Biologically and psychologically, we are wired to be creative.
I am intrigued by analogies between gene mutation and the process of dreaming and how each can contribute to creativity. I am looking forward to reading The Gene: An Intimate Portrait by Mukherjee.
Just briefly, a gene is a hereditary unit consisting of a sequence of DNA that occupies a specific location on a chromosome and determines a particular characteristic in an organism. Genes undergo mutation when their DNA sequence changes. While mutations can be the source of dreaded diseases, they can also be responsible for creative adaptations to the environment, resulting in evolutionary progress.
Similar to new evolutionary forms, in dreaming we experience new associations and re-consolidations that can lead to valuable innovative ideas. Just like genes can physically relocate on a chromosome to create a new structure, so dream images can re-consolidate and translocate (change in location) to form new associations and ideas.
An example is the following “translocated” dream image that I had the night following a patient telling me about her cruel and seductive mother. This image was a chilling and dreadful representation of a mermaid with the face of Joan Crawford (the body of a mermaid was moved to replace the body of Joan Crawford.). I immediately associated to my patient who had been talking the day before about her mother. This patient had been discussing for a few months how difficult her mother was but I had been unable to "feel" this. Whether I was mirroring her detachment or it was my own defensiveness, or possibly both, I do not know. However, when I woke up from the dream, I was shaken and sweating, and felt a horror and dread about the image. I knew then on a very visceral level what the patient felt. This gave me a sense of what could develop in the treatment, that is, how we could get into an enactment where either she or I could become the mermaid and have a sadomasochistic interaction. Instead, I was forearmed by the dream image and could move forward with more awareness of both her unconscious and mine.
I wanted to post in this somber, reflective time, post election. Adding to the gravity is a play I am writing, A JOKE FOR BELLA, which takes place in a forced labor camp during WWII. My play is about resilience in the face of extreme trauma, including the power of friendship and the use of humor as a weapon against injustice. It also explores the possibility of redemption and forgiveness. We have a public reading scheduled for Wednesday, March 22 and hope to set up several performances soon. I’ll keep you posted.
I am receiving great help from a playwriting course taught by Arlene Hutton at the Barrow Group. I have just read Arlene’s play LETTERS TO SALA, which also takes place in a forced labor camp. This play is immense and moving and exemplifies many of the principles she has taught us in the class, especially the need for ongoing dramatic conflict throughout.
This course has led me to reflect on connections between playwriting and psychotherapy. As playwrights, we are not giving a narrative to the audience, as a therapist might do with a patient. We are not trying to regulate tensions and be empathic. Rather, we are showing the story to the audience through heightened conflict and specific examples. For example, how do we know a guard in the labor camp is starting to develop a relationship with an inmate? Despite risk to himself, he saves a blanket and gives it to her. We are showing the ongoing dynamism of real life.
One of the most fun aspects of playwriting is the chance to say politically incorrect or absurd things through the characters. I have written a comedic 10-minute play that relates a psychotherapy session. The therapist, unbeknownst to him, has projected all of his own problems into the patient. The patient, in a turn-about, finally realizes this and is able to “cure” both herself and the therapist. In perhaps a bit of self-mockery, the psychotherapist is unable to use just insight – he says he “preaches but doesn’t believe”--and has to take psychedelic mushrooms to finally change.
Playwriting is a chance to create ongoing moments of life with words, much like a sculptor might with his materials. Playwrights build (initial drafts) and then chip away (edit) to create the product.
I did my best, it wasn't much
I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch
I've told the truth, I didn't come to fool ya
And even though it all went wrong
I'll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah
Leonard Cohen -- poet, songwriter, singer, and artist -- died peacefully at age 82.
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When Alice meets Eve:
A Psychodrama in the Gardens of the Known and Unknown
SUNDAY, MAY 8, 2016 4:00-5:30 PM
603 VANDERBILT AVENUE
Leanne Domash, Ph.D. and Evelyn Rappoport, Psy.D.
Director: Jarred Sharar, M.A.
This two person dark comedy features the biblical Eve of the Garden of Eden and Alice Liddell who, at age ten, was the inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. This play within a play is about being seen and not seen, about the known and the unknown and about trauma, dissociation and healing.
The year is 1875, and Alice is now 23 years old. She is haunted by the celebrity of the fictional Alice and has remained fixated at a younger age, when she was traumatized by Carroll's sexually inappropriate behavior. Eve has time-travelled to meet and help Alice, who has become quite isolated and withdrawn. In the process, Eve herself undergoes a surprising transformative experience.
