Towards an Integration of Counselling,Clienting and Meditation
(1) I am writing thisreport two weeks after our meeting - the exigencies of the Xmas periodintervened! The style of the report feels different in a number of ways.To begin with, it is unashamedly more subjective - I wrote the last onein a quasi-scientific report writing style in which I endeavoured to concealnot only my own subjective identity, but to anonomise all the participants.This was noted by the group, but the benefits of my attempt to maintainconfidentiality were somewhat offset by the losing the opportunity of creditingsomeone with a ‘brilliant contribution.’ Moreover, misquotes are stillattributable; Gina noted that in my report I had stated ‘someone said thatit felt like being in a staff room at school’ whereas she had said shefelt like she was in a staff meeting at school. (I’ve just checked thatGina and I did actually quote that ‘someone’ as referring to a staff meetingrather than a staff room.)
(2) Another differenceis that our record keeping was much smoother this time - thanks to Marywho kept notes on our ‘itinerary’, and to the practice we agreed upon ofdoing a recorded ‘gathering’ after important feedback rounds.
(3) [The term GATHER,in co-counselling circles, refers to the contribution towards group clarityand understanding made by any member of the group who chooses to summariseand collate the various differing opinions and viewpoints expressed bygroup members during a discussion or feedback round.]
(4) Ihad had a few cancellations - the last one I received at 8.45 that morning.There was some considerable disappointment about the missing people inthe air as people began to arrive and we all felt that this needed to beprocessed in some way first of all. We sat in a circle holding hands toattune to each other. I stated that I had no specific agenda for the day.The group heard that with some amusement and there was discussion abouthow to proceed. We agreed to a 15min group meditation followed by a 10minseach way co-co mini-session. We came back together and out of a varietyof suggestions created an experiential exercise with two stages. The firststage, proposed by Gina, required us to lie on the floor heads togetherin a star shape and hum for 10 mins. This was followed by a guided imageryexercise in which Mary talked us through the polar opposite outcome scenariosfor the weekend, - the best and worst - and asked us to imagine how wewould feel about those outcomes and how we would have contributed to themhappening. There was appreciative laughter in the group as we noticed howour circle, as it reformed at the end of this joint exercise, was shufflingcloser together! We then shared our hopes and fears for the day. I sharedanxieties about record keeping, about my facilitation tending to err onthe chaos side of balance! My hopes: that we would have a good discussionabout the concept of validity, and that we would genuinely discover somethingnew this weekend about the integration of meditation with co-counsellingthat we could usefully articulate to the wider co-counselling community.Jilly spoke of her feelings of frustration in an unstructured group environmentand of her fear of being tempted to try to take control of a group in thosecircumstances. She’d had some thoughts on ‘culture setting’ which she’dnoted down on the journey here and wanted to put that on the agenda fordiscussion. We had a useful discussion about our group culture - particularlyaround confidentiality. [In a co-counselling session absolute confidentialityis assumed - in group discussions it is less clear what our ground rulesare - in fact they need to be agreed for each new group ] We agreedthat if ,as individuals, we wanted something we shared to remain confidentialthen we would take responsibility to announce that to the group.Discussioncontinued in order to create our agenda for the rest of the day. We agreedthat a priority was to report back on our individual research work at home.
(5) Therewas an interesting and congruent encounter between Jilly and Mary at onepoint in this discussion about Jilly’s notes which remained within theseated circle. Mary said that she felt dominated by Jilly’s agenda andasked that they be removed. Jilly felt that she still needed these notes- a compromise was reached by Jilly tucking them under her cushion.
(6) Theagreed mechanism for this was a detailed sharing round followed by a recordedgather. The round took about an hour.
(7) To write this upI first listened to the whole round - which was also recorded - and thenI listened to the gather - to check on the efficiency of the gather method.There was too much in the first round to attempt to summarise . Thoughthe gather left a good deal out, and there were the occasional new perspectivesadded at this stage, I am generally satisfied that the gather worked wellas a summarising and collating tool.
