Science, Spirit, Psychotherapy by Ron Kurtz
My goal here is to place the Hakomi method within three different disciplines: science, spiritual practice and psychotherapy. Any one-way description of the work is not enough. The work is inspired and shaped by all three disciplines. This short article is an attempt at a “three-dimensional” description. First, looking at the work as science, two quotes from a Nobel physicist and a great teacher of science:
“The principle of science, the definition, almost, is the following: The test of all knowledge is experiment. Experiment is the sole judge of scientific “truth.” But what is the source of knowledge? “
– Richard Feynman, Six Easy Pieces
I once saw a video tape of Feynman lecturing at Esalen. He said there that the scientific method involved three basic steps: make a guess; calculate the implications of your guess; then do an experiment to test those implications. Do we do something similar in Hakomi? We do! Here’s how: These three steps— observe/guess, reason/calculate, test/experiment—describe, in a very simple way, exactly what the method does. Step one: observe! We watch for indications of the client’s present experience. We call that tracking. We watch for the external signs of ingrained habits and deep beliefs. We call those, indicators. We make a lot of observations, a lot of looking and listening for the unusual and the characteristic. We make a specialty of looking and listening for the nonverbal expressions of beliefs and attitudes. We observe in order to get ideas about the person. In other words, step two: we guess. Guess is another way of saying, we hypothesize. We generate hypotheses about the person. This process is creative. It requires intelligence and a good imagination.1 We guess about what beliefs are influencing the organization of this person’s experiences. We get ideas about what childhood experiences led to this. We hypothesize about what core beliefs are part of this way of being in the world. (2) Our reasoning process is based on the idea that experience is organized by the deep structures of the mind. We can observe the signs of experiences. We have to guess about the deep structures.
The third thing: we have to test the ideas we’ve come up with. (“The test of all knowledge is experiment.”) We do experiments. We call them, “little experiments”. Still, they’re tests. They also function to bring beliefs, emotions and memories into the client’s consciousness. That’s one of the ways we help client’s discover how they’re habitually organized. Still, we’re experimenting and we have to come up with these experiments all the time. Whether it’s a probe or taking something over, we are testing our ideas. That’s scientific method. (Some notes on this are given below.)
“The basic work of health professionals in general and psychotherapists in particular is to become full human beings and to inspire full human beingness in other people who feel starved about their lives.”
– Chogyam Trungpa, Full Human Beingness (3)
The second aspect of the method I want to talk about is the spiritual one. I want to touch upon how this method reflects spiritual principles and practices. To begin, let’s simply state that the work is spiritually informed. Literally, it has information learned through spiritual practice. As students of this work, we have all spent time doing deep work, using mindfulness seeking out the depths of our own minds. We are trained to understand that we are more than separate selves; that wisdom and inspiration can be found in spiritual experiences; that love and consciousness are as real as mass and energy; and more. The work for clients is self-discovery. Not problem solving. Not counseling. Not curing diseases. This work is the same internal search that is the work of all spiritual disciplines. It tackles the question: Who am I?.
The work takes place within a spiritually informed mental-emotional container that the therapist establishes through his or her way of being. The work rests within that container in a palpable way. 4 The feeling is one of warmth, presence and kindness. The therapist puts aside other agendas and is totally present for the other. Chogyam Trungpa calls it, warmth and wakefulness. In Buddhism it’s Wisdom and Compassion.
A basic part of this method is learning and using this spiritually informed attitude. We call it, loving presence. There are exercises and talks about it. We practice it every day of the trainings. There are definite skills that have to be learned. Certain habits of thinking and doing can get in the way. So, we study ourselves. That’s our spiritual work.
All this is not just pretty talk. It’s hard work. Eventually, one learns to rest in this loving state, with patience and faith and good humor. We learn to find inspiration and love within the process of helping others, so that we too are restored and nourished. Over and over again, we are nourished by a source that does not fail. These experiences remind us: this stuff works! It feels right and good and it works!
“I rise to taste the dawn, and find that love alone will shine today. And the shining says: to love it all, and love it madly, and always endlessly, and ever fiercely, to love without choice and enter the All, to love it mindlessly and thus be the All, embracing the only and radiant Divine: now as Emptiness, now as Form, together and forever, the Godless search undone, and love alone will shine today.” — Ken Wilber (5)
About the method as psychotherapy: First, it happens within this container full of compassion, patience and encouragement. That makes the method error tolerant. It is precisely because the scientific steps we take happen within this spiritual container that makes those steps so effective. The guesses, the experiments, they’re all happening within a relationship filled with good will and kindness. The atmosphere is open, creative and full of hope. This atmosphere is the most significant aspect of the whole endeavor. It sustains both client and therapist through the difficult work of feeling what is at times deeply painful. Let’s not make the mistake of believing that the method works because of any technique or group of techniques. It works because the people using those techniques are loving and inspired. Unlike Thomas Edition’s well known description of genius, the work is more inspiration than perspiration. This special atmosphere is the source of our success.
1. “…the key feature of intelligent acts is creative divergent thinking, not memory per se. What we need is a process that will produce good guesses.” —William Calvin
2. See the paper: On Core Material in this book of Readings.
3. In Awakening the Heart, edited by John Welwood
4. See the paper Nirodha, in this book of readings
5. In Sex, Ecology, Spirituality