Together Alice and Eve travel back down to nonsensical, fantastical, dream-like Wonderland, where players speak in rhyme with confusions of tongues. Falling into this “ dreamscape”, Alice and Eve play on the edges of reality as they meet many familiar characters such as the Red Queen, the Mad Hatter, the Cheshire Cat and the Serpent.
After the performance, the writers and director will engage the audience in discussion on trauma, healing and resiliency.
Please rsvp to: Leanne Domash 212 982-6672 firstname.lastname@example.org
Evie Rappoport 212 888-2011 email@example.com
Artist: Circe Peralta
A poem has been preoccupying me. It is a poem appropriate for this Passover time of year because it is about the possibility of liberation from the prison of suffering. Titled, The Prison Cell, it is about a prisoner locked in a cell and his communications with his guard. As the prisoner enters transitional space and uses his imagination, he brings about a reversal of who is captive and who is free. Continuing with the thoughts from my last post, this prisoner has entered a mystical space where he temporarily feels free.
I was introduced to this poem by my colleague, Sara Weber.
From the Palestinian poet Mahmud Darwish
The Prison Cell
It is possible
It is possible at least sometimes
It is possible especially now
to ride a horse
inside a prison cell
and run away.
It is possible for prison walls
For the cell to become a distant land
—What did you do with the walls?
—I gave them back to the rocks.
—And what did you do with the ceiling?
—I turned it into a saddle.
—And your chain?
—I turned it into a pencil.
The prison guard got angry.
He put an end to the dialogue.
He said he didn't care for poetry,
And bolted the door of my cell.
He came back to see me
In the morning;
He shouted at me:
—Where did all this water come from?
—I brought it from the Nile.
—And the trees?
—From the orchards of Damascus.
—And the music?
—From my heartbeat.
The prison guard got mad;
He put an end to my dialogue.
He said he didn't like my poetry,
And bolted the door of my cell.
But he returned in the evening:
—Where did this moon come from?
—From the nights of Baghdad.
—And the wine?
—From the vineyards of Algiers.
—And this freedom?
—From the chain you tied me with last night.
The prison guard grew so sad.
He begged me to give him back
What is the definition of mystical?
The Kabbalists describe the experience of the mystical as follows: we are small circles within the large circle of God. At times the boundaries of our circle dissolve and then we have a mystical experience. We become at one with the divine. At these moments, we are not praying to God; we are participaing with God. This can be an everyday experience, such as feeling the beauty of the ocean or feeling attuned to a very good friend. We are taken out of ourselves and participate in a greater whole. The Kabbalists experience the divine, that is, they see the world as God sees it.
This does echo a trend in psychotherapy called the ‘relational” approach. The therapist is not distinctly separate as the ‘expert’, although he or she, of course, still has the needed training and responsibility for the treatment. The relational school stresses mutuality -- therapy is a co-creation. The therapist does not ‘give’ the patient the understanding; rather it emerges from the united experience between the two.
It is interesting how Kabbala arose when Judaism had become very rule oriented, in the 13th century, and now again, interest in Kabbala is resurging after a century and a half of rationalism in Judaism. Rabbi Lawrence Kushner, a modern day Kabbalist and scholar, makes the point that mysticism arises when the logic of the times becomes stifling. Mysticism is disruptive. It creates new understandings. It also threatens the power structure. If the divine is so accessible, who will need the authorities? The relational school also emerged in response to arbitrary or authoritarian trends in psychoanalysis.
Mysticism involves awareness that there is much beyond physical reality. This is an exercise of the imagination-- that in-between quaisi physical state, discussed eloquently by a master in my field, Winnicott. He termed this transitional space, between inner and out reality, the space of illusion where freedom, creativity and cultural appreciation reside. This is the space I hope to operate in when I am with patients.
Taking a more frankly mystical turn, Corbin, a philosopher, theologian and professor of Islamic studies, describes the space of the imagination, as he illuminates the ‘imaginal world’ of the Sufis. This is an intermediate world between the intellect and the senses, which is perceived by the creative imagination. Once we have left the world of the physical universe, we have left the “where”, so we are “no-where”. Translated from the Persian, it might be called the “city of no-where.” To go to this “city”, we do not go from one locality to another; rather we go inward. We go from the outer, visible, world to the inner, invisible world – from the natural to the spiritual world. In this world, we encounter subtle bodies, in contrast to corporeal bodies, such as images found in dreams.
Once the journey inward is completed, the inner starts to envelop the outer reality. We cannot find spiritual reality in the “where”; the “where” is now in it. This may be similar to the Kabbalists who describe the mystical experience as when our boundaries dissolve and we can be enveloped in the divine.
