From 1985 to 1994, I attended several experientially intense training programs at the Gestalt Institute of Cleveland, Ohio, where I sought to develop my counseling and intervention skills to better work with “youth-at-risk” in Indiana high schools. Theory occupies the “stage” at the Cleveland Institute, but theory is not “center-stage”….and this makes a difference that really makes a difference. The consummate goal for Gestalt training participants is to achieve, experientially through attention, heightened awareness in the present of one’s unfolding mind, body, spirit processes that are a sub-part of one’s embeddedness in an unfolding environment-field. Ultimately, success is defined as awakening in the “flow” of creative processes in nature generally and to the profound recognition that one is the artist of one’s life.
One afternoon during training, about six months into the 18 month-long Organization and Systems Develop Program (1986), I found myself “working” with Dr. Elaine Kepner, a renowned Gestalt therapist who began her Gestalt career as one of Fritz Perls’ first patients when he was in the early stages of conceiving with others the Gestalt approach. We were working on polarities of personality openly among thirty-six participants and 6 faculty members. Two chairs were placed diagonally that day at the extreme corners of a large room. I sat in one chair and described for several minutes who I thought I was. Elaine then asked me to move across the room and sit in the other chair…a distance of about 30 feet. As I walked, I was to indwell the other “pole” of my personality and speak from there when again I sat down. “Oh” I said, “I am an artist.”
Where that statement came from I had no idea. Two weeks later in Indianapolis, I walked into an art store and bought a set of 96 pastel sticks. At home, I covered the walls of my apartment with pastel paintings; framed some of them; and sold some of them at the Institute. Since then, I have had several shows and I became a founding member of the Wabash Artist’s Alliance in Lafayette, Indiana. I stopped painting while I researched and wrote my dissertation for a doctorate at Purdue University. Now, it is time to paint again.
I paint in “communion,” or in “reverie,” with an “inner muse” that I label the “Ancient Stranger.” This framing of my intent seems to facilitate my ability to get out of my own way and just paint. My intent is to deepen my understanding of being alive as a human being and to evoke among viewers of my work identification with the emotional- intelligence of “spirit,” that I sense is present in common among human beings at this time on this planet at levels deeper than acquired culture. Saying this another way, I attempt to see, hear, feel, touch, and taste “reality,” whatever reality might be, through the body, not of ego, but of “source.”
Dr. Jim Willis joins the Walter’s State community as an adjunct faculty member this fall 2010 in the Department of Communication. He brings 30 years of experience teaching in high schools, community colleges, and universities where he designed social/educational programs, wrote grants for federal funding, developed curriculum, taught core contents, and provided personal and crisis intervention counseling. Jim is a first-generation college student and a life-long learner. Born in a small town in rural Indiana, he earned a B.A in Liberal Studies (1972), an M.P.A. Master of Public Affairs at Indiana University (1979), and his doctorate in Communication from Purdue University (2008).
His college career was interrupted in 1966 when he received notification he was being drafted into the US Army. He responded by enlisting at the lowest rank and earned his commission ten months later as a First Lieutenant. During the mid 80’s and early 90’s, he completed training in Gestalt Counseling Theory applications to small group and organizational development that were pioneered by the founders of the Gestalt Institute of Cleveland, Ohio. During this intense experiential education, which reached beyond the traditional boundaries of Western culture to include Eastern philosophy and meditation practice, he suddenly began to express himself by painting imaginary landscapes using dry pastels. He sold several of his paintings at the Institute, became a founding member of the Wabash Artist’s Alliance in Lafayette Indiana, has had several shows, and most recently joined the Morristown Artist’s Association.
Having so appreciated the impact of his Gestalt education, he conceived of his dissertation as a project advancing Gestalt Therapy Theory by re-contextualizing it in the post-modern context “semiotics,” a general science of signs developed by the North American philosopher, Charles S. Peirce, a contemporary and close friend of William James. Now living in Tennessee, Jim continues to hone his skills and savor the self-awareness and creativity of a Gestalt community by attending training at the relatively new Appalachian Gestalt Training Institute in Asheville, NC. He will attend the convention of the Association for the Advancement of Gestalt Therapy this October 2010 on the Warren Wilson campus.
Jim does not plan to retire. Having recently earned his doctorate, he says he feels like he “paddled hard and caught the next wave.” He is hopeful about the future, enthusiastic about interdisciplinary study, appreciative of diversity, patient of paradox, awed by mystery, convinced by love, and grateful to be among students and colleagues who seek knowledge, personal growth, and expanded consciousness.