A little while ago Niek sent me his A way of living today, where he says: "Entering now an era of 'face the future', it is time to especially honour our creativity! The need for sharing our emotional life with others is a given, whether we deal with the past, the present or the future".
For me, this brought up the whole question of present/past/future and reminded me of John Heron's view of 'abundant time' in Catharsis in human development.'Living in abundant time is more than living in present time. It is possible to be very here and now in terms of immediate sensory awareness yet to be dissociated from past and future. Living in abundant time means being aware of what is present, with an openness to and a sense of the re-evaluated past, and with an openness to and a sense of the emergent possibilities that are pouring into the present ... The present lived out of the future through a restructuring insight into the past – some such aphorism as this comes close to the concept of living in abundant time.' (Heron, 1977, 46) How do I best open to 'emergent possibilities pouring into the present'? Clearly I need to have adequate free attention and presence in the here and now and be sufficiently at peace with the past-within-my-present. But how do I connect with the future-within-my-present?
Here's where I liked Niek's reference to 'creative activity'. Co-Co's traditional way of moving on from achieved re-evaluation to action in the world is through the skills of goal-setting and action planning. Yet at times when I have experienced the energy of a true re-evaluation, I have felt a sense of contraction and disappointment when moving on to this phase of a session. At the moment I am most open towards emergent possibilities, I start closing down. I believe it's because I've defaulted prematurely into a cognitive-rational mode, leaving out the fullness of felt sense, intuition and imagination.
Happily, CCI is full of creative options for avoiding this limitation. I recently went to the McCoCo residential in Scotland and learned there that the Cornucopia approach to Coco (presented by JanPieter Hoogma and Lilian Brzoska) already has a strong commitment to accessing the wisdom of the 'felt sense'. These days this type of approach is most generally known through the 'focusing' tradition initiated by Eugene Gendlin (Gendlin 1978). But it is also somewhat similarly described by John Heron, in his map of how people develop their experiential understanding. Writing about this process in the arena of co-operative inquiry (Heron 1996), he talks about knowing through 'empathy and resonance'. Heron is especially clear that the felt sense is inclusive of a self/other and self/world dynamic. So if we take that as any kind of guide for engaging with possible futures, the first thing to do could be to pause, perhaps for a while, and enter into that felt sense, that empathy and resonance between self and possibility, before doing anything else.
If we follow Heron's sense-making road map to its next destination, 'experiential knowing' grows into 'presentational knowing' (Heron, 1996). Our felt sense needs expression and for Heron this first emerges through activities like story, drawing, sculpture, movement and dance. I'm recalling another McCoCo workshop, on 'Wild Writing', lead by Geoff Rowe, credited to Joke Stassen as Co-Co workshop designer and based on the ideas of Natalie Goldberg (Goldberg 1990). At the core of this workshop were timed, uninterrupted bursts of spontaneous writing. I can see myself, in a free attention episode within a session, spending five or ten minutes on, let's say, 'futures pouring into the present', either as plain stream of consciousness or some form of emergent story making. Or I might want to move and draw, separately or together. Using active imagination, I could move physically between landscapes of present, past and future, weaving connections between them. I could dialogue with alternative possible versions of my future self. In a workshop situation, guided visualisations could play a supportive role.
My point is that if we take this kind of view, the creative possibilities are endless, and creative invitations to the future may encourage creative futures to come our way. In sessions, my personal feeling is the experience of felt sense and the move into its expression are best done with the counsellor's free attention, unless the client feeds the counsellor very minimal and specific tasks and roles. It's a tuning in process at this point, not really one for coaching and cheerleading. So the client is free to be quiet and internal and also to be inventive, using the CoCo understanding that the counsellor's essential task is to hold the client within their field of attention, and not to understand or engage with their material. So this calling in of emergent futures is a spacious time in the client/counsellor relationship in the session, and one in which client-in-charge principle (the focus of the McCoCo Conference on the day after the workshop) once again demonstrates its central importance in CCI tradition.
Only when a session oriented to 'creative futures' has had a period like this, free of results anxiety, would I focus on specific ideas, perhaps beginning with a free-flowing approach like mind-mapping. In my experience mind mapping can get you straight to a direction. If it's not enough, this is where goal setting and action planning have their place.
Overall I see something playful and inspiring in Niek's A way of living today. It doesn't ask us to change anything much – the processes, tools and relationships are there, in CCI culture. But there's an emphasis, an orientation, a feel, which is fresh; a slightly different focus and direction. I hope that's these ideas – which I see as aligned to John Heron's 1977 articulation of 'abundant time' – are influential and bear fruit within the CCI community. James Nichol
Gendlin, E. (1978) Focusing: how to gain direct access to your body's knowledge London: Rider (rev. ed. 2003)
Goldberg, N. (1990) Wild mind: living the writer's life New York: Bantam
Heron, J. (1996) Co-operative inquiry: research into the human condition London: Sage
Heron, J. (1977), Catharsis in human development, London: British Postgraduate Medical Federation