- The course could be taken for continuing professional education credit.
Tuesday, May 23, 2017
Tuesday 29thAugust– Friday 1st September 2017, 09.30 – 17.00
Venue: University of Strathclyde, Glasgow
Facilitated by Robert Elliott and Lorna Carrick
Emotion-Focused Therapy (EFT) is a humanistic, evidence-based form of psychotherapy/counselling that integrates person-centred and gestalt therapies, with particular relevance to working with depression, trauma, and anxiety difficulties. It has gained international recognition through the work of Les Greenberg, Laura Rice, Robert Elliott, Jeanne Watson, Rhonda Goldman, Sandra Paivio, Antonio Pascual-Leone and others. The Counselling Unit at the University of Strathclyde is the leading centre of EFT training in the UK, and is again pleased to offer Level One professional training in this approach to qualified counsellors and psychotherapists (Postgraduate Diploma/MSc Level or above).
Offered at the University of Strathclyde since 2006, this successful, four-day Level One EFT training programme will provide participants with a grounding in the theory and skills required to work more effectively with emotion in psychotherapy. Participants will receive in-depth skills training through a combination of brief lectures, video demonstrations, live modelling, case discussions, and supervised role-playing practice.
We begin with an overview of EFT Emotion Theory, including basic principles and the role of emotion and emotional awareness in function and dysfunction; this will be illustrated by Focusing-oriented exercises. Differential intervention based on specific process markers will be demonstrated. Videos of evidence based methods for evoking and exploring emotion schemes, and for dealing with overwhelming emotions, puzzling emotional reactions, painful self-criticism, and emotional injuries from past relationships will be presented.
Participants will be trained in moment-by-moment attunement to emotion, and the use of methods for dialoguing with aspects or configurations of self and imagined significant others in an empty chair. This training will provide therapists from person-centred, psychodynamic, cognitive-behavioural and related backgrounds an opportunity to develop their therapeutic skills and interests, and provides the first step toward certification as an EFT therapist.
Cost: Before Monday 17 July 2017: £445 or After Monday 17 July 2017: £495
In order to keep costs to a minimum, catering is not included in these costs
Register via our online shop at: http://onlineshop.strath.ac.uk/
Contact: email@example.com or 0141-444 8415 for further information on this training, the facilitators, ways of applying for this course or other APT events
Saturday, May 06, 2017
Entry for April 2017:
In 2014, Olga Sutherland, Anssi Perakyla and I published a study applying Conversation Analysis (CA) to Compassionate Self-Soothing in Emotion-Focused Therapy, fulfilling the old dream of mine of applying CA to psychotherapy. Then late last year, Olga contacted me about a new CA project on what she is calling deontics, which is basically how therapists get clients to do things. In other words, she was proposing to apply CA to the long-standing issue of therapist directiveness, and had assembled a team of CA experts to work together on this. Given that the Self-Soothing episodes we had studied previously were rich in therapist process-guiding, she proposed starting with this collection, which was primarily drawn from our Social Anxiety study data set.
Then at the beginning of April, one of her collaborators, Alexa Hepburn, a well-known conversational analysis specialist now at Rutgers University in New Jersey, asked for permission to use excerpts from this collection for a colloquium that she was going to give at UCLA in mid-April at the Center for Language, Interaction and Culture (CLIC). What was the topic?, I asked. Empathic and sympathetic responses to emotional expression, specifically crying, was the answer.
This brought me up short, because of a remarkable configuration of circumstances: First, UCLA was where I did my PhD studies in Clinical Psychology in the 1970’s, and also where I studied Conversation Analysis for two years with Manny Schegloff, one of its founders. Second, when I looked into CLIC, it appeared very likely that it was the successor to the collection of sociologists and anthropologists that I had rubbed shoulders with during those two years. Third, I discovered that Alexa is from the UK and got her PhD at Glasgow Caledonian University. Fourth, the topic was empathy and emotion, which is absolutely central to my practice as a therapist and trainer. Finally, she was proposing to play a segment of me doing therapy.
Contemplating all this, I looked at my calendar and discovered that Alexa’s colloquium was scheduled for the 19th of April, a few days after my arrival back in California: It was actually possible for us to drive from the San Francisco Bay area down to Los Angeles to attend her colloquium. I tentatively proposed this to Diane, and she jumped at the chance to catch up with our old friends Hugh and Gail, who live in West Los Angeles, near UCLA. In fact, we had been intending to make such a trip, but just hadn’t got around to organizing anything yet.
