Meditation in Co-counselling

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These notes will show why I have taught my Co-counselling courses since 1990 with meditation as a foundation practice, to stabilise the practice in both roles. Doing so increases the benefits from co-counselling during a session, in reflection at the end of a session and to stabilise directions and further integration. It also helps avoid some of the pitfalls, such as dramatisation and patterns of co-counselling.

stability and the Inner Guide

The combination of unlimited potential and the realisation of this potential through experience leaves human beings unstable and vulnerable. Even the choice to revisit past experience using co-counselling is liable to instability. This is because whilst the mental content is emerging and changing, with images, thoughts, emotions and physical sensations pressing for awareness, you are in executive mode, making decisions about how to conduct your work. You will be noticing this and that and choosing a technique or at least allowing what you are doing without interference. All this is done in the same mind that is producing the material. It is therefore highly likely that some degree of patterning will influence your choices. You may back off something from fear without recognition or without exploring any fear you notice. You may dive in out of a pattern to get there now or be a good client or whatever, without exploring that. If we are to rely on mind to revisit itself, we may find ourselves reinforcing patterns of avoidance and certain convenient and cosy but dysfunctional and limiting attitudes for comfort's sake. It is immensely challenging to work in a self-directed way in order to counter the problem of patterning in one-way counselling by the counsellor.

Now the key lies in the background, in spirit, in our inner wisdom, that same wisdom which has brought us into co-counselling, a place of silence and clarity. Cultivation of the Inner Guide through meditation is an important way to stabilise co-counselling. Meditation used regularly will deepen the sense of spirit, slowly, often imperceptibly. It will also help move out of or stand back from moods which swamp the clear thinking needed to make choices as a client. It will provide an excellent means to integrate work in a session and clarify areas to explore further.

In order to effect this, I have modified some of the standard teaching and introduced various forms of meditation for which I also identify the value to co-counselling.

balance of attention

on the part of the client, is the balance formed between attention to inner processes and attention away from them particularly to the external environment especially the support of the counsellor. Unbalance in this attention is not conducive to effective work. Too much inner dwelling can lead to getting lost on the inner journey and little effective work, even confirmation of its intractability or worse, its permanence. Too much attention out means no effective delving within, avoiding difficulty and talking about rather than working on. What is imperative is to develop such an awareness which will monitor this balance and the ways in which we are limiting or distorting our client work. This means develop experience of the Inner Guide, the place of silence within.

I have selected a small number of forms of meditation which do this for co-counselling, explain them and practise them in the course and then give them as homework. The first one is actually the basis of client self-awareness! It is about cultivating awareness of as much of the mental content as possible in all channels available (we tend to favour certain functions over others). I have set these out in the order I present them in a course.

Homework 1

Meditation 1

Sit upright, in a quiet place. Make sure you are comfortable. Allow yourself to relax. Pay attention to the state of your body, your feelings, your thoughts and any images you see. Whatever you are doing inside is fine. This is you. Just witness all this. Allow it to be and let it pass. Whatever stays is fine too. Allow it (that is you) to be as it is. If you get involved, that is fine too. Just witness that too. Keep coming back to witness. Every time you do is a success.

Do this each day, 5 minutes the first day, increase to 6, 8, 10, 12, 15 thereafter as you feel comfortable - no more. Keep practising. If you reach your limit, keep to the shorter time. Do this briefly and often rather than beat yourself up to beat a record. Do it while you wait for the tea to brew or natural pause or break between activities.

Homework 2

Meditation 2

Sit quietly and repeat the first meditation, this time, with your eyes slightly open, to help you stay awake. Monitor your inner process. Let outer activities be. Cultivate an open sort of attention. Notice what kinds of things come to your attention. (Write them down if you wish. You may wish to start your next co-counselling session exploring one of them.) Precede your co-counselling session with a 5 or 10 minute meditation. Then you might start with what arose for you and take it from there. Or you might follow some new line of thought, feeling, sense or image.

