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.

 

 

 

Messages of Hope

Equine Therapy Key4Life Portland Juniper Natural Therapies Paintedhorse EFL LEAP

I was invited to join a team of EFL/P practitioners and equine specialists this month to deliver the Equine Therapy part of charity Key4Life‘s pre-release programme for young offenders at HMP/YOI Portland. Livvy Adams from Paintedhorse headed the Equine Team and organised a 2 day programme suitable for the young men at the prison and we headed in with 4 amazing horses from Portland.  Amazing because they never failed to get their messages across to the young men, whether they acted out behaviourally to mirror the energies presented or gently stood close to the men, some of whom had not seen a horse up close and personal and calmed their anxiety levels.

Equine behaviour can of course be explained based on what we know, having a degree in Animal Science, the behaviour unit was fascinating and hooked me into the world of animal behaviour and welfare.  In recent years, I have had this knowledge challenged by something far more connected, on a deeper level altogether, and its this new knowledge that always leaves me a little open mouthed and shaking my head in slight disbelief as I realise how our animal kingdom has remained connected whilst we humans have isolated and disconnected ourselves. Horses tap into the very energy we carry with us, they let us know what it is if we don’t know; they respond to us with immediacy, they are incredible Gestalt therapists and can detect incongruence a mile off.

Some of the heart felt comments made by these young men have sat with the equine team and brought tears to eyes when recalling them. You see it can be easy for us horsey people to forget what it is to experience a horse for the first time, that we receive unconditional positive regard from one of our long standing animal allies on a daily basis. We know already that horses don’t care about what has been done in the past, they only respond to who has turned up today.  Imagine experiencing that for the first time?

After the programme the young men wrote messages about hopes for the future on ribbons which were tied into the manes of the horse that connected to them the most. The horses then carried them out of prison and they are now hung in a special tree in the orchard at Glastonbury.

“No tree it is said can grow to heaven, unless its roots reach down to hell” – C.G. Jung

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.

Advice to my younger self

Juniper Natural Therapies Counselling Equine

Aged 5, 10 and 15

This month has mainly consisted of a lot of self care, healing and discovery. One exercise that got me thinking was drawing a time line from birth to 2016 and writing down significant things that happened – good or bad. That wasn’t really the part that got me thinking as I have done this before, although it was good for dusting off the ole memory and also interesting that different memories pop up when redoing this exercise. The real thinking started when I was asked to write down what advice I would give myself during that time. Being a kid of the 80s in the UK I have inevitably seen ‘Back to the Future’ so I know its dangerous to know too much about the future.

Even though my life isn’t ‘perfect’, I have never really wanted to change anything from the past to make my future different. Even the bad home perm hair at 15. There have been some mistakes and detours I could have avoided with a heads up from my older self. There are people it may have been wiser to avoid, and others to cherish more as their time with me was short. But if my journey in this life is like the yellow brick road in the Wizard of Oz. Would I advise myself to click my heels together so I could get back home?

If I did, it would save a lot of heartache, trauma and drama to be sure. But in doing that I would have missed the point of coming to Oz. I came to grow and develop and that means going through all that I have. Redoing some lessons as I didn’t get them the first time around. In not travelling down the brick road, I would have missed all the breathtaking scenery out there – in colour not black and white! I would have missed the eclectic selection of friends who are my mirrors and my medicine, as I am for them.

When I was younger it annoyed me that Glenda (the Good Witch of the North) knew about the heel clicking all along. Why didn’t she share her knowledge to save all that hurt and trouble? Why go through all that suffering? Now a fair bit older, I can see that she helped Dorothy more by allowing her to walk the path she had chosen before coming to Oz, and she made sure those ruby slippers were on her feet. In that way she was always there, guiding every step of the way. We all have our guides. I for one am pleased not all chose to wear the pink taffeta dress though!

In my opinion the most important character was the Wicked Witch of the West, feared or even hated, she probably taught Dorothy more about herself than anyone or anything else. Therefore she was a fundamental part of the journey. Maybe Dorothy is actually grateful for Elphaba coming into her life and is not sat there wishing she had avoided her or done things differently. Maybe she is being kind to herself and accepting she did what she did what all the knowledge and skills she knew at the time. Anyone who has watched Wicked knows Elphaba had her own path too.  Maybe its as a friend once described to me, that when our contracts are up in this lifetime we will have a laugh about the characters played in this one and whether we managed to learn what we needed from the experience or not. I will have some laughing to do then.

So what would I tell my younger self when going through a significant event? The common thread that seems to run through is about love, hope and trust. About learning. Healing. Self care. All given (hopefully) without unravelling the very fabric of space-time continuum.

Ever wondered what you would tell your younger self?