Towards an Integration of Counselling,Clienting and Meditation
Towards an integration of counselling,clienting and meditation.
Cover illustration: The two beard pullers contemplatingthe knots of eternity - a recurrent image in the book of Kells - are usinga technique of paired meditation. An apt illustration - but to redressany unintended impression that our findings may only have relevanceto bearded ones, we have used ‘she’ as the personal pronoun in the followingaccount.
This booklet evolved out of a co-operative inquiry (1997/1998)entitled:
"Towards an Integration of Counselling, Clienting andMeditation"
Our essential proposition was "Meditation and Co-counsellingcan be usefully combined in a single session" and during the course ofsix months of research - 4 days spent working intensively as a group aswell as our individual explorations between meetings - we began to feelwe were involved in developing a new method of dyad work which we callCO-MED.
As a practical outcome of the inquiry we wish to makeour findings and recommendations available to the Co-counselling communityand to the wider community of seekers and healers and we hope that thisbooklet can serve as a starting point for further exploration and developmentof the CO-MED method.
The word CO-MED is a contraction/combination of Co-counsellingand Meditation. It also carries a message of 'meditating with or together'The
CO-MED method, in working towards an integration of Co-counsellingprinciples and (Insight) meditation principles is a dynamic interplay betweentwo very different ways of being with feelings and/or mind-states. In Co-counsellingthere is an emphasis on moving on - be it a deliberate intensificationor a cathartic discharge of feeling - and an active, purposeful explorationof connections and causes. In (Insight) Meditation the emphasis is on asharp, in the moment awareness of the ever changing process of mind-states-watching thought, sensation and feeling arise and pass away without 'followingup' the original thought/feeling/sensation with a reactive curiosity orrepressive avoidance. Crudely put, Co-counselling requires an active 'identifyingwith', Meditation an aware 'disidentification from.'
CO-MED, by first setting the intention to combine thesetwo ways of being, then extends the principle of 'client in charge' and'setting the contract' to include choices about when to simply 'be with'and when to 'be working on' the contents of awareness.
Insight Meditation: A broad term to include allforms of meditation which use Mindful Awareness a.k.a. Vipassana, Shamata,Zazen, Choiceless Awareness.
Concentration Meditation: The other broad categoryof meditation, would include the chanting of mantras, visualisation practices,the movement of inner energies, worship, prayer etc. These practices wouldnot lend themselves to CO-MED. in the same way. We have, however, experimentedwith metta bhavana - (a practice of concentrating upon and generating feelingsof loving kindness) - this was in the context of asking the counsellor,rather than the client, to do this practice - see below)
Setting the Intention: Towards the end of our group'swork together we realised that we were benefiting from the cumulative effectof working in this way and considered how a new group or pair might reachthis point more directly. We strongly recommend the following 'openingroutine' which, from a secular point of view could be thought of as a practiceof setting intention and attunement. For the more spiritually inclinedit might be considered as a ritual for opening sacred space.
After the contract has been set (see later) partners enterinto a period of mutual gaze which is brought to a close with a spontaneousNAMASTE - the hands are brought together at the heart and partners bowsimultaneously, not only interpersonally to each other, but also, transpersonally,to salute the transcended self which belongs to neither but is the provinceof both. The first phase of the work then begins and on completion of thelast phase the ritual is repeated.
(The tendency to flit focus between one eye to the othercan be obviated by gazing at the triangle formed by the eyes and the brow.)
In the same way that a hug ends spontaneously with onepartner giving a little extra squeeze which is immediately reciprocated,gaze comes to a close when the first partner begins to raise hands to thechest. It's perhaps an indication of effective attunement when it becomesdifficult to discern which partner initiated the Namaste.
Setting the contract: In addition to the usual:who goes first, choice between free attention, normal or intensive interventions,5 min warning or whatever, it is in the contracting that the client designsthe kind of integration she wants.
Kinds of Integration
In the first, the sandwich, periods of clientingand meditation are clearly timed and sequenced. If partners agree to asymmetrical structure, then a central meditation period can serve to finishclient 1 and start client 2 ie.
(med), (client 1), (med), (client 2), (med). No attentionswitching is necessary in this model, this will take place spontaneouslyin meditation. (See the table in the appendix for suggestions of waysto structure different time periods). Generally, a period of meditationcan be used differently according to whether you are preparing to counselor to client. If she is to be counselling next, the meditator will be preparingto deliver her free attention/normal contract etc. with the same attentionto detail and devotion to task that she is presently developing in hermeditation. If she is preparing to client the meditator will be observingthe flow of body/mind events - noting, perhaps, recurring themes or preoccupationsin readiness for her forthcoming client work. Depending on the extent towhich the client is prepared to truly work with 'what's on top', quiteunexpected and previously unexplored directions for client work can emergein this way.
