Therapy, Perception, Imagination, and Change

Posted by Andy on Sep 16, 2009 | Subscribe
in mind/body


There’s a fine line between perception and imagination because we don’t just see things as they are, but rather we see things as we are.  If our imagination is limited or absent, so are we. As a psychotherapist I use the power of imagination to help my client shift into new perceptions. Bending things is the name of the game.  Just like massage is manipulation of soft tissue for a good outcome, psychotherapy is a benevolent intervention that challenges the brain-locks of the person to help them get unstuck. I use imagination to stretch perceptions and rock the boat. “What if you had a magic wand, and could change things in your favor?” Or: “What would you say and do in this situation if you could be completely uninhibited without regard to consequences?” Or: “If you could travel back into time and find yourself as a kid, what do you see?”  Just like clay–our memories and perceptions harden if not handled regularly. Bend them, keep them warm and pliable, create with them, and above all, beware of neglecting them or making them into assumptions.

No intellectual insight, idea, theory, or “understanding” alone ever liberates a person from mental or emotional suffering.  It takes passion, wonder, inspiration—the stuff of a vivid imagination–to overcome habits of pain and deprivation.

And let’s face it: our history is imagination. It’s not the facts that count, but how we hold them. Our past is a story imprinted with emotional charge. And so it takes emotional charge to bring about change. That life-affirming oomph comes from deep feeling, even when it’s painful. My therapy style is to help a person connect with the feeling level, and then rewrite, or re-imagine the whole story–to put a new frame around a familiar picture. Because even an outstanding work of art in a frame made out of dried cow manure might make a person conclude: “this picture stinks”. My job is to remind you that it’s not the painting that stinks, just the frame. You, in essence, are a masterpiece!

So, what deep feelings am I talking about? The ones already in there, often the feelings of a child that got tucked away into shadows. The ones hidden from consciousness. The unpleasant, painful ones. Or, there’s also the potential feelings, a person’s yet untapped capacity to love, for instance, dormant like an unsprouted seed, that get awakened by the heart’s desire and inspiration. We tend to call them the “bad” feelings and the “good” ones. But they are certainly not the neutral ones.

Deep feelings fuel real change, because only in a deep feeling state do we clearly see what is right and what is wrong for our well-being, and sense our true destiny stir within. That’s what makes feelings dangerous and why we often avoid them; they are to the lazy, unimaginative, self-protective, status quo ego, like oxygen is to anaerobic bacteria. Their very presence breaks the stranglehold of conceptual routine unconscious living, and thrusts us into the raw openness of the present moment. We often only get to that point through disaster, crisis, or loss. 9/11, for all its sorrow, roused us all from a deep slumber of complacency.

The good news is that catastrophe is not necessary for awakening. What it takes is thirst for the real, which makes suffering recognizable for what it is, and unacceptable, no matter how familiar it’s become.  I believe that letting go of suffering and the identity that we’ve built around it, takes guts, because it can feel like death. Positive imagination will be the death of you, if you’re living an illusion, that is. That’s why love comes first, and imagination, second.  Imagination is dangerous, love is safe. Imagination is the knife, love is the sheath. Both together make for change that’s livable.

Good therapy jump-starts the imagination, shakes the status quo, punctures pockets of darkness, releases the tender heart, and ushers in a new baseline sense of an alive self. Thirsty yet?

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