Posts Tagged ‘existential therapy’

At the end of the last post I asked whether there was no hope for improving our ability to manage our primitive reactions.

One thing that can begin to help is learning to understand how we fail to deal properly with such triggers as they occur. Some of these responses to a trigger are conscious: many are not, or we are at least not fully aware of them. Although our culture influences their exact shape, records suggest that these defective strategies for managing the crocodile inside have been with us from our earliest days.

Some of our responses to a trigger from the crocodile within are more obvious than others. We’ve all seen it or done it ourselves – the traveller who dashes onto the platform in time to see the train pulling out and completely loses their cool, launching into a high decibel rant, or you drop the Clarice Cliff vase your mother gave you onto the tiled kitchen floor and burst into tears as it breaks into pieces, swearing at yourself at the same time.

Others are more hidden. You break the vase but you pretend that you don’t care. You get a dustpan and brush and sweep up the mess, dumping it into the bin along with your feelings, with only a tightening of the lips to hint to an astute observer that you maybe a little bit miffed.

‘Sorry, mum,’ you might whisper to yourself, ‘but I never liked it much anyway.’

An even less obvious sign of crocodile fear and anger blended could be those times when we find ourselves asserting our side of an argument with an absolute sense of superior understanding and justification. It’s as if our grasp of the truth is incontestable. Nothing that anyone else can say will shake our belief in our own rectitude. This stems, I believe, from our sense that our world view is an extension of our self, and any attack on what we think is an attack on us, hence the element of fear, and it must be repelled at all costs, hence the presence of some anger.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy explains this clearly. We need a sceptical attitude towards descriptions especially in relation to descriptions of the self (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy The Guilford Press: 1999 – page 182):

. . . when a person identifies with a particular conceptualisation, alternatives to that conceptualisation can seem almost life-threatening. The . . . frame here seems to be “Me = conceptualisation” [i.e. I am exactly what I think I am] and its entailed derivative “Eliminate conceptualisation = eliminate me” [i.e. If you destroy my idea of myself you destroy me]. [Thus], we are drawn into protecting our conceptualized self as if it were our physical self.

To help people step back from such identifications they liken the mind to a chessboard. We mistakenly identify with the pieces, not realising we are also, perhaps more truly the board (ibid. – page 192):

The point is that thoughts, feelings, sensations, emotions, memories and so on are pieces: they are not you.

How do we fail to deal with the crocodile?

What are these 4Ds and how do they work?

The acting out of anger on the railway platform is the result of a level of disinhibition, an inability to contain or control the flood of feeling, so it spills out against the world around us, creating a drama that usually impacts unpleasantly on others. Or, perhaps more accurately we willingly throw it at people and things.

It is a close relative of the feeling of drowning in sadness and distress that can be quite overwhelming, such as after breaking a precious object or relationship. We tend to subside into a heap, and, although it is perfectly obvious to everyone around us that something is the matter, we are not deliberately trying to discharge the feeling by throwing over others. It is important to make a distinction here between drowning and emotional blackmail. The latter is a deliberate attempt to manipulate someone else into meeting your demands by showing them how ‘hurt’ you are. People fake illness for the same purpose. The portrait below was triggered after Lowry had looked in the mirror during an exhausting and stressful period of his life, when he was the sole carer of his demanding and by this time bed-bound mother, who had decades of experience in using her apparent illnesses to exact compliance to her every whim from those closest to her.

Head of Man with Red Eyes (Image scanned from L S Lowry: a life by Shelley Rohde)

When we pretend to ourselves we’re not feeling anything we’re in denial, to use the Freudian term: disowning is the existential word for it, and discounting is a variant Transactional Analysis uses quite frequently. They all amount to much the same thing. We try to convince ourselves it’s not there, and sometimes we succeed. Unfortunately attempting to bury it in this way does not prevent its leaking out in other ways to our own and others’ detriment.

