WORKING WITH THE REALIZATION PROCESS
Part I: The Therapeutic Relationship
When, as therapists, we can experience fundamental consciousness pervading ourselves and our clients, the therapeutic relationship is transformed in several ways. Our own presence is more centered, grounded, and empathic; we can track our internal responses to our clients more clearly; our perception of our clients is more refined; and we are more open to the spontaneous emergence of the healing process.
The Therapist’s Presence
It is widely accepted, in the current field of psychotherapy, that one of the most healing components of the psychotherapeutic process is the relationship between the client and the therapist. One of the biggest shifts that has occurred over the history of psychotherapy is in the client-therapist relationship, especially regarding how personally connected we should be when we sit with a client.
Freud recommended that the analyst’s awareness be a “hovering attention” that does not interfere with or interact in any way with the patient’s narrative. He faced away from his patients so they could enter without distraction into a monologue of free association. In this way, Freud felt that the patient’s buried, pathogenic memories would eventually, spontaneously surface to consciousness. Freud would then interpret the meaning of the patient’s memories and dream images and their role in the origin of the patient’s neurosis.
The Freudian ideal of detachment often produced psychoanalysts who were distracting simply by their lack of engagement. Their emotional reticence and their interpretations of their patients’ lives often took on an authoritarian stance in which they seemed to be above and beyond any sort of emotional difficulty themselves, observing from on high their patients’ anguish.
This detached, authoritarian attitude has been rejected in most contemporary forms of psychotherapy, as well as in relational innovations within psychoanalysis. Relational analysts coined the term “two-person” therapy to designate the recognition of the basic equality between the analyst and patient. Many therapists consider their own emotional responsiveness to be a crucial element in the psychotherapeutic process. These more contemporary forms of psychotherapy and psychoanalysis acknowledge that we can never completely suppress our personality or our true responses to the client, so analytic detachment is not even possible. Some relational modalities, such as Intersubjectivity Theory, developed by Robert Stolorow and George Atwood, go so far as to claim that even the client’s narrative is “co-created” by the therapist and client. Even the client’s memories are shaped in part by the therapist’s collaboration and by the therapist’s personal and cultural biases.
Yet, the relationship between the therapist and the client can also present the biggest challenges or even obstacles to the client’s healing. If the therapist’s emotional responses to the client are angry, shaming, envious, or sexual or if the therapist’s relational style is withdrawn or intrusive, then the relationship may even be destructive for the client. Also, if the therapist’s contact with themselves, and subsequently with others, lacks depth or cohesion, or if they live much more in one part of themselves than another, the relationship may be confusing and unsatisfying for the client. The client may not feel heard or received because of the limitations in the therapist’s capacity for contact with another person.
The ability of the therapist to inhabit their own body and to know themselves as fundamental consciousness is therefore of key importance for the healing potential of the therapeutic relationship. When we inhabit our body, we are available to receive a client without either needing to shield ourselves or to come forward toward the client in order to feel connection. We can stay within the core of ourselves, connecting from the source of our love and intelligence. Although our experience will change and move in response to the client, we will remain a steady, quality-rich presence. Our intelligence and love will always be there, as part of the ongoing ground of our being, available for the client to rely upon.
We will also be grounded, in the sense of settled to the ground. By inhabiting our lower body, we cannot be as easily thrown off-base by the intensity of our client’s emotions. Most clients will sense this and know that they can express the extremes of their anger, terror, or grief without overwhelming the therapist. They may also sense that they can embody their own full vitality, power, and intelligence without the therapist feeling threatened by them, as their own family may have felt when they were children.
Perhaps the most crucial element of a therapist’s presence is our ability to feel compassion. Compassion is experienced as an innate capacity of embodiment. If we remain in contact with ourselves, compassion wells up within our body as a spontaneous response to the client’s suffering.
The Therapist’s Internal Responses to the Client
When we experience fundamental consciousness pervading ourselves and our client, we can be attuned to the client and ourselves at the same time. We can observe our own responses at the same time as we receive our client’s presence and narrative. Our own personality, what we notice, and what we feel is important still influences the shape of our client’s healing process. But we can more clearly observe when our responses to the client are based on our own psychological history or cultural biases. This means that we have less unconscious enmeshment with the client and less unconscious projection of our own biases onto their narrative. If we do react with anger, envy, or desire, we are immediately conscious of these reactions and can restrain ourselves from acting on them.
We can also discern our more subtle responses to the client. We may notice when we shield ourselves against the client’s intensity by blocking our attunement to the unified space of fundamental consciousness. We may observe that we suddenly constrict our chest or hold our breath in order to obstruct our reception of the client. Or we may leave our own body in order to extend ourselves energetically toward the client in reaction to their distress. These are ordinary movements that we all experience in our interactions with other people; many are habitual, socially learned behaviors. However, the client may experience our shutting down as withdrawal from them or our energetic extension toward them as intrusion. When we are able to remain in contact with ourselves, we can remain open to the client without interfering with the flow of their healing process. We are disentangled from our client without being detached.
