Chris Robertson, one of the founding facilitators of CPA’s Through the Door, reflects on the meaning of its central metaphor and on the experience of the workshop.
Many stories offer adventures through doors, such as in Alice in Wonderland, Narnia and more recently Pullman’s Subtle Knife. Opening doors allows a two-way traffic: as a portal to new perceptions of reality and as potential admission to what is closed off. To go out of the consulting room door does not deny the value of the closed door of psychotherapy in creating a holding and incubatory psychic space where both healing and dreaming can take place. Such a holding space is needed in an agitated and manic culture such as ours. The problem with this enclosure is that it can also shut out the environmental problems.
There is a growing need for support in working with symptoms of the cultural malaise such as climate distress, eco-anxiety, social despair and widespread trauma. To be able to pass through the door requires relinquishing attachment to professional status in order to be present to an emergent but as yet unknown reality. This process of relinquishment, of stripping away, is common in many traditional rites of passage in which the old self is symbolically shed to allow space for an emergent self. This loss has parallels with what many have experienced in the climate crisis - the pain and grief coming from loss of familiar places and loss of other species.
Participants in the workshop wake out of an older privileged way of life and want to enter into their vision of what a new way of life could be – for instance simpler, uncluttered and in connection with outer nature. Letting go of these old attachments is often painful and requires grieving their loss. It also requires safe-enough spaces that are held and give permission for transitions that have not been made.
Resources in Through the Door workshops include being witnessed and heard by others so as not to feel isolated in the experiencing of difficult feelings such as helplessness, resentment and despair. These holding experiences are coupled with the capacity of participants to imagine a new reality and enter it. None of this is easy. It requires an energetic shift in the relational field; a shift that gives permission for difficult conversations that may have been perceived as taboo. In this way it resembles other taboo subjects.
The tragic quality in such mythic stories as Oedipus stem in part from the absence of such permissions and the apparent inevitability of the calamity. The breaking open of taboos such as submissive attitudes to church, state or crown, is characteristic of a cultural transition. The process of accessing permission is often messy and confused. Therapeutically, it includes naming difficulties in the conversation and staying with them rather than offering solutions. Permission is a subtle sign of what could be, a half opening of the door so that we can sense the possibilities.
What supports cultural and collective transformation are the initiatory and paradoxical experiences that mark a seemingly catastrophic break with the expected. These terrifying but intensely potent experiences are marked by the convergence of opposites such as brokenness/wholeness, creative/destructive, beauty/pain. They bring in radically fresh perspectives that offer possibilities for bearing the unbearable.
In a new cooperative enquiry into the longer-term effects of participating in the Through the Door workshop, we are finding that liminal states evoked in the workshop are vital in evoking new ways of seeing, different landscape and different stories. Participants have found a fresh attunement that brings with it unexpected opportunities and synchronicities between internal states and outer reality. We are also finding that for these experiences to become sustained, they need participation in community and development of practices such as staying with the discomfort, digesting difficult, seemingly toxic feelings and imagining fresh, unknown realities.
Lead Image by Maya Adams