part 7 of a two hour gestalt session on awareness by actress bel baca.
BY FRANKLYN WEPNER SEPTEMBER 1, 2006
HOW I WORK: GESTALT DREAMWORK AS THEATER AND PROPHECY
GESTALT DREAM WORK AS PREPARATION FOR PERFORMING
Since 1975 I have been using Gestalt work on awareness, dreams and personal relationships as a way to train and direct performers. The basic principle is simple. I use the Gestalt work to peel the onion of layer after layer of social cliches, ego games and unfinished personal business, and then I do the reverse process reconstituting the onion in the form of characters or other artist structures. The existential message of the dream becomes the superobjective or action of the tragedy, and then I build up the way the performer handles the characters and the plot around that.
My usual procedure is to begin the training with three Gestalt sessions, one on one. The first session, two hours long, deals with the three zones of awareness. During the first hour I simply let him relate what he aware of, since I want to know how he operates before I start meddling with his life. This is important since overall during the Gestalt sessions we are peeling the onion of cliches and games to get to authentic action, and later we will need all of those layers to rebuild the onion as characters involved in the unfolding action of a drama. We need his cliche and game layers for the beginning of the action in Act One as much as we need his authentic action at the end of the dramatic action for Acts Four and Five of a tragic drama.
During the second hour of the first Gestalt session on awareness I attempt to guide him towards a balance of the zones of awareness: outer zone awareness of the environment, inner zone awareness of his body, and fantasy zone awareness of his daydreams. The second and third Gestalt sessions are each three hours long, and each is a typical Gestalt dreamwork session as presented by Fritz Perls in Gestalt Therapy Verbatim. The performer tells the dream in the here and now, identifies with (play acts) several of the main images of the dream in dialogues with each other, and experiences the rhythm of contact and withdrawal. That is to say, after each major dialogue of polarized sides of himself (the contact part) he is instructed to close his eyes, enter his body awareness and daydream (the withdrawal phase of the rhythm).
Since my goal is theater as well as healing, whenever possible during the Gestalt dreamwork I encourage lots of expression using sound and movements. I work with a palette of about 200 different types of recorded musical excerpts, and whenever appropriate I ask him if that image or emotional state were part of a movie what sort of music might be the sound track. Then I find something close to that in my palette of musical colors and ask him to express the mood using the music along with his vocalizing and expressive movements. While he is doing the entire session I spend most of my time jotting down near verbatim notes and making stick figures of his poses and movements, since later in the work I will feed all this back to him and encourage him to explore using it as creative material for acting, dance or whatever his medium is. Taping the session is less useful, since then I would need to spend too much time replaying the tapes. Taking notes live forces me to sort out the wheat from the chaff very efficiently, even at the cost of not observing or notating every detail.
WORKING OUT FROM YOUR CENTERS
After the three introductory one on one Gestalt sessions, session number four is for feedback and discussion of the results. I show him in my notes and diagrams all of the stages of competed and uncompleted actions, and together we search for characters in the theater literature that have similar patterns of action. Is he a Hamlet type, or an Oedipus type, for example? In contrast to the usual practice in acting classes, his first acting assignment probably will be a monologue from a serious tragedy, since I want him to begin with a dramatic action with which he can identify totally. In this process he is using his major Gestalt moments as what Michael Chekhov in his book “To The Actor” labels “psychological gestures”. Perls calls them the “essences” of a patient’s personality, or we can say he is working from his “centers”, stretching those sounds, moves and psychological motivations in as many creative directions as he can. I monitor closely to be sure he is not faking it, the way most actors end up doing since they do not have the centers to begin with.
Before the performer begins working with others doing improvs and scenework, there is an important transitional stage in the work in which I help him get comfortable using his very personal Gestalt material freely as creative material. He needs to shift from seeing himself as a patient to enjoying the role of an artist of the theater, freely using his life as creative material. He needs to distance himself from the hot personal stuff using alienation techniques usually associated with the epic theater process of Bertold Brecht. Especially useful here is the “mocking your forms” exercise. First he performs one of his most personal forms, the movements and the sounds, and at the same time observes carefully (visually and kinesthetically) exactly what his body and voice are doing. Next he moves over about ten feet and from the new position looks back and imagines he is observing himself doing what he just did. Then, in as critical a manner as he can risk, he begins to mock that image of himself which is doing the form. He uses the form to mock the form by exaggerating it in as grotesque a way as he can risk. “I see you over there, Joe, you are flapping your arms just like a fish, like you don’t know what you are doing, etc., etc.” The more cruelty he can risk in his distortions and denunciations, the more he frees himself from being self-conscious and also the more the initial one physical and vocal form gives birth to a family of related forms. Other techniques which help expand and loosen up hot psychological material are (a) using various sorts of music as the basis of improvs, (b) stretching the forms into naturalistic short scenes, such as swimming or basketball, or (c) introducing a short text, such as “Yes, but”.
One he has his core of personal essences and after he has achieved some distance and flexibility in the use of his material, he is ready to work with other performers on improvs and scenes. I can direct several performers simultaneously since I know the sources of their personal material. I am directing them inside and out, so it is not just guesswork and wishful thinking as in most studios. Here again there are certain exercises which are particularly helpful in developing communication between performers and establishing a group improv structure that allows each person to use his personal material in a creative manner. Basic acting or dance improv exercises used by all studios work much better once each performer has a stock of essences to guide his explorations. The mirror exercise and funnyhouse mirror exercise are excellent to establish contact and get the process going. In the funnyhouse mirror exercise one performer, the lead, does a simple real life activity such a brushing his teeth, while the partner grotesquely parodies the lead. In the conductor exercise the lead does only movements while the group “orchestra” does only sounds that correspond to those moves. The puppets exercise is the reverse of the conductor exercise. The lead make sounds, while the group functions as marionettes suspended by strings. Each sound from the lead elicits corresponding jerky moves from the group, as though the sounds are tugging on the strings. The worlds exercise is an opportunity for one performer to explore using all his personal Gestalt material, while a group uses all the improv techniques above to work with the lead in his “world”. Once each performer has done the worlds exercise, the last exercise in the series is the leaderless worlds exercise. Here each performer is both lead and follower. The entire group seeks to function as one group organism following “it”. Each one actively takes turns as the lead and then passively gives up being the lead in order to enter into the world of each of the others. The result is a profound active-passive state known by philosophers as the middle way and by performers as the pure process mode.
THE IDEA OF A THEATER
So far we have a combination of four different ways of working: (1) individual Gestalt work as preparation for artistic experience, (2) alienation techniques for distancing oneself from hot personal material, (3) group improvs to make the transition from therapy results to artistic results, and (4) initial work on characters that are as close to one’s centers as possible This mix guides a student through a powerful and totally natural, organic introduction to the art of the theater. Each performer remains within the personal world he has discovered during the dreamwork, while simultaneously expanding and then interweaving this world with the worlds of the other performers. In a sense this process develops the sort of ritualistic space found in “primitive” tribal societies. The artform is congruent with the lives of its participants, such as was likely the case when the small world of a Greek polis gave birth to the classical Greek tragedies which corresponded to the fantasies and personal actions of the members of the community. In “The Idea of a Theater”, Francis Fergusson contrasts that ideal ritualistic function of a theater with the theaters of today which in most cases have lost that organic relation between a community and its artforms. We have today lost the encompassing “idea of a theater”, and we have to settle for productions that present only what individual blind men can fathom of the entire elephant. Fergusson writes,
Drama can only flourish in a human sized scene, generally accepted as the focus of the life or awareness of its time, and such a focus no longer exists . . . We do not have a theater in the classic sense nor do we see how we could have one. But we may still study the cultural landmarks – the drama of Sophocles and Shakespeare, the Divine Comedy of Dante – in which the idea of a theater has been briefly realized, so we may learn to recognize and appreciate the fragmentary perspectives we do have; collecting the pieces, keeping the idea alive in the tentative, fallible, and suggestive light of analogy. FF225
What we especially have lost is exactly that which Gestalt dreamwork gives us back, the ability to know objects by identifying with them totally, and then to “say it with your whole body”. Here is how Antonin Artaud put it in “The Theater And Its Double”.
