist saint from a few hundred years back, said we should regard all phenomena as rainbow-like. EFT can help us appreciate the various interactive components of our experience.

Buddhist therapist John Welwood (2000) (Gendlin was one of his mentors) points out how we can get tangled up in our reactions to our emotions (secondary emotions in EFT). Rather than letting a feeling guide us and letting it come and go, there can be a judging and resisting of it. A whole storyline can be associated with it, for example, "only failures feel down like this, I must be a failure."

He goes on to explain how psychotherapy can support people to untangle the experience and understand the complex information within an overall lived experience.

What comes to mind is mindfulness teacher Rob Nairn citing a Tibetan master, Tai Situpa, as saying that if you let it go/be/play out, without resisting or adding, any thought/feeling will last at most 2 to 3 minutes. If you worry or avoid or resist you tend to suppress and inadvertantly prolong the experience.  [Note: In EFT we like to point out that adaptive emotions are by nature brief: they emerge to help us read, understand and respond appropriately to a particular immediate situation, then they recede in order to make space for the next emotion.] 

EFT supports people to allow their experiences.

In mindfulness practice, the meditation support (breath, sound, body sensations) is an anchor, a regulator, but ideally like a feather on a stream. Not pushing anything away, letting it all be. And mindfulness is awareness and compassion/kindness. When practiced skilfully, whatever emotion/experience/thought arises is met with kindness. One teaching is to soften around it. This ties in with Greenberg (2004) on transformation of emotion through contact between difficult scheme and adaptive scheme.

Rob Nairn teaches his students the importance of not "parking off" their difficult feelings. Compassion training really emphasises making friends with our pain. Rob draws on Jung's notion of "complexes" - split off parts - and how healing it can be to meet these with mindfulness. Allowing for some kind of integration and transformation.

Compassionate awareness itself brings change. There is not an agenda of how it should be in the inner world. Capacity for awareness and kindness is regarded as inherent. It’s often called Buddha Nature.

Tara Brach is a popular mindfulness teacher. She wrote Radical Acceptance and teaches a method called RAIN: Recognise, Allow, Inquire and Non-identify. The inquiry part of the practice seems very akin to bringing awareness to the different components of the emotion scheme - body, associations, images, etc.

That's probably more than enough for now. Any questions and/or feedback will be enthusiastically received!

All the best and thanks for a great training course. Gareth

Gareth Williams
Human (mostly)

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Strontium Anniversary

Entry for 18 August 2011:

We celebrated our 38th Wedding Anniversary today. Thirty-eight is the atomic number of Strontium, an alkali metal earth element. Interestingly, this is the first time we have been in Glasgow for our anniversary, and it turns out that Strontium is named after the small Scottish village of Strontian in the West Highlands, north of us, source of the minerals from which it was first isolated 200 years ago.

Strontium is silvery gray in color and highly reactive in air or water. It is a fairly common element, and has had many uses over the past 150 years, including sugar beet production, old fashioned cathode ray tube glass, engine alloy metal, and medical devices. It also used in toothpaste and may – or may not – be useful for treating osteoporosis.

Thus, Strontium seems to us to be a very appropriate element for symbolizing our 38th anniversary. First, it is a Scottish element, and here we are, celebrating its number in Scotland. Second, like us, it is not an ancient element, but has nevertheless been around for a while. Third, it is silvery in color, and so are we (our hair anyway…). Fourth, it has had many different uses over time, and these uses continue to evolve, just as we continue to evolve.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Scenes from a Holiday

Entry for 31 July 2011:

Because of our impending deadline for submitting our application for permanent leave to remain in the UK, we took our summer holiday early this year, in July, less than a week after getting back from the Society for Psychotherapy Research conference in Bern, Switzerland.

Whirlwind tour. As usual, we have spent the past three weeks visiting family in the US. This year it felt even more like one of those intense whirlwind 3-week tours of Europe. We started in Ohio with a short visit weekend in Toledo with our son Kenneth and our house-sitter/friend Linda, before flying to Northern California. There, first, in Pleasanton, we saw Diane’s mother and sister Marjorie and her partner Kris. Then, in Murray Creek, just outside of San Andreas, we visited my mother, siblings and their partners. After that, we returned to Pleasanton, then drove south first to Monterey to see my old high school friends Philip and Jackie before making a quick visit to Paso Robles to see my sister Anna (and my mother and sister Louisa again, who in the meantime had gone there ahead of us). Next, we spent another day in Pleasanton before flying up to Seattle to spend the weekend catching up with our son Brendan, his partner Mayumi and our 14-month-old granddaughter Mizuki. Finally, we flew back to Ohio for another brief visit with Kenneth, Linda and her son Jon, who also lives in our old house in Toledo. Even with all this travelling around, I was still able to maintain my running schedule, including two very long, challenging runs: the 7.5 mile loop around the Pleasanton ring road system, and the very hilly Murray Creek road 10k run to “town” (San Andreas) and back.

Overload. We returned to Glasgow two days ago, on Friday, very jet lagged but with our heads and hearts filled with a wealth of experiences. Yesterday we got up late, then sat down and mostly completed our UK settlement application, in the process reviewing our past five years here. But when I tried to go to sleep, I couldn’t: It wasn’t just the jet lag, or science fiction novella I was half way through. Something was unfinished: I needed to give some account of the jumble of experiences, to put them in order, before plunging into an intense month of work prior to this year’s EFT Level 1 training and courses starting again in September. This entry is a start at that; the rest will take time. Here then, are a few impressions of this time:

California Adventures. This year, with the encouragement of Diane’s mom, we initiated California Adventures, modeled on our Scottish Saturday Adventures. These are daytrips of varying lengths, some well-known, others quite obscure.

