Planet Cap Blog

A powerful process of self-discovery

Music as Medicine: a Case Study in Autism

I am glad to share with you this interesting case study written by Dr. Janis Gruska, N.D. about the interest of Catharsis Application Program (CAP) in Autism.

 » Music touches us emotionally, where words alone can’t.  » (Johnny Depp)

Since time immemorial, music as a meaningful vibration has been infused into human culture to express feelings and evoke emotional release.1 The concept of “sacred sounds” has been used since primeval times by indigenous cultures and ancient civilizations. It was believed to be capable of healing both the body and the soul. Although for a time in modern history, music was relegated to entertainment, and healing to medicine, since World War II the health benefits of music have become more recognized in mainstream medicine. In 1996, the World Health Organization recognized music as a form of healing therapy.

Music is rooted in the primitive brain structures that are involved in motivation, reward, and emotion. Review of neuromusical research reveals that the brain consists of a widely distributed neural system with locally specialized areas in the cognitive, affective, and motor regions.2 More than any other stimulus, music has the ability to evoke images and feelings that may not necessarily be directly reflected in memory.

GLOBAL PREVALENCE OF ASD

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a condition characterized by developmental delays, abnormal social skills, communication difficulties, learning disabilities, and behavioral problems. These issues can range from mild to severe in presentation.

Approximately 1% of the world population has ASD; the prevalence in the United States is estimated at 1 in 68 births.3 This exponential rise in the past 25 years has greatly impacted both the family unit and society at large.

CATHARSIS APPLICATION PROGRAM – CREATIVE THERAPY FOR ASD

The Catharsis Application Program (CAP) is an innovative therapeutic methodology based on receptive music induction associated with graphic expression. This process helps the client explore their emotions and feelings, utilizing music to trigger a cathartic phenomenon. The cathartic function of the music brings past traumatic experiences to the surface, thereby allowing the release of emotions. Graphic expression allows the individual to break through mental barriers without triggering the self-protective mechanism.

The Catharsis Application Program is a 12-session process, unfolding over a 3-month period in 1-hour weekly contact sessions. Each session is implemented with well-defined conditions and therapeutic character to maximize the healing effect of the music.

Using CAP as an artistic mediation gives each individual the opportunity to be an active participant in their own progression toward change. The therapeutic program mobilizing one’s emotional resilience always leads to behavioral changes. It enhances social skills, the capacity of verbal expression, improves the mood, stimulates the memory, and creates new spatial-temporal patterns.

UTILIZING CAP IN AUTISM – A CASE STUDY

Daniel is a 7-year-old boy who was diagnosed with kidney failure 2 weeks following a premature delivery. His condition required extensive medical intervention including dialysis. As a result of his condition, he experienced developmental delays, leading to the diagnosis of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism. He lacked bowel control at this time.

Daniel was being seen by a speech pathologist at the Integrated Therapy Solutions (ITS) in Los Angeles, CA. His family was introduced to CAP as an adjunctive therapeutic intervention to the speech therapy. After consent was given to participate in the program, a 13-week schedule was established.

CAP SCHEDULE

For Daniel, the program consisted of the following activities:

  • Week 1: Initial speech and language assessment
  • Week 2: Initial CAP session without music. This first reference drawing without music (Figure 1), will serve as a basis for comparison during the final evaluation.
  • Week 3 to 12: Ten music sessions with graphic expression
  • Week 13: Final CAP session without music. The final reference drawing (Figure 5) was performed with the same criteria as in the initial evaluation. It serves as a basis for comparison during the final evaluation.

Participants use specific drawing materials selected for the program. Each musical selection has an archetypal theme selected in a predetermined sequence during the program. Assessments of the drawings are conducted within the context of the series, as well as individually.

The following 5 drawings (Figures 1-5) have been selected to illustrate the transitions which took place during Daniel’s program.

Figure 1_ Daniel reference drawing 1

Figure 1. First Drawing, Without Music

Daniel used a lot of water to express his unhappiness and his unhealthy emotions. The type of lines expressed in the drawing displays much anger and aggressiveness as if he was using the paper to externalize all his repressed feelings. His mother did not believe that he would be able to hold a pencil, but what we observe is Daniel using all his energy to completely fill the space. There is a lot of black and brown color that reveals his insecurity. The colors green, yellow, and orange are crossed with black or brown as if he was announcing a possible path of release and liberation covered by anxiety and fears.

Figure 2_ Daniel session 7

Figure 2. Drawing from the 7th Music Session

This is a very important session for Daniel. The theme of this music is liberation of old patterns and alleviating the burden of unhealthy behaviors. The music helps one to feel in control and gives one the courage to leave what must be abandoned in order to find relief in the simple joys of life. The structure of the drawing suggests that Daniel is reconnecting to his healthy emotions: we have several heart shapes here, of which the big red one contains 1 green and 2 blue hearts.

