All psychotherapy trainings share with Buddhism an interest in and orientation to, suffering. In Buddhism, the First Noble truth states that ‘there is suffering’. It does not state that all life is suffering but that suffering arises within the experience of being alive. Karuna Institute and the practices of Mindfulness Based Core Process Psychotherapy (MBCPP) is one response to that suffering. Our training offers a depth attempt to come into relationship to that suffering and a model that seeks to find ways to help ourselves and our clients be with that suffering, understand it and heal our relationship to as much of it as we can.
Psychotherapy Trainings and Buddhism also share the understanding that much of the suffering and difficulties of our lives has its roots in the past and the ways we live out that past in the present moment. Understanding the process of the formation and continuation of these imprints, and the suffering that arises as a result of this process is central to our training. In particular we explore at depth the power of early parts of our experience, as well as layers of ancestral, historical and cultural imprints. The self then is seen to be what we might call ‘conditioned experience’ and the power, pleasure and pain of that conditioning appears to us, and continues in us, in the present as the way that we experience our sense of ourselves and the world.
MBCPP it therefore interested in the processes by which that conditioning is formed and the ways that we continue to live ‘as’ that conditioning as our lives unfold. We are interested in how to understand these processes, come into a compassionate relationship with them, and both receive and allow as much of them to be known as we can and help to find ways out of them, so that we can open to lives that at their heart feel less wounded and constricted.
So, like all psychotherapy modalities we work within the processes of ‘our selves’ to help untangle and integrate, ground and live with these often very painful patterns. And, we look for paths to support ourselves into a sense of ‘being’ that may feel less painful and difficult, and which allows us to live in an experience which is freer, open, present and awake to life. From Buddhism we draw too the understanding that we can go ‘beyond’ even the self, and discover ‘ways of being’ that really open up to profound and meaningful experiences of deep freedom, compassion and radical openness that can be described as spiritual or transpersonal, or can just simply be seen as the inherent and less conditioned nature of mind.
The capacity of our minds to turn inwards towards our own experience and investigate might be called Mindfulness, or a capacity of Awareness. The Buddha is pretty clear that the answers to “the beginning and end of the world” (and therefore suffering) are to be found within this “fathom long body”. And so MBCPP places ‘mindful embodied enquiry’ at the heart of its understanding and practices. We work deeply in the body as well as the mind, and so this fully aligns MBCPP with current psycho-neuro-biological understandings of trauma and attachment theory. We would describe our work then as an embodied relational enquiry between client and therapist.
The training then helps students to explore and embody this capacity of awareness to come into relationship with experience, to be Mindful of it, and how this can help deepen our relationship to suffering, whether we work in joint enquiry with another, or with ourselves through meditation practice. We explore ways that importantly we can learn to soothe and settle difficult experience. How we and our clients can learn to regulate the nervous system and come out of more traumatic and reactive ways of living. We can ‘steady’ ourselves within experience and regulate our day to day ‘felt lives’ and find our ways to a more grounded presence.
Steadying into ‘presence’ can help us too in maturing beyond highly undifferentiated or ‘immature process’, and so support our capacity to exist in a more strongly individuated and empowered sense of ourselves which is so important for our navigation of the world and its relationships. And teh openness and freedom of awareness can also help us to really deepen into the experience of living and in particular open up our capacities for love and intimacy within life and its relationships. This journey of ‘opening up’ can lead us into some profound territories that transcend our object relations and the identification with self, and allow the possibility of more ‘universal’ states of unity and radical love, freedom and compassion.
MBCPP is supported in this enquiry with the wonderful understandings that come from modern trauma theory and its descriptions of the cycling of trauma through the nervous system. We are in an exciting time in integrating somatic understanding deeply into therapy and Karuna Institute has been at the forefront of this work for many years. We work too with attachment understandings, psychodynamics and object relations theories. We also work deeply with systemic theories looking into the wider cultural, racial, gender, class and historical nature of conditioning and how identification with unconscious processes in the cultural mind clouds our perceptual processes. We work in understanding the wider relational nature of our current crisis with climate, the planet and the environment and the importance of reconnection to the non-human. All of this is held within the understanding of the nature of our clinging and identification with these patterns and processes, and the opportunities that lie in understanding these identifications and the potentially liberating space of a greater embodied awareness and transformative freedom and compassionate release that is available through this understanding.
Our training therefore seeks to support ourselves as therapist to come into a compassionate understand of the nature of our ‘clinging and identification’ with conditioned experience. We work deeply with the ‘inner practices’ of the therapist to help students open up to understanding their own patterning and shaping tendencies, both from within personal histories and from wider cultural imprints. We see in this the central importance too for therapists to know in themselves the possibility of a deeper and fuller expression of life and its potential for freedom and compassion. Beyond technique or skill that we may ‘apply’ to the client, our work is really centred in this embodied journey into our relationship to suffering and the potential path through and out of suffering. It is the depth at which therapists can ‘know’ this process that is so important for the work of therapy. It is in the willingness of both client and therapist to enter into this potentially awakening relational enquiry that can make therapy such a deep and profound journey. MBCPP therefore really encourages us as therapist to grow and deepen both personally and ‘spiritually’, in the understanding that the greater my capacity is to be in relationship to ‘suffering and the end of suffering’, then the greater my capacity is to be in these territories with you.
This journey of the therapist to grow and deepen in their own embodiment and understanding is of course supported by theory and the wide and wonderful understandings about selves, nervous systems and therapeutic relationships that are available to us from the world of psychotherapy and trauma. And of course, the journey of the therapist is supported and flourishes at depth in the work of unfolding in a ‘spiritual journey’ that might be described as the journey home to greater freedom and love. We are all looking for this home, this ground and this sacred and awakened experience. We are all searching for a reconnection to meaning and love, and the flow of an open and intimate dimension to life that makes sense of existence and allows us to meet life with joy and compassion. We all know that this journey can be hard, and at Karuna Institute we believe that this journey can be supported deeply through a therapeutic relationship of depth, compassion and awakening enquiry.
Jonny is a director of Karuna Institute. He has been teaching and holding groups on Mindfulness Based Core Process trainings and Masters Degrees for many years now. He also offers courses internationally on issues of spirituality and psychotherapy. He currently lives with his children in Somerset, UK.