We cannot go on prostituting the idea of theater whose only value is in its excruciating, magical relation to reality and danger. “The Theater And Its Double”, 89. To our disinterested and inert idea of art an authentic culture opposes a violently egoistic and magical, i.e., interested idea. For the Mexicans seek contact with the Manas, forces latent in every form, unreleased by contemplation of the forms for themselves, but springing to life by magic identification with these forms. ibid., 11
Fergusson and Artaud use theatrical and philosophical jargon to say what Perls says in psychological jargon. Fergusson uses the term “histrionic sensibility” to mean “identify with the image and say it with your whole body”. Fergusson also uses Aristotle’s notion of “perception before predication” to refer to Perls’ notion of awareness before aboutism. First get in touch with reality and then judge it or add your comments about it.
ARISTOTLE AND FRITZ
Fergusson quotes Butcher’s translation of Aristotle’s “Poetics”.
The plot is the imitation of the action – for by plot I [Aristotle] here mean the arrangement of the incidents . . . But most important of all it is the structure of the incidents. For tragedy is an imitation not of men, but of an action and of life, and life consists in action and its end is a mode of action, not a quality . . . Tragedy, then, is an imitation of an action . . . through pity and fear effecting the proper purgation of these emotions . . . The plot, then, is the first principle and as it were the soul of a tragedy. FF229
In the preparatory Gestalt dreamwork which I do with each performer, oftentimes a 3-hour session concludes with a committed action, profound insight or “existential message of the dream”. This is the “ahah” moment of a strong gestalt. From the point of view of this final idea or action, everything that transpired previously during the 3-hour session leads up to and is encompassed by this experience of integration. Fritz tells clients to “identify with the coming solution” as an act of faith. This is Fritz’s version of Aristotle’s insight that what is actual is prior to what is merely potentially the case. The action, in other words, is somehow already unfolding from the beginning of the session, even though it does not emerge full blown till three hours later. This same notion Aristotle carried over into his notion of action in the theater as a form of poetic art. When he says “the plot is the imitation of the action” he is saying that the series of conflicts and resolutions that lead up to the final choice or revelation in a tragic action are in a certain way an imitation of that final insight or action. They imitate the action in the sense that they are analogous to it or correspond to it. The idea or action of the drama exists on an ideal, Platonic level of truth, to which the stage action can at best only correspond as a code or symbol. Theologically this amounts to saying that while man is made in the image of G-d, he is not G-d and only can seek to intuit how G-d operates and strive to manifest that process in his being and actions. To the extent that he succeeds in this ascent, the performer is serving in the role traditionally assigned to prophets. Contemporary visionaries of the theater such as Fergusson and Artaud will settle for nothing less than a theater which actualizes our prophetic potentiality.
Aristotle’s view of the plot as the imitation of an action justifies my use of the Gestalt dreamwork action (the peeling of the onion), as the basis for the theater process (the reconstituting of the onion as a tragic action). For the dreamwork events that unfold over the course of three hours are, in a sense, the plot of a tragedy that is a code, overlay or symbol for the overall action, idea, or existential message of the dreamwork session. I am transferring the plot and action of the dreamwork from the arena of healing to that of art. But it is only in our schizoid, “fallen”, fragmented, de-ritualized contemporary society that art and healing are separate events. Humpty Dumpty has fallen off the wall, and utopian, holistic philosophers such as Hegel seek to put Humpty-Dumpty back together again. For Hegel the arts, religion and philosophy are subdivisions of the encompassing realm of Absolute Spirit, and their common dialectical framework allows free movement of theory and practice from one discipline to the other. Gestalt therapy, which leads clients from cliches and habits towards the realm of pure thought (the existential message of the dream) by means of the creative use of imagery, has similar holistic aspirations. Hence Gestalt dreamwork lends itself perfectly to the sort of interdisciplinary manipulations required to allow it to serve as the foundation of a theater which embodies the prophetic vision of “the idea of a theater”. VIDEO OF BEL BACA’S WORK ON AWARENESS
VIDEO AND ESSAY BY FRANKLYN WEPNER, 2005
VERBATIM NOTES OF THE SESSION ARE INCLUDED AT THE END OF THIS ESSAY.
This essay is a companion piece for two DVD’s which I video-ed in April 2005 and completed editing in November 2005. The DVD’s present two hours of gestalt work on “awareness” performed by a young actress named Bel Baca, who recently completed a B.A. in Theater at the University of Central Florida. My audience is primarily those who have seen those DVD’s, but I will try to make myself intelligible to those who have not seen them. The particular process which I am describing here is a way of working which I pioneered in 1975 and have been doing in basically the same manner ever since, first in New York, then in Philadelphia, then in Israel and now in Miami, Florida. Therefore, what you are reading here represents the fruit of 30 years experience. Going back further than that, Fritz Perls developed the techniques of Gestalt Therapy around 1950. Going back much further than that, according my own research I believe techniques very similar to these have been used for many many centuries in healing and religious practices all over the world, for example in the middle ages in Judaism and Christianity by priests and rabbis who were exorcizing demons and dybbuks – which we now label “introjects” or “projections”. And back in 500 B.C.E. Heraclitus and other philosophers already were writing about the logos (dialectic or word) and self-interruptions of the river of awareness (self-interruptions which we now label “anxiety” and “neurosis”). Gestalt work also has roots in traditions of meditative practices, such as concentrating on your breathing in a Zen monastery. “Meditation” in this sense means to stay in the here and now and deal objectively with whatever comes along in your experience as it is happening.
I am stressing the long history of this process since I want to make it clear from the beginning that I am not doing what nowadays is called “therapy”. The “therapy” thing is a recent invention. It implies a formal and legal agreement whereby somebody takes responsibility to guide the life of someone else according to the rules of a certain group of people who have set themselves up as an organization to grant credentials to its members. This “therapy” item, which then can be marketed as a commodity, brings great financial benefits to its practitioners, whether or not it has much value for the consumers who purchase it. Not being grounded in any world tradition of wisdom and morality and with little accountability except to members of the same clique, these moral entrepreneurs set themselves up as self-fashioned gods driving around in divine chariots powered by platinum credit cards rather than true ideas. In my work, on the other hand, I ask people to sign an agreement stating that we are not doing therapy at all. I inform them that I walked out of medical school in 1963 and was thrown out of social work school in 1974, that I am not a licensed therapist and that I am not at all taking responsibility for their lives. I call my colleagues performers and not patients. I tell people from the beginning not to trust me any more than they decide they want to as we go along in the process. In fact, their not trusting me is an important part of our work, as you saw in these DVD’s of my work with Bel Baca. As of this moment in December 2005, to date I have done this particular 10 hour series of one-on-one gestalt workshops with about 610 people over the past 30 years, i.e., a total of about 6200 hours, in addition to the other performer training techniques I have been using.
(B) BEL’S AWARENESS WORK
Let’s summarize now the first hour of Bel’s work, what I label her work on “unguided awareness”. During the first hour I did not “direct” the work since I wanted to learn where Bel is starting from, how she usually operates when she is on her own in new, unfamiliar surroundings. Bel from the outset showed us clearly how she operates. In a few minutes already we saw overall a pretty well defined pattern (“gestalt”) beginning to emerge: Bel tended to implode in on herself, work herself up to a hysterical state of tension and anxiety, and then rescue herself with some sort of escape fantasy image, all within 15 minutes! At the beginning of the session Bel had a certain amount of contact with the outer zone, balanced by some emphasis on the inner zone. But by the end of the first hour we saw that even after my feedback most of her attention went inside. Gestalt directors talk about the “holes” in a person’s awareness functioning or map. In Bel’s case where there could be eyes and ears we found at the outset – to a certain extent – holes instead. Especially we saw how she tends to avoid looking directly at people, me (her scene partner) in particular.
