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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There is something I don’t know
That I am supposed to know.
I don’t know what it is I don’t know,
And yet am supposed to know,
And I feel I look stupid
If I seem both not to know
And not to know what it is I don’t know.
Therefore, I pretend I know it.
This is nerve-wracking
Since I don’t know what I must pretend
Therefore, I pretend to know everything.
I feel you know what I am supposed to know
But you can’t tell me what it is
Because you don’t know what I don’t know
What it is.
You may know what I don’t know, but not
That I don’t know it.
And I can’t tell you. So you will have
To tell me everything.
– R. D. Lang in Knots
“August: You know, somethings don’t matter that much…like the color of a house…But lifting a person’s heart–now that matters. The whole problem with people–“
Lily: They don’t know what matters and what doesn’t…
August:…They know what matters, but they don’t choose it…The hardest thing on earth is to choose what matters.”
Sue Monk Kidd, The Secret Life of Bees
Its all that matters, whats the matter, does it even matter? According to Clinical Psychologist and Professor Jordan Peterson, perhaps everything we do matters. Which is actually harder to come to grips with, because that means taking responsibility and making difficult choices. He states
Here’s a way of thinking about error. You don’t exactly know what you’re doing, so how do you get to the point where you know what you’re doing? I think follow your internal intuitions and be honest about it. What’ll happen is a star will appear and guide you. And the star is whatever makes your life meaningful. And maybe you’ll take some tentative steps in that direction and you’ll get a little ways and you’ll think ‘No, that’s wrong.’ And then the thing that makes your life meaningful will appear over there. And then you take a few tentative steps in that direction. But as you step and walk towards these things you change and as you change you get wiser. And what happens is, you keep following these things that make your life meaningful, then you correct yourself across time.
You see the thing there and that’s wrong and you see it there and that’s wrong and you see it there and that’s wrong but you keep chasing it and as you chase it you move forward. And as you move forward and as you do things you learn from your mistakes because you’re honest and you’re watching. You get wiser and wiser and the consequence of all those mistakes is you’ll self-correct the mistakes and twenty years down the road maybe you won’t be making so many mistakes.
They say it takes 10,000 hours to be an expert at something. So you would need 10,000 hours of practice following what it is you need to follow (Jordan Peterson, On The Necessity of Virtue)
let it go – the
smashed word broken
open vow or
the oath cracked length
wise – let it go it
was sworn to
let them go – the
truthful liars and
the false fair friends
and the boths and
neithers – you must let them go they
let all go – the
big small middling
tall bigger really
the biggest and all
things – let all go
so comes love
~ e. e. cummings ~
(Complete Poems 1904-1962)
I recently facilitated a parents group where the conversation centered on the idea of taking risks in life. The group seemed to agree that human curiosity and learning involve different and varying levels of risk and experimentation. We all have different comfort zones for risk taking. For some of us, starting any type of creative journey feels overwhelming, often making it hard to let go of the familiar in order to enter unknown territory.
“I hate writing; I love having written,” is a saying attributed to the writer Dorothy Parker.
The creative journey always looks easier in retrospect, after the project is finished. Why?
Creative process requires the act of showing up and being seen. It takes courage to put yourself out there and risk failure, feel emotionally exposed and vulnerable to judgements, from both inside and out. At the same time allowing yourself to stand in this improvisational, authentic and raw place yields incredible rewards. All plans have dropped away. You are fully engaged in the moment. You embark on the hero’s journey to claim treasure from the dragon and the whole point is leaving your comfort zone. Research professor Brené Brown believes that vulnerability is the most accurate indicator of courage. However, there is a paradox revealed in the act of being vulnerable in that it feels like weakness in yourself and appears as courage only in others. Another paradox to think about is that in order to let go, you have to be holding on. Weakness and courage, order and chaos are cyclical, dynamic and emergent states.
In the following video Brené Brown explains the ways uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure are essential to a successful creative journey. I found it inspiring, hope you do too.
In his book The Neurobiology of We (2008), Dr. Daniel Siegel uses the metaphor of a river of integration, flowing between two kinds of banks
“These two banks, if you will, outside of a river, of rigidity on the one hand, and chaos on the other, help us know when something is missing. And that something is called integration. And when we’re integrated, when we link different parts of our internal world and our relationships, we’re in the flow of a river that has the sense of harmony, it’s flexible, it’s adaptive, it has a coherence to it that holds together, and that’s energized and stable. Mindsight is the ability for us to see within ourselves, to dive deeply into the sea inside”.
Immersion in creative process often feels like sailing along a river, navigating the sweet spot between order and chaos. The river can be seen as the zone, or the creative flow state, where we are deeply engaged in creative process. Sailing along the river we are in the flexible, adaptive and bounded transitional space where creative process and play emerge. Dr. Siegel (The Mindful Brain, 2007) uses the acronym COAL: the simultaneous state of curiosity, openness, acceptance and love, to describe Mindfulness. He says that when you have a COAL stance the rest takes care of itself . Maybe when we are in the space between order (rigidity) and chaos we are sailing on a river of integration, where we are both intra and interconnected through creative, harmonic and sacred process.
Hope you enjoy his his ideas about Mindsight, integration and harmony.
“…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.
Posted in Creativity
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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.
Posted in Creativity
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With their whole gaze
animals behold the Open.
Only our eyes
are as though reversed
and set like traps around us,
keeping us inside.
That there is something out there
we know only from the creatures’ countenance.
We turn even the young child around,
making her look backward
at the forms we create,
not outward into the Open.
R.M. Rilke, from the Eighth Duino Elegy
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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.
Posted in Creativity
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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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