The mythologist Michael Meade describes sacred occurrences as those in which the “seal that separates the worlds” is broken, and Spirit enters through that break. And William Blake told us, “There’s a moment of eternity waiting for you every day.”
The making of art, in any form, gives us those “moments of eternity” and “breaks” between the worlds. The creative process creates a pause, a way to drop down to a deeper level and receive guidance that we wouldn’t have gotten in any other way. When done in an intentional way, it can open a portal to what the Irish call the “Other World” or “the world beside this world.” All of us have times when we get stuck in a mental loop, endlessly going over the details of a situation, analyzing its various aspects, trying to “figure out” what to do. But when we pause our mental story and engage in a creative process, we are taken out of analysis and into a place of spacious insight.
The modality that I use in Doorway sessions for passing into the “Other World” is writing. An intentional writing process takes my clients through a portal into a deep, rich, interior place, where a different language is spoken (metaphoric images) and another way of knowing is embraced (heart-knowing). This is a shamanic process--we enter the “Spirit world” and the only assurance we have is that we will be surprised.
The client doesn’t need to be a skilled writer and the process is certainly not about producing a great piece of writing (although this may happen.) It’s not writing in the “usual” way, where our minds direct our words. It’s an intuitive writing process that drops us below the surface of our conscious minds into the mythical imagination.
Writing, like any form of art-making, also gives us a product, something to keep and savor. The images and guidance that come from this deep, interior world are alive, and putting them down on paper retains that feeling of aliveness. The words on the page have their own energy, their own wisdom, their own life. I save every piece of writing that I receive from this realm.
When I do individual sessions, I go through the portal to the “Other World” at the same time as the client and do my own writing. My intention is to address the person’s issue in a helpful way, and I write what I see and experience. The writing that I do is similar to a “reading” of the client, or his or her issue or situation. It’s normally uncannily accurate in pointing out something important for the client, and he or she is often moved by it. My own writing often instigates an essential shift of perspective.
Below, I offer a few key signposts for opening the portal and embracing this rich, interior place of the mythical imagination.
An Animate World
When we “drop down” into the “break between the worlds,” we are dropping into an animate place. In the literal, everyday world, a tree is just a tree. But in the “Other” World, a tree is alive and it has something it wants to say to you. In this animate world, we get to have conversations with things that we don’t normally get to have conversations with. A tree, a table, a cup of coffee…any particular thing can be a source of wisdom or a doorway to something else.
A Different Kind of Language
The “language” of this Other World is not words but images. Images lie at the heart of the creative process and I nearly always start the writing process by working with images in some way. We can simply pause and wait… until something interesting appears. The images need to be directing the writing, not our minds.
Guidance may show up as mud or vegetable soup or a blade of grass… and our conscious minds may be inclined to dismiss these images as too simple or silly. But this is simply the language of this realm. One client said, “This work was riveting, partly because it was so profoundly simple.” If the images were complex or polished, it means our minds created them. Our minds aren’t creating this language.
Over time people start to recognize their own images--the images that appear over and over again. These recurring images make up their own internal language and way of creatively healing and transforming their lives.
Feeling Your Way
Clients sometimes tell me that they are not visual, but the process here is not a visual way of knowing. We are not so much visually “seeing” something; we are feeling it. We are not “taking in” something in our usual ways of auditory, kinesthetic or visual learning. We are “feeling as a way of knowing” and any or all of our senses may be activated. This all-sensory way of knowing is the only way we can step into an “Other” World and learn from it. This interior place that we are dropping into is animate, and it can’t be understood with our rational minds. We must feel our way.
Stepping into the Image
I often tell clients to “step into” whatever image is showing up. If it’s a volcano, they become the volcano. If it’s a shabby, worn-out house, they become the shabby, worn-out house. Becoming the image is very different from standing back and interpreting something from an analytical distance (like we might do when we reflect back on images from our night dreams.) Our minds, of course, are likely to harshly judge an image of a shabby, worn-out house, but when we become the shabby house, our empathy shows up and we get a completely different perspective.
Let’s say we receive an image of deep tree roots planted in dark, fertile soil. We experience the shift when we feel what it’s like to BE this deep tree root… held and embraced in a dark, warm nurturing place with infinite space around us to spread out and grow. We are not learning how to visualize, we are learning how to feel and empathize.