Dogmatism concerns the doggedness with which we stick to our opinions and assert them no matter how obtuse or wrong-headed they might be.

In almost every case the cause of all this discontent, whether we act it out, bury it, turn it into an argument or are overwhelmed by it, lies in our inability to unhook ourselves from the brain noise generated by our crocodile inside. We think it’s all we are at that moment in time. In essence, we think it’s who are.

This means that if we have no doubt that our anger justifies any kind of action on our part we will attack without scruple, and may face severe consequences. What else could we do?

If we have doubts about the correctness of hitting someone in the face for stepping in front of us in the queue, we may swallow our anger and pretend that we don’t care, which may pre-empt the possibility of our making a legitimate protest. What other way do we have of resolving the clash between our feeling and our scruples?

If fear or sadness completely overwhelms us, we may convince ourselves we are weak and useless, and miss a whole host of opportunities to improve our lives. That’s inevitable, isn’t it?

What choice have we got?

Our culture makes us all too prone to repression (convincing ourselves we’re not experiencing something when we are), acting out (expressing whatever we are currently experiencing and ignoring the consequences until it is too late), or feeling overwhelmed (caving in under what feels like a tsunami of distress). Any of these can feed into a pattern of dogmatic assertion.

We don’t hear or see much about a more creative way of responding, which is a key to positive change. This other way I’ll call containment.

This means that we can hold an unpleasant feeling in mind without hitting someone, hurting ourselves, pretending it’s not there or arguing a point with undue stubbornness. What’s more we can do this long enough and often enough to think about, reflect on and inspect the feeling from various angles and work out the most constructive response to it. We can do this by realising the feeling is not all that we are, it is not who we really are, it is simply a transient state of mind or underlying influence generated by one archaic aspect of our brain, the inner crocodile, immensely useful to us in times of real danger when we lived in caves but only occasionally of real value now. Nowadays it causes more problems between us and is seldom needed to protect us from tigers, even in India – we’ve exterminated a lot of those dangerous animals outside but left the most dangerous one inside untouched.

So how do we learn to contain and ultimately correct our corrosive reactions? More of this next time.

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Talking to Ian

Talking to Ian

There is now overwhelming evidence that psychological approaches can be very helpful for people who experience psychosis. However, there remains a wide variation in what is available in different places. Even the most successful approaches, such as early intervention and family work, are often not available, and nine out of ten of those who could benefit have no access to CBT. There is a pressing need for all services to come up to the standard of the best and to offer people genuine choices. Perhaps most importantly, we need a culture change in services such that the psychological understanding described in this report informs every conversation and every decision.

(From Understanding Psychosis and Schizophrenia published by the British Psychological Society – page 93)

At the end of the previous post in this sequence, I shared an example from my own experience that confirms the idea that psychosis might be a way of protecting oneself from what one experiences as even greater pain and terror. Here is another example before we move forward.

Ian’s Story

My experience in 1993 with another client, Ian, who did not want to be shown in full in the video we made at the time, pointed in this same direction (see a previous sequence of posts for a more detailed account). He was an ex-soldier whose traumatic experiences in the army, riding on the back of a difficult childhood and a recent intense and distressing relationship with a woman who had a serious drink problem, had led to a deeply disturbing psychotic experience involving persecutory voices. In many ways he made good progress and for almost a year he kept moving forwards.

It is perhaps worth quoting an extract from a videoed interview with him that exactly explains what for him were key components of the effectiveness of what I call collaborative conversation. In his explanation we find references to the recent reactivating trauma (his abandonment of the woman he was living with and the guilt that ensued), the way that avoidance of the feelings this triggered led to persecuting voices, and how facing the feelings defused the voices.

At the point we pick up on the conversation after a question about how the easing of the voices had helped, he had learnt how to negotiate with the voices to give him breaks from their constant harassment: J. was his care worker where he was living.

