THE LOOKING GLASS MAN“Can’t you hear the music?” you said. Laughter strained with sadness Played an old concertina tune Odd notes Sometimes torn from the belly Way down The blues barked – single shrill sounds Fragments dressed as metaphors Flew around the room Desperate … “Forget the metaphors,” you said, “Who are you?” I stretched into silence As my mind etched you. And time forced a smile Cool… quiet… A smile….. Connection rolled around the globe Politics and priests and sex and ideas And “is it?” and “are you?” And “are we connecting?” “And is it personal?” And “can’t you hear the music?” you said, And…. I could Martina Boland
A Client’s Perspective
I was having my lunch on Tuesday 17th February. A woman approached me and offered me a copy of ‘Footprints‘. She was deaf and dumb. I thanked her and immediately thought about Alan, more specifically about a session in which we had discussed death, and the beautiful way death is expressed in sign language – as a gentle effortless liberation of the Breath and Spirit. I wondered that day whether this was one of those synchronistic events that sometimes prepare one for the more difficult turns in life’s journey. My mind has forgotten all the details of that particular session but my heart remembers his wonderful capacity to hold and stay with the more personal and sensitive disclosures.
Often these Moments of Meeting moved in and out of the silence between us, as feelings and eyes and body and breath and sometimes the voice registered the connection and sharing between persons. Sometimes these moments were torrid brutal affairs. Sometimes they were passionate and energetic. Sometimes they were quiet and simple. Often as clients, we enter the therapeutic chamber out of crisis – when the habits of a lifetime no longer seem to complement the process of personal growth. We make that call. We push out into the unknown with a stranger and begin the task of removing those lay ers of learning that keep us living in the shade. It is a process that is fraught with confusion and paradox, but one that is also pregnant with intimacy. Robert F. Hobson, in trying to find the words that might express the contours and dimensions of the kind of intimacy that defines the therapeutic relationship, searched through the work of Joseph Conrad. He discovered the following:-
“To snatch in a moment of courage, from the remorseless rush of time, a passing phase of life, is only the beginning of the task. The task approached in tenderness and faith is to hold up unquestioningly, without choice and without fear, the rescued fragment before all eyes in the light of a sincere mood. It is to show its vibration, its colour, its form; and through its movement, its form and its colour, reveal the substance of its truth – disclose its inspiring secret: the stress and passion within the core of each convincing moment”. (Conrad, 1994; 115)
I met Alan for the first time in May 1994. The telephone call had been made, the vital questions asked. I was held by the voice. On meeting him I was immediately struck by his physical presence and his obvious intellectual acumen. The first session was difficult. I was hyper-vigilant, wildly evaluating him and seriously impressed by his ability to duck and dive! At one stage he looked straight into my eyes and asked, “Do you think I’m psychic?” It was a most appropriate and insightful question at the time. I burst out laughing – stunned by his capacity to read and name in those few words the truth of the dynamic that had been moving between us. I burst out laughing – terrified and suddenly very aware of the proximity of his personal presence. I was also delighted that he was prepared to challenge me. I realised in those moments, as I sat there and held onto the writhing stress-laden fragment of my personal truth, that he had deliberately placed himself in the process – front-stage so to speak – and was asking that I also do the same. It was the beginning. The task had begun. There was an “I” and a “Thou”. I was relieved to leave his room that day. Privately I thought, ‘This guy is quite something.”
It is impossible to describe in its entirety the richness and aliveness of the experience of working with Alan. Words like respect, honesty, truth, compassion, humour, love came to mind. I was regularly struck by his bravery – his capacity to look at the more difficult aspects of life, to name them and search for creative solutions. Sometimes I witnessed real pain and suffering in him as he struggled to stay with me in my work. Regardless of strategies or techniques, a willingness to enter the abyss with a client in order to help and understand forges a kind of bravery that is special. I am grateful that he cared enough for me to do so. Indeed it was his professional caring – his empathy, his quest to understand, his availability, his honesty, his wonderful passion and sense of humour, his integrity and his constant willingness to challenge me down the line – these are just some of the elements of the relational fabric that helped me grow and develop in the years of my work with him.
Maybe it is, in hindsight, entirely appropriate that the woman who approached me that day in February was deaf and dumb, and that the message she offered me in “Footprints” was one of caring and compassion. There is a kind of connecting that plummets the silent depths of Heart and Soul, and from there reaches out to touch others. It is this kind of connecting that informs and defines the content and landscape of the therapeutic relationship. And sometimes it is in the reaching out and touching, each to the other, that we are healed and transformed – that a life lives and moves and breathes anew. With Alan I remember all of this and so much more. This was “the music” that moved in and around the space between us. He was an extraordinary and beautiful human being. I conclude with gratitude for the opportunity of knowing him, for the time allowed to work with him, and for the personal memories that I will always cherish.
I offer my deepest sympathy to Alan’s family and to his wife Maggie.
Conrad, J., 1994, The Nigger of the Narcissus – A Tale of the Sea in Forms of Feeling - The Heart of Psychotherapy, Hobson, Robert F, London, Routledge, 115.