Why Doesn't It Last? The Garden of Our Psyche
Often after a client and I have come a certain way into our psychotherapy or our joint Focusing sessions, the question would float up from them. There it hangs, shimmering and ephemeral, implied but clear as day.
“Why doesn’t it last?”
Why doesn’t the sense of relief, release, insight, progress and flow after a session of Focusing last? Why do I fall back into anxiety or depression or anger or self-loathing?
I’ve often asked myself this question in the past too, for I too spent years working on myself and some little time in my own psychotherapy.
Were we doomed forever to do a one step forward but two steps back dance? Was maintenance all we can hope for and in which case, we should just settle for changing our expectations about our self-growth?
I was worried because the implications can be so devastating. It would mean that growth, improvement, becoming better or stronger (or whatever words you want to use to capture the spirit of the meaning) is an illusion.
So I did long bouts of Focusing on this question.
Gradually, gradually, an image formed for me. A metaphor that popped into place like a dislocated joint finding its way home. This is how I now answer the question to my clients:
Imagine a garden on a vast estate. It’s old and had seen some action. There’s overgrowth and weeds everywhere. You can hardly see the old garden paths and even the natural brooks and streams that add melody to the place had become blocked up like old sewers.
But you can still see the trees and flowers amidst the mess. An echo of its true beauty sticks out at odd corners, unwilling to be forgotten. The wild smell of earth, leave, flower and compost mingle in a heady but gracious pungency.
I can make something of this? Maybe restore its former glory, you think. Better yet, make the garden better.
So you set to it. Sometimes, you need another pair of hands to help out. It’s often quite backbreaking work. Maybe you get a feel for it by starting with the small stuff. Weeding. Or you tackle the big ones, like that dead tree that needs uprooting.
Whatever you choose to do, once you’ve done that task, there’s a sense of completion. Of gratification. You’ve made a small part of the vast garden better. You sit back and admire your handy work.
And then you look further beyond and maybe your breathe tightens a bit in your chest. The rest of the garden’s still a mess. There’s still so much more to do! There’s that whole corner over where an old wall had collapse into rubble and I’ve got no flying clue how to fix it!
But you still pick up your tools the next day, and dig in.
This is the big picture metaphor, not just of Focusing as a lifestyle, but of any self-growth/ improvement endeavor.
After a session, or even a small bout of Focusing, there’s usually a bit (or a lot) that’s come up and shifted at the physical, emotional and mental levels. But that’s just the patch of the garden you’ve managed. Sometimes, it’s not even a patch of the garden, but just a part of the patch. You’ll have to revisit it again to continue clearing it up.
There’re still other patches and sections as yet untouched. Some parts (if you’re honest with yourself), you don’t want to touch.
Oh, and plus there’s this pesky problem with something that’s as alive as a garden. New weeds and new problems tend to crop up, sometimes throwing the restoration off stride. So you pick up your tools with gritted teeth and go at it again. But you understand how it is. A garden always needs tending so that what needs to grow on its soil can thrive.
And so it is very much the same for our emotional health. As long as we live, even if we’ve got a wonderfully sorted garden, there will be new encounters and hence new wounds. New conflicts. New dilemmas. New loves. New hurts and heart-breaks.
New pain. Yay.
This is the garden of our psyche. And here there’s even more good news. As with any long term project or task, once you’ve gotten into your stride and done a far amount of work on the garden, the changes you’ve made would hit a critical mass (as they say in Physics) and build a momentum of their own, bringing a burgeoning of growth and beauty.
The other piece of encouragement is this. You’ve got a lifetime to tend your garden so you don’t have to have it all sorted out at once. You can sort it to a certain point and take a break (all labor is balanced with rest), only to come back to it some time later. Who ever says you have to fix it all in one go?
Which leads to a third helpful principle. You only need a good enough garden to enjoy life. Don’t aim for a manicured vista.