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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Gestalt

When I was in graduate school, I took a class on Gestalt Psychotherapy.

Gestalt Psychotherapy focuses on individuals experience at the present moment and stresses moving from the mind, (thoughts and reason) to become more aware of the physical experiences of the here and now, to a more holistic state of being ( this is an oversimplification to be sure). It takes its inspiration from Zen Buddhism, Western philosophies and not surprisingly the principles of meditation. It emphasizes that the ideal therapeutic state is one of complete awareness and mindfulness of the current moment, and your experience in it. One of the course assignments was that we keep a journal of our experiences as we engaged in this practice.

Early in the semester, our professor asked us to make a timeline of our lives from birth to death, marking major life events along a plotted line that represented the years of our life. At the time, being in my twenties, I had a very clear sense of my self, my past, and my plans for the future. I quickly went about the task filling out all my major life events, work, marriage, children. I easily delineated the first 36 years of my life, but after that…..there was nothing. I could feel, and see nothing of myself, or my life after this point. I have to admit this left me feeling a bit uneasy.

What would happen to me after I reached all my major life goals? What did this blankness signify? Had I foreseen my own early demise? Luckily for me, my divination skills were Trelawney at best (yes, that is a Harry Potter reference.) Now with one foot squarely in my 40’s I have a slightly different theory of my severed life line. I think it disappeared because life’s events, that I could not have anticipated, are transforming me.

The perfect storm of events that eroded my foundation and rearranged the lines I had drawn to define myself. Several years of piled on grief, has left my mind clouded, and my spirit leaden. I am ready to move on, move forward to my next step. The problem is….I don't know what the next thing is. It is as blank to me now as it was in my twenties. I have tried to plan past this point, but some vagrant undertow keeps pulling back, to the rumination of all that has occurred. All the ways I have changed, all the things I have lost, all the tribulations thus far endured. Grief is not done with me yet. There is more to learn, but I am a reluctant student. I would like to escape, but the more I try to avoid my current state of being, the deeper down I am pulled. The energy that is required to avoid these painful lessons…..is depleting me.

Over the past weeks as my homeostasis has returned, I am beginning to see the err in my previous approach. I am focusing so much on the next step I am ignoring the existence of the moment I am in. The grief isn’t some angry riptide dragging me from contentment, it is a needy child tugging heavily on my heartstrings. A child wanting to be recognized and acknowledged before it toddles off to more quiet places in my soul.

Just like a child, the more I try to dismiss it, the more furious the pulling becomes until it is sprawled on the floor in full tantrum, irritating and distracting me. How foolish of me to think I could side step this scene. I have grown so tired of this aggravating, whiney child, who needs her nose wiped, that I have forgotten that she is mine. It is hard not to see my grief as the darkness that stands between me and my happiness. I really want to write happy. You know the style, light, bubbly, intelligent, funny, and carefree. The way I want to be seen by the world. Only when I try it comes out, dark, sarcastic and resentful. Darn this grief. Well…..avoidance has failed to move me forward.

I think I now understand the task at hand. I need to spend some time with these losses that are occupying my heart. I need to hold each one, feel it, and wrap it around me like a blanket and be with it, until it is ready to go……until I am ready to let it go. I’m not sure if I am strong enough, but it has become clear that if I wish to move forward unencumbered, this is the path I have to follow.

Wish me luck.

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