Warning. You are probably not going to like this week's blog. It contains terms such as "practice", "hard work", "time" and the like. It may ask you to take "responsibility" at some stage. Many people don't like talk like this. You may think I am asking too much of you. We (myself included) often look for the quick fix, the short cut, the easy option. I too have looked for these, and still do to an extent (if I am ever lucky enough to find one I will of course let you know). What I am talking about today is the route to progress in RP, or at least as I understand it. Hopefully this will happen in the context of me providing some degree of understanding, empathy and/or support for you the reader. I know that it is not easy to develop skill in RP - trust me I do. I apologise in advance I fail to live up fully to this promise of support. First though I must digress to something I have learnt from the best teacher I have ever had (and luckily continue to have).
Regular readers of this blog will know I do a bit of tai chi in my (limited) spare time. The main route to improvement in this is in practicing what is known as the "form", i.e. a series of movements, or choreography, that takes about 10 to 12 minutes to perform. You know the saying "practice makes perfect". That goes some way to describing the route to improvement, but it is not entirely accurate. I spent the first 10 years of my time at tai chi thinking I was practicing - doing an hour here and there, focusing at one time on relaxing say my shoulders, and other times on the kicks or punches or whatever took my fancy that day or, more often than not, just thinking about my next meal or task that day or whatever was coming up that weekend. What can I say? my mind is prone to wandering.
Another important aspect of course was the fact that my training was not very frequent. I'd do a bit at home for a day or two, then I'd miss a few days, then I'd feel guilty for missing training and then I'd block it from my mind and not train at all for a week. And then I'd get another spurt of motivation and the whole cycle would repeat itself. All the time my teacher would talk about the importance of picking just one aspect to focus on, and keeping this (one aspect) in mind throughout the form, e.g. just focus on relaxing the shoulders and nothing else. It sometimes amazes me to reflect back on the amount of times I was told this and, subsequently, ignored this for years and years. Of course no real progress ensued. There were times when he would repeat the same mantra 90 times or more in the form, "focus on that one thing you have picked". Until, one day, I started to do just this. I don't know exactly how or why I started. I suspect I noticed a bit of progress, made a link to what he was saying and realised he was right after all, and that there was no shortcut, and that this was actually the way to progress.
I am much more clear on the date and time when I took my level of RP (or more specifically the restorative language part of RP) to the next level. It was at the same time as reading Marshall Rosenberg's NonViolent Communication. I was working night shifts that week in the residential center, as was my "training partner", a 16 year old who would literally sleep by day and wake at night. I mean this kid would wake up at 11pm and stay going to maybe 10 or 11am, and then head off to bed. I have probably mentioned some of this before but it took dozens and dozens and dozens of restorative statements each night to help get the ideas clear in my head and then deliver them someway coherently to the young man. I probably made a hundred restorative statements that week. It got to the stage where he said I sounded "like a psychologist", which was probably half a compliment and three quarters an indication I was still not entirely natural with it. Do not worry if you are reading this and don't know what I mean by restorative language. I could just as easily be talking about circles, or Shame, or mini conferences or any other aspect of RP. What I am talking about here is the route to learning in any aspect of RP. Unless you pick one (it doesn't matter which one really), and consciously work on that for a sustained period of time, it is unlikely you will gain real confidence and competence in RP. Of course I could be wrong in this too. Perhaps, you are the kind of person who can read a book, or attend a training day, internalise the messages and apply them straight away. If so, I salute you. For me, and most of the rest of you, the path is somewhere closer to what I have described above.
There is one other observation I have made on how progress for me has occurred. I will describe it in numbered steps and it goes something like this. Again, it may or may not prove useful:
Of course, you will still falter still from time to time. I do this all the time, even when there's no conflict. I can dismiss any (or all) of my children at times, prioritising some task or other (maybe even a blog!!) Then I catch myself sometime later at what I am doing, recognise what I've missed and give them my attention, even if it is for another comic-book cartoon. You will never get it perfect, nor is it about being perfect.
These are just my thoughts on how to progress your RP (or even tai chi if you are interested). It is one thing to know the theory. But this is rarely sufficient in my opinion. What is needed is "practice", "time", "hard work" (I said those words would be there), making mistakes (loads and loads of mistakes - tons I tell you), and then learning from them. There are no shortcuts unfortunately. But maybe there's a good side to that. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it. What you will learn can set you to be the person who makes a difference in your family, in your school or in your workplace. You are already working hard I'm sure in whatever your endeavours are right now. Why not work hard at something that is proven to make a difference?
That's Restorative Practice
My name is Joe Power and I am the RP development officer for Limerick. I thought I would write about my experiences in developing my own understanding of RP, as well as in trying to spread it across Limerick. The reason for this is that I find that both my own and other people's experiences are remarkably similar and there could well be some opportunity for others to benefit from these thoughts (or ramblings!!). Anyway I hope you gain something from it.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.