New book by Philip Kenney

The Writer's Crucible Meditations on Emotion, Being and Creativity

Phil Kenney

Philip Kenney is a practicing psychotherapist in Portland, Oregon. He did his post-graduate work in British Object Relations at the Washington D.C. School of Psychiatry and has taught Self Psychology as part of his private practice. A long time meditator and poet, Mr. Kenney is the author of the novel, Radiance, and a collection of poetry, Where Roses Bloom. He strives to bring together the worlds of psychology, creativity and spirituality in his work and is the author of a new book on those subjects entitled, The Writer's Crucible: Meditations on Emotion, Being and Creativity.

Walking the Silly Walk

May 13, 2013

Shortly before moving to the West Coast in 1975, I discovered the Monty Python show on PBS. It was a Sunday night and I was alone in my apartment in Westport, Connecticut when I stumbled quite accidently upon the wacky crew of Brits. John Cheese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Graham Chapman, Terry Jones and Michael Palin walked across that stage and into my heart like another English group had ten years before.

Definitely a Silly Walker

Definitely a Silly Walker

Well, they didn’t exactly walk across the stage. They did silly walks here, there and everywhere! On sidewalks, in the library, through the grocery store, the silliest walks you ever saw. Sidesplitting walks. Part ostrich, part Dr. Seuss. I studied their moves and walked my way around New York like a happy noodle.

With apologies to my AA friends who walk the walk, I’d like to say we the people walk like a bunch of anxious stiffs. Have a seat on any park bench and watch the not so silly walks pass by. The exception may be found in the ski lodge where I spent last Sunday with my youngest son, Georgio. Ski Boots completely undo the hurried, purposeful walk. Bobbing and weaving, one part penguin, one part swagger, the skier’s walk is a bit too self-conscious to be truly silly but still fun to watch.

We adults seem to know only the serious, determined walk. Dear me we can be humorless. A day with my 14 year old confirms this in spades. What a delight it is to listen in on the banter between he and his friends. This bunch is a poetic group. Must be all the rap music. They bound down the highway playing word games like one of those refrigerator poetry games, doing and undoing words, phrases and order. And every syllable is punctuated by laughter.

It seems to me our collective story keeps getting more and more serious. More and more hurried. As the walk becomes faster, and intensely goal directed, the story unfolding is correspondingly accelerated and rigid. Not only is this not much fun, but it moves like a fast train past countless expressions of beauty left behind, nothing more than a blur in the mirror.

Because the view is restricted to that which informs the goal, so much is missed and the story written by society and the individual is inherently without definition. How can there be a well-written story without the details? How can there be real characters without particular traits?

In psychotherapy I meet people whose story is pat. Their book is written and in print. They tell themselves things like, “I am unlovable, or, I am a failure.” It is surprising how steadfastly loyal we can be to those stories. We wear them like straightjackets.

To some extent, one can view psychological and behavioral problems as either attempts to confirm these visions of our-selves, or as frustrated, sometimes frantic efforts to wiggle free from the chains of narrative. We’re all trying to be Houdini slipping from the entrapment of our own internal pen.

The universe of Non-Dual Wisdom, a stripped down western adaptation of Indian philosophy, has taken this notion to another extreme. In these circles, story has become a dirty word. Any and all self-descriptions are dismissed as arbitrary constructs that obscure the true nature of the Self and reinforce the illusion of a separate entity.

A sacred psychology embraces story making as essential to the human being. We celebrate the story, and the narrator, but recognize the tendency of the mind to use history and certain behaviors against the self. In particular, memory is often shaped to serve as an indictment of the individual and a reinforcement of the notion of a bad, inadequate self.

When I work with people in psychotherapy I try to elaborate on the primary narrative story. I try to help make it a more complicated, nuanced version that will support a feeling of understanding, respect and compassion in the person I’m working with. Surprisingly, this endeavor meets with lots of resistance.

What helps considerably in this, and other matters, is an approach that includes play. Not the five year old version (although wouldn’t it be great to see Joe Biden enter the Senate chambers doing a silly walk? What is more dull, predictable and useless than the prolonged arguments of the polarized political scene?) but a type of play that is engaging and not concerned with being right.

