Existential Phenomenological Psychotherapy – “Inventiveness” – Part 2
Rudolph Bauer, Ph.D. A.B.P.P., Writer, Elizabeth Ebaugh LCSW-C, Editor
People feel something is wrong with them when they reach the void, the blank space, the block. In that sense of unworthiness, the sense of “no can do”, if you can use other people before you start the decent, it’s really useful – hey, let’s connect! If you can connect at that point, what happens to the field? It gets stronger. As I’m starting to collapse, if I can connect somewhat and have some degree of dependency, healthy dependency, the field will start to arise for me, get stronger. But I have to use people, dogs, objects, symbols, therapists. Then the field starts arising and I start feeling presence again and begin to move through the stuck point. I’m able to meet it, whatever it might be. When you read the newspaper, whether the people are being raised as kings or going to the courts, they are all meeting stuck points and coming through it. The stuck point is completely the point of growth, the creative point if it’s not overly pathologized and reified. The frame of experimentation and inventiveness is powerful when you embrace that frame with the tiniest of events. The reification of experience destroys the reification of the existential position, and then space arises, more light; like Goethe was saying before he died, more light! If you make this too spiritual you will de-naturalize it, make it supernatural thinking like you are having a magical moment outside of your own nature. You have to see it as the arising and power of your own awareness, consciousness. It destroys the reification of the use of one’s objects.
Experiments allow one to play with object choice and contact modes. Wait, all this energy is arising, I’m plumping up! I might go wild! I think of myself a little differently than I thought of myself a minute ago. I get a new representation. Representations are really important. Without them you cannot walk around on the street. You need an outfit, you need clothes. You can’t be naked awareness; you have to have a costume. When one experiments, one comes to the edge and the support of old representational states begin to drop and the void is now experienced as a liminal spacious state, but you have to know how to hold it and tolerate it. If a big event happens and you are not quite practiced in the art of holding awareness, it might not be that transformational. New actions, words, thoughts and affects can arise and be sustained. If you are a therapist you want to see yourself as an object of transformation. You are not a manager or a supporter. You want to feel the possibility of yourself being a creative person. Sometimes you have to choose your clients carefully. If you choose all of one type who just needs support you will find yourself losing potential space. You will be helping people feel supported in the same story. This sounds unkind!
The activation of yourself as a transformative object is not just a function of yourself, but of your clients too. It takes two. If you are a therapist and just in the management game, which might fit for you, but if you want to live a life of transformative or potential space, it’s not quite the same story. The drama of management can be done in transformative manner. It may take a little more transformation from your part though. That will put it more in balance. I’m just trying to say that there is a duality to this. To be a transformative object for people, you have to do it in a situation. It takes two. You want to have clients who really want to do that.
There are a lot of different metaphors we can use when someone is doing experiments and trying to come forward and not simply being seduced by the old, but having a person sit in that void, that space and pulling something from nothing. Metaphors, there are metaphors like present, mythic, historical, political metaphors, but ultimately we are working with the existential point of their embodiment of the field at that moment. When people are doing things you want to see that they are embodying the field in the moment. As they are embodying the field there can be a movement through the stuckness. There will always be emerging, when one starts to move through a stuck point, one starts to feel what Winnicott called the true self. You feel truer to yourself. You feel less false, less locked in. You feel more like yourself than a few minutes ago – the truer me. Authenticity sounds great, being authentic, but sometimes being completely authentic, this is what I feel, this is it, I’m speaking the truth maintains the stuck point . You see this in individual work and couples. It can actually be the speaking of the same experience and the same feelings. It is authentic, but it’s not very creative. Living in authenticity is better than not. First there is a false frame, which isn’t too much fun, but then you become authentic. When people start feeling creative they might first feel like a psychopath. You step out of being authentic and into being creative. Some psychopathics are very creative personalities but they are just sheer creativity without any authenticity whatsoever. But they are interesting! There is a tension between being authentic and being creative. You will feel that when you are with your own object relations, you will feel very authentic. As you step into the creative side, you will feel like an adolescent or a benign psychopath. You are without values, just arbitrarily using people and events. It’s called freedom. You are not so dominated by the paternal superego. It’s disappeared a bit so you aren’t sure what your values are. You are in a psychopathic mode for a while. It’s like a playground and then you want to run back to the superego again. But we can all go a little further. You start refashioning your life again. Some people