All posts by Katherine Howard

I am a 59 year old mother of 3 daughters and grandmother to 4 gorgeous grandchildren. I am a Psychodramatist, Teacher with the School of Shamanic Womancraft and long time Occupational Therapist. The Blue Mountains west of Sydney Australia is my home, which I share with my beloved partner, assorted wildlife and many sacred trees.

Women’s Mental health and the Shadow Wound

The Cave of Shadows

Have you ever wondered
Where in your body 
Or perhaps your mind
Is tucked away

The Cave of Shadows?

And if the Keeper of the Cave (a fierce warrior by all accounts)
Would allow you in (or perhaps let them out)
Who or what might these shadows be?
Yours
You
There might be a tuneful singer
Who comes warily to the cave entrance
And suddenly shouts in retreat “But I cannot sing!”

And as you lie in the softness of dreams
You hear your own beautiful voice of song as it drifts from some dark cranny at the back of the Cave.

And here are the terrified/terrorised and angry ones.
The Keeper takes special care that they remain inside
They are small. Tiny and mis-shapen
They have the sneakiest ways of escape
And when they get past the ever-vigilant Keeper of the Cave (because they can).
They grow
Like a stain of ink in water.

Have you ever wondered who or what
Lives in your Cave of Shadows
And have you met the Keeper of the Cave?

The Cave of Shadows is the residence somewhere within your psyche and body of all those disowned, disavowed roles in you.

They reside – pushed into the dark as things that are fear full or provocative or unacceptable somehow. 

A cordial meeting with the Keeper of the Cave is a necessary venture if you wish to become intimate with the unconscious in your life. It is the work of a lifetime to bring the shadows of the unconscious into consciousness. Only then will we have a choice. 

We meet the Keeper of the Cave at the entrance to The Wheel of Woman’s Life.

That seasonal cycle that has mirrors and layers depicting the movement of the sun, the moon, the seasons, the menstrual cycle and indeed the movement and rites of passage of a woman’s life. 

I meet the Keeper at the time of Samhain (also known as Halloween). That point in the south west of the wheel that is the darkest and also the point that my ancestors (in Ireland) believed was the New Year beginning. I met her there.

You may meet her elsewhere in this organic measurement of time, this wheel. Samhain is marked in Australia at the beginning of May-it is the time when the veil between the worlds is at its’ thinnest and so makes sense to me that the Cave of Shadows would be at its’ most accessible. It is the time of Crone Woman- woman at ages of 75 plus (sometimes earlier or later as this wheel is not governed by the numerics of patriarchy- I simply offer a number as this is our “common” language at this time in Australia). Samhain is the beginning of winter and the end of autumn. And a time of deep rest and dreaming. 

As we travel anti clockwise (in the southern hemisphere- clockwise in the northern*) around the wheel , we come to the following transitions:

  1. Samhain, the New Year in the South West. A Crone transition. Deep dreaming. Winter.
  2. Yule (Winter Solstice) in the South. Crone time. Winter. In the darkness, the light is conceived.
  3. Imbolc (early spring) in the South East. Maiden time. Birth of individuation. New shoots.
  4. Eostar (spring equinox) in the East. Maiden time. Differentiation and uniqueness.
  5. Beltaine in the north east. The Lover. The first celebration of the Mother
  6. Litha (Summer Solstice) in the north. The Mother- family and the fullness of creation
  7. Lammas (Lughnasad) in the north west. The Maga- she who is after Mother and before Crone. The recognition and valuing of wisdom.
  8. Mabon (Autumn Equinox) in the West. The Maga- the Giver of wisdom to community

And so back to Samhain and the depths of the dreaming.

*again for the sake of the “common” language as clocks are a relatively recent patriarchal invention for the purpose of structuring our days. In the old language (northern hemisphere) clockwise is deosil  (sunwise or with the sun) and anti clockwise is widdershins, the opposite of deosil. Therefore, Deosil for us in the southern hemisphere is travelling from west to east via south and continuing northward from east until we come to west once again.

I have learnt to speak the language of Mental Health

In my work as a Counsellor/Mental Health Occupational Therapist, I must enter into relationship with Medical Practitioners and Medicare as well as other Insurance and Legal Institutions- these all bastions of the patriarchy. I have learnt to speak the language of Mental Health in these circles, including Diagnosis and Medication as well as Evidence Based Treatments. 

How can the Woman’s Wheel of Life support understanding and healing?

First I thought of the common “diagnoses” borne by people I see. Diagnosis is the labelling of an illness or problem so that treating practitioners can easily match the symptoms, with the diagnosis, and then with the standardised recommended treatment (often medication).