Meditation

Transpersonal goals

The place of meditation in this version of co-counselling is central and supportive to cocounselling and neutral as regards religion as such. Meditation practice provides a goal towards which you will be drawn. You will encourage your own spiritual unfolding, given that most meditation methods and procedures reflect the teaching of someone who is acknowledged as further along the associated spiritual path.

Supporting co-counselling

Because meditation cultivates the higher aspect guiding the session, variously described as the "Guru within", the "Higher Self", the "Inner Guide", it gives the anchor needed when making choices during a session, which might otherwise be "ego-driven" to a greater or lesser degree. Meditation is also functional in providing an excellent integration technique. As you meditate, so you provide the conditions to allow your brain-mind to work away unfettered, without interference from "ego". You can witness your mind-in-action. In doing so, you may mull over your past, present and future work. You may complete and consolidate your last session(s). You may gain new insights and realisations. You may perceive how to become in life, living out your learning. You may also notice how you complicate life, how you resist learning and resist applying your learning, how you form your patterns, hold on to them and are comforted by them in spite of how they limitat you. The breathing meditation especially cultivates the deeper breathing needed to face yourself fully when working through more intense or challenging distress.

Life meditations

Some meditations are applied in everyday living and may help you notice how you live your complexes, how you free your potential, how you live your learning and how you falter. Each time you notice, you have a choice. As you make the choice, so you practise the choice, and make it easier. Again, you will be practising living to the new philosophy you are discoveringfor yourself.

Homework 3

Meditation 3

Sit quietly and repeat the first meditation as per instructions for homework 2. Remember the advice to do this once a day for a few minutes.

Meditation on the breath

How to do it

You add to the previous meditation a focus on your breath. Whatever thoughts, images, feelings and sensations arise into your awareness are your process, as it is. Keep drawing your focus to your breath. Breathe in through your nose. Breathe out through your mouth. As before, short "time out" meditations which you can manage easily are better than longer ones which you struggle with. Try 5 minutes a day at first, before making them longer. You may find you do not fall asleep with your eyes closed, otherwise open your eyes slightly to allow some light in. For several such meditations pay a lot of attention to your breathing. Notice where you are free and where you restrict yourself. You can bring these awarenesses into sessions and find out how you do this. In later meditations, breathe deeply into your belly, allowing the follow through to swell your middle and your chest - allow the outbreath to happen naturally.

Why to do it

This is useful for two reasons. Firstly it supports co-counselling. Secondly it is an established form of meditation, with variants.

It supports co-counselling because it gives practice in conscious breathing. It is very helpful, even vital, to maintain deep breathing whilst in session. Breathing deeply allows you to work more deeply. You enable yourself to manage stronger feelings. You create fear by breathing shallowly. It is fear which causes shallow breathing in the first place. Opening the breathing opens you more to what is in you. (I describe this as the first example of the technique of contradiction). Practice enables you to deepen your breathing in session, especially just before you get to the core of your story, when fear and uncertainty are highest. By highlighting the way you restrict your breathing, by training your awareness, you gain the additional choice to explore how you do all this. All you have to do is let the restrictions have voice! What is unsaid?

The meditation itself draws you to your place of witness. Breathing is part deliberate, part involuntary. To focus on your breath is to poise in that point of balance, between the "conscious" and the "unconscious". This will always help you to remain "in charge" and draw you into your "Inner Guide". As a lifelong meditation, it draws you forward into the Transpersonal domain, by practising some aspect of the state of Consciousness, as all meditations do.

Homework 4

Meditation 4

In private, at home, once a day if you can, sit comfortably and practice the meditation on the breath described above. Take 5 minutes or more if you wish. To begin with, if it gets difficult to continue after a while, stop, stretch pause and return to daily activities, hopefully, quite refreshed.

Homework 5

Meditation 5

Do this at least once per day. It is a good one if you are feeling harassed or tired and driving yourself, a 5-minute meditation break can recharge you. Sit comfortably, spine as vertical as possible. You can sit against a wall and use as many cushions as you need to be comfortable. You can do this at any time to suit. You will find out good times for you. Especially good times may be in the middle of the night if you wake up; on waking; if you feel stressed; if you feel lost; if you have a difficult task to face. Keep to the time rule: a willing 5 minutes is better than a forced half hour. Increase the time to fit your lifestyle and what is comfortable. Turn yourself on to meditation, rather than turn yourself off!

Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Get used to this. Take three deep breaths. Fill your lungs from the bottom up. Let your tummy expand first, then your middle, then your upper chest. Do this consciously. Let your out-breath do itself. Just relax and let go. Practice till you can do it easily. If you find any of this difficult just do it as you find comfortable. You can always try again!

Stay awake! Close your senses to the outside world as best you can. Let everything be. Now focus your attention on your breath: the whole thing; some aspect that comes to your attention; the rising and falling of your tummy and/or chest or heart area or on the sound of it. As you meditate, you will notice your thoughts, feelings, body, images, sounds and so on. That is fine. That is still what it is about. This time, if you get caught up in anything, bring your attention back to your breath. Each time you do this is a success. Remember that. You can get caught up in judgements about the meditation! Do the same thing: bring your focus back.

Further meditations

Walking meditation

Do this at any time as you walk around, especially if you are in a hurry to get somewhere else with your goal in mind. Remember "Be Here Now!" You are in a present continuous process of walking. So, pay attention to your walking. Slow it down as much as appropriate to your needs. Pay attention to each foot and leg as it comes up, moves and comes down, heel, then toe, each in turn. If you are in a special hurry, just do "left, right" with awareness!

There are many variations on this theme, from the Buddhist "Mindful Walk" to the "Don Juan Walk" described by Carlos Castaneda. The first is a really exaggerated slow walk, as slow as possible, with no distraction on to others. The second is to place your inner attention on your hands and feet; place your gaze in front of you, somewhere between straight in front, and a little down, looking a few metres in front; open your gaze to take in everything; just walk along like this, poised. If you need to look at anything, just glance at it. You will relax into a state of readiness.

Living Meditation

Extend the walking meditation to other aspects of daily life. In everything you do, for at least a few minutes every day, pay attention to what you are doing. Do whatever you are doing deliberately. "This is what I am doing now" is the unspoken thought, or even the un-thought thought. Focus on each moment. Do what you are doing. Don't change it. Do it a little more intensely. If you find it no longer is the right thing for you to do, of course change to what is right. As your attention wanders, bring it back to focus on what you are doing now. If you start to think about something else, then make a clear choice to do something else and concentrate on that or bring your focus on to what you are doing. As you gain familiarity and confidence with this method, you may decide to focus on what is in each moment whenever you recognise you are not doing so. Find the presence of awareness in as many moments as you can. It is a serious, disciplined and beneficial practice.

You may also occasionally wish to try a meditation retreat. There are many teachers and many schools – it is best to try several different styles and get many different accounts and practices. Always test them for yourself.

Focusing: clearing a space

"Focusing" is a sort of structured, participative meditation. Gendlin found that people who worked effectively and efficiently as clients did this kind of thing and he researched, refined and recorded the process. It is a good way to start a session because you identify issues in an unusual way. What you can then do is select one issue to work on. You can go on to the second one if there is time. You can also use it on your own to "clear a space" to find yourself again when you are a bit stressed. In this case, take one of the issues to your next co-counselling session. I have described the process in full in my manual.

Homework 6

Session

Choose one of the things you put aside as your issue and explore it in your session. If you complete your work on it and there is still time, you might go on to another issue. Sometimes issues are so big they need two or more sessions to work through. In this case find an appropriate way to end the session. Put the issue aside until next time.

Clearing a space solo

If you can make this method work for you solo, (perhaps with practice, or after consulting the paperback) then you will feel relatively fine at the end of steps 1-5. You will have created some distance from your concerns and problems, whilst acknowledging they exist and are yours. You may find that this state is worth savouring and stay contemplating in this way.

Tackling stressors

Again, if you are using this approach on your own to deal with high stress levels, doing the exercise may have helped you decide which issue will be best for you to tackle first. (Find a strategy appropriate to that particular issue; stick with it until you have done as much as you can for now; continue again as soon as possible. When you have finished, go on to the next issue, after a suitable break. Remember to savour the progress you make, however small.) Hopefully it will lead to getting a perspective on all the problems of the moment, having separated them in a way which will allow a one-by-one approach. That there really is a clear space inside you, may well provide you with hope, especially if you are really down.

