By Toby Macklin
Several people have told me recently how helpful David Bowie was at certain times in their lives, so I was interested to read in The Guardian recently about Oliver James’ new book Upping Your Ziggy: How David Bowie Faced His Childhood Demons and How You Can Face Yours. (Photograph: R Bamber/Rex Features)
“It’s a commonplace,” writes James, “that we are different people in different social roles – mother, worker, friend, lover. We put on a face to meet the faces that we meet. Creating new personas, or using ones from other settings, is important in order to flourish.
“David Bowie’s life is a powerful illustration of how we can be more conscious of which persona should be the host of the radio show, so to speak.”
In the 1970s, Bowie became a star in the role of Ziggy Stardust and, says James, he was also able through that persona to comfort and reassure himself in face of his fears in difficult times. He went on to create other selves that served the same purpose, and in the 1980s emerged a more emotionally healthy man, after years of sex addiction and drug abuse.
James goes on to explain how in his own work as a therapist he helps his clients explore and take charge of their various personas, many of which are concealed even from themselves. In the process they learn to express who they are in a fuller, more authentic and satisfying way, more in charge of how they bring themselves foreword at any given time.
We work a lot with this idea in Haven programs. The Haven’s co-founder Ben Wong wrote about it using the metaphor of The Landscape of Our Lives (click to read and listen to Ben reading). There are so many areas of our personalities that we have never explored, he said. We limit ourselves instead to small, familiar, patches of territory (even when at times we don’t much enjoy being there). Fortunately, though, it’s not too late to explore!
“We all have our mountains of exhilaration, surrounded by our cliffs of danger and hardships. Each of us has places of contentment and placidity, like soothing lakes and gentle forests; similarly, each has deep, exciting and sometimes threatening waters as well as scary, unknown jungles. There are in everyone various parched deserts and lush, productive wetlands. Each of our landscapes is endless in the variety of appearances and experiences.
“Although the choices are numerous, most people tend to limit themselves to living in only a few parts of the total possibilities. Some people are mountain people while others tend to live in their valleys. However, no matter which part of their landscape that they may find themselves, if they would look carefully in all directions, they would see that the entire landscape is always there,”
If you have taken Come Alive perhaps you have experienced a “two-pillow” gestalt process where a person has a conversation with some aspect of themselves that may not normally get much airtime (or maybe always runs the show) … the scared little boy, the voice that is eternally critical, the person who dreams of a better future. This is just one way of exploring, owning and integrating one’s various personas, or exploring the different regions of one’s inner landscape.
In other programs such as Living Alive Phase I or II you might more literally embody a persona, by dressing, acting, and interacting as a different gender or job or personality, trying on a role, identifying and shaping some inner resource. You might explore aspects of your shadow, parts of who you are that you may have repressed, believing them to be negative or dangerous … or, conversely, thinking yourself not worthy of embodying.
“There are many ways for us to take charge of our personas,” says Oliver James, “be it simply by self-reflection, with the help of friends, by writing novels or creating art, or through therapy. We simply need to get a dialogue going between our different parts.”
The Haven offers a way to do this through transformational learning in a group setting. Our focus on self-responsible, relational living encourages honest dialogue with one another and with the various aspects of our own individual beings. So come to The Haven, and Up Your Ziggy!!
You can read more by Toby at tobymacklin.com