Sunday, November 27, 2011

Paying for contact

 This is Pearl. :)
I just finished the two-year training program at the Indianapolis Gestalt Institute (woo hoo!) and so now I am a Certified Gestalt Practitioner, which doesn't make me a therapist but does mean I am more in touch with my stuff than ever. :) This has been a phenomenal (and phenomenological) program (lol) and I have learned a LOT and awakened a LOT in the process.

The other day, walking Pearl, I was thinking about how the process of Gestalt therapy works, and how by being present with others in a Gestalt way we can assist in completing gestalts that have previously been blocked by interruptions to contact. Suppose, for example, that when you were a child you had one parent who never heard you, no matter what you did. Achieved high marks at school, excelled in sports, won the spelling bee--it didn't matter. You just weren't on that parent's radar screen, for whatever reason. Part of the Gestalt view is that chances are good that you developed a way to manage the need the parent couldn't fulfill--maybe you shrugged it off and said, "I don't need her approval anyway"--and that over time, that "creative adjustment" became a pattern that you play out in numerous circumstances. At some point in your life, you begin to notice that you just don't show up on women's radar screens, and you're curious about that. Why does this always seem to happen to you? Will you ever have a happy relationship? What could you do differently?

So this could bring you to counseling, and, if you're lucky, to a therapist who is trained in Gestalt work. And during your time together, you will have a chance to explore and complete the Gestalt that didn't get completed--the need that didn't get met--by the parent who was out to lunch. It's really amazing the way this happens--our beings are always leaning (and sometimes stumbling, and sometimes storming) toward wholeness! This in my opinion is why Gestalt works above and beyond all other modalities (even narrative, which I love): It is in sync with our own deepest desire for wholeness, and we ourselves bring out the tools we need to complete the work. The Gestalt practitioner isn't "magic" and doesn't have a special formula she applies; the practitioner isn't the "expert" and you're not the "person needing help." Through relationship, the opportunity presents itself for that need to be met, successfully this time. And once it is met, you now have a new pattern to use when that particular need arises. Simple? You bet! And beautiful. And effective.

So when Pearl and I were walking, I realized a funny quirk about going to a Gestalt therapy session. On one level it feels great to be able to be with someone who is so awake and aware, and to discover new options for meeting needs that weren't met previously. Good work gets done. Wholeness is emerging. But on another level, at some point we may wake up and say, "Hey, this support feels great, but I'm paying for it. I think I'm ready to have this kind of contact in my life outside the therapist's office!" And maybe that's when you graduate! Or at least you feel good enough about your new options in relationship that you don't feel they are available only in the confines of the therapist-client relationship.

So this is good news for us as individuals, but a good reminder for us as Gestalt practitioners: The idea is not to build a client list of people that fill up your calendar for weeks on end, but to grow a list of vibrant, alive, contactful folks who took the discoveries you helped them uncover and launched out into the world with a sense of their own agency and wholeness! In this way, Gestalt is the best stop-gap therapeutic approach I know for boosting others toward wholeness. But for the practitioner, the trust needs to be in the process, knowing that if you build a freeing, healing practice, they will come. :)

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Anxiety as lack of support

I like the Gestalt view of personhood because the edges between organism and environment are fluid and moving together in the dance of the whole. This morning I awoke feeling overwhelmed with everything that stretches before me. There's no reason that this day is any different from another, but things are sticking to me more. I am worrying and feeling like a shoe is about to drop somewhere. I don't know why such feelings bubble up some days and don't on others. Perhaps one day I'll know that. But for now, it's helpful for me to look at my anxiety as a call for more support--from me internally, from my environment, from others in my life.

How can my field shore me up when I feel a little weak inside? In the past, my tendency has been to push through the weakness, to bully it, to get busy enough that I forget it's there. That works, sometimes. But perhaps it's not the kindest way to deal with myself, long-term. Maybe a better way is to recognize the call for support and choose to supply it and be open to it, so a warm current comes flooding in the cold spot where the anxiety holds itself, shivering. Then the anxiety calms and breathes and opens again to becoming part of the flow. Nice.

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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Finding our way in accelerating times

Maybe it's just me, but lately it feels like the world is spinning faster and faster. A greater number of natural catastrophes. Families struggling. A spinning (but going nowhere) economy. Bizarro political candidates. Things seem to make less sense. And more is being asked of us--in work, in life, in techology, in faith.

In the midst of all this swirling, along with end-of-the-Mayan-calendar worries and global climate change, how can we put our feet down and feel grounded? Is it possible to come back into our bodies, to follow our very own breath, to feel our rootedness with the planet? I think it is, but it can only happen right now, in this instant. If we're worrying about October or watching the nightly news and drinking it all in, it's hard to feel rooted here-and-now. Today I want my awareness to be on my immediate living--this moment, these cells, this place, this awareness. I have a feeling that once all my energy is brought back to living this moment, celebration will follow. :)

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

In search of cultural memory

I am fascinated with the idea of cultural memory--the stories we know about the places in our lives, handed down from our ancestors about how to live, what to watch for, where to build, and what to expect. "Tsunami Warnings, Written in Stone," by Martin Fackler at the New York Times takes a closer look at these ancient stone tablets--some 600 years old--telling inhabitants where to build, where to live, what to expect in the event of a major earthquake and tsunami.

It makes me wonder where our cultural memory is today--where are the signs? Whether you live in the U.S., the EU, Australia, or on a tiny remote island, what signs have your ancestors left for you? What do you wish you knew about this place where you live? How does it communicate its lore? And what very important thing have you all but forgotten?


Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Completing the Cycle

I noticed this morning that there were a couple of unfinished conversations swimming around in my mind and heart, conversations in which I shared what felt like important ideas about life and faith and the-way-things-seem-to-me-to-work. I had shared these conversations on a listserv that I enjoy, and the folks there are interesting and engaged with life and studying fascinating things. But mostly I am a lurker on these lists, simply reading and pondering and not participating. But in this particular instance, something someone said connected to a very alive experience for me and I commented on it, and that led to bigger thoughts about philosophical setpoints and the possibility of contact in relationships.

Except. In each case, the two people I was corresponding with just dropped their conversation with me, and then returned to the disagreement they seemed to want to continue with each other. One person I had asked what I felt was an important question to, and he just didn't respond at all. The other person offered up his understanding of life-in-faith, but when I shared mine, he made no response. So I felt unwelcome, unregarded, or dismissed, somehow. Or did I strike a nerve? That wasn't my intention. Or did they simply disagree with me and choose not to continue the conversation? Or did they just want to fight with each other and didn't want my questions to draw them off-track?

Who knows? What I *can* know is that the energy was alive and unfinished in me. I would have liked to have had some response so the contact would feel complete and it wouldn't still be churning around in me. So, realizing this, I found both of the email messages, clicked Forward, put my own email address in the To line, and asked myself, "what part of me does that person represent?" and then wrote my response with that voice. The responses were surprising and interesting--not what I might have naturally constructed from my own viewpoint--and I clicked Send. When the messages arrived, I read them as though they had come from the other people.

And the energy resolved itself. I felt things come back into balance, and the cycle completed.

So I offer this as a helpful technique in case you are waiting on a response that hasn't come, wondering about a question that was never asked, or in some other way are waiting on closure from some outside source about something. If each person in our lives is helping us toward wholeness by mirroring what we bring and helping us see opportunitites for growth, then working with these energies within ourselves truly does help resolve issues so we can move ahead. I would never suggest we don't need or want others in our lives for support, love, fun, struggle, and companionship, but it's good to know that we don't have to wait for some seemingly uncontrollable other to give us what we need when the tools for peace are within our reach.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010


There are lots of reasons—and good reasons—we are vigilant in our lives. We want to protect our families. We hope to protect ourselves. We watch our money. We notice where the dandelions spring up in our yards. We saw that look he gave you. We wonder whether our jobs will last. We watch for clues—continually—from our environment. When to laugh, when to look up, when to duck.

Some of us learn vigilance very early as a creative adjustment to a situation in which we needed to keep our eyes open and our wits about us. We were always watching, watching. Thinking, thinking. Preparing a mental plan. If he comes home drunk, I'll do this. If she doesn't come home at all tonight, I'll do that.

I've been thinking a lot about my own vigilance lately, about the gifts it's given me (it's a create tool for any writer, because it helps you notice absolutely everything), as well as the challenges, the straightjacket, it offers the way I look at the world. Sometimes my vigilance is exhausting because it wants me not only to notice everything but to anticipate everything and then to do exactly the right thing with the information popping up for my noticing. This is, of course, impossible.

Vigilance also doesn't really know the limits of her own powers—she's immature in that way. She promises perfect safety. She promises that we'll know what to do. But she doesn't see how her presence changes things that arise. Allowing and Breathing let whatever is emerging in the moment show up, unshaped, unmolded, reasonably—or relatively—uncontrolled. But Vigilance holds everything tightly in the name of keeping the person safe. This means a certain amount of shaping, controlling has to go on—there is a forced construct to protect.

I think it's possible to soften Vigilance into Noticing, which can then relax into the arms of Allowing. A certain amount of growth in safety has to happen to make that journey, and a supportive environment that can be trusted is certainly part of the mix.

Maybe there's enough distance now between the Us we were then and the Us we are now to allow our Vigilance to soften into Noticing. Many things we perceived as threats when we were small may now be annoyances or even less—just small things we now know how to manage. Let's soften where we can, and gradually, slowly, Allowing might just step into our pictures.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The group voice

This past weekend I began a year's worth of training at the Indianapolis Gestalt Institute, where I will add a specialization in Gestalt approaches to the MDiv in pastoral care and counseling. I love both narrative and Gestalt and find that they work together harmoniously to help us be aware of the energy that's arising in the present moment and notice the story that is shaping the expression of that energy.

One of the areas that fascinates me is the idea of the arising field--the idea that we aren't separate individual beings but part of an interrelated field of events in each living moment. (That's a deeper subject that requires lots more explanation, but I'll tackle that in a future post.) The piece that's resonating for me this morning relates to a conversation I had with two others recently. We were discussing different stories in our lives, and I noticed that as I talked about my own awareness, I used the word "violence," which isn't normally part of my vocabulary. Hearing it come out of my mouth was jarring--I felt the energy leap out of me with the word. It shook me up.

Just moments later, one of the other people in the group described a story that included the theme of being forced to do something--the image she painted was not peaceful, and, in fact, I thought, "Oh my goodness, there's that violence theme again!"

The third person (whom I had never met before) was very high energy and had a loud voice. All movements and expressions seemed exaggerated, put-on. In the moment I was aware and curious about the expressions of "violence" that came from two of us but not the third. Then the person mentioned a difficult conflicted power struggle with his aging father and I thought--"aha...there's the source of that energy."

So my curiosity and my question is this: How much of what we express is really "sharing the burden" with another and helping them manifest emotions and circumstances they need in order to heal? Is your anger your anger? Or are you assisting me by feeling something for me until I'm able to feel it for myself?