The full focusing method is described in Gendlin's paperback called "Focusing".

Checklist for sessions: clients

In my checklist, I add the following.

Witnessing. Are you witnessing and listening to yourself: your body, feelings, mind; your thoughts as if heard, images as remembered or created? Are you listening to what you say and how you say it? Are you alert to your body movements and gestures?

Breathing. Do you notice your breathing and deepen it as you go? Do you explore any restrictions you place on your breathing? Do you draw breath, pause and witness if you lose your way?

postscript

Meditation as complementary to co-counselling

The guidance on the practice of meditation in this manual is based on using different forms as backup to co-counselling. Thus we can recognise and strengthen the process of witnessing the contents of our minds as this unfolds and emerges. We can strengthen and consolidate the process of integration. We can recognise more readily how we attempt to control the process to suit existing patterns rather than reveal them. We can draw breath to centre ourselves in a session. However, we can also recognise the potential of meditation as a complementary approach to our inner development. Using meditation regularly can give the experience of “coming home”. We can see how we operate more clearly as mental contents rise and fall, ebb and flow, change and still. We can learn to see more clearly the nature of mind, the wave-like nature of its surface and hints at the depths beneath. We can see that meditation and co-counselling work in different ways. The two approaches complement each other. We can thus use them at different times and in different environments purposefully and independently, not seeing meditation as functioning to support co-counselling (which it will), but as both enabling our inner development. Perhaps co-counselling can now support our meditation and the changes that co-counselling brings about can assist the effectiveness of our meditations.

Meditation as primary means to inner development

At some point we may recognise that meditation and allied practices form a more fundamental approach to inner development. They go more deeply than co-counselling and encompass a fuller vision of human potential. We may have attended trainings or retreats with practitioners offering different approaches, based on different forms of meditation, perhaps supplemented with other practices. Whether you like to use the term spiritual, transpersonal or religious depends on your point of view and that of the field you explore. I, myself, have tried a range of approaches set out by John Heron in “Practical Methods in Transpersonal Psychology”, Siddha meditation (originally transmitted by Mukhtananda), explored the meditations promoted by Ram Dass in his “Be Here Now” (and a retreat with him) and tried Buddhist meditation described by Sogyal Rinpoche in “The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying”.

More recently, through contact with the British Lamas, Ngala Nor'dzin and Ngala ö'Dzin, I have adopted the methods of Tantric Buddhism, which combine methods I choose for each circumstance under the guidance and tuition of the Lamas. What I have found is that instead of communicating my process to another, I face my own processes, letting go of involvement with thinking, staring the emotions in the face and using Shi-nè, the basic meditation, as a starting point in this “vehicle” (Vajrayana=the thunderbolt vehicle) and doing my best to “live the view”, that is, live as if I and others are actually enlightened. This is an intensive, disciplined process with its own challenges. Support comes from the Lamas, from the group who are students of the Lamas and from the students of their Lamas, particularly local members.

From seeing meditation as secular, I now engage in a full-blown religion, with magnificent, rich, high volume ritual, and quiet private practices. I see the practices as having evolved over 2500 years or so, and millions of people having trodden the path and used the tried and tested practices. They seem to produce remarkable people! In addition, whilst for many, personal development is just that, for the benefit of the person practising the methods of personal development, Buddhist methods are taken as for the benefit of all other beings: realising our potential for the benefit of others. The path has at its core, verifying the teachings from personal experience, testing methods in reality and confirming they work – just as we do in co-counselling. So, there is no faith, no dogma, only teachings which you can test, by applying the given practices and noting when the teachings become real for you as you verify them in your experience. Quoting my Lamas "Buddhism is method, not truth. It is method that can be tried and tested. We have tried and tested it and found it to be entirely the right path for us – but this is not going to happen for everyone. We would not make a statement that Buddhism is the only and best path – merely that it is the only and best path for us."


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