I have written about transitions before on this blog over the nearly four years I’ve created monthly writings for my readers. Now I face my own personal transition. In autumn of this year, I will be completing my final semester of teaching at the college and university level, a journey that I began twenty-eight years ago. The journey is nearing its end, not because I’m forced to end it, but because I’ve purposely chosen, so to speak, to close down the shop on the professorship. Though such a move brings questions, doubts, and fears, it also brings excitement and hope for what lies ahead. I want to say some things about what that road ahead may look like and entail.
A Full Private Practice
Contemplations is my private practice. And as long as my health and desire hold up, I want to continue working as a counselor. A full practice, however, means more than simply increasing the number of clients I see, or the number of interns I supervise. Those who follow this blog know that my practice primarily revolves around existential work. That work entails interacting with clients to guide them in coming grips with and taking responsibility for their own journeys. I entered this work years ago to work with people who wanted to enter counseling and explore what they want and hope their lives to be about. That kind of work has always, and still does, strike a deep chord in me. I have a passion for working with clients who want to explore and clarify their values, search out where they want their lives to go, and look deep within to understand their personal identities, that is to know who they are. Though I’ve always been drawn to such work as a counselor, my younger years could take me so far in working with such clients in a mature and full way. At seventy years old, I feel now that I can offer this work from a perspective that I didn’t have in the past. I believe that perspective has developed over the past ten to fifteen years. Though I was always drawn to existential work, I believe I had to grow into it, so to speak. The transitions that people are navigating in life now are ones that I’m familiar with because I’ve navigated them myself, and I’m still navigating them. So a full practice means, I believe, I bring a lot to the table for the kind of work I want to do. This kind of work is exactly the reason I set up my practice, calling it Contemplations.
When Journeys Begin
It’s never too early to ask the question: What do you want your life to be about? I offer a caution. Don’t think you can answer that question once and for all right off the bat. Some people do. But that’s rare. Most of us begin our journeys that take sinuous paths that we never dreamed to take. Yet those pathways and their experiences make up who we are at any one point in time. Much of my work along these lines is helping clients simply accept where they are on their present journey. Acceptance is a loaded concept. Some people think it means simply to give up their dreams about what they hope to accomplish with their lives. Nothing could be further from the truth. Radical acceptance lays the groundwork for further exploration. Until you solidly come to grips with where you are now, you may find that moving forward toward where you want to go is a difficult task. I also work with clients to accept the mistakes they’ve made and any failures they’ve endured. These things, as well as our successes, are part of living. We all experience the ups and downs of life. Our journeys begin in awareness when we ask the question where we want to go. Whether we realize it or not, we’re on a journey. The best way for it to be a full journey is to become aware of where and how we are moving.
Movement & Values
One of the more interesting aspects of this work for me occurs when clients begin exploring their values. What is it that they really believe? What do they truly value? Do they really value what they claim to value? Or have they simply inculcated values from others and the social milieu in which they are ensconced? Our values are the fuel that move us forward to where we want to arrive. They help us navigate those sinuous twists and turns that life tends to throw at us. Being aware of our values does not guarantee a smooth ride with no bumps and falls along the way. Indeed, our values come to the forefront during any difficult times we encounter on our journeys. They help steer the course. And sometimes we may have to revisit our values, even in the middle of our journey. Life and its vicissitudes challenge what we believe. Clarification and awareness of what we truly believe on a core level help steady us on the road we hope to travel. I find values exploration in counseling to be some of the most fulfilling work I can do.
When Journeys End
Put simply, they don’t end for the living. As long as we’re breathing, we’re moving, even in our later years. It may not, and will not be, the movement we had in earlier and younger years, but it’s movement nonetheless. Obviously, we all die. That’s an endpoint that can enhance rather than discourage our journeys. Time is limited. The time to think about what you want your life to be about is now. What we have is the now. We can’t reclaim and reshape our past. The best and strongest thing we can do with the past is learn from it in a way that propels us forward along our journey. We can’t fully know our future. We can plan, but we must find that rest and calm to let the future unfold. Those within spiritual traditions tend to understand letting providence be. We’re an angst-filled culture when it comes to worrying about tomorrow. I like to work with clients to help them take their hand off that over-control button where they have everything lined out. There’s no point where life is laying fully in your vision. There’s no point where there are no risks to undertake. There’s no point where you ever know the beginning from the end. Rest, accept, and let go, but journey forward all the same.
My horizon is in front of me. As I reach it at the end of 2017 where it will turn to twenty-nine years of teaching, another horizon will unfold in front of me. The work I hope to do with clients is help them face and take responsibility for their personal journeys toward their own horizons. Contemplation and action go hand-in-hand. But the busyness of life without reflection is misdirected action. Effective action comes when we contemplate our values, embrace them, knowing they can change and morph in many ways, and move toward where they take us. I hope to be alongside any clients who wish to explore such work in the counseling room.
John V. Jones, Jr., Ph.D., LPC-S/June 14, 2017