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#1967 - Monday, November 1, 2004 - Editor: Jerry
by Jerry Katz
The Sacred Mirror: Nondual Wisdom and Psychotherapy
Prendergast, John J., Fenner, Peter, and Krystal, Sheila, Eds.
ISBN: 1557788243, Paper, 323 pages, Index, Notes, Bibliography, 6x9"
The Sacred Mirror is a collection of original writings by leading practitioners of nondual psychotherapy. Each author -- in his or her own fashion, and with varying degrees of emphasis -- addresses the nature of nondual disposition, what nondual therapy is, how it is practiced, and its role in psychotherapy. It is angled toward psychotherapists and the healing of psychological problems, but will appeal to anyone interested in nonduality, whether a professional healer or not. This book will be appreciated by one who senses or knows presence, whether one is held, or holds, in presence.
For readers who are not familiar with terms 'nondual', 'nondual wisdom', or 'nonduality', the following quotation written by John J. Prendergast in the introduction to this book explains: "Nonduality is a rather curious and uncommon word that so far has been used by a relatively small number of scholars and teachers. It derives from the Sanskrit word advaita which means "not-two." Nondual wisdom refers to the understanding and direct experience of a fundamental consciousness that underlies the apparent distinction between perceiver and perceived. From the nondual perspective, the split between self and other is a purely mental construct. This understanding, rooted in the direct experience of countless sages through millennia, is at the heart of Hindu Vedanta, most schools of Buddhism, and Taoism, and mystical Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Nonduality is a particularly elegant and clear formulation, since it describes reality in terms of what it is not (unsplit, undivided) rather than what it is."
Since the function and work of the guru or spiritual teacher is essentially the same as that of the nondual therapist, both voices are heard from each author. Since these authors and therapists are intimate with nondual awareness, there is no underlying difference. What nondual therapists possess that most gurus do not, is formal training in psychology and a set of skills allowing them to practice conventional psychotherapy.
To be an effective nondual therapist, one needs to be awakening. The guru Adyashanti says in this book that the nondual therapist should be "to some extent awake." Jed McKenna in his book Spiritually Incorrect Enlightenment talks about the difference between awakening and awakened. The former he calls Human Adulthood, which is the release via inquiry of egoic bonds and the opening to Grace, as in "not mine, but they will be done." He says Human Adulthood "isn't an enlightenment thing in particular. It's more a human thing, but it certainly has parallels to the larger awakening process, and it's a precursor to enlightenment; a prerequisite."
Nondual therapists and gurus who have attained Human Adulthood, can serve to bring others toward Human Adulthood. They can hold others in presence. Human Adulthood is a requirement for nondual therapists.
Though authors in this book may or may not be enlightened, they all function from the place of Human Adulthood and bring their clients to that place. How they do that, what they have to say about it, how they see nondual therapy in the context of psychotherapy, is what this book is about.
The first two chapters give overviews of nonduality and nondual therapy. John J. Prendergast, in the first chapter, asks whether the nondual approach makes for a new school of psychotherapy. He talks about how nonduality fits into practice. He addresses whether psychotherapy is evolving into a vehicle for transmission of truth, and whether awakening therapists are in the same lineage as Buddha or other great sages of all time. Prendergast speaks of the primary and secondary impacts of awakening. He discusses psychotherapy methods and skills in light of nondual awareness and how awakening impacts the psychotherapist.
Presence is identified as the primary impact of awakening. Presence is "Being aware of Itself," and expressed by such personal qualities as ease of being, unpretentiousness, lucidity, joy.
Secondary effects include freedom from the role as psychotherapist. That role is merely played. Since presence is primary -- "Being aware of Itself" -- it is clear there are no problems and no problem solvers. In the coming together of nondual therapist and client there is the catching of the fire of truth and reality by the client from the therapist.
Another secondary impact is "an enhanced capacity to be with what is." This is greater than acceptance. It is loving acceptance or unconditional love, and since it allows for closeness between client and therapist, it allows the client to come close to Presence. His or her presence. Therefore this capacity to be with what is, facilitates transformation.
Chapter Two is by Peter Fenner, who is very clear about the nothingness of nondual therapy: "...we know that there is no such thing as 'nondual therapy.' What makes nondual therapy unique is that it doesn't exist!" At the same time he devotes the bulk of the chapter on a structure for the nature and ways of therapy. Here is the outline of that structure:
THE HALLMARKS OF NONDUAL THERAPIES
-- The unconditioned mind is introduced and discussed in the
context of therapy
-- The unconditioned mind as the "ultimate medicine"
-- Resting in the unconditioned mind is a state beyond suffering
-- A homing instinct toward the unconditioned mind
-- The unconditioned mind reconditions thought patterns and emotions
-- Living in the here and now
-- "The experience of the unconditioned mind is cultivated in the midst of our everyday existence."