Figure 3_ Daniel session 9

Figure 3. Drawing from the 9th Music Session

This music helps us to no longer be afraid of suffering, to feel that life is still here and full of love. This is the first drawing where we can really identify the forms of animals. The sun is present and we see great circles in front of each animal as if they were put there to feed everyone. It is as if Daniel takes care of his “inner inhabitants.” He helps each one to grow. He wrote his name in black in the upper left of the sheet, showing that he is cognizant of the process.

Figure 4_ Daniel session 10

Figure 4. Drawing from the 10th Music Session

The theme of this music refers to the growing confidence in the Universal Creative Movement, which brings our miseries into an evolving spiral, to transform them into the rocks that are the foundations of life. The drawing is separated into 2 parts by a line which is dark green. To the right of this line, nothing is drawn. It is like a new space, for a brand new story to begin for him. Daniel is now more connected to life. The colors brown and black are no longer displayed in this drawing. We have green, blue, yellow, and red. He wrote his name in blue. In the middle of the sheet is a red abstract image. He identifies an area of anger that needs to be seen; the sun is above this red aggressive pattern. There are many rays projecting from the sun, turned towards the right, the future. The speech therapist notes that unlike previously, he is able to go the bathroom when he is asked to do so.

Figure 5_ Daniel reference drawing 2

Figure 5. Final Drawing, Without Music

This drawing has exactly the same structure as the previous one, but with these important changes: 1) The line that separates the drawing vertically into 2 parts is now light green; 2) The right side is larger and it is no longer empty; 3) The sun is now placed on the right, and for the first time the rays of the sun extend to both the right and the left; 4) The central round shape is clearly identified as a prehistoric animal. We can see very clearly his paws, his eyes turned towards the future, the ridge of his back. It looks like a Stegosaurus. Archeologists believe that the bony plates evolved for protection and that this animal turned red to defend itself from predators. We see here the red color covering the animal, as if Daniel had now found sufficient defense mechanisms to cope with the things that he feared. He now invests in the right side of the sheet, that is to say the future. The blue and color forms on the right of the sheet show that something has reshaped in himself (blue is a masculine color).

CLINICAL OBSERVATIONS

Initially, without music, we see Daniel express anger and aggressiveness. His use of space reveals the externalization of repressed feelings, while the predominance of dark colors reveals his insecurity cloaked by anxiety and fears. As the musical sessions progress, we observe through his drawings that he begins to release anxiety and to reconnect to healthy emotions.

Daniel was initially very resistant to trying anything new. He preferred to stay at home and isolate himself. He was in 1st grade prior to the CAP program. He was mostly interested in picture books (intended for kindergarten-aged children). He would be resistant and struggled with any mathematical operation. He was very against trying to eat food through his mouth, which required nourishment to be delivered through a gastric tube. If food was placed in his mouth, he would spit it out immediately. He was frightened of animals and toys that made sounds. His pictures at the outset of CAP were predominantly 1 tone, 1 color, and fairly simple.

Following the program, Daniel gradually became more open and more responsive to the idea of going to new places and even trying new experiences. There was an increased desire to play with others. He was willing to play with toys that made sounds. Daniel expressed desire for his family to color together, and would insist that they do that as a group activity. He became more adaptive to experiencing new foods. He was eating more, which in turn accelerated his growth. While drawing, he gradually began utilizing many more colors and was freer in terms of expressing himself on paper. He was more excited and a lot happier to color and draw at home. At school his reading improved, and although he was still challenged with mathematical operations, he was less resistant to them. He transitioned to mainstream classes in the 2nd grade. His enjoyment of music grew over time, which prompted his enrollment in piano lessons by the time he was in 3rd grade. Although there were periods of regression, Daniel continued to improve, and eventually was transitioned into a normal classroom setting.

CAP IN THE NATUROPATHIC MEDICAL PRACTICE

We have examined how the music and expressive drawing experienced in the Catharsis Application Program can have a positive influence on emotions and behaviors. Children with autism spectrum disorder often find it hard to recognize and control their emotions. Interventions that can help them improve their emotional development can in turn help them understand and respond to others appropriately. Subsequently, the ability to engage in social activities, as well as quality of life, is enhanced. Additionally, the reduction of aberrant social behaviors and conduct problems relieves the stress often experienced by parents and caregivers.

Often, children do not have the language skill or depth of understanding required to express their pain. Music and drawings serve as an intermediate language between patient and practitioner, creating a relationship of communication through the expression of emotions in a non-verbal manner. The use of this innovative mind-body technique respects the principles of naturopathic medicine and is easily incorporated into practice either with individuals or in a group. It has been my experience that by embracing a therapy which is transformative and effortless in its application is not only a gift for your young patients, but for their families as well.

______________________________________________________

Dr Janis Gruska_Professional PhotoJanis Gruska, ND, is a 1991 graduate of the National College of Naturopathic Medicine and is licensed in the State of California. Her medical practice focuses on the treatment of mental health conditions, utilizing therapeutics which support positive change through life transitions. She has been a medical consultant for the Catharsis Application Program since 2009.

