🗣 This is the third in a series of three blogs where Jonny White, introduces the Nine Territories of Embodied Relational Attunement. These territories capture the essence of our training
This search for a way to be and to live, make meaning, meet the conditions of our times and find shapes that make sense of our lives, whether individually or collectively leads us into our ‘sixth’ territory of attunement. As culture meets conditions, as people dream, enquire and tell stories they uncover paths and narratives that open us up to more mythological ways of being and relating to ourselves and our environment. It might seem as if our culture in the west is less interested in this territory than in previous times, although we too are conditioned and bound up in deep narratives about how to make sense of our lives, many of which drive meaning into the self in ways that are both freeing for selves and troubling to our survival.
This mythological layer of our lives, feels as if it’s the ‘way things are’ but of course many cultures and individuals have not lived with the needs of the self as the dominant narrative. There is a vast sea of mythological and archetypal dreaming within the human mind and opening up to these layers of mystery and transpersonal territories can be profoundly important for the journey of ourselves as clients and therapists. It feels too that rediscovering some more of a mythological relationship to the planet and non-human is going to be important if we are going to survive climate change.
For ourselves as clients and therapists, this attunement is important in going beyond just ‘personality’ and its problems and helping us discover relationships of greater meaning and depth for ourselves and our lives. Perhaps we can talk here of ‘ways of being’ and the ongoing and depth search for ways of being that have always been a place of creative inspiration for the human mind. Many people are drawn to the relationship between therapy and other older forms of inter-personal healing such as shamanism with its search for ‘parts’ of the spirit that may have been taken away to a different realm for example. And most cultures throughout history have included a sense of spiritual journey in their ideas of health as well as narratives of personal and collective development. And while the results of these journeys have sometimes given rise to forms of oppression, the quest feels as if it is a profound and central part of our psyche.
Buddhism is of course one of these expressions, with its talk of paths and practice and its descriptions of the journey out of suffering and towards some kind of liberation. One of the interesting and useful parts of the Buddhist path for modern psychotherapy is that the destination is not seen to be ‘somewhere else’ but that the path points us in towards here and now and this moment, on this planet. In many ways this is a narrative of coming home, returning to the source of things, and deeply connecting to a knowing of true belonging.
It is interesting that these journeys seem to draw us home and it seems to be so important for both nervous systems and minds to come into some kind of rest in the present moment in order to begin to find ease. As we do this, as we settle in to the moment, we might find that another territory of attunement begins to make itself known. We might label this ‘seventh territory’ of attunement something like the ‘qualities of being’. As we drop into the moment, whether in the therapy room or in our individual practise, we can experience this sense of coming home, such an important part of the mythological journey. This coming home seems connected to an ability to rest in such qualities as Presence and a wider openness and sense of connection. These qualities don’t seem to be something we need to manufacture, but they seem to ‘Be’, they are emergent as we relax and come out of more conditioned reactions to the world. In this sense these qualities are transpersonal but it’s important not to fix around them and make them concrete or impose ideas of ‘the right way to be.’ However, a capacity to rest in states such as presence does offer the therapist a place to be in the work that allows both a sense of wider awareness and knowing, and a ground from which to allow themselves to participate in the relationship. This then allows the therapist to rest in, and offer, the witness/participant state of relational inter-being that is so important for good therapy.
It is also interesting to note that these ‘qualities of being’ seem to resonate with territories that the self is always searching for, territories like love, freedom and clarity, and knowing. So, it feels important for a therapist to have an orientation to such important qualities of being, not in order to manipulate clients towards them, but to recognise and know depth health as it emerges in the moment and be able to allow and rest there with clients and so ‘be’ together. Just as we co-regulate our nervous systems and it is hard to for my nervous system to regulate in the presence of your dysregulated system, so too its harder for me to rest in something like ‘embodied presence’ if you are not orientated to embodied presence as well.