(8) Gather:Quite a few instances of investigating order effects, Jilly clear thatco-co preceding med. is beneficial, less certain about the other way roundbut concludes she needs to look into it more. Jilly & Mary arrangedregular sessions between our meetings - also used a rating method for mindsstate before and after; this was useful for Jilly, less so for Mary. Anothertheme was the buddying - it didn’t work very well for many people and itwas difficult to sustain the inquiry practice without some sort of continuityof group support. One or two mentions of med & co-co somehow combined- Julian using a co-co partner to try to monitor his lapses of mindfulnessand finding a surprising level of correspondence, Chris using the questionin Dyad work "What keeps you from being present?" Mary mentions the effectnot only of integration but also of being with another person/persons whoshe trusts and respects - and the group setting somehow allowing her abetter access to feelings which, if on her own, she would tend to simplydispassionately observe. There was more clarity around co-co’s ‘dealingwith feelings through catharsis cf. med’s simply ‘being with.’ I spokeof how useful I had found my regular med/co sessions with a neighbour.One thing I want to add to that format is a brief period of ritual at thebeginning and at the end of work together - a kind of mutual salute toeach others inner wisdom and clarity. My other line of inquiry, the ‘meditationand awareness’ group which I attended for 6 weeks (2.5 hrs pw.) I was lessenthusiastic about, though I did recognise that it is important for meto be more mindful on the ‘macro’ level of changing moods or mind statesas well as on the ‘micro’ level of passing thoughts.
(9) Afterour gather, with a few minutes to go before our agreed tea break I reflectedon our process and asked whether we thought there was any more meaningwe could extract from the period of feedback and reflection we had justhad. David spoke of ‘what to do with’ anger - that meditation doesn’t feelappropriate at that time, the catharsis of co-co satisfies the need toDO SOMETHING with a powerful feeling such as anger. Mary spoke of a fearof ‘losing’ her anger through meditation - being in touch with anger somehowfeels rare and precious. This sparked off a discussion about the relevanceof DOING SOMETHING with difficult feelings. I referred to our last meetingat which the most popular question, when we were fishing for propositions,was ‘what is the difference between Catharsis and Transmutation?’ I fellinto thinking that Transmutation is something that happens during meditationbut since realised transmutation implies a kind of willed activity whichclashes with my perception of simply ‘being with’ in meditation. Davidrecounted a time when he had severe appendicitis pain during a meditationretreat and explained that for him, the going away of the pain was a transmutationand that it was enabled by simply ‘being with’ and accepting his experience.As a group we became aware that we didn’t have a clear definition of transmutation- as David spoke of it it sounded like something that simply happens asa result of active awareness and acceptance of what is; yet the transmutationtechnique we used at the last meeting - visualising the lowering of a lampinto the darkness - seemed to have an active directive quality to it. Marycontrasted her experience of anger ‘going away again’ with David’s experienceof pain/anger shifting. In her experience nothing shifted, nothing resolved.We discussed the difference between pushing back down and shifting. Jillyspoke of her anger, once, in a meditation gp. when a latecomer arrivedvery noisily. By simply focussing on her anger she felt it evaporate -I pointed out that on that occasion it was not necessary , as in co-coto focus on archeology of the distress feeling....ie ‘what does the situationremind you of? and when did you first feel like this? etc leading to acatharsis of the stuck feeling. Rather, on this occasion, it was sufficientsimply to give full awareness to that feeling.
(10) Thisseemed to lead on very well to our next chosen activity which centred aroundthe simple proposition: Co-counselling and Meditation can be usefullycombined in a single (reciprocal) turn-taking session. There was somebrief discussion about how we were to define ‘useful’ - we concluded thatit was tied in with our subjective experience. - part of our critical subjectivity.
(11) Weworked in 2*2’s and 1*3 - 10 mins each way for pairs and 7 mins each wayfor 3’s.we then came back together for a round in which we shared our experiencesand reflections - this was summarised using the same, recorded ‘gather’technique.
