Aesthetics as cure
by Cliff Bostock
(Originally published in the "Paradigms" column of
Loafing, Atlanta, Mar. 14, 1998)
Regular readers of this column know that besides working
as a writer, I'm a doctoral student in archetypal psychology at Pacifica
Graduate Institute in Santa Barbara. A couple of years ago, fascinated with
the idea that the aesthetic-based psychology of
Hillman (and Thomas Moore and Pat Berry) might offer a theoretical foundation
for an alternative to developmental psychotherapy, I created a workshop called
"Greeting the Muse."
In the last few months, the workshop has received a good bit of publicity.
At the national level, Common Boundary magazine ran an article about
it in its January issue. (You can read the
article by Jane
McGoldrick on my website.) Atlanta magazine's January issue also
mentioned the workshop in a brief piece about my work as an "anti-therapist."
The publicity from Common Boundary resulted in my receiving calls
from all over the world, including invitations to conduct the workshop in
Los Angeles, British Columbia and Munich. That's not possible, since the
term of the workshop is 11 weeks. However, I recently decided to begin offering
a one-day "sample" of the work with my colleague and friend Rose D'Agostino.
Those are scheduled Saturdays, March 28, April 18 and May 23. Call D'Agostino,
404-873-2645, for more information. (Cost is $100 but $40 of the cost is
allocated toward the 11-week experience, if you choose to continue.)
I know I reveal some hubris in using this space to talk about the workshop.
However, I receive at least 20 calls a week from local people curious about
it. Some recent experience taught me that this work, contrary to my hope,
is for a minority and thus the conversation that follows and continues next
week is as much about the question of what it means to "heal" as it is about
my own work.
As is usual in these kinds of columns, I take Hillman's approach by writing
a kind of self-interview. It is more than that, though. The voices of the
curious, of former participants, of my professors and of my own gestalts
come present as imaginal inquisitors. In that, the writing resembles the
very process I teach. Rose D'Agostino also contributes here.
What is the purpose of the Greeting the Muse Workshop?
Originally, I conceived it as a means of developing a therapoeisis,
a therapeutic system based on the use of the imagination -- a poetics for
the ailing soul. It irritated me that Hillman and Moore, for all their brilliant
writing, had not developed a very articulate praxis. My own background in
humanistic and transpersonal psychology, with long experience in 12-step
recovery, had left me adrift. None went deep enough. I rediscovered the depth
psychology of Freud and Jung.
Then I found Hillman and archetypal psychology, which takes classic depth
psychology deeper. Or, I should say it adds breadth as well as depth by enlarging
psychology's concern to the public sphere. Through the figure of the daimon,
a personification of destiny and the soul, we are brought into direct contact
with our symptoms, our defenses, and our path to healing. But we find this
path in the world, not just in the therapy room. Hillman, of course, is a
Jungian but he has freed Jung's psychology from a lot of its dogma.
And how did all of this work out in your development of the workshop?
Well, without anyone to guide me, I felt that I had to choose a very limited
population with which to work. So I picked writers and artists who feel blocked.
I knew, of course, they would be naturally disposed to approaching their
blocks -- their creative blocks and their psychological blocks, which are
the same -- through exercise of the imagination. My hypothesis was that if
you approach the creative block effectively, something will shift more generally
in the life of the client. This reverses the usual process of working with
the psychological block itself with the hope that the creative block will
spontaneously heal itself. This is why the Greeks all went to the theater
and listened to the Iliad time and again. It's a symbolic, curative
And what did you find out? Did people's lives change?
Well, I found that to be true in my early work. The most astonishing case
was of a terminally ill man who spontaneously confronted his dead and
over-idealized father and then his own dying through the imagery of his writing
and drawing. That was, of course, a radical exception. It was very clear
to me from the start that intention and motivation mattered a lot. The work
is extremely demanding. It involves a series of written and visual assignments
designed to disassemble the notion of identity as conditioned solely by
childhood. Many people are so attached to this idea or to their defenses
that they just can't do the assignments. I try to respect the defenses but
people who undertake the workshop are by definition inviting a confrontation
of them. This part of the work calls on my experience in both the Fischer-Hoffman
and Ira Progoff journaling processes.
So why are you trying to break people's attachment to their biography?
Because biography is remembered. It is a fantasy of the past. An artist
writes or paints into the future. The very act of creation is future-oriented.
When you can write and paint easily, you can begin to imagine your life
differently. Imagination is really the only lens we have to examine the past.