The result was a hastily-thrown together, almost impulsive, trip to LA. Diane booked the hotel, and I cancelled almost all of the 8 appointments I had booked for the two days of the trip.
We arrived in LA at dinner time on a Tuesday evening, having arranged to meet Hugh and Gail at their favourite Mexican restaurant. The next day Gail spent much of her day off driving us around West LA and Santa Monica, revisiting our old stomping grounds: The apartment we lived in for 5 years, off Santa Monica Boulevard; but also theatres, churches, restaurants and so, including the Santa Monica Pier. Finally, she dropped us off at UCLA, where we wandered around for an hour, including Franz Hall (the Psychology building) with its inverted fountain. It was a delightful nostalgia trip.
Finally, we headed for Haines Hall, where Alexa’s colloquium was to take place. I remembered that this was the building where I’d studied CA for those two years. We settled into the Anthropology Reading Room. In a bit, Alexa came in and introduced herself, also her partner, who turned out to be Jonathan Potter, of UK (U of Loughborough) CA and discourse analysis fame, now Dean of the School of Communications at Rutgers.
Alexa Hepburn’s colloquium focused on making the case for opening up interactions around emotion expression for further investigation (e.g., Hepburn, 2004). As an Emotion-Focused Therapist, this certainly made sense to me. Focusing on crying, she presented three segments: one from a child protection telephone crisis line in the UK, one of two Australian sisters talking on the phone, and a solarized video segment of me using compassionate self-soothing with one of my socially anxious clients. The solarisation did such a good job of disguising the identities of me and the client, that no one in the audience of 30 faculty, students and affiliated researchers recognized me.
It was an eerie experience seeing this segment so closely transcribed and analysed. Although Alexa had said something at the beginning of her talk about me being there, people were startled when they realized that the therapist whose interaction was being analysed was in the room. Apparently, it is highly unusual for this to happen. It was useful, however, to have me there to answer questions about the nature of the therapy, given that it involved a piece of two chair work in which the client touched the centre of their emotional pain.
Alexa had had only a week or so to begin analyzing this last segment, enough time to do a very detailed Jefferson-type transcript of it and to develop a couple of observations about the interaction:
1. Transcribing emotional expression requires special transcription conventions for capturing sniffs, sobs, breathiness, silence, volume drops and sound stretches, and tremulous, creaky or squeaky vocal quality.
2. Various Listener actions in the three segments included:
-disruption licenses (“take your time”)
-reassurance/validation (“you’re doing the right thing”)
-sympathetic responses (“mmm”, “o::hhh”)
-tag questions (“… isn’t it?”)
-back to business responses (“Ohkay::, so…”)
Plus a variety of “empathic formulations”, such as “It’s very hard” and “I guess that just hurts so bad”.
3. One observation in particular struck me: In the EFT segment, Alexa described the client’s crying as “diagnostic”. In support of this point I explained to her and the others present that in EFT, what hurts the most points to what is most important to the person. In the segment with my client, the pain (and the tears) came when most strongly they tried to tell their vulnerable part that it was “worthy”. In EFT terms, this is taken as evidence that core pain is associated with feeling “unworthy”. Humanistic therapists don’t like to use the word “diagnosis” in its various forms, but in this instance that seems like an accurate characterization to me.
After the question and answer period, the organisers announced that dinner would shortly be served. The tables were quickly re-arranged and salad, several types of pasta, and bottles of wine were put out, and the meeting continued as a social event. We lingered for quite a while, talking to various people, while I marveled at the development of what is now a rich field of study, which has developed so far from the beginnings that I witnessed in the mid-1970’s.
Sutherland, O., Peräkylä, A., & Elliott, R. (2014). Conversation Analysis of the Two-Chair Self-Soothing Task in Emotion-Focused Therapy. Psychotherapy Research, 24, 738-751. doi: 10.1080/10503307.2014.885146
Hepburn, A. (2004). Crying: Notes on description, transcription, and interaction.
Research on Language and Social Interaction, 37, 251-290.
Tuesday, January 24, 2017
Entry for 24 Jan 2017:
TRIGGER WARNING: If you are disturbed by controversy and an open-minded view of religious diversity, please read no further.
St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral, my church in Glasgow, has been engulfed in controversy over a reading from the Quran given by a young Islamic woman named Madinah Javed, at the ecumenical Epiphany service on Friday evening, 6 Jan. Apparently, her proud father posted a video on YouTube of her singing part of the Sura of Maryam, which was reposted by various parties.
