The Heart of Listening: Attentional Qualities in Psychotherapy
Publication Year: 2001
This, the latest book from 'The School of Psychotherapy and Counselling Series' of Regent's College, is an intriguing book which explores complex areas and is recommended for the more experienced practitioner' - Counsellingbooks.com This book focuses in depth on how attention and the heart are involved in relating to others. The author draws in both west and west to illuminate this often neglected aspect of psychotherapeutic work. Sufic and Yogic approaches to heart consciousness are given as well as those from contemporary scientific studies which are discovering the heart's intelligence. Also drawing on contemporary contribution from cognitive psychology, neuroscience, Rosalind Pearmain describes the moment-by-moment process of relational contract in terms of an arc of attunement, amplification and reverberation and offers practical exercises to develop our ...
- Front Matter
- Back Matter
- Subject Index
- Chapter 1: Dancing on a Pin-Head – Naming the in-between
- Chapter 2: Knowing and Feeling – How Do We Know What We Know?
- Chapter 3: The Art of Attending – Meditation and Psychotherapy
- Chapter 4: The Heart as Listener
- Chapter 5: Attunement: A Relational Sense of Focused Awareness
- Chapter 6: Amplification: A Relational Sense of Spaciousness
- Chapter 7: Going Deeper: Reverberation and Depth
Other titles in the School of Psychotherapy and Counselling (SPC) Series of Regent's College:[Page ii]
Wise Therapy: Philosophy for Counsellors Tim Le Bon
Embodied Theories Ernesto Spinelli and Sue Marshall (eds)
The Tower Building
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London SE1 7NX
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© 2001 Rosalind Pearmain
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or any information storage or retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publishers.
First published 2001
British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.
ISBN 0-8264-5195-0 (paperback)
Designed and typeset by Kenneth Burnley, Wirral, Cheshire.
Printed and bound in Great Britain by Biddies Ltd, Guildford and King's Lynn.
Know Deeply, Know Thyself More Deeply[Page vi]
Go deeper than love, for the soul has greater depths,
Love is like the grass, but the heart is deep wild rock
Molten, yet dense and permanent.
Go down to your deep old heart, and lose sight of yourself.
And lose sight of me whom you turbulently loved.
Let us lose sight of ourselves, and break the mirrors.
For the fierce curve of our lives is moving again to the depths
Out of sight, in the deep living heart.1
General Introduction to the SPC Series[Page vii]
It is both a great honour and a pleasure to welcome readers to The SPC Series.
The School of Psychotherapy and Counselling at Regent's College (SPC) is one of the largest and most widely respected psychotherapy, counselling and counselling psychology training institutes in the UK. The SPC Series published by Continuum marks a major development in the School's mission to initiate and develop novel perspectives centred upon the major topics of debate within the therapeutic professions so that their impact and influence upon the wider social community may be more adequately understood and assessed.A Brief Overview of SPC
Although its origins lie in an innovative study programme developed by Antioch University, USA in 1977, SPC has been in existence in its current form since 1990. SPC's MA in Psychotherapy and Counselling Programme obtained British validation with City University in 1991. More recently, the MA in Existential Counselling Psychology obtained accreditation from the British Psychological Society. SPC was also the first UK institute to develop a research-based MPhil/PhD Programme in Psychotherapy and Counselling, and this has been validated by City University since 1992. Largely on the impetus of its first Dean, Emmy van Deurzen, SPC became a full [Page viii]training and accrediting member of the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP) and continues to maintain a strong and active presence in that organization through its Professional Members, many of whom also hold professional affiliations with the British Psychological Society (BPS), the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP), the Society for Existential Analysis (SEA) and the European Society for Communicative Psychotherapy (ESCP).
SPC's other programmes include: a Foundation Certificate in Psychotherapy and Counselling, Advanced Professional Diploma Programmes in Existential Psychotherapy and Integrative Psychotherapy, and a series of intensive Continuing Professional Development and related adjunct courses such as its innovative Legal and Family Mediation Programmes.
With the personal support of the President of Regent's College, Mrs Gillian Payne, SPC has recently established the Psychotherapy and Counselling Consultation Centre housed on the college campus which provides individual and group therapy for both private individuals and organizations.
As a unique centre for learning and professional training, SPC has consistently emphasized the comparative study of psychotherapeutic theories and techniques while paying careful and accurate attention to the philosophical assumptions underlying the theories being considered and the philosophical coherence of those theories to their practice-based standards and professional applications within a diversity of private and public settings. In particular, SPC fosters the development of faculty and graduates who think independently, are theoretically well informed and able skilfully and ethically to apply the methods of psychotherapy and counselling in practice, in the belief that knowledge advances through criticism and debate, rather than by uncritical adherence to received wisdom.[Page ix]The Integrative Attitude of SPC
The underlying ethos upon which the whole of SPC's educational and training programme rests is its integrative attitude, which can be summarized as follows.
