The Interconnection of Self and Other:
Where Self-Inquiry and Therapy Meet
Ryan Robert Heart
California Institute of Integral Studies
TSD 741901 – Self Inquiry: Using Awareness and Attention for Transformation
April 27th, 2018
Why is self-inquiry essential to those who practice therapy and/or facilitation? It is clear to me that in order to be a truly skillful therapist and/or facilitator, one must have self-knowledge and Self-knowledge – one must have a deep understanding of one’s own conditioning, as well as an experiential grounding in That which is beyond conditioning. I see this as essential because anyone working with another (individual or group), especially in the most sensitive areas that are often addressed in therapy and group facilitations, will inevitably and inextricably be working with themselves at the same time. When one has sufficient awareness of the aspects and conditionings within oneself, it is possible to be present and compassionate with the conditionings of another. When one has awareness of Awareness Itself, it is possible to be spacious enough to allow the natural wisdom that permeates each moment to be revealed and guide the unfolding process with greater intelligence and love than any individual viewpoint could possibly contrive.
Keywords: self-inquiry, conditioning, therapy, facilitation, awareness, love, compassion, Process Work, presence, nowness, Tao
The Interconnection of Self and Other:
Where Self-Inquiry and Therapy Meet
I’m sitting at a desk feeling the weight of my body on the cushioned chair below me. My feet are held in the warmth of soft slippers while my arms protrude from a T-shirt to feel the brisk coolness in the air. Tension pulls my shoulders forward and my head down – a result of staring at a computer screen resting a foot below my brow for long, unbroken periods of time. Sirens pass by and mingle with the sounds of cooing morning doves. Excitement fills my body at the beginning of this day. I am on the edge of the Mystery of what will be and what is. All of this is what appears in my awareness. As I notice that even “I” appear in my awareness, attention turns toward awareness itself.
This is my self-inquiry practice. It is a way of bringing attention to this moment, to my sense of self, and to the awareness that encompasses the self. I get an important sense that this self-inquiry relates to my other practice of playing the roles of therapist and facilitator, but how do they relate? That is the exploration that I will pursue through the word-scape found below. I will travel through many layers of this relationship – interconnection, impermanence, personal and cultural conditioning, Truth, Love, compassion, identity, and more. I will draw upon the wisdom of many others who have walked paths of introspection and service – Ram Dass, Arnold Mindell, Krishnamurti, Rumi, and Joseph Goodbread are just a few. I will reflect on my own experience and beliefs as an opportunity to weave together my personal practice of self-inquiry and my practice of attending to others in an attempt to reveal an undivided life. I invite you to join me on this journey of discovery. If you stay with the awareness of yourself as you read, whether you encounter words that resonate with your experience or ones that seem counter to what you know to be true, I expect you will experience deeper layers of your own truth, even as I discover my own.
For me, these two – self-inquiry and therapy/facilitation – are essential to one another. Self-inquiry, a knowing and getting to know the self and the Self, is a continuous practice of awareness throughout all my days. Nothing is more important than awareness for me. As therapist or facilitator, I give from the wisdom that has been revealed to me on my path of self-inquiry, as well as learn through being in the presence of another. The wisdom does not come primarily as words or aphorisms of Truth, but as a compassionate presence that is always meeting the cutting edge of what is. Such a presence is an invitation to come into the immediacy of being alive. This present moment is where life is happening. This is where all gifts are given and received. It is this Presence of Being – what Chögyam Trungpa would call “Nowness” – that I share in my facilitation. It is Nowness that ensures that I am in integrity with the process of Life. It ensures that I am being fully authentic and honest. “If you are unable to experience now, then you’re corrupted because you are looking for another now, which is impossible. If you do that, there can only be past what future” (Trungpa, 1988, p. 96). Nowness, Presence, Truth, and compassion, are all flavors of Love for me. My joy is to Love – to be in the Presence of Love. It is my joy to give to others in this way, to recognize the Presence of Love in everything and everyone. When I give as a facilitator, I receive even as I am giving. This is an instantaneous reciprocity that allows me to fully meet whoever I am with in equality.