One client received an image of being in the center of the cyclone and everything else (and life-as-she-knew-it) was whirling around her. She came to the session anxious, and of course, anxiety is understandable when dealing with a cyclone. But the key image that was calling her was the "center" of the cyclone, not the cyclone itself. When she actually stepped into the center of the cyclone she experienced the shift--calm peacefulness, rather than the whirling cyclone she’d been immersed in. Transformation comes when we step into the image, not when we analyze it from a distance. Remember, this is heart-centered learning, it requires our empathy and willingness to step into it.
If you’re having trouble receiving an image for your particular question or situation, ask yourself what the situation feels like. Mucky soup? Mysterious darkness? When we ask ourselves that question, we have no choice but to respond to it metaphorically, and the metaphoric response naturally wants to bring us into the Other World.
What Are the Qualities of the Image?
In the everyday world, we presume that we already know about the things that we encounter, but in the Other World we do not know. Each quality that we notice has the capacity to lead us somewhere else. What aspects of the image stand out to you. Is it light? heavy? cold? hot? Noticing qualities opens up more portals, more openings and ways to explore.
Where is the Movement?
The hallmark of the creative process is movement. If your writing has taken you to an image or scene that seems to be stuck, you can always ask, “In what direction does this image or scene want to move?” What does it long for? What does it desire?
What To Do When You Need Resolution
If you receive an image that’s negative, confusing, or troublesome, it simply means that there is more to be revealed. In this case, imagine that you are opening up more space “beside” this troublesome image, and wait for the second image to reveal itself. (In this rich, interior world, we have an infinite amount of space available to us. We can create as much space as we need at any moment.) The second image will come as a “response” to the first image. In other words, it has come because it wants to creatively interact, in some way, with the first image. Remember, this is “heart wisdom”--the intention is always loving; and it is creative, meaning that movement always wants to occur.
One of my clients wanted to come to peace with the rocky relationship she had with her mother. Her first image, which represented her relationship with her mother, was dry, cracked, parched earth. The second image that showed up was mucky vegetable soup. How did the two images creatively interact? The mucky vegetable soup wanted to fill the deep, dry cracks in the earth. On a literal level, these two images are not related. But in the metaphoric realm, they created a third space that was profoundly healing. My client could feel the mucky vegetable soup filling the deep, dry cracks. It was all that she needed for a transformative shift
Unlike our everyday world, in the imaginal realm we’re never stuck. I once received a vision of millions of women throughout history… whose heads had been cut off. The image was a metaphor, representing how women have historically been “bodies” with no voice. It was gruesome and the darkest image that I’ve ever received. And when I became the millions of headless women, I could feel the horrible powerless feeling of having no voice. But I stayed with the image. I had no power to speak, but I could melt… so I melted and became black tar. And the black tar had a certain kind of power, because it could cover things and it proceeded to cover the entire earth. This second image of black tar covering the entire earth was also disturbing--my rational mind deciphered this as signifying the end of life on earth as I knew it. But of course, I was not in the literal, everyday world, I was in the deep, interior, metaphoric realm. In this rich, interior place, creative movement always wants to happen and in this case, the black tar created a new kind of rich, fertile soil. It was a deep and profound rebirthing image.
No matter what image is being presented to you, you have the ability to shape-shift. And with that ability to shape-shift, comes power. True power.
The “learning” that we engage in when we drop into the interior world serves us well in our everyday lives. After all, how many times in our lives do we “go into darkness,” get confused and have to “feel” our way through it? We are learning to engage with life in a different way, one where we aren’t reacting to external conditions, we’re feeling our way from a deeper place. No matter what situation you’re in, there is always fertile possibility available to you. It’s just that you need a certain kind of eye and a certain way of looking to see it. Seeing-feeing-sensing-intuiting… all at the same time. Only the heart can do that.
The creative process lies at the heart of all change that happens in life. And a deeply rich creative process requires that we open the door to a certain kind of space. When we allow ourselves that “moment of eternity,” the answers reveal themselves.
Kim Hermanson, Ph.D. is adjunct faculty at Pacifica Graduate Institute and the author of Getting Messy: A Guide to Taking Risks and Opening the Imagination. She has co-authored articles on learning and the creative process with Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the author of Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. She received her PhD from the University of Chicago.
Note: I have ongoing Doorway Coaching groups, and also have package rates for Doorway Sessions. For more information go to: http://aestheticspace.typepad.com