Our Famous Adventure was to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, where we saw a wonderful exhibit, The Steins Collect, full of early Picasso and Matisse. This large exhibit made a big impression on me, demonstrating for me the dialectic relation between art collectors/fans and artists as a process guiding the history of art. However, I was even more amazed by the Belgian artist David Claerbout's video installation, The American Room: A moment suspended in time as the camera pans around the audience and performers at a small musical concert, each person captured cinematically and in their concrete physicality, as if we were there with them, lost in a “timeless moment”. TS Eliot would approve! For more:

Our obscure adventures were to two little-known local parks around Pleasanton, neither of which any of us (including Diane’s mom, who lives there) had ever heard of. One, in nearby Dublin (California), was a little historical park celebrating the early settlers of the area; the other was the Alviso Adobe Park, in the hills overlooking Pleasanton, a site linking the native American Ohlone tribe (represented by a 5,000-year-old grinding rock), a nineteenth century Mexican land-grant family (who built the old Adobe house there), and a twentieth century local dairy farm.

Murray Creek. I’ve already posted my annual Murray Creek poem, but the little valley where my mom, Conal and Holly live never fails to resonate deeply in me. This summer, because of the late rains it was unusually lush for July in California, the many shades and textures of green particularly vivid, and the peaceful atmosphere was accompanied by distant sound of water still running in the creek. Although the visit was short, I had some excellent talks with my mom and siblings, and got a good view of what is emerging in their lives.

Philip & Jackie in Monterey. After my friend Margaret died in February, I realized how important it is to maintain connections with old friends. Fortunately, we were able to organize a visit with two good friends from high school, Philip and Jackie. It turned out that Philip had retired four years ago and they had moved to Monterey, a place long familiar to me from family vacations with my grandmother in nearby Carmel Valley. Again, a brief, intense visit, filled with Philip’s excellent cooking and visits to my grandparents’ graves in Pacific Grove, walk through Asilomar State Beach, visit to Philp’s favorite local Bakery (Pavel’s Bakerei) and a visit to the Monterey Acquarium. The high point, however, was talking with the two of them into the night, with Philip and I reading recent poems to each other, just as we had done in high school so many years ago.

Brendan, Mayumi and Wee Mizuki in Seattle. We found our oldest son and his family much less stressed and more settled in and grounded than on previous visits. Our granddaughter Mizuki is an absolute delight, happy (mostly), walking with ease, interested (even if only briefly) in everything, and very sociable, with a very regal princess wave. Most amazingly, Brendan and Mayumi have taught Mizuki baby sign language, and she charmed us by signing for "more" and "please" and other things. There were also Seattle Adventures: one day to a farm-themed park with blue-berry picking, a first for us; the next day to Seward Park, a peninsula that extends into Lake Washingon. And meals out. And more really good talks about where lives are going.

Saudade. After dropping Kenneth off in Cleveland the day before flying back to Scotland, I was filled with a sense of sadness at not being able to see him and the rest of our family and friends more often. I think that friends and family provide an essential grounding and orientation for us in our lives, and it is difficult and at some background psychic level stressful to be so far away from them, cut off to a large extent by the distances and time differences. We had some great Adventures in the process of reconnecting to people important to us, and we resumed some important conversations, although these conversations are unfinished and left us wanting more. There is the character of nostalgic, almost painful longing about this. In Portugal, I think, this feeling is called saudade; it is the basis of fado music. This is an old feeling, an emotion scheme familiar to me; and I think this is the reason that the music of fado resonates with me so deeply. For me this feeling is a key source of inspiration for poetry, blogging, and even my work as a therapist. It needs to be fed, from time to time, by visits home to people and places I love, by conversations resumed but still unfinished, dangling, waiting to be continued, the warp and weft of my life.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

More Murray Creek Haiku 2011

Entry for 17 July 2011:


Almost a year since

I last passed this way: Sudden

Longing for this place.


Winter storms reshaped

the creek, sweeping up trees, rocks,

berry bushes… bridges.


Blackberries slowly

now return, repopulate:

plenty berries soon!


Labyrinth renewed:

buried stones dug up, re-placed,

gleaming in the sun.


Late rains, cool weather,

water still runs in the creek,

sounding in the dark.


Full moon rises over

eastern ridge of Murray Creek,

outshines Milky Way.


Summer morn, I run

the road to town. When will I

come this way again?

Sunday, July 10, 2011

8 July 2011: Reflections on route to the US: June-July Update

The last few weeks, since the end of May, have been very busy:

1. Courses end. The counseling diploma courses ended, amid the usual drama, tears and last minute marking of assignments. I continue to enjoy my work with the student groups here, counseling diploma & MSc students, counseling psychology professional doctorate students, and research PhDs. They are passionate and committed, which they have to be, because there is so little financial support for them.

2. EFT Training. Also in June, Anja Rutten and I delivered the third and final installment of a very successful EFT Level 2 in Veldhoven, Netherlands, and began planning Level 3 to start in the Autumn. The Strathclyde EFT Level 1 for the end of August is already almost full, thanks in part to the various one-day taster workshops I’ve been do around the UK. Over the past year or so, it has become clear that Emotion-Focused Therapy is gathering critical mass in Europe. The International Society for Emotion-Focused Therapy (ISEFT) is being formed to promote the approach and to develop standards and accreditation procedures for EFT therapists, supervisors, trainers, and training centers.

3. Settlement. After a month of intensive study, Diane and I took and passed our UK citizenship test, entitling us to apply for what is called Settlement, or Permanent Leave to Remain in the UK, equivalent to a Green Card in the US. The test consisted of 24 multiple choice questions divided evenly between blindingly easy questions (“What is Valentine’s Day?”) and mind-numbingly picky ones (“How many representatives to the European Parliament does the UK have?”). We had 45 minutes for the test; Diane was the first of our group of 15 to finish, at 7 minutes. When we return from the US at the end of July, finishing our application will be our top priority; we can’t submit more than 28 days before our visa runs out at the end of August. However, the process requires us to send in our US passports. Once we’ve turned our application in, we’re stuck in the UK until we hear back on our case. That could take anywhere from a month or two, to 6 months or more. I’ve already cancelled or rescheduled most of the travel plans for the period. We will have to be patient and flexible, just like when I was recovering from surgery during the same time period last year.