I.: Because I’d got time to think about it. And I was thinking about different things, you know? And different things from the past that needed to be talked about. And I could remember things from the past, you know and the thoughts just kept coming into my head of different things. `I must mention that to Pete.’ That’s what I kept thinking.

P.: I know this sounds a very stupid question, but in terms of when you then came and talked about them, what was valuable about just talking about them?

I.: Because it made it real. When I was ill, it didn’t seem real. You know what I mean? My memory didn’t seem real. It was like a dream. And it was as if I’d never done anything. But talking to you reminded me that I’d actually done these things, you know? And that it was memory. And that I’d actually done the things. It was reality.

P.: And how did knowing that it was reality prove so helpful? What did it do?

I.: Well, it proved the voices wrong for a start.

P.: Ah. Why? Were they saying that they were real and your memories weren’t?

I.: Yeh. It proved the voices were wrong. And that my memory was right. And talking to you fetched it out into the open. . . . . .

P.: It sounds as though being able to think about things and about the past or about what’s happening to you now was a very important thing that began to happen.

I.: Yeh. It was very important. Getting in touch with reality. And finding out what things were real. And what things wasn’t real.. . .  I needed to think about getting well. And what it was going to be like without the voices. And what it was going to be like without going in and out of hospital all the time. And I needed to think about it. And I couldn’t think about it when the voices were talking to me.

P.: Do you think that when we were talking about things it was only a question of remembering and then realising that the memories were real or were you also doing something else with the memories once you got them remembered?

I.: I was putting ’em in order. I was sorting ’em out. Things from the past that shouldn’t haunt me no longer. That I could put in the past and leave there, you know? I had to talk about ’em. I had to think about ’em. I had to feel about it, yeh. I thought it would never stop, you know. . .  It wasn’t easy

J.: You actually hurt a lot, didn’t you?

I.: Yeh. I hurt so much that I thought it wasn’t worth being well, you know? . . .

J.: We tried hard to put the good things in the now, didn’t we? You started to feel them more as well, didn’t you?

I.: Yeh.

J.: Tell me if I’m not getting this right. My belief was that you were feeling all these bad things that hurt. When we went and did something that was pleasant and you realised that you could enjoy that more now it helped you to realise that feelings could be good as well as bad.

I.: Yeh. I thought feeling was all bad. But feeling – like I feel good now – I feel really good now . . . (Pause)

P.: Are you saying that you’ve come to realise – it’s like not being anaesthetised – anaesthetic stops you feeling pain but it also stops you feeling anything else as well – and now it’s like you’re no longer under anaesthetic so you can feel very bad . . .

I.: Yeh.

P.: . . . but you can also feel very good. Is that a price worth paying? Sometimes feeling bad, is that a price worth paying for quite often feeling good?

I.: Yes. ‘Tis a price worth paying. Getting your feelings back is a painful thing, you know? And it really hurts. Makes you cry. But once you done your crying and you’ve realised that that’s real, you know, then you come to terms with it. You can put it in the past without worrying about it.

P.: What do you think is the effect of that on the voices?

I.: Well, they got no worries. So, they leave me alone.

P.: Do you think they fed on the worry and pain and distress you were keeping under?

I.: Yeh. They kept feeding on my suppression, you know? . . . They kept getting worse and worse until it got unreal.

P.: Yeh. There were certain things that you had done that really you felt very bad about, weren’t there?

I.: Yeh.

P.: That you felt really guilty about. In a sense you had never quite faced up to that perhaps?[1] The loss, the grief, the pain, you’d not faced up to. Am I right that these were all different bad feelings you had?

I.: Yeh. I felt bad about L. [his ex-partner] you know? I felt really bad about her. And I thought I’d done her wrong. And that’s why I was ill. The voices fed on it, you know?

P.: Do you think you actually deserved to be ill?

I.: No. Nobody deserves to be ill.