1. Summary of how the controversy unfolded
If like me you are interested in such things and missed what happened, what follows is a summary:
Her 9-minute performance, which is gorgeous, can be found at: http://freewestmedia.com/2017/01/10/quran-reading-in-st-marys-cathedral-in-glasgow/
In response, on 9 Jan, the retired bishop of Rochester (England), Michael Nazir-Ali, posted a statement advising that:
“The authorities of the Scottish Episcopal Church should immediately repudiate this ill-advised invitation and exercise appropriate discipline for those involved.” (http://michaelnazirali.com/articles/app/archive/01-2017/title/in-response-to-the-qur-an-recitation-in-st-mary-s-cathedral-glasgow)
Bishop Nazir-Ali’s posting was then picked up by Christianity Today:
And from there, it ended up on the arch-conservative Breitbart News website (previously run by white nationalist Steve Bannon, now chief strategist to Donald Trump), which has since made it a cause celebre: http://www.breitbart.com/london/2017/01/11/koran-verse-denying-divinity-christ-sung-aloud-scottish-cathedral-service/
The result is that the church’s Facebook page and email accounts have been inundated with thousands of postings, most of them critical, many of them nasty, and few ominously threatening enough to traumatise the staff and to alarm the police. The church is now being regularly patrolled by the police, who are investigating the threats.
To make matters worse, the Primus (=head bishop) of the Scottish Episcopal Church, David Chillingworth, posted a rather confusing blog entry on 14 Jan, which has been taken as by many as critical of the Quran reading and St Mary’s Provost, Kelvin Holdsworth: “the Scottish Episcopal Church is deeply distressed at the widespread offence which has been caused” (http://www.bishopdavid.net/2017/01/the-koran-reading-in-st-marys-cathedral-glasgow-pisky-anglican/ ). This posting was also followed by a storm of further abuse.
2. The Verses In Question
When we returned to Glasgow and arrived at church on the 15th, we were startled by the Kelvin’s sermon about the effect these attacks have: http://thurible.net/2017/01/15/sermon-epiphanies-midst-storm/
So St Mary’s finds itself at the centre of a controversy over an act of reaching out in friendship to our Muslim brothers and sisters. How do we understand what has happened here? I feel particularly touched by this, because I have had a number of Muslim students in and have felt very concerned about the level of cultural disapprobation they have had to deal with. For example, after 9/11 in the USA, they were doubly traumatised: first, by the terrorists, and, second, by their fellow citizens and even at times by their government.
Therefore, I began by learning what the Quran actually says about Mary and about Jesus in the passage that was read, Sura 19, verses 16 – 36, and elsewhere (https://quran.com/19 ).
The two verses that have been mentioned as offensive in some news sources are at the end of this selection:
35: It is not [befitting] for Allah to take a son; exalted is He! When He decrees an affair, He only says to it, "Be," and it is.
36: [Jesus said], "And indeed, Allah is my Lord and your Lord, so worship Him. That is a straight path."
Conservative Christians such as Bishop Nazir-Ali have read these verses as denying the divinity of Christ. However, I don’t think that this is the only possible reading, and it appears than Islamic scholars over the centuries have debated their interpretation. It should also be noted that Christian theologians have argued for 2000 years over the nature of the relationship between Jesus and God; there is a whole field of theology called Christology, after all!
I’m obviously neither a theologian nor a scholar of Islam, but Bishop Nazir-Ali does point out rather confusingly in passing that what the Quran is denying here actually the need for God to adopt Jesus as his son. Thus, it seems to me that verse 35 could be read simply as objecting to the whole father-son metaphor: First, God can’t be the biological father of Jesus, because then Mary wouldn’t have been virgin; second, it also doesn’t make sense to think of Jesus as God’s adopted son, because according to Islamic thought, God simply brought Jesus into being in Mary’s womb. And this doctrine sounds to be like an affirmation that Jesus was of divine origin, being directly created by God.
As for verse 36, isn’t it just a paraphrase of the first part of Jesus’ summary of the Law in Matthew 22:37?:
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.
Christians don’t read Jesus as saying here that people should worship God instead of him, so why do we have to read the Quran in this way?
Thus, it seems to me that the controversy over this reading has been whipped up on the basis of a particularly slanted view of the text, as if one were looking for any possible offense.
