Ask the Dramatherapist…”What is it all for?” – Creativity and Big Magic

big-magic

 

As you may have read in my previous blog post, some big changes have been happening in my professional world, which are inextricably connected to big changes in my personal world.

I have been asking myself many questions lately, and have been seeking answers and wisdom from different sources. However, and even though I know this to be true, answers haven’t really come to me until this morning, for the simple fact that this morning was the first time that I allowed myself to listen to myself, to my intuition, to the inner resonances of my soul.

I am very aware that clients often think that the only healing taking place in a therapy room is theirs, when in fact, the healing is mutual. I learn and heal as much as my clients do. As Yalom said: “it’s the relationship that heals”. Not the theory, or technique, but the relationship between therapist and client. Why? At the end of the day, we are simply two human beings connecting. And if that connection is founded upon authenticity, openness, and compassion, then I think healing will always manifest itself.

One such example occurred yesterday. I am currently seeing a client who is a performer, and we have been engaging in exciting, authentic, truthful, challenging and compassionate explorations of what it is all for. Why do we create? Why do we make art? And holding the space for this client to find their own answers, has allowed me to find my own answers.

In my recent questioning of what it is all for, I have started reading a wonderful book, Big Magic, by Elizabeth Gilbert (https://www.elizabethgilbert.com/). She is the author of Eat, Pray, Love, which is one of my favourite memoirs, and I have always resonated with her ever since I first read that book 8 years ago. She is a creative being, with an active spiritual consciousness, and I relate to that deeply.

But going back to Big Magic! Yes, I had had this book on my bookshelf for more than a year, and a week or so ago, I found myself in my bed wondering “What is my next step, what should I do next?”, and this book caught my eye. So, I got up, picked it up, and began to read it. I must say, it is not a book that made me go “WOW!” or anything, but it was a book that moved me deeply. And this is what we fail to notice in life, sometimes. That the messages and signs are simple, quiet, but deep. We always think that life happens in the big moments, but it’s often the combination of smaller, quieter, simpler moments that add up to form our legacies.

There are many, many, many nuggets of powerful wisdom in this book, but the biggest thing I’m taking away from it is the motivation to create. She asks a question towards the end of the book which is a trickster play on the famous self-help question “What would you do if you knew you could not fail?”

Instead, she asks: “What would you do even if you knew that you might very well fail? What do you love doing so much that the words failure and success essentially become irrelevant?”

Let me ask that again: WHAT WOULD YOU DO EVEN IF YOU KNEW THAT YOU MIGHT VERY WELL FAIL? WHAT DO YOU LOVE DOING SO MUCH THAT THE WORDS FAILURE AND SUCCESS ESSENTIALLY BECOME IRRELEVANT?

She also addresses the question earlier in the book of what happens when someone doesn’t actually love anything that much, but that’s a matter for another time.

Right now, in this moment, I want to write about this. What do I love so much that failure and success become irrelevant? I don’t necessarily have the words to describe it, but in a Dramatherapy session is when the client and I both experience a revelation at the same time. There is a burst of energy in the heart space, the eyes open up, the lips form a smile, and there’s a deep breath. A deep knowing has been reached. A wall has collapsed. The flow is flowing again.

I have thought about these moments a lot, and I feel them as creation. As life. It’s my very own way of contributing to the flow of life on this planet. The act of creation: to allow something to be born, or released. And that right there, is what I love. And that, my friends, does not depend one bit on whether I fail or succeed. I will always love that.

As I continued to think about that, I realised that I have been neglecting the artist in me. The uniqueness of any arts therapist is that we are all both artists and clinicians: we are painters, sculptors, craftspeople, musicians, singers, dancers, actors, directors, writers, poets. And we know how to channel the creative process to facilitate the connection between unconscious and conscious living. We create with our clients. We create! That’s what we do!

And this is what it is all for, for me: to create. Full stop. To create without an agenda, without the saviour/rescuer/helper complex. In Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert very wisely writes: “it is very kind of you to want to help people, but please don’t make it your sole creative motive, because we will feel the weight of your heavy intention, and it will put a strain upon our souls.” Ouch! When I read that, I felt like I was being slapped across the face. And I felt that because it was true. Because I have made my whole life about helping others. I mean, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, but I could still feel an imbalance, you know?

I felt not only an imbalance, but a dependency. That my creativity was solely to help others. And then Big Magic made me question this, at the same time that I have been questioning many other things, and it dawned on me this morning, that my creativity was for its own sake.

That creation is creation is creation.

Life is life. Creation is creation. Art is art.

I encourage my clients to stay in the moment, in the process, and always reinforce the fact that Dramatherapy is not about the outcome of showing anything to anyone. That the process of Dramatherapy just is. We create, in order to create some more.

And this is what I’m left with in this moment of my own process of questioning and reflection.

What is it all for? To just be. We don’t need to justify our creation, just like we don’t need to justify our existence. This is my commitment to my very own Big Magic, which is a term Elizabeth Gilbert uses for the flow of inspiration: to create and enjoy the process. Full stop.

I exist in order to exist more. I live in order to live more. I create in order to create more.

