Towards an Integration of Counselling,Clienting and Meditation
(1) I had intendedto make a tape recording of the whole proceedings. Some members of thegroup made it clear that they were not happy with that - expressing concernabout the workload of transcription and adding their hope that the recordkeeping could come from the group itself. I made few personal notes; thoughI did collect up all the group notes which we accumulated during the day.Having an audio record may well have assisted me in recalling some of theenormous detail of the moment to moment group process and content - instead,I am assisted in this current task by an audio record made of a debriefI had with a co-researcher the morning after our meeting.
(2) I started by welcoming thegroup members and acknowledging that as initiating researcher I expectedto continue to take the initiative in group facilitation at the outsetand that that would change as we moved towards becoming more co-operative.
(3) I suggested we then had a‘round’ - saying who you are and what you think it is importantthe group should know about you. Interestingly, this mutated almost immediatelyinto a ‘sharing circle’- still with people taking an uninterruptedturn to speak, but not in circular order. Though this was an introductoryexercise, participants took the opportunity, generally, to speak at somelength about the history of their involvement in both co-counselling andmeditation practice. I took the opportunity to share with the group thesignificance of this research for me in terms of it being a requirementon the MSc. On reflection, contributions in this round were, to some extent,a reiteration of questionnaire material.
(4) For a first exercise I suggesteda three way mini-session consisting of a sandwich of meditation, client-counsellor-observer,meditation. This was repeated three times so that each person took timein each role. Each timed period was 3min. so the whole exercise took 24mins. I suggested threes rather than twos to give greater ‘getting to knowyou’ capacity. For a ‘subject’ to consider, I suggested "What’s on top/whatinterest me about the inquiry? The threes came together from a mingling(walking)exercise with a suggestion that we make eye contact as we passed by eachother. One of intentions of this exercise was to make chance to, emotionally,clear the air through the catharsis of co-counselling or the transmutationof feelings in meditation. Another - we did it standing - was simply tostretch the legs after having sat through the round. Another intentionwas to provide a preliminary experience of an exercise which integratedcounselling, clienting and meditation. At the end of this mini we sat backin our circle- there was no feedback period.
(5) I introducedmy proposed agenda (App1.5) - with an acknowledgementthat it was mine and not the group’s and that modification may be necessary.I pointed to the few items we had already completed and then to - Martin-preliminary thoughts (Handout) (see App1.4) I then gave out a copy of my preliminary thoughts - written whileon a meditation retreat the week before - and read through them. Therewas some chuckling as I read through - it seemed a little bizarre to meto be doing this and I noticed I read through them quite quickly. Afterwardsthere was some taking issue with one or two points and requests for clarificationbut the substance was quite quickly put aside in favour of a period ofchecking out, I suppose, the validity of what I had just done. Questionssuch as "what about everyone else’s ideas ?" and "Are we supposed to agreewith this or what?" were being asked in a way which suggested that thegroup were testing out the notion of co-operation and shared ownershipof the project. "I haven’t had chance to prepare my thoughts in this way"and - "when do we get our chance?" And also, someone responding "well Idon’t work like that, I just immerse myself in other people’s ideas andthen something might come out of that." Eventually, after a period of anxietyduring which I had no solutions to offer, a suggestion emerged that weshould all take 5 minutes to jot down what we, as individuals, wanted fromthe project, and to then take a further 5 minutes to share that with anotherperson.
(6) This was later recognised to be the point at which we entered into ourfirst cycle. An experiential phase, precluded by the (unstated) proposition‘we all have our own agendas’
(7) Following this, we had asharing circle to accumulate our wishes/desires/hopes and one member ofthe group volunteered to scribe the contributions.
(8) By this time the facilitative suggestions were coming from other groupmembers - I was making my facilitative suggestions along with others. Choosingbetween proposals for action seemed to be at the level of ‘group gut’ feeling.
(9) At the end of the round wehad a flip chart covered in small writing with multiple areas of interestfor each participant.
