30 December 2006

Guided imagery

“The term ‘guided imagery’ refers to a number of different techniques, including visualization; direct suggestion using imagery, metaphor and storytelling; fantasy and game playing; dream interpretation; drawing; and active imagination.

Therapeutic guided imagery is believed to allow patients to enter a relaxed state and focus attention on images associated with issues they are confronting… Guided imagery is a meditative relaxation technique sometimes used with biofeedback.”

[from 'Natural Standard', an organization that produces scientifically based reviews of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) topics.]

Imagery is the most fundamental language we have. Everything we do is processed in the mind through images.

For the past hundred years, many renowned Western psychologists have worked with imagery (dreams, daydreams and fantasies), some of whom have even postulated their own psychoanalytic techniques. Besides Wolfgang Kretschmer (whom I mentioned in my previous post), Robert Desoille’s ‘guided daydreams’, Jacob Morena’s ‘psychodrama’, and Hans Carl Leuner’s ‘experimentally introduced cathathymic imagery’ have all contributed to using imagery in therapy. Hans Carl Leuner had further developed psychodrama, calling it symboldrama psychotherapy or guided affective imagery.

However, according to Joe Utay, Assistant Professor, Counselor Education, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Director of Counseling and Evaluation Services, Total Learning Centers, in a March 2006 article in Journal of Instructional Psychology, it is David Bresler’s and Martin Rossman’s work with guided imagery which is better known today. Bresler and Rossman co-founded the Academy for Guided Imagery and defined guided imagery as a “range of techniques from simple visualization and direct imagery-based suggestion through metaphor and storytelling.”

There are many others, of course, who have worked with guided imagery. In fact, there is no end to the amount of research that’s going on today in this field. In the same informative March 2006 article from Journal of Instructional Psychology, Professor Utay explains, “Guided imagery can be used to learn and rehearse skills, more effectively problem solve through visualizing possible outcomes of different alternatives, and increase creativity and imagination. It has also been shown to affect physiological processes… in addition to its use in counseling, guided imagery has also been used with very positive results in sports training, rehabilitative medicine, and healthcare.”

Although its applications are manifold, guided imagery is considered a part of alternative therapy/medicine and yet to be embraced by the mainstream medical fraternity. As the Natural Standard website says, “…research is early and is not definitive.”

To read the article on Guided Imagery by Professor Joe Utay and Megan Miller from the March 2006 issue of Journal of Instructional Psychology, click here.

To visit the Natural Standard website, click here.

To visit the Academy for Guided Imagery website, click here.

29 December 2006

Thinking in the form of a movie

Dreams, daydreams and fantasies are overlooked for all the good they do – or can do – for us. On the contrary, we scold people for frittering away time daydreaming or fantasising about things which are unreal and may not happen. In everyday life, dreams and daydreams have no substance. It’s foolish to spend time in such activities.

Yet, in older traditions and cultures, such as those of ancient Hindus, Chinese and Tibetans, or Native (American) Indians, dreams, daydreams and fantasies played an important part in forming imagery and imagination. They were essential in the formation of the concept of ‘I am’ and, therefore, essential to life.

Moreover, people believed that dreams, daydreams and fantasies could be used effectively for relaxation and healing, for solving problems, and for guiding the progress of their tribes. These people went to the extent of using hypnosis or hallucinogens (mind-altering drugs), such as opium, datura or peyote, to induce daydreams and fantasies… using symbols for meaning.

In the West, perhaps thanks to Descartes, imagination didn’t fit into the nature of rational thinking, and was considered ‘unreal’. It was with the advent of psychology in Europe and, particularly, Sigmund Freud’s declaration that dreams, daydreams and fantasies can help unravel a great deal about a person’s mind, that the use of dreams, daydreams and fantasies became popular as a psychoanalytical tool.

Besides Freud, many psychologists began working with dreams, daydreams and fantasies. Among them Carl G Jung, Roberto Assagioli, Carl Happich, Hans Carl Leuner, Wolfgang Kretschmer and Robert Desoille… who started using daydream and meditation in therapy, introducing the Eastern concept of ‘I am’ in their psychoanalysis.

