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Record Type: Review   ID: 237

Trust the Process: An Artist’s Guide to Letting Go

McNiff, Shaun

I have abstracted/reviewed several of Shaun McNiff’s books, and raved about every one. Although he writes mainly about art and its therapeutic and spiritual value, what he says has direct relevance to how experiencers can draw forth the meaning of their exceptional experiences. They could even do so by drawing or painting or even using crayons, but if, like me, their preferred medium is the written word, nonetheless this book would be extremely helpful in setting forth the stages of the process involved in bringing a picture, article, or any project to fruition. For an experiencer, the aim would be, through the process of writing, to potentiate one or more exceptional experiences (EEs). In an EHE autobiography, it would be an entire lifetime of them.

As the title emphasizes, the important thing is to trust the process. And what experiencers must realize is that every EE opens a door, but it will not become an EHE until the experiencer has discovered what awaits beyond the door. The process EEs institute is the EHE process. Although McNiff’s subject is the creative process, he does not simply break it down into certain specific stages, because creativity doesn’t work that way. By definition, it does things differently. I have pointed out repeatedly that in trying to fathom the meaning of one EE others are likely to occur as part of moving the process along. As McNiff says, "Travelers through the process of creation also realize that the truly essential spirits are experienced on the way" (p. 2). A major component of the creative process he sets forth is unpredictability. He emphasizes the importance of spontaneity. You don’t compose your EHE autobiography in your head first and then commit it to paper. You are engaged in the discovery of meanings not previously known as you write or when you reread what you have written. If you simply let yourself begin anywhere, at any point, the creative process will serve as an unseen partner. Whatever you do will lead to something more, and eventually what seemed to be random will become connected and make sense. McNiff says, "The ‘Process’ has an intelligence that can be trusted, and the gift of creation is the ability to work with it. Envisioning the basis of creation as spontaneous movement suggests that the most fundamental discipline involves keeping the channels for expression open and responsive to what is moving within us and within our environments" (p. 21). You need to show up and stay with your intention to find meaning, and then, as McNiff says, "If we are able to stay with a situation, it will carry us to a new place" (p. 24). Something outside our conscious control will eventually lead us forward as surely as if we were taken by the hand.

To get started, it is important to set up your workspace as part of the process. Decide where and when in your daily life you can create. Always try to work in that place and if possible, that time. Try to do something, even if not yet inspired. Thus you establish the seriousness of your interest.

Again, although McNiff writes primarily about creativity expressed in art, the titles of the section headings are obviously relevant to the process as inducing EEs and potentiating them into EHEs. They are Unpredictable Magic (4 chapters on spontaneity and taking steps into the unknown); In the Beginning Is the Attitude (5 chapters on the process, including reframing, blocks, and "moving between worlds"); Every Experience Has Something to Offer (6 chapters); Create With What You Already Have (3 chapters that offer wonderful advice to those who think they have not had any EHEs on how to retrieve memories of forgotten ones); and Practice (6 chapters on what it is like being in the process and knowing it).

He closes with advice for those who are afraid they are revealing something of themselves in their art: that they would not want others to know. People who have exceptional experiences experience similar fears. McNiff suggests another attitude to take when looking at someone else’s art: How does this painting (or performance, in the case of dance) or music conveys the life force? Initially, people are very ego-involved when they have EEs, so naturally they do not want the ego to be invaded or to lose control or make a fool of itself. But if you can consider the wonder that this particular experience could occur at all, and think of it as a spontaneous manifestation of life energy, eventually it will release the experience’s bond to ego and open him or her to the flow of life itself. Surely Shaun McNiff has few peers when it comes to knowing that flow and writing from and about it.

Publisher Information:Boston, MA: Shambhala, 1998. Pp. 1x + 210
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