Counselling in Wokingham – Rules are made to be…

Paul Cockayne – 07791

Welcome to my counselling blog. You can find more information about me by clicking one of the links at the top of this page

rules1The possibility of Russia being banned from the next Olympics got me thinking about rule-breaking.   Competitive sports and games have rules, which are written down, but they also have codes of ethics, which often are not. At snooker, a player who plays a foul shot is expected to own up to it – that is part of ethics of the game, though it may not be an actual rule. Golfers, similarly, are expected to be their own rule-keepers to a great extent. Other sports have an on-field referee or umpire and in many of these sports the ethics seem to be that it’s OK to break the rules as long as you’re not caught. Shirt-pulling at football is a good example, and what happens inside a rugby scrum, I’m sure, is not always strictly within the rules of the game. And though I don’t know a great deal about ice hockey, it appears that players are expected to break the rules at times, that’s accepted as part of the game, and part of the entertainment for the crowd.

Beyond the universe of sports and games, there are many rules that influence, if not govern, our lives. The relationship between laws and ethics is interesting here, as well. Murder, for example, is clearly against the law, and also, for nearly all of us, against our moral code. We would describe killing as “wrong”, although of course the law allows for extenuating circumstances, and distinguishes between murder and homicide, which suggest that in the eyes of the law, some killings might be more “wrong” than others.

rules2And what of speeding? It’s against the law, but many people would not regard it as “wrong”. For some, it perhaps falls into the same category as shirt-pulling at football – it’s OK to speed unless you get caught.

For some people, the rules define what is right and wrong – rules are there to be kept. For others, rules are more of a framework – they may overlap with what we consider right and wrong but there are differences in some area. And for some, rules are a challenge – rules are there to be broken. We relate to rules in different ways, and as individuals we relate to different rules differently as well.  It’s complicated.

rules3It’s more complicated still in our personal lives.   We have our own rules, but these are not written down, they are, in general, unstated.   Our “values” influence how we behave, but we may find it quite hard to define what they are. What are your expectations of others? We probably all have different ideas of what makes a good neighbour, or work colleague, or friend, or mother, father, husband or wife – and so we all have different ideas of how we should behave in those roles.

Because these personal rules are unstated, we tend to follow them unconsciously and that means that they have a lot of power. For the most part, these rules help us – we have learnt them by experience and they work most of the time. But sometimes we can find ourselves in a new situation, and our existing rules don’t apply, we have to make new rules or break old rules.

This is where understanding can be helpful. What are your rules? Where do they come from? Who made the rules? Are they a help or a hindrance? Which of them can you break and which are cast in stone?

Rules are made to be…..flexible?

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Counselling in Wokingham – Out in the Open

Paul Cockayne – 07791

Welcome to my counselling blog. You can find more information about me by clicking one of the links at the top of this page

When I got up this morning the kitchen was a bit of a mess – I hadn’t tidied up after dinner last night – and I thought “ugh” – not a great way to start the day.

open2I was reminded of my mother, who hated to be greeted in the morning by an untidy kitchen and used (this being the days before dishwashers) to stack the dirty things in the cooker to get them out of sight. Quite what the logic of this was, I’m not sure. Maybe if we were burgled the burglars would think better of us for having a tidy kitchen.

I have never repeated my mother’s method for ensuring a tidy kitchen in the morning, and I suspect if I did I would forget about the dishes in the cooker and get a very nasty shock a few days later when I next came to use it. Anyway, I was met this morning with a messy kitchen, and thought “ugh”, but I opened the back door, and the sun flowed in, and it all felt rather better. The kitchen got tidied, I made a cup of coffee and while tidying I had decided what to blog about today.

That moment when I opened the back door and the sun came in changed my feelings about the task at hand, and indeed about the whole day. There’s something about being in an enclosed space that can be quite depressing. Opening a door, stepping outside can change that.

open1I was talking to a friend yesterday who was talking about a big change at work – a change of office and with it a move to more work “in the field” – a much less desk-based culture. Through there were many aspects of the change that worried her, she was excited about getting out and about more. I was speaking to a lorry driver earlier this week and he said something similar about being on the road – about feeling free, not supervised, his own boss, able to relax.

