Archives for posts with tag: mindfulness

In my last post I discussed a four stage model of change based on the conscious competence model. The conscience competence model is traditionally described in four stages the last of which is called unconscious competence. Unconscious competence is the point in the process of learning a skill when you can perform the skill without thinking about it (“it’s like riding a bike…”). As much as we’d like to be able to rest forever in that stage, unconscious competence isn’t free of traps. One such trap is complacency – believing that you have mastered a skill, you neglect practice and allow the skill to languish, in effect falling back into the previous stage, conscious competence. Applied to the process of change, this would be a relapse either to the conscious freedom model or, even all the way back to unconscious habit.

In light of the potential for sliding back from the fourth stage in the model, some have suggested a fifth stage. There are several names offered for this fifth stage but the one I like best is reflective competence. At this stage the practitioner is able to execute the skill without conscious effort and has a clear understanding of the skill such that he’s able articulate it to himself and teach it to others. Another key characteristic of this stage is the ability to step back and reflect on performance of the skill from an external perspective. How does the apply to the process of change?

Being able to step back and reflect on my experience is the skill of mindful awareness and a clear understanding of the skill is exactly what’s being described in this model. I suggest that in the process of change, the fifth stage of reflective freedom is composed of two main skills:

  1. Understanding the process of change itself as I’ve described it previously. Getting to know the various forces at play in each stage (ignorance, resistance, etc.) is especially helpful.
  2. An ongoing practice of mindful awareness. Coming back, again and again, to this moment and noticing: what is my mind (and heart and guts) up to? This practice can support us with maintaining that change that we want and with discovering unskillful habits that were, so far, unconscious.

To summarize the model so far:

  1. Unconscious habit – Ignorance is in full force.
  2. Conscious habit – We recognize the unskillful habit and become increasingly aware of its impact. The suffering inherent in this habit brings up strategies of avoidance (ignorance) and self-criticism. Through the practice of compassionate mindful awareness we develop a friendly relationship with the habit. It is helpful to seek support from a friend, teacher or coach at this point as their external awareness will prove very useful.
  3. Conscious freedom – We’re now able to recognize the habit happening in real-time and, increasingly often, we can even do something about it! As we actively work to bring about change, we encounter resistance. The resistance will try to convince us to give up, it’s too hard, not worth it! Instead, we bring our compassion to the resistance as well and keep practicing conscious change.
  4. Unconscious freedom – we’re now largely free of the unskilful habit. Aware of the trap of complacence we continue practicing mindful awareness.
  5. Reflective freedom – We’re able to reflect on this entire process and we recognize that it has happened before. With this awareness in mind and an ongoing practice of mindful awareness we are now more resilient. We can recognize habits we want to work with and we have the tools to do so ourselves. We can even support others through this process.
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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.

I admit it. I am biased against the secular mindfulness movement and the more successful it becomes, the louder my bias grows. There’s a personal side to that bias and there’s also a more rational and therefore, I believe, more general side to that bias as well. I’ll start with the personal, somewhat unconscious and shadowy side first.

Having found the dharma and having found a path makes me feel better about myself; it makes me feel special. Being a meditator is a badge that I enjoy wearing because it sets me apart from the “unconscious masses”. The possibility of awakening, of becoming the “enlightened one” carries with it the promise of becoming even more special than that. This need to be special has been a driving force in my life from a very young age so it’s not an unfamiliar force. It is, however, still quite a powerful force, one that I must remain conscious of and work with. And for obvious reasons, this “special” status is threatened by the increasingly popular mindfulness movement.

As mindfulness and meditation become less “special” and more common, being a meditator becomes less distinctive as well and the part of me that relies on being special to feel good reacts against this growing popularity. This is a large part of my bias against the rise of the secular mindfulness movement. The other part worries that in the rush to make the dharma accessible and popular (and therefore simple, easy and unopinionated) we’ll also lose its transformative potential.

So when I see articles about mindfulness making us more productive employees I die a little inside. And when I see conferences bringing together Google and Spirit Rock I can’t help but feel a little dubious of their end result. I try to keep an open mind and remember that different people have different needs but I’m also afraid that wisdom 2.0 will be nothing but a shadow of its original self. For myself, the practice in this is to keep noticing my unconscious biases rising to the surface and at the same time to not ignore wise discernment and to find a way to speak my truth clearly to support and promote what I believe is important.

Note: This is part 3 of a multi-part series about the relationship between meditation and psychotherapy adapted from a paper I wrote for my Intro to EWP course at CIIS. For more information see the first post in the series. This post includes some of my personal experience merging meditation and psychotherapy.-------- * --------
Personal Experience: How Meditation Supports Therapy
One of the earlier insights into this relationship came when I was studying the Buddha’s Four Noble Truths. The first noble truth teaches us that suffering is a natural part of human existence. This simple teaching brought about a sense of relief: “I was not chosen for special punishment, this suffering is not my fault, it’s just the way it is,” I thought. As my practice progressed and deepened I gained further insight into this teaching and my faith in the truth behind this teaching increased. As my faith increased, I found that it was easier to stay present even with difficult experiences and my need to escape lessened. This willingness to remain present was further bolstered by my meditation practice.

