For several years during the late 1990’s, I regularly took yoga classes and studied meditation at workshops and retreats. Gradually, I became versed in the different methods and the philosophies behind these practices. As I sat for increasingly longer stretches in lotus position or held hyperextended poses, my imagination ran wild with thoughts, emotions, and fantasies that had not previously occurred to me or perhaps went unnoticed below the distractions and noise of my daily life.
“Monkey mind,” masters call it, because our thoughts jump out from the stillness and silence like primates leaping from tree to tree. “Observe or notice these thoughts”, we are told, “then let them go like ashes in the wind.” To follow them would be a pointless distraction from the purpose of meditation — to experience the fullness in emptying our minds and, in time, to attain a profound sense of enlightenment or oneness with the universe.
Rebellious, against any orthodoxy, I chose to follow my “monkey mind” wherever it led me. Mediation seemed dangerous rather than peaceful since I never knew down what dark path my thoughts might wander or what feelings would be unearthed. Some wound up dead ends, some took time and circled back, but others led to remarkable insights, deeper than any I had ever experienced in therapy.
I still meditate, though not with the discipline and formality of past years. Periodically, when I feel am lacking creativity and want to think out of the box, I cross my legs and follow my breath.
In his column, Enlightenment: Is Science Ready to Take it Seriously?, Jeff Warren tells us how mindful meditation can result in a sense of freedom, ease, and spontaneity for its practitioners. A master teacher, Warren shows us how various contemplative traditions have been neglected in scientific research, and urges scientists to consider the study of enlightenment and its transformative effects on individuals and societies.
James Reho, an Episcopal priest, shares his personal experience with meditation in Ten Days on A Cushion. Motivated by a search for wholeness, inner aliveness and creativity, he eloquently explains the process of meditation and specifically the personal changes that resulted for him during ten-days of silence at a supervised meditation retreat.
Among the many choreographers I watched during my days as a dance critic in the 1990’s, none inspired a greater sense of aliveness than Pina Bausch. Drawing from the worlds of dance, theater and performance art, the German modern choreographer created dances that gave us direct access to our emotions. In psychoanalyst and dancer Velleda Cocceli’s elegant essay, Feeling Pina, we learn how the choreographer bypassed spoken language and reached us in deeply personal ways.
New York City Ballet founder and master choreographer, George Balanchine comes alive through the words of ballerina Wilhelmina Frankfurt. In a chapter excerpted from her upcoming memoir, Case En Pointe, Willie tells of her final moments with Balachine in his hospital room shortly before his death. She has come to say goodbye as well as ask for his advice about herself as a performer. True to himself to the end, Balachine makes a sexual advance on his young muse. When Willie gently rejects him, the master tells her in his thick Russian accent, “You’re a pussycat and a pussycat can’t be a pig or horse.”
This idea is echoed in my column, In Favor of Casual Sex, in which I explain how casual sex, managed intelligently, can help us discover our true sexual desires and better understand who we are as people. Through casual sex or short-term relationships, we can achieve sexual gratification and intimacy that can be just as meaningful and rewarding as sex in long-term relationships. We can also achieve greater openness, honesty, and generosity in honoring and enacting the truths about who we are.
Contrary to my view, my daughter Alyssa Siegel, a psychotherapist in Portland Oregon, argues her preference for monogamy in her column, My Father the Ethical Slut. Growing up with parents who handed her condoms and told her “to have fun” as a teenager, she rebelled by choosing a more conventional path driven by monogamy.
Dr. Richard Howlin talks candidly about the limitations of psychiatric diagnosis in his essay, Beyond the Spoken Word: The Creativity of Autism. Howlin writes about exceptional creativity and intuition demonstrated by patients with Autism or Aspergers and how this has informed his approach to therapy.
In this month’s Out of the Woods column, Therapist as Secretary, Michael Schellenberg similarly calls for a redefinition of labels like “madness” or “mental illness” in favor of respecting the unique narrative of each patient. In his view, psychotherapists have the responsibility to act as a secretary, recording a patient’s life story and giving every problem a context rather than relying on a checklist of symptoms and standard procedures. He suggests that the whole narrative, not the diagnosis, should define the direction of therapy.
In The Patient’s Room, a young artist writes about the family trauma that led him to his first therapeutic experience as a boy. His therapist, realizing he wasn’t especially verbal, came up with the idea of spending time at the beginning of each session quietly looking out the window together. It was this simple act of looking together at something, without words, that set the stage for his deep relationship with art and with therapy.
What is loneliness? How does it differ from depression? In her review of, Lonely: Learning to Live With Solitude, Atara Herman discusses the author’s view of the crushing effects of chronic loneliness and the suggestions that grow out of the author’s personal struggle for solace.
Matthew Ortiz writes about Czech artist Markéta Kratochvílová’s extraordinary jewelry. A sculptor by training, her pieces stand as a retort to what jewelry is and how we think about it. Rather then accommodating to market-driven notions of sophistication and status, she considers jewelry “sculptures that, it just so happens, can be worn.”
Finally, esteemed poet David Bergman’s deeply felt Pain to Follow and Hansel and Gretel vividly illustrates how a child’s sense of failure replays in adulthood. Perhaps it’s Bergman’s writing that best speaks to one of life’s paradoxes illuminated throughout the pages of this issue Psychology Tomorrow Magazine. In pain, loneliness and emptiness, there can be such startling beauty, aliveness and creativity, and only one word can be used to describe the complexity of these feelings… ART.