In preparation for year 2 of the weekend training at the Pacific Gestalt Institute, I’m reading Gary Yontef’s Intro to Field Theory. Field theory in Gestalt relates to the complexity of determining variables that inform a person’s experience in any given moment. It’s related to the process of how we perceive, think, and react to the circumstances surrounding us. How does this relate to the LA River? Read on…
I’ve spent the majority of my non-profit and therapy careers working in jails, inner city high schools, underserved neighborhoods, and addiction treatment centers. My students and clients know, I’m a systems person. I don’t look at my individual clients as isolated entities. Rather, they are products of their own complex biology, chemistry, and the forces that have surrounded them since conception. Many have experienced and caused havoc in their own and other’s lives – it’s not what they wanted or intend. My goal is not to “fix” clients, but rather to understand how their own creative and intuitive abilities have helped them survive and navigate their own complex systems so far. We then work to figure out how their best ideas and instincts can be utilized so they can establish new, healthier systems and thrive again.
Last summer, while contemplating some life changes I want to make, I spent a lot of time sitting by the LA River. YES! We do have a river in LA and yes, it’s filling back up with water and wild life. Once free flowing, the river wreaked havoc for the region with sporadic flooding until the 1930’s when the Army Corp of Engineers encased the river’s beds in concrete. However it left the river seeming less than alive. The LA River now has been taken under the fold of various non-profits who are working to figure out how, even with the concrete encasement, the river and it’s surrounds can thrive again.
Yontef likens the Gestalt “field” to a river:
The natural organization of the field is like a river finding its natural course by interacting with the other forces of nature, as opposed to concrete pathways being added to force the water into rigid and predetermined pathways. When there are problems or dysfunctions in the organization of the field, the solutions are also present in the dynamics of the field (Wertheimer, 1945)
When I read that, I think of how many of us struggle to change ourselves before better understanding ourselves. It’s hard to change what we don’t understand. As hard as it can feel to look closely at our most challenging patterns, it’s really where lasting change begins.
One warm night, I took a grieving friend to the river and we put our toes in and felt our feet carried by the currents. The water was at once, refreshing and probably carrying trace contaminants. Much like therapy can feel at times, the water felt kind of slimy but also healing and hopeful.