Here is the presentation I made to at the end of level 2 counselling skills at college. I’m using it as a basis for the level 3 one this month. Note that this story is by no means total and I have abridged some aspects for simplicity and ease of understanding.
Hmm, there’s rather a lot of speaking on this course! And there was me thinking it was about listening! I’m not used to it – I think I’ve talked more about myself in the last few months than ever before!
Today I’ll talk about some of my story, leading to where I was at the start of this course, some changes I’ve noticed, and where I am now.
At primary school I was teased or bullied for a while. I’m not sure why, maybe I was just too shy or different, or something. The teacher made us do our times tables in front of the class. I must have got something wrong, or did something odd, because I was laughed at or mocked and I was ashamed. This incident and others like it, together with my natural shyness, stayed with me throughout school, university – the whole year I managed – and beyond. I would avoid group situations. I would excuse myself out of presentations, if I could.
In the mid 90s, some time after dropping out of university, a non-marriage and my father’s death, I woke up to my life. I was in my mid 20s, really not feeling good, and not knowing what to do with my life. I had a good job but I was living in a fog of hedonism, escapism, drinking heavily and using drugs every day. Something was very wrong.
I started to learn for myself. I began to explore diet and yoga and follow the signals from my body about what is and what isn’t healthy. And this is how I’ve learnt ever since, by listening to what works and what doesn’t. I steadily decreased the self-medication and made many changes. I began to get well.
Towards the end of the 90s I had an urge to get out of the city. An interest in spirituality led me to India. This was a great opportunity to do little else than practice yoga and some meditation. On returning, I lived in Cornwall, a cottage near the coast, where I wrote, learnt to surf, and did a yoga foundation course. After volunteering I was offered a job working for a charity looking after the teachings of a philosopher I liked, and I lived and worked at Brockwood Park in Hampshire, where there is a school and a retreat centre.
In 2008, my life being quite together, I still felt like I was slightly crippled. This limp was my remaining difficulty with being in groups. I thought by learning to teach yoga I could help to heal this, and also learn to share one of my passions with others. After an intense but enjoyable month in America, I qualified as a yoga teacher. The course also included some listening skills, which I enjoyed, felt were valuable, and I guess sowed the seed for coming on this course.
I was 45 on Wednesday. For me it is true in some ways that life begins at 40. Since then there has been a real integration of what I’ve learnt. Year by year I’m feeling more myself, more balanced. Some of this is down to regular meditation which only began properly in my 40s. I’d been interested for a long time, but kept meeting resistances after a few days. I was meeting my own fears and they were too powerful, so I wouldn’t or couldn’t continue. Then I’d start again some time later, meet a wall of emotion, and quit again.
I finally dared to do the course many friends had mentioned since my time in India. Vipassana. It’s ten days of meditation, for ten hours a day, in an environment of silent togetherness. The teaching is that everything changes, nothing is permanent. By scanning the body and noticing sensation, our reactions are met in awareness and equanimity, and they drop away. It is these sensations in our body that disturb us and the reactions direct a lot of our behaviour. Anyway, that’s the theory, and there’s nothing to do on the course but to test it for myself, hour after hour, day after day. Issues and difficulties are faced head on. It’s as if I ran out of things to do about them, and there was nowhere else to run, no more tricks to play. But this time I had energy to proceed. I’ve now done four of these courses, supplementing my daily practice.
In exploring and discussing philosophically and spiritually over the years, I noticed my tendency to skip over difficulties actually going on in my daily life, and I wanted to get a step nearer to them, and allow others to do so. Counselling skills seemed a good way to take this step, and should also help my yoga teaching.
So, where was I at the start of this course? I was feeling pretty good in myself but the feeling of having a limp was back, still feeling very afraid of groups of people, and a disproportionate shyness. I wanted to address this. I instinctively knew the course would help. My hopes were to expand on my ability to listen. I wanted a new context to be able to help others, besides teaching yoga. And I wanted to continue the ongoing learning about myself.
At first I thought just Level 2 would probably be enough for me. Little did I know how insightful, meaningful and… fun the course would be.
The first day coming into the classroom was quite nerve-racking. A circle of chairs. Bright lights. No one chatting. A little intimidating. ‘This is counselling skills, right?’ I whispered to a friendly-looking person next to me.
My fears near the start of the course also included dropping out if it got too tough, or losing interest. But I’ve been surprised at how interesting and meaningful this subject is.
I was a rusty student. I’d studied yoga, but that was a very informal training. Counselling skills is the first proper studying I’ve done for 25 years. I wasn’t anxious about the assignments but I was surprised at how much time each one took. I soon learnt not to wait until the last moment to write, as was my old habit at school. My attitude to study is changing a lot.
As I said, I’ve never spoken so much about myself as on this course. It’s hard but it feels healthy. It made me realise having a counsellor could really help me too.
As the course ends, I have more awareness when with others, I can listen more comfortably and I feel more in control when doing so. Before, it felt like I was being bombarded by speech and I often wanted to withdraw as soon as I could. I now have some subtle but effective skills to turn a conversation around, and allow people to get to what they are feeling instead of remaining on the level of moaning, where nothing much changes. One colleague was very surprised when I reflected a feeling word he’d used. He didn’t quite know what to do next. But it changed the conversation, making it much more real, much more genuine. He thanked me later for listening to him.
Having these listening skills is making it easier for me to actually listen to people, even when I don’t use any of the skills directly. I’m more centred in myself, so I can notice if I’m drifting off or waiting to say something, or reacting, or imagining I already know someone.
I have really appreciated this course. We learnt some really good stuff and I look forward to learning more. There’s something very special about coming together in a circle week by week. To speak about how we’re feeling, to share, and most importantly, to be heard. This experience has been profound for me. I learnt quite quickly that it’s a safe group here, that nothing bad happens when I speak. This isn’t like most groups I’ve known. Groups may even be… all right!
From my heart, I thank you all!