How is self-inquiry and a knowledge of oneself, or gnosis, essential to the practice of therapy and facilitation? To me, it seems that they are actually not so separate. I see them as one practice. To discover the unity in these practices, let us look at awareness. Awareness is the essential ingredient in self-inquiry. Self-inquiry is the practice of directing attention toward oneself. In other words, it means being aware of oneself – What is arising in awareness? What thoughts, sensations, feelings, emotions, and images appear? What is the quality of this moment? And, who is aware of all this? These questions are the basis of self-inquiry. The common ingredient in all of them is awareness. The content of all that appears in the space of self-inquiry contains the fundamental elements that come up in therapy and facilitation. It is for this reason that self-inquiry has been a foundational practice for me as I engage with others in the role of a facilitator.
The purpose of the role of a therapist or facilitator can be found in the roots of their etymology. “Therapist” has the Greek root theraps, which means “attendant” (Marinoff, 2002, p. 84). It is the job, or purpose, of the therapist to attend. To attend one must give one’s attention, or be aware. This is the same quality that is needed in self-inquiry. “Facilitate” has the Latin root facilis, which means “easy” (Facilitate, 2018). A facilitator’s job is to make something easier. When there is a higher, or more comprehensive, level of awareness of what is happening, there is an opportunity for greater ease in the unfolding of the process. However, awareness is not the sole quality that makes a process easier. I have found compassion to be an essential element in facilitation as well. Compassion is the warmth that is able to intimately meet the struggles and suffering within a person, group, situation or process. Such a warmth that runs from nothing and naturally flows wherever there is a need, has been the partner quality that I cannot be without when I play the role of a facilitator or therapist. It is also an indispensable ally in my practice of self-inquiry, for it allows me to stay with the pain that I encounter along the way of deepening into my awareness of self.
Ram Dass & Paul Gorman ask this question: “If any of these roles are who we think we are – social worker, therapist, mother – what’s left when they fall away?” (Dass & Gorman, 1985, p. 27). I play many roles in my life, but none of them are me. I am something more fluid than any role. I offer this insight to the people I work with, not by telling them so, but by embodying the Truth of it. For example, I might begin with someone as a friend, then move into the role of therapist – a role full of personally and culturally conditioned ideas – then into playing the role of father, mother, daughter, boss, stranger, and on and on. Whatever is needed, I am able to play that role because I am not strictly identified with any role. This fluidity allows me to be present in a way that is more helpful than any particular role could be. It is also a way of revealing the Truth that what I am(and they are) is beyond any role that I (or they) play. “While some self-images are more likely to facilitate the expression of our compassion than others, it is also true thatanymodel of the self, positive or negative, will limit our capacity to help. Each form we identify with, each role we attach to, is ultimately incomplete and transient” (Dass & Gorman, 1985, p. 26).
In Lak’ech is a Mayan phrase that has been translated to mean, “You are my other me” (Villanueva, 2013, p. 28). It is similar to Namaste, which has in its essence the meaning of “I honor that in you which is the same in me.” These words point to the truth that I experience when I am working with individuals and groups. In the process of meeting others deeply, I inevitably come upon reflections within them that show me myself. This experience has reinforced my notion that it is critically important for me to know myself well and to practice self-inquiry. This mirror-like effect that I experience with others lets me know that I can always refine and evolve my capacity as a therapist-facilitator, even when I am alone, because I am always with myself! I cultivate the ability to respond to others with love and compassion by practicing with myself. It is not the skills and techniques that I have learned along the way that make me “good” at what I do, though these are certainly helpful tools. It is my compassionate and loving connection with the present moment, as well as the way that I embody the deepest insights of my life, that is truly helpful to the people I facilitate.
