The question is, what do we find inside? Often we are confronted not with a vision of crystalline clarity but a maze among whose labyrinthine paths we lose our way and even a sense of our own identity.
Torn apart, pulled in all directions; we sometimes feel we must try to satisfy others' expectations at our own expense. There are parts of us we feel we must disown or repress. These could be connected with depression, sexuality, anger - any aspects of ourselves which we feel may be judged negatively by our family or friends.
As adults, we often behave in a certain way because someone (often a parent) told us - either overtly or indirectly - that this is how we should behave. As children - if we disobeyed these directives we were often punished or criticised, and so we adapted our behaviour to please our parents and mentors. At the time, these coping methods were often essential survival strategies but do we still need to cling on to them now? As adults these outworn strategies and defences may be holding us back from living in a freer, more spontaneous way and from relating authentically to others.
When a crisis occurs in our lives, such as a relationship ending or being bereaved, we tend to despair and feel we can't go on with our lives any more. Perhaps we may find ourselves half way through our lives, panicking about how little we have achieved; suddenly aware that time is no longer on our side.
There is another way of looking at the chaos that threatens to envelop us at these times. The Chinese word for crisis is wei chi - danger and opportunity.
Whether we are in our twenties, standing on our own two feet for the first time, or in our forties facing the midlife crisis, it is time for radical re-orientation. As archetypal psychologist Thomas Moore put it:
if we sustain the tension created by two worlds colliding, an unexpected solution will emerge eventually from the opening to soul that tension creates. If we tolerate moments of chaos and confusion, something truly new can come to light.
It is perhaps only through being wounded that we first discover a sense of our own soul, that part of us which cannot be anatomised or seen but which enables us to relate deeply to others as well as to ourselves.
Integrative psychotherapy provides us with the opportunity to explore all parts of the psyche, including those we have banned from conscious awareness. It is holistic in that it acknowledges human-beings as complex, contradictory entities, containing many different voices or sub-personalities jostling to be heard. By tuning into each voice and identifying with each in turn, we move further towards self-understanding, change and development, which occur, as gestalt therapist Arnold Beisser put it:
when one becomes what he is, not when he tries to become what he is not.
As each voice starts to dialogue with other voices within the safety of the therapeutic environment, so we move from being at the mercy of a discordant orchestra to being the conductor of the symphony. We begin to recognise and detect those parts of ourselves which are sabotaging our potential to develop and to release ourselves from our negative thought processes. As we develop a more consciously defined and unified self, the maze which so bemused us becomes a mandala; an intriguing, intricate inner world, still full of contradictory paths and patterns but ones which lead - not to bewilderment - but inner transformations contained within the circular boundary of our unique being.
Text copyright © Jane Tarlo 2005