4. The Summer Solstice, with 17.5 hours of daylight, came, but it was rainy and gray in Glasgow. We’ve a couple of days of nice weather since mid-May, but that’s about it.

5. SPR-Bern. The highlight of my scientific year is generally the annual international conference of the Society for Psychotherapy Research (SPR), and this year’s conference in the beautiful, historical Swiss city of Bern was no exception. There were many EFT panels on the program, and a group of us did the “EFT Tour” going from session to session, learning about the latest EFT developments, such as applications of Antonio Pascual-Leone’s recently developed model of the emotional change process in EFT, and a new task model of hopelessness (which turns out to be a form of self-interruption). I took Rachel McLeod’s HSCED study of my first social anxiety client (about to appear in Psychotherapy Research) and converted it into a change process study, which worked surprisingly well. Diane gave her first SPR presentation, on clients from the Research Clinic who dropped out after only one or two sessions, and by all reports was informative and entertaining. (I missed her presentation because I was scheduled to present at the same time in a parallel session.) We got together with old friends, like David Orlinsky and the Collaborative Research Network; Bill & Sue Stiles; Art Bohart & Karen Tallman; Chris Barker & Nancy Pistrang; and many others. All in all, Franz Caspar and his team, along with Guillermo de la Parra, the program chair, did an excellent job of organizing the conference, one of the best in years, in my view.

Now, it’s time for a vacation!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Late May Update: Quantum Change?

Entry for 31 May 2011 (61st Birthday):

After a quiet few weeks in April, things got very busy again and May has flown by with many trips and activities. I can’t believe that it’s been five months since my last update on the state of my recovery and how my life is going generally, but there you have it.

I saw the surgeon and his team at the end of April: They liked what I told them about my functioning, and were particularly impressed that I was once again running my full distance. Then the important thing: they had me tested for PSA again, and eventually, after a couple of weeks, I got a letter saying that my PSA score was still undetectable. This is a great relief.

I've been back to work full time since January, trying not to work too hard while still keeping reasonably on top of things. My colleagues, and indeed all my fellow academic staff members whom I’ve talked to, have also been struggling to stay on top of our workloads in an ever-changing, under-resourced work environment. After deliberately avoiding much in the way of travel during January and February, while we tried to sort out what to do about our immigration status, I over-did things in March, although April was more reasonable. I'd been running regularly, 3 times a week, gradually increasing how much of my course I ran as opposed to walking. As the weather improved and the days got longer, I began riding my bike to work, which turned out to be no problem at all.

My energy has been good and has continued to improve. At this point, it feels like I've got 95% of my life back. I made a big improvement in the incontinence at the beginning of January, but after that I didn’t see much change until early May. I was doing well enough to mostly function, but couldn’t handle standing for long periods of time, so all my teaching and presenting at conferences has had to be done sitting down. Walking quickly in particular was difficult, and I’ve found that overwork and sleep deprivation make it worse.

This was the situation at the end of April. Then, we had old friends from Australia, George and Joy, come for a visit, and we made a trip back to the Kilmartin valley, with its dramatic standing stones, cairns and stone circles, challenging me with hours of walking around and scarce toilets. I didn’t do so well, but got frustrated with my lack of progress … and made another big improvement.

In both instances, there was a moment of insight about how to handle my body: I suddenly saw that the muscles I’d been exercising and trying to use weren’t exactly the right ones but that if I just did it… this way, it worked much better. It’s hard to explain; my granddaughter Mizuki probably understands exactly what I’m trying to say, although she wouldn’t be able to put it into words it either. (She has a good excuse: She can’t really talk yet.) The closest analogy I’ve been able to come up with is the old game/puzzle we had as kids, called Roll-Up, where you had to a roll a metal ball uphill by squeezing it between two metal rods. When I was about 10, we got this for Christmas, and I spent hours and hours trying unsuccessfully to do it. Then one day, it just worked: there is something to it about using just the right pressure – not too much -- to keep the ball rolling up hill, but it is impossible to put into words. Anyway, this is very like that: just the right amount tensing of the just the right muscles, and voila’, I can stand and walk for 30 minutes or even an hour with little problem. Of course, it takes continuous effort and some degree of concentration, so over time it’s pretty tiring to do this, and it gets harder as I get more tired. But still: another big improvement. Quantum change!

This is of course a great relief, and I continue to feel extremely grateful for my situation. Nevertheless, I am determined not to take this lightly and will continue to act as though the cancer is still present but at very low levels. In other words, I plan to continue to take care of myself, take most of my nutritional supplements, get at least 7 hrs of sleep a night, exercise regularly, and generally avoid stressing myself out.

In general, though, I’ve been feeling pretty happy for the past few months. It feels like I have a new lease on life. I find myself whistling. Yesterday I ran 10K and saw a whole row of new 4-story flats along the canal near Firhill Stadium, built since I last ran that far, last summer. Diane and I enjoy hanging out with each other. Absurdly, we are studying to take a UK citizenship test this Thursday in order to renew our visa, and this has turned into a kind of adventure in itself, as we try to memorize ridiculous facts about life in the UK (example: Q: How many people under 19 in the UK in the 2001 census? A: 15 million). The EFT one-day taster workshops I’ve been doing all over the UK have been fun, as have the EFT Level 2 workshops in the Netherlands. The research here continues to be stimulating and interesting. It feels so good to be doing actual process research with recordings of sessions rather than always working with self-report. For example, one of my MSc students, Sarah Shaffner, has done a descriptive study of the characteristics of six carefully-identified Relational Depth events; she’s found that intense emotional contact between client and therapist appears to be the key to these events, but also that therapists and clients don't seem to be able to stay with them.