(10) At this point I made a bid for a return to the agenda (the first of many!)I explained that I felt we were, in a sense, duplicating the work donein the questionnaire process - that I didn’t want to lose sight of thiswork and that if we could return to the agenda, we would lead logicallyinto examining/utilising that data. The group resisted that suggestion.
(11) There was a feeling of theenormity of what we had generated - there was some relief when it was suggestedthat the data could fit into four categories. They were:
Theoretical questions- eg is it possible to share subjective experiences?, what are the differencesbetween the catharsis and transmutation of feelings (in co-counsellingand meditation respectively?)(12) This was a high point - on later reflection it represented a completedreflection phase and left us ready to formulate a new cycle of inquiry.
Communicating/sharing experience-sharing experiences of different mind states’ and ‘I want to be able toexplain to others clearly what I do in co-co and meditation and how theyare different’
Skills & Techniques - supportingeach other in developing a practice. Increasing body awareness during differentmind states.
Integration - specific questionsabout co-counselling and meditation combined. Effect of introducing co-cointo meditation group and meditation into co-co?
(13) Witha sense of completion apparent within the group and lunch time now eagerlyanticipated, I made a request that we return to my agenda. I supportedthis suggestion with an explanation that I had included all the items thatI felt it important that we address on this first day, and that I had arrangedthis in a logical order. There was a some humorous banter about there beingmore than one logic with me agreeing and stating, furthermore, that therewere twelve (12 in group) We almost had agreement on this when the originatorof the last chunk of work said he didn’t want us to leave it there. Itwas like a rich fruit cake and it needed further chewing over. We thenhad a discussion about the ‘proposition->experience->reflection’ cyclewith 3 or 4 participants who are relatively conversant with the model identifyingthe various stages they could see in our work so far. One important pointwhich emerged at this time was that there was not a necessity to ‘commence’a cycle with a formal proposition. That experience/activity which is thenreflected upon can lead to the formulation of another proposition in anupward spiral of emerging meaning. I let go of my agenda and asked, instead,that we consider it after we’d chewed on the fruit cake. There was somecommentary to the effect that we would be engaging in more reflection onthe data our exercise had produced.
(14) Lunch was a picnic in thegarden in the centre of the square. Not rushed; we had a chance to relaxand socialise.
(15) I beganthe after lunch session by setting the day in the context of a co-operativeinquiry which would have at least one more full weekend meeting - thisday being a ‘contracting in’ day when it is important that we get to knowwhat it is we’re contracting in to. I also expressed a hope that we wouldmake chance to create at least an initial proposition to work with thispm. and also develop proposals for home practice. Meanwhile, there wasstill some reflection required on the previous activity - so my agendawould wait until that was done.
(16) An activity was suggestedwith the intention of eliciting the popularity of each idea. The groupwent with this - there was some disagreement about how we should demonstrateapproval/disapproval for the idea. One proposal was to stand in a circleand move to the middle when an idea was presented with which one agreed.The other was to use the length of the room and to place oneself at oneend to strongly approve and the other to strongly disapprove. The formerwas agreed upon with the group close to half and half for each suggestion.There was also some preliminary discussion to attempt to clarify whetherwe were talking about our favoured idea: a) for the whole inquiry, b) asan initial proposition, c) as something we would want to look at at sometime during the inquiry. Option c) got the consensus. The process stoppedand started a few times with some confusion about how the information shouldbe recorded. The procedure became based upon the big sheet of ideas whichwas passed around the circle with each person reading out one of theirideas and walking to the centre accompanied by others who were interestedin the idea. Walking half way in was understood as 1/2 a vote and totalswere written next to the idea. My idea " I want to have developed a clearlydefined, properly researched technique which combines co-counselling andmeditation" was conspicuous by virtue of it being the only idea which foundnone other than the author standing in the circle centre! When one otherperson joined me, belatedly, there was a good-natured exchange in whichhe agreed to the accusation that he was rescuing me. Not all the ideaswere tested out - we seemed to run out of enthusiasm for it after one go-round.
