Aly and I went together to learn how to grow Vegetables. The day long workshop took place in a walled garden and was delivered by the Head Gardener. The gardens were saved for the community when the house whose grounds they were part of was demolished and the land sold for housing. For years they were maintained by volunteers but more recently funding was secured to refurbish them. They are now run by a CIC who are looking to raise revenue as part of their business model. The course we were on was part of that plan.
A abyssal black sea
A mental den
To vanquish and conquer
An endeavour past yonder
I nail and board
Numbly cut off the cord
To recognize the thunder
Of a traumatic asunder
Is there peace beyond the rage?
Will I die of the silent plague?
In the distance I see A stillness in me
And all souls around Of love light and secrecy
To unlock and reconnect
And share at least a memory
A moment A choice Of being Of healing
A choice of which to stand and say ‘I have to nurture inside
Only then I will find inner peace of my body soul and mind.
Ally Sands June 2016
From time to time people tell us what a difference what we do makes. Not perhaps in an obvious way. It is not really about gardening, or yoga, or wild play. It is about people coming together to find themselves, each other and ways of acting together which make our shared world better. But we would say that wouldn’t we? So here is the first of our posts in the words of others who are part of what we do and understand why.
In our work we come into contact with lots of people who have struggled with poor mental health. They include many people without a formal diagnosis but who are anxious, lonely, socially isolated or grief stricken. Our numbers also include people who are currently receiving services or support from Mental Health providers and have direct personal experience of receiving care from Psychiatrists and other health and voluntary sector providers as well as those in recovery. What becomes clear from all of this is how debilitating mental illness can be in particular how a psychotic episode can leave people completely adrift from the social and economic life they may have enjoyed before ‘it’ happened. How they struggle with the impact of medication on their confidence in movement, memory, self expression and quality of experience. It is also obvious to see the pain of the disjuncture, the rent, the break from the life they thought they would live as if the person they were before the episode is lost to them. How such experiences have negatively impacted on their families, their friends, their work colleagues and their employers. How many of the people they knew or relied on before are no longer in contact, no longer around. Once here how easy it becomes, and how natural, to just learn to live with ‘it’ as if it the core of your identity and always will be. To be ill in a way which suits the people who are taking care of you and what the state needs you to be to continue to provide housing and financial support. Once here the road back to independence, autonomy in the world, a person that can do and make thing seems very, very long indeed.
In March, funded through our support from Lankelly Chase Michelle and Christina attended a writing Master Class at the Guardian hosted by Gary Younge. In developing our network we have been encouraging a wide range of people to find and speak in their own voices and tell their own stories. If we could learn to do that better ourselves from a master craftsman we could, we hoped, pass those insights and that inspiration to others.
After attending a writing masterclass hosted by The Guardians Gary Younge, this seemed to be the question that lingered most. Held in London with around a hundred participants we anticipated the teachings of a passionate and talented writer. The objective was to assist us in how to ‘Find your own voice ’. An expectation met, albeit by alternative means.
The session lasted for three and a half hours. It delivered around thirty minutes of useful tips on how to write more effectively and authentically . The remaining time was spent in what seemed to be an abstract conversation missing a common purpose. The skills of a man who could write so effectively seemed to predetermine the way in which the class was delivered. It came across as if it were to be consumed. There was no assistance in helping us to engage authentically. The contract between the people in the room felt on par with the contract of a writer and their readers. Something I felt didn’t quite work in this context. There was something missing. An energy needed for this particular art to be inspiring. An image of how the brain connects itself kept popping into my head and it got me to thinking…what invites effective learning and why is this important to our practice at Tree house? A voice came out of the echo of a misfire: Connection: To each other or to a clear unifying common purpose is essential for effective engagement. It needs to feel welcoming. Authenticity: Being present and mindful in every moment; what am I picking up here? Am I attending to it all? To be seen: To be brought into a space and be appreciated as an equal and an important part of a bigger picture. To allow with an open mind: To tolerate uncertainty and trust in the process. This creates a place in which most things are enabled to grow. We do all of this. We do all of this, well. This experience was an example of something that affirmed our current practice and philosophy and has helped in our endeavour to articulate it. Curiosity might not have been what killed the cat. Maybe it was a fur ball from all the incessant grooming. It struck me that in an observed life there is always something that can be taken from a situation and utilised. Maybe this is the basis of growth. How much of what is effective is only affirmed by what isn’t? Does this not put into question, everything? Does learning and progress lie parallel to an acceptance of anomalies and mistakes? Is it essential to the process of it? And Is the precursor to learning, having the environment to first become awake? If learning isn’t retainment, or regurgitation, perhaps it is something fluid? Something which is truly enabled through practices that allow people to more personally connect to it through a common purpose? Perhaps, this is exactly why the question that needs to be asked, and with more assertion, is:
What is your motivation?
Christina’s perspective : Finding your Voice with Gary Younge
I have to confess, that I approached the prospect of going down to London to hear Gary Younge speak about writing and authenticity in a star struck manner. I admire his writing, I admire his perspective, I admire the fact that his years in the Guardian and his recent responsibilities have done nothing to weaken the feeling that, when you read him, you are hearing through a man’s heart and vitals. This rather than through a head which has worked out what you expect, or what are the easiest words. to hear. The phrase that caught my eye is that you should write “like you should dance – as if no one is watching”.