Let me be very specific about this. At the beginning Bel limited her contact with outer zone objects to only a few seconds, whereas she felt comfortable spending much time inside. Outside she saw general properties of objects which did not elicit much interest, while inside she zoomed into compelling details. Keeping her eyes half closed much of the time fit into this pattern. For example, until I pointed it out she did not pay much attention to colors or give time for associations and fantasies regarding objects in the environment. Also, she tended to restrain the natural progression from sensing an object to reaching out and touching that object. Being aware of feeling cold, for example, did not connect to reaching out for something warm to wear until I made the connection for her! I did not call her attention to the nasal outpouring which went on throughout most of the session, and so instead of a handkerchief or a piece of toweling which no doubt was available within 10 feet of where she was sitting in her own apartment, Bel used practically every surface of her hands to deal with the problem during the two hour video! This tendency to remain within her cocoon was especially evident when it came to dealing (or rather not dealing) with me, her scene partner. Usually she waited till I turned away to glance quickly in my direction, but then when I turned back in her direction she was back inside again. I have never seen a prairie dog, but I can imagine they must have developed similar survival techniques to deal with marauding wolves on the prairie.
According to Gestalt theory, people who do not see or hear are likely to fill the empty space with imagination in a non-creative, self-destructive manner by cranking out critical judgments of other people and at the same time projecting critical eyes out onto others. They then imagine that these others are judging them critically. This habitual pattern of behavior below the level of awareness, or what Eric Berne labeled a “game people play”, is harmful for an actress, since she ends up being so busy worrying about what the audience thinks of her work that she is distracted from identifying with the role. In Bel’s case in the DVD we saw, in a classic manner, how after about 5 minutes of work Bel had propelled herself into a state of anxiety and gloom. Instant tears! Along with the tears came shame, as the merciless projected eyes demanded that she be ashamed even of crying. Soon Bel was worried about not being attractive enough (to satisfy the projected critical eyes), and then her associations led her to pop singer Kelly Clarkson and the words of Clarkson’s song “Because of You”.
SONG: “BECAUSE OF YOU”
BY KELLY CLARKSON, DAVID HODGES, BEN MOODY
I will not make the same mistakes that you did.
I will not let myself cause my heart so much misery.
I will not break the way you did. You fell so hard.
I’ve learned the hard way to never let it get that far.
Because of you I never stray too far from the sidewalk.
Because of you I learned to play on the safe side so I don’t get hurt.
Because of you I find it hard to trust not only me, but everyone around me.
Because of you I am afraid.
I lose my way, and it’s not too long before you point it out.
I cannot cry because I know that’s weakness in your eyes.
I’m forced to fake a smile, a laugh, every day of my life.
My heart can’t possibly break, when it wasn’t even whole to start with.
I watched you die. I heard you cry every night in your sleep.
I was so young. You should have known better than to lean on me.
You never thought of anyone else. You just saw your pain.
And now I cry in the middle of the night, for the same damn thing.
Because of you, because of you, because of you I am afraid.
Because of you I never stray too far from the sidewalk.
Because of you I learned to play on the safe side so I don’t get hurt.
Because of you I try my hardest just to forget everything.
Because of you I don’t know how to let anyone else in.
Because of you I am ashamed of my life because it’s empty.
Because of you I am afraid, because of you.
Notice how the words in bold type are the result of feeling judged by critical eyes and how they led Bel more and more away from the real world and into an imaginary world of self-disparagement. In that cramped cocoon space Bel feels helpless to deal with the alien world “out there”, out there where she is afraid even to look. But this is at first no problem, since once she gets lost inside Bel has plenty to keep herself busy. She never tires of concentrating on body awareness, the “ickyness” for example that she contacts in her “tummy”. Also, most of her body movements are relating herself to herself, such as holding her hands, twiddling her fingers, curling up in the chair, wrapping herself in a towel (security blanket) and manipulating small objects close to herself. She plays on her body and her breathing as though it is an accordion, going back and forth between constricting her breathing and relaxing it just enough to get some air. All this retroflection (tension and overcontrolling of her body) contributes to her anxiety and after a while we find Bel in a state of despair brooding about Marilyn Monroe’s suicide in Los Angeles at age 36. Shortly after our Gestalt session Bel moved to L. A., to “Hollywood and Vine”, and like Marilyn Monroe once did, Bel now is making the rounds of auditions. Apparently, like Sheri (the character Marilyn Monroe plays in the movie “Bus Stop”) Bel has a straight line “direction” leading right to Hollywood. Now that she is there, her ability to generate instant hysteria and tears is probably a great asset to her as an actress – so long as she does not take it all too personally and end up like Marilyn Monroe did. One other result of all this imploding is that by overcontrolling her breathing and not making much use of her ears Bel started out our session with a very limited range of physical and vocal expression. Her physical moves were general and vague rather than focused and specific, while her voice most of the time was a soft monotone.
But fortunately, Bel has a way out of the cocoon she spins around herself. Like Cinderella or like Princess Jasmine in Walt Disney’s musical Aladdin, Bel has a heart and a head full of rescue fantasies. Her favorite themes are floating, flying and breaking away, and since she is very musical these themes often enter her mind in the form of song lyrics of pop songs she knows – especially those of Kelly Clarkson. First, the imploding and despair spiral inward like a whirlpool, transporting Bel helplessly into a dark, melancholy void, and then – “it’s all so magical!” – along comes the rescue fantasy transporting her – once again passively – “out of the darkness and into the light”, like a butterfly emerging from a cocoon. In view of all these parallels in the action, I took the liberty in my DVD of inserting into the scenario a scene from Walt Disney’s version of Aladdin. Aladdin in this scene arrives on his magic carpet, rescues Princess Jasmine from the castle, and whisks her off to “a whole new world” of out-of-this-world vistas. As an actress Bel, in her emotional and fantasy life, certainly can capitalize on this cyclical roller coaster ride back and forth from self-generated melancholy to self-generated euphoria, so long as she does not lose control of the machine and succumb to despair herself.
(C) GENERAL SUMMARY OF BEL’S
What overall observations can we make? First of all we can say that the work “worked”. Bel was open to my direction and despite the monumental obstacle I gave her by putting a Canon XL-2 video camera, with its blinking red light, about 8 feet from her nose she seems to have gotten to some sort of closure during the work. In the language of Gestalt theory we can say that she accomplished a certain “action” during the two hours she spent with me in the here and now. There was a sense of moving forward in all the three zones of awareness, and also there emerged a fluid relationship between the three zones: (1) the outer zone of objects in the environment, (2) the inner zone of body awareness, and (3) the fantasy zone of daydream images. This fluidity of awareness zones reveals a potentially healthy and creative individual, whereas lack of movement between the zones would characterize a brittle, very limited schizoid (“split”) personality. Now I’m going to be more specific about Bel’s progress and add a bit of interpretation concerning what it all means. But don’t worry. In this brief essay I will not say much about the philosophy underlying my work. I won’t try to force feed you any particular philosophical or religious system. Of course, to me personally the theory of this work is very important. So if you are interested in hearing more about my take on the process, I hope you will check out some of the interpretive essays I have written where I look at the gestalt process from the perspective of various sects – secular and sacred. Getting back to general observations about Bel’s work, here are some prominent trends that I noticed that emerged during the two hours of work on awareness.
(1) Balancing the three zones of awareness leads to “the big picture”.