I am reminded of a client from years ago, a climber, who didn’t talk much, certainly not about his feelings, until he described the experience of standing alone on a mountain top and seeing the world spread beneath him. For him there was a sense of freedom, and also of awe. He became aware of how small he was and how huge the world – and his problems seemed to become much less significant.

Open spaces are incredibly powerful. The countryside, the sea, the stars – they can all have that pull. And on a much smaller scale too – I have become aware that after each paragraph that I type, I pause, and take my eyes up from my laptop to look out of the window in search of inspiration. There isn’t really any inspiration there, just my car, but I think refocusing my eyes and taking in a different view enables me to step away from the detail of what I’m writing in order to think about the overall theme.

open3And what has all this to do with counselling? I don’t actually stand on top of mountains with my clients, or even go for walks (though that may not be at all a bad idea), but I think that for many clients, coming to counselling provides that same sort of experience. It gives them a different place to think and talk, which can help to change their view of themselves and their lives.

Blog done. Next – my tax return. I think it will need more than opening the back door to make that seem an attractive proposition….

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Counselling in Wokingham – Rituals

Paul Cockayne – 07791

Welcome to my counselling blog. You can find more information about me by clicking one of the links at the top of this page

Births, deaths and marriages. We have rituals to mark them all. Most cultures do, I think. They will take different forms but there is some sort of ritual, ceremony or party to mark significant events.

So too for birthdays, religious festivals, house warmings and (of recent times) stag and hen parties, and even divorce parties.

Why do we have these rituals? For various reasons, I suppose. We want to remember, to commemorate, to celebrate – or maybe we just want an excuse for a good party.   Many of our rituals mark a significant change – an ending or a beginning, sometimes both.

ritual1I am put in mind of traditional New Orleans funerals. On the way to the cemetery, the marching band plays slow music followed through the streets by the coffin and mourners. After the burial, the band plays more upbeat music and there is dancing and celebration on the return journey.

Thus this sort of ritual marks a transition. The end of a life – but life continues for the rest of us. In general, transitions (not just bereavements) can be difficult, and dealing with change can be tough. A new job, the end of a relationship, a house move. We move from the familiar to the unfamiliar, from the known to the unknown, from the safe to the scary. And when they move things around in the supermarket….!

ritual2I remember talking to a client who was constantly struggling with change because her partner travelled a lot with work. So for a week or two she’d be on her own with the kids. She’d establish a routine that worked, things would settle into a pattern but then her partner would be home again, and everything would change. He’d want to be involved and to help but she’d just established, necessarily, a routine that worked without him. She and the kids were just getting settled into that routine when everything changed.

It occurs to me that establishing a mini ritual might be helpful in such a situation – to do something that marks the departure or the return of the absent partner for the whole family. Perhaps a game they play as a family, or a group hug, or a special meal might be ways to mark the change – to help everyone recognise that an adjustment is necessary.

ritual3We can make our own rituals to meet our own purposes, and indeed I think that we do so all the time, without necessarily thinking about it in that way. Most of us will follow a routine in the morning – a ritual that helps us to start a new day. Our journey to work will often mark a mental transition from private life to professional life – a ritual that helps us to adopt our “work persona”. I remember a friend, an amateur football referee, who said that in donning his referee’s uniform he went through a mental transition to become the strong, authoritarian figure that his role demanded.

But I think maybe we need to change our rituals. Repeat the same ritual too often, and it becomes mundane, its effect can start to wear off. Celebrate the ritual!

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Counselling in Wokingham – The Facts

Paul Cockayne – 07791

Welcome to my counselling blog. You can find more information about me by clicking one of the links at the top of this page

In the UK the referendum is looming – do we want to stay in the EU or not? I can’t say I’ve been following the debate in any detail, but what has struck me as a casual observer is how much dispute there is about the facts. No sooner does one side produce some telling statistics than the other side is challenging them with statistics of their own.

How can this be? Facts are facts, are they not? Surely there’s no disputing the facts?

facts1But what are facts? Things that are true, things that are indisputable, I suppose. So in the world of arithmetic, 2+2=4. Fact. In a game of chess, bishops move diagonally. Indisputable. In these examples, we start by defining the context of what we’re taking about, and then, within that stated context, we can state facts. If I just said “bishops move diagonally”, without the context of a chess game, that would of course be untrue, because ecclesiastical bishops are not restricted to moving diagonally; they can move sideways, or jump up and down, or do the can-can if they choose, though it may not be considered dignified for them to do so.

facts2The context of most of our lives is much broader than the world of mathematics or a game of chess, which means that facts are much harder to come by. If I go to the supermarket to buy washing powder, I can look at two rival brands and see which costs more (in that particular supermarket). But which is better value? Will the more expensive one last longer than the other? Will it get my clothes cleaner? How much cleaner? Is that significant?

