The scene: A psychodrama and group psychotherapy training workshop intensive, conducted by a highly-respected trainer.
The situation: We have been assigned the task of creating an on-the-spot warm-up exercise for a group. Be spontaneous, but use what we have learned.
My dilemma: I am standing in front of this group of twenty-odd colleagues, some of whom are
brilliant and a bit intimidating, and here's the thing: My mind is blank.
I am supposed to be speaking. People are staring at me, patient and trusting. But I have
nothing. Nadda. No ideas, not even a hint. Time seems to slow down. The anxiety is
overwhelming. So I take action.
I drop to the floor of the stage. I lie there with eyes closed. Still nothing. Now my heart is pounding, because I've started something here and it has to go somewhere or I risk total
humiliation. I begin to roll around on the floor of the stage, eyes still closed, mind still blank. I
pretend to be in a deep sleep, and having a nightmare.
Finally my mind clicks on. All in the same moment, I make a decision to sit up and open my eyes. I tell the group that I just fell asleep and while sleeping, had a dream. I say that they were all in the dream, in which I was standing in the middle of Yankee Stadium all by myself and they were all hiding in various places in the stadium. With that I tell them to - right now - find their hiding place. Everyone scatters and creates their spot. I "find" one person, and together we "find" another, until everyone is out of hiding. Then we discuss:
! How did you like your hiding place?
! What were you hiding from?
! What was it like to be found?
This experience was over 30 years ago but I remember it with intensity still today because it was for me a turning point. In this encounter with anxiety and public exposure of my self-doubt,
I made a shift. It was perhaps the first time I consciously, knowingly allowed my emotions
and inner struggle to guide me rather than shut them down or cover them up. The success of
that experience was confirmation that my efforts to challenge old ways of thinking - which often
seemed to be plodding along going nowhere - were paying off. I could feel I was on a new road.
As a psychotherapist and a trainer of both healers and teachers, it is my privilege to help people navigate some of the most significant - also the scariest and most high-stakes - changes in their thinking and their lives. Most of us begin a process of change when the roads we have been going down no longer lead to happiness nor health but we are held back by an understandable fear that we will not achieve the life we envision nor realize our desires.
For many of us, this is because our built-in psychological GPS is obsolete and needs an
upgrade. The good news is that a creative process of change equips us to navigate new paths of action and expanded directions in life. If a therapeutic or learning process is successful, it is because the therapist helped a person navigate their own consciousness deeply enough to install an internal, emotional GPS that turns what had been unmanageable or hidden feelings into cues and messages by which we are able to make the proper turns on our journey through life.
Change is a creative process, and we simply will not know at what moment the new roads we take will begin to feel like our own. Its like what E.L. Doctorow said about the process of art: "Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way."