Dr Gruska is trained as a professional facilitator by the founders of the Catharsis Technique, and continues to be instrumental in introducing the program to medical and mental health professional in the United States.

References

  1. Gouk P. Music Healing in Cultural Contexts. London, UK: Ashgate Publishing, Limited; 2000.
  2. Hodges DA. Implications of music and brain research. Music Educators Journal. 2000;87(2):17-22. Available at: https://libres.uncg.edu/ir/uncg/f/D_Hodges_Implications_2002.pdf. Accessed April 1, 2016.
  3. Christensen DL, Baio J, Van Narden Braun K, et al. Prevalence and Characteristics of Autism Spectrum Disorder among Children Aged 8 Years — Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network, 11 Sites, United States, 2012. Surveillance Summaries. 2016;65(3):1-23. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site. http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/65/ss/ss6503a1.htm. Accessed April 1, 2016.

To Each Their Thoughts

I don’t know about you, but I can remember the exact moment when I realized I was a whole, separate person, distinct from the outside world.

I was between 4 and 6 years old. I was playing and the adults were having an animated conversation nearby. I don’t know what mysterious forces were at work, but in a split second, I suddenly realized that the words and images in my head really existed and they were my own.

Before this moment, they had been there without my being fully aware of them. Now, suddenly, they were coming to life and were separating me from other beings and things. For the first time, there was an inside and an outside. I was perceiving another world – filled with thoughts and disparate images – a strange and fascinating world. In spite of myself, I felt attracted – like Alice in Wonderland – to this new and unknown world. I had no points of reference and I was playing it by ear, but I wasn’t worried.

I began the journey into this new world without fear. I felt as though I were being guided down a path to find myself. Others suddenly become strangers to me – I had to find them as well, but in a different manner. The road would be long, but that particular instant registered in my mind as a moment of peace and clarity – a calm lucidity and wisdom I would rarely experience afterwards.

Then I came back down to Earth. This sudden plunge into the metaphysical world was quite intense for my little childish brain to take in! Nevertheless, guided by my experimental soul, I continued to explore my sudden perception. I went up to each individual and asked them what they were thinking, right at that very moment. All their thoughts were different. I now had proof of my theory!

With a flower in hand, I experimented to find out what others were seeing. This brought a new surprise – no description was alike. « Your flower is pretty, it has a large stem and large leaves, » « I like the orange petals of your beautiful flower, » « Oh, that looks funny, there’s brown in your flower. It looks like it ate chocolate « …

Now my thoughts went into high gear. So, where do our thoughts and perceptions come from? And if each person is a world unto himself – and there are many people on Earth – what is the great reservoir that feeds all this?

I wondered if it came from the sky and I looked up at the clouds. I told myself that maybe they were holding our thoughts. But I quickly reached the conclusion that my theory did not hold water because sometime there are no clouds in the sky and there are certainly not enough of them for every human on the planet!

It was too much for my mind to absorb in one day! I was exhausted and I knew I could not find the answers to all my questions.

To calm down, as I usually did, I went in to listen to my nursery rhymes on my record player. I loved listening to my records, especially the one that came with a kind of multi-faceted cylinder covered with mirrors which I would place above the record.  As the record turned, it would reflect and animate the cartoon animal images on the disc. Since it was associated with nursery rhymes, this repetitive movement had the power to calm me down and comfort me – it focused my mind. There were no surprises, I knew exactly what image would appear and at what time.  There was no need to think, just to observe.

But this would only work for a short time.

I was already wary of things that go round and round. So, when I finally felt at peace, I closed my eyes. But the images in my head continued to rotate and repeat until they formed a spiral. The little animals no longer went around in circles, they rose in an upward spiral in a movement that would never end.

I fell asleep, enchanted. I prefer things that do not go around in circles. The security of so many discoveries made me want to grow, find the strength to live and the drive to learn. I think this experience was the starting point of my need to look within myself without fear and to understand others so that I could better respect them.

Every time I meet someone new, I have this reflex of feeling the spark of intuition that launched their being and determines their destiny. Some individuals are so far removed from the spark that they feel lost and miserable. Others strongly deny its existence and are desperate to escape their memories. Still others have let it slip away, but are passionately and patiently seeking to recover what they had lost along the way. All this often weaves a complicated and distorted, sometimes exciting, series of meetings.

I am fortunate in my work to experience these moments of great authenticity – moments that transcend and embellish everything.

And then there are the beautiful and rare encounters with those who remember and know how to make the magically attuned strings of their instruments – their lives – vibrate. I am happy and thankful to have met such people along the way. They have helped me, and help me still, to maintain my original spark of life without feeling lost as I move forward on a road riddled with obstacles.

