by Robbyn McGill
Creative "play" provides a chance to listen and engage with your inner voice, without fear of criticism or judgment.
In Revising Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls (1994), Mary Pipher, PH.D, writes that most pre-adolescent girls are “marvelous company” and can do anything, like “bake pies, solve mysteries and go on quests. They can take care of themselves and are not yet burdened with caring for others” (p.18). But then, Pipher eloquently explains a tragic loss:
“Something dramatic happens to girls in early adolescence. Just as planes and ships disappear mysteriously into the Bermuda Triangle, so do the selves of girls go down in droves” (p.19).
According to the lifespan development view proposed by Sheehy (1976), and paraphrased by Slee (2002), this struggle with life’s events and the various conflicts at each critical stage allow us to earn an “authentic identity”, one based on an inner sense of self that does not require parental or cultural validation (p. 464).
In her book (1994), Pipher proposes an “awakening therapy”, her term for consciousness raising, to support teenage girls through the crisis of adolescence (p.19). This article explores what an “awakening therapy” might look like, when applied to a someone at another critical stage in life, transitioning from their twenties to their thirties. How does creativity and consciousness serve at this stage for reclaiming self and identity?
During an interview conducted at John F. Kennedy University in Berkeley, California, Zoe Anderson (not her real name), a student pursuing a master's degree in transformative art, reflected on her own search for identity, and how it thas shifted through "Kissing the Muse", a transformative, expressive arts-based mindfulness practice.
“Growing up in a predominately Christian, working class community, I felt repressed by the traditionalist/modern paradigm,“ recalls Zoe. “Life was fairly simplistic, linear, black and white. Everyone’s purpose seemed primarily motivated by self-interests- with the goal to get a decent job, raise a family, be good (don’t sin) and be safe. Social and political issues were important only in their relevance to this simple prescription, and spiritual seekers, any kind of soul-searching was completely frowned upon.”
According to Pipher (1994), the most important question for any teenage girl is, “Who are you?”, and that asking this question, through creative expression and cultural observation, allows girls to “center” and find themselves (p.26). I asked Zoe how this might relate to her own life.
“Through therapy, and my artist group and through journaling and expressive art, I examined my own assumptions about what I could or couldn’t do. This work took me into a realm of research and practices that reconnected me with my own spirituality, and there are many great books I credit for my unfolding process. It has taken many years, but I am now living the life I could barely even allow myself to imagine; I am a practicing artist, with my creativity and spiritual values at the core of my work, daily life and relationships.”
In the online article Dualism, Dialogue and Organizations (1998), M.Cayer writes:
“A human being is a part of a whole called by us '’the universe,’ a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separate from the rest - a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of understanding and compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”
Listening and engaging transparently and authentically, without fear of criticism or judgment allows us to see each other, and ourselves, more clearly and for who we truly are, inextricably connected; one with the whole. This practice of consciousness, combined with creativity and spirituality could be a tool for forging a stronger, more grounded sense of the self at each critical stage of life.
“When I was in my mid-twenties, I felt deeply afraid that I would never become the person I wanted to be, or live the life that I hoped for, even though I had already successfully created one version of that life,” confided Zoe. “Despite overcoming some repressive circumstances to achieve these ‘successes’, I still felt afraid, unfulfilled and that more, as yet unexplored, creative possibilities existed for my life.”
The life-cycle concept proposed by Levinson in 1978 may explain Zoe’s need to shift and find herself in her mid-twenties. According to Slee (2002), Levinson’s stages evolve through era’s of approximately 25 years and during each, certain tasks must be accomplished to determine how much satisfaction or turmoil the individual experiences (p.462).
Pipher’s (1994) foundations for supporting teenage girls in the process of forming an identity could be translated and applied to Zoe’s process. “Since my mid-twenties, my primary focus has been to bring my life and the way I was living it, into alignment with my personal values and dreams,” said Zoe. “This has been a long, hard road, requiring deep, personal work, research, experimentation, working with mentors and myself and mindfulness practices to shift many of my former paradigms.”
According to Pipher (1994), teens need parents to help them individuate without disconnecting. Similarly, young women, like Zoe, can find mentors to help them learn to see themselves and internally validate without cutting off emotionally from important relationships. Like teens, young women in the process of “becoming” are also discovering positive ways to become independent. By looking critically through alternative perspectives, or shifting consciousness through experience and education, young women, like Zoe, can come to understand the effects of mass culture on the self and family through practicing mindfulness (p.26).
In Everyday Miracles (1996), David Spangle writes:
“Matter and mind alike are reflections or aspects of something else, a more primal substance and process that we may call the universal field of being. It is here, in the internal permutations and interaction of this field, that primal states of mind and matter are transformed from one to the other and back again; it is here that the energy that sustains and creates the universe is generated” (p.98).
The personal and social significance of this perspective is that we are all, more powerful, co-creators of our reality than we realize. We are inextricably connected to everything and everything that we each see, do feel, think and touch affects the whole.
As Tarnas (2006) states, “Reality is not a solid, self-contained given, but a fluid, unfolding process, an ‘open universe’ continually affected and molded by one’s beliefs,” (p.396).
Through a series of synchronistic events, Zoe met all the right people to bring her fully onto her life path. The first was a student in the holistic health education program at John F. Kennedy University. She became a dear friend, and opened her mind to an alternative worldview that, “felt more sane than the predominate one to which I had been forcing my life to conform”.
Woodhouse (1996) writes, “When cases accumulate that cannot be explained by a prevailing paradigm, sometimes a refinement of that model is all that is required; but when refinements fail to work and unexplainable cases continue to exert intellectual or practical pressure, the framework itself must be abandoned and a new one found to replace it,” (p.4).
“The most important thing in the world to me in my 20’s was to recreate myself into someone I loved and respected, “ said Zoe. “Back then, I was extremely vulnerable with a powerfully limiting inferiority complex. I could not even venture into an art-store without feeling deeply ashamed, inadequate and like an imposter. So my work towards ‘a life of integrity’ began as the pursuit to reclaim myself as an artist, which required healing old wounds and breaking from old paradigms to expand my concept of myself. I feel that I have accomplished that.”
According to Irwin’s narrative psychology, as explained by Slee (2002), Zoe is empowered because she has become the writer of her own life (p.458).
“One of my highest priorities is to live with integrity, and by that, I mean, to be who I am, fully, truthfully and in all situations,” Zoe said. “But of course, this is not always easy to do, because I am still constantly discovering different, often conflicting aspects of myself, and who “I am” is a continual work-in-progress.”
Cayer, M. (1998). Dualism, Dialogue, and Organizations. Online
Pipher, Mary, Phd. (1994). Reviving Ophelia: Saving the selves of adolescent girls. New York. GP Putnam & Sons.
Slee, Philip. (2002). Child, Adolescent and Family Development. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Spangle, David. (1996). Everyday Miracles: The Inner Art of Manifestation
Tarnas, RIchard. (2006). Cosmos and Psyche: Intimations of a New World View. Random House.
Woodhouse, Mark B. (1996). Paradigm Wars: Worldviews for a New Age. Frog Ltd.