-- The union of love and wisdom ("The capacity to identify is love. The capacity to disidentify is wisdom. Both arise simultaneously and without any conflict.")
OBSTACLES TO EXPERIENCING THE UNCONDITIONED MIND
-- Our attachment to suffering
-- The habitual need to be doing something
-- Needing to know
-- The need to create meaning
-- Fearful projections about the unconditioned mind
PRACTICES THAT PREPARE AND SUPPORT THE CULTIVATING OF NONDUAL AWARENESS
-- Observing and acknowledging the presence of fixations
-- Discovery of a place free of strong desire
-- Tuning into the present so that there is "completion in the moment"
-- Opening "to the full force and richness of our conditioned existence."
-- Developing serenity
-- Resting in healing-bliss
DISTINCTIVE GUIDELINES FOR NONDUAL THERAPY
-- Holding a space of pure listening and speaking
-- Facilitating "the natural release of fixed beliefs and frozen emotions by creating a space that is free of all pressures to change or be the same."
-- Deconstructing fixations through the Madhyamika system
-- "Naturally arising koans ... as tools for deconstructing our habitual ways of thinking."
-- Using "checking questions" to assess the quality and purity of the unconditioned experience
-- Dancing in the paradoxes of nondual logic
Nondual therapists spin this talk about the nothingness of nondual therapy while formulating approaches and guidelines to nondual therapy. According to Fenner, the nondual therapist "uses the teachings and embodied presence of nondual masters as a model for how to manage our own evolution and thus make a powerful healing contribution to others. The model is based upon the healing capacity of the unconditioned mind. The common element in nondual approaches to therapy is a focus on awakening an experience of the unconditioned mind for the therapist and client, and the ongoing cultivation of this experience."
Following the first two introductory chapters is an interview with Adyashanti. This, the third chapter, could also be considered an introductory chapter, as it gives further overview of nondual therapy and nonduality. Adyashanti is a significant character in this book since he is an outsider to the profession of psychotherapy yet works one on one with people who are awakening. His perspectives on nondual therapy would seem to be important. The interviewers ask over two dozen excellent questions, not including follow-up questions and comments. This chapter/interview is about 30 pages long. Here are a few questions and the kernel of Adyashanti's response to each one:
"Is the avoidance of this emptiness the root of human suffering?"
"I like to call it the dirty little secret of humanity. It's the emptiness, the abyss, that's right in the middle of every human being ... just waiting for some recognition of it. We tend to do everything in our power to dance around it."
"Do you have any advice for therapists?"
"Endeavor to be as honest yourself and with yourself as you would ask whoever you're with to be. To me, this is the true field of transformation."
"A woman recently asked you at a public meeting whether you thought therapy would help her awaken, and you answered, 'No." Why is that?"
"In a traditional sense, therapy is trying to put a nicer looking tutu or lipstick on the pig, which is great. It makes the story better and enables one to dream better, which means to function as an ego better."
"What can we do as therapists, if anything, to help people awaken?"
"Well, be awakened yourself. If one isn't to some extent awake, there's nothing you can do, and you're better off leaving the whole subject alone, because you'll probably do more damage than good."
Not all questions to Adyashanti bear directly on therapy. Most are of the nature of spiritual psychology and nondual existence. Topics discussed include Ground of Being, grace, embodiment, "watching-experiencing," "love returning for itself," dreaming well, authentic feeling, ego and awakening, thought and Reality, the core story, readiness to awaken, awakening and the subtle body.
The rest of the book is mostly directed toward specific psychological methods and case histories, with a good deal of commentary about the nondual.
Chapter Four is by Prendergast, who writes, "When we look into an ordinary mirror, we see how we appear. When we look into a sacred mirror, we see who we are." The role of "sacred mirror" has traditionally belonged to the guru or spiritual teacher. This chapter describes how the role is being played by the therapist and explores ways of including this function into transpersonal psychology.