3. Explaining the Controversy
How then do we explain the controversy that has arisen on such a fragile basis? Here’s what I think:
From the biographical information about Bishop Nazir-Ali (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Nazir-Ali ), he appears to be a conservative Anglican who has directly experienced persecution and has previously tangled with the Islamic community in the UK (as well as being publicly opposed to the ordination of actively gay clergy). It is also clear that he took offense not so much at the content of the reading as the fact that it was read as part of an Epiphany service.
However, this implies that just the reading of the Quran as part of any Christian service is somehow sacrilegious, which in retrospect appears to be the general position of most of the critics. It is as if the sacred texts of other religions are somehow contaminating or unclean, and would pollute or corrupt Christian worship. I for one feel that an ecumenical Epiphany service of readings and prayer is more robust than that!
As for the others who have whipped up this controversy, I think that their interest has little to with St Mary's and a lot to do with trying to induce fear and self-righteous anger in their audience.
4. A Personal View
I think that my real sadness at this outcome stems from the fact that I had hoped that somehow we were past this sort of thing. Alas, it appears that we are not.
From where I stand, I see all sacred texts as transcribed by inspired but fallible human beings doing their best to hear the still, small Voice of God. God is in there somewhere, but incommensurate with our ability to understand or fully express, so what we get is metaphor and story. Jesus and his followers found the metaphor of Father and Son to be particularly cogent and useful in their particular context. However, others at the time found the metaphor to be sacrilegious and crucified Jesus for it. Later, the Prophet and his followers found it to be confusing and not very useful, and so they found other metaphors. Instead of the Three Names of the Trinity, they produced lists of Allah’s 99 Names. Interestingly, the 97th of these is Al-Warith, The Heir, or The Inheritor of All.
Personally, I want all sacred texts and traditions to be treated with respect when they point toward universal truths and recommend love and understanding of others, as Jesus commanded in the second part of the Summary of the Law: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” This means that they should be carefully and thoughtfully read and discussed in Church, Synagogue, or Mosque, or wherever people gather to contemplate the Ultimate.
At the same time, I want to find the grace in my heart to gently but compassionately pass over them when these same sacred texts and their adherents fall into divisiveness and mean-spirited denigration of other paths toward God. Sometimes when we listen for and think we hear God, what we actually hear is our own hurt and anger speaking. This is applies to my own spiritual tradition as much as it does anybody else’s. If I am honest with myself, I have to admit that I too have my share of judgment and anger with those who hurt me and those I love with their sharp words and actions. As we used to say in the 1960’s, “God isn't finished with me yet.”
Monday, December 12, 2016
Entry for 12 December 2016:
Last week we began a new phase of our lives, in which we will live half time in California and half time in Scotland, commuting at roughly monthly intervals from one place to the other.
Scotland: For at least the next two years, I will continue working for the University of Strathclyde but at 60% time, working fulltime during time periods when we’re in Scotland. I will primarily be overseeing and supporting our new MSc Counselling & Psychotherapy course, and new BSc Psychology & Counselling course, both set to start this coming September. I will also continue supervising my PhD and MSc students, directing the Research Clinic (with Susan Stephen), and running Emotion-Focused Therapy training at Strathclyde, elsewhere in the UK, and in Europe and Asia. That will be more than enough to keep me busy.
California: Meanwhile, while we’re in California, I’ll be working one day a week for the University, mostly by Skype/Zoom teleconferencing. It’s going to be challenging containing this: Last week I had 10 University-based meetings spread out over 3 days; hopefully things will settle down going forward.
The rest of the time, I will primarily be writing: I have a long list of writing projects, principal among them:
1. Person-Centred-Experiential Therapy for Social Anxiety Outcome Study
2. An updated and expanded empathy-outcome meta-analysis (version 3)
3. Emotion-Focused Counselling in Action
4. Emotion-Focused Therapy for Social Anxiety
In California we will be based in Pleasanton, in the San Francisco Bay Area, at the eastern end of one of the Bay Area Rapid Transit lines. There we’ve purchased a condominium (also known as a flat in UK terms, but ranch style, all on the ground level). We take delivery on a collection of IKEA furniture flat packs today; tomorrow, movers will bring our remaining, severely down-sized US possessions from Santa Cruz, where they’ve been stored since last April. The flat/condo is a 5-10 minute drive from Diane’s mom.