It is important to elucidate the practice of self-inquiry a bit more before going any further. The way I see it, there is self-inquiry and there is Self-inquiry, though the line between when one is practicing one or the other is not so clear. The former, with a small “s” for “self,” is an exploration, through attention, of the conditioned and relative self. This self is made up of images, beliefs, passing thoughts, feelings, sensations, emotions, desires, dreams, cultural imprints, fears, and all that which comes and goes, changes, and ultimately has no solidity, though it may feelvery solid at times. This is an important self to get to know. It is this self that shows up in relationship. Buddhists refer to this self as being empty, as being illusory. This means that it is changeful and impermanent. Empty doesn’t mean the self doesn’t exist – we experience it – but it points to the fact that it does not exist in and of itself, nor does it persist in its existence as an unchanging entity. Krishnamurti speaks of how the thinker of the thoughts is simply a product of the thoughts themselves – an attempt for thought to create something that is apparently solid and permanent (Rajagopal, 1960, p. 66). Because the self-image is not actually unchanging, this takes continuous effort – thoughts and experiences must continuously refer back to the self-image – in order to make it seem real. “Each of us has an image of what we think we are or what we should be, and that image, that picture, entirely prevents us from seeing ourselves as we actually are” (Krishnamurti, 1969, p. 24). This recognition, is the start of Self-inquiry, with a big “S.”
Self-inquiry is a searching for something that is beyond all temporary conditions. The question that comes to mind is, “What (or who) is aware of all this?” So many changing and impermanent forms are appearing and disappearing, even what I have taken to be myself I have seen to be empty of continuous reality – “What sees all this?” Such an inquiry is a redirection of awareness upon itself. Suddenly, it is not so important what is appearing on the screen of consciousness, it is the screen itself that becomes of interest – not what one is aware of, but awareness itself. This shift can be incredibly liberating. “There is radical transformation only when we understand our own conditioning and are free of it” (emphasis my own, Needleman quoting Krishnamurti, 1970, p. 165).
The idea is not to get rid of conditioning nor to deny it. The key is to be awareof it without collapsing into total identification with it. To deny conditioning would be to repress something from awareness. Such repression is bound to create disharmony. It is equally important to refrain from collapsing into total identification with the conditioned self – the role(s) which we play – for to do so is to set oneself apart from the world in such a way that everything that one does not identify with becomes “the other” and is made largely unconscious. Dass and Gorman explain why this kind of identification is dangerous in a therapeutic setting:
“Implicit in any model of who wethink we are is a message to everyone about who theyare. […] The more you think of yourself as a “therapist,” the more pressure there is on someone to be a “patient.” […] You’re buying into, even juicing up, precisely what people who are suffering want to be rid of: limitation, dependency, helplessness, separateness. And that’s happening largely as a result of self-image” (Dass & Gorman, 1985, p. 28).
The importance of this dynamic is seen in the facilitation paradigm created by Arnold Mindell now called Process Work. This facilitation paradigm was birthed by Mindell with the help of his studies in Taoism, alchemy, shamanism, physics, Jungian depth psychology, and more. Goodbread, a longtime process worker, uses the term “dreaming up” to refer to the way our roles create and influence one another (1997, p. 15). In the view of Process Work, we, as individuals, are part of a great Dreaming Process and we are “dreamed up” by this Process. This Dreaming might also be called the Tao. In Self-inquiry, one might ask, “Who is the Dreamer of this Dreaming?” Perhaps it is the Eternal Tao that cannot be spoken, as Lao Tzu says in the first poem of his Tao Teh Ching: “Tao can be talked about, but not the Eternal Tao. Names can be named, but not the Eternal Name” (Lao Tzu, 2005, p. 3). Mixing the language and wisdom of Taoism and Jungian dreamwork, Mindell uses terms like “the Process,” or “the Dreaming,” to refer to the totality of what is unfolding in this moment – “Dreaming is the energy behind everything; it is the life force of all living beings, the power of trees and plants, and the power of motors, business, and financial centers” (Mindell, 2000, p. 5). The dreaming upthat arises from the level of the Dreaming puts us into all kinds of roles, none of which are who wereally are, though we may identify with them for a time. Self- and self-inquiry are helpful in this process of being dreamed up into roles because it helps one to be consciously aware of what is happening, rather than unknowingly pulled from one role to the next or fastidiously clinging to a role. The greater and more refined awareness that is attained through the practice of Self- and self-inquiry allows the therapist-facilitator to maintain awareness of the wholeness of the process, without collapsing into the identify of any particular role, yet still preserving the ability to playa role. “The greater the therapist’s skill at maintaining a neutral overview [the Self] while meta-communicating about his emotional involvement [the role], the more deeply he may allow himself to become involved in the process. The more dependable his lifeline, the farther he may venture into the stormy reaches of the sea” (Goodbread, 1997, p. 47). For me, the lifeline is Awareness itself and an understanding that the Essence of who I am is not encapsulated in any of the ever-changing appearances.
