Shielagh Shusta Hochberg, Ph.D. - Personal Growth Throughout the Life Cycle
Meditations and Reflections

Dipping Our Toes in the Ocean

How vast & powerful 
the oceans are. They touch the corners of the earth yet swirl around our feet as we approach the water's edge. We see their power as the tide carves the shoreline during storms or surges inland with tsunamis. Beneath the surface dwell our fellow creatures so dependent upon the waters and the nourishment they bring.

Our psyches
are much like those powerful waters, under which much life dwells. When we have run from our guilt and shame, or worse, the guilt and shame pushed on us by others through abuse, the very thought of dipping a toe into those waters can be so daunting that we never do. And yet, how much more capable we are in adulthood than we were as children, even though we may not fully realize it. Even if we feel handicapped by the injustices that may have been heaped upon us by powerful others, it is never too late to learn that those waters can be refreshing and healing, too.

Undertaking psychotherapy
is rather like taking swimming lessons, maybe at first with floaties, then learning to kick and float and even dive into those waters and emerge again and again safely. When I was a young mother I took my child for swimming lessons at the Y. The brochure promised that even infants could learn to swim. I stood by the edge of the big pool, watching the experienced instructor dip my precious one into the water again and again until it finally felt safe. Yes, there were tears at first as he swallowed water and coughed it up, but eventually the environment of the pool became a safe place. This child of barely 6 months became a confident swimmer and eventually member of a competitive team in high school. Every body of water we encountered throughout his childhood and youth was a place to swim, from the millpond in a rural New England village to the lapping shores of Atlantic bays and the churning surf of the Pacific. The time of year hardly mattered, so inviting were those waters. And so it is today. 

Once we learn the waters are safe, 
with expert help and with learned skills, we always respect them but cease to fear them. Talking about your worries, your goals, your insecurities, your ambitions, gets easier with time and you begin to find your powerful strokes and leave the instructor far behind as you swim on your own.

4 Comments to Dipping Our Toes in the Ocean:

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Namskers on Thursday, April 25, 2013 8:08 PM
Hear hear! Here's to learning to swim--as sooner or later we all of us will get wet by something and it is helpful to what fear what can be managed, even triumphed over. Here's to finding good instructors, to taking the time to learn new skills, practice them and finally master them. Quick fixes often offer crutches or misleading promises. It is the real work of learning a new skill that brings mastery and the familiarity that allows internalizing a new skill as part of one's cornucopia of life-methods. Here's to holding arms in turbulent or scary waters, and to taking a deep breath and dipping in--a toe, an arm, or one's whole body--without getting in there will be no swimming independently across...
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Dr. Shielagh on Sunday, April 28, 2013 11:58 AM
Thanks for your wonderful commnet, Namskers. I love it when someone can join me in the metaphor so eloquently. You wrote, "Quick fixes often offer crutches or misleading promises." How true! And as a psychotherapist, I often find that newcomers to the work expect it to proceed more more rapidly and effectively than it usually can. We have to crawl before we can walk, et cetera, and there's no substitute for slow, painstaking skill building and insight.

Theresa Varela on Friday, April 26, 2013 9:41 AM
Shielagh, your post reminds me of learning to swim and having high anxiety when it came to treading water. Looking back, my fear of being in one place with the possibility of losing the self was right on target. With help, as you so elegantly wrote, one can feel feelings and make movement in life. Wonderful post.
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Dr. Shielagh on Sunday, April 28, 2013 12:00 PM
Theresa, your words are right on target with my thoughts. Thanks for your friendly and, lucky for me, collegial support! Praise from a published novelist and fellow traveler down the road of happy destiny means a lot.

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