Prendergast engages a nonintentional eye gazing which brings presence into the foreground for both therapist and client. In this process defenses, reactivities, and personal difficulties are released or opened up to a large shared space in which they could more easily dissolve. He calls this experience 'being together,' which he spends the bulk of the chapter describing in detail. Half the 26 page chapter is devoted to client experiences with sacred mirror or 'being together.' There is the presentation of a single case with one called Armand in which the levels or phases of breakthrough achieved over 82 sessions are described. These include conventional psychotherapy at the beginning. Ultimately, Armand could write, "Experiences of opening give me a glimpse of what seems to be the truth of being. Against the experience, the activities of daily life lose their significance. My life is being slowly reset with this new compass."
Chapter Five is entitled, A Nondual Approach to EMDR: Psychotherapy as Satsang, by Sheila Krystal. EMDR stands for eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. For the reader who has some familiarity with EMDR, this chapter gives an excellent, sometimes sizzling, introduction. Having no knowledge at all of EMDR or the associated terminology, I had to search online for background information, which helped me more fully appreciate what Krystal has compiled.
Krystal lays out the nondual approach to therapy:
-- Nondual therapy has roots in traditional spiritual
discipline: Dzogchen, Advaita, Taoism, Kabbalism, mystical
-- Nondual psychotherapy is a coming together of therapist and client in a way that is like satsang (association with truth).
-- Nondual psychotherapy begins dualistically or conventionally with identification and description of the client's problems and the development of a personal history.
-- In the nondual approach to therapy there is the absence of promotion of method, theory and mind. "The Self meets itself in the sacred mirror of satsang."
-- Though no method is promoted, methods that are part of the therapist's repertoire are used. Their use arises spontaneously within the moment. They are not held to any more than a sip of tea at an appropriate time is held to as method. It arises. The therapist's focus is on that which exists prior to thought and emotion. It is naturally on Presence.
-- The practice of nondual psychotherapy can be a sadhana or spiritual practice for the therapist.
-- Over a period of time the client comes to rest in Presence and the idea of the problem becomes deconstructed in that space.
Krystal concludes, "I hope that this chapter shows that nondual wisdom enhances and transforms any form of psychotherapy." That is clearly demonstrated.
Chapter Six is authored by John Welwood. It's theme is, "Being fully human means honoring both these truths -- immanence, or fully engaging with our humanness, and transcendence, or liberation -- equally. If we try to deny our vulnerability, we lose touch with our heart; if we fail to realize our indestructibility, we lose access to enlightened mind. To be fully human means standing willingly and consciously in both dimensions."
"Nondual teachings that mainly emphasize the illusory quality of human experience can, unfortunately, serve as just another dehumanizing force in a world where our basic humanity is already under siege at every turn. What is needed in these difficult times instead is a liberation spirituality that helps people recognize nondual presence as a basis for fully inhabiting their humanity, rather than as a rationale for disengaging from it. We need a spiritual vision that values and includes the central playing-field where our humanity expresses itself -- relationship."
This is a visionary chapter which incorporates the teachings of Martin Buber and Swami Prajnanpad.
Chapter Seven is by Dorothy Hunt, and is entitled Being Intimate with What is: Healing the Pain of Separation. Here are a few major points:
-- "When what is awake directly touches its own
experience of anything, there is deep intimacy with what
is. ... In this intimacy we find ourselves undivided."
--"(This realization of our undivided being) is unfailingly healing because it experiences itself as a whole."
-- This intimacy is not conceptual, not another idea or identification to be harboured. It is not separate from this or what is. It is direct experience. Any conceptualization is movement away from the experience of this. "Healing happens when we are not separating ourselves from the authentic truth of the moment."
-- We no longer suffer when we are intimate with what is; not separate from our essential being; not avoiding experiencing the reality of the moment. "We are not trying to transcend the moment, or change our thoughts about the moment; we are simply being intimate with the moment exactly as it is. ... Such living experience of the truth of our being and the authentic truth of the moment is always healing. Conversely, it is our separation from the moment and our separation from the truth of our being that create suffering."
-- Only the undivided therapist can invite the client to taste the undivided. "If we have not experienced the truth of our own being, or known what it is to experience the touch of this intimate awakeness of our own experience, we will not be able to invite our clients to do the same."
-- Nondual psychotherapy cannot be taught. There is not "nondual psychotherapy" any more than there is "nondual dreaming" or "nondual war." "There is no something else," including a separate 'I' to learn "nondual psychotherapy." "This is Totality functioning exactly in this way." The mind rests in unknowing.
Chapter Eight is by Dan Berkow: A Psychology of No-thingness: Seeing Through the Projected Self. This is a richly referenced paper. A single sentence can find attribution to two sources. For example: "Pleasure is neither sought nor rejected." (Loy, 1999; Norbu and Clemente, 1999). The citation of references confers academic solidity and suggests those with whom the author finds resonation.
