Dear Dorset: A letter to a place

 

gerry white horse photo portland

Chesil Beach from Portland – Photography by Gerry White

Creative writing can be a useful tool for personal growth and development.  I recently attended such a workshop with Sue Ashby included as part of my counselling training.  We were challenged to write ‘free-flow’ for 6 minutes, even if we repeated the same word until other words came to mind. We started the exercise with the word ‘If’.  After the 6 minutes we stopped writing and underlined things that interested or surprised us. We then chose a sentence, used it as our next title and began writing again for 6 minutes.  For me, it was great to express and not worry about editing for readers, that was the cathartic bit and the time limit seemed to help with the flow.  It was an interesting exercise which I will take into the counselling room with me for clients who wish to use writing as a way of expressing themselves.  If you like the idea of creative writing for personal development here are 5 more ways to use creative writing for yourself:

  1. A letter from your heart to your mind – for times you have conflict, you could write a letter from both, but often the heart doesn’t have the voice over the logical part of the mind.
  2. A letter from your emotions (anger, sadness, fear, joy) – expressing our emotions can be difficult, it is interesting to see what things get written on free flow.
  3. An unsent letter to someone (or something) lost – because its unsent there is an honesty that can come from free flow writing that allows us to just express our feelings without sending it anywhere…and sometimes there is nowhere to send the letter.
  4. Same event, different perspectives – this is a little bit like the ’empty chair’ exercise in Gestalt therapy where one person talks at an empty chair imagining someone in it, then changes seats and becomes that person to reply. Of course there may be many perspectives over one event which may give the writer more empathy for others at the end of the exercise.
  5. A letter to a place – this could be as a goodbye upon moving and could even be more specific and include an old home, or to express feelings over an event that occurred in a place.

When I move from a place, a home more specifically, I usually smudge with a joss stick or white sage to take my energy with me.  I think I got this practice from reading a Feng Shui book 16 years ago and its stayed as part of my moving homes ritual, which may seem a strange ritual to mention until perhaps I add I have moved 34 times so far.  My DBS checks are always so much fun!  The longest time I have spent in one house is 10 years. This was my family home in the town where I was born, but I only lived in that town throughout my teenage years.  I have stayed in one other county for as long since then, but admittedly moved homes 8 times within its boundaries…

DEAR DORSET,

I first met you in autumn 2007, when I was on a coastal trip from Exeter with St Luke’s Teacher Training College.  The chemists and physicists got to see Lulworth Cove and study the amazing Jurassic rock formations, and the biologists (myself included) walked a steep hill and did quadrat samples on the grass and quite frankly we could have been anywhere in the country.  At least we saw a bit of your coast line whilst having our lunch. On the trip back, a fellow PGCE student asked if I would swap my placement for his as he was a surfer. He had got Weymouth and Poole, whilst I was down for Barnstable and Ilfracombe (better surfing opporunities).  Although Barnstable was where my grandpa George was from originally and I was intrigued about living there, I thought Dorset would be closer to my sister and niece who would be an hour away in Salisbury so I would get to visit more often. I swapped.

I visited you again for several days later that year when I visited my first school placement at Budmouth College in Weymouth.  I met a geography teacher who was looking for a lodger and I moved in with her for the start of Spring term 2008. Barnes Wallis Close my first address here, around the corner from school and perfect for someone without a car.  I got to know Weymouth pretty well, which bus to take to town and when to avoid the bus as it would be full of students!

I bought an old red micra called Noddy just before I moved to lodgings opposite Poole Park for my summer term placement at Parkstone Grammar school, Poole and got to know Poole and Bournemouth fairly well too. I was a big fan of Poole pottery and ‘painting your own’.  I also enjoyed a mindful walk around the lake and sometimes coastal path between lesson planning in the evenings or at weekends.

I returned to Weymouth for my first teaching post at Budmouth and rented a room above a teachers garage for autumn term. I finally admitted defeat when it got so cold in there that the water froze as it touched the sink.  I moved back in with the geography teacher and warmed up for spring and summer term.  At the end of summer that year I organised a fossil hunting trip for a group of year 7 for activities week, we got to explore chisel beach and we went successful fossil hunting.  It was a shame the weather was too bad on the Friday for the glass bottom boat trip on the lagoon. Harry Potter at the cinema was the only thing that could have helped the disappointment – that’s me, not the students.