“Creativity is sacred, and it is not sacred.
What we make matters enormously, and it doesn’t matter at all.
We toil alone, and we are accompanied by spirits.
We are terrified, and we are brave.
Art is a crushing chore and a wonderful privilege.
Only when we are at our most playful can divinity finally get serious with us.
Make space for all these paradoxes to be equally true inside your soul, and I promise – you can make anything.
So please calm down now and get back to work, okay?
The treasures that are hidden inside you are hoping you will say yes.”

– Elizabeth Gilbert, in Big Magic

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Reflexions…On Being Human

Humanity in the therapy space

I have been wondering for months on what the topic of my first ever blog should be about. And after one of the most intense weeks of therapeutic interactions I have experienced so far, I knew what I needed to write about: on being Human.

I mean, what’s better than that as a starting point?

The topic became apparent in different ways throughout the week, but it was fully felt this past Friday. In a group therapy session exploring clients’ inner aspects of Light and Shadow, I was asked to play God twice, a Victim, a Beggar, and a Bully. Beyond the fact that this can be really demanding – to take on and play aspects of a client’s inner and unconscious psyche, in order to reflect this back to them – what I was really left with at the end of that session, was a sense of humanity.

When I mentioned this to the group, there was a collective nod and sound of resonance. They knew what I meant. I had played characters under their direction, which allowed them to not only see aspects of themselves, outside of themselves, but also to have an awakening or awareness of the changes they would like to make.

I expressed that the most prevalent feeling and common thread between those characters, had been a sense of confusion. I explained that I felt confused by their directions, that I didn’t feel like I had enough knowledge about these characters to know their motivation. That they didn’t give me enough knowledge about them. And, in fact, they didn’t have enough knowledge themselves. It’s easier to be aware of one’s actions, but one’s motivations? Not so easy, or simple!

I suspect what these motivations might be, but I also feel that it’s important for them to figure them out. To peel off the many superficial layers of motivation, and find the core driving force behind their emotions and behaviours. This is no easy task, and it’s rarely a smooth experience. But it’s what makes us all human, and it’s what helps us relate to one another in the therapy room. It’s the human relationship between us which facilitates the catharsis, and healing.

I learned a very important lesson when I first started working with adults in substance misuse services: that the most profound and effective way to work through their addiction, was actually to remove the label of addiction. To not treat them as addicts (whatever that actually means!). And to treat them as humans, fellow human beings, in fact – beings of shadow and light, destruction and healing, doubt and hope, fear and love. And in the process of accepting that they were just like me, I had to own, show, and reflect my humanity back to them. My very own perfectly imperfect humanity. That is how my clients started sharing aspects of their lives with me, that they had never shared with anyone, not even their 1:1 support workers or counsellors.

Slowly, I learned that I couldn’t just be Ryan, the Dramatherapist. I had to be Ryan, the person. I had to learn to accept my limitations, my challenges, my own darkness, and to let that transpire in the sessions, in appropriate and healthy boundaried ways.

I understand the need to see and perceive certain professionals as perfect, or well put together, or having it all figured out. But the truth is, no one has it all figured out. We only stop learning, evolving, and changing when we die.

People may also think that they want someone to tell them what to do and how to live their lives when they meet with a therapist, but ultimately, transformation and long-lasting change can only occur when each individual figures it out for themselves. I always tell my clients: “I can show you the way out of your own prison, take you to the gate, be with you at every step of that search and journey, but eventually, you need to cross that gate on your own.”

To me, connection, transformation, and evolution can only truly occur through authentic human relationships. If I’m just being a therapist, and you’re just being client, there’s only so far we can take that dynamic and relationship. If I look at you as a condition, a diagnosis, a clinical presentation, and you see me as someone who imparts knowledge, advice, and tells you what’s best, we will only be able to work on the superficial. There is no depth or resonance in that interaction.

So, this is what I use to keep my therapeutic high horse in check, and to allow my humanity to flow and be present:

  • Every feeling is valid. I believe that we cannot prevent or stop feelings. We can only do that to actions and, to some extent, thoughts. If you feel something, then you feel something. That’s it. No rocket science. I encourage you to feel it, whatever it is. We can then figure out the next step together.
  • There is no good or bad, right or wrong. This is about being mindful of judgment. Please note that I didn’t say removal of judgment. I don’t think we can truly do that in our human interactions. But we can be mindful of it. And we can accept people, places and things as they are. Not good or bad. Not right or wrong. Just as they are. Just as you are. Just as I am.
  • Transformation and balance are possible. People make, create, and maintain long-lasting transformation and balance in their lives, all over the world. Is it easy? Not at all. Is it possible? Absolutely!
  • We are all human. Behind every human interaction there is a variation of one or all of these needs: to be seen, heard, validated and loved.

This isn’t always easy to maintain, and it often involves a very delicate balancing act between professional and personal values. When I feel off balance, I do the following:

  • I take a few deep breaths. I focus on the rhythm of my breath, the simplest, yet most important function of the human body. Without breath, there is no life.
  • I ask: “What do they need?” This usually shifts the focus away from my own anxieties and insecurities, towards the needs of those that I am supporting.

This two-step process has never failed me. It connects me to my own humanity first, so I can then connect to others. Once those connections take place, the therapy begins.