dissolve. It does have an arbitrary feeling because you are not quite sure about the rules. Object relations are complete patterns and rules of everything. There is no freedom in them. There is a bit of adolescence, identity diffusion, but you feel the field coming through so it’s not so bad. Then you play with the new found freedom. Then it starts to become a bit more home-like, familiar. In a certain way it starts to feel like you are elaborating your true self again. The authentic self is sometimes a false self. Say you became Mr. Parent superego at 14. You think it’s your authentic self and that starts to dissolve and something else starts to arise. You start to feel this idiom arising in you – a new idiom that is not the old one. This idiom feels like me! Before, it was just internalization. I gulped it up, took my position in the family system and now I am refashioning it, like an artist. There is a brief story about my son. He’s about 14 and he says, “I think I’m too good. I’m a nerd actually! I’m going to go to the dark side.” He changed all his friends, all the goodies and started hanging out with all the guys with the leather jackets. He experimented with the dark side. The true self seeks to elaborate a personal world through the cultivation of objects and object relationships. This transformation, though it’s taking place in the field, it does deal with new objects, new stuff. It’s not just mystical. You are playing with different cultures, different forms. I don’t think I will see that person anymore. It’s a fine person, but it’s the same story. I’m going to move on. One elaborates the sense of self through objects. The elaboration of our self comes through the use of objects. It’s nesciently there. What actually brings it forth is how I start shaping it in this real world. That is why experimenting in the real world brings us forth. Sitting holding the field is great. Dissolving internalizations is great, but something has to take place in the flesh. One elaborates the sense of the self, the true self, through the use of cultural objects, personal objects, material, symbolic, and human objects. The fashioning of life is something like an aesthetic. A new aesthetic starts to arise. The very expression of the self is an object use. In the transformation of a person’s life, they may do inner life, but inventiveness is moving into the world.
A question comes through, totally off the microphone…
You don’t burn everything, but an object is really a function of view. You have different views of people. Objects inform the self. The self is always in a situation; awareness is always in a situation. You will never find awareness not in a situation. Potential space is always in a condition. Those conditions influence and inform the self. Objects inform the experience of the self, the experience of the self informs the use of objects. You inform me, I inform you. Sometimes we try and not inform each other, we have a parallel life. Certain relationships, like in some marriages, the couple won’t influence each other. They won’t be influenced by each other. Parallelism – don’t inform me, I won’t inform you. Creativity dies, juridical life arises.
There are stages of creative experimentation. A person who writes about this very nicely is Ernest Rossi. He not only writes about these stages but he will tell you how long to be in each stage, how long it takes to have a transformation even at the level of DNA. His primary interest is studying DNA. He believes all creative life influences DNA changes. DNA isn’t just a fixed thing, but it actually sustains new forms of life. He’s quite brilliant. He was actually a Jungian analyst, when he worked with Milton Erickson, the greatest of the hypnotherapists and a very developed yogi. You should read Erickson’s books, not his commentators, but read his stuff itself. He is like God; everybody has their own view of it. Rossi was his editor. They worked together on a number of books. Then Rossi broke off from Milton Erickson and began writing his own stuff.
So the first stage is initiating a way of creative focusing. If you are in the field, the attractors of the field will pull the person into a sense of what is fascinating, what is interesting? The person will go into it. It really happens in an uncanny way. Even in a little triad after 5 minutes there is an issue and if you are really holding it, something happens. What is it like for you now? A metaphor may come up. You stay with it. The art of the therapist is using language, which language takes them out, pulls them into you, which language helps them stay in their own experience, unless you want to pull them into you because of affirmative or dis-affirmative responses.
The second stage is in a journey of incubation and arousal. How can I be incubating and being aroused at the same time? You are in, incubating, yet this intensity is building. You are both in, incubating like a little incubator, which is your own being. You want concrete-operational? This is it. You are incubating yet being aroused. The energy is arousing intensity. You are not doing it with your rational mind. You feel it happening. You are in it participating. You are holding it, holding the creative process in your being. And you are utilizing your experience to deepen the experience. The rising of affect – affect must come but you are trying to stay with the awareness of the affect. Sometimes a person may shift from awareness into pure affect and discharge, which can be very useful. Or you are holding the inner intensity, the stuckness, the crisis sense, whatever the formulated problem or metaphor was. That person or group are holding it with you whether you are in a therapist office or maybe you are in Ghana and people are holding it with you and the Shaman is sitting there with you. When the field is really activated, everybody feels the field.