I am not an advocate of diagnoses, however like most things they have their place (as does medication which can be a life saver/life enhancer for people with mental health issues). I am told by a client who had been diagnosed with schizotypal personality disorder that receiving a diagnosis gave validity to his unusual way of living and also helped him to navigate the often bewildering world of Centrelink. So I don’t dismiss diagnoses out of hand.

The gift of the wounding – as well as the pain

If I think about the Shadow of a Woman’s Wheel of Life, I am easily able to connect with the place where shadow may arise and this place on the wheel gives the ideas for treatment- we identify the wounding- that place where shadow is often born. And there is a gift of the wounding – as well as the pain. Where on the wheel might this wounding occur; where is the shadow born?

I have identified a shadow for each of the Sabbats on a Woman’s Wheel of Life– and each of these locations gives us clues to the Healing possibilities. There also clues to healing wisdom held at the opposite point of the wheel…

  1. Samhain, the South West. A Crone transition. The Shadow Wounding: Ageing, Grief and Death. Healing Wisdom: Mulching, Dreaming, Resting, Relationship. (Opposite is Beltaine)
  2. Yule (Winter Solstice) in the South. Crone time. The Shadow Wounding: Chronic Pain, Loss and Unwelcome Change. Healing Wisdom: Planting the seeds, Conception, Acceptance, Empowerment. (Opposite is Litha)
  3. Imbolc (early spring) in the South East. Maiden time. The Shadow Wounding: Uncertain or damaged identity, eating disorders. Healing Wisdom: Nurturing the seedlings, Differentiation and Individuation. (Opposite is Lammas)
  4. Eostar (spring equinox) in the East. Maiden time. The Shadow Wounding: Purposelessness. Healing Wisdom: Growing the Seedlings, Celebration of goals and exploration. (Opposite is Mabon)
  5. Beltaine in the north east. The Lover. The first celebration of the Mother. The Shadow Wounding: the wounded feminine, issues of gender and sexuality. Healing Wisdom: Passion, Body movement, self love, attraction. (Opposite is Samhain)
  6. Litha (Summer Solstice) in the north. The Mother. The Shadow Wounding: Dysfunctional intimate relationships and family, emotional and physical abuse. Healing Wisdom: Communication, Listening skills, Discernment, Love. (opposite is Yule)
  7. Lammas (Lughnasad) in the north west. The Maga. Shadow Wound: Anxiety, Depression, Addictions. Healing Wisdom: Community and Connection, Harvest life experiences (Opposite is Imbolc).
  8. Mabon (Autumn Equinox) in the West. The Maga. The Shadow Wounding: Guilt and regrets. Societal views of Menopause. Healing Wisdom: Letting Go, Giving Back. (Opposite is Eostar)
  9. The Centre: Where all things come together- life and death, joy and sorrow. The Shadow Wounding: Trauma. Healing Wisdom: Connecting, relationship, empowerment. 

I celebrate the Sabbats with a dedicated group of women. The Shadow is never forgotten.

The Cyclic Wisdom of a Woman’s Wheel of life is the touchstone for the work I do in the world. How someone presents the “symptoms” of Shadow, gives me clues of where to offer their beginning in their healing work. 

I give gratitude to my wisdom lineage for the learnings that come through in this article. In particular, gratitude to Jane Hardwicke Collings of The School of Shamanic Womancraft, Glenys Livingstone of Pagaian Cosmology and Kathy Jones of the Glastonbury Goddess Temple.

This is a path of grief and hope

I sometimes find myself saying to a person who is staying in a grindingly unhappy relationship* (often abusive-except when it isn’t, of course) that “hope is a great deluder”.

I wondered today if that means I am cynical? Certainly I have been in relationships* for far too long because I hoped the other would change. I hoped the other would eventually “get it”.

Maybe if I loved them “enough”, or tried “harder”…

I like to think I am reaching my wisdom years – a small chuckle tells me that wisdom simply means that I am prepared and eager to learn more…To understand more.

There is never stasis in wisdom. Maybe acceptance and peace – but never stasis.

If I stop hoping I will grieve the loss of hope. The loss of the dream of what could be. Now, “what could be” is a pretty amazing thing – and can lead to an immense amount of awesome creativity. And my capacity for hope and dreaming must be honoured.

How do I honour this amazing gift?

Discernment. Honing my skills of discernment. On which particular altar of relationship will I place my hope (and my grief)? Who will honour my dreaming in the way my dreaming deserves? 