I explored and climbed your rugged rocks around the isle of Portland, as a mate at the time rented a room from a rock climbing landlord. I recall he had a sofa called ‘the seat of truth’ turned to face the window and the view of chesil beach linking Portland to the mainland in Weymouth.  It was great to watch the sun go down from there.  And it was a sobering walk from the The Cove pub back to her room. When she moved to Weymouth we discovered Finns, a very important haunt that got us both through a standard teaching week!

In Sep 2009 I moved to Portland to teach at Royal Manor, and lived in Wakeham by Church Ope Cove which was peaceful at that time of year.  I often walked down the many steps to the beach to listen to the waves crashing upon the rocks and pebbles.  I once ran from Fortuneswell to Portland Bill Lighthouse with a colleague who was training for a half marathon. My goal was to blow off the teaching blues and being ex Army I always think I can just do these things without training.  I recall I couldn’t walk normally for about 2 days much to the students amusement.  Years later I would finally get around to walking up all the steps in Portland Bill and be lucky enough to see dolphins swimming up to the boats out at sea from one of the windows.  On the rugged rocks around Portland Bill after a nostalgic walk around Fortuneswell I even received a marriage proposal.

I briefly left you in 2010 when my career in teaching came to an abrupt end, and consequently I couldn’t afford to stay in my flat so stayed at a mates in Amesbury whilst she was on tour.  Weeks later Budmouth offered me a supply teaching post which I came back for but sadly the damage of teaching was already done.  I did however make up my mind to stay and the only way that was achievable was to invite a long lost father to rent with me – and his two terriers.  We moved to dog friendly Cerne Abbas in a lovely home called Ginger Fox Cottage, Duck Street and I could see the cheeky Giant waving his bits at me every morning as I drew back the curtains.  I appreciated the village life in your more rural parts and I soon rekindled my love of horses up the road at Home Farm in Minterne Magna and it all inspired me to set up my business Juniper Animals.

I bravely took a teaching assistant job at Colfox in Bridport to support my business and became a little more familiar with your more arty bohemian town.  A year later I took up lecturing at Kingston Maurward college teaching the science and welfare subjects in the Animal Care dept.  Moving around the campus between lessons sure beat the noisy corridors of a secondary school.  My niece joined us for a year in Cerne and she ran wild in a way you could as a child in yesterday years.

In October 2013 my niece and I moved to your county town of Dorchester. We went on several ghost walks and learnt more about the Roman town of Durnovaria and often went for walks around the place taking in the old architecture.  I became reacquainted with Lulworth Cove and other old haunts as I explored them again with my niece.  For her birthday we went on a coastal activity and got to kayak out of your cove and around the coast towards Durdle door. We ditched the kayaks at the stair hole for a bit of coasteering – can’t beat a bit of jumping off rocks into the sea in October!

When a friend moved in with us for a while and we got touristy once more. I finally visited Brownsea island and travelled around Old Harry Rocks by boat.  We visited Athelhampton house which is just stunning and we set the world to right in the secret hiding seats between two conifers in the garden.  My niece and I got to know your Piddle Valley area very well as that’s where Jac our first horse lived for 3 years. I enjoyed the hacks out and foraging in the hedgerows with him.  There was a bit of time spent in Dorchester hospital when my niece was paralysed, but thankfully more time spent at Aquae Sulis chiropractors where she fully recovered. I remember I had to find a posh dress to wear for the Venus Business awards finalists ceremony in Poole and I never did find out who voted for me in the first place.

I began my counselling studies in Dorchester, and continued at Poundbury, where I have watched Prince Charles’ project town develop more and more.  I have even spotted 2 royals whilst being here.