Stage three, a shift happens. What happened between two and three? No one knows… It’s the point of unknowing. There is no knowingness but it’s definitely not conceptual. It’s gnosis – perception without a concept. A shift happens with a new sense of understanding and experience. So from stage 2 to 3 is often a void-like pause or gap, a period of unknowing. Our job is to stay with it, stay with it, stay with it, hold it, be it, occasionally using some words to help articulate it and amplify it. But if I use too many words I will lose it. This fuels the arousal phase and prepares the person for the 3rd stage, which is illumination or sense of meaning or sense of breaking out of some personal limitation. This stage sometimes has a sense of surprise or emerging knowingness or experience. Stage one you focused in, stage two you start utilizing your experience. You can even think it and feel it, but you are in it, pre-reflectively and you are feeling the support of another person holding the field with you. It may just be something being dissolved. It’s being dissolved in me, I guess I am dissolving it but I don’t quite know how I am doing it but it is being dissolved. You feel really good! You might go back in to touch it, to ratify it which is stage 4. There is something about stage 4 that is very important in that you want to stay and feel the newer experience and newer knowledge. You want to feel the new reality, the new life. You want to hang out with it for a little while. You want to savor it. It’s genuine. Whatever you see, you are seeing a highly aesthetic state, very beautiful. I’m always amazed how beautiful it is. I really believe this. When I did that triad supervision yesterday I really became a believer again. It was exquisitely beautiful. It was a live moment, working the field. If the field isn’t there, that is something to wonder about. How come? When the field is there, something is going to happen. When it does happen you aren’t going to exactly know how it happens. You feel yourself enter the field, suddenly you go back to your mind… it’s squealing and then you release your mind and feel yourself going further to that chaotic point and suddenly, there is no chaos. If you feel contact, you are inside to inside with another human being and you are not necessarily in love, though there is love there. You feel this incredible resonance and you feel your body taking a step toward connection. It’s like taking off a cloak. You feel present.
So there are 4 stages. Stage 1 is initiating. That is the artful part of the stage. That is where the therapist has to have some art. You talk too much or too little, you must have the talk just right in the middle. You have to be attuned. It’s really worthwhile to listen how people do it. When I was growing up as a therapist, I’d go pay these people money. I wanted to find the best I could find and I would go and listen. I wouldn’t worry about how I would do it at that moment. I’d write myself the check if I wanted to do that. I wanted to know how they did it. I wanted to know if I like it, disliked it, what they are saying, how am I feeling as they are saying that. I tracked them. I would sit like a stalker, meaning, what was the process. After a while a lot of similarity between certain people became apparent. There were different styles though, and then I’d practice that style. If you are too defined, too mature, you won’t be able to do this. I felt different people’s styles, and then I said, okay, I’ll have my own. Then I become myself. So the 1st stage is initiating the wave of creative focusing in the field. The 2nd is the inner journey. You can see people when they shift into the inner incubation and have arousal. They are holding it and working it. The utilization of experience keeps deepening. Some of the words you keep feeding back and forth are experiential words that help the person deepen it. “It feels like that is really important to you. Yes it is, it’s always been with me and I really want to move through it. I’m really happy you want to move through it.” I don’t have any idea what it is even. I might sometimes want to know, especially after the fact. Stage 3 is when the shift between 2 and 3 happens. It’s incubation and arousal, if there is no arousal, nothing is going to happen. You can be incubating for a long time, but you have to know arousal or it won’t quite take place. You need some intensity. You do too much intensity and make it too external, it may not work. Incubation may dissolve. For arousal, number one is the field. Whatever you do in the field becomes more aroused. That is why the field is tricky. The field is an arousing, activated state. If you say a word in it, it becomes more activated. You feel it more and you feel it in clarity. Spaciousness, light and energy are felt. Without that you may simply be using the energy of the problem and not the energy of the whole, potential space. The energy of potential space: space, light and energy is intense. During the arousal and incubation stage, sometimes it’s just the conversation or confrontation and you are holding that and there is enough intensity. Then the container is not in the person’s body, it’s us. It’s both within a person and at times it’s within us, as a couple. Then the shift happens. Stage 2 to 3 is often intangible, sometimes it can be a black state, void, appearing as a gap or an unknowing, like in the book on Christian mysticism, The Cloud of Unknowing. The mind/body needs arousal to do the work, but staying in the experience, staying with the feelings and the affects is necessary. Staying with the affects isn’t saying you should discharge the affect. Some people discharge the affect prematurely. There won’t be any transformation there. There will be exhaustion, but no transformation. You say, please stop for a second. Stay in your experience – a little directedness. Then the arousal can work… Something new can be brought forth. That stage is always surprising… Knowingness or experience or a new skill will arise. Stage 4 is very important. It doesn’t take a long time but there is a pause. It’s like chatting about it, not in a gossiping way, you are talking about it in ratification or confirming way like, that was really cool! What was that like for you, what did that mean for you? I felt this when you were saying that. You are ratifying the experience in the context of a life of us. Even if it’s an encounter between two people, you are working in a dual way; the same 4 stages are taking place relationally or through a little dialogue. So, stage 4 is ratifying the experience.