To show us the limits of what can be done, and how psychosis can seem preferable to raw reality, it was then that we discovered that there were two anniversary effects that triggered a resurgence of the hostile voices: these related to two traumatic army experiences whose pain and guilt he was never able re-experience and integrate, preferring instead for the voices to get worse at that time of year. We realised that the guilt at what he felt he had done to his ex-partner, the trigger to the hospital admission that led to my involvement, had been reactivating an earlier and far deeper sense of guilt. An increase in the intensity of the voices was in this case the lesser of two evils for him, even though it risked relapse and consequent hospitalisation sometimes.

Further Implications

It was experiences like these that convinced me that the medical model had to be complemented, or maybe even superceded, in some way.

In explaining his model, Shields, whose work I examined earlier in this sequence, is not discounting the role of biology (ibid):

However, this hypothesis does not view these psychological processes as operating independently of biological factors; these psychological and existential factors work closely with the structural or functional integrity of the brain in producing psychotic episodes.

Graph of the Model that states Psychosis is on a continuum with Normal Functioning (Source: The route to psychosis by Dr Emmanuelle Peters)

Graph of the Model that states Psychosis is on a continuum with Normal Functioning (Source: The route to psychosis by Dr Emmanuelle Peters)

He is singing from the same hymn sheet as Bethany L. Leonhardt et al in arguing that there is a continuum (page 146):

. . . psychotic symptoms exist on a continuum even in healthy individuals (Stefanis et al., 2002). This, too, seems to be explicable if psychosis is a way to cope with existential distress – as psychosis would be quantitatively, rather than qualitatively, different from normal. . . .

They go on to make a particularly subtle but potentially crucial point (pages 146-7:

This hypothesis can explain another aspect of psychosis: psychotic individuals do not choose realistic explanations for their experiences (Freeman et al., 2004). If the explanations chosen by psychotic individuals were more realistic, then the problem of reality would continue to intrude on an individual that cannot deal with reality.

This possibility paves the way towards explaining why some people with psychotic experiences are desperate to be helped to get rid of them while others work hard to hold onto them against every attempt to persuade them otherwise (page 147):

Psychotic breaks that do not entirely allow psychotic individuals to avoid dealing with the issues that prompted their psychosis would leave these individuals no way to avoid reality – though they desire to. Therefore, individuals in this state would want to rid themselves of reality and their experience however necessary – if their psychosis is, indeed, an attempted escape from an unbearable reality. Alternatively, for psychotic breaks that do truly allow individuals to avoid dealing with the issues that prompted their psychosis, these individuals would cling to their psychosis with certainty, as their psychosis is what permits them to cope with the crushing distress that prompted their episode.

The implications of this would explain why the drugs prescribed prove to have a positive effect of any kind at all (page 150):

This paper’s hypothesis – that psychosis might function as a mechanism for coping with existential distress – explains the efficacy of antipsychotic drugs by their ability to help a patient avoid existentially distressing issues. . . . . After a lengthy review of the evidence for and against the dopamine hypothesis, one psychiatrist proposed that antipsychotics primarily work not by modifying dopamine but instead by inducing neurocognitive suppression, which diminishes the severity of psychotic symptoms (Moncrieff, 2009).

This leads to another disturbing conclusion (page 151):

However, if the hypothesis outlined herein is true, the nature of the antipsychotic cure is temporary rather than permanent; the individual still has not dealt with the issues that prompted their psychotic break. This temporary nature may explain why antipsychotics increase the chronicity of psychosis: antipsychotics are simply another measure in avoiding the same issues that need resolved.

Shields recognises that his hypothesis is not without its weaknesses (page 152):

[One] limitation of this hypothesis is that many individuals undergo existential crises without having a psychotic break. However, it may be that individuals who do not have a psychotic break do not attempt to avoid the existential issues they are facing; instead, they may accept these issues or deal with them. Again, though, this is speculation, and it does not easily lead to predictions for further research. A final possible limitation of this hypothesis is that it implicitly assumes that psychosis is a unitary phenomenon, potentially manifest in differing ways, but some argue that a single concept of psychosis ought to be abandoned for a pentagonal model (Os & Kapur, 2009; White, Harvey, Opler, & Lindenmayer, 1997).

