We were delighted to host a Reflective Practice Day Retreat on a late September Saturday, at the Embrace Retreat Centre in Killinchy. After it had rained heavily all the day before, we were delighted by the blue skies and bright sunshine, which allowed for beautiful reflective walks with views of the Mournes and in the presence of trees.
The day was paced to allow time for questions, reflection, creating and sharing of words and food. Participants sat and wrote in their new journals, and used art making to reflect on their personal questions. Participants said “Guided exercises very good”, “Loved the one layer at a time…”, “Fantastic questions and materials to explore them” and “I hoped for a chance to reflect and was supported in reflecting creatively, safely and kindly.”
“I got more than I had hoped for from the day. It was a warm welcoming space created by Jayne and Colin and each member of the group. The space allowed for a calm reflection and time for oneself with the gentle presence of others. Thank-you.”
The creative process allows for the unexpected. Sometimes this is very immersed in art making, and sometimes it happens more ‘side-ways’, in quiet or even slight discomfort. In responding to the question of whether they had got what they hoped for from the day, one participant responded “Yes & more…Still trying to work out how that happened!”
During the afternoon personal time, there were walks taken, art created, sun sat in, and eyes closed – that moment of gentle delight, when reflection leads to rest.
Getting out into the beautiful countryside around where I am fortunate enough to live, formed the central part of surviving the early stages of lockdown. Our household calendar, hanging on the kitchen wall, has a daily record of where we went on our walk, run or ride. But now, 21 weeks in, I am managing an injury and we don’t get out every single day. I am in the phase of changing patterns so I can make these new habits sustainable for the longer haul; while maintaining daily activity (even if it’s a little walk around the village), stretching and physio prescribed exercises!
I am someone who likes lists and I enjoy our calendar records. I am also proud of being able to cycle up hills I could not have done at the start of March. However it has been how we have done these activities where my biggest learning has come. It is not just about completing the activity, going faster, ticking it off the list (though I also take my endorphin hit as I mark that tick!). Rather it is in the how. And my partner is an expert in the BEing outdoors, not just the DOing outdoors. Go more slowly; look at the scenery; nap on the grass or in the mountains; stop for another picnic and just appreciate the view; play in the stream; notice the rocks, lambs, flowers, the dead branches in the Ash trees, the diggers in the quarry, and the life cycle of a dandelion.
For me this is a lesson worth translating to the rest of life – especially at this time. This simple noticing can happen anywhere and can enrich our lives – the warmth of the water while doing the dishes, the bird outside the window, shapes in the clouds, a flash of colour, the sound of a laugh, the smell of toast. Drawing our attention to these things we notice, especially those that bring us pleasant sensations, can help to bring balance and regulation to our nervous system and enhance our wellbeing.
We often describe ourselves, humans, as ‘creatures of habit’. I think we can find a comfort and stability in our routines and habits, especially in times of busyness or turmoil. But what about when we want to add to / shift / or even radically change these habits? How do we build new ways of being and doing into our daily lives? How do we create new patterns in our thinking and new ‘go to’ things we do.
I have read that it takes 10,000 repetitions to master a skill and develop the associated neural pathways; or that on average it takes a person more than 2 months before a new habit/behaviour becomes automatic (depending on the person / behaviour / circumstances…). The advice is usually to start small. Give yourself achievable goals. Celebrate success. Manage expectations. Keep going, and try again.
At the start of this year I decided that I wanted to build in some new good habits. My caseload at work has been heavy and in order to take care of myself and be able to keep doing my job as well as possible, I knew I needed to find a way of helping myself do all those things I knew were good for me and I wanted to do, but was finding it hard to do on anything like a regular basis. So while everyone needs to find what works for them, I am a lover of lists, and so one satisfying list later (daily and weekly goals for a month in a lovely table printed out and stuck on the kitchen wall) I started. Everything is achievable, nothing is unpleasant, and I get a mini endorphin hit every time I tick off an item on that list. Getting to add a tick even motivates me to do something later on in my day.
I am now at the end of the second month. The second sheet may not be quite as fully ticked as the first month, but there are a lot of ticks and I can see which activities I am going to have to work harder at incorporating into my life. I can also say with a sense of achievement, as well as one of increased wellbeing, that overall I am feeling better about having more stretching and breathing and journaling and art-making and card-writing (to name a few) in my life. I am happy to be a creature settling into these habits.
What has been a ‘Sparkling Moment’ you have experienced in the past two weeks? This was the question to start our time together in a recent group I was working with. For some this was an easy enough question to answer. For others it was harder to think of something. They felt they were stuck in a negative way of seeing the world. This may be partly personality, and also a hyper-vigilant response to multiple crises/traumas; but as humans we can tend to have a negativity bias. While this is an important part of the survival response designed to identify threat, it can become less helpful when over-active or stuck ‘on’.
However the study of gratitude has shown us the value of noticing the positives, in terms of wellbeing and mental health. How can I notice and be grateful for the small and the large moments in my day; the sun, the smile, the hello, the coffee, the connection, the home… What can I be thankful for today? I recently spoke with someone who was working to notice three positive things each day, in an important but challenging relationship. This was an intentional choice to build on gratitude, and focus on the good moments.
The approach of ‘Appreciative Enquiry’ allows for us to reflect from a stance that seeks to notice ‘what is going right?’ not just ‘what is going wrong?’. This can have a significant impact on how we develop our work and what we do.
So what about you? What is your ‘Sparkling Moment’ from this week?
The spark for ‘Inner Outings’ came in the midst of an international catch up conversation. Colin and I had become friends while we did our Art Psychotherapy training together, but in early 2019 we were both in the midst of transitions that was bringing one of us ‘back to’ and the other ‘away from’ Belfast.
As Art Therapists we both have to engage in regular supervision. This is both a requirement of our professional registration, but also a support that we would not be without! It helps us think about our work with our clients and how to do this well or better; it supports us as ‘helping professionals’ to offload and take care of ourselves; and it helps us to think about the contexts in which we work and need to navigate. As we talked we realised that we both had an interest to develop our own work in the area of supervision, but not just for Art Therapists. Rather we had a passion to develop spaces for all those who work in contexts where they engage with people but do not get, what we experience as vital; a regular supervisory type experience where we are encouraged and supported to reflect on our practice.
And so after that initial spark we continued to talk and dream and plan and ‘Inner Outings’ was born. We played around with ideas of what this ‘thing’ would be called, and as anyone who has tried to come up with a name will know, this was challenging. But ‘Inner Outings’ seemed to express what we hope we will be able to offer. Spaces for reflection and self care that journey inwards and outwards; considering and making space for our inner and outer contexts and conditions and helping us to live better in both aspects. The labyrinth-inspired logo is symbolically representative of this. We are still at the beginning of this journey and we hope to meet fellow travellers for whom Inner Outings will provide worthwhile and playful spaces of inspiration, support and growth.