Following Corbin’s discussion, being in this spiritual reality is the primary means to engage with the world of Creation. To refer to the work of the psychotherapist, this may be viewed as creation with a small “c” -- what we do everyday with patients –help them ‘create’ small changes, emotionally and behaviorally.
This entrance into the imagination is especially evident in a technique of dream work I use: Embodied Imagination, I help patients enter this inner world of imagination to engage with ‘subtle bodies’, that is images in their dreams, to transform their habitual ways of experiencing the world. As mentioned in previous posts, in this work, the dreamer enters a hypnogogic state and embodies various dream images and therefore sees the world from multiple perspectives. These multiple perspectives are fused together in a “composite” which the individual practices every day for a period of a few weeks. This practice of the composite is a chaotic process (from Chaos Theory) that allows new ways of being to emerge, new patterns that help the dreamer emerge from old, dysfunctional ones. Here the imagination is used to help create a disruption in the individual’s usual way of being to bring about therapeutic change.
This relates to the mystical, as the dreamer, exercising her imagination, temporarily enters and becomes at one with the images as she embodies them. Then when she practices the composite, enough disruption is created to facilitate change. We have helped the patient go to the City of No-Where to find a new Where.
Corbin, H. (1972). Mundus Imaginalis or The imaginal and the the Imaginary. Translated from French by Ruth Horine. http://www.bahaistudies.net/asma/mundus_imaginalis.pdf
Edgar Degas: A Strange New Beauty, a current MoMA exhibit, explores repetition and transformation, using monotypes. The artist draws on a plate, which is sandwiched with a piece of paper and then run though a press. Typically, the artist sends a paper through only once, resulting in a single print. Each time there is a surprise, a ‘reveal’.
However, Degas experimented and sent several papers through, using the same ink plate. The images become more ghostly and surreal each time; Degas sometimes added color to these after-images. In this way he changed the image each time, playing with repetition and transformation, creating something that is the same yet different.
This innovative process fascinated Degas. There is never a ‘final’ product.
He also was looking for techniques that would help him portray the new ‘isms’ of his time. How do you portray a face illuminated by the new electric light? How do you portray a landscape seen from a moving train? How do you portray the smoke rising from smoke stacks in the newly industrialized urban environment? The monotype helped him capture these moments.
This sparked me thinking about the psychotherapeutic process. Some sessions are like the process of making a monotype, for both patient and therapist: that is, the collection of thoughts, feelings, associations are pressed together to create new image or understanding, Many sessions have a ‘reveal’, sometimes several. And as our patients change as a result of the therapeutic process, they remain the same but are also different.
Without fully realizing it, I had been searching for a new method that would help both my patients and myself transform, that is, help move the process of change forward. I wanted to work even more deeply with the unconscious and the body, as sometimes psychotherapy can get lost in ‘talk’. As I have discussed in earlier posts, I have been using the dream work technique Embodied Imagination (EI) to help me address this need. In this work the patient enters the landscape of her dream by embodying select images that eventually help her transform her habitual way of seeing the world.
Just like Degas dampened the paper to help it absorb the ink more easily, we help the patient loosen up by inviting her into a hypnogogic state. This helps prepare the patient. Then the therapist helps the patient embody select images in her dream. The therapist combines the chosen images into a composite, which the patient mentally practices for weeks after the session. Doing the dream work -- embodying the dream images --is like Degas’ drawing on the plate; the continued practice is like going through the press. This leads to changes, and in many cases, transformations.
I have undertaken a great deal of this dream work myself, as the ‘dreamer’ or patient. I have wanted to expand my writing repertoire beyond academic writing and am now the author of two plays as well as a number of poems, directly a result of the dream work. Like Degas, I am fascinated by the feeling of endless expansion, endless possibility, that there is never a ‘final’ product.
This poem is inspired by James Hillman’s writings collected in Alchemical Psychology. A brilliant student of Jung’s, he discusses alchemy as a metaphor for the psychotherapeutic process. The metaphors of alchemy preserve the mystery of change, keeping the secrets of the therapeutic process yet also suggesting how it occurs.
Using many complicated and beautiful vessels, the alchemists worked in their laboratories, to attempt to turn lead into gold, not just physically but metaphorically. They felt they were speeding up nature and bringing the world to a more “golden” age. This poem focuses on the notion of vessels. Vessels contain and shape experience. We must separate out and contain something before we can work on it.
