Hooo, boy!So, this Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) stuff gets deeper and deeper. Today’s exercise again invited an art response (below).
Today’s concept: the very abstract “Self as Context.” Each of us picked 5 events from across our life span that had meaning or were important, and then for each of them write down a phrase about it on a large post-it. Because I had opened my big mouth at an earlier session, with what I thought was an innocent question, but turned out to lead directly into what we were going to talk about later (SIGH) … I was chosen to take part in the next phase of the exercise.
Beginning at the earliest memory/event, you place the post-it on a taut string approximately where the event fell in your life. (One end of the string is your birth, one person holds a spot that indicates today, and there is a longish portion that trails toward the floor, indicating your future.) Once you place that item on the string, you describe that event, dropping yourself into the event and describing it as though you are in the middle of it. Sensations, feelings primarily as you describe it. Then on to the next event, and so forth.
After the 5 events you stand at the today moment and describe this moment. (Clearly, this is meant to be mindful of the current moment – cleanse your palate, if you will – so you can move on to the next part.) Now you look down the line from several perspectives: holding the line at today so you can see only the line, then again in the same position and see just the events you put on it, then with the line held out from you so you can see your life on the line, and so forth.
Of course there are several observations to be made by doing this exercise. Some that I remember that the group leader said:
- Even though those ‘big events’ seemed to shape your life, it’s the little moments every day that make up your life.
- Even though those ‘big events’ seemed to make up your life, they do not.
- All of your events shape your life.
- You are the string, the events hang off of it. You are the sky, the events and moments of your life are the weather.
- Things out of our control happen. Hurricanes. Illnesses. Deaths. Broken Dreams. They just are.
- Broken Dreams have a value that drove you. Find that value. That can drive you now, into your future, though it is different than what you thought your life was going to be.
This last point hit me especially hard. And so I made an art response to explore my feelings about the events I put on the line, and explore what value was behind each one – especially if it was a difficult event or memory. My five events were (1) Challenger explosion, (2) wedding day, (3) graduating with 2 masters & a certificate, (4) beginning and end of ministry life, (5) diagnosis of bipolar and anxiety with resultant hospitalizations (3+ months over the last 2.5 years). I chose these 5 since I thought they probably changed my life the most. I think.
- I added a few events (drawings) above the line. In the boxes are values or directions that each event is Really About. Aaannnddd, some events in our life just suck. No values placed there. Yet.
- The vines from each box represent different trajectories and then different choices that I could make using those same values. Even if the original dream is broken.
- The bottom line is an attempt to hold the line of my life with compassion and non-judgment. I am not the events of my life. They have shaped what I’ve made of my life, but they are not my life. Just hold them gently and let them be.
And that’s where I got stuck in the processing. Not quite able to defuse from my feelings about these events to look at my life more objectively (just as the weather in my sky). I kinda hate my life, even looking at it from afar. Even knowing that you/I make the best decisions we can in the moment, I’m still not satisfied. I wish it wasn’t my life.