March 9, 2020

by Ross Laird

The Silent Doorway

Listening to the Teaching of Creative Pathways

AdobeStock_88205701.jpeg

We don’t often seek stillness — but increasingly often I seek it in my practice with people.

Hearing silence and seeing shadow, our life is more luminous and expressive and dwells more within the eternal — I mean, within the sufficient.

Juan Ramón Jiménez

The dance unfolds like a quiet whirlwind, 12 of us moving as phantoms across the floor, meeting and playing and finding our own sacred spaces inside. The music offers its rhythm, drawing us further into the weave of our single purpose. We are at the end of a three-day odyssey and this final ritual of free movement is our means of saying farewell. We have laid out a long roll of drawing paper along one wall of the room. As we move, each of us returns again and again to the emerging mural to add a sweep of a hand, a small intimate figure, a gesture, a name. The images are flavors of the dance, talismans, reminders of our process together. And the dance itself is a fluid dialog in which we express the language of the body. We have explored art, movement, dance, film, storytelling, poetry and literature throughout the weekend as vehicles to help us deepen into our experience of ourselves. We are filled with the freedom of creative expression; the jubilance of the dance is our testament.

Someone retrieves the large blue ball from a corner of the room and begins to bounce it playfully. A game is begun, and soon half the group is engaged in passing the ball back and forth, jumping, nudging, laughing. A circle is formed and the remaining members are drawn into it. The dance slows. We begin to move as a group, passing the ball amongst us as we move together. We shift between sensing our own internal feeling and the immanence of the group energy we have created. The ball begins to slow as well, slow until it is being rolled gently back and forth, gleeful eyes hoping for the next pass. Someone sits down, anchoring the circle to the ground, and over the next few minutes we all become seated, still moving to the music but waiting for what must come next.

With intent now, with a sense of deliberate purpose, the ball becomes an emissary of departure. As each group member receives it, they grasp the ball gently and hold it for a few moments, searching the group for the one to whom saying farewell is most poignant, most personal. When the impulse arrives the ball is sent slowly out into the circle, watched by all, gliding toward its target. A flash of glistening eyes, a silent breath, a moment of simple acknowledgement. The one who receives the gift takes the message gently into the deep spaces of the heart and then finds another to honor, sending the ball on its way again.

And so we move, the circle slowly completing itself as the music bears witness to our final time together, the symbol of the ball rolling on as the harbinger of our intimacies. At a certain moment, undefined and yet perfectly present, we become aware that everyone has passed the ball to another. Our farewells are complete. The person holding the ball nudges it delicately forward; it comes to rest exactly at the centre of the group. And at that precise moment there is a quiet space in the music, a still-point in which we can clearly hear the singer’s softly-spoken words: “So we end as we began.” It is a silent moment, filled with luminous life, with promise, with meaning. We have fallen into the perfect magic of stillness.

In healing work we are always moving toward such moments, it seems to me, toward emptiness, toward the silent and lucid core of being that lies behind our lives. I see its various masks in the work that I do and I try to follow its winding path toward wholeness. Yet so much of what we are trained to do in the healing arts concerns filling the moment; with knowledge, with application, with technique. We shroud the living moment with activity, with a sense that we must do something to be of help. We focus on the end product — health, well-being, self-awareness, ease of suffering — rather than the process of living. We try to get better, more adaptive, healthier in whatever ways the model we have been given says that should be. We are often reluctant to let the moments of our experience unfold in their own way, to simply watch what life presents without struggling to make it different.

More and more, I find myself seeking ways to do less in psychotherapy, focusing not so much on notions of progress or health but rather on seeing the jewel of perfection that each life presents. Only then can I participate fully in the experience of another. Only when I have removed the mask of the expert, the healer, the therapist, does my vision clear sufficiently to see the person before me. I must let go of the need for improvement, let go of the idea that people work on themselves. Where is the need for improvement if the being you see is perfect already?

For me, that perfection is found in the still moments brought about by participation in the creative process. Creativity means literally “to form out of nothing.” In my work I look for ways to approach that nothingness, the Void from which all life and wisdom spring, the still-point of the dance. Creative work is a doorway which leads into that source of mystery. And I mean creative work simply as immersion in the wonder of the moment: washing dishes or composing a grand opus or holding a child’s hand. It is not so much what we are doing but how we are doing it: steeped in the sacred, conscious moment or drawn into the frenetic pace of purposeless action.

In my view, creative process teaches us how to live. It offers a glimpse of the life energy which sustains us at our deepest core; it illuminates the refulgent soul, showing the way to fulfillment. Such an approach to healing work is spiritual more than strictly psychological, yet it seems to me there is room for a more holistic and purposeful psychology beyond the forms we impose on ourselves. We could dance, and we could play, and we could find a new kind of wholeness in being, in acceptance, in the acknowledgement of our own timeless perfection. It is a simple thing, really, to be whole and to find ourselves at one with that wholeness. Yet can any of us lay claim to that gentle state?

hiker-distance.jpeg
Ross Laird

Ross Laird, PhD RCC

Clinical Consultant, Author, Educator

My work focuses on the interconnected themes of mental health, trauma, addictions, and creativity. I provide clinical consulting, professional development services, and community education for a wide range of institutions and organizations.