It was Kretschmer who referred to daydreams as inner visions, or ‘thinking in the form of a movie’.

28 December 2006

Dream world

Is our dream world a new world we have created, as a writer or a filmmaker does with his/her narrative? Or, is it a pre-existing world which we have only just discovered? Is our dream world in the present, or in the future/past?

When we dream, our dream world seems real. While we dream, we have no cognition of our waking world – the actual reality, the phenomenal world where we physically exist – until we attain, or return to, the waking state and become conscious of our surroundings in the real world. Then, we become aware that we had been dreaming.

Yet, in the dream world, we are aware of ourselves and our surroundings. We are able to see, speak, smell, hear, move about, and do things as if everything was real. It’s as if we existed in a parallel world of our own. And, when we wake up, we are unable to enter this same dream world again. At least, willingly.

Only the experience remains.

26 December 2006

Doubles

There’s no doubt that we find it difficult to identify ourselves with the reality-and-fantasy sequences that many authors and filmmakers present to us in their narratives. Yet, psychologists say, we all live our lives in similar fashion.

Whenever we are unable to cope with reality, when the events in our lives are too tough to handle, we escape into fantasies, daydreams and wishful thinking. We continuously engage in a process of self-creation and self-discovery, constructing autobiographical narratives. We create fictional worlds in our minds where our problems are sorted out and resolved, providing a much-needed relief.

In these constructed narratives, we transform ourselves into fiction and become extensions of our individual selves, in the same way many authors and filmmakers present their characters in their narratives. We create alternate versions of ourselves, ‘doubles’ you might say, who play different roles in different events… although, in reality, our lives may never change. These ‘doubles’ have the ability to escape from the reality and have the freedom to change anything, living a life of unlimited possibilities.

We stretch the time at our disposal, living out not only one or two events from our lives, but, sometimes, our entire lives. We see our lives being lived differently… fulfilling our desires, resolving issues which are too horrible for us in our real everyday lives. And, should the reality we face everyday not change for us in accordance with our desires, we live and re-live these fantasies for years together.

Our real lives and our fantasy lives are interwoven, though we may never reveal this to the outside world. For, expressing such fictional worlds in print or on celluloid is unthinkable! No wonder, whenever we read about or see a display of such narrative, we feel a discomfort which we are unable to explain.

24 December 2006

Fragmented narrative, factual resemblance

The trouble with films like David Lynch’s ‘Mulholland Drive’ or Aparna Sen’s ‘15 Park Avenue’ is that, while the director is having so much fun with his/her film, the viewer feels left out… isolated. The continuous interplay of fantasy and reality is just too much for the viewer to keep track of… and results in the confusion I experienced and mentioned in my previous posts.

The viewer is unable to identify with what’s going on around or in front of him/her, as there’s a shift in the reality created by the director, as well as the characters, in the film. This confusion in the viewer’s mind turns into distaste and, later, into revulsion. Perhaps, that’s what director Aparna Sen tried to convey through the peripheral characters – the schizophrenic protagonist’s family and friends – in her film ‘15 Park Avenue’.

Maybe, the message in a fragmented narrative is stronger than what is intended by the director of a film or the author of a book using this technique: that, the fragmented narrative bears a much stronger factual resemblance to our lives than what we may, or are willing to, accept.

23 December 2006

15 Park Avenue: fragmented narrative

The fictional landscape in a fragmented narrative has been an experiment with post-modern writers and filmmakers for many years. The European school with writers like Umberto Eco and Italo Calvino, as well as filmmakers like Jacques Rivette of the French New Wave and, later, David Lynch from the US, are all masters of this narrative technique.

In the fragmented narrative, mastering the interplay between reality and dream, weaving the plot around the characters, is not an easy task and requires a special virtuosity. Since the presentation of the fictional landscape is a subjective one, often directly connected to the mind of the characters in the story/film, many of the stories/scripts deal with situations where the characters themselves create the fictional landscape. David Lynch’s ‘Mulholland Drive’ (see my previous post) is a perfect example of this where the plot shifts seamlessly between dream and reality.

