A few years back I was struggling to jump free of the printed musical page and start creating improvisations of my own. I love the way the saxophone sounds and I loved some of the beautiful take-offs the jazz greats could do on time-honored melodies. It was nothing less than the ability to compose music in the moment, while keeping within the overall chordal framework of the tune. It was what Billie Holiday could do with her voice and what Stan Getz and John Coltrane did with their horns.
But I just didn’t trust myself. I got concerned about the ratio of sounding lousy about 98% of the time and only sounding passably “correct” the other 2%. Even when I heard something pleasant in my head, I noticed my thoughts fearfully returning to fundamentals right in the middle of a passage–the equivalent of asking myself out loud if I was doing it right or not. Needless to say, this is not conducive to improvisation. It’s the condition in RRT we call “headlights turned in” and it’s the opposite of the creative freedom that comes of being tuned in to what’s going on.
I think the same thing happens after many of us come through Level I, Level II, and even Level III trainings. We go back to the confines of our office and start to stumble around and doubt ourselves. We fall into shame about not being able to always hit the right note and begin comparing ourselves to the towering prowess of a master clinician, like Connelly or some illusory template. We forget that what we saw in trainings was the distillation of hundreds if not thousands of hours of searching and stumbling; that he is constantly trying out new stuff, throwing this away, but keeping that, refining it even further. Improvisation for Jon is the normal process, and is exactly how RRT came into existence.
I’ve noticed on the teleconference calls so many of us are asking questions about why Jon chose to clear a client with one combination of interventions and not another. Why did he put the induction at the end or not use one at all? Why did he pass over an initial issue the client voiced and go with a different, more central one? How does he know to do what he does? Why cant we have a simple template that will fit our clients in every situation?
The answer lies in what Jon has put right at the heart of the whole method–a certain confidence in the connection and the centrality of continually reading the participant. He is constantly reading a person’s responsiveness, looking at the effects he is having, while keeping his intention for the participant clearly in mind. An avenue that worked nicely with the last one starts to not work with this one, so he switches up to a different tool. I once heard him say in response to a slight miss in a live demonstration, “That’s all right, there are a lot of keys on the keyring.” While working within the rubrics of keeping the intention at all times, he is not afraid to experiment with what comes to mind.
We need to trust the vast storehouse of our own unconscious which is packaged in stories and metaphors. Though not an example from RRT, I experienced this in action just the other day. I was with a shamed husband, shamed because of not being able to keep his wife happy at all times. He got triggered by her tears and so distressed was he that he suddenly bolted out of his chair, ready to quit the session. I was at a loss for what to say as he was already half-way out of the room. But all of a sudden a memory from my wrestling days flashed back. It was 1972 and I was team captain, enjoying some celebrity in my high school. One day the athletic director and coaches brought in a blind kid who was interested in the sport. It was some sort of interface with the parks and rec program and they wanted him to experience a team practice and a live bout so they paired him with me for one two-minute period. I remember his name was Jimmy, and he wanted so badly to do well. But when he went to perform the basic moves he’d learned in the parks and rec program, I was able to block him easily. Frustrated, he burst out in tears. With a lot of people looking on, I was sure I’d blown it. His display became a statement about me and connoted my failure to successfully introduce him to the sport. I was sure everyone was looking at me as some kind of jerk. Embarrassed, I rushed out of the practice room and stormed into the locker room, kicking stuff around in a half-hour shame attack. It was not my finest hour. Back in the session, I told the husband this story quickly, ending with, “I think I understand something about what you just went through a moment ago as you saw your wife’s tears.” He sat back down nodding his agreement. I’d say that was the turning point of the session. It felt like a tremendous risk, but by going with it, I connected with him. And by not talking about but showing vulnerability, helped him get to back into connection with her. Needless to say, I didn’t have time to consult any manuals or review teaching tapes to weigh the wisdom of such a disclosure. And notice this: I had not thought of that incident in over 40 years. But at precisely at the right moment, my mind showed it to me and how to use it.
I think the way to learn RRT is a lot like learning jazz. Yes, we have to practice our basic scales by listening to tapes and watching video of various sequences to learn the scaffolding of the method. There are many new principles in RRT that overturn what we learned in graduate school and it takes awhile to assimilate this. But with enough listening and watching, a storehouse builds up from which we can draw. There is no boilerplate formula or a map that will guide every case. Instead there is a songbook of basic tunes with many possible touches and flourishes that we can make our own and add to as the situation calls for it.
We return to our offices and face real people in the midst of real pain, ready to have an interaction that has never appeared in history before. It is time to go live with whatever we’ve got and trust that the words will be there. It’s time to trust the intention we have for the client who is yearning to be understood in his or her uniqueness and following us all the way to target. It is time to take out our instrument and play the music of RRT. And when, inevitably, we face choices about where to go next, to simply trust whatever comes to mind.