Both the therapist and the patient are vessels. This poem asks both members of the therapeutic dyad: what kind of vessel are you? What story do you tell? And can you “hurry slowly”? This is the notion that we must be careful with the heat. Direct fire scorches and burns. How do we find that balance -- not act out yet not repress -- but instead land in that space of imagination and reverie.
THE WORK-IN-PROGRESS IS SECRET
By Leanne Domash
Are You in Great Shape?
Are you oval and curved
Or sharp edged and straight?
What story do you tell?
Are you a single raindrop
or an ocean swell?
How’s your instrument of keeping?
Are you leaky or solid
Empty or weeping?
Do not act out, do not keep in.
Is your mouth secure?
Can you contain the vapors,
Keep them pure.
You need to separate
Create the shape
Hurry slow and coagulate.
Do not act out, do not keep in.
Warm the mind
Hatch the sin.
I have just returned from a lush and beautiful retreat in Malinaco, Mexico for the final training of an intensive, three-year course in Embodied Imagination. This is a specific technique for working with dreams, memories and physical symptoms developed by Robert Bosnak (2008). It can be utilized to incubate creative projects, whether in the arts or sciences. I personally have had the benefit of writing two plays directly as a result of this doing this work. Although especially good for solving problems or undertaking creative endeavors, it is just as useful for working through loss and grief, depression and trauma. It is also used for pain and other symptom alleviation.
THE HEALING RESPONSE
Through case histories, Bosnak suggests how Embodied Imagination stimulates and intensifies the endogenous healing response. The patient is in a placebo-like experience, ideally enveloped by an expectation of cure. As discussed by Kradin (as reported in Bosnak, 2008), the placebo response causes significant changes in brain chemistry and can have powerful effects. He reports studies in which people have recovered from major depression and found relief from the pain of osteoarthritis as a result of placebo. Atlas and Wagner (2011) discuss the successful use of placebo in alleviating certain symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. Kradin states that the placebo response is about to enter a new phase of its history. Instead of being considered only “imaginary” or an annoying problem in clinical trials, it will become regarded as a scientifically definable mind/body response, a powerful form of endogenous healing.
One of the bases of Embodied Imagination is a metaphorical alchemical process, as espoused by James Hillman in Alchemical Psychology. Alchemy is an early, proto-scientific method, the forerunner of modern chemistry, as well as a philosophical system of spiritual transformation involving the expansion of consciousness and the development of insight and intuition through images. Hillman thought the poetic, metaphorical language of alchemy is itself therapeutic.
Although alchemy has been discredited for years, it is now being viewed, in a metaphorical sense, as a path to help us return to the nonphysical world from a preoccupation with the physical. Also historians are becoming aware of the connection between alchemy and the evolution of science and philosophy as well to mystical movements such as Kabbala and spiritualism.
In concrete terms, alchemists believed there was a process by which base metals can be turned into gold.* However, it was the spirit of the metal in which they were most interested. According to the alchemists, each metal wanted to return to its highest state (silver or gold), much like a patient’s wish to actualize. The alchemist’s focus is the release of the spirit of the metal, not the concrete metal itself. For example, lead has slowness to it while iron has anger and passion. The work is of constant refinement until there is a transformation. Exactly the right amount of heat must be applied. Just as the therapist, the alchemist must know when to use luke-warm heat and when to raise the temperature very high. It takes heat to change a substance.
THE ALCHEMICAL PROCESS AND PSYCHOTHERAPY
The following discussion of alchemy is based in part on Robert Bosnak’s lectures at the above-mentioned above retreat in Malinaco, Mexico, January 2016. For ease of narration, I will describe this process in a linear fashion. However, in trying to grasp alchemical changes, it is very important to keep in mind the simultaneity of multiple processes.
Citing the work of Hillman, Bosnak describes metaphorical stages of development in the alchemical process. Each stage is represented by a different color: Green, White/Silver, Yellow and Red. Most of these stages contain metaphorical or imaginal** sulphur, an ingredient that the alchemists thought, along with mercury, was contained in all metals. The burning of sulphur, “the stone that burns”, is crucial to the alchemical process. In metaphorical terms, sulphur is heat. Sulphur is desire. It has intensity, turns outward, and is phallic-like. Both Embodied Imagination and psychotherapy are a process of burning and refining the “sulphur, the raw impulse,” so the patient can have agency.
In this first stage, the Green, the process has not yet begun. The patient may deny he has any problems at all. He is in a state of “innocence”, despite others telling him he needs help.
