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Essays listed in chronological order starting with most recent. For archives, please see previous volumes below.
  • Writer's pictureRudy Bauer

The Useful Clinical Distinction between Mind and Awareness in the Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy of Do

Mind Alone

For many years psychoanalysis and psychoanalytic psychotherapy was singularly centered on the unconscious mind and conscious mind. There was only mind and the mind could become aware of its own self and its own representational realm. The self itself was representational and the emphasis on the mind was in the light of analytic thinking and analytic observation. There was an emphasis on objectification of mental phenomena and subjectivity itself.  Knowing was knowledge by association, by reflection and mediation by linguistic signifiers.  Knowing was neither non-conceptual nor pre-reflective, nor was there a place for direct experiential knowingness. Knowing was associated as mind alone and singular mind functions such as thinking, feeling, sensation, memory and imagination.

Transitional Space as Space of Awareness

With the presentation of the work of Donald Winnicott there was a shift in the psychoanalytic understanding of knowingness. A similar change in psychoanalytic thinking about knowing was also taking place in the Jungian and archetypal analytic schools.

In psychotherapy Winnicott emphasizes a focus on the suspension of mind and in the process of suspension of mind, awareness was freed to focus within awareness, free to focus itself on itself.  In the suspension of mind (a Winnicottian form of the phenomenological reduction,) the patient relocates themselves. The patient relocates from being located in mind alone or even located in a particular function of mind alone such as: feeling function or thinking function or sensation function or memory function; the patient enters or relocates themselves into the intermediate area of experience. This intermediate area of experience or this in- between space  of experience is also described as the transitional area of experience and relatedness. Sometime this place is also described as the place of potential space. The sense of self shifts from being located in the mind or mental function of the mind into the more embodied sense of spacious awareness or as the place of potential space.  Winnicott would described this knowing dimension of human experience with such metaphors as transitional space, as an intermediate area of experiencing, and as potential space. This space is the place wherein the true sense of self can emerge,

This foundational openness allows for the sense of basic awareness or self-manifestation as a direct knowingness free of mental containment or mental content.  Winnicott knows this place as the place of unfolding change. He clearly understood that change could take place when a person was not simply located in mind alone or in the functions of mind alone. The sense of subjectivity was relocated into this open base of awareness. This base of awareness was spaciousness as stillness and provided the   support that was not thought, and not a sensation, not an emotional reactive state, and neither fantasy or fixated focus on reality. This in- between place is  the place of awareness, becoming aware of awareness. This place implies an intrinsic sense of reality rather than external cognitive judgment about reality. This in-between place is beyond the polarity of idealism and realism.

Mind Awareness Distinction

In this transitional clinical process Winnicott is making a distinction between mind and awareness. This same distinction is made in some forms of eastern phenomenology such as Tibetan Dzogchen Buddhism and Hindu Kashmir Shavism. This distinction is also made in Continental Phenomenology.  Phenomenologists such as Merleau Ponty, Martin Heidegger and Martin Buber make this necessary distinction. Existential psychoanalysts such as RolIo May make this distinction. Experiential psychotherapists such as Gestalt psychotherapist Erving Polster make this distinction. In Heidegger’s phenomenology there is a distinction between mind and dasein which is the difference of mind and awareness. Mind knowing things and beings, and awareness knowing the being of beings.

Let us make this difference explicit. Mind knows difference as things and beings and awareness knows oneness as Being.  Mind knows duality and awareness knows non-duality. Our mind knows forms, things, both subtle and gross; faces, hands, buildings, trees, math formulas, and the mind knows subject and mind knows otherness. The mind knows dualities, the mind knows me and you, us and them and this and that, mind knows time, mind knows the memory of the past, the experience of the present and the unfolding sense of the future. The mind knows things and entities, the mind knows beings, infinite numbers of beings and things. The mind knows difference. The mind thinks conceptually, feels affectivity, imagines through imagery, the mind has sense and the mind has memory. The mind knows dualistically.

Awareness knows Being directly and awareness knows the being-ness of beings directly. Being is not a being, and Being manifest beings. Being manifest beings within beings as their being. Being is not an entity, not a being. Being is non-duality.

The mind knows time and awareness knows timelessness in time and beyond time. Awareness knows timelessness in time and Being is timelessness manifesting time.  Awareness knows oneness and mind knows difference.


From being located within the mind alone and the functions of mind (thinking, feeling, sensation, memory, fantasy) and shifting into entering into and sustaining the place of transitional space, the basic sense of self can experientially manifest and become the base of the person rather then the mind alone being the base of experience. From this base of the experienced self which is the base of innermost awareness the person is able to access the natural self-soothing function of the self. The metabolistic function of awareness is much stronger then the metabolistic function of mind alone.The basic dissociation between mind and the functions of the mind can be dissolved and the mind integrated into the self as awareness.

Place of Awareness is the Place Manifestation of Being

Within Winnicott’s understanding of transitional space of relatedness and awareness, the field qualities of awareness begin to manifest in a sustained manner. These field qualities are spaciousness, lightness or clarity, energy, and sense of indivisible-ness. The place of awareness phenomenologically is the place of the manifestation of the experience of Being and the being-ness of beings.  Awareness knows Being. So in becoming aware of awareness we become aware of the direct knowing of Being.  Awareness and Being are phenomenologically identical as Parmenides suggested over 2000 years ago.