The chapter opens starkly, with reference to the "human being," as the paper's foundational statement is given. Later the more familiar terms "person" and "client" appear, and finally Marsha, Mark, Paul, Joan, which are pseudonyms for the case examples. The terminology is appropriate to the points being made. Here is a selection of important points pertaining to "relationship and therapy:"
-- Relationship may be understood thusly: "rather
than two separated individuals attempting to join together to do
therapy, we have a whole situation spontaneously arising. This
relationship isn't fused, nor is it split into divided subjects
and objects. The therapist's being is present not only with the
client, but as the client."
-- Therapist and client are distinct while being nonseparate. That is, sensation, feeling and boundaries are not denied.
-- There is neither the coming in nor the going out of the healing energy of being, though it may be cognized and identified as evolving and developing.
-- "When there is clarity of and as this energy, there is spontaneously the release of perceived needs for security requiring self-division as survival."
-- "What is key to change is not new constructs for thought, but release of the thought constructs that determined reactions, feelings, and requirements for a separated self-sense."
--"Therapy therefore facilitates exploration, gives feedback, and promotes inquiry. The effects of self-imposed friction are addressed honestly and without either minimizing or exaggerating. The psychosomatic and relational repercussions of self-protection are clarified with self-examination. The dropping of the projection of a separated self is the choiceless awareness of moment-to-moment being."
Chapter Nine, by Richard C. Miller, is about nonduality and Yoga Nidra. "Yoga Nidra is an ancient tantric Yoga practice that reflects the perspective of Awareness both as the inherent ground of our essential beingness and the container, agent, agency of our healing into the understanding that this is so."
"Through its straightforward process of attending to naturally occurring experiences of opposites of sensation, emotion, thought, belief, imagery, and identity, it awakens the discriminating insight that every experience, when fully allowed, is both an expression of as well as a pointer to our underlying nondual Nature. Further, Yoga Nidra affirms that when we abide as That, integration and healing unfold spontaneously, conflict and suffering cease naturally, and freedom is recognized to be our innate disposition."
"When clients recognize their underlying nature as spacious nonjudging, compassionate, and loving Presence, causeless equanimity emerges. The perfume that arises from this profound insight lingers even as residues of separation remain. With repeated insight, these residues become transparently permeable to the underlying fragrance of Awareness."
This chapter is richly supplemented with descriptions of client experiences that illustrate the principles set forth. Miller concludes with a statement that, except for the mention of Yoga Nidra, could be a concluding statement for the entire book:
"Self-inquiry deconstructs ego-identity and its miragelike reality, opening the ground for latent nondual Presence to spontaneously flood into the foreground. In this moment clients reclaim their real freedom as unchanging, nondual Presence that is both immanent and transcendent in every moment of life. This is the fulfillment of Yoga Nidra and the completion of psychotherapy."
In Chapter Ten, Stephan Bodian speaks about deconstructing the self via inquiry. Bodian studied Zen intensely in the early 70's, up to 1982, when he pursued his own psychotherapy and studied psychology in graduate school. "I never felt that Zen offered a complete approach to spiritual and psychological development. In particular I noticed that despite numerous deep spiritual insights, I continued to respond to certain situations with inexplicable anger, sadness, and anxiety."
Bodian learned the standard psychotherapeutic interview as a new mode of inquiry. The limitation of this approach was that it created new layers of stories. While studying psychology he met Jean Klein, a master of Advaita. Bodian had a powerful awakening under Klein that depend and stabilized over ten years. But there was still a split between the insight and the patterns of thinking and behavior that were known as limitation and suffering.
Finally he encountered The Work of Byron Katie. "Under the influence of (Byron Katie's) approach I finally discovered the already-existing, inherent integration of awareness and the contents of awareness as a truly nondual, undivided reality."
"The inquiry that I describe in this essay, which now arises naturally with my clients, draws upon The Work, the self-inquiry of Advaita Vedanta, and the phenomenological investigation of experiential psychotherapy."
Chapter Eleven is called Healing Trauma in the Eternal Now. Lynn Marie Lumiere sets forth that nondual awareness is unconditional love and as such accepts extreme ecstasy and extreme trauma equally. "It is only in this embrace of the manifest by the unmanifest that true transformation or healing takes place," she says.
