Towards an Integration of Counselling,Clienting and Meditation

4.2 The Process of the Inquiry

In this section frequent reference will be madeto the reports which were written after each meeting. They are containedin the Appendix, section 3. Unless otherwisestated (with an attributing name) the reference will be to the report writtenby this researcher - this appears first in the collated reports for eachmeeting. In this web based version, only this researcher's reports areavailable.

TheFirst Meeting - Contracting In

On ‘Initiating an Inquiry’ Heron(1997) proposesthree important functions:

* The initiation of group members into themethodology of the inquiry so that they can make it their own.

* The emergence of participative decision-makingand authentic collaboration so that the inquiry becomes truly co-operative.

* The creation of a climate in which emotionalstates can be identified,so that distress and tension aroused by the inquirycan be openly accepted and processed, and joy and delight in it and witheach other can be freely expressed.

The first meeting had been preceded by the processof completing questionnaires.

To a limited extent this was a group process,in that we were all focussing upon the issues presented in the questionnaireand the returned, collated, questionnaire gave co-researchers some ideaof - and chance to reflect upon - where self and other potential groupmembers were coming from. A description of the co-operative inquiry method(App 2.3) had also been included in the mailout.

‘Co-ownership’ of the inquiry was placed firmlyin the spotlight through this researcher’s opening remarks (App3.1.paras1&2).The co-researchers rapidly demonstrated that they were very autonomousand self-directing individuals: there were three other teachers of co-counselling,five members had already participated in previous co-operative inquiries,- two with John Heron, one had previously initiated his own inquiry. Theintroduction of the "Preliminary Thoughts" (App1.4)document sparked off a first wave of checking out leadership isssues (App3.1.para5).The group’s reluctance to take on the "Preliminary Thoughts" without, apparently,having a forum to express their own extended swiftly to a similar ‘mistrust’of the pre-prepared agenda (App1.5). This analysisis corroborated in feedback reports (App3.1.Sally.p2.para7),(App3.1.para5).

As a result the co-researchers were hurled intogroup decision making -and accompanying chaos- very early on in the process.(App3.1.para8)On reflection it may have been better , in the opening remarks, to negotiateat the outset an agreement that this researcher could maintain an ‘initiatorsagenda’ for a set period in order that the group address certain ‘essentials.’There was feedback to this effect. (App3.1.Julian.para4)

On the other hand, the ensuing structurelessnessgave the group early access to the emotionality of co-operative inquiryexperience, also, to the phenomenon of chaos as the precursor to the creativesolution (App3.1.para28)

After two, (resisted) attempts to bring the groupback to the agenda (App3.1.para10& para13) it wasn’t until lateafternoon that we returned to look at ‘what’s expected of people who join?’(App3.1.para21) We stayed withthe agenda long enough to reach the proposed small group exercise. Thisresearcher was able to notice that his ‘facilitative’ anxiety about ‘gettingit all done’ had receded as a result of sensing that it had been takenon board by the group as a whole. (App3.1.para24)

In the check-in following this exercise the researchgroup hit a crisis with one member leaving in distress (App3.1.para25)The group’s mood spiralled downwards until a sharp observation of our process(App3.1.para27) acted as a catalystwhich sparked chaotic creative activity underscored by the subtle insightthat our experience (of inquiry) is here and now. We do not have to designexercises with the intention of provoking experience - we are inour present experience already! (App3.1.paras27&28)

Regarding the methodology, there was a broad spreadof familiarity with the co-operative inquiry method - this was acknowledged(App3.1.para22) - it was alsoaddressed to a some extent by spontaneous skill-sharing (App3.1.para20)There was certainly quite a focus on identifying cycles of proposition/experience/reflection(App3.1.para6,paras12&13,& para29), - There was someanxiety expressed about creating a ‘proposition.’ This was alleviated bythe identification of cycles that had already been engaged in - some withno formal proposition - and by the loose proposal for home study (App3.1.paras32&33).

The group did create some collaboratively designedexercises to help identify and rank order areas of interest for the inquiry.There was an assumption that this would lead towards defining a definitiveproposal (App3.1.paras15-19).From that series of exercises, however, "the difference between (and thevalue of) catharsis of feelings vs.transmutation of feelings"emerged as a most popular item.

