Mindfulness meditation and mental health course notes
Being with what Is
“The present moment is as it is. Always. Can you let it be?
Eckhart Tolle – "Stillness speaks”
In a talk Professor Mark Williams gave to a conference in Bristol several years ago he likened mindfulness to being like the crew on a wildlife programme. We simply observe nature, for example the cheetah as it runs across the plain and when it eats the antelope, but we do not intervene.
It is the same when observing our own minds and bodies when mindful we do not intervene or attempt to stop or control.
Many people who have come on this course have in some way asked if we can control the mind. The answer is no. It is for this reason the in Buddhism it is called monkey mind.
This runs counter to much of the advice we receive in our culture and which is in enshrined in our language…… overcoming depression, anger management, beating the blues, being in control etc.
The first practice on the course is to simply sit with what is. The sensations in the body and the workings of the mind are just observed and listened to. This is a profound and ancient practice. We pause and take a gentle step back into the background awareness. Thoughts and sensations simply come and go like clouds across a clear blue sky. A new perspective opens up. We can realise we have over identified with the clouds and forgotten that in our true nature we are like the sky, spacious, still, silent and free. The pressure to strive and struggle is released and dissolves in peaceful awareness.
Nothing to do
Nowhere to go
No-one to be
Noticing and accepting
Attempts to control or overcome the body/mind amount to a refusal and a type of resistance. This takes a great deal of energy and is ultimately futile. We may score some temporary victories but not ultimate liberation. A common feature of depression is fatigue and is in part a symptom of internal struggle and conflict.
Another feature of the practice on this course is acceptance. This is not the passive acceptance of resignation and doing nothing but an active embracing of life as it is. The following poem expresses this beautifully.
This being human is a guest house
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
Some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture.
Still treat each guest honourably,
he may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes
Because each has been sent
As a guide from beyond
Breakdown or breakthrough
For example, we may identify a need to move away from a medical model to an approach that views ‘illness’ as part of an awakening. This is sometimes talked about as the ‘breakdown’ carrying the potential for ‘breakthrough’, where the ‘emergency’ holds within it the potential for ‘emergence’.
These conversations require sensitivity and an awareness of their potential to become the worst kind of new age reassurance. However if handled well this orientation can leave people with a sense of their own creativity and courage rather than a sense of failing or being faulty.
Both clinician and service user can become curious about the meaning of the crisis rather than the ‘sick’ person coming to the healthy ‘expert’ for treatment. This leads to a frame of reference of two seekers rather than the well treating the sick. The clinician can even begin to wonder about the meaning of this service user coming to them at this point in time. As Jung reminds us, ‘there is no change in the patient unless there is change in the therapist’.
Dr Jean-Marc Mantel, a French psychiatrist writes of this mutuality in the field of mental health:
‘…the psychiatrist and his patient are not so very different from the student of wisdom who seeks fulfilment in an integrated life and in the awareness of joy without cause. They are two closely bound friends, who spend some time together and contribute to each other’s happiness: that of being heard for the patient in need of love, and that of being respected for the psychiatrist in need of recognition. When sensitivity and power unite, love becomes a force of conviction and transformation.
Let us hope for the advent of a psychiatry which places the psychic crisis in a wider context, that of man in search of himself, a potentiality inherent in all of life’s expressions. Psychiatry will then be able to fully inhabit its function, that of an awakener of consciousness and an artisan of peace.’
As clinicians, we will need to be aware of our own motivations and our own searches. We will need to know and accept that life’s challenges are also great teachers. The challenge is to view our patients as fellow seekers of truth and love and to be curious about what each spirit may awaken to.
The practice of observation and acceptance leads naturally to the question 'who is observing'. We come to realise that we are not our thoughts, feelings or beliefs about ourselves and naturally question 'who or what am I?'.
A sculptor was asked how did you sculpt the horse? and he said 'I just took away the bits that weren't horse'. In the same way through a process, known in Christianity as negation, we can simply observe what is not truly us and allow the essential being to be revealed.
Most people assume that the story of who they are is their true nature. Through the practice of listening and observation the workings and creations of our minds become clear. We come to know our own ego and its defences and start to distinguish between what is ego and what is our essential being.
Understanding and practice
Fundamentally understanding and practice go hand in hand. Each support the other. Observing the workings of our minds and bodies leads us to question who we are and to an understanding that the mind is the creator of our suffering. In our practice we simply observe body and mind with the understanding that this is not our essential nature. We observe ego and our personal story as it is played out internally and with the world around us.
The practice is both formal as we sit in meditation and in our everyday lives as we aim to bring mindful awareness to all that we do. Our practice deepens our understanding and our understanding deepens our practice. We come to realise how much of our histories and patterns we potentially bring to each present moment. We notice, for example, how many expectations we bring to relationships, how important it is to be right, how much we fear rejection, how anxious we are to please, how defensive we can become etc.
We notice how these patterns are manifested in our bodies and how much of life we spend in a state of tension.
This practice leads us home to the essential being. There is simply presence, being, here and now. The observer itself is revealed as silence and stillness, beyond ego, beyond the story. Words then arise out of silence, actions out of stillness and life is realised as joy.
Martin Wells. July 2012
The Cloudless Sky: from Fiction to Freedom
Martin Wells. (Published in the international journal of transactional analysis April 2012)
This article brings together the non-dual teachings of Advaita Vedanta and the concept of Scripts in Transactional Analysis. There is a description of how the non-dual path sheds light on the illusory nature of the script narrative and leads to transcendence and freedom.
Our life scripts are stories of our own creation. Stories that if we take for real, (and we do), inform our lives and potentially every waking moment. These “guiding fictions” ( Adler 1912) are programmes which require us to play a part, speak certain lines, think certain thoughts, have certain feelings and even create our own future realities through our on-going fantasies.