Dropping into or allowing this sense of ‘being’ does not land us in some ultimate place. It does in fact just allow us to keep opening up to deeper, intimate and more joyful states of being. Depth present time exploration in the therapy room allows a rich journey to unfold, and often one in which deeper and more subtle layers of suffering and wounded process can be known too. Qualities such as openness and compassion can not only deepen the moment, and help us to settle into a more profound knowing of love and connection, they internalise as well, and become part of the felt sense of our day to day experience, so that the knowing of these states and ways of being can really begin to change the felt experience of our lives. We are all maybe looking for this deeper way of being as a connection to health, to the sacred and to a more ease-full path on which to walk in our lives. It is one of the privileges of therapy to be part of someone’s journey towards health and feel the effects of change and depth appear in the room and the lives of clients.
If we keep on deepening from such qualities such as ‘presence’ we find ourselves dropping into really quite vast transpersonal spaces. This then is the ‘eighth’ territory which we might call something like the ‘universal holding field’. We note that with the ‘qualities of being’ there is a possibility that we can experience a way of ‘being’ where we begin to really rest in something that feels that it is me/not me and in which ‘I’ can rest. I can rest in presence. ‘I’ may have to work less hard here and I can even feel ‘held in presence.’ If we just keep following this experience, we can find ourselves in some open and spacious states where there really is a sense of universal wholeness and infinite space. Such spaces are not a question of belief but just the deepest and most open spaces of mind in which we can talk about the sacred and a kind of universal love and a more formless reality. In Buddhism there are deep qualities talked about here called the Brahma Viharas which are profound qualities of love and compassion and balance. This kind of depth resting into something vast and sacred is again, not something we aim to move clients towards or manipulate into, but are for us to have some attunement towards, some resting in, so that this kind of depth holding is known at some level and recognised if it emerges into a session. Just in the way that an openness to archetypal or mythological orientations can allow mythological depth to emerge into consciousness, or into a session, so too an orientation to vast and formless reaches of the mind can allow a sense of something divine and mysterious to be known. The task then for a therapist is to just hold an orientation to these depths and an attunement to such formless ground, wherever in the ‘process’ of a client the session is working. This allows the potentiality of transformation and healing to ‘come through’, allows what is not yet known to begin to be known, sometimes even allows the self to drop away altogether, and allows a knowing of those spaces which are at the mystical heart of all world religions and spiritual traditions.
Of course, one of the traps of having this kind of model is that we try and seize on the so-called deeper levels of this and try to fix some ‘map of health’ onto it, and so create a ‘direction’ of therapeutic work. We might fall into an idea that the ‘universal holding field’ is some kind of ultimate transpersonal reality and that the ‘self’ is therefore some kind of illusion to be dropped. Not only can this lead to what is called spiritual bypassing, whereby use so called spiritual depth to try and get away from personality and behaviour, with often disastrous consequences for those around us, it can also lead to a judgment and aversion to the self and our histories and personal and collective experience. The teachings of compassion and emptiness in Buddhism really try and get us away from constructing this kind of narrative. We are encouraged to see that even the deepest experiences and most profound spaces are not some ultimate ‘thing’, some final truth, and instead we are pointed towards an exploration of our need for fixity and our tendency to cling on to experience no matter how rarefied. The results of this way of seeing can be a real openness to all of these territories we are talking about and willingness to meet them as they are, and so this ‘ninth territory’ really just circles us back to the first territory of opening to ‘what is’ with a compassionate freedom for an ever-deepening intimacy with ‘all things’.
This knowing of what in Buddhism is called ‘emptiness’ is then a call to compassionate response. A willingness not to cling to fixity, but to expand the compassionate heart and to keep on opening up to experience at greater levels of intimate and open receptive responsiveness. It calls out, not an attempt to get away from life and its suffering, but a commitment to keep on going in towards suffering and the difficulties of our selves, of our individual and collective trauma and pain. It points us towards the potentially liberating work of being fully engaged and present to reality and a compassionate care for all beings and all relationship with all life.
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.