Those of you who have read my blog are familiar with the British pediatrician and analyst, D.W. Winnicott. He advocated for play and believed it was at the heart of all creativity. I’m talking about play in this Winnicottian manner; psycho-spiritual activity that is generated from awareness and is characterized by curiosity, the spirit of discovery and a lively skepticism of easy conclusions.

For Winnicott, the opposite of play is not work, but coercion. “Playing stops when one of the participants becomes dogmatic.” Well, doesn’t that sound familiar? How many times have you heard that voice in your head pronounce the absolute truth: “You suck, you can’t write, you’re worthless.” Ever heard these proclamations? Most of us have, and do, all too often.

This is where Monty Python and D. W. Winnicott get to go for a walk together. We need to rediscover playfulness. How can we proceed without taking these voices of condemnation so seriously? A client, after much internal struggle, is able to give herself time to complete an important project and immediately the opportunistic mind is all over her, “You are so selfish!” She doesn’t get a break.

It takes practice to slow these tendencies. Even more practice to quiet them enough to limit their influence. Adopting the spirit of playfulness lines up well with the Yogic practice of self-inquiry. Rather than fighting or submitting to the internal monologue it is possible to question the habitual narrative.

Ask yourself regularly, “What am I? Who am I?” “Where in my being is this person I have judged defective?” “Who would I be if I wasn’t living under this shadow? What do I want to be?” Challenge those thoughts, “Really, how do you know that?” Poke a little fun and exaggerate the brand, make a “silly walk” out of it. Ask these questions in the spirit of discovery, uncertainty and respect.

Look for the details of your life, not the labels, and look into the cracks for the light that enters where you least expect. Meditate, when you can, on the presence abiding within. This presence, that is nothing if not play, the play of consciousness dancing and becoming and doing its very silly and lovely walk.

Namaste,

 

Phil

 

 

 

 

7 Responses

  1. Heather says:

    Is that you in the bunny suit? I’ve been intrigued by the way my story has involuntarily changed over the years regarding my disability. People ask all the time and the story today is so different than just five years ago. There was the literal story of spinal cord tumor, there was the wounded story where no one believed me, there were made up stories (it was an experiment gone horribly awry), there were stories that made a point (you just keep smacking your brother…that’s how my arm stopped working), and then there is my most recent story…nothing really happened to me, by the grace of God. Maybe God just didn’t want me walking seriously. By the way, one of my favorites…walk with purpose, collide with destiny. Even when you don’t know where you are headed…
    H.

  2. Phil Kenney says:

    Dear Heather, although I do have photos of me in a bunny suit, white and pink, that is not me. My silly walk has slipped over the years. That is a photo of someone very close to my heart who prefers to remain anonymous. I love what you wrote about your story and the grace given to you. I’m so happy to be a part of your story. Phiip

  3. Phil Sylvester says:

    Hi Philip. I find the same thing in drawing. One’s serious sense of what drawing is, becomes so rigid that it prevents the necessary play that unveils one’s actual voice as an artist. Because play is by its nature not serious, it often becomes the only tool we have for dislodging the preconceptions and misconceptions that stand as a fog between our presumed self and our alive self.

    • Phil Kenney says:

      Hello Phil. Thanks so much for commenting on my silly walks blog. I can’t remember who said it, but I’ve always liked the statement, “He was infected with the spirit of seriousness.” I know I have that bug on many a day. Here’s to playful work.

  4. Joan says:

    Thank you Philip! I often think of my modern dance career as actually having been a career in “Silly Walking”. Did not pay well! But was precious to me for the profound feeling of aliveness it allowed. The willingness to play the fool for expansion is priceless.

  5. Phil Kenney says:

    I only wish I could have seen your “Silly Walking,” Joan

  6. Andy Robbins says:

    Hey Phil, thanks for a great post. It reminds me of a bumper sticker I saw recently. “Dance like there is nobody watching”.

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