First of all, Bel managed to balance the three zones of awareness by bringing more outer zone focus and a rich fantasy zone experience into her work. In the fantasies she began with small objects that flitted by and then gradually expanded her range to deal in a sustained manner with a particular person (Marilyn Monroe). Finally, she focused on an image of a kitten in some depth. At first Bel’s attitude toward other objects and creatures was distant and defensive, but by the end of the session she reached out, touched and acknowledged feeling a need for contact with others. At the end she said, “I need to be closer to people, so I can share a loving feeling.” In terms of the theory of drama developed by Aristotle and elaborated by Fergusson in “The Idea of a Theater”, we can say that this was an opening action and a reaching out for warmth and love, like the action of a flower when the sun shines in the morning. This need to open and reach out for love was, as Stanislavki would have called it, Bel’s “superobjective” in this tragedy. The character Sheri in Bus Stop and the character Blanche in “Streetcar Named Desire” share a similar superobjective. But while Bel and Sheri succeed in overcoming the obstacles and completing the action, Blanche does not succeed in overcoming the obstacles. Blanche is driven back even further inside herself to psychosis by overwhelming environmental factors – especially the obstacles imposed by character Stanley. Why would Aristotle or Stanislavski call the completed action of Bel or Sheri a “tragedy”? Because in some sense the main character undergoes a death and rebirth of ego, or discovers a new point of view about life. The non-contactful insect style ego which needs to spin a cocoon in order to survive in an alien environment must die, we might say, in order that the human child can be born into a loving world inhabited by other human beings, just like so many classical Greek tragedy heroes need to die in order to fulfil their dramatic function.
(2) Good contact results in a wider range of physical and vocal expression.
Another area where Bel demonstrated much progress was in physical expression. Contacting and then finding the voice of each body part led to excellent results. This carried over also into vocal expression. At first she was stuck in a soft monotone, but later she began – to some extent – to vary the pitch, dynamics and tempo. She did this not merely technically like a virtuoso musician, but contactfully in response to here and now momentary concrete physical and emotional needs. In her own life and as an actress this is a technique she also can apply to vocal readings to keep her audience from falling asleep – if she is willing to risk that!
(3) Bel moves from having abstract “ideas about the scene” to living concretely here and now in the moments.
As Bel balanced the outer, inner and fantasy zones of awareness, there was a shift from regarding herself as an ego style Self, a Self with a capital “S”, a Self which is a large precious thing that needs to be protected, towards a non-ego self, a self with a small “s”, a self which is merely a process of exploring and discovering reality. The Self with its deliberate “ideas about the scene”, such as “I am going to die one day” and “don’t you dare to reach out and touch strangers”, yielded to a less rigid “self as process” which could risk surrendering to the circumstances of each moment. The shift from Self as thing to self as process was an important result of Bel’s work today. We saw how this shift of point of view towards that of “the big picture” was, paradoxically, the result of dealing with tiny details of her experience. Her “faith in a grain of mustard seed” (each moment of concrete awareness) was rewarded by holistic progress as she became more and more grounded in reality. Like Sheri in “Bus Stop”, she discarded her childish rulebook with its rigid principles, and grasped more holistic ideas, such as “the whole is greater than the sum of the parts” and “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” (of good contact). She discovered that in this wider frame of reference she could find her own support, her own grounding. Being more grounded in reality helped her to deal with the gloom that led to crying at the beginning of the session. As more and more moments of good contact converged into a rich encompassing contact boundary, she no longer had the need to implode into hysterical emotions and a sense of helpless despair.
(4) The “rhythm of contact and withdrawal” leads Bel to an overall action or idea of the session, a “superobjective”.
Aside from basic work on awareness itself, the major structural component of Gestalt work is known as “the rhythm of contact and withdrawal”. By “contact” in this context is meant awareness of specific objects such that one can say “I see that” or “I hear that”. By withdrawal is meant ceasing the “contact” experience and, one might say, “getting lost” without any specific focus. Usually this implies closing one’s eyes, going into one’s body awareness and allowing a daydream to percolate up from the “fertile void”. The new image oftentimes gives rise to personal associations to events from one’s life, especially events involving close family relationships in childhood. The Gestalt director then can guide the performer in an exploration of unfinished business involving that relationship. This all happens in the here and now, without stopping to analyze or talk about what is happening. The performer relives the important event as though it is happening in present time, putting himself in one chair and the other person in the other and going back and forth play acting the roles and the dialogue. One cycle of the rhythm of contact and withdrawal constitutes one “beat” of the underlying (dialectical) logic of the dramatic action. During today’s session on awareness I led Bel back and forth between the contact stage and the withdrawal stage, through several beats of the action. I do much more of this sort of work during the second and third sessions, where acting out the dream images and dialogues between them deepens the experience. During the first session on awareness I merely ask the performer to shuttle between outer zone and inner zone awareness and give an opportunity for daydreams to emerge along the way.
An indication of how well Bel’s work progressed today is the lovely manner in which each cycle of the rhythm of contact and withdrawal led her organically on to the next step and onto the superobjective in what turned out to be the final leap of the series. It was as though a higher or deeper force was propelling the inner logic that was unfolding from the outset. Why did it appear “as though” this was occuring? Answer: because it actually was occuring. There was, “in truth”, a higher or deeper force propelling the inner logic that was unfolding from the outset. This, again, is what Stanislavsi means by the word “superobjective”. Hence, we can see how dumb it is for actors and directors to expect to grasp the superobjective of a major tragic (or comic) action merely by fooling around with literary minutia or intricate cerebral analyses of a script. Even Brecht demanded that actors first contact their superobjectives before adding on layers of formalist devices and alienation effects to the acting score. Clever shticks, virtuoso technique, literary and intellectual erudition, and “knowing the business” certainly are important in the theater, but an actor (or dancer or singer or poet, etc.) who is floating on the surface of his life in a dinghy full of shticks, information and aboutism is merely paddling aimlessly on the great ocean when it comes to organizing these surface details into a coherent, credible artistic action (Aristotle) or idea (Plato). Rather, an actor needs to discover as many of his own centers as possible, and harness the powers of the great ocean (or whatever you would like to call it in your own cultural context) for his own purposes and the needs of his art. Later stages of this gestalt theater process attempt to do just that. My essays present my own particular way of finding a cultural context for this work within Judaism.
(5) The series of withdrawal images reveals the beats of the action, the “acts” of Bel’s tragedy (or comedy).
I will go through the series of withdrawal images with you now, so you can see exactly what I mean by the beats of a dramatic action or superobjective. At the same time, as we examine the content of the images we will notice that other changes also were happening in a way that moved the process more and more profoundly along the banks of an underlying river. At the beginning Bel’s images were fleeting, but they became more and more sustained and developed as the focus of her fantasy zone increased. Another gradual shift was from images that served passively as a release from despair to images that involved committed actions that Bel undertook as part of her existential, or some might say “spiritual”, attempt to grow. Let’s take these images one at a time.
Image 1: the song “Because of You”
During her work on unguided awareness Bel is quite proficient at talking herself into a quagmire of tension and despair. Soon she ends up feeling helpless and judged by critical eyes. Then suddenly pops into her head the Kelly Clarkson song “Because Of You”. Miraculously, Bel finds some release from her sense of constriction and helplessness. How does this happen? Certainly the words of the song are not all that cheerful and full of hope. My hypothesis is that suddenly Bel shifts her way of thinking from subjectivity (worrying about causes and effects) to objectivity (dealing with life here and now in a meditative manner). The strong image gives her here and now an objective contact boundary, a strong “gestalt” (pattern, focused idea) to grasp. This releases her from cause and effect style anticipations of painful judgments and imminent catastrophes which might occur in the future. “If”, for example, “I do not lose weight or get my lines just right (the cause), then soon people will see me as uninteresting (effect number one) or unattractive (effect number two), and then . . . (effect number three, etc.)!” But now, by involving herself in actually hearing the tune in her head, Bel frees herself from self-interruptions (projections, introjects, demons, etc.). She no longer is possessed. She now is able to use her mind and body in a natural human way to restore balance and homeostasis. Bel relaxes her muscles and soon she is breathing freely and concentrating on the task at hand, contacting the three zones of awareness.