So the work is good, and so is the living. There is, of course, too much to do. I’ve given up trying to answer all my email, opting instead for a system of prioritizing it and letting the rest pile up. Some things will have to slide. I can only do my best within my limits. Trying to do more than that seems to make it all unpleasant and to take the life out of what I do. None of us knows exactly how much time we have, so it’s really important to take each day as a gift, to do the best with that I can. To quote TS Eliot: “The rest is not our business”.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Saturday Adventure: Sharmanka, Friends, and St. Andrew’s Catholic Cathedral

Entry for 28 May 2011:

I’ve been travelling a lot the past few weeks, so it was a relief to be able to get back to a proper Saturday Adventure this week. After a slow morning, we set off for the Glasgow city centre, to see St Andrews Roman Catholic Cathedral, recently reopened after extensive renovations. However, after various delays and wading through the Saturday afternoon crowds on Argyle Street, we got to the Cathedral just as people were going in to the 1pm mass.

Instead of going in and having an hour or so to kill before a scheduled visit to Diane’s friend Juli’s, we wandered back up away from the river. ending up at the art space at 103 Trongate for something completely different, which a friend had told us about a couple of days earlier:

The Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre is one of the strangest, most eccentric, evocative and enthralling art exhibits I’ve even seen. It features 20-plus separate mechanical sculptures-cum-theatre-pieces, by Eduard Bersudsky, a Russian wood-carver, junk-collector, gadgeteer, and allegorist. We arrived, by accident, just in time for the 1pm show. We paid our entrance fee, the lights went down, and for the next 35 minutes one piece after another lit up and different bits – cables, chains, wooden figures, bicycle wheels, sewing machine treadles, old fashioned typewriters, pieces of pipe etc etc -- began moving up and down, back and forth, round and round, while appropriately evocative music played. Each piece is a world of its own, evoking a set of emotions, and often unfolded a narrative: a leave-taking, a painful episode in Russian history, a journey, a fantasy novel, an old movie, and so on. The pieces mix sacred and profane, mechanical and organic, and humor and tragedy. What a find! Who knew such a thing existed, right here in Glasgow. For more (including videos), go to

After this, we took the train south of the river to see Juli and Tony. Tony injured his leg and is currently stuck at home, with Julie looking after him. We took a bunch of flowers and the Sharmanka flyer to cheer them up. After tea and cake, Juli gave me the Tour of the house, which is an Alexander “Greek” Thomson property, dating from about 1860, quite spacious, with lovely fire place fittings and has a great view over south Glasgow.

After that we thought we’d try St Andrew’s Cathedral again, this time arriving by accident about 15 minutes into their 5.15pm Saturday evening mass. This time, we went in and sat down in one of the pews, listening and joining in with the service while we absorbed the renovated interior. No more heavy, dark nave: They’ve lightened the walls, which are now a honey colour, and run broad spiraling ribbons of gold-leaf and trefoil up the inside columns; the bosses in the ceiling have been painted green, blue, red, again with gold leaf. There is now lots of natural light and in the left aisle there is a striking, El Greco-like painting, by Peter Howson, of Roman Catholic Glasgow martyr St. John Ogilve. It was lovely just to sit there in this new-old, clean-feeling sacred space, listening to the words and music and absorbing the feel of the place. Afterwards, we wandered for a bit through the brand-new cloister space, in the centre of which is an installation consisting of a set of tightly spaced stainless steel reflecting plinths, with a small channel of water running among them, like a small forest of space-age standing stones.

Afterwards, walking back to Central Station and on the train back to Hyndland, I let the feeling the day wash over me This was one of our best Saturday Adventures ever: blending curiosity/wonder, the pleasure of company, and the peaceful/sacred.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Orkney Wedding, but First a History of the World

Entry for 14 May 2010

For Louisa and Steve

1. A Brief History of the World as a Search for the Master Motive

Jesus, Plato, Augustine, Bowlby,
And latterly, Lennon all proclaimed,
Love is the force that rules the world.
Freud, at first, reframed this as Sex,
But later, depressed and dying of cancer,
Joined medieval painters of murals,
And early Bergman in the Dance of Death.

In the face of this, the Buddha said,
All is suffering and sought release,
While Greenberg grasped for emotion regulation,
And Nietzsche, Adler, Machiavelli willed
A pecking order of Power and Self.

Others followed: We competed
For Money, and Market; we told ourselves
Everything is Story and Language;
The fruit of the One Tree is bits and bytes,
Knowledge, Reason; Information and Code:
Binary, decimal, genetic, semantic.

Thus we architected the great Archetypes
Of human thought, type-cast ourselves
And others, as players in a theatre of the mind.

Louisa and Steve, what say you to this?
On which of these is your marriage based?

2. Orkney Wedding Journey

Maes Howe, sunrise, the first of May:
Entrance in shadow, cross-quarter day,
Family and friends gather around.
Bending low, you enter the narrow way,
Bury yourselves under the mound.

In central chamber, you strike flint:
Light the flame, reflections glint,
Shadows wave from rooms either side.
Together, you say the old, old words,
Greet old ghosts, barely heard,
People loved and gone before.
Prepare to leave your old life behind!

* * *

Quarter of an hour, which seems a century,
Then we see you emerge, reborn from the cairn,
Hoist you on litters, monarchs of the May,
And carry you on to Ring of Brodgar.

There you lead us, dancing from stone
To standing stone, and weaving between.
Glancing over shoulder we see all around
The ancestors dancing, circling, tall
In our long early morning shadows.

Three times we dance around the Ring:
Once for Death, all of us sing;
Twice for Rebirth, returning again,
And thrice for your Joining, birds on the wing.