In India, earlier this year, filmmaker Aparna Sen had used this technique in her film ‘15 Park Avenue’ – an exploration of schizophrenia in a young woman. I found the film quite insightful (and informative) as it dealt not only with a schizophrenic person, with the usual interplay of dream and reality happening all around her, but the film also presented the emotions and reactions of the onlookers – the schizophrenic person’s family and friends – which was another version of the reality. The question, of which version is the reality and which version is the dream, was masterfully handled by Aparna Sen… right till the end.

Of course, some confusion remains.

22 December 2006

Mulholland Drive: narrative in a subjective landscape

There have been moments in life when I’ve been confused, but very few would come close to my confusion during, and after, watching David Lynch’s film ‘Mulholland Drive’. That must have been sometime in 2002 and, honestly, I’m still trying to piece the film/story together… trying to make sense out of my confusion.

‘Mulholland Drive’ is about two beautiful women – Diane and Camilla – both actresses in Hollywood. Or, correctly speaking, the film is about Diane (played by Naomi Watts), trying to make it as an actress, but failing; and about Camilla (played by Laura Elena Harring), succeeding. The entire film seems to be a fantasy, a dream, played in Diane’s mind… which is where the confusion thrives.

Diane (as small-town girl Betty) comes to Hollywood with hopes of becoming an actress. While staying alone at her aunt’s apartment, Diane finds a glamorous but traumatised amnesiac woman, Rita (who is actually Camilla, but since Camilla can’t remember anything, she adopts the name Rita from a Rita Hayworth poster), hiding in the apartment. Diane (i.e. Betty) helps amnesiac Camilla (i.e. Rita) slowly discover her (i.e. Rita’s) true identity and, in the process, the two women become lovers.

Diane’s acting career fails miserably, while Camilla’s succeeds superlatively. Camilla becomes a glamorous celebrity, leaving Diane for another lesbian lover. Unable to take the pain of her failures (in career and in love) and overwhelmed by jealousy, Diane hires a hitman to kill Camilla. Then Diane commits suicide. Camilla escapes the attempt on her life, but the incident turns her into a traumatised amnesiac. Camilla wanders aimlessly for a while before taking refuge in a Hollywood apartment, where she is found by Diane (i.e. Betty).

Got all that? There’s more, of course, but for simplicity, I won’t go into it.

What’s fascinating about ‘Mulholland Drive’ is that director David Lynch has been able to take the normal path of narrative, with its objective reality, and turn it upside down into a subjective landscape. The landscape in the film is a fantasy in Diane’s mind. That is, it’s a view of one of the characters in the film – and that too, it’s a fantasy in a troubled mind. A mind which itself is trying to escape from the reality it cannot cope with. It’s fiction (e.g. Betty being dreamed up by Diane) within fiction (e.g. Diane struggling with her failed acting career and resorting to fantasy), creating a totally subjective landscape.

In ‘Mulholland Drive’, David Lynch presents reality in fragments of fantasies that his characters dream up while trying to cope with the reality of their lives. The film viewer has trouble identifying with this. If the characters in the film are unable to differentiate between fantasy and reality, how can the film viewer?

21 December 2006

Hybrids of truth and fiction

Telling the truth about the self, constituting the self as complete subject… it is a fantasy. In spite of the fact that autobiography is impossible, this in no way prevents it from existing.
– Philippe Lejeune, ‘On Autobiography’

We look for meaning in life – to explain life to ourselves. For some of us, that’s not enough. We need to share our experiences, our interpretations of life, with others. We need to speak of our joys, our sorrows and the lessons we’ve learnt, warning others of the pitfalls, passing on personal philosophies as wisdom.

But, are these accurate reflections of our lives? Or, are they pseudo-realities constructed by us to suit our notions of our identities and personalities – i.e. the identities and personalities we wish to present/project to others? And in doing so, do we not create fictional landscapes within which we exist… and, perhaps, even seduce others to join us there?

Autobiographies, memoirs, personal stories and even interviews are such fictional landscapes, simulations of our lives, where truth and fiction co-exist naturally… happily. For, when these landscapes are crafted well, it is impossible to distinguish truth from fiction, fiction from truth.