In this more spacious relationship, the client may experience more ability to attune inwardly to their own experience. Although it is also crucial to be seen and heard by another person, psychological healing is something that we really can only do for ourselves. It is an inward process of remembrance, self-examination, self-insight, and contact with the internal space of our own body. The therapist’s stable, open presence gives the client permission and safety for this internal process. The therapist holds the thread that allows the client to make this solitary journey without fear of becoming lost in the labyrinth of their past.
The Therapist’s Perception
The therapist who is attuned to the pervasive space of fundamental consciousness can, to some extent, “see-feel” the shifts in the client’s experience as they speak. This can help us discern what is most potent for the client in their narrative, even if their words do not provide this emphasis. For example, a client may say that they feel very little about the loss of a parent, but the therapist will be able to observe the movement of grief or anger in the client’s body even as they say this. They can also see-feel where the client is most open to experience and where they have defended themselves. Sometimes, they can even see the ages and the emotions that are held within the client’s body. There is an important difference between the way most sensitive people gather subtle information about their clients and the way fundamental consciousness allows us to know another person. Usually, sensitive people feel other people’s pain in their own body. The pervasive space of FC enables us to see-feel the client’s experience over there, within their body, without running it through our own body.
It is the capacity for direct knowing of another person’s experience in our body that produces our tendency, as young children, to mirror our parent’s pattern of openness and constriction. It causes us to feel, in our own body, whatever grief, anger, or anxiety is in our childhood environment as if it were our own feeling. As children, we are extremely impressionable to the experience of other people. We have not yet matured in our inward contact with ourselves or in our ability to discern and name what we are experiencing in our environment. We therefore have very little ability to distinguish our own internal experience from the other internal experience of other people.
Many sensitive people retain this direct knowing of other people’s experience as adults. They are particularly sensitive to the emotional experience of other people, either because of their innate gifts of sensitivity or because traumatic experiences in childhood have kept them in an enmeshed or a hypervigilant state with their surroundings (or both). People who are sensitive to the pain of other people are often drawn to the helping professions. Many psychotherapists report that they can feel what others are feeling, not just be reading changes of expression of posture but by actually feeling the other person’s feelings in their own body. They may also describe some discomfort at this and exhaustion at the end of a day of working with people in pain. This entrainment, or mirroring of another person’s pain, can also be confusing. If we experience another person’s pain in our own body, it can be difficult to distinguish their pain from our own.
As fundamental consciousness, however, the therapist is attuned to themselves and the client in a way that is deeper, or more subtle, than mirroring or entrainment. Instead of feeling the client’s pain in our own body, we can see and feel it within the client’s body. Although we may respond with the same emotion in our own body, we can discern that it is our own response to the other person, rather than that person’s emotion. And we may respond with some other emotion. As the pervasive space of FC, we can know what we are experiencing in our own body and what the other person is experiencing in their body at the same time. Empathy occurs across distance, rather than by feeling the client’s suffering as if it were our own.
The Healing Process
As the basis of the therapeutic relationship, fundamental consciousness encompasses both the separate individuality and the oneness of the therapist and the client at the same time. The openness and authentic presence of both the therapist and the client seems to produce a spontaneous, and often mutual, healing process. As therapists, we can learn to trust this process to emerge. We do not have to fill the silence with ideas or healing strategies. We can open to the silence and allow the true creativity of the situation to flow. As Freud observed many years ago, the painful memories of the client seem to follow their own order; they emerge in exactly the right sequence for the client to be able to understand and resolve them. The client may also become aware of the constrictions and fragmentations in their body as they relate the narrative of their psychological history, and these rigidities may become more visible for the therapist as the client is ready to release them.
The therapeutic process is often healing for both the client and the therapist. Many therapists report that their clients bring issues to therapy that are also key psychological issues of their own. And that helping the client resolve these issues contributes to their own healing. Or that the client’s expression of pain helps dislodge and release the pain in their own body. The practice of sitting in the open space of fundamental consciousness while another person expresses their deepest wounding can also help us open our heart and our understanding, and become stable in our realization of fundamental consciousness.
To stabilize in one’s realization of fundamental consciousness means that the pervasive space is always there, pervading our body and environment. Not that we are always aware of it, but if we check on it, there it is. We do not need to shift our perspective or attune to it, or even find it—it is just there.
As fundamental consciousness, we are naturally equal with our client. Situated in the core of our body means that we are living within the center of our being. And the center of our own being is also the center—it touches and connects with the center—of all other beings. We cannot inhabit our body fully and know ourselves as fundamental consciousness, if we are holding ourselves either above or below other people.
At first, in the therapeutic process, it is usually just the therapist who has realized fundamental consciousness. But, as the client continues to do the Realization Process practices and to release holding patterns from their body, they will gradually join the therapist in the experience of pervasive space and oneness. The contact between the therapist and the client will be experienced throughout the internal space of both bodies, both beings. Love meets love, not in the space between two people, but within each person’s chest. Understanding meets understanding, as a felt experience, a resonance, within each person’s body.
Blackstone, Judith. Trauma and the Unbound Body (pp. 185-191). Sounds True. Kindle Edition.