We’re finding this new development to be exciting and challenging, on multiple levels: We both grew up in Northern California but have been away from it for more than 40 years, during which it has changed a lot, as have we. It’s one thing to visit a place, as we have done in the meantime, but quite another to settle in and actually live there. We shall have to see how we do.
At the same time, there is a lot of interesting writing to do, and I’m looking forward to this, while still harboring the usual doubts: Can I really succeed in protecting this time against other commitments? Can I stick with it to complete these (and other) important projects)? Do I have anything to say? I’ve done a fair amount of writing in my time. However, it has always been squeezed into sabbaticals and summers, and for the past ten years into 20-minute bits of time when I first wake up in the morning. My mother and her grandmother both took up writing in their later years, and I’m hoping to channel their creative energy and focus to do this. Time will tell!
Thursday, November 10, 2016
Entry for 10 November 2016
Ann Weiser Cornell's latest piece (https://focusingresources.com/2016/11/09/finding-potential-possibility/), which my friend and former student Catherine Cowie has also picked up and commented on, has moved me to try to put into words my experience of this week's US election:
When it finally became clear early yesterday morning (UK time) that Donald Trump was going to be the next US president, against all apparent reason or sense, it took a while to even begin to process my feelings. Over the next few hours I was able to mostly distract myself as I attended graduation for the recent cohort of our counselling students, proudly applauding them as they walked across the stage in front of me and later posing for photos (me in my garish American academic cap and gown) with the happy graduates. I welcomed the distraction because it left a part of me free to continue processing what had happened. What gradually emerged was in Focusing terms a bodily sense of physical injury, as if I had been punched in the middle of my chest. Then, as I stayed with the feeling and talked about it with supportive colleagues, who were also struggling but still able to give me space, I was able to really feel the anger in the blow that had left me feeling wounded.
Immediately, I recognised this as the same feeling that 9/11 had left me with, and the whole thing began to open up for me: I felt the anger in this vote, and then I was able to contact the sense of hurt, despair, and longing to be understood behind that anger. As a therapist I have often accompanied my clients as they explored past their secondary reactive anger to the primary pain and sadness underneath it, and learned from them that even urge to strike out, to gain revenge, hides a longing for empathy: “I am going to hurt you, even if it injures me in the process, because that’s the only way you will ever understand how bad I hurt.”
So I am in mourning this week, like many of us in the privileged, educated elite, because Donald Trump has won and we have lost. Nevertheless, as much as it pains me to write this, he has earned it, for better or worse: I could even go so far as to say that he deserved to win, because he was the only one who most understand the sense of hurt, brokenness, anger, and, yes, even longing for true understanding that is the core pain of the new minority of poor, struggling, working class people (especially older white males but not just them). They recognised in him their own sense of injury and anger, understood and reflected back to them, and, grateful, they rewarded him by electing him President.
Facing this reality is going to require a lot of us: Saying hello to and accepting the parts of us that are scared of what will happen next; supporting each other in honest, positive ways that move us beyond outrage and simply disparaging those with whom we disagree; accessing our hope, creativity and resilience in facing new challenges; and most of all listening to and offering empathy to our hurt, angry brothers and sisters.
Tuesday, November 08, 2016
Lorna Carrick and I are running a standard EFT Level 1 training through the Centre for Research in Human Flourishing, Dearing Building, School of Education, at the University of Nottingham, 16 - 19 January 2017, 09.30 – 17.00
Here is the blurb about the training:
We are pleased to announce our first Emotion-Focussed Therapy, Level 1 Training on 16-19 January 2017. Emotion-Focused Therapy (EFT) is a humanistic, evidence-based form of psychotherapy/ counselling that integrates person-centred and gestalt therapies, with particular relevance to working with depression, trauma, and anxiety difficulties. It has gained international recognition through the work of Les Greenberg, Laura Rice, Robert Elliott, Jeanne Watson, Rhonda Goldman, Sandra Paivio, Antonio Pascual-Leone and others. More recently, it has attracted attention in the UK as one of the sources of the Counselling for Depression (CfD) model.
This is the first Level 1 EFT training to be offered outside of Scotland, where it has been running successfully for the past 10 years. It is a professional training open to qualified counsellors and psychotherapists. It will provide participants with grounding in the theory and skills required to work more effectively with emotion in psychotherapy. Participants will receive in-depth skills training through a combination of brief lectures, video demonstrations, live modelling, case discussions, and supervised role-playing practice.
