When I was a child, my favourite place to be at this time of the year was sitting on the wall of the front garden in our suburban London street. The bricks stepped up to the gate posts so I could climb up quite high, and almost disappear among the lowest branches of a pink-flowering hawthorn tree which grew out of a gap in the pavement. It always felt like a special, half-hidden world – one in which I could try to make sense of whatever joys or unhappinesses were at the forefront of my mind at the time. And as far as I knew, that place was known – or more accurately, acknowledged – only by me. My secret. My place for knowing myself as best I could.
I’ve been remembering not just the look of that tree, but all the significance for me held within the shade it cast and the protection it offered, very much in the last week or two. The hawthorns, the May trees, have been in full blossom in such exceptional abundance that is has made me gasp and I’m not the only person to have noticed this unusually lavish display. It has been stunningly beautiful, almost ostentatiously so – like a frothy lace wedding dress, like the adornment of heavy wet snow, like (in the case of the blushing pink blossom) an artificially-coloured strawberry ice cream sundae. It isn’t subtle, it’s ‘in your face’ – and, as nature doesn’t do things just by chance, it must mean something. That could be the perfect combination of moisture, air temperature, sunshine after a long cold spring. Or it could be a sign of distress … anyone who has taken a moment to look at the horse-chestnuts flowering this spring will have seen an extraordinary concentration of flower heads on these magnificent trees, and while superficially this can look like health and radiant wellbeing, it is in reality a panicked attempt to keep life going into future generations on the part of the tree suffering from the Bleeding Canker which is set to kill chestnuts in huge numbers.
So, typically for this nature-minded therapist, I was walking the dog this morning past the drifts of blossom and my mind turned to how this all might have parallels in human behaviour – in my life – in the lives of my clients. And it struck me as so obvious -many of us are trained, in our different ways, to put on a brave face when times are hard. In my childhood, this was referred to as ‘doing an El Cid’ for which you’d have to watch that wonderful overblown Charlton Heston film to understand the significance (but in essence, if I said “imagine an inspirational warrior, fatally wounded but strapped in his armour to his horse, and leading his troops to victory” you’d get the idea). During a very turbulent and distressing year, my patients repeatedly described me as incredibly calm. And, with a slight shift of focus, it is often possible to see beneath the surface gloss – the grooming – the bright “I’m fine! How are you?” – to notice the disguised, but obvious nonetheless, signs of distress.
I don’t see my job as stripping away that layer – far from it, it could be the only thing holding someone more or less together when their lives descend into chaos or turmoil. But I do aim to hold them in the highest regard, and to notice and acknowledge (even if only to myself, and sometimes in discussion with them) how hard they are working to keep things looking and feeling normal. If I can offer support on that level, it may become possible to let a part of the distress show itself, the better to breathe the fresh air and let some of it disperse. Like opening the windows to air a room where someone has been lying ill.
I often describe the effect of early acupuncture treatments as “lifting the lid” off things rather than pushing the lid down more firmly. And Zero Balancing – by focusing on the bones, the core, the deepest parts of us – can often shed light on parts of us that have influenced us profoundly but not been in our conscious awareness. I come from a position of assuming that we all have baggage, we’ve all been hurt and wounded, all carry the scars of old ‘war wounds’. It’s what we do with them that makes the difference between health and wellbeing, or ill-health and unease.
So, next time you find yourself putting on that bright smile for the camera while crying inside, think about taking care of the parts below the surface and call me for an appointment, on 07970 295177.