Towards an Integration of Counselling,Clienting and Meditation

2.1 Positioning of the Researchers

In qualitative research of this kind, 'subjectivebias' can be reframed as 'subjective investment' - and as this is a co-operativeinquiry, the combined subjective experience of the research team couldbe described as the 'subjective collateral' of the project. To properlyhonour the subjective nature of the following section, and to render itmore readable, the author has written in the first person.

Positioning of the Author—This Researcher's Investment

A certain yearning for meditative practice beganfor me in my early twenties. The trigger, as I remember it now, was thepain I experienced at the end of a dependency relationship. Despite -andwithin- my suicidal ideation there was also the glimmerings of a recognition- prompted by curious reading of a Zen Buddhist book at that time - thatI, rather than my absent loved one, was responsible for the depth of mysuffering. I was responsible for the extent to which I had been clingingto the relationship. I began to build up an idealised, (and erroneous!)conception of meditation practice as a quick fix technique for detachment-a daily reminder to keep clear of clinging to anything in life.Apart from a couple of unsustained attempts to learn meditation with semi-culticgroups, my interest remained intellectual until my 29'th year.

From my mid-twenties I had also begun to takea practical interest in local self-help therapy initiatives - a men's gestaltgroup, an anti-sexism group, and some rudimentary co-counselling sessions.This too, was supported by reading. I had no clear 'presenting issues'but had begun my first steps on the personal growth trail. In late 1984I sat my first ten-day meditation retreat - A Vipassana approachto meditation taught by students of a Burmess teacher, S.N. Goenka. Afterthis I felt firmly established in a meditation technique - I was also readyfor some serious life-changing decisions. A couple of months later I tookpart in the E.S.T Forum - a West Coast, USA pressure cooker stylegroup psychotherpay/training/ cognitive restructuring programme deliveredover two weekends.

Then I let go of the familiar routines to workwith the peace movement and have adventures. I began a period of voluntaryhomelessness - living mostly as a ‘new-age traveller’ inEngland but also spending 7 months in Asia.

When I next settled it was in London where, aftera couple of years, I completed a co-counselling Fundamentals course andbecame firmly engaged with the London co-counselling Community (LondonCCI) My interest in 'traditional' one-way counselling grew from this andI began a 3yr. Diploma in (Person Centred) Counselling Skills in 1990.I started an apprenticeship with my original co-counselling teacher - JamesNichol - at around the same time and became an accredited teacher of co-counsellingFundamentalsin1992.

Since 1984 I had maintained my meditation practiceand had completed a ten-day retreat annually with a variety of differentmeditation teachers. Now I was becoming aware of a certain intellectualtension which existed for me between these two different approaches topersonal growth/ mental health in which I had made parallel investmentover the last 8 yrs. In the spring (1991) issue of 'The Hug' - the quarterlynewsletter for the London CCI - I put out a request for contact with anyother Vipassana meditators who were also co-counsellors. I received littlefeedback; next, in the autumn of that year I wrote a long article for theHug (see App 1.3) entitled "Meditation and co-counselling - differentpaths, same goal - or what?" In it I explored the different 'ways'of doing or being with feelings and used the contrastingconcepts of self-assertion and self-transcendence. I offereda couple of workshops to the community called "MED-CO" -which were wellattended- They consisted, simply, of a weekend marathon of equal timedsandwich style slices of: meditation/counselling/meditation/clienting/...nextpair..etc.

Also in 1990 I began to co-facilitate a seriesof personal growth summer camps known as 'Passages Camps'. Now intheir 8'th season, these camps integrate both counselling, group work andmeditation techniques (as well as ritual, play, work, shamanic practice,dance and drama, and -essentially- community building) and I have experimentedparticularly in the context of the daily support group meetings with moredynamic forms of counselling/meditation integration.