There exists a multitude of perspectives in current psychotherapeutic thought and practice, each of which expresses a particular philosophical viewpoint on an aspect of being human. No one single perspective or set of underlying values and assumptions is universally shared.
Given that a singular, or shared, view does not exist, SPC seeks to enable a learning environment which allows competing and diverse models to be considered both conceptually and experientially so that their areas of interface and divergence can be exposed, considered and clarified. This aim espouses the value of holding the tension between contrasting and often contradictory ideas, of ‘playing with’ their experiential possibilities and of allowing a paradoxical security which can ‘live with’ and at times even thrive in the absence of final and fixed truths.
SPC defines this aim as ‘the integrative attitude’ and has designed all of its courses so that its presence will challenge and stimulate all aspects of our students’ and trainees’ learning experience. SPC believes that this deliberate engagement with difference should be reflected in the manner in which the faculty relate to students, clients and colleagues at all levels. In such a way this attitude may be seen as the lived expression of the foundational ethos of SPC.The SPC Series
The series evolved out of a number of highly encouraging and productive discussions between the Publishing Director at Continuum Books, Mr Robin Baird-Smith, and the present Academic Dean of SPC, Professor Ernesto Spinelli.
From the start, it was recognized that SPC, through its faculty and Professional Members, was in a unique position to [Page x]provide a series of wide-ranging, accessible and pertinent texts intended to challenge, inspire and influence debate in a variety of issues and areas central to therapeutic enquiry. Further, SPC's focus and concern surrounding the ever more pervasive impact of therapeutic ideas and practices upon all sections of contemporary society highlighted the worth, if not necessity, of a series that could address key topics from an informed, critical and non-doctrinal perspective.
The publication of the first three texts in the SPC Series during 2001 marks the beginning of what is hoped will be a long and fruitful relationship between SPC and Continuum. More than that, there exists the hope that the series will become identified by professionals and public alike as an invaluable contributor to the advancement of psychotherapy and counselling as a vigorously self-critical, socially minded and humane profession.ProfessorSeries Editor
Preface: Origins[Page xi]
For more than twenty years I have been practising a form of meditation called Sahaj Marg (natural or simple way).1 It is a modern form of the ancient and classical system RajYoga. The focus of meditation is on the supposition that divine light is in the heart. In this system there is a direct transmission of pranahuti (divine essence) to the heart. When attention is gathered within the heart centre there is a somatic and affective quality of feeling. It is like a warm, soft, transparent substance that is neither water nor air. Sinking into it, my focus keeps dropping through the centre and I feel as if caught in a finer and finer sound or smoother and smoother feeling which brings lightness, expansion, qualities of feeling that are new, like a kind of taste, or meaning, or very deep longing, of love or enormous and infinite space.
The process is never the same each time. There is a search for the profoundest sense of self within and this keeps deepening and deepening. Sometimes a feeling of connection and absolute absorption comes. At other times there is just longing and waiting. Sometimes there are just thoughts about things to do and phone calls to be made. Yet, despite the undulations of living through time, the manner of perceiving and experiencing keeps getting more subtle, more about qualities than forms, almost invisible or untastable but more and more profound in meaning. It is an experience that gives a sense of lightness and transcendence but the process of a spiritual path always evokes difficult emotional, psychological and existential challenges.
[Page xii]Experiences are one thing but the purpose of the meditation practice is not to simply explore the beauty and awesomeness of transcendental landscapes. It is to bring something that is tasted as a quality and meaning into everyday life. Over the years, the biggest change is that the way I perceive people comes increasingly from a more feeling-centred, or heart-centred perspective. This is not the same as being emotional or sentimental or even irrational. It is simply a closer sense of belonging to the human race.
As part of a doctoral research project I interviewed more than thirty meditators from all over the world with many different occupations: bankers, teachers, business people, artists, craftsmen, therapists, film-makers, social workers, musicians. The initial plan of the interviews was semi-structured and was focused on the meditation experience and changes they had noticed. What happened was that unexpectedly most of the interviewees started telling me about their sense of the heart. What was even more disconcerting was that there were so many different ways of describing its meaning – from the most sublime metaphysical notions of akasha, of space, of the divine ground of being, to a kind of orientation, or empathic capacity. None of these different conceptions can be aggregated into any neat conception or construct that can be understood by intellect.
There follow some extracts from these responses:
The heart is sort of occupied with feeling the pain in other people's hearts. The heart is the thing in you that is drawn to comfort the needs of other human beings.
The heart is the base of any action. Or any thought. That's it… It is the thread.
One consults the heart and I feel the real knowledge is contained within the heart, it is something higher than the intellect, and if one consults the heart I feel that it is more knowledgeable.