Through the practice of meditation I’ve developed a increased level of equanimity. This equanimity manifests as a stability of mind and a willingness to engage my experience more fully. Both aspects of equanimity are supportive of my psychotherapy process. I find that I am more willing to engage with parts of the psyche that I have neglected for most of my adult life; at the same time, I am less likely to be thrown out of balance when I engage even painful truths about myself, my history or my relationship. This willingness and ability to engage with the psyche brings healing to old wounds that I’ve ignored for far too long and even to some that I never quite knew about.

Another benefit of my meditative practice is a ongoing mindful attention to my experience as it arises. This form of attention allows me to work with habits, fears, and various other blocks as they come up. One method that I found to be helpful is engaging these blocks with kindness, compassion and understanding. Instead of ignoring or pushing these impulses away I try to hold them in kindness and to see what it is that they require. This inquiry sometimes involves some internal dialog but other times may just occur at a somatic level. Often I find that the internal entities (Jung’s complexes) behind these blocks need nothing more than acceptance and unconditional love; when I provide this acceptance myself, the need to get it from the outside world often vanishes and relief follows.

Finally, there were a few special moments when I was able to gain insight into deep psychological issues while on meditation retreat. The deep calm and stability of mind that are developed on retreat create a safe space to engage with these deeper issues. Most recently, while on a Zen sesshin, I was exploring resistance to opening the heart and in that exploration made contact with an inner child who was feeling scared and lonely. This experience was the beginning of a developing relationship with this important aspect of myself with which I’ve been out of touch for a long time. It also served as a starting point for exploring trauma from early-childhood and even later in life.

In the next post I’ll describe the other side of this relationship: how therapy supports meditation.

“To study the organization of experience, we establish and use a state of consciousness called mindfulness. Many books have been written on mindfulness; it is part of every transpersonal tradition we know about. It is a distinct state of consciousness, characterized by relaxed volition, a surrender to and acceptance of the happenings of the moment, a gentle, sustained focus of attention inward, a heightened sensitivity and the ability to observe and name the content of consciousness. It is self-reflective. It is doubtful that any other species, with the possible exception of whales, dolphins and the great apes, are even capable of it. Though we humans are capable, we don’t seem to be doing it all that much. When we do, we are able to gather information about ourselves with relative ease. In psychotherapy, nothing is more useful than mindfulness.”

— Ron Kurtz, Body Centered Psychotherapy: The Hakomi Method.

Note: This is part 3 of a 3 part series. For context and links to the full series, check out the introduction.

Working With the Self Moment by Moment

Sitting at a coffee shop paying attention to my experience, I notice that my attention is resting behind my eyes; I am the observer. Now, a contraction in my chest and the thought “did they see me looking at them?” I don’t like being that self. Another moment passes and I am now the one listening to the conversation at the table behind me. So it goes moment by moment, “I” become a different part of my experience…

The experience described above is like seeing the individual frames of a movie. If we slow down the projector just enough we can notice that in fact we are watching a fast changing series of still images. The mind seamlessly translates those still frames into one continuous moving image. Similarly, the mind takes all those individual moments of identification with self-thoughts, with memories or with bodily sensations and translates them into one “phantom” experience. This phantom is what we imagine ourselves to be.

Mindful attention slows down the projector, allowing us to notice those individual moments as they scroll by one by one. This is a first step in piercing the illusion of an abiding self and the realization that my idea of who I am is in constant flux. It may not be easy to constantly keep up this practice. Fortunately, there is a sensation we can use as a reminder – the sensation of clinging otherwise known as the ‘self-contraction’.

The act of clinging is often accompanied by the somatic experience of a contraction around the heart center. We may cling to a story about ourselves, or to a fear of losing a part of ourselves. In my experience this clinging is common to many instances of holding onto a rigid sense of self, and supports the belief in this “phantom” core self. If we start looking at these moments of clinging, or contraction, more clearly, noticing when they arise and when they fade away, we may start to unravel this deeper layer of self and open up to a more fluid way of being.

Summary

We’ve looked at different ways that the experience of the self manifests in our lives. Starting with the personal sense of self, or the Ego, and the interpersonal sense of self, we saw how those parts of the psyche can be helpful as we interact with the world around us and also how they become a hindrance. We then moved on the Witness and looked at two ways to use the experience of witnessing to move towards greater freedom. Next, we got a taste of Eastern theories of self, or Atman. Finally we looked at working with the moment-to-moment experience of the self to see how we can find freedom in every moment.

It is important to remember that our goal is not to destroy the self or kill the ego (although the ego may feel that way sometimes). Rather, we are trying to reduce clinging, to create more space and to allow a more fluid engagement with our moment-to-moment experience.