The path towards making meaning from these experienceswas opened up for me when James Nichol invited me to participate in a co-operativeinquiry which he was facilitating as part of his MSc. in Health Education.Entitled "Close encounters with radical humanism" and subtitled "A Co-operativeinquiry into co-counselling as a personal development method", the experiencenot only introduced me to qualitative research - some of it's findingsalso provided pointers and background to this current work. (see Co-counsellingsection)

It was a natural step, then, when consideringmy own research work, to initiate a co-operative inquiry. My intentionis to formalise, and to bring into much sharper focus, this integrationof meditation and (co)counselling which has been ongoing for more thana decade in my own life. Again, it was natural to bring together a groupof people for whom similar such integration had been taking place. Thereis already a strong tradition of creating co-operative inquiry teams fromgroups of co-counsellors (Heron,1996; Reason1988). So, between 1996/1997I wrote articles for the Hug (London) and One to One (national)newsletters about my interest in this area of research and invited otherinterested people to contact me. (see App1.2)

As a first step into the process of inquiry, allparticipants were asked to complete a questionnaire. Fifteen (includingmy own!) were returned. (App3.0.)

I immersed myself in the data contained thereinand then completed a blank questionnaire which I present below as an informal,collated profile of the co-researchers positioning. It constitutes a reckoningof our combined collateral.

Positioningof the Co-researchers

Address: London,Hampshire,Somerset,Norfolk,Gloucs,Yorkshire,Dorset, Essex

sex: 6 women, 7 men

age: between 35-62, average age 47 forboth men & women

When did you complete your original Fundamentalstraining?

A broad sweep - some from late 70’s up to summer‘97

some originally trained in Re-evaluation Co-counselling(RC)

What was your original attraction to co-counselling?

Most respondents came to co-counselling duringa period of emotional turmoil in life. Two saw it primarily as an extensionof existing skills base, one on a personal recommendation, three as a resultof seeing co-counselling in action or seeing others benefit from it.

Say Something about the impact of your Fundamentalstraining.

Some emphasised the support, close personal contact,a couple were a bit overawed by the strength of others’ catharsis, twohad a ‘mind-blowing’ reaction - something of a short-term enlightenmenteg. ‘escape from a personal prison’. A couple of people focussedon their subsequent sense of hope combined with a feeling of self-empowerment.One respondent who has more recently completed a Fundamentals was ‘impressedand excited by the open-ended flexibility of the co-counselling tradition,particularly the new transpersonal emphasis

Say something about the development of yourpractice of/ interest in meditation. Did this precede, or come after youstarted to co-counsellingunsel?

Most respondents’ interest in meditation precededtheir contact with co-counselling. The earliest reference was to an interestin Zen as teenager followed by being taught TM in the late 60’s.TM was the starting point for quite a number of people and quite a commonpath of development appeared to be TM followed by involvement with FWBO.It was common amongst meditators with a long-term involvement to have aperiod of intense practice which faded out to be followed by a renaissanceof interest in later life

Please describe your Current meditation practice.It in may be helpful to consider some of the following.:

School or tradition?

Praticing on your own or with a group?

Frequency/duration of sitting?

Do you have a 'teacher' or 'guru' ?

Experience of intensives and retreats?

In addition to the above,Theravadan Vipassanapractice was mentioned by four respondents and the mindfulness of breathingas presented by Thich Nat Han by two. One mention of the Tibetan Dzogchen.Tworespondents quoted the Enlightenment Intensive method as their personalmeditation practice. Three people mentioned long term group practice withtwo references to Quaker groups. There was one mention of an Active Visualisationmethod originating from occultist source. Other references include; bodyflow,Western Mysteries tradition, the Qaballah, Diamond Yoga,Chi-Kungand Wicca.

There was a big variance in reply to the frequency/durationquestion with ‘daily 2*30’ mins to ‘hardly ever’. (shoulds and oughts croppedup here if nowhere else!) Two clear references to teachers, no guru’s andthree references to people who are much respected and admired but wouldeschew the designation of teacher. Intensives/Retreats - one person currentlydoing two or three weeks a year, another done 12 * 10 day retreats anda range of responses to zero such experience.

Aside from co-counselling and meditation, whatother ways of personal growth "techniques" or modalities have you experienced?

A huge range of replies which reads like a menu(and a history) of the human potential movement. Most frequent replieswere: Reichian bodywork, dance/movement therapy, Breathwork: rebirthingand holotropic, Enlightenment Intensive, Pschotherapy, Encounter,Psychodrama, EST Forum, Osho/Sanyassin/Bagwan Rajneesh groups

How does co-counselling enrich your meditationpratice and how does meditation enrich your co- counselling? Does eitherhinder the other? Say something about how you already integrate these two'Ways' into your path.

