Oh housebuilder! Now you are seen. You shall not build a house again for me. All your beams are broken, the ridgepole is shattered. The mind has become freed from its prison.
At times in history when the intellectual and spiritual pursuits of the East and West have met there has often been an expansion of their respective traditions. We are again at one such junction but this time, due to our new ability to communicate broadly and at great speed, that which emerges from the cross fertilisation is accessible to many more people much more deeply.
Part of this is the exposure of the West to the great contemplative traditions found in Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism and conversely the impact of psychoanalytically influenced ideas upon these same traditions. It would not be an exaggeration to say that their mutual discovery and exploration, now going on for many hundreds of years, is fast approaching a place where we can legitimately speak of a newly emerging third perspective that will represent that which is best and unique in both parties.
The conjunction of psychotherapy and meditation is part of this broader picture and the term, "contemplative psychotherapy" may be used to describe a theory and practice of psychotherapy that has accepted into itself the insights and understandings that emerge from the contemplative traditions. These may include:
- A deeper understanding of psychopathology, that is the suffering of the soul, that includes the notion that the basic cause of all suffering is separation from our "already, always" awakened nature.
- An extended understanding of psychological development that adds transpersonal stages of development to the purely personal ones. That is, once we have achieved a separate sense of self that can survive in the world of relationships and work, we can then begin to investigate this self and discover its profound underlying nature.
- That psychotherapeutic technique, as well as valuing reflection upon our emotions, feelings and thoughts, also furthers the ability to be simply present with experience, without defensive closures offered by premature retreats into meaning.
- That the psychotherapeutic relationship contains within it the additional possibility of demonstrating the ability to be unconditionally present with all material, forgoing inappropriate psychopathologising for open, evenly valued, mindful curiosity.
- That Maitri, that is unconditional friendliness, is the feeling atmosphere in which all psychological work flourishes.
Finally, the contemplative perspective, itself not identified solely with any one religion, need not be appended to any one psychotherapeutic modality. It can find expression within the behavioural, psychoanalytic, humanistic and transpersonal perspectives equally. This is because it is not so much what we do but more simply, how we are.
Contemplative psychotherapy summarised
The Basic Understanding
While not identifying solely with any particular religious tradition contemplative psychotherapy proceeds from the understanding that a profound healing of all forms of human anguish comes from resting with out effort in our ever present awakened nature.
The Psychotherapeutic Method
This is supported in psychotherapy in two ways.
1. By the reflective dialogue between therapist and patient, usual in all forms of psychotherapy, that enquires into the history and meaning of life's events.
2. By developing the ability to remain present, relaxed and without intention, as an engaged witness to all thoughts and emotions as they emerge, remain and dissolve.
The Fruit of the Practice
Here there are also two levels.
1. Conventional goals: the undoing of developmental arrest, the ability to happily engage in meaningful activity and relationships, the development of a healthy individual personality.
2. Contemplative "goals": the ability to be present with all experience as it arises with out recourse to defensive closures, leading to a direct knowledge of our nature as it is, to the spontaneous expression of insight and compassion.