These stories are not who we really are and seldom help us remember the source from which we spring. Consequently a vast majority of human beings live as though these narratives are our truth about our identities and inhabit a state of forgetting. We forget our true nature, the infinite consciousness, the silent, spacious background to all our dramas.
These stories are crystallized when we learn language but have their origins in early attachment patterns, significant trauma and deeply influential experiences dating back to our infancy, birth and even experiences in embryo.
So that, for example, the body/mind of an unwanted baby stores this particular deep pattern in the cellular memory which then acts as the kernel of the life script. When we later acquire language and become interested in stories generally we learn a system for categorizing and identifying with our own personal narrative and the original protocol.(Ref Cornell and Landaiche 2006).
In addition each human being is also hard wired with ancestral archetypes carried in the collective unconscious. We arrive in the world with myriad potential persona with our primary script drama waiting to be stimulated by life's circumstances.
Such is the power of scripting process that we become immersed in the guiding fiction and the role that we call identity. Our lives are then seen through a certain perspective, through the tinted glass of our personal drama. As Berne described (1968), each scene, each act and the other players and their responses can be predicted.
It follows that, playing a part in our personal narrative, leads to discrimination. This fits and that doesn't. Certain game invitations are accepted and others not. The world (inner and outer) cannot then be seen as it is and is viewed via the expectations of the script. The personal story becomes overlaid onto the facts. “She didn't call me...I'm unlovable”.
Such mind-made perspectives enable us to make sense of experience, to place events into a frame of reference, to give meaning to aspects of life and even to life itself.
We then create stories within stories, for example the story of therapy, the well treating the sick, the expert and student, the wise and the ignorant, the trained and the untrained, the Guru and the disciple.
We also create stories about health. We prize assertiveness, a healthy ego, clear boundaries, changing from “loser” to “winner”, achievement of goals etc. But aren't these also the potential creation of another guiding fiction: part of an illusory search for enduring happiness within the world of objects: hollow victories in a new and seemingly different narrative: the same prison with newly painted walls and more comfortable furniture?
Berne suggested we need “To close down the show and put a new one on the road”(1972 p362). Might not any new show within the context of a materialistic and highly individualistic culture spawn only a more benign version of the original fiction? The Dalai Lama (1999 p8) describes the level of depression in the Western world as an “epidemic”. For all our wealth, prosperity and success we generally cannot achieve happiness in any way that lasts. The acquisition of certain objects or experiences brings only a temporary state of contentment, joy and peace but this soon fades prompting the search for the next thing, person, qualification, fast car etc.
Many of the teachings that have their roots in Buddhism, Taoism and Advaita Vedanta remind us over and over again that seeking enduring happiness in this way is futile and that what we usually fail to realise is that we do not need to search or acquire anything as we are already fundamentally happy, peaceful and loving.
Most of the time we are content to waver between pleasant/pleasure and unpleasant/pain, having no inkling of that true joy of which pleasure is only a shadow.
Jean Klein (1978 p28)
The implication of this understanding is that each time we look elsewhere for happiness we take a step away from the source....from our very being. Each time we seek in this way we remain caught within the scripted fiction and ignore a fundamental reality. Is this what Berne alludes to in 1968 when he writes:
“One of the most important things in life is to understand reality and to keep changing our images to correspond to it, for it is our images which determine our actions and feelings, and the more accurate they are the easier it will be for us to attain happiness and stay happy in an ever changing world” (p.46)
Immersed within the old show we cannot perceive reality as it is and cannot be truly present.
So what if we were to close down the old show and this time simply leave a space? We might allow the emergence of the essential being that is present before and beyond the limitations of any story.
Also, although we might often think that we close down the show, I notice that the people who come through the door of our psychotherapy service are not so much “deciding” to close it down but have exhausted attempts to make it work. This is an entirely natural exhaustion rather than a failure and, in that sense, to be welcomed. The original creative solution has now become a problem and life is facing them with a level of discomfort prompting them to let go. This is all part of our search for our essential nature.
“We shall not cease from exploration
and the end of all our exploring
will be to arrive where we started
and know the place for the first time
through the unknown, unremembered gate
when the last of earth to discover
is that which was the beginning; ”
One common reason that we often find ourselves returning to the same place is that the script story usually contains a double bind. For example “if I speak out, I'll be rejected”, “if I'm independent someone else suffers”, “if I relax, I get hurt”. The very nature of a double bind is that we cannot win or at least not from within it. However the returning is also a seeking; a search for healing and understanding of the origins of our script.
As we search we can discover that our freedom is not to be found within the bind but from a deep acceptance of the impossible dilemma that it faces us with. This leads naturally to the realisation that we are both bound and not bound. We could not bear witness to the bind unless it was not us.
We can also not transcend the bind simply by stepping back from it as this is merely a refusal and a denial.
We might imagine that these are the origins of the Zen Koans; questions designed to confuse the mind's usual attempts to solve a problem. So we might ask “How is the prisoner already free?” This process helps the mind stop trying to solve problems of its own creation and allows a more global perspective to emerge, one that is ever present beyond the binary options in the bind.
At the heart of TA philosophy is the assertion that everyone is OK. We might take this a step further and say that before the limitation of ego states and script is our essential nature: fundamentally and naturally, loving and peaceful. With this understanding it follows that we can recognise what seems not OK about us is part of a fiction and in so doing remember our true Nature.
In fact, often embedded in the need to change (and the therapist's acceptance of this contract) can be the underlying belief that we are not good enough in some way. We potentially end up, in other words, with the perfect being that we are, suffering under the illusion that it needs to improve or change.