What dilemmas or contradictions have emergedduring this integration? And how have these been resolved?

Many replies referred to the efficiency of co-counsellingas a method of emotional ‘clearing’ in preparation, as it were, for meditation.Likewise, meditation is seen as a mind state which is conducive to re-evaluationafter the catharsis of a co-counselling session. Some replies view thetwo as complementary with no hindering nor dilemmas. A couple of referencesto the balancing of catharsis of feeling against the transmutationoffeeling - here, too great an emphasis of one at the expense of the otheris seen as potentially counterproductive and, hence, the practice of meditationand co-counselling is seen as mutually supportive by limiting anover-emphasis of one at the expense of the other. The tradition of self-celebrationin co-counselling provides encouragement for one respondent, during timesof sustained negativity in meditation. It also provides self-confidenceto be with and to follow her process in meditation. One dilemma suggested- as an ongoing process, is simply knowing/deciding what (meditation orco-counselling) is appropriate (in a given situation)

There were a couple of references to the EnlightenmentIntensive as a model of integration in which both are seen a mutuallysupportive with no dilemma. Another (experimental) mode of integrationdiscussed is described as an "insight/encounter support group" in whichinsight meditation is used to rigorously examination the presence/absenceof supportive intention before choosing to initiate or respond to a verbalencounter.

One person speaks both of the mutual enhancementhe sees in the two traditions and also of a dilemma experienced betweentraditional (Buddhist) meditation teaching with obedience to spiritualauthority, and the emphasis in co-counselling of self-direction and discoveringyour own authority. Another respondent, in comparing the ‘sanghas’ of eachtradition, found the group process at retreat centres sadly lacking inco-counselling qualities and found himself attempting to introduce co-counsellingprinciples to the retreat group forum.

A ‘conceptual’ integration offered is - co-counsellingis like meditating on the client and there are a number of references tohow meditation enhances one’s ability to give free attention by developingone’s ability to disengage from one’s own internal processing.

For a couple of respondents, the emphasis in Buddhismof the importance of staying in the ‘here and now’ has given rise to abasic questioning regarding value of regression, and doubts about the valueof self-celebration and validation were mentioned in the context of thesepractices being ego-affirming rather than ego-transcending. The conceptof a sequential process illustrated by the colloquialism ‘You’ve got tograb hold of yourself before you can let go of yourself’ was explored asa construction useful for resolving such a dilemma. Another suggestiondiscounts the sequential model in favour of a simultaneous and cyclicalshifting between the two modes of self-assertion and self-transcendence.

Is there a particular area-or even a specificproposition that you would like the enquiry group to focus upon?

And can you suggest any activity with

which the group might test the proposition?

Transformation without discharge?

Can meditation and co-counselling reinforce eachother in helping us to let go of an individualistic view of self?

What ‘States of being’ do we have in meditationand co-counselling? - and can we make a couple of maps to see if/how theyoverlap?

Proposition: that free attention is thedoorway to meditation and simultaneously at the core of co-counselling.

Co-counselling theory is helpful to growth butnot the complete answer - it has it’s limitations.

Sacred space, practice of the presence of God-divinity of the individual. use of prayer in co-counselling and simpleritual.

Look at effect of co-counselling session on concentrationin a subsequent meditation session.

Co-counselling session - rate (1-10) effectiveness,then meditation - rate(1-10) concentration, then co-counselling etc. anddo statistics.

Use of direction holding statements inMettaBhavana Meditation

Eye-gazing, hugging.

Developing free attention as a meditative process.

Silent discharge during meditation.

Explore relationship between catharsis and transmutation.

Use physical techniques eg. yogic breathing, massage,rebirthing, movement in a more conscious way using both meditation andco-counselling to explore verbal and /or ritual techniques & exercisesfor approaching the transpersonal in co-counselling or meditation.

Considering ‘self’, from a co-counselling pointof view, as the ultimate chronic pattern - if so, how would we workon it? Is it shiftable with co-counselling techniques, can it be cathartedaway?

Updated 16 June 99
by Martin Wilks