In such situations, autobiographies, memoirs, personal stories and interviews, all become hybrids of truth and fiction. In them, we are no longer ourselves, but appear as characters like any other.

Of course, the authorship of the narrative still remains with us.

19 December 2006

What are we without our stories?

“It might be said that each of us constructs and lives a ‘narrative’, and that this narrative is us, our identities.”
– Oliver Sacks, neurologist, author

Alfred Hitchcock is not only famous for his thrillers, the suspense and murder-mystery tales which are almost a film genre by themselves, but also for making mysterious appearances in his films. Clive Cussler, one of my favourite authors of adventure novels and creator of the hero Dirk Pitt, has an old-man character called ‘Clive Cussler’ making unexpected appearances in Clive Cussler’s (the author’s) novels.

Apart from the comic relief this brings in, I find this act of being a part of one’s own creation a fascinating subject. I mean, this is no autobiography, nor a self-portrait by a painter. A filmmaker and a writer are surreptitiously including themselves as characters in their fictional constructions. Are they doing this for fun? Are they trying to construct new identities for themselves? Are they trying to tell us that their narratives are not all fiction?

This had me thinking in a bit of (self-)inventive mood. Are we not all stories by ourselves? I mean, when we write our resum├ęs for a job application or introduce ourselves at a dinner party or write a short profile on Blogger, are we not constructing stories of ourselves to create an impact or produce a desired result… much the same way a filmmaker or a writer would do during their creative process? And if this be true, are we not all individual stories of some kind?

13 December 2006

On ‘A Writer’s Diary’

“At the best and even unexpurgated, diaries give a distorted or one-sided portrait of the writer, because, as Virginia Woolf herself remarks somewhere in these diaries, one gets into the habit of recording one particular kind of mood – irritation or misery, say – and of not writing one’s diary when one is feeling the opposite. The portrait is therefore from the start unbalanced, and, if someone then deliberately removes another characteristic, it may well become a mere caricature.”

(Leonard Woolf, in the preface of his wife Virginia Woolf’s ‘A Writer’s Diary’ which was published 12 years after her death. ‘A Writer’s Diary’ contains edited excerpts from Virginia Woolf’s diary manuscripts.)

12 December 2006

Double roles

Why would we want to write our autobiographies? Isn’t there enough reading material in this world, both fiction and non-fiction, to entertain readers? And, how do we know that our autobiographies will entertain others? What do we really know about the reading habits of billions of readers that inherit this Earth? Why would any of them ever be interested in our life stories?

If it isn’t to entertain others, then would it be simply to tell our tales? Would it be to chronicle our lives, our experiences, and our learning in order to assert ourselves on this planet as individuals with distinct egos which need to be fuelled? If this be true, then isn’t writing an autobiography nothing more than a matter of conceit?

Or, is it to discover ourselves, to give social context to our individual experiences, to understand our relationship with the world around us in a self-investigative mode? In which case, isn’t writing an autobiography nothing more than empowering our pens – or our keyboards – into asking questions about ourselves, about our lives, which we are too afraid to ask aloud in the real world we inhabit?

If this be true, then are we not re-making ourselves as bolder, more assertive characters in our autobiographies than we really are? And, in the process, are we not creating fictional characters and telling their tales which are truthfully not ours?

As we write our autobiographies, are we not playing double roles?

11 December 2006

How much of an autobiography should we believe?

Told in the first person, an autobiography is supposed to be a testimonial of the person writing the autobiography. The first-person voice makes the storytelling more compelling, more believable, more real. The autobiographer, as the storyteller, sucks us, the reader, into the story, making us believe that the reality of the autobiographer is the real world. Almost as if forcing us to recognise and accept the autobiographer’s view of the world as our own reality.

This technique is used by fiction writers too. As readers of fiction, we often escape into the fiction-writer’s world, seamlessly, believing the storytelling, the setting, the characters, etc. to be true… at least, for that moment. It’s like experiencing a reverie. However, we come out of this reverie, if not immediately upon closing the book, at least sometime soon afterward. We realise this is not the real world, but a fictional tale told by a person providing us a few hours’, or a few days’, entertainment.