Rethink said cognitive behavioural therapy could help cut long-term costs of care (for source of image see link)

Rethink said cognitive behavioural therapy could help cut long-term costs of care (for source of image see link)So what?

So what?

What for me is of compelling interest in the arguments these papers put forward has two aspects.

The first is that they all seek to confirm in one way or the other that psychosis is a meaningful response to experience.

The second follows on from that. If psychosis is a meaningful response to experience, then it needs to be explored in the light of that experience if the person is to move on. Shields favours some form of existential therapy but admits that he lacks the evidence to support his preference. The study he would like to see run has not happened yet (page 153):

In a randomized trial of treatment for psychotic individuals, those treated with existential psychotherapy – especially a type of existential psychotherapy that provides an ontological ground for the resolution of existential issues, such as the one provided by Bretherton (2006) – should have significantly better outcomes than those treated with biological methods.

I also am drawn to existential therapy, and it influenced my own approach, not least because of the emphasis it places upon developing the capacity to think about one’s thinking (metacognition), something widely recognised as a problem for people with psychotic experiences.

I am aware as well that there is a great deal of scepticism about the efficacy of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy for schizophrenia, partly because its implementation has been half-hearted, to put it mildly, but also because it may not be the optimal response in every case. I am not convinced by any one-size-fits-all model.

I need to explore all this more deeply still, but I know what I feel is likely to be the case.

These writers are right, despite all caveats. Psychosis is a response to extreme experience that cries out to be worked with in a way that helps the person come to terms with what for them is unendurable.

I know from my own experience that this is not going to be easy. Some people would choose not to go down that road at all, just as there are those who would rather take painkillers forever than begin to use exercise to help their bodies heal. But I also know that if our society and its institutions gave far more support than they do to this model (in fact they all too often rubbish it at least implicitly) far more people would be empowered to use it and leave the real and imagined terrors of the psychotic state behind.

I also recognise that more needs to be done to fashion and test the best psychotherapeutic approach to these issues. But that is no reason for failing to do anything on a larger scale to remedy this deficiency.


[1] I may have been missing the crucial point that links suppression of painful feeling with increasing loss of contact with reality and the ascendancy of the voices. This pertains to the difficulty he had explaining what the point of talking about memories was.

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Dream GameAs I hinted at the end of the previous post, I don’t think the Transactional Analysis model goes far enough. It helps us develop a reasonable sense of part of the mind’s layout, but it lacks any contour lines to give us a real feeling of its depth.

One of the problems with TA is that it privileges the intellect – our head to use the everyday expression. In a way it has the same weakness as Kahneman’s model, discussed in detail elsewhere. Yes, we can clearly see the importance of distancing ourselves from our gut reactions, which Kahneman in my view mistakenly terms intuition. But, we have only our head to rely on in both these models. I don’t deny that this is far better at making wise decisions than our guts, particularly when complex situations are involved.

The TA psychotherapist who led the group I was in recognised that this emphasis on intellect was a weakness which is why she also drew on Gestalt therapy techniques and dream work in her approach. In fact, when I started to write this sequence of posts I had forgotten that and it was only as I thumbed through a journal I wrote at the time that I saw references to both techniques.

Even with the inclusion of both those methods, and I have given a vivid example in another post of how I used them to powerful effect many years later, TA still did not go far enough, as we will now see.

Star-diagramAn Encounter with Psychosynthesis

There are models that suggest we can and should go one step further at least. We need to be as suspicious about all our thoughts not just some of them. All our thinking is infected or at least influenced by ideas we have never questioned. We need to step back from our thoughts in their entirety just as I had been trying to step outside the prison of my conditioned reactions. Even positive thoughts may not be reliable.

