Tag Archives: Marion Milner

Lessons from Milner – expressing thoughts in their wholeness

Uh-oh.

It’s not quite been 20 years but there is something of the Rip van Winkle about the sleepiness of this blog.

Since reading Marion Milner my approach to journaling has shifted. And it has resulted in my living more – and writing less.

This has always been a conundrum for me. Reflective practice ought not to stifle action. It ought to stimulate action and ensure its enhanced authenticity. Being a lover of action I guess I’d always felt a bit awkward about the reflective bit and have always wanted to strike a respectable balance between the two.

Through Milner I have discovered a fascinating journaling trick which has been like super-charging my life with lightning.

Here’s what she says:

“I must learn to maintain a vigilance, not against wrong thoughts but against refusal to recognise any thought.”

At first I didn’t want to accept that I too may have been refusing to recognise certain of my thoughts. But then when I did, and when I then began to express those thoughts in my journal, things really started to shift in my outer life.

Our inner censors are so insidious and wily. No matter how articulate we are in talking about them, no matter how aware we are of their strange potential to sabotage us, they always find a way to sneak under the radar.

I noticed my inner censor was acting all rational on me. And who doesn’t want to be rational, right? But it was hiding in plain sight, making me think that rational is good, rational is me – when all along it jolly well isn’t.

My inner censor was stopping me from dreaming, and even though dream-like thoughts would nudge at me these were typically not the ones I would write about.

Suddenly when I took Milner’s advice things started to happen. It felt different to express all my thoughts – especially the ones that my inner censor would have been carefully corralling previously. But the results have been transformational.

Try it. Don’t let your inner censor lull you to sleep. Pay attention to the dreams you have when you’re awake. Be vigilant. Be alive.

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Swindon Philosophical Society meets Marion Milner

Only 2 hours to go from right now before I begin speaking at Swindon Philo – and sharing my admiration and excitement about the extraordinary British polymath, writer, artist, and psychoanalyst Marion Milner 1900 – 1998.

More to follow…

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Filed under Creative process, Self-Awareness

What is art?

I’ve been reading the biography of Marion Milner, and I have been fascinated by some of her observations about art and writing and awareness.

So I was very excited to do a little experiment of my own on my family trip to Paris this weekend.

We hadn’t especially planned to visit the Louvre, I favoured the Musee d’Orsay instead, but when my son expressed an interest in going to see the Mona Lisa, that’s where we decided to head. And I with my resolution to widen my awareness, to allow my attention to be drawn rather than thinking hard about what should be drawing it. For I had learned, whether from Milner or elsewhere, that true art has the power to move us, to make something happen to our inner reality, to make us stop and take notice.

However our first stop was the Sacre Coeur in Montmartre – a perfect place to begin to get a feel for the city – with accordion music in green leafy squares and locals sipping on cool glasses of pale pink wine or tiny cups of treacly espresso.

And there, just beyond La Place du Tertre, sits La Biscuiterie de Montmartre, with the most astonishing of window displays.

Macaroons

Macaroons. With their pastel glossiness, eye-catching arrangement and tempting packages. Heart-stoppingly pretty, and telling of a craft and a dedication generations old.

So there it happened. My attention was drawn, quite accidentally, quite delightfully. By a plate of macaroons. Was this art?

Perhaps. The dusty works of the Louvre had to work doubly hard after this.

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Happy beads

What can emerge for us in our journals if we take a few moments to ask ourselves “What is the most important thing that happened yesterday?”

According to Marion Milner, 20th century British psychoanalyst, artist and author of A life of one’s own, An experiment in Leisure and Eternity’s Sunrise, we can tell something is important when it shifts us somehow, when we feel a physical response to something, or when a memory or object brings with it a particular warmth.

She describes her ‘important things’ as beads, each of which she describes in exquisite detail in her journals, and these beads she believes give her clues about what makes her happy.

The challenge in this practice is first and foremost to notice when you are moved by an important thing. It requires a particular level of self-awareness to distinguish between an authentic response and a more standard, conventional, only-to-be-expected reaction.