* * *

It’s a long journey then, to the Brough of Birsay,
In the far northwest, hours away.
But the tide is out when we arrive,
The two of you lead us by the narrow way:
We carefully walk, rock to rock,
And safely cross to the sacred isle.

There at the foot of the windswept hill,
We gather together by the ancient shrine.
In the afternoon sun, the oldest of all,
The old Father Druid recites the lines
Of Life and Death, Leaving and Joining.

Then hand in hand, Louisa and Steve,
You walk the steep path, ascend the hill,
Silhouetted by sun, blown by wind.

We don’t know yet what adventures wait,
Deepening love, family and friends,
Travel and work, beginnings and ends.

But we do know this: From the top of that place,
High cliffs above the crashing waves,
There you can see… Eternity.

-Robert Elliott, 14 May 2011

Emotion-Focused Therapy and the Person-Centred Approach: Past, Present & Future

Reference: Elliott, R. (May, 2011). Emotion-Focused Therapy and the Person-Centred Approach: Past, Present, Future. Paper presented at Counselling Unit Twentieth Anniversary Conference, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, Scotland.

1. A Personal Journey…
1.1. Five years ago: Invited to join the Counselling Unit
1.1.1. Walked into a place with a deep sense of culture and history built up over many years; but also, deeply counter-cultural
1.1.2. Complex web of: Courses and projects; relationships and traditions; large team of talented trainers and counselors; highly committed students, past and present
1.1.3. Fear & trembling: Questions raised:
• Will I be able to do meaningful work in this new setting?
• Will I be accepted?
• Is there space for my way of working with clients here?
• Will I change it?
• Will it change me?

1.2. Crucial Issue: What is the relationship between Process-Experiential/Emotion-Focused Therapy and the Person-Centred Approach?
1.2.1. In the early 1990’s, Barbara Brodley and John Shlien had both said to me: (Process)-Experiential therapy, Focusing, Emotion-Focused Therapy is not Person-centred
1.2.2. But Laura Rice, Les Greenberg & I had all started from a Person-Centred base, and felt we were Person-Centred
1.2.3. So, coming here, I began a five-year Evolving Dialogue with colleagues: •Classical/nondirective Person-Centred Therapy (PCT)
• Broadly relational PCT
• Pluralistic
1.2.4. My position has varied: Curiosity & puzzlement; awe & skepticism; frustration & excitement
1.2.5. Will present what I’ve learned so far from this dialogue: Past, Present & Future

2. The Past: A Brief History of Person-Centred-Experiential (PCE) Therapy
2.1. PCE Time-line:
• Roots/Sources: Humanism (The Renaissance, The Enlightenment, existentialism, Third force Humanistic psychology)
• 1940’s: Nondirective therapy: Rogers
• 1950’s: Classical approach: Chicago: Relationship conditions: unconditional positive regard, empathy, genuineness
• 1960’s: Focus on client process: Wisconsin; Late Rogers, Gendlin. The dialogue begins…
• 1970’s: Experiential therapy: Gendlin: Focusing; Rice, Greenberg: task analysis
• 1980’s: Partial eclipse period: Dismissed in North America; Further development of PCA in Europe
• 1990’s: Beginning of PCE revival; Training centres established: Counselling Unit; Process-Experiential (PE)/Emotion-Focused Therapy (EFT); explosion of research
• 2000’s: World Association founded; Journal: Person-Centered and Experiential Psychotherapies; Struggles for recognition; Research continues rapid development; EFT books & training emerge

2.2. Legacy of this Past: The Great Divide:
2.2.1. Continuing dialogue between different parts of the tradition, especially from 1970 on
• One end: “Classical” approaches: Emphasize Nondirectivity, Unconditional Positive Regard, the centrality of the relationship
• Other end: Emotion-Focused Therapy: Emphasize client process, process guiding, the work of therapy
2.2.2. “Pluralistic Approach” fits in there somewhere… perhaps at a 90 degree to the Great Divide

2.3. Examining the Legacy: Dialoging Across the Great Divide
2.3.1. Counselling Unit: One of few places in the world where it would have been possible to carry out this dialogue: Over an extended period of time; and with reference to actual practice
2.3.2. Most importantly, this has allowed exploration of the deeper issues of personal and professional identity:
•Need to hang onto what is essential vs. need to escape oppressive restrictions
•Need to establish self vs. feeling threatened or excluded
2.3.2. Which takes us to …

3. The Present: Have PCT vs EFT differences been exaggerated?
•As a result of recent history of dialogue over our differences, can now ask this question.
Two recent efforts to look at this…

3.1. The EFT Translation Project
3.1.1. EFT jargon can put PCT therapists off: Makes it sound like EFT therapists are pulling levers and controlling clients
• Have been trying to translate into PCT Friendly language; many discussions with Beth Freire, Brian Rodgers, Graham Westwell, and others
• Example: The Six EFT Therapy Principles
3.1.2. PCT-Friendly EFT Principles
• Research Clinic therapists examined the 6 EFT principles; decided the following 3 need no translation: Empathic Attunement: Always start by entering, attending to & tracking the client’s immediate experiencing Therapeutic Bond: Offer genuine, empathic, caring presence to client Self-development: Foster client growth, empowerment & choice
•Three EFT Principles Need Translation into PCT Language; involve different kinds of therapeutic work (=“tasks”) “Task Collaboration”:
•EFT: Offer and facilitate involvement in therapeutic work
•PCT Translation:
(a) Listen for and engage with what client wants to work on
(b) Offer orienting information about nature of therapy and particular ways of working in the session, particularly when the client asks or is puzzled “Task Completion/Emotional Change”:
• EFT: Facilitate reorganization of core maladaptive emotion schemes by helping client resolve key therapeutic tasks
• PCT Translation:
(a) Listen for and engage with key issues clearly or repeatedly presented by client
(b) Help client contact, explore and clarify core, growth-oriented emotions and views of self/others
(c) Keep helping client work on their key issues until they feel they have resolved these or decide they want to stop
(d) … and the client decides what is key, core, or resolved “Process Guiding”:
• EFT: Help client work in different ways at different times; foster relevant client micro-processes/ modes of engagement (e.g., experiential search, active expression)
• PCT Translation:
(a) Be aware of and respond helpfully to common kinds of client experiences and process
(b) E.g, Empathic Refocusing response: allow C to step back from difficult emotions before offering opportunity to return to them
(c) Respond to client-presented issues by offering opportunities for potentially useful kinds of therapeutic work
(d) Always accept client’s decision about whether or not to accept a process offer