While I was studying for my psychology degree at Birkbeck, I lived in Hendon, not far from the Psychosynthesis Institute. I’m not sure whether that’s what triggered my interest in that particular form of therapy. It may not have been, given the similarity between certain aspects of Psychosynthesis and TA, namely the exploration of subpersonalities. Jean Hardy, in her book on Psychosynthesis – A Psychology with a Soul – explains that (page 38) ‘the concept of subpersonality is a means of approaching… hidden and often seemingly forbidden areas.’

That may have been what drew me to Psychosynthesis, but it was not the main idea I derived from my reading about it.

In the end what captured my attention was the psychosynthesis idea of disidentification. That it presupposes a transcendent dimension including a Higher Self, with which we can get in touch, might have been expected to put me off, given my agnosticism at the time, but it did not seem to. This approach also emphasises the importance of values, which we need to connect with in order to guide our use of will power (yes, Assagioli believes that discredited faculty does exist), but I don’t think that’s what hooked me at the time either.

Assagioli explains (Psychosynthesis – page 22):

We are dominated by everything with which our self becomes identified. We can dominate and control everything from which we disidentify ourselves.

Hardy quotes Assagioli on this issue (page 24):

. . . . the ‘man in the street’ and even many well-educated people do not take the trouble to observe themselves and to discriminate; they drift on the surface of the mind-stream and identify themselves with its successive waves, with the changing contents of their consciousness.

Psychosynthesis places great emphasis on practising disidentification exercises (see image below for an adapted example) so that we can learn how to step back from the contents of our consciousness and operate more calmly and wisely from a more grounded sense of ourselves. This of course immediately appealed to me, given that I was operating in a bit of a cauldron at work and needed to learn how to maintain my composure and presence of mind under pressure.


Existential Psychotherapy

However, this was not the end of his influence. Assagioli himself, in the opening pages of Psychosynthesis, prompted me also to look at Existential Psychotherapy. At first I was only really aware of the importance this approach attached to meaning and choice: the perspective changing insight from existentialism came much later as I will explain in the next post. At this point in the development of my thinking I could see the importance of both meaning and choice, but somehow the existential approach to meaning seemed to ring a bit hollow.

Ernesto Spinelli’s valuable exploration of existential therapy – Demystifying Therapy – contains a passage that highlights what was the problem for me (page 294):

. . . . we are confronted with the meaningless of it all. The meaninglessness refers to the idea that nothing – not you, nor I, nor any ‘thing’ – has intrinsic or independent or static meaning. If things are ‘meaningful,’ then they are so only because they have been interpreted as being so. . . . . . Each of us, if we follow this line of argument, does not inhabit an independently ‘meaningful’ world – rather, we, as a species, as cultures, and as individuals in relation to one another, shape or create the various expressions of meaningfulness that we experience and believe in.

This sounds rather like Don Juan, the Yaqui Indian, in Carlos Castaneda’s series of books: in explaining the way of the warrior, he argued that the best we can do is achieve a kind of ‘controlled folly’ by investing meaning in the meaningless.

A warrior must know first that his acts are useless, and yet, he must proceed as if he didn’t know it. In other words, a warrior must know he is unimportant, but act as if he is important.

A Moment of Choice

I was struggling to discover where I stood on this for the whole time I was earning my BSc degree. Does life have a meaning or doesn’t it?

As I came to the end of my degree course I had to begin considering my next step. Emotionally, I was clear. I wanted to become a psychotherapist. I wasn’t sure what kind of psychotherapist I wanted to become, but was swinging between two options: Existential Psychotherapy or Psychosynthesis.

I decided to consult with my tutor. I explained my dilemma and also added that ultimately I wanted to work in the NHS not in private practice. I was stunned by the advice I got.

She said, ‘If you go into the NHS as a psychotherapist you will have to work under the direction of a psychiatrist.’

My extreme scepticism about the medical model made this option completely unacceptable.

‘What should I do then if I want to work within the NHS?’

