Dr Angie Fee on Experiential Learning
Dr Angie Fee on Experiential Learning – Psychosynthesis training.
In counselling and psychotherapy trainings there is often a focus on the importance on ‘inner stability’ and I wonder if this gets in the way of students being able to experience instability as they become identified with the ‘idea’ of stability, and ignoring the real lived experience that may be quite the opposite. What happens to us when we try to fit our lived experiences into pre-existing theories and expectations? Therapy trainings often state the importance and significance of discovering and exploring our unique individual selves, yet I notice how hard we work at trying to stay loyal to a learned theory.
Psychosynthesis training emphasises the experiential aspect of the course as a way of becoming more of who we are – the difference between knowing about ourselves and knowing ourselves. The training creates boundaries, norms and psychological ideas about what is healthy – and at the same time aims to create an environment that can nourish and accept the reality of students processes which often challenge those very same concepts.
Can we allow ourselves to ‘experience’ without trying to conform to some kind of external norm, without packaging the experience too quickly or making it fit some kind of cognitive understanding? Can we expose the contradictions and subversions produced by our experiences, instead of trying to level out the complexities prematurely?
Michael Eigen , psychoanalyst, describes therapy as a way of exploring how we can kill off or short circuit the possibility of an experience – of just letting a moment grow. Experience can take us to places that have no name. How easily we interrupt a moment of experience in a bid to try and understand what it means. In not allowing ourselves to be intimate with the moment, we deny it the power to change or influence us. Can we allow the embodied experience the time and space to breathe before we box it up and package it. Whilst Eigen acknowledges that understanding can be nourishing and freeing, he also argues that understanding can be suffocating – ‘ too often it is part of one-upmanship, analytic self-protectiveness, and attempt to control and cut off psychic life.’
All too often we reduce the complexity and fullness of experience when it doesn’t fit into the concepts and ideas that allow us to talk about them. Opening ourselves up to experiencing can challenge the dominant psychological and social belief systems that we have invested in and have often become our identities. It can be a challenge to maintain our own subjectivity when our reality doesn’t fit into normative accounts of angry, pain, despair, desire.
My own experiences of researching and working with peoples desires bring to light the importance of allowing the lived and felt experience. The more complex and unstable stories of desire easily get subsumed within more popular and socially acceptable narratives. Listening to peoples stories illustrate how it is the human mind, not nature, which creates categories and labels that police the boundaries of desire. Lived felt experiences are often ‘straightened’ in order to fit into the dualistic organisation of sexed and gendered identities, whereby we must fit into the categories available. The fluidity and undifferentiated nature of desire gets tidied up and channelled into understandable and organised classifications. This is hard to escape as we all live within a historical and cultural context and we need to consider how this influences and limits our embodied experiential range. Dualistic theories and discourses can easily become background affecting how we experience, preventing a horizon of possibilities.
Can we resist the temptation to ‘capture’ experiences whereby they become absolute fixed truths. Experience is not something to be had, kept and reorganised as a commodity. Can we be open to the contradictions and complexities of the relationship between experiences, theories and identities? Are we open to the element of surprise ? Can we resist coming to conclusions, solutions and final answers?
In the midst of my research I discovered the idea of desire lines. Notice any campus or public park where there are neat stone paths laid across the terrain, and you will often see a trampled piece of grass that has formed into an alternative path. A desire line is an architectural term for an unofficial path where marks are left on the ground by people who have deviated from the paths they are supposed to follow. The marks generate alternative lines which are formed by people following their desire.
What has brought us to the Trust has often been the result of following paths that we created through our own unfolding desires. And our ongoing journey has much to do with the struggle and conflict between continuing to create and experience our own desire lines, and the seductive nature of following safe paths that are already laid out and organised for us.
No one puts it more succinctly then Eckhart Tolle,
Life will you give you whatever experience is most helpful for the evolution of your consciousness. How do you know this is the experience you need? Because this is the experience you are having at the moment
Dr Angie Fee
The Psychoanalytic Mystic by Michael Eigen. 1998, Free Association Books
The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. 2004, Namaste Publishing.
Angie is a trainer and supervisor at the Psychosynthesis Trust