On making an experiment - an experiment can be between the therapist and the client, the educator and the student, the OD person and the executive, the client and client or client in a group so you can create these things a lot of ways. In groups everybody is a therapist. You are just the chief therapist or organizational consultant. Everybody has a therapeutic function. A lot of times in groups there is a therapist and everybody else is out for themselves like hungry ghost therapy experience. That’s not good. How we define it, we’ll talk more about this, but a group should be shaped that way. I’m the chief therapist, I get the money, but everybody has a function. You are not only here for yourself, but for the other people. You don’t have to talk about Bodhisattva vows, everybody is here and we all work together.
So then there is ground work. Here we go again, what is going on, what do you want to work on? Then there is grading the experiment. Then, is there enough awareness? Increasing the intensity, energy and arousal and then focusing and elaborating the themes. What is the most useful frame possible - the frame with the most possibilities of potential space. The content is not always the realistic problem presented. It may be a metaphor.
Change happens over time, sometimes a long time. You might have a little tiny change in the long unfolding change. Dr. Xan Yin would always say, “When you finally recognize the change, it has already taken place a long time before.” He would say that over and over again. He was a master. These little stages, this is not biblical, but useful. Sometimes a person may be trying to enter stage one for months. Then they get to stage two for a few months and then go back to stage one. Then they hit stage 3 and go back to stage 1. These are not regressions. This is not failure. This is the cycle. It is a cyclical experience. We get better and better and better at stage 1, 2, 3, and 4, over time. This is not micro-magic. The same process takes place over time but it is useful to know that 1, 2, 3 and 4 is something to be watching and participating in. Change takes place on a non-conceptual level and in time conceptualization recognizes it and you can talk about it. This is not just micro-magic. Even in a session you will sometimes see a little sequence like this taking place in a bigger sequence. The actual stages are helpful. Someone asked me to go through the making of an experiment. You want to think of the experiment as being between yourself and your client, the group, the kids, whatever your frame is. Groundwork is what is going on, what do you want to work on? In this form of therapy, it’s not an ontological experience. The therapist is not an ontological entity. It’s a floating hat. The supervision is really meant to be that way. One moment you are the therapist and another moment the other person acts as the therapist. There was a guy named Menninger who did research in psychotherapy. He went to a Gestalt conference one time and was amazed that one person could be the therapist and then they’d switch around. This blew his analytic mind. He was making the therapeutic function ontological just like people make the guru function ontological. This really is a floating hat. So you guys have a triad and you switch around the role of who is playing the therapist and client. The function floats. What is going on, what’s happening is another way of looking at the experiment, what do you want? Then you have grading the experiment… Is it too real? Is it too fantastical? Is it not real enough? These can be within the room, within the body, within us or an outside assignment. If it’s too fantastical, the person may feel better but not have a transformation, so we raise the ante. We raise the intensity, which is grading the experiment. You look for 2 things. One is the awareness support. We like looking for activation of the field, how intense the field is. If the field is so intense that a person is gasping, that may not be useful at that moment. If there is no field, then that primordial support is not there at this moment. So we want field support, activation of the field and then energy and arousal. For some things you need a lot of energy, a lot of arousal. Then there is focusing and elaborating on a theme. One question you are always asking yourself is, what the most useful frame possible is, the frame with the most possibilities, what frame leads best into potential space. Sometimes you might know that and sometimes you may not. For instance, should this be between the person and their boss, or between the person and their Dad, or between this person as a dwarf with a giant? What language, how should we frame this existential issue with the most associative possibilities?
There is a natural undulation of the field. It opens and closes. It’s like a big jellyfish. That undulating is exquisitely pleasurable. You feel the pulsation. It’s like being in the sea, floating along with the current. This current undulates through us. We focus in, arousing, at the incubation level. That cool breeze you feel, that runs around you is a sign that something is really happening. It’s like a breath coming through the place. This is like being deep and intense at the same time.