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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Last night my house was burning. Could not find
one precious thing to grab and find comfort in.
And when the torrential rain hammered out the
flames, I was angry with its self-righteous
My house is still burning. And where it is
whole, I have not found all the rooms,
closets and old garbage.
There is no longer
a complacent order.
Havoc has its own
integrity. Charred walls accept young vines
and holes in roof allow the fragrant spring
to freely visit.
My house is not my castle. It is not the
precious final coagulated fulfillment of
ironed-out dreams. It is a plant, a tree
swaying in the evening wind.
Joseph C. Zinker, 2001
from: Sketches: An Anthology of Essays, Art, and Poetry, Gestalt Press
Stay, stay at home, my heart, and rest;
Home-keeping hearts are happiest,
For those that wander they know not where
Are full of trouble and full of care;
To stay at home is best.
Weary and homesick and distressed,
They wander east, they wander west,
And are baffled and beaten and blown about
By the winds of the wilderness of doubt;
To stay at home is best.
Then stay at home, my heart, and rest;
The bird is safest in its nest;
O’er all that flutter their wings and fly
A hawk is hovering in the sky;
To stay at home is best.
“Song” by H.W. Longfellow: Keramos and Other Poems 1878
As Longfellow says “to stay at home is best”. But is it? It feels great to be in a place that feels safe, protected and predictable. This is the land of known and previously explored territory. Home is being on familiar ground. You know exactly where you are.
The challenge in keeping creative process fresh and alive, is to balance the need to keep things safe, predictable and orderly, with the need to explore unknown, unpredictable and potentially dangerous new territory.
It is relatively easy to imagine yourself standing with one foot in order and one foot in chaos. But maybe this balanced stance is more a place of action or experience that is way more complex than imagined. That place where there is just enough safety and just enough danger, is a space of surprises. Strangely, this place needs to be repeatedly found and/or rediscovered anew. There is no guidebook that consistently works. The entrance way (at least in my own personal creative process) seems to be through tolerating frustration, giving up control and welcoming resistance to new, accidental or unplanned experience. That dark and uncomfortable stuff has to be encountered each time. Maybe as Longfellow says, we need to be
“baffled and beaten and blown about
By the winds of the wilderness of doubt.”
Each voluntary encounter with the unknown builds resilience for the next journey along the creative path. Maybe that is what is meant by practice.
When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse
to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox
when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,
I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?
And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,
and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,
and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence,
and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.
When it’s over, I want to say all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.
I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.
“…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.
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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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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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