My first counseling psychology supervisor once remarked that every psychologist begins as a child psychologist – as a boy or girl who, to survive childhood, develops the basic skills for psychotherapy.
I’ve been interested in becoming a therapist since my first year in college, but until my 50s, I didn’t know how I could handle the emotions of 20 or 30 people a week. Carrying people’s feelings has always been an issue for me. Only after enduring sufficient difficulties in my own life did I feel that I could handle whatever might show up in my office. Then I returned to school to train as a therapist. Now, years later, achieving balance and centeredness in the midst of what can be the stormy nature of psychotherapy practice is still a work in progress. But I have progressed.
For several years, I tried to use the image of rocks by the seashore as a metaphor for how I wanted to be in therapy sessions – feeling the waves wash over me, yet undisturbed by their ebb and flow. But rocks, as far as we know, are inert, and I didn’t want to be inert. So I looked for a better metaphor.
I wound up thinking about gyroscopes. As a kid scientist, gyroscopes fascinated me. Keep one spinning, and you can push a gyroscope in any direction and it will always right itself. As an adult struggling to stay balanced in the midst of turmoil, I imagined a gyroscope made of light, a tiny spiral galaxy spinning inside my own belly, supplying a steadying energy. The image of something inside me that can respond to – but not be uprooted by – external forces seemed to exactly fit how I wanted to be with my clients. When I have remembered this spiral galaxy gyroscope spinning inside me, I am energized by the end of the day. I think we can all use a spiral galaxy gyroscope, or something very much like it, to stabilize us, moment to moment, as we navigate life’s ups and downs. We need to move where events take us, but we also need to find our way back to center.
But sometimes, an image – even a powerful one – isn’t enough. To keep on keeping on through difficult times, many of us need a more powerful, more action-oriented, metaphor. We need a personal flywheel.
A flywheel is a heavy disk that rotates evenly in response to repeated applications of kinetic energy. In an automobile, the flywheel translates the jerky explosions of an internal combustion engine into vibration-free motion. A spinning disk that maintains an even flow of energy shows up in many places in the physical world. Another example is the potter’s wheel, whose mass enables it to translate the craftsman’s periodic kicks into the steady rotation needed to create symmetrical bowls, platters, and similar wares.
As a therapist, I often help people find their personal flywheels. By that I mean an interest or passion that is not part of a job, a chore, or something to do for friends or family, but an activity we do just for ourselves, independent of time, season, or circumstance. Even when only intermittent energy is applied, a personal flywheel keeps us going in the midst of difficulties, smoothing out the vibrations. No matter what’s going on, somewhere inside us the wheel keeps spinning, spinning, and all we have to do is give it a little kick to keep it going. Then the flywheel’s momentum keeps us going until we have a chance to catch our breath.
For the last several years, my work in photography, especially the Flower Mandalas, has been my personal flywheel. But a personal flywheel can be anything you feel passionate about. For some it is a spiritual connection and the activities associated with it, whether they are participating in a religious community or observing their own private rituals. For others, it’s a physical activity – working out, doing yoga, playing a sport for the sheer joy of it. Outdoor activities such as gardening, hiking, boating, or fishing may also fill that role, as can a vast range of hobbies and avocations.
What is important is that the activity be meaningful to you and that you do it, rain or shine, whether you are tired or full of energy, giving the wheel a little kick whenever you can to keep it spinning smoothly and your balance intact.
David J. Bookbinder
52 (more) Flower Mandalas: An Adult Coloring Book for Inspiration and Stress Relief
52 Flower Mandalas: An Adult Coloring Book for Inspiration and Stress Relief
Paths to Wholeness: Selections (free eBook)