Sunday, December 4, 2022

Fritz Perls: “Live more!”

“I do my thing and you do your thing. I am not in this world to live up to your expectations, and you are not in this world to live up to mine. You are you, and I am I, and if by chance we find each other, its beautiful, if not, it cant be helped”

Fritz Perls had quite an eccentric personality, a German doctor who established Institute of Psychoanalysis in South Africa. He used to say about himself: “I’m great at detecting shit in people and am far away from the dreamy mantra of the century that does nothing else than repeating “love and peace”. Perl is remembered in the psychology world for teaching us to take responsibility for our own lives. 

Perls believed that most of us in modern life are looking for a sort of anaesthetic for the senses by isolating ourselves from the real world; he believed that we are deliberately reducing our consciousness level in order to create something ordinary, something where surprises don’t happen, something where we have an illusion of control. His point was: “what do people regret the most at the end of their lives? No one says: “I wish I’d had more security or made more money” but instead most say: “I wish I’d taken more chances, done more things, lived more”. Perls observed that someone in genuine contact with his surroundings is living in a state of constant stimulation. Healthy people dedicate themselves to life. In his own words: “to love and to make love, aggressiveness, conflicts, communication, perception, learning…”

Humans grow up in a world with high expectations of changing their basic nature into something else. Perls believed that healthy adults don’t completely abandon their childhood traits such as spontaneity, imagination and curiosity are things that we should preserve – every great artist and scientist has preserved them – and we should not strive to avoid all feelings in order to always be “reasonable”. He used to say that children are superior to adults in their ability to stay concentrated especially when they are playing, that when a child is interested in something nothing can take his attention away. But most adults are not passionate about the things they do, they loose this natural talent.  

“We live in a house of mirrors and think we are looking out the windows”

In one of his experiments Perls asked his subjects to describe to themselves everything they were observing and doing at the moment. For example: “now I’m sitting on this chair, in this afternoon, looking at the person in front of me. I can hear the sound of a car outside and feel the air condition on my skin”… Then Perls asked them which part of the process seemed the most difficult to them. Most people’s response was that none of it was difficult. The discovery was that while one is completely present in the moment, observing and feeling his surroundings, one’s mind is free of any problems; that worries and anxiety only return when you “abandon” the present moment. Few people discovered that this experience has caused in them impatience or boredom which Perls attributed to the conscience being too used to stay apart from the reality. Most of the people have commented afterwards that they really live in the present only a small fraction of their lives; that when they intend to consciously appreciate what is happening right now right here more often they feel better and more in peace with themselves. According to Perls the ability to register the present allows you to resolve many problems without even thinking about them. We all have noticed that what we try to silence more in our minds usually hunts us the most. The voluntary reduction of consciousness or repression only postpone the resolution of those problems. Perls advised that if something bothers us a lot we should concentrate on that thought more often and ironically with time this will make it disappear while intending to ignore the problem only leads it to manifest itself more often. 

“I have one aim only: to impact a fraction of the meaning of the word now”

Another important aspect covered by Perls was the conscious use of language. Perls believed that to become responsible of our own reality we should choose carefully the words we reproduce in our thoughts. For example instead of the frase: “I can’t” we can often use the frase: “I don’t really want to” which makes us conscious of having free will in our own choices. 

Once we begin accepting more responsibility of our own reality we also begin to develop a more authentic personality, free of social influence. Thereby we gain more autonomy as well as capability to notice when we can change circumstances instead of suffering from them. We stop being victims only when we realise that what we choose to perceive and experience in life is of our own doing, that we are not as impotent as we often like to think. This responsibility comes with a benefit of being able to distance ourselves from those circumstances that don’t nurture our authenticity. It also gives us more ability to create our own rules, of determining our own opinions, desires and interests and all of these leads to a more fulsome life experience. In Perls own words” “the truth is only tolerable when we discover it ourselves for the pride of discovery makes it acceptable”. 

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