[Page xiii]The heart is the most important thing we have here, because if we think and approach a person with our head, it's a mental approach, but if we approach with our heart, it's a real approach, because the heart is really what makes us understand.
I think some kind of scanning. There's not much research gone into that … I can feel it is more important for example when I teach, to let the thoughts grow out from the heart. All people know what it means when we say this man is doing a heartfelt thing, it is a real thing.
I understood nothing of what it was before … when I did my medical studies I saw when people had an arteriography of their coronary arteries and when they got this probe in the heart, I saw people feeling something strange, they were as if they were going to die, without something happening on the screen with rhythm or blood pressure, they would describe it as a very strange and astonishing feeling, so it reminded me of these sayings about it being the centre of the person…. Through this practice of meditation … I try to relate at heart level because it facilitates so much contact, preventing resistances, competition, aggressivity, all these kinds of human conditions. So the heart has become something experienced.
The heart is related to feeling obviously, the heart sense is being the compass.
If the heart would be developed in human beings, the way of life would be very different.
This research opened a whole new vista of enquiry to me; it has been a source of wondering further about the role of feeling (heart) and thought in psychotherapy. It bothers me that a heart element is so much lacking in the field of psychotherapy dominated by intellectual or technical attitudes towards humanness. Without imposing spiritual philosophies or [Page xiv]dogmas on anyone, it seems increasingly important to restore at least the basic value of sentience, feeling and fellow feeling to our understanding of relationship and the possibilities of living together more harmoniously. These special moments of connection are felt to be the most valued in human encounters and have also been identified as vital to therapeutic change.
As a therapist, I have noticed it is these deepest, heart-based feelings that provide most meaning and ground to the work.
For the sake of protecting privacy and confidentiality, all identifying information has been altered in every case example and session vignettes throughout the book. For the same reason, many of the examples are actually composites of several persons.
[Page xv]Dedicated to Revered Parthasarathi Rajagopalachari
For Alan, Erica and Daniel[Page xvi]
I have traced some of the ways in which we are already attuned to the most subtle and intricate of relational processes and understandings. I have suggested that a sensibility that is based on heart and feeling is one which includes rationality and emotion and in a way goes beyond both as an integrating ground of knowing awareness. This approach to the heart as a centre of feeling and knowing is stressed both from mystical traditions and now intriguingly with some potential scientific support. What happens if we attend to others from a conscious heart-focused intention? It appears that we have access to a more connected field of understanding which permits an allowing space in which to meet and feel in touch.
Psychotherapy is far from a magical cure. Who can claim to know what essentially helps people? At a simple level, I would suggest two key positive ingredients. One is that therapy can assist a person to be in relation to themselves in a more comfortable, supportive and empowering way – such that, in a sense, they befriend themselves more. The second is that therapy can assist someone to relate better to others and therefore to feel more connected with life. Both arise from thousands of tiny moments of attunement and attempts to understand which may assist a different sense of self with others to come into being.
At present, scientific paradigms are being challenged in relation to consciousness and attention. The extensive, painstaking [Page 127]and creative work of Rupert Sheldrake has endeavoured to point to the non-locality of the mind and the way we are sensitive to the attention of others either through staring, or even if someone stares at a photo.1 His staring experiments have been conducted with a high number of participants, and the findings show that this is a phenomenon which is real, even if we cannot explain it. Psychotherapy has described the significance of thinking about clients or being preoccupied by them in absence for many years without being too concerned with a scientific paradigm to support these startling informal assertions about the role of attention.
Attention is a phenomenon that appears to have a number of effects which are like environmental affordances. It can provide a holding, it can provide a kind of spaciousness, it can provide a kind of close contact, it can provide a sense of confirmation. In all these ways, attention can offer a place or a sense of being and relatedness. It appears that clients are sensitive to the qualities of attention offered by therapists. Much of the effort in working as therapists arises from the work involved in creating sustained and available attention to others.
One of the central problems facing us in an overcrowded world of diminishing resources is our capacity to be open to or attentive to strangers and migrants. The usual response is one that comes from a ‘top-down’, categorizing and judgemental perspective and that reinforces fears and prejudices. Primitive responses of threat prevent us from any kind of feeling response that might come from the heart. This is an area that psychotherapy does not address but is one that challenges us all and will increasingly do so.
Recently, I was waiting to board a plane. It had been delayed. All of us stood at the threshold of the plane for about ten minutes. What was holding us up was a small group of people from a very different culture. They did not speak English. They had discovered they were all separated on the flight and were demanding to be able to sit together as a group. Even in this tiny, unimportant moment of waiting, I watched [Page 128]myself go through some impatience, irritation and negative thoughts and reactions as the crew attempted to accommodate their needs. But then, by focusing my attention towards them from my heart, there was a palpable shift of reaction. From a ‘bottom-up’ perspective, immediately, I felt closer to them, more accepting of their sense of vulnerability and strangeness in a foreign land and a need to be together. I felt the impatience slip away. I felt a kind of respect for their being different without having to fit into ‘normal’ ways of boarding a plane. It is a very small example, but in the current climate of increasing so-called syndromes of rage, it is worthwhile pointing out that there are different ways of perceiving that are available to all of us, and we have this in our heart centre.
