By Luis S R Vas
By tending to your current physical and mental experience meditatively, you can illuminate the unconscious processes in yourself with a new awareness, says Hakomi, a therapy that combines the best of the east and the west
|The Buddha and cat: a study in mindfulness Mindfulness is a
state where you are relatively quiet, your attention is turned inward,
and you are observing your own experience with a minimum of interference
What do you get when you combine eastern traditions of non-violence and mindfulness with a highly effective and unique western methodology? You get Hakomi. Hakomi is a Hopi Indian word, which means “How do you stand in relation to these many realms?” A more modern translation would be: “Who are you?” Hakomi therapy is based on a few assumptions. We organise our life experiences by applying meaning to them during every stage of our life, from infancy, through childhood and into adulthood. These experiences have meanings to us and to the world. The organisational decisions we make begin to operate as an unconscious core of beliefs about the world we live in and our place in the world. They can even regulate how we feel, what we think, how we create, respond, develop and act. The core beliefs can limit our abilities to function naturally and can affect the way we live through habits that we made to refrain from feeling a lack of approval, safety, attention and affection. The sole purpose of Hakomi therapy is to become a spontaneous, caring, open-hearted, and purely alive human being, able to be an independent soul within the world.Mindfulness is looking inward, becoming aware of the sensations and feelings that you have, and the feeling of confidence in the moments you have as a living example of how you organise your body and mind. By tending to your current physical and mental experience meditatively, you can illuminate the unconscious processes in yourself with a new awareness. This new awareness can access and change the deep unconscious beliefs that drive you.
Integrating the self
Donna Martin, a Hakomi therapist, writes: “Experience is organised by habits. Some habits create experiences of suffering, which is, in effect, unnecessary. We can actually help the client with this kind of experience. We can also help with the kind of suffering that is normal, like grief for the loss of a loved one. If the client’s present experience is painful because of difficult life events happening in present time, we can offer compassion and comfort. We also offer comfort when the client is experiencing emotional pain related to some past experience that has been brought to consciousness by the therapeutic work. Many of these painful past experiences were overwhelming and were not completely integrated. This leaves an ‘irritation’ to the system requiring energy and habits to keep the painful experience away from the consciousness. We are also interested in helping the client awake in the present moment and avail of a nourishing experience, formally unavailable.”
The ideas that organise our experience, operating outside of consciousness, are implicit beliefs. Reactions are actions that are organised by behaviours that are automatic and outside of conscious awareness.When an old emotional hurt comes into present consciousness, it can be met with a kind of emotional support that was missing during the original event. With kindness and understanding there to meet it now, emotions may flow freely and come to a natural completion spontaneously.
The four characteristics of the Hakomi way are:
• The practice of loving presence and all that it entails
• A constant focus on present experience (both the what and the how, using nonverbal expression, emotion, memory, and other means as sources of information about present experience and indicators of habits)
• The use of little experiments in mindfulness for assisted self-study
• A movement as soon as possible in the direction of the nourishing missing experience
Donna Martin says: “What mindfulness practice helps me to do, increasingly, is notice the sensations and impulses in my bodily experience, the congruent thoughts and memories in my mind, and the habitual attitudes that would shape my experience. In just noticing these, I am able to pause, reflect, and if necessary, replace them with ones that are more appropriate. This frees me from being hijacked by unnecessary emotions or impulses, and allows me to be less reactive and more responsive in my life and in my relationships. I spend minimal time suffering emotionally or feeling blame, resentment, or hurt. I am essentially a happy person choosing to be happy every day.” Only a new experience can change what has been learned through experience. We also know that the nervous system does not know the difference between what is actually happening and what is being imagined (or remembered). The nervous system continues to re-experience events that are being imagined (remembered, described, as in a therapy session.) Re-experiencing of painful events reinforces the beliefs, attitudes and behaviours they organise. This is not helpful. What is helpful to someone suffering from historical or imagined pain is to identify and provide new experiences to counteract the old – nourishing experiences to offer alternatives to the limitations and suffering caused by old stories and ideas.
Seeing what is
One characteristic of the method that makes it unique is its use of mindfulness. Mindfulness is a special state of mind we use when studying ourselves. Mindfulness is a state where you are relatively quiet, your attention is turned inward, and you are observing your own experience with a minimum of interference. You do not try to control your experience; you simply allow it to happen and you observe it. This is not as easy as it sounds. However, if you can do that, then you can discover little pieces of your inner structure. You can discover your inner world this way, by doing little experiments while in mindfulness.
For example, Hakomi therapist Ron Kurtz says: I was lecturing once in Vienna to several hundred Austrians, Germans, and Swiss. As part of a demonstration of the method, I asked them to just be quiet, turn inwards (mindfulness), and study their experiences and I said to them, “You’re a good person.” (I said it in German because it works better if it is in one’s native language.) The results were: about forty per cent of the group felt sadness. Another twenty-five per cent felt relief. A few people felt happy. Some noticed that their chests felt warmer and more open. Some had the thought or heard an inner voice that said, “No! I’m not!” So you see, that one experiment showed something about people’s inner structures. .”
Without mindfulness, it is possible nothing much would be evoked. If you said, “You’re a good person” to a person who wasn’t in mindfulness, wasn’t focused on present experience, she might reply, quite casually, “Well, thanks!” If you asked it as a question (“Are you a good person?”), you might get an equally casual, emotionless answer. (“Yes, I guess so.”) There is no sadness or relief. Without mindfulness and the intention to study oneself, the automatic, conversational mind would reply and nothing very important would happen. Nina Cherry, another therapist, points out that: “Mindfulness fosters open communication between the unconscious and the conscious. One not only has experiences but is also able to observe the ongoing contents of the experiences without interfering in the state of mindfulness. It is non-judgmental, self-reflective consciousness in action. Mindfulness is a place of deep knowing. In therapy, strong emotions are felt sometimes and early memories come back with intensity and clarity. In mindfulness, these experiences can be examined and used to free us from the painful unconscious compulsion to repeat them again and again. Mindfulness is attention to present experience. When we examine the fine grain of physical sensation or habitual gesture right now in the session, we can discover in them the very roots of who we are and how we got that way. A client is curious about the anxiety and fear she feels when she is around men. The therapist asks her, “Can you feel any of that fear right now?” She nods and he says, “Stay with it and see what you can find out about it. How do you experience it? Do you feel it in your body – do you see an image?”
The client has an opportunity to discover how she creates her world around the fear of men. She may discover that her body contracts and she has a feeling of getting smaller. She may find meaning in that physical response: “My body is saying. ‘Hide and he won’t see me.’” The deliberate study of “the organization of experience” is the heart of the Hakomi Method.
Luis S R Vas has authored a score of books during a decade-long career in feature writing, publishing and corporate communications.
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