I’ve just been walking my two dogs along the Ridgeway. It is a lovely old walk with some breathtaking, heart lifting views. (And walking through the English countryside on a June morning is hard to beat.) Wikipedia tells me that people have been using this path for some 5,000 years which makes it feel all the more special. (I would like to think that my own direct ancestors walked this path since my family come from Bucks as far as records go back. Whether they did or not, it still adds an extra layer of appreciation for the route.) The walk left me thinking about Ways-and all the phrases linked to this. Being in the Way; The Quaker Way; The Marxist Way; Rights of Way. The list is long. But all convey a feeling of movement. Of going from one place to another. And of Travelling rather than Arriving.
A friend was telling me the story of a university that spent a lot of money organising its campus. After a while it became obvious that the students were, literally, voting with their feet. The carefully laid down organisational routes were ignored as the students made their own Way across the campus. (As one who has spent the past seven years in Higher Education – a misnomer? – I am well aware of the difference between Institutional ideas about paths and student / staff ideas. The same extends to the provision of Mental Health services. I read the other day that the Recovery Model is intended to put the patient at the centre of the process, not the psychiatrist. (We need a ‘model’ to tell us this?) There seems to be an issue here about whose way is being walked. And who determines what one chooses to look at en route. I love walking in woods. I rejoice in an old gnarled tree, bent over by the wind. I love the sight of Beech trees just coming into leaf. Equally I am enthralled by an unexpected vista. A view that suddenly appears from “nowhere”. It is the variety that is fascinating.
There is a formula for finding out the age of a hedgerow. Hooper’s law, which says that to age a hedge we count the number of different species found over a 100′ stretch and multiply this number by 100 (why multiply by 100 I have no idea!) So a hedge with five different species will have begun life in the sixteenth century. I find something similar in clinical work.A given conglomeration of material suggest how long these patterns have been in place. And how deep-rooted they are. Which gives some indication of how important they are. An oak of several hundred years standing is more pivotal than some ivy climbing it.
Walking along a Way provides a useful metaphor for clinical work. One day is never the same as the previous one. Each time I see things differently. Depending on the light, the shade, the wind or the rain. Sometimes my attention is caught by one thing, sometimes something different will catch me. The pleasure is in the unexpected. I find the same to be true in clinical work. No two sessions are the same. No matter how long a patient has been with me, we still see new things, depending on where we are standing at the time.Again, this for me is one of the pleasure of psychoanalytic work .I begin a session in silence and allow my patient to begin. From here we walk, seeing what we can notice. We are, together, in the Way.
The link is to a reading of Robert Frost’s poem “The rRoad Not Taken”- for obvious reasons.