Listen to your voice of discernment.
Locate it. (Mine is at the back of my neck – go figure!).
Listen.

Most days now I go down to Witches Leap (Leap being the Scottish term for waterfall and the witch being a face in the rock- (see image above) and say hello. I don’t usually say it out loud, (well…ok, sometimes), because my discerning voice has some reservations about being put in a straight jacket or burnt at the stake (oh hang on – there’s a difference between discernment and fear – there’s that wisdom again)…and I listen to her, in this place of my belonging.

She reminds me that hope is (or should be) always tempered and informed by ‘what is’. And what is in this moment, at this time has many layers of joy and pain and beauty and aloneness.

Listen to ‘what is’ and be discerning about the threads of hope you decide to follow (that is the witch speaking as I listen to her).

We are in a place of great learning

My hope at this time says to me that we are in a place of great learning. It’s not easy – in fact, a lot of it feels f***ing impossible (my apologies to those of you who do not know that I can be quite sweary at times).

But, relationships only work if we allow ourselves to love and hope and tolerate difference. And, to be discerning about what aspects of difference are “dealbreakers” for you.

There is a spectrum of tolerance for difference.

Where are you on that spectrum? Are you at the….

  • I want everyone to be and think and feel the same as me” end?
  • Or more towards the “I love and accept everything and everyone no matter who or what they are” end?

I encourage you to wonder (wondering being another exceptional wisdom tool, a close friend of curiosity) where you might stand (or sit or lie or dance) on this spectrum.

And what has formed this place? What brings you here? And how do you feel and respond to others who may stand (or sit or lie or dance) at a different spot on this spectrum?

Can you be with ‘what is’ and hold hope and grief in your heart (and soul)?

Please wonder, and move forward with hope and discernment gently.

*a small note about what relationship means: it might be with an intimate partner, a friend, an acquaintance, a group, or a workplace. It could also be with trees, plants, animals and rocks…it’s all about relationship!


Images:
Witches Leap – Katherine Howard
Bird – Hayley Melrose 

What time of day is your most creative time? – July 2021 Newsletter

Friend, what actions will you take today so that you become the ancestor of your future happiness?

(paraphrase from notes taken when listening to David Whyte in webinar)


What time of day is your most creative time? I realised some time ago that early morning was mine-which perhaps coincides with Day 3 of the New Moon-(as I write this, it is a Day 3 New Moon and also happens to be my Natal Moon). As we begin, so we continue.

Women’s Circle of Reflection and Connection

I will be holding a weekly Women’s Circle of Reflection and Connection commencing online (Zoom) from Wednesday 21st July at 7am*. These circles will be for 45 minutes and will focus on a brief reading (a poem or perhaps a short excerpt of writing which will be sent out the day or so prior to the Circle) followed by a sharing Circle.

My hope is that we can be inspired together and connect with each other through sacred listening, and that this will stimulate and support each of us to bloom in our creativity and spontaneity as we continue through our days and weeks.

Payment will be on a “pay what you can” basis- from $0- $10AUD. Registration is essential by emailing me: katherine@katherinecounselling.com

*If you can’t do 7am or would like a Circle that is not women specific, please also email me and let me know your preferred day and time and preferred composition of Circle, and I will see what I can do.

Here in the Winter of the Blue Mountains workshops are cancelled and postponed

Continue reading newsletter

The Wisdom of trauma

I spent some time over the last couple of days watching a movie called “The Wisdom of Trauma” which featured the wonderful Gabor Maté.

I was struck by many things he said including “we don’t respond to what happens, we respond to our perception of what happens” – but more than that, I was struck by the man himself. He is immensely kind and loving. He is not afraid to touch and hug. He is vulnerable and creates true encounter with others. He says “meet people where they are and don’t try to change them”

I felt that the majority of what was spoken was not new to me, (the notion of the patriarchal domination of Mother Earth). What it actually bought home was the truth of the statement by J.L. and Zerka Moreno (of Psychodrama) that “IT’S ALL ABOUT RELATIONSHIP”
Gabor Maté says, trauma may not be so much terrible things happening-but more to do with being alone with the hurt.
Making relationship is the most important thing that any of us can offer or create. It is certainly the most useful aspect of any therapeutic work. Making relationship is a skill. I encourage us all to continue to hone this skill with all that we are.

May Newsletter

Have you ever had the feeling of being so excited to step out there and be seen, and then afterward you crash with thoughts like “oh dear, there’s too much of me, I am too vulnerable, what will people think”?