Attachment to the Story
“The dream is not your problem. Your problem is you like one part of the dream and not another. When you have seen the dream as a dream you have done all that needs to be done”
Sri Nasargadarta (quoted in Perfect Brilliant Stillness-David Carse p91)
Eric Berne highlighted our “hunger” for structure. This underpins a theory in which human beings cling to repeating patterns and defences long after they are redundant and despite their often tragic consequences. He also (1972) added that this structure potentially becomes “stricture”. In other words, the very patterns we devised to keep us safe, provide an identity, or even to make us “successful” can become a prison of their own.
In other areas of the natural world we often see how the structure needs to break down in order for growth to occur, for example when a snake loses its old skin to reveal the new one underneath.
So we might imagine that to lose the stricture is very attractive. The freedom that is revealed is our true home beyond suffering. However the loss of structure is a great challenge to most of us. This will mean letting go of who we have thought ourselves to be, the many ways we have defended and protected our”selves” and even unravelling the very fabric of what we think life is.
The old structure provides a type of knowing and predictability to each moment, each transaction. It fosters the illusion of control. The future then can be “known” rather than facing us with an empty space, a potentially frightening void in which anything may happen.
These structures and strictures are also carried and stored in our bodies. In our ego states (Berne 1968) or as Tolle (2009) describes it, in the pain body. In this way the script is anchored in and maintained by physical memory both individual and collective. In other words every trauma and our reaction to it is stored in the cells of the body and potentially stimulated in each present moment, constricting our capacity to embrace each moment as it is in its full freedom.
What is also interfered with, when memory is stored in this way, is the body's natural balance, ease and inherent relaxation. Yet here is also a key to deep resolution, for the body has its own ways of restoring its balance, ease and health which restores the same in our feelings and thinking. It has ways of naturally digesting the remnants of the past so that our freedom is revealed in the present. (Mellor, 2008, pp193-194)
So by simply observing (seeing, listening, sensing, tasting and smelling) the body and its surroundings we can enable the tensions to effortlessly dissolve and naturalness to emerge. With our histories no longer reactivated in physical tension and contraction we are free to open to each moment with a peaceful relaxed presence.
“This quality of pure presence often opens up spontaneous clearings in the experiential stream, without any strategy or intention to create change...wanting our experience to change usually contains a subtle resistance to what is … at some point even the slightest desire for change or improvement can interfere with the deeper letting go” John Welwood (1996, p18)
The empty void that this faces us with, does not, initially, seem very appealing to most of us. We have become very attached to the story and understandably attached to ways of being that have kept us alive, safe, loved and valued. We have become familiar with and attached to our feeling of being in the driving seat, we do not see that this too is both an illusion and a prison. To embrace the void (of unknowing) and to allow life to be as it is without any attempt to manage or control, would be truly not to know, perhaps also to lose all sense of identity.
Many of us suffer under the illusion that we can control our lives, that we can become the authors of our destinies, can put a new show on the road. We tend to ignore the fact that we do not know what will happen next, what life will bring us. We imagine like King Canute that we can stop the tides of time from living out their natural rhythm.
We prefer to remain attached to the story, the drama, the hope, the search, the promise of a better place. Of course, to let go is a great challenge.
Another illusion, a cousin of the illusion of control is that of the separate individual. A being capable of independent decisions and autonomy. This is rather like looking at a tree and seeing it as separate from the earth, air, light, rain, insects and space around it..........seeing it as an independent entity. Each time we breathe in we are reminded on our dependence on oxygen. Without the space around our bodies there would be no body. As Mother Nature is more and more insistently reminding us we depend on our Earth for life and, in our grandiosity, we too easily forget this, at the same time forgetting our true nature.
We need to be willing seemingly to lose all, perhaps even to lose who we are, in order to find that in doing so we gain everything. Mellor (TAJ July 2008 p197)
Ironically then, true freedom is to realise that we are not free, not separate, not independent and that, in fact, there is no such thing as an individual; to realise that the scripted self is a fiction and that letting go of its attempts to impose its will and surrendering to Life, true Self and Infinite Consciousness is the ultimate liberation.
This is not to say that “individuals” do not have distinctive appearances, fragrances and melodies. We can be distinguished in the same way that a daffodil can be distinguished from a rose but this does not mean we are separate; we simply have distinctive qualities but an identical source.
Awareness and Letting Go
“As long as you remember that a story is just a story, then you don't have to believe it. You can be surprised by it, or entertained by it. You can react to it, and experience how it affects you emotionally. But gradually you come to see clearly that you in your essence are not the story. You are the awareness that precedes the story. That awareness-that which you truly are-is reality. In that realization is freedom.”
Jon Bernie (2010 p30)
There is the potential for us to fall into the trap of accepting that the story is who we are, and losing contact with the underlying reality. Just as the program is not the computer, our scripts are not the truth of who we are. Who we are is enduring, whereas script is not; and once we perceive the script for what it is – a contracted substitute for what is real – our enduring reality emerges.
From this perspective, as soon as the story, is observed it can never be the same.
The “observer effect” in quantum physics describes this on a micro level. As soon as, for example, photons are observed they behave differently. So when the light of awareness shines on the narrative this “reality” is exposed for what it is and another deeper Reality revealed.
This does not call for detachment but for fully embracing and welcoming our stories and their physical manifestations and in so doing naturally and effortlessly loosening our attachment to them.
TA therapy can provide a space of observation, of listening and of reflection with curiosity. We can pay close attention to the origins of the script story, its manifestations and its reinforcements. (Ref. Script system: Erskine and Zalcman).
There is a space created for a deep acceptance of the ways we and our clients have defended our selves.
We can also become interested in who is observing, in awareness itself in the background consciousness, as distinct from the foreground drama. We can begin to realise that our consciousness is like a vast cloudless sky past which float the clouds of experience, events, thoughts, memories, relationships and our personal stories. The clouds need the sky but the sky does not need the clouds.