(17) There was a lotof willing energy for action in the group at this point - decision makingwas chaotic and permissive. It was noticeable in deciding on the ‘in thecentre’ vs. ‘ends of the room’ a number of people letting go of a firmpreference in order to let the group proceed. Clarity about the implicationsof what we were doing was somehow only snatched at the last moment, decisionsabout how to record the popularity of ideas were ‘made in action’ by thepeople who went first. The relatively slight discomfort I felt about myisolation with my own idea was partly because I wasn’t that attached toit - it hadn’t been well thought out in the earlier exercise. But the ‘rescuing’and the subsequent brief humorous exchange, confirmed for me at the sametime both the warm, friendly support in the group AND a determination notto collude with me.
(18) There was a lotof laughter during this whole process - there were often humorous moments;- and/but from the perspective of this debrief, we wonder if the catharsisof laughter helped us to manage our frustration and anxiety.
(19) At the end of this processthe item "the difference between and the value of catharsis of feelingsvs transmutation of feelings" came out as the top interest item. AgainI made a bid for the ‘agenda’ - there was some support in the group forthis, but for others it was important to continue to further rank ideasby popularity which we did and came up with the following rank order:
* catharsis & transmutation(20) At thesame time two other members of the group were creating a simple diagramof the cyclical model of inquiry. The group began to discuss the modelagain and to try to relate it to what we had done so far. The extent towhich different people grasped the inquiry model began to emerge togetherwith competence anxiety.
* share experiences re meditation
* symbolism sets context (sacred spacebefore co-co sessions)
* how co-co & meditation are mutuallysupportive
* effect of catharsis prior to meditation
* how co-co practice can help a meditationgroup
(21) Atthis point there was also a strong sense of anxiety in the group aboutwhat still remained to be done today and when I again requested we returnto the ‘agenda’ there was no opposition. I began from the ‘what’s expectedof people who join’ - acknowledging that the group had already demonstrateda willingness to be both researcher and subject, the next item - regardingthe movement through cycles - we had anticipated. I began to run throughthe other items in the list when I was interrupted with a question regardingthe status of what we were doing; was this a checklist that we were allagreeing to or what? I pointed out the small group planned for later andthere was an agreement to listen through until we hit that point, at whichtime we could discuss the issue s in small groups and take it from there- however there were already a lot of anxieties being expressed about theissues of power & responsibility and conflict & encounter. Somepeople expressed anxieties about how much was being expected of them -what was the commitment. It felt like we’d hit a trough- wading throughthick mud, - sticky.
(22) I hadsuggested "what do you make of it so far?" as the small group’s focus.At this point we went into groups, though, anxiety about what was stillleft to be done was so high that a new checklist emerged with these 4 itemsto focus upon:
Expectations(23) I suggested 3 groups of 4;we arrived at 2 pairs and 2 fours. We gave ourselves 20 mins. with an option(which we took) to extend.
Home Practice and
(24) Mygroup chose to start with a mini co-co session - in my turn as client Irecognised that I was able to let go of some of ‘will we get it done?’anxiety as I noticed it was being carried by the group as a whole. Whenour small group reconvened one of the other pair was noticeably distressedsaying that this (the proceedings so far) was not he had expected or chosento come for. He was unable to engage with our subsequent discussions reinitial proposition and indicated that his only option was to leave. Thesuggestion was made to him that he could also consider, as another option,making a bid to influence the group process in order that it become moreof what he wanted. We then explored, as an initial action proposal, theidea of setting up a situation where, in pairs, a specific feeling stateis aroused - eg. anger - on two occasions and dealt with alternately throughcatharsis and transmutation. We got a bit stuck in details of how to arouseidentical feeling states, order effects and other such related matterswhich, in the light of subsequent discussions, seemed to belong to the‘traditional research paradigm’ The ‘home practice’ we left vaguely definedas ‘using spontaneously arising feeling states as the material to alternatelycathart or transmute’ We had a brief discussion about meetings.