Dementia—presumptive Alzheimer’s disease

M.SM. – 82 years old – Diagnosis: dementia; presumptive Alzheimer’s disease – Autonomy: Needs motivation and direction to complete activities – Behavior: smiling – Communication:  speech difficulties.

Within retirement homes, or services with long and medium term stays, CAP provides a support that is, in particular, well suited and diversified to the pathologies present at the end of life.

CAP offers a highly structured and codified methodology that is different from traditional therapies. This method allows the expression of another language, the language of drawing that relies on the experience of each individual. The process results in the mobilization of each patient’s potential which results in a feeling of wellness, both physical and mental.

In addition to these general effects, CAP engages each person with personalized attention that can serve as a basis for a sound psychological treatment. CAP is able to establish an effective protocol for daily living that is therapeutic and is adaptable for the needs of each individual resident.

Description of the CAP sessions

14 SESSIONS

  •  2 reference sessions, one before and one after the sessions with graphic expression under musical induction
  • 10 sessions of graphic expression under musical induction.

Under the supervision of Chantal Desmoulins:

  • 1 assessment with residents
  • 1 assessment with staff and management (no resident participation)

CONDITIONS

The sessions take place in the same room every Tuesday at 2 pm, with the same group of people, during the 13 weeks.

The selected room will provide the following conditions:

  • ease of access
  • remote location, to promote an atmosphere which is safe and confidential as well as secluded from the normal environment
  • setting which can accommodate the number of participants for group work.

During the sessions, each resident is invited to draw freely while listening to music. Staff facilitation is at times implemented to stimulate the resident, in order to trigger movement, but is not involved in the selection of colors or the orientation of the sheet and gives no information about the offered music program. Following the graphic expression, residents are offered the opportunity to express their feelings regarding the session.

Given the cognitive deterioration, lack of temporality of the group at the beginning of the implementation and praxis limitations of the program participants, it was necessary to simplify the instructions into short steps, which were always the same, in order to help residents to find their way easily.

Too many instructions or explanations quickly overload the disorientated person. Materials used during the sessions were reduced to a bare minimum, in order to help everyone concentrate.

We are going to look to the M.SM’s CAP journey

The CAP sessions with M.SM are done in a group of 8 residents.

The Global Goals for Resident Participants

These CAP sessions aim to resolve the tensions between residents in their unit. By offering an open and safe environment- without the restriction imposed upon within a confined location – we seek to create an atmosphere among the residents that fosters union and group connection.

The Specific Goal defined for M.SM is: facilitate her integration within the group and the institution

Behavior of M.SM during the sessions:

She participates in the program two weeks after her admission in the unit. The struggle to adapt to her new environment has been difficult. Although she lived alone in her little town, she was active with her friends in the community.

The program provided her the opportunity, within a safe enclosed location, to be able to express her feelings about her illness, the challenges in her personal life as well as the ability to share important memories.

From the first sessions on, she needs to talk about the reality of the disease.

Reference session 1 without music

CD1: “I need something that helps me to feel alive” she says “I’m old…I do not feel well here.” ➛ CD2: « The head, it’s not ok. You know, I am not well, it’s the truth… » She expresses a sense of fatalism and loneliness with a sense of regret of not having a daughter: « I have only boys, what do you want… »

marcelle-cd1-auto-red

➛ However, from the third session (CD2) on, she begins to adapt to the life unit. Her sons who say they have come to see her at her home, reinforces the reality of her new living situation. With this acceptance, she no longer expresses a desire to return to her previous home.

marcelle-cd2-auto-red

➛ She acknowledges the group as a witness to her emotions (CD4). « I feel bad, I cry »… (CD5). « I would only cry » (CD6)She is an active participant in the life of the unit. Caregivers have noticed that she sometimes supports others. Even though she is not feeling well physically, an improvement is seen in her speech and the continuity of her thought process.

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➛ From the 8th session (CD7) on, she is no longer requesting help and is orientated to person, place and time. She is calm and interacts with the group. An example of her participation is her interest in reading what has been written in her notebook with an expression of curiosity and kindness. She is also communicating more with the other residents.

marcelle-cd7-auto-red

➛ During the 9th session (CD8), she expresses loneliness, suffering and grieving of her former life: « I am alone… how do my sons know that I cry every day?… I have nothing in my head, I can not draw today… » She cries, clings to her handkerchief.

marcelle-cd8-auto-red

➛ During the 10th session (CD9), she seems to forge new beliefs: « It’s fun, as when we went to school. I’m all alone. Fortunately I have neighbors. Otherwise I would become – her hand pointing her head meaning madness… Some are of my age. I even have a friend here. »

marcelle-cd9-auto-red

➛ On the last session – Reference session 2 without music – she bends the corner of the sheet where she is able to release her loneliness and concludes: « It’s OK, I’m not all alone, like that. And I cry. When one has seen someone else, it is a little better. I have seen many. » Her relaxed smiling attitude and her ability to ask for help, show that a milestone was reached after this session.

