Archives for the month of: May, 2013

As currently practiced within the Catholic tradition, confession or rather, the Sacrament of Reconciliation, is often a structured ritual performed within the hierarchy of the church. However, in some Protestant traditions, confession may be practiced with a peer and in some cases it may be practiced without a witness at all. Pennebaker et. al (1987) looked at the effectiveness of confession in several settings; working with the assumption that inhibition creates stress, leading to disease they began with the hypothesis that disclosure of a traumatic event would lead to a reduction in stress. The researchers discovered similar reduction in stress when writing, speaking to a tape, and speaking to a confessor. They also noted a change in language and presentation when speaking to a confessor, suggesting increased inhibition in some participants. One key conclusion from Pennebaker’s work is that there are different ways to practice confession effectively; we must each find the form that works best for each of us wherever we are on the spiritual path. In light of this conclusion I will not offer specific instructions for practicing confession but instead will include some suggestions and guidelines for the reader to experiment with.

Medium. We may practice confession verbally or in writing; both mediums appear to be useful. According to (Pennebaker 1987) merely thinking about the events appears to be less useful.

Higher Power. It may be useful to practice confession in the presence of one’s divine image. Whether we ask for forgiveness or simply being witnessed, the act of including the divine in our confession supports the spiritual container of the practice. Meister Eckhart writes:

It is to God that we should confess sooner than to men, and if we are guilty of sin, it is our confession and our self-reproaches before God to which we should attend carefully. And if we want to go to the sacrament, we ought not to neglect this confession before God in favor of external penance, for it is in our intention as we perform our works that is just and godly and good.

Ritual. Some people find that creating a ritual around the practice of confession supports the practice as well. For example taking a kneeling position may remind us of our intention to surrender and ask forgiveness. Many sources recommend finding a regular time of day (for example, at the end of the day before retiring) for this practice supports consistency and serves as a daily reminder of one’s commitments.

Witnessing. We may practice confession in solitude or in the presence of a witness (i.e. a confessor). We may also share a written confession with a witness after the fact. This last option may allow for the greatest flexibility, especially when combined with technology like E-mail. While some people find the presence of a confessor to be inhibiting (especially when combined with asymmetrical power dynamics) there is power in being witnessed.

The Twelve Step tradition makes great use of confession; including it in several of the steps and as a regular tool in meetings. Step five in that tradition reads, “Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.” In this tradition, we see, confession (often related to the process of taking moral inventory) is practiced in the presence of one’s God and another person. Practicing confession in the presence of another person is a humbling experience and one that requires us to look squarely at our shadow. Being compassionately witnessed in this way also leads to greater freedom and serenity. Reciprocal witnessing of confession with a peer (or possibly, group of peers) can lead, over time, to a sharing of trust and intimacy allowing the participants to dive increasingly deeper into their own vulnerability in the practice.

Evolving engagement. Like any other form of practice, confession evolves over time. One particular form of doing the practice may work well today but not tomorrow. Understanding that our ability to engage with a practice changes and evolves over time allows us to keep practicing, slowly deepening, even through difficult or dry times. As you mature in the practice, be prepared to challenge yourself in new ways; perhaps aspects of the practice that did not work before can become the leading edge of the practice.

Last, a few guidelines based on advice from experienced practitioners, Ona Kiser and Jamison Wiggins:

  • Be honest! This practice is an invitation, not a requirement. You are invited to share as much as you are willing.
  • Confess only your own sins! This isn’t the time to make excuses or explain away your actions based on someone else’s actions. This practice is about you.
  • Remain engaged with the practice with both heart and mind. The purpose of this practice is not to accurately describe one’s mistakes but to reflect on the event in its entirety, especially in the emotional realm. We may invite surrender, a feeling of contrition, and a intention to accept one’s limitations while reinforcing one’s commitment.
  • Recognize the relief that follows the practice and allow it to sink in. You may notice gratitude arising as well – to yourself for your dedication or perhaps for divine forgiveness.
  • Understand that more will be revealed. As you confess your transgressions, more will become apparent; perhaps more subtle aspects of your motivations or insights into your own personality structure. This process of coming back to alignment requires sustained effort, time and humility.
  • Let resistance show the way. As you recall your transgressions, you may notice an internal resistance to visiting certain memories or feelings. Take note; these difficult places in the mind are pointing at wounds which have yet to heal. Over time you will learn to see resistance not as a problem but as a navigational aid on the path.

References

Anonymous (2001). Alcoholics Anonymous. Alcoholics Anonymous World Services Inc.

Eckhart, M. (2005). Counsel 21: Of zeal. In Griffin, E. (Ed.), Meister Eckhart: Selections from his essential writings. New York, NY: Harper Collins.