As we observe the story of our lives and the patterns that are a part of these scripts we are drawn to realise that ultimately we are not the stories. As Jean Klein said: if our mouths were made of salt we could not taste the salt. (1978 p41)
So as we observe our own ego states, transactions, script etc. we realise that essentially we are not these and can become curious about the observer itself, as well as in pure awareness and presence.
This presence, “I-am-here-and-now” (Mellor 2008) is not a state. It is certainly not an ego state as Berne defined it. Presence is free of consistent patterns, in fact empty of these patterns, open to the next moment without expectation or memory.
Free of consistent patterns we are then open to infinite possibilities and potential. When representing this we cannot confine the infinite within a circle. Also “Adult” in our TA stacked circle diagram is, from this perspective, more accurately described as “Awareness”. (see below)
Diagram by Ken Mellor 1990
(anecdotal & revised)
Awareness has no boundary and is beyond time and space. This background consciousness is rather like an infinite blank canvas on which we project our lives and our world. Our ego states and our scripts are the stories and events projected onto this canvas. Notice again that these projections need the canvas but the canvas has no need of the projections. We can find we no longer have a need for our stories.
We can also discover that letting go is a secondary process that occurs without effort after realising there is nothing to grasp. Events are then welcomed as prompts to let go. Welcoming everything becomes the antidote to the contractions created with the selective discriminatory nature of script.
This letting go is a form of death, the death of the ego. Rainer Maria Rilke conveys this well in the Swan (Der Schwan):
This clumsy living that moves lumbering
as if in ropes through what is not done
reminds us of the awkward way the swan walks.
And to die, which is a letting go
of the ground we stand on and cling to every day
is like the swan when he nervously lets himself down
into the water, which receives him gaily
and which flows joyfully under
and after him, wave after wave,
while the swan, unmoving and marvellously calm,
is pleased to be carried, each minute more fully grown,
more like a king, composed, farther and farther on.
The value, therefore, of reflective space such that therapy can often provide is realising how much of our world is a construction of the mind. As soon as the prisoner realises that his prison walls are of his own creation and by definition not the limits of his being then he has found psychological freedom. He could not even see the prison unless part of his consciousness was beyond it. Remember if our mouths were made of salt we could not taste salt. Nelson Mandela was physically imprisoned but it is clear that his mind and spirit were never incarcerated. Even in the darkest times when the walls are at their thickest the light and the space remain constant. We can perhaps hear this in the words of a 27 year old Jewish woman in the midst of the holocaust.
“It is in these moments- and I'm so grateful for them- that all personal ambition drops away from me, that my thirst for knowledge and understanding comes to rest, and a small piece of eternity descends upon me with a sweeping wing beat” An interrupted life” - The diaries of Etty Hillesum (1983 p61)
Therapy without a Therapist
“In order to be a psychiatrist you must completely forget you are psychiatrist” Dr Jean-Marc Mantel (in a speech given to Royal College of Psychiatrists, UK 2007)
The word “Persona” comes from the Greek per sona to sound through. Similarly we might think of ourselves as like a bamboo flute through which the music plays. We can also see this as the life force, Physis (Berne 1968) flowing through us. We tend to confuse ourselves with the music forgetting we are simply the instrument. A major contribution for us as therapists (or teachers for example) is to clear and empty our instruments to allow the music of pure awareness to play and life to manifest in the presence of our clients. The only instrument available to the therapist is her being, so the absence of a therapist (her own script etc.) allows an openness and a clarity of relating and transacting relatively uninterrupted by personality.
We may, of course, be a particular type or shape of instrument so that the music flows through us enhanced by our own qualities......our own shade of light, our own fragrance. These personal vibrations, as most therapists know, often have a deep resonance with the clients that come through our doors. They have commonly been shaped by similar experiences and share issues that we too have struggled with or are currently facing or share a version of the same script story.
“I just followed the music”Neil Young
From this perspective we can then view therapy as two beings meeting in search of their true nature, facing and clearing the blocks in their instruments and opening to the music. The embracing of the mirrored experience by the therapist becomes a huge contribution to the work and in the cultivation of a field of acceptance. As Jung once said “The doctor can no longer evade his own difficulty by treating the difficulties of others” ["Problems of Modern Psychotherapy," par. 172.]
In this way then transactions can be viewed as potential pointers to a deeper reality. Like two waves bumping into each other on the surface of the ocean, reminding each other that we are not two but one, made of the same droplets of water, like attracting like, seeking who we truly are which is wholeness.
From this perspective we can welcome all transactions without discrimination as reminders of the source of our being and as mirrors to the disavowed aspects of our selves. Not then evidence of pathology to be analysed and changed, often leaving us with a sense of something faulty, but with the acknowledgement of perfection expressing itself.
The therapeutic process then becomes like a realisation of what we are not...script, ego states, personality etc. in order to reveal what we truly are.
As when a sculptor was asked, How did you sculpt the horse?....He replied “The horse was already there I simply took away the bits that weren't horse” (anon).
This demands of the therapist a willingness to engage in a form of rigorous self enquiry. A painstaking, robust process of chipping away at what is “not horse”. This can be greatly enhanced by the sort of deep enquiry that can form part of personal therapy and supervision and when undertaken in groups can be even more robust and exposing. We need to persist with this exposure to allow ego to be chipped away and to surrender to the sculptors chisel.
“… in this way of working, our usefulness as therapists to others runs out at the point at which our courage to face ourselves in the midst of the relationships with them runs out.” (Mellor, 2007, p176)
Our responsibility is to deeply enquire into the source of our motivations to help others and become therapists. We come to notice the fine detail of this in our bodies and minds within transactions and in the counter-transference. Our clients then become great teachers and unconscious supervisors (Ref. Casement).