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Observation sheet:

Her eyes are open most of the time. We observe many defense mechanisms in this person. However, she shows a profound receptivity to music and succeeds in relaxing on CD 3, 4 and 8.

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Synthesis of the Space Test:

In the pre-test, there is in the top-left area (zone of inhibition, repression, nostalgia) an additional and empty circle confirming her suffering and the sense of not being the master of her life anymore. The sheet, placed horizontally, seems to be a further confirmation. The fold of the sheet, well marked, and the place of the circles on the axes indicate, however, that this person is capable of expressing who they are assertively.

In the post-test, this additional circle has disappeared. The 5 circles are encased with another circle, as if she had built a protective shell. The size of the circles is uniform. The sheet is now placed vertically reflecting a positive redirection of the self.

Synthesis of the Self-Assessment Questionnaire:

The pre-test shows an expression of the self. She does not repress her feelings of unhappiness.

  • A major scale of depression:
  • To the item « I felt sad » the answer is « continuously »
  • To the item « I had trouble concentrating » it is « often »
  • To the item « I thought my life was a failure » it is « often »
  • To the item « I was confident in the future » the answer is « never ».

In the post-test, there is a marked improvement in all items of the mood scale, since she no longer answers using the ‘ongoing’ column.

  • To the item « I felt sad », the answer is now « Sometimes »
  • She even hesitated to answer « Never » – she made a cross then struck it out 
  • To the item « I struggled to concentrate », the answer is now « Sometimes »
  • To the item « I thought my life was a failure », the answer now is « Never »
  • To the item « I was confident in the future », the answer is now « Sometimes ».

Of all the participants, she is the only one with the most diversified answers.

Synthesis of her Drawings:

In her drawings, M.SM, often utilized the top left zone – a zone in which she placed an empty circle in the Space Test. This seems to indicate an attempt to forget the weight of painful and conflicting events of her past.

The sessions with CAP allowed her to revisit her distressing memories, without having to go through a painful process of consciously verbalizing the events.

M.SM draws cats throughout the series. Symbolically, they represent the repetitive patterns and habits gathered from her life (family, profession, social life) which are the source of hardship and suffering. One can follow the evolution of her cats over the drawings:

CD1: narrowed cat with a black mustache (antennas) shows that she perceives things in terms of anxiety – old wounds she has repressed and can gently explore throughout the sessions with CAP.

marcelle-cd1-auto-red

CD2: black cat, bristling, haggard, confirms the shocks she received throughout her life. The cat’s position, on the left, reflects the fact that the past is revisited subconsciously and indirectly to avoid too much suffering.

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CD3: The cat stands upright like a human and migrates to the area on the right. This movement illustrates her inner work in progress.

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CD4: We note the beginning of a smile on a red cat with blue eyes, still in the top left area which indicates an old secret wound is being accepted (the smile indicates an appeasement in progress). Another brown cat is drawn with the left hind paw black, as a wound. The resident symbolically reflects an emotional wound that could have been a handicap in her life. These images clarify how the process allows the individual to address the consequences which result of these emotional injuries.

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From the CD5 to CD10, she explores different aspects of herself. The theme of the drawing is more complex and there is a wider variety in the use of color. She writes more.

➛ Finally, in the Reference Drawing No. 2, we find the brown cat from CD4 again. This time, it has a beautiful colored mustache and the left hind paw is repaired. The tail has also been recovered, confirming the inner recovery of M.SM.

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Synthesis of her Verbalizations

Observing the graph we observe the prevalence of pure emotional responses. Ms. Marcelle-Simone M. clearly expresses her emotions: « I’m sad… I’m alone. » She also clearly expresses her physical discomfort: « I have a headache… I’m really not fine. »

It is at the very end of the process that these responses evolve: « It’s OK, I’m not all alone, like that. When one has seen someone else, we feel a little better. I have seen many people today. »

The assessment of  M.SM. :

She takes an irreverent tone, seeing all these cats: « Oh… I do not know, there is a cat! » and asks: « So, who made these drawings? » Another resident singles her out her and she starts laughing heartily.

During this assessment, M.SM. displays much resistance, which confirms our previous assumptions that in certain situations she is compelled to deal with them in an indirect manner. With this information, caregivers need to pay attention to allowing her to move at her own pace and to not rush her.

It is interesting to note that her resistance is perceived by another resident, France, who encourages her to let go: « But you will learn something! »

An interesting group dynamic begins to emerge. M.SM. starts listening and wonders: « And it was me who have done all this? » Always very active, France, looking carefully at the drawings, exclaims: « Oh, that’s great, you know! »

Gradually, M.SM. begins to reveal some memories of the animals she raised in her life. When the facilitators suggest that the drawings may be related to other hardships in her life, she contemplates the symbolism in her drawings representing the obstacles and confirms: “Oh yes…”

Herself, as well as the group, is captivated by the assessment and listens to each story as if it were a fairy tale. The stories illustrated through the drawings create an atmosphere where each of the residents feels connected to each other. Each of them discovers meaning to their personal story which is ‘magical’ to them. At the conclusion of Ms. M.SM.. assessment, it is France who in amazement to all that has been revealed, concludes: « Ah this, I got it! »

At the end of the assessment, M.SM. remains silent. When leaving the room, she takes the hands of one of the staff, stares into her eyes, and with a smile and misty eyes, breathes a deep sigh.