Of course, we go through our emotions, feeling happy or sad or angry or despair, in agreement with, or in response to, the writer’s treatment of the story and the experiences of the characters in the story. Later, we applaud or challenge or criticise the fiction-writer’s work, reviewing his/her skills as a storyteller, either in absolute terms or in comparison with other works of fiction. But, all through the experience of reading and discussing the work, never do we forget that it is a work of fiction. Anything can happen here. Reality can take its own shape.

But, an autobiography must speak the truth. People, places, dates, events, sequence of events, conversations cannot change to make the storytelling more entertaining, more compelling. The autobiographer is bound by these elements. However, the autobiographer may play with the style of presenting these elements and these facts, and add to them his own inner experiences and emotions as flavours. This basically means, the autobiographer cannot make up or fictionalise the narrative according to his/her whims.

Autobiographers rarely ever write their narratives on the spot. They write later, remembering, introspecting, relying on their memories. This is a tricky affair as memories are known to fail. Of course, autobiographers consult various notes, journals and documents before actually constructing their stories, but can these documents be 100% reliable? The emotions experienced instantly, the nuances of the moment are likely to be missing.

Moreover, autobiographers may be, like all human beings are, prone to talking too much about themselves, exaggerating their life stories, self-justifying their actions, presenting their opinions as facts… turning their autobiographies into works of fiction. If the only reliable source of facts in an autobiography is the autobiographer himself/herself, how can the reader, not having first-hand knowledge, verify all the facts of an autobiography? If all this be true, how much of an autobiography should we really believe?

08 December 2006

A grief observed

In ‘A Grief Observed’, C S Lewis wrote about his bereavement when his wife, Joy, died from bone cancer. Yet, he wrote the book, an autobiography, under a pseudonym, N W Clerk, hiding his authorship from the public and referring to his wife as ‘H’ (her first name was Helen). Perhaps, he wanted to keep his grief private and, yet, use his writing as a therapeutic tool to come to terms with it.

We may never know the truth behind his wish to remain anonymous when ‘A Grief Observed’ was first published. However, what we do know is that Lewis later decided to make his authorship public, apparently, upon receiving advice from friends. And, hence, we now have with us a wonderful autobiography… a look inside a man and his loss.

This thought, of this act of writing a personal narrative of one’s grief, while toying with the idea of remaining anonymous, made me wonder if Lewis’ ‘A Grief Observed’ is indeed an autobiography. I mean, if it is a 100% autobiography in first person… and not a semi-fictionalised account of C S Lewis’ life and his bereavement.

Mind you, I’m not accusing C S Lewis of deceit; nor am I suggest anything derogatory. I’m merely wondering if Lewis wrote down exactly what he felt about his grief… as it ought to be in an autobiography. Or, did he come out of himself and, as if he were an observer observing someone else’ grief, write down what he thought C S Lewis would have felt at that moment?

Would C S Lewis have sacrificed some of his real feelings in order to write a book? And, if that were so, wouldn’t ‘A Grief Observed’ contain some fiction?

05 December 2006

A late love affair for Lewis

There is, hidden or flaunted, a sword between the sexes till an entire marriage reconciles them. It is arrogance in us to call frankness, fairness, and chivalry ‘masculine’ when we see them in a woman; it is arrogance in them, to describe a man’s sensitiveness or tact or tenderness as ‘feminine’. But also what poor, warped fragments of humanity most mere men and mere women must be to make the implications of that arrogance plausible. Marriage heals this. Jointly the two become fully human. “In the image of God created He them.” Thus, by a paradox, this carnival of sexuality leads us out beyond our sexes.
- C S Lewis, ‘A Grief Observed’

C S Lewis married Joy Davidman: first a civil marriage in a registry office (1955), and a year later, formally, by a clergyman at her bedside. Joy was suffering from bone cancer and was bedridden. Lewis was 57 at the time (a confirmed bachelor until then) and Joy 40. Apparently, C S Lewis and Joy Davidman Gresham had known each other since 1952 when she had visited him in Oxford. Joy, an American writer, separated from her husband (William Gresham) and with two sons, moved to England and later divorced her husband to marry Lewis.

Joy died in 1960. Lewis died in 1963. In ‘A Grief Observed’, C S Lewis records his experience of bereavement at his wife’s death. The book was published in 1961.

