Dialog on Psychotherapy

Bob: I wonder how what you are communicating fits into psychotherapy. When others approach us who are in psychological pain or struggling with a problem how can we respond in a way that is helpful? People who come to me are not on a spiritual search, don’t meditate and couldn’t care less about enlightenment. They are in pain and struggling. I have been experimenting with suggesting that they don’t need to do anything about their emotions or about their thoughts. I describe the nature of thought. For most the idea of doing nothing is very confusing though some seem to get it with good results. Any thought on this issue?

Steven: The primary issue to be resolved early on is what the “client” wants (i.e. what the contract is with you or any practitioner) and whether you can provide that.

If the client wants to feel better, period, then in some cases a referral would be in order to someone who will give techniques or medication. If the client wants to “understand” then there are kinds of resources you can make available to give the individual perspective. If the client wants “fundamental change” then there is a different response.

The doing nothing addresses fundamental change and perhaps a bit of understanding, but is not necessarily a response to feeling better or to understanding as a way to maintain order in a persons life. In many respects the question is as much for you to see what you can and cannot do in relationship to the individual. I am not a therapist, but I find I am seldom able to respond to anyone outside of either a practical response which is concrete (e.g.– change jobs, exercise, clean up your diet, etc) or a mystical, fundamental transformative perspective ( e.g., do nothing, the personal is only conceptual etc).

There is obviously a large middle ground where an individual is grappling with psychological issues which are clearly conceptual but nevertheless have the appearance of reality. I have not found that I can be useful to someone in this realm other than to suggest they find someone else to talk to. To me this area is one where we can only modify, using band-aids which will work for awhile, using aspirin rather than getting to the cause of the headache. However, for a skillful practitioner, there may a response in such a situation which addresses the apparently acute crisis (metaphor: headache) but also recognizes that the transformative work is still there when the headache (metaphorically)is relieved.

The question also remains whether interfering with a crisis is also interfering with a healing (crisis) or for that matter interfering with any thing is useful. This is a rich area for investigation and I would be interested in what you find.

Bob: Perhaps a middle ground might be this: A person is having obsessional thought which they are fighting and resisting. Their solution to their thoughts which they label as unacceptable is to oppose them. By getting them to do nothing about those thoughts or perhaps getting them to intentionally think them they fade out because there is no resistance.

In addition it seems that many symptoms are formed as a response to thoughts, feeling and impulses which people find unacceptable. The psychological self creates or is an idea of who we are. Anything that does not fit our self concept, our description of how we are supposed to be creates conflict. The difference between the description and the actuality is often resolved by repression, denial etc. It seems to me that by helping people to do nothing about their thoughts and feeling, allowing them to be as they are and opening up the opportunity to directly experience the bare actuality of there lives without interpretation, most of what we call psychological problems would clear up.

In addition imparting the understanding that life is change and that our attempts to cling to some notion of how it should be or trying to repeat some past memory is unworkable would be useful for people to understand. It also seem that people have a tendency to see their problems as unique. As they shift to seeing them as human problems there is a reduction in the sense of isolation and that which formerly caused isolation now links us with everyone. Would you consider these perspectives a useful middle ground?

Steven: You describe an approach which is compatible with my own perception of the actuality. Now, one question that I think will come up is, let us say that I do nothing and some violent or terrible thought comes and with it great compulsions and feelings to act. Obviously, if I do nothing, then these tendencies are left without any energy to manifest and remain as thoughts, without substance. But, the quality of being overwhelmed by these impulses or the inability to act on kindness or compassion is usually the issue, along with feelings of sadness, disconnection etc. The question remains is there anything to do to do nothing, as most people ideate doing nothing as extreme and unworkable.

Perhaps the middle ground has more to do with describing the socially constructed parameters while directing the individual to a more spacious relationship to their own thoughts (e.g.- don’t act on your violent thoughts as this will get you arrested —control yourself— and by the way, whose violent thoughts are these? What is a thought? What compels you to act on it? What is the relationship between a thought and an action? etc).

I think your point about recognizing the impersonal nature of the thought forms is essential. The fundamental issue is not in the end the thoughts, their apparent compulsion to act, but rather the essential narcissism that constructs the whole array as “me.” This contraction misses the point that the transformation isn’t of my consciousness but of all consciousness, that there is no issue other than the movement of fear/contraction into the space of love/expansion. The challenge here is to introduce this in a way which is not gobbled up by the contraction as an idea, but actually shifts the perspective from the thought/me to the awareness/us. This is a very critical synthesis that has to occur in therapy for it to be truly useful.

Bob: It seems that what you are suggesting as useful, is to make a distinction between thought/feeling, and behavior. There is nothing we need to do about thought/feeling. It arises spontaneously and disappears in the empty space of consciousness.

There is no need for control here. Behavior on the other hand has consequences for ourselves and for others. To feel angry is not a problem. To hit someone might be. Further feeling may be just dysfunctional conditioned thought forms that arise, in which case we need do nothing about them. Feeling may however point to something we need to do or respond to in the world. Winter is coming my tires are old. A thought arises as to the potential danger. There is nothing to do about the feeling however there may be something to do about the tire.

Can you say some more about the construction of a me. I am not one hundred percent clear on this point. By this do you mean our idea of a self as in a self image or concept or rather the process of identifying thought/feeling as me. Is me different from I? Who is it that is making this misidentification? Who or what are we actually? Are we pure awareness, that which observes the whole show or is it awareness that is aware of us?

The only honest answer I can give at this time is “I don’t know.” The idea that I exist separate and distinct from the rest of the world is an obvious fiction. What the whole is I cannot say. Despite being the whole there also appears to be an individual who exist on more than a conceptual level. I experience this as a great mystery.

Steven: The quality of awareness (as a differentiated quality) and the quality of thought/feeling (as differentiated) are aspects of wholeness much as two sides of a coin are faces of one thing. Thought, in thinking about this, makes the differentiation into a substantive reality (this is one aspect or face, i.e., thought as reality). Awareness in attending to these two aspects, makes them whole (this is its nature after all) and makes the non-differentiation into a unified reality. The sense of me comes from the thinking aspect which always needs a subject in order to objectify the world.

We generally believe this is what we are, and keep ourselves with the busyness of the thought generated aspect. What in fact we are is not this thought-me, nor is it pure awareness (whatever that is), but rather the collapse of these aspects into one, much like the wave/particle of Quantum physics which is one thing behaving in different ways. In this respect, what we are is not a or b but ab. AB is “what is” before it is differentiated and after it is differentiated. This integral vantage, inclusive of the aspects but not identified with either one, is what we are in actuality.