The following article was recently published in Psychologica Magazine’s special edition on Trauma. I’ve included a link to the full magazine, lots of great articles on trauma treatments, both from a clinical perspective as well as personal. Hope you might find something that resonates.
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“…That’s why we have the Museum, Matty, to remind us of how we came, and why: to start fresh, and begin a new place from what we had learned and carried from the old.” Lois Lowry, Messenger
The transitional space between old and new feels like a shifting energetic pause. Time is marked by rituals of looking and stepping back, maybe even gathering up and holding on to last years moments. Review, reflect, let go….then into the New, clean slate and fresh start. A re-new cycle begins.
Part of moving forward includes looking back as a way of combining and integrating (hopefully) the best of past with future. The art of knowing where we are, includes knowing where we came from and where we plan to go. Maybe this “looking in” knowledge is what allows us to stand in the now and direct fresh energy towards a renewed creative cycle.
Wishing you creativity, health and joy in the New Year.
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Recently I came across the Contemplative Photography movement, which incorporates Buddhist mindfulness practice with Western ways of seeing the world. Contemplative Photography practice is based on holding an intention of learning to look and see through a lens of nonattachment. Through practice, you begin to trust the gaps in discursive thought where clear seeing and inspiration emerge in your art.
Matthieu Ricard describes Contemplative photography as
seizing the present moment as one would delicately hold a poppy without shedding its petals. It is about nonattachment; one has nothing to lose and nothing to gain, but everything to offer to the eyes of the viewer (from jacket of The Practice of Contemplative Photography: Seeing the world with fresh eyes, written by Andy Carr and Michael Wood, Shambala, 2011)
Miksang is a Tibetan word which means “Good Eye”. The practice is founded on Shambala and Dharma Art Teachings of Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche. The word “good” relates to uncluttered vision and seizing the present moment. In the following video “Miksang” practice is explained in a way I hope you find inspiring.
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Madiba’s powerful words encapsulate many levels of meaning. Perhaps that is why they inspire and light a creative spark for so many of us. These words point to the idea that finding passion requires commitment and responsibility. The heroic attempt to live up to one’s potential and the power that entails is often an overwhelming challenge. Marianne Williamson wrote
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? […] Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do […] As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
The responsibility of owning our powerful creative potential requires knowing the shadow aspects of our personality. Artist Louise Bourgeois had a deeply personal lens through which she artistically engaged with her shadow and what she felt was the burden of her own creative potential power. Bourgeois wrote
I’m afraid of power; it makes me nervous […] In my art I am the murderer, the man who has to live with his conscience… As an artist I am a powerful person. In real life I feel like the mouse behind the radiator… By withdrawing, by recognizing that you have no power, you become more than yourself. You get ideas which never would have occurred to you . In my art, I live in a world of my own making. I make decisions. I have power. In the real world, I don’t want power
Bourgeois was able to create powerful art by acknowledging her shadow side and fears. She played with both positive and negative aspects of power and its potential for both good and evil.
In his lifetime, Madiba also experienced both the dark and light sides of power. His words are meaningful because they emerge from a deeply felt, impassioned life experience, a life that entailed great courage, risk and exploration of the unknown, all elements of the archetype of the creative hero.
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“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
Antoine de Saint-Exupery
And it was at that age … Poetry arrived
in search of me. I don’t know, I don’t know where
it came from, from winter or a river.
I don’t know how or when,
no they were not voices, they were not
words, nor silence,
but from a street I was summoned,
from the branches of night,
abruptly from the others,
among violent fires
or returning alone,
there I was without a face
and it touched me.
I did not know what to say, my mouth
had no way
my eyes were blind,
and something started in my soul,
fever or forgotten wings,
and I made my own way,
and I wrote the first faint line,
faint, without substance, pure
of someone who knows nothing,
and suddenly I saw
with arrows, fire and flowers,
the winding night, the universe.
And I, infinitesimal being,
drunk with the great starry
likeness, image of
felt myself a pure part
of the abyss,
I wheeled with the stars,
my heart broke loose on the wind.
by Pablo Neruda
To paraphrase Dr. Jordan Peterson from a recent TED lecture, “there are things that you know deeply, you just don’t know that you know them.” Creative process is a way to allow the known unknown to surface through the arts. Encountering the known unknown often leads to the emotional experience of awe. We risk a leap of faith from what is known into what is not yet known. This is the experience of not having the words to describe, feeling deeply moved, touched, terrified and fascinated simultaneously. Neruda’s poem conveys the experience of being summoned and touched, and then “my mouth had no way with names[…]something stirred in my soul”. Creative process is a way to allow known unknown treasure to surface. The expressive arts have the potential to inspire and reflect back what we most need to know in a form that may be both seen, shaped and shared.
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John F. Kennedy’s quote resonates deeply, reflecting the capacity of the Arts to shape collective human experience at the macro and micro levels. Simply put, we shape and are shaped by the life stories we create in our dreams, art and words. So where does Truth fit into the equation? What is the relationship between Truth and Art?
In attempting to answer to this question, Professor/author Stephen Levine, refers to the work philosopher Martin Heidegger. Levine writes that for Heidegger truth was a form of unconcealment
Truth as unconcealment, in Heidegger’s thinking, is contained already in the etymology of the Greek word for truth, ‘alethia‘. Lethe, the river of death and forgetfulness, designates the darkness and mystery in which Being dwells. To allow something to emerge from concealment, a-lethia, means to become aware of the background from which things emerge (Levine, p. 27, Foundations of Expressive Arts Therapy).
According to Levine, this means that “Truth happens: it is not a timeless realm to which we must aspire: rather , it occurs within history and is given to us as our destiny.” We do not create Truth, we do not will truth into existence. The same goes for Art. As a manifestation of Truth “art has the capacity to give meaning and direction to human existance”. Art is the place where we come home to ourselves, where things appear as what they are, and where what we value emerges.
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“Ten times a day something happens to me like this – some strengthening throb of amazement – some good sweet empathic ping and swell. This is the first, the wildest and the wisest thing I know: that the soul exists and is built entirely out of attentiveness.”
― Mary Oliver
The most treasured moments are those timeless ones where you are totally engaged with whatever you are doing. You are in the zone, the canvas, the rock climbing or the conversation. You are completely focused and feel positive shifting of energy. This experience is a cultural universal. When we are in that place we are connected, fulfilled, at “one” with and at home. Just what is this state of consciousness or energy that gets activated?
Chi is described as the universal life force or energy that permeates everything in existence. Is this mysterious river of energy related to Mihali Csikszentmihalyi’s flow state, the state of mind where we are optimally challenged and totally engaged?
Watch John Vervaeke explain the psychological experience of Chi………Chi Explained Without Magic.
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“When you pay attention to your dreams, you inhabit a much larger part of your soul.”
– Robert Bosnak
In his book Embodiment: Creative Imagination in Medicine, Art and Travel, Robert Bosnak, writes about how images are embodied by the dreamer. He views dream images as places of emotion, or as image environment ecosystems in which we find ourselves. He states “Place and storytime are simultaneous and indistinguishable, portrayed as a moment in place as seen from above” (p.18). Rather than projecting onto an image, we interact, engage and dialogue with images. Through creative imaginal process we both shape and are shaped by images in dreams and/or art.
Here is a video where Robert Bosnak speaks to the importance of slowing down and paying attention to the particulars……
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