Archives for posts with tag: psychotherapy

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.

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Buddhist Geeks recently posted a great interview with Buddhist teacher Reggie Ray. In the interview Reggie describes the two veils that separate us from our awakened nature. The first veil is the veil of emotional defilements (negative emotions like anger, desire, jealousy, etc.). The second veil is characterized by ignorance, that is, not recognizing the true nature of reality. Here’s what Reggie had to say concerning the second veil:

But there’s a much deeper level that is really really critical. And this level is generally not addressed in modern Buddhism. And this deeper level is what’s called, it’s the obscuration to being able to see, if we want to put it this way. And what it is is, it’s these patterns that we acquire probably before we learn to speak as babies. They are emotional predispositions. They are emotional assumptions about what reality is that are entirely unconscious. And you know some of us feel that life is basically just a lot of hard work. Some of us feel incredibly lonely.  Some of us feel fundamentally resentful and angry, but these are all unconscious attitudes. And we actually think that’s the way reality is. And that gets between us and actually what we’re looking for.

Reggie goes beyond any description of ignorance I’ve encountered in my studies of Buddhism. It sounds to me like he’s recognizing the psychological element of spiritual practice and the need to work with psychological blocks on the way to awakening. In Hakomi we call those “emotional assumptions” core beliefs. Core beliefs are the way we make meaning of our experience. They are unconscious beliefs or assumptions about the world and about ourselves. Often core beliefs can be limiting (example: I am not good enough, or the world is not a safe place) and Hakomi aims to make those conscious and to help people find new ways of being in the world, to be free from those limiting beliefs.

Reggie describes how he works with this material as a spiritual teacher:

… this is what we need to work on together. We need to take a look at your life. We need to work together. I need to look at you and see where you get stuck. We need to work on this. Simply handing people practices and giving them [inaudible], it’s just not good enough. It’s not going to do it. Trungpa Rinpoche said, and my experience really bears it out, the relationship between the teacher and student, there’s only one other relationship in life that that’s intimate, and that is the one with a beloved partner if you happen to have that kind of relationship. It’s the only other one that even comes close.

This sounds a lot like the relationship and the work one might do with a therapist: take a look at your life, see where you get stuck, etc. This part of the interview really helped cement my belief that spiritual practice and psychotherapy are not separate but, in fact, are intimately intertwined with each other.

Listen to both parts of the interview on Buddhist Geeks.

At the recent Nondual
Wisdom and Psychology conference
, John
Prendergast
briefly introduced a simple, 3-stage model
for awakening. Here’s my understanding of this model:

  1. Waking up – this includes the spectrum of spiritual
    openings that people describe.
  2. Waking down –
    integrating the waking up experience into life. Bringing it down
    into the body.
  3. Waking out – expressing
    awakeness in the world.

The second step is
an interesting one; it is not all that different from the process
of psychological healing that one may undergo in therapy. This is a
time of transformation, healing and moving towards wholeness.
During this part of the process we face difficult emotions and melt
away entrenched habits as we give up anything that is no longer in
accordance with the true self. Everything I have described so far
can happen in therapy as well, so where’s the difference? The
difference lies in what becomes available during the first step.
The first step wakes up the fire of awareness. My experience of
this fire was of a withering internal gaze; withering because it
would cause internal blocks and momentary delusions to melt away.
This fire of awareness makes the transformation that happens in the
second step faster and easier. I could go as far as to say that it
takes over the process of transformation and all one can do is step
out of the way so as to not slow it down. I think that there is
more to the first step. I think it actually makes a deeper
transformation possible. This deeper transformation takes the
ego-transcendence of spiritual practice and brings it right into
the middle of life. It opens us up to a greater intimacy with
everything and everyone around us. It allows us to be flexible
where before we were rigid. From this place we can radiate out our
particular flavor of awakeness everywhere around us – this is the
third stage, waking out. You may have noticed that I described the
first stage as a spectrum. That’s because awakenings come in
different shapes and sizes and it seems to be pretty rare that
someone goes “all the way” in just one hit. This leads me to the
spiral process of awakening wherein we experience a spiritual
opening and once the dust settles begin the process of integrating
that opening into our lives. This transformation period is fueled
and guided by the opening we just experienced; its depth and impact
are likely also related to that experience. Having gone through
this period of waking down and having emerged on the other side
transformed, we now live from this newfound freedom to the best of
our ability until we hit the next insight and begin the process
again. Bringing this into the world of therapy, I believe that this
model shows how helpful spiritual practice is to finding
psychological well-being. It also shows that spiritual practice and
psychotherapy aren’t easy to separate. And, it tells me that any
amount of spiritual insight can be helpful on the road to
wholeness.

Note: This is the last part 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. In this post I describe how undergoing therapy supports my meditation practice and offer a brief summary.-------- * --------
How Therapy Supports Meditation
Just as there were moments in which I’ve gained psychological insight through my meditation practice there were also moments in which I felt that I am denying myself a meditative insight through psychological blocks. The clearest examples of that are related to my fear of letting go that would block me even while in deep meditation. Working with my therapist I’ve learned that this fear is related to fear of death or more deeply a fear that I do not really exist. By slowly coming to terms with that fear and also building up a sense of safety and substantiality that does not depend on external conditions I was able to let go more and more and experience states of greater freedom and openness in meditation and in life.