This paradigm of Process Work is “an approach to psychotherapy that favors following rather than correcting the course of nature” (Goodbread, 1997, p.18). Process Work is a holistic framework that sees awareness as the essential healing ingredient. It does not start with an assumption that something is wrongand that it needs fixing. The purpose of Process Work is to follow the naturally unfolding process and through this following become more conscious of what is and what is becoming. This is also the basis of self-inquiry, as pointed to by G. I. Gurdjieff : “The primary method of self-study [or self-inquiry] is self-observation,” (Gurdjieff, 2012, p. 26). Self-observation is not a doing or correcting of what is being perceived, but a very basic awareness of oneself without necessarily doinganything about what is perceived. David Bohm points out that “as soon as we try to accomplish a useful purpose or goal, we will have an assumption behind it as to what is useful, and that assumption is going to limit us” (Bohm, 1996, p. 20). “It makes no difference what is observed,” says Jacob Needleman, “disorder observed is already order. Why? Because psychological disorder involves the attempt to change or deny what is the case in oneself. But on what basis is this change desired? […] it is thought, the picture one has of oneself” (Needleman, 1970, p. 147). Better to leave the perceived disorder to the innate intelligence of Awareness. Any attempt to improve conditioning will arise from a conditioned belief about what is “better.”
From the view of Awareness, there is nothing to fix. There is nothing out of place. The only thing to do is to allow the Process to unfold. I use the word “allow,” which is even more open than “follow,” to point out the effortlessness that is available. The Process, or the Tao, is infinitely intelligent. It is enough to simply be aware. Awareness is the greatest facilitator. Trusting this is part of my job as a facilitator. The more that I fully trust the natural intelligence of the unfolding process, the more expanded and refined my awareness can be. I serve the Tao, the Process, by being aware of what is occurring and bringing greater attention to what is happening right now. It does not mean not acting, for sometimes the Tao, or the Dreaming, moves me to play an active part in the process. To suppress this movement would be to suppress the Dreaming. As facilitator, I am an integral part of the process and must recognize this, not resist it. And yet, even resistance is welcome, for it is just another quality that is dreamt up in the process from time to time.
“The very act of listening is a liberation. It is an action that does not flee the present moment, and when I know the present as it is, there is transformation. I go toward the unknown until I come to a moment when no thought moves my mind, when there is nothing outside myself” (De Salzmann, 2010, p. 163).
It is this kind of listening that De Salzmann describes that I strive for in my practice as a therapist and facilitator, as well as in my practice of self- and Self-inquiry. This is the unbiased awareness that has nothing to do but be utterly present with what is. This in itself brings transformation. Change is natural since there is an impermanence to all things. Awareness of what is brings attention to what is already changing. Awareness, with the presence of Love and compassion, seems to naturally guide that change toward that which is more harmonious for the whole. What I offer in my facilitation is not so much an active effort, but a natural movement that is full of creativity beyond anything I could possibly contrive.
When I sit with people in a session, I don’t usually call myself a therapist or facilitator. To do so would immediately begin to solidify my role and the relationship that I have with the person or group before me. I show up as I am without agenda and do my best to leave behind, or at least be aware of, assumptions I have about myself and the other(s). In this way, I come in the spirit of self-inquiry. I start with the open mindedness of an un-worded question, for even a worded question contains assumptions within itself. If I begin with assumptions of any kind, then I have begun with answers. Such a way of starting would blind me to anything that stands outside of my preconceived notions, which, in the face of the Infinite, would be quite a loss.
It is incredible what can happen in the presence of openness that is uncertain of what will be. Only in this uncertainty can one fully meet the unknown and discover something new. Uncertainty allows for the unpredictable and the spontaneous. Uncertainty means a letting go of knowing and an embrace of not knowing.
