One of the things that we observe here at La Ville au Roi (Eleusis) is the therapeutic effect of people simply having space. Modern people experience life as rather crowded. They feel under pressure and stressed, which is really a modern way of saying frightened. We are not frightened in the extreme way that one is if a real tiger walks into the room. That is an acute emergency and one either jumps out the window and escapes or one gets eaten. Either way it is soon over. The modern person, on the other hand, experiences a chronic low level anxiety that eats away day after day. This anxiety is sustained by a wide variety of complexities that are characteristic of daily life in a modern society. We are all trying to keep many balls in the air simultaneously. Often people come into therapy seeking a way to manage this stress. Or they take up mindfulness or yoga or some recreational pursuit as a way of obtaining some distraction and thus having interludes of calm. To a degree this can work as a palliative, but it also carries the risk of becoming 'just one more thing' on the list of daily obligations.
In Buddhism we say that meditation is like letting the swirling mud in a glass of muddy water settle naturally. No procedure is necessary, merely the absence of anything that will further stir up the water. Here in our thirty or so acres of mixed woodland, people have space and time to let such settling happen, sometimes with remarkable results.
Yes David so briefly and beautifully said, "...this can work as a palliative but also carries the risk of becoming 'just one more thing' on the list of daily obligations." Meditation and therapy mean to inform the entire of your daily life, not just 'one more thing' to accomplish. But this informing means change, and letting go. Letting go means an increased sense of the mystery of life, but also means the true insecurity Alan Watts refers to in his book The Wisdom of Insecurity. Life itself is insecure.
Into this insecurity we practice a sense of inner spaciousness, of the space between the molecules, as quantum physics tells us in the true, physical, and in this sense, real truth about our bodies. In over two decades of practicing this I have not experienced it, nor do I understand this space between the molecules but sometimes, just for a second, the space opens into...calm. Delicious! Worth the effort involved! It's a simple meditation practice. Focus on the space between the molecules in your body. Don't do it for too long, a few minutes at a time is fine. Then, whenever you can, get to this beautiful retreat space, which physically offers the plenitude of spaciousness.
The night before you wrote about this I had this particular dream. I wouldn’t have shared it here, but when, afterwards, I read your comment, it acquired more sense to me. Thank you Dharmavidya :)
I was walking along a house and someone else was showing me the different parts and rooms of it. I only remember the last part…He or she showed me a part soberly decorated, extremely tidy and clean, nothing out of place. It was supposed to be a room to work as a lawyer, something very rational, with hardly any colour in it, where everything was quite practical. I understood it may be quite adequate, though I did not like it very much or, at least I did not feel entirely comfortable. But afterwards, we entered a special empty space. The walls were painted in extremely fine colours, the colours of a rainbow. I could hardly see the ceiling, it was so high, vaulted, like a temple. There was a fine light illuminating that place. The space was so incredible that a strong feeling went through my body from head to toe, filling me completely. It was pure joy…I said: “Yes here I can really dance and I can easily fly”, and I started to fly, going higher and higher, full of joy and emotion…It was something marvellous.
Thank you for sharing this wonderful dream, Nati. We all need spaces like that.
When a client talks about having a "void" or feeling of "emptiness" in their life, it seems like there is too much space.
How would a therapist work with that from a Buddhist standpoint ?
That is an interesting question and shows up quite well the difference in values buried deep in the way we use language. In the West emptiness is a sin. In the East it is salvation. In the East I guess that the typical fear is of being completely overwhelmed by social pressure - one goes to religion to escape from the ever present moral imperative of secular society. In the West it is the other way round - one fears nding up alone with nobody who cares. In therapy the first thing is to get a deep sense of what the person really means and what their fear/desire is. There is a classic case in the first book written by Carl Rogers in which there is a transcript of a therapy session in which the client, a Mr Bryan, talks about wanting to be in a "vacuum" and although the therapist (possibly Rogers himself) is trying to be non-directive, you can tell that he does not think that being in a vacuum is a very good idea. However, when the book was translated into Japanese by Dr. Tomoda, Tomoda thought that Bryan's desire to be in a vacuum was a good instinct and a step toward health. When a client fears being in a void it is probably often the case that they are in grief for some particular loss. Grief, of course, is a perfectly natural process but can easily be misread as pathology because it involves weeping etc. Loss is painful - sometimes terribly so - but it is also a liberation and therapy might be the only place where the positive side can be acknowledged.
Thank you Dharmavidya for your response.
The client I am thinking about is a 21yo woman who is feeling emptiness in the way that you suggested, which is a "fear of ending up alone with nobody that cares". The client reports growing up with parents that were emotionally unavailable so to speak and as a result found herself alone in her experience as a child. Furthermore she reports that she witnessed domestic violence between her parents and this has also affected her outlook on relationships. She reports that she tried to fill the void through relationships, but has ended up picking men that have cheated on her. This then seems to reinforce her belief that she will always be alone.
I think that you're spot on in saying that "when a client fears being in a void it is probably often the case that they are in grief for a loss."
Speculative diagnosis: She tried to love her parents but hit a wall and now lacks confidence in her own ability to love so that when she is in a relationship she unconsciously pushes the man away &/or fears that if she commits she will be abused or will abuse the partner - probably both. Problem is that in order to break out of this she has to take responsibility for her own part in it and since this is probably largely unconscious that is not so easy to do so it is probably not a problem that can be solved head on. Perhaps in the therapy relationship she will ease up a bit and that may then generalise to other relationships. If that is right then the therapist's task is not so much to arrive at a clever solution as simply to keep her in a healthy therapeutic relationship for a time. That may suggest focussing on other aspects of life and not being too problem centred, but rather helping her grow and develop in creative ways so that she feels that somebody (the therapist) really is on her side and she gets to experiment with other ways of being with. This is mostly guesswork, of course. One has to go with what actually shows up.
I'm not good at "clever solutions" so that won't be an issue...
But seriously I agree with your approach, at the moment I just focus on the therapeutic relationship and seeing what arises in session, slowly moving in the direction of helping the client to answer the question of "what's my part in all this?".
As far as "focusing on other aspects of her life and not being problem centered", definitely yes, she is a university student with a year to go before graduation, so we are talking about her classes, what she wants to do after university, career etc. Also on pursuing and developing other areas/interests in her life and not dwelling so much on finding that one person that'll make everything ok.
"That one person" is very elusive - I never found her :-)
If I may offer something...often a sense of emptiness is, as you have both indicated above, emotional emptiness. One way to approach the shut off from past painful emotional relationships is through our bodies. Gentle de-armouring, gentle and easy yoga, or even breathing with the focus on feeling the breath inside the body sometimes works to help a person contact their body from the inside. I so appreciate the work being done by you both...thank you!!
Thanks, Charlene. Nice.