Letter 11.

Dear Katherine,

There’s a temptation in life when one is confronted with an event that is ego shattering (cracking, hurting or smudging) to transmute that smudge to all the other parts of your life and thus be blind to all that is valuable around you, to be ungrateful when there remains much of light and colour in your world. This human difficulty or even inability to see the world with computer eyes, that is only what is there and not what is projected, is I think, one of our more interesting qualities and well obviously creates this whole subjective vs objective situation. This is a dichotomy I find endlessly interesting, especially when considering how to make sense of oneself  both as an individual and within the field of human interrelations, where what you’re dealing with is a whole constellation of subjectivity not just your own modestly burning star. Alternately when confronted with painful feelings you could take the approach of attempting to amputate them from yourself because they hurt so and you think that if you could only cut them off or out of you, you would be rid of them. Unfortunately in my experience there isn’t a simple method of amputation available and if you take this strategy all you end up doing is denying your own experience whilst it remains smouldering beneath the rug you hid it under.

Jung describes in his memoir ‘Memories, Dreams, Reflections,’ that when he was growing up he came to conceive of two different him-selves. No. 1 had dealings with the outside world and thus held all his flaws, pettiness and fear. And No.2 was the him he experienced when alone or in nature and contained his feelings of vastness and peace. No.2 was also assured in his own innate ‘rightness’. Jung writes something to the effect that ‘No.2 knew he was worthy of himself’. I was impressed how Jung at a young age had conceived so clearly these two aspects of himself, not only conceived them as distinct different identities but had even visualised them (No.2 was a man from the 15th century wearing a frock coat). No.2 was echoed in the second personality he felt emanating from his Mother. He describes it in this (I think rather lovely) passage about her;

…She was somehow rooted in deep, invisible ground, though it never appeared to me as confidence in her Christian faith. For me it was somehow connected with animals, trees, mountains, meadows and running water, all of which contrasted so strangely with her Christian surface and her conventional assertions of faith. This background corresponded so well to my own attitude that it caused me no uneasiness; on the contrary, it gave me a sense of security and the conviction that here was solid ground on which one could stand.

As you know I started studying art therapy this year. One of our first assignments was to make a box that represented our inner and outer self that we would later present to class. A box being anything really that inferred an inside and an outside. Seeing as I have a strong introspective bent and a tendency to over-share my first thought was,

‘Wonderful, I could do this assignment in my sleep!’

‘I’ve been practising for this assignment my whole life! 

My bravado did not prepare me for how difficult I actually found it. Imagine sitting down at your studio desk and asking yourself:

Hmmm what out of this general creative detritus (paint, glitter, glue, scraps of paper) in my studio most represents me?

But what is ‘me’ anyway?

There are all the things I think about myself, are they true? I’ll probably embarrass myself with mis-interpretation.

What about those things that I do know about myself but do not want to share with a group of 30 near strangers?

And so on…Making this box made me a great deal more agitated than I had expected and it opened up a whole new box of emotional worms so to speak, which just lead me to start drinking some cans of gin and tonic that I found in the studio fridge. This was an attempt to de-wire the over thinking part of my brain that was paralysing my attempted creativity. After relating this story to a friend of mine she joked that I should’ve brought the can of G&T into class and told people that the slightly crushed can was my outer self and the half drunk luke-warm gin was my inner self…  So like many things in my life the process was plagued with self doubt and like many things in life ended up just fine.

To represent my outer self I made this sculpture out of rocks and tape and twine.  This is my awkward yet cheerful outer self that is imperfect, yet taped together and carrying on.

