CONTEMPLATING LIFE IN AOTEAROA

A. Roy Bowden

'Maui mid Ocean' John Bevan Ford, Ngāti Wehi Wehi, Ngāti Raukawa

Nothing alive stays still

Life Membership award address.

Kia ora tātou katoa, To be acknowledged by my colleagues is hugely appreciated. Many members of the NZAP could be standing here today having served with commitment and dedication.

My journey began with training in theology, pastoral counselling and social work. Later, when I taught social workers at Massey University the head of school said to me, ‘You should join the NZAP’. To his surprise I said, ‘What is psychotherapy?’ Even though I had worked in a psychiatric setting, prisons, hospital chaplaincy and as the director of a family counselling agency, psychotherapy was unknown to me. In 1985 I presented my ‘applicant member’ paper to the NZAP conference, as a social worker and counsellor. Feedback from members alerted me to content they said was psychotherapeutic, and I ended the day thinking I might be a psychotherapist after all!

It was fascinating to discover few members of the NZAP practised entirely as therapists. They were psychiatrists, general practitioners, psychologists, social workers, nurses, teachers, clergy and counsellors. 'On my return from the NZAP conference I spoke to the teaching team at Massey University, and said, “You know, we could all belong to the NZAP because it takes every element in the lives of people into account.” Apart from the head of school, Mervyn Hancock (already a NZAP member), the team fell into silence. Evidently social work theory was to be protected as a body of knowledge only social workers should own. Later, when helping to write content for a Bachelor of Counselling degree I argued for a multi-disciplinary knowledge base. Others persuaded the panel counselling theory must be narrowly defined. It is still difficult to find a practitioner framework informed by multiple perspectives.

Currently I’m advocating for general practitioners, therapists, spiritual and cultural advisers and social science professionals to communicate as well as they have always done in the forums of this Association. We need more interdisciplinary teams in community hub settings. At NZAP conferences we’ve heard from artists, musicians, historians, poets, authors, thespians, theologians, politicians and educators. In this Association, when someone claims a set of knowledge belongs to one sphere alone, it gets perceptively challenged and insights are shared across disciplines. The NZAP taught me when someone is struggling, everything in the universe is affecting how they are in the moment. I keep reminding myself no one is separate from every cellular movement taking place now, in the past and into the future. Colleagues have been flexible enough to tolerate that wide-ranging view and given me room to keep asking questions. Of course, there have been some with firm fences around their knowledge, but we have managed to keep close by examining our preferred opinions.

One of the most emotional journeys I experienced within the NZAP was interviewing 76 therapists for a book which was published in 2018. Some of the resources for that publication came from the NZAP council. Therapists I interviewed held me close on many occasions, challenged my thinking and shared some of their most personal moments with me. I discovered how easy it is to imagine some colleagues will disagree with you only to find that meeting face to face smooths the highway and we both end up at the same destination.

I’ve learnt when I’m with a client in therapy that there is constant movement within our thoughts, bodies and feelings. All the stories we tell to ourselves and to others change moment by creative moment. Creative moments can be accessed through mind, emotion, music, dance, drama, artistry, spiritual dreaming, curiosity and courage. Because everything changes momentarily attempts at definition and diagnosis ought also to be momentary. No-one is continually 'this' or 'that' or fixed in any way. Therapy is there to take account of all the connections waiting within each person. I was brought up in the church where many stories were told to me as if they were factual and would never change. Psychology tutors at university in the 1960s presented me with what were thought to be facts about human development, how the brain works and rather definitive ideas about emotions. Consequently, early counselling, therapy and social work theorists turned to carefully crafted methods in order to help people change. Some of those frameworks were expansive enough to promote a holistic view but not many were flexible enough to promote a wide vision.

Theorists and colleagues in the NZAP introduced me to the heart of psychotherapy which follows clients through what we name as ‘the unconscious’. Psychotherapy focuses mainly on past and present thoughts and feelings, including those in our dream life and in our visionary ideas. Therapists cannot do that unless they know how to be extremely close to the 'mind' of another person without losing their identity and relationship boundaries. In that environment I began to discover my ‘self’ in new ways and accepted the challenge to look in the mirror. Through my learning in this Association and in my professional life it is now clear to me everything about the human being is on the move internally and externally. That’s an exciting, unsettling and ever-changing perspective. It doesn’t fit if we want to isolate an aspect of the human form for focused examination but it does align with a holistic view.

