Heart and Soul of Pyschotherapy

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As this book will attest, Saphira Linden is a remarkable person. Her personal story embodies the emergence and development of the field of drama therapy, for her journey began in the theatre and social enlightenment of the 1960s, expanded through her encounter with psychodrama, deepened in her study of Jung, Jewish mysticism, and the spiritual path of the Sufis, and ripened in her grasp of a transpersonal vision of human becoming. Along the way, she studied with many of the masters, partnered with many of her fellow leaders in the field, and then mentored many in the next generations. This book shows us the results of that mentorship, but another book could be written by those of us who have been her partners.

Saphira has always been part flower child, part avant garde theatre artist, mystic and mother, priestess and project manager.always patient with the impatience of the world. The twelve principles that now are the basis of the transpersonalapproach clearly lead us toward the essential and away from the surface; for we are divided at the surface, and one at our core. Her students and colleagues whom she has influenced have gone on to explore widely different areas, and this makes sense, because Saphira has always encouraged the development of the center, and has not attempted to restrict or unify how a passion is expressed. That is why the transpersonal approach is not really a method, it is more of an attitude toward being.

The chapters in this book span the entire reach of the field of drama therapy: from private practice work with individuals and families, to work in communities in hospitals, prisons, refugee camps, inner cities, and the remnants of disasters; and finally to her transformational theatre work. My guess is that the most frequently used words throughout these chapters are love, wholeness, and sacred, words that I can assure you are not to be found in the DSM or latest CBT manual. Other words you will find: gratitude, heart, beauty. And this reveals another attribute of Saphira: throughout her career, she has never attempted to latch on to the newest concept or catchphrase in mental health…..she has remained steady and true to who she is. And she has never made grand claims or launched marketing campaigns promoting her work as the answer to society’s ills, for despite the expansive reach of her vision, Saphira has always been a deeply modest soul.

Throughout the thirty years of the formal life of the drama therapy profession, Saphira and her colleagues have been gradually building and developing an integrated, profound, joyous, and generative practice through Omega Theater’s Drama Therapy Training Institute, and this book is a culminating demonstration of this amazing work and these amazing people. Their work is built on strong foundations, represented by the wonderful forewords by Zerka Moreno, Ellen Burstyn, and Pir Zia Inayat Khan. They are the roots….Saphira is the trunk….and the chapters are the bloom, of the Transpersonal Approach to Psychotherapy Integrating The Arts. It has been a privilege for me to witness this process unfold and now to benefit from the remarkable work described in this book.

David Read Johnson, Co-founder of Drama Therapy –North American Drama Therapy Association

In this book, Saphira Linden has taken on a brave task. She has thrown new light upon the often-asked question on the relationship between drama therapy and psychodrama. Leaving aside the chicken and egg argument, it is important to remember that drama in the Western world is based upon that of the Greeks. Although they had a chorus in their plays, we do not know whether music, or art in any other form, for instance, played a part.

There are many older cultures than ours in which drama was a significant aspect, and the entire undertaking, some for ritual purposes, included music, dancing, and specially designed costumes and/or pieces of art on the bodies of performers or shields, or whatever objects were included.

Saphira has given us her twelve principles of Transpersonal Drama Therapy. This points to the fact that therapy through drama is the core of her work, and that the spiritual dimension is essential of her proceedings. The early Shamans who also contributed to the culture of drama, were mystics wrapped in drama. The spiritual/mystic aspect of therapeutic drama and psychodrama is often overlooked. Nevertheless, we are frequently involved in just such dimensions, transported into other ways of being and belonging to the universe.

When that has been achieved, the therapist has been a channel of that inspiration, along with everyone in the group. There is where spontaneity and creativity glow in these dimensions.

I recall an open session of psychodrama at our New York City institute, where a young woman frequently attended. One evening, after a session she told me: ” I always feel so different after a session. I am supposed to love my fellow men when in church, but it is in psychodrama that I have really learned to love my fellow beings.”

It would be hard to put her experience in better words.

The term transpersonal indicates going beyond the personal, into infinity.

So how do we achieve the level of ultimate truth, where the human being knows itself to be not merely an individual, but part of the cosmos, where we are all one?

That awareness I first met in life itself, but my work in psychodrama made it possible to assist wounded souls in this quest. There are many ways to find a path. For me, tapping into spontaneity and creativity, gave me a basis. The sense of being guided from the beyond, my conscious mind dropping away, melting myself into the unknown, made for some of the best sessions I ever directed with innocence and clarity.

Saphira shows us some of the ways in which that sublime state can be achieved.

Zerka Toeman Moreno—co-founder, Psychodrama, ASGPP

Certainly I have come to live the twelve principles of Transpersonal Drama Therapy almost naturally, but not completely so. For instance, seeking mastery through self-discipline I came to very late. The first third of my adult life I lived in utter abandon to my tastes, desires, urges and habits — eating, drinking and smoking with a hunger that seemed to be insatiable. Only slowlyas I began to master other areas of my life, like my work as an actress, did I begin to observe the hungry beast that was riding me. One by one I released my dependence on cigarettes, then alcohol, then other stimulants. The last one I eliminated from my life was sugar. But there are other more insidious habits that I’ve found more profound to address like the habit of having negative thoughts, of seeing others from a point of view of difference and disconnectedness.