Like my teaching career, fostering came to an abrupt end. It ended before my counselling training was finished and the only way to continue studying and keep Jac (our pony) was to give up renting the flat. An opportunity came up which would mean leaving you, but I did not take it as I had decided to wait.  Wait to see if ‘blood is thicker’ than the pull of dark energy. Wait to see if there was any foundation to that marriage proposal on the rocks at Portland. I embraced my vulnerability in waiting, then I accepted my reality, there was nothing more to wait for as it was all in the past.  As they say, there’s no point looking back, as you ain’t going that way. Thankfully that opportunity has come back around to make sure it collects me this time. Dorset, I appreciate you letting me stay this long, and I am grateful for a real mix of opportunities and adventures here.  I may have moved many times but goodbyes don’t get easier, so here is my fond farewell to you and I ask you to look after all those lovely people I have met here over the last 10 years, even those who are no longer part of my life. I’m not going too far away and I will no doubt be back to visit from time to time.

“And suddenly you know its time to start something new and trust the magic of new beginnings” – Eckhart von Hochheim.

 

 

 

Great Expectations

tania

When I first heard Carrie Bradshaw say these lines I recall they resonated with me as that’s what I have been looking for. My whole life. Until recently this ideal had never been challenged.  I don’t mean people had never suggested to me that my expectations were too great or I had a ‘fairy tale complex’, I mean I myself had never challenged this belief. What was my belief exactly? Well, boy meets girl, they fall in love, they live happily ever after. Like my own Gran and Grandpa who were married 50 years until physically separated by death. And where did this belief come from? Childhood I guess. I remember reading a lot of ‘Happily Ever After’ books and dreaming about my moment of riding off into the sunset.

I had a few reality checks along they way.  Parents divorce. Estranged father. First boyfriend cheating on me. Second boyfriend cheating on me. Husband cheating on me. You may have noticed a pattern?  I remember the first year of marriage being a huge shock to the system because of my expectations of what it would be like.  I often thought, ‘why on Earth did my mother not warn me about this?’  Why was my marriage so hard?  We are supposed to be on ‘happily ever after’ now.  My sister wisely reflected, that after a wedding such as I had had (rural Scotland, old castle, hilarious ceilidh) that anything after that was going to be decidedly less exciting. One of the last days I spent in my marital home before we separated, I recall looking at the beautiful, solid, Mexican pine furniture he had insisted on getting as ‘it would last’.  He was right, it did.  Longer than our marriage.

I insisted afterwards, that I would meet ‘the one’, he was still out there.  I would just have to be wiser or an even better idea – I would just listen to my friends opinions on who I picked next, as they seemed to know my ex-husband wasn’t right for me long before I did.  I basically gave away my power as I didn’t trust myself at all.  I had a brief relationship a year later, only when it ended I realised it was the infamous ‘rebound’ one. Whilst we were together I remember an uncle asking me ‘do you think you can keep this one this time?’  I replied, ‘the real question is whether he can keep me’. Good retort, but his words did hurt me.  They hurt because they resonated with another script, that it was my responsibility for keeping a relationship together. Even when it was clear ‘this-one-this-time’ was using all my money up.

Fast forward to a decade later, I finally got my fairy tale boy-meets-girl which reinforced by script, my belief.  My niece had come to live with me and as the new girl at school, she was assigned another girl to look after her.  They both became good friends, best friends. One day we all walked past a bookshop it sparked a conversation about my nieces friends dad. I realised I knew who he was.  I had known him 5 years ago when I worked at the same place.  As chance would have it without this discovery, I would have ended up meeting him the following day anyway as my niece and his daughter were doing an activity together.  Destiny!  If this was fiction, this would definitely be a ‘cute meet’. Within no time at all he became a real love – ridiculous – consuming – inconvenient.  It seemed eighties romantic rock music played wherever we went.  We were going to move into together and be a family unit.  That idea was a short lived as storm clouds gathered around us and we did not move in together.  We instead lived separately, but stayed together despite how dark it got around us.  I was determined that if we separated it would only be because we chose it ourselves not because of other people and their agendas.  Our relationship lasted four years when we decided to end things, not to sound Avril Lavigne about it but ‘so much for my happy ending‘ I thought sadly.