When I’m with someone in despair I imagine we are both mid-ocean and not on Papatūānuku. In therapy we contemplate movement in the universe, waves of emotion that are both supportive and threatening and we sail in an unsteady waka clinging to what we think is safety. It is all there in a work by John Bevan Ford Ngāti Wehi Wehi, Ngāti Raukawa, titled, ‘Māui mid ocean’. The work depicts constant movement and in that regard one of the most valuable gifts the NZAP offered me was the freedom to live with uncertainty. The idea in some traditions there is ‘Nothing and the not nothing’ set me on a path to prefer a primary focus on ‘questions’ rather than answers. That led to a paper titled, ‘Perhaps the question is the answer’. I remember mentioning that title to a Jungian analyst in the Association. When she said, ‘Yes, of course’, I knew we could stay friends.

The NZAP membership were very supportive of my representation on the World Council. In London, Ontario, I presented a paper titled, ‘Beyond Method’. The title was chosen because the conference was hosted by a family centre for first nation people. They were entitled to heal themselves in their own ways according to custom so imported methods would unlikely be pertinent. Whilst there, delegates were privileged to visit the colonised land area of the group of tribes, Anishinaabe. The name has sometimes been interpreted to mean 'Beings made out of nothing' or 'Spontaneous beings'. There it was again, a strong reference to the idea that nothing within or outside us stays still. I sat with Anishinaabe in a sacred sweat lodge ceremony. Every part of me was affected, not just by the intense heat but by a fundamental message; ‘Body, mind, spirit and emotions move together in harmony or disharmony according to how one chooses to live’. Every culture has developed different ways to address distress, alienation and trauma. Some will go deep into their own sense of self, others will look out to the universe and others will test themselves, through relationships, or in the natural world.

After all the Association has taught me, I have come up with a description of what happens in the therapy room: “When therapist and client are at sea in a storm, there is no logic, no clarity and no stillness. It’s not a matter of saying, ‘What is wrong with you?’, ‘What is the issue you have come with?’ or ‘Tell me what’s been happening before or since you were born’, it is a matter of finding ways to piece together brief moments, in a complex drama that has no end.” It’s not a matter of cure, establishing a defined belief system, or searching for permanent healing. It is a matter of enabling the body, mind, feelings and the spirit to weave new patterns. It is also a matter of how to take waka to the shore with enough strength to keep moving.”

My most important awareness is that cultural belonging makes a crucial difference. On many occasions Waka Ōranga colleagues welcomed me into wharenui. Only tangata whenua can say what it means to noho ki te marae but those experiences have been life enhancing for me. Ngā taonga Te Rōpū Waka Ōranga have shared with me convince me that when the ocean out there is recognised as Te Moana, the place to discover Tangaroa, my limited understandings of the sea are suitably challenged. When ground on which I am privileged to stand is recognised throughout Aotearoa as Papatūānuku, I value it so much more. When the sky within the universe is thought of as Ranginui, the possibilities for discovery are limitless. Behind each of those names for sea, earth and sky lies so much of the guidance we need to live together in Aotearoa. After all, the crucial elements that inform psychotherapy were present in te ao Māori long before they were being written about and practised in Europe.

Being a psychotherapist in Aotearoa has meant deciding where I belong, keeping in mind I was born on and into a living space, created and nurtured by tangata whenua. It has also made me aware there are now many cultures in our midst. Our own family is enhanced by being multi-cultural. In that regard, psychotherapy in Aotearoa is facing important theoretical and practice challenges. My attempts to encourage people to think wider than the 'psychology of mind' have perhaps not been frequent enough or determined enough. In spite of my beginner status, the aroha, maanakitanga, karakia, waiata and wairua that keeps being offered has been like a vision ahead of me. The NZAP, through Waka Ōranga, is still in its adolescence with regard to promoting firstly the voice of Māori and then other ethnicities in Aotearoa. However, the intent is there and that will keep the Association alive.

When I interviewed my mentor, our treasured Pae Ārahi, Dr Haare Williams, he said, with regard to our bicultural and multi cultural pathway: ‘The NZAP has come a long way, and we are on a journey without end’. The last two words are crucial. He taught me that healing journeys are not towards resolution, cure or answers, each moment is sufficient in and of itself. This Association has a history that should never be forgotten. It is the story of how to take notice of what happens in the shadows, and how to make darkness into light. I am most appreciative of how this Association constantly searches for pathways that will encourage new life.

Hinewirangi Kohu Morgan, is kuia to Waka Ōranga and admired by me. She is also a long-time friend and teacher of women and men in prison. She gave me permission to write these words into my book: Referring to the men, she said, “When I teach men in prison, I encourage them to find their korokoro voice and roll their voice along the ground. They give voice to their feelings and roll them along the ground.”

Hinewirangi was drawing my attention to what happens when feelings in the body, held tightly in the throat, are released by rolling the human voice along what seems to be the very ground of life itself. She went on to say: “The men are singing their souls into being’.

I am indebted to all who have pointed me towards light and gifted me with aroha today. Nō reira, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa.” - A. Roy Bowden.