I am reading Shaun McNiff’s book, Trust the Process: An Artist’s Guide to Letting Go, about the creative process, and finding it instructive not only for creative endeavors but also for relationships.
We’ve all heard the phrase. Maybe it conjures up images of Woodstock, of hippies in tie-dyed tees. Nevertheless, McNiff, an artist and internationally known figure in creative art therapies, brings a nuanced and in-depth perspective to the concept.
McNiff claims that there is an intelligence working in every situation, and if we trust it and follow its natural movements, it will astound us with its ability to find a way through problems—and even make use of our mistakes and failures.
I am particularly drawn to his assertion that errors are harbingers of original ideas because they introduce new directions for expression. Sometimes, as well, the spontaneous expression or mistake which is outside our intended design, brings riches from the unconscious. Those who work with their dreams know that a dream will often strike us as peculiar, that we “don’t know where it comes from,” but the images of that same peculiar but powerful dream may bring us the very healing images that we need, but for which our ego has no room.
McNiff also points out that while the artistic process may bring relief, joy and harmony, the process thrives on tension. Conflict and uncertainty are the forces that carry the artist to new and unfamiliar places.
I think a similar process can happen in relationships.
I once met an accomplished woman, a writer and therapist, ten years ago at a writing conference. She was a little older than I was at the time, and her children were grown. She was lovely and gracious but there was an air of melancholy about her. We fell to talking about parenting. She said that our mistakes as parents are as important as our successes. I was still hoping to be the perfect parent and was puzzled by her statement. Surely not! Oh, yes, she said, because our lacks are what push them out of the nest, and send them out into the world to do it better.
Mistaken moves and slips of intention reveal that creation involves more than single-mindedness, McNiff writes. We create together with the world. If we believe that there is an intelligence moving in the world that we can partake of and trust in, then conflict and uncertainty are no longer so frightening, in our work or in our relationships. We can approach them with curiosity, knowing that, if we stay with the process, we will be moved to a new place.