Bessel Van der Kolk, M.D. is quoted for his definition of trauma: "the inability to be present with what is in the here and now." Trauma is destabilizing, bringing us out of the here and now and into the re-living of the past trauma. Lumiere say, "Healing trauma requires being present with what is in the moment."
Peter Levine, Ph.D., is noted as a leading researcher in trauma. Levine is quoted: "Trauma is about thwarted instincts. Instincts by definition are always in the present. When we allow them their rightful domain, we surrender to the 'eternal now.'"
Levine's method of healing trauma is known as Somatic Experiencing. Lumiere presents its key concepts and demonstrates how the method is applied in synergy with nondual awareness.
Somatic Experiencing uses a vortex model to illustrate how the energy or trauma is created and negotiated. Lumiere says, "The trauma vortex is a recapitulation of past, uncompleted responses and exists outside the stream of our present life experience. Nature simultaneously responds by creating a 'countervortex' to balance the force of the trauma vortex, which is also called the 'inner vortex.' The inner vortex exists inside mainstream life experience and is a primal rhythm or force that is a natural compliment to the trauma vortex. It contains resources that naturally assist the healing of the trauma. ... Initially the trauma vortex is much larger than the countervortex; this creates gravitational pull toward the trauma that interferes with our ability to be in the here and now."
Jungian Analysis and Nondual Wisdom, by Bryan Wittine, is the twelfth chapter. "This chapter is about the journey in Jungian analysis of a spiritual seeker named 'Jenna,' who longed to know God. It is also about a defensive process I call 'psychospiritual splitting,' which nearly derailed Jenna's quest. Finally, it is about our analytical relationship and a nondual understanding of spirituality; both of which were central to her journey."
Such splitting is described by the author: "In our naiveté we approach spiritual practice longing to attain liberation, but in doing so we neglect to care for our sacred manifestation, the conscious and unconscious aspects of our physical bodies and personal psyches. This leaves us practicing a dualistic spirituality that perpetuates the split and leaves us feeling enfeebled and adrift, lacking creative energy, and hiding our shadow behind inflated spiritual feelings and beliefs."
Healing the split requires the recognition and addressing of the two modes of development. There is the vertical path of spiritual awakening and the horizontal path of individuation. The latter involves transformation of the shadow or wounded elements of personality and the actualization of the individual's gifts and talents. The nondual approach encompasses both modes or paths.
Chapter Thirteen is written by Jennifer Welwood. The author describes how we develop a conditioned identity. She states, "We lose the true support of our deeper nature and seek refuge in the false support of our conditioned identities. This is how our samsaric confusion manifests at the level of psychodynamics."
Further, Welwood explains, every conditioned identity is known by two poles: "the pole of who we're hoping we are, and the deeper pole of who we're fearing we are." She explains that this is an unstable situation because these are polarities that do not support each other. She says, "There is nothing we can ever do to prove that we are something as long as our deeper belief is that we really are not that -- especially when our activity to disprove that deeper belief only reinforces it." This dynamic is self-undermining -- because there is no support from the deeper pole -- and self-perpetuating, because there is actual resort to the deeper pole. The mental energy that feeds this loop is inexhaustible and if freed only be bringing awareness to it.
There is a brilliantly told section in which the author reveals her work with a couple in their forties who had been together for about two years. Welwood's introductory statement to this section I found enticing and she delivers the goods: "While our own personal samsaric loops can create tremendous suffering and bring us to the outer layers of hell, to really go all the way down into hell requires another human being. So we'll look at what happens in a relationship when two partners' intrapsychic samsaric loops interact to create an interpersonal samsaric loop."
Here is a statement that concludes this section: "For Linda and Greg then, we could say that they were caught in their samsaric predicament as long as they believed that their nature was really a deficient emptiness. And they became freer as they began to experience their nature as nondual... . The true resolution of their relational difficulties was to become more porous to their deeper nature, which then also gave them a basis for discovering real intimacy."
Nonduality as a term, as a word, remains a stranger to vast stretches of the fields not only of psychology, psychiatry, and psychotherapy, but of religion, spirituality, physics, and philosophy. And to music, art, literature, ecology, architecture, athletics, nonduality is barely a phantom; it has barely breathed in those spaces. This book, The Sacred Mirror, introduces nondual wisdom or nonduality to the field of psychotherapy. This book provides an education in nondual wisdom, an enjoyable expression of nonduality, and an opening to a new direction in psychotherapy.
The Sacred Mirror: http://www.paragonhouse.com/catalog/product_info.php?authors_id=218&products_id=315
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