Monday, 3 January 2011

Gestalt Prayer and Beyond Perls

Gestalt was originally a German word roughly akin to 'shape' or 'form'. Its English meaning is generally one of unity, holism, and a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.

The Gestalt Prayer was written by Fritz Perls, founder of Gestalt Therapy (not to be confused with Gestalt Theoretical Psychotherapy and definitely not with Gestalt psychology).
The Gestalt Prayer

I do my thing and you do your thing.
I am not in this world to live up to your expectations,
And you are not in this world to live up to mine.
You are you, and I am I, and if by chance we find each other, it's beautiful.
If not, it can't be helped.

(Fritz Perls, 1969)

In the 1970s it was popular on posters like these:


... although the posters tended to omit the rather less lyrical final line.

Taken on its own (rather than interpreted through the lens of Gestalt Therapy) it's quite a confident message of emotional independence, of sorting your own 'thing' out before getting tangled up with anything else. A little bit too hip though, and delivered with a shrug and swagger rather than a wise stroking of a goatee beard.

In the Journal of Humanistic Psychology (1972 vol 12 no 2), Professor Walter Tubbs published a poem called Beyond Perls in response. It has a mini-following of its own (apparently its quoted in The Road Less Travelled), and is much more of a wise-stroking-1970s-beard poem. Apparently the 'I and Thou' bit is a reference to Martin Buber, and presumably Professor Tubbs was also weaving various other thinkers into this. But its clear enough that it can be understood without reference to any particular therapy tradition:
Beyond Perls

If I just do my thing and you do yours,
We stand in danger of losing each other
And ourselves.

I am not in this world to live up to your expectations;
But I am in this world to confirm you
As a unique human being,
And to be confirmed by you.

We are fully ourselves only in relation to each other;
The I detached from a Thou
Disintegrates.

I do not find you by chance;
I find you by an active life
Of reaching out.

Rather than passively letting things happen to me,
I can act intentionally to make them happen.

I must begin with myself, true;
But I must not end with myself:
The truth begins with two.

(Walter Tubbs, 1972)

1 comment:

mpm176 said...

those r great posters...why is the last line omitted so often from this poem..