Sitting in non-moving traffic on the M4 on Easter Friday and in serious need of a toilet, I wondered why on earth I had set off on this journey. Should I perhaps have just stayed at home, with the heating on full blast and in the company of a good book? Thoughts of my comfy flat and delicious cups of smoky tea clouded my vision as I became more and more agitated with the lack of movement. What else was there to discover in the West Country anyway? I had ventured there before, many times. Yet I knew intuitively there was more to discover, lots of hidden places, wisdom, new people, new perspectives…yet suddenly turning back home and staying in my little flat for Easter seemed a much cheerier and more inviting perspective, well at least than it had been that morning when I was desperate to get out of it. Plus, I remembered woefully, I had left two delicious looking Easter eggs back there in the kitchen cupboard.
I looked around at the other drivers and passengers on the stifled motorway. All stuck in the jam just like me. All of us weary of one another, envious of the motorbikes hurtling through, laughing in glee as they compared their freedom to our lack of it. The faces behind me looked bored, the ones to the left optimistic that we would move along again soon as they engaged in multitudes of desperate attempts to entertain their kids with what looked like I Spy. It all seemed so pointless somehow, like a waste of life as time ticked by, and such a waste of petrol money too given that we weren’t moving anywhere fast.
As we crawled along a few more metres I suddenly realised I was now right by a motorway services sign – okay it was three lanes away to my left but there beaming out at me all the same. The sky blue colour evoked in me the sense of freedom I was longing for. I reasoned that it would be a nicer idea to sit and relax with a creamy coffee, a book and a space to stretch my legs, than to carrying on sitting and snarling at the non-respondent traffic. I quickly manoeuvred my way to the slip road pulling in front of a red BMW which for some reason did not want to allow me the privilege of pulling off the motorway. I was aware of his angry revs but decided to ignore them as I slipped past him and finally entered the services, pulling up a couple of spaces away from the busy front entrance to Costa Coffee, W H Smith, and various other retailers.
I went inside, got myself a Costa and sat down. As I did I breathed a sigh of relief. Looking out of the big windows, I could see through the windswept trees the traffic still immobile on the motorway. It was as though I’d removed a part of myself from that terrible stuckness, to reflect on where I was and where I was going, and indeed whether or not I still wanted to go there. I could now watch where I’d been, observe other people in that same stuckness, and have space to be myself again, to listen to myself and to become more aware of my own feelings about it all. I was like an onlooker to my own journey – instead of being caught in my stress and my negatively spiralling thoughts about how I should have stayed comfortable at home, I could now realise that this all was meant to be part of my journey. I was meant to be sat here in the services, reflecting, writing, thinking and planning. I was meant to have this breather and this time. I was meant to buy the book I just bought which taught me new things about my destination. I was certainly meant to be going where I was going.
I knew that in an hour I would re-join the traffic and the chaos, but from a different perspective: re-fuelled, re-energised and re-organised in my own mind. The sun was still shining, I was still alive. I had choices. I could call a friend, sip my coffee, eat cake, read a book, or sit in a massage chair for one pound a shake. I had choices.
This all seemed to parallel with the therapeutic journey. So many therapy clients ask questions like ‘when does this all end?’ or say at some point ‘perhaps I should never have begun this process – it’s too difficult!’ and ‘is there really any point to this?’ Sometimes we forget that we are in the driver’s seat of our own lives and we are in charge of our own journeys and destinations. Every person has choices to make, no matter how stuck they feel. I had a choice between remaining stuck on that motorway, getting angry at the other traffic and punishing myself for being there in the first place, or taking time out to reflect.
Therapy is like the service station of your life. It’s where you get a new perspective, decide what you need, communicate with your own deepest desires and work out the best route to take from there. You are the person who decides how long the journey will be. You are the one who decides how far away the destination, and indeed, where you are going. Are you stopping just outside London? The West Country? Wales? Ireland? Or taking a boat to Canada?! Do you want to simply get moving to a point of contentment, or to push onwards, see more and learn more about yourself? Do you want to transcend your ego and seek a higher purpose?
Therapy is where you notice what speed you have been going at in your life and whether or not that suits you these days. Do you need to take your foot off the accelerator or speed up a little in order to actually get anywhere? Do you need to rethink the passengers in your car with you? Have you been following somebody else who wasn’t taking you the best route? Do you want to avoid passing through that place again where you know the traffic is bad and you’ll only get stressed? Do you want to discover new ways of doing things that suit you a little better?
This is where you reconsider your inner resources, your inbuilt qualities that you can now draw upon – it’s where you discover your own supplies and how you can refuel yourself. Perhaps all those hard times served to awaken you to higher possibilities? Or perhaps, it’s now just time to sit in that chair, take a few deep breaths, and simply calm down?
Whatever your destination and your chosen route, therapy is a way of helping you on your journey and of highlighting when you need to rest, and when you need to get going. It’s a way of unravelling and understanding for yourself the routes you take that never lead to anywhere, and of uncovering for yourself your true direction in life – the one you have the choice of taking.
There is an end point, but it is you who decides where and when that is. Maybe you’ll reach a place of wisdom, where there’s no need to search or unravel anymore; the place you have been wanting to know and understand within yourself for a long time. And maybe, just maybe when you’re there, you’ll realise that the things you left back in the safety of home, such as those comforting and delicious chocolaty surprises, were worth nothing compared to the surprises you have found in your own self throughout your journey.
By Jeni Whittaker