When we enquire in this way deeply into who is there we will find no-one and discover that ultimately the person is a creation of the mind and the script. We also discover that in the background there is simply awareness, the witness, infinite being beyond the individual; a pure presence that is completely open to this moment with no memory, no story - no one there.
We then allow silence and space to contribute to the healing. What we say emanates more from the silence itself and less from ego or script, less from any desire to help or be therapeutic. We openly accept our own stories and their manifestations thereby sitting in stillness and equanimity. In so doing we invite our clients into their own stillness.
We realise that love and freedom exist before and beyond Script and are the essence of who we truly are.
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Kindness ~ a natural condition
(a talk given to the Royal college of psychiatrists spirituality interest group 26th April 2013)
"Love and compassion are natural
To the man lacking in self motivation".
The lost writings of Wu Hsin
In a meeting of the assertive outreach team there is
a lengthy and painful discussion about the amount
of NHS bureaucracy that has encroached into the work and how little face to face patient contact there
is these days. The team struggled to remember the reasons that they came into the work. One member recalled a dream from the night before.
She found herself if a very large room in an NHS building with hundreds of people at computer screens. All their attention was given to the typing and the monitors.
She looked up and saw that the whole ceiling was a replica of the Sistine chapel and the painting of God and Adam reaching out to each other.
She shouts "look up" to the staff in the room but no one looks up from their computer.
We could say that the dream encourages us, not necessarily, to do anything differently but simply to see what is there, to see the whole picture and to remember our true nature. The problem is not our actions but on where we give our attention. We can so easily become caught up in the world of objects and in the foreground of our lives. This leads to a great forgetting of the source of our being and the essence of who we are. The dream might also suggest a form of mass hypnosis, a collective forgetting. Our challenge, then, to remain awake in the face of powerful inductions where fear is often an active ingredient.
In the same way if we fall into giving our attention to our personal fears or desires we will forget the source. The common ground from which each form springs. Instead of looking outside ourselves for the answers we can merely turn our attention inwards. We do not need to generate kindness but simply remember. Kindness is what we are. Beyond the world of separate objects, separate beings, is oneness. The natural manifestation of this oneness, this union, is love. The other is no longer other. This is realised only as a problem of perspective and a creation of the mind, the conditioned mind hypnotised by what is right in front of it.
We might think of looking at a tree in a field. We call it "a tree" and may even know the type of tree. In this way we focus our attention on it's individual nature and it's separateness. If we take another perspective and one that is closer to reality we see a treeness entirely inter dependent on its environment, on the earth, air, moisture, bird life, planet, cosmos etc.
All is one.
"As long as one is mesmerised by the tree, the root cannot be understood"
Rather like an optical illusion where we can only see two vases and not the face, we often can only see the foreground. Significantly it is not through effort that we come to see the face but usually through guidance, through a realisation and an opening to another perspective. Also once seen we cannot not see it.
It is the same with the illusion of the separate individual. We are usually focussed on the waves of the ocean forgetting we are all ocean. Focussed on the foreground awareness only dimly remembering the background source from which we all spring. Like words on a page, forgetting the background canvas. The words need the page but the page does not need the words.
So we could see kindness as the manifestation of oneness rather than the generous act of one individual to another. Kindness is what we are, not an action or a gesture..is the bee kind to the flower?....the bird of prey unkind to its prey?
So arising out of a questioning and a contemplation of how we see things, comes another perspective. We realise we are not separate. Looking deeply we realise we are not simply body and mind, not ego, not personality and that these are merely clothing. Like the sculptor who was asked how he sculpted the horse. He said that he merely took away the bits that weren't horse.
We might think of this as awareness, as noticing and listening to our reactions and physical responses. We can view these as patterns and as memory, but not as our true nature. We may notice how personal we make everything, with our personal desires or fears in the foreground. How we resist what is, often wishing away the present moment. We may notice a need to try and control and for the ego to be fed and supported.
How much of our suffering is caused by ego, by the need to control, by the longing for recognition or the need to assert our will? How vulnerable are NHS staff to implicit and explicit statements and directives from managers that they need to do more (are not good enough)? Are not these managers simply passing on their own undigested fears?
In our self enquiry we might become aware that the implied criticism only has an impact because there is already something similarly present in our psyche.
A coat with no hook falls to the floor.
We can therefore engage in a form of self enquiry, a rigorous chipping away at what is not "horse". This does not involve effort but more a willingness to see things as they are. When we see something as the illusion that it is, it dissolves like sugar in the liquid of our awareness. Ego comes to be seen as an imposter and attempts to control life are relinquished.
When illusion falls away in the process of self enquiry the question of who or what am I often occurs. Here we might discover that we are awareness itself, formless being, infinite silence and unconditional love.
Ref: The lost writings of of Wu Hsin : pointers to non duality in five volumes (Kindle edition) translation by Roy Melvyn 2011
All is one ~ the illusion of the individual self ~ implications for psychotherapy
In TA the focus has largely been on the individual and the individual's relationships. This article brings the perspective of the individual self as illusory and highlights that we only exist as individual expressions of a greater whole. The implications of this perspective are explored in relation to psychotherapy and, particularly, to group therapy.
As soon as we learn language the human mind is programmed to perceive the world in a certain way. Language divides things into subject and object. Most of our thinking and communication supports a view of the world as separate. For example when we see an individual tree standing in a field we are likely to be focussed on its individual nature. We see "a tree". We might notice its height, shape, colour. We might compare it to other trees nearby and notice its relationship to them. We may even know what type of tree it is.
Observed more deeply we soon realise that the tree could not exist in isolation without the space around it, the earth beneath it, the moisture, the birds, insects and, of course, the light. It is only through the lens of our minds and through our language that we see a world of separate objects.