The meeting ended in a rush of last minute decisiontaking - but it was a group rush rather than one perceived by this researcheralone. There was regret that we had not made use of the questionnaires- though they had perhaps already served their purpose. Around half thegroup made a firm commitment to continue our work. Despite the rush timewas made for a meaningful closing ritual and that ritual time became partof the starting/finishing tradition of the group for the rest of the meetingstogether.

The suggestion that all co-researchers write reports,which this researcher would collate and redistribute, gave - in a macrosense- another opportunity for a cycle of experience (the meeting itself),reflection (the sharing of reports)... leading to the clear propositionembedded in a number of the returned reports that the next meeting shouldspend more time with the practices of co-counselling and meditation. Thenext (weekend) meeting certainly worked with an emphasis on that implicitproposition. A couple of reports contained poems. Sally’s, verse3, givesan evocative picture of the group’s adjustment to the methodology. (App3.1.Sally.p1.)All in all,the first meeting served well as an initiation; all three ofHeron’s purposes were addressed. On reflection, the preprepared ‘agenda’was a mistake - a mistake, though, with a fortunate outcome as experiencedby a co-researcher (App3.1.Mary.p2.para5). In future co-operative inquiryresearch this researcher would ask for an agenda to be arrived at collectively.

Engagingwith the Inquiry

There were 2 months between the contracting-inday and the full weekend of inquiry. For all seven co-researchers who gatheredtogether on that weekend before Xmas, the period had served as a time forgathering data. All had also had a chance to read a more accessible accountof co-operative inquiry (App2.4- external link). We were joined by a new co-researcher, David, who - well-briefed- incorporated smoothly into the group. This researcher did not presenta preprepared group agenda this time; only some of his own items to contributeto collaborative agenda making. Interestingly, Jilly did have some pre-prepareditems on paper and she appeared to ‘inherit’ some of the resistance ofthe last meeting! (App3.2.paras4&5),(App3.2.Jillyp1.para6.)

There was a very different tone to the weekendmeeting - it was much more practice based; most of Sunday given over toexperiential activity. As a result of this, perhaps, we had generated,by the end of the weekend, an ineffable quality which the author strugglesto describe at the end of his report (App3.2.para42).

‘The quality of the weekend was hugely helpedby the way we started’ (App3.2.Jillyp1.para4.)

In a combination of Gina’s and Mary’s suggestionsthe opening exercise allowed the group to both tune in with each otherand to ‘set the intention’ for the weekend. It also modelled effectivecollaborative design (App3.2.paras1-5).

We adopted a new technique - the gather(App3.2.para8) which was usedthroughout the rest of the inquiry. As well serving as an invaluable devicefor recording only what was crucial, it also provided the group with amode of ‘collective reflection’ - giving a forum to mull over the commonalitiesand breadth of our individual experiences.

Emerging from our report back on our individualresearch work at home, we picked up on the ‘catharsis vs. transmutation’- which had held the place of predominant interest at the last meeting.We realised that we didn’t have a clear definition of what we meant bytransmutation - essentially, there was doubt as to whether or not it isa ‘willed’ process, or whether (non-reactive) awareness alone is the agentof transmutation. Again, this researcher noticed a personal dismay at theeither/or focus on transmutation/catharsis which had been felt at the lastmeeting when it emerged as top interest item. After much further reflectionthe author realises, now, that an inquiry expressed in such a manner willnecessarily reside within the propositional realm of knowledge.It was a relief , then, that in a subsequent discussion we came up withthe following formal proposition "co-counselling and Meditationcan be usefully combined in a single (reciprocal) turn-taking session."It was a relief because this led us naturally into an exercise which mayor may not shed light on the catharsis/transmutation question, - in thepropositionalrealm of knowledge - but it may contribute in theexperiential realmof knowledge, It would certainly bring an end to speculation upon thetransmutation/catharsis matter in the short-term! (App3.2.para9)

The wording of the proposition was crucial inthat the term ‘useful’ somehow set the tone of our critical subjectivityfor the rest of the inquiry. Doubts expressed at the time about the useof the term were offset by the observation that ‘useful’ was embedded insubjective experience just as much as ‘painful’ of ‘peaceful.’

Henceforth, however, the content of a session,when quoted, was not presented as the ‘object’ of the subjective report- but more as evidence (particularly in the manner of it’s processing)of the ‘usefulness’ or otherwise of the kind of integration we had beenworking with.