“An anxious, self-protective ego is most comfortable in a familiar role in which it knows exactly what’s expected of it. This […] leads the ego to hold onto one model of identity unless it has another equally comfortable one to slip into. It’s reluctant to grow, which means opening to the ambiguity of the unknown and learning new roles”(Dass & Gorman, 1985, p. 24).
Sometimes, coming with the attitude of uncertainty feels like a radical leap of faith when I am stepping into a facilitation role. I arrive without agenda, without a plan, and without really knowing what I am getting myself into. When I first began this kind of work, I would encounter great fear and doubt in the presence of this uncertainty. After having practiced this attitude for some years, I still feel the tremblings of the ego from time to time, which wants something to hold onto in order to secure its own survival, but now that same trembling feels more like excitement and aliveness. I don’t fear the uncertain quality so much anymore because I know that it is actually in line with the way things are. It’s not as though the Great Mystery disappears when I become certain – I just miss it! When I hold onto something that I know for sure, I become unaware of all the possibilities that would contradict it. By going into a session or meeting with uncertainty, I am aligning with reality. Even the most comprehensive plan would not account for the infinite possibilities of an unknown encounter to come.
Since I am not yet completely free of identification with my self-image, I experience an incomplete awareness at times, especially when I am near an edge. When I get to my edges, it is important to practice compassion and self-inquiry. Edges are places where I feel uncomfortable, where I begin to try to run away or grab hold of something for security. This is when the separate-self-sense arises with great strength to try to maintain itself and its apparent permanency. These edge places are incredible places for growth and awakening if one is able to stay aware. At the edge, I have noticed that the tendency is for conditioning to first intensify and then begin to unravel.
Edges are where clients and therapists get dreamed up into roles. When I come upon an edge, I begin to manifest all kinds of signals in my body language, in my thoughts and feelings, in the tone of my voice, and more. These signals are broadcasting my edge to the world. The world, or whoever I am with, then begins to respond to all the information that I am communicating, whether I’m aware of it or not. If I am unconscious of the signals I am broadcasting, I will likely be confused and surprised by the way people respond to me. However, if I am aware of the signals that are occurring at my edge, I will not be so shocked by how the world is responding – I can use their responses and my own unintentional, but noticed, signals to get a better understanding of the edge that is present. When I am in a helping role such as a therapist or facilitator, I can use this edge awareness to aid client(s) in becoming more aware of their edge.
Every role and every identity or self-image has edges. It is simply the nature of an identity to have edges, since the creation of an identity is equally due to what one thinks is meand what one thinks is not me– the edge lies in between the two. If there is an allowance of growth, edges can be met, understood, and they may dissolve or strengthen depending on what is needed. As a therapist, I must be willing to work on my edges in the process of relating with my client(s). If I do not have this willingness, then I will unwittingly suppress and marginalize everything in the client that is over my edge! For this reason, I am committed to learning about my edges and training myself to stay present and open when approaching them. This way, when I approach my own edge in a session with a client, I am able stay compassionately present for the unfolding that happens around and beyond the edge. “The challenge is to ride the wave with awareness, rather than be sucked down by its unexpected power” (Goodbread, 1997, 159).
Love is the main ingredient of all of this. Self- and self-inquiry, therapy, facilitation – the way I see it, it’s all Love dancing with itself. In seeing it this way, everything is endlessly welcome. Love cannot do it wrong. Love does not get in the way of anything – It isthe way. So how does one embody Love in self-inquiry and in the role of a facilitator? By being oneself, of course! By being oneself in the process of self-inquiry, then the self is met and can be inquired into. By being oneself in therapy, trust is built in the exchange of authenticity. And, since all is Love, oneself is no exception. Giving oneself to another is giving Love to another. But even to say that Love is given is to potentially miss the point that Love is given to Love by Love for Love. Who is doing the loving? Such a question brings us deeper into self-inquiry and opens up a door to a greater understanding of what is taking place in a therapeutic-facilitation relationship.