The alchemical process begins with the Black when the patient blames others and feels extremely pessimistic and hopeless. He or she is a helpless victim of the past. The Black contains too much raw sulphur and can manifest as compulsion and concrete thinking. The patient must have a cigarette, must buy the expensive watch, must have sex with that woman. Unless the patient can emerge from this, the Black can become chronic, creating an ongoing hopelessness and/or impulsivity. Drug abuse is a possible outcome.
Next is the White, which is equivalent to Silver (Moon). This is the stage of reflection, of being able to take multiple perspectives -- the stage of reflective awareness in therapy that interrupts the compulsions of the Black. Alchemists call it “cutting the paws of the green lion”. In this stage, the sulphur turns white. This can be seen as a state of passionate reflection and speculation. Eventually, however, we must move out of reflection and begin to interact with the world. Silver is the color of daybreak but not until the Red arrives do we see the sunrise.
The Yellow follows; this is a thickening process. The white image is put in the earth to ferment. This can be likened to the process of “working-through” in psychotherapy. This is when the patient makes the insights “his” and practices in the world to solidify the gains made.
Without this fermenting process, one cannot go out into the world; instead the patient may withdraw and become remote, having an explanation for everything, for example, people who become “over-analyzed” and cannot live in the moment. This is being trapped in the White.
Next comes the Red and the sulphur has been sufficiently clarified. The patient has moved out of compulsion but there is still volatility. The patient has moved out of the purely mental state but there is still reflection. He or she is able to see subtleties of light and dark while retaining a sense of faith and optimism.
These stages also occur during the practice of Embodied Imagination. Embodied Imagination is a method that allows the dreamer to move through the Black, then the White and the Yellow, finally, achieving the Red. The dream worker helps the dreamer go through a process of change, just as the alchemists created change in the spirit of the metals, attempting to transform them into gold.
Using this technique, the dream worker helps the dreamer enter into the dream and embody images, that is, feel them in his or her body. The process is as follows. The dream worker listens carefully to the dream several times, paying attention to its “geometry”, listening for contrasts in images, movements, symmetry. Then he decides on a strategy: the primary images to embody. The dream worker first goes to a “safe” image, with which the dreamer can easily identify. The dream worker also chooses some alien images, including when possible, the most alien. This allows the dreamer to leave his habitual consciousness and try on new personas.
The dream worker proceeds in a sensate manner, such as “Can you sense into the hunched man as he leans forward, rounding his shoulders”, and so on. Done very slowly and carefully, this helps the dreamer “enter” the image. Then the dreamer sees the world from the image’s point of view. The dreamer has left his habitual consciousness, --for example, the dreamer Jim, a young, athletic man in real life, now becomes the man in the dream with the arthritic, hunched back. This is slow, careful work; as the alchemists said, you must “hurry slowly.”
A composite, a “dream body”, is now formed from the chosen images. This has brought the dreamer to the White of the metaphorical alchemical process.
This “dream body,” if practiced can precipitate change. The dreamer repeats the images over and over until they coalesce into one image. This is done for 20 minutes a day for a few weeks. Research supports that 20-minute daily practice is required to change a habit or develop a new one. This practice is the Yellowing, the fermentation of the composite. The composite must decay to transform the system so the practice is crucial. This is the stage we begin “to see in the dark.” We see the world as “just so” not as we think it is or as we would like it to be.
After this practice, it is likely that new patterns, possibly new neurological networks, are formed from the sustained practice. This is the Red. The sunrise is happening. The dreamer leaves his habitual state and enters into a changed and different state. There is a danger of staying even in this state, the Red. Then we would be in perpetual summer with no contrast, no seasons.
This process of moving from the Green though the Red happens repeatedly through our life and is part of our natural evolution.
* Closer to our modern thinking, some alchemists, such as Jabir in the 8th century, thought gold was hidden in alloyed ores and could be released by certain processes. Jabir himself is believed to be the inventor of aqua regia, a mixture of hydrochloric and nitric acids, one of the few substances that can dissolve gold. It is still often used for gold recovery and purification.
** The imaginal world is the place of the imagination, which exists between the purely mental world and physical reality.
Atlas, L.W. and T.D. Wagner (2011). The neural basis of the placebo effect in pain. In
Aizenstat, S. and Bosnak, R. (Eds.) Imagination and medicine: The future of healing in an age of neuroscience (pp.107-134). New Orleans: Spring Journal.
Bosnak, R. (2008). Embodiment: Creative imagination in medicine, art and travel. New York: Routledge.
Leanne Domash, Ph.D. is a psychologist, psychoanalyst and writer who is interested in creativity and unconscious processes. One of her specialties is dream work.
Copyright 2015 leannedomash.com