A professor of mine recently told me that one of her patients brought in
a picture of himself as an infant being held at arm's length by his father.
Early in his analysis, this was an image of distancing by the father. But
as his analysis proceeded, the image became one of the father offering the
son up in pride to the cosmos. Of course, you can say that the earlier
interpretation may have been the more accurate reading of the symptom of
their relationship. But the second interpretation reveals the deeper meaning
beneath the symptomatic one. In the father's distancing he revealed his
adulation. He reveals the gods to his sons in his act of concealment. At
the level of depth, as Jung noted repeatedly, paradox rules.
But it must be terribly uncomfortable to be ripped from your biography.
Yes, it is extremely uncomfortable. It plunges you into a liminal space --
a space between identities. I call it a nekyia, a journey to the
underworld on behalf of the soul. In another culture, you'd call it soul
How does one get through that?
The glib answer is to say you write or paint or compose your way through
it. When I speak of the muse, I mean to indicate the aesthetic function of
the soul -- the part of the soul that produces images. It is active in everyone
as the dream ego at night but it is especially active in creative people
all the time. As the ego is sent to the underworld, so to speak, the muse
can personify itself to interpret, comment, give comfort. Alas, the muse
is a moral creature though, and, cuts very little slack. It's not one of
those little New Age angels. It has more in common with
Rilke's "terrible birds." In the workshop, we create a kind of spontaneous
theater of the deep psyche. So imagine that all the lunacy of your dream
life is brought into public view.
So, this is really hard work.
Yes, I have found that serious artists and writers, who are by nature accustomed
to exposing themselves and taking risks, find it extremely valuable. It can
also be valuable for people who have made a commitment to exploring the deep
contents of the psyche but are stable. But people who have done no therapy
or insufficient therapy and are wounded deeply find it intolerable. I always
tell people it's not a support group. It's a group for confronting the core
defense and the evocation of the muse. It's not intended to support the status
It almost sounds like you discourage people.
I tend too. I require screening interviews now. Part of the reason for developing
this one-day session was to give interested people -- and myself -- a clearer
idea of an individual's readiness for the intensity of the 11-week work.
I also see it as a way for people who might feel a little fragile or who
don't have time to attend 11 weeks to learn a few of the basic tools.
The A-mused Body:
How creativity and physicality are related
by Cliff Bostock
(Originally published in the "Paradigms" column of
Loafing, Atlanta, Mar. 21, 1998)
What is the relationship between the body and the
imagination in psychological healing?
This week's column is a continuation of last week's. In that column, I talked
about my work in the Greeting the Muse Workshop, an 11-week process that
I developed for writers and artists a few years ago to experiment with the
principles of archetypal psychology developed by James Hillman. Because the
workshop recently received a good bit of national and local publicity, I
have developed a one-day
"sample" of the work for people who cannot take the entire workshop or
who want to know more before deciding to undertake the 11-week process.
I'll be conducting the one-day workshops with my friend and colleague Rose
D'Agostino, M.A., whose expertise is body-based psychology. Her master's
degree is in somatic psychology from Antioch and she is also a graduate of
Core Energetics training and the Barbara Brennan School of Healing. We'll
be conducting the workshops on Saturdays, March 28, April 18 and May 23.
Cost is $100, but $40 is allocated toward the cost of the 11-week group if
you choose to undertake it. Call D'Agostino, 404-873-2645, for more information.
Groups are kept under 10.
In the workshop, we'll be teaching and experiencing some basic principles
of my work: recovering a sense of the muse, or the image-producing aspect
of the soul; learning the aesthetic function's role in ordinary life as well
as in creative work; learning the historic function of the heart as an organ
of perception and the way the body represents a field that provides access
to the imagination. (If you are interested in the workshop and have Internet
access, I suggest you read last week's column on my website.
This week's column is a conversation between Rose and me. My part is in bold
Part of my commitment in this work, whether with artists or anyone else,
is helping them recover the sense of the heart as a perceptual organ. It
is a great mystery to me that we have a vocabulary for this but people don't
seem to realize it describes a real phenomenon. We describe the heart as
full, the heart as breaking, as happy. We say the heart is touched or full
of joy ...
Yes, but most people have no sense of the actuality of this. It's just words.
I remember in one of my somatic psychology classes there was a man, a man
with HIV, who said he could feel his heart breaking. I didn't have a clue
what he was talking about. I was so blocked from feeling that I thought those
were just words, maybe a metaphor for something.