This training is open to post-training counsellors and psychotherapists, preferably with a background in person-centred or humanistic counselling or psychotherapy. Psychodynamic, CBT and family systems therapists may also find it useful, especially if they have well-developed empathy skills. This training will provide all therapists with an opportunity to develop their therapeutic skills and interests, and provides the first step toward certification as an EFT therapist under the guidelines of the International Society for Emotion-Focused Therapy (ISEFT). Further training requires EFT Level 2 and personal supervision of practice by an accredited EFT supervisor; it may also require additional empathy training.
The cost for the four day training session is £595 (including lunch) - parking charges apply.
For more information, go to: http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/education/news/news-items/news1617/eft-training.aspx
To register you will need to use a credit or debit card; go to: http://store.nottingham.ac.uk/browse/extra_info.asp?compid=1&modid=1&deptid=26&catid=55&prodid=3064
Saturday, October 01, 2016
1. Blessing the Pilgrims on Radio 4
Sunday morning, 8:10am: BBC Radio 4 broadcast of choral morning prayer at St Mary’s, as Kelvin and Audrey, readers and choir treat us to a pilgrimage-themed service of travel music and celtic blessings and we receive our badges. Afterwards, we talk to the Mo, the producer, whom we recognize from the last of these broadcasts we attended 9 or so years ago, and Ken, the engineer, who enthuses over his gear and shows us the location of the BBC satellite on his Pokemon-Go-style smartphone app (“22 degrees!” he says). (Available until 22 October at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07w5zj4 )
2. Journey to Iona
Sunday afternoon: Having returned home to finish packing and to close things up, we catch the train from Hyndland to Dalmuir, where we pick up the West Highland Line train for Oban. At Oban we meet up with most of the rest of our group and board the Cal-Mac ferry for Craignure. From Craignure we take a bus that crosses the island of Mull on little winding one-track roads, before rocking and rolling our way across the sound to Iona.
Monday afternoon: The best weather all week was forecast for Monday, so we got tickets for the trip to the island of Staffa, made famous by Felix Mendelsohn’s Hebrides Overture (“Fingal’s Cave”). The island approached, black and columnar on the horizon, as our little wooden boat, the Iolaire of Iona, pitched and rolled on the rough seas, making it difficult to capture the gaping sea caves cut into the island’s southern cliffs. Bruce from our church was with us, returning to see the condition of the railing that he had installed more than 30 years ago. After a rough, wet landing on the lee side of the island, the group of us stepped onto the rough hexagons formed by the tops of the basalt columns that make up the island, created by quick-cooled lava from an undersea volcanic eruption 60 million years ago. We edged along the path for a couple hundred meters, between crashing waves and basalt columns, extremely grateful for Bruce’s rails, which he told us were made of high tension electric transmission lines. We edged around the end of the island and into Fingal’s Cave itself, terrifying with the waves booming and roaring. It didn’t sound like the Mendelsohn piece to me, at least in any literal sense, but it certainly was amazing, and I will remember it for the rest of my life.
4. Geology Pilgrimage into the Deep Time
Tuesday afternoon: Alex, a geologist in our community, led a group of us on a geology pilgrimage through Deep Time around the northern end of Iona: We started below the Argyll Hotel looking at a 60-million year old lava channel bored through 800 million year old mudstone. We then walked up to the machair on the northwest end of the island. Machair is fertile but thin soil on top of raised shell beach sand and looks like a golf course. It’s several of thousand years old and is on land that used to be beach before the land gradually rose in the aftermath of the last ice age, springing back from the pressure of the kilometer-thick glaciers of the last ice age. Finally, Alex led us down onto the shell beach (made of finely broken sea shells rather than silicon) just beyond the machair, where he showed us an outcropping of lewisian gneiss. Lewisian gneiss is some of the oldest, densest rock on earth, more than 2 billion years old: it is the remains of the “roots of mountains”; the rest of these mountains, formed when two tectonic plates crashed together, have long since worn away, leaving something that was too tough even for glaciers to budge.
5. Mindfulness and the Four Elements
Tuesday morning and on Thursday afternoon: Margaret, a psychotherapist/ focuser/research mentor/artist/mindfulness trainer led us in a series of outdoor mindfulness exercises (her specialty). On Tuesday there was a walking mindfulness meditation through a muddy pasture, and on Thursday there was a standing meditation on the grass between Bishops’ House and the sea, on the theme of the four elements:
• earth: feel the ground under your feet
• water: see the water washing against the shore
• air: feel the wind blowing against your skin
• fire: let yourself experience the light around you and on your skin
This latter led me to some of the most profound experiences I had during our week at Iona:
• Earth: I felt the earth beneath my feet, but after the geology pilgrimage, the stability now felt illusory, until I was able to extend my senses deep into the earth, below the machair, until I reached the stability of the lewisian gneiss, billions of years old.