I try to remember to practice the second principle of Transpersonal Drama Therapy and remember to shift my consciousness from a limited sense of self to the essential one, then I bring myself into the eighth principle of experiencing interconnectedness and unity. When I look at a person who is irritating me, rather than judge him or her, I say that this is an aspect of myself that I don’t care to look at. It is manifesting in front of me and I am only irritated if I stay in a place of separation. When I remember that we are all made of the same stardust (literally), then it is impossible to judge the person and, on the contrary, just remembering to bring myself into that state of mind where I experience unity, I actually am filled with love.

Oscar Wilde said that everyone thinks death is such a great mystery, but the greater mystery is Love. For me that is one of the most profound teachings I’ve ever encountered. Love is a mystery. What a gift that we have been equipped with the ability to love — not just sexual, but all kinds of love; love for our children, other family members, our friends, our pets, but not only love for specific beings, but seeing the world through the eyes of Love. Simone Weill said, “The real aim is not to see God in all things, it is that God, through us, should see things that we see.”

In my work as an actress, I must view the characters I’m playing with the eyes of non-judgment. If I ever find myself condemning a character’s actions or feelings, then I know that I am still standing in my own shoes instead of slipping into the shoes of the character. I haven’t yet found that character in me, which is the basic process of acting. Once I had the shocking experience of having to find Medea in me; I could no longer condemn another for behavior that I knew was a latent possibility in my own psyche. This is the wisdom of principle three. Role playing introduces you to parts of yourself that the ego would prefer not to recognize. When we meet those aspects of ourselves, there is a widening of consciousness and a greater understanding not only of ourselves, but of humanity at large.

One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned from acting is that each of us is a hologram of the entire body of humanity. We all have the full range in us from Jesus to Hitler. Only the ego keeps us from seeing that we all walk with the full capacity of human characteristics in us.

Of course this approach is readily available to me because of my profession, but others can certainly have this kind of experience through drama therapy where it is possible to do the work with a practitioner who is trained to create a sacred space in which these areas of the human psyche can be explored through imaginary and metaphorical situations. One might not want to go so far as to find Medea in oneself, but it is a very enlightening tool to discover untapped potentials of all kinds that are unexpressed and bring them into the light and actually integrate them into one’s personality. It is a deepening and empowering experience.

Ellen Burstyn, Actress

In this stimulating volume, Saphira Linden has collected and introduced a rich assortment of perspectives on the healing and transformative potential of the theatrical arts. As Co-Founder and Director of the Omega Theater, Ms. Linden possesses a wealth of experience in the application of the arts, and particularly theater, to the process of inner healing. As an experienced Sufi practitioner and guide, Ms. Linden’s methodology is informed by the hallowed tradition of spiritual purification, transcendence, and realization known as tasawwuf, or Sufism.

In its most universal sense, Sufism is as old as the human encounter with the numinous mystery that pervades existence. In its specific, historical sense, Sufism originated with followers of the prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) who sought to go beyond the outer forms of the Islamic religion and apprehend the profound mystical truths at its core, and indeed at the core of all religions. Their method was to strip away the conditioned self, layer by layer, in order to lay bare the primordial constitution of the human being, which they found to be nothing more or less than a mirror held up before the Face of God.

To effectively dismantle the apparatus of the ego the spiritual seeker must distinguish its component parts, hence the Sufis developed a refined psychological lexicon. The foremost pioneer of Sufi psychology was the Iraqi shaykh Abu ‘Abdallah Harith al-Muhasibi (d. 857), whose surname means “the inspector.” A thousand years before Freud, al-Muhasabi identified the id, super-ego, and ego, applying to them the Qur’anic names nafs al-ammara (“the commanding self”), nafs al-lawwama (“the blaming self”) and nafs al-mutma’inna (“the tranquil self”).

In addition to prayer, invocation, and contemplative introspection, Sufis throughout history have availed themselves of the uplifting power of the arts, particularly the arts of music, poetry, and calligraphy. Of music, Khwaja Yusuf Chishti (d. 1067) said, “My friend, there are discoveries in audition not to be found in a hundred years of canonical worship.”

Hazrat Inayat Khan (d. 1927), who introduced Sufism to the United States and Europe in the early twentieth century, was an eminent musician as well as a mystic. His volume The Mysticism of Music and Sound explores the effect of music on the outer and inner dimensions of human life. But Inayat Khan’s engagement with the spiritual implications of the arts did not end with music; in addition to poetry, a notable element in his body of work is the existence of a number of plays. Inayat Khan’s interest in the dramatic arts appears to have been sparked by his youthful exposure to the innovative Urdu play Indar Sabha. As a Sufi teacher in the West, Inayat Khan used drama as a teaching tool, casting his students in roles that either thrust them out of themselves or showed them something in themselves they might not have otherwise seen.

Following after his father, Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan (d. 2004) likewise made use of drama in his Sufi teachings. His crowning achievement in this area, The Cosmic Celebration, is described in this volume. Saphira Linden was Pir Vilayat’s close collaborator in this and other productions.

The contemporary human psyche is prey to a host of troubling afflictions. At the root of these maladies is a loss of contact with the soul. To regain this lost connection, the mind must augment reason with inspiration. To the mind that is suitably attuned, inspiration descends through the ‘alam al-mithal, the world of visionary perceptions and subtle encounters. Art raised to the pitch of mysticism touches this world, and it is here that healing waters flow.

Pir Zia Inayat-Khan , Head of Sufi Order International