(25) Whenwe moved back into the big group the first thing to happen was that thediscontented participant stated briefly that this wasn’t satisfying forhim. There was too much ‘in the head’ for him; and he left. People saidgoodbyes in different ways - sensitively, thoughtfully, regretfully, reluctantlyand one clear strong goodbye with warmth and matter of factness. Therewas quite a lot of surprise expressed after he had gone, one voice asked"why was that OK for him to just leave like that?" Gradually it becameestablished that no-one had yet made a commitment to anything. Regret thatwe had had no chance to persuade him to stay subsided when the group learnedthat it had been suggested in the small group that one of his options mightbe to stay to influence the group in the direction he would like it togo. Emotional processing of the group’s loss merged rather messily intothe beginning of a debrief from the previous small group work.
(26) In this unstructured sharing,the members of the other 4 group, amongst other things, expressed satisfactionthat at long last in that format they had found chance to begin to shareexperiences of different mind states in meditation, different struggleswith practice etc. One participant expressed grave doubts about his owncompetency in the face of a new methodology and to some extent, new vocabulary.He imagined he was on his own in this and was invited to check that outin the group. A rough estimate of what this revealed was of about 1/3 lostand bothered by it, 1/3 lost and not bothered, and 1/3 familiar with co-opinquiry principle and the vocabulary we were using. I owned to a partialfamiliarity - [ I think I was in touch with a bit of lost and botheredat this point] - as the round progressed the mood of the group seemed toplummet. One person commented she felt like she was in a school staff meeting(eek!) ...there were complaints about us having done hardly any meditationor co-counselling, comments and suggestions were being criticised as being‘old-paradigm’ , provoking new puzzlement and frustration about the vocabulary...whena skilfully timed and aimed (ie at no-one in particular) contribution suggestedthat there was a lot of restimulation in the group at this moment.
(27) Therewas a sudden shift from a downward spiral of group depression to urgentchaos. I spoke about the irony of our small group struggling to think ofways to provoke distress feelings (in order that we ‘treat’ them alternatelythrough catharsis and transmutation) Here’s feeling, let’s work with THIS.Suggestions were suddenly flying thick and fast - half the group meditate,half have a co-co session, rate distress level before and after ‘the treatment’Someone, offered a concise and coherent transmutation technique to usein meditation.There was, again, gales of laughter, then the suggestionthat we were already, through our laughter, discharging our distress. Wasit too late to do the exercise? Activity was stalled for just a momentand then half the group-voting with their feet- were off out of the roomto sit to meditate. I was, by default, in the co-co group and discovered,with some surprise, an unfamiliar stomach pain which I was able to workwith by placing it on a cushion and entering into dialogue with it.
(28) There was real passion to do something at this point - never mind whatit is or whether it has been well designed, let’s just do it. This a commentnot a criticism. In fact I felt I had a definite taste of the spontaneityand creativity accessible in chaos. It had to be worked with there andthen! The comment about the effect of laughter was an apposite reminderof the impermanence and mutability of feeling states. There was also anecho in this for me of an intimation I keep getting about this inquirywhich is, essentially, an inquiry into these two different methods of personalinquiry. There is a reiterative quality to this which suggests, somehow,that we don’t need to design special exercises - it’s already happeningand we just need to notice. How, now, to translate this back into our researchcycles?
(29) This can be seen as another research cycle: the proposition - again unstated- "There is distress, - it is possible to deal with it through catharsisand through transmutation and it is possible to rate the effectiveness,or otherwise, of this treatment". We had our activity phase and wesubsequently reflected upon it in a round. This whole cycle was effectively‘nested’ in our attempts to relate to the agenda and to the necessity ofreaching specific agreements by 7.30.
(30) We came back together tohave a loose and interactive round - most people had rated their distresslevel before and after. Everyone reported a lower level of distress afterthe exercise. Another person, who had been in the meditation group, reportedthe shifting of a stomach pain. I shared that I no longer felt hard pressedto get things done. Another person said they were glad that I was no longeranxious AND that there still remained important decisions to make in thefast dwindling time available.