Hence, when a person enters into awareness, the person enters into the field of Being. By entering the experience of mind and the experience of embodiment into the awareness state the person is integrating his mind and his embodiment as the field of Being.

Ongoing Continuity of Being

And so as Winnicott would so often describe, by being in transitional space, there is the experience of ongoing continuity of Being.  And this experience of primary self is intrinsically healing and suffusing of both the mind and embodiment.

Winnicott understood that there is ongoing psychological process of disintegration and reintegration that is a naturally unfolding process that is   developmental and produces and supports the function of change.

Disintegration and Reintegration

 Winnicott knew that in order to hold the creative process of disintegration and reintegration to unfold, a person had to be and have a sense of unfolding self or transitional space. Fluidity was necessary. Both stillness and movement was necessary. The nature of awareness is both stillness and movement simultaneously.

 To use our language the person must have some sense of the awareness of innermost field of awareness. Because of a person’s capacity to enter transitional space and transitional relatedness a person can hold and transform experience in and through the field of awareness which is the field of Being.  And so disintegrative experience can be experienced through the attunement process of transitional awareness.

Attunement to transitional objects whether personal or symbolic is sustaining and liberating. This form of transitional relatedness gives depth and breadth to the emerging integration process. Without transitional relatedness, a person would not have enough self to hold the transformative process of disintegration and integration. He described that if a person was in mind alone, since it is the mind itself that is disintegrating, then states of agony would take place and the person would become the disintegrative state, the disintegrative process.

This process would not only be within the person but could be transmitted or projected on those around the person. In a word everyone goes a bit mad and feels continuously or sporadically the agony of disintegration. Within this understanding there is the necessity of bringing forth transitional states of awareness wherein the person could rest in formless states of self which are necessary to be experienced for the process of transformation and metabolism to take place.


The act of becoming aware of awareness brings one into transitional relatedness and is a mutually held field.  To say this another way, two holding awareness are better than one. The more the field of awareness permeates the body, deepening the sense of embodiment, the more the metabolism of disintegrative process takes place. Disintegrative states are metabolized. And so embodied awareness is open and pervasive.

Disintegration and Mind Alone

Most often a person try’s to deal with disintegrative states by mind alone and by being alone in solipsistic mind alone. If one has a strong mind the disintegrative state can be integrated within the mind. A disintegrated state integrated in the mind gives one an ongoing background of disintegrative experienced. The person survives the disintegration process but the reified disintegration state is internalized by the mind and  state remains within and is contained by mind and the experience can be transmitted to others. This happens when the mind is experienced as the self, a sense of self as mind.

When a person has a weak mind or poorly developed mind and lacks transitional awareness, the disintegrated state completely organizes such a mind and the person’s relational life. Moreover, the person in a more explicit ongoing way experiences the process of continuous, disintegrative experience and disintegrated sense of self. Primordial anxiety such as annihilation and deprivation anxiety becomes continuously overwhelming. The superego often becomes the organizer of the   fragmented states of mind.

Many times person with various forms of disintegrated states and fragmented states are organized by each other in distorted forms of attunement. To be able clearly experience the difference and felt sense of being in mind alone and in the awareness field provides a person with the felt sense of a skill to enter into the space of awareness, the self as innermost awareness and slowly but surely integrate various states of affect, thought sensation and mind and memory itself into space of awareness.

Dissociative states integrated within the field of awareness

In order for trauma experience to be dissolved and digested it is useful to experientially know the difference between being in mind alone and being in awareness. The power of the awareness field is the power of metabolizing experience.  By integrating the mind and the functions of the mind into the awareness field, the dissociation between mind and awareness becomes dissolved. By integrating dissociative states of mind into the awareness field, the dissociative states of mind are infused and opened in their containment by the nature of the space of awareness. Rather than being located in singular states of mind, the person relocates into the field of awareness less bound and organized by the terror of singular trauma states of experience that have been reified into particular states of mind.

Beyond Integration of Disintegrated States of Mind

Psychotherapy rather than being simply the focus on the traumatic states of mind with the psychotherapy enters an existential phase of entering the existential drama being in the world. The true drama is being in the world, free of the traumatic organization by particular states of mind.

Part Psychology

Part psychology and psychotherapy is a way of working with fragmented states of mind and body. There is a linear manner that can be used by integrated the fragmented states of mind with each other. A kind of working community can be established. This stasis is often ongoing and incomplete. This kind of part psychology is expressed by Erick Bern, Erving and Miriam Polster, John Watkins and Richard Schwartz.  Rather the more powerful goal is to integrate the various parts within the sense of awareness as self. Paul Ferdern who wrote Ego Psychology and the Psychosis gave the earliest expression to part psychology. He articulated this formulations many years ago. Paul Ferdern also influenced Winnicott in his understanding of the fluidity and experiential formulations of the sense of the feeling of self. Many of the part psychotherapists give little recognition to the work of Paul Ferdern emphasis on integrating the parts into the feeling of the sense of self.

The purpose of this brief essay was to point out the clinical necessity of making a differentiation between mind and awareness. And in doing so the ego self-differentiations opens up intrinsic methods for the resolving of fragmentation of mind or ego. This ego self-differentiation is another way of speaking about the mind awareness differentiation.

This brief essay describes the importance of the differentiation of mind from awareness. This paper also explores some of the immediate clinical implications of such a fundamental distinction.

Washington Center for Consciousness Studies and the Washington Center for Phenomenological and Existential Psychotherapy Studies

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