Facts are really complicated things, I think, but they are comforting things as well. It’s nice to feel that we know what’s going on in the world, that we are making well-judged choices rather than random decisions and that we understand our environment. It seems to me that we like facts because they help us to feel secure and safe, which is ironic because that means that we seek out facts for emotional reasons.

facts3We tend to befriend people who share our opinions rather than challenge them. We tend to read newspapers that reinforce our views rather than undermine them. We tend to accept the “facts” that back up our opinions and doubt the “facts” that threaten them. I wonder just how many of the opinions we hold, of the decisions we make, are based on the facts, and how many are based on our feelings, our beliefs – our prejudices.

But then again – our feelings and opinions are facts, aren’t they? “I am scared”; “I like apples more than pears” – such statements are true, they are indisputable, are they not? So maybe feelings are facts, and facts are opinions, and opinions are feelings?

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Counselling in Wokingham – Jigsaw Puzzles

Paul Cockayne – 07791

Welcome to my counselling blog. You can find more information about me by clicking one of the links at the top of this page

Often people come to counseling to find out more about themselves; to gain understand that, hopefully, will help them to do things differently in the future. If we carry on behaving in the way we’ve always behaved, history is likely to repeat itself.

jigsaw2Maybe you are prone to bouts of depression, perhaps you keep losing your job, or your relationships repeatedly fail. If the same things keep happening to you that’s probably not just chance, or bad luck, it’s probably got something to do with you – the way you’re behaving, the way you look at the world, the way you interact with other people.

You can seek to understand the repeating patterns in your life and your role in them.   You can take responsibility for what is happening rather than blaming others, or circumstances, or the world. And then you can make changes that hopefully change those patterns, so that history no longer repeats itself.

Working to understand the patterns often feels to me like doing a jigsaw puzzle. Not a new jigsaw puzzle, but one you’ve found in the attic. The old box has disintegrated and the pieces are in a plastic bag. You hope that all the pieces are there but you don’t know for sure – quite possibly the puzzle may not be complete. Perhaps some of the pieces in the bag even belong to a different puzzle.

jigsaw1You start off with a lot of disconnected pieces. Memories, anecdotes from your past. How are they connected? You pick up a couple of bits of the same colour. Do they fit together, do they not? It may take a long time before the first few pieces start to join up. Then you start to see patterns in the jigsaw – in your past and your present. You start to see glimpses of the final picture – you start to understand yourself better.

It’s hard work, doing this jigsaw. It’s a strain on your eyes and your concentration. You need a break. But once you’ve started the jigsaw, it’s as if you carry on working at it as a background task. Clients talk about penny-drop moments: “I was out walking the dog and suddenly I realized….”; “I was just mowing the lawn and it occurred to me that…”

jigsaw3As a counselor, I haven’t got the answers. I don’t know what the jigsaw is meant to look like. I haven’t got the picture that used to be on the box. I can’t even see all the pieces. But I have done a lot of jigsaws before. So I can see how things might fit together; I have some ideas, some suggestions, some hunches. And so I can help you with the jigsaw you bring. I can spot a couple of pieces that look as if they may fit together, I can pick them out of the pile offer them to you. “Here, try this!” But if you don’t think they fit – if it doesn’t feel right to you, then we’ll need to try something else. Only you will know when the picture looks – feels – right. Only you will know when it starts to make sense.

It’s your jigsaw.

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Counselling in Wokingham – A Big Adventure

Paul Cockayne – 07791

Welcome to my counselling blog. You can find more information about me by clicking one of the links at the top of this page

A friend of mine was telling me about a great-great uncle by the name of Ed who in 1887, as an 18-year-old, sailed to Canada with no job and little money. At the time it was a young and still quite wild country and he had many adventures, using his initiative and nerve to get by from day to day, to earn money and (mostly) keep our of trouble while he moved around the country.

