Towards an Integration of Counselling,Clienting and Meditation

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This section comprises a substantial excerpt fromthe Pamphlet entitled: ‘The Co-Med contract.’ The full version, containingillustrations and session timetables appears in the appendix (App1.6)


This pamphlet evolved out of a co-operative inquiry(1997/1998) entitled: "Towards an Integration of Counselling, Clientingand Meditation".

Our essential proposition was "Meditation andco-counselling can be usefully combined in a single reciprocal session"and during the course of six months of research - 4 days spent workingintensively as a group as well as our individual explorations between meetings- we began to feel we were involved in developing a new method of dyadwork which we call CO-MED.

As a practical outcome of the inquiry we wishto make our findings and recommendations available to the co-counsellingcommunity and to the wider community of seekers and healers and we hopethat this booklet can serve as a starting point for further explorationand development of the CO-MED method.

The word CO-MED is a contraction/combination ofco-counselling and Meditation. It also carries a message of 'meditatingwith or together' The CO-MED method, in working towards an integrationof co-counselling principles and (Insight) meditation principles is a dynamicinterplay between two very different ways of being with feelings and/ormind-states. In co-counselling there is an emphasis on moving on - be ita deliberate intensification or a cathartic discharge of feeling - andan active, purposeful exploration of connections and causes. In (Insight)Meditation the emphasis is on a sharp, in the moment awareness of the everchanging process of mind-states- watching thought, sensation and feelingarise and pass away without 'following up' the original thought/feeling/sensationwith a reactive curiosity or repressive avoidance. Crudely put, co-counsellingrequires an active 'identifying with', Meditation an aware 'disidentificationfrom.'

CO-MED, by first setting the intention to combinethese two ways of being, then extends the principle of 'client in charge'and 'setting the contract' to include choices about when to simply 'bewith' and when to 'be working on' the contents of awareness.

Insight Meditation: A broad term to includeall forms of meditation which use Mindful Awareness a.k.a. Vipassana, Shamata,Zazen, Choiceless Awareness.

Concentration Meditation: The other broadcategory of meditation, would include the chanting of mantras, visualisationpractices, the movement of inner energies, worship, prayer etc. These practiceswould not lend themselves to CO-MED. in the same way. We have, however,experimented with metta bhavana - (a practice of concentrating upon andgenerating feelings of loving kindness) - this was in the context of askingthe counsellor, rather than the client, to do this practice - see below)

Setting the Intention: - Towards the endof our group's work together we realised that we were benefiting from thecumulative effect of working in this way and considered how a new groupor pair might reach this point more directly. We strongly recommend thefollowing 'opening routine' which, from a secular point of view could bethought of as a practice of setting intention and attunement. For the morespiritually inclined it might be considered as a ritual for opening sacredspace.

After the contract has been set (see later) partnersenter into a period of mutual gaze which is brought to a close with a spontaneousNamaste- the hands are brought together at the heart and partners bow simultaneously,not only interpersonally to each other, but also, transpersonally, to salutethe transcended self which belongs to neither but is the province of both.The first phase of the work then begins and on completion of the last phasethe ritual is repeated.

(The tendency to flit focus between one eye tothe other can be obviated by gazing at the triangle formed by the eyesand the brow.)

In the same way that a hug ends spontaneouslywith one partner 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 theusual: who goes first, choice between free attention, normal or intensiveinterventions, it is in the contracting that the client designs the kindof integration she wants.

Kinds of Integration:

In the first, the sandwich, periods ofclienting and meditation are clearly timed and sequenced. If partners agreeto a symmetrical structure, then a central meditation period can serveto finish client 1 and start client 2 ie.

(med), (client 1), (med), (client 2), (med). Noattention switching is necessary in this model, this will take place spontaneouslyin meditation. Generally, a period of meditation can be used differentlyaccording to whether you are preparing to counsel or to client. If sheis to be counselling next, the meditator will be preparing to deliver herfree attention/normal contract etc. with the same attention to detail anddevotion to task that she is presently developing in her meditation. Ifshe is preparing to client the meditator will be observing the flow ofbody/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.

Counsellor and client may not always be meditatingat the same time. Two alternatives which we explored were:

a) whilst client meditates, counsellor does mettabhavana (projecting feelings of loving kindness towards client - a kindof concentration meditation)

b)whilst client meditates, counsellor uses herintuition combined with any discernible client cues to detect when clientdrifts away from mindful awareness and to bring client back with touchon her hand or soft verbal reminder.

Dynamic Integration: This is a more subtle,unstructured process.

(It emerged in the later stages of our researchand we recommend would be practitoners of the CO-MED contract to becomefamiliar with the sandwich style of integration first)

From within a period of inner observation- ofthe arising and passing away of mind/body phenomena- the client choosesan object upon which to work and begins to develop it into an issue throughnormal co-counselling dialogue to the point at which some sense of completionis achieved - either through cathartic discharge, celebration, commitmentor direction - whereupon she re-enters a period of meditative inner observation,allowing insights to settle into place.

She continues to watch the 'flotsam and jetsam'of experience until another 'item' holds her attention sufficiently tobecome the next object to work upon. This cycle is repeated to fill theclient time available. Much can be learned in this way, not only from theinsights gleaned from working with the objects chosen, but also, by examiningand adjusting one's selection criteria. She may also experience an unusualstate of consciousness by ‘balancing on the knife edge’ between ‘experiencing’experience and ‘working with’ an experience.

The least structured integration: Thisonly emerged during the final day of our work together. It was not properlyresearched, but is mentioned as a pointer to future inquiries.

To simply state a very complex and subtle process:Both partners 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 aboveare obviously possible - for example, one might choose a sandwich integrationwith a dynamic integration in the clienting phase.

To summarise, in different words:

a) Preparatory attunement:

Find ways to remind yourself/selves of the factthat you and 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 periodsof meditation and communication; or mix meditation and communication, asthe spirit moves. If you wish to dispense entirely with client/counsellorroles the contract could be:

‘Free attention to both oneself and the otherand feel free 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 happenedmostly in a group context. The principle bit of practical advice we haveto offer is: - design it so that your session contracts are synchronised- ie, so that all pairs are sitting in meditation at the same time! Inmarathon CO-MEDs, if partnerships and ordering is worked out at the beginningof the day, a powerful working atmosphere is generated by bringing everyoneback for Group meditation at each partner change.

Updated 16 June 99
by Martin Wilks