I'm in Milan facilitating a workshop on couple relationships. We have looked at how many different schools of psychology and psychotherapy each contributes something important to our understanding of this theme but none can eliminate the mystery completely

Buddhist psychology   Causes & conditions
Rogers   Empathy, Positive regard, Authenticity
Moreno   Spontaneity, creativity
Group Theory   Process, Stages of development
Psychodynamics   Sex, Power, Repression
Erickson   Trance States

The discussion was rich and we covered many aspects. In particular we looked at
- Relationships & Impermanence (relationships are impermanent since humans are mortal, but love touches infinity)
- Trance & Other-centredness (we are always in one trance or another)
- The role of Chaos & Confusion in Personal Change (intolerance of chaos renders change impossible)
- Expectations (will always clash sometimes)
- Osculation (how lives touch or move apart)

Amongst the many signification points reflected upon:
- Significant change often occurs without insight
- Trance is disrupted by other trance - use a functional trance to disrupt a dysfunctional one.
- Change requires space including tolerance of chaos.(“soup”)
- More important to consolidate positive change than to explain it - explanation may weaken it.
- There are always instances of mismatch of expectations.
- Therapist sometimes should induce confusion and other times contain confusion.
- Self justification is an obstacle - change may need camouflage so as to save face.
- Being logical and literal often does not work.
The aim is not that of imitating some ideal state but of finding ways to transform base elements into gold. The question is not so much how to have a relationship in which there are no difficulties (boring) but how to make differences and misunderstandings into springboards for growth and richness rather than escalations into disaster.

Now on to Day Two.

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On Day Two we began by discussing the power and difficulties of sex and sexual relations, how sexual activity may reflect other aspects of the relationship or may be compensation for them, or may even destroy the relationship. Also, jealousy and other sex based dynamics are very powerful forces.

We examined the kind of scenario where she asks him if he likes her outfit and he realises in that moment that there is more energy in her question than is strictly warranted and that he is expected to come up with an answer that is more than just casual. He also registers that up to that point he had not noticed what she was wearing. Alarm bells go off in his head. What is going on? Suddenly he connects the dots and realises that this question is connected to the fact that three days previously he had mentioned that the new secretary at the office had very good dress sense. Suddenly the whole scenario is apparent: while he had not thought about the matter since, his wife has been ruminating about this remark ever since - why does her husband notice what the secretary wears when he does not notice what she wears? Realising this, he is, perhaps, able to allay her anxiety with some expressions of affection. Alternatively, perhaps he never realises what is going on for her, becomes irritated by her tone, and the discussion escalates, fuelled by hidden jealousy and growing mutual distrust. Such interactions are common and it is too much to expect that we shall always fathom their meaning at the time. A certain skill in avoiding escalation is needed. The matter does not call for a literal or logical response, but for an emotional connection but this may not be easy to achieve immediately since both parties are already on their guard. The phase of chaos may have to be endured for a time before a resolution emerges.

After the morning break I offered a demonstration therapy session. The client talked about the dilemmas of relationship and solitude in later stages of life. The client had nursed her mother until the mother died. When mother died her life changed. This change has been both a liberation and also a time of anxiety. If she were to get involved too closely with another person there would again be the prospect of watching this person go through aging, sickness and death. Also, the client has a dog and the dog is aging. Again she has a more elderly relative she might have to take care of in the future. The issue of how love plus impermanence leads to grief is very much highlighted by these circumstances. At the same time, simply isolating oneself also has drawbacks. We worked with the issue in a variety of ways. The group then broke into small groups to discuss what they had seen and then we had a plenary discussion.

Points raised included:
That the initial moments of the session in which the client chose where to place her chair in relation to the therapist were a significant precursor to and indicator of what was to follow and when, later in the session, the therapist drew attention back to this it provoked a significant shift
The therapist did not make interpretations. We discussed the usefulness of interpretations and how to transform them into action possibilities.
The therapist did introduce a significant metaphor for the client’s situation
There was much use of space with an empty chair and other objects representing the client’s significant others. A therapist needs a degree of boldness to do such work which is necessarily experimental.
The relationship with the therapist had become itself a key element in the work
At one stage the therapist moved much closer to the client breaking into her felt isolation. This provoked emotion. At another point the therapist moved away to a distance, provoking other emotions. These moves were triggered by and served to amplify statements made by the client about her situation. On the one hand they enabled experiential exploration of perceived reality; on the other hand they opened up possibilities for creative action. Finally the client herself took steps to break out of her solitude.

Important points:
Build on strengths and increase possibilities
- A stable situation is not necessarily optimum
- It may be the job of the therapist to disrupt dysfunctional equilibrium, at least to the extent necessary to demonstrate that other options are possible.
- Ideally the client ends with a greater sense of freedom. There is a considerable difference between being in a situation by choice and being in the same situation feeling trapped.
- When the vision of the future does not exist or is mostly negative it is liable to induce depression or despondency. Finding new possibilities in the future can be liberating.

In the final session we discussed
- The “Nash Equilibrium” problem that there are many situations where the person who makes the first move risks most, so people may stay in a less then optimum situation in order to avoid taking a risk.
- Change may be a result of (a) vividly seeing the disadvantage of the status quo (b) realising a new possibility or being inspired (c) a change of ambient conditions that forces a destabilisation (as divorce, redundancy, etc)
- Therapy may thus involve amplifying or dramatising the present situation or exploring unexpected possibilities, or it may be a matter of accompanying the client through the chaos that occurs when things that had been taken for granted collapse or change.