(31) At this point one personexpressed a very strong dissatisfaction with her perception that we hadstill not completed the sharing from the small group earlier on - ( thathad begun to grind into a spiral of lethargy and depression) After havingmade her point quite forcefully, we had an agreement to have a timed (90secs)round to say what was left unsaid. The kettle was on at this point andshe had to argue strongly for the timed round rather than ‘until the kettleboils!’ I tried to structure this feedback according to the four categorieswe had gone into the small groups with with: expectations, propositionsetc. There was strong resistance to this with the suggestion that a roundwould better reflect what had transpired. Upon completion of this roundthere was again a momentum to ‘go for tea’ But the same member - who usedthe rich fruitcake metaphor just before the lunch break - demanded to knowwhat it was about this group that contrived to time a break just as wegot to the meat of things. Once again tea was made and delivered by volunteersto avoid the necessity of interrupting the process. Thus enabled, we didanother ‘responding to each other’ round - (again for 90 secs. each)
(32) Thiswas a very useful process of offering clarification for each other. Toone member - who said he was enjoying the ‘process’ nature of the group,but knew that was not what it was really all about and maybe he’d be betterspending his time with another group which had the expressed intentionof being process oriented - reassurance was offered to the effect thatco-operative inquiry cannot ignore group process - that reflecting uponit is intrinsic to the method. There had been a number of anxieties expressedabout the idea of creating a ‘proposition’ - it seemed to some to be avery academic and heady activity. Emphasis was placed by another personin the feedback round on the agenda item referring to ‘the importance ofaiming for practical, personally relevant,skill based outcome’ and linkingthat to the creation of a proposition. The relief this clarification offeredto some members of the group was tangible. The same person then offereda proposition/question of his own which the group considered with interestfor some time: "What patterns prevent me from actually doing my meditationpractice?" and , as a subsequent question" What patterns emerge to distractme during my practice?"
(33) In the exploration whichfollowed on from our first suggestion for ‘home practice’ it graduallybecame apparent that something like this could be ‘adjusted to fit’ foreach of us. That we didn’t need to take away a standard, identical question/propositionto explore. If we each of us took time to define what it was we were doing- in relation to continuing our inquiry at home - and did it, then thatwas fine. For one person that was left just a little too ill defined tobe done without support and he suggested we could team up to give eachother telephone support between now and the next time. This was agreedand organised with very little fuss. The ending time for our first meetingwas now rapidly approaching; someone suggested that he’d like to finishwith a brief ritual - the group agreed that that would be desirable. Fixinga next meeting date went very smoothly - with late January rejected asbeing too far away, initial reservations about before Xmas being difficultto fit in were waived and the w/e 13-14 Dec. was agreed.
(34) Another agreement was reachedregarding how we would record the day’s events. We would each write a reportand send it to me for collating and distribution. Deadline for the reportto be one week. A brief discussion followed regarding the sharing of powerand responsibilities - one ‘resolution in action’ which followed from thiswas a chipping in £5 towards the postage and room hire. It was agreedthat at this stage it was appropriate that I do the collation and distributionsince I had all the address info. etc.
(35) I had a senseof us being on the home straight at this time. There was a willingnessto kind of let things fall into place. Fixing the next meeting date soeasily was a surprise for the whole group. I’m glad that in the looseningup over the precise nature of the home practice, we didn’t miss the opportunityto keep continuity and support through phone contact.
(36) As we gathered ourselvesfor the closing ritual I racked my brains for the important agenda itemsstill to be done. We were in candlelight at this time; I said that thoughI’d rather just gloss over it, we could take this last minute opportunityto formally commit ourselves to the inquiry. The light went back on andwe had a round- about half the group made a formal commitment, one saidhe’d think it through once at home, the remainder said probably, but I’llmull it over.
(37) We had a simple and effectiveritual which involved passing a candle around the circle to each otherand making brief statement - whatever felt appropriate.
(38) Finally, after the end ofthe group, I asked about how and if to include a couple of other peoplewho had completed questionnaires and agreed to the original meeting datebut couldn’t come today. Various opinions; the group agreed to be opento them on condition that I gave them a very thorough briefing of today’sevents beforehand.