Just over a week ago I co-hosted the writer’s support group that I attend. The group was originally set up to help people in their creative writing but recently it seemed we were becoming more focused on the support of others rather then support for creativity. In an attempt to get back to our roots I agreed to write a guided mediation with the hope that through this process, people would be able explore their concerns through a creatively different lens. The idea was to go for a ramble and discover an animal through whose eyes we would look at our current issues in a different way. We would communicate with that animal and perhaps discover something unexpected.
If you are familiar with the “Dark Materials” trilogy by Phillip Pullman you will be familiar with the concept of a daemon. In brief, a daemon is an external representation of the aspects of yourself that you keep hidden away. A daemon manifests itself as an animal that is always with you. It provides counsel, and emotional support. Its form is often something surprising. When I did some work on the concept of a daemon in a writing workshop we were encouraged to go with the first animal that popped into our heads. Going with my first thought meant that I was going with my intuition and imagination rather than letting my rational mind and any cultural (or otherwise) expectations get in the way. I expected my daemon to be my favourite animal which is the otter, however my imagination created a dolphin so that is what I stuck with.
In writing the meditation though, we thought that we didn’t want to get stuck on the concept of a daemon in the Pullman sense, but instead wanted something without a label or expectation. It’s the same idea of getting to ones imagination and creativity rather than constrained thinking. I have never writing a mediation before but I have experienced some. My interpretation was to imagine leaving ones concerns behind. To go on a journey where you are encouraged to notice details so that you are focused on the here-and-now and not distractions from the past or the future. The journey requires some decision making over paths taken. Finally, while you are looking at something on the ground, the animal appears to you. The animal follows you home and reacts to you and the issues that were left behind.
After listening to the mediation, the group is then encouraged to write down what the animal said to them. Then people are asked, if they felt like it, to read out what they have written and the others in the group were encouraged to give their thoughts and feedback.
I have to say writing the meditation was quite tough. I had ideas but until I got them down on the computer they didn’t coalesce into a meditative piece. As I find with all writing (including this) the piece went to unexpected places and missed out things that I thought would be in it. After my first draft, my co-host looked it over and tweaked it a bit. She also pointed out that we got to the animal but how were we going to get back home? It wasn’t something I had considered but after some thought came up with a mechanic that seemed to work. A second review and final tidying up and we had a piece.
On the day, I knew it would be hard to lead the group. Despite being autistic, I am pretty experienced at open group work. I had talked over the format with my co-host and we had a plan. My original thought was the share reading out the meditation line by line, but once it had been written it seemed better to do turn-around on a sectional basis. Reading something written out gives the words a new life, added dimensions of meaning because how they are spoken is important. I knew this but for some reason I hadn’t really considered this. It worked out fine, but I noticed my co-host read her lines in a different way to me with a slightly different pace. I also hadn’t considered pauses. If I asked a question, how long should I wait for people to respond. Then there was the writing error, wrong words in the wrong order. I stumbled trying to work out what I really meant with this strange jumble of words in front of me.
I had also not considered how reading my piece out would affect my ability to engage in the meditation and write in the way I expected others to do (i.e. from an animal’s viewpoint). I was too busy “performing” my piece to actually engage in the process. At the end I had no animal in my mind and so I decided with stepping outside myself and reflecting on what I saw. My focus would go no further than the here and now. I hadn’t left any troubles behind in the meditation, and if I had they were nothing compare to the heightened emotional I found myself in. I don’t find it easy going against my expectations but still, I wanted to write something and so I went with examining how I felt right at that moment.
When it came to feedback time, I had decided that I had wanted to go first. In groups I find that I either take the plunge and jump in at the start or I hang back and wait for everybody else to go. The problem with the latter approach is that the anxiety builds up as it comes to my turn. Difficult as it may be, I find it easy to give my writing first because then I don’t compare what I have written with everybody else’s interpretation with because they are neurotypical, their writing tends to be very different from my own.
This is what I wrote:
“You look shell shocked. You seem to be shaking too. I guess that took quite some effort on your part. Were you feeling vulnerable? How did you voice sound? I always find it challenging hearing my voice projected out into silence. It doesn’t sound right, does it? Did you practice speaking your part? It might have helped you pace it. Recording it might have been a good idea you know. Perhaps you could have given the questions more space?
The group experience is a challenge too isn’t it. How do people understand your words? Did the writing have the right effect? Did the presentation change their understanding? Are words or the delivery more important? You also seemed embarrassed to admit you wrote the piece. Why is that? Are you afraid of feedback? It might get a good reaction you know. L liked it after all. Would any feedback be too much I wonder because you are so wound up. You won’t hear good or bad. Perhaps write it down for later.”
I guess those questions still stick with me even though it is nine days ago.
The one revelation for me out of all this is that I think I now understand why I never remember any feedback I get whilst in group work. My autistic brain really struggles being in a group and taking part. It means that I am overwhelmed with what is going on around me and the effort required to process it. Because I am overwhelmed, I have no ability to understand and store the feedback I am giving. I need it written down and put up on a wall because I am unable to associate those words with memory of the event because that memory itself, triggers overwhelming thoughts.
I spoke about this at the time and half the group took the time to write their encouragement down. It was a great meeting in the end and we succeeded in our aim of support through creativity. I can’t bask in that satisfaction but at least I have written the memory down.