3.2. Comparing PCT & EFT: The PCEPS study (Freire, Elliott & Westwell, 2011)
3.2.1. Developed quantitative process rating measure of PCE therapist adherence/competence: Person-Centred and Experiential Psychotherapy Scale (PCEPS) Two subscales:
• Person-Centred (PC): 10 items (Eg Client frame of reference; content nondirectiveness)
• Experiential Process (Exp): 5 items (Eg Experiential specificity, emotion focus
1 – 6 descriptively-anchored scales) Passing = 3.5+
3.2.2. The PCEPS study – Method: Just finished test of measure on 120 segments:
• Research Clinic data
• 10-15 min segments
• 60 sessions, 20 clients, 10 therapists
• 5 student therapists (general client sample)
•5 post-training therapists (clients with social anxiety): 2 PCT, 3 EFT (2 fully trained)
3.2.3. The PCEPS study: Summary PCEPS is reliable (across items and raters) In general, PC and Exp items correlate very highly with each other We also found a Nondirectiveness factor: Empowering Presence, Content Nondirectiveness, Clarity/brevity Student therapists scored lower on all items No difference between fully trained PCT and EFT therapists on: PC, Exp, and nondirectiveness subscales Conclusion: Therapist and training effects much more important than PCT vs EFT differences

4. The Future: Some concluding thoughts about avenues for continuing the dialogue & an agenda for the future
•Where does this leave us?
4.1. Beyond ideology, Or: Back to the Process Itself
• Is it worth continuing to argue at an ideological level over nondirectivity and process guiding?
• Like Psychology, we have been neglecting study of concrete behavior in favor of the ease of self-report data: Both quantitative questionnaires & qualitative interviews
• PCEPS study illustrates value of following the example of early Carl Rogers and colleagues: We need to return to the study of therapy process

4.2. A Pluralistic community of practice: Using our different strengths as therapists to complement each other
4.2.1. Most of us are never going to be effective therapists across a range of different therapy approaches
4.2.2. But: We can do a better job of listening to and learning from each other within the PCE tradition:
• Classical, nondirective therapists
• Broadly relational person-centred therapists
• Focusers and EFT therapists
• Person-centred-based pluralistic experimenters in other approaches
• Near neighbors in 4th generation CBT (eg Schema therapy) and contemporary relational psychodynamic therapy

4.3. Toward a deeper understanding of nondirectivity via Task Analysis
•Here in the Counselling Unit, I have found myself fascinated by rigorous nondirectivity in therapy
•Personally, I could never adopt a sustained, rigorously nondirective stance
• Nevertheless, it is clear to me that there are clients and moments when this is absolutely the best thing to do
• I want to know:
(a) What are these moments? (=client markers)
(b) How can I maintain nondirectivity at these moments? (=therapist processes)
(c) What are the immediate and ongoing effects of these moments? (=micro-outcomes)

4.4. Conclusion: Living with the creative tension between nondirectivity and process guiding
4.4.1. It’s so difficult to live in the middle: Between dichotomies/unresolved differences/ ambiguity/ complexity (David Rennie’s “rocky middle road”)
4.4.2. However, I strongly suspect: Nondirectivity and Process Guiding might actually need each other: Can be a source of moderation and creativity for each other
4.4.3. My dream for the next 20 years of the CU: That as a community, we learn how to effectively live with and grow from from the creative tension between Nondirectivity and Process Guiding

5. Coda: And by the way…
• Those questions I asked five years when I walked into this place…
• About doing meaningful work, being accepted, finding space, changing things, and being changed…
• The Answer is … Yes

Saturday, May 07, 2011

The Transcendent Witch Emerita of Oz

The Transcendent Witch Emerita of Oz

Entry for April 30, 2011:
Poem for Jeanne Brockmyer on her retirement
Video at:

No, I can’t imagine you in blue gingham,
But still I picture you setting out,
A young woman, blond hair flying,
Like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz.

Travelling through strange lands --
Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Illinois, Ohio --
Collecting loyal companions along the way,
It’s a long journey, and it doesn’t always
Go according to the Book:
One dog isn’t enough, and
Your tin woodman loses heart along the way.

But there are plenty of flying monkeys,
Wicked Witches, little people;
Betrayals and acts of courage,
Partings, and reunions;
Many adventures.

At some point we realize
There’s been a career progression:
Instead of staying stuck in the same role,
Like Dorothy in book after book,
You get promoted to Distinguished Senior
Research Witch --
Jean, Good Witch of the Main Campus.

Teacher and mentor for generations
Of apprentice witches and wizards,
We, your travelling companions,
Witness your fierce loyalty,
How you take up your magic notebook
Against the abuse of the weak,
The hypnosis of mindless violence.

Now you’ve been promoted again:
Hail, Jean,
Transcendent Witch Emerita of Oz!

What’s next for you?
What further journeys,
Promotions, transformations?

As TWE, you are now able to travel
Anywhere you want
Using the silver shoes
That came with your promotion.

Deadly Deserts? Clashing rocks?
No problem!
As TWE, you can practically be everywhere.

But I’ve a hunch that most of the time
We’ll know where to find you:
In your backyard, with your dogs,
And your Magic Book;
There’s no place like home!