‘I think the best option,’ she said, ‘is to become a clinical psychologist.’

I went off in a state of frustration and shock to explore this idea. In the end I went with it, thinking that when I’d got my clinical qualification I could always do my psychotherapy training.


In re-examining my diaries of the period in which I was doing my Clinical Psychology training, I came to realise that my world-view was fundamentally changing in a way I had failed to remember. I thought I was still resolutely agnostic at least if not downright atheist during all this time. It seems that this was simply not the case: my reality was slightly more complicated. I find the word ‘spirit’ occurring far more often in my journals of this period than I would have expected. The reason for that seems to have been my exploration of Buddhism.

Osho-Buddha-MAJJHIM-NIKAYAI can still remember the day I stood in front of the Surrey University library shelves and took down a book on Buddhism. Memory says I did this because I’d had a heads up about how sophisticated the Buddhist model of the human mind was. This may have been the case. It may have been more complicated than that at the unconscious level, in that my aunt, by then in her late 80s, had asked me to investigate Roman Catholicism again and, refusing to see a priest, I had agreed to look at a book on the subject, pulled down from shelves in the same section of the library.

Whatever the reason, I not only read about Buddhism, I also visited the Buddhist Centre in London and attended classes on meditation. I can locate this accurately in time as I was in the first year of the course doing my child specialism placement. By the 11 January 1981 I was taking detailed notes from Alan WattsThe Way of Zen. My comment on my reading up to that point may be revealing:

That reading stemmed from my need for some moral or value focus in my life. Interesting that in 1792 the Retreat in York was founded by Tuke, a Quaker, on moral principles not knowledge, and yet achieved so much so far ahead of its time for ‘lunatics.’ And yet so much harm has been done by fanatics in the name of various moralities. Only a life-centred rather than idea-centred morality will serve. Buddhism comes closer than any I know.

A fortnight later, while reading Christmas Humphreys‘ book, my thinking has moved on:

Even being committed to the “right” side in a battle… blinds my mind to the transcendent realisation that both sides are in the last analysis one. Best to tend the wounded of both sides than fight, even for freedom!

I was already showing strong reservations about the limits of psychology and responding strongly to Buddhism:

I will continue to think about Buddhism. It’s shedding an unbelievably clear light on my problems and giving me the strength to cope with them.…. People and their welfare are more important than the sterile ideas peddled on the course, more important than any ideas at all in fact. I can at least use the experience of the course better to understand my fellow human beings and myself under stress – it won’t be wasted.

A year later I seem to have achieved a more harmonious perspective:

My life is slowly becoming simpler, more integrated, less fearful. I can see how poetry, psychotherapy and Buddhism fit together. And perhaps how they all cohere with my personal life.

More on my struggles to learn how to meditate next time and on one of the epiphanies that helped shift my perspective radically.

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As a result both of my recent Three Brains Revisited sequence and partly as a result of being asked a few weeks ago about what my model of meditation is overall, I was moved to go back to my attempt of many years ago to create a set of experiences that captured what I thought I was seeking to do in periods of quiet reflection, contemplation or meditation (delete as appropriate!). I was surprised to find that not only did my explanation of what I thought I was doing hold up remarkably well to current inspection, but also the exercises I had devised to create the right experiences have also stood the test of time and I am still drawing on them even to this day. So, it felt worthwhile to share at least a sample of what I worked on at that dim and distant time. So, here, unedited apart from the removal of my then contact details, is the introduction. I haven’t changed the wording even though those of you who  are reading this may be thousands of miles away and therefore unable to ever attend any workshop on this topic I ever run again, but the spirit of it holds. Without trying the exercises the words won’t really come alive.

In devising the exercises I drew on Buddhist, psychosynthesis, mindfulness, existential, and meditation practices. (I know Buddhists explain that there is no self, but I’ve covered that one in detail elsewhere and that debate is not important here!) Where I remember the exact source I will try to acknowledge it.



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