Who says lightning never strikes in the same place twice?

As the old saying goes, ‘lightning never strikes in the same place twice’. When it is not taken literally as a comment on the geographical location of a weather pattern, it is taken to mean that, broadly speaking, misfortune is singular. The same disaster cannot happen again in the same way to the same person. This can be very comforting when life has just dealt you a really low blow. Your relationship has collapsed or you’ve lost your job or a loved one has breathed their last. You can feel the burn and the shock throughout your physical and emotional body. It is really helpful at those times to recognise that this particular set of events will never repeat itself in your or anybody’s life in just this way, with this particular brand of misery and distress.

If you are going through such a time then please take care! Just keep breathing, in and out… in and out. You don’t need to get through the week. You don’t have to sort everything out. When crisis hits and your world is thrown into confusion, getting through the next few moments is enough. Whatever is right in front of you is often all you need to worry about. Stagger for a while…it is OK!… life can wait for a bit…feel and breathe… find a gentle ear to listen to your howl.

If you are not going through such a time now, do you remember what it was like when you first discovered that ‘thing’ which broke your stride, which struck your soul so hard you lost your breath? Do you know what crisis means? Do you yet bear a wound?

Our sorrows join us to the human family. There may be a happy few who find my words a mystery, but most of you know well the desperate inner cry when life just will not go the way we deeply want or desire, the way we think it should, the way we were promised and deserve. And for those of you like me who have likely passed the half-way point of life, you may know multiple occasions for which you still bear the scars. Whilst the lightning of the saying may indeed not be the same misfortune, it still hurts pretty bad when it is a different variety of crisis, a different kind of life betrayal, a different weapon in the hand of fate. We may well know a few lightning strikes before we’re done.

But just as our sorrows join us, so does our resilience. For most (not all by any means) we will make it through the dark times and emerge into a new and sometimes happier relationship with life. New shoots will grow in the scorched earth of struck ground. We will grow new hopes and the winds of fresh desire will blow through us and drive us onwards into new days. Crises will be past events, often leaving their marks in our body memory but rarely dwelt on willingly.

If you ever ‘do therapy’ I recommend that you take the opportunity to tell your long story. Ask for a session entirely devoted to a telling of your life. Broader than whatever current crisis you are facing, the long story gives a chance for deeper perspectives to grow in you. Even if you are just beginning on adult life you will have a beginning, middle and end to your story so far. As you tell your life you may notice the high points and the low points, the triumphs and defeats, fulfillments and disappointments. Up and down we go alongside each other, winning and losing, loving and losing, living and losing. There is a mindfulness exercise which encourages us to notice and remember the low points when we are high and the high points when we are low. Paying deliberate attention to the extremes of our successes and failures brings a kind of sobriety. When intoxicated with how wonderful life is as our latest gamble has paid off, we remember a year ago when the duvet was so attractive. When we are walking home from work with our redundancy cheque in the briefcase, we remember the first flush of young love, as if it were yesterday. The elations of triumph are slightly dampened and the desolation of depression is gently lifted. We learn to live in the middle place, cool eyed, clear headed, unruffled by the storm… Lightning has its uses…






Perhaps ‘perfection’ is possible…

Perfectionism is a well documented problem for many people. An underlying restlessness that provokes you again and again to be dissatisfied with what you are or with who you are. A constant and painful striving to be something else, something perceived to be better or greater than this inadequate person you see when you think of yourself. You look at your life and instead of noticing what you have achieved (however small) or your qualities (however undeveloped), all you see are flaws and problems and precious little to feel good about. Spiralling into a desolate mood, constantly trying to reassess the situation to find a pathway from the despair you only find more and more faults and the descent becomes a free-fall as you head off to find some respite under the duvet or in a bottle.

I am sure that even though the details may be different, many of us will recognise this toxic pathway, if not from current experience, at least from not too distant memory. Stuff that kind of perfection, I want nothing more to do with it!

A while back I decided to look at the term again.┬áIn the dictionary there are all sorts of words which define perfect: correct; precise; faultless; unblemished. When you are a creature like myself: evolved from apes; bombarded with adverts which speak directly to my reptilian brain to make me buy stuff I don’t need; expected to know what my life and purpose are and to be making a solid contribution to society; fed conflicting stories about reality by whichever political group wants my loyalty; etc etc. I think being correct, precise, faultless and unblemished is quite a big ask. I am a baboon with a shirt on. Expect a bit of a mess please!

However, this is perhaps where we can find a new ‘perfection’. Instead of expecting perfect behaviour, perfect manners, perfect dress-sense, perfect exam results, perfect sobriety, perfect birthday presents for all the family, perfect parenting, perfect children. Let’s find a ‘perfect’ perspective. I think it is CORRECT to expect every human I meet to have flaws. I think it is PRECISE to know that a wise perspective which includes flaws and qualities is a perfect human achievement. I think it is a FLAWLESS practise to forgive each other our grubbinesses, again and again and again. I believe this view of humanity and each other is UNBLEMISHED in and of itself. This is the perfection I strive for, a perfection of kindness, a perfection of forgiveness, a perfection of understanding. And do you know what? When I don’t reach it, when I fail again and again to completely relate to myself and others in this way, I can choose to understand, be kind to myself and forgive. Perfection in this sense is a growing, a walking and a warming.

In the counselling room, two humans meet. You are a good-enough client and I am a good-enough counsellor. Let us together find some freedom from ridiculous expectations and inhuman standards…

Here’s a poem I like…