Image 2: passively floating and flying away on a magic carpet
Next, as she begins to discover the power of this new awareness technique, Bel says “I am picturing myself flying”. The first time the flying image occurs it is merely a fleeting notion, but the image comes back a little later in a more developed form, and Bel now is able to sustain the focus and see herself lying on her back on the carpet, with her arms outstretched in the shape of what she calls a “cross”, passively floating out the window and flying through the air. Nevertheless, the image still is a relatively weak one. For example, there was no music accompanying the image. After the session I asked Bel if she had any musical associations to the image. What came to her mind was the Walt Disney musical animation “Aladdin”. But during the work itself Bel did not volunteer any particular musical background. Here is the text of the song Aladdin sings to Princess Jasmine as he whisks her on his magic carpet out of her palace and into a magical new world. I see this song as being entirely appropriate to Bel’s state of mind as it appears to me to be at this moment in her work.Therefore, I have taken the liberty of interjecting both the song and the magic carpet ride visual track that accompanies it in the Disney flick into my DVD’s of Bel’s work. Since my intent here is helping people to grow, and not to make a profit, I hope this use of the Disney clip falls under the heading “fair use”.
SONG: “I CAN SHOW YOU THE WORLD”
FROM WALT DISNEY’S MUSICAL “ALADDIN”
I can show you the world; shining, shimmering, splendid.
Tell me, Princess, now when did you last let your heart decide?
I can open your eyes, take you wonder by wonder,
over, sideways and under on a magic carpet ride.
A whole new world, a new fantastic point of view.
No one to tell us “no”, or where to go, or say we’re only dreaming.
A whole new world, a new fantastic point of view.
A dazzling place I never knew.
But when I’m way up here it’s crystal clear
that now I’m in a whole new world with you.
Now I’m in a whole new world with you.
Unbelievable sights, indescribable feeling.
Soaring, tumbling, we’re weaving through an endless diamond sky.
A whole new world.
Don’t you dare close your eyes!
A hundred thousand things to see.
Hold your breath. It gets better.
I’m like a shooting star. I’ve come so far.
I can’t go back to where I used to be.
A whole new world.
Every turn a surprise.
With new horizons to perceive.
Every moment gets better.
I’ll chase them anywhere. There’s time to spare.
Let me share this whole new world with you.
A whole new world.
A whole new world.
That’s where we’ll be.
That’s where we’ll be.
A thrilling chase.
A wondrous place.
For you and me.
(spoken) It’s all so magical.
Image 3: actively flying and breaking away with her own wings
A crucial parameter we need to monitor in regard to these daydream images is the extent to which the performer is actively involved rather than being a mere passive victim of circumstances. So far Bel’s imagination is becoming stronger, but at the same time so far these images of floating and flying still have Bel casting herself in the role of passive recipient of energies from forces outside herself. But soon another “flying away” image emerges, and this time Bel herself takes responsibility for the action. She daydreams the melody and words of another Kelly Clarkson song, “Break Away”.
SONG: “BREAK AWAY”
by M. GERRARD, B. BENANTE, & A. LAVIGNE
Grew up in a small town, and when the rain would fall down I’d just stare out my
Dreamin’ of what could be, and if I’d end up happy, I would pray, trying hard to
But when I tried to speak out, felt like no one could hear me.
Wanted to belong here, but something felt so wrong here, so I prayed I could
I’ll spread my wings and I’ll learn how to fly.
I’ll do what it takes till I touch the sky,
and I’ll make a wish, take a chance, make a change
and break away.
Out of the darkness and into the sun,
but I won’t forget all the ones that I love.
Want to feel the warm breeze, sleep under a palm tree.
I’ll make a wish, take a chance, make a change and break away.
Feel the rush of the ocean, get onboard a fast train,
travel on a jet plane, far away and break away.
Buildings with a hundred floors, swinging round revolving doors,
maybe I don’t know where they’ll take me,
but gotta keep movin’ on, movin’ on, fly away, break away.
I’ll spread my wings and I’ll learn how to fly, though it’s not easy to tell you goodbye.
I got to make a wish, take a chance, make a change and break away.
Out of the darkness and into the sun, but I won’t forget the place I come from.
I got to make a wish, take a chance, make a change and break away,
break away, break away.
This time Bel herself is having thoughts of actively breaking away from her past and moving on to new adventures – though not without a certain need to hang onto her roots in the past. Her past she now sees as “darkness” and the freedom she is craving is the opposite, “light”. Jet planes and buildings with 100 floors are strong attractions to a young actress who is on the verge of pulling up stakes in Florida and heading for the big time in L.A. Also, here we have music with a strong personal connection for Bel. The song articulates two of Bel’s urgent needs: “I’ll spread my wings and I’ll learn how to fly. I’ll do what it takes till I touch the sky.” To breathe and think freely and to reach out to touch and find love are two objectives which are crucial components of Bel’s superobjective, two parts of the emerging whole. In terms of the overall tragic/comic action of this two hour gestalt session, we can say that we now are in Act Two of a five act drama. Bel now has a clear objective: to break away into the light. Her obstacles are the forces or demons symbolized by what she regards as “darkness” and “because of you”. The action still is far from complete.
Image 4: Marilyn Monroe as symbol of deep personal conflicts
It is only in the next image, that of Marilyn Monroe in “The Seven Year Itch”, that finally we have a fully human situation linking specific imagery and emotional needs. This is Act Three of Bel’s tragicomedy, and it is no longer just an adolescent cartoon scenario. Now the obstacle (“to disparage myself into a colossal flop”) seriously confronts the objective (“to overinflate myself into a superstar”). Bel is moving the action towards an X/-X impasse, a “stuck point” crisis in Act Four. At first Bel can identify superficially with Marilyn Monroe as a happy and attractive star, but soon depressing and ugly thoughts of Marilyn’s suicide at age 36 in L.A. intrude and turn the Hollywood dream into a nightmare with which Bel will not identify. From the point of view of her conflict and resultant misery at this point of the action, Bel concludes that the main thing, what she really wants, is “just to be happy”. This certainly is a superobjective that seems to resolve the conflict, but actually this superobjective is only a vague and abstract “idea about the scene”. Identifying with such an objective as “to be happy” is merely playing a quality of pumped up hysteria. The objective “to be happy” does not imply a series of specific concrete beats that can be used to articulate the action, either as Bel Baca or as any character Bel may want to play in her career as an actress. Marilyn Monroe herself plays a similarly muddled aspiring actress in “Bus Stop”. The character Sheri at first is fixated on getting to L.A. at all costs, for the relatively superficial goals of “getting some respect” and attaining lots of success and happiness. But by the end of the movie Sheri resigns herself to dealing with the specific circumstances occasioned by her new relationship with a young man named Beau. Sheri decides that despite all the obstacles it entails from the point of view of her initial program of being a superstar, the prospect of marriage, security and concrete here/now satisfaction with this specific person named Beau affords her a stronger objective than does the vague spectral lure of “Hollywood and Vine”. Sheri rips up the abstract roadmap which till then had been a rigid “story of my life”, an “idea about the scene”, and now she identifies with this emerging new concrete love relationship which here and no is giving her a rich, vital contact experience.
Image 5: a kitten as a love object safe to reach out and touch
Bel herself does not deal with a similar conflict until the next and final image of her session, the image of a blue-eyed very furry kitten. The content of this image is much less dazzling than either the Hollywood studio scene or the life of Marilyn Monroe, but what is new here is no less important in the deeper logic of Bel’s existence. For now, for the first time, Bel is no longer only a passive victim of tragic circumstances. She is no longer breaking away blindly in the manner of a teenie bopper. Rather, as a mature woman Bel now is reaching out to another living creature (be it merely a kitten or a grain of mustard seed) with full contact and emotional involvement. How does Bel feel about the kitten? “I love it”, she says.
The parallel to the “Bus Stop” movie is striking. When near the end of the movie Sheri’s lover “Beau” tries to grab her in the way men have been grabbing her since she was age 12, Sheri takes charge of her life and demands that “this time it should be different”, not just being grabbed as an object of someone else’s lust. Beau has a similar revelation when he discovers that “kissing someone for serious is scary”, scary because it involves authentic contact with another human being and not just blindly grabbing an object you plan to make use of. Like Sheri, who chooses motherhood over L.A., Bel associates reaching out and touching the kitten to holding her sister’s baby. The mothering/loving feeling soon generalizes and by the end of the session Bel feels a need to reach out to people in general in a loving way. Perhaps soon Bel will move beyond an either/or conflict in this area towards a higher integration of the opposite sides, but for now the issues are only just emerging into consciousness. Along with this new perspective on life comes a mild explosion into joy and optimism about her life as she anticipates the long journey that “begins with a single step”. This is Act Five, the denouement, of Bel’s drama, at least on the deeper (or higher) level of the superobjective. We do not have enough current information from Bel to know how this existential action is translating into specific events of her life as it is unfolding now at “Hollywood and Vine” in Los Angeles.