Another crucial insight of perspective came onthe Sunday am. It came to be known as the ‘time axis’ perspective (App3.2.paras32,33 & 37) and it helped us to conceptualise our ‘inquiry into integration’as a phenomenon which could be located at, -and anywhere in-between - thepolarities of:this present instant, and, a whole lifetime.

We had a comprehensive, critical exploration ofvalidity issues on the Saturday pm. (App3.2.paras14-22)from which emerged a thorough exploration of what we each understood bymeditation. It was a relief to discover, in this case, a convergenceofgroup practice upon what is described as insight or awareness meditation(App3.2.para15). The Devil’sAdvocate Hat also materialised in the form of a biscuit packet wrapperand was used later in the day, in a determined challenge to thefalsifiabilityof our inquiry (App3.2.para31).

Research Cycles: The first propositionof the weekend, after the experiential phase and subsequent reflection(App3.2.para13) led to a subsequentcycle of research guided by twin propositions (App3.2.para24)which occupied us for most of the subsequent day. The idea was to immerseourselves in the practice (App3.2.para28).

The first proposition invited an exploration of‘sandwich style’ integration; the second, a dynamic ‘within session’ integration.Reflection, after exploration of the first proposal (App3.2.para29)was mixed, though, as was pointed out, no-one said they had notfound it useful. After the second experiential exercise, however, therewas considerably more consensual appreciation of the usefulness of whathad been experienced. There were a couple of references to ‘being on theedge of something new’ and ‘creating a new method’ (App3.2.para38)There was also a cautionary reminder of ordering effects and the cumulativenature of our weekend experience. The co-researchers made a specific commitmentto each other to continue the research at home. The group ended with avery warm and mutually appreciative ritual - clearly proud of what hadbeen achieved. Reports were invited again and were collated and redistributedwell before the next meeting.

The final meeting started with the same openingexercise (App3.3.para2)followed by a very effective consensually designed process which separatedout emotional debriefing from homework debriefing. (App3.3.paras3-5)[It also introduced the only ( brief) use of an intentional concentrationmeditation - metta bhavana]. The homework debriefing was lengthy(App3.3.p2.paras6-10) witha lot of useful reflections upon the method we seemed to be developingappearing in the subsequent ‘gather’

The questions of "how to communicate our workto others?’ and ‘what are the essential components of our method?’ began to consume us.........

Chaos reemerges .... How can we take accountof the cumulative ‘intention’ our work has generated when describing themethod to a group new to these ideas? The suggestion of an opening andclosing ritual at begining and end of a session dominated the group’s attention.There was a challenge to the validity of what we were recommending - inthat it was something we hadn’t yet explored ourselves! Suddenly time seemedto be running out and distress levels were rising in the group (App3.3.paras12&13).Again, out of the confusion and chaos emerged a solution with the natureof ‘lets not talk about any more, let’s just do it’

We decided to break into pairs "take an hour anduse it in whatever Co-med way our pair decided and then we could use thebreadth of our choices to illustrate the breadth of the method."

And gives birth to fresh insight.......Whenwe debriefed (App3.3.paras14-19)there was certainly a breadth of both approaches and experiences! It wasclear that Chris had had a significant experience which he expresses inpoetic form in his final feedback report (App3.3.Chris.p3). From the pointof view of method, however, Gina and Mary took dynamic integration onestep further by removing turn-taking altogether. Gina expresses it likethis in her feedback report:

"There was a sense of totality. It was WE whohad been experiencing the last hour, not a you and then a me and then ayou" (App3.3.Gina.para7) and Mary:

"We seemed to maintain the same meditativequality in giving and receiving throughout the session. It felt very special."(App3.3.Mary.p2)

Pointing to further Research ........ this‘free-form’ style of integration, emerging too late in the present inquiryfor further cycles of investigation, suggests an exciting new avenue ofresearch into what amounts to:

A new way of being in the presence of another!

The latter part of the final meeting was occupiedby gathering the kind of information we wanted to appear in the pamphlet-as already described earlier in the discussion. Several people also suggestedthey would be interested in further developing the work we had done throughoffering workshops, support groups etc. and by disseminating the resultsof our work through the various co-counselling networks (App3.3.Julian).We found time to to explore an appropriate ‘opening/closing’ ritual whichmay serve psychologically as an intention setting device. This has beenincluded in the results section as an illustration; it has not been subjectto the rigorous cyclical design of research characterised by the rest ofthe pamphlet.

Updated 16 June 99
by Martin Wilks