And yet if you read Sufi mysticism, you find very elaborated practices
for thinking and imagining with the heart. Much of Hillman's work is based
in this idea, borrowed from the French scholar Henry Corbin's studies of
the Sufi mystic Ibn
Arabi. ... I wonder why so many people have lost the capacity to think
with their hearts.
I think the individual process is that we are taught very early to withdraw
consciousness from the experience of pain. I usually talk about how you can
hit your finger with a hammer and you pull your awareness away from the pain.
We seek an outside remedy, anything to avoid the pain. The problem, of course,
is that the trauma remains there to be healed.
And of course, no heart is immune to pain in growing up. But why do we
handle it this way? Why do we withdraw awareness instead of, say, paying
attention to the pain?
I have to think it's cultural. I mean it's partly an effective defense, but
the culture doesn't support the experience of the pain.
Yeah, there's that jingle: "I haven't got time for the pain." Now, I'm
curious to know how you recovered your heart's capacity to sense.
Basically, I just think it was my destiny to get on this path. I was
driven to inhabit my physical body more fully. Being very mental --
reading is still my favorite escape -- I needed to ground myself in my body.
This was something that unfolded over time for me.
I remember the exact moment I got that my heart was a sensing organ.
I had a very emotional reaction while I watched a mother shame her young
son in public. When I got home, I came unglued and I literally felt like
I'd been kicked in the chest. Then I realized that the "kicked" feeling was
exactly the same feeling I associated with love. In other words, I had the
feelings of love and pain enmeshed. It was then that I realized I was not
ever going to experience anything like real love as an adult until I sank
completely into the pain in my heart, when I learned to see with and through
the pain in my heart.
Yes, that's what I mean when I say the trauma becomes part of the body, in
that case in the heart.
So, as Hillman would say, the way to healing is through the wound.
Yes. I have a story about that. When I was in that same class, I did some
work with someone who was role-playing my father. Suddenly, I had this terrific
pain in my nose that moved under my eye. Well, I had been told that my nose
was broken when I was a kid but I never knew how.
That brings up two questions for me. First, how is such an experience
healing? Second, I presume you're talking about recovered memory. How do
you know it's for real?
It's always healing when you unravel a block. In the way I think of it, you
are establishing a free flow of energy where it was blocked and that is
inherently healing. As for whether the so-called memory is real, I don't
This is very important to me. Because, to my mind, what has happened in
your willingness to penetrate, to stay with, the pain is that an image arises
and a story comes out of it. To me it's irrelevant whether your father actually
hit you -- you just can't say so -- but the psyche has produced an image
and a story that incarnates the fact of a combative relationship between
the two of you. So, what you call energy is to me the flow of creativity.
The imagination is restored to its image-making capacity by the willingness
to penetrate the pain and write or paint or play music. This is what the
dream-ego does quite spontaneously for everyone at night. In the workshop,
I try to create a kind of waking dream with the muse as representative of
the soul present.
The connection to soul is essential to me. I went from usual psychology,
to bioenergetics and a lot of body work. It wasn't until I added soul and
spirit that my path seemed clear.
I agree, but it's important to me to say that when I speak of the soul,
I don't mean to imply something that is purely spiritual. I mean to imply
something that mediates the body and the spirit. The soul's main means of
expression is creativity and its perceptions are registered by the heart.
When the broken heart of personal experience is finally acknowledged -- when
we get on with the grieving of our biographies -- then we are opened to the
positive aspects of the numinous, the archetypal, and then art and writing
become processes that occur through the individual. They are works of the
Self instead of the blocked, struggling, agonizing, tormented and judgmental
Yes, until that happens, we tend to be driven by our lower self, the shadow.
This part of us, despite the discomfort it causes, is a great gift because
it points us exactly toward what needs to be healed. The shadow is the experience
of constriction, whereas the higher self seeks expansion, creativity.
I've thought a lot about the way the shadow gets expressed in writers
and artists. I think the avoidance of grieving our own pain is a refusal
to treat ourselves with compassion. For a writer or artist this often gets
expressed as literal creative block -- paralysis. But just as often you encounter
technical proficiency without any real juice in the writing. The characters
have the quality of zombies or one-dimensionality. A lack of self-compassion
gets projected on the work.
You sacrifice the heart connection, and the work loses its authenticity.
It can be exquisitely crafted but without passion. People live that
Clearly it takes courage -- a strong heart -- to do it differently.
Copyright 1998 by Creative Loafing | Published Mar.
Archetypal Advice |