In groupwork theory it’s the finely tuned balance between disturbing motive and reactive fear – what pushes you forward and what holds you back. Some of us are forever oscillating on the edge, sitting on the edge of our chair. My psychodrama teacher, Max Clayton, would say this is the perfect position from which to do the work. Often that is the position people are in when they start counselling.
Some of us (like me with my recent photo shoot) go with the disturbing motive and then sit with the feeling of (oh no) exposure and judgement (mostly my own!)

At this Full Moon time of peak energy and blooming, I offer one of the photos from this shoot. It was a magical day.

April Newsletter

You might know the feeling when a bright memory from your past drops in to visit. This morning when I was sitting with my journal, there was a moment when I had a crystal clear memory of being on the Sacred Isle of Iona. Iona is a magical (and very small) island off the west coast of Scotland. I was a part of a residential workshop there back in 2014 with the wonderful Kathy Jones of the Glastonbury Goddess Temple.

I heard these words during a time of silence and meditation: “I am a Teacher, I am a Healer, I am a Wayshower.” These words have been my touchstone ever since. And nudge me gently to keep sharing my work.

Have you ever heard the words of your calling/purpose?

March 2021 Newsletter

Last week I was walking along Cronulla Beach. Right on the edge, where the water rushes up sometimes as high as my knees, and we walk a little more briskly to save from getting our clothes wet. The tide wasn’t especially high and the ocean not especially wild. Fully clothed, hat and sun glasses, shoes in hand. Ambling to breakfast at the café at Wanda Beach.

This place is home to me – I grew up here, and although never a bikini clad beach babe (as in Puberty Blues) I have a long love affair with the ocean.

On this particular morning, at a certain point, some confluence of the ocean currents managed to create a whopping great wave-only about one metre wide and taller than me-and I didn’t see it coming.

Shadow Cycles-cyclic wisdom for mental health

Are you aware of the cyclic nature of your life?

Living with aware consciousness means being alert to the cyclic phases that are pertinent to you in any one moment and being conscious of the choices made in that moment. 

Do you know:

  • When is the time for planting and nurturing the seeds of creativity or creating intentions and plans for those intentions to come alive?
    Spring – 3am-9am, New and waxing Moon, Days 3-9 of the menstrual cycle, Maiden time: 0-25 years old.
  • When is the time for holding the space for the growth of your seeds and intentions and celebrating the fullness of their reality?
    Summer – 9am to 3pm, Full Moon, Days 10-16 of the menstrual cycle, Mother Time: 26-50 years old.
  • When is the time for harvesting the riches of the cycle, for examining their worth, for sharing in community
    Autumn – 3pm-9pm, Waning Moon, Days 17-24 of the menstrual cycle, Maga time: 51-75 years old.
  • When is the time for letting go? For rest and completions? For endings? This is the time when the ground is prepared for the next cycle- the letting go, the bones, become the mulch for the next plantings.
    ​Winter, Dark Moon/New Moon, Days 25-2 of the Menstrual Cycle, Crone Time: 76-100 years old)

If we do not live with the cycles consciously, they happen anyway

“The shadow is everything about ourselves that we refuse to know or do not know, dark and light.”

David Richo- Shadow Dance

At the age of 54, when I joined the School of Shamanic Womancraft – first as student, then apprentice and now teacher, the Wisdom of the Cycles became integral in how I lived my life. As a woman in the last months of my menstrual cycle at 54, I had lost the opportunity to integrate the living wisdom into that particular cycle. The diurnal (solar), lunar (moon), seasonal and life phase cycles have had riches of wisdom to offer in my personal life and in my work.

I understand that if I do not live with the cycles consciously, they happen anyway-the wheel keeps turning. What I have come to know in my work as a Counsellor and Psychotherapist is that far too often, the cyclic consciousness is suppressed, stuck, or wounded. Our responses become Shadows which we do not or feel we can’t know. Pushed aside, these shadows can often lead us in an unconscious and painful dance.

Whilst the teaching of Cyclic Wisdom is central, it is also critical to recognise and call home the shadows that are often created by this suppression, stuckness and wounding

Mental health issues are often linked to a shadow wound

In Western medicine these “shadows” become diagnostic labels which are most often treated with medication: the effect of which is to suppress even further the psyche’s response. (A note: I am not anti-medication for mental health as such-sometimes it is a necessary and life saving/life enhancing gift of western medicine).
However, in working with the cycles, I have noticed that mental health issues are often linked to a Shadow wound at certain times of the life cycle:

  • In the maiden time-the Shadow wound is often to a person’s sense of identity and might result in personality disorders
  • In Mother time-the Shadow wound appears to be in relationships and sexuality
  • In Maga time-the Shadow wound appears as disorders of mood, for example depression and anxiety.
  • In Crone time-the Shadow wound appears as fear of letting go, fear of death, undealt with grief.
  • In the Centre of the wheel is Trauma-Which occurs often and is often relegated to the Shadowlands.

