5 weeks ago
Wednesday, September 1, 2010
In the summer of 1998, my best friend of nine years was diagnosed with a terminal illness. A pain of rarely equaled intensity shot through my soul upon hearing the news. I was left feeling helpless to what the fates had decided. I am including, at the end of this blog, an example of two poems that came from this experience. The first poem was composed and completed within weeks of the diagnosis. The second was begun six months after his death in the summer of 1999 and was completed in its final form during the spring of 2004.
I was the last person, with the exception of his nurse, to see him alive. He died within hours of my leaving his side. Those last few hours we spent together in silence while I held him. As I turned to leave, for the first time in our long relationship he mouthed the words "I love you." We both recognized that this would be the last precious moments we would spend together on this physical plane.
I was left with a haunting and indescribable feeling that would stay with me until the birth of the second poem, which began from a dream I had. I have not judged these works as good or bad. They were called from within me to be expressed; they would not let go until they were written down.
When they were completed, I was able to say good-bye to my friend. Both poems hold for me a mixture of relief and sadness. I continue to hold onto, and tolerate, the duality of the feelings.
The conception of my poems usually germinates through a personal experience. Often, it is an emotionally difficult experience that inspires me to examine my feelings more closely. As Von Franz stated, "There must be some disruption to make us aware of what we are swimming in." For me, the first disruption is a painfully jarring experience. It first settles into my soul as a feeling and emerges transformed as a written story or poem. Writing has been for me a medium through which I am able to express a calling from my soul. Poetry comes from the soul moving to know itself.
The journey of my poetic experience begins through my emotions as I am taken down into the depths of my feelings and prepare for the journey. The emotions grab hold of me and refuse to let go. They then begin to make their presence felt in my daydreams and occasionally in my dreams at night. Through these dreams, a space is created for the experience where none had existed before. In the recesses of my mind, the expression of the experience becomes a subtle obsession. It asks for expression.
In the request, I descend with the experience and the associated emotions. There is always a period of time where I feel confused as to how to respond to this calling. It is a time when the experience disturbs me. I also note an internal struggle as to whether or not to give the experience voice. Self-criticism can often step in the way and suggest to me that I am too small for the task at hand. This is a time when I might let go of the idea of giving voice to the experience. I would let it go if it were not for the persistent calling some experiences make to me through my thoughts and dreams.
I am taken deeper through my feelings and encounter the sense of this being "my work" rather than that of the voice of an experience calling from within me asking for it's expression. My ego wants to be the author of the work. It seems to wrestle with the actual voice of the work. The ego wants to put its mark on the work and exalt myself as a genius. The wrestling between the actual voice of the work and my ego can last for lengthy periods of time. There are some stories and poems I have had to leave and return to over a period of years to hear the actual voice of the work more clearly.
When the ego takes over, I lose sight of the work. The writing begins to sound stilted. The ego becomes obsessed with correct expression, grammar, punctuation and approval. It also becomes obsessed with the necessity of the reader to understand the story with all of its metaphors as the ego wishes them to be understood. The ego takes away the space for allowing the work to speak for itself. This is done out of the ego's fear that if the work were to actually speak, it would sound foolish and would not be understood.
My ego wants to be in control and receive the credit. In a sense, the ego wants to define the creativity. For if we define creativity, we limit it. By defining creativity, we place the ego's judgment upon it and thus restrict creativity by defeating its liberating effects.
Being judged is my ego's strongest fear. It wants to be appreciated and loved by everyone. There are many times that I stop a creative work because my ego is afraid of being judged. It wants the work to be completely accepted by all. It wants to bask in the glory of its brilliance. It is a time when I have forgotten who is doing the speaking. I am listening to the ego and not as closely to the work itself, which has its own need for expression. In the last several years, I have become better at allowing the work to speak more clearly while relaxing my attention on the ego.
There are also times when in the middle of a creative process, I become very sleepy. These are times when I am locked in battle with the ego. It is a time when I consciously turn my attention from the ego and allow myself to dream briefly. Somewhere in the depths of my subconscious, I am able to hear the voice of the work. It is heard through the voice of inspiration. The words for the writing then begin to flow more freely through my mind and onto the creative medium.
This awakening from the dream with a sense of direction and inspiration may be expressed as the "Aesthetic Moment." By the end of a series of short naps and daydreams, I emerge with a different relationship to the work. The relationship has changed because the ego has settled and has let go of most of the control. I do, however, have to remain vigilant of the ego's desire to return to control over the work. It is a time in the creation process when the work has overcome the narcissism of the ego and is free to speak with its own voice. The work has finally differentiated from the ego.
For allowing the differentiation to take place, I am rewarded with the gift of the work. I must accept the death of the tenacious ego and submit to the creative process of the work without trying to run it. What was once considered by the ego as worthless drivel spoken by the work has now become meaningful. When the ego has differentiated enough from the work, the necessary hard work of putting the voice to paper begins. This is the moment of poesis, the actual creation of the work.