(12) Davidsimply reported that for him the proposition had been adequately supported- that he had been able to deal satisfactorily with whatever arose forhim. I worked with Julian who chose to explore further the use of a co-counsellingpartner to detect when his attention was drifting. He reported that I wasquite close to the mark - usually intervening (with Where’s your attentionnow? or Are you drifting ?) just moments after he had lost his awareness.In the gather I was asked how did I know?
(13)Idon’t know that I did know! I reported feeling that I was on the trackof something new - it is dynamic, shifting - it feels like being on theedge, a knife edge - the balance between experiencing my experience andtalking about it. The session was definitely useful for me in that it gaveme a new line of inquiry - until now all my investigation had centred ona sequential sandwich of the two - now I am on the trail of a dynamic balanceof choice between the two ways. Jilly found that the quiet period she choseto take prior to clienting enabled her to be in touch with her body andless likely to ask herself the question, almost automatically, ‘what’son top for me at the moment?’ She was left feeling more open to exploration- up until now she had recognised the usefulness of co-co before meditationbut not vice-versa. Julian thoughts on the proposition were - ‘Not withoutpractice!’ Gina, too, wanted to experiment with it a lot more. Her firstthought was that she had failed to integrate but on listening to Jilly’sexperiences, she realised that the few moments of silence which precededher clienting work probably did make a qualitative difference.
(14)ValidityIssuesAt the end of this gather I requested that we have a look atthe factors which make it more or less likely that the decisions we makeabout any given proposition are valid or not.
(15)Ihad prepared a list earlier taken from ‘Human inquiry In Action’(Rowan & Reason,1988) but before reading from it I asked whether anyoneelse had any expertise they would like to offer on the subject of validity.Julian had a ‘hot’ issue that he wanted us to discuss and that was "Whatdo we mean by Meditation, are we talking about the same thing?" I was delightedto remark to the group that this issue happened to coincide with the first‘balance’ of polarities I had on my list: the balance between convergenceand divergence. Are we all doing the identical thing (and hence losingout on the benefit of breadth in co-op inquiry) or are we all doing verydifferent things (and hence unable to be genuinely collaborative)? Julianpointed out that there are so many different styles of meditation; howcommunicable is what we are doing? And how repeatable would it be? Areour differing results attributable to the different meditation practiceswe are bringing to this inquiry? We moved spontaneously into a thoroughexamination of what we each meant when we said meditation. We had two rounds:in the first we described our practice, in the second we spoke about whatwas the aim of our practice. Both rounds were flip charted and in the groupat the time there was relief to find a broad correspondence of contributionsin both rounds. Looking at the flip charts again as I write it is clearthat all of us practice styles of meditation which fall into the broadcategory of ‘Insight’ meditation also known as mindfulness, vipassasanaetc. as opposed to the other broad category of absorption meditation. Andthe aim of our practice again coagulated around a single theme of ‘Awareness’As these ideas were being flip charted we spontaneously fell into a playfulacronymisation of the word awareness:
Nice - ie =spoton!
(16) Weagreed that the discussion and sharing had demonstrated that there wasa broad correspondence in what we were doing, individually, in meditationand then moved on to look at other validity issues.
(17) Iintroduced the issues title by title - there was a group discussion aboutthem, together with a checking against what our group practice had beenso far and relevant issues were flip charted. Towards the end of this someonepointed out to me that an identical list was contained in the "Co-operativeinquiry - a Layperson’s guide" which I had mailed out to everyone withthe last meeting’s report!
(18) So,in the balance between reflection and experience item we questionedour agenda for the next day - loaded, as it was, with experiential exercises.We decided that we had included enough time for reflection.
(19) Withfalsifiablewe familiarised ourselves with the concept of devil’s advocate and a biscuitpacket wrapper emerged playfully from discussion as a "devil’s advocatehat" and was used henceforth for that purpose, the tradition continuingthroughout the next day.