Somewhat belated report on Holiday Weekend Adventure

Our old friends George Wills and Joy Norton spent last weekend with us. I met up with them at Euston Station on Thursday night. We were all just a bit older and grayer than we’d been when we’d last seen each other in Melbourne, Australia, in 1999, but it was wonderful to see them again, and also brought back fond recollections of the memorable six weeks we’d spent there.

Over the next three days, we caught up with each other as we watched the royal wedding together; went to Hill House in Helensburgh (signature Charles Rennie MacIntosh house); walked through the West End by way of the Royal Botanic Garden; helped George buy a mandolin at a music store at Kelvinbridge; did a mini-tour of Provand’s Lordship House, St. Mungo’s Museum of Religious Life and Art and Glasgow Cathedral; had dinner at our favourite Scottish restaurant, The Sisters – Jordanhill; and watched Dr. Who together. Finally, we spent a day traipsing around the Kilmartin Valley, revisiting burial cairns, standing stones, stone circles, and rock carvings. Joy and George managed to locate a henge that we’d missed on our previous visit; and on our way out of the valley we hiked up to the Achnabreck rock carving site, consisting of a large collection of cup and ring carvings, some looking uncannily like primitive Cretan-style labyrinths.

So it was that, with some sadness and quite a bit of exhaustion, we walked Joy and George down to the Hyndland Train station on Monday morning to see them off back down to London. We’d had a lovely visit and revisited many of our favourite Scottish places. I don’t know when I’ll see them next but I’m hoping we’ll be back to Australia again before too many years have passed.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Good Friday in Glasgow

Entry for 22 April , 2011:

Good Friday and Easter Monday are “bank holidays” in Scotland and the UK, making a four-day weekend, a time for family gatherings, driving places or just hanging out. Not that many people go to church anymore, so it’s more of a secular than a religious holiday for most.

After a late night out, got of up late this morning. Brisk start to a lovely Scottish Spring day: Ran 100% of my standard canal-river kelvin 5k+ course today for the first time since my surgery last September. Time 30:26. It's taken me months to carefully work up to this, but it feels good to finally be there.

Then a quick late breakfast and a walk down Great Western Road: Trees in blossom, pink and white, just starting to leaf out. People out in droves, many in short sleeves, enjoying the sun and 15C Good Friday weather, in a festive mood, almost bemused to be out on a nice day, without work or Saturday errands.

Our destination: St Mary's 3-hr Good Friday Devotions service, filled with moving readings and sermons and powerful music. I'm left with Peter Jones' modern Hebraic-flavored version of the ancient Good Friday Reproaches ("O my people, what have I done to you? How have I hurt you?") stuck in my head. Also: Graham Maule's hymn setting of Isaiah to Burns's Ae Fond Kiss ("Who would ever have believed it?") brought tears; Cedric's sermon observations on Pontius Pilate and the muddled (mis)use of power: and Kelvin's poetic, poignant story of a sale bin spotted in Camden Market: "Gods: 3 for £5", and his invocation of the Buddha's "Life is suffering" as an appropriate commentary for Good Friday. (If you're interested, check his blog:

An emotionally draining experience, which has left me finally ready for Easter.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Emotion-Focused Therapy: Level 2 Workshop Series for 2011-12

Facilitated by Robert Elliott
Professor of Counselling, University of Strathclyde

Saturdays, 9.30-16.30, 15 October 2011 – 19 May 2012
Sir Henry Wood Building,
Jordanhill Campus, University Of Strathclyde
(Sponsored by HASS Research & Knowledge Exchange,
University of Strathclyde)

The Counselling Unit at the University of Strathclyde is offering further training in Emotion-Focused Therapy (EFT) for counsellors and psychotherapists (Diploma level or above) who have completed Level One training in EFT or the equivalent. This series has been restructured from its previous evening format and will now meet on seven Saturdays throughout the 2011-12 academic year, beginning in October. The format will be a mixture of brief lectures, videos or demonstrations, experiential practice exercises in small groups, supervision of cases seen by course members, and discussion.

The specific topics to be covered will feature material not covered in the Level 1 course, including
• Therapist experiential response modes
• Client modes of engagement
• Narrative Retelling of difficult/traumatic experiences
• Relational Dialogue for Alliance difficulties
• Creation of Meaning for meaning protests

In addition, the Focusing and different forms of Chairwork will be particularly emphasized:
• Focusing with difficult or painful experiences
• Clearing a Space for overwhelming or chaotic experiences
• Two chair enactment for Self-interruption splits
• Two chair conflict split work for depression, anxiety and self-harm behaviour
• Compassionate Self-soothing for painful self states
• Empty chair work for unfinished business

This series is scheduled for the following dates:

Autumn 2011:
15 October
26 November

Winter-Spring 2012:
14 January
18 February
24 March
21 April
19 May

• Enrolment is set for a minimum of 10 and a maximum of 20.

• Course fee: Until 1 Oct: £395; after 1 Oct: £445. Please send a non-returnable deposit of £50.00 to secure a place if not paying the whole fee at time of booking.

• The course could be taken for continuing professional education credit.

Please direct enquiries and requests for applications to HASS Research & Knowledge Exchange, Jan Bissett (, 0141 548 3418).

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Soft Flows the Stream, As Stars Upon the Sea are Pearls

In memorium, Margaret Linstrom Weitzel, 1950 – 2011:

Background: When I was in Toledo in early January, I went up to my study and found a couple of folders, one with letters from Margaret from 1967-1969, saved all these years, and the other of poems from the same time, including a couple held together with a rusty paper clip and a 4 X 6 index card (possibly left over from high school debate?) on which I’d written “early Margaret poems”. At first it felt a bit painful to read them: They seemed full of unnecessary obscurity, when what I really wanted to say was that I really respected her as a person.