Through this process, the work now takes on its own life and it is time for me to let it go. It is at this point, I begin to express the voice of the work through writing. In a flurry of activity, I begin to write down the ideas as though they are flowing from my head and through my hands automatically without thought. I then find myself doing major revisions of what I began writing earlier. It is a process that can take a matter of hours, weeks or years to complete.
During the period of the birth of the work, I am transformed as well. The work has led me through spaces of my unconscious that I was not aware of. The experience itself allows me to observe my ego’s struggle for control. In the process, I view how my ego gets in the way of my creativity. I become aware of the ways in which I am distracted from the work and gain insight into my resistance to completing it.
During the writing of the work, I am amazed at the depth of emotion it takes me to. Emotions that have long been held in silence, deep from within, are given voice for the first time. With my ego's silence, I become aware of their existence with in me. Through my awareness of their existence, and through their expression, I am transformed.
There was a time when I was resistant about returning to a work out of fear that I was contaminating it with my ego through re-working it. An internal conflict would take place. I would question myself as to whether the changes I wanted to make coming from my ego or from the work itself? I would question myself as to why I was changing the work. Often, the answer was that there was more information or enhancement that needed to take place before the work was completed. I often find that when I return to a work it is to enlarge and enhance it.
The anima (Jung's holding and nurturing part of the self), present in my creative process, allows me to hold the work through a period of gestation. It quiets the goal oriented and driven to control animus (Jung’s driven part of the self) to allow the internal voices of wisdom to speak. In the process, I gain a greater respect and trust for the ways of the anima. I gain a greater trust in the moments of silence. For through the silence and the holding of the work, its voice can be heard and its wisdom understood.
Upon the completion of a work, I feel a greater connection with and understanding of the world. It is an understanding of acceptance for the way creation unfolds rather than the drive to conquer and control creative works. It is a moment of reflection in the process of life.
During my creative work, I am in transference with the topic. It pulls at my soul and often can bring with it an unwelcome depth of emotional experience that would be far easier for me to ignore than experience.
When I allow myself to step back from the work, I can hear the voice of the work more strongly. When I re-read the work, I frequently notice nuances and connotations that were never consciously intended; yet they expand the meaning of the work.
By beginning a work, I am stepping outside of myself and attempting to put on paper the expression of the work. I am limited by language, intelligence and my own willingness to let go of the work and allowing it to speak. However, in the creative process there are times I find my ego stepping aside to allow the work to speak. During those times, the words seem to flow from my hands on to the paper without a thought. When I allow this to happen, there are many times I am surprised by what has come out.
By allowing the creative process to flow from me I am able to see depth in a work upon its completion that I was consciously unaware of at the time of the writing. It allows me to view the internal voice that was calling out to speak.
It is in this "first" reading as a completed work that I am most surprised by what has come out. This is also a time when the work approaches me again to clarify itself and inspire some changes. The initial completion of the work allows me to put it aside. By doing so, I become less invested in the work. I am also allowed for the first time to understand the completed work as a whole. It now gives the work a presence in my life that seems apart from me. The initial completion of the work allows me to physically experience its separateness. It has now been given birth to on paper and is no longer what appeared to be a possession within my head.
If I can recognize the work as coming from outside of myself, my ego can let go of the work as a possession of its own and learn form it. The ego can do this if it has let go of the harsh judgment and investment in pride it would have in a work considered its own. By viewing the work as coming from outside of itself, it does not have the investment and therefore can be open to whatever message the work itself holds.
The experience of my friend's death held a tremendous amount of personal information for me if I were only able to listen to it. Through the creative process of writing, I was able to access some of those feelings. The writing also seemed to help ease the pain of loss I was suffering because of his death. It allowed me to immortalize a thought of him. This thought was brought into the physical world and given embodiment through the poem. It is as though if I could not be with him in the physical, I could be with his poem, which has been made physical.
The second poem was initiated by a brief nap I took on a plane back East to visit my family. My friend had died about 6 months before. In the dream, my friend was standing on a beach and seemed to motion to me. I woke up immediately with the original thoughts of the poem in my head. I hurriedly wrote them down on a piece of scrap paper and when I returned to the comfort of my home in California, I began to work with the poem.
In the process, many of my own fears of loss and death began to surface. I began to reflect back on other losses I had experienced in my life. Their energy went into the poem as well. I was experiencing transference with the poems. I would note to myself the different emotional responses I would have each time I would work with them. At times, they would fill me with sadness, other times I would experience anger and yet at others I would experience a sense of peace.
The wind may not be held in our hands, or stored in a box,
to do so, it would no longer be the wind,
nor may we hold onto or confine the love of another.
Like the wind, its beauty comes from passing over us
allowing us to feel,
to feel its freedom
and yet, it can never die,
for in its silence, it is always around us
to stir again at a moment's notice.
My friend it is evening.
Come sit beside me
to watch the shadows cast long, reaching toward the ocean's edge.
Stay with me,
in the cooling air
that once fired the burning sands upon which we danced.
Listen with me,
as the sounds of day fade
into the timeless waves that wash upon the shore.
And be still,
as I close my eyes
to linger with the stars;
their soothing light now calls upon my soul.
Dr. James E. Walton, respected Marriage & Family Therapist, TV and