Murray-Swank, A. (2003). Exploring spiritual confession: A theoretical synthesis and experimental study. ProQuest Dissertations and Theses; 2003

Pennebaker, J.W., Hughes, C.F., & O’Heeron, R.C. (1987). The psychophysiology of confession: Linking inhibitory and psychosomatic processes. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Vol 52(No. 4), pp. 781-793.

Advertisements

“There is a luxury in self-reproach. When we blame ourselves, we feel that no one else has a right to blame us. It is the confession, not the priest, that gives us absolution.”

~Oscar Wilde

The practice of confession is familiar to many Christians, especially those in the Catholic tradition, although it is by no means limited to Christianity. According to Murray-Swank (2003) confession is a widespread cross-cultural phenomenon and “diverse spiritual traditions have developed variety of rituals and methods of confession.” However the popularity of this powerful practice, especially as it was traditionally practiced, appears to be diminishing over the last few decades. While weekly confession used to be the norm among many Catholics, Murray-Swank (2003) cites a study from 1990 that found 80% of Catholics attend confession twice a year or less. There are probably many reasons for this decline, however, they are beyond the scope of this work. In this section I will describe the benefits of confession and offer a few variations on the practice that I believe will be helpful for a modern audience.

Before describing the benefits of confession I would like to expand the definition of the practice to include two main forms: individual confession and communal confession.

  1. Individual confession is similar to the practice of confession as practiced in the Church. This may be practiced in private, with a witness, or in the presence of one’s divine image.
  2. Communal confession is practiced by an individual in the presence of a community (often a community of fellow practitioners). Communal confession allows one to ask forgiveness when the transgression involves another person or persons. Being witnessed by one’s community in this way make this a powerful practice.

The practice of confession serves several functions; I will mention a few here, focusing on confession in the context of a spritual practice. For a more detailed overview of this topic see (Murray-Swank 2003) & (Pennebaker, Hughes, & O’Heeron 1987).

  1. Reducing guilt and shame. Guilt and shame are often mentioned as a reason to seek confession. Studies have also found a reduction in guilt following confession. Through confession we can make guilt into a “healthy” emotion. When guilt motivates us to seek confession we may act to repair relationships, seek forgiveness (interpresonal or divine) and self-improvement.
  2. Seeking social connection. The feeling that we have somehow sinned or transgressed a social boundary is isolating. Confession between individuals or in a group is likely to promote connection. For more on the effects of confession in a group see (Weiner, Graham, Peter, & Zmuidinas 1991).
  3. Seeking meaning and coherence. Discolsure of a transgression and related feelings may allow us to find meaning and emotional relief in an otherwise difficult experience. It may lead to a more comprehensive understanding of ourselves and insight into troubling habits. As we make progress on the path we may notice that the topics that come up in confession are changing as we are able to notice more subtle elements of our experience. In this way regular practice of confession can be a tool for integration and reflection on our path as a whole.
  4. Coming back into alignment with the sacred. To understand this point more clearly, I would like to introduce the concept of Sin as explained by theologian Paul Tillich (1999):
    “In any case, sin is separation. To be in the state of sin is to be in the state of separation. And separation is threefold: there is separation among individual lives, separation of a man from himself, and separation of all men from the Ground of Being.”
    At times we transgress in a way that leaves us feeling separate, lost, disconnected, or misaligned from whatever it is that we hold sacred, be it God, nature or a set of values. The act of confession requires that we face that transgression, in effect facing part of our shadow, and allows us to come back into alignment with that which we hold sacred. Facing the shadow element is integral to psychological and spiritual growth. Turning again to the words of Paul Tillich, we can say that confession is a way to come back into grace.
    “Grace is the reunion of life with life, the reconciliation of the self with itself. Grace is the acceptance of that which is rejected. Grace transforms fate into a meaningful destiny; it changes guilt into confidence and courage.”

Next

In my next post I will offer suggestions and guidelines for the practice of individual confession.

References

Murray-Swank, A. (2003). Exploring spiritual confession: A theoretical synthesis and experimental study. ProQuest Dissertations and Theses; 2003

Pennebaker, J.W., Hughes, C.F., & O’Heeron, R.C. (1987). The psychophysiology of confession: Linking inhibitory and psychosomatic processes. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Vol 52(No. 4), pp. 781-793.

Tillich, P. (1999). The essential Tillich: An anthology of the writings of Paul Tillich. Church, F.F. (Ed.). Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

The Hakomi Method is a form of psychotherapy developed by Ron Kurtz in the late 1970s. Hakomi is influenced by Eastern philosophies and practices like Buddhism and Taoism, and by Western forms like systems theory, Gestalt therapy and Reichian body work. Over the last year I have experienced Hakomi both as a student of the method and as a client. In this paper, I would like to describe Hakomi through the lens of nondual psychotherapy.