CONCLUSION

The personal goal set for Ms. M.SM. has been reached. She has utilized the CAP process to act as a forum where she was able to abandon the mourning of her former lifestyle and incorporate a new one.

Following her recent admittance in the retirement home, she was in a state of shock and denial. Now she has adapted to the routine of the care ward, where she lives in harmony with others.

Imagination

«We are such stuff as dreams are made» W. Shakespeare

Gilbert Durand, in the introduction to his reference book « The Anthropological Structures of the Imaginary« , wrote « Western thinking, and especially French philosophy, has a constant tradition of devaluing ontologically the image and psychologically the function of the imagination, that ‘mistress of error and falsehood’.

Classical psychology, contrary to what one might think, has not been any more positive regarding the imagination, which is still considered by some as the infancy of consciousness.

The imagination is thus devalued, the imagination is rejected and the richness of the image is minimized. In fact, images are analyzed as a by-product of our conscious life as an attempt to find a material basis for symbolic function and the unconscious. This diminution in the image’s significance tends to bring it into the field of consciousness through language and speech. Thus, the symbol – confused with metaphors, allegories, emblems and signs – loses its transformational power.

Another common practice in psychology is to define the imagination as an organizer of dynamic images. Dynamism that becomes the foundation of our psychic life and is a factor of cohesion, that is to say of harmony, strength and authenticity. The imagination is then no longer seen as a collection of isolated images – isolated from one another and without much coherence – but as a complex combination of elements which are all linked together. From this perspective, imagination – far from being a simple by-product, as some psychoanalysts would have us believe – is, instead, an energy that liberates and has a deeply cathartic function. Revealer of truths, it buries treasures and is the absolute place of creativity.

In light of these initial thoughts, it is easy to understand that, as Gilbert Durand wrote « to study ‘in concreto‘ the symbolic imagination one must embark resolutely on the path of anthropology by giving to this word its current full sense – that is to say: all the sciences that study the species Homo Sapiens … « 

By founding the Centre de recherche sur l’imaginaire, Gilbert Durand created a multidisciplinary movement that, still today, encourages and pursues the anthropological position he himself had chosen – namely, to study symbolism from a psychoanalytic, psychological, sociological, historical, biological, mythological, poetic, and artistic point of view.

It is clear that all researchers who base their method on this approach are led to question the connections – both antithetical and complementary – between imagination and rationality, between dream and reality. All come to the same conclusion – that the imagination is the basis for the construction of our societies, our institutions, our family models, the artistic expression of an era, how man thinks of himself, our scientific models… in a word – our cultures.

Gilbert Durand’s hypothesis, and that of those who continue his work, is that we are bathed in an imaginary world, a climate, an atmosphere which pervades us and determines what we are. Our education (schools and parents), our culture and our political and cultural institutions imprint thought patterns upon us that we accept as reality.

If, as individuals, we do not develop an awareness of the imagination of our age, we do not think of life, we are thought by it. And we shall not succeed at finding the solution to our malaise, our suffering, our questions in the place where we can actually find it – namely, within ourselves.

We are currently at a crossroads. We belong to a so-called modern civilization (from the 17th century to the 20th century) that, like all those preceding it, has come to an end without the one which will eventually replace it having yet fully emerged.

Walter Benjamin, a German philosopher, wrote: « Each epoch dreams the following one. » But is that dreaming actually ours? If one does not attempt to seek meaning and understanding of their mental evolution, the new culture may emerge without our participation.

The new era will be more technological. It may be one of « transhumanism » which promises an improved, more powerful man. But, as powerful as they become, humans continue to be thought of by this new civilization – therefore to suffer without any real awareness of what they really are. They thus escape this beautiful mission of becoming humans that are fulfilled, caring and creative.

In the transition phase in which we live, the discrepancy between what is experienced by each individual and what is conveyed by our institutions (political, cultural, media) is at its peak. Yet the soil of another future is formed through awareness, societal organization and different groupings, thanks to the Internet. Jung in the early 20th century wrote: « When a culture has reached its peak, sooner or later appear the seeds of its destruction. The seemingly senseless and distressing breakdown of a multiplicity without order or direction, capable of inspiring disgust and despair, contains in its dark bosom the seeds of a new light. »

So, in response to any technological age that is taking shape, I propose, in this blog, to find certain basics through myths, stories, legends, symbols and archetypes. All this material, in fact, feeds our dreams, the place where reside the seeds of eternity that could well grow into the magnificent trees of our future.

