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Core Process Psychotherapy
Who Do You Think You Are? A thumbnail sketch of Core Process Psychotherapy
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Who Do You Think You Are? A thumbnail sketch of Core Process Psychotherapy. Part 2.

The deepest wounds call for the deepest healing

In this perspective, there is a source within us all of inherent and ever-present health. In the West, we tend to create a division between body and mind but, within Buddhism, consciousness is seen as unitary and connects all sentient beings. The Zen teacher, Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh, describes this in terms of "interbeing" (Thich Nhat Hanh, 1988). At our deepest levels, we are all interconnected and the ground of this interconnection is open and empty. There is an absence of self-definitions, concepts and conditions. This is what is meant by the 'core'. Deep beneath the layers of our familial and generational histories – and all the thoughts, emotions, impressions, opinions and beliefs that have grown up as a consequence – there is a state of vast and unconditioned presence.

This state is what we orient towards in Core Process Psychotherapy. It is not a place that can be known intellectually but one that is held within the most subtle layers of our experience. It is the place from which our sense of being arises – that sense of 'I am' when it is not qualified by 'I am this or I am that'. It's like an ever-available fulcrum of awareness in the midst of our continuing stream of consciousness and experience (Sills F., 2008). When we are closest to this state we feel fully present with nothing in the way, nothing added or taken away from direct experience of the moment.

Inevitably, this state has become obscured, for all of us, by the conditions of our existence. From the time of our conception onwards, we are subject to a variety of impingements of that basic sense of being. Western psychotherapy can inform us a lot about the nature of this developmental conditioning. Frank Lake, one of the first clinicians to focus on the pre- and peri-natal period, talks of the "womb of spirit" in which, from conception until about nine months after birth, the baby enters her first relational field of contact and communication (Lake, 1980). This field includes the mother and the wider environment of meaning and circumstances which she inhabits. It is in the reflection and resonance from mother and her world that the baby experiences her own being nature. Disruptions in this field activate the need to defend. Seeds are sown for self-formations constellated around that need rather than a secure rooting in our sense of being.

Donald Winnicott's emphasis on the need for "good enough mothering" also highlights the impact of relational responses on the "continuity of being" in the growing infant (Winnicott, 1965). Again, it is this deeper aspect of who we are – in Winnicott's terms, the "true self" – that is compromised. It is concealed by a "false self" with which we begin to identify and live out our lives. Developmentally, as we negotiate each stage of our progression through childhood, we create survival strategies and patterns based on our defences against wounding. These limit our deeper potential to be open and present.The personality that we accrue is not so much something we are as something we have or continually become. Our identification with it tends to block our sense of being and interconnection. We relate to who we are as if we are a fixed and separate 'self'. This constitutes our deepest wounding.

Looked at in this light, it is the personality or sense of 'self" which operates as a major obstruction to the open ground at the source of our being. It is this that prevents us from being present to experience. It is our 'selves' that get in the way. Our 'process' describes the way in which we move away from the core of our being in order to meet the world from these constructions of 'self' (Sills M. and Lown, 2008). If my entry into the world was not welcomed with a felt depth of love and acknowledgment, my sense of "deserving-to-be", as Lake puts it, will have been severely diminished. To protect myself from the hurts of this experience, I will have become adept at withdrawing from contact. The more I turn away from relationship, the more isolated and separate I will feel. I begin to identify with this sense of solitary existence in a hostile world. I don the narrow garment of this fixed 'self' and behave towards more and more people according to my introjects and perceptions. The responses I get reinforce my internalised sense of who I am and how the world is.

In this way, I start to create more of my own suffering. One of the Buddha's first teachings pointed to how we keep this cycle of suffering in motion (Ajahn Sumedho, 1988). In brief, we tend to relate to constantly changing phenomena as if they are permanent. This includes the way we see ourselves. I start to live as if I'm some kind of immutable entity which keeps me from recognising the fluid set of processes that actually make up the sense of 'self'. I tend, equally, to see others through a similar lens. I lose touch with the openness at my centre where things can be seen as they are rather than how I have become accustomed to perceiving them. I become the suffering engendered through this process.

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