Shadow wounds or issues might occur at any time

You might raise quite a sweat trying welcome home your exiled shadows, or you might find loving assistance and support makes all the difference.

My upcoming workshop on Shadow Cycles

If you are interested in learning more about Shadow Cycles and mental health, join me in the Shadow Cycles series of workshops (all online currently), beginning with an introduction on 12th March and commencing the teachings of the Cycles and Shadow Cycles from Samhain in May.

There will be learning about the Cycles, the Shadow Cycles and approaches for integration. The workshops will involve personal work with your own Shadowlands, and will also be useful to broaden your skills if you work in the field of Mental health in a professional capacity.

Regardless of your purpose for attending, be prepared to dive deep and connect with your own Shadows, and be aware that you will be in a safe, confidential container of a group of like minded women.

For more information and to book click here. 

The House of belonging

On the cusp of the new calendar year, I find myself deeply resting. There is a sense in me of deep need for rest. Preparing for the wheel of time to keep turning. 

I have been contemplating David Whyte’s poem “The House of Belonging” (this is an excerpt- the full poem is at the end of this blog):

“This is the bright home
in which I live,
this is where
I ask
my friends
to come,
this is where I want
to love all the things
it has taken me so long
to learn to love.

This is the temple
of my adult aloneness
and I belong
to that aloneness
as I belong to my life.

There is no house
like the house of belonging.”

For a long time I felt I did not belong on this land of Australia.

I belonged with my family – a very large and noisy family –  who live here. I was born here. But I always felt drawn to the land of Ireland. And it’s true that I do feel most at home there – spiritually – and “in my skin”- in a way that has been so hard to find here in Australia. 

I realise that the bones of my ancestors are not here. The layers of earth under my feet do not contain them. And yet my home is created here. The bright cords of my heart’s love are here. My parents, my siblings, my children and grandchildren and my beloved partner. 

Here in these mountains “is where I want to love all the things it has taken me so long to learn to love.” I am here. It is now, and “there is no house like the house of belonging.”

At the end of the Calendar year and moving into 2021, may you find your house of belonging, and may the year to come hold love and many dreams-come-true.


“The House of Belonging”

BY DAVID WHYTE 

I awoke
this morning
in the gold light
turning this way
and that
thinking for
a moment
it was one
day
like any other.

But
the veil had gone
from my
darkened heart
and
I thought

it must have been the quiet
candlelight
that filled my room,
it must have been
the first
easy rhythm
with which I breathed
myself to sleep,

it must have been
the prayer I said
speaking to the otherness
of the night.

And
I thought
this is the good day
you could
meet your love,
this is the gray day
someone close
to you could die.

This is the day
you realize
how easily the thread
is broken
between this world
and the next

December 2020 Newsletter

Hi There

Although I have trained in many psychotherapeutic modalities since the 1980s, over all that time, the modality I kept going back to was Psychodrama.

Psychodrama is a group psychotherapy action method which was developed by Dr Jacob Levy Moreno (1889-1974) last century. The method is also used in one-to-one and relationship therapy these days. Psychodrama is also a developmental theory comprising of a theory of personality and development, called role theory. It is a sociological theory comprising of the science of sociometry: the measurement of relationships and connection in groups and community. 

The reasons I love psychodrama in particular and why I chose to train as a psychodramatist (which took 12 quite intense years) are many. 

– It’s ALL about relationships
–It involves engagement and development of thinking, feeling and action (the 3 components of role), which few other psychotherapies do.
–Creativity and Spontaneity are the cornerstones of psychodrama
–It works

A note on the length of training: I completed my training (through AANZPA) relatively quickly. The training is not comparable to other education systems. It is based on role development, and progression through the training is driven by the trainee to a large extent. It also involves extensive personal development work. That is, my thesis and practical assessments were done only when my roles had developed adequately for me to step forward and say I was ready. 

Here is a quote I love from Zerka Moreno (in “The Quintessential Zerka” p.43). (She was J.L.Moreno’s wife) 

“Moreno’s vision was so comprehensive. With him, one worked all the time because life was constantly presenting itself to us. Everything was about relationships-ours to each other, extending to our near and far social atoms.”