(20) Inbalancebetween chaos and order we recalled the chaos of our lst meeting justafter we lost a member of the group and noted how the seeds of a new orderoften lie within that chaos - as was demonstrated last time with that wonderfullycreative exercise which emerged from the stress of that chaos. it was noted,too, that too much order often means that someone (not everyone)is doing too much ordering!
(21) Inreference to management of unaware projections we noted that wehoped that as co-counsellors we be more sensitive to this process and alsohave ways to deal with it when we notice it happening.
(22) Theissue of authentic collaboration was aired - I felt we are wellalong that path - as evidenced by the way different people are offeringfacilitation and exercises, note-taking, tea making, time watching andso on.
(23) Coherencein action - not much discussion on this one; perhaps a bit of let’swait and see, (though the commitment to practice which we made at the endof day two will doubtless contribute to this.)
(24)Wefinished the day by agreeing to an early start (9 for 9.15) at a new venue- my home (double booking at the Bonnington Centre) and as a result ofthe research of the day, we agreed to a new cycle of Inquiry with two sideby side propositions giving us a chance to compare and contrast:
Proposition1:Co-counselling and meditation can be usefully combined in a sequentialsandwich.
Proposition2:Co-counselling and meditation can be usefully integrated in a single turntaking session.
(25) Weconcluded with a closing circle ritual in which we shared feelings aboutthe day and sang a song. I felt warmth, closeness, appreciation and bondingwith the group. There was general expression of satisfaction with the daysevents and anticipation of tomorrow’s itinerary.
(26) Westarted, on time, with a repeat of the humming exercise. As the volumelevels rose I felt anxiety about the potential reaction of my neighbours- I noted to myself that I was unable to enjoy the exercise in the sameway that I had the day before. I referred to this anxiety rather obliquelyby requesting that we don’t stamp on the floor during our sessions. Therewere no complaints and my anxiety began to evaporate as the morning movetowards lunch time.
(27) Maryhad worked heroically towards a formula which would enable us to work equallyin some way as a group of seven but the solution, if indeed there was one,remained elusive so we decided to draw lots for working in a 2 or in a3. The two pairs worked in the front room.
(28)Ouridea was to immerse ourselves in the method - we would have a marathon.My regular practice in working this way is to have a 5 layer sandwich -or a triple decker if you think of meditation as the bread, with counsellor/clientswapping over in the two fillings! We wanted to do two full med/co sessions- and so agreed to let the end meditation of the first session be the startmeditation of the second.The 3 gp. would join the two 2gps. for this mid-sittingafter which a new combination of 2’s and a 3 would separate for the secondmed/co session. 2gps had 15 mins a layer, 3gp had 10 mins - bread and fillinggot equal time! It all worked out quite elegantly; it’s actually harderto write it up! The only muddle we had, in practice, was to omit the verylast sitting. We followed this exercise up with a period of reflectionand evaluation using the ‘round and gather’ method again.
(29)Sadly,there was an inexplicably poor recording quality which has made the transcriptiona bit patchy. Chris said he needed some distance from it and the opportunityto repeat the experience before he could fully weigh it up but he had hadsome powerful experience and had worked, to his surprise, on the deathof his mother. Gina said she had experienced a two way enhancement of boththe counselling and the meditation. I reported that I thought I had somehowfailed to allow them to interpenetrate; that although the first meditationshad left me in a peaceful state of mind, instead of exploring/celebratingthat, I had plucked, as it were, an item from my co-counselling agendato work on. Chris wondered if working in my own home had had some affecton me. I conjectured that I need to have a willingness to work on whatevercomes up in the meditation component in order for ‘interpenetration’ tooccur. Even if, at the end of my sit, I’m not left with a ‘fireworks’ issue- well that’s OK work with that! Jilly points out that we all have quitedifferent experiences and judgments about the exercise, that we don’t havea consensus - Chris points out that no-one has stated that it WAS NOT auseful combination - some people judged it to be useful, others were reservingjudgment.