If we look now for general technical terms to summarize Bel’s existential journey during our two hours of work, we can say there was a transition from imploding to exploding, from closing in on oneself to opening out to the universe. The session ended with what Gestalt people label a mild “explosion into authentic joy”, a shift from gloom to a mild euphoria, as energy tied up in tensing herself and imploding herself became available for living life creatively. This was a mini-satori or enlightenment experience. The implosion process was reversed merely by tuning into the larger context or envelope of here and now experience, the context of life itself. We did not need analytically to meddle with specific events in Bel’s childhood or present life. True, in later dreamwork sessions which Bel one day may undertake there would be a place for zeroing in on actual dream images, past relationships and unfinished business, but these individual events are in Gestalt work usually integrated into larger and larger envelopes as a performer or pilgrim gets more and more grounded in the contact boundary and reality itself. Each new conflict along the way leads to its own resolution on a higher level by means of a certain kind of deeper (higher) logic that goes by many names depending upon the point of view of the person doing the theorizing: induction (versus deduction), ascent (on the right side of the tree of life), translation (moving up Jacob’s ladder of angels), identifying with the coming solution (Gestalt), the final cause (Aristotle), return to origin via anamnesis (Plato), etc. And so we find that there is no way to avoid dealing with philosophical and religious matters in this work. Secular philosophers talk about how the two sides of a conflict – the thesis and the antithesis – get incorporated into a higher level idea called the synthesis. This way of thinking is known as dialectical thinking, and it forms the basis of most philosophical and religious traditions in the world, east and west. Religious leaders, such as Maimonides or St.Thomas, developed their own vocabularies to deal dialectically with the traditions of their own communities. For example, if we want to use the philosophical framework of Aristotle or Maimonides we could spell out Bel’s series of beats as an ascent from conflicted lower, smaller spheres, envelopes or heavens towards encompassing higher and broader spheres of the universe. But I promised not to force feed philosophy or religion in this account. For those who find pondering deep causes of things to be more trouble than it is worth, and for that reason will “pass” on my other essays, this, then, may be the end of our shared journey. I’ll conclude this essay now by quoting what Bel had to say about this session when a month or so later I asked her for a “reference”. She sent me the following email from L.A. “Be open to a Gestalt session and you’ll be amazed. I’d personally recommend Franklyn’s Gestalt work to everyone, whether you have a personal emotion or issue you want to work on, or not. Franklyn used this technique in showing me my own awareness paradigm, which in turn helped me in all aspects of my life, including my acting. It served to give me more emotional freedom and helped me grasp the power I have to influence my thoughts, emotions and hence my decisions. Bel Baca, actress, Los Angeles, California, September 2005.”
BEL BACA: AWARENESS CONTINUUM
MY NEAR VERBATIM NOTES TAKEN DURING THE WORK
APRIL 17, 2005. THIS SESSION WAS CONDUCTED IN BEL’S APARTMENT. THERE WERE NO OBSERVERS. THE PRESENCE OF HER ROOMMATE MOVING ABOUT OUTSIDE THE ROOM MAY HAVE AFFECTED BEL’S SENSE OF PRIVACY. THE VIDEO CAMERA WAS LEFT RUNNING BY ITSELF THROUGHOUT THE WORK. WE HAD AGREED BEFOREHAND THAT I WOULD TAKE THE TAPE WITH ME AT THE END OF THE SESSION.
UNGUIDED AWARENESS: ONE HOUR
B: Now I am aware of cool air. My feet are on the ground. I’m aware of my tummy, ’cause I just ate. You want physical things?
F: No questions allowed.
B: I’m aware of seeing you all in blue. Now I’m aware of feeling a little anxious ’cause I’ve never done this. I’m aware of my center. My stomach is anxious. You want more? I feel I have energy, but also my energy is zapped. I feel that often. TWIDDLING HER FINGERS. LONG PAUSE. I’m aware that my eyes look red. I have an irritation. It’s from soap. SHE SPENDS MUCH TIME LOOKING DOWN AT THE FLOOR. I’m aware of feeling icky. I don’t know why. SLIGHT SMILE. Like I want to cry. SHE CRIES, SNIVELS. IN GENERAL MUCH OF THE TIME BEL’S EYES ARE HALF OPEN. Now I’m aware of feeling embarrassed that I cried. EXHALES DEEPLY, AFTER HOLDING HER BREATH A WHILE. AS A GENERAL PATTERN, I NOTICE THAT BEL SEEMS TO PLAY HER BREATH LIKE AN ACCORDION, HOLDING IT AND THEN RELEASING IT WITHOUT BEING VERY AWARE OF HOW THIS OVERCONTROLLING GENERATES A STATE OF PHYSICAL TENSION AND AN ACCOMPANYING SENSE OF ANXIETY. SHE LEANS FORWARD AND LAUGHS. NOW HER EYES ARE ALMOST CLOSED. I’m aware of thinking it’s funny that I cried. DEEP BREATH. I’m aware of feeling constricted, because I’m feeling stuck in my body.
F: I AM CONCERNED LEST SHE WORK HERSELF UP INTO A STATE OF HYSTERIA, BUT I WOULD RATHER NOT INVERVENE. I AM HOPING THAT SHE WILL WORK HER WAY OUT OF THIS IMPLODING. Let me know if you need help. In the meantime go on with what you are aware of.
B: LONG PAUSE I’m aware of the beautiful trees outside, blowing in the wind. I’m aware that I’m a human being, that I’m mortal and that I’ll die someday. That makes me feel helpless. I’m looking at my finger nails. Now I’m aware of the taste of this nail polish. It’s not good. I’m aware of feeling a little drowsy. I’m aware of the stress I’m putting on my toes. SHE IS PRESSING THEM AGAINST THE RUG. HER NOSE IS DRIPPING NONSTOP, WITH OCCASIONAL DROPS HANGING FROM THE END OF HER NOSE. I’m aware that I’m too aware of bodily feelings as opposed to higher concepts and ideas. MUCH SNIVELING. I’m aware that I probably have fears and anxieties that I need to release. OVERALL: MUCH HOLDING AND THEN RELEASING OF HER BREATH. I’m aware that I’m distrusting of myself and of others in life sometimes.
F: I NOTICE THAT BEL MOST OF THE TIME AVOIDS LOOKING DIRECTLY AT ME. WHEN I TURN BACK TO HER AFTER LOOKING AWAY, SHE QUICKLY TURNS AWAY FROM LOOKING DIRECTLY AT ME.
B: I’m aware that I’m hoping this exercise will help me in some way. PAUSE. I’m aware that I have a song playing in my head.
F: What song is it?
B: “Because Of You”. I’m aware that I took a deep breath. That felt good. I’m aware that I’m very conscious of how I look, my body image.
FEEDBACK: AT THIS POINT I STOPPED BEL’S AWARENESS WORK AND GAVE HER FEEDBACK. I WENT OVER ALL OF MY NOTES, POINTING OUT WHAT WOULD BE CONSIDERED TO BE “AWARENESS” ACCORDING TO GESTALT THEORY AND WHAT WOULD BE CONSIDERED TO BE SOME OTHER SORT OF FUNCTIONING, SUCH AS JUDGMENTS, PROJECTIONS AND AVOIDANCES. I POINT OUT THAT SHE IS AVOIDING CONTACTING HER “SCENE PARTNER”, WHO IN THIS CASE IS ME. BEL TOOK A FEW MINUTES TO REPLAY THE VIDEO TO SEE HOW WE LOOK DOING THE WORK. THEN WE RESUMED THE UNGUIDED AWARENESS EXERCISE.
