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'Death and taxes', so Benjamin Franklin wrote, were life's only certainties. Although taxes now seem like an optional extra for some large corporations, death's certainty remains.

One of the pleasures of my job as psychotherapist and counsellor is the opportunity that it affords me to get to know people.

Growing up I had occasion to listen to my grandmother and aunts from my extended family  discussing family history. In their heads they carried a family tree which went back at least three generations.

Some weeks have a recurring theme in working with people and helping them find a way forward. This week I found myself describing the process as a journey to the heart.

A grey city, a world of black and white, where beige was boring but daring is how I remember Edinburgh. It was a world to be escaped from.

I heard this week of a young woman who had killed herself, from a colleague who is a friend of their mother. This tragedy of a life lost and family bereaved, impacts as all such tragedies do, way beyond the bounds of those directly involved.

In the New Year Jenny and I will be running what we have called ‘The Couples Course.’ It is a course for couples, married or unmarried, gay or straight, who are interested in learning the seven principles of what makes a relationship work and therefore last.

Asking the question ‘why?’ can be a very powerful way of understanding both oneself and others. It is possible to go from something very simple, such as asking a person their favourite colour, to something very core for them about being in their world, in a few simple steps. The following dialogue, which is based on the PCP technique of laddering illustrates this:

The power, damage and chaos that flooding causes is all too evident this week, as parts of England endure torrential rain and people loses their homes to a rising tide of water that carries all before it.

Conflict is a normal part of being a couple, and how we manage it determines not just whether our relationship lasts but the quality of our relationship. At times we all have complaints and can feel grudges against our partners.

Rituals can bind a family together, without them families drift apart. When a couple gets together each brings with them at least one rule book as to how the rituals that permeate family life are to be undertaken.

Back when I was four and a half, I went to have my tonsils out. I do not really remember anything about this. Apparently, for at this point, this is really my mother’s story, I was distressed when she arrived later than promised to take me home. A not uncommon event, but for her this was the time my difficulties started; I was no longer the “good baby” but “difficult” and “problematical” for being upset.

I have been lucky in my life, in having known a number of people in my early years who, when things were difficult for me in my twenties, provided role models for the life I live now.

When Stella* came to see me, things were at the stage that she thought she might lose her job. She was ashamed because she was so anxious, she was finding it difficult to get into work in the morning.

The consequences for Anton Schmid because he ‘could not think and had to help’ save 250 Jews from the Holocaust was that he was shot. He attributed his lack of thought to the ‘softness of his heart’ and claimed in letters to his wife that he ‘merely behaved as a human being’.

Monday will be the first anniversary of my father’s death and as I approach it I realise what an extraordinary year it has been for me.

I have always been pretty good with words, when it came to speaking, but it was not always the case when it came to writing. From my twenties onwards, I would meet writers who, on hearing me speak, would urge me to write. I would find ways to demur and avoid the process.

The face of decision or, as I some times more colloquially put it, having first warned my pupils of an impending profanity, the ‘what the fuck face', is something that we all share. Charles Darwin observed that it exists across culture, although different cultures will construe its meaning differently. From a functional perspective, it is a psycho-physical attitude, as Alexander would have called it.

It’s rare in these blogs or in my work to talk directly about Personal Construct Psychology (PCP), which provides the theoretical overview of what I do.

A few years ago, I went to hear Paco Peña play during the Festival here in Edinburgh. As well as the flamenco dancers you would expect, he had with him a troupe of African dancers. Both sets of dancers were equally fine, totally different in style and yet had something in common, which I recognise from teaching Alexander Technique. 

A candle is burning as I write, its flickering dancing flame creates shadows; light and shadows dance together, inseparable in a contrasting, blending unity. We forget this at our peril when we most need understanding in our personal relationships and in our conflicts.

Teaching this year, I have found myself telling pupils about the scene from Bridge of Spies, where Mark Rylance’s character when asked if he is worried, answers ‘would it help?

My mother loved food and cooking, it was one of her passions and she spent much of her retirement refining her skills, which gave her great pleasure.

The other day, I watched a cat disturbed into a startle, run away, jerkily moving, panicked by the threat of having to move from their toilet, by someone who obviously preferred their garden to be left pristine in its manicured state.

Looking online, what is most elaborated in articles about anxiety, are how it feels in terms of fear, nervousness, panic etc., the physiological underpinnings of this and the sorts of thoughts that accompany it. One feature of anxiety that can be overlooked is how much it is tied to our anticipations of what is happening or going to happen to us.

Back when I was fourteen in 1977, the Stranglers sang about there being ‘No More Heroes’ any more. As a proposition, it was no truer then than it is now, although it was at a time of heroism being downgraded and falling in some ways out of fashion.

'There is only endurance, and pain.’ So wrote John Aubrey in 1638 on being caned at school. His coping strategy was ‘to go to another place in my head: the bank of the brook at Easton Pierse, or the tree-lined riverbank at Broad Chalke, where I count the flowers and arrange their names in alphabetical order.'

I started this blog back during the summer after a conference in Padua where I volunteered to organise the next European Personal Construct Psychology conference here in Edinburgh in 2018.

With the holiday season fast approaching, three small but powerful and effective habits to work with, to help ensure a smoother time with friends and family, if things are getting a bit fraught and fractious.

I think I must have been twenty six when I went for my first Alexander Technique lesson. The primary reason for going then, as it is for many people, was to find help with a musculo-skeletal problem.

Donald Trump may not be out of his mind but he may be an idiot and in saying both things, I am actually saying the same thing: that he lacks a sense of community or fellowship, he lacks a connection with his Self.

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