Beginning therapy can be scary. So many things can arise in us that prevent us from even reaching out to start the process. In my experience, and as I have reflected on it in retrospect, much of this fear is grounded in not knowing what will become of me: What will I have to give up, how will I live without those things, and what will remain? The things referred to are parts of who we are, the ideas we have, and our ways of being or seeing things.
Play and Risk: Partners Towards Connection
I propose that the process of talk therapy is an act of play, an act of creating something from within. In this article, I look particularly at the overlapping categories of risk and transformation within the act of play. What will come of what we do in life?
I often ask people, “How are you going to take care of yourself?” From a Judeo-Christian perspective, we could look to the Sabbath as a reference. The contemporary Sabbath is seen as a day of rest, on which we go to church or sit around the house and take naps. It is a different approach to productivity. While this is all true, the Sabbath is a day that is intended to ground us in a sense of our true Self with God. It is a returning to our primal oneness, from which we were never meant to be separated.
Our Sense of Belonging
This points towards our existential nature. Each of us as human beings has an innate desire for a sense of belonging, whether with other people, our homes, community, work, or within ourselves. John O’Donohue, my favorite author, states that the word belonging contains two words, namely, being and longing. I propose that this sense of belonging is an encounter – we never arrive, but through the work of connection, we get back in touch with who we are, and what we long for. It is a process of continuous listening, empathizing, and being curious. It may simply involve us sitting down over morning coffee with someone trusted and saying, “This is what I feel and know within myself right now.” This is a sense of feeling at home within ourselves, no matter the pain. It is one of the goals of therapy as I see it, and a tremendous accomplishment for some.
We get back in touch with ourselves not only through rest but also within the act of play. Entering into this spontaneity and impulsiveness is risky at first and may bring up more struggles than we want on a day intended for rest. But this means that we are slowly returning to ourselves and to God within, for an act of play is as uninhibited as a child and free from anxiety.
Looking to the Artist
Since the 1960s when psychology emerged into mainstream thinking, psychology has become a kind of a Bible or supreme authority on who we are. However, we need to look beyond what psychology tells us about ourselves, and instead look to the artist – and to the artist’s creativity as a reflection of his internal makeup and experience. To reinforce this, Stephen Nachmanovitch states in his book Free Play, “Each piece of music is play, each dance, each drawing, each episode of life, reflects our own mind back at us, complete with all its imperfections, exactly as it is.” Whatever we create in life is a reflection of our internal makeup and experience in the world, whether it is poetry, literature, art, sculpture, or the nature of our relationships with others or with our work.
As we continue to live in a world of relationships, culture, and education, we begin to develop our persona or the mask that we choose to show to the world. Such masks are symptoms of our true nature, and develop from infancy into adulthood: “they all show the imprint of our own deeper style and character.” Walking down the streets of Seattle, it is not uncommon for me to look at what others are wearing and imagine their personality – their true nature – based on that presentation. We look to what is outside to give us an idea of what is inside, as our outside is naturally an expression of the internal.
Our Being Unfolds Through Play
“Play is an attitude, a spirit, a way of doing things, whereas game is a defined activity with rules and a playing field and participants.” When we play a game, we shift towards product rather than process. When we begin to play or create, we tap into our individuality. Nachmanovitch says that we begin to dialogue with ourselves as we participate in the act of play:
As our playing, writing, speaking, drawing, or dancing unfolds, the inner unconscious logic of our being begins to show through and mold the material. This rich, deep patterning is the original nature that impresses itself like a seal upon everything we do or are.
We get in touch with ourselves through a pattern that involves the past, the present, and the future as it is present here-and-now. In discussing the individual’s ego-self, Nachmanovitch points out that the ego-self is always opposed to the creative self and tries to prevent it from expressing itself. The ego likes to keep us at bay. It says, “This is who I am, and I am surviving.” But it does not exactly thrive.
Desert Wanderings and the Ego-Self
In his book Sabbath as Resistance, Walter Brueggemann points out four areas of resistance that the Sabbath encompasses, one of which is anxiety. Brueggemann states that the freeing of the Israelites involved a shift from a system way of living to one of covenant. It was a shift away from anxious productivity and an emphasis on results towards committed neighborliness. He argues that while the Israelites were under the slavery of the Egyptians, they were forced to labor and were ultimately anxious about their future, yet they began to become comfortable with this way of being. Most of us are familiar with the rough details of the Israelites’ desert wanderings and are aware that this was not an easy shift. Rather, I can imagine that it was one in which the ego-self was thriving.
Christian Counseling to Discover Your True Self
As a Christian counselor, I am convinced that therapy is a place where we play. Therapy is a stage on which all of who we are is anxiously presented to a trusted listener. Winnicott describes it as,
…bringing the patient from a state of not being able to play into a state of being able to play … It is in playing and only in playing that the individual child or adult is able to be creative and to use the whole personality, and it is only in being creative that the individual discovers the self.
Christian counseling involves the participation of both the client and the therapist. It is a process of leaning into one another in which the therapist provides a safe space in which the true self can emerge.