04 December 2006

C S Lewis and materialism

In a materialistic world, does God exist?

“Modern society continues to operate largely on the materialistic premises of such thinkers as Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, and Sigmund Freud,” wrote John G Guest Jr in an article tilted ‘C S Lewis and Materialism’ which appeared in the Nov-Dec 1996 issue of Religion and Liberty from Acton Institute. Prof Guest went on to say, “Yet few today feel at home in the materialist universe where God does not exist, where ideas do not matter, and where every human behavior is reduced to non-rational causes.”

I cannot agree with Prof Guest’s statements simply because I do not believe that a materialistic world and God are mutually exclusive concepts. If materialism is a way of understanding reality, then God certainly features there somewhere… along with thoughts and emotions of people. For, if our world is viewed as a process – where change and transformation are critical to its being – God, religion and spirituality has as much a place in it as nature, science, history and politics.

What’s good about Prof Guest’s article is his presentation of British author C S Lewis’ perspective on materialism. C S Lewis, popularly known for his children’s tales ‘Chronicles of Narnia’ (recently made more popular by Hollywood as a film grossing close to US$1 billion), was an atheist from his adolescence until he turned to religion (theism) at age 31, and to Christianity a couple of years later. Upon his conversion, Lewis wrote avidly, even becoming a popular broadcaster on BBC, submitting his views in favour of Christianity, and refuting many of the assumptions and views against Christianity prevalent at that time (i.e. mid-19th century to mid-20th century).

According to Prof Guest, Lewis debunked materialism on issues such as reason and truth, morality, personal responsibility, and utopianism. He mentions that C S Lewis tried to put together a new natural philosophy that understood human beings as they were… with thoughts and emotions… and not explain them away as tiny parts that add up together to make up a whole human being. C S Lewis’ God is central to this new natural philosophy, explaining away rationality and materialism like things from our past. Only God exists. Don’t take my word for it, read Prof John G Guest Jr’s article here.

02 December 2006

Worldview: Sigmund Freud & C S Lewis

All of us, whether we realize it or not, have a worldview; we have a philosophy of life our attempt to make sense out of our existence. It contains our answers to the fundamental questions concerning the meaning of our lives, questions that we struggle with at some level all of our lives, and that we often think about only when we wake up at three o'clock in the morning. The rest of the time when we are alone we have the radio or the television on anything to avoid being alone with ourselves.

Pascal maintained the sole reason for our unhappiness is that we are unable to sit alone in our room. He claimed we do not like to confront the reality of our lives; the human condition is so basically unhappy that we do everything to keep distracted from thinking about it.

The broad interest and enduring influence of the works of Freud and Lewis result less from their unique literary style than from the universal appeal of the questions they addressed; questions that remain extraordinarily relevant to our personal lives and to our contemporary social and moral crises.

From diametrically opposed views, they talked about issues such as, “Is there meaning and purpose to existence?” Freud would say, “Absolutely not! We cannot even, from our scientific point of view, address the question of whether or not there is meaning to life.” But he would declare that if you observe human behavior, you would notice the main purpose of life seems to be to find happiness to find pleasure. Thus Freud devised the ‘pleasure principle’ as one of the main features of our existence.

Lewis, on the other hand, said meaning and purpose are found in understanding why we are here in terms of the Creator who made us. Our primary purpose is to establish a relationship with that Creator.


[Dr Armand Nicholi, speech at a faculty/alumni luncheon hosted by Dallas Christian Leadership at Southern Methodist University on September 23, 1997]

01 December 2006

Just a dream

Maybe there is no creation, no evolution. Maybe what we see is just a dream. A dream dreamt by us… or more precisely, dreamt by the ‘I’ – the ego – in us.

Because the ego wants to believe that there is existence of a world. Because the existence of a world is an affirmation of the ego itself. The ego’s raison d’etre.

Maybe, because the dream is in our minds, it has no substance. And, if it has no substance, it cannot be real. And, if it is not real, then it has never been created… nor evolved.

Maybe this is the mystery of life.

But, even if this were true, would we believe it? Would we accept it?