Not surprisingly this is our view of ourselves as well. We tend, through the process of naming, whether it be trees or people, to focus on separate entities for example called Adam and Eve, Acer and Elm. Names help with identification but also subtly confirm the illusion of separateness. The story of Adam and Eve describes the realisation of individual consciousness and speaks of a giant step for mankind at an enormous cost. This achievement of the knowledge of 'I' separates us from the natural world from which we spring and has led to a profound forgetting of our essential nature.
‘As long as one is mesmerised by the tree, the root cannot be understood’
Wu Hsin 2011 loc. 6492
We perceive a world of objects where everything is separate, including ourselves and others. Focused on the separateness we forget our true nature, the source of who we are.
This perspective is threaded through the language of therapy: therapist and client, transactional analysis, games people play, relational TA, transference, symbiosis, ego states. Hence we almost always talk about "two". Of course on a functional level these descriptions have a measure of truth and help us to name and distinguish. We know which tree bears the apple and which tree bears the poisonous berry. In the therapy room we know who is called therapist and who is called client.
However this view obscures a fundamental reality that has been taught by mystics for centuries and which is now supported by recent scientific "discoveries". Everything in the universe is from the same source, made of the same material and all is one. We are literally stardust.
Bringing this understanding of our world to psychotherapy radically changes the common perspective on the very nature of therapy. This will mean a move away from a somewhat medical model of the well treating the sick to a meeting of two beings each seeking union in their own way. The nearest we have come to this perspective includes some of the ways we think about counter transference phenomena, projective identification and the systemic approach to families and groups.
What happens generally and more specifically in psychotherapy if we acknowledge oneness as life's background reality?
Fragments of the whole
In a chapter called Fragmentation and Wholeness, David Bohm, a theoretical physicist, describes a major dilemma for the human race.
' It is especially important to consider this question today, for fragmentation is now very widespread, not only throughout society, but also in each individual; and this is leading to a kind of general confusion of the mind, which creates an endless series of problems and interferes with our clarity of perception so seriously as to prevent us from being able to solve most of them.'
David Bohm 1980
When we perceive that everything is one, everything, including fragmentation, also points to that oneness. From this perspective whenever we experience 'two', as for example in an impasse, in transactions, in a counter-transference response and in Games we can view this 'two ness' as simply a pointer to the background union. These expressions of multiplicity are then to be welcomed and embraced no matter how alien or unpalatable they seem to us to be. The fragmented view of self as individual is revealed as false. What more perfect way for the fragment to be reminded of its true Nature than to be reunited with the other fragments of itself? This is usually not a comfortable process as, in order to protect the self, we learn to disown aspects of being and project these onto others. This can be for our sanity, safety and even survival.
In Mellor's Unifying meditation we are encouraged to reclaim and face the projected aspects of self that the other mirrors. What we perceive in the other, for example our client, partner, enemy, other group member is a mirror for what we have not faced and accepted in ourselves. Oneness expresses itself by providing the perfect reflection to our fragmentation.
In this way, conflict can be seen as a fundamental balance in each fragment seeking to be restored. Oneness reminding us that splitting is occurring.
If we find ourselves at an impasse it follows that we are in a state of resistance, of inner fragmentation. The oneness that we are, appears divided. There is inner conflict that takes energy to maintain. In the practice of two chair work in Redecision school in TA, Gestalt therapy and psychodrama the client may be invited to mediate between these polarities. In the role of protagonist or mediator we are both encouraged to claim the polarities and the role of observer. This process, with the crucial addition of a global perspective leads through the digestion of the fragments/polarities to the universal background reality - oneness. All is observed from the background awareness. All polarities are simply observed, dissolve and are realised to be fragments of a whole. Paradoxically as we fully embrace the previously refused aspects of self we realise these are not who we fundamentally are, but only memory, roles, stories and introjects.
We potentially realise that these are simply ways in which the conditioned mind perceives the world of things.
The Ultimate advantage of Games
Part of our attempt at the refusal of aspects of self is to project these unwanted aspects onto others as in the psychodynamics of the drama triangle and as a feature of Games.
Berne (1964 p44) said that two distinctive features of Games are their ulterior nature and the pay off. From the perspective of oneness as well as reinforcing the script, another unconscious ulterior is for the other person to be a screen for our projections and even more subtly for union to be highlighted and potentially re-established.
Games, from this perspective, are where the split off fragments of self are impelled together by the unifying force of Nature. Oneness is manifesting in apparent fragmentation, acting as a reminder to the individuals lost in illusion. The task is, therefore, not to attempt to resolve something but to simply realise the fundamental truth of not two but one. This can be seen as the ultimate resolution and the ultimate advantage of the Game. We are simply reminded of the source of our being.
When faced with conflict such as a Game dynamic, our initial reaction is often to refuse, avoid or fight and push away. This is not only futile, bringing only a temporary respite, but also leaves us divided.
We might think of the Game dynamic as two waves colliding, only to fall back into the ocean from where they emerged. Back to the source of who we are. This falling back is also a falling away of an illusion..... the illusion of the separate self and the reminder that we are all ocean.
From this perspective the ultimate function and advantage of Games, where we are invited by the other to look in the mirror and see our own reflection. For example, in the role of Victim, we might see the Persecutor as doing something to us that is hurtful or abusive and on the level of the human body/mind this may well be true. In a global view, this is simply union expressing itself. Like the astronauts who saw the earth from space (and apparently were deeply affected) our step back into the witness/observer enables us to see the whole and, like sugar in liquid, allow the projections to spontaneously dissolve.
What the playing of Games stimulates and provokes is that what we take to be true about ourselves and others is merely a hall of mirrors, a set of reflections, not the source of the light, the infinite consciousness that we are.
