Making a (recognisable) Statement

I’ve noticed a slightly surprised gaze around my house and then a slightly awkward averting of the gaze toward me whenever a tradesperson arrives at my place to do a job. My house obviously doesn’t fit the mould. It isn’t coastal with everything white and off-white, it isn’t mid-century retro with bright coloured velvet, and it isn’t baroque or boho or classic. While it is partly ALL those things, there is an eclectic accumulation happening here that references my life. Where I have lived, who and what I loved at those times, pieces from eras that fascinated me once. There are stories that live within almost everything I own. There are pieces that belong to my mother or my grandmother, because I love and honour those women. The statement of my house isn’t recognisable for these trades people. They characterise me then as a senior citizen, pitching communication to me as if I’m a couple of decades older than I actually am, even though my house isn’t “old fashioned” in style. Unconventional means out of touch for them.

Get with the Program

Fashion is very important in today’s world. More than ever. People attend to and follow trends. We are very influenceable. I catch myself thinking I should upgrade some of my furniture or renovate my house in the vein that others understand and respect. I notice my own discomfort at the slight loss of status. I have one part wall in my house that prevents all my living spaces being fully open plan. I’m so grateful for that half-wall.  I actually don’t want to see the dishes when I’m having dinner, I like the nook it makes for where I watch films in my living room. But I can feel every visitor itching to knock it down and create an island bench.

Ceaseless Improvement

And more importantly, I notice the part of me that wants to get on board with their values. The part that wants to keep up with the Joneses. That part of me that can easily buy into our generalised dissatisfaction, the consumeristic need to be on trend, to have a style that is currently cool, to live in spaces that are Instagram worthy. I know if I gave into that, I would be needing to upgrade every couple of years.

And interior design isn’t the only area where we are addicted to improvement. I would need to upgrade everything. Over and over. If I surrendered to being in the contemporary groove, I would lose a sense of continuity of myself, an evolution of my life over time.  I would have to reject my past selves as if they are passé, as if their contribution wasn’t worthy.

Creating the Sheeple

We are hardwired somehow to follow the leader, to respond to assertions. If someone yells “Fire!” we don’t normally investigate what kind of fire and what started it before we exit the building. Adrenalised states are contagious. If someone yells “Run!” with enough force we are very likely to do so. Our species, and our particular tribe, survived because of the person on watch. The person and the part of nervous system that stays alert for danger guarantees our survival. We are here with the genetic traits we have because of that person staying up all night, hidden and ready to sound the alarm. And because we did what they said.

This aspect of our collective nature has certainly been USEFUL. But it can also become a tad problematic. If we only respond without question, if we only follow without ever finding our own way, if we never risk going against the flow, we lose a vital piece of our integrity. Participating in the current zeitgeist and continually overhauling what is no longer is fashionable, gains us superficial respect. It doesn’t help us know our own style and authentic truth. It represents a loss of the understanding of how we got to be here.

Rejecting Past Decades

We seem to have cultivated a distaste for recent history. We knock down brick archways and sunken lounges. Oh so 70’s. We cringe about tropicana and geometric design. Oh so 80’s. We ridicule soft pastels. Oh so 90’s. We paint over our distressed wood and brown feature walls. So 00’s. We declare our distaste that barndoors and subway tiles are so 10’s now.  Until these design styles are from long enough ago that they come back around again. Then we imitate these looks all over again because suddenly that’s how it is at the Emperors New Palace.

How is it that some nostalgia is acceptable but others are not? It is rejecting the evolving process, the acknowledgement that this grew out of that.

Going Against the Tide

My friend composer Warren Burt encouraged me to liberate my inner dag* when I first arrived in Australia in 1999. “You achieve ultimate liberation”, he assured me, “by being tasteless and uncool. You just don’t give a s**t”. Even though Australia has some claimed reverence for dagginess, we are, by and large, a very careful culture, making certain we catch the current wave. This attitude is paradoxically quite conservative, but without honouring history, just continually normalising the new normal.

Separate yet part of the whole, unique yet shaped by one another

However, not one of us is a stand-alone original, we are socialised and conditioned from the moment we are born. The pursuit of originality is probably a delusion. Gestalt Psychotherapy theorists name this process of mutual influence and contagion as co-created fields. Whenever two people meet they become part of a co-created field. There is a movement of proto-feelings, atmospheres, and subtle energetic states exchanged in every interpersonal field we enter. A unique combination is generated simply by being together. We are an individual and yet part of the collective, changed by everyone we meet, porous and adaptable, moved, touched, shaped by all we experience. And yet still uniquely ourself. Perhaps we can think of this like music. What we truly resonate with helps us sense and feel ourselves. The vibration of our own energy meeting similar and contrasting tones.

Interior Design of the Psyche

We are living in times of accelerated evolution it appears. That does not need to mean constant change with no respect for history or the building of something over time. The depth of our personal aesthetic is influenced by others and created over a lifetime. Our inner world continuously meets the outer world. I believe it is important to value our individual choices and attractions beyond the dictates of fashion. The way colour, cut, shape, and texture describe us. The whole of our person that took years to discover. Our interior design so to speak.

Come to your senses

Our personal aesthetic is not a superficial self-understanding.  All the memes of pop culture emphasise the importance of knowing ourselves, healing ourselves. But many of us overlook the deep guide into self that is found in the senses.  A sensate embodied response is literally the meaning of the term aesthetic from the original Greek. There is an embodied intelligence, an instinctual, holistic you that has been coordinating and organising your life from the beginning. Renew your trust in this intrinsic, faithful part of you. Find the wisdom in all the choices you made when you look at your path from a soulful aesthetic perspective. Come and rediscover this with me in therapy, exploring your inner design and making true sense of who you are.

* Dag is an Australian and New Zealand slang term, also daggy (adjective).[1] In Australia, it is often used as an affectionate insult[2] for someone who is, or is perceived to be, unfashionable, lacking self-consciousness about their appearance and/or with poor social skills yet affable and amusing.

Zjamal Xanitha

Zjamal is in private practice as a Gestalt Psychotherapist and has been working with individuals, couples, and families for the last twenty years. As a counselling clinician her work is client centred, relational, and creatively constructive.