Good Theory can help us befriend hard things...
Donald Winnicott, the wonderful Child Analyst, said the only purpose of an interpretation iwas as a 'potential truth bearing object'. In my experience, 'good theory' often clarifies something real or true, shedding light on something in our experience, that would be otherwise harder to acknowledge. It provides a wider, more universal context for acknowledging elements we struggle with, and this can be illuminating, relaxing and liberating. This is especially so in helping us to acknowledge and accept difficult - often rejected - elements in our experience: our disappointment, our envy, our sadness, our anger, our longing to be adored or tended to.
In my teaching, I endeavour to create a safe, dynamic environment that honours our tenderness and courage in trying to meet ourselves in a real way. When we do this we become, in Gendlin's lovely phrase, 'more of ourselves than we have been able to be so far...' It is often a beautiful, deeply enriching encounter.
Over time, as a therapist, certain themes recur over and over: a tendency to reject ourselves for feeling sad, a horror at our clingy neediness, a shame and denial about our buried grandiosity, a shunning of our anger.
In the end, it is about becoming increasingly 'real presences' - for ourselves and for each other - as we
develop our capacity to fulfil and express our potential while being true to our human limitations.
workshops, pathways and words
- Essential Inquiry
- Workshops and Teaching
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Many of us have been touched by the invitation in Rumi’s poem: to welcome and embrace all that we find within us. This poem strikes a deep chord in our hearts. We know it reminds us of something true.
But in our lived experience maintaining this attitude is hard: habits are strong, fear and hatred of certain states, shame, patterns of resistance and rejection (often barely conscious) keep us circling in familiar patterns. In our mindfulness practice, we work to integrate and ‘be with’ these difficult elements, but this work can be richly complemented by a more relational approach.
When we bring the gifts of our sitting practice into conscious relating, we forge a valuable bridge between our meditation experience and our everyday lives and relationships. Inquiry allows us to explore our experience with the fluidity of meditation yet within the relational field of contact with others. This is integrative and expansive, loosening our habitual tendencies and allowing us to be more immediate and genuine in how we speak of our current experience as it unfolds, whether that is of anxiety, joy, equanimity, despair or simple presence.
Relational practice also supports transformation because it offers us a sensitive human environment in which to ‘befriend’ unwanted states. This is healing: in the silent, attentive presence of others, we experience and offer each other a space that enhances and develops our self acceptance. In speaking, we make more room for our experience; in listening, we are attuned ever deeper to our common humanness (one of the key tenets of both compassion and self-compassion).
This workshop supports us in bringing some ‘unwanted visitors’ to light, speaking of and from them in ways that support our acceptance, integration and human belonging. Drawing on relational inquiry traditions, we will create a space in which we blend meditative presence with human inquiry, working in a contained, confidential way in which each person is free to follow their own rhythm of expression.
Embracing the Pain Body
Connecting the heart with the disheartened… (Stephen Levine)
Inquiry and Focusing: a different type of speech
We speak from deep within, from the subtle contact with our immediate experience that we know from meditation. This is less about ‘knowing’ or ‘coherent communication’ than about allowing the ‘new’, and the ‘almost clear’ to form into thought and language. It is about staying present to our bodies as we speak, being ‘in ourselves’ without being distracted by how we come across to others. In this sense, it is more about self-contact, and the raw truth of our experience than about communication. The impression we create is not important; what is important is that we learn to represent our experience as truthfully and nakedly as we can, developing our awareness and integrity.
- The more mental we are, the more we stay the same. The mind repeats. It does not let in anything new. If we can allow thought, expression, language, to follow what is revealed or evoked by a sensitive, present moment body presence, we form in new ways, identity moves and expands, something fresh can unfold that is authentic, and carries life forward.
- There is also a ‘communal’ element to this speech. We ‘confess’ or stop defending our experience of being this human-that-we-are. We step outside of habitual self-knowledge and presentation, and speak from a more undefended place. This allows us to articulate our experience more intimately, but with less attachment. We represent it, and we release it.
- Relational holding. Our identity forms in relationship. Our early experiences of how we were received when we expressed pain or anxiety or distress did not always support our contact with these states. We may have learned to dismiss or override, our pain, or to attack ourselves for being in pain; we may have learned to blame or to seek solace in food or other distraction. This is an opportunity to experience something different: to be close to the places that trouble us, and to have company there as we explore them. We work in a tolerant, open, silent space held by another who is not ignoring us, and is not dismissing us. This offers a greater holding capacity and tolerance than we can achieve alone.
- There is a letting go of concern with image. A not-clinging to self, an ‘owning’ of what arises in the mind, without being caught up in our stories about it. It is a ‘being with’ our experience.
So this is very far from social talk, and it is not even talking to communicate clearly with the other, it is speech that supports us staying on track with an internal exploration and unfoldment. It can look, from the outside, very self-involved. In a way it is. But our intention is to engage in this temporary self-involvement for the sake of integration and liberation. We integrate and put some ‘form’ on a rejected part; we befriend it a little more. In doing so, we alter our habitual reactivity to these ‘unwanted’ elements in our experience. We speak from the coalface of our own experience, and to hear others there also. And this is enriching. It allows us to find a skilful rhythm and style of contact with these difficult things. In learning how to relate to these ‘unwanted guests,’ we develop our ability to host them with generosity, grace and a capacity to integrate and ground the energies they contain.