On my counselling journey over the last year, I have had a lot of beliefs challenged, discovered scripts I didn’t realise I had and re-written a lot of them.  Society had given me a belief of what ‘real love’ looks like, my belief.  Mine didn’t look like that, so mine must be wrong.  I have to try harder.  Its a bit like the ‘ideal Christmas’ – what it ‘should’ look like, anything else and I have failed.  But love is supposed to conquer all, and it didn’t, how can that be?  It has taken me a while to realise love starts from within, my internal feminine and masculine embracing. Then I am not on a mission to feel complete from an external source.  My ‘cute meet’ is undoubtedly one of my soul mates, my mirror – and I have tried my best to deal with all that he has reflected to me, particularly my mistrust in men.  I acknowledged the script from the inner child who believed she wasn’t lovable enough for her father to stay, so why would any other man.  And contrary another belief, a soul mate does not necessarily mean for life, it could just be for a season or a reason but it doesn’t mean they are any less important to your evolution. It has been a wonderful but crazy journey with him and one I now wouldn’t change.  I can accept it for what it was and let go of my expectations.  Love has many amazing and different forms.  It is not limited to a set of beliefs and ideals.  It can guide us all sorts of different ways through life.  Love doesn’t always involve staying together, it can mean letting each other go, but with love and light.  Maybe that’s what is meant by unconditional love.  In changing my perception and understanding of love, it now feels that I can keep hold of one of my beliefs that love conquers all, but I can let go of the Hollywood adaptation of it.

“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it” – Rumi

Walking Down the Line

Juniper Natural Therapies Counselling

The last day of the year tends to always find me reflective and perhaps a bit melancholy – this year is certainly no different.  To me this picture captures it all without words. It was taken by a friend who I met a couple of years ago at work, she returned home to New Zealand after life changed unexpectedly and dramatically.  Luckily for me she came back to England this year, on New Years Day, and ended up staying most of this year in one way or another with me. As a result she was there to witness my life change dramatically and gave me the support network I realised I never had. Consequently that knowledge created more change, that was perhaps inevitable but painful nonetheless.

The last time my life changed as dramatically was when I found out my marriage was over. Immediately I lost my husband, my best friend, and instead he became someone I never knew. Within a month our house had sold, my notice was in at work and I left the area for the south west in my little old car with what could fit in it and the rest didn’t matter anymore. Although I was supported by random acts of kinds all around, I felt alone. I listened to and over identified with Greenday’s Boulevard of Broken Dreams.  I promised myself nothing would ever floor me like that in life again. I was going to study a degree and see what happened, a beautiful beginning from a sad sad ending.  This year I was presented with the end of my fostering placement. Similarly to my marriage ending, it was not my choice so it was hard to accept as giving up on someone I love was not something I did. I was 37 when I fostered my sister’s daughter and am now nearly 42, I know it cost me my last chance of having a child of my own. But even now, knowing how it played out, I would do it all again. I have been deeply hurt by events this year and felt the sting of betrayal by people who supported them, some of whom I let into my life properly without any caution. All part of life I guess.

That moment caught unaware of me walking Jac back to his field was the last day I had with my friend before New Zealand called her home. It was also one of the last days before I moved Jac to a new home out of the area, away from our past as it now was. Like me, he was mostly on his own when he went home and was no doubt hurting. Unlike me, he was able to shake off our past as soon as he entered his new home by rolling and shaking his body a couple of times. It is taking me a bit longer to shake it off and as daft as the rolling around on the floor sounds, its actually one way of moving blocked emotions in the body. Wherever my body is feeling tension or pain, that’s where I put movement and it seems to release the blocked energy. I did keep my promise to myself that nothing would ever floor me like my marriage ending. People come and people go, even family. And I guess once you have let possessions go, its easier to do it again as the attachment just isn’t there. So here I am with some belongings on borrowed time in someone else’s living space, attempting to finish my counselling training and earn enough to live on around that. It is not as secure as I found university, with friendly student accommodation, a student loan and a three year plan. But I feel a lot stronger in myself this time around, even though I am perhaps more vulnerable security wise. I am once again surrounded by random acts of kindness which always give me faith and hope. Again, all part of life.

I have appreciated all the beginnings gifted to me alongside the endings. Opportunities that fill me with excitement. And those harder lessons in life made me stronger, less afraid and gave me the motivation to chase my dreams.  I am grateful for those people that have reached out to me this year with kindness, love and light freely given. All those that sent Christmas cards or gifts and invited me to come stay with them or pop in for a mince pie – I thank you once again but hope you understand I really just wanted to keep this Christmas low key, and spent it with Jac and his new herd.