Outer Self

Look she’s smiling, it’s not so bad! She seems to say…

To express something of my inner self I went through the many journals I’ve kept religiously over the last 10 or so years. Language is how I express difficult, painful, intense feelings that cannot be simply struck out of me, as-well as the most memorable significant experiences of my life, so it seemed fitting to include language in the piece. I placed words from my journals in fortune cookies as a small offering to others.This was nice, because upon reflection later I realised that this interactive gesture  showed how at this point in my life I have a strong drive to give/ take/ be and play with others. This came as a surprise for me , I was no longer the lonely thinker in isolation, I was taking that experience and using it to reach out to others. During the presentation I also unfolded the cardboard box I’d carried the objects in so that it was a flat plane. I then used it as a drawing surface and drew a diagram outlining five distinctive emotions that have formed the foundations of my felt experience.

  • Anger, also related to  desire – a positive clear space. (red)
  • Oceanic transcendent space, calm and blue (sometimes experienced and sometimes merely aspirational) this space is coupled with a gold shimmer.
  • The physiological layering of experience (from all those days and years and moments lived) which I visualised as brown layers as though part of the earth. Myself as simply organic matter, a being living in a body-form which is my tool to experience the world
  • A conflicted grey scratchy place with no satisfaction related to doubt, confusion and the mundane (those days when you can’t sit comfortably in a comfy chair.)
  • A deep, dark sad place that looks like a blackish, purplish bruise or the blue grey of storm clouds. This is a melancholic, sensual space that I have often in the past dwelled because there is much creativity and feeling to be found there. This space is clear like the red space because you are full with the feeling of it and there is no confusion.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I find it helpful to envision the self as a contingent combination of temperature, textures and colours, flashing and humming in and out of each other. Carl Rogers one of the founders of the humanist psychology movement through his work came to understand that the ultimate goal of therapy was not to create a static and content state in a person. Rather the goal is to facilitate within the person a closer relationship with the flux of emotion that travels throughout oneself on a daily basis. I reproduce a long passage from him here because reading it helps me feel optimistic and excited about the human condition instead of fearful and concerned. Please excuse the use of the pronoun ‘He’, which personally makes me flinch, but you know this was written in 1961.

Through therapy…

He ceases, or at least decreases, the distortions of experience in awareness. he can be aware of what he is actually experiencing, not simply what he can permit himself to experience after a thorough screening through a conceptual filter. In this sense the person becomes for the first time the full potential of the human organism, with the enriching element of awareness freely added to the basic aspect of sensory and visceral reaction. The person comes to be what he is, as clients so frequently say in therapy. What this seems to mean is that the individual comes to be – in awareness – what he is – in experience. He is, in other words, a complete and fully functioning human organism…..

So the basic discovery of psychotherapy seems to me…that we do not need to be afraid of being “merely” homo sapiens. It is the discovery that if we can add to the sensory and visceral experiencing which is characteristic of the whole animal kingdom, the gift of a free and undistorted awareness…we have an organism which is beautifully and constructively realistic. We have then an organism which is as aware of the demands of the cultures it is of its own physiological demands for food or sex – which is just as aware of its desire for friendly relationships as it is to aggrandise itself – which is just as aware of its delicate and sensitive tenderness towards others, as it is of its hostilities toward others. When man’s unique capacity of awareness is thus functioning freely and fully, we find that we have, not an animal whom we must fear, not a beast who must be controlled, but an organism able to achieve, through remarkable integrative capacity of its central nervous system, a balanced realistic, self-enhancing, other-enhancing behaviour as a resultant of all these elements of awareness. To put it another way, when man is less than fully man – when he denies to awareness various aspects of his experience – then indeed we have all too often reason to fear him and his behaviour…But when he is most fully man, when he is his complete organism, when awareness of experience, that peculiarly human attribute, is most fully operating, then he is to be trusted, then his behaviour is constructive, it is not always conventional. It will not always be conforming. It will be individualised. But it will also be socialized.

I just finished reading Roger’s book “On Becoming a Person” and I’ve been telling friends that I really enjoy the prospect of becoming a person one day. Maybe this art therapy will assist me in becoming more person-like then I was before.

I’ve been enjoying your new internet-art-escapade itsadamjones.tumblr.com. It’s so sentimental and strange, both things that I enjoy. Perhaps you and not me can elaborate on it your next letter.

Best,

Alanna

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