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  • Writer's pictureKarey Pohn

Heuristic Research and Artistic Creations

Moustakas (1990) discusses his personal experience in explicating the method of heuristic research:


I returned to lyric poetry, autobiography and biography. I engaged in an immersion process, open and receptive to the nature of discovery, welcoming alternating rhythms of concentrated focus and inventive distraction. I searched within my knowledge and experience for deepened and extended awareness that would further illuminate structures and essences of heuristic discovery . . . . I may be entranced by visions, images, and dreams that connect me to my quest. I may come into touch with new regions of myself, and discover revealing connections with others. Through the guides of a heuristic design, I am able to see and understand in a different way. (pp. 10-11)

We see, especially with Jung and Grof, the role of creative synthesis and artistic expression as ways of capturing personal experience that is not primarily ego or left brain driven, but allows the right brain, the nonverbal hemisphere, to express itself. Right hemisphere expression is usually marginalized by the dominant culture. Braud and Anderson (1998) remark that “all forms of knowing yield inputs into the study—the researcher’s experiences, the reports of others, published findings, insights from novels and poetry, and insights from the researcher’s dreams and other states of consciousness” (p. 266).


For me, I find that this “right brain” approach is essential. I play creatively with the material as a way to “surf” the chaotic edge, which, for me, contains all of the creative and intuitive power. During my coursework, I often added poetry and images to many of my papers as a way of explicating concepts. In this creative space, I am able to allow new things to bubble up from the unconscious and am often surprised and moved by the results. The interstitial nature of liminal space, the space-between, is where I believe everything happens, this “third space” (H. S. Lorenz, 2000a, lecture) is where the transcendent function can emerge. It is no surprise that this is also Hermes’s realm.


I would call my encounter with the unconscious, “Playing with the unconscious in liminal space.” Play is tricky. Turner (1988) points out that play is dangerous because you never know where you will end up or what will happen. At times, play can be anything but fun. During the research process I experience all the different stages Moustakas discusses, and also Grof’s basic perinatal matrices (BPMs). Previously, Moustakas wrote: “Discovery comes from being wide open to the thing itself, a recognition that one must relinquish control and be tumbled about with the newness and drama of a searching focus, ‘asking questions about phenomena that disturb and challenge’ ” (as quoted in Patton, 2002, pp. 107-108). Although Moustakas alludes to struggle, he does not give the real flavor of the threshing that occurs at the threshold and the nastiness of nepantla (Anzaldua, 2000) that I have experienced during heuristic research.


Initially, I am immersed in the waters of the unconscious, and there is a wonderful feeling of expansion, similar to Grof's BPM I—the womb before birth begins. During this incubating or gestating time, the topic acts as an alchemical container—as I work on the material, it also works on me. Then, when the process of writing begins, there is a cutting off, tremendous pressure, deadlines, no way out, and, sometimes things seem hopeless, as is experienced in BPM II, the beginning of physical birth before the cervix opens. Then, at times there is a seeming life and death struggle with the archetypal energies battling the time and space limitations, as all of this tremendous energy is funneled into a structure as the work is being crafted. This stage is akin to BPM III, the death-rebirth struggle through the birth canal. If I am lucky, at this point, and sometimes at earlier stages, illumination occurs and something new, through creative synthesis, is born, which I can explicate, as in Grof's BPM IV, the death-rebirth experience—the moment of physical birth. The procedure is very mysterious and much of the time, I am really quite astonished at what has occurred and feel a sort of witnessing of the process. Romanyshyn and Goodchild (2003) explicate:


I realize now that all along the way I have been drawn into areas of thinking that I did not map out in advance. Loitering in the neighborhood of this work, I have all along the way felt more chosen and directed by the work to be done than the one who has chosen or directed it . . . been more agent than author. (p. 31)

In this connection, Einstein is reported to have said that, “the most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious . . . . He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe is as good as dead” (Grof, 1988, p. 1).


My research has been a mysterious heuristic journey, an Odyssey of sorts, with much travel. It has taken me from Pacifica Conferences in Santa Barbara to the shores of Lake Zurich in Switzerland, from to Esalen to England, from Maui and Monterey to Mexico, from Portland to Palm Springs. I have been informed by tai chi players and tricksters, by dreams, nonordinary states, and the cultural creations which I considered in my dissertation, as well as novels, song lyrics, other movies, and of course Jung’s stone. In the course of my research I had my own experience of Jung’s stone at Bollingen, being fortunate enough to see, in person and in its own setting, what captivated me on the cover of Edinger’s (1984) book The Creation of Consciousness. As Jung wrote to Maud Oakes (1987), “Your method to realize its contents through your subjective experience of it is unexceptionable, as a matter of fact the only correct way of reading its message” (p. 17). When I visited Jung’s stone, I realized that I could not honor it by devoting only a chapter of my dissertation to it. Jung’s stone was and remains for me an elusive muse, which alludes to much, much too much for me to write about here.

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