(30) Jillypersists and says that it didn’t feel like integration to her - it feltbitty and she was aware of wanting more co-co in the formula. Chris pointsout that there are numerous ways in which the sandwich time share can bemanipulated. Jilly wonders whether our integration could happen more ina single session and we flounder around before recognising that we hadalready tried that yesterday and that this pm. we were going to examinethat in more detail. Chris reminds us of the contrast intention of havingthe 2 propositions side by side.
(31)Jillymakes the challenge that it may be that we don’t find that the two wayscan be integrated. I acknowledge that we could find that they are likeoil and water and that a co-operative inquiry which came to that conclusionwould be just as worthy if we came to that consensus collaboratively andwith due regard to validity issues. Jilly put on her Devil’s Advocate hatand challenges me by saying that that is what I am trying to do - witha proposed title of "Towards an Integration.......etc." am I not tryingto drive the inquiry in that direction? I said I didn’t know, and jokedthat, with the tape recorder still on, I was a bit ‘on the spot’ Jillysaid that was what she was trying to do - in a positive way - to put meon the spot. I respond by comparing our willingness, as a group, to engagein these mini-exercises and suggest that we probably wouldn’t be willingto do them if we didn’t think there was a likelihood that they would yielda useful outcome - similarly, in the larger sense , I acknowledged thatI wouldn’t have proposed an inquiry about integration if I didn’t havea feeling that there could be a comfortable and beneficial merging of thetwo ways. I referred to the skill of ‘bracketing’ - I need to know thatthat is the proposition , or intention in a way, but at the same time tobe able to stand back and be somewhat objective about what we are comingto as a whole group. And I need to be able to stand back and incorporatethe fact that ‘the jury’s out’ as far as this exercise is concerned. Jillysaid that she guessed she was resisting the idea that there could be anintegration. I replied that I reckon that will help us to be more collaborativeand will help us to have a more valid inquiry. And the opposite of jilly’s‘resistance’ would be....collusion! Gina said that she felt that this exchangehad been a very useful check on an as yet unexamined assumption about wherethe propositions may be leading us. Julian brought in the observation that‘Integration’ could be considered along an axis of time scale - at theone end we may be talking about an ‘useful’ integration within a lifetime,at the other end, in an instant.
(32) This felt like another of those ‘penny dropping moments’; on the tape thegroup begins to murmur with satisfaction as Julian continues to fill inthis conceptual ‘time axis’ model with "....in a sequential sandwich, ina single session.."
(33) Marypoints out that we can perhaps take it as read that as a group of peoplewho are together because of a shared interest in both ways of working webelieve in this integration; it’s as if we’re looking here at how to doit most effectively. Jilly said that she felt she had more clarity nowabout her uneasiness about ‘integration’ - it was more to do with the co/medformula than ‘integration’ per se. The gather feeling almost complete andjust a minute of our schedule to go, Jilly brought up the issue of groupbusiness - finishing times, next meeting etc. We dealt with some of thatand I checked out is there any more gather to do. Mary reminded us thatshe had felt the lack of the last meditation session quite keenly - almostas if she had needed it to help her to ground herself. Chris asked if otherswho had experience of Dyad work (from Enlightenment Intensives) recognisethe similarity in that with what we are doing - periods of meditation followedby periods of communication. Mary found that helpful - the use of the wordcommunication somehow made it clearer than using the phrase co-counselling.I reminded the group of my original preferred (and as yet unagreed) titlefor the inquiry - ( there was a warning growl from Jilly (-; ) "Towardsan integration of counselling, clienting and meditation" and spoke brieflyabout the unifying component of ‘attention’
(34) Webegan to have, at this point, a fascinating and meandering group discussion- no longer a gather - about the interpersonal, the impersonal, the transpersonal,the blurring of boundaries which ended with a quote from the Indian sageNigardatu:
(35) "Wisdomtells me I am nothing; Love tells me I am everything - between the twomy life flows" A good point at which to stop for lunch!
(36) Afterlunch we went straight into our next experiential exercise which had alreadybeen planned but had, in some way, acquired an additional justificationfrom Julian’s ‘time axis’ concept. We were now examining integration withina single session and, from the morning, we had a sequential sandwich withwhich to compare it. Again we worked in 2*2’s and 1*3. The 2’s had 30 minseach way, the 3’s had 20. We followed up he exercise with the now familiarformat of sharing circle and gather.