• Water: The brisk wind had brought a tear to my eye, and I now felt its cool moisture as it evaporated. I also felt the moisture in the air and the water in the earth. (Iona is the just about the wettest place I’ve ever been to)
• Air: In addition to the wind, I imagined the solidity of air that can hold an airplane up in the sky, and the little molecules of oxygen being transported from the air in my lungs to my blood stream and thence to every cell in my body.
• Fire: I closed my eyes and observed the light coming in through my eyelids. Then I felt the metabolic fires that energize all of my cells, and the fire of my spirit deep within me, connected to the spirit fires of each of the other people in our little circle.
6. A Hard Lesson
Wednesday midday: I love labyrinths, especially seven-circuit Cretan labyrinths like the one on my parents’ property at Murray Creek. So when I learned that there is one at Columba’s Bay, at the southeast corner of the island, I decided that I needed to go there. I missed my chance to do it with the postgraduate students, so when a 90 minute window of opportunity opened up on Wednesday, I set off on my own, against Diane’s advice. A series of things then went wrong: I was soaked by the rain before I even got to our B&B, which was on the way. I stopped and changed clothes, putting on my rain pants. Then I headed west toward the golf course on the machair on the west side of the island, where Kenneth and I had run 8 years before. Then I turned south, following a rather indistinct track across the machair. When this ran out, I headed up a rocky, wet path, with a stream running down it, until I reached the little loch near the top. My maps had gotten wet and were disintegrating, and I knew that I had to go around the loch, so I turned right. Big mistake! I was supposed to follow around to the left of loch. The path soon became submerged in the loch, so I struck out on a way above and parallel to the path, until the path gave out. There followed a little valley that descended from the loch. However the valley was essentially a stream, so I was walking through a bog.
The valley descended steeply, and I realized that I did not know where I was and that if I twisted an ankle on the treacherous footing I would be in serious trouble. However, having chosen this way, I grimly stayed on the way I’d chosen, and eventually saw the sea through the mist. Descending further I came to a beach. Was it Columba’s Bay? It didn’t look right, and by my reckoning I was probably at the southwest rather than the southeast corner of the island. There was certainly no labyrinth here. I couldn’t follow the shore to the left because it was too steep and underwater at this point. Also, I’d almost used up my 90 min window and was essentially lost. Diane would be worrying about me. I began to feel foolish and sorry for myself.
As I walked quickly back to the B&B to change out of my soaking, sandy shoes, I reflected on this misadventure and what it said about me: I sometimes form somewhat crazy plans that I stick to determinedly. I also have a tendency to strike out on my own, and can find myself in a lonely or even scary place. And I have been systematically ignoring the fact that I am no longer as limber and resilient as I was 20 years ago, let alone 40 years ago. Better preparation, better conditions, travelling in company, and letting go of plans that aren’t working: There are all really good ideas for successful adventures!
7. Beer and Hymns
Thursday evening: After various more conventional religious services, including compline each night, Wednesday afternoon Eucharist and a healing service at the Abbey, the postgraduate students in our group put on a beer and hymns event, featuring, naturally, hymn-singing accompanied by imbibing beer (and wine). This turned out to be great fun, with our enthusiasm making up for our lack of musical talent, although the hymns could not be delivered at the spritely pace that Diane would have preferred. At the time, I assumed that only Episcopalians could dream up such a thing; however, I have since learned that it is A Thing, and has an ancient as well as a modern history, going back to the “Hymn for Ninkasi,” the Sumerian goddess of beer.
Thursday night: At the end of our last day, as we headed back on our nightly trek back to the B&B, we stopped, turned off our electric torches/flashlights, and looked up at the night sky, which had cleared for the moment. Iona has no street lights, so we could see the Milky Way spread out above us, running north-south, the same way we were travelling. In Spanish, one of the terms for the Milky Way is El Camino de Santiago, also the name of the most famous of pilgrim paths, leading to the shrine of Saint James in northwest Spain. The Milky Way is a path of stars to guide pilgrims, both celestial and terrestrial, and we were glad to follow it.