So perhaps the inquiry ought to be made more specific: “What is the most important thing that happened TO YOU yesterday?”

Happy bead threading!

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Me and my shadow… Journaling to illuminate ‘Self’ and ‘Other’

The winner of Britain’s Got Talent 2013 was Hungarian shadow-dance troupe Attraction. They presented three tableaux over the course of the competition which told compelling stories (although the final one was just a touch sycophantic), sending the audience on an emotional inner journey, and clearly appealing to our human fascination with the illusion of shadow.

One of the things I always notice is my shadow. Right back since childhood. Although I no longer try and beat my shadow, or pin it down, I do still appreciate its shape and attitude. Studying Virgil’s Aeneid  for O level Latin I remember learning about Aeneas’ encounter with the insubstantial shades in the Underworld, the shadowy, lost figures of the Dead. But these days I prefer to think of my shadow as evidence of my body, my physicality, substantial and very much alive.

Shadow

It’s good having a body. Not only does it allow us to cast a shadow, it also allows us to play sport, dance, sing, make love, walk out in nature. Sometimes it goes wrong and it gets old, but generally, as long as we look after it and pay attention to it it’s a great source of solace and inspiration too.

Our bodies are vessels of physical intelligence, intuition and deep-seated wisdom, or, to coin a word from Marion Milner, sagacity. And, if we learn to recognise our body as part of ourselves, rather than simply as a vehicle to carry our head around, we can discover much from being in it.

A few weeks ago at the Swindon Festival Of Literature I heard Resurgence editor Satish Kumar define spirituality (from Latin spirare to breathe) as relationship, a particular connection that we share through the act of breathing the same air. And I find that we create relationship with our shadow-casting bodies  through precisely that – breathing; breathing into our physical presence, creating a tingling feeling from the tips of our toes to the top of our head. Milner is particularly struck by the sensation of her skin burgeoning right to the ends of her finger nails as she focuses her attention and her breath on the weight of her body.

This sets the scene for deeper forms of inquiry. Once we’ve been reminded about our physical self by the appearance of our shadow, and we’ve reconnected with our body through the simple, intentional act of breathing, we can then begin to notice what memories we have stored, and what these tell us about who we are.

How we view our relationship with our own physicality is an important aspect of the exploration of self and other that our journaling practice makes possible. It’s a vital starting point.  Whether we think of ourselves as our bodies, or our bodies as part of ourselves, or even as completely separate from who we think ourselves to be, when we dare to go further than our self-righteous, self-pitying rants, we find great stillness in our body. I also know from experience that what my body has to tell me is always valuable, whenever I make space to hear the particular message coming from my back, neck or jaw.

Like Aeneas we might see our physical shadow as our insubstantial ‘other’. But it is an echo of  our substance and can point the way back to the ‘other’ within us.

Otherness is always part of us. The unknown, unconscious functions of our body that enable us to perceive our environment; the mysterious, though entirely rational, rhythm of life which pulses through us day and night; the ability we have to engage in an activity and be aware that we are engaged in it; the ease with which we recognise the “me” and the “not-me-guv” in our physical experience.

Our inquiries go deeper when we develop the capacity to view ourselves objectively. We need to become ‘other’, to get out of our own way and step aside from ourselves in order to look in. We can imagine another self, stepping out of and away from our body to look back whence it came. As we do this we are automatically expanding our imagination, our inner space, which, once expanded, won’t shrink back. We have now become simultaneously the observer and the observed.

Meanwhile the functions of the body continue, and maybe they benefit from increased inner space. Inner reflection and expressive writing in our journals have a proven  feedback loop of health benefits. The space within expands, our awareness increases and from a more objective standpoint our unknown, unconscious and mysterious functions get to choose which of our narrative serves us, and which needs to be jettisoned.

So next time you see your shadow, appreciate its magic and use it as a prompt to expand your inner space. As you look back to your Self from the perspective of your inner Other, what do you notice?

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Filed under Reflective Writing Practice, Self-Awareness