“Sometimes I wish someone out there will find me
Till then I walk alone” – Green Day

Thanks also to Jac who did find me and now walks beside me making the road less lonely.

Goodbyes and Endings

Love Rejection

We were asked to explore Beginnings, Middles and Endings in counselling recently. Beginnings can be a little bit nerve wracking as we establish a new relationship, the Middles all about developing the relationship and the Endings are often a little sad as we say Goodbye to a relationship. It got me thinking about Endings in general. How do we feel at the end of a great book? At the end of a good movie? A bad movie? How about when we are expecting one more sweet in the packet and realise we already had the last one? Does it help to know an ending is coming?

I think back to my childhood where I said goodbye to people every two years, always to be the new girl somewhere else.  I knew the ending was coming as most of our things would be packed up in MFO boxes for weeks before the event. I tried to lessen the blow by having a lot of pen pals (way before mobile phones and social media if I have any younger generation reading this, it was harder to stay in touch). One day my dad left, without a goodbye. Boxing day. I was 10 years old. I recall that experience left me with a lot of questions, trying to make sense of things for years and coming up with my own conclusion, or ending. Whilst on duty as a Special Constable patrolling the hospital grounds I had a feeling that I needed to pop into the ward to say a goodbye to my grandpa. He had gone in for a hip operation but suffered a stroke. I said a goodbye that night, and he had died the following day. I am glad I listened to that feeling. I think mostly it helps to know an ending is coming. Maybe its more the deterioration that hurts and the ending is a relief?

I can’t help thinking change is constant, endings are inevitable and every story has a happy ending – depending on where you stop the story. ‘Happily ever after’ is a nice way to stop the story in the middle but avoids the real end. I guess that’s why its in every fairy tale going and we feel happy about the ending. Apart from the Grimms brothers tales, I recall being quite disturbed by some of their endings. In real life we know that even princesses don’t have happily ever afters, and endings can be abrupt and shocking. I recall the end of my marriage, I knew we were having issues but I did not know we couldn’t overcome them. Until I did know, and it was over. I think that ending was an ending to prepare me for all other endings, nothing has ever floored me like that again. Within a month our house had sold, I packed the car with just the things I came with, handed in my notice at work and headed to another part of the country to start over. It took me a while to accept that things had changed that dramatically. That’s when I figured out what endings were about, embracing change. It was a hard ending, but there were so many positive beginnings that came from it. I guess we are all here to evolve not to stand still.

In those wonderful moments of finding love its hard not to want the world not to stand still when you know about endings. It can be hard to stay in the moment of the beginning and the middle and not get worried, fearful or upset about the end. When a relationship ends, the change can be very painful and as John Seeley says it can bring up a lot of self worth issues; especially if they have started another beginning before you were done with your ending. My mother always used to say it would have been easier for her to deal with if my father had died, not left. Her memories wouldn’t have been tainted. But then sometimes on a death bed you may receive confessions that do just that. It’s my sisters birthday today. I lost my sister to psychosis, she’s somewhere in the world both literally and spiritually, but I don’t know where, both literally and spiritually. So maybe the common thread with endings is change and a way of coping with change?

In life as we all know, noone gets out alive, so can we stay in the present moment and enjoy it? There have been enough signs in my life so far to accept that death isn’t really the end, it’s a change. Once I was receiving Reiki healing when I was told that a maternal figure from the other side was here to help, the healer corrected herself and told me the spirit had said “I’m not dead yet you know” and said she was between worlds. I knew that would be my gran. She had Alzheimers. Even science tells us we can’t create or destroy energy, it can only change form. The energy inside us (a spirit, a soul) therefore changes form, whilst our biological body breaks down, becomes part of the carbon cycle and we are recycled in the world too.  Dr Brian Weiss explains in his book of the same title that only love is real. It transcends lifetimes, so we can take love with us. This may be a belief of mine that softens the blow of endings – like writing pen pal letters to people I will never meet again. I guess one day we will all find out. For those out there who are going through a difficult ending right now, remember there will be a beginning that follows, that love is always with you even if it doesn’t feel like it and that…

“You may not control all the events that happen in your life, but you can decide not to be reduced by them” Maya Angelou