I also had reasons for wanting to go to the Guardian. We live in interesting times. A decade ago Sundays were still dedicated to reading the newspapers. A train journey not complete without one. A decade before that and it was the Guardian everyday and the Observer once a week at the very least. I spent a childhood in Africa where copies of these and other papers, weeks old, were treated with reverence and past around from house to house. And yet we stand here at a point in history where in a couple of years we might have marked the ending of the print media. It is the Guardian who are attempting to step into this breech. So to participate in some way in their attempt to diversify their sources of income seemed in itself a worthwhile thing to do. After all the prospect of living in a country where there is no one left reporting on our world with integrity, rather than to the agenda set by a pay master, is one that should keep us awake in our beds at night.
So there we were. Excited we arrived early and retired to a pub to make our entrance again at a more rationale hour. We sat in our seats and the man himself arrived. I had heard him speak before a number of times including once at the slavery Museum in Liverpool. There he had seemed completely at home. At ease with himself, relaxed and present. He spoke with a quiet passion, feeling, wit and insight. His observations about the Obama election grounded in experience and the issues of race and identity he explored so heightened by the setting. Therefore so strange to feel him somehow less at ease in the very place where we assumed that he would feel most at home.
And so we began…
And what did we learn? That you should start with yourself. That each of us has a story to tell, a perspective through which to engage with the world that is unique to us and we should trust ourselves and seek to hone our own sensibilities and find the words to tell our story of the world. The way in which we should seek to do that is less clear in my mind. The message seemed to be that we would need to find our own way. And that in doing so we would need to be guided by that which motivates us to write and the impact we wanted to have. But what that was for him was unclear nor how he distinguishes himself what he regards as good writing, worth defending, to that which he is open to rethinking or reworking. He didn’t give us insight into his own experience of writing, what keeps him going, how he interprets feedback or what gives him satisfaction. Nor did he demonstrate any of his passion in the room, he did not connect with us and we didn’t, by his presence, feel encouraged, or motivated or emboldened.
Perhaps we asked too much?
So what is motivation for writing this? In part if I am honest because we committed to it by accepting funding for which we agreed to seek to learn in this way. This is a motivation which is akin to a deadline in bringing the discipline of time as well as an external provocation or expectation. However as Gary told us that is insufficient. The motivation has to have a higher purpose. That must be to learn and we did. Our learning came mostly from what did not happen rather than what did. We learnt that as soon as you elevate something or make someone your hero then you place them in a position where they are bound to disappoint. You also discount your own gifts. A man who is good and writing, and speaking and knowing his own voice should not be expected to be a man who is good at starting a conversation and getting others to participate. What it also showed us is how good we are at these things. How much of our time and attention is placed in creating the right conditions to foster learning. What we experienced was a lecture with some opportunities for questions. Gary Younge does have both the status, skill and the right to invite us to hear him speak. His experience entitles him to claim our attention. He might have been more comfortable if that was what he had set out to do. We would then have come with the expectation that we would listen. As it is he offered us a workshop which suggests that we were there to participate, to be coached, to see him and be seen. It is a higher ambition than a lecture and has greater potential impact. But to really engage we needed at the very least to know what he were trying to do with us and we needed a space safe enough into which to step.
All learning is about the quality of the conduit between all those engaged in a moment in fostering it. It is experiential it needs to be felt and spoken as well as heard. We need to be invited into presence, we need to be welcomed and connection fostered. We need to be recognised and heard. We need it to be experienced and felt as well as seen or understood. Otherwise all we recall is something that could have been bullet pointed in 15 minutes rather than a vivid experience, as some moments of learning are, that might stay in the heart and the mind for a life time.
The Walkers: Lankelly 2
This group was established by Helen Smith. Her role is to provide psychological support to people with spinal injuries and their families. The impetus for developing the group was a response to the needs of patients. For someone working in a medical setting Helen takes an unusual approach in as much as she refuses to categorise patients, taking a very person centered approach to the support she offers. Having worked in the Unit for nearly 20 years her experience is that the outcomes for people are as diverse as the people, and their circumstances, and cannot be predicted in a simple way. The recovery trajectory for individuals seems to be as influenced by their attitude to the injury and their own recovery as by the nature of the injury itself. Therefore her approach is to take each patient on their own terms and enable them to determine what is helpful, or not. That is not to say that she does not challenge, but just that her approach is one in which she seeks to liberate their own capacity rather than impose preconceived solutions of her own. The Walkers Group comes out of this philosophy. Helen having noticed that those who recovered sufficiently to be able to walk, had a particular set of experiences and needs that was not being adequately met by the unit. She further observed, that for this group, often the best source of support was not from the professional team but from other people experiencing the same conditions. From those observations the Walkers Group was born.
When we were first offered support from Lankelly Chase so that we could learn from the practice of others we were, quite frankly, peeved. We wanted them to help us by supporting what we already were already doing and knew. What we had developed informed by our knowledge of the worst and best practice in over 20 cities and 100 neighborhoods up and down the country. We thought we had already done our research and already knew what it was we were doing and why. In many ways we were right.
With the issues over resourcing and sustaining our what we have been doing over the past 3 years having been brought to the forefront in recent weeks, we had a gathering on Sunday 28th February with some of us who have been most heavily involved to discuss where we go from here. We’d like to share these with you all here and to invite you to comment on our thoughts and join in this evolutionary discussion.
Just recently I wrote the following email to everyone on our mailing explaining that I was going to be resigning from the role I have taken on over the last 3 years or so. It is a role one asked me to take on and I haven’t been paid for it so it might seem an little odd to resign. But I know that things are not going to get done that were being done, or at least not in the same way, and I wanted to explain, in advance, why that would be. I also wanted to explain a little about the hopes I had in terms of building on what we had learnt and why I thought that something worth doing. I was not saying that it is all over just that it will have to change as the current state of affairs was no longer sustainable for me. No one can keep going without being resourced and something was going to give. It was very nearly me and it would not serve anyone or anything for me to have sacrificed myself.