But there they were, and I couldn’t not read them. What I can’t remember now is whether in fact I ever presented any of them to her. The references in the middle section of the main one (“The Turning”) make me think that I must have written this for her 17th birthday, not long after I got back from my family’s long trek to Alaska in the summer of 1967. In reading through it, I was struck by how parts of the poem seemed to prefigure things that happened later.

So a couple of weeks before she died I sent the poem to her in an email together with some of this explanatory material before and after. I knew that she didn’t have long to live, so it was my good-bye to her. Now that she is gone, it seems to apply to her present situation, on her journey from this life to whatever is next. No one knows what this is, but sometimes we get inklings. My mom has since had a vision of her in a white room filled with light, being healed and ministered to by those who came before her. That makes sense to me. However, my vision of her is a bit different: We know that she was excited about the prospect of discovering what was next for her. For me, it feels as though she has at last begun the voyage described in a poem I wrote for her in 1967. Looking at this poem from the other end of my life, in the wake of Margaret’s passing, I wonder what it will be like for me to take the same journey that she has now begun.

The title is a complicated and fairly obscure play on her name. Since this, I’ve a done lot with this kind of etymological-metaphoric approach over the years, in other poems but also in a series of articles I published. Much of the meaning of the poem eluded me at first, but as I went through I started adding a few annotations in brackets, and that helped.

Soft Flows the Stream, As Stars upon the Sea are Pearls

Soft flows the stream:
See the humble coracle,
[a small skin boat used by medieval Irish monks;
I suspect that this is supposed to represent Margaret]

Riding the waters in silence.
Leaving the flowery leas,
One cast eyes upon
The crystal crucifix
And you saw a single Pearl
Amid the last brilliant flashes
Of the setting sun’s
Last beam.

Came the insect
[I don’t know exactly why, but I think I’m referring to myself]
As the coracle reached the sea,
Scratching to be seen.
Brendan smiled,
[a reference to the famous sea-faring medieval Irish saint,
15 years before we looked at our new born first child
and realized that this was his name;
here I think he’s meant to symbolize the Spiritual generally:
God, Jesus, Buddha]

Transfiguring the insect:
A guilty cloud of smoke,
Expanding supernova cloud,
Took the disembodied journey.

A turn in the starsea path
Brought the dolphin
[I think this and the previous bit are talking
about reincarnation, which means that the dolphin
is also me, a much nicer image, I think…]

Beside her [the coracle’s] rounded bow.
The saint smiles
But she is free –
You are free, and
The dolphin desires
Only the Koinonia.

Seeing visions of islands
In the west;
[In Celtic mythology, the land of Faerie,
where we go when we die, is in the West; that is, Heaven]

Promises to find and keep
Where the sea is the table
For all such things;
[The image of the Communion Table
comes to me now as I read this]

Where grace is the way
To lead all things;
The dolphin will not
Force the course;
Two wakes meet
And mix between.
[Thirty-nine years later, in 2006,
I would use a similar image in the poem I wrote
for Brendan and Mayumi’s wedding.]

[I’ve skipped a dark and somewhat muddled part here; then we come to the middle section of the poem, which I apparently later pulled out as a separate poem, called:]

The Turning

Times change
Refining todays, melting
All the layered yesterdays.
[McArthur Park is melting in the rain, anyone?]

Smile upon the changes good
Mark well all changes evil…
Time and changes will not cease;
Perhaps, soon a bit more evil
Then more good.

But of time there is
No real knowing
Time is not the seeming
Nor we. The
Counting of years increases:
Years are so arbitrary
Yet their turning marks with
Symbolic pageantry
The growth, the changes within.
Within the changes:
Symbolic initiation
The turning of the stair…

O do not despair
The length of the journey:
The island you chose as destiny
Is fair but far;
Others may rest sooner
But the gain and glory
Will be yours.

[I’ve skipped a section here that seems to go on too long about storms and things, then we get to the last section:]
… Until the storm fades
To gentle breeze,
Soft stream from fragrant
Flowery leas borne on
The smell of salt,
And the humble coracle
Nears the island [of the Blessed]

So far to journey
So long from Eire [Ireland],
Genesis of journey,
And the memory
Of home sings of childhood
And hope,
While the tide comes in,
While time passes beyond years
Marked with circumstance,
To mean another branch has grown,
Another step is taken up the beach.

And the vision of dawn shimmers
Wherever your eyes gaze,
Shining prophecies of the promise
Into the sea,
And the blessings of an advocate
[1 John 2:1]
Emanate from the Cross
Of crystal and the Pearl:
Keeping company
With the coracle, with you,
With the Saint’s unseen presence,
With the dolphin:
Rippling stars upon the sea
Glitter to open eyes,
Pearls set upon the swirling sky
In the hours
Before Dawn.
-Robert KW Elliott, August 1967

Further reflections from 2011: As I worked my way back into this poem after all these years, it felt like a form of time travel, like Proust and the madeleine cookie in Remembrance of Times Past: The essential meanings and feelings of it came back to me, now reflected calmly and without the pain and the need to hide behind obscurity. Here was a heady, shy 17 year old, just starting out on the main part of his life journey, trying to communicate to another 17 year old, just starting out on the main part of her life journey, a very simple message: The hope that in some way their journeys would be connected. The amazing, unexpected thing about this is that the hope came true, both in the more mundane, exterior sense of occasional visits and catchings up, but also in the more important sense of taking her along as part of my interior community. By the time I’d finished typing this poem into my computer, cleaning up the punctuation, adding annotations to blow away some of the cobwebs of obscurity, and cutting the bits that wandered or went on too long, I was impressed. In the later sections of this poem I finally managed to get outside of my self-preoccupation and to really focus on another person. In the years since, I’ve written dozens of poems for people I’ve cared about: parents, siblings, children, in-laws, friends, and colleagues. But as far as I can tell, that all started here.