« We are such stuff as dreams are made » wrote Shakespeare in his play ‘The Tempest’. The world may well be, in its turn, a reflection of our dreams. Therefore, let us have more just and fair dreams without letting the slumber of our carelessness engulf our inspiration.

A Story Without Words

While preparing my video on symbols and their ability to link things together, a curious episode from my past came to mind – a strange encounter which I wondered about for many years.

I was a student at the time. There was a strike that day, a major strike with mass demonstrations. I had never cared for the climate of confrontation of these demonstrations. As I watched the students facing the riot control forces, I saw one of the guards lift his helmet and wipe his face. He was very young – as young as the students.

Feeling uncomfortable and very disturbed by all the violence surrounding me, I reflected on the absurdity of this conflict. I felt as though the air had been permeated by a mood of arrogation. The atmosphere was explosive – all the darker instincts seeming to emerge as suddenly as a jack-in-box.

Clinging to my schoolbag, (I must say that my schoolbag was the equivalent of the cell phone today, but much heavier. My whole life was in that schoolbag – I think if I could, I would have slept with it!) I walked the streets vigilantly, trying to hear what was going on. I was quite puzzled and wondering about my own choices, my values, and the direction I wanted to go in my life. This world was not my world but… where was my world?

As I was immersed in my thoughts, in the middle of a street I was crossing I met a man carrying a camera and big reporter’s bag on his shoulders. He had to be a journalist covering the event. In his early forties, he looked like one of the extreme left friends that my father used to hang out with in May of ’68. We crossed paths and, as I was passing him, I turned to look at him and – without knowing why – I stopped, dropped my schoolbag and just stared at him, open-mouthed. Somewhat taken aback, the man went on his way. I picked up my briefcase and forgot the event.

A few weeks later, another strike, and the same scene was repeated. In another street I was crossing, at the middle of the crosswalk, I met the same man again. My schoolbag fell from my hands, I stopped and gawked at him – speechless. Obviously he remembered the first scene, but then we went our way without speaking.

For the next three years, every three or four months, and always in the same way – with both of us heading in opposite directions – I would meet this man. I finally managed not to drop my briefcase and gawk every time we would meet! We would just pass each other, glancing furtively at one another, curious but distant, never saying a word or even cracking a smile. Two strangers, crossing paths, without knowing why.

Some of these meetings were quite unusual. One day I was in the South of France and was heading home by train. The train was crowded and I rushed to find a seat for fear of having to make the trip standing. A man was coming the other way, obviously as concerned as I was to find a seat. It was a matter of survival, I had to find a place before he did! All my attention was focused on getting a seat. I had to have it at all costs!

Miraculously, I opened the door of a compartment and there were two places! I sat down and a man sat opposite me. It was him! We were face-to-face in a confined space for several hours. All the other passengers were chatting, discussing the weather. I cannot remember why, but again there was a collective unease. He and I simply sat, glancing at each other from time to time without any warmth. And, despite the strangeness and the enigmatic character of this new encounter that could have sparked a conversation, we were silent, serious and imperturbable, suspended in another time and space. It is as if we were characters in a story who had received some imperial command to never speak to one another. It was a wordless story that made sense in this silence and the mysterious space to which we both belonged – which seemed to methodically arrange these meetings for some goal that we would each understand separately.

We got off the train and headed in opposite directions; he to the left and I to the right.

I ended up leaving my college town and moved to another city with a clearer idea of my destiny. The first day I arrived in this new city, I decided to walk around to get my bearings. After an hour of wandering around discovering my new space, I grew tired and suddenly began worrying about my future. I felt attracted to a small street into which I turned. There, it looked like a car had broken down and three men were bustling around trying to fix it. The first two greeted me with a nod and smiled at me. As for the third, he finally lifted his head from the hood of the car to look at me. Him again!

Here I was in a completely different city, in an area that was off the beaten track, once again asking myself all these existential questions… and here he pops up again out of nowhere! Standing there, I was really amazed and challenged and also visibly surprised – just as I had been all the other times. We gazed at each other – without a word or even a smile.  It was a deep look, an authentic one reflecting at the same time the mysterious secret that connected us and the acceptance of this mystery. And visibly determined, both of us, not to break the almost sacred nature of this meeting.

I continued on my way and behind me I heard his friends ask him about what just happened – without any response on his part. And I smiled, deeply grateful that he had accepted the injunction of silence that seemed to bind us. I could not hear his voice – and for nothing in the world would I have wanted to – as if breaking the supernatural character of  these scheduled appointments would be a sacrilege.

The last meeting took place a few months later. We were both walking in a plaza, according to the same protocol, he going one way and I in the other. For the first time, we were far enough apart, each at one end of this large plaza, but clearly we recognized each other at the same time. When we crossed paths, still some distance apart, we stopped for a few seconds, exchanged one last look… a goodbye. I knew immediately that this would be our last meeting. And so it was.