Hakomi is grounded in five core principles. These principles serve to guide the evolution of the method, the process of training, and the work itself. The principles serve as a container for the work, “Like a babe in its mother’s arms” (Kurtz 1990, p. 22). As the principles are so intimately intertwined with the method and the work of Hakomi, I will use them as a gateway into the method, describing each principle briefly and showing the relationship with nonduality from the perspective of each of the core principles.

1. Organicity: Living Systems

The first principle states our belief that the as an organic, living system the client is the only one capable of healing himself. The therapist’s role is not to fix or repair the client, rather to support the process through which the client finds answers or healing. Kurtz (1990, p. 25) tells us that, “Healing is an act of self-recreation.” This principle is grounded in an understanding of living system that, “Self-organize, self-create, self-maintain, and in many ways, direct their own evolution.”

The principle of organicity leads to seeing the person as intrinsically whole rather than somehow wrong or broken. The wounds that we suffer over our lives are not something to be rid of but natural reactions to the environment around us at the time. From a nondual perspective, we could say that the wounds are not different from the wholeness or to use the example of the clay pot, the clay doesn’t care if the shape of the pot isn’t “perfect,” it retains its clayness no matter what the shape is. As we learn to recognize that, we can find great freedom even while being stuck in old patterns; we’re also able to bring equanimity to difficult situations thus bringing healing to deep wounds.

Adyashanti (2003) speaks to embodying the organicity aspect as a living-system in an interview quoted in The Sacred Mirror.

A lot of the embodiment is simply remaining completely real and completely honest to our own experience in a very deep and authentic way, without necessarily trying to change it. Our conditioned tendencies are allowed to unfold into the field of awareness. It’s the true spiritual alchemy that takes place almost entirely by itself, if we can just get out of the way enough.

2. Mindfulness

According to (Kurtz 1990, pp. 26-28), mindfulness is seen in Hakomi as both a core-principle and a state. As a principle, mindfulness guides the therapist to trust in consciousness, to recognize “the organicity, openness and sensitivity,” and to allow “the inner wisdom of the other to create change through awareness rather than effort.” Mindfulness allows us to slow down experience enough such that the organizing principles of our personality, which normally are unconscious, may be noticed. The practice of mindfulness supports the client’s well-being in the therapeutic container and outside of it as well.

Sheila Krystal (2003) has seen how clients learn to trust in their own organicity and wisdom by using mindfulness supported by an understanding of the nondual ground in EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing); she writes:

As clients’ mindfulness develops, they begin to discern more clearly and quickly when awareness has become distracted from itself. Clients learn to come back from suffering and dysfunction to the eternally present, underlying peace. They learn that life takes care of itself endlessly in the moment.

In my own experience, using mindfulness as a client in therapy allows the mind to clarify. Much like the story of the water buckets, as the muddy water of the mind settle and clarify, it is possible to rest with the clear experience of the sun; resting in that experience as a psychological resource, I am able to look at the products of the mind more clearly, to recognize that these thoughts and feelings do not define who I am, and, finally, to shine the light of awareness even into difficult experiences that may otherwise be overwhelming.

3. Nonviolence: Reverence for Life

Nonviolence, says Kurtz (1990, p. 29), grows out of a recognition of organicity; understanding that, “using force against a living system is asking for resistance” we choose to go “with the grain.” In Hakomi we recognize that psychological defenses are attempts by the client to manage their experience. Instead of opposing this attempt to organize experience we try to support it so that the client may feel safe and free to explore his experience. Another aspect of this principle is “placing the emphasis on experience rather than advice or interpretation.” By following the client‘s process we allow what is alive in the client to emerge, rather than forcing our own agenda or perspective.

Nonviolence invites the therapist to take on the attitude of a supportive friend who is actively interested in the client’s living experience. As we hold this supportive attitude we encourage the client to develop internally a similar attitude. This inner friend that the client develops may be a powerful resource throughout the healing process and beyond.

From the therapist’s perspective, it may be difficult to truly rest in the principle of nonviolence. Resting in this principle requires some degree of emotional and spiritual maturity. As I started on the path of training in Hakomi I found it difficult to allow for silence and space for the client’s aliveness to emerge. The empty spaces in a session were filled with anxiety and worry: Am I not doing enough? Am I doing too much? What should I say next? The change came when I started to realize that the session is not about me; it is not about what I do or do not do, rather it is about the client’s experience unfolding at whatever pace it requires. Being able to untangle my sense of self from the way that the session proceeded gave me the freedom to rest in mindful presence, thus, supporting the client by offering them a safe space to be and from which to explore their experience.

