That what will be, when it will be, will be that what it is – Fernando Pessoa
I wrote this quote in the front cover of my paper calendar for years. It felt good to remind me of these accepting words from Pessoa, because change and growth had been a fight for me for many years.
Overcoming addiction at my 20’s, struggling with my studies, trying to restore the relationship with my parents, it all worked bit by bit, but I needed lots of thinking, judgement and severity for it. It was a continuous fight with myself and an internal jury was judging me. Pessoa’s words brought some comfort.
The paradox of change
The ability to observe without evaluation is the highest form of intelligence – Jiddu Krishnamurti
After studying Clinical Psychology, I got to know Gestalt at my 30’s. That’s how I discovered change didn’t need to be a constant fight. I learned that doing something differently starts with observing how I do it and acknowledging that that’s my way to do it. The ‘why’ is less important and often even takes me away from really understanding myself. By observing ‘how it is’, feeling it, experiencing it, thinking about it, without necessarily coming to a solution or an explanation, I managed to find more peace and acceptance. And surprisingly, every time I could really stay with that not-knowing, I’d always find an answer somehow. It felt a bit like magic, because by doing less, I eventually knew better what I had to do.
And that’s the paradox, because we are so used to see change as action, determination and discipline, often with an achievable ideal in mind or at least a goal. Gestalt says real, sustainable change can only come when we develop more awareness and acceptance for how it is right now. That doesn’t mean that we approve or passively resign. It means we acknowledge that it is how it is at this moment, that it exists. Only then can we explore a different response that fits us.
Contact is the first reality
Gestalt puts it quite simply, when it says life originates at the boundary between yourself and the other. That helped me to discover how my energy, joy, motivation and kindness where a result of my contact with the people in my life and didn’t only depend on me. Assisted by the acceptance of ‘how it is’, I managed to be more vulnerable with people. That in turn helped me to understand what I needed to feel good, and allowed me to stay loyal to myself when in contact with others.
You could say Gestalt has helped me to speak my truth more in relationships. Not that I was a liar before, but I did unconsciously fool myself often. As a consequence I was unaware of how I also fooled others and created expectations, or had expectations myself, that couldn’t be met, as they weren’t based on reality. I ended up getting disappointed and dissapointing others.
For us to understand ourselves well, it is paramount to observe how we relate to others. That’s why it is so important to observe the contact between me and my clients in a therapeutic session. After all, what happens in therapy, happens outside of therapy.
What and how we do something, when we do it, is the best possible way we can do it. – freely inspired by Fernando Pessoa
Gestalt helped me to meet myself, sometimes softly and sometimes bluntly. Thus I discovered more and more my way of doing things and I’d see how I had long tried to fit myself into something, although I’d make life far more complicated that way. After all, to fit in, I needed to change my shape. Things I had been ashamed for, things I had kept for myself or that would make me feel abnormal, started to become defining parts of who I was. And I learned that who I am is my creative way to adjust myself to my world.
This creative adjustment that guides us through life, might not always seem to be the best way, objectively, but always, yes always, there is a benefit to what we do. From a Gestalt perspective we say that how we do something is always the best possible answer that we can give at that moment. We observe all that impacts our answer and how it shows itself on different levels of our life. We define patterns and try to find out which needs they serve and what we’d need to feel enough support to adapt a pattern.
After graduating as a Gestalt psychotherapist, I started my own private practice and worked as a coach in organisations. A busy, self-employed life unfolded.I kept on studying and focused on the experiential- and embodied approaches within Gestalt. Maybe it was that that made me aware at a certain point that I was going too fast and setting myself up for a burn-out.
Listening to my body, to my energy and my emotions, proved to be a vital resource to understand how I was doing. My body gave me more access to my truth. And I felt I needed to take a break.
Gestalt sees a person as a whole. Our body is not just a taxi for our brain. We are our body and our body is us. Our body speaks, shows and expresses itself continuously, but our Western society has developed such a focus on thinking, that we merely listen to our body in a medical way.
So embodiment is nothing wishy washy, but merely means including our body when answering the question ‘How am I doing?’.
Another powerful Gestalt perspective is thinking in polarities. Our world is made up of polarities: day and night, good and bad, beautiful and ugly.. and I’m only naming the most obvious ones now. Polarities need each other, one can’t exist without the other and vice versa. Healthy functioning means we can move flexibly from one psychological polarity to the other. Mental suffering means we get stuck in one polarity. For example always working hard and loosing the ability to rest, take a break, be lazy. And if we spend lots of time at one side of the polarity, the other side will force itself upon us, often unexpectedly and seemingly out of our control, because the balance needs to be restored.
When I was burned out, I realised I was stuck in one side of the polarity ‘exchaustion vs energy’, precisely because I had spent too much time having to be energized. And I would see how this difficult period of feeling bad and depressed was the other side of feeling good. I became more aware of how feeling bad is also a part of life, not to say we even need it to really feel good in life. We can’t be happy without being unhappy. After all, if we’d only be happy, we would stop experiencing it as happiness. Without a shadow, the light is less bright. Without unhappiness, we are less aware of our happiness.