I did not turn back and I’m sure he didn’t either. And I felt lighter, freer, I was on the right path and all possibilities seemed open to me.

That night I had a dream – one of those rare but recurring dreams that have always marked a positive change in my life. And in the following months, my life did indeed take a different course, as if I had been able to make a choice – a choice that was a milestone in my journey towards adulthood.

What inner progression allowed this progress?

I cannot speak for him, but in my case, I was able to connect some episodes of my life story. Thanks to this man, I came to understand the conflict going on within me, causing me move in two different directions. He was sent my way to point out my ambivalences and my hesitations – the source of my suffering – hence the fact that we always passed each other going in opposite directions. These chance encounters would continue until I had reached maturity and an unconscious decision took place within me, allowing me to clearly see my choices in life. Hence a final meeting, simple and liberating …

Why him? I have some ideas, but the most important element was the evolution of our meetings. Externally, our differences were visible and reflected two opposing realities: we were not of the same world. We could easily have been enemies. But, gradually, something else formed in stead, mystery and astonishment replaced  judgment and prejudice. And I truly believe that we both learned a tolerance – the acceptance of two opposing destinies linked in a meeting of two souls – which has changed and liberated us.

The Gift

In this blog, I will revisit some key episodes in my life and explain how I decoded them, either at the moment they occurred or over time. Positive or negative, these events have turned out to be gifts that helped define my career.

Indeed, the vivid memories of our existence are not there by accident. Each one carries a life lesson that can support us in our growth process. Whether positive or painful, these memories become the foundation of who we are. And their symbolic decoding gives them an almost sacred meaning.

When you manage to make sense of an experience – either on your own or through a book, a work of art, or with the help of a friend or therapist – the painful imprint fades and gives way to a sense of liberation and expansion.

« Guess the riddle or I devour you », said the Sphinx.

Ever since I can remember, I have always preferred to decode the enigma rather than be devoured by the trials and misconceptions of life.

When I reflect on my experiences, many things start running through my head because my life is rich with episodes which are both simple – yet very intense.

So, today I allowed one such experience to come to the surface naturally.

My childhood was difficult in many ways. Communicating with others has never been easy for me. I have always been very direct – never filtering any thoughts.

One thing I had an especially hard time with was accepting gifts. Nothing ever pleased me. And instead of thanking the giver, I would usually make comments about what was wrong with the gift or why it was a poor choice. Although this was done without malicious intent, I would typically reject any presents without mincing words and without noticing the suffering I caused.

That said, there were some presents that weren’t rejected because I could feel the benevolent intention of the person who had given it to me.

When I was about 13 or 14 years old, I was at a family gathering. A family member (an aunt, I think) just got back from a shopping trip and began to distribute gifts to everyone. There were six or seven family members present and everyone received and opened their small – or not so small – gift. It was a cheerful and very friendly mix of children and adults, all under the spell of this moment of sharing gifts and surprises.

The gifts were well chosen and included some very beautiful things. Wrapping paper was piled up on top of the table and laughter and jokes filled the room.

In these surroundings, I felt I was opening up to others. I – so often alone and on the defensive – dropped my guard. I was ready to dive in – heart and soul – into this carefree moment of happiness.

By now, everyone else had received their gift. Finally, my turn arrived and I was waiting -smiling and cheerful (which was not often the case) – to find out what my gift was.

My aunt turned to me and said, « Of course, there’s nothing for you. I know you don’t like presents.”

I can’t describe the humiliation, desolation and loneliness I felt at that moment. I was too proud to let them see me cry, but I can still feel the lump in my throat. To this day, I have no idea how I managed to hold back the tears.

What hurt the most – above and beyond the lack of a gift – was the scathing, dismissive and profoundly mean tone used to deliver the message. None of the other family members were paying any attention to me – each one busy in appreciation and exchange.

I took in this collective validation of my rejection and wondered how I could go on living…

Then I felt a small hand slip into mine. My little 7-year-old neighbor – who I often took care of – was also there that day. She had received a small toy.

She looked at me tenderly and said: « I will always love you » and handed me a piece of paper where she had hastily sketched a bright sun and a flower that said: « I love you my Chantou ». There was my gift!

So, I received two gifts that day. One went much deeper than the most beautiful object I could have received. That this little girl, at the tender age of 7, was able to pick up on my distress and all that was going on moved me deeply and put me back on track.

I was not perfect and, with my surly side, was not necessarily an object of love for others. But I knew that the children I loved so much would always be there along the way to give a sense of purpose to my life. I knew that by helping and loving them, I could also grow, change and understand myself better. And that’s what I did!

My aunt was right, all things considered. And, I certainly deserved this harsh lesson given to me without love. I needed to see how, throughout my life, I might also behave without loving and understanding others.

The imprint of this experience helped me question myself and correct my stubborn attitudes.

And for this valuable lesson, I’d like to thank this aunt!

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