Friday, April 24, 2009

Short Sight


“In front of most scenes and our experience of them, light is divided into spatial zones of sureness and doubt. Vision advances from light to light, like a figure walking on stepping stones.” John Berger
What’s in the dark is unknown, unseen, and we tend to avoid it. We don’t know what to expect, where the dangers lurk, and feel safer in the light. We could think of light as a metaphor for consciousness itself. We shine our light where we direct conscious attention. Where we don’t look stays in shadow. One of the most powerful images in psychoanalysis is the image of the shadow, referring to parts of ourselves that we don’t want to see, pain and fear we don’t acknowledge. Jung used the shadow as an image for the repressed contents of the psyche, what we find unacceptable about ourselves or in our memories that is kept from the light of consciousness, but still operates unconsciously, invisible to waking life unless conscious efforts are made to retrieve them. Leaving them in darkness allows them to influence behavior and use up psychic energy repeating old patterns and keeping the banished elements out of awareness. The psychological terms externalization and displacement refer how we try to deflect the shadow elements by attaching them to outside patterns that bear shared features. An unresolved issue from the past, hidden in the shadows, will find ways to resurface, triggered by an even minor correspondence to the original pattern but carrying all the emotional baggage of the original pattern. Recognizing the pattern frees the mind from underlying conflict. When I realized that the majority of arguments I had with my husband for the first ten years of our marriage were really arguments with my father, they stopped. He would trigger one aspect of an old theme and I would jump on it as though the rest of the pattern were true. When I finally saw that my husband didn’t share the attitudes and positions of my father and that I was using him to fight old battles, I became aware of an unconscious issue that was getting in my way. Once conscious, the pattern became knowledge.
Projection calls out feelings and traits of our own in other people- positive and negative- and can be seen on a conscious level as the mind trying to recognize itself. This makes it a tool for personal insight. If you look at the things you criticize and admire in others as reflecting yourself, you gain the kind of self-understanding that can help you utilize your full being.
Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer did a fascinating study that showed that one reason people can’t change things about themselves they didn’t like was because the trait had a flip side they valued. The shy quality is also a reflective quality that takes in more of a situation than a more quickly reactive person. A person with a bad temper has a passionate nature that if not displaced or misdirected can be tapped for personal accomplishment. What could be thought of as stubborn on one side could be sticking to principles on the other. This is not an argument for the negative excesses of a trait but for recognition of its full scope so it can be integrated and utilized rather than fought. If all of the elements in the shadow can be woven into our personality, we extend our depth and understanding.
The cultural predisposition to criticism and denunciation creates barriers to accepting
patterns from the shadow that would enhance our self-awareness and understanding of others. If we view what we criticize and denounce, what we fight or lash out at, as valuable information from our shadow, we free psychic energy to use the capacities they were holding back. As Daniel Goleman writes in his book “Emotional Intelligence”, “emotional aptitude is a meta-ability determining how well we can use whatever other skills we have.” Every emotional block that keeps part of our being in darkness interferes with the clarity of our intelligence. Our shadow contains information that when brought into the light enlarges our picture of ourselves and our world.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Still Movement

Art for Healing

In ancient Egypt the Temple Beautiful was the center of healing. It was a place that used all of the arts to restore balance in the sick. There was an instinctive understanding that music, beautiful objects, incense, massage, graceful movement, as expressions of balance, order and harmony, could entrain the body and pull together disordered energies.
For centuries of recent history we’ve treated the body and mind as entirely separate domains. The title of Antonio Damasio’s book “Descartes Error” sums up what he and other neuroscientists were finding. Feeling, the response of the body toward balance, directs conscious attention and motivates thinking. Groundbreaking scientist Candace Pert uses the term bodymind to emphasize that our whole being is the mind, far more interlaced than we’d ever realized. Understanding the depth of that interconnection, it’s not so hard to understand how emotions can affect health. In the research, it was less an issue of what emotions were present, but more a case of awareness of them. Dr. Herbert Benson in his book “Timeless Healing” emphasizes that attitude toward one’s situation is central to healing.
Unrecognized emotions are more apt to pathologize, to express their presence physically as some type of illness, as if the bodymind can’t get our attention any other way. Since as Susanne Langer says, ”Art looks like feelings feel,” finding the art that corresponds to an inner state is a way to recognize them. When we respond to art of any kind it’s because it resonates with personal themes alive in us at the time. We’re drawn to what reveals our heart. Art serves to help us see feelings that the stresses of day-to-day life obscure. Understanding internal patterns can help us discover fears and contradictions that may be interfering with the best use of the flow of our lives. Where there’s a disintegration of order in the bodymind, beautiful art, which exemplifies order, can help reintegrate.
The I Ching notes “Music has the power to loosen the grip of the obscure emotions.” Not only loosening and clarifying, modern studies have shown that listening to favorite music stimulates production of endorphins, which moderate pain and reward helpful behavior with pleasure. Science is beginning to support the efficacy of art for healing.
Just like the travel to beautiful locations has healing benefits, even time with an art book can stimulate endorphins and reroute our attention to whatever will help us grow. With so many ways to access images, through search engines and websites, all people can find the kind of art that reflects them and through it see the deeper levels of self, which go beyond surface differences. This connection may be the most healing element of all.
Social isolation has been determined to be a serious risk factor in health. Whatever creates a sense of connection to the human community can offer some relief. When an artist expresses a feeling that has deep resonance with a personal emotion the viewer has a sense of being understood, that someone else in another space and time has felt this way, shared this state of being. Reconnecting to the cosmos through the universal language of art pulls us back into the whole from which we mistakenly felt separate.