We also had a discussion of mindfulness and awareness. This was partly an exploration of the features and function of awareness and partly a sharing by a group member whose ideas about the subject had been destabilised by work done yesterday. This provided and immediate example of a person feeling a degree of chaos as she struggled to find a new attitude.

When we are sharply aware of one thing, other things disappear. Thus, eg. when he danced with her it seemed as though the two of them were the only people on the dance floor. In Buddhist terms, this is a samadhi. It is a trance. Strong awareness is consciousness of one thing to the exclusion of other things. Some trances support us in living a constructive life. Some are dysfunctional. In therapy and in life generally we are always working with these dynamics.

Commonly in a workshop some theme emerges as the dominant note. In this workshop, my sense is that the pivotal matter has been the role of chaos: the fact that a stage of chaos plays an essential part in all personal change and that, therefore, as therapists and as individuals in our close relationships we need to develop the ability to tolerate such feelings when they arise and avoid the temptation to impose structure too early. The image we used was that of the grub needing to dissolve in the chrysalis before a butterfly can emerge. Relationships are challenging. When those challenges occur, chaos is let loose. In order to go beyond it and profit, we need to tolerate it while it does its work, even when we do not understand what is going on. Similarly in therapy, the therapist may need to hold the boundaries within which the client can dissolve for a time. This requires both confidence in the process and also humility in that it means trusting that answers will emerge in die course eve though, as yet, one does not know what they will be. Similarly, entering into a relationship is stepping out on a journey without knowing what is going to happen or where we shall finally arrive, yet relishing the travel.

Thanks David for the wealth of your teachings.

When the vision of the future does not exist or is mostly negative it is liable to induce depression or despondency. Finding new possibilities in the future can be liberating.

This well sums up my present situation and challenge: loss of my life partner and trying to start a small business running a small retreat centre— a project that offers many many challenges. I am interested in what you say about the need sometimes to disrupt dysfunctional equilibrium. I would never have pegged you for a crazy wisdom type teacher but I guess that you could argue that Moreno worked in this way, and that he was somewhat crazy and somewhat wise.

I really like this bit too. It is exactly what I would like to find, if I could find a good therapist near me to help me through this transition:

Therapy may thus involve amplifying or dramatising the present situation or exploring unexpected possibilities, or it may be a matter of accompanying the client through the chaos that occurs when things that had been taken for granted collapse or change.”

I have the sense that the average therapist tries to take you away from your present situation to examine the past or old patterns or whatever, but that, when one is in crisis, what one needs is a confidant, a witness, a mirror, a sage, someone who will help you directly face the change/threat/challenge/opportunity. That last thing in the world you need at those times is to turn away from the direction you are heading in and look elsewhere.

This is such a perfect description of what I feel I need right now in my life: “In therapy, the therapist may need to hold the boundaries within which the client can dissolve for a time.” This whole ability to allow the chaos of the world to enter and dissolve one and be not so afraid that panic destroys the alchemy of the change.

Thinking of the end of that D.H. Lawrence poem: the whole poem is about this alchemy of change and how one has to give oneself up to other power (enter the chaos). The last few lines are about the fear:

What is the knocking?
What is the knocking at the door in the night?
It is somebody wants to do us harm.

No, no, it is the three strange angels.
Admit them, admit them

The good therapist, then, is the one who reassures you and reminds you to admit the angels.

Thank you Carol and Angela. The twin themes of trance and chaos give a particular perspective on the therapy process as well as upon what happens in love relationships. I am still reflecting upon the ideas that emerged from the workshop. I's sure that in future workshops i shall take some of these ideas further.

Thank you Dharmavidya. It is great that you are sharing this workshop and experience again. It is a great relief for me to read your words. Even the practical case you saw in the workshop connects a lot with my own perspective and thoughts these days. My parents are getting old, my dog is also getting old, my children going away…As you know, maybe I will have to change my house. There are a lot of important things changing its face and I feel fear sometimes when I think of the future, I do not know how things are going to develop…Chaos is a place of mistery and it is scary to be there…Usually people around and my own culture discourages the risk.

In the Five Rhythms by Gabrielle Roth, after Chaos, lyrical comes…it represents something more authentic, lighter, freer and more mature, the treasure hidden beyond chaos…as you said “to become a butterfly”.I think that one can try to avoid chaos, but then one cannot go beyond. Namo Amida Bu

Nati - that's really interesting - lyrical coming after chaos. A music emerges.

Yes I think so. In some way, music is always sounding but, after having established a sort of pattern, I become deaf and tend to fall into a trance. In my own experience I know that trance takes me softly far away from my vulnerable heart and life...So, from time to time chaos appears to destroy the structures I have established in an attempt I wake up....That is why chaos is so frightening, because a part of my "self" dies with it ( if everything goes well...I can also choose not to accept chaos and trying to mantain my old structures creating more suffering...).

So I think if one has faith to pass through that unknown place ,which is so intense and full of life, a new fresh melody can be born. 

Thanks to all.


Thank you for your reflections.  They are thoughtful and poetic.  I have had the old structures pulled away from me without my choosing, but the effect is the same in many ways.  I cannot use the old ways of protecting myself and, in the chaos the world can seem a dark and dangerous place.  But the hope is alwasy for that new and better melody gradually emerging from the choas. It is good to hear from others about this because it is too easy to think that you are the only one struggling when you look around and see everyone seemingly going about their normal lives.  So thank you for your thoughtful wisdom.

Thanks to you Carol. In fact when I read  about your experience I felt reflected on you ;)...I also know and fear that dark place because  I cannot manage it by "myself". I need faith to go through it, that is all that I know.

Namo Amida Bu

Thank you Nati and Carol for your words!

Namo Amida Bu


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