(37) Asilence preceded the commencement of the gather after the tape recorderwas switched on. Jilly started by saying she perceived a sense of conclusion- not sure whether it was because the w/e was coming to a close or thatwe were coming to some conclusions about our work. Chris said it was ‘toomuch.’ I remarked that from the earlier sharing it appeared that Gina andI had used the session in quite similar ways: a kind of weaving , shortperiods of each one and using the co-co bit to actually verbalise whatthe experience was. And three of us had felt that co-co had helped us toshare with each other the experience of meditation. Gina added - both verballyand simply by being in each others’ presence. Julian said that he had asense of developing a new way of working, a new practice. Murmurs of thoughtfulagreement from the group. Julian adds that he has a sense that this formof integration has been more fruitful than the sequential sandwich. Ginareminded us that she had a question about the order of the day. Thoughshe concurred with the general feeling that the ‘in one session’ styleintegration had been more fruitful, she was wondering whether that more‘pedestrian’ work earlier in the day helped as a kind of practice run fordoing what we did this pm. So she would like to experiment with repeatingwith reverse order - or trying the second style ‘cold’ David said he welcomedthe flexibility of the second style - he was able to get his needs metin the moment rather than having to go into a structure (as in the sandwichstyle|) Yet, whilst honouring the self-directing principle he also seesthe value of agreeing and going along with a proposed structure and that,taking the weekend as a whole, this in itself has emerged as an interestingdynamic. And he feels now that he needs time to reflect and step back fromit.
(38)Onething Jilly recognised,she said, is that she works best when she is withsomeone else - whether it’s co-co or meditation. Chris adds that there’ssomething very big in there for him about - ‘I need other people’ - Jillycontinues this theme and reminds us that in the Buddhist world it is saidthat it is very difficult to maintain a practice without a sangha. Maryfeels excited by this - it helps to explain to her why she finds meditationso much more productive in group and with others. She spoke of having hadvery powerful experience to take away with her. David shared that he didn’tfeel in accord with Julian about discovering a new form. Gina clarifiedthat for her she felt near a breakthrough - not necessarily to a new formbut to ‘newness.’ I said that my first thought in trying to describe it(my excitement expressed in the earlier sharing about feeling on the trailof something new) was coming from a clienting angle, but it’s a meditatingclient(struggles)...clienting on my meditation! So would that be different,asks David, from meditating in a group where some people are giving supportperhaps on a one to one basis? I continue to explain by coming back tothe idea of weaving:
"it’s findingsomething in the introspective bit and then, and then, in some way, makinga choice - OK, instead of just watching this pass, I’m going to processthis in a clienting way and that may well mean acting into it, exaggeratingit, it may well mean verbalising it... for a while until I reach a pointat which there’s some kind of release of tension, and then going back intointrospection.... to watch some more flotsam and jetsam, and then seizeon another piece to make big - until it just pops."(39) Chrisappreciates the image of flotsam and jetsam; David says thanks that wasvery helpful. Julian, as timekeeper for the moment, gives us a time checkand we began to move into a closing circle.
(40) Ourlast bit of business was a mutual commitment we made to each other thatwe would have at least three sessions independently before our next meetingand that if any absentees wished to rejoin we would require the same commitmentfrom them!
(41) Ourclosing circle was very warm,close and mutually appreciative. Most peoplerecalled the opening exercise - most reported that the weekend had exceededtheir expectations. I felt very happy and also very in the moment - particularlyremarkable considering that I had a pub gig due to start in 20mins.
(42)Mythanks and appreciation to all of us in the group. It’s not possible totranscribe the atmosphere of the last ‘gather’ from the tape but it isclear to me - I don’t know how - or quite what I base this on other thantone of voices, spaciousness - or perhaps it’s personal subjective memory- that we were in an altered state of (group) consciousness. I know thatI felt inspired.