Through psychotherapy and reflection I’ve come to reframe my view of myself as broken and in need of fixing; instead I recognize my potential for wholeness and am able to participate in an ongoing process of healing. This recognition allows me to find a felt connection to teachings that speak of my Buddha nature or True self. As long as I considered myself broken, it is very difficult to accept that there is some transcendent part of myself that is whole and beyond harm. Once I allowed for the possibility of wholeness, however, it became easier to catch glimpses of this core that is at once me and beyond just me.

As I described before, there were long periods of time when I found myself driven by a craving for awakening. While this particular craving mostly fell apart during a longer meditation retreat, I’ve found that there was an even deeper urge behind it that still exerts some influence; this urge is the need to be saved. Even as I sometimes discover glimpses of my true self, at other times I still feel unworthy of spiritual attainment and instead wish for some external savior to swoop in and fix everything that is wrong with me and with the world. This internal battle between the belief in wholeness and the belief that I’m not good enough is still ongoing. It will take more work, both psychological and spiritual, for this rift to heal but I’ve learned to trust the process enough to let it work through me in its own time and pace.

Summary
To summarize, I’d like to mention that although I tried to describe the way each practice affects the other as though these effects are separate and discrete, that is not my experience. The interactions I described above are recursive in nature. As I find more space through my meditation practice, I’m able to heal more through psychotherapy. And as I find healing and integration through therapy, I’m also able to let go deeper into my meditation practice, creating more space and equanimity. It has been my experience that the two practices are deeply intertwined and that it impossible to separate them clearly. As Epstein (1986, 1990) describes, I’ve found that some stages of meditation practice require a certain level of ego maturity and stability as I described in my experience of learning to let go further by resting and trusting in my own stability. And similarly to the model of the relationship between emotional intelligence and spiritual intelligence proposed by Wigglesworth (2006) I’ve found that my spiritual practice both requires and, in turn, supports emotional maturity.

References
Epstein, M., Leiff, J. (1986). Psychiatric complications of meditation practice. In K. Wilber, J. Engler, & D. Brown (Eds.), Transformations of Consciousness (pp. 53-63). Boston: Shambala.
Epstein, M. (1990). Meditation and the Dilemma of Narcissism. Journal of Contemplative Psychotherapy, 7, 3-19.
Wigglesworth, C. (2006) Why Spiritual Intelligence Is Essential to Mature Leadership. Integral Leadership Review, 6(3), 2006-08.

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.

In a 1986 article comparing the therapeutic aims of Psychoanalysis and Vipassana Meditation, Jack Engler reached the conclusion that “you have to be somebody before you can be nobody.” In this Engler means that one has to achieve a stable sense of self, a solid and secure psychological ego before one can benefit from Insight, or Vipassana, meditation and even from the attainment of Stream Entry (the first stage of awakening in the Theravadan Buddhist tradition).

As a clinically trained meditation teacher, Engler noticed that some of his students exhibit a “lack of cohesive, integrated sense of self” (p. 33) that likely stems from issues in early childhood. This lack of an integrated sense of self makes insight meditation difficult, if not impossible. These students represent the far end of a spectrum of identity development but even students who are not this far out on the spectrum are suffering from issues that Buddhist psychology is not aware of and is not prepared to deal with. While Insight meditation appears attractive to people in this situation, it is not necessarily helpful.

Engler claims that Insight meditation just like psychotherapy is an “intervention designed to set ego and object relations development in motion again from a point of relative arrest” (p. 48). This new point of arrest is recognized by Buddhist psychology (and not Western psychology) because it has a different point of view. While Western psychology looks at the pleasure principle as a basic drive, Buddhist psychology recognizes that the pleasure principle is driven by faulty understanding (ignorance, avijjā). Through the practice of meditation one can recognize this basic misunderstanding and gain freedom from desire.

In Therapeutic Aims (1986) Engler points out that since Buddhist psychology does not recognize the self-pathologies described above, it is necessary to deal with those pathologies before attending to meditation. This is a “phase-appropriate” (p. 49) model of psychological well being that includes both psychotherapy and meditation, each dealing with issues in its appropriate domain.

In a interview published in spring 2000 with Andrew Cohen for What is Enlightenment magazine (now, EnlightenNext magazine) Engler presents a more nuanced position:

“…in that article, I tried to elaborate it further in terms of a linear developmental model. I wouldn’t do that in the same way today because now I think our spiritual life and our psychological life are much more interwoven. I think the statement still has value in the way I originally meant it, but I would take it out of this tight psychological model of human development where we first have to develop a sense of self and then we will be able to see through the illusion of self.” (p. 2)

In this interview Engler still holds that Insight meditation, specifically deeper practice (for example, on retreat), requires certain ego-strength – the capacity and willingness to face difficult experiences that come up during this kind of practice. He warns of the danger of spiritual bypassing – the use of spiritual practice to avoid real-life problems and difficulties – but no longer holds to a rigid linear process. In fact, Engler goes as far as saying that meditation and psychotherapy support each other!

While it is often said that psychotherapy strengthens the ego and therefore is an impediment to meditative insight Engler sees meditation and psychotherapy as having similar aims but working at different levels. Both meditation and psychotherapy, according to Engler, move us in the same direction, that of a freedom from grasping. Psychotherapy done well relativizes the ego, loosens our beliefs and fixed ideas of self and thus supports our meditation practice.

“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.