The profession of psychotherapy is now resting on a hundred years of intensive and sincere effort to glean complex and valuable insights into the nature of the psyche, but it is important to recognize that theory can only facilitate our ways of understanding and feeling more for the client. Theory will help us to know about rather than know the client. Such knowing rests on the shifting ground of sentience and experiencing – as forms of feeling.
This book has attempted to bring together two different worlds, one derived from thousands of years of spiritual aspirations and disciplined focus, the other from contemporary disciplines that are more focused on the implicit and experiential base of cognition and intersubjectivity. The linking point is the heart as a potent symbol of the human capacity for love and for altruism. If we are informed primarily through sentience and feeling and not merely through hard-wired intelligence it may be our one source of hope. It is also why it is so hard because it means we have to face pain and suffering. Much of the time we do not want to feel, and our culture attempts to provide more and more ways to avoid this.
As a final note, I include an account of an experience from meditation. I think it speaks to all of this.[Page 129]An Inner Feeling Vision
I felt as though within the warmth of this darkness. I was aware of going within and down into depths. I was struck by the notion of warmth and coldness as different images from light and dark. So often we focus on these visual aspects. Metaphors of light are played to capture spirituality, and darkness signals shadow, something excluded from the light. But then we can get caught into the externals of vision, we look outwards towards the sun, we look out into the cosmos. Such notions of spiritual evolution can suggest that we journey out into space, moving outwards into the dark, void-like space as we go towards the sun. This is daunting, it feels cold, empty, distant, alien.
Yet when we contemplate warmth we are directly connected to something felt rather than seen. It is immediate, spontaneous, something that is within us, within our living flesh. In the meditation, I felt I was going within as if it were like going within the Earth. We forget so much that at the core of the Earth is a burning intense core of fire. We live on the concrete edges of our planet, entirely neglecting all those layers beneath and between the surface and the core. So this inner volcano-shaped anguish (I was feeling prior to the meditation) may be like those neglected, unattended rocky layers underneath everything.
I work often with others’ depression and sadness. It has sometimes occurred to me that depression may be linked with a kind of neglect and inattention to our soul, to our inner depths and surfaces. These are the places of feeling. These are our sources of sensitivity and knowing, the place of heart. We cannot know the divine within us without feeling – not thinking, not seeing, but feeling. So perhaps it is no wonder that it is these deeper layers that are awakened and exposed as cleaning takes place. Like gems that are revealed within rocks, as sediments of thoughts and habits are removed, the crystalline tendrils of feeling are made available to us. It is only through infinitely refined feeling that we can perceive the field of the [Page 130]divine. It has often seemed that we have to stretch enormously within to bear the intensity of such glimpses.
So through feeling, bearing feeling, we can reach our core; and, for a moment, there was a feeling of being consumed by this central core. Luminous flames consumed my essence and were my essence – just like the sun. Then it suddenly came to me: the whole of this conception was the same as the one of Hell itself! And it was such a surprising and shocking thought that it is still hard to hold.
Could it be like this? We fear to feel. Feeling is painful. So we create a notion of Hell in which there are unbearable torments of feeling. In our fear, we numb and cut ourselves from our inner reality, our inner core, our source, our home, our hearth, our eternal flame, our own sun.
In the beginning, the Earth was a piece of the sun, spun out and cooling down to make our home.
In the beginning, we were one with divinity until denser and denser layers spun around our soul, and we were left to only focus on the outside, the edges of our selves.
The divine presence within our heart is neither heat nor light, but it is something to feel directly.
In the end, it is from this tiniest, subtlest feeling that all which is at the core of the universe can be known from within, and manifested humanly through heart to others.
It is just that we have to dare to feel, bear to feel, and to be consumed by love.
Much gratitude is due to the researchers and thinkers who have contributed new ways of describing the small, apparently insignificant moments of human relationship and of our sense of self. Fundamentally, the naming of such experiencing and relational art can only substantiate human worth and values in a corporate, market-driven world.
The only lasting beauty is the beauty of the heart – Rumi
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Further Sources[Page 140]
Sahaj Marg form of Raj Yoga can be contacted on http://www.srcm.org or write to:
38, Temple Village
Midlothian, Scotland EH23 4SQ
The Institute of Heartmath can be contacted on:
Institute of Heartmath
14700 West Park Ave
Boulder Creek, CA 95006