Because the prism of our Script informed view has fragmented this light we generally only see the individual rays and identify with them. This is a cause of great suffering and alienation.
In the example of the Game 'Kick me', in the role of Victim, when we claim the other polarity we also embrace the unconscious persecutory aspect of ourselves. When this part is welcomed, whilst often extremely uncomfortable to our ego, it dissolves in the light of our compassion. The need to project this aspect diminishes and disappears leaving the other and ourselves free from projection, open to the present moment and revealing the union that was obscured by fragmentation.
"in this openness, you are no longer defined according to the characteristics of your personality, it's past and function, but you are only the welcoming itself. In welcoming, you and the other are both absorbed". Jean-Marc Mantel 2003 P57
In an NHS supervision group we hear via the therapist of the patient's utter dislike of her husband of many years. Each week, in supervision, he arrives on the stage like a pantomime villain, the archetypal Persecutor to our patient's role of Victim. "He never listens to me"......"he only cares about his car"......."I can't stand being with him" etc. The therapist is simply encouraged to observe her own responses including her inclination to Rescue, her anger with her patient and the husband, how her own script story is stimulated in body and mind. She particularly explores her own guilt and Victim role when she completely forgets one session with this patient (very unlike her). With this exploration and unification her words then emerge from a clearer perspective. The drama is observed with compassion and neutrality. Distinctions are made between fact and fiction, between what actually happens and what is projected through the lens of memory and history. The patient is gently invited to face her own projections.
Near the end of the nine months work this patient says to her therapist, "you know I think my husband is mostly a creation of my own mind". She also describes how she has begun to observe herself falling into a familiar role with her husband and daughter, usually Victim and Rescuer.
The withdrawal of projections of her own fragmentation releases them both from years of hypnotic trance.
Without particular effort on her part things begin to change. She and her husband enjoy their first anniversary celebration for fifteen years. Her daughter and husband resolve some longstanding difficulties between them as the patient notices her inclination to Rescue and holds back.
Interestingly she also describes feeling less isolated.
When I meet with the patient for her therapy review three months after the end of her therapy, she tells me that recently a colleague tells her that the boss, where she works, is angry with her. As she feels her body/mind responding she can observe the old Script pattern and how it would usually play out. She says she would usually have been very upset, gone home and cried for most of the evening. She would have stayed in bed the following day and come back to work the day after and done her best to avoid her boss (thereby persecuting him from from the Victim position).
On observing this familiar pattern she spontaneously went to her boss there and then and said "I gather you are angry with me". He said he was as she had not done something he had asked he to do. She apologised openly and he said "well, I'm sorry too as I may not have explained myself clearly". They smiled and the matter was resolved.
We might say that in the observation of the Game and the support for the Script narrative is the potential revelation of the background Oneness previously obscured by fragmentation. Or in more simple terms the "two" is observed by the "one" and seen to be false.
Group therapy in transactional analysis has almost invariably meant therapy of the individual in a group setting. Either in the form of classical Bernian analysis of the transactions or individual therapy with the rest of the group as an audience. Not surprisingly when being developed in a culture that prized individuality and feared communism the goal of TA was and, mostly still is, individual autonomy.
While an aspect of reality, this left us with only a partial view, with the perspective that many feared, the reduction of the importance of the individual and an emphasis on equality and community, being left as an undigested polarity and projection. The very source of our being was ignored as we focussed on personality, attainment and becoming the authors of our lives. Looking back we seemed entranced by these goals, like clay pots celebrating our beautiful shapes forgetting that we are all clay.
'"while the transactional analyst is a conscientious student of group dynamics, he does not allow peripheral phenomena to distract him from his contractual obligation to cure the individual patient as economically as possible". Berne 1966. p315
In line with Berne's position the focus of group therapy in TA has involved the therapy of the individual in a group setting or the analysis of transactions between individuals in dyads occasionally triads. Rarely does a global systemic perspective seem to be introduced other than in stages of group development or by someone with an additional training in group analysis.
If the group is viewed as an expression of the whole then the attention of the facilitator and the group is drawn less to relationship and more to how the transactions and interlocking script systems point to the background oneness.
As in a systemic approach the roles or parts that people play in the drama are viewed as unconscious attempts to find a balance and homeostasis. Oneness then manifested in the "individuals" carrying fragments of the whole picture. In systemic family therapy the identified patient is congratulated for bringing the whole system's difficulties to the attention of the therapist.
As with the tree in the field we only exist in context as part of a greater whole. Each individual form then is merely an expression of the whole and in itself an illusion. The following quote comes from the originator of group analysis.
It is the same mistake, as it was, to consider the whole as the sum of its parts. From a mature, scientific point of view, the opposite is true: each individual- itself an artificial though plausible abstraction-is basically and centrally determined, inevitably, by the world in which he lives, by the community, the group, of which he forms a part.
S.F.Foulkes. 1948 p10
In Western culture and philosophy we tend to think our freedom comes from the assertion of our individuality and the achievement of our personal goals leading to autonomy. We discriminate between between healthy and unhealthy, good and bad and yet we each make our unique and distinct contribution to the whole even if this looks like pathology of some kind. The therapist with a global perspective sees this, not as a problem to be fixed, but as a perfect pointer to the source, the formless being........ ultimate freedom.
Ironically then, true freedom comes as we realise that we are not free, not separate, not independent and that, in fact, there is no such thing as an individual. Freedom comes as we realise that the scripted self is a fiction and that letting go of its attempts to impose its will and surrendering to Life, true Self and Infinite Consciousness is the ultimate liberation.
This is not to say that “individuals” have no distinctive appearances, fragrances and melodies. We can be distinguished in the same way that a daffodil can be distinguished from a rose, but this does not mean we are separate. We simply have distinctive qualities and an identical source.