And counsellor and client may not always be meditatingat the same time. Two alternatives which we explored were:
a) whilst client meditates, counsellor does metta bhavana(projecting feelings of loving kindness towards client - a kind of concentrationmeditation)
b) whilst client meditates, counsellor uses her intuitioncombined with any discernible client cues to detect when client driftsaway from mindful awareness and to bring client back with touch on herhand or soft verbal reminder.
Dynamic Integration: This is a more subtle, unstructuredprocess. (It emerged in the later stages of our research and we recommendwould be CO-MED'ers to become familiar with the sandwich style of integrationfirst.)
From within a period of inner observation- of the arisingand passing away of mind/body phenomena- the client chooses an object uponwhich to work and begins to develop it into an issue through normal co-counsellingdialogue to the point at which some sense of completion is achieved - eitherthrough cathartic discharge, celebration, commitment or direction - whereuponshe re-enters a period of meditative inner observation, allowing insightsto settle into place.
She continues to watch the 'flotsam and jetsam' of experienceuntil another 'item' holds her attention sufficiently to become the nextobject to work upon. This cycle is repeated to fill the client time available.Much can be learned in this way, not only from the insights gleaned fromworking with the objects chosen, but also, by examining and adjusting one'sselection criteria. She may also experience an unusual state of consciousnessby ‘balancing on the knife edge’ between ‘experiencing’ experience and‘working with’ an experience.
The least structured integration: This only emergedduring the final day of our work together. It was not properly researched,but is mentioned as a pointer to future inquiries.
To simply state a very complex and subtle process: Bothpartners meditate together until one spontaneously breaks into expressiveclienting whereupon the other adopts the role of counsellor. (Alternatively,one may intuitively feel that it is time to shift from meditation intogiving free attention to the other person.) The process continues in thecyclical manner described above with the difference that either personcan client next. The partners will need to be well attuned to each other;turn taking might be agreed upon beforehand to help guard against any compromiseof peer reciprocity.
AND - combinations of the above are obviously possible- for example, one might choose a sandwich integration with a dynamicintegration in the clienting phase.
To summarise, in different words:
a) Preparatory attunement:
Find ways to remind yourself/selves of the fact that youand everyone/thing else is an infinite being - the unbounded universe.(your Buddha-nature cannot be achieved, only realised - it’s who you alwaysreally are) - find a way to express this verbally or non-verbally. Eg..saying or enacting ‘Namaste’, bowing, silent eye-contact, holding hands,breathing deeply together, embracing, saying prayers, chanting, lightingcandles/incense etc.
b) The Co-Med contract:
Divide the time as you wish into alternating periods ofmeditation and communication; or mix meditation and communication, as thespirit moves. If you wish to dispense entirely with client/counsellor rolesthe contract could be:
‘Free attention to both oneself and the other and feelfree to intervene’
Whatever the contract, make room (allow) for:
Sacred contemplation/infinity/silence/space/stillness/emptiness/non-being/not-self/theground of being/the Buddha/ the Self/the Great cosmic Mother/the CosmicChrist/Wakan Tanka/Allah/nothingness/the void/no-mind/peace and quiet/relaxation/theopening of the thousand-petalled lotus, ...........the nameless, the namethat suits you!
A Few words on Group Practice
We are writing about an experience which happened mostlyin a group context. The principle bit of practical advice we have to offeris: - design it so that your session contracts are synchronised - ie, sothat all pairs are sitting in meditation at the same time! In marathonCO-MEDS, if partnerships and ordering is worked out at the beginning ofthe day, a powerful working atmosphere is generated by bringing everyoneback for Group meditation at each partner change.
Group member’s competency: We are assuming thatmost people whose interest has lead them to read so far will already befamiliar with both a form of Co-counselling and a form of Insight meditationpractice. Here are a few contact people/organisations for further developmentof individual competencies.
|Peter Birtwell||London CCI contact||0181 348 8516|
|John Talbot||National CCI contact||01530 836 780|
|Shambhala Meditation Centre||Secular meditation instruction||0171 720 3207|
|Gaia House||Devon Meditation retreat centre||01626 333 613|
Some suggested sandwich fillings:
a) Equal Med and Co
|Session time =||75min||100min||100min|
b) More Co than Med
|Session time =||70min||90min||110min|
c) More Med than Co
|Session time =||80min||90min||120min|
d) Miscellaneous suggestions:
|Session Time =||50min||100min||120min|
|Session Time =||50min||100min||130min|
Where Coco A+B, Coco B+A signify ordinary turn takingCo-counselling and Coco ABBA suggests time spent exploring that leaststructured integration which we refer to above. Remembering, too, thatclient time can be straight co-counseling; and it could also be used toexplore the dynamic integration.