4. Mind-Body Holism

Hakomi sees the mind and body as a complex whole. We are especially interested in the influence that, “deeply held beliefs, guiding images and significant, early memories have on behavior, body structure and all level of physiology.” (Kurtz 1990, p. 30). Judith Blackstone (2007) explains that nondual consciousness “is not just a mental or cognitive experience. It emerges along with a transformation of our entire organism. Nondual realization is the experience that our own body is saturated with consciousness.” It is exactly this embodied consciousness that Hakomi engages with constantly throughout the process of therapy; sometimes studying the effects of beliefs on the body and at other times studying the meaning that arises out of bodily experience. Wherever the focus lies, this principle brings the recognition that mind and body are not separate but part of a whole organism.

5. Unity: A Participatory Universe

Finally, Kurtz (1990, pp. 31-33) explains that the fifth principle of Hakomi, unity, is about “belonging, being part of, about hearing and being heard”; it is about the parts communicating to create a healthy system and the way that such systems break when communication stops. Unity recognizes that self-other separation is based in faulty perception or ignorance. To further explore the nature of this ignorance we can turn to Advaita Vedanta.

Anantanand Rambachan is a scholar of religion who has written about and practiced Advaita Vedanta. In The Advaita World View, Rambachan (2006) explains that, “Ignorance of the specific nature of the self causes one to fully and incorrectly identify the self with the attributes of the body, senses, and mind and to superimpose the finitude of these upon the self.” This ignorance, says Rambachan, is “the original cause of the sense of want and inadequacy experienced by human beings.” When we act out of this sense of want and inadequacy we create suffering and perpetuate the belief that we are not whole. In Advaita, freedom or liberation is found through the removal of these false assumption about the self or self-knowledge. However according to Carol Whitfield, the path of Advaita may not be enough for Western students of Advaita.

In The Jungian Myth and Advaita Vedanta, Whitfield (2009) writes:

The Westerner has to take his or her route to mental purity through the unconscious, not around it or in spite of it. Only the assimilation and integration of unconscious materials into consciousness will provide the mental health and maturity that is needed for the Vedantic techniques dealing with the conscious mind to become meaningful.

Re-integration of those parts of our personality that have been split-off is an important aspect of the process of healing. However, the principle of unity goes beyond the personal; it is the recognition that the universe is a web of relationships. By supporting communications between elements that have been split-off or ignored we allow wholeness to emerge and healing to take place. In this way Hakomi supports wholeness in individuals, families and at every level of being.

Seeing through the lens of unity we recognize the deep connection that we share with our clients. We do not shy away from pain, rather we engage it with compassion. We see the full humanity of each person sitting across from us and together we explore the mysteries of being alive. We can access our own wholeness, relying on empathy and intuition, as well as technique and theory. We work to bring together all parts of the person, trusting that the system knows how to heal itself. And, just as importantly, we know that the work we do with one person filters out farther and farther to bring benefit to countless beings.

Summary

To summarize, I have described the Hakomi method through its five core principles: 1) Organicity; 2) Mindfulness; 3) Nonviolence; 4) Mind-body holism; and 5) Unity. I have shown how each of the five principles and the method itself are grounded in nonduality. Because of its grounding in the nondual and its emphasis on transformation I believe that the Hakomi method is a powerful tool for psychological healing and one that would be of great support to spiritual seekers on their path to self-realization.

References

Adyashanti (2003). Love returning for itself. In Prendergast, Fenner, & Krystal (Eds.) Sacred Mirror: Nondual wisdom and Psychotherapy. St. Paul, MN: Paragon House.

Blackstone, J. (2007). The Empathic Ground: Intersubjectivity and Nonduality in the Psychotherapeutic process. New York, NY: SUNY.

Krystal, S. (2003). A nondual approach to EMDR. In In Prendergast, Fenner, & Krystal (Eds.) Sacred Mirror: Nondual wisdom and Psychotherapy. St. Paul, MN: Paragon House.

Kurtz, R. (1990). Body Centered Psychotherapy: the Hakomi Method. Mendocino, CA: LifeRhythm.

Rambachan, A. (2006). Chapter Seven: Liberation. In The Advaita Worldview: God, World, and Humanity (pp. 99-116). New York, NY: SUNY Press.

Whitfield, C. (2009). Chapter four: The Western way to wisdom. In The Jungian Myth and Advaita Vedanta. Chennai: Arsha Vidya Research and Publications Trust.