Is Love all there is? Were the Beatles right? What is “Love” anyway? It seems to come in a wide variety of flavors. Here’s a shot at a definition, which is sure to fall short and should certainly not be taken as truth: Love is that which stands in the way of nothing and naturally orchestrates the harmony of the whole. Such a definition speaks nothing of the passion of Love that is Eros. It fails to recognize that Love will embrace and support disharmony as equally and unbiasedly as Love embraces and supports harmony. It also fails to mention how sometimes the most loving thing is an obstacle. I see Love as infinite and all-embracing. It cannot be held captive by any words. I go to poetry when I need to speak or hear about Love. To illustrate this, here is a poem by Rumi called “Love and I Talking:”
“Love says, You cannot deny me. Try.
I say, Yes, you appear out of nowhere
like the bubbles in wine, here, then not.
Love says, Prisoned in the body-jar,
singing at the banquet.
I say, this ecstasy is dangerous.
Love says, I sip the delicious day,
until night takes the cup away.
Then I insist night give it back.
The light I see by never changes.
Arabs describe wine with the word mudam,
which means continual. On and on and on,
because wine drinkers never get enough.
The water of realization is the wine we mean
where love is the liquid, your body the flagon.
Grace floods in. The wine’s power
breaks the jar. It’s happening now.
The water of waking becomes the one who pours,
the wine itself, and every presence at the banquet.
No metaphor can hold this truth
that knows how to keep secret
and when to show itself.”
(Rumi, 2004, p. 354)
Why speak so much of Love? I speak about it because it is central to my trust in allowing the process of any individual or group to unfold without interference. The recognition that Love is always present means that I can relax and embrace whatever comes, even if it is something that is so far from my conceptof Love that it shatters me open into a more expansive understanding of reality. Love is necessary in the context of my self- and Self-inquiry as well. Since this is something I believe to be true – “Love is all there is” – then it is important to inquire into this belief to discover what my actual experience of Love is, beyond the concept. Only then will I be able to live the truth of the experienceof Love.
Throughout this essay, I have revealed how I experience the interconnection of self-inquiry and therapy/facilitation, as well as how they are helpful to one another. It is my hope that this exploration will create more room for Love to flow through both of these practices. I have no conclusions I wish to make that could then be held onto as answers. It is not the answers that are so valuable, but the questions which open the doors to the possibility of rediscovering the Self (and the self) anew in this moment. I cannot help but notice the way I have been dreamed up in the writing of this paper. In so many ways, you, the reader, are dreaming me up right now. It is only fair, since I have been dreaming of you the whole time I have been writing. I have come to know you by what is within me and you have come to know me by what is within you. As Lao Tzu would say: “How do I know the world? By what is within me”(Lao Tzu, 2005, p. 111).
Bohm, D. (1996). On Dialogue. New York: Routledge.
Dass, R. & Gorman, P. (1985). How can I help?New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
De Salzmann, J. (2010). The reality of being: the fourth way of Gurdjieff. Boston: Shambhala.
Facilitate. (2018). In Merrian-Webster.com. Retrieved April 26, 2018, from https://www.merriam webster.com/dictionary/facilitate
Goodbread, J. (1997). Radical intercourse: How dreams unite us in love, conflict, and other inevitable relationships. Portland, OR: Lao Tse Press.
Gurdjieff, G.I. (2012). In search of being: Thefourth way to consciousness. Boston: Shambhala.
Krishnamurti, J. (1969). Freedom from the known.San Francisco: Harper.
Marinoff, L. (2002). Philosophical practice. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.
Mindell, A. (2014). Sitting in the fire: Large group transformation using conflict and diversity. San Francisco: Deep Democracy Exchange.
Needleman, J. (1970). A Note on Krishnamurti: Chapter 6. The new religions
New York: Crossroad.
Rajagopal, D. (Ed.). (1960). Commentaries on living: from the notebooks of J. Krishnamurti.
Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House.
Rumi. (2004). The essential Rumi. (C. Barks, Trans.). New York: HarperCollins.
Trungpa, C. (1988). Shambhala: the sacred path of the warrior. Boston: Shambhala.
Tzu, L. (2005). Tao teh ching. (J. C. H. Wu, Trans.). Boston: Shambhala.
Villanueva, S. T. (2013). Teaching as a healing craft: Decolonizing the classroom and creating spaces of hopeful resistance through Chicano-indigenous pedagogical praxis. The Urban Review, 45(1), 23-40.
Photo Credit: Hoffnungsschimmer / Flickr Creative Commons