When the idea for the research methodology came into my head, it came as a stunning flash. I knew it was unique. No-one had ever used sandplay in an organizational field study, essentially multi-gerational, ethnographic and non-clinical, Its diversified population, practically speaking, unified primarily by its interest in "architectural ecology" (aka arcology) as that idea has been manifesting in the experimental project of Cosanti Foundation, an Arizona 501-3C educational non-profit. To add the psychological aspect of sandplay to an in-depth investigation of Arcosanti's "power of place" was sure to be informative.
There was no straight course to that investigation and it it took some doing to get to it. Back in 1986, when I realized it didn't make sense to continue spinning my wheels in organizational dysfunctionality, to stay stuck in the micromanagement administrative style the Cosanti Foundation was demonstrating at that time, it was clear to me that I had to leap away. I took myself to graduate school because I was pretty sure I'd find, somewhere in the rest of the world, that the obstacles I'd been encountering in AZ 86333 might be handled better in other zip codes, other settings. I wanted to find out how challenges that included virtually no investment experience, no substantive ideas about organizational development, were met in other places. Mustering up my sons and me, I headed us back east.
My circuitous route through grad school took me through some remarkable territories. Friends World College was an eye-opener. Dr. John Muir, founder of the Prospect Park Environmental Center in Brooklyn, helped me close the behavioral perception gap I had been experiencing. Tutoring undergraduates in theQueensborough Community College under Gretchen Haynes reinforced my faith in human potential.
But as I was trying to connect the dots between theory and practice, the path through that murky environment got illuminated unexpectedly by an encounter with a talking technique I'd never before encountered - one that used toys and innate human talents to encourage and constructively enable people to express themselves effectively.
That "talking technique" was called sandplay and when I learned that struggling 4th graders' reading scores had shot up several grade levels after their teacher made sandplay an element of their classroom learning experience, I was determined to add it to my toolbox. Not only because I was working with so-called "disadvantaged" elementary school kids in NYC, kids with immense practical sense and practical experience who had not much familiarity with the ultra-swift WASP machismo culture into which they'd been flung, a culture that provided plenty of room for horrific conflict every day of their lives; but also because there was plenty of evidence that sandplay was a good thing for all sorts of people.
"Fools rush in where angels fear to tread," the saying goes; but fortunately I didn't intuit how much seismic movement there might be. I strode straight in, Birkenstocks be praised. One thing leads to another and poof, after completing an MScEd in Educational Administration with a Visual Arts Focus under Dr. Lorraine Monroe, Elaine Wickens and Katie O'Donnell at Bank Street College and Parsons School of Design in 1988 (the internships for which opened my connections to the practice of sandplay), in 1992 I graduated from McGill University with two Social Work degrees sandwiched around a year or of law school, ready to find out what the practice of sandplay might contribute to what I was witnessing in my world.
[If you're curious to know more about sandplay in the practise of Social Work, there's a 50 pp paper with a then-current bibliography, titled The Imaginable Archetype, downloadable on <http://www.academia.edu>. Sorry, no illustrations. If you need to see the pictures, the original's in the Library of McGill University. For convenence, there's also link on this page to a downloadable (unillustrated) copy.]
My initial exploration of sandplay evolved, My instincts as a researcher aroused, I couldn't help but want to push the envelope of what I was experiencing and observing in the multiple worlds of sandplay.
In virtually all of the world-wide associations for the several thousands of practitioners of sandplay, which is best known as a form of Jungian psychotherapy, research usually appears in the form of individual case studies. This is true for professionals in private practice as well as those working in educational institutions, clinics and other health-related organizations.
To use sandplay not as psychotherapy but as a projective test to "capture a snapshot of the unconscious" in an ethnographic study, particularly on a scale as large as Arcosanti makes possible, had absolutely no precedent. When the idea came to me, I knew, as I said, that I would be breaking new ground. To utilize sandplay in an in-depth exploration of Arcosanti, focusing on its people, was unprecedented. I could hardly wait to begin.
First order of business after arranging for clinical supervision was to assure I'd have a space at Arcosanti that would be perfectly suited for this unique investigation. Once that space was ready to use, I had no doubt I would soon have photos of many, many sandtrays made by people who'd worked at ArCosanti to share with others interested in the idea of arcology.
I contacted the International Society for Sandplay Therapy in Switzerland to let them know what I was proposing to do. Ruth Amman, President of ISST, had been an architect before she became a Jungian analyst and a sandplay therapist. I was certain she'd want to know about the research I was preparing to undertake.
The target population of participants in the study could/would, I had no doubt, naturally expand to include current residents, current workshop participants. Even visitors might participate, I thought, if I could arrange to include those who expressed interest in the study - of which there were quite a few, I knew, from my work as a docent and from the reports of Arcosanti's other tour guides whose encounters mirrored my own..
So then, well - bienvenidos, el mundo!?
A day or so before I set out to go cross-country from my tiny studio in British Columbia, CBC's Radio One broadcast an interview with Ingeborg Rapoport, conducted by Anna-Maria Tremonti. Dr. Rapoport had just defended her doctoral dissertation at the age of 102. [You can click on the link below if you'd like to listen to the Podcast.] Although it hadn't occurred to me that my research might end up taking 77 years, it was a relief to be reminded, just when I was starting out, that perseverance really does further, as the I Ching says. Not a bad thing, especially when you're taking the first steps of a project, to anticipate that persistence might be required. (In fact, thank goodness for useful insights. Lucky if they come quickly.)
Me, not so quick but still, pretty much soon.
First of all, it was clear I had grossly underestimated how much time it would take to get the sandplay component of the research study going. Setting up a place to use sandplay as a projective test at Arcosanti took months, not weeks. As well as quite a bit more money than I'd anticipated.
Although "Everything that can go wrong, will go wrong" is a truism, that wasn't exactly what went down. Quite a few things went just fine. But still, there were enough glitches in the plan to assure that by the end of 2015's summer, I was far shy of being where I expected to be. Certainly not anywhere near ready to go to Japan, that September, to connect all the Arconauts there with the Japan Sandplay Therapy Association, as I had wanted/thought/expected I would be doing.
Well, OK, that's life. But in early November 2015, I slipped and broke my femur. (Very bad idea. I must admit it slowed me down rather a lot. I did some writing about it on this blog in December 2015.)
Still, none of that prepared me for the discovery, when I got back to Arcosanti at the end of November, expecting to pick up where I'd had to leave off, that all the tools and materials for the sandplay-as-projective-test component of the study had been removed from their most excellent, carefully arranged space. Despite the fact that I'd received a message from Mary Hoadley assuring me that my sandplay work was respected by the Arcosanti Leadership Team of Cosanti Foundation, all of the miniatures had been packed up by person/persons unknown, put into a space far less suitable/usable than the one I'd been assigned in the Red Room, the space in which I'd invested a substantial portion of my grant.
It's difficult to circumvent the impression that the deliberate attack on my research was anything other than spiteful. Having experienced and witnessed that sort of rancor in the past: indifference to voluntary enthusiasm and meaningful curiosity, the relentless squandering of dedicated energy, it's hard to avoid the possibility that the attack was, in fact, anything else.
I'm open to suggestions here, folks. All ideas welcome.