B: LONG PAUSE. I’m aware of my face being itchy. I’m aware of you looking at me. AS A MATTER OF FACT, AT THE MOMENT SHE SAID THIS I WAS NOT ACTUALLY LOOKING AT HER. I’m aware of feeling more relaxed. I’m aware of some kind of sound outside. Cars maybe. I’m aware of your shirt. It says “Martin Guitars, Established 1833”. Now I’m aware of feeling tired. I’m yawning. SHE IS TOUCHING HER FACE QUITE A BIT. I’m aware that I’m sniveling. I’m aware that I’m more relieved. I’m aware that I am self-conscious, that I am annoyed that I’m sniffling a lot. BEL LOOKS DIRECTLY AT ME FOR PERHAPS THE FIRST TIME. LONG PAUSE. I see that you’re wearing glasses and white sox. They look clean. SHE CONTINUES LOOKING AT ME AS I WRITE, BUT WHEN I LOOK UP AT HER SHE QUICKLY LOOKS AWAY. SHE YAWNS. HER VOICE IS SO FAR AN UNEXPRESSIVE MONOTONE MOST OF THE TIME. I’m aware that my nails are pretty. I’m aware that my eyes might be half closed, that I’m smiling and that my shoulders feel sore. I’m aware that I am happy that I am doing this exercise. Now I’m aware that the fan is spinning. I’m aware that last night’s show may not have gone well. I was too much in my head. BEL IS AN ACTRESS PERFORMING THE LEAD ROLE AT A LOCAL THEATER EACH NIGHT THIS WEEK. I’m aware of how this bracelet feels on my arm. I’m aware that I am sniffling and that I am touching this bracelet. HER CURLED UP POSITION IN THE CHAIR HAS NOT CHANGED FOR A WHILE. I’m picturing myself flying. I’m looking at that purple back massager IT IS GLASS, ON A TABLE ACROSS THE ROOM. It is very pretty. Now I am picturing what it would be like to touch that piece of paper you are writing on. YAWNS. I’m aware that I just yawned. WITH HER LEGS STILL CURLED UP ON THE CHAIR SHE STRETCHES HER ARMS OVER HER HEAD. I’m aware that I’m stretching. Your pen is an interesting shade of blue. I’m aware of feeling uncomfortable in this chair. I’m aware that I’m trying to keep my eyes more open. RATHER THAN FOCUSING ON OUTER ZONE DETAILS SHE IS FOCUSING ON KEEPING HER EYES OPEN. I’m aware of blue circles on the file box. WHEN I LOOK AWAY BEL LOOKS AT ME. I’m aware that I’m a little tired. I’m aware of what that blanket feels like. SHE DOES NOT GO OVER AND TOUCH IT. I’m aware of how my toes look. I’m aware of your thing holding down your hat, your berette. I AM WEARING A JEWISH STYLE SKULL CAP. BEL IS CHRISTIAN. I’m aware of your curly hair, that your shoes look like they are made of suede leather. SHE MOVES HER TOES UP AND DOWN A FEW TIMES. I’m aware that I am thinking. I am aware that my forehead is probably wrinkled right now. I DO NOT SEE ANY WRINKLES THERE.
AT THIS POINT I STOPPED HER WORK, SO THAT I WOULD AGAIN HAVE TIME TO GIVE FEEDBACK BEFORE THE END OF THE FIRST HOUR. I REVIEWED MY NOTES WITH HER, POINTING OUT WHAT WAS AWARENESS AND WHAT WAS NOT AWARENESS ACCORDING TO THE GESTALT POINT OF VIEW. BREAK: 5 MINUTES
GUIDED AWARENESS: 1 1/2 HOURS
B: I’m aware that I’m holding my hands. I’m aware that I am cold.
F: What can you do about being cold?
B: TAKES BRIGHTLY COLORED TOWEL TO WRAP AROUND HERSELF. CELL PHONE RINGS. I’m aware of my phone making noises. WIND BLOWS THE DOOR WITHIN ITS FRAME SO IT MAKES A THUD. The door made a noise.
F: That’s the outer zone. Stay there a while.
B: I’m aware of the green of that shelf. It’s a 70’s green. It feels smooth. BUT SHE DOESN’T GO OVER TO TOUCH IT. My nails are black. My bracelet is made of brown wood. I’m aware that I’m on camera being filmed.
F: What do you actually see when you look at the camera?
B: I see the red light blinking.
F: Describe the camera.
B: I see a microphone.
F: A “microphone” is a complex idea. It’s not something you actually contact. Be like an aboriginal who looks at a camera for the first time. Describe the microphone.
B: It’s a black object. It’s circular and long. It looks like it’s soft.
F: Go and touch it.
B: TOUCHING THE MIC. It’s not as soft as I had imagined.
THROUGHOUT THIS SESSION IN BEL’S APARTMENT I MYSELF AM AWARE OF THE SMELL OF CIGARETTE SMOKE SEEPING UNDER HER DOOR. HER ROOMMATE, WHO ALSO IS HER SISTER, SMOKES. WHEN AT THE END OF THE SESSION I MENTIONED THAT SMELL, BEL SAID THAT SHE IS SO USED TO THE SMELL SHE NO LONGER EVEN SMELLS IT.
F: OK, now let’s shift over to working on the inner zone. Close your eyes. What are you aware of now in your body?
B: I’m uncomfortable in my gut. Maybe it’s anxiety. It’s my tummy. I can tell you why.
F: No, not “why”. Just tell me “what”. What’s going on in your stomach?
B: I’m uncomfortable with myself.
F: That’s an abstract idea. What is going on physically? Does it feel like hunger?
F: Do you sense something moving there?
B: No. Now I’m letting myself breathe. I feel better. I’m aware that my shoulders are hunched. HER FINGERS ARE IN A FIST.
F: Go into that. Hunch up some more, and make noise, like this. Squeeze your fingers also. I DEMONSTRATE HOLDING MY BREATH AND SQUEEZING, IMPLODING WHILE I BLOCK THE SOUND SO IT CANNOT COME OUT FREELY.
B: FOLLOWS MY EXAMPLE AND CURLS UP ON THE CHAIR.
F: The toes too. Curl your toes also. Now relax. Very good. When you are ready open your eyes and come outside.
B: OPENS HER EYES.
F: What’s your reaction now to coming outside into the outer zone?
B: I want to go back inside.
F: What is there that you need?
B: I don’t know.
F: What are you aware of now outside?
B: The green cabinet. It has rungs in front, rectangular, like bamboo. And it has a handle that looks like a pinapple. It’s yellow, tilted.
F: Good. Now that you see it, let’s go onto the next step. Do you have any associations when you look at it. Maybe it reminds you of something, or whatever.
B: It reminds me of when I painted it. If I picked it up it would be heavy. Inside it are videos and jewelry. What do you mean by associations?
F: It could be anything: memories, judgments, images, comments.
B: Like I could imagine little midgets jumping on it?
F: Right. That’s called “creative thinking”. You go from objectivity to subjectivity, not the other way around. If you do it the other way around it’s psychotic thinking. Like maybe you imagine somebody is out to get you and you don’t bother actually to see the person at all. OK, let’s go back to the inner zone again. This is called the rhythm of contact and withdrawal. The contact part is the outer zone and the withdrawal part is going back into your body and the void inside.
F: Close your eyes now. First of all, are you comfortable in your body? Any tension?
B: I’m not comfortable. My thighs are sore from doing some exercises. If I stretch I’ll feel better. SHE STANDS AND STRETCHES, BUT KEEPS HER MOUTH TIGHTLY SHUT AND EMITS NO SOUND AT ALL.
F: What was missing that time? The sound. Would you mind doing it again, but this time add the sound. Do it harder and open your mouth and throat. Let all the parts of your body find a voice. Move your fingers. How does that change the sound? Listen to the sounds. Now your hips. Now your toes. Good.