Adventure1The world has got much smaller in the 130 years since Ed went walkabout in Canada and I wonder whether, in the 21st century, there are still such adventures to be had. I suppose there are still a few remote corners of the earth, but almost everywhere now we can maintain contact with friends and relatives, we can get help if we need it.

So are there no adventures to be had these days? Another friend of mine lusts for new experiences and finds them through holidays which she takes with random groups of people, always to somewhere different and often to somewhere intrepid; the foothills of Everest; the Arctic; the upper reaches of the Amazon. These are guided holidays and not adventures of the sort Ed experienced – there is little personal danger involved – but nevertheless they are adventures. They take her to new places, she meets new people, unexpected things happen, she has new experiences.

Both Ed and my friend associate adventures with travel, but that doesn’t have to be the case. I suppose the word “adventure” comes from the same roots as “advent” – so it is about an arrival, a new beginning.

Adventure2And I think that’s right. Learning something new can be a new adventure, and straight away I think of people who’ve experienced an adventure in learning to sing, or paint, or play the ukulele. And people who train for a marathon, or start up their own business are also breaking new ground, having an adventure. And indeed, there’s the adventure of becoming a new parent. I still remember the moment when, now nearly 30 years ago, my wife and I brought our first child home. We sat in the living room with him and looked at each other, and at him and my wife said “OK, so what on earth do we do now?” It was a step into the unknown, a big adventure for all three of us.

adventure3In my work, I meet many people who are embarking on an adventure. In coming to counselling, they are looking for a new beginning. Perhaps they’re looking for a new way of interacting with the world and the people in it. Perhaps they’re looking for a deeper understanding of themselves. They are taking a step into new territory, exploring places they’ve never explored before, but those places happen to be inside themselves, not in an unexplored corner of the earth.

And I think that’s what makes something into an adventure. It’s not necessary to go to Canada like my friend’s great-great Uncle Ed, or to hike with a bunch of strangers and some huskies across the Arctic. Such things can help to create an adventure, of course, but the adventure is really taking place inside ourselves. The element of risk, the need for improvisation, the experience of new or of heightened emotions – these are typically the things that give us a sense of adventure, and we can find them in many different ways. If you want to have an adventure, it’s there waiting for you.

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Counselling in Wokingham – Groundhogs and Giant Insects

Paul Cockayne – 07791

Welcome to my counselling blog. You can find more information about me by clicking one of the links at the top of this page

Routine is comfortable and safe. You know where you are. It’s nice to be able to find the things we want; to know where they are in the house; to know which shelves they are on the supermarket. It can be disconcerting, even quite upsetting, when the supermarket decides to move everything around, or if your partner puts the scissors in a strange place so that you can’t find them.

metamorph1We all need a certain amount of order in our lives, I think because it helps us to feel secure and in control of things. Imagine if, waking up in the morning, somehow all the rooms in your house had moved around, that when you found the kitchen there was a family of wombats living there, that everyone had started to speak a different language. Suppose, like the main character in Kafka’s “Metamorphosis”, you woke to find that you had turned into a giant insect. It would be unsettling, to say the least.

But on the other hand, a “groundhog day” scenario, where everything repeats itself exactly, would be equally difficult to deal with. However good your repeating day might be, I think it would soon start to become monotonous. And if it were a bad day…! I wonder what it must have been like for soldiers in World War I, waking every day to the same living hell.

metamorph3We need routine, but not monotony. We need variety, but not chaos. If we think of this as a continuum, between “Groundhog Day” at one end and “Metamorphosis” at the other, we will each be comfortable at different points on the line, some preferring more routine, others more variety. As well as that, some of us will be more adaptable than others, will be able to move from our preferred point on the continuum more easily. If we think of the continuum as a colour spectrum, some people are a single, fixed colour, while others are chameleons.

metamorph2It can be easy to envy people who are different. Someone who likes variety and change can think how nice it would be to be able to tolerate routine, to be able to carry out repetitive tasks without getting bored. Someone who likes routine can see other people’s lives as much more exciting and interesting than their own boring but comfortable existence. The grass always looks greener on the other side of the hill of course, but it is worth remembering that the person on the other side of the hill is thinking exactly the same.

“A change is as good as a rest”, they say, and it can be refreshing to visit the other side of the hill from time to time. It’s nice to go away on holiday, to do something different, but coming home can be nice as well.

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