Wells 2012 p147
Recently a group member calls his therapist to say that he cannot speak in the group as he cannot bear one of the other members and thinks that this other person will distort anything he says and use it to maintain her Victim position. In the conversation the group therapist gently helps the client to face these projections and see himself in the mirror. He could see a deep fear of his own passivity and vulnerability and how his own fighting defence covered this fear. He could also appreciate, through somewhat gritted teeth, but with humour and humility, that this other person was a gift to him in his own search for wholeness and therefore to be welcomed.
In therapy we can then explore the personal and individual stories and in so doing question their validity. The illusion of the individual and the notion of separateness are exposed to the light and dissolve spontaneously. Rather than viewed as a problem, behaviour is seen as an attempt to restore homeostasis, in other words Oneness finding its own natural balance and equanimity. We are also liberated from the burden of carrying certain roles.
The identified patient in the group or family is potentially released from carrying the unwanted projections of the others and the others are faced with reclaiming what they are unconsciously separating off from.
The word “alone” derives from “all one.” How else would I come to know that I am one with nature, the river, and the Tao without experiencing it? David Rosen 1996 loc. 147
We might then say that certain forms of psychotherapy such as group analytic therapy and systemic family therapy take an orientation that reflects the world more accurately as it is. This perspective encompasses the interdependence of people and things and their shared field/matrix.
The lens of group or family therapy can help us observe that love and union is naturally expressing itself. The acceptance and welcoming of each individual member inevitably leads to the recognition of underlying commonality and that our differences are only in tone, fragrance or shades of colour revealing the one source.
Beyond the Individual
The manifestation of oneness can often run counter to the agenda of the ego and the individual self. In our own search to be whole attempts to control need to be relinquished so that we allow an openness and surrender. We move from self assertion to self dissolution from individuation to being one.
We are then more interested in the essence of who we truly are and less fascinated by the story. In the group more interested in the shared field than our individual goals.
The field is Oneness. With this orientation individuals in the group then may shift their perspective away from the individual self to distinct (but not separate) expressions of the same field/matrix .... Consciousness itself. The false notion of separation naturally falls away and Reality is revealed.....the rings, bracelets and necklaces realise that we are all gold.
The group matrix that Foulkes described easily equates with ' the Zero point field' that McTaggart researches in "The Field".
The existence of the Zero Point Field implied that all matter in the universe was interconnected by waves, which are spread out through time and space and can carry on to infinity, tying one part of the universe to every other part. McTaggart 2001 P28/29
We can come to realise in this way that there is no individual to protect or defend and we simply celebrate with gratitude and humility our unique contribution to the whole. All sense of loneliness and isolation is eventually seen as irrelevance and absurdity and Oneness is revealed as our true Nature.
The same principle of mutual respect applies every bit as much to our group analytic work, where the key to growth and understanding lies in recognising our human interdependence: our membership of the therapeutic group depends not only on our unique personal attributes but also on becoming a valued part of the greater whole. Nor, in our work as group analysts, do we have to play God, for we know that the group has it in it to be wiser than any of us. This should correct any tendency towards grandiosity on our part. Rather, we are privileged to take our place in that circle which is, ultimately , without circumference and whose centre is everywhere.
Andrew Powell 1994 P25-6
Quite naturally and effortlessly experiences like shame dissolve in love and union. Like Adam and Eve our existential shame arises with the knowledge of 'I' and a sense of separation from Nature and from the source of our being.
Therapist both absent and present
Although we may think we want other things ultimately we seek to come "home" to the essence of who we truly are. With this perspective the therapist is a guide, merely pointing to the whole, willing to relinquish our own personal needs and goals, listening, as Bion (1996 p1) said, "without memory or desire". As therapists we are both present and absent, taking a more global perspective and less interested in the personal story. We will have engaged in rigorous self enquiry so that we will know our own conscious and unconscious motivations for the work and any egoic needs that therapy meets. (The particular rigour of group analytic therapy is helpful in this regard. There tends to be nowhere for ego to hide in a well led therapy group).
As therapists we will be less interested in diagnosis and treatment planning and give more attention to helping people come home to themselves and to realising our true essence beyond the personal narrative. We will allow ourselves to be led by something greater than the individuals, open to what the themes of the group face us with, open to a deeper meaning as to why these people, including the therapist, are drawn together at this particular time.
The ego and individual form is seen then as our unique contribution serving the whole and pointing always to the Oneness that is our source.
Berne E, 1966. Principles of Group treatment. Oxford university press. New York
Berne E, 1964 Games People Play The psychology of human relationships. London Penguin books
Symington, J and N, 1996, The Clinical Thinking of Wilfred Bion, Routledge, London
Bohm D, 1980 Wholeness and the Implicate Order, London and new York Routledge and Kegan Paul
Foulkes, S.F 1948 introduction to group analytic psychotherapy, Karnac book, London
Mantel J-M 2006 The Scent of Oneness North Carolina Lulu press
McTaggart L, 2001, The Field: The Quest for the Secret Force of the Universe Harper Collins New York
Mellor K, 1988 Unifying Meditation (audio) Melbourne Australia The Awakening network
Melvyn, 2011 The Lost writings of Wu Hsin: Pointers to non-duality in five volumes (Kindle edition)
Rosen D 1997 The Tao of Jung: The Way of Integrity (Compass) Penguin books, New York (Kindle edition)
Powell A, 1994 Towards a unifying concept of the group matrix, chapter 2 in The Psyche and the Social World Developments in Group-Analytic Theory Edited by Dennis Brown and Louis Zinkin, Routledge, London
Tolle, E Practising the power of now, Holder and Stoughton, London, 2001
Wells, M. From fiction to freedom Transactional Analysis Journal April 2012. Vol 42 no.2