GRADUALLY SHE ESCAPES FROM THE FROZEN VOCAL MONOTONE SHE HAS BEEN IN MOST OF THE SESSION SO FAR. HER VOICE BECOMES MUCH MORE EXPRESSIVE.
F: Sit down again, please, and close your eyes again. Now we are going to work on the third zone of awareness, the fantasy zone. So far you haven’t used your imagination much today. If you don’t mind I’d like you to do a daydream. Go on a trip or imagine something. Take your time. You’re free to censer, but the more you share the more material we have to work with.
B: I’m imagining I’m lying on my carpet, touching it with my fingers. Then I have my arms spread out like a cross and I float off the floor. I float through the walls and out the window. It’s like I’m flying. I land on the roof. I can see the road outside.
F: If the daydream was a movie can you imagine any kind of music that would go with the movie?
B: I am imagining a song, “Break Away” by Kelly Parkstone.
F: Can you sing it?
B: SHE SINGS THE SONG SOFTLY WITH HER EYES CLOSED AT FIRST.
F: Keep your eyes mostly closed and stand up. Dance along with the singing. Find a sound that comes from each body part. Make the sounds as different as possible. High sounds, low sounds, fast sounds, slow sounds, loud sounds, soft sounds. Good. Now zero in on a few key words of the song and drone them over and over. Trip on them and see how they develop.
B: SINGS REPETITIVELY ” . . . out of the darkness into the light . . . fly away and break away . . .”
B: I burped. SHE CLOSELY EXAMINES ONE OF HER HAIRS. This hair is split in half. I just ripped it apart. It blew on me. Now I am aware of the red camera light blinking. That light THE CEILING LIGHT WITH FAN ATTACHED TO IT has a string hanging from it. SHE FOCUSES ON A SMALL “FAIRY” SHAPED DOLL ACROSS THE ROOM. The little fairy has feathers blowing on her head. There is a string hanging from her. I can picture touching that.
F: Go over and touch it.
B: It felt nice: hard, solid.
F: Now that you really saw it and contacted it, do you have any associations or thoughts or judgments about it?
B: Once I played a character that takes pleasure in little things. I wish I could be like that. She was not just concerned with herself. She lives each moment.
F: That is what I call “creative thinking”. First you contacted the doll and then you got associations about it.
F: Now we’re beginning to get some integration of outer zone awareness and fantasy zone awareness. Let’s keep going with the rhythm of contact and withdrawal. Close your eyes and go inside one more time. Are you comfortable in your body?
B: Yes. INSTEAD OF CURLING UP ON THE CHAIR BEL NOW IS SITTING UP STRAIGHT WITH HER FEET ON THE FLOOR IN FRONT OF HER. SHE APPEARS TO BE MUCH MORE RELAXED THAN UP TILL NOW. APPARENTLY SHE NO LONGER IS CONSTRICTING HER BREATHING.
F: Try another daydream. Take your time.
B: I see an image of Marilyn Monroe. She has red glittery shoes and smooth legs. She’s wearing her famous white dress, tightened on the waist. Her arms are straight. She has red fingernails. I see her collar bones.
F: What’s your reaction to seeing this image? Is it pleasant or unpleasant?
B: Pleasant. She seems happy. She’s smiling. She has pretty teeth and lips.
F: What can you say about how this image relates to you?
B: She seems happy but also sad. I know she ended up killing herself.
F: Do you have any associations when you think about the image?
B: I don’t know if I want to share them. BEL CRIES. SHE OPENS HER EYES.
F: You have a right to censer and protect your privacy, but is there anything you feel you can share?
B: It’s confidential.
F: Does this image tell you anything about what you need in your life?
B: I need to feel accepting of myself and like myself.
F: Would you rather deal with that question today or let it go for now?
B: That may be the area that affects everything. I try to help myself. I use all sorts of techniques, like yoga. I feel bad about myself. I feel I am unattractive. It’s due to how I was raised. I need to take responsibility. I don’t want to take medication for a chemical imbalance all my life. I just want to be happy.
F: Since our contract today is to work on the awareness exercise and not go into specific problems I want to return now to the rhythm of contact and withdrawal. What are you aware of in the outer zone now?
B: The sound of the wind outside and the door makes noises.
F: Take the wind first. How does the wind sound?
B: The leaves are rustling. It sounds windy.
F: Describe the sound.
B: It’s a swishing sound. Also there is the dull roar of traffic.
F: Now the door sound.
B: The door is moving back and forth with the wind.
F: So they are related. What’s your reaction to these sounds?
B: I don’t like the door noise. The swishing is soothing.
F: You just closed your eyes. You keep wanting to run back into your box. Keep your eyes open for now. How do you encounter me?
B: I’m grateful, but
F: Wait a minute. I forgot to ask you for associations to the wind and the door.
B: The door noise reminds me of people who are angry. The wind is like freedom, nature.
F: What about nature? Do you deal with nature much in your life?
B: I do not have much freedom or nature in my life. I don’t go outside. I’m either here in my room or rehearsing or driving.
F: Do you think you should spend more time with nature?
F: And what about the angry people?
B: I think of my roommates. ONE OF BEL’S ROOMMATES IS HER SISTER. They are always cursing. Also, my parents were always angry.
F: Was there a particular reason for that?
B: They hated each other. There was no money. SMILES. Too many kids.
SHE REQUESTS A BATHROOM BREAK.
USUALLY I AM STRICT ABOUT LIMITING THE FIRST SESSION TO TWO HOURS TOTAL. BUT BEL SEEMS TO HAVE TOUCHED ON SOME IMPORTANT AREAS THAT NEED SOME CLOSURE BEFORE WE END THE SESSION. THEREFORE, I OFFER HER THE OPPORTUNITY TO GO ON A WHILE.
F: Actually our time is finished, but we can go on a while if your want. Do you want to stop now or do one more round?
B: One more. I’m cold. SHE WRAPS HERSELF IN THE TOWEL AND CLOSES HER EYES. I curled my toes under. I’m taking deep breaths. I feel good. My head feels itchy. F: Any images coming?
B: I’m picturing my stomach going up and down as I breathe. It feels pleasant. I feel fat and “icky”.
F: Keep your eyes half closed, stand up and dance “ickiness”. SHE DOES A SILENT IMPROV WHILE WRAPPED IN THE TOWEL. Do it again. Add the sound this time. Open your mouth and your throat. Find the voice of each body part, for example the toes.
B: CLOSES HER EYES. I see a kitten, soft with a lot of fur. It’s cute. It has blue eyes and white fur.
F: In the image what is your relation to the kitten?
B: I’m touching it. It’s the softest thing I ever felt. I love it.
F: Just stay with the image and see how it develops.
B: I’m holding it.
F: Do you have associations to similar situations?
B: I’m thinking of how it was holding my sister’s baby.
F: Does this work tell you anything about what you need?
B: I need to be closer to people, so I can share a loving feeling.
F: Good. We need to end the session soon. If you look back over the whole session, can you find an overall message that you got from today’s work?
B: I feel I’m getting a better understanding of myself. I need balance as far as awareness goes, the outer and the inner. Also I need to be closer to people and not so into myself.
F: They are related. Seeing and hearing them helps to relate to them.
B: I used to be that way. A year ago I moved here, to a place where I know no one. When we balanced the awarenesses, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
F: I noticed that you stopped the crying by yourself. What is it about the big picture that stops the crying?
B: We work on the little things and the big picture gets better. Usually I overdo it. I overload myself. A long journey begins with a single step.
F: That’s what they say in acting classes. Go in for the moments, the beats. Don’t try to eat the whole turkey in one bite. Don’t play one big idea about the scene from the beginning till the end. Provide yourself with lots of real things you can contact here and now along the way, lots of outer zone environment objects and inner zone fantasy objects. You need that objectivity to balance all the subjectivity, all that emotional soup that you have a tendency to get lost in. The subjective stuff you are very good at, and a lot of the time that is what the audience wants, but if you do it too much it is overwhelming and boring. You need to give the audience all the realities in a balanced way. And you can’t give them what you don’t have yourself.