Recently, I watched the visionary 2021 version of The Green Knight. The film exerts a bewitching power on the viewer, in the Giants scene especially. Here, featureless hulks appear grey-skinned and cloud-like from nowhere. Dev Patel’s Gawain looks on, eyes wide, jaw slack, dumbfounded. He tries (and fails) to communicate with them in human language. His fox companion attempts howling instead.
The giants howl a response in unison, then, just as seismically as they arrived, they’re off again, the world (and camera) turned upside-down. A part of me got snagged on that scene. Reflecting on why, I think it’s that it provokes in me feelings of astonishment and awe. My reaction to the giants is identical to Gawain’s. Mouth agape, eyes like saucers, I felt something deep being stirred. This connection to my own inner world – my transcendent core, as Rogers put it – through connection to an artwork feels different to other experiences.
Notions of spirituality and transcendence did not form part of Rogers’ original theories of personality and therapy. Nonetheless, they came to occupy an important place in his thinking and writing. Towards the end of his life, he became in my opinion (much like my own elders, now I come to think of it) rather starry-eyed about the whole thing. Noticing that, sometimes, his mere presence seem[ed] full of healing, he contemplated the nature of this presence, resting on the idea that it involved a spiritual dimension. He described the process of counselling as inner spirits touching, and found it to be mystical in that it seemed to transcend traditional distinctions, particularly between self and other. This sense of a spiritual dimension to the work has persisted and forms a significant thread of person-centred therapy today, my own training included.
Through my work in schools and on placement, as well as other contexts such as personal therapy, I notice that when I am most fully present with another, the rest of the world seems to fall away. There is a feeling of deep connection and possibility: I never knew I could feel this way. New, or newly symbolised, psychological spaces are given the opportunity to grow. Other therapists might describe these moments as indicative of therapeutic presence, or relational depth; artists might talk about the imaginary, or potential space. What the terms share is an underlying sense that these experiences are qualitatively different to others; they transcend the mundane, the expected and the everyday. The same can be said of connecting deeply with works of art.
If you read my previous blog entry, you’ll know I’m experimenting with the notion of a person-centred film theory. I believe that by applying person-centred theory to movies, we can deepen and extend our understanding of both. Transcendent experiences in counselling as described by Rogers are akin to those I’ve experienced when watching movies. Not only do they feel good in that they energise, excite, and re-vitalise. They are integral to authentic living, opening our hearts to new possibilities in being as the broadest range of experience is given the space it needs to emerge.