How are we to achieve the kind of direct experience which will liberate us? The philosopher Husserl believed that this required of us a great deal of unhooking of ourselves from what we have learned. He called this "bracketing". Bracketing means putting on one side. When I meet a client I am well advised to put on one side whatever preconceptions I may have. Perhaps a colleague has seen this person before and tells me that the client is such and such a type of case. This information is not likely to help my first meeting with the client. I am better to set it aside and see what I experience for myself in this meeting. Later, I might go back to what my colleague thought and give some consideration to it, but now I do so equipped with my own apodictic knowledge.

Epoche is a technical term which roughly means "total bracketing", or, we might say, the bracketing of everything other than what is apodictic. It means setting on one side the whole of conventional knowledge in order to perceive phenomena directly as they are. This does not mean that when the epoche is operating conventional knowledge ceases to exist. It means that in this condition the elements of conventional knowledge become objects of mind in the same way as everything else: they lose their priority status. This is a kind of return to innocence, but without the childlike craving that infants have.

A great deal of what happens in therapy has to do with the induction of an epoche. When a client says something and this is reflected by the therapist, even if the therapist uses the exact same words as the client, hearing the reflection is not the same experience for the client as saying the words herself in the first place. When I, as client, say some such thing as "I have always felt that way", the statement is, in the moment of my uttering it, undoubted. When the therapist responds, "You have always felt that way," however, I am newly challenged to consider whether this statement does actually represent apodictic knowledge. Consequently, the client's next statement may well be "Well, not quite that way perhaps". This kind of sequence in which a precise and word perfect reflection is followed by a denial prompts us to think about what is happening in such instances and, by implication, in the whole process of reflective dialogue. The suggestion here is that the reflection serves to induce an epoche in the client. It kicks all that is not apodictic into touch and leaves the client in the middle of an open field upon which he must search his own direct experience.

It also invites a reflection upon the difference between experience "from the inside" and "from the oputside". Objectivising something changes our relationship to it. We are not long so immediately self-invested. This is similar to what happens in spiritual practice where also an unhooking of the ego from the facts can be liberating.

This process can go a step further. When the therapist reflects "You have always felt this way," both parties are to assume that it is taken as read that the therapist is just making a reflection and not making an assertion from his own side. This is something to be careful about, however. Really, if the therapist is going to stay explicitly with what is apodictic for him, he should say, "You are telling me that you have always felt this way," or "I have heard you tell me that..." or some such phrase. A reflection in this style also turns the client back toward a reconsideration of his own experienced knowing but within that it has a different target. In this case, the target is no longer the (historical) experience of which the client speaks, but rather the client's (immediately recent) experience of uttering the words in question. This has a different impact.

Husserl gives the following illustration:

if I make a judgement, for instance, establish that a straight line is determined by two points, I live the lived experiencing or doing of this establishing; I am conscious of it in a certain manner, but am not directed toward it by my judging. But quite obviously I can pay special attention to it by looking back and precisely by doing so make the reflective assertion also. Thus, instead of "a straight line is determined by two points," I assert then "I judge, I am convinced, I am just now thinking by way of judgement that ....;" obviously, I can now ask how does this judicative lived experiencing, the act of judgement, already passively given in its "how," look in more details? Does it admit of being further unfolded? What can I establish therein purely by intuition? And so in every case. (PP p.21)

To summarize, then, the epoche is a clearing away of all that is conventional or assumed from its normal position of "taken for granted" so that it may be placed in the same position as any other "object" of consideration. This is commonly achieved in therapy by taking the utterance of the client and re-presenting it to him. In this re-presentation it has become an object and therefore open to question. The implicit question is: Is this apodictic? The power it had as a "taken for granted" is thus neutralized. Such reflection can, however, have either a distant or a proximate target. The simple reflection induces the client to review what is apodictic in the experience to which the utterance refers. The fuller form of reflection, which more explicitly does justice to the therapist's own experience, directs the client to reconsider what is apodictic in his manner of relating to the therapist in the here and just now - "Is that really what I was communicating? Is that what I intended? Why did I tell the therapist that? Why then?" and so on.

This analysis of how reflection works illustrates a theorem: where two people are in close psychological contact and communication, a move toward apodicity by one will induce a similar shift in the other. This is, I suggest, the basis upon which much therapy occurs and, perhaps, also is another way of stating what Bodhidharma, the founder of Zen, called "A special transmission outside the scripture; no dependence on words or letters; direct pointing at the mind" (Thien-an 1975, p.17).

The epoche, in simple terms, is a giving up of presuppositions, of "scriptures". It is the means of clearing a space for apodicity: for direct seeing. The epoche operated by the therapist is primarily required, not for himself, but as a means of inducing an epoche for the client, since it is the client's own openness to direct experience which will provide the basis for healing. As we have seen, the epoche achieved by the client can enable a review of what is already apodictic and/or it can open the possibility of awareness of new experience as it is occurring. Even this, however, understates the subtlety of the process since "reflective, so-called 'internal,' experience has very many levels and depth dimensions and is exceedingly difficult to put into practice whenever one strives to go beyond the most superficial level" (PP p.21).


PP = Husserl's Phenomenological Psychology,
THIEN-AN (1975) Zen Philosophy, Zen Practice. Berkeley: Dharma

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Replies to This Discussion

Thank You for this excellent expose on Epoche and apodictic knowledge dear David!
Warm regards From Berlin, Bodhicharya Center.

Thank you, Francoise. Long time since I have been to Berlin.



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